Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Paper Garden

I am reading a very surprising book,The Paper Garden by Toronto-based author Molly Peacock, published by Bloomsbury. Why surprising? On the face of it, a book about Mrs Delaney, a real 18th century figure, who spent the last twenty years of her long life cutting out flowers from tissue paper and sticking them on black backgrounds might be a yawn. But the writing sparkles, it is written in colloquial - sometimes even slangy English, and the narrative covers far more than the protagonist's cut and paste technique. I am only on page 53, but I am beginning to see how this most unusual, clever, ground-breaking story is going to use this - quite literally - flimsy excuse to investigate subjects of enduring interest to us all, such as: marriage, ageing, families, friendship, the nature of art - in other words Life and all its challenges. Also, purely as an object, this is a beautifully-produced book, by Bloomsbury in association with The British Museum, with many pretty touches such as the typeface, expensive paper, lovely colour illustrations. A five star recommendation.

Now: a quiz question to which I genuinely wish to know the answer - where did all the woad go? We are told that our forebears decorated themselves with woad, a blue dye that is made by boiling up a plant. You would think that therefore the plant would still be found growing in many a corner of a British field or hedgerow. But no. It does not grow wild anywhere in Britain. If you need some blue woad dye, as we did 12 years ago for my younger daughter's wedding outfit 'something blue', (in her case a garter), woad seeds had to be bought and the tender plant cultivated. I will raise the question with our garden historians during Beyond the Garden Gate May 26/27.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Interviewing Martin Amis

Katya reminded me during her visit of the magazine Herald of Europe - I see that the editor of the English edition, Mikhail Borshchevsky interviewed the Archbishop of Canterbury for the current edition. I interviewed Martin Amis for the first ever issue of the magazine - see Mikhail will be coming to our MBE conference in Moffat in September.

Turning to more immediate matters: I am going to spend this week finding bric a brac for our Sat March 17 Moffat Book Events coffee morning at Moffat Town Hall, which triumphantly was granted the £300k necessary match funding to undertake essential repairs last Tuesday Feb 21 (well done!) .

I am also looking forward to completing the shelving, in eccentric subject order, of my books onto my superb new bookshelves (thanks to Sean at George Hunter's workshop).

More leaflets inviting people to open their gardens for our Open Gardens event in Moffat on Sunday May 27 also need to be delivered, a nice job in the open air now that the weather is getting warmer. Spring is well and truly sprung down south, where my sister in Kent reports being able to sit out in short sleeves and even shorts recently.

Saturday, 25 February 2012


There is a very strong leader by Kenneth Roy in the latest edition of his online The Scottish Review on the deplorable deterioration in the standard of written English in official communiques and tangled utterances amounting to what George Orwell described as 'newspeak'. When language is devised to confuse and conceal, the quality of our democracy and our very liberties are at stake. This is not an exaggeration. Every bad government, including the worst totalitarian ones in the last century - Communist/Soviet Russian or Nazi - uses euphemisms to disguise evil intentions, and deeds. Every step on this road to perdition must constantly be noted and resisted. If you are interested, visit

Another Busy Day

It was another busy day yesterday (Fri Feb 24) for Dr Ekaterina Genieva OBE, Director General of the State Library for Foreign Literature, Moscow,(VGBIL), pictured right with former Moffat Academy student Robert Tildesley and Head of Languages Mr Breen. Dr Genieva is our Moffat Book Events partner in the September 14-17 2012 conference Russia: Lessons and Legacy to be held in Moffat St Andrew's church and the Moffat House hotel.
10.30 Visit to Moffat Bookshop. Agreement with Katherine Clemmens the proprietor that bi-lingual classics series in Russian and English published by Rudomino Press will be made available to the bookshop, which has a successful small Russian section. Books about Moffat by local historians will be sent to VGBIL in exchange. Photograph taken for Moffat News.
11.0am Visit to A.M Simpson, solicitors, Well St Moffat to inquire on behalf of Moffat Book Events if the vacant shop in Well St, formerly trading as a Christian bookshop, is available for MBE to let to be run by Katherine as the childrens' section of Moffat Books.
11.30 Visit to Moffat library to present a copy of Christianity for the Twenty-First Century to the library. Meeting with Mrs Janet McTeir, assistant librarian. Photograph taken of Dr Genieva with Mrs McTeir.
12.00 Meeting with Rev Adam Dillon, chairman of Moffat Book Events at Brodies. Adam was invited to sign an agreement in September to link St Andrew's, Moffat with the church at Semkhoz which marks the spot where Fr Alexander was murdered, and where Fr Alexander's nephew Fr Viktor Grigorenko is the priest (he will come to the conference in Sept).

