Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The Shop of Dreams

A further instalment in an occasional series of posts about shops I daren't go into, unless I am happy to spend some money (see  here and here for previous instalments in the series).

It's also probably about time I confessed to my bric a brac habit ....

When we lived on the Northside of Edinburgh, this shop, Duncan & Reid was at the end of our road. C and I nicknamed this shop our 'Shop of Dreams' because we both love it. Every week we would walk past it and get a little thrill from looking in the window and seeing what new treasures had appeared. Practically every Christmas, birthday and anniversary present during our 3 years living nearby came from this shop.  Maybe it's just that the owner has similar tastes to me. Every time I look in the window there's something that I love. It stimulates a rather shameful kind of acquisitiveness in me.

The shop sells books, jewellery, pottery and glass and what I suppose you would call collectibles or curios. It's not a really posh antique shop - not one of those that just has half a dozen monumental pieces of furniture on display, along with a copy of Millers Antique Guide and beeswax furniture polish. Yet it's not merely bric a brac. It's better than that. It is however very reasonable in terms of price. Which just adds to my acquisitiveness. Whilst I wouldn't spend hundreds of pounds, or even a hundred pounds, on a little gewgaw or trinket for myself, I might well spend £20 or £30. It's only when you add up all these little amounts that the truth of your habit dawns .....

My bric a brac habit isn't totally out of control - I don't haunt car boot sales or ebay, snapping up weekly bargains. Months can go by without me buying anything. It  is however totally inexcusable, given the amount of clutter and stuff we have clogging up our flat. It is especially unforgivable given the amount of time I spend complaining about C's hoarding habit. We are in the process of getting rid of a store we have in Cumbria, which means finally consigning to charity or the tip all those boxes of unwanted things labelled optimistically 'car boot sale'. Our large dining table is currently covered with random household goods - everything from a yoghurt maker to inherited tea sets to part sets of wine glasses - all waiting to be bundled up and dispatched.

Clearly then, it would be madness to buy more things from my favourite shop ..... but last week I happened to be in the area so I indulged myself in a little window shopping. Well, not just window shopping ........

The McVitie & Price display cabinet always has jewellery in it. Lots of late 19th and early 20th century costume jewellery. I have too many items from this case than I care to admit.

A special display of tea things for Easter.

I've had my eye on the glass comporte on the right for a while.

And look at this extraordinary parrot design tea set! But, for a woman who does not drink tea, I have too many tea sets already ......

This is the effervescent Jo - one of the people who works in the shop. We had an animated conversation about all the quirky and gorgeous things in the shop. She is a graduate from Edinburgh Art School, but said she had lost interest in her painting during her studies (a great advert for art college then!). 10 years later, she says that working in the shop has rekindled her desire to paint, because she has started painting still life studies, inspired by the objects in the shop. She had a fascinating way of describing her work. She said that painting objects  she owns or loves is like painting self-portraits, but without having to be in the picture. I thought that was rather cool. She hasn't got a website, yet, but she very kindly showed me a photo on her phone of a work in progress. It was very blue, and very fetching, and managed successfully to juxtapose a teapot and lacy knickers, which is quite original!

This was last Thursday's haul:

This was actually an Easter present for C. A little jam pot. It's 'Hancock's Ivory Ware'. See how I managed to photograph it showing off the chip on the lid. Clever that.

A spotty sugar bowl, to go with my spotty tablecloth. Royal Winton. Very 1950s chintz. I don't take sugar, but never mind.

I fell in love with these champagne glasses. They supposedly date from the 1920s. They are just so plain and elegant. This is for my imaginary life when I lounge about drinking champagne and no doubt smoking a cigarette in a long holder, a la Audrey Hepburn - rather than slumping on the sofa in my pinny with a mug of coffee. I can dream.

Erm, does anyone want a yoghurt maker? I need to make some space .....

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


I think Mercury must be in retrograde or something. There has to be some explanation for the succession of niggly frustrations and difficulties I have been plagued by for the last 10 days. Nothing has worked out.

Item 1: Friday 26th March.
Brand new laptop delivered 4 days earlier than expected by excellent ''. (That's not the frustrating bit). Switch on brand new laptop. It doesn't work. Screen knackered. No picture - just lots of thin, multi-coloured lines, like a weird bar code. Takes me until following Tuesday to get company to sort out return arrangements, after various phone calls to call centres in India and exchange of e-mails. The final straw was when the webpages which carried the returns request form crashed, and all I got was error messages when I tried to post the return details. Much swearing and gnashing of teeth on my part.

