Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Seven Stars pub.

It is the season of picnics. Redlegs is not keen on sitting on the grass dodging footballs and insects. But if there is good company and a fetching basket full of sparkly booze that has at least nodded in the direction of coolness I can stand in a park with the best of them. So am I going to suggest picnic spots? No not really. The good ones are jammed with tourists and foreign language students indulging in strange tribal rituals involving balloons. I had enough of jammed picnic locations in Japan. Cherry blossom viewing parties are the Armageddon of picnics, I'm scarred. Perversely after a recent picnic in a particularly good spot we nipped around the corner to one of my favourite pubs but one that is not particularly summery something I don't care about. Summer isn't really my favourite season anyway and pub gardens are full of big sweaty spuds and families (shudders...).

The diminutive Seven Stars in Carey Street, near Fleet Street is an old pub, as the Leg and Seven Stars it was built in 1602 and survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz. During the week it is infested with braying solicitors and barristers from the courts in front of it and Lincoln's Inn behind. Although if you are lucky you can squeeze inside and grab a table as the lawyers prefer to stand outside in packs and yell at the world. The staff are used to dealing with this lot and take no prisoners so even mobs of legal yahoos are no problem. At the weekend the place is a joy. The staff are part of the charm, the odd sullen barmaid is more than compensated for by the charming landlady Roxy Beaujolais and the generally lovely barstaff. In a world full of corporate pubs and short term tenants a proper landlady is a boon, especially one that cooks as well as Roxy. The food at the Seven Stars is not typical, it is genuinely home made and forays beyond the pub staples although the sausages in particular are very tasty. In fact all the food I have had there has been delicious., specially the meaty stuff. I don't drink beer but the white burgundy by the glass does the job nicely.  No doubt some will moan the beer isn't cheap, but it is a free house and if you want to be cheap get thee to the local Wetherspoons.

The pub looks old and quaint but also highly individual, resisting the usual tendency to just go for a heritage look, when you are more than 400 years old you don't really have to try. The prints and pictures reflect the legal character of the area and the personality of the owner. It is also the home of one of London's most famous cats; Thomas Paine. A just so feline who pads around in a white ruff blinking nonchalantly at the clientele or occasionally being downright cross (what are all these people doing in his pub?). Animals in pubs split opinion. I'm not a cat lover but frankly I have always thought that dogs and cats belong in pub bars, rather more so than small children who sadly won't lie down quietly under a chair or obligingly kill rats. 

I feel reluctant to recommend pubs I like, especially small ones but the Seven Stars is friendly, individual and despite it's legal environment, bohemian.

Friday, 24 June 2011

To tan or not to tan?

Recently I have been prompted to think about tans and tanning. It has occurred to me that the advent of the spray tan is a wondrous thing.  The fact that there is the option of having the colour sprayed on is  wondrous. Of course the activity itself is a nuisance, paper knickers (or not), visiting salons, stripping off and on and worrying about the colour rubbing off.  Then there is ‘assuming the position’, a pose that makes you feel like Shrek with a hernia! The stuff is smelly too.  I’m as pale as pale can be and have honestly never met anyone with paler inner arms than myself, virtually blue however I have succumbed to a fake tan booth. Largely for psychological reasons; if I go to a beachy place to relax I don’t want to worry about standing out and scaring the locals. Additionally looking slightly different to usual makes it feel more like a holiday and an escape from one’s everyday life.  I don’t feel however that it makes me look any better per se. In fact fortunately my personal preference is for pale skin, I think perhaps because it is more mysterious and sophisticated. Perhaps because unfairly sophistication is more associated with activities that take place indoors or ahem...in the dark. A preference for rich deep colours also makes me prefer those with pale tones, tans suit brights and pastels better. I never think black looks any good with a tan and it is my default clothing colour. Red lipstick also looks best, in my personal opinion, on pale skin.

Elizabeth Taylor, beautiful tanned...

As beautiful without any tan...
The historical reasons for the ascendance of the tan are well known. Pale skin was originally the marker of someone who was rich, aristocratic or intellectual: someone who didn’t have to work in the sun. When the poor started to work inside in factories and the rich in the 1920’s started to enjoy their leisure in sunny climes the opposite happened. Outside indicated leisure and wealth. This included sport, which for women became an acceptable activity during this period which was obviously a good thing.

