Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Prepare to be appalled

I know lots of vintage bloggers favour Poirot, and the ITV television version is indeed a parade of art deco loveliness, but deep down I'm a Miss Marple fan. Mum used to watch the Joan Hickson versions on BBC in the 1980s, and for me she really is Miss Marple, very much like the character in the novels. I have also developed an affection for the Margaret Rutherford film versions, even though she isn't my Miss Marple. I had thought the new ITV versions were plumbing the depths rather. They dropped the 'Miss' from the title, quite sensibly so as poor Geraldine McEwan was forced to dress and act like an eccentric bag lady for the role, and then they mangled the books. (I shall never forgive them for what they did to Tommy and Tuppence, that's for sure.) I avoid the new ITV versions as much as possible.

And now I will have a new version of Miss Marple to avoid.

Disney has acquired the cinematic rights to the character, and intends to cast Jennifer Garner as a younger Miss Marple in a modern day setting – in the United States as well. And no, this is not an April Fool's joke, I am typing this on the evening of the 30th of March. Would that it were a joke. I have no doubt that Jennifer Garner would be able to play a detective very well, and I love American crime dramas on telly. Why mess around with Miss Marple to do it, though? Surely with all the changes they're making, the only common point is that both characters are female?

Bah. Bah to it all. At least I have Poirot on ITV3 and Miss Marple on Alibi, plus lots of good crime and thrillers on Radio 7*.

*I'll save my rant about Radio 7 becoming Radio 4 Extra for another day...

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Charleston! and bobs

One of the good pieces of advice I've been given is always to do something you've wanted to do for a landmark birthday. As a result I spent most of the year I turned 30 with pastel blue hair. For my 40th, just under three years off, I've been planning to go to Burgh Island and dance the Charleston. However, it would be a shame to get there and not know how to do it, so I was really pleased to see Mrs Stokes is hosting Charleston and Cake on the 4th of June. Eat cake, learn to Charleston. What could be more perfect? Like all Mrs Stokes events to date, it'll be held in Bath, and I'm definitely going.

(Mr Robot did tell me he'd take me to Burgh Island if I could get into my (1930s) wedding dress again, but that would require the loss of two and a half stone so nuts to him, I'll save up and pay for both of us myself.)

Now comes another dilemma. To bob, or not to bob? I had my hair bobbed through most of my 20s, and to be honest it's the only vintage hairstyle that's ever worked for me because I never needed to do anything with it. It naturally had just the right shape. In fact, it's the only hairstyle I've ever had that's been stylish, as my other style is 'uncut'. It's nice hair, but 'uncut' is definitely not a style. Will a bob look ridiculous with clothes from other eras? Should I care?

If I do get it done, it will be after Waltz on the Wye as I want to put my hair in a bun for the ball, so I have lots of time to mull this over.

Images: Top is Joan Crawford in the 1928 film Our Dancing Daughters.
Below is Colleen Moore (the actress who turned the bob from a high-fashion look into a craze all across the US) in the 1929 film Why Be Good?

Saturday, 26 March 2011

More than skin deep

A couple of pictures of Elizabeth Taylor for you from old fan magazines. The second is when she played Rebecca in Ivanhoe, and completely outshone the lead couple.

As beautiful as she was, I can't help feeling that, like Audrey Hepburn, she had an equal amount of beauty, if not more, on the inside. When HIV first emerged and governments were reluctant to talk about, and when bigots were claiming it as something the gay community somehow deserved, she started raising money for research. She could have chosen to adopt any cause, but she championed the ones that seemed to have fewest champions.

That sort of beauty never fades.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Radio: Miss Marple and a noir serial

Calling all radio fans! The Crime Catch-Up on Radio 7 tomorrow from 2:30 to 5pm is The Murder in the Vicarage, starring June Whitfield as Miss Marple. By then I’m hoping to be settled in for two and a half hours of knitting and listening, although for me Joan Hickson was Miss Marple and I’ll probably spend the entire broadcast waiting for Terry Scott to pop up.

Next week, the 8:30 to 9pm slot is Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosley’s 1950s-set noir thriller – doing the detective work is African-American sleuth Easy Rawlings. If you haven’t come across Mosley’s work before, I definitely recommend it.

Oh, and for one last thing, mai trumpit, i bloez it: this is my latest pattern for Simply Knitting. (Magazine currently on sale in the UK.) I had a Horrockses dress in mind rather than peach chiffon when I designed this silk gloves and fascinator set, picturing them with something full but sleek, but I've already had someone tell me they're making them.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Express your everyday vintage!

