Wednesday 20 December 2023

Disgusted - if not surprised - to see Easter eggs on sale in Sainsbury's today, alongside the selection boxes. That's proper Easter eggs, not mini eggs or creme eggs - which does seem to be hitting a new low. I'm kind of resigned to year-round hot cross buns that are invariably disappointing ... but is nothing sacred as a properly seasonal treat? Couldn't they at least hold back until 2024?

Wednesday 13 December 2023

A jolly, rather than a spine-chilling Christmas Carol on Saturday afternoon - but what a setting. I couldn't help thinking of all the Christmas festivities that must have been held here over 400 years. Although perhaps not when it was 'bedsit accommodation for spinsters'.

Monday 4 December 2023

Well, that was .... boring. I think I slumbered through the second half. A saccharine Wonka with no darkness in his soul - Roald Dahl must be spinning in his grave.

Wednesday 15 November 2023

I haven't been to a Nutcracker in years - I think I was Nutcrackered-out - but this jazzed-up performance at the toasty-warm and cosy Tuff Nutt Jazz Club last night was great fun, brilliantly colourful and very inventive. So close to the dancers you can see their plastered toes and bunions - ouch!

Monday 13 November 2023

Happened on this Pauline Boty self-portrait when strolling through the National Portrait Gallery last week - the only stained glass work in the collection, and she was 19 when she made it. In real life, it glows.

Tuesday 7 November 2023

Get there while it's still fresh! Though I imagine that only crumbs will be left by the end of the week. The quirkiest afternoon-tea experience in London (and it's free!) has to be An Edible Family in a Mobile Home outside Tate Britain ... just follow the scent of vanilla and knock on the door of the pre-fab. (Well, by tomorrow there will probably be a long queue!) Yes, it really is an edible family - lifesize mother, father and three children made out of real cake, and visitors get to nibble them with a doll-size cup of tea. (Actually, the mother is a mannequin with a teapot on her head who serves biscuits from a flap in her tum.)
This is the coconut sponge baby in her cot. Artist Bobby Baker created the original edible family back in 1976, when she was 25; the figures are based on her real life family, and she was the youngest. She is 73 now and was pouring tea in the pre-fab kitchen, wallpapered with pages from 1970s' Woman's Owns and Good Housekeepings and Woman's Journals ... well, that took me back!
This is her father - a very nice rich fruit cake, slumped in front of the telly, watching Charlie Drake. Sadly someone (not me!) had already trodden on one of his fruit cake feet because it is a bit cramped inside the pre-fab. (A reconstruction of Baker's 1970s home.) There is also her older brother, made of Garibaldi biscuits, sitting in a bathtub of dirty vegan chocolate cake water, and a teenage sister made of meringues. Strangely poignant, reading the old newspapers pasted on the walls with headlines picked out in icing - Austerity Britain was a front page splash in 1976, so nothing changes. And I can't imagine how it would feel to see strangers nibbling your family. If you don't make it before the cake goes stale (it's on until December 3), the exhibit returns freshly-baked in March/April next year.

Friday 27 October 2023

Even if money were no object, I'm afraid I'm too clumsy to be trusted with anything like this - but isn't this Lucie Rie bowl simply beautiful?
But wouldn't you just love to own a collection of her wartime buttons? I'd have to learn to knit! Happened on this exhibition as I was walking in Berkeley Square this afternoon.

Monday 16 October 2023

I'm not the biggest fan of historical novels, but once in a while - and this appealed to me because it's about the gardener John Tradescant and it's nice to think that I've had tea and cake by his tomb in the Garden Museum. Oh, how wrong I was - I had steam coming out my ears reading this! Okay, so hard facts are sparse and they won't knit into a novel without a dollop of poetic licence and imagination ... but when gardener Tradescant gets ecstatically buggered by the beautiful Duke of Buckingham, favourite of two kings ... oh, give me strength, what absolute tosh, and not a shred of historical evidence. I vaguely recall reading The Other Boleyn Girl and I'm sure it was better than this - but Earthly Joys managed to be plodding and repetitive as well as silly, so I think that's me done with Philippa Gregory.