Item 2: Thursday 1st April
Having finally sorted out collection of non-functioning laptop by Parcelforce, get a text from husband, who was staying at home to facilitate said collection. The Parcelforce man had called at the very moment husband was in the loo. By the time C got to the door, Parcelforce man had gone back to his van and was driving away. I think ringing the doorbell once and then buggering off as fast as possible doesn't really constitute a reasonable collection service. Returns agreement with Laptop company states that if the collection doesn't go ahead because we weren't at home at agreed time, we would have to pay for second collection. Spent an incredibly frustrating half hour on my mobile phone, parked on a side street, navigating automated call routing system of Parcelforce in an attempt to request that the driver turn around and come back to pick up the laptop. At one point, I was connected to some random manager who was on his car phone! And of course, if you end up at a dead end on these automated call systems, you have to start ALL OVER AGAIN and listen to a cheery recorded voice telling you that your call may be recorded for training purposes, and that answers to many queries can be found at the Parcelforce website and that all the lines are busy and I am in a queue but my call is important .... We've all been there. Finally got through to Edinburgh dispatch office and was told that they would try to contact driver, but it was unlikely that he'd be able to come back and I'd probably have to arrange another collection on Tuesday, as Monday was a bank holiday .....

Item 3: Wednesday 31st March - Saturday 3rd April
Return of snow, sleet, gales and general wintery weather on Wednesday. Wednesday evening, central heating boiler breaks down. No heating. No hot water. Luckily, we have one of those service and maintenance agreements with the gas company, so I am sanguine. Foolishly so. 8am Thursday morning, phone to arrange engineer visit. No one available until following day but engineer would come between 8am and 1pm on Friday.  Spend Thursday huddled near to electric radiators (before we moved to Edinburgh, we used to live in what was possibly the coldest house in England, so at least we have a good range of mobile heaters at our disposal,  which have not quite yet found their way to the car boot sale). Enjoy pleasure of stand up wash with flannel and kettle of hot water.

Wait in on Friday until 4.30pm, before finally being told by British Gas that the engineer wouldn't be able to make it that day after all. This after 4 phone calls from me during day to enquire as to whereabouts of engineer. At each enquiry  I had been assured that he would be with us soon, and we were next on his list. In a rare moment of assertiveness (fuelled by blind rage) I insist on being put down as the first call for the engineer the following morning, Despite my assertiveness, I am fobbed off by 'Sean', who insists that this is impossible because the scheduling of the engineer calls is done by a computer. When I ask to be put through to a manager who might just be able to override the computer scheduling, I am told by the charming 'Sean' that the manager is on another call. When I ask to be put on hold until the Manager is free, Sean informs me that this is impossible as he, Sean,  has lots of other customers to call. I manage to extract a promise from 'Sean' (he refuses to give me his second name) that the manager will phone me back as soon as she is off the call. She doesn't call back. At 4.55pm, I phone British Gas and get through to the main Homecare call centre, where a  very charming man, with much better customer care training than 'Sean' arranges an engineer's appointment at 12 noon the following day and promises that this will go ahead come what may.

Saturday morning. Another nice stand-up wash at the basin with the kettle of hot water. Regret cancelling my gym membership. Even if I never went to the gym, I could have gone and used the shower. Engineer arrives shortly after 12 noon. Switches on central heating boiler. It works perfectly!  Let me just type that again so you don't miss it: CENTRAL HEATING BOILER WORKS PERFECTLY.  I had tried to relight the boiler a number of times on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning with no luck. But now, it works perfectly. Engineer checks everything, but cannot find a fault. We have been shivering, washing with kettles of hot water and having arguments with unhelpful British Gas employees, and all the while, our heating was apparently ok.

Item 3: Monday 5th April - Easter Monday Bank Holiday
Brief flirtation with DIY - putting up a venetian blind from Ikea - turns into day long swearathon. First I have the wrong screws. Then the wood is so hard the screws won't go in. Then I put the brackets on the wrong way round and have to start all over again. Then I put the brackets on about 2mm too close together so the blind won't slot in so I have to start all over again. All of this done balancing very precariously on top of stepladder, as we have very tall windows. Each time I (repeatedly) drop one of the screws, or the screwdriver or the pencil, or on one rather noisy occasion, the electric drill/screwdriver, I have to clamber down the steps and then clamber back up. Many, many times. What I estimated would take me an hour in the morning takes me until 6.30pm. Admittedly this includes a break for lunch, a break to go to Homebase to buy new screws and frequent breaks to calm myself down. I think the old man who lives underneath us must have been able to hear me swearing, and he is stone deaf.

