Saturday, 19 April 2014

Let's Misbehave

Hello, hello I have special little treat for you lovely lot today, while I am busy beavering away on my SFV project I have a little filmic interlude that I am sure you will all enjoy.

Today's post is a guest one from the ever so lovely Emma of Lets Misbehave - A Tribute to Precode Hollywood a beautiful blog which looks at, you guessed it, the Precode era of film. An era of films I absolutely adore, the melodramas, the gangsters, the glamour, the sassy sirens and their seductive eyebrows! But I'll be honest as much as I love the films I don't really know much about what Precode means and how it shaped theses early cinematic gems, but never fear Emma is here to teach us all about it. So dim the lights, grab the popcorn and settle down to learn more.

~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~

Misbehaving on Film: 
Everything You Need to Know About Precode

While Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean films are generally seen in the light of ‘popular’ classic movies, pictures from the 1930’s or before are viewed as some kind of irrelevant and archaic art form. Strangely, most people have either heard or seen part of at least one Pre-code film. The original King Kong (1933), Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931) and Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein (1931) feature several iconic and easily recognisable scenes that have become both part of pop culture and the basis for many later horror movies.

But the Pre-code era is much more than monsters and gore, it represents the modernisation of American society through the burgeoning feminism ideology, organised crime (ie. Gangsters), financial depression and a left-wing political movement and a mini-sexual revolution. This great combination of history, strong and determined women and the positive view of criminals brought a unique period heralded by Jean Harlow, Marlene Dietrich, James Cagney and the first words of the divine Greta Garbo.

But what is Pre-code? Contrary to its name, Pre-code, which is generally classified as between the years 1929 and 1934, is not actually before – hence pre – a code at all. In actuality, the era in Hollywood were officially governed by a code or a series of guidelines setup by the major film studios as a kind of self-censorship. Named the Motion Picture Production Code – or the Hays Code – it was created originally in 1922 and updated in 1930 to account for sound pictures. Overseen by Presbyterian elder and Postmaster General, William H. Hays, it acted to prevent more stringent and strict government regulation. Late in the silent era, several provocative and anti-religious films, such as, Cecil B Demille’s orgies in Manslaughter (1922) and The Ten Commandments (1923) and The Godless Girl (1929) fuelled fundamentalist religious and virtue group’s fears that an unrestrained Hollywood were corrupting American children. More alarmingly, the incidents and rumours of debauched parties and illegal drug and alcohol consumption within the film community only added to the fears. Occurrences, such as, the Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle murder trial and the death of director William Desmond Taylor - whose sex life and drug addiction was revealed to the world - made some Americans believe Hollywood was not only immoral on films but in reality.

This code seemed to placate the religious critics who ceased their boycott of several Hollywood films as well as prevent government censorship. However, the guidelines were simply well placed smoke and mirrors. Hays, far from being an unbiased mediator, was employed and paid by the films studios, up to a gigantic $100,000 a year. He acted as the studio’s spokesperson and by preaching American values and purity, they hoped the interested parties would ignore the sin, sex and playfulness that was on the screen. Also, they had another ace up their sleeves; namely, by appealing the churches and the government by introducing the plot tactic of justice. Through this avenue, a main protagonist could steal, sleep-around, murder and drink as much as they like as long as they paid for it at the end – mostly via a tragic death scene.

The code functioned to keep institutions out of Hollywood but wasn’t a substitute for enforceable legislation. So instead of cleaning up Hollywood, the MPPC operated as protection and, thus, a green light for filmmakers to include a wide range of sex, violence, drugs, organised crime and negative depictions of police and political establishments in their pictures. The list of do’s and don’ts just provoked film-makers like naughty children to behave the exact opposite and with barely any actual restrictions, it was a free for all. Thus leaving film lovers and historians alike with delicious examples of blatant code breaking. Such as:

The Code: “Complete nudity is never permitted. This includes nudity in fact or in silhouette, or any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture.” 
The Code Broken: Musicals were a great method for directors to include seductive nude or nearly nude scenes and dance choreographer/ director, Busby Berkley, was a common offender. He used interesting camera angles and geometric patterns to fool censors into thinking the chorus girls were more clothed then they actually were.

