Saturday 28 September 2013

This is where I was last Saturday afternoon, keeping an eye out for dolphins in balmy sunshine ... today it's grey clouds in London and a pile of work to catch up on.

Thursday 26 September 2013

Train Landscape, Eric Ravilious

I nearly missed it because I didn't know it was there ... but when I came across Ravilious's Train Landscape in Aberdeen Art Gallery on Saturday morning, it was like greeting an old friend. I've seen so many reproductions and never realised that the original is actually a cut-and-paste collage. Well, fancy that.

Two Schoolgirls, James Cowie
Another yelp of recognition when I ran into these schoolgirls ... who couldn't be anything other than pupils of Miss Brodie, and I bet their shirts are made of silk tussore and their ink spots get dabbed by Miss Lockhart in the science room.
It was my first visit to Aberdeen and I was so delighted by this wonderful gallery that I went back twice during the weekend.
That still left time to embrace other cultural experiences ... Like my first taste of IrnBru (yuck) and my first deep-fried, battered Mars Bar (and yes, they do fry them with the cod). It had to be done.

Sunday 15 September 2013

I don't suppose I'll ever learn to knit: no patience, no skill, not much desire for the end product. But I still found this programme about the golden age of British knitting enormously engaging, starting from the Prince of Wales's espousal of Fair Isle sweaters in 1922 up to the present-day resurgence of wool shops. (But omitting the current fad for yarn-bombing which becomes slightly less amusing once you've passed your umpteenth gatepost wearing a knitted bobblehat.)
But there is a proud tradition of utterly useless knitted goods and if you have time on your hands, may I recommend a 1950s poodle bottle-cover to hide your desperate housewives' Sanatogen tonic wine. Might also keep tonight's bottle of Shiraz nicely chambré.
There's some wonderful archive footage ... the Queen Mother knitting for victory, Fair Isle knitters knitting on the trot as they tended the sheep, and who would have guessed that the Imperial War Museum holds a knitwear collection made by POWs?

Saturday 14 September 2013

There's sunflowers, asters and gladioli on the windowsill,

Spiders in every corner,

Rabbit stew in beer bubbling on the stove (I do wish I'd put it on earlier).

I've switched from drinking wine to a slug of whisky,

Stirred the first porridge,

Made the first butternut squash soup and the first apple cake.

I've even watched the first two episodes of Downton Abbey, which is a bit like opening all your Christmas presents in November. (Actually, it gets off to very slow start and I've rather gone off it.)

But I still haven't put on the first pair of tights, and I'm not going to give in yet. Although I'm heading off to Scotland soon where the barelegged look will probably look even dafter than it does here.

Tights make me feel even worse than putting the clocks back.

Thursday 5 September 2013

I thought I'd set out in good time for yesterday's film, then found I hadn't allowed anything like enough time to get round this Mass Observation exhibition at the Photographers' Gallery just around the corner.
Probably not worth a special trip - they're not all as fabulous as these somewhat posed pictures from John Hinde's 1947 Exmoor village series. And yes, that's the John Hinde who became famous for postcard views and can't you tell from this wonderful colour? (Do check out the fabulous company archive  here.)
I barely peeped into the upper gallery which seemed to be mostly MO exercises from the 1980s, which interest me far less (especially as I once had to trawl through boxes of them for work). But if you're in Soho/shopping on Oxford Street, it's well worth dropping in - it's free to get in and there's a handy little café - and I definitely mean to go back when I'm not in such a rush.

I really wanted to love Le Week-end. It has a pithy script by Hanif Kureishi  and you couldn't ask for better casting than Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent - who both deserve Oscars.
They are a couple in their late 50s who go to Paris to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in the hotel where they spent their honeymoon.

It's beige.
It does have a certain light-brown-ness about it. 
You do get a complimentary breakfast.

So, instead, they check into a hotel de grand luxe that they can't afford.

Tony Blair once slept there.
As long as they changed the sheets.

I enjoyed this far more than the long-awaited anti-climax of Before Midnight, earlier this summer. (You couldn't stay married to Julie Delpy's character for 30 years, or even 30 days, without going mad unless you were profoundly and peacefully deaf.)

