Saturday 29 April 2017

We'll collect the moments one by one

We're more than a month into Spring now, and the season is still dragging its heels. Admittedly, it wasn't all bad. We've certainly had the odd fine day, when all was right with the world, but these were few and far between and never lasted long.

Lately, we've been plunged back into late winter, with temperatures darting around the zero degree mark at night and not climbing out of single figures during the day.

It's a good thing I didn't put away all my winter stuff just yet, but having only a small selection of long sleeved dresses to choose from almost feels like having a capsule wardrobe, which makes me feel quite panicky at times. There are advantages as well, as I kept out a couple of dresses which had been patiently awaiting their turn, and which I've now finally got around to wearing.

So, here's a a little peek at some of the things I've been wearing for work in the last two weeks or so.

Last weekend started early, on Friday afternoon. I met my friend Inez for a coffee (or two) and we chattered away until it was time to hit the shops.

It was the start of yet another of Think Twice's sales and, although I left the first shop empty handed, I struck gold at the second, where I found a green printed dress and a fabulous orange leather jacket. Yes, you've read that right: orange!

You'll see me wearing both the dress and the jacket soon. If the weather improves, that is ...

On Saturday, we did our usual round of the charity shops. As the concept of charity shopping is quite different in Belgium (apart from the odd shop like Oxfam, the charity shops are not on the high street, but rather outside town centres), we visit the area's shops on a rota, choosing two or three which aren't too far from each other.

Let's have a look at what I was wearing.

This black dress, with a Paisley print in pink, white, lilac and turquoise, is one of the "unworn" ones still waiting to be bagged up for summer.

It's got two bright pink, purely decorative buttons at the neckline, which are repeated at the cuffs.

I was looking for a pink belt but to my amazement I found that I didn't have one!

So, I took my lead from the turquoise in the dress to accessorize it with a turquoise belt, tights and cardigan and added a string of carved, ivory coloured beads and an ivory coloured flower brooch.

I wore my pinkish red tweed jacket (last seen here), but it was actually too chilly for it, and the lightweight spotty scarf didn't help to keep out the cold either.

Outfit details:
Dress: Think Twice
Belt: came with a dress I no longer have
Cardigan, jacket: charity shopped
Brooch, beads: flea market
Scarf, tights and ring: retail

Again, we didn't find anything in the first shop. On our way to the second shop on our list, we passed our favourite branch of Troc, part of a chain of consignment shops. Although their prices can be exorbitant, and we mostly window shop there, treasures can still be found now and again.

I couldn't resist a short sleeved pink flowered dress, in a lightweight cord fabric, and I took pity on this vintage bird brooch, which was hidden among some glittery modern ones.

Our final shop was a small one in a neighbouring village. In spite of its size, there's usually a thing of two which catches our eye, and prices are more than reasonable.

While Jos was browsing the records, I browsed the rails of uninspiring clothes but then found this gem peeping out from a box of odds and ends. It's Diolen, and look at that fab Paris label. And it fits me too! Can you imagine me lying on a beach in Wales wearing it? No? Well, neither can I! I'll be glad not having to wear a (rain) coat!

Our final purchase in this shop was a hat rack.
Now that Jos is a wearer of hats, he needed somewhere to put them, so we were looking for a small rack which would fit in the only remaining wall space in our entrance hall.
I spotted it the minute I walked in, but typically I forgot to bring my tape measure. Luckily, there were some convenient, unopened rolls of wallpaper nearby ... Also typically, the rack wasn't priced, but the shop attendant asked would € 3,50 be alright? Yes, it would!

Saturday night saw us going out for dinner with a group of friends, in commemoration of a friend who passed away in February.

I'm not in the habit of taking photographs on such occasions, but I did snap the fabulous chandelier which was hanging above the dining table.

In spite of the inclement weather, nature seems to be thriving. The first of the bluebells are putting in an appearance, and even our lilac is already in bloom.

