Thursday, 14 June 2018



You know when you really, really loathe a book that everybody else seems to be gushing about?

And then a friend says, 'Have you read, "Eleanor Oliphant ...?"'

And you brace yourself -

And the friend says, 'Oh, I hated it!'

And you think, whew, we can still be friends.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018



I've spent the past two days completely engrossed in this memoir of a Jewish woman in hiding, trying to escape from Vichy France. Frenkel, a Polish Francophile, was running the only French bookshop in Berlin when, having survived Kristallnacht by a fluke - the shop wasn't on the list of those to be destroyed - she fled to Paris weeks before the outbreak of the war. As a Jew, she isn't allowed to exchange any currency, not even the ten marks permitted to other travellers; she arrives at Gare du Nord without even a cab fare. When the bombing starts, she heads for Nice in the hope of being able to cross into Switzerland. (Somewhat puzzlingly, there is no mention of her husband who was rounded up in Paris in 1942 and died in Auschwitz.)
For Frenkel, who by then was in her early fifties, there is literally no place to lay her head for more than a few weeks at a stretch as she keeps on the move, heartened by the kindness of strangers who risk their lives for her. (The accounts of people smugglers and profiteers seem all too topical today.) Little is known of her life post-war. There are no photos her. She does escape, that much we know, and she died in France in 1975. This book was published in 1945 by the publisher that had illicitly published a French translation of Daphne du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek; but Frenkel's book was long forgotten, until a copy was discovered in a jumble sale in Nice in 2010. It's a gripping, and sobering, read.

Sunday, 10 June 2018
















Back in the day, I was a big fan of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? and it was the ambition of my life to get on the show. Ever the optimist, I saw '15 questions away from a million' as a pension plan -until I got the phone bill with all those premium calls! In later series the questions were weighted towards 'popular culture' as apparently ITV audiences don't like middle class/middle aged winners ... and that's when I got bored and switched off. Who did Eleanor of Aquitaine marry? I'm shouting the answer at the telly - but the only footballer I could confidently name is David Beckham. And I'm not even sure who he played for.
Did you know that it's no good asking the audience in Russia? British or American audiences will give it their best shot - but Russians resent your good luck and will deliberately sabotage the contestant. (I'm not sure how they respond to Phone A Friend!)

Perhaps my obsession isn't entirely cured!

Oh, you can see why I'm the target audience for James Graham's new play Quiz about the coughing major scandal. (Ink, his play about the Sun newspaper was the best thing I saw last year.) It's hugely entertaining - lots of audience participation and a gizmo attached to your seat so you can vote. Highly recommended and great fun, but it also raises some pertinent questions about trial by media. It's only on for a few more days.

On a more sober note, this documentary City of Ghosts (trailer here) is on BBCFour tomorrow and left me humbled at the courage of the undercover citizen journalists of Raqqa.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018



I must be one sandwich short of a picnic to have wasted my time on this ridiculous re-make of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Honestly, don't bother. Much better watch the original film again. I've gone off The Handmaid's Tale, too, which seems to be getting far too much relish out of violence to women.  Anyone else still persevering?

Monday, 4 June 2018



There are no words. This is probably the most powerful, the most harrowing book that I have ever read.
I thought perhaps I shouldn't write anything here. But then I read Elie Wiesel's Nobel acceptance speech at the end of the book:

I remember: it happened yesterday, or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the Kingdom of Night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.
I remember he asked his father, 'Can this be true? This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?'
And now the boy is turning to me. 'Tell me,' he asks, 'what have you done with my future, what have you done with your life?' And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.

Sunday, 3 June 2018



Can't help thinking that we won't see their like again. (Nothing Like a Dame, on iPlayer if you missed it tonight.) And how lucky I am to have seen each of them in real life. I'd give a lot to see Dame Maggie again in Lettice and Lovage, with Margaret Tyzack in 1987 - it had one of the most hysterically funny moments I can recall in a London theatre. 1987 must have been a vintage year as I also saw Judi Dench as Cleopatra at the National Theatre with Anthony Hopkins as Antony. I suppose by definition you're no spring chicken when you achieve damehood - but it's hard to think of anyone coming up who will fill the role in the nation's affections.

Saturday, 2 June 2018



You think you know London - and then you discover this Victorian Gothic gem of a church just behind Oxford Street ... and you never knew it was there.
I wafted round on a cloud of incense, loving all those zigzags and stripes ... it does feel rather as if you've got your head tangled in a very elaborately-patterned sweater!
The wonderful Ian Nairn put it more provocatively: I knew it would be worth looking up what he said! To describe a church as an orgasm is bound to offend someone. Yet this building can only be understood in terms of compelling passion. Here is the force of Wuthering Heights translated into dusky red and black bricks, put down in a mundane Marylebone street to rivet you ...
Now aren't you longing to discover it for yourself? The force of Wuthering Heights just behind Top Shop ...

I was on my way - by a roundabout route - to see the Orla Kiely exhibition which was full of ladies sighing over handbags. It's fun, but slight. (I'd have felt miffed if I'd paid nearly £10 to get in! Unless you're an Art Fund member, I wouldn't bother.)
It does feel very derivative ... Mary Quant, Bill Gibb and Ossie Clark should be on commission!
And I do wish the English would learn to pronounce Kiely!

Is it really two weeks since the royal wedding? My interest was hovering somewhere around zero until it turned into such a riveting soap opera with all the undesirable relatives. (I was casting Meghan as a younger, more glamorous Hyacinth Bucket being shown up by Onslow and Daisy!)
I mellowed sufficiently that I even picked a handful of elderflowers and made a sambocade - an elderflower and rosewater cheesecake (in sort of homage to the elderflower wedding cake) that dates back to this 1390 manuscript and the court of Richard II. It went down so well that I made a second one.
But on the day, I took advantage of a cheap ticket offer for a matinée at the stunning new Bridge Theatre ... no escape from wedding fever as American television crews were out in force getting shots of Tower Bridge. They've got some interesting plays coming-up. And what an inspired idea - freshly-baked madeleines in the interval!