Friday 31 March 2017

Begin the beguine

Just a stone's throw from Dove Cottage lies the pretty compact little town called Lier. Although not immune for its many charms, we do not visit nearly often enough.

Last Saturday we had a good reason to pay the town a visit: Mr. S was in need of a summer hat and hadn't been able to find what he was looking for in the charity shops.
As we were recommended an old-fashioned hat shop in Lier, catering for both men and women, this is where we were headed.

It was a bright and almost cloudless Spring day, which was only marred by a sharp north-easterly wind stinging the eyes, and often, when rounding corners, we were treated to strong gusts of wind.

You've already seen what I was wearing at the end of my previous post, but due to said wind, I needed a jacket on top.

The tweed jacket, with its cute buttons, is part of a suit, but I don't feel comfortable in its pencil skirt.

At the last moment, I grabbed this hat off Sybil (no prices for guessing why this demented looking girl is called that), who's been having the privilege of wearing it for a couple of months now.

After securing the last space in a convenient parking lot, we set off to the shop, which was in a street away from Lier's busy shopping area, with just a handful of other shops and some boarded up ones as neighbours.

As usual, I'm always with my head in the air, quite literally, pointing my camera lens well above street level in order to catch the gems which are usually to be found higher up ...

We eventually found the shop and went inside. The door to the owner's living quarters were wide open and we could see him eating his lunch. Painfully slowly, he hobbled into the shop, as if surprised by the tinkling of the shop's bell. He seemed even more surprised to find two behatted people standing inside his shop ...

The shop was well stocked and hats were displayed on what were clearly Sybil's relatives. Nevertheless, Jos didn't immediately find what he had in mind. In the end, he settled for a beautifully crafted Panama hat, which looked like it had been made for him.

Then came the second hurdle: the shop didn't have a pin machine, so that we had to trudge all the way to the nearest cash machine near the the centre of town, and back again.

Purchase concluded, we walked back towards the town centre, passing Lier's main church, St. Gummarus, parts of which are currently hidden by scaffolding, along the way. Its tower, nicknamed the Peperbus (Pepper pot), is visible from afar, and I actually photographed it minutes after leaving the parking lot.

Just before the bridge which would have taken us into the busiest part of town, we turned left along the River Nete, which is flowing through the town.

It is possible to join a boat trip along the river in converted eel-fishing boats, but these only operate from April 1st.

We contented ourselves with taking some photographs, which were enhanced by the blossoming Japanese Cherry trees bordering the pavement.

Across the river, the striking building, De Fortuin, with its cheerful red and green shutters, was calling for attention. It was built in the 17th century and over the centuries it has been used as a grain store, a coal depot, a lemonade factory, a cabinetmaker’s workshop, a town warehouse and a restaurant. After standing empty since 2010, it was restored and reopened as a restaurant last summer but I have read that it closed again after only a couple of months.

Crossing the bridge, we came to the Zimmerplein (Zimmer square), called after the tower of the same name, which used to be part of the town ramparts.

The tower is famous for its Jubilee clock, with 13 different dials, which was built by Louis Zimmer, an amateur astronomer and watch and clock maker, who presented it to the town in 1930 on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of Belgium's independence.

After passing a sculpture group of a shepherd with his sheep, a nod to the nickname of Lier's inhabitants, schapenkoppen (sheep heads) ...

 ... we were nearing our destination: the beguinage!

Beguinages were closed courtyards where widows and unmarried women led a religiously inspired but independent life.

Lier's beguinage, which was created in 1258, became a UNESCO World heritage site in 1998.

It is a typical 13th century street beguinage consisting of 11 alleys and 162 houses. At the centre is St Margaret's Church, dating from the 17-18th century.

The last beguine, Agnes, died in 1994.

Many tourists flock to this usually tranquil place, which is generally almost free of traffic. To our dismay and utter annoyance, a mobile home was parked right in front of the church, its owners nowhere to be seen.

