Sunday, 31 May 2009

Cushions of courage

With Fathers’ Day on the not too distant horizon, it seems appropriate to look forward to June with this in mind. It’s great that we get the opportunity to thank our fathers for their love, support and encouragement, but this is also a time when we might like to reflect on previous generations and their contribution towards our being able to enjoy the freedom and the lifestyle that we do today - especially as the 65th anniversary of D-Day is also imminent.

At ShopCurious, we’ve got some authentic and very unique silk cushions that are a part of our cultural heritage - and each one tells its own story. These original, hand painted silk cushions are very special as they were purchased as tourist memorabilia by American G.I’s, who sent them home to their parents as souvenirs of places where (or near to where) they were stationed.

Many of the bases were by the sea, such as Fort Hamilton near Coney Island in Brooklyn, Fort Lawton in Seattle and Pearl Harbour in Hawaii (named after the pearl oysters that once grew there).

Whilst sexy poses of bathing beauties adorned members of the forces’ walls, they sent home cushions with messages of sincere love ‘to Mom and Dad’ back home.

Your Dad may prefer a photo of a Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, Dorothy Lamour or Lana Turner, but these vintage cushions make really unusual gifts for occasions such as Fathers’ Day. What’s more they're timeless pieces of history that are collectable and can be passed on to future generations. Now that’s what I call style with brains.

Do you?

Friday, 29 May 2009

Retro holiday souvenirs

Moving swiftly on from 1950s Great Yarmouth, where many spent their vacations within the happily controlled confines of a holiday camp, or in the dubious splendour of a thoroughly modern caravan, to more cutting edge travel in form of the first ever package holidays.

Cheaper air travel was becoming available for the first time and, although still not yet bargain priced, the British economy was booming - and society was becoming more adventurous and experimental in its taste.

Those with the spare cash wanted to travel further afield and sample the delights that new and exciting parts of the world had to offer. The fashion for air crew style carry-on suitcases and compact little vanity cases started around this time.

The Spanish tourist industry really began in the 1960s with the birth of package holiday deals, offering the irresistible combination of cheap air tickets, accommodation and car hire as an all-in-one offer. Resorts such as Benidorm on the Costa Blanca, Lloret del Mar on the Costa Brava and Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol took off in a big way.

Those lucky enough to venture on the first trips to these hitherto unadulterated shores were keen to bring back trophies of their explorations. Kitsch tourist memorabilia and holiday souvenirs ranged from cheap sombreros and straw donkeys to bottles of sangria, imitation bullfight posters and much treasured works by local artists – many of whom were called Juan or Carlos.

At ShopCurious, we’ve a pair of particularly fine examples of Spanish souvenir poster style paintings of flamenco dancers – totally original, and signed by the one and only Carlos!

Some travelled to even further-flung places and found more unique and unusual curiosities, like this quirky and individual hand painted oyster mushroom vase from Malta. The more design orientated sought out furniture and decorative pieces to bring back home – a curious Castillian lady lamp base perhaps?

At this time, Hawaii was the ultimate in stylish tourist destinations, as it included all the key attractions of the seaside, palm trees, sun, sand and even grass skirts. America’s 50th state, Hawaii, has always had strong links with the UK – after all, the Hawaiian Islands were discovered by Captain Cook. Hawaii’s fame was further added to by Elvis Presley (who adored the islands) and, of course, the cult TV show with the legendary theme tune, Hawaii Five 0. By the way, did you know that President Barack Obama was born in the state capital, Honolulu, in August 1961?

Anyway, I think that’s enough globe-trotting for now, my head’s getting a little dizzy, but I’d love to hear all about your retro holiday souvenirs. I’m sure you must have some really curious vintage tourist memorabilia that you want to share with us ...

Do you?

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Wish you were here...

Actually no, I wish I was there… back in the day when Nelson’s Monument in Great Yarmouth (the precursor to Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square) was surrounded by cobbled stones. I’ve just searched on the internet and discovered (courtesy of Google Earth) that the road is now a common tarmac and the very stylish old warehouse buildings that once surrounded this awesome and curiously undiscovered landmark are now rather nasty looking light industrial units. Apparently, the ferry across the river Yare at that point no longer exists – but does anyone else in the blogosphere have fond memories of that delightfully cute little rowing boat?

It doesn’t get much better than when you are 8 years old and on holiday at your grandmother’s in glorious Gorleston-on-Sea, Norfolk. Mine lived in an annexe to my aunt’s house - formerly the Globe Inn, where it was said Nelson once stayed – and that was reputedly haunted (how cool is that?) Added to this were the attractions of plentiful supplies of sand, sea and Della Spina ice cream, plus divinely doughy smells wafting over the garden wall from the nearby Matthes bakery.

Great Yarmouth and Gorleston were resorts that were really in their heyday before I got to know them – during the 1950s and early ‘60s – so I decided to take a look at how they used to be. Here are some of the pictures I found on the internet. Plus this wonderful 1950s tourism video.

