Wolves in Hyenas’ Clothing

Have you ever been scammed or conned?  It’s really quite astonishing how careful one has to be throughout life, because there is always someone out there whose idea of a day’s work is the moral and ethical equivalent of bashing someone on the head with a cosh.

Whilst I might almost approve of a scheme which defrauds millions of people of a penny each – no one really suffers – or can even almost admire a really well thought out scheme, I have nothing but contempt for the appallingly badly spelled rubbish which some idiots throw at one’s email address from time to time.  You’ve probably seen that junk – English is clearly their 43rd language, and if they really think anyone is going to fall for such badly constructed trash then they have an unlimited amount of optimism…

Which is why, when I see the hyena-like mugging of someone who has kindly pointed out, on an online article accepting comments, that the writer made a typo, I get really quite cross. The inevitability of the howling, yowling moaning about ‘why aren’t you concentrating on the article content’ and ‘stop having a go at him/her’ is the saddest factor.  It’s all very well coming out with that dippy ‘let’s be nice to everybody’ rant, but given that scammers and conners frequently can’t even spell their own names, a grammatically incorrect or poorly spelled article comes across as unprofessional – and could even indicate a rather more sinister intent…

I had an interesting scam letter this week.  One of the better ones, it had only a couple of typos, but they were significant.  It is known as the ‘Commercial Register’ scam, and if you run any kind of business, in the UK or abroad, you could be targeted by it.  An astonishingly similar scam is the World Company Register, and the Welsh Commercial Register is also run by the same company – Direct Publisher S.L.U

Why is it clever?  Because whoever thought it out has had a nice, official looking form and letter printed, and the psychology behind it is spot-on.  But it’s very, very naughty.

First the letter.  Official looking header image with a coat of arms and ‘Commercial Register’ could easily catch out an admin newbie, or an over-stressed small business owner.  It states that ‘your company’s details need to be updated by the above referenced date.  Please revise and approve your company’s details promptly’.  It then goes on a bit more, and those who scrutinise documents will spot a comma where an inverted comma was meant to be.  That sort of slip is highly unlikely to appear in a REAL official document.  The letter does not make itself properly clear, and is ambiguous as to its actual intent.

The accompanying form also looks professional, until one gets down to the small print (ALWAYS read the small print!) and the word ‘receives’ is used where ‘reserves’ would have been grammatically correct.  If the whole thing is scrutinised carefully, it can be seen that it is an order form, which, if signed and returned (to a freepost address in FRANCE!) apparently enters you into a legally binding contract for advertising for a three-year period, at a cost of £863 per year!  Pretty staggering price for a 600 x 350 pixel rectangle on a dodgy website.  So if someone in the office didn’t look too carefully, or had returned the form suitably amended because they had closed down their business, they would potentially be liable for a very large bill.  I say potentially, because the legality of a fraudulent document is questionable, and the people behind Direct Publisher S.L.U are most unlikely to want their naughty practice exposed in court.  But think of the stress that sort of demand could put someone under – particularly if they are new to business, or are already having financial difficulties.

Because Direct Publisher S.L.U are registered in Madrid, Spain, they will be getting around UK laws regarding advertising.  It will also be harder to go and knock on their door to ask them what they think they’re about.  But when I reported it to Action Fraud (the UK’s specialist fraud team run by the police) I found a British address, on the envelope the whole caboodle came in, with a Bristol postcode.  They did tell me that many fraudsters use a real postcode so that anyone checking up initially will think they are dealing with a legitimate company.  A look at Atlas Street does not reveal anything very likely – it’s mostly the back of warehouses.  There is an International Mail Handling company nearby – but that is on Feeder Road, not Atlas Street.

My letter concerned a business that was wound up a couple of years ago, but which still had an extant website – I had difficulty getting that offline.  The details that were printed on the form were just ripped from the website.  They hadn’t been able to get an email address because the website utilised an online form for potential customers to fill in – quite a useful device if you don’t want half a ton of spam everyday.  Needless to say, they aren’t getting any money from me – and let’s make sure they don’t get any from anyone else.

