Friday, 28 October 2016

I got this most readable biography from the library after hearing Artemis Cooper speak at Kew Literary Festival a few weeks ago. I read it with a kind of fascinated horror, because you want to pick EJH up and shake her - I think she must have been a most difficult woman, although often a generous and loyal friend (unless she had her eye on your husband) - but, oh, the loneliness and neediness that seeps out of this book. And the awful sadness and waste of love, when you read Kingsley Amis's love letters and then a few years later he can't bear the sight of her. But how you want to yell at her, Stop being such a doormat, stop cooking all those fussy dinners, tell Kingsley it's cheese on toast and he can get it himself and you're not his chauffeur. Your toes curl with embarrassment for her when she goes shopping for a trousseau of silky lingerie - she's 73 - before her first meeting with the admirer who turns out to be a violent serial-conman. (He has targeted her after picking up on her loneliness after she appeared on Desert Island Discs.) At least she got a novel out of it.
Now, of course, I want to go back and read The Cazalets again and the earlier novels. I found the film adaptation of Getting It Right on YouTube - Helena Bonham Carter, Jane Horrocks, John Gielgud, Lynn Redgrave, and it's absolutely dire! Look out for a one-line performance from EJH herself, tippling on a party terrace with (I think) Alma from Coronation Street. Or don't. It's not worth an hour of your life.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Guess who? Well, no, I wouldn't have guessed either. It's Picasso. (Self-portrait with Wig, 1900)
I stole an hour this afternoon to visit Picasso's Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery.

Woman in a Hat (Olga), 1935

On the page, this portrait of his first wife Olga looks whimsical; but when you see the actual painting, those big eyes - painted as their marriage ended - look terribly sad and bereft. 

Portrait of Olga Picasso, 1923
Olga again, looking so troubled - she worried about her family in Russia. I loved this portrait, and the wonderful bronze folds of her dress ...
Francis Poulenc
And was taken aback by this somewhat unexpected herringbone jacket.

Perhaps a bit too sentimental for me - but the friend I went with enjoyed a good blub - and it's ages since I've been to a real weepie ... even if the strongest emotion I felt, if I'm honest, was acute knitwear envy. There's a review and trailer here. And whoever knitted all those truly adorable 1920s baby clothes deserves an Oscar for best children's wear in a movie. Actually, the babies (and I counted seven in the credits, playing baby Lucy-Grace at different stages) should win a joint Oscar for cutest supporting children. There's a feature about the heartbreakingly lovely New Zealand island where the film is set here.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Visited the famous giant pumpkin on Saturday, grown at RHS Hyde Hall in Essex from a pumpkin seed that cost £1250; if it's a bit pale and wan, that's because it has been kept out of the sun to make sure it didn't split. It's displayed in the Hallowe'en pumpkin graveyard where someone has had fun writing pumpkin epitaphs. Not being a gardener, the tombstone inscription Ms Belle S Perennis: Pushing Up Daisies had to be explained to me before I got the joke.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

I went to a lovely little exhibition at Compton Verney last week of watercolours commissioned as souvenirs of Queen Victoria's visit to Paris in 1855, first time a British monarch had set foot there since Henry V - in rather different circumstances. The paintings are as fresh as if they were painted yesterday,    and it's the first time they've all been shown together.
And there's such a lovely sense of Victoria being away on a bit of a jolly and enjoying every moment (except the Opera which she clearly found a bit of a trial). These days she'd probably be posting it all on Instagram. But you can so imagine her showing the ladies back home ... Look, this was my dressing room, and wasn't it gorgeous and look at the clouds on the ceiling ...

But poor Albert had to dance with this frightfully plump Princess ...

Monday, 17 October 2016

What a lovely cover (At the Piano, by Harold Knight, from Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne). But how disappointing to discover that there's a novel by EH Young that I haven't much enjoyed; haven't at all enjoyed, really. I've been ekeing them out - having so loved Miss Mole, William and Chatterton Square - but it seemed time for another second-hand treat from Amazon. (Oh, I'm high-maintenance!)
This one was published in 1928. I've been limping through it, because I can't bring myself to care much  about any of the characters, and especially not about the central character, the vicar's most unappetising cousin Maurice, a deservedly-lonely, petty-mindedly revengeful, blundering, sanctimonious clergyman. Maurice has been standing in as a summer holiday locum for the more attractive Edward, whom he hasn't seen for many years, but now Edward and his wife and daughter have returned home. Maurice - a most pathetic excuse for a man - has fancied himself in love for years with his cousin's wife. Not that she'd have looked at him in a month of Sunday sermons. (Although I couldn't understand why she hadn't done rather better for herself than marrying the vicar, when it's clearly rather tiresome being a clergy wife and feeling that one's husband looks a bit of a twit on Sundays in church.)
I suppose it is a comedy of errors, so many secrets and misunderstandings and to-ings and fro-ings that I rather lost track as I wasn't very interested. It's an odd book ... there's a feeling of building up to some moral tragedy, but then it all fizzles out.  Of course, the suspicion that a vicar might have had a 'past' would have caused more of a frisson in 1928 than today.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

I like Anne-Marie Duff - heavens, for once in my life I'd booked weeks in advance - but her new play Oil at the Almeida is a bit of a mess.

