Saturday 30 December 2017

That's for tomorrow, I said all of 12 days ago, promising Part 2 of my highlights of 2017. Christmas is lingering here like a guest who won't leave - but normality will be resumed (I hope) tomorrow. Meanwhile, no more excuses for postponing Part 2 which was going to be everything that isn't books.(My Christmas reading wasn't well-chosen and though I started off thinking, 'How clever' about Edward St Aubyn's reworking of King Lear, by the end I'd got a bit bored. Still, what a fab stocking filler should you ever get invited to spend a Christmas with Rupert Murdoch.)

I didn't keep a list of plays I've seen, so I'm sure I've forgotten some - but far and away the best of 2017 was Ink which is still on for a few days. (I also enjoyed Labour of Love by the same playwright James Graham.) Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour was great fun and so was An Octoroon which is transferring to the National Theatre next summer. And I finally made it to the most beautiful theatre in London to see The White Devil. There were, of course, some absolute turkeys, most memorably Common which wins my Heavens, Did I Really Pay to See That? award, not just for 2017 but possibly for the decade. The I'm Not Asleep, I'm Just Resting My Eyes award is shared by Ben Whishaw for Against, Glengarry Glen Ross (too shouty, and I should have known better as I nodded off during the original 1983 production, too) and Venus in Fur when I woke with a jump and worried that I might have been actually snoring. Given the painfully uncomfortable seats in most London theatres, I think these slumber awards should be considered an achievement for all concerned.

Sunday 17 December 2017

It's that time of year again - and as Cornflower has already shared her highlights of 2017, reminding me that I very much want to read E Nesbit's The Lark - here's my highlights, too, drawn from 74 books I've read this year - almost exactly the same as last year - though the proportion of non-fiction seems to have slipped from one-third to one-quarter. Anyway, that's the obsessive compulsive bit over and I promise you that my spice cupboard isn't arranged in alphabetical order, though I often wish it was.

For sheer fictional enjoyment, I'm recommending A Gentleman in Moscow which I still think would make a wonderful film. The Underground Railroad came close but didn't quite match it.

Bernard MacLaverty's Midwinter Break was profoundly moving but sad. It's the book I wanted to share but felt was rather too close to the bone for a gift to long-married friends, which of course is nearly everybody I know. Perhaps heart-wrenching is not right in your Christmas stocking.

Most interesting work of fiction was Cry, Mother Spain which taught me more about the Spanish Civil War than any hefty volume of history. It barely counts as fiction as it is based very closely on the life of the author's mother.

Despite my reservations about literary prizes, I see I've listed a Pulitzer winner and a Prix Goncourt. And I enjoyed the Booker winner Lincoln in the Bardo, too.  In fact, I'm amazed to see so much new fiction. Mrs Miniver's Rose Bowl Award for vintage fiction is being held over this year as there are no strong contenders, apart maybe from The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard which was an unexpected success at book group as I chose it, having read it more than 30 years ago, and then got nervous as I thought everyone else would probably hate it. I must have been so relieved when it sparked a good discussion last month that I never get around to writing about it.

My personal discovery of the year has been Edward St Aubyn and I have Dunbar at the top of my library pile.

Last but not least, non-fiction - and the book which took me out of my overly-easy-reading comfort zone (that'd be The Greedy Queen and Jane Austen at Home) was Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance - there's a review here - which by chance chimed in with my favourite film of the year, but that's for tomorrow.

Not quite the last, because there is one book that has kept me engrossed me for hours this year and how I wish I owned a copy;  it's available on-line but that does make for rather jerky reading. It's by my favourite 17th century cookery writer Robert May - whose recipes always work - and who has sadly been forgotten by all except obsessives enthusiasts like me. He's very good on pies and I do love a pie.

And whoops, I nearly forgot what was possibly the most gripping read of the year , This House of Grief by Helen Garner. I thought I'd posted about it but if I did, I can't find it. There's a review here and it's definitely 5* from me.

