Thursday 26 November 2020

Hurrah for Tier 2! I somehow doubt this will be the theatrical event of the decade - but I'm so grateful for the theatres that are re-opening next week and more than happy to Go Out to Help Out! I had a few theatre outings before lockdown and they all felt very safe and well-managed. And whatever the play's like, the Theatre Royal always looks festive - and it's a chance to see the Christmas lights - and maybe a browse in Fortnum's and Hatchard's ... excuse the over-excitement but I've had it with takeaway coffees and walks in the park!

Monday 9 November 2020

Christmas is happening ... and I've booked my ticket! Determined to have one proper night out.

Monday 2 November 2020

Well, I squeaked in there just in the nick of time - and I'd booked back in August as single seats were at a premium. So sad to see theatres closing - just as they'd begun to re-open. And clearly much thought and planning has gone into keeping audiences safe. There was literally yards of space between me and the next person ... oh, I know it's not economically viable, but while it lasts I'm enjoying segregation from fidgeters, sweet rustlers and those who risk dehydration if they don't gulp water like farmyard animals! I had doubts about the play - I only booked because it was Ralph Fiennes and because it was the first theatre to open. And I'd love to see something frivolous and shallow and fun rather than all the worthy stuff that is being programmed. But actually - I was gripped, despite the iffy reviews. Only an actor of Fiennes' calibre could have pulled it off. He was so good he put the fear of god into me about being stricken - and I wonder how many of the audience left the theatre thinking they'd never dare to venture out again. Unfortunately, by the time I got home that decision had been made for me - and I spent Sunday buying whisky supplies and new knickers in M&S as shopping for inessential knickers reverts to being a criminal activity. But I did my best to support the arts last week and also ventured to see Alan Bennett's Lady in the Van at Windsor. I am truly ashamed to say that I nodded off ... it was just a bit flat. Okayish. Lacking a Dame Maggie for sure. Windsor felt like a ghost town without tourists and the bottom has clearly fallen out of the nodding corgi market.

Monday 26 October 2020

Lovely to be back at the Coliseum yesterday - not looking quite like this, but a very enthusiastic, socially-distanced audience was clearly thrilled to be there for a 'secret' Mozart concert to test drive the new normal. (Perhaps not that big a secret as I'd read about it online! Free tickets in the dress circle - what a treat!) When the artistic director urged us to use the facilities - to trial the lavatory queue algorithm - we felt quite guilty that we'd been before we set out! I'll admit I was doubtful about how social distancing would work in such a huge theatre - everything I've been to recently has been on a much smaller scale. I don't know how many hours and how many algorithms it has taken - but what a smooth operation! And there was something so joyful about being in a theatre again.

Friday 23 October 2020

Arriving damply at St John's, Smith Square, yesterday, it struck me that lunchtime concerts during the pandemic are akin to Myra Hess's concerts at the National Gallery during the war for keeping the spirits up. I'm not the most musical person but I've been trying to go to something every week - and this was the most ambitious so far with the entire string section of the Royal Philharmonic rather than a single lonely cellist/pianist. And the music - all C20-C21 British works - was exquisite. Finzi's Eclogue brought tears to my eyes.
I'll admit that I'd never even heard of Doreen Carwithen (1922-2003) whose career was overshadowed by her husband's(same old story!) but who composed the scores for over thirty films;I just love the title of her overture ODTAA ... One Damn Thing After Another. Yesterday we heard her Concerto for piano and string orchestra: 'Rachmaninoff might have written it if he had belonged to the same stable as Vaughan Williams,' said a BBC producer in 1952 - and that was what intrigued me enough to buy my ticket! So lovely to see a queue to get in and a concert hall full of people as damp as I was - it felt like London was coming back to life.

Tuesday 20 October 2020

Well, that's £11 I'll never see again! I went with low expectations that were amply fulfilled. If ever a film didn't need to be made - and if ever it was totally predictable that I'd go out of curiosity! Even Manderley looked totally wrong. 

Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs Danvers is the only one who can actually act. Simpering, silly Lily James and Armie Hammer - I thought that was toothpaste! - look as if they've ambled in from playing stock characters in an Agatha Christie murder mystery. There's so much snogging in the South of France that when Mrs van Hopper says,'You're a quick worker,' you're inclined to agree. Caroline de Winter's portrait on the staircase - surely by Gainsborough?  - has been revamped into a sexy Sargent swagger portrait ... nooooo! And as a friend has just reminded me ... Maxim is wearing a vest!I mean, can you imagine it ... Rebecca in her gossamer nightdress and he keeps his vest on!

If this is Rebecca for a younger generation ... they don't know what they're missing. 

