Saturday 24 December 2022

Merry Christmas!


Thank you, again, for your excellent company this year, Dear Reader.

Here's to wishing you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Pipistrello x

Image credit: via Reddit

Thursday 8 December 2022

Public Enemies Series: Grammar v Forrest

It's a jungle out there

"Grammar Grubs! Grammar Grubs! ...", went our frantic refrain as the packed Girls' Grammar School bus sailed past our bus stop of a morning. The posh tinies at the Church of England school became momentarily like rabid, small green dogs as they pressed their sweetly snarling faces against the glass and clambered over each other to stand on seats, squeezing their rosebud lips into the sliding openings atop the windows to scream back their abuse, "Forrest Frogs! Forrest Frogs! ..."

And so went the morning ritual. As far as insults go, "frog" didn't really sting (and who ever heard of a red and yellow frog?) as it was merely an alliterative rejoinder to the Grammar girls' much more scornful label "grubs", for they were clad all over in larval-green. But it was a time-honoured ritual, nonetheless, passed along to the emerging generations of children along the primary schools' bus route in Our Nation's Capital, like all playground traditional knowledge.

There was a bus for a local Catholic primary school, too, but since our driver most often scooped us up before their frazzled driver passed us on his route, we only occasionally got to yell at them and the mysterious Catholic epithet was never thus ingrained into memory.

No girls from the Grammar school used the bus stop at the end of our street, as it was merely walking distance to their school at this point, so the bus was fully laden with green-girlies and on its final leg by the time it went past. In spite of the apparent avowed enmity between them and we Forrest frogs from the local public school, any grubs in the 'hood were still playmates at home.

But something tribal and territorial happened to us of a school morning. One minute you would be squatting in the dirt near an ant nest, fixated upon poking at it with a stick, or busy with hopscotch scratched onto the footpath, all childish innocence. The next we'd spring to our feet as one when their bus hove into view, screaming mayhem for the several seconds it took for the almost listing vehicle to sweep past, and then blithely turn back to whatever we were up to, Forrest's Public Enemy #1, the Grammar Grubs, immediately forgotten until the same time the next day.

Image credit: City of Sydney Archives

Sunday 27 November 2022

Weighty Matter

Rijksmuseum etching, "Atlas carries the vault of heaven", printed by Jean Baptiste de Poilly after François Verdier's design, France, 1679-1728

Have you ever wanted to buy a Kibble Balance, Dear Reader? Trying to find one with Mr. Google invariably brings up pages of dog food suppliers, which is no help for it is indeed the tool that we are supposed to use for benchmarking the Kilogram from now on. So, what even is one? Behold:

A Kibble Balance in the wild.
You can build this baby with LEGO®!

And benchmarking the kilogram. What's that when it's at home? It seems that weighing devices like kitchen scales need to be calibrated because it's The Law and swindlers are always out to fleece you. Well, not really, but everything needs to be accurate these day and what it says on the box; else life is just guesswork.

Hence this Frankenstein's monster of electromagnetic [over-]engineering is all the rage these days and Governments are spending millions of pesos building their own in order to have the last word on the kg. Who knew? In typical fashion, scientific-types say tra labuild your own for it is no big deal, and point to a youtubes tutorial on building one with LEGO bricks. Can you imagine? 

If you have you been keeping up with the news, this story would be old hat but I had been caught unawares about the revolution in the realisation of our base units of measurement* owing to my on-off-sometimes news embargo. Luckily, four years ago Dear Brother sent me the article, "The kilogram is dead; long live the kilogram"

Trust me when I say that I'm more or less up to speed now & I have some Opinions about it all. Shaking up our scientific foundations like this is just the sort of Weighty Matter (hem hem) which occasionally leads to sleepless nights and self-medicating with doses of Animal/Vegetable/Mineral. Not owing to breathless excitement about it all, mind, rather hand-wringing consternation that we are in the embrace of scientific hubris.

Why, what, hubris?! For surely scientific progress in Metrology, the Science of Measuring Stuff, is meant to lead us out of a primitive wilderness where we once felt our way about our world with arbitrary benchmarks such as king's feet and grains of cereal**? Fudge-work and approximation begone!

The artefact formerly known as the Kilogram

To be sure, the French Revolution did usher in a brave new metric world and brought us Le Grand K, an elegant cylinder of platinum alloy that lives in a nest of bell jars in a vault in Saint-Cloud (patron saint of carbuncles and gout) in Paris, and which from 1795 was the physical prototype to represent the kilogram, newly defined as the mass of 1000 cubic centimetres of water at 4 degrees Celsius***. 

