Thursday, 17 August 2017


Medallion, 1937
Happened on an interesting BBC documentary which I almost ignored thinking it was about Gluck, the composer, but it turned out to be about Gluck, the cross-dressing society artist who was the lover of Constance Spry. And that's why her name (Hannah Gluckstein, butshe only answered to Gluck) sounded vaguely familiar, from this very readable biography from a few years ago. 
Of course, I recognised her most famous work, the self-portrait (with another lover) that was the cover 
of the Virago edition of The Well of Loneliness. It must be 40 years since I was bored to tears by The Well of Loneliness; I wonder if I'd at least be more interested by it today? Well, it's still up there on the shelf because I'm not one to part with a Virago, even one I disliked. Anyway, those covers were an art education in themselves; today's Viragos look so insipid beside them. 

Of course, the self-portrait is immensely striking. But I think I prefer the stunning white flowers that she painted while she was with Constance Spry. Wouldn't this look stunning in a fashionable all-white drawing room? 

Lilac and Guelder Rose

Wednesday, 16 August 2017



A few months ago I went to a talk by Lydie Salvayre - in conversation with her translator - which was billed as being in English/French but unfortunately the translator took a unilateral decision that he couldn't be bothered translating as he went along. It was a hot afternoon in a stuffy room - I couldn't keep up and I lost the thread. But I came away having understood enough to make me think that I wanted to read the book. The event was packed, as always with ladies of a certain age - you never see men at anything like this, do you? - and they all seemed to have read the book in their book groups. They must be very switched-on book groups because, although this won the Prix Goncourt, it seems to have got very little notice in the British press. I found this.

The novel is based on reminiscences by Lydie Salvayre's 90-year-old mother whose memory is failing but who can vividly recall the events of 1936 when for one glorious summer Spain seemed to be on the brink of a Socialist utopia. I don't think I've ever read a better book about the Spanish Civil War, or about any civil war ... the atrocities committed on both sides, the hideous complicity of the Catholic church. Salvayre grew up in France after her exiled parents fled from Franco's regime. Perhaps because she is a psychiatrist she writes with great insight about betrayal and idealism. In the past, I've always got horribly muddled by POUM and FAI and PSOE ... you know that feeling when you're drowing in acronyms! But in her mother's village - focusing on the rivalry between her obsessive bourgeois-Stalinist husband and her beloved Anarchist brother - suddenly it all fell into place  and the acronyms became real people tearing their lives apart.

Sunday, 13 August 2017



Silly, but fun. Tatler channels Agatha Christie via Brideshead. Footnote: The TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited was the Downton Abbey of the 1980s. 
Gosh ... that made me feel old! It needs to be explained?????

Friday, 11 August 2017



I went to see Matisse in the Studio this afternoon at The Royal Academy, horribly crowded, the lift was out of order and I felt a bit underwhelmed by the exhibition; it's nowhere near as interesting as that lovely Matisse and textiles show in the same space a few years ago. I think anyone paying full price might feel a bit aggrieved.
But on my way out, I stopped by this lovely little display of work by Charles Tunnicliffe who did so many of the Ladybird books I remember from childhood. I'd never seen his early work and I loved his prints of working life on the farm in Cheshire where he grew up.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017



Dunkirk is gripping. Kenneth Branagh - Mark Rylance - Elgar - little boats - a young soldier stumbling through a news report of 'We will fight them on the beaches' ...
I had a few niggles. Can't imagine that rationed jam would have been slapped on the bread quite so generously even for returning heroes. (Perhaps that is a very female quibble about a war film!) And those train seats looked suspiciously modern.
It was edge-of-the-seat gripping, I admit. But I think ultimately rather forgettable.


The film that I can't get out of my mind is Land of Mine, which sadly far fewer people will see. This is the immediate aftermath of war. I had no idea that teenage POWs were forced to clear mines from the German coastline in defiance of the Geneva convention. What the film doesn't address, of course, is who the hell else was going to do it. It is harrowing to watch and, I thought, a far more interesting war film than Dunkirk.

