Wednesday 29 August 2018

The keepers of lost things

Two weeks ago, I had a bonus day off in the middle of the week, as the 15th of August is a public holiday in Belgium.

The weather forecast had been inconclusive and the morning sky threatening, but as the day progressed into afternoon, it turned out to be too fine to be wasted indoors.

Some of you might remember this place from my post back in March, when on freezing cold day, we went in search for a castle fit for a princess.

In spite of the fact that it's quite close by, in a neighbouring village, we hadn't been back there since.

As we'd heard on the grapevine that restoration on the coach houses flanking the castle's courtyard had been completed, it was time to see the transformation with our own eyes.

Walking up the double linden avenue, I took the opportunity of its temporary emptiness to take this photograph with the castle a glimmer of brilliant white at its end.

The sight that met us at the end of the avenue was even more brilliant: the finished coach houses left and right of the courtyard painted a dazzling, almost blinding white.

The castle's original monumental wrought iron railings and gate, which had been removed while work at the coach houses was ongoing, had undergone a transformation of their own and were once again in pride of place, complete with decorative gilded finials.

When my Dad was a boy, the woods around the estate an illicit part of his playground, this is where a walk up the linden avenue ended, the castle and its pleasure grounds firmly closed against prying eyes and wandering feet.

Now, the gates stood invitingly open, so we entered the courtyard, where the western coach house has been turned into a brasserie. No chance of a cup of coffee though as it was Mother's Day (which is celebrated on the 15th of August in and around Antwerp) and the place was packed.

In stark contrast to the exquisitely restored coach houses, the castle's deterioration is even more apparent, and its increasing state of disrepair is quite heart-breaking.

I was wearing a mustard coloured Diolen dress, sprinkled with green, orange and cream flowers, and accessorized with a green skinny belt, orange beads, a translucent green plastic ring, and cream and green bracelets.

It might have been a bit too warm for my green cardigan, but it was such a dull day, the sky indecisive on whether to dispense with the blanket of grey.

My brooch was a tiny gold basket brimming with jade green flowers. The orange leather bag was a sales bargain and is just big enough for essentials.

Posing for photos in the castle's porticoed entrance, we happened upon a half-braided scoubidou, the ends of its multicoloured plastic strings spreadeagled on the tiles.

I remember having one of these back in the early 1970s, when it was one in a long row of crazes sweeping the school playground, which had us all braiding away until one day they suddenly were no longer in vogue, having been replaced by the next craze.

It wasn't the last time the scoubidou was popular, but nor was it the first. Apparently it originated in France, where it became popular in the late 1950s. It was named after the 1958 song of the same name by French singer Sacha Distel, whose fans, following a gig, fashioned bracelets for their idol out of wire insulators.

Obviously, we felt sorry for the thing and it came home with us!

Although I have only just finished this book, recommended by Lynn, and picked up in a charity shop while on holiday, we have been keepers of lost things for many years.

Consequently, we have a small collection of orphaned buttons, marbles and other odds and ends picked up from the streets, and living on a ledge in our hallway. The tiny green plastic angel was left behind on a train to Amsterdam and has been living with us for over 10 years now!

There are even more signs of neglect at the back of the castle, the cracked and peeling plaster and rotting woodwork the result of endless seasons of weathering.

The castle itself is next in line for restoration: I've read that there are plans for turning into an events venue and, possibly, at a later stage, a Bed & Breakfast.

Judging from its dilapidated exterior only, which I'm sure is just the tip of the iceberg, this will be quite a daunting project!

Here too, the hot and dry months have played havoc with the lake's water level, which is at an all time low. It was in the news a couple of weeks ago that a group of worried villagers has been making plans to rescue the resident fish if necessary.

No visit here is complete without a walk around the castle's park, and we took note of the many acorns littering the paths, while the leaves on some of the trees seemed to be turning already, making me wonder if they will hang on until Autumn.

