Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year, or Can You Eat Too Much Sushi?

At last, something that even I could make, or me and my treadle sewing machine. I constructed Santa's stockings without any instructions; who would know that the stocking on the right wasn't an ingenious personal design? Some might even suppose the zig zag trim to have been sewn on upside down in a frenetic pre-Christmas frenzy...

Santa was very good and. God was good and gave us sunshine, apricots, whiting, prawns from Port Lincoln and fine wine from South Australia. Some smashing friends came and spent Boxing Day with us. The chaps fished (more Whiting) and the women and children read, lolled and got burnt on the beach.

Blighter Hal lost his first tooth; the Tooth Fairy followed the pixie dust and made it to the shack - and left him $2.
Now the Gent is away for New Year, and the blighters and I have indulged ourselves. Imogen and I had our first attempt at sushi. It was such a success that I now feel sick. Hal declined and ate some sausage rolls with good old tomato sauce. He is fast asleep. Im is reading.
I may not make it to midnight. We purchased some fabric to make covered pin boards today; it's just me, the canvas and a staple gun. Watch out!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Not Rudolph, but clearly one of Santa's reindeers. They are probably snoozing right now, preparing for their big dash around the world tonight.

We are at the shack, counting down the minutes (literally). Impending current excitement is a visit to Spog's Shed in Minlaton, where vintage Famous Five books can be bought for cents, not to mention broken guitars, shabby chairs and aluminium trunks.

The Gent is going fishing with his fishing buddy this afternoon,after raking all the pine needles and gum leaves out of the garden. This morning he plucked a whole bucket of fresh apricots from a burdened nearby tree, so we should dine will tonight.

Imogen and Hal are desperately hoping that 9 pm Mass will be cancelled tonight in order avoid any deviation from present worship. Crazy Gill's gifts arrived in very good time and look splendid in their wrapping under the tree. Kiwi Cousin's are also snuggled there. Oh, brother mine, I think your parcel has been delayed...

We decamped here on Sunday morning, after my big work function at (Clivv Pagg!) the Adelaide Cricket Oval! All went jolly well, and The BeatNIX, flown in from Sydney, were fantastic. Is it tragic to love the Beatles? It was compulsory listening in Earlswood Park as a child.

I am able to write this as Gent's new super status gives him a laptop with wireless connection. However, I was not prepared for this excitement, and thus have not brought my password for my regular email with me.

Fear not, dear readers! You can email me on

I shall supply you with more thrilling updates on Christmas Day.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dodgy Christmas Elf

The photo was taken just outside our shack (on the road, facing east, next to the now-cut wheat crop, the one that in sunshine, did look sublime).

You can’t quite see the delicious cruddiness of Hal’s self-chosen outfit; it’s finished by faded black shorts, stick thin legs, several bruises and cuts, and dark red Timberland boots. He insists on wearing the too-small Christmas hat at every available moment. Naturally, he looks very sweet. My neighbour, Jodie, thinks that Hal is a freckled piece of perfection, like Dickens’ Pip. A boy who never moans or grumbles. A skinny child, intelligent, dedicated to good manners and gentleman-like behaviour. He takes after his father...

We walked around the Bay. Imogen, despite being bossy (where does she get that from???) is terribly good to her little brother, and they play together tremendously well. The children bumped into Phoebe and her dog, Charlotte, The Best Dog On The Planet. She's a Jack Russel x Fox Terrier, and is our dream dog. I think we'd all have a dog like Charlotte, if she just fell into our laps. I simply can't face the puppy stage, but if we could find a short haired, sweet natured little canine, then we would welcome he or she into our ordered and very full lives.

It's been a busy time of late.

