Thursday, 19 April 2018

Spring fever

The sunny weather we have been graced with since last week seems to have finally snapped me out of the lethargy I've been in for the last couple of months.

Life is still a bit tough work-wise, as I'm still spending most of my days at the office on my own, and will remain doing so for the foreseeable future, but now that the days have been getting longer, temperatures have been rising, and nature has been having its annual wake-up call, at least it feels like there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

We've been quite productive, finally booking a long weekend away at the end of the month (just over a week now!), as well as browsing holiday brochures, ordering maps and booking our channel crossing for our upcoming holiday in June.

I've also been making a serious dent into my twice-yearly wardrobe switch, putting away almost all of my Winter stuff, and digging out my Summer frocks from our antique linen chest where they have been hibernating for six months

Hello, my lovelies, welcome back! It's so good to see you, and I can't wait to wear you all!

While I was sorting through my Summer stuff, I came across this skirt which I'd completely forgotten about. There's a belted blouse to go with it, but as it's a bit shapeless on me, I decided to play around with some Spring separates.

Instead of the blouse, I added a short-sleeved fine knit vintage jumper in the brightest of yellows. I've got a whole collection of them, in different colours, but in all fairness I don't wear them very often, as the weather's either too warm or too cold for them.

A thin layer of wispy clouds was playing a game with the sun on Saturday, making it just the right temperature for an April day, and so for wearing said jumper!

I tried tucking it in the skirt, but ended up wearing it out, with a wide orange belt, picking up the orange from the skirt, at my waist.

Once I got that settled, accessorizing was easy: a long, beaded necklace in the freshest of greens, a blue-rimmed brooch, bracelets in green and royal blue and a chiffon scarf in vibrant citrus shades.

I was still wearing nylons, as it wasn't that warm yet, and besides I don't want to give people a fright upon seeing my translucently pale winter legs. Need to get the fake tan out!

I also wasn't ready to give up wearing boots, but I'm sure these frivolous yellow ones are perfect for this time of year! They're becoming a bit scruffy, and it'll be a sad day when I finally have to let them go.

It was a toss up between a short-sleeved jacket and a three-quarter-sleeved one, so I wore them both. Not at the same time, obviously!

I left the house in this gorgeous yellow-based floral blazer, in a light-weight tapestry fabric. I picked it up in a charity shop back in February, and I've been eyeing it longingly ever since, waiting for the perfect weather to wear it.

Where were we off too, you might wonder? Well, it has been three weeks since we went near any charity shops ... But more about that later!

Before we hit the second shop, we stopped at the park for a picnic and outfit photos.

In search of the perfect spot, we came across a clearing in a thicket of willow shoots, freshly mulched with a crunchy layer of fragrant wood chips.

In the background, the tranquil water of one of the lakes was shimmering, adding to the sense of magic created by the veiled Spring sunshine slowly but surely breaking through the clouds.

Spring has definitely sprung now, and the few remaining daffodils, their limp ans straggly foliage the soul food for next year's flowers, have been joined by tulips and grape hyacinths.

Pattern mixing of a different kind with this short-sleeved textured polyester jacket, its blue matching exactly the shade of blue in the skirt.

I love the contrast of the mesmerizing, groovy print with the skirt's florals. More flower power was added by the wicker and straw poppy brooch.

We didn't come home empty handed, that's for sure. Here is our loot from the two shops we visited. Pickings had been very poor lately, so we were in for a surprise!

Here's a round-up of what we found.

A pair of rather sensible brown shoes to be worn to work on a "bad back" day (€ 3), a vintage orange Tupperware container for € 1,50 and a couple of belts for € 1 each. That's not a bad start at all.

And then there were these:

Clockwise from top left: a colourful pussy-bow summer top from Belgian label Mayerline, still with its tags, a small plaster bust of St. Rita, one of our village's patron saints, Blackeyes by Dennis Potter, of  Singing Detective fame - how 80s is that cover! - and a small wooden souvenir box.

I always look at the jewellery displays and this time my eye was caught by some amber coloured bangles and a long chain necklace with a definite Seventies vibe.

