All posts by surreyedit

Dept. of Speculation book review

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Any review of the Dept. of Speculation is going to fall spectacularly short of successfully conveying what the book is about, simply because the pleasure of the story lies in the poetry of Jenny Offill’s words. A couple get married and have a baby in Brooklyn, New York. They manage the inanities of everyday life but relationships become complicated. We read it through the thoughts of the narrator / heroine, who always “thinks of saying” and whose forces are internalised.

Continue reading Dept. of Speculation book review

Renoir Exhibition at The Lightbox, Woking

The Lightbox, Woking

An exhibition of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s work has opened at The Lightbox in Woking in Surrey.

The exhibition features paintings, sculpture, etchings, sketches and letters by Renoir, which  illustrate the rise of his popularity.  Renoir almost exploded into the art scene in 1874 when his work first came to the attention of British art collectors and two of his paintings were shown at an exhibition in London; in the same year six of his works featured in the first Impressionist exhibition in Paris.  Since then, Renoir has become one of the most internationally acclaimed artists whose art is coveted by collectors in the UK and all over the world.

The Lightbox is the first regional gallery to bring
together a cohesive representation of the work of Renoir held in British collections.  ‘Renoir in Britain’ includes loans from The National Gallery, The Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate, Ashmolean Museum, The British Museum and The Courtauld Gallery.

It’s a fantastic exhibition, I highly recommend a visit!

‘Renoir in Britain’ is at The Lightbox in Woking until 20th April 2014.  Free entry (donations welcome)

Opening times: Tuesday to Saturday: 10.30am – 5.00pm Sunday: 11.00am – 5.00pm.
The Lightbox,
 Chobham Road,
 Woking, 
Surrey. GU21 4AA

Me at Renoir

The Lightbox is also hosting a lecture on Thursday 27th March at 1pm by Christopher Riopelle, Curator of post-1800 paintings at the National Gallery on ‘Renoir’s Life and Legacy’ (£6 adults, £5 concessions.  Advance booking required 01483 737837.)

World Book Day

Favourite books

Happy World Book Day! To celebrate, I’ve chosen five of my favourite books. I think each one represents a different point in an evolving literary canon and highlights the way that literature has the power to change us as people.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Everyone must read this book.  It is significant as it marks the start of the rise of the novel in the eighteenth century and sets out various literary conventions value in novels today. A brilliant story.

The American by Henry James

Beautiful and eloquent. If you love learning new words read it with a notebook to make your own mini dictionary!

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

My favourite Conrad book: if you enjoy modern espionage, you’ll want to read this one.

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

By far the funniest book I’ve ever read.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Just read it.

Perfect Pancakes recipe

Pancake Day!

Pancakes with toffee apple sauce – perfect for
Pancake Day!

Serves 4 (2 large pancakes each)

For the pancakes:
125g plain flour, sifted
300 ml semi-skimmed milk
1 free range egg
Pinch of salt
A bit of butter for the saucepan
A bit of caster sugar (½ tsp per pancake)

For the caramel sauce:
2 apples, thickly sliced
30g butter
25g caster sugar
2 tbsp water
¼ tsp cinnamon

First of all make the caramel sauce:

Place the butter, water and sugar into a saucepan on a gentle heat and keep stirring. Add the slices of apples. Sprinkle the cinnamon evenly. Gently stir so as not to disturb the apple slices (you want these to remain firm on the outside but soft in the middle.) When the sauce bubbles and looks like caramel take it off the heat while you make the pancakes.

For the pancakes:

Hand whisk the egg yolks and egg white thoroughly before adding the sifted flour, salt and milk. Whisk carefully (so as not to curdle the eggs) until it’s like a smooth batter.

In a frying pan, heat a bit of butter and make sure it’s distributed round the pan. Add enough of the batter to cover the base of the pan.

When it’s beginning to turn gold in colour, sprinkle half a tsp of sugar over the pancake.  Then try flipping it to cook the other side!

Put your pancakes onto a warm plate before you start doing the next one. When you’ve finished cooking your stack of pancakes, take the caramel and apple mixture and gently heat it again to loosen the caramel in the pan.

Pour some of the apple and caramel mix into each pancake and fold over and drizzle a little extra caramel.  You can serve with sliced banana and a small glass of Calvados, if you like.  Enjoy!

The Surrey Edit

 The Surrey Edit Pancake Day

The Golden Age of Journalism

Don Short JournalistDon Short

Journalism has changed radically over the last 50 years. This is not news. The ‘Golden Age of Journalism’, so-called because of the thriving scope of newspapers and magazines and the associated ‘glamorous’ lifestyle of journalists in the 1960s, seems a world away from journalism today.

I interviewed Don Short, one of Fleet Street’s legendary journalists, to get a clearer perspective on the transformation of the profession.

Don Short worked as the Show Business Columnist on The Daily  Mirror in the 1960s. At the time, the Mirror had a circulation of over 5 million – more than all the other newspapers put together.

Not only did he have the chance to travel the world with Hollywood icons, but he was given carte-blanche to report on them. It was Short who coined the now ubiquitous term ‘Beatlemania’ to describe the excitement and hysteria that the band inspired among fans.

‘Journalism has entered a new age as everything is now on screen and online. When I was working as a reporter your main equipment was a notebook, your crucial contacts book, and a telephone kiosk if you could find one. It was always a matter of dashing to get to the telephone box first! You’d have copy-takers at the end of the phone in the office who would take your dictation as you told your story to them straight from your head as quickly as possible, while a queue of other journalists formed behind you urging you to hurry up. Of course now everyone has a mobile phone from which you can call or email so it’s much faster and more direct.’

