Monday 12 December 2022

Well, it was definitely a change from yet another A Christmas Carol. Who would have thought that Madame Bovary would make such a hilariously inventive Christmas show - like panto for the literati. The tiny Jermyn Street Theatre was packed last night. Guess who didn't realise there was a big match happening? Piccadilly was grid-locked with football fans honking their horns, though you'd think they'd want be home in front of the TV in time for kick-off. Fortunately, England lost - and we emerged at 10pm to greatly subdued streets and a train home that was mercifully free of anyone drowning their sorrows.

Sunday 27 November 2022

Harrods looks as if it could be made of gingerbread, anyway, don't you think?
And though it had never struck me before, Christian Dior bore a remarkable resemblance to a gingerbread man. What a brilliant idea to recreate Dior's atelier, his seaside childhood home and his chateau in Provence as an entrancing gingerbread grotto. Free to get in - and when you think that a visit to Father Christmas at Hamleys is a whopping £50, I'm sure lots of little girls would prefer this. Only grown-ups on the morning I went - but it was a schoolday - oohing and aahing at all the tiny Dior gowns. Wouldn't Mrs 'Arris have loved it?

Tuesday 22 November 2022

Well, it had us talking all the way home ... mostly about how Mark Rylance came to be in such a tedious teenage gore-fest. Five stars from The Guardian and half a star for the roadtrip scenery from the ladies who thought it would never end.

Thursday 17 November 2022

I didn't realise that this was the third book of a trilogy until I'd finished it, but it's a real page-turner - based on fact - about the precarious lives of the elite in Stalin's Russia.

Friday 28 October 2022

Heartbreaking performance by Bill Nighy as the desiccated civil servant 'Mr Zombie' and a wonderful evocation of 1950s London, even if it is a good 20 minutes too long (but I say that about everything, every time). What a balmy evening in London tonight; I wandered through Mayfair on my way home from the cinema and people were having dinner outside restaurants and gathering outside the pubs with their drinks ... you'd think it was August, not nearly into November.

Sunday 16 October 2022

Very nice quince crumble tonight, made from a kind donation. What a shame I didn't have any blackberries!

Friday 14 October 2022

An afternoon of escapism with Mrs Harris and a bar of chocolate for lunch. (Yuck, disgusting greasy Ferrero-Rocher, won't be doing that again in a hurry.) The film was charming but I was disappointed that Temptation - the Dior creation chosen by Mrs H - was nothing like the extravagant black velvet gown in the book, beaded with jet, its top a 'froth of cream, delicate pink and white chiffon, tulle and lace'- but instead a very elegant, but not nearly so luscious New Look red cocktail dress. No ... surely Temptation should be the kind of gown that little girls and London charladies sigh over? More than 50 years since I first read Paul Gallico's book - but I have never forgotten his description of that dress, or the twinge of sadness that Mrs Harris was far too old to emerge like Venus with bingo-wings from clouds of chiffon and tulle. And also - what happened to Mrs Harris's signature green straw hat with the preposterous rose? But I did enjoy a feel-good movie ...everything I've seen recently has been miserable!

Tuesday 11 October 2022

Autumn colour at Kew. Spectacular and cheery - but it's all plastic, albeit recycled. I'm no eco-warrior, but that doesn't sit right. A glorious day, though - I dozed off on a bench in the rose garden where there are still plenty of roses.

Monday 10 October 2022

It's always hard deciding what to see during London Film Festival but the new Alan Bennett film Allelujah, about a geriatric ward facing closure, seemed a no-brainer ... what a cast, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Jennifer Saunders. I was expecting a Lady in the Van, poignant but hilarious - but god, it was depressing and maybe it needs a health warning for over-60s audiences who will probably be googling airfares to Switzerland when they get home. Can't imagine what the target audience is: it's too grim for the old, and too grim for the young. I did wonder how the ancient cast members felt, especially Julia Mackenzie laid out as a corpse. It would probably have worked better in theatre which is where it began a few years ago. Round of applause for Judi Dench who was apparently in the Festival Hall last night but she's tiny and we were at the back of the stalls, so we couldn't see her. 7/10 from me which I think is probably over-generous.

