Friday, 29 October 2010

Remote controls 60 years on

Remarkable how things pass you by. This week is (FX: DRUM ROLL) the 60th anniversary of the remote control. I know what you're thinking - we all thought those were really snazzy in our teens and only the really posh kids at school had them, and that was about 30 years ago.

So remotemeister Logitech, whose control (below with an Amazon link - and in the interests of openness let me declare I get a per centage for purchases made through this) I use, has commissioned some research. For example a third of us, they reckon, would rather give up sex for a month than lose control of the TV (people say all sorts of things to researchers, don't they?)

More interestingly, I suggest (and more believably), over three quarters of people think remote controls are too complicated while the number of UK residents owning more than four remotes has increased to 52%. One in five of us has had to write down instructions on how to use the remote controls for babysitters and other visitors who'll be there while we're out.

This is why one of my favourite gadgets is indeed my multiple remote. I use a Logitech as above and if I had the right light switches installed and heating controls I could use it to control those as well as the telly.

I would of course be very frustrated when, inevitably, I lose it down the back of the sofa again. I've also had to wait for the database to catch up with some of my technology; Logitech (and no doubt other manufacturers) has an online database; you plug the remote into your computer, tell it which gadgets you use and if they're not on there (like 3D tellies weren't a couple of weeks ago) then it tries to find something almost compatible and uses that as a template. So I've found it works on the Sky box, it works on turning the TV on and off but it won't change the input so I can watch a DVD yet (I'm planning to try again this weekend as the database is updated all the time).

They're also useless, then, if you don't have broadband and not everybody does. I bought my mother a cheaper model (below with another Amazon link) for her birthday - a less snazzy screen but she's fine with that - and because she doesn't use broadband she hasn't set it up. I've offered to do it for her but as she's pointed out more than reasonably, this would mean I'd have to take it away and re-program it if she ever dared buy a new TV or DVD player, or opt for satellite.

Once it's fully assimilated your models of TV and accessories (and my Logitech impressively recognised the new Apple TV on day one), a combined remote does indeed reduce clutter and is pretty useful. I prefer the models with more room for expansion into other gadgets - clearly the one above, which handles up to four devices, will work better for many people.

Logitech also does a much more expensive several-hundred-quid version, which they're sending me to have a play with. I'll report back; at the moment I'm doubtful that a remote that costs more than some high def TVs can be worth the money.

Monday, 25 October 2010

My first men's facial

Hmm, sorry about the lack of entries last week, I was away (note to everyone: never blog the fact that you're away). And as threatened in the blog post I actually managed before sheer lethargy took over at the excellent Budock Vean Hotel in Cornwall (who knew you got this much sun in October?) I had this facial, which I promised I'd blog about.

OK, plug first - they used many components of the grooming kit in the Amazon link above on me and yes, I'll get a kickback if you buy one through the link. No obligation and above all no promises - your skin might not react like mine.

So I'm going into this Facial thing, no idea what to expect. It's a slightly darkened room and this young woman tells me to strip to my pants. I explain that I normally keep my face above my shoulders; she agrees I can keep the trousers on if I want. Look, stop laughing at the back, what was I supposed to know about this stuff?

She puts cucumber on my eyes. I'd always assumed this was just a gag from sitcoms or whatever, but apparently not. She then starts washing my face. There's something slightly unnerving about someone else washing your face - but she uses cleanser and then a scrub, the idea being to take the dead skin away.

It was dead quiet. I could have done with a bit of music. There was some sort of whale song or whatever; I had Ian Dury and the Blockheads on my iPhone if she'd only asked.

Eventually I stop feeling self-conscious and kind of go with it. This would be about when the funny post-shave face mask goes on to really suck out some gunge - not that I don't wash! - and she starts the massage on the shoulders, the arms, the neck, the individual fingers. When I tell you that I spend most of my time hunched over a computer typing you can imagine that a lot of tension was ready to be let go.

Eventually the mask comes off, more cucumber goes on the eyes after a bit of eye cream (I'm in my mid-forties, we need this stuff) and moisturiser. She tells me I'm free to go anytime and there's a glass of water waiting for me outside.

A glance in the mirror dispelled a lot of my more cynical preconceptions. I was more relaxed than before because of the massage (daughter has since tried to duplicate this for me so the shoulder now hurts like mad) but my face looked a lot clearer, fresher and more alert.

Scientifically I have no idea how this worked. The feeling that I was spending some time on myself and being indulged completely might account for all sorts of rejuvenated feeling, but I wouldn't criticise it for that. I can quite see how something like this a day or two before a big presentation or something could give someone a boost of confidence; I'm on stage on Thursday but won't be able to fit it in, but another time I'll certainly consider it as part of the preparation.

