Hallowe’en 2016

Bonfire night on the 5th November follows fast on the heels of Hallowe’en at the end of October and there are always a few bangs and some stray, early rockets to chase the witches away on their broomsticks.

A ghost peers in on Hallowe'en

A ghost peers in on Hallowe’en

I usually buy packets of coloured ‘haribo’ sweets, which I keep in a bowl by the door for passing jack o’ lanterns, ghosts and vampires.   And I continue to make a Hallowe’en mask from a pumpkin, even though our children are now grown up and flown  the nest.  Maybe I am at heart superstitious!  This year, John was away and I ended up spending the evening alone with a rather evil- eyed head glaring at me.  Not the best conversationalist!

My evil eyed companion for Hallowe'en

My evil- eyed companion for Hallowe’en

Hallowe'en moon 2016

Hallowe’en moon 2016

A vampire abroad on a wild night

A vampire abroad on a wild night

He did not visit –  so I ate the sweets myself.  So tasty!



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Flower diary for 2016

Flowers are a great comfort.   They don’t make a noise, they don’t complain, you can come and go as you like because they don’t need you and, most of all, they give unstinting pleasure because they have intrinsic beauty.

Flowers are also a bridge between science and art.  Many plants are used in the progress of medicine  and yet we can simply just gaze on their fleeting, physical beauty for what it is and feel the emotions that well up from that experience.  They inspire poetry, literature and painting. In the scientific world, they are made up of fractals. They probably hold the meaning of the universe in their petals …  both simple and massively complex.

Flowers mirror human beings with their biodiversity.  If only some human beings knew how to be silent at times …  but with all the horror of 2016 on our planet I am uplifted by the mere existence of the resilience of flowers and of their perfumes.

‘To me the meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears’

(William Wordsworth – “Intimations of Mortality” 1807)

Springtime - Pheasant Eye

Springtime – Pheasant Eye

Deborah's freesias

Deborah’s freesias

Paeony - a fragile beauty

Paeony – a fragile beauty

Lily white ...


The enchantress

The enchantress

Tulips co-exist with daisies in Embankment Gardens

City spring flowers in Embankment Gardens 1

City spring flowers in Embankment Gardens 2

City spring flowers in Embankment Gardens 2

Printemps - birthday flowers

Printemps – birthday flowers – not quite in focus but it was my birthday!

Flowering planet

Flowering planet

Monet to Matisse RA exhibition catalogue

Monet to Matisse RA exhibition catalogue.  I went to this exhibition three times …  and took three different friends

Yellow flags - Barnes Pond

Yellow flags – Barnes Pond

Home is a crack in the wall ...

Home is a crack in the wall …

Early comma butterfly with bluebells - I hope it survived those fickle Spring days ...

Early comma butterfly with bluebells – I hope it survived those fickle days of Spring …

A mysterious blue butterfly - Barnes

An uncommon blue butterfly – Barnes

Couldn't resist those Monet/Renoir colours!

Couldn’t resist these Monet/Renoir colours!  Summer by the towpath along the Thames …


Magical astrantia

Reed beds - Barnes

Reed beds – Barnes

Leg O' Mutton small reservoir by towpath, Barnes

Leg o’ Mutton small reservoir by towpath, Barnes

Blue box in Barnes

Blue box outside Sonny’s restaurant

Sunflower - I remember fields of them in France, all turning their faces the same way to the sun - hence their name - tournesol ...

Sunflowers – I remember fields of them in France, all turning their faces the same way towards the sun – hence their name – Tournesol …

Complementary colours

Complementary colours…  wilder side of the geranium family …

Mallow - cousin to the more exotic hibiscus ... Barnes

Mallow in Barnes – cousin to the more exotic hibiscus. This stalwart shrub is over forty years old.

Wild grasses and horsetail

Wild grasses and horsetail.  Horsetail is full of silica and brilliant for cleaning silver … and very primeval too.

Blue poppy - Meconopsis - grown in my garden!

Shy blue poppy – Meconopsis – grown in my garden …

A Barnes window box

A Barnes window box

Exotica grown in Kent

Exotica grown by Tom Hart Dyke at Lullingstone castle in Kent

Summerhouse reflections ...

Summerhouse reflections …

John enveloped by roses - Malvern Hills

Enveloped by roses – Malvern Hills

By the bank of the Thames ...

By the bank of the Thames …

Wild flower garden at Barnes Pond

Wild flowers at Barnes Pond

In a Cotswold village ...

In a Cotswold village …

At Syon Park 1

At Syon Park 1

At Syon Park 2

At Syon Park 2

Elegant, paper thin, white lilies ...

Elegant, paper thin, white lilies …

Clematis tangutica ...

Clematis tangutica …

Leg O' Mutton reservoir

Leg o’ Mutton reservoir

A mysterious corner of the garden - trembling grasses and daisies ...

A mysterious corner of the garden – trembling grasses and daisies …

Nasturtiums are very hardy and spread like wildfire - with vibrant colour...

Nasturtiums are very hardy and spread like wildfire – with vibrant colour…

Shades of Autumn ...

Shades of Autumn …

Dried petals

Dried petals

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”

W. Shakespeare – “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”











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Keyhaven, Hurst Castle, Southampton and Buckler’s Hard

John promised he would finish his 24/7 report by the end of May, so I kept my counsel and was as quiet as a mouse about having a few days away.  We finally pointed the nose of our old- but- still- stylish- car in the direction of the New Forest at the beginning of July – only for five days –  but just that change of scene began to put a spring into the constant daily trudge and drudge …  further burdened by a disabling depression, following the madness of Brexit.  How could I, a European, be represented by blinking, blinkered Brexit? Would I have to leave my country of birth?  The EU certainly needs radical reform but we need to be a partner in all of that – not an isolated small island on the fringes.  Heavy feet combined with a heavy heart were not a great combination.

Our first port of call, although picturesque, with a river running through the garden, somehow didn’t appeal.  Too twee, too expensive for what it was, although the dinner was good.  We just felt out of place. Next morning, we were woken by a huge, red sewage lorry growling under our window.  Long, blue sinuous pipes slithered through the dining room, into the garden beyond. We made a hasty exit. I fell silent in the car on our way to the coast, concentrating on the map  – no sat-nav, so at least we won’t drive gaily into the sea…!

Escape from the city ...

Escape from the city …

Keyhaven is a place more full of boats than people.  It looks out over the Needles at the Isle of Wight. Otherwise, it’s marshland which attracts colonies of birds and then there’s Hurst Castle,  which sits out at sea – a formidable and unwelcoming fortress –  as it was in times past and latterly, during WW2. You can walk there from the shore (about 30 minutes) on top of a vast sand spit  –  which we did.

Keyhaven - boats 1

Keyhaven – boats 1

Keyhaven - the lagoon

Keyhaven – the lagoon

 Keyhaven - Sailing boats 3

Keyhaven – Sailing boats 3

We met sailors, anglers, dog walkers and a lovely old countryman,  John Churchill, dressed in capable browns and greens, who told us about the habits of grayling fish, which favour the shallows.  His son was by the shore, fishing for their supper.  They had invested in a motor home, bought on the proceeds of breeding a special type of dog.  Looking at John Churchill, he could have come from the 18th or 19th century  –  immersed in country ways. It reminded me that my father used to read a book size magazine regularly, called ‘The Countryman’.

