Thursday, 27 November 2014

For sale: brand new traditions

Happy Thanksgiving, if you're in the US! I must admit, I always think of it as akin to a British Harvest Festival (probably because of the association with crops) and so the timing takes me aback every year because it's about three months later. It must be nice to have something falling in November to prevent the slide into Christmas mania; here in the UK Halloween acts as a bit of a brake, and Bonfire Night slows things down a little, but after that it's nearly two solid months of CHRISTMAS! CHRISTMAS! CHRISTMAS! and it can all get a bit much.

This year I must admit I'm feeling curmudgeonly about the number of 'traditional' things going on that aren't actually traditional here. Gemma highlighted one in her post on Christmas jumpers. They've only been a thing in the UK for the past decade, if that. Yet somehow masses of people have convinced themselves it's 'traditional', to the point where New Look's PRs asked Gemma to show photos of herself in them from years gone by. Seriously, if anyone British over the age of 20 can show me a photo of themself as a child under 10 in a Christmas jumper I'll... I'll... I'll eat a pound of sprouts! And Black Friday can bite me. Seriously, WHY IS THAT A THING? We don't have Thanksgiving, so how on earth are we having a 'day-after' Thanksgiving sales frenzy. Oh, hang on, that'd be those pesky PRs up to their old tricks again. Well, call me Scooby Doo, Raggy, because they're not getting away with it – this pesky kid can see right through them!

I've nothing against new things becoming customary, in fact I think the loveliest festive traditions are ones people make for themselves. I always have red-and-white toadstools on the Christmas tree because they were something we picked up in Germany when I was a child, and it's been part of my Christmas ever since. Mr Robot has bears. Nowadays, we always get together with our friends Matt and Lucy between Christmas and New Year for a slap up meal, and that's one of the best things about the holiday now for me. I bet you have your own personal traditions, whether it's wearing cracker hats all day, putting up the tree on a special date, or shunning turkey for a gammon joint. It's your holiday, your way. (And I'd love to hear about your personal celebrations.) Traditions come and go; very few people tell ghost stories for Christmas now, for example, but watching Elf seems to have become a much-loved staple for many people. It's being sold new 'traditions' that offends me. That and the fact that so many people seem to accept it. How much sherry trifle did they eat to be able to forget every Christmas they ever had, eh? Or were all their Christmasses so ghastly that they want to get all misty eyed about someone else's?

So here's my plea: if you're going to make a new tradition, make it for yourself, develop it over years and make it something special and uniquely yours. Don't simply buy it because someone somewhere is selling it to you, even if it does come with a Black Friday pricetag. And don't let someone brainwash you into thinking you should do (buy!) something because it's 'traditional' when you've never done it in your life!

And now for something completely different 
On the work party dress front, I've decided to go with the navy Boden dress. It's got a vintage look, but isn't irreplaceable, and the fabric is probably sturdy enough to take whatever stresses I put on it. I doubt there'll be anything like a bouncy castle at the work party, but it's always best to be prepared for these things, don't you think? Should there be karaoke, I can always do the Monster Mash - It's a graveyard smash and, more importantly, requires absolutely no singing. Yup, all ready to party like a party animal. A traditional party animal.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Doom with a view - times two!

Aren't these covers smashing? Both The Cornish Coast Murder and The Lake District Murder are from the British Library's range of reprinted vintage crime novels, and were originally published in 1935. I know it's always considered a faux pas in reviewing circles to talk about book covers, but I reckon these ones, with illustrations taken from 1930s railway posters are wonderful: appropriate for both the time and settings of the stories.

Both books were written in quick succession by the same writer, though despite the similarity in the titles the characters are completely different. (I anticipated some continuity of detective.) They're also quite different in feel. In The Cornish Coast Murder an unpleasant man is shot in his dining room, and the story follows the local vicar and police as they try to uncover the killer. It's very much a character-based story, and fans of forensics in Golden Age mysteries will love the vicar's method for finding the shooter's location. The Lake District Murder, on the other hand, is rather more active, with organised crime featuring heavily, though there is a similar attention to detail in the detection as Inspector Meredith works out tanker volumes, delivery amounts and more.

One quirk I found fascinating was the echoes and shadows of war. One suspect in the first book is a man still suffering from shell shock as a result of the First World War, while the victim in the second is described as having a 'Hitler moustache' – of course, at that time no-one knew what horrors Hitler would lead people to commit, and it was a style distinctive enough to be identified with the political figure, without yet carrying connotations of atrocity. Often crime novels from between the wars can feel quite detatched from either event, so it was intriguing to see these references.

