Thursday 30 June 2016

Wandering through the City this afternoon, I went into a church that I'd never visited before ...
and thought, Wow!

And then I continued my walk, and went into another, and another ...

And wondered why, when I worked in the City many years ago, I was so much more familiar with its pubs than its churches.


There was some wonderfully kitsch glass, that reminded me of John Hinde postcards. And in the same church, St Sepulchre's, a wind orchestra was playing the music that always reminds me of 1960s teatimes and Desmond Morris and Zoo Time.

And then I walked a bit further and admired these snazzy stockings but you really must have gold shoes with pompoms to go with them.

One short walk. Eight churches, mostly Wren. One Henry Moore altar. Lots of history.

Best city in the world.

Tuesday 28 June 2016

As I entered the exhibition, I thought, 'Ooohh, this looks fabulous.' Missoni Art Colour ... doesn't it sound wonderful.

Alas, no. The gimmicky lighting design meant that as soon as you focused on something, the lights went out ... then they came on again, and you'd have a few seconds to look ... then off they went again. And yes, visitors are complaining about it, agreed the nice girl from the museum. But it's not supposed to be an exhibition, it's an installation, she said. I think possibly people might like to have that pointed out before they spend £9 to get in. Because this is all you get. That's it. What you see in this picture. That's the exhibition. Along with some knitted patchwork tapestries on the opposite wall.

I've loved pretty well every Fashion Museum exhibition that I've ever seen. But this one was scrappy and lazy. No labels. Well, you couldn't have seen them in the dark. You can ask to see a laminated sheet with the dates of the garments but it is written in the tiniest font that I have ever seen. I'd have struggled with it 30 years ago! The message was clearly, if you're so middle-aged and boring that you care about dates, well, have a squint at this and good luck ...

Barely worth the detour and definitely not worth a special trip. But the next exhibition is 1920s Jazz Age ... and that does sound good.

It wasn't a wasted afternoon. I did have to pass through Borough Market for the best salted caramel honeycomb doughnut on the planet.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

It's all mid-century/middlebrow here at the moment and I've just finished Brightness by Elizabeth Jenkins (1963). Looking at the Amazon prices now, I see that my 25p bargain really was a bargain - but it turned out to be rather gloomy, definitely my least favourite of all of her books that I've read, although readers of a more religious bent than I might find some hope of redemption in the ending. It reminded me slightly of Marghanita Laski's The Village in its description of post-war changing values in a small community; but it is a bit preachy - not what I expected of EJ - and heavens, what retribution she wreaked on that poor girl for enjoying a good time and being no better than she oughter be! Darlene got on with rather better than I did and her review is here.

Sunday 19 June 2016

I wish I could say that my Tartes Owt of Lente looked as neat as this one from the Hampton Court website. I made two yesterday, and as I didn't raise the sides high enough the first one oozed and made a sticky mess; as I managed to make the second batch of filling too sloppy and didn't have enough cheese left to thicken it, I thought, 'Stuff historical authenticity!' and baked it in a cake tin - and it turned out fine. The filling was tasty - I added a pinch of ginger - but the 21st century might prefer it made with a flakier pastry.
I'm practising for this online course which starts tomorrow.

Saturday 18 June 2016

This was fun and, though I meant to make it last, I've romped through it at a gallop. I wasn't expecting Toasted English to arrive with its handsome dust-jacket intact - well, it was only 25p - but I think the hardback itself is rather charming, don't you?

It is difficult after the passage of years to recall the precise emotions with which the population of England switched on their radio sets one summer evening in 1945 and prepared to hear that the Tories had won the General Election. It is even harder to enter into the feelings of five British subjects marooned on an island in the inscrutable East awaiting news of the elected governors who were to lead the destinies of the distant nation, to which they hoped - with luck - soon to return ....

Janice said, "They wouldn't nationalize Claridge's, would they?" 

It isn't long before these Robinson Crusoes are rescued, to find that there has been a coup and the new Socialist government has been ousted. England is now a totalitarian regime run on a rigid class system. But nobody seems to be happy. Not even the As - who spend their days visiting their tailors and spending gold sovereigns that nobody else is allowed to use.  Man-about-Town is now a career option.

But the As aren't allowed to play bridge with their middle-class friends who are Bs. And they're fed up living up to domestic standards imposed by their servants who are Cs. It's tough being forced to eat seven courses of bad English food - gravy soup, some boiled turbot, a partridge, a saddle of mutton - when you were happy with a tin of baked beans in the kitchen during the war. The government expects A ladies to do their duty and deliver calves' foot jelly to the Cs - but the Cs won't touch it since they tasted Heinz tomato soup. On the other hand, if you don't obey the rules - and you suspect that the butler is a MI5 nark - then you might be degraded to being a middle-class B, and who'd want that?

