Wednesday 29 April 2020

Staying in the same place, just staying out the time

At I'm writing this, the glorious Spring weather we have been blessed with for the last few weeks has deserted us, leaving the usual grey skies and rain in its wake.

Not entirely unexpected, taking into account our usual April capriciousness, it has nevertheless forced me to leave the garden and spend the day indoors.

Being cooped up inside doesn't generally bother me, and it's certainly something we're all having to get used to one way or another. I can always find plenty to keep me occupied! Today, however, I was lacking the inclination to do any chores around the house. Instead, I set myself the much more pleasurable task of writing another blog post, this time backtracking to the weekend before last.

As often seems to be the case, my initial weekend energy which resulted in a hustle and bustle of activity on Thursday and Friday, had somewhat fizzled out by Saturday.

We slept late and had a late cooked breakfast, with the last of the big chocolate Easter egg for dessert.

By the time we'd done our usual Saturday morning wash load and folded everything away, the day's initial sunshine had disappeared, and there might even have been a smattering of rain to quench the garden's thirst.

That massive bush encroaching on our ramshackle potting shed is our old white current, planted soon after we moved to Dove Cottage over twenty years ago. Over the years, it has been providing us with more fruit than we can ever eat. But no worries, as the birds often get away with a large portion of it, to which they are most welcome. Jos usually manages to produce a couple of pots of jam out of what's left as well.

The dress I'm wearing is one of my first ever Think Twice finds but, although I still love it to bits, it hasn't been getting as many outings as it should have. To be honest, I do think it is a bit short on me, leaving my knees - not my favourite body part - exposed whenever I'm sitting down or reaching up.

Still, its print of brownish, orange and yellow balloons never fails to cheer me up. 

My accessories that day were a tan belt, an orange beaded necklace and a yellow plastic bangle, all of which were charity shopped. As was the brown and white bracelet, which I picked up in charity shop in Ludlow, Shropshire, in 2018. The orchid brooch, which doubles as a pendant, was a flea market find.

Here's the terracotta window box on our dining room sill, which is at the end of the passageway next to our kitchen. I planted it with those ubiquitous early Spring favourites, cheery-faced pansies and proud double primulas. By now, while the latter are still going strong, the pansies seem to have had their time, and will soon need replacing.

I spent the rest of the day doing my usual mix of pottering and reading. Oh, and my journal tells me that I cut Jos's hair, using clippers. He keeps insisting that I didn't do too badly, although for some reason he's not so keen on having his photograph taken these days!

I'm so thankful I had mine cut and coloured he week before we went into lockdown, so that it's not too bad yet, especially when I've just washed it. 

I would love to tell you what I did on Sunday, but unfortunately it's a complete blank, as I forgot to make a journal entry at the end of the day.

But at least I can tell you what I was wearing, having opted for a skirt and a short-sleeved jumper in a mix of floral prints.

The skirt was yet another Think Twice find, while all the rest I'm wearing here were charity shop finds. The jumper is another King Louie delight, while the painted wooden bangles were part of a haul of seven, all found on the very same day in October last year.

I'm soaking up some late afternoon rays of sunshine and enjoying the spoils of our garden, including a glut of newly opened sweetly scented Tazetta daffodils, their creamy white petals surrounding bright orange cups. 

On the top right is one the countless of the white current's flower clusters, which are slowly but surely transforming themselves into juicy berries.

Inherited with the garden are various clumps of ferns. They seem to multiply year after year and are turning the garden into a veritable jungle almost overnight as their prehistoric looking fronds start unfurling one by one.

It was a bit chilly that day, so I topped my outfit with another charity shopped cardigan from retro brand Zoë Loveborn, to which I pinned a big, modern flower brooch.

Temperatures were on the up again on Monday, which was an office day, and kept climbing towards the low 20s on Tuesday.

While Jos went to the drinks supermarket and the newsagents - buying a paper for an elderly neighbour in the process - I gave the bathroom a perfunctory clean. 

The perfect opportunity to show you some of our bathroom treasures. 

