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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

September song

One of the coolest and wettest summers since 1983 (apparently) is almost over.  Tomorrow it will be September and we can no longer kid ourselves that the weather we have been waiting for since May will actually arrive.  The nights are drawing in already and even on a bright day it is dark enough to need the lights on by 8.30.  This year autumn has arrived quietly - not the sudden realisation that it is here that we sometimes get but more a stealthy creeping with mellow fruitfulness coming early and berries on the hedges whilst the summer flowers are still blooming - quite strange really.

It has been more than 50 years since I last returned to a new school year in September and yet I still see September as a time of new beginnings!  A time to turn over a new leaf and to start on some of the indoor projects which have lain undone during the lighter months. 

It is actually very liberating to realise that all those things one had planned to do during the summer and not got done can now be shelved as it is too late! 

September brings thoughts of cosy evenings - no longer need we spend the long daylight hours gardening and trying to keep on top of the weeds but thoughts can turn to quiet evenings knitting or reading,  earlier bedtimes when the sound of owls in the black darkness replaces the final night-time chattering of the rooks in the soft grey darkness of midsummer nights.  Windows no longer wide open but just enough for some fresh air during the night.  Bedclothes covering us rather than pushed aside....
There is a slowing down - the pace of life is less frenetic during the autumn and winter and now that, for most of us winter doesn't mean real hardship and the possibility of not having enough to eat I look on it as a welcome interlude for Spring will surely come again and by then we will be well rested and ready to begin again.

I love our seasons here in the UK and would really struggle living somewhere where the days were always the same length and the sun shone most of the time.  I enjoy hearing about sunny winter days with temperatures as low as 20 degrees in Australia but we here in UK are made of sterner stuff and that sounds more like summer to me!!   I love the misty dampness of autumn days, the occasional clear bright day, when the sky seems an even brighter clearer blue than during the summer months, all the more appreciated because of its rarity, the wonderful colours of the leaves and berries and the general feeling of snuggling down for a pleasant nap! 
"Where are the songs of Spring?  Ay, where are they? 
Think not of them thou hast thy music too .."
(Ode to Autumn - Keats)

Here we rarely have the extremes of weather that some parts of the world have - I am thinking of those poor people across the Pond who are reeling in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene - but our weather and our seasons are altogether more gentle affairs and whilst we often complain about the grey rainy days of February, the cold dark days of December and the lack of wall to wall sunshine in summer we don't usually have to deal with the devastation that these extremes can bring for which I am truly thankful. 

I leave you with a photo of our recent tomato harvest!!  We have been eating our daily portion of beans, have had several cucumbers and have been adding some of the nasturtium flowers to our salads (luckily no blackfly aagain this year) even had a couple of dozen apples from our little tree but our tomatoes have not ripened and when my husband said "I have picked 2 tomatoes - they will do for our lunch" I thought we'd be rather hungry!!!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Granny never looked like this!

As promised a less wordy piece this time!  Saw these in one of the weekend supplements and thought I'd share them with you.

Apparently this biker jacket is "one of the defining pieces of the new season" it's made from fine cashmere and will retail at £2,210 so who's going to be the first blogger to make something similar?!!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Looking Back

It's a dismal grey and damp day here today and we are in the throes of having the kitchen floor tiles professionally cleaned and sealed so have no access to the kitchen and I am reduced to an electric kettle and the tea things in the conservatory and to washing up the cups in the cloakroom and as I was doing just this earlier today I thought that in spite of it being somewhat difficult it was a whole lot easier than our everyday life at Grandfather's where we didn't have the luxury of an indoor tap nor of electricity to boil the kettle. I thought it's been a while since I published any of my memories and that you might perhaps like to read a piece I wrote about our day to day living back in the 1950's whilst living with my grandfather especially if you too are having a dull dismal day with not a lot to do?  If so read on.....  Since I don't have any photos taken at the time I have illustrated this piece with some of the flowers I remember from childhood days.

