Saturday, 29 October 2011

Paris in the 20s,

Harlem in the 30s,

The Spanish Civil War,

And the verdant English countryside, raped by motorways but still surviving.

There is still - just about - time to catch this wonderful documentary about the artist Edward Burra which makes me very keen to see this exhibition.

And in the light of recent discussions about biographers and artists' lives, here was a man who said, 'I don't tell anybody anything.'

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Following on from yesterday, we have The Post Whose Success Surprised Me and, honestly, I am baffled as to why a post about that Irish white pudding that I keep in my handbag should have caused a statistical blip ... but it did, and here it is.

As opposed to The Post That Didn't Get As Much Attention As It Deserved. I'm tempted to skip this, because when nobody comments I'm guessing that it's because I've been droning on about something that nobody else is much interested in. Like old ballet photographs. I won't be hurt, go on, admit it, you were nodding off. And I certainly haven't unearthed any neglected gem like Charlie's clever exercises in scones.

I thought I was going to be equally stumped by The Post I'm Most Proud Of. But, hey, why shouldn't I blow my own trumpet? For nobility of character, for heroic self-restraint under severe provocation ... I nominate the post where I prove that I can resist temptation in a bookshop. Of course, it goes without saying that the secondhand book you don't buy is the one that you never, ever forget.

Thanks again, Charlie. And I now throw the challenge open to anybody else who would like to join in.

Charlie invited me last week to join her in a blog project that invites us to rummage in our blog-attics and come up with seven posts that are worth reading again ... well, I'm very flattered to be asked, Charlie!
But I do recommend that you visit her blog because she has come up with some really lovely posts from her own vintage collection.

My most popular post Not counting my first-ever, tentative post when I wasn't at all sure what I was doing or why I was doing it, a post which notched up stratospherically high stats as I obsessively kept popping back to check if any kind person might have left a comment.
Well, not counting that, rather to my surprise I discover that my most popular post was this one about a lunchtime spent with Leonardo at the National Gallery.
I have no idea why ... except that it is one of the most beautiful drawings in the world.

My most controversial post Oh, this was a tough one. As you may have guessed, the most controversial issue in my world at the moment is What's Gone Wrong with Downton Abbey? not What's Gone Wrong with the Euro? And even so, I have been remarkably restrained, although I will say that the BBC is going to have even more ammunition for a jolly good Downton spoof than it did last year.
That stirring in Matthew's loins ... it would take a heart of stone not to guffaw.
Will the Elephant Man turn out to be the rightful heir?
Will they manage to put the Easter Rising on hold until the Irish chauffeur persuades Lady Sybil to elope? (At this rate, they won't get to the GPO before it closes ... )
But getting back to that most controversial post, I have racked my brains.
I wondered if it might be the post when I admitted that Miss Buncle bored me?
Pretty contentious stuff, don't you think?
Of course, there was that time when I must have been spoiling for a fight and said something mean about Dorothy Whipple.
But we won't go down that path again now that Rachel is back from New York because she's terribly fierce when roused ...

My most helpful post Well, that's easy. For Public Service Blogging, I nominate the post where I as near as dammit went to the Royal Wedding and told you about the flowers.

All this sifting through the past is taking longer than I thought, so I shall have to finish this tomorrow. Meanwhile, would anybody else like to have a go?
The missing categories are The Post Whose Success Surprised Me, The Post That Didn't Get the Attention It Deserved and The Post I'm Proud Of.
Watch this space ...

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Follow this link ...

To see why I'd happily go to the ballet every night of the week. Amazing, aren't they?

One of these days I'll work out how to embed YouTube like everybody else.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Coming home the other evening, through Marylebone station, hauling my big bag of windfall apples from Compton Verney, there was one shop I couldn't resist on Marylebone High Street.
Not Daunt Books. Not even the very posh Rococo chocolate shop. But the Ginger Pig, which is carnivore heaven.
And that's why a smoked ham hock, from the piggiest of pigs, was plip-plopping on the stove when I came in tonight.
And as I opened the door, I realised this was the smell of my childhood.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

If this were a marathon, I'm sure there'd be a sign around about now saying, 'Don't Give Up. There's Only Five More Miles To Go.'
Whew ... I'm 570 pages in which means there's only 300 pages to go and I feel as if I've been reading this forever. Well, about a fortnight, but when did a book ever take me a fortnight?
Seeing that wonderful documentary recently about Hilary Mantel, being interviewed by James Runcie, gave me the urge to read some more. Much as I absolutely loved Wolf Hall (and that didn't take me a fortnight, I devoured it in three or four days, sitting up at night because I couldn't bear to put it down), I'd only read one of her other novels, Beyond Black, which was all a bit too fey and supernatural for me.
A Place of Greater Safety is her mammoth novel about the French Revolution. It took me a while to get into it, because it's been a long time since I've been in the company of Danton and Desmoulins, Girondins and Montagnards, etc etc etc and even in my student days, I used to get them all in a bit of a muddle. Now, at last, I'm beginning to grasp who's who.
(If only I'd been able to read this back in 1974 when Jacobins and Jacobites were all in a tangle in my A-level brain.)
It's brilliant and it makes history come alive. But I'm not loving it as much as Wolf Hall. There's so many different characters to keep track of ... and although I've found myself developing a sneaky fondness for charming, unreliable Desmoulins and even for ascetic Robespierre (who'd have thought it, after growing up on The Scarlet Pimpernel?), there's so many of them, and all their wives, fiancées and in-laws, that it's not quite as satisfying as falling head over heels for Thomas Cromwell.
Meanwhile, my tumbril awaits and it's back to Paris for those last 300 pages, where things are getting bloodier and bloodier ...