Before and after publicity for Joliesatan,
What is interesting now is that this logical sociological reaction has been skewed. A cheap holiday is somewhere hot, we all have leisure and a tanning bed can be hired for very little by anyone. A stylish fortnight’s holiday is in Cornwall, not  the Costa del Sol. This vulgarisation of the tan is clear on the pelts of Wags and Glamour models. The former factory girls of North now wander around nut brown in the floating clothes and short bright dresses worn by the glamorous in Antibes in the 60’s and 70’s. Additionally we know that natural tanning, still the cheap option, is dangerous and will make you look older.  So what should happen is that pale skin, more difficult to maintain and requiring expensive creams to preserve should once again be ascendant especially in the youth obsessed Western world.

My theory as to why this has not happened is that the association of tan and health is not what it seems. I suspect the popularity of darker skin pigmentation in the West is entirely linked to ideas of weight, obesity and thinness. In India and amongst other groups of darker complexions the urge to become paler persists, because I suspect the problems of weight are overridden by concerns about wealth and status however erroneous.  Darker limbs do look slimmer in the same way that darker colours of clothing can slim. The desire to look slimmer is stronger than the desire to look truly healthy or natural or even young. Being slim is more youthful than being fat, but the effect is lost when half a ton of makeup is added and the curious thing about any distinctive tan that is not related to your natural colouring is that it requires slap. A Spanish girl won’t need it, an Anglo Saxon will. So it is rarely youthful, but then again that isn’t something that would worry me particularly.

Nicola Roberts faced flak for refusing the Girl's Aloud tan...
What about the opposite sex? Well an entirely unscientific straw poll reveals that our male brethren sensibly believe that it depends on the person, their colouring and character. There was however a bit of a consensus that dark honeyed skin was great on Italian or Spanish girls but the traditional British girl should be an English rose.  A general loathing of tango tans was expressed however there was the caveat with all of these comments that ultimately if it encourages ladies to wear less it cannot be all bad (men!).
Sunbathing to get brown and using tanning booths or beds is just mingingly stupid but I would like to see the artificial tan, self-applied or sprayed for what it is: a personal aesthetic choice. If someone likes the tango tan good luck to them, our appearances should be a source of fun not stress.  There is not right or wrong and I’d apply that to vintage looks, why not wear a bustle and a tan or a thirties swimsuit and porcelain skin? In a recent post Miss Mathilda put up some photographs that indicated vintage and pale are not the natural default in any case.

Distinctly tanned 20's visage.
What I'd like to see change is it’s associations with health and youth because there are none and these just make people adopt a look to address perceived social expectations and norms and we beat ourselves up about enough things as it is.
What do you think? Do tans look ‘healthy’? Are you a pale beauty? Comments are always read and welcomed. xxx

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Museum of 1951 Exhibition/Festival of Britain Anniversary.

It has been hard not to notice that this year is the anniversary of the 1951 Festival of Britain. This is not least due to the fact that last year’s controversial Wayne Hemingway Vintage at Goodwood is relocating to the Southbank this summer. Sadly the acronym VAS is not as entertaining as VAG. Some quality events have already been and gone, not least Ray Davies’ curatorship of this year’s Meltdown Festival.  For those in London the Vintage at the Southbank thing does not represent fantastic value as most of the things on offer are readily available and the ticket cost is very steep.  This is a shame in a way as the Festival of Britain could as easily have been called the Festival of London such is the affection it is held in by those who attended.  My own family come from the Southwark/North Lambeth area and were therefore a short walk from the action and watched it being built.  My mother recalls how much she enjoyed it, particularly the balconies that overhung the Thames and the Skylon. My own experience was of the much lamented Battersea funfair, built as part of the festival which I visited regularly as a child, once I won a day of free rides in an Evening Standard art competition, a prize somewhat lessened as I had to take my brother instead of my best friend  Irene.

View of the Skylon.

For those who want to learn more a walk around the rather meagre remains of the complex and a free exhibition; The Museum of 1951 in the Royal Festival Hall are cheap alternatives to formal ticketed events.  The Royal Festival Hall is really the only thing left on the South Bank that retains the essence of the Festival. It is notably also the only attractive building in the Southbank complex.  The Festivals sights and buildings being demolished and supposedly compensated for by ugly brutalist modernism as personified by the truly awful National Theatre complex erected next door. The current exhibition recalling the Festival, tucked away at the back of the Festival Hall is fascinating and gives an idea of the breadth  and imagination of the event. There was a travelling version touring the country. A wide range of artists, craftsmen and politicians were involved.  The Festival it produced was a dazzling piece of mid century imagination. Bright colours, flippancy and the use of new materials.  A fizzing version of modernism, unlike the dirty totalitarian buildings to come.  A stupid and unnecessary decision was made in destroying the site, the incoming Conservative government resented the Festival’s success and destroyed it.  Something we learned from, the Millenial Eye and Dome were retained after 2000 despite the ropey nature of the millenial celebrations themselves, both at least visually have something of 1951 about them.

