Art, music, whatever

Gotta Have Pitchurs

I’m by no means a fan of horror movies — in fact, I avoid them like the plague for two reasons: either they’re so cheesy and horrible that they anger me, or else they’re so good that I have to sleep with the lights on.

Over at Insty’s, Stephen Green has a link to 7 Indispensable Horror Movies or something — which I don’t care about in the slightest — but he does suggest that any list of good horror movies which does not include at least one performance by Ingrid Pitt is suspect. Of course, Stephen should know better than to talk about the exquisite Miss Pitt when she is largely unknown outside the horror genre. So as a public service, allow me to rectify his oversight:

 

…and something a little more spicy:

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Changed And Unchanged

So today I went to Harvey Nichols to make my token purchase (as promised here), and walked out without making one. Here’s what got up my nose about the place.

Harvey Nicks has changed. It’s no longer the calm, classy establishment I knew and loved from a dozen or so years ago. Now it’s brash, very pretentious and looks like someone in Marketing said, “I know! Let’s cater to parvenu Russian oil oligarchs’ wives and children!”

I was going to make a small purchase — I can’t afford Harvey Nicks’ prices on, well, anything — so I wanted to get something small, a present for a friend, nothing fancy, a beautiful bath soap that would be pure indulgence every time she used it. I walked up to the first salesgirl I saw at the cosmetics department and said, “I’m looking for some luxury bath soap. Where do you stock it?”
Soap?” The little tart acted as though she’d never heard of it.
“Yes… you know, a bar of something fragrant, something sinfully expensive and indulgent?”
Soap?” she repeated. “I don’t know… let me ask someone else,” and she sashayed off to another tart behind a different counter. Much whispered conversation, pointing and even a curl of the lip.

I was being snooted.

What was worse, I soon discovered, was that Harvey fucking Nichols does not stock any fucking bar soap, of any description — at least, not that I could discern or the snooty little shit knew about either.

So I left, and such was my dismay that I had to go to Fortnum & Mason for a recuperative lunch. So I did, hoping that Fortnum’s hadn’t made the same stupid marketing decision.

Bless the Lord, they haven’t. It’s still the same lovely, old-fashioned place that sells stuff like $1,500 carrier bags and $10,000 Christmas crackers, and which offers shoeshine service delivered by a young man in formal clothing.

I felt like I’d come home — or at least, home to Free Market Towers, which is very much like Fortnum’s, only without anything for sale. Anyway, after a frighteningly fine lunch of duck rarebit and coffee, I went up to the second floor (Ladies Accessories) and found… about a hundred different kinds of sinfully expensive and indulgent bath soaps. A delightful young lady — not a snooty little tart — with a charming French accent was only too happy to help me make a choice, showing me all over the floor to the different placements of said soaps, opening packages to let me inhale the fragrance, and in general making me feel like my business meant everything to her — and all this, for a $10 purchase, mind you.

So I ended up buying a lot more than one bar of soap — total purchase well over $40 — and then went down to buy small gifts of tea and such for my rotten, ungrateful and spoiled children.

Which I did. Then, still having not exhausted my ire at being condescended to by a snotty little shopgirl, I went down the street to the Maille mustard store, where a charming, helpful young man let me taste about a dozen exquisite mustards, and such was my self-restraint that I only bought half a dozen small jars thereof.

Such is the power of helpful, sincere and well-trained customer service.

And fuck Harvey Nichols. They’ve lost me as a customer, too.

The Banality Of Luxury

So one of my British Things to do today was to go to Green And Stone Stationers and Art Supplies on Kings Road in Chelsea.

Green And Stone is a throwback to an earlier time, when people wrote on fine paper with ink pens, used blotters on letters and correspondence, and had actual writing tables. It’s also a place where, if you’re an artist (professional or hobbyist) you will find the best quality paints, inks, pens and such anywhere. (Think: bamboo calligraphy pens in nearly a dozen different nib widths, and you’ll begin to get an idea.) As someone once told me, “Seeing all this makes you want to take up that activity, just so you get to use the stuff.” And it’s true. Even if you’re not a calligrapher or artist, it’s worth a visit; I ended up buying presents for four people, all different, and only two of which were art-related — it’s that kind of a store.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.

