Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Dusting off the Cobwebs... With Costume Crazy! Mwahaha!

The lost blogger returns at last! Gosh, and it's nearly the end of July, and so much has gone by already. Kinda scary, in retrospect. Anyhoo. I have photos of York Mystery play goodness stashed up for an update tomorrow, but for now, here is a long-promised photo-overload of Costume Hire goodness!

My Current Project: The Pink Floofy 1840s Dress of Doom

One of my injokes in the Royal Exchange about this dress is 'Barbie Dickens' - or what the Mean Girl teenagers of the 1840s were wearing back then. Can't you just see Fanny from North and South in it? Or Blanche Ingram from Jane Eyre? This dress just screams 'evil blonde!' It also slightly looks like every pretty princess dress I drew under the age of ten. It's also made for a Twiglet - the actress' costumes are often seriously undernourished!

I am currently razzmatazzing this dress up with acres and acres of pink rose trim - only the bodice came from a previous production, and the skirt was made up by someone way more talented than I am! You can see the mend rail in the background where we put wrecks of items that need some serious costume resuscitation.

Costume Racks of Droolsomeness

In other words, the never-ending dress up box of period win. What you can see down the aisle is the amount of party frocks, period gown, wench outfits and medieval cloaks - like a Time Lord's wardrobe, except with more repairs. There's dressing gowns at the other end, as well as some decidedly Blackadder- style medieval menswear. On your right at the front of the picture is the start of the Edwardian section - that floating piece of blue tulle? None other than a Titanic deck dress rip off!

There They Blow! T'is The White Crinoline!

Behold, the petticoat rack! Possibly it has some sort of mystical Melville-esque significance. Not personally quite sure of that myself, but there's a lot of them. We have to get them down with a hook on a pole that actually does look rather like a harpoon, because they're too damn big to store on the floor. Some of them have colour and are jazzy 50s twirly petticoats. Other are steel-hooped Scarlett O' Hara monstrosities. Either way, they're huge!

Hats, Jewels, and Pinstripe Trousers
Gaze upon the not-very-mighty aisle of bits and pieces! The hats are pretty cool - there are Catherine of Aragon hoods and big 'My Fair Lady' hats all practically squashed up next to each other. Alas, no coifs or wimples of a roughly Tu Salus Fidelium period - with Shakespeare it queens and nobility, take it or leave it, baby! The thin sliver of rack to the right of this badly angled photo in the somewhat boring mens section - rows of pinstripe trousers, linen suits and tweed jackets. There are some Mr Darcy coats along there, which I shall reveal another photo day....

Monday, 18 January 2010

Books You Outgrow...

I've found that often the biggest measurement of how your writing style has changed is how your reading tastes have changed. For instance, whilst I love and am indebted to Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse - the book that inspired JK Rowling with all those great Hogwarts feasts - I come back to it now and cringe at parts I used to love. The prosy speeches! The cringy preachiness! The very fifties 'children's book' feel it has. But once upon a time it was the sort of stuff I wanted to write.
Like Anya Seton's Katherine. My gran introduced me to this, when I was about ten on a holiday in the Lake District, and at the time I thought it was controversial stuff - it was a romance! But I loved the language at the time, and the fact that Anya Seton took time to minutely describe every gown and wimple in the book. And the banquets. It was like a fairytale with the extra thrill that this was all real, and based on history. Not to mention the slightly (very slight, now I come back to it) risque bits that probably weren't suitable for a ten-year old at all. The smouldering blonde Duke of Lancaster meets the fiery red-headed Katherine! They have a long and salacious affair that sets the medieval world on fire with outrage! At last he marries her!
Yeah. Coming back to it now... it's almost sa,d becuase when I last read it, it seemed like the best book in the world. Has it morphed into a cheap Mills and Boon novel when I wasn't looking? No. But I think I might have grown up a little since I last thrilled to red-haired maidens and icy blue-eyed lords. Besides which, I might have outgrown Katherine, but reading some parts (gowns, banquets, maidens), in some ways I'm still very much indebted to it. Mirrum might not be about to indulge in two chapters of saucy wedding-night detail (at least I hope not on the page ,anyway) but in some ways the gowns and banquets have probably lingered on longer than they should have done...