I can't believe how advanced our white current bush is, its inconspicuous yellow-green flowers having turned into clusters of tiny green berries almost overnight.

Flower buds are appearing in the Aquilegias (bottom right), who seem to have self-seeded everywhere.

While I had my camera out, I took the opportunity to snap the unfurling Hosta leaves, before they are being devoured by a waiting army of hungry slugs and snails!

I thought we'd lost our Geranium phaeum - also known as Dusky Cranesbill, but apparently I was looking in the wrong place.

It had moved to the front of the border, where it had just opened its first graceful little flower, its colour the darkest of purples.

On Sunday, the weather being chilly but mostly dry, I donned my gardening gear: old tweed skirt, charity shopped striped sweater jacket and flowery wellies bought from a flea market.

Armed with gardening gloves and my trusted secateurs, I attacked the ivy and winter flowering jasmine, which were getting out of control.

The very structure of our garden (inherited when we bought the house), makes for awkward access to the Triffid-like tangle of shoots and stems, so that I was using muscles I didn't know I had. This was made all too clear by the strained muscles in the backs of my legs for the next couple of days ...

I am leaving you for now with some cheerful plants and flowers, some of which are old inhabitants of our garden.

How I applaud the resilient Azalea (top left), which has been growing in its pot, quite forgotten and neglected, for at least 15 years, but is still treating us to a couple of flowers each Spring!

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Time travelling

Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to travel back in time inside your own life, or even beyond that, into your parents' and grandparents' lives, even if just for the briefest of moments?

Of course, unlike the protagonist of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife, who was afflicted with a so-called time-travelling gene, you'd like to have a say in the when and where, and arrive at your destination fully clothed. Preferably in the appropriate gear in order not to stand out too much.

Ready for take-off: 2017, 1998, 1990
Until such a thing is possible, I have to content myself with looking at old photographs and trying to recapture the moment caught on paper.

Being the unofficial keeper of the family's photographic heritage, I've had my fair share of this lately, and I must admit that it is not something I'll ever get bored with.

The controls are set for: 1987, 1979, 1973
Due to circumstances, there are several periods in my life which go largely undocumented, as little or no photographs were taken, which I will regret forever.

Here, I have to make do with what my memory (always fraud with subjectivity) comes up with. For some of these memories, rose tinted glasses are firmly planted upon my nose, while others seem to be framed in mournful black.

The journey continues to: 1971, 1970, 1968
Photographs, especially if not put into albums or at least some kind of order, have a tendency to be forgotten and neglected.

The majority of the ones I inherited, quite a mind boggling amount of them, are not labelled in any way. There's the odd one with a date and - if one's really lucky! - a place or a name pencilled on the back, but the rest are blanks in both senses of the word.

We are nearing our destination: 1965, 1964, 1962
There's the old red family photo album which started with me as a baby and ran until the early 1970s, just after my sister was born, and which used to be a lovingly maintained album full of chronologically ordered square black and whites.

Then my dad bought a super 8 camera and, while it was exciting to see moving images of oneself, the novelty soon wore off.

Fooling around with my dad's camera

Besides, these could only be enjoyed by putting up screen and projector which had to be hauled from their hiding place in an upstairs room, as well as darkening the room by closing curtains and blinds, preferably with the whole family present and sitting on the edge of their seats as if in anticipation of the main feature in the cinema.

The same with slides, which my dad later resorted to. I have never quite understood their appeal, preferring an album, or at least a boxful of photographs, to be taken out and looked whenever the mood takes you.

The red album still exists today, but it is in complete disarray: photos have been taken out and added willy-nilly. There's no system, no timeline, just a jumble or unrelated black and whites with the odd faded colour photograph thrown in, skipping from one era to another and back again. I have no idea what happened there ...

Several years ago, my dad gave me some boxes of photographs and documents belonging to my mum's side of the family.

I remember these, as they used to live in a chest of drawers in my maternal grandparents' attic room.