Whatever you do, don't express a liking for Picasso ... odds and sods and intellectuals are Es.

 Good fun, in the same vein as Marghanita Laski's earlier comic novel Love on the Supertax.

Thursday 16 June 2016

A wet seaside weekend - no internet access to fritter my time ...  and how much reading I managed, three novels in one weekend, even a few chapters on the beach in between showers. Guard Your Daughters was a lucky find, sadly without the pretty jacket - but I've been keeping an eye out for this since all the 1p copies vanished from Amazon after a slew of good reviews from bloggers. (I firmly believe that, if you wait patiently, there is always a long-neglected copy out there with your name on it! )
My first thought was, 'Why hasn't this been republished by Persephone!' And my second thought was, 'This SO reminds me of I Capture the Castle ...'  In fact, I think I preferred it to I Capture the Castle, which I loved on first reading but found too self-consciously whimsical when I read it again many years later. That charming, eccentric Mortmain family ... really, what a snobbish, entitled bunch of scroungers they were.
But Guard Your Daughters - published a few years later, in 1953 - has a darker undercurrent that kept me intrigued as Diana Tutton drops hints that this family is more than just charmingly dysfunctional.
Like the Mortmains, the father is a writer - not a highbrow novelist with writer's block but a highly-successful writer of detective stories. Given how successful he is, money seems tight - but not so tight that the older sisters' allowances won't stretch to elegant dresses, even if they do get caught drying stockings in front of the fire and ironing 'a dreadful torn pair of cami-knickers.'
Pandora, the eldest has inexplicably succeeded in escaping from cloistered family life into marriage.
But why must her sisters resign themselves to leading such sheltered lives ...  no school, no young men, no parties or outings? And why is it so important that Mother is never upset?

And why isn't this book better known? There seems to be hardly information about Diana Tutton. except for the titles of a couple of other books that are now on my one-day list. Coincidentally, Guard Your Daughters is one of Stuck in a Book's Fifty Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About - and he's generously offering a copy today in a prize draw.

Book no 2 for my weekend away was Robert and Helen (published in 1944) by Elizabeth Jenkins, ordered from the library when I realised that they had it in the reserve stock. (Tea-stained and rather smelly, but at least they had it!) Now this isn't anywhere near as good as The Tortoise and the Hare or even Harriet ... but it was still a very enjoyable read in that domestic genre. Robert and Helen, it turned out, were brother and sister, not husband and wife as I'd expected. Robert (blithely selfish) is happily married (and why wouldn't he be!) to beautiful Racey who struggles (wo)manfully to provide him with an old-fashioned, gracious standard of living that is bloody hard work to achieve without servants.

Robert never thought of himself as being exacting, but he had a standard in his own mind of how his house should be run ... But still more would Robert have disapproved of a wife who was not elegant and amusing, and not ready to give him her enchanting society in odd half-hours, in the evenings and week-end afternoons, unspoilt by preoccupations and cares.

Even so, Racey firmly believes that no woman can be truly happy unless she is married. Helen, unfortunately known to all as Kitten, is Robert's much younger, orphaned sister. Kitten is rather vaguely engaged to a young man who is 'not quite' ... a bit too sexy, a bit too brash, a bit too travelling-rep. Kitten is 22 and she had better get married because it doesn't seem to cross anybody's mind that she should get a job. Anyway, the next young man is a Communist with a sense of entitlement and a woodpile of chips on his shoulder. If you can imagine a Socialist Uriah Heep, you're on the right lines - but he's so appallingly awful, and Racey/Robert/Helen are so self-deprecatingly feeble about letting him worm into their lives that it all gets a bit unconvincing and not up to Elizabeth Jenkins at her best. Also, what a strange, macabre ending ... I had to read it twice before I quite understood it.

But Jenkins is always so wonderfully scathing about men, and how even the best of them are so selfish. (She never married, having fallen irredeemably in love with a married doctor who sounds like a Grade A Alpha-male bastard.) And by the end of the novel, the message is clear - that yes, marriage is happiness and security for women but only if they can subjugate themselves to the men who know best.

