Thursday 27 June 2024

Everything but the cat

Bess has been demanding cuddles and claiming our laps ever since we walked through our front door on Saturday evening! Here she is, making air biscuits and purring loudly, stretched out on my legs a mere couple of minutes after arriving home. I didn't even have the time to take off my shoes!

Although she was well looked after during our absence and received her daily dose of cuddles from our cat sitters, Maurice and Inneke, she had clearly missed us and was over the moon to have us at her beck and call again.  

And we had missed her too, of course, even if our holiday did offer plenty of distractions. In fact, it had everything but the cat! Oh, and decent, June-worthy temperatures! In spite of my holiday wardrobe catering for all kinds of weather, I didn't pack nearly enough cold weather clothes ...

After a fitful night's sleep, the alarm went off at 4 am on Saturday the 8th of June and just under an hour and a half later we started the first leg of our travels, which would take us to the LeShuttle terminal in Calais, where we stocked up on free snacks and drinks in the posh Flexiplus lounge before embarking.

Once in the UK, our journey went relatively smoothly, apart from a one hour delay between two junctions on the M40. We breathed huge sighs of relief when we were finally able to leave the motorway behind us and trundle along on minor roads towards our final destination. 

So, imagine our dismay when we found the final stretch of road just before the turn-off to the single-track lane leading down to our cottage closed due to roadworks! It was a good thing this wasn't our first visit so that we were aware of the existence of an alternative approach along another lane we'd always made sure to avoid before. And with good reason, it seems, as it was long, winding and very narrow with a distinct lack of passing places. 

The sun, which had been playing peek-a-boo all day, was now out in full force. Don't be fooled by the blue sky and cotton wool clouds though: they came accompanied with a blustery wind, which made the day's highs of 16°C feel quite a bit chillier. 

Wanting to stretch our legs after our long journey, we walked back up the lane, taking in the glorious sight of our little valley nestling below the dramatic heath and moorland plateau of the Long Mynd.

Apart from the rustling of the wind, the only sound is provided by a chorus of sheep. In spite of our cottage being a converted cow shed, we were actually on a sheep farm, and they, and random bits of their fleece, were literally everywhere!

Beyond a gate, a public right of way along an inviting looking sunken lane beckoned. Too exhausted for any further exercise by now, we retreated to the cottage but vowed to return and investigate the next day!

All traces of sunshine and blue sky had gone by Sunday morning, when we woke up to an utterly grey and dismal day, on which the thermometer failed to climb higher than a measly 13°C. 

Still recovering from our day of travel on hardly any sleep, nothing too strenuous was on our agenda  apart from shopping for food in the nearest town of any significance, the delightfully quirky Bishop's Castle. 

Getting out of our car, I instantly regretted not having packed any warmer coats than my orange leather jacket, as I was feeling the cold in spite of wearing a t-shirt, long-sleeved Breton top and cardigan underneath. So much for Summer weather!

While we were shopping at the small local supermarket, I was complimented on my outfit by a lovely lady who wasn't looking too shabby herself. We later ran into her again at The Poetry Pharmacy, where she and her friends sat at the table next to us. 

Situated in a beautiful, original Victorian building, The Poetry Pharmacy (linking 'cause I love) combines a bookshop, a centre for poetry and creative writing and a café which serves its own blends of tea and coffee, as well as a selection of the most delicious cakes. 

After literally walking up the high street - it has a gradient of 1 in 6 - our limbs and spirits were restored with flasks of the house coffee and a shared slice of Earl Grey and rose petal cake, which was utterly moreish!

The harsh wind had died down somewhat when we left the café, and lo and behold, there was the odd break in the clouds revealing tiny bits of blue sky. So, instead of sticking to our original plan to return to the cottage, we ambled down the high street, taking in some of the unusually painted and decorated façades which hint at the quirkiness of the town's residents.

Images of elephants are everywhere! 

The elephant is rooted in the history of Bishop’s Castle. During the 18th Century it was home to Robert Clive, better known as the infamous Clive of India, his emblem being an Indian elephant. Then, in the Second World War, several circuses moved their animals to Bishop’s Castle to avoid the air raids. The elephants were housed in the stables at the back of The Castle Hotel, and when they finally left, one of the elephants was left behind. Apparently, the animal continued living n Bishop’s Castle for many years and was often seen being walked through the town and the local lanes, which must have been quite a sight!

We stopped to buy some Welshcakes at the local Spar and  a jar of locally produced honey directly from a beekeeper who was planting up some hanging baskets in front of his house.

Then we continued past The Six Bells pub at the bottom of Church Street, its façade painted a very bright eye-searing orange which my outfit had problems competing with. Across the road, in the retaining wall of the churchyard, we admired the traditional red post box dating from the era of King George V (1910-1936).

We entered the churchyard through the exquisitely carved lych gate and found ourselves in front of the Parish Church of St John the Baptist. The massive tower is all that remains of the original church built in 1291. The rest of the church was destroyed during the Civil War in the 17th Century and was completely rebuilt in 1869-60 by Thomas Nicholson. The present building in Victorian Gothic style is spacious and well-proportioned.