Saturday, 5 August 2017



I'd never felt drawn to Edward St Aubyn's novels. “There was a lazy assumption in some quarters that, because they were written by an upper-class person about his own world, they must be trivial or snobbish or somehow irrelevant—such a person, it was thought, ‘didn’t need to write.’ In fact, of course, Teddy needed to write more urgently than most.”  
I suppose that was my lazy assumption, too. Today I read Never Mind in one sitting. There's an excellent profile of Edward St Aubyn here.
1501261291_The-Limehouse-Golem
Victorian London - Bill Nighy - and George Gissing as a murder suspect ... count me in! There's a trailer here. From a Peter Ackroyd novel published in the 90s, which I've never read.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Rose Macaulay

Oh dear, an acute attack of FOMO came over me in a Bloomsbury bookshop a few weeks ago. Well, where else would I end up with Darlene when she's visiting from Canada - and there on the shelf was a whole stack of Rose Macaulays in their original, but much tattered jackets.
Darlene had already bought one. I only vaguely remembered having read The World my Wilderness a couple of years ago (but I've just checked on what I wrote at the time and now it comes back to me how very much I enjoyed it). In fact, Rose Macaulay does rather seem to haunt us because on Darlene's last visit I remember worrying that her determination to get a photo of Macaulay's blue plaque was going to get her run over.
Those books were saying, 'Buy me.' So, of course, I bought two. FOMO. (I still feel a bit guilty for having split up the collection. Somebody 80 years ago must have really enjoyed Rose Macaulay.)
However, I've just finished reading Going Abroad. It sounded so promising; a comedy about middle-class English tourists who get themselves kidnapped. There's a bishop and his bluestocking wife; a diplomat; a pretty girl; an unhappy woman whose looks have been ruined by facelifts ... all the ingredients of an Agatha Christie murder mystery. But no Miss Marple. And very, very heavy-handed  comedy. And a most tiresome group of hearty young God-botherers going on and on about religion. No, some books go out of print for good reason and Going Abroad has not stood the test of time, despite its grubby, pretty yellow and green cover. Better luck, I hope, with Dangerous Ages, my other purchase.
The Mother of Sorrows, 1926
I spent a long time gazing at this Harry Clarke window in the National Gallery of Ireland last week. The detail is simply exquisite and you can see it better here.



By chance, the day before, I'd happened on another Harry Clarke - sadly damaged - in the quirky Little Museum of Dublin on St Stephen's Green. It was found in a skip ... can you imagine! And it's signed, too. I'd love to know more about who found it - who chucked it - and when. There's nothing in skips around here except old IKEA sofas.

I nipped in briefly to the Hugh Lane Gallery on a quest to see some portraits that I dimly remembered from a visit about 20 years ago; I think they related to this poem by WB Yeats. I remember being entranced, as the portraits seemed so alive. But perhaps it was a temporary exhibition; I couldn't find what I was looking for. And it was nearly closing time. But I did manage to see Harry Clarke's The Eve of St Agnes. I can't honestly say I like it; this one crosses a line that is too Celtic fairy-tale and Arthur Rackham-ish for my taste. And yet I'm still mesmerised by the lovely detail and his skill.

It was purely by chance that I wandered into this small exhibition at the National Gallery ... and then the penny dropped: Margaret Clarke was Harry's wife.
I hope I shall be able to attract your appreciation of my individual efforts as a painter, rather than the fact [that] I am the wife of one artist and the pupil of another, she wrote in 1924.
I'm with her in spirit and I'm sure that artistic wives have often been unfairly overshadowed by their husbands ... but Margaret's work does seem rather ordinary compared with Harry's.

The English Breakfast, 1930: Irish Free State Butter, Eggs and Bacon for  our Breakfasts
Still, I couldn't resist this poster she did for the Empire Marketing Board .... what a wonderful title!

