Wednesday 31 May 2017


Last Thursday was a public holiday here in Belgium, and as summer finally seemed to be arriving in this part of the world, the day was too good to be spent inside.

We were feeling a little bit lazy: a feel-good, absolutely no pressure whatsoever kind of laziness, so we decided on a leisurely walk after lunch.

This gave me the chance to road test a pair of light walking shoes which I bought with Wales in mind. While they are not the most elegant of footwear, they were the least showy pair I could find, and the only ones which didn't have those ugly thick white soles.

The rest of my walking outfit consisted of a crazily patterned handmade vintage dress, with a very (and I mean very) pointed collar. Its main colour is purple, with splashes of orange, pink, yellow and white. I added an orange belt, orange plastic beads and a red plastic butterfly brooch and, in way of protection against the piercing rays of the sun, a hat bought at a flea market in April, and my prescription sunglasses mounted in € 0,50 charity shopped frames!

We chose my dad's place, a green space surrounding the remains of one of the old forts encircling the city of Antwerp, the one nearest to us, which is only a 10 minutes' drive from Dove Cottage.

There's a path in the half shade along the moat, from which we watched the abundance of birdlife: a moorhen in its watery nest made of twigs, and a heron in search of its lunch.

Soon, however, we veered off the main path, climbing onto an elevated tree-covered area, its folds and glades a magical landscape created by the passing of time.

Some of the trees are growing from gnarled and twisted roots, so that they resemble grotesque fairy tale creatures.

Here, only a few jigsaw-like fragments of blue sky can be seen, and here and there, between the trees' branches, are fleeting glimpses of the moat's tranquil green tinted water.

A cheeky robin was watching proceedings from a felled tree in the middle of a clearing.

Below, a well-trodden path could be seen snaking through the trees. We eventually clambered down to it and followed its curves until we came to the path leading to my dad's special place. I spent some time in contemplation, inhaling the earthy smell emanating from the layers of decomposing vegetation and finding peace in its never-ending cycle.

The footpath eventually joined a cobbled path circling the fort itself.

Soon, a long row of low brick and sandstone buildings, in various stages of dereliction and neglect, came into view. The early summer sun filtered by the trees was bathing the buildings in a strange golden glow.

At the main entrance, we disappeared inside the fortress, a not unpleasant scent of dampness and decay tickling our nostrils: a mossy, ferny, rich earthy smell.

The air has a hushed quality here, as if oblivious of the passing of time.

Eventually, we resurfaced onto the path at the water's edge through a low, narrow, tunnel clad with age-old once-white tiles.

The sun was playing with the surface of the water, and ducks and turtles were sunbathing on overhanging branches, victims of a winter's storm.

Some are moss and lichen covered, while others have had their bark stripped away by the weather, leaving them twisted and driftwood like.

The hypnotic soundtrack of a lazy summer's day, provided by the droning of bluebottles and the buzzing of bees, accompanied us on our way back to our car, now and then punctuated by sudden bursts of birdsong or a dull splash of water made by fish coming up for air.

Saturday 27 May 2017

It's easy being green!

To those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, it will come as no surprise that I love green!

Still, trawling through my photo archives, I was amazed about the number of my outfits containing at least a splash of green.

Among Dove Cottage's homewares and decorative items are quite a few green treasures as well.

Clockwise from top left: miniature enameled copper teapot, vintage apron, Tala pastry cutters and enamelware colander.

Then, of course, there's the garden, at this time of year a lush jumble of greens: a verdant room, its walls clad with cascading ivy.

However, it has only been in the last couple of years that I started being attracted to all things green.

When asked for my favourite colour as a small child, I'd have said blue, hence the blue dresses I often seemed to be dressed in.

In the early 1970s, it would have been that obiquitous colour of the decade, orange, which featured prominently in the wallpaper of my choice.

Then in the late 1970s, and into the early 1980s, I was a Siouxsie & The Banshees fan and wore a lot of black.

My thing for green must have already been lurking in the background, though, as I remember falling in love with a bright green daisy print mini skirt which was on display in a small local department store around 1980.