I love reading about the ways other people enjoy vintage. (Usually they seem so much more exciting than my own – Mr Robot reckons I'm a Hobbit, and I fear he is right.) Many of the blogs I read are clothes-focussed, which is fab as I'm still working on building a day-to-day wardrobe and all those hints and tips are really handy.

My own everyday vintage things are music, books, knitting and perfume. The perfume may seem odd, but I'm a fiend for it and can't leave the house without it. Today, for example, I'm wearing Grossmith's Hasu-no-Hana. Carrying my own atmosphere really gives me a great sense of wellbeing. My music sees me through work and the gym – usually 1920s through to 1940s as the speed keeps me upbeat at work and padding away on the treadmill. Reading and knitting are for home. The knitting will, eventually, give me more of a vintage look, but for me that's window dressing in a way, the most important bits of my vintage life are those quiet activities, the things I mostly enjoy by myself.

So, what's your everyday vintage? Do you have to have just the right homewares, and spend your day tidying up your period treasures? Are you a keen dancer who can't let the week pass by without a bit of Lindy Hop or swing or Charleston, and who spends days anticipating the time you can hit the dancefloor? Are you a fashion vixen, who loves to wear vintage and repro from morning to night (when, of course, only the finest retro pyjamas or frilly nighties will do)? I'd love to know, so respond or blog!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Dark Side [books]

Another of Jonathan Green’s Ulysses Quicksilver novels, Dark Side is simultaneously more structured yet less satisfying than Blood Royal (reviewed previously). There’s a time-travelling aspect to the story which adds depth to the narrative (not, it has to be said, that’s it’s very complex – you will work out the identity of Green’s mysterious one-eyed man very early on).

Dark Side ties in neatly with earlier novels. Ulysses decides to go to the moon in search of his feckless brother, Barty (who left Earth early in Blood Royal); his former fiancee and her scientist father are on the same flight out, as are a pair of assassins, Chapter and Verse. Green does include some nice touches, especially references back to HG Wells and other early writers of tales of space travel, and those are valuable as the 'Victorian' aspect of steampunk is pretty weak in this book.

Despite having greater unity than the previous novel, which ricocheted between set pieces, Dark Side is not as enjoyable because quick thrills are the essence of the stories’ appeal, and when the thrills are less crude or frequent, the lack of great characterisation becomes more apparent. The characters are stereotypes with a veneer of quirks to distinguish them, perfect for speedy action stories but not substantial enough for deeper plots, and while I did read the entire book it didn’t engage me the whole time. Frequently it felt like there was a lot of description of places and people to no purpose, with a number of characters depicted elaborately only to be bumped off rapidly, and without them adding much at all to the story.

Over the past few books in the series it has felt as though Green has a ‘story arc’ in mind, an overarching narrative behind the individual storylines. I’m not sure this actually adds anything to the books, and it might actually make them less enjoyable as instead of the gleeful shoehorning in of anything that sounds like fun and seeing where it takes Ulysses, the main character has to be at the ‘right’ point at the end of each novel and that constrains the plot. Certainly this one felt less free and less inventive than some of the others in Green’s Pax Britannia novels.

TL: DR - If you’re reading the series, read it. If you’re thinking of starting the series, pick one of the other novels, as this one is neither early enough for a beginner or good enough to induce you to read the others.

Disclaimer: I got my copy for free from a friend having a clear-out.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

A treasure trove of old patterns

I have been working a consumer show in London for a couple of days, hence the silence. I find these pretty hard work as I'm not really a people person and I have to spend all day chatting to members of the public (and things kept getting stolen – only little things like yarn and magazines or needles, but it's such a depressingly scrotey thing for people to do...).

However, one of the talks being given was by Linda Newington from the Knitting Reference Library at the University of Southampton. In case you've never heard of it, the core of the collection is the Montse Stanley collection, an absolutely immense archive relating to knitting. It contains not only historic patterns, but artefacts (from humble bumblebees knitted to be sold at a village fete to vintage Balenciaga stockings), postcards and photos of people in interesting woollies – a real treasure-trove of all things vintage knitting. Linda gave a really fascinating talk on the Montse Stanley collection. She had a folder of example patterns with her, but they had to stay in their plastic cases, otherwise I'd have loved to take a look at the booklet on knitting from the Festival of Britain.

The collections of Richard Rutt and Jane Waller also form part of the Knitting Reference Library. It really is the most amazing collection! They're always interested in new acquisitions, so if you come across something knitting-related you don't want, do contact them to see if they need it. They're looking at ways of making older patterns accessible online (and doing all the right things with regards to copyright), so eventually anyone with online access will be able to enjoy a little piece of this hoard.

