Sunday, 29 September 2013

I have an antler

Well, I got my antler! A friend living in Scotland found it on a hillside and posted it to me in a really strangely-shaped package. It's weird and wonderful and so beautiful.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Vintage meets ethics

I've been contemplating quite a dilemma recently, namely vintage and antique furs and other animal products.

I love animals, I've been a passionate vegetarian for nearly ten years, I get creeped out by people having bones on their plate... but just look how lovely this reindeer skin throw is. So cosy! It's not mine, but I'd love something similar for my place.

How can a veggie want bits of dead animal for decoration? I have stirred controversy in the past by taking admiring photos of taxidermy, especially stag heads. And I could spend hours in the stuffed animals bit at Manchester museum.

But then, I suppose on the one hand, you've got proper educational antique taxidermy like the museum stuff, and on the other, there's trophies of a blood sport, so ethically I definitely shouldn't be looking longingly at those stag heads. Meanwhile if something is antique, do today's morals really still apply to it? Look at stuff like tortoiseshell or ivory - can it still be valued and beautiful if the material has since become the height of bad taste? Should we go round destroying these horrible things, now the damage has been done so to speak? Is it the 21st century buyer or collector who has to take responsibility for what were very commonplace crimes a hundred years ago? It's like asking whether you should never ever watch Breakfast at Tiffany's because of the casual racism.

As for furs that you wear, I'm similarly conflicted - I'd seriously consider a black vintage fur coat that smells historic and looks proper glam and Russian, but shy away from a brand new, freshly killed one, turning my nose up and feeling a bit sick. Once it becomes an antique, the object sort of takes on a life of its own, it's more than just a bit of skin.

This probably makes me not a very good vegetarian, but luckily I don't face this dilemma just yet (vintage furs are £££!). For now, I'll just look for a fake fur throw on eBay, and keep looking for a lovely antler (without the dead head attached to it).

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Vintage radios

Vintage radio collection
If I had space in my flat I would collect these massive old vintage radios. We've got a slimline Bush one, but these wooden beasts are just lovely. The amount of music and news that has come out of those speakers doesn't bear thinking about. Picture taken at Perry Higgins in North Wales, I was right in my element exploring.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Berlin U-Bahn Stations

There are lots of brilliant things about Berlin – the parties, the music, the graffiti, the history, the little Ampelmannchen – but one of its unlikely stars is the U-Bahn.

Living in Manchester and putting up with buses and trams, it’s hard to believe quite how efficient the U-Bahn is. If you live in London with an extortionate Oyster card and unbearable overcrowding, you’ll still find it pretty unbelievable. The city is yours for a few euros per day, and it would be pretty easy to avoid paying even that. Along with the S-Bahn, the Berlin public transport network makes it so easy and fast to get around a sprawling city, usually with a seat and no pushing and shoving.

Practicality aside, the U-Bahn stations also have a certain modernist charm. Anything this efficient should surely be ugly, but the colourful tiling and jugendstil fonts really do it for me – Senefelderplatz is the nearest to the hostel I stayed in, but there are lots of better examples, like Wedding, Unter den Linden and Alexanderplatz. Stations like Rathaus Spandau, Heidelbergerplatz and Residenzstrasse are resplendently art nouveau, you can just imagine the 1920s & 30s bohemians heading home after a night of decadence. Then there’s the Zoologisher Garten, with its animal mural; I’ve yet to check out the zoo, its station or its fabled toilets, but with Berlin there’s always a next time.

But what intrigues me most about the U-Bahn is its history. When Berlin was divided by the wall, the U-Bahn was divided too. The line that ran from east to west had to be cut in half, with trains reaching the half way point and turning back. Meanwhile some lines were permitted to run through the Eastern sector, but not stop at any stations along the way. This resulted in U-Bahn ghost stations (Geisterbahnhofe) like Jannowitzbrucke and Potsdamer Platz; when they were reopened after the wall fell, they were perfect little time capsules from the 1960s. The thought of a whole station being sealed off and entombed underground for 30 years is pretty spine tingling – imagine shooting past on a rumbling train on the way to work, and catching a glimpse of the past. Update: awesome video

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Vintage Elgin watch

Elgin ladies wrist watch from the 1940s
I got this little vintage Elgin wrist watch on eBay a couple of years ago. I knew it was old, and thought it was pretty, but didn’t know much else. The seller was in the US, so I paid about ten dollars plus ten for shipping. I doesn’t work, but I took it to the local watch repair place to see if they could sort it out – and they told me it would cost about £200 to fix, using handmade new parts, but assured me it would be ‘worth it’ financially.

I find this hard to believe as there are SO many broken vintage Elgins on eBay for peanuts, and the fully working ones only go for a hundred quid. And I have no idea how old this is, whether it’s real gold, how many jewels it is, whether it’s all authentic, basically I know nothing. But I suppose I’m secretly hoping this could be my ‘Del Boy moment’.

The most similar ones I can find on eBay are from the 40s so I’d guess at that, although the strap is a Flex-Let which seems to be more 50s. It’s the only one I’ve seen with just even numbers on the main dial, and no subdial. It’s also unusually tiny. The dial is about 10mm across, the word Elgin is less than a millimetre high. Looks a bit weird on my chunky wrist to be honest, it's for elegant and willowy society ladies.

Anyway. Elgin was a US company, founded in Chicago in 1864, stopped in the 1960s, although there are still some monstrosities appearing today using their name. They originally made beautiful pocketwatches before branching out into wrist watches, and pretty much every Elgin I see is beautiful. If you’re an expert on vintage Elgin watches, or know somewhere cheap to get them repaired, please help!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

1960s Underwood typewriter

Vintage typewriter - Underwood 315
My dad got me this little typewriter – it’s an Underwood 315, made in the 1960s. I think it’s got a very 60s look to it, with the bright blue coloured panel and modern lettering, and you can switch between black and red inks for extra added fun.

It came in a little carry case, but carrying it around isn’t something I’d be keen on. Strange how much heavy and bulky mechanical hardware goes into producing neatly typed documents. My mum and dad told me they used to have ‘study dates’ in university and one of them would have to lug round their typewriter to the other’s house. My mum had a portable one like this, but dad had a big old massive typewriter that probably weighed a tonne.

Machines like this would have been part of daily life; offices, schools, homes, they were everywhere just like computers are today. Of course our relationship with computers is different, they’re multi-purpose and flexible and documents are digitally stored. Typewriters are completely analogue, no spell check, no way of rearranging paragraphs, or changing font or size.

The first typewriter was made by Remington in 1873. Underwood began producing typewriters in 1895 in New York, and went on to become the biggest typewriter company in the world. The Underwood number 5 from 1900 is probably the most famous and recognisable, and is also a beautiful machine. Underwood merged with Olivetti in the 1960s, around the time when mine was produced. IBM started getting adventurous in the 70s and 80s, before electronic word processors began replacing typewriters in the 90s.

My little Underwood needs a new ribbon, but then I fully intend to start writing stuff on it, and pretend I’m in Mad Men.