Monday 31 December 2012

Bonne Année et Bonne Santé!

Once again - to all my readers, followers and blogging friends everywhere the warmest wishes for a Happy 2013.

I think that 2012 was - barring the the odd hiccough - a good year for Eclectic Ephemera and I feel more a part of the blogosphere than ever, with lots of incredibly gracious comments from old and new visitors alike.  I hope to carry on building upon those foundations in 2013 and look forward to seeing where this aspect of my life takes me as well as continuing to enjoy reading all my favourite blogs.

As Eclectic Ephemera enters its fourth year - and I my 30th! - I'm sure there will be all sorts of excitement to share and a succession of interesting news items as the fascination with vintage shows no signs of waning.  Let's hope that 2013 proves to be another vintage year, with good health and happiness for all.

Friday 28 December 2012

Had a jolly Christmas? Good! Me too!

Hello hello!  I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas whatever you got up to.  For myself I didn't really start to feel the Yuletide spirit until about the 23rd, but then the Christmas bug really started to bite even though it was a quiet one this year.  I spent Christmas Day with the old folks (as Vera Lynn once sang!) where we listened to music - including some of my own that I managed to sneak in! - and played games (two favourites being Ticket To Ride and Phase 10, both highly recommended!) before the obligatory Christmas feast.  A three-bird roast (turkey, chicken & duck) was being trialled this year along with the traditional pigs-in-blankets, gammon ham, roast pots and of course sprouts - yum!  (If, like me, you still have a penchant for the childhood drink Ribena I can also recommend a more adult update I was introduced to - Rum & Black.  One part rum to two parts undiluted cordial.  A sweet and warm treat!).  Thence to the settees to relax with Call The Midwife and later The Incredibles; with Boxing Day more of the same.

But the main event was naturally the present-giving and I suppose you want to see what I got, don't you?  Well I'm happy to show you, for even in this leanest of years I have been overwhelmed and delighted with the gifts I received.

I mentioned about putting Bryan Ferry's new album that I previewed last month on my Christmas list - which I did - and lo! one of my sisters saw it and delivered the goods!  I'm very pleased to say that it is as good if not better than my already high initial impression and I would reiterate my verdict that if you like 1920s jazz then this CD is a must and can stand shoulder to shoulder with records from the time.

With some money I also downloaded an original Twenties album from Amazon. Turn On The Heat: Hot Dance Band Sides 1925-1931 Sam Lanin & His Orchestra is a selection of twenty-seven(!) tracks recorded by American bandleader Sam Lanin.  Lanin's name is not so widely known as he was very much a session musician, leading bands under a variety of pseudonyms including The Broadway Bell-Hops, Bailey's Lucky Seven and The Ipana Troubadors.  Looking at the most commonly-found picture of him on the cover sleeve he looks to me the least likeliest person to be leading a red hot jazz band, with his pince-nez glasses and serious face - although I like to think I can see a glimmer of a barely-suppressed smile there too.

As an aside, several thoughts that have occurred to me over the years I've grown to love jazz came to mind again thanks to these two records:
  • I love the names of 1920s jazz bands like those above - or The Rhythm Jugglers, Adrian and his Tap Room Gang, The Dixie Syncopators to name but a few more.  Band names today don't hold a candle to those of the Twenties - with the exception perhaps of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
  • People often ask me (as they have done again in this case) what it is I like about this genre of music, beyond the cultural and historical associations.  As with most folk it is largely a matter of individual preference and/or the musicianship, but for me I would also say that the main reason is simply... it's fun.  It makes me smile (laugh even) and acts as a channel back to the 1920s, '30s or '40s.  I just know that people enjoyed themselves to this soundtrack and it provides a strong, immediate connection to such past enjoyment - almost to the point of encountering the "past life" feeling I have spoken about previously and that I know some other bloggers feel sometimes.

  • I can't help but give a wry smile when I think that I have managed to get a 25-30 song anthology album like this latest Sam Lanin one for the same price - or sometimes even less - than a modern group's latest album with 8-12 songs on it.  Part of the reason is just popularity, of course, and today's bands naturally want to leave their fans wanting more and don't wish to spread themselves too thin.  As long as I can get dozens of my favourite songs for very little outlay, long may it continue.
  • In a similar vein, I love the incongruity of downloading 80-year-old songs through the Internet.  I've written before about "the best of both worlds" but the paradoxical aspects of using modern technology to further old-fashioned ideals - or confronting 21st-century problems with 19th-century solutions - often amuse me and in part led me to the likes of The Chap and Chappism.  Would my downloading of Sam Lanin, or the Savoy Orpheans, or Mr B. The Gentleman Rhymer, show up in any form?  If enough of us downloaded an old song, could it re-enter the charts like Rage Against The Machine did a few years ago?  Wouldn't that be something?!
Having digressed terribly, I shall just say that the Sam Lanin collection was money well spent with not a track I don't adore.  I've had it on repeat practically non-stop since Boxing Day; as "The Whoopee Makers" (see what I mean?!) his arrangement of St Louis Blues is one of the best I've heard:

Returning to the other presents, here you can see them all together under my tree back at home.  As well as the aforementioned The Jazz Age CD, look at all those other treasures!

A tin of Scottish shortbread biscuits, almost a Christmas tradition and certainly one of my favourite treats, from my aunt and uncle.  I've been steadily working my way through them these last three days!  "Nom nom nom", as they say.

Almost as much a Yuletide tradition in my family, a calendar from one of my sisters.  For 2013 it's Britain From The Air and the pictures do not disappoint.

Holiday Inn on DVD!  I have two confessions to make here: one, I've never actually seen this film in its entirety before (for shame! - and me a Fred Astaire fan...) and two, it wasn't really a present as such but had been in the folks' DVD library for a couple of years - but they didn't enjoy it (I know, how?!).  Their loss is my gain, however, as mater let me take it home.

