Sunday 31 October 2021

A tiny slice of normal life

Although the month of October certainly had its fair share of sunny days, the weather gods weren't averse to sending solid grey skies and rainy all-dayers our way. 

Case in point was this very weekend, when daylight was sparse and the rain kept coming down in buckets.

Seeing me posed here against the white brick wall, you'd be forgiven for thinking that we were once again reduced to taking outfit photos in our garage, if it weren't for the sizeable amount of Autumn leaves gathered at my feet.

It was Saturday, the 16th of October - aargh, that's two weeks ago already! - and in continuation of my previous post, which ended on the Friday, I still had to tell you all about what we'd been up to during the rest of that weekend.

For starters, it wasn't one of those rainy days which kept us hostage at home. On the contrary, it was an utterly gorgeous one, the minor clouds we'd woken up to soon dispersing and leaving a bright sunny day in their wake. 

We only got highs of about 15°C, though, so dressing up warmly for our intended walk was a necessity.

My plaid jacket in delicious Autumnal hues was a Think Twice find in February 2018. It's belted quite low on the hips and the belt loops are hidden under the pocket flaps. which for once aren't just purely decorative, they are actual pockets!

To further combat the chill, I wore a burnt orange, flower appliquéd crushed velvet scarf and an orange beret, both of which were old charity shop finds.

As we realized we hadn't been there since June, our walk took us to our beloved Middelheim Sculpture Park, where the emerging Autumn colours and its unmistakable scents added an extra dimension to the works of art on display.

If the seasonal sensory delights were making me feel quite giddy and - if only mentally - jump for joy, I was in good company. The Mad Maiden (or in Flemish, Het Zotte Geweld) by Belgian artist Rik Wouters, has been dancing her giddy dance since 1912. Modelled by his wife Nel, the inspiration for this sculpture was a performance by the American dancer, Isadora Duncan.

In spite of this being a sunny Saturday, there weren't all too many people about, so that we could wander and meander at will and have some close encounters with the art. We never pass up the opportunity to contemplate Antony Gormley's Firmament III (top and bottom left), which - and I'm quoting the museum guide here - offers a constant invitation to visitors to think about our place in the bigger order of things. 

Dotted around the park are silver and gold painted chairs for visitors to use at will. We marvelled at the artfully displayed Autumn leave on this particular one, wondering if nature did have a helping hand here.

Having visited the park countless times before - after all, it is a mere 15 minute drive from Dove Cottage - it is only natural that some of the sculptures have become like old friends. There's the enigmatic Tempest (1956) by Italian sculptor Carmelo Coppello (bottom left), which has featured a number of times on my blog. But however many times we roam the park's paths, there's always a sculpture that has previously escaped our attention. By Giacomo Manzù, also Italian, and dating from the same period, the sculpture on the top left and right is called She-Skater (1957).

Regular readers might by now have deducted the origin of the white brick wall. Indeed, it belongs to the park's Organic Brutalist exhibition space, the stunning Braem Pavillion, designed by architect Renaat Braem and completed in 1971.

With no exhibition taking place inside, there was no access to the pavillion. At the same time, the absence of people coming and going created the perfect opportunity to show you what I was wearing underneath that jacket!

My long-sleeved cobalt blue dress with its striking  Art Deco style print is modern, a King Louie found at Oxfam back in June. 

For its first wearing, I accessorized it with a sage green plastic woven belt, a pink butterfly brooch, a red perspex ring and a recently charity shopped necklace in shades of red and brown.

My outfit was completed by a pair of burgundy opaques and my chocolate brown walking boots.

From the Braem Pavillion we made our way to another old favourite, the polished metal column (bottom left) by Belgian artist Felix Roulin (1975), its endless reflecting possibilities never failing to intrigue us. On the bottom right you can see its proximity to the pavillion.

Crossing the Bridge Without a Name by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, we paid a visit to the mad professor, a.k.a. Professeur (1969) by Hungarian sculpture Imre Varga (top right and bottom left).