The usual: end of term (long winded end of year Mass, school trips for the Blighters: to bowling (imagine Hal! He got two strikes, mind you) and Madagascar II (Imogen, laughed like a drain).
The Absolute Gent and I had a rather decadent couple of evenings last weekend; two functions for his work.
First, the National Wine Centre of Australia for cocktails for Gent's work do. I rather like this building; created to look like a barrel, abutting heritage buildings and the Botanic gardens. I managed to squeeze into the smart cocktail dress I'd had made in Penang (remember, CG, the one you designed with the black bandeaux across the breast bone).
Then, the following night, a dinner at The Naval, Military and Air Force Club a hitherto unknown gem in Adelaide City. This is a delightful building, smothered in hand-made crested carpet, bejewelled with the clutter of fine antiques, and harking back to WWII at the earliest.
We had a delicious meal, shared with Gent's peers and spouses, with good conversation and vino! We stayed overnight (!) whilst the Boss' teenage daughters babysit our Blighters.
School is now over. Gent is almost finished work and will take on the domestic reins. I have this week left, which will include a number of staff functions and the usual end of year frenzy...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Presents, from the Fairies and Grandma

We couldn't find our Advent Calendar this year. The one with Santa presiding over 24 little pockets for the Fairies to fill, one each night.

Instead, the children made this Advent Box, covered in the material for my Bridesmaid's dress, and furnished with a handle supplied by Daddy, a stud from his Mess kit.

Each night, the Fairies leave a little treat...fairy dust, gold coins, lollies. Hal is hoping for DVDs and Matchbox cars!

I told him the Fairies are only small, and they don't like greedy children.

One of the good things about having family overseas is that their gifts arrive in the mail. Hal's birthday present arrived a little later than his actual day, providing nigh-on hysterical joy for the whole family.

Wrapped to perfection by David Jones, the box was deliciously enormous.

Brilliant, Grandma! This baby corners like it's on rails...and does great skids too.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Quangdong Decorations

News of the impending decorations has drawn enthusiasm from Sydney, England and possibly New Zealand.

After almost scorching ourselves with the hot glue gun, then asphyxiating ourselves with the silver spray, the children and I have made countless tiny silver things for the Christmas tree.

Hal is taking some to school tomorrow, for the classroom tree. Boy, Room 3 is lucky.

Below is the photo of the quangdong nuts in their natural state, and in the front, the new, turbo boosted silver plated version.

Call me crazy, but I'm not starting a small 'quangdong' business yet.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I'm about to wrap some Christmas presents.

Am I getting ahead of myself?

These are to send to Sydney for the Kiwi Cousins, along with a birthday present, so I sort of have an excuse.

I do love Christmas.

This weekend we are going to make decorations from pine cones and quangdong nuts. The latter are also known as native peaches and grow wild.

The Absolute Gent's father, George, adores pies made from them. Recently, we found a veritable orchard near the shack, and loaded our sun hats with the small, bright red fruit.

I divested them of the nuts and stewed the fruit, adding a generous helping of sugar.

And more sugar.

And quite a bit more.

They were still very, very bitter, with an aftertaste of bitter.

So we didn't eat the quangdongs, but we kept their nuts.

Imogen and Hal are very excited about the decorations. Hal has to take one to his beautiful teacher on Monday for the class tree. We met said lady at our local shops this evening. Hal proceeded to throttle himself as a means of overcoming his excitement/pleasure/embarrassment that his most loved teacher was before him, discussing cacti and carols (as you do).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hal is 6!

Hot Wheels. It doesn't get much better than this!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

I was keen to write about this film partly because of the incredible cinematography by Roger Deakins.

Unfortunately, these images don't do it any justice whatsoever.

The Assassination... has suffered criticism for being too long, too slow, too lacking in suspense. Yes, it is slow and long. But it is incredibly beautiful.

It is a film about hero worship, in all its ugly, misguided, scrabbling pathetic-ness, but it remains visually captivating. The capture of nineteenth century Missouri is bleak yet breathtaking.

One of my chief feeling of unease when watching the film is that I failed to care about anyone in it. Not Jesse James, nor Robert Ford.

And yet. And yet. The acting of Pitt and Affleck was superb.

Flawed, interesting and a must see for its aesthetic charms alone.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

We have been doing a minor bit of entertaining lately. Last weekend it was brunch for some long-owed 'return of invitations' guests. I love doing brunch - the cheat's way to entertain. We had sausages and bacon, roasted winter vegetables with rosemary, home baked bread and savory muffins, plus chocolate cake and a fruit platter.

