Monday 21 October 2019

I've just galloped through this in two days, completely engrossed. Lore Segal - now an elegant and beautiful 91-year-old - is one of the last surviving kindertransport children. At 10, she stepped off the boat quite alone, at least that's how she remembers it - although years later she comes across newsreel footage that shows her in a line of other refugees on the gangplank. Lore was child 152. 

So this book - originally published in 1964 - is described as a fictionalised memoir, although her child's eye view has a ring of absolute authenticity. Lore's father was determined that she should save the rest of the family and tasked her - at 10!- with petitioning for visas to get her parents and extended family out of Austria. At least, that was the child's perception. Imagine the father's desperation. And the burden of responsibility placed on the child. But against all the odds - for the vast majority of kindertransport children never saw their parents again - Lore was reunited with hers on her 11th birthday in March, 1939. They're safe, but still forced to live apart: Lore taken in as a refugee child in other people's houses; her educated, cultivated parents reduced to working elsewhere as domestic servants.

By chance I'd just finished a pair of YA wartime novels - Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire - that were highly-acclaimed a few years ago. Now, in fairness, when I was a YA the genre hadn't been invented. (You'd read a couple of Agatha Christies - your mum told you'd love Daphne du Maurier - and that was it, you were on your own in the big library!) I found the unsophisticated language of these YA novels a bit plodding. (I'm sure the bar could be a set a bit higher ... but how old are YAs? I thought maybe 13-ish?)
The SOE spy plot, on the other hand, seemed unnecessarily tricksy and melodramatic. In dramatic times, there's surely no need to over-egg the (rationed) pudding? It's 50-odd years since I sat beside my mum on a Sunday afternoon watching Carve Her Name with Pride and grasped that these were events that had happened to real, courageous people ... far more memorable than any immature adventure novel.

Saturday 19 October 2019

I've only seen the first episode - and we're nowhere near the frozen North and the armoured bears - but BBC's adaptation of His Dark Materials is already looking very promising (and so much better than that dreadful film version).

Friday 18 October 2019

I've had this on the shelf for ages, seven whole years, rationing myself because I like to know that I have a 'new' Elizabeth Taylor to look forward to. (And yes, I'm impressed by my self-restraint!)
Oh, those old green Viragos with their beautiful covers ... this is Manet, and I was so thrilled when I spotted the dragon on the glass vase, I'd thought it was a rose stem.
And the bliss of Elizabeth Taylor ...
'She seemed to have been made for widowhood, and had her own little set, for bridge and coffee mornings, and her committee meetings for the better known charities ...'
I've just ordered Hester Lilly ... will report back in 2026!

Isn't this lovely? But I don't think I'll be tempted as I fell head over heels for the cover of her last book and it proved rather feeble.

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Hurray ... and said to be even better than the first. My favourite cranky literary heroine.

Saturday 12 October 2019

Imagine a dress of cloth of silver, embroidered with flowers - jonquils, pansies, gillyflowers, a Tudor rose - and fruits - medlars, quince, strawberries - and there's creepycrawlies and a peacock, and a sea monster attacking a boat and a bear hunt ... imagine how it would shimmer in the light of a thousand candles at court, where so many functionaries wore black ...
(Click on the image to see in detail.)
And imagine the excitement of discovering that an altarcloth in a country church is probably - more than likely - a panel from the gown that Elizabeth I wore in the famous Rainbow portrait. (She was nearly 70 when it was painted but she wasn't one for warts and all realism.)
To put it in context, the amount of silver in the gown would have paid for a substantial Tudor mansion. (Lord Dudley's silver court suit cost slightly more than Shakespeare paid for New Place.)

I was enthralled to see altarcloth and portrait reunited in a tiny but exquisite exhibition at Hampton Court yesterday. The flowers and fruit on the original gown - copied from herbal books - would have taken a professional master embroiderer (male) some 600 hours; the quirky bugs and narrative scenes were added later by aristocratic ladies going through the Queen's wardrobe around the time of her death. The restoration - including gentle cleaning with dry cosmetic sponges - took 1000 hours.
There's still a faint winestain - presumably Communion wine - but I couldn't make that out.

Then I had a stroll around my favourite corners of the Palace ... first stop the kitchens, then the Chapel Royal - and the gardens, where the dahlias are simply stunning.

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Oh, dear - looks like Sanditon series 2 for sure.  But is there anybody out there who cares?  My predictions? Otis will return having made his fortune and marry Miss Lambe - Young Stringer will get his heart broken again - and Sidney will find time for a shave  c1825. When George V says, "Bugger Sanditon,' in series 6, the fortunes of Tom's descendants will be assured.
Jane Austen would have wrapped it up so much more succinctly.

As ever, I'm befuddled by too much choice. (And if I'm honest, I much prefer a comfortable banquette to myself at an Everyman to a wonky seat in a marquee on the Embankment.)  Unfortunately I didn't get my act together in time to see the film that I really, really want to see. Doesn't it look fun? 
I didn't make the best of random choices. Susan Sarandon dying of MND in a distractingly gorgeous beach house (West Wittering posing as The Hamptons) was a slow death by mediocrity. (Blackbird, don't bother!)  It was so very similar to Julianne Moore's demise in After the Wedding a few months ago - fab house, daytime soap emotions - that I thought I'd inadvertently bought a ticket for something I'd seen before.
Bill Nighy and Annette Bening as a miserably long-married couple in Hope Gap began promisingly - but her English accent was so weird and her nagging wife character was such a monster that I lost interest and nodded off. (Quite an achievement in the wonky seat!) Ten minutes? Twenty minutes? Who knows - but when I jerked awake, they'd reached some kind of resolution but I wasn't sure how they got there. And didn't greatly care. The Sussex coastal scenery is the best part. Annette Bening appeared in person at the end and said something blandly forgettable. There's often a celeb appearance after LFF movies and they are almost without exception proof that actors are exceedingly dull without a good script. (Directors are better value ... I saw Children of a Lesser God last week - yes, the oldie from 1986 - and the director was wonderfully indiscreet about what a pain it was working with William Hurt.)
Well, after that I was tempted to give up ... then I cracked and booked a ticket for this next weekend. At least it sounds more promising.