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?