My change of scene was finally off to a great start  and I could feel myself  escaping from ‘grimmity’.

On the shoreline - Keyhaven - 1

On the shoreline – Keyhaven – 1

On the shoreline, Keyhave - 2

On the shoreline, Keyhaven – 2

Goats and a scarecrow - Keyhaven

Goats and a scarecrow – Keyhaven

Good to be aware of the very different lives people lead.  English summer weather – bright, warm but with grey clouds lurking somewhere out there and a brisk wind up on the sand spit.

The sandspit - Keyhaven

The sand spit – Keyhaven

Angler with The Needles on the horizon

Angler with The Needles on the horizon

Half way there!

Half way there!

Keyhaven - sea cabbage

Keyhaven – sea cabbage

I’m amazed this place exists here.  When I elected to go to the New Forest I just thought of wild ponies and piglets, hoovering up beech mast.  Lovely, but there’s so much more …

Approaching the fortress - photo by john Elkington

Approaching the fortress – photo by John Elkington

Hurst castle - entrance

Hurst Castle – entrance

Old bricks used as breakwater - Hurst castle

Old bricks used as breakwater – Hurst Castle

I was fascinated by the colours and patterns rust makes, when continually washed by sea water.  The ‘lonely heart’ photo is particularly atmospheric!

A wall of rust - Hurst castle

A wall of rust – Hurst Castle

A neglected, rusty heart ...

A neglected, rusty, lonely heart …

The fort is well worth a visit.  Lots of memories of how it was used in WW2, wonderful, panoramic views of sea and land, and volunteers repainting relics of war.  See John’s blog.

Inside the fort.

Inside the fortress - John with large guns ...

Inside the fortress – John with large guns …



Kitchen Range

Kitchen Range

Cup of tea?

How about a cup of tea?

There’s a lot of rust about …


Double basins – shabby chic!

Vintage ... and

vintage … and

... very retro!

… very retro!

The fort is slowly being renovated with relics of the past on view and two rooms dedicated to lighthouses around Britain.

Amateur dramatics during WW2 ...

Amateur dramatics during WW2 …

Lighthouse exhibition at Hurst Castle - I never knew this fact!

Lighthouse exhibition at Hurst Castle – I never knew this fact!

It was beginning to spot with rain, so we decided to take the small ferry – ten of us squashed up for a ten minute ride – back to the shore.   It had a canvas roof but was otherwise open to the elements – giving me a rush of elemental energy as the wind buffeted us across the water.

We clambered out onto a small jetty and made our way to the “Gun Inn’ for a welcome lunch.

Time to catch the ferry ...

Time to catch the ferry …

The 'Gun Inn', Keyhaven, offers a welcome lunch ...

The ‘Gun Inn’, Keyhaven, offers a welcome lunch …

Next day we found ourselves in a car park, near the Hythe ferry, which we were taking to Southampton to see friends. John spent an hour in the car on a conference call, while I moseyed around the local Waitrose, picking up a razor (which he had forgotten to bring with him) and also a free ‘Times’. No FTs on offer in Hythe.  Two a day are delivered to Lymington  –  and later on we tracked one down, much to John’s satisfaction!

An old fashioned wooden train trundles the length of a very long pier far out into the Solent, where a quaint passenger ferry (1950s style) awaits to take you over the water.  Southampton docks are still industrial and impressive with vast ocean liners and cargo ships.

Southampton docks - the Queen Elizabeth

Southampton docks – the Queen Elizabeth

Cargo ship, Benjamin Franklin, leaving Southampton docks ...

Cargo ship, Benjamin Franklin, leaving Southampton docks …

... on its long voyage ...

… on its long outward voyage …

I hadn’t been to Southampton before and it was lucky that we ended up in the old part, which was to some extent saved from bombs during WW2.

Arrival in Southampton

Arrival in Southampton

Southampton Playhouse and the mystery of the missing camera ...

Southampton Playhouse and the mystery of the missing camera …

See John’s blog for this story – it’s his 9 life camera!

The Titanic sailed from here on its maiden voyage to New York. It sank on the 15th April 1912.

'The Titanic' pub, Southampton

‘The Titanic’ pub, Southampton

Southampton - walking the old walls ...

Southampton – walking the old walls …

Southampton - medieval merchant's house built in 1290

Southampton – medieval merchant’s house built in 1290

The Tudor House has a great museum and a charming garden at the back, built into the city walls. Worth a visit.

Southampton - Tudor house with museum and gardens

Southampton – Tudor house with museum and gardens

A lovely, quiet square by the city walls ...

A lovely, quiet square by the city walls …

Southampton - part of the city walls

Southampton – part of the city walls

There’s a good place to eat and stay here, called ‘The Pig’.

We had lunch at ‘The Olive Tree’ (Italian).  Our friends have a motor home and had travelled from Spain to Greece, so had interesting tales to tell.

Then it was back on the ferry.  Next stop, Buckler’s Hard via a welcome Waterstones bookshop we found in Lymington. We finally drove through parts of the New Forest.

A wild pony in the New Forest

A wild pony in the New Forest

Entrance to the Master Builder's House Hotel, Buckler's Hard

Entrance to the Master Builder’s House Hotel, Buckler’s Hard

This is in an idyllic spot by the river, where Nelson had many of his boats built.  Besides the hotel, there is a museum and many riverside walks.  We did the one to Beaulieu by the river – twice. This is a wonderful place for a weekend visit  –  even better if you can go mid-week.

Buckler's Hard - looking down towards the river

Buckler’s Hard – looking down towards the river

Buckler's Hard - clouds and boats ...

Buckler’s Hard – clouds and boats …

An idyllic spot by the riverside

A very English spot by the riverside – film set for an Agatha Christie, I thought…  or just a memorable country house weekend.

Buckler's Hard - time for an aperitif ... a nice place to read

Buckler’s Hard – time for an aperitif … and a nice place to read before dinner

Buckler's Hard - a river monster

Buckler’s Hard – a river monster?

Quinces at Beaulieu

Quinces at Beaulieu

Another monster keeping a beady eye on our sandwiches.

Beaulieu blackbird

Beaulieu blackbird

The ice cream at Buckler’s Hard was so delicious.  The sunset was very atmospheric. I slept well.

Sunset at Buckler's Hard = goodnight!

Sunset at Buckler’s Hard = goodnight!

Next morning we turned the car’s nose toward home via Fordingbridge, where we have a friend who has made some stunning films about China.  His name is Phil Agland.   We were invited for lunch with his family and then for a walk by the river. I wish I’d taken a picture of the pretty, lumbering white cows, which followed us closely, slobbering rather alarmingly  –  but I got stung by nettles instead!

John spotted huge trout basking in the shallows.

And then it was back to the mad motorway, the boy racers, the pointless, idiotic speeding, followed by the relief to be home once more with good memories and some fresh air in my veins.

An appealing poster at Fordingbridge - John said his grandmother was a Canary Girl!

An appealing poster at Fordingbridge – John said his grandmother was a Canary Girl!


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Lost and Found

Piccadilly.  Pouring with rain, I struggled to get my umbrella out of an already soaking shopping bag.  I trudged on to Liberty’s via Golden Square.  Breathing a sigh of relief as I arrived but looking like a drowned rat, I began to drip my way upstairs.

