zaterdag 20 augustus 2016

Back to the future

In a previous post, I blogged about Jos's home town and its brick-making past, mentioning that the uppermost five spheres of the Atomium in Brussels were visible from a vantage point near his former home.

Last Monday, which was a public holiday in Belgium, with the weather being particularly bright and sunny, we decided to join the tourists and pay the Atomium a visit.

It wasn't our first visit by any means: we have actually visited it four times in the 22 years we have been together.

For those of you who are not familiar with this extraordinary building, I will tell you about its fascinating history in this post.

Original 1958 postcard  from our collection

The Atomium was built especially for Expo 58, the world fair which took place in Brussels in 1958, and it was easily the most spectacular piece of architecture at the fair.

Expo 58 was the first major post-war world fair and, as well as exuding an air of optimism, it showcased new technologies as well as innovative architecture.

Original poster from our collection

 In fact, quite a few of the pavilions would still be considered modern by today's standards.

The American pavilion, parts of which still exist today, and
which has long been used as a television studio (*)
The British pavilion (*)

The fair was visited by more than 42 million people, one of them an impressionable schoolboy called Jos, whose three visits to the fair instilled a life long fascination for everything related to Expo 58.

Philips pavilion (*)

Pavilion of Civil Engineering (*)
(*) Original postcards from our collection

After all, the building-in-progress of the Atomium could be followed from his home town!

In spite of this, Jos did not actually visit the Atomium itself, as it cost a staggering 60 Belgian Francs, whereas an adult entrance ticket to the whole fair was only 30 Belgian Francs in comparison.

Original entrance tickets and leaflet from our collection
The Atomium represents a giant model of a unit cell of an iron crystal (each sphere representing an atom) and was quite a feat in gravity defying engineering.

If you are interested in the technical particulars: the Atomium stands 102 meters tall and consists of nine spheres with a diameter of 18 meters. The spheres are connected by tubes, some of which contain stairs or escalators.

The top sphere, which can be reached by the super fast lift in the central tube, not only offers 360° panoramic views, it also contains a restaurant, where we were treated to dinner by Jos's eldest daughter on his 60th birthday, giving us the chance to see the Atomium lit up by 2970 LED lights at night.

Like most of the pavilions built at the site, the Atomium was not intended to survive beyond the exhibition, but here it is, still there after almost 60 years. It has, in fact, become a Brussels landmark (much as the Eiffel Tower is for Paris), not to mention a popular tourist attraction.

In 2006, the original aluminium sheets which clad the spheres, having dulled with age, were replaced by shiny new stainless steel ones.

At the fair itself, there was a brisk trade in what we would now call "merchandise": ashtrays, souvenir plates, glasses, key-rings and pins, you name it, all bearing either the Atomium or the official Expo 58 logo. Models of the Atomium in all sizes were a popular choice of memorabilia as well.

These Expo 58 memorabilia are now very collectible and are being sold for many times their original price. In 2008, which marked the 50th anniversary of the fair, prices even soared to astronomical heights and many items were unearthed from attics where they'd languished for years under layers of dust.

We have a modest collection, which is primarily Jos's, displayed in a cabinet and dotted around the house.

This original poster advertising the world fair is a prized possession, taking pride of place in our living room.

My next post will be all about our visit, on which I invite you to join me again!

woensdag 17 augustus 2016

Please send me evenings and weekends

Last week was quite a hectic one at the office and the commute home a nightmare due to tram delays (oh, the joys of public transport!) so that I was well and truly exhausted by the time I got home every night. To say that the weekend was very welcome is a bit of an understatement. But as it was an extended one, the 15th of August being a public holiday in Belgium, who am I to complain, really?

We were going to take it easy on Saturday but the lure of the charity shops proved to be too strong.

We opted for our favourite one, in the neighbouring village of Duffel as, being on no less than three floors, it has a wide range of goods on offer. Another bonus is that it is near the small but perfectly formed park that we love.

With the sun filtering though the trees' canopy and its overall lushness, it felt like being in a fairy wonderland. The park has several ponds and a little stream, which is abundantly and imaginatively planted and is a perfect hideaway for toads and frogs, not to mention a duck or two.

Near one of the ponds, the annual duck convention was taking place, which was soon dispersed when it turned out the catering was not up to scratch. As we'd already eaten all of our picnic we had nothing to offer the poor creatures!

