Friday 28 July 2017

Rose Macaulay

Oh dear, an acute attack of FOMO came over me in a Bloomsbury bookshop a few weeks ago. Well, where else would I end up with Darlene when she's visiting from Canada - and there on the shelf was a whole stack of Rose Macaulays in their original, but much tattered jackets.
Darlene had already bought one. I only vaguely remembered having read The World my Wilderness a couple of years ago (but I've just checked on what I wrote at the time and now it comes back to me how very much I enjoyed it). In fact, Rose Macaulay does rather seem to haunt us because on Darlene's last visit I remember worrying that her determination to get a photo of Macaulay's blue plaque was going to get her run over.
Those books were saying, 'Buy me.' So, of course, I bought two. FOMO. (I still feel a bit guilty for having split up the collection. Somebody 80 years ago must have really enjoyed Rose Macaulay.)
However, I've just finished reading Going Abroad. It sounded so promising; a comedy about middle-class English tourists who get themselves kidnapped. There's a bishop and his bluestocking wife; a diplomat; a pretty girl; an unhappy woman whose looks have been ruined by facelifts ... all the ingredients of an Agatha Christie murder mystery. But no Miss Marple. And very, very heavy-handed  comedy. And a most tiresome group of hearty young God-botherers going on and on about religion. No, some books go out of print for good reason and Going Abroad has not stood the test of time, despite its grubby, pretty yellow and green cover. Better luck, I hope, with Dangerous Ages, my other purchase.
The Mother of Sorrows, 1926
I spent a long time gazing at this Harry Clarke window in the National Gallery of Ireland last week. The detail is simply exquisite and you can see it better here.

By chance, the day before, I'd happened on another Harry Clarke - sadly damaged - in the quirky Little Museum of Dublin on St Stephen's Green. It was found in a skip ... can you imagine! And it's signed, too. I'd love to know more about who found it - who chucked it - and when. There's nothing in skips around here except old IKEA sofas.

I nipped in briefly to the Hugh Lane Gallery on a quest to see some portraits that I dimly remembered from a visit about 20 years ago; I think they related to this poem by WB Yeats. I remember being entranced, as the portraits seemed so alive. But perhaps it was a temporary exhibition; I couldn't find what I was looking for. And it was nearly closing time. But I did manage to see Harry Clarke's The Eve of St Agnes. I can't honestly say I like it; this one crosses a line that is too Celtic fairy-tale and Arthur Rackham-ish for my taste. And yet I'm still mesmerised by the lovely detail and his skill.

It was purely by chance that I wandered into this small exhibition at the National Gallery ... and then the penny dropped: Margaret Clarke was Harry's wife.
I hope I shall be able to attract your appreciation of my individual efforts as a painter, rather than the fact [that] I am the wife of one artist and the pupil of another, she wrote in 1924.
I'm with her in spirit and I'm sure that artistic wives have often been unfairly overshadowed by their husbands ... but Margaret's work does seem rather ordinary compared with Harry's.

The English Breakfast, 1930: Irish Free State Butter, Eggs and Bacon for  our Breakfasts
Still, I couldn't resist this poster she did for the Empire Marketing Board .... what a wonderful title!

Sunlight, William Orpen, c1925
And before we leave Dublin ... as soon as I saw this painting by Orpen, it reminded me of my lovely room in this hotel. Where the art collection is much easier on the feet.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Mamma is the widowed Joanna Malling, forty-one years of age and still young in looks and heart. (But not on the book jacket. She's wearing a headscarf and looks about 70.)

I nearly fell over when I read that on the inside cover. 41? I think that was the year I went skinnydipping in Bolivia on my hols. Thank heavens I wasn't 41 in 1956 when Mamma was published.

I so loved Guard Your Daughters - and I see I'm not the only one who thinks it's better than I Capture the Castle -  that I placed an order for Diana Tutton's other novel at the library. It emerged from the depths this afternoon, apparently having survived an accident with a cup of cocoa. (Or Horlicks. It's clearly time I gave up gin and took to Horlicks. Or Complan.)

I haven't started it yet. I'm hoping it won't be over-stimulating. At my age.

Well, I have romped through Mamma in onr sitting, and it turned out to be undemanding, mildly enjoyable and completely forgettable, like an old-fashioned woman's magazine serial. There's no way I'd read its modern equivalent but I'm a sucker for cocoa stains/trouble with the char/proper afternoon tea (rather than my own distinctly common habit of an IV-drip of Yorkshire Brew from the time I get up until I go to bed). The ageing 41-year-old mother develops a feeble crush on her daughter's husband who is 36 but politely calls her Mamma because she's clearly far too old to call by her Christian name.  Nothing happens. Except a lot of flower-arranging and cups of tea. It could have been written by Monica Dickens. Some forgotten novels/authors are forgotten for perfectly good reasons. But do read Guard Your Daughters which is a cut above this one. 

After last night's soporific arty-farty tosh at the National ... this riveting play at the Almeida, quite the best thing I've seen in ages. I can't say that I often go to the theatre two nights on the run, but I booked months and months ago to see Ink -  the story of the launch of Rupert Murdoch's super soaraway Sun - and it's terrific. 5* from me, and an audience almost unanimously old enough to feel nostalgia for the rattle of typewriters clearly agreed.  I'll be tempted to go again when it opens in the West End.

