Monday, November 30, 2009

You're a good man, Charlie Brown

I have a couple of reasons not to be a big fan of Christmas. Key amongst them is the crass commercialism, the idea that somehow you can buy happiness, you can buy love, if only you will get into our store right now and buy, buy, buy this special Christmas gift-pack for your loved one...but if anything is going to restore a bit of genuine Christmas feeling (for me at least) it has got to be this very, very sweet clip from 1965's "A Charlie Brown Christmas". Charlie Brown - a boy after my own heart. So, as the Advent season begins, enjoy :)

Friday, November 27, 2009

The rule of threes...

A little bit of Q&A fun to round off the week...

Three jobs I have had in my life:

1. Selling tickets at an historic jail (I hasten to add the jail no longer had any inmates)

2. Teaching German history

3. Typing classified advertisements for a newspaper

Three favourite drinks:

1. Milk coffee

2. Really cold orange juice (with the orangey bits still in it)

3. Gin, soda water and elderflower cordial

Three TV shows I watch:

1. Mad Men (didn't know that, did you?)

2. Ghost Whisperer

3. Kommissar Rex

Three places I have been:

1. Vietnam

2. France

3. England

People who email me regularly:

1. My DH

2. My dear friend, Bodecea

3. Another dear friend, KB

Three favourite foods:

1. Chocolate - preferably a Mars Bar but I am not fussy :)

2. Light rye toast with peanut butter

3. Good, crunchy apples

Three things I am looking forward to:

1. Travelling next year

2. Renovating our house over the summer

3. Working out the next bit of the puzzle

Want to play along?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Small and random observations

Vintage tropical birds from

A still from "300" courtesy of

Three small and random observations today. First, we are in the midst of some very tropical weather. It's humid rather than hot (only 26 degrees), there is a strange, expectant quality to the still air and I can hear the rumblings of a storm in the distance... We have certainly been on something of a magical mystery tour weather-wise here of late. I'm not sure how anyone can still be sceptical about global warming...

Certainly the dramatic weather suits the film "300". It was on tv here last night. Although there was much about it that was both comical and offensive at the same time (quite a feat) - and it is of course very violent - it also had an extraordinarily mesmerising quality to it, shot as it was in monochrome - be it black (almost blue) and white or sepia with touches of red. And I am always a sucker for tales told on a grand (and I mean grand) scale. As with Gladiator, it drew me into the Classical World about which I know so little but which transfixes me whenever I see films like this one. If anyone has seen it, what did you think? I don't know whether I loved it, hated it or should ask for the DVD for Christmas to think about it some more...

And speaking of Christmas, I know it is a perennial complaint but can I just say: IT IS STILL NOVEMBER! Already I have seen Christmas trees going up in people's front windows and the
exteriors of houses being bedecked with Christmas lights. Why do people do this? Is it a case of commercial brainwashing gone mad or is Christmas genuinely something that people really look forward to, a bright spot in the year? Perhaps you love Christmas with this sort of anticipation? Perhaps I am just an old Scrooge...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Retro Renovating

I think I may have mentioned before that we live in my grandparents' old house. Both of my grandparents have died and so it has come to us. The housing market being what it is, it's a tremendous boon since the house is closer to the city than we could afford to buy if we had just been looking on the market like everyone else. So, I am grateful indeed for that. And, of course, it is home to a lot of happy memories. But...
It. is. so. small.
Now, I am not looking to live in a mansion. And we don't have any children as yet so it is just the two of us. But it is a five room house. Five rooms. Count 'em. Five. And small rooms at that. We've lived in bigger apartments. Living room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, study. The study could be a second bedroom if it had to be. In fact it was when my father was still living at home with my grandparents (how they all managed here in this tiny space I don't know!). All I would really like is another two rooms - that's it. No grand extensions. Just a dedicated study/den and a second bedroom. Of late, the issue has really started to bother me. I spend a lot of my time working from home and the walls started to close in a little. "I hate it!", "Why can't we move?" etc., etc. My DH pointed out all the sensible arguments as to why there was 1. No reason to hate the house and 2. Not much would be achieved by the horror that is moving. But now I am starting to come around to a calmer way of thinking about it and this is how I've managed it (not solely from sensible arguments, I have to admit...) - I have a plan. Indeed, I have a cunning plan (sorry - irresistable urge to steal a line from Blackadder's Baldrick there). I have decided to work with the house instead of fighting against it. It was built in 1948 and the kitchen especially speaks of this. So, let's go retro. Let's celebrate the house's uniqueness. This is not to say, though, that I want to turn it into a museum. Let's improve it, update what needs to be updated (paint, fittings etc.) but let's do it with a retro eye. Because you know how I love thrifting and retro stuff in general, so why not go with that theme? First stop, then - the kitchen, which I will repaint white and pick out details (cupboard doors etc.) in red, to match the original red counter tops and my grandfather's painfully constructed red-laminex-topped kitchen table. I'll keep you posted on the great Feronia renovation of Summer '09. And that extension will come in due time...