And you might think, like I, that this is very neat and tidy and praise be, &c. And isn't it marvellous that dozens of copies of the elegant platinum ur-kilogram have been made and distributed about the globe (Australia's national prototype lives at the National Measurement Institute in Sydney) and are the calibration benchmarks for measuring the mass of just about everything.

But the lofty ideal of these Revolutionaries that standardising measurements for all men, for all time didn't foresee the advent of, ahem, quantum mechanics. As science got more exciting, boffins wanted to decouple these olde ways of measuring the world with tangible artefacts like handy copies of Le Grand K into something rather more cerebral and release mankind from the tyranny of, you know, being the laughing stock of the universe for, say, weighing stuff with lumps of metal instead of physics. (Yes, boffins on the interwebs do say aliens would laugh at us.)

Lo!, our trusty metric system of measurement has now been completely overhauled, and the seven base units of the International System of Units (SI) have been redefined by natural physical constants and each other. The kilogram was the last base unit to be redefined and for several years now is defined in terms of the second and the metre, via h, the Planck constant. So it's all now about the speed of light and whatnot!

As you can see in the natty relationship schematic above****, it's an elegant and pretty system befitting the elegance of science. But, the kg lost its easy-to-visualise and -handle metric definition to an equation both confusing and beyond the scope of Your Correspondent to properly understand let alone put into sensible words - even interweb boffins scoff at one another's attempts to explain!

Luckily, it seems you can construct a kilogram equivalent with plain physics, and the various National Institutes of Measurement propose to use the aforementioned Kibble balance to make it so. And that, Dear Reader, is why anyone might want one. And will by necessity have to build one, since not even Mr. Bezos has one to sell you (it seems we've forgotten the for all men creed). *****

But ...

What about the Law of Unintended Consequences?

What if the end-of-days comes and the electricity is switched off forever and we're sitting about in the New Dark Ages? Even a LEGO Kibble balance will be useless, for it needs a couple of battery-run laser pointers and hooking up to some computer software, via, you know, a power point. Much less the handful of multi-million peso white elephant Kibble balances that have a whole viper's nest of power cords to plug in. 

And if we need to reinvent basic commerce again, measuring out food and materials on two-arm balance scales, a nugget of platinum is just the ticket to check a scale against swindlers. Mind we don't toss the precious platinum babies out with the bathwater in our haste to make measuring stuff elegant and futuristic and founded on the laws of physics, for we are as sure as onions going straight back to an arbitrary world of measuring said world with autocratic body parts and seeds and shells.

Stock up on the tools of the trade now &
You'll become a High Priest of Metrology!

This is all rather doom-and-gloom, I know, and along the way I've discovered interesting things: for inst., among the end-of-civilisation preppers, there are some stockpiling things like triple beam balances and spring-based scales, Pyrex measuring jugs and tape-measures and whatnot. Like the scribe who will be required for the functionally illiterate being churned out of our education systems, the home-metrologist with the locked vault of calipers and balances and measures will join the elite ranks of the mystery cults when the batteries in everyone's digital bathroom scales and whatnot go kaput.

And even if this over-wrought future does not come to pass, (the mind does go to strange places when insomnia takes a grip), at the very minimum science as a school subject will become even more baffling to kids and there'll be even less able teachers coming through the ranks. If we all thought we once knew what a kilogram meant in principle, that's now gone out the window. Science has become hard again.

Not to mention that the egalitarian principles about weights and measures have been theoretically taken back from the everyman into the hands of the elite (read countries with the $$ and institutions to make this stuff mysterious again).

I did express these concerns in email communications with a Guv'ment metrologist at Australia's NMI, and asked for specifics about the destiny of our copy of Big K, and a whole suite of other pertinent questions, alongside philosophical questions relating to the obvious folly of relying on the need for the electricity to be switched on to define the kilogram. 

The boffin assigned to my impertinence was stubbornly mute on the salient points and made general noises about science being exciting and hard work and much $$ and waiting with interest while "international partners" get on with it and at least 10 years &c. &c. 

Reading between the lines, this country's Guv'ment is sitting on its hands and hoping to buy cheap versions off-the-shelf one day (with some custom finishes, obv, for that's how we roll in this land) and if the world goes to hell-in-a-handbasket in the meantime, we'll be sitting pretty with our copy of Le Grand K and crowing about foresight.