A Marks & Sparks traditional shaving set from a chum comprising brush, soap and lidded wooden bowl.  Splendidly old-fashioned, but I had to admit to him that for speed and safety's sake I tend to use a modern electric shaver.  It will get an outing at some point in the future, though, I can assure you (and him).

Returning to an earlier theme, I do have an iPod (Classic - see how even with modern technology I try to retain some outdatedness) and when I first got it rather than use one of those dull and tacky leather protector cases I invested in a Gelaskin - a lightweight reusable stick-on cover that comes in thousands of different designs.  I originally chose Steampunk (left), but that was only my second choice.  My favourite design was unavailable at the time but I'm pleased to say it is once again in stock and has found its way to me this Christmas.  For 2013 my iPod will be sporting the Underworld look (right).

The Flying Scotsmint

What is that flash of green beneath the tree to the left?  Why, it's the Flying Scotsman in tin form!  Yes, one of my other sisters (it can be fun being the only baby brother sometimes!) got me this beautiful tin train for Christmas.  Not a toy tin train - although I can't guarantee it won't be used at such from time to time! - but actually another goody-container.  More [train-shaped] shortbread?  No, but just as good - mint humbugs!

Underneath the CD and tin train you may just be able to discern something woollen.  Mother in fact surprised me with a cable-knit sleeveless pullover!  Quite where she found the time to knit it between all the stuff she makes for the grandchildren and husband I don't know, but in her own words she wanted to "see if I could still do cable knit" and on this evidence I'd say she certainly can!  Ever the perfectionist she thinks the neckline is not deep enough but that's how it was in the pattern and no doubt it will stretch out over time.  I don't mind it anyway.  I've requested a jumper in green as the next project, so watch this space.  Incidentally, bloggers who knit - mater was reminiscing after some sort of container in which she could secure her balls of wool to stop them from rolling all over the place and keep the yarn from getting tangled (or something).  Does that sound familiar and if so any ideas where she might find one?

What with the shortbread, the Flying Scotsmint and about 4lbs-worth of Bassett's Jelly Babies courtesy of nieces and nephews I'm well and truly stocked up on treats for the new year.  I'm looking forward to 2013 with both anticipation and trepidation (of which more, again, later) but for now I intend to make the most of what's left of the festive feelings.  I'm looking forward to everyone returning to the blogosphere after the customary break and catching up with all that was and will be done.  Pip-pip for now!

Monday 24 December 2012

Have a jolly Christmas!

To all my fellow bloggers, followers, readers and everyone everywhere I wish you a  
very Merry Christmas!

Saturday 22 December 2012

Stuntman Santa got lucky when jump landed him in Chelmsford field

[UPDATED - BROKEN LINK: Stuntman Santa got lucky when jump landed him in Chelmsford field]

At first glance you may well wonder why such a headline as the one above is appearing on a vintage blog like this and I wouldn't blame you.  I think I can speak for most areas of the country (and maybe even the world) when I say that those who write for local newspapers tend not to display the same journalistic talents as your average Telegraph or Times reporter(!).

This particular local story then, which caught my eye despite its editorial shortcomings, hasn't taken place in the present but rather one hundred years in the past.  However elements of the incident have a certain modernity about them and the main protagonist could be said to be something of a pioneer - how often now do we hear of people parachuting or doing some other daredevil activity for a charity or promotion and think nothing of it?

But in 1912, when manned flight was still very much a talking point and parachutes in their infancy, adventurers and thrillseekers throwing themselves out of balloons (and aeroplanes) was quite the novelty.  We may think of base-jumping and skydiving as fairly modern activities but in truth very similar attempts were being made a century ago.  One such trailblazer is the subject of this article - Australian balloonist Victor Patrick Taylor.

source - Naval Historical Society of Australia
Hailing from Sydney Victor Taylor, fascinated as many were by early attempts at flight and particularly lighter-than-air craft, discovered the art of parachute jumping while working in America in 1906.  Pretending to be an already-established Australian parachutist (using the name "Captain Penfold", which would remain his professional soubriquet for most of his subsequent career) he befriended a local San Franciscan specialist and - despite never having actually jumped before in his life - quickly learned how.  He spent the next two years in San Francisco, heavily involved in light-than-air travel (culminating in he and a friend dropping firecrackers from an airship on to the US Fleet moored in San Francisco Bay!), before he returned to Australia in 1908 to start a career in ballooning and parachuting.  There he undertook many balloon flights across the Australian Bush and, in an early example of fundraising, was sponsored by local government and businesses to the tune of £25 a day (with 33% going to local hospitals) to do balloon ascents and parachute jumps - the latter often dangling precariously from a trapeze mounted outside the basket.

In 1912 Taylor travelled to England and became the 376th person to obtain a pilot's licence and Royal Aero Club certificate.  It was shortly after this achievement that he was approached to perform the jump featured in this article.  As a publicity stunt Sandow's Chocolates requested that he jump out of a balloon over Hyde Park in London dressed as Father Christmas and hand out bars of their chocolate to any children present.  As the accompanying account tells the weather had other ideas and Taylor, the balloonist & co-owner Frank Spencer (Ed. to UK readers - I know!) and Gaumont cameraman (and later polar explorer) Hubert Wilkins were caught out by the winds and found themselves speeding over the outskirts of Chelmsford, Essex - 35 miles from London - almost before they knew it.

Taylor, in his Santa costume, prepares for take-off in Hyde Park
As you can read Taylor, anxious to get down, jumped out when a hole in the clouds showed them to be over open country and although his parachute opened properly he still managed to hit his head on landing, momentarily knocking himself out!  When he came to he found himself surrounded by curious locals and their children.  Quite what they made of the whole business I can scarcely imagine!  Not to be defeated Taylor gathered himself together and promptly handed the sweets out to the Chelmsford children instead!

source - Naval Historical Society of Australia

After this partial success Taylor went on to become possibly the first person to perform what we now term a BASE jump in Australia, parachuting 150ft off a Sydney bridge in 1914.  During the Great War he served in the Australian artillery, being wounded and invalided out the Army in 1917 with shell shock.  In 1918 he returned to America where he continued his aeronautical exploits for another twelve years.  He died in 1930, aged 56, from digestive illness the causes of which were never determined.

