A few not necessarily related musings

Time is not my friend these days. I never have time to fit everything in that I want to do in a day. This means that blogging has had to, of late, go a bit out of the window in the face of more pressing pursuits, such as moving house, seeing friends, going to the myriad of groups I belong to, and, of course, the dreaded W.O.R.K. Why do we have to go there five days a week? It’s so inconvenient!

So, apologies for the lack of decent postings recently. Now I’ve finished Richard Yates’ excellent yet gargantuan biography by the wonderful Blake Bailey, who wrote so movingly about Yates that he made me cry, I am free to race through some shorter books, so I shall have some books to review soon. Plus I’m now settled in my new digs, otherwise known as my mum’s house. Yes, I have become a boomerang, returning to the nest just when my mother thought she’d got rid of me. Fear not! This is not due to penury or heartbreak, simply a decision I have made for the short term to save enough money to get on with the rest of my life in the long term. On paper this appears to be prudent, though time will tell if this will prove to be so. My older brother and I have already regressed to our adolescent selves, fighting over the TV and kicking each other under the dinner table, but we like to think it’s in an ironic rather than immature manner. Hmmm….

Anyway, I  had a very enjoyable weekend, in which I saw the Suburbia exhibition at the London Transport Museum, visited the Museum of London for the first time, saw The Last Station, and visited London’s only flower market at Columbia Road, in Hackney. At the London Transport Museum, it was absolutely fascinating to see how the landscape of London and the surrounding counties has changed since the introduction of the tube. The railway companies coined the word ‘Metroland‘ for the new suburbs springing up along the tube lines that extended out into what used to be the countryside of Middlesex and Hertfordshire. They sold ‘Metroland’ to potential new residents as a calm oasis of fresh air and country walks, with comfortable, mock tudor style semis in which to live and just a twenty minute commute to work; the perfect lifestyle choice. However, the perception of the suburbs has changed over the years from being idylls to places of boredom and derision, shunned by today’s young professionals as soulless and dreary, with new housing estates springing up in more central locations to reflect the desire of the modern professional to both live and work in the heart of the city. The displays of posters showing how lovely these suburbs used to be compared to how they are now saddened me, and made me long for 1930s suburbia, all clean and pleasant and new.

We rambled our way to the Barbican after that, stopping for lunch and at the Museum of London; we also paused in one of my favourite of London’s ‘hidden gems’; Postman’s Park, where there are beautiful Royal Doulton plaques (pictured above) commemorating the lives of those who died to save other people in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Back when my parents were dating, they both worked near St Paul’s Cathedral and met in the park for lunch, so it always makes me smile to walk through and think of my flared trousers and mini skirt wearing parents eating their sandwiches side by side, before me and my siblings were even twinkles in their eyes!

At one of the cinemas in the Barbican we saw the absolutely terrific The Last Station; I can’t recommend it highly enough. I don’t know enough about Tolstoy’s personal history or that of his wife Sofya to make a judgement on the realism or fairness of the portrayals in the film, but I thought it was absolutely marvellously, and movingly, acted. Helen Mirren gets better and better, and James McAvoy was excellent as the conflicted young secretary whose allegiance is to Tolstoy, but whose sympathy is with Sofya. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Sofya, feeling alienated and belittled by the men who worshipped her husband, encouraging him to make decisions that she felt denied her and her children their dues. I thought the portrayal of Sofya was magnificent in that it shows how selfish and manipulative she could be, but also how deeply she loved her husband, and how desperately she wanted to ensure that her children were provided for. I couldn’t quite love her, but I couldn’t hate her, either. I left the cinema feeling profoundly touched by the plight of the characters, and desperate to read about their lives; I’d love to get my hands on Sofya’s newly released diaries.

Finally, on Sunday morning, we went to the lovely Columbia Road flower market, and despite the grey skies and biting cold, it was a cheery sight indeed to see so many beautiful flowers, and there’s no sound I love more than the competing cries of market stall holders. I went home with a bunch of gorgeous pink tulips, and a big smile on my face. Even though I have to buy them for myself, there is still something special about having a bunch of flowers to take home!