Meanwhile, Jos was unsuccessfully trying to recapture his scoubidou braiding skills ...

A bonus of having a day off in the middle of the week is that it doesn't take long for the weekend to come around again.

Our weekends have been rather quiet affairs lately, with nothing much planned. Nevertheless, we hardly ever miss a charity shopping opportunity, which is what we did on Saturday.

Talking of opportunity, I've been waiting for the right moment to show you this delightful frock. Although it was picked up at Think Twice nearly two years ago, so far only Angelica had been lucky enough to wear it.

The reason, of course, is that it had, and indeed still has, issues. Apart from a small but visible spot (easily hidden by a brooch), I had no idea what to do with the hem, which was finished with white ribbon, quite a substantial piece of which was missing. I'd already bought replacement ribbon, but with my limited sewing skills, I was reluctant to have a go at this rather fiddly job.

In the end, with the old ribbon removed, I just left the edges raw, as the fabric, which has a crepe-like feel, doesn't seem to be prone to fraying.

The dress is handmade and lined, the hem of its lining exquisitely finished with a row of embroidered flowers. The square buttons, made of translucent plastic, are worth having a closer look, with a wide semi-opaque middle part edged by two see-through strips decorated with scrolls.

Did we find anything note-worthy at the charity shops? All will be revealed in my next post.

Better late than never, I'll be linking my blue and white dress to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style as usual.
This week, I am also joining Shelbee On The Edge's linkup, which is a first for me. Please get over there and have a look!
And last but not least, I am linking up to birthday girl Nancy's Fancy Friday at Nancy's Fashion Style.

Friday 24 August 2018

Summertime blues

You might think this post's title is a bit misleading, as there isn't even a smidgen of blue in what I'm wearing.

Well, obviously, it isn't the colour blue I'm referring to here, but the state of mind.  Finishing my travelogue has left me feeling a bit deflated, as if my holiday is only now truly over.

But not to worry, as we will be going away on a short trip in just over a week's time, and obviously I'm hoping to return with a whole new set of travel stories!

In the meantime, the heatwave has come and gone, and we are left with a typical Belgian summer: an unsettled mix of fine days, with the odd hot and humid day thrown in, usually followed by a thunderstorm and, more often than not, the ubiquitous grey skies and showers.

Now that the temperature has dropped from its great heights, it's time to turn my attention to some of the unworn Diolen delights waiting patiently in my wardrobe.

Honestly, why should I care about grey skies if I can wear a dress as sunny and bright as this one? Wearable sunshine, that's what it is! Grabbed from Think Twice's rails many months ago, its green and white stripes and different sized yellow and orange flowers instantly appealed.

The dress came with a narrow white fabric tie belt, but I'm generally not a fan of such belts so I replaced it with an vinyl one in a similar yellow as the flowers.

I then started piling on the accessories, staying in the green/white/yellow/orange colour palette of the dress. 

I've had the handbag, which is in pristine condition, for years, but it rarely gets an outing, as I wouldn't forgive myself if it got damaged in any way. I mean, look at those exquisitely embroidered flowers!

It was the Saturday before last and, as usual on a Saturday, it was time to hit the charity shops. These goodies all came from the shop in our village!

There's a huge tin decorated with Nasturtiums (note how well they go with my frock!) still retaining its tiny key so that it can be locked, a set of Matryoshka dolls, and ... can you guess what the orange-red thing with the bird is?

It's an alarm clock! Apparently, it originally came from Habitat where I guess it cost more than the € 5 we paid. Our previous one, a radio alarm clock, annoyingly kept getting ahead of itself, so that's off to the charity shops now, to be replaced by this absolutely fun one!

When the alarm goes off, the bird starts tweeting, its eyes light up and it actually moves, as if hopping up and down on its perch.

Sunday was a picture postcard perfect summer's day, the temperature warm enough not to be stifling, with wispy strands of stratus clouds in a blue sky.

Having been held hostage by the hot weather for too long, we hadn't been for a proper walk since we came back from our holiday.

