Showing posts with label art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art. Show all posts

Tuesday 9 February 2021

Screen life: the films I've loved

Today I'm sitting at my computer in three jumpers, looking through the window at snowflakes swirling around the garden. As ever, I'm peering through a screen at the real world beyond. The pandemic has turned us into a nation of voyeurs, gleaning our entertainment from Zoom, television, mobile phones... and now windows.

A snow globe in front of a window
Living in a bubble
Not that I'm complaining. I've had my fresh air this morning and it's chilly enough in the house, let alone outside. I'm also quite a fan of Zoom and its ilk. Without video conferencing, I wouldn't be able to read Jacqueline Wilson to my nieces, catch up with family/friends, watch live theatre, enjoy Arts Society talks or take part in an upcoming Chinese New Year quiz this weekend. This is life in 2021.

Tuesday 13 October 2020

My love of LitFest season

An intriguing nugget I've learnt from my two weeks of #litfest indulgence? The novelist Ann Patchett slipped into her favourite ballgowns during lockdown to promote new books on Instagram. She runs her own bookshop in Nashville, Tennessee, and was forced to get creative to sell some books - it's heartwarming - go take a look at @ParnassusBooks on Instagram.

Andrew Marr's book, The Elizabethans on a yellow chair
Lots of bedtime reading...
My attendance of the Henley Literary Festival has been a bit different this year - for obvious reasons. Instead of strolling around picturesque venues in Henley (and feasting on Gower Cottage brownies), I've been sat at home watching various sessions via Crowdcast. 

The 2020 festival has been as stimulating as ever, bar a few interruptions as people wandered into my viewing suite (aka kitchen): Mum, what's for supper? or Has anyone seen my wallet? In response, I've had to ramp up my particular superpower, an ability to zone-everyone-out while I'm focused on something more interesting (a skill usually only deployed on long car journeys).

Tuesday 5 March 2019

Spring house makeover

At long last, spring is in the air! I can't say I feel the urge to spring-clean, but all this lovely sunshine is raising my energy levels on the house front. We moved into a period home last October and are in the throes of figuring out what needs renovating. The to-do list seems to keep on growing...

Fliers of exhibitors at the Henley House & Garden Show 2019
Exhibitors at the House & Garden Show

We could live here quite happily for another year or so without doing anything, but we're under pressure to get the heavy lifting out the way before my daughter takes her GCSEs next summer. 

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Relics of the past

Victorian-style dresser in old kitchen
What secrets does our house keep?
Credit: William Lam
Archaeologists recently found a fragment of Roman pottery in my home town, in the car park near our local Waitrose supermarket. My first thought was that the discovery would make a nice premise for a Latin text book: 
Metella and her slave Grumio visit the fish counter at Waitrose. Ever mindful of landfill, Metella brings her clay cooking pot to carry the fresh salmon home, but on the way back to their villa, naughty Grumio drops his mistress' pot and it shatters on the ground... Heu!

Wednesday 6 June 2018

Foreign fields

Travel diary
WWI sites in Belgium and France

Every evening in the Belgian town of Ypres, people of all nationalities gather at the Menin Gate to remember the young men who died in the Great War. At eight o'clock sharp, a group of buglers sound the last post to commemorate more than 54,000 missing Commonwealth soldiers. Their names are engraved on the honey-coloured walls, interminable lists of men who went missing in action. They died in the fields around Ypres, but their bodies have never been found or identified. 

Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium (The Last Post)
Crowds gather at the Menin Gate
This ceremony has been performed every evening since 1928, apart from when Ypres was under German occupation during the second-world war. I attended with my family one Sunday in late May at the beginning of a half-term trip to visit the sites of World War I. The aim was to enrich the kids' understanding of the war, although I think we all came away with a deeper sense of what went on during this terrible period of history, viewed by some as a European civil war.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Twelve new things I learnt last week

Notes from the Henley Literary Festival 2017

Blogger's son and children's author Katherine Rundell, writer of The Explorer
My son meets children's author Katherine Rundell,
who researched her latest novel The Explorer
on an expedition to the Amazon rainforest
What a journey! I've travelled from the Ottoman Empire to the Tudor Court, across Russia, dipped a toe into Georgian and Victorian England, scurried through a few war zones and glimpsed behind the scenes of a coalition government. 

It has been exhilarating, mind-blowing, delightfully informative and, at times, a little exhausting. My conduit for this dizzying tour of culture was the Henley Literary Festival, a book fest that pops up every autumn like a mushroom in my back yard.

Thursday 8 September 2016

Passing through Barcelona

The Skybar at the Grand Hotel Central, Barcelona
A visitor to the Skybar, Grand Hotel Central
So I have a friend who is currently sailing around the world in a yacht with her husband and young family. I am following their progress avidly on Facebook - they are mid-Atlantic as I write. A small part of me would love to be on that boat, embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, instead of dancing circles in Henley-on-Thames. But it will never be. I don't have the nerve or the skills required.

Travelling has its own mystique for me. As the child of ex-pats, I have never felt entirely comfortable living in England. I much prefer the thrill of foreign cultures, even if it's only a week in France! Somehow, I feel more alive when I'm in someone else's country. 

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Social outcasts

People watching:
Greg Rook, Artist and Course Director, Fine Art, London South Bank University

Hours before Paris suffered a series of devastating attacks last week, I spoke to the contemporary artist Greg Rook about his latest collection of paintings, entitled Off-grid. For much of his painting career, Greg has been intrigued by communities of people who exist on the margins of society, sustained by the rigours of their own belief system. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, this preoccupation with survivalism feels strangely prescient.

