Sunday 24 December 2023

Merry Christmas!


1950s Ralph Hulett Christmas Siamese Cat card

Thank you for the pleasure of your company this year, Dear Reader.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Safe and Tranquil New Year!

Pipistrello x

Image credit: Pinterest

Friday 1 December 2023

Wisdom Of The Elders - Travel

Venroy poster in a Paddington street

Travel is on the horizon for the Pipistrellos next year, Dear Reader, and since it has been a goodly while since Europe was the destination, Your Correspondent thought a few pertinent questions to one wiser than she might be in order, just to get in the mood and allay any feelings of travel rustiness. The wise elder interviewed in this instance is the first AI bot that sounds in any way interesting and goes by the name MonadGPT, and, gloriously, will speak to you from the 17th Century!

Pipistrello: Who should undertake a Grand Tour? [A bit of an exaggeration but I wanted to be sure, firstly, that Travel is still suitable for the likes of me]

Monad-GPT: A young gentleman should undertake a grand tour, that he may see what sort of people there are in other countries, and how they live, and what they do. For it is good for a young gentleman to know how other people live, and what they do. And he should also learn the languages of those countries, and understand the customs of the people. And then he will be better able to manage his own affairs, and to govern his own family. And if he has a wife, then she will be the more able to govern her servants, and to manage her household. [Neither of us is a Young Gentleman but I like the jolly optimism here]

P: My Grand Tour shall include France, but I cannot speak the language. [Ever the Pipistrello Bugbear] What should I do?

M-GPT: If you cannot speak the language of the country where you are going, you should endeavour to learn it before you go. [Not helpful & not likely!] This will enable you to converse with the people, and to understand what they say. You should also endeavour to learn the manners and customs of the people, that you may not offend them, and that you may conduct yourself properly. You should make it a point to visit the most interesting places in the country, and to see the greatest number of curiosities that you can. And if you will be attentive to your studies, and use your time well, you will soon become acquainted with the language, and will be able to enjoy the advantages of a grand tour.

[There followed a question about the means of conveyance in France, which was answered with a breezy listing of cars, buses, rental bicycles &c &c, but then I pointed out Cars?? given my advisor was speaking from the C17th and a profuse apology ensued for the unintended misinformation ...]

P: It will be winter when I undertake my Grand Tour, so what should I take with me to wear?

M-GPT: If you are going to undertake a grand tour in winter, you should take with you warm clothing, such as a fur coat, a pair of gloves and a muffler. You should also take with you a pair of boots or shoes, and a hat or cap that will keep your head warm. And if you are going to a cold climate, you should take with you some warm underclothes, such as a flannel shirt, a pair of woollen stockings, and a pair of woollen drawers. [Jaeger long johns at the ready!] You should also take with you a pair of mittens, and a pair of warm socks. And if you are going to a hot climate, you should take with you light clothing, such as linen or cotton, and a pair of shoes or slippers that will be comfortable. You should also take with you a pair of sunglasses, and a sunshade or parasol, that you may protect your eyes from the sun.

P: [Say, what? ...] Are sunglasses available in the seventeenth century?

M-GPT: And what if all the World should be soe blinded with their glasses that they could not see one another, but should runne upon one another as Blind Men doe upon one another and fall upon one another to the great confusion of all? Yet would wee not say that it was a Cure for the Blindeness of the World. And yet I have heard of some such thing, that there were men who did make Glasses for the Eyes of the People to look through, and these were called Sunglaisses: But I think this is not the way to cure Blindness, nor to bring people to see the Light of God. No, no, let them not makes Glasses for the Eyes of the People, but let them rather turn their eyes to the Sun of Righteousnesse. And let them look upon the Glory of God, and they shall be saved. For if they look upon the Glory of the Lord, they shall be converted, and shall see the light of their own Salvation. It is said of them that looked into the Glory of God, that their faces did shine, as Moses's face did when he came down from Mount Sinai. [Well, ask a silly question ... Perhaps I'll pack some sunnies anyway; Salvation might wait]

P: Does a lady need a servant to travel with? [Back to more prosaic matters. And no, Mr. P is not my Servant but his own Man]

M-GPT: No, a lady does not need a servant to travel with. She can travel independently, and take care of herself. However, if she wishes to have the assistance of a servant, she can engage one. The servant can assist her in packing, dressing, and attending to her needs. But if she is an independent woman, she can travel alone, and take care of herself.

