In Bruges

Next on my lockdown catalogue of costume jewellery is this ring in the deepest of blues. If you’ve read my blog posts before, you’ll know that I lived in Belgium for a formative, life-changing year studying at Leuven University. That year opened my mind, took me out of my NI comfort zone and introduced me to some of the most lovely people I’ve ever met and some of the most incredible chocolate I’ve ever eaten!

A couple of years after graduating, I’d met my now husband, and we had decided to visit Bruges for a long weekend over my birthday. No argument from me. We were just getting into travel together, developing our taste for good food and drink and on that trip we had some interesting experiences! We stayed in a cheap random B&B with mouldy walls and a weird little cat, I had food poisoning from some dodgy mussels, and nearly had a kitten ascending the Belfort Van Brugge (not great with heights or confined spaces). Great craic!

On the plus side, we wandered the picture perfect streets, pondered the Old Masters, and found the legendary beer nirvana that is ‘t Brugs Beertje and I met the Duchesse de Bourgogne for the very first time. If you don’t know about her, seek her out!

As it was birthday time, Mr GLV bought me this ring, in the most perfect shade of blue. My favourite colour. It was from an unassuming little shop on a side street but caught our attention. That was 20 years ago and I don’t wear it often enough.

Lockdown has taught me some good lessons already. One of the more frivolous ones is about the stuff we own. How many of us ‘keep for good’? Hold back on wearing our ‘Sunday best’? Save the best things we own for the occasions that never happen often enough? What a ridiculous concept that now seems!

I’ve had this ring on my finger all day, and I’ve had nothing to do but read and take my state-sanctioned exercise for an hour. But you know what, wearing it makes me feel good. And I should remember that. Feeling good is important, even in these strange times. So let’s wear that jewellery, click those fabulous heels, waft around in those big circle skirts! Feck it, life’s too short not to.

Rosie xx

Panda

Lea Stein Panda

I think it was about 4 weeks ago that I committed to cataloguing my costume jewellery during this crazy lockdown time, in an effort to keep myself sane. I’ve found it hard to write for joy in the last few weeks, mainly I admit through laziness, but also because my writing for work has been constant and hectic and my head just hasn’t had the space for anything else. It has been the strangest of times.

Today we’ve had a very welcome bank holiday and I don’t know if it has been the break in work, the passing of the full moon, or just a general acceptance of the times we are in but it feels like a good time to start talking and writing about the costume pieces I love.

We are starting with panda. A Lea Stein panda in fact. He was a surprise gift from hubby for christmas and encapsulates an obsession that goes back over 40 years (yikes!).

My godfather and uncle, Gerard gave me a panda for Christmas when I was 2 and I fell in love. Mum has just been going through old photos and sent through one where this very important panda features, siting tall with a bright yellow ribbon! Adorable. Gerard sadly died a few years ago, and although he tried for years to (very unsuccessfully) turn my football allegiance from Liverpool to Spurs, he did leave me with a sweet lifelong panda obsession instead 🙂

I drew endless pictures of pandas (and 1970s WonderWoman!) when I was little, and was absolutely mad about a 1980s cartoon called Padamonium (check out the titles on youtube, it was amazing!). To me pandas epitomise sweetness, innocence, happiness, contentment…all positive things. When I’m in a bad mood, pandas will always cheer me up!

I suppose it’s a very clear and simple connection – they remind me of childhood joy. And that’s what makes this panda so special. Lea Stein brooches are also an obsession. They are expensive by my usual brooch spends, usually retailing from £55 upwards. Panda is not my first (we’ll come to Alice the Fox later) but he was such a thoughtful gift, and such a beautiful version. Carefully chosen by Mr GLV. Like all Lea Stein animal brooches, there are a range of designs. You can read more about her work at the Lea Stein Appreciation Group on Facebook – it’s a wealth of information and pictures.

I love Panda. He’s a got the most perfect, sweet face and expression, and he is in lovely vintage condition. When I wear him he’ll always remind me to be of good cheer, and how lovely it is to be married to my best friend who knows instinctively how to surprise me and make me smile. What’s more important than that?!

