Sunday 28 February 2021

Just what the doctor ordered

Birthday celebrations aren't everybody's cup of tea. Some people go all out year after year, having parties or at least a get-together with loved ones involving cake, perhaps, and oodles of presents, while others ... don't. Personally, I am in the latter category, preferring to treat it as just another day, especially when it falls on a weekday and I have to work, at most doing something with just the two of us.

Now, milestone birthdays are something else entirely. But what if they occur in pandemic times? And I'm not talking about my own birthday which, although a milestone one, will only be in September. 

No, this birthday in question belongs to my lovely blogging friend, Kezzie, who is celebrating her 40th birthday end of this month. And as her options are quite limited, she has asked us for assistance in organizing an online fancy dress party based on the characters of Dr. Who. She is a great fan of the series and engages in cosplay based on the iconic TV series on a weekly basis, published as TARDIS Tuesday on her blog.

Not knowing the first thing about Dr. Who, apart from the fact that it involves a time-travelling space ship called the TARDIS, a lot of head-scratching ensued from my side.  Turning to Kezzie's blog was therefore the obvious starting point and, as she often cosplays Clara Oswald, who was a companion of the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors, I thought I might as well have a look at her outfits. Thus Dr. Google was consulted and when my eye was caught by Clara wearing a tartan dress, I knew I could do something similar. It's from an episode called The Name of the Doctor.


Now my dress, which is vintage and has been in my wardrobe forever, isn't quite the same as Clara's. The colours of the tartan are different, it has a bow at its neckline, and it has long sleeves rather than short. Initially, it had a collar and cuffs which at one point must have been white but had slightly yellowed with age. When I removed them (one of the cuffs had a rather unsightly and persistent stain), I discovered that they weren't original to the dress anyway.

Like Clara, I wore the dress with a pair of black opaques and I added a chain necklace from my collection. Seeing Clara's rather covetable shoes, I racked my brain until I remembered this posh pair of Italian made vintage loafers, which were a lucky charity shop find back in October 2017.

Obviously, I'm not Clara's younger self, but a future Clara she meets on her travels with the doctor to a strange time when the world is in the grip of a pandemic, the virus having wiped out all hairdressers. Pure Science Fiction!

Happy Birthday, Kezzie!

Phew, I'm pretty exhausted by all that time travelling, so I think I'll stay here for a while, at the end of February's second week. 

We had reached Friday, the 12th of February by now, and we were still in the throws of our cold wave, the sub-zero temperatures now joined by a fierce and icy wind, with the brightly shining sun our only salvation. 

I had shunned my few remaining polo necks for many years, as the mere thought of wearing them made menopausal me break out in a sweat. But when I spied this green one in the bag of cold weather clothes living inside our linen chest, I decided to give it another go. 

The grey and pink floral velvet skirt was a charity shop find from the other week which apparently I forgot to tell you about. This was such a joy to wear!

I wore a pink tie-neck cardigan on top, accented my waist with one of my favourite zig-zag belts, and accessorized the polo neck with a pink seascape brooch and a 1960s style silver tone necklace.

Friday has replaced our pre-Covid Saturday charity shopping day, and that day, we visited not one but two shops, which yielded quite a few finds.

Pickings were meagre but still more than worthwhile in the first shop, where I found a scrap tote bag with bamboo covered handles, a pair of blush pink retro style shoes and a heavy carved bangle which is possibly Bakelite.

The two cardigans came from the second shop, the floral one being yet another King Louie one.

This is one of the smaller shops - but still bigger than the average UK charity shop by comparison - and can be a bit hit or miss. I can list lots of fabulous things found here over the year (the shoes I wore to cosplay Clara, and the Astrakhan jacket I'm wearing later in this post, are prime examples), but we often come away from the shop empty handed as well.

Their jewellery cabinet has more than once been the source of some lovely additions to my brooch collection. In fact, the majority of my charity shopped brooches were picked up here, so it's always worth having a look. This time, there were no less than four which tickled my fancy.

Isn't that green pearly fan adorable? I suspect that the tiny Queen's Guard wearing his bearskin hat must be a London souvenir brooch. Vintage souvenir brooches are a particular weakness of mine.

