Wednesday 23 January 2013

I don't suppose I'll ever be in the front row at a couture show. The little gold chair would most likely collapse under me.
But do look at this because the Valentino show earlier this evening was simply exquisite.

I'm leaving because the weather is too good. I hate London when it's not raining.
                                                                                                        Groucho Marx

What can I say ... I went up the Shard and struggled to see as far as Big Ben. The Houses of Parliament were lost in the mist. It wasn't a blizzard, just a grey, horrible day.

On a clear day, you can see for 40 miles and see the sea. On a January morning you can just about make out the London Eye.

It was still a thrill to go up.

It took 19 seconds to get up to level 33 in the first lift, travelling at six metres per second. Then into another lift to reach level 68. (The snowman, alas, is on the 87th floor which is out of bounds.)

I was expecting the lift to be something special. But it's just a lift, not a white knuckle ride. (Actually, the glass lift here is rather more thrilling - and it's free).

But it's breathtaking when you step out, especially onto the outdoor gallery at level 72 (as high as you can go).  Where you can hear the sound of the city instead of banal Muzak-y soundtrack.

Way down below, the trains are like a Hornby train set. The Tower of London could be a toy-town fort.

To make up for the bad weather conditions, you can fiddle with telescopes that show you the view as it would appear on a sunny day or at sunset - facing west - or sunrise - looking down the river. (Same telescopes as at Burj Khalifa in Dubai.)

But the best bit was the performance by the young workman swinging outside in a harness as nonchalantly as if he were on a seesaw in the park ... what a show-off! And yes, we were impressed. I couldn't help wondering if his mum knew what he got up to at work.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

I was walking down Piccadilly this afternoon with my head in the air.
As I was leaving the Royal Academy after seeing the Manet exhibition - wonderful, but I'll have to write about it another day - I remembered just in time that I'd been meaning to take a look at Eros to the Ritz, a mini-exhibition about Piccadilly's architecture.
Just in time, because it closes soon. It's witty and absolutely fascinating. (And free to visit, tucked into that space by the restaurant.)
And it sent me wandering down the street, wishing I could see the batty-looking Egyptian Hall (demolished 1905) and wondering why I'd never properly noticed the Chinoiserie frontage on Starbucks. (Used to be Jacksons tea, hence Chinoiserie.)
I suppose the old Pan Am frontage was rather brash ... but I remember when I used to walk past as a child and even the name seemed impossibly glamorous.
I do look up, a lot of the time ... but maybe not enough. I've walked along here countless times without seeing a fraction of what's there. Though I'd say that the best view is from upstairs on a slow-moving 22 bus. (Sorry to everybody I was bumping into. 5pm possibly not the best time for an architectural dawdle.)
If it hadn't been so cold, I'd have walked both sides of the street while it was all fresh in my mind. But next time I'm in town I'm going to walk down Piccadilly with my eyes open.

Monday 21 January 2013

I've been embracing Meals on Wheels, highly recommended if you're in an area covered by this brilliant idea. (That would be London/Manchester/Edinburgh and a handful of other cities.)
Rather than slipping and sliding to the shops, I had Polish hunters' stew and lemony polenta cake delivered to the door by a charming Polish chef for less than the cost of a greasy takeaway curry. And there's enough leftovers for tonight. (Well, not the polenta cake. I managed that in one.)
Delighted that for once you don't have to live in a swanky postcode to access decent takeaways. It's the first time that anything like this has penetrated as far as this unfashionable suburb.
Unsolicited review - just spreading the word - but I'm ready and willing to be a polenta cake ambassador should the opportunity arise.

Sunday 20 January 2013

I have been welded to this book since I took it out of the library three days ago - started reading it on the train into town - got off the train and headed straight for a cafe so I could read a bit more - got antsy on the way home because I was too loaded with shopping to manage a book - read it with one hand while I was cooking my supper - read it in the bath - read it in bed ...
Read it at my desk this afternoon while I was supposed to be working.
It begins in Paris, in 1940, where a group of black jazz musicians have fled from Berlin - two of them black Americans, but one a mischling, a Rhineland bastard, the illegitimate offspring of a German mother and one of the French Senegalese forces occupying the Rhineland after WW1. There were about 4,000 Germans of African descent. I don't think I have ever read about them before.
I've finished the book. Still got that half-dazed, bereft feeling at stepping back to the here and now, my head still ringing with the blues and the tramp of jackboots. I've barely started the work but that's tomorrow's problem. And there's lots more glowing reviews here.

Saturday 19 January 2013

Love of Winter, George Wesley Bellows, 1914 (Art Institute of Chicago)
There's some things I love about winter but not the slippery slush outside my window today. But there's lots of exhibitions I'm looking forward to in the next few weeks and by the time this painting arrives at the Royal Academy, I'll be ready for spring.

Friday 18 January 2013

I love the idea of a snowman on top of the Shard and I do hope that he doesn't melt before my visit next week.
Although I was really hoping for a Wedgwood blue sky and sunny views across London.
(His waistline looks rather like mine after Christmas.)

