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When is the Christmas season over? Well, if you ask me, it's when the last Christmas clearance item has left the stores at 90% off. I use Target stores in the USA as a yardstick for this. Keeping with this principle, I'm posting more Christmas stuff, like the photo above from Selfridges in London.
Ace Jackalope surveyed Christmas decorations over London's Oxford Street late this past October. I've got a few photos of Christmas decorations in London, so I'm grouping them with photos of London shopping in general.
For our first shopping foray this past late October in London, we went to Selfridges department store. Selfridges, like other older London department stores, utilizes some nice statuary, like this one over the entrance. We don't have many grand old department stores left in the US, so this post is an homage to the type of place baby boomers like me grew up with.
This statue on the ground floor of Selfridges reminded me of the robot Maria from the 1925 silent German expressionist science fiction film, Metropolis.
This one is near the food department.
Which reminds me...need more olives for your Christmas leftovers? This is part of the olive assortment in Selfridges food court. I love olives. I'd like to try all of these olives until I get sick, but I digress.
Of course, even though it was not even Halloween yet, I headed for the Christmas section.
I wasn't disappointed. Decorations were, overall, surprisingly perky. They were a welcome sight considering we'd just come in out of the grey of a rainy London day.
There were also more traditional color palates, such as the subdued tones of these topiaries.
I was surprised that most of the Santas were more-or-less like the ones in the USA. I spotted no traditional robed Father Christmas images. In fact, Santa was far from a dominant motif here.
The brightly garish stuff was delightful, though.
There was a small assortment of retro-Christmas decor. The prices weren't retro, however; that pack of nine pipe cleaner Santas was 31.95 pounds. That's about $60.
Speaking of retro, check out this chair in the home furnishing department.
Perhaps the ultra-bright colors of some of the Christmas decorations were part of a generally popular look of late. Here's more furniture.
Why don't they sell the really good stuff? Here's a poster in one of the clothing department at Selfridges. I wonder if the text means: "stupid American with camera takes surreptitious pictures in store?"
Walking on down Oxford street to Marks and Spencer, I shot these inactive lights. I asked, and they, along with all of the other Oxford Street lights, were not to be lit until November.
Here's a view showing the front of Marks and Spencer (left) facing Oxford Street with its decorations strung over the London traffic. Check out the huge chandelier.
From our window at the Thistle Hotel, we were able to see the lights of Oxford street every morning before setting out...
...and every night after returning from exploring the city. We had a great view of traffic passing near Marble Arch while most of the busses were still running, before midnight.
And at 2AM, when only the night busses ran. We just wish the decorations would have been turned on, but they wouldn't be November 9, about two weeks after we left. I did find a page with a few nice photos of the lights in all their glory, here.
Fortunately, the disappointment at the lack of active Christmas lights on Marks and Spencer was slightly offset by the lingerie poster on the side of the building. You see a lot of this sort of thing in London and it's surprising until you remember that we are largely descended from the puritans who left this country.
The next day, we stopped at the biggest toy store in London, Hamley's on Regent Street.
I've previously mentioned Hamley's, when I photographed the rarely-seen vampire jackalope there. Esmerelda here was part of a Halloween promotion, somewhat of a rarity in London, which has not quite fallen hook, line and plastic pumpkin for the holiday. By the way, do you think that if Toys R Us had employed women like this to walk around their stores, chatting with fathers and sons, that they'd have had to file for bankruptcy? I think not.
This approx 20 ft Superman rotated in the atrium, visible from all of the floors. Hamley's is huge, by the way...four or five stories as I recall.
Pirates were big at Hamley's.
That's as it should be because, as we've noted before, pirates are cool.
As an former model railroader, I enjoy seeing model trains in different countries. Trains by a company called Hornby are big sellers over here.
Doctor Who toys are a bit of trouble to get in the USA, but readily available in England, where the age-old, cult status TV series is produced. They had a couple versions of the Doctor's time and space ship, the TARDIS. "TARDIS" is an acronym for "Time And Relative Dimension In Space;" given his already proficient ability with disguise, I hesitate to think what Ace might do with a working time and space ship.
