Monday, February 27, 2012

An afternoon out of time

The good old days weren't always the good old days. Think about what we have now - particularly health care and most particularly pain-free dentistry! The good old days - in any era - were undoubtedly much better if you were well-heeled; that's true of this very moment. We romanticise the past in tv shows and movies, and I'm as susceptible to longing sighs for a world before the intrusions of mobile phones, the internet and speed cameras as the next person.

My chosen era to sigh over is the 1920s. This was an exciting time per se, but a very exciting time for women as they shrugged themselves out of long skirts and corsets and into comfortable clothes, low-maintenance bobbed hair and a sense of power. The Great War had changed everything; women had a taste of independence as they took on roles left by men who'd gone to fight, and had no intention of going back to being subservient little creatures. They smoked in the street, they wore makeup, they defiantly wore dresses that showed their knees - or to the horror of their mothers, trousers -  and thanks to Marie Stopes had a lot more control over when they intended to have children. (Sadly however equal pay for women was a loooong way off!)

That's just the tip of the iceberg. I could rant on, but this post takes a delicate sidestep, a slight Charleston if you will or perhaps a Black Bottom, into the realms of 1920s fashion.

I'm a sucker for 20s fashion. Unfortunately I have a curvy 1950s body which means that the slimline boyish dresses of the period don't fit me as well as they should, but this was a period of real glamour. Again, particularly if you were well off. Sequins, beading, luxurious materials, floating panels that swirled out when you danced, feathers and filets... glorious glamorous stuff.

Three years ago I went to a vintage fashion fair and bought a reproduction 20s dress made in India of modern materials - knitted cotton lining, net over the top embellished with heaven knows how many sequins and beads. I'd get dizzy if I tried to count them. The dress was less than $100 which was great for me but probably not so good for the poor little bugger in India who'd hand beaded it.

Anyhow, there I was with this heavenly dress in deep purple and nowhere to wear it. Until I discovered the Roaring 20s festival at the Blue Mountains. Apparently it runs every February and there are plenty of events you're invited to frock up for.

So I frocked up and dragged my long-suffering husband along yesterday to the Jazz Afternoon Tea at the beautiful Paragon Cafe in Katoomba. The Paragon was built in 1916 and has recently changed hands, with the new owner slowly restoring it to its gracious original beauty. Luckily there is a wealth of original features untouched for nearly 100 years, including art deco mirrors and panelling.

Armed with champagne cocktails we both had a fantastic time, got chatting with the German jazz singer who, when she is at home in Hamburg, is a family court judge, explored the Paragon, danced the Charleston (Yesss!!! Another thing ticked off the bucket list), ate too many delicious Paragon chocolates and generally had an afternoon out of time.

What I loved most was how different I felt, dressed in this sparkly purple dress, with my home-made satin bandeau and the purple kimono-type jacket I'd finished the week before. I moved differently from head to toe. I walked differently. I caught sight of myself in one of the Paragon's old bevelled mirrors and in the dim lighting I was someone I didn't quite know; not the dag who spends most days in jeans and a t shirt or bizarre tops and leggings, but an elegant creature from an earlier time.

Yes, I dress well when the occasion demands it, usually business suits or smart modern clothes for business meetings. But this was different. Now I understand why people - adults - play dress up. Why period costume conventions are growing in popularity. The good old days weren't always the good old days but the glamorous bits, in a throwaway world whose pace is far too swift, are worth recreating.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Chick lit, trashy mags and weird clothes

Today I bought a copy of Grazia. This is worth mentioning because I rarely buy magazines with the exception of Country Living (British Edition)  or Burda (sewing mag). If I want to read a gossip mag it'll be at the hairdresser's, but since I got a new car the hairdresser visits have got fewer and fewer. The colour I now buy in a box at Priceline and if I'm feeling very frugal and have split ends it's a DIY job for that too.