Saturday, 15 October 2011

As Simon says, seeing beautiful Compton Verney is a bit like the moment when Lizzie Bennett sees Pemberley.
Very apt, because Colin Firth was there this summer making a film and visited the Stanley Spencer exhibition twice. (Too late, it's now closed.) He wasn't there, alas, on the day when I went.
But it was gorgeous yesterday which was one of those perfect, crisp autumn days. I even managed to pick a bag of their windfall apples (well, there were hundreds lying neglected under the tree) for a Sunday apple pie. They were so scented and warm from the sun that at first I thought they were quinces. (I know, I know, I wouldn't win any prizes for botany.)
I strolled around the lake picking up fir cones. Just as well I had all those carrier bags stuffed into my handbag from my fruitless sloe-foraging weekend in Devon a couple of weeks ago.
And as the current exhibition at Compton Verney is all about fireworks, even the names - Crimson Cascade, Mine of Serpents, Chrysanthemum Fountains - took me to back to the autumns of my childhood. Now if only they'd been selling treacle toffee and parkin in the café ...
On a noticeboard they asked people for their Bonfire Night memories. I can still remember the glowing feeling of pride that I was the only five-year-old at the bonfire whose grand-dad had sparklers in his ears and stuck up his nose.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Olive oil and sea-salt on your ice-cream?
Sriracha? there's some in the kitchen cupboard but I've never thought of squeezing it on Ben and Jerry's.
Maybe I'm just too straight for a Big Gay Ice Cream. But it's giving me food for thought ...
(Actually, now I think of it ... sriracha and ice-cream? Sounds pretty good.)
The topping in the picture is toasted curried coconut.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Too late, as it's happening tonight - but wouldn't you love to be sitting down to Virginia Woolf's famous boeuf en daube?
Even if that orchestrated conversation got a bit pretentious?
Unfortunately, it's sausages and scrambled eggs here this evening.
There are no insignificant suppers, only inadequate ways of looking at them.
Just a thought, but does anybody else think that the randy Major could turn out to be heir presumptive to Downton should anything happen
to Matthew in the war?
Of course, he was only missing in action for two minutes. But it got me thinking.
Maggie Smith was dropping heavy hints ...
We're used to Matthew now. God knows who the next heir is, probably some chimney sweep from Surrey.

And exactly what injury is Major Pants-Down supposed to be convalescing from, anyway? Send the cad back to the trenches ...
I really enjoyed Kathryn Stockett's novel The Help when I read it last year, but I'm not so sure about the movie.
There's some great performances from the actresses who play the black housekeepers, but somehow it felt too slick - too caricatured - too Oprah-ish. Too packaged.
Too long by a good half-hour.
I came away having sort of enjoyed it, but wishing that it had been handled with a lighter touch.
I've seen more films in the past three weeks or so than I have all year.
But my Oscar vote is still going to Tinker Tailor.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Watching Nigel's Surf 'n' Turf suppers, it struck me that's exactly what I had for dinner on Saturday night.
Mackerel wrapped in Serrano ham, with pig's cheek on a bed of potato purée.
That's Surf 'n' Turf. Right? Or should it be Surf 'N' Sty?
If I hadn't had that extra glass of wine, I might have remembered to investigate what they'd done with the pig. Which tasted fabulous.
Although last time I saw pig's cheeks in the supermarket, they were six for £1. Not £14 a plate.
If I'm ever reincarnated, please ... don't let me come back as a vegetarian. Unctuous is not a word you can ever apply to a cabbage.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Oh, oh, oh ... as I passed a boring parade of shops today, I noticed that one of them was being done-up.
And I looked through the window ...
And it was a very promising-looking second-hand bookshop. About 90 seconds walk from home.
(I am confidently expecting a dramatic rise in house prices. Don't you think? Far more exciting than school catchment areas.)
I edged through the door which had been left ajar and shamelessly distracted a man up a ladder who was stacking shelves. A man who seemed to have all the right ideas about old Viragos and orange Penguins.
I wasn't quite brazen enough to start clambering over boxes ...
It opens next week. I can't wait.