The exterior of the TARDIS is disguised as a British police box, a real-life relic of police technology past. A police box was a small booth which housed a telephone with which people could call the police or the police could call a station; they also served as shelter or temporary confinement for prisoners. Improvements in telecommunication made them obsolete, but one with a retro-look and new technology was installed in 1996 near the Earl's Court tube station in London. It fell off the edge of my list of things to see, but I'll get it someday. I bought this toy, by the way. See the damaged package? After an unsuccessful attempt to get into an over-crowded tube carriage, I was backing out and the doors snapped closed on my shopping bag. I didn't properly mind the gap.
These are daleks, a perennial enemy of the Doctor through the run of the series.
Another day and another department store. We spaced these out in between museums and other attractions. This is Harrods department store, famous for generations in London as a place for the upper crust to shop. Let's see if it's really very interesting.
Well, yeah, it is. It turns out that Harrods has history as well as interesting architecture and interior decor. The business has been on this same site in the Knightsbridge area of London since 1849; the current building dates from about 1901. According to their website, Harrods introduced the world's first escalator in 1898 and served brandy at the top to "revive nervous customers."
In the 1980s the Fayed family (of the late Dodi El Fayed, beau of the equally late Princess Diana) acquired Harrods. One of the changes they instituted was this Egyptian Hall and an accompanying Egyptian escalator which runs through all the way to the top of the store with hieroglyphics displayed throughout its length. This was done with the assistance of the British Museum for authenticity.
Despite keeping traditional features like this decorative tile and statuary, some of the architectural changes and the generally updated feel of the place have not been well-accepted by all of the British public. Fayed is credited - or condemned - with bringing about a sort of degentrification of Harrods; indeed, "vulgarisation" is the term some use. Harrods is over 150 years old, you know, and for a good portion of the 20th century was strongly identified with the traditional British class system as a place where upper crust was welcomed and everyone else was tolerated with a certain condescension. Selfridges was more where the middle class belonged and other stores catered to the masses. There's a good overview of this at an article in the British magazine, New Statesman.
Harrods was a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock, who had fresh herrings flown to him in Hollywood from this store. Harrods has many other links to the famous. Oscar Wilde and Queen Mary shopped here, and the store also served celebrities in unexpected ways. For example, the store embalmed Sigmund Freud back when it was also in the funeral business.
Some of the people who worked at Harrods' zillions of counters went on to gain notoriety. Pierce Brosnan worked at Harrods before he became Remington Steele or James Bond; the Harrods website says he worked at the pharmacy while the New York Times says it was in a clothing department called "Way In", which had been started to counter the popularity of London's 1960s-70s mod hang-out, Carnaby Street.
The food counters of London department stores are always fun to observe, though it's usually impractical for me to buy anything. All sorts of exotic cheeses, vegies and meats can be bought here. Live critters, as pets, are also sold at Harrods. The pet department sold an alligator which was given as a Christmas gift to Noel Coward, and Ronald Reagan received a baby elephant named Gertie. I didn't stop by the pet department to see if they were still doing anything as irresponsible as selling baby alligators, thought I guess that would have been normal back when it happened.
Winnie the Pooh has his origin at Harrods, according to their website. Author and Pooh creator A.A. Milne bought the original Winnie the Pooh for his son Christopher Robin here. Speaking of toys, Star Wars' Darth Vader actually worked here once. Actor Dave Prowse was working as a fitness consultant in the sports department of Harrods when he was discovered and cast as the Sith Lord who begat Luke, Leah and a million action figures.
Of course I hit the toy department, where I ran into more Doctor Who stuff. This Cyberman voice changer helmet was pretty cool, but too big and expensive to take home. Besides, methinks me has too much of this stuff laying around already.
Playmobile toys have become more popular in the USA since I first saw them in England in the early 1990s. I took note of the Playmobile Christmas stuff at Harrods and this Holiday Home was the only piece I did not see in Midwestern US toy stores upon my return.
A legion of Harrods Christmas Bears, Catherine Kitten and Jack Puppy, model sweaters for Ace. He must have bought one of each because he was seen recently wearing both the green and red sweaters...no word on what happened to Catherine and Jack...though I hear they were seen wandering around London naked and eventually found work in Soho.
Near the toy department, I saw the only automated display I could find, these festive mice.