The Sunday morning film club - that's all two of us - has gone wild this week and we went to the early show on a Saturday evening instead. I wasn't sure what to expect from this French film - and although I've been forgiven, neither of us has forgotten my choice of the year's worst movie, possibly the weirdest and the worst we've ever seen ... yes, that'd be the one about the cannibalistic mussel-harvesters, maybe I've mentioned it before.  However, tonight we struck lucky and Soleil Battant was poignant and delightful, based on a real tragic secret in the family of the two sisters who co-directed. The beautiful six-year-old twins at the centre of the story were amazingly natural actors. It would spoil it if I said more, as we agreed we were glad to come this without preconceptions and there was a very interesting Q&A with the directors at the end. No chance of seeing it in cinemas - this was one night only, as far as I know - but you can see it online here.

Saturday 16 December 2017

I have a different edition of Excellent Women but what an inspired choice of artwork for this Penguin copy; winter cherry is such a disappointing plant - the leaves shrivel and the berries drop off and only Barbara Pym's excellent spinsters could be bothered trying to nurture one.
I've read this before and I always struggle with Barbara Pym but it's for book group. (And I'm sure they'll all hate it!) I know they're written tongue-in-cheek but I always find her man-hungry spinsters so depressing. I mean, this is post-war, Mildred has an Oxford degree, she's only 30 ... surely she could find a proper job, some self-respect, resign from the vicarage fan-club ... when sex is invented in 1963, dear, it'll be too late to rip off your lock-knit knickers!
I have tried. I know people love Barbara Pym. But she's not for me.

Friday 15 December 2017

Did we need another adaptation of Little Women? Oh, maybe not - but so far (I've only seen the first episode) I'm really enjoying this lavish BBC version by Heidi Thomas. Emily Watson is exactly right as Marmee. Ethan Hawke/Uma Thurman's daughter (that conveys absolutely nothing to me, but maybe you're better up on Hollywood pedigrees than I am!) ... anyway, she is exactly right, too, as Jo. Angela Lansbury turns up as Aunt March, with a good heart underneath the crustiness. And Michael Gambon is old Mr Laurence. All that was missing was a box of Quality Street and a sherry but I made inroads into the first stollen of the season - so successfully that I finished it off for breakfast. Oh dear, that wasn't meant to happen quite as soon as this!

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Not a very Christmassy Christmas Carol - well, hardly Christmassy at all - but quite good fun, especially the silly radio sound effects. I'd have enjoyed this Fitzrovia Radio Hour production more if it hadn't been in a chilly tent in Leicester Square, amid the tackiest, trashiest Christmas market you've ever seen ... why does London do Christmas markets so badly? Surely the West End could manage better than this? Unfortunately, it wasn't just the cold that crept into the players' tent but all the ambient noise - not Christmas carols, sadly, just the ubiquitous street performers with their ghettoblasters and a Muslim prayer chant. What a shame - in a cosy little theatre somewhere, with a glass of mulled wine, this would have been a jolly pre-Christmas outing.
I've booked for Glengarry Glen Ross later this week. Good reviews, but not Christmassy at all!

Tuesday 12 December 2017

May I say how much I admire the housewives of Britain in these appalling present conditions for their courage in trying to give their families another super Christmas ...

It was 1975. I must have imbibed too many Snowballs because I don't recall it being particularly trying that year ...

But I do love Fanny Cradock and if you see her getting intimate with a turkey, you can see where Nigella's coming from. I do feel sorry for her drab assistant Sarah who is a bit like Dame Edna Everage's bridesmaid Madge.

Anyone fancy that raw mincemeat omelette????

