Friday, 27 April 2012

Chap Magazine Savile Row Demonstration.

Last Monday I attended a demonstration held in Savile Row to demonstrate against Abercrombie and Fitch opening a branch of Abercrombie Kids in the least appropriate place: Savile Row itself. This was organised by the Chap Magazine and is a welcome return to the ‘agit-fop’ of the past. The magazine is incorrectly regarded by the idiotic as reactionary. Anti-corporate and  touch anarchic is closer to the truth. 

I arrived at 9.15 to find a picket line already formed and slipped in between a couple of friends. Gustav Temple was there to attempt to lead the troops and Atters, well Atters was there messing around with a whip. Having walked around the corner the ever excellent Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer led us in a chorus of Give Three Piece a Chance. The building Abercrombie Kids wants to occupy is the former headquarters of Apple, the Beatle’s company. Having made our opinions known we dispersed, predictably to the French House for a debriefing.

Impressions of the day? The vehicles ranging from the omnipresent white van to the odd Jaguar tooting their support or vocally expressing it from windows. The very stylish arrival of the vintage news team in the Row, emerging from an equally stylish vintage car. A passing Chief Inspector of the Metropolitan Police nipping over to tell Sara and I that this was the most stylish demonstration he’d ever seen. The pleasure of seeing so many smart ladies and dapper gents loitering on one of London’s most stylish streets. Meeting the charming lady who said she read this blog (always a pleasure to run into people) and finally the amiable jolly atmosphere.

There was lots of press, perhaps unsurprisingly. What did surprise me is that on Tuesday there was a picture of me with the lovely Sara and another comrade in the Times (see below). I like the rain and wind proof tweed I am wearing but it would have to have been one of those days when your hair just won’t set!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Let's face the music and Dance!

I have catholic tastes in music, I love ska, early 80’s Goth, classical overtures, musical theatre and Buddhist chants. All of these have the added advantage of being easy to dance around to. Yes including classical: have you never marched like a monster to Peer Gynt or swung around the room to Liszt? No? your loss! Buddhist chants you can slowly move from side to side to, mind you the same could be said of most sounds.

However some of the other music I love such as 20’s dance music, big band sounds and fifties R & B pose a dilemma. They are difficult to dance to, you need a partner, you need to actually learn to dance and you have to know how to dance! Quite apart from this there are personal factors, are you fit?  Do you have any aptitude at all?

This post is for those like me. The ones who have the co-ordination of a drunken bumblebee, who have to hold their left hand up to see that the thumb and forefinger form an ‘L’ just to confirm that it is actually left, those who are single and feel guilty at inflicting their cumbersomeness on some poor stranger and those who cannot actually move their hands and feet, at the same time, in any meaningful way. Is this you? If so welcome to the club. No doubt you have spent years like me, propping up the bar watching shimmying slippery eels of couples bounce sway and hop their way around each other . Very entertaining, but you do feel left out and let’s face it: dead jealous.

Sitting out the dance...

Finding myself single and with a bit more time on my hands I finally determined that  even if was a bit rubbish this was becoming a bit ridiculous and I determined to have a go. You cannot go through life only doing things you are naturally good at. At the very least I might master a couple of the group dances. At worst I would at least know that I really can’t dance but have had a bit of exercise. At best I might even enjoy myself.  The next question was what to learn? For my money Salsa and Ceroc have an element of being 'a good place to meet the opposite sex' about them, something that is not my priority. I had attempted Lindy Hop in the past but it hadn’t worked at all. Perhaps because the class was too big and I kept on having to sit it out due to lack of leads.  In retrospect Lindy did not seem to be at all simple, a bit fussy and I was simply bad at it. So I settled, because I am particularly fond of fifties music, on Jive.

The question next was where to go? there are a plethora of classes out there. Location is important, after a day at work travelling across London and back is a trial and exhausting to boot. The risk is that after a particularly hard day it would be too easy to just back out and head home for a plate of pasta in front of The One Show. I also determined to do a small set of classes for beginners and pay up front in order to encourage me to keep on going. Finally and perhaps most usefully I went with my similarly dance phobic friend Ed (thanks Ed!). 