March is going to be an exciting month for me, and a busy one; I’m off to Cape Town in just 19 days to visit my best friend who now lives there, which I can’t wait for; we are also opening the Quilts exhibition at the V&A, which will be marvellous, plus one of my best friends is getting married. Not to mention that I have a pile of review books to wade through. So, lots to get on with! And hopefully, lots to blog about. Happy March, everyone; Spring is on its way!


  1. Did you enjoy the Suburbia exhibition? I love the Transport Museum but I went last week and thought what a letdown this exhibition was … I could certainly have done without the tinny racket from personal stereos as ‘the sound of commuting.’ Their posters exhibition last year was brilliant and I’d been hoping for something like that – not videos of fat teenagers in Kingston. Must say I’m impressed by what you pack into a day; I went to the museum, had a Primrose Bakery cupcake round the corner – and came home!

    1. Hello! Well I enjoyed the exhibition but it wasn’t as good as I expected it to be. The upstairs part especially lacked inspiration – a wall of quotes from Kingsley Amis poems about suburbia and some videos of people talking about their life does not an exhibition make. I would have liked to see more about the architecture of suburban tube stations, and more about how the quality of life in the suburbs measured up to the hype for the first commuters. It was a bit lazily done, I thought – a lot more could have been fitted into the spaces. The idea of suburbia wasn’t explored enough for me. If I’d had to pay (I get in free with my V&A pass), I would have felt a bit shortchanged! And there was no accompanying book or leaflet – not good!

      Once I’m ‘in town’ as my mum would say, I like to make the most of it! So I pack in as much as possible!

  2. R and I saw The Last Station a couple of weeks ago. Knowing very little about Tolstoy ourselves we thought it was an excellent way to learn a little more…okay, and eat popcorn! I had no idea he lived in such a manner! Apparently, Sofya attempted suicide on a regular basis and they really toned down her behaviour in the movie…yikes!

    The Museum of London was great fun, R and I really enjoyed our visit there in 2007. We laughed to hear an elementary school age boy exclaim ‘It’s Samuel Pepys!’ when he saw his portrait. A little historian in the making….bless.

    1. Exactly – I feel that I learned a lot while being entertained, which is always a pleasure! Oh really?! I want to learn more about Sofya Tolstoy now!

      I’m glad you enjoyed your visit – half the museum was closed as they’re refurbishing the modern (post 1700) section but I still found it interesting to learn about Roman London and Anglo Saxon times etc. How cute about that little boy! I’m impressed he knew who Samuel Pepys was!

  3. What’d you think of the Museum of London? I visited it last time I was in London and wasn’t wild about it compared to some of the other London museums. Had they put back up the display with the Victorian shopfronts? That’s what I wanted to see really but it was down for renovation or something when I was there.

    1. I wasn’t overly impressed as everything post 1700 was closed for refurbishment, and that’s really what I wanted to see. I wanted to look at the fashion section too, which they’re well known for, but that’s also being refurbished. I think it all reopens in May so I’ll go back then. It’s not the best Museum in London by any means but it’s the only one that explores the history of London as a city in such depth. As such I think they should make more of themselves – their location is rubbish for starters – and the cafe is dire! Not enough cake!

    1. Oh it was lovely! It would have been even better if the sun had been shining…and also if I was rich, as I would have bought armfuls if money was no object!

      No…my mum moved when I was 21 so I’m in a totally new room in a house that I’ve never lived in before. That’s actually made me feel a lot better – if I’d had to go back to my childhood room I’d really feel like I’d regressed!

  4. I’m glad you loved the film of The Last Station – as it had poor reviews in the newspapers which was disappointing as I thoroughly enjoyed the book it was based on (by Jay Parini) , but have yet to see the film.

    1. Yes, I absolutely loved it and would say ignore the bad reviews! I am VERY fussy with films but I didn’t look at my watch once. It’s so beautifully made and acted. You’d be missing out if you didn’t see it! I didn’t realise there was a book – I’ll have to check it out.

  5. Like M i loved the posters exhibition at the LTM last year; the suburbia thing sounds right up my street but I don’t think I can justify going again so soon as it’s so expensive to get in. I hope there is a BOOK which I can get instead.