Sunlight, William Orpen, c1925
And before we leave Dublin ... as soon as I saw this painting by Orpen, it reminded me of my lovely room in this hotel. Where the art collection is much easier on the feet.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017



Mamma is the widowed Joanna Malling, forty-one years of age and still young in looks and heart. (But not on the book jacket. She's wearing a headscarf and looks about 70.)

I nearly fell over when I read that on the inside cover. 41? I think that was the year I went skinnydipping in Bolivia on my hols. Thank heavens I wasn't 41 in 1956 when Mamma was published.

I so loved Guard Your Daughters - and I see I'm not the only one who thinks it's better than I Capture the Castle -  that I placed an order for Diana Tutton's other novel at the library. It emerged from the depths this afternoon, apparently having survived an accident with a cup of cocoa. (Or Horlicks. It's clearly time I gave up gin and took to Horlicks. Or Complan.)

I haven't started it yet. I'm hoping it won't be over-stimulating. At my age.

Well, I have romped through Mamma in onr sitting, and it turned out to be undemanding, mildly enjoyable and completely forgettable, like an old-fashioned woman's magazine serial. There's no way I'd read its modern equivalent but I'm a sucker for cocoa stains/trouble with the char/proper afternoon tea (rather than my own distinctly common habit of an IV-drip of Yorkshire Brew from the time I get up until I go to bed). The ageing 41-year-old mother develops a feeble crush on her daughter's husband who is 36 but politely calls her Mamma because she's clearly far too old to call by her Christian name.  Nothing happens. Except a lot of flower-arranging and cups of tea. It could have been written by Monica Dickens. Some forgotten novels/authors are forgotten for perfectly good reasons. But do read Guard Your Daughters which is a cut above this one. 


After last night's soporific arty-farty tosh at the National ... this riveting play at the Almeida, quite the best thing I've seen in ages. I can't say that I often go to the theatre two nights on the run, but I booked months and months ago to see Ink -  the story of the launch of Rupert Murdoch's super soaraway Sun - and it's terrific. 5* from me, and an audience almost unanimously old enough to feel nostalgia for the rattle of typewriters clearly agreed.  I'll be tempted to go again when it opens in the West End.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017



I spent a few days in Dublin last week and was standing outside the (newly-renovated) National Gallery of Ireland before the doors opened. Luckily, my hotel was only five minutes walk away, in the heart of Georgian Dublin where I'd happily spend an afternoon admiring front doors.
What a thrill to see ten Vermeers, almost a third of what survives, especially as the National Gallery on a weekday morning is a whole lot more conducive to enjoyment than battling crowds in the Louvre. (This exhibition won't be coming to London.)
But it wasn't just the Vermeers. The supporting cast was excellent, too.

The Slippers, Samuel van Hoogstraten




A Woman Playing a Clavichord, Gerrit Dou
Missed my favourite painting when I visited Dulwich a couple of weeks ago ... so that's where she was! 

Woman Reading a Letter, Gabriel Metsu

Feet protesting when I'd finished, I jumped on a hop on/off tourist bus for a sit-down, and found myself outside the Guinness brewery ... All I can say is, DON'T. Don't ever do this to yourself. Hot, noisy, crowded, devised by some sadistic mind for the torture of tourists -  but you have to admire the Irish, extracting €20 for a 'free' pint. And I don't even like Guinness. I managed half a pint in the overrated Gravity Bar, then scarpered. 


Great poster. Stunning lighting design. Impenetrable play.

Common - on at the National Theatre - has had some stinking reviews. This was one of the better ones. It's frustrating to see such a wonderful actress in such an unwieldy, self-indulgent play; but the last time I saw Anne-Marie Duff on stage, if anything, the play was even worse.  William Blake meets the Wicker Man, said the Guardian; I'd throw in a dash of Mr Strange and Mr Norrell, too.

