Friday, August 1, 2014

Land-Rover Defenders and East Coast Rover, Rockland, Maine

Some people are rabid fans of Land-Rover Defenders, while others view them increasingly as (to coin the phrase) third-wife cars.  Regardless, most would probably agree that owning many of the older ones is like living under the sword of Damocles.  (This is one reasons the easiest and least expensive part is the initial purchase.)  The issue is not just reliability (insert Jaguar reference here), but actual structural integrity.  There are seemingly more things that can go wrong than animals that can kill you in the Australian Outback.

However, for people who love their Land-Rovers (and there are many), the best place along the East Coast, and perhaps all of the United States, to upgrade them into paragons of safety and reliability, while respecting their aesthetic integrity, is East Coast Rover in Rockland, Maine.

East Coast Rover has become the Mecca for Land-Rover Defenders.  Rovers may travel thousands of miles to get repaired.  The number of Rovers that migrate, either on their own power or via carrier transport, from Nantucket (island living, with the salt-laden breezes, may be one of Dante's circles for vehicles) to Rockland for upgrades or winter storage is more than most shops see in decades.

When we visited we were shown a vehicle that just arrived from the Big Island (Hawaiʻi, not Martha's Vineyard).  The diagnosis of ailments (what does that small spot of rust on the door indicate?) would impress an ambitious Mount Sinai surgeon.

Some rebuilds (in fact, entire conversions) of a car can take more time than building a house, and probably require more stainless steel.  But for some Rover owners, nothing else will do.

Now in Rockland, the old Defenders waiting for repair were always a familiar site in East Coast Rover's former location along the side of (Route) 90 coming out of Camden.

This Land Rover will be better than new.  Much better.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Old New England Wicker

Muffy, Would you please do a post on New England wicker? I believe its a nuanced and very complicated subject.  Thank you.

Muffy, what does old New England wicker look like?  To the community:  What do people think about it?  How do you get it and take care of it?  Thanks!  

Here are some picture from around New England:

An example of old wicker from Audubon's Hog Island, Bremen, Maine

A Friend's Porch Full of Wicker

(Another) Friend's Great Grandparents at Sachems Head

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

An Aran Sweater Market Cardigan, Beautifully Handknit in Ireland

Beautifully Handknit in Ireland

Off the west coast of Ireland, at the mouth of Galway Bay, are the three Aran Islands: the largest, Inis Mor (Inishmore); Inis Meain; and the smallest, Inis Oirr.

It is on Inis Mor where one finds the Aran Sweater Market, which sent this outstanding handknit cardigan.  There since 1892, "[t]he Aran Sweater Market acts as a custodian of this ancient island tradition."

This is the authentic Ladies Premium Handknit Merino Lumber Jacket in White. (Also called Winter White and Natural White, this is the traditional Aran color.)

A flawless garment in the classic Aran color, this has the Irish Moss Stitch in the middle. 

Using garment measurements, these sweaters run true to size.   To find the right size for you,  measure a favorite sweater  armpit to armpit, and then double that measurement.  This size Small has a (total) garment chest measurement of 40 inches.

The fit is perfect, with a good length, raglan sleeves, deep pockets, and sleeves that are long enough with a well finished cuff.  The sweater is roomy and comfortable but not so big that it becomes bulky.

It is beautifully finished inside as well.

Their Washing Instructions

It comes with a signed and stamped Certificate of Authenticity...

...and a registration number.

It not only can take scrutiny but rewards scrutiny.  This is how the buttons are fastened.

They have built a reputation for extremely fast shipping and on their homepage currently is an offer of "Free Express Shipping to USA".  
Here's a link to an almost nine-minute video on the history of Aran Islands and their sweaters:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Preppy Companies, 2014

Here is the 2014 Preppy/Trad companies chart.

This chart will be modified over the next few weeks based on comments, and itself aggregates many comments from past conversations.  This chart is an opinion piece, for fun and conversation starting, and is not actual analysis.

For those new to this, this chart strives to plot the current state of representative preppy/trad clothing and accessory vendors as they evolve from young, innovative companies (on the left of the chart) to company shells/cautionary tales (on the right).

The broad characteristics of each stage are as follows (and all characteristics don't apply to all companies):

