Tuesday, 31 December 2013

I'm not sure what happened to December but let's start the New Year with great originality and my round-up of Books of the Year. As ever, it bears little relation to lists in the newspapers because few of the books I've read were actually published this year - and I'm not going all out to impress you with my erudition. (Though I did belatedly read Fifty Shades of Grey back at the start of the year. And I notice with some embarrassment that I didn't flag it on the sidebar! But don't feel you've missed out - it's not on the list - and it was (sort of) in the line of duty for the day job.)

My best read of all was only published last year - so it almost counts as new, though it took me a few months to catch up - and no surprises that it is Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies.

Next on the list is a bit of a cheat as Mrs Bridge by Evan S Connell topped my list for last year. But it was just as good when I read it again, this time with Mr Bridge. There's a review here. Mr Bridge and Mrs Bridge, read together, proved to be something very rare, a book group choice that was unanimously loved by everyone in our group and sparked off lots of discussion.

I don't think it was a vintage year for reading and so I found myself re-reading lots of old favourites, including Emma and Persuasion. And I enjoyed Marghanita Laski's The Village as much as I did first time round. On the other hand, Barnaby Rudge - I've started, so I'll finish - is never going to feature on my list of favourite Dickens.

The quirkiest book of the year was Ella Minnow Pea and my favourite heroine was Miss Mole.

And the forgotten book  that everybody was talking about and I loved too was Stoner.  But that's on every newspaper book of the year list.

I've read very little non-fiction this year but I greatly enjoyed Mad Girl's Love Song about Sylvia Plath's Life before Ted and Deborah Cohen's fascinating history of Family Secrets.

My Christmas read for dipping in and out of has been Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe, a sharp and funny collection of letters from a nanny in a literary household - Alan Bennett is always dropping in for supper - quite often laugh-out-loud funny but it went on a bit too long for me.

And now on to the film awards ...

We have the film I couldn't review because I woke up from a deep sleep as the closing credits rolled.
We have the most interesting film that not a single person I know went to see. (I must be a strong contender for the least influential blogger/reviewer of the year award.)
Surprisingly, however, a Shakespeare play turned out to be my most enjoyable film of the year.
And this film, with Julie Delpy as the actress I most wanted to strangle, was the most over-hyped and disappointing.

But to go out on a high note. The Cake of the Year award goes to this cafe in Hove, discovered by chance on a day trip to Brighton a couple of weeks ago, for their layered Victoria sponge with plum jam and buttercream, topped with pomegranate seeds and dusted with gold glitter ... I know that sounds strange, but it twinkled like fairylights and tasted fabulous. (Keep walking. It's opposite the big Tesco.)

And now all that remains to be said is Happy New Year and thank you to everybody who has read and commented through 2013.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Nigel Slater's Great British Biscuit rightly lamented the passing of Abbey Crunch, but failed to address the big question ... whatever happened to Barmouth biscuits? I loved them - golden, thin and crunchy, like a  langue de chat, only round, and I haven't seen one for years. Come to that, whatever happened to those posh Jacob's chocolate marshmallows with the blob of jam? And he never mentioned the pink and white coconut mallows that were best deconstructed by starting in one corner and peeling off the gooey topping with your teeth.
But as for Nigel, who looks badly in need of a haircut, a shave and a good wash ... he's looking as seedy as a stale Nice biscuit that's been down the back of the sofa and picked up a coating of fluff. Yeeuggh, I couldn't fancy one of his custard creams.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Christina's World, Andrew Wyeth, 1948,  tempera on gesso

Greatly enjoyed Palin on Wyeth, a Culture Show documentary about the American artist Andrew Wyeth, his idyllic childhood - his father was a commercial artist who made a fortune illustrating children's classics like Treasure Island - his rediscovery of egg tempera, a medium which had barely been used since the 16th century- and his lifelong connection with the landscapes and neighbours he painted at Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and Cushing, Maine, home of the Olson farmhouse which literally was Christina's World. When I first encountered this painting, I assumed that the crippled Christina was a young girl but in fact, she's a middleaged woman in her 50s. There is something deeply disturbing in this painting, that diagonal between the house and the woman that almost seems to be her hauling her back from where she has crawled to the boundaries of her world. Well worth seeing and Michael Palin for once not too irritating.
Out of the north parts a great company and a mighty army ....