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Hallowe'en Celebrations


I should really have posted these at an appropriate time - say, after Hallowe'en itself, rather than um, a month afterwards. Here we go! Picture-intensive time! Tjis particular picture is one of our decorations - Mum prefers 'quirky' Halloween to grisly slasher movie theme. She makes a point of keeping Halloween up until Christmas is due on December 1st, so we have an awful lot of pumpkin cheer around the house until then!

This one is part of the (slightly manic) family. Gentleman in the vampire get-up is my esteemed father - two ladies on the end of the sofa as witch and grim reaper respectively are the Aunties Valerie and Monica - and at the other end is 'Sherlock' the younger sister, rocking a look as a punk pirate. The squinting one smirking at the camera is me, unfortunately. The lovely lady with purple and black hair is my mother :P We always make a point of playing games at Halloween - blockbusters, pin the head on the headless horseman, quizzes , pass the parcel - you name it, we play it! Guess we make it quite a fun thing. And then there's black-eyed peas, a tradfitional Halloween delicacy, alongside my dad's famous sausage stew and roast chestnuts - and breadsticks, for some reason :P Plus whatever the trick-or treaters don't gleam from us treat-wise. Belated happy holidays!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Argh, Sisterly Nicknames.

Another quick post before I go home for Halloween - but just to leave you with an idea of how lovely, literary obsessed, and er, quirky my beloved sister and I can be, I thought I'd relate this anecdote for you.Back in the days of yore, when I was a more extreme Holmes fangirl aged thirteen (ie, idly doodling scenes of Baker Street, imagining a backstory for Mrs Hudson - my brain wave was that she's a sweet little Scottish Presbyterian from Edinburgh who has four daughters, all married, and one son (spoilt rotten) - and she has slightly adopted her upstairs lodgers as errant sons - to Watson's amusement and Holmes' terror, etcetera, etcetera), and endlessly forced my sister to play Sherlock Holmes with her Barbies. Zoe was mostly Watson, I was(coughs, embarrasedly) Holmes. There was generally a sparkle princess Mary Sue Barbie thrown in there too. Unfortunately, it was more 'Without A Clue' than Conan Doyle.
But there you go. Until *mutter, mutter* she got old enough to watch the Jeremy Brett series. And, in the Jeremy Brett series, the episode 'The Greek Interpreter'. Featuring Mycroft. The older, somewhat lazier, and er... stouter brother.All younger Holmesian credibility went straight out of the window. Zoe rather smugly assumed the 'Sherlock', whilst, being five years older, I was left with the nickname 'Mycroft.'Funnily enough, we've kind of grown into the nicknames. I'm often horribly, horribly lazy, occasionally have fits of energy - joined a sci-fi obsessed Diogenes Club in miniature, complete with misanthropic members (and ended up becoming secretary of one of the 'oddest clubs in Manchester'). The only thing I'm lacking in is numeracy and deductive skill.Whilst Zoe excels at maths and science - because she's good at it - can hold a tune (admittedly not a virtuoso violinist, but she can sing!) , is often so energetic it hurts to watch, and we have an affectionate game of one-up-man-ship that never gets too serious. Er. I think. Maybe. Yeah...

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Food, Glorious Food!