As for book no 3, that was a Maigret ... they are perfect going-away books because you can read one in an evening. The crime doesn't matter - it's the ambience of zinc bars, and canals, and the lovely food. I'm hooked. There's a kind of exponential pleasure in reading them, as you immerse yourself in Maigret's world - plus the joy of knowing that as there's 70-odd novels, let alone the short stories, it's going to be quite a while before you run out.

And then just as I felt a bit panicky as I finished ... and no other book that I had on hand seemed quite what I wanted ... I discovered a damp parcel that must have been on the doorstep all day. A long-awaited Amazon bundle from a seller in America: another Elizabeth Jenkins and Toasted English by Marghanita Laski. Just what I wanted to start reading in bed last night.

Tuesday 7 June 2016

The Arrival of the Jarrow Marchers in London, TC Dugdale

It was clear that, since I was last in, the little bookshop had received a massive donation of what I call Dead Old Ladies' Books ... hurrah! my absolute favourites for browsing, loads of old green Viragos for £1 and every Georgette Heyer you can imagine. Stern warning to self: you do not have to own everything that takes your fancy. If you're not likely to read it within a month, then you don't really want it.

I came home with Together and Apart, by Margaret Kennedy - and  must have wanted it because two weeks later, I've not only finished it, but I pulled her first novel The Ladies of Lyndon (1923) from the shelf where it has been gathering dust unread for years and, hey, its moment had come and I've finished that, too. (I wasn't wild about The Ladies of the Lyndon - it was okay - so I think I've had my Margaret Kennedy moment and I'm not planning on going back for more.)

Together and Apart (1936) seemed rather more accomplished, I thought. It's about a successfully married couple who divorce for no particularly good reason. Betsy, the wife, is restless, waiting for a happiness that eludes her. (Today, she'd be reading other people's Instagram feeds and wondering why her own life doesn't shape up.) She fears that life is slipping away as she approaches 40.  Her husband Alec's mild infidelities haven't bothered her over much.

She toys with the idea of divorce, as there's a chinless aristocratic cousin in the wings who would be delighted to marry her. (God forbid that a Betsy would manage for a week without a man to pay the bills.)  But then Alec is caught trivially snogging the temp summer holiday governess - and the mothers-in-law interfere ... and everything hurtles out of control. I was reminded of Dorothy Whipple's Someone at a Distance - the weak husband who dabbles in half-hearted infidelity, then discovers there's no way back. MK is very good on the subtle damage to adolescent children.

The Ladies of Lyndon has all the same ingredients and maybe, read in quick succession, it was just too much of the same thing. Agatha is the beautiful 18-year-old bride who marries the wrong man (but acquires a beautiful house). There's another obliging cousin, who's a cherished romantic memory from the past. (All these lovelorn cousins in novels, but do they ever exist in real life?) And two more comic but dangerously meddling mothers-in-law. Nicola Beauman, in her introduction, sees Lyndon, the beautiful house, as the villain of the book ... a stranglehold of pre-war luxury and stifling trappings. I'm wondering what I'd have thought if I'd read this novel in 1923? Or even in 1981, when Nicola wrote her introduction? But after 40 years of soaring property prices ... heck, I'd put up with the limp husband and hang onto the house.

Monday 6 June 2016

What a gorgeous afternoon to spend in the cinema ... I did feel a bit guilty.  No wonder there were only three people there.
I can't find my copy of Lady Susan, and it must be 40 years since I read it. I'm guessing that the film is a tiny bit naughtier than Jane Austen dared to be. (That honeymoon baby ... surely not!) It was all good fun, like a lovely-looking cream puff, though my attention was wandering by the end ...
What I really loved were the gorgeous Georgian locations in Ireland, which made such a change from the usual National Trust properties that get rolled out again and again.

Especially as I've just finished reading this book, which is very scholarly and a bit more than I needed to know but interspersed with good anecdotes.

When I got home, I looked up the film locations; they're all there ... 

Newbridge House was known for incessant card playing, which would surely have suited Lady Susan especially as it was a source of income for ladies who played their cards right.

Tradition says that the tables were laid for it on rainy days at 10 o'clock in the morning in Newbridge drawing room; and on every day in the interminable evenings which followed the then fashionable four o'clock dinner. My grandmother was so excellent a whist-player that to extreme old age in Bath she habitually made a small, but appreciable addition to her income out of her 'card purse', an ornamental appendage of the toilet then, and even in my time, in universal use.' Frances Power Cobbe.  

I'm wondering if the interiors were Howth Castle,. which is still a family home. To think that when I worked in Dublin, I used to stroll on Howth Head in the evenings after work, then go for a fish supper ...