Beauty Versus Usefulness

a tale of tiles and toilet talk

The long-awaited first bathroom is still (long) awaited, but getting ever closer. As I head back to France this weekend, I don’t yet know exactly when we will have a working toilet etc, but I do know that we are making progress

I showed Baz the beautiful tube-lined tiles I had found online as we sat on the sofa one morning before work

That’s when he used the ‘F’ word at me

‘Functional’

What he actually said was ‘Don’t you think we should go for something functional in the first bathroom?’

Functional is not a word we often use in our house – dysfunctional, yes, but functional, no. For instance, I would probably never buy anything purely because it was ‘functional’. So this suggestion was a real shocker for a woman finally reaching the stage of planning something decorative in this so far very un-decorative project. And I guess he must have awoken my inner dark passenger, completely unafraid to use her own ‘F’ word:

Functional? Don’t talk to me about (f******) functional! Finally I get the chance to do something gorgeous and you talk about functional?

There was more, but I risk wearing out the asterisk on my keyboard

‘OK, OK,’ said Baz, grimacing. ‘Just. Please. Never make your face look like that again’

I did realise that he was – at least partly – right. Our choices should be fairly sensible (yes, I hate that word too – and you might notice that I used the word ‘should’). While I still dream of art nouveau splendour and art deco sophistication, we cannot justify those tiles. This little bathroom may not be all it could be, but I am nonetheless very excited at the prospect of starting this project and I now have the scheme completely mapped out, barring the practicalities!!

‘You’re thinking about tiles again, aren’t you?’ said the all-seeing Baz, one day as we were driving home. I was, but it was just a daydream

So this morning, when I received an email from the smiley (he thinks/knows I’m bonkers) plumber asking me to start thinking about how I want the bathroom to be equipped, I was totally ready for it

I even offered to draw him a plan…

IMG_1742
tube-lined tile from Conway Road

 

 

 

Maturity and Lost Youth

Am I jealous of youth? Of course I am

The sign on the road ahead said Cats Eyes Removed. I bet someone sniggered when they put that one up

C and I had travelled to Cornwall by train, where we had enjoyed dinner, cocktails and people-watching together before having to share a small double bed. So when she turned to me at the bus garage the next day and said ‘I really don’t want to go. I don’t like it here, I know I don’t want to live here and so it’s a waste of time going to the university’ I explained in no uncertain terms that life is not always about what you want, but about what you have said you will do

She still looked glum, but I had taken two days off work to make this happen and I was done with it

‘Oh, just grow a pair, babe’

(No-one ever asks me for parenting tips. I can’t imagine why)

So we took our bus and we arrived to register for her taster day at the university. The nice and very confident young ‘ambassador’ dressed in yellow put a hand on my shoulder

‘Did you have a difficult trip down?’ she asked

I didn’t know how to respond. I wanted to say ‘I’m fifty one. I always look like this. It will happen to you one day’

I declined her offer of the group tour of the campus with the other parents, in case I said something inappropriate, and I bounded back to the bus stop. I felt a bit lost, rather like on C’s first day at pre-school when I had to leave her behind in the hope that she’d stop crying. I was back in Cornwall and there was no way I was going to hang around all day

Sitting upstairs on the front seat of the bus as it pulled out of the campus, I heard a girl somewhere behind me advising a male friend with a hangover. She had a strong Cornish accent and sounded very officious, as though she might have some medical training:

‘Big bottle of water. Make sure you drink it.

‘Paracetamol.

‘Bacon sandwich’

The last was delivered in a ‘job done’ kind of way

In my day, of course, it was Ribena and Hula Hoops, but they’ve now taken most of the sugar and salt out, rendering them useless. Still, it was good to hear that she had a formula, and I felt very motherly towards them. So I was shocked when we reached Falmouth and I saw that the pair getting off were not the young students I had taken them to be, but a man in his late forties wearing a suit and a woman perhaps slightly younger than that. The hangover cure suddenly seemed way too basic for their age group (I choose spicy tomato-based concoctions laced with chill, cumin and coriander. That’s what age – and a lot of drinking – has taught me)

After a couple of hours scouting out Falmouth in the grizzle, I made sure to visit their art gallery and see the oil study by John William Waterhouse  of ‘the Lady of Shalott’ taken from Tennyson’s epic poem of a life bravely and briefly seized, which I so loved as a child:

‘She left the web, she left the room, She made three paces thro’ the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look’d down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott’

