Friday, 30 September 2011

Radio alert! The Long Goodbye

Radio alert! Radio alert! The Saturday Play on Radio 4 tomorrow is the next installment in Radio 4's 'Classic Chandler' series, and is a dramatisation of The Long Goodbye. Put your feet up and get ready for an afternoon of pure enjoyment.

I really enjoyed the first few plays broadcast earlier this year, and this one again stars Toby Stephens as Marlowe. Hearing the words spoken out loud really makes you aware of how great Chandler's use of language was. Often parodied and frequently copied, he was far better than either his humorous or sincere imitators ever manage to be. The Long Goodbye was published in 1953, so it's a little later than the stories most people know best, but is still packed with dangerous dames, double-crosses and trips to shady places.

If you missed the earlier broadcasts, they're no longer on iPlayer but you can buy them as CDs or downloads from the BBC shop. (I'm not making any money off that link, just thought I'd provide it for anyone who wants those dramas.)

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man [books]

Hullo! I've just spent ten days in Seville as Mr R and I returned to our honeymoon hotel to celebrate our wedding anniversary, although through the magic of Blogger timed updates you may not have realised that as the Robot trundled on without me. In the run up to going away I had a serious amount of work going on, including reviewing four books for SFX in two weekends (fortunately none of them required much reading around; if I get a later volume of a series I'm unfamiliar with, I'll often buy and read the rest to bring myself up to speed).

Anyway, I was determined to spend my holiday reading things I really wanted to read, and I bought The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man by Mark Hodder in Trowbridge Waterstones the week before we left. It wasn't until I got it out on the plane that I realised it was the second volume in the series. Richard Burton (the explorer, not the actor) and Algernon Swinburne (the kinky poet) encounter a policeman trying to work out where a clockwork man has come from. The man has run down. Burton quickly realises this is a ruse to distract the technologically-minded policeman from his beat, and something nefarious is happening elsewhere along it – it turns out to be the theft of a set of mysterious humming black diamonds. Who has stolen them? What power do they have? And why, later, are people accepting a patently fraudulent claimant as the long-lost heir to a wealthy family, to the point where the poor and working classes are prepared to riot in support of him? It's up to Burton and Swinburne to discover the diamonds' power, find out who stole them and make society stable once more.

What I really liked about this book is that Hodder knows his history, with the plot being an off-the-wall variation on the true Tichborne Case. There's also a nicely convoluted time travel element, which I don't want to say much about for fear of spoilers, and Hodder has thought hard about how altering historical events or introducing new technologies early would change what would later happen.

I've read a few books, steampunk and non-steampunk, over the past couple of years, that are constructed entirely out of set pieces, with heroes flipping from one exciting situation (a battle on a steam train, say) to another (being beseiged in a building) almost as though they're levels in a videogame. The narrative is linear, and the story in those cases hold the reader's interest through a succession of thrills. This is better than that, more complex and ultimately more satisfying, while still packed with adventure. I'll definitely buy the first volume.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Books: Yesterday's Tomorrows

I picked this up at the Out of this World exhibition at the British Library, (which ends tomorrow, so get down there if you're interested in seeing a treasure trove of SF books). Originally Yesterday's Tomorrows was a travelling exhibition organised by the Smithsonian in the 1980s. It's a wonderful exploration of how past visions of the future tell us a lot about what people at that time actually thought about their present, and how those portrayals of the future came to shape society. They didn't affect us in the sense that we all got jetpacks or hovercars (and I'm still waiting for a moon populated in silver-hotpanted-hotties with purple bobs, thank you very much UFO...) but in the way we saw future happiness being created. Progress was expressed in things, the meal-in-a-pill, the self-cleaning-house, the car of tomorrow, rather than in social movements and interaction.
I think my favourite chapter is on the Home of Tomorrow. Despite all the labour-saving devices and new materials, there was still a Housewife of Tomorrow; in the minds of people envisioning the future material changes would come and technology would come on in leaps and bounds but women still weren't getting out of the kitchen. Their shackles were just a bit shinier and more futuristic. Then there are the depressing 'atom bomb' houses, because people were that convinced nuclear war would make them necessary. The bomb might drop, but you, your husband and your 2.4 children could still enjoy family meals at the table and play board games all night!

