Sunday, 8 October 2017

My new guilty pleasure ...Bake-Off-Vlaanderen. (You can watch it from the UK. I hope it won't prove too addictive!) Of course, I can't understand a word of it but they're looking for de beste koek - de top koek - de koek der koeken - de koekoek en de flopkoek ... so you get the gist of it and niet goed is niet goed, no matter where your Bake-Off tent is pitched.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

I felt a bit sorry for the handful of people who turned up in white tie and evening gowns for tonight's premiere of Journey's End; it might have been more glam in the stalls, but up in the circle they were sitting next to riff-raff like me who'd rolled along after work. Saw one girl (un)dressed to the nines in the kind of gown that demands a bikini wax; she must have been frozen ... I wriggled back into my coat and longed for a woolly jumper; you don't need the A/C on full blast in London in October!
I so wanted to love the film more than I did, but I couldn't help thinking back to that wonderful stage production with David Haig that left me so emotionally wrung out I could hardly stand up at the end. I'd forgotten how huge the Odeon, Leicester Square is; perversely, I think I'd have felt more involved in my cosy, little local cinema (where the seats are comfier, too!). Somehow, that claustrophobic feel of men in a dugout had been lost. Reviews have been mixed: the Guardian gave it 2* which seems harsh, 3* from the Telegraph and 4* from the Times. I'd say 3.5. If I hadn't been cold - and I hadn't skipped lunch - who knows? Yes, I know, this present generation, it's all about creature comforts ...

London Film Festival has just opened and, though I've had the brochure on my desk for weeks now, every time I flicked through it, I felt overwhelmed by the choice. But tonight - inspired by chatting to the woman sitting next to me who is seeing two or three films a day -  I got home feeling ready to go for it ... only to discover that everything I really want to see (On Chesil Beach, Loving Vincent, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) is already sold out. Oh well, there will be other chances.

But I have seen a couple of other films this week, nothing to do with the film festival.

In some ways this is the sequel to Journey's End, when the men have returned home with PTSD. I snuck into the cinema while I was shopping, only too aware that friends would sooner pull the teddy bear's arms off than sign up for two hours of this. (There was hardly anyone in the cinema.) Oh, there's part of me that loved it; when the credits rolled, there was a knitwear consultant - how can you not love that? But that appalling child ... how can you not want to throw up? Or cheer when Christopher Robin gets kicked down the stairs? I wasn't raised on Winnie-the-Pooh and it's too late now; I can hear my mother's damning verdict, 'It's very English!'

The Glass Castle (film).png

I wasn't expecting much from The Glass Castle; it had mostly ropey reviews, but I do like a Sunday morning movie and that's what was on, so that's what we saw. I wasn't keen on Woody Harrelson hamming it up and it did feel like something you'd watch on telly with a bad cold and Lemsip - but it held my interest and I was fascinated to see the real family members at the end. It did make me want to read Jeannette Walls' book about her outrageously feckless parents which sounds rather better than the film and has the advantage of being Woody Harrelson-free.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The book I should have abandoned after 50 pages - because it didn't improve! Are there no editors out there prepared to say, 'Go back to the beginning - and slash it by half!' 400 pages of tosh! Is it a rom-com? Is it a satire on the art world? `Is it supposed to be funny? It might have been if Hannah Rothschild had a lighter touch. Oh well, when the Daily Mail calls it a masterpiece, that should be warning enough! I did feel slightly uncomfortable with Nazi war crimes as the backstory to such a silly book. And no, it was not a good idea to have a long-lost painting by Watteau that talks to itself ...
I'm asking myself why I plodded on? Perhaps because a very unenticing book group book is nagging from my pile; still, if I leave it a week longer I can skim read without any guilt! (Bill Bryson. So predictable, I just can't be bothered.)