The movies of Christmas automations I posted recently were well received, so here's a flick of this one. I bet that Harrods and the other London department stores had such things in their windows closer to Christmas, but in Late October we were a bit too early for that. By the way, I posted this through You Tube, so if you're seeing a white rectangle, they're probably down for a bit.
And now, down the escalator to the proper Christmas department in the basement.
Christmas crackers are always something I look for in London. Crackers are party favors designed such that you hold each end and pull hard, which makes a loud snapping noise. There is usually a party hat or trinket inside. I'd only seen crackers in movies before I went to London the first time in 1991; I'd read occasional references to "crackers" in books, but thought they meant the kind you eat. I do remember one of the James Bond films, or a parody of same, has a scene in which a party cracker explodes.
This box of crackers was 119 pounds; for that money (about $210) they should sing and dance. Another customer asked what their most expensive package of crackers cost; the employee didn't know, but did say they had a package of six or eight for 600 pounds. For that price, diamonds better fall out of them.
Harrods seemed to have more traditional decor than did Selfridges.
Across from Santa, Mrs. Clause relaxes amid brass decorations.
Did Mrs. Kringle dress like this in her youth? Is this how she netted Santa?
A friend of mine bought some of this glass-beaded garland. The employees were very helpful.
Wire reindeer were popular in London, just as they are here in the states.
This Harrods tree utilized bright colors and ornaments with polka-dots.
What did I buy on all these three shopping junkets? Not much at those prices, but I did get a few things. Aside from the Bears with shirts for Ace, I got my mom this Christmas ornament at Harrods.
So, what else did I buy at these three stores?
Selfridges: I bought this reindeer for myself at 10 pounds and 95 pence.
Hamley's had the best deal on this Doctor Who TARDIS at 12.95 pounds. Ace said something about souping it up with jackalope technology and making it actually work. Oh, great - now I'm afraid I'll be looking at a painting of Washington crossing the Delaware and I'll see antlers in the background.
There've been a few celebrities on this blog, and although we enjoy them, my real heroes are more obscure - the preservers of architecture, the documentarians of the blue highways, and people like Mike Babick, conservator of the that which was once ubiquitous and is now precious. We visited Babick last year at his home in Prairie Village, Kansas, near Kansas City, and shot lots of stills. This year we returned and shot small digital movies on a Sony DSC-H2.
What does Babick preserve? Christmas automations - lots of them. My movies are pretty low-res, but I've see lots of these automations broken in flea markets over the years so I thought it might be nice to show the range of motion of working models. Here, in a slightly spooky display, Santa and Rudolph lean out a window like popes greeting the awaiting crowd.
Outside, lots of people wait every night of the Christmas season to see the "Falmouth house" as some call it, for the street on which Babick lives.
This year, Babick added spinning candy near the roof-line.
Lines of cut-out figures inhabit the roof.
The window displays change from time to time.
All of which are oriented.
Most, if not all, of the automations were made for display windows in department stores.
Elves work in Babick's living room window as a model train goes by.
A group of gingerbread men dance in another window.
Dolls do whatever it is that dolls do.
Here are a couple more window displays:
Babick's magnum opus is in his garage, where dozens of old Christmas window display automations work in a cacophony of motion. He keeps the garage door up so you can see everything.
Here's a pan view so you can see more of the garage interior.
Santa and Mrs. Clause preside.
A bipedal reindeer hammers away as elves work in the background.
This canine ice cream vender is my favorite automation in the whole place.
Check out the motion in his eyes.
My second favorite is this frog.
A group of elves with spun Fiberglas beards lines the wall.
Sometimes the range of motion in not all that sweeping. Most of the smaller pieces would have been displayed in groups, which increased their appeal.
To the left of Babick's garage, the mood changes from secular to religious. Blue lighting serves to set apart this life-size manger scene.
Each of the pieces moves very slowly, but they work well together.
My girlfriend thinks the baby Jesus looks a bit like Bobby Hill from the animated show, "King of the Hill." I had uploaded a movie of it to You Tube and mentioned the Bobby Hill description - and You Tube removed it; I wonder if the description was flagged by copyright violation protection software.
I wonder what the neighbors think of all the traffic. A mixed reaction in such a crowded neighborhood, I would presume. Here's a shadow from Babick's roof, falling across a neighbor's house.