I was delighted to discover the history of this eccentric chap, who billed himself as "the Australian Aeronaut", and hope you have enjoyed it too.  It is good to see that his exploits have not been totally forgotten, particularly his link with my county town - not 15 miles away - which involved as it did a remarkable festive aerial adventure that took place almost exactly 100 years ago.

Friday 21 December 2012

Curators discover first recordings of Christmas Day

Curators discover first recordings of Christmas Day

Phew, just where has the last week gone?!  Between the last rush of work before Christmas and the preliminary preparations for a somewhat less welcome forthcoming event (of which I will say more about nearer the time) this poor little blog has been a trifle neglected.  Now, however, in the last few days before the festivities I can publish the first of two Yuletide stories that have been sitting in my drafts folder.

We go back approximately 110 years to Christmastime at the Wall household (above) in North London in this wonderful article from the B.B.C. website in which it is actually possible to hear recordings of a typical London family's festive gatherings in the 1900s - perhaps the first of their type ever made!

Following the chance discovery - and survival - of a number of wax cylinders (the turn-of-the-last-century precursors to gramophone records) in the Cambridgeshire home of one the family's descendants we can for the first time listen to a Christmas Day party c.1904 style.  I have to say it doesn't sound like much has changed in the last century!  What loving, relaxed and homely celebrations they seem - just like today.

Wall Family Phonograph Recordings | Museum of London

Thanks to the hard work by curators at the Museum of London, where these cylinders now reside when it became apparent that they originated from North London, an important record of British social history has been saved and restored for future generations.  Not only is it truly heartwarming and reflective to hear an average British family of 100-odd years ago at Christmas and how little has altered but it is also amazing to think that these fragile wax cylinders - which were soon replaced by a format that lasted for decades, leaving them to soldier on only in the world of the secretary and business executive - managed to survive for all this time, to yield their audio treasures only now.  They're a wonderful discovery and a splendid addition to the museum's archive.  I wonder if historians of the future will be saying the same about our Christmas recordings in a century's time...

Friday 14 December 2012

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight unveils new Spitfire

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight unveils new Spitfire

While work continues to locate and unearth the potential squadron of Spitfires buried in Burma, another example has rejoined the airworthy ranks thanks to the tireless (and less reported) efforts of a group of volunteers.

Spitfire TE311 is of a similar vintage to those supposedly languishing beneath the Burmese jungle, being also a late model Griffon-engined MkXVI.  Built in 1945, however, it was just too late to see action and spent the following nine years as a training/display aircraft before being largely forgotten about.

Now after several years of hard work on the part of some RAF engineers and enthusiasts and with funds raised by the Lincolnshire Lancaster Association (try saying that five times through quick!) TE311 returned to the skies yesterday for what by all accounts was a very successful flight - as you can see!
It bodes well for the however-many Spitfires waiting to be discovered half a world away that there are still so many enthusiasts and experts willing to lend their time in the restoration of one of these marvellous machines.  Even if the Burma Spits are found to be in poor condition chances are at least some of them will be salvageable and it is people like these who will hopefully perform the same magic that was worked on TE311.

Both they and the wider public will soon get many chances to see first-hand the fruits of their labours as this newly-restored aeroplane is now on its way to join a very special outfit - no less than the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, where it will become the display's sixth operational Spitfire.


What with the Burma Spitfires and now this MkXIV returning to the skies where she belongs 2012 looks to have been a vintage year for the venerable Spit.  Whether singly or by the dozen the increase in the aircraft's population is always welcome and proof of this beautiful machine's enduring popularity and longevity, which has been thoroughly well-earned.

Monday 10 December 2012

It's beginning to sound a lot like Christmas

We're well in to December now, the tree's up and decorated and if the weather forecast is to be believed the snow is just around the corner - so what better time for another selection of Christmas tunes?! I'd like to think this could become a festive blog tradition, but I'll hold off making it that yet in case I run out of songs next year! For now, though, here are some that I didn't cover in previous years. We start with some blues - not perhaps a genre usually linked to Christmas, but in this case I think an exception can be made especially when the singer is the delightful Bessie Smith. There's something quite upbeat and celebratory about her rendition of At The Christmas Ball, recorded in New York on the 18th November 1925 with Fletcher Henderson at the piano, despite its obvious blues tempo. Back in my first Christmas selection of 2010 I mentioned a 30th June(!) 1930 recording of the Savoy Christmas Medley, which I have on CD. I couldn't find the actual Ray Noble and the New Mayfair Orchestra version so used the original 1929 Debroy Sommers one instead but now someone has obliged and put up the Ray Noble/New Mayfair version, so here it is! Jumping forward almost four years - 17th April 1934 to be precise (what is it with so many festive songs being recorded in the middle of Spring/Summer?) - we get to spend Christmas Night in Harlem with Jack Teagarden, Johnny Mercer and Paul Whiteman's' Orchestra. The inimitable Artie Shaw doesn't disappoint with this cracking wintry arrangement from 1936. While searching for these music videos I stumbled across a bandleader new to me - Eddy Duchin. Quite popular in the 1930s and '40s, I've a feeling we would have heard more of him if his life hadn't been tragically cut short in 1951. As it is he and his band recorded two seasonal tunes (which unfortunately I can't date, although When Winter Comes might be from as late as 1947). Woody Herman and his Orchestra produced two cracking versions of classic Yuletide songs - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town from 1942 and Let It Snow another 3 years later. That's it for this year - I have to keep some in reserve for 2013, pre-1950s Christmas music is rare enough as it is!  Once again I couldn't have found half of these without the aid of YouTube and it's been a pleasant surprise to stumble across some more Christmas ditties that are new to me (and, I hope, to you). Here's wishing you all a jazzy Christmas!

