Theatre Review – The Elephant Girls

The very best live theatre is the stuff that piques the curiosity and sends the viewer off down a rabbit hole of learning and experience.

Shortly after my husband told me about an upcoming BBC series about the 40 Elephants, we came across a listing for Margo MacDonald’s one-woman play The Elephant Girls at Buddies in Bad Times. Part of Buddies Pride programming for this year, the play moves on to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival later this summer.

MacDonald tells the story of the 40 Elephants through the eyes of the fictional Maggie Hale (partially based on the real-life Maggie Hughes/Hill, a high ranking member of the group). The all-girl gang associated with the Elephant and Castle gang, and estimated to have been in existence for almost 200 years, came to their heyday in the 1920s when thirty or so of the women at a time would swarm shops like Selfridges, pocketing jewelry, cosmetics, clothes and accessories, then dump the stolen goods in a get-away car to be fenced.

First intrigued by the story of the 40 Elephants in author Brian MacDonald’s Gangs of London (no relation to the actor of this piece but he is the nephew of one of the main Elephant and Castle gang members from the era), Margo MacDonald has done extensive and diligent research into the gang to give voice and flesh to a small cast of the most important characters and events.

Continue reading “Theatre Review – The Elephant Girls”

Delight of the Day – The Most-Loved Recipe

recipe

Here in Toronto, we don’t often have a lot of events akin to the car boot sale or flea market. (We have flea markets but they’re posher things with a mix of antique dealers, local artisans and food trucks.) People wanting to get rid of stuff, especially if they live in flats, tend to either have a yard sale or, during the warmer months, just leave their unwanted stuff out at the curb with a big “free” sign on it.

A few weeks back, Greg was walking home from somewhere and came across a collection of cookbooks on the edge of someone’s lawn. They were old and dusty, but he grabbed a vegetarian gourmet cookbook from the early 80s that he thought I might like, or would at least get a laugh out of. When we dusted it off and opened it, this handwritten recipe for Cocktail Cheese Crisps fell out.

Obviously much-loved and regularly used, the recipe calls for butter, a type of processed cheese, flour, cayenne pepper, worchestershire sauce, tabasco and… rice krispies. And once the brain gets past the pseudo-weirdness of this combination, it starts to sound really good. I mean, look at that piece of paper… somebody really, really loved these cheese crisps. So much so that we worried that the owner of the cookbook this recipe had been slipped into might be missing it. We actually discussed taking this stained, crumpled, torn bit of paper back to where Greg had found the book and sticking it in the mail slot.

If I can track down the Imperial cheese (one I hadn’t ever heard of, but Greg knew of it), I am more than a little bit inclined to make these just to see what all the fuss is about. But if your name is Michelle and you recently put out a stack of cookbooks in the College & Dovercourt area and you want your recipe back, give me a shout.

The Man in the Blue Jacket

I never met Bill Cunningham. He never took my photo and published in in the New York Times. But like millions of people around the world, the news of his death at 87 this past Saturday brought me to tears.

He seemed – from the 2010 documentary about him and from the voice-overs he did for his weekly “on the street” column – to be a truly genuine person. Eccentric as all get out, but honest, humble, hard-working and funny. Cunningham had an eye, you see, that not so much noticed trends, but that started them. He photographed everyone from the rich to the poor, the only criteria being that they were wearing something unique and attention-catching. He had no interest in celebrity (“I’m not interested in celebrities and their free dresses. I’m interested in fashion!”), and would not take so much as a glass of water when photographing events – meaning he was free of any obligation to include anyone other than those whose style he felt truly inspired by.

Cunningham started taking street photography in the late 1960s and always worked in film, keeping the negatives of every photo he’s ever taken, filling row upon row of filing cabinets, documenting the changing styles of the street for half a century. He was apparently approached once to do a book based on his archive but later backed out. I dearly hope that whoever takes control of his estate recognizes the value of his work and finally turns those photos into a book.

Scratch that – I want a series of books. Hundreds of pounds of books – to rival that massive molecular gastronomy collection from a few years ago – that literally documents western street fashion for the past half century. Donate the proceeds to FIT or the Met, or use it to create scholarships in fashion and photography, just please, can we have something tangible to remember him by?

