Friday 29 April 2011

I wasn't anything like as obsessed as I was 30 years ago when I had a forensic interest in weddings.
But in the end, it caught up with me.
And I've now watched the ceremony three times over.
Even though BBC's Huw Edwards was rubbish at the commentary. (If they can't have a Dimbleby, they could have hired me and my sister who didn't draw breath talking each other through it over the phone.)
I loved the dress ... my sister was disappointed. (She is a huge fan of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings.)
It is mean to snipe ... but what in the name of God did Beatrice and Eugenie think they were wearing? Beatrice's hat looked like a prop from the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.
(Maybe Carole Middleton could be roped in to teach the princesses a bit of decorum.)
There must have been a moment when Princess Anne stood in her local curtain showroom and said ... I'll take that pair. In a size 12. (I kind of sympathise. You should see what I'm wearing in my sister's wedding photos.) And ooh, did you see P Anne mouthing, 'Rags to riches' to her husband ... every indiscretion now immortalised on i-player, in case you thought you'd imagined it first time round, including the guest applying her lip gloss during the service.
We don't really mind that SamCam wasn't wearing a hat ... although surely she should have worn tights? (Her toes were definitely bare.)
And good for them ... they didn't invite that slimeball Blair and misery-guts Brown.
I thought it was nice to see the Duchess of Kent, who has lived so quietly for so many years since her breakdown ... although didn't she look frail?
The music was wonderful. (Didn't like that piece from Rutter, though ... sounded like Andrew Lloyd-Webber.)
And what a good idea to let the two smallest bridesmaids sit with their mums. (Loved the grumpiest bridesmaid on the balcony.)
But the most touching moment was when the carriage passed through Horseguards' Arch. And Kate looked solemn and dropped her head for a moment and squeezed William's hand.
And you knew that she was thinking of a young boy who paused under that arch on a long walk behind his mother's coffin.
Normal cynicism will be resumed here tomorrow. It was a lovely day ...
Go on, I dare you ... a wedding-day moment that made me smile.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

If you've ever wondered what links The Beatles with the tumty-tum tune of The Archers, or even Nellie the Elephant ... there's still time to watch this fascinating programme about Sir George Martin.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

The Whichart children lived in the Cromwell Road. At that end of it which is furthest away from the Brompton Road, and yet sufficiently near it to be taken to look at the dolls' houses in the Victoria and Albert every wet day, and if not too wet expected to 'save the penny and walk.'
Saving the penny and walking was a great feature of their childhood.
Sounds familar? That's because The Whicharts is Noel Streatfeild's adult prototype for Ballet Shoes, one of my all-time favourite books as a ballet-mad little girl. I read it again quite recently when I bought a copy for my niece (who thought it was far too old-fashioned and silly, but then she won't read anything unless it's by Jacqueline Wilson). Reading it as an adult, I picked up on hints that had sailed over my head all those years ago ... that underlying tawdriness of Madame Fidolia's Children's Academy, where all those tap-dancing little popsies learn to eke a living in panto. Remember the photographs of past pupils? These were signed: 'To dear Madame Fidolia from Little Doris,' or 'Babsy,' or 'Baby Cora', or names like that.' Did I spare a thought for Babsy's moral welfare and whether she grew up no better than what she oughter be?
And when GUM - Great-Uncle Matthew - came back from his expeditions with one motherless baby after another, and some preposterous explanations as to how he acquired them ... Did I ever think, 'Hah, a likely story indeed?' I didn't. (Of course, if I'd read any Jacqueline Wilson they couldn't have pulled the wool over my eyes.)
The Whicharts, written in 1931 - five years before it was rehashed as a story more suitable for children - is Ballet Shoes for cynics. Which I found utterly disconcerting, especially as some passages are almost word for word exactly the same. GUM is recast as the libidinous Brigadier who has a habit of dumping his illegitimate offspring onto Howdy/Garnie, who this time round isn't his niece, she's his discarded mistress. When the Brigadier is killed during WWI, and money runs short, his three daughters are enrolled in the Madame Elise Academy. Maimie is the eldest, as blonde and lovely as Pauline Fossil ... but she's a hard-bitten chorus girl who loses her virginity at 16 to a well-known impresario and accepts gifts of money for 'being nice' to married men.
Tania, whose mother was Russian, is completely recognisable as the Petrova character, gauche and rather shy, and much keener on motorcars and aeroplanes than on dancing.
Daisy has Posy's red curls and her gift for dance ... but her future lies with rich, vulgar grandparents in Surbiton not with some version of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.
As you might well imagine, reliable old Nannie has to turn a blind eye to goings-on ... 'It mayn't be what we're used to, I says, But theatricals is a trashy lot.'
Oh dear, oh dear ... I gobbled up The Whicharts with a kind of horrible fascination on Easter Sunday afternoon. (I do think the new edition ought to come with some kind of preface to put it in context. But it doesn't.) It's terribly clunkily written and no wonder that it vanished into obscurity for 80 years.
And now I feel rather saddened by my own loss of innocence. Because Ballet Shoes has been irretrievably tarnished.