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Daring World War II pilot's medals auctioned

Bristol Beaufighter, 1943

Daring World War II pilot's medals auctioned

 "A real 'Boy's Own' hero" is how the pilot at the centre of this story has been described and never was a truer word spoken!

In fact the recent auction of the late Wing Commander Ken Gatward's World War II medals seems almost incidental to the history of how they were earned, as part of an operation that could have come straight out of a Biggles book.

The RAF pilot who dropped the Tricolor on occupied Paris 

Only now, nearly 15 years after his passing and with the selling of his decorations, have the full details of the story come to light - and what a story! Although in the grand scheme of the war probably a minor mission (however deemed, somewhat redundantly, "unsafe") its morale value was obviously considered enough to make it worthwhile, as it did indeed turn out to be. In fact minor this action was not, requiring incredible flying skills, accuracy and above all bravery - to fly down the Champs-Élysée in enemy-occupied Paris at ridiculously low level and drop a French flag on the Arc de Triomphe, then shoot up Gestapo HQ. I can still hardly credit it, even several days after first reading about it! Fantastic is the only word for it.


Daring World War II pilot Ken Gatward's medals auctioned for £41,000

It should come as little surprise, then, that Wing Cdr Gatward's medals and associated souvenirs far exceeded the initial £8,000 pre-auction estimate when they were sold last week - eventually making five times as much!  While it is something of a shame that the medals weren't passed on to one of Mr Gatward's family (perhaps there were no close relations) or a museum (unless the buyer was such - no mention is made of it) the fact that it sold for so much more than the estimate hopefully proves that the new owner, whoever he is, recognises the value in how they were earned.

For the rest of us there is the delight in having read, after 70 years, the amazing exploits of Wing Cdr Gatward (and the extra bonus fact from my point of view of him being a local Essex lad!) that are truly in the best traditions of the service and prove truth really is stranger than fiction.  Biggles would have been proud!

Sunday 2 December 2012

Janus Motorcycles capture 1920s style

Source: via Bruce on Pinterest

Janus Motorcycles capture 1920s style

From America now comes news of a spiffing new motorcycle - the Janus Halcyon 50.

It may resemble the early lightweights of the 1910s and '20s - always the intention of the company's vintage motorcycle enthusiast creators - but only the æsthetics are old-fashioned.  In yet another welcome example of time-honoured design married to up-to-date technology the Janus Halcyon uses all-modern mechanicals - electric kick start, a 6-speed gearbox and fuel-efficient engine - to provide the best of both worlds.

Interestingly the Halcyon also stays true to the simple cruiser philosophy of the small-engined Twenties' machines, with another concession to modernity.  The engine is a 50cc unit - the same size as all those anonymous little Peugeot and Piaggo scooters you see L-plated 16-year olds whizzing about on.  If it weren't for the fact that the Halcyon, as a US-built machine, can do 55mph rather than the 31mph British law insists upon it could almost be classed as a moped/scooter.  In an ideal world youths would be zooming about on Halcyons instead of annoying little buzzboxes, but that is just this author's pipe dream and Janus is more likely to find customers among the similarly retro-minded riders of traditional machines.  You may be surprised, like I am, to think that a small-engined motorcycle like the Halcyon could do well in a land where "hogs" like Harley Davidson are kings of the road but the company owners seem to think there is a market and both available models seem to be competitively priced.  I have heard that more modest machinery is gaining in popularity in the States and Janus 'bikes certainly have the charm and nostalgia to succeed, so who knows?  

Janus Motorcycles thinks big with small displacement

I also like the fact that they're employing local Amish people to help hand-build some of the metalwork.  There's one way to ensure a true vintage look, certainly!  Having met Amish people and seen their handiwork first hand I have no doubt that Halcyons' frames will be beautifully constructed to a high standard.  I'm delighted that they're involved and impressed that Janus have thought to approach them.

Will Janus motorcycles ever make it across the Atlantic?  Well, they're still a young company and currently only ship within the continental USA (although I suppose there's nothing to stop someone travelling out there, buying one and shipping it back themselves).  In the longer term I'd love to see them over here (of course!).  I think they would prove to be very popular, particularly here in the UK where vintage motorcycle enthusiasts abound and where so many motorcycle companies - whose early machines the Halcyon clearly resembles - once thrived.  The engine is a Spanish unit, so Janus would also have the advantage of not having to do too much to meet European emissions standards.  The company has a noble and realistic philosophy that as and when they achieve it in the United States they may well start to look further afield.  I wish them luck and hope to see and hear more of them in the future. 

Friday 30 November 2012

How Ferry 1920s!

I'd actually been following this project for a while now, then like an eejit I forgot that the CD was released this week!

What am I going on about? Well for some time now the music press has featured the occasional news item about a forthcoming album from British pop singer Bryan Ferry, he of Roxy Music fame. Nothing so unusual in that, you might think, as Bryan Ferry has been releasing albums every few years since the 1970s both as a solo artist and with Roxy Music. In recent years, though, he has shown a growing interest in the music of the 1920s and '30s, beginning with As Time Goes By in 1999 which had him singing 1930s standards by the likes of Cole Porter.

