Sunday 27 May 2018

... her heroine has the fate to be born in a land where myriads of women of her station go passively like poultry along all the tramways of their parishes; life is something that happens to them, it is their duty to keep to the tracks, and having enough to eat and enough to put on therewith to be content, or if not content, sour, but in any case to seek no further over the parochial bounds...

In a land like England, where there is great wealth, little education and little general thought, people like Miss Mayor's heroine are common; we have all met not one or two but dozens of her. 

From John Masefield's preface to FM Mayor's 1913 novella about one of those unloved surplus women. It's a while since I've read any spinster lit ... always gives me a shiver to think that I was born  not much more than 40 years later.

Saturday 26 May 2018

Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing: "Oh, how beautiful," and sitting in the shade
While better men than we go out and start their working lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives.

I haven't been getting on too well with this slim volume probably because I'm at odds with Penelope Lively (and Kipling) when it comes to gardening.

'Gardening is not outdoor housework,' she says. Oh yes, it is and if pushed I'd sooner mop floors. And if better men than I actually enjoy grubbing dandelions ... well, I wish they'd come round here and tackle mine. Of course, Kipling was talking about hired hands; if only!

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Just got in from seeing this amazing and very moving animated film (based on a children's novel by Canadian author Deborah Ellis, directed by Irish director Norah Twomey, and executive produced by Angelina Jolie) about a young girl in Taliban-controlled Kabul who disguises herself as a boy - as many did - to provide for her family after her disabled father is arrested and her mother and older sister - now with no male relative to accompany them - are unable to venture out even to get water or shop in the market.
There was a Q&A afterwards that sadly rather got hi-jacked by an audience of millennials talking about women in the film industry when I'd much sooner have heard about women in Afghanistan. But  the story is set in 2001 and we were told that since then conditions for women have somewhat improved; I only hope that's true. To my surprise, the film is to be dubbed and shown on television there.
I'm confident saying that this is going to be one of my films of the year.
Reviews and a trailer here and here.
(There's posters for this film all over London but unfortunately it seems to be on fairly limited release elsewhere. Just for a change.)

Monday 21 May 2018

Absolutely loved On Chesil Beach - and Saoirse Ronan is breathtakingly good on that excruciatingly clumsy and repressed honeymoon night. In fact, I thought it was miles better than the book which I never found entirely convincing. Ian McEwan has adjusted the ending and it works.

Thursday 17 May 2018

The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds.

That's not a spoiler, just the opening line. I only meant to open this for the quickest of quick looks on my way into town last night, but I was hooked - I was reading it in the interval of this wonderful concert at the Festival Hall - just as well I'd gone on my own! - then on the train home - and in snatches today when I really should have been working.
Completely gripping and beautifully written. There's more here.
It reminds me slightly of Véronique Olmi's horrifying - but unforgettable - Beside the Sea. French writers do tension so well!

Saturday 12 May 2018

Lazy Saturday here as it's chucking it down with rain, so I made a pile of blueberry pancakes (why do I even buy blueberries, they're such miserable, imported, soapy-tasting things - and why can't you get our own bilberries any more?) and then I settled down to episode one of A Very English Scandal. Ben Whishaw is brilliant and fragile as Norman Scott and, rather more surprisingly, as I've never thought of him as a proper actor, just a rom-com floppy-haired twit, Hugh Grant makes rather a good Jeremy Thorpe. The book, by John Preston, is completely gripping and far and away the best book I've read this year.

