Thursday, 30 April 2009

Shoes by Shelley

I never did show you the shoes I made, did I?

It's old news now, but I ran across them when looking for some other shoes and thought I'd show them to you. I made them a couple of years ago down in London. It was the same weekend as the London Marathon and a bunch of us from the running club went down. Most of the group, including Bill, were running the thing (been there, done that - twice); Bob had gone done a few days earlier to work the exhibition. Me, I went to a
shoe-making workshop.

I wrote about it in my Christmas letter in 2007, but just in case you didn't get that:

There were only half a dozen of us, about half around my age, the rest (of course) younger. The instructor was a tiny Asian girl who designs and makes shoes on a freelance basis as well as working as an instructor, so she was quite knowledgeable about the business and could answer lots of questions from would-be cobblers. The girl next to me was very pretty, with shiny black hair and a great tan. I thought at first she had on a shirt with ¾ length sleeves, but it turned out her sleeves were turquoise and red tattoos. Aside from that she seemed perfectly normal in every other way and I had to laugh at myself being so surprised – after all, I was in London!

Our first task was to choose the fabric or leather, the heel style (we only had a choice of flat or a small square heel) and the toe shape – round or pointed or sort of a squared-point. Then there was the choice of the lining and any straps, as we were all making mules to keep it simple. The girl next to me chose a beautiful turquoise suede for her flat shoes and ballet-style red ribbons – you guessed it, to go with her tattoos. I chose the squared toe and small heel and a Missoni-type printed fabric.

We worked the shoes on hard plastic, size- and style-specific lasts, sole side up, slotted onto poles that fastened via a vice-grip to the table edge. We had to hammer little tacks in, paint with hot glue, use a large super hot fold-down iron and a funny sewing machine with a post instead of a bed (?) (I think that’s what it’s called – I’m not much of a sewer yet either). The instructor would show us on someone’s shoes and then we did whatever she did, step by step.

The process took from 10am – 6pm both days, with a short break for lunch. It was very hard on the fingers and whilst we all had chairs, you ended up standing most of the time to have the required dexterity. The further we went the more nerve-wracking it was, as there was more and more to lose if it went sour, but I did come away with some shoes I’m quite pleased with. I’ve only worn them once, mind, and just around the house [well, twice, around the house, now]. They are definitely the most expensive shoes I’ve ever owned!

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Washington Old Hall

We did something last weekend I've been meaning to do for ages: Visit Washington Old Hall. And of course I have pictures to show you.

Washington is a town about 13 miles south of us. I first heard of it when some of the guys from the running club wore t-shirts saying they had run from Washington to New York. Of course they loved it when I was totally amazed and then explained that it was the village of New York and the town of Washington right here around the Tyne, only about 14 miles. (Good t-shirt, though.)

Sometime soon after that, I learned that Washington was in fact the place of George Washington's family home. I misinterpreted this to mean that he or his immediate family had lived there and this didn't turn out to be the case at all. In this, I was a bit disappointed, but it was a good day out and full of interesting things all the same.

I made some notes on the way home of things that grabbed me:

The first Washington was French (a Norman): William de Hertburn and he was 'de Hertburn' sometime before 1180. Funny enough, Hartburn (the same) is the little village just outside Stockton where Bill works just now. Anyhow, he had property that the Bishop of Durham wanted. One didn't argue with the Bishop and so he traded his Hertburn home for a manor in Washington.

Only it was probably called something like Wassington, Weshington, Wessyngton or something, that being roughly the Anglo-Saxon name of the area at the time (the original owners apparently having been named Wass) and evolved over time into Washington. Anyhow, he became William de Washington. In fact, another relative of our George from that sort of era immigrated to Germany and called himself VonWashington.

The property will have extended all the way to the Wear River, about a mile away, as the family had hunting rights to the river. The Washingtons were well up on the social ladder, and in 1304, Edward I (you know, the one from the film, Braveheart?) visited them. They adopted their family crest in 1346. Now, I thought this was too much of a coincidence, but apparently there are those who say this is not the source of the American flag's design. Who knows?

There were Washingtons at Old Hall until 1399 when descendants of a different name resided there. It was sold out of the Washington family altogether in 1613, which is thought to be about the time when the hall was rebuilt to resemble its present form. It was a private home until as late as 1933, but apparently suffered the dreadful abuses of being turned to several uses including a tenement for working class occupation, which saw as many as 35 people living there in 1831, ie one family per room.

The main branch of the Washington family had by then moved to Sulgrave Manor in Northamptonshire. According to the video at the Old Hall, it was a John Washington who moved to Virginia in 1655. His grandfather, Lawrence, had been a prosperous wool merchant and a Mayor of Northampton during the rule of Henry VIII. John's father, also Lawrence, was cleric and a scholar. The Washingtons were Royalists. This was not a good thing to be when the Roundheads won the English Civil War. They were forced to leave their home, John's education and promising future stopped. His father died a poor man. John left for American with his brother-in-law. And so on and so forth... Ironic that George Washington's forebears were Royalists rather than Parliamentarians, but I guess they needed a few generations as colonials to help them see the light.

On our way to Washington Old Hall, I was amazed to see signs for places near there called Albany and Concord, but Bill tells me this was part of the tourist-minded people who were involved in Washington becoming a New Town (something to do with regeneration) in 1964. Not only that, but there is a John F. Kennedy Estate and JFK Primary School near by. There are pictures and memorabilia from Jimmy Carter's visit in 1977; Bill tells me he was very well regarded over here.

It was a smaller world back in history. There are ornate family trees indicating that, given enough digging, they were able to find that George Washington, Winston Churchill, Princes William and Harry and Robert E Lee are all related. Turns out that the Roddam family also hails from this vicinity, and this is supposed to be the ancestors of Hillary Rodham Clinton...