When I went to put my umbrella back into my sodden bag, said bag was missing.  There hadn’t been much in it but it weighed very little and was useful.  Oh dear …  oh well … I expected somebody would pick it up and put it in a bin or take it home and find it useful too.

Then I forgot about it as I had something similar at home.  About a week later, when John was away, I decided to go to the Nordic bakery in Golden Square and buy a favourite egg and herring sandwich in a round bun for my supper.  Joy – there were one or two left.  I came out of the café and lo and behold – on the railings opposite, surrounding the grassy square – was my bag – waiting patiently.  I crossed the road, picked it up and found something inside.  A brochure telling me about all the shops to visit in the neighbourhood.

Lost and Found

Lost and Found

So some kind person had rescued it from the gutter, put in the brochure and hung it on the railings.  It was such a nice surprise to see it again and have good feelings about who had put it there.  Just reporting an act of random kindness … heartwarming … thank you.

PS  In Britain, we have ‘Lost Property’.  In France they have ‘Objets trouvés’ – (found objects).  Different mindsets …  !

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Books I read in 2015

The first book I read in 2014 was ‘WOLF HALL’, by Hilary Mantel. It’s long and was quite a challenge but I suddenly found myself ‘in step’ with it after about 200 pages.  And, by chance, I started 2015 with another long but ultimately satisfying piece of writing.  ‘THE GOLDFINCH‘ by Donna Tartt.

This starts off with a ‘bang’ which filters out into an extraordinary,  sprawling panorama of a book.

The day I bought a copy was when I’d been to see a Vermeer exhibition at The National Gallery.  I knew that Vermeer was supposedly mentored by Carel Fabritius, who himself studied under Rembrandt. But Fabritius died young, a victim of the massive explosion of the Delft gunpowder magazine in 1654.  Many of the paintings in his studio were also destroyed but from what art historians say, he was destined for greatness.  One of the paintings that  did survive is called ‘The Goldfinch’, which was on show in the Vermeer exhibition.

I stood in front of it for a while, thinking of all the untimely accidents that happen and how they affect futures that might have turned out very differently, for not only the victim but for those he/she knew and for the world in general. What if …

On my way home I slipped into Waterstones.  The first book I saw, laid out on a table, had a jacket with Fabritius’s goldfinch on the front.  I felt in visceral shock, as if my heart had stopped.  The title was  ‘THE GOLDFINCH’ by Donna Tartt.  I wasn’t to know then that the book starts with a terrible accident  –  creating the effect of a stone thrown into a pond. It’s a wonderful read  –  long, but once started, bowls along.

'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt

‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt

Patrick Modiano has won the Nobel prize for literature.  I had already read three of his novels (in the original French) at my class. ‘UN CIRQUE PASSE’ continues the theme which runs through his novels about ‘untold’ stories and ‘lost’ people.  Many of these people were ‘lost’ during and after World War 2.  This novel is set in Paris as the war continues and a young boy and girl with her dog are thrown together, their lives fractured, having lost touch with their families.  Atmospheric, sinister, mysterious, tense and sad  … there is also romance and you wish for a happy ending …

I  continued with ‘Maigret’ (Simenon) in French and read ‘LES VIEILLARDS’ (1960).  A former diplomat in his fading years, living in retirement discreetly behind Parisian closed doors, with only an ageing and devoted housekeeper for company, is found shot.  His life seems to have been unimpeachable, except for a long standing but curious platonic love affair with a woman, Isabelle, with whom he exchanged letters almost daily since he was a young man. Maigret investigates.

Books in French

Books in French – Modiano and Simenon

London Under

‘LONDON UNDER’ by Peter Ackroyd. He’s written some wonderful books, many on the city of London. In this one he makes you aware of how London is built on so many wells and springs.  It makes for a fascinating read, especially when you are out and about and can track down some of these wells and springs – or remains of – with your trusty A-Z.

“The plethora of London names such as Spring Gardens, Well Walk and Wells Street testifies to the extent and variety of these waters. We also have Shadwell and Stockwell and Camberwell”.  And so it goes”.  On its journey to the Thames, the Westbourne river  passes through a great iron pipe today, to be seen above the platforms of Sloane Square tube station.”

The river Westbourne passing above Sloane Square station

The river Westbourne passing above Sloane Square station

Afterwards, I went for another non-fiction read. ‘STUFF MATTERS’ by Mark Miodownik.  I needed to read this twice to remember it  –  ‘Stuff’ indeed really does matter and we should be aware of what we can do with, for example, futuristic materials like graphene and aerogel. Afterwards, I felt more or less up to date with ‘The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that shape our Man Made World’. A great scientific learning experience.  Since I read this MM has presented programmes on television, following his book.

Concentration here reaps rewards ...

Concentration here reaps rewards …

Somebody suggested I read a novel about exploring nature. ‘THE FISH LADDER’ by Katharine Norbury has very memorable descriptions about the countryside as she indomitably strides on through it, day and night, but she would not be my type of travelling companion.

I read an American novel soon after this one, called ‘AQUARIUM’ by David Vann.  This is grim reality –  but seen through the surreal world of a young girl. ‘Jellyfish eyes’ (page 51).  It’s very dark – peeking at the obverse side of the American dream  with the aquarium as focus, where Caitlin is obsessed with the maritime creatures.  Is the old man who she meets there other than he seems?  It’s an ongoing struggle, not just for survival but to understand the adults around her and help them find a life rather than just an existence.  An uplifting read, despite much of it on the dark side.

Both of these books made me feel somewhat like this picture of them.  Unbalanced – on the edge …probably good to be out of one’s comfort zone!

fish ladder + aquarium

I loved this next book. ‘PERFECT WIVES IN IDEAL HOMES’ – ‘The story of women in the 1950s’, by Virginia Nicholson.  I raced through it with many of the stories resonating so strongly with my own experience of the 1950s and 60s  –  like being a teenage beauty queen at Butlin’s holiday camp!  How things have changed – for better or worse – or both.  Very well researched and tells it as it was.  It hit such a nostalgic note for me.  And am still doing the housework …  but I do have time to read nowadays…

Enormously enjoyable!

Enormously enjoyable …

It was about this time that an American friend of John’s, Debra Dunne, who is a food scientist, arrived in London and over lunch at Zédel’s, she recommended  a book ‘SALT, SUGAR, FAT – HOW THE FOOD GIANTS HOOKED US’ by Michael Moss.  Yes, they certainly did –  and do. I lapped it up!

The author tells us that every year the average American eats 33lbs of cheese  (triple what we ate in 1970) and 70 lbs of sugar (about 22 teaspoons a day).  Also that we ingest 8,500 mg of salt a day – double the recommended amount and this mainly comes from eating processed food.  It’s no wonder that 26 million Americans have diabetes 2.  The level of obesity among humans today is beyond belief – and continues to grow. Most of this has happened in the past 60 years.



I came down with a terrible cold and actually spent two days in bed.  Unheard of for me, but it was comforting, pampered by my oh- so- soft duvet. I began to find it quite relaxing. From time to time I ventured downstairs to fill up my mug with restorative hot lemon juice, honey and whisky.   And I found a perfect book to read when my eyes stopped streaming.

