Friday, September 28, 2007


A sumptuously mounted exhibition at Tate Britain; will probably be mobbed by fans of chocolate boxy Victorian art. After a short period of artistic rebellion in the Pre-Rahaelite movement Millais became the archetypal artistic sellout, licensing his work Bubbles for use in the Pear’s Soap adverts.
Actually I quite like Bubbles, and don’t really blame the man for making a few quid in the Art Business, especially after his unpleasant early experiences with his critical patron Ruskin, a relentless back-seat driver and moralist who went a bit gaga in the end.

I don’t really rate Millais’ stuff at all, apart from Ophelia, Marianna and one or two other pieces. He was skilled in handling paint, capturing textures and facial expression but a bit hopeless at large-scale compositions, which are usually weird and awkward. The portraits are by far his best work.

Millais scandalously eloped with Mrs John Ruskin, whose marriage to the Victorian Sage was unconsummated allegedly due to Mr Ruskin’s distaste of feminine public hair. Instead of booking herself in for a brazilian Mrs Ruskin eloped with the far more personable Millais. Her second marriage was far more successful, and the pair had vast quantities of children, most of whom were roped in for modelling by their doting papa. Queen Victoria never forgave Millais the scandal, and despite painting every Victorian worthy and C-list celeb he never painted her. The monarchy’s loss. Maybe this explains our present monarch’s mania for being painted by Lucien Freud, et all.

Tate Britain
26 September 2007 – 13 January 2008

Movie roundup

Was seduced into seeing The Walker with Woody Harrelson by the superlative reviews. I’d agree Woody was excellent in his role as the gay black sheep of an aristocratic Southern family, and the supporting cast were pretty good too. However, this was supposed to be a thriller and instead was fairly soporific and plotless. It sees itself as some sort of updated Liaisons Dangereuses set in Washington and takes itself far too seriously.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was far more enjoyable. I loved the design – especially the room with the faily tree wallpaper in Sirius Black’s house. Very creepy and atmospheric.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I researched the Balham tube WWII bomb blast, and found this. Definitely not as beautiful as Atonement’s take on the incident. The movie pursues a ‘beautiful’ agenda – the sequences with Keira Knightley’s emerald green evening dress push wardrobe excellence to new levels – a welcome and for this novel appropriate emphasis on artifice in historical drama adaptations. It fails only in so far as the novel itself is frankly unfilmable.

[Edit 23/10/09] Wow! This is a pretty sensational find. Londonist has been researching Pathe's archives and has come across this originally unbroadcast material showing a bus in a huge crater in Balham High Street. I suspect this is the incident which flooded the tube tunnels at Balham Station and inspired Ian McEwan.

London Transport museum also has a photo of the bomb crater with the bus.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Nigella returns

I did manage to get back to Nigella's new Nigella Express at the weekend - cooking for the houseguests on Saturday after our visit to the BM.

I did the scallops with chorizo, chickpeas with cumin and sherry, and the nectarine and blueberry galette for pudding. The scallops and the galette were both absolutely sensational and definitely ones to do again and again.

I bought beautiful scallops from the excellent Moxons on Clapham Southside. I got dismissive and surly service at Moens, usually so good, but the lady at Sainsbury's Clapham High Street's deli counter was a sweetheart. The recipe could not be easier, and is really so scrumptious - I knew it would be good but it surpassed expectations. Likewise the galette; I'm going to make it again this weekend.

Terracotta Warriors

Such is the hoopla I was surprised to find out the terracotta warriors have visited London before, in 1980, when they were exhibited at Selfridges.

The troop at the British Museum look quite magnificent, and are accompanied by horses, court officials, musicians and acrobats, so collectively there are far more than some critics have implied. One can get quite close to them and examine their individual characteristics, which is good, and the museum has restricted the flow of people in, which is even better. There wasn’t the scrummage usual at these exhibition – even timed ticket ones. The exhibition is helpfully informative, although tactfully omits mention of Qin Shi Huang’s book-burning and scholar massacring activities. Ironically, the exhibition is housed in the British Museum’s celebrated historic Reading Room. How Qin Shi Huang would have laughed.

