Tuesday 30 May 2017

Our House (In The Middle Of Our Street)

We've put it off for far too long. It's been 12 years since we last had Stonecroft's exterior painted and it is looking distinctly shabby around the edges. We've had a decorator out today and, hopefully, weather permitting, before too long we should have a much more respectable looking house.

Stonecroft from the avenue, 1952. Previous photo taken today.

You probably already know our house originally belonged to my maternal Grandparents who, together with Mum, moved there from Birmingham in 1952. When Grandma's Alzheimer's became too advanced for her to continue living independently (she was widowed in 1984) she had to move into a nursing home. Neither of us could bear the thought of someone else owning Stonecroft so Jon and I put our Victorian terraced house up for sale and bought Stonecroft to help fund her care fees. Thinking we'd have months to get the house habitable, our place sold to a cash buyer within an hour of the For Sale board going up. We had to move in six weeks and lived in chaos while we did Stonecroft up ourselves, room by room. We've lived there since May, 2005 and it's still a work in progress.

Built in 1750, Stonecroft was originally three conjoined, single storey labourer's cottages on Snake Farm, land forming part of the Earl of Bradford's estate. Over the centuries the farm vanished and a second storey added to the house (if you look closely, the bricks are completely different) and walls removed to form a single dwelling.

Same wrought iron gates. Me today and my Mum (then a 17 year old girl) in 1959.

Stonecroft is quite odd with its mono pitch roof and single row of rooms, each leading through to the next. Inside the skirting boards are made of limestone, there's no cellar and the attic is just big enough to crawl in.

As I child I remember the house next door being a single dwelling. These days its been divided into sections with a double fronted house at the front and the back sold and divided into four self contained flats. As we have no windows to the side of the house and the doors open up into the garden we rarely see (or hear) our neighbours.

 This is Stonecroft circa 1945. We love the porch surrounding the front door - it would be brilliant for growing tomatoes! As we're in a conservation area we can't change any external feature without seeking permission from the town's planning department but, as we have proof of once having had a porch, we can ask to reinstate it.

Stonecroft in 1954. The porch has gone, the kitchen window replaced by a smaller one and one of the entrances has been bricked up. 

Stonecroft went all Southfork in 1980. My Grandparents had the shutters added in the 1970s. Grandma rescued the glazed Victorian lamp above the front door from the now defunct Highgate Brewery at the end of the avenue, when it was refurbished in the 1960s.

Stonecroft today - with the addition of a fleet of VWs. The windows remain the same (minus the shutters, removed in 2006 as they were beyond repair). We installed the stable door when we moved in but it's knackered now and needs to be replaced.  The chimney pots were taken down in the 1960s although my Grandparents never had central heating installed.

Back in 1966 Grandpa's choice of motor was British and a little more sedate.

Behind those doors are the coal cellar and the garden tool store.

Mum and Dad bringing a newly born me to meet my grandparents in December 1966.

Like mother, like daughter - big hair and an orange dress on the front step. We had those steps rebuilt when we moved in. My Grandpa was a wheelchair user had a concrete ramp installed - it was a nightmare to drill out.

Unlike us, Grandpa was a keen gardener and kept Stonecroft's lawns and borders in immaculate condition.

Same garden but these days the planting is a lot less formal.

See the saddle stones? They're by the front door. 

Groovy dress, Mum! Back in 1969 you could see the rest of avenue from the garden. I'm the one in the long socks. My brother is still camera shy almost half a century later.

No self respecting dove would move into that coop. Look at the state of it! 

Don't ask me what's in that tumbledown shed, we daren't get too close in case it collapses.

Last week's balmy temperatures seem like a dim and distant memory. No chance of doing The Guardian crossword in the garden this week (unless I wear waterproofs and thermal knickers!)

Keep your fingers crossed for a return to good weather - we'll be trading our first festival of the summer in less than 48 hours time!

See you soon.

Friday 26 May 2017

Greece Is The Word

After we missed out on Glastonbury tickets when they went on sale back in October Jon & I made a plan to escape to Greece for the duration of the festival. We procrastinated, looked at flights and package deals, leafed through the guide books and internet forums and did nothing. Waking up to the news of the horrific terrorist attack in Manchester on Tuesday morning jolted us into action. Life is short...book the trip.

The Mid-century oxidised bronze Athena ornament was a souvenir my Dad bought back from Athens in the 1950s. 

Ever since I was captivated by Gerald Durrell's My Family And Other Animals as an 11 year old I'd wanted to visit Corfu but somehow never got around to it. I've been to Greece many times but just not Corfu so, 39 years later, that's where we're going. 

Unbelievably the flights and a week's accommodation in a privately owned apartment in the middle of an olive grove 500 metres from one of the most beautiful beaches on the island has cost less than the price of two Glastonbury tickets with enough cash over to pay for a taxi to and from our apartment plus a new bikini for me, some swim shorts for Jon and our sun cream, too. When Jon was rummaging in the cupboard he came across €280 in an envelope, left over from a trip to the island of Thassos in 2006 (where we took the photos above).  

