Girls, travel, rockets, transport, hotels, films, Martinis, wine, music, food and ranting!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Suspender belt sales boom





Back in 2007 the press were reporting the imminent extinction of stockings (see Triple P's post).  Today, however top lingerie maker Gossard is reporting a 65% rise in the sales of suspender (garter, for Americans) belts.  Department store Debenhams reported an increase in sales over the summer of 238%.  Part of this increase, it is felt, is due to the increasing popularity of burlesque; personified by Dita von Teese and now in the cinemas with Christina Aguilera starring in the film...Burlesque.


English model and new Transformers star Rosie Huntington-Whitely


Speaking to some of Triple P's European friends they report that stockings with suspender belts are superior to tights (pantyhose) and hold-up stockings (Triple P's personal favourite) because they actually stay up!  But then, on the continent tights have never really made as much headway against stockings as in the UK and North America.

They do have the disadvantage that under very tight clothes they are visible, of course.  In fact, just before Christmas we attended a meeting in the City where young A was wearing a silk dress that was so tight you could see the outline of her suspender fastenings through the fabric.  She has gone up in my estimation as a result!

Triple P has noted before that even though stockings were worn by virtually all women in the late fifties and early sixties you will look in vain for them on any of the Playboy Playmates from that period.  Odd, that during the period depicted in Mad Men (and they certainly feature stockings and suspenders a lot) there was no sign of them on any of the centrefolds of the time. The first Playmate we could identify as wearing stockings was Lenna Sjooblom in November 1972 and she wasn't wearing suspenders. 


Deborah Shelton gives it some old fashioned oomph


It was really only from this period that they started to become a staple (!) of men's magazines and the adoption of them by Playmates was rather slow, to say the least.  Playboy had their first bestockinged cover girl in February 1973.  The first girl wearing suspenders on the cover wasn't until March 1974 (Deborah Shelton, later of Dallas fame).


Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas present by Vargas



Agent Triple P hopes you all get to unwrap something nice tomorrow...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chery Cole not signed for US X-Factor

Staying in Britain?


As Britain's new Queen of Hearts, Cheryl Cole, whilst hoping her 2011 calendar will be in everyone's Christmas stocking, must be worrying about her attempt to break America next year.  Everything hangs on her performance as an X-Factor judge in the new US TV series that Cowell the Merciless is planning.  Cheryl, however, admitted earlier this week that, despite press coverage to the contrary, she has not signed a £3 million contract.  In fact she hasn't signed anything at all.




Comments from across the pond aren't too encouraging.  A test, made by a US network, of her in front of an audience had one person saying she was about as comprehensible as the Swedish chef from The Muppet Show. 


Haadyergob ye patterskite!


She is so desperate to become the new Victoria Beckham (what ambition) that she has been contemplating elocution lessons.  However, an insider on the US show has said that she would be unlikely to get the job as no-one has heard of her and that the US producers see her as a big risk.  They would much rather have ex-Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, who deputised for her on the UK X-Factor when Cheryl was off with malaria.


Americans prefer Nicole Prescovia Elikolani Valiente Scherzinger

 
Could the issue of her "P" visa, to allow her to work as an entertainer  in the country, be the real issue.  Her 2003 conviction for assault occasioning actual bodily harm, when she attacked toilet attendant Sophie Amogbokpa in the Drinks nightclub in Guildford, will count heavily against her. 
 
 
Cheryl in 2003.  Rather less polished
 
 
Cowell has had a team of Miami lawyers working on this issue for over a year.  Could it be that they have advised that the issue is insoluable and that the Cowell machine, which doesn't want all this sink estate nastiness to sully her new glossy image, is preparing a more acceptable excuse for her non-particpation in the show; such as incomprehensibility or lack of fame?

Agent Triple P will follow developments with interest!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Martini of the Week 2: Monarch restaurant Hotel Zaza, Houston, Texas



In October we found ourself, because of flight scheduling issues in Houston, Texas. It was a choice between a risky 90 minute flight connection, nine hours at the airport or a nice leisurely stopover for 36 hours.  We opted for the third, of course, as it gave us the chance to meet up with a lady friend and also to take in Houston's excellent Musem of Fine Arts.


