Thursday 30 July 2020

But honey pie, you're not safe here

Life's quite a bundle of laughs here in Belgium at the moment! Due to a resurgence of Covid-19 cases, our National Security Council has ordered a drastic reduction of social contacts, shrinking the so-called bubble to just five per family unit for at least four weeks starting today. Shopping is now once again a solo activity and limited to 30 minutes and there are stricter rules for cafés and restaurants. These are just some I cherry picked for you, as I won't bore you with the complex do's and don'ts our country's Security Council have come up with.

But there's more! The Province of Antwerp, where I happen to live, and which has seen a huge increase of cases, is under stringent new restrictions, including mandatory face masks in public at all times and a 11:30 p.m. curfew.

It's not exactly lockdown - as many of us had feared - but as people are actively discouraged to visit Antwerp, it feels a bit as if we are pariahs right now. And all because people - the Covidiots as Goody so aptly calls them - have been acting quite irresponsibly.

OK, deep breaths. Breathe in, breathe out. And again.

Let's have a look at what I was wearing on Tuesday before last, when we were still somewhat blissfully unaware of what was around the corner.

First wearing of one of the skirts from the never-again charity shop we visited the week before. Originally from H&M, it has an elasticated waist with ties at the front. Quite contrary as I am, I tied them in the back, tucked in the ends and wore a red belt on top.

The red and white floral blouse is from the Belgian Wow To Go label, but charity shopped as well. And while I can't remember where the blue and white beaded necklace came from, I know exactly where I found the brooch with its embroidered posy of Gentians. It was part of a haul from a Carmarthen antique centre on a rainy June day in 2018.

The pale yellow Gador shoes were another charity shop find and only worn for the photos.

It was Belgium’s national holiday, 21 July, and we didn’t go anywhere, nor did we do very much at all.

After washing the face masks we'd been using that week, I thought I'd offer you a glimpse of part of my growing mask wardrobe. The one on the far right was handmade by Jos's daughter An - there's another one which is not photographed - while the rest were shop-bought.

Although the sun had decided to grace us with her presence for most of the day, it was a bit windy and chilly, only warming up towards the evening. 

Just in time for my daily watering session and plant inspection. Look at all that gorgeous pinkness and purpleness going on!

Some of my pottering that day included photographing a selection of brooches for Wednesday's Instagram post. For many months now, I have been treating my Instagram followers to weekly installments of my brooch collection. I might be doing a retrospective blog post for you one day.

Feeling a bit of a fraud for not participating in Kezzie's Bloggers Art Gallery that day, I photographed some of the art we have around the house - which I will be including in a future post - starting with some brooches, which I'm sure can be considered art in their own right.

On the left are two of my modest collection of intricately crafted micro-mosaic brooches. 

The Arts & Crafts brooch on the top right might be one of my oldest and most cherished, while the 1940s one on the bottom right was hand-painted on a piece of war-time fabric.

Swiftly skipping Wednesday's office day, the sun was out in full force on Thursday. With the thermostat cranked up to a sizzling 27° Celsius, we intended to enjoy the day to the full and spend it outside and away from home.

After Jos had returned from his hairdressers appointment and subsequent food shop, we made a couple of sandwiches, grabbed a soft drink, and returned to the water tower for an impromptu picnic.

As it was a clear day, we'd planned to climb the steps up to the viewing platform again for a glimpse of the Atomium in Brussels. Unfortunately, we found our plans thwarted by the arrival of a Dad and  his two children, who'd apparently had the same idea. Initially we decided to wait but we gave up in the end as they seemed to be staying up there forever.

Instead there's a quick glimpse of my short-sleeved cotton dress with its funky print of navy, green and lime triangles on a white background. I hadn't been wearing any rings for a while, but I thought my blue plastic flower ring went just perfect with the dress. As it's plastic, there was no need to remove it for hand washing each and every time.  I also added one of my collection of floral brooches.

Our picnic was followed by a quick dash to the nearby supermarket to get a couple of things our local shop had run out of. 

After dropping off our perishable purchases at home, we drove down to a nature reserve in Niel, a small town about 10 kilometers from where we live.

This tranquil wooded domain interspersed with picturesque ponds is another one which was established on some of the former clay pits the area is rich in.

