Monday, 31 December 2012

Wordsworth Way

We left Near Sawrey, the village of Beatrix Potter's Hill Top, and went to Hawkshead (also pertaining to B. Potter, but I won't say how in case you want to see the film).  

Wordsworth went to school here in the 1700s.

It is a typical Lake District village, full of quaint little shops and tea shops.  

Hawkshead streets

I tried to find something I really wanted, but failed.  It was more fleece than wool and I prefer the latter for keeping warm.  I was vaguely tempted by some chocolate wellies to give as gifts, but didn't figure they'd last until Christmas in our house.

View form the churchyard

We strolled past The Old Grammar School, attended by poet William Wordsworth.  

Flowers brighten the grayest day in the grayest street.

This was on our way to the old church, St. Michael's and All Angels, with a history going back to the 12th Century.  Most of my interior photos were naff, but the link shows a bit of the inside.

Church Wardens for the year 1711...

I loved the Celtic design of their war memorial.  

War Memorial

The casualties of WWI covered one side, top to bottom; those of WWII were only a few names on the other side.  

Chocolate Wellies, in white or brown...

It was, as you can see, a very wet day, but we still enjoyed our stroll followed by a nice hot cup of tea.  

So, do you reckon I should have bought the boots?

Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Perfectly Imperfect Home

As part of painting the front room, another project I had in mind was from The Perfectly Imperfect Home.    This book was recommended to me by Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project.   (I should go leave a comment with a link to thank her!)  

Practicing, on the kitchen floor!

This is a great decorating book for us ordinary folk who wouldn't dream of hiring a decorator, who don't have thousands or tens of thousands to spend to re-do the whole house.  And maybe it would be good even for those who do.

 One of the ideas I particularly liked was the 'gallery wall'.   Between us, Bill and I have been given, bought, inherited or made quite a few things meant to be on a wall.  Instead, our attic has been really full.    I thought that should finally change.

I dreaded the idea of poking loads of holes into a newly painted wall but there was nothing for it.  Bill was prepared to do the measuring and nailing to my satisfaction so long as he didn't have to decide what went where.    

I read a bunch of websites (see list below) for tips and ideas and came away with a few general principles I thought I could use:  space frames a uniform two inches apart; do trial arrangements before deciding; group like items together; have some logic to your choices. The latter was sort of my idea after reading other's ideas.  

One thing I did not do was to have all matching frames; neither did I have all the same type of subject in the pictures. However, I did exclude photographs from the mix and a couple of pieces that seemed to clash horribly with the new colour scheme were left out.  

I started by defining the area I wanted to fill, which was between the picture rail and the top of the couch, stopping short of bureau so there would be room for it to open.  I cut a piece of dressmaking paper, marked off in inches, to size and put it on the only empty floor space in the house large enough, the kitchen floor.  I tried putting the larger pictures in the upper left and lower right corners; I tried putting the largest picture in the centre but decided it was just too large for any arrangement.

The outcome

Bill declined to have his favourite pieces on the wall as it gets western sun in the evening.  At the last minute, however, he threw in a few pieces from his mother's house that I quite liked and I started again from scratch.  By then, I had enough practice that it didn't seem too hard.  I'd already learned that I seemed to think in columns:  start with a width-definer and centre things above and below it; I liked the green frames reasonably near the mainly green paintings; I liked small groupings beneath larger pictures and if possible I wanted some oval shapes.  I don't think I ended up with everything I wanted, but there is another vast empty wall on the upstairs landing and loads more pictures to hang!  

I can see that lamp has been moved to accommodate cards...

I only bought one piece, a silhouette series from John Speight in Kirkharle.  Most of the pieces hung on the walls in my Mom's house, she painted or she or I did the needlework.  Some were from art festivals or souvenir sketches on holidays.  A few were frames I bought at yard sales 20 years ago which have never been hung and which need something better in them, so it will be a work in progress as I find new things to put in the frames.  Mark, at the Tynemouth Fleamarket, is my go-to resource for framing anything we don't feel we can manage.  

However, the hard part, the measuring and nailing up, I shall live with for a while - probably another 12-15 years...

Friday, 28 December 2012

Part XX – Conspicuous Waste vs. Workmanship

This is part of a series discussing The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen.  His fourth chapter is Conspicuous Consumption.  

