moo for gold

Gold beaters skin is made from the intestine of cows. In Egyptian times, a small piece of gold ingot would be placed between two of these membranes and beaten to create gold leaf. They were also used in book restoration and to keep zeppelins afloat.


The airship’s gasbags are made from a material called goldbeaters skin. It is a curious material that involves a long, mysterious and once secretive, process of manufacture.

Goldbeaters skin is made from the outer layer of the caecum, which is also called blind gut or even the appendix. The outer layers of the blind-gut are carefully stripped off into sheets, cleaned of fat, scraped with a blunt knife and then stretched over a frame. One quite remarkably quality of this material is that separate sheets can be joined or welded when wet by carefully rubbing the overlap of the two sheets. Several layers can be made this way as well, for example, airship gasbags usually consisted of up to seven layers of skin.


The Hindenburg had a gas capacity of nearly 212,000 cubic meters. So it becomes clear that these sheets, each one being painstakingly prepared by hand and fused with each other and done so in many layers, were also required in unimaginable quantities though only two sheets could be obtained from the intestine of one cow. The American military airship Shenandoah used 750,000 separate sheets of goldbeaters skin for its gasbags. Incidentally the gas-bags of the Hindenburg were over three times the capacity of those of the Shenandoah.


***The Hindenburg is perhaps the most famous zeppelin of all. Its many features included a special smoking room and of course a cocktail bar.

The smoking room was kept at higher than ambient pressure, so that no leaking hydrogen could enter the room, and the smoking room and its associated bar were separated from the rest of the ship by a double-door airlock. One electric lighter was provided, as no open flames were allowed aboard the ship.


In reality, the pressurization of the smoking room may have been as much for public relations as for safety. The smoking room was located on B Deck, at the bottom of the ship, and since hydrogen is lighter than air any leaking gas would have escaped upward. (It would have been very unlikely that free hydrogen could have settled downward to the level of the smoking room, and only a leak at the very bottom of the cell adjoining the smoking room in Bay 12 would have posed any significant risk.)

The Hindenburg’s bar was a small ante-room between the smoking room and the air-lock door leading to the corridor on B-Deck. This is where Hindenburg bartender Max Schulze served up LZ-129 Frosted Cocktails (gin and orange juice) and Maybach 12 cocktails (recipe lost to history).


The bar and smoking room were also the scene of a raucous party on the Hindenburg’s maiden voyage to America, where passenger Pauline Charteris (whose husband Leslie Charteris created “The Saint”) improvised a kirschwasser cocktail after the ship ran out of gin for martinis.

Ian Ogilvy as The Saint

***Taken from a fascinating site dedicated to airships, click here to read

unsung sol

When I was a little girl my mother sent me to ballet classes. I can’t remember whether I lasted a full year or just one term, all I know is my mother yanked me out of ballet and sent me to elocution lessons instead. The rationale being that I had grown too tall to be a ballerina; it wasn’t until years later it dawned on me that it was because I showed a remarkable lack of talent and was always tearing holes in those expensive pink tights.


Still, I remain fascinated by the ballet world and the intriguing people who inhabited it, such as the Great Russian Impresario Sol Hurok whose crowning achievement was to bring the Bolshoi Ballet to New York.


“Impresarios are expected to live and talk big and Hurok plays the role with gusto. Almost every day he lunches at New York’s expensive Pavillon restaurant where between forkfuls of boeuf a la mode, he utters melancholy pronouncements on the state of the world.

Violinist Efram Zimbalist was Sol’s first big time Attraction. Later he signed up Anna Pavlova, Artur Rubinstein, Andres Segovia and many more famous names to be part of Hurok Attractions (agents merely have clients, impresarios have Attractions).

Like any impresario worth his gold topped cane, he has had to deal with crises. In 1922 he heard with horror that one of his stars, Isadora Duncan, had bared her bosom and denounced her Boston audience for false puritanism. He had to race over and explain her combination of eccentricities and talent to the offended mayor before he ran her out of town. He also helped shovel out snowbound ballerinas, returned hotel towels stolen by a basso, built stages on a day’s notice and reconciled a pair of Russian choreographers who were about to wage a pistol duel in Central Park.