PS Amazing how many people go with red and white when they retro-ise their kitchens! See above, courtesy of Google Images.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Random 5

(5.) Raffles Hotel, Singapore, photo courtesy of

(5.) Shibuya, Tokyo, photo courtesy of me

(5.) The Black Forest, photo courtesy of

(4.) Photo courtesy of

(3.) The Mad Men girls, photo courtesy of

(2.) Photo courtesy of

(1.) The living room at 1164 Morning Glory Circle, photo courtesy of

(1.) I would be very happy if my living room looked like this (the living room from Bewitched) or (2.) This.
(3.) I am developing a real penchant for clothes like this. Especially the full skirts. But how to wear them without looking like (a) a lunatic (b) I am in costume? The problem may be solved by the fact that my waist will never be small enough for the vintage dresses which always seem to be for sale on Etsy and the fact that I cannot sew (that well).
(4.) Gin, soda water and elderflower cordial is a very nice summer drink. And before you start to wonder where I'm going with that...chilled orange juice is also delicious :)
(5.) I need a holiday! Here beckons (as always), as does here (ditto) and also here.
How about you? What's your 'Random 5' this week?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pretty in Pink

And while on the subject of innocence and possibility but on a slightly lighter note, I have to say that I feel much the same way about the 80s, but that could just be because I grew up then. Looking back, people wore some horrendously hideous clothes but they did so - in my view -with aplomb and joie de vivre. Hot pink ankle socks, stripy bubble skirts, big bows in their hair...and hey, that's just a selection from my 80s wardrobe! The BBC's Ashes to Ashes captures this brilliantly with Alex Drake now, in the second season, finally managing to wear her early-80s garb less like a costume and more like she considers it to be fashionable and smart.

The 80s revival that I see worn by 'the kids of today' is just not the same - as with all pop culture 'revivals', it's too studied, too knowing - and leaves out too much of the truly horrible! If The Go-Gos singing "Our Lips are Sealed" doesn't jog your memory or at least give you the gist of what I'm talking about, then you were so totally like not even there at the time :)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Robert Kennedy - photo courtesy of
Pete Seeger (right) with Bob Dylan - photo courtesy of the Austin Chronicle website

Peter, Paul and Mary - photo courtesy of

Joan Baez - photo coutesy of the BBC website

We have bought the DVDs of the second season of Mad Men. Now, if you're a regular reader here, you'll know that I am pretty near obsessed with this show. And being the deep thinker (some would say over-analyser) that I am, I have been asking myself: why? Why do I love this show so much? Yes, the clothes are beautiful. Yes, the sets are mesmerising in their period detail. Yes, the plots are thoroughly engaging. But is there something else? And then I realised - yes, there is. Innocence. If you know the show, you may well laugh at this juncture. Innocence? In that hot-bed of extra-marital activity of an advertising agency, Sterling Cooper? Are you kidding? Are you even watching the right show? But what I mean is, the overall innocence of the era. Hey, I am no fool. I am well aware that people throughout time are people. They have good motivations and they have thoroughly awful motivations. Sometimes in equal measure. But when I think of the early to mid 1960s, I think of it as an era of innocence, when Western society as a whole (and that is all I can really vouch for) believed that things were possible. I'm sure there are a million holes that you could poke in that argument. This idea was informed initially by what my mother has said about the era: "People believed in things. We thought we could change things." Now, my mother was no radical and neither am I. I am notorious, in fact, for not having strong opinions on matters political. But I love the idea that people thought things were possible. Folk music of the era spoke of it especially. People like Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary and Pete Seeger. Music, thanks to my Mum, that I was raised on.

Lately too, on this same theme, I have become fascinated by the story of Robert Kennedy, JFK's brother. And before I go any further, I know all about the stories of the Kennedys. The philandering, the extra-marital affairs, the apparently appalling attitude towards women. And I don't condone that for one second. But, recently, watching a documentary about Robert Kennedy, I was very interested to learn of the change he went through after his brother's assassination, how tragedy and absolute sorrow nearly broke him. But eventually, it didn't. He didn't live imbibed with hatred. His social policies, in fact, suggest the complete opposite. I love this quote of his from 1968:

"My favourite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote: "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

To me, it suggests that growth - not destruction - can come through pain and life's sometimes profound hardships. There is not always the easy fix which we sometimes seem to look for today, but solutions will come.

