Friday 29 January 2021



Hip-bath Hippo & Co.

Home renovations and garden & domestic projects have been been occupying many householders this past little while but, as yet, there's not been a peep from anyone who's undertaken a bathroom renovation out in the Blogosphere. When this Francois-Xavier Lalanne suite came up for auction at Sotheby's last June, Your Correspondent was thusly unsurprised that it sold without any problem. For 2 million euros for well-used bathroom fixtures does seem fair. It is in patinated bronze, copper and gilt metal, after all. And the loo seat is in comfy, warm wood.

But where has this trio of Hippos gone? Do not be shy, Dear Reader, if this bronzed famille is now gracing your home and nether parts, and give us a glimpse of your choice pieces in situ - for we Pipistrellos admire and applaud those who embrace the motto Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Let us celebrate with you!

Image credit: Sotheby's

Tuesday 26 January 2021

Greek Series: Despotiko Redux

The restored showcases of the Temenos:
The archaic temple (right) and hestiatorion (left)
a.k.a Cult Building A
Despotiko as at 2020

You may not have remembered, Dear Reader, or perhaps were unaware, that I spent a fortnight toiling like a navvy in the blazing sun a while back, doing my bit with the Lovely L to bring to light some of Greece's history. Despotiko, was our place of toil, and an unremembered Sanctuary to Apollo was the object. Earlier this month, the Greek online newspaper E Kathimerini put out an update on Grecian digs over 2020, so the time was nigh to bring Despotiko back to these pages.

The marble masons labours thus far on Cult Building A
Upon our first arriving to the site on Day 1.

Part of the deal in volunteering on an archaeological dig is that you are merely the willing hand and not the brains of the operation, and thus have no claim to any Intellectual Property arising from such an endeavour, so it's not permitted to put about any photos of the fruits of your labours. That is the privilege of the archaeologists who will later publish findings with the hope the world will be surprised and dazzled.

Seen, ahem, a bit closer to home,
A nugget of Naxian marble discarded by the masons.

Of course things move slowly in academe, but there has been a little put into the public domain that I thought to share with you today. First up, Lovely L revisited the Cyclades with her husband the following year and brought me back a little publication on the site of Despotiko:

Archaeologist Yannos Kourayos' 2018 publication
Following the 20 years of research he's thus put into Despotiko.

Behold, for we are in it!:

Week 1 we dug in Building M
Lovely L is in b&w in the middle of the central photo

Week 2 we dug in Building Z
Lovely L is toward the back in lilac and grey
Your Correspondent is in orange

Room Z again, Lovely L in lilac in bottom photo
Alongside one of the many trusty karotsi we necessarily befriended

And having a rummage on the Hellenic Republic's Ministry of Culture and Sports website I did find an image of something I am pretty sure we did dig from the ground in Building M during our first week, so feel it is probably* okay to show a couple of pics to you of its unearthing:

Ceramic pot almost ready to come out of the ground.

Your Correspondent holding the prize.
No, it wasn't cold, it was just necessary to cover every square inch of
Person against the ferocious sun and sandblasting wind. 

All cleaned up and recorded for study.

We did, naturally, find other Special Finds amongst the hundreds of potsherds and animal bones and whatnots, and if they ever come into the public domain I'll add my behind-the-scenes pics to the world, but I'll just leave you with another souvenir of our time in Greece, my sandals from a cobbler in Paros!

No colourful pedi, I'm afraid, as these are plague-times
And I have no talent for painting my own.

It has been scorching hot of late and I had moment when I was transported back to Greece when I realised I was wearing these sandals, the red skirt bought (from a charity shop - hurrah for St. Vinnies!) to take there with me, and the earrings you don't see, obv., which were another Paros purchase before coming home. So, Despotiko Redux on my person.

* And if it turns out to be not, then this couple of photos will vanish, obv.

And apologies for the shameless self-promotion with all the links in the first paragraph!

Image credits: 1:; 2-9, 11: Flying With Hands; 10: Hellenic Republic Ministry of Culture and Sports

Thursday 21 January 2021

The Company Of Gentlemen

A Stack Of Gentlemen

There was a period of my life when I would hands-down declare to prefer the Company of Gentlemen over my own fair sex. Five years in an all-girls' high school forged the iron in my will there and I did my best to shun the loathsome company of the female form even beyond the school years by fortuitously studying subjects at university where girlies were thin on the ground* and then falling into a ditto career. 

