Thursday, 25 August 2011

Severn Tunnel 125 Celebration

To celebrate the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Severn Tunnel, a celebration has been planned at Sudbrook for the 3rd of September, and the organisers have asked the Chepstow and Area Steampunk Society to attend. While not in Chepstow – or even in the same country! – I'll be heading along in my gold dress 'cos lots of my steamy friends are going, and Mr Robot has already ditched the razor so he can have luxuriant muttonchops on the day. If you're in the area, why not come along? You don't have to be in costume!

Rachel of Modernist Jewellery – A Love Story has set up a Facebook page, if you're interested.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

No more The Hour

WARNING: SPOILERS

The Hour, all six hours of it, is over. I have to say, last night's finale fell a bit flat for me; I was glad to see the ending of Bel and Hector's stupid affair, with Bel actually realising that she'd be stupid to throw everything away for Hector. Given that most telly characters seem prepared to dump everything from their jobs to their families for their TWOO WUV it was nice to see Bel decide that the sex had been good, but life with Hector would not be. Lix pretty much faded out, which was a shame as she was by far the most interesting character in the programme. Freddie's storyline was more or less over last episode.

My prediction for villain of the piece was wrong, and Mr Robot was chuffed because he'd got it right. I didn't like the end conversation between Freddie and the mole. Was that much exposition really needed? I'd rather know why Freddie chose not to run with a potentially explosive story, given that everything we'd seen of his character to that point suggested he would. That out-of-character behaviour probably jarred more than anything. Less exposition from the mole and more exploration of how Freddie made the decision he did would've been better.

On a purely shallow note, I still want Bel's wardrobe. I especially liked her pencil skirt in the opening scenes and that red dress, although she had on a pair of pearl earrings, a modern gold and enamel brooch and (I didn't get a good view of it) what looked like an art nouveau pendant. Not very well matched. Can the BBC budget not stretch to a vintage Corocraft or Miriam Haskell set?! They do come up for sale online.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Jimmy Sangster, 1927-2011

The Curse of Frankenstein. Dracula. The Mummy. The Brides of Dracula. The Hellfire Club. Those are just some of the films Jimmy Sangster wrote the screenplays for, and that Hammer brought to the big screen. Sangster also wrote for television, including episodes of 1970s detective shows Ironside and Banacek, and one episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Even if he'd only written the first of the films I've listed, Sangster would have earned his place in film history, because those late 1950s movies saved Hammer and helped turn it into one of the great successes of the British film industry. Of course, they had the magic ingredients of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in front of the camera and Terence Fisher directing, but nonetheless Sangster's scripts breathed new life into classic monsters. He created a new, dandified Baron Frankenstein, and a Professor Van Helsing who was less bumbling old library beetle, more cool-headed intellectual, than those who had gone before.

I've been away, which is why this post has only just gone up, but I definitely recommend The Curse of Frankenstein if you're short of a film to watch this weekend.

Note: The hearse is one used in the Hammer film Dracula Has Risen From the Grave – not one of Sangster's films, but one that probably wouldn't have been made without his contribution to Hammer.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Outfit post: what I wore to stalk a cricketer

Mr Robot’s firm are based in two buildings in Bath, and yesterday they had a cricket match. As though the promise of FREE PIMMS (even better than the Cheltenham Cricket Festival where they sell it by the pint) weren’t good enough, one of the buildings brought in a ringer - former England player Alec Stewart. Crumpet ahoy!

I realised with the free drinks that my behaviour and language would probably grow less ladylike as the match went on, so tried at least to dress the part in my Heyday Fleur black roses wrap dress. I love this dress. It makes me feel pretty without actually revealing much. Up to my neck, down past my knees, and still gets more compliments than anything else I own. The nice heavy cotton also washes really well and doesn’t crease easily.

I’d recommend this dress to anyone whose figure is a bit out of proportion in any one area because the ties make it adjust to fit. Mr Robot kindly informed me that he thinks it makes my belly look big, but it doesn’t. I’m an ‘apple’ body type, and my belly looks big because I have a big belly; if you visit Heyday’s website you’ll see lots of more conventionally proportioned ladies wearing this style of dress and not looking as though they’re trying to shoplift a turkey.

