Dust and Bubbles

A weekend away starts too well

After yet another croissant (“It was a chocolate one, I couldn’t help it”), Baz announces that he can have no more breakfasts for the entire weekend and that he should in fact “eat only dust”

“Dust and bubbles” I correct him: we are travelling to Reims to celebrate twenty years of marriage in champagne country. Bubbles are a given

Morning had forced us on to the next stage of the trip – the Eurostar from London to Paris. As we were escorted across the concourse of St Pancras, an animated old fella was thrashing out an energetic account of Billy Joel’s ‘Just the Way You Are’ on the station piano

Surely all stations should have a piano

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So, why was I not happier to be leaving? What could possibly be better than champagne tasting?

It’s simple. We’d stayed overnight in Room 184, a junior suite of the St Pancras Hotel. Outrageously decadent, but we both agreed that if we could do it all over again, we’d do it all over there

(Just not too often)

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The cornicing in our room, 184 – fabulous

That Sir George Gilbert Scott’s gothic masterpiece has been brought back to life, that it survived at all through the years of neglect and hostility (bombed in both World Wars and despised by many) is incredible. That much of it only survived due to the indifference and ignorance of a string of occupants* is poetryIMG_7951*This entire decorative alcove was saved because a previous tenant boarded over it. There were more but all the others are lost

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The hallway to the historic Ladies’ Smoking Room

The star of the show is the grand staircase, with its curves and perfect symmetryIMG_7954

3200 gold fleurs de lys, I am told, have been stencilled onto the red walls over the staircase – these are not GGS’s original design, but the new carpet was indeed manufactured to match the original and was faded just enough to look worn inIMG_7965

IMG_7952I haven’t attempted here to give you the history of the building: there are some wonderful ways to discover this, and one of those would be to spend a night here. But as someone who grew up in North London, and having known this building for many years only as an apparently derelict shell, I am in awe of how it has been imaginatively restored to one of London’s premier hotels

Seemingly, its champion, Mr Betjeman, feels the sameIMG_7875

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

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful and Brutally Honest

An Unexpected Truth in Lincoln

It’s never good to be behind someone who has stayed at the hotel before and wants to check that her room is ‘not by the refrigerator units because they’re quite loud’. The guy’s response that she’ll probably be fine doesn’t do much to reassure me because I know the hotel is full all week, so if my room is awful, I’m stuck with it

When I reach the desk, the manager advises me that I have received an internal upgrade. I  pay little attention because I am (a) soaking wet head to sandals from the tempest, (b) wrestling a heavy two and a half foot wide and three foot tall brass light fitting picked up at a train station sort-of-en-route and (c) almost in touching distance of the bar

Things get better very quickly. After squeezing into the tiny lift with all my crap I discover that my room is in fact a four-poster suite on the fourth floor, with cracking far-reaching views over the rooftops and access to a large roof terrace facing the stunning Cathedral

Just me and my random metal objects snuggling up for two nights until Baz arrivesIMG_9959.JPG

Lincoln really could be the fudge-lovers world capital, and there are plenty of places to stop and get a cuppa or, indeed, an ice cream. I had a strange craving for rose petals that day so I had Turkish delight, Stem ginger and Liquorice flavours all together and loved it!

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The spirit of creativity runs high in the Bailgate area. Galleries and small independent shops are plentiful, and Baz and I LOVED the photographic exhibition at the Harding House Gallery by Jane Wright inspired by the beauty in the dereliction of industrial sites in Sheffield

The Bailgate streets are full of character and there are frequent glimpses of the Cathedral and castle between the houses

So what hadn’t I expected?

Inside the fantastical Cathedral building, alongside the historic tombs, very contemporary works of art reside, such as the incredibly beautiful and moving ‘Forest Stations’ by William Fairbank. I found no online links that do them justice and my camera battery ran out so I have no pictures, so my advice is simply to go and see them

And more surprising to me was ‘Little Hugh’s Tomb’, where a warning against racial hatred and bigotry, illustrated by a terrifying true piece of local history, ends with the wonderful greeting of ‘Shalom’. For me as an atheist this was really refreshing and honest in such a grand Cathedral, and I welled up as I read it:

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Times are strange right now. There are many people feeling resentment and fear in the world and many more suffering terribly, but no good ever comes of bigotry or cruelty. History has provided enough evidence that people are capable of terrible acts, but also of wonderful kindness and creativity. Let’s remind ourselves that it is our responsibility to find the goodness and nurture it

Lincoln’s Real Life Gargoyles

I do love a crazy over-the-top building. Lincoln Cathedral is a fascinating, almost insanely ornate structureIMG_9829There is full-on quirkiness here, in the best possible way. Even the hoarding around the building work has been given a trompe l’oeil door and been turned into an exhibition space

Then there’s the Cathedral itself, where the details are endlessIMG_9845

I love that when they chose the door surround (s) they couldn’t pick just one, so they had them allIMG_9836

IMG_9839The stone and woodwork are just beautiful

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IMG_9871We’ve all had a few mornings like this, haven’t we?

Then as I looked up, I heard a familiar sound…IMG_9852 - Version 2Can you see it yet?IMG_9852Peregrine Falcon. And Peregrine Falcon JnrIMG_9854

 

 

Gratuitous shots of someone else’s house

French Property stalking for a quick ‘fix’

I arrive in Carcassonne alone, and drag my wheelie case along the cobbled streets to find the house we saw when we came here a few weeks before IMG_8991

I am a huntress. I know when I am getting close, even though I am not that familiar with the streets. I just feel that I am getting closer

I have only a short time before I have to catch my train, but I just hang around outside,  taking photos when I think no-one is looking. Does this make me a house stalker?

