Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Another hat, and weekend plans

The Steam Fair's in town, hurrah!

I'm sorry the blog has been so quiet lately. I've mentioned in the past that I do freelance stuff on top of the day job, and I've had a massive stack of extra work lately, which has left very little time for vintagey fun. However, I finished my last chunk of writing (for now!) last night.

While waiting for the yarn for Sarah's wedding cardi to arrive I have cast on yet another Fair Isle hat from my favourite pattern. I like knitting those. Not sure what I'll do with it – I don't need another one – but I'm sure it'll find a home eventually.

Mr Robot and I have a weekend of FUN planned. Carter's Steam Fair is in Bath this weekend, so we plan to go into town on the Saturday, visit the 'Laura Ashley: The Romantic Heroine' exhibition at the Fashion Museum, enjoy a few whizzes round on the rides at the Steam Fair, and round the whole thing off with a bevy of beers. Mr Robot is even more suspicious of all things 1970s than I am, so I'm looking forward to seeing his expression of horror at the exhibition.

Looking further ahead, Bill Bryson will be coming to Bath in November. He's doing a talk on his new book, One Summer, exploring the America of the 1920s AND he'll be doing it in Bath's gorgeous art deco Forum cinema. We've already booked our tickets! If it sounds like your thing, Toppings are selling tickets for Bill Bryson in Bath.

Anyway, now I'm going to relax before another avalanche of responsibility lands on me...

Don't forget to check out my listing of What's On in Vintage Wiltshire (and the surrounding area) if you're in Wiltshire and love a bit of Old Tat.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Win a Box of Robotness!

Hoorah! It’s my third blogoversary, and that means it’s time for a Box of Robotness giveaway. Missed my previous giveaways? It’s very simple: I’ve put together a box of things I really like, all bought by me for the giveaway. If you really like them too, leave one comment below before the first of August 2013 and you could win the lot. I’ll use a random number generator to pick out a winner on the first of August.
Set 1: dark red

So, what have I bought to put in the parcel this year? The main item is a biggie: the winner’s choice of one of these brooch/pendant and screwback earring sets. Yes, that is correct, an original vintage jewellery set.

Both are made by Bugbee and Niles, who stopped manufacturing in 1943, so 1943 is the latest the sets can date from. As they’re about 70 years old, the gold on each set is a tiny bit worn, but it’s not enough to be noticeable when they’re on. Also, the middle clear diamante at the top of the blue one has darkened, but it's still symmetrical. Just thought I’d warn you.

One set is aquamarine blue and the other a very dark red – almost black that flashes red. Both brooches can double up as pendants. The red one has the loop at the top of the 'heart' shape so the dark red teardrop diamante hang at the bottom, and the blue one hangs so the fringe of oblong aquamarine-coloured stones are at the bottom.

Set 2: aquamarine blue
If you win, I’ll ask you to let me know whether you want the dark red or the blue when you send me your address, and I’ll keep whichever you don’t want. If you win and don’t want to keep your set, please find it a home with someone who will love it as matching sets of this age are getting ever harder to find and they deserve to be treasured.

To fill in the box, there’s a couple of enamel pie dishes and some reproduction steam railway ephemera – tickets, cigarette cards and so on. Who doesn't love trains and/or pies, eh? The dishes were bought from my local independent department store, Knees of Trowbridge. I have lots of these in different sizes because they bake the best pies. You will never suffer from the dreaded ‘soggy bottom’ if you bake in them! Grease them with butter or marge before putting the pastry in and your pies will pop out cleanly when they’re cooked. Don’t use metal tools or harsh scrubbing things on them, or put them into very cold water while very hot, and they’ll stay super-shiny and last for years.

And that’s your lot! Leave a comment below (and only one, please) if you’d like to be in with a chance of winning.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

A new home for one of my treasures

Yesterday I gave away one of my treasures. It may not look like much in this photo, but it's a sheer 1950s nylon dress with sunray-pleated skirt. No holes, no stains, every seam is perfect, it still has its belt... I honestly thought I'd always have it; I was certainly never going to sell it.