Last but not least, we found this Retro Day remnant in one of the shops. 

Oh dear! Or should that be, oh deer?

The plaster lady with her two pet deer has clearly seen better days, the paint cracked and with lots of chips showing the white plaster underneath, but how absolutely adorable are the deer! Especially the one on the left, looking up at plaster lady with big Bambi eyes ...

They're already feeling quite at home in Dove Cottage with its growing collection of deer!

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Home & Garden

I bet you're all dying to know what we bought at the castle so, without further ado, let's have a peek at the things which came home with us.

And the winner is ... Sheila! You were spot on, dahling! Well done! We bought the green deer, which is actually a  lamp. A 1930s Art-Deco lamp to be more exactly.
I mean, it's green, it's a deer and it's Art-Deco: if ever an object ticked all the right boxes, then this is it.

The wiring was a bit dodgy, so Jos, who's a skilled electrician, changed it and added another lamp fitting and hey presto: less than a day later it was already taking pride of place on our sitting room's mantelpiece.

Dove Cottage actually dates from the 1930s, so it couldn't have come to a better place, even if it does have to share the limelight with several other favourites.

Centre stage is taken by this pretty wooden pendulum clock, which Jos found at a local junk shop.

On its left, behind the deer, is a vintage floor and furniture wax canister. This, as well as the tiny sample pot next to it, was gifted to us by my parents around the time we moved into Dove Cottage, and have been in the same spot on the mantelpiece for coming up to twenty years now. They both came from a shop in our village, which used to be owned by a great aunt, one of my maternal grandfather's sisters. The shop, of course, is long gone, but I walk past the house it was in every weekday morning on my way to the bus stop.

Moving to the right now, where there's a motley crew of objects vying for attention. The amber glass candlestick is 1930s as well, and so is the Art-Deco bonbonnière on the bottom right. The ceramic couple, wearing traditional Dutch costume, is identical to the pair I used to play with when staying at my paternal grandparents, resulting in quite a few breakages and the ensuing gluing on of heads!

In front is a souvenir ashtray from Expo 58, the famous Brussels World Fair, containing a souvenir book of matches with an image of the Atomium.

Lurking in the recess is a plaster statue of Our Lady of Boom, which we picked up in a charity shop. Boom (the "oo" is pronounced like the "o" in bone) is the town where Jos grew up.

Above the mantelpiece is a mirror in a gorgeous wooden Art-Deco frame, which was going for a song in a charity shop as its glass is riddled with black spots. Reflected in the mirror is our 1950s light fitting, also charity shopped.

This cosy corner in our sitting room is a meeting of styles from different decades. The chairs are 1950s which we had to Phoebe-proof with plaids. The metal shelving, produced by Dutch company Tomado, and currently highly collectible, is 1950s as well, and so, of course, is the framed Expo 58 poster.

Back to the 1930s with the inlaid wooden side table. On top, a late 1950s Bakelite radio. The framed photographs are of my grandparents in old-fashioned bathing suits at the seaside (left) and Jos's mother carrying one of her plants on the right.

Opposite this corner and above the modern flat screen television (we do have some mod cons!) are two display cases carrying the poshest of my Barbies, with some of Jos's Davy Crockett collection on the right.

Is it a boy or a girl? I've never been absolutely sure, but he or she is carrying a jug of ostrich feathers, very fashionable in the 1920's.

I couldn't resist the kitsch wooden wall plaque with a tableau of plastic deer, going for € 0,50 in a charity shop. The display of vases and birds on the bottom right is sitting on top of a cabinet.

I'm the first to plead guilty when it comes to clutter, but all these objects have a soul and a story to tell. They have found a place, not only inside Dove Cottage, but in my heart as well.

After this little detour, it's back to the rest of our finds. 

As you'd probably expected, I bought several brooches. I selected four from the Brooch Lady's folders, and found another three at one of the stalls upstairs.

How cute is that cuckoo clock? The celluloid deer and the carved mother-of-pearl bird brooch were just € 5 and € 7, which is quite cheap. They both needed cleaning, but just soaking them in soapy water already lifted most of the dirt.

