Friday, September 30, 2011

The Carousel

Image from

I have a question for you today. Why do we like vintage? This might seem a little strange coming from me because, if you are kind enough to be a regular visitor here, you'll know that I love (almost) all things vintage. But lately I have been thinking about why I love it. Is it purely aesthetic? I like the look of the clothes, the interiors therefore I like vintage? Yes, that's part of it. Do I think that there is perhaps something missing today, some social and cultural niceties that have fallen by the wayside over the years without being adequately replaced? Yes, that's part of it too. Is it because it appears to have been a slightly simpler life 'back in the day', one in which everyone knew what was expected of them, with fewer shades of grey? Yes, perhaps a little. Is it just straight-out nostalgia, given that, as an historian I have an in-built predilection for the past? Yes, certainly. But is there something else? And, more than that, what is the appeal of vintage to society at large?
Image from There are some incredible old ads at this site.

Because when you peel away the doilies, the pastel colours and the layers of tulle, the past - and by this I am referring in this instance to the 1950s - 1970s - was not always a very good place to be - especially for a woman. The prevailing media (and so, society) often portrayed you as, by turn, vain, stupid and interested only in (and interesting only for) your appearance. Knowing what was expected of you in fact gave you few options - many professions were not open to women and their ultimate goal was (whether they liked it or not) to marry and have children. My mum, who was a teenager in the 50s and began her professional life in 60s, has wondered why Madmen has been feted to the extent that it has, because, as she puts it, "I remember those times." And, by implication, what they were really like.

Image of Peggy Olsen from

In Madmen, as they themselves put it, women are either 'a Marilyn or a Jackie' - that is, a mistress or a wife (or, if you will, a madonna or a whore). The writers of the series would no doubt suggest that they put this forward as evidence of attitudes in the past and yet we as viewers rejoice when Peggy Olsen sheds her serious, 'mousy' look for something more fashionable and so succeeds.

Image of Peggy Olsen from

Joan Holloway, as the red-headed 'Marilyn' character, is lauded for her 'womanly curves' and her sexualised image.

Image of Joan Holloway from

Image of Joan Holloway from

And we adore Betty Draper for her portrayal of an unhappy but nonetheless perfectly dressed suburban housewife.
Image of Don and Betty Draper from

Image of Betty Draper from

So what is it that we - as viewers, as fans of vintage, as society - are hailing here? All of these women are praised - and not just within the confines of the show's plot - for their appearance, irrespective of the restriction and anguish that that appearance - both inwardly and outwardly - may cause. There is some symbolic suggestion of that in the show, when in one episode we see all three characters struggling into the corsets, stockings and almost bullet-proof-looking bras that allow them to present this 'face' everyday. So what, overall, are we praising when we praise vintage? Are we overlooking the considerable negativity of many aspects of it or are we still unaware that there is any negative there at all?

* For a clue on the title of this blog, take a look at

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

When the wind is blowing

The Dorrit family, as depicted by the BBC. Image from

Dear Amy Dorrit. Image from

Why don't more men wear top hats? Little Dorrit's Arthur Clennam. Image from

The original Little Dorrit cover, not in glorious technicolour. Image from

When the wind is blowing and the sleet or rain is driving against the dark windows, I love to sit by the fire, thinking of what I have read in books...
~ Charles Dickens

Our lovely Spring weather seems to have taken a little holiday. High winds are swirling dramatically around today and it is getting cooler every hour. Apparently thunderstorms, rain and cooler weather is on its way. All this has put me in mind of doing some more reading. I have lately resolved to read more for the sake of my own creative writing efforts and even - dare one say - to improve my mind lest it be permanently corroded by the dross on TV. So I am thinking that I really need to wrap my head around the classics. As I may have mentioned before, I studied English Literature at high school and uni but always in that studenty-how-much-can-I-skip-and-still-get-by kind of way. Especially when I was faced with Victorian-era novels. Dombey and Son. Middlemarch. Oh my.

But now I want to read them. Yet where to start? I love period dramas on TV (and I especially loved Little Dorrit) but...the books never seem to be like the series! I know! Sacrilege! Clever people, I know, always complain that ~sniff~ the series was nowhere near as good as the book. But I must just be a very visual person. Or a very unimaginative person. But I very rarely find that that very life that a good period drama seems to bring to these historical tales can be found in its original pages. Or perhaps I am just a complete drip. That's a possibility too.

So where should I start, do you think? I have Vanity Fair, Great Expectations, Middlemarch, Little Dorrit and Jane Eyre waiting for me on my bedside table. I'd love your recommendations. If you're in the middle of something, why don't we read it together and have our own little book club, even.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Life is beautiful

We have had some beautifully sunny days of late - Spring is definitely here! The garden is bursting with life - some of its own accord, some cultivated. On the weekend, my husband planted tomatoes, zucchini, artichoke and a blackcurrant bush so there's lots of treats in store.

Friday, September 23, 2011

In the Candle's Glow

We ate Elizabethan style again last night. Mince meat, a few cloves, a sprinkle of nutmeg, a little salt and pepper, chopped-up dates, sultanas. Next time I think I would serve it on a bed of rice or cous cous and perhaps add a little sauce of some kind but it was still very tasty and quite different to the tastes we usually have too.