For the benefit of those interested in these things, I'll finish with a few more brief movies form the garage. Have a fine Christmas Eve!
Elves work while a girl irons.
This spinning bear has had quite a few You Tube hits. I suppose people search for "Christmas" and "bear."
I don't mean to alarm anyone, but I've been noticing that the days have been getting shorter since about this past June. Truth to tell, I didn't even see the sunrise this morning; this view is one I shot about a month ago in Missouri.
In my travels I have photographed ancient monuments - like Stonehenge or this one in Avebury, England - that may have been purposed to predict the motions of the sun...or maybe the ancients just knew that rocks look cool; I don't know. In years past, I would go to my attic window on midsummer's day and face east at sunrise while eating a salad made of vegetables I'd grown. I don't have any of that handy right now, so I did the next best thing to appease Sol - an animal sacrifice.
I took it upon myself, for the good of the world, to sacrifice a cow today to appease the sun god. Well, I didn't actually have a cow handy, myself, but I did kind of sacrifice one by proxy when I attended my local restaurant - Roy's BBQ in Hutchinson, KS. Ace dressed in ceremonial winter garb and helped out with the traditional ritual plastic fork. We also sacrificed some baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad and a diet pop.
I don't know if this will work or not. We'll find out in the coming week or so if the sun changes its mind and pops above the horizon a bit earlier every day. If it does, remember who you have to thank.
In the future, I think we should gather as small groups in motels to mark the position of the sun coming through peep holes. It's just an idea, but a fun one, I think. This one is at the Wigwam Motel on Route 66 in Rialto, CA - as good a place as any to herald the dawn.
(The title of this post is French for "we are of the sun." No; despite hours of classes, I don't know French very well - I swiped the phrase from a favorite song by Jon Anderson of Yes.)
Christmas comes but once a year, however, you may bask in it's incandescent glow with increasing frequency from the time the first season-jumper in your neighborhood puts up lights until your own neighbors finally shame you into pulling the plug on your own sometime after New Years. Yes, some people "put up" Christmas lights and others paint with them, regarding their houses as canvas for their electric media.
The latter is the case with Ace's friends, Carl and Kris of Blue Springs, MO. That's their house, above.
Beaded jewelry artist Mia Denman, one of Ace's drivers, does some of the afore-mentioned incandescent basking. Mia has accompanied Ace on severaljourneys, including an un-blogged cruise to Mexico last year and this past year's Ohio and Illinois adventures. Because of one such journey, you can now see her by running a google image search on "innocent missouri girl", (without the quotes). I'm not sure she is entirely happy about that.
Jackalopes are nothing if not social animals. This is never so true as when they have a chance to observe human behavior when said creatures gather to celebrate the pagan/Christian/secular/commercial holiday known as Christmas. Food is part of the ritual of such occasions. At one such recent party in Hutchinson, KS, I saw my insurance agent wielding a knife. She just retired; I'm thinking it was just in time.
The occasion was Patsy Terrell's Christmas party. Patsy is one of Ace's drivers and the town's Christmas maven. Her annual party is must-attend and her tree an exercise in just how much one can stress the superstructure of an artificial tree before the metal in it rebels by snapping like an overloaded bridge in an earthquake. I've helped with little engineering challenges concerning the tree for quite a few years...I call the thing "betreemoth"...but it's well worth helping with. We attended her party last year and she has accompanied Ace an Route 66/Interstate 40 trip from Oklahoma to California as well as on this year's Union Pacific 844 and Northwest USA voyages.
Local blogger Debbie Berndsen photographs Ace in the hand of Diana, owner of the Dancing Grouse, a local merchant of curious goods. You can see Debbie's party post on her blog.
Here's a picture of Debbie from last year.
Ace is wearing a sweater he picked up at Harrod's on his recent London trip. Mind you, I didn't get any clothing there, or in the whole city for that matter, nor do women go around holding me at parties.
This is Jocelyn; she's a local artist and maker of hand-made greeting cards.
That's Dottie (left) and Joya.
Terry was first seen on this blog being served ice cream and shrimp on his birthday last year. He was last seen with Dottie and Joya demonstrating Tai Chi this past April.
As such parties wind down, it's always nice to see, Here, three old friends from my newspaper days discuss weighty matters like world politics and the in-jokes of Futurama.
