Odds and Sods Around Our House

If the foe shits ….

It has been suggested on more than one occasion by my faithful reader that I have an obsession with shoes. I will contest that based on the hard facts that are revealed when I check the number of posts tagged “Shoe” or variations thereof. In 3,164 posts there have only been 26 – 26! That is less than 1% and of those 26 only two indicated the shoes in question were for men. Okay so I’m about to bring that up t0 27 out of 3,165 but that is still less than 1%!

Below is a recent photo of “shoe tree” hanging in my closet. There are 12 pairs of dress or dress-casual shoes of various styles there and a miscellaneous collection of sandals, sneakers, slippers, and boat shoes on the closet floor.

Not all but a goodly number of my shoes all neat, tidy and, these days largely unworn.

Much of what hangs around in my closet does just that – hangs around unworn. Retirement and a more relaxed social scene here on the Island gives me few occasions to put on my best bib and tucker or shoes for that matter. And a little problem with my feet – which I must admit have been carrying me around pretty well for 27,617 days – many of them are too tight and uncomfortable. It has been suggested by a podiatrist that part of the problem may have been that they were too tight in the first place! But I digress.

I have decided to cull the lot and donate the unwearable to a local charity that helps helps new arrivals to our (and now their) Island. Most are in extremely good condition and in more than acceptable styles. However there are a few that I am reticent about giving away even though I doubt I will wear them again.

Case in point a pair of Mezlan dress shoes that I bought in Coral Gables back in 1996.

A combination of leather and linen they were made at the Mezlan facility in Almanza, the shoe making capital of Spain since the 14th century.

I was working on Air Canada’s US route expansion at the time and spent two months at Miami Airport training staff for several of the new airport offices. My colleague and good friend Frances and I would occasionally go out for dinner and one evening we went to her neighbourhood of Coral Gables. An after dinner stroll took us by this very upscale shoe store and in the window those beauties beckoned to me. Frances knew the salesman – they had gone to school together in Kingston, Jamaica – and very rapidly, and I do mean rapidly, in Patois negotiated a deal. I don’t recall what sort of deal it was but it must have been a good one as today the purchased of a pair of Mezlans require a bank loan secured by your first born.


I would love to say I have worn them often but honestly the last time I remember was for our wedding thirteen years ago this coming Thursday. This would suggest that I should either put them in the donation box or find a few occasions over the next few months to sport them. I am torn.

The expression for July 19th is:
Best bib and tucker
A very old phrase meaning: one’s best clothes.
A bib refers to both a gentleman’s frilly shirt front and a tucker is a lacy ornamental covering for a lady’s neck and shoulders.
It is an 18th century term, the first known citation of which is from a translation of the Marquis d’Argens’ ambitiously titled work New Memoirs establishing a True Knowledge of Mankind, 1747.

Odds and Sods Around Our House

In a previous post I mentioned all those one of ingredients or kitchen utensils that were bought for a particular recipe or dinner never to be used again. The same thing applies to a few items of silverware that we have safely stored in the sideboard should they ever be required again. I unearthed a few of them earlier today, brought them into the sunlight, polished them and present them as definitive odds and sods!

Before Downtown Abbey or whatever it was called we were all caught up in the Edwardiana of Upstairs Downstairs. Should my faithful reader not be familiar with that programme it was an early big-house-servants-masters series without the glitzy production values but far better written than Baron Fellowes tepid soap opera. It quite captured the fancy of North American TV audiences between 1971 and 1975 and helped fill the coffers at PBS stations across North America come pledge time.

I was an ardent fan and never missed an episode on a Sunday night. A bit of an industry built up around it. I had a cookbook that purported to be written by Mrs Bridges (Angela Baddeley), the cook at Number 165 Eaton Place. There was also a journal by Mr Hudson (Gordon Jackson), the butler that included a useful list of all the silverware needed for a proper nine course dinner should you be required to provide sustenance for Edward VII as he ran between court and chorus girl. I am please to say we have a few of the requisites! With the exception of one special piece just where or why we acquired them I don’t know.

This set is just the thing for serving the Dover sole you are having as your fish course. The blades and tines are silver plate and lest my faithful reader concern themselves the handles are made of celluloid not ivory. The knife is hallmarked and from that it is possible to determine the purity of the silver, the manufacturer of the piece, and sometimes even the date it was made. The hallmark EP on the verso of the fish knife blade indicates that this two items are silver plate. I’ve been able to determine they are Sheffield silver and the markings indicated that they are Sheffield from the Atkin Brothers: HA, EA and FA are Harry, Edward & Frank Atkin. The style of the HA suggests a date between 1901 and 1917.

