Friday, 14 August 2015

New Poem

I haven't updated the blog recently, because I've been writing more or less solidly for the past three weeks - but here is the new poem that I performed at Worcester SpeakEasy last night . . . .


Rules – more rules and regulations,
hierarchical domain.
They make the rules to chain the mind –
how to sit and what to say,
what not to do, the shoes to wear,
as though it were the only way.
They say, “Accept these blinkers, never look
to right or left, aside from what’s in front,
or see the full horizon and the sky,
just move on artificial rails, defined
like carriages pulled after the express,
who cannot speak their minds or show dissent,
just following the engine and the laid-down track.”

I say –

“Come back to life and break the rules!
Break every rule they give you, then some more!
De-couple from the engine, jump the rails,
find a different course, ignore
the things that you are told you should obey!
Have no belief in status – just because
a person wears a suit, a badge, a hat,
that doesn’t make them your superior,
it only means that they can’t disbelieve
in rules that they themselves were one time taught;
they kept their blinkers on, and didn’t see

your vision, the horizon, or the sky.”

Monday, 20 July 2015

Sewing Project Update

Last week I posted my step-by-step guide to a sewing-project, turning a £1 shirt into a one-off top. Well, I wore it to the music festival in Ombersley yesterday, and here it is -

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Sewing Project 1 - Customising a Shirt

I've been promising for some time to post step-by-step guides to my sewing projects, and here is my first challenge. I bought a shirt from the £1 rail of a charity shop, in order to create a Visual Kei style top, at minimal cost.

First of all, I need to say that I'm not really very good at sewing. I have no idea how to follow a pattern, my stitching isn't very neat, and I have yet to have an encounter with a sewing machine that hasn't ended in disaster. I have never had a sewing lesson - I taught myself out of necessity when I realised that the sort of clothes I wanted to wear simply couldn't be found in the shops, even if I'd had the money to buy them, so I would have to make them myself. Somehow or other, it seems to work . . . .

So here is the shirt as it was when I got it home. Well worth the £1 investment! The things I liked about it were its length - it came down almost to mid-thigh when I tried it on - and its colour. Black! You can't go wrong with black! What I disliked about it was virtually everything else - mundane design and details, and some folksy beige-brown buttons that I particularly detested.

Ideas and inspirations - I spend a lot of time perusing my precious collection of Japanese fashion magazines, and my even more precious collection of Japanese music magazines. I get a lot of ideas for costumes from these. I don't copy anything directly, but I do find plenty of inspiration . . . .

The first step was to cut and shape the lower half into separate panels. It was originally very tight on the hips. The panels make it more comfortable, more interesting to look at, and means that it can be worn over a full skirt.

The next step was to bind the edges with contrasting bias binding. Most of my costumes are black with red, which means that any top can be combined with any skirt, to create a different look. The bias binding was the only thing I had to buy for this project - 30p a metre from the local haberdashery shop.

Then I shaped and bound the sleeves in the same way. Stitching the bias binding was a time-consuming job, and not particularly interesting. If you look carefully, you can see just how bad some of the stitching is . . .  I think I listened to every note Syndrome ever recorded while doing this part . . . But it was worth the effort.

Things start to get more interesting now. I sewed D-rings on tape into position on the back so that I could lace it. The lacing makes for an interesting visual detail, but most importantly, it improves the fit.

And I finally got rid of those vile buttons! In their place, I have put old brass regimental buttons. I found a big stash of these in a charity shop a couple of years ago, and I've been using them ever since. I'm always looking out for things that might be useful in costume-making, even if I've got no idea what to use them for at the time.

This is the reason why what I euphemistically refer to as  my 'Sewing Box' is actually two cupboards, the space under the desk, the space at the top of the wardrobe, several boxes, four or five tines, and a big heap of stuff in the corner of the room . . . .

Shiny buttons! You can never have too many shiny buttons! I've added them onto the panels and the sleeves, as well . . .

I didn't care for the breast-pockets, but to remove them would have damaged the fabric. I found a cross in the 'Sewing Box' to go on one, and on the other I've pinned this mysterious insignia. I haven't been able to identify it - I asked my friends on Facebook, and the general feeling was that it's probably an Eastern Bloc Soviet Era Airforce badge. I like the design - a bit Art Deco and a bit Steampunk . . . 

And finally, here is the finished version, front and back views. The cost of the shirt and the bias binding together came to about £3.50. It looks very good when worn - weather permitting, I think I'll wear it to a music festival in Ombersley at the weekend . . . .

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Next Performance !

I'll be performing tomorrow night at Worcester SpeakEasy at the Old Rectifying House. Here's the link - hope to see some of you there!

Friday, 3 July 2015

Another Lost Gem

Saturday 27th June was a sad day for Worcester, when another of the city's iconic shops closed down. County Furnishings had been in the city for over 40 years - originally in the wonderful crypt-like depths of a Victorian Vinegar Cellar, until developer forced it out and it re-located to a 1950s car showroom in Castle Street. it was one of my favourite shops; I've been going there regularly ever since I  came to Worcester. It sold furnishing fabric in greater abundance and variety than I've ever seen in any other shop. It also sold cheap fabric remnants - which I've relied on over the years for my sewing-projects - I've made cushions, seat-covers, curtains, patchwork throws and handbags out of this scrap-fabric. Whenever I had any craft-projects that required fabric, County Furnishings was my first port-of-call. It did haberdashery, too, racks of braid for trimming bags and costumes - cut-price remnants and oddments of braid too. it sold thread and sewing-accessories, huge ornate tassels,and curtain-ties - everything you'd need for curtain-making and upholstery . . . . It was a treasure-trove! I even found affordable corset-lacing there - I never worked out why, maybe it has some unrelated purpose in the realm of home-furnishings.

