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

Sit at peace

Peacock marcasite brooch, £6 from Oxfam, Ormeau Road, Belfast

Mr GLV and I are just back from holidays, a glorious week in the Scottish Highlands where the mountains wrapped around us like a big tight hug. It was a perfect break. People were scarce, the landscape was wild and 4G coverage was a distant memory. It had been an incredibly busy few months with work and a big project before we drove off the ferry and made our way along the high roads and low roads in our own version of carpool karaoke!

It’s an interesting choice, to take yourself off to a quiet space with little to do but enjoy the silence. Our holidays are usually frenetic, in a good way – interesting cities with museums and restaurants and shows and tours and trips and days filled with activity. This trip was different.

Ardvreck Castle along the North Coast 500

It’s not until you find yourself in the quiet that you realise how much noise has gone before, and just how much you missed being still. My Dad used to tell us when we were young and being hyper to ‘sit a’ peace’. Drove me mad back then! I’m not sure I’ve ever really understood the real meaning of his words until recently. There is something to be said for sitting at peace, whatever that means to you. There was a lot of it on our holiday – sometimes in the car mesmerised by the view; sometimes on the beach, watching the water; sometimes in the grip of the mountains, in awe of their scale. ‘Peace comes dropping slow’, in the words another equally wise Irish man.

And oddly, that brings me to my latest charity shop find. I hadn’t been out and about in the charity shops much recently. I was beginning to feel that I’d lost my love of the treasure hunt. I always know there’s something wrong when I can count my last vintage brooch purchase in months, not days 🙂 But I think I’ve realised the root cause of my malady. Through the summer, I’d been so busy, so focussed on details and deadlines that I just didn’t have any room left – no room at all for the warm fuzzy stuff that gives me joy. I’d forgotten that it’s the simple pleasures in life that keep us sane.

So, thank you Scottish Highlands for giving me back that fuzzy feeling.

On my first charity shop jaunt after the holidays, the stunning peacock brooch pictured above was waiting for me in the Oxfam store on the Ormeau Road. Just luck some might say. I have another theory – when your mind is open to good things, then good things will happen, be that as simple as finding a beautiful brooch or as important as spotting the job of your dreams.

Sometimes we all need to just sit at peace.

Rosie xx

A Proper Place

img_0441Growing up in rural Northern Ireland was often a privilege – long summer days spent roaming ‘the fields’ with my brother and sister; late evenings with neighbours and cousins playing football until the light went out of the sky; the excitement of the mobile library visiting with unknown pages to devour. There was another side of life at that time too though, the one where the sound of army helicopters filled the quiet sky and when ‘bombscare’ was an all too familiar term to a child.

I was a bookish young girl. I loved to read, I loved the escape, the excitement of entering new worlds and characters becoming friends. I was intrigued by the adventures of The Four Marys in Bunty, I yearned for a midnight picnic like the girls at St Clare’s and oh how much did I want homemade lemonade like the Secret Seven! Those books were so removed from me and my experience of childhood, then Joan Lingard came along and nudged my imagination closer to home!

The Sadie and Kevin series of books pictured (£1-£2, Oxfam) feature these central characters who were from Belfast, Protestant and Catholic respectively. The first book in the series The Twelfth Day of July is the beginning of their love story. They meet as teens and their relationship is set against the politics of the time – the absolute antithesis of my Enid Blyton reading!

And yet I loved those books. As a country girl, Belfast was exotic. I remember reading about Sadie and Kevin heading up Cave Hill to eat fish and chips, and thinking I’d definitely do that one day. The dialogue was so real, the characters so finely tuned, and the idea that we could all get through the challenges we faced, despite our different backgrounds and experiences, was so vivid. Sadie and Kevin personified hope, even though as a child I probably didn’t quite realise what it was that I loved so much about them.

When I first saw A Proper Place on the shelves of Oxfam Books, Botanic a little while ago everything I loved about reading those books came flooding back and I’ve been picking up the series, book by book again in Oxfam since. I’m still missing Hostages to Fortune but I know it will turn up.  I was a bit fearful of re-reading something that meant so much to me, and I was worried about losing the magic. I needn’t have been. Having lived in Belfast now for almost 20 years, I feel even closer to Sadie and Kevin. Their story is just as powerful now as it was then, perhaps for different reasons.

This bookish country girl DID eventually find her own Belfast boy although I haven’t yet had my fish supper on Cave Hill!  And while NI is not a perfect place yet (we still have a way to go) it has a proper place in my heart.

