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.