Hotel Zaza, Houston


We stayed at the Hotel Zaza because of it's immediate proximity to the Museum.  We were a bit dubious about the hotel as for Triple P "Zaza" either sounds like a gypsy fortune teller or is the annoying cat from the TV children's show Hector's House.  The hotel itself is one of those self-consciously "hip" hotels which Triple P usually detests.  However, we had to give them credit that, when we checked in at 6.30am, our room was ready for immediate occupation so we were able to catch up on some much needed sleep.  Our companion arrived mid morning which enabled them to visit the museums (there is more than one building) and have a light lunch in the (rather good) museum cafe.


Interesting decor in the lift areas


After a busy and very artistic day, Triple P felt in the need of a restorative Martini and the bar at the hotel (which is integral with the restaurant) provided a very good one indeed.  Now usually Triple P prefers to have his drink at the bar before proceeding into the dining room.  However, that particular Saturday evening there was a a large wedding reception taking place.  This made the bar completely full, although it did have the advantage of filling the place with some very attractive young ladies.  Triple P had already been in trouble for talking to some of these (Texans seem to like Triple P's accent) so we had our cocktails at the dining table whilst we perused the menu. 


The bar in the Zaza from the Monarch restaurant


Our companion had a very girly drink called a Raspberry Whisper which consisted of Cointreau, lemon juice and Ciroc Red berry vodka.  Ciroc is a peculiar vodka made from grapes (!) in France but primarily marketed in the US.  This version had added raspberries and other, well, red berries.  Which ones we never found out as we never managed to get onto the firm's website as they had all that register your age nonsense that Americans worry about.  As if the fact that you have to give your age (or lie about it ) will make any difference whatsoever as to how much you drink.

Our Martini was made with Belvedere as we believe that you should only drink vodka made in Baltic countries as their needs to be some cultural heritage to the drink.  Belvedere comes from Warsaw so that is acceptable. The other option was, the inexplicably popular in North America, Grey Goose which Triple P thinks is faintly disgusting.  Grey Goose was originally invented in 1998 by liquor importer and self made billionaire, Sidney Frank, to challenge the appearance of the premium Belvedere in the US in the late nineties.  It is distilled in Cognac where the locals must be appalled by this noxious spirit defaming the name of their hallowed distilleries.  Except of course it makes them bucket loads of money.  Frank eventually sold the brand to Bacardi in 2004 for a staggering $2 billion cash, pocketing $1.6 billion for himself.

Triple P's Martini was large and very cold and cost a not too alarming $12.  It did, however, suffer from too many olives!

We'd give it a 7/10.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Big Breakfast of the Week: 2 The Royal Exchange, City of London




Occasionally, Agent Triple P, when allowing enough time for an important meeting in The City will err too much on the side of caution and end up with time to spare.  If it is in the morning (before 11.30) and we have at least 45 minutes to spare then the best option is to head to the Royal Exchange and the Grand Cafe there.




The Royal Exchange Breakfast (served from 8.00a, until 11.30am) consists of two free range eggs, dry cured bacon, Portobello mushrooms, roast tomato, two Cumberland chipolatas & toast for £11.30.  If you are feeling really louche (as sometimes Triple P does, especially if accompanied by a young lady from the night before) you can add a glass of Prosecco for an extra £5.70.  Tea is an additional £2.95.  It is one of the better breakfasts in The City although if tight for a meeting the inevitably slow service can make for a tense time as the usual struggle to get the bill ensues. Waiters and waitresses here seem to have an inability to move their heads from side to side to check if anyone needs anything.  Can't fault the food though!

The surroundings are splendid although it was a little chilly there yesterday given our current snowy weather!

Little Jewels of Perfection 5: Dancing in the Dark by Diana Krall



This track from Canadian singer/pianist Diana Krall is pretty much a theme tune for Agent Triple P and his particular friend S from Vancouver.  Whenever he goes to stay in S's luxurious penthouse apartment overlooking the harbour she always makes sure that this is playing. 



So just listening to it transports us across the planet to the sight of sparkling lights over water as the sun sets, the taste of Laurent Perrier rose brut, the smell of Chanel No 5 and the sound of rustling La Perla.


S's apartment is just visible in this picture!


Given this, any critical response to this track, and indeed the rest of the album from which it comes is somewhat difficult!  




This, her sixth album, was Krall's crossover success and, as is often the case when an artist breaks out of their niche to popular acclaim, the critics laid into her.  They derided her record company's attempt to make her look like a sex symbol on the album cover.  They sneered at the lush orchestral accompaniment (by the London Symphony Orchestra).  It's not jazz, it's background music, thy said.  Yes, but very superior background music indeed!




