Monday 31 January 2022

Nothing ever happens

The odd sunny half-day notwithstanding, we kept being plagued by gloomy January days. Even on those days when it wasn't raining for a change, the sky was a thick blanket of dull washed-out grey. Days like these tend to knit themselves together into a blur of time in which nothing really happens. Or so it seems, anyway.

I've been keeping a journal since April 2020, jotting down my thoughts and the things I've done in order to keep track of time and disentangle the blur. Lately, however, it often slips my mind to make an entry at the end of a day and then find it impossible to recollect how I spent my time.  As I've always prided myself on having the memory of an elephant, this can be quite disconcerting!

One such day was Saturday the 15th of January. Other than that I slept late-ish, followed by a lazy morning of pottering and photographing Friday's charity shop finds, the day is a bit of a blank.

But at least I can show you what I was wearing, which I'm sure you'll agree is the main purpose of my blog. And I still had to show you the rest of Friday's finds as well.

The skirt I'm wearing, and around which my outfit was built, was one of the latter. It was love at first sight and in fact I was so smitten with it that I wasted no time in giving it its first outing the very next day. I mean: plaid and chevrons in browns, oranges and a dash of white! Well worth wrestling it off a shop dummy!

The striped jumper of many colours, including orange to tie in with the skirt, was an old sales bargain from New Look, while the vinyl and elastic orange belt was an even older high street buy, from Forever 21 of all places. Both shops have long ago departed Antwerp's shopping streets.

Further accessories were an orange beaded necklace and a cameo brooch, supplied by a charity shop and a flea market respectively.

Foot- and legwear consisted of my fake snakeskin ankle boots an ancient pair of dark brown opaques.

The cropped furry gilet I layered on top was another one of Friday's charity shop finds. I seem to have accumulated quite a collection of these gilets, which come in handy for throwing over any kind of outfit, especially around the house, or at the office. I have one which lives permanently on the back of my office chair.

The day's other finds included a purple suede belt, a long grey beaded necklace, a blue, articulated owl pendant and a pair of red carved wooden bangles.

Two blouses came home with me as well. There was a sage green pussy-bow one with a black and white geometrical pattern, and a blue one with a tie neck and the cutest of bird patterns.

To conclude the day's bounty, there was a lavender crocheted gilet, a chunky cardigan with attached cameo brooch, the furry gilet I was wearing on Saturday and a purple knit scarf. 

You'll get to see me wearing the cardigan later in this post, although I removed the sewn-on brooch, which has joined my collection. Just as I don't like designers telling me where my waist is, I can't abide it when they tell me which brooch to wear on which particular garment! 

If Saturday had some sunny spells up its sleeve, it was another utterly grey and miserable day on Sunday. On top of that, it did feel much colder than the 4°C indicated by the thermometer on both days.

My erratic journal tells me I looked for and located my (faux) furs in the built-in closet in our bedroom, washed my hair, did a couple of chores and caught up with blogland.

For the day's outfit photos we didn't venture any further than just outside our back door.

I was wearing a vintage dress in a rich chocolate brown with a pattern of circles and clusters of vibrant flowers in pink, orange and turquoise. 

I added a wide turquoise belt and a turquoise chunky plastic ring, while opting for a slightly darker cerulean blue for my tights and cardigan. The latter is by retro label Zoë Loveborn by way of a charity shop. I've got several of their cardigans, which all have delightful details. Here, its fan-like pattern and the orange and blue buttons are its stand-out features.

Cream and brown are the main ingredients of the rest of my accessories: a brooch consisting of leaves and berries picked up on a flea market, and a chunky beaded necklace which was a charity shop find.

On my feet, the ochre yellow Sasha ankle boots from an earlier treasure hunt this month.

We're swiftly skipping my Monday to Thursday working week, in which even less was happening. 

Again, rain was our lot on many a day, resulting in distorted rain-splashed views through my office window. As ever I was glad that Friday was beckoning, as I was longing to sleep just that little bit longer and live life at a slower pace. 

As again I hadn't taken up my full holiday quota at the end of last year, I'll be able to continue taking Fridays off for a while yet. 

That Friday - we were the 21st of January by now - we woke up to sunny spells which made us hope we'd be able to go for another walk in between charity shops.