Have you noticed the stylish little hat in the group picture? The minute I laid eyes on it, I was in love. The stall's owner urged me to try on a rather spectacular 1920s cloche hat, but I had my heart set on this one, even though it didn't come cheap.

I thought it would rather suit the snooty Idina, so here she is modelling it for you!

The weather continued to be fine on Sunday (I'm still rambling on about last week here) so we spent a bit of time in the garden. I'd already done some serious pruning on Friday afternoon, getting rid of some of the exuberant ivy which is threatening to take over our little plot. A huge heap of twigs and cuttings is now ready to be collected by the town council in a week or two.

We also planted out our poor rhubarb plant which had been waiting patiently in its pot. No need to plant any more Aquilegia, as they self-seed like mad: look at those little seedlings huddling together in this terracotta planter, abandoned after the demise of its original inhabitant. 

More signs of Spring in other parts of the garden. Our Clematis armandii is slowly reaching its zenith, the warmth of the sun releasing its heavenly almond scent. The little stone dove will soon be surrounded by the small pink flowers of our ground-covering Geranium, while Alchemilla mollis, commonly known as Lady's Mantle, is one by one unfurling its downy leaves. Quite unexpected, as I'm sure I didn't plant it there. Yet another of our self seeders!

As much as I love green, our garden was sorely in need of a bit more colour, so we made a trip to the garden centre to pick up some flowering Spring plants.

You've got to love a bit of flower power ...

I'm not very visible in this post, so I will take Idina and her fabulous new hat to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style this week!

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

There's such an air of Spring about it

We were up early on Saturday. The sun was calling us up through a chink in the curtains, made by an impatient Phoebe, who wanted to be let out into the garden! It's her way of saying, wake up, you sleepy heads!

The little minx was right, of course. The day looked set to be a glorious one, the sky too blue and the sun too bright to be wasted catching up on sleep. Besides, we were off to a brocante fair, set at Castle de Renesse, in the Campine area in the north-eastern part of the province of Antwerp.

Oh, you know, we have been there before (see here and here). The setting is delightful and if the weather's fine like it was on Saturday, we can combine the outing with a stroll through the castle's extensive grounds.

In the castle's courtyard, an Easter display containing eggs, chicks and bunnies hidden among colourful pansies, was still going strong.

There's the last of the daffodils, its frilled golden trumpet bowed in modesty and the first of the bluebells, which will soon turn into carpets of gently nodding blue bonnets.

The castle's shabby opulence is the perfect backdrop for a myriad of stalls, which are just a little cut above the rest. No cheap 'n cheerful flea market stuff to be found here!

You almost expect prices to reflect their surroundings but, while admittedly some of the wares on offer are overpriced and well beyond our budget, there's a surprising amount of affordable stuff as well.

The Brooch Lady was there with her folders of brooches. No longer trading at the flea market in Antwerp, she only does a few selected fairs, and this is one of them. As faithful clients, she'd even called us a couple of days in advance to tell us she'd be there. 

You can just about make her out next to me, using a pair of scissors to release the brooches I'd selected from her folders. They are pinned to a piece of carton, which is then stapled inside a plastic sleeve. This is how she preserved her collection and as most of the brooches have been in there for years, removal isn't always easy.

More treasures upstairs, all temptingly displayed against the original features and sumptuously papered walls of the castle's well-proportioned rooms.

Apart from several brooches and a hat, we took another object home with us. It's in one of the collages, but can you guess what it is?

All will be revealed in my next post!

By now, it was well past noon, so Jos went back to our car to get our picnic basket, while I plonked myself down at the one and only picnic table with a view of the lake and the castle.

As usual, we had the place to ourselves, so here was the perfect opportunity to show you what I was wearing.

I was a tiny bit overdressed, as I was wearing a cardigan as well as a jacket over my short-sleeved frock, which I accessorized with a yellow belt (not visible here) and green beaded necklace.