‘THE BLACK EYED BLONDE’ is a Philip Marlowe lookalike novel, set in the 1950s and written by Benjamin Black, a pen name for John Banville.  Very ‘noir’, with its laconic detective once more in edgy company of a beautiful, rich woman who wants him to solve a murder case while treacherously tempting him to sleep with her. A spider in her web …

John Banville won the Booker prize for ‘The Sea’ in 2005 but alongside his other novels, he wrote detective stories as Benjamin Black.  Humphrey Bogart’s ghost is strongly in evidence.

Shades of Bogart ...

Shades of Bogart …

Another writer, Sophie Hannah, takes on the Agatha Christie style of writing with ‘THE MONOGRAM MURDERS’.  I bought the hardback, lured by its glamorous gold and black cover and endpapers.  It was good but somehow not quite what I had hoped for –  but nevertheless, a great ‘try’.  I love my handsome copy and would gladly read another by her.

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

Feeling better now, I needed to jump out of my comfort zone.

What better than a travel book with a philosophical strand to it. Michael Jacobs, the author, who studied art at the Courtauld, fell in love with Spain.  He was, for some years, a guide with ACE, a travel company. We had hoped to join a group where he would take us to the Alhambra, the huge mosque at Cordoba and to Toledo, where El Greco spent most of his life and did some of his best paintings. Sadly, it was not to be.

The title of this book, ‘THE ROBBER OF MEMORIES’, relates to his parents, both of whom died of dementia. But the story is about his dangerous trip up the Magdalena river in Colombia, dangerous not only because of the impenetrable jungle with its snakes and poisonous insects but also because of the FARC guerrillas, who made it their hideout.

MJ was lucky to survive. I’m glad I only travelled by armchair but also glad I was with him in spirit on this intensely personal journey.  Later, MJ died of cancer before he was able to finish a book on the famous painting, ‘Las Meninas’ by Velasquez –  a painting which obsessed him.  A good friend finished the book for him after MJ’s death.

'Carpe diem'

‘Carpe diem’

Dwelling on death, I decided to read ‘REASONS TO STAY ALIVE’ by Matt Haig.  Oh, my!  I don’t know if I would have survived this ordeal of deep, dark depression. It is brave of Matt Haig to relate what he went through.  Others caught up in a similar situation may benefit from reading it.  I hope so.  His parents and girlfriend were saints and because of them, he made it.

And he wrote ‘THE HUMANS’, which I love.  It is an original take on life on earth – completely original, off the wall entertaining. Yet so insightful about the human condition.  What a star!

So glad you made it ...

So glad you made it …

This next book was recommended. ‘EUPHORIA’ by Lily King.  It’s an ‘anthropological’ novel set in New Guinea and based on the book  ‘MARGARET MEAD – A LIFE’ by Jane Howard. It’s a good read and knowledgeable about tribal cultures. These can be very different, with a fierce and murderous tribe living quite near to a gentle and altruistic one.  Biodiversity rules?!

Jungle secrets ...

Jungle secrets …

This book reminded me of Ann Patchett’s ‘STATE OF WONDER’, which is a similar novel about a scientist doing research in a rain forest, who gets lost and is presumed dead.  I preferred this novel because I felt a lot more in tune with all the characters and really cared about the outcome.

I had never read ‘TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY’ by John Steinbeck. I found it by chance in Waterstones Piccadilly and being a person with itchy feet for exploring, I picked it up with the anticipation of a good road trip.  John Steinbeck is one of the ‘great’ writers of our time.  This is a compelling read, written by a very intelligent ‘hobo’ (!), whose dog is pretty intelligent too.  Charley is a French poodle without the frills and possessed of excellent instincts.  I’d like to travel with Steinbeck and Charley again … I missed them  as they turned the corner to home and disappeared from my life.

Travels with Charley - Steinbeck

Travels with Charley – Steinbeck

Waterstones were bringing out some old classics in new jackets. Somehow, I had never read ‘THE BALKAN TRILOGY‘ and ‘THE LEVANT TRILOGY’ by Olivia Manning, although I remember the television series with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson as Guy and Harriet Pringle. So many of my friends said how envious they were of me because it was such a treat in store.  And so I began … 1033 pages, followed by another 569.

I wonder why Olivia  Manning is not so well known today as other writers of her period, like Iris Murdoch. ‘THE BALKAN TRILOGY’ starts as Guy and Harriet Pringle, recently married, travel out to Eastern Europe at the start of World War 2, where Guy will be working as a lecturer with the British Council.  The story follows their fortunes as war spreads and engulfs them.

Olivia Manning bases both books on her own experiences. She is acutely observant and as ‘The Guardian’ noted on the back of my book ‘One must salute the brilliance … the exactness of sights and sounds, the precise touches of light and scent, the gestures and entrances’.  And I would like to add that Guy Pringle is one of the best delineated characters in modern fiction – and the marriage of  Guy and Harriet, so finely dissected, means they can never be forgotten. I recognise some of the traits in my own marriage.

Instead of more explanation, I should direct you to the site of Abigail Nussbaum, whose commentary on both books (2010)  is outstanding.  Don’t read it before reading the books!  I feel another trilogy could have been gestating in OM’s head but as ‘THE LEVANT TRILOGY’ was published in the year of  her death (1980), I expect we missed that treat.   Oh dear, my friends were right.  I felt bereft when I came to the end, like saying farewell for the last time to people I had known and grown fond of. 100% recommended!

Not be be missed ...

Not be be missed …

We decided to do a big clear out of books which had accreted over thirty plus years.  Ten boxes went to the Oxfam shop in Chiswick, who accepted all of them.  Hurrah – thank you, Oxfam. Then we rearranged hardbacks and paperbacks.  I collected all the Graham Greenes together and decided to read ‘STAMBOUL TRAIN’.  His characterisations are both skilful and memorable but personally I much prefer Paul Theroux’s train journeys.  No criticism, just a personal choice –  perhaps because PT is more of my era. Both of them tricky men in real life, I would think …

John bought ‘THE MARTIAN’ by Andy Weir.  It’s not a book I would have picked up in the shop but despite all the technical detail, I found it fascinating and could hardly wait to find out the ending.  An astronaut gets left on Mars by mistake, following an accident.  The story is about how he survives – or not.  A successful film has been made since.

Potatoes play a major role on Mars ... !

Potatoes play a major role on Mars … !

I needed to get back to earth, to my own, green planet.  I was drawn to ‘THE LAND WHERE LEMONS GROW‘ by Helena Attlee. What a pleasurable discovery!

It’s both a well researched history of the enormous variety of citrus trees grown through the ages with fillips of intriguing stories tossed into the mix.   There is also a wealth of personal detail as the writer travelled over southern Europe, meeting all kinds of people connected with citrus and adding all sorts of recipes for marmalade and pasta. One which especially appeals is ‘Tagliolini alla Scorzette di Arancia e Limone’.

I can’t tempt you more than Jonathan Keates in the ‘Literary Review’ saying ‘every lemon-scented page made me feel it’s time to pack for Italy’ or Tom Stoppard  in ‘The Times Literary Supplement’ – ‘The book I pressed on friends more than any other this year’.  Added to that ‘The Guild of Food Writers’ chose it as ‘Food Book of the Year 2015’.