It's easy to cater to all tastes, especially on the plonk - champagne for all, and orange juice for those not imbibing. The children had a similar menu outside and could grab and go in the garden, making for a more leisurely meal for the grown ups!

And yesterday was the Pirate Party Sleepover. It continues as I write this early Sunday morning! Hal is plaything to three very energetic girls!

Immy and Hal did all the decorating of the Pirate Cake. My cake making skills are like my sewing skills - full of good intentions, love doing it, rather mediocre results. But clag a whole lot of butter icing and some smarties on, and you're laughing.

During the birthday tea, Mother Earth gave us this delight - the end to a marvellous day.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Little Cutie

I'm sharing this teeny little row cottage (terraced to the Poms) that's for sale in the centre of Adelaide. I thought it was a tiny piece of genius; absolutely minuscule but beautifully realised. There are no windows on either side walls, and the long, narrow design means that the space would be rather dark and claustrophobic.

Although I would never recommend positioning rectangular pieces of furniture in rectangular spaces at an angle, I think this restrained room is elegant and simple.

The use of white as the predominant colour gives the illusion of more space, clean lines and lets the warm wood of fireplaces, floors and doors sing.

The kitchen is adorable. Classy, simple and very in keeping with the mood of the cottage and the whole interior.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sewing up the pirates

One of my little pleasures is sewing. At this point you might have visions of me whizzing up cocktail dresses and creating italian strung curtains.
Think again.
There are chaps who can't change car tyres or mow a lawn, and there are women who can't sew. I'm one of them.
I love to sew, and I love my 1930's Singer sewing machine (treddle). It lives at the shack, a place of calm and quiet. Despite hours of practice, however, I still sew wonky seams and struggle to create a perfect end product.
Last weekend, after purchasing some lovely (read SLIPPERY) red lining fabric and gold cord, I put together the treasure bags for Imogen's pirate party.
That sounds easy, doesn't it?
It took me two hours and I paid some fines to the Rude Words Jar.
Imogen and Hal are happy, however, and have filled them with the treasures for the Treasure Hunt next weekend.
Next task: designing the treasure hunt...

Friday, May 16, 2008


Usually, The Absolute Gent and I have a very different idea of funny. This week, however, we both liked the Weekend Australian Magazine's Victoria Roberts cartoon. What do you think?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Imogen's Birthday Party

Imogen is turning 9 in June.

She made this fantastic invitation for her two special friends, and in two weeks' time they will be arriving for a sleepover (pirate theme).

The agenda includes: tea and games (includes pirate ship cake), a girls' movie and then sleep. Well, it's meant to include sleep. I hope The Absolute Gent and I get some at some point.

There is much excitement building here!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

1930's Household Tips

The past is another country. They do things differently there. (L P Hartley: The Go Between)

The domestic history of the late Victorian, Edwardian and War years fascinates me. When my teenage friends were discovering New Order and blue mascara, I was visiting the kitchens of Cragside or riding the steam train at Beamish. (I grew up in the North of England).

I love old domestic manuals. This one, Selfridge's Household Encylclopaedia, was published in 1929 in London.

The fly sheet reads: Phyllis E King, London, 1930. I can see Phyllis reading this book, hair shingled, feeling the Autumn cold despite a cardigan (because the family wouldn't put the drawing room fire on until 5 pm at the earliest). She is engaged to be married (Samuel. A nice young man, if a little dull. Quite high up in a stevedore office on the Thames). She is reading the encyclopedia and trying to remember that to make fly papers she should take pieces of strong, thick paper, smear with treacle and scatter Persian powder over it. Except she won't be doing it. The housemaid she will engage after the wedding will see to details like that.