On my arm, a small green handbag which is surprisingly roomy. I pinned my green swallows-in-flight brooch to my cardigan and another brooch, a gold tone leaf bearing sugar-coated berries, to my jacket.

The jacket has been in my wardrobe for years. It was bought in the sales at a local boutique and although I love its mossy green colour shod through with brown, purple and orange, as well as its shape, I have to admit I haven't been wearing it all that much. Still, I'm not prepared to let it go.

After storing away our picnic basket in the boot of our car, we set off for a walk around the domain.

First stop was a gazebo we remembered from last year, when we climbed to the top of the knoll it was built on and down again via some steps. It was only later, while I was researching my post, that I discovered it was built on top of an ice house.

This time we made sure to walk around the knoll to the ice house's entrance. This is now a bat sanctuary and cannot be visited.

Continuing our walk, we passed this red and white shuttered gingerbread cottage, which is part of the domain. This used to be the bailiff's cottage, and I think it is rather sweet. I'd happily settle for it if my search for a castle proves to be fruitless!

Soon we veered off on this tree-lined path. All was quiet except for the calling of the birds, busily flitting from tree to tree and gathering nest building materials in the thicket below.

It's days like these which make me yearn for magic powers to make time stand still, however briefly, in order to savour those moments just that little bit longer.

Here's a close-up of my frock, which is Diolen and has a richly hued floral print on a deep mauve background. I chose moss green opaques to go with it and I was wearing my burgundy booties.

No Spring pastels to be seen here, except for my pale green hat!

Even after the harshest and longest of Winters, Spring performs her magic, erasing its memory.

Like Sleeping Beauty, nature is awakening from hibernation, kissed by the first warm rays of the sun.

Lush new growth and buds about to turn into fresh green leaves or delicate blossoms: all that new-born verdancy releasing an almost forgotten fragrance carried by a gentle breeze.

Majestic trees are standing guard over the castle. They have been doing so for centuries, silent witnesses to its chequered history, while watching the seasons come and go, lying dormant until Winter is giving way to yet another Spring.

I wonder what happened to the statues which must once have graced the many empty plinths, the stone weathered and coated in mosses and lichen.

Our circuit of the castle grounds finished, we made our way back to the courtyard, where we enjoyed a scrumptious piece of cake and a cup of coffee sitting at a little table outside.

A perfect ending to a perfect day!

Linking to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style!

Friday, 6 April 2018

Past-time pastimes

Never mind the weather, we are always looking forward to the Easter edition of our favourite indoor flea market.

I was adamant to wear my newly acquired maxi skirt which, miraculously, is exactly the right length to wear with comfortable, medium heeled booties, which are a necessity for tackling the flea market's many aisles.

With all the different colours going on, you'd think it would be a doddle to combine but, being more than bored with my Winter stuff, I felt quite uninspired. It was way too cold to wear a short-sleeved top, and none of my long-sleeved ones really pushed the right buttons.

I finally settled for this navy polka dot pussy bow blouse. Its fabric is quite thin, almost sheer really, but I made sure to wear the necessary layers underneath. The upside of the thin fabric is that it makes the pussy bow satisfyingly floppy, so that it could be draped over my jacket without being too bulky.

I  had another wobble when it came to choosing outerwear. The temperature had dropped several degrees since Saturday and although one of my fur-collared jackets would have been more weather appropriate, they would have rather spoiled the look I was after.

I can tell you I was feeling the cold in my lighter weight lilac jacket but once inside the flea market venue it was exactly warm enough, especially with my cardigan underneath.

I added another layer of polka dots by wearing this ancient coral cardigan, which has been in my wardrobe forever. The brooch I pinned to it has a wreath of embroidered flowers in sugary Spring colours.

Here's a close-up of the skirt's gorgeous print. 

There is no label identifying the fabric contents, but it feels soft and silky, and it received quite a few admiring glances and compliments at the flea market.

I'm sure you've had quite enough of the skirt by now, so here's Jos posing like a pro, wearing his  charity shopped orange River Woods shirt and Harris Tweed jacket!

Back to the flea market, which wasn't as huge as usual. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing, as we often have to drag ourselves through the last aisles and, with so many stalls offering a plethora of things, it can sometimes be quite overwhelming.