But I think the last word should go to Mr. Marcus P. Foster, a now-retired researcher at the CSIRO who some years ago published a paper on the future of the SI: "It is easy to conceive of a shiny new logical, consistent, unambiguous quantity and unit system. Admittedly, introducing such a creation would be expensive and difficult, and it would likely become the Esperanto of unit systems, admired but ignored." Phew! So much for a weighty matter. I've been losing sleep over nothing then.

* Viz. the second, metre, kilogram, ampere, kelvin, mole and candela.

** And still used today in such diverse and obscure things like measuring shoe sizes and humidity and gold fineness and archer's arrows!

*** The metre being defined as one ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the Equator along the Paris meridian (and a whole other story).

**** Yes, yes, the mole is sitting on its Pat Malone in this schema but it is defined by the Avogadro constant and see how nicely it closes the heptagon.

***** So don't forget to add LEGO to the Xmas wish list!

Image credits: 1: Rijksmuseum; 2: NIST; 3-5: via Google

Friday 18 November 2022

Middle Earth: A Driving Holiday


Vintage photograph of couple on a c.1890 Humber Rudge Travellertandem tricycle
Toot toot! The Pipistrellos took a trip ...

It has been an absolute age since the Pipistrellos flew from the confines of this island nation to take a trip together and, it being the Season for Scorpios and all and Mr. P thus ripe for spoiling with a holiday, what better place to choose to go than our than our nearest neighbour, Middle Earth*?

... Into a remote & pristine world more familiar with Quests

We're home now, Dear Reader, so let me show you all!

A land of glacial valleys green ...

That hoary old chestnut, "New Zealand: three hours ahead, thirty years behind!" stands no truck in this household & certainly no longer applies to this sparklingly modern and marvellous country where we have enjoyed several fabulous holidays during our married life. 

... And tussocky gold.

But we were angling for a sort of vintage planes/trains/automobiles experience this time because, well, we're old fogeys now and that's what tickles our fancy these days, so do avert your gaze if you are hoping for tell-all accounts of Bungy jumping** and white-water rafting and careering off mountain tops on bicycles and whatnot.

Lake Wanaka

For those who've never visited the Land of the Long White Cloud, the scenery on offer in the South Island, where we tootled about for ten days, is like Canada and Scandinavia and Scotland rolled into one, minus the polar bears and Northern Lights. (Of course, having never been to either Canada or Scandinavia disqualifies me from making such comparisons but I've seen the pictures.) 

Lake Tekapo

Clutha River

Think alpine lakes, snow-capped peaks, (wilding conifer) forests, rushing waterways, vast unrolling green glacial valleys and, being springtime, swathes of lupins, heather, gorse and broom, while invasive pest species, adding riotous injections of colour to the countryside.

Crystal clear and chilly waters filled with trout and salmon

More mountains :)

The towns are similarly resplendent in early November with every imaginable colour of rhododendron, peony, iris and rose making merry. Plump and towering poplars and thick willows with bobbed haircuts snake about both the towns and countryside adding to the European feel. Just gorgeous against a blue sky and snowy ridgelines holding out against Spring's warming temperatures!

Overnight cruise on Fiordland National Park's Doubtful Sound

Middle Earth has a real problem with introduced pestilential flora and fauna but at this time of year, the sweeping vistas taking in green grassy or yellow tussocky paddocks of sheep, gambolling lambs and grazing deer against pink and purple and yellow tinted rolling hills & valleys and sharp and craggy mountains tossing down waterfalls are both bucolically beautiful and discombobulating.

The chilly tannic waters of the fiord drop sharply
... to over 400 metres deep!

Especially so when it's only 2000km away from a flat and mostly dusty, yellow continent wherein every critter wants to sink its fangs into you and only a fule would ever lay down on a patch of "grass" in the countryside without poking at it with a stick for lurking spiders, scorpions, ants, ticks, snakes &c. &c.***

We saw fur seals, two varieties of penguin and bottle-nose dolphins
on Doubtful Sound. No whales spotted but 'twas the season.

And coming as we do from said flat-dusty-yellow continent we tend to stand like slack-jawed yokels before towering mountain ranges whenever they hove into view and hence the preponderance of pics of such.