It was in 1929 that he first tried to bring the Bolshoi Ballet to America but it took 30 years to make that dream come true. After countless attempts the Russian government agreed but only if he first toured the Moiseyev Dancers, a much less famous troupe. He did so with great success but was stalled again by a demand that he also present the obscure, 53 strong Beryozka Folk Dancers. Only after they proved just as successful was he permitted to present the Bolshoi Ballet at last.

Moiseyev Dancers

After four years I was allowed to stop elocution classes on the proviso I took up Irish dancing instead. Apparently,  neither my height, ineptitude nor torn stockings were any impediment to jigging

and yes, I did wear costumes like these depicted on the cookies found here

Published in: on April 17, 2010 at 7:45 am  Comments (43)  
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corset friday 16.4.2010

Published in: on April 16, 2010 at 9:10 am  Comments (35)  
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the tall one, the broad one and the siamese cat

Falling on your head is never a good idea. Unless you’re sure it will result in a best selling book or three


“In the U.S., a sign painter named Allen Noonan fell off a ladder, banged his head and found he had awakened strange psychic abilities in himself. He was soon communicating with space people and undergoing all kinds of strange experiences.

In Holland, a man named Peter Hurkos also fell on his skull and the accident turned him into a world famous psychic who has spent his life helping police solve crimes.

click to enlarge or view original here

In 1947, in England, a struggling British writer named Cyril Hoskin told his astonished wife that he had decided to change his name. A few months later, Cyril Hoskin became Carl Kuon Suo by court order.  He abandoned his home and moved to a distant district where he was troubled by hallucinations and developed a kind of split personality, the Englishman being slowly replaced by an Oriental entity while his appalled wife watched. Then, on June 13, 1949, while climbing a ladder in his garden, Carl Kuon Suo fell and cracked his head, suffering a mild concussion. When he recovered, the Englishman was gone and had been replaced by a Tibetan with full memories of growing up in Tibet!

Deportation of Tibetan prisoners found here

Carl changed his name again to Tuesday Lobsang Rampa and began publishing books about his various experiences.

Despite having been originally rejected as a hoax and receiving horrendous reviews, The Third Eye became a massive international best-seller. Lobsang Rampa’s publishers admitted that they, too, had had doubts about its authenticity, but thought it would make a good read anyway. They prefaced it with a statement saying that many of the author’s stories were “inevitably hard to corroborate”. On one occasion, to test the author’s veracity, Lobsang Rampa’s editor at Secker & Warburg read out some phonetic Tibetan to him to which he didn’t react. When he was told that he had just failed to understand a single word of his “own language”, Lobsang Rampa threw himself onto the floor, writhing in agony. He explained that he had been horrifically tortured by the Japanese in the war and had blocked out all knowledge of Tibetan by self-hypnotism.


Lobsang Rampa produced another 18 books, becoming the 20th century’s best-known exponent of Tibetan Buddhism. In Doctor from Lhasa, he tells how he learnt to fly a plane, was captured by the Japanese during the Second World War, spent time in concentration camps as the official medical officer, and was one of very few people to survive the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Nor did he restrict himself to mere terrestrial travel, recounting a visit to Venus aboard a space ship and meeting two aliens helpfully named “the Tall One” and “the Broad One”. He admitted that his fifth book, Living With the Lama, was not by “Lobsang Rampa” at all. It had all been dictated to him by Mrs Fifi Greywhiskers, his Siamese cat.

all these siamese cats with their famous owners found here

Published in: on April 15, 2010 at 8:18 am  Comments (48)  
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son of a lion tamer

Charles Peace was the son of a one legged lion tamer.


“Charlie taught himself to play tunes on a violin with one string, and at entertainments which he attended was described as “the modern Paganini” but his main occupation was burglary. After serving time in prison for breaking and entering he earned a living first as a picture framer and later as the proprietor of  an ‘eating-shop’ with his wife Hannah.