I took the Tube down to Sloane Square, and walked the mile or so south to Green & Stone because I love Chelsea; the place is full of eclectic, interesting shops and many, many good places to eat that aren’t called McDonald’s and the like (although they can be found there too). Also, just off King’s Road are beautiful, classy neighborhoods (at not-so beautiful prices — whoa, it’s expensive, bubba) and also interesting establishments like The Chelsea Gardener. Best of all, because the area is upscale, the people are too: mostly classy people, well-dressed and carefully groomed. My kinda folks.

Anyway, on the way back I decided to take the No.19 bus rather than the Tube because it was a lovely day and I felt like looking at London rather than at a tunnel wall.

Part of the route was along Sloane Street into Knightsbridge, and of course it’s on this street where you find all the Usual Suspects: Dior, Ferragamo, Versace, Hermès, Pucci, Prada and all those furrin names. As a place of wealth and ostentation, it’s difficult to top Sloane Street…

…except that it’s not. I’ve seen Sloane Street many times before, only it was called “Hofbahnstrasse” in Zurich, “the Golden Mile” in Chicago, “Kollmarkt” in Vienna, “Northcross Mall” in Dallas, “Champs-Elysées” in Paris and “Park Avenue” in Manhattan. It’s all the same stores, the same overpriced merchandise and (pretty much) the same customers, only speaking with different accents and languages.

Phooey. You can keep all that crap. Give me a street with character like King’s Road or Upper Street in Islington (further along on my bus trip) any day of the week. Luxury shopping isn’t just overpriced, it’s banal — and I want no part of it.

Roadsters (2)

In my first post on this topic, I looked at roadsters in their original concept: simple, economical fun. Today I’m going to look at a development of the concept, which added performance — mostly, it should be said, in terms of speed, but also comfort: bigger, better suspension and so on, all at (of course) a steeper price.

It began almost at the same time as MG were bringing out their early TA model, when the SS Motor Company (later Jaguar) produced their SS Jaguar 100 model, which unlike the earlier Mercedes SSK was designed not for the track but for touring.

It had a brute of an engine (3.0-liter inline six-cylinder, compared to the TA’s 1.3-liter four-banger) and a top speed of just over 100mph. The popularity of these cars, by the way, can be seen by the fact that almost every one you see nowadays is a replica, not a rebuilt original.

Of course, these cars could be raced, and they were. Sports car racing was big at the time, so there were all sorts of cars like this: Bentley, Mercedes, Alfa Romeo (to name but some) all had a hand in the game, and in the U.S., there were Duesenbergs, Cords and Auburn (to name but some of them).

I’m not a fan of big, brute cars; I prefer the smaller touring models to the racers: modestly sized but still with decent performance. Hence I tend to prefer the SS 100’s successor, the exquisite Jaguar XK 120:

I also prefer the smaller German models like the later 190 SL:

…which is really the budget version of racing monsters like the 300 SL Gullwing.

In the U.K. again, the little MGA sports car begat the Austin-Healey with its powerful 3-liter engine (but with the same legendary unreliability of its smaller cousin):

Now on to the present, or rather, the recent present. One of the problems of car manufacturing is that it’s so damn expensive. Only large corporations can build cars profitably, because of both economies of scale and the fact that they can subsidize their more interesting (and less popular) models with mass-market versions. And sadly, performance touring cars are a niche market. Even BMW can keep their excellent 650 touring models in production only because they sell boatloads of 330s, 530s and 750s.

And with a lovely segue, we come upon Wiesmann touring sports cars. Started by the two eponymous brothers in the late 1980s, Wiesmann produced what I think are some of the most beautiful cars made in the modern era. Here’s their MF-3, which uses a BMW M3 3-liter 6-cyinder engine:

…and if you’re thinking that it looks rather like the Jaguar XK 120 above, you’d be correct. Unlike the older XK, though, which had a spartan interior, Wiesmann gave the lucky driver this cockpit to play in:

Note the manual transmission, which is the default offering (you could get an automatic gearbox, but that would be a gross betrayal).