Typically, clouds soon started gathering, threatening rain at a moment's notice.

Still, we stopped off at the fort domain in the nearby town of Morstel, one of a chain of forts surrounding the city of Antwerp, built between 1859 and 1864. 

Initially, we'd just planned to have a car picnic with a view but, as the rain still seemed to hold off, we decided to walk down to the path surrounding the moat.

It was quite muddy in places and as I was wearing a rather delicate pair of boots, our walk was only a short one, just enough to clear the cobwebs for the day.

You've already seen my outerwear, consisting of some of my much worn favourites, and the Oilily bag which has been part of my weekend accoutrements ever since I happened upon it on a previous charity shopping trip.

What you haven't seen yet is what I was wearing underneath that day. 

Let's start with the dress, which is vintage, from the Finnish Karelia label. It is one of my earliest Think Twice finds, and it made its debut on the blog in one of my very first posts in March 2016.

Its fabric is a sturdy textured polyester and ... it has pockets. Lined pockets, to be exact!

Not surprisingly, I picked up the splashes of teal in its pattern by adding a teal flower brooch, beaded necklace and chunky glass ring. The belt is one of my beloved elasticated ones, with a round faux tortoiseshell buckle.

The waterfall cardigan, with its tie closure, is the one which originally had the cameo brooch attached. It's from C&A, warm and cozy, and surprisingly versatile, as I already wore it twice since it came home with me.

Now, before I bid you goodbye, I've got a confession to make. I am hopelessly behind with replying to all of your lovely comments. I do appreciate each and every one of them, though, and they quite often warm the cockles of my heart and make my day. 

I wanted to give a special thank you to reader Elizabeth, who kindly left a first time comment on my previous post. She finished her comment with the words "please don't stop sharing your world!". 

Well, I have every intention to continue doing exactly that and it quite boggles my mind that I have been doing so for coming up to six years soon. 

Thursday 27 January 2022

The mists of time

The weather continued to be a mixed bag in January's second week, with temperatures not exceeding 5°C, and culminating in a fog cloaked day on Thursday the 13th. 

This was my view just minutes after arriving at the office.  Antwerp's cathedral should have been taking pride of place in the photo on the right, but the fog had obliterated it completely. Although quite disconcerting, the denseness of the fog meant that I didn't have to look at the scaffolding which has been disfiguring the cathedral tower for the better part of three years.

Sadly, the view from my office window is further marred by a tower crane and a building site, as the Art Deco skyscraper which faces it is undergoing major renovations. Accompanied by an almighty racket from morning until evening, I should add. But even the tower crane was hardly visible that morning, the halo of its floodlights joining the general cacophony of city lights.

The school holidays finished on both sides of the border, Antwerp was no longer under siege from an army of shoppers, so that I tentatively left the safety of the office during one lunch break. 

I even did some shopping of my own, snapping up a dress - one I'd previously lusted after - from a high street shop - at half price.

The fog persisted overnight and was still with us on Friday morning, although the sun would be making several attempts to find a chink in the armour. With the world outside reduced to greyscale, it was once again up to yours truly to provide a smidgen of colour. 

It had been a while since I last wore this wool and polyester blend dress, snapped up for € 4 in the Think Twice sales in December 2019. It was a lucky find, deadstock with its Made in Austria label still attached.

It was its pattern, featuring green, red and orange squiggles on a beige background, which attracted me in the first place, offering a plethora of accessorizing possibilities. 

This time, I took my lead from the green squiggles, using that colour for my necklace, belt, ring and birds-in-flight brooch. I was wearing green opaques as well, but they're not visible in any of the photos, not even a cheeky peek! 

I thought the outfit needed an extra dose of sunshine, so I opted for bright orangey yellow for my cardigan. Charity shopped back in November, it has proved to be surprisingly versatile. 

We did our weekly round of the charity shops that morning and finds were plentiful. If you'll bear with me, I'll show you some of them later in this post.

However, I was determined to stop off at the park in Duffel in between shops in order to go for a stroll and capture some of the day's misty magic.

The blanket of fog swaddling the park was opaque and almost impenetrable, the sun a mere pinprick reflected in the pond. 