Even everyday living was different at Grandfather’s. For a start we didn’t just get up, make a cup of tea and have a shower and eat breakfast. Before either a wash or a drink was possible the fire needed to be got going again – it would have been banked up overnight with small coal and maybe potato peelings or something like that. There was an art to banking up a fire – too much and it went out and too little and it burned through during the night and again went out both of which would mean waking up to a cold house and the necessity of starting a new fire from scratch. It takes time to get a fire going sufficiently well to boil a kettle so the last thing one wanted was for the fire to go out overnight! Then there were the ashes to be riddled out and disposed of – I think these went on the garden and the cinders were used on the path which wound behind the house to the toilet.

This range which I photographed at Sherborne Garden centre is similar to Grandfather's
Then of course there was no filling the kettle at the tap over the sink as we do without thinking these days. The big black kettle had to be filled with a jug from the bucket of clean drinking water and would have been refilled before going to bed and left on the hob at the side of the fire ready for the morning. Once the kettle had been put over the fire and had boiled and the tea made it could be refilled and boiled again before washing could begin. With no separate bathroom it was difficult to arrange for any privacy whilst washing. No showers then but a wash down with some of the hot water from the kettle topped up with some cold from the bucket on the table – being careful not to use too much or there wouldn’t be enough hot left for the next person. I remember Camay soap, Knight's Castille, there was Imperial Leather with its little rectangular metallic label or sometimes Pears since I was “preparing to be a beautiful lady” as their ads used to say!. For washing of hands during the day, in the bowl of cold water left for that purpose and probably the leftovers from somebody’s wash, a bar of carbolic soap would be used maybe Wright’s Coal Tar a deep yellow bar with a strong pungent smell or even a block of washing soap such as yellow Sunlight or green Fairy which could also be used for the weekly wash.

Bath night (usually only attempted once a week and on an evening when grandfather had taken himself off to the Royal Oak!) was a real ritual since it required that the tin bath be brought into the house from the shed and its complement of insects evacuated. The bath would then be placed on the mat in front of the fire especially in winter but even in summer since the hot water would be from the kettle on the fire so the shortest distance from the fire was sensible. Hot water would be added to a bucketful of cold in the bath and then we took turns at having a stand up wash in it. It wasn’t big enough for an adult to sit in but I was able to wash top down and then bottom up and finally to sit in the water with my legs over the side but Mother and my aunt had to make do with washing whilst standing in the shallow water. I am not sure when or how grandfather bathed – I certainly never saw him doing it!

Hair washing was no simple matter either and involved pouring water from a jug over your head whilst leaning over a bowl! The water was then scooped back into the jug and poured over again and again. I seem to remember a shampoo called Drene was the preferred one then. The only difference here was that the water used was often rainwater from the water butt as this was meant to be better for the hair and it was heated in a saucepan and not the kettle, which was kept solely for drinking water from the tap. It was obviously necessary to replace the water in the bowl at least once during all this procedure as there is not much point trying to rinse soap out of your hair with soapy water! The change of water usually meant that your soaking wet hair dripped all over everywhere as you attempted to pour the used water into the slop bucket and to refill the bowl with more clean hot water from the pan and add cold! You can see why hair was washed no oftener than once a week!!

After bathing or washing of hair the used water had then to be got rid of – no sink with plughole of course. Nor any drains down which it could be tipped. It had to be tipped into the slop bucket – usually several bucketsful and taken to the toilet for disposal or flung over the garden so again not something to be relished after a nice bath in front of the fire especially if it was cold and raining!

The only heat in winter was from the range in the kitchen so everything happened there and getting dressed or undressed at the end of the day was usually done in front of the fire where one’s clothes or pyjamas had been warming in readiness. In winter our beds were warmed with a hot water bottle – grandfather still had a couple of those old fashioned stoneware ones which were heavy as lead when filled and boy did they hurt if you accidentally stubbed your toe on one in the bed! Beds were thus warm as toast in a small area and like ice everywhere else! With no electric lighting moving from one room to another was also not straightforward since it involved lighting a candle and taking it with you care being taken not to move too quickly in case it went out in the draught nor to allow spots of wax to fall on the furniture or floor and not to let it catch light to anything en route. Just as well perhaps there were only 2 rooms up and 2 down then. When you are used to just flicking a switch at the doorway you cannot imagine how complicated it all was and how little light one candle gives!