Ahh, memories ...

Heretofore, the mostly unregarded other half of society held little charm, so I was in for quite the surprise. What I enjoyed most about the new company of the gentlemen in my orbit was their embrace of the silly side of life, in spite of a bit of braininess, simple camaraderie and, shall we say, lack of guile. But with a bit of age, on my part, came a bit of mellowing of these Rules for Living, and I do now count charming women to be close to my heart and no longer fear vipers a-nesting when in close proximity.  

However, I occasionally find that I've been settling back into my old ways when I take a survey of where I've found some recent pleasurable reading, viz. the little stack of books, above. Shall we see five of the ways in which Gentlemen spend their time, Dear Reader, when left to their own devices?

1: They take a pleasure cruise.

Two weeks on a skiff with your chums? What could be pleasanter ...

Well, the gents in Jerome K. Jerome's 1889 classic, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), were doing more than pleasure cruising as they rowed and towed and camped along the River Thames, they were attempting a fortnight's restorative cure, as gentlemen will always have their Niggling Worries. Notwithstanding their utter inexperience in the finer points of such matters, just the usual close shaves with themes aquatic most young men will have had which will lend them to an air of confidence about such matters, by the sixth chapter they've taken possession of their camping skiff and the tenth before they bed down for their first night. But then they're off, and so the Thames and our heroes thence meander, and while I cannot say they ooze requisite braininess, they do prove endearing company. 

This erstwhile travel book for fellow Victorian pleasure-cruisers is really a foil for jokes and tall tales and reminiscences as the three friends and Montmorency, the feisty fox terrier, and their mountain of luggage cope with confined space, one another's cooking, the novelties of locks and uncouth bargemen and other riparian hazards, and English Weather. 

Two weeks on a skiff ... ??

I was particularly enchanted by the chapter introductions with their amusing take on their foci, and as I like to save treats for last, I began to read them only at the close of each chapter to savour them more as little desserts to see how they marry up with the main course. 

viz. Chapter 8: 

Blackmailing—The proper course to pursue—Selfish boorishness of river-side landowner—“Notice” boards—Unchristianlike feelings of Harris—How Harris sings a comic song—A high-class party—Shameful conduct of two abandoned young men—Some useless information—George buys a banjo.

Which of course in no way really orients you to the fact that what starts as an offering of bread-and-jam when a shilling is desired by a potential blackmailer, declaring fluvial trespass as their crime, leads to discoursing on how best to call the rough's bluff as the proper course to pursue, and the later "useless information" is indeed a bit of guidebook fodder, &c. &c. The book holds more of this sort of rambling caper, and the gents bicker and tease one another throughout, and Montmorency, who has strong opinions of his own, gets to have a few bracing scraps along the way. But they depart at the end of their odyssey firm friends still.

The whole is a gem, and much beloved and never out of print, but I was shocked to read the early critics derided it for its common vulgarity, and the modern for its purple prose, for what better colour is there between book covers? Mr Wiki compensated this with the nugget that this book, being so beloved, was once a prescribed text in Russian schools, and was adapted as a musical comedy by Soviet television, which neatly segues into my next point:

2: They play detective. 

Erast Fandorin Detects

Cleverly, and with lots of style. And in Moscow in 1882, just a handful of years before our boaters set forth. I'm speaking here of Erast Fandorin, the hero of Boris Akunin's series of novels - a sort of Russian Sherlock Holmes, perhaps. The Death of Achilles, fourth in the series and the second I've read after The Winter Queen, is a classic mystery novel with the death of a war-hero which Fandorin suspects to be murder, a tangled web of intrigue, an investigation and a mysterious assassin.  And who even is Achilles?

C17th Tapestry of the Death of Achilles,
After Peter Paul Rubens

Each book is styled on a different subgenre of the detective story and they are richly layered with cultural and historical references, and tropes betwixt them, if you like to go hunting for these things, (and the chapters sport slightly more helpful introductions - for inst. Ch. 4: "In which the usefulness of architectural extravagance is demonstrated"). In Achilles we are introduced to Masa, Fandorin's loyal Japanese manservant, with whom he engages in a bit of ninja shenanigans, à la Pink-Panther's Cato and Clouseau. So it's all rather good fun, really. And while we're in Moscow ...

