Friday, 26 September 2014

Jane's post today on jam and art got me thinking, especially as I'd also been struck by Stanley Spencer's  doorstep of bread and jam when I saw it at Somerset House earlier in the year.

I knew that Melendez painted jam, for sure ...

But I wasn't really thinking of jam as still life.

I started racking my brain. (As you do when you're supposed to be working on something entirely different.) I thought of paintings with bread and cake and brioche and ham and fried eggs and all kinds of fruit ... but where was the jam?

I was so sure that Tissot had painted jam, but when I checked they'd gone straight on to cake ...

Holyday, James Tissot c 1876

I remembered seeing this painting quite recently, and I was sure this old gentleman would have had jam - especially as it wouldn't be rationed yet. But when I looked carefully ... no jam. (But do click on the image for lovely detail, like the gas-mask on the table.) 

Why War?, Charles Spencelayh, 1938

I thought Evelyn Dunbar would be a good bet for jam, but seems that she was more interested in canning which isn't quite the same ...

A Canning Demonstration, Evelyn Dunbar, 1940

So I set off on a quest and discovered tea-parties that might well have been cheerier with a pot of strawberry jam ... 

Mrs Raynes's Tea Party, Henry Tonks, 1928

And messy kitchens where maybe they'd find some jam if they tidied up ...

David, in the Kitchen, with Thistle, John Bratby

And neat-as-a- pin kitchens where they'd put away the jam (but left the sauce bottle out on the sideboard).

Half a Kitchen, Thomas McGoran, c1956

And pantries full of empty jamjars ...

The Tiled Kitchen, Harry Bush, 1954

And - finally - tea with bread and jam (though maybe it's honey!)

Kitchen at The George, John Kynnersley Kirby, 1932

So it seems that Jane is right . In art, it's jam yesterday, jam tomorrow - but never jam today. And you can't beat Stanley Spencer for a jam doorstep. 

Postscript: Sue has cleverly suggested Coupons Required by Leonora Green, from the Imperial War Museum, for its jar of Hartley's apricot. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

This was one of my favourite books as a child and I'd love to read it again. I can't think why it isn't better known today. Or is it? I only know boys who would think it was soppy!

It was in my classroom library - one very small bookcase, which didn't boast many books - so we read them again and again.

It's about a little girl who shrinks to visit her dolls in their house. They think she's their landlady and bombard her with complaints about the dolls' house food and all the things that don't work.

So I was delighted to spend this morning at the Museum of Childhood looking at some of the dolls' houses that will feature in this exhibition. Including one very superior house with real cake! (The exhibition will be free to get in.)

Remember Ballet Shoes?
    The Fossil sisters lived in the Cromwell Road. At that end of it which is farthest away from the Brompton Road, and yet sufficiently near it to be taken to look at the dolls’ houses in the Victoria and Albert every wet day, and if not too wet, expected to ‘save the penny and walk.’ Saving the penny and walking was a great feature of their lives.

The very same dolls' houses. Could it be a need for equity release to support their owners in dolly retirement that forced their removal from genteel South Kensington to their present less fashionable address in Bethnal Green?

(Nothing to do with dolls' houses - but have you tried this reading test? I scored faster than a college professor but I imagine that college professors might be reading something more intellectually taxing!)

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Ruhleben Prison Camp: Hut No 8, Nico Jungman, 1917
There are some very moving stories in the Garden Museum's new exhibition Gardens and War, including the fascinating history of all those keen British gardeners holed up in  Ruhleben internment camp during WW1. Hut 8 was very proud of its rose garden.

The first bomb of that war fell on a garden in Dover and blasted the gardener out of a tree he was pruning. I never knew that!

Most poignant are the gardening stories from recent conflicts, little plots of hope in Gaza, Israel and Afghanistan.

But ... this is an exhibition almost entirely bereft of objects. When you think about it, it's extremely unlikely that anything would survive other than stray photographs. You wouldn't lose anything by experiencing it online instead of buying a ticket.

No excuse, though, for all the sloppy spelling mistakes. Ordinance/ordnance ... in an exhibition about war, for heaven's sake. Plus the usual it's/its and several more I spotted. Not a very good example for school parties.

My verdict: save the tube fare and buy the book.
Like the first snowdrops, the first cuckoo of spring (although the green parrots of London squawk all year round) ...

The return of autumn is marked by Downton Abbey and a new series of Lewis. And when my thoughts turn to dahlias, I invariably feel the urge for a Sunday afternoon trip to Columbia Road. Looking back, it seems that nothing changes ...

Yet again, I was tempted by the hydrangeas but held off until the moment when the cry goes up along the road. "Twoferfive. Twoferfive.  Two bunches for £5. Ladies, two bunches for £5."

A sheaf of papery Chinese lanterns and a big bunch of claret-coloured dahlias. Bargain sealed.

Then home to watch Downton, almost embracing autumn ...

The first bottle of whisky should clinch it.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

How could I possibly have resisted this cover? (Southern England 1944, Spitfires Attacking Flying Bombs, by WT Monnington.) I came across it a few weeks ago for £1 in the secondhand bookshop at Ham House.)