After a while, a couple with a dog appeared and were making their way to the mobile home. I had just started making grumbling noises about people and their audacity, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a couple approaching, who were clearly annoyed by the mobile home's presence too. They turned out to be our friends Ingrid and Luc!

After saying goodbye to our friends, we concluded our visit with a cup of coffee, before returning to our car, just minutes before our ticket expired.

Hope you enjoyed the short visit to this pretty little town.

Tuesday 28 March 2017

In search of lost time

Putting the clocks forward (or even worse: back!) is a stressful time at Dove Cottage, not in the least because there are so many of them.

This is mainly Jos's doing, as before I met him, I'd never given clocks too much thought.

Apart from a delicate gold watch I was given by my grandfather when I turned twelve, and my travel alarm clock - one of those ubiquitous folding red leatherette covered numbers - clocks weren't a memorable feature of my childhood home.

Admittedly, there are two clocks which I clearly remember from my childhood, both belonging to a set of grandparents.

My maternal grandparents with my great-grandfather

The first, an ornate zamac clock flanked by two equally ornate statuettes, was standing proud on my maternal grandparents' mantlepiece.

If my memory does not fail me - it is after all 40 odd years ago - they were slightly Art Nouveau in style, so they might have belonged to my great grandparents.

My paternal grandparents in front of their house

The second, belonging to my paternal grandparents, was a traditional cuckoo clock, its obvious atrraction being the little bird putting in an appearance every hour on the dot.

When I met Jos in 1994, this Westminster chime clock, which had belonged to his father, was silent.

Its muteness was caused by his (later our) cat, Poesie, who had knocked it off the window sill when she was still a playful kitten. We finally had it repaired after we moved to Dove Cottage, and for the first couple of nights I hardly slept a wink due to its quarterly chime.

Recently, after many years of service, the clock went silent again, and it's currently awaiting another visit to the clock doctor!

Not long after we moved into Dove Cottage, a little junk shop suddenly popped up in our village. Through its grimy window, Jos spotted this pretty wooden clock, perfect except for a missing piece of beading. Its mesmerizing tick-tock is accompanied by the hynotizing swing of the pendulum which is visible through a little window at its base.

Joining this clock, which is on the mantlepiece in our sitting room, is a small wall hanging pendulum clock, which was a gift from a friend. It's by Junghans, a German clock manufacturer established in 1861, and it's in an ongoing tick-tock competition with the clock on the mantlepiece. Their out of sync tick-tocking is the perfect accompaniment to a quite afternoon of reading, although I know it would drive some people mad!

Last year, the two clocks were joined by a 1950s electric one, which is quietly humming along in the background.

From a long defunct second hand shop came this larger pendulum clock, which lives in our dining room.

Although its face is quite damaged, the decorative wooden casing and leaded glass insert are in perfect condition. Apart from its chime running riot - which Jos was able to mend - it was in working order when we bought it.

In August 2015, we found this 1940s ceramic kitchen clock at a flea market. Unfortunately its coil had sprung so it had been sitting idle on top of a cupboard until a month or two ago when Jos took it - along with a couple of watches - to a clockmaker to have it repaired.

Last Friday, it finally returned home in full working order and it's now taking its rightful place in our kitchen.

This watch also got a full service. It used to belong to my maternal grandfather, who worked at Gevaert, and was presented to him for 25 years of service in 1953.

After spending many years in a box full of odds and ends at my parents' house, it was given to Jos by my dad.

The final repair job was this dainty gold tone lady's pocket watch, which we unearthed during one of our clearing sessions at the house.

I haven't got the slightest idea who it might have belonged to.

It was missing a glass cover to protect its exquisitely decorated porcelain face, which has now been remedied.

Now, all I've got to do is find a way to wear it.

Along with the lady's watch came a job lot of men's pocket watches. At least one of them belonged to my maternal grandfather, who I remember always wearing a waistcoat with a pocket watch, like he does in the first photo of this post.

They joined Jos's little collection of pocket watches, which includes watches inherited from his older brother and grandfather.