The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army
13 September 2007 - 6 April 2008
British Museum

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Bacchae

I studied this play at university – twice, I think, once in Trauma and Film 1 and once in Classical Life and Thought 2 . I’ve never seen it on stage until last night, at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith.

I booked partly because I’ve always wanted to see a production, and partly because Alan Cumming was playing Dionysus. I hardly read anything about it before going, and as it happened was feeling distinctly under par yesterday so was dreading a worthy Greek revival: however this production was electrifying, and deliciously far from ‘worthy’. Almost 2 hours without interval but one hardly notices: this is a great fresh translation by David Greig and a wonderful production by John Tiffany for the National Theatre of Scotland.

Cumming is superb in the role of the rejected god come back to wreak revenge on his mother’s earthly family. Seductive, camp, and comic, but quite excessive in his cruel revenge. But I suppose all Greek gods were dangerous – mythology is full of their violent acts visited randomly on friend and foe alike. As the god Cumming makes a series of fabulous, jaw-dropping entrances throughout – lowered by his ankles to the stage at the start (mooning the audience); though a blast of wall-to-wall fire in the middle (I was in row M and felt the heat); and, finally, – disembodied voice amplified – behind a massive bank of blinding lights at the end. His scenes with the uptight Pentheus are very witty and loaded with horrific irony, which Cumming takes to the max.

Cumming’s foil Tony Curran makes Pentheus’s journey from repressed macho moralist to cringingly awful drag artiste compelling.

Paola Dionisiotti as his mother Agave and Ewan Hooper as grandfather Cadmus are excellent too. They really evoke the horror and poignancy of the tragedy. I was rather dreading Pentheus’s head coming on stage at this point and this one is a pretty close portrait of Tony Curran. The denouement is all the more grisly for Agave and Cadmus being absolutely smothered in blood and gore.

The chorus of Bacchae are played by black women in magnificent red feathered dresses and big disco diva hair. Their words are sung, in mostly Gospel/R&B stylee and they are pretty fabulous – I really looked forward to their next turn. It could easily have been a disastrous choice to use Black actresses in this way; given the theme of the play it could have been interpreted as racist. However, they almost emphasize this possibility – one chorus member mimics a hip-hop artist at one point; another gives the reported words of Agave a broad West Indian accent. The final effect is of flirting with taboos; going too far – which is where Dionysus lives.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

poison mushrooms

My mother’s horrific childhood led her to equate food with love; no-one she loved could ever eat enough. The only reason I didn’t balloon in weight as a child was because in self-defense I became a very fussy eater: every mealtime was a battlefield. Consequently if I found something – anything – I liked it would be mine immediately and always and until I reacted against it (as eventually I always did).

Once at some Polish community event I tasted pickled mushrooms and really really liked them. I was encouraged to eat way too many and was afterwards violently ill. Projectile pickled mushrooms everywhere. Just the thought of pickled mushrooms makes me shudder even today.

Which brings me to Nigella Lawson’s new book, Nigella Express. I tried her raw mushroom linguine last night (by coincidence she also did it on her tv show). It’s a very nice dish, and as fast as promised. I tucked in heartily at first until I started feeling a bit odd about it – very slowly the thought emerged that this was reminding me of something . . . . yaaargh! The dreaded pickled mushrooms!

It’s curious the connection between mind and stomach. My body remembered the mushroom issue before I consciously did, but once my mind made the connection my stomach immediately went into upheaval mode.

Sorry Nigella; not the best review for the book. Hope to cook more this weekend. Meanwhile, it’s baked potato for dinner tonight.

Friday, September 14, 2007

calling earth . . . calling earth . . . .

bzzzst . . . . fizz . . . . . *crackle* . . . .

transmissions resume . . .

Sorry. Been busy.