Saturday 31 July 2010

I know ... it's no good longing for a Horrockses' frock if you don't have the teeny waist for those cinched-in skirts.
And in those days a size 14 was only as big as today's 10.
So you'd have to wear a lift-and-separate bra (Playtex or Maidenform?) and a girdle and stockings and suspenders. Like those women in Mad Men.
But, heavens, those frocks were pretty. I remember when they were still advertised in magazines, although by then they seemed very old-fashioned. Not that my mum could have afforded a cotton dress that cost £7 in the 1950s. These were dresses for honeymoons and garden parties. The Queen and Princess Margaret wore them on Caribbean tours. You could tell an Englishwoman abroad by her Horrockses' frock.
I loved this exhibition. I spotted a strappy magnolia print in pale yellow cotton that was so Betty Draper.
I loved the black and white gingham banded with blue roses, with a little bolero the colour of the sea in Capri.
And the witty summer frock, printed with slices of pie and other treats, that dated from the last days of rationing.

I got chatting to a pretty young intern who was wearing a lilac-coloured floral stripe ... Was it Horrockses? Yes, it was. As crisp and fresh - she let me touch - as it must have been in that 1950s summer when it was new. I wonder who owned it first? She bought it on E-bay, she said. For £32.
I'm not sure what I envied most, that lovely dress - or her slim waist!

On the way home, I caught a screening of a 1953 movie. I nodded off and nearly missed Deborah Kerr in the surf.

Thursday 29 July 2010

We looked at the baby ducklings and swans.

And saw fresh green acorns and fir-cones that were tender and new.

There were horses and a golden hay meadow like in a storybook.

We shouted, 'Be careful. Don't fall in,' and nobody seemed to listen. But luckily nobody did fall in.

We explained about the mounting block in the stable yard where we had tea and ice-creams.
And then we shouted, 'Be careful. Don't fall off.'

We watched planes from Heathrow flying overhead so close they looked as if they might clip historic chimneys.

But we didn't go inside. Because that's pushing your luck with four-year-old friends. Who are the most delightful company in the world. Until they get bored.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

The gooseberry crumble was delicious; tart berries from a friend's allotment, crumble that didn't go soggy, and custard from a carton. (Sorry, but I'm no good at making unlumpy custard).

And there's plenty left over for breakfast. (Just as well, because I've run out of bread.)

And I'd be having a perfectly nice, quiet evening in, in front of the television. If only Series 4 of Mad Men were on. (It's started in America. It's preying on mind. I must stop tormenting myself by reading reviews in the New York Times.)
What was I saying? If only Series 4 of Mad Men were on. Instead of a cookery show and that bloke who used to be Bergerac.

Good thing I went to the library this lunchtime ...

Saturday 24 July 2010

Walking along the river, I saw brambles beginning to ripen and haws flushed with pale red streaks and I noticed how plump the conkers look on the trees.
I admired dahlias here as big as dinner plates and I wondered if I should try parsnip and maple cake for a change with my coffee.
It all sounds very autumnal.
But I'm not ready for that.
Hang on ... I haven't got my legs brown yet.
If you can't think of anything to say, say something nice.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Greatly to my surprise, my beautiful white amaryllis has flowered again for the third time this year.
It astounds me that something so lovely can thrive on neglect.
Because I don't have green fingers.

Monday 19 July 2010

On a hot afternoon in the park, you need a picnic rug, a glass of cold wine and the perfect book to chill out with.

If you haven't read the book, you might be puzzled by a baby polar bear eating bananas.

Though you would be surprised at how many people asked me when I went to Antarctica a few years ago if I'd be seeing lots of polar bears and penguins.

I saw lots of penguins. But the polar bears must have been hiding in the banana trees.
That was a shame.
If it hadn't been such a good trip, I might have complained.