It's not a depressing book, though. It's good fun seeing the retro-futuristic settings, the streamlined cars and wonderful things like personal helicopters. I'm quite happy that none of them came true, though.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Outfit post: my wedding dress

Today Mr Robot and I have been married ten years! I've mentioned before that I had a vintage wedding dress, so I thought I'd share it with you. Back then I was much more goth than I am now, and I think a lot of people expected me to wear black, but I've also loved vintage styles most of my life. I had set my heart on a 1920s dress, but went into Vintage to Vogue on Milsom Street in Bath one lunchtime and the lady who used to run it showed me a late 1930s dress. I wasn't sure. I went away. That evening I sat in the pub thinking, 'Need that dress! Need that dress!' and went out and got it the following lunchtime. It cost a mere £85.

I'm pretty sure the dress is silk. It's got great big flowers woven into the fabric. There's ruching at the top of the bust, and a fullness in the upper arm. The skirt is cut on the bias.

I bought the jewellery from Past Times. I did buy another necklace, a 1940s marcasite one, but it didn't work with the dress, so I got these. The matching bag and shoes are proper made-for-wedding ones, ie silk and cost more than the dress. I bought those in a hurry when I realised it was a week before my wedding and I hadn't thought about footwear.

Mr Robot was much better prepared than I was. He went into a bridal/ groomswear shop, found a longish red velvet jacket and bought it. He's always been a 50s fan, and the teddyboy length appealed to him. He had no idea what I was planning to wear. Anyway, his jacket dictated the colour of my flowers. I had planned on roses, but when I went into the florist I saws these amazing autumnal calla lillies and chose those instead.

And ten happy years later, we're still together :D

Monday, 19 September 2011

Jersey with a Soft Bow: the progress so far

Here is where my Jersey with a Soft Bow has got to. I've got the back finished, and this is my progress up the front. I started it in April. Not very good progress, eh?

In fairness I have made a great many other things in that time, all of which has thrown off progress on the jumper. There was a retro breakfast set, and a B-movie inspired werewolf balaclava and mitts. There was a steampunk swap, for which I knitted a shawlette and fingerless gloves, and made a little doll and a necklace. (I'd never made jewellery before. There's nothing like a swap for pushing you.) Then there were charity berets, and I'm currently trying to finish a blanket in support of domestic violence charity Refuge. It's a campaign we're supporting at work, and I felt I should try to do a blanket myself - I won't ask our readers to commit to something I'm not prepared to do.

So all that has left the Jersey with a Soft Bow looking rather sorry for itself, and feeling neglected at the bottom of my craft basket by my chair. And now the weather's turning cold and the jumper is laughing at me, because knitters who don't finish their WIPs (Works In Progress) have to shiver all winter! One the blanket is out of the way, I'll crack on with it.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Arfon's womble, Guy's book

Mr Jones has done it again! I loved his frozen dinosaurs at Waltz on the Wye. His latest scientific exhibit is a stuffed and mounted creature he found wandering on Wimbledon Common. You can see pictures, including the card describing this rare and unusual beastie, over at Musing via the Neuro-Mitter. It was on show at the Asylum, the UK's biggest steampunk event (which I did not get to go to, BOO!)

If you're in Bath today, SF journalist and author Guy Haley will be doing signings of Reality 36 from 12-2. I haven't got my copy yet, so will be heading along (assuming Mr R is up for the drive). Artificial intelligence Richards is modelled on the Marlowe sort of PI, so I am hoping for good retro things in that future.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Perfume: Molinard Habanita

Some days, you just have to bring out the 'big guns', and today was one of those days for me. We're redesigning the magazine I work for, and while I can't go into details, what I can say is that a ground-up reworking like we've been doing means an awful lot of work, almost as much as creating a new magazine from scratch, and this week that's included working into the evenings. On top of that, I've had a pile of freelance come in, and I've been working on a Comfort Blanket for work's campaign in support of Refuge. It hasn't left much space for fun or glamour.

This is where the Habanita comes in. Definitely fun, definitely glamorous. It was first made in 1921, and inspired by the beautiful cigar girls of Havana. I mentioned it briefly in my Vintage Guide to Perfumes: Up to 1940, and described it as 'tobacco and flowers'. However, the tobacco isn't the ashy, smoky sort of scent you get in something like Caron Tabac Blonde, rather it's a fruity, juicy sort of tobacco like the scent of pipe tobacco before it's lit. (I dare say it's supposed to be more like a Cuban cigar, but it definitely reminds me of pipe tobacco.) The original was made to be put on cigarettes to scent the smoke, which I'm not convinced improved the healthiness of smoking at all. By 1924 it had become a conventional perfume.

