Saturday, October 26, 2013

Joseph Kennedy in Cardiff

Above is a photograph of then American ambassador, Joseph Kennedy, at St David's Cathedral, Charles Street, Cardiff, in 1938 (he's to the right of the Cardinal). He was, of course, the father of doomed golden boys of American politics, JFK and Bobby Kennedy. Joseph was in the city to attend the National Congress of the St Vincent de Paul Society, an international Roman Catholic voluntary organisation. The month after his Cardiff visit Kennedy gave a speech at the annual banquet of the Honorable Society of Cymmrodorion in London titled, In Search of Wales. Believe it or not I have actually read a transcript of this speech. It begins: "All my life, it seems, I've been waiting to get what we, in America, call the 'low down' on your country." He then went on to butter up his audience before talking about the Welsh influence on American life. More Kennedy-related thrills here and here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Space, Time, Machine and Monster 2

This looks worth checking out if you are in Newport on October 18/19. Space, Time, Machine and Monster is a sci-fi, fantasy and horror literary festival taking place at the Riverside, Newport. On offer are talks, film screenings, competitions and other good stuff. Guests include ace Welsh sci-fi author Alastair Reynolds, Arthur Machen expert Gwilym Games, writer Jasper Fforde, and Afterlife creator Stephen Volk. In addition Rhianna Pratchett will be giving a talk on narrative gaming. You will also have the opportunity to explore the world of Warhammer, create your own animated alien universe, write a zombie comic, and construct Star Wars characters using the art of origami. More details here.

Elwyn James of Swansea

Elwyn James - "Favoured by the Fashionable" - was a cut above your average boutique. In fact, they styled themselves as a private fashion house. Originally founded by J Elwyn James in Cardiganshire in 1911 the drapery business soon moved to the more populous locale of Swansea. After WW2 the shop began specialising in ladies clothes. After the death of the founder the operation was taken over by his son W Hadyn James and his wife - both of whom had previously worked at Harrods. With a keen eye for fashion they bought their stock from London and further afield in Europe. They opened their Caer St premises in 1959. With gold carpeting, gold chandeliers and a wrought iron staircase painted gold - the emphasis was definitely on luxury. The shop was set out over two floors, selling cocktail dresses, continental jersey suits, coats and furs. They employed 10 assistants. This advert is from 1963 - click on the picture to see a larger version.

Friday, October 11, 2013

De La Rue Boutique of Newport

Another fashion boutique active in 1968 was De La Rue of Newport. Owned by Valerie Broome, this establishment flogged cocktail dresses, swimwear, evening gowns, costume jewellery, trouser suits, and hats by Edward Mann. Other trendy boutiques in Newport during this era were Carouselle, Martine and Reynolds. Click on the above picture to see a larger version.

Gazebo Boutique of Penarth

I have a bit of a thing for long lost Welsh fashion boutiques, particularly those that existed during the '60s and '70s. This time period was something of a Golden Age for boutiques in Wales. Entrepreneurial types would open a premises and fill it with cool labels bought from London. They would often augment their stock with clothes made by local Welsh designers. Not only did customers have the opportunity to purchase all the latest trendy gear, they could also be pampered by a self-appointed fashion expert in intimate surroundings. One hotspot for fashion boutiques was Penarth. Gazebo, owned by Jane Elias, specialised in clothes for the fashion conscious lady. They sold dresses, slacks, cocktail and evening wear, coats, hats and lingerie. This advert is from 1968.

New Romantics Against Thatcher

What's not to love about Steve Strange? Here he is in 1984 auctioning off signed records and other pop memorabilia to raise money for the children of striking Welsh miners. I can almost hear him saying: "Who'll start the bidding for this Thompson Twins LP? Do I hear 50p?" Amongst those who donated stuff to the auction at the Oakdale Institute were his showbiz pals Boy George, Elton John and Paul McCartney. Highlight of the evening was when Steve auctioned off the gold disc for his own hit, Fade to Grey. I like to think that today it is sitting proudly on the mantelpiece of some former miner, perhaps next to a Welsh lady made out of coal or an ornamental Davy lamp. In total £600 was raised so that children of miners from the local pit could enjoy a decent Christmas. Asked about his motivation for organising the auction, he said: "I came back to see my family in Wales and seeing what the miners have been living on, I found it quite disgusting." Legend.

*Incidentally, the Oakdale Institute where the auction took place was taken down brick by brick in the late '80s and rebuilt at the Baudrillardian Museum of Welsh Life, St Fagans. It re-opened to the public in 1995.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Swansea Mods

A cool photograph of some youthful looking mods occupying the steps of Mount Pleasant Chapel in The Kingsway, Swansea, in 1965. Think the one in the shades nonchalantly sparking up a cigarette must be the Ace Face.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Running With the Pack

Mark Rowlands is that rare beast a Welsh philosopher. Born in Newport, raised in Cwmbran, he now teaches and writes in Miami. Rowlands first gained attention for his adroit application of philosophy to pop culture. In his books The Philospher at the End of the Universe (2003) and Everything I Know I Learned from TV (2005), science-fiction films and television programmes came under his scrutiny. This kind of pop philosophy has actually become quite fashionable over recent years, and has helped to rid the discipline of its often rarefied and rather stuffy image. More recently, though, Rowlands has been writing about what it is to be human in relation to animals. His interest in the subject was aroused when he bought and then raised Brenin (Welsh for king) - a wolf. They must have different pet shop laws in America. His subsequent book, based upon his relationship with Brenin, The Philospher and the Wolf (2008), was a big success. You can even detect its influence in this recent Money Supermarket advert.

In his latest work, Running With the Pack, Rowlands attempts to answer the question: why do we run? For him it has to be about more than just keeping fit, setting goals or gaining a sense of achievement. What we learn is that Rowlands values play and doing things that have intrinsic, rather than measurable, material value. You can run for a sense of freedom and joy, too. This book is structured around the author's attempt to run the Miami marathon for which, due to injury, he is wholly ill-prepared. He reflects on other runs made during his lifetime, usually with his dogs, in various countries so that the book also serves as a memoir and a meditation on ageing and mortality. He even includes an account of a boyhood gallop up Mynydd Maen, a local peak near his childhood home. The prose in Running With the Pack is always engaging and at times quite lyrical. As with the best kinds of philosophical writing he avoids ambiguity and waffle, making it an easily navigable and thoroughly absorbing read. I've enjoyed everything I've previously read by Mark Rowlands and his high literary and philosophical standards are maintained here. Running With the Pack is published by Granta.