An obvious example is in Gold Diggers of 1933, when during a musical number, the dancers become drenched and need to change. They undress in levels behind a translucent screen that leaves little to the imagination.

The Code: “The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing.” 
The Code Broken: Actress, Norma Shearer, has more of a reputation today as the typical ‘good girl’ but in the Precode era she created roles that broke the boundaries of acceptability. Her two best films, The Divorcee (1930) – which she won the Oscar for Best Actress – and A Free Soul (1931), challenge the definition of marriage and fidelity.

The first questions the ultimate gender double-standard; whether it is appropriate for a wife to be philander if her husband can? Shearer stars as a cuckolded wife who gives her husband some of his own medicine, by cheating as well. A Free Soul represents a different take on modern relationships by showing an affair between a spoilt society woman and a gangster that involves sex with no marriage. Both films definitely challenge the Hays code definition of appropriate sexual relationships and the sanctity of marriage.

The Code: “Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passions are forbidden.”
The Code Broken: As a director, Cecil B. DeMille, loved pushing the limitations of film and censorship. His picture, The Sign of the Cross (1932) starring Claudette Colbert and Fredric March, is filled with dozens of code breakers.

These include, implicit graphic violence, paganism, blasphemous dialogue and loads of near naked woman. The most shocking scene involves an exotic dancer, played by Jozelle Joyner, who performs an extremely paganistic dance called The Dance of the Naked Moon. This includes grinding and moving up against the female Christian character, Elissa Landis, in an overtly sexual way.

The Code: “Sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.”
The Code Broken: Surprisingly Precode movies were filled with inferences to ‘sex perversion’, a euphemistic and discriminatory phrase for homosexual characters and behaviours, but there is a handful of intriguing examples. Film makers generally used the ‘dandy’ or a male effeminate character for humour or lightness without clearly identifying the person’s sexuality. However, two major films show the flattering use of lesbian conduct, namely, Queen Christina (1933) and Morocco (1930).

Both female leads, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, project androgenic personas by the use of male suits and clothing with neither portrayed negatively. ‘Sex perversion’ is explicitly alluded to in these movies with Dietrich and Garbo both showing the earliest examples of a female kissing another female on the mouth. Strangely, even though the scenes flagrantly ignored the rules and were somewhat condemned by censors, neither the public nor critics generally had any problems with them.

For the next four years before a mandatory guideline was created, the code was the most ignored legislation since the Prohibition and inadvertently shaped an era in which sin, provocation and honestly was the order of the day.

~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~

Thank you Emma for fascinating insight in to precode films! I know I will be adding all of the above to my watch list! If you enjoyed this pop over to Emma's blog to find out more, I am certain you wont be disappointed!
Wendy x

Friday, 18 April 2014

Sew For Victory 2014

Well I guess I should tell you all about my Sew For Victory 2.0 Plans.

I must confess this year I felt a little uninspired as what I should make, normally I have a vague inkling as to where I want to go with any of the challenges before I commit, though my plan often changes, but this time I was stumped. After seeing my brothers holiday snaps from China, I hit upon the idea of an 1940's Oriental style dress and when I caught sight of the Maria Dress by Trashy Diva it was love at first sight, and it instantly became my inspiration for this years SFV project!

Image Source: Pinup Girl Clothing Maria Dress
Isn't it wonderful! Its made from black rayon crepe fabric (and I've just spotted they also do a yellow one which is just as adorable) it has has cap sleeves, a waist accentuating dirndl skirt, and the thing that captures me the most is its mandarin collar and oriental chrysanthemum embroidery, each side of the chest, which makes this dress so striking. 