Our final find of the day was this gorgeous rug. We were on the lookout for one, never expecting to find something suitable so soon in our search. 

Initially it was meant for our spare room where, due to Phoebe's bladder problem about 7 years ago, our vet advised us to install a second litter box. With space at a premium, we managed to wedge it in a rather awkward space just beyond Jos's wardrobe. Now that we got rid of the box, we thought it would be nice to have a rug in front of the wardrobe. 

We had a change of plan when we got it home, however, replacing the rug in the dining area of our kitchen with this one and putting the old kitchen rag rug upstairs.

After a particularly frosty night, it was still -6°C when we were having our final fruit and yoghurt breakfast of the week on Saturday morning.

The sun was still out in full force, so we’d planned a walk for the afternoon.

The continued deep freeze temperatures prompted the wearing of yet another jumper, this time a blue vintage one which has three rows of ajour flowers caught between two rows of tiny red hearted daisies.

As I was planning to wear my butterscotch Astrakhan jacket for our walk, keeping my bottom half warm and toasty as well was a priority. So, out came this wool knit skirt with its gorgeous blue and green jacquard pattern, found at Think Twice back in November 2019.

Touches of burgundy were added in the form of my belt, necklace and beret. I was wearing 120 den bottle green opaques, on top of which I put on a pair of thick grey knee socks when we got ready for our walk.

At that time, I also replaced my furry waistcoat with a chunky knit cardigan and my ankle boots (with which I'm joining Beate's and Vix's sisterhood of the fake snakeskin ankle boots) with my hard-working snow boots.

Trying to avoid crowded places as much as possible, it isn't often that we go for a ramble during the weekends, as walking seems to have become a favourite national pastime during the pandemic.

However, as this would be our last chance of trampling through snow, we thought long and hard and decided to go to Jos's old stamping ground, the nature reserve established on the clay pit which was still very much a hive of activity when he was growing up.

Muddy and quite impassable after weeks of rain, the sticky mud was now blanketed with a generous layer of snow and most of the treacherous puddles were frozen solid. Still, toppled trees and half-sunken creek crossings did our best  - but did not succeed - to waylay us.

Again, we initially only met a handful of people, and were in fact quite surprised there were hardly any children adventurous enough to make use of the reserve's sledge-worthy inclines.

It was only on our way back that we met several small groups of people approaching us from the opposite direction. They were generally well behaved, even if it was yet again mostly up to us to step aside until they'd passed. 

The sun was a bright orb in an almost cloudless blue sky, casting a sparkling glow upon the carpet of rock solid snow.

Thaw set in, slowly but surely, on Sunday, when the mercury climbed to +5°C by mid-afternoon. Decidedly balmy after a week's worth of sub-zero temperatures, I was able to go out into the garden in just my dress without freezing to death.

My 1960s red and grey floral shift dress is lightweight and unlined, and thus required a full slip worn underneath.  I combined it with a pair of 120 den slate grey opaques, the grey echoed in my chunky wooden necklace. My oval floral brooch acted as a cameo pinned at my dress's collar.

The low-heeled tall red boots were a flea market find in October 2018.

That afternoon, we were in the mood for a spot of baking. Nothing to elaborate though, but a tried and tested recipe for what the booklet is calling a scone cake.

The original recipe features apples, orange zest and blackberries, although we replaced the latter by blueberries this time. In fact, you can use any soft fruit you fancy.

We were a bit lazy, so instead of making the dough by hand, we used the food processor we inherited from my Dad. In fact, it was only the second time we used it since we brought it home back in 2018, so the poor thing must have felt a bit neglected, and kept looking at us reproachfully from its perch at the end of our kitchen table cum worktop.

I'm not even sure my Dad ever made use of it, even though he had made quite a bit of an effort to get hold of one.

 After having had a newspaper subscription for many years, he was outraged by an ad in said paper offering the food processor to new subscribers for next to nothing. Dismayed, he phoned the newspaper and stated his case. He must have been very convincing, as they agreed to let him to make use of the offer. He was quite a character, my Dad!

We couldn't wait for the cake to cool down, and had a piece each almost straight from the oven!

