Friday 30 December 2022

Back to the Enchanted Place

I might not be the world's biggest Christmas fan, but if there's one thing I'm absolutely looking forward to as soon as the calendar's page is turned to the year's final month, it must be my week off between Christmas and New Year. This is, in fact, the only time of year when we're at home together for any length of time which does not involve any forward planning whatsoever. As the darkest days of the year are upon us, this usually means sleeping in until there's a smidgen of light on the horizon, followed by a leisurely breakfast and lingering in our dressing gowns nursing cups of coffee or tea until the mood takes us to get dressed. Depending on the weather, we might go for a walk or a rummage, or perhaps just stay at home and read. Apart from the odd food shop, household chores are confined to the bare minimum so that by the end of the week dust bunnies are having a field day here at Dove Cottage!

At my office, the final working week of the year is always a hectic one, involving the necessary preparations, not just for our week off, but in anticipation of our return in January as well. So, although I wasn't feeling too clever after succumbing to the lurgy during the weekend, I went in for a couple of hours of slog on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, collapsing on the sofa as soon as I got home. I was obliged to call in sick on Thursday and Friday, though, as lack of sleep and continuing coughing fits had left me totally exhausted. I didn't get dressed on those days, slept a lot and in my waking moments read a couple of pages in the two books I currently had going, none of which was able to grab my attention for longer than the odd 15 minutes.

The only ray of sunshine came in the form of a lovely handwritten card from Kezzie, in which she'd kindly included one of her sustainable snowflakes made from the insides of envelopes! 

I was feeling marginally better on Christmas Eve, which prompted me to get dressed and even attempt a walk into the village to pick up some Christmas cards for our neighbours. But although the fresh air certainly did me some good, I felt quite exhausted by the time I got back. 

An overdose of tea lashed with honey, throat lozenges, cough syrup and painkillers had been playing havoc with my appetite as nothing tasted quite as it should have. I was actually dreading our Christmas Day supper which for the last 28 years has consisted of gourmet, which is kind of a thing in the Low Countries, involving a variety of tiny pieces of meat one fries individually in tiny frying pans on a raclette-like device. As I wasn't exactly looking forward to all that effort, Jos just fried up all the pieces in a large frying pan, and we enjoyed them with potato salad, a selection of veggies and home-made cocktail sauce. And you know what: it tasted heavenly! 

The weather was simply too atrocious to venture outside and go for a little stroll to build up my strength. Instead, it was a lazy day of pottering, reading and listening to the handful of guilty pleasure Christmas albums which thankfully only come out of hiding once a year. 

In total contrast to the Pyjama Days of yore, I got dressed after breakfast, only changing into my jammies after supper. The dress I was wearing wasn't my original choice, which felt a bit restrictive for a day spent mainly on the sofa. Consequently, I was already wearing the mustard opaques and decided they didn't look half-bad with my final choice of frock, a vintage shift dress picked up at Think Twice.

More mustard was added with my charity shopped H&M batwing cardigan and one of the perspex rings I found on Rita's flea market stall the other week. The pansy brooch came from Cardigan antiques market while the 1960s style necklace was an old retail buy.

Boxing Day was another grey and rainy day, the initial mild temperature of 11°C dropping to 5°C and below from late afternoon onwards.

The forecast had been for some sunny spells in the afternoon, but they never materialized, although it did remain dry for a couple of hours. I wasn't feeling very energetic - emerging from the dreaded lurgy has been a slow process, sometimes involving one step forward, two steps back - and as brain fog had once again descended I wasn't too keen to leave Dove Cottage's confines.

Nevertheless, I accompanied Jos to the carwash, stopping at the charity shop in Lier along the way.

Seeing the outfit photos we made in our new favourite spot that day, it seems that although I was looking a bit pale, aided by some carefully applied make-up I did manage to look better than I actually felt. 

I was wearing yet another Think Twice find, a faux-patchwork patterned button through vintage dress, which I often seem to combine with shades of aqua. My King Louie cardigan and H&M beaded necklace were both charity shop finds. Only my ring and belt were bought on the high street.

Pickings were meagre at the charity shop that day. That, and the fact that my heart wasn't really in it. I still managed to snag a funky pair of Gabor sandals which, with the reduction our loyalty card entitled us to, cost us all of € 1,25. 

