Thursday, 29 April 2010

I could take the pretty way to the supermarket, along the river, past a field full of cows, picking an armful of lacy cow parsley and buttercups.
Only, the person shopping in Waitrose with an enormous bunch of cow parsley does look slightly batty.
Doesn't she?
I could do the shopping first.
But a person picking buttercups whilst hauling three bags of groceries might startle the cows.
So what would you have done?
When I got home, I thought that my cow parsley looked every bit as elegant as anything from an expensive florist.
And that one of the good things about living in London is that buttercup meadows can still be so convenient for the shops.

Monday, 26 April 2010

I do feel a bit guilty having spent two gloriously sunny days with my head buried in a book. And I'm the one who was moaning all winter about missing the sunshine.
I blame the arrival last week of Persephone Biannually which is always a treat. Jumping ahead to their autumn list, I discovered a copy of Monica Dickens' The Winds of Heaven on Amazon for 1p. And on Saturday morning it arrived, its 1950s dust-jacket pristine, once I'd flicked it with a duster, and even more desirable than a dovegrey Persephone. At least I think so.
And, of course, I jumped in straight away - and I've only just emerged. I remember my mum reading Monica Dickens back in the 1960s when she was a columnist in the good old days of Woman's Own.
The story is about a widow in her late 50s (when 50 meant that you were past it) who is left penniless by the death of her overbearing husband. Completely dependent on her three grown-up daughters - for a roof over her head, for a new dress, even for a busfare - she lives out of suitcases, passed around her family like an unwanted parcel. Her only friend, apart from a misfit little grand-daughter, is a fat man who sells beds in an Oxford Street department store.
I can see why Persephone chose to publish this in the autumn because it's a real, hugging-the- fire indulgence read. I didn't surface until the overblown ending.
But looking at what I've been reading lately, I feel somewhat overblown myself and gorged on too much 'feminine' literature. I've enjoyed it ... but it's time for something with grit.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

I realise with a jolt this afternoon that I haven't been to Kew Gardens since last autumn, when I gathered a big bag of sweet chestnuts and hoped I wasn't depriving the squirrels.
And suddenly I felt the urge to go now, right this very minute.
So I jumped on a bus. And yes, it would have been much more sensible to have gone last week when there weren't any planes thrumming overhead. (Thank you, Iceland. We'd really like to do it again sometime. It was heavenly peace and quiet.)
But today the scent of lilac was wafting in the breeze.
And tulips were looking festive. And so were the green parrots.
And, despite the planes, I could still hear the bees buzzing in clouds of pink and white cherry blossom.
I stood underneath a magnolia that was tall as an oak. And an old lady told me that she nurtured a magnolia in her garden, tucking an old curtain over it every night in case it caught cold. But it still wasn't as magnificent as this one, she said.
I looked into one of its creamy, white blossoms. I remembered that one of Kew's policemen once told me a story. That one summer's day, a young man hid a diamond ring in an unfurled rose, intending to return later to propose to his girlfriend.
How romantic, I thought. But wouldn't you be so worried ... That you wouldn't find the right rosebush? Or that someone with secateurs might get there before you? Or that a magpie or a green parrot might have flown off with it?
The young man was shaken when he returned to Kew with his girl, to find that the gardens had closed for the evening. But he had a word in the policeman's ear.
And he let them in anyway.
I do hope they lived happily ever after. But occasionally, I look into a blossom ... and wonder if I'll ever discover the one with a diamond.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

It was heaving at the V&A as ladies of a certain age and gay men sighed over Grace Kelly's wardrobe.
Unfortunately, the V&A seemed equally star-struck and you won't learn anything from this exhibition that couldn't be culled from any 1950s fanzine.
It was lovely to see her costumes from High Society (even if they are now sadly faded) and the natty little black dress that she wore in Rear Window.
I didn't think much of her taste in jewellery, though, and doggy brooches are naff even if the diamonds are real.

It would have been sacrilege to
speak it aloud ... I'd have been lynched by coo-ing Surrey matrons ... but I do think that, in later life, Her Serene Highness's taste in floaty chiffon was just a bit mumsy.
If you want to see for yourself, do book in advance. It's a small exhibition, and very hot and cramped, and it was so crowded today that they were turning lots of people away.

Friday, 16 April 2010

The chocolate cake that I made yesterday would have used up half my weekly sugar ration, two weeks' chocolate and butter, and nearly two months' worth of jam (not to mention two eggs which weren't always available).
And I'm sure I've got through more than 2oz tea washing it down.
I dusted it with even more sugar to hide the slightly-overdone bits around the edge.
In 1941, my baking efforts would be a domestic tragedy. Or possibly even a crime. You could be fined for throwing bread crusts out for the birds.
A chocolate cake with a cracked top was probably a hanging offence.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The hedgehog is a delicacy which few people have tasted. Perhaps because the uninitiated first think of the prickles and how to get rid of them.

Well, I can understand that. Can't you?

