Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I won Best Vespa, sort of...

A vintage scooter rally in Eastern Canada is the equivalent of a Wednesday night scooter club meeting at the local pub in the UK. In other words, it’s small. When I say small, I mean a dozen Vespas and Lambrettas.

Now some of you might think this is laughable but I believe instead that it shows how dedicated these passionate scooterists are. First, Canada is one heck of a big country. So even if I wanted to attend the country’s biggest rally, the Victoria rally in British Colombia, I would need to ride my 2-stroke for 15 days straight. Trust me I know because I rode to Vancouver in 1997 on a Lambretta GP200 and that’s how long it took me.

Fifteen years later, I’m way too lazy and old to even do the half-day ride to the 11th Annual Ottawa Curd Vintage Scooter Rally. I did it once before and had won the Furthest Travelled trophy and that is good enough for me. Plus the weather forecast for the weekend was bleak with a 90% chance of thunderstorms and rain. I have to give it up to my mates Eric and Dominic who braved the elements and rode their Lambretta Li and Vespa Rally without a care in the world. I, on the other hand, rented a trailer and drove the entire way in the comfort of my Kia Sportage.

I arrived on Friday night to some good news. Dominic and Eric had arrived safely and the county had just lifted the ban on campfires. North America has been hit by serious droughts this year and it was a welcomed surprise to know that we were able to have a fire to roast our marshmallows on.

As any owner of a vintage scooter knows, these little machines are sometimes unpredictable. My 1959 Vespa VNB is no exception. In the last couple of weeks, it has stalled on me a few times for no apparent reason. After leaving it to rest for a while, it would usually start up without a hitch. This is one of the reasons why I chose not to ride to the rally.

On Saturday morning, as we were all drying off our scooters from the night’s pouring rain and preparing for the day’s ride around the Capitol City, I managed to start the ol’ machine after many attempts. Two-stroke engines were being heard around the campsite. Just when we were about to depart, the engine mysteriously died on me. All attempts to start it again were in vain. All the scooters had left for some petrol and would wait for a while for me. I was left with the support vehicle and my buddy Dominic. After a good 10 minutes of trying every possible way to start it, I was on the verge of giving up and join the gang in the van. Dominic volunteered to push me one last time to see if I could start it on the compression. Vroooom! The scooter Gods had answered my prayers!

The morning ride was stress free and very enjoyable. The skies had given us a break. The majority of us were eager to return to the best sandwich place Ottawa has to offer, Di Rienzo Grocery & Deli in Little Italy. Once you had their sandwich made in front of you from freshly baked bread and their mouth watering homemade Italian pastries, you understand why you have lines that will go around the corner during the week.

A few corners away was the Pub Italia, our next stop. I was smiling from ear to ear when the Vespa’s engine roared after the first kick. My joy was short lived because it died on me again a few meters away. Those pesty scooter gremlins were at it again! After another intense session of kickstart action, with the encouragement of a few mates, it came back to life.

Pub Italia is a weird mix of an Italian restaurant, an Irish pub and an old cathedral. As stated on their menu: “What do Italian trattorias, Irish pubs, and medieval monasteries have in common? All represent meeting and gathering places for both celebration and respite. While monasteries fostered the art of beer and wine making, trattorias and pubs became the places of choice in which to consume them.” It’s their beer menu, appropriately named “The Beer Bible” with their selection of 400 brews that won me over.

While we were all enjoying our cold pints on the terrace, a sudden violent rainstorm hit us. How lucky are we? We ride a few hours, not a drop of rain. We stop for an hour and that’s the only rain we get.

We all got back to the campsite safely and we were all looking forward to some friendly Sumo wrestling! Shawn had the brilliant idea to buy some used inflatable sumo costumes for the occasion. I don’t think I have ever laughed this hard in my life. The photos don’t do justice to the hilarity of the situation. The epic Sumoff HAS to become a tradition! 

Shawn about to flip Eric over on his back.
Shawn, the grand winner and Eric swallowing his pride.
As we all gathered under the main tent to toast Shawn, the deserving champion of the sumo competition, the skies suddenly turned dark and we were once again hit by a violent storm only to be rewarded with a beautiful double rainbow.

