Monday, 25 August 2014

Nicholas Parsons starts a one man crusade to bring back the cravat

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Nicholas Parsons starts a one man crusade to bring back the cravat

Considered by some (wrong-headed) people as something of a "naff" personality, Nicholas Parsons - best known on these shores for fronting the long-running B.B.C. Radio 4 comedy panel quiz Just A Minute for nearly 50 years since its creation in 1967 and for presenting the British version of the game show Sale Of The Century during the '70s and '80s - initially might not seem the best chap to lead a resurgent charge in cravat-wearing. 

But that would be to underestimate the sublime Mr Parsons who, at a frankly amazing 90 years old, is showing no signs of slowing down and certainly could teach the younger generations a thing or three about dressing well.  His comments at this year's Edinburgh Festival regarding the cravat (or ascot to our North American cousins) versus the open-necked shirt are a masterfully accurate summation of all that is wrong with the modern man's "smart casual" look and how it could easily be rectified by the splendid little length of neckcloth that was all the rage in the 1930s, '40s & '50s and can trace its origins back to 17th century Croatian mercenaries.

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Mr Parsons is spot on when he questions the "attractiveness", or lack thereof, of an open shirt with a suit and the fact that a fellow's bulging Adam's apple is not necessarily what one wants to see walking down the road towards them.  He is the very man to start the revival of this noble yet casual form of neckwear and I can assure him that his "one man crusade" has in fact many followers and that, yes, there are chaps out there who definitely share his point of view.  I for one have made no secret of my love of cravats; I certainly don't want to subject the general public to my scrawny neck, nor that same neck to a cold-inducing stiff breeze.  I would not for one moment say that I have a weak throat/chest, but I have certainly found in the past that an open shirt in anything but the hottest weather has invariably led to a cold.  (The latest example being not three weeks ago when starting my new job, which as I mentioned operates a "no tie unless receiving a client" dress code, where I went open-necked for the first 10 days and then promptly caught a snorter of a cold.)  With this new work rule I have found myself turning to my [limited] selection of cravats more and more, with a view to adding some new ones to my wardrobe with some recent birthday money.

Even Superman wears a cravat!
Friend and fellow blogger G.M. Norton recently wrote a review of one of the U.K.'s newest and most talked-about purveyor of cravats, Cravat Club.  I can do no better than point you in the direction of his post (even the Beeb quote him!), having not had any experience of their products yet - something I hope to rectify soon!

Online shops that sell cravats are few and far between in this blogger's experience but other than the aforementioned emporium I can only suggest two or three others.  If you want to go down the traditional route and wear proper vintage cravats then that well-known provider of original men's fashions from the 1920s onwards, Savvy Row, has a jolly decent selection of rayon examples from the '50s and '60s - in a wonderful array of colours and patterns - for very reasonable prices.

1950s/60s Vintage Red/Gold Paisley pattern
rayon cravat, £12 + p&p @ Savvy Row
Modern examples that rival those on offer at the Cravat Club can be found courtesy of Swagger & Swoon - in a bewildering number of styles, some quite psychedelic if that's your bag!

Another online store with a fine selection of cravats is Woods of Shropshire.  Although not quite as wide a range as the others and with more than a couple of wedding-style "scrunchies" in the mix, there's a fair choice of patterns at a more than fair price.

Darcy Clothing, of whom I have had some previous experience albeit not in the neckwear department, also have a small range of cravats - mainly in the ubiquitous polka dot style, although there is nothing wrong with that!  As befitting a company that also supplies costumes to period dramas they also have one or two from the 18th century if channelling the spirit of Beau Brummell is your ultimate aim!

