Wednesday 30 June 2010

'Have you been in?' we ask. On Sunday, I was still doubtful.
On Monday I got in three times. Without even squealing. That's twice more than I managed during the whole of last summer.
The sea was green, shrouded in heat haze.
Today I'm hot and cranky and a long way from the beach.
I'm reading The Go-Between which is set in a heatwave summer.
I'm not sure that it doesn't make me feel hotter.
But at least I don't have to wear a Norfolk jacket. And socks with suspenders. Or stays.

Thursday 24 June 2010

I am not supposed to be buying any more books. For a while.
At least until I have made an impression on The Pile.
But as I walked into the charity shop at lunchtime, I thought vaguely how nice it would be if I happened on a copy of Norman Collins' novel London Belongs To Me.
And there it was. In its 1945 bookjacket. A bit dusty but more or less unbattered.
So what could I do?
It was a Sign.
Saying, 'Buy Me.'

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Wild roses are growing along the beach, pink and white valerian and yellow sea poppies.
I sat and watched a lavender-lilac sunset as the sun went down in a squiggle of molten metal.
On Saturday night I went to bed with a hot water bottle and it was only meanness that stopped me turning the heating on. A brown sea was smashing in waves on the horsebridge. Ever noticed how wet the sea looks when it's brown-grey? Wind hurt my ears.
Call this June? grumbled the walkers and the beach-hut mums.

Today, we're baking in a heatwave.
Today, of course, I'm back in London. Thinking of that same turquoise, sparkly sea and a tide that has just turned and will be lapping up the beach until 9pm.

Typical. English. Summer.

Friday 18 June 2010

In Soho this afternoon and I drop into Miller Harris for a free spritz.
Sigh ... should it be Terre d'Iris? Patchouli, tree moss, French fir balsam and Florentine orris.
Or Geranium Bourbon, cassis, lemon geranium and Turkish rose, the scent of an English garden after rain?
Earthy Fleurs de Sel, the scent of salt marshes? Or Fleurs de Bois which smells like Regent's Park?
There is also Eau de Vert which is slicked-back hair in the South of France. Honestly. Think Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief.
I squirt myself liberally with Geranium Bourbon which the assistant seems to think is very 'moi.' And I'm sitting here now with all the tester wands ...
I still like Geranium Bourbon. But Fleurs de Sel is like sitting by the embers of a peat fire on a clifftop, breathing in the Atlantic. It is the cleanest scent you can imagine.
On a prosaic note, trust me to pick out the one that's most expensive.

There were two golden elephants in Golden Square which made my day. I'll really miss them when they're gone.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Yesterday I climbed a towering stack of books at the V&A. I have no head for heights and it swayed as others clumped behind me. (Only four at a time allowed.)
It is called Ark and I felt a bit seasick. No way would I have climbed to the top if I hadn't been drawn to browse all those wonderful books on the shelves.
Other people were examining fine carpentry joints and sighing over the craftsmanship. Yeah, whatever ... although it did help to reassure me that the whole stack wouldn't come tumbling down. Like those avalanches that sometimes happen when to-be-read piles teeter and ... whoops, topple over.
I'm sure it's significant that this giant bookcase is in the stairwell of the V&A library. I'm sure that I was supposed to be pondering something about knowledge and how it passes down the centuries.
But there was a quiet niche at the top with a cushion to sit on ... I forgot about feeling sick.
I forgot about Architecture. I wondered where the V&A had found those hundreds of old paperbacks.
And I stayed up there for the rest of the afternoon.
Lost in a bookcase.

Monday 14 June 2010

Only a week until Midsummer's Day ... how did that happen so fast? ... and I've been looking at the list of books that I've read so far this year. I wouldn't say that this is proving a vintage year, I've read substantially less than I did last year; why, I'm not sure. Maybe it's simply that the year started with a whacking great volume of Virginia Woolf's diaries.
Anyway, for what it's worth, here's my shortlist for the Best Read of 2010 (So Far). In no particular order ...
Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon ... gripping story of a child's disappearance by a new-to-me author; don't even think of starting this one until you have a long stretch of uninterrupted reading time to find out what happened.
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner ... another author I'd never read before. When I finished it, I felt a real sense of bereavement as if I'd really known these two couples for a lifetime.
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather ... what can I say? Willa Cather is as close as you can get to a perfect writer, her landscapes take your breath away. Another book that makes you ache for the passing of time. And, like Crossing to Safety, I think it's one that I wouldn't have fully appreciated when I was younger.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel ... far and away the best historical novel I have ever read. Hilary Mantel, I suspect, is half in love with Thomas Cromwell, and so am I! How on earth will she bring herself to slice off his head in the next volume?

Actually, I've changed my mind. Maybe it is a vintage year because those four novels were absolute gems.

And, because this is a mean blog and I don't mind giving bad reviews ... the Wish I Hadn't Bothered Award for the book that wasn't worth those hours that I'll never have back again goes to Ian McEwan for The Innocent. Somebody else's choice for my book group otherwise I'd never have picked it up in the first place and never have plodded through it.
(On the other hand, Wolf Hall was also a book group selection and, as it's very long, and I don't normally care for historical novels, especially the Tudors, and as it's never crossed my mind that I'd be swept off my feet by Thomas Cromwell and I don't give tuppence for literary prizes and best-sellers ... Well, isn't that what book groups are for, being pushed to read something out of your comfort zone and then loving it?)

