Sunday, 20 August 2017


Alan Rickman was to have played the Scotland Yard detective in The Limehouse Golem who's 'not the marrying kind' and it's hard not to feel a pang that we'll never see that performance - or hear that glorious voice against the backdrop of penny-dreadful Victorian London. But, having said that, Bill Nighy is terrific, too. If you've a strong stomach for dismembered corpses (I once met a team of very charming young men who made them horribly realistically for films and TV) this is a rollicking Victorian murder mystery with lots of twists and turns - though I'm not sure that the body-count made it the best choice on a Sunday morning when I'd binge-watched The State the night before.
I loved all the period detail - the gas-lit Limehouse gloom, the glow of the music hall (was it Wilton's?), the British Museum Reading Room - but my attention was flagging just a bit by the end; not sure whether that was a surfeit of twists and turns or my having dashed out of the house without my second cup of strong coffee.

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.