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

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

One of the sad facts that my generation has to face is that few people want any of the nick-knacks that we have acquired over the years. There is no market for chinaware, silver or crystal; those six sets of candle sticks or Iranian carpets will find very few buyers at the consignment auction; and who uses linen table cloths and napkins now? For many of us the contents of our china cabinets will merely be items at some garage or charity sale. I say that with perhaps a sense of melancholy but certainly no bitterness of scorn. Time passes and tastes change. But in the meantime let’s celebrate and enjoy those things we treasure – and perhaps more importantly use them.

This pressed glass dish was in my mother’s china cabinet for as long as I can remember. Where she got it or who may have given it to her I’ll never know. As a kid I was always fascinated by the colours that appeared in certain lights almost like a prism. We use it today as a candy dish at Christmas or Easter though one Christmas it was filled with miniature sugar plums as part of a centrepiece.

This glass cup is 121 years old and according to what I was told was given to my father on his first Christmas. There is a slight problem with that: my father was born on March 19th 1902 according to his Birth Certificate but the cup is engraved 1901?? It is a bit of a mystery – much like the train conductor’s watch I wrote about previously.

The word for March 4th is:
Pressed glass: /prɛst ɡlɑːs/: [compound noun]
A form of glass made by pressing molten glass into a mold using a plunger. It was first patented by American inventor John P. Bakewell in 1825 to make knobs for furniture.

Odds and Sods Around Our House

Over at Larry Muffin Laurent wrote a bit, as he often does, about the cooking I’ve been doing over the past week or two. He mentioned that I watch Glen and Friends on YouTube and do try a good deal of his suggested recipes. Over the past few years I have made everything from his Brown Bread Whisky Ice Cream (incredible) to Mrs Beeton’s homemade tomato soup. That last one I made only this past week and it was so easy and good that I am making a batch and freezing it to have on hand for those cold stormy nights when comfort food is a must.

But as well as recipes Glen has a wealth of facts, history and anecdotes about food and its evolution. Did you know there is a difference between an American cup (240 ml) and a Canadian cup (250 ml) and that applies to teaspoons, tablespoons etc? Or what the temperature of a moderate or hot oven would be? I didn’t until Glen explained it. His Sunday morning “Old Cookbook” show is a must see at our house – even before the New York Times Spelling Bee is tackled! He also has an intriguing battery of kitchen equipment and gadgets including this handy little item that I decided to splurge on last week:

“So what the hell is it?” asks my faithful reader. It’s an adjustable measuring cup. “And you would need this, why?” comes the riposte*. Well I don’t know about you but, as an example, should I be making peanut butter cookies one of the big problems is getting the full measure of sticky peanut butter out of a standard measuring cup. And this little toy makes it easy for any “solid” ingredients to be measured and dispensed accurately. The plunger is set at the desired measurement up to 2 cups; the ingredient – crème fraîche, sour cream, molasses – is poured in; the plunger is twisted down: et voilà! There is very little wastage and it cleans easily. They do say it can go in the dishwasher but for something like that I prefer to (have Laurent) hand-wash it.

As with any new toy I’m eagerly awaiting the chance to play with it. So I’m thinking peanut butter cookies this weekend?

The word for January 14th is:
Riposte /rəˈpōst/: [1. noun 2. verb]
1.1 A quick, clever reply to an insult or criticism.
1.2 A quick return thrust following a parry in fencing.
2.1 To make a quick, clever reply to an insult or criticism.
2.2 To make a quick return thrust in fencing.
Early 18th century: from French risposte (noun), risposter (verb), from Italian risposta ‘response’.
*Okay, I know the previous sentence wasn’t an insult or criticism but I think its a great word and it conveyed the idea of a quick judgmental response. Okay I’ve used it incorrectly – so sue me! Now how’s that for a riposte???

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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