Sunday 8 October 2023

What an absolutely fabulous show ... as soon as the curtain went up on Iolanthe's fairyland I was smiling. Lovely afternoon matinee yesterday with a friend, full of colour and laughter. The set design - whether fairyland or the House of Lords - is fantastic.
The gorgeousness of the Coliseum hits me every time. We lingered admiring the mosaics in the entrance hall but I googled them when I get home, thinking they might be by Boris Anrep - they're not. Turns out they're not mosaics at all, but glass chips over paint. You'd never guess. Still a warm, sunny afternoon when we emerged so we walked up to Soho for apple strudel ice cream and black fig sorbet. Still dithering over whether I should have gone for the marron glacé so I might have to go back before the autumn menu disappears. (Friend is very accommodating about my pernicketiness about the best ice-cream shop! Which is this one, trust me!)

Sunday 24 September 2023

Just about warm enough last night to sit for a few minutes in the lovely rose garden behind the Actors' Church before the concert. (I was well upholstered by a warm cardamom bun dripping in syrup. Best buns in London!) Then a bit of memorial-spotting in the interval.

Friday 15 September 2023

Not setting the intellectual bar very high this week, as you'll have guessed from my last post - but I've been really enjoying this old-fashioned children's book and galloped through it in a couple of days. I read the Persephone edition but this old Puffin cover seems rather more appropriate than Persephone's elegant dove-grey jackets which would have had zero appeal to me as a 10-year-old. Warning: it's best to switch off your critical faculties and just wallow. Once you start nit-picking about feckless parents who abandon their children (think a dry-land version of Swallows and Amazons' 'only duffers drown') and wonder why none of the children seems even mildly distressed, let alone traumatised (perhaps because Daddy is a foul-tempered crank and Mummy's a drip); and why, even though there's a master-class in hay-box cooking, nobody explains how to go to the loo when you live in a barn (or were middle-class kiddies in the 1930s too well-bred to have bottoms?) .. no, best just to wallow. Though I did long to shake Sue, the elder girl, and get her to stop washing and cleaning for her brothers - even their hankies, yuck - and making their beds! Sue, you are training up three useless husbands for the next generation! And possibly this book should come with a warning about putting flighty ideas into parents' heads: 'Sorry, dearies, had a bang on the head, woke up half way up a mountain and forgot you brats existed' ... even today's helicopter parents might be sorely tempted!

Thursday 14 September 2023

Guess it was inevitable - I kind of knew I'd crack in the end.

Wednesday 6 September 2023

That was absolutely the best night out ... great songs, brilliant set design, and we were greeted on arrival by Tower Bridge opening to let a tall ship through which was fun. It's 40 years since I last saw Guys & Dolls (gulp!) at the National Theatre with a very starry cast including Julia Mckenzie, Bob Hoskins and a very young Imelda Staunton - but honestly I think tonight was more fun. If my knees were 40 years younger, I'd have booked standing tickets - which really should be called dancing tickets! I must say I rather regretted my sensible, grown-up decision that we needed a seat. Still humming those tunea!

Sunday 27 August 2023

So glad that I, Claudius has proved every bit as engrosing as it was back in 1976 when it was cult viewing in the college JCR. (Two TVs for the whole college and much bickering over channels ... those were the days!)
I'm down on thrift this week, having just destroyed my printer, seemingly by recycling scrap paper. (Well, how was I to know?) But then I often find that looking after pennies ends up costing pounds in the end. So, no - I'm not going to refashion my worn-out denim into a Japanese boro garment that's likely to become a collector's item. Still, there was something very satisfying about the Japanese Aesthetics of Recycling exhibition that appealed to my (well-buried) inner Marie Kondo. I'd never been to the Brunei Gallery; turns out I used to walk past it every other week on my way to seminars that, sadly, have moved on-line since the pandemic.
Nothing was wasted. Handmade washi paper was made from old ledgers and used as wrappings for kimonos or other bulky objects. (Perhaps I should have tried that with my stacks of old book proofs instead of jinxing the printer!) This one was made from pawn shop ledgers; the writing reveals that the family who deposited a kimono never managed to redeem it. The recycled papers were rendered waterproof with persimmon paste. And can you imagine having a jacket made from wisteria fibre - which actually looks quite tough. Or a kimono made from advertising banners for violet soap or camellia oil shampoo? The exhibition is free, always a good thing! And on a sunny afternoon last week, I sat for a while in the Japanese roof garden, that I never realised was there, reading my book and enjoying my bird's eye view over the rooftops of Bloomsbury.