Of course, the furnishings and decor were all of the 17th Century period but, with a few exceptions, there are no items directly related to

George Washington himself. That said, one of the displays was of a fan presented to Martha Washington by Lafayette. In looking for

more information about that, I stumbled on this website, from which I must go back and read more sometime.

I wondered if there was any American money involved in

maintaining Washington Old House and sure enough, there was a

sign that the bedroom is maintained by someone in Texas...well,

they can afford stuff like that, can't they?

The grounds were quite pinched, I thought, so much so that it was difficult to get a good picture of the Hall itself. All those hunting grounds have obviously been sold off over the centuries. However, the National Trust has just bought a small field beside the Hall and has called it the Nuttery. The house and grounds are used for educational

purposes apparently. The Jacobean garden was nice enough, but on the whole I was a bit disappointed by Washington Old Hall.

Still, it was good to finally have seen this place that's been on my mind for so long.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

California Cousins!

Since Ella's death, Bill's interest in obsession with genealogy research has picked up again. Using his subscription to he has been incorporating bits and pieces he discovered in Ella's papers. Also, other distant members of his family have joined in and contacted him to ask questions about his branch of the family. He's discovered his grandfather had brothers he never knew about and that people who visited his house as a child were actually related to his grandmother, not to his grandfather as he'd believed at the time.

One of his new-found cousins is Annette, from California; she and her family are planning to come to England in the fall. We'll be headed off to Australia for Jane's 60th birthday about that time, but hopefully will be able to meet up and spend a little time with them before we disappear.

Bill mentioned that they would be interestd in seeing Scotswood, an area on the west side of Newcastle where part of Bill's and Annette's family lived at one time. I said they might not be ready for Scotswood and he laughed. I started to write that it is a place I wouldn't want to go alone in the dark, but it's fine during the day. Then I remembered the time I took a taxi (not driving at the time) over to a flat in Scotswood to follow up contacts of a meningitis case. The taxi driver pulled into a car park behind the flats and interrupted the football (soccer) game of a handful of boys, maybe aged 9 to 12. As I got out of the taxi, the boys came over and told the driver in no uncertain terms, and with a lot of 'effing and blinding' as they say here, to move his car. He did; when I came back he was waiting for me in the street. Fortunately they took no notice of me. I was all set to try to surprise and disarm them with my American accent, but it was as though I was completely invisible to them, which was more than fine by me.

Scotswood has an interesting history, built in 1850 to house workers of the Vickers Armstrong factory, where ships and munitions were built. they employed thousands and were amongst the leading producers of ships, guns and airplane parts. Another of the area's claims to fame is that in the heyday of that factory, Scotswood Road literally sported a pub on each and every corner.

I was thinking that surely Armstrong Victers would have been a major target for bombing during the war, but at 400-450 miles from the nearest take off point, Stavenger, Norway, it was a difficult stretch for many of the German planes, apparently. There were frequent bombings in the NorthEast all the same. I found this amazing diary site that lists daily events during the war years. It likely won't be much interest to you, but imagine what it would have been like to have your neightbour's house destroyed by a bomb or to see an enemy plane dropping mines into the sea off your coast. The website also gives info about the popular movies and the cost of things during the war years. I think it's brilliant.

I, too, have a new-found cousin, Sandra, also from California. We've exchanged several long, chatty emails, trying to learn all about one another. She sounds lovely and I'm sure we'll get together some day either there or here or in Australia. I'm looking forward to lots more emails full of news about her and our wider family.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Old Dogs, New Tricks

The local library has a selection of DVDs which can be checked out for free, just as a book. They tend to be “how to” types: paint a watercolour, learn ballet, yoga, etc. Bill and I watched the whole series of Jamie at Home in this way and thoroughly enjoyed it. Another subject in which we are both interested is landscape gardening, though to look at our gardens one could be forgiven for not realizing it. I picked up City Gardener, a TV series starring Matt James, a rather handsome but campy young man who seemed to gain a bit of weight between the beginning and the end of the series.

His shows, much like the River Cottage series, were in a set format in which the beginning and ending of each were the same, which I suspect is true of most any TV series and one doesn’t notice if they are watched once a week. The middle part of each that was so predictable it went from interesting to soporific. If we were still awake at the last of the series, it was because our teeth were gritted. We quit watching River Cottage on Sunday nights because Bill found the repetition so annoying, even for just once a week.

I liked Matt’s shows in part because each was set in a different UK city, so it was sort of a quick tour around the country, the beginning being Matt walking through some landmark area of each city. Then he met the homeowner and discussed price and maintenance goals – no one claimed to have any gardening skills – and reviewed the characteristics of the gardens. Then he’d go shopping at the local nursery, outline the areas of the garden design with spray paint, and supervise the friends and neighbours drafted to do the labour. The ending was a party in the new garden, followed by a check back one year later.

One was even set in Newcastle and I paid particular attention to this one as the back yard was long and narrow like ours. The main thing I remember from that was to draw the eye diagonally across the narrow width to (hopefully) make the area feel wider.

However, just as TV cooks have to do the act where they chop a vegetable into perfect slivers with woodpecker-like speed, TV gardeners apparently have to throw around a bunch of Latin names while they caress the plant and tell you its characteristics. Young Matt spoke a bit too quickly for me to take notes of any use, even if I could spell in Latin. (That said, I just found the website that gives a bit more info about each show, so notes aren't necessary).

One thing I did catch, however, which I found quite interesting: did you know that variegated plants grow more slowly than fully green species? This then makes them a better selection for small spaces or lazy gardeners. The reason they grow more slowly is that the smaller green parts of the leaves allows for less photosynthesis to occur, and being on a lighter diet, the plant grows less quickly. Makes perfect sense when you think about it.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Retiree without a Cause

One of several memorable experiences from my first weeks living in England is of going to a movie around Veterans Day, in November. Over here people tend to call it ‘Poppy Day’ as red paper flowers are worn in support of veterans. They are sold everywhere for £1 and one cannot escape ones duty.