May your Christmas season be filled with Wonder
and tiki mugs
and a 1966 Major Matt Mason Moon Suit
and the secure feeling that your friends have your back
and a 12' Fiberglas Sinclair Brontosaurus (after I have one)
Have a hedge apple. A friend and I were gathering them because they are said to repel crickets from one's basement. Speaking of cleaning, I realized I'd better post any miscellaneous Fall stuff while Fall still reigned, though a tenuous reign, it is.
Late afternoon Autumn sun glints off houses in the Houston Whiteside Historic District of Hutchinson, Kansas.
I was attending a funeral when I saw this tree outside a church window. Everything dies; leaves just have the dignity of looking pretty while doing so.
There's a dearth of color-changing trees along KS Hwy 400 in the southeast part of the state, but there are a few. I shot these from the car a month - and one ice storm - ago. That little ribbon of pavement in front of them is old KS Hwy 96, which was largely replaced by 400.
Trader Vic's is part of the old guard in tiki establishments and their London location was opened back in the tiki heyday of 1963. I've had quite a few hits on my recent Northwest (US) tiki post, so I thought I'd get on to this one, as it's the only tiki place I visited in London during my trip in October (aside from seeing some Polynesian artifacts at the British Museum).
Like the only other Trader Vic's I'd seen - Beverly Hills - this one is housed in the lower level of a Hilton hotel. This particular Hilton was built in 1963 and renovated in the 1990s. It made the news in 1975 when an IRA bomb killed two people in the lobby, injured quite a few more and did extensive damage. I do not know if the damage extended to Trader Vic's or if this Vic's has ever been renovated.
The carvings n the foyer of the street entrance reminded me of what little I was able to photograph of the Los Angeles location last year.
The London location was a bit more photo-friendly than was LA. I asked politely, anticipated objections by promising to stay away from patrons, tried to keep a low profile and minimized flash.
I'm no expert, but I think this large tiki statue is Maori-inspired.
Although it may seem cluttered by normal restaurant standards, this Trader Vic's, like others in the chain, is pretty subdued when compared to many an American tiki place. Compare the choices in color and materials to the more gaudy look of parts of Sam's Seafood. Both are great approaches but imply entirely different atmospheres and price scales.
Like any good tiki establishment, Trader Vic's employs theme lighting like this glass fishing float.
This and the following few tikis inhabit "the Tiki Room", a separate enclosable area used for banquets and such.
Another Maori-inspired piece.
This one reminds me of the Trader Vic's salt and pepper shakers that I've seen a few times in flea markets. You can see a set of those in a picture with Robert and Theressa Volz at their soon-to-be tiki bar, Thatch, in Portland.
I'd like to know more about the cultural inspiration for this mosquito-like figure.
If anyone knows the meaning of the numbers on the tapa-covered walls, please comment.
When I was there, the only light in the room was provided by bulbs behind these huge clam shells. The effect would be great for making a relatively large group seem intimate, but it was lousy for photographing tikis by ambient light, so I used flash, but kept it weak enough to show ambient light and not distract diners.
This one appears to be relieving itself on the wall. I was somehow surprised at this. Let me get this straight - tiki shirts are frowned upon at Trader Vic's because it's a classy place, but they can portray a statue as taking a leak?
This is the edge of a dining area.
I didn't shoot all of the tikis in the place - far from it.
I pretty much stayed away from carvings in booths with customers.
Some of the drinks come in specific mugs, as my friend in the American USAF discovered. I love the echo of history in this shot; it was partially the surge of men returning from the Pacific theater after WWII that spurred the popularity of the tiki craze in the mid-20th century.
I just couldn't resist using a snippet of Warren Zevon's "Werewolves Of London" that mentioned this location in a recent, post-Halloween full moon post: "I saw a werewolf drinkin' a pina colada at Trader Vic's And his hair was perfect."
A werewolf would not be the true horror at Trader Vic's; that'd be the mug prices.
Mugs and other glassware are for sale out of a glass case near the front of the restaurant.
