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

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

Time to reflect 

Vintage cocktail watch, eBay £4

‘Why don’t people want to keep such lovely things?’ I asked hubby. ‘Because they don’t work!’ he (rightly) replied. 

This was the conversation upon arrival of my latest eBay purchase, the prettiest vintage cocktail watch with pearlised face and original leather strap…which doesn’t work 🙂

It’s a fair point. What need is there to hang onto bits of the past that don’t fulfil their function any more? I suppose that’s why our house is full of bits and bobs that are being used for things that weren’t their original purpose – the teacup soap holder, the mechanical pencil necklace, the plant-pot bread holder…the list goes on 🙂  I just can’t leave beautiful things behind or I end up with vintage abandonment guilt and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one out there!

That’s also why there’s such a market at present for vintage – for those who want to get rid and those who want to rescue!  For every person who is decluttering there’s another just like me who wants to rehome.

This watch is a project though. Rather than repurposing, I’m hoping to find a Belfast jeweller who can either get it back to its original working order or who can replace the movement with a modern quartz one. It’s far too pretty not to be on my arm! Watch this space…

Rosie xx

Space to Sparkle

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Vintage sparkle, 99p from eBay


This year I had the joy of a two week break over the festive season and how did I spend part of it? Tearing through the house with a mania never before witnessed by poor, bemused hubby.  3 boxes and 6 bin liners later, one of my local charity shops got a bumper door drop.  And me? I felt like I did in the first week of the new school term when your new pen hits your newly margined page with an absolute, unwavering commitment to writing neatly…

Decluttering can be overwhelming when you like to collect things. It can be awkward knowing how and where to start; time-consuming going through cupboards and drawers that overflow with things that were once useful; and even guilt-inducing because you’re afraid to part with the lowliest of treasures. But, ultimately it’s important to make room now and again for new treasures, physical and emotional.

I’m a big fan of the past – its secrets and stories. This year though, I’ve started the new year, not just with a big old clear out, but with a new adventure too. It’s not easy, embracing change, creating space for the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable and the strange. Ultimately though, it’s rewarding and it’s important. Space allows us to grow in new directions. Change allows us to find bits of ourselves we never new existed – strengths and weaknesses both. That’s how we learn.

There’s probably something in one of those boxes or bin liners that I’ll  recall one day and wish I’d kept. That’s ok – I’ll content myself with the knowledge that it’s in a better, more loving home! The important thing is that in my clearing out I found space for a new treat, the pretty vintage brooch pictured above.  It was tarnished and shabby before I attacked it with gusto and a good dose of Autosol :)) Now it sparkles.

Therein lies the moral of the tale – don’t be afraid to create space, in your head, your heart or your home. Space is good – it gives you more room to sparkle 💖

Rosie xx

 

My Favourite Charity Shop

It might seem a bit odd to have a favourite charity shop…but I do. It’s my local Save the Children store on Botanic Avenue, Belfast and I absolutely love it. The staff and volunteers are fantastic – welcoming, friendly and always delighted to have a chinwag about the day. Every time I pop in there’s a smile and a kind word. I’ve found so many beautiful treats in that little shop from clothes and curtains, to jewellery and homeware. And best of all I only work 5 mins walk away which makes for a perfect lunchtime rummage!

So when I saw the door closed for renovation and workmen in the building, I had a minor conniption! Firstly, my favourite charity shop fix was out of bounds for a few weeks and secondly, I had that horrid feeling that things might change…in a not-so-good way. I didn’t want it to be anything other than what it was – perfect for a vintage rummager!

I needn’t have worried.  Today I called in for the first time and it was the same shop, with added sparkle! The staff and volunteers were full of smiles, there were opening-day choccies on the counter, and the layout was accessible and bright, with fantastic stock on the rails. It had changed, but in exactly the right way.

Naturally enough I didn’t leave empty handed – I never do. As you know I have a blue and white obsession, and a jug obsession (£2) – in fact I think I have all the obsessions!  I also added to my collection of gorgeous vintage earrings (£1)  – I’m still trying to work out the signature on the back. And the butter knives (£5) – I picked up a box of six from this very shop in navy a few years ago with navy handles. These cream ones will make for a cute mix and match at dinner time.

