Growing up, my absolute favourite dinner was “plate of little things”. My single mom would slice cheese, apples, crackers, hot dogs, dry cereal, whatever and we would eat it in front of the TV. I told her that recently and she gasped “What? Those were the nights I failed. I didn’t cook and was too tired to talk to you guys. That’s ridiculous.” Goes to show, it may be JUST when we fail that our kids feel most happy.

Who else remembers dinners like this and loving them as a kid? From this article on Cup of Jo that discusses worrying about parenting.


As it’s my birthday, thank you to my parents for absolutely not failing – the love and security I needed so much as a child and received from them still carries me through, along with a family belief in speaking truth to power, the knowledge that work is independence and your interests might be elsewhere, books, the education at schools I also needed, my own plates of small things (usually bread and honey, with a chopped up apple and some crisps, or half a cheesy crumpet) and a lot of patience at music practice.

(Illustration for Dickens’ character the Aged P, a family joke.)

Apricots on the Nile


1930s and 1940s Cairo, Alexandria and Paris mingle with elegance and sadness. I was reminded of it partly by Amy’s photos and partly by my latest book, Antonia Fraser’s memoir of wartime and post-war Oxford.

Rat, oh rat…

never in my life have I seen

as handsome a rat as you.

Thank you for noticing my potatoes.

Oh Rat, I am not rich.

I left you a note concerning my potatoes,

but I see that I placed it too high

and you could not read it.

Oh Rat,

my wife and I are cursed with possession of a large and hungry dog;

it worries us that he might learn your name –

which is forever on our lips.

Oh Rat, consider my neighbour;

he has eight children (all of them older

and more intelligent than mine)

and if you lived in his house, Rat

ten good Christians

(if we include his wife)

would sing your praises nightly,

whereas in my house there are only five.

Christopher Logue

Della Volta


Another shot of this charming portrait of the Della Volta family, painted in 1547 by Lorenzo Lotto, and now in the national gallery London.

The bottom photo in yesterday’s post (with the very modern-looking handling of paint on the father’s hand, that I think belong in a Freud, Desgas or Manet portrait) was another detail from it.

photo January 2017.

House tours


As I head out to NYC today, here’s some American sights for the post today. Some of the pieces I love most on Cup of Jo are the house tours. I’ve never actually wanted to leave my own place (I love it and the area too much), but whoever does the photos for these really knows how to convey a sense of home, and I do often come away with a few new ideas.

The first two images are from a thin but long, narrow house that I could see would fill my need to live on a longboat some time.

The one below is a bit like the gallery walls of postcards I make in my own house & have done ever since my first uni desk.


while here is a look at the gallery wall in the apartment Joanna’s own family have been renting for two years. Gallery walls are basically all the justification a maximalist needs, and also a great way to discover that you don’t need expensive art to make an impact: postcards, photos and posters all join the mix:


This is great for that block of red frames (such a simple idea but so effective), and the gorgeous wild photo, which reminds me of this. In fact, by the time you add in the family photos in the hallway & colourful kitchen it might  be my favourite home featured.


Though who could resist the light in this, especially as we’re slipping into the weak, cool light of autumn.


…treated me from that moment on with frosty distaste

Uncle Tommy’s marriage to my mother coincided with my sixth birthday. I did everything I could to wreck the show, fidgeting and picking my nose, till an aquiline creature, later identified as the famous Margot Asquith, knelt down in the aisle to comfort me. I decided she was a witch and again and again informed the congregation in a shrill treble of this discovery. I was removed and Uncle Tommy, forever politically sensitive, treated me from that moment on with frosty distaste.

David Niven – The Moon’s a Balloon

Daughters of the artist


As my mother can testify, I was certainly able to give these two a run for their money in the feeding stakes as a baby.

It’s the kicking foot and knowing gaze on the right, and the grasping fist on the left that get me.

Twin daughters of the artist by Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, 1633. Image from Pinterest.

On one leg like a stork

“He had been an inarticulate little boy and he was an inarticulate man…. As a little boy he had come to her room, fair-haired, blue-eyed and ruddy (he was one of the beautiful Eliots), and standing on one leg like a stork had thoughtfully wiped his nose on the back of his left hand. Then she had known there was something wrong….Nowadays when he came to see her it was much the same. He would stand beside her on the hearthrug in the drawing-room with his back to the fire, so that the warmth of it could not reach her (a habit of all the Eliot men), shift his weight to his right leg and thoughtfully rub his left ear.”

The Herb of Grace, Elizabeth Goudge