Sunday 25 February 2018

This was going to be my handbag book this week. (Can't get on the Tube or a bus without a book!) But I dipped into it in bed last night and now I've kind of had enough, because there's only so much schoolgirl enthusiasm you can take: 'Super - dead thrilling - Latin was simply unspeakable - Ye Gods! - The lower VI concert was terrific.'

I'm flagging - but in small doses it's fascinating as a window into the unsophisticated life of a 15-year-old in 1954. Margaret thinks boys are soppy and girls who are into boys are even soppier. She washes her 'mop' once a fortnight and helps her mum with housework on Saturday mornings. She thinks lipstick is 'muck' and despises those girls who try to look 20. 'Give me socks, flat heels, no makeup & teenage clothes any day!' 

Less than 20 years later, I was also a northern schoolgirl, equally set on getting into university but rather less assiduous when it came to revising. I would have died rather than wear socks. I haunted the makeup counter in Boots (Miner's lipstick, Kiku perfume) and my biggest interest in life (apart from boys) was my split ends, discussed endlessly with my best friend. We fervently believed that a much-advertised shampoo called Protein 21 would miraculously mend them. We hated Latin, never helped our mothers and ached to be grown-up.

I was never going to win any scholarships. But my spelling was much better than Margaret Forster's!

Friday 23 February 2018

This stage adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock (at the Barbican until tomorrow) has had excellent reviews but didn't really do it for me, and judging from conversations I overheard on the way out those who hadn't seen the film were mightily confused by actresses playing several parts. I came home and re-watched the film which I hadn't seen for years and enjoyed it more. You do need the ethereal beauty of Miranda and that haunting Australian landscape. Last night's girls in blazers looked more like escapees from Marcia Blaine School. Only 3* from me but I see that a TV adaptation is coming soon.

Oh, it was a very chilly night for a 3* outing and I was definitely wondering why I'd bothered when I could have been at home with a good book and a bottle of wine. I had to chivvy myself out tonight, thinking, 'This had better be good!'  - and it was, this time it was 5*. (I had to remind myself when a mouse shot out from under my seat on the platform on the way home! Perhaps it sniffed the nice sourdough loaf I'd bought for breakfast.)   

A Wedding is such a powerful film - like a Greek tragedy - inspired by the true story of a westernised Belgian-Pakistani girl pressured into an arranged marriage by her deeply loving but traditional family in 2007. I'd love to say, 'Do go and see it,' but tonight was a one-off showing and there are no plans for even limited UK release. But there's an English trailer and quite a long extract here (with a massive spoiler in the final two minutes, so don't watch to the end if you think you might buy the DVD!) It's nominated for a César - as best foreign film, even though it's in French - but it's up against big budget movies like Dunkirk and La La Land so it doesn't seem a very even playing field. For my vote, it's better than Dunkirk!

Monday 12 February 2018

Bar shoes, 1920-25

Wouldn't you just love a pair of dance shoes like these ... and they came from the Co-op, which was evidently rather more glam in the Twenties than when I had a Saturday job there 50 years later.

I had a spare hour this afternoon and dropped in at Two Temple Place to see their jazz exhibition. (Just the right size and it's free!)

Tea Dance, Mabel Frances Layng
This tea dance looks rather sedate; mummy wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. I googled Mabel Frances Layng when I got home. She had an exhibition organised by her sister in 1938 shortly after she died; I think it's time for another ... Don't they all look like characters from a Persephone book? (I discovered another woman artist, too, the working class Cockney Grace Golden, who did some lovely drawings of Sherry's dance hall in Brighton - it featured in Brighton Rock so perhaps you wouldn't have met the right kind of young man there. I couldn't find any images of her dance hall drawings but here's her obituary.)

But this would have been a swanky night out; look at the orchids and the hats.

Design for the interior of Fischer's restaurant, New Bond Street, Raymond McGrath 
It would have been more fun, if less respectable, to go dancing in Harlem to 'music hot and strong enough to make a tadpole whip a whale.' But would you be up for fried hog maw on the way home? (Actually, I would; I love anything greasy and meaty.) The 5s menu at the Cave of the Golden Calf in 1912 must have been expensive then and sounds rather smarter: poulet Diogené, whatever that is - I can't be bothered getting Larousse down from the shelf - and strawberry crème Margot. In fact, the Golden Calf, in a basement off Regent Street, was extremely louche- and I can't imagine a crème de menthe hangover!

Harlem, 1934, Edward Burra

I didn't know that after 1935 government restrictions prohibited whole American dancebands from coming to Britain, which put an end to the Jazz Age. (Annoyingly, the curator didn't explain why. I'd have thought it was worth more than a sentence!)

I'm enjoying this lovely book; I wouldn't say that it's as readable as Tirzah Garwood's charming autobiography, but the illustrations are a delight and a happy reminder of that wonderful exhibition at Eastbourne last year. (If you missed it, it's transferring soon to Compton Verney which would make a lovely spring day out.)

Helen Binyon and Eric Ravilious at Furlongs, 1940s, Peggy Angus
Apparently, Virginia Woolf would often pass within five yards of the kitchen door at Furlongs as she cycled to see her sister at Charleston - but the social gulf between Bloomsbury and the primitive cottage with earth floors and earth closet was too wide for her ever to have stopped for a cup of tea.
What a shame ... Tea at Furlongs seems so delightful, although no doubt the table was laid and cups were washed-up grudgingly by the women artists while the men got on with becoming more famous.