Monday 19 October 2020

 Can't say I was overly impressed at Frieze Sculpture in Regent's Park this afternoon. This, um, is a sandwich: pallid concrete Wonderloaf, indeterminate filling. Standing in opposition to traditional public sculpture, its horizontal configuration - inviting viewers to sit - opposes veneration and pomposity through its prosaic absurdity and functional accessibility. 

Which sounds very pompous to me! It's by a Young British Artist who must now be a Middle-Aged British Artist looking forward to her bus pass. But oh, the colours in the park, especially in the English Garden - which always feels so very French. The kind of day that makes me think of this.

Wednesday 14 October 2020

At last ... something I want to watch on TV! I'd completely forgotten that we were due a second series of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials - hurrah! This series covers the second book The Subtle Knife and opens with Lyra's arrival in the deserted city of Cittàgazze - so brilliantly recreated that it's exactly as I imagined it. I've only seen the first episode but five minutes in and I was enthralled again by parallel worlds and glamorous, dangerous Mrs Coulter; it's so good that I might forgive BBC for the absolute dearth of anything worth watching through the pandemic. 

Monday 12 October 2020

You wait seven months to go to the cinema ... and luckily Supernova, with Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci, was absolutely terrific! (Bring tissues!) It's London Film Festival this week... no marquees, no celeb sightings, no last minute cheap tickets, but on the plus side in normal years this would have sold out weeks before I got my act together! So nice to be back in a cinema that was (almost) as full as social distancing permits. There's a review here but I'd give it 5*

Friday 2 October 2020

 Feeling a bit sad that I've no reason to make one this year. I was very proud of that mouse!

Wednesday 30 September 2020


My last visit to the V&A a few weeks ago was slightly lack-lustre; I was pleased to be back but it felt lifeless, only the ground floor open, no exhibitions, no buzz. This week - it was fabulous. And as someone who hates booking in advance - perversely, I'm never in the mood when the day comes - I was thrilled to be able to book my ticket for their Kimono exhibition only an hour before I needed to set out.  A spontaneous outing - how exciting is that!

And it was gorgeous ... one exquisite thing after another (and so much more enjoyable with hardly anyone there!) One of my favourites was a C19 summer kimono relating to a famous passage in Japanese literature when the hero comes to a bridge through the iris marshes and composes a poem of homesickness for his wife.

And this is for a young woman ... sparrows and bamboo in the snow. Apparently, to wash a kimono you have to unpick it, then stitch it together again - although I suppose if you can afford silken sparrows in the snow, you can afford a laundrymaid. 

This famous actor (C1805-10) famously wore a stage costume with a design spelling out the message 'I don't give a damn.' His fans rushed out to copy it - like C19 kimono punks. 

Frederick William Burton, 1873

And look how kimono caught on abroad ... I want one! That actual kimono survives and is in the exhibition.

And to end with some Japanese feminism c1890, this is Daydream of a Woman Giving a Speech (and making men listen!) I'm sure she'd have got on well with Mrs Pankhurst.

Monday 28 September 2020

Bit of a chilly day for Chelsea Physic Garden - but how lovely to see grapefruit growing outdoors in London - the tree was weighed down with fruit - as well as kiwi fruit (a few) and lots of pomegranates.  The Scots Guards were playing show tunes on the lawn and I shivered and enjoyed it. Pleased to see that Sir Hans is still in pride of place!
There have been some fascinating talks for Chelsea History Festival - still available online - and I recommend Charles Spencer (a brilliant speaker) on The White Ship and Ben Macintyre on Agent Sonya:


In a quiet English village in 1942, an elegant housewife emerged from her cottage to go on her usual bike ride. A devoted wife and mother-of-three, the woman known to her neighbours as Mrs Burton seemed to epitomise rural British domesticity.

However, rather than pedalling towards the shops with her ration book, she was racing through the Oxfordshire countryside to gather scientific intelligence from one of the country's most brilliant nuclear physicists. Secrets that she would transmit to Soviet intelligence headquarters via the radio transmitter she - was hiding in her outdoor privy.

She went on to become a best-selling children's writer, East Germany's answer to Enid Blyton. I definitely need to buy the book.

Monday 14 September 2020

 'Palace of art' built up by 'real Henry Higgins' reopens: The Arab Hall in Leighton House

It's been years, maybe decades since I last visited Leighton House - but wow! Wouldn't you just love to host a party here? Preferably wearing  a gown like this. This was a lovely Sunday afternoon outing. (And the staff seem able to manage a simple one-way system without turning it into a joyless manoeuvre for jobs'worths.)

