Sunday, 30 August 2009

Sewing for the Garden

You know these plastic scrubby things you get with soap that you supposedly use to exfoliate? I hate 'em.

You know the plastic net bags that onions and garlic and sometimes potatoes come in? I hoarded them.

I had this idea for ages but only just got around to doing it when I realised the birds got pretty much the majority of our raspberries this summer. I wasn't going to make it so easy for them to take the big juicy blackberries.

Saturday, 29 August 2009


I told you all about our first visit to Washington Old Hall. Little did I know we'd be returning so soon. It happened that my friend Vivien, who sent us a 2-for-1 coupon that we'd used to go the first time, also gave me a flyer from the National Trust. I noticed that Steve Moore from the Antiques Roadshow along with Anderson and Garland auctioneers would be doing free valuations at Old Washington Hall in August.

Given that since this recipe book was dated the year of George Washington's birth, it seemed only appropriate to have it valued there. I suspected this might be related to the fact that the Antiques Roadshow is to be filmed at the Bowes Museum soon.

When we arrived we were given a number (52)

and told they were up to about number 12 so we should go for a wander, which we did. The rain was threatening however, and when we returned there were vacant chairs at the front. It looked like a show not to miss and so I saved a chair whilst Bill went for some tea.

We noticed very few people like us had brought only one item. Several brought bags and backpacks full. We started kicking ourselves thinking of what we might have had valued. As most of our older items are sentimental we wouldn't be interested in selling them anyhow. I told Bill it would be awful to find out they were worth a great deal because then I would be scared to use or handle them! Still, it might have been fun to find out more about some of them.

Bill laughed at the number of German beer steins people had horded thinking they were valuable. I watched people's faces as they left, trying to determine if they had received good news or not. A number looked fairly satisfied but quite a few did not.

Someone was told, "Put it back in the attic for another 30 years and it might be worth something." Bill over heard "It would be best to take this thing to a charity shop; at least then someone might get some use of it."

The man in the yellow jacket was apparently said Steve Moore of the Antiques Roadshow team (Bill was pleased to notice that his jacket was lined in a bright pink silk to match the stripe in the plaid). He disappeared at one point for a photograph for the Chronicle. I've linked to the article; Bill and I are actually shown in the last of the pictures.

I love Moore's expression here.

This couple brought the oddest collection of bric-a-brac and we overheard him telling them that just because it has a name on the bottom of the piece doesn't make it valuable or even old.

However, it was the gentleman with the reading glasses whom they all consulted with unusual items and he was the one who eventually looked at Bill's recipe book. I'd already noticed that he seemed quite the diplomat, telling people how
interesting their items were, even if not worth a penny. He did look genuinely pleased when presented with the book to examine; at least it was actually old, and he said there was no reason to think that it wasn't actually as it appeared, from 1732.

He said it it had a lovely old vellum cover and would cause a lot of excitement and interest at an auction. People are known to collect such recipe books and he said it would likely bring about £200-300; perhaps on a really good day as much as £400-500. I was pleased it was worth more than Bill's £50 estimate. It would have been nice had it been worth millions, but as it is, we will just keep it and enjoy its oddity. We had a good day out in any case.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Afflecks No Palace

I mentioned earlier wandering the wilds of Manchester in search of Affleck's Palace. Turns out it changed hands after almost closing sometime in the last year or so and is now just Afflecks.

I was too young to be a hippie, really, but I was rather that way inclined for a while in high school. I mean, I wore my stringy blond hair as long as it would grow. I wore homemade moccasins and too-long bell bottomed jeans. I loved the ragged fringe that dragged in the street and looked forward to holes developing so I could add embroidery and patches. All things considered, poor Mom tolerated that phase relatively well I think, though she still made and I wore 'nice' dresses and suits on occasion. This was partly to please her and also because I hadn't the courage to be a true rebel.

Anyhow, Simon had taken us to Affleck's Palace a couple of years ago when we first visited Manchester after he moved there permanently (he went to university there). I was fascinated by what I saw, but it was jammed packed with people, it being the weekend. I was hoping to go back and browse a little more comfortably this time, mid-week and it paid off.

