17 October 2018

The ferret, an electrician's best friend

Getting an electrical supply was only one half of the story. Not for nothing did an advertisement for a firm specialising in the installation of electrical equipment for country houses claim that its system 'can be carried out without damage to the fabric of the buildings or to the decorations'. An owner also had to have the building wired - easy enough in the case of a new house, or a major restoration, but not a task to be undertaken lightly if it involved chasing out rococo plasterwork or cutting a channel through a baroque mural. The guides at Stanford Hall in Leicestershire used to tell the story of how in the 1920s Lord and Lady Braye were baffled by the prospect of having to run cables through their long ballroom without wrecking its delicate eighteenth-century stuccowork. Then someone had a bright idea: they prised up a floorboard at one end and dropped a dead rabbit into the void; then they prised up a floorboard at the other end and unleashed a ferret, with a string tied to his collar. When the ferret had managed to negotiate the joists and reach the rabbit, the string was used to pull through a cable and hey presto! the problem was solved.

- Adrian Tinniswood, The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House Between the Wars, London, 2016, p.151-2.

07 October 2018

05 October 2018

The Grand Vizier o' Kirkaldy

In 1739, the Russians and Turks, who had been at war, met to conclude terms of peace. The commissioners were Marshal Keith for the Russians and the Grand Vizier for the Turks. These two personages met, and carried on their negotiations by means of interpreters. When all was concluded they rose to separate, but just before leaving the Grand Vizier suddenly went to Marshal Keith, and, taking him cordially by the hand, declared in the broadest Scotch dialect that it made him 'unco' happy to meet a countryman in his exalted station'. As might be expected, Keith, who was himself a Scotsman in the service of Russia, stared with astonishment, and was eager for an explanation of the mystery. 'Dinna be surprised,' the Grand Vizier exclaimed; 'I'm o' the same country wi' yoursell, mon! I mind weel seein' you and your brother, when boys, passin' by to the school at Kirkaldy; my father, sir, was bellman o' Kirkaldy'.

James Settle, in Max Hastings (ed.), The Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes, London, 1985, p.153. 

23 September 2018

The glitter rubs right off & you're nowhere

One of my favourite ever tracks is this George Benson number from his 1978 live album 'Weekend in LA', and for me it sums up the sound of the late '70s. I watched Bob Fosse's All That Jazz for the first time last night, and Benson's version of the song that first became a hit for the Drifters in 1963 is the soundtrack to the superb opening scene. It's masterful filmmaking, dialogue-free but highly successful in introducing the setting of a stressful Broadway audition, illustrating most of the main characters including Roy Scheider's ruthless choreographer Gideon, and placing the film firmly in its New York stage context - one that would be rendered ubiquitous by the success of the film and TV version of Fame a few years later. (There's also an icily splendid live new wave version by Gary Numan from 1979).