Wednesday, 19 November 2014



I thought I couldn't imagine any Mapp and Lucia other than Prunella Scales and Geraldine McEwan - but, on the strength of the first episode of the new series, Miranda Richardson and Anna Chancellor are absolutely brilliant and I simply love Richardson's face whenever Miss Mapp is thwarted.
Just in time ... my Sunday evening was quite ruined when I belatedly realised that the rather abrupt and unsatisfactory ending the previous week was actually the end of this series of Downton. I suppose they must eke it out ... because once Tom and Lady Mary walk down the aisle - which is my pet theory, so it's bound to be wrong - that has to be The End.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Anyone else trying this book quiz?  I'm stuck with six to go ...
No, that's five to go, just had a brainwave!

Monday, 17 November 2014


I'm enjoying this very much, especially with Alan Bennett's voice rumbling through it and admitting that he doesn't understand Auden. (If my mum were still here, this would have been her Christmas present.) There's Larkin and Betjeman, like old friends - MacNeice, learned by heart at school ...

Life in a day: he took his girl to the ballet;
Being short-sighted himself could hardly see it -

How I sympathise with that!

For me, the new discovery has been Thomas Hardy; I've read all the novels, but very little of his poetry.

Not a new discovery that I thoroughly dislike AE Housman ... what a posturing old fraud he was. Alan Bennett says that his poems don't appeal to women.  Auden summed him up exactly:

Deliberately he chose the dry-as-dust,
Kept tears like dirty postcards in a drawer. 

I think I'm with MacNeice:
I would have a poet able bodied, fond of talking, a reader of the newspapers, capable of pity and laughter, informed in economics, appreciative of women, involved in personal relationships, actively interested in politics, susceptible to personal impressions ... I write poems not because it is smart to be a poet but because I enjoy it as one enjoys swimming or swearing, and also because it is my road to freedom and knowledge.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Nina Stibbe's funny collection of letters  Love, Nina, was my Christmas reading last year and proved exactly right for those days between Christmas and New Year when you'd like to get stuck into a book but there's lots of interruptions for eating and conversation and playing silly games. I wasn't completely convinced that, as a 20-year-old nanny to the literati - Alan Bennett is a neighbour, often dropping in -  she was quite as naive as she makes out ... but it was a nice, funny, easy read.

I'm much less taken by her latest book Man at the Helm, a semi-autobiographical first novel about two impossibly precocious sisters trying to fix their flaky mother up with a man. (It's not actually a new book, it was written years ago and has only been published now on the back of last year's bestseller.)

I'm getting tired of all that breathless, self-conscious ditzy charm ... In fact, I feel as if I'm at a party that I was quite enjoying half an hour ago but now I'm getting desperate to escape. It's just too relentless. Aaarghh ... let me out! It's going back to the library!

Friday, 14 November 2014


Dorothy Whipple fans will recognise Pauline with a Red Cushion (Sir James Gunn, c 1930, from some lucky person's private collection) ...

She was even more glamorous in yellow when I met her 'in the flesh' for the first time at the Harris Museum in Preston a few weeks ago. I remember admiring her painted toenails - so not a huge surprise to discover that she worked for Elizabeth Arden.



I'd love to visit this exhibition - and see the real yellow dress - but I doubt I'll be in Preston any time soon.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

It was 1am before I headed stickily to bed having - as ever - started the whole project far too late in the day. The scent of quinces and rosewater wafted from the kitchen last night, spreading into
every room and I'm beginning to understand Sue's passion for quinces.

I only had half a dozen, rather small ones ... but now I have more than 70 little quince sweetmeats, to be sugared and layered in a tin as soon as I get tired of them cluttering my worktops! (Best hide them soon as I have a little nibble every time I put the kettle on.) They are loosely inspired by two historic recipes - 17th and 18th century - a dollop of Jane Grigson for common sense - and once you've achieved a gloopy, red mess, then wing it and hope for the best.  
I wish I could have tied them into lover's knots (any advice, Sue?) but they were too floppy and sticky so what I ended up with is the 17th century Rowntree's fruit pastille.

I'd love to display them in a little sugar basket. I might have a bash at something less ambitious tomorrow.

Now dusted with sugar and cinnamon and stashed away out of temptation and, though I say so myself, my quince sweeties are delicious. (Actually, everybody who's had a taste has been enthusiastic.) Now, if only I had some more quinces ...
Maybe I should to move to a house with a quince tree.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Turner on Varnishing Day, William Parrott

Timothy Spall gives a terrific performance as Mr Turner and it all looks simply wonderful, as you'd expect, but, oh dear, what a very long film - I could have done with 30 minutes less - and I'm afraid I nodded off for a few minutes during dinner with the Ruskins.
Can't remember the last time, though, that I went to the cinema and it was completely sold out.