Friday 30 July 2021

The Last Days of Disco (and other outfits)

Hooray! Lynn's Auntie Gladys's sunflowers are blooming and aren't they magnificent? Jon's six feet tall so they're not only gorgeous but they're whoppers. Our passers-by love them, too. A few have stopped to ask if they're hard to grow, they're not. I planted my seeds in individual pots in March and left them on the kitchen windowsill until the risk of frost was over, planting them out at the end of May. Some of the leaves have been nibbled by slugs but it's a small price to pay for such golden cheeriness. 

Thursday was warm, sunny and dry and such an occasion called for Summery gear. Jon went for an African wax-print cotton shirt and shorts and I reached for a cheery block-printed frock, my Dilli Grey "Farah" dress via eBay, teamed with my gold Lottas although you'll have to take my word for it, Jon chopped my feet off. You can't get the staff, can you? 

Our last-minute trip to the neighbouring town's chazzas proved fruitful although, after finding nothing in the first couple of shops, we were starting to wonder if we'd be going home empty-handed but the chazza goddess was on our side and by the time we got back to Young Kim our bags were stuffed with treasures.

What did we find? A vintage Swedish Art Glass bud vase; 1970s Palm Spandex disco pants; Brutus rude boy shirt; Namaste fair-trade jacket, handmade in the Himalayas; 1980s silk and sequin cocktail blouse; Bally of Switzerland 1970s leather heeled loafers; a Warrior, a British Ska label, button-down shirt and a vintage 70s Indian silkscreen print scarf. 

Vintage 1970s sequinned boob tube; 1980s The Warriors vest (we both LOVED that film back in the day); Unworn 1960s Empire-made white vinyl gloves; a vintage Made in Portugal glass bud vase; a Lambretta button-down shirt; 1980s Lady at Lord John blouse and a pair of vintage etched brass bangles. 

A Brook Taverner satin backed moleskin waistcoat; an Autograph leopard print jumpsuit with £65 store tags still attached; Another Warrior button-down shirt; A basket and the first pressing of UB40's iconic Signing Off album (when they were young & cool). 

Released in August, 1980 on Black Country indie label, Graduate Records, Signing Off reached number 2 in the UK album charts and made UB40 one of the most popular Reggae bands in Britain. The politically-charged lyrics struck a chord in a country with widespread public divisions over high unemployment, the policies of Margaret Thatcher's recently elected Conservative party and the rise of the National Front, while the record's dub-influenced rhythms reflected the late 1970s influence in British pop music of West Indian music introduced by immigrants from the Caribbean after WW2, particularly reggae and ska. This was typified by the 2 Tone movement, at that point at the height of its success and led by fellow West Midlands act The Specials, with whom UB40 drew comparisons due to their multi-racial band line-up and socialist views. Food for Thought was an attempt to publicise and condemn the famine in north Africa, comparing it with the Western over-indulgent celebration of Christmas, nearly five years before Band Aid brought the subject to widespread attention. 

I was delighted to spot the gold sequinned boob tube as I owned an identical one in the late 1970s and unbelievably, in the next shop, I found the same Palm Spandex disco pants I used to wear with it! Yes, my Mum was one of those women who dressed her 11-year-old daughter in the same clothes as her. Thank god she wore cool clothes and not the conventional frumpy "Mum" clothes favoured by most of my friend's mothers or I'd have been doomed!

I occasionally read blog posts and online articles saying that women shouldn't wear clothes they wore the first time around. Apparently, it's ageing and of course, women have to look fashionable and relevant or else they're invisible or a laughing stock...yawn! 

And here I am, wearing almost exactly the same outfit 44 years on from my school disco gear and not giving a toss as to whether they (whoever they might be) think it's right. I had such a laugh deadheading the dianthus at the front of the house and waving back at everyone on the bus.

After washing our goodies & pegging them out on the line, we spent the afternoon in the garden getting on with staking, watering, sweeping and weeding. We had halloumi and roasted veg for tea, watched back-to-back episodes of The Antiques Road Trip before I retired to bed with my latest read, a gripping spy novel by the stupendously good Mick Herron. If you haven't read anything by him I recommend This Is What Happened, a shockingly good, stand-alone thriller.

