Friday 24 August 2018

I checked this out from the library at around 7pm last night - thought I'd just glance at it over dinner - surfaced and admitted it was bedtime at 3am - and finally caved in this afternoon: no point pretending, I clearly wasn't going to get a stroke of work done until I finished it.
I can't remember when I was last so engrossed in a book. There's a review here.

As I read, something was nagging at me - well, it took a while to surface from the soupy depths of my brain but eventually I got there. It was reminding me of that excellent Persephone novel The Expendable Man, also about a black man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Wednesday 22 August 2018

I'm not ready to embrace autumn ... not at all ready for socks and proper shoes and the feeling that the year has hurtled away while I wasn't looking. But I'm quite happy to welcome autumnal cooking and apple windfalls and autumn telly. And I absolutely loved the first two episodes of Vanity Fair - terrific cast (Frances de la Tour makes a brilliant Miss Matilda Crawley and fat Jos Sedley is a delight), clever music, and one of my forever favourite heroines. I wasn't sure that we really needed another Vanity Fair - seems like there's a new adaptation for every decade - but this one is a treat.

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Lad: A Yorkshire Story is a lovely, gentle, low-budget film about a teenage boy coming to terms with his father's death that has won festival awards but has struggled to get wider distribution. You can watch it here - no charge - but the producers ask that you leave a review on IMDB; it needs 25,000 reviews to be recognised in the annual charts that could bring it wider recognition. So far - on word of mouth promotion alone - it has a review rating that would place it in the top 100 films of all time.  (57.9% of those who have voted so far have given it 10/10.)
It has wonderful Yorkshire scenery - beautiful acting - and it really does deserve a wider paying audience. I promise, you'll love it.

Saturday 18 August 2018

On an almost autumnal morning, I stood outside the house where Jane Austen died and thought of her and Cassandra ...

Then strolled next door to the much older building where I attended a very glamorous event (dress code: orange blossom and ostrich feathers and the family diamonds but I can't say any more) ...

And ate my lunch sitting here on a bench worn shiny by historical bottoms ...

On my way home, there was just time to sneak into Winchester Cathedral to pay a five minute visit to Jane's very plain grave and a memorial window that's so very un-Jane that if I'd commissioned it, I'd have demanded my money back.

I was far more taken by the west window, a random jigsaw puzzle of glass fragments that were pieced together after being smashed by Cromwell's troops. I had binoculars in my handbag - doesn't everybody? - but by the time I discovered it, I was in danger of getting locked in for the night.

Friday 10 August 2018

That innocent looking lady at Dulwich Picture Gallery was me ... wondering how fast I could grab and run because everything in the Bawden exhibition - and I've been meaning to go for weeks - is just so covetable.  You can't really see it here but the twinkle in the pigeon's eye on this London Transport poster is a tiny London Underground roundel. Clever.

February 2pm, 1936
This was one of my favourites. And although this watercolour - of a cemetery near Banff -  is in the Tate, I'd never seen it before. There was a snide review the Independent. And a much better one in The Times. What's wrong with joie de vivre and jollity?

But I was rather less enchanted by the Flower Fairies exhibition at the Garden Museum. (Ridiculously expensive to get in for the tiny exhibition space and I miss the old cafe that used to have excellent cake. ) The fairy watercolours are undoubtedly charming. My favourite is the nasturtium fairy with nasturtium seed pompoms on his shoes - but that's probably because I've been making nasturtium seed bread this summer.
However, I'd like to think that Cicely Mary Barker - whose fairies were little children from the nursery school run by her sister - would have been just as appalled as I was by so many spelling and grammar mistakes on the labels. If it were just the odd slip-up - but I counted four sloppy mistakes on the first six labels alone. Harrumph. Not good, especially in an exhibition aimed at families with children.

Thursday 9 August 2018

I got this from the library a few days ago and was so gripped that I couldn't put it down until I'd finished. Xinran was a radio journalist in China who, during the early 90s, hosted Words on the Night Breeze, a ground-breaking phone-in programme inviting women to talk about their lives. Xinran herself is about 18 months younger than I am, born into a wealthy family, and her first memories are of the Cultural Revolution: seeing her home burned to the ground by Red Guards who then cut off her plaits - a 'petit-bourgeois' hairstyle - and threw them in the flames. Her book is based on interviews with some of the women who phoned her radio show; their stories are heart-breaking ... the mother cradling her dying daughter, trapped in fallen masonry for 14 days after an earthquake; the educated woman reduced to scavenging rubbish to get a daily, secret glimpse of her successful son; stories of rape and abuse that paint a truly horrifying picture of the position of women in a society where human emotion has been brutalised by politics and history. (Of course, I'm assuming that Xinran picked out the most extreme stories and that did nag at me a bit as I was reading.)
I've only been to China once, back in the 80s, a couple of years before Xinran's phone-in began. Understandably, people were reluctant - and frightened - to talk about recent history. But one evening we made very discreet arrangements to meet someone who promised to answer our questions. I felt privileged to be there. Of course, looking back, I was too shy, too ignorant, too young to make the most of the opportunity. Xinran wrote her book after she settled in England; she could well have gone to prison had she attempted it in China at the time. I wish I'd been able to read it before that trip to China ... far more illuminating than diligently plodding through all those books on Chinese gardens!