Friday 24 December 2021

Merry Christmas!


Thank you, Dear Reader, for your good company around these pages.

May your Christmas be Merry and your New Year be Bright.

Pipistrello x

Image credit: via Tumblr

Sunday 12 December 2021

Mea Culpa


One minute I'm crowing confidently about my rôle as resident barber about the casa.

The next, Dear Reader ... I'm sacked.

In truth, I did look dubiously at the electric clippers and thought it must have been ages since I'd wielded them as they looked, well, a bit unfamiliar in my hand.

For well they might when the 1/4 inch clipper guard wasn't in place.

It only took a goodly swipe up the back of Mr. P's head to realise my mistake.

Your Correspondent is now married to Yul Brynner.

Or Patrick Stewart.

I cannot decide.

Either way, I'm secretly pleased :)

Image credits: 1: via Pinterest; 2, 3: via Google

Sunday 5 December 2021

Strange Visitors I


Channel-billed Cuckoo Hatching a Parasitic Plot
H. Goodchild lithograph, 1919

Does your polis feel like Cloudcuckooland, dear Reader? 

Aristophanes Plotting more Plots

Fear not, I am not going to launch into some Opinions about Aristophanes' comedy The Birds, as I've not read it, except to give you some excellent advice that therein the player ol' Pisthetaerus reminds us, "words give wings to the mind and make a man soar to heaven", so a goodly bit of reading may be in order whenever one does feel stuck in the doldrums. 

I'm merely wondering if you've noticed the annual arrival of Strange Visitors to these shores? For 'tis the season of the Channel-billed Cuckoo migration. Not that I've actually seen the beast in question, despite its enormous size as the world's largest parasitic cuckoo. No, the Scythrops novaehollandiae announces its presence with its spooky, otherworldly call around dawn and is a portent that summer approacheth. And that birds clearly originated in the Jurassic Period.

Warning Sign of Summer

Unlike the dear but dopey Mutton-birds that occasionally drop from the sky on their massive migration to rocky roosts around these shores, these rather more unattractive visitors have merely flown in from New Guinea and Indonesia (and time-travelled around 200 million years, if you hear one) and make a bee-line for trees in our urban bits of greenery to meet up with more of their kind for a bit of hanky-panky and then an egg deposition in a nest of an unsuspecting Crow, Currawong or Magpie.

We did once witness a harried Wattlebird feeding another species of Cuckoo, at our Home by the Sea, and it was neither a pretty sight nor a credit to the reputed intelligence of our bird species, for Love is truly Blind when it comes to the guileless parents raising these interloping children. 

The Australian Magpie -
Favourite Bird Around These Parts
L. Weiss mosaic, 2017

As yet, we've never seen a beloved Maggie around the condominio try to desperately feed an insatiably hungry baby half its size again, but they must fall prey enough times for there to be at least one Channel-billed Cuckoo to haunt the trees nearby every year. And I also heard an echoing cry waft through the open windows of my ballet class the other morning, so they lurk around the wharves by the harbour, too. 

Yesterday I did hear but not see a momentary aerial dog-fight outside between a Cuckoo and a couple of Currawongs, so I'd hazard there's an egg ready to drop. And the primeval battle for survival starts afresh.

Birds Mobbing the Stage at the University of Cambridge
H. G. Glindoni etching, 1883

Somehow I don't think Aristophanes had the Scythrops novaehollandiae in mind when he included the Cuckoo in the roll call of birds in his play, these strange beasties being rather, ahem, less melodious and pretty than their European kith & kin. 

But yet he did describe them as the former rulers of the Egyptians and Phoenicians, which would imply some ferocity of demeanour, and attributes to their call the proverbial cracking of a whip for the Phoenicians to reap their fields:

"Cuckoo! Cuckoo! go to the fields ye circumcised!"

Image credits: 1: Antique Print & Map Room; 2: Wikimedia Commons; 3, 4: Flying With Hands; 5: Wikimedia Commons

Saturday 30 October 2021

A New Broom Sweeps Clean


Mad for Brushes!
(Nota bene: Broom not seen)

Spring has sprung again in this neck of the woods. While the Flying With Hands incumbent brush fetishist gets to make merry with the tools of the trade, there have been other unsolicited changes around the place, coming from some unlikely brooms. And I don't just mean the general spring cleaning of my web browser.