Friday morning lived up to the BBC's promises and absolutely pissed it down. I braved the rain to gather some strawberries for breakfast and to dash to the Kinky shed to retrieve the stock I'd sold overnight, wrapping it after my Wii Fit workout. 

 Jon was due at the dentist to chat about a possible implant and while he was out I finally got round to taking up the hem of my Indian Imports of Rhode Island maxi skirt, a task I've been meaning to do for over two years! Typically, after putting it off for so long it only took me an hour.

I cracked on with another task, ironing the shirts we'd bought on our charity shopping expedition yesterday. I'd just finished when Jon got back, drooling and mumbling incoherently. It turned out that our lovely dentist, PK, decided to have another go at reattaching Jon's crown and also mended a tooth he'd broken the previous day but hadn't told me as he knew I'd nag him about his evil Black Country pork scratching habit (don't ask me, Google is your friend). This involved an hour in the chair and three injections. I shouldn't laugh but it was hilarious watching him trying to eat his lunchtime noodles.

An exciting week for parcels! Sarah sent me an amazing Indian cotton skirt and embroidered tunic she'd found on her travels and Katy sent me this Alan Warner book (I love the cover). I read These Demented Lands a few months ago and I've noticed the film based on his book Morvern Callar is currently on the BBC I-Player, I've not seen it for years and it might make a change from antiques.

I managed to snag Jon a pair of Bank Robbers aka Clarks' Originals Desert Trek boots in a beeswax finish. New, they're well over £100 and even the secondhand ones command crazy prices. Someone put these on as a Buy-it-Now for such a great price that I think they might have missed the zero off the end and I snaffled them straightaway.

They're known as Bank Robbers in Jamaica after someone likened the tooling of the hiker on the back of the boot to a criminal carrying a bag of money. The Clarks' Desert Boot dates from 1949 when the crepe-soled boot became the staple of rude boys and others considered society’s outlaws. The Clarks Wallabees model quickly became just as popular, particularly in the hip-hop culture of New York and among musicians in Jamaica. The Wu-Tang Clan and Ghostface Killah wore the Desert Trek in the 1990s.

We had a brief respite from the rain and I was able to dash outside, photograph the shirts and upload them to eBay before it returned with a vengeance. I checked for any plant damage but thankfully everything was still holding up and looking rather lush.

It had been ages since I'd cleaned the spare bedroom so I swept, mopped and dusted both that and the landing. When I shared my Lotta collection the other day Jem asked where I kept them all so this is especially for her, they're neatly stashed on the Utility bookshelf. My flat sandals live in the Ghanian basket. My boots are under the bed and at the bottom of the wardrobe (hopefully I won't need them for ages!)

Jon's face had gone back to normal so he cooked fish & chips for his tea and a spinach and Feta parcel for mine. 

It's rum and coke night (again), cheers!

Wednesday 28 July 2021

To The Manor Born - Revisiting Packwood House


Our plans to visit a different National Trust property in another county yesterday had to be shelved after a serious accident closed the motorway. Instead, we resorted to Plan B, revisiting one of our favourite local places. With Packwood House being the ancestral home of Jon's 9 x great-grandmother, Alicia Featherston (1592 - 1645), after a three-month absence, we were overdue a repeat visit. Last time we'd been (HERE) I was wearing gloves! 

We started our trip with a wander in the woods but took a wrong turn along the forest path and ended up in an overgrown swamp seemingly miles away from anywhere. With my vintage silk kaftan tucked in my knickers to avoid being torn to pieces by brambles and trying our best to avoid the ankle-high mud, we eventually found a farmer's fence to climb over and eventually reached the main road scratched, muddy and, in Jon's case, covered in bites.

The weather forecast had been for a warm day with occasional deluges and thunderstorms. The skies couldn't have looked more ominous but, other than a sharp shower on the forty-minute journey there, it stayed mercifully dry.