Just thought I'd share a little something Reagan and I did this afternoon. It's getting to be essay deadline time after Halloween, and both of us were feeling overworked, sleep-deprived and daunted by the amount of work ahead of us (Note to self: when you start actually using the antiquated expletives you stick in Tus Salus Fidelium, it's time for your friends to gently prise your hands from the keyboard and from the Medieval Literature essay - lest you unwittingly submit a chapter of fanfiction to your school tutor, and then post an academic essay on medieval sexuality on

So, we made Lemon Bars! Sent to us by the ever-lovely Megan - thanks, buddy! Although at first we were a little hesitant (being confused as concussed ducklings when it comes to food), the yumminess of the recipe soon converted us - and one shopping trip and a few doodles later, came up with this-

Yummy! Though at first I was terrified I'd got it wrong because the measuring system is different and we took the Victor Frankenstein 'let's guess and then pull the switch' attitude - that sums up all our cooking ability. But it was absolutely gorgeous, and reminded me of the way my granny's lemon drizzle cake should have turned out when she made it! Shame my family wasn't there - I'll make them some more when I go home at the end of this week. Since the Plastic-Tray Melting Incident of 2002, my parents have looked faintly askance at anything made by me. Hmm, wonder why? Anyway, here's a picture of me with the Lemon Bars, just in case you're wondering whether I've sneaked a picture off the Internet...
Hmm...that washing-up liquid wasn't an ingredient, I swear. Reagan and I devoured half of it before wondering whether our flatmates would maybe like some of it...
So, a belated thank YOU , Megan, for providing such a delicious set of recipes! Mockdonald Muffin, I think, for my next assignment...

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Becoming Jane...

Ah, my University clothes....

Heh, not really. The local theatre that I do voluntary work for had a promotional event where they wanted to really push the costume hire - so I became their 'rent -a-Jane Austen' for the day. The theme was 'Inspirational Women Throughout History', so I was really quite flattered when they asked me to do it! If only they'd have let me keep the dress....

*sigh* I fell in love with that dress. It was a lovely pretty brown printed cotton with flowers and very comfortable - compared to the crinolines and heels other luckless 'Inspirational Women' were wearing! I think they were pretty lucky I didn't end up hunched in a corner stroking the dress and hissing 'Preciousssss!' at anyone who tried to take it away from me...

I was less keen on the bonnet. It was a last minute addition, and I felt like a horse with blinkers on in it. Bonnets cut off your eyeline so you can only look straight ahead - glancing sideways is almost impossible in them!

I had a few pictures of the event, so I thought I'd show you something of it...

Can you guess who's who? We're an odd assortment. Amongst my fellow lovely volunteers are Kylie, Frida Kahlo, Rosa Parks, Coco Chanel, Emmeline Pankhurst, Queen Elizabeth I, and Marie Antoinette. Elizabeth I was a Blackadder fan, so we spent all evening swapping quotes. Teehee, meeting fellow nerds is always fun! She was managed to groove at the disco afterwards despite being trapped in a Tudor gown, proving that she had the heart and stomach of a disco babe inside that weak and feeble body of hers...

Marie Antoinette's wig was amazing. I was very envious - until I found out professional wigs are made up of yak hair, and then I kinda went off the idea....

This is Marie Antoinette. Isn't she gorgeous? Her costume was from She Stoops To Conquer. Luda, my Polish boss at the Royal Exchange, tells me the fabric ALONE for the dress cost £800 - so I was very glad I didn't have to wear it in case I spilt coffee down it!

This is me walking around the Lady's Evening floor. We were in a hotel just a little way out of Manchester, and they ran a craft fair showcasing women in business on their own. We were part of that, and we all had to walk slowly around the floor - oddly enough, to the tune of Bella's Lullaby from the Twilight soundtrack! It was very odd to do that dressed as Jane Austen... I felt a bit smug recognising it. Elizabeth I was a Twilight fan, so she had a 'fangirl' moment when we heard it played. You can just about see the make-up stand at the back where we had our hair and make-up done! I'm not sure whether we actually gained many more customers from this event than we would have done in the normal run of things, though. We're a pretty locally known business in the UK, and we don't get much exposure being the North (all the best costume places are in the South, dammit! Damn you London, with your huge stage wardrobes... *shakes fist*) But we had a huge amount of fun while we were there all the same, and the ladies running the stalls were very admiring and appreciative, which made us all feel great. One lady even asked for a picture with me and Queenie! (my nickname for her by the end of the night - her nickname for me was 'Janey')

All in all, it was a fun night! Hmm, now if only I can persuade my medieval literature department to have an 'inspirational women from history' party.... could an Eleanor of Aquitaine costume be coming my way? Or even a Sybilla? Hmm, hold your breath, Helen!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

It's Meee, Your Catheee, I've come Home...