Opera is Serious

This earnest Techno-Hausfrau-Geek left her spring cleaning calling card on my computer the other day. I call her, unimaginatively, Opera-Girl* and she always makes me larff  merrily when I see her. Look at that face. She really takes her job very seriously, even if it is unsolicited. 

No, I speak of the Scoundrel formerly known as my Local Bank, which, having been temporarily closed since last year, has decided to make it permanent. For my convenience and to make my life simpler, apparently. It was the final straw for me. After 26 years of loyal custom**, I have taken my business elsewhere. Namely online. For sure, the delight of a cheque book has gone, as is what I deem to be a true convenience, viz. a shoppe-front mere moments away, but my hand was forced. Nor have I looked back, for this revolution in my old ways has brought such vim and vigour to matters financial.

Behold the Vault

The penultimate act which led to this tipping point had been the cessation of the safety deposit box facility. Can you imagine my surprise when the letter arrived, breathlessly announcing the exciting new changes to simplify my life further? After much gnashing of teeth, I booked a time slot and Mr. P & I trundled into the city to go down to the vault of a glorious heritage-listed former branch to clear it out (just my safety deposit box, not the vault in a heist, mind!)***

This hobbit door will probably pop up on Ebay soon enough -
One Previous Owner, No Key :(

As it transpired, there were only dead moths in it, as I'd forgotten that I'd emptied it of papers when we stopped taking merry jaunts across the globe. Sigh. Mr. P had never been allowed beyond Doctor No's hobbit door before so that made it a fun family outing****, and we went and had lunch in a café in the city, too, because we can now. 

New Bread

In the domestic sphere, where changes wrought are due to my own hand, the Lazy Girl Bread is now made with a combination of rye, wholemeal, buckwheat (such a handy use for buckwheat once bought for blinis) and white flour. White bread is now a thing of the past.

New Tea

Black tea has been swapped out for a very delicate white/green tea combination. Nota bene the delicious biscuits delivered to our door by our downstairs neighbours, the Country Mice, who'd come to Town for a brief sojourn. We have lovely neighbours throughout the condominio!

New Hair

Hairdressers are open again! I gave myself one bathroom cut during the year, which was deemed not the worst she'd seen, but was nearing waist-length when the hairdresser addressed its shortcomings on Wednesday. 

Meanwhile, the bathroom will remain the venue for Mr. P's clipper cuts ad infinitum, for we have a nice little routine in the shower recess between the client (himself) and barber (myself), with the flourishing of an old sheet and a peg, some witty banter, a choice of music or not, and a comfortable stool. And with some care, clean sweeping with a broom (or trusty Dyson) isn't even needed for this fun job!

Happy Hallowe'en!

* If you don't use Opera as your web browser, you miss out on seeing her face pop up from time to time, as well as the joy of having a radically diminished number of also unsolicited advertisements cluttering up the place. Yes, Dear Reader, I do have the Girl Guide Badge for Unsolicited Advice.

** And turning a grudgingly tolerant eye to the numerous transgressions that are continually unearthed like scuttling slaters under an upturned rock and necessitate such delights as Banking Royal Commissions. It speaks volumes that the rather helpful telephone consultant did not even enquire why I was closing my accounts after all this time. 

*** Oh, and the refundable key-deposit didn't apply anymore as it was the service that was closing! Scoundrels. 

**** I have just read that a private security vault up the street from Doctor No's is offering to assist those disgruntled customers in hauling their loot up to a more state-of-the-art facility. The website has Chinese and Hindi translations. We saw some of these elderly future customers when went to collect the moth carcasses, waiting in the foyer with shopping trolleys!

Image credits: 1-7: Flying With Hands; 8: Graphics Fairy

Tuesday 12 October 2021

Some Tasty Tidbits


The Pipistrellos know how to keep occupied
Ravi Zupa screen print, Thrilling, 2020

Dear Reader, it has been utterly remiss of me to neglect the something-to-eat creed of this blog, so you must be positively starving by now! These neglectful tendencies do come from being thoroughly distracted by the cardboard box we've been stuffing ourselves in during these days of No Fun Allowed, for Thrills can always be found around the casa. Anyway, all that is officially behind us (again) as from today, so after a trip to the shoppes for some ingredients, I can now supply some tasty tidbits. 

