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, but 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 loom, 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

 

When Offered an Olive Branch, Wear Safety Goggles

a difficult decision – is it the right one?

To ‘offer an olive branch’ is to make good with someone, to try to resolve issues. The definition I found online was ‘to do or say something in order to show that you want to end a disagreement’

Our builder may define things rather differently. He was at a tasting in an olive grove this weekend, and managed to walk into the branch of a tree while not wearing his specs, very badly bloodying his eye in the process

Oh, the irony. He looked terrible, poor man, but assures me it looks worse than it is

At today’s meeting he confirmed that the structure I have found is indeed a very old fireplace, but said that the work required to uncover it (my work, not theirs) would be far greater than I realise. Part of me wants to continue, but once fully revealed it would surely compete with the wooden 19th C fire surround next to it

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This wooden surround is a strong enough statement

It’s tougher than I thought, this job!

When we bought the house we knew the building was 17th C, but the huge attraction was very definitely the 19th C aspirational makeover, which was done with some conviction and was largely intact. The danger is the distraction of earlier finds, some of which (the lion murals, for example) will have to be worked in, because they are very special

So I will document this latest find and allow the builders to put plasterboard in front of it, thereby preserving it, at least. I had hoped to avoid using plasterboard, as I know that builders can be overly fond of it, but perhaps in this instance it’s the best thing (however, if you ever see me referring to the use of ‘plasterboard’ in a future post, please stop me!)

We don’t want this house to be sanitised and shrouded in board. It must keep its character, but because of that we must also hold onto a reasonably cohesive scheme – something I was reminded of only today by another blogger’s post

Perhaps covering up this very early fireplace is our offer of an olive branch to the ’19th C’ house we fell in love with:

First step to owning our new gorgeous wreck/house in Quillan