Tuesday 30 May 2023

Sounds of the city

As we are counting down the days to our UK holiday - which will be less than two weeks away by the time this post is published - I am retracing my steps once more to earlier this month, halting the time machine on Thursday the 17th of May.

This wasn't the usual run of the mill office day as, courtesy of a public holiday in Belgium, I had the day off and thus we were allowed to sleep in just that little bit longer. 

With a sunny aspect and temperatures up to 16°C, it could have been a day full of endless opportunities if one of my migraines hadn't decided to throw a spanner in the works. Although my symptoms are rather mild compared to some, I wasn't up to doing much and I definitely wasn't in the mood to go out for a walk or some such thing.

Nevertheless, I still found reason to dress up, unearthing this long-sleeved vintage dress of many colours from my wardrobe. For some unfathomable reason, it hadn't seen the light of day since the early days of the pandemic in March 2020.

Apart from the pink belt with its green plastic stitching, which was a Mango sales bargain last Summer, my accessories were all of the green variety and either flea market or charity shop finds. The vintage  big-eyed Bambi brooch is ceramic and one of my all-time favourites. It's got leaping deer and teddy bear cousins, all with a tiny chained collar around their necks, the poor things ...

The day was spent with some lazy pottering, starting with photographing my latest specs as promised.

They are dark green on the outside and off-white on the inside, and have translucent pale pink arms. They're from the French Anne & Valentin brand, same as my previous varifocals (see here), now converted to computer glasses.

I also engaged in some holiday prep, jotting down a couple of ideas on what to do and see once we've made it over there. 

While most people were making what we call the bridge, taking Friday off as well, I needed to go into the office. It was a quiet day, so I didn't really mind doing so, as it enabled me to catch up with a couple of things. It was a totally different story when I tried to make my way home, though, as Antwerp's shopping streets were chock-a-block! At 19°C and with non-stop sunshine, I'm sure it was the perfect day for a shopping  trip, but I couldn't get away from the crowds and into the sanctuary of our garden fast enough.

Judging from the flowers in our hanging bucket of strawberries, we are in for a treat, although I've got a niggling feeling that our catsitters, Inneke and Maurice, who will also be looking after some of our plants, will get to enjoy the first harvest. Having made its entrance in Dove Cottage's garden in May 2020, it's going into its 4th season this year. All I've done with it so far, is cut back last year's wilted foliage in Spring, give it a feed and add a fresh layer of compost, which appears to be doing the trick.

Lavender-blue flower spikes almost seem to have sprung up overnight in our Catnip (Nepeta faassenii 'Walker's Low'), while our Cotoneaster bush is alive with bees mad for the nectar provided by its tiny and rather nondescript flowers, their humming providing a meditative soundtrack.

Saturday brought a mixture of sunshine and clouds, the 20°C shown on the thermometer once again toned down considerably by lots of wind. 

If Thursday's outfit had to wait three years for another outing, Saturday's two-piece had an even longer wait to make it out of my wardrobe again. Unless I'm mistaken, I last wore this on a trip to Bruges in April 2019. I know, too many clothes, too little time to wear them all on a regular basis! 

I bought the cobalt blue belt with its massive rectangular buckle at the same time as the pink one in Friday's outfit. Again, the rest of my accessories (beaded necklace, moulded flower ring and metal flower brooch) were second-hand buys, picked up from various charity shops and a flea market over the years.

My shoes are Damart by way of the popup shop but sadly they caused some rubbing to my right foot, which rules out wearing them as an alternative to my Clarks Cloudsteppers on our holiday.

Saturday's outing took us to a local garden centre, as we were on the hunt for a plant watering system to keep our patio pots from dying of thirst during our holiday. We didn't find what we were looking for that day but, on our way back, we stopped at the edge of town charity shop for a browse.  Our finds, which I'll share in a later post, included an Italian made red leather crossbody bag, which got its maiden outing on Sunday!

On Sunday morning, we picked up our friends Inneke and Maurice and drove into Antwerp for a spot of culture.

