Saturday, February 12, 2011

At the Music Hall: The Interfering Parrot, 1896

A parrot once resided in a pretty gilded cage
Sarcastic was his temper and uncertain was his age
He knew that two canaries had apartments overhead
Who’d only very recently been wed.
He kept an eye on all that they were doing,
An interfering parrot in a nasty frame of mind…
And vowed he’d stop their billing and their cooing,
Which really was exceedingly unkind,
Exceedingly unkind.

In April of 1896, The Geisha premiered at Daly’s Theatre in London. The two-act musical comedy (considered Edwardian by most, but technically, late Victorian) featured music by Sidney Jones with a Libretto by Owen Hall. The play was meant to be light and breezy and to achieve that end, the songs were kept relatively brief and upbeat.

The story concerns the love of a woman, Molly and her unfaithful fiancé who is seduced by a geisha. The play was such a success that it opened abroad and had a tremendously popular run in New York. One of the longest running musicals in English theater history, long after the official production closed, The Geisha continued to be performed by amateur theatrical groups well into the 1960’s.

One of the most popular songs from the show occurs in the second act. “Molly’s Song” also known as “The Interfering Parrot” is a moral tale with humorous consequences. Take a listen, it’s really wonderful.

Painting of the day: Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee

"God Save the Queen"
Queen Victoria Arriving At St. Paul's Cathedral
on the Occasion of the Diamond Jubilee
Thanksgiving Service, 22nd June, 1897
Painted by John Charlton, 1899
The Royal Collection
In 1897, four years before her death, Queen Victoria celebrated her diamond jubilee. For the occasion, she made rare public appearances, most notably at the Thanksgiving Service in her honor at St. Paul's Cathedral.

Though she infrequently appeared in public after the death of Prince Albert, she seemed to enjoy the celebrations in her honor. In 1899, she commissioned this painting which recreates her ceremonial arrival at the cathedral. The painting by John Charlton shows the epic scale of the event.

The Art of Play: The Duke and Duchess of York Having a Tea Party with Princess Elizabeth, 1929

The Duke and Duchess of York
with Princess Elizabeth, 1929
Marcus Adams
The Royal Collection
Long before his father died and his pesky brother abdicated, the Duke Of York had no idea that he would become King George VI nor that his eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, would one day be Queen Elizabeth II. In the late 1920’s, they really endeavored to be a somewhat normal family along with his wife, Elizabeth, and their second daughter, Margaret.

Caught here in a candid moment at The Children’s Studio, we can see the Duke and Duchess of York enjoying a tea-party with a three-year old Princess Elizabeth and an array of toys. The image was captured by their favorite photographer, Marcus Adams.

Saturday Sparkle: Queen Alexandra’s Diamond and Gold Bracelet

A Gold Bracelet with a Diamond and Enamel Buckle
Garrard & Co., 1830
The Royal Collection
This beautiful bracelet of gold, diamonds and cobalt blue enamel appears to be a marriage of several older pieces of jewelry which were assembled by the Royal jewelers at Garrard & Co. The centerpiece of the bracelet is an enamel buckle set with diamonds forming a pattern of ostrich feathers--the symbol of The Prince of Wales—and appears to date to the time of King William IV--Queen Victoria's predecessor.

The finished bracelet was a gift to Princess Alexandra of Denmark from the Duke of Cambridge, Queen Victoria's first cousin and nephew of King William IV. The bracelet likely symbolized Alexandra's marriage to the Prince of Wales, long before they would become King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 169

Drops of sweat darkened Iolanthe’s violet silk dressing gown as she frantically tore apart he bedroom. “Where is it?” She screamed.

Mala came rushing into the room.

“Whatever is happening, Miss?” Mala groaned in her nasal whine.

“She took it!” Iolanthe shouted manically. “That thieving…”

“What?” Mala asked.

“Our future, Mala. Our future!” Iolanthe growled.

Meanwhile, on Royal Street, tucked away in her bedroom with Arthur, Ulrika Rittenhouse rolled over onto the bed next to her lover and held the diamond high above their heads.

“How’d you get it, Pet?” Arthur scrambled to get dressed. “How’d you do it?”

“While we were there last night,” Ulrika grinned, “I planned my route. Don’t you remember when Iolanthe and Marie were bickering? Remember how I was pacing around the room?”

“Yes, I thought you were being impatient.”

“I was being clever!” Ulrika laughed. “The old fool left her jewel case on her vanity. The diamond was just inside.” She howled with delight. “This morning, while she was sleeping, I simply slipped into the servants’ entrance, walked into her room and took it! You’d think she’d have been more creative in her hiding place. But, her enormous pride is her downfall! She thinks she’s invincible. How wrong she is!”

“She’ll know you took it, Pet.” Arthur said, pulling his boots on. “She’ll be out for revenge.”

“Let her try,” Ulrika winked. “I’m ready for anything.”

At that very moment, further up the Royal Street, Robert gently put his hand on Julian’s shoulder. “You need to remain calm, dear Mr. Punch.”

“You gotta help me, Chum.”

“That’s just what I aim to do.” Robert smiled. “You’re still feverish, and you’re still in a great deal of pain. Let’s not forget, you’ve just suffered a terrible gunshot wound.”

“We saw Naasir.” Mr. Punch said wildly.

“Did you?” Robert asked. “Were you aware when he was in here last night?”

“No, he was in here.” Mr. Punch pointed to Julian’s chest as he tried to sit up, gently moving the dog who still slumbered on Julian’s stomach.

“Naasir is at peace now.” Robert said softly.

“I know.” Mr. Punch whispered.

“What did you mean when you said he left you a present?” Robert asked.

“A key.” Mr. Punch answered.

“Key?” Robert said, looking around. “I don’t see a key.”

“No.” Punch coughed. “Inside us. A key that only we can have.”

“What does the key open?” Robert asked, slightly confused.

“The lock to the things what I been tryin’ to keep from me master all these years.”

“Perhaps Naasir thought it was time for Julian to find those things.” Robert answered.

“But, it ain’t!” Mr. Punch moaned. “He ain’t ready!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes!” Punch said loudly.


“No, no, Chum!” Punch said quickly. “You got to help me make sure he never remembers!”