Sunday 18 July 2010

This is possibly the most inappropriate book cover I have ever seen and my guess is that Elizabeth Strout must have been spitting mad at her UK publisher.
Olive Kitteridge is a big-built, elderly maths teacher with a caustic tongue and she runs up baggy frocks for herself out of old curtains.
So why make out that she's this creamy-skinned young thing in a ballgown?
Why make a great Pulitzer-prize winning novel look like run-of-the-mill chicklit?
Oh, for God's sake, Olive Kitteridge would say. What in hell ails them? Luckily, when I found this in a charity shop a few days ago, it was an American edition, its cover bland but otherwise completely inoffensive.
So now I've got that off my chest ... I can say that Olive Kitteridge is the most powerfully-moving book that I've read in a long time. I loved Olive, who is mean and abrasive and brave and compassionate and perceptive and self-deluding; I can completely see that other readers might dislike her but that's partly what this book is about, the accommodations that we all have to make as we get through our lives. This is a novel told in linked short stories set in one small American town and sometimes Olive is at the centre of what is going on and sometimes she's on the sidelines; just as well, you might think, because there can't be many people able to take Olive full-on for too long at a stretch.
Her husband is a gentle man; she tongue-lashes him through their long marriage, tends him when he has a stroke and misses him like hell when he dies. She can't understand why her much-loved son is in therapy, why he never phones. Did he leave town because she was overly possessive? When she hit him as a boy - and Olive hits, she doesn't spank - did she sometimes go too far? You'll have to work it out for yourself ... there's lots of things in this novel that you'll have to work out for yourself.
'I'm starving, too,' Olive says brusquely to an anorexic girl who is starving herself to death:

"'I am,' Olive said. 'Why do you think I eat every doughnut in sight?'
'You're not starving,' Nina said with disgust.
'Sure I am. We all are.' "

There's so much loneliness and unhappiness here ... and so much humanity.
As for Olive ... she's so real to me that I can't quite believe that I'm not going to run into her next time I go shopping. Of course, I might cross the road if I see her coming.

Friday 16 July 2010

When I blog, I write like Agatha Christie.
But when I am at work, I write like Dan Brown. (Actually, that doesn't surprise me at all.) I wasn't exactly pleased to learn this - I'd like to pitch a bit higher - but I'll be laughing all the way to the bank, just you wait. Has the cheque been delayed in the post?
So do try this ...
I hope your intellectual pretensions aren't smashed to smithereens.
Will any of us live long enough to get to the end of Frank Delaney's podcast dissection of Ulysses?After five weeks, he's still on page two - so do jump in and catch up if you've missed the start, if only to listen to that mellifluous Irish voice.
The big question: will Frank persuade me to re-read the novel? Or will it stay on my list of earnest intentions?
At this rate it'll take us 20 years ...
But it isn't a race.

Thursday 15 July 2010

The clove-scent of a bunch of stocks is filling the room.
A fresh breeze is blowing outside, such a relief.
I walked across the park for a crusty loaf from an old-fashioned baker.
I am going to toss a salad of spinach, chicken and chorizo and eat it off my lap, reading Olive Kitteridge.
So not a bad day, even if it hasn't been very exciting.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

It was too hot to blog, too hot to sleep. So ...
I drank cold raspberry wheat beer in a beachside bar.
I watched a sunset of Tiepolo blue and celestial gold.
I propped myself against an old boat and read a biography of George Eliot until I simply had to put it down and splash in the sea.
I bought local gooseberries, cherries and strawberries from a proper greengrocer.
And a copy of Olive Kitteridge from the charity shop.
My ice-cream flavour of the week from the posh ice-cream shop was maple and walnut.
But I also enjoyed a Mr Whippy from the fish and chip shop.
And I mended the garden tap ... just as it started to pour.
Tonight the girl from the corner shop cafe was standing out in the street giving away enormous slices of Victoria sponge with cream cheese frosting ...
Oh dear, I really shouldn't. But I did.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Isn't this lovely? It was one of my favourite paintings when I visited
at the Royal Academy.
Those aren't balloons on the little boy's back; they're 19th century water-wings made of inflated animal bladders.
It's what you might call a slender exhibition focusing on five years at the start of Sargent's career before he launched himself as a society portrait painter.
He was only 23 when painted this in Italy. I wondered about the two little blond boys, who were surely children of tourists, and how their lives turned out.
And I also loved the prancing, kick-boxing hares in the Royal Academy courtyard who look so full of joie de vivre.

Sunday 4 July 2010

In Regent's Park yesterday there were roses in fizzy, sherbet dibdab colours like this but oh, the delphiniums, a whole bed of them in every shade of blue and purple and mauve.
I ambled through the roses, stopping to admire the brides having their photographs taken. And laughed when a very old lady with a real Cockney accent grabbed a young bride by the hand and asked if the wedding party was off for a real good nosh.
The bride clearly didn't have a clue what she meant.
I wonder what a good nosh would have been when the old lady got married? A tin of ham saved for a special occasion? A fruit cake made with shared rations but no icing?
I love reading the plaques on the rose garden benches. Each one is like a mini-love story in memory of someone who loved roses.
And every one of them sounded like someone I'd like to meet.
I sat under a festoon of roses on a comfortable, weathered bench and finished The Go-Between, the most perfect novel for a heatwave ...