Wednesday 31 August 2016

The sound of silence

On Tuesday night, I lost my dad. He was 84.

My dad as a toddler in the early 1930s
My dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer 18 years ago, but his illness was kept under control with medication for years, leaving him with quite a good quality of life.

Always an active man, who played sports and loved walking and cycling, a bad knee slowly put a stop to all that, but he had many other interests, and reading and doing the crossword, as well as his life-long love of everything aircraft-related, kept him busy and - at first sight, at least - contented.

For the last couple of years, he seemed to be losing his way a bit (figuratively speaking, not literally) and he often complained of not feeling well, not in the physical sense, but a vague feeling of unease he couldn't seem to snap out of.

Not being a man who easily talked about his feelings didn't really help ...

At 15 years old, in 1947
Then, last June, he was told his cancer medication wasn't adequate anymore and that he needed to switch to a different one. This consisted of monthly injections, for which he needed a new permit. When this came through, it listed all possible side effects, which made him fear for the quality of the remaining years of his life. It took the family's joint efforts to persuade him to try it at least for one month and finally, after 8 months, he got his first injection. In the intervening months, however, the cancer got a chance to spread, although we could only guess at that since he refused all further interference. But all the typical signs were there: loss of appetite, spectacular weight loss and increasing pain in his lower back.

Late 1940s
Although it was his wish to stay at home until the end, last Saturday we had no choice but to have him admitted to hospital until a hospital bed and proper care could be arranged at home.

On Sunday his condition had deteriorated in such a way that it was clear that going back home was not an option.

It was heart wrenching to see him decline in such a short space of time, especially as this could probably have been avoided or at least postponed if he hadn't been so determined that his life was over anyway.

In Dylan Thomas's words, I could have urged him to "not go gently into that good night" and to "rage, rage, against the dying of the light".


In August 2001, my mum died. She was only 65. It seems like it was yesterday and an eternity ago at the same time and, because the end of her suffering was a relief at first, it is only in the last couple of years that I really started missing her.

Will the same happen with my dad? Will time heal all wounds? Will only Kodachrome memories remain in the end?

With my mum and me
My dad was stubborn, opinionated, self-absorbed and insecure, all of which I have inherited from him in some degree.

At the same time, I owe so much to him, even though at times it's been an effort to see the good things.

After all, in yet another English poet's words: they fuck you up, your mum and dad ...

So here's to my dad, to whom I owe being an Anglophile, who made me appreciate music and especially jazz and the blues, from whom I inherited a love of reading, walking, a hunger for knowledge, and above all a sometimes cynical sense of humour.


And so the super 8 film of his life slowly ground to a halt, the colours fading, the reel flapping, until somebody somewhere turned off the whirring projector and all was quiet.

The sound of silence.

Sunday 28 August 2016

Here comes the summer

The days after our visit to the Atomium, the perfect summer weather continued. However, there was a chill in the air in the mornings, requiring a light jacket or cardigan, and my early morning walk to the bus stop gave me goosebumps on my bare legs, making me think that I should have worn tights. But no, there's plenty of time for those yet!

As soon as the sun had warmed up the earth, cardigan or jacket were discarded and so would have been the tights if I had worn them.

As I always forget to have outfit pictures taken on weekdays, you will have to make do with these two dresses, which I wore that week, displayed on hangers.

My lunch breaks were spent walking the city streets to top up the Vitamin B levels for the barren times to come, but the end of the sales at Think Twice, when everything is being sold at € 2 and then € 1, lured me into their shops for a browse. For me, nothing beats a good browse during lunch hour to clear the head!

I came away with these two items, both costing € 1, but which I somehow hope I won't be wearing any time soon.

This jacket, made from Irish Tweed, will be perfect to wear on mild winter days.

The pretty dressing gown, made from quilted nylon, with its embroidered flowers on the bodice and sleeves, is quite a flattering shape, and I wouldn't mind opening the front door to early morning callers wearing it.

Typically, the weather forecast for the weekend was pretty dire, with rain and wind predicted, especially on Sunday.

Saturday at least turned out to be quite alright.

I chose a multi-coloured flowery Diolen dress, which was actually made in Belgium! The silhouette has a 1940s feel, with its slightly puffy sleeves, its upturned cuffs finished with a button and its buttoned bodice with wide lapels. Its original belt was missing, so I added a green leather one. In fact, I was spoilt for choice, as I could have chosen any of the many colours in the dress's cheerful print.

The short-sleeved cardi was bought many years ago at New Look (of all places) and the brooch with its purple stone was charity shopped in Wales.

The green shoes, with their bows, are a favourite pair, bought at a cheap village shop called Lovely Shoes.

To begin with, we went charity shopping, starting at a newish shop which we hadn't visited before. It turned out to be only a small shop and I thought its layout, compared to other shops, was a little confusing, but we still managed to find some things.

