Friday, 29 January 2016

All-In Fighting for Gentlemen

Get Tough
Things are getting rough out there. I held a door for someone today and no 'thank you' or acknowledgement of any kind — they just breezed right through. Later, whilst dining in a restaurant, a group of two couples at a nearby table spoke at an unnecessary high volume and using language that was so colourfully Anglo-Saxon that I had to ask them to pipe down. They were putting a damper on the enjoyment of my porterhouse steak, which was going down in lumps. They did apologise, but from these harrowing incidents we can only assume that civil society is collapsing rapidly and we must take measures to defend our corner forcefully. We need to fight the good fight.

If you consider yourself compromised in the fisticuffs department, help is at hand. All-in Fighting by W. E. Fairbairn is a step up from the Sherlock Holmes School of Self-Defence in that it takes more of a punch first, ask questions later approach.

William Ewart Fairbairn was a British soldier and police officer, which is exactly the right kind of background to develop a fighting system called Defendu with friend and colleague Eric Anthony Sykes.

With Sykes, he also developed the famous Fairbairn-Sykes British Commando fighting knife used in hand-to-hand combat. Fairbairn also developed the lesser-known Smatchet knife, a close-quarter weapon used by British and American special forces.

The splendidly-named Defendu system is a mixture of jujitsu and boxing. Initially, it was developed to train the Shanghai Municipal Police, of which Fairbairn and Sykes were members — Fairbairn policed the red light districts and reportedly got into countless fights. He was recruited by the British Secret Service in the Second World War and trained allied forces in win-at-all-costs gutter fighting and conquering 'our ingrained repugnance to killing at close quarters'. Quite. But let us not forget that the very existence of Britain was at stake when this book was published in 1942. Desperate times call for desperate measures, cometh the hour cometh the man, and so on.

With sections on blows, releases and holds — and miscellaneous advice including defending yourself with a chair and smacking an opponent's ears to debilitate them — you should be more than equipped to respond out-of-proportionately to outbreaks of impoliteness.

The book is reprinted and available from Naval and Military Press.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Sistine Chapel of Dressing Gowns - Daniel Hanson

Seductive Dressing Gown
Do people who specialise do the best job? Yes, they do, because the rigour and attention to detail that they need to apply to perfect a single undertaking does not allow time for anything else. It may be a figure of speech, but it is also a quantifiable fact: spread yourself too thinly and you become a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. I clearly remember my half-arsed attempt at furniture restoration. What was I thinking?

There is no danger of this happening to Daniel Hanson (below) who has been designing and producing dressing gowns and robes in Nottingham, England, since 1989. His single-minded dedication to the gown-making creed has elevated the tailoring of house coats to a unique level of artistry and elegance. What he produces are museum-quality pieces. The styles are influenced by his collection of vintage gowns and his background as the son of an Anglican Bishop, where he was exposed to the rituals of dressing in the copes, cassocks and chasubles that are essential to the tradition.

If his gowns weren't so seductive to wear, you would want to frame them and hang them on your wall. Take a look at the gown above. It's a Hanson shawl collar leaf-print silk gown with a piped trim. Note the subtle welt pocket at the chest. Strikingly beautiful. Of course you wouldn't want to take it off; of course you can't wear it to the office much as you would want to.

Described as the 'Sistine Chapel of dressing gowns', Daniel's robes are constructed from a cosmopolitan stockpile of the very best materials — British cashmere, Irish linen, Italian silk, Swiss cotton and German velvet. The fabrics are cut and combined with unique flair to bring out their qualities in terms of drape, colour, pattern and finish.

Stockists are listed on the Daniel Hanson website. If the stockists are inaccessible, don't worry, a bespoke gown service will soon be available from the site.

Photo of Daniel Hanson by Ashley Bird Photography, East Midlands.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

A Happy Up Helly Aa

Death to the Old Year
We enjoyed tucking into haggis on Burns night yesterday and tonight we burn ships. Best wishes to all those attending the Up Helly Aa (and here) today. Geographical inertia, as ever, prevents me from travelling up to witness the spectacle first hand, much as I'd like to. Of the many annual customs around the British Isles, this is surely one of the most dramatic. The Up Helly Aa — meaning roughly end of year celebration in old Norse — is a winter fire festival (and party) held in the Shetlands to mark the end of the Yule period. A series of torch-lit processions are made. The main one wends through Lerwick, which culminates in the burning of a Viking longship to signify the death of the old year and rebirth of the new year.