Tuesday 15 August 2023

I came across this book purely by chance, after reading a blurb at the back of another strange book by the same publisher - and having read it in two sittings (it's only 100pp), I can honestly say it's one of the most disturbing I've ever read. Up there with Shirley Jackson's The Lottery. 'They' are purging an idyllic pastoral England of art and artists - destroying books and tearing out bookplates to efface the memory of bookish gifts. 'They' loathe people who live alone, people who make things, people who are self-sufficient. 'They' maim writers and promote blaring television 24/7. 'They' was published in 1977 but seems more horribly relevant today. Of course, the reader smugly identifies as one of 'us', not one of 'them' - and I'm not sure that's altogether healthy, either.

Monday 14 August 2023

Woman at her Toilette, 1875-80 (Grr, why won't Blogger do captions like it used to?? And paragraphs?) This was painted in Berthe Morisot's own bedroom and if you look closely, you can see her Louis XVI bed. I can't even blame lockdown, or not wholly - but it must be a good five years since I was last at Dulwich Picture Gallery which somehow I build up in my mind as being A Bit of a Trek. But on a glorious sunny day last week, the Morisot exhibition was very much worth the effort. Though I do wonder what has happened to that lovely old mulberry tree in the gallery garden, which used to be weighed down with berries - not a single one!
Critic Charles Ephrussi (who owned The Hare with Amber Eyes ... I do love artistic connexions) said that Morisot worked with a 'palette of crushed flower petals.'
To avoid being bothered by lookers-on when painting out of doors, she would start work at 6.30am - and head home at 9 for a cup of coffee. As a night owl/vampire, I am always impressed by how much early risers achieve before I'm out of bed.
She spent her honeymoon on the Isle of Wight where you could rent two bedrooms and a sitting room in high season for £2 a week, including laundered bedlinen and gas lighting.
While in England, she met Tissot 'who does very pretty things that he sells at high prices ...he is very nice, though a little vulgar.' I'm inclined to agree - I've always thought that the 'ladies' at his shipboard ball were too showy to be quite ladylike.
I'd never have guessed this was Morisot - an Impressionist take on Boucher. I could rather fancy it hanging in my bathroom but the artist hung it in the recption room of her home.
I love this painting of Morisot's seven-year-old daughter 'catching goldfish' with the concierge's little girl - an inspired way to amuse the children while maman paints them. Do hope there was something down to protect the carpet!