3. They take their hardships with bonhomie.

I speak, of course, of Count Alexander Rostov, Amor Towles' eponymous A Gentleman In Moscow, and one-man masterclass in how to roll with life's punches. Our adventure begins in 1922 when the Count walks into the Hotel Metropol, heading toward his usual suite, where he will now live out his life under perpetual house arrest. Over the subsequent years, the gathering absurdities of life under the new Stalinist regime (both real and literarily imagined, and it's hard to guess which is which) are seen through the gradual degrading of the decadent and elegant hotel, and the lives of those within, with the warmth and good humour as is constantly exuded by our Gentleman friend. We never really leave the hotel for the duration of the book, where the Count's compressed world is enriched by those he meets within it, but that's okay for Rostov is excellent company. I'm restrained from spoiling on this one, for if you haven't already indulged in the pure reading pleasure that this book constitutes, then I shepherd you in that general direction. 

Hotel Metropol, c. 1905
And home for our charming Count

4: Search for their homeland before it's too late.

If you had a name like Henry Canova Vollam Morton and had the privilege of being the Times correspondent who scooped the opening of the mysterious Tutankhamun's Tomb in 1923, surely you might consider the rest of your life would be filled with the colour and noise of foreign lands. But homesickness in Palestine brought him back to go in search of the soul of his own homeland in a Morris motorcar. And then he wrote a nostalgic little gem of a travel book about where he went and those he met along the way. And so In Search Of England was published in 1927 to great acclaim.

We love a gorgeous endpaper map to pour over

H. V. Morton was a man for our (plague)time, really, and ready and able to find the pleasure of his own backyard. He tootled around the countryside in search of the vignettes that he hoped would inspire future generations to understand and cherish their island, especially those city dwellers for whom the countryside and smaller places are a forgotten land. He drifts along roads that had been long bypassed by the steam train generation, encountering relics here, cathedrals there and one-horse villages in between (bumping into a surprising number of American tourists along the way, such that they seemed like the 1920s version of the modern-day Japanese and then Chinese tourist, popping up in surprising places with their cash and curiosity). 

And he unknowingly captures an England about to be challenged and changed in ways unimaginable within a generation. But this book is sweet and charmingly written, and lo! chapter introductions to whet the appetite:

viz. Ch 4: 

I fall in love with Cornwall and a name. Describes a hidden Paradise and how wireless comes to Arcady. I meet rain at Land's End, and, late one evening, climb a hill, grasping the key of Tintagel.

I did lend this to our English next-door neighbours who were unable to travel to their Other Home in Devon this past year and were feeling a bit homesick, since a goodly amount of the book is spent in Devon and Cornwall, but rather than prove a bit of a balm to their soul, the reading of was bittersweet. Whoops ...

5: Wear their eccentricity with aplomb.

Rumpole. Of the Bailey. 'Nuff said**.

Leo McKern, for whom Mortimer declared was
Horace Rumpole's perfect fit

* As always, there must be an exception to prove this rule, and the friendship of the Lovely L and I dates to our first week at University, par example.

** Except that this Folio edition of a suite of ten of John Mortimer's many Rumpole short stories was a condominio book exchange find!

Image credits: 1, 8: Flying With Hands; 2: Ronald Searle via Google; 3: Paul Rainer via; 4: C.L. Doughty via; 5: Igor Sakurov via Google; 6,7: Wikimedia Commons; 9: Google

Thursday 7 January 2021

Not Letting Go


The Pipistrellos aren't sticking to the Hard Rules ...

Twelfth Night has passed.

And Epiphany.

Will we wait until Old Twelfth Night, the 17th?

Or shall we push on until Candlemas this year?

... And nor are these neighbours

I saw on a walk yesterday that we're not the only ones pondering this weighty decision.

Down with the rosemary, and so

Down with the bays and mistletoe;

Down with the holly, ivy, all

Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas hall;

That so the superstitious find

No one least branch there left behind;

For look, how many leaves there be

Neglected there, maids, trust to me,

So many goblins you shall see.

 - Robert Herrick, "Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve", C17th

Image credits: Flying With Hands

Saturday 2 January 2021

Governor Darling's Fingerprints


Beep, Beep! Do you see a Gino (a.k.a. Fiat 500) parked in the lane
Beside this sun-bleached Darlinghurst cafe?
Or Darlo, in the common vernacular ...