Oh, how I coveted that skirt, which I envisioned myself wearing with black fishnets and a black top. And my black leather jacket, obviously!

One little problem: it was child sized!  But every time I was running an errand for my Mum, the row of little skirts was winking at me. In the end, the lure of the green skirt proved to be too strong, and there was nothing for it but to try on the largest size which, being of slight built, I'm happy to report fit me perfectly.

And it was money well spent too, as I wore that skirt to death. Hence, it is not the fabric of the actual skirt in the photograph, but rather a well-worn 1970s tablecoth I found at a flea market last year.

It subconciously reminded me of the skirt and, if the print is not exactly the same, the shade of green certainly is.

If you remember, I bought an emerald green quilted dressing gown at a flea market a couple of weeks ago. At the time, I only showed a close up of one of its ruffled pockets, but as Cate told me she'd like to see a full length view, here it is, being worn by Angelica.

That same week, I made another green purchase. Here I was, browsing Think Twice's rails during one of my lunch breaks, when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of bright green in the coats rail.

I have been looking for a green vintage raincoat for years and - if they turn up at all - they are either too small or too large, or the wrong shape, length or fabric.

Could this be what I was looking for at last? Gingerly, I pulled the coat from the rail and ... oh, my: pure 1960s, with those cute metal thingies decorating the pockets and the half belt at the back!

The label confirmed what I'd already suspected, and it was in pristine condition too. Brand new, in fact, as I later found a manufacturing label sewn into one of the pockets. And the good thing is that it fits me!

Vintage shopping is never about a quick fix and sometimes you have to be very patient, but nothing beats the feeling of finally finding what you have been looking for!

I was wearing green last Saturday as well, although its shade was of a very different kind.

This short-sleeved dress in muted grey-greens has a flower print in pink, red and purple, which prompted my choice of accessories: pink belt and ring, and wooden beads in the exact colours of the dress's flowers.

On Sunday, I finally wore my poppy dress, which I combined with a green belt and cardie, to which I'd clipped a fuchsia flower corsage (a hair clip, actually!) in lieu of a brooch.

We were having brunch with Jos's eldest daughter and her family, and went for a walk afterwards, in order to feed a cute pair of donkeys! The family's dog, Stafke, had to be carried part of the way, as the poor little mite, not used to long walks, was getting out of breath.

A final splash of green was worn on Monday: this fresh green polka dot peplum top (a firm favourite from Think Twice) which I combined with a salmon pink floral skirt I charity shopped back in March.

I seem to be in the mood for green and pink, a combination I think is Spring personified.

I'm thinking of pink blossomed shrubs and trees, but also of one of my favourite garden plants, which is currently in bloom, the double Aquilegia 'Nora Barlow'.

I saw a photo of them in a gardening magazine when we first had our garden, and searched high and low, until one winter's day I stumbled across one measly little plant in a local garden centre.

Of course, it being in the middle of winter, I had to have faith as well as patience, but lo and behold: by May its first few buds had appeared which opened into these frilly pink and white flowers, looking almost as if they are wearing crinolines.

Shadowplay through Clematis armandii leaves, kaleidoscope Alliums and dewdrops captured in a poppy flower bud

They are still going strong after all these years and as they self-seed wherever takes their fancy, we now have flowering plants in at least three different locations.

Have you ever been wearing an outfit inspired by a favourite flower?


Tuesday 23 May 2017

Leave your cares in the parking lot

What with all my daydreaming about our upcoming holiday in Wales, I completely forgot to tell you what we did on Sunday before last!

So, what did we do? No prices for guessing: we went to a flea market!

It was our last indoor market of the season (the last one is in June, but we'll be in Wales then), and in spite of the time of year, there were quite a few interesting stalls, which I was especially glad of, since we'd taken along our friend Inez for the very first time.

Dipping again into my spring wardrobe, I chose a forest green Diolen dress with a - surprise! - floral print, in orange, light green, white and beige.

There's something to be said for having two distinctly different seasons, as you get to choose from a fresh set of clothes every six months!