Now his latest venture has him re-recording some of his and Roxy's earlier songs in - a 1920s jazz style! Incredibly successful it looks (and sounds) to have been too! There are no vocals on the recordings, I'm given to understand, so we don't actually hear Mr Ferry stretching the old larynx, but he has done a tremendous job in surrounding himself with some supremely talented musicians well-versed in the genre and who have helped him in rearranging his pop songs to get an authentic 1920s sound. The result is an album featuring 13 Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music tracks as you've never heard them before and, if you weren't familiar with the originals, could be forgiven for mistaking as actual 1920s songs.  It is definitely a welcome addition to a increasingly popular style of music, that of modern songs performed in the Twenties and Thirties fashion. I've only heard two of the tunes in their entirety - The Only Face and Don't Stop The Dance - and only snippets of the rest but even from that I am really very impressed.  I've never been what you might call a dyed-in-the-wool Roxy Music fan - I recognise their more well-known recordings and sing along and tap my feet whenever one comes on the radio, but that's about it.  The Jazz Age has certainly caught my attention, however - enough to earn it a place on my Christmas list! - and I heartily recommend it if you happen to be (or know someone who is) a fan of Twenties jazz and/or Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music.

*The Jazz Age was released in the UK on Monday 26th November*

Monday 26 November 2012

Liebster Blog Award

Last Friday I received a welcome surprise in the form of a Liebster Blog Award from Little Lil of London.  Thank you, Lil, it was very kind of you to pass the award on to me.

I had actually been following this particular award around the blogosphere as it had been bestowed on a couple of blogs I already follow - and, I'm happy to say, helped introduce me to a few more splendid ones too!  It seems to have undergone a slight change since I first received it, courtesy of The Vintage Knitter, back in March 2011.  Now for bloggers with fewer than 300 (or sometimes still 200) followers it also seems to come with 11 questions - devised by the giver - rather than the "7 interesting facts" caveat of before.  Nonetheless I'm still delighted to accept it again and take this opportunity to recognise some of the more recent blogs that I have started following.

Lil didn't provide 11 questions for me to answer, for which I am partly grateful as I had enough trouble before thinking up 7 facts about me that wouldn't send you all into a stupor.  I also could not help but notice a common thread running through the questions on each awarded blog involving enquiries about make-up, high heels, dresses and perfumes - queries I would have found very difficult to answer!  However, to keep in the spirit of the thing, I have decided to crib the eleven best (i.e. answerable) questions from the various bloggers to/from whom the Liebster Blog has been awarded.

1. What are you reading right now?
R. J. Mitchell: Schooldays to Spitfire.  A combination of biography and historical narrative it tells the [all too-short] life story Reginald Mitchell, the designer of the Spitfire, and the development of that famous fighter aircraft.  Written by his son, Dr. Gordon Mitchell.
2. What countries have you travelled to?
Outside those in the United Kingdom, I have been to: America, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium.

3. Which famous person/historical figure would you have dinner with?
If it were just dinner the historical figure would be W. O. Bentley, because then we would be able to "talk shop" and about the cars that still bear his name.  The famous person would be Stephen Fry, who would be able to talk about anything.  If it were more of a party I might choose Bix Beiderbecke historically and Robert Downey Jr. famously.

4. Does wearing or living vintage also affect the way you speak?
Yes, I would say first of all it encourages precise diction and clear speech because one wants to match one's appearance and the expectations it brings.  I also use a fair smattering of old-fashioned slang and exclamations, much to the amusement and mockery of my family and work colleagues - one of whom once observed that everything is "jolly good" with me on account of my saying it so much!

5. If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
I'd like to be an archivist in a museum or similar institution, in a dusty old library or records room, swotting up on my specialist subject while surrounded by books and folders the contents of which I'd know off the top of my head. ;-)

6. What era inspires and intrigues you the most?
It's almost certainly a dead heat between the inter-war period of 1919-39 or the late Victorian/Edwardian era of around 1875-1918.  Both have their own æsthetic delights, mechanical marvels and sartorial splendours that I'd be hard-pushed to put a pin between the two.

7. What season is the best & what is the worst for wearing vintage?
Personally for this chap the worst season is definitely summer as I just can't be doing with all the heat, which is a challenge when it comes to dressing in the vintage style and retaining an air of coolness.  Best is therefore the opposite - late autumn/winter when unsightly perspiration ceases to become a worry and I can break out even more of my wardrobe: coats, hats, gloves, woollens.

8. What is your most favourite item of clothing that you own?
Properly vintage would be the 1940s Kuppenheimer overcoat that my aunt & uncle brought over from America for me on one of their past visits.  Otherwise I have a pair of navy cords that I've practically worn out, so comfortable and adaptable have they been over the last 5-6 years I've had them.

9. What is your favourite vintage name for a female?
I suppose it depends on the definition of "vintage" in this sense, as a lot of old-fashioned girls' names are still popular today.  Sophie, for instance.  If I were to dig around for something more obscure I might say Georgina (or even Georgiana).

10. What is your favourite vintage name for a male?
Same goes for the chaps.  Daniel has long been a favourite (you can't get more vintage than the Old Testament!), while Clive also appeals for its uncommonness.  Incidentally, as a bonus fact/challenge, my [real] first name comes from the Greek for "victory of the people" (I know, misnamed or what?) if you fancy trying to figure it out from that.

11. When did you discover Vintage?
As a subculture, in that finding there were other people in the world who liked the same things as I did (and more importantly, were of the same peer group) I would say it was probably around late 2005 or thereabouts.  That was when I discovered The Chap magazine and its attendant "chap room", The Sheridan Club, which helped throw a light on the whole vintage scene for me.

There you are, then - a few more tit-bits about yours truly, interesting or not as the case may be.  All that remains now is for me pass this award on to five more deserving blogs [with fewer than 300 followers].  If the owners wish to answer the same questions, pose eleven of their own or provide the old 7 facts (or even none of the above if they're not inclined!) then they are welcome to do so.  Congratulations to:

Saturday 24 November 2012

Forms, 'phones and frustrations

"Nooo, I DO NOT have a mobile number..."
I think I've made it clear on this blog before, but I am one of the few people remaining in this world who does without (and perfectly well without, I might add!) a mobile telephone and who has absolutely no intention of getting one.  (I warned you all some time ago, when I first mentioned the fact, that it might one day lead to a bit of a rant and today may well be that day!).  I don't think it is possible for me to succinctly explain how much I hate them - they way they rob people of manners and considerateness, replace common sense and restraint with imprudence and immoderation, and encourage banality over self-reliance and initiative - and just how much I consider their "essentialness" to be one of the biggest myths ever perpetrated on the modern world.