We would be moving from harsh Winter conditions to temperatures reminiscent of early Summer in just a matter of days. But that, my dears, will be for a next post.

One thing is for sure, Spring is well and truly on its way. Do stay safe, sane and sensational!

Wednesday 24 February 2021

Snowblind and frost-bitten

Yes, I know I am late to the party, as every last trace of the Winter Wonderland we were treated to in the second week of February has long gone by now. In fact, Winter was replaced by Spring almost overnight in the last couple of days, the temperatures soaring to unheard of heights for the time of year.

Before the big meltdown, however, I'm taking you back to the deep freeze we found ourselves living in that week.

Saturday's snowfall was briefly interrupted on Sunday, but the sub-zero temperatures - we were down to -5°C and less in the daytime - had turned the carpet of snow into solid ice by Monday morning, transforming  streets and pavements into a giant ice skating rink.

Fortunately, most of our neighbours had done their snow clearing duties on Sunday, so that we managed to make it to the garage without sustaining injuries, and as all major roads had been gritted, driving into Antwerp wasn't the arduous journey we'd initially feared.

Powdery snow fell from a slate grey sky all through Monday, the sky matching my mood after the weekend's ordeal, but work was relentless and thus a blessing in disguise.

My heart leapt for joy when I drew the curtains to bright sunshine on Tuesday morning, even though she was no match for the -7°C the day had in store for us.

We had no plans for the day other than being gentle with our battered souls, so my first task after our usual fruit & yoghurt breakfast was a pleasurable one, picking out my outfit for the day.

A rummage through the linen chest unearthed this textured polyester dress which for lack of space was still languishing inside its out-of-season vacuum bag. 

Yet another € 2 Think Twice sales bargain, I fell in love with its groovy print of yellows and browns - once likened to a variety box of chocolates by Jos - which is joined by a solid brown collar and ditto cuffs and buttons. A brown round-buckled snakeskin patterned belt was added at my waist, and a vintage Scottie dog brooch pinned to the dress's bodice. Other accessories were a wood, plastic and metal beaded necklace, and a green crochet turban - a handmade gift from my friend Inneke - to keep my ears warm and my hair in check.

Further warmth was provided by a faux fur collared waistcoat (an ancient high street buy), burnt orange opaques and the chocolate brown boots which kick-started my recent luck at the charity shops in that department.

While Jos went to the newsagent's and replenished the bird feeders, I repaired a torn seam in the blouse I’d been wearing the previous week, did some light dusting in the hallway and marvelled at the sunlight streaming in through our spare room windows, casting a bird and curlicue pattern on Twiggy's face.

After lunch, the continuing sunshine lured us outside for a stroll through the local park. 

This was easier said than done, as it required adding layers.

I started by replacing the full slip I was wearing underneath the dress by one with a cozy flannel lining. When I was putting my dress back on, one of its buttons popped off and rolled under the linen chest where it hid in its dark depths.  Aided by a torch, we eventually managed to locate and retrieve it, so that I was able to sew it back in place.

I added a chunky cardigan on top, and replaced my 60 den opaques by a pair of fleece-lined ones Kezzie sent me a couple of years ago, putting an extra pair of socks on top before donning my snow boots.

The park is only a leisurely 10 minute stroll from Dove Cottage but might have taken just that little bit longer as some of the pavements weren't cleared and thus in a slippery state.

Without the aid of our walking sticks, which we keep in the boot of our car, we had to tread carefully, not just en route but also in the park itself, where we found that our best option was to stick to the carpet of snow instead of walking on the designated paths.

My Princess coat was joined by my woolly turban, still adorned with the flower corsage I pinned to it in January, a fluffy yellow eternity scarf and a pair of ochre leather gloves.

My new-to-me cross-body cork bag has already more than proved its worth, as it has been on constant rotation when out and about on non-office days ever since I brought it home about a month ago. It's just big enough for my purse, mask case, bottle of hand sanitizer and phone.

It was still bitterly cold on Wednesday, which was a reasonably quiet office day for once. There's nothing of note to tell you about it, except perhaps for the fact that the days are noticeable lengthening. While there was still a trace of lingering darkness in the sky when we left home that morning, we were able to drive home in broad daylight.