Robin over at Now Smell This describes it thus: "If you can imagine dousing yourself in baby powder, donning an old leather jacket and then smoking a cigar in a closed room with a single rose in a vase 10 feet away, you’ll get the general idea." That's a far better description than I can manage! I think it's that combination of the comforting and the decadent that makes it so appealing.

I don't usually get comments on my perfume. It tends to sit very close to my skin, which I actually like as I think an over-intrusive scent is quite vulgar, an invasion of people's personal space. Habanita is one that tends to have more sillage (a scent trail). I should imagine on many people whose skin pushes perfume out more it could become offensive. Before buying perfumes, nowadays I prefer to get hold of a sample vial and give them test-runs so I can see if I like them in all stages - most change over time on the skin - and can bear them for a whole day. Habanita is one that does get noticed, and always favourably.

I bought my sample, and then my bottle from Les Senteurs. I got a complete bargain; a bottle of the pure parfum for half price.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Forgotten bombshells: Dona Drake

'Eunice Westmoreland' might not sound very exciting, but this lady entered films as the much more interesting 'Rita Rio', and worked under that name in the 1930s before becoming Dona Drake in the 1940s. She worked in vaudeville in the early 1930s, and was a talented singer and dancer before she even reached Hollywood, and continued to perform on stage in between films.

During the mid-1930s Dona – then Rita – was questioned by the FBI over the murder of mobster Louis Amberg. She denied knowing who he really was, but had been identified as his girlfriend.

While Dona Drake may have been largely forgotten, lovers of old films and screen goddesses will certainly have heard of her husband, costume designer William Travilla, who designed the clothes for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How To Marry A Millionaire and The Seven Year Itch. He knew a beauty when he saw one, and hung onto his bombshell until she passed away in 1989.

See Dona dancing with Eddie Cantor in this YouTube Clip.

Picture is from a vintage film book, Preview 1950 - a colourised photograph that looks more like a drawing than a photo!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Next week's radio

A quick heads-up: tomorrow night on Radio 4 Extra are the first episodes of Death on the Nile (8pm) and Rogue Justice.

Death on the Nile needs no introduction. Rogue Justice is by Geoffrey Household and is the follow-up to Rogue Male. If you've never heard the radio version of Rogue Male or read the book, do so. Rogue Male was written in 1939, and in it a British sportsman sets out to shoot a European dictator, fails and is pursued back to Britain by the dictator's agents. It's gripping and tense. I have to say, Rogue Justice, written in the 1980s, doesn't ring as true as the earlier book, but you might find it interesting.

There's also classic comedy every night at 7, a different show each time including Round the Horne and The Goon Show.

Friday, 9 September 2011

An Exquisite brooch and a fab blog


Exquisite by manufacturer, enormous by nature.

For once I'm managing to stick to a New Year's resolution. The gym has been more or less abandoned (although spraining my ankle helped with that one) and the only time I spent more than a week without drinking was when I was on antibiotics, but BUY MORE BROOCHES continues.

I found this one in a local charity shop, British Heart Foundation. Of all the ones in my town, it's probably the quirkiest, because it's small and dark yet it's also the place where I'm most likely to turn up something interesting and vintage. I spotted this in the display case and the size of it, about three inches across, caught my eye immediately. There are some chips on the rightmost acorn and the leaf next to it, but the whole thing is so big and colourful and sparkly that you only really notice those when you get right up to it and look.

My usual method for dating things is to take a stab at the date of the item, then do a Google image search and see if I can find similar items to confirm the rough date. I really had no idea with this one, and it's unsigned, but luckily I found a picture of a brooch exactly like this one. There's a British-based website called Jewels and Finery that sells vintage costume jewellery, including some from the same series as my brooch, and the lady who runs it also has an excellent and informative costume jewellery blog. My monster brooch was made in Solihull by Exquisite and dates from the 1960s! Not bad for £1.50, eh?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

An amazing steampunk swap parcel

steam_fasc_on
If you knit, you probably already know about Ravelry, and if you don't, the short version is it's a social networking site and resource for knitters and crocheters. One of the groups I'm in is a wonderful one devoted to swaps with unusual themes, The Odd Ducks, and for the past couple of months I've been involved in a steampunk swap. Yesterday I found a note from Parcelforce through my door, went round to reclaim my package from Number 46. It was a super parcel from a lady called Jenae in Columbus, USA.