This slightly more elaborate fish knife was again part of a larger serving set. I am still trying to decipher the hallmark but it would appear to come from the James Deakin & Sons London workshop. But I will try and figure out the other markings as of course now I have started down a rabbit hole.

The next piece bears no hallmark but is deeply treasured because it was a birthday gift from Nick and Nora’s Uncle Pervy almost forty years ago. And it is the one odd and sod of this lot that has actually been used.

Can my faithful reader guess what it is and what it is used for?

Of course when you were serving your fresh fruit course a pair of grape shears are a definite requirement. Again we are looking at silver plate and the hallmark indicates them as a production of the Rogers Brothers workshop part of the International Silver cartel. Created in 1898 it initially comprised of 14 silver studios of which Rogers was the largest. I will have to investigate the other markings a little more closely to see if it will reveal dates as the style is quite modern. And as International Silver still exists quite possibly they are of a recent vintage.

And here’s another “what the hell is that for?” item.

Again there are no markings but I am assuming this little five inch fork is silver plate. Because of its size I am guessing it was used at a breakfast buffet rather than a grand dinner party. I leave it up to you, faithful reader, to tell me what purpose, or food, it served.

Now that they are newly shining I hate to put them back in the sideboard drawer but chances of a dinner that will require them are very slim.

The word for May 20th is:
Celluloid \ˈsel-yə-ˌlȯid\ [noun]
1. A tough flammable thermoplastic composed essentially of cellulose nitrate and camphor.
2. A motion-picture film
Mid 19th century (1855) English: from French, from cellule ‘small cell’ + -oid (to form noun denoting form or resemblance).


Odds and Sods Around Our House

I am pretty sure I speak for Laurent as well as myself when I say the four years we spent in Rome were a very special time in our lives. Yes it was the place and the opportunities it offered but more importantly it was the people we met, the people we came to know and care for over that time.

We only met Garth Speight on one or two occasion and didn’t speak to him that often but his work spoke to us. A Canadian artist, he has spent much of his creative life in Rome capturing the Rome, Italy and the world in his travels. And I’m happy to say we have two of his remarkable works to remind us

Our last Christmas in Rome (2010) Laurent gave me one of Garth’s oils to remind me of our time there. In his distinctive style he captures the lines and shifting tones of the 3rd century Amphitheatrum Castrense built as part of an Imperial Palace of the Severan Dynasty. Later it was incorporated into the Aurelian Walls that surrounded the city as a defence barrier. Animal skeletons uncovered during excavations suggest that it may have been used for spectacles that included the hunting of exotic wild beasts.

And as a gift when I said goodbye to Rome in June 2011 Laurent gave me one of Garth’s prints. I’m not sure where this street scene is in our beloved Rome but Laurent has suggested it is over on the Janiculum Hill near the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola. Located on the other side of the Tiber the Janiculum is considered by many to be the eighth hill of Rome. It is often neglected by visitors to the city but it should be noted that it has the most spectacular views of Rome. The site of a battle against the French during the Risorgimento the parkland and belvedere are dotted with memorials to the revolutionaries including the often overlooked woman who stood and fought beside her husband: Anita Garibaldi. (Left click for photos of the memorial and her incredible story.)

I treasure these two works as a memory of our time spent in Rome, our great love for the city, and of the remarkable people we met there. Thank you Garth for giving us something to keep Rome in our hearts.

More of Garth’s works can be found on his website: gspeight.com

The word for April 5th is:
Belvedere /ˈbelvəˌdir/: [noun]
A summerhouse or open-sided gallery, usually at rooftop level, commanding a fine view.
Late 16th century: from Italian, literally ‘fair sight’, from bel ‘beautiful’ + vedere ‘to see’.

Odds and Sods Around Our House

The approach of Christmas has elicited a mix reaction this year. Yes the decorations have been been taken out of the storage closet but other than setting up the tree nothing much has been done in the way of decking our halls. There is even a good chance that the annual “Shining of Will’s Silver Balls” will be a non-event in 2021. Despite the freak snow storms there really not much of feeling of Christmas in the air.

Emanuel Luzzati’s pop-up Presepio – our Nativity scene this year.

The one thing that has been brought out and set up in readiness for Christmastide is our Nativity scene. However this year we decided not to use our Polish Szopka – though it is a work of carver’s art it is also on the slightly sombre side. Instead the delightful pop-up Presepio created by my beloved LeLe (Emanuele) Luzzati is brightening up our Christmastide.