Quest For Fire Yellow Fine Silk cravat,
£34.99 (free delivery) @ Swagger & Swoon
The one company with whose product I have had repeated first-hand experience of - from whom all my cravats have so far come, in fact - is (somewhat misleadingly) Tom Sawyer Waistcoats.  As their name implies they largely provide that other splendid item of gentleman's clothing, the waistcoat (mainly the wedding variety), however they do have a small but excellent cravat department.  One aspect of their cravats that I particularly like is that a number of them are made of 100% cotton.  Now while the cravat is traditionally supposed to be made of silk or similar - and the cooling properties of those fabrics are, as Norton says, one of the major plus points for wearing them in summer - this could easily lead to a ruinous dry cleaning bill.  Unlike other neckties, cravats are of course designed to be worn next to the skin and sadly no amount of silk will prevent a chap from perspiring if the ambient conditions call for it.  With a cotton cravat at least I can pop it in the washing machine after a few wears, safe in the knowledge that after a once-over with the iron it will be as good as new and ready to wear again.  The prices are also much more conducive to more frequent, regular purchases than would be the case with silk ones.  Tom Sawyer's Richmond Check, of which I own an example, has a particular 1930s vibe about it I feel and is excellent quality for cotton.

Richmond Check cotton day cravat, £16.99 (+p&p) @ Tom Sawer Waistcoats

So, provided one knows where to look (something I hope I've helped you with today!), there's really nothing to stop any tie-phobic johnnies wishing to add a bit of colour and panache to their otherwise unattractive shirt and suit joining Nicholas Parsons, G.M. Norton and myself (plus I'm sure many others - make yourselves known gentlemen!).  I've even thought of a great hashtag whatsit to help spread the word - #bringbackcravats.  Come on chaps, you know it makes sense!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Historic Lancasters' tandem flight takes place in Lincolnshire



Historic Lancasters' tandem flight takes place in Lincolnshire

Well here I am again, having survived a second week at the Temple of Mammon (I'd love to write this blog as a full-time job but would struggle to make it pay, I'm afraid!), with the exciting vintage news of the moment - the arrival of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum's Avro Lancaster in Britain!  The only other airworthy example in the world after the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's City Of Lincoln, C-GVRA Vera (or FM213, the Mynarski Memorial Lancaster) has joined its sister in the UK for a month-long series of displays - the first time two Lancasters will have been in the air together for over 50 years.

As reported earlier in the year Vera was flown across the Atlantic Ocean in stages before landing at RAF Coningsby, the home of the BBMF and its Lanc.  Having undergone various post-flight checks and practice formations, it has now begun being displayed around the country in the company of the British example

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Following a departure display for the press at Coningsby (with the planned flyover of Lincoln Cathedral on the 13th sadly postponed because of bad weather) the Lancs spent this weekend at Airbourne, the Eastbourne International Airshow in Sussex, plus several other displays around the south-east.  Over the next month they will appear at various events around the country, including Duxford, Shoreham and Goodwood - plus two special invitation-only events at Humberside International Airport in Kirmington, Lincolnshire.  I'm also delighted to note that, as I'd hoped, the pair will go to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre where a third powered Lancaster - Just Jane - is based and perform a fly-past while Jane does a taxi run.  What an image that will be, I'm sure!

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A full list of the planned displays is available on the CWHM's website - I hope there's one near you?  Clacton's probably my nearest, although it's on a weekday so I'm unlikely to make it ;(.  Perhaps Duxford, we shall have to see.  Or I could just camp out in my parents' garden since the flippin' things flew over them yesterday(!), no doubt on the way back from one of the Kent shows.

At any rate, the press is rightly making a big thing out of this once-in-a-lifetime event and there is bound to be more coverage as the month goes on.  It really is quite an amazing sight to see these two four-engined monsters in the air together, made all the more poignant by the thought of how much they represent - the 125,000 pilots who flew in RAF Bomber Command during World War Two and the 55,000 who did not return, plus the 7,300 Avro Lancasters that were built between 1942 and 1945 of which only 17 survive today.  It is a fitting homage to all these men and machines that these two aircraft should fly together again, as the veterans' comments prove.  I hope in their appearances around the country they will inspire and enthral onlookers and remind each generation of the sacrifices their vanished comrades made, and that this will not be the last time two or more Lancasters are seen in the air together at one time.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Now at work, rest and play

Golly gosh, I'd forgotten just how time-consuming a full working week can be!  Still, here we are again, what?  The first week of a new job is under my belt and now I've got some time to sit down and write a few lines of this and that - all that has been leading up to this week just gone.