The vintage mirrored and rose-sprinkled bathroom cabinet is made from a very sturdy and heavy plastic called Ornamine, by the French company Gilac. It dates from the late 1950s or early 1960s and cost us all of € 8 in a charity shop.

Made from the same material but in a different design are the hooks and the bathroom stool, which were flea market and charity shop finds respectively. We're still on the lookout for a loo paper holder!

Speaking of  loo paper, people used to laugh when we told them we'd bought vintage rolls of loo paper at a flea market, but at least we've got some back-up if the shops run out again as a result of people's hoarding tendencies.  And I'm sure the Shingling Clippers might come in handy as well. 

The 4711 eau de cologne isn't just for display purposes. Next to it is a recent Summer edition of the old classic, which I used to keep at the office. It smells heavenly!

Finally, on the bottom left, is one of the baths from Bath, so called as we bought the prints in Bath on one of our UK holidays.

The garden is coming along nicely, isn't it? 

Here's another frock I haven't worn in years, but with good reason. It was the dress I wore the day my Dad was committed to hospital in 2016, mere days before he passed away.

After almost 4 years, the lure of its fabulous blue, pink and russet flower print, enhanced by the dark background, proved to be too strong to resist.

I added a dragonfly and a butterfly to frolic among the flowers and cinched in the waist with a pink, yellow and cream woven belt.

Our garden centres having re-opened during the weekend, we couldn't resist driving down to our favourite one, fully expecting there to be a queue. But on this sunny Tuesday afternoon, there wasn't, so, donning gloves and armed with hand sanitizer, I hesitantly stepped inside.

But the place is huge, especially now that their glasshouses full of annuals and summer flowers are open, so that social distancing wasn't a problem at all. 

As well as a well-needed bag of garden compost, I bought a whole tray full of annuals, a couple of perennials, a curry plant (Helichrysum italicum), a huge pot of butterfly lavender and some Nasturtium seeds.

I'm sure you can imagine how I spent the next 4-day weekend?

But that, my dears, will be for next time.

Stay safe!

Saturday 25 April 2020

Away with the fairies

It was a balmy evening crowning a sun-kissed April day. The kind of blissful, life-affirming Spring day on which buds burst into flower with wild abandon.

It isn't hard to believe in flower fairies on such days and indeed I believe they have found shelter in the nooks and crannies of Dove Cottage's garden. They are dutifully staying at home, of course, and keeping their social distance, being responsible citizens of the world of magic and make believe.

I bet they are busy fashioning face masks out of the papery petals of spent Spring flowers.

The sun was dipping slowly but surely below the horizon, the intensity of her rays now veiled by wisps of clouds propelled along by a gentle breeze.

My dress, in a hard to fathom peachy brown colour, was liberally sprinkled with roses in palest pink and fantasy green. A strange combination on paper, it might seem, but quite becoming in real life, helped by the dress's wide V-neck collar and butterfly sleeves.

Accessorized with a pale green necklace and an armful of coordinating bangles and bracelets, I was nevertheless quite jealous of the green turban the lady on my brooch was wearing.

Having nothing of the sort and being hopeless at fashioning one out of one of my green scarves, I opted for a crown of flowers which would turn me into the Queen of the Garden.

Upon spying me from their hidey-holes, those flower fairies must have been green with envy!

My crown was actually one of the hair bands I bought a couple of years ago to decorate a plain Summer hat. See here!

Phoebe is keeping watch over it all from her Little Mermaid rock. Nothing escapes her attention until she's had quite enough and settles on the bench for one of her naps. The Queen of Napping, she is!

It was the Thursday before last and the start of the four-day weekend in my so-called new normal. As a rule, I am starting these extended weekends full of energy and good intentions, both of which tend to peter out as the days progress.

That morning, with the backdoor thrown wide open to let in the fresh Spring air, I continued with the kitchen Spring cleaning, this time tackling the shelves above the vintage cupboard  I cleaned and reorganized earlier this month.

The shelves themselves aren't very much to look at - they're from the Swedish furniture shop - but are stacked full of flea market and charity shop treasures, most of which are purely decorative. 