It was at the Cinema Odeon in Newcastle, now a derelict building awaiting decisions and money from the Council. Instead of beginning with the usual trailers from 68 other films they wanted you to go see, we were given black and white news reels from World War II. I thought these were vaguely interesting and a nice change, but then the lights came back on and people carrying buckets walked up each aisle, approaching each movie go-er, expecting contributions. The way that bucket was thrust under my nose I got the clear message that unless I coughed up I wouldn’t be seeing the film anytime soon, hefty price though I’d just paid for it. I think that has coloured my view of charity collections ever since.

Over the next few months I was much aware of the many doorways in Newcastle inhabited by collectors for various charities. Even in smaller towns one is apt to encounter at least one or two in their shopping expeditions. As I understand it, the council tends to own most of the commercial property in a city or town centre and if a shop is vacant and looks to not be leased by a profit making tenant, it may be let to a charity to sell goods. Too many charity shops in an area is considered back news by the council; my legs think it is good news, particularly if it occurs near an affluent neighbourhood.

Over the years I saw a great deal of charity work and collections at my work place, something that would never have been permitted in the State offices I worked at in the US. I came to appreciate why it was good not to allow it as one felt a certain amount of pressure from work colleagues to empty ones pockets at the office; I wondered sometimes if I could actually afford to go to work!

Observing the many collectors, the numerous and crowded shops, the vast amount of goods on display and in back rooms awaiting display, the copious plastic printed bags put through my letter box asking for clothing, etc., it wasn’t hard to reach the conclusion that charity is big business here in Britain. When in a sour mood I have had the thought that Britain is a nation of beggars, but I realize that’s not fair. It's is more likely that their methods are more obvious in some respects than in the US.

The latest trend seems to be for people to approach you in the street -- or to knock on your door -- and ask not for cash, but for you to fill in a form that pledges a few pounds a month to go to the charity from your bank account, called a direct debit. People use direct debits all the time to make bill paying more convenient, and charities have apparently cottoned on to the fact that this is a way of paying that people will frequently forget they ever signed up for...and so it may continue.

A friend of ours does a lot of volunteer work for a hospice that cares for terminal cancer patients after they cared for his mother. His wife, a cancer survivor, worked first as a cleaner and now with training as a carer for the same charity. I’m in no doubt that they do good work. In checking, I also found that they spend 30% of their income to get more income. That seems rather high to me.

No doubt you’ll have read Jane Eyre and remember the horrible home in which she grew up, where children died of malnutrition and TB, whilst the head master’s family wore furs and jewels. Given the attitudes amongst many in the upper echelons of my workplaces here in Britain, the sense of entitlement and unaccountability, I no longer find that story at all far fetched. Rather like the relationships between board members and bankers, the regulatory system can sometimes tiptoe through apologetically (I’ll not look at yours, if you don’t look at mine…). I don’t know that to be the case with Britain’s charity regulation, but you might have guessed by now that I tend towards skepticism.

The head quarters of a large Christian outreach charity was for a while located near my Dad’s house. He once remarked there were altogether too many Mercedes and Jaguars outside for his liking and I have adopted his view that one should contribute to charity only after doing some research.

Some of my retired friends are eyeball deep in working for their chosen charity and I envy them their passion. I think sometimes that it might be good to do some volunteer work on behalf of a charity, but given all of the above, I would probably need to do some investigation first! But where to start?

I've done a bit of digging over the last few months since drafting this post and found the following info: In terms of percent of gross domestic product, charitable contributions make up

Australia 0.49%
Canada 0.77%
UK 0.88%
US 2.17%

I think the fact that, in the US, charitable contributions are tax deductable, giving a return benefit -- albeit a small one -- is the key to their higher contributions.

In the US, United Way is the biggest charity, with an income in 2004 of $3.84 billion; the top salary they pay is $63o,000 and they spend 9% on fundraising, 5% on admin and 86% on services.

In the UK, one of the biggest is British Red Cross, with and income of £2.42 million (a significant amount of this is public money, ie from the government). I had to do some digging, but found that the top salary in 2007 was between £160 and £170,000 (interesting that they have over 30,000 volunteers but only 2600 staff - and those 2600 got a 4.5% pay rise in 2007). By my calculations they spend 78% on services and19% on income generation (and they keep a bit).

I attempted to look up similar info for Australia and found that the Catholic Church was worth an estimated $100 billion and that comparisons in Australia of charitable organisations would have possibly to include religious organisations; way too complicated! It did mention that the Australian Red Cross as one of the larger charities. They last reported an income of $5.94 million (AU) dollars. Their financial statement is nicely detailed -- more details than I care to wade through to come up with a comparison, much as I love playing with data.

I've put some of the more interesting websites down below, on the very off chance that you are absorbed by this subject!

Are you involved in any particular charities?

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Finally Finished!

One of the sewing group ladies, Ruby, set me the task of making a sewing box, back before Christmas. I've never made anything like it so I was certainly game, but it was a bit harder than it looked at first. I made several false starts, but it's finally done!

It's not by any means perfect, but I enjoyed the learning process. I'm pleased I know how to make this, but I don't know that I need to have a second box the same.

That said, I have already started a second box, one with a simpler shape. The second one is flying along in comparison! I'll let you know how my 'new' design turns out.

In the spirit of sharing what I've learned so far, this is my version of how to sew a hexagonal covered box.

