Friday 24 May 2019

Whither The Hipster?

Edwardian tandem bicyclists b&w Photo
Beep, beep!

To make up for my last post being all about the Ladies, today my Unqualified Opinions are turning to the Gents. Despite my 'hood's diverse reputation, I may need to venture further afield than this Urban Island to check the following observation, but it seems to me that around these parts Hipsters* seem to be vanishing from our streets.

For a while we were awash with Hipsters, Bushrangers and Lumberjacks and the cosy beard was adorning gentlemen with the most obvious professions (e.g.: baristas and tattooists) and the unlikeliest (e.g.: ballet dancers). While I may not be alarmed enough to report the phenomenon to the Authorities, I have been wondering whither they went?

Canadian Lumberjacks poster
Craft beers for all when this tree is finished, chaps!

To be sure, the bicycle lanes are now filled with Sub-Continental Students moonlighting as Uber-eats delivery drivers (and a pulled pork slider is now delivered to the door of the Common Man); craft beers are now sold in Dan Murphy's and Creatives almost outnumber Office workers. So Hipster playgrounds have been evidently usurped. But I'm more concerned about the demise of the Beard.

My first thought is the cause is meteorological and it's merely a case of Hibernation. Did it just get too sticky for our local lumberjacks with their extra insulation? Summertime did see a shedding of their checkered flannel shirts and heavy denims and boots for t-shirts, shorts and thongs. But bare, white legs don't seem to exude the same gruff masculinity for these Lumbersexuals, no matter how bushy the beard or inked the skin. Perhaps in this age of the selfie, the penny dropped that we aren't in Canada, nor do local trees need constant felling.

And as for any Bushrangers out there, while Ned Kelly could cope with the heat of the outback, the urban variety have dwindled over the summer, too. A lacking in fortitude? I've found none to ask as they're so thin on the ground that, lately, I've not felt the need to clutch my handbag closer to my bosom on the way to the bank.

AIF Forestry Unit sappers axe shaving in WW2 b&w photo
How an authentic Lumbersexual says Farewell to his beard?
Maybe best not to try this at home ...

My second thought is that perhaps it's just a facing up to Practicalities & Hygiene. If I was a Hairy Chap, I'm not proud to admit I'd feel decidedly Daggy (Aust. slang: non-Hipster) in this day and age if I was to make use of the accoutrements a bearded gent from previous centuries unselfconsciously used to keep the facial hair in tip-top shape, viz.:

The Moustache Cup: Whilst a Hipster cannot live on takeaway coffee alone, at some point he must venture to eat in public or drink without the aid of a lidded, takeaway coffee cup, a.k.a. the Adult Sippy Cup. A grooming comb or vegan beard brush (stocking filler idea for next Xmas, only A$15!) may be called upon to assist in keeping the face free from Snacks-For-Later but really, modern etiquettte tells us that grooming at the dining table is rather to be frowned upon.

However, I haven't seen any Victorian Moustache Cups in action. And this in spite of the chance to go mad with personal branding, like the trendy Ringling Brothers show below, and earn some green credentials by Bringing Your Own cup to one's favourite coffee spot.

Ringling Brothers and their personalised moustache cups photograph via Flickr
A nice, ahem, masculine selection of personalised Moustache Cups,
Photo Credit: via Flickr

As for the modern offerings ...

For a modern accessory, the Whisker Dam is functional,
but lacks Victorian flair

The Swedish invention, the Stache Shield,
is optionally worn under the nose,
but gives the wearer no panache

 The Moustache Snood or trainer (another stocking filler at a mere US$23!): So useful for keeping the moustache all tucked in at night, coupled with training it to resist the natural pull of gravity and thus droop untidily or sprout in wanton directions. They are rather better made than the beard nets for restaurant employees which are designed to keep shedding whiskers from the food of paying customers and are about as fetching as a disposable shower cap, but are still not the first thing a Hipster may pack for his honeymoon. Like his Lady Wife who may resort to foam curlers in bed at night, these days it may only be a Confident Gent with many years of conjugal familiarity who would don such a patented device.

And does calling it a Bartbinde really add any cachet, I wonder? Ned Kelly, meanwhile, would be laughing heartily in his tin suit at the suggestion ...

1920 Kaiser Bartbinder for sale on antique-gown website
This 1920 Kaiser Bartbinde or Moustache Snood comes with a suitable collector's
pricetag of 100 Euros. Vintage fashion is pricey!
Photo credit:

A Museum-Quality Moustache snood in the
Tallinn City Museum
Photo credit: Flickr

If you look closely you can see that both of these vintage accessories above have a cat for a motif, begging the wearer to be the cat's whiskers; ooh, and a little riffing on Hepcat, the original 1940s Hipster, and I come to find this is indeed the ideal Hipster accoutrement.