Do you agree with me? Do you think that more than anything we are blighted by cynicism now? Or are we, as Kennedy began to suggest, learning from all that's happened worldwide since the 1960s - as painful as much of it has been - to emerge in a better condition when all is said and done?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Little corners

I am re-reading Quartet in Autumn by my all-time favourite author, Barbara Pym. I found a copy quite by chance at an op-shop this week and I just couldn't leave it to languish on the shelves, even though I already have a copy! Although Pym has quite a following, there are also a lot of people who just don't get her books, as I discovered while net surfing through some reviews... Even my mother - who is an ardent reader - exclaimed "But nothing happens!" when I tried to get her into Pym. And it is this very thing that I love about her writing. She writes about individuals quietly leading ordinary lives. They make cups of tea. They worry about giving the appropriate amount of coinage to a girl rattling a charity tin at the railway station. They fret about social gaffes. They have things on toast for dinner. No-one scales mountains. No-one is murdered. No-one has affairs. No-one scales the ladder of corporate success. They simply live, and make as much of every day and the everyday as they can. Above all else, I love Barbara Pym for depicting people who would otherwise be deemed as being of little interest - those people just eeking out their little corner of the world.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


The Ektorp, courtesy of

We need a new couch. Our current couch was new circa 1975 and it belonged to my mother-in-law. Sadly, it is not retro chic. It is brown. With beige stripes. And it is made of a peculiar, nubby, thoroughly unidentifiable fabric. But for all this, it has served us well ever since we set up home together. And it's a good length so you can stretch out very comfortably for a post-dinner snooze. But its time has come. Its cushions have become flat and depleted and there's no getting away from the fact that it's just plain ugly.

So it's simple, right? Go out, find the one you like, buy it, bring it home, sit on it. No. Not. So. Simple. We went to Ikea on Sunday and also Freedom, another furniture store which we have here in Australia. Now, having done my Net research, my plan was to go in, buy a 2-seater 'Ektorp' at Ikea in a suitably goes-with-anything colour which wouldn't show every little mark and get out. But then we sat down on an 'Ektorp' stationed near the door. "What do you think?", "I don't know, what do you think?", "Is it comfortable?", "Let's try the 3-seater", "Oh, they have a 2.5 seater", "What about the 'Beddinge'?", "Oh no, it's a sofa-bed", "That one's too expensive", "Well, that one looks a bit wonky"...and so on and so on until we'd walked through the entire store and bought a wreath for the door, a scented candle, a jar of Lingonberry jam and a bottle of Elderflower cordial but no couch. Then my DH said "Let's go to Freedom..." and the whole process began again...

Having had my memory jogged by Crazy Aunt Purl's latest blog to tell my Ikea-and-the-couch story, I will now take up another of her themes and express my dislike of self-checkouts at the supermarket. We have used them a couple of times lately and they are really quite useless in my view. Every time we have ended up having to call for help when the machine decided we'd done something it didn't like the look of and terminated our transaction. So, remind me, how is this saving my time and the supermarket's workforce (and, more importantly, money)? Aside from this, though, it is just another way of disassociating people. Soon, there'll be no need to interact with other people at all. For some this may be a good thing, but for me, I think it's rather nice to say 'hello' to a number of people as I go through my day. Obviously, these are not hugely significant interactions but just for a moment it takes you out of your bubble, that little space you hum along in where you and yours are number one. How bizarre supermarkets today would be to the shopper of the 1920s or 1930s. My grandmother would often recount tales of going to the butcher for this, going to the grocer for you grab something wrapped in plastic off the shelf and swipe it through a machine without having to talk to another soul. My DH is all for this brave-new-world streamlining and perhaps it will prove to have its merits one day - when we cannot remember it being any other way.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Treasures from the Thrift Store

"Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us."
- Oscar Wilde.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Out of the midday sun

Image courtesy of

We are in the middle of an early hot spell at the moment. Since late last week it has been 30 degrees plus and it doesn't look like abating until Sunday at the earliest. Now, I'm going to be honest with you - I hate hot weather. For someone who has lived in Australia from birth, I am no beach-bronzed sun-lover. No. I burn in the sun. I get heat rashes. My hair frizzes. In short, as you can tell, during summer I look and feel an absolute treat. But having just read Jane's entry about winter at, I have similarly decided to take a different view of summer. Slip into a bit of a 'colonial' mode, if you will - and I mean this strictly in an aesthetic sense and without the ugly racism, of course. Close the curtains and lower the blinds during the day, thereby subduing the house into darkness. Sit outside in the cool of the evening and read a book. Try to move slowly in the heat. We have just had ceiling fans installed so this should enhance the mood! In other words, I am going to try to work with the season instead of fighting it. Think of me tonight reading A Passage to India in the backyard as the ice cubes clink in my glass!