Image Source: Pinup Girl Clothing Maria Dress
My dress is going to be very much inspired by rather than a copy, I am going to change the skirt to a more slim line one, and add my favorite 1940's design feature the peplum, to achieve this I am hoping to use Advance 4599 from my pattern collection, which I believe, though there is no exact date given, dates from about 1947 and I think captures the oriental style I am looking for perfectly.

I am going to attempt view 1 with a single peplum
I say I am hoping to as the eagle eyed will have already noticed that the pattern is in a 30 inch bust, and well mine is a good ten inches away from that measurement! So it will need some intensive resizing if I have any hope of making it work. My pattern is all traced, thanks to a few lunchtime crafting session and tonight after I hit publish on this post, I will attempt to alter it to fit my ample dimensions!

Model buses make quite good pattern weights!
All being well, I will head out tomorrow to buy my fabric, ideally the teenage goth in me is drawn to black crepe, which if I have time I will embroider on, but I've decided that I am going to go out with an open mind and see what I can turn up, so watch this space! I should say that I do have another pattern which if it all goes haywire I can fall back on (a pattern that only needs a few inches added, and is made up of only four pieces, plus a peplum so will be much simpler, I think) but I am optimistic, I have three whole days to work on it so, as usual, its fingers crossed!

Wendy x

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Things To Make & Do - 'Your Victory' Jumper

 Your Victory Jumper Knitting Free Pattern Knit for victory Wendy Bayford

Well, it must have been a miracle with all the things I had going on in January, but I did actually finished my Victory Jumper before the deadline, OK it was right up to the wire at 9pm on 31st, but none the less it was finished and I am rather proud of it, and the fact I persevered despite a pair of sleeves that would not behave themselves makes it even more miraculous!

~ Your Victory Jumper ~
Home Notes 1945 Via the V&A Knitting Archive
Size: 32-34″ bust
Ingredients: UK Size 10 & 12 needles
Yarn: 3 ply yarn I swapped for some Stylecraft 4 ply in Midnight, Red & White
Knit stitches: Knit, Purl, S1 K1 PSSO, K2Tog, YO (wool forward) & pick up stitches

Your Victory Jumper Knitting Free Pattern Knit for victory

The pattern is for a 33-34" bust so I added and extra 16 stitches to the cast on to make it up to about a 38-40" bust, there is quite a bit of negative ease in this pattern (stretch across the row) so I could have probably added a little less.

 Your Victory Jumper Knitting Free Pattern Knit for victory Wendy Bayford

I cast this on on Christmas day and was pleasantly surprised at how quick the wavy pattern knits up, it is really very simple! It is worked over 9 stitches K2tog, K2, YO, K1, YO, K2, Slip 1 K1 Passo.  As well as being very easy to remember once you get in to it, its also very easy to correct if you make a mistake, generally in my case it was missing a YO, but with a bit of rejigging it was simple to correct, ripping back was not so easy as those yarn overs are a pest to get back on the needle.

Your Victory Jumper Knitting Free Pattern Knit for victory

I flew through knitting the body. To both the front and back I added an extra 2 inches to the length which obviously meant it took a little longer on the needles but it was no hardship. The sleeves I started with great optimism, I usually knit both sleeves at the same time, it probably isn't but it feels quicker that way, with this pattern however there was too much tangling of various yarns going on, I am a bit of a tangle queen when it comes to colour work, so I gave that up after the ribbing.

Your Victory Jumper Knitting Free Pattern Knit for victory

As I worked through the pattern I became more and more baffled as to how long these sleeves were supposed to be. The instructions stated:
 "Change to No. 10 needles and ptn., inc. 1 st. at both ends of  every 6th row until there are   88 sts. Cont, in ptn. until sleeve measures 5.5 ins. from the beg."
Which would mean 8 rows of increase rows, but if I did that with my tension I would have 7" of sleeve before the shaping, Ugh! So I ripped it back and worked my increases a little more often than once every 6 rows, then commenced the shaping. This with the way the pattern is seemed to be more tricky than it should have been I am sure on some rows I ended up with more stitches than I should have. Ugh!!!!

