Is there anything better than a Godzilla movie? I think not.

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How to be a Victorian – Notes, Chapter 2 – Men’s Fashion

g2573Everything below came to my attention because of one little book. Well, a rather large book. If you want the real stuff and not my notes, go buy a copy here.  I won’t be held responsible for any loss of productivity you might encounter because of it, however.

So what was life like in Britain between 1837 and 1901?  Chapter 2 describes the fashions of the era.

  • Men’s Undergarments tended to be practical and geared towards keeping out the cold.  Sleeved vets and full length pants were the fashion of the day.  A man of this era would have found it disgusting to not wear full pants and vest between his skin and his outer garments
  • In shirts, among the wealthy, only the collars and cuffs were visible.  Taking off your jacket was something done in only the most casual environments.  Many colors were available but white was the mark of the rich since they were so difficult to keep clean.  Checked and striped were popular with the working people.
  • Collars were an essential part of any moneyed person’s attire.  Typically these were detachable from the shirt and starched very high.  Collars were such a pain to do at home that often they were sent out to be done by a professional even if the rest of laundry was done at home.  Often they were so starched that if one attempted to bend them they would crack.  A turned down collar was reserved for only the most informal occasions.
  • Offices and homes were typically kept around 50 degrees so fabrics of the day were much more substantial.  Waistcoats were made of very stiff, thick material that was often embroidered.
  • Gaiters, waterproof fabric wrapped around the ankles, was worn to protect the pants.
  • Slim waists were the fashion of the day even for men.  Many men wore corsets.  Trousers for men too were slim fit often with stirrups that went under the heel of the shoe.
  • The introduction of the sewing machine in 1845 changed the world of fashion considerably.  Previously the only ready-to-wear fashions available were baggy and any fashionable person would have to have their clothes custom made.  With the introduction of the sewing machine the available ready-to-wear lines became much more varied.
  • The 1860s saw the introduction of new chemical dyes to replace the previously plant and animal derived ones.  Men of fashion tended towards black for both fashion reasons and also for practical ones since the black did not show the ubiquitous coal dust of the city so readily.  Women tended towards bright eye-catching colors like never before.
  • No respectable man of the day would be seen without a hat.  Commonly they were only removed to show respect to another.
  • Hats had a strict social hierarchy with the top hat standing alone as the most aristocratic.  These hats stood up to 14 inches tall and could cost up to 3 months of a normal worker’s wages.
  • The Bowler hat was introduced by the Bowler brothers in 1849 at the request of a customer who wanted a hat that was “robust and easy to keep on”.  This replaced the top hat in many situations but still was a sufficient sign of status that a factory worker who attempted to wear one would likely be dismissed from his position.
  • Straw hats also saw wide use.  A high quality hat might last a lifetime.  These were considered rather luxurious items until cheaper imports of straw mats from China in 1880 made them more affordable.

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Movie Reviews: Different Drum

I picked this movie because it looked lonely and unrated on Amazon Instant Watch. Well, and because the description mentions Indiana. As a dude from Indiana, I can totally speak to that bit.

The nutshell summary is that this is a travelogue movie that’s shot in a very informal and random manner. You feel like you were there but all in all nothing of great consequence happens. A couple travels from point A to point B and have pretty realistic adventures that result in a pregnant woman with a bedazzled eyepatch, urinating on the train tracks and changing a flat tire.

In the end…. yeah, it’s not a picture that’s ABOUT something. There’s no grand crescendo but it’s a story that really, we’ve all lived. As the picture wraps you don’t say to yourself “wow!” so much as you do, “yeah, I remember when…” We have all lived some vague insubstantial version of this story but unlike this filmmaker, we didn’t bother to record it.

This is a movie that doesn’t make you remember IT so much as it makes it remember your analogous version of what you just saw. This is a movie for when you’re in a contemplative and reminiscent mood.

Notes from my viewing…

The style is that clumsy but endearing one in which everything is shot in a very informal way. Shots get cut off at times, don’t quite work out, sometimes out of focus, but very lifelike. It makes you feel like you’re there but it’s not got that over-processed look that most of the Hollywood junk does. I love this aspect of the film.

The credits are exceptionally high tech and come in about 11 minutes into the film. They add a distinctly charming air to the whole thing. They also act as chapter markers.

The whole thing feels VERY midwestern. I would swear that I’ve been in some of these places. There are some great shots photographically; very similar to what I’d take when I’m traveling.

The dialog in this film is so… pedestrian… there’s a bit talking about uncles and great uncles and how that works and it’s just so… real. It’s very much like a real life conversation that’s really ABOUT nothing but it’s the sort of thing that makes up our entire lives.

Movie is filled with lifelike little contradictions… like the pregnant protagonist who smokes and drinks at times but then acts terribly guilty about it. And her identical coats in yellow and green.

