Monday, January 28, 2008

Back soon...

I'm not dead and haven't given up the blog or anything, I've just been ill, having tests and that sort of stuff. I'll be back when I feel less crap and have something to write about.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Slightly antique body armour

I read quite a few of the British police blogs, and I admit I like the odd post where they complain about their uniforms. These usually attract a fair amount of comments from other officers too. I find it interesting because it's a load of men talking about their clothes in great detail. Looking at this invention, maybe it could have been a bit worse if they'd lived in 1950's Detroit.

This design for police riot kit featured in Mechanix Illustrated (September 1956). It was intended to protect Detroit 'men in blue' against rioters and gunmen. The police were supposed to fire through the portholes, which were made from bulletproof glass. Other handy features were the spotlight on the top and the 'leggings'. As it's made of steel and weighed 65-lbs, a version with wheels attached was designed for anyone wanting a bit of extra help.

It reminds me of a cross between a Dalek and a Cyberman. One of the commenters on BoingBoing pointed out that Ned Kelly had similar body armour in 1880. Nothing's new, is it, the same needs exist but the kit is just modified according to the technology and the materials available.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Beats and Bongos

I've been quite enjoying the current Pop season on BBC TV over the past few weeks. It's a mixture of new documentaries, archive programmes and classic films about British pop music.

The films screened so far have been a strange treat, about music and teenage rebellion - Expresso Bongo (1959) and last night's Beat Girl (1960). They both featured contemporary young pop stars, Cliff Richard and Adam Faith, as well as aspects of the London music scene during that period. I found them interesting partly as they were set in London's Soho, where my parents used to go to coffee bars and jazz clubs around that time. I found the unexpected range of surprisingly sleazy themes quite interesting too, as for some reason I wouldn't have associated them with popular films from that period.

I liked Expresso Bongo for it's strange, rather quaint dialogue and slightly grimy night-time sleaziness, though it was really about the rising career of an unknown singer/bongo player. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that Sir Cliff Richard's fans don't like it. I'm assuming that's because the main themes of the film are commercial and personal exploitation, with seedy rented rooms, greedy music business people, strippers and prostitutes. There was also a rather ambiguous liaison between a young, naive Bongo (Cliff) and an older female singer. It's presumably not an ideal film to be associated with, given Cliff's subsequent clean-living Christian 'bachelor boy' image as the Peter Pan of Pop, but I think it's curious enough to warrant another viewing.

Beat Girl was a tale of teenage rebellion in the post-war years, focussing on a slightly odd group of 'beatniks' in Soho coffee bars and basement jazz clubs. Great slang (squares and daddy-o etc), though rather stilted in retrospect, or just badly acted maybe? Christopher Lee makes a convincing sleazy club owner, though being fatally stabbed is an interesting precursor to all the times he gets impaled with a wooden stake as Dracula in his future career in Hammer Horror films. The unpleasantly surly teenage female character was supposed to be at art school, while she wasn't 'hanging out' in bars and strip clubs. She mentioned that she was at St Martins (art college) to her stepmum, who said - Oh, that's supposed to be one of the best, isn't it?' to which the ill-mannered 'beat girl' replied 'so it's rumoured...' The Charing Cross Road college entrance featured briefly, though I'm not sure if was real or a part of a studio set. Still, it's nice to get a name check in a vintage B movie about deviant youth!

In case I'm beginning to sound like I'm obsessed with sleaze (which I'm not, actually), I'd better point out that I just happen to like B movies from that period, when it sometimes features as a strand in a storyline. Justification over!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

7 random things

Maybe this is a bit lazy of me, but I did that '7 random things about yourself' meme last night on the Random Reality blog and thought I'd stick an amended version on here, minus the obvious ones (I might have already mentioned I was doing a Phd....)

1. I knew moth balls didn't work when one ate a hole in the middle of my favourite Black Watch tartan wool and cashmere mix pencil skirt, while hanging right next to a moth ball. Cheeky little sod. Moth balls stink anyway, so another reason not to use them.

2. I tried to run away from a nun on my first day at school when we lived in Aden, but she shut the VERY LARGE iron gate so I couldn't. Tiny child... strange woman in flapping black clothes and a weird headdress... utterly terrifying situation!! Not bad instincts for a kid, though....

3. I had pink hair when I was young. I don't now, but still think the natural look is highly over-rated.

4. I sat opposite Michael Howard in an NHS waiting room once and I smiled at him, as he looked small and harmless. I still feel vaguely guilty about that. (He is a Tory politician, ex-Home Secretary from the Thatcher years, described by one of his colleagues as having 'something of the night' about him. He is usually portrayed in tabloids crawling out of a coffin like a vampire).

5. Sounds a bit revolting now, but I used to eat Marmite by the spoonful when I was a child. I'm not dead and I don't have high blood pressure, so no harm done, eh!

6. I think the very beautiful Billy Fury has just replaced Elvis as my favourite singer from that era. It's a pity I was born much too late to ever see them in real life and in their prime, but records, photos and films are a good reminder of why they were (and still are) popular.