Even disembarking at Queenstown airport stops us in our tracks

At this juncture, I was going to say Enough of the Nature Notes and toss in a few pics of vintage vehicles, but this posting is sufficiently long enough. However, to answer the burning question, did we come back with any souvenirs from Middle Earth? Why yes, we did: a few more tea-towels to add to the third drawer down and a dose each, finally, of the pox. Drats.

* Well, our touring about principally stuck to skirting the countryside around Rivendell, Dimrill Dale, the River Anduin, Fangorn Forest and the Pelennor Fields as far as I can tell. Like Frodo & Chums, we neglected to take a map with us, and anyways, even if there were signposts to check, I read only English.

** Although, seen on the aeroplane coming home was a silver-haired septuagenarian-ish-looking couple sporting pristine t-shirts emblazoned with the name of New Zealand's pioneering Bungy company, so try tracking them down instead to get the low down on elderly adrenalin-seekers.

*** Of course, New Zealand keeps its hobbits on their hairy toes with the similarly thrilling prospect of fiery volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis, hem hem.

Image credits: 1: via Pinterest; all else: Flying With Hands

Sunday 23 October 2022

Hat Chat


B&W Norman Parkinson Vogue magazine fashion photograph of Le Groux Sœurs Hat, 1952.
Caution: Hat idioms ahead.
Norman Parkinson, Vogue, 1952

What's not to love about a hat, Dear Reader? Why aren't our wardrobes brimming with these (ahem, sometimes) practical and stylish items any more? While I'm no brass hat on the matter, I gather the advent of the enclosed motorcar apparently signalled the demise of the once essential accessory - where a failure to be wearing one could even be a distinguishing feature on a police Wanted poster. 

Fortunate reprieve in the fashion world came from the stalwarts, the racing fraternity and royal families, who continue to cling on for dear life and where there is no space for the timid, and I tip my hat to them. Strange how it only took a couple of generations for the rest of the world to become distinctly shy about covering up the crown, while a corresponding lack of inhibition is required for the rest of the body. 

There's an even more stubborn reluctance on the young to wear a hat beyond the studied irony of the trucker variety or the bland uniform of the ubiquitous baseball cap. In times past, my own notorious high school, formed on the St Trinian's model, was once a hat-and-gloves establishment. And yet to suggest a reintroduction of the hat would be met with howls of derisive scorn, while serious chat takes place about the formation of uniform policies around permanent and outré fashion statements like tattoos. 

From the chicly sheltering to the stylish, Your Corespondent thinks they should make a comeback into everyday wear. Even in a windy city like Sydney, a reacquaintance with ye olde hat-elastic, hat-pins and -combs can keep them more or less attached. For the curious and bare-headed, try something new! You can tell the world you're flinging your hat over the windmill and forging a new trend. Even this Le Groux Sœur marvel from the 1950s couldn't fail to turn heads, even if it's just to wonder if the chic beauty got adventurous with a commercial fan before dashing out to the shoppes. 

Anyhow, enough of the forced idioms, they're getting tighter than Dick's hatband to squeeze out. This post is really a public service announcement:

There's a marvellous one-hour documentary to watch on the interweb if you are a hat person or, if not, someone who might appreciate traditional skills and the painstaking transmission of such knowledge. Or maybe just someone who enjoys seeing a thoroughly appreciated older person in action. It celebrates the life of the inspiring, nonagenarian couture milliner Marie O'Regan.

The Millinery Lesson by Mike Southon, 2021.

Image credit: via Pinterest

Thursday 20 October 2022

Are Your Ports Of Slumber Wide Open?

S-is-for Swan
Do not despair, Mae, sleep may yet come.

'Tis Night, dead Night, and weary Nature lies
So fast, as if she never were to rise ...

Nathaniel Lee, Theodosius, c. 1680

'Tis night, dead night, and yet your weary self is not as dead to the world as you would like. The mind is whirring with matters of great or small import* and sleep is elusive. 

Whilst dramatist Mr. Nathaniel Lee spake of the delicious kind of sound sleep as being as fast as Death itself, you may be inclined to think that since he was certified a madman and had a goodly spell in Bedlam to boot, mayhaps his words are thus ravings? But no! As we do know what he's on about and have from time to time slept like a log, the dissipated lunatic in fact speaks of the nighttime goal! So what is to be done when your ports of slumber are troubled and stand wide open?

Why doth the crown lie there upon his pillow,
Being so troublesome a bedfellow?
O polish'd perturbation! golden care!
That keep'st the ports of slumber wide open
To many a watchful night!