The longship is circled by guizers or mummers (people dressed as characters from Norse mythology) who then hurl their torches into the ship to set it ablaze. The guizers perform folk plays at locations and halls through the night.

'Every guizer has a duty to dance with at least one of the ladies in the hall, before taking yet another dram, soaked up with vast quantities of mutton soup and bannocks.'

No wonder they call it the Northern Mardi Gras. Skál!

Friday, 22 January 2016

Cufflinks from an English Hand

Artistry and Authenticity
It's been a long time since we last featured An English Hand. Since that time their Harris tweed wash bags have become something of a legend.

Slowly but surely they add to their range, not wanting to compromise their ethos of working 'with craftsmen, artisans and dedicated manufacturers' to bring products 'designed and made by hand entirely in the British Isles'. You get what you are promised.

What's new? AEH has been working with talented jeweller Ruth Wood to produce hand-cast cufflinks in silver and gold. The cufflinks are designed with natural shapes and textured and polished surfaces, the front imprinted with facet lines from a gemstone, giving a pleasingly hand-crafted and elemental effect. Your tired old double-cuff shirts will get a new lease of life with these beauties.

The ones you see here are solid silver plated with 22.5ct gold but are also available in solid 18ct gold on request.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The Daily Dozen - A Re-Resolution

Boys Keep Swinging
How did the daily dozen routine work out for you last year? What do you mean it sort of fizzled in February? That paunch around your middle isn't going to magically disappear. I think we need to get on top of this, so I want you to extend the programme and add in some Indian club routines.

Indian clubs became a popular tool for exercising in Victorian Britain. British soldiers stationed in India adopted them into their training routines, possibly inspired by similar clubs of middle-eastern origin in user over there called 'meels'.

Indian clubs were quite the rage. The chaps in the photo below are the St. Paul's Young Mens Society Indian Club Swinging Team from Ipswich, Australia, circa 1890. (Note the male leggings.) The British-style club in the tear-drop shape became the most popular type of Indian club and it's about time it made a comeback.

Exercising with Indian club exercises can benefit your physique, posture and movement; and the graceful circular routines you can incorporate into your daily dozen can be effective in exercising the whole body — though practice makes graceful.

Put some talc on your palms and start swinging, gents.

Bespoke Indian Clubs
If you are not sure of the size and weight of Indian club you need, speak to BodyMindFit. They make Indian clubs in the UK and have standard sizes with weights from 2lbs to 7lbs; but if you are looking for something out of the range they can help with that too.

The clubs are turned in wood — the larger clubs hand-turned — with a lead core. They are built to shape you for a lifetime.

How to be a Swinger?
If you are unsure how to start swinging, then you will find useful guidance in The Indian Club Exercise: With Explanatory Figures and Positions (1866) by Sim D. Kehoe [Amazon], reprinted by Kennelly Press.

Music to Swing By
According to legend, the music on the three-volume Kosmicher Läufer (Cosmic Runner) records was originally created by a 'Martin Zeichnete' as secret training music for East German Olympic athletes between the early 70s to early 80s. An archive of tape recordings of this music was —ahem — found and picked up by Drew McFadyen of Edinburgh's Unknown Capability Recordings, who has been steadily releasing them.

The sound is studiously Krautrock, but I think it is fairly understood that this music is actually presented as a homage and spankingly new.

Why shatter the illusion when the music is so lovingly crafted? With your clubs in your hands and music this damned peppy you feel like you could represent East Germany yourself.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Draped in Houndstooth

Toast is Toast
It was with regret that I learned that Toast is suspending its men's collection until further notice. From women's clothes and home and furniture, Toast branched out into men's clothes four years ago; and this has continued since the brand was acquired by French Connection a couple of years ago from the couple who started Toast in 1997, former archeologists Jamie and Jessica Seaton.

Toast helped to bring the heritage names behind classic men's clothes to the high street. If you wanted a bench-made Northamptonshire shoe in white nubuck or a three-piece suit in Harris tweed in the style of Gabriel Oak they wouldn't disappoint.

As a memento mori — in case this is the end of the road — I picked up this Toast own-label raglan-sleeved overcoat. The coat is made in England in a large houndstooth tweed from great friends Abraham Moon. The coat is bloody warm with my fur scarf; and has excellent deep pockets for carrying bags of peppermints, hip flasks and a copy of High Windows.