A campaign of familiarisation with Fr Alexander/the conference will be undertaken both locally and further afield, thereby gathering the optimum audience for the conference, as follows:
For 9th March: information about the conference for a Church of Scotland round robin email circulation and announcement of a date for a briefing for ministers.
Adam now has a copy of 'Awake to Life', English translation of a cycle of sermons preached by Fr Alexander during Lent and at Easter, for use with his congregation
1,200 Church of Scotland ministers have the opportunity of annual paid study leave. Adam will seek pre-approval of the conference to qualify for the grant available for ministers to attend
Adam has good connections with Moffat Academy and will introduce Dr Ann Shukman and myself to Head Teacher Mrs Lesley Watson in order to discuss a programme of talks and a possible film show in the school assembly hall of the two animated films ('The Ugly Duckling' and 'Adagio') by Gari Bardin, sponsored by Vladimir Spivakov, about Fr Alexander.
Adam graduated from Princeton university in the USA and will therefore inform the Theological department there about the conference, in the hopes that they may fund attendance for some students to the conference.

Dr Genieva suggested that invitations be sent to the German partners in an annual prize in memory of Fr Alexander. Up to now the prize has been presented in Germany, but the idea now is to make it international. To ensure optimal attendance at the conference, it was suggested that concessions be available for students, unemployed and pensioners, and anyone with a DG10 postcode, also perhaps a home stay option offered for those unable to pay for accommodation but wishing to attend the conference.

2.30 Meeting in Dumfries with Adrian Turpin, director Wigtown Book Festival, Carolyn Yates, Literature Development Officer Dumfries and Galloway and Robin Bartlett formerly Dept of International Development. Various options and possibilities for a Russia-Scotland books/book events/ festival links were discussed and Adrian agreed to send Katya a one page memorandum of ideas to get started. Carolyn will send a collection of books by D&G authors to VGBIL. The possibility of 'professional tourism' by Russians interested in the history and culture of the region was also mentioned .

5.0pm Meeting with Rev Dr Ann Shukman at Elshieshields to review visit by Dr Genieva. Suitable secular-friendly titles of the conference for banners, website and posters were discussed, the favourite being Russia: Lessons and Legacy. The Russian title suggested by Katya is: Rossiya v poiskakh sebya' ('Russia in Search of Itself'). A list of invitees from Russia was drawn up.
It was agreed that Katya will prepare a budget for 15-panel exhibition and publication of 1,000 copies of an illustrated life of Fr Alexander to go with it – Ann will translate and write an introduction to the English edition.
It was suggested that MBE needs urgently to appoint a membership secretary to focus on building a contact list and regularly pro-actively circulating members with news of events .
It is hoped to publish the proceedings of the conference and a recording made if this does not contravene data protection legislation. A reissue is under consideration of Awake to Life the cycle of Easter sermons (published in English by Rob Dudley under his Bowerdean Press imprint). I have asked Rt Rev Stephen Platten, Bishop of Wakefield, if he might be willing to write an article about the conference for publication in the Church Times . Senior clerics of various Christian denominations in UK and Russia will be invited as a matter of courtesy . Carolyn Yates our D&G literature development officer will be invited to the next MBE conference organising committee meeting in Moffat MDCI office 2pm March 15, to advise and liaise generally, including on organisation in light of her experience with Wigtown Book Festival.
20.00 Meeting in Moffat with Elly Hurren who met Fr Alexander at Novaya Derevnya in 1990. Possibility was discussed of christening Olly Hurren born April 28 2011 at the conference service on Sunday Sept 16 of conference. I am to invite Edinburgh Woollen Mill to host an 'Ivanovo' corner at Moffat Mill outlet (Ivanovo is famous for fine textile production, region where Mikhail Men, son of Fr Alexander Men, is Governor).

Sat 6.0am Katya left Annandale Hotel, Moffat and is now safely back at home in Moscow.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

A Russian Week in Moffat?