For the outing, I wore a short-sleeved summer two piece in a colour and pattern which went well with the greenery of the park.

Suit, handbag, belt, brooch and bangles: all charity shopped
Shoes and ring: retail
Beads: Blender Vintage Shop

The question on everyone's lips, of course, is: did we find anything worth mentioning at the charity shop?

Well, one of the first things that caught our eye was a big brass and luminous plastic Lourdes souvenir which, in spite of our vows to stop buying these things, simply had to come home with us.

We have quite a little collection of these Lourdes memorabilia, which in French are scornfully called "bondieuseries".

We didn't set out to collect these.
No: it happened purely by coincidence.

First, we were given a pewter clock-cum-music box by one of Jos's ex-colleagues. Then we found a small plastic bottle in the form of the Virgin Mary, with some holy water still inside, which we bought as it reminded Jos of his mother.

This is an old photo, we have even more now!

One thing led to another: we started picking up these kitschy items at flea markets for next to nothing and before we knew it we had a whole shelving unit full of them. With the majority of them being glow-in-the-dark, they certainly light up our lives, quite literally!

Other finds included a burgundy and turquoise waterproof bag which I'll use when travelling, a souvenir of Belgian seaside resort Blankenberge and a 1950s fake wood veneer tray.

My final purchase was this dress, perfect for lounging around the house and garden.

On Sunday, we were promised a summer's day, so we thought we'd make the most of it and visit a small flea market on the outskirts of Antwerp.

By the time we had parked our car and walked the few hundred metres to the square where the market was being held, it had started raining. First it was only the odd drop here and there but then umbrellas had to come out and several stall owners were obliged to cover their wares with plastic sheets.

Fortunately, it was only a shower and the sun soon reappeared, so that we were able to make a few small purchases. After doing the rounds, not once, but twice in case we'd missed something, we plonked down at the conveniently placed benches and tables to eat our picnic.

The small tartan zip-up suitcase was a last-minute buy. Our other finds were a bracelet (I'd been looking for a nice green one for ages), and ... more brooches!

I felt very mid-century in my outfit of choice:

Skirt and top:Think Twice
Belt and bag: charity shopped
Shoes and cardigan: retail
Beads: Vintage Styling
Umbrella: National Trust

Oh, and this is what happens when your husband is retired and has been befriending the local elderly ladies. Knowing that we like "old things", they bring him gifts, like this pretty wash set ...

Now, where are we going to put it?

zaterdag 13 augustus 2016

Great expectations

Last Sunday, it was finally time for another flea market. This one is being held every year in a neighbouring village on the first Sunday of August, and we are always looking forward to it.

The organizers must have struck a deal with the weather gods, as they usually manage to have good weather.

I remember several years when it was so hot we had to wear sunhats and we were glad of any stalls offering some shade under umbrellas or awnings.

One year, I had to buy a scarf to cover my neck in order to avoid sunburn while looking down at the goodies on offer.

This year we had a mixture of sunshine and clouds and although it was quite windy, making me regret the dress with the swingy skirt I wore, rain never threatened to make an appearance.

The flea market is very well organized with parking space offered in some nearby fields. Due to the abundance of rain, the fields were too waterlogged to be used this year and parking was further away on an industrial site, from where a shuttle bus whisked you free-of-charge to the flea market itself.

Although we love this market, with its variety of stalls set up along the streets, it can still be a bit hit-or-miss.

Two years ago, we hit the jackpot, as not only did we find a huge lot of the 1960s Boch pottery we are collecting, Jos also hit upon this 1960s wall-mounted Philips record player, which needed some TLC but is now taking pride of place in our living room, where it is occasionally spinning a vintage record.



Last year, in contrast, was less successful, but I still managed to pick up this vintage summer dress and a pretty basket which is now holding my button collection.

Needless to say, we had great expectations this year, but in spite of the many lovely things on offer, we only bought a few odds and ends.

It was still fun, though, as well as a great workout, as we walked (or rather, sauntered) without pause for almost four hours. Were we glad to finally get back on that bus!

Here is what we found:

A Bakelite razor, made in England. Although we aren't avid collectors of Bakelite, we still pick up the odd item here and there, when the price is right.

A stack of plastic bangles found at different stalls.

More brooches, obviously. Flea markets are the place to pick them up cheaply.