There was of course no television and grandfather didn’t have a radio either since they required electricity too – portable transistor radios came in later in the 60s I think. We did however rent a radio in time for the coronation and this was powered by an accumulator – a big heavy type of battery made of glass which needed to be recharged at the shop regularly. Imagine carrying a small car battery to the shops every Saturday and you get the picture. So we did hear the news of Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tensing’s conquest of Everest on 3 June 1953 before going to a neighbour’s to watch the coronation on their television!

Cooking was done on the range and it was a real art since there was no temperature control – the temperature of the oven depended on the state of the fire which In turn depended on the direction of the wind and on what was being burned at the time, maybe best quality coal but more likely the cheaper nutty slack or even bits of old wood or rubbish. So making anything for which the temperature was critical, such as souffl├ęs (fat chance!), was out – my mother used to make what she called a “rub up cake” or rock buns rather than a sponge cake for example. Casseroles and milk puddings which needed a lower temperature were easier than pastry although my Aunt Win’s pastry was legendary. Occasionally I find these days that the menu I have planned requires 4 saucepans to be in use on the hob at the same time – that would never have been possible since there was room on the fire for one and on the hob alongside for another and that was all. The oven was tiny – perhaps 12 inches square so no turkeys ever got cooked in it – not that turkeys were affordable or available anyway! I cannot imagine how my grandmother managed to bring up 6 children and feed them all with such primitive equipment.
Washing must have been a nightmare for my mother and aunt – no bunging it in the machine of course - it was all done by hand in the bath, the same one we used for bath night, using Sunlight soap or perhaps Omo or Tide washing powder and the whites were usually given a dose of Reckitts blue in the final rinsing water in an attempt to keep them white. There was a boiler in the lean to next door but that needed a fire lit under it and I don’t recall my mother or aunt using that. Mangles were in use then but I don’t think Grandfather had one so the washing was wrung out by hand – my mother had an incredibly strong twist - and was then hung on the line outside or spread over the bushes to dry. I don’t remember what happened in winter – I suspect large items like sheets and towels were not washed as often as would be the case now and then only if it was a good drying day as they would otherwise have had to be hung indoors and would have been in the way not to mention making the whole house damper than it already was.

Elderflowers were collected, dried and used to make a herbal tea by Grandfather which served as a cure-all!
Having got the clothes washed and dried – no mean undertaking as you can see - ironing was done using a flat iron heated on the range. No ironing board but a folded blanket on the end of the table, although this was my mother’s preferred option even when an ironing board was available to her later. Man-made fabrics were not in common use then so most of the items would have been made of cotton or wool and would have taken ages to dry and most would have needed ironing. Two irons were needed, one heating on the stove and the other in use. And unlike today when I normally start off ironing on a lower temperature and increase it as I go along then it would have been necessary to do the things that needed a hot iron first as the iron would get gradually cooler. I think one tested the temperature by spitting on the iron and if the tiny blob of spittle danced over its surface and disappeared it was hot enough! Very technical!

At least with no fitted carpets or rugs there was no need for a vacuum cleaner – just as well with no electricity! Carpet sweepers were often used by those who had carpets and when I was first married in 1972 we had one until we got a Hoover later. The flagstone floors were swept daily and washed regularly too although in winter they’d have taken an age to dry what with the damp in the atmosphere and the damp coming up from below due to the flagstones being set on the bare earth with no damp course beneath. With the only entrance to the house opening straight into the front room wet footprints must have been a constant problem during winter months but at least there were no carpets to worry about!

The range was black leaded regularly using Zebo polish – although as the fire was hardly ever allowed to go out I don’t know quite how this worked. With the coal fire and the need for everything to be carried through the house there must have been an enormous amount of dust and dirt and cleaning and housework must have taken up a great deal of time. And since all the other chores took much longer then without modern equipment it’s not surprising that women at the beginning of the 20th century didn’t usually go out to work!!

