Thursday 30 September 2010

It is far too long since I have had a Proper Treat. New shoes? New handbag? New coat? Oh dear, I really need a new coat but I was born without the female shopping gene.
They say women turn into their mothers as they get older.
But I have turned into my dad. And I hate, hate, hate shopping. (Unless it's for food. I like food shopping. This is not entirely unrelated to the fact that shopping for clothes is a torment.)
No, what I really like is a Grand Day Out. On my own.
I know this is unsociable. But Grand Days Out do not allow for compromise. (You will only get tired and moan and keep phoning your children to see if the house is on fire ...)
And what I want to do is visit this exhibition. And spend hours and hours there if I want to.
I've read the catalogue. I've sighed about the fact that it's not coming to London. I saw Cornflower's pictures and was stricken with a nasty attack of blogger's envy.
And then this morning I read this and it tipped me over the edge.
So I got on the phone and talked to a person in Calcutta or thereabouts and discovered I could buy a day return flight to Edinburgh for £50.
And that is why I'm in a happy, sunshiney mood today. For the price of a pair of shoes!
I'm looking forward to a Grand Day Out.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

I only nipped out to go to the bank but to get there I have to pass the Oxfam bookshop.

For every man there exists a bait which he cannot resist swallowing.

But what am I even thinking of, going inside? (Especially when the bank will be closed in 10 minutes.)

Temptation is an irresistible force at work on a moveable body.

Of course, you'll understand why it's important - even though I'm drastically cutting back and there's heaps of unread books all over the house - but I simply have to check in case there's a rare and wonderful bargain.

The trouble with resisting temptation is that it may not come your way again.

I'm in the door ...

I deal with temptation by yielding to it.

I see the dovegrey cover. Even though I already own a copy of Miss Pettigrew (and have given several others to friends) I pick it up, anyway. It is pristine. It still has its Persephone bookmark. And, wait for it ...

It is signed, in slightly shaky, old lady's handwriting by Winifred Watson herself.

There is a tussle with my conscience. It is only £1.69. But people whose bookshelves are double-parked do not need duplicates.

I put it back on the shelf. I hope that it will go to a good and loving home.

Of course, the Oxfam shop opens again at 9am tomorrow.

Those who flee temptation generally leave a forwarding address.

Sunday 26 September 2010

'He is like a butterfly, but at the same time he is the epitome of manliness and youthful beauty. The ballerinas, who are just as beautiful, are completely eclipsed by him.'

'When he danced Spectre he was the very perfume of the rose because in everything he extracted the essence.'

Oh, oh, oh ... what can I say about the V&A's Ballets Russes exhibition except that I spent three hours there this afternoon, absolutely entranced. If only I could take a day trip back in time and see a performance. Would I pick the beautiful Nijinsky in Le Spectre de la Rose? (And he was beautiful, like a faun, I hadn't realised quite how lovely he was until I saw the sculpture of his head.) Or Tamara Karsavina dancing Firebird? (Though I chuckled at the cartoon of Mr Punch's spoof ballet Les Suffragistes starring M. Asquithoff and the Corps de Ballot.)
It was easy to see how Diaghilev set the world aflame with his Ballets Russes. What an explosion of colour and music and art. I saw costumes by Bakst and the biggest Picasso in the world and Lydia Lopokova dancing in a frothy little can-can number designed by Derain.
And there is even something for the knitters ... two wonderful woolly swimsuits designed by Chanel for the ballet Le Train Bleu. (For dancing, or posing but not, I think, for getting wet.)

You need at least three hours to see this spectacular exhibition; I hadn't realised how big it was, so I'll be going back for another look.

Friday 24 September 2010

The whirlpool and the gulf were the quintessence of the wildness of Jura, and just the kind of thing Orwell's police state in Nineteen Eighty-Four had abolished, because they knew such wilderness nourished freedom of thought and action ... Whirlpools and wild places are inextricably linked with our capacity for creativity, as Orwell demonstrated when he chose to come to Jura to write his last novel. From Waterlog, by Roger Deakin.