The Festival site.

What was impressive was the cohesion of feeling. We are trying to organise another big festival in London but the Olympics is too fragmented, a hotch potch of ethnic doodads, gimmicks and reality show personages. The only thing it will have in common with the Festival of Britain is the presence of the Royal Family.  The Festival of Britain was not insular, it was an impressively modern event with an internationalist view that did not rely on colonialism yet it was still distinctively British and dedicated to inclusion.  All this is more remarkable in a nation just emerging from an appalling conflict and dealing with the daily grind of rationing and austerity. The fact that we no longer have the skylon, or the dome or the most remarkable riverside park is the result of the petty parochialism that we are still having to endure.  Naturally the then conservative government managed to give a large amount of the land away to produce a large commercial office complex.  You'd think that after all that bombing and suffering South London would have been allowed to retain a pleasure park. If I had my way I would demolish the National Theatre and Shell building and rebuild the Festival displays.

The exhibition contains some remarkable exhibits, my favourite is a quilt which details the remarkable elements of our history. There is a room set from the era which will have (some) of us cooing over furniture ‘just like our grans’ and part of it is open access so you can have your photograph taken relaxing or answering your period telephone, you can see Torquil doing just this below, doesn't he look comfortable? Maybe I should have a caption competition! What the exhibition did leave me with, as a Lambeth girl, is a resentment that it was all demolished and taken away, I suspect that as things are now we would not have the imagination and vision to hold something similar.

I'd like to order a pizza...
Museum of 1951 details here.
If you are visiting the area don't forget to pop into Radio Days vintage store.
Recommended eats? The Thames Indian restaurant under the bridge is decent, and there is a branch of Canteen behind the Festival Hall. xxx

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Strawberry Hill; Gothic gem on the edge of London.

It always amazes me about London, I know it very well but it still throws up corners, nooks and places of interest I haven't visited . To be honest Strawberry Hill, HoraceWalpole's home in Twickenham had been on my radar for a while and its extensive renovations meant it had been closed for some time. I have to admit to a real passion for Gothic in any form, from its purist medieval origins right through to the flamboyant pastiche of the Victorians. Strawberry Hill falls somewhere between both extremes. A simple whitewashed stucco exterior hides a jewel box of a house.  I love art deco, modernism and Japanese organic minimalism but a large part of me hankers after stone pointed arches, blue stained glass and crenelated roof tops with spires.

Strawberry Hill is still very much a work in progress and it is sad that most of the building has ended up in the hands of some bunch of catholic churchy types. The voluntary trust who have worked to renovate the part of the building open to the public have done a fine job but it is not finished. Restoring wonderful buildings is a painstaking and expensive job. Complaints that the place looks a bit sparse are unfair as there is work still to be done and objects and furniture to be begged borrowed or clawed back to fill the rooms.

What the building does still have is that heady mixture of religious aestheticism, dandified exuberance and faintly louche sensuality that early gothic revival expresses in all its forms. I have always thought, contrary to a lot of observers that the only real impracticality of it is the cost. If you walk around you can see how well the rooms and their, to modern eyes, over-exuberant decoration work.  The Library makes you want to read even though it currently contains no books (any one with 18th century books to loan/donate please contact them), the entertaining rooms entertain, even before you wheel the drinks out and the bedrooms make you imagine lying in a huge bed with a novel. Perhaps it is the association with Walpole that makes me think of the house as literary or that I can imaging the house in a Wilkie Collins novel.

The photographs above are of the stair way and  you can see the walls in the process of being renovated, note the very cute doggy on the posts.  The use of colour is one of the things I appreciate about the past, the obsession with white walls and magnolia is the most lamentable thing about modern interiors.Outside Strawberry Hill  is a sparkling white however the architectural details as you can see below are far from minimal.

One thing I particularly enjoyed was the profusion of stained glass. Walpole collected glass and had it reframed in imaginative and witty juxtopositions. Not only does the coloured light add even more atmosphere to already delicious rooms but the windows frame the landscape outside.

Now this is what I call a fireplace...

