The land that tidying up forgot

Every time I visit MIL's house I go through the same experiencial process.  The first day I fall in love all over again with this home's unpretentious shabby comfort.  This is a country home dating back to 1300 (in the cellar anyway) which is the epicentre of a large extended family and busy working property.

This place is busting with aretefacts and detritus gathered from a life lived in full.  Nothing here is arranged or designed to look like anything in particular, it has just evolved.  Which must surely be the secret to a truly interesting and rich interior.

But by day three, something starts to shift.  And then all of the sudden I feel overwhelmed with a compulsion to get a large proverbial broom and give it all a good a good clear out.   I'm itching to get stuck in and apply a thorough flossing.  For this is a house where 'putting things away', the household chore that seems to dominate my daily duties, just does not happen.   Being here is a like living in the home of the alter ego me that would really rather put my feet up with a book rather scuttle around picking up everybody's elses crap until 11pm every night.  Why bother?  Just go to bed!  If only I could.  Sadly the need to get up and give those surfaces a good clear and scrub would probably keep me awake at night.


Euro Treasure

Drawing comparisons is always tempting when travelling. A few days ago we were invited for dinner to the home of some old family friends in Amsterdam. They live in one of those gorgeous tall skinny canal houses filled with antiques, books, subtle lighting and the smell of delicious food. Being collectors of many things is no problem for them as they have five floors and lots of glass fronted cabinetry. I was struck with a serious bout of display space envy. In fact so struck was I that I forgot to take any photos, until the dessert was served, a mega rich chocolate mousse served in this lovely old pâté terrine with tastiest meringues ever. Mmmmm...

Over dinner we got to talking about old stuff generally, and in particular artefacts dug up during building. There was I thinking my old shoe discussed earlier was pretty special. Well, you can imagine what surfaces when you excavate the basement of a 400 year old canal house. Delft tiles, of course, but when these guys pulled out their floor in the 70's they dug up human skeletons, and have the skulls perched around the house to prove it. These days even they would probably feel the obligation to tell someone, but in 1976? No way!

Our travels have turned decidedly less glamorous since then, with a hotel in Brugge that looked charming on the net but ended up being almost on top of the bus terminal. I guess that is our obligatory (Belgian) rough to go with the (Dutch) smooth.


Well I'll be (Amster)dammed

Far from wanting to morph into a travel blog for the next six weeks ('here, look at my fascinating travel snaps'), the fact that we are a family on the road will mean that any posts for a while will be foreign-influenced and probably iPhone generated. At least they will be short.

The last time I was in Amsterdam I had a pretty good time. Let's just day the sort of good time that a pair of cranky jet lagged ten and twelve year olds being towed around in the rain don't facilitate.

We did however manage to squeeze into today a museum, beer in a gorgeous original very old bar and visit the sobering Anne Frank Huise. It was all good but the beer was definitely the highlight.

It is so refreshing to be somewhere where the patina of time is given the respect it deserves. I'm rejoicing in the glorious yet understated style that you only get in mainland northern continental Europe. That old combo of historical architecture and cutting edge contemporary design does it for me every time.

And then there's the bricks. (I can see a bit of a blog theme emerging here). Beautiful, teeny, clay bricks laid with a craftsman's precision 400 years ago abound. A wonder what our brickie would have made of that brief!


Good Luck

Not long after we moved into our house, one of the dogs appeared from under the boards with this in its mouth.

It is said that once upon a time house builders would put a child's shoe somewhere  in the foundations or structure, often near the front door, for luck.  This shoe is well old.  It has been resoled a few times and I reckon it dates from not long after the house was built in the twenties.  Amazing that it has lasted all these years of the elements and curious creatures.

I took the shoe into the local community history centre at the library.  They loved it and took pictures, along with other ephemera that keeps surfacing, such as great vintage cardboard packaging.  I can't wait until the extension starts next year and the whole back of the house gets removed.  We will all be under the builder's feet with our picks and trowels.

I'm flat out getting to leave for our trip back to the UK over the  Christmas holidays to spend with our other family.  Will the bottom of the washing basket ever appear?  Exciting as it is to be going away (when you live in one of the world's most isolated cities, trust me, it's exciting), there's part of me that would frankly rather just stay home.   Life is such a fragile treasure, and taking our family out into the wide world of multiple airports, European winter weather, congested roads and unknown places and plans feels like such a risk to our secure little world and routine.   Jeez I must be getting old.

