Farewell, Christmas Food Fest…

Thank god, the Christmas food (and drink) fest is almost over. Though if your Christmas is like mine, you may end up with quite a few culinary curiosities in your food cupboards.

I buy numerous jars of pickles every year. Last year’s pickled walnuts were still in the cupboard when I put this year’s bottle on the shelf.  Someone opened last year’s bottle – I only know because when I pressed down on the top it popped up and down. This year’s jar remains, as yet, unopened.

Last year our neighbours brought us a gift of some jaw-clampingly glutinous buns from Fitzbillies, which they openly admitted were an unwanted gift. This year we received the same sticky buns as a gift… from the same neighbours.

One of our guests has a liking for a rare liqueur called Kummel. He claims it was originally produced in Denmark for the Russian Tsars. The bottle is labelled 39% proof  – and evidence proves that anyone who drinks over half of one is likely to spend a fair part of the day in a somnambulistic stupor.  Yet this drink is much sought by after by said guest as a precious Christmas tipple. So we always buy it, just for him.

Whilst toiling away in the kitchen, I managed to catch a glimpse of Heston Blumenthal’s giant Christmas igloo/pudding on television.  How absurd.  But we didn’t complain when we tucked into one of his ‘hidden orange’ Christmas puddings at home. How soon can we put our names on the list for one next year?

It’s a bit random, this crazy scorpion-in-candy (much appreciated by my godson), mad macaroon-Marmite Gold-chocolate-orange-cigar-and-cheese-football filled food fest.

So, which Christmas foods do you like  – or loathe? And which will forever remain curiosities at the back of the cupboard in your household?

Merry Christmas MashUp

I have just read Jonathon Green‘s fascinating post from earlier in the week, having been out very late at a party. What I write may not make too much sense, so I’m sticking mainly to photographs today. My suggestion is that guns should never be used for shooting again, but instead recycled into…




And you are invited to suggest alternative uses.

Meantime, I would like to take this opportunity to wish Dabblers the world over a Merry Christmas and a very Peaceful New Year.

Here’s a celebratory retro mashup by Matthijs Viot:


Susan x


Doodling with Currency at Christmas

If the summer holiday is the ‘silly season’, the Christmas break surely has to be the ‘shopping season': A celebration of something sacred transformed into a festival of greed and degenerate gift-grabbing.

Whilst out battling Christmas shoppers the other day, I was just about to pay for yet more wrapping paper, when this doodle jumped out at me from a ten pound note. I haven’t actually seen one of these before, but I thought it was illegal to deface bank notes?

Seeing Darwin’s Schubert-style specs made me giggle, but prompted me to reflect on the lack of respect for authority – as well as the sorry state of our nation’s coffers.  Even The Queen has expressed concern about the current financial crisis…. I wonder what she’d have to say about this doodle?

I’m also wondering how fellow Dabblers would customize a banknote to turn it into work of art? Here are some examples for inspiration.

In the Haas: RetroProgressive at the Haas-Lilienthal House

If it weren’t for a proper, old fashioned newspaper, I would not have discovered an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, and would never have visited the extraordinary property that has recently been named one of 31 national treasures by the USA’s National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Located at 2007 Franklin Street,  Haas Lilienthal is San Francisco’s only ‘Queen Anne style’ house museum – yet thrice-weekly tours attract a mere four to five thousand visitors each year.  Although the house has been open to the public for nearly 40 years, most San Franciscans have never seen inside this gem of Victorian American architecture, which can also be hired for private events.

Built in 1886 by William Haas, the Haas-Lilienthal House was lived in by three generations of the same family until 1972, when it was given to San Francisco Architectural Heritage. William Haas was a Jewish immigrant from Bavaria who arrived in San Francisco in 1868. After working for several years in his cousin’s wholesale grocery business, Haas took over the firm, which became known as Haas-Brothers.

