Downton Abbey

Adelaide's Downton Abbey: Ayer's House

I have been moving my home and office since I got back from New Zealand, so I am behind on blogging about my trip. I cannot help but notice that all US social media is leaving a little space (after election coverage) to talk about the last episode of Downton Abbey airing on PBS this Sunday evening. The season traditionally ends with a Christmas episode that plays on Christmas Day in England.--obviously delayed in the USA. I bought Season 6 on Google Play so I have already seen the conclusion and I will not spoil it.

It did make me think about Adelaide's equivalent of Downton Abbey: Ayer's House.

Growing up in California I can relate to places like Adelaide, South Australia. The sprung up, new fortune, scratch-a-community-out-of-the-bush feeling is one I know well. Whether it is a gold rush or agricultural land rush, the place history is not very old and the challenges of creating a "showplace" home to create status in a brand new community is familiar. When I walked up the circular drive to Ayer's House in Adelaide it felt like a mansion in Grass Valley of another mining tycoon.

This particular tycoon, Henry Ayers, exaggerated his work experience. He was an office clerk but he claimed other skills so he could get a subsidy to emigrate to Adelaide with his wife Anna. He did well with the Burra Burra mines and ultimately served as the Premiere of South Australia five times between 1863 and 1873. He built a huge house in downtown Adelaide near the Botanic Garden. Even now it is gracious.

I went to see it because I saw a flyer on the bookshop window advertising the exhibit of costumes from Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. I have watched all of the episodes on Netflix and the costumes depicting a wealthy feminist detective and her entourage solving mysteries. Sometimes with television I am disappointed with the reality of a set or costume because the camera can fool you. These costumes are the real deal--recreated couture to emulate the roaring 20's. 

I was ready to join the enthusiast crowd of women who sew or craft to go through the exhibit, but first I stopped and spoke with the docent at the front door. It was he who told me about Henry Ayers and why the house is worth a look even when there is not a fashion display in every room.  

To make it more interesting, the museum staff also created a bit of a whodunit to solve while you walked through the rooms. I did not need anymore entertainment as I was completely enraptured with the clothes themselves. Beautifully made from exquisite fabrics, I enjoyed talking to other women who sew about where they source fabric and how hard it is to find. We all laughed because even though we were from USA and Australia, both of our mothers used to look at a garment in the department store and say the equivalent of "You could make it yourself for less." Now it is quite the opposite. No one can say they are sewing to be thrifty. 

This gives full permission to sew as a creative expression. Many of these garments are impractical and designed and executed as a celebration of beauty.

The show, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, is based on Australian author Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher book series. I have looked for them in the US and have not found them. The gift shop had a new copy of the first in the series Cocaine Blues. I bought it for my Mom. Then when I found a secondhand bookshop at the Central Market I was able to pick up quite a few more in the series. My Mom read them first and now I am reading them. They are not as complex as say Robert Galbraith's Cormoran Strike series, but neither do you have to worry about gore or upsetting physical violence.  I hope Ms. Greenwood makes her books available electronically in the USA so more people can enjoy them. 

If you are interested in fashion that pushes the envelope and is inspiring and beautiful, the check out WOW! The World of Wearable Art dates for 2016 are September 11-October 9 in Wellington, New Zealand. Tickets are available here.

This blog is reposted from 

Grantchester Looks Terrific!

Clicked through to the website mulling over whether I want to watch Downtown Abbey this season. I spied the preview to Grantchester. Stars the James Norton who played the hero defense attorney/preferred suitor to Georgiana in Death Comes to Pemberley. (Confess I have watched PD James' 3 parter Britain a couple of times.)

Yes! Looks fabulous. When is it on?? Have to wait until January 18 (television), or in my case January 19 on-line.

Meanwhile, are you watching Downton Abbey? Or have reached burn out?  I am on the fence. I rewatched an episode the other day and was surprised how tedious I found it. Give me a reason to tune in...

Why are some books "stickier" than others?

Their Noble Lordships by Simon Winchester

I am reading three non-fiction books. Do you share my habit of starting several books at the same time? I do not do this with novels. Either I get sucked into the plot and I read it exclusively to the end (sometimes staying up until the wee hours), or I set it aside. Non-fiction books are easier to put aside when my mood changes and then I find myself picking the book up again a few days later. Meanwhile I may have started another book or read a novel.

While I am part way into three books, I am "glued" to Simon Winchester's Their Noble Lordships.When it was first published it had the subtitle: Hereditary Peerage Today. Well, not today, today. It was written in the late 1970s and finally published in 1981. I am reading the 2012 revised edition with the subtitle: How to tell a Duke from an Earl and other mysteries solved.

Why am I so captivated?

1. It is like a highbrow gossip session. There are lots of stories about actual Dukes and Marquesses and other British peers, living and dead. This actually caused the delay in publication because while it is a factual presentation, some people still sued to stop the book being published.

2. It helps to make sense of some of the mysteries of British society that no amount of reading Jane Austen or watching Downton Abbey can solve for an American. At the same time, some customs associated with peers, such as precedence (who outranks whom) is still mysterioso even after reading several chapters related to the topic. I cannot keep all the titles straight especially when you add in military honors.

3. Simon Winchester is a damn good writer. Maybe you've read his history of the Oxford dictionary or Krakatoa. He knows how to tell a great non-fiction story.

I am thoroughly enjoying this book. Even though legislation was passed in 1999 to reform the House of Lords, no legislation can get abolish a class system. Even taxation schemes level the playing field imperceptibly between, say, the Duke of Westminster and a well paid professional Briton. Plus it is generally easier to examine the idiosyncrasies of human preference in a culture outside our own.

The bottom line is this book is "sticky" or hard to put down because it is well-paced, beautifully written and chock full of stories about real people.