Sunday 10 December 2017

So irritated by this silly, gushing biography of Daphne du Maurier, translated from the French which doesn't help. (It's kippers for breakfast, not smoked herring!)
It's not just the breathless, novelette-ish style but lazy inaccuracies that even a bit of Google-research would have corrected: you won't find Keats's house in Primrose Hill and I don't think that the Brontës thought of themselves as daughters of a Presbyterian parsonage.
Lots of hissing and harrumphing from me ...
And then I started watching The Crown and caught the Queen cutting into a scone with a knife ...
My dears, I nearly passed out. She'll be drinking out of the milk bottle next!

Monday 4 December 2017

Anybody else watching The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, the perfect 1950s housewife turned stand-up comedienne? I'm loving her swing coats and Jacques Fath costumes, Cherries in the Snow lipstick (launched in 1952, still selling), her chic little hats and gloves, even her glamorous chiffon nighties ... and all that wonderful Douglas Sirk colour has lifted a very grey, drizzly weekend.

Thursday 30 November 2017

Enjoyed a long, 17th century wallow last night so I can report that the TV adaptation of The Miniaturist is simply gorgeous, in fact rather better than the book because when you're ooh-ing over period detail you forget to notice that the story isn't very convincing. (The novel has creative writing course stamped all over it.)

Romola Garai is terrific as the chilly Calvinistic sister-in-law. And I was in historic baking heaven, freeze-framing every shot of marchpane and biscuits ... I noticed in the credits that it's the same food stylist who did upstairs/downstairs in Downton Abbey. I know. I'm obsessed. I'm about to embark on my Christmas baking - marchpanes, spongata, pistachio hedgehogs ... book your dentist's appointment now, he'll be busy in January!

Friday 24 November 2017

Does touching the top of a pagoda bring you luck? I've no idea - but I touched it anyway as I'm never likely to be up there again.
The Kew pagoda is under wraps and covered in scaffolding at the moment but I put on hard hat and goggles and workmen's boots and felt relieved that there was a lift to go up the top. (Of course, when it reopens visitors will have to climb up on the inside not the outside.)
It will be quite a sight when it's finished with 80 spectacular dragons adorning the roofs. Not the original dragons which disappeared in the 18th century, but 3D printed dragons. How clever is that!

I'm a remarkable woman - always was, though none of you seemed to think so. 

Sounds like a line from an ageing Joan Crawford or Bette Davis? (Feud is my favourite binge-watch this week.)
Actually, it was May Morris in 1936.

Her exquisite embroideries were well worth the trek to Walthamstow and the William Morris Gallery this afternoon. (It feels like the end of the line - it IS the end of the line - but it didn't take as long as this confirmed west Londoner thought it would!)

It's a fascinating (and free) exhibition. There's more to read about it here.  I did wonder what William Morris would make of the gallery shop and all the tacky souvenirs (floral print garden trowel, forsooth!) that wouldn't be my idea of useful /beautiful. However, the shop was buzzing with middle-aged ladies starting their Christmas shopping - there wasn't an empty seat in the café - and there was hardly anyone in the exhibition, so what do I know!

And just because it tickled me, here's William Morris on multi-tasking ...

If a chap can't compose an epic poem while he's weaving a tapestry, he had better shut up, he'll never do any good at all.

Wednesday 8 November 2017

Raise Higher the Banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, 1933

The Nightmare of Future Wars - Workers of the World Unite, 1920s

Emancipated Woman - Build Socialism! 1926
Fascism, The most evil enemy of women, 1941
Don't Chatter! Gossiping Borders on Treason, 1941 
Love that last one which I guess is Russian for 'Careless Talk Costs Lives.' More posters - and poster girls - this morning at Tate Modern for a fascinating exhibition Red Star Over Russia. (And it's not too big, just the right size!)  I've only been to Russia once but it struck me that I must have been there this week - I think it was 29 years ago - because I remember looking out of a window and seeing tanks rolling into Red Square. Only rehearsing for the annual pageant but what a thrill and one of my most exciting holiday memories! 
I saw this book in the exhibition shop which reminded me that somewhere in a cupboard I have some wonderful posters from Gorbachev's anti-vodka campaign that I bought for about 10p and of course I never got round to having them framed. They'd look stunning so maybe it's about time. 