From here, we had an excellent view of the museum café, noting with delight that there were a handful of empty tables, a most unusual sight on a sunny weekend afternoon.

Our cappuccinos and shared pieces of apple cake and brownie have seldomly tasted this good as it almost felt like normal times again.

On our way back to the car, we took a different route and passed this installation representing the house of a traditional Congolese chieftain.

The Mokonzi’s house by the KinAct Collective (founded in Kinshasa in 2015) is built from the waste that the West dumps in Africa. This refers to the colonists who visited the chieftains in their homes bringing gifts (mirrors, alcohol or guns) in exchange for the rights to their land. Just as the waste today is toxic to people and the environment, the gifts offered then were also poisoned, and it's KinAct's intentions to re-enact the exchange.

After this life-affirming Saturday, Sunday could have been quite a letdown. Except that it wasn't.

In fact, we were up early and eager to go. Go where, you might wonder, but I'll keep you in suspense just that little bit longer to show you what I was wearing.

With green being my favourite colour, choosing this dress for this momentous occasion was actually a no-brainer. Indeed, few of my dresses even come close to this glorious 1970s does 1940s one with its blowsy flower pattern.

I added more flowers by way of my brooch, and paid tribute to the pattern's colours by adding a tan leather belt, orange beaded necklace and blue ring and opaques. Finally, I added easy flat-heeled ankle boots into the equation as we had a lot of ground to cover. 

After a 19-month hiatus due to you-know-what, it was finally time for our favourite monthly indoor flea market to start up again. Apart from the obvious reason for this period of drought, for the last six months or so the venue had been roped in as a vaccination centre, which finally closed its doors and moved to smaller premises end of September.

Going back after all this time felt simultaneously strange and familiar. It was as if my eyes couldn't focus faced with stall after stall of possible treasures, and I have to admit that it took some time to get into my stride. 

I told Jos I would only be persuaded to buy things which made my heart beat faster, and it most definitely did when I spotted this vintage Lloyd Loom style cabinet. It was our final find, but as we had two more aisles to go, we paid for it and asked the stallholder to put it aside until we were done.

The cabinet now graces our hallway, where it is roped in to hold shopping bags, Jos's man bag and a couple of folding umbrellas. As you can see, it has been Bess-approved!

Our first buy was the pale green Art Deco alarm clock, made in some kind of early plastic, which we were happy to find is still in full working order.

The tiles were € 1 each and although we haven't figured out what we'll do with them, we spent € 6 on the lot, including 3 slightly damaged ones which the seller - a lovely 80+ year old lady - threw in for free.

I was very restrained and only bought one brooch. Not just any old brooch though, this one consists of  a hand-painted basket of flowers contained within a galalithe frame.

I was tempted by others, obviously, but wasn't prepared to pay the often exorbitant asking prices.

All in all, not bad at all for our first foray into flea marketing ...

That's it from me for now, but I can't possibly leave without a Bess update, can I?

Remember her fascination with the kitchen tap? Well, some googling revealed the existence of a tap-shaped drinking fountain and, what's more, I found out that the wonderful Katshop, which is just a stone's throw from my office, was selling them. 

Guess what I did during Monday's lunchbreak and guess who's now got her very own perpetual tap?

Here lives a very spoiled cat indeed!

Tuesday 26 October 2021

Autumn's languid sun and rain

After Friday's and Saturday's outdoor pursuits, we were ready for a day spent at home on Sunday the 10th of October. The weather forecast being inconclusive as to whether there'd be rain or shine, we made no other plans than indulging in some pottering (me) and lazing around (Jos and Bess).

In fact, I was quite productive in spite of the siren call of the sofa! Not only did I crack on with the seemingly never-ending wardrobe changeover, swapping my Summer skirts for Autumnal ones, I did some minor repairs as well, and even engaged in that seldom seen activity at Dove Cottage, giving some wrinkled items of clothing a once-over with the iron!