William Shakespeare, Henry IV, c. 1597

Loath though Your Correspondent is to deliver instructions, a slumber-inducing tip was passed to me by a friend and as I find it works a treat, I shall pass it along to try if you find yourself perturbed and tossing and turning in your own swan bed one night. It's a variation on the Counting Sheep model for stopping the incessant chatter and skittishness of the nocturnal mind, which I've dubbed Animal/Vegetable/Mineral and can be tweaked to suit oneself.

The starting idea was to mentally flick through the alphabet, visualising five different animals whose name starts with each letter as you pass it, (a very apposite enterprise when the Good Doctors found themselves on safari in Africa with similar jet-lagged travellers), and by determinedly trying to think up what's actually quite tricky to do, focussing on this task will quiet the mind and sleep will come.

After giving this a go for a while, I discovered that my knowledge of the natural world was lacking in that I couldn't sufficiently identify five animals by sight for each letter, while oftentimes more than one parse of the alphabet was required before sleep finally came. Prescription to these failings came by widening the net and sweeping in a few of my favourite things.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, "Vertumnus", 1591

Viz. take each letter of the alphabet in turn and exhaustively (hem hem) visualise all the animals, fruit and vegetables, plants and flowers, metals and gemstones which start with that letter. So alongside your menagerie you can be lulled to sleep by a veritable cornucopia of beauteous nouns**! 

C: Caterpillars are handsomer thus

Nota bene: my customised couple of caveats: in the animals department, no spiders-and-snakes or other creepy crawlies that might be classed as nightmare-inducing & in the plants department, no weeds or ugly things. 

Divine Mughal emerald
E: elephant, eggplant, & mmm ... emerald! ...

My own choice images run the gamut of real-life remembrances, photos, jewellery, objet d'art, cartoons, postcards, artwork; a payoff for spending an inordinate amount of time in galleries and books and on the internet, and owning lots of Stuff. Mentally wandering through my favourite greengrocery for fruit & vegetable prompts helps, as does a well-stocked garden to call upon. Plus a natural attraction to, ahem, shiny baubles.

Since some letters are still hard to furnish with a decent array of attractive nouns, doubling up mental stock images is perfectly fine: 
This beauty qualifies for A-is-for Amaryllis and H-is-for Hippeastrum. Very handy when you are across the Latin names for the plant world.

Phil Went, Summer Fruit and Bowl oil

This three-for can pop up as C-is-for Cantaloupe, R-is-for Rockmelon and M-is-for Melon.

Iain Welch Dog

And while D-is-obviously-for Dog, it is also multiplies usefully into Dachshund, Dalmatian, Dingo and Doberman. So long as you know what they each look like.

Ordinarily, Vulture should be disqualified as these birds are in the ugly camp, but if you have a good mental stock of Gary Larson cartoons to call upon when you get to the tricky V-is-for, you're in luck!

Ditto for Shark if you're circling around S getting a bit desperate the alphabet is nearly done and you're still awake.

Carl Bertuch

You get the drift. I find I get bogged down sorting the cloven-hoofed ruminants, for gazelles and antelopes, impalas and gnus all look much the same.

François-Xavier Lalanne, Gorille de Sûreté

The primates and big cats also need close attention, but that's all for the good. It keeps the mind on the task, for segueing off is always a given. There's nothing like a few choice prompts to have the wakeful mind skittering off again so a firm hand is needed.

So, if you find your Shakespearean ports of slumber are wide open one night, snuggle down in a quiet and darkened place and try thumbing through your mental illustrated dictionary for the A to Zzzz's that will hopefully drag those ports firmly shut.

* A whole other topic for another post.

** Of course, if your pet subject is for inst. tropical fish or dinosaurs, go mad and supplement therein. Similarly, the man-made world is ripe for exploitation and if motor cars or the Greco-Roman pantheon of gods is your Mastermind Special Subject, throw that into the mix and the humble alphabet may thusly send you into the arms of Morpheus.

Image credits: 3, 6, 11, Wikimedia Commons; 7: Blue Thumb; 8: Iain Welch Art & Design; all else via Google

Thursday 1 September 2022

Tokyo Atmosphere & Style Notes, 1992

Japan on the new accurate and compleat terrestrial globe by Gabriel Wright and William Barden, provided free as a promotional strategy to encourage subscriptions to The Geographical Magazine, 1783, published by Harrison & Co., London, mounted in mahogany stand
Let us away, Dear Reader!