Here is a ceramic helmet shell for 35 pounds, a tiki bowl for 30 pounds, an ashtray with Tahitian figures for 10 pounds and a set of salt and pepper shakers for 10 pounds. I really considered buying the three-legged, moai-inspired tiki bowl but with the prevailing exchange rate, it would have been nearly $60. Plus, it did not look as deeply detailed as specimens I have seen online. (Update: the following year, in March of 2007, I bought one in the Scottsdale, AZ Trader Vic's for $30, so it's good I waited.)
On the right are a scorpion bowl for 35 pounds and a rum barrel for 30 pounds.
I've found older (and crisper-detailed) versions of this head hunter cup in flea markets for a fraction of the 30 pounds Trader Vic's wanted for it, new. The Tahitian mug on the right is wonderfully politically incorrect with men chasing topless women. It was 30 pounds.
The coconut cup and the green marine tumbler were each 20 pounds.
The green ceramic big shot mug was 20 pounds.
The fog cutter mug (center) was 30 pounds.
The mug prices made me curious about the Hilton's room rates. The cheapest room for one person listed on their reservation site was 229 pounds; at current exchange rates that's about $420.
Trader Vic's/London Hilton is located near the Green Park tube stop and if you're traveling with anyone interested in the Hard Rock Cafe, it's not too far away. If you're into tiki mugs, you might want to check out oogamooga.com. For info on all things tiki, see tikicentral.com. For data on tiki bars everywhere see critiki.com.
I took a little drive along Kansas Highway 400 tonight and was rewarded with the color palette that is given only when a landscape blanketed in the cool blue of evening snow defies the red of a sun that was stingy with its warmth.
The near-full moon accents a farm near Parsons, KS.
"Impression of a grain elevator in twilit snow" - Fredonia, KS.
I've always been fond of this block and this sign along Main Street in Joplin, MO. Route 66 News gave me an excuse to go out and shoot a picture with Christmas decorations when the owner of that website asked its readers to submit holiday scenes along the mother road. This is the middle of the west side of Main Street between 1st and 2nd Streets, two days after a rather thorough ice and snow storm. This block used to be part of Route 66 back when the now-demolished Broadway Viaduct channeled traffic from Broadway to Main Street. The replacement viaduct channels traffic onto Main at 2nd Street, one block south, thus excluding this block from many Rt66 tours.
One of Ace's main drivers, a Joplin resident, tells me the designs in the windows were painted by Nancy Tebbe, an employee of Watts Paint about ten years ago. Watts Paint is no longer in the building, but the sign remains. I have not seen in lit in some time, but I'm glad it's still there. If you're inclined to document Christmas along the mother road, please consider sending Route 66 News a picture or two.
(Update on sign, August 25, 2007: The Watt's Paint sign has been removed from the building and, as it has been offered on Ebay, is not likely to return. Joplin has lost another bit if its visual character.)
I hadn't realized it 'til I wrote this post, but two years ago I actually drove in a Christmas parade on Route 66 - the Joplin Christmas parade, right down the part of Route 66 that follows Main Street from 7th Street to 1st Street. My brother shot this picture of my helpful crew and I driving Clarence the Christmas Dinosaur, the only time we ever put lights on him.
Oh, an update from yesterday's post: At 11:22 PM Saturday, almost 48 hours after first going outside, Ace Jackalope has partially thawed out and reports the new parka is a success - he's trying to decide how to warm up.
The central building in the block of Joplin's Main Street (Route 66) between 1st and 2nd streets has changed. It has been painted, the front slightly altered and the old As noted above, the Watt's Paint sign is gone. I saw it on Ebay in 2007 - as a matter of fact the seller hot-linked one of the photos above - but it did not sell.
We've had a bit of snow and ice here in the Midwest US the past couple days...cold, too. At one o'clock AM November 30 - two nights ago - Ace Jackalope went outside to observe the neighbor's Christmas lights and decided to test a new winter parka. It had been sleeting for awhile.
By 1:46 AM, I figured he was not coming back in for awhile.
Yesterday at 2:06PM, he'd been out almost 12 hours. The sleet had continued, but Ace was on top of a car - a rather aerodynamic surface - so much of the sleet was swept away.
10:44AM, Dec 1st (today): The sleet had turned into snow overnight and Ace is entombed up to his neck.
Across the street from Ace, a thin coating of ice taunts a tree that had hopes of new growth in the recent unseasonably warm weather.