Wasn't so keen on my visit a few days ago to Pitzhanger Manor: the house seemed scruffy and neglected, and a banal, noisy exhibition has Hogarth's Rake's Progress - back at Pitzhanger for the first time in 200 years - sidelined in a tiny room. Meanwhile, several competing sound installations made it impossible to hear any one of them. They have some lovely small exhibitions here; this isn't one of them. Not worth the detour, even when the detour is only crossing the road on the way to Tesco; and at nearly £8 to get in, I'd file this under, "You must be joking!' Sir John Soane's Museum reopens shortly: free of the deadening municipal stamp  of Ealing Council - and free to get in!

St. James's Church, Piccadilly | Mayfair & St James's Association

After several weeks tied to my desk, I've been out and about this week - and had the inspired the idea of going to a lunchtime piano recital at St James's, Piccadilly. I sat up in the gallery - one person per pew - and enjoyed my view of architectural details. The audience spanned 'much older and wrinklier than me' down to a row of young lads with spectacular Mohican haircuts. I'm not very musical but this was the first live music I'd heard in months - and it was fabulous. I'm planning on making it a weekly date. Followed by a browse in an almost empty Fortnum & Mason's. (Perhaps I could Eat Out to Help Out in the chocolate department?) 

Sunday 6 September 2020

 Chiswick Flower Market Opens in September

Well, that was disappointing. The first new public flower market for 150 years - and there weren't any flowers! Honestly, none - just house plants and bedding plants - and I was looking forward to coming home with armfuls of dahlias. It has been billed as the Columbia Road of the West - I think I'll stick with the Columbia Road of the East. Only too happy to Buy Flowers to Help Out - but I came home disgruntled without getting my purse out! 

Saturday 5 September 2020

 Chelsea History Festival | The place to explore history

Lots of interesting talks coming up at Chelsea History Festival and they're mostly free if you listen online rather than go in person; which isn't quite the same as being there but free v £15 and it might be raining focused my mind! I've booked - quite a few!

Friday 4 September 2020


At least autumn means something decent on TV! It's so long - decades - since I read The Singapore Grip that I honestly can't remember anything about it. I've only seen the first episode of the new ITV series but it's a great cast and hugely enjoyable so far. In fact, quite the best thing that's been on TV for ages. 

Thursday 3 September 2020


Nereid Monument | The Kosmos Society

This has always been one of my favourite rooms in the British Museum and the nereids have a wonderful élan. I was surprised how busy it was today; the busiest place I've been in months - but, to my delight, hardly anyone at the Parthenon marbles,  When I say busy, of course, it was nothing like the heaving throng that you get in normal times - which is why I hardly ever go there. It's good to be out and about again even if it does feel regimented. Later I went for a stroll through Bloomsbury which was looking suddenly autumnal.

Tuesday 1 September 2020

Jules Dupré - The sea, after 1875 (Ordrupgaard museum) Detail cr. Alexandre  Behnam | Art, Painting, Outdoor
Jules Dupré - The sea

This was one of my favourite paintings recently in the Royal Academy's Gauguin and the Impressionists exhibition. I've never come across Jules Dupré as far as I can recall - but that is properly wet sea and, maybe because it's months since I've seen the sea, I felt very drawn to it. 

Snowy Landscape, Eragny, Evening - Camille Pissarro

I'm not wild about Gauguin (anyway, he's tagged on the end of the exhibition almost as an afterthought) but I do love Pissarro and this snowy scene - though it doesn't reproduce well - lit up the whole gallery and kept drawing me back. It's glowing when you see it for real. 

Camille Pissarro, Plum Trees in Blossom, Éragny (The Painter's Home)
Camille Pissarro, Plum Trees in Blossom, Éragny (The Painter's Home)

All the works come from Ordrupgaard in Copenhagen - where I visited once, about 30 years ago,  so apart from a few that were familiar from exhibitions, over the years, they all seemed new to me. 

Woman With a Jug, c1858-60, by Édouard Manet.
Woman With a Jug, c1858-60, by Édouard Manet.

It did seem strangely busy at the Royal Academy; rather more jostling than anywhere else I've been. I felt quite put out - I've been enjoying my peaceful gallery visits as as a definite COVID-plus! 

Sunday 16 August 2020

 Beat The Devil

Well, I said if it's on I'm going ... just booked my first masked and socially-distanced theatre outing if only because it's Ralph Fiennes and it was only £10. Feeling slightly peeved that so few seats are available to single people as they're all blocked off in twos and threes, but I suppose singles aren't economically viable (and I can't be bothered ringing round to see if anyone else would like to come - I know I'm the yellow canary!) 

I'm quite near the front ... so I do hope he's not one of those spitty actors! Didn't think of that until after the ticket had processed. 

Not till October as so few single seats were available - but I reckon I'll need a night out by then! (I don't  suppose they'll still be selling freshly-baked madeleines in the Bridge Theatre bar? Probably not!)

I do wish it was something a bit more cheerful, though!