The grassy field beyond the bridge, which is set alight by a fiery carpet of bald cypress leaves, suddenly appeared like a Fata Morgana, a sole splash of colour in a monochrome world. 

We walked along the towpath of the River Nete which runs next to the park. The fog was even denser here, the opposite bank of the river completely obscured from view. Not even any silhouettes were visible in the distance, so that it felt as if I was walking towards the end of the world. It was a truly otherworldly experience eliciting both claustrophobia and elation.

We descended from the towpath as we neared the castle ruin at the end of the park. 

Here, visibility was greatly improved, and there might even have been some hesitant rays of sunshine penetrating the fog. In hindsight, the sudden sunny outlook might have been greatly improved by the pools of yellow supplied by my scarf and woolly hat, which were a gift from my lovely and colourful blogging friend Monica!

We are always glad to see the picturesque castle ruin still standing. There has been talk of renovating this evocative piece of history, whose origins date back to the 12th Century, and indeed fortifications were duly erected on the inside a couple of years ago, so that at least the tallest of the towers, which was leaning precariously, is prevented from toppling over completely.

We were as captivated by the crooked skeleton trees jutting out above the castle walls and preening themselves in the water of the moat as we were by the fairy-tale like ruins themselves.

The trees on our side of the moat are reminiscent of ancient giants stretching out gnarled arms which, while offering dappled shade when fully clothed in Summer, now frame the castle ruin and lend it a haunted air.

In spite of the greyness of the day, our walk definitely put a spring in our steps. As the rest of the weekend would be a complete washout, we were glad we'd made the effort.

There wasn't even enough daylight to properly photograph our finds, so these are the best of the bunch. On the bright side, I did have a little helper at some point ...

There were clothes and jewellery too, but I'm keeping these for another post.

I was charmed by the wicker apple-shaped trinket box on the top left and bottom right. It hasn't found its purpose yet, but at € 1 it would have been silly to leave it behind.

Joining our collection of enamelware is the slightly battered old basin on the top right, its bottom proudly proclaiming that it was made in Belgium.

The small blue bowl on the bottom left is a Fire King sugar bowl in a colour I believe to be Azurite. 

Fire King dinnerware and glassware products were produced by the Anchor Hocking Glass Corp. based in Lancaster, Ohio who, in 1942, began producing their now-famous line of ovenproof glassware products. 

Their most popular design must be their Mid-Century Jadeite range, made in a delightful jade green opaque milk glass. Although we do not collect these as such, we have picked up some Jadeite cups and saucers, as well as a sugar bowl and milk jug, over the years. I'd never seen any blue Fire King in real life before, and the Azurite sugar bowl will probably remain a one-off at Dove Cottage, but I'm sure you'll agree I needed to give it a loving home. Especially at the silly price of € 0,50!

Nor could I resist this pristine tapestry purse or the beaded clutch, which were both priced at € 1,50. It's been ages since I found anything decent in that direction in the charity shops.

That's all I've got time for now. I'll be back with more January tales and finds in a couple of days. 

In the meantime, I do hope that you are all staying safe! Who'd have thought we'd still be telling each other that after almost two years!

Saturday 22 January 2022

When routine bites hard

Although my return to the office after the Christmas break wasn't nearly the hardship I'd expected it to be, the week did seem to drag on forever. It wasn't so much my workload, which was more than bearable as, apparently, lots of people were still enjoying their holidays. No, it was getting up at the crack of dawn, which felt akin to being in the middle of the night, that made the week seem to last an eternity.

How I missed those sleep-ins and leisurely mornings of the week before! How I envied Bess who, after her early morning surge of energy, was already back in snooze-mode by the time we left the house.

But yay, I got to go home early on Tuesday, as I was booked in for my booster jab that day. As before, it all went like clockwork and, including the usual 15-minute waiting time afterwards, I was in and out within barely 20 minutes. And apart from a sore arm, which prevented me from lying on my left side that night, I seemed to have escaped any nasty side effects.

As schools were still on their Christmas breaks, and the sales had been in full swing since Monday, Antwerp was still heaving with shoppers, even if on Wednesday the non-stop rain seemed to have kept the worst of the crowds away.