Monday 17 July 2023

I was thrilled to bag a ticket at long last to visit the Cosmic House - you have to be quick off the mark when they're released - and it's now top of my list of 'Best Things To Do in London for a Fiver.' The house was the home of Charles Jencks, the post-modernist architect who lived there until he was 80 (and I am lost in admiration if he still managed that spiral staircase, 52 steps one for every week of the year - and very impressed with myself, too, because I gulped when I saw it!). I'm not a fan of post-modernism but this eccentric house was fascinating to see - and even Jencks admitted that he had gone Too Far. It's so busy ... throbbing with ideas about life, the universe and everything, you feel exhausted looking at it. It did strike me as a very masculine home - his big, important ideas squashing any sign of the wife and young family who lived there too. (Tellingly, his daughter says that she didn't like bringing her friends home.) And I'm guessing that the person who designed the witty frieze of spoons in the kitchen wasn't the person who had to do the fiddly cleaning - though I suppose that if you can afford a Holland Park mansion, you can afford the staff to go with it. Frankly, I could live without my husband exercising his schoolboy 'wit' in the cloakroom ... the symmetrical double flush to the loo - one side works, the other doesn't - well, hilarious if you're 14, but the women visitors in my tour group all agreed that it verged on bullying and we wouldn't want to embarrass our guests for a larf. (Symmetrical soaps, too ... one tablet is soap, the other is stone.) Much use is made of MDF ... in fact, Jencks was really like a more high-minded Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen. You can wander round at your own pace - sit on the (very uncomfortable) furniture - and be very grateful indeed that you don't live with a clever clogs with an insatiable urge for DIY. What I really did love was the beautiful garden designed by Jencks'wife Maggie Keswick; I remember reading her book about Chinese gardens before what for us seemed a very adventurous trip to China back in the 1980s. And around the corner from the Cosmic House is the Best Horribly Unhealthy Lunch for a Fiver from here. Oh, those buns ... no seating, but if you're determined you can grapple with bun/coffee/monsoonal downpour whilst lurking in a doorway. Fuelled with 5000 calories (full disclosure: it was a cheesecake bun ... the whopping XXL Wimbledon bun filled with clotted cream seemed excessive even for me), I jumped on a bus to the National Portrait Gallery. Bad mistake - it was heaving. And it used to be such a calm, peaceful hideaway for discoursing with Brontes or Beatrix Potter. I hope it's just temporary enthusiasm and too much publicity for the revamp. Too hot - too crowded - too noisy ... I gave it just 10 minutes and went home.

Sunday 2 July 2023

I'm back ... a feel-good, exuberant exhibition of Andy Warhol's textiles has inspired me to come back to the poor old blog. Who wouldn't smile at dirndl skirts and summer holiday frocks printed with ice cream cones and toffee apples, flacons of 'Fanel No6' or even Argyle socks and baby bootees? A philodendron print dress in pink or gold - from Palm Fashions of Florida - was very Mad Men's wives - and only needed to be accessorised with a dry martini and a Virginia Slim. I rather doubted if the owner of the witty brushes and brooms frock ever needed to wield one in her own kitchen ... surely the help did the dirty work?
So many things I haven't written up (more for myself taking stock at the end of the year when it's all melded into one!) ... a brief holiday in Lisbon, a jolly visit to a new gallery with a teenage friend who is the best company, one mediocre memoir and a long, fascinating biography, an exhibition that most critics loved but I thought was mostly tosh ...
But I did love Piet Mondrian's amaryllis - I would never have guessed the artist - and was thrilled when mine from last Christmas belatedly pushed out a couple of flowers. (They seem to thrive on neglect but possibly not as much neglect as they get here!) Blogs, pot plants ... must try to do better!
PS I forgot to mention films in my round-up but this French film about a single mother struggling to commute into Paris during a transport strike is completely gripping and yes, absolutely as good as a thriller. Still in cinemas but only just.

Thursday 18 May 2023

Well, what a brilliant night out ... witty, 100% engaging, a really good, old-fashioned play by Somerset Maugham. And you could hear every word! (Nothing wrong with my hearing but I'm often challenged when trying to decode mumblemumblegabble on TV. "Got it!" I'll cry after rewinding three times, like trying to solve an obstinate corner of the crossword.) All the more gratifying that our tickets only cost £1 in the Love Your Local Theatre lottery promotion - which, sadly, has just ended. The theatre was packed with a grey-headed audience ... oh, not often I can look around and think I'm one of the younger ones! We did spend some time wondering why Jane Asher gets to look as she does at 77 ... and we, er, sadly don't despite being respectively quite a bit/a fraction younger.(Cheekbones would have given us a head start.) I had to laugh when I came across this interview with the theatre's new (young) director: Tom Littler, the artistic director of the Orange Tree Theatre in leafy Richmond is reminding us not to underestimate his audience. Yes, they may be older, and sometimes wealthier, than the average theatregoer, but they’ve lived full lives. “Richmond is a very interesting area because many of those people are very liberal, children of the 1960s, have been to parties the likes of which the young people on stage might not even have dreamed of,” he smiles. “So I always think: ‘Let’s be very careful not to judge anybody, just because their hair is white.’” But isn't that just my luck ... old enough for creaky knees but a decade too young to have partied on Eel Pie Island.