By pure coincidence, we all turned out to be wearing denim jackets! While Maurice and Jos recently bought theirs on the high street, and mine was a lucky find at Think Twice the other week, Inneke's jacket is home-grown vintage which has been gracing her wardrobe for many years. 

Also note that - again purely by chance - both Inneke and I were wearing red based dresses! Great minds, and all that!

After having left our car in the car park near my office, we walked past the cathedral and into the direction of the Grote Markt, with its row of striking Guild houses, before continuing to the 500-year old Gothic Vleeshuis (Butchers' Hall). If you've been reading my blog for a while, you might remember I passed this iconic building with its façade made of alternating layers of red brick and white sandstone known as bacon layers, during one of my lunch break walks back in April. 

It was a relief to see that the roadworks which had marred my view of the building at the time had finished, so that I was able to properly photograph it before stepping inside.

Although the Butchers' Hall already opened its doors as a museum in 1913, it was only as recent as 2006 that the museum was reborn as Sounds of the City, the exhibits now entirely devoted to 800 years of musical life in Antwerp and the Low Countries.

If you think music and a Butchers' Hall are a strange combination, then rest assured that it isn't as far fetched as originally thought. Music was already being played in the neighbourhood a thousand years ago. Opera, first staged in Antwerp around the corner on the Grote Markt in 1682, was subsequently performed in this very building in the 19th Century.

The streets and alleyways here were littered with cafés where both locals and sailors danced into the early hours to the music produced by dance organs, like the one two collages down on the top left. 

The exhibits include hundreds of historical instruments, ranging from a large selection of harpsichords - Antwerp became the capital of harpsichord building in the 17th century - square pianos, organs, brass instruments, church bells and carillons, as well as a glass harp, to name but a few. 

Along the way, you can find out about famous musicians, minstrels, opera singers and fanfares or brass bands, and there's a multitude of drawers containing a vast collection of historical scores. 

The list is truly endless and we'll have to come back at least once to take it all in, as well as to listen to some of the music available via the museum's app.

I'm sure Kezzie and her husband were itching to try out some of the instruments on display when they visited the museum last year! Perhaps they played the upright piano in the dancehall exhibit in the basement?

Here, one can also admire various examples of the calliope (below, bottom left), the precursor to the jukebox. The basement attendant kindly turned on the magnificent dance organ for us, which was a lot louder than we'd bargained for. 

Jos and I wouldn't have minded taking home the wooden gramophone on the bottom right. 

Other exhibits in the basement include reproductions of a bell foundry, containing original objects from the foundry of the Sergeys family which date back to the 16th Century, and a brass instrument workshop, which contains part of the old Van Engelen workshop which closed in 1970.

Apart from the four of us, there was only one other group of visitors, whom we encountered briefly on our way to the basement, so that we had the place - and the attention of the knowledgeable and talkative attendant - practically to ourselves.

We concluded our cultural outing with a drink in one of the cafés lining the Grote Markt before re-joining our car and returning home.

And here's a look at my outfit of the day! Incredible though it sounds, it was the first outing of this vintage Diolen dress I found at Think Twice last year. Judging from the crispness of the fabric and its overall pristine condition, it might just as well been the dress's first outing ever!

I replaced the dress's original self-fabric tie belt with one of the stretchy belts from my collection. 

Apart from the off-white beaded necklace, which was a charity shop find, my accessories were all bought on the high street, which in case of the ceramic heart brooch was Cardigan's, as it was purchased during our wet Welsh holiday back in 2017.

From a future holiday to a past one, we have neatly come full circle. Hope to see you again in my next post!

Thursday 25 May 2023

Back to Flora's garden

The weather gods were still up to their old tricks in the second week of May. According to my journal, which these days mainly acts as an aide-memoire for my blog, we were treated to fog, grey skies, all-day rain and a thunderstorm, with the odd sunny spell thrown in for good measure.

As a consolation price, the temperatures were on the up, reaching an unheard of 20°C by Friday. Never mind that the sun only briefly showed her face a couple of times throughout the day. 