However, this week I bought a vintage dress, a coral broderie anglais one from Stutterinmama. I'm already feeling like that was a mistake, not because there's anything wrong with the dress (I haven't seen it), nor because of the vendor, who has a very good reputation, but because I have the dreadful feeling that it's simply 'not me'. I'm a person of sensible tweeds and knitwear or aggressive block colours and in-your-face diamante, not a pretty person who wears delicate coral frocks. And I know I don't have the 50s figure the coral dress will require. Still, we shall see – maybe it will not be too sweet for me.

Having purchased the dress, I was hit by my usual, "What if I don't really like it? What if it doesn't fit me?" anxiety. And that made me decide to rehome some of my vintage and repro, because I've got too many pieces falling into both those categories. I'm not attached to all of it; there's the slightly too-small Swirl I've never worn and now aren't sure I want to wear anyway (note to self: your body is nothing like Fleur de Guerre's; stop buying things that look good on her!), and a late 50s turquoise dress that I'm umming about whether to keep (it fits, but I'm not sure I still want to wear it).

The nylon dress, though, was different. I loved it from the minute I saw it, but I was a size 8 when I bought it, and I last wore it to a Golden Jubilee street party in 2002. My doctor has told me to lose weight to help my bad back, but I don't think I'll ever be that small again. Nonetheless, I didn't want it to go to some random home. Then yesterday, I went to visit Sarah. I met her at the first Secret Tea Party in Bath, and we just became friends. She's getting married this autumn in a vintage dress, and I'm knitting her a cardigan to wear for her wedding, so I had to go and discuss options and colours and to take measurements. And it hit me: the dress needed to go to Sarah. I offered it to her, she tried it on, and she looked breathtaking. It fits her like a dream. Her platinum blonde colouring suits it perfectly. I couldn't be happier that it's found a new home with someone who loves it and can show it off, not leave it hanging in a wardrobe.

Some things we only own for a while, then they go on to their new rightful owner. I've had that with a few vintage things, mostly books. This is the first dress. But I do believe that you get back what you dish out; a couple of years ago Amanda Jones gave me a stunning black silk velvet evening gown, made in the 1930s by Roecliffe and Chapman for a member of her family. Perhaps in giving the 1950s dress to Sarah I'm dishing out what I've already had!

(On the subject of giving stuff away, my blogoversary giveaway is due. It's going to be a tad late as I'm VERY busy right now with some important freelance, but I promise the giveaway is worth waiting for - the star item with be the winner's choice of one of two pre-1944 brooch-and-earring sets. So please bear with me for a few weeks while I'm a bit quiet!)

Monday, 15 July 2013

Mallard 75: The Great Gathering

Bittern, my favourite engine.
When all six remaining A4 steam engines are in one place, it is indeed a Great Gathering! Mr Robot and I recently went to York for a party on a boat. However, imagine my glee when I discovered that The National Railway Museum in York would be celebrating the 75th anniversary of Mallard taking the world steam speed record by gathering together the six remaining A4 engines, Mallard and its siblings.

My dad’s a model railway enthusiast (recently switched from N-gauge to finescale, tiny toy fans!) and grew up in Swindon, home of the Great Western Railway works, so as far back as I can remember I’ve seen toy trains and visited the real thing. However, I only recently got interested in engines myself, and that was when Bittern, one of the A4s, puffed past my office. It was painted up to look like the Dominion of New Zealand, but still had its own number. I had never seen such a beautiful train! To see that art deco shape steam by was wonderful. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see it close up. 
Mallard and Dominion of Canada, before it got REALLY crowded.
Unfortunately, thousands of other people also couldn’t resist the opportunity to see the A4s close up. We went to the museum on the Saturday, took one look at the monstrous queue and went away again, resolving to be there early on the Sunday. Someone at the museum the next day told us there had been around 12,500 people through the doors on the Saturday. Although we got in the queue early, and were among the first hundred or so people into the museum, the room with the A4s filled up rapidly. Many people were taking photos, and while most of them understood that snapping in such a crowd would never result in people-free shots, some people were, shall we say, a bit rude. (Specialist photo sessions had been organised, but they booked up well in advance of our visit.) Even if you weren’t taking photos and simply wanted to look at the trains, the crowds were a bit much, and I believe the museum has since started a one-in, one-out policy to limit crowding.
The fastest steam engine wheels on Earth!