I am a paddler in the shallows, not a person who swims in whirlpools. But I like it that there are others who do.
I'm with them in spirit. Just not so keen on getting wet.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

On an autumn afternoon, this was such a perfect film, poignant and funny, and as soon as it finished I wanted to see it all over again. The Illusionist is a vaudeville magician on his uppers, who meets Alice, a young girl who is convinced that his magic is real. (It's based on a previously unfilmed screenplay by Jacques Tati.)
I loved the old-fashioned animation evoking rain-drenched London and soot-blackened Edinburgh in the late 1950s; a world of third-class British Rail carriages and dingy theatrical digs. I giggled at the Scottish fish and chip shop with ideas above its station; I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when the magician thinks he has eaten his nasty-tempered rabbit in a stew. And I felt really sad that the cinema was almost empty because I thought this gentle, nostalgic film was a work of art.

Monday 20 September 2010

Things I've enjoyed this weekend ...
Nigel's plum crisp (scroll to the end for recipe) which won hands down over his plum cake.
Watching Gigi on television. My mum took me to see it at the cinema when I was five or six. She knew that the unsuitable bits would sail right over my head.
Lamb baked with aubergines and tomatoes for dinner.
Picking Michaelmas daisies along the river.
Giving in and turning on the heating.

Sunday 19 September 2010

I hardly notice the deer, or the squirrels or the mushrooms that might not be poisonous. I'm thrashing through bracken, and hopping over rabbitholes. (Or are they molehills? I'm such a townie.) I'm late, I'm late, I'm late.
It is London's Open House weekend and I've decided to explore close to home. I have every confidence that I can scurry across Richmond Park in time to tour the Royal Ballet School before it closes. When I arrive puffing and panting the stern lady on the door is not at all sympathetic. I am Too Late. I can tell that she is accustomed to dealing with those who are disciplined enough to get up on time. After all, the swans can't hop along 40 minutes late to dance Swan Lake.
But the museum is still open so I get to read Darcey Bussell's school report. Her teacher says that Darcey works too hard.
Not something that was ever said about me. (Although I recall one teacher saying that I was destined to succeed Late in Life.)
So off I thrash again, through woods and bracken. And emerge - fancy that - at exactly the right gate to have cake at Petersham Nurseries.
If I'm ever going to achieve a Darcey Bussell waistline, it'll have to be later.

Saturday 18 September 2010

As I looked around me at shining gold and plush red velvet - and glittering chandeliers - and myriad lights reflecting in the windows of the Floral Hall, I thought about all the lovely evenings I have spent here.
Feeling the same thrill as the curtain went up every time. Thinking that a night at the opera hasn't changed in more than 250 years ...
Even if Così Fan Tutte is now described as a 'Sex in the City triumph' with portraits saved on iPhones and, OMG, the marriage contract is drawn up on a laptop.
Don't you think that Mozart would have loved it?

Thursday 16 September 2010

For all you cynics, this is what happened when the fairy tale ended for Sleeping Beauty

And Little Red Riding Hood

The Little Mermaid

And Snow White and her handsome Prince

And, worst of all, Belle (Beauty and the Beast).

Tuesday 14 September 2010

After the dullest of dull days, there was a spectacular two-tone sunset over the beach. Corals and orange blazing to my left, the tide far out and the light catching on the sand at Sheppey; blues, silver and heathery clouds like a Whistler nocturne to my right.

Everybody stops to stare. Neighbours run home for their cameras.

Our sunsets are famous and we never tire of watching them. It is a sociable moment when strangers stop to talk. 'It'll be a good one tonight.' 'It flares up again just before the end.'

No wonder the local cinema closed down.

We've got our own Cinema Paradiso.

With seagulls.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Reading to my favourite four-year-old yesterday, from an animal encyclopaedia, about a butterfly that lives off alligators' tears.
What we both wanted to know was ... what makes alligators cry?
You'd have to be braver than us to be mean to them.
But now I have Googled the answer.
And I know.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Did I say that I saw the first Christmas tree in a department store last weekend? Just thought you'd like to know.

Monday 6 September 2010

I love it when it's definitely autumn but still warm enough to go out with bare legs.
And you can eat peaches for lunch.
But there's chicken cooked in earthy flavours of cider, tarragon and cream for dinner.
And you definitely still want an ice-cream. But this week's flavours are fig leaf, chestnut or blackberry sorbet.
You hear the wind in the tree outside your bedroom window and go to bed with a hotwater bottle.
And one of those old orange Penguin paperbacks with pages that smell sweet like stale icing.
And you lie there thinking that the white linen dress is going to look barking mad at the party next week. Especially if it rains. B*!@*r!
I hate shopping for clothes.
Whatever the season.

