03 June 2012

For better or for worse - much, much worse...

Yesterday we visited Kew Gardens with our friend Katy and her children Tilly, Tallulah and Oscar.  It was great to see them again, and as usual, it was a super day out, despite the cold grey start.  We enjoyed many different aspects of our visit, although as not uncommon with Kew, we didn't manage to fit in everything we wanted to see and do.  Personally I feel two things we should attempt next time are the treetop walk and the "enormous family sharing sundaes" on offer at the ice creamery by the children's playground...

Anyway, when you come to the end of the perfect day, it's always good to have something out of the ordinary to round off with, and this wedding group was most definitely in that category.  Katy has already blogged about it at http://katyboo1.wordpress.com/ and I can't resist joining in, as I discover that I have a couple of photos of The Dresses.  Not since the 1960s have I seen such fabric as the lady first left below is wearing - my parents were florists then, and I well remember my mother's notebook with samples of bridesmaids' dress fabric.  Da-glo tamgerine, turquoise, salmon, raspberry and mauve - and polyester is SUCH a blessing!  Do observe also, as Katy remarked, the focus on the bra beneath; and as Keith pointed out, the stylish Tesco bag accessory!  I also have to assume that they knew what they were doing being photographed in front of the temple of Bellona, goddess of war.  The Strife is O'er, the Battle Won, or just Fight the Good Fight?

24 May 2012

You Never Know What You've Got Until You Look (2)

And oh, brother, do you not know!  I'm currently clearing space in the loft so that we can have some of it boarded, and so far have found many a forgotten item among the expected ninety gazillion tons of old cardboard boxes and polystyrene packaging:

Wire filing trays, 1970s vintage - the kind that stack together with spring clips, which is a nice theory, but...

Cassette racks - what?  Oh, yeah, like about three lifetimes ago we had these quaint little plastic slabs full of magnetic tape containing recordings of stuff.  GREAT fun if they lost the plot and spewed tape out, whereupon you would rewind them with a special technical tool called a Bic™ biro.

A Spong™ hand-operated food mincer, made of iron with a wooden handle.  Ah, antiques - even longer ago, when Keith and I were sprogs, we would watch as our mothers clipped one of these to a table or chair seat and minced up ingredients for cooking - typically meat for a shepherds pie.  And afterwards you could mince a piece of stale bread to help clean it.  Since they pushed the food down onto the mincing blade with their fingers, I have no idea how they didn't mince their fingers as well - but also remember a cookery page in a newspaper at the time advocating 'Try your hand with eggs and cut down on the meat bills', which may have been a passing reference to such things.

Some small bifurcated plastic traylets, purpose completely unknown.  Suitable make half-cylindrical ice lollies (to use advertisement-speak) but no slots for sticks.  Ah, more childhood memories...

A Philips Ultraphil™ Health Lamp, complete in original box (sadly not the rare early 1950s version, of which I've seen one currently for sale on the web at £240).  Wonder if our nearest 'Electrical Charity Shop' would be interested in it for its collectible status anyway?   

An exercise bike - yes, well...

A late 60s/ early 70s gas fire.  How we put it up there is a mystery, as it weighs a ton, and why we put it up there is an even bigger one.  Will probably act on the advice quoted by a friend who had a similarly redundant example - "Put it in your front hedge" suggested the gas fitter "the gippos will take it".  Now we used to have a perfectly good totter, aka rag and bone man, though I haven't seen him for a while.  He was always known as the Agbo man after his 'cry' of "Aggg.... Bo-o!" which he would shout in strangely lugubrious tones as he motored slowly down the street.  Perhaps in another life it had been "Bring out your dead!"?

The cats are quite happy, as ever, to take advantage help out of course...Harry decided to subdue a nice piece of 1970s wool carpet offcut by sleeping on it.  Only trouble was, it was at the foot of the ladder...

07 May 2012

The Stone Menagerie no 3

One of my favourite aunts was sometimes heard to observe "Some people aren't hardly human, are they?" - but this monkey from the Entrance Hall of the Natural History Museum in London looks all too human to me!  Here again I'm cheating a bit, as this is terra cotta rather than stone, but stone is definitely the effect produced, especially with its exposure to the gentle habits (and grime) of the visiting public since 1881.

The Nat Hist Mus building was designed by Alfred Waterhouse as (quote) "a cathedral of nature", so it's not surprising that I've always enjoyed its architecture, but I'd forgotten the amazing quality of the creatures that decorate it so lavishly.  I was charmed to learn that Waterhouse's intricate designs, many of them with a background of foliage, were translated into their 3-D form by the not inappropriately named Monsieur Dujardin - not that there seemed to be any info about the building on display, which is sadly quite usual for London's museums.  Happily the website is fairly forthcoming:

04 May 2012

You Never Know What You've Got Until You Look (1)

The other day I was repairing our coat stand for the umpteenth time and thought it might actually stay together a leetle bit longer if I used some rawlplugs for the fastenings. A quick rummage in the toolbox revealed that there were none that would do, but that there was a tin of something called Rawlplastic. I opened the lid and cautiously prooded the plastic-wrapped greyish contents: "Hmm, that looks like asbestos". I closed the lid again and looked at the instructions - yep.