The designs are in Luzzati’s signature deep almost jewel-like colours and child-like drawings. And in the tradition of presepe he mixes the everyday with the fantastical. His people, and animals, are obviously filled with the joy of the birth of the Infant Jesus.

As angels proclaim the good news with sounding brass and joyful song as a Shepherd makes his way from the fields accompanied by his sheep and oblong herd dog. Laurent has always insisted that the elongated pup is probably a dachshund and possibly modelled on Nicky.

When I first opened the book back in 2009 I was puzzled – there were Mary and Joseph with attendant ox and ass, angels and assorted folk in attitudes of adoration but I couldn’t find the baby. Then I pulled the star up in its slot and there he was – which is as it should be; the Bambino should never be revealed until Christmas Eve when the star appears. And I must say he is one of the happiest baby Jesus I have ever seen.

Perhaps in homage to the traditional Neapolitan presepe an old orange vendor is making his way to see the newborn Christ. Rather alarmingly he is joined by a little drummer boy who appears all set to serenade (?) the Holy Family.

Italian presepe are very much on a time line so like the Infant Jesus Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar are hidden until it is their turn to make their presence and presents known. On January 6th they will come out of their secret slot and canter their way up to the manager. The strange thing is that though there are three kings there appears to be only two horses???

Luzzati designed many giant persepe and they are a feature in squares and parks in many cities in Italy: Torino , his hometown of Genoa, and in 2009 at the Parco della Musica in Rome. The pop-up was based on a design he did for Torino in 1997 and it’s a shame more of his delightful characters could not make an appearance. However we will rejoice in those we do have and maybe, just maybe, some of the joy of Christmas they convey will help us get in the Yuletide spirit.

The word for December 16th is:
Non-event /ˌnänəˈvent/: [noun]
1.1 A disappointing or insignificant event or occasion, especially one that was expected or intended to be exciting or interesting.
1.2 A scheduled event that did not happen.
1957-58, non- “not, lack of,” or “sham,” from Old French non-, from Latin non “not, by no means, not at all, not a,” + event 1570s, “the consequence of anything” (as in in the event that); 1580s, “that which happens;” from French event, from Latin eventus “occurrence, accident, event, fortune, fate, lot, issue.”

Odds and Sods Around Our House

In the last post I mentioned a weakness I had back for buying sprees in the days when Neiman-Marcus and Horchow catalogues would appear in the post. Often it involved silly fripperies that would find their way under the Christmas tree or wrapped as a birthday present. For example: an antique silver brush to clean champagne flutes, a 24k gold-plated toothbrush with whisky and scotch flavoured toothpaste, or a toilet brush from a design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Hey don’t judge – they seemed like good ideas at the time!

This 24l gold plated toothbrush was listed in their “GIFTS UNDER $25.00” in 1980 – so I bought two. Laurent still has his.

But it wasn’t just small items. Oh no! Amongst other things we had tiki torches (nobody had them in those days), a hanging flower basket from Java, and two extremely esoteric tables delivered from the mother-lode in Texas to our door in Ottawa. The torches and basket have long since gone the way of all wicker but the past 40-odd years the two tables have graced living rooms in Ottawa, Aylmer and Charlottetown.

Back in the mid-1970s China was opening for trade with the United States. The good buyers from N-M and Horchow went mad scooping up the bargains to be had and selling them to those of us interesting in being on the cutting edge of interior design. Aside from the porcelain stools and pseudo-Ming vases one item caught my eye. It purported to be a “Chinese Wedding Box” from an undefined period. An octagonal box covered with lacquered calligraphy paper* it is made of a wood – perhaps cedar? – that has remained fragrant to this day.

The lock is an interesting piece of simple technology involving a brass carp, a thin brass strip, and an ingenuous metal spring.


Rather than trying to explain it I thought I’d do a short 20 second video to show how it works.

Though I question its authenticity as a wedding box the canny marketing text suggested that it would make a great side table. And indeed over the years it has!

The word for October 28th is:
Esoteric /ˌesəˈterik/: [adjective]
Intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.
Mid 17th century: from Greek esōterikos, from esōterō, comparative of esō ‘within’, from es, eis ‘into’.

*Though it was stated that the characters were wishes for health, wealth and happiness heaven only knows what it actually says. One N-M buyer was tricked into purchasing watches that had Chinese characters rather than our standard Arabic numbers. They were suppose to predict good fortune but when they appeared in the catalogue they heard back from a few highly amused customers who read Chinese. It actually said: “We shall take over America by force.” It was removed from sale.

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