Marriage and Serial Monogamy

‘We’re always away when he gets married’

Baz left for his annual golf trip yesterday. We shared a cab to Slough Station, and along the way we reflected on, among other things, marriage

‘We’re always away when he gets married’ I said. A good friend has married several times, but he has very high expectations of a partner. We have failed so far to attend his weddings. ‘Don’t worry’ said Baz ‘There’s always the next one’

We are lucky to have just enjoyed our 19th wedding anniversary. C unashamedly used her cousin’s ID card at Waitrose to pick up a celebratory bottle of Cremant de Limoux(!), and Baz and I had a gorgeous meal in The Fox and Hounds at Bishopsgate. Our first ever meal there together was a Sunday lunchtime, we hadn’t booked and the restaurant was so full that we had to sit at an outside table. I was chilly in my halter-neck, and the owner at the time – a lovely man with a terrible wig – immediately whipped off his enormous cardigan and draped it over my shoulders

That was 22 years ago and we’d been together just a few days. Back then, we were love’s young dream. I remember the day so clearly

While Baz is gone, there’s plenty of stuff to do in the garden, and things to fiddle with in the shed and the garage, though robin chicks are chirping in the old wardrobe in the garage, so paint stripping has to stop. Work on the aluminium flying saucers will have to wait until the nest is empty

The first of the shades (above right) is ready and Baz asked if I will be taking it with me to France. He thinks that I should tilt it at a jaunty angle and tell Ryanair that it’s a hat

Who’s in your shed?

It’s my own space and entry is by invitation only

Last New Years Eve, in torrential rain, three of us took the van, and we emptied and dismantled my beloved green shed from my ex-allotment plot

The grass beneath us had become mud, so the wheels pun and spun, until we improvised with boards borrowed from a neighbouring plot and brought the shed pieces back to the house, where we dumped them on the lawn, all of us exhausted and achingshed allotment.jpg

These pieces lay there until July (for various reasons, not all entirely connected with idleness – we’ve had a lot to do this year) when it was assigned a new colour and identity, not as a storage area but as a smart and defined, if small, workspace for me

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When we first assembled it some years back we were shed virgins so we closely followed the instructions, and it took a whole day. This time around the instructions were long since discarded, and Baz and I free-styled it in no time before heading to the pub to celebrate our success

We had cleaned the mud off the interior and I painted the inside with various bits of leftover paint so that it doesn’t feel like a sauna. I re-used my faded curtains and splashed out on a funky floor paint (‘Primrose Hill’ by Mylands) which will keep it cheerful through the winter. Oh, and I might just squirrel a bottle of my sloe gin somewhere…

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Since it arrived the space feels bigger, as if the whole garden has been waiting for this shed to turn up. The new colour sets off the lavenders and the gorgeous old nameless pink rose, which often flowers vigorously into DecemberIMG_0018

It’s not a big shed, but I’ve installed a solar light, shelves and hanging space. There’s even a shed alarm, although only a fellow lunatic with a fetish for steel wool would ever break in here (yes, you know who you are) and I am already enjoying the space

Entrance is strictly by invitation only, and my first visitors apart from the bugs (of which there are already many) are two of the set of six 1930s oak chairs I bought on Ebay. These two were wonky and needed repairs and have been glued and clamped. The whole set needs a good clean too, having been used for many years. It can be hard to see progress, so I took a picture of before and after to remind me of how worthwhile this process is and how much detail it reveals

The other visitor at the moment is the plucky little heater, ‘Stumpy’, which came to me with a limp. More of that in another post …

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I’m still moving in really, and there is plenty more that needs doing to the shed itself before the weather really kicks in, but I’m getting a feel for what the space allows and for which tools and basic supplies I actually need to keep in here in order to work properly

So that’s what/who is in my shed right now. What do you use your shed for? I’d love to hear

 

 

 

 

 

Shades of Brown

check your Farrow and Ball colour chart

I am steadily ridding the world of horrid shades of brown. It’s not that I don’t like brown, but I dislike some of its manifestations, which could be named:

Glastonbury 16             Slug            Dysentery           Other end            Disgust

Most of which were in both our UK and French houses in abundance

Our UK home is on an island along with thirty-plus other houses. At the moment the small Victorian iron bridge – the only access to our homes – is being closed at night for repairs and a neighbour asked us all on the facebook page to vote on the colour/s it will be re-painted

The first person said ‘rust colour’!!