Tea at Furlongs, Eric Ravilious, 1939

Sunday 11 February 2018

If you've been watching the BBC series A Stitch in Time, you might like to know that the costumes made for the series are all on display at Ham House. I had a quick browse this morning and was suitably impressed by all the teeny-tiny buttons on Charles II's coat, inspired by this portrait (of which there is a version at Ham.) More than 100 little buttons so Charles's espousal of the sober-coloured man's suit wasn't as thrifty and democratic as it sounds; that's a lot of tailoring and a lot of time spent doing them up.

I meant to walk the long way round and find a bit of plum blossom to take home but it was such a muddy day I chickened out and caught the bus.  But there were signs of spring in the garden,  snowdrops and primroses and a few daffodils. 

Friday 9 February 2018

I'm guessing that everyone who visits here is old enough to remember that 'Bunnies can and will go to France.' I've had my head buried in this brilliant - and hilarious - book about the Jeremy Thorpe scandal for the past two days. In bed until the crack of dawn - on the train - during the interval at a concert last night, when I felt like shouting, 'Hold the Elgar - there's a lady in the Circle needs to finish her chapter!' It's a real page-turner, superbly well-researched (and well-written) and as gripping as a thriller, even though you know the ending. Hired assassins, dead dogs on Exmoor ... you couldn't make it up! There's a TV adaptation coming up with Hugh Grant as Thorpe (suitably charismatic/slimy but perhaps not quite cadaverous enough) and Ben Whishaw, who I imagine will be absolutely brilliant as Norman Scott. Easily the best book I've read so far this year; it's ages since I've been so engrossed.

Tuesday 6 February 2018

I can't be bothered watching sit-coms but with such a stellar cast - John Cleese (his first sit-com since Fawlty Towers), Alison Steadman, Anne Reid - I thought Hold the Sunset had to be worth a try.
It wasn't.
Same old ...
Even a cast like this can't do much with a trite, hackneyed script.

Monday 5 February 2018

I wanted to love this - its heart is in the right place - but oh dear, so earnest and repetitive and far too long; it could lose 150 pages and you wouldn't have missed a thing. Published in 1938, it begins with the return of a young woman reporter to her Yorkshire hometown (based on Leeds) to care for her querulous, sickly mother. It's really about the intertwining lives of different social classes: well-meaning Tory gentry; the dysfunctional, wealthy family of a dour self-made man; old-school Labour activists and an impatient young Communist; as well as the great mass of cheery don't knows and don't cares and a pretty millgirl who aspires to gentrification in the form of a proper bathroom and a  three-piece suite on the never-never. The ingredients are all there, but the characters are suffocating under so much politics and it's a bit like being lectured by a finger-wagging speaker at a public meeting. It's remniscent of North and South, South Riding, Love on the Dole ... but National Provincial feels dated rather than a forgotten classic. It does, of course, convey the mood of political urgency of 1938 - of a world edging towards disaster - but a lighter touch would have made a better novel.
I knew I'd read National Provincial before, not all that long ago but it hadn't stuck in my mind and after I'd written this, I thought that maybe I'd posted about it previously, too. Well, I had, and clearly enjoyed it rather more the first time. To be fair, it does start off very promisingly. Looking at the date stamps in my library copy, it's evident that nobody has checked it out in the interim! 
Odalisque in Grisaille, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres,c1824-34

Did it really last longer than any other January or do we say that every year? Well, it's over. I'm glad to see some chilly sunshine and crocuses; I've even spotted a few primroses. Okay, so I wrote that a couple of days ago and the sunshine vanished in time for the weekend - but I'm emerging from hibernation. Maybe it's the vitamin C in all those blood oranges I'm eating! (Rose oranges seems to be the newest euphemism for the squeamish!) I've got three big sunshiney vases of daffodils, narcissi, tulips, marigolds and yellow roses in my study. (That's because when you're out and about, you catch the big bouquets knocked down to £1 or £2 on the way home.) I'm feeling energised and ready to go again. Two films and a play last week (the National Theatre tour of Hedda Gabler, which was very different from any HG I've seen before) and two concerts booked for this week. I don't feel quite so much energy at the thought of attacking the spiders' webs that show up in the sunshine!
Perversely, as I was enjoying a blast of colour, I then chose to catch the Monochrome exhibition at the National Gallery before it closes; hardly anybody there and very interesting.
Etienne Moulinneuf, c1770

This one is very clever. It's a painting of a print of a painting. (Chardin's La Pourvoyeuse which is on display nearby.) That trompe l'oeil broken glass is very convincing and made me smile.

Agony in the Garden,  Genoese, 1538

This was quite astonishing. It's BIG, part of a set of hangings painted in white on indigo cloth for a temporary chapel in Genoa during Holy Week - a kind of religious pop-up. It wasn't unusual to paint in black/grey on white cloth, but the Genoese had invented a fabric that French merchants called Gênes. It made me think of those outsize pairs of Levi's that you used to see in shop window displays years ago.