Monday 30 April 2012

What a cliffhanger ... how am I going to wait a week to find out what happens next?
And what will I do with my Sunday evenings after the finale next weekend?
And why aren't British television series ever as good as this?
I'd have traded ten more series of Downton Abbey for another half-hour last night.
But do you really believe that Sergeant Brody would do that or will there be a twist at the end?

Sunday 29 April 2012

What with the Olympics (I'd better warn you, this blog will be an Olympic-free zone) and the Jubilee (although it seems hardly any time at all since the last one), I suppose the V&A had to do an exhibition of British Design. But I did feel that I'd seen it all before - and very recently, too, given last year's Festival of Britain celebrations.
Still, it got me out of the rain after a very damp walk in Kensington Gardens.
The only thing that stopped me in my tracks was the very beautiful maquette for John Piper's window at Coventry Cathedral.
I've never been there, but I can't imagine that you'd get close enough to see the lovely, subtle detail in the glass.
Then it was the Skylon, and the Mini, and the mini ... heigh-ho, and the Dyson. It was all just a bit familiar. But I suppose it would be.

Monday 23 April 2012

I was so fascinated by Jeanette Winterson's memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? that over the weekend I simply had to watch again the wonderful BBC adaptation of her novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. I knew that this was life transmuted into fiction, but not the gospel truth.
In fact, real life was much bleaker and more terrifying.

I am often asked, in a tick-box kind of way, what is true and what is not true, in Oranges. Did I work in a funeral parlour? Did I drive an ice-cream van? Did we have a Gospel Tent? Did Mrs Winterson build her own CB radio? Did she really stun tomcats with a catapult?
I can't answer these questions. I can say that there is a character in Oranges called Testifying Elsie who looks after the little Jeanette and acts as a soft wall against the hurt(ling) force of Mother. 
I wrote her in because I couldn't bear to leave her out. I wrote her in because I really wished it had been that way ...
There was no Elsie. There was no one like Elsie. Things were much lonelier than that.

Oranges was written when Jeanette Winterson was only 25. Now she must be over 50, and Mrs Winterson is long dead; her barking mad, Pentecostalist mother-by-adoption, whom she always refers to as Mrs Winterson or Mrs W and never as mum. Oranges, so Jeanette Winterson says, is 'for anyone who is interested in what happens at the frontiers of common sense.'
Mrs W lived on the edge, waiting for Armageddon, with her funeral money sewn into the curtains and two pairs of false teeth, matt for everyday and pearlised for best. She burned books, but could extemporise a more religiously-satisfying version of Jane Eyre.
She was terrifying, dangerous, and undoubtedly wreaked lasting damage upon her daughter who nevertheless comes to realise that, 'She was a monster but she was my monster.'

For all the havoc and pain she wreaked, there is a grandeur to Mrs W and I can't really understand how Jeanette Winterson walked out the door, never to lay eyes on her again.

And I know that I'd love to sit down with the monster and say, 'Now tell me the story from your side ....'

(Nothing to do with the book, but I didn't know that Jeanette Winterson has a food shop in Spitalfields. Having read this, I realise that I've been in there many a time admiring the chocolates.)

Friday 20 April 2012

Could I call back in half an hour, said the person I rather urgently needed to talk to for work.

Do you think I could?  When the new Persephone Biannually arrived only ten minutes ago and I've got a tin of homemade chocolate shortbread ...

I think I'll survive.

Thursday 19 April 2012

If anybody missed the enchanting French film from about ten years ago, Être et Avoir, you can download it free of charge here. The code is EXTRAFILMTHURS
What a shame that it all ended in tears. I hadn't realised.

Thursday 12 April 2012

This is not a food blog ....

Although I accept that slightly burned sausages, mash, caramelised onions and lightly steamed asparagus - washed down by half a bottle of supermarket Rioja - possibly don't qualify as one of the great culinary classics ...

I still really enjoyed it.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

I don't think I'd really enjoy one of those fantasy dinner parties when you invite famous characters for a sparkling conversational evening. Much as I'd love to meet Samuel Pepys, I doubt whether he'd really want to meet me. And he'd probably be far more interested in seeing what was on television than expanding on whatever he got up to on page 1098 of his diary. (Sorry, Sam, no BBC2 as I have yet to face up to last week's digital changeover.)
But as I was reading Martin Gayford's lovely book, I kept thinking that I'd love to go for a walk with David Hockney.
Even better, to have gone on one of his musical road trips in the late 1980s ...

I suppose my musical drives around Los Angeles were a kind of performance art ... I'd just got a little house in Malibu at the time, and I was driving around to explore, playing Wagner a bit loud to test the speakers. Then I suddenly thought, 'My God! The music matches these mountains.' So slowly, I choreographed a drive starting from the house. I finished up with two: one about thirty-five minutes long; the other an hour and a half. I could time them with the sunset. I'd tell people that they had to come at a certain time and they couldn't be late because nature is doing the lighting. There'd be, for example, the great crescendo in Siegfried's funeral music, and you'd come round a corner and as the music rose you'd see the setting sun suddenly revealed. It was like a movie... I did it in an open car so you could look around in every direction. I knew what speed to go at, when to press my buttons to change the music ... It was like conducting the music really.