I'd been looking for a nice dark denim dress for ages. This one fits perfectly and is a nice dark colour.

I also wanted to experiment with a hair scarf, 1940s landgirl style, but I'm not so sure. Jos said I looked like a cleaning lady and I was very tempted to pose with a vintage carpet cleaner. But didn't.

I have, in fact, owned several denim dresses at various stages of my life.

This photo of me with Jos's youngest daughter (then 14), wearing almost identical dresses, was taken in 1995.

Our other finds were a small 1970s style carpet (which as yet has to find a destination, but only cost € 0,50) and two small IKEA display cases, still in their unopened packaging, which will come in handy one day to display yet another motley collection of who knows what.

When we left the shop, it dawned on us that we were quite close to Blender Vintage Shop, a shop we have been visiting at least once a month for years. Unfortunately, they will soon be closing down (they will have closed down by the time you read this), so we thought we'd go and and have a look before they draw the final curtain.

Oh, how we will miss that shop, as well as its lovely owner, Fanny.

As we have never left this shop empty-handed, we certainly didn't now, so here is what we bought on our final visit:

Two hats, modelled here by Twiggy, who came from the same shop. Actually, modelling hats used to be her job there ... She isn't retiring just yet!

A blue and pink crocheted, bamboo handled bag and three scarves.

Two empty cutlery boxes for storing my brooches.

They will not remain empty for long, as I also bought a lot of six brooches (they were € 2 each, or € 10 for six!).

Oh, and another Lourdes souvenir.

I know, I know ...

We had plans to go to a flea market on Sunday but these were thwarted by the weather. What we did instead and more specifically, what we found, will be the subject of my next post.

Oh, the suspense! I bet you can't wait ...

Wednesday 24 August 2016

At home she feels like a tourist

Last Monday dawned bright and sunny and as I wasn't expected at the office, we took our car and drove to Brussels, about 38 km from our home. The aim of our visit was the Atomium. Our Sat Nav, stubborn as she is (she's a she, called Marie Jeanne), totally ignored the signs to the Atomium as well as a side street, where we could see it beckoning in the distance. When she tried to get us to take the next turning, it turned out to be closed off for traffic. After leading us on a sight-seeing tour past the Royal Palace, we finally managed to reach the main avenue leading right up to the Atomium where, as luck would have it, we soon found a parking space. Quite a feat, I can tell you, since it was a public holiday.

I took the opportunity to pose in front of the Atomium in my new-to-me repro mid-century dress, which I'd especially chosen for the occasion. At first I was a bit reluctant to wear a repro dress, but then it dawned on me that the Atomium is wearing repro as well, the spheres' original sheets having been replaced in 2006!

The fountain was already there in 1958, as you can see in this postcard.

But enough of that, as you will probably be dying for a look inside!

As it was such a fine day, we presumed everybody would be on their way to the coast, but no: it was quite busy, with lots of tourists queuing for tickets and every imaginable language being spoken.

Left: waiting for the lift which is inside the central tube
Right: going all the way up to the top sphere
After a security check, we were ready to start the first part of our visit, and awaited our turn to take the lift up to the uppermost sphere.

The weather was glorious and so the 360° view from the top was clear.

The above two buildings are actually one and the same. It dates from 1930, but in 1958 a new, temporary façade was put in front of it to make it blend in with the rest of Expo 58.

Look at Brussels sprawled out in front of us.

This is "Mini Europe", which is nestling at the foot of the Atomium. Look, here are Bath's Circus and Royal Crescent!

For the second part of our visit, we had to descend to the ground floor again to continue with our tour, this time by stairs and escalators, leading up to middle sphere: a total of six levels.

On the first two levels, there's a permanent exhibition on Expo 58.

The stairs and railings, with their typical 1950s colours, are still the original ones from 1958.

The three next levels are reserved for temporary exhibitions.

At the time of our visit this exhibition consisted of a sound and light show called Talk and, although the light effects were spectacular at times, it was all rather dark, so that it was hard to appreciate the spheres' layout.

Then it is down again to level six, where there is a viewpoint.

A couple of steps down, you can have a peek inside the so-called Kids' sphere, where groups of children can spend the night. This must be a magical experience!

Safely back on ground level, we were starting to feel peckish, so we picked up our picnic basket from our car, and looked for a spot in the nearby Osseghem Park to eat our picnic.

Walking back, we passed the magnificent open-air theatre, called the Green Theatre (Théâtre de Verdure), formed by a series of terraces, supported by stone walls and surrounded by green hedges.

Outfit details:
Hearts & Roses repro dress, bought at Think Twice for € 4
Handbag: charity shopped
Pearls: inherited from great-aunt Josephine
Shoes: my trusted red Clarks
Cardigan: retail (had for ages)

I hope you enjoyed the visit to this unique and unusual building.

In my next post, it will be business as usual, as I've got a few more finds to share with you!

Saturday 20 August 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!