Sunday 20 October 2019

Did You Put On Your Jaegers, Henry?

ADA: Chilly enough I imagine. I hope you put on your jaegers ... Did you put on your jaegers, Henry?

HENRY: What happened was this, I put them on and then I took them off again and then I put them on again and then I took them again off and then I took them on again and then I ...

ADA: Have you them on now?

HENRY: I don't know.

Samuel Beckett, Embers

It is gratifying to know that there are other wives out there who also have the Badge for Unsolicited Advice. Ada, in Samuel Beckett's 1957 radio play Embersis a woman after my own heart. Solicitous (yet dogged) in the face of some Manly Absentmindedness. Never to be confused, of course, with nagging, Dear Reader. 

Up until very recently, my familiarity with the fashion label Jaeger extended only as far as the enjoyment of my vintage 1970s black, woollen, sunray pleated skirt, the only garment of theirs I've ever owned as back in the day I considered the label a tad Matronly. However, chasing an unrelated rabbit down an interweb hole led to the chance discovery that, lo!, Jaeger was in fact named for Dr. Gustav Jaeger, the German professor of Zoology and Physiology, and Dress Reformer.

Gustav Jäger exuding rude good health

Dress reform was quite a thing in the late 19th Century. In the Underwear Department, long johns / combinations / union suits were becoming popular and available in a variety of fabrics and qualities. Where Jaeger set himself apart was in his adherence to animal fibres, with an emphasis on wool, and on his Scientific Theory behind skin and sweat and his Scientific Proof that his Undies had health-giving properties: viz, sweating was important to removing the noxious vapours exhaled from the body.

Further investigation into the translation of Dr. Gustave Jaeger's 1880 "Essays on Health Culture", (I just couldn't resist), wherein he Scientifically Proves over the course of 200-odd pages his Hygienic Discovery, provided:

The conclusion which I draw as regards my Sanitary Wool System is as follows:-- Whoever, like the Wool-wearer, is proof against flies is also cholera-proof, and this is in complete agreement with the popular practice everywhere and at all times to have recourse to wool in cases of cholera.

Those who know my Sanitary System, and have tried it in their own persons, are aware that it first deodorises the body, i.e., expels from it mal-odorous perspiration, and afterwards hinders a fresh accumulation of mal-odorous matters. Now these last are precisely the matters which constitute the force of attraction for flies, and the adequate instinct matter for the germs of disease, especially for those of cholera.

In England, Lewis Tomalin secured the licence to be sole trader of the various Wonder Undies throughout the Empire, translated the work into English in 1884 and took the very 21st Century bold step of frenzied marketing of Dr Jaeger's Sanitary Woollen Clothing & Bedding System to the masses. Dr Jaegar became an instant celebrity. And his long johns went viral.

Ernest Shackleton photograph
This Henry - Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton -
 would certainly know all about it if his jaegers weren't on

Before you knew it, Jaeger woollens were off to Antarctica with both Scott and Shackleton; off to Africa with Livingston; and off to the Front as part of the uniform for the troops (by which time the brand was considered British not German).

The Underwear range included corsets, balaclavas, toed-stockings, babies colic belts &c. &c., as well as two-piece long johns. The idea was to cover every part of the skin with wool, alongside some other Lifestyle Tips like open windows and fresh air in your bedroom, to secure a healthy constitution. Dr. J. cleverly maintained that wearing his pricey garments wouldn't entirely stave off disease, but if some of the pesky germs caught up with you, the impact was lessened. In the pre-antibiotic days, any suggestions for maintaining good health were always going to find a receptive audience.

Jaeger woollen long johns advertisement 1940s
Putting the jaegers through their paces in the 1940s
All in the name of National Health

Well before the decade was out, the Jaeger System was cropping up in fiction. Without any effort, I found a short story printed in a newspaper in 1888, entitled "Our Spare Room" [much like a blog today, you could just about publish anything once with a catchy title like this!] and was delighted to read:

"It would be horrible", she went on. "I should feel that the next thing would be I should have to wear divided skirts and stockings with toes to them."