P: Should a man earn a living? [Just a thought, whilst on the topic of engaging servants]

M-GPT: It is not meet that any one should starve, and that he may have his living; for in this case we may say, as was said of a man who was much troubled with a toothache, He hath no living. And it is true, if a man have a living, he must either live by his own labour or else be maintained by another. Therefore it is the duty of every man to provide for himself, and not to be idle. It is true, some men are able to live without working, because they have money laid up; but such persons do not make their livings by their own labour; and so it is a duty for all men to get their livings by their own labour. And therefore it is the duty of a man to work, and not to be idle.

P: If it is the duty of a man to work, what do you say to one who wishes to take a Grand Tour?

M-GPT: A man who wishes to take a grand tour is not neglecting his duty. He is merely following the example of other men who have taken similar tours, and who have returned home with valuable information, which they have used to their advantage. A grand tour is a means of obtaining a knowledge of the world, and of improving one's mind. It is also a means of seeing different countries, and of learning the manners and customs of the people. If a man has the means of taking a grand tour, and the inclination to do so, he should not be prevented by any one from doing so.

P: [Speaking of improving one's mind ...] Can you recommend an Improving Read for a lady?

M-GPT: There are many books that are good for a lady to read, both for their amusement and instruction. One book that is very good is The Book of Common Prayer, which contains prayers that are suitable for all occasions, and which are very useful for ladies to read. Another book that is good for ladies to read is The Art of Dying Well, which teaches them how to die well, and how to prepare for death. There are also many other books that are good for ladies to read, and which will help them to improve their minds, and to become better Christians. 

If you can judge a Man by the holiday reading he recommends then I shall give Mr. MonadGPT rather a wide berth from now. Opportunistic proselytiser!

Image credit: Flying With Hands

Sunday 22 October 2023

Ghost Story

Gather round for my Ghost Story, Dear Reader

Have you ever experienced a haunting, Dear Reader? As it's almost the time for Hallowe'en, I thought it was time to trot out the (short) tale of my only brush with the Otherworld. 

In the way of such madcap adventures, our setting was Merrie Olde England. Mr. P & I were living there for a while around the year 2000, and would take ourselves off from time to time to explore the countryside. So it was that we spent a night at a Grade II listed Georgian country house in Sussex. 

Alas, there were no spooky signs to put one on alert when it came time to toddle off to bed; there was no driving wind nor lashing rain without, no mysterious blackouts or eerie hotel staff within. Just warm hospitality and a chintzy and comfortable bed in a huge but friendly sort of room. So when my ghostly visitors accidentally woke me up during the night, I had quite the shock.

It was a man and a woman who were whispering to one another about us, and right in my ear. Of course, I just knew there couldn't be anybody physically there, there was no breath on my face, no smell or warmth of bodies, just the two voices, so in the instant I awoke, and with a pounding heart, I kept my eyes tight shut. I could hear Mr. P's breathing behind my back, evidently sound asleep or not able to hear them. No help! It was frightening to know we were being watched and talked about, but the couple were just curious. After a while I gathered they had enough for the whispering stopped, and when it had been quiet for a bit, I tried a little peek. Nothing there. 

And that was that. My ghosts had gone and there seemed no point in waking Mr. P to tell him what he missed, so I went back to sleep.

Image credit: Via Pinterest

Monday 11 September 2023

Spring Heralds

Auditory geometry

There's been a surfeit of Pink petals around these parts of late. Some of which is architectural. Behold the new acoustic petals in the Concert Hall at the Opera House, seen twice recently:

Viewed both this way ...

... and that.

But it's been mostly confined to the abundant Azaleas and Magnolias, hereabouts. They're a little past their best right now, but it's a good sign that spring is here. Well, that, and a goodly dose of hayfever. Such a reliable Spring Herald.

Feast your eyes upon these Lilly Pillys

They're the size of cherries!

Not to mention the gigantic magnolias

Practically the size of soup bowls

A mystery pink blossom at the park ...
Addendum: Now identified as the Judas Tree
Thank you, dear Rosemary!

Azaleas and Magnolias making companionable bedfellows

Delightful, no, Dear Reader? And as I'm thoroughly enjoying a charming Anthology of Bad Verse in the form of D. B. Wyndham Lewis & Charles Lee's selection, The Stuffed Owl, let me share with you a touching tribute to Spring by the alleged worst poet of England, Alfred Austin (1835-1913):

The Spring-time, O the Spring-time!
Who does not know it well?
When the little birds begin to build,
And the buds begin to swell.
When the sun with the clouds plays hide-and-seek.
And the lambs are bucking and bleating,
And the colour mounts to the maiden's cheek,
And the cuckoo* scatters greeting;
In the Spring-time, joyous Spring-time!

* Just last night and today we first heard the call of the Channel-billed cuckoo somewhere in our 'hood!