Did you miss Chapters 1-168? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, February 14, 2011 for Chapter 170 of Punch’s Cousin.

Goal for the Day: See the Positive

It’s easy to find things to complain about. However, it takes more courage to find the positive in situations. We’re wired to always find the negative first. Very often, the first thoughts we recognize are feelings of discomfort and inconvenience. However, most circumstances aren’t quite as bad as we initially think.

Try to keep your cool and find ways of coping with every situation. Approach each challenge calmly and try to focus on a good outcome as opposed to a temporary discomfort.

Object of the Day: A Souvenir of the Coronation of Edward VI, 1902

Though Britain was in mourning after the death of Queen Victoria, the turn of the Twentieth Century signaled a hopeful period of change and exciting developments. The British people looked to King Edward VII to pick up where his mother left off, but also to guide them into a new century.

On August 9, 1902, King Edward VII was crowned at Westminster Abbey along with is wife, Queen Alexandra. An expectant nation looked on with anticipation and celebrated by collecting souvenir items such as this china mug which bears the faces of the new King and Queen. Beneath their portraits, a ribbon spells out the motto of the British Monarchy, “Dieu et mon droit” literally meaning, “God and My Right,” referring to the belief of the divine right of kings.

This cup is unique. I’ve never seen one with this fluted shape before. It’s an interesting souvenir of an important historic event.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mr. Punch in the Arts: An Eighteenth Century Italian Pulcinello

Pulcinello Performer
Carlo Lasinio
As we know, our Mr. Punch is a close relative to Italy’s Pulcinello. While the two characters aren’t identical, they’re clearly related and have the same sawdust running through their veins (God love puppet humor). In this Italian painting from 1780 by Florentine painter Carlo Lasinio, we can get a sense of Punch’s transformation.

The figure shown in this painting is more “Punch” than he is Pulcinello. Though the costume is Pulcinello’s traditional white robe, the face is clearly that of Mr. Punch. By this point (as of 1662, in fact), Pulcinello shows were being performed in Britain as Punchinello, (shortened to Punch) and had already begun to take on the form we know today. During the Eighteenth Century, Punch was still a marionette. The figure shown in this Italian painting is a glove-puppet. So, again, we see some evolutionary puppet stuff going on. It’s hard to say who is influencing whom here. The puppet’s Punch-like face may be an influence of the British on the Italian, and the glove-figure may be the future influence of the Italian on the British. Regardless, it’s all related, and I think this a charming painting.

Pets of the Belle Époque: The Companions of Frederica, Duchess of York, 1820

Frederica, Duchess of York
With a Dog and a Monkey
1820, Unknown Painter after Hüet-Villiers
Miniature: Watercolor on Ivory
The Royal Collection
The second daughter of Frederick William II of Prussia, Frederica, the Princess Royal of Prussia, married the second son of King George III, Frederick, Duke of York. Their marriage was beset by scandal—particularly one involving the Duke’s mistress which caused him to have to resign his posh military post.

Owing in large part to the fact that her marriage was strained, Frederica preferred to be by herself and spent most of her life in seclusion in their country house in Surrey. Though not a fan of people, Frederica did enjoy the company of her animals and surrounded herself with many dogs, and, as one does, a monkey.

This gorgeous portrait of the Duchess of York is a miniature on ivory styled after a larger painting by Jean-François-Marie Hüet-Villiers. We see the Duchess looking rather dour, but lovely, contentedly sitting with a canine and a simian friend.

This miniature came into the Royal Collection in 1910.

Friday Fun: Funeral March for a Marionette

COFA Productions
When most of us hear Gounod’s “Funeral March for a Marionette,” we usually think of Alfred Hitchcock who used the well-known piece of music as his theme song for many years.  However, film-maker Eric Fonseca gives us some other visuals to go with the haunting melody with this lovely stop-motion short film.

Antique Image of the Day: Prince Albert’s Jägers and Beaters, 1852

Prince Albert's Two Jägers:
MacDonald and Cowley,
With the Prince's Head Keeper, Turner
and Some of the Other Keepers and Beaters
Daguerrotype by Theodore Brunell, 1852
The Royal Collection
Though there was a natural distance between the household staff and the Royal Family, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert took a healthy interest in their employees as well as their families. Certainly, they were not considered equals, but the Queen and Prince considered their staff to be valued human beings and showed a genuine concern for their well-being. In fact, they showed a particular affection for several staff members. After her death, a photo album was discovered among Queen Victoria’s possessions which showed that she kept portraits of the staff and their families as mementos. It is well documented that Prince Albert and Queen Victoria often invited cherished household employees to be photographed.

This 1852 daguerreotype by Theodore Brunell shows MacDonald and Cowley, two of the Prince’s games-keepers (also known as jägers), along with the Prince’s Head Keeper, Turner, and an assortment of other keepers and beaters whose names were not recorded. Queen Victoria kept this image with the other photographs of workers at the Royal Residence.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 168

One of the chosen ones is dead.” Marie Laveau announced to Barbara Allen who had emerged from the tiny cupboard-like room in which she’d slept the night before.

“Chosen ones?” Barbara said, her voice heavy from lack of sleep. “You don’t mean my brother?”

“No, girl.” Marie shook her head. “Your brother continues to live. His man, Naasir, has died.”

“How do you know?” Barbara asked, clearing her throat.

“I know.” Marie smiled. “That’s all the matters.”

“Have you been to my brother’s house?” Barbara asked.

“I don’t have to go somewhere to know what’s happenin’.” Marie laughed.

“I’m quite sorry to hear it.” Barbara said with a peculiar sincerity. “You know, I freed him from Iolanthe once before. And, tried another time. She didn’t get him again, did she?”

“No.” Marie shook her head. “It was jus’ his time to go.”

“I don’t suppose there’s anything to drink around here.” Barbara mumbled.

“Coffee…” Marie pointed to the sideboard in the cramped, dusty room. “Over there.” She looked at Barbara. “You’re really bothered to know the man is dead?”

“I’m not happy about it, no.” Barbara sighed. “There’s been too much death lately. What’s the harm in feeling bad about it? Maybe I’m sad that my brother has lost one of his caretakers.”