Sunday 5 September 2010

Dans la Nuit / In the Night (1924)
Vers le Jour / Just before Dawn (1925)
Sans Adieu / Because I can't bear to say goodbye (1929)
Je Reviens / I will return (1932)
Vers Toi / To You (1934)

A love poem that inspired five scents created by Worth in the 1920s and 30s. I don't think I've ever been to a perfume exhibition before but I knew I had to see this.
How I longed to undo the stoppers to unleash the heady fragrance of an Edwardian boudoir or sniff the wrist of a 1920s flapper.
Even the names are so evocative. Le Jardin de Mon Curé was a Guerlain scent of 1914: mint, thyme, salvia and wood.
Though I wasn't sure about Le Mouchoir de Monsieur as I've known too many messieurs whose mouchoirs are grimy rags that don't bear inspection.
But wouldn't you just love to sniff another vintage Guerlain from 1904 - wood, patchouli and iris - called Voilà Pourquoi J'Aimais Rosine? Can't you just imagine dabbing that on your teagown?
Before I left, I squirted myself liberally with L'Interdit (Givenchy, 1957) and wafted home. Smelling like Audrey Hepburn.
Even if I don't look like her. Much.

Saturday 4 September 2010

I'm a bit of a prissy-knickers about my Persephone Books collection. No sticky fingers, no reading in the bath, no pushing them into handbags so those dove-grey covers get ugly scratchmarks from bunches of keys.
Perhaps that explains my guiltiest reading secret ... the Persephone pile that as yet remains unread. (I will, I will get round to them soon. Some day when my hands are clean. And I'm not in the bath.)
But imagine my horror when I pounced on a grey cover in the Oxfam shop this afternoon and realised that a previous owner had scribbled comments and made underlinings. In Red Biro.
I was scandalised ... fortunately, it was a title that I already owned. (And I have read it, so there! Though it's not one of my favourites.)
Fortunately, there was another pristine Persephone on another shelf and it still had its bookmark and had clearly never been opened. (Or maybe it had One Careful Lady Owner. Like me.)
So I had to buy it. Didn't I?

Thursday 2 September 2010

The Hare with Amber Eyes has been the most absorbing, completely fascinating story that I have read in a long time ... I didn't know whether to read it quickly, because I was so engrossed, or slowly, to make it last.
Edmund de Waal is a ceramicist; I know I've seen his work in the V&A, but I must go back now for a better look. In 1994 he was left a large collection of Japanese netsuke by his great-uncle Iggie Ephrussi who lived in Tokyo. They had been bought in Paris in the 1870s by Iggie's cousin Charles Ephrussi. That's a name that I recognised, if only vaguely. The Ephrussi family was fabulously wealthy, nearly as rich as the Rothschilds ... and Charles was a patron of the Impressionists. You'd recognise him ... he's one of the cast of Renoir's Boating Party and was a model for Proust's Charles Swann. (I am now feeling a pressing need to read Proust.)
'You take an object from your pocket and put it down in front of you and you start. You begin to tell a story.' And what a story ... from Paris to Vienna and back to Tokyo, against a turbulent background of history when even the Ephrussis' staggering wealth couldn't insulate them from the swell of anti-Semitism. Until the netsuke came to rest in an Edwardian family home in an ordinary London suburb. I'm completely in awe of de Waal's skills as researcher, writer, historian. You feel like he's spinning history on his potter's wheel.
There's only one thing wrong with this book ... 264 netsuke and not a single picture of any one of them. I'm sure I'm not the only reader who wanted to see the hare with amber eyes.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

On Saturday I was blown sideways as the wind whipped up the waves and boats clinked and jangled. And so I went home and went to bed with a hot water bottle.
On Sunday I went for a walk. Rosehips and damsons and plums grow along the beach. And I thought about making rosehip syrup but knew that I'd never get round to it. Rosehip jelly on scones might be nice. I didn't get round to that either.
On Monday it was so hot that I wanted an ice-cream.
Typical August bank holiday.
And typical that it's absolutely glorious now that I'm back at work.