Monday, 31 December 2012

So, then - Ripper Street

Could do with more facial hair, mind...

I've been looking forward to Ripper Street for some time, so had to watch the first episode last night. What surprised me was the reaction it got on Twitter afterwards, in particular the accusations that it was violent, and women were the victims. It's a late night crime-drama, and on late enough at night that violence was to be expected, set in the months after the Jack the Ripper killings. Even if every episode isn't spun off the Ripper, it stood to reason that the first episode probably would be, which meant it was going to include prostitutes. There's no point having a drama called Ripper Street and having the first episode be about baby farming, robbery in railway carriages or other Victorian crimes.

As it happens, I'm not a fan of the sort of story where the only way to tell 'good' male characters from 'bad' male characters is their treatment of women and children, nor where violence towards them is used to play on the viewers' emotions; women and children do not exist to provide moral definition to men, nor to be subject to awful treatment for the entertainment of TV viewers. That's why I'm not a massive fan of Westerns, and why I don't watch Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. I'd certainly never read one of those ghastly 'misery memoirs'. But I can see the point of using vulnerable women as part of this first episode, given the time and setting for the series.

I was rather more bothered by the fact that the plot revolved around the making of snuff movies. While celluloid film was available by 1889, film as an artistic medium was still very much in the experimental stage. Smutty films weren't being produced in the time the episode was set. The villain had no identity to speak of; he was posh, and for some reason he decided to kill women on film for fun. There was no psychological depth to the villain, and so no real story. I suppose this is where I do agree with some of the criticism: without his own plot, purpose or personality, the villain is essentially there to provide a series of female corpses for the viewer, and by slipping film into the storyline, rather than the more historically-accurate still photography, the programme-makers could then show the 'action' as part of the episode, appealing to the prurience of their audience.

However, I didn't hate the first episode. I didn't like the characterless villain (although none of the leads were especially well written either), and I wish the BBC had taken an approach more like they did with The Hour, drawing one plot out and exploring things in depth. When a telly company tries to cram a story into a single hour, the result usually is a series of signifiers and sensational images rather than rounded characters and a developed plot. But there is potential in there. I found the visual side of things especially strong. Thwaites' declaration that he'd lost all his money, which is why his wife was selling herself, didn't come as a surprise after seeing their house, where discoloured oblongs on the (painted, not papered) wall suggested the removal of pictures, and the whole place was lacking in the usual middle-class Victorian frou-frou.  We see Inspector Reid with his shirt off, and he's been badly burned in the past, but nothing is said of it; clearly there's a backstory there. I'm not giving up on Ripper Street just yet, but I do hope they steer away from whizz-bang sensationalism and putting too many 21st century values into the minds of 19th century characters.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Steampunk Christmas tree decorations

There's so much more than steampunk than gluing cogs onto things – in fact, you don't need cogs at all. These gorgeous laser-cut decorations arrived in the post today from Atelier Fabry-Perot. They're precision-cut from fine wood, and still had a delicious scorched-wood smell when I opened them. They're brass coloured on one side and white on the other, and the shapes remind me of molecule drawings. They cost a mere £6 for a set of six, including p&p. I usually buy a new decoration or two every year, and could not resist these ones.

Atelier Fabry-Perot was set up by a couple of friends of mine, but I did pay full price for my decorations (and they'll probably get a surprise when they see this post!). They make a range of laser-cut items, including jigsaws, models, and even laser-cut cake stands. At the moment their Atelier Fabry-Perot Etsy site features mirrors, but it's well worth keeping an eye on as they'll have other interesting things in future.

I've grouped the decorations together for the photo, but now they're well spread out. Because I've accumulated my decorations over time, my tree doesn't have a coherent look. It's lovely to unpack memories each year, and these ones will make me think of my friends every Christmas.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Telly and knitting

Remember how I kept going on about Alex’s never-changing tank top (aka stank top) on Wartime Farm? Well, Susan Crawford has designed the official Wartime Farm sleeveless pullover pattern, supported by Octopus Books and the Wartime Farm team. One of the things I love about Susan’s work is the fact that she makes vintage designs more accessible by doing them in a wide range of sizes, but she’s really excelled herself this time as the pattern goes from three years old to 54in chest! (I think it would be highly entertaining to see a whole family in them.) It’s a mere £5 for the pattern, of which £2.50 goes to the Women’s Land Army Tribute Campaign. Full details over on Susan’s blog.

I’ve lost my knitting mojo of late. I did wonder if it’s because the navy late 40s cardigan is such a slog, so I put that aside in favour of resuming work on a pair of socks, although they aren’t proceeding very quickly either. Bah. It gives me something to do in front of the telly, I suppose.

With The Hour over, and several other of my favourite telly programmes ending before Christmas (things like The Killing, Haven and The Almighty Johnsons; I don’t blog about them all here as they’re not Robot-appropriate), I should be bereft of cool things to watch. England have finished touring India, which leaves me short on manly crumpet too. But wait! Ripper Street, BBC1’s forthcoming Victorian police series, will start on the 30th of December. It might be bobbins – I strongly suspect it WILL be bobbins, having little faith in BBC1’s output – but looky, beefy chaps with sideburns. Who gives a nut about plot now, eh? Not me. Ta very much, Santa...

Thursday, 13 December 2012

More jewellery? Where did that come from?

Yes, it's time for me to STEP AWAY FROM THE ETSY. But look at this set? How could I resist? After all, I didn't have anything green or atomic, so this brooch and earrings fills two jewellery gaps at once... I ordered it at the same time as my Coro set from another seller and both arrived in good time – I wasn't sure either would arrive before Christmas, given they were being shipped internationally. I'm guessing they're late 50s or early 60s, and they're unsigned.

The seller for these was Debi, whose shop is called MyVintageJewels, and she's got some seriously nice stuff on sale, including a caramel-coloured thermoset necklace and earrings.

I did buy this set to go with a specific dress, my lovely green dress from Fever (they've knocked 30% off the price now, too) but I've gained a bundle of pounds from somewhere so haven't got the nerve to wear it right now. Still, the two will go together beautifully once I do put them on together. I'm wearing the earrings today with a cream pussybow blouse and beige tweed trousers, and they do give the outfit a real lift. I love these earrings!

 Mr Robot ventured the opinion last night that I might have enough jewellery now, and after I'd finished laughing and pointed out, "Mai moneyz. I earns it, I spends it,"* it did occur to me that some items I own need a bit more wear and love, so this will be my last purchase for a while.

*Lolcat is a highly efficient way of getting any serious point across

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Sparklier than a tinsel factory

My new Coro brooch and earrings
Ah Etsy, how I love it! All sorts of things that I like are there for the buying, and often not too expensive either. Of late I've been obsessed with jewellery sets, especially from the 1950s and 1960s, and as no-one seems to wear brooches much, brooch-and-earring sets are quite cheap. Sets involving necklaces or bracelets do cost rather more.

Anyway, this is a set I bought last week for about a tenner. It was a practical purchase, honest guv'nor, I needed something in blue and green. It has to be the fastest delivery I've ever had from the US, arriving in just seven days, and the brooch and earrings arrived in a pretty organza bag. I bought the set for myself, but I certainly wouldn't be ashamed to give it to someone either. (Not that anyone's getting it. It's mine now.) The seller was LizonesJewelry and I definitely recommend her.

The clips on the earrings are a little different from the ones on my other clip-on earrings, but from the style of these and the brooch, and the look of a lot of other Coro jewellery I've seen, I'm pretty sure one of the sets I got in a local charity shop (my 'TFI Friday Bling')  is also Coro. It's got no markings on, but the size, cut and set of the stones and overall style make me think they're from the same family.

