Thursday, 23 October 2014

Sherlock Holmes exhibition at the Museum of London

Image (c) Kasia Wozniak, used with permission of
the Museum of London. Please don't pin/reuse!
Sherlock Holmes is having a bit of a cultural moment, so it's fitting that the Museum of London should have an exhibition on celebrating one of the English capital's best-known fictional inhabitants. It's running from the 17th October 2014 to 12th April 2015, and will explore real Victorian London as well as the world of the fictional detective and his transition from print to stage and film. Entry prices are £12 for adults, £10 for concessions and £9.50 each for 'flexible family' tickets.

As part of the Sherlock Holmes season the museum is hosting walks, a cocktail hunt, all sorts of things. There's also an exhibition of fashion photography, called 'He wasn't an easy gentleman to describe', shot by photographer Kasia Wozniak on a large-plate camera using the wet-plate collodion process. That's a Victorian technique that is starting to be used a little more - I've seen steampunk photographers using it. However, fashion photographers rarely use the technique, and it gives a really Victorian feel to Wozniak's work. The clothes her model wears are all taken from snippets of descriptions in the Holmes stories.

I was quite surprised to realise that this is the first exhibition on Holmes to take place in London for over 60 years. He's such an iconic character - but, as I said, it's his moment. (I have to confess, I really don't see the physical appeal of Benedict Cumberbatch, though he's great in radio plays.) The Museum of London is a great place for it. While it's very hard to compress the history of the city into one building, and I'm not sure it's done successfully as far as earlier centuries are concerned, the museum does have a nicely-done 'Victorian street', which gives you a sense of the capital a hundred and fifty years ago. I hope I make it to London before the exhibition ends!

Looking for stuff to do in London? How about the British Library's Gothic Imagination exhibition?

Like Sherlock Holmes? Have you read Professor Moriarty: Hound of the D'Urbervilles?

Monday, 20 October 2014

The BBC's Gothic season

 In my review of the British Library's Gothic Imagination exhibition, I said I'd let you know when the corresponding Gothic programmes started on the BBC. Well, they've clearly put sod-all effort into forward publicity, because it starts tonight! (Seriously, why do they plan such good programmes and then not let people know the broadcast dates more than a week in advance?!)

So, while they might be a bit awful at putting out the schedules, here is one I've put together, for your delectation. Please note that not all schedules are complete yet, so I will update the list as more information becomes available.

Mon 20 October
The Art of Gothic: Britain's Midnight Hour - episode 1, 'Liberty, Diversity, Depravity'
BBC4, 9pm (repeated 21 October at 2:40am and 23 October at 10:30pm)
Art critic Andrew Graham Dixon explores the roots of the Gothic Revival style in 18th century British art.

The Horror of Dracula
BBC4, 10pm
The Hammer film that spawned a legend, starring Christopher Lee and this month's Bloofer Gent, Peter Cushing. Put aside your preconceptions and love it!

Tue 21 October
Dan Cruickshank and the Family that Built Gothic Britain
BBC4, 9pm (repeated 27 October, 11:20pm)
From St Pancras Station to the Albert Memorial to the red telephone box, the Scotts designed some of Britain's most iconic structures. This documentary explores the legacy of three generations of extraordinary architects.

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil - episode 1
BBC4, 10pm
When Ruth's husband is unfaithful, she discovers hidden powers. Hell hath no fury...

Supernatural: Dorabella
BBC4, 11pm
Not the Sam'n'Dean Supernatural, but an episode of a 1970s series of Victorian spooky stories. In this one, a young man has a close brush with a vampire...

Sun 26 October
The Castle of Otranto
Radio 4 Extra, 1:30pm, repeated 27 October at 3:30am)
Horace Walpole's 1764 novel, considered the first in the Gothic genre, is broadcast for radio.

Mon 27 October
Inside the Castle of Otranto
Radio 4 Extra, 6:30am (repeated 1:30pm and 8:30pm)
Rory McGrath looks at Walpole's fictional castle and the origins of Gothic fiction.

The Art of Gothic: Britain's Midnight Hour - episode 2, 'The City and the Soul'
BBC4, 9pm (repeated 28 October at 2:40am and 30 October at 10:30pm)
Exploring how Gothic, the industrial revolution and urban growth collided.

The Curse of Frankenstein
BBC4, 10pm
Revel in Peter Cushing's elegant performance as the Baron, and Christopher Lee as the Creature.

Tue 28 October
Architects of the Divine: The First Gothic Age
BBC4, 9pm
Dr Janina Ramirez looks at the development of the Perpendicular style, Britain's own peculiar form of Gothic architecture, in the 14th century.

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil - episode 2
BBC4, 10pm
Ruth's pursuit of vengeance continues.

Supernatural: Night of the Marionettes
BBC4, 11pm
Not the Sam'n'Dean Supernatural, but an episode of a 1970s series of Victorian spooky stories. In this one, a man visit the place where Frankenstein was written. (I'm a little confused by the write-up here, as the BBC says 'the castle', but Mary Shelley had her original idea at the Villa Diodati, as any fule kno...)