We used to go there quite often until the reserve fell out of grace due to the many illegal fishermen who were often barbecuing their catches at the side of the ponds and leaving lots of litter in their wakes.

Now, peace and quiet reigned, and we only met a handful of people on our walk, most of whom were walking their dogs.

We meandered through the 60 hectare reserve, veering off the main path towards the first of the ponds which lies behind the ruins of one of the former brickwork buildings.

There's a fishing club to the left here, dotted with quiet-as-mice fisherman trying their luck.

Here, our walk continued along a narrow wooded path, until we came to yet another pond, its surface mirror-like perfection. 

Here it's easy, if not to forgot, then certainly to push our perils and predicaments to the backs of our minds for a handful of soul-resetting minutes.

And there were benches to rest our weary feet, or at least dangle them in my case, all with wonderful views to stop and stare at.

How can a Summer's day be so perfect and sad at the same time?

A relic of the past awaited us at the end of our walk, when we came across one of the little trains which were used to bring clay to the brickworks. Always ready to seize a photo opportunity, I'd climbed aboard and sat down in the little saddle seat before I could think.

It's a good thing we're all carrying hand sanitizer these days!

Do be careful out there, and stay safe, my friends!

Sunday 26 July 2020

Girl afraid

Hello there? How are you all doing?

Things are still going pear-shaped around here, as the number of infections continues to rise, and I'm back to limiting my news intake to the bare minimum in a bid to stay relatively sane.

Our sorry excuse for a federal government - a temporary emergency one, as they've been bumbling along trying to form a real one since the last general election over a year ago - has left any additional Covid-19 measurements to be taken into the hands of the local councils. As this largely depends on the severity of the local outbreak, as well as the often doubtful intelligence of those in charge, the result is that, for instance, where we live mask wearing is now required in the main shopping streets only, whereas in the village up the road you have to wear one the minute you step out of your front door.

And while on paper this might make perfect sense, in reality, chaos and confusion rule, creating even more of the latter in my already addled brain.

So, if you ask me how I am doing, I have to be honest and tell you that my head is all over the place and that like many of you I could do with some positive news for a change.

But let's have a look at what I've been up to since my last post! 

If everything else seemed to be falling to pieces, the weather did start to look up on Friday before last, even if the sky still insisted on being grey for part of the day.

My choice of outfit was based around this navy, green and white vintage dress. Charity shopped back in March 2018, I love how the skirt is cut on the bias, creating a chevron effect and contrasting with the vertical stripes on the bodice.

I added a green belt which used to belong to another dress, a green beaded necklace and a wooden hexagonal brooch, painted with a pair of cranes contemplating life at the waterside.

Phoebe was doing the same perched atop the plant barrel, supervising the flora and fauna in our garden. 

As Jos's weather app said it might rain, we decided to pay our local charity shop another visit. Situated on the edge of our small town, it was once again a haven of quiet and discipline, and now that mask wearing had become compulsory in shops, it felt even safer than before.

Browsing the clothing aisles, I even found some vintage in the form of the handmade blue floral short-sleeved blouse on the top left. The long-sleeved blouse is from retro label Zoë Loveborn, of which I already have various pieces in my wardrobe.

We then continued up the road to a garden centre-cum-decoration discount shop where we wandered through the outdoor plant section and were seduced by a pink Astilbe, intriguingly named 'Drum and Bass'. We also picked up some garden waste bags. The way to the checkout is through the indoor decoration part of the shop, where we found the green and blue bottles above, which have LED lights and were € 1 each. 

Back at home, we were discussing where to put the Astilbe, when Jos uttered his annoyance about the climbing Nasturtiums I'd sowed back in April. In all honesty, they were completely taking over the border in front of the bench and suffocating some of the other plants in the process. With much pain in my heart, I gave in and removed all but those growing along and up the wall at the other end.

This not only created space for the Astilbe, but also left quite a big gap. So, after lunch, we once again hopped in the car and drove to our usual garden centre, where we bought a variegated Heuchera, a late Summer flowering Anemone hupehensis ‘Hadspen Abundance’ and a Spring flowering Bergenia to keep the Astilbe company in its shady corner.

Noisy neighbours put us off planting them into the garden when we got home, so we decided to leave that for a quieter moment and retreated inside.

