Thursday, 4 July 2019

I was up on a stepladder at midnight - having enjoyed the BBC documentary about Edna O'Brien - trying to find my old Penguin copy of The Country Girls ... alas, it wasn't there. I'm a messy person but my books are in alphabetical order and this shouldn't happen! I felt a bit sad as I don't want any old copy of The Country Girls, I want the copy I read in 1978 (the next two volumes are named and dated in my still neat schoolgirlish hand!) with a surge of recognition ... recently escaped from the clutches of Irish nuns, I was waiting for Life to begin!
Hard to believe that Edna O'Brien is nearly 90.

After a gloomy French film - based on a gloomy story by Dostoevsky - at the ICA (grey, gloomy and life-sapping but a nice caff!) ... I rescued the morning with a visit to the best ice-cream shop in London where I perched on a pink stool that matched my strawberry and peppercorn sorbet and soaked up the lurid Cinecittà posters. And I was thrilled to see that they were selling (and using) this inspirational book by one of my heroines.

Yesterday afternoon it seemed like every American tourist in town had tickets for The Starry Messenger (that means there's a higher than usual chance of sitting behind the 7ft man who's as broad as he's tall - and sure enough I was!) The play was ... looo--oong.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Not so sure about this one ... I plodded through to the end but it did feel unremittingly grim (and a bit boring and repetitive!). The premise is, what would have happened had Anne Frank survived the death camps and been reunited with her father and her diary? I'm not convinced that anybody has the right to take ownership of Anne's story ... let's leave her the truth of her own life and death, at least. She could conceivably still be living today.
The atmosphere of post-war Amsterdam was interesting, though - and the extraordinary fact that the Franks might well have been deported back to Germany.

I hadn't realised that Xinran was Mary Wesley's daughter-in-law and was inspired by Wesley's writing on women's love lives during the war to record the true stories of Chinese women across a turbulent century. I was completely riveted by The Good Women of China when I read it last year. The Promise begins with a story that must have been irresistible to any journalist (and Xinran used to host a groundbreaking radio show in China) ...  a husband's dying request - and this only happened in 2010, not in the dim and distant past - for his wife of more than 60 years to have a virginity test. The story of that marriage is heartbreaking - I was hooked from the first page - and Xinran then goes on to make contact with three younger generations of women from the same extended family. Perhaps it's not quite as good as The Good Women of China but that still means it's very good indeed.  I have some catching-up to do as I realise from the jacket notes that Xinran has written several more books;  the only other one I've read is Sky Burial, also highly recommended.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Ladies, you will see many glowing reviews of this film (starring Tilda Swinton and her daughter). But I will tell you the truth. It is two hours of unutterably pretentious tedium and I would have walked out except I was stuck in the middle of a row and didn't like to disturb people.
So why did I go???
Well, you know when there's several screens, and you're a bit on the last minute and there was a queue at the bar, and it was Screen 1 wasn't it??? And you're kind of bemused to find Screen 1 (or was it 2?) packed to capacity and the woman beside you says there was a waiting list for tickets ... and the penny is just beginning to drop when it starts and you think, oh well, sounds like it must be good if all these other people are so keen to see it ... Ladies, I am a dope, I went to the wrong bloody film!

Saturday, 18 May 2019

This is one of those annoying recommendations of a film that was on for one night only in London, part of the ongoing French literature festival at Ciné Lumi ère, which always throws up something good; it left me wanting to read Marguerite Duras's war memoir. Some reviews have been lukewarm but I was gripped - and realised that I knew almost nothing about the immediate aftermath of liberation when France awaited the return of prisoners from the camps. There's a trailer here. Sorry, seems I was wrong and this is now on limited release elsewhere and is on in London until July. 

It has been ages since I've been really engrossed in a book - but I couldn't put this down. After I finished, I came across this report claiming historical inaccuracies - the bit about penicillin had jarred on me as I was reading, I admit. But I do think it's rather harsh - the book makes no claims to be authoritative history and it's based on interviews with an 87-year-old man. And I say that as someone who loathed the well-meaning trivialisation that was The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

I set out yesterday afternoon to see the exhibition of Elizabethan miniatures at the National Portrait Gallery ... then felt the tug of Martin Parr's good-humoured take on Britishness. This is his Brexit photo. Anyway, how can you resist an exhibition with an old-fashioned caff in the middle selling tea and slabs of Battenberg cake? Actually, I did resist the cake as - being British - I'd already made a lemon drizzle for the weekend. But I'm all in favour of themed tea and cake to wash down the cultural stuff.
I thought I'd better see the miniatures, too, as I might not get back before the show closes ... sadly there was no caff selling marchpane and tankards of Hippocras. But the paintings were truly exquisite, especially when seen through a magnifying glass - which does mean that there's a lot of queuing but it was worth it. 

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Thrilled beyond words to see Dame Maggie last night - one of those rare nights in the theatre when you feel honoured to be there. I skipped past the long queue for returns (not a chance!) unable to believe my luck that only a few days ago I'd spotted a tranche of £15 tickets on the website. I was resigned to the fact that my 'restricted view' seat would probably mean peering around a pillar ... but what a wonderful surprise, the cheap seats are the best in the house - for this performance at least - and I was about 10 feet away from Dame Maggie, as intimately engaged as if I were sitting across the room   listening to her reminiscences of life as Goebbels' secretary.
She was astonishing ... 1hr and 40 mins onstage, alone, and you could feel every eye in the theatre was riveted on this 84 year old. I wondered if it would be my last chance to see her perform live - but maybe not, because she looks in fine fettle! Standing ovations are easy-come-easy-go with today's excitable audiences ... but this was a standing ovation with 900 people on their feet! I looked at some of the young people and wondered if they realised that this was probably one of the ten best performances that they'd ever see in their life.
It was incidentally an excellent play by Christopher Hampton - because even a fine actress is only as good as the writing! (See below.)
Then I skipped (well, creaked, dodgy knees, mentally I skipped) across Tower Bridge, back to the tube station, admiring the view and thinking, 'Wow, what a night!')

Saturday night was another one-woman performance: Avalanche: A Love Story. Now, I admit, a play about IVF doesn't exactly scream, 'Saturday night out' ... but it was Maxine Peake, so I thought I'd give it a go. Aaaarrrggh ... it was like listening to someone's medical notes. A fine actress let down by mediocre writing. I nodded off, bored - woke with a jerk and she was still only on her fifth round of treatment and I just didn't care enough about the character to want to know if she succeeded. I realised I was far more interested in the cynicism of the Bentley-driving doctors who spin a 2% likelihood of conceiving and present it as  40%. Dame Maggie held me enthralled for an hour and a half. Avalanche, alas, had me wondering if it would ever bloody be over. Maxine Peake deserves better.