Sunday, 2 December 2018



Did anyone else struggle with this? It's got all the ingredients - Occupied Paris casting a long shadow over the present - but it simply didn't work for me and at times seemed to be veering perilously towards time travel/magic realism which seems a lazy way out for a writer of Sebastian Faulkes's calibre. Not one of his best, for sure.  3* if I'm being generous.
There's a running joke about the characters' difficulties with the French language that made me smile, though.

'After we had the onglet and the anglais,' said Julian, 'I invented a story for Hannah.The quand one. Do you remember?...
'It was something like ... Quel cant qu'on raconte quand que le Comte est con qui racompte ses comptes. Quant á la conte du concombre, par conséquence, quand il danse le can-can dans le camp á Caen.'

Which does sum up rather neatly why we English struggle as soon as we cross the Channel. Hein? 

Saturday, 1 December 2018



I can't tell you how much I enjoyed seeing The Favourite last night: Olivia Colman is brilliant as gouty, petulant Queen Anne - it's clever and funny and the costumes and candlelit palaces are heaven for someone like me. There's a small display of costumes from the film in the cinema foyer. (Everyman, King's Cross)
There was so much to take in - I wanted to linger over every detail and wished I could shout, 'Hold that C18 cake! Lady in Row F needs a close-up!' But before the film started, they carried in a vast blue and white cake - if you look at the trailer, you'll see the Queen stuffing her face at 0.32 - and cut up big slabs for the audience. A taste of the movie ... that's a trend we should encourage!
Now I really want to see it a second time. (And not just for more cake!)
 

Friday, 16 November 2018



Has anyone read this yet? I went to a brilliant 'in conversation' event with Barbara Kingsolver at the Festival Hall earlier this week. Now to be honest, it got to 6pm and I'd been thinking about it all day but I still hadn't booked ... you know, that dark, chilly, 'can I be bothered?' feeling you get in November. I'm so glad I grabbed my coat and made the effort because it turned out to be quite the best literary event I have ever attended. (Sorry, I should have written this earlier because her brief UK  speaking tour now seems to be over.)
She is the most intelligent, thought-provoking, articulate, warm-hearted speaker you can imagine and barely drew breath for an hour and a half. No surprise that 95% of the audience was female, yet men asked most of the (long-winded) questions. Full-marks to Samira Ahmed in the chair for refusing to allow them to pontificate and man-spread over the end of the evening and bulldozing them to come to the point. If they had a point.
I loved The Poisonwood Bible, struggled with The Lacuna - but I went straight home and ordered Unsheltered which sounds fascinating.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018



Lovely afternoon all on my own at Sadler's Wells, watching Birmingham Royal Ballet's Fire & Fury programme: one ballet inspired by the Sun King Louis XIV ...



And one inspired by Turner's painting The Burning of the Houses of Parliament. There's a trailer here. Down side is I have to work tonight to catch up, but it was worth it!

Saturday, 20 October 2018



I'm not very good at London Film Festival; 225 films in 12 days befuddles me with too much choice and so I've only actually been to one. Luckily, that one turned out to be the very enjoyable Can You Ever Forgive Me? which is rather like a grouchier version of 84 Charing Cross Road, set in Manhattan. Honestly, it deserves an Oscar for Best Bookshop Locations. It's the true story of Lee Israel, a journalist/biographer fallen on hard times (and the whole cinema let out a gasp at her squalid housekeeping!) who discovers a talent for forging letters from literary celebrities like Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward. Melissa McCarthy is wonderful as the irascible grump Lee Israel and it's hard to imagine that the role was originally meant to go to the far too glamorous Julianne Moore. McCarthy appeared tonight in person with co-star Richard E Grant but sadly that was just ten minutes of luvvie-ish backslapping and neither of them said anything interesting. There's still tickets available over the weekend - and it's much more fun than A Star is Born. There's reviews here and here and the trailer is here.

Thursday, 18 October 2018



I've occasionally emerged from a theatre, thinking: 'Shakespeare would have approved' ... but you don't expect to come out, saying: 'EM Forster would be so thrilled with this!' A present-day, gay, post-AIDS riff on Howards End.
I booked a cheap matinee ticket on a whim a few days ago - quick scan, reviews looked okay, didn't have time to read them properly ... so imagine how thrilled I was this afternoon as the play unfolded and I realised it was far and away the best I've seen all year. 5* from me and from most of the critics. And absolutely not to be missed if you're a fan of Howards End because it takes Forster's novel and turns it around and inside out - well, let's just say it's beautifully structured and even more ingenious than Zadie Smith.
The Inheritance is one of those six-hour plus epics that are served up as two plays - and now I'm kicking myself because I only booked Part 1. (Wary after my last experience when I would cheerfully have walked out of a long and messy two-parter about Hogarth after the first half-hour. But hey, I'm a northerner/optimist and I'd paid my money and I dutifully turned up on the second night and regretted it again.) This afternoon, I was kind of sorry that I wasn't grabbing a sandwich and hanging on for the evening show - but maybe it's a better idea to absorb Part 1 before I go back for more. And my knees were stiff! Three hours in and Eric (the Margaret Schlegel character) has just walked into Howards End for the first time ...
There's reviews here and here and here. If you need a pick-me-up in between performances, the chocolate/chestnut/rum ice-cream at Gelupo this week is to die for.

Sunday, 7 October 2018



This has been an amazing year for quinces. Somebody said to me the other day that they're an ugly fruit - but I think they're beautiful, all knobbly and golden. I've had a dozen to play with so I've been experimenting with quince pies. Last week's was a monster: tort of quinces - with marzipan and Parmesan cheese - from an Italian recipe of 1662. Gargantuan quantity of filling so I made one big pie, lots of little pies ... I was a bit quinced out by the end of week.
So this week I kept it simple with a filling of poached quinces dabbed with quince jelly made by boiling up the peelings and cores in the cooking water. Topped with a very fancy pastry lid. It was - divine. Here's the recipe - from 1707 - thanks to my favourite food historian. Sadly, I'm now out of quinces.

Boil your Quinces in Water, sweetened with Sugar, till they be soft, then skin them and take out the Cores; after that boil the Water with a little more Sugar, Cloves, Cinnamon and Lemon peel till it becomes of the thickness of a Syrup; when cold lay your Quinces in Halves or Quarters, scattering Sugar between each Layer; put a pint of the Syrup, or more according to the Biggness of your Pye or Tart, make the Coffin round with close or cut Covers, and bake it pretty well. And thus you may do with Pippins and Pearmains, or with Winter-Fruit, and also with green Codlings.
From - The Whole Duty of a Woman. London: 1707