Spring cleaning – spread over a week or more - was a major undertaking and you can perhaps see why since winter cleaning was so difficult. First of all the chimney was swept with a long brush the fire having been allowed to go out of course. Then a bright windy day usually in March or April would be chosen and blankets would be washed and hung out to dry. Woollen blankets were used on the beds along with eiderdowns if available since duvets had not yet been introduced – I imagine they came in after holidays to Europe became more common. The floors were scrubbed and the wooden ones given a coat of something called permanganate of potash – whatever that is or was. I only know it was some sort of crystals dissolved in water and then sloshed over the wood and it gave it all a dark stain.  (I checked this out on the internet and apparently it is used as an antiseptic as well as giving wood and other materials a stain) The walls were treated to a coat of distemper – mixed in a bucket and painted on with a wide brush. Sometimes we might be able to rise to a roll or two of border paper and then the walls would have a strip of this pasted about a foot from the ceiling to finish off the look. I remember one year we went very avant garde and painted the kitchen walls eau de nil which was a pretty soft green as a change from the usual whitewash. The woodwork was varnished so didn’t need doing every year. Curtains were washed, ironed and rehung and all the spiders who had been hiding in corners here and there were evicted! Pillows were taken outside into the garden and emptied onto a sheet spread out on the grass – obviously a fine day without wind was chosen for this chore and the feathers allowed to air in the sun whilst their cases were washed and dried and later restuffed with the now fresh smelling feathers. Presumably the sun was considered to act as a disinfectant in some way. Windows were opened as wide as possible and the front door stood open all day and there was a general feeling of thanksgiving for having survived the winter and an anticipation of easier days to come with the arrival of the warmer weather.

If you are still with me well done and congratulations on your stamina. Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings.  I know how many of you enjoyed my recent post about things remembered from the past so hope that some of you will have liked this post too.  I promise my next one will be less verbose!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Paris weekend Part 2

You did say you wanted more didn't you?!  So here it is...

We woke on Monday morning to blue skies and sunshine and after a delicious breakfast we set off for the meeting place for our next walk.

This time it was to be the St Germain district and our first stop was the church of St Sulpice which features in Dan Brown's book The da Vinci Code.  Unfortunately having picked a "jour ferie" or bank holiday we were unable to see as much of the interior as we might have wished as there was a service taking place it being the feast of the Assumption.  It's odd that France which is a strictly secular country takes most of its holidays on Feast Days in the Roman Catholic church but that's France for you!  You may notice that half of the front of the church has been cleaned but apparently money ran out so the other half remains as it was.  You might also notice that the left tower is finished whereas the right hand one is not - again apparently when a building is unfinished it is left that way and not finished in a later century for some reason.

 Our meeting point was this lovely square ringed with chestnut trees - just look at that sky too!

This was the ceiling of the porch - is that the right word? - as we entered the church - isn't it amazing all done in carved stonework?

Here is the church of St Germain-des-pres so called as when it was built it was in fact in the fields outside Paris rather like our own St Martins in the Fields!  It is the oldest church in Paris having originally been built in 542 to house holy relics it then became a powerful Benectine Abbey rebuilt in the 11th century and although much of it was destroyed by fire in the 17th century it was restored in the 19th.  It houses the tomb of the philosopher Descartes.

 Another of the little secret hidden courtyards I love.

 We had lunch here having finished our tour of St Germain - this is a famous restaurant which was much favoured by the Bohemian and literary circles in the 1920s.  Much of this morning's tour included houses and hotels, bars and studios used by the literary circle including Oscar Wilde, Hemingway and so on.  I must admit I can't remember too much about the various authors and their shenanigans and am not familiar with many of the books which were mentioned either so can't give you much information on this side of things.

The afternoon was free to do as we wished and having had our lunch we wandered round the area some more and came across this window display for the famous Laduree macaroons - it also had a salon du the (tea shop) and we resolved to return later and try it out but in fact we ended up further away and never did get back to it.  I thought the window dressing fabulous - cup cakes eat your heart out eh?!!

 Back by the Seine...

 ...looking very different in the sunshine.  We did think of going to look round Notre Dame but in the end we decided we were too hot and footsore and so we took the Metro to Gare d'Austerlitz where we crossed the road to the Jardins des Plantes.

This proved to be a welcome oasis of greenery with seats under the trees where we sat and rested a while enjoying the sound of birdsong.

