Friday, 28 February 2014

An Irishman's Diary: George Bernard Shaw blows his horn


An Irishman's Diary: George Bernard Shaw blows his horn 

The discovery of a previously unpublished letter can often be interesting in and of itself but when the letter-writer is one of Ireland's greatest ever playwrights the find is even more remarkable.

George Bernard Shaw was, as the accompanying article makes clear, a prolific writer of letters as well as plays, novels and critiques etc.  As a result many of his epistles grace museums and collections around the world but surprisingly few give an insight into his daily life, most being about his work and writings.

This is one of the rarer ones, then, a classically scathing Shavian criticism of his then-new motor car dating from January 1909.  Shaw's ready wit and way with words make his works a joy to read and his personal correspondence is no different!  He was an early convert to the motorised carriage and despite it still being in its infancy he obviously thought his De Dietrich model should have been further down the development path than it was.  One wonders if the company's fortunes (and those of coachbuilders Todd & Wright) suffered at all through this celebrity disapproval!

As mentioned this quite an unusual find although not unique, with several other examples of missives from Shaw floating around the Internet.  The wonderful blog Letters Of Note has four such examples, including another absolutely brilliant letter that Shaw wrote to The Times newspaper in July 1905 regarding a fellow opera-goer. 

I've always felt that private letters give a fascinating insight into the mind of the writer and Bernard Shaw is no exception, with the added bonus of a good chuckle or three as well.  Since his letters are so witty and sharp I think it's about time I reacquainted myself with some of his equally entertaining professional works.  I hope whoever ends up buying this newly-unearthed letter appreciates its historic value and the great humorous mind from which it sprang.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

A pattern emerges

Readers may recall the massive knitting pattern haul that mater scored at the last vintage fair we both went to back in December.  Two 20-plus page booklets dating from the late 1930s chock full to the brim with knitting patterns for man, woman and child!  Mother took copies of a couple to get started and the books now reside with me for further patterns to be selected at will.

I'm pleased to announce the first garment has been completed!  It's not the one you might have expected, though.  Despite there being several covetable men's pullover patterns, mother's prerogative (quite right too!) meant the first pattern to be knitted up was one of the ladies' jumpers. 

The pattern of choice was taken from the second booklet, the "My Weekly" supplement.  Not sharing such an innate love of the period as myself, mater selected one of the more timeless designs - the "Two-Colour Jumper with a Yoke in Moss-Stitch". 

Since knitting terminology is still a bit beyond me, mother explains: "Instead of making separate pieces [as per the original pattern] I completed the cast off on the front piece but then picked up the number of stitches required from the yoke and just knitted it up from that, then it was not necessary for me to stitch it on separately.  Then I adjusted the pattern accordingly, making the sleeves quarter-length, shortening the body [mater suffers the same short body-long legs problem as I - albeit shorter!] and added the knitted flower to the neckline."

The original pattern also called for two shades of green but, of course, colour choice can vary according to preference and mater decided on a simple grey and black that only adds to the timelessness.  She very graciously offered to model the finished article for inclusion on this blog so without further ado I give you the updated Two-Colour Jumper with a Yoke in Moss-Stitch:

So taken was she with the style and general ease of knit of this particular pattern (being used to more modern patterns with varying size instructions mum did note the need to adjust the needle size to account for any differences - most of the patterns being for a 32-34" bust - and she remains very much amused that there are patterns for "the matron" and "the bigger woman" - the latter still only 38" under the arms!) mother is already knitting another in a pink colourway.  After that I am assured a men's jumper or cardigan from a pattern of my choice will be next on the list, and I look forward to featuring it on here as well!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin is celebrated

Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin is celebrated

A bit later than planned thanks to the two previous exciting news items, this event had in any case already taken place by the time it came to my attention but I still think it deserves mention here as another splendid example of 1920s jazz performed for a new generation.

Pre-eminent modern bandleader and jazz music revivalist (what a great term!) Vince Giordano - who has previously featured a couple of times on this blog - and his Nighthawks band recently took the opportunity to mark the 90th anniversary of the first performance of George Gershwin's composition Rhapsody in Blue.  Originally debuted by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra, with Gershwin himself at the piano, on the 12th February 1924 the piece was performed once again by Mr Giordano and the Nighthawks (doubled from the band's usual 11 musicians to 22 - just as Paul Whiteman did - plus a special guest conductor) at the Manhattan Town Hall - 90 years later to the day.  