“He’s gonna need a new man.” Marie smiled.

“I suppose so.” Barbara nodded. “It’s not as if he’d take Arthur back.”

“No.” Marie chuckled wildly.

“I wish I could help in some way.” Barbara muttered. “The suffering I’ve caused Julian…”

“You really want to help?” Marie grinned.

“He’s my brother. Of course, I do. No matter what else I’ve done, no matter what I may feel about his behavior, the simple fact remains that he’s my only living relative now. It’s only natural that I’d wish to help him.”

“There’s a way you can help.” Marie winked.

“And, what would that be?”

“Here.” Marie handed Barbara a card with an address written on it.

“What’s this?”

“That’s where you’re goin’ today.”

“I don’t understand.”

“That’s the home of one Harelda L'Ebène and her brother Odil. Miss L'Ebène is an old-maid and as bitter as they come. But, she still likes to be pretty, even if the only man who sees her is her brother. Odil’s a doctor, see. He’s also got an eye for the ladies—particularly one lady whose very well known to you. If you could call her a lady…”

“Iolanthe?” Barbara asked.

“That’s the one. Could be that they got a very real connection Odil and Iolanthe. Could be that the baby that Iolanthe frets ‘bout, might have some L'Ebène blood in him.”

“This man—this doctor—is the father of Iolanthe’s child?” Barbara asked.

“I didn’t say that.” Marie winked again. “And, that not for you to worry ‘bout. Now, listen, you go to that address and tell them that I done sent ya to do Miss L'Ebène’s hair. She’ll be ever so pleased to have a nice, English woman doin’ her hair. Ought to speak real highly ‘bout ol’ Marie Laveau, then.”

“What does this have to do with my brother?” Barbara asked.

“You are an impatient little thing,” Marie frowned. “I’m getting’ to it. While you’re there, you’re to talk to their footman, Charles. See, he ain’t real happy working for that raving witch. He wants to get himself a better position. Now, knowin’ that the Duke of Fallbridge needs a man might be information that Charles finds valuable.”

“I see.” Barbara nodded.

“Besides, he’s nice to look at. A fine, white fella with big shoulders and a handsome smile. You might just fancy him. I know how ya like footmen.”

“I’ve already got a husband.” Barbara grunted.

“Sure you do, Honey. And where is he?” Marie laughed. “Oh, that’s right, he’s wakin’ up next to some ginger-headed heiress this mornin’.”

“When am I to go?” Barbara frowned.

“After ya drunk your coffee, girl. And make sure to be on your best behavior.”

At that very moment, Arthur was, indeed waking up in Ulrika Rittenhouse’s bed. He rolled over to find her gone, and, for a moment was quite relieved that he didn’t have to contend with her right away. As he lay there by himself, however, he began to wonder where she was. And, the reality that he could be caught in Edward Cage’s house—alone in the room of an unmarried, upper-class girl—began to make him nervous.

When the door opened, he pulled the blankets over his head, afraid he’d be found out.

“Oh, really, calm down,” Ulrika laughed. “It’s only me.”

“Where’d you go?” Arthur asked.

“Did you miss me?” Ulrika hissed.

Arthur didn’t answer.

“I’ll take your silence to mean that you did.” Ulrika chuckled. “Now, I want you to say, ‘Thank you, darling Ulrika.’”

“Why?” Arthur grunted.

“Because I got you a present to celebrate the first day of this glorious year of 1853.”

“What’s that?” Arthur asked.

“This.” Ulrika grinned as she reached into the bodice of her dress and withdrew a glittering hunk of flashing blue.

“The Molliner Blue!” Arthur’s eyes widened. “How?”

“Oh, you’ll soon find out,” Ulrika howled with delight.

Meanwhile, at their borrowed house on Royal Street, Robert quietly entered Julian’s room and sat in the chair next to the bed where Julian slumbered. Toby was sitting on Julian’s stomach—fast asleep. Sometime during the night, the puppet that Cecil had placed at the foot of the bed had slumped over onto its face and, for a moment, Robert was reminded of the awful moment when Naasir died.

Julian’s eyes opened and Robert sighed with relief. Looking at his dear friend with anticipation, he wondered which of the two souls inside that body would be the one to speak. Robert didn’t care which one it was. He was just glad to see the man awake.


“Yes, dear Punch.” Robert smiled.

“Naasir’s gone.” Mr. Punch said hoarsely.

“Yes.” Robert nodded.

“He came to us, he did.”

“Yes.” Robert repeated, not terribly sure to what Mr. Punch was referring.

“Left us a present.” Mr. Punch continued.

“Did he?” Robert asked.

“Yes.” Punch whispered. “Now, I got to keep me master from usin’ it.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-167? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Remember Your Childhood

Even the most formal décor has a spot for nostalgia. It’s always nice to remind yourself of happy times spent during your childhood. If you’ve got an old, favorite toy, object or photograph from your carefree past, you should display it.

Seeing a cherished childhood object will bring back memories of the days when your only responsibilities were to “be good,” and have fun. That’s something we all need to be reminded of occasionally.

Object of the Day: An Allerton & Sons, “Punch” Plate, 1880

A pottery manufacturer in the Staffordshire region of England in the late Nineteenth Century, Charles Allerton & Sons became famous for their series of children’s tea sets which were often sold at country fairs. The most popular of their designs featured a whimsical scene of Mr. Punch, Judy and their child accompanied by a cheerful, pipe-smoking frog. The sets included plates, cups, saucers, teapot, sugar bowls and creamers. The pattern was produced in blue, cranberry, green and brown.

This dish comes from a set of blue Punch-ware by Allerton & Sons and dates from the 1880’s. The transfer-ware dish is as bright and crisps as it was over a century ago. On the reverse, the dish is marked, “Allerton, England” and, as was the tradition, is marked with the pattern name, “Punch.” I was so pleased to be given this rare find recently. Allerton & Sons Punch sets are difficult to find in good condition. This one was found in the collection of Nancy Barshter at who offers a wide assortment of antique transfer-ware and pottery which remind us of happier, simpler times.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Painting of the Day: A Dinner Party, 1725

A Dinner Party
Marcellus Laroon, the Younger
French, 1725
First recorded in The Royal Collection, 1818,
but probably purchased by King George I earlier.
Elegance and opulence weren’t just the stuff of our Victorian and Edwardian forebears. No. In fact, many a historical figure from many a century was known to “glitz it up” quite often. In this 1725 painting by French painter Marcellus Laroon, the Younger, we see the conclusion of a posh dinner party. Many have conjectured as to the identities of the subjects, but I think that’s irrelevant. What is important is the representation of the antics of an upper class household.

