Handling the Heat in the Kitchen

Good evening, gentle readers.

In this modern age there is no longer a club to attend for gentlemen to enjoy dinner, a cigar and brandy in good company. Eating out at various establishments can get costly. It is no longer inexpensive nor proper for a gentleman to employ a cook and housekeeper. It is expected that a gentleman will learn a number of skills suitable for his time as a bachelor, living alone or with a room mate or two and so for the next few entries we shall examine various items and habits of importance for that time between leaving your parents’ home and finding a young lady to share your life.

We shall begin with the kitchen.

The first thing to remember about the kitchen is that it must be kept clean. It is a place for socializing now, much as the sitting room used to be, and many parties and gatherings will wander through this particular room, so a well organized and clean kitchen is extremely important.

For furniture it is at least expected to have a small table and two or four chairs depending on how often you will be entertaining. Beyond the expected appliances a toaster or toaster-oven is a very handy bit of equipment to have. I, personally, have never truly found a microwave to be of any real use.

With respect to flatware and dishes one should have enough to offer four complete services, again depending on one’s entertaining and socializing expectations. A few extra tea cups and drink glasses are never a bad idea. And do try to ensure that the various pieces match, if you would. Utensils should be kept well organized in one or more drawers though a knifeblock can be displayed. Flatware should be neatly stacked or hung in cupboards.

One’s tea kettle can be electric or the standard though for appearance I do prefer the sort that sits on a range. A teapot or two is a necessity as are small and easily used containers for milk, sugar and honey. There are various types and styles of cookware depending, once again, on personal use and preference and these can either be tucked neatly into cupboards or displayed hanging if they are pleasing to the eye. I believe that an essential piece of kitchenware is the cutting board and while many of plastic are available at a good price I feel that the large and well tended board of wood is both useful and pleasing to the eye. Wipe down the cutting board after every use and sanitize it depending on how often you use it, particularly if preparing raw meats or fish upon it.

Papertowel is truly not environmentally friendly nor is it actually any cleaner than using cloths (also known as napkins), which should be used and then collected in a discrete place for a weekly washing (so do have a good supply) and kept in good condition without tattered edges or tears in the fabric. The table cloth is to be treated the same; have two so that if one is spoiled it can be set aside for washing. Place settings are suitable for dining but not so much for an afternoon tea visit.

One’s washing cloth, for doing dishes, should always be left hanging and unfolded to air dry properly. Leaving a washing cloth folded or crumpled gives shadowed space for bacteria to grow. Tea towels are important and two should be kept on hand at all times, oft easily folded over the handle of the oven or suspended on a suitable hanger within easy reach.

A dish rack is very important for air drying is most effective and do ensure to clean your dishes at least once a day. Do not leave dirty dishes sitting in the sink, save the occasional soaking to defeat solidly caked on waste.

Nothing pleases most women more than discovering that a man can cook. Baking is also an excellent skill to learn. Do learn how to create more than ham and eggs or macaroni with cheese. Some very basic cookbooks are critical and easy to find at any bookstore. A small shelf of cookbooks in your kitchen is an indication that one knows one’s way around the room.

When looking at a place to live always consider that a kitchen should properly have a window for both light and air flow.

Decoration is individual though I, myself, prefer a very clean and uncluttered appearance in strong, bold colours. Do not, however, place little knick-knacks and keepsakes all over, these are best left for your sitting area or living room.

The kitchen is a very basic room and one that has few purposes in most cases: cooking and minor socializing. Thus there isn’t a lot to be concerned about if one considers the room logically, though as it is for very informal socializing it is one of the best rooms to build in a way that is personally to your own aesthetic.

As I consider this and further entries I think that I shall deal with the sitting room (or living room as it is called) and the bedroom, as well as skills such as ironing, tying one’s tie or ascot, dressing and who knows where else this may lead?

Can you tell, gentle reader, that I’m merely casting about for random things to write about? Nothing truly is pressing nor critical at the moment so I shall continue with the small, light topics until something does offer adventure.

H.A. Higgins-Keith


Polishing Up Your Gold

Good morning, gentle readers.

I was raised with a simple rule – the Golden rule: treat others as you wish to be treated (often quoted as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”). It seems in this age that this rule has been tarnished or even replaced by plastic. A thing which makes me smile is to see those involved in the Steampunk subculture embracing this rule a little bit more, acting in a polite and mannerly way. So today I shall discuss etiquette.

As written on WikiHow: “Good Manners” display respect, care, and consideration. Everyone has a basic right to help another and feel positive about themselves and others around them. In our age of self-satisfaction, technology and instant internet gratification, it is often hypothesized that we care more for our equipment than those for whom they are made.
It’s common sense that people prefer a reasonable amount of respect. If you nurture plants, animals, or other humans, not only will they grow and bloom – but you will as well. Outside of material goods the basic things we all really own are ourselves and our actions. It’s really good to have good manners. Without good manners, we cannot live a great life. So it’s important.

An excellent quote, in my humble opinion. Manners are as important when out on an evening stroll as they are when visiting a friend, enjoying dinner or a show or just chatting in the billiards room. Manners are “the unenforced standards of conduct which demonstrate that a person is proper, polite, and refined. They are like laws in that they codify or set a standard for human behavior, but they are unlike laws in that there is no formal system for punishing transgressions, the main informal “punishment” being social disapproval. “ according to Wikipedia. They are the behaviour which says that we are civilized. Indeed manners do change due to the time, one’s social circle, one’s age, society, creed and culture.

Gentlemen, it is always ALWAYS a good thing to be polite and respectful to the ladies. It is also important to have good manners with respect to our elders as well as our children for how else will the next generation learn? It is my own thought that the last generation or so focused more on giving their children what they themselves lacked in possessions while forgetting to also teach them respect, good manners and behaviour. Truly one does still find an occasional youth who has excellent manners but that is more the exception than the rule in this modern age.

Ah, but in the Steampunk subculture I have noticed that they are not only embracing the look, the feel, the aesthetic of the Victorian era (give or take) but also the manners and mannerisms. I have seen a gentleman at a Steampunk gather feel his celphone ring and rather than answer and chat eternally he checked the calling number for importance and was quick and private in dealing with the situation. Others leave their celphones at home or set them direct to voicemail. It is true that one may be ‘on call’ or an important reason may result in a call, but it can still be handled swiftly and discretely that one can get back to the socializing.

There have been many writers on etiquette and manners over the years from Emily Post (who said “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use”) whose teachings are carried on by her descendents to Amy Vanderbilt to Judith Martin (Miss Manners herself). Do note that the majority of writers on manners are ladies.

And manners are not restricted by class though they can change a little depending on the character you are portraying. If you’re going lower class and doing the greasemonkey thing then manners are extremely important as they are a sign of respect and when you’re this low on the social scale then you need to show respect to pretty much everybody else. Also consider that you do not of like own a lot of material goods and thus your actions, your comportment and behaviour speak very loudly. Of course the upper classes had an intricate maze of mannerly conduct with a lot of expectations and rules. The wonderful thing about etiquette among the gentry and the refined is that once you know it well enough you can use it to cut and parry with another while remaining a gentleman throughout. The military, for those of you who enjoy dressing in uniforms, have a very strict and traditional set up for etiquette and do remember that ‘conduct unbecoming’ was a punishable offense.

It would be the most polite of me to offer you a list of best mannered behaviour but in this age of the internet and with the desire to educate more than pontificate I would instead present to you the links at the bottom of this entry. There are days I shall also leave it to you, dear reader, to google various terms or items for yourself, for following links into links into links can be quite a fun adventure in itself.

Some excellent tips
Gentlemanly Manners
Basic online etiquette
A fun little Victorian etiquette game

And with that bit of rambling and thought, and a few places to start your own research, I leave you with this last bit to ponder: good manners take a bit of thought. It is my own idea that in this modern age we do not think, we merely process information. Originality and creativity are not as widespread as they once were. We teach our children to be responsible and mature too early, we give them tools rather than toys and do not support their imagination, and we do not educate so much as we set expectations of behaviour. We recycle stories and information because it is felt as simpler and easier. Thinking, taking the information and stewing it to make something new, is not as often done as it once was. With the internet at our fingers we are more parrots and no more philosophers. There is a time to do and there is a time to think and ’tis the dance of the two that makes one the greater.

Thank you for taking the time to wander my thoughts this evening, good reader, and I look forward to speaking with you again soon.


H.A. Higgins-Keith

Gears & Guns

Time to settle in while I expound for a moment on two things in the Steampunk community that confuse me, annoy me and vex me ever so much: gears and guns.

To begin, gentlemen and ladies, gluing gears on something does not automatically make it Steampunk. The outfit worn by the character Herrick in the Syfy series Riese is an excellent example of cogs not making sense. They decorate certain parts of his armour but they don’t do anything. They’re obviously not there for aesthetic reasons and they obviously have no mechanical purpose so why are they attached? Are they some label or badge that says “this is a Steampunk outfit in case you’ve not looked close enough”? I have seen tophats with cogs liberally applied. I have seen armour pieces, breastplates, helmets all with cogs bolted, glued or welded on. I have seen goggles with cogs stuck onto the sides. And often not just one or two but a whole forest of brass or steel gears of various sizes.

Cogs are intimately involved in the Steampunk aesthetic but do take a moment please, readers. Give it a little thought before you start wielding the gluegun as if it were a knight’s favoured weapon. I will admit that I have incorporated cogs into some insignia and one or two small accessories but truly while the Victorians did enjoy elaborate decoration sometimes less is more. Consider a reason for those gears to be part of your outfit.

Not to belabour a point, but I shall, I must say that the Steampunk world is very, very well armed. I have gotten a little tired, personally, of seeing photographs of both individuals and groups in which everyone is pointing a weapon at either the camera or at everyone else. I very, very rarely carry a weapon of any sort and only when appropriate and even then I think about it before strapping something on. I sometimes wonder if in peoples’ personal Steampunk worlds there are constant running gunfights, battles both big and small, and wars between societies and countries. A small part of me understands the allure of the interesting gun, I think, as in our modern society we are not often permitted to carry a weapon of any sort and the Steampunk world seems full of so much more adventure and risk but honestly, does everyone need to be well heeled with the kind of armament required to take down a charging velocipede even when just visiting a friend for tea? It may explain why I see so many flintlock pistols being tucked into belts and boot-tops, that people have raided their grandfather’s armoury for some status symbol that says “here walks a gent or lady that you do not wish to mess with!”

While I agree with Heinlein that an ‘armed society is a polite society’ I must point out that in the places of this world that call themselves civilized and where a weapon is permitted to be carried they are not found on the hips of every person on the street nor do they tend to carry long arms or huge dinosaur dropping pieces of weaponry, but usually it is a discrete and nearly hidden something tucked into a bag or a holster on one’s belt. I wonder that, in the Steampunk worlds of many enthusiasts, when entering a venue for fine dining they may need to check their hat, coat AND rifle. And if one does a little google search on ‘The Polite Society’ one finds that this group, based on Heinlein’s famous quote, consider appropriate only ‘everyday concealed carry’ firearms.

Just a few more things to ponder.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

Tipping your Topper

An important and necessary part of any gentleman’s wardrobe is his hat but many people in this modern age do not know the rules of etiquette for the wearing of a hat: when and where to don it, doff it and tip it. For such a simple article of clothing the rules can be a little complex and require a touch of thinking at all times, something that isn’t so acceptable these days I’ve found.

No matter what style or type of hat you are wearing, good sirs, there are some very basic and easy rules to the comportment. Do note that the protocol is different for women as a lady’s hat has not the same construction nor purpose as a man’s.

A gentleman wears his hat out of doors or in public indoor places. Public places include museums and art galleries, shopping malls, lobbies, corridors and elevators of non-residential buildings, hotels, offices and places of commerce, banks, railroad stations, postal offices, pubs, and in the lobbies of theatres and concerts unless the hat is blocking someone’s view and similar. The exception to the restaurant rule is that a man can keep his hat on when seated at the counter of a diner or cafe, or when seated on a patio.

A gentleman tips his hat, which is a simple gesture of lifting the brim and resettling the hat upon one’s head and can be replaced with a touch of a finger or two brushed across the front of the brim, in situations to indicate politeness and respect. One’s hat is tipped:

~ to “say” to a lady – thank you, excuse me, hello, goodbye, you’re welcome or how do you do.
~ without fail when meeting or passing a lady one knows on the street or in a public area.
~ when being introduced to a lady in a public area or on the street, during which time names are exchanged.
~ when passing in front of a church.

Tipping one’s hat to another man is a very tricky proposition. Done incorrectly it is an insult akin to calling the gentleman a lady. There are very specific cases where one can tip one’s topper to another gentleman without getting into trouble though rather than actually lifting the brim, the brush of a finger or two across the brim in an echo of a salute is much more acceptable. These situations are:

~ when passing someone of higher status on the street or in a public area.
~ when stopping to ask a more elderly gentleman for directions or assistance.
~ when a stranger (a man or a woman) shows courtesy to a woman you are accompanying, such as picking up a dropped item or opening a door.
~ a slight brush of the brim can be appropriate to a gentleman stranger, one of known superior position or an older gentleman to say thank you, excuse me, hello, goodbye, you’re welcome or how do you do.

There is some discussion as to the definition of ‘doffing’ though the source of the word is ‘to do off’ or to remove. There are those who would include tipping of one’s hat as falling under the definition of doffing but I must disagree. To doff one’s hat is to remove it entirely from one’s head and hold it in a hand, put it on a hatstand or check it.

When a gentleman removes his hat it is to be held in the hand loosely and casually but with the top facing forward so as to not show the interior lining. If the hat is of suitable shape and construction, such as a crusher cap, a pith helmet or similar, it can be tucked under the arm to trap the rim against the side of one’s chest. Cloth caps such as garrison caps, poor boys, newsboys caps and the like can be folded and tucked into a pocket. One removes one’s hat:

~ when entering a church or during outdoor prayer. When speaking with a clergyman.
~ during the national anthem or when the flag is passing.
~ upon entering anyone’s home or apartment.
~ upon entering an office. Generally this is done in the personal office that you are visiting but it is polite to remove your hat as early as the reception area.
~ in a restaurant either at the check counter if they have one or just after stepping into the dining room.
~ in a smoking room, billiards room or a gentleman’s room at a club or other social gathering place.
~ once seated at a concert or theatre performance.
~ in a court of law.
~ When a lady enters an elevator no matter the building.
~ in any case when the tipping of a hat is appropriate to a lady, but never to another gentleman. When stopping to talk with a lady on the street for more than a few short words it is also considered polite to doff one’s hat.

If there is no check available for one’s hat when a gentleman is seated then the hat can be placed under the chair or one a knee, but should never be placed on a table. It is also considered to be bad luck to place a hat on a bed, a superstition with various possible sources related to funerary and religious ceremonies as well as hygiene. Personally I just find it best not to as you don’t know how others may react.

Do note in the case of uniforms that the military have different rules for wearing and removing their ‘cover’.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

The Well Dressed Man

I am sure that, by now, if you’ve done any research you’ve noticed a plethora of designers and fabricators of clothing and accessories for the ladies. However men too require clothing and, during the Victorian period, there are a number of necessary accessories. Depending on the look you are striving for there are some very necessary items, gentlemen. Let us start with the lower classes and work our way up.

The Grease-Monkey

Good strong boots, tools, gloves and goggles. This group of men would, beyond nearly all others, actually have reason to have goggles about their person. A respirator as well would be very likely. Headware is important and may be job related or for wearing home. Denim and corduroy are both period and durable fabrics. Buttons of bone, brass, copper or steel for all closures. Among the clerical and service industries a good set of sleeve garters is important. Rarely ever a watch as the factory whistle will tell the time for you. If you have an idea to be Scottish, which many of the best engineers were, then you can substitute a solid and heavy wear kilt in for your slacks. You could, should you wish, even go with a utilikilt or other non-tartan ‘work’ version as this IS an alternate history, after all. Suspenders can be worn to hang loose or shouldered.

The Middle Classes

Cufflinks, a passable pocket watch, a sack suit, and a hat. Perhaps a derby, a homburg or a trilby, a slouch hat or an ivy, a sporting cap or a gambler’s. Boaters are also to be considered for good-weather wear. And even a fedora or a cowboy’s hat would do, depending. An umbrella is a necessity for poor weather. Add in a car coat or a trench and you are set. Of course no man would be seen without a tie of some sort. Suspenders are normal rather than belts.

The Gentleman

Here we have a wide range to play with and this is where most people do aim. A good pocket watch with a fob chain, cufflinks, tie clip or pin, handkerchief, and other little accessories are important. It is in the small details that the gentleman stands out. Add a tophat or a John Bull, perhaps a bowler or a small brim fedora. Gentlemen stay away from the poorboy or newsboy caps for the most part. A tie or an ascot. Good shoes with spats or riding boots. A gentleman never went outside without gloves. A walking stick or an umbrella depending on the forecast for the day. A frock or morning coat for daytime wear, a set of tails for the evening. A town coat, car coat or duster but never a sack coat unless you’re going very late period though a cutaway jacket is never a wrong choice. A waistcoat or vest is necessary. Suspenders over belts but a well fitted pair of pants needs neither.

As a general rule for any of the classes go colourful in the early period and sombre in the later. While black, brown and grey are all excellent and oft selected choices the right flash of colour in a waistcoat or in one’s accessories can allow one to stand out from the crowd.

Stepping off to the right we have:

The Military Man

What is it about a man in uniform? The back is held straighter, the shoulders are out, the stomach is in and there is a confident swagger that is natural. A well appointed and fitted uniform definitely catches the eye.
One can do many things depending on if you are dressing for field, garrison, work detail or formal occasion.
For the field and garrison the main difference is how much kit one is carrying. Otherwise it is uniform, shako or cap of some form, belt and pouches, boots or shoes and spats. For colour ideas check various online sources for period uniforms as there are a lot. Work detail is even simpler with less belt and pouches and a very basic look often in lighter fabrics.
But full dress? Now here we can shine. Boots or shoes polished to a high gloss with the option for spurs. Tunic, gloves, sashes, medals and all sorts of glitter and gleam. A cap or hat, of course, whether shako or crusher/peaked. An officer would never appear fully armed at a fete or a social but may bear a ceremonial piece.

And where would you find what you need to make yourself up properly? Locally look at used clothing stores, military surplus stores, antique stores and flea markets or bazaars. Online there are a handful of places including:




And for a bit more reading, here’s one of several sources which I have enjoyed:


But one important thing to remember, gentlemen, is that Victorian Great Britain tended to have chill, drizzly weather moreso than any other. A lot of the clothing was of wool and worn in layers. When dressing for other climes please keep in mind that Victorian clothing does get very very warm.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

Around the World in 80 Minutes

It is entertaining, is it not, that a classic by one of the giants who is attributed with being a huge influence, and I speak of Jules Verne, wrote a book called “Around the World in 80 Days” and Steampunk takes it to heart, in a world where a message can fly around the world in .80 seconds and one can travel it in 80 hours. Though Verne’s book has no hint of science fiction nor the slightest flavour of retro-futurism it does shine like the sun on the British Empire of the time, shortly before its peak.

And here is where it relates to today’s topic: Steampunk. It’s a world. A broad, diverse, wonderful world populated by many peoples, rich with many cultures and societies, and chock full of things to fuel the imagination. And yet the primary focus of those involved in the Steampunk aesthetic are either completely Victorian Great Britain or the United States Wild West. It is very, very rare to run into someone dressed to portray a Steampunk Asian or Native American or Indian or Russian or… on and on. There are very, very few Frenchmen or Dutch or Germans even. As an aside, Jules Verne is French.

But before we take a stroll through culture or society, let us look at class and gender.

Class is generally poorly represented in Steampunk costuming even though the societies of the period were very concerned with class. There is an abundance of gentlefolk, learned persons, gentry and those with the means and abilities to explore and adventure with little nod to the people who fill the engine rooms, the factories and workshops, the mills and mines, and all the occupations needed to allow the well heeled to enjoy their free time. This is romanticism hard at work here. Just as the SCA is generally filled with nobility and land owners of some level or another with few, if any, ever representing the serfs and servants, so too is the Steampunk subculture one of tophats and bustles, walking sticks and parasols. strange [but intricate] mechanisms and lots and lots of tea presented in fine service. The military shows quite often as well among those who portray Steampunk fellows and ladies, and please do not get me started with how well armed the Steampunk societies seem to be. But where are the grease-monkies? One of the easiest and simplest outfits to create is that of the working man or woman. Denim is period. Overalls and wifebeaters [then simply called undershirts] are proper. Big boots, ash smears, gloves and caps of all sorts. And goggles! While some argue why goggles are worn atop various headgear it must be obvious that grease-monkeys would have regular need for goggles and even respirators. Daily need! Grease-monkies are also fun to play. They have the same manners and politeness, the same respect that the gentlefolk do though they may present it in a little less polished manner. They drink tea from clay mugs and cups but they’ll still lay a handkerchief across a knee to do so. They’ll hold a door or a seat and address everyone with respect. But they also get to rough and tumble, play the fun games and enjoy a level of entertainment a little more bawdy and rich. Additionally, the ‘lower classes’ need not be all cogs in the great steam machine. Consider seamstresses and tailors, tinkerers and crafters, sailors and common soldiers. Nudge it up a bit to architects and chemists and the like as well if you’d prefer. Engineers. Surveyors. A world needs all sorts.

Something that I have noticed in the Steampunk subculture is a freeness with gender restrictions that pushes the pendulum far, far to the other side. True, the Victorian period was a very patriarchal society though strong and adventurous women did live during this time. In the modern, romantic portrayal of these characters of alternate history there is an abundance of lady sky-pirates, female scientists and inventors, woman adventurers and more. Generally as well armed or better than the males. I have heard some discussion that this is necessary for women at the time were repressed and thus did not have many of the career options that men had. But one forgets crossdressing! Masquerade and disguise! And women did have their own power as well during this time. Don’t forget that the period is named for a Queen, not a King. But here… a little reading:





There should be no argument nor discomfort in a woman dressing as a man and assuming a man’s role in a Steampunk world. Nor should there be any argument nor discomfort in making of herself a strong woman’s role as this IS but a world of alternate history. And as for the ‘tit for tat’ of it, well, men have been crossdressing as women for many reasons for many years (a number of the reasons being safety or comedy).

Now that we are done with class and with gender [though shall we e’er truly be done?] let us move on into culture and society, shall we?

The biggest problem, of like, with dressing in a nonBritish or nonAmerican manner within the Steampunk subculture is that, like most subcultures the majority of the participants are Caucasian. For me this presents no problem but apparently for others it does.

There is a feeling that to dress in the manner of a nonCaucasian culture, even in Steampunk roleplay, is to improperly appropriate that culture. Balderdash! It does depend, of course, on how it is presented and the why of it but it is not a thing unknown from that period. Cultures influence each the other all the time. Look at pictures from the Victorian era and you will see Native Americans, Asians, Native Africans and Australians sporting top hats, walking sticks, parasols and even tailcoats. Are they improperly appropriating the Caucasian culture? Not in the least. They were dawning the trappings in both imitation and respect, among other reasons. While Western Europe, for the most part, had an image of how one should dress that was as strong as how one should comport themselves, influences did move in both directions. There are as many pictures of British Military in India wearing local headware as there are of locals wearing that of the British. Indian, Asian and Egyptian influences were very strong during the Victorian period as the people of Western Europe were fascinated with these other parts of the world.

Then there is ‘going native’. Travelers, merchants, adventurers, soldiers did, at various times, become assimilated into the cultures of the lands they visited or were stationed in. This is particularly true of military scouts in the U.S. during the period. Surely it was not a mass migration to a different way of living but it did happen and often enough to be noted and, at times, to become a concern. Adding a certain flavour to one’s outfit if done with respect, thought and care is indeed period.

However, I would note that if you do decide to add in some item or style belonging to another culture that you are aware of what it is you are wearing, the why of it, and how to explain it respectfully. There are those who get upset with past issues [even though there are enough current issues that they do not seem to care for so much] that in public one MAY be approached and called on the borrowed bits.

There is nothing wrong with exploring other options than the most often seen British/American characterizations from the Victorian period in your Steampunk wardrobe and presentation. Just remember it is to be both fun and respectful.

H.A. Higgins-Keith