Brooklyn 'Jazz Age’ revivalist Giordano to recreate 'Rhapsody in Blue’ concert

As well as this recreated version of Rhapsody in Blue Giordano and his band also played some of their standard set pieces and the whole event sounds like it was an absolute hoot - the perfect way to mark such a musical milestone.  It is always splendid to see that this early jazz music is still appreciated and enjoyed - hopefully sparking the enthusiasm of a new generation.  With this performance and others in films like The Great Gatsby and Manhattan, plus a possible biopic in the works, the Jazz Age as epitomised by George Gershwin seems to show no signs of being forgotten - and a jolly good thing too!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Bugatti 100P aeroplane reconstructed, will fly again after public debut

Bugatti 100P aeroplane reconstructed, will fly again after public debut

I could barely contain myself at this news, coming the same day as the announcement of another new steam locomotive from the A1 Steam Trust (see yesterday's post), but have managed to wait until today to share it with you.

While the name of Bugatti is most readily associated with luxury cars of the 1920s and '30s, or extreme sports cars of the present, the company's foray into aviation is less well known.  It's sole product, the Model 100, has - as the accompanying media says - been largely forgotten for 70 years; a great shame, considering the beauty, futuristic lines and design of the aircraft (not to mention its story!).

It should come as little surprise that the designer of some of the most magnificent and luxurious cars of the 20th century successfully transferred his skills to create one of the most beautiful aircraft of the 20th century.  Working with brilliant engineer Louis de Monge Ettore Bugatti designed the 100P as a racing aeroplane, similar to the Schneider Cup Supermarines and Macchis of the early 1930s, to win the 1939 Deutsch de la Meurthe Cup air race.  Between them the two men came up with a fantastically advanced design, with swept-forward wings, a V-tail (a design feature not seen on production aircraft for another decade) and two 450hp Bugatti in-line motor-racing engines driving prop shafts that ran past the pilot's seat to two contra-rotating propellors at the front.  Many of these features resulted in patents being filed by Bugatti, five of which endure on modern aircraft.  As a racing aeroplane it was designed to be streamlined and lightweight - the body made of wood composite, the large cockpit fully integrated into the fuselage with the pilot sitting in a semi-recumbent position.


Sadly the original 100P never flew in the Deutsch de la Meurthe, nor at any other time, thanks to the start of World War II.  Despite a French Government request for Bugatti to adapt the design for a fighter aircraft, the German Army's swift advance on Paris curtailed any such attempt and in June 1940, with the fall of France imminent, the single extant airframe was dismantled and spirited away.  It would remain in storage for the duration of the war.  It then passed through several hands, sadly losing its original engines along the way, before being restored in the early 1970s and passing through several museums before finally ending up at the EAA Airventure Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  It can be seen there today as a static display; it is no longer airworthy. 

900bhp Bugatti sports plane revived

For the last few years a group of enthusiasts (including, I'm happy to note, the great-nephew of Louis de Monge) have been attempting to rectify this tragic tale, however, by undertaking to build a full-scale replica of the 100P - to almost the same standard as the 1938 original (bar a few modern upgrades/alterations) - that will actually fly!  Now I'm delighted to see that, after a few setbacks, this new Model 100 is close to completion with the final unveiling now scheduled for the 25th March at the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California.  Readers may remember that that institute featured previously on this blog, being instrumental in the building of a "new" 1939 Type 64 Coupé.  Quite a suitable venue, then, for the reveal of Bugatti's only aeroplane!


Following its March appearance the new 100P is tipped to fly some time later this year and with luck may appear at European events shortly thereafter.  Whether or not it will ever reach the dizzying [projected] 550mph of its predecessor is immaterial - just seeing this wonderful design in the air where it belongs will doubtless be thrilling enough.  I wish continued good luck to the Bugatti100P Project; I can't wait to see more!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Tata Steel wins nostalgic order for steam loco No 2007 Prince of Wales

Tata Steel wins nostalgic order for steam loco No 2007 Prince of Wales 

As I'm so excited about this particular news item I can't leave you - or me! - in suspense any more; here's that first promised post.  This news is hot off the press today!