So you have to buy it and read it and try one of the recipes, (although I quickly turned over the page at ‘Tortoise Pie’)! Take the book as a companion on your travels – open it at any page and you have a wealth of fascinating anecdotes at your fingertips.

Land of Lemons

Land of Lemons

‘THE VERSIONS OF US’ by Laura Barnett.  This is a novel about however many times you get the chance to change – have a re-run,   make another choice, some people still make an enormous mess of their lives.  I didn’t enjoy this at all and was very turned off by all the characters.  It went to the charity shop and as it seems to be popular, I hope it went to a home of somebody who loved it.

Sue Roe is a writer after my own heart.  I am a great lover of paintings and ‘THE PRIVATE LIVES OF THE IMPRESSIONISTS’ is such a rewarding read.  It’s a very personal and detailed account, so much so that I felt I was living alongside the artists.   She nails your interest from the very first sentence, creating a luminous backdrop for the artists of Paris and the Seine.  The blurb comments, ‘This intimate, colourful, superbly researched account takes us into their homes and their studios and describes their unconventional, volatile and precarious lives, as well as the stories behind the paintings’.


I was so entranced that I bought another book by her, called ‘IN MONTMARTRE’.  This is all about Picasso, Matisse et al arriving penniless in Paris, where the ‘high pitched chaos’ of living in the Bateau Lavoir is shatteringly and wonderfully portrayed. The Spectator said of this book that it was ‘enjoyable, engaging, rollicking  …  lively’.  Both books are worth a second read.  They flow as easily as the Seine.

A friend bought me the catalogue of the ‘Gardens’ exhibition at the Royal Academy, which was on until recently. Painting outdoors instead of always in a studio became popular with the Impressionists and many artists, like Monet and Renoir, Pissarro, Caillebotte and Sorolla, le Sidaner, Bonnard and Rusinol, to name a few, took not only to painting gardens but to growing their own and exchanging visits to see one another’s.  Monet’s garden at Giverny is a prime example, which many flock to today as his dream lives on.  There is an interview between Monty Don and the present gardener, James Priest, in the catalogue.  Monet lived at Giverny for 43 years.

Towards the end of the year I was beset by gastric problems and felt miserable. This was made worse by ‘the 100 day cough’, a beastly malady which meant that talking started off a machine gun rat-a-tat, so I began to speak less and less.  Probably a relief for some!

I silently bought ‘GUT’ by the rather beautiful Giulia Enders, illustrated by her equally beautiful sister, which became a best seller –  making me think that many people must suffer from gastric problems!  There are no euphemisms here as she describes how your complex digestive system works.  A great bathroom/bedside book. I learned so much about my innards!

GUT by Giulia Enders

Could I possibly take on another long read after the Balkan and Levant trilogies?  I had quickly skirted the table in Waterstones, which groaned under piles of the Elena Ferrante quartet for this very reason.  Just don’t pick it up … what I really needed was even just a cookery book that I could dip in and out of to finish up the year.  Or an Alastair Sawday book, full of beautiful chateaux and manor houses in France that offered B&B. I needed comfort on many levels.

But somebody arrived, bringing ‘MY BRILLIANT FRIEND’, the first book of the quartet, which by now was celebrating bestseller status  –  not that that means I would enjoy it.  I said thank you, how kind …  but resolved firmly to put it away until 2016 poked its head around the door.

However, the cough maundered on and one day, in the midst of cleaning the kitchen, I opened the first page out of curiosity. Just like Pandora’s Box! Casting mop and bucket aside, I read on …

The Ferrante table at Waterstones

The Ferrante table at Waterstones

Book 1 - My Brilliant Friend

Book 1 – My Brilliant Friend

The Ferrante quartet

The Ferrante quartet –  The Neapolitan novels

In order: ‘ My Brilliant Friend’, ‘The Story of a New Name’, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’, The Story of The Lost Child’.

I read these books voraciously, one after the other.  Emotions run high, damaging people’s fragile lives; whirlwinds of love, lust, hate, loss, tempered by enduring friendships.  Any advice that one might have given would have been ignored.  But for all the family feuding, the leaving and returning, the loves and the losses, the loyalties and betrayals,  there is an all pervading sense of belonging that connects the characters to one another and makes for an indelible story line.  The ending (for me) sews it all up in one sentence.

The author is unknown as she will not give interviews or reveal who she is. I empathise with that. I think she herself must have struggled against the macho atmosphere and way of life in which she grew up to attain a university education and success as a writer. The Neapolitan novels are a wonderful read, a great achievement and will be remembered also as a valuable social document of the times we lived in.

The Lost Child

The Lost Child

Ferrante Man Booker 2016

Waterstones - ground floor

Waterstones – ground floor

Well, that’s it for 2015.  Bookshops still exist despite Amazon and I would feel completely bereft without them.  There are two on Piccadilly –  Hatchards and Waterstones.  James Daunt, an independent bookseller, was asked by Waterstones during lean times, to come in and try to revive their fortunes.  He seems to have succeeded.  Hurrah! He also has independent  bookshops of his own.  Daunts in Marylebone High Street is very special.

Waterstones now has two cafés and a restaurant of their own in the building, which become ever more popular, together with soirées, when authors come and talk about their books while you enjoy a glass of wine. Books, flowers, knowledgeable and friendly assistants on hand.  A cup of coffee, a slice of cake.  I can’t think of a better treat in store!

Welcome to bookshops 2016!

Welcome to bookshops 2016!

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Tintin visits London

Tintin books have always been a favourite in our house.  I think we must have the whole collection, neatly nibbled around the edges, as they were loved so much!

John and I made a foray to Somerset House by the Aldwych to see a small exhibition of Tintin in the New Year.  A new resolution for John to have some leisure time during the week and this wasn’t too far from the office.

A good start – as we both love Tintin and Snowy!

A typical Tintin and Snowy drama ...

A typical Tintin and Snowy drama …

Tintin - a mischievous magpie ...

Tintin – a mischievous magpie …

Tintin - a mysterious adventure unfolds ...

Tintin – a mysterious adventure unfolds …

Tintin - teatime

Tintin – teatime

Tintin the sleuth

Tintin the sleuth

"Blistering barnacles" (a typical statement from Tintin's old friend, Captain Haddock) when facing disaster

“Blistering barnacles” (a typical statement from Tintin’s old friend, Captain Haddock) when facing disaster

It was interesting to see one of Hergé’s drawings as a child.  He was  destined to live on in peoples’ memory long after he died.

First known drawing by Hergé ...

First known drawing by Hergé …

Tintin exhibition - I love this photo!

Tintin exhibition – I love this photo!

Having got John to break out of work mode for a short time, he was amenable to tea and scones in the Courtauld café – they do a variety of delicious home made cakes too.

I had been trying to make sure he had an anti ‘flu injection and there is a clinic in Fleet Street not five minutes away, so here was a chance!  We passed by the Twinings Tea shop …

Twinings Tea in Fleet Street

Twinings Tea in Fleet Street

and the entrance to Lloyds Bank.

Extraordinary entrance to Lloyds Bank,Fleet Street

Extraordinary entrance to Lloyds Bank,Fleet Street

After that, the tea party and entertainment were over.  John returned to the office as the light began to leave the sky.

