Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Elizabeth Bowen and the Hairy Cornflake

I see there's another blast from Nigeness past on that happening blog, The Dabbler... Back on Nigeness present, my blogbrain seems to have gone into sleep mode. Perhaps it was the concussing impact of the news that the great Burmese should-be leader Aung San Suu Kyi was a big fan of Dave Lee Travis's Jolly Good Show on the World Service, and found solace and uplift in listening to the Hairy Cornflake (rather than, like the rest of us, a strong urge to slit our wrists and be done with it). You think you've got some kind of rough idea of how strange the world is, sensed at least where the outlines might lie - and then a piece of news like this comes along and you realise you know nothing, it's a whole lot stranger. But we should not think the less of Aung San Suu Kyi for this strange predilection. Perhaps it's another example of how, in all sorts of subtle ways, the East doesn't 'get' the West, any more than the West gets the East. Which is why so many men who appear to western eyes to be sad losers turn out to be babe magnets when it comes to oriental ladies - and I don't mean mail-order brides. Just so long as DLT doesn't get nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize...

Thursday, 26 August 2010

We have moved!

Thank you to all readers and commenters who have joined us during our warm-up lap in the Blogger 'beta' format.

The Dabbler will now continue in Wordpress at www.thedabbler.co.uk

We have a better design and some new features we've been saving for the proper launch.

So update your bookmarks and join us over there! You will also need to update any RSS subscriptions you might have.

Funny Old World

If I'm going to get a telephone call at work from my bank, I'd sooner it was a machine at the other end than one of those chummy humanoids who insist on giving me their first name and asking after my wellbeing. Yesterday I got a call from a machine with an automated female voice. She didn't tell me her first name but amusingly pronounced mine as 'Nidgle'. When I'd pressed various buttons to confirm that I was indeed this person, the automated voice read out a string of figures relating to blocked transactions attempted on my bank card somewhere in Panama. More button pressing led me eventually to a human, who turned out to be a sensible woman with no desire to share her first name or ask after my state of health, with whom I soon sorted things out. I've absolutely no idea how some version of my bank card (still reassuringly present in my wallet) should end up being abused in Panama, but that's the modern world for you. Endlessly mystifying.
Getting off the homeward train last night, I stepped straight into torrential, monsoon-style rain, coming down in sheets. As I strode away from the station, I found I'd been joined under my large umbrella by a cheery young lady of Chinese origin who happened to be going my way. She was visiting from Oxford, where she was studying for a PhD in mathematics. She already had a Masters, and her employers (in the City) were subsidising her PhD. Clearly a bright spark then - and she was a violinist, on her way to see a musician friend. The time passed agreeably enough under my umbrella (cue Hollies song). At the high street, our ways parted and she skipped off into the rain. By the time I got home I was soaked to the skin, the wake from a passing car having thoroughly finished the job. This morning there was a large garden snail asleep on the front door. On the inside.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Coming soon

All will become clear(ish) soon.
Illustration by 'Stan'.

Dabbler Country - The Nation's Favourite?

Here is a 'near impossible task' indeed - to identify 'the nation's favourite poem about the countryside'.

Hmmm. The National Trust might be a little more honest about it - rather it's an attempt to get National Trust-supporting types to make a choice from a highly contentious shortlist drawn up by a poet with an agenda, in order to draw attention to the National Trust and its properties. It might indeed 'raise awareness of poems about the countryside' - along with the blood pressure of many poetry lovers - but it certainly won't identify the 'nation's favourite'; that would be to 'play the same old records', so all the likeliest candidates have been omitted from the list. No Shakespeare or Betjeman indeed - or Larkin come to that - no Milton or Herrick or Cowper, and none of the big-hitting Romantics; but what is truly inexcusable is that in a list that includes John Davidson and Ivor Gurney, there's nothing of the greatest 20th-century poet of the English countryside, Edward Thomas - not even this, which would probably (and deservedly) win in an open contest...

Yes. I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Lazy Sunday Afternoon - Live (not quite) at Fillmore West

For this week's music feature, a bit of jazz/funk/soul...

If you’re anything like me there’s a good chance you first encountered King Curtis in the film Withnail and I – that’s his smoky sax version of A Whiter Shade of Pale playing as we pan across the squalid flat in the wonderfully atmospheric opening sequence.

The track is taken from the 1971 album Live at Fillmore West, as is Curtis’s almost parodically funky ‘introducing the band’ number Memphis Soul Stew ("and now we need a pound of fatback drums...").

Curtis Ousley (born 1934) started as a New York session musician, playing saxophone for Buddy Holly and Andy Williams, amongst others. Later he headed up the Kingpins, opening for the Beatles at their 1965 Shea Stadium show. The Kingpins of course were Aretha Franklin's backing band, and the Live at Fillmore West recording was made during a run of concerts with Franklin in San Francisco. It was to be King Curtis's last recording. On 13 August 1971 Curtis was lugging an air-conditioning unit back to his brownstone apartment in NY, when he encountered a pair of junkies doing what junkies do on his front steps. Curtis objected and in the resulting dispute one of them, Juan Montanez, stabbed him in the chest. Curtis managed to wrest the knife from his assailant and knife him four times before collapsing. Montanez survived and was eventually sentenced for murder; Curtis died within the hour.

