Monday 30 January 2017

Caught sight of this poster on a Tube platform today and realised how much I've been craving colour. Still a few days to wait until the exhibition opens at Tate Britain.

Sunday 29 January 2017

Very weird. Very long. Very German.
Apparently, the last German comedy on general release here was Good Bye, Lenin! which was funny and completely delightful. It's been a long wait since then ...
Toni Erdmann is likely to win the Oscar for best foreign film (which does make me wonder what all the other foreign films were like this year!) Did I say it was weird? I'm not saying there weren't some laugh out moments. (Along with lots of false teeth - yuck - lots of very Germanic nudity - and a scene that I sincerely hope will be the grossest Bad Sex scene I see this year. Or for the rest of my life. It involves petits fours. You don't want to know. And please don't tell Mary Berry.
Reviewers seem unanimously to have loved it. I'm just relieved that the director is so against a Hollywood remake because, believe me, it would be lost in translation. There's a trailer here.

Tuesday 24 January 2017

Sunday morning cinema has become a habit ... I suppose it's easy on cold mornings, grab a slice of toast, 10 minute bus ride and you're up and doing something that doesn't require much effort. And sometimes it nudges me to see a film that's out of my comfort zone.
I wasn't sure if I'd be able to stomach Hacksaw Ridge but the reviews were so good that I gave it a try. It's a fascinating true story about a conscientious objector who volunteered as an army medic and the first half of the film is fine ... we see him growing up in Virginia, his drunken father still scarred by his experiences in WW1, his romance with a pretty nurse who gets why he's different, then his struggle to get the establishment to allow him to serve without touching a rifle. And then he gets to Japan ... what happens on Hacksaw Ridge is not for the faint-hearted and this is the bloodiest war film I have ever seen. But it is undeniably very good. I wasn't quite sure about Andrew Garfield's Forrest-gumpish portrayal (sweet, gangly and innocent) of conscientious objector Desmond Doss - but then the real Desmond Doss appeared in footage at the end (he died in 2006) and it seems he caught him exactly right. There's a trailer here. I'm glad I went - I was gripped by the story - but I had my face buried in my woolly scarf for the worst bits. The cinema was full; you could feel that this was a film that had the whole audience by the throat.

Monday 23 January 2017

This was another book that went on my list as a result of Andrew Marr's Paperback Heroes series; I thought it sounded intriguing. It was serialised as a very successful bit of Daily Mail scare-mongering in 1906. (Clearly nothing changes!) News vendors were kitted out in Prussian greatcoats and spiky helmets and every edition carried an update of the parts of the country that were now at imminent risk of German invasion ... and, of course, the readers lapped it up and circulation increased by 80,000 copies a day.
(Actually, I do love a good newspaper stunt!) The Government of the day tried to suppress it as dangerous for national morale.

Sounds exciting? Well, the trouble is, it's rather a dull read. There's no characters to bring it to life. It's just a list of military manoeuvres as the Germans invade in a shock attack on the east coast and go on to take London. I don't normally hold with the idea of separate genres for men/women ... but this is a boys' book. The Riddle of the Sands is a far better read.

Saturday 21 January 2017

Looking at my reading list for 2017 so far, I haven't exactly stretched myself, have I? Two children''s books, one comic classic that I've read many times before ... but my first proper read turned out to be so gripping that I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be my Book of the Year. Why haven't I read this before? I can't recall what gave me the nudge to get it out of the library before Christmas and even then it sat on the pile, not quite appealing enough to get me started ... all those Icelandic names, too many sons and dottirs, and my deep-seated prejudice against well-reviewed first novels written by 20-something blondes. Grrr.  (Do publishers realise how many books get rejected out of hand by resentful old bats who take against an author's glossy blow-dry?)
Well, I admit it, I was wrong ... Burial Rites has been the cause of several late nights when I couldn't put it down, I was so immersed in the story (based on historical fact) of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a servant held on a remote farm (there were no prisons in Iceland) while awaiting execution by beheading for the murder of two men. I could feel that oppressive landscape weighing down on me (I've been to Iceland in January!), feel the gloom and loneliness and the stale air of the communal badstofa . In many ways, this reminded me of His Bloody Project but whereas my interest in that flagged, Hannah Kent kept me on tenterhooks. Looking back on what I wrote about His Bloody Project, I wanted to move along a bit faster ... not this time, quite the opposite, I wanted to put the brakes on, to hold back time, knowing that every passing day was relentlessly bringing Agnes to the end.

Feeling the need for some light relief, I've also been reading this country house novel by Angela Thirkell (though my second-hand copy has a far less attractive cover). It was grabbed from a pile at the crack of dawn as I needed something lightweight - in both senses - for a train journey. It served its purpose but I'm not sure I can be bothered finishing it. It would be better had it been written by Nancy Mitford. Must say, it puzzles me why Virago had a Dorothy Whipple-line below which they they wouldn't stoop - I'd have a Thirkell line.