Some other people whose writing I admire have documented their meeting with Cunningham. Check these out if you want more on the mahvellous man and his work.

Cintra Wilson for GQ Magazine

Forest City Fashionista

Idiosyncratic Fashionistas

My own Ode to Bill from 2014.

And if you haven’t seen Bill Cunningham New York, watch it now. If you have seen it, watch it again, it’s worth the 2 hours of your life.

Book Review – The Lost Art of Dress

If I ran the world, every child, starting at about age 10, would be required to take some kind of “home”-related course. I hesitate to call this home ec, because there are certain connotations to “home economics” of olde tymes, but rather a course where all children, regardless of gender, were taught basic sewing, cooking, and home repairs, plus maybe some woodwork and basic plumbing and electrical. So, make an apron, build a bird feeder, bake a cake, hang some wallpaper, wire a lamp, learn to do basic taxes.

We lost home ec in the 80s because it was considered sexist… in my junior high, all but two girls took home ec while the boys were shuffled off to shop class.

But a lot of good came out of knowing how to sew, and repair garments – skills that we’ve almost completely lost today.

In The Lost Art of Dress, author and historian Linda Przybyszewski traces the history of the sewing component of home ec, from late Victorian times to the 1970s and 80s when such courses were removed from most school curricula. The women (and men) who developed and taught these courses were known as “The Dress Doctors” and as individuals and teams, they created home ec programs, fashion and sewing books, and garment history programs for universities, schools and 4H clubs, and were responsible for teaching generations of young women how to dress.

Continue reading “Book Review – The Lost Art of Dress”

Smörgåsbord – Mamakas Tavern

mamakas_mule

I am terrible these days for going out to try new restaurants and either just not taking photos or taking a pile and never uploading the things. So hurrah that it’s only taken me about a month to remember that we had a fantastic meal at Mamakas Tavern.

Mamakas is a fresh take on Greek cuisine, and it’s being touted as the best Greek restaurant in Toronto. It’s certainly a few steps up from the tired pile o’ dips and sad souvlaki typically found on the Danforth, and it’s scored fantastic reviews from both The Star and The Globe in the past few months. Which is why the place was packed on a Tuesday night.

Chef Chris Kalisperas and owner Thanos Tripi keep the menu innovative and fresh, based on what is good that week – many things we had (below) or that were on the menu during our visit have since been replaced with other dishes.

Enjoyed it very much, stoked to go back.

Above: A Mataxa Mule cocktail with Metaxa 7, ginger beer, lemon and lime, and cardamom bitters.

Continue reading “Smörgåsbord – Mamakas Tavern”

Book Review – Some Wear Leather Some Wear Lace: The Worldwide Compendium of Postpunk and Goth in the 1980s

postpunkcover

Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace: The Worldwide Compendium of Postpunk and Goth in the 1980s
Andi Harriman and Marloes Bontje

Back in the 80s, when Dave Vanian put on white face and Siouxsie slithered into a black rubber skirt, part of the UK punk scene morphed into Goth. It was still just plain old post-punk then, maybe “deathrock” for reasons of trying to explain the fascination with vampires and spiders and fishnet, but it was all we had, and we were happy for it, if for no other reason than it gave an awful lot of freaks and weirdos a place, music, and style, that allowed an expression of their darker side.

Over almost 40 years, Goth has shape-shifted a hundred times in a thousand different directions. The classic post-punk style, now known as “trad goth” was forced to step aside for new and interesting variations and influences, from cyber and Victorian steampunk to perky, Lolita, nuGoth and for a while there in the late 90s, world music, folk music, and even Goan techno. All of these offshoots are valid (sub)sub-cultures in their own right, based on a distinct look and sound that sometimes only minimally references back to the original movement. But if you came of age in the 1980s, then that original post-punk style is still the only “real” Goth look, no matter how it might be dressed up otherwise.

Chronicling the decade of post-punk and Goth are Andi Harriman and Marloes Bontje in their 2014 publication Some Wear Leather Some Wear Lace – The Worldwide Compendium of Postpunk and Goth in the 1980s. Looking at the music, the style and the clubs, predominantly in the UK and Europe, that shaped the scene, Harriman and Bontje explore how Goth developed and grew throughout the decade.