I had a little snooze. Quite a few people didn't return after the interval.

Don't ask me what it was about!

But I'm looking forward to this which promises to be a much better night.

Monday, 24 July 2017



I thought this looked interesting but I soon got rather bored by this Canadian astronaut telling me - repetitively - what a hard-working, humble, thoroughly reliable, all-round decent good guy he is. I'm sure I'd like to have him onside in a crisis, but he sent my Great British cynicism soaring. I was hoping for something more like this.

Monday, 17 July 2017



On a flying to visit to Edinburgh last week, I had a couple of hours to spare and decided to be a real tourist and visit the Royal Yacht Britannia - conveniently berthed outside Debenham's to make HM feel at home because there's a TKMaxx right outside Windsor Castle, too. (I've often wondered if she ever gets the chance to rummage through the handbags and cheap soaps or if she's eaten up with curiosity every time she sails past in the Rolls.)
I'm no great Royalist but the yacht visit was fascinating, and I can see why it's been rated Scotland's best attraction; after all, it's not every day you get to peep into the Queen's bedroom. (Narrow, single bed. Even in the 1950s.) It's a wonderful mixture of the grand - parking space for a Rolls Royce - and the cramped family holiday from hell (cooking smells and sailors swabbing decks before you're out of bed). And despite the photographs on display from royal honeymoons - well, they're pretty well all divorced now and no wonder. All those stories about Princess Di stuffing herself with ice-cream in the galley suddenly rang very true ... there can't have been a moment's privacy, even if the crew are trained Downton-style never to make eye contact with their employers and 'betters.' As for the 'honeymoon suite' and the 4ft6 double bed that Charles brought on board specially ... you'd have more space in a decent B&B.

Sunday, 16 July 2017



It was a damp day for Kew yesterday but although I only live 10 minutes away, I've never managed to visit while they're cooking in the royal kitchens. I browsed through this book - new to me - by a 1780s tavern cook - filed away a few ideas that I really must try - and watched as two chatty cooks prepared a royal supper tray of chicken curry, meatballs, 'Turkish' lamb, asparagus made to resemble green beans, ale-barm bread and homemade cheese, syllabub and raspberry cream. I'm definitely going to make that cream cheese though I'm not too confident about making a yeast starter by leaving a bowl to stand under an apple tree. If only I had an apple tree, I'd give it a try.

Monday, 10 July 2017


























I was so looking forward to reading this after being completely gripped by Burial Rites earlier this year that I suppose there was no way it could live up to such high expectations. And it didn't ... far too up the airy mountain and fey for me, even though it is based on a true Irish story of an old woman who stood trial in 1826 for attempting to exorcise a fairy changeling. I think this reviewer sums it up  but I'll still be interested to see what Hannah Kent comes up with next.



This would be the perfect summer read ... should you happen to be a writing a PhD thesis on what's wrong with the modern novel.
Or a study of misleading jacket quotes:
Kitamura's prose gallops, combining Elena Ferrante-style intricacies with the tension of a top-notch whodunnit.
Did we read the same book? Ponderous, plodding and utterly pointless is more like it. I think entries are now closed for my Worst Novel of the Year award.

Saturday, 1 July 2017



I don't take much notice of literary prizes and longlists, so this passed me by until I saw a great stack in Waterstone's window a few days ago and was immediately drawn to the cover, thinking it would be something Russian. (It isn't!) Anyway, I picked it up in the library yesterday ... and what a page-turner for the weekend, the perfect follow-up to The Handmaid's Tale (especially as Margaret Atwood is Naomi Alderman's mentor). There's clearly going to be a second series of The Handmaid's Tale but does anybody else hanker for the days when TV series ended ... with an ending?  The Power has already been sold for five or six seasons of ten episodes which will probably mean I'll have gone off it long before the end!