To Japan. Home of delicious foodstuffs, cellotape-free origami packaging, Astro Boy and Monkey, and fashion swinging wildly between kimono sophistication and Kawaii odd-ball cutesy. Just to pluck only a few things from the welter of rich cultural offerings by this tiny but intriguing country. 

A sampling from a box of Japanese ephemera

It was also the first country to which Your Correspondent travelled, age twenty-five, as a "stop off" en route to London. As you do when the journey is long and flies over so many tantalising countries along the way. For no other reason, Japan was the result of a spin of the globe, plus an offer to visit an expatriate friend in Tokyo with whom to soak up some atmosphere made it irresistible.

Hatsushika Hokusai circa 1830 polychrome woodblock print from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, Morning after the snow at Koishikawa in Edo, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Lo! Mount Fuji after snow!
Ditto as seen from the window of a speeding bullet train

This trip was a herald for many firsts: snow, an earthquake (5.7 on the Richter Scale for the oh so curious), bullet train travel, karaoke - save for snow, each never yet to be repeated, mind. The sights, sounds and experiences all understandably thrilling. 

George Wolfe Plank fashion illustration, Vogue, Winter 1927
Would that my Winter travel attire was once so fine!

And while Pipistrello in the early 90s would never be held as an exemplar of good fashion sense*, this green and uncultivated sense did yet twitch appreciatively at the delicious otherness of Japan.

A kimono for 'round the casa

There were kimonos galore: upon the young sumo wrestling stars being (respectfully) mobbed for autographs in the street at the tail of their January season; adorning Minnie Mouse at Disneyland (how could one not go?!) and beautiful young women shopping and temple-hopping in Kamakura; on the sweet nanna hostess at the ryokan in Nikko and the actors in the samurai movie being filmed in the garden of the shogun's castle in Kyoto. So much style!

Central Hall, Mitsukoshi department store, Tokyo, c. 1930
Glorious department stores to dress the diminutive
But accessories are one size fits all!

Pilgrimage was made to the boutiques and divine department stores around Shinjuku, Mitsukoshi and Isetan both earthly paradises, whereupon I did quest to try for myself the Tokyo street fashion subset which turned my head and heart so. But I failed abjectly to find twirly miniskirts and thigh-high black suede cavalier boots to fit my giantess proportions. Handbags and exquisite wood and ceramic bibelots proved the longer-lived and ultimately more stylish booby prize.

Under the dazzle of millions of lumens of ugly-beautiful neon light was a night life proving no less otherworldly to explore. After the heady delights of busy little restaurants each serving their specialty, where might one turn before piling back into the sardine-tin-subway to head home? Perhaps a strangely seedy path takes in constantly chiming and chinking pachinko parlours or the multi-storey bookshops filled with salarymen pouring over X-rated manga, waiting for the trains to come back on line after an earthquake. 

Or one could climb a wooden staircase, slide back a bamboo door and step through a hand-printed curtain to find oneself in a six-foot square bar where you are welcomed by enthusiastic and tipsy karaoke singers occupying the four other bar stools. One really cannot back through the curtain now, so after a bit of, ahem, spirited fortification, you might find the menu pushed along the bar to you, for it is only polite to contribute. The last page of the laminated book is entitled English Songs but the offerings are listed in Japanese, so you find to your blushing terror you are about to launch into "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" - who knew there were so many verses?! - the seasoned patrons joining in to cover up your halting caterwauling.

These girls know all the hot places in town
Yamakawa Shūhō, Three Sisters, painted screen, 1936

Or,  shall we seek a music experience of a different kind, guided by a friend who has nosed out such hidden treasures before. Here you step off the busy, icy street into a nondescript building, take the rattly metal lift up to a corridor of small businesses shut for the evening, into a space where the perforated ceiling panels, partition walls and fluorescent lights indicate it must once have been maybe an accountancy office. But the squashy sofas, moody table lights and smokey ambience tell you it is a jazz bar. Solemn music aficionados sit finger-clicking and nodding along to the band, the musicians all seriousness, looking like they are Japan's answer to The Style Council. Their frontman, however, more akin to Iggy Pop, is writhing on the bland carpet tiles, his skinny stockinged legs sticking out from a bubble-shaped yellow and black bumblebee costume, antennae quivering atop his head as he screeches into the microphone. 

Of course, by now you are taking Tokyo's style in your stride but you still, sensibly, won't be coveting this cooler-than-school look for yourself.

