Sunday, 29 January 2012

Outfit post: to see the DS Big Band

Ah, the Arc Theatre! No more will I be able to walk down there to watch films cheaply or hear great music for little money. Friday night was the Arc's last night as a theatre serving the general public, but at least they went out with a swing, as the last event was a performance by the DS Big Band.

I'd been uncertain what to wear. I considered my turquoise linen, and knew that if all else failed there was my trusty Heyday Fleur black roses, but those are both summer dresses and the night was bitterly cold and we had to walk about a mile to the theatre. On top of that, I wasn't sure how much time I'd have to change between getting home from work and heading out again, so went to work in an outfit that would do if I had to go straight out without changing – tweed trousers, my Such Flattering Puff Sleeves jumper (a late 1930s pattern reprinted in A Stitch in Time vol 1) and my new Miss L Fire Clara shoes. As luck would have it, I did get time to change and swapped the trousers and black wool coat for my tweed skirt suit. There's a brooch attached to the jumper, for a bit of sparkle when I take the jacket off.

I really like this outfit. Possibly the green of the jumper isn't an ideal pairing with the autumnal suit, but I liked it. A major thing for me is how much the shoes made the whole thing feel 'right'. I've never really been a 'shoe person', and it's only over the past few years that I've realised how much an appropriate pair can pick up an outfit. The two-tone brown sunrays on the toes of these made me smile every time I saw them, and they looked fantastic with the mixed brown, rust and black of the tweed. My legs look much better in them than they did when I wore stumpifying ankle boots with the suit. What's more, this was the first day I'd worn them and happily did a mile there and one back with no blisters.

And now I so need the perfect brown bag...

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Crinoline Robot's vintage week

I haven't done one of these for a while, but as the blog has been a bit empty I thought I'd witter on about other stuff I've been up to. It's not that I haven't been doing stuff, but nothing's been finished enough to blog about it. Knitting the 'Jersey with a Soft Bow' continues, and I've started knitting a lovely thing for the vintage/kitsch knitting swap I'm doing. I can't say too much about that here in case the person I'm sending to finds and reads my blog, but it's in a gorgeously soft yarn, Rowan Cashsoft 4ply. Only the best for my swap partners! Knitting is hampering my reading; I'm ploughing through a giant, highly enjoyable, collection of stories from Black Mask, the pulp crime magazine, but it'll be at least a couple of weeks before I've finished it, especially as I have review reading to do too.

My new year's resolution, to buy more buttons, looked like falling by the wayside, so I've bucked up and ordered some vintage glass buttons from Etsy. Despite my impulse to buy ALL the things, I bought a set in black for when I knit the 'Kasha' cardigan from A Stitch in Time Volume 2. Resolution stuck to!

And this Friday I'm off to see the DS Big Band at the Arc Theatre, which is closing its doors to the public after that event. January seems to be the month when things I love close down; last year it was Duck, Son & Pinker (best music shop ever) that closed its doors. But I shall try not to be sad, as an evening of swing is supposed to be fun. I haven't a clue what I'll wear, possibly my turquoise dress or perhaps my Heyday Fleur.

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Best of Al Bowlly [music]

The original crooner, and one of the first singers to be a draw in his own right, Al Bowlly has largely been forgotten today, but if you mention him to a vintage lover they’re sure to nod approvingly.

This is a collection of some of Bowlly’s biggest hits. Although he started working in the 1920s and died in the 1940s (killed by a bomb in the Blitz), all the recordings are from the 1930s, and to me they’re quintessentially 1930s: smooth, sentimental, and as good to dance to as they are to listen to. 'Love is the Sweetest Thing' was the song I was most familiar with before getting this disc, but 'The Very Thought of You', 'Got a Date with an Angel' and 'I'm Thru With Love' are my favourites. (You may remember Marilyn Monroe singing the latter in Some Like It Hot.)

There is a bit of crackle on some of the tracks on this CD, but I didn’t mind that. It made me think of art deco radiograms, and that’s never a bad thing in my book.

I'm not sure how much people unfamiliar with the music of the 1930s will like this collection. 1920s jazz and 1940s swing both have a rhythm that's appealing, a toe-tapping attraction. This doesn't have that, and it may well be an acquired taste for newcomers to vintage music. Certainly the 1930s was harder for me to get to grips with than either the 20s or 40s. Songs of the era can be guilty of schmaltz (although it has to be said that Bowlly stays on the right side of the sweet/ saccharine divide.) Stick with this CD, even if you aren't sure about it at first, and you'll find it perfect for lazy Sundays and afternoons with a book.