  • cardboard: heavy card stock (or glue together two sides of cereal box, printed side in); box itself will be made of card, but card is also used to make the templates
  • wadding/padding
  • scissors
  • needle
  • thread
  • very narrow elastic
  • fabric, two coordinating fabrics for inside and outside
  • 2 hexagonal templates (see link); one slightly larger for the lid
  • square template, with sides same length as one side of the smaller hexagon
  • pocket template, squares just smaller than the sides above
  • rectangular template, 1” deep and wide as the larger hexagon sides
  • paper template for triangular gusset (this shape:)
Optional: large button or covered button

Cut cardboard:
2 large hexagons
2 small hexagon
12 squares
6 rectangles

Cut inside fabric (all with 1/2-3/4 inch seam allowance:
1 large hexagon
1 small hexagon
6 squares
6 rectangles

Cut outside fabric (all with 1/2-3/4 inch seam allowance):
1 large hexagon
2 small hexagon
6 squares
Seam allowance doesn't apply to outside band, which 3 inches in width and of a length to fit around the outside edge of lid plus about 1/2 inch to tuck under and close neatly. Cut this last, after the rest is assembled.

Either fabric:
3 to 6 pockets, using smaller square template
6 gussets – put long side of triangleon fold to cut
button cover (optional)

Cut wadding (no seam allowance):
1 small hexagon
2 large hexagons
6 squares

Pockets: On each, hem 3 sides, putting elastic in 4th side, sew onto 3 or 6 sides of interior fabric (this can be done on machine)
Gussets (optional): Put long side of template on a fold to cut, producing a six-sided shape. Fold back in half, right sides together, stitch along 3 longest sides (machine). Turn inside out and tuck short ends under and stitch closed. Sew a small tuck the length of the triangle (machine); this makes them fold inwards into the box.
Sides: Layer inside fabric, wadding and square cardboard, sewing fabric at the back with long stitches (see below) and folding corners to secure.

Sew outside fabric to other 6 squares (no padding). Sew inside and outside squares together, catching fabric on edges of each with small, neat stitches. These stitches will be visible, but the smaller and the neater, the less noticeable they will be.

Bottom: Sew inside fabric to small hexagon with padding in between fabric and cardboard. Sew outside fabric to small hexagon (no padding) Sew inside and outside small hexagons together.

Sew inside fabric to large hexagon with padding. Sew outside fabric to large hexagon with padding (optional button would be added at this point). Sew two large padded hexagons together. Sew inside fabric to the six rectangles (no padding). Sew rectangles to large padded hexagon, stitches side out, lining fabric side in. Fold and iron band lengthwise, with edges turned inward until the band is the width of the rectangles making up the edge of the lid -- about one inch in width; sew onto outside of rectangles and lid. Fold and stitch the end under.

Sew side squares to the small hexagon. If you did gussets, sew them in between each square, wider end up. If not, sew the sides of the box together, again using small, neat stitches.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Highland Myth

Another thing from The Fashion Reader that I found fascinating was the revelation that the whole business about clans and tartans is complete garbage. One thing I'd not realised -- never thought about it, really -- was that the population of the western Scottish Highlands originally were the spill over from Ireland, which is where the Highlanders got their Gaelic, their religion and their culture.

Also as background, it is useful to know that the Jacobite risings by the Scots were aimed at getting the Stuart line (Catholics) back on the throne. They were gloriously unsuccessful and this resulted in a number or repercussions, amongst which was the Act of Proscription of 1746 which included a ban on wearing any kind of Highland costume; the main aim of this Act was to assimilate the Scottish clan chieftains and divest them of their authority.

Another result of the uprisings, but also in part due to the developing industrial age with its need for cheap labour and wool, was the clearances of the poorer people, tenant farmers and crofters, first in the Highlands and later in the Lowlands. Between the Act and the clearances, Scottish culture was pretty much wiped out, and masses immigrated to northern England and the North American colonies, leaving the Highlands populated with sheep instead of Scots. And, apparently, that would have been that.

About 1760, enter two Macpherson men, not related, but impressive con men who knew each other and were in cahoots all the same. James took Irish ballads that were around in Scotland and re-worked them into an 'epic' that he attributed to a Gaelic legend named Ossian, basically stealing Irish culture and claiming it for Scotland.

The Reverend John Macpherson, a pastor in Western Scotland, wrote a Critical Dissertation which basically gave credence to James' work and together they managed to raise the hitherto lowly status of the Highlanders, romanticising them as an ancient and noble race descended not from the Irish, but from the Romans.

The next part isn't very clear to me, but the author seems to convey that whilst 18th Century Highlanders did wear plaid woven fabric (which may have originated in Flanders), their meaning of a plaid was a cloth worn over the shoulder and belted, not the longer skirt that is recognised as a kilt today. That garment was possibly invented by an Englishman, an iron worker to went to work in Scotland. He took the belted plaid idea and had just the skirt part made with the pleats sewn in. Apparently his kilt design caught on. But that wasn't the most interesting part to me.

Evidence suggests that the wearing of a kilt was something the servants, the peasants, wore, not the chieftains. When the ban on wearing Highland costume was lifted in 1782, after a generation in trousers, that class of people did not return to wearing skirts. However, the middle and upper classes began wearing this costume, that is the new and improved version of the kilt. Highlanders had been successfully romanticised as a special and endangered species. Kilts were cool.

In 1788, the Highland Society of London was founded and two of its early members, surprise, surprise, were James and John (now Sir John) Macpherson. By the time of King George IV's 1822 visit to Scotland, Sir Walter Scott, the master of ceremonies for the event, turned his back on his own Lowland Scotland, recognising that the King would be pleased to see a handful of Highland chiefs at the gathering instead. I keep thinking there is something very strange about how the English on one hand attempted to eradicate a culture and then on the other were prepared to decide it was wonderful and adopt it as trendy. Fashion is just like that, isn't it?