Evening drawing in after a successful expedition ... bonsoir à tout le monde ...

Evening drawing in after a successful expedition … bonsoir à tout le monde …

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My love affair with Samuel Pepys, via Lombard Street and Greenwich

‘There’s an exhibition about Samuel Pepys on in Greenwich’, said my friend, Kate.  Last time I was in Greenwich was last  summer. A place full of grand, light filled spaces – (even though bitingly cold today).  In the summer, I was enchanted by the Cutty Sark, the market, coffee upstairs in Waterstones, the wide roads and impressively flagged pavements, imposing buildings and oodles of rolling green lawns all the way up to the Observatory.  The panorama of the City from the top of the hill is magnificent. Inside is John Harrison’s famous clock, (which John chose to do a project on at school).

It was all of that, plus Kate’s company, rather than Samuel Pepys himself, which led me to Bank station on a drizzly, finger freezing, windswept morning. We had planned to take the DLR from there to Greenwich.  Bank underground is a maelstrom of people, surfing in and out of a massive maze of  exits and entrances.

Lombard Street was the nearest exit to the DLR, so I climbed the steps to the street, texted Kate to let her know where I was  –  and waited.  I was ten minutes early, so decided to walk up Lombard Street, which I found was chock full of history.

Long and narrow - Lombard Street EC3

Long and narrow – Lombard Street EC3

There’s a small Sainsbury’s supermarket on the ground floor of one of the buildings.  This used to house Lloyds Coffee House – a place where merchants, bankers and insurance men met in mediaeval times to do business, as ships came into dock with their cargo.   The coffee house later transmuted into Lloyds of London – the insurance company we know today. You can look further into this and find out the connection between the Lutine Bell and Lloyds of London, where it now resides in semi-retirement.

The Gresham Grasshopper

The Gresham Grasshopper

Lombard Street is also home to the Gresham Grasshopper.  I’m not sure about the significance of the grasshopper bit but it certainly warrants your attention. It’s on the Gresham coat of arms.  Sir Thomas Gresham 1518 – 1579 gave the City of London two great institutions.  The Royal Exchange (where the Lutine Bell resided in the 1890s until 1928) and Gresham College.

Lombard - a street full of signs EC3

Lombard – a street full of signs –  EC3

Lombard musical cat

Lombard musical cat

Lombard Street - a king

Lombard Street – a king

Kate phoned. She’d gone to London Bridge by mistake but was on her way.   I shivered and at the same time my eye lit on a board, creaking in the wind outside St. Mary Woolnoth church.   It had a drawing of a steaming cup of coffee on it.  What a welcome thought!  I followed a City type with his well polished briefcase up the steps, imagining a rather hollow and dusty interior, smelling of  cobwebs and candlewax and times past.

Lombard - a very welcome sign!

Lombard Street and St. Mary Woolnoth church – a very welcome sign!

But it wasn’t like that at all.  A small porch, before you even enter the church, has been made into a warm and inviting tiny café, run by two very entrepreneurial young women, who welcome you  with huge smiles.   A comfy armchair and a pile of books and magazines fill one side of the porch, where you can make yourself at home. Very temptingAn irresistible cosy corner - St. Mary Woolnoth café - Lombard Street EC3

Irresistible! – St. Mary Woolnoth café – Lombard Street EC3

The City man greeted the girls and asked for ‘the usual’ please. He probably works at The Bank of England in Threadneedle Street –  across the road.

This tiny niche of a café, hidden from the street, is obviously visited regularly by those ‘in the know’. If it hadn’t been for Kate getting in a muddle I wouldn’t be ‘in the know’ either I thought,  my hands embracing a steaming cup of coffee.

Melina and Melina at The CosyCoffeeCorner - St Mary Woolnoth Church, Lombard Street, EC3

Melina and Melina at The CosyCoffeeCorner – St Mary Woolnoth Church, Lombard Street, EC3

info@thecosycoffeecorner.com.  Tel. +44(0)790 6577 152.

By the time Kate arrived, I was quite perked up for the DLR trip via Canary Wharf to Greenwich.

My umbrella - still in one piece ... !

My umbrella – still in one piece … !

The wind whipped darts of freezing rain at us, as it tore at our brollies but it was a short walk to the delights of the National Maritime Museum, where Pepys awaited. I had read some of his diaries, which are in code (but he left a crib right next to them). It is a wonderful, personal picture of daily life during the time of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell and Charles II. Pepys lived through the Great Fire of London and the Plague and even spent time in the Tower – but escaped execution, unlike his king.

The catalogue, which I bought after seeing the exhibition, is really worth the expense.  It is published by Thames & Hudson.  “Samuel Pepys, Renaissance Man” is a biography by Claire Tomalin.  She writes ‘Reading the diary, you feel he is holding his hand out to you.  You become his friend’.  I felt exactly like that.

Pepys was born in London in 1633, the son of a tailor, living off Fleet Street.  His wife, who was fifteen when she married him, was half French. He got his position at the Navy Board through his distant cousin, Edward Montagu. Pepys was quick to learn and quite a polymath.

Pepys loved music.  He played several instruments and gave musical parties.  He also loved the theatre, paintings and reading and later in life, set up his own library.

Although he wasn’t a scientist he was interested in everything from anatomy to astronomy and knew Hooke, Boyle and the physician Hans Sloane, as well as Christopher Wren and Isaac Newton.  He became the President of The Royal Society because of his interest in science.

He was drawn to the attractions of many women but at the same time loved his wife dearly.  He describes his day-to-day life very frankly!  Nothing seems to be missed out … which makes it such fun to read.

I was intrigued by Charles II’s many mistresses, whose portraits are in the exhibition.  One in particular appealed to me  –  Louise de Kérouaille was from a Breton noble family.  The king called her his dearest ‘Fubs’, on account of her chubby face. The fact that she was both French and Catholic did not endear her to the English court. But she was smart as well as pretty.

I don’t have any photos of the exhibition  –  which means that you should go and see it for yourselves!  I felt so moved by it that I decided to go and visit Pepys’s grave.  He is buried in the church of St. Olave, where he worshipped on Sundays with his wife. It is on the corner of Seething Lane and Hart Street –  EC3  –  not so far from Tower Bridge.

The Shard from Eastcheap EC3

The Shard from Eastcheap EC3

Pepys loved women ...

Pepys loved women …

I arrived with a bunch of daffodils, which I laid on his memorial in the small churchyard.

At St. Olave's

At St. Olave’s

St. Olave's churchyard 1

St. Olave’s churchyard

Pepys and daffodils

Pepys and daffodils

I felt really happy to have done this.  Writing those diaries over ten years has left us a wonderfully personal memoir of both the man and the age in which he lived. This is my preferred way of learning history! He would have made a fascinating companion.  Do go and see the exhibition  –  I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.





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Raiders at the Royal Albert Hall

A family outing.  Our seats were on the first row of the balcony, giving us a stunning view.  The film was ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, with a live orchestra playing the musical score.

Slightly early, so we walked up from South Kensington tube and John said he would show me around Imperial College, where he lectures each year.

Imperial college entrance, South Kensington...

Imperial college entrance, South Kensington…

And here we are on the right - how did I do that?

And here we are to the right of the flowers – how did I do that?

