Friday, 26 February 2010

Look Out In The Blackout!

Don't you just love some of the campaigns and slogans spearheaded by the Ministry of Information during the war? Of course we all know "Keep Calm and Carry On", it's sensible and very British advice remains equally useful to this day, and as such has had something of a revival. It may also be that the charming red posters are easily transposed to cushions and coffee mugs and as such has been revived to a profitability unthinkable at its introduction in the 1940's. The Ministry of Information clearly missed a trick there. Of course besides the beastliness of war, one would be forgiven for thinking the 1940's as drab, dour, dull. With this island so very near the brink of total disaster, it all must have been rather depressing. Or it might have been, but the indomitable spirit of the British people couldn't have been more underestimated. A group in London is trying to recreate this spirit, and By Jove! it was a smash.

Called The Blitz Party, this bi-monthly night of "Forties fashion and frolics" is a perfect example of what makes London so fabulous a city. The variety on offer on any given night - week or weekend - is quite overwhelming and often rather over-stimulating. The problem with such boundless choice is that, when one chooses to do nothing at all, it's almost a betrayal. A betrayal of London itself. Or perhaps that is just me, anthropomorphizing again. Regardless, last month I made sure my evening did not fall into this treacherous black hole of nothing, and off I went to somewhere beyond Old Street. And with some people from DRA, funnily enough, but oh didn't it take forever to find the venue? We wandered the icy lanes for what seemed an age, lacking any of the remote stoicism for which the Forties is famed.

We were also attired in our forties fashions. Sadly I couldn't locate an RAF uniform (I wanted something passable as authentic. Most costume shops seem to prefer the more is more approach, which is definitely NOT Forties.) So I had to manage with something from my own wardrobe - Tweed and Chinos. It was grandfather-ish enough to work, or I do hope so at least. My friends were wonderfully turned out, although with possibly more of a German feel than anything else. At the time, I suspect I would have been accused of spying, of being a fifth columnist for appearing with such fine Teutonic specimens. But upon arrival, it was clear some people had taken a leaf out of Prince Harry's book.

However people had dressed, such a wonderful effort had been made. All the ladies looked film studio perfect: the hair, the dresses (or trousers in the case of the Women's Land Army), the shoes... It was heavenly. I've always loved the style of the 1940's, because to me it IS style. There is little style in the present day, but then I am old-fashioned and like Boden and Barbour. Of course, it being slightly film sett-ish I doubt that the dance hall was filled with an accurate representation of the "swing bands, sand bags and glad rags" that entertained a war-weary public, but for me, it was jolly good and did the job marvellously. We had champagne in quaint coupes, Spitfire ale, and danced to jazz and swing. The venue also had a slight air-raid shelter quality to it, which added greatly to the atmosphere. Most people were in very high spirits, keen to do the whole thing properly and of course, to keep calm and carry on. I think for my companions there was a lowlight as they queued for their coats. Normally a simple concept for a British crowd, it seems the high spirits may have got in the way of manners and good sportsmanship. I was rather running out of things to say to an acquaintance when they returned, and such a thing would usually take at least half an hour.

Emerging into the cold air of very early morning London, it was difficult to set aside the images of hundreds of people merry-making in a Forties fashion, dancing away in my head. The grim reality of getting home, of trudging through the grey and the cold made me consider those who were doing so seventy years beforehand. How did they feel, suddenly resurfacing after an evening of escapism and a rare opportunity for fun? For them, the return to reality meant remembering there was a war to be fought, things with which they must make do and mend. The very real threat of losing loved ones and indeed, of falling victim themselves. I'm unsure what people of that generation would make of The Blitz Party, nor am I even sure what to make of it myself. Is it somehow distasteful, or a celebration of triumph through adversity? It certainly couldn't exist in Germany, and thus is it disrespectful? For now I shall not mention it to the grandparents...

Whatever conclusion I eventually make, it simply reinforces to me what an incredible Mecca of culture this city is. I'm so thankful to have had the opportunity to see and to do and to try all that London has to offer. Even if I fail to take up an offering, the choice remains there; endless, for another evening.


  1. Ah, I went to one of those last year - cracking nights.

  2. Is it some kind of rebellion, doing the 'Prince Harry thing'? I agree, there couldn't be a Blitz party in Germany (I don't even think they use the word for anything else but lightning) although there are some frightening romantic tendencies towards the past about.

  3. Sounds spiffing. Wish I could've gone.

  4. Loved this, and especially loved your laudable approach that to do nothing classes as a betrayal of London. You are truly lucky to live in a city where you can do pretty much anything pretty much every night - would that the rest of the country had even half that diversity.

  5. Blonde-I know, I am a little behind and I imagine it to be much for fun in Summer!

    Sabine-To be fair, we simply borrowed your word for lightning and it's now one of those very useful words for making English words sound quick and exciting.

    Tessa-Come to Londres and make sure you can!

    MLS-It's funny that a city should make one feel such strong emotions, there is an invisible force to the place that I've heard countless people mention.

  6. You are so right about London- it challenges you to be a better version of yourself, more interesting, more daring, more tolerant, more open- it's like the most interesting person you ever met- and I am in quite in love with them and totally loyal to them.

    The blitz party sounds like a blast- you do get up to some excitments- I think it's lovely that you mention the real thing wasn't quite as carefree as this one is. Still I think all those people who fought so hard would be happy we are relatively free to frolic, dress up and be silly and that they won the battle. So it's probably fitting to raise a glass to them while you are having fun.

  7. I love nights like these. Great post. I've left a blog award for you at mine xx