I topped it off with fake pearl earrings, a black velvet jacket that a friend had grown out of, and cheapie black flats because I have a sprained ankle and it’s those or hiking boots for the next four to six weeks.

And then I went out to leer at cricketers...

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Glorious 39/ The Hour

A double for Romola Garai this week, as the BBC broadcast the Stephen Poliakoff film Glorious 39 on Sunday, and there was the penultimate episode of The Hour last week.

Glorious 39 looked utterly delicious, with gorgeous locations and costumes to die for. I loved particularly loved the belted cardigans over straight skirts. The cast was stellar – Christopher Lee has always been a favourite of mine, and Bill Nighy was excellent. However, the storyline had the usual problems I find in Poliakoff's work: an obsession with the upper classes, and the portrayal of eccentricities so extreme you'd rarely encounter it in one person, let alone a whole group of them, plus an effort to be profound that borders on the ridiculous. (I felt similarly about Capturing Mary and The Tribe.) At one point, heroine Anne is walking through the back room of a vet's, where animals that owners fleeing London have had put down are hanging up in sacks and lying on the floor. Stretching the Holocaust theme somewhat, no? If you didn't get it then, the later scene with piles of burning pets would have driven it home. Anne is supposedly intelligent, and close to her family, yet she managed not to notice that every single one of them is involved in some form of dodgy politics? Oh, please. So, visually lovely, but overall a bit rubbish. If you're reading this review and wondering why I keep watching Poliakoff's stuff, it's because it always looks lovely, and I thoroughly enjoyed Shooting the Past.

EDIT: if you want to see some of the fab outfits from the film, Wendy has some great screencaptures over at The Butterfly Balcony.

The Hour keeps getting better. This week, Marnie finally revealed the iron beneath the angora when she confronted Bel about her affair with Hector. I'm impressed every week with Oona Chaplin's acting, as she does a beautiful job with what could have been a very flat character. Marnie could be simply a stupid, shallow woman, but Chaplin makes it clear that there's real depth to Marnie, who is simply doing her best to be socially acceptable – and probably envies Bel her freedom. Freddie finally uncovers the meaning of Brightstones, and it's not what he expected at all. As for the presence of a spy in the office, if there is one my money is firmly on Lix, and on her having been recruited during the Spanish Civil War.

Oh, and I want Bel's wardrobe, all of it, in a size 18, kthnxbai.

(And if you're the person who finds my site searching for 'Oona Chaplin nude', you're going to be disappointed again this week.)

Monday, 15 August 2011

Vintage: a wider sort of femininity?

There's been a lot of talk on blogs lately about the way the word 'vintage' is being misused or appropriated for other things (there's a great post on it over at Red Legs in Soho) and I've been thinking a bit about it. (Yes, beware, a braindump is coming!)

One of the things I really like about vintage is that you don't have to be sexy. You can be sexy, and as a great many vintage stars and modern vintage lovers prove, vintage can be devastatingly sexy. But against that, in vintageland it's also fine to look appropriate. Miss Lemon, as seen in the television versions of the Poirot stories, is a bit of a fashion icon to many vintage lovers, and she's not sexy. Stylish, yes, and capable, and intelligent.

I sometimes feel that in mainstream culture, sexy is the only thing that counts, that if you're not wearing something short and/or tight and trying to look in your 20s, regardless of whether you're 16 or 61, you're failing at being female because your ultimate value lies in how much other people find you sexually attractive. Leave your brains in the umbrella stand and your talents by the door; if you haven't got a rack worth looking at, there's no point in any of the rest of it. And I hate that. When did 'I am woman, hear me roar' become, 'I am woman, make me moan, big boy'?

This is one of the reasons I think people might be attracted to a 'vintage' that isn't really vintage; it's because it's seen as a space where people can be feminine without necessarily being sexy. Those rose-patterned tea cups and distressed white cupboards may be their own bandwagon, but the people riding it have stepped off the bandwagon of being an object.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

'The Killer in the Rain', Raymond Chandler [books]


This is an interesting collection of stories from Chandler's days writing for the pulps. If you're not familiar with pulps, these were cheap magazines printed on low-grade wood pulp paper (hence the name). The covers were usually lurid, and they were most popular from the start of the 20th century up until about the 1950s – in other words, before television took hold of the public consciousness. Most were American, but we had a few here in the UK too. Amazing Stories and Weird Tales are probably the two you might have heard of. The characters are much more familiar. Tarzan, Buck Rogers, Doc Savage, The Shadow... all have their roots in the pulps.