My granddad, a gentle white-haired man, who always wore a waistcoat with a pocket watch, sometimes took me up to the attic to look at the photographs of his and my grandmother's younger selves.

There were quite a few pictures too of my mum as a little girl in the 1930s, always with a huge bow in her hair, which must have been quite the fashion for girls at the time!

As a child, it was quite ungraspable that these were the same people that I knew as my parents and grandparents.

Then there were photographs of people I'd never known, but who are part of the fabric of my past nonetheless.

Top row: my maternal grandmother's twin brother and her dad
Bottom row: her mum and my maternal grandfather's mum.

Just looking at these photos takes me back to that attic room with its faded flowery wallpaper, well-worn linoleum and dark wooden chest of drawers, the sunlight slanting through the small dormer window, on what must have been a 1960s Wednesday afternoon.

Later, when my dad turned 80, he gave me the photographs belonging to his side of the family as well, as I was making a digital photo album telling the story of his life.

There weren't quite so many - I suppose my paternal grandparents didn't own a camera when my dad was growing up -  but as luck would have it, there were some with helpful captions mentioning a date and place.
I especially love the photographs recording the carefree years between the end of the war and the start of my parents' married life, when a whole group of youths, including both my parents, went on day trips by bike, or camping by the seaside. I have included these extensively in my dad's digital album (above).

I am taking tentative steps out of my time machine now.

Here, I am back in July 1975. I would be 14 in September.
The colours have faded - a typical phenomenon with photographs of the era - which adds to the nostalgia factor.
We were on holiday in Germany and this is a rare photograph of all five of us together.
The lady standing between my mum and me was staying at the same guesthouse with her husband, who took the photograph.
My parents kept into contact with the couple, who lived near Frankfurt, for years.

Next stop is ten years further along the line. It's 1965 and we're at the zoo in Antwerp with my paternal grandparents. I'm between my parents - I was still an only child back then - and my grandmother is on the left.

I love this photograph, as it captures the moment as it was. I don't think anybody except my grandmother knew it was being taken, so we're just being and not posing.

I have this photo framed and I often catch myself looking at it and wondering what it was I was looking at, and what was going on in my parents' minds that day, as they both seem to be lost in thought.

Oh, and before I return to the here and now, I would like to share these "swinging" pictures, more than thirty years between them, of my maternal grandmother (taken in the early 1930s, I guess) and me (1965).

Some things really are timeless!

Friday 21 April 2017

Is there honey still for tea?

No chocolate eggs or bunnies for us last Sunday. Nor did we join in an Easter egg hunt. No, we were going on a different hunt altogether. And yes, you have got it quite right: we went on another flea market treasure hunt!

It was quite chilly, so I was glad I didn't put away all the long-sleeved stuff.

I've had this burgundy Merry Finn dress, sprinkled with tiny pink diamonds, for a while now, but it was waiting for the perfect occasion to wear it. It's got a flower border pattern, which is repeated on the breast pocket and collar. Its slippery polyester fabric has an equally slippery lining, so that I was making swish-swish sounds with every move. And look: it's got pockets too! I actually only discovered them during our photo shoot!

For contrast, I added a light blue cardigan (with red and mid blue accents at the cuffs) and light blue plastic beads and ring.

The jacket I chose for the occasion is a 1980s does 1930s Sears number, to which I pinned a gold tone brooch set with a turquoise stone.
The blue scarf striped with a multitude of colours came from a cheap High Street shop (Zeeman, for my Belgian and Dutch readers) and I have it in pink as well.

The flea market is a firm favourite, the quality of the stalls much better than those in Antwerp.
Still, it didn't have its usual capacity, which was probably due to the Easter break.

Upon entering, we almost walked into this flamingo, which instantly made me think of Melanie!
It was too big to take home with us, though, not to mention far too expensive, as was the majority of the objects displayed on this stall. Most of it was still there when we walked past on our way out ...