I suppose it helps my budget that I have a taste for big, flashy diamante brooches that most people wouldn't wear every day. I doubt I'm competing with many people for these items. Wearing diamante is a little like wearing red lipstick. At first it feels odd; you think, "Are they looking at me? Do I look weird?" Then you get a bit Taxi Driver about the whole thing and think, "Are you looking at me?" And then you progress to thinking, "WTF are they looking at, this is perfectly normal!" and stop paying attention to the lummoxes. I have quite classic taste in clothes, tending to stick to very simple cuts, plain colours and streamlined shapes, and the diamante livens this up nicely. On fussier clothing it'd either get lost in the frills and prints or tip you over into the full Miss Piggy - and there is only one Miss P, and you and I aren't going to measure up!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Which lady of The Hour are you?

Are you a Bel or a Lix?
I'm mad about The Hour right now, with its fantastic 1950s fashions and intelligent storyline, so here's a bit of fun for a grey weekend for you. Possibly more fun for ladies than gents... Just answer the questions, tot up the score and see who your Hour fashion twin is!

1) How do you like your skirts?
a) Full
b) Fitted
c) I’d rather wear a dress
d) Not at all - trousers all the way!

2) Which colours are you most likely to wear?
a) Something saturated: a rich green, blue or red
b) Happy shades: pink, yellow, orange
c) Neutrals: white, navy and black
d) Ice queen pastels: lavender, frosty blue, icecream pink

3) Choose a jewellery option
a) Bright beads
b) Matching earrings and necklace with plenty of sparkle
c) A sturdy wristwatch
d) A well-placed, modern brooch

4) Your hair?
a) Practically short
b) Luxuriously long, but always under control
c) Softly waved, but never out of place
d) Short and bouncy

Scores 1: a=1, b=2, c=3, d=4  2: a=3, b=2, c=4, d=1  3: a=2, b=1, c=4, d=3  4: a=4, b=1, c=3, d=2

4-6 Your style twin is Marnie! Feminine and classy, always appropriate, you're always perfectly turned out and ladylike.
7-9 Your style twin is Sissy! Colourful and cheery, with bold touches, your look brightens wherever you are
10-13 Your style twin is Bel! Neat and streamlined, but never fading into the background, and definitely womanly rather than girly.
14-16 Your style twin is Lix! Businesslike and unfussy, with no pointless frou-frou, classic practicality is your hallmark.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Free knitting pattern! Morse Code Mitts

The ribbing makes them fit perfectly.
Christmas is coming, so here's an early present for you: the pattern I designed for Morse Code Mitts. Can't see the code? It's in the cables. On the lefthand one there's bobble-long bobble-bobble-bobble (dot-dash-dot-dot) for 'L' and on the right-hand one there's bobble-long bobble-bobble (dot-dash-dot) for 'R'. It's quite a subtle way of doing it, so geeks will appreciate the joke and most other people will simply see a nice pair of mitts. They're quite short, so probably not ideal for really cold days, but they're great if, like me, you like texting, using your phone and so on while out and about as there's lots of room for your fingers to waggle about.

The large pair takes less than 50g of yarn, so they make a perfect stashbuster, Secret Santa gift or speedy knit if you need a present for someone in a hurry. They're quite stretchy, too, so you can take a guess at the size. The pair in the photos are the ones I knitted for my retro-science loving friend Arfon Jones, and they'll stretch to fit his man-hands, but as you can see they're also fine on my paws.

Skills needed are basic cabling and knitting in the round, but nothing more complicated than that. If you want to knit in the round but the thought of doing a pair of socks gives you The Fear, why not start with these?

The bobble instructions are partly missing. "Pick up the bar between the stitches and knit, purl, knit into it. turn your knitting and purl all 3 sts just made. Turn and knit the 3. Turn and purl the 3. Turn and sl1, k2tog, psso. Finally, return the resulting stitch to the lefthand needle and purl it together with the next purl stitch."
The pattern is missing P2 either side of the tw4's on the second increase round of the left-hand mitt.
Thanks to Dr B. Jenkins for pointing out the errors. I will correct the PDF as soon as possible (I'm very busy with work right now, but it is on my To Do list!)

Get the free knitting pattern!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Mince pies!

I overfilled them, as usual...
I love Christmas. Even Mr Robot, the grumpiest of people most of the year, loves Christmas. It's probably quite ironic that I don't tend to be very traditional about Christmas. However, we do both really enjoy traditional Christmas food, and today I made my first batch of mince pies.

Like all British food, I think a lot of native Brits who say they don't like mince pies don't like them because they've only had the readymade, shop-bought version (see also: Christmas pudding; we're a ridiculously slovenly nation when it comes to food). Proper mince pies need a good, crisp, light, shortcrust pastry, and you can't make that in such a way that it will stay edible for weeks in a box, which is why the ones you buy in boxes in the supermarket don't taste very good, and do not have that delicious, crumbly texture. You've got to make decent pastry and make sure it's rolled out thin, but don't handle it too much. If the pastry in shop-bought pies is soft and slightly stale tasting, I'm positive that plenty of people have been put off home-made mince pies by thick, hard, overworked pastry.

My pies don't look the best, as I always overfill them so the mincemeat ends up bubbling over and leaving glistening brown edges, and the little pastry holly leaves I put on some are a bit deformed, but you know what? I doubt there'll be any left in the morning. Better home-made and funny-looking than underwhelming-tasting shop perfection...

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Words: nom! / The Hour, episodes two and three

Mmm, tasty words, I am eating them.

My post on why I hate upcycling got waaaaay more of a response than I’d ever anticipated, and I loved reading all the comments. In fact, a few of them have make me rethink my attitude towards one aspect of upcycling, namely painted furniture. I still don’t like it myself, but will accept that if it’s keeping stuff out of a skip, it is better for people to paint it – after all, the paint can be stripped off later. I will continue to detest destructive upcycling; people who cut up books and deliberately smash china deserve to spend eternity in Kirstwee’s Vintage Hell, where demons in floral aprons cut off people’s fingers to make novelty cake toppers and turn their intestines into glistening pink bunting.

Emancipated Marnie seems to wear fewer pastels.

I'm going to discuss a major plot revelation from episode 3, so if you don't want to find out what it is, PLEASE stop reading.

 I am continuing to enjoy The Hour, although it's so hyper-stylised I can't really take it as a historical drama. I really enjoy the way it's lit, with strong cyan lighting giving a chilly cross-processed look to many of the more significant scenes. (It does seem to be the case that when the lights are blue, important things happen.

Hurray for Marnie! I really hoped she'd get strong, and had feared she'd just crumble from the way Hector treated her, but no! She has a career and growing fame of her own, and you get the feeling that Hector has realised rather too late what a fantastic wife he had (although he'd still probably have chased other women; that's Hector). It doesn't strike me as historically realistic, but then so little of this series is realistic that I'm watching it more as an alternate reality where everyone was so much more glamorous and realistic than was actually the case in post-war Britain.

C'mon Hector, get it together! He may be an arse, but the man's got charisma and, of our three core characters – Bel, Freddie and Hector – the most complicated life. Realising his wife's moved on and his best friend has let him down has got to be Hector's low point. He needs to team up with Bel and Freddie and start some serious newsgathering and crimebusting.

This is how you know Freddie's wife is French. No 'bottoms'.
Freddie's wife is French. This, so far, seems to be the only thing one needs to know about her. You can tell she's French because she speaks with a French accent, throws things at Freddie when she's angry, and walks around their cold-looking ramshackle flat in a jumper with nothing on her bottom when any sensible British character would have tweed, a girdle and granny knickers between herself and the open air. (Who says you couldn't buy contraceptives over the counter in 1950s Britain? That lot probably did the trick...) You can't blame her for being annoyed with Freddie, however, as he seems to be pursuing so many news stories – racism, organised crime, police corruption – that he doesn't really pay the poor woman much attention. He needs to learn from Hector where neglecting your wife will lead...