‘The hours were quite different too: your shift might start at 9am and was set to go on until 6pm, but at 5.50pm you could be sent anywhere in the world to cover a breaking story. You could then be away for several days, so you always had to have an overnight bag ready.’

‘Fleet Street was a community in its own right, and had a fantastic atmosphere. Each paper had its own – unofficial – wine bar or pub.  So if you heard that a paper had a big exclusive and wanted to find out more, then you’d go to the relevant pub. The Daily Mirror’s was the White Hart (known as ‘the stab in the back’) and there would often be physical fights between journalists over stories!’

The Golden Age of Journalism certainly seemed very glamorous indeed…

‘We always stayed in the best hotels with the stars, you had to do that otherwise you made yourself detached from the story. Although I once worked on a story about Elizabeth Taylor when she was in Paris, and she always stayed in the Lancaster Hotel, but I couldn’t get a room there at that time so I had to rough it and stay in the neighbouring Georges V hotel! [one of Paris’ most exclusive hotels] For the Cannes Film Festival I often stayed at the Carlton Hotel.  When I went to cover a story in New York I either stayed in The Plaza or the Waldorf Astoria. Another favourite was the Hotel Byblos Saint-Tropez.’

‘The Daily Mirror had two aeroplanes at Gatwick Airport on stand-by as part of a contract with Morton Air Services, which they could use as and when they needed them. One of which is now outside Croydon Airport on the Purley Way in Surrey. I had quite a few flights on that plane: I went to Austria to cover the story of a plane crash. I travelled with a photographer, whom I literally had to hold on to while he leaned out the plane door to take pictures of the scene below. And I also flew to Greece where a cruise liner had gone down.’

Showbiz Journalism is very different to how it used to be, partly because Hollywood has changed so much, as Don Short explains:

‘I don’t think Hollywood has the same aura as it used to as the stars are very different; some of their personalities seem rather vacuous compared to the characters of the 1960s and 70s.’

‘Now journalists often have to agree to terms and conditions when interviewing a celebrity: the publicist hands them certain stipulations before the interview and journalists must feel almost gagged by the parameters of the questions. I’m all in favour of journalists saying ‘No’ to having to agree to the set questions.  Journalists often want to discuss other areas of interest to colour their interviews, while the stars want to mainly talk about their latest show or album. Stars often wanted to see the story before it went to press, which is always problematic for a journalist.’

‘I remember Sophia Loren wanted to see her photographs to check her hair was in the right place and to make sure she was looking her best!’

Don Short described some of his best scoops:

‘I reported on the death of Brian Jones from The Rolling Stones.  He was found dead in the swimming pool of the house he’d rented in East Grinstead (which had previously belonged to A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh.)  I was there within a couple of hours of the incident and I wrote up the story which went to press for the front page of the next day’s paper.’

‘I also broke the story of Elizabeth Taylor marrying Richard Burton; and the break-up of The Beatles’, Surrey resident Short said with much modesty.

The Golden Age of Journalism: so very aptly named.

****************************************************

Roy Greenslade The Guardian

This interview was featured in Roy Greenslade’s Media Blog on The Guardian Website on Wednesday 26th March 2014. Click here to see it.

*Although the piece says that Daily Mirror circulation figures are incorrect, I found the information here:

Daily Mirror circulation figures  (look at the top left hand story)
Picture Source: Hold the Front Page Blog

The Lemon Grove book review

The Lemon Grove book

Everyone is familiar with the sense of trepidation you get when you just know something is going to be a bit different and you have no control over it, but you can’t possibly explain just how it’s going to differ until it’s actually happening or has passed. And it’s how people act in those moments of change that can redefine us and alter our outlook on life.

The Lemon Grove revels in what can happen during those times of flux.

The story takes you on a summer holiday to a villa in Mallorca with a non-nuclear family: Jenn, our protagonist, her husband Greg, his teenage daughter Emma and her new boyfriend Nathan, the unknown and the stranger of the group. The novel cleverly observes how the dynamic changes when someone comes in and disturbs the ‘peace’ of a family who are not without their own tensions; Jenn frequently battles with the innate complexity of raising someone else’s child; Emma struggles with her own hormonal ‘weathervane’ moods and everyone has secrets. So how does one manage a stranger amongst the family as well as attempting to keep things relatively tranquil and enjoy a well-earned break simultaneously?

Helen Walsh’s answer is simple: you don’t.  Instead, you have lots of fun with them. You invert familial convention and direct little energy in resisting temptation. You focus on attaining the thing you desire, as Nathan very quickly becomes the object of Jenn’s extremely intense affections and fixations.

It’s a beautifully written and smartly constructed novel. You feel the plot progress with the same rhythm of Jenn’s (asthmatic) breaths. Disaster is contracted into a few words as it happens rapidly, which is in stark contrast to the long, atmospheric descriptive passages of the abundant lemon and olive groves in the heat.  The sense of place is a powerful one: you too feel like you are going up round the narrow, mountainous winding roads of Deià with everyone. As the family goes for a walk they find themselves close to the edge of a cliff, which proves to be a catalyst for action.  Afterwards their holiday happiness rests on similarly unstable ground.  Jenn is critical of her middle-aged body, feels very unhappy about her loss of youth, and, like her name, she feels abbreviated and incomplete, so vents her frustration by behaving recklessly.  Cue very steamy sauce on the sand!

The Lemon Grove is a fierce book which encompasses so much and manages it so well: it directly challenges the notion of entitlement; characters move in unexpected ways.

You’ll be gripped and you will love it!

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh is released on 27th February 2014, published by Tinder Press, RRP £12.99.

My copy of ‘The Lemon Grove’ was kindly sent to me (on my request) to review.