The top shelf is dedicated to two different sets of vintage ceramic canisters, both in a white and blue colour scheme.

The large ones, with their nautical scenes, are part of a set we bought from a consignment store we regularly visited in the early noughties. They mention their contents in French and also include a couple of smaller ones which are displayed elsewhere, and an oil bottle which is living on the bottom shelf.

The smaller set, mentioning their contents in Flemish, were a gift from my friend Inez. By pure coincidence, we already owned a larger tea canister in the same design. This too you can see on the bottom shelf.

On the middle shelf is the motley crew of tins we've collected over the years. That's to say, those which are in some way kitchen related. There are more in Dove Cottage's other rooms, as you can surely imagine.

I cleared the shelf for cleaning and brought them all outside, giving them a good wipe before more or less returning them to their previous positions.

Clockwise from top left are a toy bucket advertising the famous Belgian chocolate brand Côte d'Or and a biscuit tin decorated with an Easter scene, a 1950s Dutch Brinta porridge tin, three tins which used to contain chocolate paste and syrups, and an alternative view of the colourful porridge tin.

The Smiths crisps tin on the top left was bought from a delightful shop called Utter Clutter in Leominster, Herefordshire while on holiday.  Next to it are two biscuit tins including one for ice cream wafers, from the Dutch Verkade brand. The Tetley tea tin is a family heirloom, in which my Mum used to keep her shop loyalty stamps. Finally, on the bottom left, are various tins which used to contain stock or stock cubes. If I remember correctly, we found the large red OXO tin in a junk shop in Wells, Somerset, during another UK holiday.

The final tins are the odd ones out, as they are not just ordinary tins! They are both from Tala, which is one of Britain's oldest baking and kitchenware brands, originating from Vix's neck of the woods, the Black Country. Both tins still have their full original contents, being pastry cutters and an icing set respectively.

The bottom shelf has a jumble of mostly blue and white things, which has grown organically over the years. The eagle-eyed among you might have already spotted the oil bottle (huile in French) and the thee or tea canister.

On the top right is our very modest collection of T.G. Green pottery, a Cornish Ware bowl and salt shaker and a Blue Domino breakfast set for one, all picked up during our various UK holidays.

The kissing Dutch boy and girl got a good scrub with washing up liquid, but upon putting them back I decided it was best for them to practice some social distancing!

If you are intrigued by the Quick Cooker pudding bowl, here's a bit of history. 

Patented by Grimwades in 1911, an internal funnel allows steam to circulate through the middle of the pudding and cook it from the inside as well as the outside. The cover is grooved to hold string so the cover and bowl can be tied closely together. It has green printed pictures and instructions for use on the lid and inside the bowl, while the inside of the lid is covered with advertising for several of their other products.

Having come across this curiosity in the kitchens of stately homes in the UK, it might come as a surprise that we found ours, which probably dates from the 1950s, at a local flea market in May 2018.

A satisfactory job, all in all, enabling me to look at our accumulated treasures with fresh eyes.

Therefore, I was determined to continue with the job at hand on Friday. Rounding the corner, I dusted the framed ads and coffee grinder hanging on the wall and then proceeded to clean the outside of the huge vintage kitchen cupboard which came with the house. 

At that point I'd had quite enough of cleaning! 

After lunch, we drove down to the supermarket, as Jos hadn't been able to find a couple of things during his weekly shop on Thursday. Jos waited in the car while I dashed around the shop, finding most of the things we needed as well as some self-care products for me. 

The rest of the afternoon was spent reading and doing a blog catch up.

The skirt had been among my last Think Twice sales purchases back in February. As it's quite thin and unlined, it had been put aside for Spring, although I surely couldn't have imagined the circumstances we would be in when it finally got its first wear!

With a multitude of colours to choose from, I opted for a short-sleeved red blouse printed with a scattering of white flowers. From the Belgian Wow To Go label, it was a charity shop find, as were  the turquoise belt and the turquoise and navy beaded necklace.

The brooch was a flea market find, bought from the Brooch Lady back in 2016.