The ever-present Northeast wind made me grab another long-sleeved blouse from my wardrobe's shelves. My fuchsia blouse with its multi-coloured stripey pattern - likened to sweeties by Lulu - is from the defunct Belgian Who's That Girl label, and was part of a haul from an outlet shop back in November.

Last time I wore the blouse, which was in January, I wore it with the same mustard suede belt. By yet another Belgian label, this one called CKS, it too entered my wardrobe by way of an outlet shop somewhere in the Autumn of 2022. 

The green and white plaid Courtelle skirt is Swedish vintage and an old Think Twice buy. Both the green butterfly brooch and the blue glass ring were bought on the high street, while the yellow, pink and green wooden beaded necklace was a charity shop find. And yes, I am wearing my gold and silver patterned Western style ankle boots from the popup shop again. They have been hardly off my feet lately, although by rights I should be in sandals by now.

Speaking of the latter (the popup shop, not the boots), my feet took me into its direction again during one of the week's lunch breaks. I'd hardly walked into its spacious premises when this long-sleeved and lined dress with its swirly red, green, yellow and white pattern caught my eye. It's got an attached tie belt, which is fine, although the ties at the sleeves were unpicked in the meantime as they were rather annoying.

The blue, foliage patterned, crepe tie-neck blouse was my second find. 

Then my heart skipped a beat upon spotting the chevron patterned knit item on the bottom left. I was just making a bee line into its direction when, out of nowhere, a woman rounded a corner, grabbed it from the rails and added it to her already overflowing basket. Damn!

I continued my browsing and was just on my way to the till when I did a double take, swiftly followed by an imaginary jump for joy. Apparently someone had had second thoughts and had put the coveted item back on the rails. No second thoughts here, though. Isn't that pale pink, mustard, black and white fringed poncho gorgeous?

Perhaps it marked the start of a run of good luck where second-hand shopping was concerned, as only two days later did I find not one, but two of my holy grails at Think Twice. I'd been on the lookout for a floaty chambray midi skirt and a new (to me, obviously) denim jacket for absolutely ages, and bingo! 

But I digress, back to Friday the 12th of May it is.

For once, no charity shopping was on the menu that day, which wasn't much of a hardship. After all, I'd already had my fill of finds during the week. Instead, we went shopping for Jos at the local branch of C&A, as he was in need of a couple of pairs of trousers. Apart from these, we also found him a denim jacket and a flat cap, both of which have been on constant rotation ever since.

We also went back to the optician's, but don't worry: all is well with the varifocals situation. The trouble was that, having had my old glasses converted to reading and computer ones, I was now without a spare pair in case of a mishap with my varifocals. Not wanting to fork out another fortune, I opted for a pair of single-vision distance glasses. They're pretty funky and I promise to show them in my next post.

Saturday was a rare sunny and dry day, the highs of 22°C slightly hampered by a strong wind.

After breakfast, I donned my gardening gear to finish potting up and planting the stuff we brought back from the garden centre the other week. The passageway border has been completed with a Dicentra spectabilis a.k.a. Bleeding Heart, while the two pots on the tiny plant table at the back now contain an Astilbe and a Ligularia.

Pink Busy Lizzies and Dwarf Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla erythropoda) are keeping each other company in the terracotta bowl on the table. 

Then I had the brainwave of putting a row of tiles at the back of the border. We bought these for the princely sum of € 6 at the first indoor flea market after restrictions were lifted in October 2021, but hadn't figured out what to do with them yet. Here's a closer look.

Elsewhere in the garden, old faithfuls and favourites are popping up one by one. Clockwise from top left: Allium 'Purple Sensation', Trollius 'Lemon Queen', Kniphofia or Red Hot Poker, and a ground covering Geranium I've forgotten the name of, but which was one of the first plants we added to Dove Cottage's garden in the Summer of 1999!

We had a late lunch, then, wanting to strike the iron while it was hot, we decided to go for a walk.

Striking one destination after another off our list of possibilities as they'd be too muddy after all the rain, we opted for Den Brandt, one of the jewels in Antwerp's crown of parks.

Obviously I changed out of my gardening gear, selecting a lavender vintage dress with pleated skirt and blowsy flower print from my wardrobe, and wearing my newly acquired denim jacket for its maiden voyage. It would be my old Summer boots' swansong though, as one of the soles had developed a big hole by the time we got home. 