I bought the book here in Adelaide about ten years ago. Perhaps Phyllis and Samuel migrated here before the IIWW? Perhaps he, in an act of unparalleled adventure, suggested they sail out and stay with his Uncle Jim, who had arrived in the Twenties and was doing rather well for himself in Port Adelaide?
And the irony would have been that poor old Sam probably went back to Blighty to serve in a Naval frigate in 1941. I think he survived, though. Came home and saw Rosie, the chubby little girl born in his absence, and sister to the three older children: Ralph, Roy and Meg.
Phyllis, meanwhile, had little use for the etiquette surrounding garden parties (not quite the same in Adelaide, she found) that she'd read about in the encyclopedia in 1930. But the cure for flatulence (1 tsp bicarb in a tumbler of hot water) had relieved many an uncomfortable night. And there was never a housemaid. There was a Mrs P who came in to do the laundry once a week and an old man who did a bit of weeding in the Spring. But the rest was down to Phyllis.

Whilst I'm unfailingly philosophical about my own life's history being firmly behind me (as memory and events allow) I am constantly intrigued by the tiny details that ruled our predecessors lives.
Growing up in the 1970's, the shadow of the IIWW was still present in England. Almost obscured, yes, but still there, hazy, hanging on. Now, despite ANZAC day celebrations here in Australia, that day when we worship military history, it feels as though the Twentieth Century is fading quickly. I sense doors closing, secret gardens decaying and dust collecting on the top of glass cloches.
Those survivors of the early Twentieth Century are the ones who are fading. Their stories are being scattered, brittle in the clutches of time.
I hope Phyllis had a kitchen as lovely as this one. It's a make-over of an American 1930s kitchen, glossily new in bright white paint.
We can't bring all of the past with us. But we can collect a few of the crumbs.

ps: Despite my romantic teenage longing for things past, I still had time to love New Order.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Homage Table

Let me tell you: our current home is uuuuug-leeeeeeee. It's a rectangular brick box with zero character and rather nasty net curtains. It is a rental; one of the perks of The Absolute Gents' career.

Gosh, I thought when we found out that it was the only house available to us in the whole of Adelaide, talk about a sow's ear.

After 18 months there still isn't a great deal of silk to be found. We are not allowed to change the paint or curtains, or anything really.

But it's home. It really is. Red aluminium windows, flowery nets and the most revolting nylon carpet you could imagine (let's not talk about the 'I'm a slate floor on ice' lino floor covering 40% of the floor.) This is where we live and love, where we squabble and learn, where we share meals and rest our heads.

And it's where we gather small vestigages of our lives . Doesn't everyone? Don't we all have homage tables, or little corners where we set up a kind of alter to our thoughts and journey? A place to display our trinkets and our treasures, most importantly, a place for our memories to sit along side us?
My special spot has Chinese elm chairs from Penang, an Amercan oak pedestal table, lamps also from Penang and an oil painting of the Adelaide Hills that shows one of our previous houses.
Most importantly, there is a paper chain to count-down to Imogen's birthday, a mass of family photographs, dolls from India, lacquer bowl from Vietnam, papier mache painted eggs from the Middle East and a similar box from India. Some of them are precious gifts from dear friends or family.
They are the little detials that tie us to our past. Our journey. Our whims. The beautiful or odd things that matter.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ruhlmann Revisited

In my last post I considered Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann, a designer working almost 100 years ago in Paris, France. Contemporary copies of his work are available in the United States, underscoring the endurance of his design and style.
He has floated with me all week, and there are a few more images relating to Monsieur Ruhlmann that I'd like to share.
I don't believe it's easy to pick up a piece of Jacques-Emile at your local Adelaide thrift shop. This is a shame, as I have spent a fair bit of time looking and have consoled myself with naive Australian landscape paintings and cut glass compote dishes instead.
Nonetheless, some fortunate people have managed to come by the odd stick - European Fine Art Auctioneers are probably a better hunting ground - and one such collector has installed his early 20th Century furniture and objects in a French castle.
The romantic Chateau de Gourdon in Provence is a place you can visit (and stay, if you fancy one of the Gites) and where, incongruously enough, you can immerse yourself in both a 1620 French castle and Modernist Art.

