Wednesday, January 27, 2010

O the drama!

Disaster on the home front! It was bound to happen at some stage...

Poor old Jack cat wet himself in the bed. He came out for dinner completely soggy and was popped straight into the bathtub for a scrub. The bed wasn't so lucky. I mopped up what I could then sprinkled it with baking soda. Popped a towel on top and stacked a mountain of cookbooks on so as to soak out what I could. Bunged the sheets in the laundry. Dried mattress with hairdryer. Burst into tears. Mattress ended up not so bad but we'll have to get a new one. And mattresses are uber expensive! Mental state hasn't recovered as well. My poor love is getting old and I don't like it. Jack now has a nest in the living room and seems very happy with the new arrangement. Poor old stick...

The other thing that has made for a rocky home life is the decision to spend Australia Day on a CRAFT PROJECT. I don't know what came over me. I decided to knit myself a floral brooch. I have never knitted before in my life but I had a book and, really, how hard can it be? My nanna could knit and watch the Wheel of Fortune at the same time. My mum knits and is still happily married. Well it turns out that knitting isn't as straightforward as I imagined. It also emerges that I am completely and utterly incapable of knitting and doing anything else at the same time. It also turns out that if I try and knit again Mr C will leave me. (And I don't know any of the passwords for the computer so this would be a very bad thing indeed.) I think that I did a jolly good job. This is probably the only glimpse you'll get of it because it needs a brooch backing and I'll probably never get around to buying one.

So, knitting urge satisfied. Really, those 40s ladies were way more talented than I. Some of the old patterns were astoundingly complicated. I can see that knitting would have been a very soothing wartime occupation. You certainly can't be worrying about anything while you're trying to count stitches! From now on I'll be begging my mother to knit me some winter woolies. I'm dying to have a new vest for winter.

At the moment I'm reading a book called The Wartime Kitchen and Garden by Jennifer Davies. It's a fabulous read. Full of recipes for Spam and beetroot sandwiches. I find it stressful enough thinking of things for dinner as it is, let alone trying to do it on rations. I'll write more about this when I've finished. I have to say that Spam is exercising a fatal fascination. Will I be able to resist its lures?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Australian Open is on and I LOVE watching the tennis. Can't play of course but I'm all for flannel trousers, cute playsuits and Pimms on the lawn. Take a look at the Commercial Cable Office's staff tennis party. There's Archie, Joan, Patsy, Hilary, Diana and Herbie amongst others. (Seriously!)

I don't really have the legs for this but I would adore one of these playsuits. I can't sew either so it's not really a possibility. Sure beats the outfits I wore on sports day.

I still don't understand why lady tennis players keep their spare tennis balls in their bloomers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mrs Baillie Reynolds, lady novelist

My mother has become obssessed with lady novelist Mrs Baillie Reynolds after being given this card for her birthday. What a cutie! Trenchcoat, gloves and a beret, how can a girl go wrong?

Gertrude Mary Reynolds (c1875 - d.1939) was a writer of romances and romantic thrillers, sometimes dipping her toe into supernatural tales. You get a marvellous sense of her ouvre from Women writers of the First World War: an annotated bibliography by Sharon Ouditt where one of her novels is described as 'a complex tale of family feuds, vendettas and deathbed confessions'. In Some goddesses of the pen Patrick Braybrooks showers praise on her romantic thrillers, saying they must 'convert the commonplace surroundings of everyday life into a hotbed of trap doors, sudden revolver shots, smart meals with smart villains, unshaved ruffians who speak with a very foreign accent, women who are so beautiful but whose execreble morals and disgraceful feminine wiles have to be forgiven'. Just look at some of her titles and you'll get the idea: It is not safe to know; The terrible baron; The notorious Miss Lisle; Confession corner; The daughter pays; and Accessory after the fact.

It's difficult to find out much about her. True to the conventions of the time I found out about the men in her life. She was the eldest daughter of Mr Julian Robins, barrister-at-law, she was married in 1890, and was the proud mother of three sons. You do get a marvelous sense of her personality, gloriously expressed in the journalistic style of the day. Take this for example...

She was 'gladly acclaimed' President of the Society of Women Journalists in an article in a 1912 Journal of Nursing (in between an account of a Women's Freedom League march and a notice of a lecture on eugenics).
She is described as 'a woman of delightful personality, and of very genuine and strenuous character. She is an earnest suffragist, and knows how to play: cycling, travelling, reading, painting and private theatricals - she engages in them with zest. Our portrait portrays her handsome and distinguished appearance, natural gifts every true woman delights in, in her heart of hearts.'

She certainly looks formidable in the photograph held in the National Portrait Gallery (UK).

