Odds and Sods Around Our House

Well 2022 has arrived and there is at least one long-standing item on my bucket list that has yet to be checked off: a trip from London to Venice on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express. Given the travel restrictions and the chances of me winning a lottery to pay the price they are asking for what amounts to a 28 hour trip, it is highly unlikely that there will be a check mark in that box this year.

Pierre Fix-Masseau’s poster for the collection of dinnerware, accessories and ephemera from the revived VSOE.

When I say long-standing we are talking a dream that started 40 years ago when James Sherwood revived the Venice Simplon Orient-Express as a deluxe train using restored stock from the golden age of European train travel. Sherwood recognized that there was a luxury market that saw the inter-war years as romantic and adventuresome and were willing to pay for the experience.

On May 25th 1982 the Venice Simplon Orient-Express departed Victoria station on the inaugural journey to Venice. The beautifully restored British Pullman took passengers through the English countryside to the Dover ferry dock, thence they headed across the, oft choppy, Channel by boat to catch the elegant Wagon-Lit vintage stock at Calais. Classic evening dress in the 1920s style was “highly” recommended and is still encourage to this day. A four course dinner with fine wines was served in one of the opulent dining cars – think Lalique panels and rare wood marquetry. The table was set with specially designed china, cutlery and glassware – even the flower vase bore the VSOE symbol.

Table setting on the VSOE in the 1980s-2000. Everything down to the flower vases were designed by craftsmen to reflect the 1920s.

Sherwood was a shrewd businessman; he knew that not everyone could afford the journey but many might want to own a part of it. So a VSOE Collection was created featuring the tableware, accessories, posters, and various items of decor. They – and bookings should you be so inclined – were available at a very posh shop on Regent Street.

Which brings us to the “odd” or “sod” around our house. Yes faithful reader I am finally getting to the reason for this post. Back in the 1970s-80s I made frequent trips to London for theatre, opera etc and on a trip in 1983 I stopped off at the VSOE shop on Regent Street. Though a booking was way beyond my budget I did come away with four wine glasses and a book, ostensibly written by Mrs Sherwood, about the history* and rebirth of this iconic train.

As there are only four we haven’t used them much over the past forty years but as both Christmas and Boxing Day dinners were table for four they came out of the china cabinet and onto the said festive table. One of our guests remarked how solid and comfortable they felt in the hand and deceptively heavy they were. Mrs Sherwood (?) explains that it was necessary to make them with heavily weighted bases to avoid spillage on the moving train. Now a “collector’s item”, they are often listed on e-commerce sites as being “crystal” however I question that. There is a visible seam and the tell-tale ring of crystal is not present. In the book it is not referred to as crystal but is called simply glassware. Nonetheless they have a sense of occasion and look elegant on the dining table. I only regret not splurging at the time on the champagne flutes. A quick search on Google suggests that they, like the voyage itself, are a touch pricey.

In keeping with the romance of the twenties Sherwood commissioned a series of advertising posters from Pierre Fix-Masseau, a well-known artist of the Art Deco period. Both he and his father, a famous sculptor, had the same name and a quick biographical search brings up details on the father but nothing other than tombstone data (1902-1988) on the son. His poster designs were available as part of the Collection and I do recall seeing them in several homes and trendy spots during the 80s and 90s.

Well this little journey down memory lane has me thinking that maybe I should consider selling my firstborn and get that box checked off!

*The history of the Orient Express is complicated one as there was never one definitive “Orient Express”. The Man in Seat 61 does a good job of summing up the story behind this iconic train here.

The word for January 4th is:
Nonetheless (None the less) /ˌnənT͟Həˈles/: [adverb]
In spite of that; nevertheless.
First appeared in 1839 as none the less; contracted circa 1930.
None: from the Middle English non or none from the Old English nan. This comes from no meaning not, and an meaning one.
Less: from the Old English læs meaning less, smaller or fewer.

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