* And for which, blessedly, hardly any photographs exist. Shall I, ahem, say something withering about the embrace by the present yoof of the daggy 80s (un)fashion in a much more well-documented way?

Image credits: 1, 2, 5: Flying With Hands; 3, 7: Wikimedia Commons; 4: via Gods & Foolish Grandeur; 6: via Old Tokyo

Sunday 21 August 2022

The Fanfarona's Coda


Behold the source of my recent mischief! It is Giovanni Boldini's portrait of Marchesa Luisa Casati with a greyhound, painted in 1908.

Although this image is in the public domain and lives on innocently on the Wikimedia Commons, it seems this is the controversial image that put a spotlight on Your Correspondent's hitherto well-concealed Rake-shame ways and drew the ire of a Pinterest peruser. 

For why? Who knows?! Maybe it was the Marchesa's notoriety during the life she lived so extravagantly? Or the lavish accessorising in feather and fur?

We will never discover the source of the affront; it seems I was a mere Fanfarona in bragging to you, Dear Reader, that I lived my own life as a sordid and salacious libertine! The Pinterest Police have loosed the shackles on my wrists saying they have reviewed my appeal and apologise for their mistake. No explanation was given and the image was put back.

Although a reminder was given to review the guidelines on, ahem, "what is and isn't allowed on Pinterest", Pipistrello is back to being a rather pedestrian hausfrau. Oh, well, È meglio così, as we say around here - It's better this way. I'm rather too lazy to be a busy Rakehell.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thursday 18 August 2022

Outed: Pipistrello The Rake-shame!

Art Nouveau door hardware in Brussels
A letter came last night

Well, Pipistrello had an unexpected fillip to her self-regard last night, Dear Reader, coming from an unlikely quarter. It seems the good people at the quaint and innocent pastime known as Pinterest have me in their sights and sent a stern letter saying I was in violation of their "Community Guidelines on adult content", no less, and had removed an offending image from my collection! Does this mean your usually rather starchy and sometimes censorious Correspondent is due a rebranding, having been outed as a Rake-shame?* 

René Lalique Peacock pendant, 1901
Avert your gaze from this shameless beauty

As to which among the items on my Art Nouveau board cluttered with Gallé glassware, Archibald Knox pewterware, Lalique jewels, Alphonse Mucha posters and whatnots could be classed as either "Fetish imagery, Vivid sexual descriptions, Graphic depictions of sexual activity or Images of nudity where the poses, camera angles or props suggest pornographic intent", I am unable to judge as the image offered up for my review had been fuzzed out in a considerate act of censorship. Too scandalous and blush-worthy for even my own eyes, evidently, let alone as salacious material for your feasting upon here. So I offer up instead similar companion pieces that rubbed shoulders with the disgraced item. Trigger Alert: NSFW**

Jules August Habert-Dys silver and enamel caviar server, 1905
Covet not this scandalous caviar server

Should you expect missives in future to be rejoicing in dissipation and licentiousness? At this juncture, I cannot say what may even constitute such branding, so perhaps just watch this space. 

Alphonse Mucha unused Pavilion decoration for the 1900 Paris World Fair, Le Vent Qui Passe, 1899, as a poster
Hide your blushes behind this fan design

Meanwhile, I await with curiosity as to the outcome of the appeal I submitted. How the Pinterest Police shall adjudicate over my entitlement to gather to my virtual bosom an image I'm not allowed to see is rather mysterious. I have also been told to busy myself with tidying up my boards and removing any further violating images of delicious Art Deco jewellery, incroyable tiaras, stunning bonsais, adorable tiny houses and kitchens and glamorous b&w fashion plates before they take "additional action on my account". This Rake-shame has been warned!!

First Paris Air Show, 1909
I may yet scoop up all my lovely images and
Take flight with them from future scandal

* OED: A disreputable or dissolute person; a rogue. Common in the 17th century and due for a refresh in 2022. In the event of a rebranding, I may need to modify my Blogger profile accordingly, lest any innocents stumble into these pages.

** Not Safe For Work. A bit of internet slang I did look up.

Image credits: via Pipistrello's Art Nouveau Pinterest Board

Sunday 7 August 2022

Comings & Goings


Train wreck at Montparnasse Station in 1895 by Studio Lévy and Sons
Was this announced as an Arrival or Departure?