Strawberry Hill is a train journey from Waterloo, the area is very close to the Thames and down hill from the station there is a small park over looking the river and conveniently across the road from a Majestic wine warehouse. Despite these advantages it was not full of people picnicking which means it is probably a very good place for one. The Alexander Pope gastro pub hotel is also close by and in fact this is where we started our afternoon, meeting members of the society for lunch. Lunch didn't preclude tea  of course. I have a pavlovian reaction to Heritage/National Trust locations and have to have tea. In this case the scone was huge, and came with clotted cream. Honestly it was almost the size of my hand!

The place also had a cat, a bit of a tart who insisted on closing it's eyes in front of the camera.  More details about visiting Strawberry Hill, Walpole and it's history and how to encounter both scone and cat can be found here.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Swing for Skin.

I’m a bit behind here but finally got around to putting a couple of pictures of Swing for Skin, the benefit Swing night organised to raise money for Debra. This charity raises money to help those who suffer from EB (Epidermolysis Bullosa) a genetic condition that causes severe skin blistering and to fund research into treating and preventing the condition.

HMS Belfast.
The major appeal of this was its location: HMS Belfast. This world war two cruiser class ship saw action during the Second World War and indeed two friends, Catherine and Gemma had grandfathers who served on it possibly at the same time.  Now administered by the Imperial War Museum as a museum with displays about life on board it has been moored between London Bridge and Tower Bridge for as long as I can remember. In fact I recall visiting it with my school, my only memories being tearing around with a clip board and hiding from the teacher.


Live music and swing dancing on deck.

The weather in London had been changeable but it was a relief when it turned out to be a beautiful if gusty evening.  My family come from Southwark/Bermondsey and during the war were busy in a number of roles, my great granddad unfortunately had a very busy time as an ARP/Fire warden in the same area as the Belfast is now moored. One story is of them going into a bombed building to check for survivors and blanching at the sight of dusty dead fingers poking up through the debris – happily it turned out to have been a gherkin factory (Southwark used to have lots of vinegar and pickling businesses). Standing on the deck of the ship with the strains of wartime songs in the background I couldn’t help but recall stories, many not as light-hearted as that. 

WRV uniform.
The evening was good value, our £30.00 ticket included live music, DJ’s (including the dapper Johnny Vercoutre and his charming daughter Tilly) and an afternoon tea with more than enough smoked salmon sandwiches, cake and scones to go around.  The crowd was mixed but characterised by friendliness from the nurses at the door to all those helping including the lipstick and curls girls who were a victory roll manufacturing factory.  My investment in raffle tickets was a good one, although it was the silver snakeskin clutch bag I hankered after I was more than happy to win a voucher towards one of Able Grable’s fantastic dresses.  Organiser Mel and her friends are to be congratulated on organising what was obviously hard work and for the amount of money they raised.  

Redlegs notices the scones for the first time.
 I wore a WVS uniform from the immediate post war period and fortunately I had been to the redoubtable Betty in the afternoon so my hair stayed in place. The uniform consisted of a green dress in a scratchy light wool, so it turned out to be a good choice in the breezy weather.  I suspected I looked like an extra from Cell Block H although a couple of men (you know who you are) commented that uniforms on ladies were rather..ahem..sexy.

Seating was available inside in the wardroom and the museum was open for the first couple of hours. It was I suspect closed down before we all got to tipsy and insisted on climbing into the exhibits. and hugging waxwork mariners. I did hear one confused lady demanding to see a periscope.  The main attraction however was definitely dancing on the decks (or rather watching others dance in my case) with Tower Bridge as a backdrop and tourist boats beeping hello as they sailed by. I always think that London can be a magical place and being on the HMS Belfast to enjoy it was a reminder of those we owe our freedom to do this to.

You can donate money to Debra here.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Shepherd Market.. Mayfair in the rough.

Does anyone else have days when they fancy dressing up to the nine' but have nowhere to go? Of course there are plenty of places to go here in London. Another truism is that native Londoners have a dual personality: they are most at home in their area but have a secondary 'manor', loosely described as the West End. Which is not strictly speaking the West but the central South West i.e. Covent Garden, Soho and Mayfair stopping at Hyde Park corner at one end and Holborn at the other. 

Shepherd Market

Soho is my favourite but Mayfair is a close second and a close cousin. It is really just more loose women, more booze and more misbehaviour but more expensively purchased. It's the best place to pose in your  flashiest frock and hat but can be a little pricey.  To enjoy Mayfair more reasonably however you don't have to descend to the pits of coffee chain and rip off ex Italian cafes with tourist prices. Tucked behind the Japanese embassy is a little mini Mayfair village all of it's own: Shepherd Market (with no 's').
This miniature warren of little streets full of places to eat and drink was originally where sheep were driven to market and like Covent Garden accommodated it's rural visitors with Inns and Brothels. Shepherd Market was until recently still a red light area (all of Mayfair is red lightish now, it has a high number of escorts and up market resident toms politely esconced behind the stucco) and a slightly louche atmosphere still lingers. There are also literary connections, Anthony Powell amongst others has been a resident and the area features in his novels.