Your Victory Jumper Knitting Free Pattern Knit for victory

In the end I decided to wing it and try to line the stripes up, on the shaping with the stripes on the armholes on the body, this mean that my sleeves have ended up much more puffy than the original pattern and they were supremely fiddly to fit, but at least they are in and all the stripes line up!

Your Victory Jumper Knitting Free Pattern Knit for victory

Though it took me three weeks worth of evenings and weekends to fight with them now they are done I am actually really happy with them, but it will be a while before I tackle anything with sleeves with stripes again!

Your Victory Jumper Knitting Free Pattern Knit for victory

So that's it my Knit for Victory finally out there in the world, only two months late!
If you liked this then do check out Retro Reporter's version she used the Clara sweater Pattern which is a redesign by Rohn Strong, its totally gorgeous! Plus there are lots of amazing projects to inspire everyone on the Flick Group.
Right now on to Sew For Victory!!

Wendy x

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Wartime Farm Goes to the Wall

My little brother is currently in China with one of his friends for a lovely few weeks seeing the sights as they travel from Shanghai to Beijing then to Xi'an and finally onto Hong Kong.

The Beautiful Sighhts of China

As you can see, he has been sending me lots of beautiful pictures via WhatsApp as he travels around, which has been really lovely and has even given me some great ideas for my Sew For Victory project! Its also made me just a little jealous, though until I get over my flying phobia I will stay a lovely 'one day' dream. My favourite photos so far have to be the ones from his trip to the Great Wall.

Wartime Farm Pullover at the Great Wall of China

I mean how flipping amazing does this look, puts my wet week walking Hadrian's wall to shame, that's for sure! But the most surprising thing was the next picture he sent, to be honest it made me a little teary.

Wartime Farm Pullover at the Great Wall of China

 Its not the greatest photo I grant you (it was taken on his old school Polaroid) but it made my year when I saw it! The Wartime Farm Pullover has made it to the Great Wall of China and that makes me so very proud, partly because I know it must mean that he actually really likes it!

Wendy x

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The UFO Hall of Shame

Last year whilst I was admiring Lucy's blog Pin Up Crafts I read a post where she documented her UFO list and encouraged others to do the same. I read it and instantly knew it was something I had to do whether or not I wanted to (I had started a post many months before and then deleted it as I was embarrassed at just how many things there were left unfinished) it was something I needed to do for my own sanity! So after much deliberating and searching of my flat for the hidden projects, here is my list.

There are quite a few so you might want to grab a cuppa before you embark upon this riffle through my abandoned projects, it a long list!

~ Sewing ~

1960's Midi Dress - Woman Easy Makes pattern W11 from the mid Sixties, teamed with some bright, green and turquoise blue curtain fabric from Ebay.

This is a pattern that I 'borrowed' from my Mum's stash, which I teamed it with some lurid 70's curtain fabric, love the dress but it is a disaster! Firstly it needs a zip no big problem there. Secondly some weird things happened around the collar I chose to do the standy up fold over one version A (I can't for the life of me currently think what its called). Thirdly and most importantly, I have taken the seams in way too much, after initially finishing it and finding it too big I took in the seams and guess what its now too small! I really want to finish it, but I fear its always going to look a just that little bit bodged!


1960's Tap Pants - Le Roy Pattern 2035 An Underwear lingerie pattern from the 60's, made from turquoise blue satin I got from Walthamstow Market.

Another one of my Mums patterns, started at the same time as the above dress. It was the first time I had worked with satin and french seams so project ended up slip sliding its way in to the UFO pile, where it has sat for the past SIX years!!!


1940's Bathing Costume - Simplicity 1022 from 1944, made with some candy striped printed cotton, again from Walthamstow Market.

