Springingtiger's Blog


I Won’t Sing The Asylum Blues.

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I am a little disappointed that my plan to attend the Asylum in Lincoln again this year will not come to fruition. However the simple fact is that I cannot afford it. I am not blaming the ticket prices which are not at all unreasonable, at £36 for a weekend wristband that covers and enables participation in events for four days (and probably Thursday evening) that’s less than a tenner a day for a lot of fun and access to the most amazing Steampunk markets. Of course tickets to Evening Events add to the cost, but with a city full of Steampunks there’s plenty of fun to be had without paying for evening entertainment. I should point out that while tickets for the Steam Powered Giraffe concert are £25 (worth every penny and cheap for the BEST BAND in the Universe) most of the other evening events only cost £12.00 and that’s positively cheap these days! Sadly one also needs to factor in the costs of accommodation, transport, and food and my budget won’t stretch that far.

Of course not going to Asylum provides no block to my Steampunkery. I have written several times in my blog and in the Glasgow Ubiquitous E. Steampunk Society Newsletter about how Steampunk accommodates itself to a limited budget. Although the Asylum is out this year, and I’m sure there are others in a similar position, there are still plenty of local opportunities for unexpurgated Steampunkery. Most countries now host a number of Comic Cons and our Glasgow group takes advantage of them. As well as the Cons there are plenty of other events to which our group is actively invited so there are plenty of occasions to enjoy. It’s true that these events are not the same as being surrounded by thousands of fellow Steampunks for a weekend, but they do allow what one might call ‘missionary work’. After each event we attend we receive requests to join GUESS. Although we may only have a handful of members at an event our online group is growing and it’s not always the same members who attend each event.

Perhaps the hardest part of not going to Asylum is reading the posts of all those excited people on ‘Welcome To The Asylum‘ who are preparing to attend. However, on the plus side, this does at least hold out the promise of some wonderful photograph albums to peruse in September. There are so many events I can’t attend like Wild West Con and the Steampunk World’s Fair, but whose photos provide pleasure and inspiration; this year the Asylum will be another of them.

One of the pleasures of the Asylum is watching civilians walking through the markets and gradually becoming Steampunked. That’s the first step for some, hopefully it leads on to crafting one’s own Steampunk creations. Events like the Asylum are a huge boost for one’s Steampunk soul, but life has to go on and so does one’s Steampunkery. Perhaps the true power of Steampunk is not that it can bring thousands of Steampunks together on the Castle Green during Asylum, but that it can provide them with pleasure and purpose throughout the other three hundred and sixty days of the year.

I won’t be at Asylum this year, but I won’t suffer the Asylum Blues, my life steams on regardless. However to those who are going may I wish you all a wonderful time and good weather. If it rains there’s usually cover somewhere, last year as a shower came in I found myself in a tent full of corsets feeling like a character from Father Ted. I hope you have fun and make new discoveries. Take time to appreciate the organisers (The Victorian Steampunk Society) and volunteers too, they do a terrific job. Oh, and please post lots of photos to the Welcome To The Asylum Page, we’d all love to see what you get up to.

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Fezzes are Cool!

 

20160905_221540-01On the last Glasgow Ubiquitous E Steampunk Society walking workshop I picked up a very nice fez. I had been wearing a cap with frock coat, waistcoat, and Ascot producing a suggestion of paddle-steamer captain, however the substitution of the fez totally transformed the effect into that of a Turkish Ambassador in the closing days of the Ottoman Empire. It occurs to me that often one’s headgear is the key to any Steampunk look, or indeed any costume.

 

It is no accident that people coming into Steampunkery tend to start at the head. I have noticed at Comic Cons people swaggering away from the Victoriana for Voluptuous Vixen‘s fb_img_1467495332850-01.jpegstall having added a top hat and goggles to their tee shirt and jeans. At the Asylum I saw the same phenomenon at the markets, people inspired by the costumes around them, adding a hat and goggles to their everyday clothes. You may say Steampunk begins in the head, but perhaps on the head may be as accurate. Indeed when at Lincoln the organisers were trying to set up a record for the most Steampunks in one place a suitable hat and or goggles was considered sufficient to identify one as a Steampunk.