Later versions had the monster 4.4-liter BMW engines, which didn’t add that much power, but did turn an already-expensive proposition into an exorbitant one — which limited their market.

Sadly, Wiesmann went out of business in 2014, because their cars required too much money to convert them into US roadworthiness and the high (hand-built) cost limited their European market — these are people who want to tour, not race, so you’re not going to get the Ferrari-Porsche Set to buy one.

The same can be said for Aston Martin cars, by the way:

They’re ridiculously expensive and yet (still) a little too unreliable for people who want to (say) drive from San Diego to Maine, or Free Market Towers to Naples.

But because Aston Martin is a British company, they will always have wealthy customers in the UK who don’t want to drive a European (read: German) car, and who also don’t mind a little bit of unreliability because remember: one shouldn’t have too much fun while enjoying oneself.

Bucket List Entry #9: The Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo

I’m not sure that anyone does pageantry like the Brits. For one thing, some of their spectacles have been going on longer than many nations have been in existence, and for another, they take place in the setting of Britain, the country with a history that dates back well over two thousand years.

The Tattoo isn’t one of the former: it’s only been going on for just under seventy years — a veritable child compared to, say, the coronation of the new monarch.

But of course, the Tattoo takes place in front of the storied Edinburgh Castle, one of the oldest buildings in the Western world, and the theme this year was “Splash Of Tartan” which harkens back to the mid-17th century, when Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite Scots were defeated at Culloden, whereafter the wearing of the tartan was forbidden, bagpipe-playing was banned, the Scots were disarmed and the Gaelic language was suppressed.

So of course, the official welcome this year was given in Gaelic, a ceremonial toast of whisky was taken by the guest of honor — a British officer who served the drinks to the clan leaders:

…and then came the massed pipe bands, playing, amongst others, the mournful Skye Boat Song:

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing
Over the sea to Skye;
Carry the man who was born to be king
Over the sea to Skye.

I am not a man with Scottish roots, and in fact there are many things about the Scots of today that I deplore; but even I had a tear running down my cheek.

I talked about my previous Bucket List item (tea at the Ritz Hotel), which I enjoyed for so many reasons; but the Tattoo was unbelievable. Everyone who goes to Britain in summer — during the month of August — should make a point of going. The crowds are immense, the atmosphere electric; and when the ceremony finishes with the Lone Piper playing his melancholy melody atop the battlements of Edinburgh Castle, I promise you that you will never forget it.

Bucket List Entry #8: High Tea At The Ritz

So last Tuesday  I met up with on old friend whom I last saw in South Africa over forty years ago (!), and whose two sons (who both live and work in London) very kindly invited us to tea at the Ritz Hotel to celebrate the occasion.

I’ve had high tea before, often, when I’ve been in England, at places like The Pump Room in Bath and at Fortnum’s (to name but two of the snootier places), but never before at the Ritz. Even though I’d once stayed there a couple of days, that was a business trip and there was no time to enjoy the relaxing pleasure of sitting in the Tea Room and having elegant flunkies cater to one’s every need and whim, with no time pressure, no limit (the food and tea are, of course, bottomless) and to cap it all, a glass of their signature champagne.

“More tea, sir? A different tea this time? Of course, sir. And more scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, sir? Right away.”

I know, I know, it’s a bloated plutocrat way of living, but good grief, how I love it. The food is beyond description.

Best of all, though, is that the sheer majesty of the place puts everyone on their best behavior. All around us were people dressed well: jackets and ties for the men, elegant dresses and such for the ladies, no loud chatter or noise — just the murmur of voices, the clinking of silver flatware on china, and in the background, a piano player giving us a tour of the old standards.

And this wasn’t an English Rich White Person event, either; the Ritz has always catered to people from all nations, so it was like 57 varieties in there — but all dressed impeccably, all well-mannered, and all enjoying one of the great treats in life:  tea at the Ritz. I have no idea how much it costs (it’s probably online somewhere) and one does have to make a reservation, such is its demand. Whatever, it’s all worth it once you’re there.

Anyone who goes to London and doesn’t do this, at least once, has done themselves a profound disservice.

And my deepest gratitude to Hamish and Andrew for the invitation. I will never forget it.