Thursday, 28 May 2015

a curious friendship

I'm reading A Curious Friendship: The Story of a Bluestocking and a Bright Young Thing by Anna Thomasson at the moment and it's a real joy. Thomasson's first book is an account of the intense but platonic relationship between the artist Rex Whistler and writer Edith Olivier, set against a backdrop of the madcap parties of the 1920s.

Stephen Tennant, William Walton, Georgia Sitwell, Zita Jungman, Rex Whistler and Cecil Beaton, Wilsford, 1927.

A Curious Friendship is part dual biography, part social history, part study of the circles within which Olivier and Whistler moved, charting the ebb and flow of their relationship and their interconnected histories.

View of Daye House with Edith Olivier, Standing on the Lawn by Rex Whistler.

I was drawn to the tome (with its handsome pink and gold dust jacket) because I'm a big fan of Whistler's work, and getting to know his story has been utterly fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the description of Whistler's first impression of Stephen Tennant: 'a slender figure with extraordinary beauty, like a more delicate Shelley'. The boys shared a love of fairy tales, mythology and legends containing magic spells, as well as the romance of the English countryside. Oh how I wish I could travel back in time and discuss Pagan rituals and poetry with those two.

Rex photographed by Cecil Beaton on the rocks at Cap Ferrat, 1927.

Only halfway through, so back in I must dive! Do pick up a copy!

Monday, 25 May 2015

beaches, flowers, afternoon naps

We spent last weekend on the north Norfolk coast, staying with twenty or so friends in a charming house a few miles from the sea. We were celebrating a good friend's 30th Birthday and had come for three days of parties and dinners and blustery beach walks. Friday night was a little wild - kimonos, glitter canons, disco ball helmets and painted faces were all involved. Several new cocktails were invented before dawn broke. Earlier in the day I came across these ornaments in a tiny sitting room which didn't really end up getting used, but was actually the nicest room in the house.

D. cooked eggs and bacon for the masses on Saturday morning, saviour that he is, and afterwards we travelled in convoy to Holkham beach. We visited Holkham for the first time a few years ago, and it was good to be back. There really isn't anywhere else like it. I love the way you have to walk through tall trees to get to the beach and when you emerge from the shady pathway, you're faced with a breathtaking expanse of white sand and sky. Most of us set up camp for the afternoon in the sheltered sand dunes, but the braver ones of the group headed straight for the sea. Not me however - I love to hear the roar of the sea, and I like to look at it very much, but I do not like to be in it. What we hadn't realised was that the tide had started creeping in, and very quickly. To get back to our cars we had to wade through a river of waist-height seawater, carrying small dogs and shoes and empty bottles of wine. Too funny.

On Sunday the group split - some of us went for a long lunch and some of us spent the day fishing for crabs from a harbour wall. Later on we played games, lounged on the lawns and explored the gardens. That night we cooked vats of crab linguine (using bought crabs, not caught crabs) and toasted our friend's Birthday by candlelight.

D. and I popped along to the Chelsea Flower Show last Thursday evening. I'd been meaning to visit for years. A slightly strange affair, but also very pleasing. The weather was excellent - patches of the gardens glowed in dappled, golden light. I liked the incredible display of daffodils the most, I think. Bright yellows, soft oranges, milky pinks. And such wonderful names! Pink Pageant! Prom Dance! Ice Wings!

I very much enjoyed the Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden created by Dan Pearson. Intended to capture the essence of Chatsworth, the garden's design drew on influences from the estate's 19th century ornamental trout stream and rockery. Pretty stunning, don't you think?

This afternoon we returned from Edinburgh. A flying weekend visit to catch up with D.'s family. A few lunches, a few early nights. Eurovision, of course. Afternoon naps. That vintage clothing shop that I always like to make a trip to. The excellent Lee Miller and Picasso exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, which made me dream about having a studio in the south of France as an old man - white walls and plants everywhere, the scent of the sea and fields of flowers. Paintings and drawings scattered on terracotta tiled floors...

To end with, a snapshot view from the train, somewhere around the English border. Like a faded postcard from the 1970s.

Monday, 11 May 2015

i am listening to...

Brandon Flowers will release his new album The Desired Effect on 18th May. I'm really enjoying all of the songs I've heard from the record so far, I Can Change in particular, which features a sample of Bronski Beat's 80s classic Smalltown Boy and spoken words from Neil Tennant (Pet Shop Boys) to boot. It's completely excellent.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

a postcard from cornwall

A couple of Saturdays ago we caught a very early train west to deepest Cornwall. D.'s sister Carolyn, who lives just down the road from St Ives, was turning 40 and we'd come to celebrate with her. After a six hour journey (we slept most of the way) and a restorative lunch of roast chicken at Carolyn's, we drove to Godrevy and walked along its rugged cliffs in the rain.

I've been listening to a pretty rare song about Godrevy by Patrick Wolf for years and years (take a listen - it's one of my favourite Wolf songs), but funnily enough I never knew where it was. Imagine my surprise! It was delightful to be able to connect a song I love to the place that inspired it.

Across the bay the white octagonal tower of Godrevy Lighthouse glistened against the grey clouds and murky sea. The lighthouse is said to have inspired Virginia Woolf to write To the Lighthouse, although she located her lighthouse in the Hebrides. We drove back to Carolyn's, well and truly soaked to the skin, and slept for a while. Saturday night saw us and a group of locals staying up late to celebrate the big Birthday. It was lots of fun.

By Sunday morning the clouds had disappeared, so with sore heads and bacon sandwiches, we headed over to St Ives. First of all D. and I went to check out the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. I'd been wanting to visit for quite some time and it didn't disappoint. Hepworth first came to live in Cornwall with her husband Ben Nicholson and their young family at the outbreak of war in 1939. She lived and worked in Trewyn studios – now the Barbara Hepworth Museum – from 1949 until her death in 1975.

'Finding Trewyn Studio was a sort of magic', wrote Barbara Hepworth. 'Here was a studio, a yard and garden where I could work in open air and space.' Sculptures in bronze, stone and wood are on display in the museum and garden, along with paintings, drawings and archive material. It's a really special place - from the garden you can look out through the plants, across the roofs of St Ives and spot the sea sparkling in the distance. I felt so calm there.

Afterwards we had lunch at the very good Porthminster Beach Cafe. We ate oysters and squid and drank rosé from carafes and for the first time this year it felt like summer might be on its way...

Look at that. Ignore the clouds and it's practically the Caribbean. Before long however we were back on a train, bound for London. One night in Cornwall - it was perfect and I can't wait to return.