Rosie xx

Hope is important

2020 – it’s already been quite the year. Storms Ciara and Dennis, coronavirus, brexit…There has been a little bit of good news in the midst of the chaos! Call the Midwife back on our tv screens, Liverpool topping the table in mythical fashion, and let’s not forget the return of the Assembly to Stormont after a 3 year hiatus (that’s the polite word for it).

Stormont came back with a new book under its belt, ‘New Decade, New Approach’. Plenty of commitments within it to enable positive change in Northern Ireland.

It was also my birthday at the start of February. A gift I received from one of my sisters was another influential book with some important messages about Northern Ireland – the missing part of my Sadie and Kevin collection, the elusive ‘Hostages to Fortune’!

Despite months of searching in the wilds of the local charity shops, it didn’t turn up. To be honest, I’m glad it didn’t because it’s more special as a gift from Claire who knows all too well my love of these books.

If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you’ll know that Joan Lingard is a hero, and the lives of her characters, Sadie and Kevin are inextricably linked to my childhood. Some books just stay with you. ‘Hostages to Fortune’ is the final novel of the series and continues to explore the relationship between Sadie and Kevin, and their difficult relationship with home at a time when Northern Ireland was a difficult place to love.

It’s interesting how Northern Ireland has changed so much, and yet so little since those books were published. The fact that we were without a government for so long is testament to how infuriating and frustrating this place can be. And yet, there’s so much progress to be proud of.

We’ve seen many agreements, deals and commitments come and go, all tied by one significant thread – hope. The truth is, it’s people who make the difference, who create new ways of working together; develop the bonds that tie us; understand the simple beauty of community and care. That’s the joy of the Sadie and Kevin series – it shines a light on what we can do as individuals, families and societies to shift our perspective and make progress.

Here’s hoping that ‘New Decade, New Approach’ delivers as intended, but let’s not wait for it to happen. We can all learn something from Sadie and Kevin!

Rosie xx

Eskerrik Asko for the Memories

The humble holiday souvenir – a curious thing when you stop to think about it!

Some holiday souvenirs are charming, some are charmless, some are downright hideous. From key-ring to snow-globe, t-shirt to shot-glass, holiday destinations are chock-full of shops selling random trinkets. While I might not appreciate the affront to the eyes that some deliver, I do get the point. Holidays are all about memories, aren’t they? They’re a rare opportunity in the year when we actually make time and take time to wander and ponder. We stare at buildings in a way we don’t dream of at home. We eat with greater thought and attention. We walk for miles, care-free. We experience a different kind of life for a short time. Why wouldn’t we want a tangible reminder of those lazy, hazy days?

Donostia-San Sebastián

So it was on our recent trip to the Basque Country, to Donostia-San Sebastián and Bilbao. The sun shone, the water glistened, the P20 was lathered liberally onto this exceedingly pale ginger. And of course I wanted to bring home a souvenir. I always do. Last year Cartmel gifted me a vintage shop. The year before, Ullapool did the same. I had carried out a little vintage research into our two destinations in advance, but nothing prepared me for the joy that awaited!

On our wanders

We were walking through the Old Town of Donostia-San Sebastián, high on believing after pintxos success. Pintxos procurement can be stressful! It left us confused and confounded on our first trip 15 or 16 years ago when we were absolutely clueless. But the combined benefits of a seriously informative local food tour and an Irish smile can’t be overestimated! As we walked, a window caught my eye. And more specifically, the most spectacular vintage jewellery stopped me in my tracks. Who’d have guessed…

PYC Vintage, Calle Mayor

The shop was PYC and I make no exaggeration when I say it was vintage jewellery heaven. The piece in the window that caught my eye was a bracelet of marbles. It drew me through the doors in 2019 and transported me inside to the early 1900s.

Mr GLV and I were welcomed by Ana, the store owner. I think she may have sensed a kindred spirit. And so began the most incredible conversation about the shop and its place in local history. We were shown pictures of its first location, heard about the grandparents who opened it in 1908 and could clearly feel how important it was for the family to continue the legacy today. Boxes and boxes and more boxes of original stock from 1910 onwards were put on the display desks. Earrings, brooches, bracelets, necklaces…20s, 30s, 40s, 50s…The stuff of dreams. I could move in and never leave!

So when my bracelet came in from the window, there was another surprise. Every item in the shop has an original record, dated with notes and drawings.

