Saturday, 13 February 2016



It has become something of an annual tradition to visit Two Temple Place, which is only open for a few weeks - and it doesn't seem to matter what the exhibition is, as it's this gem of a building that draws me back. I've often fantasised about sweeping down that wonderful staircase - which was the setting for Lady Rose's Downton wedding. And I've often wondered who does all the dusting? Well, I gave that wonderful staircase the fingertip test this afternoon - and the answer is nobody. Those lovely carved banisters are black with grime and dust. Mrs Hughes would be appalled.
This year's exhibition is all about the Egyptians getting dolled up for the afterlife. I'm not very good with dates BC, but I do know that Predynastic is thousands of years ago - and yet there's a cosmetics palette bearing a little heap of green malachite eye-shadow that Liz Taylor could have worn in the Sixties. I was fascinated by the laundry mark on a mummy wrapping - and the copper mirrors that would have lent a 'divine' golden glow to one's reflection. Because you're worth it.

Friday, 12 February 2016


I spent most of last weekend at the cinema, which is as good a way as any of spending a chilly afternoon. (Nobody could ever accuse of me of being the outdoor type, striding forth in Hunter wellies with glowing cheeks. Truth is, nobody over the age of five ever wants to go for a walk with me because I dawdle.)
Anyway, first up was Spotlight, a gripping account of the Boston Globe's investigation into that city's cover-up of child abuse by Catholic priests. Fascinating to see this who's who and how closely the actors resemble their real life counterparts.


On Sunday morning, I was up and out early to see A Bigger Splash. Ralph Fiennes was hilarious but this didn't quite pass the snooze test and I drifted off in the middle. But an unexpected appearance by Tilda Swinton for Q&A at the end made me think that maybe it was more nuanced than I gave it credit for. She stayed for half an hour, giving thoughtful, articulate answers to questions from the audience; and I was fascinated to see her in the flesh ... Actually, the film is now rather more topical than when it was made. Swinton's rock star character is clearly inspired by David Bowie and the issues of migrants on the island of Pantelleria are even more pressing.



The Lobster, on the other hand, was weird and hilarious and had me laughing out loud. Slightly discomfiting to watch as an unattached singleton - because in this dystopian world,  where single people aren't allowed, and get turned into the animal of their choice if they can't find a partner ... I'm afraid I'd find myself turned into a three-toed sloth within 45 days. (Word of warning: my unhappily single friend HATED this movie and didn't get the black humour ... and she's sentimental about animals, and there's an awful moment with a dog who's really someone's brother ... Oh dear, I don't know why I feel guilty inviting someone to a movie they dislike, but I always do!) 

Thursday, 11 February 2016


I spent this afternoon speed-reading Henry James, only to discover as I reached the end of The Bostonians that book group wasn't tonight after all. I'm still mulling it over - I need a bit of space between me and neurotic, jealous, lesbian Olive Chancellor who is such exhausting company - but already I'm wondering what happens to her after the end of the novel. I suppose she becomes a desiccated, jilted Miss Havisham.

And as I found myself in for the evening after all, I watched the first episode of Julian Fellowes' lacklustre adaptation of Trollope's Dr Thorne. (See cast in picture above.) Don't feel particularly encouraged to watch episode 2 and I don't think it's going to measure up well to these previous Trollopes. 

Saturday, 6 February 2016

                      

My task for this afternoon was meant to be tidying my desk and, believe me, it would take all afternoon; there's going to be a nasty avalanche before long and there's some rather expensive art books teetering on the top of the pile. But despite my best intentions, I got distracted by this excellent drama about the summer of 1953 when Winston Churchill was incapacitated by a stroke - and not even his Cabinet could be allowed to know. There's a wonderful cast - Michael Gambon and Lindsay Duncan as Winston and Clementine - and some lovely scenes on location at Chartwell that made me want to visit again. I didn't realise until after I'd watched it that it is based on this novel by Jonathan Smith - who wrote Wilfred and Eileen, another true story, and Summer in February which I was meaning to read but didn't get around to. Well, that explained why I couldn't place the character of Millie Appleyard, the Labour-voting nurse who encouraged Churchill back to health (at least, sufficient health to postpone retirement for another 18 months). It was nagging at me why I'd never heard of her ... turns out she's a fictional character (Romola Garai with a slightly unconvincing working-class accent). The novel seems to have been published originally as The Churchill Secret KBO  - as in Keep Buggering On. I rather like that; but I can see why they changed it ... before the penny dropped I was thinking, 'Secret KBE????' Definitely recommended; on ITV in a few weeks' time.