Saturday 23 April 2011

I'd only gone into town for the sake of something to do, feeling slightly guilty that I wasn't making more of a sunny day. But I found myself entranced by Watteau's exquisite drawings at the Royal Academy. It was as if I could hear the rustle of silk - and the music - and smell the scent of wig powders and pomades. So maybe that's why I wandered up to Liberty, for a spritz of something expensive and rose-scented (I'm shameless) ... then down Regent Street, looking very festive
hung with Union Jacks (I'm no royalist but I do think The Guardian can be a bit miserable) ... then into Golden Square, where you can almost imagine a shopfront like Gersaint's.
And there my elegant afternoon disintegrated into blatant consumption of cinnamon buns here.
(Could somebody please let out my corsets?)
And even worse ... I was mugged by a green Easter bunny with white sugar ears. In a shop where royal wedding cupcakes are miniature works of art. (Scroll down to see.)
Alas, Easter bunny cupcakes do not travel well by Tube during a heatwave.
And he was a green, squishy mess in the bag by the time we got home.
You like walking out on to a terrace and looking up at a wall that is covered with the pale, tipsy plumes of wistaria ... to walk under arches of orange blossom, thinking the prettiest thoughts ... and you may even stoop down to pick a bunch of pansies, if they match your frock. You like these things, yes.
But you do not like grovelling on the earth in search of a peculiarly nauseating slug that has been eating those pansies. You do not like putting a trowel under the slug, hoping that it will not suddenly burst or produce fearful slime, and tipping the slug with gratified horror into a basket. You do not like bending down for hours to pull up hateful little weeds that break off above the root ... (not groundsel, because groundsel is a lovely weed to pull up) ... but small docks and wretched things like that. You do not like these things, for one reason and only one reason ... because you do not own the garden.
All gardeners will know what I mean. Ownership makes all the difference in the world. I suppose it is like the difference between one's own baby and somebody else's. If it is your own baby you probably quite enjoy wiping its nose. If it is somebody else's you would have to use a long pole with a handkerchief on the end ... at least I should.

I have always opted for the long pole approach to the leakier ends of babies.
But how could Beverley Nichols get it so wrong about gardens?
Knowing that you are the proud and legal owner of the garden with the most nauseating snails in the western hemisphere ... yes, it makes all the difference.
It makes it worse!
They're mine, all mine.
And what I thought I was buying was Option A, the one with the pansies.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

I've barely caught up with wisteria,
but already roses are dropping petals
in the garden.
Is it just me,
or did somebody push the fast switch?
Now that I have taught myself llama
I won't beat about the bush.
Of course your bum looks big in that.
With all best wishes for Easter ... in the font that takes the edge off bad news.