Sunday 5 November 2017

We weren't planning a Sunday morning movie this week, then changed our minds at the last minute; the friend I go with has walked dogs and swum lengths by the time we meet, but I'm just happy if I'm up and dressed in time and I've combed my hair ...
Our last minute choice was The Florida Project, set in a purple-painted, budget motel on the edge of Disneyworld, that's a Magic Kingdom for a sassy six-year-old and her friends as their mothers barely scrape by on food handouts. It's getting wonderful reviews and the children's performances are incredible. More reviews and a trailer here.

Saturday 4 November 2017

I'm still here - but my geriatric Mac is dead and buried and there have been countless traumas getting me up and running on a new one. Bereft of timewasting technology, I've been reading big, fat books - like I did in the olden days! And going out instead of watching TV. And then binge watching all of Howards End and Alias Grace as soon as I was restored to the 21st century.

Yesterday I made it to a delightful exhibition Poster Girls at the Transport Museum. (I love the Transport Museum shop and coveted the gorgeous scarves inspired by Underground station colours.)

Arnrid Banniza Johnston, 1930
I loved this, with the animals feeding Cockney Vulgaris, the caged Mayfair Beauties, Great Crested Magnates and the Common Undergraduate ... Look at the bored hippo watching a judge cavort on a swing. And the bears throwing cigars - not buns - to the Parliamentarians.

Vera Willoughby, 1928
This art-deco sunburst does feel joyful - and in 1928 a courting couple could enjoy a ciggie en route.

Herry Perry, 1931

So stylish.
Nancy Smith, 1922

Alma Faulkner, 1928

Travel by Underground in that lovely new dress? It'll be grimy by the time she gets home ...

Gaynor Chapman, 1962
In 1962, London Transport was urging us to explore village churches because 'one might boast an odd piscina.' I fear that this might be setting the bar rather high for passengers today.

Friday 3 November 2017

An ode to the 50-something woman ... that's not something you often see in a film review! I really enjoyed this gentle, funny, optimistic film tonight and the cinema was packed. (Agnès Jaoui, I gather, is very well-known in France.) In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I got chatting to a Frenchwoman on the train home - who loved it just as much as I did - and went past my stop. Heavens ... the film that made a Londoner talk to another passenger on the Tube! They should put that on the poster.
Aurore is a menopausal woman who has lost her husband, her job, her name - her creepy boss thinks it's sexier to call her Samantha - and she's becoming so invisible that even automatic door sensors ignore her. Then she meets a group of older women who show her that it's never too late.
The French Film Festival runs until mid-December but what a shame that this won't have a wider release. I've just checked the leaflet: not a hope unless you're in Edinburgh/Glasgow/Inverness/Hull/
Richmond, North Yorkshire/Hereford. (You might find it billed as Fifty Springtimes, the English title.)

The other film I saw this week was The Killing of a Sacred Deer: laugh-out-loud funny, but very, very weird. 

Sunday 8 October 2017

My new guilty pleasure ...Bake-Off-Vlaanderen. (You can watch it from the UK. I hope it won't prove too addictive!) Of course, I can't understand a word of it but they're looking for de beste koek - de top koek - de koek der koeken - de koekoek en de flopkoek ... so you get the gist of it and niet goed is niet goed, no matter where your Bake-Off tent is pitched.