You've only got to look at my hair to see I wasn't exaggerating when I mentioned there was a strong wind!

As usual, we entered the park by way of the picking garden. Whereas last time we were here, which was back in January, the herb beds were as good as barren and the soft fruit bushes were leafless skeletons, everything was now lush and green, the herbs ready for picking and the soft fruit bushes and espaliered fruit trees already showing the promise of a rich harvest.

We were making our way towards the Gautam Buddha in the far left corner, when to my delight I saw that the gate leading to the neo-Gothic style Villa La Chapelle (the turreted house at the back) was open. Reluctantly followed by Jos, as we were actually trespassing in spite of the open gate, I made my way to the back of the villa to say hello to the lovely Flora (above, top left), whom we met for the first time at the end of October. 

It wasn't so much the trespassing Jos was worried about, but rather the fear of being locked in if someone should come along and lock the gate while we were in the garden. Obviously that didn't happen :-)

Buddha's offerings were plentiful this time around, his lap containing a mixture of wildflowers, feathers, sea shells, a pine cone and the odd enigma. He was even sporting a necklace with a dog pendant. And yes, the plastic orange and red striped beetle and the car key from last time were still there as well!

I kept lagging behind in the picking garden, making photos, but Jos was raring to go and continue our walk, so up the steps to the park proper we went. 

Den Brandt strikes the perfect balance between semi-wilderness and city park. If it weren't for the solitary joggers and groups of people out for an afternoon stroll, we could have imagined ourselves miles from civilization in some places. Alas, this being the first Springlike day in a long time, there were plenty of people around, leaving us in no doubt of our whereabouts.

Here's a proper look at the dress, which was a charity shop find and has been in my wardrobe for many years. In order to avoid it being too twee, I added a wide stretchy rattan belt (retail), a charity shopped Les Cordes rattan and wooden beaded necklace and a faux-Lea Stein cat brooch picked up from the indoor flea market.

We took a path close to the park's perimeter until we reached the gently undulating area at the edge of the park. This is the location of a bunker village, built during World War II as the main command for the Atlantik Wall in Belgium. 

The village, comprising 11 bunkers, was built in 1943 and abandoned on 29 August 1944, only a couple of days before the liberation of Antwerp. Initially, plans were made to demolish the bunkers, but these were eventually called off, the site receiving Monument status in 2004.  

A museum has been established in three of the bunkers, which are open to the public every first weekend of the month. A visit is well worth the effort and quite the experience.

We walked along the path which runs on top of a row of bunkers until we arrived at the castle. Originally dating from the late 18th century, but renovated in late classical style in the 1870s, the romantic castle is the park's focal point.

The castle is available for events, one of which was taking place at the time of our visit, the castle's entrance, which is guarded by two playful lions, decorated with a fabulous flower display!

I'm ending this post with Sunday's outfit. Although the day didn't exactly need brightening up (we had lots of sunshine and highs of 21°C), I though a dash of orange wouldn't be amiss.

It has been quite a while since this vintage frock featuring an orange abstract print on a pale peachy background made an appearance here. In fact, it might have been as long ago as the Summer of 2020.
I just love its massive collar and pocket tabs, the latter unfortunately being fake.

I dug up an orange leather belt with double gold tone buckle from my stash of belts, and added more gold tones with my filigree leaf necklace - found still on card in a charity shop back in 2019 - and a beaded butterfly brooch, which I think was a flea market find.

We had a lazy day, doing nothing in particular so, that's it for now. See you next time!

Saturday 20 May 2023

Back in time for the holidays

I ended my last post with a promise to show you my latest charity shop finds so, before anything else, let's have a look at the stuff that followed me home on Friday the 5th of May.

As usual, we visited two shops. This time both were from a local chain of shops called Opnieuw & Co. which, for want of a better word, translates as Afresh & Co. Established in 1995 when they opened their first shop, they celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2020 and now have a total of 5 shops in the area.