Then along came the Allen brothers. I gather they were English but managed to change their name from Allen to Hay, to claim they were descendants of some Scottish Earl and to hang out with the aristocratic crowd in Scotland. Then in 1829 they revealed that they had in their possession an historic document, a manuscript called Vestiarium Scoticum or The Garde-robe of Scotland supposedly dating from 1571 -- or possibly earlier -- that depicted the specific clan tartans of Scottish families. Their claims were challenged by Sir Walter Scott. They invented a letter from their father chastising them for even mentioning this secret document as a means to escape further scrutiny.

Moving on, they found another patron, changed their names again to Stuart and became Catholics. They published their book of tartans in 1842 and made all sorts of claims about the verifications of its authenticity -- Scott now being dead -- and later published a new and improved colour version called The Costume of the Clans. It looked as though they were set to live the high life, rewarded by the success of their ingenious historical painting of Celtic Scotland as a part of cosmopolitan Europe prior to the Middle Ages, hanging out with the jet set of the day. Then they over-stepped themselves.

In 1846 they published their next work of fiction, which claimed to be another piece of historical documentation. In it they claimed that the Stuart line was not extinct, that an infant son that been given into the care of some Englishman and, surprise, surprise, they were his descendants. Very soon after, a hidden enemy published an anonymous article reviewing Vestiarium and revealing their attempted claim of royal blood.

It was all pretty much over for them then, in England. Their host kicked them out, and they spent the next 20 years wandering around in the eastern part of the now Czech Republic keeping up their royal pretensions. They died poor. The Macpherson's did better: James died rich and well, Reverend John became Sir John.

And that MacDonald or MacIntosh clan tartan you paid a fortune for in some shop on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh? It's just a woven pattern made up by the Allen brothers, or some more recent designer. you think that means my family probably doesn't really have a coat of arms either?

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Back to Front Street...and Beyond

Another place on Front Street in Tynemouth that I tried to take a picture of is the Martineau Guest House, but the sun defeated me, casting reflections all over the place. I confess to not knowing very much about this woman. Her name caught my eye when she was mentioned in The Fashion Reader. But first, some background.
Before the Industrial Revolution, fashion was set by the aristocracy, who also set the rules for "courtesy". During the 18th century the growing middle classes were rapidly adopting the fashions in dress and manners; this meant that the aristocracy had to work to stay ahead of the game. Meanwhile, the middle classes were working hard to segregate themselves from the lower classes.

Apparently, it was democracy that caused this problem. The book quotes
Alexis de Tocqueville (whose observations of post revolutionary America are interesting):

"In democracies, where the members of the community never differ from each other and naturally stand so near that they may all at any time be fused in one general mass, numerous artificial and arbitrary distinctions spring up by means of which every man hopes to keep himself aloof lest he should be carried away against his will in the crowd."
So, in order to get into more privileged circles, one had to dress very fashionably and practice ceremonial etiquette to an absurd degree.
"The social supremacy of the Chestnut Street set within Philadelphia society, reported Harriett Martineau, her tongue in cheek, rested on the practice of rising thrice on the toes before the curtsy; Arch Street residents rose only twice".

I definitely need to find a biography of Harriett -- she sounds like good fun.

One of the forms of "courtesy" I never got the hang of over here was the business of greeting people with kisses -- at work. In the US, kisses on the check are for very good friends and for Grandmas. At work, handshakes or a pat on the back. Over here there were several of my colleagues who air kissed as greeting -- not that I minded it, I just didn't know what to expect. The French seem to do one on each side -- correct me if I'm wrong here -- and I heard somewhere that the Russians go for 3 kisses. Mind, the only Russians I know give me a big American-style hug when they come to my house! I gather I'm not the only one that gets confused with the air kissing business. I'm definitely an amateur, me.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Ella's Date Slice

I looked in the cookbook from Ella's house that had the most clippings and recipe cards stuck in it (The Best of Goodhousekeeping, 1973) and sure enough her recipe was there. It's not from that book, she'd written on to a blank bit of page.

Date Slice

1/2 lb stoned date chopped
1/4 pt water - boil til soft, then cool
4 oz SR [self-rising?] flour
4 oz quick cooking oats
4 oz sugar
4 oz marg
1 level teasp. bi-carb
7" x 11" tin greased. Half mixture, cover with date then level off remainder. Gas mark 4 , [180 degrees C / 350 degrees F] 20-30 minutes. Cut and leave in tin till cold.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Fashion and History

The last few months I’ve been reading The Fashion Reader (Welters & Lillithun) which I picked up at the library from their 'new books' shelf. It is obviously written as a textbook and as such is hard going at times, but I’m determined to finish as it is worth the work.

Part of me thinks fashion is a frivolous subject and that my fascination with it is therefore an embarrassment. On the other hand it is a huge and complex industry, employing millions of people around the world. Anyhow, these days I am more of an interested observer than avid participant. This book is wonderful because it examines so many facets of that industry, linking clothes to history, geography, science, sociology, economics and politics; so, maybe it’s not such a light-weight subject after all, huh?

There seems to be no real agreement about when ‘fashion’ began, that is, changing styles of dress that are adopted by a group of people in a given place and time. Up until the mid 1300’s everyone wore t-shaped tunics and mantles; the wealthy just accessorised with jewels and furs and/or used richer fabrics. Beginning in the 1100s, however, hairstyles, the fitting of the tunics and shoes shapes were manipulated by young noblemen. Apparently there were changes in inheritance laws about that time and so, with only their wits to support them, they used fashion and courtly manners to gain attention and favour. I think it’s wonderful to understand just how all this falderal got started.