As long as you're not someone who feels self-conscious about this sort of thing I'd heartily recommend it.

Monday, 18 October 2010

My wife says I'm having a facial

OK, so it's my wife's birthday and I've treated her to a spa thing - well, I will when she lets me pay her back for it.

So she says to me, "You're writing this men's style blog, why don't you have one?" So apparently she's booked me in on Thursday morning for something called a "facial".

I have to admit I'm a bit lost here. I use a bit of moisturiser in the hope that I'll look a bit less prematurely elderly, but actually going somewhere and letting someone else trowel it on, I'm not so sure.

I'll be sure to report back. Meanwhile any blokes who've had one and can say anything reassuring are welcome to comment...

Friday, 15 October 2010

Suits and tailoring: choosing the features

I tend to buy suits tailored these days. There are two reasons for this: first I'm a slightly awkward shape even if I lose some weight, a very square back makes off-the-peg jackets ruck up on me terribly and this in turn leads to the lapel area bowing out. Frankly, they don't fit.

The second reason is that it's nowhere near as expensive as you might think. The linen suit in the picture came in for under £300 and although I'd freeze half to death if I wore it right now, I'm presenting at Bafta this evening and will be wearing another tailored jobbie from the same place (anyone wanting more info is welcome to mail me - they have a loyalty scheme so I can refer people and get points against future purchases).

I was wearing one yesterday, though, and one of the women at the meeting said she was surprised anyone would choose such a non-fancy lining for a bespoke suit. She probably had a point; it was one of my first tailored suits and I probably went in too conservatively. On the other hand you don't want to look an idiot - so what to do? Here are some points to consider when you're going tailored for the first time (I'd have loved a list like this when I started, and I'd welcome additional thoughts).

1. The fit
Luckily I was advised that slim fit isn't just for slim people. Ultra-fitted would make me look fat (and yes I understand it's no use blaming the suit); slim, as in the picture, is just that bit better shaped than a standard fit.

2. Working cuffs
One of the things that distinguishes a well tailored suit from off the peg in many people's eyes - I've read it often enough. It's a mark of quality, some people say; in my tailor's case it's a mark of my throwing an extra £25 at the thing so I can undo one of the buttons and pose a bit. Whatever. Don't have these for your first made to measure suit, though; if you're not happy with the sleeve length the tailor won't have the same leeway for alterations as they would with non-working buttons.

3. Lining
Go on, treat yourself to a slightly fancy lining. Patterns, something with a sheen, have some fun - nobody's going to see it much until you take it off, but it definitely adds to the effect. Make sure the back of the waistcoat (if you're having one, which I wouldn't necessarily recommend as they can look a bit stuffy and also emphasise any protruberance of gut) matches the lining of the suit and you're automatically co-ordinated. Opt for a pocket square (or "hankie" as they're sometimes known) of the same stuff and you're really co-ordinated. Go for something too quiet and the suit's likely to look off the peg - which of course may not be a problem to you.

4. Stitching
A hand-stitched lapel used to add an air of authenticity, proving something had been hand made. Since Marks and Sparks now have handstitch lookalike jackets available off the peg I suggest the benefits are diminishing - I like the look so I have it, but it's purely a matter of taste.

5. Buttonhole stitching
Tailors will be pleased to stitch the lapel button and the cuff buttons to match the lining rather than the suit if you want. I wasn't sure at first but went for it on the suit that arrived yesterday and am very pleased with the effect; nobody's going to notice unless they look for it but it'll give me a bit more confidence this evening. My tailor, at least, doesn't charge extra.

Oh, and always examine any guarantee they offer in terms of the fit. Some will guarantee to alter a suit even if there's nothing wrong with it and you've changed shape through weight loss or gain.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

A new gadget I've bought: typing on the iPad

I promised I'd write a bit about gadgets on this blog (more on future direction at the end of this message); I'm an iPad user and last week I bought the KeyCase iPad Folio Deluxe (pictured), available only through I have to award them 10/10 for fast delivery before I say anything else (and by the way, following discussions elsewhere on this blog I'm not affiliated with them and have no vested interest in readers buying or otherwise).

I've been sent a number of iPad cases; one of the pleasant things about being a tech journalist is that people do throw goodies at you from time to time. This one I thought was worth paying for because it has a built-in Bluetooth keyboard.

First, then, a declaration. You can get cheaper cases and if you have a Bluetooth keyboard that works with your Mac, you can set it up to work with the iPad too. Second another declaration: I was surprised at how heavy this one was, combined with the iPad. (Funny how the iPad seemed so light at first and now I'm wondering how much weight they'll shave off for the Mark II version, no doubt due about May).

What you're buying here is a convenient package, then. Charge it up (it doesn't take long), set it up with the iPad and, unless you want to do something the iPad just doesn't (file management, anything involving Flash or Java), you probably don't need your laptop any more. It's as comfortable as most laptop keyboards - I prefer a full-sized jobbie but this will do for on the move - and there are only a few gripes, like the backspace not working as a delete button and the delete button deleting backwards.

So as an extension of the iPad's function and a way of making it work as a lighter-weight out-of-office email device it's good, even if it does highlight some of the tablet's shortcomings a little more starkly since it feels so much more like a proper computer when it has a keyboard attached. Pockets somewhere for other bits and pieces like pens and cards would have been good, this is very much a keyboard with a bit of a case attached, but for what it is it's a good one.

I still think that if I didn't write about tech, and therefore couldn't make anything out of writing about iPads, it wouldn't have been worth buying one. If you have one already, though, this keyboard/case is a good add-on.

So, that's the first gadget discussion on here. A little while ago on Twitter I asked what people would like to see on this blog and as well as discussions on shoes, watches, gadgets, I had requests for stuff on being a working dad, the latest computer games - I hadn't envisaged those areas but could take them on if there were demand; what do people think, would you be happier if I kept to "style" or would you like to see general lifestyle in early middle age as well?

And those of you who've bought an iPad, what do you think?

Monday, 11 October 2010

Watching the watches

Christopher Ward C5SSS
Last week I put up an affiliate link to Christopher Ward watches on this site - see, it's still there. One of my Facebook friends objected immediately. Not only was I suggesting putting a watch blog up (which was an idea I'd floated) but I'd suddenly put a watch link in there. Would this bias any copy? And worse, he said, it was Christopher Bloody Ward.

All of which bemused me a bit. Yes, they were the first people to approve my request for affiliation but I only asked because I actually own a number of their watches and am pretty happy with them. My favourite for formal wear, the C5SSS, is pictured (C5 is the model number and the multiple Ss refer to the silver strap, dial else). I also have a jazzier model based on a Bentley dashboard - it says on the site - which looks pretty good with a tee-shirt.

Personally I'm very happy with these. The less formal model is Swiss made and the pictured version has a Swiss movement but to me that's less important than the fact that they look pretty good and are - wait for it - affordable. I'm not into this "spending thousands on a watch" thing; if I'm going to spend thousands on something it had better be something I'm going to remember, not something I'm going to put on and use for telling the time. Neither of my watches cost more than £250 from the Christopher Ward site (click on the banner above by all means).

There may be people reading this blog who either collect watches or who know a bit more about the innards, and who might be able to tell me where they think I'm going wrong and above all why more expensive models represent good value. I'm open to that and by all means let's use this blog as a learning place.

So to recap on the vested interests, I have an affiliate link so if you buy through it I'll gain from it and I wrote a piece for their last catalogue for which they paid me. But I was an existing customer, there's no bias in that or in anything I've written. What does everyone else wear on their wrists around these parts - and why opt for a particular brand or model?

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Cheap shoes that cost a lot

Media training the other day involved a nice suit, highly polished shoes (not the ones in the picture) and some rain. The rain told me that my shoes were letting in water around the sole. Of course I had to keep a fixed smile the whole time.
The thing is, these weren't cheap shoes. I'd paid around £99 for them and only about a year ago. Looking at the way the sole has gone, around the toe, they're not going to be good candidates for repair (and anyway my local repair place just glues new soles on rather than puts them on properly, I've spent two lots of £25 on a repair that lasts a matter of weeks and I'm not doing it again). So it looks as though it's new black shoes time.

And I'm going to spend some decent money on this. My previous formal shoes were from Church's - you know, you walk past it on Regent Street and wonder why anyone would pay £250-£300 for footwear.

Loake Chester II Tan
Here's the thing: the previous pair, which cost £225 or thereabouts at the time, were bought in about 1991 and I replaced them around 2006, with another £99 pair (I had a family by then and didn't perceive £200+ as affordable). So the maths goes like this: You spend £99 a go on two pairs of shoes since 2006, one lasts three years and the other one, call it an average of two years. That's near-as-dammit fifty quid a year. The £225 models lasted 14 years and were only put out of action by accidental damage. That means, as long as you spend actual money rather than bury yourself in a credit card, you're spending a figure just north of £16 a year. Now tell me which are the expensive shoes.

It still takes a hard swallow before spending that sort of cash up front on a pair of shoes, rational though it might seem, so I've been looking at alternatives. The people at have been in touch and invited me to check their service out; I can confirm that on placing an order a pair of Loake Chester II tan brogues (pictured) arrived within 24 hours by courier. These are £120 a pair and importantly in my case they have a thick sole, so if you walk heavily and wear out heels, toes or soles quickly these will stand up to it. Loake has been around for a while and knows how to attach the sole firmly unlike some cheaper brands. The website has a selection of shoes for more formal wear, sportswear, deck shoes, boots, loads of leading names and has a real time indicator of whether something is in stock.

Naturally I'd have opted for a black pair if I'd known my existing ones were leaking but you can't know everything. Tan's a good colour and seems to be coming in for a revival this autumn; the pictured brogues look good and are wearable with a blue suit or indeed jeans. Try to match them with a belt if you can - apparently Rubbersole tried selling matching belts a while back but found men preferred to buy belts in person, shoes online (which is odd as you're much more likely to find a poorly-fitting shoe if it's a brand you haven't tried before).

Meanwhile I'm going to have to buy businessy shoes sometime over the next few days or weeks. I can see myself spending quite a lot; I seem to use up more money when I don't.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Is the bowler back?

Flickr: Sundaykofax
An article in the Daily Telegraph today says bowler hats may be coming back because Austin Reed is relaunching them from its London store in Regent Street.

Ahem. I've seen a number of them around London in recent years - a very small number but a number nonetheless. Congrats and all to Austin Reed's PR people but it's never really gone away, albeit they may do something to popularise it again.

I can't quite see it taking off myself. Young people wearing it 'ironically' maybe - I don't imagine the woman in the picture here is wearing it entirely seriously. But it has so many connotations of Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and others that I can't see anyone classifying it as classically smart in today's mainstream. I'd be pleased to hear views to the contrary, mind.

The Telegraph article is odd. It says that Patrick Macnee wore one in the revival of The Avengers in the 1970s which indeed he did - but ignores the fact that he also wore several in the original Avengers in the sixties, which was surely where the style was set.

Bowlers are rarely flattering, and if you have a round face they'll accentuate rather than flatter. My guess is that it's going to stay a minority niche and a novelty - as always, I'm happy to be proven wrong and/or disagreed with.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Housekeeping notices: Affiliates

Just a quickie today. Many people will have noticed that a number of companies are cropping up on these pages with adverts - so far (as I type) Charles Tyrwhitt for clothes and Christopher Ward for watches.

A couple of people have asked me if I'm accepting money to write positively about these companies. The answer is no, no, no and no.

These are straightforward affiliation schemes in which I'll get a small % of any sales made through the links on this site. It's handled through a third party so I don't actually have to talk to the companies involved if I don't feel like it - simple as that.

I've chosen these companies as well as a couple of others who may join them if they a) start an affiliation scheme and b) approve my site for inclusion with strict criteria:

1. The goods have to be affordable. Yes, Rolex probably makes more accurate and certainly more prestigious watches than Christopher Ward but it's going to cost more than £225 to get an automatic watch, which is the price of mine.

2. As you might guess from no. 1 up there, I'm only going to have affiliates of whom I'm an existing paying customer. Nobody has to share my tastes, that's not the idea of the blog at all, and I'm not going to censor comments from people who disagree with my choices - but if you see someone with an affiliate banner on this site then I've been buying their stuff for at least two years and would recommend it.

3. If I think the site looks cluttered I start cutting the affiliates - but it's my decision, my blog.

So no - Christopher Ward Watches, for whose catalogue I wrote an article for which they paid me (click on the link and it's page 14 if you're interested) isn't paying me for writing positively about them. I've bought watches from them, I'm happy with them so you can guess what tone I'll be taking, but apart from that and a small kickback if you buy something through the link, there's no link between my blogging and the advertising I'm carrying.

Anyone any questions, fire away...

Monday, 4 October 2010

Do you smell too young?

So I'm visiting a family member over the weekend, and she works in a well known High Street company.

Flickr: Dmitry Valberg
Talk turns to the blog, and indeed to colognes/aftershaves/eau de toilette. She has complimented me on my choice before but she has a concern. When she and her team discussed how to market my favourite, which is Armani Code (pictured), they decided between them that it was very much a young person's scent, not something they'd recommend for an over-40 at all. We, apparently, would opt for something a little heavier.

So what do we reckon? Am I kidding myself, mid-life-crisis-ing myself into smelling like a 20-year-old, or is a particular branch of a well known High Street name talking a load of hooey?

And what does everyone else use - come to think of it, do you even think of demographics when you select it?

(Housekeeping note: I have no affiliation with Armani, nor is there any way you can order the stuff through this site and earn me a profit).

Friday, 1 October 2010

The untucked shirt - yes or no?

I've just been reading an American blog on whether men should tuck their shirts in or not. Granted a lot's going to depend on what sort of shirt - some are cut to be left hanging out - while others are more neutral.

So, Tees or formal, polo or with collar stiffeners - your homework for the weekend is to tell me what you think, should men wear shirts that are hanging out or not?

(That other blog post is here, by the way).