Wednesday 29 December 2010

I'd make a hopeless ballet critic.
Because I love it so much, I'm simply very sad when it's all over.
Until next time.
Before setting out this evening,
I pulled out my collection of shiny red ballet programmes from the
Royal Opera House.
And thought about dozens of lovely evenings I've enjoyed over the years, and felt sad that some wonderful dancers are now retired.
Tonight's Cinderella wasn't as memorable as Sylvie Guillem a decade ago. But I gazed very hard at the fairy who is billed as the Next Big Star and thought how magical it must be to be 22 and on the brink of stardom.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

I've been having fun with Tamara Drewe, which - not being an avid Grauniad reader - I hadn't realised was (very) loosely based on Far From the Madding Crowd.
No prizes for guessing that beautiful Tamara with her nose job and legs up to her bum is obviously Bathsheba Everdene.
Reliable gardener and handyman Andy is Gabriel Oak.
And handsome rock star Ben is a 21st century Sergeant Troy.
While naive, substance-sniffing teenager Jody makes a brilliant stand-in for tragic Fanny Robin.
There's a muddle over an e-mail instead of a Valentine.
But I wasn't quite sure about the philandering novelist, Nicholas ... he's the older man, Tamara's third suitor, but surely he can't be respectable Farmer Boldwood? Or does there come a point where I'm trying to read too much into it? Anybody else have any ideas? It's so long since I read the original that maybe I'm missing something.
Posy Simmonds has done a brilliant job depicting the Hardy-esque misery of modern rural England where the pub has long closed down and local youth has nothing to do in a bo-oo-oo-ring village but hang out in bus shelters discussing snogging and reading Heat.
I love Posy's drawings that change colour with the passing seasons and her merciless eye for middleclass England ... how my toes curled when I realised that frumpy, reliable Beth, the put-upon wife, wears an apron of the same (ubiquitous) Cath Kidston fabric as my ironing board cover. Yes, I am that boring ...

Sunday 19 December 2010

The amaryllis bulb that I bought in October in hopes that it might flower on Christmas Day ...

Was finally planted today.

Two months procrastination about such a simple job that took about two minutes.

Luckily, amaryllis are also very nice in February.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Bizarre Christmas tip from today's Sunday papers: Show your light-hearted side ... pop a few chocolates into unexpected containers, such as wellies outside the front door for guests to help themselves to as they leave.

Suppose it's a change from a tin of Quality Street. But don't feel obliged to on my account.
The man checking bags at the door of the National Portrait Gallery yesterday looked defeated as he gazed into the depths ...
There was a novel to read on the train
A scarf that I'd bought for a friend
Gloves, recipes, shopping lists, bits torn out of newspapers that are slowly turning into confetti.
And if he'd plunged deep enough he'd have found a white pudding.
White puddings are a rare delicacy in London so when I happened upon them in an Irish shop, I had to buy one. (And shove it into my handbag for the rest of the afternoon. Maybe in another life I will return as someone with one perfect red Chanel lipstick in a designer bag ... in this life I am the person clutching a bag of hard-to-source offal.)
Sadly, today's white puddings never taste quite as good as they did in my childhood. (And I've certainly lost the taste for nibbling it raw.)
But fried in lashings of grease until you can spread it on thick, white factory bread
And you can feel your arteries clogging
That's what I call a Sunday breakfast.

Saturday 11 December 2010

On the day I bought the first Christmas present -
And wrote the first card -
And said, ooh, yes, please to the first paper cup of mulled wine ...

I'm afraid I also saw the first daffodil.
Anybody fancy an Easter egg?

(On my way home, however, I came across a festive flashmob of hundreds of Santas in Trafalgar Square. If only I'd had a camera.)