Telegraph Jive.
I took five short classes at Telegraph Jive, it was held upstairs in a pub in an area which was easy for me to get home from at night and was taught by two people I know and like: David and Kezia .It was a small class with friendly people and a relaxed enthusiastic approach. Predictably I did not emerge as a natural dancer and would gripe and grump during the sessions. I also had to deal with a minor operation which resulted in one lesson where, rather than twirling I was staggering around like an inebriated Tinkerbell!   Having persevered though I was much better after this very short course than when I started but perhaps more usefully it removed some of ‘the fear’. Most pertinently I occasionally even started to enjoy it. So for a beginner in South London I cannot recommend these classes highly enough. The pub was quite nice too.

So where does that leave me? Well my friend and I went to Hula Boogie which was great fun, but involved little dancing as I was a bit cowed by the quality of the people there, entirely my fault. I would always recommend Hula Boogie as a good night out with cheap cocktails to anyone though, dancer or not and will pop along again next month. Diamond Jive classes and nights are also held in my local area, I tried their drop in class last Monday and although I’m not really up to scratch at all the people there were friendly and I like the teacher: Frankie. So I  hope to get to make it to more of these.

Bit mystified by the legs here...
Will I ever be able to jive properly? Who knows? It might take, I might be able to try other types of dance, or not. On the other hand it is actually enjoyable and seems to be a scene where most people just want to enjoy themselves and the music. Even this non-dancer has picked up a certain tendency towards aloofness and up-themselvesness in some dancers/scenes.

One of my problems has always been that I often look like I can dance, my soft spot for wide trousers, bandanas, red lippy and retro frocks signals a capability that is absent. It is worth pointing out that many of us spend our time in a dance rich environment, it comes with the territory.  At least if some brave man asks me to dance now at  one of the many dance rich events I attend I can point out that I am a beginner but actually get up and have a go; when you are a ‘can’t dance, won’t dance’ person that is real progress.  So my advice to my fellow ‘two left feeters’ is to give it a try, it can't hurt. xxx

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Jubilee celebrations: Victorious Vintage.

You cannot have failed to notice the sea of red, white and blue taking over the shopping aisles at the moment. So far fortunately the Jubilee memorabilia is overtaking the tatt on sale to mark the sporting event we have to endure later in the year. Currently you can even buy red, white and blue fondant fancies. Of course there are lots of events, and if you don't have jelly, ham sandwiches and warm beer on trestle tables lined up for your street a number of things are being arranged to tap into any need for public celebration. 

On the vintage front, with the coronation having been in the fifties and the dumb vintage obsession with bunting and cup cakes, plenty of so called 'vintage' events have jumped into the breach. I'd be very wary of most to be honest. For my money the best is likely to be Victorious Vintage which is being held on 2 - 3rd June. My reasons for suggesting this one are threefold. One is that it is being held in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. We are a maritime nation shaped by the sea and our most iconic boat, Nelson's Victory is docked there. I think being beside the sea rather than in say a big park and being surrounded by our naval history makes this a wonderfully patriotic venue. And if you cannot be overtly patriotic on a royal jubilee when can you be? I also think that being near ships will be a nice mental counterpoint to the flotilla sailing down the Thames.

My second point is that it is actually free, no venal bandwagon-jumping types will be charging you entry, the museums and so forth will still charge but the music, vintage fair and performances will be free. The music is eclectic but concentrates on simply entertaining visitors. Headlined by Dodgy and the Lightning seeds there are a number of tribute bands and a variety of musical tastes but all tending towards the celebratory will be playing.You can see a list of performers in the flyer below.

Lastly there is the fact that Portsmouth is a very English city, from it's Georgian captain's housing, it's raucous football fans, it's fish and chip shops and general airiness make it English. It is not too much of a hike from London and hotels and b&b's tend to be inexpensive.