The final days of that weekend proceeded at a much slower pace. But although I didn't do very much at all, I did dress up as usual, and I'm sure I watered the plants!

But that, and more, will be for my next post!

In the meantime, do stay safe and sane, my lovelies!

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Frocks and flowers

The passage of time is a strange thing indeed. All too often, time seems to go in leaps and bounds. Yet sometimes time is a waiting game when the days are passing slowly, knitting themselves into a shapeless tapestry of weeks, one all but indistinguishable from the other.

The clock is ticking away the hours, its hands moving slowly towards the next, and time is a vacuum, a room full of memories with dust motes dancing in a sunbeam.

If I didn't keep a journal - both serving as a record of these extraordinary times and an actual diary - I wouldn't remember what I'd been doing from one day to the next.

The weeks are upside down. Instead of working five days, forevever looking forward to the weekends, it now is the other way around. Not that I've started looking forward to the office days, mind you!

Often, when I wake up, I can't remember what day it actually is. As my office days are Monday and Wednesday, this is especially true in the long stretch between Tuesday and Sunday. But I'm not complaining, as much to my surprise, I rather like being at home. Will they make a housewife of me yet? Well, I guess that would be a bit of a stretch!

But I'm rambling on again, so let's take the time machine for a short trip back into the past, and show you what I was wearing on Easter Monday.

There had been a considerable drop in temperature overnight, which warranted the return of the long sleeved frocks. In fact, I had this one hanging ready for a week or two, so it was now or never for this vintage dress with its blowsy flower print and full, pleated skirt. 

I accessorized it with all kinds of green things, starting with the moss green suede belt and my ceramic Merhorse brooch. A slightly longer string of bright green beads and a short-sleeved chunky knit cardigan completed my outfit. I even wore green wedge-heeled ankle boots but opted for bright pink opaques for contrast. 

If you're wondering about my sad face, that's because we'd just managed to flatten the one and only white bluebell growing in our garden! Poor, poor thing! 

Poor Jos as well, as he'd managed to scratch his hand while tying up the piles of woody prunings at the back of our garden, ready for council collection later that week. It was a relief that they actually came, as we wouldn't have known what to do with them. It's not that we have that much room to spare in our handkerchief sized garden.

It's heartwarming to see that our little plot is thriving in spite - or perhaps because - of it all. 

Our straggly gooseberry bush has been producing its first flowers (top left) while our honesty has been blooming as if there is no tomorrow. In fact, they are all but over by now, the spent flowers slowly transforming themselves into those well-loved silvery discs.

And there's the single white bluebell on the bottom right, mere minutes before its unfortunate demise.

The green foliage behind the garden angel will soon be full of fragrant Lily-of-the-Valley while the stone dove is only just holding its head above the ground-covering hardy Geranium, which will be a sea of pink in the weeks to come. 

It's always a delight to see our bluebells appear next to the potting shed, where they can be admired from our kitchen window. 

The green enamel cone (and its twin) is planted with last year's pink Pelargoniums, which once again seem to have survived our mild Winter.

The day had been far too chilly to spend it in the garden, so I thought I'd crack on with my wardrobe changeover. I started with the skirts, folding away the heavier woolly Winter ones in favour of a host of cheerful Summer lovelies. I always keep a selection of these out - they are hanging from a rail Jos suspended between the spare room door and a tall shelving unit - so that I actually remember to wear them. 

This was the easy part, as the out-of-season skirts do not hibernate inside the famous linen chest but live on a shelf in one of my wardrobes.

The linen chest - a family heirloom which used to belong to Jos's grandparents - is huge and it is where most of my out-of-season clothes are packed away inside vacuum bags.

So, first I freed up a load of hangers by putting all but a small selection of my long-sleeved dresses into large shopping bags. Then out came all the Summer frocks, which I hung up until I ran out of hangers. There's still a bag of them left. They are mostly sleeveless ones which will gradually replace the long-sleeved dresses currently still in my wardrobe.

Can't wait to wear them all!

After that, I decided to call it a day, leaving the vacuuming of the bags of Winter dresses for another time.

And then there's my boots to be put away and my Summer shoes and sandals to get out!