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I have found that carrying a cap can quickly enable a change of character. I like to wear my white German naval jacket with a Sam Browne and pith helmet to give it a military look, but the moment I remove the Sam Browne and pith helmet and replace it with a white cap wpid-20140306_174255_1.jpgit changes the whole appearance and feel of the outfit, I used the jacket twice in Lincoln in exactly this way. For a small investment in weight, space, and cost a few hats and caps can extend one’s wardrobe greatly. Even just opening ones jacket to expose a waistcoat beneath it can have a transformative effect. It is easy to be overawed by the intricacy of the Steampunk outfits one sees around one, however once you have a few basics the rest is really just window dressing. Okay, I admit I know very few Steampunks who appear to 20160905_221929-01accept the truth of the saying that less is more, I think the real truth is that a little can be enough, a little worn with style.

 

People associate top hats with Steampunk, but attend any gathering of Steampunks and it quickly becomes apparent that while most wear hats, the variety of headgear is enormous: Pickle helmets and pith helmets, junior top hats, bowlers, boaters, homburgs and fedoras, flying helmets and fascinators, the choice is yours, but remember these immortal words of wisdom, “Fezzes are cool!”.



What Price Fun?
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Lincoln Ukulele Club

Today a friend asked me whether Asylum was expensive. I suppose the interpretation of expensive is a matter of opinion and may depend on a person’s financial resources. I must say I felt that a weekend pass for just under thirty eight pounds was excellent value given that the festival begins on Thursday evening (Okay I know the programme ostensibly starts on Friday and the opening isn’t until Saturday) and ends on Monday evening. When you divide the cost of the wristband by the number of days the event lasts it is cheap compared to a comic con.

 

The ticketed events can add quite a lot to one’s spend. The tickets for the Steam Powered Giraffe concert were nearly twenty five pounds and worth many times that! Apart from SPG we were also treated to two excellent support acts: Alice’s Night Circus (for some reason I keep calling it Alice’s Night Garden…I’m such a Tombliboo!) and Before Victoria. I have it on the authority of a young person that twenty five pounds is perfectly reasonable for a gig with two supports. Because I started my bookings a bit late I only bought tickets to one evening entertainment, however many people were content not to buy tickets and just to spend their evenings socialising. The Bus Bar with its upstairs cocktail bar remained open to eight o’ clock, but thereafter Lincoln is well served with public houses.

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Steam Powered Giraffe Q&A

As I mentioned in a previous post, for the price of the wrist band one gets access to a lot of events. There was plenty of free musical entertainment around the Castle and Westgate Centre. BJ Skinner playing the Blues, Morris Dancing from Poacher Morris and from the Raven’s Morris (Steampunk Morris Dancers), there was even Steampunk Belly dancing…no, really! Talking of dancing the Scarlet Butterfly was quite amazing. Alice’s Night Circus had a free gig at the Castle. For me my biggest surprise was discovering I like Ukulele bands thanks to the Lincoln Ukelele Club.

 

There were four markets of which I have already written and a food court with a bus dispensing gin…and anything else one might need like an emergency martini.

 

There were some amazing panels, talks, and workshops. So many I couldn’t get to all I wanted. I did go to what to me was essential, the Steam Powered Giraffe Q & A. However I now know all about Gin, how to use Simplicity sewing patterns (I think I need a bustle!), and how to use EVA to create my own armour, or just about anything else for that matter. There were talks on how to organise Steampunk Event, the history of airships, what Steampunk is in Steampunk 101, and advice on almost every aspect of writing a steampunk novel. Workshops included things as diverse as circus skills, making greetings cards, and Steampunk Knitting, yes that’s a thing! There wre workshops on making prosthetics, exo-suits. Accompanying the display of Gary Nicholl’s ‘Imaginarium’ there was a talk explaining the magic. There was even advice on copyright pitfalls facing those wanting to steampunk various fandoms. In the Meet and Merch tents fans got an opportunity to meet their heroes, get autographs, selfies, and buy stuff…SPG ran out of merchandise there were so many fans!