Fleure de Guerre enjoying Portsmouth

Basically I get the idea that although this has vintage in it's moniker, being by the brine, with the Victory in the back ground and the seagulls crying it will not have to try hard to feel retro. It seems more that the intention is to provide a good happy day out. By not charging it is not being limited to being a day out for afficianados or those who think the whole thing is trendy but should be full of children, their grandparents, everyone else in between and local people. If the sun is out it could be, other than in a barge on the Thames, the best place to be. It is also the perfect excuse to put on something naval and see if you can pick up a sailor!  xx

Thursday, 12 April 2012

*Stop press* Chap Olympiad Tickets on Sale.

I don't like sport, it bores me rigid. I don't begrudge those who do their fun, but I regard the Olympics as an immoral corporate money making exercise. Small nations cannot afford to send teams and those that do are patronised. It is supposed to be a beacon of equality yet nations that effectively ban an entire gender from sporting life are welcomed. Londoners have paid towards this yet receive nothing but inconvenience, danger and hordes of tourists (which we have any way during any given year). Wonderful cultural projects have been shelved perhaps permanently and heritage projects abandoned which may permanently damage our country. Large numbers of the transient jobs created went to non-Londoners and many of the contracts were filled abroad. We are likely to make a loss on this and Stratford's new facilities are of no use to us in South London where our sporting facilities are being allowed to rot.

However fortunately we have the Chap Olympics. It is amateur, anyone can come and everyone has a chance of competing. This year it is spread over two days, the Sunday already being termed by many the Para (lytic) Chap Olympics. There is the option to sit around and do very little, the option to dance, you are in the generally civilised environs of Bloomsbury and there is no need to don revolting lycra or even more revolting trainers. Additionally little chaps are welcome as are little canine chaps (although the latter can end up suffering from sausage fatigue as everyone feeds them).

Of course every event has it's set backs. The weather is unpredictable (veterans of the great deluge of 2011 will recall enjoyment was wrung out of damp picnic blankets anyway). And the booze prices can seem steep, although I suspect they will be a darn sight cheaper than those at the 'other' event. Also you do have to pay, twenty squiddlies a day (£30.00), which seems perfectly reasonable to me for hours of good sometimes decent fun.  Security and licensing are not cheap in London. On the other hand all Londoners have to factor in is the price of the night bus home, and the alcoholic refreshments.

One of the nice elements of the event is the diversity of competititors and spectators. Steampunks, Goths, tweed clad explorers, fifties pin ups, stray RAF officers, wandering bedouin, swimmers looking for water, evening dress clad gigolos and victorian clergymen all wander around happily. The people in fake taches and flapper headbands are in a minority that can be happily welcomed. Hopefully the fun had at this event will survive in my memory long enough to cancel out what is to follow (I am planning a twin peaks/game of thrones dvd watching marathon for the end of the month to replace the hours of lycra on television).

Tickets and details can be found here 
Also information about past Olympiads here

Hope to see some of you there! xx

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

West Norwood Feast.

The bit of London that is Norwood is an enigma to many Londoners, especially those who live up North. It is actually one of the largest areas in the capital, stretching all the way from Tulse Hill to South Norwood and including areas like Belvedere, Sydenham, Crystal Palace, Norwood Junction, Central Hill, Knights Hill and Gipsy Hill. For most it is merely the place that has three identifiable train stations.

It doesn't help that until very recently Lambeth council has virtually ignored its Northern regions pouring millions of pounds into that virtually unsalvageable wen Brixton (also loveable in a few scuzzy ways) and allowing Norwood and Streatham to slowly decay. Of course we also have our fair share of shootings, monosyllabic morlocks in hoodies and those twin signs of poverty: all night barbers and friend chicken shops.

This aside the place is diverse, the rich and the poor are still shoved together unlike other London areas which have been totally gentrified. The place is a rich artistic stew of influences and activities. With a roll call of famous past residents, a heavy presence in classic films and not a few artists and craftmans plus some industry it is an interesting place; just one that hides it's charms.