My god; some of these painfully nondescript settings are completely and utterly realistic. Case in point, visiting the protagonist’s cousin. The situation is rather bizarre but the setting is completely natural.

This movie….. this movie has the MOST polite armed robbery in the history of … well, of history. Holy CRAP that was nonchalant. That is the Midwestern way. “Give me all your money but, you know, whenever you want.” OK, not quite a quote, but that’s the general idea.

Eight minutes from the end, it’s time for Indiana!!!!!

Yeah, that’s Indiana. Northern Indiana at least. Lots of Amish.

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How to be a Victorian – Notes, Chapter 1

g2573Everything below came to my attention because of one little book. Well, a rather large book. If you want the real stuff and not my notes, go buy a copy here.  I won’t be held responsible for any loss of productivity you might encounter because of it, however.

So what was life like in Britain between 1837 and 1901?  Chapter 1 describes basic personal care from the era.

  • Most people in the Victorian era rose with the sun.  If you were a factory worker or someone who had to get up earlier, you could hire a knocker-upper to come wake you up at the appointed time since timepieces were rather expensive.
  • Windows were left open no matter the weather because stale air was considered deadly.  Therefore a nice bedside mat was considered a wonderfully luxury for those that could afford to keep their feet warm when first rising from bed.
  • The majority of people washed in a water-filled basin beside the bed.  Once a week the luxury of using hot water was common in many households.  Since the windows were wide open, most washed in their clothes to keep from freezing.
  • Before Victorian times, people didn’t wash with water at all as this was thought to invite disease.  Instead they rubbed themselves down with a dry pad and changed their underwear with greater frequency.
  • Scientists at the time thought the skin contributed greatly to respiration.  In one experiment they varnished an entire horse.  It quickly died from heat exhaustion.
  • Soap was expensive with a 4oz bar of soap costing as much as a joint of roast.  Washing and laundry could consume 5% of the typical household budget.
  • Ammonia or vinegar was a common deodorant.
  • Carbolic acid was a common disinfectant and even today its sharp smell is considered an indication of cleanliness
  • Tooth care products were often home made; their key ingredients were soot, salt or charcoal.  More expensive products purchased from apothecaries had many other added ingredients to make them taste better but tended to be pink rather than white.
  • Women’s sanitary needs were suspended from a belt or even slung over the shoulders since bloomers were not supportive enough to keep them in place.  Sanitary napkins were sometimes mail ordered or simply rags that were washed month after month.

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Random Book Notes: Indian Customs and Culture

This evening I perused a couple of books on Indian culture and jotted down a few notes.  This are far from detailed but they are the tidbits that leapt out at me as I read.  Note that these are VERY quick notes and I’m sure they’re completely overgeneralized in many cases so correct me if I’m wrong but be gentle, please!

  • Gained independence from the British Empire in 1947 becoming, eventually, three different countries:
    • West Pakistan; primarily Muslim
    • East Pakistan, became Bangladesh in 1971
    • India; primarily Hindu
  • Interpersonally, Indians like to invest time in others, really getting to know them.  In some cases it’s not unusual for an Indian person to want to spend a week or more with someone who is a new business contact
  • Indians tend to be intensely curious about Westerners and often gather in crowds around them.  They also tend to have much more conversation about family and personal matters than Westerners
  • Hinduism or Sanatana dharma, the eternal way of life
    • One God – Brahman with three aspects
      • Brahma – the creator
      • Vishnu – the preserver/sustainer
      • Shiva – the completer/destroyer
  • Indians do not tend to use toilet paper and are, in fact, rather disgusted by the Western habit of doing so.  They wipe with their left hand and wash afterwards.  As a result, the left hand is considered unclean and should not be used to touch food.
  • Meals
    • Morning tea: 6:30-7:00am, tends to be sweets, eggs, biscuits
    • Lunch: 1:00-2:00pm, rice and curries
    • Dinner: 8:30pm
    • If invited to an Indian’s house for dinner, it tends to be expected that you will be 15-30 minutes late in arriving
  • Body Language
    • The head and ears are considered sacred, never touch the head of a child
    • Pointing with the fingers is considered rude, instead Indians point with a jerk of their chin in the desired direction
    • Grasping the ears is considered a sign of sincerity
    • A point of confusion is the typical Indian style of head shaking. Shaking back and forth with a bit of sinusoidal tilt is often taken as meaning ‘no’ but in reality indicates fervent agreement
    • Traditional Indian greeting is the namaskar with palms together with fingers extended and a slight bow.
  • Family
    • Most Hindus married by walking seven times around a ceremonial fire; this is just part of the ceremony but this seems to be a repeated theme
    • It is vitally important for a wife to bear a son; only a son can perform the necessary ceremonies required to save the parents from “put” or hell.
    • Daughters are viewed as less desirable because they often require payment of a crippling dowry
    • Indian proverb:
      • Children from 0-5 should be treated as princes
      • Children from 6-16 should be treated as slaves
      • Children 16 and older should be treated as friends
    • Family groups are very tightly knit and children are always in the presence of many relatives.
    • Babies are not allowed to cry but are fed on demand whenever needed.  Diapers are not typically worn and children can pee freely wherever
    • The bond between mother and son is the strongest in most families
    • The bond between wife and husband is next to weakest with only the bond between sisters being weaker