Image credits: Flying With Hands

Saturday 5 August 2023

Berlin: Concrete And Chic, 1994

Jeder hat Kraft, or Everyone is powerful

Who knew the Iron Curtain, or a considerable chunk of it, was hiding in plain sight beside Sydney's Goethe-Institut? I traipsed past it on several occasions before noticing the large piece of grafittied concrete in the middle of this pocket park. Hullo, what? Surely not?, thunk I, but investigating closer after the double-take of faint recognition proved it to be so. Once seen, of course, it's hard to miss the 2.4-tonne, 4-metre embodiment of Berlin's modern history as the epicentre of the Cold War. And so far from the action, as it were, in this sedate suburb in Australia.

Your Correspondent has only been to Berlin once, a two-day work trip in late 1994, memorable for so many reasons. The Berlin Wall had been down for a few years by then, and the pioneering tourists had already swarmed across. At the casual announcement of my intended visit, various seasoned travellers yawned, "Oh, you're too late ... " It appeared that unless you were there while vestiges of the Wall were still hanging on was it cool to be in Berlin.* How to explain to the world-weary that what did that matter when you were actually going there for a meeting? And as for cool, it was probably going to snow.

Meeting and dinner with the client done, I had the full Saturday to myself. I was in and out on foot during the day, marvelling at the simply gorgeous and statuesque young men and women I would see as I passed through the lobby of my Hilton-esque hotel**. So not what I expected of the German people!*** By the evening I was up for a night out and a conversation with an elderly, black American poet and long-time resident (of course) at the next table in a bistro sent me with directions for a very Berlin experience.

I found myself in a roofless semi-derelict warehouse, each floor of this heaving nightclub an exercise in German after-dark cool. There I met a young architecture student who proposed a tour of his city and an object lesson in European modernist archicture post-haste when I wrinkled my nose over our discussion of Brutalism. I was flying back to London in the morning and there was no time to lose!

Next I knew, we were driving around in the sleet in Berlin, various concrete buildings we passed given a precis of their history, merits and contribution to the cityscape and I found myself becoming more appreciative as the tour wore on. The city was bristling with cranes, (all the cranes of Europe were employed on sites rebuilding Berlin, apparently), and architects were in hot demand. 

East Berlin bar-hopping was next on the tour, moody and mournful places in the wee small hours, anonymous ground-floor apartments facing streets still pockmarked with scars from their life as the poor half of the city, just with a bar set up amongst the domestic furniture. Finally, a spin back to the architect's apartment for breakfast at dawn. Freezing cold, no lift, but sitting eating toast with my coat and gloves on, just had to admire that it was, of course, by Le Corbusier. Concrete and chic.

* By this time, the Jeder hat Kraft slab had been long ago shipped to a warehouse in outer Sydney by the German-Australian businessman Peter Kubiak, where it languished until its donation to the Goethe-Institut park in 2019, on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

** It was only when I was checking out of my hotel that I clocked all the signage in the lobby announcing it as hosting Vogue Magazine's "Face of the Year" while I was there, hence the cream of Germany's models were trooping through for the duration.

*** Apologies Dear Britta & Sean for my youthful gaucheness! 

Image credit: Flying With Hands

Friday 19 May 2023

Good News From Home!

William Stewart, C19th oil, The Dominie

Sometimes, Dear Reader, I just cannot resist a bit of trawling on Trove, for the pleasure is two-fold. I get to correct the garbled auto-transcriptions of old newspapers and gazettes (so satisfying), and delight in the masterful language that went hand-in-glove with the lost Art-formerly-known-as-Journalism. Similarly, for a reader some two hundred years ago, another two-fer. Casting a glance over said newspapers of the day, anxious to keep abreast of the doings of the nascent Colony in Australia, one would always find plenty o' news from "home", too. Imagine the rejoicing upon reading this bit of good news:
Last year's report of the Society for Education of the Poor in the Highlands, read at the general meeting held in Inverness, in October last, and just published, states that the number of schools amounted to 511, and they were attended by 37,000 scholars. These schools are rapidly dispelling the dark clouds of ignorance that have so long hung over those romantic but benighted regions, and effecting a salutary change in the moral habits of the Highlanders.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 22 October, 1831

Image credit: Paisley Museum and Art Galleries

Monday 1 May 2023

Glimpses Of Life Aquatic

Spot the sea life at the train station 

I'm toting about this top-hatted lobster a lot these days. He takes charge of the dancing paraphernalia within. Fair weather or foul, several times a week I'm off to the studios where much exertion ensues. For brain and body! The tap dancing teacher, particularly, reassures us that dementia will be prevented but it's the sense of satisfaction afterwards and the, well, feeling virtuous which drives me forward. And the glimpses of life aquatic are a bonus around this neck of the woods. So refreshing.

