Saturday, 23 September 2017



I struggled with H is for Hawk; it's misery-lit with wings and claws and I'd have abandoned it except someone chose it for book group so I tried again. It wasn't a success though; unanimous thumbs-down, which doesn't often happen, and damned with the verdict: Too many feathers! Still think that cover illustration is fabulous, though.
So rather to my surprise I found myself quite enjoying the BBC TV programme (coming soon) in which Helen Macdonald trains a new goshawk called Lupin. I found her too much to take when I read the book; as if I were mentally crossing the road to avoid all that emotion. Now life has moved on and she's no longer steeped in grief; plus an hour of rural pursuits is about my limit.

Friday, 22 September 2017



I went to York a couple of days ago and read this on the train, so completely engrossed that I barely looked out the window. It's heartbreaking, so beautifully written, not a word wasted - and it addresses all those overwhelming middle-aged questions about life and is this all there is? Gerry and Stella are a retired couple in a long, accepting, mostly affectionate marriage and they're on a long weekend to Amsterdam. He's devoutly alcoholic; she's a devout Catholic, hurt by his cynicism. He's profoundly shaken when the visit reveals the distance between them.
Perhaps it struck a chord with me because I remember visiting the hidden Begijnhof in Amsterdam and inquiring (only out of curiosity!) about how one would qualify to join this community of single women. (It shook me to the core to realise reading the novel that, like Stella, I'm already too old!)
Maybe the book resonated so deeply for me because I was on my to York, where I was a student - so there was definitely a feeling that day of where did those 40 years go? (Not that I really want to be 20 again! Apart from the 20in waist and the long, dark hair!)
MacLaverty has said that this isn't about an elderly couple; it's about two young people who got old and have fallen out of step with each other. I heard a young-sounding reviewer on Radio4 saying that it left her cold; she couldn't connect with it. Give her time, I thought ... it gets all of us in the end.

Saturday, 16 September 2017



Hard to believe that this is the 25th Open House weekend. I've flagged since those early years when I used to draw up lists and gad about all over London; some years I've ignored it, or only visited local properties. I don't like queues, don't much care about office space, and I much prefer having a nosey around private houses rather than historic buildings that are open to the public anyway. I am never, ever sufficiently organised to pre-book.
But this afternoon I saw what could be achieved in a very ordinary little terrace house just around the corner from home. It looked lovely ... and it's how I'd like to live when I'm reincarnated as a very tidy person without 1000 books. The lady on the door told me that people don't own books anymore. I admired it all but thought it looked very hard and uncomfortable. The lady on the door asked me why I had chosen to come to this house. Because it was the nearest, I said, feebly. The man behind me in the queue had come all the way on from Blackburn, clearly with serious intent. I did like their stair carpet, though.

More Open House-ing this afternoon, this time to 'the finest example of a modernist house in a Georgian setting' - well, that ticked all my boxes, how could I resist, and now I'm longing to move in! The 17th century mansion just around the corner would be lovely but it had a dead, municipal feel; if only someone with imagination aand money could hug it back to life. Rachel at Book Snob has been Oen House visiting, too, and writes about some very different properties here. There's more than 800 on show, so there's always somewhere new or a building that's intrigued you for years but you've never been inside. 

Wednesday, 13 September 2017



Monday night was a telly-fest ... a pot of chilli, a nip of whisky (thanks, Darlene!) the latest episode of Victoria and then, hurrah, the start of a new series of Outlander. I know, I'll watch any tosh if it's in period costume. (But I did enjoy this documentary about the Magnum photographers, too. So that raised the tone.)
Last night, though, I'd booked a last minute ticket to our lovely local theatre to see Driving Miss Daisy with Sîan Phillips. How sad ... rows and rows of empty seats. And she was terrific - huge applause and cheers at the end. And she still looks as beautiful as ever. The woman sitting next to me said she'd overheard someone in the bar saying, 'Who's Sîan Phillips? I've never heard of her.' Which made those of us old enough to remember I, Claudius feel absolutely ancient! I've been trying to recall who played Miss Daisy when I saw the original production in the West End - and I think it was Wendy Hiller. Now that does make me feel ancient! I'm so tempted to dig out the programme from that dusty old suitcase in the bottom of the wardrobe ... but if I do, that'll be the whole afternoon gone! (I've stopped buying programmes. There is no room for any more clutter that I can't bear to be parted from.)
Driving Miss Daisy is on tour. Bizarrely, the last play I saw at Richmond a couple of weeks ago was packed out - a thoroughly limp and unthrilling thriller. If it's coming to a theatre near you, save your pennies for something better!

Saturday, 9 September 2017



I've been completely engrossed in The Underground Railroad, this year's Pulitzer prize-winner and one of President Obama's choices for last year's summer holiday reading. (If we were treated to President Trump's booklist, guess I must have missed it.)
It's devastating and wildly inventive, an imagined history of slavery in the southern states of America and as I came to it fresh - don't google it or read the reviews - I was quite a way in before I thought, 'Hang on ...'
Anything I could write feels like a spoiler. But even allowing for a few longueurs towards the end, it's one of the best books I've read this year.

Friday, 8 September 2017




Judi Dench is simply brilliant as the ageing Queen, greedy, cantankerous and lonely; the Munshi ... well, the Munshi twinkles and simpers and might have bhangra-ed his way out of a B-list Bollywood movie. It would be more interesting if he'd been presented as a more rounded character. Never mind, it's a bit of a royal rom-com but we thoroughly enjoyed it. Love the way Dame Judi gobbles a profiterole; it reminded me how much I enjoyed this book.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Judith and Holofernes, John Luke, 1928


As promised, here's a few more works from the British Realist exhibition. Now I couldn't claim that I really like this painting by an Irish artist I'd never heard of before ... It was the shoes that caught my eye, as if she's dancing a celebratory jig over the body that - at first glance - looks like a bloke struggling none too successfully with an IKEA flatpack. And Judith looks so very much of her time, like a Unity Mitford or Betjeman's Olympic femme fatale:

The sort of girl I like to see
Smiles down from her great height at me.
She stands in strong, athletic pose
And wrinkles her retroussé nose.
Is it distaste that makes her frown,
So furious and freckled, down
On an unhealthy worm like me?


James Cowie, A Portrait Group

This schoolgirl could be one of Miss Brodie's set. Cowie did have a thing about gymslips. I've always thought of these two schoolgirls as Brodie girls in their tussore blouses.

Jeunesse Dorée, ©erald Leslie Brockhurst, 1942
This is Dorette, the artists's second wife. She looks like a second wife.