Before this turns into too much of an essay I should explain the series of events that has led to this post.  It all began the other week when I attempted to fill out an online form for something or other (I think it was a job application).  For the first few fields all was going well until I got to the box marked "Telephone (Mobile)".  Now up 'til this point I had always been able to bypass the request for a mobile number and simply move on.  Except this time a whole load of red warning signs and highlighted instructions appeared upon my pressing "Submit".   For perhaps only the second time in my experience, a mobile telephone number was a "required field"(!).

Source: via Bea on Pinterest
Not being the owner of such a device I had to make up some vaguely mobile-like number (lots of 0s and 7s are my favoured choice) before I could continue, but it confirmed to my mind an ever-more prevailing attitude that I (and others) are encountering.  My suspicions were first aroused when I perceived that, when providing my details at the request of some official lackey or other, the question "Do you have a mobile number?" had begun to subtly change.  First it lost its genuinely querying inflexion and became almost rhetorical (with the level of surprise registered when I explained that I do not own such an infernal appliance inversely proportionate to the perfunctoriness of the question).  Now the transformation is all but complete as the question has tended to become "What is your mobile number?" as if it is a foregone conclusion that I must possess - and make a note of this term, taken from The Chap magazine, for I have yet to find a better description - a chirruping horn of damnation. 

"He doesn't have a mobile number?!"
Then, as proof that I am not alone in this, Tupney encountered the selfsame problem last week in relation to her e-mail account.  I commiserated with her in the comments section using a phrase I've coined to describe this increasingly common attitude, which seemed to strike a chord with some of the other commenters and so convinced me that maybe there was blog material in it.  That phrase is - the presumption of technology.

I suppose when there are 62½ million of the things in the country, with 85% of the population in thrall to them and the "average person" owning two of the confounded machines the odds are stacked heavily against the likes of Tups and me, leading to the aforementioned conclusion on the part of most people/forms.  Still, it is dashed frustrating for those of us who get by perfectly well without to encounter this presumptive attitude.

"People walking around with 'phones stuck to their heads..."
Yet there is still 15% of the population without a mobile telephone, so is it not jumping the gun a little to start making it a compulsory field or otherwise insisting on the provision of a number?  The 'papers are full of stories about rural broadband (or lack thereof) & mobile provider coverage and the recent record low turnout for the England & Wales Police and Crime Commissioners election has been blamed in part on a lack of information - information that was almost exclusively available online but to which not everyone had access.  We may be seeing the creeping advancement and acceptance of technology into our lives but it is by no means universal and perhaps there should be a greater realisation that folk who haven't bought into this "technology for the sake of it" malarkey (or aren't in the position to benefit from it) still exist.

How long before it becomes impossible for those of us sans mobile 'phone to get by on a day-to-day basis?  Already we are seeing the advent of "pay by mobile" in certain high street shops and car parks.  Will mandatory mobile numbers beget mandatory mobile 'phones, perhaps?  In a related aspect, many adverts and competitions seen on television are increasingly becoming accessible only for those with a Farcebook account.  Again, I do not have one.  I almost feel marginalised!


I expect I'm preaching to the converted here and I'm sure many readers who do have mobile telephones use them sensibly and recognise them for the occasionally-useful tools they can be.  Nor am I suggesting we all go back to tin cans and string; I've mentioned in the past how I like to see (and use!) modern technology fused with vintage æsthetics but I'd also like to see it married to certain vintage values and a healthy, balanced lifestyle.  Part of that should be the acceptance - the understanding - that mobile telephones are not the be-all and end-all of things and are (and should remain) optional.

Until then, my stock response of "I don't own a mobile telephone" is becoming ever more long-suffering and the numberpad on my keyboard more frequently employed.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Rare Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes book on display

Rare Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes book on display

In May of 2010 I did a post about the sale of an ultra-rare copy of the first edition of A Study In Scarlet, one of only two copies known to exist that are signed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Thanks to a comment from Randall Stock, who maintains The Best of Sherlock Holmes & Conan Doyle website, we also learned that 30 other [unsigned] copies of the 1887 Beeton's Christmas Annual - in which the story first appeared - have also survived to this day.

It is one of these other thirty, until recently in the hands of a now-deceased private collector, that will go on display at the Portsmouth City Museum in Hampshire on the 24th November - just in time for the 125th anniversary of The Great Detective's first appearance.  Sadly this particular example is not in the best of conditions and so will only be on view for a couple of months.

Still it is the least that should be done to help celebrate such a milestone, although I am sure we shall be commemorating many more Sherlockian anniversaries in the future - hopefully with one or more of these same first editions - as the appeal of the character and stories shows no signs of waning.  Indeed one could argue that never have the adventures of Mr Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson been more popular than at the present moment, with two hugely successful feature films (and a third rumoured to be on the way!), two series (and, again, a third next year) of the acclaimed modern B.B.C. interpretation Sherlock and most recently the positively-received American CBS version Elementary starring Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu proving the point.  That's before one even factors in the continuing availability of the books too, of which A Study In Scarlet is one of many still read by millions.  The game is definitely still afoot!

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Britain's 'last typewriter' produced

UK's 'last typewriter' produced

Five reasons to still use a typewriter

We (that is, the family) had a Brother electric typewriter back in the early 1990s, prior to the advent of affordable personal computers.  'Fraid I can't remember the model though (could have been an early Wrexham CM1000, in fact - they all look alike to me!  Not as huge a fan of electric types as I am of the good old manual typewriter.).  Still ours was used fairly frequently, mainly by mother for work but also by me for schoolwork (always enjoyed the auto-correct function, I must admit!) and to give the old Imperial a bit of a rest now and then!