Wharf apartments on view through the studio windows.
'Ow the other 'arf live!

I've puzzled over this whilst pliéing at the barre.
Doll house, hen house or dog house?

This vessel gets about a lot

I'm guessing it's a mini oil tanker to refuel the cruise ships

Like this whopper seen from the Opera House recently

A stark conrast to this curiosity which was
motoring powerfully along the other morning!

Such things are of no interest to the fishermen

Also rain, hail, shine stalwarts

And speaking of gulls, one makes a cameo in a book recently read, a fictional account of the true life of Mary Anning, the working-class lady fossil hunter of Lyme Regis in the 19th century. She's befriended by the eccentric theologian and palaeontologist, William Buckland. This is your bonus serving of literary Table Talk, Dear Reader:

    As we started along the beach towards Lyme, I noted all those hammers and bags hanging off his poor, patient horse. There was also, tied to the bridle and flopping against the horse's side, a dead seagull. "Sir," I said, "what you doing with that gull?"
    "Ah, I'm going to have the kitchen at the Three Cups roast it for my dinner! I am eating my way through the animal kingdom, you see, and have had such things as hedgehogs and field mice and snakes, yet in all this time I haven't had a common gull." 
    "You've eaten mice!"
    "Oh, yes. They are rather good on toast."
    I wrinkled my nose at the thought, and at the smell of the bird. "But—the gull stinks, sir!"
    Mr Buckland sniffed. "Does it?" For such a keen observer of the world, he often overlooked the obvious. "Never mind, I'll have them boil it up, and use the skeleton for my lectures. Now what have you found today?"
Tracy Chevalier, Remarkable Creatures, 2009

Image credits: Flying With Hands

Saturday 1 April 2023

My Dentist Brings Me Up To Date


John Lavery, The Dentist, 1929

There's never any white knuckle gripping of the chair when Your Correspondent makes a visit to the dentist, it being a rather more relaxed and convivial affair, principally because there's nothing amiss with my fangs. The White Lab Coat of Authority as seen on this dashing dentist morphed sometime ago into white t-shirt, denims and Italian shoes on my long-time former dentist and latterly into navy scrubs and clogs on his fashionably-tattoed 20-something niece who has taken over the practice. 

The picture hasn't changed much from above, although I was wearing slightly less jewellery for the occasion of my checkup and clean. And I'm not really a candidate for the Swarovski crystal tooth gems she has introduced to the dental menu. Very groovy (is that still a word? I forgot to ask) music still plays, as does video footage over the chair of sea life frolicking possibly in The Great Barrier Reef, all meant as a distraction from what's going on at the business end, but none of that was necessary yesterday. My dentist and her assistant were busy bringing me bang up to date on the vernacular of Gen-Z.*

It started with Ghosting. The term came up when she was regaling me with an anecdote about visiting a cheese place nearby. We'd moved off a bit of preliminary teeth chat into dietary changes which segued into her talking about visiting this place with her last assistant before she was ghosted by her. There was that word! I really haven't had a proper explanation as to what it means. I saw my chance, Dear Reader, and as soon as hands and whatnots were out of my mouth, I asked if she'd talk me through Ghosting. 

She and her lovely new assistant were only too delighted. It was a simple enough explanation - more or less vanishing without trace or warning - but the anecdote which illustrated this example was utterly enthralling, despite the what? why?? nature of it. When another breather between proceedings cropped up, I asked if there was anything else I need to know about. I was trying to remember another vaguely understood societal term I hear bandied about - maybe it was Gaslighting? - but instead I promptly landed into an enlightening tutorial on completely new-for-me vernacular by the young women. All to do with dating.

I learnt all about Love-bombing (being smothered by someone with affectionate intensity at the beginning and then when you're hooked they drift away); Breadcrumbing (just leaving enough crumbs on social media so your target doesn't lose interest); the coloured flag system of classification of potential dates and some acronyms appropriate or not for your "profile". Not only did I come away with a nice professional scrub of the fangs but my marvellous dentist brought me the priceless gift of knowledge and I'm now right up to date.