Be very wary of any communication from Direct Publisher S.L.U., the Commercial Register, or anything that purports to have a return address of 1 Atlas Street, Bristol, BS2 0FP.  Don’t get tricked into buying their ruinously expensive ‘advertising’!  And spellcheck your work, business cards, and all documentation – don’t worry about the hyenas, it’s the wolves you have to watch…

Gorgeous gems in great settings – or ‘Classic Telly’!

We don’t have television in our house.  No aerial, not interested in watching it via the computer – and it’s so much more fun that we’ve never regretted chucking out the drip-feed into the visual vein.  The nearest we get to ‘telly’ is a collection of DVDs which have a cut-off point some time in the 1990s (with the Canadian series Due South), but most of which are in my favourite eras, the ’60s and ’70s – decades of sartorial perfection and wonderful trousers (well, I think so, anyway, and I hear flares are making a comeback, thank goodness!)

For some reason lately I have been spotting vintage items in the various episodes I’ve been watching – as a buyer and seller of vintage and antique items I suppose it’s an occupational hazard… There was the Tom Baker Dr Who story ‘Image Of the Fendahl’ which featured some very nice Denby Arabesque coffee cups and an Ode coffee pot in the Gothic splendour of the Priory in which the spooky happenings were occurring; then some more Denby china, this time in the Professionals episode ‘The Ojuka Situation’, with Doyle holed up somewhere guarding an African dictator-presumptive, and drinking coffee from a Chevron cup and saucer (very nice shape those, like the Arabesque tea-cup, large, low, square handle, practical, ergonomic); and the latest spotting, another Professionals episode ‘Hijack’, involving capitalist Communists and a bargeful of silver, not to mention a great horse and Ford Capri chase sequence (in which Doyle can be seen thoroughly enjoying sliding his gold 3.0 litre S all over the countryside).  What I spotted this time was a Ferrari 365 GT4 2+2 (or it could have been an early 400i as they appeared in 1979 and the episode was dated 1980, essentially the same car but with fuel injection instead of the six lovely Weber carbs) whooshing past the window of the villains’ parked car on some motorway or busy A-road.  There was just something familiar about the shape, confirmed with nifty use of the pause button.  Definitely a Ferrari…

I wonder what I’ll spot next?

Mr Bingley No.3- dressing hubby for Jane Austen week final part!

First up this week in the ‘Starter Regency Gentleman’s Outfit’ is the shirt, a remarkable item of Regency clothing.  In those days underwear was pretty well not thought of, and a gentleman’s shirt was very long so that he could wrap it around his whatnots to keep his breeches clean.  Last year in Bath, hubby got his shirt wet after a spot of Regency Bathing, and had to go out again without it.  What with no undies and no shirt, he refused point-blank to bend over to help me out of a grating in which my shoe heel was embedded.  Why?  ‘Because you can see through the sides of the fall-front when I bend over!’ he insisted.  ‘So?’ I demanded, enraged at his ungentlemanly behaviour.  ‘I haven’t got anything on underneath,’ he grated through clenched teeth, ‘and I’m in the middle of Bath surrounded by people!’  I had to get myself out of the grating…

Make the shirt long but remember you can resort to modern undies if your Mr Bingley insists.  These shirts did not button all the way down (and anyone who has watched the recent-ish Beau Brummell film will spot the glaring mistake!) but had a small opening more like the placket on a polo shirt.  You can button or lace it as you choose.  I just held up a bedsheet against hubby to get an approximate idea of size, and cut out a big rectangle, to which I added sleeves and a collar.  The sleeves have a dropped shoulder and are very gathered, and the collar needs to be tall and upstanding.  The collar on this first shirt only stands up with the help of a neckcloth, as I had no idea how to sew it otherwise.  I intend to make a better shirt in linen soon.

resized shirt
Basic Regency shirt shape

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accessories.  Remember Robert Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility?  Two hours to choose a toothpick?  You don’t need to go quite that far, but some very necessary accoutrements to perfect the outfit are:

  1. Top Hat (the taller the better).  These caused a minor sensation when they were first introduced, with reports of bolting horses and fainting ladies.  Probably apocryphal… Modern top hats are made from wool, and are much heavier and clumsier than antique hats – the old ones were made using silk or beaver fur and some very nasty glue indeed.  Hats vary enormously but I got one from Ebay fairly cheaply, due to it looking as though it had been sat on.  You could easily spend several thousand pounds buying a perfect antique top hat that fits really well, but as this post is concerned with creating a budget outfit we won’t go there…
    resized vintage top hat
    Not sure of age,but definitely abused…

    resized inner top hat
    Elderly Top Hat needs kitchen worktop edging strip to help keep shape!
  2. Neck-cloth.  In my case, essential for keeping the shirt collar up… You could devote an entire book to neckwear from this era (I expect someone already has) but for our purposes a linen or silk scarf works fine.  I used a fine white silk scarf given to me by a friend, wrapped a couple of times around the collar and knotted.resized neckcloth
  3. Gloves.  A pair of plain fine leather or good cotton gloves in white will look elegant.
  4. Pocket watch and fob.  Ironically, considering the lack of proper pocket on the breeches, hubby does possess a real Georgian silver watch.  It was a family heirloom and dates to approximately 1790.  A thing of beauty; and weighs a ton, figuratively speaking.  It doesn’t go, either – one of its jewels fell out sometime in the last couple of hundred years.  But it definitely deserves a proper pocket.  The evolution of the fob came about this way:

Acquire a watch (many were large ‘turnip’ types like this one, due to the fusee movement, which was a conical pulley with a fine chain running around it), instruct tailor to put pocket in breeches into which watch fits snugly.  Oh dear, can’t get fingers into pocket to get watch out again as tailor made it a snug fit so watch wouldn’t fall out… Great idea!  Attach strap of some sort to watch in order to pull it out of pocket!  Even better idea!  Attach seal to end of strap so can also send letters to people, and make it even easier to haul watch out when I want to check the time.  Plus it looks nice.  Particularly when lined up nicely with the fall-front.

We did have a leather strap joining the watch to the seal but it was rather old and broke so I couldn’t photograph it.  I plan to embroider a new one with hubby’s initials.  You only need about 4 – 6″ length from the pocket to whatever you plan to hang on the end – and the fob can vary in width – whatever looks elegant.  The new one will be about half an inch wide.  Have a look at some antique dealers and see what they have in stock for inspiration.  I have seen jewelled fobs, and ones made from woven hair.

5.  Cane.  Apart from regulating one’s walking pace, I’m not sure what these were really for in the Regency era.  Certainly a gentleman must have a cane, and in the hilarious 1967 Avengers episode ‘The Correct Way To Kill’ they are allied to umbrellas for the purpose of hailing taxis.  Perhaps the Regency gentleman used it to wave to his friends on the other side of a crowded London street.

One thing occurred to me after creating this outfit and parading around Bath alongside it, and that was the origins of gentlemen’s clothes in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  Their clothes evolved for comfort and practicality on horseback – the most likely means of getting around.  So I wanted to know whether this outfit would work in the saddle.  Luckily hubby has a horse (not quite the usual breed for a gentleman – ‘Bob’ is a cart-horse!  But very well-bred, being a Suffolk Punch), so he dressed up and went for a trial…resized bob greg leaf

 

Mr Bingley No.2 – Dressing Hubby for Jane Austen week!

Following on from last week’s post about creating a budget/starter gentleman’s outfit for the Jane Austen Grand Regency Promenade, we can move on via the stockings to the waistcoat and tailcoat.  Yes, I did say stockings.  If you choose knee-breeches rather than long trousers for your Bingley get-up, then you will need some lower legwear that recreates the silk or woollen stockings worn in those days.  And if you intend to go to a ball in the evening, they will be essential!  For a great starter stocking you can’t beat the microfibre thigh-high hold-up ones sold by the million on Ebay for less than £2.00.  Opaque white will look superb, although you may have some trouble (depending on his inclinations) persuading your Mr Bingley to don such attire…

Pretend Silk Stockings edit
A Regency lower leg!