It's been 11 years since we last had a European beach holiday and, used to backpacking around India by train, packing is a revelation. I don't need the earthy colours to hide the dust and grime of the Sub-continent, I can wear shoes with a bit of a heel (hello, clogs!) and there's opportunities to dress up a bit (something that would look ridiculous in our beloved laid-back Goa).  Thinking about it, I don't really need a bikini, our nearest beach is nudist. 

Like an excited schoolboy, Jon packed within half-an-hour of booking the flight. Four long sleeved cotton shirts, three pairs of shorts, a pair of white jeans, three tee shirts, a sarong, three hats, his Birkenstocks and his trusty desert boots.....the swim shorts are in the post.

This week the UK has been enjoying temperatures comparable to June in Corfu, perfect for testing whether the clothes I'm planning to take are suitable for the heady heights of 80º F. One of the maxis on the pile got tossed after I wore it out chazzing this morning as it kept slipping down my back and pissing me off.  The insane 1970s American, union-made cotton jumpsuit bought from eBay seven years ago is a winner though, it survived a tedious midday trip to B&Q to buy plywood & compost and felt like I was wearing nothing.

Bikini aside I definitely won't need to buy anything new, with my passion for sleeveless, backless and floaty with bright tropical prints I already dress like I live on a sun drenched Mediterranean island rather than the damp, grey shores of the UK. Below is my final cut. I'm sure that I don't need to tell you that everything is vintage.

There's over three weeks (and our first festival of the Summer) until we fly but we're already in the mood, feasting on Feta cheese, tzatziki and Greek olives, watching Simon Reeve's BBC documentary on Greece and rereading Prospero's Cell in the garden yesterday. Next stop films set (or partially set) in Greece -  John Le Carré's Little Drummer Girl is on the list but I draw the line at Mama Mia.

Thassos, 2006

The day was one of those breathless, clear, blue days that only Greece, of all the countries in the world, can provide. The cicadas were zithering in the olive trees and the sea was a deeper blue, moving reflection of the sky. We had just finished a large and leisurely lunch under the twisted, pitted olives that grew almost to the edge of the sea on one of the most beautiful beaches of Corfu. We slouched there indolently, ferrying a giant, wicker-covered bottle of turpentine-like retsina between us.   Extract from Fillets of Plaice by Gerald Durrell

Thassos, 2006

It's another weekend off for us and the rum is waiting. (I really ought to reacquaint myself with ouzo but it brings back a lot of bad memories of terrible hangovers).

See you soon!

Linking to Judith's Hat Attack.

Monday 22 May 2017

Only In Your Underwear

Yay! The joys of being self-employed. There's no Monday morning blues in this house. The sun is shining and I'm off to 'Spoons in somebody else's underwear. 

Yes, this cotton top is a Victorian camisole, helpfully labelled by the previous owner's seamstress.

I did a bit of research and discovered it most probably belonged to a young lady called Elizabeth Deakin who was born in 1870, lived in West Bromwich (Walsall's nearest neighbour), had 6 siblings and died at the age of 30.  Yet another reason to embrace shopping secondhand, you wouldn't need spend hours searching the 1891 census if you bought your clothes from Primark. Not only do you get a wardrobe full of all manner of mad stuff nobody else has but you get to learn some local social history, too.

It's not looking too shabby for something 131 years old, is it?

The tasseled choker is made by the Hmong tribe (via Krista) and the earrings were a present from Curtise.

Check out my clogs! I've wanted some Scandi clogs for years and a fortnight ago I bit the bullet and splashed out on these low wood, vegan beauties. Delivered direct from Stockholm, both the alder from which the soles are made and the staples holding them together were sourced in Sweden. To help raise the funds to pay for them I stuck my charity-shopped Stuart Weizmann sandals on eBay and to my amazement they made enough to pay for these plus extra cash to go towards a second pair (which are winging their way to Walsall at this very moment!)

Orthopaedic shoes don't have to be ugly....or neutral coloured! I can walk to the pub in confidence with these and know that even if I am bladdered I won't break an ankle on the way home.

Don't worry, a brand new splurge hasn't dented my passion for charity shopping. Here's Friday's finds:

Clockwise from top left: 1950s horse's head vases; hand painted 1980s shirt; Markus Lupfer cat print sweat shirt (Retail price £168!! One for eBay, I think); Early 1960s Peter Baron day dress; Handmade 1960s shift; 1970s Greek cotton maxi; 1980s swimming bag; Tissavel fake fur; 1960s Moygashel travel blazer; Horse brasses (in the words of Tom Hardy...I have a use for you); 1950s mosaic plate; 1970s Indian block print silk scarf, 1980s day dress; 1980s 100% rayon Hawaiian shirt.

Right, I better make a move. I've got to buy a new iron on the way to the pub....I know, I'm just so goddamn rock'n'roll! 

Antique camisole (£1, charity clearance shop); 1970s Ulrike of Sweden patchwork print maxi (£5.19, eBay 2011), Patchwork and pom pom bag (Birthday present, handmade by Liz)

Linking to Patti & The Gang for Visible Monday.

See you soon!