As a result of the continuing visit of Dr Ekaterina Genieva OBE to Moffat this week, plans are now afoot to broaden the appeal of our Moffat Book Events international conference in Moffat 14-17 Sept 2012, examining the legacy and lessons of murdered inspirational Russian leader Alexander Men, into something like 'Russian Week' in Moffat, with films, taster Russian lessons, a Russian Tea Party a display of my collection of Russian art and artefacts and the sale of selected Russian artworks and artefacts at outlets in the town. Links between Russia and Scotland go far back, Scottish writers such as R L Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott are not only held in high esteem but actually read in Russia; Robert Burns* is celebrated - even to the extent of almost being considered one of Russia's honorary national poets -, and interest between the two nations continues to be very much alive - witness the show of hands yesterday at Moffat Academy when our Russian visitor asked a modern language class whether any of the students would be interested in learning the language. Dr Genieva's last day here will be spent in visiting the Moffat Bookshop, the library, a working lunch with minister Adam Dillon,chairman of Moffat Book Events, and talks this afternoon with Adrian Turpin, director of the Wigtown Book Festival and Carolyn Yates our D&G Literature Development officer. *An amusing incident occurred in Moffat yesterday: as Dr Genieva was walking past the Black Bull, a passerby asked her 'who was this guy Robert Burns'. Dr Genieva knows her onions, and gave him a short lecture about the great man and his works. the passerby thanked her, and went on his way unaware that his informant was herself a Russian visitor to the town!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Busy Day

Busy day yesterday Tues Feb 21 for our Russian VIP visitor, starting with a working lunch at Brodies with D&G literary development officer Carolyn Yates, then on to the Moffat & District Community Initiative office for a well-attended meeting of Moffat Book Event organising committee and members. We worked through a full agenda, and Dr Genieva had the opportunity of introducing herself and explaining the role played by her major cultural institution, the State Library for Foreign Literature, Moscow in the diplomatic and cultural life of Russia, having branches or partners in 27 regions of the biggest country on earth, engaging with literacy and distributing books, liaising with foreign visitors and organising groups from Russia to make professional visits abroad. A design for a Moffat Book Events banner was approved for us round the town in advance of events; details agreed for our fund-raising Coffee Morning at Moffat Town Hall on Sat March 17 and Jean Atkin gave us an update on the marketing/PR for 'Beyond the Garden Gate' Sat May 26/Sun May 27. Marilyn Elliott then drove Dr Genieva and me to visit Dr Ann Shukman at Elshieshields, the historic medieval tower house in Lochmaben formerly the home of Ann's uncle Sir Steven Runciman CH, historian of Orthodoxy and the Crusades. After a fascinating tour of the house complete with a medieval loo in one of the turrets (no longer in working order!)we continued discussions about the international conference to be held in Moffat at St Andrews church Sept 14-17 under the auspices of MBE, inspired by the life and work of murdered Russian priest,scientist and scholar Alexander Men. Another busy day today - and a full report tomorrow.

Our Russian Visitor

Moffat Book Events welcomed Dr Ekaterina Genieva. Director of the State Library for Foreign Literature, Moscow to Moffat yesterday for a week of meetings and visits. Her programme so far includes:
  • Monday Feb 20 - arrival at The Annandale Arms hotel; meeting to finalise programme with Dr Ann Shukman and Mrs Marilyn Elliott of MBE; meeting with Mr & Mrs T Gibbons re Men conference and possible tour by Mrs Gibbons to make radio programme on standup comedy in Russia.
  • Tues Feb 21: lunch with Carolyn Yates, D& G literature development officer; meeting of MBE committee; visit to Elshieshields, Lochmaben, home of the late Sir Steven Runciman historian of the Orthodox Church and Byzantium courtesy of present owner Dr Ann Shukman.
  • Wed Feb 22: lunch with Jenny Carr of the Scotland-Russia Forum and Sarah Mathieson of Vantage Events; meeting at the MDCI office of the organising committee of the Alexander Men Conference to be held at St Andrews church Moffat 14-17 Sept 2012; tea with Jill Hollis of Moffat-based publishers Cameron and Hollis; visit to St Andrews church (to be confirmed)
  • Thurs Feb 23: 09.30 visit to Moffat Academy; arrival of Susan Richards organiser of Book Aid to Russia and author of books on Russia; pm meeting with Katherine Clemmens of Moffat Book Exchange
  • Fri Feb 24: 10.30 visit to Moffat Book Exchange; 14.30 departure of Susan Richards; further meetings to be arranged
  • Members of MBE and any others interested in meeting Dr Genieva during her visit to Moffat please contact Mrs Marilyn Elliott at or on 07885444120

