Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A few things I have done recently

Last Friday evening, I went to the launch party of Frances Welch's new book 'The Russian Court at Sea: The Voyage of HMS Marlborough' at a venue called 'The Horse Hospital' in Bloomsbury. It's the real Victorian London deal - cobbled floors, a ramp to walk down to the basement, old iron thethering rings on the walls. And a fabulous place for a party. There were lots of interesting, bespectacled literary types (including my no. 2 crush, Ian Hislop, who alas I didn't speak to) and trendy youngsters - also in specs, but of the huge-frame-no-actual-lenses variety. I drank champagne galore and tripped over a lot (having ignored the recommendation on the invitation to wear flat shoes), and ate canapes which were served rather oddly on see-through sealed trays which had plastic breadsticks and pats of butter in them; I would greedily reach out for a carb-n-fat mouthful, only to find myself with a dainty bit of grilled courgette or feta cheese in hand. Later in the evening The Vagabond Trills - Frances' daughter Tallulah and her band - came on and sang delightfully, cheered on by Tallulah's cousin, singer Florence Welch (who was, to my joy, wearing even higher heels than me).

Then on Monday night I went to (well, sold books at) the 5 x 15 event at The Tabernacle in Notting Hill. The line-up was fantasic: A. C. Grayling, Tiffany Murray, Susan Greenfield, Emma Forrest and Edmund du Waal. All the speakers were brilliant, funny and touching in equal measure. I'd never been to a 5 x 15 before but I loved it - lots of nice people, cheap drinks (although my gin and tonic was actually gin and soda water), some intellectual stimulation and still time for supper afterwards with my wonderful friend M and his beautiful new girlfriend K. Better yet, while discussing it afterwards in The Wine Factory - where they do actually serve food, for those worried that I am getting my calories in entirely liquid form these days - we made friends with the people sitting next to us who had been as well. I love making new friends.

And finally (drum roll), last night was the launch party of Emma Forrest's new book, a memoir called 'Your Voice In My Head'. Emma is like the sixth-former that you had a crush on as a year 7: beautiful, tiny on a proper porcelain-doll level, super friendly but very obviously much cooler and cleverer than you will ever be, successful and with the most heavenly collection of tea-dresses in pastel colours and lovely prints. In fact, so enamoured of her am I that I'm going to go now so I can finish reading her book. She walked in this morning while I had in my hands, and I felt exactly like Manny in that episode of Black Books when the explorer comes to the shop. Cue girlish giggling and hair flicking. Cue au revoir.

Friday, 14 January 2011

What's on my bedside table...

'After Claude' by Iris Owens
My lovely colleague A let me borrow this book, which I read over the weekend. It is rather fabulous and very funny, but I found the voice of the heroine, Harriet, slightly grating. As she descends into madness it becomes harder to empathise with her, and the final scenes of the book are disturbing and impossible to credit. Worth a read for the descriptions of 1970s outfits and hippies, though.

'Working the Room' by Geoff Dyer
A writer friend of mine was sent four hardback copies of this, and gave one to me. So far I've only read a few of the pieces; they're rather dense and humour-free, though interesting enough. Couldn't disagree with him more about Lorrie Moore's 'A Gate at the Stairs', though.

'A Girl Like You' by Gemma Burgess
This just came out and I read it in two sittings of about an hour each. It is chick-lit at its very best: funny, sassy, wise, cheerful. And, like Burgess' first book 'The Dating Detox', it's as much about friendship as boys. Which is lovely. The perfect thing to combat the winter / single blues.

Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' trans. Arthur Golding
My wonderful and very dear friend L gave me this book, and I am obsessed with it.
Orpheus to Hades and Persephone:
' All things to you belong,
And though wee, lingring for a whyle, our pageants do prolong,
Yit soone or late wee all to one abyding-place doo rome.
Wee haste us hither all; this place becomes our latest home....
The use of her but for a whyle I crave,
And if the Destnyes for my wyfe denye mee for to have
Releace, I fully am resolved for ever heere to dwell.'
Nuff said.

'The Golden Notebook' by Doris Lessing
This is the 'proper' book that I am reading alongside all the others (I usually have four or five on the go). It was recommended to me as a good girl-power book, which indeed it is proving to be. I am utterly in awe of Lessing's restrained emotions, her ability to describe entire characters through their gesticulations, her knowledge and insight. But it's pretty heavy going, and I can't quite get to grips with all the Communist stuff.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

My Sunday Afternoon

Last Sunday afternoon, I had plans to meet my friend D. We were supposed to go and see the Diaghilev show at the V&A - it was the last day - but, being the last day, it was completely sold out. So we went to the Natural History Museum instead.

Neither of us had been since childhood, and I was super duper excited. Like an overactive eight year old, I dragged D towards 'the Vault'. To get there we had to go through the 'Minerals' room - I spent the first few minutes in there tugging on D's sleeve whinging 'I'm bored' before discovering a 'learn for yourself' board, which told me that amber is less dense than water, the names of several seaside pebbles and many other such fascinating facts. When we finally entered 'the Vault' at the back of the room my heart stopped: there, glittering on every wall, were diamonds, emeralds, rubies, gold and saphires. Particularly spectacular was the Devonshire Emerald - a rock of Scott Fitzgerald-ian proportions and luminous, glowing green.

By this point, D was becoming a bit jewelled-out, so we went to look at the trunk of the giant sequoia tree, which really was huge. The tree was nearly 1,500 years old when it was felled (Kodak moment comment from a little boy standing next to me: 'is that even older than granny?'). But even better, you get to go right up close to the ceiling of the museum's enormous entrance hall and look at the beautiful hand-painted and richly gilded panels, each showing a different exotic plant with its Latin name.

Next, I wanted to look at the water invertebrates. On the way to the room (yes, there really is a room called 'water invertebrates') we passed the life-size model of the blue whale. I felt just as thrilled and awe-struck as I did when I first saw it, aged five. Nature rocks. Anyway, I have always had a morbid fascination with lamprey and hagfish. The lamprey's mouth (see picture) looks like Freud's worst nightmare of a vagina dentata. They are horrid little buggers who latch those grisly teeth onto other fish. Hagfish are equally ew-inducing: they can transform one third of their body weight into slime, so if they are caught they can just slither away while simultaneously blocking the gills of their attacker with musucs. Yuck. I also love those weird fish that live so deep in the sea that they are almost completely white and have more hidden gadgets than 007's cars. D showed me some pretty species of star-fish and we both got calamari-cravings looking at the Vampire Squid. And then it was time to go home.

So, the moral of the story is this: if you want to entertain a young child, or an easily amused 22 year old, look no further than the Natural History Museum. It's pretty darn cool.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Honey, I'm Home

After a VERY long break, during which I successfully completed an MA (even the really difficult Paleography bit, hurrah), moved to London, got a job and became a little bit more grown-up, I am back in the blogosphere. Expect non-stop scintillatingly witty posts from now on.