Thursday 19 January 2017

It meant leaving the house at 5am and a bitterly cold day as the damp of centuries seeped into my knees and bum, but what a treat yesterday to be a flea on the wall and see this Tudor kitchen coming to life with preparations for a banquet.

Saturday 14 January 2017

No matter how many times I read it ...

I spent an evening last week re-reading Mr Pooter for the umpteenth time. I suppose these days, he'd be writing a blog or instagraming his red bath-tub.

This time it struck me that he looked rather familar. 

Friday 13 January 2017

The rain turned into sleet by the time I got to top of the road and it was snowing when I got to the station  ... but by the time I got into town the great blizzard was,  um, well and truly over. So definitely not worth cancelling a night out, especially when the film was as good as this one. (I don't know what's got into me, three cinema outings this week - sometimes I don't manage that all year.) Now I've owned up before to cinema cat-napping but not this time ... Did I do that 'just resting my eyes' thing? No, I was on the edge of my seat wanting to know what happened. Lion is all the more fascinating for being the true story of a lost boy who was missing for 25 years. Saroo inadvertently fell asleep on a train and ended up in Calcutta, nearly 1000 miles from home, unable to speak Bengali and anyway too young to explain coherently where he'd come from or who he belonged to. There were a few gulping back tears moments. There's a review and trailer here. If you've ever zoomed in on your own home on Google Earth you'll be fascinated. Of course, I googled Ganesha Talai and its blue-roofed houses and wondered if I was zooming in on Saroo's home; I wonder how many others will do the same? The true story is here - but don't read it if you're planning to see the film, it contains spoilers.

Wednesday 11 January 2017

This is a lovely, gentle French film about a country doctor who thinks he's indispensable - made by a director who used to be a doctor himself so it feels very authentic. (How come I go to all these French films and still my French doesn't improve?) The cinema was almost full which maybe shows that French audiences are more discerning, because I can't imagine a film about a rural NHS practice drawing a full house of young and old and people leaving at the end chatting about how much they enjoyed it. (I suppose there was that clunky TV series with Martin Clunes; but I can't stand Martin Clunes.) The actress who plays the inexperienced locum came on at the end for Q&A. She mentioned how much she'd enjoyed Manchester by the Sea. Now that the weight of depression has lifted, I'm glad I saw it ... But who needs feel-bad in January? I enjoyed this gentle film far more. There's a trailer here. This book was mentioned during the discussion afterwards.

Sunday 8 January 2017

On a very grey day, a very long, very gloomy movie. #Feel-bad #Should have gone to La La Land.

Saturday 7 January 2017

Thrill of the year so far ... a behind-the scenes visit to the British Library a few days ago where I couldn't believe my luck that I was sitting at a table with Jane Austen's three fat leatherbound notebooks     open in front of me. What a treat to see them up close: thinking that the covers are so well-worn because Jane, during her teen years, spent so many hours working away on these little stories to amuse her family. This page was my favourite - from her History of England, illustrated by her sister Cassandra - with their mother Mrs Austen caricatured as Elizabeth, looking rather as if she's giving a stern ticking-off to a meek, rosy-cheeked Jane in the guise of Mary, Queen of Scots. On my way out, I paid a visit to Jane's little writing desk in the Treasures gallery ... I always find her tiny spectacles rather moving and imagine a sardonic look from her down the centuries! (The notebooks will go on display from next week.)

Tuesday 3 January 2017

The Steeple Aston Cope, 1330-1340
My first exhibition of 2017 was going to be American Expressionism at the RA but it was the last day and when I saw the queue to get in, I couldn't face it. So I hopped on a bus to the V&A where the lovely Opus Anglicanum exhibition turned out to be just the right ending to Christmas. And hardly anybody there. I'm sure that 700 years ago I'd have been a smelly peasant at the back of the church and I'd never have got a close-up view of the bishop's embroideries.

Whalley Abbey vestments
I loved this detail of the Virgin Mary toddling through a meadow of flowers on a baby-walker ...

Panel from a burse, 1335-1345
And St Margaret wrestling with the dragon as if he's done something nasty on her clean doorstep. 
The Fishmongers' Pall, 1512 - around 1538
I'm quite taken by the idea of fishmongers being buried with mermaids instead of ham. This is a small exhibition, just the right size if you're peering at detail. I'm no needlewoman - I can barely thread a needle - and I came away with no more idea of split stitch than when I went in. But it was strangely moving to gaze at the lantern commemorating the names of all those highly-skilled workers, needlemen (if there's such a word) as well as women, long-dead Williams and Alices whose work has survived through so many centuries. Well worth a visit.