The trip had not been for nothing, I kept telling myself. The fact that C is now actually considering going to university – and so far from home – is a brand new development and this is all good experience for her. Apparently she’s even the first of her friends to visit a university and there is time to visit others. She eventually joined me back at the university canteen mid-afternoon

‘Well, that was interesting’ she said. ‘I absolutely love the campus, the course sounds amazing and I think I really want to come here’

Apparently the facilities are excellent. So good, in fact, that she even tried to persuade me to apply as a mature student (I explained that I can’t think of anything worse than to have your mum at the same uni as you, and that I have so many other things to do with the rest of my life)

I’m not very mature anyway

 

Bitten? I’m Smitten

Think before you lick that wallpaper

The recent cold dark evenings have not inspired as much paint-stripping as usual, especially as the rain, frustratingly, continues to get in through our garage roof

But, while the cold keeps me indoors more than normal, I can curl up on the sofa with ‘Bitten by Witch Fever’, a book which can only be described as very tasteful Victorian wallpaper pornimg_4101The book looks at the effect of the use of arsenic in papers, considerably widening the range of colours available. Opinion at the time was apparently divided between people who considered it terribly detrimental to the health to have such chemicals in their homes, and those who believed – rightly or wrongly – that it was only dangerous if they licked the wallpaper

img_4094

img_4093

All the papers featured are catalogued with dates and manufacturers, many English but also some French

This book has made me re-think how I currently strip the paper in France. Until now I have not been wearing a mask or gloves, but I probably should protect myself from any possible ‘nasties’

And I am still trying to find information on this wonderful, if fragile, scenic paper in our salonimg_9078

This last picture (below) is a wall of the chapel at the fabulous Royal Holloway College in Egham, completed in 1886

img_3191I admit, I could barely keep from licking it!

A Bientot, Mes Oiseaux

La Maison des Oiseaux is calling me back

In an email exchange a month or so back, Gill (Blog-sur-Aude) referred to our house in passing as ‘La Maison des Oiseaux’. I found this fascinating, as I think of it also as a house of birds

Perhaps it was the loft full of pigeons, some living and laying, others fossilised, one of whom – living – ambushed me in the main hallway and made me jump out of my skin while the builders were replacing the roof, and leaving a mountain of detritus for me to clear up (the pigeons, not the builders)

Is it because I am ‘Poshbird’? No, I don’t think so

Anyway, I love birds. So, for whatever reason, I think the name fits our house. I might even find a suitably stylised bird to sit on the staircase in place of the missing bannister finial

And when this unusual winged wardrobe came up for sale I thought it was simply beautiful and I bought it with birthday money

birdwardrobe2
It sits on the deep bottom drawer, just visible in the mirror (as is my elbow)

It’s been packed up, so all I have are a few photos to drool over for now

birdwardrobe1
Bird motifs, gorgeous oak grain

‘A bientot, mes oiseaux!’

 

 

Not Everyday – the Wolfsonian

Just getting my regular fix

img_0543

We hadn’t researched Miami. Having been there years ago it seemed unnecessary. So when we stumbled upon this sight in the foyer of a building I was frantically taking photos through the glass doors until Baz explained that we were allowed inside. We had found the temple that is Miami’s Wolfsonian Institute

The Institute is apparently 15 years old (yes, it’s obviously a while since we visited!) and holds a small and beautifully chosen selection of items. Artworks include some rather unsettling 20th Century pictures, including a painting which deals openly with suicide. I apologise for the lack of quality in the photo, but I felt I had to include it

IMG_0558

img_0589

Of course, I found myself mentally furnishing a home with the jaw-dropping selection of home items

IMG_0550Look at these gorgeous nouveau theatre chairs – I could definitely find space for these. And the leather is perfectly patinated and worn

IMG_0568

Cooking technology may have improved but you can’t tell me there’s a more lovely cooker anywhere today. Never mind practicalities, I would happily have this and never cook

And this would in turn mean that I would need the perfect toaster IMG_0569

But why have just one?

IMG_0571

My tea set would be flawlessly simple and silverIMG_0576

And of course I would have a stunning dressing table, with mirrored shelves and a floor-length mirror, in exactly the right shade of green

IMG_0572

.. and the latest beats. Though I would of course never part with my sunburst cabinet

IMG_0565

I realise that the items here might not push everyone’s buttons, but frankly I will never understand why. This post is obviously not for those people

It is for those of you who will feel exactly what I do when I look at these pieces. I want to touch these things and put them into my house context

Only kidding. Of course I mean my house really!