By then it was going on to 1.30 pm and, the shared slice of cake soon forgotten, we were getting a bit peckish. But then we remember the Welshcakes we'd bought, swiftly tore open the packet and ate a couple while sitting in the church porch. 

I made Jos pose next to the other grumpy-looking bearded individual who was guarding the main entrance to the church.

Among the church's many interesting features are some fine stained glass windows including two Pre-Raphaelite windows in the prayer chapel. 

The one on the left is depicting the Good Shepherd laying down his life for the sheep, while on the right is Purity, represented by a woman holding a lily, a symbol of purity usually associated with the Virgin Mary. The dove in the centre represents the Holy Spirit descending from heaven. 


After buying a replacement for the depleted packet of Welshcakes from the bemused shop assistant at the Spar, we returned to the cowshed for a couple of hours of rest.

But that sunken lane beckoned so we dressed up warmly - I added a jumper on top of all the layers I was already wearing - and ventured outside.

Originally the lane was a relatively level grassy track running between stunted, bent-out-of-shapes trees festooned with rags of sheep's fleece. 

Together with the sky, which had reverted to the morning's granite grey, they provided a suitable backdrop to the dramatic Long Mynd landscape.

When the track started going downhill, it became quite stony and harder to negotiate, so we thankfully made use of our walking poles to keep our balance. Further down, there was also quite a bit of mud to deal with.

Apparently, the public right of way is an old drovers' road connecting Adstone (the hamlet where we were staying) with the hamlet of Medlicott, and requires crossing a shallow ford. 

Courtesy of the excessive rainfall, it had turned into a bit of a stream so that, in spite of the alluring path on the other side, we decide to give it a miss and call it a day.

But what a magical walk it had been, and what a wonderful first day of the holidays!

There's more, of course, much more, so I'm hoping that you'll join me again for the next episode of the travelogue in a couple of days!

Friday 7 June 2024

This, that, and the other

We've come to the end of June's first week and, this being the week before our UK holiday, there were quite a few hurdles to jump. I won't bore you with the details but suffice to say that I could have done without these last-minute issues. Anyway, all is done now, I've come out the other side unscathed and I'm raring to go. 

Our bags are packed and as always I'm taking far too many clothes, adding one item and then the other just in case. Travelling light will never be my forte, and as we are travelling by car, why the hell should it be? After all, years of experience have taught me that, bar frost and snow, there's every kind of weather to take into account when travelling to the UK in June.

Before we're off, however, I've got a bit of a catch up for you. So, let's travel back to the month of May once more, and to Sunday the 19th in particular.

After a dismal start to the day, the sun finally graced us with her presence in the afternoon, pushing the temperature into the low twenties. Too good to be wasted inside, we decided on a short walk in Duffel park. A very short walk, it turned out to be, as quite a few of the paths were closed off while a connecting rill between the park's various ponds is being dug.

I was wearing a button-through skirt by Monki, which I'd found in a charity shop on Saturday. Its companion, a blue and white patterned short-sleeved cotton jumper, was a charity shop find as well but has been living with me for several years. It's a real wardrobe staple, especially at this tricky time of year, and I'm taking it with me on holiday as usual. Don't be fooled by the buttons on the back, though: they are fake and for decoration only!

The green squirrel brooch is modern, found in a quirky little shop near my office, while it were yet again the charity shops which delivered my belt and necklace.

We wandered into the direction of the castle ruin but found the path around the moat a semi-flooded mud fest, so that there was nothing for it but to turn back the way we'd come. 

As a result of all the rain, the park's vegetation was the lushest we'd ever seen. We delighted in the lawns crowded with a carpet of daisies and the cheerful yellow flag Irises lining the brook.

The Monki skirt wasn't the only thing which had landed in my charity shop basket the other day!

The geometrically patterned three-quarter sleeved top - also part of my holiday wardrobe - is by the defunct Belgian Wow To Go label, while the floral dress is by its little sister Who's That Girl. 

My final find, the linen-blend midi skirt with its eye-catching exotic flower pattern is by Anonyme Designers, which apparently is an Italian brand.

The rest of the day - and part of the next, which was Whitsun Monday, and thus another bank holiday - was spent engrossed in my latest read. 

I found Emma Donoghue's The Pull of the Stars quite unputdownable.

In spite of its sunny spells and moderate 19°C, most of Whitsun Monday was devoted to going through my flea market boxes in preparation for the event which as usual will be taking place in July. 

I even climbed a stepladder to have a look into the suitcase which is living on top of my main wardrobe. I'd quite forgotten the existence of most of the stuff that was in there, which I presume are the remnants of the last pre-Covid flea market in 2019. And while the majority of the suitcase's contents will end up on my stall in July, I couldn't resist putting a fabulous denim jumpsuit back in my wardrobe! My mind boggles as to why I was thinking of getting rid of it!

What with the bank holiday, May's penultimate working week was a short one.

