This gorgeous golden-jacketed book is totally brilliant. We sat in bed dipping in and out and reading its extraordinary stories with much delight. It’s author, Molly Oldfield, has been a researcher on the cult geek TV programme QI for eight series, as well as its sister Radio 4 show The Museum of Curiosity, so she knows a thing or two about unearthing deliciously odd factoids from unlikely sources. In the book, she gathers her favourite behind-the-scenes finds from the weird and wonderful museums she has visited around the world – items which aren’t on display for one reason or another and which are kept locked away in vaults, under sheets, in cabinets – and devotes a neatly concise chapter to each. The histories are highly personalized and engagingly chatty, but Oldfield also goes straight to the heart of various lovely matters with precise attention to detail. Our favourite chapters include one about Charles Dickens’ letter opener, the handle of which is made from the paw of his beloved deceased cat Bob, and which is kept behind closed doors in the New York Public Library, and another detailing Vladimir Nabokov’s extensive collection of butterflies’ penises, housed in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. But it was also great just to discover all the myriad niche museums we never knew about, from the Roald Dahl Museum to the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. It’s one of those rare solution presents too, great for anyone of any age. (We’ve earmarked two copies, one for a certain super-smart 13 year god-daughter, the other for an impossible-to-shop for friend’s 50th birthday).
Everyone loves the film version of Lionel Bart’s wonderful musical, Oliver!, so it’s an inspired choice for a mega singalong, which is what the Southbank and BFI are doing on Saturday May 5th at the Royal Festival Hall. Bart’s songs are so good – both character driven and catchy – that you can’t not want to sing along to them while you watch Carol Reed’s great multi Oscar winning film. Imagine doing that in the Royal Festival Hall along with 2000 other enthusiasts (plus a few Victorian street urchins), while watching the film on a giant screen, the lyrics to each song written up large. You are encouraged to dress up (though no pressure), and there will be prizes for best costumes, as well as a vocal warm up with a voice coach before the film starts. If you’d like to hone your singing skills a bit further, you can go along to a family workshop a few hours before the Singalong starts, at 4pm in the Front Room of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, which is open to anyone who has a ticket for the film. Plus there will be three choral labs, also free and open to anyone, on Monday 30 April at 6pm, Tuesday 1st May at 6pm and Wed 2nd May at 6.30pm. We can’t wait. But book now! Book now!
We were lucky enough to catch a talk by Claire Tomalin on Charles Dickens recently at the Southbank and how fun it was. Having written a biography on Dickens, Tomalin has certainly done her homework and presents him as a conflicted, complex man: a sentimental lover, cruel husband and a vain peacock much beloved by the public. Tomalin is talking again about Dickens, this time with John Carey for the London School of Economics Literary Festival, so make haste and get your tickets pronto. NB tickets are now sold out but the LSE do say you can turn up on the day as there are almost always free seats.