After a tasty BBQ, it was time for the traditional raffle with a mountain of interesting prizes up for grabs. I had my eye on some great books, a Fred Perry track jacket and a LED Plexiglas illuminated Vespa sign. Would you believe that after all the prizes were raffled off and everybody had won multiple times, I was one of only two that hadn’t won ANYTHING?

It was now time to crown Best Lambretta and Best Vespa. Of course, I had no chance in hell of winning the title of Best Vespa. Corey, our gracious host and organizer was too much of a diplomat to make the call. So after much debate, he simply yelled: “The first two people that start their Vespa and Lambretta wins!” Great! I had problems all weekend! So I run to the VNB and already I hear an engine put-putting away. Wait! That’s a Lammy! I already see my neighbor Garry frantically trying to start his red Vespa 150. I turn my fuel tap on and give it one mercy kick and IT STARTS! The bastard that has had problems all weekend ends up winning Best Vespa!

The prize pack was everything I hoped for. And after trading one of my books for the Fred Perry track jacket with the lovely Rachel, I ended up with everything I wished for. Could a guy ask for more?

A huge thank you to Corey Fraser from Scooter Fix for another great edition. I hope to see you all again next year!

Some of the weekend's survivors

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Mod's love for a nice pair of Sta-Prest

It’s easy to understand why Mods have adopted the Levi’s Sta-Prest as one of their must-haves in their wardrobes since the 60s. They were introduced in 1964 as a revolutionary trouser that never needs ironing and always “stay pressed”.

They fit the Mod’s lifestyle perfectly. One, they are American made. Two, they never wrinkle, have a permanent centre crease and are perfect for the busy Mod that has allnighters to attend, records to buy and his tailor to visit instead of spending precious time fighting with an ironing board. Finally, they offer clean, smart everyday wear.

I’ve never owned a vintage pair of the original Levi’s from that era but wear its modern successor on a regular basis. I have a black pair and a dark brown one that are ideal for work and casual outings. They still look great after a few years.

I’ve always regarded Levi’s as the company that has set the standards for quality and look but many other brands have followed suit in the “Sta-Prest” world. You can see some of these brands in vintage ads I’ve scanned from a 1967 mail-order catalog in a previous post

Lee was probably the closest competitor to Levi’s supremacy of the wrinkle free slacks market and was an acceptable second choice. I recently came upon a secret stash of brand-new, deadstock pairs of some of the nicest examples of the genuine article from the sixties. I almost had a heart attack! The best part was that they had my size and the price was too good to be true. Wait… Maybe they kept the 1966 price tag? I might be exaggerating a bit but they are certainly less then what you would pay for a brand new pair. Just a second… They ARE new!

I managed to put my hands on an immaculate pair of Lee beige trousers. The original tags were still attached! These are pants that were made to wear with classic Clark’s dessert boots or some burgundy Bass Weejuns. Add a colorful checked button-down shirt with a Marino v-neck or a time-honored Fred Perry polo plus a cardigan and you’ve achieved the definitive Mod casual look.

I also bought this pair of golden/brown colored trousers that are a tad more daring but look great on a night out or on a ride around the neighborhood on the Vespa. I like them because you can dress them up or dress them down depending on the type of shoes you opt for.

Now feast your eyes on some fascinating tags from various brands that have tried to carve themselves a place in the popular “permanently pressed” sixties pants market. Too bad they weren’t my size!

Card found in one of the Tee Kay pant's pocket
On the same shopping trip, I also found a brand new 50s/60s slim tie that has my initial on it. Can you believe that it has waited all this time to finally find its proper owner?

This is what I call a successful shopping spree.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Mod’s Monthly magazine

Ever wondered what was behind the pink cover of the 60s The Mod’s monthly magazine? Have you ever wanted to peak inside and see what was discussed in the September 1964 issue?

On page 65 and 66 of the seminal book Mod: A Very British Phenomenon by Terry Rawling, you can see the covers of that coveted magazine. Ever since I got a glimpse at them, my curiosity got the best of me and I set out to find them. Over the years, I managed to put my hands on a few. The thing is, they are extremely rare and in demand. So you know what that means, right? Cha-ching! Pull out the wallet.