Monday 15 May 2023

Normally I find that a 'brilliantly funny' from India Knight - and worse, 'one of the funniest books you will ever read' from the Daily Mail - is like a flashing red light saying 'You'll hate this.Avoid.' But for once - this really is a genuinely funny book.

Saturday 29 April 2023

Nipped in quickly this afternoon to catch this small, but very good exhibition of highly covetable artists' textiles in lovely, sunny galleries overlooking the chimneytops of Kensington. (And there's a gorgeous cafe that I'm planning to adopt instead of the over-crowded V&A caff.) After the excellent Zoom talk yesterday by Persephone's Nicola Beauman, I got the wrong end of the stick and thought it was an exhibition of Persephone endpaper textiles; it isn't - but it's still very good. I don't wear scarves, but this silk scarf by Patrick Heron was my favourite thing in the show.
What I know about North Korea could be written on a stamp, but I've been completely engrossed by this fascinating book based on interviews with defectors, weaving together the stories of six ordinary people's lives in the grip of (shockingly recent) famine, under a regime that had at least one informer for every 50 citizens; more even than East Germany's Stasi. The young lovers who meet in darkness, too fearful even to confide in each other about their growing doubts - the kindergarten teacher who sees her little pupils starving to death - the mothers struggling to feed their families on foraged grass and corn husks, but still dutifully dusting the obligatory portrait of 'Our Dear Leader' - the loyal doctor's stunned realisation that in neighbouring China, even the dogs eat better. 5* recommendation for one of the best books I've read this year.

Tuesday 25 April 2023

I do love this moment when the lilac blossoms in London - my favourite scent, especially after rain. But I was quite taken aback at Chelsea Physic Garden on Saturday to come across a bush absolutely laden with these crimson roses ... I know it's sheltered there, but roses in April! It doesn't seem right!

Friday 14 April 2023

I always enjoy Emily Patrick's exhibitions - and wish I could buy something - and this afternoon's visit felt like a breath of the spring that we ought to be having instead of this cold, icy rain. This painting is called Gentle Light on Windowsill ... which had me pondering about how the artist's eye finds beauty in the mundane - because it's actually the top of the cistern in the artist's cloakroom. Guess Top of the Cistern doesn't really hack it as a title!

Friday 7 April 2023

This was fun and colourful last night, a jolly start to an Easter weekend. It's about a former career woman living her 1950s housewife fantasy - and I had to laugh when this Persephone book got a mention. I am a sucker for Flylady schemes that I feel sure will transform my life and am perfectly capable of sticking with them for ooh, at least two days. In the interests of ignoring the mess on my desk, I have been browsing Kay Smallshaw's 1915 book You and Your Home - and actually, she was way ahead of her time. It has sections on divorce and separation, piloting an aeroplane (!)as well as furnishing your house for £200 (if only!)and points of etiquette ... who knew that curry should be served for luncheon only and eaten with a dessert spoon and fork - so a chicken jalfrezi on the way home from the pub is just rude.

Friday 31 March 2023

Happy afternoon in the V&A researching Coronation pies. Zoom in and you can see the pie crust.(Oh dear, no, you can't - I'm so much better at tarts than technology.) But imagine having a ticket for the gallery and looking down at all that food ... but you're a D-list celeb and you've only been invited to look on, not to tuck in. You'd think they'd run to a Coronation chicken lunchbox for the cheap seats.

Tuesday 21 March 2023

Visiting some old favourites this afternoon. I hadn't been to the Courtauld Gallery in ages, not since it reopened for sure. Today they had free admission if you showed a lottery ticket, so I bought one - haven't done that for ages either - maybe Manet will bring me luck.

