Monday, 27 April 2015

Oh, dear. This was the lost weekend when I discovered Outlander, which only goes to show that one is never too middleaged for - sigh - utterly compelling romantic tosh. I'm appalled to say I watched 11 episodes back to back, completely gripped and feel as if I have gorged my way through a big slab of Highland toffee. If only I'd had a nice single malt to wash it all down, but sadly I had to make do with mugs of tea.
Poldark? Ladies, Poldark is nothing ... Poldark is a lukewarm Cornish pasty.
I've never read Diana Gabaldon's historical time travel novels and I don't really want to because, honestly, this is all too preposterous. It is 1945 and Claire, who was an Army nurse, is reunited with her puffy-faced English husband at the end of the war. He looks as if he's escaped from an episode of Foyle's War (and when I googled him, it seems that he really did). But we can forget about him - completely not my type, I'm afraid - because next thing, she's in the middle of some standing stones and  whoosh, she's transported back to Scotland in the 1740s and gorgeous Jamie in his kilt - see above - is rescuing her from the puffy-faced English Redcoat, the sadistic b...... who is her husband's ancestor.
No wonder they had to delay showing it until after the referendum.
It is beautifully filmed - apparently, the most expensive series ever filmed in Scotland - and shame on the BBC for not buying it up for mainstream TV.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

I'm getting very bored with this month's book group choice; only half way through but it definitely falls into the 'plodding on out of politeness' category. I'm not a great fan of historical novels unless they're of the calibre of Wolf Hall - which this surely isn't.
The real life story of Typhoid Mary, the Irish cook who spread disease through her cooking is undoubtedly fascinating. I knew little about her and certainly hadn't considered the human rights/legal side of her story. I don't know whether there's enough source material to flesh out a biography - but a good biography would have been far more interesting than this heavily fictionalised story.
Perhaps I'd have been more forgiving of the unconvincing historical detail (Mary's Paris hat? She's an immigrant Irish cook for heaven's sake) if the story had zipped along a bit faster - but it drags along so  painfully slowly that it gives the reader ample time to mutter and growl about its shortcomings.
The story of Typhoid Mary has all the ingredients for what could have been a gripping read - but by over-egging the pudding Mary Beth Keane has made it fall flat. I am reminded of another medical history, so deftly handled that it would break your heart to read it ... and can only say that The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a far better read.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Monica Dickens ... I've only to hear the name and the years roll away and I'm curled up in an armchair with a bag of sweets and my mum's library book. She'd pull them out of her shopping bag, Catherine Cookson's Mary Ann books, Daphne du Maurier, Howard Spring, AJ Cronin - and Monica Dickens,    who impressed both of us because of her famous literary ancestor.

 I don't recall reading The Angel in the Corner - but when Darlene posted about it recently, she sent me scurrying to the library to put in a request. I checked it out yesterday, two minutes before closing - started it in bed last night - pulled it out from under the pillow first thing this morning and the day has vanished, I've done nothing except read to The End.

 I don't know why they're so enjoyable. It's pure Woman's Own fiction. The nice middle-class girl marries a good-looking brute who drags her down to life in a slum - but he can't vanquish her independent spirit. (The Penguin cover is too insipid and droopy; I think this lurid one sums it up better.)
It's completely unbelievable soap opera, and Monica Dickens has a penchant for clunky great coincidences that maybe she imbibed from her great-grandfather. But she's such a story teller, so good on descriptions of clothes and food and London and domestic detail and grubby newspaper offices ... so thanks, Darlene, I'm blaming you for my lost weekend!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Home Quartette: Mrs Vernon Lushington and Her Children, Arthur Hughes, 1883

It is 1883 and you find yourself living next door to delightful Mrs Vernon Lushington and her charming, talented daughters ... now admit it, don't you just hate them? Mamma is a Victorian Tiger Mother, relentless at promoting the young ladies' talents - and it's so much more economical than shopping at Liberty when you can run up a matching trio of green velvet Aesthetic frocks out of the drawing-room curtains. No visitor escapes without being performed at, not to mention a parting lecture from Mamma on the perils of corsets. What a shame that the young gentlemen who sign her anti-tight-lacing petitions have such clammy hands.
(Now I've just Googled them out of curiosity. The real Mrs Lushington died suddenly the year after this portrait was painted and Kitty, the eldest daughter, later became the inspiration for Virginia Woolf's Clarissa Dalloway.)
Miss Anna Alma-Tadema, 1883, by her father
Fifteen is an awkward age and that shell necklace looks as if it was made in the schoolroom after the grown-ups had oysters for dinner.

