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Archive Entries for April 2010

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Friday April 30, 2010

Books in April

  • The Little Stranger by Sara Waters LittleStranger.jpg
    I saw a review of this book along with 5 other Booker Prize nominees in 2009; it did not win the prize but is also nominated for the Orange prize 2010. I loved it from the start as it drew me in to the description of post-war rural Britain and a declining country estate. However, it is a strange and rather sad tale about the "little stranger" which it took me a while to catch on to as I was so enjoying the story of the characters.
    It reminded me of my favourite J B Priestley novel Bright Day which is set somewhat earlier before the war (both wars in fact), and also recounted as a reminiscence. It also has two layers - the first being a wonderful cosy description of the hero's life as he starts out working in what is actually Bradford - somewhat autobiographical I believe - and then the actual nub of the story and moving on to "present day" (1946) with the sting in the tail. Like many of Priestley's stories ( Inspector Calls, Dangerous Corner ) this is a kind of morality play - and this moral I particularly like. It points out how misleading it is to believe someone else's life to be "perfect" and perhaps wishing you were they.
    Little Stranger is a very different story but has the same flavour, poignantly evoking an older culture - and where things are not quite as they seem on the surface. I highly recommend it.

  • Third Girl by Agatha Christie [read by John Woodvine] ThirdGirl.jpg
    Having seen the TV adaptation of this book with David Suchet, I went back to the source. This is from AC's 1960s period where you can feel her own sentiments about the modern age coming through - Poirot is a little perplexed and out of his depth - "modern girls" and their lifestyles are explained to him (and us!) by Mrs Oliver - he is told he is "too old!" ...and he feels it. There is a lot of time spent where we watch the little grey cells at work through the pages. Overall the TV adaptation did it justice - they are generally not able to reproduce the chemistry of the cast, and light-heartedness of the short story adaptations in the 1980s.
    Having said that, I recently watched a TV adaptation of The Pale Horse (1997) - which I remember as a gripping book. Here AC seems totally at home among the new generation of bright young things - I always thought there was a great similarity in culture between the 1930s and the 1960s - both times of great change in art, lifestyles, and outlook. However, seeing the publishing date of 1961, I guess it more reflected the 1950s art world - certainly the TV adaptation was very true to the styling of the late 50s with the hero in leather jacket and black turtle neck (he was an artist...). Third Girl is squarely in 1966 - swinging London, mini-skirts, .... drugs (pretty central to the plot).

Posted on April 30, 2010 at 11:15 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Sunday April 25, 2010

Grace is the beauty of form.

I spent yesterday at the V&A taking in both the Quilts exhibition - ancient and modern - and "Grace Kelly: Style Icon", which showed how her wardrobe evolved from that of a stylish actress to royal princess.

In the latter, we were able to see her film costumes, dresses made for her trousseau and wedding, as well as the later French haute couture of the 1960s and '70s. In 1955 Grace Kelly first met Prince Ranier wearing a cotton dress made from a McCalls pattern of the day (albeit not hand-sewn by herself - she had modeled for McCalls spring catalogue for that year) but going forward as Princess she easily embraced the haute couture gowns by her favourite couturiers Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy and Yves St Laurent.
I loved the outfits from the 1950s - envisioning myself on all of them (!). The dresses were inspirational and made me want to go home and start sewing immediately! The 1960s fashions were a little less appealing to me, based on simpler straighter lines - though the Mondrian dress is always striking (I think M&S even had recent version of this type of 1960s design).
Of course, they have their own beauty, which she was well able to carry off with her height and slender figure -
GraceHair.jpg - and rather despite the bizarre 1960s rigid hair styles, bolstered by hair-piece additions, (which were a fairly normal feature even in less formal hair dressing at that time).
In the 1970s, the fashions moved favourably for an older Grace (in my opinion) but these are my least favourite - probably because this was the sartorially unsatisfactory era of my youth ("the decade that taste forgot"). The exhibits were more formal dresses: long, floaty, layered (visualise Abigail's Party); they showcased wonderful colours and fabrics.
As the exhibition pointed out, Grace's appeal for the masses in the 1950s was that she wore clothes that any girl could have worn - even to meet a Prince..... and I think I follow the masses here....

The quilt exhibition was quite different in atmosphere; the lighting was kept low to protect the items, making it seem mysterious and almost sacred. Many of the quilts on show featured applique and embroidery - picture quilts, symbolic, incorporating religious texts, or commemorating people or events. But I have to say, I preferred the traditional pieced and quilted exhibits - some of which were surprisingly ancient yet in excellent condition. The Bishops Court Quilt, shown below, dates from around 1690.


One coverlet was unfinished, and was on display so that the front and back could be viewed with the paper pieces used in the construction on show. The papers can provide important historical evidence for dating quilts - the one on show used old receipts and ledger papers.
The 65 quilts on show were mainly from the V&A's own collection but also included a number of new works by contemporary artists, which were on loan - some commissioned especially for the show. It could be argued that some of the newer works were not "quilts" at all - they more explored the term as an artistic concept. For me, quilts represent safety and comfort, and I did not take to being challenged by cutting edge art forms. I liked Sara Impey's "Punctuation" - a silk machine-quilt poem of fragmented phrases. However, my favourite of the modern works was Tracey Emin's bed (no - not the bed but "To Meet My Past" 2002) - neither the artist nor this work could really be said to represent safety and comfort, but I found it poignantly pleasing.


Quilts: 1700 - 2010 runs at the V&A until July 4th, and
Grace Kelly: Style Icon runs until September 26th.

Posted on April 25, 2010 at 8:26 AM. Category: Quilting.

Monday April 12, 2010

Croydon Film Festival

Rob has had a film short listed for the Short Film Contest, so this evening we went to a screening of the 12 chosen films in the Croydon Clocktower. A tiny excerpt is featured in the title flash sequence on the website - Rob is 9th out of the 10 shown, (2 are not shown as they have potentially offensive content). The theme was "passion".


My favourites were "The Boyfriend Song" - which seemed very derivative of the Monkees (who are likely unknown to the musicians... ) but none the worse for that, and "The Perfect Cup" as the film makers seemed to be having such a laugh. Rob did not progress to the next stage of voting - which is a shame - but I think most of the ones I liked did not get through to the next stage - and 2 I really disliked got through. However, they are not being judged simply on the content.

Posted on April 12, 2010 at 1:51 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Sunday April 4, 2010


The weather has been pretty bad all week - but today we are due to leave and it is quite lovely. I took a few photos - this is the progress on the bakehouse since I was last here - small doors on the back of the building.


The progress inside is more interesting but it is a very small space to try and photograph. It now has a ceiling - which is a floor of what is a surprisingly large airy space above (bedroom) - I was expecting a hayloft and I have a reasonable room. The bathroom has skeletal walls.

All the flowers are late in blooming as it has been so cold.



The baby strawberry plants seem to have survived well. Lloyd really put the major effort into these so I hope he gets to eat them before the birds do so.


Posted on April 4, 2010 at 1:38 PM. Category: France.