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Red Letter Day

Yesterday was perfect for a flying visit from Eowyn Ivey, author of the phenomenal The Snow Child. Eowyn and her husband Sam charmed us all, first in Biggar where Chris McCosh and Sue of Atkinson Pryce Books with Eowyn's publishers Headline hosted a sellout literary lunch then at the Moffat House hotel for a 'conversation' and book signing. The sky was blue and filled with snow by turns, as if winter and spring were battling it out. Someone said pensively after Eowyn, Sam, and Headline's publicists Samantha from London and Gillian from Glasgow had departed that some day we would all look back on the evening much as if we had met Dan Brown before The Da Vinci Code hit the big time. In my view, The Snow Child is, with all due respect to Dan Brown, a far better book than The Da Vinci Code. It already reads like an enduring classic with all the necessary ingredients: a haunting predicament - which Ivey does not seek to solve glibly - of a couple who set themselves a huge challenge in the face of the pain of a lost child and win from the wilderness a kind of victory. Life, with its sorrows and moments of heart-warming friendship is played out against the entirely convincing backdrop of Alaska's savage beauty. Moffat did itself proud with a very good turnout, there was a real buzz in the air as we lined up to meet Eowyn to get our books signed. Many thanks, too, to Chris and Sue who quite literally went the extra mile by bringing the books. We are looking forward to future collaborations, but The Snow Child will remain something very special for us all.

I am pegging out my new garden today!

Friday, 17 February 2012


Wikipedia has a long entry about our guest Eowyn's first name - see We can get up to speed on that and her home town of Palmer, Alaska - which, like Moffat, has its own website - before we meet her tomorrow evening 6-8pm at the Moffat House hotel. Eowyn and I will be 'in conversation' before a Q & A with everyone in the audience and book signings. It will be an evening to remember, I am sure

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A Booming Market

According to today's The Times newspaper: In Europe and America the publishing business is in deep trouble, grappling with falling sales and profits. In contrast, India’s economy, its vast population of more than 1.2 billion people and rising levels of literacy are driving a reading boom that is the envy of the world.

The Indian book industry is churning out more than 30,000 titles a year, generating sales of about 12 billion rupees (£155 million) and experiencing growth rates of up to 12 per cent — considerably more in the lucrative market for academic and text books.

Western groups are scrambling to tap into the opportunity.

Pearson, Bertelsmann and Bloomsbury are only a few of the publishing groups to have announced new investments in India in recent months.

It’s not only publishers who are looking east for growth. Internet retailers such as Amazon and Flipkart, as well as traditional bookstores, are also eager to boost their exposure to India.

So long as India’s economy continues to grow at close to 7 per cent per year, it is a boom that is likely to persist.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Fairy Tales

Fairy tales in general are in the news - and one in particular is coming our way to Moffat on Saturday Feb 18th. A headline in today's Feb 12 2012 Daily Telegraph screamed

Fairytales too scary for modern children, say parents

Traditional fairytales are being ditched by parents because they are too scary for their young children, a study found.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was the first feature length animation made by Disney in 1937 Photo: WALT DISNEY

One third of parents said their children have been left in tears after hearing the gruesome details of Little Red Riding Hood.

And nearly half of mothers and fathers refuse to read Rumplestiltskin to their kids as the themes of the story are kidnapping and execution.

Similarly, Goldilocks and the Three Bears was also a tale likely to be left on the book shelf as parents felt it condones stealing.

The survey of 2,000 adults was commissioned to mark the launch of the hit US drama GRIMM, which starts tonight at 9pm on Watch, and sees six gritty episodes based on traditional fairytales.

And 52 per cent of the parents said Cinderella didn't send a good message to their children as it portrays a young woman doing housework all day.

Steve Hornsey, General Manager, Watch, said: ''Bedtime stories are supposed to soothe children and send them off to sleep soundly.

''But as we see in GRIMM, fairytales can be dark and dramatic tales so it's understandable that parents worry about reading them to young children.''

''As adults we can see the innocence in fairytales, but a five year old with an over active imagination could take things too literally.

''Despite the dark nature of classic fairytales, as we see in GRIMM, good will triumph over evil and there is always a moral to the story.''