It didn't take us long to make our first purchases, all from the same delightful stall: a brooch with an intriguing stone, a vintage string of beads and a pocket watch chain. The enamel goose brooch came from a different stall.

We also found this cute trio of poodles - mum with her two puppies attached by little chains - on the first stall.

We have a glass Bambi ornament in the same vein.

I'm guessing both ornaments date from the 1950s.

We halted in front of this contraption (bottom left), which I recognized to be a Teasmade. Having come across similar ones in several books on vintage, it was the first time I saw one "in the wild".

Belgium isn't a nation of tea drinkers, and I was raised on coffee from a tender age.

In fact, I only had my first taste of tea when on a school holiday in Austria, aged 11, and I thought it tasted disgusting.

Later, I learned to appreciate tea, especially upon discovering there was more than one variety!
After all, you cannot call yourself an Anglophile and not like tea!

Among the usual jumble of stalls selling heaps of clothing, crates of books and records, not to mention those stalls consisiting of nothing but cartons containing a lifetime of accumulated junk, there are those whose display halts you in your tracks.

We were tempted by a cheerful stall full of vintage crockery, part of which you can see in the above collage on the bottom right.

We bought this French coffee pot complete with a removable filter for brewing coffee. Not only does it look great against the blue walls of our kitchen, it produces seriously strong coffee, as we were about to find out the next morning.

From the same stall came this French, green enamel salt container which, knowing us, we will use for something else entirely. It is joining the other green enamel kitchenware we already have.

Then it was time for lunch, which for once didn't consist of a picnic. We splashed out and had coffee and a roll in the cafeteria, which is situated smack dab in the middle of the flea market, so that you can watch proceedings while you eat.

It was also in view of the aforementioned Teasmade. As I've finally succumbed to a smartphone, I started Googling the damn thing and found out that it was a 1950s one, produced by Goblin. I also almost choked on my roll when I saw the prices it was going for.

After lunch, we casually sauntered by the Teasmade stall, acted as if we had no idea what it was, patiently listened to the seller's explanation and eventually asked for the price. It turned out to be so much less than what I'd seen online, that we said we'd take it there and then. This is quite unusual for us, as we have an agreement not to buy anything unless we know the perfect place to put it. Oh, well, you only live once, I suppose.

 As it was, it didn't take long to find the perfect place.

Back at home, we proceeded to clean it up, as it - especially the kettle - was quite dirty. It came up a treat, though. Not only that, it is in full working order.

And we found it mentioned in our Collecting the 1950s book!

Although they are meant to be kept by the bedside, to wake you up in the morning with a cup of tea, the thing makes quite a racket, which goes on for about 10 minutes until it comes to the boil. The pressure of the steam then forces the boiling water along the chrome tube at the top and into the tea pot. After the kettle has emptied the platform it stands on rises and cuts off the current, at the same time switching on the alarm and the lights.

I can foresee this becoming quite the party trick!

Goblin manufactured their first Teasmade in 1937. It was made of plywood and had an actual lampshade. Due to the outbreak of war, however, production was halted and only resumed in 1947.

From 1949 until 1955, they produced the D21 model, which in design was the predecessor of our Teasmade. This one, however, had a plywood body and an accompanying wooden tray.

From 1955 until 1960, it was replaced by the D25 model, which was made from cream urea plastic (a kind of Bakelite), with an orange Goblin figure on the front. Sounds like ours, then. But some more Googling revealed it to be the D25b model, which was produced in 1960, the only differences being purely cosmetic, like the colour of the clock's face and hands.

If you are interested, you should check this fabulous website run by two Teasmade collectors, from which I gleaned my information as well as the fabulous ads.

Now, all this writing about coffee and tea has made me quite thirsty. Shall I put the kettle on?

Monday 17 April 2017

The Princess and the Wardrobe

To say I was glad the long Easter weekend finally rolled along is a bit of an understatement.

Even if the weather could have been more obliging - Spring seems to have deserted us for the time being - it was pure bliss to claim time as our own and to leave the daily grind behind for a couple of days.