Any suggestions for what I should read next? Apart from that teetering pile that surrounds me and two books already en route from Amazon and a total of 13 out from the library ...

Friday 11 June 2010

What a thrill when a package drops on the mat containing an extremely hard-to-get-hold-of Dorothy Whipple novel, on loan from a kind blogging friend.
(Tea and buns on me when I return it next week!)
Rachel had warned me that Every Good Deed was a very slim volume indeed - even the slowest of readers would easily finish it in an evening. And, of course, that disappointed us both because we'd prefer our Whipples supersized. (About the length of Wolf Hall would be just about right.)
This slender novel was published in 1946, in conformity with wartime economy standards; I wonder if that had a bearing on its length.
Rachel has already written a long and thoughtful review. Two genteel, middle-aged spinsters have their lives turned upside down after they adopt a tough young girl from a feckless, working-class family. No good deed, it seems, will go unpunished ... Gwen is a sly, thoroughly nasty little madam, and there's no way that lavishing any amount of love and attention, not to mention private education, is going to turn her into a decent young lady.
She runs away and it's no surprise at all when she lands right back on their doorstep as a girl 'in trouble.'
Of course, as Rachel has pointed out , Gwen is the stranger who brings turmoil to the happy home ... in Whipple terms, she's villainous Mr Knight or Louise in Someone at a Distance.
I didn't think that this was Whipple at the peak of her form. Gwen was too much of a stereotyped bad girl. I'd have liked her inner life to be more fleshed-out. There's glimmers of what it must have been like for her: 'You know, you two ... I daresay you've been very good and you meant well and all that, but your sort shouldn't really mix itself up with ours. Your life drives us bats, you know. A bit of reading and playing the piano, but nothing loud, oh no ... A bit of gardening and going to church - and what else? Nothing. How d'you expect anybody with guts to stand it?'
I'm sure that Dorothy Whipple must have been aware of girls like Gwen in Blackburn because her husband, after all, worked for many years for the local education authority.
I finished the book with a sigh ... so pleased I had the chance to read it. But sad because there is only one more novel left before I'm a Whipple completist. I still haven't read Because of the Lockwoods. I don't even know what it's about.
Could it be as good as Greenbanks? Or Mr Knight? Or Someone at a Distance?
I do hope that Dorothy and I go out with a bang!

Wednesday 9 June 2010

The greengrocer was selling 'cheeries' this afternoon.
I couldn't help smiling.
Because that's what they are.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Princess Diana's black taffeta ballgown has been sold to a museum for £192,000.
Hours after she wore that dress in 1981, you could buy a copy in London department stores. So when I was invited to a ball at short notice, I jumped into a cab on my lunchbreak and headed for Oxford Street to buy one of my own. It cost about £80, which was cheaper than Lady Di's but quite a lot of money for me at the time.
And it's still hanging in my wardrobe.
I couldn't bring myself to throw it out. Was I ever as slim as that?
On the other hand, if you have £192,000 to spare ... I'm open to offers.

Saturday 5 June 2010

In London today it was so hot and humid that it was like breathing in soup. I'd have taken the train to the coast but thunderstorms are forecast.
So instead I took an away-day into town and went to this exhibition of Norman Parkinson's fashion photography. In one of those smart little galleries where you ring on the doorbell and a smart-looking young man lets you in.
'Would you like a price-list?' he asked, politely. Well ... do I look like someone who's going to spend up to £16,000 on a print?
I suppose you never know.
I liked this shot outside the City Palace at Jaipur but I did think that the model must have been roasting in pink mohair by Jaeger.
It was described as 'a dazzling cacophony of reds, pinks and magentas' ... see that shocking-pink elephant ... and it inspired Diana Vreeland to say, 'How clever of you, Mr Parkinson, to know that pink is the navy-blue of India.'
On my way around town I spotted 18 elephants for sale ... I look out for these elephants wherever I go but that's a personal record for one day. Children were climbing on their backs. A beautiful Japanese bride was posing for wedding photos beside one. Aren't elephants supposed to be lucky? I'll miss them when they're gone. They add to the gaiety of London.
And so did the bright red Ferrari that was parked outside the Ritz.

Thursday 3 June 2010

It seemed such a good idea. I was going to get up early and bake a cake before the sun got too hot.
And I did get up early(ish).
But the morning ticked on. And I'm not a domestic goddess; I'm more of a domestic tortoise because everything takes ages and I make a terrible mess.
I'm well under way when I discover that I don't possess the right size of cake tin for the recipe. Should I run up the road to buy a new one ... no, no, it'll all squash in. And it's an excuse for allowing myself to eat some of the cherries.
It was lunchtime before the cake got in the oven. I'm covered in flour. I've never been what domestic science teachers call a neat worker.
I've just found a glacé cherry trodden into the floor. How did that happen?
I've cleaned out the mixing-bowl. My mum used to say that if I ate it all, there'd be nothing left to go in the cake. I don't think you're ever too old to scrape basins and lick the wooden spoon.
I'm still waiting for that cake to come out of the oven. (My oven's a slow one, too.)
There'll be warm cherry cake for tea.
Wish my mum was here to have a slice with me.