But, rust aside, the two colour schemes favoured are dark and light grey, and blue with white/cream. No-one has discussed the actual shades yet but the population seems split firmly down the middle on this, and I fear another ‘Brexit’ type situation – ‘Bridg-it’ perhaps?

The thing is, people in the UK tend to form a very strong opinion (as we have recently seen) and are polarised in their points of view. I do hope that families on the Island will not be torn asunder by such an important matter!

Personally I don’t think it matters which colour scheme suggestion they go with in name (if indeed we even get to voice an opinion) because surely it’s not whether it’s blue or grey, but whether it’s the right blue or grey, etc that matters

And oh please, anything but rust!

 

 

 

Raising an Eyebrow

A wooden front door is a thing of beauty. Take care of it

‘Are you going to do it red again? Red is the most common colour of front door, you know’

‘I’m not telling you. You’ll see soon enough’

‘I bet it’s going to be one of those bluey-greens. Or orange. Is that orange?’

My neighbour interrogated me. Over the course of the week I had sanded down the paintwork of the front door and we had added a rain deflector to the bottom of the front door. Understandably, it was looking a lot worse than before I started

Various paint testers with their numbers scribbled alongside had remained for over a year because I just couldn’t decide. Eventually I found inspiration from a house we pass on the way home from work each day. It was quite a departure for meIMG_9544

That Sunday was hot. Really hot. By nine that morning the door was off and placed on the workbench in the garage for priming. I hadn’t accounted for the cotton candy seed which was floating thickly in the air that day, so Baz had to close the garage door on me while I worked, to try and keep it from sticking to the paint. This created almost perfect paint oven conditions, but made me feel hot and claustrophobic. Nonetheless, I soon achieved the zen-like state that can only be reached when you like your choice of finish – in this case, Mylands ‘Bond Street’ in a dead flat finish. It looks restrained, contemporary and very poshIMG_9589

1930s houses with original features are sadly in decline, with people taking practical decisions which involve PVCU doors and windows. Never one to follow the herd, when C was small I bought an ‘eyebrow’ door for the house. It was too big and the orientation was wrong for the house, so Baz thought I’d really screwed up, but a carpenter trimmed and hung it for me. Unfortunately the wood was not in great condition, so I filled and sanded as best I could in situ and painted it (badly) in bright red

I didn’t care what Baz thought. It made me smile

So, a decade or so later it deserved a re-visit. Front doors have to withstand constant to-ing and fro-ing, and are the first line of defence against the extremes of weather. This door has spent the best part of a century in service, and it still does so with style and substance. It has earned all its imperfections and it carries them well

I am no expert, but the matt finish has helped to disguise some of its dings and imperfections and it makes the fielding look crisp, way better than the red gloss before

And my neighbour’s verdict?

‘The undercoat looks very nice. What colour is it going to be?’

Revealing Beauty

So this is what it’s supposed to look like!

I know I’m a bad partner/ mother at times, but we all need a bit of me-time. This week I snuck off to practise the dark art of French polishingIMG_9794.JPG

Some people are naturally good teachers. Roy is one such person. He is also a real craftsman – an expert French polisher – so he and I worked on my beautiful but abused late Regency Ebay table, which had seen better days. Lots of better days, in fact

Before starting on such a huge project we talked about the materials, the techniques, the approach. We discussed how the table functions as a piece – there are two separate consoles, one with a simple drop-leaf to easily combine the two into a dining table. Roy really wanted me to make the right choices for the piece.