In Liverpool yesterday I remembered to pay a visit to the war memorial (opposite Lime Street station) which has just been upgraded to Grade I status. The detail of the bronze sculpture makes it so poignant, especially on the side that depicts the people of Liverpool mourning their dead ... men, women and children of all classes, from shawlies to prosperous gentlemen in overcoats stand against a background of massed graves. Their clothes make them seem so real, a woman's button shoes and wrinkled stocking, a boy's turned-down socks, a man leaning on a crutch and hiding his grief in his coat sleeve.  (Click on the image to see better.)

Sadly, among the Remembrance Day poppy wreathes there were so many small wooden crosses remembering young men who have recently died.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

 Twisted, he was. Where others had a soul, he had a corkscrew -

You'll never go into a dusty, old library again (or fancy travelling in a train carriage like this one.)

I've just spent my teabreak watching Mark Gatiss's excellent directorial debut for BBC2, an adaptation of MR James's properly chilling ghost story The Tractate Middoth ...

Highly recommended - but try not to choke on your mincepie when you go, Aaarghh! There's a review here.

Monday, 2 December 2013

The meat and rabbits and pigeons are very nice to draw. Eric Ravilious

Off for a jaunt by train yesterday to see this exhibition of Ravilious prints at Pallant House, completely charming but it's a tiny exhibition and I wish there had been more.

Never mind, Pallant House is a delight in itself and I was very happy to stroll around Chichester, listening to the seagulls, and the first Christmas carols, and pausing in the cathedral to look at the Arundel tomb.

Once every hour, a member of the clergy gets up in the pulpit  to admonish visitors and urge them to think spiritual thoughts. Yesterday it was a bossy female with an unmellifluous voice who hectored every spiritual thought right out of my head ...

I muttered something uncharitable and wondered what Larkin would think.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The Bletchley Circle. Series 2. 

Own up, ladies. Anybody else old enough to shout at the telly when the murder victim has a book of second class stamps in his pocket? In 1953.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

And all they that heard it wondered at those things that were told them by the Daily Mail ...

Thought hard about whether to serve Nigella's ham in coke for Christmas dinner,

Then decided to stick with Delia.

A pair of shoes, one shoe upside down, 1886

At the flea market, he'd bought an old pair of clumsy, bulky shoes - he put them on one afternoon when it rained and went for a walk along the old city walls. Spotted with mud, they had become interesting.

Sorry, I know it's annoying to write up exhibitions that are on the point of closing. I've been meaning to go to Van Gogh in Paris for weeks and finally made it today. But there's still two days to go, if you'd like to knock on the door of the most discreet little gallery in London ... you need to know where you're going, there's no poster in the window, there's not even a name on the door, because it's only a gallery for two months of the year. (Next door to St George's, Hanover Square.) But don't feel shy, ring the doorbell, sign in (it's free to get in, but for security reasons you need to register online in advance), don't feel intimidated by all those heavy security doors ... 

 I can't tell you how magical it was to find myself in this gem of an exhibition and only three other people there. (It got a bit busier later on.) There's something very touching about Van Gogh's shoe paintings; this one above is from a private collection.

Self-portrait, Dec 1886- Jan 1887
 And this is possibly his first proper self-portrait, on loan from The Hague, and also his first real use of colour. The exhibition focuses on Van Gogh's two years in Paris from February 1886- February 1888 and the influence of his friends and the other artists he met there, during this period when he was forging his distinctive style, and making his transition from sombre Dutch potato eaters to the glorious sunflowers.

The Laundress, Toulouse-Lautrec
 Van Gogh used to visit Toulouse-Lautrec's weekly soirées every Tuesday at Montmartre and would sometimes bring a painting along to show him.

View of Bennecourt, Monet
And he would surely have known this painting by Monet because it was shown in the gallery where his brother Theo was manager.

Avenue de Clichy,  1887, Louis Anquetin (Private collection)
But what fascinated me more than anything was the juxtaposition of this pastel of a street scene outside a Paris theatre ...