When it comes to bedtime reading, over a third of parents don't like to tell their children about 'The Gingerbread Man' as he gets eaten by a fox.

And 'Queen Bee' features a character called 'Simpleton,' which 35 per cent of mums and dads deemed unsuitable.

The study also found two thirds of mums and dads try to avoid stories which might give their children nightmares.

However half of parents said traditional tales are more likely to have a strong moral message than a lot of modern kids' books, such as The Gruffalo, The Hungary Caterpillar and the Mr Men books.


1. Hansel and Gretel - Details two kids abandoned in the forest and likely to scare young children

2. Jack and the Beanstalk - Deemed too 'unrealistic'.

3. Gingerbread Man - Would be uncomfortable explaining gingerbread man gets eaten by a fox

4. Little Red Riding Hood - Deemed unsuitable by parents who have to explain a young girl's grandmother has been eaten by a wolf.

5. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves - the term dwarves was found to be inappropriate

6. Cinderella - Story about a young girl doing all the housework was outdated.

7.Rapunzel - Parents were worried about the focus on a young girl being kidnapped.

8.Rumplestiltskin - Wouldn't be happy reading about executions and kidnapping

9.Goldilocks and the Three Bears - Sends the wrong messages about stealing

10.Queen Bee - Inappropriate as the story has a character called Simpleton

By way of contrast, a real life fairy tale will come true for me on Sat Feb 18. It all began on the night of Dec 21 2011, when I heard a radio interview on the BBC World Service with Eowyn Ivey, a young Alaskan first-time novelist, about how her book The Snow Child had been inspired by a Russian fairytale and, again,quite by chance, how she (Eowyn) and her - as yet unfinished - manuscript had been spotted at a book fair.

I contacted the young author by email and when it was known that Eowyn was going to be touring the UK with her now best-selling book, already number 2 in the UK bestseller charts, also BBCR4's choice as Book at Bedtime for April 2012, I asked Eowyn to include Moffat on her itinerary.

Much to everyone at Moffat Book Events' delight, Eowyn agreed, and she will be here at the Mofat House hotel on Sat Feb 18 6-8pm to be 'in conversation' with me, to answer audience questions and to sign copies of her book.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Game Changers

From the online The Writer's Almanac today:

Abraham Lincoln was born on this day near Hodgenville, Kentucky (1809). Though he's generally considered one of the greatest presidents in US history, fairly little is known about his early life. Unlike most presidents, he never wrote any memoirs. We know that he was born in a log cabin and had barely a year of traditional schooling. His mother died when he was nine, and he spent much of his adolescence working with an axe. But when he was in his early 20s, he showed up in New Salem, Illinois, having decided to remake himself as a professional man, and to study law.

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England (1809). On the famous voyage to the southern tip of South America when he was only 22, Darwin brought with him Principles of Geology by Sir Charles Lyell, which suggested that the earth was millions of years old. And along the journey, Darwin got a chance to explore the Galapagos Islands. These islands were spaced far enough apart that the animals on them had evolved over time into different species.
It took him a long time to publish his findings, mainly because he was afraid of being attacked as an atheist. But about 20 years after he first came up with the idea, he published his game-changing On the Origin of Species (1859).

It's the birthday of poet and editor Deborah Garrison, born in Ann Arbor, Michigan (1965). At age 21, she graduated from Brown with a creative writing degree; married her high school sweetheart, a lawyer; and joined the staff of The New Yorker, where she worked for more than a decade as senior editor.
Her first poetry collection, A Working Girl Can't Win, was published in 1998. It sold more than 30,000 copies, which is a lot for a poetry book -- Pulitzer Prize-winning poets routinely sell far less. John Updike said that her poems "have a Dickinsonian intensity and the American recluse's air of independent-minded, lightly populated singleness." The collection was called "wry, sexy, appealing" by Elle.