Freddie's wife being French and having nothing to do makes me suspect she might have something to do with Lix and Randall's secret love child; said child could now be anywhere from around 17 to 20. The other possible candidate is the Spanish showgirl from El Paradis. This is, for me, the least appealing plot thread in the current series, but then I've never been a fan of 'MY BAAAAABY!' plots, and I fear it's somehow going to be shoehorned into the vice plotline. I really liked Lix in the first series, she had a sensible, grounded quality mixed with sarcasm. I hope the screenwriters don't undermine that.

Anyway, despite the silliness of many elements I'm still really enjoying this programme, to the point where I was sad enough to buy myself a green shift dress ('Vivienne' by Fever) to wear with my 60s brooch. I hope they make a third series when this is done.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Caravan Palace gig, Bath

What do gigs mean? Ropy cameraphone shots!

'It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing', Duke Ellington once sang, and the man was definitely on to something.

I'd heard a bit of Caravan Palace online, so when I heard (last Tuesday) that they'd be coming to Bath on the following Monday, Mr Robot and I snapped up tickets. The venue was Komedia, a comedy club that used to be the old ABC cinema, and still has a good chink of the cinema architecture inside. Doors were supposed to open at 7:30; it was raining and there was a long queue so we had to wait outside, and the doors opened late, which did not put me in a good mood, but it's par for the course with Komedia, apparently. (I've only ever been there for silent film showings as part of the Bath Music Festival, so hadn't encountered this before.)

Asbo Disco were providing the music between bands - not my sort of thing. It didn't help that the sound in Komedia, at least in the balcony where we were, was a tad too loud. And the balcony smelled like a train loo where someone had tried to cover up the smell of piddle with joss sticks. Note to self: wear Shocking or Habanita next time you go to Komedia...

The support band was a Bristol band, Yes Sir Boss. They had the usual instruments and a brass section, and those strange hits of both spaghetti western and Easter European which I liked. (I did wonder if all groups from Bristol had to have a trumpet and saxophone nowadays, but as I like the sound, it's a rule I'd appreciate...) I quite liked them; they were lively and a bit different and I'd happily watch them again.

Then Caravan Palace. They took quite a long while to set up, which was a shame as the delay killed the mood for me somewhat. They're an electro-swing band; I'm more familiar with their swingy stuff, and quite a bit of it was more electro than swing so I didn't enjoy the show as much as I expected to, although that is an issue of personal taste rather than ability as most of the rest of the audience seemed to be having a wonderful time. Singer Zoe was fantastic, and the rest of the band members played brilliantly. The tracks I really do like by them, like Rock it for Me (which they even did a bit of enjoyable swing dancing to) and Clash, were ace. I just found a lot of the instrumental bits rather more akin to modern dance music, and I'd really hoped for a session of Rock it for Me-style stuff.

I don't regret going; I've been to two local gigs this year, which is two more than I've been to for the rest of the past decade. Even Mr Robot didn't regret it, although he detests beepy music and therefore didn't enjoy much of the evening. I did feel quite bad for putting him through it! It's been really exciting and enjoyable seeing and hearing new things.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Why I hate upcycling

I love old stuff. Not all old stuff - I do have personal taste, even if it’s not good taste - but even the stuff I don’t love, I appreciate that someone else might adore. The fact that things have survived for fifty, sixty or a hundred years, through wars, relocations and even just everyday wear and tear is pretty amazing when you think about it. If something’s ‘not for me’, I leave it where it is for someone who will love it to buy. I love old stuff, and I hate upcycling.

 Don’t confuse upcycling with recycling. I think it’s fantastic when someone takes an old thing that’s partly worn out and salvages the good bits. My friend Andy recently dug a broken 1930s cabinet out of a skip, and while most of it is irreperable, he’s turning what’s left into a corner cabinet. Some people take vintage dresses with the armpits worn out or the skirt torn and make a blouse or skirt with what remains. An embroidered tablecloth with a torn corner can become napkins or a cushion. Steampunks, in particular, are brilliant at repairing the broken and recycling what’s beyond repair. I love seeing damaged stuff, even little bits of it, saved from landfill.

 I also don’t think every single thing should be preserved in a glass cabinet: things are made to be used, so wear your clothes, eat off your tea plates, drink from your pretty vintage glasses. If they break, or wear out, well, they’ve served their purpose and you’ve enjoyed them. (And you can see if someone wants the bits for an art and craft project; lots of people can make use of attractive vintage fabric or bits of china.)

 What I hate is when someone takes something that’s lasted decades, is still whole and usable, and ‘upcycles’ it. I WISH THEY’D JUST LEAVE IT ALONE. I’m thinking of the instances when someone chops a beautiful 50s dress or groovy 70s maxi into a minidress, bashes up a teaset to make a mosaic they’ll keep for a year or two, or pulls apart a 70-year-old-film annual to make a decoupage card that’ll go in the bin a week after they give it to someone. And don’t get me started on painting perfectly good early-to-mid century wooden furniture. If people want something that looks like bloody plastic, why can’t they go out and buy a plastic wardrobe instead of wrecking a vintage wooden one? (Twee-Be-Gone has some excellently appalling items of that sort of vandalism.) And that’s why I hate ‘upcycling’. Very little of it seems designed to last another 50 years, and it’s done using stuff that has, somehow, made it through time to us now. As far as I’m concerned, ‘upcyclers’ don’t really love vintage. In fact, they spoil it for the rest of us.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

How to wash a dry-clean-only pleated skirt

For the past few years all my winter skirts have come from charity shops. Every single one. Given my love of the frumptastic, and real wool, it’s surprisingly easy for me to find ones I like, in my size, for £4-6 a pop. This year I’d been craving a pleated skirt, and possibly some more tartan.

 I found this one a couple of weekends ago, for £4. It’s not tartan, but I do like the beige, black, red and dark green dogtooth pattern. It’s traditional, and while the mix of colours isn’t glaring from a distance, it means the skirt works well with tops and knits in similar shades. The only problem was, it wasn’t as clean as it could be, and the label said dry clean only. Did I want to spend as much as the skirt cost on cleaning it?

I looked at the label: polyester and wool. Both of those are washable. So why not the skirt? My guess was that washing could knock out the pleats. What was needed was a way to hold the pleats in place while the skirt was washed and dried. So, I came up with a way to wash my skirt. It’s quite easy. First, carefully tack every single pleat in place. You don’t have to fasten the tacking threads off, just leave a couple of inches of tail at either end. Needless to say, you should only do this with a wool or similarly coarse-fibred skirt, as the tacking would make holes and possibly even horrible pulls in satin, chiffon or other delicate fabrics. For wool it’s fine.

 Next, gently handwash the skirt. If you start scrunching and rubbing too hard you could pull the threads out (not to mention felt the fabric in a garment with high wool content), so try to keep it fairly flat, and squeeze it rather than rub it. Wool is a pretty good fabric when it comes to shedding dirt, as is polyester, so I didn’t need to be too rough with mine.

 Hang it up to dry. Make sure it dries in shape. With something containing wool, make sure it’s completely dry before ironing. Simply iron it with a DRY iron - steam can cause felting - then remove the tacking threads. I just grabbed one end of each thread and gave it a firm tug to remove it. Hey presto, a clean pleated skirt still in perfect shape.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

In praise of enamel bakeware

I ate all the pies. And I'd do it again!
Don't worry, I'm not turning all yummy mummy on you, I'm still a foul-mouthed guttersnipe. However, even foul-mouthed guttersnipes have to eat. I like cooking. Nowadays you can get all sorts of things that are supposed to help you with cooking. Non-stick surfaces, funny red dots that tell you when a pan's hot (I find flicking cold water on it and seeing if it bubbles does the trick there) and so on. Having cooked with these enamelled metal dishes, I'm not that sure that 'progress' has taken us all that far.