    The flower market sounds good, and BTW I might be engaged but if I want flowers I also have to buy them myself 95% of the time…

  6. Funny how we revert to old roles after a move home. We ended up staying with my parents for over 10 months during a home renovation project that was supposed to be done in 3! In my forties and moving home – with a husband, 3 kids, and a dog! Mom got a vitamin out for me every morning. Both parents still say it was one of the happiest times for them, but I remember being stressed, frustrated, and spending hours each day in the car!!!

    The Last Station will be here soon. I’m looking forward to it! The flower market is beautiful…

    1. Oh goodness JoAnn! I can’t imagine having to do that! I love that your parents still loved having you back at home, though!

      Do make sure you go and see The Last Station, I know you will love it. Plus if you are of the type who finds James McAvoy attractive (like me! 😉 ) you will be in for a treat!

  7. Yes, the V&A put on a much better show! I went to the Museum of London a few weeks ago – and it was looking very dilapidated, as you say – but I was on an organised visit to see inside the fashion stores and that was fascinating, a real treat to see things close up and be able to see inside an 18th century gown. No touching, of course!
    I didn’t even investigate the museum caff as the front entrance looked so unappealing and there were so many noisy children, but there’s an Austrian deli five minutes walk away in Smithfield – and it’s much cheaper.

    1. Yes they do! Oh I would have loved to have seen the fashion stores – I was so disappointed none of the fashion stuff was on display. I could see a glimpse of it from upstairs…forbidden fruit!

      Oooh, I’ll bear that deli in mind when I go back…I am waiting until May so I can see the full refurbishment in all its glory.

    1. Wasn’t it? I’m so pleased to hear that you loved it too – I have read some negative reviews and I simply don’t understand how anyone could have found fault with it, frankly!

  8. I have always wanted to go to a flower market, can you believe there is only one in London its madness. Sounds like you have had an eventuful time, but life just takes over sometimes and do you know what? We should simply let it. is always lovely to see a new post from you but you should never feel pressurised to post.

    1. I know! You should definitely make a trip one Sunday, Simon – there’s a bookshop there too!

      Thanks Simon – there is a bit of pressure sometimes to keep up with it all but sometimes we do need to learn to just let things go. And that is ok!

    1. Oh it’s not that great, honest! Thank you Nan – I’m glad you enjoy reading about my little adventures, though I’ll always envy you your beautiful New England existence!

  9. What a nice post. Are you going to write more about the Bailey biography–your last post on it was fantastic. But I can understand taking a break from Yates and getting away from the darker view of things, going to museums and flower markets. We can admire Yates and his work, but no one would want to live that way. I have to say that I was disappointed and frustrated by The Last Station, and I wish I had been able to enjoy it more. It felt extremely inauthentic and overdone to me. The performances were good, although Macavoy seemed to be mugging a bit, a bunch of good actors, but I thought they made it hokey and didn’t capture any truth at all about what happened at the end of Tolstoy’s life. Not that I know anything significant about it beyond a vague notion that he ran away from his estate and wife and got sick, but I thought that Helen Mirren was playing a strange, actory role, she was too integrated and dramatic at the same time. My sense is that the true situation must have been fascinating and weird. Not to compare to Yates too often, but a little honesty about characters and behavior goes a long way, especially I think when you are dealing with a giant of realism like Tolstoy. But the basic intent was to create a crowd pleaser, so I can’t fault the film too much and give credit to those who like it and are entertained.

    1. Glad you liked it, zhiv! I might write more about Bailey in future – I’m taking some time to gather my thoughts! I needed to get away from his world for a little while, as much as I loved inhabiting it! I’m sad you were disappointed by The Last Station…I really did think it was marvellously acted, and I got the impression that Sofya was a rather histrionic woman, which Helen Mirren brought across very well. I can’t really criticise it that well though because I am not familiar with the biographical facts as much as I’d like to be. It did have to be a crowd pleaser to a certain extent as you say so there does have to be a bit of theatricality to it, perhaps? Even so, I’m sorry it didn’t live up to your expectations.

    1. I do indeed! I’m a lucky girl! Thank you – I am sure I will – just seeing my best friend will make me happy, but the sun will also be very welcome after the loooong winter we’ve had here!

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