My bracelet was in the files, number 596, made by Ana’s grandparents in 1947. For a vintage obsessive, it doesn’t get better than this.

The final treat of the day, after the bracelet had a few links added to suit my non-1940s wrist, was the packaging. An original box from the shop. Perfection.

When we finally left the warm embrace of PYC, hubby said to me that I’d had a special moment. That’s exactly what it was. It was a fascinating room, full of history, full of memories, full of joy. I say this all of the time – vintage brings me so much happiness. This 72 year old bracelet now connects Belfast and the Basque Country. It will hopefully decorate my wrist for a few years to come and now this blog is another part of its wonderful record, though not as pretty as the handwritten version. It is a humble holiday souvenir which will forever trigger special memories of a special place and special people.

I was never coming home with a key-ring, was I?!

Rosie xx

A Belfast Story

Ceramic seahorse brooch, £2.75, NI Hospice

I love Belfast. I love walking its streets and looking for the things that aren’t often noticed. The streets named after horse races, the inscriptions on our bridges, the decorative details on our red-brick buildings, the hidden symbols…It’s a city that is made of so much more than the history most people know. Belfast may wear the scars of its past, but the brilliance of its past shines through too.

Titanic Museum, Belfast

My love of vintage has often helped me to learn more about the city. From the old photos I’ve found in books to the labels inside bags and coats, I’ve happily stumbled into long lost stories. It’s one of the great things about collecting bits and bobs of the past, there’s always something more to learn.

I found this seahorse brooch in my local hospice shop. The volunteer said that someone had looked at it just before me and dismissed it as it wasn’t made of jade and therefore worthless…She reckoned it was just waiting for me. I agree!

I’ve always wanted a piece of seahorse jewellery – the humble seahorse and Belfast have a very special relationship. Look around our city, in particular at our street furniture, and more often than not, you’ll see a shiny gold seahorse. There are two on our city’s coat of arms representing our maritime heritage.

The Celts associated seahorses with the power and strength of the gods of the sea. It’s also a symbol of ‘protection, recovery and health’. If you arrive or leave Belfast by our docks, a glorious 8 metre steel seahorse, commissioned to mark the 400th anniversary of Belfast Harbour bids you well.

How lovely to own a piece of jewellery that quietly connects with all of this local heritage. What makes this brooch even better is the little bit of damage on its ‘cheek’. It’s been used, it’s been worn and to me that’s more interesting than anything that’s been sadly kept-for-good.

It’ll be on my jacket tomorrow!

Rosie xx

‘Beside the lake, beneath the trees….’

Wordsworth Country

It was our first time in the Lake District. How ridiculous to read this on the page! We love big landscapes. We love to walk. We love fresh air. We love four seasons in a day. And for all of these reasons we now love the Lakes.

Ambleside was our base for a few days enabling us to scoot around as we pleased. It’s a pretty little town with plenty to entertain after a day’s meanderings. Breakfast at the Apple Pie served us well every morning, particularly in advance of our walk to Helvellyn summit. A full tummy helped to keep us grounded in the 60mph winds 🙂 We saw nothing but cloud but while big, dramatic views would have been great, a great big hike in the fresh air was the point.

We explored Wordsworth’s home at Dove Cottage too a few miles down the road on a rainy morning – sounds like the Museum is getting a (necessary) facelift soon from some overheard conversations, but the Cottage was worth the ticket alone. The guided tour was a sweet, gentle exploration of not just the building, but the times and the poet. There’s an eternal magic about walking in the footsteps of people long gone. If you do find yourself there, look out for the portrait of Pepper the pup and I dare you not to get the giggles!

I stumbled across a really unexpected treat in the town too – the joy that is Bath House, a fragrance and skincare brand founded by artists and designers who live in the Lake District.

Bath House, Ambleside

After a real ale (or two) one evening, we passed the door of this lovely store where some body lotion samples were waiting to be tested. Roll forward a day or two and I was back, craving the scent of Velvet Orchid. I’m really hard to please with skincare products. Sadly I’m an over-sensitive ginger in so many ways but the body lotion is possibly the loveliest I’ve ever tried. Soft, beautifully scented and quite literally like velvet on my skin. I picked up a couple of treats, both the body lotion and purse spray for £36 in total – really well priced.

