Wednesday 31 August 2011

I couldn't walk past an art gallery without 'paying a visit.' Maybe it's a hangover from childhood when nobody ever walked past a church without dropping in.
When I stopped by the National Gallery a few days ago, it wasn't with any specific intention of seeing this exhibition. But when I wandered through, I found myself in a bubble of peace and calm on what was rather a scratchy and bad-tempered day. Even the security guard told me how uplifting he found it to sit there all day ...
And needless to say, even though it's free to get in, there were hardly any visitors because 500 year-old Italian altarpieces don't attract crowds.
I'm ashamed to think how often I've scooted past them with barely a glance. It's the domestic, human details that move me most ... a servant with a towel flung over her shoulder boiling water for a baby's birth, or testing the temperature of bathwater with her hand; a pair of shoes kicked off before an altar; the harassed and worried look on a priest's face as he supervises the exhumation of a saint; a strand of hair combed over a bald head. It was like being in a dark, Italian church, hearing a distant chanting of monks (I never thought I'd approve of background music in an art gallery but this time it works) and I sat there until closing time when I was the last one there and they had to throw me out.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

It was such a chilly holiday weekend that fish and chips on the beach turned into fish and chips in a bus shelter with a sea view.
And then I visited the local museum to get out of the wind.
I'm not very keen on these papier-mâché creatures by Julie Arkell... too whimsical and fey for me. (Okay, I admit, I'm the one gasping, "£60 for a papier mâché toadstool!"
Why would you even want a papier mâché toadstool?)
But they are part of a little exhibition of local people's favourite toys ... and I was rather more charmed by a display of battered old teddy bears, kissed half to death, and dolls' houses made by clever dads. That reminded me of a bungalow made by my clever grand-dad for Christmas, 1960. I wonder whatever happened to it.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Doesn't this simply zing with colour? When I pulled this card from its envelope this morning I was completely bowled over ...
And to think the real thing covers 15 canvases. (That's nine feet tall x 20 feet wide, if I've converted the cms correctly.)
What clever timing ... a big David Hockney exhibition is due to open in the dankest, horriblest part of the year, right at the end of January, when if it's anything like last year, this blaze of glorious colour will be exactly what I need to raise my spirits. The painting is Winter Timber, 2009. Nice to have something to look forward to.

Sunday 21 August 2011

There was a big bowl of homemade soup,
A blackberry clafoutis with lots of cream,
And a good singalong film on TV.
But it's not my idea of an August weekend.
We're rolling far too quickly into autumn.

Thursday 18 August 2011

I have never enjoyed the company of wizards, and although I was initially charmed by Harry Potter, it was the world of Hogwarts and owls and Diagon Alley that I enjoyed, and I got more and more bored with him as he became increasingly embroiled with his arch-enemy Voldemort.
There is no way on earth that I would have read A Wizard of Earthsea had it been suggested by anybody else but Cornflower.
I tried, I hope I came to it with an open mind ... but, oh dear, this was a very tedious wizard. At least it was shorter than Lord of the Rings. And, if nothing else, it was interesting to see where JK Rowling has borrowed from Ursula Le Guin ... Hogwarts, I see, wasn't the first school for wizards even if its teachers are rather more fun. And the Wizard's evil nemesis bears more than a passing resemblance to He Who Must Not Be Named.
But I won't be sending a Howler to Cornflower as while I was (unusually for me) in the children's library, next to the Wizard in alphabetical order I found Madeleine L'Engle's SF fantasy book A Wrinkle in Time.
I hadn't come across it as a child and I've thoroughly enjoyed it, especially Mrs Who, Mrs Which and Mrs Whatsit (although I'd be fascinated to hear Cornflower's friend Dark Puss's take on the physics!).
So thanks to Cornflower ... in a roundabout way, you've scored another hit!

Wednesday 17 August 2011

I always thought that Mrs Miniver's Daughter ran a respectable blog.
For a small but refined readership.
I hope I didn't disappoint the person who was searching for a blond bare trollop losing her virginity.
They might find this old-fashioned novel by Noel Streatfeild rather tame.
Although it was a bit racier than Ballet Shoes.

Sunday 14 August 2011

This week, I've been reading one Persephone book that was a complete delight from start to finish.
And another that completely bored me.
I was enchanted by a visit to this royal residence which is still a favourite summer weekend hideaway for the Queen.
The mausoleum where Queen Victoria is buried was closed but in the royal burial ground, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor lie separated from the other graves - as if most of the family deceased still aren't speaking to them. I was fascinated by all the sentimental plaster casts of Queen Victoria's children and by Queen Mary's horrendous collection of geegaws that you wouldn't look twice at in a charity shop. (Unfortunately, the family museum - which I imagine is really fascinating - is private.)
But for those who care about tea and cake, I am sorry to say that although the setting is lovely, the tea (in paper cups!) and the very boring cake was a letdown, and Her Majesty is letting the side down. My royal tea and scones did not meet my usual high standards.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

I have just walked into town where the mood is subdued.
It was the small family-owned businesses and cafés that bore the brunt of the violence.
But the girl who runs the baby clothes shop was painting a big red Thank You to everybody who helped on her boarded-up windows.
There's pink balloons on a boarded-up children's charity shop and a sign offering face-painting sessions inside.
The streets have been swept and there's tables outside coffee shops and restaurants.
And it's business as usual for almost everybody, except the corner shop supermarket which was completely gutted.
I felt so sorry for the lovely Italian boys who run the little café where they're so friendly to children. And for everybody on a parade of high street shops where businesses were already struggling.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

On this gloriously sunny afternoon, local shopkeepers are boarding up their windows; all is peaceful except for intermittent sirens.
I wish I'd thought to ask for a phone number from the lovely couple who gave me a lift home in their cab last night at midnight as we attempted to skirt around the riot.
I know I thanked them. But I was shocked to the core to find riot police gathering at the end of my quiet, leafy street.
I hope they - and the cheerful black-cab driver - got home safely.
And I wish that the BBC would stop talking about protestors.
Because nobody was protesting.
They were looting.

Sunday 7 August 2011

This week, I've plundered ripe mulberries until the juice ran down my arms. (Never really cared for that white shirt!)
'I hope you don't get bellyache,' said a man whose wife was scrumping as many as I was.
And as I only know of two mulberry trees in London (and the other one is inaccessible), maybe you'll guess that I was here.
To see a painting that I last saw 30 years ago here.
It is still very beautiful -
Although it looked better in New York
Where it didn't have to compete with a very intrusive video playing right beside it.
At the Frick, I remember it hanging over a marble-topped table, exactly the same dovegrey shade as the Comtesse's dress.
And I wondered which came first, the painting or the table. As one does, pondering the shopping habits of ruthless American steel magnates.

Friday 5 August 2011

When it gets to 4pm, you start wishing that Stop-Me-And-Buy-One would come along the beach ...
And then he does.
Next morning you see photos of heatwave Britain
in a newspaper
And realise that you had a very narrow escape.
You don't expect to be papped
On your own stretch of beach
And you'd hate
Two million readers
To see you in that very unflattering swimsuit.