For the evening, avoid your riding boots and find a pair of plain black leather shoes from a charity shop or thrift store suitable for the attachment of an ornate buckle – the above were Clarks, hardly worn from a charity shop for a couple of pounds.  I found a belt in another charity shop consisting of ornate links joined by a chain, just asking to be converted to shoe buckles!  The effect is wonderfully decadent, perfect for the corrupt but beautiful Georgians.

Moving up leads to two wardrobe essentials which no Regency gentleman can be without – apart from convention and etiquette, the cut of a man’s waistcoat and tailcoat revealed quite a lot about his habits and income.  The tailcoat style underwent many developments from the late eighteenth century to the last years of George IV’s reign, but for the ‘Jane Austen Regency’ era it is quite flexible, the main elements to include being a tall collar, no backseam (unlike a modern tailcoat) and a fairly long arm.  There are plenty of patterns available for making your own, but allow plenty of time because there is a lot of tailoring involved.  I decided that I didn’t have time to make one, and I was extremely lucky to find one for sale on Etsy which had been used as a theatrical costume.  It’s beautifully made and was an astonishing bargain for about £50.  One of the features of Regency fashion was a high-cut coat front exposing an inch or two of waistcoat, which should have a level front unlike the earlier pointy ones.  Hubby’s waistcoat was my big tailoring debut; I bought a pattern from Rocking Horse (many Regency garment patterns available) and dug out some glorious fabric which came to me years ago from Harrods via my sister’s Mother in Law; the Prince Regent himself would have adored it, the weave is tropical birds, palm trees, pineapples – think Brighton Pavilion in jacquard…

Regency Waistcoat
Regency waistcoat – Brighton Pavilion design…

Although it looks quite simple it took several weeks to make, and that was without the optional pockets!  Some sources suggest that a waistcoat should have self-covered buttons, others vary.  I had no suitable buttons so tortured the fabric onto those patent self-cover metal things from craft shops.  Murder for the fingernails…

Waist and Tailcoat close up
Regency era tailcoat.  (A gentleman ought really to keep his gloves on…)

Next week I’ll do the easier bits – the shirt (vital in more ways than one!), the accessories and you should be well on the way to a perfect Dandy!

My Short Story in new Napoleonic Book!

I’m really very excited because I had a short story accepted for a Napoleonic anthology earlier this year – and the book is released on Monday 18th July!

The book is called ‘Tales from the Sergeant’s Pack’ and features a collection of tales covering diverse Napoleonic era subjects.  My tale concerns Misogamy and Cross-dressing on the High Seas!  Or you could just ask ‘Why would a woman dress as a man and run away to war?’  I’ve often wondered why they did that, so here is one possible answer…

The book is raising money for St Luke’s Hospice where the 32nd Regiment Sergeant, Tiny, was cared for during his last weeks.  Available in ebook and paperback form, I hope you will buy a copy and enjoy the tales!

Napoleonic Anthology

 

Mr Bingley! – Dressing Hubby for Jane Austen week

With Bath’s Jane Austen Grand Regency Promenade coming up in September, I recalled the difficulty I had sourcing a gentleman’s outfit for the first time – and thought I would share a few tips over the coming weeks for all budding Mr Bingleys out there (no, not Darcy – everyone does Darcy!).

The first year hubby and I went to Bath for Jane Austen week was the year of the Guinness Book of Records attempt for the Most People dressed in Regency Costume in One Place (I think that is what it was called, anyway!) and it was pretty much a spur of the moment thing, with only a couple of months to make two outfits!  And I didn’t know the first thing about Regency attire.  So here are some tips to avoid the obvious (and not so obvious) mistakes which end up giving a bad joke shop flavour to your outfit.  We also had a tiny budget, so all these tips will help if your income is a bit less than £5000 per year…