It sold in huge numbers; 1.6 million copies in the US alone and 700,000 copies in her native Canada (she is from Vancouver!)  It also won a Grammy for Best engineered album, non-classical in 2001. Billboard ranked it as the number 5 jazz album of the decade.




In Dancing in the Dark Christian McBride's bass kicks things off as Claus Ogerman's orchestration starts with flutes before bringing in the strings.  Just before halfway Krall contibutes a delicate piano solo that is so laid back that it is almost horizontal.  For the last one minute and fifty of the track Krall doesn't sing at all.  The bossa nova rhythm section drives along whilst the strings do magical things over the top.  Utter brilliance and the stand out track on an excellent and slinkily romantic album.


Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse dance to Dancing in the dark in The Bandwagon (1953)


The song Dancing in the Dark was written for the 1931 musical revue The Band Wagon.  It was composed by Arthur Schwartz with lyrics by Howard Dietz.  The show was already in rehearsal when the producers reckoned they needed another darker number.  The song was written in just one day. In the 1953 film version Conrad Salinger orchestrated a lush version for a dance between Fred Astaire (who had danced in the original 1931 revue) and Cyd Charisse.  Many artists have recorded it over the years; notably Artie Shaw and Bing Crosby who both had hits with their versions. More recently Jane Monheit's recording was nominated for a Grammy in 2004.



Lyrics (Diana Krall version)

Dancing in the dark 'til the tune ends

We're dancing in the dark and it soon ends
We're waltzing in the wonder of why we're here
Time hurries by, we're here and we're gone

Looking for the light of a new love
To brighten up the night, I have you love
And we can face the music together
Dancing in the dark

Looking for the light of a new love
To brighten up the night, I have you love
And we can face the music together
Dancing in the dark, dancing in the dark.

Now, when's the next flight to Vancouver?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pamela Stephenson: Overrated on Strictly?


We used to like Pamela Stephenson when she was a dizzy blonde starlet in the late seventies.  She appeared in the likes of Hazell and The Professionals and had herself photographed in see through tops (to little effect) before hitting the big time in Not the Nine O'Clock News.  So we were delighted to see her in Strictly Come Dancing.  But then something weird happened.  The professional judges started to patently overmark her.  Four tens? We don't think so.  Was this the BBC trying to compensate for being accused of being ageist?  She was quite good but her routines were low risk and low difficulty compared with the peerless Kara Tointon and yet she got higher marks.  By the final it was looking like blatant favouritism and we were glad to see the Great British Public voting her off, despite the drooling judges.

Interestingly the Daily Mail piece on her on their website had comments frozen after eighteen posts (which they never do).  Had they fallen for the Emperor's new clothes  assessment of her as well?  Lovely lady but glad she didn't win.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Future Interiors from the Past 5: The Vandamme house from North by Northwest




Agent Triple P watched Alfred Hitchcock's classic film North by Northwest (1959) again last night, which contains one of the most desirable houses in the world of cinema in the modernist form of the Vandamme house.



Perched over a chasm, supposedly close to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota where the film's climax was set,  this was a house that exuded ultra-modern, luxury rather than old world palatialness.  The house itself looks so much like a Frank Lloyd Wright house that many people think that it actually is a real Wright building and want to visit the house when in the Mount Rushmore area, even though it is, quite obviously, a matte painting.


Matthew Yuricich and some actress


The matte artist on the film was Matthew (Matt!) Yuricich who'd begun his film career only nine years before, having studied fine arts at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.  He would later go on to be a matte artist and visual effects director on such films as Ben Hur, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Logan's Run (for which he won a special Academy award), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Academy Award nomination), Star Trek:The Motion Picture, Blade Runner, Ghost Busters and Die Hard.

The living room set included some exterior detail for the balcony


Of course, what gives it the air of realism is that the film's makers not only built some interiors but also some part exteriors of the house.  It is, however, a pastiche of a Frank Lloyd Wright house not an original design. One of the themes of North by Northwest is the powerlessness of the hero (having been set up in the opening sequence with his secretary as a rich and powerful figure) to deal with the events happening to him despite his wealth and influence.  Hitchcock highlights luxury brands all the way through the film in an almost Ian Fleming-like way; from the top (real) hotels featured (The Plaza in New York and the Ambassador East in Chicago), through the cars (a Cadillac, a Lincoln and a Mercedes) to Eve Marie Saint's Bergdorf Goodman costumes and Van Cleef and Arpels jewellery. 