Behold, dinner tonight:

Chilli con Carne
nota bene: Artist's Impression

As ever, the finished result lacks the vibrant colouring of the suggested photographic rendering in the recipe book but experience informs us that we've made this many times and it's always delicious, so allowances must be made for what inevitably ends up on the plate. Unlike over at Dear Brother's place, we've not the Master Chef flourishes around here.

It was Mr. P's idea for chilli con carne. I'd had in mind a batch of  Romanesque fagioli, and had been soaking some borlotti and cannellini beans for this purpose when Mr. P declared he wished otherwise. For added vits & mins, I tossed in some English spinach, and was able to use the leftover stock and dripping from some oxtail I'd slow-cooked in a bottle of red wine for an, ahem, beefed up macaroni & cheese last week. Also delicious!

Macaroni & cheese with oxtail is not the only variation on the nursery norm found around here, for it also occasionally gets made with crab meat when I want to get super fancy. (You can see where on the beast the oxtail purports to come from, in the illustration above.)

In other one-dish delights, the season for Brussels sprouts spaghetti carbonara is now over, for it is Spring in this neck o' the woods. Bucatini carbonara is another legacy recipe from Ol' Boyfriend Marco, but as the humble Brussels sprout is a brassica close to my heart, I/we adore this variation with sautéed shredded sprouts alongside the requisite cured porky bit* that is found kicking around the bottom of the fridge. 

The Humble Sprout, a.k.a. Pipistrello's Favourite Vegetable
Christine Stephenson watercolour

While this adored winter vegetable is over for this year, I did chance upon a couple of bunches of something unmarked but green and healthy-looking a few weeks ago at our local weekend growers' market and tossed them into the basket without even enquiring into their bona fides. Imagine my surprise and delight when, upon cooking, the mystery green proved to be broccoletti! 

Quelle surprise! Broccoletti!

This divine bitter green from the brassica family was a seasonal staple in my in-law's vegetable patch, the seeds for which were originally smuggled over from Italy decades earlier in someone's luggage**. We never see it in our local greengrocery, so in Normal Circumstances, it necessitates a journey by aeroplane to visit Brother-In-Law, who diligently grows it.

For why do I buy unlabelled greenery? I've been on & off making weekly batches of what I call Covid-Greens these past two years, as partly of my housewifely prophylactic ministrations, and which variously come in the shape of dandelion, milk thistle, kale in its variations, or any other unidentifiable weedy greens that can be found. They get some decent wilting then get sautéed with the usual suspects: aglio/olio/peperoncino and sometimes some anchovy because I can't help myself, and make a delicious (and sometimes rather obvious) bit of veg on the side. Well, delicious in the world of Pipistrello.

So what else is on the plate at the moment? I can tell you oysters are pretty divine right now, and navel oranges and grapefruit are a gift from the gods (and there are some Seville oranges also kicking around in the fridge awaiting my marmalading them, for I have promised that after last year's slothful approach to home preserving, I cannot pass another year without home-made marmalade), and mandarins are pulling out all stops with the fancy Dekapons and Afourers now becoming commonplace.

But in the one-a-day department, the newest and tastiest apple on the block is the diminutive Rockit. Not much bigger than a crab apple, and crisp and delicious, and so adorable. Just look at them:

Tiny little Rockits

Cuter than a cat in a cardboard box!

* I no longer pretend my home curing of a bit of pork belly is going to be bacon, for it always finishes up as a dead ringer for pancetta, which is more versatile in my book, anyway, and lasts an age if you forget it's there.

** Most likely hidden in socks or knickers, if the apocryphal tales are to be believed.

Image credits: 1:; 2, 6: Flying With Hands; 3: via Pinterest; 4:; 5:

Saturday 18 September 2021

And Another Thing

Lo! A two-for-one Deal: Danish Flag and Dutch Delftware
Sand Holm, Still Life With Art Nouveau Ceramics [& idem], 1919

Carrying on from last week's Danish musing, Dear Reader, there were murmurings about things Dutch needing to be spoken of, suggesting perhaps Delftware and other products of their Golden Age. But the direction this post heads is toward a Documentary, viz., The New Rijksmuseum (2014)*

The Old Rijksmuseum, 1878

Amsterdam is another city Your Correspondent hasn't visited [woe!] but in lieu of this deficiency, I have become rather fond of the beguiling portal, the Rijksstudio, that is the digitised collection of its famous national museum, the Rijskmuseum. You can often find me there, rootling around looking for delicious images, usually as blog fodder. Such is the joy of the digital age!

Like many cultural institutions that have had to think up inventive ways to enrich the lives of us all in These Trying Times, the Pipistrello's local temple to artistic stuffs, the AGNSW, has been doing its bit in compensating for the cultural freeze, especially for those holding languishing memberships. 

Imagine my delight when they recently sent out a link to watch a documentary film of the renovation of this Dutch National Treasure Chest. And so marvellous did this film prove to be, I watched it twice!

For why? Unexpected drama comes as ambition meets parochial and bureaucratic obstacles for the building to be renovated and the entrance reimagined. Aesthetic objections, a cyclists' union, a shocking resignation, high emotions and professional disappointments loom over the project as the months and years tick over. 

Curators, who imagine with undisguised passion how their collections will be showcased, endear and infect us with their enthusiasm, living and breathing their speciality as they do (even literally for the live-in caretaker), are still yet fearful the project will succumb to ennui and their precious works become forgotten as the time passes. 

Despite the outward signs of the project's highs and lows, quietly and without cessation the cleaners and restorers are busy busy on the million paintings, stucco, artefacts, you name it, in readiness for the eventual reopening of the museum that looms so large in the lives of all Amsterdam. And such a thorough going-over of everything and sufficient time passes that unknown treasure is even discovered within collections.

Like all Grand Designs, large or small, the whole exercise was beset by not only cost and deadline blowouts, but the peculiarly Dutch democratic process allowed for interference on a dramatic scale. All up, the museum was shut for a decade and the whole shebang cost half a billion euros.

Dutch filmmaker Oeke Hoogendijk was given a behind-the-scenes pass to chronicle this ambitious renovation project. Four hundred hours of footage was originally condensed into a two-part four-hour film, and then further cut down to this two-hour documentary. The result is a fascinating, gripping and mesmerisingly beautiful film. [I watched it twice, I tell you!]

This rather familiar lass now has a cheeky cupid behind her!
Johannes Vermeer, Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window, c. 1659

And if you love watching art restoration in the modern age, there is also the recent wonderful news about the unveiling of the transformation of this painting by the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, courtesy of our Deutsche friends in Dresden, with an accompanying video of the alchemy behind the project.

Officially: Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Bannick Cocq
a.k.a.: The Night Watch, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642

Of course, for something completely wild in the art restoration sphere, the Rijksmuseum website has devoted a whole corner to "Operation Night Watch", showcasing the study and restoration of its centrepiece painting by Rembrandt, wherein artificial intelligence "learned" his painting style to digitally recreate the severed and lost outer edges.

And on that futuristic note, where AI does something delightfully unexpected, I'm now done with D.

Gekalligrafeerd alfabet, Andries Hogeboom, Ambrosius Perling, Dutch calligraphy engraving, 1680 - 1701

* This is merely the official trailer found on the youtubes, but the documentary can be watched through various interweb links for free or small fee, depending on your location.

Image credits: 1:; 2: via Flickr; 3: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister; 4, 5: Rijksmuseum

Wednesday 8 September 2021

D is for ...

Print of the Capital D engraving from Libellus Novus Elementorum Latinorum by Jeremias Falck after Johann Christian Bierpfaf, c. 1650, Rijksmuseum Collection
... is for

Danish Design

There's a generous smattering of C20th Danish Design to be found around the Pipistrello Casa, and fulsome as we are in our appreciation of the marvellous stuffs the Kingdom of Denmark produces, it is notwithstanding our never once visiting this diminutive and interesting land, nor any of its Nordic neighbours. I know! ...

Copenhagen's be-flagged Tower of
Christiansborg Palace, a.k.a. Borgen*

Why it is that we, and Australians in general, have such a love affair with things Danish? And I speak not just of the delicious breakfast pastries and butter and feta and cheesy whatnots. It's true that the residents of this faraway land make gorgeous and useful things, (and fabulous drama for the telly), but bonus points must go toward Our Mary one day being their Queen. Isn't she just lovely? 