The dinner guests have retired from the main dining room after consuming a meal which probably consisted of a lot of peculiarly stuffed birds, gammon and organ meats. They’ve moved on to the fashionable “Banquet House.” It was in the banquet house that ladies and gentlemen enjoyed sweets, wine and succulent cheeses. Take a look at the background. It would appear that one of the gardeners is trying to convince a servant to slip him a little wine. It’s just a lovely, fun painting and it makes me smile.

During this time period, the French often complained of the blandness of the English, stating that “in England one can hardly tell the servants from the masters” because they considered British fashions to be too reserved. I see nothing at all reserved about this scene. Considering we presently live in a world in which people wear shorts to the opera, I think this scene is all sorts of opulent.

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: The Ascension of King Bertie

"Is this the line for the buffet?"

Image: The Anointing of Queen Alexandra at the Coronation of King Edward VII, Laurits Regner Tuxen, 1903, The Royal Collection

Mastery of Design: A Diamond-Set Sword and Scabbard, 1750

Sword and Scabbard
German, 1750
Additional work
in 1820 by
Rundell, Bridge &
The Royal Collection
This sword and scabbard, created around 1750, in Germany features elaborate sculpted gold figures set with diamonds. Clearly meant for ceremonial use as opposed to actual battle, the sword bears a figure of a recumbent lion, winding foliage and a barred helmet.

British King George IV purchased the sword in 1820, but didn’t think it was sparkly enough. He asked the Royal Jewelers at the time—Rundell, Bridge & Rundell—to add additional diamonds. They added many sparklers, particularly two large brilliant-cut diamonds which they supplied themselves.

Unfolding Pictures: Queen Mary’s Fabergé Fan

Fabergé Hand Fan
by Henrik Wigström
Owned by Mary of Teck
by whom given Queen Alexandra
Silk, Mother-of-Pearl, Enamel, Gold, Rubies
The Royal Collection
Sometimes, Queen Mary (of Teck, wife of George V) was actually given an object as opposed to her usual methods of acquiring things. This remarkable fan was a gift from her mother-in-law, Queen Alexandra.

Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII were loyal patrons of Fabergé, so much so, in fact, that a branch of Fabergé was opened in London and remained on New Bond Street until 1915 largely because of the frequent commissions of the Royal Family. Mary of Teck shared Queen Alexandra’s passion for the works of Fabergé and especially the designs of Henrik Wigström. The sticks and guards of this fan are Wigström’s design—stamped with his name. The front guard is a masterful creation of mother-of-pearl, two-tone gold, white and blue enamel and Burmese rubies. The back guard and sticks feature the same mother-of-pearl and gold in a simpler pattern. The artist of the watercolor scene on the crème silk leaf is unknown and is not recorded in the catalog of Wigström’s work.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 167

Marjani watched as Robert buttoned Naasir’s waistcoat and jacket. They’d just spent the last hour cleaning and dressing the man’s spent body.

“He looks right nice,” Marjani nodded.

“He does.” Robert answered softly.

Naasir did, in fact, look much as he did in life. Death seemed to have erased the scars of his burns and his face and hands seemed almost as smooth as they had the day that Robert first saw Naasir on the ship.

“How are you doin’, Doctor?” Marjani asked.

“I’m…” Robert began, pausing to sigh, “I’m just remembering.”

“He was loyal to His Grace.” Marjani said.

“And, to me.” Robert nodded. “It’s just such a tragedy.”

“Is it?” Marjani asked.

“The man’s dead.” Robert responded. “And, he died in pain.”

“He died fulfilling his destiny.” Marjani answered, patting Robert on the back.

“That’s all he talked about—his destiny. To protect the ‘Great Man of the Rocks.”

“And that’s what he done.” Marjani said. “He always said he’d die in fire, that he’d give his life to protect His Grace. Well, that’s what he did. It wasn’t no fire like what burned him, but the fire of a fever.”

“I just hate to see him gone,” Robert shook his head.

“He’s happy now,” Marjani smiled. “I know he is for he done tol’ me he was. He’s gone now—gone to a place where he’s free, where his smart mind and gentleness will be ‘preciated. He’s being rewarded for doin’ what he was put on this earth to do. Now, he’s part of the marvelous story, he’s part of the history he done was tol’ as a chil’. He’s legend now.”

“Yes,” Robert nodded slowly. “I understand.” Robert’s eyes filled with tears, “Only, I was not very pleasant to him at first. I mistrusted him. In my own fervor to protect Julian, I’m afraid I treated Naasir roughly.”

“He understood.” Marjani smiled. “He knew. Don’t you think he knew?”

“I think he knew more than he let on.” Robert wiped his eyes.

“This is what was meant to be. We should be rejoicing.”

Robert nodded. “You know, it’s not what I expected to happen.”

“What did you think?” Marjani asked gently.

“It’s ridiculous now.” Robert sighed.

“Go on.” Marjani smiled knowingly.

“Well, I rather thought that you and Naasir would marry one day. I know, it’s foolish and romantic. I fancied the two of you marrying and opening a little dress shop somewhere in the Quarter.” Robert answered sheepishly.

Marjani grinned. “It’s a sweet thought. But, in our own way, Naasir and I done were married. We were united in living to serve. That was enough.”

Robert drew in a deep breath.

“You’re tired.” Marjani said.

“Yes.” Robert answered softly.

“Come,” Marjani took his hand. “Let’s return you to His Grace.”

Robert nodded.

“Goodbye, Naasir. Thank you.” Robert said, pausing before they left the room.

“Meridian and I will make the arrangements for him tomorrow.” Marjani said as they walked back upstairs.

“I’ll help.” Robert interrupted.