It has patina in bucket loads so we discussed how much we should retain. Pretty much all of it was the consensus. If I’d wanted an immaculate table I could have bought repro

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It’s clear that this table stood as two separate side tables for almost all its life. Roy gave me an insight into the forgotten reality of making such a piece of furniture entirely by hand, showing me the plane marks visible underneath the table top

He had me working on practice boards, fine-tuning the sanding, sealing and de-nibbing etc. Then we hit the table, so to speak

First the prep: there were nearly 200 years worth of grime and old polish to remove. As we stripped it back the beauty of the Cuban mahogany revealed itself and the beautifully-crafted details started to jump out, such as the double row of inlay, probably ebony, on the lower edgeIMG_9795

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Before and after stripping: I had barely noticed the inlay when we startedIMG_9797

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Top, before and after strippingIMG_9810

The colour and depth increased as we worked. It was reassuring to know that if I did anything REALLY stupid Roy would show me how to fix it. Bringing something so beautifully handcrafted back to life after years of abuse is exciting and rewarding, though there is much left to do

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(I still need to do the rest of it!)IMG_9924

The Big Debate – Porridge v Peelaway

Porridge – keep out of the reach of children

Following on from Porridgey Looks and Paint Removal

As I was paying for the cute (and kitsch) framed picture above, I noticed a dear little nicely foxed mirror that was filthy and absolutely lavished with paint – the ideal candidate for the porridge test? As it was too cheap to leave behind it seemed worth a punt (in the interests of science, of course)IMG_9125

It took me a while to spot the Quaker Oats packet in the supermarket. It was on the top shelf – for adults only, I guess. I didn’t have anything to mix it in, so I cut a San Pellegrino bottle in half, inadvertently creating the simple ‘coffee maker’ that I have failed to find in the shops so far. Handy, as going out for coffee breaks up the day and requires me to wear something much less indoors-y

Once it had reached the consistency I thought it should be, I applied it generously and covered it in cut up pieces of bin bag. This was lunchtime. It was only at six in the evening that I absent-mindedly noticed the part-can of Peelaway 7 in the hall, so I spread that on the rest of the frame and wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before. This made it feel like a properly scientific trial

No matter how much there is to do, it’s very hard to keep your hands off something when you have put paint stripper (or porridge) on it, so I had to try to keep busy. Even so, at ten o’clock that same evening I was peeling back the bin bags to see how both were performing and I couldn’t help picking away a bit on the Peelaway side with my available toolset, a plastic picnic knife. I was surprised to see how much paint had come off, but I realised that I had no neutraliser for it. Vinegar would work, but I didn’t have any and the shops were long-closed. I tried some brine from the olive jar, but (unsurprisingly) it didn’t work so I went scouting around, found some alcohol upstairs and poured some into a plastic cup (I know what you’re thinking but this wasn’t gin, it was proper murderous cleaning stuff that even I wouldn’t drink) and dipped the wire wool. It seemed to do the trick, and the paint came off quite cleanly, which was lucky as Baz’s toothbrush was the next implement I had in mind to use

When you start commandeering your husband’s current toothbrush for things like this it’s probably time for bed

I woke, well rested, at 6.50. Perhaps it was the fact that I now had coffee available, or perhaps I just couldn’t wait to get started, but I removed the rest of the Peelaway, which showed a vast improvement from the part I had messed with the night before. I still had no vinegar and even if the shops were open I was not prepared to go in search for it at that time of day, so I continued with the alcohol. It smells much nicer anyway and it evaporates really quickly. Then I removed part of the porridge as well, cleaning it afterwards with wet wire wool, then also with alcohol, for the sake of being equal. I have to say that the inner and most fiddly detailed edge came up just as well with porridge, but the bobbly beading was not really very good, as the porridge had been stopped in its tracks by a thick-ish layer of gloss paint, way too much to ask of the porridge mix. So, once I’d wiped down, I applied a small amount of Peelaway to just that area and covered it up again. Having plans for the day meant that the mirror would be safe from my meddling until the evening

The Verdict:

Porridge given enough time was very good at removing water-based paint. I would certainly do this again.  Plus, it’s easy to work with, environmentally friendly and cheap. It won’t damage anything and doesn’t need neutraliser