In another treasure, here's an account of a visit to her home. I'll quote quite a bit (sorry it's long) because I just love the scene it depicts! This is from The Adelaide Advertiser, 29 March 1910

As I followed the trimly-attired maid upstairs to Mrs Baillie Reynold’s writing room in her lovely home at Ladbroke-gardens, London, I could distinctly hear the click-click of a typewriter. The famous novelist was busy, and although she was expecting me I felt just a little ashamed of disturbing her. I need not have been, however, for as soon as I entered the beautifully furnished and artistically decorated room in which Mrs Baillie Reynolds passes all her working hours she rose from her chair with a pleasant laugh, and shaking hands, made me cordially welcome. Seating myself in a cosy armchair by a merrily blazing fire, the flames of which seemed to laugh at the darkness which was creeping over the busy city, I had time, while my hostess was giving some instructions to her maid, to look around me. It was a lovely room. All along one side of it were row upon row of books, in the corner the novelist’s desk; and on a little table nearby her typewriter. The pictures which adorned the walls were exquisite, and above the daintily decorated mantelshelf was was a magnificent collection of photographs of the nearest and dearest friends of the gifted author. Just as I was, with unpardonable curiosity, going to examine these a little closer, Mrs Baillie Reynolds returned and, seating herself gracefully in a chair just opposite me, completed the picture which I had been studying in her absence.

And on it goes: she's a delightful hostess, she talks everything over with her husband and she loves the country. I love the idea of the nosy journalist being caught out!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

From the sofa

Not feeling so boomps-a-daisy so having a day watching movies in my pyjamas. I'd tracked down some Ida Lupino films so gave The bigamist (1953)a go. Despite the subject matter this is a quiet little low budget number about travelling salesman Harry who, though very well intentioned, ends up with two wives - the classy Joan Fontaine and the lonley Ida Lupino. Surprisingly, everyone is portrayed in a very sympathetic light and you end up feeling sorry for all of them. Harry is working hard, travelling a lot, always talking of the day he'll be able to stay at home and be able to employ someone else to do the legwork, alone in a big city and living in hotels. Ida, who left the country for Los Angeles and works in a ham Chinese restaurant as a waitress. Joan Fontaine, classy and beautiful but infertile, throwing herself into business to cover her emptiness - and being a bit more successful than her more stolid, weary husband. What comes across is the limited options people had. All these people are lonely and seemingly without friends. Ida Lupino's depressing me a bit at the moment. She's so worthy.

Much more fun was Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938)- which is basically a showcase for Irving Berlin tunes (30 in all!)The cast is fabulous - Tyrone Powers, sure he's wooden but my is he beautiful, Alice Faye - man I love her, she's such a tough broad, even when she's successful and in love she looks like she's ready to hit the bottle - and the warm and handsome Don Ameche, such a honey. It also has the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz and a young Ethel Merman being very sassy. The songs are a real delight. Until they got to Having a heat wave. Will I never be rid of this song??? (If you listen closely you can hear they've changed the lyrics from 'making her seat wave' to 'making her feet wave')

I also watched The bells of St Mary's (1945), sequel to Going my way and amiably silly. Bing Crosby is his usual likeable self as a Catholic priest and Ingrid Bergman plays the most adorable nun, so beautiful.

I'd started the day with Boom Town (1940) starring Clark Gable, Spencer Tracey, Claudette Colbert and Hedy Lamarr. It's pretty much a love song to the American oil industry and big business, with Gable and Tracey playing roles of 'wildcat' oil prospectors who win and lose fortunes and fight for the love of (a rather dull) Claudette Colbert. Hedy plays a sophisticated New York temptress and to me the film is hers. Oh she's so beautiful. I could just watch her forever. She's her enigmatic best here. And you've got to admire the chutzpah of the film makers. Sure it's set in 1918 - 1928 but let's put all our leading ladies in snappy 40s outfits anyway. Gorgeous.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Stupid things I have done part 457

Ok, so you may have noticed it's been a little hot of late. (I've got that stupid Marilyn Monroe song in my head, you know 'We're having a heatwave....') Our little apartment is fine on Insanely Hot Day No. 1 but after that it's all down hill. Cats collapse in heaps on the bathroom floor. Iceberg lettuce is a regular menu item. The tap has to run for fifteen minutes before it runs cold. Cycling is out of the question. There is much sitting about in underwear. Tempers, if we must be honest, get a little frayed. But in all this there is a shining light - you see, we have, through much wrangling, international txting, crossing of fingers and outright begging, we have managed to get our hands on a magic set of pool keys. A friend of ours, currently away in South Africa, lives in an aparment block with an indoor pool - an indoor pool that never ever gets used - and it's just around the corner from our house. So when as the temperature hits 45 my beloved suggested a cooling dip in the refreshing waters you'd think I would have shimmied into my togs (very cute two piece with a little skirt) in an instant. Instead I said - 'nah, couldn't be bothered'. People almost collapsed when I related this story at work today. I think I came very close to being lynched and the precious pool key ripped from my dying grasp and delivered into more deserving hands. Mr C's reaction was pretty much like that. I swear he didn't speak to me for an hour or so. But I work in air conditioned splendour. I was actually rather cool at work and wore my cardi for a bit. And my book was very very exciting. Yes, stupid, I know.

