Sunday 29 November 2015

Larkspur, August 1914, Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Can you spot the tiny birds hidden in the painting? This is one of the flower paintings made by architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh when he was down on his luck and staying on the Suffolk coast in 1914/15, only to find himself suspected by the locals of being a German spy.
Esther Freud has a house in Walberswick, which was once the pub where Mackintosh lodged. She fancied she saw the ghost of a young boy there and imagined he was the landlord's son, who developed an unlikely friendship with the artist. And this became the basis for her novel Mr Mac and Me ... which unfortunately turned out to be quite a tedious read. Sorry. (But that's the bookgroup 'homework' done for another month.)

The White Rose and the Red Rose 

CRM thought that his wife Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh was the genius, but she's far too fey and fanciful for my taste.

Friday 27 November 2015

There was a library sale this afternoon and I picked up a rather battered copy of The Man Who Loved Children for 25p. Then, when I got home, I read this and now feel slightly daunted. Has anybody else read it? I know I read The Puzzleheaded Girl but so many years ago that I can't remember a single thing about it.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

The trouble with Bridge of Spies is that it's just so American and Tom Hanks is just so - decent. It's a cracking true story - and I'm tempted to read the book - and Berlin in 1962 looks amazing. But despite what the Guardian says, I like my Cold War thrillers dark and cynical and messy and le Carré-ish - and I want tension not Hollywood optimism. So despite Mark Rylance as the Russian spy - and we turned out on a damp, chilly evening for him, not for Tom Hanks - we came out mildly grumbling that this was a 6.5 film ( well, I gave it 7, my friend said only 6). I kept thinking of the tension of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - and thought the old ones are the best.

Monday 23 November 2015

I loved The Hare with Amber Eyes, read it twice and spent an afternoon in Paris walking the course. So I was looking forward to Edmund de Waal's second book, another quest, this time through the history of porcelain (even if I did feel cynical about the very brown sticker on the very white book as I thought EdeW would be too classy to shout, Buy me for Christmas).
Anyway, you don't need to buy this for Christmas because it will be lining the shelves in the charity shops by the end of January. There's lots of interesting material here and I'm not saying I didn't perk up now and then; I was interested in the Nazi porcelain works at Dachau, and fascinated to read about Wedgwood sending an agent into Cherokee territory in search of the whitest kaolin.  
But this isn't a gripping page-turner like The Hare when you're dying to know what happens and scared to find out. I'm afraid I found EdeW rather boring company on The White Road and got thoroughly fed up with his verbosity. (He switches the navel-gazing on and off and it's much better off.)
So on the very last page, when he answers the questions everybody asks ... Does he get bored making white pots? No, he doesn't. And is he still writing? I'm not writing. I have written. And I am making again. 
I'm afraid I thought, Well, that was the right decision.

Thursday 19 November 2015

After such a sombre week, it was lovely to enjoy an evening full of joie de vivre at Richmond Theatre. (Which is lovely, anyway, as I always think it's like sitting inside an old-fashioned chocolate box.) There's something about dance that replenishes the spirits and, now I think of it, in the week of 9/11 I went to see this which proved exactly the restorative I needed. Tonight it was the Richard Alston company - not in the same league, but it did the trick. And I do love this music.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

There's some exquisite objects in the V&A's Bejewelled Treasures exhibition but it does feel rather like a very slick PR exercise. I didn't come away any the wiser about Al Thani, who he was/is or how the collection came about but I googled when I got home and discovered the gossipy stuff that the V&A is too reverential to tell us. I do hope some of these lovely things get worn occasionally ... there were photos of the Spanish flamenco dancer who married a maharajah in 1908 - and her crescent-shaped emerald is in the exhibition - but I wondered if they ever get to a ball or a banquet today?

Wednesday 11 November 2015

I take a bus to the cinema, not a train. I go on my own, then do my shopping on the way home. And as I emerged from this nice, old-fashioned film this afternoon, there was a nagging thought at the back of my mind. The 1s9d's are now £8 (and that's without a ladies' orchestra in the intermission). I wasn't wearing a neat little suit, with a hat;  I was carrying a Bag for Life not a wicker basket, and I didn't go to the Kardomah, just grabbed a free, soap-suddy coffee in Waitrose (yuck, no wonder Trevor Howard isn't hanging around at the counter on the pull).
But have I really turned into this?

If anybody else likes some movie escapism with the weekly shop, Brooklyn is so much more enjoyable than the rather plodding Suffragette.

I'm not going to pretend this is an easy read; I was struggling for 100 pages before I got into it, and would more than likely have abandoned it if it weren't for book group - but I'm so glad I persevered (and it sparked off the best discussion we've had in months). It is about the Australian prisoners who built the Burma Death Railway, one of whom was Richard Flanagan's father ;  I hadn't heard of this family connection as I was reading, but Flanagan's devastating, visceral descriptions of beatings and disease are so terribly vivid that I guessed he had access to firsthand accounts. The central character is Dorrigo Evans, a young surgeon who survives to become lauded as a war hero ... and this is a novel about war and love and death and survival and decency and good men committing atrocities. It has its flaws; there's a few too many coincidences to be wholly believable and I'm guessing that Flanagan maybe struggled to create the framework to top and tail his war story. But in today's world, too much of it seems frighteningly topical. Highly recommended - but it demands a weekend of total immersion; this isn't a book to pick up and put down. There's a good review here, by Thomas Keneally, and a sobering interview with the author - how very sad that a writer of this calibre should be struggling financially. (And how far does a £50,000 prize go when it's taken 12 years to write the book?) On a happier note, a friend who read it on Kindle said she has now a bought a hard copy as it's the best book she has read all year and she wanted to own it. At least, own it in the way you own a proper book. I'm not a Kindle reader, but then I'm not a daily commuter either.

Friday 6 November 2015

Maggie, it goes without saying, is magnificent - a riper version of the Dowager Countess (that's ripe as in a wedge of Stinking Bishop) and just as withering in her ripostes. And it was fun to see that The Lady in the Van was actually filmed on Gloucester Crescent and in Alan Bennett's old house. Gloucester Crescent, of course, also features in the BBC adaptation of Nina Stibbe's book Love, Nina which is coming soon (but it sounds as if they've mucked about with the book and, unlike The Lady in the Van, it was filmed somewhere else). 
But can you imagine living on Gloucester Crescent - with AlanBennettMissShepherdClaireTomalinMichaelFraynJonathanMillerAJAyerDeborahMoggachDavidGentlemanGeorgeMellyUrsulaVaughan-WilliamsAliceThomas-Ellis ... and heaven knows who else for neighbours? You'd have to be feeling intellectually at the top of your game even to shuffle out to the corner shop for a pint of milk. You couldn't put out the recycling bin without The Economist and the London Review of Books at the top of the pile. Of course, the joke of Love, Nina is that they're all perfectly normal and watch rubbish telly and eat turkey bolognese. (I'd forgotten, until it was mentioned in the film, that Catherine Dickens lived at no 70, so I wonder if that's what inspired Claire Tomalin's biography? ) 

Maggie will undoubtedly get an Oscar. But having seen Brief Encounter last week - and come away  feeling sorry that it was over too soon - I wondered why films today always make you feel as if they've gone on half an hour too long. By the end, I'd had just a bit too much. And as for the ending ... I'd give Maggie her Oscar and the film 7.5.