So, with no other plans or obligations, we packed a picnic and went off, our destination being our favourite nature reserve, Het Broek in Blaasveld.

Last time we were there was at the end of February, so another visit was long overdue!

This time I was wearing blue, which is the predominant colour of this delightful cotton Madras check dress from Think Twice, its collar, sleeves and pockets (yes!) edged in red. 

As the dress was calling out for red accessories, I added a red belt, further accessorizing it with a red and white plastic beaded necklace and red, white and blue bangles.

My hat, with its light blue chiffon scarf, was found in a charity shop on my birthday two years ago. It was made by long-established German hat-makers Mayser, yet it only cost me a couple of Euros.

At first sight, all seemed as it should be, with plenty of water in the reserve's many ponds. There must have been plenty of fish as well, as we spotted several cormorants perched among the waterlily pads, spreading their pterodactyl wings, and a pair of statuesque white herons in the far distance.

We'd expected it to be quite arid, with most of the vegetation yellowed and burned to a crisp, disintegrating at the merest touch, so we were pleasantly surprised by the abundance of green lining the ponds and paths.

Some of the ponds were pea soup green with algae, though, a direct result of the sun relentlessly working overtime.

Among the carpet of lily pads, a late and lonely water lily was displaying its delicate beauty.

We braved a path overgrown with brambles and nettles to get to my favourite corner.

There's a strange familiarity to this landscape, something I can't put my finger on.

It is utterly enchanting whatever the season: from left to right, these photos were taken in early November 2017, late February 2018 and, the most recent one, during our August walk.

A dense thicket of grasses, reeds and cattails almost obscures it from view. 

A sudden quickening of the pulse, then my muscles seem to relax in recognition of this primordial landscape, perhaps reaching its tentacles all the way back to my childhood.

Near the visitor centre, a gaggle of turkeys had escaped the confines of their pen and, accompanied by much gobbling and gurgling, were about to embark on an adventure of their own.

Continuing our walk, our nostrils detected peaty woodland smells: earthy and mossy, with a hint of old fallen leaves.

You eyes might deceive you into thinking this is a tree-lined path on the right, but it is in fact one of the brooks running through the domain, brimming with water in rainy times but now completely dried up.

Highly invasive it might very well be, still I can't help but be enchanted by the delicately sculpted, pastel coloured flowers, reminiscent of orchids, of Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), flowering prolifically in late summer and early autumn.

Before we returned to our car, we sat on this bench and stared a while, breathing in the delicious scent of the warm summer air.

Linking for the first time to Nancy's Fancy Friday party!

Sunday 19 August 2018

It's vintage, darling!

It's the last episode of my Salopian (*) travelogue, and goodness me, have I been procrastinating! After all, once I've come to the end of this post and push publish, that's it! Point final, as they say in French.

So, other than scrolling through my photos of our last two days and halfheartedly making a few collages, this post wasn't getting anywhere near ready, as the words, which usually keep flowing once I start typing, seemed to remain stuck in my keyboard.

But there is nothing for it: it has to be done, so I'd better get my act together and get on with things!

Thursday saw us driving down to the lovely town of Ludlow, give or take half an hour from our cottage.

This wasn't our first visit by any means: we'd been there at least twice before when we were holidaying in the neighbouring county of Herefordshire between 2008 and 2010.

It was another gorgeous Summer day, but while the temperature was just bearable in the sun, we mostly sought shelter on the shady side of the town's picturesque streets.

A vibrant market town today, Ludlow's roots reach back to medieval times. Made rich by manufacturing and trading of wool and cloth, by the 16th Century it had become a major administrative centre, governing Wales and the border counties.

Today, it has a thriving high street, packed with independent shops including butchers, bakeries, delicatessens, as well as all manner of clothes and arts and craft shops.

There are quite a few charity shops too, which obviously were well browsed: I managed to find another maxi frock, which I will be showing you later, and some jewellery.