Behold some Mary Magic:

Gala-ed up in 2017 in rubies and caped splendour
(And so complementary with the FWH Wallpaper)

On hat duty for last weekend's
Flag Day in Copenhagen

But with regard to the subject at hand, viz. Danish-Designed Doodads, prithee, Dear Reader, step this way for some long-lived lovelies, notable for being heavy on the Bang & Olufsen stuffs:

My first mobile telephone (a stubborn refusal to own such ugly things was melted away one Xmas!):

Behold the B&O foray into 2G Mobile Telephonery,
The <sob!> now-defunct "Serene" on her docking station

After around a dozen years (!!) of petite clamshell service,
Her beautiful wizardry now lives in Ornamental Retirement

You've already met our beloved Belgian Bakelite telephone, but here are her young Danish cousins:

With bonus D-is-for Daffodils

Umm, yup, another one,
Propping up a shelf of To-Be-Reads

Yes, three telephones for two people in this day and age does seem to be, ahem, excessive. A  bit like the Sewing Machine Situation (and I have some news on that mini mania - there's now a Clare!)

And of course, what landline/s is/are complete without an Answering Machine?

Lo! There is also some audio joy, going strong since Mr. P's 40th birthday :) :

But for another more low-tech Doodad (and I shall not provide a pic of the Danish Art Deco sideboard as I know not the designer's name and besides, the telly sits atop and thus makes for a prosaic composition):

A rather more thrilling midcentury Raadvad Bread Guillotine,
For your rye-bread slicing needs

Today's Flying With Hands model
Demonstrating the Raadvad's utility

And for something somewhat larger but still proximate to the roost, we have the fruits of the creative genius of just one of Denmark's famous architects, viz. Jørn Utzon:

No prizes for guessing

That I speak of the Sydney Opera House

From which these various vantage points

Show somewhat less than the usual throngs of pedestrians

Who at times recently

Were often outnumbered by these perambulators

Nota bene: There are also some words to be spoken of the D-is-for-Dutch-Documentary variety, but that shall come as a Part II to this sufficiently long post.

* I hear tell that the excellent political drama Borgen is coming back for a fourth series in 2022!

Image credits: 1: Rijksmuseum; 2, 4:; 3: via Pinterest; 12: Wikimedia Commons: all remaining: Flying With Hands

Monday 23 August 2021

I'm Not Gone, I'm Just Thinking ...

... About matters of no special significance.

For inst.: the very large number ten duotrigintillion (10^100) a.k.a. googol has no special significance (in mathematics), according to Mr. Wiki. 

The term googol has been around as a handy shorthand for the mind-bogglingly-big number for a century now but I've only now taken a pause to consider the cultural side of this, courtesy of a weekend binge-watch of the old telly chestnut from 1981, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, wherein the Even Bigger Number googolplex (10^googol) makes an appearance. Viz:

"And are you not", said Fook, leaning anxiously forward, "a greater analyst than the Googleplex Star Thinker in the Seventh Galaxy of Light and Ingenuity which can calculate the trajectory of every single dust particle throughout a five-week Dangrabad Beta sand blizzard?"

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 1979

Mr. Douglas Adams, of course, was a man of wit and was fully expected to be making merry whimsy with big numbers when he thunk up the Googleplex Star Thinker. And yet ... the makers of our oft-quoted friend around these pages, who'd each be of the geeky variety, if imagination serves me correctly, maintain that it was a mere misspelling when they coined the name Google in 1997 (whence came their Mother Ship Googleplex) and not a tipping of the hat to Mr. Adams.

Perhaps these geeky inventors had never read or heard of The Hitchhiker's Guide? Hmmm ...

And another matter of NSS: Mr. Wiki's entry on Mr. Adams speaks fulsomely of his attractions to Apple Inc. and its Macintosh, (and thus a man after Mr. P's heart), and was indeed one of their celebrity endorsers, but also references his once owning an Apricot computer. Hullo, now!

Your Correspondent, as may have been mentioned, studied Computer Science & Pure Mathematics at University around the time the Personal Computer became a thing. [Commodore 64, anyone?] For those students with luxe taste and the pesos for such things, the highly desirable PC was the 1984 Apricot, made by the British firm, Applied Computer Techniques. 

But it was the introduction around then of Graphics as a new subject that shoe-horned the Apple Macintosh into my university's quaintly-named Computer Room, housed within a specially-installed glass cubicle and chained to desks.

Those Graphics students (not Pipistrello) gained supervised entry to what was otherwise locked away from the grubby mitts of those who sneered at the beige boxes, while making this forbidden fruit yet somehow more desirable. 

Ah, Marketing ... 