With this rather more famous painting by Van Gogh done the following year (which isn't in the exhibition, but never mind).
There's a video of the exhibition here. 
Cafe Terrace at Night, 1888

Monday, 25 November 2013

Moorhen skating, Ian Mason

Popping in to our little local museum yesterday to escape the rain, I couldn't help chuckling at this photograph of a moorhen (from this year's exhibition of wildlife photography, wonderful as always) ...

Rev Robert Walker Skating on Duddington Loch
Because it reminded me so much of Raeburn's skating vicar, one of my favourite paintings from the Scottish National Gallery.
The wildlife exhibition is touring and dates/locations are here.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Overheard on a train tonight:

Blonde girl #1: There's, like, this really old guy at work. He's, like, 58 ...

Blonde girl #2: Why would anyone that old have a job?

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Supporting the rights of Englishwomen to a pot of tea and a sausage sandwich after a steep, chilly walk.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Autumn Regrets, John Atkinson Grimshaw
I've only got to look at a painting by Atkinson Grimshaw to start imagining a Victorian novel full of secrets ...

So there couldn't be a more enticing book jacket than this, Charles Palliser's first novel for a decade which sounds like it has all the ingredients. I remember being completely gripped by The Quincunx which I devoured in three days - all 1200 pages - simply by staying up all night. I had stamina in those days ...
However, I don't think I finished his next book The Unburied, doubtless because it simply couldn't live up to my exceedingly high expectations. It's still on the shelf, so maybe I'll try again.
But I think this new one might be my Christmas present to myself. Has anyone read it yet?

Thursday, 14 November 2013

I started watching this really lovely documentary about Judith Kerr  as I was having dinner, thinking that, no matter how fascinating, I knew her story already - then found myself captivated by her childhood drawings of 1920s Berlin. Not only that she was so young when she did them, before her family escaped in 1933, when she was only nine - but that these drawings must have meant so much to her mother, that this what was she packed as she fled on her own with two children, literally on the eve of Hitler coming to power; the very morning after the 1933 election, the Nazis were on the doorstep to confiscate the family's passports. Poignantly, at the end of the programme, Judith - now 90 - revisits their local railway station in Berlin, whence she used to hear the comforting rumble of goods trains in the night, and where plaques set into platform 17 now commemorate the thousands of Jews who departed from that very station to the death camps. One last drawing, full of movement,verve and promise, so similar in style that it could have been Judith's - but isn't - was done by another child who was later gassed at Auschwitz. There are no words.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

I sometimes feel guilty about the workload I place on St Jude, patron saint of hopeless cases ...

Who procured the ticket,  even when I knew the show was completely sold out

And the rainy-night cab that deposited me outside the theatre with exactly 90 seconds to spare, which is just enough time to collect said ticket and beg for a glass of water to get my breath back.

It was a memorable performance. There's a trailer here.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

I came across this book for £1 in my favourite Charing X Rd bookshop a few weeks ago. Its publication earlier this year had passed me by but I picked it up because I recognised the author's name.  Meike Ziervogel is the beautiful and glamorous founder of Peirene Press, specialising in elegantly designed paperback translations of European novellas that - wait for it - can be be read in less than two hours. So I came away with Magda purely out of curiosity.
What a desperately bleak and terrible read it is in only 113 pages ... Magda is Magda Goebbels and this is a fictionalised explanation of how she came to kill her six children in Hitler's bunker, made all too logical by her vision of what their lives would become in defeat. Meike Ziervogel says that she could only find distance from it by writing in English but to me this had such an intensity that I could hardly believe that it wasn't written in German.
It reminded me of Veronique Olmi's Beside the Sea, another raw and achingly painful novel about a mother killing her children that was the first novel on Peirene's list. I saw it also as a powerful one-woman play that was brilliant but left me wrung out for days afterwards.
These are not the kind of books you recommend. My book group refused to read Beside the Sea. But it is one of the most powerful, gut-wrenching novels that I have ever read.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Hurrah, Borgen is back, just as my Danish was getting rusty. Birgitte is back in politics with a new lover and new green stilettos. Katrine has a child-seat on the back of her Danish bicycle and a kid called Gustav who says grandma more often than mum.
I'll own up to having a bit of a middle-aged girl-crush on Birgitte. I don't have her morals because I'd sell my vote for her fancy new apartment and I'd sell my soul for her kitchen. (You know it's a middle-aged crush when you envy her kitchen more than her new English lover.) That's it. Don't want to give too much away.
Tak og forstat god deg.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

