Tuesday 31 December 2013

I'm not sure what happened to December but let's start the New Year with great originality and my round-up of Books of the Year. As ever, it bears little relation to lists in the newspapers because few of the books I've read were actually published this year - and I'm not going all out to impress you with my erudition. (Though I did belatedly read Fifty Shades of Grey back at the start of the year. And I notice with some embarrassment that I didn't flag it on the sidebar! But don't feel you've missed out - it's not on the list - and it was (sort of) in the line of duty for the day job.)

My best read of all was only published last year - so it almost counts as new, though it took me a few months to catch up - and no surprises that it is Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies.

Next on the list is a bit of a cheat as Mrs Bridge by Evan S Connell topped my list for last year. But it was just as good when I read it again, this time with Mr Bridge. There's a review here. Mr Bridge and Mrs Bridge, read together, proved to be something very rare, a book group choice that was unanimously loved by everyone in our group and sparked off lots of discussion.

I don't think it was a vintage year for reading and so I found myself re-reading lots of old favourites, including Emma and Persuasion. And I enjoyed Marghanita Laski's The Village as much as I did first time round. On the other hand, Barnaby Rudge - I've started, so I'll finish - is never going to feature on my list of favourite Dickens.

The quirkiest book of the year was Ella Minnow Pea and my favourite heroine was Miss Mole.

And the forgotten book  that everybody was talking about and I loved too was Stoner.  But that's on every newspaper book of the year list.

I've read very little non-fiction this year but I greatly enjoyed Mad Girl's Love Song about Sylvia Plath's Life before Ted and Deborah Cohen's fascinating history of Family Secrets.

My Christmas read for dipping in and out of has been Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe, a sharp and funny collection of letters from a nanny in a literary household - Alan Bennett is always dropping in for supper - quite often laugh-out-loud funny but it went on a bit too long for me.

And now on to the film awards ...

We have the film I couldn't review because I woke up from a deep sleep as the closing credits rolled.
We have the most interesting film that not a single person I know went to see. (I must be a strong contender for the least influential blogger/reviewer of the year award.)
Surprisingly, however, a Shakespeare play turned out to be my most enjoyable film of the year.
And this film, with Julie Delpy as the actress I most wanted to strangle, was the most over-hyped and disappointing.

But to go out on a high note. The Cake of the Year award goes to this cafe in Hove, discovered by chance on a day trip to Brighton a couple of weeks ago, for their layered Victoria sponge with plum jam and buttercream, topped with pomegranate seeds and dusted with gold glitter ... I know that sounds strange, but it twinkled like fairylights and tasted fabulous. (Keep walking. It's opposite the big Tesco.)

And now all that remains to be said is Happy New Year and thank you to everybody who has read and commented through 2013.

Saturday 7 December 2013

Nigel Slater's Great British Biscuit rightly lamented the passing of Abbey Crunch, but failed to address the big question ... whatever happened to Barmouth biscuits? I loved them - golden, thin and crunchy, like a  langue de chat, only round, and I haven't seen one for years. Come to that, whatever happened to those posh Jacob's chocolate marshmallows with the blob of jam? And he never mentioned the pink and white coconut mallows that were best deconstructed by starting in one corner and peeling off the gooey topping with your teeth.
But as for Nigel, who looks badly in need of a haircut, a shave and a good wash ... he's looking as seedy as a stale Nice biscuit that's been down the back of the sofa and picked up a coating of fluff. Yeeuggh, I couldn't fancy one of his custard creams.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Christina's World, Andrew Wyeth, 1948,  tempera on gesso

Greatly enjoyed Palin on Wyeth, a Culture Show documentary about the American artist Andrew Wyeth, his idyllic childhood - his father was a commercial artist who made a fortune illustrating children's classics like Treasure Island - his rediscovery of egg tempera, a medium which had barely been used since the 16th century- and his lifelong connection with the landscapes and neighbours he painted at Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and Cushing, Maine, home of the Olson farmhouse which literally was Christina's World. When I first encountered this painting, I assumed that the crippled Christina was a young girl but in fact, she's a middleaged woman in her 50s. There is something deeply disturbing in this painting, that diagonal between the house and the woman that almost seems to be her hauling her back from where she has crawled to the boundaries of her world. Well worth seeing and Michael Palin for once not too irritating.
Out of the north parts a great company and a mighty army ....

In Liverpool yesterday I remembered to pay a visit to the war memorial (opposite Lime Street station) which has just been upgraded to Grade I status. The detail of the bronze sculpture makes it so poignant, especially on the side that depicts the people of Liverpool mourning their dead ... men, women and children of all classes, from shawlies to prosperous gentlemen in overcoats stand against a background of massed graves. Their clothes make them seem so real, a woman's button shoes and wrinkled stocking, a boy's turned-down socks, a man leaning on a crutch and hiding his grief in his coat sleeve.  (Click on the image to see better.)

Sadly, among the Remembrance Day poppy wreathes there were so many small wooden crosses remembering young men who have recently died.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

 Twisted, he was. Where others had a soul, he had a corkscrew -

You'll never go into a dusty, old library again (or fancy travelling in a train carriage like this one.)

I've just spent my teabreak watching Mark Gatiss's excellent directorial debut for BBC2, an adaptation of MR James's properly chilling ghost story The Tractate Middoth ...

Highly recommended - but try not to choke on your mincepie when you go, Aaarghh! There's a review here.

Monday 2 December 2013

The meat and rabbits and pigeons are very nice to draw. Eric Ravilious

Off for a jaunt by train yesterday to see this exhibition of Ravilious prints at Pallant House, completely charming but it's a tiny exhibition and I wish there had been more.

Never mind, Pallant House is a delight in itself and I was very happy to stroll around Chichester, listening to the seagulls, and the first Christmas carols, and pausing in the cathedral to look at the Arundel tomb.

Once every hour, a member of the clergy gets up in the pulpit  to admonish visitors and urge them to think spiritual thoughts. Yesterday it was a bossy female with an unmellifluous voice who hectored every spiritual thought right out of my head ...

I muttered something uncharitable and wondered what Larkin would think.

Sunday 1 December 2013

The Bletchley Circle. Series 2. 

Own up, ladies. Anybody else old enough to shout at the telly when the murder victim has a book of second class stamps in his pocket? In 1953.