The bra/top is essentially finished, its just the short/skirt that needs to be done, its all cut out, I vividly remember watching Benjamin Button whilst doing that, so whenever that film made it on to DVD is when this project was started! There are two reasons for it hitting the pile, one is that I blustered ahead not taking into consideration the pattern was about 2 sizes too small for me so was never going to fit no matter how much seam allowance I lost! Two, those lovely red and white stripes kept making my eyes go funny, like when you stare at someone wearing a Bretton top for to long or when you see red and green together, so a headache ensured and so it was left to gather dust in the bottom of my to-do pile.


1940's Red Jubilee Suit - Vintage Vogue V1136 from 1945 made from some lovely drapey red cotton crepe from Walthamstow Market.

I wanted to make this pattern to wear during the Queens Diamond Jubilee festivities. The plan was to turn it in to a suit, as I can't believe I am saying this about a 1940 pattern, but I really hate that dress (the front is boring and the back is just over the top, low v and a pleated bustle, mergh, its just not for me) so I intended to make a simple 40's skirt to go with it. But once I had cut the pieces out for the jacket, I lost patience when I couldn't get the sleeves to fit, it was puffy all the way and for once I wanted a nice set in sleeve (you just know that Mae & Patrick would not be happy with a puckered sleeve head). Part of the problem is that the fabric has a lot of natural ease due to the loose weave, so when I cut the sleeve heads out they stretched and so are now too big to fit in neatly.  I do have enough fabric to start again, so I am tempted to have another go at finishing it soon.


Sequined 1940's Blouse - McCall 1192 teamed with a thick blue cotton satin, to be decorated with gold sequins both were bought at Walthamstow Market.

Love this pattern and it was destined to be an ultimate stash buster as the fabric is what was left over from my Sunburst pleated dress seen here and the gold sequins are ancient I bought them when I first stared college, so a long, long time ago! Not sure why this has sat for so long unfinished I think it has to do with the re-sizing of the blouse, the patterns a 32 and I'm, well a 38, so I did a bit of tinkering before I cut it out, but the fit is a bit odd. Also I think the way I have sewn on the sequins, leaving them on their chain, makes it look a bit rubbish as the ends don't look at all neat. I think this will be finished just needs a bit of a re-think.


1950's Hitchcock Dress AKA 'The Dress That Clings Too Much' - Butterick 4894 made with large purple gingham cotton blended fabric from again Walthamstow Market.

Before for my French holiday a few years ago, I saw Dorris Day wearing the most fabulous dress whilst I was watching 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' see it here I knew instantly I wanted to recreate it to swan about France in and that I had the perfect pattern for the job so why did this dress get restricted to the UFO zone? Well the reason was simple, the fabric. I used a cotton blend which on the face of it works perfectly its light and bright and has a lovely 50's feel to it. But and its a big but, it has quite a bit of nylon in the mixture so when the fabric is rubbed against its self or any other fabric for that matter the most horrendous amount of static is produced, which results in the skirt clinging do I put this, to me bum, there I said it! Its not attractive (more like embarrassing) and its certainly not comfortable, so until a solution is found it will remain an unfinished object.


The Jess Dress - Simplicity's Project Runway Collection K2588, made with a pink poly cotton blend from Walthamstow Market.

It was last year that this dress, or should I says bag of pieces, showed up on my UFO list. It is the result of a couple of hours spent watching 'New Girl' and deciding I needed to make me a Jess dress. That would be something that had a sixties vibe, a full skirt though unlike Jess's dresses long enough to cover my knees and was in a plain but pretty fabric! In my haste to get cracking I decided to cut up my Kimono as I hadn't really made much use of it since we moved so figured I should re purpose it, great plan! But I got bored unpicking the stitching and so some pieces got cut out others didn't, so it got relegated, as do most things it seems, to the UFO pile.