"I thought stockings always had toes", I said, but Margaret vouchsafed me no reply, not condescending to inform me that she referred to Dr. Jaeger's new system, where the toes of the stockings are separated like the fingers in a glove.

By 1932, when the saucy, comic writer Thorne Smith had penned The Bishop's Jaegers, the brand name was already a household noun.

Book cover photograph for "The Bishop's Jaegers" by Thorne Smith
Says it all!

The combination of quackery and pseudo-science met fashion head first after the Great War, and the Jaeger stores worldwide phased out underwear for outerwear. The dubious claims set out in the Woollen System were passed over while its catchier phrase "Wool, Cool in Summer, Warm in Winter" stuck like a burr. However, Dr Jaeger would be gratified that his humble woollen long john has been refashioned and embraced now by the açai-munching set as High Performance Base Layers!

TREWgear lightweight wool bottoms advertisement

Putting the modern Base Layers through their paces
All in the name of Personal Development

So I had skimmed some of Dr Jaeger's treatise Health Culture. I had chuckled over samples of the many thousands of advertisements and editorials published in Australia alone from around 1886, when lecturers in halls around the country evangelised to Ladies' Sanitary Associations and the like on the prevention of "Colds and their evil effects" &c. by wearing only Woollen Underwear. I marvelled at how Dr Jaeger's Sanitary Woollen Clothing & Bedding System spread around the world faster than any modern day fashion trend ... And yet in spite of my new-found respect for this old wisdom, I find myself guilty of not heeding my own good counsel, playing Henry instead of Ada, and so my failure to don these miraculous garments sees me this weekend nursing a Cold. 

Monday 14 October 2019

Modern Skills

Move over Reading, Writing & 'Rithmetic! It seems there are more useful Modern Skills to be taught. Ronald Searle, a Pipistrello-favoured artist, enlightens us thus:

Ronald Searle illustration from Down With Skool! - A Gaul and a Roman passing each other in the Alps

Ronald Searle illustration Frontispiece Nicely Mounted from Slightly Foxed But Still Desirable

Ronald Searle Christmas Card illustration of a reindeer hoisting Santa up a chimney
Heightsmanship ... a.k.a. Abseiling

Who would have thought that in the 21st Century, gainful employment could be had from a demonstrated proficiency in any or all of these old-fashioned and rather Manly Hobbies? Careers advisors of yore never foretold the arrival of either:

a) the Boxed-Set TV Costume Drama necessitating all Actors to be on a horse and/or wielding a sword every episode, or

b) the abseiling Window-Washer dangling down the skyscrapers of our cities.

However, judging by the staggering numbers of extras these days littering our screens*, riding hither and thither and masterfully making minced meat of one another, and the be-girdled window washers manfully loitering between their Spiderman jobs in the cafes about town, I have been wondering where these skilled hordes learnt these necessities of modern life? Upon hearing last week that 9-year old M is a champion fencer for his skool, I suspect that the more traditional curriculum has finally been thrown over for these more bankable skills.

* We're still catching up with Poldark, Game of Thrones, Vanity Fair, Gentleman Jack etc. etc. Slowly, slowly ...

Saturday 5 October 2019

Li Ziqi Treads Lightly

Behind-the-scenes black & white photograph of Julia Child filming her cooking show
Julia Child at work in her kitchen

Modern cooking shows have become a tad artificial in my opinion - these days it's all flame-throwing, gadget-wielding, high intensity with thousands of kilowatt hours required to bang and crash out meals under the intense spotlight of judges. How did they get so overwrought and frantic in such a short lifetime of existence? They are variously billed as serious, fun or inspiring, or designed to "get you back" in the kitchen and cooking "honest food" (what's that when it's at home?). Frankly, all this energy is quite exhausting to watch.

Over in a quiet corner of YouTube there is the antidote to all this palaver and it's inhabited by a serene Chinese beauty of indeterminate age who seems to come from a part of the world where no one contemplates "leaving" their kitchen ... or far less even adding running water or electricity to it. Ten minutes in the company of Li Ziqi is like cooling your brain in rose-scented water, distilled apparently by her own skilled hand, no less.