Some readers will doubtless be aware of Tornado (or to give it its full designation, LNER Peppercorn Class A1 60163 Tornado), which in 2008 became the first new-build steam locomotive to be constructed in this country since 1960 and the only existing example of its type.  It has appeared on this blog several times before (in news items here, here and here) and in the intervening 6 years has become a roaring success - breaking records, making innumerable heritage railway & mainline appearances (where it is allowed to travel at speeds commensurate with modern trains) and generally winning the hearts of all who see it.

So successful has Tornado been, in both construction and service, that the people responsible for creating it - the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, based at Darlington Locomotive Works - began seriously contemplating the building of another engine.  Now I'm delighted to see that - under the name P2 Steam Locomotive Company - they're going "full steam ahead" with their plan to construct a Gresley Class P2 locomotive, to be named 2007 Prince Of Wales in honour of HRH's 65th birthday.

Gresley Class P2 2001 Cock O' the North, c.1934source
Like Tornado's original Peppercorn Class none of the Gresley P2s (which numbered six) have survived, meaning that the Prince Of Wales will again be the sole example when it is completed (although it takes the 2007 number in deference to the original six).  The P2s, designed by famous railway engineer Sir Nigel Gresley, were the most powerful engines in the country when they were introduced in 1934.  Built to be able to pull over 600 tons of railway carriages on the London-Aberdeen route they, like so many locomotives from the early '30s, were soon eclipsed by the more glamorous A1s (Mallard et al).  Sidelined by the Second World War they were extensively rebuilt between 1943-44 and eventually scrapped in the switch to electrification during the Sixties.

Thanks to modern computing and design technologies, as used and refined in the building of Tornado, the construction of the Prince Of Wales should go ahead well - provided the funds can continue to be found (see here and here, or e-mail to find out how to contribute).  This latest news shows that work is already underway at the Tata Steel Scunthorpe facility to create the engine frames, with many more parts set to be produced by this valued partner.  It is also fortunate (although doubtless intentional) that P2s shared around 70% of their design with A1s, so the majority of parts will be easily replicated with the equipment to do so now very much in place.  Even so, the project is estimated to take 7 years - still a vast improvement on the 14 years it took to bring Tornado to fruition.  As much as I hardly can, I'm sure it will be well worth the wait nonetheless.  One of the most powerful express locomotives ever once again running full chat along our national rail network?  And maybe yet more new steam engines after that?  Yes please with knobs on! 

Coming Soon...

I'm delighted, thrilled and slightly overwhelmed (literally) today to have a series of interesting news items come along like buses, an avalanche of exciting happenings that hasn't occurred on this blog for some time.  I may end up doing two posts a day, just like the early days of Eclectic Ephemera!

Rather than use up space in another post I have instead decided to write this quick individual one by way of a "teaser" (all the rage these days!).  Therefore get ready to read, in the next few days, the kind of stories this blog was made for, including:

  • 21st century steam locomotives!
  • 1930s Bugatti racing 'planes!
  • Gershwin, Whiteman, Giordano and all that jazz!
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • and a 100-year-old Parisian diary.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Bomber Command centre to 'echo' Lancaster shape

Bomber Command centre to 'echo' Lancaster shape

Readers may be familiar with the memorial to RAF Bomber Command that was unveiled by HM Queen Elizabeth II in Green Park, London, a couple of years ago.  Until then there had been no official memorial to the bomber crews who died during the Second World War.  Now there is soon to be a second - as well as the first museum devoted to that arm of the RAF - in Lincoln, to further honour the men of Bomber Command.

Both edifices look to be magnificent.  The monument - to be called the "Spire of Names" - will tower 164ft into the sky and feature the 25,000+ names of every bomber airman from Lincolnshire who perished in the conflict.  Sitting on Lincoln's Canwick Hill it will overlook the nearby Lincoln Cathedral, which was well-known to locally-based bomber pilots as both a navigation aid and a welcome sight upon returning to base.  Recently the Spire project was given an anonymous £750,000 donation, allowing it to go ahead.