The interior is so much bigger than I had imagined! A tranquil square surrounded by buildings on four sides, screening out the  general hoi polloi.  A great place for study and reflection.

Reflections, Imperial College, South Kensington

Reflections, Imperial College, South Kensington

A scene we passed by on the way to the Royal Albert Hall.

A cameo scene

A little cameo …

And another we passed by on the way back home.

How did he do that?!

How did he do that?!

What a glorious rendezvous – the film is an outstanding classic, the orchestra was triumphant.  I  love these new, original ways of capturing our imagination and letting it run riot.

Front row seat at 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' Royal Albert Hall - 12 March 2016

Front row seat at ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ –  Royal Albert Hall – 12 March 2016

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A filmic ride through 2015

citroen Bafta

In 2015, I jotted down the title of every film I saw, with a couple of lines to remind me what I liked or didn’t like about them.  Here are a few of the most memorable.

I started the year off with GRAVITY in 3D, (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock), thinking it was not my sort of film. I was duly persuaded to go and very glad I did.  I would have missed a technically brilliant piece of filming.  It was also very enjoyable in a spooky, spacey way.

I bought a DVD of the WOODY ALLEN documentary, which I’d seen in the cinema the year before.  When his films are good – e.g. BLUE JASMINE – I love them and it was interesting to see him pootling around in daily life.

BEHIND THE CANDELABRA (The Life and Times of Liberace) with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.  The height of Las Vegas glitz and tackiness.  Wonderful performances by both actors.  I loved this film as much as John loathed it. The music and the costumes fabulously OTT. Tarnished. Finished up watching (more than once!) a Liberace video on YouTube where he engages the audience – hey!! Worth a whirl through!

THE GREAT GATSBY (Baz Luhrmann edition) was a suffocatingly sweetie of a confection.  G’s comment said it all. ‘It was as if our teeth were rotting as we watched’. Then there was FADING GIGOLO, (John Turturro and Woody Allen) – full of ‘delectable’ females and horribly self indulgent on the part of JT and WA.

Image of OTT glitz

Image of OTT glitz

John thought INTERSTELLAR very good but I felt it was dispiriting  and a bit clunky, although the time lapsing was a brilliant idea.  We both loved THE IMITATION GAME – about Alan Turing at Bletchley Park during the war.  Benedict Cumberbatch and Matthew Goode stood out.  Keira Knightley too.

THE LUNCH BOX was a present ( DVD).  It’s set in Mumbai and about a relationship which grows between a man and a woman who have never met but she sends a daily lunch box to his office and gets a note in return.  I adored ‘Auntie’, who lives upstairs and screeches down advice but is never to be seen.  A ‘life in the day’ film, beautifully realised, heartstopping at times. Appealing, funny and bittersweet.

'Auntie's' beady eye!

‘Auntie’s’ beady eye!

Another DVD  – FINDING VIVIAN MAIER – .  This mysterious woman was a nanny in America in the 1950s but also an obsessive, secret photographer, who took over 100,00 photos.  Somebody bought a cache of negatives in old boxes at an auction, not knowing what they were, then hunted down others and gradually collected  and then mounted an exhibition of them in New York. All these photos are a record of everyday life in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and worldwide.  The negatives got lost when VM didn’t keep her storage fees up.

This film has been put together by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel.  It is riveting.  To find out more about Vivian Maier, look up Wikipedia.  Utterly fascinating biography. Watch the film and find out more details with personal interviews of people who knew, or said they knew her.  Vivian Maier’s talent was almost lost – thank you to those who uncovered it and persevered in bringing it to a wider world.

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING – the story of Stephen Hawking’s life.  He was played by Eddie Redmayne with Felicity Jones as his wife.  ER was rewarded with an Oscar. When Stephen Hawking saw the film he said he thought it was himself – ER was so brilliant!

GOODBYE FIRST LOVE.  I saw this French film on TV.  Very much the type of French film where you just drop in on somebody’s life day to day.  It was thoughtful and empathetic to the young lovers.  Good locations down by a picturesque river, the seaside in Denmark and Paris. Slight and gentle.

X+Y.  This film is about an autistic boy who is also a maths genius.  After he loses his father, he joins other geniuses at an Olympiad, travelling from home in England to Taiwan. This almost seemed like a documentary and may be based on one.  I loved the cultural exchange scenes with the Chinese.  Nathan (Asa Butterfield) was excellent and you found yourself very much on his side as he struggled with everything new.  A great story.

THE MAN ON THE EIFFEL TOWER (DVD) was one of the first  English ‘Maigret’ films, where Charles Laughton plays the detective (1949).  It shows how far we have come cinematically since then.  It encouraged me to buy a boxed set of ‘MAIGRET’, made for TV in the 1990s.  Michael Gambon plays the detective and most corresponds to my personal image of what Maigret should look like.  Apparently, Rowan Atkinson is set to become Maigret on TV this year?!

'Maigret' style image

Atmospheric Image ‘Maigret’ style!  

ENOUGH SAID was the last film made by James Gandolfini.  He was a much loved actor  –  generous and sensitive.  About older people looking for a lasting relationship and about how trust between them is as important as having fun.

WOMAN IN GOLD, starring Helen Mirren and based on fact didn’t get very good reviews but I thought it was well put together.  It’s about ‘Adèle’, a woman painted by Klimt, whose painting was stolen from her family by the Nazis.  The story is about how a descendant of the family, who had to flee to California during the war, tried to get it back.  Tense, drawing you in, rewarding and ultimately satisfying. Helen Mirren in tenacious form, becoming an inspiration to her rather meek nephew.

Viennese gold

Viennese gold

L’ECLISSE was made in 1962 with Monica Vitti and Alain Delon.  It plays out in a weird, surreal dreamscape.  Monica Vitti  is mysteriously beautiful  but it was that time in the 1960s when to be nihilistic was ‘cool’.  Quite a lot of silent navel gazing which seemingly added up only to wasted lives. Very dated and excruciatingly slow moving.  Good as an example for an archivist of 1960s films.

I can’t leave out ‘PETIT NICOLAS’.  A DVD based on the stories (in French) of a small schoolboy and his parents by René Goscinney and illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempé.  I read these wonderfully humorous stories years ago and found them enchanting.  A triumph!  Just how the world should be from a child’s point of view.   I enjoyed the film but the stories should be read and kept alive, as should the biographies of Goscinney and Sempé. The French is simple and a good way to enjoy learning another language.

Le Petit Nicolas


LOVE AND MERCY – the story of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. A tormented genius.  John loved this.  it was well made and well cast. Great for Beach Boys fans.

SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN.  What happened to this talented musician?  In this DVD we find out how two South African fans investigated and brought a fabulous story to the screen.  A very extraordinary and moving film.  Thank you to the fans who made it happen.

MISTRESS AMERICA with Greta Gerwig is a rather crazy black comedy of manners with a melancholic streak of ‘growing up’  – what happens to people in real life  – when it would be great to have had the  gift of hindsight.  Greta Gerwig was also in FRANCES HA, where she played a character along the same lines – MISTRESS AMERICA was more substantial.