Ludlow also has a lively market, which has been a cornerstone of the community for over 900 years. Today, a general market is trading in and around Castle Square six days a week.

On the second and fourth Thursday of every month, the hugely popular Ludlow Local Produce Market is being held here, showcasing the fresh local food and drink which Ludlow is rightly, and proudly, famous for.

Built by the Normans in the 11th Century to repel a Welsh invasion, Ludlow Castle is one of the town's finest attractions. 

Having visited the castle before, however, we limited ourselves with a walk on the delightful footpath skirting its walls.

After walking around the castle's perimeters, we arrived back in Castle Square and made our way back through the town for a visit to St. Laurence's Church.

Tucked away down a small alley, the church is a haven of peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the town. 

St. Laurence's, which was first started in 1199, was largely rebuilt in the 15th Century. 

Its nickname, The Cathedral of the Marches, reflects the importance of Ludlow in the turbulent Welsh Marches region, but also its impressive size (it is said to be one of the largest parish churches in England) and its rich furnishings.

There's magnificent medieval stained glass, as well as a wonderful array of memorials, the majority dating from the 16-17th Centuries.

The chancel is a treasure of medieval stalls, many with misericords. These 'mercy-seats', made to help support priests while standing during long services, have wonderfully carved undersides. 

These are carved in a range of subjects including mermaids, a witch, and a dishonest ale-wife: indeed, most of the misericords depict women unfavourably! Here are just six of the total of 28 intricately carved designs.

After a restorative cup of coffee and some huge brownies, it was back to our cottage, where for the purpose of this blog, I changed into my new-to-me, charity shopped maxi frock!

Friday was our last day and we were feeling a bit morose. It was quite hot so, thinking of the long journey ahead of us on Saturday, we ditched our original plan of going for a proper hike on the Long Mynd. 

Instead, we went to Wales! Welshpool is only half an hour's drive from our cottage and known as the gateway to Mid Wales, a busy market town situated in the Severn valley and surrounded by glorious Welsh countryside, yet only a few miles from the English border.

We sauntered along its High Street, diving in and out of its many charity shops, when suddenly we came across Park Lane House, which had a display of vintage clothes in its entrance.

Stepping inside was equal to entering vintage heaven and, my heart beating faster and feeling quite lightheaded at the sight of it all, you could have knocked me over with a feather.

Vintage and period clothes and accessories were jostling for space and shouting for attention. I could have easily spent our entire two week holiday in there and still not have seen it all.

This is Ashmans Antiques and Old Lace (for some reason my brain automatically inserts the word arsenic before old lace), which was established in 1975.

Presiding over this shop full of drool-worthy vintage is its owner Diane Ashman. This formidable lady, who is in her seventies, made us feel quite at home and encouraged us to take as many photographs as we liked.

Surely the pictures speak for themselves!

I was quite overwhelmed but obviously I couldn't leave without making a purchase, which I will show you at the end of this post.

After signing Diane's guest book full of raving commentaries, we bade our goodbyes, vowing to return next year.

After lunch, we briefly walked along a stretch of the Montgomery Canal, and visited Powysland Museum, housed in a restored warehouse on the canal wharf.

Apart from displays on the archaeology and social history of the old county of Montgomeryshire, there are displays on a wide variety of topics, including some covetable vintage memorabilia.

I'm sure you'll agree that the Bakelite television on the bottom right actually belongs in Dove Cottage!

Before returning to our car, we lingered over cappuccinos in the Royal Oak hotel, where we had another encounter with Diane, who'd walked in for a drink with a friend. I promised her I would send her an email after publishing my post, so that's what I will do in a minute.

So, that was our holiday! I can't believe it's all over ...

But before I go, here's the dress I bought at Ashmans! Rather lovely isn't it?

(*) relating to or characteristic of the English county of Salop, now known as Shropshire, or its inhabitants.

Linking my new-to-me maxi dress to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style!