Rosie xx

Charity Shop Mystery

Something I really love about being obsessed by vintage is the fact that you often come across finds that spark an additional interest. Thanks to my love of sparkly old brooches for instance I’ve really increased my knowledge of vintage costume jewellery. When I find a piece or a signature I don’t recognise, I love to find out more.

When I came across this 1920s auction catalogue for £1 in my local Oxfam charity book shop, addressed ‘Clarence Place, May Street, Belfast’ the vintage sleuth within was awakened. I didn’t recognise the location – I know Clarence Street and May Street but Clarence Place was a conundrum to me. I love my city and I love uncovering its secrets, so a few minutes of googling and I was able to place it – http://www.victorianweb.org/art/architecture/lanyon/5.html

It’s a stunning Victorian building, known as Clarence Place Hall, designed by the infamous Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon, as in Charles Lanyon, the architect behind Queen’s University & Belfast Castle among many other stunning sites. It’s actually close to the infamous Ross’ auction house in the city centre and was originally Diocesan Offices, a hall, reading rooms and offices for the Church of Ireland Young Men’s Society. Although I walk past the building almost every morning, now home to a local estate agent, I never gave it a second glance! How blind we can become to the amazing things around us sometimes.

And so having located the building, I noticed when I opened the catalogue there was even more local history to discover. The auction catalogue featured a local artist, William Gibbs (W.G) Mackenzie, a man previously unknown to me, but judging by the sale list, a prolific painter who featured a lot of Northern Irish locations in his work. I found myself googling again 🙂 He was clearly a man of talent but as the catalogue says, ‘never attained the popularity which his undoubted talent would have commanded had he been more forceful and self-assertive’. There’s something simultaneously sweet and sad about that line, isn’t there…I was really delighted to find out online that his work is now included in collections at Belfast City Hall and the Ulster Museum. In fact, one of his pieces ‘Street Scene with Newspaper Vendors and Boys Playing a Game Of Spinner’ sold in 2011 for $13,559. Recognition at last.

Then, out of the catalogue fell a photo. A picture of a very dapper man painting the portrait of a rather important looking gentleman. There’s no inscription on the back and I’ve not been able to confirm the identity of either man, despite plenty of online hours searching, but I’m really hoping that the picture is ‘modest and retiring’ Mr Mackenzie! That really would be quite an insight. And I wonder how many of the items listed under ‘furnishings’ in the catalogue might be in that very photo.

So my mystery is going to take a little more time to solve! I’m hoping I’ll get a bit of help in the process. In the meantime, I’ll be taking a much keener interest in Clarence Place Hall on my daily travels into work. What a reminder of the joy I get from my charity shop travels too.

Rosie xx

Christmas Wouldn’t Be Christmas Without…

It’s that time of year again and it’s no secret that I’m not the c-word’s biggest fan. That makes me sound like a cold-hearted Scrooge, which I’m honestly not, I promise!

What I struggle with at this time of year though is activities, behaviours and expectations that are the very antithesis of what I think Christmas is about. Too often, I see so much stress, financial pressure and general unhappiness during the festive season. That’s what makes me sad and sometimes angry at this time of year. I’ll put my cards on the table – I’m an atheist – but irrespective of my beliefs, or lack of them, I do feel that Christmas should be a time of kindness and consideration. It’s the perfect opportunity to be thoughtful, to give without expecting in return and to bring a bit of warmth and light to the cold, dark days of winter!

One way that I love to bypass the insane commercialism and chaos, and regain my festive mojo is by vintage Christmas shopping! I’ll tell you why.  I was in a well-known store last week during an offer day and I have never seen so many gift sets fly out the door. I thought about all those people who would be getting a tick-box gift on Christmas Day. And I then thought about the vintage gifts I have given and received over the years and how much care and consideration goes into their purchase.

That’s why vintage presents are fab! You can’t just buy them in bulk from one shop, all prettily packaged and ready to go. You have to really think about the person you’re buying for. What is it they love? What era? What style? If they love Pyrex, what design? If they love bags, do they prefer leather or lucite? If it’s brooches, are they all about the sparkle or are they mad for modernism!

Vintage presents make you think and they also send you on a bit of an adventure. Sometimes it takes a trip to ten charity shops, a whole night of eBay trawling or a chance find from a Twitter post to find the right gift! But isn’t that perfect? Doesn’t it capture the whole spirit of the season – the gift hunting, the thoughtfulness, the kindness? The effort.