Finally, we woke up to a clear day with lots of sunny spells on Tuesday. I also woke up feeling more clear-headed than I'd had been in over a week. Not wanting to tempt fate, however, we decided to take it easy in the morning and then go for a short walk after lunch. 

The mercury would eventually climb to 8°C that day, although it did feel quite a bit chillier than it actually was. Or perhaps it was just me. In any case, I opted for a warm woolly skirt from Think Twice, worn with a vintage C&A jumper charity shopped back in January.

The bottle green mock croc belt was a charity shop find as well, while the green-based enamelled brooch with its posy of pansies pinned to the jumper's asymmetrical collar was among my latest flea market haul.

Meanwhile, the sun was streaming through our curtained front door window, creating a kind of magic lantern effect, so wild horses couldn't have kept us inside.

So, wasn't it just our luck that the minute we'd set off to our chosen destination, a smattering of tiny raindrops appeared on our car's windscreen?

Quickly consulting our phone's weather app told us this was supposed to be just a blip so we decided to proceed regardless. 

Although the sun only put in another appearance when on our way home, any sign of rain had fortunately disappeared by the time we'd reached the park in Duffel.

What was supposed to be just a short limb-stretching and head-clearing walk turned out to be quite a bit longer than intended. Drawn by the magical orange-red glow of the carpet of bald cypress leaves which is such a feature here in Winter, we soon veered off the path we'd initially taken and and crossed an expanse of minor mud into its direction.

I've lost count of the times we have walked here over the years, often preceding or following a rummage at the nearby charity shop, which this time we gave a miss.

There's something to delight us here in every season, from the first hesitant signs of Spring to the exuberance of the Autumn hues, but there's definitely something to be said for its relative bleakness in the depths of Winter. The steel grey mirror of the pond reflecting the row of skeleton trees standing sentinel on the edge of the River Nete's towpath beyond. The squidgy, squelching muddy tracks lying in wait to suck you in. The moss and lichen covered tree trunks and the frost-bitten remains of Summer's bounty.

It was almost inevitable that we would end up at the castle ruins which funnily enough could be heard before its wonky towers appeared between the tangle of bare branches. One of the towers was wearing a crown of bickering gulls, while atop another, the resident pair of Egyptian geese were loudly honking, leaving all and sundry in no doubt that they were the lords of the castle.

The castle ruins greatly add to the appeal of the park, which once again proved to be the perfect poetic backdrop to the year's final post, same as it did in 2016 and 2017

An enchanted place, with the birds still the keepers of our secrets ...

Much as I'm eagerly awaiting the restoration of the castle ruins so that they can once again be visited freely, I will most certainly miss the state of wild abandon surrounding them now.

The faded coat of arms adorning the rusty wrought iron gates barring the bridge leading over the moat. The weeds and grasses and tendrils of ivy gleefully, luxuriously, taking hold of what for all intents and purposes is rightfully theirs.  

The split and hollow trees, brittle and frail, yet not giving up on life, even if they're only playing host to strapping Winter greens.

The rusty remains of a bike, stolen and discarded, hidden away among Summer's growth until its corpse is revealed in Winter.

We climbed to the tow path, leaving the already dying light behind us, the sun's ever weakening rays casting an eerie glow on the granite grey river. Far away, too far to catch with my phone's camera, a train chug-chugged over the railway bridge, its cadence mingling with the cries of the birds and the echoing snatches of people's voices drifting over from the opposite side of the river.

And here we were back in the park itself, where the Brutalist fountain, finally relieved of its crippling layer of moss and weeds, was rippling the almost-black, opaque water of the pond. Back among the fiery fairy dust of the bald cypress leaves. 

Now all that's left to do is wave my magic wand and make 2022 go away. 

Here's to an infinitely better 2023! 

Happy New Year!

Friday 23 December 2022

Still ill

 A week ago on Thursday I arrived home all hot and bothered and with an imperceptible tickle in my throat which for the moment I chose to ignore. 

I put it all down to the whirlwind visit from my bosses earlier that week as one of them seemed to have brought a persistent cough with him. Their visit also included a visit to IKEA to select some furniture for the soon to be finished office, part of which was supposed to be delivered on Thursday morning. 