* It's rather nice to find yourself, ahem, tradesmen to look after one's physical condition when you take yourself off to the shop, so to speak, who are young for they can outlive you. Rummaging around for replacements after one takes retirement, or even drops off their perch, is not for the faint-hearted. A couple of my -ologists are ageing alongside me but luckily the newer arrivals into the diary seem like positive children

Image credits: 1: British Dental Association Dental Museum; 2: Graphics Fairy

Friday 24 March 2023

Wisdom Of The Elders - Memory


This most excellent book bag was found hanging on a rack outside a bookshop I passed the other day. Apart from the reminder that there's no time for frivolities like twirling wreathes with a BFF when there's a book within reach, Your Correspondent thought it was time to dip into our rich medieval past and share some more nuggets of wisdom from our elders. If your memory is getting a little rusty then you are in luck today for Jacobus Publicius shares some memory enhancing tips from 1482.

For example: The tongue of a hoopoe, given to a forgetful person, will restore memory. 

Nota bene: no cooking instructions were given.

Fear not, we are not immersing ourselves bodily into the murky and uncharted waters of Latin texts, for I do profess ignorance of these matters; I merely provide this teaser page as both illustration of the lost art of beautiful typography and to show Mr. Publicius' popular and influential late-C15th treatise Ars Oratoria. Ars Epistolandi. Ars Memorativa, is no trifling matter!

His mnemonic alphabet (sampled above) could be the subject for another day, but we'll presently eschew the book's coverage of memory techniques as applied by the lofty ancients. Since he was a physician, the choice nuggets will instead come from his medical and dietary advice for improving memory, for goodness knows we could all do with some help in that department.

Pick and choose from the following regime, as you see fit, Dear Reader, of tips to keep your brain's psychical pneuma serene, lucid and clear and thus stave off a languid and dull memory*:

  • Moderate sleep at night.
  • Avoid midday snoozing. If you can't help it then sleep in bare feet as the thick soles of shoes will reflect harmful vapours back into the brain and eyes of one who slumbers deeply.
  • Keep your head moderately covered with cloths, according to the season, as both excessive heat and cold dulls the mind with stupidity.
  • Sleeping on one's back, thus warming the kidneys beyond what is reasonable, is a most harmful enemy of the mind. Men should sleep then on their side or tummy. Sleeping on one's back is fine, however, for women and for nocturnal delusions and pollutions**.
  • Upon rising, purge your body's channels with expectoration and motion. Then rub your head with an ivory comb and a rough, coarse rag.
  • After ablutions, swallow six raisins and as many juniper berries. This will do for breakfast.
  • A bit of exercise, then on to lunch. You don't want your wine too vehement, lest it inflames the blood, so light wine only or diluted with water.
  • Boiled meat then roast meat, in that order.
  • To avoid your stomach emitting the vapours from the digesting meat, clouding the mind and intellect and eliciting sleep, you need to close your stomach's opening. A list of fruits and nuts qualified in this respect can be furnished upon request.
  • Avoid horseradish, garlic, onion and leek as they are the enemy of memory.
  • Avoid noxious odours, they are harmful to the brain.
  • Keep your head and feet very clean with a decoction of water boiled with honey, bay leaves, and stems of fennel and chamomile.
  • The dulling of the mind can be alleviated by the sneezing caused by mustard, pepper and castoreum, and by the chewing of oregano, stavesacre and caper root.
  • Exercising some more at dusk and at night in the manner of the Pythagoreans is a great help to the memory and to the human mind and intellect. It's not specified if this is physical exercise or mathematical gaieties, so try either or both!
I do hope this unsolicited 500-year-old advice is found valuable, Dear Reader!

* I am quoting liberally here from the Henry Bayerle translation in The Medieval Craft of Memory: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, 2002 edited by Mary Carruthers and Jan P. Ziolkowski.

** There are also provided the typical Pythagorean cautions against, ahem, immoderate coitus, but we don't speak of such stuffs around here.

Image credits: 1: Flying With Hands; 2: Royal Collection Trust; 3, 4: Internet Archive

Wednesday 15 March 2023

Rust(ic) Scenes

The past couple of weeks we've had a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. Some out-of-town variety has lent spice to the season, it being the time for we Pisceans to have their moment. We've enjoyed both a lovely coastal visit to stay with family (prawns and oysters, tick!), and then took the train for a rather more agricultural visit to the Southern Tablelands property of friends, the Country Mice, our part-time neighbours in the condominio. We were truly entertained in style! But for a hint of the flavour of life on the land, behold some rust(ic) scenes.

Can you guess what this bit of machinery might be?

Flaunting its rusted patented wizardry as farm scuplture ...

A rotating tea blending drum!

A typical ruined farmhouse as seen on properties all over this wide, brown land

Cocksfoot grass and hawthorns in berry

Hello girls!

Cobwebs galore

Busy busy Saturday morning in the main street

Image credits: Flying With Hands

Bats In The Belfry