The Good Life by Greg Rook

Through his early depictions of cowgirls/boys in the American West, Greg explored the myth of the "guy out on his own, working out what right and wrong should be". Comparing the dusty, raw linen on which he chose to paint with the rough ground of the American landscape, Greg explains how the lone figure became a metaphor for his position as a contemporary artist. Later he became interested in the hippy communes of the 1970s and their dream of an enlightened future that never quite came to pass. Greg refers to this notion as "past potential futures" - in other words, hopes for the future that were not fulfilled.

Monday 5 October 2015

Moonlight Jasmine

This is my short story that was shortlisted in the Henley Literary Festival 2015 short-story competition. A few of you have asked me to post it on the blog so here it is! It is 3,000 words long so you may want to make yourself a cup of tea first. It was inspired by a true story.  


Jasmine flowers
©  | Dreamstime.com
A spray of white blooms caught Connie’s eye as she marched past the flower stall, but she didn’t allow herself to falter. Not today. She had a very important meeting to make and she couldn’t be late. Possibly the most important meeting of her life… no, that was an exaggeration! Nonetheless, her mission was to reach the cafĂ© at Selfridges before eleven o’clock. All her instincts told her that she should be safely in situ before her foe arrived. Stepping into the gutter to avoid a ponderous group of tourists, she picked up her pace and continued down Oxford Street.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Poetic truth

Notes from the Henley Literary Festival 2015

My favourite event in Henley's social carousel has come round again. For one glorious week (the sun always shines), I swan about the Henley Literary Festival on my own little voyage of intellectual discovery. This year I am attending talks on subjects as diverse as babies being born to mothers incarcerated at Auschwitz, black holes, the debutantes at Bletchley Park and an Indian suffragette. Every year I fall under the spell of the written word, marvelling again at its power to capture the gamut of human experience and inspire emotion.

Jane Hawkings, memoir writer and first wife of physicist Stephen Hawkings
Jane's memoir was a way
of 'unburdening' herself
It doesn't matter whether it is fiction or non-fiction: a good piece of writing is always authentic or truthful in an artistic sense. Whilst talking about his latest novel (The Dust that Falls from Dreamson the Great War, author Louis de Bernieres told us how he toyed with writing a biography of his family, but decided he didn't want to upset his father. "I've gone back to the normal plan which is to tell colossal lies," he said. "But there is poetic truth [in the book]." His guiding principle was to recreate what individuals felt as they became caught up in the war.

Thursday 26 March 2015

Lose yourself

My daughter found something out about herself this week. After taking a narrator role in her school play, she discovered she rather enjoyed being in the limelight. Quite a departure for my shy girl who generally feels more comfortable observing life from the sidelines. Standing on the spotlit stage, she delivered her lines with aplomb and basked in the audience's attention like it was warm sunshine. For a few hours, she was free from the self-conscious strictures of pre-teenhood.

Two girls reading books on play equipment
Lost in a good book
The transformation came about because she was able to borrow the persona of another character and suppress her usual inhibitions. Wearing another personality for a few hours also meant she no longer had to worry about how other people might judge her. Like any spell in the sunshine, the after-effects have lingered, giving her a rosy glow of confidence. 

Wednesday 25 February 2015

A new kind of alchemy

A few months ago I had the pleasure of shepherding a group of excitable seven-year olds around the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The highlights of our trip, according to the consensus view, were Guy Fawkes' lantern, a mummified cat from ancient Egypt and the contents of our packed lunch. So when a glass case of Eastern porcelain caught my fancy, I knew I was going out on a limb. There was a typed notice inside the case that particularly intrigued me: 

East and West: a difference of opinion
In the West an object is considered more beautiful and valuable if it is in perfect and original condition. Contrast this with the Far East where imperfections and repairs can be considered to enhance the beauty and significance of ceramics. The dish [below], showing the rising moon, has been mended with gilded lacquer. The gilding draws attention to the restored area. A Western mender or restorer would have aimed to create an invisible repair.

Porcelain dish, Arita, Japan, 1600-1699
Porcelain dish, Arita, Japan, 1600-1699 
The rim has been repaired with gilded lacquer using a technique known as maki-e

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Beauty, truth and the third alien

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

Middle Child came back from school a while ago and told me he had some important news. He had won a starring role in his school nativity play! That's great, I said. Joseph? One of the three kings? "Third alien," he said. Right. How many aliens are there? "Five," he said. Well, that's just brilliant! Of course he will always be my little star, even if his big break only amounted to three lines (one of which was said in unison with the other four aliens).


Alien face
The third alien makes his debut
©  | Dreamstime.com


It was a fabulous school production nonetheless! Watching all those little people singing their hearts out never fails to make my eyes water. My favourite bit was when MC's best friend Laura (fourth alien) whipped up her costume in a frenzy of excitement and flashed her Peppa Pig pants at the audience.

Thursday 3 October 2013

My literary week

Stella Rimington, former head of MI5
Dame Stella: MI5's first female head
Credit: James Gifford-Mead
We had a marvellous day out last Saturday: we went en famille to an open day for a private school in Abingdon. There were newly hatched chicks in the biology lab, smarties in the maths room and trampolining in the gym! The kids were in heaven, but what impressed me most was the onsite theatre, two-tier library and purpose-built lecture hall. I realised this was what we would be paying our fees for: the chance to plant our children in a glorious hothouse.

Now that my days in full-time education are long gone, I realise I miss that heady atmosphere of learning new things and discovering a world in books... which is why I adore The Henley Literary Festival. Once a year, thanks to this jamboree of writers, historians and bloggers, I get my literary fix. The festival takes place right on my doorstep for a week at the end of September and I have been attending ever since former journalist, Sue Ryan, set it up seven years ago. It has gone from strength to strength, selling over 14,000 tickets this year.