Thursday 30 January 2014

I'm sure PL Travers is spinning in her grave, having been through the Disney mangle twice over  - but I loved Saving Mr Banks and Emma Thompson was snippily brilliant as Mrs Travers. Tom Hanks is just Tom Hanks.  I'm sure all sorts of liberties were taken with the story but it was fun hearing the acerbic voice of the real PL Travers at the end ... you wouldn't want to cross her. And even if it isn't entirely true, who could resist the moment when, despite herself, her toes start tapping to Let's Go Fly a Kite?

It's funny and sad and there's a wonderful moment when the 'real' Mary Poppins - PL Travers' great-aunt Ellie - blows in with a carpetbag to sort out her troubled childhood home in Australia.

Monday 27 January 2014

The queue to see Van Gogh's Sunflowers wound out of the National Gallery and right down the steps, so I guess I'm not the only one who felt the need for a blast of sunshine this afternoon.
Oh well, try again another day.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Designed by men ....

The nice new loo brush from IKEA comes complete with instruction leaflet and a tiny screw the size of a peppercorn.
That's right ... loo brush. Not bookcase.
It was probably the 10th time that I dropped the tiny screw that it rolled under the fridge.
But I battled on.
It only took 20 minutes.
I am so glad I bought disposable brushes while I was there.
It will be a such a fun job in rubber gloves when they need replacing.
They don't look like war pictures, they look like heaven, a place I am becoming very familiar with. 
Stanley Spencer, 1923

It is many, many years since I visited Stanley Spencer's WW1 Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere but I can vividly remember that day when after a visit to Cookham, we suddenly took off on a Spencer trail and drove -  further than we thought - - to finish the day at the Chapel. It was so moving, every small detail of the daily lives of soldiers and hospital patients around the walls and the altarpiece a Resurrection scene as dozens of British tommies emerge from the toppled white crosses of a   battlefield cemetery.

The paintings are now on display at Somerset House, only the second time that they have ever been shown in London. (On until Sunday, admission free, and sorry about the last-minute posting but I only went yesterday. If you miss them, their next stop is Pallant House, Chichester.)

Spencer - who believed in the sublimity of the mundane - described them as a 'symphony of rashers of bacon' with 'tea-making obligato.' I love this painting of doorsteps of bread and jam on the hospital ward ... I wonder if the tea contained bromide?

Tea in the Hospital Ward


And Spencer's bath-towels are wonderfully nubbly ... click on the pictures for a clearer image.

I am glad I went, especially in this centenary year. It was moving to see an old BBC TV programme of an elderly Stanley walking into the chapel and wonder what memories he must have had.

I had buried so many people and saw so many dead bodies that I felt that death could not be the end of everything. Stanley Spencer, 1927

But it was not the same experience as visiting Burghclere where numbers are strictly limited. Somerset House was thronged with visitors and the altarpiece - which couldn't be moved - was displayed as a projection in an adjoining room.

So I was pleased to renew my acquaintance ... but will be holding on to my memories of my first visit.

On the other hand, you can't beat the view from the Somerset House terrace at twilight.

Saturday 18 January 2014

Having dropped some heavy hints that I'd like this for Christmas, I was delighted to find a pristine copy   in the local library. I don't know how many years it has been since I galloped through The Quincunx and couldn't put it down. This is Palliser's first novel for a decade and it had all the ingredients ... Gothic mansion, family secrets, anonymous letters, hanky-panky with the scullery maid, a callow young opium addict as unreliable narrator.
But somehow it all got so convoluted and unconvincing that by the time I reached the very unsatisfactory ending, I'd really lost interest. Far from sitting up all night, as I did over The Quincunx, I kept nodding off. There's a review here.

Friday 17 January 2014

It's surprising how often a bit of Google research on something that catches my fancy leads me straight back to that wonderful blog Spitalfields Life.
And that's what happened this afternoon, when I felt the urge to find out about the 18th century silk designer Anna Maria Garthwaite whose naturalistic flower designs - a fashion that was specifically English - feature in this forthcoming exhibition about Fashion and Gardens.
I liked the sound of Anne Maria who ran her own successful business, picked wild flowers in the fields around Spitalfields and joined a botanical society so she could get her silks botanically-correct.
Buit I didn't expect to discover that her house is still there, and barely changed.
So thank you again, Spitalfields Life. It was almost like sitting down together for a dish of tea.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

First movie of the year was Night of the Hunter, a Southern Gothic masterpiece from 1955 and well worth turning out for on a cold, wet afternoon. The BFI lists it, bizarrely, as one of the top 10 films you should see by the time you're 14, which is several decades too late for me - and at 14, I'd have much preferred a rom-com. Now I can appreciate the superb black and white photography, Robert Mitchum as a sinister preacher and Lilian Gish, who could have stepped straight out of a silent movie. Reviews here and here. BFI until Feb 6.