CAUTION: This product contains asbestos, but will present no health hazard if used with care. Always keep container closed, even when in use, [now THAT is CAUTION - if I can't open the lid to get any out, then it's true that it's unlikely to do me any harm], and avoid inhaling fibres [true, never a good idea]. Dampen the product immediately after removal from the container [still haven't worked out how to do this while keeping the container closed, but I'm sure that's just a minor technical difficulty], and thoroughly wash hands after use.

 So it sort of isn't safe but is? But then as it came from the long-changed hands Homepride D.I.Y store in Greenford Road, and cost the princely sum of £1.27p, I would guess that we've had it for something above twenty years - apart from anything else, I can't imagine that any product these days comes with so much punctuation in the instructions - so I think I shan't be using it after all...

31 March 2012

At least we don't have to panic buy nostalgia, it's free

I am somewhat taken aback by the current spate of panic buying: petrol, stamps and pasties. I understand the stamps one best, I guess, as buying stamps that are designated 1st and 2nd class (rather than a specified amount of money) will save you money when postage is hiked at the end of the month.

But none of this stuff is actually life-essential, and I'm beginning to wonder if queuing and shortages haven't become part of the nation's vision of the past, and we consequently feel the need to revisit them now and again (I'm thinking here of the sugar and bread shortages of the 1970s, for example).

You don't have to ask whether the British are nostalgic - we make an industry of it. It's one of the things we do best, and pretty much always have, from at least the days of the Tudors and Stuarts getting misty-eyed about Arthurian times. Brits also dearly love a bargain, even if it isn't one: I doubt I'll ever forget seeing a sales assistant barely escape unscathed from the scavenging mob after she'd pushed a trolley of rather indifferent-looking reduced items into the central area of a local M&S branch. She judged it prudent to flee without attempting to arrange them on the racks, for which you could scarcely blame her.

A lot of Brits also have a liking for hoarding household stuff (one reason why so few people use their garages, if they have them, to contain their cars). The relative who could have run a cleaning products market stall with the contents of hers, and the former colleague whose caravan was lined with loo roll, are probably not untypical. So stock up now, folks - it's our heritage!

13 March 2012

The Picture What I Did Not Buy

Yesterday I did something I'd not done for quite a while - I went to a pre-sale viewing for an auction. Chiswick Auctions had used this painting of a child to publicise the fact that in future their online catalogue would have a photographic image to accompany every lot, and the painting itself was in this week's sale. While I'd quite like a fiver for every child portrait I've ever looked at in the course of my museum work, this one struck me as unusual.

The gender of the child, for one thing: to the modern eye, this is clearly a female, what with the dress, the curls and the floral wreath, but I rather think this is a boy, remembering that boys under the age of five or six wore dresses at this date, and taking into account the bare knees, the shortness of the garment and the slightly tousled hair. What's more, I think it may even be an American boy. The neckline/ dress construction is one I associate with American portraits, and it has the clarity of colours characteristic of many of the American naive artists. Then the wreath is bound with ribbons apparently inscribed with the names of characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet, for no very obvious reason - unless this child's name is also Hamlet?

I'd say the portrait is early nineteenth century, 1805 or so, but it was hard to tell, as it is no longer in original condition, having been cleaned and re-lined - which is why in the end I decided not to bid for it. It was fun going and looking, though, especially to see all the other toot, I mean lots, in the sale: plenty of large and ornate pieces of furniture, including three partner desks; a stuffed pheasant (allegedly); boxes made to look like enormous books; a collection of repro dolls in da-glo sateens and gold braid; and a table whose top had been made from a framed sampler, as you do...

(photos by Keith Marshall)

05 March 2012

What did you sing at school?

I nearly typed that as "What did you sing at school, Dad?" My father died many years ago, but I expect his answer would be "Much the same as you did at junior school" - lots of hymns, folk songs and popular/ traditional stuff. You know the sort of thing, to be found in books like 'Songs That Will Live Forever', a 1930s compilation (by Maurice Jacobson) that an elderly lady passed on to me the best part of half a century ago: The Ash Grove, Frere Jacques, What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor, John Peel...except that by great good luck there was some much more unexpected stuff as well.

I remember the arrival of an inspirational music teacher, Russell Farman, at my school when I was about nine. He gathered up a choir by the painless method of getting us all to sing something in unison and walking round listening to us, played us lots of Vaughan Williams' music, and was keen on early music too. The Christmas carol repertoire got an injection of pieces like Lullay Myn Liking, The Angel Gabriel, and A Virgin Unspotted, though the first year infants continued to sing Away in a Manger excruciatingly flat every year, but that's traditional, after all.

I was actually prompted to think about all this because in the last few days I've heard two pieces on the radio that I remember singing at Grammar School, and haven't heard since. The first was Thomas Campion's Never Weather-Beaten Sail (1613), the second was Bach's Magnificat (Et Exultavit Spiritus Meus) - and anyone would be forgiven for thinking that whoever chose those for school use was out of their tiny mind, especially the Bach, which was for class singing (boggle).

In fact I enjoyed singing the Campion, and it's remained a favourite piece of mine. It was for the house choirs to sing in competition at our school's annual arts fest, so no more than about ten or twelve voices to each group and it's quite simple, despite being a bit esoteric (not to say a tad morbid, to modern ears). The Bach, on the other hand, is showy, taxing, and for solo female voice - couldn't be less appropriate, really. I listened to it being professionally performed in astonished silence that we had managed to get even part of the way through it!