Thursday 6 October 2022

Rather to my surprise, I really enjoyed this film about Emily Bronte which plays fast and loose with biographical fact - but it's very cleverly structured and weaves truth, fantasy, mental health and Wuthering Heights seamlessly together - even if Emily seems to have commandeered the dishy curate who I always thought belonged to Anne. But he was very good-looking, so maybe they both had their eye on him - I guess Haworth wasn't teeming with eligible bachelors. It did make me want to revisit Haworth (and see if I can find the little cafe that serves slabs of fruit cake and Wensleydale for tea.)
I wasn't so lucky with this - and joined the throng scampering guiltily out of the theatre at the longed-for interval. And honestly, I'm normally a sticker to the bitter end - but I couldn't take any more. Remind me that next time I see 'first major production in London for 25 years' ... perhaps there's a good reason for that!

Thursday 29 September 2022

Must be decades since I last saw The Crucible so when a friend rang with a last minute invitation to yesterday's matinée at the National, it seemed quite fresh and new - I only remembered the gist of it. Thoroughly enjoyed the production which sadly seems more relevant today than at any time since McCarthyism. Of course, I'd never heard of Erin Doherty - although my friend assured me that she's a famous model turned actress. It was only when I read the reviews that I recognised Princess Anne from The Crown.

Tuesday 27 September 2022

Another book I've struggled with. It sounded so promising, too, as it's the fictionalised story of Kim Philby and the woman spy who recruited him, written by Philby's granddaughter. Fair enough,the life of real spies is nothing like as exciting as James Bond - but oh, this dragged and let's just say that Charlotte Philby is no John le Carré. It's hard work, a tricksy, fractured structure and I kept losing track of who's who and then losing interest. (If you're into housewife spies, I far preferred Ben Macintyre's Agent Sonya.) But I was interested in finding out more about Edith Tudor-Hart who seems a sad, lonely, obsessive character. This documentary Tracking Edith sounds fascinating - if only I could track it down.

Tuesday 13 September 2022

An aged Pope desperate to retire ... yes, it did seem very apposite this week. Two fantastic performances, Anton Lesser as lonely, ascetic Benedict - like a modern-day Thomas More - and Nicholas Woodeson as the reluctant Cardinal Bergoglio. Quite the best play I can remember seeing at the Rose Theatre in Kingston. (There is a limited tour coming up so do look out for it if you're near Oxford/Bath/Northampton.)

Tuesday 6 September 2022

There is a lovely fresh-start, sharp pencils, back-to-school feel about September - all the more enjoyable for not actually going back to school which would be my worst nightmare ever (one I still occasionally have when under stress). I'm going to Learn New Things and Never Procrastinate Again, Ever and Embrace Marie Kondo. Well,here I am at 3pm and I've done one load of washing, read a good chunk of Family Roundabout because I pulled it down from the shelf and why not, haven't done any work yet and there's a biblical downpour so I haven't gone out yet either ... But I have booked my ticket for Cézanne. So that's something.

Sunday 28 August 2022

Anybody else struggle with this? I am dragging myself very slowly through to the finishing line - book group choice, wouldn't you know, and no excuse as we've had two months over the summer to read it. And I'd swear it grows 50 pages longer on the bedside table every night ... why does every mediocre novel have to be so long these days? I thought it was going to be about salvaging Renaissance paintings after the war ... but that barely features, and the only interesting character disappears until p191 by which time I was thoroughly bored with the rest of them. 'Moving, wise, poetic and funny,' said the Daily Mail. 'Contrived, over-blown and doesn't know when to stop,' is my verdict. Oh, for a savage red pen to cut out the adjectives!

Saturday 27 August 2022

There's definitely a hint of autumn in the air, so who knows how many balmy evenings are still in store? Holland Park is such a lovely setting for opera and we really enjoyed last night's performance of Vaughan Williams' Sir John in Love, sitting in the front row in big, comfy armchairs ... if only other theatres would copy! A last-minute decision mid-afternoon, so no time to organise a picnic ... decades ago, when I must have had more energy, we used to have huge, elaborate picnics in the park before the performance. (Showed my friend the railings where I got bloodily impaled after we got locked in after closing time - shudder! I was never the type who could clear a fence with a skip and a jump!) As I'm deeply immersed in a food history project right now, I was giggling at that Shakespearean insult, 'You Banbury cheese!' ... and wondered how many of the audience would get it. As for "let the sky rain potatoes ... hail kissing-comfits and snow eringoes" ... I could have pointed them to a rather tasty pie recipe.

Thursday 11 August 2022

Oh dear, it's been two months - is Mrs M displaying any vital signs? I don't like to declare her dead after so many years! She's still gadding about but has lost the urge to write. I felt like I hadn't been to the theatre for ages - although looking at the sidebar, it's more that I haven't seen anything I've particularly enjoyed. But last night's Much Ado at the National was a brilliant night out on a warm evening - balmy stroll across the river, quick Pimm's to get in the mood, and Shakespeare that was as 'wow' as any big West End musical. Lots of laughs and fabulous sets and costumes - I'd happily go again tonight!

