Miss Phryne Fisher, Lady Detective

TV murder mysteries with 1920s fashions–including cars–that are to die for.

Australian Broadcasting’s “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” features fabulous 1920s clothes and hats, as well as strong personalities.

“I’m not the marrying kind,” says the uninhibited Miss Fisher. I love that line! She uses that charming euphemism for a woman who sleeps around, and she’s at ease with herself. She loves to drive her own “motorcar,” and she has such an adventurous spirit that I was not surprised when she jumped into the cockpit of an “aeroplane” and flew it. Of course Miss Fisher can fly.

The next clip is from the first show, where she meets the prickly Detective Inspector Jack Robinson.

As Phryne solves crimes, Jack’s irritation turns to respect. He isn’t the man you saw in her boudoir, and much as we want it, that scene may never come to pass. Instead, he and Miss Phryne Fisher share affection and a crackling sexual tension.

Based on novels by Kerry Greenwood, at the end of the day, each 55-minute 1920s extravaganza is a solid whodunit, in my opinion, and I usually watch a TV whodunit at the end of the day. I get my Phryne fix on Netflix, on Watch Instantly, but I get it on Acorn, too. I just finished the 2015 season and will have to wait for more while I re-watch the old ones.

Mostly set in Melbourne, the Australian buildings are sumptuous, as in the opening frames of the next clip. Speaking of frames, love the 1920s sunglasses, too.

Restored Film of 1906 San Francisco

This is before the earthquake, but Market Street looks chaotic:  cable cars, autos, horse-drawn carriages and pedestrians dodging all of them. You see the Ferry Building, which still stands, at the end of the street. The camera was mounted on the front of a cable car, so the people and cars crossing the tracks are crossing in front of a cable car.

This was shot only about four days before the catastrophic earthquake and fire, but by that time the film was safely on its way to New York to be developed. I wish all the people in the film had also been out of town.

This excerpt is sharper than the longer versions on YouTube.

Snapshots of Fourth of July, 1903

Happy Fourth! In 1900, town picnics and other community events, like church picnics, were the order of the day.

I love zooming in on online digital photographs.  Below is a link to a candid shot of people enjoying the Fourth of July at Alpine Park in Salida, Colorado, in 1903. The lone man in the bandstand may have just finished reading the Declaration of Independence aloud, which was usually part of July 4 celebrations. Two women talk under a parasol. People are dressed up, and girls wear ruffly dresses.

Click here  to open the link to the photo. (Trouble linking? See end of this post.)

Zooming in amazes me.  Here’s how to do it:

  • Locate the yellow bar with a minus and plus sign at each end. Beside the plus sign is an icon that says Full Browser when you scroll over it.
  • Click on Full Browser. (If you want to return to previous view, just click this again.)
  • Move the blue square along the yellow bar, toward the plus sign, but not all the way. This enlarges the center of the photo.
  • Hold the mouse key down and drag the picture up. As you move, wait for the new parts of the photo to load. You can drag from side to side.

Here’s another photo of the same celebration with a carriage draped with flag bunting and the decorations on the horses’ heads. Check out the little girls in their best hats!

I will start posting on Thursday mornings. Happy Fourth of July!

Trouble linking? Type in digital.denverlibrary.org and search for:  City Park Salida 573 and Alpine Park Salida 574

Winning a World War from a Basement — Part 2

They contemplated enemy invasion every day and carried their gas masks at all times, recalled a worker in the underground Churchill War Rooms in London.

A broom closet in these Cabinet War Rooms was converted into the Transatlantic Telephone Room, where a phone, connected to a scrambler at another London location, could call the White House. It was the first hotline. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his generals spoke to President Franklin Roosevelt and American generals.

Transatlantic Telephone Room

You hear a recording from this hotline, Churchill and Roosevelt discussing an offer of surrender from one of the nations they were fighting. (Only one nation offered, and that was the problem.) I was fascinated to listen to their familiar voices reach a decision together and it made me think of the dark days of the war. What if they hadn’t had this secure phone connection?

Only the highest-ranking personnel, like generals, had a tiny bedroom/office instead of a bunk in the dock. Others lived at home.
Only the highest-ranking personnel, like generals, had a tiny bedroom/office instead of a bunk in the dock. Others lived at home.

Many men and women slept on bunks in the sub-basement, which they called the dock. The ceiling was so low that nobody could stand up straight as they walked, and it was brightly lit, with noisy ventilation, all night long.

A corridor has chests with large, flat drawers; I think they contained hundreds of maps. The Central Map Room, show below, is a highlight of the war rooms.

Map Room, Churchill War Rooms

The large map at the far end was used to track convoys, Allied fleets that carried ships full of men and materiel and were sometimes destroyed and sunk. Below, a detail of this map, showing the east coast of the U.S.

Detail of Convoy Map, Churchill War Rooms

Each pinhole was the location of a convoy. This is part of the map above, used every day of the war.