I hadn't bargained on feeling utterly exhausted and somewhat wobbly-legged on Thursday, and at first  my constant need to yawn, the heaviness of my eyelids and the slightly disoriented feeling had me stumped. But then I remembered I'd had exactly the same experience on day two after my second jab. 

Somehow, I managed to drag myself through the day, the thought of a sleep-in on Friday keeping me afloat. I was feeling much better, if still a bit wobbly, in the morning, but wild horses couldn't have kept me away from the charity shops. After all, that's what Fridays have been for, lately.

The day's outfit was centred around this black button-through vintage dress with its patchwork pattern in hues of rusts and browns. My blog tells me it was last worn in the week before we lost Phoebe which - eek! - is just two weeks short of one year ago!

I was tempted to wear the same turquoise belt with it as I did last January, but I kept myself in check, opting for one of my stretchy belts instead. This one, with its hexagonal buckle, was a cheeky retail buy last May, and has been worn countless of times since then.

For my cardigan, opaques and further accessories, I opted for shades of cerulean blue. Apart from my ring and opaques - and my trusty brown boots - all were either charity shop or flea market finds. The blue rimmed plastic brooch with its bouquet of pink and yellow roses is a particular favourite.

The dress itself was a Think Twice find, as you might have guessed.

As usual, we visited two shops and, after indulging in some leisurely rummaging, we found treasure in both of them. 

Lately, I'm always on the lookout for skirts, so it was practically a given that this grey-based tartan one patterned in off-white and teal, and originally from C&A, came home with me. The navy, green and white chevron patterned jumper with its deep V-neck is from the Danish Only label. You'll see me wearing this one very, very soon!

While Jos was having a cup of coffee from the cafetaria's vending machine, I happily trawled the aisles of the second shop and found another two items of clothing. What were the odds of finding another chevron patterned jumper? This wine, pink and orange cap-sleeved one is from Belgian designer Nathalie Vleeschouwer, and must have retailed for well over € 100. I paid the going price for jumpers in this chain of shops of € 6,50. The mustard yellow blouse with its tie-dye dots is by Monki.

Oh, and I also grabbed this abundantly floral patterned crossbody bag by the Dutch Oilily label, which has replaced the cork bag I've been toting around during the weekends for nearly a year, and which was starting to show quite a bit of wear and tear.

I told you I'd be wearing the Only jumper very soon, and I wasn't lying, as here I am the very next day, Saturday the 8th of January. 

In fact, I'd had this outfit in mind only minutes after I'd clapped eyes on the jumper. And although things often do not quite work out the way they do in my head, this one certainly did.

The bottle green faux suede skirt was a sales bargain from Mango a couple of years ago and it's a firm favourite. In fact, its last appearance on the blog only dates from the 31st of December, when I took it for an impromptu walk in the park.

No walking was on the menu that Saturday, though. Same as Friday, it was an utterly grey and miserable day, which felt quite a bit chillier than the 7°C indicated by the thermometer. Not only that, showers were more than rife, so that huddling inside seemed to be our best option.

We had to run an errand, and then stopped off at one of the smaller charity shops in the neighbouring village of Reet. But before I tell you all about that, let's have a look at the rest of my outfit. 

Due to the jumper's deep V-neck, I layered a neutral grey t-shirt underneath, for modesty as much as for warmth. The brooch I pinned to the jumper is a vintage one found in a Carmarthen antiques shop during our Welsh holiday in June 2017. It's got tiny embroidered Gentian flowers. The necklace was a flea market find, while both my ring and chevron patterned stretchy belt were retail buys.

I'm happy to report that we didn't leave the charity shop in Reet empty handed. In fact, our bounty consisted of a rainbow of colour provided by a pair of golden yellow Sasha ankle boots, a fuchsia leather belt and a green ajour patterned cardigan by Belgian label Lucy has a Secret.

Not bad for a small back-of beyond shop!

The rest of the day was spent pottering and reading, finishing my previous book and starting a new one. This is already my fourth novel by Katherine Webb and just like the others, it does not disappoint. I haven't finished it yet, though, but expect to do so this weekend.

Sunday promised to be the best day of the week,  Although the temperature remained stuck at 7°C, there were patches of blue and the odd sunny spell.

