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.
Dorette,1933


No, I've changed my mind. She's a first wife ... Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. Don't you love those brooding eyes and the silk scarf? You could write a story around almost every painting in this exhibition. One interesting point that was made that the artists were born before the age of the motor car and lived to see space travel.

Woman reclining, 1928, Meredith Frampton


Marguerite Kelsey, a professional model, was only 19 - but such elegance and poise! This painting (from the Tate) has such perfect finish that you can even see the perfect half-moons on her perfectly manicured pale pink nails. Meredith Frampton, perhaps confusingly, was male.

Elsie, Hilda Carline, 1929


But it's not all about society ladies. Hilda Carline was Stanley Spencer's first wife and Elsie was their  maid who mediated during their quarrels. I didn't know whether to be more taken by her shoes and those shiny art.silk stockings - for Sunday best or day off - or the kitchen range, pot-holders and rug. (Remember the smell of rugs slightly grimy with coal dust?)
Of course, it does make you think of all the forgotten female artists who would have done so much better to have remained unmarried to their 'genius' husbands. I've just finished reading the letters of lovely, lively Ida John, who gave up her own work, and was dead of puerperal fever at 30.

The Welsh Mole Catcher, Stanley Lewis


Of course, men get neglected, too. You can read the story of Stanley Lewis here. This was 'picture of the year' at the Royal Academy in 1937. Do take a look on ArtUK where you can see the amazing detail of all these paintings. What did I do with myself beforeArtUK was invented!

The Rat Catcher, Gilbert Spencer, 1922


And just for balance, here's the rat catcher, too. Love the paper fan in the grate and the spent matches on  the floor.