The Accidental Prop Shop

The world’s smallest brocante – and nothing is for sale

All my current favourite rooms in the house seem to be the ones that had been in complete darkness for over forty years, with the shutters and doors firmly closed. Perhaps they scream the loudest and so they get the my attention?

This room is effectively just the end of a corridor next to the ‘Damask Room’ and had been used by the elderly lady as a cooking and laundry area until the mid-1970s. Note the clothes pegs and hangers – I’m not really a detective

Poshbird's prop shop
as we found it August 2015

I spent a day last week stripping this tiny room bare of paper. The Dissoucol worked a dream and I learned the (mercifully brief) wallpaper history of this space

Poshbird's prop shop

Under the very brown patterned wallpaper with the horribly mismatched border there was a cobalt blue and white lace-patterned paper which must have been very elegant in its day. This in turn had its own border, deep blue and graphite with silver grapes on it, though I only found small traces of this

Poshbird's prop shop

Poshbird's prop shop

The ceiling paper was extraordinary only in the fact that it would never have worked with either wallpaper. I was fascinated by how the pattern has chemically degraded

Removing the old coat rack (I have kept it for future use) revealed a patch where the colour had remained, showing an unexpected and much cheerier sky blue background

Poshbird's prop shop

I found various scribbles on receipts covering up to 1975 in the coke box. I gathered all the evidence – which will need a good iron – and stuck it into a vide grenier frame for safe-keeping

Poshbird's prop shop

Also in among the coke was a cannonball, about two and a half inches in diameter. No doubt at least one of these has hit the house during its history, judging by the cracks. This house just keeps giving

Poshbird's prop shop
in spring 2017 we ‘lost’ the cooker or whatever it was
Poshbird's prop shop
some epic gravity-defying cobwebs

The little room is earmarked for a loo and washbasin and we’ve had plumbing installed in readiness, but I was SO enjoying unpacking all sorts of smaller gems after two years in their wrappings that I decided to actually ‘put’ them somewhere to enjoy them. I’ve never had them in one place together before so it’s been hard to gauge scale etc. Plus, I wanted to check for breakages – so far, so good…

Poshbird's prop shop
Exterior doors (right one partially cleaned)

The original paintwork on the doors showed fabulous colours under the filth, so rather than remove the lead-based paint (and who knows what else is in it?) I will keep it. It rivals any posh paint colours of today and has a genuinely fabulous patina. I’m sure some people would squirm at the idea, but I don’t care. I can use wax to seal it

Poshbird's prop shop
Starting to unpack (interior door to hallway)

And so, here we have the world’s smallest brocante, the beginnings of my own personal prop shop from which I can pick and choose items. Don’t you just love it?

Poshbird's prop shop

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