I find it helps with my steampunk outfits to have a character in mind, so my alter ego is Cecile O'Canth, cryptozoologist. (Yes, there is a pun there!)

This was the largest item: a fantastic wooden box which she had steampunked up.

steam_box_shut
There is a lot of debate within steampunk about 'stick a cog on it' - to a degree, it's the same as slapping roses all over something and calling it vintage, so there are people who demand that cogs have function. I, however, think cogs are asthetically pleasing in themselves and so am happy to have purely decorative cogs on things. After all, the roses on my Heyday summer dress don't smell of roses, but I like those, so why not decorative cogs?

The box does have a function though: Jenae knows I have lots of perfume samples and included a little attachment especially designed for storing them, AND she included two vials of scent from BPAL's 'Steamworks' line, Galvanic Goggles and The Robotic Scarab. I especially like the latter.

steam_box_open

Here are all the goodies, including a metal case full of useful knitting kit, a leather pouch, and postcards from her travels. There are some small balls of yarn for my charity berets, and a big cake of yarn for me (I am thinking of making socks with it as we're set for a hard winter and no socks are as warming as hand-knitted ones). There is coffee and THINGS IN JARS! One is a particularly gruesome-looking wormy thing. Most excellent, and very well suited to a cryptozoologist.

I especially want to draw your attention to the hat, fascinator and brooch. The brooch and the badge on the hat use a plastic Jenae made herself - casein, one the Victorians would have used. For me that's the steamiest thing in the whole parcel. The hat has a loupe on it for closer examination of cryptids. The fascinator has, right at its centre, the bone from a sand dollar Jenae found on a beach in Florida.

steam_hat

And the grey fuzzy things? Those were 'jackalopes' stuffed with catnip for Boycie, who likes them very well indeed!

steam_cat_loony

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Love your woollies

Autumn is a lot more bearable if you have a nice selection of woolly things to wear. I can't sew, so for me knitting has been the easiest way to create my own repro clothes. Nowadays you can get all sorts of fibres to knit with, but I do find myself coming back to natural fibres. Up until the late 1950s/early 1960s, sheep's wool was the main option for knitting with (although other yarns were available; whole farms of angora rabbits were clipped regularly to make Patons Fuzzy Wuzzy yarn). I'm not keen on the feel of some synthetics, especially the cheap ones attempting to feel like wool, as they set my teeth on edge, but I do understand why women embraced synthetics when they came out. They were easier to wash (no risk of felting in the machine), dried more quickly, and introduced variations in shades. You're never going to get pure white wool, the closest you'll get is very pale cream. You can, however, get nylon and polyester in brightest white. This also affects the coloured fibres, so you'll get brighter, clearer shades in synthetics. Personally, I prefer my colours a tad more muted and find a lot of synthetic colours a little too harsh, but they're ideal for knitting up a 1960s colour palette.

Wool's really big advantage (in fact, all animal fibres' big advantage) is warmth. Synthetics just aren't as warm. Nowadays most people have central heating and work in heated offices, so that's less important, but I feel as energy prices rise we're all going to be looking for ways to stay warm without turning up the thermostat, and a repro knit will do the job nicely and keep you stylish as well as snug.

One word of warning about animal fibres: MOTHS. Clothes moths themselves aren't the problem, but they lay eggs in your clothes and the larvae eat the fibres. I had a massive panic earlier this year after finding insect eggs in a ball of yarn, however on closer inspection all the other balls of yarn it had been stored with were fine, and there was no damage to the ball either. It seemed that within a day of me getting the yarn out, a moth had got into it! I went through all my clothes (including the wool-rich tweedy skirts I've been getting from charity shops as well as my jumpers) and all my yarn. No moths. My house doesn't have carpets, so they couldn't get in there. In the end I used insecticide on a sheepskin rug and invested in loads of hanging anti-moth devices. They kill eggs and larvae as well as the insects, so are a good idea in wardrobes and cupboards where the little beasties can get into cracks and crevices. Zensect moth balls are also good; they're bright orange and turn white when they've run out of power, and they're wrapped in perforated plastic so you can put them in pockets or among stacked jumpers without risk of staining. I don't know if this year's awful weather has anything to do with it, but friends have commented on clothes moths too, and I think there may be more about. If you love your vintage woollies, check them for moths!