For One Night Only

For good or for ill, I am one of Nature's Collectors - right up there with the bowerbirds and magpies.  But instead of amassing a collection of, say, blue pen caps or shiny bits of foil, I go for something a bit more elusive: 19th century British ceramics (the earlier the better.)  As it stands I have gathered a tidy little hoard for myself (thank you, ebay,) and with each new (to me) addition I find myself falling ever-deeper in love.
 Recently I acquired one object that seems to me to be a rather remarkable piece indeed.  It is a moulded Staffordshire jug, c.1840 glazed in a fetching sky blue.  On it we see a man, decked out in Roman dress, effectively surrounded by a series of leopards, lions and…is that a sheep?

The man doesn't appear to be in any danger; he rests his hands on the beasts' heads as if they are friends.  One even drapes his forelegs around the man's shoulders and peers out from behind in a calm and friendly manner.  Just above this scene there is a series of coats of arms and above those, heavy draperies complete with fringe and tassels.  What's going on?
 "Who put the dude in the toga in charge?"

Everything might make a lot more sense if I tell you that the man shown here is the American animal trainer Isaac A. Van Amburgh and that this jug is a sort of Victorian souvenir - a memento of one of his shows.
Van Amburgh was the first trainer to introduce big cat shows into circuses and, as some may see it, the Root of the Problem with many travelling shows today.  When he came to the UK in 1838 Queen Victoria herself was a huge fan, as was the Duke of Wellington.  And who could blame them?  Here was a man who stuck his head in lions' mouths and commanded the beasts to lick his boots - which they did.  He even did a snappy little number where he actually made a lion lie down with a lamb, as per the Bible (which he cited often to justify his - Man's - role as Master of the Beasts.)
"I'm VERY FIERCE for a sheep, you know."

From all this one would suppose that Van Amburgh loved and respected his critters - but that was, sadly, far from the case.  He used loathsome techniques to gain mastery over his big cats (which I really do not wish to reiterate here) and it was scared and broken animals that helped him gain his great acclaim.  Even the Victorians thought his practices were unusually cruel for the time.  Somewhat oddly - and mostly infuriatingly - Van Amburgh met his death not by his jungle beasties but by heart attack in his bed at the age of 54.  Sorry, lions. 
 "Hey, you - down in front!"

He lived long enough, however, to hear his name immortalized in a song entitled "The Menagerie," written by Dr. W. J. Wetmore, M.D., the first verse of which runs as follows:

"Van Amburgh is the man, who goes to all the shows
He goes into the lion's cage, and tells you all he knows;
He sticks his head in the lion's mouth, and keeps it there a-while,
And when he pulls it out again, he greets you with a smile."   

A scene reminiscent of the Tarot's Strength trump
Poor lions.  He'd have been nothing without them!

PS --> I was also very, very pleased to discover that the V&A has my exact jug in its collection.  Sure, their handle-lion still has his tail attached, but who's counting?  There's more information on the piece there, too - click on over and have a look!

Doomvember: You Never Know

"The end" - two quick, punchy words signifying what?  Closure and finality - or maybe release and a chance to begin anew?

Add a few more punchy words like "of the world" to those first two and you get yourself any number of nightmare scenarios that few people can scarcely agree upon, let alone be willing to live (or die) through.

But is there really such a thing as "THE end?"  I myself subscribe to the belief that there really are neither beginnings nor endings, but let's say, hypothetically, that there IS an End at hand.  One of the "of the world" variety.  It's a pretty big thing and it raises some very important questions, most notably the ever-important "What on Earth (well, what's left of it,) are you going to wear?"

Well fret no more my (potentially) sartorially-stranded (potential) End-timers, especially if you're a knitter.  I've got something to show you.

Yes, it's Doomsday Knits, the twisted progeny of Alex Tinsley's sharp and pointy mind and a number of devastating end times scenarios.  This collection of 32 patterns promises to be your go-to source whether you're looking to dress for, say, a particularly chilly nuclear winter or that first meeting with your new alien overlords (among others.)  Conveniently available for pre-order, this portentous tome is going to be unleashed upon millions of unsuspecting innocents come December 2013.  Consider yourselves warned.

I myself have a mitten pattern in this doomy book, in the cheerily-titled "Kill All Humans" section.  Sure, the robots have risen and want you dead, but that doesn't mean you have to have cold fingers while hiding out in that abandoned factory.

Meet Circuit - a pair of mittens sure to inspire you to look within yourself.  Sure the lights are out (both literally and metaphorically,) but your circuit-emblazoned mittens tell a different story.  See that ancient Egyptian-style cartouche nestled into the circuitry on the backs of the hands?  Those seven symbols represent your seven main chakra centres through which Energy surges and flows.  Yes, the Power has been within you all along - and no rust-eaten bucket of bolts can ever take that away from you.  Plug in.

Circuit is worked in Shibui Knits Sock, a fingering-weight yarn that is wonderful for use in colourwork accessories.  All photos from the book, courtesy of Vivian Aubrey. The Doomvember blog tour rolls on tomorrow over at A Pile of Sheep.  Looking for the full blog tour schedule?  Right this way.