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Major Q talks EVA

On top of all this there was much more insanity, the Costume Competition (some participants put as much effort into their character’s description as into the costume), The Queens Parade inspected by Queen Victoria herself…honestly! An amazing array of steampunk versions of super heroes and villains. Tea duelling, obviously. Tea pot racing, Wacky Racers, Jet pack races, and opportunities to shoot each other with foam darts.

 

Was the Asylum expensive? I would have to say no. However was it worth every penny I spent? That’s an unequivocal yes and had I the opportunity and the money (there’s always a snag) I would happily have bought tickets to more events.



Shopping And Sreampunkery (Glasgow and Lincoln)

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Today the Glasgow Ubiquitous E. Steampunk Society had a walking workshop. This time again we were in the West End of Glasgow although a few had started off at the market in the Britannia Panoptican Music Hall. We had a jolly day wandering through the Charity Shops and Antiques Shops from Great Western Road, down Byres Road and along Dumbarton Road into deepest Partick. From the expressions on some people’s faces you might think they’d never seen a man in a frock coat and fez in Dumbarton Road, let alone chaps and Ladies in decorated toppers and a variety of frock and tail coats. As I walked I thought that today’s blog might talk about Steampunk shopping at the Asylum Steampunk Festival in Lincoln.

I mentioned the markets at the Asylum in a previous post. There were four of them and all worth visiting. Today one of our members expressed a belief that the markets at the Asylum must have been pricey, to which my reply was ‘yes and no’. Shopping in the markets was much like using eBay and Etsy, there were some great bargains to be had and some of the hand-crafted work was indeed expensive. However we are talking of individually made unique items. Craftsmen deserve to be paid fairly for their work not only for the materials, but also for their expertise and the time they put into each make. It is my observation (as I sit here sewing a holster for a flintlock pistol) that when you take into account the hours spent making an item and the quality of the work, most of the artisan work on sale was probably under priced even at a couple of hundred pounds for a Steampunk gun resplendent with copper and brass pipes and fittings.

There was only one market open on the Friday the ‘Market in the Methodist Hall’ which was. Of course closed on Sunday. It was advertised as ‘an indoor space for new traders’ I suspect they meant merely ‘traders new to the Asylum’ because the standard was as high as any. The other three were open for the whole of Saturday, Sunday and Monday. This is the first year that they had a market in the Cathedral Square and it contained a range of stalls selling all sorts of things from Steampunk/Goth clothes to artwork, face painting, and a miscellany of bargains. A step further on there was another market in the Castle Square which has hosted markets for as long as there has been a castle. Again there were several clothes stalls and others selling a wide range of accessories, jewellery, leather-work, even replica guns. Whereas these last two markets were open to anyone the market in The Castle was accessible only to those with wristbands or who paid an entrance fee. Oh wonderful things were to be found here! On the Saturday the stalls were even busier than usual as people took refuge from the rain, I found myself feigning an interest in corsetry as the skies opened. At first I felt a bit like Father Ted in the lingerie department, after a short time I found myself once again being a little envious of the fairer sex and their opportunities for self expression through their clothing. I know you may say that Steampunk men hardly lack flamboyance in their dress, but a prosthetic arm lacks the elegance of corsets and bustles. There was much, however, to tempt men, I was particularly impressed by some of the leather-work on display.

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Lincoln would have been a good place for a GUESS Walking Workshop had I not been the only member there, actually there may have been others, but we had nothing organised. The antiques and charity shops of Lincoln appear to save up stock appropriate to the festival (I know they do because one told me) what is more much of it is reasonably priced and there’s always room for negotiation. In the Asylum markets shoppers were in many cases being sold finished Steampunk items. However one of the best parts of Steampunk is finding a bargain and working it up into something special, personal and unique; the shops of Lincoln were a good place to source bargains to build on and seemed to be doing a brisk trade.