Hey now, hey now now...

Fri 31 October
Goth at the BBC
BBC4, 10pm
A compilation of goth performances from the BBC's archives of musical programmes.
I am so looking forward to this one, which should include material by The Cure, Siouxie and the Sisters of Mercy.

Mon 3 November
The Art of Gothic: Britain's Midnight Hour - episode 3
BBC4, 9pm
There's no official confirmation of this episode yet, but based on the previous two weeks' schedules I'd bet the final episode will be broadcast today, and that it'll be about literature and the later Gothic.

Tue 4 November
The Life and Loves of a She-Devil - episode 3
BBC4, 10pm
Not officially confirmed yet, but based on the schedules released so far, I anticipate this being the broadcast date.

Tue 11 November
The Life and Loves of a She-Devil - episode 4
BBC4, 10pm
Not officially confirmed yet, but based on the schedules released so far, I anticipate this being the broadcast date.

Friday, 17 October 2014

The 39 Steps, John Buchan

I have a shocking admission to make: despite my love of vintage spy stories, I've never seen more than clips of the film versions of The 39 Steps, the novel that's often said to mark the start of the spy novel genre. My holiday gave me the perfect excuse to read it.

I feel The 39 Steps has a lot in common with other adventure stories of the late 19th/ early 20th centuries. The hero is independently wealthy. However, it's also very character-driven; Hannay's career as a mining engineer and time in Africa have given him unique skills he has to draw on after a neighbour, who turns out to be a spy, is murdered in his flat and Hannay is forced to go on the run. While evading both the murderous German agents and the police, Hannay has to work out exactly what the Germans are plotting, and foil it.

Each chapter is a mini-adventure in itself. In one, for example, hemmed in by his pursuers Hannay disguises himself as a road mender. In another, he is actually captured and has to break free. This structure reminded me very much of Hornung's Raffles, Kipling's Kim and a lot of Edgar Wallace's work. It'd make an extremely good radio drama.

On the negative side, the attitude displayed, while generally liberal for their time, are of their time. The occasional referral to decent blokes as 'a white man' is especially jarring, though I've read infinitely worse in adventure stories from this era. Some of Hannay's strokes of luck are absurd, such as just happenning to encounter a politician with just the connections he needs at the Foreign Office. It's odd that Buchan should create such a realistic character and then put him in such incredible situations, but on the whole I enjoyed the story.

I've got all Hannay's other adventures to read, and now I'm keen to see the film versions too.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Outfit post: Sightseeing style

I'm not a great wearer of vintage on holiday. For one thing, I travel very light. I managed a fortnight in Burma last year with three pairs of trousers, two T-shirts and a couple of blouses. (I did use the hotel laundry. I travel light, not stinky!)

This year we're in Spain. If you've never been to inland Spain, know this: the Spanish dress well. And they are masters of co-ordination. The first time I went to Seville I was astonished by the accessory shops. The number of them, and the dizzying array of colours and prints... Here in Caceres it's quite rainy and all the ladies carry beautiful, high-quality umbrellas. I suspect they all own a selection to go with different coats! Spain is accessory heaven. Also, if you like marcasite jewellery, there's loads on sale in Spain, so you can get a 1940s look without a vintage price tag.

Here are two outfits from this week. First up, a Boden 'Monte Carlo' dress. I like this dress, but it's not the right shape for me (the buttons at the front have a nasty habit of popping open). Smart shoes don't really go well with sightseeing, so while I wear nice dresses, the effect is spoiled by my hiking boots! Still, they got me up and down medieval fortifications and the cathedral tower. And my crossbody bag isn't the prettiest one I own, but it does leave my hands free for taking pictures.

In case you're wondering about the location, those photos were taken in Caceres. In the middle ages and early Renaissance, a number of feuding noble families lived in the town and built fortified palaces. You'd think if they disliked each other that much it would have been easier just to live in different towns, but I do like to imagine the lords and ladies griping at each other from their balconies, and perhaps the occasional pair of star-crossed lovers meeting in the shadow of one of the enormous towers.

My second outfit is another Boden dress, worn with my me-made repro cardigan. Again I've got my crossbody bag and hiking boots. We caught the train to Merida to see the Roman ruins, and comfy, practical footwear was a must. I did bring nice shoes to Spain, but so far they've gone unworn, though as we're heading out for dinner tonight I shall probably ditch the boots for that and pop on some jewellery. I've brought my grey pearls with me - got to look smart in the evening.

Do you travel light? Do you travel vintage? Can the two possibly be combined?

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Adventures in burlesque

Exercise sucks. It's never actually finished. Like with housework, I find myself thinking, "What on earth is the point of doing this now when I'll only have all again tomorrow, so I might as well forget it for now and do it tomorrow." Tomorrow comes rather more often for housework than it does for exercise!