Jane 'Jeanie' Elizabeth Nassau Senior, GF Watts, 1857-58, 
Mrs Nassau Senior, the model for Dorothea Brooke, was the first female civil servant - but I don't suppose she wore her purple dressing gown to the office.

Alice in Wonderland, George Dunlop Leslie, 1879

I've always had a soft spot for this painting and it was a nice surprise to come across it unexpectedly - and, anyway, I've always hankered after that sofa.

The Aesthetic Dress exhibition at the Watts Gallery is tiny but I really enjoyed it. It doesn't seem to matter that Watts is a painter I can't bring myself to love because the gallery itself is such a delight, especially at this time of year with the surrounding woods full of celandines, anemones and violets. For once we'd come on the right day for a tour of Limnerslease, the artist's Arts and Crafts house, with a very knowledgeable guide whose enthusiasm brought the place alive.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

There were daffodils and crocuses, primroses, cowslips, the first tulips and rhododendrons, an amazing purple magnolia with blooms the size of an Ascot hat ...

There was birdsong (over the inescapable traffic noise) and a few early butterflies ...

There was the knock-out scent as you walked into the glasshouse - from freesias, lilies, oranges, lemons and limes, sweetpeas, freesia, heliotropes and stocks, completely bonkers, mingling in a heavenly blast of heady perfumes.

And I love the idea of Amaryllis Trials. Hippeastrum Benfica, you are charged with getting too big for your boots and toppling off the shelf. How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?
As for Hippeastrum papilio - that's right, no supermarket amaryllis, but the expensive miscreant from Kew - what alibi do you have for your refusal to flower this year?
This one was a stunner and so was this. 

I always think this house has been transported from Bekonscot village or an Enid Blyton storybook. (It's actually the laboratory.)

I wasn't sure about going to Wisley on a bank holiday - but it was perfick.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Tea at Furlongs, 1939
On a sunny spring afternoon, what could be nicer than a pot of coffee and a jam-and-cream scone in the lovely garden at Dulwich Picture Gallery, admiring daffodils and a gorgeous magnolia ...

Before discovering that the Ravilious exhibition you were so looking forward to is pure pleasure and delight, everything you were hoping for and more. There are old favourites, seen in the flesh ...
The Waterwheel, 1938
The Greenhouse: Cyclamen and Tomatoes, 1935
If you've only seen the birthday card, you haven't experienced the strange magnetic pull of the closed greenhouse door.

Train Landscape, 1940
I've only seen the famous Train Landscape once before, when I was so surprised to discover that it's a collage, I never noticed that it's slightly on a tilt - conveying the motion of the train. Just look at the rubbed nap of the velvet upholstery and the worn leather window-strap ... again and again, I was amazed by textures lost in reproduction.
Flowers on a Cottage Table
But there were many, many watercolours that were completely new to me, either because they are held by museums that rarely show them or they're in private collections. (Oh yes, I was overcome by art-envy! But do you grab and run/escape on a bicycle/call a cab ... I've always been fascinated by Dulwich's history of art crime - although if anyone from Scotland Yard/Interpol should chance to read this: It Wozzn't Me.
A Farmhouse Bedroom, 1930s
A Farmhouse Bedroom is in the V&A ... wouldn't you shiver at the thought of having to sleep there? It could be the setting for an unnerving psychological thriller about an unhappy marriage - or a creepy lodging house. I wondered what Hitchcock would make of it?
RNAS Sick Bay, Dundee, 1941
On the other hand, you could never be bored convalescing in this bed.

Vicarage in Winter, 1935
And I haven't even started on dawn light - and steely winter skies - and footprints in snow. So if you're reading this, Sue, and wondering if it's worth a trip to London - the answer is yes, you definitely should!