The last couple of weeks I've swayed from my usual diet of murder mysteries and have been reading some of Marian Keyes' chick lit novels (thanks to Displaced who put me onto them). Chick lit may be a rather unkind description in this case as her novels feature characters with deeper problems, mental illness and other issues; this sets these novels apart from the dime-a-dozen-with-pink-covers-and-curly-fonts books. Aside from which they are bloody funny. And Marian Keyes knows how to hold your attention; several nights in a row I've been up till midnight because of her blasted cliffhangers at the end of chapters.

Having read about women working in the fashion/beauty industry (Anyone Out There) I had a sudden urge to pick up a copy of Grazia, just for the heck of it. This was doubly fuelled by galloping through How To Be Impossibly French by Helena Frith Powell last night in a bubble bath.

I have a cup of tea on one side of the computer and Grazia on the other, and flicking quickly through the mag I realise that while I don't feel at least fifteen years too old and several kilos too heavy for it, I, in fact, am. I also don't have the budget to be a fahionista - or the longing, even if I was a lithe 25 again.

There was a time when I'd blow one third of my weekly pay packets on shoes and clothes (that bit about 25 relates to this!). This was the 80s and I followed fashion with a passion. Unfortunately! Of all the eras to choose...oh well.

These days I have my own style. I might pick and choose an idea of what's in style and try and recreate that with what I have in my wardrobe, some of which is vintage stuff I've bought from eBay, markets or op shops that comes in handy from time to time. Now I'm learning to sew (intermediate rather than beginner I think by now) I buy fabric and make clothes. Lace is in fashion at the moment. I made myself a lined stretch black lace suit for $45; would have cost about $200 in the shops. It's the nicest thing I've made, suits my body shape and is nice enough for business occasions.

My own style is rather dependent on how I feel when I wake up or what the weather forecast says. I have an eclectic mix of clothes from hippie style cotton kaftans (just perfect on those stinky hot summer days) to business suits (boring but necessary from time to time) to jeans and tshirts, a few pretty floral dresses for when I'm channelling the 1930s or 20s, plenty of knit tops that are transseasonal and clothes I've made myself including more knit tops. These last are clothes that look like no other - partly because I was a real beginner when I started and had to cover up duff necklines and other bits and pieces with additional bits of lace or fake fur or whatever.

My friend Sue, who is quite conservative these days, told me recently, "Some of the things you wear are really weird. But then, that's your style. If you dressed like everyone else you wouldn't be you."  I think at the time I was wearing a hot pink tshirt and tights with an orange tunic over the top and red shoes. Or perhaps purple. I do prefer the term eccentric to weird though.

I did my bit towards eccentric/weird this week. I bought a copy of Burda a week ago, the German magazine (English version) which is packed chock full of clothing patterns. Really.There's a huge great pullout bit in the middle with patterns overprinted on other patterns and once you've sorted out which bits you're after, you trace them and bingo, you have a pattern. Stuff you can make - yessss!! This coincided with a 50% off sale at a fabric warehouse last weekend so armed with Burda I went to the sale and got some real bargains. More knit tops to make in beautiful shades of green, and a 1920s-influenced kimono thingy I'm going to make in patterned velvet.
This is the top in question. This version naturally looks 100% better than the one I made!

The Burda instructions for the kimono top said "easy" but I've been caught with "easy" before, so I bought some cheap purple fabric in a hurry (which on reflection looks like polo shirt material. Oh well) and some matching satin and thought I'd try to make it first out of the cheap material, to find out where any stuff ups could occur.

So that's been my nights this week, making the purple kimono. All went swimmingly until I had to attach the ties. There's a wonderful scene in the first episode of Black Books where bookshop proprietor Bernard Black is trying to do his tax. He reads the same paragraph over and over again and procrastinates, prevaricates and actually welcomes a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses to take him away from the task.

(Start watching at 1.40.)

Anyway, digressions aside, this is how I felt reading the instructions for attaching the satin ties. The instructions had been translated into English I think by a jokester or sadist who decided to leave important bits out. When I finally sorta kinda understood it, I realised it wouldn't work and devised my own method of attaching them. If I hadn't I wouldn't have been able to do the stupid thing up.