However, I do have to keep mobile or I start having trouble with my back and hips, which means I look for alternative ways of being active. For the past couple of weeks I've been having burlesque lessons. Dulcie Demure, a well-known local performer, is running classes in Bradford-on-Avon, just down the road. (I have even seen her dance, at Steamcheese in 2013.) Now the first rule of burlesque club is: you don't talk about people who go to burlesque club, so I won't mention the friend who invited me, nor say anything about the other attendees, except to say that they're all lovely, and all shapes and sizes and ages. It's a very inclusive club, and Dulcie is keen to ensure it's a safe space where everyone can feel free to enjoy themselves. Hence the first rule of burlesque club.

The first week was spent learning to walk and stand. If you're thinking, 'Pah, I've been doing that since I was two!', well, not like this you haven't. My posture and motion are naturally ungainly, so this was harder than I expected to do all at once. I'm constantly barking orders to myself in my head. One foot in front of the other! Chest up! Not out, up! Chin up! Stop looking at my feet! WHERE ARE MY FEET?! So I'm sure I'm pulling all sorts of super-shecksy grimaces... We also got taught all the things we needed to bring, from dance shoes to silk scarves.

I missed last week because the trains back from the British Library's Gothic Imagination exhibition were borked at Westbury, so this week had to capture up with 'jazz walk'. Then we learned a 'Charleston stroll'. This was hard work, but I've had a go at a basic Charleston before so I knew it would be and I knew I wanted to do it. Dulcie did laugh at my inability to get my crossovers right (I was skipping, having decided it was better to keep up with everyone else and get the rhythm right, and I'd work on the fancy steps in my own time). And we learned our first Reveal: I can now remove gloves, ay caramba!

The classes are ten groups of four, and I'll definitely be signing up for another four as I'm really enjoying them. I don't think I'll ever be especially good about it, but thanks to the first rule of burlesque club, you'll never know. I do think the fact that I'd learned a bit of pole dancing years ago - yes, really, it's that no-exercise exercise thing again - means I have an unfortunate habit of being, as Dulcie puts it, 'a bit Spearmint Rhino'. I shall have to curb that! In the meantime, I've been having thinking up names for myself for the performances I'll never give...

Have you ever tried burlesque? How far did you get with it if you did? If you're looking for classes in the north-west of Wiltshire, I definitely recommend signing up with Dulcie.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Get the look: Elisabet Matson's midcentury curtains

My final Crimes of Passion outfit post is in the works, but in the meantime, if you liked the look of the interiors, here's something you can actually buy!

I was really struck by some of the interiors in episode three, 'No More Murders', especially Elisabet Matson's curtains. Then, when I was flicking through Sanderson's website to see if they'd revived any more midcentury archive designs (they haven't, boo!) I realised that the curtains are from Sanderson. It's part of their '1950s Fabrics' range, it's called 'Seaweed', and was designed in 1954. There are four colourways, and I liked the teal/orange colourway used in the programme best. Sanderson fabrics aren't cheap, and the prints are large-scale so probably won't suit very small rooms (I couldn't use them in my little Victorian terrace), but if I had the space and the money I'd definitely buy them.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Bloofer Gent: Peter Cushing

If I were a vampire lady, I'd choose Cushing for my nemesis...
For the past few years, I've named a Bloofer Lady for October. ('Bloofer lady' being what the cockney kids in Dracula called the vampire Lucy Westenra, a childish version of 'beautiful'.) We've had Yvonne de Carlo, Elsa Lanchester and Fenella Fielding. This year, to even things up a little, I have decided we should have a Bloofer Gent, and have chosen one of my very favourite actors, Peter Cushing.

Hammer films are often mocked by people who fail to see how revolutionary they were, with their use of colour, splashings of gore and in-the-round sets. And the early ones are actually pretty well scripted, though by the 1970s even I will admit things aren't looking good. However, one thing that is always reliably good is the performance of Peter Cushing. If ever a man embodied the idea of elegance, it is he. His aquiline features look both intelligent and artistic, yet when he is gentle you really do understand that here is a kind man. (My first actual memory of Peter Cushing is when he wrote to Jim'll Fix It because he wanted a rose named after his late wife, Helen. What a beautiful thing to do!)

An excellent Sherlock Holmes in 'A Study in Scarlet'.
Watching Dracula 1972AD, you feel that Christopher Lee has decided to embrace the campery of it all (he doesn't get much screen time anyhow as he was by that point a sought-after actor and Hammer wanted to keep costs down) and the younger actors are having fun, but Cushing plays things devastatingly straight, giving the film a dose of much-needed dignity. That ability to remain dignified in the face of the downright silly stood him in good stead, and he appeared numerous times on the popular comedy programme Morecambe and Wise, always trying to get the fiver Eric and Ernie owed him for his first appearance. That's class for you: playing the perfect straight man.

He never did get that fiver.
Frankly, Peter Cushing is a Geek Icon. Just look at some of the characters he's played: Van Helsing. Sherlock Holmes. Doctor Who. Baron Frankenstein. Mr Darcy. Winston Smith. He appeared in Star Wars and The Avengers (the Steed/Peel Avengers, not the superheroes). He's taken on Dracula, the Daleks and Big Brother, and come to a sticky end at the hands of Darth Vader.

Elegant and intelligent, sensitive and suave – Peter Cushing, Bloofer Gent, we salute you!