In the last post we talked about rural vs city pressures for conspicuous consumption as a means of maintaining reputability.  Because of greater mobility of populations, conspicuous consumption is beginning to outweigh conspicuous leisure as the preferred method of displaying wealth.

Veblen says the element common to both conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption is that of waste:  of time, of effort or of goods.  He maintains that the pressure to display wealth through conspicuous consumption could not only lead to dissipation.  It could lead to utter poverty, a complete waste of resources, in most cases (and in many it has) were it not checked by another aspect of human nature, that of workmanship.

He finally acknowledges that there are other standards of repute, other canons of conduct besides wealth and its manifestations.  He describes workmanship as
“...another force, alien, and in some degree antagonistic, to the usage of conspicuous waste… Other circumstances permitting, that instinct disposes men to look with favor upon productive efficiency and on whatever is of human use. It disposes them to deprecate waste of substance or effort. The instinct of workmanship is present in all men, and asserts itself even under very adverse circumstances… In so far as it comes into conflict with the law of conspicuous waste, the instinct of workmanship expresses itself not so much in insistence on substantial usefulness as in an abiding sense of the odiousness and aesthetic impossibility of what is obviously futile.”
Veblen notes the passage of society into yet another stage, something else that enhances the merits of workmanship.  
“…when the quasi-peaceable stage (with slavery and status) passes into the peaceable stage of industry (with waged labour and cash payment) the instinct comes more effectively into play. [Workmanship] then begins aggressively to shape men’s views of what is meritorious, and asserts itself at least as an auxiliary canon of self-complacency.”

Most people have an inclination to accomplish an end, to shape some object, fact or relation for human use.  Because of the still strong pull of reputable leisure, workmanship sometimes is, as Veblen puts it, ‘in make believe only’.  He puts forward social ‘duties’; quasi -artistic or -scholarly accomplishments; care and decoration of the house; sewing circle activities; proficiency at dress, cards; yachting, golf, and other various sports; etc. as examples of pretend workmanship. 

In the quasi-peaceable stage, the pressure to be purposeful might be relieved by ‘forcible aggression or repression directed against hostile groups' (would that be going to war?) or against the subject classes within the group’ (class warfare?) or by hunting.  With the growing peaceable and industrial society, the ignominy attached to useful effort becomes less acute and workmanship asserts itself with more persistence.

So, there have been changes in the form by which the leisure class practices conspicuous leisure. 
“Many and intricate polite observances and social duties of a ceremonial nature are developed; many organizations are founded, with some specious object of amelioration embodied in their official style and title; there is much coming and going, and a deal of talk, to the end that the talkers may not have occasion to reflect on what is the effectual economic value of their traffic. And along with the make-believe of purposeful employment…there is…a more or less appreciable element of purposeful effort directed to some serious end.” 

This reminds me a lot of what when on at my last workplace, all this talk!  And I have never really understood why it is considered productive for one or other of the royal family here to show up when a new hospital , library or shopping centre opens.  I realise they are ‘being seen to be’ busy, but it all seems a bit silly to me.  But then I’m a foreigner.

As well as with conspicuous leisure, a similar change has occurred with respect to vicarious leisure. 

“Instead of simply passing her time in visible idleness, as in the best days of the patriarchal regime, the housewife of the advanced peaceable stage applies herself assiduously to household cares”.

So, workmanship sounds like it is just about wanting to achieve something and hopefully that something might even be useful.   Wealth and leisure might be wonderful things to enjoy, but without a sense of being useful or purposeful, I'm thinking it could be quite boring as well.  What do you think?

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Old Cedar Chest

I had another project in mind for an old cedar chest that belonged to Mom and Daddy.  Not this one!  Another one.  I think cedar chests were big in Mom's heyday.  

Anyhow, this one had a lovely burled wood veneer on it, but it looked as though it had sat under a leaky roof at some time.  The finish was curled and chipped beyond help.  We decided to just strip off the veneer and paint it the same shade as the walls in the front hall.  

We bought a coat rack to nail on the wall and Bill painted it the same shade, so we now have a more practical coat hanging arrangement in the front hall.

It's not a dramatic change, but renovating that chest has been on my wishlist for a long time.  I'm very lucky that Bill likes doing this sort of thing, as I doubt I'd ever tackle it.

Do you like renovating furniture?

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Happy Christmas!

It's one of those strange differences between the US and Britain.  I grew up saying 'Merry Christmas' but here they say 'Happy Christmas'.  A small thing, but it always sounds strange to me.   