I'm ashamed that I still haven't found time to get stuck into The Love-charm of Bombs despite glowing reviews and encouragement from Darlene. My only excuse is that it's a hefty weight but I know from the bit I've managed to read that it deserves a long lost weekend of total immersion.
But here's a link to yesterday's Culture Show for those who'd like a taster. I'm now desperate to re-read The Ministry of Fear and The Heat of the Day, not to mention this biography of Elizabeth Bowen ... oh dear, the lists and piles grow longer every day.

I'm completely baffled by the artwork from which I'd deduce that Philomena was a quirky, feel-good comedy ... wouldn't you?
I was lukewarm about going to see this, I admit. I'd seen too many trailers, knew the story inside out, trawled through too many old newspaper stories, flicked through the clunkily-written book - and reached saturation point with Irish misery lit after The Magdalene Sisters.
But Judi Dench has an irresistible pull - and Philomena turned out to be heartbreaking, funny and (mostly) admirably restrained. It's a gripping journalistic story, although the film stops short of turning over the murky stones that make real-life too harrowing - for the tragic, self-destructive story of Philomena's son, you'll have to read the book or the newspapers. (I don't think the mostly geriatric audience pushing and shoving to get into the cinema yesterday afternoon really wanted to know. I tripped over three walking sticks trying to get out through the scrum ... haven't seen a 2pm cinema queue for a long time.)
Steve Coogan, to my surprise, is terrific. Suffice to say that not for a second did I find myself wondering why Dame Judi was off on a road trip with Alan Partridge.
Academy award for best actress? Probably.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Portrait of a Lady in Black, 1894, Gustav Klimt
The National Gallery's exhibition of Viennese portraits has elicited plenty of carping and quibbling from the critics ... but I thought they'd completely missed the point.
This is a portrait of a society ... middle-class, wealthy, unsure of itself ... for very good reason as history would show all too soon.
I was far more interested in the sitters, than in the artists, who seemed so real they could step out of the gilded frames for coffee and Sachertorte.
Look at the Lady in Black, at her exquisite silk dress with its jet beading, her gold jewellery and that porcelain complexion. (Click on the picture and you'll see the details better.) She was actually the wife of Vienna's master baker and that faint suggestion of a double chin hints at what might happen if she over-indulges in her husband's patisserie.
She is just in the nick of time to be painted by Klimt, who is still fairly young and affordable. (I don't think I've ever seen an early Klimt before, but isn't this one lovely, too?)
Another five years or so and his prices will have soared out of the baker's reach. And the Lady in Black would have been depicted rather more like this:

Portrait of Hermine Gallia, 1904

Hermine lived in grand style on Wohllebengasse - Good Living Street - and, perhaps fortunately, died before her family had to flee from the Nazis to start a new life in Australia.

Anybody who has read The Hare with Amber Eyes will be fascinated by this exhibition. There is a photograph of Edmund de Waal's great-grandmother Emmy, dressed for a ball as a Titian duchess. Emmy's Viennese palace was ransacked by the Gestapo and, though she escaped to Czechoslovakia - not a good choice - she committed suicide, unable to cope with this cruel new world.

But Vienna had already experienced an epidemic of suicides among wealthy, Jewish gilded youth.

Ria Munk on her Deathbed, 1912
Beautiful Ria Munk was only 24 when she shot herself through the heart after a failed love affair. Her parents rejected Klimt's first portrait of their daughter on her deathbed - far too distressing (many years later, seemingly, it was bought by Barbra Streisand) ...
And they settled on this one instead, of Ria in a cascade of tulips, anemones and carnations.

