My life

I was eager to learn Italian and took lessons with a black-clad widow living in the Sixieme. Presently her teaching was supplemented by an Italian who picked me up in the Luxembourg gardens. His name was Alfio – “like Alph, the sacred river in “Kubla Khan”” – he explained. He was years older than me, very handsome, told me that he had been a Partisan, and did his best to seduce me. I liked him, but when I agreed to visit his flat things got out of hand and he kept shouting “Take off your knickers.” His English was excellent but I was not going to obey his orders and I made my escape. My progress in Italian stalled.

Claire Tomalin – My Life.

A fascinating read of a type of life open to middle class girls in post war Britain where you were expected to simultaneously have four children, be knowledgeable yet relaxed about your husband’s infidelities, gain an Oxbridge degree and be content typing letters for the odd Conservative MP or gossip column. Well written, not bitter but rather sad. Also worth reading for a mention of a scrambled egg party, luxury when rationing ended!

To us who bought oranges


My husband died in Rome, in the prison of Regina Coeli, a few months after we left the Abruzzi. Faced with the horror of his solitary death, and faced with the anguish which preceded his death, I ask myself if this happened to us – to us, who bought oranges at Giro’s and went for walks in th snow.

Natalia Ginzburg, “Winter In Abruzzi” (1944). Republished in the essay collection The Little Virtues, and reminiscent of “Maman, what are we called now?”

Bright spots

For anyone who is legit getting back-to-work, end-of-summer blues, here are some bright spots.


photo by @janebrocket;

a delightful article about a 96 year old millionaire who kept working as a secretary into her 90s and left her fortune to educational funds (aka something that will redeem your faith in humanity after the first commute this week);


a beautiful photograph of tattoo apprentice @nxkxitattoo to accompany the news that there are now more women than men with tattoos in the US and that all-women tattoo parlours with a different vibe are opening up as a result;

this then reminded me of the Whiskey Sharp series by Lauren Dane, the first of which features a rock-drummer, talkative heroine who works in a hipster barber’s that doubles as a bar. The second is apparently about her cop-turned-tattooist sister;

and both would be really perfect for this draped-on-the-bed-with-pizza vibe from @aljahorvatco



Would someone please read the minutes?


Is anyone else feeling acutely aware that this bank holiday is basically the end of summer and the start of “this” season, “this” meaning sitting round a conference table in black trying to look interested at an agenda one guy is clutching?

This is the Somerset House Conference, by an unknown artist 1604, now in the National Portrait Gallery.


It’s been too hot for much I’d be this summer to really want to cook, and I suspect I’m not the only Londoner who’s reverted to copying other cuisines (Mexican, US Southern, Turkish) for short cut ideas instead of meals. However as the heat wanes and nights start to shorten, the idea of wanting to eat and eat outdoors begins to seem nice and not hellish. This is where Hilda Leyel’s 1930s guide comes in…

Some surprisingly modern flavour combinations and menus sit alongside the grouse and mulligatawny.


Republished a few years ago, there’s bound to be copies still online. I was given a further nudge in this direction by the excellent Edward Bawden exhibition at the Dulwich Picture (on till September 9th), which includes his many book covers fornthe equally eccentric 1930s food writer Ambrose Heath.

Sweet peas



Fine, rather warm. Some rain last night. A few sweet peas up.

One egg.

Footmarks of tortoises in the mud could easily be mistaken for those of a rabbit.


Sowed sweet peas (only about 1/2 dozen of the others have come up), carnations and violas.

George Orwell’s diaries are an unexpected mix, especially this period in late 1938 Morocco when we counts eggs as anxiously as Bridget Jones her diary.



Pretty pastel houses and French squares,


And street corners that look more like what visitors expect in London than the current reality itself.


There’s even a square called Charing Cross.

Photos from August 2018