The week previous - that is, two weeks ago now - I spent some time nosing around my local branches of Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and BHS hoping to score some bargain items for m'wardrobe in the summer sales.  I was not disappointed, either, as Debenhams' sale was in full swing (they don't seem to call it the Blue Cross Sale any more, unless they're saving that for Christmas/January?) and I picked up two smashing pairs of cotton trousers that will go well with the majority of my jackets for a casual summer look.  Most importantly, Debenhams' men's trousers go up to a 34" inside leg - perfect for the long of limb such as myself!

Maine New England Navy twill chinos, £12 from £20 at Debenhams
(**sold out**)

The navy blue is a nice, muted colour - giving off an almost workmanlike vibe - but the terracotta twill is my absolute favourite, adding a welcome and different dash of colour to my outfits.

Maine New England Terracotta twill chinos, £10 from £20 at
Debenhams

Marks and BHS had less on offer (and M&S wonders why its year-on-year clothing sales keep taking a battering - definitely a "could do better" on the men's clothing selection, at least) but I was still able to score this beautiful "Autograph" knitted silk tie for a frankly unbelievable £4 (it was actually still marked up at £7.50 on the ticket - I do like pleasant surprises!).

It actually goes quite well with the terracotta trews, don't you think?  It's wonderful to the touch, of course, and knots well too - something that's not always a given with knitted ties, I've found.

Saturday last found me in Rayleigh for the town's first ever Antique & Vintage Street Market, run by the same people who put on the local Runnymede Vintage, Antique and Retro Fairs that I have been to many times in the past and enjoyed, as has been mentioned on this very blog.  Alas I can't see this street market becoming a regular one as it was really very poorly done with barely half a dozen stalls in the high street (which had not been closed as I was expecting), largely selling stuff that would have better been described as bric-a-brac.  There were supposedly more stalls around the corner outside the local auction house (Stacey's, occasional star of Antiques Road Trip and Bargain Hunt) but we - mother, sister and I - we so disappointed we didn't bother with that but instead hit the charity shops.  There I was able to pick up a nice T.M. Lewin shirt for £3.50 and an interesting CD for £1.

Twenty-four songs from The Radio Rhythm Club, a name I'd never come across before but actually that of a B.B.C. programme broadcast during the Second World War.  The Radio Rhythm Sextet was led by a young Welsh clarinetist called Harry Parry(!) who greatly admired American bandleader Benny Goodman, to the point where he emulated him with his own group of top British instrumentalists of the time.  Sadly Harry Parry died in 1956 at the age of 44; The Radio Rhythm Club and Sextet seem to have been lost to the mists of time, since I can't seem to find out much about them.  The Benny Goodman influence is obvious (but just with a soupçon of British smoothness) and it maybe this overt similarity, plus changing musical tastes after the war, that ensured The Radio Rhythm's obscurity.

Still, after all that, I'm glad I bought the CD as it certainly does bubble along.  I do like the Benny Goodman sound anyway and was only recently thinking about finding some more 1940s music, so this ticks the boxes.  Have a Boogi to this:



What else has happened?  Oh yes, I marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War on the 4th August with a single candle and the "lights out" motif, as did most of the country I think.  The B.B.C.'s coverage was rather good, I thought - slightly reserved rather than overdone and all the better for it.

This was the same candle that I burned (we were all given one) at my granddad's
funeral back in 1997. 
I'd never lit it since but it somehow seemed right to use it on the anniversary of WW1

Well, that's all for now, I think.  There's going to be a bit of disorder around here for a little while longer as I continue to settle back into a 5-day working week and get comfortable in the new job but as long as I can post at least once every weekend I'll be happy - and hopefully you, my readers, will be too!  I've already got posts planned featuring the two surviving Lancaster bombers flying together for the first time in 50 years, plus a 61-year-old woman driving a 110-year-old car across Australia!  In the meantime I do still enjoy reading your blogs when I get the chance - usually now a special treat after work! - and I hope you'll continue to stick with mine during this transition.

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