Archive for July, 2013

Tea recs – tea from Steampunk Coffee.

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

There is a small, bitter war taking place downstairs. I can hear it, can chart every action in the conflict, though not a word is being spoken. The battleground is my afternoon tea tray, and the combatants are Miss Hortensia Kepple-Botham and Miss Rosemary Clytemnestra Horsmel the Second (because someone took a good look at the first one and decided, against all reason, that another one would be a good idea). Both ladies are part of some charitable organisation that Does Good Deeds, and every Sunday I am one of those Deeds, like it or not. They arrive at three, the former on foot, the latter mounted on a fearsome bicycle with a wheel that shrieks with all the fury of an avenging spirit. Each will be armed with a selection of freshly baked delicacies, of which I am rather fond, and a small sheaf of uplifting tracts, of which I am not.
 
The crux of their discord is the making of tea and, specifically, the order in which the milk and tea are added. Miss Kepple-Botham is a vehement advocate of the Milk-then-Tea brigade, while Miss Horsmel flies the Tea-then-Milk colours proudly above her billowing mainsail. Each is convinced of the superiority of her position, and each seems determined to enjoin me to her cause. Personally, I’ve been known to go either way.
 
An open tin of Earl Grey tea
 
This rather dashing little tin contains today’s tea of choice – an aromatic Earl Grey from Steampunk Coffee.
 
I confess, I’m rather susceptible to attractive packaging, so I was instantly won over by the shiny container. But it’s the contents that matter, of course, so on with the tasting.
 
Tea and scones
 
As you may surmise, Miss Horsmel emerged triumphant from this first sortie. The tea leaves are large and loosely furled, and infuse quickly; two minutes was more than sufficient to achieve a rich amber hue. If you’ve never heard the phrase ‘the agony of the leaves’ applied to the writhing tealeaves as they steep, I encourage you to find excuses to use it in daily conversation.
 
Scones with jam and cream
 
One can’t have tea without cake. Well, one can. But I don’t. These are Kepple-Botham cherry scones. Not that there’s anything wrong with a scone made by someone named R.C. Horsmel.
 
A cup of tea with milk
 
The tea itself is delicate, the scent of bergamot much more noticeable in the unbrewed leaves than the final cup. With little or no bitterness, and only a mild and quite pleasant astringency, I have no hesitation in recommending Steampunk Coffee’s Earl Grey blend as the centrepiece to an afternoon’s refreshments. Milk first, or milk second, it seems to have found favour with both of my visitors, who appear to have declared a temporary truce so that they can combine forces and read me ‘improving passages’.
 
I’m no expert at tasseography, but I have a feeling the leaves are significant, somehow. Never mind – would you like a scone?
 
Tea leaves that look strangely like a Tyrannosaurus

“…wishes and thoughts in stone and wood and steel and brass.”

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Good old Ralph Waldo Emerson – he did have a way with words. In his book Society and Solitude, he suggests that a quality to be greatly admired is the ability to turn insubstantial thought into physical reality. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in the inventions of steampunk folk, who take mundane objects and raw materials, and transform them into mechanical marvels and other objects of delight. By way of illustration, let me show you the work of Chris Harris, of Scrap Mental Designs.

Chris Harris with some of his creations.

Chris Harris of Scrap Mental Designs.

Chris, pictured here with some of his wonderful creations, is a quietly-spoken man who seemed – when we met – to be slightly bemused at the attention and fascination his table was attracting. I was fortunate enough to spend a short while talking to him about his work, and it was clear from the start that he makes things for the sheer pleasure of invention, for finding a new purpose for this or that oddly-shaped piece of metal.

I should state from the outset that these pieces are not currently for sale; he was invited to the Steampunk Solstice market purely as an exhibitor. And what exhibits!

Steampunk weapons and gadgets.

Some of Chris’ creations.

I think this is what one would call ‘an embarrassment of riches’. In the forefront of this image, you can see a sonic weapon – the control pack is the small leather satchel on the edge of the table, and is operated by digito-hyaline interface*. The ornamented box with the crystal skull decoration is a working amplifier. Chris’ creativity extends not only to weapons…

Close up of the sonic gun.

A beautifully decorated sonic gun.

…and walking sticks (and oh, how I coveted his modified sword cane, which I foolishly neglected to photograph)…

Close up of a decorated walking stick.

A copper-handled walking stick.

…but he also adds a touch of idiosyncratic steampunk style to objects such as this jetpack-equipped duck.

Duck statue with a copper top hat and jet pack.

A dapper duck statue.

I would call these things works of art, but art is such a divisive subject – instead, I’ll stick to what I know and say that Chris Harris produces works of craft. I don’t blame him for not selling them – I think if I’d made them, I’d be reluctant to let them go, too. They are unique, beautiful and entirely worthy of all the admiration they receive.

Assorted steampunk weapons and devices

More of Chris’ work.

As we entered on an Emerson quote, I’ll close with another.

“Every man I meet is in some way my superior; and in that I can learn of him.”

I hope that Chris’ creations inspire readers to try their hand at making something new. I certainly hope he will continue to share his ingenuity with the world of steampunk.