Friday 10 December 2010

How strange ... none of the Sunday papers have asked for my books of the year. I can't think why not. Maybe I read the wrong kind of books. On this year's Observer list I scored a staggering nul points; the Telegraph's is a bit more reader-friendly, don't you think? I haven't much desire to read Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. I find it tragic that our so-called culture secretary - I couldn't have put a name to him last week but he is now lodged in my mind forever as Jeremy *unt - can't think of anything he has enjoyed more than Tony Blair's memoirs.
But I would like to read Philip Larkin's Letters to Monica and I would be delighted to find Romantic Moderns, by Alexandra Harris, under the Christmas tree. (I hold out little hope. I have to do my duty by the bath products industry. I know. I'm ungrateful. I am difficult to buy for. There are starving children who would be glad of my shower gel. And a scented candle.)

So here they are, my books of the year 2010 ...
No surprises that top of the list are Wolf Hall (I know, it's last year's book, I'm always behind the times) and The Hare With Amber Eyes, as well as Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (a brilliant discovery, thanks to Cornflower's book group) and Olive Kitteridge.
Other books that I've really enjoyed were Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon and Death Comes for the Archbishop (but anything by Willa Cather soars to the top of any list).

The most powerful book of the year was Beside the Sea by Véronique Olmi. I meant to post about this but I was too gutted after I read it. It's no secret what it's about but I won't tell you here because the drip, drip of clues increases the tension. You know how it will end but the ending, when it comes, is so much worse than you can possibly imagine. But don't read this if you are in any way fragile; it is so powerful, a Greek tragedy of a story that you can't get out of your head.

My easy, enjoyable wallow award goes to Norman Collins for London Belongs To Me, the only book that's ever got a unanimous thumbs-up from our book group.

Maybe it's a sign of age (and fading memory) but I find that I'm returning to novels that I've read before ... and it was well worth a return visit to The Go-Between by LP Hartley and my favourite Elizabeth Taylor, A Game of Hide and Seek, which I'm still reading. (Thanks again to Cornflower for the push.)

And although it seems to be blog protocol not to give bad reviews ... what the hell. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is vile, pornographic tripe fit only for the dustbin. Which is where it would have gone. Except it was a library book.

Thursday 9 December 2010

I have eaten the first Christmas lunch, with turkey and pudding. And a mince pie. But that was over a week ago.
The first cards are on the windowsill ( even though I haven't written any).
I have been to the first noisy party, wondering how many prawn nibbles it takes to soak up a mojito imbibed on top of champagne (even though I'm old enough to know better).
I have been to a nativity play and clapped very loudly for the Wise Man and the Little Donkey who invited me.
And I've sat in front of a roaring log fire in front of a Christmas tree that tipped the ceiling of a stately home.
I ate too many chocolate snowballs this morning pondering how behind I am with work after all the festivities.
Is it over yet? Because although it's been very nice, I think I've had quite enough. Already.

Sunday 5 December 2010

In a kitchen 200 miles away, my brother is making Welsh cakes in a sandwich toaster. (Christmas present c.1980-something, found at the bottom of the cupboard, needed a good wash.)
In a kitchen in London, I'm making Welsh cakes in a frying pan slicked with butter paper because I don't own a proper griddle and I didn't get a sandwich toaster that Christmas, think that was the year I got the foot spa.
You have to keep a very, very sharp eye on Welsh cakes or they burn.
But the second batch was very good.
Of course, it does explain why nobody in this family has a waistline.

Saturday 4 December 2010

My train passed through a monochrome landscape of snowy fields and icy mists, past frozen canals and stark, black woodland.
It was very lovely.
But I was glad when I arrived back in London to find that our snow had disappeared.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford ...
Dr Johnson didn't say anything about his feet getting tired but my visitors last weekend appreciated stops at some of my favourite cafés with a view.
Where you can watch twilight fall over the city for the price of a coffee.
This is the view from the National Portrait Gallery; the finest view of Nelson's backside that London affords.
(But could I interest the younger generation in portraits of Jane Austen or the Brontes ... not a bit, it was straight down in the lift and on to Covent Garden before the shops closed.)
Everybody agreed that, much as they'd looked forward to seeing Tate Modern, in fact the National Gallery has so much more 'wow'. I wasn't surprised. (I find it hard to love Tate Modern. I hate, hate, hate the thematic hang and that overbearing building seems to leech all the energy from the paintings.)
But what a view from the restaurant ... wow!