Thursday 30 June 2011

So I felt a touch guilty about sloping off to the cinema on a sunny (working) day ...
But it was brilliant. Literally.
West Side Story has been restored for its 50th anniversary.
And from that opening sequence when the camera pans across New York, it was a joy to see it on the big screen. I think I've only once seen it at the cinema before.
I was jiggling in my seat (I know, I know but there were rows and rows of empty seats.)
I was barely refraining from singing along.
And the colours ... why have I never noticed the wonderful colour before? The stained glass door in Maria's apartment, dresses in the bridal store, green light reflected on a cobbled street ...
I loved it. This wasn't the film I knew from afternoons in front of the television. It felt as vibrant as if I were seeing it for the first time back in 1961. (I got talking to an older woman who had brought along her original souvenir programme.)
And there was an Intermission. I love an Intermission. All that was missing was a Look at Life.
And continuous performances. Remember continuous performances? Now if they'd only revived those, I'd have settled down in my seat and watched it through again.

Wednesday 29 June 2011

I'm a connoisseur of all the local charity shops.
And the best ones around here are invariably for charities I've never heard of.
There's the Shop with the Scary Ladies; we are all too intimidated to leave donations here in case we fail to meet their exacting standards.
There's the Cheap Charity Shop a few doors further down the road; not as cheap as it used to be since they cottoned on that dealers were buying from them, but still cheapest by far for books.
And that's where I found a copy of Proust yesterday - Swann's Way, the first volume of Á la recherche du temps perdu - for 20p.
I've been promising myself that I'd try this again ever since I finished The Hare with Amber Eyes and realised that Charles Ephrussi was a model for Swann.
I haven't read Proust since I was a student and fancied the idea of myself as a cultured young lady who read very long books. And I got through this first volume (and quite a lot of Ulysses, and nearly all of War and Peace) and can't remember very much about any of them.
That 20p bargain shouted to me that this was the time ...
But am I ready to dunk my madeleine into my tisane - or even my KitKat into my mug of Yorkshire Brew - whilst reading a paperback that seems to have been kippered in a home where its previous owner smoked like a chimney? (Funny how you never notice a book's musty smell before you get it home.)
Maybe I should have waited for a more salubrious copy?
Or can I sip that tisane while holding my nose?

Sunday 26 June 2011

As we're half way through 2011, I was looking back on my reading and wondering what might eventually qualify as Book of the Year.
And nothing was shouting at me ...
Until this week when I read Brodeck's Report, a novel translated from the French that I've been meaning to read for some time.
It is by Philippe Claudel, who - I only discovered from the jacket - was the scriptwriter for I've Loved You So Long, that very good film of a couple of years ago, starring Kristin Scott Thomas. Which was also about secrets and guilt.
Brodeck returns from a German concentration camp just after the Second World War to a village on the borders between France and Germany; presumably Alsace. He has always been an outsider. When another outsider - a man known only as the Anderer - is horribly murdered, the Mayor calls upon Brodeck to write a report.
This is a powerfully written book about collective and individual guilt and what we will do to survive. I was gripped but at the same time so appalled that I could only read it slowly.
But it's definitely my book of 2011. So far.

I'm disqualifying The Hare with Amber Eyes because it was my last year's Book of the Year (even though it's so brilliant that I had to read it again).
So my best non-fiction read has to be The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

Honourable runners-up in the fiction category: Corrag, by Susan Fletcher, So Long, See You Tomorrow, and All Quiet on the Western Front. A classic, but it was new to me and a gift for World Book Night.

Of course, there's a lot of reading time to go before the year is out.
What I'd really love to read is a brilliantly well-written feel-good book ... Where are they? Everything I've chosen here has been powerful but harrowing.

Saturday 25 June 2011

Another painting that I loved yesterday, because it's so very Cookham -a glorious tumble of wisteria, but also golden privet contained by a wire fence, the red brick villas and chimneys and those rainclouds. You can tell that Spencer was the son and grandson of builders. His wisteria seems to be grappling with the grey render of the walls ... and winning the battle. And he takes as much trouble over pointing and brickwork as flowers.

Friday 24 June 2011

I loved Jane's idea of making a Grand Provincial Tour by train. I'd happily spend a couple of weeks visiting paintings in far-flung corners of England.
Today was more of a Grand Provincial Day Out but I did go by train to see this wonderful exhibition of Stanley Spencer's garden and landscape paintings.
And as Jane planted the idea ... here's some tulips for her.
I've never visited Compton Verney before but it must be the loveliest setting for an art gallery in England, and I only wish I'd had more time to enjoy the park. But what a stunning exhibition... Spencer self-deprecatingly called these his 'pot-boilers' but Cookham village was his little bit of heaven on earth, the setting for his great religious works. It was easy to imagine Stanley as a child, peeping over walls and through privet hedges to see into his neighbours' gardens. I love the way he paints front gardens the size of postage stamps, as well as manicured lawns; the lobelia and snapdragon classes in red-brick villas as well as posher people's wisteria. I knew that thoughts of Cookham had sustained him through WWI, but I'd never noticed before how even these garden paintings are haunted by images of war, how the fences between the prim gardens of a terrace of workers' cottages can bring to mind trench ramparts, how corn stooks in a field resemble lines of military tents. But there must have been so many men of that generation, going about their ordinary business when anything - a sudden noise, a glimpse of something out of the corner of their eye - could transport them back to a battlefield or a camp.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

