Saturday 24 August 2013

Getting next year's WWI commemorations off to an early start, I enjoyed BBC2's drama The Wipers Times, coming soon, based on the satirical magazine that was the Private Eye of the trenches. (Click on the image to read the text.)

Thursday 22 August 2013

Sue has been writing about lovely, colourful Ladybird Books which set me reminiscing about the reading books we had when I was at school. We started on the Radiant Way ... Run, run to mother ... mother wearing a dress that might have been in fashion c1934. Even at four, we were aware that these books had seen better days. So had the dirty Plasticene. 

 And then we progressed to Dick and Dora, and Fluff and Nip.

After which, an unendurably long time later, the Good Readers were promoted to a grubby copy of Blue Skies. Just like this one.

By which time I was thoroughly bored and disappointed with school. Only 12 more years to go ...
It's many, many years since I read Bonjour Tristesse when I was a student, very taken with the idea of international best-sellers written by 18-year-old authors.
I don't recall that I particularly enjoyed it as a novel and I'd never seen the 1958 film until this morning.
I do enjoy the illicit treat of going to the cinema in the afternoon, but it seems even naughtier clutching your first cup of coffee in the morning when you haven't done any work at all.
From the first shots of monochrome Paris and Jean Seberg's pixie-crop haircut and fabulous LBD by Givenchy, I knew I was absolutely going to love every minute. Diamonds by Cartier, handbags by Hermès, Juliette Greco ...
And then glorious Technicolor on the Riviera with decadent David Niven in short-shorts and a highly inappropriate relationship with his 17-year-old daughter. Not to mention the much younger girlfriend who gets dropped 'like a hot lobster' when her lobster-red sunburn starts peeling, then returns with an all-over tan to break Deborah Kerr's heart.
Louche, luscious and irresistible.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

With two minutes to choose a book as I ran for a bus that I really didn't want to miss yesterday morning, I grabbed one that couldn't have been more perfect - because the heroine's name is Dahlia, and I was off to Wisley where I saw some splendid specimens in the dahlia trials. Dahlia trials sound wonderfully cheering, don't you think ... here's Bishop of Llandaff in the lead, but Lismore Willie is on his tail and Alva's Doris,  the favourite, doesn't like the going today ...

And, yes, I realise I got off the wrong foot by starting with a picture of echinacea but they were splendid, too. 

I ate my sandwiches in the orchard under a nut tree and gasped in admiration over fuzzy peaches and the fattest blackberries I've ever seen (there was a blackberry trial, too) and shiny aubergines ...

And borders that zinged with colour. A perfect day in a perfect garden.

Saturday 17 August 2013

The Music Lesson, Royal Collection 

It was a lovely end to the day to stroll into the National Gallery at 8pm and happen upon a concert of early music at this small but very lovely exhibition.
I was too late for a seat but listened as I wandered around looking at the paintings.
I do find that at a small exhibition, I look more intently ... at the ultramarine seat of the chair, that exquisite jug, the detail of the man's cane and the delicate paintstrokes that make his bandolier. When you peer closely - and I'd never have worked this out for myself - you can see that there is also ultramarine in the leaded lights of the windows.
And, not in this painting, but I love the blue and white Delft tiles skirting the edges of some of the rooms.
There is a fascinating display at the end of the exhibition about Vermeer's paint and techniques and I only wished that I could have had it as a leaflet in my hand - because I was backwards and forwards checking details of the paintings.

There are only four Vermeers, five if you count one that looks very dodgy. And as almost all the paintings have been drawn from the National Gallery's own collection  - with the exception of the Queen's Vermeer and the one from Kenwood - you can normally see them any time you like without having to pay to get in.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Who was the person sitting by the beehives -

With a tub of apple and basil sorbet -

Breathing in the scent of lavender

and summer lilac -

Overcome by geranium envy -

It was me. On a visit to Virginia Woolf's Monk's House this afternoon.

Where I saw the port wine stain on the table that happened after EM Forster burned his trousers on the electric fire.
And completely understood why Virginia squabbled with her cook, once I'd seen how they must have lived in each other's pockets without a moment's privacy in that tiny house. It would have been like living with your mother-in-law in the next room.

Did I mention electric fire envy? This is Virginia's bedroom.

 It was a lovely afternoon.
The pub served cream teas.
 I didn't miss the bus that only runs every two hours.
And the landscape looks exactly like this.

Monday 12 August 2013

Along the Shore, 1914

Sue kindly left a comment to say that the artist who painted the Miss Mole book-jacket is Joseph Southall, that the original is in Kidderminster art gallery and that there is more of his work in Birmingham. Which immediately sent me off to Your Paintings .. how did I ever manage without it ... where, of course, I recognised the painting above.

The Food Queue

I find it hard to resist a painting of a queue. (I can't quite make out the date. I think it's 1915. Or maybe 1913.)

Apparently, this is his best-known work but it's a fresco so you won't find it on Your Paintings. Couldn't resist that stole and muff.

And this is the artist's mother. Isn't that a wonderful lace cap? I feel another book-jacket coming on.

Tuesday 6 August 2013

The Patrick Caulfield exhibition at Tate Britain was a much-needed palate cleanser after rather too many Lowrys this afternoon. I couldn't find an image of my favourite still-life of platters of choucroute and salade Niçoise, suggestive of old-school food photography from the days of fondue sets and chicken bricks, but Antonio Carluccio talks about it in the video here. (You'll need to scroll down to the end.)

And I do like Caulfield's sense of humour. I remember coming across his grave in Highgate cemetery.

Friday 2 August 2013

What an inspired choice of cover (I don't recognise the artist) but this is exactly how I imagine Miss Mole. My copy, unfortunately, is a faded 1930s hardback that I picked up for £1 and has been lying around for ages ... if only I'd known what a treasure was languishing down the side of the sofa. (It won the James Tait Black memorial prize in 1930.)

Miss Mole is a Miss Pettigrew crossed with Mary Poppins but with a 'past' that she acquired by loving not wisely, but too well, in the aftermath of WWI. She is almost 40, wears unfortunate clothes but good shoes and dreads a future of poverty-stricken spinsterhood with optimism and courage. After losing her job as a lady's companion, she becomes housekeeper to a pompous Nonconformist minister and his dysfunctional family. You'll have to plod through a few longueurs - my red pencil would have chopped   50 pages or so - but it's worth it for the wonderful character of Miss Hannah Mole and her sharp tongue. This is a Spinster Lit classic and Miss Mole is a role model for anybody who has ever lunched off the cheapest currant bun in the teashop. (The equivalent these days is probably a miserable egg sandwich from M&S.)

I've been reading it through some of the hottest, stickiest, sleepless nights of the heatwave but this is a book for autumn, full of mists and dahlias and Michaelmas daisies ... not that I'm wishing the summer away, but I'm wilting.

Does anybody recall this rather wonderful sounding BBC adaptation from 1980? I don't remember it at all.