Needless to say, we were off for a walk, for which I donned a warm wool-blend vintage dress to combat the chill.

Its vibrant watercolour print invites the use of many different colours to accessorize it with. This time I picked up the reds in its print with a red glass ring and ditto necklace, while a red plastic cat brooch was pinned to its bodice.

Unusually for me, I decided not to replace its belt and wore its original self-fabric one, which has a delightful transluscent pink plastic buckle.

The chunky purple cardigan I layered on top is Esprit by way of a charity shop. For good measure, I clipped a rose red flower corsage to its collar.

As the sun had been playing her usual game of hide and seek with the clouds, which at times took on an ominous shade of grey, we decided not to venture too far. An almost obvious choice for such last minute walks is, of course, Middelheim, the inimitable sculpture park.

Unusually for a Sunday, there was lots of parking space near the main entrance, although we did have to trample through some muddy patches and puddles to get there.  I'd come prepared and exchanged my brown boots for a similarly hued old pair which resides in the boot of our car.

The fairy-tale like cottage in the above collage is the old gardener's cottage belonging to the former castle domain. The castle itself currently houses a café and the museum shop.

We wandered at will, enjoying the fact that there was hardly anybody around. Even the annoying groups of smartphone gazing Pokémon hunters seem to have dwindled lately. 

The strange creatures on the bottom left are called The entomological elopement III. They date from 1957, and are by Swedish sculptor Eric Grate. I was rather intrigued by the strange toes of the creature on the bottom right, but forgot to take note of its identity.

The sky had been steadily darkening until, just as we'd reached the Braem Pavillion, the heavens opened and we had to take shelter under its awning. In spite of the uncertainty of the weather, we hadn't had the presence of mind to bring an umbrella!

But soon the number of raindrops we could see plinking in the puddles seemed to be lessening, so we daringly left our shelter and continued to the museum café. Here, we had coffee and cakes sitting on the terrace, the canopy supplied by a battery of giant umbrellas keeping us dry. Although it had virtually stopped raining by then. 

Then we made our way back to our car, passing Antony Gormley's sunlit Firmament III and a firmament of fluffy Clematis seed heads along the way.

Tuesday 18 January 2022

All is quiet on New Year's Day

New Year's Day dawned and it was eerily quiet outside. As we had been up past midnight, just to sit out the fireworks going off left, right and centre, we'd slept a bit later than usual, but otherwise it was just an ordinary Saturday for us. 

We tiptoed downstairs for fear of waking up the sleeping world. Nevertheless, we put on the radio and loaded the washing machine just like we always do on a Saturday morning. After all, nothing had changed since we'd closed our eyes and drifted off. The world hadn't been magically transformed into a virus-free one overnight. At least, they didn't mention it on the news! 

For once, though, we didn't need our daylight therapy lamp to tide us over breakfast. As we'd tentatively lifted a corner of our bedroom curtains, a pale blue sky floating with marshmallow clouds had greeted us. Drawing them wide, we could even detect the rays of a waking sun.

We'd been making attempts to go for a longer walk in one of our favourite nature reserves all week but all had been thwarted by the weather. In fact, it looked as if this day would be the first one in a long time when those godforsaken weather gods didn't have rain in store for us. Plus, at 15°C, it was so mild that it might as well have been an early Spring day. 

I didn't even need that many layers. The green jacket, in spite of its faux fur collar, is only a moderately warm one, and so is my thin knit brown speckled scarf. I could have gone bareheaded, but wore my charity shopped Burberry beret as I'm a creature of habit. 

My only concession to the relative wildness of our destination was my old pair of fleece-lined brown boots to tackle the undoubtedly muddy paths.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while might remember this particular nature reserve from previous visits. In fact, I've mentioned it in no less than 7 blog posts since having rediscovered the area in the Summer of 2020.

At a mere 20-minute drive from Dove Cottage, the reserve, which goes by the name of Walenhoek, is the perfect choice for sampling some fresh air and the delights of nature whatever the season.

There were only two other cars in the car park, both apparently belonging to dog walkers making use of the adjacent, fenced off dog area.While dogs are obviously allowed in the reserve itself, they have to be kept on a lead at all times to protect the resident wildlife.