Continue reading “Book Review – Some Wear Leather Some Wear Lace: The Worldwide Compendium of Postpunk and Goth in the 1980s”

Book Review – Please Kill Me

pleasekillmecover

Please Kill Me – The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

With apologies to junkies past and present, fuck me, junkies are tiresome. Nevermind that the majority of the most creative talents of the punk generation were hooked on something, and that the junk might have had some bearing on the work that is their legacy, most of the people that made up the punk scene of New York in the 70s were strung out, misogynistic, assholes with a Nazi fetish. And I say that in the nicest way possible.

The origins of “punk” notwithstanding – we’ll hand the coining of the term to the Punk Magazine crew (channelling William Burroughs) although I love the story of Marlene Dietrich using the word to describe Johnny Thunders – and the argument about which side of the pond birthed the “movement” also being irrelevant, the scene back in the day was barely able to stand upright, let alone have their shit together enough to actually be rebelling against anything.

Please Kill Me, the 1996 oral history by Punk Magazine’s Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain documents the progression of the New York scene from The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol to the deaths of Stiv Bators and Johnny Thunders, documenting, along the way, the creation and break-up of bands and relationships, all told via snippets of interviews, strung together both chronologically and by topic. Imagine a documentary with interview clips of people laced throughout and it makes more sense.

Continue reading “Book Review – Please Kill Me”

Book Review – Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys

 

vivalbertinecover

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys
Viv Albertine

Harrowing. Not the bits about being chased by skinheads, or learning to play guitar, or even her abusive father… the most harrowing part of Viv Albertine’s Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys is her life after The Slits. More specifically, her life after having a career, when she opted to move to Hastings, live by the sea and be a housewife.

These progressions happen naturally, of course, and as they’re occurring, most of us don’t really realize how momentous our choices are, but it wasn’t until the dissolution of her marriage that Albertine realized how much of herself she had set aside in favour of her family life – a life that, despite having a kid that she adored (and fought to bring into the world), didn’t make her happy.

Clothes Music Boys tells the story of Viv Albertine’s life from a boy-crazy young woman who found herself smack in the middle of London’s punk scene in the 1970s. Dating Mick Jones of the Clash and best pals with Sid Vicious of The Sex Pistols, Albertine would have been a prime chronicler of the times even if she hadn’t been in one of the most influential bands of the era. (Albertine paints Sid as an intelligent, funny, thoughtful, talented guy who was totally misunderstood and under-appreciated – despite the joke that Sid only knew three chords, Albertine tells of how he taught himself bass guitar in just a couple of days.)

Continue reading “Book Review – Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys”

Four Books on Goth

gothchic

In my exploration of Nu Goth and Dark Mori recently, one of the points I kept coming across was that the Goth kids of today just didn’t take the time to learn about the origins of their subculture. And while there is plenty of information online for anyone capable of using the Goggle box, for some reason we still look to the dead tree format as the last authoritarian word on any given subject. So I went to the good ol’ library and pulled some books on Goth to see what exactly is the definitive and printed word on the subject.

I guess the most important thing to note is that there aren’t a great number of non-fiction books about Goth, and of those that exist, many were created by small imprints and aren’t widely available. What I was able to track down is fairly dated, but as they mostly cover the history of the scene, would be a good launch pad for anyone wanting to start from the beginning.

Goth Chic by Gavin Baddeley was originally published in 2002, making it the oldest of our collection. Despite the title, the book mostly deals with the origins and influences of the scene, including art, literature, film and television, and only touches on fashion in one chapter. Baddeley splits most topics into classic and modern chapters, separating the work of Edgar Allan Poe from from that of Anne Rice, for instance. The music chapter is more of a primer, covering the origins of Goth music and the first Goth bands, but keeps things pretty basic. Even with the “primer” aspect of Goth Chic, Baddeley manages to cram a lot of information into its 288 pages, in part by using a teeny tiny font. Printed in black and white, Goth Chic looks its age, but is a wealth of basic information.

Continue reading “Four Books on Goth”