Meanwhile, after another foggy start, we were treated to some sunny spells, which we made the most of by taking outfit photos.

It was love a first glance for this dress, which I spotted at Think Twice in October 2019 when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the shop assistant put in on the rails. I made a beeline for it and, without even looking at its size, hurried to the fitting rooms to try it on. Two years on, and I'm still in love with its funky black and white pattern and rows of orange and green hexagons  Doesn't my recently charity shopped necklace match it brilliantly?

Other accessories included my snake print belt (cheeky retail buy) and my moose brooch. The latter was a charity shop find, as were the green cardigan and my Mephisto ankle boots, which turned out to be the epitome of comfort, even if I only wore them briefly that day.

'Tis the season of the spider and the garden is draped with their cleverly disguised webs. 

You have to admire the tenacity of some of these eight-legged creatures, having to rebuild their exquisitely executed death traps again and again as I inadvertently cause damage by walking into them. But then again, they're often not the brightest sparks in the box suspending them across the garden path in the first place!

The indestructible Nasturtiums aside, you've got to admire the tenacity of some of our other plants as well, as against all odds they keep on producing bloom after bloom. I'm the first to admit they've been somewhat neglected lately. In the wake of our September holiday, both the Mimulus and the Snapdragons (top and bottom left respectively) were found to be barely alive upon our return, but seem to have benefited from a drastic haircut. Even last year's Toad Lily was kind enough to regale us with the odd speckled flower!

The Cotoneaster bush is draped with candyfloss cobwebs which sparkle with dew drops on misty mornings. The red berries are a treat for visiting blackbirds, which unfortunately have become a rare sight in the last couple of  years. Apparently, their numbers have been decimated by a deadly virus ...

No social distancing, mask mandates or vaccines for the likes of them!

Monday was the start of another run of the mill working week, busy office days alternating with quiet ones which I thankfully made use of to catch up with things.

For some reason, my pre-Covid get-up-and-go is still missing in action and I've got a niggling feeling that it might have gotten irrevocably lost. I'm so glad of my 4-day working weeks, which I'll be able to stretch until the end of the year at the very least, but sometimes even getting through those 4 days can be a bit of a struggle.

The seemingly never-ending string of grey and rainy days, with the odd sunny spell thrown in for good measure, haven't been exactly helpful either, even if the 14 to 16°C indicated by the mercury wasn't all too bad for this time of year.

Thankful for the ray of sunshine making its way through our garage's skylight, we made use of its white painted brick wall for taking outfit photos one day after work. Soon it'll be too dark and it'll be quits to after-work photo sessions until Spring.

My burgundy Merry Finn dress came out to play! Featuring tiny pink squares and a pink and off-white floral border at the collar, hem and breast pocket, it is fully lined and I always forget it has side pockets as well.

I used oodles of turquoise for my cardigan and accessories, which included the cutest of squirrel brooches.

Talking of cuteness, if dressing up is one of the bright spots of my days, coming home to the cutest of furry creatures definitely is another. She's been living with us for almost eight months now and it never ceases to amaze us how she's grown from a scared scrap of a thing into this confident, playful and affectionate feline. She's got us wrapped around her cuddly little paws, that's for certain!

Just like every cloud has got its silver lining, every working week is followed by a gold-framed weekend, which in my case already starts on Friday. We had lots of lovely things to look forward to in this particular one, too much, in fact, to be covered in this post.

Let's begin at the beginning! Friday the 15th of October started granite-skied and rainy, with a distinct lack of sunshine until mid-afternoon. 

Its moderate 15°C allowed me to wear another one of my short-sleeved knit dresses, this one in a gorgeous bottle green sprinkled with hundreds-and-thousands in a multitude of colours.

I provided my own sunshine by layering my recently charity shopped yellow Breton top underneath, its colour matched by my opaques. I'd quite forgotten the existence of this caramel coloured suede belt which had been hiding at the bottom of a box. The green and caramel beaded necklace was another charity shop find, while my faceted chocolate brown ring was an old retail buy. The brooch with its green-turbaned lady was picked up from our beloved indoor flea market.

