A modern Mrs Miniver

The Mrs Miniver columns – a series of gentle musings on a new notebook or whether to buy a bunch of chrysanthemums – were hugely popular in the late 1930s, even though, as the author’s granddaughter has now detailed they were also a definite wish fulfilment exercise for the writer that also camouflaged her far more complicated, not quite as glamorous, life.

Reading a recent article, the house tone at Vogue doesn’t seem to have changed much since then; there’s still a local celebrity to be “thrilled” about, a little dialogue about all the visitors and their dogs who are renovating a house, and a dependable, cheerful husband who is straight man to all the endless whimsy:

I opened a box sash window above the front door and said good morning. It’s a habit I have developed since living here, which makes me think of people behind battlements with vats of oil…

My husband Andrew came down the stairs to open the knock. “Please stop popping out at people from that window. It’s eccentric, bordering on impolite.

Pieces like this are a guilty pleasure to read, because it’s so twee and safe it’s as soothing as a bowl of mush, but I can also rather unfairly have a good time rolling my eyes at the Marie Antoinette smugness of it. Or how about:

there’s a mustard-hot rumour that Ptolemy Dean, the architect in residence at Westminster Abbey, will be in charge of the renovation. Andrew and I discover that we were just as thrilled by this as everyone else. I joined the residents association.”

In fairness, it’s very hard to write columns based on your life (Nora Ephron in Heartburn talks about feeling like she’s living with a cannibal with her second husband who is always making their life into 850 words, syndicated.) and also to get the right balance and style so that your readers feel that nothing’s changed since 1933 and a silk dress will sort all ills, but I can’t really read too much before wanting to scream at the smugness of it all.

Much better stick with The Real Mrs Miniver and read all about the real character’s scandalous second life in wartime America.

Antibes from La Salis

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one of the many stunning pieces in the current “Monet and architecture” exhibition. I was a bit sniffy about whether it would be worth the trip, but can’t recommend it highly enough and am definitely planning to return.

Raspberries

I like how a simple twist (reversing the raspberries) has turned these traditional patisseries into something that look quite different.

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Photo by pastry chef of the moment, Cedric Grolet

From the family album

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*Exactly* how I looked as a child (ho ho, not), although obviously I posted this for the fabulous jewellery set – brooch, ring, bracelet – and well-turned ankle of Marjorie Merriweather Post.

The short front skirt and sweeping train reminds me of Louisa’s wedding dress in The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford (“as was the hideous fashion then”), although no signs of the frills of tulle and orange blossom here.

Summer dresses

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with the rising temperatures come the catalogues full of summer dresses. These ones from Hush perfectly capture a sense of hot, languid afternoons.

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Quite like this one but my shape’s changed over the last year and it wouldn’t work for me now

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Also like these very different, brightly coloured offerings from Mother of Pearl. I’m a sucker for a bright red/blue combination like this.

Westminster Abbey

From a fun day playing tourist in my own city. If I’m honest, I don’t think that the Abbey gives the best experience – you’re squeezed round a pre-set, tightly-cordened route like being shoved through a toothpaste tube and photos are strictly forbidden.

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Worst of all, the atmosphere was one of prissy disapproval, which I found rather disappointing when each tourist is being charged at least £20 to get in. Yes, there’s an important balance to be struck between a place of worship and a tourist attraction but – with the exception of some kindly volunteers – the clergy here seemed to have a strong “hands off our abbey, aren’t you lucky we let you in” approach written all over them. Very disappointing.

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You would at least hope that there was an acceptance that any visitors were prepared to be interested and respectful, otherwise they’d hardly have queued up for an hour to get in. I’d be interested to know what out of town visitors think.

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However, being as stubborn as they come, I did get some photos thank you…

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The most interesting parts I thought were the side chapels of various noble families (which still had a pre-Reformation feel of jostling for position near the altar) and the main chapel behind the altar.

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All photos May 2018.

 

Granite Island

We envied the Cesari. They had leisure, and we had not had any for several years. The farm work seldom needed more than two of the brothers at any one time; the sisters got through the household chores in a couple of hours of the day. In the long intervals between work Francois shot hare in the maquis that Antoinette cooked in a pot on the open fire with olive oil and whole cloves of garlic; Antoine and Jean-Baptiste repainted the living-room, experimenting with pale Etruscan red framing several shades of blue and grey; Marie embroidered sheets with intricate patterns of roses; Pierette studied a book of the geography of the world….there were hours too when no-one did anything…

In London I had not taken the true measure of our deprivations. I had not understood how far  my daily load of anxiety was a craving for the things every peasant know: space, silence and food that was not stale.

Dorothy Carrington first went to Corsica in 1948, and large sections of the book are infused with a postwar melancholy about the effects of civilisation and the need to retreat to a rough landscape and older society.

But there’s also a much more contemporary zest, akin to Patrick Leigh Fermor’s writings, of discovering beautiful vistas and a motley crew of companions, albeit in Dorothy’s case more archaeologists and shepherds than Leigh Fermor’s east European aristocracy and Consuls.

The simmering pot was taken off the fire; it contained a mutton stew, thick with vegetables. But first we had plates of smoked ham and several varieties of smoked sausage, and tomatoes and raw onions swimming in the local unrefined olive oil which gave to all this food a provocative musky flavour; and afterwards came a homemade cheese made of ewes’ milk, oddly tasting for nuts, and finally small, very sweet melons.

If the book had stayed with this it would have been nice enough – I am enthusiastically reading myself into the holiday I’m currently dreaming of – but what makes it really special is that quite soon, Carrington turns the book into a serious and detailed history of Corsican society, from the mountain peaks to the fishermen, from the vendetta, the folk singers, the people cursed to predict and bring death to those they know and the soothsayers, from the revolutionaries who attempted a parliamentary democracy in the 1730s to the prehistoric statues and spirit huts near the capital Ajaccio.

This was completely fascinating – Carrington’s love for Corsica comes through, and she must have carried out huge amounts of research, from Greek texts to political treatises, but wears it lightly. Most praiseworthy of all, she definitely lives up to that other heroine, Gertrude Bell, in her willingness to scale a mountain in pursuit of an archaeological quarry.