Ria Munk III, 1918

So many stories and so sad.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Some films seem to vanish in the blink of an eye and, even though I was looking forward to seeing this one, I suddenly realised that if I didn't get a move on, I'd miss it completely. Hannah Arendt was never going to have widespread appeal and the reviews were generally lukewarm, but I thought it was gripping. There's a review here.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Some of the pearls in the V&A's exhibition are horrors. Baroque pearls lend themselves all too easily to some grotesquely tasteless flights of the jeweller's imagination, and although this necklace of freshwater pearls - above - is undoubtedly clever, inspired by a frostbitten twig, it does look rather like a scabby  barnacle infection on a mermaid's tail. Of course, there's lots more that is simply exquisite, like this tiara, but my overwhelming feeling was that it's sad to see something so lovely in a museum case instead of being worn.
Fascinating to see Elizabeth Taylor's pearls (natural), the Mikimoto pearls that Joe DiMaggio gave to Marilyn Monroe on their honeymoon, and the pearl earring that was taken from Charles I's ear after he was beheaded. And, having always believed the story that pearls grow out of a grain of sand in the oyster, it was news to me - although I'm not sure I wanted to know - that in fact they form as a cyst around an intruding tapeworm. And with that cyst of wisdom, I will leave you.
I wouldn't say that this exhibition is 'must-see' but I enjoyed pottering through for an hour; it's smaller than many V&A exhibitions, but that's not a bad thing.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Sometimes I need to remind myself that it's only an hour on the train to one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. And I don't go there often enough.
So yesterday morning, I got up early and ignored the rainclouds.
No matter how many times I visit Oxford, there is always something entrancing to be discovered for the first time.
Like the witty Oxford jokes and delightful carved animals that I discovered simply by taking a different route than my usual one from the station. (Thank you to the college porter who urged me to step into the chapel to get out of the rain.)
The main purpose of my visit was this thought-provoking gem of an exhibition at the Ashmolean.

Which more than made up for the banal tripe that is currently on here.

There were rain-drenched dahlias in the gardens of Balliol, where organ music was drifting from the chapel.
Wandering through Trinity, I buried my nose in one last, perfect, rain-soaked magnolia, then sneaked into the back of the chapel to hear the choir practising a Nunc Dimittis. 
There is something very special about the golden afternoon light in Oxford. 
I scurried through the covered market just before it closed and bought a bunch of peachy, scented roses and a nice bit of halibut (which fortunately I remembered to remove from my handbag when I got home).
And then I ended the afternoon listening to this.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

When I decide to get moving on a Friday evening ...

I can finish work at 5.45pm. Feeling a bit frazzled.

Jump out of the bath by 6pm. Feeling a bit better.

Run out of the front door by 6.10pm. (Ladies, you can achieve this once you embrace the sad truth that  no amount of titivation makes any difference at all.)

And by 7pm you're in the bar at the Opera House with a cup of coffee and tarte tatin getting your breath back.

With a ticket up in the gods for Carlos Acosta's exuberant new production of Don Quixote, although sadly he wasn't dancing last night.

I suppose I could have stayed in with a pizza.

Monday, 14 October 2013

I've been immersed in Sylvia Plath for the past few days and it was interesting to discover in the last few pages of this biography how Ted Hughes very nearly slipped from her clutches ...
The more I've read over the years, the more I struggle to have much sympathy with Sylvia, who seems like a weapon of destruction.
But it was fascinating to listen to her voice here.
There is an exhibition at Ben Pentreath's shop this week of photographs relating to 18 Rugby Street where Hughes and Plath spent their wedding night and where he spent the night that she killed herself.
It's a building that always pulls at my heartstrings as I go by (it's just around the corner from Persephone Books) but I'm not quite that much of a completist.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

I never thought I'd say it ... but I'm only watching Downton for old times' sake, like a duty visit to a doddery old aunt who's become a bit of a bore. Later, there'll be a sad conversation with a friend when we solemnly commiserate about how it's Dragged on Too Long, and it's Not What it Used to Be, and Do You Remember when it was in its prime? And then we'll say, whatever did happen to that bloke with the bandages who disappeared?
Well, he's probably up on the mantelpiece which is Dollshouse Downton limbo for characters who have died or slipped into oblivion. Along with Tom Kitten-Matthew, may he RIP.
I only discovered the latest wonderfully clever series of Dollshouse Downton the other day ... Don't you think Lady Edith is simply perfect?