Sunday, 25 June 2017


It has been a very floral Sunday. I picked honeysuckle, just because -

And limeblossom for tea as it obligingly hangs low from the trees all down the lanes -

And marigolds to put in a cheesecake -

And roses, pansies and borage, to be crystallised in sugar. They'd have gone on top of the cheesecake except every crumb disappeared before they were dry.

If this sounds too bloggy and idyllic, I now have very achey shoulders from fiddling with tiny flowers and I wish somebody else would cook my dinner.

I suppose a readymeal would be letting the side down.

Thursday, 15 June 2017


I've been enjoying the recent Cazalet repeats on RadioFour which prompted me to pick up EJH's memoir. However, I'm flagging with this, too many lists of irrelevant walk-on characters met at parties and I far preferred Artemis Cooper's very readable biography. I haven't got as far as the Kingsley years so maybe it will pick up.

Saturday, 10 June 2017



I'm not sure when the big Friday night out turned into the early show at the cinema, followed by a whizz around Waitrose on the way home. Last night I dithered over going into town to hear a talk by Tracy Chevalier and realised I couldn't be bothered ... oh dear! 40 minutes to get there, 40 minutes talk, 40 minutes to get back. Sorry, Tracy - it was Cousin Rachel in the suburbs, but I did feel a bit guilty!
Sadly, the film fell a bit flat. Rachel Weisz is very good as the widowed Rachel but somehow there's no tension - remember how gripping the book was? - and I'd agree with the reviewer who called it one rung above an interesting failure. 6/10 from me. I'd have probably enjoyed it more if I'd gone to the Curzon over the road but I had free tickets for the Odeon. Why are Odeons always so grotty?

Sunday, 4 June 2017



It was rude, exuberant, raucous, joyful, a little bit sad, brimming with youthful joie de vivre. I found myself sitting at one of the tables on the stage - stacked with bottles of Irn-Bru  - well, I hadn't expected that when I booked a last-minute ticket and didn't realise until I collected it from the box office ... but it just added to the fun, and now I can claim that I've appeared on the West End stage, tapping my feet to music that I'd have been up and dancing to on a Saturday night - errrr, nearly 40 years ago. (It took me a while to place this more recent tune.) I wasn't quite as naughty a convent schoolgirl as the choirgirls of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour on their day out to Edinburgh - I'd never heard anyone use language like that! - but it did make me think fondly of a school trip to Stratford-upon-Avon c1971, smoking Consulates with the bad girls at the back of the bus and not letting on that I really didn't like them once the Polo-mint taste wore off.

I hurried straight home at the end of the show, completely unaware of the terrible events that were unfolding only a mile or so away across the river. So sad to think of those who didn't make it home safely.

Friday, 2 June 2017

File:AnacamptisPyramidalis.jpgImage result for bee orchid

We ate our picnic, went round the house, sniffed the wild roses, wondered if we could be bothered making homemade elderflower cordial, went for a walk, spotted lots of wild orchids ...

When we got back to the car, those who refused to be parted from their i-Pads politely inquired if we had a nice time. Yes, thank you. We did.


Divlja ruza cvijet 270508.jpg

Sunday, 28 May 2017




What an irresistible cover! This has been my 'handbag book' for the last week or so; each diary extract is just long enough to read between two bus/Tube stops. (I know ...that's highbrow literary criticism, but I'm just about to embark on a book for the day-job that I can barely physically lift. Does the publisher honestly think that any reader is going to bother flexing their muscles?
I do think that James Lees-Milne had a fabulous job, swanning around English country houses during the 1930s and 40s, persuading their fallen-on-hard-times owners to hand them over to the National Trust. One house, to be honest, sounds much the same as another; what I love is his waspish descriptions of the eccentric, batty owners and that slightly poignant feeling that, love them or loathe them, they are the last of a breed that is teetering on the edge of extinction. I'm a NT volunteer so I headed straight for the chapter on 'my' house and was with J L-M every step of the way down the long drive (I walked it yesterday} into grounds that were 'indescribably overgrown and unkempt' (they're simply gorgeous today) and waited at the back door (that grating noise has been fixed). An elderly man opened the door. 'He had red hair and a red face, carrot and port wine ... "The old alcoholic famly butler," I said to myself... Slowly he led me down a dark passage, his legs moving in painful jerks. At last he stopped outside a door and knocked nervously. An ancient voice cried, "Come in!" The seedy butler then said to me, "Daddy is expecting you," and left me ...'   

