Friday, 27 January 2012

If only as a change from Dickens, I thought I'd mark Edith Wharton's 150th birthday this week by watching the movie version of The House of Mirth ... but found that I couldn't bear watching Gillian Anderson as one of my favourite tragic literary heroines, Lily Bart. I turned it off in disgust.
So instead I've been watching wonderful Bette Davis as The Old Maid in the 1939 movie version of one of Wharton's Old New York stories, which I've never read.

You are wicked, Charlotte. You are wicked.

No, I'm not wicked. I never could have done what you've done to me. You made me an old maid ...

Completely over the top and irresistible and all the more enjoyable for knowing that, in real life, Bette Davis and her co-star Miriam Hopkins really had their claws in each other.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Mrs Miniver's Daughter, being a bit of a cheapskate, is always on the lookout for free tickets. But she went wild today and squandered 1p on an afternoon of Dickensian entertainment. Indeed, with almost Pickwickian lavishness, she reached into her purse and pulled out 2p so that she could treat a friend.
No wonder the Penny Reading tickets sold out very fast, because for that we enjoyed AS Byatt (who turned out to be a terrific dramatic reader) reading from Great Expectations; Louis de Bernières reading Little Nell's deathbed scene ... although MrsM'sD is inclined to agree with Oscar Wilde that it would take a heart of stone not to guffaw; and a great-great-great grand-daughter of the man himself reading from A Tale of Two Cities. There was also a very glamorous and funny magician. Dickens used to do conjuring tricks and must have been rather good because he once abracadabra'd a guinea-pig from a bran-tub and pulled a Christmas pudding out of a gentleman's hat. (MrsM'sD would like to take a bow and hopes that you are suitably impressed that she has remembered this snippet of useless literary information.)
Rather a good Sunday afternoon for 1p, don't you think? And as we were allowed to choose a novel to take home, I have great expectations of imminently embarking on Our Mutual Friend.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

I could feel myself brimming with tears this afternoon, looking at this picture in the wonderful exhibition of Antarctic photographs at the Queen's Gallery. (And do look at the magnificent website which is the next best thing to being there.)
It was taken at the South Pole, 100 years ago yesterday - and you can see the utter dejection in Scott's team who have just realised that Amundsen has beaten them to it.
Some of these images are so familiar from books, but it was mind-blowing seeing them for real. When you can see the cut crystal glasses and foil-wrapped chocolates on the table for Scott's final birthday dinner. (I don't think I've ever quite grasped the sheer beauty of Herbert Ponting's photography; no wonder he always referred to himself as a photographic artist.)
But I am a shameless eavesdropper on other people's conversations ... so imagine my excitement when I overheard a snatch of interesting talk, then minutes later found myself shaking hands with the grandson of Teddy Evans, who was Scott's second-in-command; the great-nephew of Bernard Day, who was in charge of the motor sledges; and a younger chap who proved to be a distant cousin of Ernest Shackleton. (I have to confess that Shackleton is my number one Antarctic hero!)
It made my day ...
Before you ask, they all looked like the kind of burly chap you'd be glad to have on board in a crisis.
Then Jules Evans, who is a composer, showed me pictures on his phone of a sound sculpture that he made when he visited Antarctica.
And all the way home I thought of my trip there in 2005, just before the start of the Antarctic winter. And the colours of the ice grottoes, and the breathing of whales at dawn, and the pancake ice beginning to form around our boat ...
And I remembered standing on deck as the last iceberg disappeared from view as we sailed for home.
I think about it so often - because what I want more than anything else in the world is the chance to go there again.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Own up ... how many times have you tried to visit Wikipedia today?

Unusually low traffic here today, and I've made only two abortive searches, when I forgot that there's a blackout.

I can't remember when I got the habit - whoops, have just googled vainly to find when Wikipedia began - but certainly 10 years ago I would have had to survive without knowing what tops and noils are. (Reference that passed over my head, relating to the wool industry, in Hockney biography. I know now. I'll have forgotten again by tomorrow. Maybe it will surface one day when I'm watching University Challenge.)