Britain's 'last typewriter' produced

The demise of British typewriter production does have a personal aspect then, as it also seems to in a wider sense for a great many Britishers who remember using [manual] typewriters and the U.K.'s manufacturing heyday.  From my point of view (and, I suspect, a number of my readers') it has the added layer of interest tinged with sadness as the sphere of the typewriter grows slightly smaller still.  As such it may not be the kind of jolly story this blog values and is known for, but it is a little bit of noteworthy technological history in the making and deserves to be documented here.

The typewriter will no doubt continue for many more years to come both in its existing modern form and in its previous incarnations thanks to the concerted efforts of the Typosphere.  From now on, though, only the latter will exist in Britain.

Friday 16 November 2012

Graceful days of travel re-lived on railmotor coach

Graceful days of travel re-lived on railmotor coach

In April 2011 I did a little post about a 1903 "autocar" - an early form of petrol-electric railway engine carriage - that had been restored thanks to an Heritage Lottery grant.  This was one of Britain's first [part] electric-powered locomotives, a glimpse into the history of a train type we now take for granted and a very rare example being one of only three ever built.

The 1908 Steam Railmotor that features in this story from Cornwall would seem to owe something to the North Eastern Railway's slightly earlier autocar - certainly in its overall design and appearance - but still retained the tried and tested steam propulsion of more traditional locomotives of the time.

Now, having lived a life of self-propelled coach, locomotive-hauled carriage and even a railway office it has finally been restored to its original condition after decades of fund-raising and thanks - once more - to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (perhaps even part of the same pot?).  Last Sunday it undertook its first passenger-carrying run under its own power since the 1930s, along the achingly picturesque East Looe River branch line of the West Coast Railway, and will return for a further series of journeys this weekend.

Another unique and fascinating piece of railway history has thus been saved for future generations' enjoyment thanks to the hard work of volunteers and enthusiasts plus the collective might of the Heritage Lottery Fund and First Great Western.  Steam Railmotor 93 makes a pretty sight chuffing along the banks of the Looe and long may it continue to do so.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

WWII toy aeroplane bought in Bristol fetches £10,000

WWII toy aeroplane bought in Bristol fetches £10,000

From the West Country comes this story featuring a dashing tinplate toy which, thanks to its rarity value, has recently made £10,000 at auction.  It's certainly a splendid model, but I'd rather pay 9/6 for it myself...

One of only 3 known to exist in the particular camouflage paintwork, this model monoplane has a potentially bittersweet story attached to it.  Its mint condition, including its original box marked with the name of the Bristol shop that sold it (and which still exists today as a sporting goods store), proves that it has had little use and so enhances its value.  However the accompanying newspaper in which the toy was wrapped features an ominous headline - a bombing raid on Bristol - that possibly hints at why the model had never been played with.

The story behind this little tinplate may never be fully known but it adds in its own small way to the history of Bristol and the family business from where it was bought.  It sounds as though it is taking pride of place in some collector's display; let's hope its past history is just as appreciated and, more importantly, remembered.

Friday 9 November 2012

New life for old corner drugstore

Vintage pharmacy is reborn at Heritage Square Museum

Here's a happy story with a vintage flavour from Los Angeles, where the fascinating-looking Heritage Square Museum has just gained a wonderful new "exhibit". A living history museum depicting southern California as it would have been at the turn of the last century, Heritage Square seems to have a wonderful selection of Victorian-era buildings to its name.  It had never had a chemists - or to use the American vernacular, a drugstore - though, until now.

The manner in which Colonial Drug has been introduced into Heritage Square is a heartwarming example of a business coming full circle and involving three generations of a local pharmaceutical family.  For the original Colonial Drug store, started in the 1920s by Latvian immigrant George Simmons, sat only a few streets away from where Heritage Square is now.  Thanks to Simmons' stockpiling habits his family, consisting of two sons and now their children (all of whom have worked at the various incarnations of Colonial Drug over the years), are in the unique position of having boxes of patent medicines and other vintage treatments from the 1890s to the 1950s.

Now after 20 years of sorting through these boxfuls of weird and wonderful potions the brothers Simmons and their families have opened a period-specific Colonial Drug store in the Heritage Square, using all the old products kept by George Simmons all those decades ago.  It was a stroke of minor genius to think of the living history museum as an outlet for these otherwise unwanted goods and top marks must go to Heritage Square people for seeing the potential and allowing - for the first time - the construction of a new building, an exact replica of the original Colonial Drug.


So the store that began decades ago is back just as it was, albeit now as a living recreation, stocked full of original medications and still staffed by the Simmons family.  Should I ever find myself in Los Angeles a trip to the Heritage Square Museum and Colonial Drug (and its soda fountain!) would definitely be on my list of experiences.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Steam train to return to London Underground; celebrations to mark 150 years

Steam train to return to London Underground

Back in October of 2011 I did a post about the renovation of the oldest extant London Underground railway carriage - Metropolitan Railway Carriage Number 353, originally constructed and in use from 1892.  Plans were well underway to restore 353 to its former 19th-century glory in time for 2013, the 150th anniversary of the London Underground system.  I wondered then just what form these celebrations might take and how 353 would fit into them and now 2 years later, with 2013 rapidly approaching, the events to mark this momentous milestone have been revealed.

London Underground celebrations to mark 150 years

What splendid events they sound, too!  Transport for London and the London Transport Museum have really pulled out all the stops to make these celebrations something to remember.  For not only has Carriage No. 353 been fully restored - an impressive and laudable event in itself - but it will actually run on the Underground on two dates in January as the start of a year-long commemoration. 