It's the birthday of Judy Blume, born in Elizabeth, New Jersey (1938), the best-selling author of more than two dozen books for young people.
She was 27 years old, with two preschool aged children, when she began writing seriously. For two years, she received constant rejections. Then in 1970, she had her big breakthrough, with the young adult novel Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. It's the story of 11-year-old Margaret Simon, the daughter of Jewish father and Christian mother, and her adolescent attempts to make sense of things like religion, boys, and menstruation. The book was banned in many schools and libraries. It's one of the most challenged books of the last third of the 20th century. But it's also beloved by many, and it has been a big best-seller over the years.
She lives mostly in Key West, where she writes at a desk facing a garden. In the summer, she writes in a small cabin on Martha's Vineyard. She always writes in the morning. When she's working on a first draft, which she says is the hardest part, she writes seven days a week, even if only for an hour or two day.
Blume is also the author of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (1972), Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great (1972), Blubber (1974), The Pain and the Great One (1974), Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself (1977), Superfudge (1980), Here's to You, Rachel Robinson (1993), and recently, Going, Going, Gone! with the Pain and the Great One (2008). Her books have sold more than 80 million copies.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

A Narrow Squeak

Let no-one tell you that the lives of book lovers are dull. Yesterday (Fri Feb 10), a few minutes into a final planning meeting for our landmark Eowyn Ivey and "The Snow Child" event in Moffat on Sat Feb 18, the committee of Moffat Book Events, - we are a charitable organisation run by volunteers - , received a telephone call from a staff member at Hodder Headline's Scottish office to say they were pulling the Moffat event in favour of a book signing at Waterstones in Glasgow.

Having pulled out every stop to publicise the event, put up posters, distributed leaflets, publicised it via multiple entries on Facebook, MBE's own website and The Commonty, alerted the press and TV etc - the committee were absolutely furious and we made it clear that we were not willing to be bullied and that our reputation as a fairly new charity was at stake.

Luckily, Dumfries and Galloway Literary Development officer Carolyn Yates was present, dealt with the emergency very firmly, spoke with the Hodder executive in London with whom all contact had been made up to then and the event is BACK ON!!

In light of these alarms and excursions, Moffat Book Events would appreciate maximum support for this exclusive event – Moffat House hotel 6–8pm Sat Feb 18 2012, tickets £7 on the door or from The Booth or contact Marilyn Elliott on 07885444120

for the back story of how Eowyn came to be in contact with Moffat Book Events see

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

BBCR4's Book at Bedtime

We picked a winner with BBCR4's April 2012 Book at Bedtime - Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child.
Come and hear all about this international book bestselling phenomenon from the author herself on Feb 18th 6pm Moffat House hotel

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Bywater St, Chelsea

Here is a picture of Bywater St, Chelsea - Smiley's People country: his house is just up on the left

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Rupert Sheldrake

I have a certain amount of sympathy for Rupert Sheldrake's views on science, most recently expressed in The Science Delusion. He is interested in phenomena that science cannot explain, such as the apparent ability of dogs to know when their owners are coming home, and other instances of telepathy. Many of us have experienced such instances, and know that they cannot be replicated to order or under strictly controlled conditions. But the point - the usefulness - of science is to be able to predict what reliably happens, under what conditions; it is a method which has led to all the physical amenities of the modern world. There is room for doubt in science - it's about the strength of the predictive model. If Sheldrake can inspire better experiments or a more powerful explanatory theoretical framework for the observable world, good for him. Robust debate is the friend of progress.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Snow Child has landed

Here is a picture of Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child in the window of Waterstone's, Kings Road, Chelsea London:

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Hockney etc

There is/are a number of extraordinary things about the Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy: its sheer size and scope; the vitality; the ambition- not so much to make a definitive statement but to demonstrate that life is exuberant, never-ending; the assured technique and the frequent references to great predecessors such as Van Gogh,Hogarth,Gaugin,Claude Lorraine, Monet. And there is meaning: the project is about life and death. I came away thinking I had been at a landmark event, like the exhibition Roger Fry organised in November 1910, Manet and the Post-Impressionists (a term which he coined) at the Grafton Galleries, London. This exhibition was the first to prominently feature Gaugin, Manet, Matisse, and Van Gogh in England and brought their art to the public. Virginia Woolf later said, "On or about December 1910 human character changed," referring to the effect this exhibit had on the world.

After a very delicious lunch with my sister at Rules, to the exhilarating One Man, Two Guvnors, a sort of grown up pantomime, brilliantly updated by Richard Bean to 1963 from Goldoni's 1745 Commedia dell'arte Il servitore di due padrone complete with toe-tapping live music chanelling the groups of our youth: Freddie and the Dreamers and the Beatles. This performance, its style and inventiveness and carefully-judged audience participation stunts went perfectly with the Hockney and the silverside of beef at Rules (est. 1797) to provide a snapshot of England at the top of her game.