As I was watching, I was nibbling on a bar of this chocolate. Did I say nibbling? Yes, me ...the person who hardly ever buys chocolate as I could demolish a bar of fruit and nut in minutes. Do I even believe that raw chocolate is a superfood ... sounds a bit too good to be true! But this 85% chocolate is so intense that I've managed to save half a bar until tomorrow ... I think this is a personal first!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016



Available now in considerable quantity are varieties of Swiss roll. The chocolate kind are filled with thick mock cream - margarine I guess. Have just eaten two slices of this muck, some coconuts and cherry cakes and almond biscuits for my tea and feel heavy with indigestion. 14th February, 1951

Serves her right, don't you think? I'm now 500 pages into A Notable Woman, and we're still only at the start of the 1950s. But oh dear, Miss Jean Lucey Pratt ... could we ever have been friends? Was there ever such a desperate, man-hungry spinster, loneliness spilling over the page - and sometimes I want to pick you up and shake you. There you are, well into your 30s and desperate to lose your blasted virginity which is such a millstone around your neck ... come on girl, it's wartime, a schooner of cheap British sherry for courage and surely you could find a Yank to oblige! I do feel that your chances would have been greatly improved by the invention of contact lenses as this unfortunately is one of your more flattering photographs. But couldn't you at least take your specs off when you go to a dance ...
Actually, I would love to read the diaries of the men you persuade yourself you're in love with.  You must have been terrifying ... you're Bridget Jones with Superglue. If anything in trousers passes you in the corridor at work, you're 0 to Altar in 60 seconds in your fevered imagination. You know those married men who turn up unannounced on your doorstep once or twice a year? You're not his mistress, dear - it's what the 21st century would call a booty call. I know it's cruel to point this out - but, honestly, when a man puts in an appearance so rarely that you don't even realise that he's been dead for a whole twelve months ...
As a reader, you do feel as if you're drowning in someone else's loneliness, and timidity (the tradesmen might find out if a man stayed the night at her cottage and then her name would be mud in the village) and lack of self-esteem buoyed up by pep talks. But there couldn't be a more vivid account of how it felt to be one of 3 million surplus women. Always a looker-on, she was just slightly too old to be called up and so she spent WW2 in a dreary office job in a metals company.
What a waste it all seems. Jean hoped that her diaries would one day be read by posterity and now they are. But if only she had ripped off her camiknickers - thrown her Liberty bodice to the winds - got rid of the damn cats ... and lived her life instead of writing all those millions of words.

Sunday, 31 January 2016


There have been some sniffy reviews of Trumbo, the biopic about Dalton Trumbo, the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood - who couldn't be credited for his screenplay of Roman Holiday during the McCarthy era, and was only reinstated after Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger publicly acknowledged in 1960 that he wrote Spartacus.
It won't be on my personal Oscar list, I don't think, but even so I was completely engrossed by it this morning. (And that's saying something: I am so not a morning person or even a daytime person until I'm fully caffeinated.)
And I do think that Helen Mirren as the utterly poisonous Hedda Hopper should win a special award for her fabulous Hollywood hats.
Meanwhile, I'm feeling appalled at myself that January is nearly over and I haven't been to a single exhibition - or even seen a film, until today. Think it's time that I declared my winter hibernation over. If the daffodils are out ... so should I be!

Friday, 29 January 2016



Thursday, 3 December, 1942.

Tonight ate cheese sliced thinly and cooked in margarine with tomato and milk, and pudding made from stale scone and some vile ABC jam sponge cake, soaked in prune juice, mixed with plenty of homemade plum jam and steamed. Jam was beginning to go mouldy.

I think I'd have just toasted the stale scone and donated the prune juice to the war effort. This is my first big fat read of the year and it's compellingly readable. But when I say big fat read ... friend commented this afternoon, 'I've never seen such a huge book.' It's what I call Not a Handbag Book. Then I did some rearranging and bunged it in my handbag, anyway.