A very Wrightian limestone block interior


A genuine Frank Lloyd Wright (then the most famous living architect) house would have been a perfect addition to these luxury brands and Hitchcock was, initially, keen to get him on board.  Unfortunately, the architect had priced himself out of the market when approached to do designs for the 1949 film The Fountainhead, a Gary Cooper film about a modern architect.  Wright had asked for a 10% fee for working on the film.  The film's producers thought that 10% of the set budget was a lot but agreed it.  Wright then explained that he wanted 10% of the entire film's budget.  He was never approached by Hollywood again.


Another matte painting although the film's team did build a real version of the porch (although they used plaster rather than limestone blocks)


So it was left to the film's design team (Robert Boyle, Merrill Pye, Henry Grace, Frank McKelvey and William A Horning) to come up with a house that looked like a Frank Lloyd Wright structure.  In reality the top of Mount Rushmore is a steep, vertiginous peak and doesn't have the flat area behind it where the house is supposedly sited. In addition, the authorities wouldn't permit anything to be built close to the monument, for ecological reasons, so the structure would have to be realised as a combination of studio sets and special effects.


A bar come TV unit!  Who wouldn't want one?


As a pastiche it is rather good, using the same limestone blocks and cantilevered deck of Wright's most famous house, Falling Water. It is also sited just below the brow of a hill rather than on top of it: another distinguishing feature of the architect's vision and evidence that the design team had done their homework.   The largely glass walls of the overhanging deck are also similar.


Falling Water, Bear Run, Pennsylvania


In Falling Water, Wright didn't not use the sort of supporting beams that the design team did on the film (and never would have) but they may have been included for a plot point as Cary Grant uses one of the beams to climb up to the balcony so he can spy on James Mason playing Vandamme. 




Interestingly, some cantilevered homes completed in Los Angeles two years after the film opened, which were designed by William Sutherland Beckett, did have supporting beams like the Vandamme house.


Houses by William Beckett. Los Angeles 1961


The interior of the house, again, pastiches Wright with its exposed limestone blocks and includes a lot of contemporary but modernistic Scandinavian furniture mixed with oriental and pre-Columbian art and Greek rugs.


Greek flokati rugs


The part of the house suspended over the cliff uses a lot of glass (the interior set didn't have any glass in order to avoid reflections of the crew and equipment) which, with the brightly lit interiors (we only see the house at night), adds to the illusion of it floating over the abyss.


The landing and intererior balcony


The set was built at the MGM studios in Culver City and included the suspended living room and exterior balcony, the interior landing giving a view down onto the living room, the bedroom, the base of the exterior supporting beams and wall and the house entrance and car port.


The stairs.  The cupboards (centre rear) were removable to permit the filming of this reverse angle (below)




So, the Vandamme house is one of Agent Triple P's most desirable cinematic residences.  Triple P's father was an architect and when he was young Triple P was surrounded by architectural books and magazines so, even as a little boy, was familiar with Frank Lloyd Wright's work.  One of our treasured posessions is Triple P's father's book Architecture in America. 

The fact that this isn't a real Wright design doesn't matter as it isn't actually a real house but it is a quintessence of what a modernist, luxury house should have been at the end of the fifties.  For Triple P, the exposed stone that features both outside and in, the polished floors and ethnic rugs, the floor to ceiling glass walls, the open plan multi-level intereriors and, above all, the spectacular location made a huge impression on him the moment he first saw the film on TV. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Kara Tointon wins Strictly Come Dancing...



Kara

Agent Triple P has enjoyed this year's Strictly; probably the best competition yet.  He was very glad to see the lovely Kara Tointon win tonight as she exuded musicality and grace out of every pore.  She came across as a delightful young lady and we suspect it will boost her profile enormously.  She has already, however, managed to fit in an FHM photoshoot whilst still in the show, which is one better than Alesha Dixon who had to wait until after she was crowned winner before her pictorial.


Kara

She is apparently also in a relationship with her dance partner on the show which begs the question as to why a celebrity's partners, if they have them, ever let them go on the show! 


Kara


It really does seem to produce an amazing proportion of stars who get smitten by their dancing partners.  Not surprising, really, given the amount of time they spend together in close physical proximity and the increasingly skimpy costumes the ladies wear (a noticeable reduction in the BBC's fabric budget seemed apparant this year).