The little purse in the bottom right photo is a travel sewing kit.

These two cream plastic rose brooches are vintage, and made in France. They are not that rare but you can still expect to pay around € 5 for them. These were € 0,50 each, so I did not hesitate and took them both, even though I already had one in my collection. At another stall, a similar brooch was priced at € 7. One of the brooches has already found its way to a new owner, in the form of a present.

The blue rose is a huge plastic ring.

A small enamel flower-decorated teapot, which will join the plain olive green one we already have.

This white vintage handbag was waiting for me at one of the last stalls, and I snapped it up at € 3.
And no, I really didn't make him, Jos insisted on carrying it!

All in all, we had a great day!

August, in fact, is a great time for flea markets, with several coming up shortly.

Let's hope summer comes up trumps with some lovely weather for them.

Dress and bag (seen in first photo): Think Twice
Cardigan, beads and belt: retail
Shoes and (free) brooch: flea market

woensdag 10 augustus 2016

All that summer, we enjoyed it, wind and rain and shine

In spite of the fact that we are already more than halfway through summer, I can't help feeling that we are still waiting for it to happen. So far, there has been a lot of wetness and greyness, and when summer did decide to make an appearance, it was to make us wilt and sweat liberally during a short heatwave, when the air-conditioning had to be cranked up in the office and the bus home was like a sauna on wheels.

How I long for some good old-fashioned summer days, with the temperature just right and not making you dash for the shade the minute you step outside, and with just the right amount of fluffy clouds in the sky. Oh, and I want a whole string of them, not just the odd day here and there. Not easily pleased, me!

Maybe such summers only exist in my imagination, but I distinctly remember the glorious weeks in August we spent in Cornwall in 1995. Admittedly, as it was the first summer holiday Jos and I spent together, I might be looking through rose-tinted glasses here.

Cornwall, August 1995

Last week, summer went missing altogether and we were served with some true autumn weather with lots and lots of rain, especially on Tuesday and Wednesday.

By Friday we seemed to be over the worst and we actually got some sunshine although big fat rain clouds kept gathering on the horizon.

The weekend started early for me, and on Friday afternoon it was time for some fun. After a kick-starting coffee with Princess Inez at our usual haunt, we were ready for some vintage shopping. We were in luck, as Think Twice had just started another sales, with 30% off on everything.

There are three of these shops in Antwerp and not only did we visit them all, I struck gold at all three.

First I found this biscuit coloured slubbed silk jacket, tailor-made in Salzburg. Although I already own quite a few jackets, there is always a place for another one in my life, and this one was so gorgeous I couldn't leave it behind. Those buttons are works of art!

In the next shop I tried on a skirt and several dresses but only one dress, typically the one which I didn't have high expectations of, did more than fit the bill and came home with me.

Oh, and I found a cute little handbag, which I simply couldn't resist. You could already catch a glimpse of it in the opening photo of this post.

Shop number 3 yielded a dress, in fresh greens, with a vertically striped and buttoned bodice, shown here by Angelica.

Here she is again, showing you two tops I managed to find as well:

A little polka dotted button-through blouse with elaborate embroidery on the sleeves ...

... and a short-sleeved green knitted jumper with unusual stitch detail.

Saturday we did a short round of the charity shops, but my only finds were this green wool-blend jacket and a flowery scarf, which actually go quite well together.

Angelica did have her work cut out! While I was playing dress-up with her, Phoebe decided to join us. Here she is, looking decidedly bored with it all.

This is what I wore to hit the charity shops:

I chose a dress in cool blues, with a self-fabric belt. Again, I felt it needed a bit of a colour dash, and I chose some dark red accessories, especially as I wanted them to match my new bag.

Dress and handbag: Think Twice
Cardigan, bracelet and ring: retail
Shoes: Clarks, bought in the sales in the UK
Brooch: flea market
Beads: Blender Vintage Shop

Finally, here's a round-up of the things I picked up at Blender Vintage Shop when we went to collect Twiggy a couple of weeks ago.

This handmade green dress is patterned with a sprinkling of tulips. It is trimmed with red ric-rac, and look at those amazing double-layered butterfly sleeves!

My final finds were this cute white wicker handbag, which needed some TLC, and no less than ten plastic necklaces for my collection. They were ten for € 10, so it would have been rude to buy less.

Next up will be a visit to a flea market, on which I hope you will join me again!