Away from the A4s there were lots of other fantastic things to see, including a model of Stephenson’s Rocket, the Flying Scotsman, and some Royal train carriages. George VII insisted on a smoking carriage in his train, all comfy leather seats and shiny wood. (Seeing that reminded me of Fleur de Guerre’s King’s Ginger adventures.) There was also a display of posters selling the notion of speed and the railway - there were some gorgeous art deco posters in that section. And the National Railway Museum cafĂ© sells the finest sausage rolls I’ve eaten in my life. Seriously, if you’re a meat eater, go and have a pork and apple one, you won’t regret it.

The inside of one of the carriages on Edward VII's Royal Train.
One of the carriages in the Royal Train.
Would I recommend this exhibition? If you’re in York for a limited time, do it. Go. If you can plan your visit, I’d go at a date nearer the end of the exhibition, as a lot of people will have visited it by then and hopefully you’ll be able to examine the trains at a more leisurely pace, without any crush. The Great Gathering – all six engines together – is on until the 17th of July, then from the 26th October to the 4th November (although Union of South Africa will be away for works for a few days during that time). All six trains will be together for one final gathering from the 15th to the 23rd of February 2014 at the National Railway Museum's Shildon site (NOT York!).

If you do go and are able to make a donation to this free-to-all museum, remember to Gift Aid it if you’re a UK taxpayer so the Government will give the museum extra cash. And don’t go without having a sausage roll!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Par-taaaay on a boat

Last weekend Mr Robot and I went to York. Annie, owner of Able Grable, had organised a party on a boat. There would be nibbles and music and costumes, and I'd never been to York, so how could we not go? (By happy coincidence, the trip was at the same time as the Great Gathering was happening at the National Railway Museum, I'll have more on that for you later in the week.)

There were lots of Annie and Bruce's families there, plus Helen from Pin-Up Parade with her partner, Gordon, and burlesque performer Darkteaser, who did a fan dance later in the evening. Helen was wearing an 'Avril' dress from her own Swagger Joint range. I've had my eye on these for a while, and it looks really lovely when you see it for real - made from very high-quality fabric, and hangs beautifully. She mentioned that she's able to do them in some other colours to order, too, which was good to know. Darkteaser wore an Able Grable Dream Girl 1932. I've got exactly the same style in the same colour, so was very glad I didn't wear mine! I'd been considering it right until the last minute, but would never have looked as good as Darkteaser did in hers. Fashion faux-pas avoided... Annie wore a splendid Dorothy outfit, complete with chestnut curls, ruby slippers and a little Toto in a basket. It was fantastic to meet them all, and I really hope to meet them all again at some point.

But enough wittering, what you really want to see is some photos, right?

Our hostess! I loved the Dorothy outfit, it was such fun

Everyone loved the bubbles.

Bruce's dad in his awesome disco costume

ARRRR! Be it Cap'n Hook, or be it Bruce?

Gordon blowing bubbles. Mr Robot thought Gordon had a very cool outfit

Helen. I didn't mention the fab hat earlier, did I? Look at it! It has diamante on the back too.

Me. I dressed fairly simply

All photos copyright PP Gettins, AKA Mr Robot. Nick 'em and the scary jester will come for you...

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Three vintage style myths that need busting

What red lipstick? What waist?
Think you can't have a vintage look because it doesn't suit you? Think again! While there are some strong style elements that a lot of vintage lovers share, you don't have to follow the herd in order to have a retro look.

Myth 1: You have to wear red lipstick 
Red was popular in the past, but it hasn’t always been the only option available. Think of the gorgeous corals worn in the 1950s, or the pale, matte lips of the 1960s mods. If red’s not your colour, don’t worry. Try to track down lipstick adverts from your favourite decade and choose something appropriate that also suits you.