Attempt two was utterly trivial search for information about a famous actress who I may or may not have seen yesterday, but was confused because a) she was shorter than I expected and b) if it was her, she was wearing really awful trousers ... so maybe it wasn't her.
So I had to find out how tall she is. (I won't embarrass the famous actress - who appeared in Cranford - in case she really was in the West End in a pair of awful trousers. I mean, you should have seen what I was wearing ... )

I sometimes wish that Wikipedia would operate a Need to Know facility.

Of course, yesterday I really did need to know about red pandas in China. Honest.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

I'm sure once you've seen it, you'll look forward to the spring a little more. I hope you'll notice more things .... and it can happen anywhere in England, you don't have to go to Woldgate. Most people think this is a perfectly ordinary little lane, nothing much, really. So you can see it anywhere in England - and I think it will maybe make you observe it a little more and I think that would be thrilling, actually. You'd get a thrill. Isn't that a good thing? I would think so.
(David Hockney)

This has to be one of the most joyful, vibrant, life-affirming exhibitions that I have ever seen and I shouldn't think there was a single person at the Royal Academy today who'd agree with this niggardly reviewer in the Telegraph who gave it a begrudging 3*. I got a thrill. I came away wishing that I could go on a fantasy road trip with Hockney, Constable and Turner, and maybe we should ask Matisse and Cézanne to come along ... and, of course, we'd give everybody an iPad. Imagine what Matisse would have done with an iPad.

What technology needs is imaginative, mad people to start using it ... and that's going to happen.

The iPad drawing above was made on January 2 last year, one of a breathtaking 52-part work called The Arrival of Spring.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

I don't normally watch a lot of television, unless it's Downton Abbey. Or it's in Danish. (Anybody else vicariously enjoying all the biscuits in Borgen? I was quite put out when the PM got too fat for her frock and ordered fruit platters instead, but - tak for det - she's back on cinnamon rolls and speculoos cookies before long.)
But this has been the Dickens of a Christmas and as I sit here totting it up ...
Two David Lean epics
Dirk Bogarde in A Tale of Two Cities
Couple of episodes of the Two Cities radio serial
Great Expectations (and I think Dickens would have loved Gillian Anderson's mad, anorexic Miss Havisham)
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (which I thoroughly enjoyed as, never having read it, I hardly needed to shout at the telly at all)
And even the thoroughly irritating Sue Perkins' exposé of the Dickenses' marriage ...

I think that, in all those hours slumped on the sofa, I could probably have read one of the novels instead.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Spot the difference ...

I couldn't resist being first in line to see Meryl Streep as Maggie and, true to form, she was magnificent. (Only saw her a few days ago in Mamma Mia on television ... what a difference!) But, somewhat to my surprise, I did feel slightly uncomfortable watching this portrayal of Lady Thatcher in lonely, doddery old age, still chatting to her husband who has been dead for several years. 'An imagined version of how she might be. Probably not accurate,' Meryl Streep agreed in an interview on Woman's Hour. It's not presented with any lack of compassion ... if anything, it humanises the Lady ... but she is still alive, and I shouldn't think there's more than a dozen or so people in the world who have any true idea of what she is really like today. Anyway, who says it's a sign of dementia to carry on a running conversation with one's dear departed ... that's something we all do in our heads, surely? Maybe it's because today is my birthday but the film did make me think about passing time. Mrs Thatcher became PM in the year that I graduated, when it seemed so completely astonishing that a woman could run the country and so the events of the film were the backdrop to the start of my adult life. I went on strike during the winter of our discontent of 1979, thrilled to bits to have six weeks off work (the novelty had worn off fast) and not giving a hoot about whether my overflowing dustbins would ever get emptied ... By the summer of 1982, by then in a proper job, I was memorably on board a destroyer as it sailed into Portsmouth harbour on its return from the Falklands. It really doesn't seem that long ago. In fact, I emerged from the movie wondering how on earth Mrs Thatcher and I both got to be so bloody old ...