But there was something terribly sad about Le Week-end, the despair in their eyes, the early promise that had settled into mediocrity in Birmingham, the sexual loneliness and avoidance.

Can I touch you?
What for?

I might do it for you later. 

Why won't you let me touch you?
It's not love. It's like being arrested.

But it kind of tailed off towards the end and, like most films, it was about half-an-hour too long for my middle-aged attention span. And then I went home feeling faintly depressed about middle-aged mediocrity and how stiff my knees get when I've been sitting down for too long.

And I don't even have the consolation of having cheekbones like Lindsay Duncan's. The ageing process should not be inflicted on women without cheekbones.

The other film I saw this week was What Maisie Knew. Very clever - and the child who plays Maisie is excellent - but so distracting wondering what Julianne Moore is doing with Alan Partridge.

If you're staying in, though, I can thoroughly recommend BBC4's new series Sound of Cinema which has really opened my ears to the function of music in films and, as I'm more of a visual person, I'm finding it fascinating. It starts with The Ipcress File (which sent me on a detour to watch the whole movie ... wonderful cookery scenes but didn't Len Deighton write a cookery series for men in The Observer?) ... then stay in your seat for Vertigo, Citizen Kane, Taxi Driver, A Streetcar Named Desire  (the Legion of Decency objected to the sexy sax which was rewritten for strings) and Mary Poppins. A wonderfully eclectic mix of movies, and I still haven't seen the electronic episode - which starts with Hitchcock's Spellbound and Billy Wilder's Lost Weekend (as early as 1945, and I'd love to have a go on a Russian theremin, an instrument I'd never even heard of) and culminates in Chariots of Fire. Well worth seeing.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

If books were chocolate, the last one I read - Stoner - would be three crisp, snappy squares of bitter Valrhona to be nibbled on and savoured.

And this one would be an over-large bar of Galaxy, consumed in naive belief that calories don't count if you gobble it fast enough.

It was a pleasant, quick read that will linger in my mind at least until I start thinking about putting tonight's dinner on. On the face of it, it's a charming idea, an epistolary love affair between a young, married poet living on a croft on Skye and an impetuous young American lad who becomes an ambulance driver in WW1.

But I didn't believe in them, didn't believe in their voices, especially hers, didn't believe even in the mechanics of the story, ie that her poetry would have made anything like enough money for her to go gadding off to Paris and London hotels. Would a crofter's daughter in 1913, who had never left Skye, ask someone if they had started writing the Great American Novel?

Perhaps this is best left to American readers. It's an American author, an American publisher - and, as Cornflower said when she reviewed it, many readers won't be troubled by the niggles. Jessica Brockmole, who comes from the Midwest, spent a week on the Isle of Skye and started scribbling notes in the car on the way home. Maybe I'm being mean. I wouldn't have bothered reviewing it, except I'm tied to my desk waiting for someone to come out of a meeting.

Sunday 1 September 2013

It started when a couple of people came up to me on the beach last weekend - then somebody else mentioned it as I wandered past the beach-huts with the book in my hand - even the waitress in the cafe said, 'Oh, you're reading that book.' The waiting list for Stoner at the library is as long as your arm and I can't remember when there was such buzz about a book that was worth reading. As opposed to hype about Fifty Shades of JK Rowling.
I'm not sure whether it was Bryan Appleyard or Ian McEwan who got in first but the consensus is that this is the 'greatest novel you have never read.'  It is quiet, spare, restrained, the story of one man's life of heartbreaking insignificance and humanity. Stoner is a Missouri farm boy who goes to agricultural college where he discovers the power of literature when he hears his professor reading Shakespeare's sonnet 73.

This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong, 
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.  

Stoner becomes a professor. He endures a disappointing marriage, he fails his daughter, he loves deeply  and then love slips through his fingers. Nothing happens to him and yet he lives a life of quiet integrity.

Was it the greatest novel I'd never read? It has been echoing in my mind all week, reminding me of Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety, and there was something in its tone that also made me think of The Professor's House by Willa Cather. One of those novels that makes you realise that this is why you read. Trouble is ... when a book is this good, what do you read next?