There, decluttering of the spare room continued with thoroughly going through the contents of the above drawer unit. Believe it or not, but this too is hidden away in the same corner previously shared by the carpet sweeper and the View-Masters! 

We hadn't looked into those drawers for years, and it turned out to be filled with lots of videos, DVDs and CDs, most of which we'd forgotten we had. We made a selection and filled a big bag for the charity shop with the rest. There was my Dad's video recorder, which we're keeping, and a lot of assorted cables, which were relocated to the basement.

The dolls house on top of the unit was brought back from the UK in 2007. It, as well as its contents which we'd collected over the years, came from various Sue Ryder charity shops.

I'll try to make some detailed photos of each room, which at the moment is difficult to do due to the poor light conditions in its current location. As you can see, it has proper working lights! Also note the ironing board in the bedroom. Not an ironing-shirking Polyester Princess living there, I'm sure!

Things were definitely warming up on Saturday, and we finally got to see some sunshine. It was also peacefully quiet outside, so I donned a sun hat, grabbed my trowel and garden gloves and, after clearing the intended area of any weeds and straggling ivy, I planted out our new acquisitions.

There's a close-up of the Heuchera leaves on the top right, while on the bottom left is Kalimeris 'Nana Blue', which I added to the Clematis border.

Here, the lavender Clematis is doing well and flowering profusely, while the first of the flower globes are opening in the Armeria 'Ballerina Red' (top right). The shaggy Monarda flowers (bottom right) continue attracting bees aplenty and, while our Astrantia's flowering is well and truly over, the straw like flowers are definitely keeping their appeal.

My gardening outfit consisted of a striped jumpsuit, a sales bargain from New Look, under which I layered a red top.  I added a red woven belt, a chunky multi-coloured beaded necklace and a vintage poppy brooch. Gardening done, I exchanged the ankle wellies I was initially wearing for my favourite red Clarks sling-backs.

We slept late on Sunday and woke up to a fairly cloudy day in spite of a sunny forecast.

After our fruit and yoghurt breakfast, we tried to find our get-up-and-go and eventually geared ourselves for a walk in park Den Brandt. This leafy park, based around a romantic castle which was renovated in the late classical style in the 1870s, is just around the corner from the famous Middelheim sculpture park.

Once we'd parked our car, we were joined by the sun. We entered through the adjacent picking garden, where we marvelled at the offerings made to the Gautam Buddha. He was a gift from the Ambassador of Nepal back in 2004, as a token of friendship between Nepal and Belgium.

We then skirted the main part of the domain, where people were sunbathing or doing group exercises on the gently undulating lawns. 

The beautiful marshy area which we found ourselves walking along was looking enchantingly wild and unkempt, and if it wasn't for the joggers who regularly crossed our path - and expecting us mere walkers to jump out of the way - we could have been in the middle of nowhere rather than at the edge of one of Belgium's largest cities.

We found peace and quiet on a green lane lined with benches - all of them empty! - where we had the sandwiches we'd brought.

Continuing on our way, we walked to the outer reaches of the park and then walked a path which climbed on top of a series of a series of bunkers, part of a complex built by the Germans in 1943 as headquarters for the Atlantikwall in Belgium.

We eventually arrived at the other side of the castle, part of which has been turned into a Grand Café.

Noticing an empty row of tables outside, we made a beeline for the central one, where we ordered cappuccinos from a properly masked waiter.

Apart from that, life seemed to be going its usual way here, and we thoroughly savoured the moment.

But of course life isn't going its usual way, far from it, and it's people who keep acting as though it is that are making this girl very afraid indeed.

Wednesday 22 July 2020

It never rains but it pours

Now that the sun has decided to stop playing hooky and the rain clouds have been put in the naughty corner for now, it is starting to feel a bit more like proper Summer. If the weather forecast is to be believed, however - and annoyingly, they are usually right when bad weather is around the corner - it won't last and there'll be more rain coming our way later this week.

Meanwhile, waking up to sunshine is a great mood booster, so I'd better make the most of it.

It was a totally different story on Tuesday's day off last week, when it rained on and off all day, only stopping now and again for a short breather.

In fact, the weather was so horrendous that we didn't get to take outfit photos in the garden as we're used to. But as - shock, horror! - I wore the same outfit to the office the next day, we remedied this by making use of our garage's "photo studio" after work.