I bought the first one when we were in Knees, Trowbridge's funny little family-owned department store. Knees sells all sorts of things you might need, from clothes dyes to suitcases, pest control products to rugs, and some you possibly didn't think you could get any more, like blacking for your grate and Vim. (Seriously, everywhere else sells Cif/Jif nowadays, but Knees has Vim.) Yes, I could probably get lots of the stuff cheaper elsewhere, but it's central and I can't drive, plus I like browsing round Knees because it's like stepping back in time and I like to support independent shops in my town centre. It's one of those places where the shop assistants actually look at you, and give you a genuine smile and are properly helpful. Step back in time indeed.

So, there on a rack was all sorts of enamel bakeware. I loved the look. The tin mugs made me think of camping trips, although i've never been camping. I really wasn't sure I'd get much use out of it (after all, I already had a ceramic equivalent), but bought myself a pie dish anyway.


Ever have a problem with soggy-bottomed pies? I always found it tricky getting the bottoms of things to cook. Not with my enamel pie dish. You grease the dish before putting the pastry in, and it comes out cleanly, with a perfectly-cooked bottom. I bought two pie dishes and realised I only needed one of each size, so gave the other to a workmate who also makes his pies in ceramic dishes and finds the bottoms stay soggy. He too finds the enamel dishes much better.

That's the best bit from a cookery point of view. From a cleanery point of view, the dishes are also ace. Grot just wipes off. You see the very crusty dish in the top photo? That crust is cooked on bechamel sauce and cheesy breadcrumbs from a squash gratin. It's set solid. After a short soak, the stuff came off easily with a bit of rubbing with a washing up sponge.

See? All clean again!
Stuff non-stick coatings and glowing red dots, enamel bakeware is the best!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Hour, series 2, episode 1

It's back! I really enjoyed the first series of The Hour, and was pleased to see it was returning.

Despite the team having seemingly burned their bridges at the end of the first series, Bel and Hector are still in place as producer and presenter of The Hour. Freddie, it appears, carried most of the blame for what happened. However, while most of this episode was concerned with putting the characters in place, and in setting up organised crime as the focus for the news team's investigation (when they're not being distracted by their rivals from ITV), what really struck me about it was how stylised it was. This was really clear in the glaringly cold aqua corridors around the office of The Hour; in them Bel's bright red suit shone out like a beacon while the reflected light from the walls gave most other characters in the corridors an almost cross-processed look. The actual offices of The Hour were warmer, more normal, more human. Far more conspiring, conniving and backbiting went on in the corridors, needless to say. The nightclub scenes were warm in colour, all sparkle, with light glinting off cut-glass champagne coupes and the dancers' spangly bodices, all temptation and surface glamour.

The most obviously stylised clothing and settings, though, were around Marnie. I'd been very impressed with Oona Chaplin's acting as Hector's very posh wife in the first series; Marnie was a subtly drawn character of an outwardly slightly foolish woman who was actually quite a determined lady doing her best to conform to the standards of the day, and who had more than enough to put up with given Hector's philandering. In the new series, Marnie is not holding things together quite as well. We see her in her pretty pastel dresses, still very 1950s with their wide skirts, in her pastel, doll's house, kitchen. When she goes to lunch with Hector, she's in a suit of sugared-almond lilac. Marnie is dated in her look, and still trapped in her 1950s domesticated world, baking incredible cakes and puddings no-one will eat because she has no children and Hector is out with other women. (Mr Robot did turn to me and say, "If I went out knobbing showgirls, would you make me all those cakes?" He knew very well what the answer to that was going to be!)

I'd quite like to see Marnie burn her bra and embrace feminism and the 1960s. I don't think she's a stupid character. What's more likely to happen is that she'll have some sort of mental health problem, because women in dramas aren't allowed to be triumphant. But it'd be nice to see her ditching Hector and finding her own happiness, rather than trying to do what everyone else tells her should make her happy.

If you missed the first episode, you can catch up with The Hour on iPlayer.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Bargain bag(ged)!

Who says you can't find a bargain in a charity shop any more? Whichever deity looks after cheapskates was definitely looking out for me on Saturday as I found this beauty in one of my local chazzas.

I like boxy bags, and I don't spot them very often. While the boxy look is something you tend to see in older bags, modern ones being slouchier and sloppier, I could tell this was actually pretty modern as it has a magnetic clasp rather than the snap clasp older ones have. I prefer the snap clasps, liking the sound they make, and very nearly put it back on the shelf, but it was leather, only £6 and my only other brown bag is a warm brown leather-made-to-look-like-croc one, so a chocolate coloured one could well come in handy. I didn't recognise the label, but that didn't matter – I liked it, and so I bought the bag.

It's made by Dents. (The lining has 'Dents' woven into it and there's a metal label inside.) The cheapest leather bag on Dents' website costs £70. I nearly fell over when I looked the company up later on!

A lot of my friends have asked me how I find bargains, but as you're interested in Old Tat, you probably already know the answer to that: persistence. Mr Robot and I always go to the butcher on a Saturday, stop at our favourite café for a cup of tea, and often have a quick bash round the charity shops. We've been doing that for a few years, and I reckon I go round the charity shops at least two Saturdays a month. In all those visits, this is the second bag I've found and wanted. You have to keep going back.

Have you found a bargain lately? Go on, spill!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Happy International Dieselpunk Day!

Live the pulp lifestyle!
November 12 is International Dieselpunk Day. Have a good one.

What is dieselpunk?

 AHAHAHA! I’m not falling into that trap. Invariably when you get into trying to define a subculture one member of that subculture will say, “My subculture is X!” and someone else will respond with, “No, it is Y!” and some well-meaning soul will add, “Can’t it be X and Y?” and a fourth voice will pipe up, “I thought it was Z!” at which point everyone piles on them for being an unmitigated fool because it could be X or Y or X and Y but no-one believes it is Z. Believe me, I remember the ‘What is goth’ arguments from Usenet in the late 1990s and those things could go on for days. Months.

What I will talk about is dieselpunk’s relationship to steampunk. It does seem to have spun off the steampunk subculture to a degree (not, I venture, off steampunk literature), and it was my steampunk friends Rachel and Andy who introduced me to it as they (quite rightly) thought it'd be right up my art Deco alley. I do love the fact that my steampunk friends are happy for me to have my odd little foibles; my habit of dressing more Miss Marple than Mary Kingsley. I recently read Steampunk by Brian J Robb, and my main point of contention with him was that he cited things as steam where I felt they were more diesel, especially films like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and The Rocketeer. But there’s going to be some tangling when one thing springs from another.

Dieselpunk has, however, quite rapidly become its own thing. I think it’s because at heart it has a very different outlook to steampunk: where steampunk covers a time of exciting exploration and development, dieselpunk covers one when colonialism was being expressly fought against, and acts of expansion by governments came to the ultimate horrible conclusion, the Second World War. Political debate is always going to come up with dieselpunk. It can be less playful, more serious, than steampunk, but I like that. Aesthetically, it’s closer to the norm than steampunk, and therefore easier to get away with dressing dieselpunk every day. The look is far more streamlined; recently someone in a group I’m in on Facebook wanted to know where the diesel equivalent of steampunk’s gadgets were, but simplicity and lack of clutter is part of the diesel aesthetic. (That does, at least, limit the sort of subcultural appopriation by crafters that results in pages of ill-conceived stick-a-cog-on-it ‘steampunk’ on Etsy.) Dieselpunk is fortunate to have a really wide choice of films from the era that inspires it, and the music of the interwar era is top-notch. And the vehicles! Oh, the vehicles!