On 1876 he committed his first murder by shooting a policeman. A few months later he shot a neighbour with whom he had a long-running feud. A price of £100 was put on his head and a description circulated:


Charles Peace wanted for murder. He is thin and slightly built, five feet four inches or five feet high; grey (nearly white) hair, beard and whiskers. He lacks use of three fingers of left hand, walks with his legs rather wide apart, speaks somewhat peculiarly as though his tongue were too large for his mouth, and is a great boaster.

Peace had lost one of his fingers. He said that it had been shot off by a man with whom he had quarrelled, but it was believed to be more likely that he had himself shot it off accidentally in handling one of his revolvers. It was to conceal this obvious means of identification that Peace made himself the false arm which he was in the habit of wearing. This was of gutta percha, with a hole down the middle of it into which he passed his arm; at the end was a steel plate to which was fixed a hook; by means of this hook Peace could wield a fork and do other dexterous feats.


While on the run he met Susan Gray Adamson. With characteristic insistence Peace declared his passion for Susan by threatening to shoot her if she did not become his. Together they moved to London where he set up two houses, one to live in with his mistress while his wife and child moved into the adjoining one.

He described himself as a gentleman of means and tinkered with inventions,  patenting a machine which raised sunken vessels. At the same time he was carrying out successful burglaries on a regular basis. Just before his final capture Peace was engaged on other inventions, among them a smoke helmet for firemen, an improved brush for washing railway carriages, and a form of hydraulic tank.


Charles was caught trying to escape from police in 1878. During his murder trial he again attempted an escape, this time from the train that was bringing him to court.

He had been making excuses to leave the carriage whenever the train stopped. To obviate this nuisance the two warders had provided little bags which Peace could use when he wished and then throw out of the window. Just after the train passed Worksop, he asked for one of the bags. When the window was lowered to allow the bag to be thrown away, he took a flying leap through it. One of the warders caught him by the left foot, leaving him hanging from the carriage for two miles while struggling to escape. At last he succeeded in kicking off his left shoe, and dropped on to the line. The train ran on another mile until the warders were able to get it stopped. They immediately hurried back, and found their prisoner lying on the footway, apparently unconscious and bleeding from a severe wound in the scalp.


All this was to no avail as he recovered enough to be sentenced to death for the murder of his ex-neighbour. Charles had a last hearty breakfast of salty bacon and quarrelled with the preacher over his poor choice of bible readings as he led him to the gallows.


Published in: on April 14, 2010 at 8:24 am  Comments (41)  
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gift of the muses

The Greek word for ‘gift of the muses’ is Musidora. French actress Jeanne Roques used it as her stage name.


Beginning in 1915, Musidora began appearing in the hugely successful Feuillade-directed serials Les Vampires as Irma Vep, a cabaret singer, opposite Édouard Mathé as crusading journalist, Philippe Guerande. Contrary to the title, the Les Vampires were not actually about vampires, but about a criminal gang cum secret society inspired by the exploits of the real-life Bonnot Gang.

Irma Vep found here

Les Vampires’ success was due in great part to the character of the head villainess, whose name is an anagram of “vampire,” – Musidora (who occasionally posed naked) virtually defined female beauty for the decade, and her character, identified mostly by her black tights and black mask, slinking down corridors and escaping over rooftops, defined the popular archetype of the super-villainess femme fatale for decades to come

After her career as an actress faded, she focused on writing and producing. Her last film was an homage to her mentor Feuillade entitled La Magique Image in 1950, which she both directed and starred in. Late in her life she would occasionally work in the ticket booth of the Cinematheque Francaise — few patrons realized that the old woman in the foyer might be starring in the film they were watching.”

image found here

The Bonnot Gang was a criminal anarchist group operating in France and Belgium from 1911-12.

They had the dubious honor of being the first to use an automobile to flee the scene of a crime, presaging by over twenty years the later methods of John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde. Automobiles were not yet common so the gang usually stole expensive cars from garages, not from the street.