And the coat is a good winter length to boot. Why are so many clothes too short for purpose at the moment. Who decided that?

If you are near a Toast, they may still have something on the men's rail, but when it's gone it really is gone.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Living in the Bath

Bath Time Any Time
I find it hard to believe that some people remove baths from their bathrooms, finding them too inefficient for their 100-mph lycra-clad, Canary Wharf, not-stopping-to-smell-the-roses lifestyles. Well you and I like to find time for a good soak, don't we? Not together, of course, although I hear that kind of thing is popular on the continent. (Be wary if ever you find yourself in a German sauna, as I think I've mentioned before – traumatic stuff.)

Catchpole & Rye of Kent, England, make baths for gentlemen who enjoy a good soak. Who could resist diving headfirst into a hot broth of scented bubbles contained by their Copper Bateau bath with nickel interior above.

Have you ever seen a more beautiful piece of bathing equipment? C & R hook me with the accompanying blurb: 'Reminiscent of a time past when one bathed in front of fires, the bath had to be light so that it could be easily carried from room to room. Made entirely from high gauge copper, it is hand beaten, polished and then sealed, giving each bath a unique hand finished look.'

Catchpole & Rye are committed to manufacturing in the UK, with the majority of their products being made in-house at their foundry in Kent, where their famous cast-iron baths are produced. The company undertakes bespoke commissions and can include a logo or emblem on the sanitary ware it casts at the foundry.

I don't think we need to look further on the bath-front. But what should we use in the Bath? I respectfully suggest you keep the following products on your shelf — using a verdigris theme and all made in England — to make you look fresh from the cleaners every day.

Floris Rose Geranium Bath Essence
Described as a clean-cut classic, the Rose Geranium scent was introduced by Floris in 1890, which compliments the heritage of the bath perfectly — Bateau-style baths starting production over 120 years ago. Add a few drops to running water and let it waft.

Neal's Yard Lavender Bath Salts
Bath salts take bathing to another level of relaxation using their briny properties to do things to the muscles of the body that only a trained Thai masseuse could compete with.

Neal's Yard Lavender Bath Salts offer best-in-class French sea salts infused with Lavender oil. Think of this pot as your portable Thai masseuse. As with talcum powder, bath salts are a classic that should never have left your bathroom cabinet.

The Book of the Bath by Françoise De Bonneville
Out by Rizzoli Publications, New York, De Bonneville's book courses the history of bathing around the world, and the rituals, rites and traditions that have have developed around the event — including reading in the bath.

Kent FD3 Bath Brush
What more can be said about the FD3 from dear friends and ancient brushmakers Kent Brushes (1777)? Made with pure white bristle, and with detachable head, no part of your anatomy is out-of-bounds for an invigorating scrub and a tip-top buff.

Vintage Model Yacht
No bathing experience should be without a model boat. Re-enact famous naval battles or just brush up your sailing skills as you navigate around your knees and through the bubbles.

If you want to get more serious about your model yacht, then you may wish to consider joining the Vintage Model Yacht Group.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Prince Philip Style Tips

Buy British, Wear Timeless
We featured Prince Philip's elegantly grumpy style back in 2011 — and he's in the Roll Call of The Elegant Male, of course — so it was nice to see that years later he is getting his due in the mainstream fashion press. GQ has named the 94-year-old prince the twelfth best-dressed man in Britain. I'm not sure how they rank these things, but I'll wager those higher up the list use stylists and have clothes given to them for promotion by fashion houses, which is frankly cheating. I'm also surprised that Prince Charles is not on the list. He might have the wardrobe classic dressers most admire, and he wears his clothes so well — a very strange decision. Perhaps even stranger is that 'casually-inclined' Prince Harry is on the list. Even Harry might be surprised at his inclusion.

So what do we learn from Prince Philip's recognition? First of all, he is completely supportive of British firms: underwear from Lyle & Scott, shoes from John Lobb limited, hats by Lock and Co., coats from DAKS and Barbour and kilts from Kinloch Anderson.

In a related newspaper article, John Kent, his long-serving tailor at Kent Haste and Lachter, says that Prince Philip is particular about his cut of suit, favouring two-button high roll jackets and classic cloths and linings. He appreciates that his suits are made to last and will happily use them for years. He has built up a sizeable collection, as he would after nine decades, which includes five morning suits.