Anyway, if you think you might like the idea of dieselpunk, I shall leave you with a few links - I'm a member, and occasionally pop up in the forum. They also have 'Two-Fisted Tuesdays', a new 1930s episode of The Shadow radio programme, every week. Fans of vintage radio and pulp will love that.
The Gatehouse Gazette - an online steampunk/dieselpunk magazine. It ceased production last year, but the back issues are still well worth reading.
There's a group for International Dieselpunk Day over on Facebook, and lots of bands have put up free music samples for the day.
Also check out the Diesel Powered Podcast.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Remembrance Sunday

Remembrance Day. Always a day for thought and introspection. Usually I find myself wondering what the wars of the 20th century mean to us now. (And getting very annoyed by people on Facebook who forget all the soldiers and people from Africa, Asia and Australasia who fought on the allied side in the First and Second World Wars – they were world wars.)

 I’ve been to a couple of Second World War recreation events over the years, never a First World War one. I’ve no real knowledge of why the war of the 1940s should be recreated more than that of the 1910s – both had their horrors, be it Gallipoli, the trenches, the seige of St Petersburg or the concentration camps. Perhaps it’s the greater number of vehicles, which appeal to people with a mechanical bent. Perhaps it’s the fact that 1940s music is more accessible. It was a war with an active home front, where bombs fell on cities as well as the front line, so everybody played a part, and can play a part in the re-enactment.

Whatever the reason, WWII re-enactment started a long time ago, when veterans of the Second World War were still around. I find re-enactment events strange, but I do appreciate the fact that they make people think, and as parents and grandparents take youngsters along it could be the first time many children have really encountered the concept of war beyond the bright colours and loud bangs of a cartoon. It may not give them a very good idea of what happened, but they might want to find out more - something they’re unlikely to get taught in schools.

 How long should such long-ago events be remembered? As long as it takes us to stop repeating it, to stop one government picking fights with another and dragging ordinary people behind them. We need to remember it, because it makes us look again at all the wars that are going on right now, that news fatigue may have made us varnish over in our minds. People have died, people are still dying, and we should never forget that.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Midcentury-inspired knitted and felted bag

Here's my latest design, a Christmas tote, which is one of the patterns in the supplement to Simply Knitting issue 100. I'm really pleased to have this design in the 100th issue; it's a real celebration issue to mark a milestone in the magazine's history, and I was on the staff for a long time. When I'm not doing stuff for myself, it's the only magazine I want to design for simply because of its emphasis on fun – they appreciate my wacky tastes! (The pattern is also available in electronic form from The Making Spot.)

My desk – when I came up with the design I was still working on Simply Knitting – wasn't far from where Angela comes up with her projects for Papercraft Inspirations, and I'd often look over and be amazed at the things she was creating. She'd been working with some papers that struck me as very 1960s in feel, and I loved the way she'd turned simple shapes into really effective cards. I wanted to do the same thing using wool.

I came up with my design myself, working it out on graph paper, but the flat colours and bold shapes of a lot of Mod fabrics and wallpaper could easily be translated into knitting. If you try to knit something realistic in intarsia, the result can often be blocky and disappointing. Felting the bag by hot-washing it helped, as it removes a lot of stitch definition, flattening the colours, but I really do think simplicity is best for intarsia knitting. (You may feel differently!) The handles are made from i-cord and felted before knotting through holes cut in the bag fabric. I thought that would be fun, something different to regular bag construction, and something made possible by the felting. I did choose modern colours – a 1960s Christmas would have been more red and green.

Anyway, there it is: dead simple 1960s-inspired tote bag! And I have resolved to improve my photography, so I'm even pleased with how the picture turned out...

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Nosferatu, a live experience

Still eerie ninety years on, Nosferatu is one of the all-time classic vampire films. Yesterday Mr Robot and I went to see it at the Holburne Museum in Bath, complete with a live accompaniment by Minima. If I hadn’t seen a tweet about it from a local cinema on Saturday we’d have missed it entirely – so, thanks, Twitter and The Little Theatre!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Halloween viewing, 1980s style

A still from the film Elvira, Mistress of the Dark
No Elvira? No comment.
Warning: you are about to enter the Bad Taste Zone. I thought I'd share a few of the cheesiest, most corntastic films that I really love, just in case you were stuck for something to watch this Halloween.

Friday, 26 October 2012

I was a thirtysomething werewolf

Monster face FAIL
Every once in a while I design a Knitted Thing. Last year I designed a furry knitted balaclava, matching mitts and a headband for Simply Knitting magazine. Now, especially for Halloween, it's been put up as a FREE knitting pattern - free until the 29th - on The Making Spot. (The model in the Making Spot photo looks rather better in it that I do, although I personally reckon she should have had the balaclava strap fastened, and it looks best on chaps!) The set was inspired by the classic 1950s B-movie werewolf, although if you’d prefer to be a cat lady you can always knit the headband or balaclava from black fur yarn instead.

Technical information: all pieces are knitted flat. The seam for the balaclava actually runs up the forehead, minimising sewing. I decided to do it flat to make it as accessible as possible to all knitters; in my experience most knitters who know how to knit in the round are able to convert a flat pattern into the round, whereas knitters who only knit flat get a bit perturbed at converting patterns from round to flat. Stitches used are knit, purl, cast on, cast off and basic decreases, so most knitters should be able to manage it.

The balaclava comes in three sizes, and should fit everyone from kids to adults as it’s very stretchy. There are two sizes of glove. I’d recommend choosing a shade of fur yarn that differs from your skin for maximum impact; the natural colours in the Sirdar Funky Fur range are White, Cream, Jet Black and Silver (grey) so there’s lots to choose from. Pair it with jeans and a check shirt for a full B-movie look.

And now to go from knitting to telly ramblings, I would be sad that Wartime Farm is over, but they did go out well – I was very pleased to see that after the successive horrors of home-made cottage cheese, fishmash pie (salmon loaf?) and pigeon jelly, Ruth rounded off her awful-looking wartime recipes with sarnies filled with what looked like creamed catfood and cabbage. Ah, the good old days! I shall miss Ruth, Alex and Peter, but The Hour should be returning to telly some time at the end of the month, so I'm looking forward to that. I haven't been able to track down exactly when it's starting – even the official BBC webpage is completely unhelpful – so if you do find out, please let me know!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A Grand Night Out

Ropy cameraphone shots ahoy!

Living in Darkest Wiltshire, I don't get out much, which is probably fortunate for the rest of the world. However, last night Mr Robot and I headed off to a gig in Bristol, organised by one of the local steampunks. (I am not sure whether it should be called a steampunk event, but there were plenty of steampunks there and everyone seemed to have a jolly good time.) We stayed over in a Travelodge because the last train home would've been long before the gig ended. Anyway, I'm feeling minging this morning (mainly because of lack of sleep; I switched from beer to water after three pints) but had such an awesome time I thought I'd share it with you.

It was at The Fleece, a proper sticky-floored old venue that's hosted all sorts of acts, including Radiohead, Oasis, Nirvana and so on in their early days. I liked it because it served Doom Bar, thereby proving wrong Mr Robot's gloomy prophecy that all gig venues sell is 'crappy lager'.

First up was Tom Holder and the Railway Sleepers. I really liked them; billed as 'gypsy punk blues' there was certainly a fair bit of Django twiddling in there, but I like that sort of thing. It's great to go to a gig where the first act gets you moving straight away.

The second act, Bucucrasu, weren't my sort of thing. They were described as 'New Orleans Honky Tonk plus beatbox', and were pretty bluesy with, as you'd expect, a bloke going 'doof tchk doof' into a microphone. I don't think they were bad, just not gritty enough for me.