Their shop in the nearby town of Mortsel was the second one to open and the first one we ever visited, which must have been back in the early noughties.

It was the first one on our itinerary that day as well and, while Jos was having a coffee in the onsite cafeteria, I plucked two items from their well-stocked clothing aisles. 

First up, an exotically patterned and frilly butterfly sleeved Summer top from a label called Daniela Cool, which I couldn't find anything about apart from the fact that apparently it is Italian.

Even less is known about the origins of the yellow dress with its pattern of navy, green and purple flowers, as only its care label is present and correct.

Our next stop was a bit further down the road, at the current premises of the shop in Lier. It's already the third location for this shop which initially was the first to open back in 1995 in an atmospheric old cinema in the town centre. They had to move out due to safety reasons in 2007 and, after a couple of years in much smaller and rather cramped premises, a huge pop-up shop was opened in 2019 and is still going strong to this day.

Two snuggly cardigans ended up in my basket that day. The oatmeal openwork cardigan is from C&A and still got its tags, one of which proudly proclaims its 20% alpaca content. 

The caramel bobble knit cardigan is from the Belgian Rhétorique label. Established in the early 80s, the label was a big success at the time, with 18 shops of its own.

This blue and white plaid Gor-Ray skirt caught my attention and turned out to be a perfect fit. Being 100% pure new wool, it'll probably be stashed away until the Autumn, unless the weather gods keep forgetting what season it actually is.

The fuzzy snow leopard print belt was a no-brainer too.

It was when we were queueing at the till that we found Jesus! € 4 Jesus, to be exactly. He was loitering with a less handsome but somehow more expensive namesake and Our Lady of Lourdes and, in spite of not having had a wash in absolutely ages, it was obvious that he needed to come home with us!

The next day, Saturday the 6th of May, while still in my dressing gown after breakfast, I gave him a thorough clean, removing decades' worth of dust and grime. He's now taking pride of place on the dining room window sill.

The day had once again gone off to a chilly start, but with the mercury eventually expected to climb towards 20°C, I daringly opted for short sleeves! To be on the safe side, though, I wore a thin knit green vintage jumper with white accent stripes at the collar.

I was lucky enough to find the skirt, by Belgian designer Nathalie Vleeschouwer, for € 4,50 in a charity shop in March 2021. 

I'm sure my gold and silver patterned Western style ankle boots need no introduction. They've been on constant rotation since I picked them up in the big second-hand popup shop in Antwerp a couple of weeks ago.

The belt is the only retail buy here, my brooch with its delicate floral embroidery having its origins in an antiques shop in Carmarthen, Wales (part of this haul), and the enamelled necklace painted with roses being a flea market find back in October 2017.

While the world and his wife were watching the Coronation, I photographed Friday's finds, ironed a pile of fresh from their off-season suitcase Summer skirts and spent some time pottering around the garden. 

Dove Cottage's garden is at its lushest this time of year when it's on the cusp of turning into the wilderness it usually is in high Summer. We'd tamed it somewhat during Lockdown in 2020 but neglect set in again after last Summer's neighbourly building debacle. At least all that fresh greenery does its best to detract from the building materials still stacked sky-high against the garden wall in our neighbour's garden, and the far-too-heavy-to-lift bags of compost and building rubble mixture at the back of ours.

I was standing on a chair to photograph the hanging bucket of strawberries (below, top left) and the pink veined Petunias in the hanging basket (below, top right), when a hungry blue tit landed on the feeder. I was able to make a quick photo (above, bottom left) before he flew off again.

It always gladdens my heart to see my favourite flowers come up again year after year. It's impossible to count the number of flowers in our Geranium phaeum (above, bottom right) which, judging from the buzzing sound emanating from its direction, are greatly appreciated by the local population of bees.  And look, there's my beloved Aquilegia Nora Barlow too, its flowers ballerinas with frilly tutus. Not as many as in previous years, though.

After lunch, we made another trip to the garden centre, where we bought a bee hotel - to dissuade the solitary bees from using the stoppers of our roller blinds - some Busy Lizzies and Million Bells and a couple more shade-loving perennials to put in pots in the passageway, which I'm planning to turn into a green and leafy jungle to sit out in. 