I was wearing a pale blue Diolen dress with a trellis and roses print, a deadstock find at an outdoor flea market back in May 2018. It came with its own belt, but as usual I decided to replace it with a contrasting one from my stash, picking up the darker shade of the roses in the dress's print. I kept to the same ruby red colour for my necklace and cat brooch.

On my feet, my trusty pair of biscuit coloured ankle boots. OK, they are Summer boots, with decorative woven panels, but boots nonetheless, while by rights I should be wearing sandals this time of year. Most of the latter are still wasting away inside their boxes.

The navy jacket with its posies of tulips and lily of the valley are originally from Zara, but found in a charity shop in Welshpool last Summer.

But back to that grey and wet Tuesday! Briefly venturing into the garden between showers, I was delighted to see that, finally, the first of the buds in our long-suffering Hollyhock had burst into life. It's a pink Charter's Double (top left), and aren't those blowsy blooms magnificent?

On the bottom left is a close up of one of the flowers of our new Coreopsis, which is blooming away happily after we rescued it from the plant nursery the week before.

I was also pleased to notice that one by one, the pincushion-y flowers in our Scabiosa 'Barocca' (bottom right) were showing their pretty little faces. 

And speaking of faces, what do you think of these? They were watching us imploringly through the kitchen window, so I went outside to snap them and post them on Instagram. Angry flower fairies fed up with rain!

As it was clear by now that any gardening or other outdoor activities would have to be put on the back burner, I thought I'd make a start with a cleaning and decluttering session in our spare room.

This room, which doubles as a dressing room and study, is quite large at 4 by 4 metres and due its seemingly endless size has been used as a glorified dumping ground for anything we haven't got space for elsewhere. Seriously cluttered, it was time to bring some order to the chaos.

So, armed with cleaning cloths and polishes, which live in the large reproduction washing powder tin above, I made my way upstairs. 

The first thing that caught my eye was the antique wooden carpet sweeper which was gathering dust in a corner. A lucky find in a consignment store, it has been living with us for at least 15 years. It's a 1920's Ewbank Progress No. 3, although at the time of purchase Ewbank themselves, whom we emailed asking for information, wasn't able to date it accurately.

It was on display in a corner in our kitchen for many years but after it had to make way for a cabinet for our Boch dinner services, it was moved several times, eventually ending up in the spare room, where sadly it had to share its limelight with Phoebe's upstairs litter tray.

Feeling sorry for this magnificent piece of bygone household equipment, not to mention more than just a tad guilty at neglecting it, we brought it downstairs and gave it a thorough clean and polish.

With room in our kitchen still at a premium, it is now taking pride of place in our sitting room, where it is enjoying its retirement, as there are no carpets to sweep here!

Typically, Wednesday's office day was a dry and sunny one, and while I was slogging away at the office, Jos packed some sandwiches and enjoyed them at the water tower's picnic area. Lucky him!

I was adamant we do the same on Thursday, but as luck would have it, it was another dark and rainy day. I even dug out my burgundy ankle boots, which I'd put into hibernation at the end of May.

I was wearing a layering t-shirt under my gauzy peacock feather print pussy bow blouse, found at our local flea market. I added an iridescent peacock feather brooch, charity shopped in Llangollen last Summer, to keep it company.

The skirt, whose blue swirls linked with the blue in my blouse, was a Think Twice find. More blues appeared in the belt buckle and beaded necklace.

The garden was looking a bit drowned with all that rain, so wouldn't require any watering that day.

Instead, we thought we'd try out another charity shop, a large two-floored one on the outskirts of the nearby town of Mechelen. 

Big mistake! First we ended up in a queue on the way up, were then seriously thwarted by the heavy traffic on the industrial estate the shop is situated on and, when we'd finally found a parking space and were waiting for a sanitized trolley, I had to admonish the man behind me who was coming too close for my liking.

And although it wasn't overly busy in the shop itself, the confusing layout was seriously putting us off.  It was slightly better in the clothing department on the second floor, but then there was a man with a coughing fit, so we beat a hasty retreat. 

I still managed to find two shirts and two skirts, but we've definitely scrapped this particular shop from our list for now.

Feeling more than just a bit disgruntled, we returned home where we decided to continue with project spare room.