Thursday 17 January 2013

In case you're wondering, it looks like somebody's best effort at evening classes.
Or possibly something like this.

Monday 14 January 2013

... so she obediently conditioned her reflexes and enjoyed her Shellfish Cocktail, which was shredded cod covered with a pink sauce made from cochineal and the water a lobster had once been cooked in; she appreciatively ate the rabbit with the ends of sprue that was called Poulet Supreme, and savoured to the full the Creme au Chocolat that was whipped up custard powder flavoured with cocoa. They drank Vin Rosé that was watered Palestine port and finished up with reheated coffee. There were long pauses between the courses, and none of the supposedly hot food was more than merely not cold.

As they lit their cigarettes, Sir Hubert remarked, "Lousy meal, wasn't it?" 

Clarissa stared at him. She had never questioned the convention that found such meals the height of luxury eating. (From Love on the Supertax, Marghanita Laski, 1944)

This made me laugh as it reminded me of Rachel's 1930s cooking challenge to herself. I know she's nervous of rabbit - with or without sprue - so perhaps she'd better call it a day before her kitchen-maid joins the ATS and it all goes downhill. Even I wouldn't fancy rabbit in lukewarm white sauce, Rachel.

When they sat down again and sipped their brandy, Sir Hubert said, "I should very much have liked to have shown you my country house."

"Tell me about it," said Clarissa, politely.

'The Government have commandeered it," said Sir Hubert savagely, "as a rehabilitation centre for incontinent evacuees. I should not care to tell you about it now."

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Flower Makers, Samuel Melton Fisher, 1896, National Museums Liverpool
I'm imagining a fabulous garden-party hat, but how their fingers must have hurt by the end of the day.

Study of Tulips, Adolphe Braun, 1858

I bought my first tulips of the year yesterday, succumbing to pink and white candy stripes - like Milly-Molly-Mandy's frocks - after dithering just slightly too long over paperwhite narcissi, until their faintly medicinal fragrance began to make feel faintly sick.
The tulip photograph is one of the still-lifes from this rather feeble exhibition at the National Gallery, of which I can't say much more than that it got me out of the house on Sunday afternoon.

Thursday 3 January 2013

Three days into 2013 and my tea-breaks are sorted for months to come. I devoured The Cazalet Chronicles when I read them years ago and I've been meaning to read them again - but now they're being serialised on Radio 4, between now and July, in episodes just long enough for a mug of tea.

Does anybody else remember the lovely gardening page that EJH used to write in Woman's Journal? I didn't even own a pot plant in those days - and I still think of gardening as outdoor housework - but she wrote so beautifully that I read every word.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

If you missed this splendid Radio 4 programme the other day about Margaret Rutherford, there is still time to catch it. After she died, somebody said that, 'She stood for the fighting spirit of ladies who run flower stalls at bazaars.'  She certainly inspired some wonderful reviews. She had 'a bust like a roll-top desk,' one critic said. And I particularly liked Kenneth Tynan's description of her in The Way of the World: 'The soul of Cleopatra has somehow got trapped in the corporate shape of an entire lacrosse team.'
Do try to catch it as it's full of little gems like her neighbour Rumer Godden's account of a well-mannered chimpanzee in scarlet rompers coming to tea. (If only they had explained why!)
I'd never have guessed that Margaret Rutherford was first cousin once removed to Tony Benn or that she taught TV chef Antony Worrall-Thompson to swim. (She must have been magnificent in a swimming costume, like a great Bri-nylon walrus.)
Sadly, she had a history of depressive breakdowns and was haunted by the fear of mental illness that ran in her family. Her father was in and out of Broadmoor after bludgeoning her grandfather to death with a chamber pot. (Oh, go on, laugh ... I did, too.)

My reading year ended on a high note with The Glass Room, by Simon Mawer, which was Cornflower's book group choice for November. I began this in the post-Christmas lull and finished it only an hour into 2013. (Far too wet and horrible a night to be out partying.)
The Glass Room is a work of fiction but the spectacular Modernist house in the novel is based on Mies van der Rohe's Villa Tugendhat in Brno in what is now the Czech republic.

As far as the story goes, the house was commissioned (as indeed it was in real life) by a wealthy Jewish industrialist and his wife. The first half of the book relates their complicated lives and infidelities up to the point where they flee to exile in Switzerland just before the outbreak of war.
There was something mesmerising about their convoluted love affairs and tangled emotions set against the clean, white lines of the house. But from the mid-point of the novel, my interest waned as it galloped on ...  through the war years, when the fictional house was a Nazi laboratory, into the Communist era when it became a physiotherapy dance studio for children with polio, until finally after the fall of Communism, it becomes a museum. Too many coincidences all the way through and too pat an ending.

So what kept me so gripped? It was the house itself, so beautifully described that it seemed to live and breathe. It was only after I finished the book that I took this virtual tour and walked down the stairs to find it was exactly as I had imagined it ... even the onyx wall that glows in the sunset. It felt almost like trespassing.

Happy New Year to you all and a big thank you to everyone who has commented during the year. It makes my day when I hear from friends near and far.