John says that the blazer (below) has buttons that belong to different branches of the Royal Navy, which was Prince Philip's idea, and an excellent one at that. (I can almost hear Ralph Lauren scribbling notes to replicate that flourish.)

Do you know? Now I'm looking at these photos, maybe he has something to teach his eldest son.

Monday, 11 January 2016

David Bowie 1947-2016

Ultimate New Year Diet

Old Friends and Real Boars
I came across a group of old friends whilst at Gloucester Services recently (picture below). Boar Cigars from good chums at The Real Boar Company, who are based in the Cotswolds. The 'cigars' are made from cured wild boar and game. The wild boar are pure bred and farmed by the company.

This meeting got me thinking. Considering their nutritional value, surely these 'cigars' would make the perfect New Year diet. My eyes glaze over when I see figures on food labels, but let me assure you that they are pretty damned nutritious. Not only that, they are incredibly delicious. And as any weight-watcher will tell you, you need to enjoy what you eat or you will never stick to your diet.

Start off with one a day, then we will see how you get on. We can always drop it down, but we might even take you up to two — they do say you should include protein with every meal.

Friday, 8 January 2016

British Warmth from New and Lingwood

About the British Warm
The British Warm is a heavy double-breasted overcoat made from Melton wool, a tight, water repellent cloth with a raised nap. Aptly named, the coat is like wrapping yourself in a crackling log fire on a cold winter's day. (This reminds me of the time I saw a man walking down the high street of Bath carrying a bag of hot coals in his arms — not the most sensible way to keep warm. I think he was puddled.)

The traditional style of the British Warm is in a taupe colour with generous (generally peak) lapels for pulling up and around your neck if need be, and — like countless British classics — it has its roots in the British Armed Forces. The coat was introduced to the British military as an alternative to the officer's greatcoat around the time of the First World War.

Churchill was fond of the British Warm, and Prince Charles has been known to wear one. Perhaps the most habitual wearer of a belted version was Field Marshal Alan Francis Brooke (1st Viscount Alanbrooke) — based entirely on the number of photographs I've seen with him wearing it.

New and Lingwood
Word on the (well-dressed) street has it that New and Lingwood do one of the better variations of the British Warm (top and below).

You don't have epaulettes and a belt (though it has a half-belt at the back), but you have the six-button double-breasted style, gauntlet cuffs and — most importantly — the coat is made from Fox Brother's original 30oz Churchill British Warm overcoating cloth.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Aesop - Violet Leaf Hair Balm

Aesop's Able
If I were to make a resolution this year, it would be to work at getting operatives on the ground in each of the Five Eyes nations. Presently, we have dear Bertie working tirelessly out of Melbourne, often putting his life at risk, to bring us top quality gen in his Letter from Melbourne.

We need assets in the US, New Zealand and Canada, with clean comms, that can provide similar intelligence. Do you have what it takes? If so, get in touch with Mrs T. and we'll put you through clearance.

Bertie managed to smuggle out an invigorating suggestion for the New Year. Aesop has been one of his surveillance targets for some time. It was established in Melbourne, Australia, in 1987 to create a range of grooming products.

He heartily recommends the Violet Leaf Hair Balm (top), a creamy concoction of natural butters and oils that bring order and softness to an otherwise wayward and troubled mane. 

Aesop is now available from reputable UK outlets, including Caro at dear old Bruton a few miles out from Tweed Towers.

Whispers: Strictly entre nous — as it's a somewhat discomfiting subject — Bertie would also like to draw your attention to Aesop's Post-Poo Drops, an 'aromatic botanical bathroom deodoriser to combat the malodorous'. Drop in the loo and your fragrant reputation remains in tact.

Monday, 4 January 2016

The Hunting Pink

The Survivor
Supping a breakfast mulled wine and munching a mince pie on Boxing Day morning, the local hunt trotted through a nearby town. A big crowd had gathered to see them off. I became transfixed by the hunting pink jacket you see here, which the rider said had been in active service over eighty years. Judging by his age, this clearly meant it had been passed on through the generations.

Over its long life the jacket has typified ancient tradition fully rooted and in touch with its community and its surroundings. Governments come and go, causes and conflicts fall in and out of fashion and EUs crumble. Constant and authentic, this remarkable jacket and the life it represents remains steadfast against prevailing whims and fancies.

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