So I'm thinking about the lucky shoe,  and saying a little prayer for a safe and wonderful holiday, and for everyone else out there also preparing for a well earned break too.



I've been reading lots of posts lately about tea towels (coincidental I'm sure) and present shopping.    Present shopping at Christmas time is a bit like doing homework, you know it's got to be done, is highly unappealing, yet renders a sense of serene satisfaction when complete.    I don't know what's worse and takes more input - the pressure to give something of apparent high value, or something that has lots of thought invested.  Both take time and imagination I don't generally possess.  I like Tim Minchin's suggestion that the combination of socks jocks and chocolates is just fine.  What a better place the world would be all round if someone declared a rule that all gifts must fit into one of these limited three categories.

But back to tea towels.  A few years back my old house neighbour gave me this tea towel as a christmas present.  Her husband's mother had gone it to a home, and she'd found a large cache of pure linen tea towels in her cupboard, including a pile of these, all identical.  She gave me two.

Let me count the ways that I love this tea towel(s).  I'm guessing here that the Woman's Christian Temperance (that's dry) Union was a bunch of bible-bashing nationalist wowsers.  A less attractive cohort with which to while away a Sunday afternoon is difficult to imagine.   The mind boggles, but I bet they were all gorgeous in their own special way.  I also love the fact that this tea towel is pure linen.  Once you've enjoyed the benefits of a linen tea towel and realise that this thing can absorb a sink's worth of water and is virtually indestructible, you too will say 'no thanks' to any cotton offerings.

But the thing that really gets me about this is that it celebrated their centenary... in 1982.  Oh, that's quite recent then.  No.  That's THIRTY YEARS AGO.   Amazing!

So there you go, a few forgotten slips of fabric hurriedly wrapped in a bit of christmas paper from the back of someone else's  linen cupboard can transpire so much usefulness, value, pleasure and meaning.  The challenge is matching the meaning with the recipient.  Therein lies your challenge.  Good luck!


Bricking It

Our garage-studio project is making progress, albeit slowly.  Now the steel structure is in, we are at the brick bit.  You might assume there to be little complexity around selecting bricks but let me tell you my friend, you are wrong.   The whole exercise reminds me of choosing white paint.  Anyone who has painted a house in the last ten years will know what I'm talking about here.

A few streets away from our house is an old telephone exchange built in the 1930's.  We love the utilitarian yet quietly stylish design of this building, and it has been an inspiration behind the design for the structure, a bit.  Here it is.

Not only does it sport this lovely relief design, but also boasts some gorgeous flemish bricklaying.  That's when a row of half bricks is placed between a standard row.  I bet you never knew there was so much craft involved in bricklaying.   Sadly the extra labour cost and noise pollution of 4 thousand bricks being cut in half has meant we've decided to pass on the flemish.

So, the most important task was to choose bricks that would render this vintage feel.   If we did not put in some serious effort  getting them right, we'd end up with something that looked like this.  Not good.  Equally naff would be to use ubiquitous recycled bricks, de rigour around here in the 90's.  At the risk of disappearing up our own backsides with attention to detail, it has to be said that either would be a major fail.

What we did was choose three different styles of 'tumbled' new bricks, from two different suppliers, to be blended thus creating a genuinely vintage-looking brick facade, an oxymoron if ever there was one.   This has proved too complex and out the box for brickie number one who has now walked with the bother of it all.  All halt for a week now as we await the start of brickie number two.  

Here are some of the new bricks ready to go.  These will be mixed with other batches that are less or more 'tumbled'.

Speaking of bricks, in the process of digging up the backyard this baby below surfaced, along with other miscellaneous items.  I did a bit of research and found that it came from the State Brickworks in Armadale which cranked up in 1915 and ceased to operate as a State-run facility in the mid 1950s.  Our house being weatherboard, maybe the brick was a token purchase to be admired.  Weatherboard houses were traditionally half the cost of brick dwellings to build.

Just think of the money saved if I'd dug up another 8,499 of them.