Bonnot Gang found here

In March 1912, gang member and would-be leader Octave Garnier sent a mocking letter to the Sûreté – with his fingerprints. In those days, the French police did not yet use fingerprinting. On March 25, 1912, the gang stole a de Dion-Bouton automobile by shooting the driver through the heart. They drove into Chantilly north of Paris where they robbed the Société Générale Bank – shooting the bank’s three cashiers. They escaped in their stolen automobile as two policemen tried to catch them, one on horseback and the other on a bicycle.

French bicycle found here

On April 28, police had tracked Bonnot to a house in Choisy le Roi. They besieged the place with 500 armed police officers, soldiers, firefighters, military engineers and private gun-owners. By noon, after sporadic firing from both sides, three police officers put a dynamite charge under the house. The explosion demolished the front of the building. Bonnot was hiding in the middle of a rolled mattress and tried to shoot back until Lépines shot him non-fatally in the head.

Published in: on April 13, 2010 at 8:10 am  Comments (38)  
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duk duk if you see them coming

In Papua New Guinea there is a secret religious society known as the Duk Duks.


It represents a rough sort of law and order through its presiding god Duk-Duk, a mysterious figure dressed in pine branches down to its waist, with a leafy green helmet like a gigantic candle-extinguisher made of leaves. Women and children are forbidden to look at this figure – but shemales are permitted to do so.


The society uses male Duk-Duk and female Tubuan masks. Both types are cone-shaped and are constructed of cane and fibre, with short, bushy capes of pine needles. Traditionally the Duk-Duk was taller than the Tubuan and was faceless. The Tubuan had circular eyes and a crescent-shaped mouth painted on a dark background.


Only males could belong to Duk-Duk, the entrance fees often being 50 to 100 human limbs.

Below is an excerpt from The Western Pacific and New Guinea by H Romilly (1886)

This curious and interesting institution, by working on the superstitions of the rest, enables the old men of the tribe to secure for themselves a comfortable retirement and unbounded influence.  The appearance of the Duk Duk is announced well in advance by the old men. Great preparations of food are then made to appease them.

The day before the Dukduk’s expected arrival the women usually disappear, or remain in their houses. It is immediate death for a woman to look upon this unquiet spirit. Before daybreak everyone is assembled on the beach, most of the young men looking a good deal frightened.

At the first streak of dawn, singing and drum-beating is heard out at sea, and five or six canoes, lashed together with a platform built over them, are seen to be slowly advancing towards the beach. Two most extraordinary figures appear dancing on the platform, uttering shrill cries.


The outward and visible form assumed by them is intended to represent a gigantic cassowary, with the most hideous and grotesque of human faces. The dress, which is made of leaves, certainly looks much like the body of this bird, but the head is like nothing but the head of a Dukduk. It is a conical-shaped erection, about five feet high, made of very fine basket work, and gummed all over to give a surface on which the diabolical countenance is depicted. No arms or hands are visible, and the dress extends down to the knees.

Cassowary found here

As soon as the canoes touch the beach, the two Dukduks jump out, and at once the natives fall back, so as to avoid touching them. If a Dukduk is touched, even by accident, he very frequently tomahawks the unfortunate native on the spot.

NOT this kind of Tomahawk

In the evening a vast pile of food is collected, and is borne off by the old men into the bush, every man making his contribution to the meal. The Dukduk, if satisfied, maintains a complete silence; but if be does not think the amount collected sufficient, he shows his disapprobation by yelping and leaping.

When the food has been carried off, the young men have to go through a very unpleasant ordeal, which is supposed to prepare their minds for having the mysteries of the Dukduk explained to them at some very distant period. They stand in rows of six or seven, holding their arms high above their heads.

The Dukduk selects a cane, dances up to one of the young men, and deals him a most tremendous blow, which draws blood all round his body. There is, however, on the young man’s part no flinching or sign of pain. After the blow with the cane he has to stoop down, on the ‘tail,’ which must be most unpleasant. Each of these young men has to go through this performance some twenty times in the course of the evening. He will nevertheless be ready to place himself in the same position every night for the next fortnight. The time of a man’s initiation may and often does last for about twenty years, and as the Dukduk usually appears six times a year, the novice has to submit to a considerable amount of flogging to purchase his freedom of the guild.