Monday, 2 October 2017

I've been practising my Christmas baking; I know - I'll peak too soon and by Christmas it'll be Mr Kipling if you're lucky! But I enjoy it more when there's no pressure and cinnamony, nutmeggy smells go with autumn. Last weekend I made an Italian spongata, from a 19th century recipe - like a big mince pie stuffed with honey and walnuts - but they're much older than that and this picture dates back to the 1690s. (That's not my best profile!) I cheated and used ordinary shortcrust because last time I used the original pastry - made with olive oil and white wine - and it turned out like old boots. This time I decided it was a success and I'll make it again.
But this weekend, I went back to my favourite old-fashioned seed cake - which has now officially replaced lemon drizzle as my default bake setting. (Nigel Slater says be frugal, a pinch of caraway is quite enough; I say go for it, I stir in a full tablespoon.) I do think it's time for a seed cake revival.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Feeling the need for a bit of light relief after binge-watching Vietnam, so I've been enjoying this RadioFour adaptation of Cold Comfort Farm - a repeat, but new to me. Waiting for a cottage pie to crisp up and pondering whether a jug of sunflowers looks a bit much against a shelf of orange Penguins.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Two hours in, eight to go. I'm in it for the long haul - BBCFour's mammoth documentary about the Vietnam War is completely gripping. This war was the backdrop to my childhood, on the television news every night; we'd be hushed so my dad could listen, but nobody ever explained what it was all about. This is epic television; watching these first episodes - 1858-1961 and 1961-63 - I'm shocked at how much I didn't know.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The main event yesterday was supposed to be King Lear at Shakespeare's Globe - though I'm not sure that I didn't enjoy the Audrey preview rather more.
It's always a bit chancy booking for the Globe, especially in late September - but how lucky, I couldn't have had a more glorious day, and it was gorgeous walking along by the river. I hadn't been to the Globe in years; we used to make a point of going every summer, then I lost interest after a run of gimmicky all-female productions - and we drifted away.
So what's changed? There's clearly more air traffic overhead - and, while I get the fact that in Shakespeare's day audiences could drift in and out as they pleased (though if Generation Snowflake could stop guzzling water from crackly plastic bottles, it might discover that it could hang until the interval for the loo!), nevertheless I could have happily lynched the stupid woman whose phone went off - lengthily - as Lear carried on Cordelia's dead body. How about three hours in the stocks until the evening performance? And chuck her damn phone in the Thames! No, she was patted on the back by sympathetic staff to ease her embarrassment.
Still, it was a nice afternoon, if not a memorable production; bizarrely, at times it seemed to be played for laughs! I've only seen one Lear who truly wrung my heart and that was Ian Holm.

Her annotated script for Breakfast at Tiffany's (estimate £60,000-£90,000); a kaleidoscope of coloured ballet pumps, well-worn because she wore them as slippers around the house; her modest cardboard suitcase from the 1940s and her Louis Vuitton luggage later; an invitation to the première of Breakfast at Tiffany's, ostensibly from Holly Golightly ... estimate £300-£500 but of course it will go for much, much more.
I caught the last hour of the preview for tomorrow's sale of Audrey Hepburn's personal effects at Christie's. Impossible not to sigh over a letter from Cary Grant to Dear, dear Audrey/And you are indeed a dear Audrey ... and think what lovely letters people used to write not so very long ago. There's  her ice-blue cocktail gown from Two for the Road and a black satin one from Charade; an adorable outfit - crisp white linen shirt, black linen trousers, red ballet pumps, a lipstick red belt and a straw boater - job lot, estimate £3,0000-£5,000; her Rain in Spain costume from My Fair Lady - but it was a spare that wasn't actually used in the film. And then there's earrings, and scent, and long, white evening gloves ... and an eye mask, but not the eye mask which was lost in the mists of time.
In one room, there's racks of quite ordinary summer frocks ... it feels a bit like rummaging in an Oxfam shop on a very good day. (No, you can't touch!)
I was so glad I got there in time, especially as I'd got the dates muddled and missed the Vivien Leigh viewing at Sotheby's. (What a week!) But kind of sad to see anyone's belongings dispersed like this. The Christie's man said that the last big personal sale he handled was Mrs Thatcher's ... I don't really like to think who'd bid for Maggie's handbag!