Between Bucucrasu and the next band was Sir Sydeian Strong, the Victorian strongman! He's researched the history of the Victorian fairground strongman and is recreating typical feats of strength from the time. Headline act Professor Elemental came up and did the 'barking' for the act. When Sir Sydeian explained he was going to twist a piece of metal into a shape, a voice piped up from the audience, "Make it a rude shape!". The Professor announced that now he knew he was in Bristol...

My favourite act of the night was actually the third one, The Ten Pound Suit Band. How can I describe them? Their banjo, double bass and singing style reminded me of American rural music (I'm not sure if 'hillbilly' is an insulting word), but they had two trumpets adding a mariachi or sometimes even Tijuana Brass note (and I loves me some Herb Alpert!). On top of that, their songs were fantastic mashups: opening with something sounding like a passage from an Ennio Morricone film score, they then stirred together 'Billie Jean' with 'Ghost Riders in the Sky'. The final song (?!) of the night was a countrified version of 'Jump' (House of Pain, not Van Halen) that segued through 'Rappers Delight' (played and performed by the double bassist) into 'Don't Stop Believing' and then 'Whole Lotta Love'. Seriously, you have to see this bunch live. If they play near you, see them. If they don't play near you, see them.

So while we'd gone to see Professor Elemental, he ended up not being my favourite act of the evening. He did perform some of his newer pieces, and several old classics, but The Ten Pound Suit Band were a hard act to follow.

All in all, a fantastic evening. I'd cheerfully do it all over again - and book the day off work the next day so I could have a lie in.

(Oh, and I went with the earrings in the end!)

Monday, 22 October 2012

Which deco jewellery?

I've just realised I'm off to a Professor Elemental gig after work tomorrow, which is good, except that I  haven't really thought about what I'm going to wear. I didn't purchase the tickets until last Friday. To be honest, I can't be bothered to dress up massively, plus I'll be going from work, and don't fancy carting a massive bag of clobber to work with me to change into. I'll wear my beige tweed trousers to work – not sure what top – and top them with an oyster satin deco-style blouse for the gig. It's got 3/4 kimono sleeves and a deep V-neck. I could wear the satin top to work; it's a bit dressy, but I've done it before. Shoes will probably be my hiking boots, purely for comfort. I'm tempted to wear my lovely deco Miss L Fire shoes, but the little voice of good sense in my head is telling me not to be stupid and to wear something I can bounce around all night in.

None of that's particularly steampunk, but then I've always been more dieselpunk inclined anyway. I like the streamlined nature of deco-era clothing. To go with these diesel-y togs, I have a choice of jewellery. I can't decide which to wear.

Choice 1: earrings I really love these. I bought them in the late 1990s when I first started working in Bath. A jewellery stall at the indoor market sold silver jewellery designed by a German lady, and I treated myself to a pair. By the time I could afford more by her, they'd stopped selling her stuff. Anyway, they're lovely, about three inches long, and have the advantage of being very visible below my bob.

Choice 2: brooch A £2 special from the Market at Waltz on the Wye! Its plus point is that it's clearly very steam/diesel. Minus points are that I have no idea where to pin it on my blouse, it'll probably sit wonky like it does in the photo as the blouse is thin and the pin quite raised, and I'm not sure if I should even pin things to satin at all.

Choice 3: bracelet This was a gift. It's very deco, and would look great with the wide 3/4 sleeves of the blouse... unless it gets covered by a coat.

I'm leaning towards the earrings, but what do you think?

Friday, 19 October 2012

New makeup, same old face

I tend not to be adventurous with makeup. Even when I was in my early 20s and wore a lot of very obvious eye makeup (classic goth: masses of black eyeliner all topped off with a pile of brownish-black or dark plum eyeshadow) I tended to stick to the same thing every day. Over the years as my personal style has shifted to something quieter I’ve moved to neutral eye colours and less eyeliner, closer to a 50s look most days. Of late, though, I’ve had a real craving for some new eyeshadows.

 There are things I will spend money on and things where I’m stingier; if the choice is between high-end makeup and cheap skincare or cheap makeup and quality skincare, I’ll always put my money into skincare. It’s the thing everything else sits on, and you can’t replace it. My skin is very dry, so I’ve always been picky about my moisturisers. The best combo I’ve found for my face is Olay Regenerist Serum (not the more expensive three-point serum) with Boots No. 7 Moisture Surge night cream on top. It’s spendy, but it stops my face getting all red and sore, and I’m sticking with it. So, I tend to splurge on creams and save on colours.

 I’d probably never have considered MUA (from Superdrug) if A Thrifty Mrs hadn’t recommended the brand as they’re priced so low I’d have been suspicious of the quality. The single colour cost £1, and the palette £3. They’re not bad at all – not as densely pigmented as some more expensive brands, but as I prefer to keep coverage light that’s not a problem for me. They did have many more adventurous colours, if you prefer livelier shades. I like having all the different neutrals to choose from each morning, and the colours are small so I don’t mind the fact that I probably won’t use the two darkest ones. It’s not too big a waste.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Bloofer lady: Elsa Lanchester

While she may not have had an extensive career in spooky movies, Elsa Lanchester had by far the most iconic role of any horror actress: the lead role in The Bride of Frankenstein. Lanchester had a bohemian upbringing in London, and worked in cabaret and nightclubs before moving to the London stage, relocating to Hollywood with her husband, Charles Laughton, in the 1930s.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Cake fail

Over the weekend I had my first cake fail. This very rarely happens; I'd been watching Great British Bake Off for the first time (I know, late to that party) and was surprised when they were saying choux pastry was difficult to make as I'd made it at university with no help and no problems. This put me in a baking mood, so I dug out one of my favourite cake books, Cakes: Regional and Traditional by Julie Duff, and set to work. Pride comes before a fall, and I may have been feeling smug about my pastry, but the cake didn't work out well.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Late 1940s/early 1950s cardigan: the progress so far

Well, time for a late 1940s/early 1950s navy cardigan knitting project update. One front done, between a third and a half of the second front, and a tiny strip of the ribbing for the back.

No, it’s not progressing very quickly. I thought I'd been working on it for a couple of months, but checking my Ravelry page shows I cast on way back in July. This may well prove an even slower knit than the year-in-the-making Gold Jumper of Doom. This is what happens when you are a slow knitter and decide to knit in 4ply on 2.25mm needles.

 I have come up with a way to speed things up ever so slightly: the ribbing on the bottom is done on different needles to the main part, and ribbing is easy to knit in the car, so I’ve started working on that during my morning commute, hence the strip of ribbing at the top right of the picture. It had better fit when it’s finished…

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Halloween songs, retro and vintage

Enjoying Halloween doesn’t mean forsaking vintage – here’s a selection of retro songs that will put some old-school scares into your party. You've still got time to get 'em in!

Whether it’s the 1962 version by Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett and the Crypt Kickers or the 1969 one by The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah band, I love this song. Pickett’s is more rock and roll, the Bonzos’ more anarchic, as you’d expect.

It has to be the original Screamin’ Jay Hawkins version from 1956. HAS to be. Steamy, dirty, raucous. If you must get a different version, make it Nina Simone’s one from 1956. Or spoil yourself, get both.

Deeply silly in a way only 1950s songs could be, the ‘Ooh-ee-ooh-ah-ah’ chorus will get stuck in your head and you’ll find yourself singing this for days. Ross Bagdasarian aka David Seville did the original version.

Save this Jimi Hendrix classic for late in the party – I reckon Hendrix is always best heard when you’re a bit squiffy.

Actually, while this 1975 album wasn’t written specifically for Halloween, I could include the whole of Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare LP in my favourite Halloween songs list. You know how I say I’m not keen on the 1970s? Alice is one of the exceptions. I love the cartoony-creepy quality to his music, and the title track to Welcome… (by far my favourite Alice Cooper album) has it in spades. I do indeed ‘feel right at home’ with it.