And yet, InfoWorld Magazine wrote glowingly at the time of the Apricot being "clever, inventive, cosmetically attractive and easy-to-use" and "Apricot's manuals are all beautifully printed and very well written. They even have stylish white-metal spiral bindings. The people at ACT are relentless in their concern for detail!" ... A Manual?!!

The Apricot. A completely different animal to the fruit of Apple's loins.

Adriaen Coorte shows us what's desirable
Still Life with Five Apricots, 1704

Image credit: 1:  via GIFER; 2: Mauritshuis, The Hague

Thursday 29 July 2021

Alberta Comes In From The Wilderness

A leavening read
After the recent engrossing immersion into the Age of Enlightenment

Bertie, the six-year-old prodigy in Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series, starts school in Book 2. He's a dear little character. While his mother has him destined for great things, he's not shaping up to be popular. But it's heartening to know that Alberta, his feminised name form, may becoming more fashionable after decades in the Classic Names Wilderness. Apparently, Alberta is a jazzy old name.

For English-speakers, feminising names can be rather hit and miss. Just sticking an 'a' or an 'ina' or suchlike on the end doesn't automatically work, for either an attractive ring or timelessness. There's an old-fashioned-ness to most and some just don't sound as if they'll ever cut the mustard for future generations. You can't really imagine a Kennethina rising through the ranks on the Starship Enterprise.

Beam me up, Kennethina!

Some Saints' names work nicely: Paul generously gave us Paula, Pauline & Paulina; ditto various Kings: Alexander begets Alexandra; Henry begets Henrietta. Some feminised names lower in the popularity stakes sound a bit posh as a result: viz. Nigella, Edwina & Thomasina. Very Sloaney Pony.

Bertie's classmates in his Steiner School include Merlin and Tofu. Merlin could feasibly beget Merlina, but Tofu sounds firmly gender-neutral to me.

Image credits: 1: Flying With Hands; 2:

Wednesday 28 July 2021

Pear-Shaped & Humdrum Diversion


" ... and then the book was banned!"

Are things looking a little pear-shaped in your neck o' the woods, Dear Reader? Or is it the humdrum of the workaday that cries out for a diversion? Forsooth, you are in luck, for the first of many gems mined from my recent read* leads to today's Small Adventure:

"Any Man that has a Humour is under no restraint or fear of giving it Vent; they have a Proverb among them, which, may be, will shew the Bent and Genius of the People, as well as a longer Discourse: He that will have a May-pole, shall have a May-pole." 

So did sayeth one 25-year-old playwright Mr. William Congreve** to Mr. John Dennis in his letter "Concerning Humour in Comedy" in 1695, wherein he goes on rather about the Source of Humour***. 

Humour went thataway ...
William Congreve
Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1709, NPG 3199
© National Portrait Gallery, London

But hunting down the May-pole proverb? Purists might suggest this is a topic for a May Day contemplation, but tra la to that idea. And yet, after perusing the letterly banter (also reprinted by J.E. Spingarn later as Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century, if you have a copy handy), and getting no joy from Mr. Dennis either about the humour intrinsic to Maypoles, & finding only one other unrelated mention across the whole of the interwebs****, I thought elucidation may come by employing traditional Flying With Hands research tools and, in this fashion, simultaneously compensate by enriching our lives with images thusly:

Visually punning Christopher Kane AW16 anyone?
She that is a May-pole, shall be a May-pole ...
[And yet I don't remember seeing this look in my 'hood]

How about some frolicking Monopolists?
Puck Magazine obliges with some May-pole satire 
Frederick Burr Opper chromolithograph, 1885

Or was this what Congreve had in mind?

Those more familiar than I with Maypoles, Morris Dancing and the stock-in-trade of Merrie Olde England can see I am barking up the wrong tree with this illustrative crop, as the ribbons and cats are all Victorian embellishments. And while England flip-flopped between Catholic and Protestant mores in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Maypole was banned for stretches as idolatrous symbols of resistance. But they were back in fashion by the time of the Restoration, and Maypoles beheld by Congreve & Friends rather more looked like this, viz:

Maypole before London's St. Andrew Undershaft,
As imagined before Protestant zealots destroyed the "Pagan Idol" in 1547.
Penny Magazine wood engraving, June 14,1845

The infamous 80-foot Merrymount Maypole in Massachusetts, 1628
C19th engraving of grumpy Puritan Militia surveying the sordid scene

Aha! Now it seems to me that while the Maypole's politically-saucy recent-ish history is the simplest explanation of its allure to the satirist, I prefer an idea that it's this Merrymount Maypole that could be the source of Congreve's proverb. For having, through this pictorial sleuthing, inadvertently discovered the tale of Mr. Thomas Morton, the man of the Small Adventure who erected a mighty Pagan-Maypole in the midst of the Good People of New England, we come to the first book to be banned in America! Behold:

Scandalous reading!