*Touch-screen to the uninitiated.

Steampunk Solstice at the Grand Pavilion.

Friday, July 5th, 2013

I love a good marketplace. No matter where we drop anchor – be it in the bright, dusty chaos of Monastiraki or the fog-wreathed darkness of Portobello Lane, with its rook-haunted air dock – there’s a feeling of adventure, of discovery. There are people to watch, and deals to be made, and artisans in crowded niches, bent over small, private works of wonder. The air is a soup of sound, spiced with music, in which bob the croutons of laughter and the suspicious green flecks of clandestine negotiation. Before I stretch this metaphor too far (and some might say that time has long since passed), let me tell you of our latest stop.

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The Grand Pavilion is a scuffed and faded gem nestled in a limestone gorge in the green heart of the Derbyshire Dales. Time has not been kind to the place, but for a few days this June it was brought to life by the Second Annual Steampunk Solstice event, a combined market and musical festival.

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Two hot, rather close days saw a parade of elegant folk; military gentlemen, devastating damsels, scientists, pirates, aviators, thrill-seekers, scamps and vamps all put on their finest and negotiated the stairs beneath the grey dome to the marketplace. Sadly, Iolanthe was indisposed, but I called in a favour and Higgs was kind enough to step in and take care of our stall while I went to investigate some of the bounty on offer.
 
 
 
 
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Iolanthe will happily confirm that I have the attention span of an excitable infant, so it will be of no surprise to you that I buzzed from stall to stall, examining everything and talking to the stallholders, who were, every one of them, friendly, enthusiastic and generous with their time. Let me show you just a few…

Mother’s Ruin Millinery, as you might guess from the name, specialise in a range of bespoke hats, from unique fascinators, miniature pith helmets and top hats, to large and extravagant ‘statement’ hats. At their market appearances, they also stock woollen dreads – colourful artificial locks of hair guaranteed to turn heads – and medals of all kinds, from the dashing to the downright daring.

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I particularly like the one of the nude with the bicycle, although I’m a little unnerved to think someone has been following me around with a camera.

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There are times, as I’m sure you’ll agree, when what you really need is a miniature self-build dirigible. Or some precision cut cogs, moustaches, rocketship parts or other iconic shapes. Fortunately, Cog ‘O’ Two are on hand to satisfy all of your desires. Well, not all of them. Steady on.

Cog ‘O’ Two provide a custom service, laser cutting, engraving, casting and much more. I confess; I bought a little dirigible kit. Assembled, it will be some seven inches in length, so I doubt I’ll be travelling far in it, but it will be terribly economical to park.

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If you don’t think your pith helmet is quite patriotic enough, don’t despair. Dragonswann Designs can help. They can also offer embroidered hip-flask covers, lace goggles for the delicate adventurer, and…how can I put it? Garments of an intimate nature. Oh, go and see for yourself.

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But enough of that! Here are two Small Great Old Ones.

Now stop looking at the bloomers.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Northern Steam Docks in their own words, sell “Replica Diesel war and Royal Flyerist era weapons and accessories as well as fancy things for ladies and gents”. It’s not often that one can pick up an original Murph Naverick “Jolly Hamster” gun and a selection of fine teas to cure female weaknesses and male discomforts (such as collected diseases of the Empire) in the same place, but Northern Steam Docks aim to satisfy.

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I particularly like the keys on their little chains. There’s something about a key – it hints at the start of an adventure. Possibly the curative teas come in handy after one has finished being adventurous.
 
steampunkengineeringusbSpeaking of adventure, who couldn’t fail to be excited by this gleaming little delight? A miniature data cabinet for the modern thinking engine, this is a creation from Captain Shipton Bellinger’s Steampunk Engineering and, as I’ve always felt most things are improved immeasurably by the addition of a smokestack, I’m particularly fond of this design. You’ll be glad to hear that the smokestack folds down to avoid mishaps, and the higher capacity data cabinets also feature such details as moving pistons and drive-wheels. Truly a little marvel.
 

 
The good captain accepts commissions, and should certainly be sought out at market events for his range of jewellery and pocket watches which, as you can see from the pictures, is extensive.
 
I could go on; I haven’t told you of the leather creations of Jacklyn Hyde, or the theatrical accoutrements of the Rapscallion Collective. I could show you the hand-crafted goggles of Baron Von Krakenhunter, or the metallic marvels of Chris Harris of Scrap Mental Designs. But I shall save those for another day. You can have too much of a good thing, you know.
 
Higgs and I left before the evening’s diversions, although we did stay long enough to hear DH Lawrence and the Vaudeville Skiffle Show, an irreverent, foot-tapping, washboard-scraping  musical troupe. If their performance was anything to go by, the evening show (which included such notables as BBBlackDog and
Monty and the Steampunkfunk Bizarre) was set to raise the roof.
 
Given the state of the building, I’m surprised there was any roof left.

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Strangeness & Charm

The things that we make,
Are one of a kind.
They're out of our heads,
We're out of our mind.
We live on a boat
With dragonfly wings -
We're Strangeness & Charm,
We make shiny things!
...Who?