Item 4: Monday 5th April
Undaunted by gruelling battle with blind, on Monday evening I embarked on a further - and some might say misguided - attempt at DIY. Putting up of very simple brass rod for new lace curtains in bedroom. (Yes, we had been to Ikea on Sunday, along with half the population of Scotland.) More precarious balancing on top of a stepladder. Manage to fix first bracket to carry curtain rod into very hard window frame. Discover I haven't left enough space between bracket and side of bay window for ornamental finial on the end of the rod. Have to start again. Discover that the window frame isn't wide enough to accommodate bracket in such a way that the ornamental finial can fit between bracket and wall. Give up.

Item 5: Tuesday 6th May
Take delivery of new mattress from Ikea. C and I haul old mattress off bed, then wrestle wrapping from new mattress, before dragging new mattress onto bed. Mattress is 3 inches too small. Either Ikea  have delivered the wrong size, or we were so confused by the weird Ikea bed sizes that we have ordered the wrong size. Either way, new mattress had to be dragged off bed and manhandled back into its large plastic bag.

Tomorrow I will face job of arranging exchange. Not now. I am just going to sit quietly for a bit, and eat some chocolate.

In our own back yard ....

When writing about my recent trip to the garden centre, I said my gardening these days is confined to window boxes. This is not entirely true.

I've written about the Edinburgh tenements before. These streets of tenements have little in the way of gardens on show. The ground floor flats sometimes have small front gardens. On our road, the front gardens are about 10ft x 20ft, but on some streets there are no front gardens at all. The effect can be quite austere. But the tenements hide secret gardens. Behind them lie the 'back greens' or the drying greens. These are back gardens, shared between all the flats on a stairwell, and accessed via a common door. They were designed originally as places to hang out the washing. Some of the old cast iron washing line poles still exist. The back greens are little used nowadays, although there is an association in Edinburgh which aims to reinvigorate back greens as common garden spaces:

Because the streets of tenements back onto these gardens, they create large squares of green space between them. From the streets, Edinburgh can sometimes seems lacking in green space, but as this Google link shows, there are acres of garden, unobserved by passers-by. It's probably only because these spaces have no vehicular access that they haven't had flats or car parks built on them.  This is an aerial photo of one of ECBA's 'Community Back Greens' near to where we live. You can see how most of the greenery is hidden within the square created by the tenements.

This is our 'back green', as viewed from the back of the flat. I've used the 'photostitch' function on my new Canon Powershot camera to create a kind of panorama [very exciting - the software patches photos together to create a wide-angle perspective!].  There's a slight 'fisheye' distortion, but I hope it gives you a sense of just how much space there is between us and the flats opposite. The space is divided into small plots - one per 'stair'.

This gives you a clearer view of the backs of the tenements opposite. 19th century high-rise!

No one else on our stairwell seems to use the garden. Last year, our first in this flat, C did a bit of weeding of a neglected flower bed, and mowed what grass there is. This summer we have decided we should try and breathe some life back into it and more to the point, enjoy having a garden ourselves, even if it is shared in principle with 7 other households.  It doesn't get a lot of sun as it's North facing, but we should be able to grow something. More on that later - hopefully!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Happy Easter!

It's Easter. The annual festival of chocolate. The pretty eggs above arrived yesterday, courtesy of C, filled with a Creme Egg, some Ferrero Rocher and in the large egg, a Chocolate Orange. But that wasn't all.

Aw. Look at that poor, lonely little rabbit.

Oh. It's ok. He has a little friend.
Wait a minute. Who's this?

It's Mummy Rabbit! Aw. Sweet.
Hold on. What's this I hear? The jingle of a little bell. The thump of chocolate feet approaching.
Who can it be?

It's Daddy Rabbit!

I think all the chocolate I have eaten in the last few days has sent me slightly mad! Ferrero Rocher are like crack cocaine for me. I know they're tacky. I know it's crappy chocolate, with about 2% cocoa solids. I don't care. I'm with 'His Excellency' on this one. The chocolate orange will have to be deposited in a lead box and buried a mile underground, so I can't hear it calling to me.  The rabbits arrived gradually during the previous week. They are probably safe for a while. They are too cute to eat, with their whiskers and little red ribbons. But I know a day will come when C will find me, smeared in chocolate and surrounded by gold paper and some tiny little gold bells. It's sad being an addict. But a very happy, grateful addict.

Sunday, 4 April 2010


Despite the recent, wintry spell of weather, spring is definitely taking hold. Never mind the sight of the snowdrops and daffodils in the parks and gardens. Never mind the sound of courting birds. The real evidence of spring is the fact that today I made my first visit of the year to the garden centre. 

These days, living in a first floor flat,  our 'garden' is confined to a few window boxes and the scope for plant-buying  is necessarily curtailed. Which is probably good news -  for the bank balance, and for  plants, as I've killed far more plants than I've ever managed to nurture to maturity. I suffer from an excess of enthusiasm in the first stage of any project and a dearth of sustained energy as time passes. This counts for gardening just as much as it counts for knitting, sewing, and PhD theses!