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Susan Glaspell's novels Fidelity and Brook Evans are two of my favourite Persephone Books and I enjoyed her play Trifles when I saw it a couple of years ago, but how I wish I'd read this review before taking myself off to see her sprawling, achingly long play Springs Eternal. This was her last play, written in 1943 and never performed until now - some would say with good reason, and the most positive thing I can think to say about it is that as she never took it into rehearsals, it was never edited. It would have been very, very easy to walk out at the interval.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The cinema was packed (even at 2pm on a weekday), every other reviewer has said it already ... but, yes, Cate Blanchett really is that good in Woody Allen's homage to A Streetcar Named Desire.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

I can still remember my disappointment when I realised that Elizabeth Jane Howard had simply abandoned the Cazalet family in 1947 at the end of the fourth volume in her family saga ...

That was 18 years ago, which is a very long time to wait for the finale. I was planning to re-read the earlier books to remind myself of who's who and if I had, I'd have been in good company because somebody else has been limbering up, too.

Not a chance. I was too impatient to dive straight in, then spent last week in Cazalet total-immersion. Bliss, I opened the first page on the flight up to Scotland ...

And it was like re-acquainting myself with old friends. It is now 1956 and the Duchy, the family matriarch, is dying. The family must adapt to a post-war world and the Cazalet business empire is shaky. Villy is still bitter about her divorce from slimy Edward who is no longer inappropriately groping their beautiful daughter Louise but that undoubtedly explains why Louise is now the mistress of a wealthy married lover. (Having trouble keeping up? Gosh, I was glad I'd listened to the radio series.)  Diana is a demanding bitch of a second wife. Polly and Clary have young families (EJH is brilliant at writing children). And poor old governess Miss Milliment has Alzheimer's.

I couldn't tell you why I love it so much. Occasionally, it's ludicrous .. . there's a completely daft incestuous romance that runs for a few pages until EJH apparently gets bored with it and lets it fizzle out. But I don't suppose 90-year-old authors get taken to task by their editors.

Actually, I do know why I love it so much. It's the wonderful detail, the descriptions of rooms and clothes and food ...  I imagine that EJH can remember every meal she has ever eaten. There's a wonderfully aggressive dinner party when Diana is bullying her sister-in-law's half-Jewish lesbian  lover with rich, indigestible food - crab soufflé, venison in wine and brandy, followed by crème brûlée. Oh dear, I was sighing over that, it sounds simply delicious to me.

It's a perfect autumn read, a perfect holiday read, perfect for reading with cocoa/malt whisky/soup, perfect for reading in the bath (at least it will be once it's in paperback). And although it says 'final volume' on the cover, EJH has been hinting that there might be another to come.

If you're new to the Cazalets, though, you really do need to start at the beginning.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

This is where I was last Saturday afternoon, keeping an eye out for dolphins in balmy sunshine ... today it's grey clouds in London and a pile of work to catch up on.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Train Landscape, Eric Ravilious

I nearly missed it because I didn't know it was there ... but when I came across Ravilious's Train Landscape in Aberdeen Art Gallery on Saturday morning, it was like greeting an old friend. I've seen so many reproductions and never realised that the original is actually a cut-and-paste collage. Well, fancy that.

Two Schoolgirls, James Cowie
Another yelp of recognition when I ran into these schoolgirls ... who couldn't be anything other than pupils of Miss Brodie, and I bet their shirts are made of silk tussore and their ink spots get dabbed by Miss Lockhart in the science room.
It was my first visit to Aberdeen and I was so delighted by this wonderful gallery that I went back twice during the weekend.
That still left time to embrace other cultural experiences ... Like my first taste of IrnBru (yuck) and my first deep-fried, battered Mars Bar (and yes, they do fry them with the cod). It had to be done.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

I don't suppose I'll ever learn to knit: no patience, no skill, not much desire for the end product. But I still found this programme about the golden age of British knitting enormously engaging, starting from the Prince of Wales's espousal of Fair Isle sweaters in 1922 up to the present-day resurgence of wool shops. (But omitting the current fad for yarn-bombing which becomes slightly less amusing once you've passed your umpteenth gatepost wearing a knitted bobblehat.)
But there is a proud tradition of utterly useless knitted goods and if you have time on your hands, may I recommend a 1950s poodle bottle-cover to hide your desperate housewives' Sanatogen tonic wine. Might also keep tonight's bottle of Shiraz nicely chambré.
There's some wonderful archive footage ... the Queen Mother knitting for victory, Fair Isle knitters knitting on the trot as they tended the sheep, and who would have guessed that the Imperial War Museum holds a knitwear collection made by POWs?