The sun was doing overtime that week, as she was still gracing us with her presence on Thursday, and would continue to do so for the rest of the week.

At the same time, there was still no sign of any improvement in temperature, so that my warmest Winter clothes continued to have their work cut out. 

I last wore this plaid woollen skirt for a rare meet-up with friends back in January. There are similarities too with the jumper I wore back then, although the embroidered flowers on this purple one aren't nearly as elaborate. Same as in the January outfit, I defined my waist by belting the jumper, the mauve fabric belt in question again belonging to one of my dresses. 

I'm sure the necklace with its crochet covered beads needs no further introduction, as I've been wearing it a lot lately.

My red knitted headband is fleece-lined and was an emergency purchase while on holiday in Zeeland in November 2019.

As Thursday had been heralded as one of the week's best days, we'd planned a longer walk in one of the ex-clay pit nature reserves in the area, Walenhoek, which is about 10 kilometers from where we live.

One of our old walking haunts, illegal fishing and subsequent barbecuing, and the inevitable littering which followed in their wake, had kept us away for many years. In fact, we only just started going there again last Summer, when we found things much improved.

The lake which we'd used as a backdrop for outfit photos back in July, with me wearing a sleeveless cotton Summer dress, was now frozen solid, as demonstrated by Jos on the top right. I fully admit that I wasn't brave enough to walk on water, not even for half a minute.

I'd swapped Tuesday's turban for a plain black one, which I wore on top of the fleece-lined headband. Instead of my leather gloves, I wore black knitted sleeveless ones, which made photography quite a bit easier.  

As the reserve is established on the site of an abandoned clay pit, there's the odd relic from the past hidden among the wilderness, poignant remnants from its working heyday. 

This industrial ruin, with its picturesquely peeling and rusty red door, is an old electricity cabin, a fact which is given away by its bilingual - French and Flemish - danger of death warning.

Initially we hardly met a soul apart from the odd dog walker or couple making the most of this gorgeously sunny day like we did. However, about half-way through our circuit, peace and quiet was disrupted by the arrival of a rather noisy group of children accompanied by their teacher, which made us flee along a path we'd never walked before. Here, the rutted clay was frozen solid which didn't make for easy walking, although I can imagine the mud reigning here at other times would be much worse and would probably have made us turn heel.

The track merged with one of the main paths skirting the domain. At one point, there is a tiny peninsula jutting into the largest of the lakes, with a very covetable bench set at its edge. We couldn't believe our luck when we found the bench empty for once - a first! - and what's more, as it was in full sunshine, it was completely dry.

We sat there for a good 15 minutes, basking in the sun's warmth and admiring the magnificent lakescape in front of us, the sunlight bouncing off the half frozen lake almost blinding us. And no, my feet didn't reach the ground, a fact which Jos seemed to find hilarious.

By now, I'm sure you've noticed the fabulous fur hat Jos was wearing. It was a gift from one of his former colleagues, who brought it back from China about 35 years ago. It's a trapper style hat with ear covering flaps that can be tied up on top. Isn't it wonderful?

With our reasonably mild winters, it has been many a year since it has last come out of hiding, and I don't think it has ever made it to my blog. 

After an hour or two we arrived back at the car park feeling refreshed in body and soul. 

There would be two more days of sub-zero temperatures in store for us, after which the mercury climbed rapidly, and thaw set in. But that will be for next time.

Until then, as always, I'm imploring you to stay safe, sane and fabulous!

Saturday 20 February 2021

Trouble in paradise

It's nothing short of a miracle that I actually got this post written and published - albeit with a day's delay - as its creation caused me blood, sweat and quite a lot of tears. The first week of February wasn't one I wanted to relive in a hurry. In normal circumstances - whatever they are - the week is punctuated by our wedding anniversary on the 4th. If we'd lamented the difference with last year's Silver Wedding celebrations spent roaming around Bruges, little did we know that worse was to come and that from now on the week would be forever marred by the loss of our fur-baby on the 6th.

