Saturday 23 February 2013

Miss Laski scores again ....

Miss Marghanita Laski is one of the most brilliant and versatile women of today. Her personality shines through every medium to which she turns her hand.
In recent months she has been much in the public eye with appearances on television, in What's My Line? and later with Down You Go, while her quick wit has delighted radio listeners on many an occasion. Her literary reviews in The Observer and other journals are most perceptive, whilst in national newspapers, magazines and periodicals her name is frequently seen, for few journalists are so eagerly sought after.
The secret of her success is an abiding interest in people of all classes, their desires, ambitions, motives and pleasures. Such a lively curiosity is a gift possessed by few and it is given fullest expression in her witty satires Love on the Supertax and Tory Heaven. In her novel Little Boy Lost, which is now being filmed, she revealed a deep humanity. Now, in The Village, her longest and most ambitious work so far, she delights us with a rich study of social life in England today ...
Just how Miss Laski manages to write so much in addition to her other activities must remain a mystery - or a tribute to her powers of organisation and capacity for work. For she is married, has two young children, and maintains a charming old house on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Sometimes with her publisher-husband she escapes from all this to a quiet old mill, in Somerset, which they have converted into a country home. 
Daughter of Neville Laski, QC, and niece of the late Harold Laski, she was educated at Somerville College, Oxford, where her early journalistic efforts brightened The Cherwell, the University's magazine. 
From News of the Companion Book Club, for March 1953

For no particular reason, I pulled my copy of The Village down from the shelf this evening and out fell this book club pamphlet. The April choice that year was A J Cronin's Adventures in Two Worlds which I read many years ago when we were all fans of Dr Finlay's Casebook, which was the next best thing to Call the Midwife but not quite so gory. (Did it really end in 1971? I feel ancient!)
There's a black and white picture of Marghanita Laski - looking ever so like Nancy Mitford - on What's My Line?
My copy of The Village was originally owned by a Mr Renn who lived in Dalston ... I do hope he enjoyed it as much as I did.
Of course, then I had to go browsing for the Laski titles I've still to track down ... Success! A copy of Apologies for 55p is on its way. I have no idea what it's about except that Wikipedia describes it as caricature and Persephone once published this in one of their letters.
Has anybody read Tory Heaven?

Friday 22 February 2013

I started off very well on this Lego puzzle ... and then came a cropper.  No 4 made me laugh and No 5 went right over my head and I still don't understand it. (Does anybody else ever long for a computer with no built-in distractions? I used to get along so muchfaster on my old Amstrad -  no blogs, no bookchat, no iPlayer, no YouTube. Now ... I really must crack on and do some work. Sorry for   interrupting you.)

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Taking a short cut through King's College yesterday on the last day of London Fashion Week, I found myself on the river terrace on a glorious spring afternoon and I stopped to enjoy the London skyline and the river traffic and even the traffic noise down below and listened to somebody's piano practice coming out of an open window.

And then of all the wonderful things there are to do in London on a sunny afternoon when you've finished work at 4pm ...

I went shopping for shoes.

Bad choice.

My self-help bestseller is going to be called How To Become a Tired, Grumpy Person without Even Trying.

Saturday 16 February 2013

 Iris Seedlings, Cedric Morris
There's a few nice paintings - very badly hung - at the Garden Museum's new exhibition about the floristry trade but it's one of those exhibitions that's very heavy on text and I never see much point in standing around reading what I could read sitting down at home. And I refuse to join in the latest irritating trend for scanning museum labels with your phone.
But it was good to see this painting by Cedric Morris, as I hadn't seen it for ages, which has crossed the river on loan from the Tate.