I finally finished the kimono-ish garment at nine last night. Can't wait to show my friend Sue, who will think it weird. But oh how I'll laugh if something similar shows up in Grazia this autumn!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The waiting game

Earlier this week I put in a proposal to a local government agency. The proposal links in with existing work I'm doing for a local not for profit organisation which is completely autonomous from the local government but has agreed to host the subject of the proposal on its own website. If that sounds obtuse I apologise.

I've worked as a contractor for the not for profit for 11 years and am responsible for its website. For development and maintenance. All at bargain basement rates 'cos that's all this NFP can afford.

Now I'm worried that this tender will lead to others proposing that as part of the deal they redevelop the existing NFP's website. After all that's what I suggested in my proposal and it is seriously speccy. Lots of lovely e-commerce integration, plenty of social media to attract Gen Y and X. Realistically I told the NFP I wanted to update the website anyway and do a rebuild which would be more stable and incorporate more goodies.

This morning I had to do a presentation to the selection panel, two of whom I know well and one, the council rep, reasonably well. The council rep likes jobs for the boys, people he's worked with at a previous role with another local council. The two I know well...well, one is certainly on my side, the other can be swayed by flirtation.

The preso went well. It was more of a Q&A with them asking me questions about what my solution could do; I gave them an online demo and handled off the cuff stuff pretty well. I'm in a unique position because I not only do the creative stuff as part of my business offering but also manage the NFP in my own right.

We were supposed to hear a result by this afternoon. The successful tenderer would be contacted.

Come 5pm and no response my heart sank. Clearly I wasn't 'it'. What worried me was the potential of losing the existing web contract. If I lose it my interest in working for these guys drops below zero. If I can't control our key means of communication I may as well hand it to someone else and let them make a hash of it, not maintain it properly, pay a fortune for updates and changes.

I spent an hour seriously thinking of walking away from the NFP, which pays really shite hourly rates but it's all it can afford. It does, however, help me promote my business.

By 6.30 I had an email from the council rep - working late! good grief!-  telling me they were doing more checks and he'd contact me tomorrow.

So all is not lost. I've spent the latter part of this afternoon morose and depressed thinking I've lost a key contract which is a great advert for my business... I still may have... but as Scarlett O'Hara said, Tomorrow is another day.

And the council rep told me he would be contacting the winner... not the also rans.

Fingers crossed. Another shite night's sleep coming up.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bullet, bitten

I'm feeling a bit sick with nerves right now. I don't handle confrontation at all well and I have just set myself up for what could be a big one.

I have mentioned in earlier posts a client who owes me several thousand dollars - aka The Scarlet Pimpernel. I've still been unable to find where she lives and today's enquiries got me nowhere.

So I have this afternoon locked her out of her own websites. I expect fireworks within 24 hours. And perhaps some payment within 48 if she wants them back.

My solicitor had originally tried to go down the polite route of letters of demand, which fell on deaf ears. We have a summons we can't deliver because we don't know where this woman is on a daily basis.

So now let's see if she comes out of hiding.  Oh shite.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Radio daze

For as long as I can remember, radio has played every day wherever I live.

As a child, Mum had the kitchen radio tuned to an easy listening AM station (2CH). This was the 60s and very early 70s so I was barely aware of the Beatles' existence until they had split up! Although I believe the easy listening station played Obladee Obladah occasionally, and Mum quite liked that one.

By the time I was ten I had discovered the top 40 and had the radio tuned to a top 40 AM station (2UW) when I was not at school. I had my own transistor radio which was more or less welded to my right ear (as a result I hear differently in my right ear to my left these days) and hung on my bedpost at night, blaring Suzy Quatro at me before I fell asleep.

In those heady days of the early 70s I also had a portable cassette player/recorder and made my own Top 40 tapes by holding the transistor over the microphone of the recorder. You can imagine the quality!