Just some well needed peace and quiet, sleeping just that little bit longer and doing things at our own pace.

Apart from a flea market on Sunday, our diary was quite empty.

Which was fine by me, as I was hoping to crack on with my winter to summer wardrobe switch. So, on Friday after breakfast I retreated upstairs, followed by my trusty helper, Phoebe.

I started by removing most of my winter dresses from their hangers and making piles of them in readiness for the vacuum bags. There were decisions to be made as for the time being I am keeping some of my long-sleeved dresses in my wardrobe. After all, it isn't summer by a long way yet!

Then, out came several bags of summer frocks, all but the flimsiest high summer stuff for now.

Soon, our bed was piled high with dresses in every colour of the rainbow.

This was the time for assessment and casting a critical eye on each and every one of them.

Dresses I remember being quite snug or a little on the large side were put aside to be tried on later.

Things that do no longer make my heart sing are put into piles for charity or to be sold at a flea market this summer, and I can report that I was quite ruthless!

Those that remained (still quite enough, don't worry) were transferred to the waiting hangers, sorted by colour and put into my wardrobe.

There, that's better! Isn't it a cheerful sight? I can't wait to start wearing them.

By then, my little helper had had quite enough and decided she needed a nap.

I too took a breather at this point, and I'm giving you a break from all the frockery as well, by showing you some of the treasures that live in our bedroom.

We bought the green-frocked Art Deco lady with the birds, one of my favourite pieces ever, well over 15 years ago. The small plaster bust of the lady in the green hat was charity shopped around the same time. The vanity set, made by Belgian crystal glass manufacturer Val Saint Lambert, was charity shopped too, in 2015, and cost € 8 for eight pieces, including a bedsite water glass and carafe.

Let's continue, there's more work to be done!

The rest of the summer frocks (you didn't think that was all, did you?) were transferred to my other wardrobe in the spare room.

This wardrobe also contains skirts and suits (on the left) as well as most of my handbags, which badly needed sorting out, as I kept cramming them into every available space.

So, out they all came and believe me: there were a lot! This caused me to have a little wobble, so that I completely forgot to take photographs. In the end I managed to create some kind of order, so that I will now be able to find things more easily.

Our spare room, which is quite big - the same size as our bedroom - doubles as a study, library, archive, dressing room, boudoir and extra wardrobe space. Because of the colour of its wallpaper it is known as "the blue room".

On the mantlepiece, Twiggy and Sybil share their space with various bits and bobs and the chimney breast contains an ever-growing collection of "heads". We were able to buy the 1950s lady in the white headscarf quite cheaply as she's got a bit of damage (hardly noticeable in the photo). The drawing of the lady in the big hat contains real dried flowers and came from a flea market, while the 1960s wooden wall plaque was charity shopped.

I was quite sweaty after all the hauling around with bags full of clothes, so I changed into one of my newly unearthed short sleeved dresses. This one was uncomfortably snug last time I wore it, so I was very pleased to find it wearable again, which is nothing short of a miracle.

Though probably not for long, as we had coffee and a very indulgent cake at the charity shop after dropping off two large bags of donations. Oh well, I guess I deserved that after all the hard work ...

The groovy boots were bought at the charity retro event back in March.

I wore them again on Saturday for another charity shopping trip. That morning I felt inspired to do another round of clearing and assembled no less than five bags of jackets, tops and skirts I have fallen out of love with.

The skirt, which I found at the back of a shelf, was bought new from a cheap high street shop many years ago. I combined it with a 100% polyester short-sleeved green jumper from Think Twice. Apart from the boots and the handbag, this is the only vintage I was wearing. The tweed jacket was once bought in the sales, but for some reason it has hardly been worn, while I've had the spotty scarf for so long that I can't remember where it came from.

I was going to be good and not buy anything at the charity shop, but when I saw these amazing shoes for € 5, I knew it was futile to try and resist ...