First wearing outside the house for my green Mephisto boots, which felt like I was walking on air!

The teal new wool vintage coat is one of my favourites, as are my caramel hued scarf and beret. All items have been featured here many times before.

One of October's delights is the yearly Day of the Charity Shops here in Belgium. Basically, this means the shops are selling all their hoarded vintage stuff, or indeed anything with a bit of a retro look, usually at seriously inflated prices. Nevertheless, there are still bargains to be had, so it's always worth having a look.

This year, in order to spread the inevitable crowds, it was a three-day event, running from Thursday to Saturday, so we bit the bullet and went for a rummage on Friday.

The rail of vintage clothing was rather meagre, but I still managed to find a couple of treasures. 

The green and blue checked dress - bottom left and right - is a polyester knit, and might make a layered-up appearance before it goes into hibernation until next Spring. The sage green rose patterned one with its long pointy collar is from a retro label and with its lightweight fabric is expected to make its debut next Summer.

I fell hard for the funky pattern of this green, orange and white Crimplene dress and the cream based skirt with its navy, red and orange leaf-like pattern, both of which are label-less and probably some clever girl's handiwork back in the day.

I gasped when I laid eyes on this red Betty Barclay maxi dress with its blue, yellow and off-white flower pattern. How fabulous are those wide cuffs closing with a row of four self-fabric buttons?

The blue faux leather studded clothes hanger came home with me too. I've already got its yellow, red and green sisters, and although they are not being used in my wardrobe, they are just perfect for displaying and photographing my latest finds on Angelica's days off!

That's it for now. More weekend adventures will follow in my next post.

We're in a bit of a pickle here in Belgium at the moment as we are supposedly heading towards a 4th wave of infections. It's hard not to be down in the dumps about it all, but then I'm thinking of this sign displayed in Talbot House's entrance hall, a replica of which is now on display here at Dove Cottage.

If those doomed WWI soldiers could find a ray of optimism, then I'll damn well find one too!

* Post title taken from Christina Rossetti's poem My October Garden:

In my Autumn garden I was fain
To mourn among my scattered roses;
Alas for that last rosebud which uncloses
To Autumn's languid sun and rain
When all the world is on the wane!

Thursday 21 October 2021

Oh foggy days

The day we woke up to on the 8th of October was wearing a veil of fog so dense that we felt as if marooned in a cocoon of cotton wool.

The weather forecast kept insisting it would clear up later, but for now the sun was having a hell of a time making herself noticed.

It was Friday, which could only mean one thing. Yes, we were more than ready for a spot of rummaging after a week's abstinence. We even went the extra mile and visited the charity shop on the industrial estate in Mechelen. One of our regular haunts in the Before Times (thank you, Sheila!), it had somewhat fallen from grace after our first post-Lockdown I visit last year. In fact, this was only our third visit in well over 18 months.

I will let you have a peek at my finds in a minute. But first things first, as the sun had finally managed to pierce through the layer of fog just as we'd reached our second shop, which was the one near the park where, weather permitting, we usually end up going for a stroll.

By the time we'd parked our car, a glorious Autumn day was about to be be unveiled, so we grabbed our camera - and the waffles we'd had the forethought to bring - and set forth.

The eagle-eyed among you might have already spotted that I was wearing the cord skirt I couldn't resist buying in a high street shop a couple of days earlier. I might not be averse to a spot of pattern mixing - surely that's the understatement of the century! - but sometimes I'm craving the blank canvas of a solid. Here, I even went a step further by going for neutrals!

The trees edging the park's ponds were silhouetted against a thin blanket of lingering, gossamer fog, diffusing the light and confusing eye and camera lens alike.

With the sun effortlessly warming things up to a balmy 18°C, it was no hardship to remove my Tweed jacket to reveal what I was wearing underneath.

My teal blouse, with its funky orange, yellow, turquoise and white pattern, serendipitously has its origins in the same shop as the skirt it accompanied, although it came to me by way of a flea market. 