I read about Gourdon in the British edition of House and Garden (November 2007), which I used to supply most of these photographs. The current owner of the property sounds as eccentric and glamorous as his castle; young, energetic and charming, apparently, and based in Milan. His father inherited Gourdon from a Miss Norris, an American who bought the place in the 1920s.
Do you recognise Ruhlmann's Colonnettes dressing table in the bedroom above? It is Macasser ebony with a plate glass top. See my last post for the copy Pollaro are making in the States today.

The bedroom above is furnished with pieces by Francis Jourdain.

In the dining room, a strong Mallet-Stevens lacquered dining table is balanced by delicate Eckart Muthesius glass furniture.

A Ruhlmann black lacquered sofa underpins The Archer, by Adriaan Joh van't Hoff, inspired by the 1926 Olympics. [Who says sport isn't political? Go Tibet, I say.]

On the whole, the juxtaposition of seventeenth and twentieth centuries works, although some of the more avant garde pieces are a little confronting.

As an end note, it recently struck me just how much Smallbone is currently referencing Ruhlmann's essence. Note the tapered chair legs and the cross banding on the cupboard doors. Their walnut and silver kitchens, too, echo his use of dark woods, graceful detailing and curves.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann

Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann was unboubtedly the star of the Exposition Internationale Des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Moderns, held in Paris in 1925, and from which the term Art Deco was born.

Which, as history marched on and Art Deco became more renowned as being the mother of the Modernist movement, is somewhat ironic. Ruhlmann had his roots in Art Nouveau, and was profoundly dedicated to quality, craftsmanship and the exclusivity of his so-called precious pieces. Modernism, influenced by the sometimes ambiguous principles of the Bauhaus movement, ultimately became dominated by a breed of designer dedicated to the production of mass produced, machine made items.

Ruhlmann, in an interview in 1920, stated: 'Only the very rich can pay for what is new and they alone can make it fashionable. Fashions don't start among the common people. Along with satisfying a desire for change, fashion's real purpose is to display wealth.'

Consequently, Ruhlmann created outstanding pieces of furniture with spectacular attention to detail, partucularly in his use of unusual woods. His favourite woods were Macassar ebony, Brazilian rosewood, and amboyna burl. He used the grain of the wood to echo and support the gentle lines of the furniture design. He liked to contrast the wood grain with small, delicate detail. For example, an ivory drawer pull or metal banding.

Ruhlmann made his money by running his deceased father's painting and contracting business, and lost his money by selling his exquisite furniture at a price lower than the cost to him to produce it.

There is an oriental influence in some of his designs; note the circular plate in the buffet below, a recurring theme in his work.

His interior schemes - he started an interiors business in 1919 with colleauge Pierre Laurent -are elegant, pared down, masculine spaces punctuated by sinuous, restrained curves. He specified gracious lighting, powerful prints and decorative mirrors.

Following his 1919 launch as an interior designer and fine furniture designer, Ruhlmann quickly became fashionable: architects, couturiers, manufacturers, parfumeurs...they all clamoured for an exclusive Ruhlmann piece.

Unfortunately, Ruhlmann's reign last only until his death in 1933. After he learned of his fatal illness, he planned for the finishing of the remaining commissions in his workshops and arranged for the dissolution of the company when all remaining work had been completed.

Contemporary American furniture manufacturer Pollaro is reproducing Ruhlmann designs for purchase today.
These exquisite pieces are faithful copies of the originals. Their website is fascinating and I have taken all these images from it.

Absolutely sublime dressing table. I would be happy to see myself growing old in that mirror!

Exquisite cabinets. Note the metal cross-banding and tassel handles.

These armchairs are a perflect blend of comfort and elegance.

This inlaid side table with drawers speaks of Ruhlmann's obsession with eighteenth century furniture design and craftsmanship.

Whilst it is necessary to distinguish between the kind of snobbery that seeks to exclude and control, we must never allow egalitarian principles to outlaw excellence. Society needs many kinds of tall poppies in order to show the majority ways in which to strive for higher objectives.