Monday 13 January 2014

When the books on your bedroom shelf include pre-loved JB Priestley, Rose Macaulay and Angela Thirkell -
And there's more in the bookcase beside the log fire -
Then, even though you won't be staying long enough to read them,
You know that you're staying in the right hotel.
Look after the reading matter -
And the foie gras, venison and soufflé will be fine.

Friday 10 January 2014

Some citrus thoughts ...

There was not a bergamot to be had on Borough Market yesterday. The man on the stall said he gave the last of them to his mum to put in her tea.

I was thinking more of a slice to put in my gin.

Instead I bought lovely blood oranges, wrapped in fabulous tissue with pictures of Italian ladies who look like Gina Lollobrigida. I think I need to start a collection.

And there were marmalade oranges. Oh, dear.

Shall I or shan't I?

I was in two minds about the Bellville Sassoon show at the Fashion Museum. Tucked away in the wardrobe, I have a Bellville Sassoon oyster silk blouse that I wore and wore in the 1980s, to the Opera House, out to dinner .. very much of its time, it had pleats and a pussy bow and heavy gold buttons at the wrist. It was lovely  - though I'd never fit into it now - and I hope it hasn't become a moth's designer dinner.
On the other hand, even in the 1980s how could they dress a teenage bride in anything as frumpy and middle aged as Princess Diana's going-away outfit. And I couldn't help laughing at the thought of two ladies who chose identical dresses to wear to the Proust costume ball in 1971 ... one in caramel, one in baby pink,  but hideous down to the last identical ruffle. When you think what they paid for them, they must have been spitting.
But I love going to the Fashion Museum, you can get right up close to the dresses, see every stitch - and the elderly ladies who visit on quiet weekday afternoons are always so chatty about favourite dresses from their younger days, because who can look at a ballgown with a bustle of roses without going, 'Ooohhh' and getting into conversation?
I was really taken by the way the dresses were displayed alongside Penguin paperbacks from the relevant decade. What a brilliant idea ... a striped linen hostess dress in sizzling orange and lime green was absolutely John Updike's Couples. From Bonjour Tristesse to Bouquet of Barbed Wire to The Far Pavilions ... could anything be more evocative of an era? I was probably reading Shirley Conran's bonkbuster Lace with my lovely silk blouse. ('Which one of you bitches is my mother ...?'
Last day tomorrow, I'm afraid but their next exhibition Artist Textiles sounds very tempting - and then, of course, there's wedding dresses at the V&A which can't be missed.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Bargain alert! I can vouch for Jane Brocket's cherry cake, so I was tempted when I saw her Vintage Cakes book reduced to £4 today in M&S. The cover of the M&S edition, sadly, is like a Cath Kidston car crash and not nearly as attractive as the original, but otherwise it's just the same (except that they've deleted Jane's list of recommended stockists, clearly a case of M&S sour grapes as they didn't feature on it). If you can live with an excess of doilies, I'm sure the cakes will taste just as good!

Sunday 5 January 2014

So could Cymru-noir be the new Scandi-noir? Coals to Newcastle, but the Welsh are exporting crime-with-subtitles to Denmark - and, if last night's episode of Hinterland wasn't as thrilling as The Bridge,  the dank, wet Aberystwyth landscape beat Malmö hands down. Won't do Welsh tourism any favours  but worth catching.

(The painting that features in the first episode is Salem  by Sidney Vosper. Can you see the devil's face in the folds of her shawl?

Saturday 4 January 2014

The last treat of the holidays ... and I was completely enchanted by this afternoon's matinée of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at the lovely little Polka Theatre which I've never visited before. In fact, I now think grown-up theatres should have a rocking horse, a puppet theatre and a walk-in doll's house for pre-theatre and interval entertainment. I didn't even miss my usual gin and tonic.
Rabbit holes and disappearing Cheshire cats aren't the easiest things to stage - but a very talented cast put on a funny, inventive show that made all of us laugh out loud. And showed that you can keep grown-ups happy without resorting to tacky pantomime innuendo. Highly recommended and on for another couple of weeks.

Thursday 2 January 2014

Wapping, James McNeill Whistler 

I have never attempted such a difficult subject ...because as the boats leave I have only just time to put in their shades of colour - and for those who are in the habit of making their seascapes at home and to paint models and toys for warships my real boats will not be finished. 

This morning's blue skies and nearly-spring sunshine lasted until the very second I sat down outside the gallery with my coffee. I thought I was the last person in London to be dragging my heels back to work - but no, I had to shuffle in line around the Whistler exhibition at Dulwich, which I suppose serves me right for leaving it until the last few days.

I love the busy-ness of this river scene, painted from the balcony of the Angel at Bermondsey, all that rigging and the to-ing and fro-ing on the water ... it's almost Dickensian, and Whistler's red-haired Irish mistress could easily be Nancy from Oliver Twist. (Click on the image to see better.) Whatever transaction is going on was apparently toned down so the painting could be exhibited in public. More about Whistler in Wapping here.