Friday 3 June 2022

No, I haven't made one - the recipe serves 20! I was in Fortnum's yesterday and I'm not sure that I'd have been tempted at £8.95 a portion - but anyway, they were sold out. Instead, I listened to this lively discussion from the British Library about all things trifle-related ... I rather like the sound of the veal trifles and looked up the recipe from Garrett’s Encyclopaedia of Practical Cookery (c1890).No, I haven't made them either! I haven't done any baking apart from a seed cake a few weeks ago: I do love a seed cake, they're due a revival.
London was buzzing yesterday. In the mood for some Jubilee bling, I headed for Sotheby's rather splendid exhibition of tiaras (free to get in, always a plus for the common people!) and spent a happy hour wishing I could try them on! This is the Spencer tiara, very pretty. I think the daintier ones look classier, one would so hate to look nouveau riche, and I love the ones with delicate, trembling flowers that would catch the light as you waltzed across the ballroom.
But I was rather taken by this Third Wife's Tiara, that belonged to Loelia, Duchess of Westminster. I hope the pre-nup was tight as her marriage was described as 'a definition of unadulterated hell.'

Monday 25 April 2022

I'm definitely one of those north/south of the river people - and I had to kickstart myself yesterday to get myself to Brixton by lunchtime. I know, three stops further than Tate Britain - but it's all in the mind! I was so glad I did because we had a fascinating tour of the house where van Gogh was a lodger in 1873/74 and may/may not have had a romance with his landlady's daughter. Or even his landlady. The house was almost derelict but has been sympathetically restored and stripped back rather than turned into a museum. It's fascinating as a glimpse of middle-class domestic architecture: the parlour where Mrs Loyer ran a little school - and kept her cane in a hidden window box; the punishment lines penned by some hapless schoolboy, discovered under a floorboard; the steep, narrow stairs up which some poor little skivvy hauled cans of water; and the thrill of standing in Vincent's best bedroom looking over the rooftops and slum dwellings in the alley behind. I'm hugely envious of the artists in residence who get to sleep there. Only half a dozen people on the tour so it all feels very intimate. And definitely worth the (very short) detour.

Thursday 14 April 2022

I loved The Weirdstone of Brisingamen as a child, especially as it was set in a Cheshire landscape that was familiar from Sunday runs in the Austin35 (five children crammed in the back!). I remember reading it, sick with excitement ... and would have been baffled that Alan Garner later rejected it as a 'fairly bad book'. Do children still read it today? I don't think they do; none of the children I know,anyway - it's all Harry Potter. I hadn't realised that 50 years later Garner wrote this sequel to round off the Weirdstone/Moon of Gomrath trilogy that he had abandoned - but it's a sequel for adults, not children. Colin, the child-hero, is now a brilliant but brain-damaged astro-physicist at the radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, traumatised by his childhood adventures. Reader ... I hated it! I lost the will to live - and it's only 150 pages. If it baffled Ursula le Guin, what hope was there for me? I don't have much patience with fantasy and myth, but I don't see what's so clever in being obscure.

Thursday 7 April 2022

Anyone else enjoying Sarah Lancashire as the exuberant TV cook Julia Child? Lovely to see her with so much joie de vivre after all the miserable northern characters she usually plays.
Remember feeling so thrilled when I happened on Julia's kitchen in the Smithsonian ... plodding around the world's largest museum, a bit footsore, trying to cram too much into a day ... and what a surprise! I didn't even know it was there.

Monday 4 April 2022

I wasn't in a hurry to read this, as I hadn't much enjoyed Edmund de Waal's last book about porcelain - and somehow it had passed me by that Letters to Camondo is very much a companion piece to The Hare with Amber Eyes, which I devoured twice. In fact, on a visit to Paris when I made a little pilgrimage along the Rue de Monceau (was that really ten years ago?????) I spotted the Musée Nissim de Camondo too near closing time to go in - but made a point of returning on my next trip. (Happy days when I could count on the occasional work jaunt to Paris!) At the time I'd wondered if de Waal's forebears, the Ephrussi family, had been acquainted with their neighbours a few doors down the street ... I was only a few pages into the book when the penny dropped, "Hang on, I know these people! I've been to this house!" And it all came vividly to life. But what a terribly sad story. Moise de Camondo, who built the house at 63 Rue de Monceau, lost his son in WW1 fighting for France and bequeathed the palatial house to the state as his memorial.
This is Moise's much younger wife Irène painted in girlhood by Renoir. They divorced after she had an affair with her husband's Italian stable master and she managed to survive WW2 by hiding out in Paris under her second husband's Italian name.
Here are Irène's two little sisters. The younger girl married a British officer and lived to a ripe old age. The little girl in blue died in Auschwitz, aged 69. So did Moise and Iréne's daughter Béatrice and her children Fanny, 22, and Bertrand, 20. Their story seems especially poignant at the moment when so many lives are in shreds. The book is a series of imaginary letters between de Waal and his 'friend' Camondo. It's not a page-turner like The Hare with Amber Eyes - but still completely riveting. I do wish the publishers had run to including a family tree, though!

