Tuesday, 22 July 2014

How I wish I had this lovely copy with its jacket intact but mine is an old green Virago, 1p from Amazon.

And how thrilled I was to discover the original of Chatterton Square and that it looks exactly as I hoped it would. (Click on street view to see the houses.) Shabby-genteel before the war .. and I wonder what EH Young would make of today's £1million house prices.

I've been eke-ing out my EH Youngs as there will heartbreak here when I've read everything she wrote. (Here's a couple that  I read earlier.)

Chatterton Square was published in 1947 and what's fascinating about it is that it's a domestic novel set in 1938 against the background of the Munich crisis. A middle-aged generation bracketed by two wars.

On the home front, we have two families of neighbours living in the square. There's Mr Blackett who neatly wriggled out of WW1 and refuses to believe in another war. Pompous, self-centred, a domestic autocrat who micro-manages family life ... and is shocked when he discovers his wife - wait for it - buying her own newspaper.

How I hoped that his call-up papers would catch up with him this time. He's not too old.

Mrs Blackett - Bertha - is a brilliant character. On the surface the perfect submissive wife, she has been quietly loathing Mr Blackett since their disastrous honeymoon 20 years ago. She longs for a single bed.

Mr Blackett proved to be in a sentimental mood which she found much more disagreeable ... when after his usual spell of lying on his back, his beard like the ace of spades against the sheet, he turned on to his side and the gentle whistling through his nose had ceased .. How pleasant, she thought, gently moving nearer to her edge of the bed, to have a bedroom, even a bed, of one's own.

The Blacketts' neighbours are the delightful Fraser family. Rosamund Fraser appears to be a shockingly cheerful widow, with five children, until it emerges that she has been deserted by her husband and their seemingly carefree family life has been fractured by his experiences in WW1. The Frasers share their home with Rosamund's deliciously spiky spinster friend Miss Spanner whose greatest dread is that one day she'll find herself living alone.

And over all this hangs the threat of another war ... or the unbearable national shame of appeasement.

Munich is never specifically mentioned, but we experience the terrible tension of the 9pm news broadcasts through that September. (Mr Blackett, of course, won't have his complacency disturbed by having a wireless in the house.)

My only criticism of EH Young is that she can get ever so slightly repetitive, labouring her point about England's shame over too many pages. But her readers in 1947 would have remembered those weeks all too well. I'm racking my brain to think of any other novelist who has focused on 1938 rather than the outbreak of war? And I can't think why the utterly brilliant Emily Hilda Young isn't better known today.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Paolozzi window, from Joy of Shards Mosaic Resource

So many times I've walked past St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh and never been inside - but the other day I walked in out of curiosity and discovered this window by Paolozzi ...

Who, of course, also designed the mosaics on Tottenham Court Road tube station.

And, as one thing leads to another, from cathedrals to Manderley, now I'm going to have to visit here. This is a wonderful resource that I discovered by chance.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Whatever I did today it had to be air-conditioned, so I skulked off this morning to see the newly-restored Lady from Shanghai ... convoluted plot, Orson Welles with a shockingly bad Irish accent, but worth it for Rita Hayworth's sheer glamour (and she was blonde!) and the brilliant Hall of Mirrors scene at the end.

Quick coffee here, then off to the National Portrait Gallery and Virginia Woolf.

I laughed when I saw Virginia and Leonard's succinct one-liner to Lytton Strachey, announcing their engagement. Ha! Ha! it said.
Next to it was Lytton's letter to his brother, three years previously - describing his own proposal to Virginia, which was briefly accepted. 'It was an awkward moment, as you may imagine, especially as I realised, the very minute it was happening, that the whole thing was repulsive to me. Her sense was amazing and luckily it turned out that she's not in love. The result was that I was able to manage a fairly honourable retreat.'
He wrote to Leonard, 'You would be great enough, and you'd have the advantage of physical desire. I was in terror lest she should kiss me.'
Ha! Ha! indeed!

Madge Garland, by Edward Wolfe, 1926 (Geffrye Museum)
I liked this portrait of Madge Garland, fashion editor of Vogue, 'the woman who dressed Virginia Woolf' ... a stylist, who would have thought! Virginia admired this outfit by a Paris couturier so much that Garland had one made up for her in a different colour. You can see her wearing it in photographs taken at Garsington, although the dress is actually brightly patterned. (Madge's portrait painter had toned it down.) Even so, Vita Sackville-West thought that Virginia 'dresses quite atrociously.'