Famous arguments against: Revlon Stormy Pink, Revlon Love that Pink, Revlon Hot Coral (all 1950s colours still available today!), Max Factor California Pink-a-Pades, Biba brown, blue, green...

Myth 2: You need to be extremely curvy 
This one really gets my goat, as I have an apple body type. Every time someone starts dragging up the ‘vintage figure’ myth, and claiming that women in the past had pronounced hourglass figures, I feel like they are telling me I’m not allowed to like this stuff because my body isn’t good enough. Well, bobbins to that! It’s not even true!

A lot of people into vintage do favour a 1940s and 1950s look, and the latter decade in particular did place a great emphasis on a tiny waist - on having curves. Some garments came with built-in cinchers to pull in a thick middle and padding to bulk out hips and busts, and if you’re not naturally curvy but do love the look, you can use foundation garments to alter your silhouette.

However, those aren’t the only decades. In the 1930s, slim was in, with a figure that gently undulated rather than having extreme curves being fashionable. And in the 1920s and 1960s, curves were pretty much out of favour altogether. Okay, those were both decades when people were keen to be very thin, but I know from experience that 20s and 60s styles are actually pretty forgiving on thick-waisted figures as they skim the middle.

Famous arguments against: Louise Brooks, Colleen Moore, Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Audrey Hepburn, Mia Farrow, The Duchess of Windsor, Nancy Cunard

Myth 3: You need to be extremely pale 
I’m not sure where this particular myth came from, but I suspect, like our other two myths, it’s got its roots in those wonderful 1950s photos of Dovima, Suzy Parker, Dorian Leigh and their like. Yes, they were mostly a perfect porcelain in their photos (and had red lipstick and tiny wasp waists), but not everyone was, and not everyone wanted to be. In the book Milton’s Marilyn, photographer Milton Greene’s wife recalls how Milton had to fight to ensure Marilyn was pale for the film Bus Stop because she was playing the part of a girl who worked all night and slept all day; the studio had wanted her to be more tanned.

If you want a tan, that’s your choice – fake is safer than the real thing, but you already know that. And if you’re naturally dark-skinned, revel in it!

Famous (natural and tanned) arguments against: Coco Chanel, Ursula Andress, Dorothy Dandridge, Cary Grant, Brigitte Bardot, Lena Horne, Liz Taylor in her later years, Pam Grier, Josephine Baker, pretty much everyone who was famous in the 1970s apart from Bowie...

Sometimes it can seem as though everyone’s following each other, wearing the same lipstick, putting in the same victory rolls, buying the same brand of shoes, and if you like those things and they suit you, go for it. But if they don’t work for you, there’s still a whole lot of vintage that will. A lot of people who love into vintage did so because they liked being able to buy unique clothes and develop their own look, so enjoy your own uniqueness!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Scarily good vintage horror

The Mummy is not keen on Egyptologists...
Autumn is the season for horror, and you can’t beat a scary vintage film or novel. The BFI clearly think the same thing as they’ve got a massive season called Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film coming up later this year. Some classic films have been restored and are being shown again in cinemas, there’s a shedload of books and DVDs coming out, and the BFI will be working with festivals and venues around Britain, including Aberystwyth-based horror festival Abertoir  and some National Trust properties, to bring retro shocks to the whole island. I hope some of the films come to one of my local cinemas! (Trowbridge’s shiny new Odeon is due to open in October - perfect Halloween timing, eh? Knowing my luck they’ll be showing something like The Fast and the Furious 73 or Ice Age 27, but I can hope...)

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Trowbridge Armed Forces and Veterans' Weekend 2013

Last weekend was the Armed Forces and Veterans’ Weekend in Trowbridge. This is an event that’s been growing over the years, and as well as displays from current units and branches of the armed forces there’s usually a section of re-enactors and history group displays.

I have complex feelings about events like this: I’m very proud of our service personnel, who do difficult work in dangerous places. My father and grandfather were both career military. Against that is the reality of death. Weapons will always make me think, “This thing only exists to kill people.” I suppose when it comes to the military and military history I’m interested and respectful, but also serious. I’m glad we have people prepared to defend rights and freedoms, but sad that they should have to do it at all. The history side helps people think about how wars occur, the awfulness and human cost of it all, which no-one should ever forget.