THE NEW GIRLFRIEND with Romain Duris as a cross dressing husband who has lost his wife was enjoyably eccentric.  His gender fluidity, told through a prism of grief, creates an upsurge of empathy for him and his situation.  Slightly slow in parts but worth seeing.  An uplifting ending.  (I love his face!).

THE LOBSTER gets one of two prizes for worst film.   I found it mean and as boring as an old, grey dishcloth and didn’t find it easy to connect with anybody in it. At first, I thought the Colin Farrell character might benefit from a retreat for ‘singletons’ but this was a  particularly vicious cult.  It made me angry that it contributed to making him even more unhappy and unstable. I found the psychological cruelty in it very disturbing.  It was as if you were condemned to share your bed forever with a rotting lobster.

Oddly, I read an article about Sartre by Roger Lewis (The Times 20.2.16), reviewing a book ‘At The Existentialist Café’ by Sarah Bakewell.  Neither are complimentary about the existentialist movement, dismissing it as adolescent and egotistical. A lot of hot air!  Apparently, when Sartre took mescalin, he had ‘nightmare visions of snakes, toads, vultures and beetles. For months he thought he was being followed down the street by a lobster’!  It all confirms my instinctive revulsion of this film.

The other worst film for me was LE WEEKEND.  I found this offensive, depressing and hopefully unbelievable.  All the people in it were people I would never want to meet.  Somehow, it’s OK for pop groups to trash hotel bedrooms but not the likes of John and I.  Maybe that’s why some people found it amusing. But I found it hugely embarrassing and best forgotten!

ABOUT TIME (DVD).  Something to watch on a Sunday night. A  Richard Curtis film with Bill Nighy.  Cosy, like a lightweight duvet.

SKYFALL (James Bond) was excellent.  I think my favourite Bond movie is CASINO ROYALE but this comes very close (directed by Sam Mendes).  Last rites for Judi Dench.

The last three films are the ones I give five stars to.

Not because we were invited to the première – which was a great experience – but STEVE JOBS is a film of quality.  It hangs together well and is totally believable.  I could see myself as the desperate Kate Winslet PA character.  Both she and Michael Fassbender were excellent.  Having an ‘Apple’ myself and knowing the history of Steve Jobs and the company made the film even more satisfying for me.

Steve Jobs was a man with a mission  –  often these types of people are charismatic but obsessive and driven  –  and can be very unsympathetic and unpleasant in their dealings with other people in order to achieve their goals.  Emotional intelligence suffers here for genius in other quarters! Danny Boyle, as director, understands the man, who is also portrayed perfectly by Michael Fassbender. I loved this film which honours the memory of  a great mind.

Finishing on a high note with two films I loved so, so much.

BROOKLYN is just one of those films that hit the spot in every direction.   The screenplay is by Nick Hornby from the book, ‘Brooklyn’ by Colm Tóibín.  Saorse Ronan would be my choice for  best actress – forever remembered in that yellow frock.  And it is a frock (rather than a dress!)  –  the clothes, the settings, the characters are so true to life and the film is very true to the book. Set in the 1950s, when many young Irish emigrated to New York to find jobs, this is a jewel of a film and so very enjoyable. Two handsome men – one choice!

And I finish off with CAROL  –  another film which stopped my heart.  Based on the book by Patricia Highsmith, first published in 1952 as ‘The Price of Salt’ under a pseudonym and now republished as ‘Carol’.   The film is wonderfully atmospheric, conjuring up the life in New York in the 50s as the soft snow falls romantically on the big Buicks and the perfumed women in their furs – or chaps the poor, rough hands of the shopgirls, freezing in their cheap boots and scarves as, after a hard day’s slog in the department stores, they trudge home to their gloomy, cheap apartments.

The photography is exquisite, the faces of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara forever in my head, the story by moments heartwarming and sad, beautiful and exciting  –  yet tense with warning as to what the future will bring.  A cinematic treat.

cadillac yellow


‘Her eyes were grey, colourless, yet dominant as light or fire,  and, caught by them, Therese could not look away’……. ‘ her voice was like her coat, rich and supple, and somehow full of secrets.’ Quote from the book, which I’m reading now.

If I was on the Oscars committee, I couldn’t choose between ‘BROOKLYN’ and ‘CAROL’ for best film, so I would give it to ‘STEVE JOBS’.  The first two are both exquisite, sparkling jewels, with fire at their centre.  Both great achievements, which brought tears to my eyes for the way we are.

‘STEVE JOBS’ tells the history of a technology which has and will continue to push us into an ever expanding ‘brave new world’, full of exciting possibilities and discoveries and ever more dangerous risks, which will both enhance our minds and also threaten to obliterate them.

Quote from The Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through The Looking-Glass’.  “Now here, you see,  it takes all the running you can do, to keep in one place.  If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”

And so we must run with that neverending tide –  ever onwards into 2016 and to what will become of us.

carol and brooklyn

P.S.  There was an article in ‘The Times’ very recently, listing successful European drama series on British television, like Scandi noir. To my mind, they missed out a terrific thriller. This was a Belgian series of twelve episodes, called SALAMANDER. Written by Ward Hulselmans  –  the main character played absolutely brilliantly by Filip Peeters.  Greatly recommended. A follow-up is on the way.







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Rendezvous near Sloane Square 2015

I meet up with my three university friends four times a year, as near to each birthday as possible.  This time the venue was Daylesfords in Chelsea. The food is both healthy and delicious. And downstairs they have an excellent deli.

Daylesford's coffee passes the critical test ...

Daylesford’s coffee passes the critical test …

Many years ago, John and I rented a flat in Ebury Street.  You can read about that in my biography.  The shops at the end of Ebury Street, leading to Lower Sloane Street, were to me then, palaces of expensive elegance.

I once stood in a rain soaked queue for the January sale at ‘Casa Pupo’, where I met a handsome young architect. He chivalrously shared his umbrella with me and I went home on a high, carrying a giant, white porcelain bowl and two twirly candlesticks.  ‘Casa Pupo’ has long gone. I often wondered what happened to the architect.

I wasn’t a ‘Sloane Ranger’ but because of a hitch hiking adventure and a long shot chance, we met the landlords of Ebury Street and ended up renting one of their flats.  We could observe Sloane Rangers at close quarters and Belgravia turned out to be a great place to live. I was able to walk to work past Buckingham Palace and across Green Park.

I was curious to see where we had lived forty odd years ago and being a little early for our rendezvous, I walked along the road.  Our flat was being renovated.  Nobody about.  I slipped in and stood in my old bedroom.  The garden was still beautiful.  The builders found me but were fascinated by my stories of living here forty years ago.  Now it will become one rather grand and luxurious home.  I wonder if the ghosts of Christmases Past will flit through it from time to time?  I felt like one but bricks and mortar don’t recognise times past.

The shops are still expensive and elegant.  They do not have ‘sales’.  But they are lovely to look at and a little ‘lèche-vitrine’ was in order!

Chelsea mirrored ...

Chelsea mirrored …

Chelsea birds ...

Chelsea birds …

Chelsea fish ...

Chelsea fish …

Chelsea stove ...

Chelsea stove …

Very one-off.  Later on, I walked up Lower Sloane Street to Sloane Square, where the Christmas lights had just been lit.  Was I just a little bit squiffy?  I don’t think so!

Christmas lights Sloane Square 2015

Christmas lights Sloane Square 2015


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