Friday, 26 May 2017



I was too hot - too tired - not in the mood - I thought it sounded bonkers and couldn't remember why I wanted to go in the first place ... but I'd already got my ticket so I dutifully set out this evening to see An Octoroon inspired by Boucicault's play that caused a sensation in 1859 ...
And it turned out to be quite mad and absolutely hilarious and very clever. What a shame that the tiny Orange Tree Theatre was only one-third full (and quite a few left at the interval including the lady next to me who clearly didn't get it.)
The Guardian called it 'bizarrely brilliant' and they're right. I do hope they get a fuller house when the weather cools down.


You don't expect an audience of millennials for a Terence Rattigan play ... but last night the average age was about 87! Fine by me, actually ... it makes a pleasant change to be the youngest.
Set in the final months of the war, the play was last seen in London at its West End premiere in 1944 - when it originally starred the famous American theatrical couple, the Lunts, who had been bombed out of another West End run by a V-I rocket.
It's about a glamorous middle-class widow who's revelling in her new high society life - as the established mistress of a Canadian millionaire - until her lumpish teenage son returns from being evacuated.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, though the lumpish teenage son was a bit over-played for my seat in the front few rows of the stalls. I was so close to the action that I kept getting wafts of Eve Best's scent and wondered what she wearing. Reviews here and here.

Monday, 8 May 2017



Having spent yesterday with my head down in Lincoln in the Bardo - so brilliant, I've nearly finished it  I couldn't help seeing these Giacometti figures at Tate Modern as troubled spectres.
It's ages - a couple of years - since I've been in Tate Modern. I walk past and don't bother going in. I loathe it ... the totalitarian bulding, the banal thematic displays, the fact that you can go all the way up without even glimpsing any art. I enjoyed the exhibition but when I strolled through one of the displays on my way out, I thought what absolute *!!* this is.
But I did enjoy the exhibition. And because I hadn't been up there before I whizzed up to the (very chilly) viewing platform and thought how I'd hate to live in one of these £4.5million flats. What tidy people live there. Though I suppose if you can afford £4.5million to live in a goldfish bowl, you can afford someone to clear last night's coffee mugs and plump the cushions. I was rather hoping somebody might shuffle through in designer bunny slippers and their PJs - but it was lunchtime. If you can stop admiring other people's sofas, from the river-side there is a terrific view across London.

Sunday, 7 May 2017



I normally find over-hyped, post-modern, best-selling novels all too easy to resist and I carted this home from the library yesterday, balanced on a bag of shopping that I was already struggling to carry, more than half-convinced that I'd be carrying it back again only half-read ...
But the reviews have been so good and I suppose I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
This afternoon, I was sitting at my desk, supposed to be working - and I opened it, just for a peep. (It is so not a good idea to have a teetering TBR pile balanced on one's printer, if only because it makes printing so precarious.)
Anyway, I peeped and now I'm completely immersed. I think it's going to be very good. See you when I surface.