Saturday 7 October 2017

I felt a bit sorry for the handful of people who turned up in white tie and evening gowns for tonight's premiere of Journey's End; it might have been more glam in the stalls, but up in the circle they were sitting next to riff-raff like me who'd rolled along after work. Saw one girl (un)dressed to the nines in the kind of gown that demands a bikini wax; she must have been frozen ... I wriggled back into my coat and longed for a woolly jumper; you don't need the A/C on full blast in London in October!
I so wanted to love the film more than I did, but I couldn't help thinking back to that wonderful stage production with David Haig that left me so emotionally wrung out I could hardly stand up at the end. I'd forgotten how huge the Odeon, Leicester Square is; perversely, I think I'd have felt more involved in my cosy, little local cinema (where the seats are comfier, too!). Somehow, that claustrophobic feel of men in a dugout had been lost. Reviews have been mixed: the Guardian gave it 2* which seems harsh, 3* from the Telegraph and 4* from the Times. I'd say 3.5. If I hadn't been cold - and I hadn't skipped lunch - who knows? Yes, I know, this present generation, it's all about creature comforts ...

London Film Festival has just opened and, though I've had the brochure on my desk for weeks now, every time I flicked through it, I felt overwhelmed by the choice. But tonight - inspired by chatting to the woman sitting next to me who is seeing two or three films a day -  I got home feeling ready to go for it ... only to discover that everything I really want to see (On Chesil Beach, Loving Vincent, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) is already sold out. Oh well, there will be other chances.

But I have seen a couple of other films this week, nothing to do with the film festival.

In some ways this is the sequel to Journey's End, when the men have returned home with PTSD. I snuck into the cinema while I was shopping, only too aware that friends would sooner pull the teddy bear's arms off than sign up for two hours of this. (There was hardly anyone in the cinema.) Oh, there's part of me that loved it; when the credits rolled, there was a knitwear consultant - how can you not love that? But that appalling child ... how can you not want to throw up? Or cheer when Christopher Robin gets kicked down the stairs? I wasn't raised on Winnie-the-Pooh and it's too late now; I can hear my mother's damning verdict, 'It's very English!'

The Glass Castle (film).png

I wasn't expecting much from The Glass Castle; it had mostly ropey reviews, but I do like a Sunday morning movie and that's what was on, so that's what we saw. I wasn't keen on Woody Harrelson hamming it up and it did feel like something you'd watch on telly with a bad cold and Lemsip - but it held my interest and I was fascinated to see the real family members at the end. It did make me want to read Jeannette Walls' book about her outrageously feckless parents which sounds rather better than the film and has the advantage of being Woody Harrelson-free.

Tuesday 3 October 2017

The book I should have abandoned after 50 pages - because it didn't improve! Are there no editors out there prepared to say, 'Go back to the beginning - and slash it by half!' 400 pages of tosh! Is it a rom-com? Is it a satire on the art world? `Is it supposed to be funny? It might have been if Hannah Rothschild had a lighter touch. Oh well, when the Daily Mail calls it a masterpiece, that should be warning enough! I did feel slightly uncomfortable with Nazi war crimes as the backstory to such a silly book. And no, it was not a good idea to have a long-lost painting by Watteau that talks to itself ...
I'm asking myself why I plodded on? Perhaps because a very unenticing book group book is nagging from my pile; still, if I leave it a week longer I can skim read without any guilt! (Bill Bryson. So predictable, I just can't be bothered.)

Monday 2 October 2017

I've been practising my Christmas baking; I know - I'll peak too soon and by Christmas it'll be Mr Kipling if you're lucky! But I enjoy it more when there's no pressure and cinnamony, nutmeggy smells go with autumn. Last weekend I made an Italian spongata, from a 19th century recipe - like a big mince pie stuffed with honey and walnuts - but they're much older than that and this picture dates back to the 1690s. (That's not my best profile!) I cheated and used ordinary shortcrust because last time I used the original pastry - made with olive oil and white wine - and it turned out like old boots. This time I decided it was a success and I'll make it again.
But this weekend, I went back to my favourite old-fashioned seed cake - which has now officially replaced lemon drizzle as my default bake setting. (Nigel Slater says be frugal, a pinch of caraway is quite enough; I say go for it, I stir in a full tablespoon.) I do think it's time for a seed cake revival.

