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...