Up until the early 1800’s, men had the brighter fashion plumage because of the narrower role of women in society, as that of chaste wives and mothers. Once women reached a certain age they dressed conservatively and kept their dignity; men continued with their pursuit of the latest fashions regardless of age. Strange how much things have reversed…

Fashion requires that a society have a certain amount of disposable income and for this reason up until the 1800’s, fashion was the purview of the elite. Second hand (or one might say, slight-of-hand, given the way it was acquired) clothing was in great demand amongst the lower classes. Prior to the 1700’s there were sumptuary laws, making it illegal for someone to dress above their station in life; these were repealed due to being ineffective.

Imagine being a wealthy person getting dressed in 18th century France: fashion centre of the Old World, of course. Clothing came in lots of separate bits that could be re-combined, and even jewellery could be taken apart and made into something else. Women wore huge hairstyles and enormous hooped skirts. Trimmings and accessories determined whether or not one was ‘on trend’ and clothing was barely visible under the ornamentation and adornment with feathers, ribbons, tassels, fringe, lace, etc.

A man needed his hat, cravat, jewelled buttons, sword (plus sword belt and sword knots) and knee buckles. A woman carried her pockets on a waist ribbon underneath her gown, but they were quite ornate all the same; as were her headdress, shawl, cape, engageants (undersleeves), fan, embroidered garters, shoes and pattens (overshoes required because of the filth in the streets).

Both men and women wore powder and ribbons in their hair, cosmetics, lace, gloves, muffs, decorative shoe buckles and high heeled shoes. Mind, Bill and I have trouble keeping up with purses/briefcases, gym bags, key-rings, lap tops, memory sticks, mobile phones, iPods – and in my case, sewing bag, lunch bag, hankies and reading glasses –we’d have had no chance back then.

Things got a bit simpler after the American Revolution when gris Americain (American gray) – the colour of Benjamin Franklin’s hair – became the rage. English preferences were also adopted, with the use of expert tailoring and high-quality fabrics, not to mention sportswear: today we wear “jackets”, which comes from the French
jacquet, a corruption of “jockey”. This simplification of hair and clothing styles began to replace the previously exaggerated styles towards the Grecian style of high waistlines, Greece being the origin of democracy.

Most fashion changes are gradual – or at least they were back then -- but the move towards more subdued and ‘democratic’ clothing was accelerated by the French Revolution of 1789. That Revolution also destroyed the original French fashion industry, with thousands of French clothing workers moving to other countries to find work.

The Terror of France in 1793 suddenly meant that wearing simple linen and wool garments of the working classes could save one’s life. It became unwise to wear luxurious clothes, hair or jewelry after the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. In fact, wearing long trousers was also a perhaps a good idea (san-culotte).

The next major events to impact the fashion industry occurred in the mid-19th century with the invention of the sewing machine and of wood pulp paper (enabling journalism, ie women's magazines). Also around this time, the first designer set up shop in Paris: an Englishman Charles Frederick Worth, with his partner Otto Bobergh. Savile Row tailor James Poole also began business in this era. Another invention of the time was the development (as it were) of photography. Because of this last technological advance, we all know what fashion has looked like since that time.

Personally, I kind of like the idea of going back to a t-shaped tunic and a mantle. Trish at Second Cherry found this great article in
The Guardian titled "The day I threw away fashion".

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Raspberry Bazaar

Another place in Tynemouth village I wanted to show you is this shop:

I've never seen another place quite like it.

Bill tends to pop in a do a bit of his Christmas shopping here, having several girls to buy for.

He bought me a 'hand' on which to display rings. I liked it well enough I decided I needed to get another one, which brought me into this shop.

I was pleased that I knew exactly what I wanted, as trying to choose something from all that's on offer would be extremely difficult. As you can see, this place is literally crammed full of really fun stuff!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Happy Birthday, Daddy

My Dad's birthday has rolled around again. In honour of that, we will be having his favourite dinner tonight (see #22!)

Thursday, 16 April 2009

American Pie

My closest living relative is my Uncle Pat. He’s a real character – always has been. Over the years Pat has had many varied and interesting jobs. A few that I can remember include gas meter reader, manager of men’s clothing store, bartender, heating and air conditioning contractor, maintenance of weather data collection equipment, radio disc jockey, several time Mayor of the small town where he lives and, most importantly, set dresser for the movie Twister. One never knows what he might turn his hand to next, though he is now semi-retired.

One thing Pat has always done is plays. I remember growing up that my teenaged aunts and uncles all had hobbies, ones they continued with throughout their lives: Rita’s was sewing, John still plays trumpet, Pat still does plays. I don’t know what Linda does these days, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she was still interested in make-up and clothes.

Most recently, Pat had a role in Bus Stop, for which he got favourable reviews. He seems mostly involved with the Ponca Playhouse and with Re-ACT (Regional Actors' Community Theatre). His involvement is not just as actor but also set builder, stage manager and director (including Board of -- very impressive). He just mentions these things in passing along with his other news in his emails. I confess to not understanding most of the play stuff, having never been involved in the world of playhouses (I do apologize, Pat, if I've got this all wrong.) I've been thinking lately of looking for some of the plays he mentions in the library, just to have a better idea what he's talking about.

If you look at the links, you won’t find reference to Pat, the name used by his family members; in the outside world he uses his other name: Larry.]

On one of our trips to Oklahoma we stayed at his house and one evening we watched a video of the play, California Suite, in which Pat played Sydney Cochran, a homosexual Englishman. I did enjoy watching it, though I recall jet lag caught up with me. I think it gave Bill pause when Pat said he used Bill’s accent to do the role....

Anyhow, I was pleased to learn that Pat is back doing some DJ work. You can listen to him online at WBBZ 1230 AM from 1 – 4:30 pm Monday through Friday. (This will tell you what time that is in your part of the world, once you've figured out that Ponca City is in the green stripe on the US). He calls himself a Really Old Guy and the name of the show is American Pie.