The fire following the Great Earthquake of 1906 stopped just short of the house thanks to the Van Ness Avenue firebreak. The house also withstood the force of the earthquake, sustaining only slight damage. The Haas family watched the fire, which destroyed about 40% of San Francisco, from the roof of their house. But, along with other surviving residents, they were forced to evacuate, and went to Lafayette Park to camp out during the emergency. Later, they temporarily moved to a large house in Oakland while the City was reconstructed.

The design and décor of the Haas-Lilienthal House typifies the merchant class lifestyle of 19th century San Francisco. The house was designed by architect Peter Schmidt and is constructed primarily of redwood. With its gables and rounded bay windows, the property is a perfect example of 1880s American Queen Anne style. Its slightly off-centre third floor attic balcony and the arbitrary placement of various bays and windows are typical of the asymmetry associated with houses of this time. The 67 foot tower is topped with a gothic style ‘witches hat’.

Inside, the house is a whopping 11,500 square feet, with 24 rooms. Some of these are used as offices by the current owners of the building, but rooms open to the public include a ballroom, dining room, bedrooms, a playroom, parlour and a kitchen that hasn’t been modernized since the mid 1920s.

The photographs below give a flavour of the house and its décor. But if you’re in the city, the fascinating tours led by quirky volunteer architecture enthusiasts are a must. You can read more about the history of the house and the Haas family on the San Francisco Architectural Heritage website.


Bestial style for winter?

Susan’s globetrotting again. Here’s a winter warmer from her archives…

Big furry ears make me happy. It might work for you too. Can you imagine the winter high street bustling with creatures? Foxes, badgers, the odd Minotaur, not to mention all the beasts you can’t name. Could hats change the world?

Asks Lewes based felt-maker and performance artist, Barbara Keal.

Here are some of her designs:

Could this be part of a retro-regressive trend? As we turn ourselves into animals, dogs are getting their own London restaurant. Soon we’ll all be back sharing primordial-style long houses with our livestock.

And who is responsible for this curious clothing time warp? Antler wearers have included Continue reading

Cheers Hun: The Miserable State of Modern Correspondence

You may have read the excoriating email that retired naval officer, Nick Crews, sent to his three children, complaining of his “bitter disappointment” with their “copulation driven” self-indulgence?

Reading this made me want to have a rant of my own on the issue of modern manners – or rather, lack of them.  One of the things that really pees me off is the fact that my godchildren rarely send thank you letters (or even emails), despite the enormous trouble I go to in finding gifts that are unusual, educational or collectable. When I do receive a thank you letter, it usually drops through the letterbox a couple of months after the present was given. I suppose I should blame the parents for this, but the fact that I used to enjoy writing thank you letters as a child, as well as having an innate sense of conscientiousness and duty, makes it all the more incomprehensible.

Another thing that gets to me is young people’s overfamiliarity – as well as their poor grasp of English. I can’t claim to be an expert on the latter subject, as due to some quirk of the state education system during its ‘progressive’ years, I was never formally taught grammar at school, except in French, German and Latin lessons. Perhaps I should have learned English as a foreign language, as the terms and rules of syntax remain as foggy to me as a those from the game of cricket.

However, the situation today appears to be far worse.  A couple of years ago, the standard of correspondence arriving in my inbox became so appalling that I decided to keep some examples, which I have just unearthed from my now defunct computer.  Here are some humdingers:

From a girl I’ve never met, who was seeking an internship:

Hey it’s A, B’s daughter, My mum is a work friend of your mum and i believe one way or another youve heard about me wanting to do Work experience with you, and ive heard that you have something in mind for me? And that you wanted to see my artwork too.

okies, so im available off from school at easter and in july at some point- not too sure on the dates right now, but i will find out. Here is my Deviantart with all my Artwork on [well not all, but.. some] (link to website) I am very insterested in what you do, and basically im thinking of putting a career around my artwork, Ive thought about Fashion houses, or just taking commishions, and selling premade pieces, but thats all ive really got so far. At the moment i take commishions for xxxx portraits, basically a 95×95 pixelled box that is used on teh game xxxx, and ive gotten loads and laods of people asking for them – but i want to move further. People seem to think thats all i do and im struggling trying to get people to commishion me for more.