When they still hadn't shown up by 2.30 pm, a phonecall to IKEA confirmed that they were stuck in traffic. Then, when they eventually did arrive half an hour later, they weren't able to find a proper parking spot. When your office building is landlocked in the middle of a city's main shopping area, this tends to be a problem at the best of times. To cut a long story short, they refused to put their blinkers on and quickly unload the stuff in the street at the back of our building, which is what everybody else is doing all the time. Having had to run downstairs and argue with them in the biting sub-zero cold seemed to have made matters worse so, quite unsurprisingly, I wasn't feeling exactly my best when I woke up on Friday morning.

We lingered over breakfast, after which I started feeling a bit more human and was even prompted to dress up in something stylish, warm and comfortable. We might have scrapped our usually charity shopping plans, but I still wanted to dress up and look the part, even if reclining on the sofa would be the only order of the day.

I'd bought the mustard flannel skirt brand new from Uniqlo back in October, and this was its first wearing. It's from the shop's collaboration with the French model and fashion designer Inès de La Fressange. Together with the vintage blue acrylic jumper and the white fluffy waistcoat which was a cheeky and cheap high street buy a couple of years ago, it was absolutely perfect to brave the continuing deep freeze temperatures. We were down to between -7°C to -9°C by now, which is a big deal in this part of the world.

Although I only briefly braved these bone-chilling temperatures for a handful of outfit photos in our new favourite spot ...

Then I was tempted by the sight of the iced gems in our garden to walk the length of the garden path and snap a few pictures. 

The last of the Nasturtiums, still going strong until a week or so before, had now all succumbed to frostbite, their limp orange blooms encrusted with jewels of ice.

These, together with the icing sugar coated bright red Cotoneaster berries and the clusters of dusky blue Virginia Creeper fruits provided the odd splash of colour.

Then it was back inside to hunker down for the rest of the weekend, Bess unashamedly taking advantage of the fact that we weren't gallivanting around like we usually do on a weekend.

By Saturday, I was a coughing and snuffling wreck, with brain fog and fatigue preventing me from doing anything more strenuous than reading a couple of pages here and there. Although I did manage to cobble together my previous blog post and publish it that evening.

We even had to cancel Sunday's much anticipated visit to our friends Kris and Marnix, who live just over the border in Holland. Kris used to be my colleague before he moved abroad and due to circumstances which I'm sure don't need an explanation, we hadn't seen each other since December 2019. Which made it heart-rending that we once again had to postpone our reunion ...

Not even dressing up in one of my favourite vintage frocks managed to make me feel better. After taking a couple of hurried photos we scuttled back inside where I uncharacteristically changed into jogging bottoms and a jumper for the rest of the day.

At the time of writing, I'm still in the throes of the lurgy - which luckily turned out not to be Covid! - and my brain fog and fatigue are still very much present.

Consequently, there isn't much to tell you about my final working week of the year (apart from the fact that the IKEA delivery has now been completed), and as no outfit photos have been taken either, why don't we have a proper look at last week's flea market finds instead.

I was instantly drawn to the colours of this ancient and time-battered tin, which I believe to be from the 1930s. There's no indication as to its provenance, but I loved it enough to give it a home.

The flea market yielded some odds and ends as usual. The mystery object on the top left was pure childhood nostalgia for Jos, who remembered being given this bank savings calculator when he was a schoolboy. 

The trivet on the top right was a giveaway by washing power brand Tide back in the day and depicts a well-known Bruges scene. It was a gift from friend and trader Tanja. 

The small hinged trinket box came from the stall of another favourite trader, Ilona, and has already been roped in to hold my jewellery selections for the week.

Tanja had to laugh when I made a beeline for the green cruet set, commenting that I always go for the kitschiest items on her stall. Well, what can I say? I'd already spotted it on her Facebook page the day before, so I made sure to look out for it especially, hoping that it hadn't been sold in the meantime. And that was before she told me it was English!

Back to back with Tanja's stall, is Rita's, supplier of last market's plaster lady. Her stall now contained a display of perspex rings, which all turned to be my diminutive size. Apparently, they all came from the same lady who could no longer wear them due to arthritis. 

