Friday 30 September 2011

A stroll on a hot evening, licking an ice-cream. Up to the Castle. Down to the river. Along the High Street, via second-hand bookshop to Eton College.
Half an hour browsing in Takky Maxx because it's not all about history and culture.
Then a drink with a friend and some funny songs, even if the rest of the programme was ... hmm, a bit mixed.
I did wonder if the Queen ever looks out of her window and wonders what it would be like to go for a pizza.

Monday 26 September 2011

A little something to torment Darlene ...

Lady Grantham: Edith, are you a lady or Toad of Toad Hall?

Best Maggie Smith line from this week's Downton Abbey. (Edith has announced her intention to drive a tractor.)

And did anybody else notice that the book that housemaid Anna doesn't get around to reading is Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim?
(There was even the suggestion of forming a book group in the servants' hall ...)

Thursday 22 September 2011

The last few days have been damp and dun.
When the sun came out today - which wouldn't have pleased Darlene, who wanted atmospheric gloom for her long-awaited visit to Highgate cemetery - I nipped down to Kew for an end-of-the-afternoon stroll.
The sun shone through glowing rudbeckias, golden marigolds and autumn crocus.
I paid my last visit of the year to the waterlily house
And smelled lavender in my favourite secret garden,
Admired two enormously fat peacocks
And lost count of green parrots which are multiplying faster than ever.
(I don't mind. I like lairy green parrots.)
And then I came home and made blackberry and apple crumble.
Even though the walk was supposed to work off the cake I ate with Darlene, Rachel and Simon on Sunday.

Saturday 17 September 2011

When Spitalfields was the centre of a real living weaving industry, the pale weavers were to be seen with their butterfly nets in all the woods and copses near London, seeking inspiration and suggestion in the beauty of captured insects no less than in that of the flowers on which they fed.

It is Open House weekend, with more than 50 pages of architectural visits to choose from. Last night there was some lamenting that some tours needed to be pre-booked.
I am not a pre-booking kind of person. I am a running out of the house at the last minute person, sometimes so last minute that I miss the whole event.
Full of good intentions, I run out of the house only two hours behind schedule.
I get distracted by this church because you can't walk past a Hawksmoor church without going in.
I get distracted again as I grab a rare chance to see inside one of the Georgian silk weavers' houses on Fournier Street - pure luck, because it's nothing to do with Open House - and I'm especially thrilled to see the kitchen with its stone sink and the tiny courtyard garden. This is what it looks like outside. It's a gallery now - I don't ever remember seeing it open before - and, to my delight, they're showing The Map of Spitalfields Life devised by a clever map-maker in collusion with the anonymous author of this endlessly fascinating blog.
Of course, I'm even more fascinated by the house next door because it's unattainable and I'm very envious of Jane's chance to see the view from its roof garden.
But what I've really come to see is another house that's rarely open. A house that has been described as our Ellis Island, a palimpsest of layer upon layer of history, Jewish over Huguenot, a synagogue built over the garden of a weaver's house that still has its bobbin sign hanging outside.
Then I amble down Brick Lane, with a bag of samosas for lunch, getting distracted by vintage shops selling hats out of Brief Encounter and, of course, I have to admire the wild life.
And the afternoon has ticked away before I make it as far as this exhibition.
Which was actually only number two on my Open House list of places to go.
Never mind. I did better than last year.

Friday 16 September 2011

Jane Eyre or John le Carré ... I didn't have to think twice.
There's no contest.
It had to be Tinker Tailor. Can you give a film 10*? It was brilliant. What can I say ... I didn't think of Alec Guinness, not once. No wonder John le Carré is so pleased with it.
It's a phenomenally good cast. Gary Oldman has made George Smiley completely his own. Colin Firth is superb. (His suede shoes speak volumes.) The homosexual undertones that were more understated in the 1970s version .. well, history speaks for itself.
And in a film that is largely about the quiet ruthlessness of male betrayal, Kathy Burke is simply fantastic as the Circus's retired, alcoholic researcher Connie Sachs.
I'm ever so tempted to go again.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Doesn't this inspire you to start your great Victorian novel?
There's something about Atkinson Grimshaw that makes me think of Dickens and Wilkie Collins, of moonlight and fog and gloaming and ladies in white.
I'd barely heard of him until one day when I was working in Leeds and snatched an hour in the art gallery there before catching my train home. I remember thinking ... wow, I like these.
I'll definitely be going to this exhibition because we don't get much chance to see his work here in the south.
Belatedly joining in with Cornflower's and Simon's game, the idea being that you complete each phrase with the name of a book that you've read this year. So here goes:
One time on holiday, We Bought A Zoo (Benjamin Mee)
Weekends at my house are Planet Dinosaur.
My neighbour is Doreen (Barbara Noble)
My boss is The Hare with Amber Eyes (Edmund de Waal)
My superhero secret identity is NY JS DB 62 (David Bailey)
You wouldn't like me when I'm angry, because The Very Thought of You ... (Rosie Alison)
I'd win a gold medal in Making Conversation (Christine Longford)
I'd pay good money for A Visit from the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan)
If I were Prime Minister I would Let the Great World Spin (Colum McCann)
When I don't have good books I ... Decline and Fall (Evelyn Waugh). Sorry, Cornflower, for copying but nothing else would fit.
Loud talkers at the cinema should be All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque)

Anybody else inspired to have a go?

Tuesday 13 September 2011

She dances, dying. As around the reed
Of a flute where the sad wind of Weber plays,
The ribbon of her steps twists and knots,
Her body sinks and and falls in the movement of a bird ...