We ate by candlelight, and listened to a CD of traditional Viking-era songs that I bought in Copenhagen. Really nice. Good to step out of the ordinary now and then.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Blue Sky Thinking

Images above and below from

I am quite in love with 1970s interiors at the moment. I have been finding 70s interior design magazine here and there on my op-shopping travels and rather than being slightly alarmed and revolted by the 70s as people now tend to be, I find them quite inspiring. I was thinking about this last night as I flicked through the 1973 edition of Simplicity's Sew-it-all for the Home. What is it that I love about these rooms? Am I simply being wooed by familiarity since I am a child of the 70s? No, I realised that I love the way they used colour and pattern with complete abandon. And, surprisingly, not (often) to bad effect. The rooms are warm, interesting, inviting and full of life. No restrained minimalist whites and greys here. Oh no. The repeated use of one colour or one pattern in a room is especially great.

Image from

Image from

Image from

Image from [though I don't think this room is a 70s original]

In this clip from Supersizers go: Seventies, Giles and Sue talk about exactly this idea in relation to 70s food - there was a sort of wonderful exuberance to it but an endearing, characterful exuberance, not the ugly excess of the 80s.

We are enjoying some exuberant weather here at the moment with bright sunshine, clear blue skies and soothing warm sun (as well as quite fierce gusts of spring wind). For some reason, it put me in mind of this cheerful song...from the 70s.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sunnyside Up

Some lately thrifted goodies...I had trailed around one of our local op-shops yesterday and had not really found much of note. As I sometimes do, I thought 'I'll just go quickly around once more' and lo and behold some lovely folky wooden goodies had just been put out, just right for my current Scandinavian folk art craze. These lovelies are now on the kitchen wall.

We went to The Vintage Shed in Tyabb ( on the weekend and it was great. Lots and lots of wonderful stuff and no absurd prices. Well worth the drive if you are so inclined. Part of my haul (only a little one - I will have to go back soon) was this gorgeous set of 70s egg cups. And...the greatest geek accolade of all...they were stilll in their original wrapping.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Past is a Foreign Country

[It was hard to find a short clip from this film - I think you can watch the whole movie if you've a mind to on You Tube]

There are ways and ways of making historical dramas. I watched the beautiful Elizabeth last night, the wonderfully put-together bio pic about Elizabeth the First. Elizabeth is powerfully played by Cate Blanchett, with a great performance from Geoffrey Rush too as the evil but effective (don't you hate that) Walsingham. The film is an absolute pleasure to watch - the story compellingly told (though I'm sure historians of the period could perhaps see holes in its accuracy), the characters mesmerisingly involving and the sets just lovely - I wanted to switch off all the electricity and switch to candlelight immediately (though I would have missed the end of the film if I'd done that!). I had seen it before, but it held me from beginning to end.

I ended up watching Elizabeth, you see, because I had decided against another week of blood letting on Underbelly. Overseas readers will not have heard of this show (sorry) but it is something of a televisual phenomenon here - this is the third installment of dramatised local 'true crime' stories. I had had hesitations about it from the beginning, wondering that surely there were more worthy and indeed interesting people to make tv shows about than criminals. But, as usual on matters of popular taste, I was (and am) in the minority. People love true crime and, if you throw in as much sex and violence as you possibly can, they love it even more. I thought I would give Underbelly: Razor a go this time around because it is set in 1920s Sydney (about the time and place my thesis is set) and at first I was in love with the costumes, if nothing else. Lots of beads and silky drop-waisted dresses. But the gratuitous gore and sex scenes clearly just there for the sake of them! It actually got beyond offensive to just downright boring.

Take a leaf from films like Elizabeth!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

C'mon Get Happy

What's your surefire way to get happy? You know those days when you're feeling just a little blah (not majorly blah - that's another category altogether) or you've been stuck at your desk and you're feeling a mite stressed? What do you do to snap out of it? One of my methods (depending on the nature of the blah, as I said) is to dance like a complete looney around the living room to something loud and often absurdly upbeat. Now, a few things here. First, I can't dance to save myself. I dance like a complete twit, combining weird 60s-esque moves with a lot of hand waving. Second, I am 38 and would be, you would think, beyond dancing around the room like a nut-bar. Well, the beauty of it is, I close the curtains, crank up the volume and all that just doesn't seem to matter. Dance like there's no-one watching? Dance having made sure there's no-one watching is my take on it!

And my tracks of choice? There have been many over the years (yes, this is a long-term habit) but lately Suede's "Can't Get Enough" is a good one (I have only recently discovered Suede, despite the fact that I was into every other Britpoppish band in the mid-90s). They of course have the added bonus of the not-too-hard-on-the-eyes Brett Anderson as their lead singer. Ahem. "Personal Jesus" by Depeche Mode is also good value as is that band's "Enjoy the Silence". On the Britpop trail again, I go for Pulp's "Common People" or "Disco 2000". I have been waving my hands in the air to New Order since I was at school in 19*cough* and of course, there's always room for some Smiths (though I choose carefully - "Asleep" is not exactly an endorphin creator).