From a box full of furry hats, Rita then conjured up the delightful muff on the bottom left, which I insisted on wearing for the rest of the market. 

Meanwhile, Jos fell for the white Bakelite pillbox size thingy bearing the logo of Belgian chocolate and biscuit factory Victoria, instantly recognizable to people of a certain age in Belgium!

When I picked up the tiny fruit basket, which is actually a brooch, for closer inspection, Rita insisted that I accept it as a gift. Isn't she - and the basket - sweet?

Finally, let's have a look at the other brooches I picked up and which, to answer Vronni's question in her comment to my previous post, have all found space in my drawers of brooches, even if it is becoming a bit of a squeeze in there! 

The celluloid deer came from the same stall as the 1930s tin, while both the fox's head with its piercing blue eyes - which might very well be my favourite - and the brown-hearted one on the bottom right came from random stalls. The latter is the only one which is marked. It's by Sarah Coventry. Founded in 1949 by Charles Stuart, Sarah Coventry's name was the combination of his granddaughter’s first name and the town of Coventry in England, where the Stuart family had emigrated from to the US. The jewellery was sold via house parties a la Tupperware and Avon.

Another regular seller, Nelly - who always gushes over my outfits - supplied the superb enamelled pansies brooch ...

... as well as the pink-rimmed plastic flower brooch (a twin of a blue-rimmed one I've had for years) and the gorgeous blue Cameo.

The tiny pair of cork slippers and the moulded rose brooch were my final finds of the day and came from another random stall.

That's all for now, my friends. I hope to be back in full health after Christmas and promise to catch up with your blogs soon.

Before I go, though, here's the other present my bosses brought me, and which was infinitely better than that nasty cough: a very fragrant Jo Malone gift set!

Have a wonderful Christmas, whichever way you celebrate it - or not!

Saturday 17 December 2022

Welcome to the Deep Freeze

It's been a bit of a week, starting with a brief but hectic visit from my bosses and followed by the onset of the mother of all colds which has kept me confined to the sofa for most of the weekend so far.

Consequently, this post will be short and sweet, just an update of what's been happening since I signed off on Monday.

Oh, and did I mention that the weather has entered the Deep Freeze stage?

The mercury, which had dropped slightly below zero overnight, only climbed to 2°C on Friday 9 December. This made me reach for knits and layers once more, opting to wear the combination of skirt and jumper last seen modelled by Angelica in a previous post.

Both the skirt, which is vintage and from Bleyle, a quality German brand, and the jumper disguised as a cardigan, which is deadstock from the Belgian Wow To Go label, were recent finds. They were supplied by Think Twice and a charity shop respectively.

Apart from my beret, which almost exactly matches the sugar pink colour of my jumper, I opted for shades of green, both for the long-sleeved t-shirt I layered underneath, and my accessories. These included a charity shopped necklace and a glass ring and Miracle brooch, which were flea market finds.

I dug out my bag of knitted and fleece-lined tights, and selected a greyish-blue one sprinkled with rose buds. These were a gift from Kezzie so, on our way back from the charity shop - it was Friday after all! - I made a selfie of my legs and sent it to her by WhatsApp. 

The eagle-eyed among you might have spotted the difference in footwear between this and the post's opening photo. I actually changed into my latest charity shop find, a pair of caramel suede lace-up ankle boots, the minute I got home. They are the most comfortable ever, easily living up to their No Stress label, and the side zippers make it a doddle to pull them on and off.

We always go our separate ways in the charity shops and by the time I'd finished trawling the aisles, my only find being the boots, Jos had ensconced himself in the cafetaria with a Wiener coffee and a book he'd plucked from the shelves and which we ended up taking home.

While queueing at the till, I rummaged in a bin full of tacky Christmas decorations and unearthed a bag full of these things. They are about 8 centimeters long and we haven't got the slightest clue what they are. Nevertheless, we happily handed over € 1,50 for them, as we knew they would be the perfect toys for Bess. She just loves playing with empty spools, which unfortunately keep getting lost under and behind furniture. In fact, while I was photographing them, she already got hold of one and started playing with it immediately.