On a bench in Regent's Park the other day, beside a bed of peachy roses, I spotted this plaque to Ena, to mark her 99th birthday, who was
Our model for kindness, generosity and joie de vivre.
And I thought what a lovely way to be remembered.
I always stop to read the benches. The best ones are like little love stories.
I was wondering how my own life might be summed up on a bench. So I had to laugh when I saw this one in a highly desirable spot by swags of mauve roses.
Why walk when you can sit?
My philosophy exactly. Although - given their dismissive attitude to exercise - it didn't say whether the couple remembered on the bench achieved 99th birthdays.

The park was scented with lime blossom after the rain. And because I had to take a different way out than my usual route - they were setting up stalls for a festival - I discovered the entrance to an enchanting hidden garden that must be one of London's best-kept secrets because I never knew it was there.
There was nobody there after the rain except me, another lady who was planning to return with her paints and a young gardener ...
I pressed a sprig of thyme and smelled it on my fingers all the way home.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Walking along the (even) grottier end of Oxford Street in the rain yesterday, I glanced up ... and was taken aback by this wonderful Art Deco frontage.
How come I've never noticed it before?
In its glory days, it was the Bourne&Hollingsworth department store that was bombed in the war. Now it's the entrance to a trashy shopping mall.
I found this Pathé news reel of the first day of the sales which reminded me of Lewis's sale in Manchester in the 1960s.
That was when Going to the Sales was like going into battle.
I wonder whatever happened to their wonderful clock?

Lucille has just provided these links to pictures of the shop in its heyday.
And I found this story about the working life of the shop girls. I'm sure I'll think of them in their little black dresses next time I walk past.

Saturday 11 June 2011

Awnings were rigged to shade the tulip beds, because growers knew that the separate colours of broken tulips tended to 'run' in bright sunlight. Calico, lighter than jute, made the best summer covers, though growers in the Midlands often used Nottingham lace.'
From The Tulip, by Anna Pavord.

Wouldn't you just love to see a bed of tulips shaded from the sun with Nottingham lace?

Thursday 9 June 2011

It was more like a classier Strictly Come Dancing than a night at the ballet.
But I loved the pzazz of English National Ballet's Strictly Gershwin.
And I was thrilled to bits to see the dress rehearsal last night at the Royal Albert Hall.
I admit it. I've been too snobby to go to ballet at the Albert Hall, so I've missed all those over-the-top productions with 60 swans (and fireworks and 1812 cannons).
But what do you know ... it's brilliant. You're so close to the dancers, that you can see exactly who's who, see every muscle, see them gasping to get their breath back. (Well, you could where we were sitting, almost in the orchestra, so we were sideways on more than in-the-round.) It was rather like viewing it inside out, which wouldn't please everybody, but was rather fascinating. The Ginger Rogers gowns were simply fabulous, sparkling with crystals ... so shimmery, they looked as if they could dance on their own.
The conductor was jigging and jiving (I wonder if he jiggles to Swan Lake?)
And lovely Daria Klimentová - star of that fly-on-the-wall documentary that I was so hooked on that I watched every episode twice over - she was exquisite. And she's nearly 40.
She wasn't dancing with Vadim Muntagirov, the 20-year-old Russian dancer who partners her so well.
Actually, he wasn't on very good form last night. When he's not dancing with Daria, he looks a bit tentative and gauche; he looked too much like a Tchaikovsky prince, too young and inexperienced to let himself go. (Makes you realise that it's not only the older woman who gains by dancing with a younger man.)
I gasped when Tamara Rojo stumbled and fell over ... poor girl.
But to my huge disappointment, though I could hear the voice of choreographer Derek Deane shouting GO, Go, Go ... from the wings, he wasn't rude or mean to anyone.
Of course, there weren't any TV cameras to play up to.

Sunday 5 June 2011

If only I'd had a camera
I could have shown you
Raindrops on roses
In the private garden at Petersham
Where I never knew
They had some very funky chickens.
(I hope they don't end up in the pot.)
It was worth braving the rain
To see what lay behind that locked gate.

Thursday 2 June 2011

I don't suppose that I'll ever go for a Fibonacci Walk across Somerset.
1 mile
1 mile
5 miles
8 miles
13 miles
21 miles
34 miles
55 miles
89 miles
On consecutive days. But I like the idea.
And Richard Long's work looks amazing in the grandeur of 6 Burlington Gardens.
I spent far longer there this afternoon than in the RA Summer Exhibition which as ever reminds me of shopping at TKMaxx. There are a few interesting things but I really don't have the patience to dig them out.