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Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy

Today we went on our annual trip to the Summer Exhibition.

This year, the Royal Academy has gone digital and put pictures from the exhibition available to view online.

They are also allowing, and even encouraging, visitors to take photographs at the Summer Exhibition, so we made sure we were all ready with our cameras.  We had a lot of fun spotting the
that Jenny from charactersfromthekitchen posted on her blog.

I was really struck by these two paintings in the courtyard entrance.  I am not sure why, because they are so simple.  They are called Squint, and maybe it is the MC Escher like quality that appealed to me.

ladder                                       step

I was really thrilled to recognise this Ian McKeever, Portrait of a Woman


My favourite room was Room II.  It doesn’t come out so well in the photo, but this 3D Asylum, with wolves and unicorns, by Cathy de Monchaux attracted a lot of attention.


I thought this Trance Map by Trevor Sutton was funny.  In what way is it not a straight up rip off of Agnes Martin??  (Agnes Martin is on at the Tate Modern until October 15th 2015.  Her Mountain is #8 on the list of highest auction prices ever paid for a work by a female artists, so last month I went along to see what the fuss was all about.  At £8,500, I guess Sutton is a snip compared with Martin’s $4.5m.)


In the far corner of Room II, this little corner was also attracting attention.  There’s a picture of Damian Hirst by Harry Hill, and one of Grayson Perry by Una Stubbs.  I was primarily taken by the picture of biscuits at the bottom.  I could also have done without Simon Cowell grinning down at me, but there you go.


We loved this huge shiny acrylic piece.  I wondered if there was any way LD#2 could make one when she does GCSE Art next year.


I always enjoy the architecture room at the Summer Exhibition.  I like the blend between sculpture, installation and architecture, and also the feeling of “How the hell is that architecture… oh, I see.”  This sketch is something to do with Beijing airport.


Chess playing daughter spotted that there was a rook missing from this £2,000 chess set:


I think Quentin Blake has been spying on me while I do my Insanity Max DVD in the mornings – some of the moves look a lot like this:


After an hour, we were all pretty exhausted, so we went to Joy King Lau for a dim sum lunch.  Since reading this post last week, I have had an incessant craving for ho fun rice noodles (was practically doubled over with it last night!), which were well and truly satisfied today.


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Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

One day I will stop going on about how un-thrilling I find most thrillers, and likewise how un-mysterious I find most mysteries.

The problem I have with thrillers is that so many of them are based on the premise that the perpetrator of the misdeeds is an unhinged psychopath, which takes away the interest of a proper motive that you always used to get with a good old fashioned Agatha Christie.  The other problem I have with them is the inexplicably stupid things that many of the protagonists (many of them women) do that get them into trouble, eg Yvonne Carmichael in Apple Tree Yard, or any of the three interchangeable women narrators in The Girl on The Train, which was Radio 4’s most recent Book at Bedtime.  All the women had quite different sounding voices, but they all spoke with the same tone of wistful uselessness that had me really confused as to what was going on, and everything revolved around their relationships with two quite horrible sounding men.

What everyone needs to do is read some Shirley Jackson :-)

We Have Always Lived In The Castle is about two sisters, Constance and Mary Katherine Blackwood, who live in a large house just outside a village.  The novel opens with Mary Katherine (Merricat) on a shopping trip in the village; the sense of enmity and foreboding is terrific.  Then there is an extended sequence of the sisters in their own territory, which is fairly batty, but the pattern of normality is still recognisable, just more or less twisted in different places.  On one level, you feel the sense of comfort the sisters have built up around themselves, but on another, you wonder just what the twists hide.  Everything is character driven, nothing is random.

I don’t tend to creep out that easily from classic books (found both The Woman in Black and The Turn of the Screw fairly ho-hum) but Shirley Jackson really knew how to do tension.

Here is a link to her most famous, and controversial, short story The Lottery.

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Review: Breaking Bad

Sometimes life can feel a bit like this: Keeping up with TV drama now main cause of stress

I’m now on Series Three of Breaking Bad, the story of how chemistry teacher Walter White becomes a crystal meth manufacturer, and it’s picking up a bit.  Series One  was slow, albeit with the odd memorable scene, such as the famous bath scene, and it felt as if the storyline in Series Two was massively padded out by Walt and Jesse’s incompetence (although again some great set pieces, such as the one with the neglected kid and the ATM machine).