The Breakfast at Tiffany's script went for more than £630,000; I'm a fan but I'd sooner have something useful, maybe a house.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

I struggled with H is for Hawk; it's misery-lit with wings and claws and I'd have abandoned it except someone chose it for book group so I tried again. It wasn't a success though; unanimous thumbs-down, which doesn't often happen, and damned with the verdict: Too many feathers! Still think that cover illustration is fabulous, though.
So rather to my surprise I found myself quite enjoying the BBC TV programme (coming soon) in which Helen Macdonald trains a new goshawk called Lupin. I found her too much to take when I read the book; as if I were mentally crossing the road to avoid all that emotion. Now life has moved on and she's no longer steeped in grief; plus an hour of rural pursuits is about my limit.

Friday, 22 September 2017

I went to York a couple of days ago and read this on the train, so completely engrossed that I barely looked out the window. It's heartbreaking, so beautifully written, not a word wasted - and it addresses all those overwhelming middle-aged questions about life and is this all there is? Gerry and Stella are a retired couple in a long, accepting, mostly affectionate marriage and they're on a long weekend to Amsterdam. He's devoutly alcoholic; she's a devout Catholic, hurt by his cynicism. He's profoundly shaken when the visit reveals the distance between them.
Perhaps it struck a chord with me because I remember visiting the hidden Begijnhof in Amsterdam and inquiring (only out of curiosity!) about how one would qualify to join this community of single women. (It shook me to the core to realise reading the novel that, like Stella, I'm already too old!)
Maybe the book resonated so deeply for me because I was on my to York, where I was a student - so there was definitely a feeling that day of where did those 40 years go? (Not that I really want to be 20 again! Apart from the 20in waist and the long, dark hair!)
MacLaverty has said that this isn't about an elderly couple; it's about two young people who got old and have fallen out of step with each other. I heard a young-sounding reviewer on Radio4 saying that it left her cold; she couldn't connect with it. Give her time, I thought ... it gets all of us in the end.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Hard to believe that this is the 25th Open House weekend. I've flagged since those early years when I used to draw up lists and gad about all over London; some years I've ignored it, or only visited local properties. I don't like queues, don't much care about office space, and I much prefer having a nosey around private houses rather than historic buildings that are open to the public anyway. I am never, ever sufficiently organised to pre-book.
But this afternoon I saw what could be achieved in a very ordinary little terrace house just around the corner from home. It looked lovely ... and it's how I'd like to live when I'm reincarnated as a very tidy person without 1000 books. The lady on the door told me that people don't own books anymore. I admired it all but thought it looked very hard and uncomfortable. The lady on the door asked me why I had chosen to come to this house. Because it was the nearest, I said, feebly. The man behind me in the queue had come all the way on from Blackburn, clearly with serious intent. I did like their stair carpet, though.

More Open House-ing this afternoon, this time to 'the finest example of a modernist house in a Georgian setting' - well, that ticked all my boxes, how could I resist, and now I'm longing to move in! The 17th century mansion just around the corner would be lovely but it had a dead, municipal feel; if only someone with imagination aand money could hug it back to life. Rachel at Book Snob has been Open House visiting, too, and writes about some very different properties here. There's more than 800 on show, so there's always somewhere new or a building that's intrigued you for years but you've never been inside. 

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Monday night was a telly-fest ... a pot of chilli, a nip of whisky (thanks, Darlene!) the latest episode of Victoria and then, hurrah, the start of a new series of Outlander. I know, I'll watch any tosh if it's in period costume. (But I did enjoy this documentary about the Magnum photographers, too. So that raised the tone.)
Last night, though, I'd booked a last minute ticket to our lovely local theatre to see Driving Miss Daisy with Sîan Phillips. How sad ... rows and rows of empty seats. And she was terrific - huge applause and cheers at the end. And she still looks as beautiful as ever. The woman sitting next to me said she'd overheard someone in the bar saying, 'Who's Sîan Phillips? I've never heard of her.' Which made those of us old enough to remember I, Claudius feel absolutely ancient! I've been trying to recall who played Miss Daisy when I saw the original production in the West End - and I think it was Wendy Hiller. Now that does make me feel ancient! I'm so tempted to dig out the programme from that dusty old suitcase in the bottom of the wardrobe ... but if I do, that'll be the whole afternoon gone! (I've stopped buying programmes. There is no room for any more clutter that I can't bear to be parted from.)
Driving Miss Daisy is on tour. Bizarrely, the last play I saw at Richmond a couple of weeks ago was packed out - a thoroughly limp and unthrilling thriller. If it's coming to a theatre near you, save your pennies for something better!