With time to spare before I was due back at the office during one of my lunch breaks, I wandered into a shop on the high street. Here, my eyes instantly zoomed in to a spectacular brooch which couldn't have been more me. Taking it to the till, the lovely shop assistant told me it was a one-off, and she had been wondering who would end up buying it. She was intrigued when I told her about my brooch collection and was completely bowled over when I showed her some photos on my blog. We ended up chatting until the next customer arrived at the till.

Friday was an utterly miserable day with torrential rain from late morning onwards. As I had an appointment at my hairdresser for a colour and cut, we drove to Antwerp, where Jos ran an errand while I was relaxing at the salon feeling like a lady of leisure. What a luxury to be able to do this on a Friday instead of during an extended lunch break and then have to rush back to the office!

The non-stop rain made us ditch our plans for the afternoon and make our way back home after we'd lunched instead.

A quick set of outfit photos were made when the rainclouds were taking a breather. There's nothing here you haven't seen before and apart from the belt and the boring black ankle boots, everything was found either at Think Twice, the charity shops or the flea market.

Initially there wasn't much improvement in the weather on Saturday but thankfully the rainclouds had upped and left by mid-afternoon. Just in time for grandson Cas's 3rd birthday party!

I was determined to give the frilly floral blouse I'd picked up at the vintage per kilo shop the other week its first outing, and in fact I'd already mentally selected a skirt as its companion. As it turned out it needed ironing, I opted for this faux leather snake print skirt instead. It's by posh Belgian label Caroline Biss, charity shopped at the silly price of € 5,90 back in November.

Admittedly, the vintage flower brooch I pinned to the blouse might have gotten a big lost among its floral extravaganza, but although I doubt that snakes and tigers would get along in real life, I thought the tiger eye pendant was the perfect choice.

One of my stretchy belts, a pale yellow glass ring and a pair of tan calf-length boots completed my outfit.

The month's final week was another uneventful one. That is, until my colleague happened to look out the window on Wednesday afternoon and spotted King Kong climbing up the Art Deco tower building which is our opposite neighbour. Antwerp might not be New York and the Boerentoren (Farmer's Tower) a far cry from the Empire State Building, whoever thought of this gimmick definitely got the decade right, as our very own tower building, the first one in Europe, was completed in 1931.

Sadly, it was only a temporary thing, and part of a three-day event called Antwerp on Air, during which Antwerp's main shopping thoroughfare would be decorated with several inflatable animals, including a giant squid (above). None of them were as impressive as King Kong, though!

Now, how about some more outfits? 

On Thursday I wore a vintage faux patchwork vintage frock, accessorized with a charity shopped green and turquoise flower brooch, an orange beaded necklace picked up in an antiques emporium in Newcastle Emlyn, Wales, an orange stretchy belt with a massive buckle and a pair of turquoise suede shoes from Think Twice.

Friday's outfit consisted of a red, orange, navy and tan patterned vintage skirt (charity shopped) worn with a navy sailor-style jumper from Who's That Girl, bought brand new back in the mists of time.

To tie in with the orange bits in my skirt, I selected an orange cat brooch (Katshop), an orange plastic ring (flea market) and a necklace from a long-gone vintage shop. The stretchy belt with its square buckle was found on the high street.

We took another bag of donations to the charity shop and came back with a couple of things, including a couple of books and this gorgeous blue embroidered open work King Louie cardigan. At a mere € 5,90, which is the regular price for cardigans in this particular shop, it was a no-brainer. Again, somebody hadn't done his or her homework by neglecting to put it on the posh label rail where it would have commanded a much higher price.

I spent a good chunk of Saturday assembling my travel wardrobe and doing some other holiday prep, completely forgetting to make outfit photos. I can't for the life of me remember what I wore that day.

Sunday - we were the 2nd of June by now - had been forecasted as the best day of the weekend. However, it was quite windy and there was a distinct lack of sunshine until late afternoon.

We drove down to Middelheim for a head-clearing walk and I almost instantly regretted my choice of jacket and the fact that I hadn't grabbed a scarf from our hallstand the minute I got out of the car.

We entered the park through the famous Artist's Entrance (see here) and made our way towards what we thought were the beginnings of a new playground, consisting of a huge orange zig-zag frame with two triple swings. 

This, of course, turned out to be a work of art, called One Two Three Swing! It's part of COME CLOSER, Middelheim's Summer Exhibition, which is running from 7 June until 29 September.

Which means it is actually opening today, although our visit dates from a week ago on Sunday. 

As luck would have it, we were able to see a kind of première of the installation called A Retrospective View of the Pathway. It consists of foam that rises from two giant tubs and engulfs the viewer depending on the wind. Its creator, Roger Hiorns (b. 1975, Birmingham, UK)  studied at Goldsmiths College in the mid-1990s and now lives and works in London.

The artwork I'm posing in front of is actually inflatable! It's by the Polish artist Zuzanna Czebatul (°1986) and called - wait for it -  Macromolecule Exploiting some Biological Target.

Obviously, we will go back and have a proper look at the exhibition in the Summer months.

But first things first: tomorrow we'll be up at silly o'clock to start our UK adventure.

See you on the other side!