“No, you got enough to worry ‘bout.” Marjani said firmly. “Now, do you want me to get a new valet for His Grace?”

“I don’t know.” Robert shook his head. “He’s done well enough without one since Naasir’s been injured. If we were to hire someone else, he’d have to understand that Julian is…different.”

“We’ll think about it in the morning when the sunlight will make things clearer.” Marjani replied.

They entered Julian’s room and found Cecil sitting by Julian’s bed. Toby was curled up next to Julian/Mr. Punch, sleeping soundly. Cecil had placed Punch’s puppet at the foot of the bed.

Robert smiled, pointing to the puppet.

“Well, I say, I figured he’d wake up and want the bloody thing.” Cecil blushed.

“I know,” Robert nodded. “Has he stirred?”

“Not a bit.” Cecil said. “He’s sleeping soundly. But, he’s breathing quite well.”

“You’d best go get some sleep,” Robert said. “Adrienne’s already gone to bed. I’m sure she’s missing you. I’ll stay with Julian.”

“No, you will not.” Marjani shook her head. “Both you gentlemen are goin’ to sleep. Ya hear me?”

“But…” Robert began.

“No, Sir.” Marjani said firmly. “I’ll stay and watch His Grace. Now, I ain’t gonna take no arguments from ya!”

“I think we’ve been bested, old man.” Cecil smiled.

“It would seem so.” Robert nodded.

“Now, go on…” Marjani pointed to the door.

“Good night, Marjani.” Cecil said.

“Are you sure?” Robert asked.

Marjani narrowed her eyes.

“Very well.” Robert chuckled. “Thank you…for everything.”

Marjani nodded her head.

With Cecil and Robert out of the room, Marjani took the chair next to Julian’s bed and looked at his slumbering body. “Now, say your goodbyes, Your Grace.”

Deep within the hidden room in Julian’s body, Mr. Punch and Julian welcomed Naasir.

“You’ve lovely accommodations in here,” Naasir grinned.

“Welcome, chum.” Mr. Punch whooped. “Look at you—you’re young and strong again!”

“I’m free.” Naasir said.

“Do sit, Naasir,” Julian smiled. “We must talk. We owe you so much.”

“No, Your Grace, Mr. Punch. I cannot stay. I’ve somewhere else to go.”

“Oh, stay with us.” Mr. Punch urged. “You’re our chum, you are. We love you.”

“And, I, you.” Naasir smiled. “However, I’ve just come to say farewell. We’ll meet again, one day, but not for a long time.”

“When?” Mr. Punch asked.

“When your journey is finished.” Naasir answered.

“Are you well now?” Mr. Punch asked.

“Oh, very well.” Naasir grinned.

“How can we ever thank you?” Julian asked. “For everything you’ve done.”

“No need.” Naasir shook his head. “It was my duty and my honor to serve you.”

“You should be rewarded.” Julian added.

“Yes, you should!” Punch cooed.

“I have been,” Naasir said happily. “Very beautifully.”

They stood in silence for what seemed like hours, but was perhaps only seconds.

“Farewell, gentlemen. You will do great things.” Naasir said.

“God speed.” Julian nodded.

“I’ll miss ya, Chum.” Mr. Punch whispered.

With that, Naasir faded away. What remained in the spot where he stood was a shimmering gold key.

“What’s that?” Mr. Punch asked, picking it up.

“I think it’s what I’ve been searching for,” Julian smiled.

Did you miss Chapters 1-166? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Remove Yourself from Discomfort

Of course, there are some situations that you have to endure. It’s inevitable that you have to suffer through unpleasant meetings, stand in line, deal with difficult people and make phone calls that you dread. However, there are dozens of undesirable situations that you just don’t have to suffer through.

Remember, you have the power to walk away. Unless your livelihood depends on the situation, you can just leave it behind. There’s no reason to suffer abuse at anyone’s hands. If you encounter belligerent or unpleasant people, or find yourself in an unnecessarily combative situation, you have the right to leave and move on.

Your top priority is making sure that you’re safe and comfortable. Knowing when to remove yourself from discomfort is the first step.

Object of the Day: An Antique Watercolor of Burrington Churchyard

The Thirteenth Century Church of the Holy Trinity in Burrington in England’s North Somerset has served as the site for many a prayer service, wedding and funeral. Its churchyard is the burial place of many generations of families and, also, seems to have been the artistic inspiration for one early Twentieth Century painter.

This watercolor painting of a grave marked by a large, stone Celtic cross is inscribed, “Burrington Churchyard, 1905,” followed by the artist’s initials. This painting was recently found at an antique store in North Texas. In its original fame, it is backed with wood. When the board was removed from the reverse, we found that the watercolor paper had been affixed to the mat-board with carefully cut and pasted portions of pages from a religious text. Pink with age, the strips of paper were clearly printed with psalms. This leads me to believe that the painting was created by someone associated with the church who used the materials at hand to assemble to piece.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Antique Image of the Day: King Edward VIII when Prince of Wales

King Edward VIII
When Edward, Prince of Wales
William & Daniel Downey
The Royal Collection
Aw, here’s the little abdicator as a boy. He doesn’t look like so much of a trouble-maker, does he? Well, maybe. He also looks a bit like Prince William of Wales. Sturdy bloodline those Windsors (formerly Saxe-Coburg and Gotha).

This adorable watercolor on card miniature shows Edward VIII when Edward, Prince of Wales. It has only recently been added to The Royal Collection.

Building of the Week: Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace
This gem is one of England’s largest stately homes, and one of the few surviving examples of the short-lived English Baroque style of architecture. Long the family seat of the Duke of Marlborough (notably the Churchill family), the magnificent palace is located in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England and is the only non-Royal, non-Episcopal country house in England to be granted the title of “Palace.”

The palace has a long and fascinating history of intrigue, hubris and conflict. Initially, the house was meant to be built as sort of a trophy for John Churchill, the First Duke of Marlborough as a “thank you gift” for his triumphs in defeating the French at the Battle of Blenheim. Prior to the early 1700’s, this large parcel of land in Woodstock was the location of a hunting lodge. It was in this lodge that Elizabeth I had been imprisoned by her sister, Queen Mary, and where Henry II had stashed away his toothsome mistress, the Fair Rosamond. So, certainly it was a location of historical significance.