  • A company serves demanding clients in authentic environments significantly better then competitors.  
  • The company’s founder is hands on.
  • Other people often love the products without necessarily recognizing the company that made it.
  • As any VC knows, companies here are highly unstable; they can change nearly instantly, from experiencing overnight rapid growth, to selling out, pivoting, or going away.
  • Fiercely passionate customers, who are "in the know", are very loyal to the company.
  • The company has significantly higher prices than competitors.
  • Quality is paramount. Marketing is poor.  Web sites may be disastrous.
  • Customers can still call or email and get the owner (and often work through any problems).
  • New, great products are added, seemingly effortlessly.
  • The company has widely recognized popular and unique items.
  • Great pride is taken in the brand.
  • Items are expensive, but high quality.
  • New items, extensions of old, are added.
  • Companies gain increasing brand recognition well beyond passionate base.
  • A short term flattening of growth can cause panic.
  • The company worries about becoming trendy.
New Markets
  • The company is often under new management, typically with MBA and logistics-centric credentials.
  • The new management purges many of the old employees and suppliers/branded vendors.
  • Companies in this stage are very interested in new categories of customers, and take the existing customer base for granted; many loyal customers find themselves buying less and less.
  • The new management seeks to "leverage the look and the feel of the brand and brand experience" by lowering the quality and increasing the channels, supported by heavy marketing, including social media outreach.  
  • Marketing gets increasingly - often awkwardly - self-congratulatory.  Wooden boats are everywhere.
  • The company makes big deals of changing the colors of successful products.  
  • Vendors open mall stores, for example, in this stage, ancillary to design decision making.  
  • No new great products are launched, despite expensive misfires.  Companies go after markets they don't understand.  From a creative perspective, the company becomes derivative and inert.
Cash Grab
  • There is significant confusion from traditional customers.
  • Some classics remain (but fewer and fewer).
  • There are wild fluctuations of prices (higher prices, then massive sales, with various coupons and sweepstakes).
  • New products are low quality and relatively expensive.  Companies design for 75% to 80% mark ups. 
  • Mall stores grow in influence over the direction of the company. Outlet stores open. Companies here may invest in "big data" programs.  
  • Companies increasingly outsource production to low-cost providers.
  • Companies are desperate to be trendy.
  • A cash grab company has a significant PR budget, first spent trying to differentiate the company from their past, then relentlessly trying to invoke it.  Companies become louder and more strident.
  • Long time customers start to experience return-fatigue.
  • There is a big opportunity for upper management to personally cash in with a one-time windfall, sacrificing long-term employees and customers in the process.  
  • Near the end of this stage, matters of the flesh are used increasingly in marketing, either overtly or, more unctuously, faux-coyly. Skirts get shorter.
Company Shell
  • Companies' products are no longer significantly differentiated in the marketplace. Branding chugs along.  Companies here find themselves with new competitors and engage in a race-to-the-bottom in price and quality.  
  • They shift, almost overnight from an external market perception, from relevant and interesting to irrelevant and over-exposed.  
  • Outlet stores become highly influential in setting company strategies.  
  • They bear no resemblance to their original selves.  Black and white old photographs are used.
  • They rely on good customer service to overcome quality problems, not to meet individual needs or repair but to efficiently replace or refund.  
  • Coach, for example, is included as a cautionary tale. 

Common use language and rigorous taxonomies can clash here.  This chart tries to focus on branded producers.  This can be a gray area when retail or online stores create a store brand, especially when they custom order products.  F.L. Woods designs their own products, and is listed here.  The case could be made without breaking much of a sweat to also include, using the same criteria:    
If so, O'Connell's would be in the iconic category, and Royal Male would be in the precious category.  Both are highly recommended. 

Links to companies mentioned on the chart:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Blueberries in Season

Local blueberries are finally in season.

On the farm, the work of planting had also included...

...keeping away certain admirers.

Now they are just about bursting.

While some like them in baked goods or fruit salad...

...others just like them as is.

Saturday Fair Photo

As fair season approaches, we will be posting one picture each Saturday from different agricultural fairs around New England from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s from our personal archives.  

Best John Nettles Midsomer Murders Episodes (Updated)

When compared against the great British detective series - including Thaw's Morse (and Whately's Lewis), Hickson' Miss Marple, and Kitchen's Foyle's War, it is easy to think of Nettles' Midsomer Murders as a bit of a lightweight.  The Chief Inspector is happily married and looks and sounds like a spokesperson for the sponsor of a daytime soap opera in the 1950's.  Most episode titles are almost comically bland.

But Midsomer stands on equal footing with some of the greats.   The balance is simply shifted superficially more towards light and bright than gravitas. Midsomer Murders may even be best appreciated for presenting extraordinary houses, cars, gardens, events, views, even roads with a blasé that almost is convincing.

