As handsome and as lively as ever

He looked as handsome and as lively as ever, and was talking with interest to a fashionable and pleasing-looking woman, who leant on his arm, and whom Catherine immediately guessed to be his sister…he had not behaved, he had not talked like the married men to whom she had been used; he had never mentioned a wife, and had acknowledged a sister…and therefore instead of turning of a deathlike paleness, and falling in a fit on Mrs Allen’s bosom, Catherine set erect, in the perfect use of her senses, and with cheeks only a little redder than usual.

Jane Austen being delightful in Northanger Abbey, perfect reading for this time of year and parties.

Viktoria Astrom



Yet another illustrator who I’ve found via Instagram. I find it fascinating how Instagram has made it easier for these freelance artists to build an online portfolio and show their work off, without needing to go through building a website or hiring an agency.

This image came up on Viktoria’s Twitter and Instagram feeds and I’ve posted it because there’s something about it that reminds me of The Nutcracker. Maybe it’s the trees / wisps of woodsmoke / mysterious clouds in the background that give it a magical twist. For anyone looking for an individual present, Viktoria’s Etsy shop is here.

Eyes as big as plates



How phenomenonally beautiful is this idea & this photo from Karoline Hjorth and Riita Ikonen? Their Kickstarter page is here & I wish I’d seen it when it was open. Instead I’ll keep an eye out for their book.



The rhubarb camouflage made me laugh too – my dad has killed more rhubarb with his lawn mowing than a school kitchen’s worth of crumble, so this hideout would be perfect for him!

…even if business men scorn it

This book does not seem to be growing very large although I have got to Chapter Nine…I know this will never be a real book that business men in trains will read, the kind of business men that wear stuff hats with curly brims and little breathing holes let in the side. I wish I knew more about words. Also I wish so much I had learned my lessons in school. I never did, and have found it such a disadvantage since. All the same, I am going on writing this book even if business men scorn it.

Chapter Nine from “Our Spoons Came From Woolworths”, a novel by Barbara Comyns, who is one of my favourite authors for the way her artless voice skewers everyday life and whose writing in fact contains great skill. From later in the book, this passage always makes me laugh too:

“I knew it was Rollo. When he saw me bent over the disgusting jam [Sophia’s employer has asked her to make rhubarb jam on the hottest day of summer], he said ‘Good afternoon. How are you?’ and the girls seemed surprised he knew me. I hunched myself up and murmured ‘I’m feeling beastly, thank you’ and great puffs of jammy steam came in my face.


I came across the work of Max Beckmann in the Met this week, and it seems a good fit for Barbara Comyns’ writing, not just in period but also the style of appearing extremely sunny in a manner that conceals great skill. This is Beckmann’s wife Quappi on the Riviera in 1926 (photo October 2016.)

Sisters, sisters…



Princesses Caroline Matilda and Louisa by Francis Coates (image from Wikimedia). They were the daughters of Frederick, Prince of Wales, the estranged son of George II and the founder of all those Hanoverian father-son feuds that Queen Victoria and her children managed to carry on till the 20th century.

Louisa was initially planned as the bride for the Danish King Christian VII, but her ill-health meant her younger sister, Caroline Matilda, was chosen. I wonder if this double portrait was a kind of marriage catalogue for the Danish ambassador, or was just thought to be a charming display. The outcome of the marriage was filmed here.



“The good soldier Svjek” is a recommendation I’m fairly sure I came across in the pages of the ever-reliable Slightly Foxed magazine.

Svejk’s unfailing ability to grasp the wrong end of the stick and good humour remind me to varying degrees of Bertie Wooster, Tom Jones and St Peter. The story covers the years of the First World War and Svejk is presented as both Everyman and an innocent fool who unwittingly speaks the truth in this topsy-turvy world.

I don’t remember how the book started life but it has the feel of a daily sketch or comic strip, a bit like those which inspired Janacek’s “The Cunning Little Vixen”.

Here’s a taster. Despite initially thinking that the Ferdinand who has been killed is either the manure-collector or the chemist’s assistant round the corner (“neither of them any great loss”), Svejk finds himself arrested on suspicion of assassinating the Archduke at Sarajevo. His eager co-operation with any conversation he meets tends to make things more confused rather than less:

“Did they bring any pressure to bear upon you at the police station?”

“Not a bit of it, sir. I myself asked them if I had to sign it, and when they said I did, why I did just what they told me too…Things have got to be done in proper order.”

“Do you feel quite well, Mr Svejk?”

“I wouldn’t say quite well, your worship. I’ve got rheumatism and I’m using embrocation on it.” …

“And do you ever feel run down at all?”

“No sir, except that once I nearly got run down by a motor car, but that was years and years ago.”