Sunday, May 13, 2012

Brass and Steam

Maybe you are in the same boat as me.  Maybe whenever a Lions-gate movie starts and you see all of those gears moving, your pulse quickens.  Maybe you enjoy old steam trains.  The chuff and squeal of mechanical energy and invention.  Maybe you have wondered what it would be like to wear a monocle or include a double breasted "waisket" into your wardrobe.  Then again, maybe not.  Up until a few years ago I did not know what "steam punk" even was.  In spite of that though I have always had a fascination with engineering, especially that of days gone past, when the movement of machines was a sensory experience.  You could see it, you could hear it.  Before the modern Apple mentality kicked in.  It seems that if we make our technology sterile and surgical looking than it is safer.  More accessible.  I have always been powerfully intrigued by the days when Machines were powerful and dangerous.  And they looked like it.

You can buy me almost any patch from this Etsy Store
and I'd be pretty stoked.
I had a "How things work" book as a kid and would stare at the pictures for hours.  I would imagine the pistons and push-rods, gears and sprockets, turning and working.  I have always loved the look of dark wood and brass.  I have always called myself an Anglophile.  But I think my love of things British really stem from a love of Victoriana.  There has always been something magical for me when it comes to Dickens England.  When the world was not completely conquered and there were still mysteries and dangers.  When there were still heroes and where the virtues of the society were not solely those that led to self-edification.  When technology was still being invented and could be thought up and carried out by the everyday man.  Where the physical expansion of an empire was simply a manifestation of the expansion that was felt in every other facet of society.  Socially, technologically, and philosophically.  I don't mean to over romanticize the era.  The expansion and technological explosion of the age led to the ability to oppress humanity in new and exiting ways.  Many of the scars that were left by the Vicki's Empire are still being felt across Africa, India, and Asia.  I see those scars around me on a daily basis.

That day in age does engender itself to imagination and fantasy, however, and I have always held a weak spot for books or films that reflected certain aspects of this internal leaning that I had.  I have yet to delve into the true works of original steam punk such as Joules Vern, but I love reading modern books that reflect similar sentiments.  The Edge Chronicles, Larklight, The Dangerous Book for Boys, The Series of Unfortunate Events,  Thunderer, and other books that I can't find online.  I never realized that there were other people who enjoyed such things as well.

And then, one destined winters day, I picked up The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  I thought the cover looked cool and needed something to read while at the Old Folks home my In Laws work at.  I finally saw the movie on the flight to New Delhi and realized that I should write this blog.  And so, in my traditionally rambling style, I have.  The book, as the movie, is filled with gears, grease, and steam.  I couldn't put the book down and I, for the first time, discovered automatons.  An Automaton is, for me, the bringing together of all these loose strings in my mind.  From the discovery of doing things with one's own hands that was awoken in me when I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to my childhood love of brass and steam.  So after I read this book I did what I do best: Waste many hours researching something online.  Researching automatons from the Victorian era and having an healthy, rational fear of porcelain dolls does not mix well, I can tell you that.  In the midst of the spinning horrors I saw before me I found the safe comfort of Keith Newstead's site.  I loved watching these simple machines accomplish so much.  My favorite is probably Mary Queen of Scott's getting trimmed by the royal razor.

Make a Telegraph that clicks out RSS feeds at
In my research I also stumbled across Steam punk.  Now granted, although I am a huge nerd, play miniatures, and read the encyclopedia for fun I do not LARP or dress up in costume even on halloween.  Not to say I haven't wanted to be a Chap just that I haven't ever actually done it.  So, in saying that there are elements of the steam punk crowd a little too out there for me.  I don't think spray painting a Nerf gun brass does it for me.  There are some elements however, such as the Steam Punk Workshop, that do.  Learning to make and fix things yourself, make things that actually serve a purpose, that is cool.  If there is a valve looking thing it should do something.  I love copper piping as much as the next guy but I think it should do something instead of just oxidize.  The aesthetic, however, made me feel like I had finally come home.  Sure, a steampunk cafe racer would be hard to pull off, although Dime City Cycles did give it a pretty good nod. I am stuck between wanting to be a rocker and an airship captain.  Not exactly two sub-cultures that tend to go hand in hand but...there you go.

Unfortunately, as I sit here with my laptop, in a Goodwill striped button-up, wafting the sour sent of tropical body odor, I realize that I am neither.  I am a guy who loves mechanical things.  I am a guy who loves the gleam of brass and the warm glow of polished aluminum.  I also have painted little men and pretended that they were fighting epic battles.  I smoke a pipe, read old books, and also play flash games for hours on end.  Like most everyone who is not attempting to emulate the hottest celebrity of the hour, I have a unique idio-culture mix.  Luckily for me, after being in Hyderabad for about 3 weeks I think I am the only one in this city to claim any of them.

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