Telephones with a green receiver have a scramble button for classified conversations.
Telephones with a green receiver have a scramble button for classified conversations.

The officers who worked in the Central Map Room gathered data and delivered daily reports on every front to an office above ground. This room was staffed 24/7 until the lights were turned off the day after the war ended in Asia, and the room is the same today.

I hope you enjoyed these two posts about London’s Churchill War Rooms, also called Cabinet War Rooms. I sure enjoyed my visit, and I wished I’d left time for the attached Churchill Museum.




Winning a World War from a Basement — Part 1

Those were desperate times, and you feel that in Britain’s World War II command center, the underground Churchill War Rooms (Cabinet War Rooms).

Cupboard is labeled "10 Downing Street."  Red sign reads "Prime Minister."
Cupboard is labeled “10 Downing Street.” Red sign reads “Prime Minister.”

This converted basement, blocks from Parliament and 10 Downing Street, sheltered and hid the most crucial work of the British military and government from 1939 until the war’s end in 1945. It’s now a don’t-miss sight in London.


Winston Churchill met with his War Cabinet in this underground room.
Winston Churchill met with his War Cabinet in this underground room.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his staff, the War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff often worked in this reinforced London basement, and they took refuge here when the bombs fell on the city. Some workers lived here, men and women who worked with codes, typed, tracked convoys on maps and guarded this headquarters. They carried their gas masks as they moved from room to room, and the women who worked at the switchboard had special gas masks so they could continue routing phone calls.

A sign indicates weather above ground. Some workers spent so many days underground they risked their health.
A sign indicates weather above ground. Some workers spent so many days underground they risked their health.

The basement was fortified by covering it with reinforced concrete, but a direct hit from a large bomb could have destroyed it. Although the concrete was poured in full view of passersby, the site of this nerve center remained a secret, which was critical for the whole country. Nobody who knew its location could mention it.

Next Thursday, I’ll post more about this site and describe two rooms vital to winning the war.

Two Paintings by Artists of Taos, New Mexico

The Taos art colony began about 1900.  American Oscar Berninghaus arrived in Taos, New Mexico, in 1899 and painted this portrait, Pueblo Woman of Taos, in 1925. People have lived in the Taos Pueblo, adjacent to town, for a thousand years.

The model is believed to be Marina Martinez of Taos Pueblo, wife of an artist.
The model is believed to be Marina Martinez of Taos Pueblo, wife of an artist.

Both this painting and the one below are from the Albuquerque Museum. Taos Valley Landscape, below, is undated, painted by Victor Higgins (1884-1949) who came to Taos in 1914.   Look how architectural this landscape is.

Taos Valley Landscape (1280x1143)

There is red earth in the foreground, and throughout, horizontal and vertical lines and rectangles:  the trees, the fields and clouds.  I include the picture frame to show how the artist truncated the tops of the two tall, narrow trees on either side.  Here is a detail below, with a closer view of the rectangular fields and clouds.

Note the brushstrokes in this detail of Taos Valley Landscape.
Note the brushstrokes in this detail of Taos Valley Landscape.

I took these while on a tour with the 2012 Women Writing the West Conference in Albuquerque.  I will post another painting from Albuquerque Museum early Friday morning.  Have a good week and enjoy the beauty around us.

Edwardian Servants

My summer beach read was Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants by Allison Maloney, and it is a glimpse into a different world.

I brought this book, a gift from a family member, on my California beach vacation.  By coincidence, my hotel room offered these TV shows for a fee, listed like this:

  • Children’s shows
  • Recently broadcast shows
  • Downton Abbey

That was all.  Really, what’s better than Downton Abbey?

I watched Lady Edith’s wedding again, the servants smiling from the pews as she walked down the aisle. According to Life Below Stairs, servants going to church seated themselves in order of their status.  A class society, Edwardian England had large homes with a strict pecking order downstairs – and peck they did.

What about those spiffy uniforms the maids wore?  Their handsome dark dresses, ruffled white aprons and little caps?  I’d assumed that employers supplied them, and I had wondered whether the cost of the uniforms was taken from the wages of these women and girls.  Answer:  neither.  Desperately poor families and their daughters worked and saved to buy these, so the girl could become a maid and earn a tiny salary and three hearty meals a day.  This last is key.

Before the invention of our modern labor-saving appliances, ordinary housewives needed help, and many kept a servant or two.

English Cottage
image credit: 123RF.com, #18928567

Large houses required a few dozen servants or more, including the outdoor staff, and so servants had companions in each other.

Chatsworth House © David Hughes/123RF.com

With so many people under the same roof, I think there would be more drama than in our homes, even though the servants tried to be unobtrusive and give their employers as calm a home as possible.  That’s something to think about as we wash our own dishes – at least we have peace.

Life Below Stairs:  True Lives of Edwardian Servants by Allison Maloney (St. Martin’s Press) is an interesting, entertaining book detailing a lost world.

Check back next Monday for a very different home — photos of a Wyoming log cabin and what it tells us about life back then.