To get a sense of what I mean, just have a look at the cooling and calming Indian verandah above and also this lovely link:

Monday, November 9, 2009

An ephemeral start to the week...

" Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck." - the Dalai Lama.

"The unknown is what it is. And to be frightened of it is what sends everybody scurrying around chasing dreams, illusions, wars, peace, love, hate, all that. Unknown is what it is. Accept that it's unknown and it's plain sailing." - John Lennon.

"There are two types of women in this world - ones who like chocolate and complete bitches." - Dawn French (sorry if you don't like chocolate - I'm sure she's not referring to you :) )

Some more from my little blue folder of ephemera...three beautiful postcards from Tokyo's National Science Museum (which took on an interesting sepia tone when photographed in the hot afternoon sun) and three random, clipped-out quotes...

Friday, November 6, 2009


Image of the Madonna courtesy of

The problem with paring down is, of course, where to put everything. This is an especial problem for the inveterate collector, that is: me. I collect everything. When we go on holidays I keep train tickets, boarding passes, amusing wrappings off chocolate bars, serviettes at restaurants, newspaper clippings. And then I don't want to throw anything out because it reminds me of being there. "That wrapper was from those chocolates we bought in Tokyo!", "That was the train ticket from the day we went out to Versailles!" etc., etc. So it came as no surprise when sorting through my study yesterday to find a manila folder marked rather grandly: 'Ephemera'. I thought it might be fun for the next couple of days to sort through it and see just what this human bower bird picks up and drags back to her nest...

First up then are bits and pieces from our visit to the Museum of Russian Art at Minneapolis ( So beautiful but you could overlook it if you weren't making your way around 'the Twin Cities' reasonably carefully. Housed in what looked to be an old, Spanish-mission style church, it was showing an exhibition of sacred art when we were there last October. I am undecided on questions of faith but I find enormous peace in looking at Russian Orthodox icon paintings. Perhaps it's the colours used, or the expressions on those holy faces, I'm not sure. The little icon I bought did not photograph too well for some unknown reason so instead I post two other lovely ones above (the detail of the Archangel Gabriel painted by Semion Fedorovitch Ouchakov is from a print I have at home and photographed myself).
There were also other, more recent examples of Russian art at the Museum and I love that the women depicted in Konstantin G. Doroknov's "September" (above) are sorting through the cabbages. No reclining in salons for these ladies. Perhaps there's a little bit of Soviet Realism at work but I love those everyday details - the cabbages, their aprons, the kitchen. I have included two details from the painting which I photographed myself, since I couldn't find Dorokhov online.
Are you a collector on holiday?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Preparing for Summer

Image courtesy of

As a part of our home improvements week, we're ordering some Japanese Noren curtains for our front porch. There's no point putting in another door as such, because it leads in a very short step straight to the front door, but I'm hoping to make this little space just a bit cooler during the coming summer months. I also want to make it more of an 'anteroom' rather than being so much an extension of the outside space as you come in from the front garden so some dreamy, floating Noren curtains seemed like the answer. And once again through the wonder that is the Internet, I have found a local shop which will make them to custom fit our slightly irregularly shaped doorway. They will fit across more of the doorway than those pictured above, and with a little more emphasis on the practical rather than the purely decrorative, but I think it'll work out to be a nice solution. I like to see the house make these seasonal changes - it seems like more of an organic being that way!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

On a break

Hello! Good to be back in the Wood after a couple of days absence. We have had an unofficial long weekend here, since the Melbourne Cup was run yesterday (which somehow extends into a four-day weekend for everyone!?) and my Fellow Traveller has also taken the week off from work so I have been away from the desk and working instead on a number of around-the-house projects which have been crying out for attention for some time. So, we now have a lovely new rug in the living room, we are in the midst of a major find-a-storage-place-for-it-or-throw-it-out drive, the fly screens for the windows and the water tanks have been sorted out in preparation for summer and we are getting the washing machine and a couple of electrical jobs fixed after a lot of procrastination (and darkness!). Very industrious indeed.

But you've got to have some fun too, right? So, today we set out for the nearby Yarra Ranges. We had a beautiful, beautiful lunch at Sweetwater Cafe at the Yering Winery. I highly recommend it if you're ever in the area (I would've snapped my thoroughly yummy risotto for you but I forgot my camera...) and then we headed on to Badger's Weir for a walk through the fern fronds. So peaceful. And we were delightfully surprised when we got back to our car to find the area populated by about twenty rosellas, a wallaby, a cockatoo and a couple of currawongs... Above are a few photos which my DH took with his mobile - one from the balcony of the Cafe looking towards the Yarra Ranges, the fern fronds and ghost gums on our walk and a wallaby wondering just why we were following him...