Saturday 2 April 2022

Sometimes you just have to gasp in amazement.I couldn't link to a video but do be sure to click on the image to see the animation ...

Wednesday 9 March 2022

It's a cross between Fatherland and The Handmaid's Tale - not as good as either, but I quite like a bit of 'what if' history and this was an undemanding page-turner that I've rattled through this week. I'm afraid I'd be consigned to Widowland, the run-down slum for unproductive middle-aged women - where the recalcitrant fellow inmates would appear to be rather good, bookish company.

Tuesday 8 March 2022

The crocuses (croci?) are looking splendid at Ham House. And at Kew Gardens on Sunday the magnolias against a blue sky had more 'wow' than the showy orchid festival. (Where I was sorely tempted to push a couple of preening, pouting Instagrammers into the pond! Wouldn't that have made a photo opportunity!) First chilly picnic of the year - if a sandwich and a hunk of fruit cake on a bench counts as a picnic. Kew Gardens Orangery serves the nastiest cup of lukewarm tea in London.

Saturday 5 March 2022

An evocatively lyrical paean to the countryside (Daily Mail) ... well, I can't say I wasn't warned! From the 'feather-footed through the plashy fen' school of literature, if you ask me! And the anachronisms ... frozen strawberries in a post-war Yorkshire cottage????? Pick-and-mix sweets? And I rather doubt that a 16-year-old miner's son would have been acquainted with a metal detector. Still, that's a nice picture of Robin Hood's bay on the cover.

Wednesday 2 March 2022

I seem to be in the minority but I was losing the will to live ... grown-up Enid Blyton or modern Agatha Christie, whatever, it's mind-numbingly tedious.

Sunday 27 February 2022

Feeling a twinge of guilt for spending a sunny afternoon lying on the bed with a book - but not too much! I'm so enjoying this wartime tale of the dreary Rosamund Tea Rooms (no longer a Tea Rooms but a boarding house) in Thames Lockdon (Henley-on-Thames). Sarah Waters called it 'one of the funniest novels I have ever read' and David Lodge called it 'one of the best novels about the second world war.' I'm finding it all reminiscent of London Belongs to Me - another from the same era which I loved. Must get back to it or Mr Thwaites will be eyeing up my butter ration.

Thursday 24 February 2022

What an absolutely entrancing exhibition at the Royal Academy yesterday about Joanna Hiffernan - who was Whistler's Woman in White and Courbet's Jo, La Belle Irlandaise. I stood for ages in front of the beguiling Symphony in White, No 1:The White Girl - I've seen it in the flesh before, and so many reproductions on book jackets - but, oh, the texture of her dress, and the white flowers on that voile curtain. Whistler - whilst lapping up the publicity - denied that the painting had anything to do with Wilkie Collins's sensation novel: 'I had no intention whatsoever of illustrating Mr Wilkie Collins's novel; it so happens, indeed, that I have never read it,' he protested.
I don't think I'd ever tire of Wapping. The critics objected because the painting had no story or moral. But you can weave your own story ... the confident young woman, owning the space alongside her rather louche companions - and all the life of the river behind her. 'She has the most beautiful hair that you have ever seen! a red not golden but copper - as Venetian as a dream,' wrote Whistler. Whistler's white girls had a lasting influence on other artists.
The Somnambulist by Millais ... well, this has far more of the Wilkie Collins, if you ask me! Walking dangerously close to the cliff edge, the blown-out candle in her hand, the lights of the cottage behind her ...
Albert Herter's Portrait of Bessie (Miss Elizabeth Newton) is rather more saccharine - but isn't that Whistler's polar bear rug?
And you can see where Andrée Karpelès's 1908 Symphonie en Blanc is coming from. This is my perfect exhibition - not too big and completely engaging. Quite unlike the unwieldy, indigestible sprawl of Surrealism at Tate Modern the day before. It's not often that I come out of an exhibition really not having enjoyed it - but it was too large, too muddled, too hot, too crowded, there was hardly anywhere to sit down and, to cap it all, the ladies' loo was squalid ... Oh well, Surrealism has never hit the spot for me!
Really enjoying this lovely book, which has been my slightly too heavy handbag book this week.
I must look out next time I'm at Charing Cross station because, stupidly, I've never noticed that the benches are cleverly worked into the design - although I suspect it worked better with the old wooden benches, not the ugly modern ones. I was there only a few days ago - just before I got to that page of the book!