Jesse Jackson adminstered his funeral, at which both Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder performed. He is buried at the Pinelawn Memorial Park in Farmingdale, New Jersey - a particularly jazzy graveyard as the remains of John Coltrane and Count Basie are there too.

Unfortunately there don't seem to be vids available from the actual Fillmore Street gigs, but the ones below will give the general idea...

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Modern Times

I was never much taken with Charlie Chaplin, too cute, I preferred the comparative austerity of Buster Keaton. But a couple of days ago I came across this picture. It is the last shot of Chaplin's Modern Times (1936). At first glance it seems merely generic - hero and heroine walk off into the sunset and their future. Also Chaplin is in his standard tramp gear so one tends to think 'Charlie Chaplin' and move on. Nevertheless, I was transfixed. Declining towards the vanishing point, there are telegraph poles on one side and palm trees on the other. In the distance, pale hills recede. The sun is low, the shadows are long and the two figures are little more than silhouettes. The raking light also shows up the odd roughness of the roadway. It is still generic, but beautifully so. But what really lifts the shot is the way the girl (Paulette Goddard) is dressed - big disc hat, tight suit or dress and heels. This is obviously all wrong. She is not likely to get far. She is too well dressed both for her tramp boyfriend and for the journey. The discontinuity is surreal and anticipates those shots in neo-realist Italian movies of high-heeled divas on dusty road or the group marching aimlessly down an anonymous road in Bunuel's Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. The picture has become generic but not in the way it seems at first glance. I must give Chaplin another look.

RetroProgressive - Fashionable tailors of Wandsworth

Rumour has it that fashionably retro-progressive gents are investing in the priceless heritage of a bygone era. For those who want to go one better than the blinging new labels of Savile Row, there’s a firm of ‘fashionable tailors’ offering the epitome of understated style. Curiously located on a perilous stretch of the Wandsworth one way system, just around the corner from the Angelic Hell Tattoo World, is WG Child and Sons, established in 1890.

The shop’s uniquely characterful frontage, strangely reminiscent of a Victorian funeral parlour, houses a fusty smelling interior that’s suspended in something of a time warp. Sepia photographs on anaglypta covered walls chart the history of the local area and five generations of the Child family. There are antique clocks, pieces of old fashioned tailoring memorabilia and original retro look books dotted around the the cosy waiting room. And, at the rear of the premises, is a rather starkly decorated workroom, furnished with little more than a cutting table, alongside a men’s changing room that’s a veritable curiosity in itself. This is much more a living museum of tailoring than a gentleman’s outfitters.

You’ll probably be greeted by the friendly proprietor, Philip Child (below right), who bears a curious resemblance to Paul ‘suits you sir’ Whitehouse. Philip, a graduate of the London College of Fashion, kindly offered to give me a tour of the shop for The Dabbler, whilst his father (who, along with Grandfather, was Savile Row trained) pottered about in the back room.

Philip explained the process of choosing a fabric and making a bespoke suit – plus the advantages of having a garment personally designed, not to show off the label, but to look and feel good. Here, everything is beautifully made and stitched by hand, using only the finest quality fabrics and real mother of pearl buttons. Suits are made up within seven to eight weeks – and, once a custom-made pattern has been created, future requirements can even be fulfilled by email.

The tailor has clients all over the world, including places as far flung as Alaska. What’s more Child and Sons can make virtually anything, from purple linen suits to tweed hacking jackets. They recently designed an outfit for an Imam, who wanted to feel at home in a Westernized business environment - so style details from traditional religious dress were adapted into a suit for him. The wedding market is also a substantial part of their business, and customers include a number of “significant businessmen, though not what you’d call celebrities”, says Child, “because they tend to go for the names” when shopping for clothes.

Expect to pay around £1200-£1500 for a bespoke suit – a lot less than in Savile Row, and worth it just to see this extraordinary shop and own a piece of quality British craftsmanship... Not forgetting the priceless stories you’ll hear from this traditional family tailors' remarkably long and fascinating history.

Friday, 20 August 2010

A-List Mugshots - Hollywood

Dennis Hopper

Hopper, then 39, was arrested by New Mexico police in July 1975 and charged with reckless driving, failure to report an accident, and leaving the scene.

Jane Fonda

Arrested in November 1970 in Cleveland after she allegedly kicked a local police officer. She had been stopped at the airport by U.S. Customs agents for having a large quantity of pills in her possession.

Steve McQueen

Busted in Anchorage, Alaska for drunk driving.

More of these things here.