How to describe Affleck's? Definitely not aimed at my age group, but I did see one or two other people about my age, usually accompanying younger teens. Rather than frown about the sex shop, the tattoo parlour or the body jewelery, I'd rather focus on what I love about the place. For one it looks like a foot onto the entrepreneurial ladder for young people so inclined; also, it is definitely a creative outlet. At least two of the stalls had staff (one a girl, the other a guy) sitting in a corner behind a sewing machine; I can't tell you how much that impressed me. I asked the Vampire Bunny girl if she was from Newcastle (we have a vampire rabbit there that I'll show you soon); she wasn't and hadn't heard of it.

Another place that really impressed me was No Skin, a place that supplies vegetarian clothing (as in no leather shoes). I'm happy eating and wearing animal products but I know a few people who are not and shoes is one of their biggest challenges. Also, an amazing stall, Green Fly Exotics, specialised in weird and wonderful plants (think Venus flycatcher). That's a niche I wouldn't have thought of and a whole lot saner in my book than exotic pets.

The cafe was a great place, reminding me somehow of the movie Flashdance. Remember her warehouse apartment with the furniture arranged in rooms created by curtains? Well the cafeteria seating was a collection of wonderful overstuffed chairs and couches, some rather kitschy or antique-y, gathered around tables. Whilst eating, one had lots of visual treats, from the gathered and tacked-in-place organdy curtains to the art-on-mirrors hanging on the walls, not to mention the interestingly dressed cashier girl.

I loved the vintage clothing in several of the shops on the top floor even though most of it was from my lifetime (ackk!). There was a celery green velvet 20's styled dress that I kept going back to touch but managed not to buy. There were fabulous housewares as well, including a set of 5 pink fruit bowls and a matching serving bowl from the 20's or 30's that I brought Bill back to see.

As well as goth and grunge, old and cute there were also a number of stalls that sold new styles like the baby doll dresses with bubble hems (something I'm grateful to be too old to wear -- only those with seriously good legs can really get away with those). Another shop that specialised in bespoke corsets also had a number of items with wonderful draping like the Japanese designers use. I think the name of that shop was Strawberry Peach. I couldn't see me wearing any of those clothes, but they were marvelous to see and touch all the same. Another boutique, No Angel, was there, but I gather they are a chain rather than a unique stall.

I browsed for absolutely hours and thoroughly enjoyed myself, though I was a bit outside of my comfort zone in there, being such a timid thing. I wish I'd taken more pictures, but there were shops that specified 'No photography' and just like 40 years ago, I lacked the courage to ask the others for permission. Some of the staff were dressed in ways that they might think I was going to make fun of them (and perhaps they would have been part of the fun).

Afflecks aside, another place I checked out was a dumbfoundingly big warehouse of amazing clothing, etc., called Ryan Vintage -- where I bought some green art deco looking bowls. Retro Rehab was a lovely little shop where a million 1980's dresses had been chopped to make mini-dresses and the line-backer shoulder pads removed. If this hadn't been 'my' era, I would gladly have worn some of these over a pair of jeans, but... no.

I also visited Abakhan Fabrics, another place on my list. Like the shops in Liverpool, they sold fabric by weight. It was still confusing but I suppose I was coming around to the idea. I rumaged for a while but didn't find anything that grabbed me (though I was amazed to find the cotton fabric printed with the University of Oklahoma logo). I went upstairs and found what I was looking for in the 'designer' fabric section sold by the meter. My remnant was on sale and I got out of there spending only £1.50!

I was looking forward to seeing Rags to Bitches, around the corner on Tib Street, but they were shut due to a flood if I remember right. Just as well. I see from their website they do courses and I don't think Helen or Simon is prepared to let me live with them for 12 weeks!
If you ever visit Manchester and you have any appreciation of youth and creativity, get yourself to Afflecks! If you just like cool old stuff, visit Oldham and Tib Streets.

Oh no...just discovered there is a store called Oklahoma on High Street in Manchester. Given that it advertises a veggie cafe, I don't think it's got much to do with the real thing...