Saturday, 9 September 2017

I've been completely engrossed in The Underground Railroad, this year's Pulitzer prize-winner and one of President Obama's choices for last year's summer holiday reading. (If we were treated to President Trump's booklist, guess I must have missed it.)
It's devastating and wildly inventive, an imagined history of slavery in the southern states of America and as I came to it fresh - don't google it or read the reviews - I was quite a way in before I thought, 'Hang on ...'
Anything I could write feels like a spoiler. But even allowing for a few longueurs towards the end, it's one of the best books I've read this year.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Judi Dench is simply brilliant as the ageing Queen, greedy, cantankerous and lonely; the Munshi ... well, the Munshi twinkles and simpers and might have bhangra-ed his way out of a B-list Bollywood movie. It would be more interesting if he'd been presented as a more rounded character. Never mind, it's a bit of a royal rom-com but we thoroughly enjoyed it. Love the way Dame Judi gobbles a profiterole; it reminded me how much I enjoyed this book.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Judith and Holofernes, John Luke, 1928

As promised, here's a few more works from the British Realist exhibition. Now I couldn't claim that I really like this painting by an Irish artist I'd never heard of before ... It was the shoes that caught my eye, as if she's dancing a celebratory jig over the body that - at first glance - looks like a bloke struggling none too successfully with an IKEA flatpack. And Judith looks so very much of her time, like a Unity Mitford or Betjeman's Olympic femme fatale:

The sort of girl I like to see
Smiles down from her great height at me.
She stands in strong, athletic pose
And wrinkles her retroussé nose.
Is it distaste that makes her frown,
So furious and freckled, down
On an unhealthy worm like me?

James Cowie, A Portrait Group

This schoolgirl could be one of Miss Brodie's set. Cowie did have a thing about gymslips. I've always thought of these two schoolgirls as Brodie girls in their tussore blouses.

Jeunesse Dorée, ©erald Leslie Brockhurst, 1942
This is Dorette, the artists's second wife. She looks like a second wife.

No, I've changed my mind. She's a first wife ... Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. Don't you love those brooding eyes and the silk scarf? You could write a story around almost every painting in this exhibition. One interesting point that was made that the artists were born before the age of the motor car and lived to see space travel.

Woman reclining, 1928, Meredith Frampton

Marguerite Kelsey, a professional model, was only 19 - but such elegance and poise! This painting (from the Tate) has such perfect finish that you can even see the perfect half-moons on her perfectly manicured pale pink nails. Meredith Frampton, perhaps confusingly, was male.

Elsie, Hilda Carline, 1929

But it's not all about society ladies. Hilda Carline was Stanley Spencer's first wife and Elsie was their  maid who mediated during their quarrels. I didn't know whether to be more taken by her shoes and those shiny stockings - for Sunday best or day off - or the kitchen range, pot-holders and rug. (Remember the smell of rugs slightly grimy with coal dust?)
Of course, it does make you think of all the forgotten female artists who would have done so much better to have remained unmarried to their 'genius' husbands. I've just finished reading the letters of lovely, lively Ida John, who gave up her own work, and was dead of puerperal fever at 30.

The Welsh Mole Catcher, Stanley Lewis

Of course, men get neglected, too. You can read the story of Stanley Lewis here. This was 'picture of the year' at the Royal Academy in 1937. Do take a look on ArtUK where you can see the amazing detail of all these paintings. What did I do with myself beforeArtUK was invented!

The Rat Catcher, Gilbert Spencer, 1922

And just for balance, here's the rat catcher, too. Love the paper fan in the grate and the spent matches on  the floor.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

For sheer enjoyment and pleasure in discovering 'new' forgotten artists, True to Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s will be a strong contender for my favourite exhibition of the year. It's on in Edinburgh until the end of October and I'd love to go back for a second visit, though I don't suppose I'll get the chance. But summer exhibitions at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art are invariably my cup of tea and well worth the cost of a cheap flight. (Why are cheap flights always so much cheaper than the train?) Anyway, this time I was on my way up to Aberdeen, so it worked very well as I was able to cadge a lift north that same evening. (I still feel sad that I never got to taste the spinach and hazelnut cake in the gallery cafe, as recommended by Cornflower.)