It's something of a relief knowing that I have no choice but to limit my ambitions to a few bedding plants rather than purchase on the basis of  extravagant planting schemes, which never quite come off , because I don't get round to planting everything out, or I forget to water things. Thanks to a herculean and unusual exercise in self-discipline I did manage to keep the plants in my window boxes alive all last summer.  I even transplanted the perennial geraniums into pots, in order to keep them inside until the following year. Unfortunately, they went into the back bedroom, where they got forgotten. Look away now if you are of a sensitive disposition when it comes to inexcusable neglect of plants.

Last summer's geraniums.

Nonethless, with the triumph once more of hope over experience, or self-delusion over self awareness, I treated myself to some cheerful, chintzy primulas to celebrate spring.

And I can't resist old-fashioned violets and pansies. These are a very Victorian dark red.

In a week or so, there will either be some nice pics of window boxes in full flower - or some pictures of withered, dried out plants still in their polystyrene boxes from the garden centre. Fingers crossed.

Friday, 2 April 2010


When will I learn just to leave well alone? I decided I would redesign the look of my blog a little. Try and make it look a bit smarter. Well, after 2 fruitless hours trying out different templates, different photos, I'm practically back at square one. Well, worse than square one. I've lost my greengage photo. When I tried to put it back in it appears as a giant photo, or only one corner appears, but magnified to grotesque proportions.

I give up. For now at least. So it's a very half-finished blog just at the moment. Ho hum.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Wedding Weekend

March has been a busy month. A weekend, being a wild woman in Cumbria. A weekend "Soul Questing". The weekend in between was the wedding of our friends R & S (they of the  gorgeous wedding invitation).

It was a beautiful wedding.

It was beautiful because of the setting, Auchinleck House,  an 18th century Landmark Trust property in Ayrshire, once home of James Boswell, esteemed Edinburgh author and diarist, and most famously, biographer of Samual Johnson. Basically, we lived in a stately home for a weekend. Could get used to it - with the addition of some 'staff'. Metaphorically speaking, we were 'below stairs' for a lot of the weekend.

Auchinleck House - nice setting for a wedding.

The Library. This was actually the name of the 40 foot first floor lounge, a room so big it required 2 fireplaces.  

One end of 'The Library'

Window in our bedroom.

It was beautiful because of the simplicity and sincerity of the ceremony, conducted by a Humanist celebrant. In Scotland, Humanist celebrants can perform the legal duties of a marriage ceremony. So rather than having to interrupt proceedings at the house in order to dash off to the less than romantic setting of Cumnock registry office to do the legal bit, there was an intimate and personal ceremony in the candlelit study of Auchinleck House. I'm tearing up just thinking about it! In a church wedding, setting aside the issue of whether you believe in the religious aspect or not, I think the ceremony itself can often be quite impersonal and distanced from the couple, because it is a church service and as such is articulated in arcane and standardised language. This gives it gravitas of course. But to sit in a small room, with a dozen people, and watch and listen as  your friends say wedding vows in their own words, about 6 feet away from you, was incredibly moving. With no intermediary of tradition or sermon or prayer or priest, the wedding ceremony becomes a direct statement of love and commitment, the kind of which we are rarely privy to.

The study - setting for the ceremony.

It was beautiful because S wove her magic, to create a perfect table setting in the grand dining room. Many of the guests were craftspeople of some kind or another, so have that capacity  to effortlessly make things look good. During the morning of the wedding, S and her willing helpers magicked a range of elegant decorations out of a big pile of flowers and foliage, most brought by S, but some also gathered from the grounds of the house.

But most of all it was beautiful because the occasion had a companiable 'DIY' aspect to it. The whole event was created through the working together of a small group of people, united by their affection for the 'happy couple'  - admittedly after the herculean task of advance preparation by S & R who were probably knackered by the time it came to the actual event. But during the wedding weekend, everyone mucked in. We divvied up the cooking between us; most of the wedding presents were handmade; C did one of his fantastic 'oldies' discos - or rather, he brought the sound and lighting equipment and his CDs, and then sat back as most of the men, including the groom (ok - and me as well) gave vent to their inner 'cheesy DJ' for a while.

'Blame it on the Boogie' (C's semi-retired mobile disco business) - out of retirement and ready for action! Slightly incongruous setting.

I think perhaps the most important wedding gift on this occasion was the active participation of the guests, given gladly and generously by all concerned. It felt like a gift we all shared in. (If S reads this, she will cry, like she did for a big part of the wedding!).

Ah. Makes me want to get married all over again. (Only joking C!)

Hard Man Gordon

I assume this is The Guardian's April Fool, although you could almost believe it ..... until you look at the posters.