Thursday 28 October 2010

Original rules of basketball expected to sell for millions

Original rules of basketball expected to sell for millions

Basketball is a sport that I've never followed, nor did I enjoy it at school (although to be fair I've never been a really sporty person and disliked all school sports apart from badminton and cricket...).

Nevertheless it has become part of American sporting culture and also enjoys a level of popularity here in the British Isles. I was interested, then, to read about the upcoming sale of an historic item which set the ball rolling (groan) - the original rules of basketball as drawn up by the game's creator, Canadian professor and sports instructor James Naismith, in 1891.

Regardless of your attitude towards the sport of basketball it is difficult not to marvel at the beginnings of the game (above). The fact that the original "basket", was just that, and what's more still had its base so players were forced to climb up and retrieve the ball (originally just an ordinary [soccer] football), may seem silly to us now but one has to remember that this was a new game and it is quite interesting to see the layout and rules as they were first created. As with all areas of history this glimpse into the early days of a still-popular, modern pasttime helps add to our appreciation and understanding of it in today's world while at the same time enlightening us as to how it came to be played and the way it was played in the years following its inception.

The sale of these original rules will no doubt generate a great deal of international interest and, wherever or whoever it ends up with, an important sporting document will have been preserved plus, what is more, helped to have raised funds for a children's sports charity, which is good news all round.

Monday 25 October 2010

Why typewriters beat computers

Why typewriters beat computers

Now this is more the kind of thing! A splendid article from the BBC that highlights the benefits (yes, there are such things!) of a typewriter over a personal computer. And they haven't even touched upon the finer aesthetic qualities of the typewriter compared to the black/beige box that is the PC. "Clunky" and "dirty" indeed! Why, just look at the picture above - how beautiful is that?

As you may have worked out by now, I am somewhat passionate about typewriters, just as I am about most early- to mid-20th Century machinery. I have one myself, an Imperial 66 that I'm ashamed to say is rather battered and has seen better days, as you can see (left). It still works though! If anyone knows the name of a good restorer, however...

I can quite understand why some people prefer typewriters over more modern devices (I would love to use my own more often) and the users featured in the article make quite pertinent yet funny points regarding the shortcomings of newer technology. However it is surprising (but understandable) to see that typewriters still retain some popularity among students. Nevertheless the writer of this piece has, at least in my case, hit the nail fairly firmly on the head in his description of aspiring typists and aficionados of the machine(!). The chap mentioned in the article, Richard Polt, is well-known and highly-regarded in typewriting circles and ironically the Internet has allowed groups and collectors to flourish all over the world. Adventures In Typewriterdom, Fresh Ribbon, Retro Tech Geneva and Strikethru are just a few examples of the blogs I have stumbled across in my travels.

It is a sad inevitability that typewriter sales are declining, probably to a point where they will soon cease to be made new, but so long as there are those out there with a passion for these machines their future is assured. Of course there is another avenue - one that has been explored by the Steampunk movement in particular - and that is the merging of typewriters with computers. This has been done to varying levels of ingenuity and success, from programs such as Virtual Typewriter, through the wonderfully detailed ElectriClerk (above), to the chap who has managed to convert old typers to work with iPads, Macbooks and the like (below).

Finally, one more little thought-of advantage typewriters have over computers is that they make a delightful noise. Which allows me to finish this post with a fantastic typewriter history lesson in sound. Close your eyes and get ready to be taken through... The History of the Typewriter:

Sunday 24 October 2010

And now... the weather

Britain's obsession with the weather: 60 per cent admit it's a 'social prop'  

As interesting and amusing vintage-inspired news items seem rather thin on the ground at the moment (I've said before that they can be like buses - none for ages then two or three come along at once) I thought I would post a link to an article about the next best thing - amusing and interesting British cultural traditions.

"It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm."

So wrote Samuel Johnson, the great author and lexicographer, in issue 11 of The Idler on Saturday 24th June 1758. Two hundred and fifty-two years later and it is funny, yet somehow reassuring, to see that nothing has changed. Many observers, both British and foreign, have since noted that we as a nation seem strangely obsessed with what the weather is doing. It has become something of an international joke that all we seem to talk about is the climate. Now thanks to the survey mentioned in the article, we can see that not only is it actually true, but also why we do it. Yes, we do it to be polite! What's the one safe topic of conversation that you can introduce at any level and with anyone you meet? Why, what the weather's like, of course! I do so love how these findings have sought to explain this curious little characteristic of British life and I hope it has given anyone from abroad reading this some insight into one of the many peculiar traits of the British people. So, what's the weather like where you are?