I didn’t respond, but some weeks later received the following message:

Hey again! It’s A

I were wondering about when and where i should meet up with you in Easter for my work experience-
also can i ask what i’d be expected to do? Im really curious =]

And this is from an unknown Virgin Active gym co-ordinator regarding my negative feedback on a class (by the way, I had never been to and have no intention of attending a body combat class):

hya mate thanks for the feedback about last monday cover- she has  taught quite a lot and covered quite a lot so i was surprised by your feedback but thanks!

also- i may be putting on another combat class during the week and i know you go to them- im just wondering if you came to Dominika’s class last week as  i just want to get an idea of what she is like- the other instructors have said she is goo but wondered what you thought.

Cheers hun


Death – a Self-Portrait at the Wellcome Collection

In our part of the world, most of us reach middle age without ever seeing a dead body, making death a subject of fascination. Death is just out of reach, yet it affects us all – it is both universal and indiscriminate. Death – A Self-Portrait, the new exhibition at the Wellcome Collection encourages us to use death as a means of better understanding life.

The Wellcome Collection asks visitors to its website to “Tell us about an object that makes you think of death: a reminder of someone you lost, a family heirloom, something associated with a death itself, or anything else.” And there are many such items on show in the exhibition, just as there are many faces of death:

German Anton Sohn (1769-1840) created a series of 42 hand painted terracotta Dance of Death figures, inspired by a famous mural in the cemetery of a Dominican friary in Basel.

Japanese Izumi Sukeyuki (1838-1920) sculpted a curious snake exploring a skull – an okimono (decorative object) expressing the Buddhist vision of the ongoing existence of the soul, which is thought to undergo perpetual transformation into new states of being. Plus a snake is believed to be reborn every time it sheds its skin.

Metamorphic postcards (c.1900-10) feature whimsical illustrations that are “lent a surreal pathos by the grinning skulls into which they transform, becoming turn of the century interpretations of the vanitas theme.” The phrase ‘vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas’ comes from the Bible (Ecclesiastes I) and is translated as ‘vanity of vanities; all is vanity’ – a moralistic invitation to dwell on the necessity of eternal salvation, as opposed to the acquisition of worldly goods.

These are just a few of the many and varied pieces on show. But can art help us to cope with the prospect of death? Why are the inanimate objects of burial ritual and mourning universally deemed to have significance? And how can possessions activate memories that assist us in coming to terms with bereavement, and perhaps even our own mortality?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this subject – and do feel free to share details of your own actual or suggested ‘objects of death’.


Bird Watching in California

Despite having fuddy-duddy connotations, I was surprised to discover that the pastime we call bird watching isn’t actually that old – or at least the term isn’t. Bird watching is popularly thought of as the sort of thing dweeby old guys do to get away from the Missus. The twitcher’s standard kit of waterproofs and binoculars may also suggest philandering – hands up who thought this post was something to do with beaches, bikinis and Baywatch? But when I was growing up, bird watching was an activity pursued by children – prompted by their I-Spy books.

I can’t claim to have ever gone out with the intention of twitching, but I’m always totally charmed when pretty little birds hop onto my terrace to entertain me for a few moments before they flit back to their scruffily feathered nests. However, I’m afraid these romantic visions of birdlife are rare – and regular visits from enormous crows (which I suspect may actually be rooks), cackling magpies and fat urban pigeons are the norm.

I wasn’t looking out for birds on my trip to San Francisco, but I noticed that California has crows too…  In fact Alfred Hitchcock’s film, The Birds, was shot in San Francisco and Bodega Bay, just 50 miles up the coast. For the next remake, may I suggest seagulls, which seem to be in more plentiful supply – especially around the outdoor eating areas of Fisherman’s Wharf – and they are certainly more vicious.

Nevertheless, Californians seem to be quite fond of birds. At one vineyard I visited, they had a small aviary stocked mainly with hens, which I thought was a little unusual as I don’t think eggs are used in the winemaking process?