Copy of M&S Lace Dress - Pattern is adapted from Sew U Home Stretch. Fabric is a black paisley stretch lace from Ebay.

When I saw this dress from M&S I instantly fell in love. I wanted to make a version in a striking red like the original but, I just could not find a shade of lace that was quite right they were all a bit too brassy or tomatoey for my liking, so defeated I went back to the classic stand by shade, black. I used the same pattern as for my Red Jersey dress I made in the summer, this time though it is floor length something that works really well with the generous amount of stretch this lace has, the dress is essentially finished. But it still needs an under dress as the lace is see through and until I find the right fabric this dress is on hold!


Gertie Coat - Butterick 5824 made from Astrakhan style short pile fur fabric lined with a fuchsia satin anti static lining.

This started as part of a Sew-a-long way back in 2012, and is to all intents and purposes finished apart form the buttons, but there is a problem. The waist has dropped, probably due to the weight of the fur fabric skirt pulling the fabric down, its dropped so much that it has mean that it now sits on my hips, which makes it unwearable. So until I find the bravery to take it all apart again it will stay on the UFO list.


1940's Coat - Butterick B5425 made from some lovely burgundy wool bought from Fabric Land in Southsea.

Its all cut out but with the Gertie coat still looming over me, I've lost the confidence to finish it.

~ Knitting ~

1940's Land Girl Jumper - V&A pattern see it here, 2ply bottle green knitting machine yarn doubled up to make 4 ply from Ebay.

I started this back in 2011 see the post here, I have used knitting machine wool to knit it double up which is time consuming and makes for a non portable project, also the wool is as rough as a badgers bottom (I'm guessing, having never felt one) and I had been dreading wearing it, but was recently told by my Mum that knitting machine wool often has a stiffener in it to make it flow through the machine easily, and so when washed out it will soften up, fingers crossed. Anyway, I have only managed to knit the main body and I am torn between making it into a tank top or finish the sleeves, I would dearly like to rid myself of the bottle green itchy wool once and for all!


Stash Buster Beret - Sunday Pictorial Beret from 'A Stitch In Time' by Susan Crawford made with two balls of Rowan Cashsoft in dark blue and purple.

I knitted this at some point in 2012 as a stash buster for a couple of balls of rowan cash soft I had been given. I had completely finished this with bow and all but the bows were so limp and floppy, that they looked ridiculous so I have undone them and will try something that Mim from Crinoline Robot suggested of using wire to make them...well a bit more stiff! So until I can do what Mim suggested it will sit for a bit longer  in the UFO pile. I also want to make some matching gloves to go with it, so I have bought some more yarn in the same shades...stash buster indeed!


1930's Jan Sweater - From Susan Crawfords 'A Stitch In Time Vol.02' Started this in September whilst I was liberated form cooking for a month, sadly I got no further than the rib for the front or back don't remember! There is no photo for this as when I went to pull it out of my knitting bag I managed to pull all of the stitches off of the needle, so I have now ripped it all back and so no photo and I suppose now it can be crossed of the list, at least there's something that can!

~ Crochet ~

Stained Glass Granny Square Blanket - A stash buster using up the odds and ends of various ply's of yarn.

Oooh only one unfinished, crochet project, I think that is probably due to limited ability rather than choice.  This was started years ago in an attempt to use up the odds and sods of yarn left over from other projects, I have made a concerted effort to finish this off since new years so its on its way to being finished very soon!


Phew, we are done! So there you have it, my shameful unfinished dirty laundry list has been well and truly aired. Its actually very liberating to lay it all out in once place, its turned it from a niggling embarrassing annoyance in the back of my mind to a manageable list of things to do, lets see if I can tick off a few over the next few months! If you want to share your own UFO list then hop on over to Lucy's blog to grab the button!