Textile historian and artist Ingrid Murnane gave a talk too, on one of her art projects, and when we were chatting she mentioned she also has an interesting project relating to vintage knitting planned, but I shouldn't talk about it here. All I will say is, I know lots of people who read this blog will find it very interesting, and when it's made public I'll definitely be posting about it.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Forgotten Bombshells: Chili Bouchier

Woo, hot Chili! (Click for pic.)

Chili Bouchier, born Dorothy Boucher in 1909, was a British film actress who started her career in the dying days of silents after winning a Daily Mail competition to be a film star. She was the first British cinematic sex symbol.

Dorothy started out as a model at Harrods, although she got sacked after a fling with a trainee manager. (In true bombshell style, she said it was worth it.) She got her nickname, Chili, while working at Harrods – it comes from the then-popular song 'Chili Bom Bom'. It was the name she started her acting career under, and apart from a few films in the 1930s under the name of Dorothy, she mainly used Chili to the end. Given the not-so-catchy title of 'The British Girl With It!', she made the bulk of her films in the 1930s, although her final one was released in 1960.

Chili did write her autobiography, Shooting Star, and secondhand copies come up for sale on Amazon pretty regularly although I don't own a copy.

A true 20th century lady, Chili Bouchier passed away in 1999.

Glad to see the back of her?

Yes, this is Dial-a-Hottie…

Hopefully this will be the first entry in a series on bombshells and beefcake people might not know about – because glamour is too good to be allowed to fade!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

High tea or afternoon tea?

Afternoon tea: the dainty little meal with cute sandwiches, cakes and so on, like you get in posh hotels and grand houses.

High tea: a more substantial meal, taken in the late afternoon. May well include hot dishes such as ham and eggs, and rustic items like bread-and-butter and hefty fruit cakes. The sort of thing the Famous Five would eat on one of their farmhouse holidays.

Oh, how I hate it when people confuse the two! Although any tea is a good tea…

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Waltz on the Wye wardrobe update

There are about two months to go until Welsh steampunk event Waltz on the Wye and my wardrobe is progressing nicely, partly by design and partly by happy accident. My dress from Recollections has arrived and will cost me about £40 to liberate from HM Customs – this is what my last imported dress cost in taxes, so I'm quite glad about that as I had feared they'd take one look at all that silk and decide it deserved a higher charge. It's annoying to have to pay so much, but I was fully prepared for the cost.

As for the happy accident, I'm not as good a charity shopper as some of the bloggers I read, but I did find this lovely suit from Edinburgh Woollen Mills in my local Help the Aged. Pure wool, £8. (Lady Cherry also had a good charity shop haul including EWM garments recently; like her my local shop had a batch of their clothes all at once and I also wondered if they had been donated after a lady died.) Anyway, this suit is a bit of an oddity, clearly fairly modern from the label but with an older feel. The jacket is pretty boxy, but looks more fitted when on, and the skirt goes to below the knee, although that's hard to see while it's on the hanger. I don't think it would look high fashion for any era, but it will sit quite happily alongside pieces from the 30s to 50s.

It was Mr Robot who spotted that it would make great daywear for Waltz on the Wye. The fabric is an interesting blend of russet, grey and black with bright rust flecks, and so far I've tried it with grey and black tops and red-orange coral jewellery, and all looked fine. It's good that it goes with black as almost all my footwear is that colour.

I don't think I planned this hard for my own wedding!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

MOAR yarn/ progress on the jumper

Look! I can haz Excelana! My friend Jen, a freelance knitting pattern editor, got five of these balls as a birthday gift for me when she was up doing some work with Susan Crawford (according to the gift tag, the other was a gift from Susan herself), but because I've been in Dorset and Jen's been travelling around working with people on patterns I haven't got my hands on it until today.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Vintage in Dorset

"Where do you go on holiday, the 1950s?"

That's what my friend Kai asked the first time I went to West Bay and said how nice it had been to see so many children with their lines and buckets catching shellfish around the harbour. It's true that there is something of the past on the stretch of the Dorset coast from just east of Lulworth westwards to Lyme Regis. There are dramatic cliffs for walking along, lovely beaches (some of which are tops for fossil hunting), and all the fish and chips you could want, but nothing brash, no bingo parlours, no tacky pier shows and next to no 'amusement' arcades.

The area round West Bay and Bridport makes a lovely holiday destination for the vintage enthusiast. I felt very much like Harriet Vane in Have His Carcase as we rambled along the cliffs, although without finding any bodies on the beach, and Harriet Vane would not have been wearing a bright red nylon waterproof (needless to say, you're not getting any outfit posts from my holiday!).
One strange way to get in touch with the mid 20th century is to go fossil hunting at Lyme Regis. As you get further from the town towards Charmouth, there's what must have been a landfill site collapsing into the sea, and as well as ammonites and belemnites among the rocks, there is glass of all colours and bits of broken pottery. I even found an old manual mincing machine, rusted and squashed flat, but clearly recognisable. At first I thought a house must've gone into the sea, there are so many bricks, but then looking at the site it looked more like landfill. I stayed as well away from that as I did from the Jurassic cliffs; I'd be just as squashed under broken 1950s pottery as I would under a tonne of plesiosaur.