The shop sold carpets as well, including beautiful Persian rugs which I knew I could never afford to buy, but I went in there simply to admire them anyway (and usually then came out with a bag full of fabric and braid.)

And now it's all gone; another unique independent shop has gone, and it will not be replaced. 

Over the past few years, Worcester has lost so many of its best shops. There was Good News, with the best selection of magazines in the city, foreign language newspapers and display-cases of exotic-looking pipe tobaccos. There was Concorde Stationery with its racks of craft papers and bargain envelopes. There was Russell and Dorrell, the department store. And of course, there was Pratleys, the crockery emporium, piled high with stacks of dinner plates and tea-services, that looked as though they were about to collapse at any moment, and with a section at the back selling a random assortment of furniture, rugs and taxidermy - the shop opened in Victorian times, and pretty much the only thing that changed since then was the style of the china. Now we've lost County Furnishings as well. 

Yes, there are new shops opening, but they mostly seem to be branches and franchises of well-known stores - bland and corporately-branded. They don't sell anything I want to buy, and they are nowhere near as enjoyable to visit as the shops that we've lost.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Review - 'Black Butler' 2015 live-action film version


I'll say it from the outset - 'Black Butler' (Kuroshitsuji) is my favourite amine series. Based on the manga by Yana Toboso, it tells the story of an aristocratic boy, Ciel Phantomhive, whose parents are murdered and who makes a contract with a demon, to trace and take revenge upon the killers in exchange for his soul - and (because this is Victorian England) the demon assumes the physical form and identity of Sebastian Michaelis, a devilishly perfect butler . . . This is a over-the-top version of 19th century London, full of bizarre extravagant supernatural characters, equally bizarre human ones, grotesque crimes, and the whole story is overlaid by the constant theme of Sebastian yearning to devour his master's soul whilst playing the role of the impeccable servant. And yes, it's stuffed full of outrageous impossibilities and anachronisms, but it's cleverly-written with plenty of unexpected plot-twists, and within its own world it all makes perfect sense . . . 

'Black Butler' has a large and devoted following (in Japan there are stage versions, and even a planned musical) so of course it was only a matter of time before someone thought to do a live action film . . . And here it is . . .

The first and most obvious issue is that the setting has been changed - from Victorian England to a sort of present day location in an un-named  country that is almost-but-not-quite Japan. I suppose there are practical reasons for this - a lack of English actors with both the linguistic and acting skills to hold down major roles, and probably the cost of re-creating the amazing and complex world of the anime - but it still felt awkward,  the two worlds didn't really fit comfortably together and a lot of explanation was required to tell how the Phantomhive family re-located and changed its name. Then the teenage boy Ciel has been replaced by a girl, who thanks to a complicated plot-device still has to dress as a boy (in a Victorian aristocratic style, of course) and she is a few years older than Ciel was. Again, I can see that there were practical reasons for this - a male demon lusting after the soul of a young boy was fairly near the edge of acceptability in the anime, in live-action it might have been a bit too much. But still, if two of the fundamental parts of the story have to be changed at the outset, there's the question of whether it was worth making the film at all . . .

Well, it could have worked. It looked good, and some favourite characters turned up in new and interesting ways - I loved the Undertaker's steampunk/visual kei makeover . . . .

. . . . although to anyone who doesn't know the anime or the manga, that scene would have seemed totally bewildering. Other characters were absent (I was longing throughout the film for Grell to put in an appearance, but he stayed away!) and others are barely recognisable, although I enjoyed spotting the various references to the original.

And then there was the plot, and the scriptwriting . . . This was the main problem with the film. As I mentioned, the original version was cleverly-written and tightly-plotted - this version could have done with a couple more drafts to sort out the problems with the script. Why was Sebastian always being sent away to do other things when our hero was about to embark on something potentially perilous? Presumably so the demon could then dash back to carry out a dramatic last-minute rescue! Then there was a fatal drug that took effect at random but convenient times depending on how much dialogue and action was required beforehand, and until the very last minute, nobody seemed particularly bothered by the fact that a Very Large Bomb was about to go off . . . And then there was the whole issue of a mysterious event described in the subtitles as the 'exorcism' (I couldn't catch the Japanese term that was used). Exactly what it was, or what was being exorcised, was never explained - it was described as a Big International Event, with all sorts of World Leaders and important people attending for reasons that were never made clear, and it was shown as what appeared to be a Roman Catholic church service with a multi-racial, multi-age congregation - essentially, it was just one big clunky plot-device designed to provide something for the aforementioned Very Large Bomb to threaten . . . 

So to conclude - a much-loved manga & anime, shoe-horned into an unconvincing new setting, with a few enjoyable parts, and plot-holes big enough to sink the Cutty Sark . . . If you've never encountered 'Black Butler' before, the film might not make much sense. If you're already a fan, you'll want to see this as a novelty, and then go straight back to the original!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Revival !

I've had this Blog for a while, but I haven't touched it for a couple of years. I just stopped posting things on it . . . Well the time has come and I've decided now to revive it!

I'll try to do it properly this time, and update it regularly.

I think the main reason I let it slip was because I couldn't really work out what the Blog was for, and I'm still not entirely certain what sort of things to post, or what anyone wants from it. (Or if anybody wants anything at all!) There will be poetry, of course, and stories . . . Maybe there will be posts about costume-making, or just random ramblings about Gothic things, or writerly things . . . I'm still trying to decide . . . .

(Photo by Adrian Butt)