Hidden away in the same corner as the carpet sweeper was an old IKEA CD storage unit, which we were using to display our collection of View-Masters, most of which we picked up at charity shops and flea markets over the years.

Perfect to fill the gap between the pine cabinet and our vintage radiogram doubling as a TV stand, we moved it to the sitting room where its contents will finally get the attention they deserve.

Jos's 1950s Bakelite model E View-Master, still in its original box, is on the left, while next to it, you can see the same model with a battery operated light attachment, enabling you to watch your viewmaster reels without having to take into account your environment's light conditions.

The View-Master Model C, which came in both brown and black Bakelite,was produced between 1946 and 1955 and was the first viewer to have a slot into which the reels were placed for viewing.

The older models opened up like a clam shell and I expect they are quite rare.

On the top right is Model F, a lighted viewer which was produced between 1959 and 1966 and the the last of the View-Masters to be made from Bakelite. 

Bottom right and top left is a Lourdes souvenir viewer still in its original box and, finally, on the bottom right, you can see my very own childhood viewer. The Model G was produced between 1959 and 1977, and was made from a lightweight plastic. Although it came in many different colours over the years, mine was the original boring beige. The reels are also my original childhood ones.

Sitting on top of the CD unit is a boxed View-Master projector, the Sawyers Deluxe - the envy of many at the time - dating from the late 1950s, early 1960s.

Found at a charity shop retro event, we had quite forgotten that the box still contained a spare bulb as well as some sets of reels, including one about Antwerp.

As we haven't finished decluttering in a long time, who knows what treasures will see the light of day.

I hope to see you again for my next episodes of adventures in a couple of days.

As always, do stay safe and fabulous!

Sunday 19 July 2020

Reflections of Summer

Just like the weather these days, my mood is like a yo-yo, up one minute and down the next. My mind keeps scrambling around for bite-sized chunks of positivity to hold on to, little nuggets of gold to obscure the black thoughts hiding in its dusty corners.

I had been doing so well, congratulating myself with how I was dealing with the stress caused by the pandemic and its implications. After the initial weeks, I seemed to be taking it all in my stride, relishing the unprecedented amount of time on my hands. Keeping my news intake to the bare necessities and avoiding negativity like the plague. Or, more aptly, the virus!

And then, oh joy, we reached a plateau here in Belgium. Infections were going down day by day, and rules were relaxed left, right and centre. If initially I was skeptical about the latter, after a few weeks I was more than ready to admit I'd been wrong to have my doubts. Lately though, it seems I was right after all. For the past two weeks or so, cases in Belgium have been steadily going up again, and while my I-told-you so's are neither here nor there, I do despair at some people's selfishness and stupidity.

My overall mood on Friday before last matched the greyness of the morning, and it was clear that some serious colour therapy was in order to get the day off to a reasonable start.

At first sight, you might be forgiven for thinking that I'm wearing one of my trademark flower infused dresses, but looking closely you will notice it is actually a short-sleeved skirt suit. Another one of my Diolen delights, it was a last chance buy at Vintage Styling before they closed down. It had become a tiny bit too tight over the years, so I was delighted to find that both the A-line skirt and the jacket with its little peplum were once again a perfect fit.

I wore an orange long-sleeved t-shirt underneath and accessorized with a tan belt, a multi-coloured and textured beaded necklace and a green squirrel brooch.

Although it remained mercifully dry all day, the sun only managed to put in an appearance by early evening, just in time for my daily watering session. 

The plants on the new tables are a joy to behold and include Coreopsis 'Baby Gold', which is the one with the single yellow flower. Rescued from the plant nursery the day before, it seems to be feeling quite at home, as many more of its flower buds have burst into bloom at the time of writing.

After breakfast that morning, we decided to try out another one of the charity shops which we deemed safe to visit. Again, social distancing was generally adhered to, although there were quite a few people not wearing a mask. Oh well, this would be a thing of the past from the next day onwards, when masks would become compulsory in shops.

I found a green lined woollen jacket with my name on it. From posh French brand 1-2-3, it would have retailed at well over € 150, so its € 6 price tag wasn't too bad.

I'd been craving a Breton style top, so I was happy to come across this bright blue one. And I've always got space for a funky print shirt in my wardrobe.