It's lovely that we no longer have to pre-book our National Trust visits, a welcome return to spontaneity. With distancing restrictions lifted, the previously rigid one-way system had been relaxed. Parts of the garden that had been closed previously were now accessible, including the fabulous kitchen garden where we compared the progress of our crops with theirs.

Good to see that Stonecroft isn't the only garden with giant mutant alliums!

As always, I have to photograph any gate, arch or door. I'm obsessed!

The colour co-ordinated planting made us swoon with joy. Purple, aubergine, pink...I'd never have the discipline to limit the colour palette in our garden, I want all the colours!

As an enthusiastic - but not particularly knowledgable gardener - when I spot plants that grow freely in our garden I look at when grows beside them and assume that they'll also work in ours. We've got Crocosmia, sempervivum, euphorbia, sedums and bronze fennel in abundance so if Phlox thrives at Packwood, it can in our borders, too.

Another obsession, antique wrought iron benches and the need to pose on them!

My silk kaftan escaped the swamp unscathed, thank goodness. 

The Alpine border had been roped off on our previous visits. The intense pink daisies and the electric blues of the Eryngium were an absolute delight.

Get off my land! Jon's ancestors, the Featherstons, planted these yew trees over 400 years ago. Jon's got his groovy charity shop shirt on again. As he's the former Lord of the Manor he decided he could get away with going out in his Crocs, stuff the peasants.

Currently the school summer holidays, quite a few kids were playing hide and seek amongst the trees - very considerate really, I hate having people photobombing my pictures! 

The planting along the pathway to the summer house reminded us of Stonecroft's, chaotic, colourful and alive with pollinators and plant hollyhocks, went straight to the top of the mental garden to-do list for next summer.

We loved the juxtaposition of the typically English Tudor manor house with the exotic Yukkas flanking the front door.

Of course, with the relaxation in restrictions, we could finally go inside Packwood House for the first time in almost two years. Although no longer mandatory, everyone wore masks, used the sanitiser at the door and maintained their distance. 

When asked why in 1904, Alfred Ash, a Birmingham businessman and confirmed city dweller had, somewhat impulsively, bought the 134 acre Packwood Estate in rural Warwickshire at auction he replied, I bought it because the boy wanted it.

The boy was his beloved 16-year-old only son, Graham Baron Ash (pictured above). As he preferred to be called, Baron was said to be both reserved & courageous with a party-loving generosity. His work with the family firm, which he never much cared for, came to a halt at the outbreak of the First World War when he volunteered for the medical corps. Before joining up he travelled to, amongst other places, Burma, India and Egypt, where he recorded his encounters with the people he met. In his diary, he writes of bribing a priest in China to order to acquire an ancient roof tile. This, it is said, was when a lifetime of haggling over antiques begun.

Determined never to go back into the family business after leaving the army, Baron dedicated the rest of his life to restoring Packwood House, stripping back the lavish Victorian interior, considered at that time to be hopelessly outdated, and restoring the house to reflect its original Tudor heritage. Years ahead of his time, Baron set about acquiring architectural salvage from demolished historical buildings and hunting down antique textiles, furniture and artefacts from around the world to furnish his dream country house. There were some modern comforts included, this was, after all, a young man's party pad and so en-suite bathrooms and a sprung dance floor were added to make 16th Century Packwood House the ultimate in Jazz Age party venues.

The interior is just as beautiful as the gardens. If you can go...go!

Before we went back to our car picnic we popped to the plant shop and treated ourselves to a couple of perennial Mount Fuji Phlox plants (the tall white flowers) that had been grown by the gardeners at Packwood. The weather played nicely, I was able to transplant them as soon as we got back and then it kindly chucked it down for an hour to water them in. Now we've planted a bit of Jon's ancestral lands in our garden!

We weren't expecting a charity shop outing this week what with rubble collecting, tip runs, the painter and decorator possibly starting our exterior upstairs windows, Jon's preliminary dental implant visit & the lads having their annual boosters but the vets have just called, they've been pinged and they'll all having to quarantine so we've off for a rummage in the morning. 

To add to my excitement Jon's cooking an Indian feast and its rum night. See you soon!