Friday 29 September 2017

Feeling the need for a bit of light relief after binge-watching Vietnam, so I've been enjoying this RadioFour adaptation of Cold Comfort Farm - a repeat, but new to me. Waiting for a cottage pie to crisp up and pondering whether a jug of sunflowers looks a bit much against a shelf of orange Penguins.

Thursday 28 September 2017

Two hours in, eight to go. I'm in it for the long haul - BBCFour's mammoth documentary about the Vietnam War is completely gripping. This war was the backdrop to my childhood, on the television news every night; we'd be hushed so my dad could listen, but nobody ever explained what it was all about. This is epic television; watching these first episodes - 1858-1961 and 1961-63 - I'm shocked at how much I didn't know.

Wednesday 27 September 2017

The main event yesterday was supposed to be King Lear at Shakespeare's Globe - though I'm not sure that I didn't enjoy the Audrey preview rather more.
It's always a bit chancy booking for the Globe, especially in late September - but how lucky, I couldn't have had a more glorious day, and it was gorgeous walking along by the river. I hadn't been to the Globe in years; we used to make a point of going every summer, then I lost interest after a run of gimmicky all-female productions - and we drifted away.
So what's changed? There's clearly more air traffic overhead - and, while I get the fact that in Shakespeare's day audiences could drift in and out as they pleased (though if Generation Snowflake could stop guzzling water from crackly plastic bottles, it might discover that it could hang until the interval for the loo!), nevertheless I could have happily lynched the stupid woman whose phone went off - lengthily - as Lear carried on Cordelia's dead body. How about three hours in the stocks until the evening performance? And chuck her damn phone in the Thames! No, she was patted on the back by sympathetic staff to ease her embarrassment.
Still, it was a nice afternoon, if not a memorable production; bizarrely, at times it seemed to be played for laughs! I've only seen one Lear who truly wrung my heart and that was Ian Holm.

Her annotated script for Breakfast at Tiffany's (estimate £60,000-£90,000); a kaleidoscope of coloured ballet pumps, well-worn because she wore them as slippers around the house; her modest cardboard suitcase from the 1940s and her Louis Vuitton luggage later; an invitation to the première of Breakfast at Tiffany's, ostensibly from Holly Golightly ... estimate £300-£500 but of course it will go for much, much more.
I caught the last hour of the preview for tomorrow's sale of Audrey Hepburn's personal effects at Christie's. Impossible not to sigh over a letter from Cary Grant to Dear, dear Audrey/And you are indeed a dear Audrey ... and think what lovely letters people used to write not so very long ago. There's  her ice-blue cocktail gown from Two for the Road and a black satin one from Charade; an adorable outfit - crisp white linen shirt, black linen trousers, red ballet pumps, a lipstick red belt and a straw boater - job lot, estimate £3,0000-£5,000; her Rain in Spain costume from My Fair Lady - but it was a spare that wasn't actually used in the film. And then there's earrings, and scent, and long, white evening gloves ... and an eye mask, but not the eye mask which was lost in the mists of time.
In one room, there's racks of quite ordinary summer frocks ... it feels a bit like rummaging in an Oxfam shop on a very good day. (No, you can't touch!)
I was so glad I got there in time, especially as I'd got the dates muddled and missed the Vivien Leigh viewing at Sotheby's. (What a week!) But kind of sad to see anyone's belongings dispersed like this. The Christie's man said that the last big personal sale he handled was Mrs Thatcher's ... I don't really like to think who'd bid for Maggie's handbag!

The Breakfast at Tiffany's script went for more than £630,000; I'm a fan but I'd sooner have something useful, maybe a house.

Saturday 23 September 2017

I struggled with H is for Hawk; it's misery-lit with wings and claws and I'd have abandoned it except someone chose it for book group so I tried again. It wasn't a success though; unanimous thumbs-down, which doesn't often happen, and damned with the verdict: Too many feathers! Still think that cover illustration is fabulous, though.
So rather to my surprise I found myself quite enjoying the BBC TV programme (coming soon) in which Helen Macdonald trains a new goshawk called Lupin. I found her too much to take when I read the book; as if I were mentally crossing the road to avoid all that emotion. Now life has moved on and she's no longer steeped in grief; plus an hour of rural pursuits is about my limit.