Velvet Orchid by Bath House, Ambleside

I did check out the delivery FAQs pretty quickly, expecting that age-old NI delivery issue. I needn’t have worried – the Bath House folk know that Royal Mail exists in Northern Ireland too 🙂 Which is good news as I don’t think my purse spray will last too long at the rate I’m going through it.

And so our travels continued to Cartmel for one specific purpose – food! 10 years married to Mr GLV and 20 years together, such milestones need celebrated in style and so we did. While in the village, my vintage antennae picked up a lovely little shop.

Cartmel Village Vintage

I left Mr GLV to sample the wares at Unsworth’s Yard Brewery and found myself in vintage heaven. Bags and brooches and books and trinkets by the bucket load. I could have stayed the whole day and I couldn’t leave empty-handed could I? So I picked up these lovely Deco butter knives for £5. I have some navy and cream handled versions but you can never have too many butter knives, especially in such Technicolor green.

Talking of green, there was a beautiful, emerald-coloured enamel Danish leaf brooch by Meka. I resisted. It took a lot of effort but I’d really love some of the yellow enamel leaf jewellery by David Andersen in the future so I held fire. The lady in the store offered me a great deal on the ticket price though so if you’re visiting, have a chat about the prices.

But I did mention bags… So many lovely vintage bags, including some stunning Mappin & Webb snakeskin. There was such a giddying selection that I could have filled the ferry home. I gave in to this beauty for £20 and it’s worth every penny. An Ackery. An Ackery clutch that’s also a handbag complete with hidden handle. I love a multi-purpose bag 🙂

And the truth be told, I don’t own a red bag so it was a necessary purchase…or so I tell myself…

I do have another beautiful Ackery bag (cheers baby sis) so it is a nice addition to the collection. But moreover, it’s a lovely reminder of more great holidays. Not a souvenir you’d usually associate with a week in Lake District but a treat that will always evoke memories of good times ‘beside the lake, beneath the trees’, in the words of Wordsworth himself.

Rosie xx

Belgium Revisited

Some things you just can’t leave behind…

20 years ago I lived in Leuven as a final year English degree student. I may have spent the year in a chocolate-fuelled stupor, powered solely by Manon Café chocolates from Leonidas, but it was a time of friendship and fun that has left me with an unconditional love for Belgium.

10 years ago Mr GLV had his stag do in Brussels. He was fuelled by a different Belgian product. Less praline, more Trappiste in nature. His love of Belgium is just as strong though – there’s just something very special about the place and the people.

And so, although more subconscious than deliberate, we marked those special anniversaries with a trip to Brussels.

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It was another special trip. 4 great days of wistful wandering and people-watching, pâté and praliné, grazing and geuze.

België is known for its beer. Mr GLV and I have a penchant for drinking it.  Newly opened Gist was fab, but the beer highlight was a trip to Lot, just 12mins by train to Drie Fonteinen, where the ‘lambic dream’ is more than just a vision. It’s a passion, evoked beautifully on a fascinating, thought-provoking tour by retired owner, Armand.

The chocolate highlights involved a return trip to Leonidas (nostalgic purposes only, of course) and a visit to the praline shrine of Mary where it would have been a shame not to pick up a truly pretty box aptly named Rosine.

And so to vintage. It was Mr GLV who found out about the Brussels Vintage Market at  Les Halles Saint-Géry. First Sunday of the month (and the last day of our break). What a treat! A beautiful red brick building with 3 floors of vintage loveliness, and even more on rails around the outside.

Bags, shoes, more bags, more shoes! A DJ playing top tunes and table service outside. The sun splitting the rocks and visitors rifling through boxes of bijoux and heaving hangers. It was fantastic.  Just one downside – hand luggage only. But vintage brooches are small and relatively weightless aren’t they?

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Two very pretty pieces came back to Belfast (€20 in total), along with a new panda badge I felt needed a Northern Irish home. Some things you just can’t leave behind.

And on that note, I really can’t leave Belgium behind. It shaped me. Out of chocolate, or at least that’s how it felt after a year 🙂

It welcomed me. Allowed me to breathe.

Made me feel at home.

Rosie xx