That didn’t matter much to the Duchess of Marlborough, Sarah Churchill, who, as the 1700’s rolled on, was increasingly miffed that she didn’t get the architect that she wanted to build their gifted mansion (Christopher Wren of St. Paul’s fame). She was also pouting because she and the Duke were quarelling about the style and size of the house. She wanted something homier. He wanted something that said, “Ha! I beat the French. Look at the house that Queen Anne gave me! I’m awesome!” After the Duke hired the theatrical John Vanbrugh, without her permission, to design a (gasp) Baroque monument to his victory, she began to behave in a rather passive aggressive manner and made life a living hell for anyone and everyone—especially Vanbrugh.

The Duchess began her reign of terror by ordering that all of the existing historic landmarks be pulled down. She and Vanbrugh—an early proponent of conservation—argued violently about it. But, the Duchess won in the end, as Duchesses often do. She was just a nightmare. In fact, she was so much of a nightmare that she continued to draw attention to herself and her husband in a not so pleasant way. By continually reminding everyone just how much money the Crown was shelling out for their palace, she effectively ruined their friendship with Queen Anne who promptly cut off their funds. With a great big house which was nowhere near livable, £220,000 spent (£60,000 of which was her husband’s money) and over £45,000 more owed to the builders, they had to not only skip town, but leave the country. Those were tremendous sums of money in the early Eighteenth Century.

The Duke and Duchess didn’t return to England until the day after Queen Anne’s death in 1714. Sarah and John Churchill got back in the good graces of the new King—George I—and managed to get some funding for their enormous house, once again working with Vanbrugh who Sarah continued to loathe until she demanded that he not return. The magnificent Baroque mansion was nearly finished when the Duke died in 1722. He never really got to enjoy their monumental, overwhelming and wholly dramatic estate. He did, however, get a really great tomb out of the deal. A monstrous tomb was built in the palace for him, thereby giving it the status of mausoleum as well.

Many other famous names passed through those intricately vaulted stone halls—including some Spencers (ancestors of the late Diana, Princess of Wales) and the Dukes of Marlborough continued to get themselves into countless jams. I could write a book about all of their shenanigans. And, I might. But, for now, we’ll skip ahead a couple of centuries.

Keeping up a house of that scale is rather difficult. By the Nineteenth Century, there was no way that the Churchill family could afford to maintain the place. And, so, as was the habit of the time, in 1896, Charles, The Ninth Duke of Marlborough entered into a loveless marriage with American Railroad Heiress, Consuelo Vanderbilt (much to her chagrin). The palace was saved and largely redecorated and expanded. And, Consuelo was utterly miserable. She and Churchill would later divorce, but he got the house. This is beginning to sound like Downton Abbey.

Oh, yes! Winston Churchill was born there. That’s something.

The ensuing history is equally troubled. So, let’s just focus on the mansion itself. It is magnificent! Still the home of the Duke of Marlborough, it’s now also something of a convention center/tourist attraction. They’ve introduced a rather nifty electronic, interactive, fairgrounds kind of tour which I wouldn’t mind seeing someday. You can read more about that on their Web site.

Despite the rather mercenary way of doing so, the family has managed to maintain this unusual piece of architectural history with its painted ceilings and gorgeous construction. It also sports a grand collection of artwork. I think it would well be worth a visit!

Precious Time: A Tall-Case Regulator Clock, 1824

Regulator Clock
The Royal
The son of George III and Queen Charlotte, King George IV, had a keen interest in science and mechanics and was always fascinated by clocks. In the early Nineteenth Century, as the science of horology became more precise, regulator clocks (pendulum clocks) were produced which would keep extremely accurate time.

In his quest for the perfect clock, King George IV purchased this tall-case mahogany regulator clock from its makers-- Abraham-Louis and Antoine-Louis Breguet. The clock is unique inasmuch as it has two pendulums with two separate movements. Each pendulum swings in the opposite direction of the other. The theory was that the sympathetic motion would keep each movement at a level of extreme accuracy. On one side, the apparent and mean time were displayed. On the other, the date and time were displayed. The only peculiarity is that the second hand on the right clock face moves counterclockwise.

Unusual Artifacts: Queen Charlotte’s Gaming Counters, 1780

A miniature on Ivory set with pearls
showing Queen Charlotte in an ideal
light.  She was widely described as
"Not a great beauty."
The Royal Collection
Queen Charlotte didn’t have what one would call the happiest of lives. As a young bride, her husband, King George III, as well as the rest of the Royal Household was very much under the often irrational control of the Dowager Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, her mother-in-law. The King’s mother insisted that English ladies not speak directly to the German-born princess-turned-consort unless she was accompanied by one of her German handlers. It really was all quite a kerfuffle. So much of a kerfuffle, in fact, that Queen Charlotte—for a spell—had a home of her own, Buckingham House (known as “The Queen’s House”) which, as we know, grew into Buckingham Palace.

And, yet, despite these complications, Charlotte and George got along well enough to have fifteen children together (thirteen of whom survived to adulthood). Charlotte tried to remain cheerful and pursued the things which interested her—botany, music, making sure women were educated, and card games…lots and lots of card games. What else is a Queen to do when she’s stuck in one room for hours at a time while her husband goes increasingly mad? Besides, it seems she was almost constantly pregnant, so cards were a nice way to pass the time.

Gaming Counters with the Cipher of Queen Charlotte
Chinese, 1780
The Royal Collection
Queen Charlotte’s favorite games were “Whisk” and “Commerce.” She was known to spend hours at a time at these games. In 1780, she was presented with an elaborate gaming set which included these Chinese, mother-of-pearl gaming counters which were engraved with her cipher. Well-worn, it’s obvious that the Queen used these counters frequently.

After her death, her son sold all of her belongings (except her jewels) at an 1819 auction. Among the items sold, were these mother-of-pearl counters. Now, it’s difficult to say how they’ve come back to the Royal Collection. Some believe that they were purchased in 1819 by the Duke of Sussex who consequently auctioned them off again in 1845. Where they were after that, I’m not sure. However, I would guess that Mary of Teck picked these up sometime in the early Twentieth Century—as one does.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 166

Naasir shuddered slightly as he raised his arms to place his ruined hands on Julian’s chest.