The gardens had an ecological area and I loved this little hotel a abeilles - hotel for bees.  Not sure how many bees were actually in residence but it shows willing anyway!  There was also a restaurant where we sat on a vine covered terrace and had a drink whilst being amused by some cheeky little sparrows who were doing a good clean up operation under the tables.  Very relaxing it all was too and then we took the Metro back to our hotel where we had a quiet hour lying on the bed reading with the window wide open and a view of the Eiffel Tower (well let's be honest here it was just the very top of the Eiffel Tower seen between the chimney tops - we were on the 5th floor!)  before getting ready to go and find a restaurant for dinner.

 Tuesday morning our visit was to the area known as Les Halles which is where the markets had been held for centuries but which has been moved to the outskirts of Paris for ease of transport by air and train etc.  Rather as our own Covent Garden has been.  The area is still connected with food and shopping however and there are several of these lovely arcades left which were built so that the ladies who lunch could go shopping in safety and away from the smells and filth of the streets.   Luckily there was no filth (well apart from the odd dog mess which France seems to be famous for!) to contend with and hopefully no real danger either!

 We visited the church of St Eustache - a lovely church with stained glass windows and beautiful wall paintings.  There was a young man playing the organ obviously practising for something or another and the music was a beautiful accompaniment to our tour round.  The church is often used for musical concerts of one sort or another and it was here that Berlioz first performed his Te Deum in 1855 and Litz his Messe Solenelle in 1866 and today there are organ recitals during June and July - darn too late again!!

 The actual market halls which were made of metal and glass were destroyed when the market moved out of town although just in the nick of time a couple of the buildings were saved and dismantled and can be seen elsewhere in the world (can't remember exactly where I am afraid!)  On part of the site a new shopping mall has been built which is apparently the cause of much discussion as many think it is ugly and inappropriate.

This tower is all that remains of a chateau built for Catherine de Medici who was a firm believer in astronomy and this was where her astronomer would go to search the stars!  Whilst researching the internet to make sure of my facts I came across this blog post which is about the same area and I thought you might like to take a look as there are some lovely photos.

This carving represents the motto for Paris which is "Fluctuat nec megitur" or in other words Battered but never sunk (like this ship I guess!)  Something else I hadn't known before!  As the French would say "Je me coucherai moins bete ce soir" or in other words I go to bed less stupid tonight or as we would say You learn something new every day!!  

 Inside the Bourse de Commerce which I suppose we would call the Chamber of Commerce are offices and this wonderful cupola ceiling with a painting which goes all the way round showing goods coming to the market from all over the world.

 We had lunch at a pavement cafe just near Stohrer - the oldest patiserrie in Paris - whose sign you can see here along with some other decorative ones against the blue sky!  It is said that the Parisien ladies don't make desserts when they entertain but just pop out and buy a gateau from such a patisserie.  It is true that the window did contain some fabulous looking creations but at 32 euros for a cake big enough to serve at most 6 dainty slices you wouldn't want to entertain very often would you?!  (Think how many of my apple crumb puddings you could make for that price!!)

It was getting too hot to sit in the sun and we had to get back to the hotel to collect our bags and make our way back to the Gare du Nord for the Eurostar home anyway so we regretfully left the rue Montorgeuil.

 This tower which we passed on our way to the Metro we had seen earlier on our tour but that was before the sun broke through and now we were on the other side of the road so a better photo - it is all that remains of a mansion belonging to Jean sans Peur (John the Fearless)  who had his bedchamber at the top of a spiral staircase in this tower so that he was safe from attack - not so fearless eh?!  It's a long and complicated story but if you are interested in hearing about it you will find it all here

We had enjoyed our 3 days in Paris but I have to say by now I was ready to come home - I am a country girl at heart and definitely not a born traveller so am always keen to get home after being away.  I would certainly go again but I think 2 or 3 days is enough unless you intersperse it with trips to other areas perhaps.  However if the South Bank is "our place" as I mentioned in my previous post then Paris also holds a special place in our hearts as it is where we came for our honeymoon nearly 40 years ago! 

I leave you with a photo which certainly raised a smile or two amongst our group.  Anyone who has ever seen French parking will understand why this Mini has a bumper tied to the back!  