Peelaway 7 lifted all the paint, including the gloss, but don’t believe the videos of it coming off cleanly with all the paint securely attached. It is a very messy substance and not a joy to use at all. You absolutely have to neutralise it with something (they supply a bottle of the neutraliser, but never enough – it ran out ages ago) and there’s a lot of cleaning up to do afterwards

Just as a comparison I also tried the wire wool with alcohol on a separate patch, and it had little effect on the paint

So if the paint is water-based I would recommend the porridge method. It needs to be really gloopy and thick, but kept nice and wet for as long as possible to allow it to work

Thanks to Witch House for the tip. Ultimately I will be repainting the mirror frame, but I wanted to strip the details back first, instead of just disguising them even more

Vide Grenier Virgin

She Must Have Really Loved that Saucepan

A friend has told me of a vide grenier in the next village, only about 4km away. I have only been to one so far, so I bind up my ankle, slip on my trainers and walk along the river. It’s the only one this weekend and I am determined to find something to buy

Of course, when I get there I don’t really see much of interest. I quite fancy the cute little French book about personal hygiene, written in 1897 and it’s only one euro, but what am I going to do with it? It’s too dirty to take home and it’s just that contradiction I like – that there’s this filthy old book about hygiene – so when a man shows interest in it I pass it to him and assure him I don’t want it, I was only looking

The woman next to me is paying 50 centimes for a pastry brush and I am thinking ‘Eeooow’, when I see a copper pot. It’s a little under 30cm across, shallow with two small handles. The guy wants 40 for it, then says he’ll take 30 and no less. It’s too rich for me because it’s just a decorative item, so I say I’ll see. But I don’t want to see. I’m not spending that much on some piece of nonsense at a car boot. I want a proper bargain

As I wait to cross the road, a long stream of lycra-clad cyclists coming up the hill, I spot a garage, where an elderly couple are having their own unofficial vide grenier. I head over to snoop around, and it’s mainly cutlery and agricultural bits, but I’m enjoying the vibe. There’s a big copper saucepan with a really long handle, I ask how much and the old man says ten euros. Over my shoulder I see the same man who bought the book and I’m not letting him have this, so I pay quickly and happily. Then of course I try to pick it up

It must weigh ten kilos. Before I’ve got it halfway down the hill I am wondering why I have bought it. Should I just take it back and tell them to keep the money? I don’t know anyone so I can’t get a lift home. And there’s 4 undulating kilometres ahead on my bad ankle. My bag is heavy on my shoulder (of course I brought my camera as well) and I have to keep swapping hands because the saucepan is so unwieldy and heavy. And horribly dirty. A few people pass me coming the other way and I make an effort each time as I say ‘bonjour’ to look as though it’s the most normal thing in the world to be out for a Sunday stroll in the hills with a stockpot. I worry that the dark clouds on the other side of the gorge will roll over and they’ll find me tomorrow, struck by lightning, still clinging awkwardly to my very conductive pan. The police will ask Baz, ‘Was she a very keen cook?’ and he’ll say, ‘We don’t even have a kitchen’

‘Monsieur, she must have really loved that saucepan’

I pass the viewpoint where I stopped to cry after Percy died, and I want to sit down for a few minutes, but I don’t like the boxer shorts hanging lankly from a small branch, it’s never acceptable to find someone’s underpants in a place like this. So I keep walking and I plan to hide the pan in undergrowth and come back for it tomorrow, but there are no landmarks to find it by, and dogs might wee on it. Maybe I’ll just hide it and leave it altogether. But isn’t that just littering?

Then I reach that nasty bit of wasteland at the edge of town, and I’m nearly home. I haven’t been hit by lightning because the storm didn’t arrive, and I still have my ten euro pan which I carry through the streets, self-consciously and very tired. And I don’t have to go back and find it tomorrow

When I get home I put on my glasses and see it has a Paris makers mark on it and it really is very good quality, the sort you might find in professional kitchens, and it will be ‘useful for something’ in the workshop one day

And for now? Well, it’s just what I need to keep that bloody cellar door closed. It’s already paying for itself