Friday 22 September 2017

I went to York a couple of days ago and read this on the train, so completely engrossed that I barely looked out the window. It's heartbreaking, so beautifully written, not a word wasted - and it addresses all those overwhelming middle-aged questions about life and is this all there is? Gerry and Stella are a retired couple in a long, accepting, mostly affectionate marriage and they're on a long weekend to Amsterdam. He's devoutly alcoholic; she's a devout Catholic, hurt by his cynicism. He's profoundly shaken when the visit reveals the distance between them.
Perhaps it struck a chord with me because I remember visiting the hidden Begijnhof in Amsterdam and inquiring (only out of curiosity!) about how one would qualify to join this community of single women. (It shook me to the core to realise reading the novel that, like Stella, I'm already too old!)
Maybe the book resonated so deeply for me because I was on my to York, where I was a student - so there was definitely a feeling that day of where did those 40 years go? (Not that I really want to be 20 again! Apart from the 20in waist and the long, dark hair!)
MacLaverty has said that this isn't about an elderly couple; it's about two young people who got old and have fallen out of step with each other. I heard a young-sounding reviewer on Radio4 saying that it left her cold; she couldn't connect with it. Give her time, I thought ... it gets all of us in the end.

Saturday 16 September 2017

Hard to believe that this is the 25th Open House weekend. I've flagged since those early years when I used to draw up lists and gad about all over London; some years I've ignored it, or only visited local properties. I don't like queues, don't much care about office space, and I much prefer having a nosey around private houses rather than historic buildings that are open to the public anyway. I am never, ever sufficiently organised to pre-book.
But this afternoon I saw what could be achieved in a very ordinary little terrace house just around the corner from home. It looked lovely ... and it's how I'd like to live when I'm reincarnated as a very tidy person without 1000 books. The lady on the door told me that people don't own books anymore. I admired it all but thought it looked very hard and uncomfortable. The lady on the door asked me why I had chosen to come to this house. Because it was the nearest, I said, feebly. The man behind me in the queue had come all the way on from Blackburn, clearly with serious intent. I did like their stair carpet, though.

More Open House-ing this afternoon, this time to 'the finest example of a modernist house in a Georgian setting' - well, that ticked all my boxes, how could I resist, and now I'm longing to move in! The 17th century mansion just around the corner would be lovely but it had a dead, municipal feel; if only someone with imagination aand money could hug it back to life. Rachel at Book Snob has been Open House visiting, too, and writes about some very different properties here. There's more than 800 on show, so there's always somewhere new or a building that's intrigued you for years but you've never been inside. 

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Monday night was a telly-fest ... a pot of chilli, a nip of whisky (thanks, Darlene!) the latest episode of Victoria and then, hurrah, the start of a new series of Outlander. I know, I'll watch any tosh if it's in period costume. (But I did enjoy this documentary about the Magnum photographers, too. So that raised the tone.)
Last night, though, I'd booked a last minute ticket to our lovely local theatre to see Driving Miss Daisy with Sîan Phillips. How sad ... rows and rows of empty seats. And she was terrific - huge applause and cheers at the end. And she still looks as beautiful as ever. The woman sitting next to me said she'd overheard someone in the bar saying, 'Who's Sîan Phillips? I've never heard of her.' Which made those of us old enough to remember I, Claudius feel absolutely ancient! I've been trying to recall who played Miss Daisy when I saw the original production in the West End - and I think it was Wendy Hiller. Now that does make me feel ancient! I'm so tempted to dig out the programme from that dusty old suitcase in the bottom of the wardrobe ... but if I do, that'll be the whole afternoon gone! (I've stopped buying programmes. There is no room for any more clutter that I can't bear to be parted from.)
Driving Miss Daisy is on tour. Bizarrely, the last play I saw at Richmond a couple of weeks ago was packed out - a thoroughly limp and unthrilling thriller. If it's coming to a theatre near you, save your pennies for something better!