Monday 7 February 2022

'I made out, I made a mess of my life - but I never made jam.' Back to Riverside Studios on Saturday to see Elizabeth McGovern - Downton's Lady Cora - as Ava Gardner at the end of her life in a play - written by McGovern herself - based on these conversations with a journalist. She was rather good (though she's no voluptuous sweater girl, I was sitting near the front and she's skin and bone!). But the play could do with a bit of tweaking and I can't see it running until April; despite advertising all over the Tube, ticket sales seem to be dire and the prices rather steep for the painfully uncomfortable seats at the Riverside. But when we were there last weekend, we noticed a £6.50 offer for cinema seats - aaarrggh, the cinema seats are even more uncomfortable than the studio theatre and heaven help the six-footers because I was suffering badly from cramp! Luckily the film was riveting - you do have to suspend disbelief but Almodovar is so skilled a director that one simply does! And the colours ... I'd like to see it again, just to concentrate on each detail, an earring, an apron, what an eye he has. And then, of course, we emerged wondering what it must be like to be as beautiful as Penelope Cruz ...
The only other film I've seen recently was Cyrano - which was very forgettable and why on earth do it as a musical when you don't have any decent songs? It looked very sumptuous but it's all a bit one pace and I'm afraid I dozed off.

Saturday 5 February 2022

I do feel starved of a good costume drama - but The Gilded Age isn't it. If only there were an American Dame Maggie to inject some humour! This is more like The Gilded Plank of Wood, it's so tedious.

Thursday 3 February 2022

It seems a long time since I last visited Two Temple Place - no exhibition last year - and I must admit that I was more drawn by affection for one of the quirkiest interiors in London, the magnificent staircase and stained glass windows, than by the promise of this year's exhibition of black women ceramicists. Turns out I really loved the work of Magdalene Odundo ... now if only I lived somewhere like Kettle's Yard! But this is definitely an exhibition of two halves. The earlier work by Odundo and Nigerian potter Ladi Kwali - who's so famous she features on banknotes - seems to embrace tradition and modernity and it was interesting reading about the matrilineal handing down of skills and the influence of British studio pottery at a time when Africa was breaking free from colonialism. But in the upstairs gallery ... oh, dear, it's all statements about gender, and ceramic torsos and a video of a scrawny woman writhing in mud. What's wrong with a beautiful pot? The staircase remains stunning. (Sadly the very good cafe where I once devoured a memorable quince cake isn't open this year.)

Sunday 30 January 2022

January seems to have slipped by - I was going to say in a slump of lethargy and getting hooked on Wordle - but actually I've been busy at work, and not much time to get out and about. But a sunny weekend and a walk along the river yesterday proved energising - and when I got home, I set myself to booking tickets. First off was a matinée this afternoon - an unnervingly good audience with Maggie Thatcher at Riverside Studios. Not a very useful recommendation as this was the last performance and the actor is off on tour to Spain and the Netherlands - but he promises to be back (to the Edinburgh Festival) and also performs as Hitler/Churchill/Dickens/Einstein/Hitchcock/Francis Bacon - he must have a phenomenal memory, not only for his lines but for whole biographies as the audience can catch him on the hop and ask him anything. Anyway, now we've discovered him, we'll be looking out for him again.
And talking of Francis Bacon, the Royal Academy exhibition is simply riveting and so powerful. I came out feeling energised, as if the sap were rising ...
The herringbone overcoat is just because I liked it - but I was enthralled by the potency of his bullfighting pictures, especially as the gallery cleared and for a few minutes I was there all alone. Now I fully understand that Bacon isn't everyone's cup of tea. Regrettably, though, there is a 'trigger warning'at the entrance to the exhibition (after they've taken your £20, though!) cautioning visitors to beware of potentially disturbing content ... heavens, art that elicits an emotional response, how very shocking! I do sometimes feel the need of a trigger warning for infantilising twaddle!