Apart from a handful of early birds like us we had the place virtually to ourselves so that we could immerse ourselves in its soul soothing solitude, the quietness only pierced by bird calls and the hypnotic, distant  rumbling of a train passing by on the track just beyond the domain.

There used to be clay pits here belonging to one of the area's many brickmaking factories. After the industry collapsed in the 1970s, it was reclaimed by nature and the traces of centuries of exploitation by man all but erased by its almighty force.

Today, the reserve comprises 60 hectares and offers a delightfully varied landscape of large ponds and pools bordered by reed beds and dense thickets through which a myriad of footpaths wind their way.

It was balmy enough to remove my jacket and show you what I was wearing underneath.

You've already caught a glimpse of my grey woollen skirt criss crossed with woven diagonals in red, green, yellow, black and white, which has been gracing my wardrobe for many years.

The blouse is another one which I reclaimed from the bottom of one of my flea market boxes and no, I honestly haven't got a clue what it was doing there. It was a delight to wear, so it's not going anywhere anytime soon. My teal cardigan is one of my charity shopped heart patterned King Louie's.

Both the green stretchy belt and the green beaded necklace were retail buys which have earned their place in my wardrobe over time. 

The brooch, with its green mottled stone set in a circle of tiny pearls, was bought from the Brooch Lady at an antiques fair in April 2017.

Although we'd walked this path countless of times, we only noticed the battery of bird feeders offering a plethora of delicacies last April, when it was being raided by a pair of cheeky squirrels. 

Sure enough, there was one of the bushy tailed creatures squirreling away its fill of nuts as we passed by. What's more, he or she didn't even bat en eyelid when I tiptoed ever closer to take its picture!

The reserve is dotted with the crumbling remnants of the former brickmaking factory, such as the old electricity cabin (below, top right), its former use given away by a danger of death warning sign.

It's almost beyond belief that less than half a century ago this place was a bustling hive of activity.

We'd brought a picnic, as we often do, and took some time looking for a suitable sun-drenched bench, eventually deciding on one with a view across the largest of the ponds.

Here, we were dazzled by the low Winter sun which had joined forces with its reflection.

I was just in time to grab my camera and catch one of the trains whizzing by, an elongated, quick-as-lightning blur of red and white (below, bottom right).

Hunger pangs satisfied, we continued on our way when, just before taking a final turn to the tree-lined path which would take us back to the car park, we spotted the slats of a wooden garden chair among the trees. 

Gingerly making our way towards it without being tripped up by treacherous brambles, we noticed that it wasn't a case of fly-tipping. In fact, it was a rather fancy one in perfect condition, which was tied to a tree trunk with a piece of rope. Clearly, this was someone's secret hideaway. Not so secret now, obviously, but I suppose it would be completely hidden by an exuberance of foliage in Summer.

With a view like that, I can imagine sitting and staring here for hours!

My depleted energy levels somewhat recharged, I decided to strike the iron while it was hot when we got home. I finally ventured into the garden and removed the slimy remains of the Nasturtiums, which hadn't yet been cleared as they'd been producing flowers only a couple of weeks ago.

What with all the wetness, and sunny days occurring almost exclusively while I am stuck at the office,  the garden has been somewhat neglected, which means I'll have my work cut out come Spring!

The sun had upped and left us again on Sunday, the grey sky reflecting my mood. To say that I wasn't looking forward to going back to the office on Monday is quite an understatement.

Nevertheless, I tried to cheer myself up by wearing colour, and lots of it. I thought it was time this dress got another outing. A sales bargain from Think Twice in the Autumn of 2019, I fell head over heels for its jungly flower and foliage pattern. However, it initially took me a while to wear it because of its plethora of split seams and its zipper, which needed to be fixed.

Taking the lead from the cobalt blue flowers, I added a belt, necklace and ring in the same colour.

Although picked up at a flea market ages ago, it was the necklace's first wear. I've certainly been discovering hidden treasures now that I've culled my tangled jumble of necklaces!

My final accessory was the brooch with its bouquet of sparkly flowers - the odd cobalt blue one among them - on a purple background. 

The Christmas break now being well and truly over, it will be business as usual in my next post. Please make sure to stay safe until then!