If you get the chance to see the episode of The Muppet Show with Alice in, where he’s trying to get the Muppets to sell their souls, I’d definitely recommend it, although it scared the pants off me as a kid. (On the subjects of Muppets and Halloween, over at Art of Darkness Cobwebs has a clip of the Swedish Chef carving pumpkins.)

One of the classic old goth songs, from 1979. Possibly the classic old goth song (heh, that statement would’ve started an argument on Usenet in the late 1990s…). Anyway, from the spine ruffling, scratchy intro to the wonderful lyrics (‘The bats have left the belltower, the victims have been bled, red velvet lines the black box, Bela Lugosi’s dead’) this is a song eminently suitable for Halloween. It was used in the opening scenes of iconic early-80s vampire film The Hunger too.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Some very old socks

While I was in Segovia recently, I visited the town museum, and took these photos for my blog as I know a few people who read it are into textile history and thought the construction and stitch patterns might be interesting to them.

The images aren't 100% sharp, but they were taken without flash as the museum only allows photos to be taken without it. I was pretty disgusted at the number of people I saw on holiday inside historic buildings and museums ignoring the 'no flash' or 'no photos' signs. Some materials, including fabrics and pigments, corrode faster with exposure to light, and holidaymakers don't get a special pass to trash other people's heritage. It's not 'only one photo', it's only several hundred photos a day, tens of thousands of photos a year. (I'm ranting, aren't I? Well, dagnabbit, it's my blog and I'm going to rant on this one! Mr Robot and I take great care to be responsible photographers. I wish more people did. If you can't take a photo without flash, try to develop a memory a bit better than that of a goldfish so you can remember things!)

Anyway, back to the stockings. One pair was in a cabinet with a traditional Segovian woman's outfit, one with a man's one, but I couldn't work out if there was anything special about the patterns or if sock patterns are unisex there. Neither pair uses ribbing for a cuff so I'd be interested to see how they stay up! One pair has initials stitched at the top in scarlet, and the brightness of the pigment and the fact that it hasn't leaked into the surrounding fibres makes me think it might be Turkey Red.

The wool used for the stockings is very fine; Segovia was a centre for the Spanish wool trade centuries ago and the people are very proud of that history. (Merino sheep originated in Spain, and there's a fab display of old spinning equipment in the museum.) Sadly the local wool industry has died out now - it would be lovely if some enterprising Segovian decided to start a small business selling genuine Segovian wool. I'd certainly have brought some home.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

1950s Elizabeth Arden gift set: a beautiful present

I went to Bristol today – more on that in another post – but I wanted to share the gift my friend Rachel had brought along for me. She'd seen me tweet about finding a bottle of Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass Flower Mist, so when she found this late 50s/early 60s Elizabeth Arden gift set in as perfect condition as you could ever hope to find one, she bought it for me.

If the picture of the contents of the box looks a little fuzzy, that's not bad photography, that's because the box still contains its original layer of plastic holding in the bath cubes, perfume and hand lotion. The cubes are wrapped in paper and foil and the bottles are glass, and the whole lot sits inside a goldtone metal basket. The lady who owned this must have loved it very much to want to keep it and not use it.

Usually I am of the opinion that vintage is there to be used. However in this case, I don't think I will use it. I have a vintage bottle of the same scent, so don't need to use this one, and it's in such beautiful condition I think I'll keep it as it is.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Scarifyers: Saving Great Britain Since 1936

The Scarifyers haven't really been saving Great Britain since 1936. They've only been around since 2007. The Scarifyers is an excellent radio programmer set in 1936 (and onwards), and is about the exploits of the elderly Detective Inspector Lionheart, a sharp 70-something man of action, and Professor Dunning, a naive but brilliant old duffer. Terry Molloy plays Dunning, and until his death, Nicholas Courtney – the Brigadier from Doctor Who – played Lionheart. In a way, they remind me of one of my other favourite detective pairings, Christopher Fowler's Bryant and May. Now Dunning is assisted by Harry Crow.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Dick Barton - Special Agent: The Paris Adventure [radio]

I reviewed the 1970s television version of Dick Barton - Special Agent quite some time ago. However, this week BBC Radio 4 has been broadcasting the original Australian radio version from 1949, (Dick Barton: The Paris Adventure) and it's excellent.

That the series has survived at all is pretty miraculous; anyone with more than a passing interest in vintage television or radio programmes will tell you that the BBC used to delete their old shows. These programmes, made by the Australians from the BBC scripts, and using the classic 'Devil's Gallop' theme tune, are as close to the lost BBC originals as can be. The one thing that has surprised me is how very English the voices are, as while it's fitting for the characters to have English accents, I'd have expected the continuity announcer to sound more Aussie. I guess that's the last vestiges of Empire coming through...

In this week's episodes Dick, Jock, Snowey and Jean are in Paris on the trail of a load of stolen gold bullion. The story is very much of its time (if you can't bear to hear Jean being patronised, you might want to avoid it, although she does play a good part in the action so far), but terrific fun nonetheless. You've only missed two episodes of 20 if you haven't heard it, and there's a recap at the start of each one so you'll easily catch up.

(Damn! Now I'm going to have the theme tune in my head for the rest of the day...)

Monday, 1 October 2012

Tuck it in!

Autumn is well and truly on us, with Halloween and Christmas the only bright spots in an otherwise dingy, wet few months. (I hate getting up in the dark, can you tell?) Anyway, I’m not dressed particularly vintage today – black longsleeved top, pinstripe wool skirt from a charity shop, skull pendant – but I do have my top tucked in.

Have you noticed how few people tuck their tops in nowadays? The other day walking through town I decided to count how many other women tucked theirs in – none! And I don’t think Bath is particularly unusual in that respect. It just struck me as quite odd that in the 1940s and 1950s it would have been the norm, and nowadays very few people do it. It’s an aspect of vintage style that hadn’t really occurred to me before.

I did wonder if leaving tops hanging something people do more now with the enlarging of the average waistline and people wanting to hide their shapes, but as a plus-size person with a large belly, I feel leaving my top hanging out doesn't make me look like I'm thinner or sleeker, it just makes me look like a large lady with my top out. Of course, cheap modern clothes made from stretchy fabrics that show every lump and bump don't help (I opt for woven, not knitted, fabrics as often as possible nowadays), nor does the temptation to buy a size too small. Size is just a number, but if you buy something too small and then tuck your top in, of course you're going to see unsightly bulges, it's because your skirt or trousers are the wrong side. Accept your figure for what it is, buy the right size and there will be no bulge.

Do you tuck your tops in, or are you a top-out sort of person?

Friday, 28 September 2012

Square eyes, square ears...

What’s happening down on the farm? I love going away on holiday, and it’s ace coming back to catch up on all my favourite telly and radio. I’m still enjoying Wartime Farm, especially seeing Peter and Alex trying their hands at various revived crafts such as making roofing tiles and making a bird scarer powered by what are essentially mini fireworks. (Although will someone please burn Alex’s never-changed Stank Top?) Mr Robot was especially traumatised by the sight of Ruth making cheese from sour milk in this week’s episode, as his gran used to do something similar but strain it through (clean) old tights. No wonder he and his mother refuse to contemplate cottage cheese!

The end of The Bletchley Circle was predictable enough, with the usual television villain going over the top just so you know he’s REALLY mad – in case the fact he’s been killing women and erm, enjoying, the corpses wasn’t enough of a clue that he wasn't a well bunny. That said, I did appreciate the fact that central character Susan’s last scene left you to think about whether she was happy with her own situation and what decisions she’d make. The 1950s is probably my least favourite decade of the ones I mainly cover on this blog, and it’s probably because of all of them, it’s the one where things feel to me like they went backwards for women, where society as a whole tried to cram them all into being wives and mothers, whether they wanted to be those things or not, in an effort to return to a pre-war ‘normality’. A normality that was in truth being chipped away at even in the 1930s.