As with all of these British detective series, one can re-watch them many, many times.  And if you actually want to follow the plot, repeated viewings are necessary.  (And not just because they can put one to sleep, sometimes instantly).
  • First viewing, Spent trying to figure out in what shows I last saw the various guest stars.  And I can enjoy all of the locations. By the end I know who was killed and by whom, but no real sense of the inner plot mechanics.
  • By the second viewing, I start following the plot all of the way through.
  • And by the third viewing, I can really start enjoying all of the nuances of the dialogue, including foreshadowing, dry humor, and specific performances. 
Here are some favorite episodes (or characters or scenes or...), rated 3, 4, or 5 out of 5:

Series One and Two
  • The Killings at Badger's Drift (5) - The first episode ever made, and features the marvelously creepy undertaker and his mother, and charming performance by Selina Cadell.  It has a shooting scene with some beautiful Purdeys and old Barbours.
  • Written in Blood (5)  - Crazed genealogist played by the always marvelous Anna Massey.
  • Death of a Hollow Man (4)  - Mozart.
  • Death's Shadow (4) - Hector.
  • Strangler's Wood (5) - It features Phyllis Logan, who to my surprise, plays Mrs. Hughes in Downton Abbey.  Memorable performances by Jeremy Clyde and Nicholas Farrell.
Series Three and Four
  • Dead Man's Eleven (4) - I will watch anything that features Robert Hardy, but even if he wasn't in this episode, it is worth watching solely for the one line about how they are planning to sell their massive estate so they can move to... Orlando.  (How much fun was had in that writing room choosing that destination.)
  • Death of a Stranger (5) - Worth watching for some beautiful fox hunting scenes.
  • Judgement Day (5) - How many celebrations can one region support?  Worth it to see a tipsy Josephine Tewson,  Keeping Up Appearances's Elizabeth.
  • The Electric Vendetta (3) - An appearance by the late Peter Penry-Jones.
Series Five and Six
  • Ring Out Your Dead (5) - Adrian Scarborough gives a wonderfully convincing performance as an obsessed bell ringer.  Expect lots and lots of bell ringing and a few quick shots of a nice old yellow lab.
  • Murder on St Malley's Day (5) - "Ludlow, the bell!"   "The bell,  Ludlow!"
  • Market for Murder (5) - Just to see Angela Thorne looking fabulous - whether up on the roof in her pearls or driving her old 240 wagon.  In real life she was the wife to Peter Penry-Jones ("Peter, Marquis of Ross" in Midsomer's "The Electric Vendetta"),  and mother to Rupert Penry-Jones (who played Adam Carter on MI-5 or better known as Spooks) and who is in turn is the spouse of Dervla Kirwan (Assumpta Fitzgerald on Ballykissangel).
  • A Worm in the Bud (5) - My absolute favorite.  There are Barbours,  tattersalls and Jack Russells, but best of all there is the utterly charming family of the Kennel Master.
  • A Talent for Life (5) - Bond girl Honor Blackman ages very well.  Vintage Jaguar and the "ghastly Rebecca".
  • Painted in Blood (4) - In this episode, Mrs. Barnaby gets a hobby.  
  • Birds of Prey (4) - Beautiful birds of prey, their eggs, and over-sized waxed jackets.
Series Seven
  • The Maid in Splendour (5) - Last call at the snug with old Barbours, dogs and thick knitwear.
Series Eight
  • Dead in the Water (5) - This episode focuses completely on the Rowing Club and it would be hard to imagine where I could see more examples of exquisite wooden boats, replete with dashing men wearing Navy blazers and caps.  Although because it is on a river, it may feature an odd rat or two.
  • Orchis Fatalis (4) - Not flowers, orchids.  
Series Nine
  • Down Among the Dead Men (3) - A Purdey, dogs and beached fishing vessels.
  • Country Matters (4) -  Not enough hedging and ditching.  Carried by Clare Holman, "Fact".
  • Death in Chorus (4)- Choral music and pretty, cold weather village scenes.
Series Ten
  • Death and Dust (4) - Stunning shots of Wales.
Series Eleven
  • Blood Wedding (4)  - Longbows, priest holes, and shooting with the Men of Crécy.
Series Twelve
  • Dogleg Murders (3) - Worth watching despite Mrs. Barnaby's worst outfit and some dreadful golf attire.
  • Small Mercies (3) - "There once was a tree..."
  • The Creeper (5) - Great Dower house and a fox named Sid.
  • The Great and The Good (5) - Good woolens, great cottage, and an always appreciated dog in the lap.
Series Thirteen
  • The Made-to-Measure Murders (5) - As one might guess by the name, it centers around a village tailoring shop.  Not only are there bolts of estate tweeds, and one special bolt handwoven in Scotland before the war,  but one can see an uncharacteristically somber Plilip Bretherton .  (He played Allister Deacon on favorite series As Time Goes By.)  And it tackles the big question - ticket pocket?
  • Master Class (3) - The title is such a great double entendre.
As I have mentioned and as others may note, I tend to get DVDs or Blu-rays from, as they are less expensive and most importantly have not had some small scenes cut out as is often the case with the American versions.  We have an upconverting, region-free DVD player (Oppo, in case anyone cares), while we make sure the Blurays themselves are region-free for that option.  (We don't use a streaming service, but I know many of these are available that way.)

"Sartre" sent me this index to Midsomer locations:

Here are some of the Amazon US links for reference, not necessarily endorsement, due to their relatively high cost.  Again, we bought ours from Amazon UK, and would encourage people to check their local library's selection as well: