Rhiannon Harries: Steampunk takes me back to the future

Urban Notebook

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Keeping up with the vagaries of London's nightlife sometimes feels like a full-time job. Only last week I was feeling smugly prepared for any of the dress-up-and-dance eventualities the capital might throw at me – I'd perfected a pin-curl for fifties nights in Hackney and mastered the requisite swing steps to get me round the dance floor at a Shoreditch Blitz party. I even had some normal clothes in the unlikely event of doing something as old school as, say, going to a pub.

A phone call from my sister, however, threw me into disarray. "Come to a steampunk night with me on Saturday. Dress code is neo-Victorian," she said breezily, explaining she didn't have time to elaborate because she had reached a critical stage in her bustle making.

The steampunk scene, as I discovered after some frantic googling, has its origins in a genre of fantasy fiction set in the 19th century and stuffed with real or imagined inventions such as time machines and analogue computers – think Jules Verne and HG Wells written from a 1980s vantage point.

White Mischief, the club night in question, has become something of a fixture on enthusiasts' calendar thanks to its eccentric mix of vaudeville, comedy and circus acts and vintage sounds.

Mercifully for me and my hastily cobbled-together outfit, the anachronisms inherent in the concept translate to a pretty relaxed dress code, so mingling with the space-pirates, laser-gun-toting Boer War soldiers and mini-Crinolines that evening were Josephine Baker types and a girl in a buttock-baring PVC number.

The appeal of retro-futurism is intriguing, particularly given the hints of it appearing in mainstream culture too. On the catwalks this season designers presented a vision of the future not unlike the imagined space-age styles found in the Sixties cartoon series The Jetsons.

Perhaps we have simply wrung the 20th century dry of straightforward nostalgia, but right now there is something especially captivating about a world where the idea still prevailed that advancing science, technology and knowledge heralded an exciting future. We may have yet to invent a functional time machine, but given the creativity and enthusiasm I witnessed on Saturday night, nothing seems beyond the realms of possibility.

How cheapskate are you?

A word of warning should a penny-pinching other half surprise you with a romantic break in California this summer. Among the slew of downturn "deals" on offer is the dubiously-named "survivor package" at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, San Diego, where a room for two with breakfast usually sets you back $219 (£137).

Modern-day Scrooges can whittle down the price by knocking off "luxuries" at $20 a pop. The cheapest package comes in at a tempting $19, but here's what you WON'T be getting: breakfast, air-con, pillows, sheets, toiletries, towels, lights or even a bed. Stay-cationing in your semi never looked so good.

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