Fifty Shades of Greige

Because blandness comes as standard

Last night hadn’t passed as I’d hoped. I had barely slept and each hour was marked by the church bell, one hour behind time. At first I thought I had dreamed that my alarm had gone off, because the 7am sky was non-committal, not the bright blue I had expected

And so, the word ‘greige’ surfaced, a word I originally learned from a very bouncy Etienne Daho song on my playlist back in Brussels circa 1991 (I still sometimes play it). I grabbed my phone again and checked for the exact translation of greige, which is ‘the colour of silk in its natural state, a light grey towards beige’

I might have said ‘muddy’

My phone reassured me that it was currently clear and that the day would get better. Of course, all that time spent awake during the night had encouraged doubts and thoughts of ‘what am I actually doing?’ to creep in, and I was glad to see that the sky had changed to clear azure as promised. I put those negative thoughts away. I had a lot to do

My day was spent stripping wallpaper and sweeping out the bulging fire grate in the ‘head in a bag room’, which is now ready for washing, filling and painting, and should probably be re-named before I get too used to calling it that!

The delivery I had been expecting all day didn’t arrive. I worked until I was filthy and exhausted and I could barely put a sentence together when Baz called. My clothes and I were by now fifty shades of greige so I took a shower at my rented apartment and recovered with a mint tea in the sun

The builders had left nothing but this cabinet in the bathroom. I can only assume that they thought I’d want to keep itIMG_5105I ‘took care’ of it as soon as they’d gone for the day

I was in the supermarket this evening with plenty of red wine in my basket (I absolutely have to sleep tonight) when the plumber called me. Just five minutes later we were back in the house talking waste pipes, British taps and toilet installations, and I am delighted to announce that thanks to their work we now have a cold water supply officially inside the house and that a basic bathroom will be installed within the next week or so

I must go now. I must sleep, and that wine won’t open itself

 

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…

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tube-lined tile from Conway Road

 

 

 

The Sum And Its Parts

enjoying the bigger history of small pieces

I’ve often seen these (unmistakably French) ‘Comtoise Morbier’ clock face surrounds or headpieces. They’re usually still attached to clocks, so these two really spoke to me, in the way that displaced and orphaned things so often do!

The problem was that I just couldn’t choose between them:

one features various birds – obviously a favourite subject of mine

the other one illustrates a family at a graveside. There’s something so very French about that. I mean, we Brits would never show a mourning scene on a household object

I took them both and asked the guy to combine the postage costs (he didn’t)

I was very excited about them arriving. Unfortunately when they came they looked very rough, and I felt like I’d been ‘had’. I didn’t want to show Baz, so I left them in their meagre packing

But yesterday the rain scuppered my paint-stripping plans and instead I spent a happy hour with gloves and various pliers, gently teasing the thin brass repousse, which is very malleable but also easily torn. I then scrubbed them with a toothbrush and they came up a treat, as you can see

These relatively low-cost clocks were made in villages in the region of Franche-Compte, near the Swiss border, from around the year 1600. Various families in each village would be involved in making the different elements of the clocks, before final assembly by a finisher. At that stage the clock faces with their headpieces and workings were portable enough to be carried in groups of four on backpacks, along with their pendulums stored separately below, to be taken for sale further afield

clockmuseum
photo courtesy of Comtoise Uhren Museum

The final purchaser could simply hang the clock with the pendulum exposed, or they could pay their local casket maker to make a long case for it

The earliest clocks had cast brass headpieces, but these were replaced by brass repousse – like mine – in the early 1800s. Production declined after the Treaty of Frankfurt in 1871 permitted the tax-free import of German clocks to France, and then apparently ceased after the First World War

It appeals to me that so many people had a hand in this industry, that the clocks were readily available, and that the wonderfully decorative designs were often based on simple everyday scenes from provincial life

And so these two inexpensive pieces, bought for reincarnation as mirror frames, have a long pedigree of practicality as well as beauty

Could there be anything more French?

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

 

What Remains

Elle ne rit plus

After a day of noise aplenty, this evening is extremely quiet. Even the pigeons have packed up and left

Downstairs is now a full-on building site, and barely feels like our house at all

That’s OK. I know there has to be a time like this, when there is less house than there was – literally, as we are three walls down from my last visit. Numerous pickups loaded with rubble from the false walls and the huge stash of charbonne have been a sobering reminder that there are some things best entrusted to the ‘better equipped’ than we are. We could not have done this part of the work

Newspapers show that the last time anyone lit a fire here was January 1973. Makes sense

The house is temporarily without radiators, and the hallways are suddenly broad and impressive. Every single pipe of any sort in the house has been cut with an angle grinder. Plus, the sink, the bidet and the disgusting laughing toilet are all gone

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‘Elle ne rit plus’**

** That’s the last of the toilet humour, I promise

The defunct monster boiler and fuel tank have been removed, as well as three monolithic cookers of various weights and ages, two of which were up on the second floor and required huge effort to move. There is a double bed wedged into the top staircase at the moment, yet somehow that doesn’t seem important. The air is thick with dust and I have retreated to let it settle overnight

But I feel that it has been well worth coming down for this. There is now a definite commitment on both sides and stuff is happening

There will be a bathroom of sorts this summer. And a (relatively) clean area to make toast and coffee until we get a kitchen built

Feels good. Feels really good

The Fall of the House of Birds

Sanity is Optional

Builders blustering into the house has created a great deal of stress and creative energy. Here are some of today’s tableaux depicting progress. There were more but you’ve been spared because nerdpress got stroppy when I tried to upload them:

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‘La Toilette Qui Rit’
img_4512
‘Face With Cigar and Telescope’
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‘Jazz Collage’ (detail)
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‘Still Life With Resting Wheelbarrow’
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‘La Toilette Qui Dort’
img_4528
‘Stardust’