Walking round Glasgow today, away from the excitement of the Asylum, I found that things I had seen in Lincoln were providing inspiration as I pondered the possibilities presented by our shops here. There’s a lot of great Steampunk purchases to be had every where, but away from a Steampunk event you may have to put in a little more effort to fully realise them.

Anyway, I’d better finish up and get back to the fiddly business of attaching a decorative strap and buckle to my holster. That’s another thing I learned in Lincoln…if you can’t buy what you want then you’ll just have to build it for yourself.



I Was An Asylum Virgin

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I have come home after my first ever Asylum Steampunk Festival and now I am processing my experiences. In another context they say ‘you never forget your first time’, I am sure that it is true of Asylum. I am a little sad that my next Asylum won’t be my first because, I think, there is something special about the first Asylum. I dare say that those who have been to all eight Asylums may have a different point of view, it must have changed a lot in the process of going from less than five hundred attendees to the world’s biggest Steampunk festival, but I expect that even for the stalwarts, the first time was special.

My blog yesterday was entitled ‘Thoughtfulness’ and it is a quality that distinguishes the Victorian Steampunk Society’s running of Asylum. Although it was my first time I was made to feel both comfortable and welcome, and they make a particular effort to put ‘Asylum Virgins’ at their ease. This was helped by an excellent Souvenir Programme that included not only the schedule of events but lots of information.20160901_212924

That thoughtfulness was evidenced even before the festival began. Because so many people travel from far afield and arrive on the Thursday there is now an event on Thursday night in the Assembly Rooms, The Advance Guard. I came to the Asylum on my own, but I did not feel lonely because everyone was so friendly. I have Aspergers and generally avoid the whole socialising with strangers thing, but at the Asylum, even on the first night no one treats anyone else like a stranger. I quickly found myself chatting with people and ended up sitting with a group of folk I had never met before.

I didn’t really need any entertainment as I was having fun just observing the amazing outfits around me. However the entertainment was excellent with comedy from Andrew O’Neill and some very interesting songs from the off coloratura soprano Lady Violet Hugh whose lyrics may be taken in two ways. The beer was cheap too!

On Friday there was a special session for first timers the ‘Virgins Meet’ in fact a lot of the attendees were not first timers at all, but just there for the enjoyment of it. It is a useful session to get a grasp of what’s on offer and the principles of etiquette for the weekend. The major theme (or should that be the Major’s theme) was fun and mutual respect. He emphasised that in Steampunk there is no right and wrong something I heard echoed by a Lincoln antiques shop owner on the Sunday when he told me that he loved the steampunks because they weren’t as precious about small historical uniform details as re-enactors. Of course we don’t have to be because we are making it up, but he thought we were more fun. He stressed that we should just talk to people and he was right. I learned so much over the weekend by merely complimenting people on their outfits and accessories because most of them loved explaining how they had made things.

The Asylum was like certain conferences I have attended where there are more things I wanted to go to than I could get to, Many things overlapped or were in venues too far apart to get to quickly. However, although I couldn’t get to everything I wanted, I didn’t feel a second was wasted. When I say the venues were too far apart to get to quickly, I don’t mean that they were far apart just that it takes longer to walk between venues at the Asylum. Steampunks don’t tend to rush, they stroll, promenade or bimble the better to appreciate the sights and sounds around them. Any walk through Lincoln during Asylum is likely to be punctuated by requests to pose for a photograph and it is considered good manners to do so, this is a factor to take into account when planning to go anywhere.