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Norfolk war hero's 71-year wait for Isle of Wight trip


Norfolk war hero's 71-year wait for Isle of Wight trip

We often read about holiday horror stories - cancelled flights, missed boats, overzealous customs officials and booking mix-ups. Spare a thought for the chap in this article, though, who arranged to go on holiday - not far, just to the Isle of Wight - in September of 1939, only to have a world war start and scupper his plans!

Now over 70 years later a charming postscript can be added to the story, thanks to the chance discovery of a slip of paper and the generosity of the hotel where the chap was to have gone in '39. Thanks in no small part to Warner Hotels and the manager of the Bembridge Coast Hotel the holiday happened, albeit 71 years late. That the fellow had such a nice time, and was looked after so well, just adds to the happy tale.

Sunday 17 October 2010

Television hit Downton Abbey helps save the real stately home where it is filmed

Television hit Downton Abbey helps save the real stately home where it is filmed

ITV's latest costume drama, Downton Abbey, is fast becoming one of my favourite television programmes and a particular Sunday treat (as I'm sure it is for many of my readers).

Now as well as providing us vintage aficionados with a healthy dose of Edwardiana the series (which, you'll all be pleased to hear, has just had a second series commissioned) has gone some way to improving the fortunes of the stately home where it is filmed.

Eagle-eyed vintage viewers will also recognise Highclere Castle from the early-90s Jeeves & Wooster series, where it played the part of Totleigh Towers. In recent years the building has been in need of some repair but now with the great interest that viewers have taken in it since the broadcast of Downton Abbey the current owners are in a position to embark on the renovation of this historic pile and eventually, it is hoped, open it to the public.
It is splendid to see that there is still such a great interest taken in this country's ancient buildings and architectural history and that TV programmes like Downton Abbey are so popular that they encourage people not only to visit but also, ultimately, to preserve these important historic houses. Well done, everyone, and the best of luck to the owners the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon.

Rare Audrey Hepburn stamps sold at Berlin auction

Rare Audrey Hepburn stamps sold at Berlin auction

Some more rare stamp news now, this time featuring the enduring film star Audrey Hepburn.

Once again this shows how good can come out of an unfortunate circumstance. I can readily understand why the son of Miss Hepburn was uneasy about the doctoring of the image used on the stamps and the subsequent destruction of all but a few sheets has quite naturally meant that the price for such items remains high. That Mr Ferrer has allowed the one set in his ownership to be auctioned for children's charities shows generosity of spirit and means that this small mistake and subsequent disagreement has ended up benefiting children the world over.

Of course the philatelic world is better off too, as interest in such rare stamps continues to prove. The auction of this one-time contentious stamp design must surely mean that there is no more ill-will regarding the original oversight by the Deutsche Post and it will also mean that if any further examples come up for sale a better knowledge of the existence and number of the stamps should prove useful.

As it is in this case a collector acquires a rare piece, a charity benefits and everyone gets to feel good about themselves, which is all one can ask, really.

Friday 15 October 2010

Campaign builds to construct Babbage Analytical Engine

Campaign builds to construct Babbage Analytical Engine

An exciting proposal, reported here by the BBC, to create a full-size replica of what is rightly regarded as the world's first computer, as conceived by Charles Babbage in 1837.

It is incredible to think that the foundations for the computer age were laid down as long ago as the mid-19th Century, but Babbage's designs and creations were to all intents and purposes embryonic computers, albeit very large and steam-powered. This picture (above) illustrates only part of the Analytic Engine; as the article mentions a full-size version has never been built and could easily be the size of a small lorry!

Once again it begs the question of "what if?". Had Babbage succeeded in creating a complete working Analytical Engine, what would it have meant for the Industrial Revolution and the British Empire? Might there, as Dr Swade also wonders, have been an information age in the latter part of the 19th Century? Where would we be now if it had been so?