As detailed in the main article, the nearby visitor centre has been ingeniously designed to resemble the outline of an Avro Lancaster bomber, that most famous mainstay of RAF bomber squadrons.  It is also set be named The Chadwick Centre, after Avro's chief designer Roy Chadwick.

All this adds up to an excellent and beautiful form of remembrance for all the brave men of the RAF Bomber Command, as well as those at the Avro works and doubtless many more local and national war heroes to boot.  I'm sure it will be a credit to Lincoln and all the airmen who gave their lives in service to their country.

Happy second Friday of the month

If the rest of you could just keep it down to a dull roar, please...? ;-)

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Vintage lorry more than 60 years old makes it through flood waters


Vintage lorry more than 60 years old makes it through flood waters

Readers outside the U.K. may or may not be aware that this country is currently going through what has variously been described as an "unparallelled natural crisis" and "the worst storm in 100 years" (taking the title from 2013's "worst storm in 100 years) as continual heavy rain and strong winds leave whole communities in the [south] coastal regions of the country badly flooded, wind-damaged and generally counting the cost of severe weather that shows no signs of letting up.  The low-lying Somerset Levels have been among the worst-hit; Surrey, Berkshire and Worcestershire are also feeling the effects with the Rivers Severn and Thames, amongst others, at their highest levels since records began.  Yesterday the Bristol-Somerset Clifton Suspension Bridge was closed for the first time in its 150-year history due to high winds.  I doubt many of us will forget the images from Dawlish in a hurry either.

It makes the roof leak in my flat's building pale in comparison and I'm forever thankful that the part of the country I live in has remained largely unaffected.  My thoughts go out to all those who are going through tough times, whose homes are flooded and livelihoods turned upside-down.

Amid all the doom and gloom the "Dunkirk Spirit" lives on, however, and there are one or two positive stories to be found.  It is looking increasingly likely that old sections of railway branch line on the main Devon and Cornwall route, dormant since the Beeching Cuts of the 1960s, may be rebuilt and reinstated while the Dawlish section is repaired (and possibly continue on afterwards to help mitigate any further potential damage).

While in Norfolk the Locks Inn pub near Beccles, close to the River Waveney, has also experienced flooding.  Instead of being cut off and starved of oil fuel for the pub, however, the landlords were saved by a local supplier and his 1952 lorry!  In shades of the 2010 Tornado steam train snow rescue, Berry Oils Ltd's 62-year-old Morris Commercial LC4 was able to cross the depths of floodwater with ease and save the Lock Inn from a nasty situation.

Proof once again that old technology can still have its uses in times of crisis, this titbit of vintage-related news is a welcome piece of positivity in these damp and sodden times.

My blogging ethos and taking the corporate shilling

I've been toying with the idea of writing this post for some time now but since the subject has been playing on my mind again lately I figure I might as well get it off my chest.

I've said it before and I'll say it again that in the near-five years I've been writing this blog it has evolved beyond my wildest imaginings into what I hope is a bona fide vintage blog able to sit alongside its peers.  Last year I wrote my first collaborative, sponsored piece and I continue to have high hopes for the future of Eclectic Ephemera.

Even before that Hawes & Curtis post last December I had many calls from those close to me to "make more" of this blog and take it in a direction where I might actually earn some money from it (seeing as times are tough at Partington-Plans Towers).  It was pointed out to me that my links to purveyors of Classic & Vintage Clothing and Accessories are little more than "free advertising" for the companies therein and that it is foolish of me to send business their way and expect nothing in return (this presupposes that someone actually reads my blog, clicks on a link and then buys something from the shop in question, something which I consider rather unlikely to say the least).  Perhaps, it has been suggested, I ought to approach all these companies whose products I like and admire and demand that they provide me with some tangible benefit in exchange for a place on my blog.