Having finally put all the clocks forward, there's just our body clocks left. These will probably be slightly out of kilter for the next week or so.

Neatly tying in with the clock theme of this post, I will leave you with a famous astronomical clock which is a magnet for tourists in the nearby town of Lier.

We spent Saturday walking around this delightful little town, which will be the subject for my next post.

A final little clockwise twirl to show you what I was wearing, and I'm off!

See you soon!

Friday 24 March 2017

White magic

After a couple of delightful, soothing-for-the-soul Spring days, by end of last week we were back to the same old can't-decide-what-season-it-is weather.

It's not exactly been cold, but it was grey and overcast with little or no sunny spells, as well as never-ending rain, especially on Saturday.

Nevertheless, our garden is starting to look quite green again, with many shrubs coming into bud. There is one plant which has especially been relishing the rainfall which came after last week's Spring weather.

Our Clematis armandii, planted many years ago to grow through our large Lilac bush, is positively groaning under the weight of hundreds of starry, creamy white flowers.

The plant has obviously benefited from the drastic haircut Jos gave it last summer.

All we need now is lots of sunshine to release its delicate almond scent, which will make sitting on the bench in the Lilac's shade a true delight.

Saturday we called in at some of the charity shops we didn't have time for on the day of the retro event, to see if they had any goodies left.

I wore this made in Sweden "Aspens" dress, made from a polyester material called "asplene-jersey".

It has alternating bands of light and dark burgundy sprinkled with a squiggly print, which is denser on the darker bands.

There's a touch of lilac in the squiggles, which prompted me to add a lilac belt and lilac/blue cardigan. I chose opaques with a pattern of burgundy rose buds.

Looking for the perfect necklace, I came across this long forgotten silver tone pendant.

The brooch, one of my favourites, is a silver tone knot fringed with little chains ending in tiny pearls.

The first shop we went to still had tables full of stuff, which they had sorted by colour: quite a lot of orange and avocado! However, nothing really caught our eye. I did find some more frocks though, one of which you'll get to see later in this post, as well as a fabulous full-length dressing gown.

There was hardly anything left at the other shop we visited, but their bookshelves are always worth a browse, and I came away with these two, for € 0,70 each.

Obviously, I couldn't leave behind Vita's biography.

The other book, a "noir" set in 1930s Bayswater, made me think of Mim. By pure coincidence, just two days later Mim posted a review of a non-fiction book by the same author, D.J. Taylor, called Bright Young Things!

The flower print background, by the way, is my new-found dressing gown!

Before returning to Dove Cottage, we had coffee and cake at the shop's recently opened café.

On Sunday, we had my niece's 15th birthday party to go to in the afternoon, and I spent the morning pottering around the house, finally getting to grips with some long overdue filing of paperwork. I had been procrastinating and kept shoving the pile of paper to the back of the cupboard, always finding something more interesting to do instead.

Call me rash, but I've already made a start on my Spring/Summer wardrobe switch by putting away the very warmest of my dresses, assessing what I wore and what I didn't, and why.

The dress on the left is a wardrobe staple which has seen me through many a winter. With its multi colour Paisley pattern, it can be combined with lots of my cardigans. I wore it here.

I almost got rid the one on the right, which I wore here, and I'm so glad I didn't. It's not going anywhere now.

These two plain dresses didn't see the light of day this winter. They are 100% new wool and lined, making them quite thick and heavy.

In fact, I didn't wear the brown one last winter either, so maybe it's time to say goodbye.

I'm going to hang on to the purple vintage C&A one as I love its colour, shape and detail.

This leaves Monday, for which I booked a day off.  Mr. S. urgently needed some new stuff, and since the chazzas here haven't been coming up trumps on menswear which isn't miles too big for him, there was nothing for it but to do some retail shopping.

The day was as dull and uninspiring as the - shock horror! - shopping centre we went to.

I wore one of the dresses I bought on Saturday's charity shopping trip.

Nothing dull and uninspiring about that one!