Anyway, the San Francisco bay area is full of bird watching possibilities, what with the many parks, and open water being never far away. I love the quirky hand painted signs by the marshland walk in Sausalito, illustrating the varieties of local birdlife.

I also spotted one especially beautiful blue bird (see below), which perhaps an expert Dabbler, like Nige, can help me to identify?

If you happen to be in California, do check out the birds.

Fashion Trends: What’s Ahead?

This week I’ve written several posts on the subject of hair and headwear. First I spotted a sudden surge in the number of fashion accessories made using hair. Then I noticed that old hairdressers’ dummies are rapidly becoming collectors’ items… In case you don’t know, these are the mannequin heads that trainee hairdressers experiment on.

Finally, I wrote a piece about headdresses. Forget fascinators, vintage inspired headdresses are the latest must have fashion accessory.  In the course of my trend research, I found these images from designer-maker website, Etsy. Thankfully, there’s no obligation to follow trends – or anyone else’s dress sense – but perhaps these images will provide you with a few ideas for Christmas party outfits?


Creepy and Freaky: Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island emerged from a bank of fog and I suddenly realized why it’s known as The Rock. Stories of ancient curses, military fortresses and its designation as a National Park are not why visitors flock by the ferry-load to this tourist attraction in the Bay of San Francisco. The reputation of the former Federal Penitentiary as one of America’s most notorious prisons from 1934-1963 is what attracts more than 1.3 million people to this curiously fascinating relic each year.

Once on the island and in the thrall of a personal audio-guide, I was transported far away from the queuing tracksuits and baseball caps by a soundtrack narrated by former inmates and guards. Despite legions of tramping trainers, an eerie emptiness pervades the corridors. I kept looking over my shoulder, but no one was there.

The peeling walls harbour a stronghold of iron bars and bedsteads: Cell upon cell of three storey incarceration. On one side of the main prison building sunlight floods in, though the likes of Al Capone and Robert Stroud (aka The Birdman of Alcatraz) would have been lucky to catch glimpses of the outside world from the tiny slits that masquerade as windows. Alcatraz housed over 1500 of the USA’s most troublesome citizens – those whom other prisons wanted done with. People like Alvin ‘Creepy Karpis’ Karpavicz, who spent more time on Alcatraz than any other inmate, from August 1936 until April 1962.

Apart from the regulation bed, bog and prison rulebook, the caged inhabitants had limited space for personal items – though some crocheted their own blankets, painted or wrote poetry.  A sparsely furnished library of around 15,000 volumes (mainly philosophy, fiction and educational books) and concrete exercise yard were seen as sufficient reward for well-behaved inmates. Rehabilitation was unheard of – this was all about punishment.  Isolation in D Block – ‘the treatment unit’ – was reserved for unusually dangerous or violent inmates. Men were confined to their cells for 24 hours a day for up to several years, depending upon the offence.  The six closed-front cells were used for the most severe disciplinary problems. Treatment in ‘the Hole’ sometimes included total darkness and a restricted diet.  This usually lasted for several days, but never more than 19.

Attempts to break free from confinement (as seen in films) are largely fictitious.  The few who managed to escape their cells were either shot by guards, or in the case of five infamous prisoners, presumed drowned…  This being the subject of Escape from Alcatraz, where the prisoners in question chipped their way through cell walls and escaped up a service shaft onto the roof, never to be seen again.

The guards’ and prison warden’s offices had views over the bay to San Francisco, as well as fridges full of Coca Cola. There’s a tiny window, through which visitors could see a convict – and a hole (perhaps illegal?) which looks just about big enough for rubbing noses. The glass is cracked.  Kitchen knives were housed in a way that made it obvious if one were missing  – and tear gas canisters were mounted on the canteen ceiling, though these remained unused until their removal upon the prison’s closure in 1963.

A disturbing vision of life for disturbed people is immortalized on this small island – through buildings, bullet holes, blood stains and the strange sensation of simply being there.