Pulps are fast food literature, hot and tasty and probably not very good for you, sometimes awful, but every once in a while brilliant, when the trash you intend to consume is put together by a master.

The stories in Killer in the Rain were all published between 1935 and 1941, a tight timeframe, and weren't published again until after Chandler's death. The reason is that he revisited them for his novels, picking out a storyline here, a character there. 'Try the Girl', for example, forms a big chunk of Farewell My Lovely. Some of the other stories ended up in more than one novel. The character's name is never Marlowe, but you can see where Chandler's hardboiled private eye comes from. It's hard for me to say whether I really enjoyed the stories as half the time I found myself thinking of the novels they fed into, and Chandler's novels are superb. They're more curiosities for the Chandler completist than must-read gems. If you haven't read any Chandler, start with the novels. Save these for a rainy day – without a killer in it.

This book is currently in print and costs £8.99. I bought my copy from Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights, Bath.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Out of this World at the British Library


The other exhibition I visited in London last Saturday (as well as The Glamour of the Gods at the National Portrait Gallery) was Out of This World at the British Library. Of the two, this was definitely my favourite – it was free, it wasn't overcrowded and it had a ripping good shop where Mr R and I blew £90 between us. You can see the two books I bought here; I'll do a write-up of them at some point.

I already knew there would be objects in the exhibition as James Richardson-Brown had hurriedly built a new steampunk K9 for the Contraptions Exhibition at Waltz on the Wye as his other one was being used as part of the British Library exhibition. However, I had thought there would be more. The exhibition was almost entirely made up of books (well, it is a library). They were split up by themes, such as Alien Worlds, Future Worlds, Virtual Worlds and so on, and each theme had a series of books (and a couple of other things), arranged chronologically, showing developments of that theme in literature. There were some wonderful ancient books to be seen, but my favourites were definitely the books and magazines from the first half of the 20th century. I'm such a sucker for the lurid colours and bold headlines.

In the shop you can buy many things relating to the exhibition, including copies of many of the novels mentioned, plus postcards, badges and other fripperies. I got a War of the Worlds tea towel and was very tempted to get a Frankenstein pop-up book for my eldest goddaughter, but in the end settled for books that appealed to my love of the future past.

The exhibition is on until the 25th of September, and I'd definitely recommend dropping in if you're passing through Kings Cross/ St Pancras and have time to spare.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Retro mushrooms breakfast set

How do you like your mushrooms? This is the breakfast set I designed for issue 84 of Simply Knitting (on sale now, you should be able to get a copy in WH Smiths or online via My Favourite Magazines). My brief was simply to design a retro-inspired breakfast set incorporating a fabric element.

My tastes are generally early to mid 20th century, but as soon as I saw this fabricon the internet I knew I had to use it. It’s Michael Miller ‘Retro Mushrooms’ in the ‘Spice’ colourway; it’s out of production now but you may still be able to find some if you like it too. I looked in my local patchwork shop (Country Threads in Bath) and they didn’t have it, tried another high-end craft place (The Makery, also in Bath) and in the end gave in and ordered it online from Fabric Inspirations. Good, fast service. I try not to do mail order too much because I always end up adding extra things to justify the postage. Somehow two lots of Japanese linen also found their way onto my order, one of kitschy little forest animals and one of amazing red and blue retro robots.

The knitted bits of the mats are really easy to make, and you don’t need a sewing machine for the cloth parts. I don’t own a machine, so the ones you see here are all hand-stitched. None of the vintage dining set patterns I’ve seen patterns for are knitted, and this is definitely retro-inspired and not an attempt authentic repro, but I’m pleased with how it came out, nonetheless.

Part of the reason I haven’t cracked on with making my 1940s bag is because I’ve had commissions on the needles, including a Halloween knit that I’m ever so pleased with. However, it will come!