Yes, most definitely, as I press my face to the window to see inside IMG_8601IMG_8607It was for sale but the owner has now decided to ‘renovate’. I don’t know what that really means, but I hope they will not strip the original interior features that I can still see

It’s the many details which make this wonderful house. Each one is complete in its own right, but they also work together to create the beaux-arts buildingIMG_8982IMG_8613

Hundreds of people must pass by this street every day, yet other than the graffiti artist who has recently made their mark, few seem to notice it. Does that make it any less special?

I think not

Same Again, PLEASE

Elegant in grey for four centuries, but now out of fashion?

I arrive at the Mairie, sans maquillage, and the lovely guy at the desk recognises me, smiles warmly and calls me by another woman’s name. As soon as I try to correct his error he apologises, remembering that he did the same thing the last time we met, and we both laugh. Do she and I look similar? He thinks so, he says. I explain that I’ve been told there is a grant toward restoring the outside of the house, and he says he’ll get me an appointment. I wonder what does this other bloody woman look like – is she actually my doppelgänger?

He phones me in the afternoon, while I am on the balcony with colour charts, matching the shutters as closely as possible (somewhere between ‘gauze deep’ and ‘bone china blue’ – though closer to ‘gauze deep’). I am on my way, I tell him, and I go straight there, just slightly grubbier than in the morning. He hadn’t realised how complicated the matter was, that there are forms to be completed for the permit, that 2 quotations must be obtained, and that we must then write a letter to the Mayor and the work inspected before money can be awarded

His English is good, but I try to keep him in French so we mix it up a lot. He’s apologetic about the amount of time involved – six months just for the permission, and longer for the grant – but I’m undeterred

He sends me upstairs, and as I climb the staircase I see that the building is very beaux-arts inside, though municipalisation has disguised much of this. I arrive at the correct office where a well-dressed and (as I discover later) very fragrant lady greets me somewhat coolly, having been pre-warned that this Anglaise was on her way. Her colleague at the other desk is in charge but is clearly a man who would prefer to spend ten minutes explaining to her what needs doing than to do it himself. As it turns out, she’s very kind and she accompanies me back downstairs to the guy I was speaking with before, because, as she explains, he speaks English and she doesn’t. Once installed at his desk she shows us both the extent of the paperwork and produces a sheet of twelve potential stonework/shutter colour combos for which I may request the permit

The choices illustrated are yellow stonework with shutters in mauve, dark or light blue, beige stone or red with brown, orange stone with brown, light or dark green, pink stone with brown or pale blue, or blue stone with light or dark green. It looks to me like the plans for a Disney resort

I am, shall we say, ‘unimpressed’

I explain that we don’t want to change the colours, only to repaint exactly as it is (grey front and white-ish back, both with the same pale blue-grey shutters, minus the rust stains). But no, they explain, there is no white or grey option, only the colours on the chart, though neither is championing these colour choices, and both are sympathetic. I simply will not renovate at all, I say, but of course this is not an option as the Mairie wants it sorted out. This is the stage at which I become aware of the fragrance of the elegantly dressed lady as she sits down next to me, in my stinky wallpaper-stripping clothes and we ponder the colours together. Upon their request I translate the French ‘beige’ into the English ‘beige’. Still beige. He points at the beige desk. ‘What colour is beige in English?’ I point at the desk and tell him it’s the same colour, we all giggle and it’s good-natured and conspiratorial

Forty minutes and several (mainly unrelated) phone calls later, they are still both sitting with me and all three of us are still disillusioned with the horrible colour sheet, perplexed that the authentic existing colours of this house which has stood elegant and French in grey for four centuries are simply and suddenly out of fashion. And I am sure that the irony that the Mairie does not fit into this scheme does not escape either of them

My only hope, they say, is to complete the forms and explain in a heartfelt letter to the Mayor exactly why I don’t want to change anything, I only want to preserve what is here, and just hope that he will give an exceptional permit for this

I didn’t fall in love with an orange and green house. But I would quickly fall out of love with one, so I have to hope that reason prevails…

To be continued (but most likely not for a few months – I’ve obviously got a lot of paperwork, thinking and letter-writing to do). And there may be a spot of crying

Relight My (Gas) Fire

Upcycling and alternative energy sources

Attractive pieces often get scrapped because they are no longer useful or relevant, so I wanted to re-purpose an old gas heater by turning it into a light. That was the plan – to be sensible and to dip my toes – but then I couldn’t choose between two of them, both very different, each with its own merits. So I bought both!

This one is SO unusual and such a beautiful shape. I could see its potential and fell in loveIMG_8959I think it’s made of aluminium. It was in three robust basic pieces (three very heavy pieces) when I got it, plus it had some perished gas-fitting gubbings that I removed easily (WD40 again!). It was absolutely filthy and took more effort to clean than I had expected, but even so it has a good patina and I’m glad it’s not too shiny IMG_8957I bought a small nickel bulb fitting and some nuts and bolts to put the bits together firmly, and a neighbour kindly drilled the base for me as the existing feed hole was too small (I didn’t have anything that could get through metal that solid). My main frustrations were (a) finding nice 3-core flex, which I eventually got on line and had to wait a couple of days for, and (b) getting the flex through the cord grip. There was some quiet swearing at that stage

It took time to wire the fitting and plug, because I am out of practice. It was a very hot evening and I’m blind to close work without my glasses but they slipped off my nose when I looked down, so when I do the next one I’ll be sensible and work at the table with a magnifying lamp – much easier

IMG_8964IMG_8960I’ve not seen another heater (or light!) like this. I like the fact that it’s so industrial-looking and yet so decorative and sculptural. The ‘stamen’ at the front hides the bulb completely from all angles and the light reflects back from the ‘petals’ of the back-plate. I think it looks lovely, quite sexy actually

We should all re-imagine something every now and again. Have you anything you might re-purpose?