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Reviews: Seven Seeds of Summer by Chantal Gadoury

For a very long time I resisted the idea of video reviews.  As it turns out, most of my reason for resisting them was my fear of being seen and heard on camera.  Since I was a kid I’ve hated the sound of my own voice on tape.  A few days ago I started to do a video review but stopped because it just made me stupidly nervous.  In the past couple days I’ve realized that the nervousness that I felt was an indication that this was something I NEEDED to do to expand myself as a person.  Today I bit the bullet and just DID it.  It might be silly.  It might be filled with disfluencies (um, uh, er, ah) but it’s my first and I’m confident that it won’t be the last.

As is often the case I received this book free in exchange for a review. Despite that kindness I am absolutely honest about it below.

This is a twisted love story drawn strongly from classic Greek mythology. Man loves woman, woman secretly loves man but doesn’t really quite know it yet or even realize that he does, in fact exist. What happens next is left as an exercise to the reader but does engage the reader’s interest quite strongly and has the feel of all those Greek myths that we either payed a lot of attention to in High School or totally ignored.

To the positive side, the story is enthralling and pulls you along from page to page quite nicely. The character development of our protagonist is profound and quite a Bildungsroman. Summer is entirely and utterly changed by the end and has lept from naive college girl to a grown woman in the period of a few months. The action in the novel is at times passionate without being trashy and leaves plenty to the imagination.

To the negative, the technical aspects of this novel are rather horrifying and not just from the typographic mistakes. The author at times slips into a mode of writing that would make one believe that English is not their first language. Idioms are completely misused, words are entirely misplaced and the text just needs to be thoroughly proofread and corrected. Our favorite example of clumsy writing is from page 270: “I watched him disappear behind his black door and heard it silently close.” Unfortunately no matter how strong the story may be, issues like this constitute an interruption of narrative flow that detract heavily from the impact of the novel. Lastly, the behavior of the characters is very erratic, more erratic than can be situationally explained. Summer’s development by the end of the novel is keenly evident but during that transition her emotions are insanely volatile. Her love interest too bounces maniacally from caring to monster in the span of a few sentences. While some of this is to be expected in the stress of such a complicated relationship, the portrayal in this novel is just too much to ever believe they’d end up in anything approaching a happy ending.

In summary, this is a strong idea for a novel but the detailed execution of it fails terribly. The whole text needs a sound editing to even out some of the fractured characterization and dialog as well as to resolve some of the author’s creative misuse of English Grammar.

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Book Reviews: The Hoard – Neil Grimmett

As is often the case I received this book because the author offered it to me for free in exchange for a review. Despite that abundant kindness I give my candid thoughts below.

Categorically, the book is historical fiction-based-on-fact surrounding an unexplained explosion which occurred at an ordnance factory in 1951. Relatively complex and convoluted in its telling, this story twists and turns through many possibilities of a conclusion seeming at times to edge near to the supernatural before gently veering away to absolutely concrete occurrences.

To the positive side, the author’s rendering of place and character is haunting. There are many books which I’ve read over the years that leave their quiet but indelible marks on my memory and this is one such book. Grimmett’s characters are vivid and lifelike and will likely haunt my waking recollections and some of my darker nightmares for much time to come. As I said in the preamble, the story sometimes jogs lightly past what might seem like the supernatural but always manages to come down to something completely mundane and concrete. Also, the author has a keen talent for the graphic. His depictions of violence and sex are eye-popping and not for the fainthearted. Such details are used sparingly, however, and in just the right quantities to convey to the reader that some of Grimmett’s characters are right bastards.

To the negative, this book does require some patience. The author very artfully draws his scene and his characters but it can take a while to come around to a payoff. Once the book concludes it is satisfying enough but I don’t recall ever feeling a moment when I was entirely immersed in what the author had to say. I felt as if I was chasing a wisp of fluff around a meadow and just as I thought I had a handle on what was going on suddenly something new came up that required me to reset and try to untangle what I had lost. The book is satisfying but dense and complex. The casual reader is advised to keep a few simple notes to help keep things straight.

In summary, I get offered a lot of books and most of them get torn cleanly asunder but this one resides in the top percentile. An abundantly magnificent offering that will take you on a delightful journey if you give it sufficient time to develop.

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