Wish you were there?

Tuesday 10 April 2012

It has been such a dismal Easter that I have only ventured out to replenish creme egg supplies. But I have been engrossed in some very good books.
All too often I find that art books seem to make a virtue of turgid, impenetrable prose.
But this book was brilliant, the next best thing to a long, illuminating chat with Hockney himself - perhaps over a pot of Yorkshire tea and a bag of Maltesers (I'm not sure where he stands on creme eggs), because he always sounds as if he'd be great fun and very good company.
I realised that the RA exhibition had changed the way that I look at English landscape when I found myself on a train ride to Ely mentally Photoshopping all the reds in the bleak winter fields. (Although this book had something to do with it, too.)
They were all pieces of what could be called - in the manner of a wine merchant who markets 'Good Ordinary Claret' - 'good ordinary English landscape': nothing to attract tourists in search of beauty spots. Its attractions, like those of Constable's East Bergholt, were revealed only to those who observed it long and hard.  (Martin Gayford)  
But it was the chapter about Caravaggio and his camera obscura that gave me another lightbulb moment when I realised that Caravaggio was working in much the same way as Hockney was with his Polaroids a few years ago. So now he has changed the way that I look at centuries of art history ...
I haven't read Hockney's Secret Knowledge but it sounds intriguing.

Friday 6 April 2012

If you are very, very quick there is just about time to watch this brilliant documentary about Jonathan Miller who was once described as a man who plays with the world like a child with a box of Plasticene.
He doesn't like being called a polymath or Renaissance man and says that he feels like a lapsed Catholic every time he passes a hospital, full of regrets for giving up his career in medicine.
And he mentions that as a small boy he used to watch his mother writing but he thought she was a typist.
I'm old enough to remember the sheer exhilaration of his 1982 production of Rigoletto. It's still one of the best theatrical experiences I've ever enjoyed.
And I completely agree with the person who said that people like Miller should live to be 200.

Thursday 5 April 2012

Having been completely gripped by the first book of Peter May's Lewis trilogy, I was delighted that the second one came out fast on its heels. (But it's going to be a long, impatient wait until book three.)

We walk into that nursing home and all we see are a lot of old people sitting around. Vacant eyes, sad smiles. And we just dismiss them as ... well, old. Spent, hardly worth bothering about. And yet behind those eyes every one of them has had a life, a story they could tell you. Of pain, love, hope, despair ... And it'll be us one day. Sitting there watching the young ones dismiss us as ... well, old. And what's that going to feel like?  

When a mummified corpse is recovered from a peat bog, on the Hebridean island of Lewis, DNA evidence links it to an old man suffering from Alzheimer's.
This was every bit as good as the first book but if only I'd picked it up a couple of weeks ago. I was fascinated by the heartbreaking back story of the 'homers', orphans from the mainland who were settled on crofting families in the islands.
And then, belatedly, I discovered Cornflower's post about the forbidding Edinburgh orphanage that features in the book. And realised that I'd been there only weeks ago for this exhibition. If only I'd paid more attention.

A preview of the next book can be read here leaving me more impatient than ever.

After seeing the Oscar-winning Iranian film A Separation, I was intrigued to see that the latest Persephone letter claims that its links with Dorothy Whipple are 'self-evident.'

Hmmm ... not to me they weren't, although I suppose you could make some convoluted connection with Someone At A Distance if you were really determined.

Has anybody else seen it? It was certainly a very good film.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

The amaryllis bought in a pound shop three years ago has bloomed for the first time.
It has had many last minute reprieves from the dustbin.
But I hate giving up on an amaryllis - because they can surprise you. And they do seem to thrive on neglect.
Now all I want is for the rather expensive dud that I bought from Kew to follow its example.

Sunday 1 April 2012

 Walberswick, Children Paddling, Philip Wilson Steer (1891)

I love it when exhibitions include paintings that are like old friends I haven't met for ages. I've always liked Children Paddling - the sparkling water and the little girls with their skirts tucked into their knickers - but I hadn't seen it in quite a while so it was a pleasure to come across it at Compton Verney a couple of days ago.  
Wilson Steer was rather too advanced for Victorian England and his paintings didn't sell, so in the 1890s  he had to revert to a more traditional style.

Les Pommiers à Damiette, Armand Guillaumin (1893)

On the other hand, Guillaumin was a French railway worker who won 100,000 francs on the lottery. So he could paint however he liked and thumb his nose at the market. You can tell that he was a friend of van Gogh.

Yellow Landscape, Roderic O'Conor (1892)

And as Irish artist Roderic O'Conor was also blessed with a private income, he was free to paint green and pink skies. It intrigues me that his wonderful Yellow Landscape from Pont Aven has all the ingredients of a van Gogh ... the cornfields, the cypresses, the thick paint ... but there's something indefinably missing.