Night, customers sitting outside The Old Express.
During week evenings the character of the area is somewhat compromised by the presence of corporate suits (unavoidable throughout the city) but it has some things to offer including several pubs and is a delight on weekends. The Grapes is the most famous but seems to have gone downhill in recent years. The Shepherd Tavern is fine but I personally like the Market Tavern, it has a quirky interior, decent Prosecco for under 20 quid a bottle and the food is a decent reasonably priced alternative in a pricey bit of London. It is nice at the weekends for a roast lunch. Upstairs, the Chesterton Room essays the past of the area by resembling a stylish tart's boudoir with red velvet seating and flocked wallpaper in fleshy reds and pinks. I had my birthday party in 2010 in this room.

Chesterfield upstairs bar at the Market Tavern.

Their are some well known restaurants here. L Artiste'Muscle is busy and atmospheric, a scruffy French Bistro serving steak frites but I don't rate the food or the prices. Le Boudin Blanc is a high end French restaurant, it is ok but also rather expensive.

I prefer L'Autre (020) 7499 4680, on the site of what was reputedly Greta Garbo's favourite London restaurant and serving Polish and Mexican cuisine. A peculiar combination related to catering for the nearby Mexican Embassy in the past. The Polish food is old fashioned and very decent, I'm not keen on the desserts (never am in Eastern European restaurants) but Borscht and Pierogy are available. Service is friendly and the place, unpretentious and full of hats and wine bottles and tiny tables is fun to eat in. Best of all the arsey smug suit types don't 'get it' so generally you are spared the braying.

The Old Express, a tiny little restaurant is a good place to take visitors as it serves English food, ie pies, fish and chips. The staff are all foreign but it is a pretty little place and the food is decent. Like all of the restaurants in Shepherd Market, if you can grab one of the limited number of outside tables it is good for people watching. 
Al Hamra.
Like all of Mayfair the area is Araby, and this is expressed by the presence of Al Hamra, I haven't eaten there for years but it was good then and still seems full of Lebanese families so I expect it is still good. For those looking for a bargain meditteranean/arab mish mash there is also a branch of the eponymous Sofra nearby.

Toy soldiers!
Finally although I mention Shepherd market as an alternative to pricelicious Mayfair there are shopping opportunities. For the chaps a toy soldier shop and a  Simon Carter cufflink. emporium For the chappettes danger lurks in several jewellery shops. Finally the area also houses my favourite cinema in central London: The Curzon Mayfair.

If you consider that this corner is within easy reach of St Jame's Park, Buck House, The Royal Academy and Piccadilly you can see it is a useful locale to know and one that non-Londoners and tourists  easily miss. It is very easy to find, go up Green Park towards Hyde Park Corner, turn right up a narrow dirty little road just before the Japanese Embassy and you'll find yourself there!   xx

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Vintage Schmintage.... opting for old fashioned style, or trying to...

Recently I have found that what I consider vintage, elegant, unique or useful doesn't entirely accord with the so called vintage community. I am possibly too old, been wearing old stuff for too long and too much of a Londoner in tooth and claw. I'm finding it immature, too cliquey, too bitchy, too full of crap late 60's and 70's schmutter and too, well basically lacking in bloody style.  I had to leave a few comments off of my vintage survey because they were so petty and dim.

Having said that between the Chap Magazine cabal, those with Sohoitus (not 'vintage' but iredeemably drunken and bohemian around the edges) and some of the lovely vintage maff ladies who spend their time considering matters of sewing, getting dresses and getting plastered  there are lots of lovely people swishing around the place. 

But I don't bloody like East London, seventies crap clothes, dangly hair and sodding clubs full of bankers, hipsters and people in feather headbands and donning false moustaches .. I suspect Bourne and Hollingsworth must have a secret mailing list for twats. Then there is the amount of  bloggers and journalists and organisations who know sod all about design history or old clothes and set themselves up as experts which would be fine but they lie! they lie!  Really knowing arsingly nothing, I have read several lots of complete tosh in the last week and really at my age I have to start watching my temper.

So retro vintage is off the description, but soho, booze and old style glamour remain, the booze particularly remains.Any one got any tequila?!