Good news on the radio front next week: Dick Barton is returning to Radio 4 Extra in The Paris Adventure! The post-war adventures of Dick and his chums Jock and Snowy are great favourites of mine, and they’re all in 15-minute chunks so you can enjoy a tasty nugget of derring-do every day. (Re: me not liking the 1950s much, as stated above: The massively popular Dick Barton: Special Agent radio programme got cancelled in 1951 as it was too sensationalist and the BBC controllers wanted something more conservative. BAH. That is the 1950s for you. And Dick Barton is back anyway.)

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L Sayers / Something Wicked, David Roberts

Apols for the radio silence, I've been off on my holibobs (to Segovia in Spain, in case you were wondering – not much of a place for vintage, but aces for Romanesque architecture and free tapas). I did take a little bit of my own vintage and repro with me, in the shapes of a couple of crime novels.

It's a tad unfair to compare these two books, I admit: Sayers was writing in the 1930s and so has the advantage of knowing intimately all the things that were current, whereas Roberts is a modern writer and has to recreate the era, which means he is sometimes heavy-handed with brands and famous names. Yet it is their differences that I found really interesting. In both cases, an aristocratic man with a bent for sleuthing is in love with an intelligent, unconventional young woman. Despite both books being mystery novels, there's an awful lot about attitudes towards genders and politics in them.

Sayers barely touches on 1930s international politics; an American character, Miss Schuster-Slatt, who has an interest in 'breeding', pops up, but she's mainly as a figure of fun. What is dug into, and in depth, in Gaudy Night, is what is proper for women. The first Oxford colleges for women weren't founded until the 1870s, and women were only admitted as full undergraduates in 1920. Sayers is writing at a time, about a time, when the fight for women to be educated (and get the vote) was still easily within living memory, and when women were expected to give up everything on marriage to have babies and be a wife and mother only – a fantastic opportunity for a woman who wants it, but a dreadful prison for one who doesn't. Needless to say, as a working-class female who received a university education and has the option of contraception, this book made me consider once again how grateful I am to the women and men who worked so hard for equality in the past!

Roberts' concern is politics. Over the course of his Corinth/Browne stories everything has been building up to war. Having just finished Gaudy Night, I did wince a bit when Edward makes some throwaway remark to Verity about her not wanting babies; even if they both agreed on this (and it would take some planning with a calendar or, erm, bedroom activities, to be sure) it's not something that would have been seen lightly at the time, and that's really what differentiates the book written after the war from the one written before it. We know how the 1930s ended, and can't ignore it.

Of the two, I vastly preferred Gaudy Night. The grammar is better. The characterisation is infinitely better, and the plot is plausible. Something Wicked really did descend into Midsomer Murders-type silliness, with corpses all over the place, ridiculously contrived murders and the world's most obvious villain. Sometimes you need a bit of fluff, and I don't regret buying it (it's on Kindle, so isn't taking up scarce shelf space). I just wish I hadn't read it after the vastly superior Sayers!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

My frump suit scares all the boys from the yard

And they're like, "You dress like my nan!"
Damn right, I dress like your nan.

My name's Mim, and I'm a frump. And you know what? I like being a frump. There are some women who manage to be vintage and sexy – not just Dita von Teese, but regular ladies, who have a touch of Marilyn or Rita or Clara Bow about them. They have gorgeous high-heeled shoes and saucy pencil skirts and red lips and they work it. Me, I'm channelling Margaret Rutherford, possibly Miss Lemon on a good day. I wear jumpers and vintage-style but comfy shoes, and when I read old magazines and pattern books I realise that my figure looks more like the ones in the very few patterns 'for the mature woman' or 'for the fuller figure' than it does like the pretty ones in the rest of the book. (Well, nuts to that, I know how to resize a pattern; if I want to knit the pretty thing, I shall!)

I am making an effort to look a little more stylish, but I think I'll always be a frump. I really can't be doing with shoes that make my feet hurt, and I have too much front to go bra-less, so I've said sayonara to strappy and strapless tops and frocks. A thick waist and small hips render pencil skirts pointless. So I have made the decision to Work The Frump. Why not? I  can pin my enormous blingy brooches to my shift dresses, look for smart suits with fascinating details, have fun knitting my own jumpers and wearing them, and do all the things I enjoy doing, from book shopping to the Charleston, in my comfy shoes. Yeah. Being a frump – it's awesome!

Monday, 17 September 2012

The first railway murder

Death comes to the Victorian railway! Having mentioned in my review of Midnight in Peking that I don’t read much true true crime, here’s a review of another true crime book, Mr Briggs' Hat.*

Historically, the case covered by this volume falls into a similar era as the Road Hill House murder discussed in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. Thomas Briggs, a respectable, elderly man, was found battered and dying on a railway bridge, having apparently been attacked and flung from his first-class carriage. It was Britain’s first railway murder, and the relatively new detectives of the Metropolitan Police investigated the case, even crossing the Atlantic to catch their suspect.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Telly tales: Wartime Farm / The Bletchley Circle

Ol’ square eyes is back. (What can I say, I luffs my telly.) Thursday bought a double dose of retro goodness in the shapes of Wartime Farm and The Bletchley Circle.

 Down on the farm, Ruth was experimenting with taking the red dye out of military petrol to sell on the black market – filtering it through bread did the best job – and preserving fruit with the WI. As the hay meadows had been ploughed up to grow veg, Peter and Alex were making a silo to provide their cows with silage for feed over the winter, aided by a couple of ‘land girls’. (Really two historians specialising in the history of the Women’s Land Army.) Ruth also used a haybox to cook a stew by insulating the pot while hot. Hayboxes have intrigued me since I was a kid and read The Children Who Lived in a Barn so now I have the urge to try it for myself, although I don’t have room in my tiny kitchen. It was all really fascinating stuff, and I really enjoy the way the team go into details about the wartime reality behind their re-enactment. My one tiny criticism is that it doesn’t really feel as though they’re living the wartime lifestyle full-time at the farm – how dare the presenters have lives and interests outside my tellybox?! Heh. Maybe the BBC should do a show where they force people to do just that. But I still do really enjoy the programme.

In Shallow Observation News, Ruth and her daughter wore some utterly fab suits this week, and Alex’s tank top must be getting pretty stinky by now as he seems to wear it for hard manual work every day.

The Bletchley Circle is on ITV, and I catch up with it on ITV Player, thereby sparing myself annoying adverts. (Is it me, or do all adverts nowadays either feature a slowed-down version of a song performed by some twee girl with a guitar or an amateur group rendition of a song that also used to be perfectly decent before the advertising people got hold of it?) Anyway, this drama probably looked really good on paper: a group of women who’d worked as codebreakers and analysts at Bletchley Park during the war get together a few years after the war to solve a series of murders. They all have reasons to be unsatisfied with their post-war lives, lacking an outlet for their mental energies. I like the look of the production too; it captures that period of austerity after the war, rather than being too glamorous.

 Where I have a problem with The Bletchley Circle is its portrayal of men. There’s no real depth to the male characters, they mostly pop up to throw an obstacle in the way of Our Glorious Heroines, and are more likely to beat them or try to rape them than help them. Never mind that real men would have their own post-war issues to come to terms with. I especially find the relationship between Susan and her husband an odd one. He just pops up at intervals to patronise her before heading out to do Important Man Things, and while she's happy to break the Official Secrets Act with almost anyone and everyone, she can't talk to him. This is no criticism of the actors and actresses, who are doing their best with a limited script. I’d like to read The Bletchley Circle as a really well-written novel, because the basic plot is exactly the sort of thing I love to read, but it needs much more subtlety and depth and CHARACTER than comes over on screen.