By the 1980s FM radio had arrived in Sydney and I loved 2DAY FM, which played a cool mix of latest pop and rock music and hits from the previous 20 years. I liked the station so much I even bought one of their t shirts and wore it proudly. (Cringe.)

By the late 80s I was listening to 2MMM FM, more of a rock station but which had Doug Mulray as its breakfast drawcard. Ah, The Reverend Doctor Doug, Lord of Irrelevance. He pushed the naughty envelope to the limits back then when you couldn't swear on radio nearly as much as you can now.

Into the 90s Doug moved on, and I got sick of the music 2MMM was playing. I never got into Nirvana. I switched back to 2DAY and alternated with MIX106.5 and WSFM Classic HIts, other contemporary adult music stations which were easier on the ear.

As the new century dawned 2DAY decided it wanted a bit more of the 18-35 audience and started playing music I couldn't really get into. Some of it was fine but then every R&B song sounded like every other R&B song. My ears can only cope with so much Christina Aguilera, and Kyle Sandilands was moving from being funny and rude a la Doctor Doug to insulting and obnoxious. Now I was stuck with MIX106.5 and WS-FM, neither of which held me as a full-time listener. MIX would throw in a Whitney Houston song and I'd turn off.

Then a new station called Vega 95.3FM was launched a few years back. It was aimed at an intelligent mature listening audience with a very cool playlist of new and classic 70s and 80s, and interesting interviews. A magazine format if you like. Angela Catterns, as funny as she is smart, was on breakfasts and Wendy Harmer followed from 9am with three hours of music and interviews. I was smitten. At last a radio station I could listen to all day. I enjoyed it so much I bought a decent small sound system for my office so I could have it playing all day. I rang the station to say how much I liked it, gave feedback on new music and told all my friends about my new find.

Sadly though Vega didn't rate well. The station owners had launched the station with the declaration it was for Baby Boomers, but Baby Boomers don't like admitting they are Baby Boomers and that there is a radio station specifically for people of 'a certain age'. One by one the intelligent bits of formatting went west. Wendy Harmer left within a year, and Angela Catterns was joined by two perfectly nice but very sports-mad announcers. Slowly the format was being dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. Angela jumped ship after a couple of years too.

By then of course radio stations were using the internet to promote themselves and I signed up to do some online music surveys for the station. I'd listen to a selection of songs, say how much I liked then (or hated them), whether I was sick of listening to them. I was a good respondent, I answered surveys every few weeks for about six months.  There were a lot of songs I didn't like in the surveys and I was honest about them.

However, other listeners obviously differed to me as the music mix changed and the new songs they were playing tended to inevitably be mournful dirges by nasal males. "How to Save A Life" by The Fray was one of them. We both heard it so often we finally rang up Vega and begged them to stop playing it.

Despite the surveys, listeners disappeared in droves. We were two of them. One morning over breakfast I heard How To Save A Life one last execrable time, and swivelled the dial of the kitchen radio to ABC Classic FM. Yes, classical music. Opera. A smidge of jazz here and there - and best of all the lovely tones of Emma Ayres at breakfast. Emma is funny and bright and brings a touch of humour to what has traditionally been a staid station.

We've been ABC Classic listeners now for about three years. It's a lovely way to start the day.

Sometimes though, there's stuff we don't like, and now digital radio has provided us with an alternative if we don't feel in the mood for Beethoven. Koffee.

We upgraded the kitchen radio to a digital one last Christmas, our present to ourselves, and there's a station called Koffee which reminds me very much of Vega in the early days, a good music mix, some older stuff, interesting new stuff, some jazz-influenced or fusion tracks. Best of all there are no commercials. The odd station promo but otherwise wall to wall music. It's still Emma in the morning for me but after that Koffee plays during my workday. It's just right. What I've been looking for.

As for Vega, it rebadged itself as Classic Hits and now plays blokey 80s music with plenty of sports talk. You can hear songs by Cold Chisel at least four times a day.

I just hope Koffee never asks me to fill in a listener survey. It can only mean a change for the worse.