Instead I just spent the rest of that day reading my current book!

It was a wrench to get out of bed and leave the safe bubble of Dove Cottage on Tuesday to go back to the office. And Wednesday day too! This working lark really is far too exhausting.

Adopting Sheila's maxim of using clothing as armour, I decided to wear full-on colour to make me feel better. And guess what: it worked!

This bright blue frock must be one of my most colourful, with its print of pink, green, yellow, orange and red flowers. Oh, and there's the odd pagoda tool!

Again, I opted for green accessories, from which I deviated by choosing a yellow belt.

The brooch which I pinned to my cardigan has a slightly oriental landscape on it in keeping with the pagodas on my dress.

Back in the safety of our garden after work, I spent some time bothering playing with Phoebe. I'm not sure if she likes it very much if we intrude on her domain!

We found the frog hidden beneath the ivy which was slowly but surely encroaching on our little pond. He used to make a "ribbit" sound when you walked past him, but alas he now refused to speak, not even after we change his batteries.

The Easter weekend had been sunny and warm, and now that our Lilac has gone, so has the shade it provided for our bench. Time to bring out our funky 1970s parasol. A family heirloom as it used to belong to my parents.

Look at Phoebe's alarmed face when I picked her up. We had to be quick, as she was squirming and complaining loudly.

So, for now, it is goodbye from me ... and goodbye from her! Phoebe says meow ... and stay safe!

Sunday 19 April 2020

Treasure hunting begins at home

Hello, it's me again, your lockdown reporter from that little scrap of a country called Belgium.

You might have noticed that I upped my posting frequency in these turbulent yet quiet times. Nevertheless, same as I was pre-lockdown, I'm still lagging behind a week or so, which is why I still have to tell you about what happened in our little bubble on Easter day.

But first things first! Let's have a look at what my wardrobe insisted I wore on this sunny Sunday.

What about some red, white and blue? Well, yes please! 

The blue was mostly provided by this vintage Lee Cooper denim wrap skirt, which was a gift from my friend Ingrid last Summer. As I had been unsuccessfully trawling the charity shops for the perfect denim skirt, it couldn't have come at a better moment. The skirt came from Think Twice, and although she initially bought it for herself, she decided it would have a better home with me! 

The red, white and blue vintage top was a Think Twice find as well, while the belt, bracelets, necklace and cat brooches were charity shop finds. As were the amazing vintage style shoes!

I admit it wasn't one of my best days and at first I was at a loose end on how to spend it.  

All around us, people seemed to be having family gatherings and picnics in crowded parks, which greatly added to my feeling of unease. How can people be so careless and have so little discipline? But I'm sure you haven't come here for a rant, so why don't I show you some of Dove Cottage's treasures instead? A word of warning though: not suitable for those with minimalist tendencies!

I have been mulling over this post for a while now, as I wanted to follow the example of my fabulous fellow bloggers Beate, Veronica, Fig and Monica, who recently posted about what's on their dressing tables.

The problem is that I don't have a dressing table as such, unless you count the side table in our bedroom, on which some of my stuff is displayed. A bit of a poor excuse for a dressing table, I know, but it'll have to do for now.

The table itself is a pine one which we picked up from a DIY store when we were doing up Dove Cottage all of 21 years ago. It originally lived in our dining room where its drawer - now a jumble of assorted bits and bobs - held our best cutlery.

The mirror is 1930s and was a charity shop find, and so was the semi-circular display cabinet, which holds a mix of small treasures, including some family heirlooms.

At first, my makeshift dressing table had oodles of space for displaying things but then one of our best finds ever threw a bit of a spanner in the works in  December 2018.

It was at our monthly indoor flea market that this small chest of wooden, glass-fronted drawers made my heart beat faster. It's the kind of cabinet which was once used to display sewing threads in  haberdashery shops, and which I had been lusting after for quite some time. Most of those we'd come across until then were eye-wateringly expensive, but this one was more than affordable as its top was cracked.

The perfect storage solution for my growing collection of brooches. Well, at least some of them!