So, what to do? I never had the intention of ignoring what happened, but at the same time, I didn't want it to be the post's main focus. After all, I already paid tribute to our girl in a previous post. Two weeks on, the pain is still there, but it's no longer heart-wrenching, scar tissue slowly but surely covering the fissures in our hearts.

In the end, I thought the best thing to do was to plunge right in, and see where that got me. 

Let's start with that Monday, which the calendar indicated was the 1st of February. 

Before driving off to the office, Jos told me he was a bit worried about Phoebe, as she hadn't eaten yet and seemed to be having a bit of an off-day. Nothing too unusual, as Her Grumpiness certainly did have her moods, so when Jos texted me mid-morning to tell me she had eaten a few morsels and had been for a foray into the garden, we put it down to one of those.

On Tuesday she seemed to be more or less back to her normal self, which was a relief, although she still wasn't eating very much, nor was she very active.

It was another damp and dismal day, at odds with the temperature which had once again crept up to about 10°C.

In order to add a bright spark to the day, my wardrobe decided that purples and pinks, with a generous dollop of orange, were on the menu.

A Think Twice € 2 sales bargain at the tail end of 2019, this pussy-bow frock won me over with its funky print, combining stripes and chevrons in various shades of purple and a dash of white with accent diamonds in pink and burnt orange. It was from the latter that I took my lead for my opaques and cardigan, to which I pinned an enamelled peacock feathers brooch.

The dress's pussy-bow was kept in check with a pink-hearted brooch. At my waist, a recently charity shopped wide purple leather belt with a gold-tone and leather buckle. My purple mohair beret and burgundy vintage boots came out to play at well, even if only to step out into the garden for the obligatory outfit photos.

Although I couldn't have told you off the top of my head, my journal insists I wasn't idle that day. Apparently, I washed a batch of face masks, dusted the upstairs rooms, cleaned Sunday’s dried mud off my snow boots and caught up with blogland. 

This still left some time to read a couple of pages in my latest book. Sarah Winman's debut novel, When God Was a Rabbit (2011) is a compelling read, beautifully written and at times quite funny. In spite of the worry of this week, I managed to laugh out loud more than once.

And then it was Thursday. Phoebe was still off her food, but as she didn't say no to tuna or treats, Jos called the vet who agreed it was a good idea to try and give her some regular cat food instead of the diet food she'd been living on for 7 years. We were relieved to see she devoured the seafood variety Jos brought back from the supermarket, polishing off most of the sachet over the course of the day.

It was a sunny day for once and as the temperature continued to be a mild-ish 10°C, I plucked this plum coloured midi dress from my wardrobe. Liberally printed with Paisley motifs and exotic blooms, it was bought brand new, snapped up in the January sales in 2019. Its fabric is a lightweight polyester blend, so it needed a three-quarter sleeve t-shirt layered underneath, as well as a cardigan worn on top.

Both the belt and the beret are old Think Twice finds, while the beaded necklace was charity shopped. The brooch was bought from the Brooch Lady at an antiques fair in the Autumn of 2017.

The Nordic style cardigan is H&M by way of a charity shop not all too long ago. It did come with a couple of issues, as I soon noticed a couple of loose stitches in its knit. And although I wasn't averse to its buttons, their dangling nature made the cardigan look all wonky when closed. This annoyed me no end, so my first job of the day was replacing them with flat ones from my stash of vintage buttons.

After lunch, we debated whether to go for a walk, but neither of us felt like it so, while Jos returned the car to the garage, I walked into the village, purchasing a couple of essentials at the drugstore.

My outerwear consisted of my green fur collared jacket and pink frilly scarf. My green wedge-heeled lace-up ankle boots made their maiden voyage. You can catch a glimpse of my bright pink ankle socks intentionally peeking out for contrast!

Back at home, I cleaned all the hairbrushes, and then proceeded to clean the two top shelves and their contents of the camera display cabinet, which lives in our hallway.

A daunting and fiddly task, so I left the two bottom shelves for another day. Due to circumstances, this day only came two weeks later ...

The folding cameras on display on the top shelves are the oldest in our collection, dating from the 1910s and 1920s. In fact, our collection was sparked by the one in the middle, which we found in an antiques shop in Bradford-on-Avon in 1996. 