I couldn't decide whether to share this cartoon,

the gorgeous art deco card Bill found

or show you the wreath I made and am inordinately proud I decided to do all three!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, 24 December 2012

New Sitting Room

Bill worked hard, starting way back in September, working throughout October and into the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.  If you want a 'before' photo, showing the minty green colour scheme, here are some photos from Thanksgiving four years ago.

He stripped off the wood chip wallpaper in the living room.  

See the round white-filled hole near the bottom?  Bill
reckons there was a servant's bell there at some point.  It's
beside the fireplace, the traditional location for such things.

I'm acquainted with this very stubbornly adhesive stuff, a bumpy-textured wallpaper, having stripped it with him in our first joint decorating endeavor. Being foreign, I didn't have the in-built aversion to the stuff, so I chose to put it back up and we lived with it another 12-15 years.  This time we replaced it with a different texture.

The first trial of boring beige, but it did sort of make the top
part look taupe.  Bill was happy to re-paint the walls, but
we left the ceiling as 'done'.

Neither of us can remember how we came up with the new colour scheme we were aiming to achieve.  I think he mentioned red and I mentioned taupe.  Somehow it ended up more of a beige, wine and grey, but I can live with it.

I made the strange decision to paint the 'ceiling' right over the
cornice and down to the picture rail.  I figure 10' ceilings can
stand to be 'lowered' with colour.

I knew taupe would be a nearly impossible colour, but I had no idea how much of a headache burgundy could be.  There are brick reds, brown reds, magenta reds, lipstick-y dusky pink reds...  

I need it to be very simple:  a square to hold next to the drapes,
the couch and the other colours...  Bill, bless him, humoured me.

We even looked at printed wall papers, but this was well over my head.  I have yet to see a wall paper I'm certain I could live with for years. 

Yes, that is Ella's teddy bear on top of the bureau.

Apparently, many people here in Britain re-decorate their homes every three to five years, some even annually.  Not us.  We re-decorate when the cracks start annoying us and not a minute before.  That said, Bill says he actually likes to do the wallpapering and painting.  I'm happy to let him.  However, he doesn't like to make decisions about paint colours, etc.  Sadly, this is not my strong point either.

I bought pillow forms and sewed burgundy and taupe covers for them.

For some reason, Bill laid down a 'law' that we would not have a colour mixed for us.  Why, I don't know, I didn't ask, I just accepted it.  In hindsight, I would now figure out what colour scheme I wanted, go to the paint store and have my paint mixed for me. 

I let myself shop at the Land of Green Ginger in Tynemouth and came home with
this Edwardian mirror for only £65.  There were a dozen more I could easily
have brought home!

We discovered that some DIY places don't carry booklets or sample sheets, they just have squares up on the wall (dirty, dingy squares that don't look like they match the square on the paint tin).  Others sell paint in the perfect shade, but only glossy, not matt.  Most sell sample pots, the cost of which adds up...  

The dark red seems to make even a grey room warm...but the fire helps as well!

I have about 20 red and 15 'taupe' paint pots that I need to figure out what to do with.  They don't even dry the same colour as they look in the bottle!  I'm considering a go at some 'modern art'.  

The tree barely fits, but it's up and that's what counts.

We finished in time for Thanksgiving, at which we hosted about 24 family members and neighbours...and now we are ready for Christmas.  

As you can see, we aren't minimalists...

There is more to "show and tell", but it will have to wait a few days...

Friday, 21 December 2012

Part XIX – The Good that Comes of Gossip

This is part of a series discussing The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen.  His fourth chapter is Conspicuous Consumption. 

Leisure and consumption are accepted as equivalent in demonstrating the possession of wealth.  Choosing between them as a matter of advertising one’s wealth depends upon the stage of economic development as to which will most ‘effectively reach the persons whose convictions it is desired to affect’.  So long as the community or social group is small, they are equally effective.  However, consumption wins over leisure as community size increases, as it becomes more difficult to display one’s exquisite manners or knowledge of archaic languages, for example.  Then again, Veblen didn’t live in the time of blogging, did he?  He does, however talk about the formation of neighbourhoods in which the occupants of nearby houses have little contact, often a feature of life today, sadly.  