Friday, 5 May 2017



I spent yesterday afternoon buried in a deep, squishy armchair at Soho House (a bit too squishy, I needed four cushions to prop myself up) watching Woody Allen's Manhattan - the first time I've seen it in a cinema since 1979. Can it really be 38 years? I'd forgotten how beautiful it is - my favourite city - Gershwin - Mariel Hemingway's eyebrows ... even if they did have to bring their own park bench to the bridge. Ranked at number 76 of the 500 greatest movies ever made. (I'd place it higher. I've just checked out the list and Raiders of the Lost Ark was number 2 for heaven's sake!) It has just been re-released in cinemas. Don't think, "Oh, I've seen it before" ... it was even better than I remembered it.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Promise Movie Poster

I realised that I know almost nothing about the Armenian genocide in the last days of the Ottoman empire, a massacre that Turkey refuses to acknowledge to this day. (No doubt that explains why The Promise was filmed in Spain, Portugal and Malta.) Despite pretty awful reviews, I went to see it last night; it's by the same Irish director who made Hotel Rwanda. To be honest, you'd have to be very generous to give this well-intentioned film more than 5/10. Wooden acting; Christian Bale was particularly bad. An unconvincing love triangle/romance tagged on for human interest as if the deaths of 1.5 million people weren't enough. (Look out for a bizarre cameo from Tom Hollander - could anybody look less like an Armenian clown ...  what on earth was all that about?)  And yet I'm glad I went. The film could have been better but it's a shocking episode of history that deserves not to be forgotten.

Thursday, 20 April 2017




It's always interesting to see new Persephone titles, but I can't see either of these two latest books becoming anybody's favourite. I remembered that I'd bought an old copy of Earth and High Heaven some time ago, stuck it on a pile where it got buried and never got around to reading it - so last week I dug it out. Published in 1944, it was the first Canadian book to reach number one on the NY Times best-seller list.
I got off to a good start but my interest in Erika Drake - daughter of a prosperous, WASP-y Montreal family - and her lover Marc Reiser, a Jewish lawyer, was soon flagging. (Not least because Gwethalyn Graham is so repetitive: if she makes a point once she drums it home again and again and as a reader, I began to feel a bit hectored - bad editing maybe, but it made me lose sympathy with her characters.) Erika and Marc meet at a party at her parents' home where her father cuts Marc dead as soon as he realises that he is Jewish. Trouble is, I couldn't help visualising them as illustrations from an old-fashioned women's magazine serial ... Defiant Love - Trembling Passion (but no sex, please, we're middle-class Canadians!) - the handsome hero who could have stepped out of a Mills&Boon romance and the tearful heroine in evening dress, knocking back martinis. Honestly, you couldn't meet a more irritating pair. Erika, in her late 20s, with a good job on a newspaper, has to meet her lover on street corners because seemingly it would kill her parents if she were to do the obvious thing and leave home ... I mean, this is the 1940s, not the 1840s! She's a drip, he's a prig and it doesn't help the novel that you can't help feeling that - in 20 years time - she's going to be worn out from treading on eggshells around a husband who will be quiveringly on the alert to take offence. (Even Marc's far more likeable brother tells him that he needs 'a swift kick in the pants.')
As for Erika's rather incestuous relationship with her possessive father - who treats her more like a wife - and the way her mother colludes with this ... eeuurggh. There's more going on here than kneejerk anti-Semitism and it's clear that her father is always going to have a problem with any man who lays hands on his daughter - never mind whether he's socially acceptable at the country club.
Oh, dear - poor Erika. Perhaps another dry martini and a 'prescription of stuff' to make her sleep ...



But at least I managed to finish Earth and High Heaven. Effi Briest is already a Penguin classic so I'm not sure I see the point of republishing it as a Persephone; unless perhaps a different translation makes it  more readable? I found the Penguin edition in the library, made it to p95 and I doubt that I'll ever care enough to finish it. The introduction compares Effi with Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina ... but I'm afraid if a train came along now, I'd be tempted give this winsome child-bride a good shove.
One of the best tragic novels of the 19th century? Socially-ambitious Effi is married at 16 to a dull Prussian baron - my sympathies are entirely with the baron - and by p95, she's still behaving herself, though there's a caddish major whose intentions are clearly dishonourable. I don't feel there's going to be any surprises if I plod through to the end.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017