Friday 15 February 2013

Edward Bawden, The English Pub
(1st class lounge SS Oransay)

Mary Adshead, An English Holiday - The Puncture
(For Lord Beaverbrook's dining room, 1928)
Charles Mahoney, The Garden, 1950
John Armstrong, Design for Telecinema mural, Festival of Britain 
This exhibition British Murals and Decorative Painting 1910-1970 caught my eye today and I must try to go next time I'm in town. Mary Adshead was commissioned to paint 11 large murals on a holiday theme for Lord Beaverbrook's home at Newmarket and based them on the activities of his friends around the racecourse. The woman sitting helplessly beside the car in The Puncture (thought to have been destroyed) was Lady Louis Mountbatten. Others included Arnold Bennett playing a harmonium and Winston Churchill riding an elephant. But given his quarrelsome nature, Beaverbrook decided that should he fall out with his friends, it wouldn't be good for his digestion to be faced with them at every mealtime. And so the artist was paid a kill fee and the panels were returned.
Mary Adshead collaborated on a mural with Rex Whistler, even before the Tate restaurant mural that made his name. (Rachel and Simon, if you're reading this ...  did you know about the link with Edith Olivier? Any excuse for tea and scones and a literary pilgrimage!)

Monday 11 February 2013

A rasher sandwich, a mug of tea, a Tunnock's teacake and The Ballroom of Romance ... today's  perfect lunchbreak. When Cornflower asked for short story suggestions this morning, I thought of William Trevor's heartbreaking story of loneliness and resignation. The last time I read it was several years ago. Then I remembered how I first came across it when I was working in Ireland and was chatting to an elderly priest who had started a marriage bureau to give rural romances a helping hand. He told me that I should read The Ballroom of Romance ... and so I did. I couldn't remember his name until I googled him and discovered that he died a couple of years ago. But I never forget anyone who recommends a wonderful writer ...

I now realise that long before I read the story, I'd already seen the wonderful TV dramatisation with Brenda Fricker. I've been searching to see if I could find it on YouTube. No such luck but I did find this lovely RTE documentary about the making of the film 30 years ago. (Thirty years ago! It can't be!)

Brenda Fricker was Bridie, the farmer's daughter in her mid-thirties who has been attending The Ballroom of Romance - a dance hall in the middle of nowhere - every Saturday night for more than 20 years. The boy she loved has long ago married a girl from the town and left for England. It is such a bleak story of utter hopelessness. The best chance that is left to Bridie is to marry a decent man whom she doesn't love but on this particular Saturday night she realises that even this poor second best has been lost to another woman.

The bachelors would never marry, the girls of the dance-hall considered: they were wedded already, to stout and whiskey and laziness, to three old mothers somewhere up in the hills.

The evening comes to an end and Bridie knows that she has danced beyond her time, that she will never again dance in The Ballroom of Romance because she has become a figure of fun. She rides home alone. She would wait now and in time Bowser Egan would seek her out because his mother would have died. You know that by the time it happens, she'll be too old to have children with a man she doesn't love, who doesn't love her ... but maybe it is better than being alone?

The first time I read this I remember feeling as if I'd been kicked. And now I need another mug of tea. Incidentally, the story is set in 1971, rather later than you might think. But as William Trevor moved to England in the 1950s, I do wonder if he was writing about an Ireland that, even then, no longer existed? Perhaps not, as that marriage bureau opened in 1968.

One hundred years ago yesterday since the world learned that Captain Scott and his companions had perished on their journey back from the South Pole. You can still catch this radio play based on letters between Scott and his artist wife Kathleen, who fell in love at first sight and started writing to each other almost straight away. She was at sea en route to meet him when the message came through that he was dead and had been for almost a year. Nor had he read any of the letters that Kathleen had written since they said their goodbyes; the first batch arrived after he set out for the Pole, the second not until after his death.

I seem to want so much from you. Is it unfair? I don't know amidst all the vague wants what it is I so greatly need but I think it must be a bit of your soul. Try to understand. I want someone to anchor to. Someone smart and sound and sure like yourself. Part of me is wanting this with heart and soul, part is bitterly critical and sceptical of the possible realisation of such a dream. So I sway, love you in interludes as you put it, but it is you hold the scales. Life's a tough thing, dear girl, and I reckless enough to make the worst of it ...

