Tuesday, 8 January 2019



I've tried - quite recently I tried again - but I've always given up on Claudine/Colette after a few pages. And I kind of agree with Willy's verdict in the film: 'It's too cloying. It's too feminine.' Anyway, it's not for me.
As for the film - my first film of the year - it had all the ingredients ... but I was snoozing just resting my eyes by the end. Fabulous frocks and Art Nouveau interiors - and Dominic West is fun as the preposterous Willy - but it's still a bit wooden. As for Keira Knightley, this quote pretty much summed it up:
'You have the most beautiful teeth.'
'Like an alligator.'
Whatever she's in, I find myself riveted by all that 21st century dentistry. Still, I suppose if they hadn't cast Keira, it would have been Lily James - and that's no better.
But if you're looking for a movie this week, I'd choose The Favourite instead.

Monday, 7 January 2019



Fun afternoon (albeit painfully cramped) at the tiny Orange Tree Theatre this afternoon listening to Martin Jarvis (in his stockinged feet because of squeaky floor covering!) recording a couple of Just William stories for the BBC. I was expecting an audience of small, scruffy boys but apart from a very few - out with grandparents and looking rather bored - well, let's just say that most of the audience could have travelled there on their bus passes. (As did I. I love my bus pass!)
I felt a bit sad that little boys no longer read William; but I've tried to coax them and they don't want to know.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019



I had to chivvy myself out the door this afternoon to do something - anything - after far too many days spent eating and drinking and playing board games and not once up and out for a walk or breath of fresh air.  (I spent Christmas in my natural bad-habitat with a family of night owls, all of us livening up and getting our second or third wind at 3am but regrettably not so perky before noon.)
Of course, I didn't stride out for a bracing hike today but I did manage a gentle amble from Leicester Square tube to the National Portrait Gallery (don't mock me!) where Gainsborough's Family Album proved utterly enchanting and a perfect Last Exhibition to ring out 2018.
And there were the artist's daughters, Margaret and Mary, carefree little girls chasing a butterfly in the painting we all know best ...



Playing with each other's hair ...



Then they're growing up so fast and looking serious and restrained, training to be artists themselves (a career plan that comes to nothing) because Gainsborough, who has been ill, is worrying about their future security and prospects.
Even so, he was longing to be free from 'tea drinkings, dancings, husband huntings &c' so he could devote his time to painting less lucrative landscapes and his music.



The girls do become young ladies of fashion but all that youthful joie de vivre has vanished. Mary's marriage lasts only two years and her mental health deteriorates so her younger spinster sister becomes her carer.

The daughters' story is heartbreaking but the family album embraces a vast extended family. (Even 'Scheming Jack' the ne'er do well brother, always on the scrounge, whose portrait is jokingly inscribed Gainsborow.)



There's Mrs Gainsborough - the artist's wife - seen first as a rosy-cheeked teenage bride who was pregnant on her wedding day - but fast forward and she's turned into a long-suffering matron with an irascible temper who is nevertheless a brilliant business manager for her philandering husband.



Then there's the artist's sister Sarah, all starchy frills and furbelows and social aspirations ... which made me wonder what kind of domestic bliss it was for her unpretentious carpenter husband - who looks as if he'd be perfectly happy with a pipe and a pint.





There's a sweet little niece  whose life - I hope - turned out more happily than her cousins'. And I think this is the artist's cousin's mother-in-law ... in her best bib and tucker and making the most of the family connection.



It always seems so poignant thinking, there they were - so full of life and idiosyncrasies - and now they're dead. And what on earth would they think of a straggle of visitors in a gallery on New Year's Eve more than 250 years later?

Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, 24 December 2018



I haven't made a gingerbread house in years but I was entranced this afternoon by the Gingerbread City of more than 70 buildings created by architects and engineers and on display at the V&A until January 6. (If you can find it, badly signposted and tucked away on the 4th floor.) Mostly grown-ups there this afternoon and it wasn't crowded but as it's free for children, I think it's the best value Christmas outing in London. (£6 for accompanying adults.) I thought I'd drop in for half hour but there was so much intricate detail that I went round four times giggling over Polo mint bicycles and gingerbread apartment blocks  furnished with allsorts and a sugarloop high line. I'm inspired!

Sunday, 2 December 2018



Did anyone else struggle with this? It's got all the ingredients - Occupied Paris casting a long shadow over the present - but it simply didn't work for me and at times seemed to be veering perilously towards time travel/magic realism which seems a lazy way out for a writer of Sebastian Faulkes's calibre. Not one of his best, for sure.  3* if I'm being generous.
There's a running joke about the characters' difficulties with the French language that made me smile, though.

'After we had the onglet and the anglais,' said Julian, 'I invented a story for Hannah.The quand one. Do you remember?...
'It was something like ... Quel cant qu'on raconte quand que le Comte est con qui racompte ses comptes. Quant á la conte du concombre, par conséquence, quand il danse le can-can dans le camp á Caen.'

Which does sum up rather neatly why we English struggle as soon as we cross the Channel. Hein? 

Saturday, 1 December 2018



I can't tell you how much I enjoyed seeing The Favourite last night: Olivia Colman is brilliant as gouty, petulant Queen Anne - it's clever and funny and the costumes and candlelit palaces are heaven for someone like me. There's a small display of costumes from the film in the cinema foyer. (Everyman, King's Cross)
There was so much to take in - I wanted to linger over every detail and wished I could shout, 'Hold that C18 cake! Lady in Row F needs a close-up!' But before the film started, they carried in a vast blue and white cake - if you look at the trailer, you'll see the Queen stuffing her face at 0.32 - and cut up big slabs for the audience. A taste of the movie ... that's a trend we should encourage!
Now I really want to see it a second time. (And not just for more cake!)
 

Friday, 16 November 2018



Has anyone read this yet? I went to a brilliant 'in conversation' event with Barbara Kingsolver at the Festival Hall earlier this week. Now to be honest, it got to 6pm and I'd been thinking about it all day but I still hadn't booked ... you know, that dark, chilly, 'can I be bothered?' feeling you get in November. I'm so glad I grabbed my coat and made the effort because it turned out to be quite the best literary event I have ever attended. (Sorry, I should have written this earlier because her brief UK  speaking tour now seems to be over.)
She is the most intelligent, thought-provoking, articulate, warm-hearted speaker you can imagine and barely drew breath for an hour and a half. No surprise that 95% of the audience was female, yet men asked most of the (long-winded) questions. Full-marks to Samira Ahmed in the chair for refusing to allow them to pontificate and man-spread over the end of the evening and bulldozing them to come to the point. If they had a point.
I loved The Poisonwood Bible, struggled with The Lacuna - but I went straight home and ordered Unsheltered which sounds fascinating.