Tuesday, September 27, 2005

London diary : Tuesday 20 September 2005

This morning [last Tueday], having filled a bowl with fruit from the breakfast buffet in the anteroom, I turned to enter the dining room and found the popular Scottish novelist Eileen Ramsay smiling at me from the doorway. It was our first realworld meeting but I recognised her face from a photograph on her website.

We shared the same table for two where Jenny Haddon and I had dined the night before and we talked as easily as old friends until it was time to set out for the day.

Having splurged £10 on a taxi to Chelsea on Sunday, today I caught a bus from Marble Arch to Trafalgar Square where I looked at the controversial statue by Marc Quinn of the naked and pregnant artist Alison Lapper.

Last time I visited the National Gallery, the space immediately in front of it was still a busy street. Changing it to a pedestrian way is a great improvement.

My destination was the Stubbs and the horse" exhibition, which closed on the 25th. I particularly enjoyed the 15-minute film showing at the little cinema next to the exhibition shop where I bought postcards of Whistlejacket and the painting called Mares and Foals.

From the exhibition I walked up to Piccadilly to have a look round Waterstone's bookshop where I spent £7.99 on Richmal Crompton : The Woman Behind Just William by Mary Cadogan, published by Sutton Publishing.

The back jacket copy reads
Richmal Crompton's William is known even to those who have never read the books featuring his anarchic exploits. For many, the scruffy, adventurous and exuberant William, Ginger, Henry and Douglas - not forgetting the awful Violet Elizabeth - remain and ever-remembered part of our childhood. But what do we know of his publicity-shy creator? In this enduringly popular biography, Mary Cadogan provides a portrait of a witty and talented writer and a celebration of her works.

A nice-looking young assistant put the book in a plastic bag printed with "There is no friend as loyal as a book" - Ernest Hemingway.

Then I walked a little further along Piccadilly to Hatchards bookshop where I bought Time to Be in Earnest : A Fragment of Autobiography by P D James, published by Faber and Faber, of which Libby Purves wrote -
"This secretive memoir is an engaging read. It is very human, very much in character…It is an odd book but it has real flavour."

By now it was time for my lunch date with the Editorial Director of Harlequin Mills & Boon at Green's Restaurant and Oyster Bar at 36 Duke Street where I hadn't been before. As usual I arrived early and was impressed by a warm reception from the "greeter", always a promising sign. The atmosphere at Green's is masculine : lots of well-dressed businessmen sitting on leather banquettes, some in booths for added privacy. I was shown to a table by the window where very soon I was joined by Karin Stoecker who had come to central London from the company's headquarters at Richmond.

Karin and I both started out as journalists, so we've felt a strong rapport since the first time we met when I was visiting Harlequin's HQ in Toronto, back in the Eighties. Karin has been heading the UK editorial team since the mid-Nineties. This week she's attending the second Women's Fiction Festival at Matera in southern Italy and there's an interesting interview with her on the festival website.

Our conversation at lunch was mostly about books. Karin was enthusiastic about Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Meran which at Amazon UK is described thus -
For the inhabitants of the damp little Irish town of Ballinacroagh, the repertoire of gastronomic delights has never extended farther than the limp meals of the local inn's carvery. But things are about to change when the beautiful Aminpour sisters - Marjan, Bahar and Layla - arrive, determined to share the magic of their kitchen with the friendly locals. Opening Babylon Cafe, right in the heart of town, they begin serving up traditional Persian dishes and, soon enough, the townsfolk is lured to the new premises by the tantalizing aroma of fresh herb kuku, lamb abgusht and elephant ear fritters, washed down with gallons of jasmine tea from the old samovar. Well ...most of the townsfolk. Not everyone welcomes the three women with open arms - some of the older matrons fear for the sanity of their husbands; the mayor has his eye on their property to open a disco; and his foul-mouthed son has his eyes on Layla...Filled to the brim with recipes, mouth-watering fragrances and mysterious spices, "Pomegranate Soup" is a heart-warming tale of romance, friendship and exotic food.

There's also a comment from the publisher -
'Pomegranate Soup is glorious, daring and delightful. I adored the Iranian sisters, Marjan, Bahar and Layla who are looking to build a life, start a business and find love in a place so far from home. Ireland has never been more beautiful, the perfect setting for this story filled with humour, hope and possibility.' -- Adriana Trigiani

After Karin and I had said goodbye, I popped round the corner to the Oakham Galleries at 27, Bury Street where I wanted to see the Venice Revisited exhibition of paintings by Michael Felmingham.

The door of the gallery was unlocked for me by a tall, distinguished-looking man who explained that he didn't work there. He was a customer who, it turned out, had just bought a painting which was being wrapped by a young man with whom, later, I had an interesting conversation.

A few years ago I went to Venice with a group of artists, some professionals and some amateurs like myself. It was one of the most enjoyable trips of my life and gave me the background for a romance called Sophie's Secret.

From the gallery, I strolled back to the club via Bond Street and then went to the early evening showing of Pride and Prejudice at the Marble Arch Odeon. The snag with seeing films at this cinema is that, while waiting for the movie to begin, one is forced to listen to the most ghastly kind of pop music and even during the movie the noise level is deafening. The music in the ballroom scenes was painfully loud and I could see that other members of the small audience were also wincing.

The last film I saw here was My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a lovely story spoiled by a too loud sound track. I was sufficiently incensed to seek out the manager and complain, but obviously it was a waste of breath.

I'll write about my reaction to the latest version of P&P in a future blog.

Back at the club, I had a glass of wine and browsed through some of the many glossies spread on a table in the drawing room. In the 2 June 2005 issue of Country Life, my eye was caught by a heading "The pictures they dared not let you see" above a Stubbs painting called The Grosvenor Hunt 1760-62.

Below it, I read
"Charles Saumarez Smith, the gallery's director, denies a New Labour plot to cleanse the historical record of references to the recently banned sport. We shall not comment beyond showing readers some of the pictures that they will not see in the exhibition this month."


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