It seems that around sixty years prior to Mr. Congreve's youthful musings, Mr. Thomas Morton - lawyer, libertine and lampoonist - published The New English Canaan, achieving notoriety on both sides of the Atlantic. Within this too-hot-to-touch wit-laden tome, he both eulogised Massachusetts as the paradisiacal Canaan and denounced and lampooned the New England colonists. And so it was promptly banned.

Copies of the book became as rare as hen's teeth, exacerbated by it also falling foul of English censors since it was printed in Amsterdam, a known hotbed of Puritan publishing. And if nothing could whet the intellectual appetite of the young Wits who held court at Will's Coffee-House in London, it is the tale of a fellow-lampoonist being censored. And a Merrie Maypole being at the heart of the matter*****.

The Wits at Will's
Pope's Introduction to Dryden at Will's Coffee-House [inc. Congreve clubbing around]
Eyre Crowe, 1858

Well, that's My Theory, anyway. I've not found a shred of evidence to suggest that fifty years after Morton's decease, Congreve and his literary cronies had ever read or even got their mitts on a copy of The New English Canaan or were still talking about it, but I rather believe just mentioning the word Maypole would bring a glint of mischief into their all-knowing eye. 

* A treasure-trove known as Before the Romantics: An Anthology of the Enlightenment chosen by Geoffrey Grigson, 1946, and which will provide seemingly endless fodder for Flying With Hands! Chockfull of Pope, Johnson, Diaper, Swift, Dryden &c. &c. for the oh so interested.

** My book's small excerpt, wherein his observation that "there is more of Humour in English Comick writers than in any others" can also be "ascribed to their feeding so much on Flesh, and the Grossness of their Diet in general", is footnoted with the infamous encounter between Voltaire and Congreve, where V may have been insolent, C may have been a literary snob, and V may have later retracted his critical comments in a mea culpa

*** To wit, upon heading to the fountainhead, Letters upon Several Occasions: Written by and between Mr. Dryden, Mr. Wycherly, Mr. -, Mr. Congreve and Mr. Dennis, 1696. he exposits upon why "Humour is neither Wit, nor Folly, nor Personal defect; nor Affectation, nor Habit; and yet, that each, and all of these, have been both writte [sic] and received as Humour", & offers up his understanding of Humour to be "A singular and unavoidable manner of doing, or saying any thing, Peculiar and Natural to one Man only; by which his Speech and Actions are distinguish'd from those of other Men" and throws in some Choller and Flegm and Spleen. In other words, he helps no-one who is trying to understand what a GSOH means in the Personal Columns.

**** An archived 1964 US Choristers Guild newsletter equals a total dead-end in my book!

***** In a nutshell, the shady-all-round Devonshire-born Morton had been living in a Utopian colony in Massachusetts, with the non-PC-name "Merrymount" (as in non-Puritanically-Correct), established by him and a notorious pirate soon after the Mayflower landed. His Small Adventure runs the gamut of "subversive" living in the eyes of his dour Puritan neighbours,  viz. pagan practises and "going native" with the local Algonquin tribe and Bacchanalian May Day performances, but his worse crime was to cut in on the settlers' fur trade and arm the said Algonquins. An eighty-foot antler-topped Maypole erected at Merrymount two years in a row was the final straw. The Plymouth Militia arrested Morton, the Maypole was cut down, he narrowly avoided execution and was banished back to Olde England via a spell on a deserted nearby island, and Merrymount was sacked. Spells in prison ensued, but, ever the lawyer, Morton bounced back and tried to sue the Puritans through the Massachusetts Bay Company. King Charles I, naturally hostile to the Puritans, ultimately revoked the Company's charter, and Morton published the fruits of his legal campaign as his book, The New England Canaan.

Image credits: 1, 5: via Pinterest; 2: National Portrait Gallery, London; 3: Rex via; 4: Wikimedia Commons; 6: The British Museum; 7: Penny Magazine via Google Books; 8: via Project Gutenberg; 9: via

Bats In The Belfry