Published in: on April 12, 2010 at 8:08 am  Comments (40)  
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corset friday 9.4.2010

Published in: on April 9, 2010 at 9:05 am  Comments (39)  
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mental champagne

Lydia Languish was a character in Sheridan’s play “The Rivals”. Apparently, she also wrote for McCalls……..

At any rate, bright afternoon as it was, several people who ought to have been better employed gave utterance to their views upon a subject which has often concerned my mind – the importance of suiting one’s clothes to one’s mood. The Little Miss, a chit of seventeen, who knows a great deal too much, remarked inconsequently that for her part she couldn’t listen to Caruso in black ; and she was promptly sat upon by the Woman of Thirty (who is forty).

“You’re really and truly wrong. One can do anything artistic in black, feel anything artistic, be anything artistic. There is only one drawback to black : you mustn’t wear it on water and you musn’t go among flowers in it.

Sharapova dares to wear black near water

White to wear on water – blue water – and in gardens and near hills ; white for a green thought in a green shade, and when one is very young and fresh and innocent, and there is a great deal of mental champagne in the air.

Raquel Welch prefers white with her mental champagne

I suppose white is the right thing in which to dress to be made love to – white or black. I certainly say black, because ninety-nine men out of one hundred like a woman best in it, and it’s so more appropriate somehow.

Engineers are attracted to things that are black and white

I don’t think one ought ever wear navy blue if one feels sentimental,” remarked the Little Miss, meeting with instant agreement. “One shouldn’t wear navy blue in the house. Open air, and games, and dogs and things” (smiling at the man) : “when one sits on the grass with one’s elbows on one’s knees and one’s chin in one’s hand – that’s the real navy blue attitude.”


“What about pale blue?” said the man. “I think it’s difficult to put wrong. It may not always be suitable, but however wretched a woman may be, mentally or physically, I believe that wearing blue – a rather turquoisy sky blue – bucks her up, and all that.”

Turquoise Scarlett

“Heliotrope? Heliotrope is the color for red-haired women, only they will never see it ; and women in red-hair moods,” I added. It brings out all the lovely tints in their skins, and it tones down the ginger – no, I’m not alluding to color, but to the electricity which goes with the type.

redhead in heliotrope

“Ecru – biscuit – dun color?”

Wear them when you feel like a big black hat and one diamond brooch. The mood in which you want to look – ‘the gracious woman.'”


“Don’t ever wear yellow,” said the man, earnestly. I have been wondering why ever since.

Published in: on April 8, 2010 at 8:36 am  Comments (40)  
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tricks with british wine

I don’t know a lot about British wine, and after having read these recipes, I’m not sure I want to

image found here

To keep British wine from turning sour: Boil a gallon of wine with half an ounce of beaten oyster shells or crabs’ claws burnt into a powder; then strain out the liquor into a sieve and when cold put it into the wine of the same sort. It will destroy the acid and give to the wine a pleasant taste.

oyster shells found here

To take away any unpleasant scent from British wines: Bake a long roll of dough stuck well with cloves; hang it in the cask and it will draw the disagreeable scent from the wine

bread roll found here

To preserve wine when ropey: Tap the cask of wine and put a piece of coarse linen cloth upon that end of the cock which is inserted into the inside of the cask then rack it into a dry cask ; to 30 gallons of wine add 5 ounces of powdered alum, roll and shake them well together (Ropey wine signifies that which is foul, thick or mothery)

image found here

To sweeten musty casks: Take some dung of a milking cow when it is fresh and mix it with a quantity of warm water so as to make it sufficiently liquid to pass through a funnel, dissolve 2 pounds of salt and 1 pound of alum, put the whole into a pot on the fire, stir with a stick and when nearly boiling pour into the cask and bung it up tight.”

milking cow image found here

Published in: on April 7, 2010 at 7:58 am  Comments (49)  
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