Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Picking Up Threads

6th Jan 2010

Return to the V & A to draw and see an exhibition, the first time I’d done this since everything crashed in May.

Sitting in the café sketching, feel quite easy about it all, even though I now look and feel so different from when I was there before. At that time I was swimming every day, intending to get fit and hoping to go to Heatherley’s Art School in September. I had a plan for my life but at the same time felt rather empty and aimless a lot of the time. Now I am full of energy and fear, mainly directed at staying alive.

Finally got to the Diaghilev exhibition, which closes on Sunday. I visited his grave recently on San Michele, Venice, and was touched to see small pink ballet shoes strewn onto his tomb.

I admire him, not just for finding his genius and using it so effectively, but because he had such a good attitude towards money; spending up to the hilt, living from cheque to cheque, eating in the best places, daring anyone to notice his threadbare socks and frayed collar.

I thought the exhibition would be quiet at this time of year but the whole world, that is a world familiar to me, of cultivated middle aged ladies, seems to have arrived by the coach load. Perhaps we were all too busy before as Christmas now takes up most of December, everyone is trying to catch it.

The show is huge, we had a ticket timed for 3pm but didn’t come out till the gallery closed at 5.30pm. when we fell into the book shop where reproductions of the costumes were being sold for spectacular prices.

A panoply of vibrant costume, photos, film, old documents, short TV documentaries and spectacular backdrops. Some spectacular Tzarist jewellery and his death mask, which looks surprisingly small and youthful.

The most famous exhibit is the backdrop for Picasso’s Blue Train. It’s huge but no one says how they managed get it to that size. One man took 24 hours to enlarge the blue train from a small painting but it didn’t say how he did it. I find it hard to square something up accurately at A4 size, so this intrigued me.

One of the most interesting things was seeing very old film of dancers from the Ballet Russes. There they are – almost in the flesh and it’s often a surprising amount of flesh too. Karsavina, short, stocky with a large head was seen dancing very convincingly. Someone of her body shape wouldn’t get near a ballet class never mind a company these days.

Compared to the beginning of the 20th century, classical dancers now seem absolutely standardised with a virtue put on starvation and androgyny. Some of the sensuality and individual character has been drained out of famished female ballet dancers.


Started swimming again at my nearby health club which I left last May. The last time I was in those waters I had shoulder length hair bound up in a cap, was a stone lighter and I had a lump in my groin.

I had a slight reluctance to go there again, no enthusiasm about jumping in, not just because the weather is so cold and miserable but because of that memory. Realise that I still haven’t got over the shock of the lump.


  1. Dear Jane
    I always look forwards to reading your posts. You have a knack of putting into words some of the peculiar feelings that us ovarian cancer sufferers feel (and I do think OC has its own distinctive set of dilemmas). When you wrote "Now I am full of energy and fear, mainly directed at staying alive" I completely related to that and felt a bit less not understood. Now over half way through my relapse chemo, those old feelings are back with a vengeance - more so - and I find myself wondering how I will handle the post-treatment period, the 3 monthly CA125 tests, the clinic appointments. I have to find the mindset I had first time round, though it will obviously be different this time.

  2. I don't have a very good "mindset" this time around, not enjoying the situation at all. If you could do it before you can do it again I am sure, and you now have a lot more experience too.
    Perhaps you should visit a Maggie's Center - they seem to be brilliant at dealing with this kind of anxiety....