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Max and Daisy

We were at Helen and Martin's for dinner that evening. I always enjoy their cooking but what I was really excited about was getting to meet Bill's Granddogs.

To hear Simon, Martin and Bill talk, Helen is a bossy character who generally manages to get her way. Martin portrays himself as happily following orders and being told what he thinks. One of his more persistent fantasies has been that they find a large stone barn somewhere out in the countryside and convert it into a grand house. Also to have five -- yes, five -- German Shepards. Helen always smiled at him fondly when he talked about this dream, as one does at an infantile but beloved fool.

However, it would appear that Martin's persistence is paying off and Helen's determination has cracked. Enter an English sheepdog puppy named Max. I saw a picture of Helen holding him; that's ancient history now.

He's a BIG puppy now who seems to spend most of his time practically airborne in play. However, he is a very good natured, happy dog who does actually obey when Martin requires it.

More recently, they acquired Daisy, a miniature Schnauzer.

Like Max, she doesn't stay still for long. She's an adorable but squirmy little thing.

Helen and Martin assured us that in spite of the size difference, she held her own with Max, no trouble, keeping him in line with a nip if needed. According to one website, her breed is "...a lively, active little dog. They can be stubborn and wilful and do need a firm hand when training." The parallels in that household are obvious to anyone.

The cat of course observes all this nonsense at a distance.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

No Man, Just Chester

We met up with Helen and spent a very pleasant, if wet, day in Chester. We did a bit of shopping, had lunch in a pub and walked the walls; nothing exciting, but a good day out all the same.

Chester or cester comes from the Roman word for fort, castrum, and so British place names such as Gloucester or Manchester (or Chester) indicate a Roman history. According to plaques on the walls of Chester, the Romans were there in 70 AD. If you click on the picture above, you should be able to read it.

The first thing one notices is all the black and white Tudor styled buildings, many of which have in fact Victorian period dates. The oldest date I saw was 'mid-1600s' and the last Tudor, Queen Elizabeth (one of my very favourite historical characters), died in 1603, so I suppose that's close enough.

The houses above had a plaque: The Nine Houses - Of the original nine almshouses built in the mid 17th century only six remain. These were restored in 1969. The parish boundary marker on the facade refers to the parishes of St Michael and St Olave.

I had my first experience of a Habitat shop. I didn't have anything in mind to buy, I'd just heard of it for years and years and as we don't have one up here never had the chance to see one in real life. Bill found something to buy: a new wok. The one I bought from the fleamarket years ago, now having only one handle, was very awkward to use. I'd had a wok on my wishlist for some time, but Bill objects to buying kitchen ware for my birthday or Christmas, which is very good of him. The new wok is a joy to use and is already earning its place.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Simon of Middlewich

Simon and Rhiannon finally moved out of Manchester city centre, I don't know, maybe last year? It was a great idea, given that they both work outside of the city and that a two bedroomed house (with large loft and small workshop and a great garden) in Middlewich

costs about the same or a bit less than a tiny apartment in the city. I don't know why they didn't do it sooner. We hadn't actually seen their house yet and this was a good excuse to do just that.

I was really envious of their back garden with the neat brickwork and the little shed in which Simon makes guitars for his friends.

I've no idea about his skill level, but they all seem optimistic so he may be doing well.

What I do know is that he was able to rescue my lost photos after finding a freebie programme online. I can't say enough good things about Simon!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

No Heart Manchester Yet

It was only a week or so after we got back from our US holiday that Bill had two meetings to attend in Manchester, one on Tuesday and the other Thursday. So we invited ourselves to Simon's place and Bill took the Wednesday off. We drove over on Tuesday morning, leaving at 7am and arriving about 10:30. We parked at the Victoria train station and went our separate ways.

I wanted to visit Oldham Street, home to a large fabric shop, a number of thrift stores and near Afflecks Palace. Of course it was raining and of course in spite of having my map I walked well out of my way into a fairly scary area (think vacant high rise concrete block, no windows, plants and mold growing out the windows). Not only did I see very little worth photographing, I was weighing up whether or not to take the camera out of my backpack.