Pat plays the baker, from All in the Timing. Get it? American Pie? Baker? (sorry)...

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Cracked It!

Well, sort of... that is, I finally managed to list something for sale on Ebay.

Having lived with Rita's jewellery for about a year now, I've gotten used to having her former title as the Imelda Marcos of costume jewellery. I love having lots of dangle-y earrings and as I rarely wear a watch these days, I quite enjoy wearing some of her bracelets, particularly her charm bracelet that I remember as a child. I have not got through all the necklaces as yet, though there are about a dozen that work well for me.

However, I've found that there are some pieces I just can't wear; I'm not the right size, shape and colouring for them. There are solutions for some things: I put her baby bracelet on a gold chain and I've really enjoyed wearing that. Some of the big earrings make interesting brooches and I have a few ideas for taking some of the longer or chunkier necklaces apart and making them into something I could wear.

Other pieces have sentimental value. There is a leopard print fur bracelet that looks totally weird on me, but I remember her letting me play with it when I was a child and I will always keep it. I will also keep the pieces I remember seeing her wear and have identified in pictures of her over the years. I particularly associate Rita's rings with her and I'm thinking they probably aren't all costume. They don't suit me at all -- but I wear them anyway and enjoy looking at them and remembering how great they looked on her.

But other pieces I won't or can't wear -- some of the earrings actually hurt -- and though they look "so Rita" I don't necessarily associate them with her, well I think someone else should get the pleasure of wearing them. I know Bill is a little shocked that I could actually part with anything of Rita's and he is right, that is not like me at all! I think I'm finally able to realise that I have the best part of Rita, my Mom and Dad, my Grandparents that one can have: lots and lots of happy memories.

Also, with the remaining collection of Ella's things brought into this house, I may have finally reached my clutter saturation point. I'm used to having to move stuff to get to other stuff, but when I started tripping over things I think something clicked. When we talk about moving to Salt Lake City I start thinking about the cost of moving everything. I'm to the point where I want to only keep the things we really love. I think that's major growth, for me!

So, Ebay has been something I've been meaning to figure out for ages. I've bought stuff from there, maybe a dozen things, but never got around to the selling part, even though I bought Ebay for Dummies some time back. When I heard they'd lifted their listing fees for items under 99p I thought I really did need to get busy, so I did. If you get curious, you can find me as 'frenchbluebutterfly' (Well, they did say pick a colour and an animal...).

What I haven't figured out is how to put pictures in the description using HTML. I did manage it but then they said my listing fee was 95p, so I figured I did it wrong...or is that how they make up for ditching the listing fee?
Does anyone know how this works?

Friday, 10 April 2009

Front Street

These are more pictures from my visit to Tynemouth village a couple of weeks ago.

Manor Road which leads on to Front Street (the main road in the village) hosts some very grand houses that I always enjoy admiring.

Many of them are now broken up into flats, but they still look great outside.

This is one of Bill's favourites because each of the windows is different.

This pink house was supposedly bought for £1 million to transform into a B&B, but there is no sign of any renovation.

At the bottom end of Front Street is the Village Green,

hosting a large statue of Queen Victoria.

The steeple in the background is The Land of Green Ginger, a collection of fun little shops, formerly a Congregational church.

At the other end is the clock tower and the entrance to the ruins of Tynemouth Castle and Abbey.

To the North are these relatively new flats

overlooking King Edward Bay.

To the south, across the road from the castle, is my favourite house in Tynemouth village.

In part because of all the higgledy-piggledy windows in the back. Also because of the

views from them,

which I couldn't even begin to capture from the ground level.

At this point I gave up and came back home. You can't tell from looking at the photos but the wind was absolutely wild that day, practically lifting me off my feet. And there was this idiot, breaking every Health and Safety rule ever written.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Dungeons of Dubai

The running club gets together for a meal out every couple of months and this was the first opportunity I’d had since Bob got back from Dubai to ask about his trip. He’s been several times before both with his daughter and alone. It has always sounded like a posh resort and a good place for reliable sun; Dubai is on the Persian Gulf. Bob’s daughter, Ann, works for British Airways and gets him good deals on the travel package. He mentioned several months ago that he was going, but he thought this would probably be his last trip there; I gathered he was ready for a change of routine.

I’d never heard of the place until I came across here but apparently it is a relatively popular holiday destination from Britain. Although the United Arab Emirates is a Muslim country, they seem prepared to set aside some of their religious scruples to attract the tourist money. One can drink alcohol or wear western bathing suits at the resorts. They draw the line, however, at drunken couples having sex on their beaches, as one very stupid British couple learned. Last I heard they were facing a jail term, but perhaps they got off with a promise never to return. I gather Bob plans never to return, but not for the same reason...

He told me that after a 7 hour flight he arrived about 11 at night. The immigration desk, having swiped his passport through their machine, gave him a note to take to another desk and by and by he found himself taken to a jail cell by a policeman at the airport – a policeman pointing a gun at him. The several other men in the cell with him were Indian, he thought, but he couldn’t speak with them. He could barely speak with the policeman whose English was limited but when he asked why he was told that he had paid for a car with a bad check, hidden the car and left the country. He, or another British man with the same name and the same birth date.

What they couldn’t understand was that the thief had had residence in Dubai back in January and there was no visa in Bob’s passport, nor any evidence that any pages were missing from it. They didn’t take anything from him before putting him in the cell, and he began sending text messages to his children. Ann set about making contact with BA staff there in Dubai. After a couple of harrowing hours they released Bob, but said he had to return to the police station the next day to sort the problem, else he’d not be able to leave the country. He finally got to his hotel room in the wee hours of the morning, but said he didn’t sleep a wink.