  1. Avoid zips!  Nothing ruins a JA outfit quicker than a zipper – because they weren’t even invented then.  Patents for ‘Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure’ and such delights did not appear until the 1850s; well into Victoria’s reign, and even then were not pursued commercially until much later.  With my anti-zip radar focussed, I went on a search for men’s long boots – and found the Bargain Of The Year on Ebay; 3 sets of riding boots, one long and two jodhpur, all caked in dust and hard as rock, for £6.00.  My friend had a fit when she saw them, thinking them only fit for the dustbin, but a good wash, and about 10 coats of leather conditioner later, the smartest pair of hunting boots I’d ever seen were gleaming at me so violently I could have put a frame around them and used them for a mirror.  Then we had a teeny setback – hubby couldn’t get in them as they had moulded to the original rider’s legs, and by the look of it, he had spent at least 12 hours a day in the saddle.  So out came the steam wallpaper stripper, furious steaming of boots to soften the leather, and in with hubby’s foot, quick.  Took a few goes, and admittedly it was several hours before we could get him out of them again (and there is more to that story…) as they shrunk to fit!  Any long riding boot sans zip will do the job – but if you can get a pair with an oxblood coloured leather strip at the top, so much the better, as that was the type most in use at the time (the tasselled ‘Hessian’ boot is another alternative – more on that later).

    boots close up
    Long riding boots with no zip
  2. Decide on your leg wear – trousers or breeches?  Without going into a history of the trouser (more on that elsewhere!) the basic types considered wearable for the period would be knee-breeches (my personal favourite for sheer elegance) or a long trouser/pantaloons.  Any legwear should be as close-fitting as possible to look right (you don’t want to look like a sailor!) – and there are ways and means of achieving this.  One is to get very complicated and cut things on the bias – and you really need some dressmaking/tailoring skills to do this well.  The easier, and arguably cheaper alternative is to use a stretchy material.  I managed hubby’s breeches by mutilating his only pair of show jodhpurs – and I defend my decision on the basis that he only wore them to one show, anyway – I cut the lower legs away and used the material to produce the wide waistband behind the fall-front, which is absolutely essential, because, of course, there were no flies as we know them.  The fall-front was a buttoned flap which covered the front join of the trouser, and the gentleman’s modesty… If you are converting existing garments, just cut either side of the front seam to form the flap, and join some fabric onto the cut edge behind it, with some fastenings to keep the trouser together.  Whatever you use will be hidden by the flap. For the most authentic result you want a trouser that has a big baggy seat- without stretch fabrics, the poor old Georgians could only sit down if they had plenty of cloth in reserve.  But for a starter Regency outfit, it won’t matter, as your seat will be covered by your tailcoat.  And a gentleman never, ever took off his coat in public!
breeches close up
Knee-breeches converted from jodhpurs
behind the fall-front
Behind the fall-front (bulge is watch pocket – no time to do it properly!)

Finish off your knee-breeches with two or three buttons at the knee and a channel along the lower hem, through which you can thread a tape or ribbon to adjust the fit of the legs.  (This is something I omitted due to lack of time, and I had to sew the bottom of the legs together as the buttons weren’t strong enough on their own!)

These breeches have seen two years service in re-enacting now, and are still holding up.  I really think I ought to make a new pair…This time with a proper watch pocket!

I hope you have found these tips useful.  Next week’s post will feature the waistcoat and tailcoat of ‘Mr Bingley’s’ get-up!

 

 

A Menu Ten Feet Long

Ever noticed that the main thing on a menu these days is verbiage?  I ordered some dish the other day and forgot it half way through its description.  Admittedly, vegetarians usually have an easy job, Mushroom Stroganoff being the only possibility in a carnage of meat, but that day I joined the ranks of exhausted omnivores attempting to eat out.

Possibly the urban centres have moved on to another trend, but here in the provinces it still seems necessary to describe Beef Wellington as ‘Pan-fried, pulled- out, poked-in bull’s toenails in a seared turnip sauce enwrapped in double-buttered pastry, served on a bed of very expensive, bitter, wilted lettuce’.

Now I just want a name for my dish so that I can order it, not a detailed account of how to cook it.  If I wanted to cook it I would have stayed at home and invented it myself.  Like yesterday’s homemade luncheon – Quorn Swedish-style balls lightly fried in olive oil, jostled in spinach gravy, accompanied by oven-baked round mounds of finest sage and onion stuffing.  That would go a treat on the Specials board of some of my local eateries.  What did I call it?

Balls.