Of course, there's always squirrel tail soup (with haricot beans, onions and herbs ... although there is, of course, a national shortage of onions.)

Perhaps you should listen to Gert and Daisy. They'll tell you how
to roast a 'murkey' for Christmas dinner, 1941. That's mutton masquerading as a turkey. Do have another mince pie ... they're made from parsnips.

Above all ...

I made a flying visit this afternoon to this exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. Plan A was to see Van Gogh at the Royal Academy; I did go once before, on a day when it wasn't too crowded, but I wilted today when I saw the long queues. (I wouldn't have been much good as a wartime housewife, would I?)

Fortunately, there was only a 10 minute queue for the Blitz Experience.

It's always good to have a Plan B.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Geffrye Museum is one of London's prettiest museums. (Even if they're undergoing building work at the moment.)
I dawdled through Georgian drawing rooms and Victorian parlours. And ended up whizzing through the exhibition that I'd come

especially to see,
because it was almost 5pm closing time.
It made me long to have a balcony brimming over with fuchsias, geraniums and ferns. (Even if William Morris was very sniffy about geraniums. I suspect that William Morris was a bit of a snob.)
I listened to a recording of Mrs Dalloway buying flowers for her party. And it made me want to buy flowers to take home.

I'm not sure when graffiti happens in my part of town but you never see anyone actually doing it.
But the young man in Spitalfields this afternoon was busy spraying when I stopped to chat. I've always longed to do that, I confessed. (I was wishing he'd offer me the can to have a go but he didn't.)
Just do it, he said. Grab a can and just do it.
I felt enormously pleased that he thought I had it in me.

Another young man in a vintage shop on Sclater Street had a twirly moustache that was very Salvador Dalí.
If only I'd had a camera.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

The Widow Barnaby is a comic masterpiece; a fine figure of a woman, rouged, ribboned and ringletted, she's a fortune hunter ready to take fashionable spa society by storm.
Fanny Trollope was a contemporary of Jane Austen's; not as stylish a writer but possibly even better on the social world of subscription libraries and musical soirees.
She's not as ladylike as dear Jane, so her humour is more robust. When Mrs Barnaby and her suitor Major Allen, having deluded each other about their fortunes, both try to wriggle out of any matrimonial commitment ... I was imagining who I'd cast in a TV dramatisation.
It was a bestseller in 1839. But I did get a bit bored of Mrs Barnaby's beautiful niece, who's too milk-and-water to be any fun ...
The drippy niece, of course, wins the heart of a proud Mr Darcy.
But my sympathies were all with the Widow.
You won't be able to watch this without smiling.
But why does it never happen at a station near me?

Thursday, 8 April 2010

I don't often get to see old movies at the cinema. But on a glorious, sunny day like today? Maybe that's why I dozed off during The Manchurian Candidate. (Even though it is a rather shouty film.)
On the whole, I prefer Frank Sinatra in High Society. The frocks are better.
And so are the songs.
All the movie buffs (and there must have been half a dozen of them) managed to stay awake.
I do hope I wasn't snoring.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

I've read Flowers for Mrs Harris so many times since I first discovered it in my teens. It's about a Cockney charlady who sets her heart on buying a Dior gown and scrimps and saves to make her dream come true. The dress she picks is 'Temptytion' in black velvet, beaded with jet: 'The top was a froth of cream, delicate pink, and white chiffon, tulle and lace.'
She emerges from this frothy pink foam like - Ada 'Arris from Battersea.
It's years since I last read the book. But I've never forgotten that dress.

It was chilly on Easter Monday but there was a snowy froth of blackthorn blossom on the trees along the beach.
When the tide is out, the setting sun silvers the pebbles.
Only brave people had opened up their beach-huts.
It was too cold to sit on the groyne with a bundle of fish and chips. So I asked for mine to be wrapped tight and I took it home.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Spring has sprung on my windowsill.
There is a vase of daffodils from the greengrocer's, two bunches for £1. A long, elegant vase of blackthorn blossom from the beach.
A jugful of forsythia, pink flowering-currant and tiny, blue muscari picked from the garden.
And today's cull of squished ladybirds that I haven't swept up, which unfortunately spoils the effect.
The old guy on the Tube was wearing a Gap baseball cap and a psychedelic T-shirt and he was reading Elizabeth Taylor's Angel. (A battered old edition from the days when Viragos had far lovelier jackets than they do today.)
He must have been in his 70s. He grinned at me.
But he struck up conversation with the elegant blonde who got on at the next stop and sat down beside him. She was reading Eugene Onegin in what appeared to be Polish.
He asked her if it was good. She said that she had only just started it.
And then he got off the train, wishing me a happy Easter. And I said that I hoped he was enjoying Elizabeth Taylor.
It's not often that London Transport throws up such a literary encounter.
I'd have pulled Fanny Trollope out of my bag. But, as usual, I was rummaging in its depths and wondering where I'd put my Oyster card.