The absence of a label makes me think that it was handmade and the Crimplene-like fabric's print is bright enough to cheer up the greyest of days, not to mention the blandest of shopping centres!

I love the narrow V-shaped slit running down from the collar, ventilation which makes all the difference for a menopausal girl like me!

The plastic ring was a flea market find, and echoes the dress's print.

Thankfully, the shopping centre was rather quiet on Monday morning. Quite a difference with a Saturday afternoon, when wild horses couldn't drag me there!

Mr. S, who easily gets bored with clothes shopping for himself, bought two pairs of well needed jeans, three shirts and a jacket.

Oh, alright, here's a sneak preview of the jacket and two of the shirts.

The rest of the week whizzed by uneventfully, so that by the time you are reading this another weekend has rolled by.

The weather forecasters have predicted a continuation of this week's Spring weather, so let's hope they are right for once!

Have a great one!

Monday 20 March 2017

Mirages and mirrors

If you thought that after trawling the charity shops in search of treasure on Saturday before last, we'd rest our feet on Sunday, well ... you were wrong!

We woke up to a continuation of Saturday's glorious Spring weather. In fact, it was even milder, and the sky a brilliant blue with only the odd little white cloud, so that it would have been silly to spend the day indoors.

Not wanting to venture too far from home, we decided on a walk in one of Antwerp's most interesting parks, Middelheim, which is a mere fifteen minute drive from Dove Cottage.

Middelheim is not just a park, but also an open air museum of sculpture. In fact, it is one of the oldest of its kind in the world, offering a fascinating overview of more than one hundred years of visual arts in a beautiful park setting.

Admission to this original combination of art and nature is free of charge.

Since 1951, a biannual sculpture exhibition had been held in the park until in 1989 a permanent collection was decided on, displaying more than 200 works dotted around the 30-hectare grounds.

In September 2016, the museum even made it into The Guardian's top 10 best sculpture parks in Europe!

We weren't the only ones who were making the most of this sunny Sunday afternoon.

Families were strolling and enjoying the sunshine, the youths with their eyes so firmly glued to their smartphones, it's a wonder they didn't trip up, while other people sat reading or just watching the world go by on the park's lawns or benches.

Chairs sprayed in silver or gold paint are dotted around the park, inviting people to sit down and enjoy the works of art at leisure.

We wandered at will, stopping here and there to soak up the park's delightful juxtapositions of nature and art.

Shall we cross the bridge without a name?

The bridge is a work of art as well.

It was created by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who recycled an existing little bridge for his project, replacing the bridge's original deck with planks that form the contours of his homeland China.

The museum's outdoor depot is an atmospheric place, where temporarily retired sculptures are awaiting their fate. Here, they huddle together, telling each other their stories and reminiscing about the time they were still in their prime.

Not far from the depot, we met this running girl.

Who is she, and what is she running from?

And more to the point, what is she doing in the woods?

By then, our feet were taking us firmly into the direction of the park's hidden gem, the Braem Pavillion.

The stunning white building, appearing like a mirage between the trees, was designed by Renaat Braem, one of Belgium’s best-known 20th century architects, and dates from 1971.

The building's clean curves and lines seem to have grown rather than built, blending organically into the park landscape, and whenever I catch sight of it I'm reminded of houses built in a similar style in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which utterly fascinated me when I was growing up.

It is here that temporary exhibitions are being held and vulnerable items displayed.

The current exhibition, by the artist Roman Signer, who is also a scientist and performer, was so minimalistic that it allowed us to fully admire the pavillion's interior structure.

Walking away from the pavillion, we came across this strange and rather disturbing sculpture, its mirrored shell trapping another sculpture within.

The sculpture's uneven mirrored surfaces are alternately reflecting and distorting its surroundings, while acting as a house of mirrors at the same time.

Here I was caught in a sunbeam, the mirror a prism which intensified its strength and made me quite goggle-eyed!

After a breather on one of the benches, we returned to our car, vowing to return soon for another treasure hunt.