The Cruise, Mary Adshead, 1934
I meant to write this up weeks ago but I've just found my scribbled pencil notes on the back of my boarding pass, so before I lose it forever here's some of my favourites, in no particular order.

Mary Adshead's cruise looked as if it might have been rather earnest with lots of educational lectures. Definitely not a booze cruise ... look at that blue and white tea set. I love the young girl stubbing out her ciggie - and those dressing gowns!

The Family, Bernard Fleetwood-Walker, 1932
My first thought was that The Family could be the cover for a Persephone Classic, maybe by Monica Dickens or Richmal Crompton. I'd never heard of the artist - but then I realised why his style looked kind of familiar.

Adoration of Old Men
Adoration of Old Men, Staney Spencer, 1937

This made me laugh. In your dreams, Stanley. But I do like that rainbow scarf. Stanley is always very good on knitwear. (Click on the image for a better view.)

The Day War Broke Out, Mom, 1939, Victor Hume Moody
I loved this. The title says it all ... the trepidation in her eyes, chin up, the hint of half-mourning for another war that seemed like yesterday ...

WhyWar? Charles Spencelayh, 1938
This is an old favourite. The Daily Sketch headline reads 'Premier Flying to Hitler.' You can see it better here.

Children in the Country, Bernard Fleetwood-Walker, 1942

Maurice, Beryl and Amy missing their mum.

Walter Rankin, Local Defence Volunteer,  William Oliphant Hutchison, 1940

Dad's Army. Fighting on mugs on tea. This one was a retired newsagent.

Hiking, 1936, James Walker Tucker

Here's another old favourite. Just look at those polished shoes!

The Fried Fish Shop, Clifford Rowe, 1936

I'd sooner a mug of chip shop tea than any dainty afternoon tea cup. But I think I prefer this painting from the Tate. You can smell the vinegar.

Selling the Daily Worker, Charles Branson, 1937

The apron caught my eye - but I think it's just a poster tucked under her belt.

Well, I did warn you they were in no particular order. I could have spent hours and hours in this exhibition. I did spend hours and hours! I'll try and put some more up later in the week.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

I've seen some pretty awful theatre this year ... Common, zzzz, with Anne-Marie Duff at the National; Oil, yawn, that was Anne-Marie Duff again (but maybe that was last year?); and now Against, which in fairness isn't quite as bad as the other two, but still felt like a very long and wordy and worthy evening tonight. (No, it's not plays with one-word titles because Ink was quite brilliant!)
Trouble is, if you want to see Ben Whishaw for £10 you book well in advance. But I set out with low expectations tonight, having read the reviews. Whishaw plays a Silicon Valley billionaire (I know, he barely looks old enough to shave) who is getting messages from God urging him to address the problem of violence. I do think he's a wonderful actor; he deserves better than this.
Undaunted, I booked another ticket when I got home. Albion, from the same writer and director as King Charles III ... now that has to be good!