We woke up to sunshine for a change on Saturday. Sunshine and clouds kept playing a game throughout the day, however, with the odd bit of rain thrown in, while the mercury climbed to a warmish 21° Celsius.

The dress had its lining peeking out from under the hem, so I shortened it back at the tail end of May in readiness for imminent wear. But then the weather changed, and the days turned into weeks, and in the end I hung it back in my wardrobe.

It was a charity shop find in the depths of Winter a couple of years ago, and has been making regular Summer appearances ever since. In cheerful yellow, I picked the bright blue from its print for my cardigan and necklace. To the cardigan, I pinned a gold-tone leaf with a row of tiny turquoise beads.

The blue skinny belt came with the vintage Trevira skirt I charity shopped last week, and which I will be wearing later in this post.

After a breakfast of omelettes with bacon and mushrooms, we went into the garden to plant out everything we'd bought on Thursday, adding several plants to the Clematis border and elsewhere.

Clockwise from top left are some of our new arrivals, including Sea Holly (Eryngium), Stokesia, Malva and a peach coloured Achillea. A week on, and all are doing well, even though the Achillea has some slight slug damage.  

I also planted Potentilla 'Miss Willmott' in the rock garden, next to the abundantly flowering Gaillardia. It is the plant in front of the stone sun ornament and will have saucer-like pink flowers in late Summer.

In the meantime, Jos picked a whole colander (just under 1 kg) of white currants and made another batch of jam. It started clouding over and drizzling while he was sitting outside painstakingly removing the stalks and had only just finished in time before the precipitation developed into a full-blown shower.

A bout of cabin fever made us venture outside Dove Cottage's confines on Sunday morning. 

It was sunny with the odd patch of puffy clouds and forecasted highs in the low twenties. The perfect weather, in fact, for a stroll through one of Antwerp's most enchanting parks, which effortlessly combines art and nature: Middelheim.

If you ever find yourself in Antwerp, this certainly is a must-visit, as it is not just your run-of-the-mill park, but incorporates an open air museum of sculpture.

As it's only a 15-minute or so drive for us, we visit it regularly throughout the year, so those of you who have been following my blog for a while might remember some of my previous posts about this amazing park.

This time, we approached the park from the eastern entrance, where one of the first sights that greet you, after the iconic entrance itself (see here), is what looks like a building under construction, but is actually another work of art, The Passage of the Hours, by Portuguese artist Pedro Cabrita Reis.

One of its unfinished brick walls was perfect for showing you my outfit, which was built around the vintage Trevira skirt I found at a charity shop earlier that week.

Except for the shoes - my trusted Clarks Cloudsteppers - the belt, and perhaps the flower corsage pinned to my jacket, all other elements of my outfit were second hand, and either charity shop or flea market finds.

Strange as it may sound, no sooner had we entered the park itself than we started walking into the direction of the exit. Not because we'd changed our minds, I'll have you know, we just wanted to explore a part of the park which lies on the other side of the road. 

This area is called Middelheim-Laag (or Low) and constitutes the northern part of the park.

Exiting via the main entrance we crossed the leafy lane separating the two halves and entered alongside of the charming little kiosk on the top left, which goes under the romantic name of Aubette.

From there, we followed a winding lane towards and around a glimmering pool, into a part of the park where works of art seem to play tricks with your mind.

We sat down on a bench near the formal Hortiflora garden, which used to be part of the neighbouring Nachtegalen Park (Nightingale Park) and was incorporated into the Middelheim museum in 2012.

Note to self: bring trowel on your next visit and come at a quiet time to dig up one of the elusive Kniphofias!

While we were having a breather on that bench, we could hear strange sounds emanating from the open-plan exhibition pavillion to our left. 

Closer investigation revealed that this was a work of art called Birdcalls by artist Louise Lawler. In this work, the names of twenty-nine well-known artists have been sounded out into bird calls. Using her own voice, Lawler has transformed each artist’s first and last name into nuanced bird calls, ranging from a shrill squawk to a manic chatter. Very disconcerting, especially when you were standing inside the pavillion.

From here, we walked back to the other side of the park which we crossed once again to rejoin our car. 

There were several of these benches (top right), each requiring a different number of steps to take. Jos tried one out, and it's certainly not as easy as it looks.

But then again, hardly anything is what it seems these days.