If I am honest I missed several things because I was distracted there is just so much to see and do. Getting to and from the Castle and the Cathedral Centre involves passing wonderful stalls, treasure troves of Steampunkery and so instead of rushing to interesting talks or entertainments I was browsing while repeatedly exclaiming ‘Shiny!’. There were four excellent markets at the festival and they do a roaring trade, so if you hesitate over buying that ‘must have’ you will find it’s a ‘don’t have’. It is a fabulous opportunity to add to your Steampunk clothes and accessories and prices range from ridiculously cheap to ‘Ouch, where would I find that sort of money?’ Having said which expensive doesn’t equate to bad value, in many cases it simply indicates hours of painstaking craftsmanship with quality materials. There is something for everyone and every pocket and if you can’t find it on the markets all the antiques and charity shops in the area are also making every effort to accommodate the needs of the Steampunks. My brother suggested the Asylum should have an event where people start off in just their Y Fronts at the Cathedral then proceed by all the stalls making purchases until they arrive at the Judge’s House fully dressed and Steampunked, I believe it would be possible.

I have yet to write about all the events and entertainments on offer. One thing I have learned is that it is a good idea to purchase tickets early. On the other hand once one has one’s wristband there is much to do during the day free of additional charge and there’s plenty to do in Lincoln outside of the official evening entertainments. There were entertainments I would have gone to had I been in time to buy tickets for them, but I never once lacked for things to do.

There is much more to write about and I will. For anyone who hasn’t been to the Asylum and is thinking about it I say, GO! I very much doubt whether anyone’s first Asylum is their last, certainly not by choice. This was my first Asylum and I am still ridiculously happy, so happy that even Virgin Rail messing up my journey home and making me several hours late couldn’t stop me smiling!

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Thoughtfulness.

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What’s the point of birthday presents if you don’t open them?…What’s the point of getting birthday presents early if you don’t open them early!

Last weekend was the Asylum Steampunk Festival in Lincoln and my younger brother and his wife who live nearby kindly offered to put me up for the weekend. I had a wonderful time (of which more will be revealed in other posts) and as I was packing to come home Jeremy gave me a birthday present to add to the contents of my suitcase. By the time I arrived home it was the day before my birthday (I may well moan again about Virgin East Coast in another post). I resisted the temptation to open my present. However the following afternoon when I awoke I could resist no longer and so I opened it.

I am somewhat self referenced and when I give a present it’s usually something I would like to receive. Jeremy and Beverley, on the other hand, had obviously put a lot of thought into giving a present appropriate to me. Firstly I opened the card, it was graced with a picture of a pug in a monocle and bow tie, wearing a bowler. Very promising as the gift itself was wrapped in paper with a bowler hat pattern. Within the wrapping I discovered a bag of Wasabi Nuts, a little Lincoln Baron, and a bottle of ‘Steampunk Gin‘.

Jeremy knew I liked Wasabi Nuts because I had mentioned it in conversation. He had not known I enjoyed Gin, neither did I until I opened the bottle to try it. However he knew I had been to a talk on the history of Gin and jumped to what was, fortunately, the right decision. Of course Gin has become an integral part of Steampunkery as Lady Violet Hugh will tell you (Lady Violet who? Ah something else for another post, a very funny, slightly off coloratura, soprano.) What can I say, I am no Gin expert? I can say it is beautifully bottled and tastes amazing over ice, which is the only way I’ve had it so far. The label says it contains ‘seven peculiar botanicals’, I bet they’re not half as peculiar as some of the Steampunks drinking it!

The last item was the mini Lincoln Baron. Last year to celebrate the Magna Carta Lincoln created twenty five statues in a medieval style of a baron. These were then decorated by various artists sponsored by different organisations and finally auctioned for charity they raised around £167,000 for the Trussell Trust. They proved so popular that thousands of mini versions for self painting have been sold. They grace many of the shop fronts in the town, appropriately painted, and are the perfect souvenir of Lincoln. I suspect mine will be Steampunked, indeed I’m already choosing which gear wheel will decorate his shield. A thoughtful gift both in its sentiment and the causes it supports. It will keep the memories of a wonderful weekend present for years to come.

Thoughtful presents. Presents that arose from my brother recognising the pleasure I derive from Steampunk and very thoughtfully offering me the accommodation that made it possible for me to attend the Asylum. So a big thank you to Jeremy and Bev!

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