CD source: either a gift or a charity shop purchase, can’t remember, but paid for in some way, certainly.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

These books are keepers

Take one bookworm and hoarder, move her in with another voracious reader and after about 17 years what do you have? No room to move. Mr Robot and I have books in every room, and in the dining room and spare room it's been getting out of control. Last week he bought a Kindle, so we have been able to get rid of some, dropping them off at the local Age UK charity shop. I've been careful, only getting rid of books that I wasn't likely to reread again anytime soon, that aren't especially interesting as objects, that aren't likely to be needed for my work for SFX, and that I have no sentimental attachment to. I'm currently feeling real pangs over a volume of Cthulhu mythos stories I'd had since I was 15, but that's the only one I regret getting rid of so far. (It's being replaced on Kindle, so I'm not losing the content, but I had an attachment to that one as an object.)

Anyway, here are a couple of volumes that aren't going anywhere: Dell 'mapback' copies of Agatha Christie novels. I have four, and they aren't even allowed out of the house - I'm well aware that she who lends a book should be prepared never to see it again, and I'm not losing these ones! They were sent to me in an Odd Ducks 'Crime and Thrillers' swap. American publishing house Dell started printing books with maps on the back in 1943 and stopped in the 1950s, which gives them a pretty firm date. Most were thrillers, although there were some western and romance novels in the series too.

When I first read Raymond Chandler's introduction to the Penguin volume of Pearls are a Nuisance, where he writes "There are the aficionados of deduction...[who] demand a ground plan of Greythorpe Manor, showing the study, the gun-room, the main hall and staircase" I found it odd. Maps? In a detective book? When my mapbacks arrived in the post all became clear.

Not only do the Dells have wonderfully colourful front covers, there's a map on the back of each, and a list of principal characters in the front. I'm torn on the maps because they're so charming to look at, but really you don't need them. And if you need a list of characters, perhaps you also need your memory testing! But I do wonder if the character lists weren't so much to help the reader remember as tasty bait to lure the potential buyer. Then there are the 'teaser' pages at the start of each book. The one in Murder in Mesopotamia asks:

"Wouldn't You like To Know--
How the French monk knew so much about women?
What goes on at an archaeological dig?
What is was that had a whole scientific expedition in a state of tension?
What terror pursued Lovely Louise?
Whether her "fancies were real or imaginary?
If the beautiful Louise was indeed a female Iago"

...and so on. And if that's STILL not enough to tempt you, there's not just a list of chapters, oh no. That page is headed "List of Exciting Chapters--" Yes, excitement in every one!

I love my green-spined vintage Penguins, but I do think that if I had a choice between a Dell mapback and a green Penguin version of a novel, I'd take the mapback. They're so much fun in themselves.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Urbervilles, Kim Newman [books]

The whole world seems to be Sherlock Holmes-mad right now - the bits of it I interact with, at any rate. I have to say, the Moriarty in the current telly programme is not my idea of a supervillain. Not icy enough. Too giggly.

In Professor Moriarty: Hound of the D’Urbervilles Kim Newman places the criminal genius centre stage. The book is allegedly the memoirs of Colonel Moran, the villain who brought Sherlock Holmes back from the presumed dead in Conan Doyle’s story 'The Adventure of the Empty House'. He relates a number of cases from his and Moriarty’s time together. Newman makes Moran the equivalent of Watson, right-hand man to a greater mind. (Newman traces the reasoning behind linking the two scoundrels in his Notes and Acknowledgements.) The pair's landlady, Mrs Halifax, runs a high-class brothel, the opposite of Mrs Hudson's respectability.

Moran has something of George MacDonald’s Flashman to him (again, Newman himself comments on this in the acknowledgements), but also the breezy risk-taking aspect of Newman’s own Richard Jeperson, ‘The Man from the Diogenes Club’. Moran is a a card cheat, a womaniser, a scoundrel, but also a hunter and thrill-addict.

The cases are brilliantly twisted reflections of the Holmes stories. The great detective is rarely mentioned and never actually seen. In ‘The Hound of the D’Urbervilles’, for example, Moriarty and Moran discuss the possible owner of a walking stick, then take on that man’s commission to kill a ghost, that of a red dog that haunts the D’Urbervilles... as has the ghost of Tess Durbeyfield, hanged decades earlier for the murder of one of the family. Newman makes wonderful parallels with the key elements in 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' – and if you know Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, you’ll find it even more fun.