Kara


As to the professional lady dancers Triple P has seen his affections movethis year  from Ola Jordan to leggy Lithuanian Canadian Katya Virshilas.


Katya


Ms Virshlas is not only a wonderful dancer but an actress as well, having appeared in a fair number of films and TV shows including Smallville and Supernatural.


Katya

Friday, December 17, 2010

Donna D'Errico in hospital


Only a week after she complained about being "specially" selected for a scan by one of those "sees your body naked" scanners at Los Angeles airport it is reported that Baywatch lovely Donna D'Errico is very ill in hospital with MRSA.  It seems she may have picked it up whilst visiting a sick relative.  Whatever her condition is described as "grave" (according to the internet news services who love a really ill celebrity).

In fact, her own representatives say she is recovering well and should be out of hospital today.

Whatever, Agent Triple P, who used to love Baywatch, wishes Donna well.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blake Edwards 1922-2010




Agent Triple P has just noticed that Blake Edwards died this morning in Santa Monica at the age of 88.

Edwards directed several of Triple P's favouirite 1960s films, including one of his top ten favourites The Pink Panther (1963).   He also directed the charming Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) and the underrated WW2 comedy What did you do in the War, Daddy (1966) which are both Triple P favourites.  Triple P was not so fond of his later comedies, although he enjoyed "10" (1979). 


Breakfast at Tiffany's


Edwards wasn't a great director, by any means, and his use of the proscenium framing technique could give his films a rather distant, theatrical quality but he was one of the few directors from the fifties who continued to work through to the nineties.  He was also from that first generation that started as a TV director and the question as to whether the theatrical "aquarium" approach to TV in the early days continued to influence his film work is one on which cinĂ©astes can ramble on about for hours.  In fact, space and framing were very important to him with nearly all of his films being shot in widescreen Panavision.  As a result his comedies often saw his protaganist as a lone, small figure struggling against overwhelming activity in a large frame.  It isn't a coincidence that in his thrillers he often used the more constricted aspect ratio of 1.33:1 to give a closer, more immediate effect. 


The Pink Panther


The other thing he brought to his films, was a remarkable, high gloss effect which resulted from beautifully lit images and careful composition. Watch some of the sequences from the Pink Panther, especially on the magnificent blu-ray edition,  to see what we mean.  In the sixties these images were more often than not accompanied by the equally glossy music of his great friend Henry Mancini.  They could have made an interesting James Bond film in the sixties, we think.   Much of John Barry's "cocktail" music for Bond owes a lot to Mancini. It should be remembered that, originally, The Pink Panther (which is very unlike the deteriorating sequels that followed) was supposed to be a sophisticated comedy thriller built entirely around David Niven's urbane jewel thief with Peter Sellers a very last minute replacement for Peter Ustinov.

This glossy, sixties Blake Edwards is the one that Agent Triple P appreciates, not the frantic slapstick of most of his later comedies.  For this alone he deserves to be remembered with a Martini, accompanied by the sultry sounds of Henry Mancini (Royal Blue from The Pink Panther, probably)!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Martini of the Week 1: Safari Bar, Hotel Intercontinental, Lusaka, Zambia



Agent Triple P likes a Vodka Martini when travelling the world and we recently had our first Sub-Saharan African one in the Safari bar in Lusaka. 




The bar is rather a good one.  Nicely and newly decorated with an unobtrusive African theme it was always pleasantly active without ever being completely full.  The service is a bit hit and miss and there are waiters only, no waitresses, which loses a point for Triple P.  The clientele had a good mix of locals and Europeans with the locals being from the top end of society (some well known faces according to our local contacts) due to its price.  A very nice selection of women were always in the bar but whether they were professional ladies or just very friendly we were never able to ascertain (despite some extended conversations!).

Ordering a drink usually (although not always) brings a bowl of nuts and (very good) spicy crisps.  Prices are not to the same proportions as a European bar with certain things like wine and Champagne being very expensive and other things, such as cocktails, being relatively reasonable.  Triple P's Vodka Martini cost 18,000 Zambian Kwacha or about £2.40. 




It was, as is often the case outside Europe and North America, a little on the weak side but the glass had been nicely chilled, which was good, but some ice was left in it, which was not so good.  No spread of the dreadful habit of ballcock sized olives we are glad to say.  Yes, there were two but only one was in the drink.

All in all not a bad Martini and certainly incredible value: a glass of house wine was £2.90 for example.

5/10