“Are you in terrible pain?” Cecil asked.

“Yes,” Naasir whispered.

“You’re a brave man, Honey.” Marjani smiled. “You’re good to do this.”

“It’s my duty,” Naasir rasped.

Little Fuller squirmed next to Julian’s overheated body, reaching with his tiny hands towards the man with whom he’d played on many occasions.

“No, no, little one,” Adrienne cooed. “Uncle Punch can’t play today. Just be still.”

“Are we sure this is a good idea?” Cecil whispered into his wife’s ear. “Julian’s raging with fever.”

“I trust Marjani.” Adrienne answered.

“Not to worry,” Marjani smiled. “The little fella’s safe. He won’t be here long.”

“Help me,” Naasir croaked to Marjani.

“Anything.” Marjani nodded.

“The bag.” Naasir said.

Marjani took a red pouch from the pocket of her apron.

“Place it beneath His Grace’s pillow.” Naasir said softly.

Marjani did as Naasir told her.

Robert and Cecil glanced at one another.

“My dears,” Adrienne said quickly. “We must believe.”

Robert nodded.

“Now, all of you,” Marjani said. “Join hands, please.” She offered her hand to Robert who took it. Robert and Adrienne joined hands, and Adrienne and Cecil.

With his burned hands still on Julian’s chest, Naasir began moaning.

“Good Lord,” Cecil declared loudly. “The man’s clearly in agony.”

“No.” Marjani shook her head. “Not the kind you’re thinkin’.”

Naasir took a deep breath and suddenly began to speak in a low, strong voice which none of them would have thought possible given his condition.

“All the elements,” Naasir said firmly and loudly, “all the powers of the land—air, fire, water, ice—gather ‘round these souls. Rain and sun, ocean and sand, hear my voice and listen.” He looked to Marjani.

“All the angels and saints,” Marjani began, “The Holy Mother, and God himself, listen to his voice.”

“Before you,” Naasir continued, “lie three souls and two bodies, one fresh and new, one tattered and broken. Look upon this child with his pure heart and happy spirit.”

Cecil looked nervously at his wife, and squeezed her hand anxiously.

“It’ll be all right,” Adrienne said certainly.

“Restore the broken to the whole.” Naasir continued, his voice still strangely powerful. “From the dirt of the grave, draw your power to make the living strong. Make this weak man as strong as this hearty babe.”

Fuller began to giggle in the delightful way that only a baby can.

“He’s filled with joy—overflowing with love. Make that love grow. From darkness, make that love grow and rise to the air to form a cloud.”

“From dirt and darkness, let this warmth make a bloom,” Marjani added.

“Now…” Naasir said to Marjani.

Marjani released Robert’s hand and removed a vial of oil from the pocket of her apron. She removed the cork, and wet her thumb with the oil. She swiped an oily streak across Julian’s sweating brow and then across the cool, smooth forehead of the baby.

“Make them equal in strength,” Marjani said softly.

“Make them equal in strength.” Naasir repeated.

“Everyone…” Marjani nodded.

“Make them equal in strength…” Robert, Cecil and Adrienne said in unison.

Far removed from them, yet so nearby, deep within their fevered body, Mr. Punch and Julian listened to the scene which unfolded outside of them.

“Try, Mr. Punch.” Julian said quickly. “Try to speak.”

Mr. Punch shouted. “We’re here!”

Just then, in the room with their loved ones, Julian’s parched lips parted. “We’re here,” their body groaned weakly.

“Thank God,” Robert sighed. “Thank the universe.”

It was then that Robert noticed that Naasir had slumped over in the chair—clearly lifeless.

Did you miss Chapters 1-165? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Be Flexible

We all have plans, but sometimes those plans have to change. Very often, circumstances beyond our control (like weather) prevent us from proceeding as scheduled. That can be extremely frustrating. However, there’s no point in letting frustration consume you. Getting upset about things that you can’t control isn’t going to do you any good. So, just take a deep breath and carry on with what you can.

We can all learn to become a little more flexible. Plans and schedules are wonderful guidelines, but sometimes even the most rigid plans have to change. Learning to accept these changes with a cheerful disposition only serves to make life that much more pleasant.

Object of the Day: A Cup Commemorating the Coronation of King Edward VIII

Upon the death of King George V, the next in line for the throne was the man who would style himself as King Edward VIII. Everything was set in motion to crown Edward on May 12, 1937. Oh, yes, there was one little pesky issue to take care of—Edward’s girlfriend, Wallis Simpson. “You can’t marry that woman,” cried everyone—especially Edward’s mother, Mary of Teck. “It won’t do.” Edward moaned and protested. And, then, he abdicated.

Always a thrifty people, the British decided to keep the coronation date of May 12, 1937, but instead crowned a different king—Edward’s stuttering brother, George VI.

And, so, all of the souvenir items that bore the likeness of King Edward VIII were quickly removed from the department store shelves and replaced with George VI and Elizabeth items. Being as Edward VIII never made it to his coronation, many of the commemorative objects were considered “rubbish” and therefore disposed of. But, here’s one!

This rare cup—with a nifty shape—is a surviving souvenir of the coronation that never was. I was so tickled to find it!

Change over...
Same date, different King.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Film of the Week: Mildred Pierce, 1945

Lobby Card
Warner Brothers
With this money I can get away from you. From you and your chickens and your pies and your kitchens and everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture. And this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms and its men that wear overalls.

--"Veda Pierce"

By 1945, Joan Crawford had been asked to leave Metro Goldwyn Mayer, (get your hatchet, folks, and scream along with me, “Hollywood royalty! Parted friends... everyone already knows! Box office poison! Box office poison! Class! You're... class... you're... class... box office poison! Eighteen years in the business and we parted friends! Creative differences!” But, that’s a different movie.) So, Joanie “You’re Aces” Crawford had to go off on her own. Of course, being Joan Crawford, she ended up at Warner Brothers where she’d been hired predominantly to ruffle the feathers of their reigning queen—Bette Davis who was also dipping a toenail into the pool of box office poison.

