Saturday, 21 July 2012

Philosophy, female flyers, frames, fisticuffs and foulard

The arrival of a long-awaited item and the by-products of some errands run over the past week mean I am finally able to bring you one of my planned posts; a post that, if anything, has ballooned from its original subject to encompass far more (read: possible monster post warning!).

Last Friday I went to my optician, but he said he couldn't see me (BADOOM-TISH!).  No, in actual fact it was time for my biennial eye test and as I half-expected my sight has deteriorated just enough to warrant new lenses.  I rather fancied some new frames too, but alas as the optician made clear with an expansive wave of his arm the place was shelf-upon-shelf of square frames which I don't particularly like as I don't feel they suit the shape of my face.  It was a struggle to find the oval frames I have now, which are in what I think are a pleasant and fairly timeless style, but I do still have a hankering for some really old-fashioned round-framed glasses.  Roope Vintage and Dead Men's Spex are two retailers who specialise in various classic designs and I may yet see what they have to offer.  Anyone had experience of either of these two firms?

After the eye test I did my usual sweep of the charity shops without any luck but did run a great bargain to earth in the local library.  Quite topical to this blog too, as it happens.  If you recall I did a post a month ago about propaganda posters in the Second World War and also took the opportunity to mark the passing of one of the ATA women, Maureen Dunlop de Popp.  Jennie, of It's A Charmed Life, reminded me of the BBC Four documentary about these amazing girls that was broadcast a year or two ago (but sadly is not available on iPlayer - shame on you BBC!  Thank goodness for YouTube) - Spitfire Women.    Well sitting on the sale table in the library was a copy of a book of the same name.  It is not, as far as I know, a tie-in with the TV programme (it being published in 2007) - although it may have influenced the subsequent making of it - but in all other respects covers in great detail the same subject, the women pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary.  I'm thoroughly looking forward to getting stuck in to this tome.  It sits very well with my copy of Spitfire Ace, which was the accompanying book to the Channel 4 documentary from 2004.

The price for this almost as-new (a few of the photograph pages have come away), hardback book that had only been withdrawn twice?  Fifty pence.  I've said it before and will again - happy though I am to have it, it's a crying shame that this type of book is so under-appreciated and sold off so quickly.  The story of these lady pilots needs to be more widely known and I only hope that the library has another copy or something to warrant the giving away of this book.

Yesterday I returned to have my new lenses fitted and did the rounds again (in my now-feeling-ridiculously-large spare pair of old glasses) while I waited.  This time I had much better luck.  Starting off in the library again I was drawn, for some reason, to a Penguin copy of Plato's The Republic.  I've never been one for Ancient Greek philosophy before now, but something compelled me to pick it up and the translation of the dialogue (by noted scholar Desmond Lee) seemed to make it accessible and it passed my test of holding me for the first few pages, so for another 50p it seemed like a no-brainer.

In one of the charity shops I found a CD - The Best of Al Jolson.  Now I already have one Al Jolson CD - Singin' Fool - with a whopping 30 tracks so I was a bit apprehensive at first about getting another disc (you know how it can be - one compilation has songs XYZ, another has ABC, then a third has ABYZ, until you have to be pretty discerning about what's worth getting and what isn't in order to avoid duplication).  But going from memory I decided that of the 25 songs on this second album, fifteen of them weren't on Singin' Fool so another 50p left my wallet.  As it happens when I got it home and listened to it I was delighted to find that the ten songs I already had were all alternative versions and noticeably different.  (This is the one of the great things with early 20th century bands/performers - they frequently cut several versions or "takes", some of which are almost indeterminable and others almost radically different).

Flushed with success I moved on to the next shop, where I was sorely tempted by a sage green two-piece suit.  As ever though, I was undone by the trousers, if you'll pardon the pun ;-) .  The 40S jacket was fine, fitted quite well.  The trousers, which I had to have measured as the suit had no labels (possibly tailored), were a 36" waist and a 29" inside leg.  This, then, typifies my struggle for vintage menswear - my short upper body has no trouble being catered for but my freakishly long legs mean the accompanying trousers are invariably too short.  Men were obviously more evenly proportioned in the past!

I consoled myself with two very fine ties ("Not more ties!", I can hear the cry go up from a certain familial quarter).  Do you know what the official term is for someone who collects ties?  A grabatologist!  How could I resist these beauties - a M&S Collezione that looks like it's never been worn and a Tie Rack modern-does-Seventies-does-Fifties-does-Twenties (almost, I think!) that still has the original price tag in place.  A price tag of £14.99, which confirms its bargain status as I picked up it and its M&S companion (arguably even better than the Tie Rack one, being woven silk rather than simply printed) for £1 apiece!

When I finally returned home what should be on my doormat but the book I ordered almost two weeks ago and which was going to form the basis of this post before all these other goodies came along.  I suppose I'll have to do a separate, more detailed post now as this one has gone on long enough.

In summary, though, as a dyed-in-the-wool Sherlockian I have always been fascinated with Conan Doyle's use of the term "baritsu" to describe the fighting technique Holmes uses to overcome Professor Moriarty.  In the last part of the 20th century, however, it became apparent that Conan Doyle was referring to Bartitsu - an amazing form of 19th century martial art that has remained forgotten for the last one hundred years.  Thanks to a few enthusiasts forming the Bartitsu Society about 10 years ago, and the recent interest generated by the latest more action-oriented Sherlock Holmes films (both Downey Jr. and Guy Ritchie being ardent martial artists, they were keen to include Bartitsu-like moves) Bartitsu is enjoying a quiet renaissance.

Several detailed books have been written on the subject (The Bartitsu Compendium Pts. I & II in particular), but this little - albeit beautifully part-cloth bound - tome provides a simple beginner's guide to the practice using its famous Sherlock Holmes connection (and the current vintage vogue) to give a slightly more mass-market appeal.  It loses nothing by it, though, and has been described by one of the Bartitsu Society's top alumni as "a decent... very nicely-produced series of excerpts".  It also contains some tips from the contemporaneous book "Self Defence from a Bicycle" and is currently available from The Book People for only £1 (plus £1.95 postage) instead of £6.99.

Quite a productive week for me, all told, at the end of which I have a new pair of glasses, some excellent reading material and a soundtrack to go with it, further gentlemanly accoutrements and the means to fight off the local ruffians.  Huzzah!


  1. I have the Spitfire Women book, it's very good. :-)

  2. I love a good book bargain, whilst it's a shame they haven't perhaps been appreciated up to now, it does seem they have a good home with you! Shame about that suit, vintage bargains are so hard to come by when you're a leggy chap. :)


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