There's been nary a murmur about these pages for simply ages, so Your Correspondent thought to plug the void with a lazy On This Day-kind of entertainment as a little something to be getting on with before a flurry of anticipated bloggish activity evolves beyond the Draft Department: In order to smooth the Comings and Goings of people through history, on this day in 1888 the revolving door was patented by Theophilus Van Kannel.

From Van Kannel's patented door specs

For thems who may be unfamiliar with this revolutionary idea, (hem hem), I have furnished an extract of the technical drawing for United States Patent number US387571A, (expired on this day in 1905, obv.) above. So with this handy image in mind, Dear Reader, let us put it to good use in a Flying With Hands take on Hatches and Dispatches:

Mata Hari
Isaac Israël, 1916

In the Comings Department, on this day in 1876, the mysterious and infamous Dutchwoman Margeretha Geertruida Zelle, a.k.a. Mata Hari, was born. Were she to dress, or, ahem, undress herself in raiments woven in complicated and luxurious brocade, she may have appreciated the endeavours of one man who made possible the mass production of such sumptuous fabric, for her life was a relatively short one and the axiom that good things come to those who wait couldn't thus apply in her case.

The Lyonaise manufacturer Didier, Petit et Cie ordered this silk version of the 1831 commissioned portrait by Claude Bonnefond
J. M. Jacquard silk portrait,
Woven on a programmable loom of his name by
Michel-Marie Carquillat, 1839

I speak, of course, of inventor Joseph Marie Jacquard, who, in the Goings Department, died on this day in 1834. The Jacquard Loom is quite the fixture in the both the Industrial Revolution and the Computer Revolution, where its punch cards found a temporary home and give fond memories to Computer Scientists of a particular vintage.

English polymath and inventor Charles Babbage, the so-called Father of the Digital Computer, owned a copy of this woven silk portrait of Jacquard. He was mightily interested in this loom and the notion of punch cards and freely adopted their use in the development of his Analytical Engine. 

Charles Babbage's Brain

As a little aside, and as befits the output of this monstrous brain (which, as he donated it to Science, can be read about here), amongst his many written contributions to the world of science and society is an entrancing 1864 pamphlet extract from his work Passages in the Life of a Philosopher*, entitled A Chapter on Street Nuisances, wherein he rails against the noise pollution of London by the incessant street music. 

He lists the "Instruments of torture permitted by the Government to be in daily and nightly use in the streets of London" (viz. brass bands, harpsichords, hurdie-gurdies, drums, bagpipes, psalm singing &c. &c.) and singles out for public shaming the many "Encouragers of Street Music" (viz. tavern-keepers, coffee-shoppes, servants, children, country visitors, sometimes even the occasional titled lady - "but these are almost invariably of recent elevation, and deficient in that taste which their sex usually possesses" - &c. &c.) 

He points also to "ladies of elastic virtue and cosmopolitan tendencies, to whom it affords a decent excuse for displaying their fascinations at their own open window" as also being great supporters of this reviled music, so it was fortunate he did not live to witness the "fascinations" of Mata Hari, for he would surely have had a thing or two to add to her reputation.

By the way, Ada Lovelace, (daughter of bad boy Romantic poet Lord Byron) herself the so-called Prophetess of the Computer Age, said in 1843 of her collaborator and friend Charles Babbage's invention, "The Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves." 

Anyhoo, for thems who did not take the quaint subject Textiles & Design in school in the 70s or 80s and study in minute detail the whys and wherefores, I am furnishing a picture below of the invention in question (the Jacquard loom not the Analytical Engine, obv.):

1850 Portable Version of the Jacquard Loom

And for thems who did not work at Big Blue, a.k.a. IBM, or his kith and kin around the same time, I am furnishing a picture below of the thrilling computer punch card complete with bonus tape drives and is that the germ of a regulation comb-over?

The questions and the answers to
Life's Mysteries - and just Getting Stuff Done -
Once beheld in humble punched cardboard

And, before it's all but gone, that's about it for the 7th of August!

* Prefaced thus: 

Some men write their lives to save themselves from ennui, careless of the amount they inflict on their readers.

Others write their personal history, lest some kind friend should survive them, and, in showing off his own talent, unwittingly show them up.

Others, again, write their own life from a different motive - from fear that the vampires of literature might make it their prey.

Image credits: 1-4: Wikimedia Commons; 5: via Internet Archive; 6: Flying With Hands; 7: Sotheby's; 8: via Google

Bats In The Belfry