Monday 18 April 2011

This makes a trip to Waitrose seem very boring ... but make sure you watch it to the end!

Saturday 16 April 2011

Another London weekend ...
Filching a big bunch of white lilac where it overhangs the railway line.
The scent of wisteria on a busy road.
(Actually, the scent of wisteria on lots of busy roads.)
A glass of sparkling rosé in a new-to-us wine bar
That has a little theatre upstairs.
Which was good. In parts.
(The tiny theatre was packed.
Which was just as well. As they were collecting money in a plastic bucket
For a new heating system.)
The glorious scent of lemon blossom as I had lunch at Petersham this afternoon,
where there were tulips on every table.
Surprising myself that I could name so many tulip varieties.
(I blame Jane Brocket.)
Keeping an eye open for Kristina and her cows in the meadows on the way home.
But she wasn't there.
Maybe it was milking time?

Thursday 14 April 2011

Oh to be in England, now that April's there ...
Because last weekend
I smelled the first lilac.
Picked cowslips in the garden.
Saw my neighbour venture out in a bikini.
(And even I managed to inflict a bit of sun damage to my nose.)
I picked branches of apple blossom on the beach
And watched busy people springcleaning their beach-huts.
And I laughed when I saw two seagulls - how shall I put this delicately? - making raucous love on another neighbour's chimney.
This is a big improvement on last year when they dive-bombed us as we scurried down the street. (They're so big and scary that I used to skulk past under my umbrella.)
And just as I was thinking what a shame it was that I couldn't take the week off ...
The sky went black and the wind whipped up and suddenly the rain was lashing down.
English weather.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

I've been re-reading The Hare with Amber Eyes which is just as good second time round. But one of the things that frustrated me last time was that I wanted to see Edmund de Waal's collection of netsuke. (The paperback at least has a picture of the hare on the cover.)
Now I realise that there's a whole gallery of photos here.

Monday 4 April 2011

The first time I saw Ai WeiWei's sunflower seeds at Tate Modern, I admit I didn't quite get it. It was a visit with far-flung family who hadn't been in London for years - and understandably there wasn't time to stop and contemplate.
I went back later, alone, as mauve twilight made it a completely different experience. And took time to watch the video of a gentle, engaging artist.
I was saddened this morning to read this.
My voice is a sunflower seed against the Chinese authorities.
Many years ago I visited China. It was barely a decade since the Cultural Revolution.
One evening another quiet, gentle man fulfilled his promise to meet a small group of us to talk about his experiences.
He asked us to be discreet as he was frightened.
I was privileged to be there and I have never forgotten.

Saturday 2 April 2011

The view from my sitting room window five minutes ago:
28 billowy blossom trees. (I've never counted them before.)
2 green parakeets.
And a blue-tit.
My family always tell me that they think I'm mad living in London.
(Maybe I should tell them about cowgirl Kristina.)

I'm still reading Earth and Heaven and artist Walter Cox is still at the Slade School of Art in the aftermath of World War I.
Sue Gee is such an accomplished writer that I can see his drawings, smell the seedy student lodgings in Camden, and feel as if I'm walking sooty London streets in the spring of 1920.
And thanks to YouTube I can listen to the soundtrack.
If I were Sue Gee, I'd be steaming mad about this truly dreadful cover illustration ...
Does that convey to you the world of Henry Tonks, Christopher Nevinson, Paul Nash, Philip Wilson Steer?
Yeah, thought it would ...
But I liked the woodcut illustrations inside (by Simon Brett, although I had to search the small print to find a credit).
Perhaps I posted this too early. Two days later, my interest in the characters is flagging and I've guessed the predictable ending. I'm still fascinated by the background of art between the wars but less so by the relationships which make this too much of a 'women's read' for me. Far preferred Sue Gee's later book The Mysteries of Glass. Or Francesca Kay's wonderful novel An Equal Stillness about a woman artist, written so convincingly that you'd almost start searching for her paintings in the Tate.