Now I know that there are many successful vintage bloggers out there (who I admire) who do sell advertising space on their blogs to businesses relevant to their (our) interests, or who offer sponsorship deals, product reviews etc.  Frankly a lot of it is all a bit beyond me even at this stage, although I wouldn't rule any of them out for the future.  I'm sure the benefits to both parties are worthwhile, but I don't pretend that I am in their league.  Just recently this blog passed 300,000 pageviews (although that's using the notoriously inaccurate Google Stats - with something like Google Analytics I'm sure the figure would be far lower).  I have 182 valued Followers (plus 60 on Bloglovin', although some if not all of them will also be among the original 182).  But the likes of Fleur, Jessica, Jill and Gemma (among others) have upwards of a thousand Followers and probably 300,000 pageviews every year (all fully deserved).  In comparison I have never considered myself anything other than a complete amateur, with a capital A.  I have no custom domain address.  My blog template is a simple Blogger one, tweaked here and there as best I know how.  My pictures still sometimes appear gappy; I occasionally curse Blogger's embed function (and others) to this day.  I barely know my HTML from my HDMI.  I post what I like to read about and what I hope you like to read about as well.

My attitude to this blogging lark therefore puts me in a bit of a quandary when it comes to advertising/ sponsored posts.  As mentioned I still currently see myself as an amateur - a gentleman amateur if you will (a description that has elicited exasperated bewilderment from some quarters) - and the idea of paid advertising is one I still have some difficulty reconciling with.  I don't want to alienate anyone.  Is it for me to put you through looking at distracting banners each time you visit?  But like any advertising you could just choose to ignore it, right?  Is it any different to the links bar and other banners on this blog?  But, in the spirit of amateurism and the real friendship that exists in the vintage blogosphere, is it not a public service to point out these sites - many (although admittedly not all) of them small independents - where we can find clothing and other items intrinsic to our lifestyle that are difficult or impossible to get on the high street?  I sometimes get the feeling that I'm being encouraged to participate in a world where everything has a price, where good fellowship and helping other enthusiasts is naïve and outmoded, and it makes me feel sad - and old.  I suspect we've all had that feeling once in a while(?).

My positive experience with H&C has proved to me that collaborations can work - and work well - and as I say I wouldn't rule out doing similar again.  But it must be on my terms and I'm still working out in my mind what is best for this blog and for you, dear readers.  I'm still on the first tentative steps towards this potential path, still learning the ins and outs of "social media" and I remain unsure of it all.  I enjoy blogging, I admit it is an escape but it is a joy to maintain and share.  I don't want to wake up one day feeling I have an obligation to it, or to end up resenting it because of some commercialisation - that I've maybe "sold out".  On the other hand it is everyone's dream to be paid to do what they love and there are many professionally-written blogs out there, even in the vintage blogosphere.  But what does it entail, being a self-employed writer/social media whatsit etc.?  I suspect quite a lot.  Always I wonder if what I write is of any real value.  Just words spewing forth from m'brain really; my thoughts on interesting stories I find.  I get told by these same people that my writing [style] is very good, a genuine skill I should be proud of (and paid for), and maybe it is but without doubt there are others out in the æther whose prose is the equal of mine if not better.  Could it really be mine is worth as much?

To potentially interested parties I say: don't let this stream of consciousness put you off contacting me - I can only say "No"!  I just felt the need to get this off my mind and throw it out there where I can maybe gauge reaction and hopefully find similar thoughts and opinions.  I've got a lot of classic Eclectic Ephemera subjects on the way after this too, so normal service will resume shortly!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Captain Hastings - by the sea and on the deck

I was delighted to receive an e-mail yesterday from a reader telling me how much he enjoys my Captain Hastings posts and asking for my advice on the ideal style of braces to create the Hastings look.  Hopefully I've helped to steer him on the right track (little old me being asked sartorial questions!  Golly gosh, I'm flattered!); it reminded me as well that it's been a while since I last did a Captain Hastings post (have I won, girls - has Captain Hastings trumped Miss Lemon in the style icon stakes? :p).  Time to rectify that oversight, methinks!  Since it has been so long since our last encounter (October, I think it was) I'm going to treat you all to a double-bill to make it up.

He's back!

We return to the first series with these two (I still don't think I can bring myself to cover Curtain just yet!) and jump about a bit, since I originally skipped Problem At Sea thinking it didn't have much in the way of Hastings' wardrobe - wrong again!