It opens in 1889 on a grim Cornish farmstead that seems to have been modelled on Van Gogh's Potato Eaters, with a dash of Cold Comfort Farm thrown in for good measure. Not that anybody will be able to see anything nasty in the woodshed because these Starkadders are still dysfunctioning by candlelight -  when, as you can see, even the miserable Potato Eaters (1885) have embraced paraffin lamps that I'm pretty sure have been around for decades. Heigh ho ... well, you can see why pregnant Anne-Marie wants out when the Esso Blue man calls and turns on the lights. Before we know it, she's time-travelling through decades of squandered fossil fuel and global politics - until finally she and her daughter end up in a dystopian near-future where the lights have been switched off, they can't afford the leccy, and the Esso Blue man calls again but this time he's selling something nuclear. Oh, it's all very well-meaning - and there's a good dollop of Guardian feminism along the way - but sitting there for 2hours 40 mins felt like being hectored by an intense adolescent eco-warrior. Seemed like quite a few in the seats near me voted with their feet after the interval - and they didn't miss much, because with every time-change the play gets progressively less engaging. But I still like Anne-Marie Duff so I'll be generous and give it 6/10. When you've only paid £10 for a seat - and the Almeida's restricted view seats aren't all that restricted - well, that's less than a cinema ticket, so who's complaining?

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Loving this gorgeous botanical art book that has just arrived here by courier. I want to stroke that cover ... those shiny patchwork petals have a lovely embossed feel under my fingers. Stroke or read?????

Read ... I'm fascinated by all the quirky details in the captions. South African artist Olive Coates Palgrave, who painted this gardenia, began painting on excursions into the bush in the 1920s. When her children were small, she mosquito-proofed the pram and took them along. Although - before any mums reading this start feeling inadequate - looking at the dates, Olive's children must have been long grown-up by the time she painted this one in 1956.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Oh, how many years has it been since I was last at the Coliseum ... well, not since the stunning restoration of its Edwardian interior, that's for sure. Okay, I'm sentimentally attached to the Royal Opera House - it holds lots of memories of lovely nights out - and I don't think opera gains from being sung in English ... but, really, I'd left it far too long. My most exciting Coliseum memory was the time I sat next to Mick Jagger (yes, it was in the expensive seats!) but nothing doing tonight. I thought I saw David Mellor, but I think it was just another man who looked like a frog.
Tonight was the new production of Don Giovanni ... very different from last time I saw it. Don Giovanni is a sleazy sex addict; Donna Anna is playing risky sex games - and even the Commendatore is renting a room by the hour. And there's a twist at the end - I saw it coming - but it's not what Mozart wrote. It didn't quite work. Maybe in a secular world we've just lost any sense of horror at the gates of hell...
Also, when all the women are wearing almost identical black dresses ... I bet I wasn't the only one who kept getting confused between Donna Anna and Donna Elvira.
But the plus side (apart from lovely Mozart) ... oh it was bliss! I had neighbours who didn't fidget - or play with their phones - or require to be dripfed like hospital patients - they had all apparently had their tea before they set out... and there was a row of empty seats in front of me so I had a perfect view of the stage.

I'm among those who felt angry when a sanctimonious journalist took it upon himself to out the identity of Elena Ferrante a few days ago. But it did give me an early alert that the first-ever stage adaptation of her Neapolitan novels is coming to the Rose Theatre next year. Oooh, should I book now - forward planning into the new year goes against my nature!
Got last minute tickets for the Rose a couple of weeks ago to see a new play directed by John Malkovich. (The ticket lady said he'd scooted in and out quickly and we didn't see him.) But I couldn't help wondering what John Malkovich made of the London suburbs on a wet Thursday afternoon. Not to mention the matinee audience of pensioners without Hollywood facelifts!
But maybe he's charmed by Kingston - the swans on the Hogsmill river next to the theatre - four for £1 avocados on the market - and it's very handy for Wagamama for his lunch. I was half expecting to bump into him in Waitrose after the show.
The play, incidentally, was very good.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

'Anything can happen,' sighs Lord Carnarvon's daughter as she leans in to smooch Howard Carter. Well, clearly it can if it's on ITV. Is it a truth universally acknowledged that an archaeologist in search of a boy king must be in want of a love interest? Actually, there's two young ladies bickering over Mr Carter, that lifelong bachelor. Tutankhamun, alas, is getting very silly. And so far, they've only uncovered the steps of the tomb ...