But then, at the end, Virginia's walking stick that Leonard found by the river ...

And her last letter ...

Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times ...

I feel rather appalled that it should be read by gawping strangers.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Young Girl at a Window, Mary Cassatt c 1883-84 (Corcoran Gallery of Art)
 French mademoiselle, imprisoned on her balcony...

Sunlight,  Frank W Benson, 1909 (Indianapolis Museum of Art)

And Miss America some twenty years later.

From the American Impressionism exhibition in Edinburgh which I greatly enjoyed yesterday.
Wonderful opportunity to see some American artists who are less well-known over here.

Autumn, Mary Cassatt, 1880 (Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais)

Mary Cassatt also painted this portrait of her older sister Lydia who was already suffering from kidney disease and died in 1882 - although she looks so similar to the unnamed girl at a window (the puffiness of whose face could be a symptom?), that I wonder if they're the same person and it was finished after Lydia's death? In which case, of course, she's not a French mademoiselle and my caption, as well as my feminist art theories, are nonsense ...   but never mind, it's still a stunning exhibition!

Monday, 14 July 2014

In the Orchard, Edmund Tarbell, 1891

Oh dear, has it really been a month? I went away for a weekend at the sea, stayed on for a week as the weather was so glorious ... and I haven't caught up with myself since.

Now I'm looking forward to a flying visit to Edinburgh and what promises to be a stunning exhibition of American Impressionism.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

An impromptu gathering of friends from out of town, hurriedly arranged at two hours notice ...

And everyone says, Well, you live there, you choose.

I feel weighted down by responsibility and my mind goes blank.

It has to be cheap. I have blown my cocktail budget at The Keeper's House.

It has to be convenient for public transport from east, west and south.

And we don't want anywhere hot, stuffy and crowded on a sunny evening.

For once in my life, I have a lightbulb moment. We will meet for drinks in a wildflower meadow with a river view. It is London's answer to the High Line, an oasis of green in a sea of concrete.

The gardening friend can admire the cabbages. The friend who doesn't drink very much can have a cup of tea. It shouldn't be crowded, I promise - fingers crossed - not even on a Saturday night.

As always, I'm late. And when I get there, I can't see anyone ... oh dear, perhaps they couldn't find the yellow staircase. And then I see the other ladies, admiring the cabbages just as I knew they would.

And the first thing they say is, oooh, we never knew this was here ...

And I am very pleased - and quite smug - that everyone is happy. (And thankful that it didn't rain.)

We have a lovely evening in the nearly-secret roof garden that everybody agrees was an Inspired Choice.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

It was a warm evening, I'd spent an arduous afternoon on a park bench with my book and I didn't feel like going home, so I treated myself to a Italian-mamma sized icecream for a healthy dinner (pistachios are protein-packed, right?) and took myself off to a late movie.
I was curious to see Day of the Flowers as it's Carlos Acosta's film debut - although sadly, he only does a bit of light salsa-twirling. He's okay, his part wasn't exactly demanding. He plays a dance teacher who works as a part-time tour guide ... in fact, pretty much what he might well have been doing in real life had he not become an international ballet star.
The movie is a bit of a dog's dinner, but the budget clearly didn't run to rewrites. Two Glaswegian sisters, from feisty Scottish lassies central casting - hire two and the boyfriend in a kilt comes free - take their lefty dad's ashes to scatter them in Cuba. So, yes, it's a bad holiday rom-com except that there's a more interesting darker side of the movie - clumsily grafted on - addressing the poverty that forces the locals to prey on tourists.
The saving grace, of course, is Cuba - which is the real star of the film. It was filmed mostly in Havana (though it's supposed to be Trinidad de Cuba). Anyone who has ever been there leaves a part of their heart behind. Of course, it's poverty that fuels the spontaneous hospitality with which families invite you back to their homes ... it's private enterprise, but their warmth and Cuban graciousness is genuine. I went on a package tour. And ended up at a meeting of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution in someone's front room. (It's like Neighbourhood Watch.With a nasty bite.)
As for the day on the beach, when I was robbed of everything, including my shoes ... and walked barefoot back to my hotel in only my swimsuit (and that's a sight, I promise you) ... well, it was done with such charm that I had to laugh.
It was one of the best holidays I've ever had.