Friday, 25 August 2017

File:Little House on the Prairie first edition front.jpg

I guess 0.05% of my gene pool is pure farmer's wife ... I've been meaning to experiment with fresh cheesemaking since my visit to Kew Palace a few weeks ago and sure enough, a litre of Tesco's Jersey milk turns into a little basin of cheese overnight. I picked some parsley and chives, tarragon and a bit of basil and it was rather like Boursin. (I'd be a millionaire except I'm always late to the party.)
Well, that left me with an enormous bowl of buttermilk. And then I remembered this little Canadian cook book that was a present from Darlene. Canadian buttermilk biscuits? Why not? Biscuit 1 tasted a bit frugal ... by Biscuit 4 I'd remembered the maple syrup in the cupboard.
I poured the rest of the buttermilk down the sink to avoid temptation. Then thought, damn... I should have made soda bread.
But as I already have farmer's wife hips perhaps better not.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Alan Rickman was to have played the Scotland Yard detective in The Limehouse Golem who's 'not the marrying kind' and it's hard not to feel a pang that we'll never see that performance - or hear that glorious voice against the backdrop of penny-dreadful Victorian London. But, having said that, Bill Nighy is terrific, too. If you've a strong stomach for dismembered corpses (I once met a team of very charming young men who made them horribly realistically for films and TV) this is a rollicking Victorian murder mystery with lots of twists and turns - though I'm not sure that the body-count made it the best choice on a Sunday morning when I'd binge-watched The State the night before.
I loved all the period detail - the gas-lit Limehouse gloom, the glow of the music hall (was it Wilton's?), the British Museum Reading Room - but my attention was flagging just a bit by the end; not sure whether that was a surfeit of twists and turns or my having dashed out of the house without my second cup of strong coffee.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Medallion, 1937
Happened on an interesting BBC documentary which I almost ignored thinking it was about Gluck, the composer, but it turned out to be about Gluck, the cross-dressing society artist who was the lover of Constance Spry. And that's why her name (Hannah Gluckstein, butshe only answered to Gluck) sounded vaguely familiar, from this very readable biography from a few years ago. 
Of course, I recognised her most famous work, the self-portrait (with another lover) that was the cover 
of the Virago edition of The Well of Loneliness. It must be 40 years since I was bored to tears by The Well of Loneliness; I wonder if I'd at least be more interested by it today? Well, it's still up there on the shelf because I'm not one to part with a Virago, even one I disliked. Anyway, those covers were an art education in themselves; today's Viragos look so insipid beside them. 

Of course, the self-portrait is immensely striking. But I think I prefer the stunning white flowers that she painted while she was with Constance Spry. Wouldn't this look stunning in a fashionable all-white drawing room? 

Lilac and Guelder Rose

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

A few months ago I went to a talk by Lydie Salvayre - in conversation with her translator - which was billed as being in English/French but unfortunately the translator took a unilateral decision that he couldn't be bothered translating as he went along. It was a hot afternoon in a stuffy room - I couldn't keep up and I lost the thread. But I came away having understood enough to make me think that I wanted to read the book. The event was packed, as always with ladies of a certain age - you never see men at anything like this, do you? - and they all seemed to have read the book in their book groups. They must be very switched-on book groups because, although this won the Prix Goncourt, it seems to have got very little notice in the British press. I found this.

The novel is based on reminiscences by Lydie Salvayre's 90-year-old mother whose memory is failing but who can vividly recall the events of 1936 when for one glorious summer Spain seemed to be on the brink of a Socialist utopia. I don't think I've ever read a better book about the Spanish Civil War, or about any civil war ... the atrocities committed on both sides, the hideous complicity of the Catholic church. Salvayre grew up in France after her exiled parents fled from Franco's regime. Perhaps because she is a psychiatrist she writes with great insight about betrayal and idealism. In the past, I've always got horribly muddled by POUM and FAI and PSOE ... you know that feeling when you're drowing in acronyms! But in her mother's village - focusing on the rivalry between her obsessive bourgeois-Stalinist husband and her beloved Anarchist brother - suddenly it all fell into place  and the acronyms became real people tearing their lives apart.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Silly, but fun. Tatler channels Agatha Christie via Brideshead. Footnote: The TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited was the Downton Abbey of the 1980s. 
Gosh ... that made me feel old! It needs to be explained?????

Friday, 11 August 2017

I went to see Matisse in the Studio this afternoon at The Royal Academy, horribly crowded, the lift was out of order and I felt a bit underwhelmed by the exhibition; it's nowhere near as interesting as that lovely Matisse and textiles show in the same space a few years ago. I think anyone paying full price might feel a bit aggrieved.
But on my way out, I stopped by this lovely little display of work by Charles Tunnicliffe who did so many of the Ladybird books I remember from childhood. I'd never seen his early work and I loved his prints of working life on the farm in Cheshire where he grew up.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Dunkirk is gripping. Kenneth Branagh - Mark Rylance - Elgar - little boats - a young soldier stumbling through a news report of 'We will fight them on the beaches' ...
I had a few niggles. Can't imagine that rationed jam would have been slapped on the bread quite so generously even for returning heroes. (Perhaps that is a very female quibble about a war film!) And those train seats looked suspiciously modern.
It was edge-of-the-seat gripping, I admit. But I think ultimately rather forgettable.