Change is good, especially when it’s done with care and attention to what has gone before. Well done Save the Children, the spirit of friendliness and the thrill of a find is still there!
Your loyal supporter,

Rosie xx

Hooked on the Past

When we moved into our home, it still had lots of beautiful Edwardian details that had thankfully survived almost a century of change. There were obvious things like the stained glass door and tiled fireplace and then there were the small details, the things that lots of people wouldn’t even give a second glance. The little rosewood ‘men’ that cover the keyholes, the deep and intricate skirting boards, and even the tiny brass lock on the under-stairs cupboard. These are the things I love.

We inherited a wood-panelled downstairs toilet – nothing fancy but again a little room that had remained relatively untouched. On the walls were these beautiful, decorative hooks – the kind that you just don’t see any more. Heavy, quietly ornate but unfortunately covered in layer after layer of paint, we left them in peace initially. With lots of work to do in the house they were ‘something to come back to’.

And so, full of spring plans and projects, we decided to give this room some attention over the Easter weekend. It needed a lick of paint and a lot of decluttering so hubby used the occasion to reinstate one of his favourite gadgets (heat-gun) and finally, off came the hooks for some much needed TLC. There was scraping and scratching until the paint was finally off and dull brass was revealed. Time for my favourite product – the magpie girl’s best friend – Autosol metal polish! Purchased to clean the chrome on a motorbike, I’ve never known anything like it to bring shine back to metal. A few hours of elbow grease later, hubby had made quite a difference. The elegant hook was shining like a new penny and the detail on its tip was just perfect.

It never ceases to amaze how lovely little objects like these end up slathered in layers of magnolia paint, hidden from view, their quality and character lost. I know to many people they’re just hooks.  To most people probably. To us, they are worth the hours of scraping and polishing because they are beautiful, unique and another tiny part of the history of our home. They’ve carried a lot of coats over the years! Yes, we’re sometimes stupidly sentimental and that’s ok.

Who knows, the people who come after us might choose magnolia again (please no!) but at least we’ve given them some respite, no matter how brief.

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

Cure for a Broken Heart

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I see so many pieces of vintage jewellery on my charity shop travels and I always wonder about the story behind them. Why have they not been passed on to family or friends? How did they end up in a random box of junk? Who on earth priced something so beautiful at 50p?!

I suppose the answer is that not everyone applies the same value, sentimental or otherwise, to jewellery. I probably invest too much of myself in my special sparkle. The necklace my boyfriend (now husband) bought me when I graduated; the bracelet my brother and sister bought me for my birthday; my ‘Big Sis’ silver charm (I’m the eldest of five); my little purple heart ring from my Mum and Dad. All special. All important. All tangible little bits of love and thought and happiness.

That gold ring with the purple heart adorned my young hand for many years. I loved it so much. It was a special gift from Mum and Dad at the age of eleven (nearly 28 years ago), but over time it became a battered and broken heart, and soon its home was a cold, dark jewellery box filled with other broken bits and bobs. Other rings arrived to take its place and I packed it away…but it was never forgotten!

So, when I first saw the work of Susanna Hanl on Twitter (@SusannaHanl) well over a year ago, I had one thought – my purple heart ring. Susanna is a self-taught jeweller based in Edinburgh and her work is stunning. Have a look at http://www.susannahanl.com and enjoy every page. Every time Susanna tweets, she posts yet another unique piece of art. And part of what is so special about her work is that she also loves to rejuvenate old, broken pieces of jewellery and literally put new heart into them. My kind of girl!

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This month, thanks to the kindest ever husband, I’ve had the chance to commission Susanna to breathe new life into the purple heart ring for my birthday. It’s been one of the most magical experiences…ever. I ADORE Susanna’s ‘Arresting’ range so that’s where we started and ended…after some perfect blue-tacked models to help me visualise exactly what I wanted 🙂 Not just a great listener, and incredibly considerate of my sentimental musings, Susanna is sublimely talented. Her jewellery is so sculptural. She mixes metals and creates shape in a way that looks like it can’t possibly be man-made! It’s so fluid and organic, just stunning.

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And so, today, after many entertaining chinwags and fabulous picture updates of its journey from ugly duckling into beautiful swan, my ‘Arresting’ ring arrived in Belfast. Suffice to say I’m more than a bit emotional. My gift from Mum and Dad is now once again on my hand, thanks to my husband. It’s a beautiful, unique piece of jewellery and a tangible reminder of all the love and kindness that’s in my life. No one else will ever have one the same.

That broken little heart has been mended and by a very kind and talented lady too. Thank you Susanna!

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