Reflections and Repairs

It’s all done with mirrors

I love all sorts of mirrors. There is the enormous (sadly, recently smashed) Mafia Mirror with its smugglers cavity, which Gill kindly picked up for me from the ‘Russians’ last summer, but at the other end of the size scale I have a few damaged 99p jobbies, one of which is splayed on a towel on my living room floor awaiting further surgery this evening

Before and after bending with pliers, then applying elbow grease with rottenstone and good old WD40. It still has a patina but is no longer filthy

I tend to think of mirrors as things to look at, rather than to look into. And ironically for someone so mirror-happy I spend way less time in front of one than many people, and probably less time than I should, taking the ‘casual’ approach to clothing and make up to the extreme. This despite the fact that I have hung good mirrors either side of the front door, in an attempt to remind me to check myself before leaving. (At least C and Baz use them)

Recent examples include:

Leaving yoga class last week I looked down at the logo on my vest top, wondering if it was Adidas, Sweaty Betty, New Balance etc, and realised that it was just a blob of grey undercoat. When I pointed this out to C she just said she assumed I already knew

Recently, Baz has pointed out blobs of face cream as I get into the car to work in the morning

One morning, C turned to me in the hallway and asked me, without a trace of irony: ‘Aren’t you going to work today then?’

To be fair, the skanky chicken-flavoured flip-flops didn’t help the look

I genuinely admire people who take the trouble to look good but I fully believe that one day it will be discovered that there’s an actual gene which compels some women to match handbags and shoes to outfits and to iron their clothes. Sadly, it’s a gene I do not possess, but thanks to Baz’s side of the family, C has inherited it (in part. Not the ironing!)

Isn’t nature wonderful

I’m not hideous, but I rarely get compliments on my appearance, even when I have made a real effort. At one excruciating Boxing Day family get-together where I was wearing a nice top with good jeans, someone remarked cattily that ‘I see you’re wearing your best socks’ and everyone roared with laughter. I wasn’t wearing my best socks, of course, but Baz’s socks as always. I just hadn’t dressed to impress

So why all the mirrors for someone so unglamorous? I love the light they bring in to a room, and the way a bevel (I do LOVE a bevel) sends light and reflections shooting off. Of course I buy mirrors with a past, so damage is acceptable and foxing is actually desirable because it just adds to the mystery

And it means I don’t have to look too closely at my reflection

But I digress. Back to the patient: its dear little asymmetrical bevelled mirror has had a hard life and the silvering comes away from the back in large thick flakes, so I’ll clean it up and put acrylic mirror (90p) behind to cover the silver losses. It’s very effective

IMG_2769

And after all, it won’t often get called into active duty!

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiration and Help from a Friend

A friend came to visit from Provence on Tuesday. She arrived mid-afternoon, bearing bread, cheese and champagne (she even brought champagne flutes) so I abandoned yanking fabric from the walls and we enjoyed a lovely boozy afternoon snack. Her plan was to stay overnight but due to car trouble she has been here for two. This has been priceless because she had brought her work clothes and she helped me with the dirtiest jobs possible – clearing things from the attic, and bagging up about half a tonne of charbonne from the second floor (we carried it down all the stairs to drop it in the garage with the other several tonnes). It would have been impossible for me to do alone and it took the entire afternoon, working solidly. We looked like Dickensian chimney sweeps when we finished, but it is a relief to have achieved it. Of course, the house is once again filthy throughout, covered in black dust!

IMG_7509

The other unexpected bonus is that she has been staying at a quirky B and B down the road, an enormous house which I have wanted to go inside ever since I first came here. We went down to check her in and the owner, Guy, very kindly offered to show us around. It has amazing original belle epoch ceilings and is a masterpiece of recycling. He even has a terrace with a fantastic view of the mountains, something we can never have

IMG_7512

This incredible paper sculpture dominates the courtyard. It was made by a Brazilian artist who stayed at Guy’s house. He was full of ideas, and suggested using our courtyard to screen films, projecting them onto the huge wall. Well, we just have to do that, don’t we!

IMG_7513

Guy knew the lady who owned our house. Apparently she fell totally in love with the house but her husband would not move from Castelnaudary. So she never got to live in it, which was a source of great sadness to her. He was clearly very fond of her, and he spoke about how she was a very attractive lady, not very tall, and always well-dressed. She didn’t walk well towards the end, he said. A few years back she was paying Taxe d’Habitation because there was furniture in the house, and she called him to ask him to clear the everything out. It must have been terribly difficult for her, because she was giving up on her dream of living there. Apparently she hoped that whoever bought the house would be in love with it the same way, so it seems that fate has played a part here