Li Ziqi image from youtube account 李子柒
Li Ziqi at work in her kitchen

Her videos are utterly transfixing and almost impossible to believe, yet are very beautifully filmed, quiet demonstrations of one woman preparing classical Chinese dishes (and shoes and paper and furniture and wine and ...) in the most basic of a kitchen with minimal utensils and no fuss. It does help to have the knife skills of a Kung Fu master, a home-made Panda wood oven (you can find a delightful video of her building it, here!) and access to verdant fields in misty mountains to harvest ingredients as you go, and lots of time.

However, if you've never seen the visual poetry of Li Ziqi before, the preparation of a Chinese New Year dinner for two (plus Nonna) is a lovely introduction to marvel at a bona fide DIY-er treading lightly on the Earth.

ps: Thank you to the YouTube channel 李子柒 for the subtitles on these gorgeous videos!

[Dear Reader, if this seems curiously familiar, it is. This is a reposting of my thoughts last year about Li Ziqi. I took this post down after Xmas as it was attracting an inordinate amount of traffic and I became a bit alarmed by it. Who wants their blog to be on the first page of a Google search about a famous vlogger?!?! A few weeks ago she did a rare interview with people more comfortable with the Google spotlight so I feel it's safe to repost this into the vastly noisier commentary about this Youtube superstar.]

Tuesday 1 October 2019

A is for ...

Letter A from Libellus Novus Elementorum Latinorum by Jeremias Falck after Johann Christian Bierpfaf, c. 1650, Rijksmuseum Collection
... is for

If you are of an inquisitive nature, Dear Reader, and have been having a rummage around my blog lately, you may have noticed a new addition to my sidebar. I have started a subsidiary blog dedicated to My Commonplace Book: entitled, obv, "Pipistrello's Commonplace Book".

There you may find, in due course, all manner of quotes and passages; ephemera, really, that take my fancy. The emphasis, as ever, is on the whimsical and absurd but occasionally a bit of high-mindedness may creep in. There are a dozen or so entries already and as it's of a white and restful nature, in contrast to the more colourful "Flying With Hands", I'm quite enjoying the space and will no doubt be busier there than here as posts there are merely handfuls of words on the page.

Are you settled comfortably while I regale you with a little Anecdote
from the Pipistrello Archive?

A is for also for Anecdote:

For a short while, Mr P. and I rented a house when we were newly courting and had gone to America together for an Adventure. It was north of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in a funny little suburb of early-to-bedders and rather impressive trees of the Sequoia variety, and with a surprisingly large number of people who supported the local cottage industry of fandom (a.k.a. Deadheads) of a band I'd never heard of until arriving in the area, The Grateful Dead.

We had discovered through our landlords that our next-door neighbour in the shared cul-de-sac was a retired musician. I don't remember that he was actually a member of this rather admired band but that he had indeed made his Fortune as a supporting musician of them of some description. He was living out his retirement in relative comfort and it was expected that his youthful (and middle-aged) overindulgences of the Heady Days of his past necessitated this somewhat Quieter Life.

Monsieur Rockstar and his Wife and the Pipistrello's only met once. We were trundling off down our driveway one day, heading out for a walk in the fabled local Redwoods, when MR's chauffeur-driven limousine pulled up alongside us. A tinted window lowered and a warm greeting was uttered by the dark-spectacled MR and his Wife who were comfortably sitting in the back.

Some small introductions were made, and MR drawlingly enquired upon hearing Mr P.'s name,

"So, you're Italian, right?"

"Yes ..."

"And you're an Aussie?"

"Yes ..."

"... So that makes you ... A Dingo Dago!"

With a tinkling laugh, his Wife said proudly,

"He thought that up all by himself!"

And with a merry wave goodbye, the tinted window was raised and the limousine continued up their driveway.

And this one's for Unsolicited Advice

Finally, A is for Advice: If you are tempted to wash your hair with Clay, you can take it from me that it's not worth it ... Unless you want a shortcut to a Gibson Girl updo that doesn't require more than one hairpin (like our chatty Miss on the 'phone, above) then by all means, go for it.

Bats In The Belfry