The dress was one of my last buys from a sorely missed vintage shop which closed down last June.

The brooch is one of my oldest, in terms of ownership, and came from H&M, and the ochre beads were from Think Twice.

Sadly, the string broke when we were getting out of the car, scattering beads everywhere. I think I was able to retrieve most of them, so all I need now is replacement string and the patience of a saint. The latter will be the most problematic, I'm sure.

The sun played hide-and-seek for most of the day, so that we were happy to be inside but, although I started out wearing both my orange leather jacket and a cardigan, it turned out too warm for both, so I wisely removed the latter before leaving the car.

Almost immediately upon entering the venue, I spotted some vintage lime green beads, which I wore as a replacement.

I was lucky enough to find two more strings of green beads - not an easy colour to find - as well as a vintage pair of clip-on daisy earrings.

This delicate brooch, which was made in France (and bought from a nice French speaking lady), features a lady walking along the beach, carrying a basket and wearing clothes fashioned from real fabric.

We happily browsed and browsed, pausing to chat with some of the sellers, and marveling at some of the unusual objects for sale, as there are, a Princess Diana paper dress-up doll (left) and a clever device designed for ironing ties (right).

This cute little Scottie dog bookend, which had sadly lost its twin, came home with us, and is now playing with the other dog ornaments which live on top of our 1930s display cabinet, watched by the haughty Idina, named after Idina Sackville as I think she is kind of a lookalike.

There was a huge stall with an eye-catching display of kitchenalia, trying to lure us into making an impulse buy. We did keep our cool though, as space in Dove Cottage's kitchen is at a premium.

Our next find was this colourful little plaque of a Mexican boy, happily shaking his maracas, another addition for our by now unstoppable collection of head plaques adorning the mantlepiece and wall of our blue room.

The owner has promised us first dibs at another wall plaque, which she will bring along for our next visit in September.

Further purchases were, clockwise from top left: green embossed tumbler, to be used in our bathroom as a toothbrush holder (two for € 1,-), porcelain light fitting (one of Jos's foibles), daisy embossed mug (€ 0,50), which I'm using for my morning and evening cup of tea, and two classic Belgian comics.

Then there was this OXO cup and saucer set. Although it's not unusual to find OXO cups and mugs from different eras, this is the first one I've come across complete with its saucer.

I was particularly enchanted by this delightful blue toy washbasin, complete with accessories, which I would have loved to have played with as a child.

Our last purchase were these old Belgian 5 Francs pieces which, although I remember them from my youth, became obsolete long before the introduction of the Euro.

Obviously, they aren't worth anything, so you will probably be mystified why we have been buying these.

Well, here's the reason:

Jos was given this vintage parking meter by a friend. It dates from the late 1950s, early 1960s, and in its former life it lived on the streets of Antwerp.

Pre-dating Pay and Display, you could turn the dial for 10 minutes' free parking, while 5 Belgian Francs (the equivalent of about € 0,12) paid for 30 minutes' parking.

Those were the days!

In spite of suggestions of putting it in front of our house as a nice little earner (it takes € 0,50 which are approximately the same size!), it will somehow find a home in our garden!

I will keep you posted!

Friday 19 May 2017

Wild about Wales

Once again, the weather has been playing yo-yo. After we were treated to two days of 27°C and more on Tuesday and Wednesday, a nosedive of at least 10°C followed on Thursday.

So far, Spring has been a disappointment, and it hasn't been easy to get into holiday mood. No time to dither, though, as in only four weeks time we will be making our way to Wales again.

Over the years, I must have made well over a thousand photographs, which I've been browsing through to get me in the right frame of mind, and I thought I'd show you some of my favourites places in the process.

Why not start with this one of me, masquerading as a Welsh lady in traditional costume, at Devil's Bridge in Ceredigion?

For those of you who have been watching Hinterland, Devil's Bridge is where the body of Helen Jenkins was found in the very first episode.

We have been going to the same area, always staying at the same delightful little cottage-for-two, since 2011.

We have twice tried to break the habit and go somewhere else, but here we are, on the brink of our seventh visit.