Wendy x

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Last Enemy

...I closed in to 200 yards, and from slightly to one side gave him a two-second burst: fabric ripped off the wing and black smoke poured from the engine, but he did not go down. Like a fool, I did not break away, but put in another three-second burst. Red flames shot upwards and he spiralled out of sight. At that moment, I felt a terrific explosion which knocked the control stick from my hand, and the whole machine quivered like a stricken animal. In a second, the cockpit was a mass of flames: instinctively, I reached up to open the hood. It would not move. I tore off my straps and managed to force it back; but this took time, and when I dropped back into the seat and reached for the stick in an effort to turn the plane on its back, the heat was so intense that I could feel myself going. I remember a second of sharp agony, remember thinking 'So this is it!' and putting both hands to my eyes. Then I passed out...
It was whilst on the Isle of Wight that I was first captured by this paragraph. We had taken shelter from a seemingly never ending downpour in St. James church and after musing on the musty architecture and admiring the pungent fresh flower displays, it was time to move on to the second hand book box nestled beside the pews, which, if I am honest had been on my mind from the moment we pushed open the heavy church door. I rifled through the books hoping yet again to find something interesting and I was not disappointed, this time it came in the form of a tattered, dusty, sweet smelling, little blue book with the biblical sounding title 'The Last Enemy', I opened to the Proem and read the words above. I was sold. I paid my 25p and we left the church, just as the sun began to shine for the first time that day.

I spent the rest of my all to brief time on the island immersed in this little books pages, amazed that I had never heard of this book or its author Richard Hillary before, and feeling so lucky to have found it. I was even more smitten when I spotted a inscription in the front few pages, from a Daddy to his son in 1943, I wonder if the unnamed son was also in the RAF, or perhaps it was in fact Daddy who was protecting the skies.

After the captivating Proem, the book becomes an autobiographical novel which is broken into two parts. Book one begins with the authors charmed days rowing and occasionally studying at Oxford, his joining the Oxford University Air Squadron, his subsequent RAF training and deployment to 603 City of Edinburgh squadron to fly spitfires, up until him being shot down. Book two focuses on life after, his rehabilitation and the pioneering work of his surgeon Archibald McIndoe to repair his fire ravaged body, his coming to terms with life as it will now be and his realisation that some of his firm held beliefs are no longer sustainable and that some of his actions and the treatment of his friends in the past begin to haunt him.

The Last Enemy is not your archetypal war hero story there is a lot of honesty amongst the moments of bravado. Hillary's is a young man, obsessed with the rather un-English desire for self analysis, which at times does make him seem arrogant, he likes to goad his friends in to debates and is frustrated by those who don't react to his intellectual taunting. But there is something about his unsentimental approach to life, the war and even the deaths of those close to him, which makes the descriptions all the more memorable. 

Immediately that I finished reading, I wanted to know what had happened to Hillary after publishing his book. If I had been able to, I am sure I would have looked online whilst I was reading such was my curiosity, thankfully my parents lack of modernity saved me from myself, so it was not until I returned home that I was able to discover the true sadness of his story. 

Richard Hope Hillary. Born 20th April 1919 Australia.
(Image Source)
After his months of painful reconstructive surgery, Hillary tried and failed to regain his A1 flying status, instead he was sent to the USA to give talks to the people about his experiences in the RAF, with the aim of trying to build up public support for America to join the fight. Officials soon realised that Hillary's 'damaged' appearance made him unsuitable for public speaking, it was thought that American mothers would object to America joining the war effort due to the fear of a similar fate or worse being inflicted upon their own family, though  his 'new' looks didn't stop him from attracting all the ladies, whilst in New York he had a relationship with actress Merle OberonIt was the public rejection that spurred Hillary in to finishing his novel that he had started back in London, once finished it was published in the USA under the title 'Falling Through Space' a title which was though inappropriate for a British audience and so once across the pond it was renamed The Last Enemy, it was a resounding success.