Minn x

Superficial, moi?

I had a conversation recently that made me think. It was on people adopting a particular style wholesale but not liking the music or subculture associated with it. I thoroughly support people's right to wear what they want, even if it is a rather revolting garment like a burka. Not my body. But it was food for thought.

It has never really occurred  to me that someone would dress like a mod and not like mopeds, Italian movies and the Small Faces.  Similarly what on earth is going on if someone adopts that most musically inspired of appearances 'rockabilly' but doesn't really love rock n roll or r & b? I think we are mainly magpies but what of those who do seem to adopt the whole shebang?  Potentially someone might really want to look like a metal head whilst preferring to listen to Cheryl Cole and surely there is nothing wrong with this?

On the other hand as groups of music/era/subculture fans use their appearance to recognise each other and form a cohesive community it must be downright irritating to get someone saying they just like the clothes but expropriating your social markers wholesale. As Londoners we get away with a lot, but some people have had to endure a lot to defiantly express their musical and cultural preferences. 

However the risk is that you find yourself being 'holier than thou' and a bit elitist.  I have to say  however from experience of a long time as a Goth (once a Goth always a Goth....) that those amongst us who didn't get the music, movies, novels and style behind it didn't stay around for long.

My conclusion is that if you just like the way something looks, sailor jerry tattoos or whatever that's great, but if you don't like the music and subculture you cannot be expected to be taken seriously by those who do.  You can't really call yourself a mod girl or a rockabilly girl if you just want a dusty do or to wear your hair in a bandana. Well you can, but who is going to believe it? 

Thats my personal opinion, what do you think?
Redlegs xx

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Lily Allen's new 'vintage inspired' line of clothing.

Lily Allen looking wonderful.
Lily Allen has launched her collection of vintage inspired fashion on the back of opening her boutique Lucy in Disguise. I’m always torn on the subject of Lily Allen.  She is a genuinely pretty woman and I liked some of her music, she is also a bit useless on the PR front, I’m inclined to blame it on this more than fame whoredom.  Additionally she has my sympathies after recent tragic events and I think there are worse crimes than being a public school mockney.  

I was actually hoping to like her new collection, I’m keen on vintage styles being reproduced or even reworked and hoping for a knock on effect.  Prada’s collection is rumoured to be fortiesish this Autumn and if it has anything like the daft effect of producing all that fruit on clothes in the high street like their last collection did this summer I’ll be happy.  The problem is that my first reaction to Lily’s collect was a big ‘ugh’. To be honest it did not help that the inspiration for many dresses was 70’s so not actually vintage but I’m getting used to the fashion world's loose lipped application of the word. Just because they keep on calling it vintage won’t make it so,  although it may do wonders for marketing!  It was probably the fact that the first thing I saw was a play suit that sat somewhere between tacky burlesque kit and Ann Summers.

Arrrghhhh....go to Tara Starlet!
Then I reminded myself that these clothes were not produced with anyone like me in mind, and not at all for the vintage enthusiast. Rather they are for the kind of girl who shops at Topshop and wants to flash a bit more cash. The stuff is far more contemporary than vintage.  I think that Lily should have simply marketed the stuff as inspired by her taste as I can see this more in the clothing and that is completely appropriate. The ones intended to hark back to fashion eras miss the mark, a long black dress with elegant trimmings really needs sleeves of some kind, a mint coloured dress is almost there but goes a bit modern high street with the trimmings. My favourite is a seventies inspired blue dress, nice colour and looks lovely on Miss Allen.  But in short there is nothing there that I would wear, or I suspect many readers of this blog would wear. You can find more vintage redolent clothing in Monsoon and my favourite reproduction/vintage inspired dress companies produce better stuff. After all you could get a Whirling Turban dress for the same price as Lily’s.

Nice silhouette, needs sleeves.
Having said this I like the idea of smaller clothes lines and if this is a success maybe she will be braver in her clothing choices, she has someone on board who was at Oasis and who has form in producing good occasion clothing so this could happen. 

What do you people think, would you wear it? Have a look at Katy Chutzpahs blog for a more, ahem, reasoned take on the collection.

Chavving 'ell...Polly Toynbee to the rescue.

Vicki Pollard with the distinctly chavvy Kate Moss
Warning: long rant and opinions aired!