Sunday 19 March 2023

I'm a bit late to the bowl of dumplings - but I so loved this beautiful series about two best friends who set out to be maiko (apprentice geishas) in Kyoto; one has a natural aptitude, but the other - despite her sunny, cheery nature - is too clumsy ever to be an elegant geisha. But when her cooking skills are discovered, she becomes the cook for the maiko house ... what a delight, the marketing, the knife skills, the care lavished on even the simplest dish - and the close-ups of food, oh, you can almost smell the aromas wafting out of the screen! Not to mention the insight into modern geisha life, the elegant kimonos and make-up and dancing - and the sacrifices involved. Imagine having to be simultaneously a corps de ballet student and a novice nun, whilst living in a boarding school dorm, maintaining perfect hair and make-up plus cultivating a head for strong drink. Such a lovely gentle series. I do love a foodie movie - and this is up there with classics like Eat Drink Man Woman and Babette's Feast.

Sunday 12 March 2023

It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes you read a book that is simply perfect. As indeed was Claire Keegan's more recent novella Small Things Like These. Last night she left me feeling awestruck that writing can be as good as this; she tears your heart out in a 'long short story' that I read in an hour. And then I watched the equally perfect Irish-language film adaptation - The Quiet Girl - which left me gulping a massive lump in my throat; it richly deserves the Oscar that I'm sure it will win tonight.

Wednesday 8 March 2023

Finally made it to Leighton House which I've been meaning to visit since it re-opened last year. Wouldn't it be lovely to host a party in the Arab Hall - with mint tea and Moroccan nibbles - and if a clumsy guest lost their footing and landed in the fountain pool, well, apparently they wouldn't be the first. (I'm now compiling a guest list of friends/family most likely to fall in.) But they'd have to go home, wet shoes or not ... this must be the grandest one-bedroom-only residence in London. I loved the contrast between downstairs grandeur and Leighton's rather monkish bachelor bedroom with its narrow bed and (shudder) shop-bought wallpaper ... Perhaps he learned from the example of the neighbour who welcomed GF Watts for a three-day visit - that extended into a stay of 21 years. After much fantasising about myself wafting down the staircase in the gown from Flaming June (which would have looked fabulous on me, ooh, about 30 years ago when I still had Pre-Raphaelite hair), I took a walk along Melbury Road admiring the studio-houses of the Holland Park Circle, now owned by feuding neighbours. And I was very amused to discover a little village of garden gnomes (honestly, on the site of Scottish artist Colin Hunter's house - destroyed by bombing so it's now flats) with every amenity a gnome who can afford the W14 postcode could desire ... washing line and outside lav, greengrocer's shop and pigsties. I wonder what Lord Leighton would have thought!

Saturday 4 March 2023

For the past few days I've been completely engrossed by Celia Paul's imaginary correspondence with Gwen John, after reading her memoir Self-Portrait a few weeks ago, far and away my best books of the year so far. Both had obsessive affairs with more powerful male artists, Rodin in John's case and Lucian Freud in Paul's. She met Freud when she was an 18-year-old art student, fresh out of boarding school, and he was 55 and her tutor - and I felt enraged on her behalf, longing to grab the dirty old bugger by the scruff of his neck and kick him down the 80 stairs that led to the spartan flat he bought for her opposite the British Museum. And also wondered why her deeply religious parents - her father was a bishop - were so passive and ineffectual ... her mother even encouraging her to get pregnant by Freud who had who knows how many children by various wives, lovers and muses already. Celia was in thrall to him until he died in 2011, long after the passion was spent, out of fear that he would take any resentment out on their son.
Gwen John, A Corner of the Artist's Room in Paris I was at the British Museum this week. The art exhibition I'd planned to see didn't really grab me - though coincidentally I came across an etching of Celia by Freud - and so I drifted off instead to the amazing Sutton Hoo treasure which I hadn't visited since seeing the film; well, probably not even since reading the book. But it's hard to love the BM and rise above the crowds and the noise and so after an hour or so I found myself out on Great Russell Street again. And there was Celia Paul's plane tree that she can see from her studio ...
And so I loitered on the pavement, gazing up at the mansion block that used to be a temperance hotel - 8s6d a night, with dinner - where Gwen John's lover, Rodin, once stayed, and wondered which curtainless window was the artist's studio ...
And thought what an ascetic, driven, lonely life she leads up there above the trees.