Hillary post-burn treatment, third from right at an awards ceremony (image source)
On returning to England, Hillary again pursued his A1 Flying category and this time succeeded, even though it had been noted in the officers mess that he could 'barely handle a knife and fork'. In 1942 he was posted to No.54 operational Training Unit at RAF Charterhall in the Scottish borders, to train as a night fighter pilot. It was during bad weather in early hours of the 8th of January 1943, whilst carrying out an exercise in a Blenheim V, that Hillary and his Navigator F/Sgt. Wilfred Fison were killed when their aircraft crashed into Crunklaw Farm.

Initially, I found it hard to understand why, when Hillary had been through so much in such a short space of time, and had such a resounding success with his novel, why would he be so very desperate to return to the skies, had he not wanted in his Oxford days to be a writer? I think though, the answer to this can be found within the pages of his own novel.
Much that is untrue and misleading has been written on the pilot in this war. Within one short year he has become the nation's hero, and the attempt to live up to this false conception bores him. For, as he would be the first to admit, on the ground the pilot is a very ordinary fellow...these men may seem to fit into the picture of everyday life, though they seem content enough in the company of other men and in the restfulness of their homes, yet they are really only happy when they are back with their Squadrons, with their associations and memories. The long to be back in their planes, so that isolated with the wind and the stars they may play their part in man's struggle against the elements.
Some have suggested that he may well have intended to kill himself, to atone for the loss of his friends, perhaps, but to me this seems unlikely I can't believe he would have wanted to have taken anyone with him. Perhaps you could see him as a headstrong young fool that put others at risk for his dreams, or you could see it as him dying for his passion for flying, either way his account of his battles with life even if at times woven with a touch of fiction (last chapter) make for a fascinating insight in to the war, which for me at least mean that both Hilliary and his novel should not be forgotten.

Sources & Further Reading:

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Kitchen Front - Eggless Pancakes

It was pancake day this Tuesday past and as always seems to happen, after dreaming about them all day, when it comes time to make them I am already too full from my dinner and no longer fancy them. So I though this year I would make them a weekend treat and have a late brekky, of sticky and sweet lemon pancakes.

Now the only reason I am telling you all this is because the recipe I used is a wartime one, it popped up on my Google+ feed on Tuesday shared by the Imperial War Museum, and I knew it was something I wanted to try. It is an eggless recipe as you might expect for the time and for me this is a bit of a bonus as I'm trying to whittle down the food that is lurking in the recesses of my kitchen cupboards (it appears its not just fabric I'm hoarding) and so everything needed I already had!

Eggless Pancake Recipe
Good Fare published in 1942

1 tbsp Custard Powder
3 tbsp Flour (Plain)
1 teaspoon salad oil (sunflower or olive etc)
1/2 Pint Milk (I used Soya)
Pinch of Salt

1. Mix together the dry ingredients
2. Pour in 1/4 pint of the milk saving the other 1/4 for later
3. Whisk together for 5 minutes
4. Add the rest of the milk and the oil and whisk again
5. Let the batter rest/stand for at least 1 hour
6. Fry in Oil
7. Eat

I found these tricky little blighters to cook, It might in part have been caused by me replacing the dairy for soya milk, but without remaking them I can not tell, either way I think its worth keeping these two things in mind when cooking them:
USE A NON STICK PAN - This means you don't need to add extra oil, This batter has quite a bit in the mix already I found adding oil to the pan made cooking them take much longer and made them much more greasy/slimy.
KEEP THEM SMALL - No bigger than an American pancake and make them thin as the centres seem to remain gooey even when the have been cooked for a long while. Also its worth noting they will take a fair bit longer to cook than normal pancakes.

I can confirm after eating more than my fare share that they are delicious, you can't taste the custard at all and though they are a little more taxing to cook than your normal batter ones I would still recommend giving them a go! I doubt lemon and sugar would have been the topping of choice during the war years due to the shortages of both, but they would be just as nice with a little jam!

Wendy x