The Mysterious Disappearance of Kites Trousers

ImageIn the Middle Ages, laws in England restricted the sumptuousness of dress. These laws were in abeyance in 1970s Britain; bell bottoms had replaced pumpkin pants and hose, and the youthful populace was gripped by a passion for a strain of men’s flared trousers known as kites. A vulgar coalescence of bell bottoms and palazzo pants, kites were distinguished by extremely wide waistbands.

‘Huge waistbands, obscene waistbands, unbelievably high,’ recalls Justin, who was in the Third Form when kites reached their apogee. ‘People would boast about them, “Look at my four-inch waistband.” It was the most bizarre thing in the world.’

Kites were made to measure. Justin remembers his friend went to a department store to get fitted up for a pair. Their estimated lifespan was between 1974 and 1976. The most popular colours were beige and RAF blue. No school annual exists to corroborate Justin’s memories of kites.

‘We didn’t have yearbooks in this country,’ he explains. ‘We didn’t want anything that would remind us of school.’

There is no photographic or written evidence of kites online. Web and image searches on Google, Yahoo, Mamma, and Bing using dozens of combinations of ‘kites,’ ‘1970s,’ and ‘trousers’ yield pictures of baggy surf trunks and tethered aircraft. People have grown accustomed to looking up memories on search engines.  Omissions can be disconcerting. Friendship beads, skorts, and miniature stuffed monkeys called Monchhichi have all been cataloged–but no nostalgic websites pay tribute to the profane flamboyance of kites.

‘It’s like it’s been airbrushed out of the national psyche,’ Justin said. ‘Effectively, they’ve been erased from history. It’s as though people have a made a pact to never talk about them ever again.’

The photograph accompanying this piece is of a 1970s costume, the closest online approximation of kites.

Addendum: People have visited this blog after entering variations of ‘kites flared trousers’ and ‘flared trousers kites’ into search engines. They really existed!

Inside an Opium Den with Dorothy Parker

Image‘So now I should like to tell you a story of the dead days. It seems that some years ago, Wilson Mizner and two chums engaged a room at an hotel at about Forty-fifth Street and Broadway, where the costliest suite was three dollars a week. There they stayed and went on an opium bender. Along in the afternoon of the third day, when the air in the room was like veined marble, one of the gentlemen lifted his head and said, “Do you hear a little bell ringing?” The others removed their pipes and listened: no, they said, there wasn’t a sound. But, half an hour later, the die-hard again looked up and said, “I could swear I hear a little bell.” Once more the other two listened and assured him it was nonsense– all was peace and silence. The next morning, they sort of finished up, and put on their clothes and went out. Well, Mr. W., it seems that the World War had just ended on the day before, and that the little bell the gentleman could have sworn he heard ringing was New York celebrating the Armistice.’

Dorothy Parker, January, 1935, letter to Alexander Wollcott, the founder of the Algonquin Round Table.

The Portable Dorothy Parker, Edited by Marion Meade, Revised edition 2006, Penguin.

Of Human Bondage Opens at Radio City Music Hall

ImageThe adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage opened at Radio City Music Hall on June 28, 1934.

Bette Davis: ‘The reviews were raves, every single one of them. The picture was an immense success all over the world, and it brought me my first Academy Award nomination as Best Actress.’

Joan Crawford: ‘She was not nominated for Best Actress for Of Human Bondage. Miss Davis keeps perpetuating that myth. It’s incorrect. Check the Academy.’

Bette Davis: ‘There was a mistake, a terrible mistake. Inadvertently my name was left off the nominations list. It caused a tremendous uproar.’

Quotes from Bette & Joan The Divine Feud, Shaun Considine, Sphere Books Ltd., 1990.

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney photographed by Justin Griffiths-Williams at the Hay Festival 2006.

The Windfall Light

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking…

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Lap-Dogs, 1578

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‘The third sort of dogs of the gentle kind is the spaniel gentle, or comforter, or (as the common term is) the fisting-hound, and those are called Melitei, of the Island Malta, from whence they were brought hither. These are little and pretty, proper and fine, and sought out far and near to satisfy the nice delicacy of dainty dames, and wanton women’s wills; instruments of folly to play and dally withal, in trifling away the treasure of time, to withdraw their minds from more commendable exercises, and to content their corrupt concupiscences with vain disport, a silly poor shift to shun their irksome idleness. These sybaritical puppies, the smaller they be (and thereto if they have an hole in the foreparts of their heads) the better they are accepted, the more pleasure also they provoke, as meet playfellows for mincing mistresses to bear in their bosoms, to keep company withal in their chambers, to succour with sleep in bed, and nourish with meat at board, to lie in their laps, and lick their lips, as they lie (like young Dianas) in their waggons and coaches.’