Grabbing a book for a weekend at the seaside, I nearly left this behind ... wasn't I carrying enough without reaching for a hefty hardback! So glad I didn't because A Gentleman in Moscow turned out to be the perfect holiday read and, away from online distractions, I'm now two-thirds of the way through. Maybe it's true that a life without luxury can be the richest of all because all I've done over Easter is read, reacquaint myself with beach friends and eat hot cross buns. Perhaps with a sigh for the warm, sticky, gorgeously scented hot cross buns that came from the baker at the top of the road when I was a child - because Tesco's finest are a grim travesty of what a hot cross bun should be. And as for M&S carrot and mascarpone buns ... well, I'll try anything once if they're reduced to 10p but not again.

The gentleman in Moscow would have had some philosophical insight into man's compulsion to tweak a good bun to death. Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in an attic of Moscow's grand Hotel Metropol in 1922 and as the years pass (I've got as far as 1946) the hotel's lobby, restaurants and backstairs hideaways become his world. As I'm reading, I'm shooting the movie in my mind - it's a Soviet Grand Budapest Hotel where the labels have been removed from 100,000 bottles in the wine cellar to render them equal. Immensely charming, definitely recommended - and I'm going to feel utterly bereft when I finish.

Saturday, 15 April 2017



So sad about the fire at beautiful Parnham House. I had friends who lived nearby and we spent many lovely afternoons here. I always longed for the pretty bedroom with the fresco of spring flowers.

Thursday, 13 April 2017



Four centuries of the most gorgeous tulips at Ham House yesterday - and the wisteria is simply breath-taking. This spring is happening so fast. Bluebells and cow parsley in the woods already. I left them growing as I have jugs of lilac in every room.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017



Everybody who's read it seems to be delighted with Ysenda Maxtone-Graham's book about girls' boarding schools - and so was I. (Much livelier than her Real Mrs Miniver whose company I tired of long before the end.) There's lots of bracing Malory Towers fun - but it's also rather sad when you read about homesick girls and unpopular girls who didn't fit in and were bad at games. And even though I was at a girls' day school - at the tail end of this period - gosh, did it bring back memories of foul  school food (we'd have thought a turkey twizzler was heaven!) and nuns and their stupid rules and, most of all, the aching boredom. By the early 70s it was assumed that most of us would go to university - but if you didn't, the options were nursing (I don't remember anybody setting their sights on being a doctor which was probably just as well given the abysmal science teaching), teacher training college or the civil service. At least we got out by 4pm. The day I danced down the street and thought, 'I'm never going back,' still glows in my memory.
This was a lovely book to read, no bigger than my hand - almost like a school hymn book. And at least my tweedy, twin-setted teachers were mostly kind. Reading reviews of this book, it seems that girls got off lightly.

Sunday, 9 April 2017





I did a sleepover once at the Science Museum - never again! - but I could happily move into the Fashion Museum for the duration of the Josef Frank exhibition. I came away yesterday with serious fabric envy ... Wouldn't you just love this Italian Dinner fabric with all the ingredients for a fabulous summer dinner - lobster, mussels and squid, garlic, aubergines, tomatoes?



This one looks so fresh - and there was another tulip print that I coveted, too. Who knew that Swedes buy 1 million tulips a day? Well, for all I know, we do, too - not this week, I've got pink roses and lilies and some peachy coloured pinks that now I look at them need chucking out. Dead supermarket flowers ... so not Swedish! 


This Manhattan print is fun but I'd prefer a London version. Very Don and Betty Draper. On a Saturday afternoon, I was the only person in the exhibition after two other ladies left - and heaven, there  were signs inviting you to sit on the chairs. (Would they have noticed if I'd tried to escape with that chaise-longue?) 
I vaguely recall visiting the Svenskt-Tenn shop in Stockholm some years ago. (And blanching at the prices!) But I don't remember this simply gorgeous tea-shop.