Saturday, 14 September 2013

There's sunflowers, asters and gladioli on the windowsill,

Spiders in every corner,

Rabbit stew in beer bubbling on the stove (I do wish I'd put it on earlier).

I've switched from drinking wine to a slug of whisky,

Stirred the first porridge,

Made the first butternut squash soup and the first apple cake.

I've even watched the first two episodes of Downton Abbey, which is a bit like opening all your Christmas presents in November. (Actually, it gets off to very slow start and I've rather gone off it.)

But I still haven't put on the first pair of tights, and I'm not going to give in yet. Although I'm heading off to Scotland soon where the barelegged look will probably look even dafter than it does here.

Tights make me feel even worse than putting the clocks back.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

I thought I'd set out in good time for yesterday's film, then found I hadn't allowed anything like enough time to get round this Mass Observation exhibition at the Photographers' Gallery just around the corner.
Probably not worth a special trip - they're not all as fabulous as these somewhat posed pictures from John Hinde's 1947 Exmoor village series. And yes, that's the John Hinde who became famous for postcard views and can't you tell from this wonderful colour? (Do check out the fabulous company archive  here.)
I barely peeped into the upper gallery which seemed to be mostly MO exercises from the 1980s, which interest me far less (especially as I once had to trawl through boxes of them for work). But if you're in Soho/shopping on Oxford Street, it's well worth dropping in - it's free to get in and there's a handy little café - and I definitely mean to go back when I'm not in such a rush.

I really wanted to love Le Week-end. It has a pithy script by Hanif Kureishi  and you couldn't ask for better casting than Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent - who both deserve Oscars.
They are a couple in their late 50s who go to Paris to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in the hotel where they spent their honeymoon.

It's beige.
It does have a certain light-brown-ness about it. 
You do get a complimentary breakfast.

So, instead, they check into a hotel de grand luxe that they can't afford.

Tony Blair once slept there.
As long as they changed the sheets.

I enjoyed this far more than the long-awaited anti-climax of Before Midnight, earlier this summer. (You couldn't stay married to Julie Delpy's character for 30 years, or even 30 days, without going mad unless you were profoundly and peacefully deaf.)

But there was something terribly sad about Le Week-end, the despair in their eyes, the early promise that had settled into mediocrity in Birmingham, the sexual loneliness and avoidance.

Can I touch you?
What for?

I might do it for you later. 

Why won't you let me touch you?
It's not love. It's like being arrested.

But it kind of tailed off towards the end and, like most films, it was about half-an-hour too long for my middle-aged attention span. And then I went home feeling faintly depressed about middle-aged mediocrity and how stiff my knees get when I've been sitting down for too long.

And I don't even have the consolation of having cheekbones like Lindsay Duncan's. The ageing process should not be inflicted on women without cheekbones.

The other film I saw this week was What Maisie Knew. Very clever - and the child who plays Maisie is excellent - but so distracting wondering what Julianne Moore is doing with Alan Partridge.

If you're staying in, though, I can thoroughly recommend BBC4's new series Sound of Cinema which has really opened my ears to the function of music in films and, as I'm more of a visual person, I'm finding it fascinating. It starts with The Ipcress File (which sent me on a detour to watch the whole movie ... wonderful cookery scenes but didn't Len Deighton write a cookery series for men in The Observer?) ... then stay in your seat for Vertigo, Citizen Kane, Taxi Driver, A Streetcar Named Desire  (the Legion of Decency objected to the sexy sax which was rewritten for strings) and Mary Poppins. A wonderfully eclectic mix of movies, and I still haven't seen the electronic episode - which starts with Hitchcock's Spellbound and Billy Wilder's Lost Weekend (as early as 1945, and I'd love to have a go on a Russian theremin, an instrument I'd never even heard of) and culminates in Chariots of Fire. Well worth seeing.