These kinds of questions are, in part, what led to the formation of the Steampunk movement which does indeed image an alternate universe in which Babbage's machines not only worked but became commonplace; in which steam remained the main motive power and allowed amazing adventures to take place with all the majesty and pomp of Victorian Britain through the 19th Century and beyond.

Even if a scale replica is successfully built and operated it will still be some years off yet and, sadly, unlikely to precipitate us into a Steampunk future (sorry chaps!). It does have the potential to be a major engineering undertaking, though, with the great possibility of rewarding knowledge and understanding of the processes and abilities of these early behemoths. Good luck to them, say I!

Wednesday 13 October 2010

America the airship: the first transatlantic crossing

America the airship: the first transatlantic crossing

Airship America's landmark crossing attempt recalled

This is a great example of the kind of account I (and, I hope, you my readers) find so amazing and edifying. I have to say that, student of aviation though I am, I had really known very little about the airship America before reading this article. Now, with the 100th anniversary of its attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean fast approaching, the full story has quite rightly been published.

And what a story! Like so many of the pioneering flights of the early 20th Century this effort is chock-full of thrills, hope and imagination but which in the end sadly resulted in failure and consequently historical oblivion. The story, and more importantly the significance of the flight, is right to be remembered now though and I'm glad to see the Smithsonian Institute creating a permanent display in memory. How different might things have been if the America has succeeded in crossing the Atlantic 9 years before Alcock and Brown in their Vickers Vimy aeroplane? Could it have speeded up the development of the airship to the point that it might have become the predominant form of air travel, usurping the aeroplane and enjoying a success greater than it did even in the 1920s and 1930s; maybe even lasting until the present day? Sadly we will never know and can only wonder at a future that never was.

As it is we are left with a fantastic testament to the adventurous, somewhat eccentric nature of the early flyers (I must remember to take a cat with me next time I cross the Atlantic!) and the enlightenment that comes from long forgotten escapades that are often stranger than fiction.

WWI ships to chart past climate

WWI ships to chart past climate

This article from the BBC website details a fantastic project that anyone can get involved in - one that could provide reams of historical data and insight. I've signed up and already I'm hooked!

Although I remain sceptical about certain aspects of global warming and climate change, the reasons for which I shan't go into here, there is more than simply historical weather monitoring about this endeavour. It does, as the article mentions, provide fascinating detail of the movements and experiences of the Royal Navy in the First World War. One can get a small idea of the day-to-day routine as well as more out-of-the-ordinary occurrences by following one or more of these ships which were dotted about the globe. I've only been involved for a couple of days and already I feel a sense of "belonging", for want of a better term, to the ships I'm following. Maybe it's also because my grandfather was in the Navy during the Second World War.

Despite my misgivings about the whole climate change debate I can still see the meteorological value in the collating of near-100-year-old weather reports in order to help further the long-distance forecasts of today and am more than happy to be involved. Maybe it'll help the Met Office get something right for once too!

Monday 11 October 2010

Sun day buses

It's not often I post about my own news, but I had a such splendid vintage day out at the Castle Point Transport Museum yesterday I thought I'd mention it on here. The CPTM has appeared on this blog before - as my local museum it often has events on between April and October and yesterday was their end-of-season show.

The weather couldn't have been better (they have a track record of enjoying very good weather at this event - I can't remember a dud year) and the crowds turned up in their droves. I've never seen it so busy! For various reasons it's been a couple of years since I last went so I was pleasantly surprised at the improvements that had been made to the museum, such as a model railway layout and a new café. In my old school next door was a large display (again, the biggest I'd seen on the site) of classic cars from all over the country.

Of course the main attractions were the vintage buses that make up the bulk of the museum's exhibits and many which also travelled far and wide to be there that day. There are usually so many that they congregate at a large car park and playing field by the seafront and four or five act as ferry vehicles taking people to and from the museum and park. Here is one about to pick up people heading back to the museum, plus a couple more of a similar vintage:

The combination of late summer sun, myriad vintage cars and buses and a typical seaside atmosphere conspired to make this a thoroughly enjoyable day and if you're ever in the area between April and October it is a highly recommended visit. I left a happy chap at 4'o'clock with this memento (an official Michelin model of a 1939 Citroën TUB van) and the resolve not to leave it another year before I visit again.