Recently Polly Toynbee published an article on the term ‘chav’ (for readers outside England the closest equivalent would be ‘trailer park trash’).  Articles by Polly Toynbee often grab my attention, I don’t read the kind of press she writes in and I dislike her, for me she is the left wing version of Jan Moir in the Mail. The fact that she was writing about the term ‘chav’ made me chuckle before I even read it because I knew what it would contain.
The very fair, and already much promulgated fact that one should be careful before applying any sweeping stereotypical/derogative term is the ostensible subject of the piece.  Hearing a complaint about the denigration of the working class from someone who has always patronised the white working class and writes in a paper that has always failed to understand or empathise with working class culture is rich.  You can see it in her article when she ruminates on the fact that the word ‘chav’ is aimed at all on council estates or who are on benefits. No it isn’t, that’s only done by people of her background and class.  

I was also amused by her ruminations on the disappearance of the working class, talking of the weakening of the Unions resulting in the working class ‘losing their bearings’.  Now I am a staunch trade unionist but what pile of crap. It is obvious that this woman follows the (very middle class idea) that without political guidance from political cadres the working class won’t understand economics, income or social position. Does this idiot not know where Unions came from?  I can assure her that working class culture, in as far as any homogenous culture is possible exists and what’s more.. gasp!.. it has the cheek to do so with no input or guidance from elsewhere.  Perhaps the old, much beloved by the left, sentimental image of earnest marchers, going to evening college to do art classes, getting up and marching at command and automatically voting for their nice Labour MP from that intellectual Fabian family is hard to find evidence of. To be honest it never much existed.  The solidarity is still there, it is just that the British don’t tend to toe the line so easily. What to do when the so called traditional working class moan about immigration, refuse to strike unless it is in their own interest, want to own houses and then vote Tory?  How to handle the working class anger at the removal of grammar schools, their resolute lack of enthusiasm for Europe and resolute enthusiasm for a fight and our armed forces. The response of the Toynbee’s of the world has been to mutter about Sun readers, racism and lack of education.  The adoption of the word Chav has resulted from this as much as anything else. 

She talks about a lack of respect for so called menial and low salary work .. from  whom exactly?  My mother cleaned, as have many of my neighbours.  Certainly no one on the estate I live on has this attitude, anecdotal evidence reveals that the upper class seem to regard their cleaning staff as paid necessary workers whereas it tends to be the liberal middle class who either fuss over their cleaning staff or treat them like shit.  Polly reveals her ignorance when she mentions a remarkable work ethic, despite low pay.  So a job is all about pay and status?  Really you should only expect to work hard if you are well paid, probably a graduate with a nice house.  The fact is, that if you work hard you tend to keep your job, your chances of promotion are higher and your chances of improving your salary improve and ultimately it is the right thing to do… protestant work ethic anyone?  The fact that this is now less the case is as much down to middle class meddling, the stupid idea of lots of people going to university has damaged traditional routes into management and job security. Now you have to get the special key to even start your working life… this sanctification of university and downgrading of physical work and skills have been very damaging. 

Several comments to the article are cross reactions to Toynbee’s identification of the word ‘chav’ with anyone on benefits, in state housing or on low incomes.  The word ‘chav’ is widely used amongst the working class and aimed at others, not necessarily of the same background. I have heard Jeremy Clarkson, Prince Harry and Paris Hilton described as ‘chavvy’ in my local pub. I live on a South London estate, we have a thankfully small population of lazy, huge, chain smoking, work evading, screaming, swearing idiots adorned with dozens of children who make all of our lives less pleasant.  I don’t use the word ‘chav’ but it would probably be better than ‘fat, lazy, scrounging c***’ which is the general term employed in scuffles on our estate.  If the white working class have a cross to bear, it is being forced to endure people like this because they are coddled and funded, it is seeing our jobs being undercut as a result of people like Toynbee hiring  cheaper migrants to work for them and our schools being downgraded because people like her want to school their children in establishments with parents like themselves.

Certainly the behaviour of politicians and media demonising the dole scrounger and housing benefit scammer for their own purposes is disgraceful (although so are dole scroungers and housing benefit  fraudsters) and the policies that have led to many problems for the working class come from the top (unfair taxation, poorly organised education, denuded social housing stock, immigration levels).  I’m no fan of the Daily Mail, but the Guardian offends me as much, and no member of my largely left wing trade unionist family would ever dream of reading it.  Much of the damage done to working class life and aspirations has been caused by those with ‘improving’ agendas.   One of the best, most moving and well researched books on this subject is Michael  Collin’s: The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class (available on Amazon here) which looks at the origins of the demonization of this sector of our community.

