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...