As the title suggests, the action takes place on a small Egyptian cruise liner.  A holidaying Poirot and Hastings end up investigating the death of one of the passengers, but they still get the chance to do a little sightseeing and exploring.

I've sort of gravitated away from short-sleeved shirts as I've got older (if it's that warm,
just roll up your shirtsleeves say I).  But Captain Hastings proves it's still a valid look when
on holiday, teamed with white slacks and a cravat (plus pretty girl and shotgun).

Hastings takes the time to teach one of the female passengers the finer points of clay pigeon shooting.  One of the many amusing scenes in the early Poirots, as the rather ditsy girl gets carried away with Hastings' instructions to "pull" leaving our hero to quickly attempt a shot!

This is more the kind of thing, though!  The trusty white double-breasted tropical
suit (linen or lightweight cotton, probably), striped shirt and tie all present and correct
Oh, and the hat.  The hat!

(White suits are hard to get away with in Britain, in my experience, even in the height of summer.  One is almost certain to be likened to one of the following - author, B.B.C. reporter and ex-[local] MP Martin Bell (aka The Man in White), The Man from Del Monte or, as previously mentioned, Michael Jackson.  So sadly it is probably best to follow Captain Hastings' lead and reserve this look for foreign climes.)

Oh I do love his expression - so serious!

When on holiday no true Englishman passes up the chance to make a complete fool of himself, and Captain Hastings nobly upholds that tradition not once - but twice!

Note - if you can! - his shoes.  They appear to be brown with some white striping. 
Whether they're co-respondents or some sort of summer shoe I can't tell, but I do like
them and I'm sure they set off his proper outfit splendidly.
Another look at his excellent suit.

Following the murder aboard the yacht, suspicion falls on either the local hawkers or a creepy-looking steward.  All this gives Poirot and Hastings a chance to investigate further.

I'm not normally a fan of the safari suit/jacket but Captain Hastings pulls it off
with aplomb.  The contrasting black trousers are a helpful touch, topped off with
a cravat and Panama hat.
A closer look at the hat.  What I absolutely love about it is that matching blue trim
around the brim.  It's so simple yet it really adds something typically English to it
(it also puts me in mind of one of Michael Redgrave's outfits in
The Importance of Being Earnest

With such a dapper associate by his side it's no time at all before Poirot solves the murder - and we get some good ideas for summer/holiday wear.

Returning to chronological series order finds us at The King of Clubs, swapping the tropical climate of Egypt for the damper one of autumnal England.  Hastings takes Poirot to meet his film director friend Bunny Saunders:

That marvellous leather driving coat first seen here, what is probably a blazer underneath
and an absolutely first rate roll neck cable knit jumper.  No wonder he's smiling!

There's trouble afoot between the star and producer, though, and before you can say "Good Lord!" the latter is dead.  With the actress implicated in the murder, it's Poirot and Hastings to the rescue!

Captain Hastings has swapped his coat for something a bit plainer, but still he
makes it look stylish.  The gloves, the contrasting suit trousers, it all works.
Add the brown trilby and Captain Hastings is ready for anything!
A classically '30s double-breasted peak lapel jacket, contrasting pattern tie and a
spearpoint collar shirt.
A closer look at the tie; again a typically lovely Thirties pattern.
Sod Sherlock - look to this man for the perfect turned-up coat collar look!
(I'd forgotten how much I adore his expressions too...!)
A better angle to show off that wonderful spearpoint shirt collar (and small tie knot).

All's well that ends well in the end, of course, and Poirot and Hastings head off to further adventures.

The double-breasted pocket-crested blazer first seen here, beautifully accessorised
with a red pocket square, paisley(?) cravat and grey trilby

I hope that this more than makes up for 4 months of Captain Hastings-less and I promise it won't be another quarter-year before the next instalment - The Dream.  No accompanying video this time I'm afraid - YouTube seems to have had one of its periodical clear-outs and Poirot has suffered.  You'll just have to get the DVDs, if you haven't already (what's the matter with you then?!) and tune in here again soon for another Captain Hastings post!


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