By the time we got back, smoke had descended on our garden courtesy of our neighbour's impromptu  barbecue, so I thought I'd leave any planting for the next day.

Unfortunately, Sunday the 7th of May brought more rain, but with the temperature being a mild 18°C, I decided to go ahead regardless.

I started by planting the trailing geraniums we'd bought the other week in the enamelled cones recently vacated by the tête-à-tête daffs and then went on to fill the half basket between them with two different coloured Million Bells (a.k.a. Calibrachoa), in yellow and purple.

Then, with the rain becoming heavier, I quickly rescued two terracotta pots from the back of the garden to temporarily house the perennials.

With no letup in the rain until late afternoon, I finally managed to finish the wardrobe exchange, so that all my short-sleeved dresses are now within easy reach. Now all I need to do is vacuum the bags of off-season clothes for their seasonal sojourn in the linen chest, but I'd run out of steam by then. 

I also managed to put aside one bag for charity and two bags of items to sell on our flea market stall in July.

Sunday's outfit was built around this vintage short-sleeved chocolate brown dress patterned with  orange, yellow, green and light brown flowers.

A quick search of my blog revealed that I'd last worn it in May 2021 when, funnily enough, I wore the same green stretchy belt and orange tiled necklace with it. Different shoes, though. I only came across this pair of unworn chunky orange slingback shoes in a charity shop last September.

With short-sleeve season upon us, a pair of bangles came out to play. I can only wear these on non-office days, though, as I have to remove them for typing!

Other accessories were a brown plastic ring with a bit of sparkle (old retail buy) and a gold-framed ceramic brooch which was a recent flea market find.

The rest of the day was spent joining Bess on the sofa and finishing my latest read, while she was taking her afternoon nap.

With Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca being one of my all-time favourite books, I was dying to read the autobiographic Myself When Young, which I picked up in a charity shop in April.

Written when she was in her seventies and published in 1977, the book is based on the diaries she kept between 1920 and 1932, beginning with her earliest memories and her desperate ambition to succeed as a writer culminating in the publication of her first book, The Loving Spirit, in 1931. The book ends with her marriage to Major Frederick "Boy" Browning in 1932.

Loathing London life, she always dreamed of moving to Cornwall and in 1926 the Du Maurier family decided to look for a second home there. Arriving in Bodinnick, Daphne, her mother and her two sisters spotted Ferryside, the house that was to become her first foothold in Cornwall (below, top right).

It was while climbing the hill at nearby Gribbin Head in 1926 that Daphne first spotted the roof tops of Menabilly (above, bottom left) hidden in the trees. On her first attempt to reach the house itself, she found it set well back into the woods, at the end of a long and sprawling driveway lined with high banks of scarlet Rhododendrons. Sounds familiar? Well, the experience stuck in her memory and would eventually be the inspiration for Manderley in Rebecca, published in 1938.

She would later end up living at Menabilly with her husband and three children from 1943 until 1967.

In her book, she refers to Vanishing Cornwall, a non-fiction book she published in 1967. It rang a bell with me and, although I am pretty certain I own the book, I couldn't find it anywhere. Instead, I found Enchanted Cornwall (above, bottom right), which claims to be a pictorial memoir. I've got it lined up for one of my next reads.

I was also reminded of the hot August day in 1995, when Jos and I walked in Daphne's footsteps on the Gribbin Head promontory, skirting the Menabilly Estate and passing the delightful Polkerris and Polridmouth coves.

I even dug out my old photo albums for you, to share some embarrassing photos of Jos filming himself while climbing a style and me sporting a rather unflattering pair of shorts and the same hairstyle as my current one!

It had been a long hot Summer which followed a rainy Spring. I remember the weather turning on the day my sister got married in June, so perhaps there is hope for us yet.

However, the landscape is looking rather parched in my holiday snaps, and I remember there having been quite a few cliff fires, which is not what we want this Summer either.

Speaking of holidays, it simply beggars belief that in exactly three weeks to the date, we will be spending our first night in our Shropshire cowshed ...