It is interesting that when you look at the media’s depiction of the working class its representatives are lovable but immoral, our media like to think of the working class this way as it makes us ‘cosy’y et somehow completely different and implicitly inferior to them. Think of Shameless, Eastenders is also hilarious (which person exactly decided that working class Londoners live in flats almost rococo in the horror of their d├ęcor?).  However it has to be said that these media feckless characters are complete monsters and utterly unreal, if they did exist they would be ostracised fairly quickly.  Loud and gobby funnily enough don’t go down well either and nor does crime.  Try and think of a working class drama or soap where gobby isn’t the default.  These images are not coming from politicians, or the right wing press but from our creative media community.

Working class identity is not necessarily disappearing but perhaps it is becoming more difficult for commentators such as Toynbee to label and handle partially because they cannot come up with any good labels and partially because they just don’t get it.  Surely working class people are put upon and envy their ‘betters’ whom they can join by going to university and, I don’t know, becoming a journalist? I am Oxbridge educated, have a profession but still squarely regard myself as working class and that’s just the way it is. Throughout my childhood I have been surrounded with people who read, are intelligent and talented but never wanted or needed to move ‘up’ into a middle class milieu.  I don’t regard the feral underclass as being part of that, nor the kind of people that scrounge benefits. I regard the bankers and corporate money wankers as far more responsible for the troubles of today and have no compunction in calling them wankers, if I felt someone was behaving like a chav, I’d call them it. Not that they'd give a monkeys if I did.....

Just a personal opinion, no intention to cause offence...comments welcome.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Rockalilly Lipstick Review. Pucker up!

I’m a red lipstick kind of lady although I dabble in pink and even the very occasional coral shade.  Red lipstick seems to encourage strong reactions, I know there are ‘hate red lipstick pages’ (morons!) and some dislike red lips for their artificiality. Red is problematic though, the range of shades is startling once you put it on even though they don’t seem that different in the tube.  As a redhead with very white skin I have it easier than some but I don’t have whitewashed teeth so the issue is as much a shade of red that doesn’t give your toothy pegs that buttermilk shade redolent of old piano keys as anything else.

Additionally modern formulations are moisturising but they are too sheer and lightweight to provide a strong look, in fact that is the overwhelming problem with modern lipsticks: too much moisture and shine and not enough pigment. The sheer shiny look falls into that whole 70’s faux thing going on right now.  As my hair is longer and some of the sheer shiny lipsticks veer on sticky I am keen to avoid the hair stuck to mouth situation, which funnily enough does take me back to the 70’s, when as a nine your old I had a brief dalliance with cheap strawberry flavoured shiny lip gloss from Miners.

The requirements for a good vintage style red are that it be either fully matt or semi matt, highly pigmented and come in good strong dramatic shades.  A measure of how the cosmetic industry is not serving the vintage niche market is revealed by the fact that a new small lipstick company has been established by Ree Ree Rockette, a lover of fifties and vintage style who took the lipstick bull by the horns and produced her own brand Rockalilly lipsticks’.  Now I have to declare an interest here that I do know this lady, but am ruthless enough to review any product with a modicum of detachment.  I was aware however that the as yet limited palette of colours would probably chime with my own thirties inspired tastes so ordered one of the reds, ‘Rockette Red’ online and subsequently treated myself to a second shade, a zingier slightly orangier red: 'Hot Rod Red' which I was able to buy at the Powderpuff Girl salon near Carnaby Street (who have the advantage of testers). Hopefully more vintage outlets will stock them.

I am quite happy to use a very expensive lipstick and re apply it fastidiously at an evening event when in any case I am likely to be in and out of the bathroom checking my false eyelashes are not about to fall in my beer (it has happened). What I am looking for is a good all round wear through the day red.  The Rockalily lippies fall somewhere between my Guerlaine and my Mac. Less oily than the former and a great deal lighter than the latter.  I noticed two elements I liked immediately: the shape of the tip of the lipstick was smaller and made it easier to apply straight on and it smelt nice.  I was impressed by the fact that this lipstick feathered far less than my other lipsticks and both the shades did not make my teeth look yellow. I did like the colours, particularly the strong dark Rockette Red.  Do I have any gripes? Well it doesn’t last as long as the Mac but then again your skin does not end up flaking after use, it has quite a nice texture.  The lipstick holder itself is functional rather than glamorous.  This is not a ‘cheap’ lipstick, but then again it is a small company and I feel it is reasonable value especially if you consider you are supporting a small personal endeavour and not a massive corporation.  The red has become my default day time colour and I look forward to this company expanding it’s wares.


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