Series Three is just really really funny!  Walt’s personality flaws get him into all sorts of conflicts; Walt and Skylar’s marriage breakdown makes Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf look staid; and even though it’s a bit OTT, I really like the set up with the fixer/lawyer Saul.  As Jesse explains to Walt, “You don’t want a criminal *lawyer*… you want a *criminal* lawyer.

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Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I am ridiculously late to the party here, but I finally read The Goldfinch!  It’s not just in Blogland, but at real life work the whole adult population of the school seemed to have read it last year too (as in teachers, teaching assistants, receptionists, guidance leaders).

Having said “adult population” I have passed it on to my daughter to read and wonder what she will make of its perspective.  It’s a tricky voice that Donna Tartt has successfully pulled off, that of precocious adolescent thrown into turmoil that a boy of that age shouldn’t have to deal with.  That’s a question that has worried me since my husband was alive – we both used to worry about what would happen if we both died, as we knew no adults who we thought able to raise the girls in a sympathetic manner.  I never did solve that conundrum – a lovely couple of friends very kindly agreed to fill the role if anything had happened to me, but I am sure the girls would have found it difficult to adapt to the different environment, and they are a couple of years older and therefore more capable aware than Theo Decker at the beginning of the novel.

The novel made me reflect too on how compelling the child/adolescent voice section of a novel can be so much more compelling and memorable than the adult section when it is done well.  I am thinking of Jane Eyre and of Great Expectations.  Although The Goldfinch has been described as Dickensian in the vividness of its characterisation and description, I would venture (non-Dickens fan alert here) that The Goldfinch is much more tightly plotted than any of Dickens’s sprawling, serialised works.

The stand out feature for me was Tartt’s understanding of what it is that attracts us to other people, and how our needs are especially and sometimes indelibly imprinted upon us when we are at our most vulnerable.  It’s a theme that I’m writing about at the moment, although what with having read this and The Bone Clocks, it also makes me think “B*** it, why not just pack it in now, since Tartt and Mitchell have already said everything there is to be said on the subject?”

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The Chemical Brothers: Born in the Echoes

I’ve been waiting weeks for this to come out!

As this review from the Telegraph puts it:

“The kids will probably look on aghast.* But old ravers will find themselves transported back to a time when electronica really did sound like the future.”

I’ll admit that it’s not the best or most innovative album I’ve ever bought, but it’s total comfort listening.  My favourite track at the moment is the ending, Wide Open, which borders on so-cheesy-it’s-almost-Moby.  Maybe that’s what happens to you as you approach your forties.

[*Yes, this is exactly what mine did.]

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Wolf Alice: My Love is Cool

I’ve been listening to this Wolf Alice album non-stop for about two weeks.  It’s so catchy, tuneful, summery and relaxing.

Here is a single:

Also I played the piano today at work.  I gave away almost all my sheet music, because I thought I would never play again, but our database was being updated today.  This meant that as the Database Manager, I couldn’t get on with my normal data-based jobs, so I cleared up the office instead and came across my piano version of Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine.

Here is a YouTube so you can see the five flats in all their glory!

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Review: The Last Hammer Blow (French film, quite slow, arty)

My friend invited me to see Alix Delaporte The Last Hammer Blow tonight, and I had no idea what she was talking about, but I’m glad I went.

It’s the story of a 13 year old boy, Victor, who lives with his mother in a trailer park outside Montpelier.  Victor’s mother is seriously ill with cancer, his father is a famous conductor who doesn’t know of his existence and Victor himself is a promising football player, who is going through trials for a football academy.  When Victor’s father comes to town for a conducting gig, Victor goes to gatecrash a rehearsal and introduce himself.

The acting is very naturalistic, but I thought if you stripped that away, the whole set up was very logistically unlikely, especially the way that the father, after an initial “I don’t have a son” went on to accept the appearance of this random kid in his life without further demur.

On balance though the film made an admirable job of avoiding all the sentimental cliches.  The tension and the interest did stem from the unusualness of the set up and in that way, it was a beautifully balanced film.