Saturday 9 October 2010

First Queen Elizabeth liner seen in archive film

First Queen Elizabeth liner seen in archive film

I've always had a hankering to go on a transatlantic ocean journey on a luxury liner, in such a fashion as was popular during the inter-war years. Art Deco staterooms, dressing for dinner, the Captain's table, dancing to live music, deck chairs and ship-board games - who wouldn't rather that than 10 hours crammed into a winged tube 30,000ft up?

So it has been with great interest that I have been following the development of Cunard's latest ship MS Queen Elizabeth. As part of the celebrations surrounding the completion and naming of this new liner, the BBC has unearthed some old Pathé film of the original RMS Queen Elizabeth, from her naming ceremony in 1938 through to her sad demise in Hong Kong harbour in 1972.

Now we have a new Queen Elizabeth to admire and be proud of, and what a ship! I can't say I'm a huge fan of modern ship design - the squared-off, stack 'em high appearance of the decks doesn't appeal to me - but the interior is something else! There's so much Art Deco styling inside that I could never do it justice on this blog, so I will simply encourage you to visit Cunard's own blog and in the meantime leave you with the "big money shot" - the main staircase. How I wish I could be walking down it in full evening wear!

Thursday 7 October 2010

Bowler hat makes a comeback

Bowler hat makes a comeback

Some great fashion news now, as the gentlemanly bowler hat makes a welcome return to high street emporia.

Like so much headgear the bowler hat has all but vanished from the heads of men engaged in day-to-day business but, thanks to a new generation taking an interest in good old-fashioned styles - backed up by celebrity endorsement - it may soon become a popular hat again. I only hope it doesn't get hijacked by misguided fashionistas trying to create some bizarre, "kewl" mish-mash look. Bowler-hatted city gents - that's another matter, and would certainly bring back some much-needed panache and bearing to the financial market(!).

This pleasantly surprising news, coupled with more and more appearances of other hat styles, such as trilbies, in public and the media provides a glimmer of hope that the hat will soon regain its popularity with the masses.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Parisian flat containing €2.1 million painting lay untouched for 70 years

Parisian flat containing €2.1 million painting lay untouched for 70 years

This is an incredible story, a true example of a time capsule if ever there was one. It always amazes me when hidden or forgotten items come to light after so many years, but to find an entire apartment left just as it was 70 years ago is quite remarkable. That the rent was still be paid right up to this year, and the tenant still alive yet seeming uninterested in returning, makes it all the more fantastic.

What it must have been like for the assessors and experts to be the first people to enter the room in seven decades I can hardly imagine, although by all accounts it was an eerie yet thrilling experience. Plus, amongst all the fascinating paraphernalia and items of history, there turns out to be a lost painting by an important Italian artist that goes on to fetch a record price! Truly this was a dream discovery and it makes one wonder, if a flat in a bustling capital city can be overlooked for so long, just what else is out there waiting to be rediscovered?

Tuesday 5 October 2010

A gem of a singer

I tend to listen to my iPod more than the radio these days as, even with all this DAB nonsense, there aren't many stations that play the kind of music I like (swing, dance and big bands - early jazz, in case you haven't guessed!). I do listen to Classic FM when the mood takes me but often I find myself listening to the Ken Bruce show on BBC Radio 2 (about the only decent thing left on that network these days).

This week I'm particularly glad I tuned in, as it's introduced me to this delightful singer, whose début album Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor is being featured this week. Her name is Caro Emerald and she hails from The Netherlands, where the album has been at number one in the charts practically since its release in January(!).

Her style (not to mention her looks) is really appealing, with a great '40s/'50s big band sound to it but with a modern twist. It rather reminds me of the Swing Revival that was popular in the mid- to late-90s, but I hope Miss Emerald will be more successful than that (I'm sure, with her unmitigated achievement in her home country, that she will be). From what I've seen and heard so far, Caro Emerald deserves a mention on this blog and I believe she will have a great following here as well as in mainland Europe. I for one highly recommend her and on the strength of her performance her album has just made it on to my Christmas list! Have a listen and let me know what you think.

** Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor will be released in the UK on the 18th of October and is the Album of the Week on the Ken Bruce Show this week. **

Monday 4 October 2010

Another round: Shanghai reopens 110ft bar fabled for colonial decadence

Another round: Shanghai reopens 110ft bar fabled for colonial decadence

Welcome news here of the renovation of an historic piece of colonial nightlife - the Long Bar, once part of the Shanghai Club but soon to become part of a new Waldorf-Astoria hotel on the Bund (Shanghai's waterfront district).

The epitome of pre-war style and elegance, like so many things the Long Bar was a victim of the Second World War and it is only now that it has been restored to its former glory having suffered many ignominies over the last 70 years - not least having to share space with a KFC!

Thanks to the thorough work undertaken by local craftsmen the Long Bar has once again become the jewel in the crown of the new hotel and the surrounding area. Special mention should go to the Shanghai government officials who quite rightly insisted that the décor and material should be an exact match to the original bar. All in all it sounds like a delightful venue; one could easily imagine Noel Coward at the bar making witty remarks!

Classic car firm Morgan building new three-wheeler after gap of 60 years

Classic car firm Morgan building new three-wheeler after gap of 60 years

Morgan is by far and away my favourite motor manufacturer so it was with great interest that I read of their intention to start building again a modern version of the car that started it all 100 years ago.

The reasons I like Morgans so much are innumerable, but of course the classic styling plays a large part(!). Some of their models, such as the Roadster, have remained visually unchanged since the 1930s (in fact, the 4-4 is still on sale new today, having first been introduced in 1936!). However Morgan is also a forward-looking company, ready to take on the big sports car manufacturers with vintage-inspired offerings like the Aeromax, Supersports and the new EvaGT - not to mention looking to the future with the LIFECar project. This translation of Art Deco styling onto a modern performance car appeals to me very much, and shows what can be done with that art movement's design ethos even today.

The re-introduction of the 3-wheeler should appeal to both new and old Morgan fans alike as it could be both a lightweight runabout or a fun track day and hillclimb sportster. This is another admirable trait of Morgan (still a family-owned business) - the ability to look to its past to add to and improve its existing range of vehicles. The future of the sports car is undoubtedly low weight and smaller engines and the 3-wheeler epitomises that belief. It will be another welcome model harking back to a Golden Age of motoring and as the design incorporates the single wheel at the rear there are no stability associated with that other famous 3-wheeler, the Reliant.

Morgan, from being very much a quaint Olde English niche manufacturer ridiculed for using wood in the construction of its cars (and it still does - why not? Treated and reinforced properly it can be surprisingly strong.), which used to have delivery times of 4 years or more, is now a much more modern concern. It still hasn't lost sight of what has made it survive for the last one hundred years and I feel sure that it will carry on the same principles for another hundred at least.

Friday 1 October 2010

Roaring back to relive glamour of the Forties

Roaring back to relive glamour of the Forties

A welcome bit of local news here, which has helped to reassure me that Essex is not the vintage cultural wasteland that I feared it was.

A 1940s-style tea dance sounds absolutely spiffing and the fact that they are springing up in places like Southend goes to prove their increasing popularity. Congratulations must be proffered to the organisers for helping to create and run such events as these and the venue in this case appears most interesting and appropriate to the occasion. I'm sure it all adds to the ambiance and enjoyment of the day plus it probably benefits the place where it's being held as well.

This is definitely something I shall be keeping an eye on with a view to attending some time in the future. It is heartening to see things like this going on locally (not to mention other events nationally, and even internationally), with the obvious time and effort put in by those running it and providing the various experiences and classes showing the dedication and passion (not to mention enjoyment!) that is so prevalent on the vintage scene. That it has proved so popular is a testament to the attraction and fun that can be had at these kind of entertainments.

The world's first films

The world's first films

Some incredible footage now of the earliest moving pictures, taken by the eccentric British inventor Eadweard Muybridge (whose own life sounds like it would make a great film in itself!).

Although technically inferior to the later Lumiere Brothers' cinematograph, which was the forerunner to today's modern film cameras, Muybridge's wonderfully-named "Zoopraxiscope" was able to capture moving images almost 20 years before the Lumieres' attempts.

While Muybridge's method proved to be a dead-end, the theory still lives on today in the form of flicker books, and the value of this footage as examples of the very earliest cinema cannot be overstated.


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