I thought that since they are so hard to find and expensive, I would spare you the heartache and share the content with the Parka Avenue readers. First, let me just make an hypothesis here. I don’t think that the Faces and trendsetters back in the day where the target audience. In fact, the magazine is geared more towards teenage girls and is kind of lame. That doesn’t keep it from being fascinating and a sign of the times.

It was a short-lived publication too, only lasting a handful of issues. I can only imagine that with the fast paced life of the original Mods, with its ever-changing fashions and trends, a monthly magazine would always be behind the eight ball.

In issue #7 (September 1964), Mark Burn’s editorial is quite amusing. I would hate to think that in 50 years from now, someone would stumble upon the Parka Avenue blog and have a laugh at my expense. The only similarity between our two publications is the overuse of the word Mod. Anyway, I let you be the judge. Here’s a transcript of the entire editorial. (Little mistakes and all) You’ll see, it’s pretty fab… I mean funtastic!

Crisp! Crunchy!! Funtastic!!!
Hello again!
It is as the saying goes, a really crisp and crunchy month, so we decided to change our whole front page. The words fab and gear are out – but OUT! Crisp and Crunchy are in. “Having a ball” is now replaced by “Funtastic!” Everything’s “Fun” now, instead of fantastic! But what of the changes in style. Well, like everyone, we are thinking towards the cold winter and autumn. Everyone is already working hard on discovering what new styles are IN for the winter. One style that will again be back this winter will be the kinky boots.

Duffel coats will be OUT this year, also the heavier anoraks. John Stephen, leader of the Mod males’ fashion, is still keeping dark about his winter fashions. Most of the girls’ fashions are likely to be checks or stripes, with the high, heavy collars. One fashion that is certainly catching on is but slowly, is one that we hinted about in our May issue of Mods. Cloaks!! Yes, cloaks. The big problem for Mods is where to get them. So many of the big fashion houses simply can’t or won’t make them, even tho’ I know for a fact that many “fans” of this new style will buy them.
I’m afraid that many cloak admirers will have to resort to making their own cloaks although this will probably mean a lot of hard work.

Other snippets of new… “Top Gear,” BBC 2’s programme is fast becoming a favorite with the Mods, and looks like a serious challenge to the once invincible “Ready, Steady, Go!”. If a few more people get BBC 2 this could develop into a battle royal.

One last point I have to make. Due to the tremendous mail we have been receiving we must unfortunately insist that you send stamped addressed envelopes in the future. We have a backlog of hundreds of letters, so if your letter hasn’t been answered yet, don’t despair.

Let us know however if you would like any particular styles put in “Mod’s Monthly.”

Mark Burns

P.S. To those Mod models we asked for, we are still trying to sort out the best amongst you, but it all takes time!

Another article worth taking a closer look at is the one entitled “Are You A Mod?” I was so happy I could finally put that question to rest! The only thing missing was a 10-part questionnaire, like the ones often seen in women’s magazines, with multiple-choice answers.
"First I must say that theoretically Mods run in an age group between 14 and 22. They are the top of the teenagers. Their dress and styles are original, different, unusual, and usually so successful that, especially in London, there are shops that cater only for the Mods and for no other set."
Well, strike one for me.
"[…] only rarely do Mods ever start fashions with completely new styles and completely new materials.
Take for instance, the latest pyjama suits, called Herbals! Many girls, finding they’re unable to buy them anywhere or finding them too expensive, have resorted to buying men’s pyjamas, widening the trousers, and sewing a lining in for warmth. One can’t say that Mod gear is ever static."

Pyjama bottoms as trousers. Pretty inventive, I must say. Still… Strike two!
"White socks are out. In and likely to be in a very big way are dark, almost black stockings, with a motif on them."
As a Mod revivalist teenager, I was guilty of the white socks fashion crime. Luckily, I’ve seen the error of my ways and socks are now something I pay a lot of attention to. Ball 1.
"Still in in most parts are the hipster trousers with the flared bottoms"
Striiiiiiiike three!

There is an interesting article on Carnaby Street that I will touch on in an upcoming post. The “Mod Mailbag” also provided me with a few laughs. But overall, it is what it is, a teenage magazine.

I have a few more issues that I will scan for your viewing pleasure. We can organize a slumber party, have some popcorn and soda, talk about our boyfriends and look at the pretty pictures.