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.