My favourite of the cases is ‘The Red Planet League’, if only because of the passage when Moran parodies the famous opening lines from HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds. "No one would have believed, in the next-to-last years of the nineteenth century, that his lecture was being watched keenly and closely by an intelligence far greater than his own; that as he blathered on and on he was being scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a berk with a microscope might scrutinise the tiny wriggly bugs that swarm and multiply in a drop of water." It made me laugh when I read it. It still makes me grin to think about it. It exemplifies what I love about Newman’s books. I’ve been reading them for decades, and there’s a wonderful sense of revelry in all of them. You can tell he adores the characters and books he plays with, weaving into his own narratives. He respects the original sources, and knows them thoroughly. The Great Game is not Mycroft’s game at all. The Great Game is the one Newman plays with popular culture... and everyone’s a winner.

I have also reviewed Anno Dracula and The Bloody Red Baron by Kim Newman.

Book source: A Christmas present. Amazon wishlist FTW!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Building a vintage wardrobe, one year on

It’s been nearly a year since I posted about building up my vintage wardrobe, and I thought I'd look back to see how things have progressed since then.

My lovely pink and grey wool skirt has been joined by this wool suit by Edinburgh Woollen Mill, probably from the 1970s to judge by the label, style, and the dates when EWM went mass market. It cost £8 from Age UK. I love this suit. I call it my ‘Miss Marple’ suit, and a workmate says it always reminds her of Margaret Rutherford. As Rutherford’s Miss Marple was one groovy old lady, I count that as a Good Thing. I’ve also got a mid-calf herringbone skirt that will work for a 30s look, £4, and I think that was also from Age UK. I’m still looking for other wool skirts – I’ve found a few pleated tartan ones, but none in colours I was desperate to own, so I’m waiting for the right one to appear in a charity shop.

The green jumper I knitted now has a friend. The Madeira jumper in one of my 1950s books, Knit With Norbury, only came in one size, so I scaled it up, worked out a way of doing it without having to faff around with resizing sleeves and sleeveheads, and the result has been in constant wear since. Sometimes I fasten it at the throat with a china flower brooch, other times I leave it open. The 'Jersey With a Soft Bow' from A Stitch In Time is still in progress, mainly because I didn't follow Susan's advice on yarn! (Learning the hard way...) Now I need some cardigans, or possibly a few twin sets. A Stitch in Time Volume 2 launched in the autumn, and I have the book and yarn and just need the time to knit from it.

I mentioned a couple of repro dresses last year, and got round to purchasing one over the summer, the Fleur wrap dress from Heyday. This became a real summer staple, and if I had anything vaguely interesting to do, from visiting people to stalking cricketers, out it came. My one concern was that if ever I went to an event geared to vintage types I might come across someone in the same frock, so in October I bought a vintage 1950s wrap dress. The colours aren’t dissimilar to the Heyday one: black background, pinky pattern. I also bought a turquoise cotton dress at the end of December, ready for next summer. That's either late 50s or early 60s, I'd guess the early end of things because of the metal zips and the way the seams are finished.

For dressier occasions I was fortunate to spot an Able Grable ‘Miss M’ sample on Etsy for £50. It’s really lovely, and I will definitely keep saving my pennies for a custom-made one. This dress made me realise that firm foundation garments are not an optional extra for many vintage looks. Bodyshaping undies aren’t cheap, but they do make the whole outfit look smoother and better. I'm also now on the quest for a decent bra that isn't one of those moulded foam things that make you look like you've had spherical implants.

Shoes and bags were something else I talked about. Hoorah for Hotter, who have been bringing out vaguely 20s/30s looking shoes. I got a pair of ‘Charleston’ in black in the spring. They’re not at the cheap end of the market, but they are brilliantly comfortable and suitable for work. I've also just bought a pair of 'Clara' shoes (shown on this page) in the Miss L Fire sale. They don't come in half sizes so I went up to a 6, but as they're narrower than my usual shoes that's a good thing, because they're still comfy. And they're brown! yes, I am working a new neutral into my wardrobe. Bags remain elusive; although I have seen some I like in Scarlet Vintage in Bath. Last year's other accessory success was brooches as my resolution for 2011 was to buy more of them; I didn't spend more than £7.50 on one and saw out the year with a good selection that could brighten up any outfit.