May is going by in a flash and if there hasn't been much blogging lately, that's because I've been out pretty well every day/evening and, frankly, I'm knackered.
But my best outing this week - corny as it sounds - has been to the BFI to see The Sound of Music. I hadn't seen it in a cinema since a 9th birthday treat when it first came out but a new 70mm print from the original camera negative has just been released. (Screening dates are here.) I'm not entirely sure what that means, not being technically minded, but it looked fabulous, as good as seeing it at the original première, we were told. Anyway, you could see every blade of grass on the mountainside ... or is that just seeing it on a big screen with the contact lenses that hadn't been invented in 1960-whatever? (No wonder I was hopeless at a biology/chemistry/maths and every lesson that involved squiggles on a blackboard that I couldn't see.)
I'm normally getting fidgety when films last too long ...but this was three hours (five minute intermission - remember the intermission?) and I lapped up every glorious minute from How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? to the escape from the Nazis. (I don't think that when I was nine I appreciated quite how gorgeous Christopher Plummer was. No wonder Maria gave up on being a nun.) I'd have happily sat through it all again but continuous performances are a thing of the past. And sadly, no Lyons Maid strawberry sundae which was for birthday treats only - unless my mum was feeling flush - because they cost 2s which was a whopping extravagance and my idea of the height of sophistication.
Going to the cinema in the daytime is one of my Favourite Things - and when we emerged into the sunshine (I refuse to feel guilty about wasting the heatwave; if I hadn't gone into town, I'd still have been faffing about in the house) we had lunch sitting under roses and lilac in the Southbank roof garden ... which was almost deserted.

Friday 11 May 2018

There's a lot that I enjoyed in Lucy Mangan's Bookworm memoir although she's considerably younger than me and our childhood reading didn't quite coincide. (No Maurice Sendak or Roald Dahl in my childhood or anything cutting-edge and modern that was written-up in the Sunday review sections. My mum steered us towards classics from her own childhood, mostly cherished Christmas and birthday presents from my great-grandfather, who is credited with the reading gene that runs through the family: Milly-Molly-Mandy, which was published when she was six, and Little Women and What Katy Did. My dad wasn't a reader and the local children's library only ran to a few sparsely-filled shelves ... when you'd read all the Noel Streatfeilds and the ballet books, you went back to the beginning and started again.)
It was lovely to be reminded of Teddy Robinson - how could I have so completely forgotten him? (None of us in our house much cared for Winnie-the-Pooh.) There were books that were banned, on a parental Index Librorum Prohibitorum because my mum couldn't stomach them any longer - but mostly because my sister and I loved them so much that we'd hide them and run up massive library fines. (I've just googled the wretched Pookie and I'm astonished that the white, furry rabbit with floppity ears only dates back to 1946 because you'd swear he was an Edwardian!)
Like Lucy Mangan, I felt outraged, too, at the God-stuff in CS Lewis - what a cheek, I thought, and what an idiot I felt for being so slow to tumble to it. Hobbits and elves and animal books ... not for me, thanks. (My mum was appalled by my stony-hearted indifference to Black Beauty and Greyfriars Bobby over which she had wept buckets.) I could lose myself in a rubbishy Enid Blyton and was bored to tears by Swallows and Amazons, which might just as well have had stamped on the cover: Approved by Grown-ups.
Unfortunately, what really grated on me is Lucy Mangan's brash, self-deprecating, overly chatty, tabloid-y voice ... I know it's a memoir, but I just wanted her to pipe down. (Pot calling kettle, I know!)

Tuesday 1 May 2018

A few months ago, I read Never Mind - the first novel in Edward St Aubyn's Patrick Melrose series - and I was left reeling by how good a writer he is.
And now I've just finished the second book Bad News - and I'm reeling in quite a different way from this drug-fuelled barrage of awfulness. It is 17 years later and Melrose, now in his twenties, has flown to New York to collect the ashes of the father who abused him as a child. I'm sure it's authentic - it's drawn from life - but if this unbearable, drug-addled tosser were lying dead in the gutter, I can't imagine that any reader would much care. Originally intended as a trilogy, there are now five books in the series; I'm telling myself that this has to be rock bottom because at the rate he's going, I'd give Melrose a life expectancy of six months at the outside.
Shall I attempt the third book? It can't be as black - or as relentless - as this one. I do think that Benedict Cumberbatch is going to be marvellous in the TV series.