Shall we start 2021 with A Lesson? Hurrah!, I hear you you cry, l should love nothing better! Or not? ... You get a choice today of words or pictures: The words are for putting a face to the name of the man whose fingerprints are all over our maps, while the pictures are a Tour of a couple of Darling Point's sister suburbs. So duck and weave at your pleasure, Dear Reader ...

Remember Darling Point? 
I did neglect last time to add this pic of the ferry Charlotte
At the Darling Point Wharf

Who was this man with the endearment for a name? Ralph Darling was the Colony of New South Wales 7th Governor. He was a career soldier who cut his teeth in the Napoleonic Wars and then a governorship posting to Mauritius, but not what one would call a People-Person. And depending on your source, his legacy was a reputation for either Tyranny or Competency, but more of that later.

Portrait of Our Man
John Linnell, 1825

He came to our shores for his posting in 1824 to exert a bit of Tough Love. Luckily he brought with him his own darling to ameliorate his rather martinet ways, his beloved wife Eliza, a Huguenot descendent who lends her name to Darlinghurst and Darling Point. And is remembered fondly by her contemporaries and liked for her general Good Works during her time as Governor's Wife.

Eliza Darling & two of her [ten] children
John Linnell, 1825

Back in England, things were getting a bit out of hand, re the Convict Situation. While Jane Austen's Regency maids and eligible gentlemen were parading about the Grand Pump Room in Bath or reclining luxuriously at Boodles' Club on St. James's Street &c., a perfect storm had brewed for the masses in the slums betwixt the genteel classes and the Authorities. 

According to Mr. Wiki, the highest proportion of Generations X and Y
Live in densely populated Darlingurst's terrace houses and flats ...

Large-scale unemployment resulting from post-Napoleonic war conditions and the effects of the industrial and agrarian revolutions, coupled with the introduction of Peel's police force to combat rising crime rates and the liberalisation of criminal law around the 1820s where forgery and some thefts &c. were now transportable, not capital, offences, thus saw the period between 1811 and 1840 overseeing ballooning numbers of convicts, like never before or again, departing from their notorious slum conditions, with fetching addresses like "Devil's Acre" and Pillory Lane, to, what was increasingly being reported as, a Luxury Holiday in the Antipodes. 

... So we see rather a lot of this on the skyline.
Darlinghurst's Victorian terrace houses were our own slum at one point

A report was commissioned to determine whether Transportation was thus an effective deterrent to Crime and Judge John Bigge was appointed to sail to Australia to have a look around and see how the great unwashed were getting on and how His Majesty's Colonial Administration was dealing with them. 

And as the 43-storey Horizon is the tallest apartment block in the 'hood
We also see rather a lot of that on the skyline, as it does rather stick out

Bigge took one leery eye at things and determined that Convicts mixing with Free Settlers and, worse, Emancipists-on-the-Make, were not terrified enough about their exile and his Report recommended absolute power be taken away from any soft-hearted Governor, chain gangs be introduced, punishments harshened and the prison-within-a-prison of hard-labour colonies be re-instituted for the incorrigibles and recidivists, and other such delights to remind the Convict of their Plight and Reflect upon their Life's Choices.

View into the old Darlinghurst Gaol
Built by convicts for convicts from 1822  and a work-in-progess during Darling's time,
But not occupied until 1841 and thence operating as The National Art School since 1922

So Ralph Darling took the Bigge Report to heart and applied his military disciplinarianism to maintaining and enforcing punitive conditions toward the convicts, while reforming laxities in the fledgling banking and civil administrative systems. It wasn't long before his was seen in some quarters as a Reign of Terror, as he dismissed both wastrels and freed men from public office, locked the coffers and set to toughening up the slackers. Some government employees apparently took their own lives in response to his moralistic sweeping through the colony's books, proof perhaps of undoubted corruption he uncovered.

See what I mean about the Horizon apartments sticking out in the centre of this pic?
The view towards Darlinghurst from Brother's 27th floor apartment
Across Central Railway Station

For the free settlers, his fingerprints over their lives also proved tiresome, and even books have been written about his taking a dim view of the Theatre and how he tirelessly stamped out fledgling theatre companies. There were to be no Bread-And-Circuses on his watch!