There are also lots of nice places to buy vintage things in that area. Bridport is especially good as they have a monthly vintage market (not in the winter; 2011 dates here) plus some nice shops for poking around in. My favourite was Vintage at Cornucopia, and right now I'm kicking myself for not buying a nice bag I saw, because it was half the price I'd pay in Bath. They had a fantastic 1950s black velvet suit for sale – I have no idea what it cost, but if I'd been thin enough to wear it I'd have snapped it up. They had a decent selection of items for chaps too.

If you're used to shopping for vintage in a big city, Bridport might not be very exciting, but I was pleased to find so much. The only thing I bought was more magazines – forget clothes, I'm a paper nut at heart, and pounced on some old issues of Picturegoer. There were also a few vintage shops in Lyme Regis, and when we visited Beaminster there was a cafĂ© that also sold art deco teaware. That was closed the day we went, saving me no small expense.

If you're looking for a quiet, vintage-friendly getaway in the UK, I can't recommend the Bridport area highly enough. I had a fab time!

Blood Royal [book]

Jonathan Green has written most of the novels in Abaddon Books' 'Pax Britannia' series. If you're not familiar with the publisher, they have several ongoing series such as 'The Afterblight Chronicles' (post-viral apocalypse tales) and 'Tomes of the Dead'. 'Pax Britannia' is the only series that's really in Crinoline Robot territory as it's steampunk, set in a 1990s Britain where Queen Victoria was never allowed to die, and robot policemen rub tin shoulders with men in frock coats.

Blood Royal is one of the more recent novels centred on Green's dandy hero, Ulysses Quicksilver. Along with his faithful manservant he's already spent several books battling mad vivsectionists and evil scientists in the service of barely-living Queen and rather ravaged country. Unlike a lot of steampunk, which tends to focus on machines and mechanical things, most of Green's books do have a more biological/genetic theme, and this one is no exception: a haemotologist schoolmate of Ulysses seeks him out, first to rescue, then to look after, his daughter. He dies, leaving Ulysses to trek across Europe to work out what he was working on, why he was killed for it, and finally put an end to the blood-related skulduggery.

I have a fondness for Abaddon's output – and perhaps you can take 'fond' in its medieval as well as modern sense here – because I do like a bit of unashamed pulp, and none of their books pretend to be anything else. Blood Royal is not a good book in any literary way, and sometimes it does feel as though someone's asked an eight-year-old, 'What's cool?'. Giant locusts, mad scientists, serial-killing automata, airships, werewolves, vampires, and Rasputin? Let's have all that, and some dinosaur-herding Mongolian nomads too, eh? The narrative careens from set piece to set piece with next to nothing in the way of foreshadowing, depth of characterisation, or verbal nuance (some of the grammatical errors made me wince). Still, those things aren't essential to pulp. Pulp needs to be fast, visceral and quite lowest-common-denominator, and Blood Royal manages those things really well. I've got the sequel, Dark Side, and I am genuinely looking forward to reading it.

So, a proper rare burger of a book: a bit bloody, and something of a mess at times, but when it's something fast and hot that you want, Blood Royal will satisfy your appetite.

Disclaimer: I was given this book by someone having a clear-out, and did not pay for it.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Planetary: volumes 1 and 2

I got five collected volumes of Planetary comics from my friend Kai for my birthday in February. He knows my love of pulp stories, and thought this would be my sort of thing. Oh yes!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

New 'vintage' yarn

Excelana is go! I've been really excited about Susan Crawford/John Arbon's yarn Excelana since I heard it was in production and now it's available to buy. It's a pure British wool, and Susan has chosen colours suitable for vintage knitwear designs. I'm especially keen to see the 3ply, which will be available later in the year, as it's an unusual weight – usually the options in finer yarns are either acrylics in baby pastels or hand-dyed yarns that aren't quite right for vintage designs.

There's always some debate about where 'green' issues and vintage overlap; I think this yarn will please both groups.

You can see Ingrid Murnane's write-up of the yarn's launch here.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Goodbye to Jane

The 'two and only' Jane Russell has passed away, so I thought I'd share some vintage photos of her from my old fan magazines.

With Robert Mitchum in His Kind of Woman.

Learning lines with Bob Hope.