It gets even better.  Four additional coaches of 1898 vintage will also accompany 353 on these special excursions.  One of the oldest working electric locomotives, the 1922 Sarah Siddons, will be on hand to assist in the towing of these carriages.  "Assist" because... the work will be shared with one of the last surviving Underground steam trains - Metropolitan Railway Locomotive No. 1.  That's right - an 1898 steam engine is going to pull 19th-century carriages along a stretch of the London Underground! 

In pictures: Steam train to recreate London Tube journey

I'm sure it will be an amazing experience - a real time warp - for those who will win the ballot that the London Transport Museum has deemed necessary to decide who can purchase tickets for these historical journeys.  In any event it is an incredible way to mark 150 years of the world's first underground passenger railway and begins a whole year's worth of special events including: further heritage rail trips, books & poems, displays & exhibits, commemorative £2 coins, LU memorabilia and even a series of theatre events at the old Aldwych Underground station.  So even if you can't get to see (or like me can't afford to see) these oldest survivors there is bound to be something else to take your fancy and suit your pocket.  Well done to TfL/LTM and happy birthday to the London Underground!  

*Met. Locomotive No. 1, Sarah Siddons, Carriage No. 353 and the 1898 coaches will be travelling on the London Underground on the 13th and 20th January 2013, between Moorgate and Kensington (Olympia), Edgeware Road, Earl's Court and Baker Street.  See the London Transport Museum's website for times and ticket prices.*

Monday 5 November 2012

How Pinteresting!

Some of my more eagle-eyed readers may have noticed a little (and I mean little) bit of a tidy up on Eclectic Ephemera this past week.  In reality all I've done is move a few things from here to there - much like I do when tidying up my flat, if I'm honest!  There is one new addition though, almost hidden away on the right column... that's right, I am now on Pinterest!

I can't quite remember now why I suddenly decided to sign up; I suppose I was finding more and more interesting pictures and the urge to share them when it was not always conducive to do so on this blog.  As a chap for whom "social media" means reading a newspaper in a public place Pinterest had never really been on my scope, I had a vague awareness of it but nothing more.  I still wasn't quite sure what it entailed when I joined it but I have come to the swift conclusion that it is the perfect complement to this blog and a mine of beautiful, interesting images.  I'm beginning to wonder how I ever got by without it!

Do please go on over and have a look and if you like what you see, let me know!  I've already found a few fellow bloggers' boards and am very definitely hooked.

Pip-pip! (or should that be Pin-Pin!).

Sunday 4 November 2012

'Oldest Vauxhall' auctioned by Bonhams for £94,000

© GM Company

'Oldest Vauxhall' auctioned by Bonhams for £94,000

Here's an interesting article now about the successful sale by Bonhams auction house of an important part of British motoring history - the oldest surviving Vauxhall motor car.

Vauxhall Motors started life in 1857 as Alex Wilson and Company, a marine engine and pump manufacturer started by Scotsman Alexander Wilson in the borough of Vauxhall, London.  In 1897 the company changed its name to Vauxhall Iron Works and six years later built its first motorised carriage (above).  Work on improving the design continued and in 1907 the business relocated to Luton, Bedfordshire, where its headquarters remain to this day.

Vauxhall Motors Limited, as it was from then on known, gained swift success thanks in no small part to its chief designer Laurence Pomeroy, who had only joined the company in 1906 aged 22 but so impressed the management when he covered for the holidaying original design chief that he was given the job himself barely a year later.  Pomeroy would go on to design what are considered the two best pre-war Vauxhalls and the engine that powered them.

The 1908 Vauxhall A-type was a 3-litre, 20hp car that proved to be a great success and leagues ahead of the competition at the time.  In hill-climb trials it completed courses over 30 seconds faster than any other car and was the first vehicle of its class from anywhere in the world to exceed 100mph at the Brooklands race circuit, also posting class-leading fuel economy figures.  It could cruise at 46-55mph, remarkable speeds for the age.

© GM Company

Within 2 years the A-Type (which remained in production until 1915) had been used as the basis for the new C10-Type with an extra 20hp extracted from the engine and a selection of body styles available.  After one was entered in the 1910 1200-mile Motor Trials, which were named in honour of a Prussian Royal, the car became forever known as the Vauxhall Prince Henry.
In the following years further refinements and updates were made on the basic C10-type.  In 1913 the engine was increased to 4½ litres and 98hp, giving rise to the 30/98 model.  A version of this with a lower-powered engine of 4 litres and 60hp became the D-type, much used during the Great War as staff cars.

© GM Company

After the First World War production of the 30/98 was restarted and continued as the E-type, with a more powerful 4.2-litre 115hp variant - the OE-type - joining it in 1923.  Things were looking rosy for Vauxhall until 1925, when a huge corporate behemoth - even then - loomed large on the horizon.  America's General Motors had taken an interest in the company and in 1925 bought Vauxhall Motors Ltd. for $2½million (about $26½million, or £16½million in today's money).

On that day in 1925 the Vauxhall company changed irrevocably.  What is rarely known these days is that prior to 1925 Vauxhall was considered the contemporary of high-end marques such as Bentley, Napier and Daimler.  All that changed following its acquisition by GM, who relaunched Vauxhall so that its products competed with the mass-market, everyman cars.  Models started to appear based on Chevrolets and when GM bought German marque Opel in 1929 the designs of that company too.  In the ensuing 87 years Vauxhall, Opel, Chevrolet (and Australia's Holden, absorbed by GM in 1931) have grown ever more intertwined to the point where almost all of their models today are based on the same single design and often differ only in the badge on the grille.  The last truly 100% Vauxhall-designed car, the Viva, ceased production in 1979.

© GM Company

The sale of this rare early Vauxhall is noteworthy, then, for not only being the earliest known extant example, sold publicly for the first time since it was new, but also coming from a time when Vauxhall was a very different company to what we know now.  It has had a very interesting life by the sounds of it and it is good to see it still appreciated enough to command such a high purchase price.  Vauxhall Motors has been through some turbulent times in its 109-year history but this car (or one very much like it) was there at the beginning.


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