Saturday 9 September 2017

I've been completely engrossed in The Underground Railroad, this year's Pulitzer prize-winner and one of President Obama's choices for last year's summer holiday reading. (If we were treated to President Trump's booklist, guess I must have missed it.)
It's devastating and wildly inventive, an imagined history of slavery in the southern states of America and as I came to it fresh - don't google it or read the reviews - I was quite a way in before I thought, 'Hang on ...'
Anything I could write feels like a spoiler. But even allowing for a few longueurs towards the end, it's one of the best books I've read this year.

Friday 8 September 2017

Judi Dench is simply brilliant as the ageing Queen, greedy, cantankerous and lonely; the Munshi ... well, the Munshi twinkles and simpers and might have bhangra-ed his way out of a B-list Bollywood movie. It would be more interesting if he'd been presented as a more rounded character. Never mind, it's a bit of a royal rom-com but we thoroughly enjoyed it. Love the way Dame Judi gobbles a profiterole; it reminded me how much I enjoyed this book.

Tuesday 5 September 2017

Judith and Holofernes, John Luke, 1928

As promised, here's a few more works from the British Realist exhibition. Now I couldn't claim that I really like this painting by an Irish artist I'd never heard of before ... It was the shoes that caught my eye, as if she's dancing a celebratory jig over the body that - at first glance - looks like a bloke struggling none too successfully with an IKEA flatpack. And Judith looks so very much of her time, like a Unity Mitford or Betjeman's Olympic femme fatale:

The sort of girl I like to see
Smiles down from her great height at me.
She stands in strong, athletic pose
And wrinkles her retroussé nose.
Is it distaste that makes her frown,
So furious and freckled, down
On an unhealthy worm like me?

James Cowie, A Portrait Group

This schoolgirl could be one of Miss Brodie's set. Cowie did have a thing about gymslips. I've always thought of these two schoolgirls as Brodie girls in their tussore blouses.

Jeunesse Dorée, ©erald Leslie Brockhurst, 1942
This is Dorette, the artists's second wife. She looks like a second wife.

No, I've changed my mind. She's a first wife ... Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. Don't you love those brooding eyes and the silk scarf? You could write a story around almost every painting in this exhibition. One interesting point that was made that the artists were born before the age of the motor car and lived to see space travel.

Woman reclining, 1928, Meredith Frampton

Marguerite Kelsey, a professional model, was only 19 - but such elegance and poise! This painting (from the Tate) has such perfect finish that you can even see the perfect half-moons on her perfectly manicured pale pink nails. Meredith Frampton, perhaps confusingly, was male.

Elsie, Hilda Carline, 1929

But it's not all about society ladies. Hilda Carline was Stanley Spencer's first wife and Elsie was their  maid who mediated during their quarrels. I didn't know whether to be more taken by her shoes and those shiny stockings - for Sunday best or day off - or the kitchen range, pot-holders and rug. (Remember the smell of rugs slightly grimy with coal dust?)
Of course, it does make you think of all the forgotten female artists who would have done so much better to have remained unmarried to their 'genius' husbands. I've just finished reading the letters of lovely, lively Ida John, who gave up her own work, and was dead of puerperal fever at 30.

The Welsh Mole Catcher, Stanley Lewis

Of course, men get neglected, too. You can read the story of Stanley Lewis here. This was 'picture of the year' at the Royal Academy in 1937. Do take a look on ArtUK where you can see the amazing detail of all these paintings. What did I do with myself beforeArtUK was invented!

The Rat Catcher, Gilbert Spencer, 1922

And just for balance, here's the rat catcher, too. Love the paper fan in the grate and the spent matches on  the floor.