Description of England (2nd ed.), William Harrison , 1578

Portrait of a Lady with a Lap Dog, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, 1665.

One Easy Piece

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Preconceptual Thought

ImageIn the 1920s, the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget began investigating preconceptual thought. Piaget and his team quizzed children in Paris, Nice, Geneva, and Valencia. He studied his own three children from infancy. The researchers collected thousands of statements about the origins of the sun, the moon, and the earth. They asked subjects about the formation of thunder, lightning, and clouds. Questions like:  Where does thunder come from? Are clouds hard? Where does the sun go at night? Can you see a thought?

Children told Piaget that light came from the clouds when the sun disappeared during the day, and the moon followed them in the sky when they walked outside at night. They generally believed night occurred to facilitate sleep.

He asked small children if they knew what it meant to think of something. If they looked puzzled he said: When you are here and you think about your house, or your mother, or your dog, you are thinking about something. Then he asked them what they were thinking with. He asked the older children: If it were possible to open a person’s head, could you see a thought? Could you touch it?

He divided a child’s notion of thought into three stages. The youngest children told Piaget they thought with their mouths. By the age of eight, some children used the word ‘brain,’ but they still associated thought with a voice in their head. Thought was materialized. Children in the second stage tended to tell Piaget it was possible to touch a thought.

A boy told Jean Piaget, ‘The wind makes the grass move and you see it moving. That is thinking.’ A girl told him that memory is something in the head which makes us think. She said memory is a little square of skin, rather oval, and God has used a pencil to write stories on the flesh.

Piaget said that thinking about things separates us from the actual things. By the age of eleven the children no longer associated thought with the idea of physical substance. They had reached Piaget’s final stage. When he asked them if the moon could have been called the sun, and the sun been called the moon, they said yes.

‘The wind makes the grass move and you see it moving.’ The Child’s Conception of the World, by Jean Piaget, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Edition 2007, first published, 1929.

Revenge with Benvenuto Cellini

Benvenuto Cellini was a sculptor, goldsmith, musician, and convicted murderer (pardoned so he could recover his post of die-stamper at the Mint). His 1563 autobiography preceded the hyperkinetic braggadocio of  Kinski Uncut, The Happy Hooker, and The Kid Stays in the Picture by four centuries.

Cellini

‘A few days later we set off back towards Florence. On the way we happened to stay at a place on this side of the Chioggia, on the left as you go towards Ferrara. The innkeeper wanted to be paid in his own way before we went to bed, and when I said that in other places it was usual to pay in the morning, he answered: “But I want to be paid this evening, and in my own way.”

In reply to this I said that men who wanted to be paid to suit themselves had better make a world to suit themselves, since it was done differently in this world. The landlord answered that I should not go on tormenting him, because he was determined to do it the way he wanted. Tribolo was shaking with fear and nudged me to keep quiet in case worse should happen; so we paid up in the way that was wanted and then went to bed.

We were provided with beautifully comfortable beds, with everything new and spotlessly clean. All the same I didn’t sleep all night with thinking up what I could do to get my own back. One moment I planned to set his house on fire, the next, to slit the throats of the four good horses he had in his stable. I saw that it would be easy enough to do this, but I did not see how that would ensure the safety of myself and my friend. Finally what I did was to put Tribolo’s and my own belongings in the boat; then, after the tow-ropes had been attached by the horses, I said that they were not to move the boat till I came back, as I had left a pair of slippers in the bedroom. I went back to the inn and called for the landlord, who said that he would have nothing to do with us and that we could go and stew in a brothel. Standing near me, half-asleep, there was a young lout of a stable-boy who said: “The landlord wouldn’t move a finger for the Pope–he’s got a tart in bed with him that he’s been after for a long time.”

Then he asked me for a tip and I gave him a few of those small Venetian coins and told him to tell the man with the tow-rope to hang on a little till I found my slippers and came back. Then I went upstairs, got a sharp little knife, and used it to cut four beds that were there into shreds; I reckoned that I had done more than fifty crowns’ worth of damage.’

Autobiography, Benvenuto Cellini, 1563, translated by George Bull, Penguin Classics, 1956

The Cellini salt-shaker, photograph by Jerzy Strzelecki.