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Weekend away

I have been away and haven't been visiting or posting on Blogger for a while so please for give me if I haven't commented on your recent posts - I wonder if you would like to come with me to London and Paris for a wander round?  Unlike us you will not need comfy shoes just sit back and join us on our weekend away...

Last Saturday we went up to London where we planned to stay overnight before catching the early morning Eurostar to Paris on Sunday morning.  Having taken our bags to our hotel - a no frills budget place near to Kings Cross - we walked back towards Waterloo where we intended to go to the South Bank.  I am happy to say that we encountered no signs of the violence of the previous weekend but thank you to those of you who expressed your concern for us which was much appreciated!  I loved these buildings which we passed en route for Charing Cross Road where we caught a bus to Waterloo - free bus passes are wonderful and one of the perks of being over 60!!

The afternoon was dry though cloudy and we were able to visit the Festival of Britain exhibition at the Festival Hall before taking an evening stroll along the South Bank.  This is "our place" since when I first met my husband I was living in Dorset and he in Cheam and I used to come up to visit every couple of weeks and he would take me back to Waterloo for my train home on Sunday evenings and if we had time to spare we would wander along the South Bank together but that's a very long time ago!!

 The London Eye wasn't there back then of course!

This sign was on the side of a beach hut displaying a mosaic made up of bits and pieces found on the river bank which I showed you here and it expresses exactly what I love so much about London in a way I could never hope to put into words.

This pretty garden is part of the beach along the South Bank just now and is looking so much greener than when I last visited during a dry spell.  Lovely isn't it?

St Paul's amidst the cranes!

We had dinner in a restaurant having watched some entertainers and looked at the booksellers' wares and so on and when we left the sun was setting and the sky looked so lovely

Not a fire simply the sun setting - fabulous isn't it?  Our hotel was very comfortable and quiet in spite of our being on the ground floor right next to the busy Kings Cross Road!  We slept well and left for the short walk to St Pancras about 7.00 am.  Having checked in we had time for some breakfast before boarding the Eurostar to start our weekend called Secret Paris Revisited.  We had been previously on a short break called Secret Paris on Foot and enjoyed it so this was to be a follow on from that.  I posted about that trip here

Sunday morning in Paris:  I thought how different the architecture is in Paris and how very French the buildings looked (well they would wouldn't they!) We made our way to our hotel and had time for some lunch before we made our way to our first rendez vous for a walk round the area known as the Mouffetard Quarter.

With a guided walk such as this we saw all sorts of things we might not otherwise have noticed such as this lovely courtyard set behind gates.  This one was behind metal gates but sometimes our guide was able to open wooden gates and take us inside to see the private area behind.

We visited this church - St Etienne-du-cMont - which houses the shrine of Saint Genevieve who is the patron saint of Paris - something I hadn't known before - apparently she saved the city from attack by Atilla .  She was born in 422 and died in 512 so she lived to be a good age especially for those days!

Here she is in her niche on the right of the door to the church.  Unfortunately as it was a Sunday we were not able to wander round at will with our guide as a service was taking place inside.

St Genevieve had a street named after her but duing the Revolution all streets names with a religious connotation had to be altered and the Saint was deleted!  It is now called something else entirely! 
 Another pretty courtyard hidden away.

Just next to the church St Etienne-du-Mont is this huge building originally built between 1764 and 1790 by Louis XV after he had recovered from a desperate illness and he wanted the church to honour St Genbevieve but during the Revolution it was turned into a panthenon - a monument to house the tombs of France's great heroes. It has been secularized and desecularized again since then and was finally made into a civic building in 1885. Again we didn't go inside.

 After a supper in the Latin Quarter where the little cobbled street was filled with tables for all the many little restaurants we made our way towards the Seine where we had a wander along thinking that the previous evening we had been walking along the South Bank of the River Thames and how similar the evening was!

 See even the same sunset!

By now we were ready to wend our way back to our hotel for the night.  We got quite adept at using the Metro and with the Paris Passes we had been given as part of the deal we could use the underground as much as we liked so we did!

I think that by now you will have had enough so I will save the rest for another time.  I hope you enjoyed our tour and that your feet are not as tired as ours were by the end of our weekend!!