Noodling around on the net, I discovered that the iconic statue of Nelson was actually built before Nelson’s Column in London. Nelson was born in Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk and his first sailing was from Great Yarmouth. After the victory of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, where Nelson died aboard the Victory, the townspeople of Great Yarmouth erected a statue in his honour. The 160 foot column was built to be seen from all sides of the town, though I'd hazard a guess that the magnificently monolithic power station now wins hands down - (note chimney on horizon in this pic).

The statue in London was built slightly later, by clearing some slums to create the open space now called Trafalgar Square and copying Great Yarmouth’s original version, but making it a few feet higher – and, therefore, more important (it was in London, after all!) ... and, besides, the seaside town later spawned a host of other famous landmarks.

The best thing of all for me as a child, was that Nelson's extravagant monument was on the way to the Pleasure Beach ... A place where you could enjoy the scariest of rides and the most curious of excitements – and, if you were lucky, take home a few interesting curiosities, ranging from candyfloss and bars of rock to goldfish in little plastic bags, ornaments made of shells and paperweights – plus star prizes that might include collectable seaside chinaware and dressing table sets.

Now sought after by the fashion and style conscious, an eclectic selection of these retro treasures is currently available at ShopCurious. Today they make rather unusual gifts, or uniquely quirky ornaments for the home – what's more, many of these are collectors' items that could turn out to be a great investment too.

By the way, do let us know if you’ve got any vintage seaside memories you’d like to share.

Will you?

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Fruits de mer

I remember going on holiday to Brittany as a student – the seafood was to die for (in fact one of my colleagues had some bad mussels and almost did) ... I lived on crab and langoustines for a couple of weeks, though it was a shame about the weather and the accommodation, as I was sleeping on a bathroom floor to avoid paying for a room. Since then, I’ve enjoyed fruits de mer the world over and I’m happy to say that now you can even find spectacular shellfish platters in the UK – especially in our great culinary capital, London.

I love razor clams – the best I've ever had were probably at The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall...Very garlicky with breadcrumbs on top, presented in a stylish heap that oozed the understated charm of traditional English seaside holidays. Ummm… I can smell them now.

I like seafood that’s quite simple – some nice chargrilled squid with chilli oil – they do this really well at Le Caprice (served with perfect pommes allumettes, ahhhhh…), though my favourite version of this dish was in Ischia at an authentic little restaurant overlooking the sea called Alberto’s – not sure if it’s still there?

Having worked for a Japanese company many moons ago, I’m still curious about the Japanese fondness of sea urchin...

a taste I have never acquired and I wonder if this curious sea creature could have been the cause of the mysterious collapse of George Bush senior at a state dinner in Japan in 1992?

Curiously though, I adore whelks with lashings of fresh mayonnaise - something of a rarity at restaurants in London. I’ve had many a punnet on promenades and piers at seaside resorts – and would definitely recommend Southwold as a destination for all serious whelk lovers. Anyone know where I can find these in my home town?

If you’re a fan of abalone, or any other of these seafood delicacies, I have a feeling you might also appreciate the stunning creations by talented jewellery designer, Ornella Iannuzzi, that are currently available at ShopCurious.

Her beautiful pieces include precious sea drop earrings, precious coral earrings and pendants, a ‘merveille oceanique’ sea-urchin inspired ring and unusual Tahitian pearl and red coral ‘Sarnus Metamorphosis’ earrings.

These unique accessories are very special and timeless in their appeal, as well as being collectable as pieces of fine jewellery - and they could also prove to be a very good investment for you and your children.

All this talk of food has left me feeling really hungry and I’ve a rather overwhelming urge to go out to eat. Before I go, I’ll leave you with this image - more Jacques Cousteau than Rick Stein, but this illustrates how much I'm inspired by the natural beauty of marine life... when I’m not eating it.

Are you?

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Anchors away!

It's anchors away, as the 1980s make a comeback - think Christopher Cross, Howard’s Way, Simon le Bon and big shoulders on board. I looked for JR’s yacht on the internet and - correct me if I'm wrong - but it seems he doesn’t have one, nor does Larry Hagman (is he still alive?) Anyway, unless I’m mistaken, it’s probably a very long way from Dallas to the sea, so I guess he’s got a good excuse?

What I really love about the 1980s is that, although the icons of the day are ageing fast, the fashions are still as stylish as they were all those years ago...

And we've got a capsule collection of authentic 1980s clothing and accessories at ShopCurious that will have you wanting to sail away into the sunset of yesteryear. There are power shoulder pads galore – just look at this awfully nautical original Laurel culotte suit with naval-style double breasted jacket and anchor-embellished buttons.

There's a red and white striped vintage Louis Feraud quilted cotton sundress and bolero jacket, also with classic maritime buttons – and how about some red dangly diamante anchor earrings to match?

This demin jacket with gold embroidered trim would look great with our curiously collectable limited edition Etienne Aigner maritime style vintage silk scarf – and is also perfect for power dressing.

Moving into the early 1990s, here’s a glimpse of just how inappropriately dressed you can be on a yacht – even in a striking tropical print Lacroix designer silk dress that’s as vintage as I am, (modelled by yours truly), and now available for sale at a bargain price… Though I do think this would still look curiously cool today - especially if you want to be really individual and unique, as you travel around the world on your luxury sailing trip. I'm assuming you want to stand out from the crowd.

Do you?