You will have probably noticed the feet with their varnished toenails which are displayed on top of the cabinet. They too were a flea market find. Made of some kind of moulded plastic, they are advertising a bygone brand of shoes.

The clothes hanger with its crocheted jacket - another gift from Ingrid - is holding two pearl necklaces which used to belong to my great aunt Josephine, while the Bakelite hair dryer, obviously for display purposes only, was found in a vintage shop in Narberth, Pembrokeshire.

Presiding over it all is a glow-in-the-dark statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. She was a charity shop find, as were the wicker sewing baskets, which I seem to have a weakness for, the biggest one holding painted wooden bangles.

But there's more! 

The redundant fireplace in our bedroom has been turned into a little storage nook, where you can see more of my collection of wicker and plastic sewing baskets, all but one - the round one on the left is my actual sewing basket - roped in for holding necklaces, bangles as well as flower clips and corsages.

The shelf came from my parental home and used to be in my childhood bedroom, while the lacy border added to it was yet another flea market find.

The Mid-Century jewellery box on its spindly legs was bought from vintage shop in Belgium's west country while on holiday. I've covered it with a small charity shopped table cloth to hide its slightly damaged top. The trays inside hold my collection of vintage clip-on earrings, spare watch straps and my great aunt's bracelet, among other things.

The two jewellery trees and the book, Charles Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop, were charity shop finds, while the green tray and matching brush were found at a car boot sale in Cardigan. 

But there's still more to come!

Let's move across the landing to the spare room, which is the same size as our bedroom, and doubles as our study and library as well as my dressing room.

The main part of my necklaces lives here and is stored on another haberdashery shop display unit, this one originally holding zips. It came from a delightful vintage shop called Expo 58 in a town about one hour's drive from Dove Cottage.

The orange Better-Maid party dish is home to my rings, as is the treen box, which holds my more expensive fused glass ones.

The watch in its pink box is Betsey Johnson and was a gift from my ex-boss's wife.

And here is where the rest of my brooch collection is stored. The individual dark wooden drawers were given to us by one of Jos's friends, who originally used them to display his collection of coins.

The lamp, incorporating an uplighter and a reading lamp, is from the Swedish furniture shop, but we've replaced the uplighter's shade with an original 1930s glass one.

Turn around and you get a view of the mantelpiece at the other side of the room. The chimney breast is nicknamed the Wall of Heads, for obvious reasons. There's still about one third of space left if we go all the way up to the ceiling!

On the mantelpiece itself is my beloved Twiggy on the far left. She's usually wearing a hat but I took it off so that you can have a better look at her. She used to have a job displaying hats in a vintage shop, but I was able to buy her at a reasonable price when the shop closed down.

The pink glass vanity set was a gift from one of Jos's ex-colleagues, while the cat boxes are from Past Times, the same shop where we got Baby Gargoyle, who was featured in my previous post.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the dark wooden box on the right is a sewing box, but it isn't. It's a jewellery box and its shallow drawers currently hold my small collection of scarf rings picked up during my eternal search for vintage brooches.

The plaster lady displayed on top of it was a lucky find at a charity shop many years ago, and will always remain a favourite. We'd already paid for our purchases when I went back into the shop to make use of the toilet. On my way out, I found her sitting on top of a cabinet, so I had to queue at the till again, trying to convey to Jos in sign language what I was doing, as this was before we had mobile phones!

Here's the twin of my other party set, roped in for storing more bangles which, like the rings and necklaces, I tried to group by colour. 

That's mad Sybil lurking behind it. She's a hairdresser's model we found for € 0,50 in a charity shop. She's from the well-known hair and beauty brand Sibel, hence her name. And I guess I don't have to explain the mad part ...

Between the bangles and mad Sybil is a vintage hair brush and hand mirror set we bought at our charity shops' much maligned retro event back in 2016.

So, that was it. 

Back outside for a well-needed breath of fresh air and to show you a couple of details from my outfit, including the stitched Lee Cooper label on my skirt and my funky plastic ring.

I hope you'll join me again for the next episode, but in the meantime: stay safe, my dears!