And very rarely does a vintage gift cost the earth! Now, if a kind benefactor ever does want to pop into my local vintage jewellers and pick up that diamond brooch for me, happy days, I won’t say no 🙂 But the chances are you’ll pick up a gift for under £5. And no, it mightn’t have labels or be in its original packaging but that’s another fantastic excuse for you to get creative with your wrapping! I absolutely love a trip to The Card Factory or The Works for ribbon, raffia, string and tissue paper – they make the smallest vintage gift into an event.

For me Christmas really wouldn’t be Christmas without vintage. I’ve received so many beautiful, thoughtful presents over the years that I absolutely cherish. You can see some of them in my pics. So, do me a little favour and think about going vintage this Christmas for even just one friend.

A vintage Christmas is thrifty, ethical, makes you feel great, and best of all it makes your friend feel extra special and worth more than a 3 for 2.

Rosie xx

Happy Reunion

It’s really lovely to reunite that which has been separated for a while, isn’t it? I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently as my sister is getting married next week and my siblings are travelling from London, Vancouver and Melbourne for her wedding. It’s a really special time not just because my fab sis is marrying a gorgeous boy who adores her, but also because it’s the best reason for the five of us to be together again after a few years apart.

It’s somewhat easier these days to be away from friends and family. The world is smaller thanks to FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, email etc. We can ‘see’ each other through our phones as often as we want. It’s not quite the wrench it was to travel away from home as it might have been for loved ones in the 60s/70s/80s. We might be far apart, but thanks to technology we’re still very close. All the same, there’s no amount of video chat that can replace a brotherly or sisterly hug.

The Coro bracelet and necklace I’m featuring on the blog today have been reunited too – the bracelet from a charity shop (£5) in Scotland last year and the necklace (£7.99) from an eBay seller in England this week. Now they’ve finally made their way to N Ireland where they will be staying for quite some time! It’s a stunning set. I’ve no intention of letting it go off on another adventure!

Vintage items have often been on their travels and have plenty of tales to tell about the people and places they’ve seen. Some come with a great history and provenance, others we fill in the gaps for with our vivid imagination! Something I love about this Coro set is the fact that after all its travels, its story now has an ending here in Belfast. Reunited at last! But with the end of its travels, there is also a beginning as it starts a new life in my collection. It’s very likely, for instance, that bracelet and necklace will make an appearance at the wedding.

When our not-quite-famous five, along with Mum and Dad, are gathered together next week, the story won’t be very different from that of my beautiful Coro set. After all the travelling has finished, we too will be reunited under one roof, for a very special occasion. It will be the end of a significant chapter for my sister and the beginning of a bright, new one for her, her husband-to-be and their family.

What better reason to be reunited with the people you love.

Rosie xx

Remember Me

I fell in love with this pretty silk scarf the moment I saw it. It jumped out at me from the well stocked rail as often happens when awareness is heightened. I’d spent the weekend in the garden, shovelling two tonnes of topsoil and tidying rose beds. Not everyone’s favourite way to spend a few valuable days off work but I love it. The smell of the soil, the soft texture on your skin as you crumble oversized chunks over the ground, the sense of satisfaction when you’ve finished and know that you’ve given all your beautiful plants the best possible nutrition.  As I said, I truly love a few days in the garden!

Most of all I love roses. I suppose that’s not hard to understand given my name! But there’s one rose in particular that gives me lots of joy. When we bought our house, we became the first people to own it outside of the original family who had purchased it in 1914. When the mother and father of the house died, their daughter Nancy remained the sole resident until her death and that’s when we became custodians of not just a house, but I firmly believe, its soul.

The garden was so pretty and in a circular bed at the front, there were a number of beautiful blooming roses. As I made my way around them, one still had its label attached, the pretty one in the picture. ‘Remember Me’ it read.

To this day, almost 5 years later, I cherish that rose. It’s looking sturdier and happier than ever and I can’t wait for it to bloom again soon. It’s a welcome reminder to me every time I open the front door that we really are mere custodians during our time here. Whether it’s the pretty vintage scarf, bag or brooch, our home, or even a beautiful rose, these treasures are here for us to love and protect for as long as we can, and to pass on to others to cherish when we too are gone.

Vintage, in all its guises, isn’t just a trend or fashion for most of us. It’s an opportunity to play a small part in the protection of history and heritage. The rose at our front door, just like that pretty rose scarf I picked up from a charity shop rail, make sure that we do indeed remember the people and times that came before us.

Rosie xx