The residents of West Norwood, most famous for it's cemetery, grand Spurgeon church,literary connections and the fact that Adele used to live above the local plastic shop, have decided to take matters into their own hands. On  the first Sunday of every month a  stalls and traders appear like mushrooms clustering in little patches and corners of the area to do what the locals do best, meander about, eating and drinking. Especially the drinking.I had a quick wander around the first one of the year, fortuitously on a fine sunny day and took some photos. The home page for the West Norwood Feast can be found here.

It is called the Norwood Feast and has a little vintage market, crafts market, food area and garden market. Additionally there is live music and a play area for local urchins. I wandered around and took some piccies:

The Jerk chicken boys, South London has the best jerk chicken, stuff Nandos.
Sitting in the sunshine in front of the beer, cider and mead tent.

Vintage  suits
1930's manicure case

Food stalls outside St Lukes.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Save Savile Row! from a sea of buggies and expensive tot wear.

Abercrombie and Fitch have decided to open a store on Savile Row, not unsurprisingly the bespoke tailors that the street is famous for are not happy. Some media commentators have gleefully seized upon this as a battle between new brash American company and snobby backwards London tailors. 

The issue here is not one of elitism vs clothes for the masses. Nor is it down to snobbery. I have to declare myself as being someone who is mystified by the appeal of cheaply manufactured, logo-rich infantile clothing, Abercrombie and Fitch, Jack Wills and Superdry are all equally guilty. At least in this case the fact that the clothes are infantile is justified by the plan to open a kids store on Savile Row. 

I might think the clothes are crap but each to their own, and in a recession any business hiring British labour and paying taxes is very welcome, even if A & F’s recruitment policy is infamously eugenic in nature.  The issue is the location and the nature of London, its character and its long term future as a destination of charm and character.  This shop would have been perfectly at home in Oxford Street, Regents Street, Westfield, Knightsbridge or a dozen other locations all of which are more suitable for those with buggies and children in tow. Please,  Abercrombie and Fitch, pitch yourself there. Look at the habitual queue for the nearby adult store, it is nice that it is popular but this kind of kerfuffle will ruin the atmosphere of Savile Row proper, what about the unfortunate smaller tailoring businesses? it takes concentration. Will their international clientele be prepared to push through groups of parents, toddlers and teenagers yearning for bright hoodies and baggy shorts?

It is completely inappropriate in a small street with centuries of links to artisans who have been steadily squeezed out of many parts of London. There will be a sector who will respond with a shrug, after all who cares about an elitist trade that many people will never be able to use? It is progress for commerce to take precedence in a city. But the fact is that is not the entire story with London.  Savile Row suits are more than a luxury indulgence; they are part of the fabric of this City. A major appeal for tourists is this heritage/historical/individualistic element and we need tourism. London already has areas, like Oxford Street or the City of London where traditionally bugger all attention is paid to atmosphere or style.

Savile Row has a timeless stylish sophisticated edge; Love 'em or loathe 'em children kill style, elegance and sophistication. What they are about is noise, buggies, colour, fun and mess.  Savile Row does not have wide pavements and car parks, I already take a detour to avoid walking in front of Hamley’s Toy Shop on the capacious Regents Street to avoid the chaos, I'd hate to have to do the same for part of Savile Row.

I can see why Abercrombie and Fitch want to ride, for status and to justify their silly prices (far sillier in real terms than the price of a Gieves and Hawkes shirt) on Savile Row’s elegant coat tails. But they have already diminished the character and suavity of the street with another shop in the vicinity. This isn’t about snobbery, I am female, I am not going to buy a suit or jacket there, but it is another lovely little street to dawdle about in and one that is world famous.  So synonymous with good quality is it that in Japan a tailored suit is simple known as a sebiru  (a Savile Row).  The quality of streets are easily damaged by bad planning and the tendency to back commerce at all costs. Look at the once famous book shops of Charing Cross Road? Now replaced with TK Maxx, chain restaurants and grubby tourist tatt.  I’m not convinced that the increasingly venal Westminster Council care, but there have been a few wise council decisions recently in London so one can only dare hope.


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