Victorian Neck Beard -
Carefully shaven but otherwise unruly

Jaunty Muttonchops and Tidy 'Tache
to avoid entrapping your snacks

Although I had seen the occasional Dastardly Dan twirly moustache about town, which gathers up whiskers which may want to wrestle with the food on the fork rather more stylishly than the Stache Shield, I've not seen the obvious earlier solution to constant food entrapment, what I might term the Radical Shaving Pattern. In the Victorian Age, this led to everything from mutton chops to the chin curtain (Abe Lincoln's choice) and the neck beard**. Those Victorian bearded men experimented long and hard with Beard Patterns and would have found it was possible to enjoy eating and drinking without encumbrance and have a luxuriant beard, tended lovingly (or not) with all the hair dye, pomade and waxes that a modern Hipster may keep to hand. (See above).

Practise, practise, practise ...

... To avoid follicular disasters

Were men braver then? Did it just get too hard and too messy for the Hipster and it boiled down to either growing a ZZ Top thatch and putting up with the critters that may come to nestle in it or just shaving it off. Whither the Hipster? Well, I await the coming winter with interest as these Bearded Sub-Cultures may just resprout in our Inner City Petrie Dish as the cooler air refills with irony.

To be sure, it only takes a razor for a Hipster to shed the au courant beard to slip back into the mainstream but what of the tattoos? Once inked, their permanence is obvious. Well, minus their bicycle and beard, a Hipster will ultimately blend with the crowd since Tattoos are the Intersection of all Sets in the Venn Diagram of Modern Sub-Cultures. They are so ubiquitous, it's an uninked Young Person that is almost scandalously subversive.

As yet, the Laser Tattoo-Removal Parlour that opened up in our area a little while ago, where I gather it is more expensive, painful and time-consuming to remove the tattoo than to receive it, has not had a path beaten to its Shoppe door. While it sounds like a clever business proposition, perhaps they're just a bit too far ahead of the Zeitgeist for now.

Can't be bothered with beard grooming malarky?
Let it go wild.

* We don't really know any Hipsters, unsurprisingly, but we are acquainted with the odd Bearded Man for whom Fashion Irony is not a byword. However our dear friends in America, the Wine Buffs, recently sold their Napa Valley holiday house for a new holiday house in Hipster-Central, Portlandia, so we know a city's-worth now by 2 Degrees. Put a bird on it, M!

** I discovered a blog called Neckbeard Society where one man is determined to elevate it from its lowly status, but I don't think he is a Hipster.

Monday 20 May 2019

One Day In February

Hats and gloves? Check!
Workaday styling for City Girls

As hinted in an earlier post, I've been saving an Exhibition Show & Tell from last season. The time is ripe, Dear Reader, for a trip down memory lane, courtesy of the captivating Street Photography exhibition at the Museum of Sydney that Mr P and I took in. Behold another wonderful social history wrapped up in the Fashions of the Day and, for my taste, arresting and stylish even for ol' Sydney. Apologies now for the paucity of Men in my selection - I was so focussed on the Gals!

All smiles on their day out

Arm-in-arm Fashionistas

In a similar story everywhere, a distinct lack of camera ownership in most households and some Depression-era ingenuity led to freelance street photographers setting up in cities, snapping passersby who would then have an opportunity to buy a copy of their candid and mostly naturalistic photograph from a booth processing the films, with the photographer taking a commission.

Great delight at realising they've been snapped!

Here in Sydney, the first to do so was John McGeorge and two fellow unemployed friends in 1932. Some were self-taught and even made their own camera and honed their skills on the street, while others working for firms that emerged were formally trained, most using the German Leica. By the end of the decade, there were between 80 and 100 snappers on our City's streets.

Snapping a Snapper

15-year old Elsie setting off to work as a live-in maid in 1936,
with all her possessions in one suitcase

After a day's family outing in 1942 ,
young David heads home missing a shoe

Eventually the authorities stepped in to take a cut by insisting on licences being required, and fines were liberally issued over the resulting litter that ensued as people tossed aside the agent's card that would be thrust into their hand. Additionally, handing out cards breached a city by-law and the fines and court costs could be quite expensive, so it was a nice little cottage industry up and down the line.