I haven't been able to settle with a book recently, but still managed to enjoy it - and I suspect that I'd have enjoyed it even more if I'd been able to bury my head in it uninterrupted for a whole afternoon. It reminded me rather of Elizabeth Taylor's At Mrs Lippincote's. On the Side of the Angels, first published in 1945, centres on two sisters whose lives are peripheral to a WW2 military hospital in Gloucestershire. They seem to be mere satellites of the men who have a more important role in the serious world of conflict. Honor is married to (and still besotted with) Colin, a dapper, overbearing  little man who was a small town GP in civilian life. Army life (although he has never seen action) has given him more masculine status than he ever commanded before ... but, equally, it leaves him thin-skinned and vulnerable to losing face as he obsesses over his standing with his commanding officer.  Claudia is engaged to Andrew, who is deprived of any status/desirability now that he has been invalided out of the Army with a dodgy heart.

Honor sighed: a moment later she said, unexpectedly "This isn't a war for mothers with children ... It's all right for young girls - they can go into the Waaf, or make munitions - do something - but the married women get the rough end of it. Trailing round in furnished houses, resented by the locals, snubbed by the trades-people - and on top of it all, cold-shouldered, seeing their husbands only on sufferance -"

Claudia flashed her an ambiguous glance. "The CO, my dear, doesn't like rivals," she said. 

Betty Miller is wonderfully perceptive about 'male pirouetting' and fragile self-esteem, and all the petty vanities and jostling for position that are part of army life ... and the ending came as a complete surprise to me. (She said it was an almost exact picture of the military hospital where her husband served under a very peculiar CO during the war.)

I wasn't terribly keen on Miller's earlier novel Farewell Leicester Square, which was interesting in the way it addresses insidious English anti-semitism between the wars - but was rather dull as a novel. I can see why Virago chose this one instead as a better read. Seems impossible, though, to track down any of her other novels. Not on Amazon/Abebooks/eBay ... or has anybody struck gold in a secondhand book shop?

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Conversation overheard on platform at Carnforth railway station. Wife to husband: 'It's not a girls' film. It's got trains in it.'

I'm not sure I'd agree ... I think it's the very epitome of a girls' film. But as I'd started the holiday at the Midland Hotel, where Trevor Howard stayed during the making of the film, I couldn't resist breaking the homeward journey south with the full Brief Encounter Experience on Carnforth station. Free to get in - the film runs on a loop so you could settle down in old-fashioned cinema seats for the whole afternoon - and there's tea and homemade buttered Bara brith in the old station master's office, where Celia Johnson used to warm herself  by the stove when they were filming. No Banbury cakes, though. They ought to have Banbury cakes. Fresh this morning.

One night they didn't finish filming until 7.30am by which time, the fish train from Aberdeen had gone through - leaving a smell of herrings. Happy? No, not re-all-y.

Nobody there but us and a few old train buffs who knew every line of the film, pointing out details we'd never spotted before like the train driver leaning out of the express in the opening sequence. This was 1945 and the driver wouldn't have seen a station lit up at night since the start of the war. But by then it was almost over and there wasn't much likelihood of bombing raids on Carnforth.

Far too late, it dawned on me that we should have made a detour here while we were still in the Lake District. So that's still on the bucket list.

PS I completely forgot to mention in the post about Morecambe this amazing secondhand bookshop on the promenade - keep walking past the seaside rock shops - which looks (and smells) like something out of Diagon Alley. I wouldn't have been at all surprised to stumble across the mummified body of a booklover who got lost in the towering stacks.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Next morning it was on with the literary tour ... to Beatrix Potter's Hill Top, with apples growing around the door, a fire crackling in the grate, and dressers full of teapots and Delft that you can see in her books. It is a house for a single lady and I hadn't realised that she didn't live here after her marriage, but used it as a studio/bolthole, installing her husband in a bigger house she owned just over the road. (This sounds a perfect marital arrangement to me.)

You shuffle through Hill Top with Potter fans from all over the world - well, mostly Japan. But when we arrived at Bank Ground Farm - immortalised as Holly Howe in Swallows and Amazons - we were the only ones there. Of course, you can't resist tacking down the steep field to the lake, just like Ship's Boy's Roger ...
Although, if you're a stickler for accuracy, Roger tacked up the field to where Mother was waiting with the duffers don't drown telegram. Roger was seven. My knees don't do up-hill.

This year's sloe gin will be Swal-loes Gin, although I picked barely enough for one bottle as the hedges were almost picked bare. Still, beats buying them on ebay like last time.

We sat and watched the steam yacht chugging across the lake. And instead of pemmican and lashing of ginger beer, we had the best tea and cake of the entire trip. (Lime and coconut sponge. On a 'help yourself' honesty system - are they mad, trusting ladies with cake - that put us on our honour as landlubbers to cut it generously but fairly.)

Ruskin isn't fashionable these days but it was only down the road to his house, so might as well ...

And look what we found. I'm still tossing up where I'd most like to live.