With a more mobile society people unknown to one another come into contact:  at churches, theatres, ballrooms, hotels, parks, shops.  These are Victorian examples, to which one could add work, gyms, school gatherings, sporting events, etc.  Without more intimate knowledge, people can only judge one another based on a display of goods and perhaps breeding (which I now understand means training, not bloodlines) during a relatively short period of observation.  The only unfailing way to impress these transient observers is by showing evidence of pecuniary strength.  Thus, conspicuous consumption is more useful in this changing society.

Veblen contrasts urban vs. rural living in this respect. Urban dwellers spend more of their income on conspicuous consumption and it’s more important that they do so, so he says they habitually ‘live hand-to-mouth’ more than rural inhabitants.  The latter are notoriously less ‘modish in their dress’ and ‘less urbane in their manners’ in spite of an equal family income.  This is not because they care less, but because urban dwellers are more ‘provoked to this line of evidence’ and the effect is more transient, so that city dwellers have a greater struggle to outdo one another.  The need to conform to this higher standard becomes mandatory.  The standard of ‘decency’ is higher, class for class, and so on pain of losing caste, city dwellers spend more and save less.

In expounding about city life, Veblen singles out the drinking and smoking habits of some of the lower classes, particularly journeymen printers.   He says that because their printing skills allow them to be so mobile and they readily move to a new place to improve their circumstances, they are constantly thrown in with new acquaintances.  In order to be accepted in the new group and well thought of leads inevitably to dissipation, I suppose from buying too many rounds at the pub to prove one is reputable and able to pay. 

However, in the country, one can be known - through neighbourhood gossip - to have considerable savings or a comfortable home and so this outward display is not as necessary.  This is the advantage of everyone knowing everyone else’s business.  So, we should all get to gossiping about our neighbours, to help them build their savings!  

The next post will attempt to address the idea of waste vs. workmanship.  This latter term is a difficult concept for me, but we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


Simon took us to a few places near St Paul.  One was the commune (town) of Grignan.  He was devastated that it no longer looked like the calender photo.   They had harvested their lavender crop since he'd last been.  

I wasn't likely to go picking armloads anyhow.  It's obviously part of their business.  Besides, I had half a dozen lavender plants in my front garden, awaiting my return.

The cemetery monuments were enormous and, as one would expect from a place so long inhabited, numerous.  In fact, there are records of the Grignan family going back to 1050, but also evidence that the hill was occupied during the Iron and Bronze ages, also by the Romans.

In the 1200's, the Grignan family lost possession of their castle and it was taken by the Adhémar family of Monteil.  

Under the Adhémars of Grignan, the castle became even more imposing.

Son and father shot.  Great views from the castle.

That name, Adhémar, came up another day, though at the time I knew nothing about them and their association with Grignan.

This row of baby cypress trees will be impressive one day.
Besides the obvious age of the town, there was an incredible amount of architecture that grabbed me.  

Like this row of impressive beech trees, I think Bill said they were.
I've spared you endless doors, lanterns, roof tiles.  

The public baths, between the cemetery and the town.

If I ever figure out how to get notecards printed with my photos, I'll be in business!  

That bird cage was v. tempting, until I remembered how full our house is already.

Some photos, however, were not meant to be. 


For one, I needed to keep up with the guys and not keep them hanging about too long, though Bill was shooting his own souvenirs.  

Pedestrian traffic was perfectly timed to ruin a photo.

For another, there were loads of other people around a tourist in t-shirts and shorts just doesn't improve a photo of an ancient monument / door / wall.


Sometimes I could get a photo I could crop and play with, other times I gave up after a dozen shots.  


Never mind, this is not exactly a major tragedy.  

Grignan seems to feel its greatest claim to fame is a woman who wasn't even a resident but only visited a few times.  Her statue is in the town square and the large red plume painted on the clock tower is reference to her.  Madame de Sévigné's daughter was married to François Adhémar de Monteil, comte de Grignan (in fact the last Count of Grignan).  

Madame de Sévigné wrote such witty, vivid letters to her daughter and to others that she is an icon of French literature.  Even I have heard of her. Perhaps one day I'll read her letters, available online here.

However, it probably isn't Madame de Sévigné I will first remember  when I think about Grignan.  For me, the public bath is an iconic vision.  

Also, somewhere we found a grafitti covered placard discussing the association in Grignan of "old stone and ancient roses", roses cultivated from the 16th century up until 1914 (the beginning of the first World War).  

Yet another example of how the 'Great War' changed life in Europe.