Another David proudly carrying his new shoes from David Jones,
 the highlight being the X-ray fitting!

Sisters passing Repin's Coffee Inn,
which specialised in the posh "Vienna style" with whipped cream on top

Some city workers could be snapped most days, often several times, so the photographers were a tiresome nuisance for them but for others, they were welcomed as providing a momento of a Pleasure Outing to the City. The photographers, in the main, were well-dressed and engaging, trying to get the passersby to stop for a pose or just smile as they walked by, while the few women photographers weren't exactly welcomed into the club as they were believed to be better at charming the gents.

How good is this look? Hat, snood and sunglasses? Check!
But totally over the Snappers

No non-biodegradable shopping bags in the 1930s,
just brown paper and string

And no strollers for toddlers in 1941,
hence Lance's look of exhaustion.

At a time when the population of Sydney was under 1.5 million, some staggering figures from the 1930s emerge. One company alone, Leicagraph Co, took 22,000 photos in one week in 1935, not all of which would be later sold to the subject, and yet between 1933 and 1936, they sold over 2 million photographs!

Seeing off a ship at Circular Quay

A general call out last year for photos from the albums of Sydneysiders provided the bulk of the exhibition, with thousands responding, as most families have at least one of these street photographs as they were still going until the early 70s. Alongside was a sequence of 40 photos reproduced from an original roll of film taken by Ted Waight at Martin Place on Monday, 26th February, 1940.

Great hats on both the Ladies and the Gents in Ted's 1940 photos

A quick* check on the digitised front page of the Sydney Morning Herald (using the excellent website, Trove) looking for the weather on this day, I found the forecast:

"Fine and warm with northerly winds; a southerly change during the day"

As I'm a pedant and Need to Know the temperature, the Bureau of Meteorology records confirmed the range was indeed 16.6 - 26.4 degrees C. Nice. But examining these photos you would hardly tell, with the 3-piece suits, jackets and gloves. Not to mention there would be no air-conditioning in the shops and offices.

3-piece suits for the gents and gloves for the ladies,
Summertime or not!

I had further distractions combing the Front Page. Unlike the format of newspapers today, only a single slim column of Headlines gave hints of News of the Day, while the bulk of the page was filled with classifieds. The Overseas News headlines, of course, reflected the still unfocussed times early in WWII, using terms such as "rumours", "tension" and "uneasiness".

Serious talk - must be the of the Overseas News

In Home News, however, the headlines included that most summertime of stories:

"Thousands of surfers were stung on the northern beaches yesterday by blue-bottles, which the strong north-easterly wind brought in by millions"

Eye-watering numbers, undoubtedly, but perhaps just a bit of journalistic zeal here?

These gorgeous girls don't look bothered about
the Blue-bottle Headlines

My eyes and ears glaze over with most advertising but I simply adore Olde Advertisements and their quirky offerings. The department store Farmer's Sydney advertised:

"To-day's menu in the Fifth Floor Restaurant: Cream of asparagus. Rump steak and kidney pie, with pommes purée. Fruit in jelly, and cream. Tariff, 1/9". 

I hope some of those snapped at Martin Place by Mr Waight were considering this fine, ahem, summery repast to be had up the road!

Discussing the Lunch at Farmer's?


Further weather checking reveals that it was quite a hot summer in 1940. Listed under "Tours and Travel", (where a trip to Tasmania was urged to "recuperate in its genial climate"), and in a reflection of the strong Commonwealth bias at that time, there were 2 separate advertisements for railway holidays in Canada, with Canadian National Railways promising, "A Healthy Paradise! Scenery Beyond Belief!" and Canadian Pacific Railway Company offering, "Scenes you'll never forget".

Must be getting hot now, no hats on anyone!
Cooling Canada must beckon!

I love the little hat on the young woman on the left

Finally, under "Personal and Missing Friends", where Miss Lemon would post enticing ads for M. Poirot, alongside the three ubiquitous Private Inquiry Agencies promising "Secrecy assured", "Trustworthy men" to "investigate your affairs" and "Satisfaction assured", was the cryptic message:

"Light out - Moved to adjacent block. Will call GPO, Wednesday. Write. Au revoir"

... Agatha Christie could not have worded it better!

Deep in thought: Will she head to the GPO on Wednesday,
even out of curiosity?

* Oh, yes, my quick check turned into a goodly hour where I spent the time in the satisfying exercise of Correcting the sometimes garbled digitised transcription.