The film that I can't get out of my mind is Land of Mine, which sadly far fewer people will see. This is the immediate aftermath of war. I had no idea that teenage POWs were forced to clear mines from the German coastline in defiance of the Geneva convention. What the film doesn't address, of course, is who the hell else was going to do it. It is harrowing to watch and, I thought, a far more interesting war film than Dunkirk.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

I'd never felt drawn to Edward St Aubyn's novels. “There was a lazy assumption in some quarters that, because they were written by an upper-class person about his own world, they must be trivial or snobbish or somehow irrelevant—such a person, it was thought, ‘didn’t need to write.’ In fact, of course, Teddy needed to write more urgently than most.”  
I suppose that was my lazy assumption, too. Today I read Never Mind in one sitting. There's an excellent profile of Edward St Aubyn here.
Victorian London - Bill Nighy - and George Gissing as a murder suspect ... count me in! There's a trailer here. From a Peter Ackroyd novel published in the 90s, which I've never read.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Rose Macaulay

Oh dear, an acute attack of FOMO came over me in a Bloomsbury bookshop a few weeks ago. Well, where else would I end up with Darlene when she's visiting from Canada - and there on the shelf was a whole stack of Rose Macaulays in their original, but much tattered jackets.
Darlene had already bought one. I only vaguely remembered having read The World my Wilderness a couple of years ago (but I've just checked on what I wrote at the time and now it comes back to me how very much I enjoyed it). In fact, Rose Macaulay does rather seem to haunt us because on Darlene's last visit I remember worrying that her determination to get a photo of Macaulay's blue plaque was going to get her run over.
Those books were saying, 'Buy me.' So, of course, I bought two. FOMO. (I still feel a bit guilty for having split up the collection. Somebody 80 years ago must have really enjoyed Rose Macaulay.)
However, I've just finished reading Going Abroad. It sounded so promising; a comedy about middle-class English tourists who get themselves kidnapped. There's a bishop and his bluestocking wife; a diplomat; a pretty girl; an unhappy woman whose looks have been ruined by facelifts ... all the ingredients of an Agatha Christie murder mystery. But no Miss Marple. And very, very heavy-handed  comedy. And a most tiresome group of hearty young God-botherers going on and on about religion. No, some books go out of print for good reason and Going Abroad has not stood the test of time, despite its grubby, pretty yellow and green cover. Better luck, I hope, with Dangerous Ages, my other purchase.
The Mother of Sorrows, 1926
I spent a long time gazing at this Harry Clarke window in the National Gallery of Ireland last week. The detail is simply exquisite and you can see it better here.

By chance, the day before, I'd happened on another Harry Clarke - sadly damaged - in the quirky Little Museum of Dublin on St Stephen's Green. It was found in a skip ... can you imagine! And it's signed, too. I'd love to know more about who found it - who chucked it - and when. There's nothing in skips around here except old IKEA sofas.

I nipped in briefly to the Hugh Lane Gallery on a quest to see some portraits that I dimly remembered from a visit about 20 years ago; I think they related to this poem by WB Yeats. I remember being entranced, as the portraits seemed so alive. But perhaps it was a temporary exhibition; I couldn't find what I was looking for. And it was nearly closing time. But I did manage to see Harry Clarke's The Eve of St Agnes. I can't honestly say I like it; this one crosses a line that is too Celtic fairy-tale and Arthur Rackham-ish for my taste. And yet I'm still mesmerised by the lovely detail and his skill.

It was purely by chance that I wandered into this small exhibition at the National Gallery ... and then the penny dropped: Margaret Clarke was Harry's wife.
I hope I shall be able to attract your appreciation of my individual efforts as a painter, rather than the fact [that] I am the wife of one artist and the pupil of another, she wrote in 1924.
I'm with her in spirit and I'm sure that artistic wives have often been unfairly overshadowed by their husbands ... but Margaret's work does seem rather ordinary compared with Harry's.

The English Breakfast, 1930: Irish Free State Butter, Eggs and Bacon for  our Breakfasts
Still, I couldn't resist this poster she did for the Empire Marketing Board .... what a wonderful title!

Sunlight, William Orpen, c1925
And before we leave Dublin ... as soon as I saw this painting by Orpen, it reminded me of my lovely room in this hotel. Where the art collection is much easier on the feet.