Long time, no literature-based rant! So I thought I'd break the habit of my extremely lazy summer and actually write something. About a week ago, there was a new adaptation of Wuthering Heights on TV here in the UK, so I tuned in (after finding out, too late, i'd mssed the first part) on catch-up TV. It wasn't a bad version, to my surprise - I caught a few early publicity shots of Cathy wearing suspiciously twenty-first century eyeliner and thought it was going to be awful.

To my surprise, this version was actually okay - as compared to the awful 1992 Ralph Fiennes version, where Juliette Binoche struggles with her French accent all the way through...

Or (if you feel like a laugh at the films of the 1940s, the Laurence Olivier version. Heathcliff's acting is more hammy than a pig roast).

I wasn't too sure initially about the casting of Tom Hardy, who's starred in a lot of 'diamond geezer' London gangster dramas set in the 1970s, but he made a genuinely decent Heathcliff - one of the best I've seen so far. Although out of the Bronte sisters' novels, I'd have to rank Wuthering Heights as my least favourite. Both Charlotte and Anne have their villains and dastardly cads, true - but generally their main characters and heroes are likeable. Human, yes - I'm not talking about 'saintly' borderline Mary-Sues (The Victorians are guilty of more than a few Mary-Sues, if you narrowly scrutinise Dickens a few times) Jane Eyre has her faults, as do Shirley and Caroline Helstone. But most of their characters are people you might like to have a conversation and a cup of tea with. Can anyone really see themselves having a chat with Cathy or Heathcliff?

Emily Bronte effectively writes them as sociopaths - Heathcliff due to his largely abusive and neglected childhood, Cathy due to her utter spoilt bratness (well, anyone's guess here, but you might get the feeling I'm not largely sympathetic to Cathy. Bingo!) and lack of self-knowledge. Despite the truncated story that came out in the 2009 version that gets rid of a good deal of the violence that makes Wuthering Heights so remarkable, their Cathy comes across as confused and filled with regret. But the Cathy of the novel is spoilt, passionate, often teetering on the edge of insanity (and often falling over right into it) and in the end wrecks both Heathcliff and Edgar's lives by choosing both of them. If this was in a modern novel, it could very well be condemned for having utterly unsympathetic protagonists - and minor characters. Lockwood's arrogance and self-complacency makes him a little repulsive as a narrator, and Nelly's prejudices often taint the narrative. Catherine, Hareton and Linton have just as many petty faults as their predecessors.

So - it is okay to have characters everybody hates? Even if they're in love? Are completely unattractive characters are as bad as perfect ones?

Well, no. What makes Cathy and Heathcliff so realistically, humanly fallible is that we're shown their capacity for good - what they might have been. If they were totally and utterly evil, who'd want to read about them? Just as the old Mary-Sue rule goes for authors of fanfiction - who wants to read about perfect people having perfect adventures? It's boring as hell, and unimaginative.

What also made me do some thinking about Wuthering Heights was a comment my littler sister made as she peeked over my shoulder while I was watching the Tv series. 'Oh... it's that Edward and Bella book.'
Now, personally, I don't think it's quite fair to pre-judge something just because it's mentioned in Twilight. Intertextuality rocks (probably why Tu Salus Fidelium is full of cross-references), and if it get people reading more classic literature, should we really mind? Then again, I don't know whether Emily Bronte would really have liked the excited little red sticker saying 'Bella and Edward's Favourite Book!!!!' on the front of a clearly 'Twilight spin-off' teen romance cover. But I don't think she'd mind a wider readership - whatever the cause of the surge in interest.