Manchester does indeed have much more salubrious areas well worth visiting, but Oldham Street was my target that day. Once I found the section I wanted it wasn't too bad other than a couple of dreadlocked young men searching the ashtrays for salvageable butts.

If nothing else I got about 4 hours of exercise and a better idea of where to go on Thursday.

And, just now, I remembered to look up what 'hydroponics' meant; very interesting...

Friday, 21 August 2009

Wilde's Opinion on Art

The artist is the creator of beautiful things.

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim.

The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.

They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.

No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type.

All art is at once surface and symbol.

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

Those to read the symbol do so at their peril.

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.

When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

Lots to think about from
Oscar Wilde, who reportedly told American customs he had nothing to declare but his genius! I finished and sold The Picture of Dorian Gray. The book's fame ruined the story for me as of course I knew the ending. Of more interest was this preface, which I found thought provoking.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Parting Shots of Chicago

Did I mention that we were 24 hours late for our flight home?

That we were supposed to fly on the 13th and I was making a birthday card for Emma whose birthday was the 14th?

That Bill decided we weren't arriving but departing on the 14th and I took his word for it?

That the woman at the airline desk first mentioned paying $900-something plus taxes to get home -- EACH?

That I was thinking of camping out in the airport for a week instead?

Never mind. She did a great job of typing and phoning and Bill 'only' had to fork over $500 to get us both home in the end. Still a lot of money for a completely avoidable error (we will be checking these things in future). On the other hand, Bill says he enjoyed his second day in Chicago so much, he doesn't regret the cost. The amazing thing is that I'm inclined to agree.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Chicago Art Deco

I'm sure there are many things to appreciate about Chicago, but I fell for the place it as soon as I saw the art deco buildings. We went back on Tuesday to do this tour, but unfortunately with a different docent. To be fair this guy had a tough act to follow, but he just didn't quite make the grade for me. However, what he lacked in dignity, knowledge and common sense (dragging us across streets against the lights and dodging traffic, I mean really!), he nearly made up for with enthusiasm. We took a couple of unplanned, unrelated detours because of this and I'll forgive it only because we did see wonderful buildings.

This guy dated the Art Deco period in the US as only lasting from about 1925 to 1937. This led me to wonder about the difference in this style and the earlier Art Nouveau period from the turn of that century. From research just now, I gather the earlier period was more 'flowery' whereas the later movement was more 'sleek'. This blog has an excellent collection of pictures showing the difference (and oh, no! she's found someplace that sells art deco furniture online...I dare not even look).

Our docent repeatedly pointed out that art deco design aimed for elegance, opulence and sophistication. Hallmarks of art deco buildings were the very ornate portals, grand post boxes -- usually with eagles on them -- and the use of Egyptian designs.

It must be strange to work in a building where people come in several times a day and take hundreds of pictures. In one building the security guards wouldn't allow photos at all. As it was, I took more photos than you want to know about, so I can't be too upset about those restrictions. Besides which, there is a ton of information online about most of these buildings.

I've really struggled with choosing what to show you -- there is so much! In the end, I've decided just to give you a taster of some of my favourites and give you the addresses to look up other websites if you are interested in seeing more. (NB: the pictures don't necessarily correspond with the buildings listed below).

Chicago Board of Trade
135 LaSalle
33 LaSalle
105 LaSalle

The Reliance Building (not Art Deco)

The Pittsfield Building
The Rookery
Chicago Cultural Center - formerly the public library! (not Art Deco)
The Carbide and Carbon Building (currently Hard Rock Hotel)

One LaSalle

The docent was pretty irate about this last address. Apparently building owners are required to have the facades tested to make sure they are secure. However, as long as there is scaffolding up to protect pedestrians, they aren't required to undertake the repairs; this facade has apparently been in place for over a decade, which he found scandalous.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Millenium Park

This park is in the middle of downtown Chicago and it is a delightful and unexpected green space with a number of additional surprises. Like "The Bean"

a dinosaur

some chalk artists

an outdoor amphitheatre

with lots of speakers throughout.

and these fountains with the play space in between them. But they aren't just glass blocks cascading water,

there are photographs of ordinary Chicago citizens on them.

Citizens who occasionally spout more water.