I added a turquoise textured leather belt to accentuate my waist and accessorized with a red glass beaded necklace and a brown and gold plastic ring. The brooch with its faux-tortoiseshell frame is a much-worn favourite.

Blue was my choice for the first opaques of the season, while the ankle boots, which have seen better days, were perfect for trudging through wet grass!

By the time we'd enjoyed our waffles while contemplating the world on a sun-warmed bench, the fog had packed up and left, leaving a bright blue sky in its wake. 

Our Vitamin D levels satisfactorily restored after our circuit of the park, we returned to our car and drove home, where Bess was waiting impatiently for her lunchtime bowl of food.

Before I proceed, I'm treating you to a closer look at my vintage belted Tweed jacket, which is always a joy to rediscover in Autumn! As is the frothy turquoise scarf, which is just right to combat those Autumnal chills. 

And now, without further ado, here are that week's charity shop finds!

An ochre yellow Breton top was still missing in my wardrobe, and so was a purple jumper, so both could be ticked off from my mental list. 

Then the long-sleeved top in the middle, with its funky Autumnal pattern, caught my eye, as did the two beaded necklaces. 

The raffia bag was a snip at € 0,50, while the moss green ankle boots with their sturdy soles set me back € 6. They are Mephisto and would easily have retailed for about € 190. 

Saturday's weather could have been a carbon copy of Friday's, although the morning fog was less persistent, with the sun having already managed to magic away most of it by the time we were having breakfast.

Wanting to make the most of what looked set to be a glorious Autumn day, we slapped together a couple of sandwiches and programmed our Satnav to take us to one of our favourite nature reserves, the enchanting Blaasveldbroek.

A light fog was still clinging to the edges of this watery paradise, the landscape illuminated by dazzling sunshine and meeting its mirror image in the ponds.

Standing on the jetty, silhouetted against the brightness of the sunlit pond, making outfit photos was quite a balancing act. In fact, making use of our camera's flash turned out to be the only option.

Coordinating with the season, I was wearing browns, both my skirt and blouse vintage wardrobe stalwarts picked up at Think Twice. The skirt in particular is an old favourite, making its first appearance on my blog in its first month.

The tangerine necklace was a charity shop find - as was the pink cardigan you can just catch a glimpse of in the below photo - while the orange stretchy belt and the flower corsage are old retails buys.

'Tis the season of the Tweed jacket, so I'm wearing another one from my collection. This one features some funky embroidery on one side only.

Brilliant shafts of sunlight were acting as spotlights to guide us along the woodland path.

Once we emerged from under the trees, we walked between reed-lined ponds until we came across the most inviting sunlounger.

The perfect place to worship the Autumn sunshine and perhaps indulge in a little shut-eye. Zzz!

Walking as a pastime seems to have taken a backseat ever since Covid regulations have been relaxed. We only met a handful of people and at times it felt as if we had the place completely to ourselves, and we were quite appreciative of these rare moments of solitude.

We made time to enjoy the spoils of Autumn, the turning leaves, the graceful seed heads and the delicately sculpted flowers of the alas highly invasive Himalayan balsam. 

The crooked tree on the bottom right always makes me reach for my camera and it must have featured on my blog in all its seasonal guises. It tugs at my heartstrings, this solitary tree and its efforts to reach the sky, somehow evoking an unexplained nostalgia. 

It was time for lunch by the time we rejoined civilization at the visitor centre. Soon after we'd sat ourselves down at one of the picnic tables, we were joined by the resident black cat. Purring loudly, she succeeded in stealing our hearts, as well as some of the contents of our sandwiches.

We loved the new wildlife artwork adorning the visitor centre, although I'm sure the resident chickens weren't quite so appreciative of the prowling fox painted on the walls of their coop!

Hunger pangs satisfied, we completed our walk around the domain, appreciating its primordial wildness, before once again making our way home.

Oh, if only Autumn days could always be this sweet ...