Friday 3 May 2019

Flying High

Not Pipistrello

It was my beloved Grandfather that first proposed the idea of Parachuting. His was a philosophical spirit and when speaking to my Brother and I one day, he said everyone should test themselves with a Fearful Task and he wanted to see us parachute and hang-glide once in our lives. So it was that between us, I was the first presented with an opportunity to fling myself out of a plane when I was 17.

Not Pipistrello, either

For my part, I was rather afeared of heights and was prone to jelly legs when I came too close to an edge, and on two memorable occasions as a child was paralysed on a Precipice. The first time, I needed physically rescuing off a clambering route we neighbourhood children used to scamper about the forbidden paradise known as The Quarry, a disused quarry at the end of our street.

Not The Quarry -
Just what it felt like to we adventurers

After sneaking through a hole in the fencing, sometimes I could climb up and down this seeming face of Everest with no issue, and other times it would terrify me. The day I found myself frozen onto the stone face like human lichen, the elder brother of one of my partners in mischief had to be fetched from home to prise me off and guide me back down again. Of course, never would a Parent be contemplated as a Rescuer. If any adult was to get wind of what we might be up to, it would Spell the End of our Verboten Fun!

The next occasion was on the cantilevered marble staircase in the National Library in Our Nation's Capital. I foolishly looked down over the balustrade and realised I was suspended over a void and suddenly froze. I had gone up on my own and being shy and possibly frightened to speechlessness, didn't try calling for help like any other child may have.

My personal nightmare

After what seemed like an eternity, I managed to get my quaking limbs to sit down and slowly shuffled the flight or two of stairs to safety, on my shivering, bony bottom. No Parent was appraised of my Disappearing Act for the duration, of course. And I still get squeamish when I see this in my favourite building in Canberra, and most any staircase over a void.

Yippee! Let's go Parachuting!

However, when a rather gorgeous gym instructor suggested a group from our aerobics class make a day of his hobby Parachuting, I was In-Like-Flynn! These being pre-tandem skydiving days, the jumps were Old School with the Commando-style static line and much practice was needed to Hit-the-Ground-and-Roll with some kind of SAS panache by jumping off 44-gallon drums, a feat I did not in honesty quite master, but hey, I wasn't auditioning for the D-Day Landing!

Pipistrello is nowhere to be found here

While Adrenaline is a very useful stimulus to all Crazy Activities, it seemed that Nausea was the critical factor in my actually flinging myself out into the abyss. I was last to jump, being the youngest, so the parachuting instructor could dive out after me, "in case something went wrong" (!!) But half an hour or so of circling a jump site in a smelly flying VW Beetle while we each had a couple of minutes to summon the courage to tumble out, combined with my childhood carsickness, meant that by the time it was my turn, I was so green about the gills that I had no greater wish than to be In the Air.

"One thou-gaaahhh!!!" ... Not so Elegant an Exit. And no photo to share.

As a more self-contained type of girl, I was surprised and a bit embarrassed to be told that a garbled scream was heard as I, ahem, didn't go through my parachute-opening count properly. All went well, luckily, and after initially tumbling like a rag doll in the rushing air before the parachute automatically opened, it was truly very exciting to be hanging in the air, suspended 2000 feet or so over the green paddocks and not so vertiginous after all, as there was no sensation of falling and the ground really looked more like a picture that was gradually brought up toward you, to the point you felt you could just Step Off and onto it, like coming off an escalator. And it was all over in a flash.

Spending time with a Thrill Seeker

We group of first-timers all survived, in spite of all the cows that seemed to be in the way, the only mishap being one of the women landing in a tree from which she was rescued completely unscathed, save for a broken, frosted-pink-painted fingernail. And when, three weeks later, the smooth gym instructor asked if I would care to go again, just the two of us!!, parental permission was again granted. This time, distraction in the form of concerted flirting meant I forgot all the instructions and when I came back down to earth and landed rather heavily on my (still bony) bottom, I couldn't sit down properly for many days afterward. Ah, well ... it was still worth it as I got to spend the day with this Athletic and Dashing Older Man.

Proof I did Face my Fear

My Report Card, however, is by far the Worst I have ever received. Hmmm, "no count, sloppy arch and rolled". Then the indignity of the back loop as the parachute opened up between my legs on my second jump. Not that you notice these things at the time as it happens so quickly. But the long white space under my second jump is proof that my Frontal Lobe did indeed develop and, while I did successfully meet my Grandfather's Challenge, I felt that hang-gliding was only asking for trouble and, as a sport, Flying through the Air is really better left for those with the wings or hands to do so.

Leaving it to the Naturals

Bats In The Belfry