Rhian, The Crafty Geek, has a fab pattern for slouchy socks in this issue too. Thanks to Simply Knitting's editor, Debora Bradley, for giving me permission to use the photo from the magazine.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Glamour of the Gods exhibition, National Portrait Gallery

I'd wanted to see this exhibition of Hollywood film photo portraits since I saw it advertised, but I have to confess, I wasn't immensely impressed with it. It is exactly what you'd expect: a collection of some of the classic photos of stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and it was horribly crowded when we went yesterday afternoon. (Crowds, on a Saturday in London – yes, I should have expected that!)

If you are purely interested in the visual side of things, they are indeed very beautiful pictures, but I went with Mr Robot, who is a keen photographer, and had my old-tech photography head on too. Neither of us were much interested in the mini-biographies of the stars as we knew who they all were anyway. What we'd have loved was more information on the technical side: angles of lighting and flashes, size of negative, type of paper, type of print, that sort of thing. There was one cabinet with a retouched plate and worked-over and unworked photos in, and a couple of photos in another case with crop marks and retouching symbols scrawled on, but that was about it.

I did think my favourite photos were on matte paper because I love the velvety looks of the black you get, whereas Mr Robot much prefers a high-gloss finish because he says it's crisper. We also found the fairly shallow depth of field in many of them interesting.

If you love old films and film stars, you've probably already seen every photo in this collection. It is true that if you go, you will be seeing actual prints from negatives, as crisp and clean as can be, but as you'd have so much noise and so many other people around you at the exhibition, you're probably best off buying the book and appreciating their beauty in a dot-printed form at your leisure.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Swag from Norfolk

I went back to the flatlands a couple of weeks ago, and these are the things I got while I was there. (You can tell this is a photo I took, I can't take piccies to save my life.)

The important item is the little pink jug. One of the reasons I went back is because my granddad and his second wife both have dementia; she's in hospital and mum has been doing lots of running around after them both, so I wanted her to have some fun. The little pink jug was given to mum by my granddad's wife, and it had belonged to her mum, and I'm pretty sure she'd have been the original owner. 1930s glass jug, four owners since new! Mum gave it to me because she knows how much I love my deco dressing table set, and because she knows the jug will mean a lot to me because of the lady who once owned it.

I picked up the vase at Banham car boot sale. I have a dark green one exactly like it, so I had to have this. I've bought a few vases lately, and have dug out my books on flower arranging by Constance Spry. So far my efforts have been pitiful, but with lovely vases like this I'm sure I'll soon be arranging like a pro. (Right? Right? No, I don't think so either!) Anyway, I'm a sucker for ceramics, and this was £1 so it was a big WIN.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Vintage sale, free short story, The Hour

If you're in Bath this weekend, vintage store Vintage To Vogue are having a 'Make me a sensible offer' sale this weekend. If you know your vintage and know what prices items usually retail for, it's a great way to pick up a bargain as you find the thing you want, tell them how much you're prepared to pay for it and see if they like your price.

I don't know how many people who read this blog are into science fiction, but Guy Haley of SFX magazine has his first novel coming out this summer, and one of the characters is a big fan of all things 20th century, the 1930s in particular. To promote the launch of the novel, Guy's put a free short story, The Nemesis Worm, on his blog.

And, in case you thought I'd go a week without mentioning The Hour, you're wrong. Bel and Hector are starting to annoy me because their storyline is so utterly predictable and well-worn. ("We are having an affair! We can't help it!" YAWN.) However, Freddie continues to dig into the mystery surrounding his friend's death, by far the most interesting part of the plot, so there's plenty yo keep me watching. My favourite characters are definitely Lix Storm, played by Anna Chancellor, who has all the charisma and wit Romola Garai seems to lack and also makes a much more convincing journalist, and Marnie Madden, played by Oona Chaplin. In yesterday's episode Marnie really shone as the frustrated 50s wife, making inane comments because women were expected to do such things, watching as her husband went off with another woman who was breaking all the rules Marnie had been brought up with, and trying to pretend nothing was happening. A really brilliant piece of acting, there.