The couple in the photograph are my maternal grandparents taken on their wedding day in 1934. When we were clearing the parental home, we came across the glass slide, meant for projection by magic lantern. Already having various prints of the photograph in my collection, I instantly recognized its subject matter, thus preventing it from ending up in the thrash. 

On the bottom right is a curiosity. The box reading Fanal Blitz contains sachets of "flash powder" which, when ignited, produced a bright flash that could be captured on film. Early photography wasn't without its perils!

The second shelf mainly contains so-called box cameras dating from the 1930s to the 1950s, from the very basic all-black boxes to the Kodak Brownie Model I, which was introduced in 1957 (below, left).

The "twin-lens" Brownie reflex on the right dates from the late 1940s.

That night, although she was eagerly awaiting them, Phoebe seemed to have problems eating her treats, which led us to suspect she might have an infected tooth or something similar. However, due to the fact that she was generally acting out of sorts, and that her belly seemed to be quite bloated, even if she was a bit chubby at the best of times, we had the niggling feeling that all was not well.

We called the vet first thing on Friday morning and an appointment was made for Saturday in the early afternoon. We'd both slept very badly that night, and I was in sore need of what Sheila is calling Clothing as Armour.

My recently charity shopped blue Tweed skirt was begging for an outing, and after a pleasurable rummage in my wardrobe - anything to put my mind off things - I opted for this black floral beauty of a blouse. It was yet another old Think Twice find and I have reason to suspect that it might have started life as a dress. 

I wore it on top of the skirt rather than tucked in, adding a squidgy, pale blue belt with a rectangular buckle at my waist.  A blue t-shirt was layered underneath, and I pinned a red floral fabric flower corsage among the meadow of blooms. A final accessory was added in the form of a red glass beaded necklace.

I wore a beret and opaques in different shades of blue. At my feet, the floral textured suede Tamaris ankle boots I found at Oxfam the other week.

Anything to put our minds off things so, after making sure that Phoebe was comfortable, we escaped the house for an hour or so, going for a wee rummage in our local charity shop.

The summer top is another King Louie find, while the candy striped finely knit dress is by posh Belgian label Caroline Biss. The dresses on their website retail at € 200 plus, so surely the € 6,50 I paid for it was money well spent.

My way to the till took me through the rail of coats and jackets. As I've got far too many of those already, I usually put my blinkers on, but I was nevertheless drawn to a flash of mustard yellow among all the boring neutrals.

Now, tell me, how would I have been able to withstand its double collar and sleeve cuffs? It's by Spanish brand Cortefiel and it has ... pockets!

For obvious reasons, no photos were taken on Saturday. When the time was there and we had to put Phoebe into her carrier, I just knew this was it.  Nevertheless, after Jos called me about 45 minutes later and we agreed on what had to be done, I howled like I've never done before in my life.

We just had to let the world know and we were both very touched by all the words of comfort, both from our real life and our virtual friends and acquaintances. 

It started snowing in the evening, carpeting our world with a comfort blanket of snow flakes.

We'd stayed up late on Saturday and even watched part 2 of The Pembrokeshire Murders which, surprisingly, was able to temporarily transport us away from our sorrows.

Waking up to a house which felt weirdly empty on Sunday morning was a bit of  a blow to the solar plexus, although we felt remarkably refreshed after a good night's sleep. 

Saturday's torrent of tears had dried up, leaving me sore-eyed, and phonecalls with both my sister and my friend and ex-colleague Kris did me the world of good.

It goes without saying that I got dressed up - Clothing as Armour, remember - and even managed not to look too sad in the outfit photos we made outside in the snow.

The eagle-eyed among you might recognize the dress, which I retrieved from the flea market boxes.

Admittedly, the black and white necklace I was wearing does disappear a bit among the dress's funky print. I wore cobalt blue opaques and a ditto long-line cardigan, to which I pinned a white knitted flower corsage. A burgundy woolly beret and, of course, my snow boots, completed my outfit.

And so we have come to the end of the week and it's with a sigh of relief that I'm typing these final words. So glad to have this over with!

I'll be back with a sunnier outlook in a couple of days. Do stay safe, sane and sensational!