"It's your fault I'm like this, Mother."
Veda pleads with her mama.
Warner Brothers
Warners owned a property based on a novel by James Cain—Mildred Pierce—the story of an out-of-luck homemaker with a cheating husband, a lot of debt, a snooty daughter, and, another daughter who nobody pays much attention to (and then dies). At the center of it all, Mildred has to struggle and find the strength to provide her eldest daughter—Veda—everything that Veda wants, even if it means marrying a nasty playboy and frying a lot of chickens. Mildred was a character that Crawford really could relate to. She wanted that part—so much so that she even (gasp!) agreed to screen test for it.

"Just like my weddin' exciting."
Lottie to Mildred amidst the many, many, many pies.
Warner Brothers
And, of course, she got the part—and, was brilliant, giving perhaps the finest performance of her career. The film version of the story—as is often the case—veered away from Cain’s novel quite a bit. A murder plot was introduced to bring in some of the noir elements which were quite the fashion of the day. A lot of the smuttiness of the tawdry semi-incestuous relationship between Veda and Mildred’s new husband, fading socialite Monte Beragon, was toned down. In fact, a whole sub-plot involving Veda’s singing career was abandoned. And several characters were melded into one—Ida, played superbly by Eve Arden.

"It's for you.  Mrs. Biederhof."
Mildred's not too keen on her husband's
choice of card buddies.
Warner Brothers
Joining Miss Crawford in the cast were Ann Blyth as her bitch of a daughter, Veda; Zachary Scott as the icky Monte (or Monty depending on where you look) Beragon; Butterfly McQueen as Mildred’s maid, Lottie; Bruce Bennett as Bert, the first husband; Jack Carson as the equally icky and smarmy Wally Fey; and the always delightful Lee Patrick as Bert’s “poker buddy” (or was it canasta?), the charmingly-named Maggie Biederhof.

Miss Crawford won the Academy Award for her performance. In typical Crawfordian Style, she accepted the award while abed with some mysterious flu which seemed to have had the effect of curling her hair, rouging her lips and pressing her negligee. Still, she won. And, that’s quite nice.

She needed it.

"Don't look now, Junior, but you're
standing under a brick wall."  The wisdom of Ida.
Warner Brothers
Everyone should see Mildred Pierce for the superb acting, beautiful lighting, nifty sets, shoulder pads, fur hats and sharp dialogue. Hollywood royalty, indeed.

Oh, by the way, there's an upcoming remake of Mildred Pierce coming up with Kate Winslet as "Mildred."  It promises to be more like the source novel.  Still, Winslet has some big, strappy-pumps to fill.  Good luck...never let go and all that. 


Humanitarian of the Week: Mark Summers

Mark Summers
His name may not spring immediately to mind, but you know his face. We’ve all welcomed Mark Summers into our homes at some point. He’s been a television staple for nearly a quarter of a century. With credits such as Double Dare, Home, Unwrapped, Biggers & Summers, Couch Potatoes, Great Day America and Our Home to his name, Mark Summers has proven to be a daytime and reality television superstar as both a host and producer.

Those of us who grew up in the 1980’s (and our parents) may remember Nickelodeon’s sloppy kid-series, Double Dare, which frequently involved Summers—as the host—being doused in slime, food and general yuckiness. Despite his good-natured smile, Summers was seething internally. You see, Mark Summers had always considered himself a “perfectionist,” an extreme perfectionist, but one nonetheless. His strong need for order and tidiness had dominated his early life and only worsened as he got older. Mark soon realized that he suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Instead of letting this rule his life, Mark did something about it, getting professional help, writing a book about his experiences, and most importantly helping to educate others about this serious disorder by appearances on television programs and by working as a national spokesperson for the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation. His work with this foundation as well as with the group Freedom From Fear, Summers has worked tirelessly to educate the public about anxiety disorders and other related behavior disorders.

For triumphing in his own life, and for helping others to achieve similar success, Mark Summers is our Humanitarian of the Week.

Her Majesty’s Furniture: A Pair of Onyx Marble Pedestals, 1720

One of a Pair
of Pedestals
Onyx Marble Veneer
Over Hardstone
The Royal Collection
The placement of art in a room depends on the piece—its size, scale, lines, subject and color. Members of the Royal Family have always been very particular about how they display their precious art and artifacts. In the case of sculpture (and this, really, should always be true), the choice of plinth or pedestal was just as important as the sculpture itself. These were often considered to be as much a part of the sculpture as they were an extension of the architecture of the room.

This pair of onyx marble pedestals is what remains of what was once a set of four with the other two being pink. Though they’re massive, they’re quite delicate. The onyx veneer—imported from Egypt—was prone to easy chipping. The set of pedestals came into Kensington Palace around 1720 under the direction of King George I who ordered them from an Italian designer as a means of displaying a group of four marbles of The Seasons by Camillo Rusconi. They were installed in the King’s Gallery.

In 1828, the Rusconi groups were taken to Windsor Castle. The pedestals were sent for refurbishment. Around this time, the two pink pedestals seemed to disappear while this set of two was sent to Windsor Castle where they now stand in the Queen’s Guard Chamber, supporting bronzes purchased by King George IV.

The Belle Epoque Today: The Art of Jeff Stultiens, RP

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II
in Garter Robes
Jeff Stultiens, 2003
The Royal Society of Portrait Painters
A figurative painter with an interest in portraiture, Jeff Stultiens has been a member of the royal Society of Portrait Painters since 1991. This award-winning painter has been the focus of many an exhibition and has been surrounded by art throughout his entire life. The son of two artists-- Thomas Stultiens HMI & Kate (née Whittaker), he married Catherine Knowelden, also an artist, who whom he has two daughters.

As a child in 1953, Stultiens was witness to the passing of Queen Elizabeth II’s limousine on the day of her coronation. Fifty years later, he was asked to paint the commemorative portrait of the Queen in honor of the her fiftieth year as monarch. His larger-than-life portrait of Her Majesty in garter robes caught the attention of the world, and added another layer of notability to this already celebrated portrait artist whose ability to render almost photographic realism owes largely to his brilliantly subtle use of his media.

Richard King, Sculptor
Jeff Stultiens
The Royal Society of Portrait Painters