Our first visit was in May 2011, and the minute we stepped over the cottage's threshold, we felt right at home. With its thick walls, the old cottage keeps out the day to day sounds of the outside world, while keeping it warm and cosy on a cool day, yet deliciously cool on a hot one.

Waking up under the eaves, the plaintive calling of the gulls drifting up the estuary is the first sound you hear, and from the bedroom's skylight window the ever-changing view of the estuary, over the roofs of the cottages which tumble down the hill, always invites you to stand and stare. And then stare some more!

The village, St. Dogmaels, is a delight too, its houses climbing the hillside above the meandering River Teifi making its way to the sea. and boasting the ruins of a 12th century abbey.

We are in Pembrokeshire, if only just, with the neighbouring county, Ceredigion, almost literally on our doorstep, on the other side of the estuary (the meadows and fields we can see from our windows).

Nearby is the large expanse of Poppit Sands, perfect for blowing away the cobwebs on the first day, when we're not inclined to venture too far, or for a short evening walk, watching the sun disappear behind the horizon and lengthen the shadows.

One of our favourite places is Mwnt, just over the border with Ceredigion, waiting at the end of a narrow country lane. Down a steep flight of steps is the beach, overlooked by the green hump of Foel y Mwnt, while at the other end there's a lonely whitewashed little church.

It was at the end of a blustery June afternoon, and ours was the only car left in the grassy car park.

Vying with Mwnt for my favourite nearby beauty spot is Ceibwr Bay, along winding up-and-down lanes from St. Dogmaels. Surrounded by tall, spectacularly folded cliff formations, it feels wild and remote. Another place to stand (or rather, as I did here: sit) and stare, wondering at the forces of nature which must have been at work to create a place of such drama.

About a mile along the coast path is the Witches' Cauldron, a collapsed cave where in rough weather the sea comes surging into, creating a boiling mass of water and spray.

From here, the nearest town of any significance is the small seaside resort of Newport. About two years ago, I made this nostalgic collage of photographs taken in and around the town, which our cottage's rental office, which is based in the town, liked so much that they posted it on their Facebook page.

We are skipping along in a south-westerly direction, rounding a couple of headlands, until we arrive at Aberreidy, famous for its Blue Lagoon, a small slate quarry flooded by the sea. It is the slate which makes the water appear such an unfathomable shade of sapphire blue.

Onwards to Whitesands Bay near St. David's Head. The sky was looking ominously grey on our first visit, giving the wet sand an unearthly colour. St. David's Head itself can be seen beckoning in the distance.

The weather was glorious on our way up for our second visit one year later.

Nearing Whitesands, however, we could see mist drifting in from the sea. As it wasn't looking too bad, we decided to proceed with our planned walk up to St. David's Head, but visibility became worse the higher we got.

We were supposed to see Coetan Arthur, a 4000-year-old Neolithic burial chamber, silhouetted against the sky, but we didn't, and in the end roamed from one rocky outcrop to another, getting slightly panicky until a gap appeared through the cloud, through which we could see the path we had come up on.

A shortcut down a bracken covered slope put an end to our attempted walk. We have plans for a third attempt next month!

Inland to nearby St. Davids. Although only the size of an average village, St. Davids is in fact Wales' smallest city, a status it has been granted because of its cathedral, which they have cleverly hidden in a little valley of its own, so that it cannot be spotted from the sea.

Further south, there is a choice of castle ruins to visit.

Carew castle (top) is standing on a ridge at the head of a tidal inlet of the Carew river.

Pembroke Castle (bottom), idyllically set on the banks of the river estuary, is a mighty fortress steeped in British history. Exploring the castle, you will meet figures of its former inhabitants, telling you their story, either in English or in Welsh. 

We often pushed the Welsh button, especially when there were other people around, so that they would think we were Welsh and actually understood what was being said.

Here I am in conversation with a brave Welsh archer: Bore da! Sut dach chi?

I'm definitely beginning to get into the mood for more Welsh adventures by now ...

However, the weather seems to be in a Welsh mood too, as it's started raining.

 Oh, well, here's what I think of that ...