How much better it has been than lounging in too great comfort at home - but oh, what a price to pay to forfeit the sight of your dear face. 

Sunday 10 February 2013

In more ordered households than this, pots of marmalade have been glowing on the shelves for several weeks. In this household, however, the appearance of Seville oranges triggers only indecision ...
Shall I bother this year? Or not?
Decision is achieved only when Seville oranges disappear from the greengrocer's. When, naturally, it becomes imperative to make marmalade because I really, really wanted to all along.
Last weekend the last oranges in London were tracked down. Strangely enough, in Tesco. Being Tesco, of course, they had no preserving sugar only jam sugar which is entirely different. Third supermarket produced correct sugar by which time I was too tired to bother.
Oranges sit on kitchen windowsill all week looking reproachful as only marmalade oranges can. Calculations are done with calculator to adjust weight of oranges minus mouldy ones that got chucked, plus or minus or should it be divided or multiplied by 4lbs of sugar. The answer to this sum, as ever, is sod it, it'll turn out all right.
I thought I'd make marmalade on Monday but ended up having to work. I was out all day on Tuesday, not sure what happened on Wednesday, Thursday kind of disappeared and I was really in the mood on Friday but had a longstanding lunch date. Saturday, you'd think, would have been ideal but I'd promised two little boys that I'd take them out.
I have never been one to spring from my bed greeting the morning with vigour and energy. Which is why the marmalade went on to boil at 8pm. That delectable orange scent is now pervading the house...

If only I'd made the dinner before I used all the big saucepans.

Monday 4 February 2013

From Under the Sea, James Clarke Hook, 1864
There can't be too many Cornish pasties in art history but this is rather a fine one with a beautifully crimped edge. And I did wish that I had arrived feeling properly hungry at this exhibition at Two Temple Place because they had wonderful pasties in the café and I only had room for cake.

A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach, Stanhope Forbes, 1885
I've seen this painting many times before but it stands head and shoulders above everything else in the exhibition and I never fail to be entranced the by clear Cornish light and the wet sand. Forbes wrote to his mother, I am painting a very large picture again this year, quite different to anything I have ever done and with hardly one touch of blue in it and it is giving me a woeful lot of trouble. There will be lots of girls in it, fish fags we call them here, fish boats, sea, sky etc.

The curator is a young PhD student and I got rather frustrated by her catalogue which heroicises the workforce and relegates the art to mere labour-history painting. I don't think for a second that the artists considered themselves to be Amongst Heroes or gave a stuff about the fish fags other than as picturesque subjects who inconveniently fainted when you painted them on freezing cold beaches in winter. Forbes thought Newlyn was 'a dirty hole'; Dod Procter had been known to wallop street boys who plagued her when she was painting outdoors in Brittany, and I don't suppose Newlyn boys were any less pesky. And the proper Methodist locals would have been scandalised by the artists' wilder shenanigans.

Never mind ... what I was really there for was a chance to be inside that magnificent building and I sat for a while in the hall just looking. And I love the idea of bringing paintings from provincial galleries for an outing to London. There was one that hasn't been seen in public since it was attacked by Suffragettes (though I'm not sure why the Suffragettes took exception to it.)

Do try to get to see this if you're in London between now and April 14, because the building is simply stunning - and it's free to get in. It also gets my vote for the best art gallery tea in town. (Lavender scones. Blood orange polenta cake. Miles better than you'll get from ubiquitous, chain bakers  Peyton&Byrne at the Manet exhibition.) Maybe I should start a Campaign for Culture and Cake. CamCak?

Friday 1 February 2013

I was so thrilled to be one of the first to go up the Shard last week that I didn't realise I was missing out.

I didn't see a single proposal. (On the plus side, I also missed Boris.)

It's going to be busy up there on 14th. I hope the sun comes out for them.