7. I complained about my neighbour's hideous late night Sunday sing-song in my dressing gown once, then found out afterwards it was his birthday party. Maybe I'm a partypooper, but they were singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight by Tight Fit. It sounded like this X-Factor reject's version. I'm sure anyone else would have done the same thing, whether they were getting up for work the next day or not.

It's been quite interesting to read other people's 7 random things on their blogs, so feel free to do your own, unless you have already and I'll pop over and have a look.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Wild Zero - Trash and Chaossss!!!!!

That's the blurb on the DVD cover we watched the other day at work. It was a Japanese trashy zombie sci-fi rock 'n' roll B movie called 'Wild Zero', a title that I keep forgetting as it's completely meaningless.

It was destined for one of the film club screenings we've started, but as it was the Christmas holidays and it was someone's last day at work, just 4 of us watched it in the empty seminar room. It was a bit like being in someone's living room, with the comfy chairs and their beer, cackling in unison at appropriate moments.The others reckoned it was the best zombie film ever, and I think I might agree, although I'm not a zombie connoisseur like them. It's definitely one of the strangest films I've seen for ages (possibly weirder than Expresso Bongo...?).

It was surprisingly brilliant, a surreal 'story' based around a real life Japanese 'punk/rock n roll' band, Guitar Wolf, who ended up saving the world from a zombie alien invasion through the 'power of rock'. They did it by zapping grey faced, limb-chewing, shoe-holding zombies with magical spinning glowing plectrums and a guitar neck that transformed into a sword to zap yet more alien flying saucers. And large guns, of course, to blow those zombie heads off.

It had something for everyone. 'Rock 'n' roll'... a bit of a musical mish-mash, strangely derivative of the Ramones, Johnny Thunders and Motorhead.

Memorable fashion moments, in a chunky, sleazy music biz man's pudding-basin haircut that changed colour, and VERY skimpy tight shorts, in various colours, with lace-up sides... very eyecatching. Lots of classic leather bike jackets, and mustn't forget the the gun-slinging woman in the tight-fitting check leotard with matching stilettos, as it was a vile outfit and very unsuitable for tackling an undead invasion. Pristine care of the hairdos... Guitar Wolf carefully combed their quiffs after each zombie-killing spree, as you might, if you do these things regularly. I never thought of a red comb with a handle as 'uncool' before, but apparently it is.

And finally, for all the romantics... a bit of undead zombie love, and love that knows no boundaries, crossing gender, nationality and race (or something equally commendable). That last sentiment was a recurring slogan in the film. The moral of the story was that the hero, Ace, shouldn't squeal with horror when he falls in love with someone of uncertain gender and they get their kit off for the first time. I think F**********KKKKK!!!!!! was his exact response (not very polite really...). Then he remembered that the power of rock 'n' roll would conquer all. And so it did, with lots of exploding buildings, zombie heads and flying saucers, and a lovely heart-shaped happy ending.

This clip
has most of the highlights. Warning to the delicate viewer: there's swearing in the subtitles and lots of zombie blood.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A bit of drama at the V&A

I went to the V&A today to try out my new membership (a Christmas present from my mum, great for legitimate queue jumping) at the Golden Age of Couture exhibition, just before it ends. I thought I'd be writing about fashion drama, as some of it's quite theatrical, but it turned into a rather scary human drama instead.

I wish I'd not left it to the last few days to go, as it was literally packed and we had to creep around really slowly, but I loved it. It's a fantasy world, amazing clothes, fabrics and workmanship. Some of the outfits you'd love to wear now and would look really contemporary. I liked the film clips of fashion shows, the showreels and the clips from 'Maytime in Mayfair' and 'Funny Face'. I like the photography from that period, quite a lot of old favourites there and I'd forgotten about Erwin Blumenfeld's saturated colours and slightly surreal work. It's good to see outfits in 'real life' that you've seen in photos loads of times, like seeing an original piece of artwork after loads of reproductions.

Snippets of conversation overheard from other older women were interesting, 'oh yes, roll on girdles, I remember them....', 'aaah, Anna Neagle...Audrey Hepburn...lovely...', 'ooh look at that tailoring, I wish we could see the underside...'. Some of the hems caused a stir amongst the ladies near us, as they were quite lumpy and looked as if they had been really badly altered...'tsk tsk, what were they thinking of when they pressed that?' Absolutely.

Then we went to the shop and my mum collapsed in a heap while I was queuing up at the till. It was really scary, as she was unconscious for what seemed ages, 20 minutes maybe... I thought she was dying, as she'd gone a strange colour and her breathing was really shallow. Everyone was staring, as it was the middle of the shop, though some people were quite helpful. Except one man who was just gawping at her unconscious body propped up in the chair, though I was obviously worried. Ill mannered prat. I asked him whether he had anything helpful to say, and if not, could he go away, which he did. The ambulance people were really nice and decided she didn't need to go straight to hospital, thank goodness. They decided it was probably a mixture of wandering round the hot gallery, not taking her blood pressure tablets for a few days and the aftermath of a bad chest infection, so hopefully it won't happen again.

A strange and dramatic start to the new year, lovely clothes followed by an unconscious mum on the V&A floor and the rest of the afternoon in an ambulance. It puts things into sharp perspective.