A recreation of a French cottage used as cover

Anyway, serious bit over, there was a large re-enactment and history area this year. It was great to see some displays of French military vehicles, including a mockup of a shelled French cottage. We got chatting to a gentleman who’d got a tent set up the way it would have been in Africa in the 1870s, complete with folding desk and bed and a rug on the floor. Another chap talked to us about his collection of mine detectors and compared a vintage probe with the sort still issued to soldiers to use if they suddenly realise they’re in a mine field - there’s not much difference between the two, and it’s sobering to think that even now people’s lives can depend on something that looks like a short, stubby car aerial.

This gentleman talked to us about his recreation of a Victorian officer's tent

One very good history display was on finding Wiltshire’s forgotten First World War soldiers, and on some of the soldiers they’ve located and identified. Some of the displays could have done with more information (or chattier people prepared to talk about what they were showing), but Finding the Forgotten’s stand was really informative and interesting.

Fab Rover car! It has a wooden dashboard.
A couple also brought their vintage Rover, and they allowed me to sit in it. It was a gorgeous car!

It would be lovely to see displays that also relate to the general community in future. Trowbridge has a large Polish community, including many ‘old Poles’ who came to Britain during the Second World War, and it would be great if some re-enactors covered the Polish forces – perhaps 302 or 303 Squadron from the Battle of Britain. That would be especially appropriate as Trowbridge was a centre for Spitfire production during the war. Still, the event is growing each year, and hopefully the re-enactment/history side will grow ever more interesting and diverse too.

I managed to miss the 1940s music and dancing. Not sure how that happened. Every year we go, we seem to miss the bit we’d really enjoy, it always happens later than our visit. So for me the highlight of the day was seeing a Dakota fly over later, when we were enjoying a beer outside a pub. Such a beautiful plane!

Interested in vintage and retro events in Wiltshire? Check out my listing of What’s On In Vintage Wiltshire

Monday, 1 July 2013

Old films, new stage musicals

This one's perfect for the stage!
A couple of news stories on the BBC website caught my eye recently, both about films being adapted into stage musicals. They’re both films I like, but one is definitely an ‘OH HELL YES!’ adaptation, and the other more ‘WTF’.

 The ‘WTF’ musical is an adaptation of The Third Man, Carol Reed’s noir set in postwar Vienna, with naive Holly Martins looking into the death of his friend Harry Lime, only to uncover illegal trading in counterfeit and substandard medicines within the war-ravaged city. The film does have one of the most iconic pieces of theme music ever, but there’s only so much you can do with one zither melody so a lot of music will have to be introduced. And where will it go? Will Major Calloway sing about maintaining his stiff upper lip amid the rubble? Will Holly Martins have a quick warble about how everyone’s lying to him, or Anna a soaring solo about her dodgy passport? If someone can arrange for Harry’s speech about the Swiss inventing the cuckoo clock to form the centre of a Busby Berkley-style number where showgirls in Viennese waltz dresses rotate on a huge Ferris wheel, I’ll be very impressed, but really, the idea of a Third Man musical strikes me as a bit ‘Springtime for Hitler’.

The other musical is Woody Allen’s adaptation of his own film Bullets Over Broadway. OH HELL YES. To start with, it’s a comedy, so more suited to random song and dance numbers. Moreover, it’s a comedy set in the world of 1920s theatre - a playwright in love with an older actress is leaned on by a gangster to give his ditsy girlfriend a leading role; her minder turns out to have a genius for writing plays and isn’t happy at the way his charge is mangling the production. OH HELL YES. There’s a lot of opportunity to work songs in at appropriate points there. And, as a lover of the era, Woody’s planning to use genuine 1920s songs, not have new ones written. He’s written a few musical films, so adapting his own non-musical film into a musical should be a piece of cake for him. OH HELL YES. Mr Robot detests musicals, but if this one ever comes to London, I might force him to go along anyway.