We always start at the same stall, which has tables full of the most wonderful trinkets. Hardly a month goes by when we don't buy anything here. This is where we found the Art Deco egg cups last month and the flower shaped Avon soaps back in February.

I saw some blue and white pottery lurking at the bottom of a carton. When I'd gingerly pulled it out it turned out to be a Devon Blue Ware jug, as I'd suspected all along.

I'm sure those of you living in the UK will be familiar with these souvenir pottery items, which sometimes turn up in charity shops, while antique shops seem to be having them in abundance. There was one in our cottage in Wales mentioning Devil's Bridge.

As luck would have it, we have actually been to Lynton & Lynmouth in North Devon, back in 1997.

Clockwise from top: Lynmouth, where we bagged the last parking spot, 36-year-old
me wearing shorts, and the cliff railway descending from Lynton to Lynmouth

Our next stop was Tania's stall, another treasure trove of desirable objects. We always stop for a chat and usually find something that catches our eye. This time, a vintage enamelware bread basket came home with us.

I can never resist kitsch souvenir items, so when I picked up this tiny wooden windmill, a souvenir from Vlissingen in Holland, Tania gave it to me for free as an Easter present! Isn't she a darling?

It will be joining the Wall of Windmills in our entrance hall.

Souvenirs of a different kind came in the form of these small vintage toys, which Jos remembers from his childhood.

On the left, a small tin frog, advertising Grand Bazar department stores, a true Belgian institution, sadly no longer in business. The frog is making a clicking sound when you push a piece of bendy metal on the back and let go. 

Jos remembers that it was given to him as a young boy when visiting Grand Bazar in Antwerp (the frog we found is from the Liège store) on the occasion of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas, celebrated on 6 December), when in the weeks leading up to the big day, children patiently awaited their turn to approach the throne he was perched upon on the top floor of the store.

When Jos was telling me about this, he suddenly remembered the existence of this photo!

Little Jos with Sinterklaas in the 1950s

Can you imagine the racket made by literally hundreds of kids clicking their frogs while traipsing behind their parents going down the escalators, the sound of it echoing in the cathedral-like building?

You will probably have guessed that the two round objects on the right are yo-yo's?

These too were a blast from the past for Jos, who had the exact same yo-yo back in the 1950s. They are advertising Bécassine processed cheese, which was produced by a company called Franco-Suisse.

He has no idea where it came from but it might have been given to him when visiting Expo 58 where the company had a pavillion. 

While I was researching Bécassine and trying to find out more about the cheese, it struck me that a lot of the images coming up were of comic strips.

It turns out that Bécassine is an iconic French comic strip heroine, going back to 1905. She is considered the first female protagonist in the history of French comics. The character Bécassine is a young Breton housemaid, usually depicted wearing a green dress, lace cap and clogs, as a pastiche of traditional Breton peasant costume.

I'd never have known this if it hadn't been for blogging!

The flea market has lots of stalls selling jewellery in all price ranges, from the cheap 'n cheerful to the ridiculously expensive. By keeping an eye out and making the effort to rummage in boxes and trays full of cheap tat, I have so far managed to find the majority of my brooches at reasonable prices.

Both the wooden brooch on the top left, encrusted with tiny shells, and the 1950s ceramic leaping deer were mine for € 5, while poor cross-eyed Mr. Owl was just € 1.

There are certain categories of brooches I'm expecting to pay a bit more for. A case in point are the delicate Italian made micromosaic brooches. One has to examine them very carefully, as sometimes some of the tiny tesserae tiles are missing and, although I don't really mind if it's a particularly nice one, I obviously don't want to pay over the odds for them.

It was love at first sight for the sweet little forget-me-nots framed in ochre and the Milan souvenir brooch containing a picture of Milan's famous cathedral, the Duomo, surrounded by the most exquisite micromosaic border.

We will now have to wait until well into May for the next indoor flea market but until then there are the first outdoor ones to look forward to. For these, of course, we do need Spring's full cooperation!