What about you? Do you "dance your legs down to the knees" as the divine Mr Morrissey would have it when you need a little happy rush? Or do you have other methods?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Something in the air

There is a change in the air today. Although we have lapsed back into some cold weather lately, today the wind is strong and bustling with life, carrying the stirring scent of jasmine with it. Spring is around us. These beautiful azaleas from my Mum's garden seem to prove this point! Hope the weather is good to you wherever you might be today.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sugary goodness

Lots of baking over the weekend. First up, this lovely fudge from Tiny Happy ( So easy.

200-250 g dark chocolate
1/2 tin of condensed milk
2 tsps vanilla extract

Line baking tin with waxed baking paper. Combine chocolate and condensed milk in a double boiler (I used the microwave to melt the chocolate and then added the condensed milk afterwards). Stir continuously. When chocolate is melted, remove from heat and add vanilla extract. Pour into baking tray. Set for 1-2 hours. Cut into squares.

Thanks Melissa at Tiny Happy!

And then I made Elizabethan Fine Cakes. They are surprisingly good. I am always a little sceptical about very old recipes, thinking that things (ingredients, implements) have changed so much, there is not a huge chance of them turning out ok. These have changed my mind. I found them just by googling after having watched The Supersizers Go Elizabethan and feeling that I fancied some Elizabethan sweeties. This recipe is from

6 ounces of butter (1 and half sticks) at room temperature
Half a cup of sugar
1 egg yolk - beaten
1 and three quarter cups of sifted flour
Half a teaspoon of mace (can be replaced with nutmeg)
A Pinch of ground saffron (can be replaced with tumeric)
Egg white

1) In a bowl cream the butter. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy.
2) Add the egg yolk and beat until thoroughly blended.
3) In another bowl combine sifted flour and spices stirring to distribute evenly.
4) Sift dry ingredients into a bowl containing butter and sugar mixture. Combine by stirring with your hands.
5) Press mixture into a 9 inch square baking pan.
6) Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes or until the cake feels firm when pressed lightly in the center.
8) Cut into squares while the cake is still hot.
9) Cool in pan on wire rack.
Yields 25 small cakes

If you can find what the egg white is used for, let me know. I couldn't! Of course, not all Elizabethan food may be worth revisiting...

Friday, September 9, 2011


Perhaps you've already seen this beautiful clip, which was in our online newspapers yesterday. A group of chimps who had been imprisoned from infancy in a medical laboratory have finally been freed, thirty years hence. They are now living at the Gut Aiderbichl Animal Sanctuary in Salzburg ( I can't help but feel that one day we'll be called to account for the way we treat animals.

A nice story to end the week. Have a lovely weekend.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gently does it

A little bit of quiet in the Woods while I work through a headache. I am loving embroidery at the moment (though it probably hasn't helped the headache) and I am stitching this little guy on a brown wool cloth to read 'Everyone is someone at home' (it's a quote from The Edda). As you can no doubt tell, I am self-taught. I am hoping for a slightly rustic look here and not too prissy embroidery perfect but I can't decide if I've hit that note or if my self-devised lettering in a low-key chain stitch just looks messy! If all goes well, I will work on one for my In Dark Woods Etsy shop. If.

Some great vintage cloth thrifted recently. This nubby, orangey-brown number still had its measurements scribbled onto a torn-out page from a 1978 diary attached to it and this one is so pretty. It makes me think of the Finnish Marimekko designs.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I Dream of Doxie

Image from

I have lately fallen in love with dachshunds. Something about those big, sad eyes, crazy, floppy ears and the strident little strut on (seemingly) such a movement-challenged dog!

Image from

Image from

If I get one, I am so knitting him this jacket.

Image from

Someone has told me, though, that they are not very bright dogs. I don't really mind. What, are you getting a dog for the conversation?

Image from

Image from

And best of all? If my Google search is anything to go by, they are a very vintage dog!

Image from

But I probably won't get a dachshund after all because I am committed to rescuing a dog from the RSPCA or a similar organisation when I do decide to get one and not many doxies seem to turn up at the pound! Oh well, I can keep dreaming of those determinedly trotting little feet and ears that blow in the wind...!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Starry, starry night

Two sweet little vintage finds today. I think I love the Van Gogh prints and the little old white frames in equal measure! We went to the Van Gogh museum when we were in Amsterdam in 2006, but I didn't really fall in love with his paintings until we went to the amazing, amazing Van Gogh exhibition at the Art and Science Museum in Singapore just recently (

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hope and other everday things

Two ring finds while thrifting this morning - the one above turns out to be silver and the one below is opal, an Australian semi-precious stone (I think this one will end up in my Etsy shop)

Listening to: Suede
Drinking: My old fave - milky coffee
Eating: Beans on toast for lunch - yum!
Wearing: Fewer layers - hello again Spring!
Hoping: Just hoping. It's a nice state to be in.

And what about you?

PS Thanks to Pip at Meet Me At Mikes ( for this meme.