It wasn't planned as a literary tour of the Lake District, but one thing led to another. Saturday was Wordsworth day as we started out at Dove Cottage, marvelling at the thought of Wordsworth, his wife, several children, sister Dorothy, not to mention all their literary visitors, crammed into those dark, tiny rooms, still smoke-scented from coal fires. Who wouldn't feel a thrill seeing the couch where he lay in vacant or in pensive mood thinking of daffodils? Although it was Dorothy who noted them first: 
I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed & reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing.

Now I need to read Dorothy's Grasmere Journal and de Quincey's kiss and tell Recollections. (Today they keep a vase of dried poppy heads under his portrait.)

If you follow the scent of freshly-baked gingerbread from the old village school in Grasmere that has been Sarah Nelson's gingerbread shop since 1854, you'll come to Wordsworth's grave in St Oswald's churchyard ... he died in 1850, before the shop, but Dorothy mentions buying gingerbread in her journal.

Then we drove on to Rydal Mount, the family home from 1813 - and another couch where presumably he also laid in pensive mood. The house was bought in derelict state by a great-great-great grand-daughter in 1969 and Wordsworth descendants still use it as a family holiday home today. An Indian lady looked completely overwhelmed to be there, fulfilling a lifelong dream ... which made me feel ashamed that I only know snippets of Wordsworth by heart ...  daffodils and quiet as a nun and still glides the stream. Now I need to read The Prelude.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Reports of traumatised seagulls over Morecambe Bay have been exaggerated, the RSPB said in a statement today. However, counselling is being provided for birds who glimpsed a well-fed middle-aged lady emerging from the hot-tub on her roof terrace. The Eric Gill seahorses politely averted their eyes.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The cupboard at home is bare.

Over the past few days, I have stuffed myself on Bara brith - Chorley cake - Morecambe rock - Grasmere gingerbread - Kendal mint cake - smoked boar chop - smoked damson sauce - thunder and lightning ice cream - scones and jam - black pudding - parched peas - did I mention baked Alaska and steak and chips ...

I think I can fairly say that I did my bit to support regional cooking in the north-west.

So what's for dinner shouldn't be the pressing problem of this afternoon.

Except a girl's got to eat!
Pauline in the Yellow Dress, Herbert James Gunn, 1944

I see this painting on my desktop every day ... I can't remember why I dragged it there but it has become my gateway to BBC's Your Paintings, my favourite website, where I drop in constantly for work and for pleasure.

So when I realised I'd be passing through Preston on my way to the Lakes, I thought I'd break the journey to visit Pauline at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery.

Isn't she a glamour puss, with her 'shampoo and set' hairdo, her red lips and painted toenails peeping out from her shoe? (The Daily Mail called her 'the Mona Lisa of 1944.'

Dorette, Gerald Leslie Brockhurst, 1933

Then I came across Dorette ... don't you think she could be a Daphne du Maurier heroine?

In the Golden Olden Time, John Atkinson Grimshaw, c 1870

One of the best things about visiting provincial museums is running into old friends - like this Atkinson Grimshaw - and thinking, 'Well, fancy that, I never realised you lived here!' Is this a Wilkie Collins' heroine on her way to confront the brute who seduced her and got her with child ....
Or is she just an ordinary woman walking briskly home to a welcoming fireplace? (No prizes for guessing that I prefer the Victorian melodrama option.)

Girl Reading, Harold Knight, 1932
 I was sorry that this old favourite didn't appear to be on display. (Back in 12 months, apparently.)

Preston Corporation Chrysanthemum House, Albert Woods, 1921
And I would have loved to have seen these splendid chrysanths.

The Harris Museum is one of those wonderful examples of Victorian civic pride and there are some magnificent buildings in the city centre. I strolled for an hour - it's easy to wander out of Victorian splendour and into present day poverty/drugs - but I also discovered this beautiful Georgian square and a café that was like stepping back to the 1930s.

And then ... I jumped back on the train and headed for Art Deco Morecambe.

Back home with a cup of tea and a piece of Grasmere gingerbread ...

And it's hard to imagine that only this lunchtime I was admiring the stunning view over Lake Windermere from the terrace of Blackwell, this lovely Arts and Crafts house. Currently number 1 on my list of houses I wish I owned.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Bring Me Sunshine ... at least I hope so, because I've spent the afternoon planning a little jaunt, starting with a night of Art Deco glamour at the Midland Hotel, now restored to its Streamline Moderne glory. Will I meet Poirot shuffling down the corridor with his spongebag?

I've been wanting to visit, if only for tea, ever since the hotel reopened a few years ago. (You can read more about it here and here.)

I think I last visited Morecambe c1975 and even then people were cracking jokes about watching the traffic lights change.

This afternoon I discovered this old Alan Bennett play. If you go to 47.34 you'll see his elderly couple, newly retired to Morecambe - surely based on his Mam and Dad - having tea at the old shabby genteel Midland. Look out for the Eric Gill mural. Then they're off for a run up to Windermere, which is where I'm heading next.

By 'eck ... it made me feel ancient.

Now can anyone recommend somewhere for a nice cup of tea and a nice clean loo?