And her satin feet like needles embroider
Patterns of pleasure. The springing girl
Wears out my poor eyes, straining to follow her.

I didn't know that Degas had ever written poetry. No big surprise that I loved the Royal Academy's new Degas and the Ballet exhibition when I went this morning. When he was in his 50s, he went to the ballet three or four times a week which would suit me just fine if I could only afford the tickets. Occasionally I've had the chance to go to ballet rehearsals - and once to company class at the Royal Ballet - and you realise how exactly Degas got it right. Dancers are always fiddling about ... with a strap, or a shoe, or a ribbon. You can feel the tension in a plié and the pull of thigh muscles performing a battement. As for those glowing pastels from his later years when his eyesight was failing ... those gossamer skirts seem to lift on their own.
The exhibition links Degas to developments in photography and film. In 1915, he was filmed unwittingly on the street, an almost blind old man. I watched it again and again. It seemed so sad.

Sunday 11 September 2011

I finally embraced autumn when I saw the amazing arrangements at Petersham Nurseries this afternoon ... dahlias the size of dinner-plates, sunflowers, apples, branches of crab apples, garlands of hops, bundles of baby round carrots. (Yes, carrots.)
I felt so autumnal, I even chose pumpkin and Taleggio quiche for my lunch. Instead of cake. This is unheard of.
Maybe it was Sue that made me think of picking a huge, prickly bunch of haws on the way home. Every single person who passed me asked if you can eat them.
And one girl asked if they were hallucinogenic. Er ... not last time I tried. But I can't say that I've ever inhaled.

Friday 9 September 2011

Health Warning. Do not read the following if you suffer from any of these workplace disorders: procrastination syndrome, willingness to be distracted at every opportunity, internet addiction, obsessive behaviour, etc etc
Particularly dangerous to the idle self-employed.
Oh dear, in the last few days I have discovered a wonderful time-wasting game that is an even bigger distraction from what I should be doing at my desk than reading other people's blogs.
I have signed up as a tagger, as part of this scheme to catalogue the nation's oil paintings in little-known public collections.
What do you see in this painting ... ? Boats, sea, fishermen's cottages, a church clock ... tag it, then on to the next painting which might be an abstract, or an 18th century portrait, or a still life with flowers. It is seriously difficult to log off.
I gave myself a scolding and told myself enough was enough. But like all the best computer games, I got promoted to the next level ... which is estimating the date of paintings, where that is unknown. Is cold turkey the only option? Sometimes I hanker for the days when there was no distraction but the crossword and making paperclip boats.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

How do dolls know when it is autumn? The same way that you do. They smell the London autumn smells of bonfires, of newly lit chimneys, of fog and leaves soaking in the wet. When they go out they see that Michaelmas daisies are out in the Park and chrysanthemums are in the flower shops and violets have come back on the street flower-sellers' trays.
From The Dolls' House, by Rumer Godden.

If only it really were about Michaelmas daisies and chrysanthemums (I haven't seen bunches of violets for years) but on my way home this afternoon the reality was torrential rain and streetlights coming on at 4pm.
I'd been to see this film which I'd missed when it first came out and which now counts as a classic. How can it be 40 years ago?

Sunday 4 September 2011

All the years that have passed have not dimmed my memory of that first glorious autumn. The new country lay open before me: there were no fences in those days ... Sometimes I followed the sunflower-bordered roads. Fuchs told me that the sunflowers were introduced into that country by the Mormons ... the members of the first exploring party, crossing the plains to Utah, scattered sunflower seed as they went. The next summer, when the long trains of wagons came through with all the women and children, they had the sunflower trail to follow ... that legend has stuck in my mind, and sunflower-bordered roads always seem to me the roads to freedom.'
From My Ántonia by Willa Cather.

I've seen fields of sunflowers but never a sunflower trail. Doesn't it sound gorgeous? By one of those strange literary coincidences, this story - which I'd never come across before - cropped up twice in my reading this week. So I decided to share it.
Much as I love Willa Cather, I'd never read My Ántonia, which is probably the best-known of her novels. It goes without saying that it was wonderful ... she leaves you feeling almost homesick for places you have never seen.

Thursday 1 September 2011

I can't knit -
or crochet -
but I don't think I'll be able to resist this exhibition at the Rebecca Hossack gallery, especially as I'll be just around the corner one day next week.
Aren't they fun?

I might have guessed that Homepride Fred was
a male knitter.

The website is worth a visit as there's lots more.
When I came across this book in the children's library last week, I was convinced that it was a much-loved but long-forgotten story that I'd read many years ago.
But as I read it, something seemed wrong ... yes, there was a wonderful dolls' house, a Dutch doll, a tumbling boy doll, made out of plush, an imperious posh doll.
But they weren't quite how I remembered them. And surely I wouldn't have so completely forgotten that menacing ending when the malevolent posh doll exerts her will and simple-minded, celluloid Birdie goes up in flames.
And then last night - from the deep recesses of memory where books about dolls' houses get filed - something struggled to the surface. The book that I'd loved was Five Dolls in a House by Helen Clare ... about a little girl who shrinks to visit her dolls: bossy, old-fashioned Vanessa, gentle Jane whose leather feet reminded me of a Dutch doll, Lupin who only wore a vest, their French paying-guest and a monkey who shouted rude words down the chimney.
And now, of course, I'm desperate to read it again - and it isn't in the library.
I haven't seen a copy for years but I remember loving the characters and all their dolls' house furniture. Is it still around today?
Another book that I'd love to read again is Marigold in Godmother's House, by the the author of Milly-Molly-Mandy, which I remember as absolutely entrancing.