A sign of the times. The decades-old designer clothing consignment store,
Blue Spinach, closed and now only online

As put about in my Woolloomooloo post, Darling encouraged the wealthy settlers to build flashy estates on the Heights (which he renamed Darlinghurst after dear Eliza) as both encouragement and rebuke to the convicts washing about the increasingly urbanised landscape. While the tough nuts were sent to places like Port Macquarie and Norfolk Island, those most likely for Reform were sent out of Sydney-town to work out their sentence on the land grants of the new settlers, for they were hungry for labour.

Victorian Regency Villa, Stoneleigh
Undergoing restoration as befits this once-again smart suburb

And into the far reaches of the Colony Darling did also send explorers, while convict chain-gangs were set to work on road building, and so the Darling's on our maps were sprinkled about the place like confetti.

One of the gates to Stoneleigh's next-door neighbour, the Victorian Italianate Villa, Iona,
Saved from C20th demolition by its former rôle as a hospital
And restored by recent owners, impresario Baz Luhrmann & Catherine Martin

But his industriousness and military single-mindedness drew the ire of some and he quickly found his otherwise general competence subjected to noisy, minority, vocal opposition. From the bushranger scourge that was plaguing the place - these convicts on the run he had chased hither & thither behaved less like Robin Hoods and more like gangsters - to a more literate class who (rightly) charged him with nepotism, for he essentially mistrusted anyone apart from close family members which he kept in high positions about him, these were some of the annoyed who became mightily tired of this martinet of a Governor.

Some bonus Jacaranda with the 1920s Art Deco apartments, Ballina

Darling found his most irksome foes, however, in the judiciary and the press. Chief among the thorns in his side were his main legal advisor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the two newly-founded independent newspapers, The Sydney Monitor and The Australian (no relation to the present-day paper), which were devoted to criticising the authorities and championing the rights of the poor and emancipated. 

Rear view of the Alexandra Flats, a chic repurposing of the
1911 Federation Free Style Marist Brothers High School

Scornful of both, for The Monitor's ex-missionary editor's evangelical zeal and The Australian's political agenda in the hands of its two barrister publishers, Darling's initial tolerance for press freedom soured when they continued an open campaign of hostility toward him. There is, of course, plenty to this backstory and that's perhaps a bridge too far for a jolly blogpost, but suffice to say, things got rather ugly.

The pedestrian Pyrmont Bridge into Darling Harbour
Another of Darling's landmarks

Darling, who viewed negative press reportage through the prism of seditious libel, attempted to muzzle the new independent press. His Chief Justice refused to certify legislative bills to effect this, and more of this kind of general administrative friction led to terms like insubordination and whatnot being bandied about. Libel suits followed, The Monitor's editor was imprisoned and general shaking of fists from either side of the fence ensued, including The Australian's publisher, Wentworth, unsuccessfully petitioning the Crown to have Darling impeached.

Pyrmont Bridge swinging into action before the Sydney Aquarium
As seen from the Chicken-Farmer's Darling Harbour balcony 

Ultimately, with the fall of the Wellington-Peel Government, the new King William IV and his ministerial advisers in the Reformist Earl Grey's Government blamed Darling for letting things get out of hand and anyways took a dim view of his attempts to limit free speech, so when his six-year term was up, his appointment was not renewed. Darling packed up his bags and his family and sailed back home in 1831, sailing out of Sydney Harbour with a ring-side view of the fête champêtre Wentworth was hosting in the grounds of his home, Vaucluse, for those that were celebrating his departure*.

There have always been journalists sharks in these waters.
A grim view from within Darling Harbour's Aquarium

Various other aggrieved parties who he'd crossed swords with finally managed in 1835 to institute a parliamentary enquiry into his conduct whilst Governor, with charges of cronyism, ineptitude and corruption and a suite of complaints and while the Select Committee reported back quickly, clearing his name, he was given no further official post and retired from the scene.

But let us end on a sunny note:
A Yellow Tang for your delection

However, as history is written by the victors, or in this case by a jubilant press sitting 10,000 miles away from the person in question, you're rather hard pressed to find a good report card about our 7th Governor today. But I'm sure to his dear Eliza, Ralph Darling was at least one person's darling.

* Fear not! This tantalising nugget of Local Lore will be getting its own post, anon.

Image credits: 3: Wikimedia Commons; 4: National Library of Australia; all others: Flying With Hands

Bats In The Belfry