I’m never going to have an exclusively vintage look, or a look that’s confined to one time period, but I do feel pleased that my style (whatever it is!) appears to be constant and workable every day. I've decided to go all-out dieselpunk to the next Waltz on the Wye, and am in the happy position of having a wide choice of outfits already. My tasks for 2012 are to get some more repro dresses, keep my eye out for authentic vintage that fits and that I like, and track down that handbag...

Images
Top: The Miss Marple suit. Fashion tip: if you want to make your calves look really thick and stumpy, team a below-the-knee skirt with ankle boots. Yes, in future it's SHOES ONLY with that one...
Middle: Some of this year's purchases and gifts (plus a Jean Patou scarf I've had for years, in the pic cos it goes so well with the shoes).
Bottom: The Madeira jumper knitted from Knit With Norbury, along with an Aynsley brooch bought last January. Snooty expression is because I had to take off my glasses to avoid flash, and am trying not to squint!

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Best of Bond... James Bond [music]

'Diamonds are Forever'. 'Goldfinger'. 'Live and Let Die'. If you don't know at least one of those classic Bond theme tunes, I'd love to know how you got off the desert island you'd clearly been marooned on until yesterday. I've wanted a collection of Bond themes for ages, and my lovely mother-in-law got me one for Christmas. Hooray for Amazon wishlists!

I did have a Bond compilation on tape, recorded off a friend in the last century (hehehe), but that got lost years ago. This CD is right up to date, with the last track being Chris Cornell's 'You Know My Name' from Casino Royale, which means it's got half-a-dozen songs that weren't on my old tape. No bad thing.

Whatever their age, you can divide Bond themes into a few rough groups. There are the real belters, such as 'Goldfinger', 'Diamonds are Forever' and 'Goldeneye'. Shirley Bassey is queen of this style. There are croony romantic ones such as 'From Russia With Love', 'For Your Eyes Only' and 'All Time High' (the theme tune to Octopussy; you can't blame them for not trying to work that title into a song). Most of the croony ones have belter choruses, it has to be said.

Then there are boy's own hero songs like 'Live and Let Die', 'A View to a Kill' and 'The Living Daylights'. I don't think I'd include 'Thunderball' in that group, it's a sort of slow belter. The 'boy's own' songs seem to come in with the rise of feminism: out with the crumpet, in with the ultraviolence, and it's interesting that the latter two I've named are both from the Timothy Dalton era, which did away with a lot of the sex in the films. I'd also put 'You Know My Name' into this group. I did feel that some of the Brosnan era films were too formulaic, as though the filmmakers had assembled the villainess or female ally with a silly name, the villain and a checklist of locations before bothering to put anything like a story together. Even the theme songs hearkened back to the Shirley Bassey style of song. Could the shift to 'boy's own' themes mean a less caricatured Bond for the rest of Daniel Craig's run? I hope so!

Anyway, I digress. You're here for music, not Mim's Halfarsed Theorising About Bond Films. The final section on the CD is the truly crap, namely 'Die Another Day' by Madonna. If I'm never convinced Sheryl Crow has a strong enough voice in 'Tomorrow Never Dies', she sounds like Burly Chassis at her most bombastic compared to Madonna singing the feeble, repetitive, hook-free theme to Die Another Day. That's the only duff track in the set, though, and the compilers did compensate by including belter 'Surrender' by KD Lang, which was used on Tomorrow Never Dies but wasn't the theme tune. It does feel a little like KD is parodying Shirley, but at least she gives it some welly.

There's little point me trying to tell you whether you'll like this collection or not - you almost certainly already know most of the songs and will have a very good idea if it's your sort of thing. I love it!

Source of CD disclaimer: it was a Christmas present, so paid for, but not by me. And if I seem to rave about all my presents, it's because I'm not rude enough to come online and talk about one if I don't like it!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Knitwear FAIL

Sorry sbout the lack of film/ book posts lately; I've been reading books to review for SFX and watching non-vintage films, so haven't had much to blog about. One thing I have been doing is working on my Jersey with a Soft Bow. Now, I am – no sniggering at the back – a loose knitter. Whenever I knit anything from a readymade pattern, I have to go down at least a needle size. For this, I have gone down from the recommended 3.75mm needles for the body to 3mm.

It's still too big.