He had his hotel organize a car for him and it came with an Indian driver. Bob said all the workers in Dubai are Indian, as the Arabs there don’t stoop to manual labour. This driver was a godsend as it turned out: he spoke a bit of Arabic and a lot of very good English. They spent 6 hours shuffling from one office to another, carrying papers between the various authorities’ offices. Bob said he fairly clung to the Indian driver, to the annoyance of the police, who wanted to send the Indian off on errands and wanted Bob to sit still with them; but as they spoke little English he felt helpless without an interpreter. He said it was a bit strange seeing the police all dressed in flowing Arabian robes.

In the end, they finally gave him a piece of paper covered in Arabic print to present at the airport check in counter when he left. If you know Bob, you’ll know he did not enjoy the rest of his holiday. He’s not a flexible, easy going, go-with-the-flow kind of guy. Words one associates with Bob are: systematic, organized, on time, in control, tidy, rigidly disciplined (just like me, huh?!). Bob always plans and prepares for everything; he likes things to go as arranged and gets pretty darn tense if they don’t. He said he barely slept, couldn’t eat much, never relaxed the whole time he was there. He wanted to be back in Britain but worried that wouldn’t happen when the time came to leave. I think I cope with the unexpected a bit better than he – or Bill for that matter (we’ve all traveled together a few times), but I’m certain I’d have felt exactly the same in his position.

Come the last day, his daughter had arranged for someone from BA to be on hand in case he had problems getting through. Bob said he explained the whole thing to the young Arab man at the check in counter, showing him the Arabic paper before handing over his passport to be swiped. He said the man was very pleasant and I gather they both held their breath when the passport was swiped, but nothing came up. The authorities had apparently managed to change the system in the interim, and I have to admit to being impressed by that. Bob knew his daughter had got him an upgrade for his return flight but nearer the gate he was met by the young man from the airline who told him they’d given him a further upgrade to club class.

Bob described the way the seats slid down into a bed position where, wrapped in the care of British Airways, he managed a few hours of sleep. He said it took him a couple of weeks at home to settle down from that. When I first heard about it from others in the running club, they said Bob was not laughing about this experience. By the time he told me he could smile in the telling and realized he had a good story to tell. He said it helped to realize that British police would likely have done much the same things as the Arabs had done and he did know that his is a reasonably common name.

Apparently there are a fair few Brits who have taken residence in Dubai, but with the recession their finances have crumpled. They have defaulted on mortgages and literally walked away, got on a plane and returned to Britain. As their funds are all here in Britain, authorities in Dubai are helpless to retrieve any of their assets. Just as well for the Brits in question, irresponsible though they are; Bob and I supposed there may still be such a thing as debtors’ prison in Dubai.

I reminded Bob that he’d already said this was to be his last trip to Dubai and this has just put a seal of certainty on that plan. In fact, he said it would be a while before he would consider going anywhere they didn’t speak English. Anybody want a tidy, very organized guest?

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Spring Gardens

With respect to gardening, I have great intentions

but don't brave the weather very well.

Thankfully, others are more ambitious and hardy; or perhaps they pay someone else to do the work.

In any case, I went for a wander in a nearby village, Tynemouth,

and took some pretty pictures to share.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009


Since I'm not currently attending any classes, when The Happiness Project suggested I should ask a question in class, I fished out the first question that came to mind and Googled it.

The US president -- not to mention his wife -- has been in the news here lately as he came to London to attend the G-20; last I knew anything about G numbers there were only 8 so I was, as per usual, a little confused.

I found this article which includes a number of numbers not relevant to the question, but we got there eventually. Don't miss the side bar item on G-20 WAGS. [Has WAGS made it over to the States? It stands for Wives And Girlfriends and originally referred to the partners of footballers (soccer players) with ££multi-million contracts.]

I can see a pub quiz question in our future, asking "What is the significance of the hyphen in G-20?"

Monday, 6 April 2009

Brother to the Ox

I just finished reading a really good book. It was one of Bill's old paperbacks I'd started at some time in the past but it hadn't grabbed me at the time. This time I went sailing past the bookmark and finished it in one day. I'm sorry to say that as I turned the pages a few came loose from the binding. Especially sorry when I went to look at its availability on Amazon and found it listed for £21 - 82! I'm guessing that's not for the paperback version and I found more reasonably priced copies elsewhere.

Fred Kitchen was born in 1891. He describes his life working at many of the various jobs on farms in South Yorkshire in the early part of the 1900's. His father, a cowman for a large country estate, died when he was 12. He was the only son with 3 sisters and his formal education ended at the age of 13. He married at age 24, having worked his way up the farm workers' career ladder to his father's job on a number of different farms. His first wife died from influenza after only 5 years, leaving 2 children. He did short stints on the railway and for the coal mines -- though not in the pits -- but always returned to farm work.

His many skills included trimming hedgerows, ploughing a field that sounds like a precision made patchwork quilt, building corn stacks, breaking horses, milking cows and the observation and diplomacy apparently required for a successful milk delivery round. This is not mentioning his wonderful plain-spoken style of writing, his ability to paint the characters he worked with and under, or his amusing bits of poetry.

His six-day week started at 5:30 am and ended at 6pm, unless the farm was short handed and the work didn't finish until 7 or 7:30. Kitchen talks about his love of farm work and of the animals in his care. Of his troubles and disappointments he writes very briefly, without a hint of self-pity, though I was reminded that ones major life experiences do tend to change the way we look at things when he said he no longer tried to make sense of life.

That said, he went on to become a lay preacher in the Methodist church and to be a public speaker about his book and his life in the country. He joined the Workers Education Association, something in which Bill's grandfather Matthew -- who lived about the same time -- was deeply interested, in 1933. He wrote his book from his diaries and later became a journalist and radio broadcaster.

He sounds like an altogether remarkable man and reading his book was both entertaining and a reminder of how soft I am.