As a murder mystery it's actually the earlier book that's the most satisfying. The details of the killing aren't completely uncovered until well into the story, and there are plenty of suspects and possible motives. The Lake District Murder, on the other hand, is all too easy to find a motive for – you'll have worked out what's going on long before Inspector Meredith – and that makes it fall a little flat. John Bude went on to write a whole series of books about the Inspector, however, so perhaps 1930s readers didn't agree with me. Maybe he develops as a character over the subsequent volumes.

I bought both books from Waterstones. At the time I was really excited to see Golden Age crime novels coming back into print, but right now I'm not so sure how I feel about these particular ones. I think it's the price. At £7 each, even if you're able to get them on a three-for-two deal they're not cheap, and if you hunt around you can get genuine vintage green Penguins for the same price or less. And yes, these particular stories are very hard to find, and collectors pay a lot for original editions. However, I'm not a collector, and the reason I read vintage crime novels is for the stories, not for the rarity. I don't mind so much if I pay £2 for a battered old book and don't enjoy it, but for three times that much I expect something more satisfying, and from the British Library I expect the best of the best. Maybe I have quite an outdated approach to book pricing; I remember when some paperbacks cost less than a quid, yet as someone who works in magazine publishing I know how sharply paper costs have risen in recent years. While £7 seems a lot for a paperback to me, it's not actually unreasonable, but still I balk at it.

So, will I buy more books in the series? Almost certainly, in addition to my usual secondhand book purchases, though as I bought a batch all at once I've still got some waiting to be read anyway. Do I recommend you buy these particular ones? That's tricky. It depends on your levels of disposable income. If you're watching the pennies, I'd recommend trawling your local secondhand bookshop for other vintage crime at a much lower price.

Friday, 21 November 2014

There ain't nothing like these dames!

Just a quick heads-up: Dulcie Demure (who I've been having burlesque classes with) is presenting The Queen of Neverminditsnamia, an alternative panto, this December. Burlesque has its roots in cheeky stage performance, just like panto, after all. It promises to be 'A theatrical burlesque production set in a mystical land of wigs, corsets and bloomers... and maybe the odd sausage!' Performers include Dulcie herself, Peach Schnaps, Chili Martini and Miss Cherry Bomb, and there should be a sausage-smuggling prince and a highwayman too.

I've put it on my What's on in Vintage Wiltshire page, which also covers the Somerset border area, but that's in sore need of an update so I thought I'd blog about it too. (I'll crack on with updating the events this weekend, I promise!)

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Party frock angst

One possibility - my 1960s Evans 'Tweensize set

For the past few Christmasses work have given us all a bit of money towards team Christmas meals, so I haven't whinged on the blog about partywear since 2010. Now, however, we've got a party looming, and in the very swanky Pump Room at that.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Tea set for two

I've wanted a vintage tea set for ages. I don't know why. I do actually have one tea set, which my mum collected piece-by-piece when I went to university, using tokens from the local supermarket. That's 1990s - 1992, to be precise - so I suppose as far as some sellers would go it would qualify as vintage, though I haven't noticed a growing market for 1990s homewares in the same way as I have for 1990s clothing. (Tip: basically, you can't go wrong with pine furniture and slapping sun, moon and stars designs on everything.) Anyway, I've been kicking myself for the past few years for not snapping up a gorgeous Shelley set when I saw it for sale in Rolfey's in Bath.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Adventures in Burlesque part 2: When Doubts Attack!

As I mentioned a while back, I've been having burlesque lessons. If you spend much time on anything, it starts to matter more to you, and lately as I've danced more I've been really assailed by doubts. There are the obvious ones – I am far too old and heavy to be doing it, and when it comes to dancing I'm as well co-ordinated as a colourblind clown. Then there are the worse fears, that every idea I have has been done before, usually many times and in many ways. Bride of Frankenstein? Done. 'Heart Attack and Vine'? Done. It reached the point where I just felt the best I'd manage was ripping everything off haphazardly in about 30 seconds, bellowing, “THERE'S MY GROWLER, HAPPY NOW?” at the audience and stamping off.

(I might try it. I don't think that's been done before.)

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Peaky Blinders, series 2: costumes and more

Before I go into the costumes I will say this: if you missed the second series of Peaky Blinders, you really did miss out. It was so much better than the first - and that was excellent. It's violent, and nasty, and the soundtrack may not appeal to everyone (though I think the music of Nick Cave, PJ Harvey et all works even better in this 1920s show than Jay-Z's one did in the most recent film version of The Great Gatsby), but I loved it. It covers an aspect of British history, the history of the criminal and working classes in the Midlands in the early 20th century, that usually gets plastered over by Downton Abbey-style schmaltz. The gritty industrial settings are really impressive, and make glitzy locations such as the Eden Club stand out all the more.