Friday, 28 August 2015

Portrait of a Lady known as Smeralda Bandinelli

It was a great treat at the V&A this morning to find this Botticelli portrait displayed on an easel - so I could engage eye-to-eye with this Florentine lady. Definitely a stroke of luck: the painting only went on display this morning after being restored and in the next day or two, it's off to Berlin for the opening of this exhibition which reaches London next year. (I love her gauzey summer gown and the delicate shadows of her face.)
Botticelli was completely forgotten for three centuries after his death in 1510, only to be rediscovered by the Pre-Raphaelites. This portrait of Smeralda was bought by Rossetti for £20; he spent a further £4
having it cleaned. He did a bit of retouching, and over the years people have wondered if Smeralda owed her strawberry-blonde hair to Rossetti's penchant for redheads. Apparently, no; she's Botticelli through and through - except maybe for her white cap - and strawberry-blondes are prevalent in that part of Italy.


When I was about 12 or 13, spending my school holidays happily wandering around London on my own, Botticelli's Venus and Mars was far and away my favourite painting in the National Gallery. I'd  pay a visit several times each holiday and sit in front of it for ages. (Hence my passionate support for free museums because my pocket money would never have stretched to admission fees.) Now, of course, I can see exactly why this wispy, floaty ideal of beauty so appealed to a child of the Sixties. Not only had Botticelli inspired Isadora Duncan - and the image of Ursula Andress emerging from the sea - but look at Flora's fabulous Ossie Clark dress.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015



Tame or pornographic? Put me down for mildly boring and toe-curlingly embarrassing.
Not a good start to the BBC's 20th century classics series. However, Lady Chatterley does wear some stunning hats. Although somehow I don't think that's supposed to be the point.
Also, I was mildly disappointed in Mellors when they eloped, bowling along in Sir Clifford's expensive car. Wasn't he supposed to be a man of nature, against the industrial machine etc etc?
Oh well, Like I said. Some fabulous millinery.

On the other hand, I've just watched the next in the series, An Inspector Calls - with an excellent cast - and it's very good indeed.

Next up,  remakes of The Go-Between and Cider with Rosie.

Thursday, 13 August 2015


Far and away the best treat of the holidays has been this absolutely fabulous production of The Railway Children at King's Cross. I've been wanting to see it for ages; it was previously on at the Railway Museum in York and then Waterloo. Well, you can't have a real steam train chugging through your average West End theatre.
You could feel your seat shaking every time it went past ...
(I'm already fretting about our half-term treat because I'm never going to be able to top it!)
I dabbed a tear when Bobbie cried, "My Daddy -" because I can remember the movie. But this time it's the fabulous set that's the star of the show.

Before we went in, we splashed about in the Granary Square fountains. Grown-ups, too. Yes, we were the people on platform 2 with wet pants.

In the morning, we went to this show at the National Maritime Museum. And one boy thought it was even better than The Railway Children. There is lots of Audience Participation.

Next day, I stayed at home with my feet up.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

This morning, to my surprise, I opened the last jar of homemade marmalade 2014. I didn't make any this year to give myself the chance to catch up - and now I'm sorry. I was so shocked - my kitchen cupboards are always cluttered with jam jars, empty and full - that I got up on the stepladder to see if marmalade was lurking in corners.

Meanwhile, apricot jam 2015 is disappearing fast. The single precious jar of rosepetal jam is eked out in teaspoonfuls on Greek yogurt.

I think of all those pounds of sugar on my hips. And wonder if I should make some more?

Friday, 31 July 2015



My National Trust card had a good airing this week. There has been Edwardian splendour at Polesden Lacey, a fascinating story of female social mobility (from boarding house landlady/unmarried mother to society hostess within one generation) ... but sadly, the tearoom left a lot to be desired. NT teas are splendid when they're good but this one wasn't. Its ambience was more workplace canteen. Never mind, look at the roses and that gorgeous view across the Downs.

On the way, we made a detour to see the ruined shell of Clandon Park, gutted by fire. How sad to think of so many years of history gone up in flames.

Then there was Hidcote. One of the most beautiful gardens in England. In the pouring rain. We could only imagine the scent of lilies and lavender on a sunshiney day.



Soaked to the skin, we picnicked damply in the car, then set out in search of somewhere under cover. We passed lavender fields that smelled of rain ...

And finally reached the Cotswolds home of an eccentric collector. Where the sun came out on that lovely, golden Cotswolds stone - just as it was time to go home.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015


I wasn't intending total immersion in Bloomsbury, but it seems to have crept up on me since my recent visit to Charleston and Monk's House. And despite my lukewarm enthusiam for the new BBC series Life in Squares, of course I stuck it out to the end ... getting mildly bored with all that loving in triangles and getting my Grants and Garnetts in a twist - but it certainly looked lovely (and there isn't anything  else on).

I made a stalwart effort once at Hermione Lee's hefty biography of VW but 900-and-odd pages is simply too much, about anyone. I was enjoying Alexandra Harris's much brisker effort until I got over ambitious. I should put it aside. I thought, until I filled in the gaps and read The Voyage Out and The Waves and The Years ... and I really meant to but, of course, I didn't. And so Alexandra Harris got poked between the banisters on the landing which is where books gather dust when I really, honestly, intend to return to them. (Hmmm, I see Hermione Lee on Edith Wharton is there, too.)

But last week I went back to the beginning and read Alexandra Harris's book in a couple of days. Two hundred pages of biography is just right ... Life is too short for long lives.

Of course, I still have good intentions of reading The Waves etc etc - currently high on the list of books I always meant to get round to.

Friday, 17 July 2015



Feeling serious fabric envy after seeing Tate Modern's Sonia Delaunay exhibition earlier this week - and as for the curtain envy!


I'm also wishing I could tango!