Tuesday 25 July 2017

I spent a few days in Dublin last week and was standing outside the (newly-renovated) National Gallery of Ireland before the doors opened. Luckily, my hotel was only five minutes walk away, in the heart of Georgian Dublin where I'd happily spend an afternoon admiring front doors.
What a thrill to see ten Vermeers, almost a third of what survives, especially as the National Gallery on a weekday morning is a whole lot more conducive to enjoyment than battling crowds in the Louvre. (This exhibition won't be coming to London.)
But it wasn't just the Vermeers. The supporting cast was excellent, too.

The Slippers, Samuel van Hoogstraten

A Woman Playing a Clavichord, Gerrit Dou
Missed my favourite painting when I visited Dulwich a couple of weeks ago ... so that's where she was! 

Woman Reading a Letter, Gabriel Metsu

Feet protesting when I'd finished, I jumped on a hop on/off tourist bus for a sit-down, and found myself outside the Guinness brewery ... All I can say is, DON'T. Don't ever do this to yourself. Hot, noisy, crowded, devised by some sadistic mind for the torture of tourists -  but you have to admire the Irish, extracting €20 for a 'free' pint. And I don't even like Guinness. I managed half a pint in the overrated Gravity Bar, then scarpered. 

Great poster. Stunning lighting design. Impenetrable play.

Common - on at the National Theatre - has had some stinking reviews. This was one of the better ones. It's frustrating to see such a wonderful actress in such an unwieldy, self-indulgent play; but the last time I saw Anne-Marie Duff on stage, if anything, the play was even worse.  William Blake meets the Wicker Man, said the Guardian; I'd throw in a dash of Mr Strange and Mr Norrell, too.

I had a little snooze. Quite a few people didn't return after the interval.

Don't ask me what it was about!

But I'm looking forward to this which promises to be a much better night.

Monday 24 July 2017

I thought this looked interesting but I soon got rather bored by this Canadian astronaut telling me - repetitively - what a hard-working, humble, thoroughly reliable, all-round decent good guy he is. I'm sure I'd like to have him onside in a crisis, but he sent my Great British cynicism soaring. I was hoping for something more like this.

Monday 17 July 2017

On a flying to visit to Edinburgh last week, I had a couple of hours to spare and decided to be a real tourist and visit the Royal Yacht Britannia - conveniently berthed outside Debenham's to make HM feel at home because there's a TKMaxx right outside Windsor Castle, too. (I've often wondered if she ever gets the chance to rummage through the handbags and cheap soaps or if she's eaten up with curiosity every time she sails past in the Rolls.)
I'm no great Royalist but the yacht visit was fascinating, and I can see why it's been rated Scotland's best attraction; after all, it's not every day you get to peep into the Queen's bedroom. (Narrow, single bed. Even in the 1950s.) It's a wonderful mixture of the grand - parking space for a Rolls Royce - and the cramped family holiday from hell (cooking smells and sailors swabbing decks before you're out of bed). And despite the photographs on display from royal honeymoons - well, they're pretty well all divorced now and no wonder. All those stories about Princess Di stuffing herself with ice-cream in the galley suddenly rang very true ... there can't have been a moment's privacy, even if the crew are trained Downton-style never to make eye contact with their employers and 'betters.' As for the 'honeymoon suite' and the 4ft6 double bed that Charles brought on board specially ... you'd have more space in a decent B&B.

Sunday 16 July 2017

It was a damp day for Kew yesterday but although I only live 10 minutes away, I've never managed to visit while they're cooking in the royal kitchens. I browsed through this book - new to me - by a 1780s tavern cook - filed away a few ideas that I really must try - and watched as two chatty cooks prepared a royal supper tray of chicken curry, meatballs, 'Turkish' lamb, asparagus made to resemble green beans, ale-barm bread and homemade cheese, syllabub and raspberry cream. I'm definitely going to make that cream cheese though I'm not too confident about making a yeast starter by leaving a bowl to stand under an apple tree. If only I had an apple tree, I'd give it a try.

Monday 10 July 2017

I was so looking forward to reading this after being completely gripped by Burial Rites earlier this year that I suppose there was no way it could live up to such high expectations. And it didn't ... far too up the airy mountain and fey for me, even though it is based on a true Irish story of an old woman who stood trial in 1826 for attempting to exorcise a fairy changeling. I think this reviewer sums it up  but I'll still be interested to see what Hannah Kent comes up with next.

This would be the perfect summer read ... should you happen to be a writing a PhD thesis on what's wrong with the modern novel.
Or a study of misleading jacket quotes:
Kitamura's prose gallops, combining Elena Ferrante-style intricacies with the tension of a top-notch whodunnit.
Did we read the same book? Ponderous, plodding and utterly pointless is more like it. I think entries are now closed for my Worst Novel of the Year award.

Saturday 1 July 2017

I don't take much notice of literary prizes and longlists, so this passed me by until I saw a great stack in Waterstone's window a few days ago and was immediately drawn to the cover, thinking it would be something Russian. (It isn't!) Anyway, I picked it up in the library yesterday ... and what a page-turner for the weekend, the perfect follow-up to The Handmaid's Tale (especially as Margaret Atwood is Naomi Alderman's mentor). There's clearly going to be a second series of The Handmaid's Tale but does anybody else hanker for the days when TV series ended ... with an ending?  The Power has already been sold for five or six seasons of ten episodes which will probably mean I'll have gone off it long before the end!