Knitting the back, I was worried that it would be too big. Knitting the front, I was still worried it would be too big. This blasted thing has been in progress for about 10 months, I've nearly finished the second sleeve and would be sewing it up this week and yesterday took a long, hard look at it. It is most definitely too big. It's not just too big on the bust and torso, it's too wide across the shoulders. The fact that I ran out of yarn should have given me a clue. However, a mixture of optimism ('it will fit, it will fit, it will fit!') and laziness ('There's no way I'm ripping it all back') meant I have not faced up to the facts until now.

This leaves me with two options. Wear it as it is and be glad to get it off the needles, or reknit it. I'm going for the latter. I don't have the body issues that some plus-size people do, but I am well aware that if you're thin and badly dressed people tend to regard it as the clothes' fault, whereas if you're fat and badly dressed there are plenty who regard it as your fault because they hate your body and think it's never going to look nice. The sleeves and sleeve shapings are the same for both the first and second sizes of the jumper, and I'm knitting the second size now, so I can keep the sleeves I've already worked on and reknit the back and front in the first size.

I had planned to wear it to Waltz on the Wye last year. At this rate it will be ready next year!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Swaparama!

Back in September I blogged about the amazing steampunk swap parcel I got in a swap on Ravelry. I'm currently participating in another swap with a vintage/kitsch theme. With the group I'm in, Odd Ducks, it's very important to tailor your package to the person you send to, so I'm still waiting to find out who I get, and whether he or she likes all vintage or lots of kitsch, and what era they're into. Most people seem to be vintage-with-some-kitsch, 40s to 60s, so that should be easy to do.

While it's not the done thing to start your parcel before you know who's going to get it, it never hurts to think of things that would work in it. Currently I'm mulling over aprons, tea cosies, accessories knitted from vintage patterns, and possibly buying retro homewares from a charity shop if my swap partner likes that sort of thing. If they really like kitsch, they may get a poodle bottle cover!

It's probably a good job I haven't been allocated a partner yet as the wretched Jersey with a Soft Bow is STILL on the needles and I am starting to detest it. I have a book to review this weekend, but then I'm going to knit, knit, knit and get it finished. It'll be bearable when it's wearable...

Monday, 2 January 2012

My new year's resolution

I've been quite good at sticking to resolutions in the past few years. I don't think resolutions should be negative, to stop X or do less Y. They're soul-destroying, especially at the drabbest time of year. Make a resolution that will bring you pleasure, and you will bring cheer to others as well as yourself. The trick is to pick a small change you can make. The first one I ever managed was to switch to Fair Trade tea; I'd been drinking PG Tips for years. Every once in a while the shop will be out of the one I like so I'll have to try something else, but most of the time nowadays I drink Cafedirect.

Last year my resolution was a good 'un: buy more brooches. This may seem self-indulgent, but the amount of genuine vintage I have was (and still is) limited, and a bit of authentic sparkle really lifts an outfit. I probably bought about eight over the year, none cost me more than £7.50, and some were real bargains – I found a Victorian one made in Chester for £4.50, and a 1960s Exquisite oak leaf one for £1.50. Far cheaper than you'd pay for new brooches on the high street. I also got given some nice ones, including a pretty carved one from Charly Landgirl which I've worn loads. By the end of 2011 I had a small but nice selection of sparklers to go on my jumpers, jackets and dresses.

I actually made 2012's resolution back in December, and it's another simple one: buy more buttons. I have plans to knit a few cardigans, and whether I finish those or acquire a dress or top that could be livened up with vintage buttons, those little round fasteners are going to come in very handy.

Have you made a new year's resolution? I hope it's a positive one!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year!

I hope your 2012 is a brilliant year for everyone.

Here are some forthcoming events that might help your 2012 go with a swing, especially if you're based in the south-west:

Nationwide, from January The Artist is in cinemas around the UK
From 7 January The Great White Silence, a 1924 documentary made from film shot on Scott's Terra Nova expedition to the Antarctic, will be showing in some cinemas in Wales, Scotland and England. New score
From 21 January Slapstick Season at the Watershed, Bristol, including an evening with Kevin Brownlow and Graeme Garden discussing Buster Keaton.
23-28 January Murder on the Nile by Agatha Christie, Theatre Royal Bath
From 25 January The First Born, a 1928 British silent, will be showing in a handful of cinemas in England and Scotland (non in the south west, boooo)
27 January The DS Big Band at the Arc Theatre, Trowbridge
25-31 March Bath Fashion Week, including Vintage Sunday
18-20 May Waltz on the Wye steampunk and neo-Victorian festival, Chepstow

Have a fab year!