Because I imagine that by sharing this with you I am in some way passing it on and therefore getting it out of my head and into yours - here's Marilyn with that stupid song. 'She started a heatwave, by letting her seat wave.' Dear, dear, dear....

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bikes and bad cats

Over the New Year holiday I went for my first bike ride in ages. More of a bike stroll really, as my woeful lack of fitness held the bunch back at a leisurely pace. Most ladylike. Mr C and I have been on daily rides since - not very far and not very fast but enough to make me feel quite proud.

I'm toying with the idea of getting a new bike but have been sidetracked by images of these vintage 40s bikes. Aren't they pretty? My grandad left school when he was 13 to deliver goods for a pharmacy (wish my chemist delivered!) and he probably would have ridden something like this courier's bike. I would love to ride this down to the shops or out on a picnic.

The other bike is a junior version of a bike used by paratroopers during the war. The bikes folded up and soldiers held onto them as they dropped behind enemy lines. I'm sure I read an article in Bicycling Magazine about how bikes are still being used by soldiers in the Middle East - these days they do fancy things like fold out to ferry away the injured. Not something I want to be doing with my bike.

I'm particularly inspired by Foyle's War - sweet Honeysuckle Weeks is always pottering about on her bike, gas mask slung over her shoulder, casually leaving it outside shops - no locks here! Of course, you look much better on these bikes without a helmet and it's messing my hair up no end. I wish that we had a bigger apartment with room for lots and lots of bikes. And I wish that I had pretty English villages to ride them through. More lovely bikes are to be found at

Today there is no riding, it's far too windy and I'm far too stressed. Last night I was woken around 4am by a lady shouting at us through our window. Aparently she was roused from her sleep by a cat killing a bird and came to point the finger at one of our fellows. Cross words were exchanged because, well, because we're not really at our best at 4 o'clock in the morning. While Lyle is undoubtable the Terror of Balaclava he is also the Silent Killer so I'm thinking she heard the possums that were very active last night. We are very aware of Lyle's Jack the Ripper tendencies and he is suitably punished when we catch him - it is terribly upsetting when he makes a kill. We keep him in at night but now and again he eludes us. We've topped up his bells today and he is so loaded down that he looks like a gypsy - a pretty cross gypsy because we've kept him inside all day (I'm quite sure he's put a few curses on us). I'm not sure what else we can do. We've made it pretty clear that he's a Bad Cat. Angry Neighbour left threatening to 'make a phone call' last night. Now I don't know exactly what this means and it's got me very very worried. We're not supposed to have cats in the apartment and letters have been exchanged in the past about this matter. So I'm worrying my head about being evicted. Got a headache.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The new year

Well I hope you all had splendid holidays. Mr C and I spent a relaxing time watching old movies, reading post war thrillers (Communists!) and catching up on children's lit. At least, that's what I did over the holidays - Mr C tolerated all these things admirably and cooked a cracking good Christmas dinner too. While not frightfully keen on New Year's resolutions I do solemnly swear I shall endeavour to worry less from now on. Though not making such a cracking start at this as already the thought of the new job is giving me a headache. And then I start to worry about characters in films: what happens to Mrs Miniver? It's only 1942 in the film, so pretty soon her husband will be called up (surely Walter Pidgeon isn't that old) and rationing will really hit. I'm not sure how well Mrs Miniver will cope on her three cups of tea a day. And what about when she realises she killed her daughter in law (I'm sorry, but I do feel that she is partly responsible)? And then there's Greta Garbo in Grand Hotel. She swans off not knowing her lover is dead, her faithful servants shielding the news from her. So of course I'm worrying about what will happen when she finds out or, worse, doesn't find out and so thinks he has abandoned her. Sorry, at a bit of a low ebb with blogging - I'm sure you don't need to hear how many days I spent on the sofa in my pyjamas watching Orson Welles unsuccessfully pretending to be a gullible Irishman and worrying about Rita Hayworth taking up smoking (The lady from Shanghai - don't go there!) And then my beloved briefly toyed with the idea of going back to being a war correspondent. Of course darling, if that's what you want - never mind the fact that you GOT SHOT last time. And thankfully it turned out that it isn't what he wants after all or else I would have fair fainted clean away. And New Year's Eve always gets me a bit teary - it's all the pretty fireworks! So here's Dame Vera Lynn, with a song that always makes me cry (and I find the servicemen singing along with her gets me a bit weepy.) And a happy New Year to you too.