Whatever they are - and if someone could point us in the right direction, I'd be very much obliged - they couldn't be a more perfect gift for our little rascal!

With the temperature once again playing tag with the freezing point, we had no inclination of leaving Dove Cottage's confines on Saturday.

With positively Baltic temperatures forecasted for the week ahead, I thought it was time my fur-collared and hemmed Princess coat came out of the closet, ready for use. I also pulled out my warmest woollen jumpers and some thermal vests, which would be very much needed in the days to come.

Saturday's outfit was built around this riotously patterned wool-blend dress, which was an old Think Twice find. In spite of this being one of my warmest dresses, I was wearing a thermal camisole, a thin, long-sleeved t-shirt and a full slip underneath. I think my episode of hot flushes must be over, as lately I've been craving the warmth of jumpers and the like, the thought of which would have been enough for me to break out in a sweat only a year or two ago.

You can just catch a glimpse of my fleecy orange tights in the single outfit photo. Once again, they were gifted to me by Kezzie, who sent them to me when she was staying in Ghent a couple of years ago. Sadly, they are on their last legs ...

I added more orange with my chunky knit cardigan, necklace and ring, all of which were charity shop finds, as was the moss green suede belt. The Bambi brooch came from a long-gone vintage shop.

If you think you might have spotted fairy lights twinkling in the window behind me, your eyes certainly weren't deceiving you. We did put up the faux fir that day!

We'd bought a smaller one for the sitting room last year, but due to its prickly needles and Bess's habit of biting the branches and dislodging the ornaments, I donated it to the office. This year, we decided to use our old, taller and more softly needled one in the dining room instead. And of course, Bess insisted on helping.

Now, we were fully expecting her to play with the ornaments, which is why we made sure we only used non-breakable ones and removed all metal hooks, replacing them with twine.

What we hadn't bargained for was that she would actually climb into the tree, so that she's not just dislodging ornaments but whole branches this time. I told you she was a little rascal!  Ah, but isn't she cute and looking as if butter wouldn't melt?

Sunday was another cold and grey day, the mercury having taken a dive to -5°C overnight, and with highs of barely above freezing point. This time, however, we had reason to leave the house, as there was another edition of our favourite indoor flea market, Bras, at the edge of the town of Mechelen.

We know from experience that heating is almost non-existent in this venue, and with energy prices being this steep, we expected it to be even worse this time around.

The perfect opportunity to wear one of those woollen jumpers, a purple vintage one with embroidered pink and blue flowers at the yoke and shoulders. This too was an old Think Twice find.

My grey, black and white checked skirt is vintage as well, bought from another long-gone shop. It's a lined wool-blend and very heavy, which made it perfect to combat the freezing temperatures. 

I gave up on finding a brooch to compete with the embroidered flowers and just added a pale blue necklace, originally from H&M but found in a charity shop. The pale pink plastic ring came from the high street.

Our first impression was that the flea market wasn't as huge as last time, but apparently we were fooled as it took us ages to walk up and down the aisles. Although there was the usual mix of stalls selling everything including the kitchen sink, there were lots of above-average ones selling vintage and bric-à-brac, not to mention the odd quirky item.

I was determined to take more than just the odd photo and this time I persevered, snapping anything that caught my eye. 

We always have lunch at the cafetaria, sharing a baguette washed down with cups of coffee. While Jos was queueing at the bar, I made a selfie showing you my outerwear, which consisted of a fudge coloured Astrakhan jacket charity shopped in December 2020, a charity shopped yellow woolly beret and a purple scarf crocheted by my friend Inneke. 

The brooch I pinned to the jacket's collar is actually a fur clip, and was a gift from my bosses, bought at an antiques market in their hometown of Miami back in 2019. I lost count of all the compliments I received for it.

It almost goes without saying that we didn't go home empty handed, so here's a little tableaux of our finds, which included no less than nine brooches! I'll show you everything in more detail in my next post, when the fog in my head has lifted.

But I couldn't possibly leave you without a glimpse at our favourite and most exciting find: an exquisite Art Nouveau lamp! It was love a first sight and resistance was futile.

So, that's it for now. After I pushed publish, I'll retreat to the sofa once more. 

See you next time!