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Who wants to go to the Seaside?

Verity guarding the Ilfracombe harbour, North Devon

I had this heartfelt essay planned, filled with self-doubt and vitriol on how I dragged James and the dog away from friends and family, but I think nobody needs to hear about that just now.

Besides, I just remembered something:  Living by the sea is not half bad.

Number one, Rusty the dog has recently discovered kelp.  It is both smellier and more delicious compared to the things you can whip out of a lake or a river.  We try to stop him from eating too much of the stuff, but every dog needs a treat here and there.  On the flip side though, he has not quite figured out the whole not drinking from the sea thing, but slow and steady will win the race, I’m sure.  In the meantime, I shall carry a bottle of water in my rucksack when we go anywhere near the ocean.

Besides, James’ leg is finally well enough to hike on and I can’t quite express how much I have missed walking with my two best boys.  We are discovering new routes and enjoying the exploration of our new hometown each day.  The harbour that used to be too far?  A pleasant weekend stroll as it stands.  The dog loves the beach like silly, but there’s nothing like getting lost in the dinky side streets overlooking the water.

Secondly, have you ever had the delight of hopping from rock to rock, admiring the wee rock pools and stone formations exposed by the passing tide?  We didn’t do vacations by the sea when I was little so this is all very new and incredibly exciting to me.  My plan is to put a bit of money aside to buy a DLCR, to really start photographing this stuff.  Whether you are into photography or not, let me tell you, it is worth taking that leap on an algae covered ridge to see what lays on the other side.

Thirdly, and please accept my apologies for the lack of pictorial evidence – I was simply too busy having fun, there is nothing like a Devon-made ice cream in the sun.  I was observing the correct social distancing rules while purchasing and consuming mine, don’t you worry.

When you are born and raised in Finland, the whole 2 metre distance thingy is just called your normal personal space.

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Now it’s not the time to travel, but when it is, Ilfracombe is eagerly waiting for you.  In the meantime, hope you have enjoyed my sunny seaside snaps.

Stay safe guys and enjoy the everyday.

Tiina x

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Mother of Plants

don't let the existential dread set in comic
I wish I knew who to credit with this masterpiece!

Cou cou – greetings from Chez Nous.

I am on my second month of furlough and the existential dread has started creeping in.  Not today though, it’s a sunny day by the sea, so I thought about writing about my favourite obsession:

See, I’ve been making a man, with blond hair and a tan.

I mean plants, of course. Defo.

rainbow tulips

So go on and get yourself a nice cup of tea while I take you on a spin around my lifelong houseplant addiction.

I am still waiting for my inner Monty Don to kick in regarding gardening, but houseplants…  I can funk with that.  Not that it could have gone any other way – my mother is the original #plantmum.  Our home was a real jungle growing up.  From African Violets to Flame Nettle, you name it, it was thriving on the windowsills of our dinky council flat.  Each time my mum ran out of space for her pots my dad crafted her a new plant stand.  These were pretty grand affairs, sculpted from scraps of pine and lovingly lacquered to look like antique hardwood.  My favourites, however, were the hanging planters, made of either macramé decorated with tiny little seashells or braided jute twine.

Me and my wee sister around 1995
Me and my wee sister around 1995 (I’m on the left)

My mum’s cuttings accompanied me to my first flat.  Through a bit of trial and error, it did not take long before I too had a windowsill full of flora.  I loved that dinky apartment with its massive set of south facing windows.  It broke my heart to move out when I was accepted to study art in Edinburgh four years later.  The first thing I bought to brighten up the grimy bedsit where I ended up was a Peace Lily from IKEA, the only plant that refused to die in that damp hole.  Offspring of that tenacious Spathiphyllum continue to oxidise our cottage here in Ilfracombe.

my wee peace lily

I met my tall dark stranger James mid October 2013.  He is a man of the cut-flower variety – can’t kill a plant if it’s already dead, right!  Opposites attract I suppose, as we moved to France together soon after.  During our year in Brittany I produced a crop of chilies on our front room and grew my first avocado plant.  Compared to the dark and damp house we rented there, our first apartment in the South of France was flooded with natural light and made for cultivating greenery.  I never had a sunnier spot for my tomatoes than our balcony overlooking the Montagne Noire.  Although the Toms didn’t live to see us settling in Chez Nous N°21, the plants that did, however, are mostly with us here in Ilfracombe.

the famous Breton chilies
the famous Breton chilies

Yes, I rather packed the car full of pots than made sure I had enough to wear in the UK.

If you ask James, we probably have enough plants already.  Like with dogs and brogues, I think you could always have another pair.  However, it’s variety of foliage I appreciate, not quantity per se.  Following my latest re-potting marathon, I decided to donate most of my new cuttings to the poor plant-less people of Ilfracombe.  Less than 20 minutes by the kerb, with a “free to a good home” sign and the whole tray was gone.  Quite literally, although it was later returned with a thank you note.  Feeling positively saintly, I thought it was only right and just to reward myself with a medium-sized Cala Lily from Lidl.  As the newest member of my plant-family, it is also my current favourite, narrowly taking the top spot from an adorable Angel Wing Begonia.

My mum has recently re-discovered her love of plants after a few years of being too busy to take care of any.  I can’t wait to be able to swap cuttings with her.  Our joint love of plants is something that makes me feel closer to my mum, regardless of the 2000 miles between my home in England and hers back in Finland.  I think every mother and daughter need a thing of their own and this one is ours.

(You can see her green-babies below.)

I hope browsing through this short history of houseplants of Chez Nous N°21 has brought you as much joy as it has been to write it.  Looking up old photographs with my mum via WhatsApp and remembering blooms of the past has been a real delight – a proper break from the bleakness of lockdown life.  Hope you enjoyed that cup of tea, btw.  Just remember to give a wee drink to the thirsty plants at yours as well.

That’s what I am going to do next.

À plus tard!

Tx

A Postcard from Ilfracombe

Greetings from lockdown guys!  I was thinking about calling this one “all locked up and no place to go” but I suppose exceptional circumstances aren’t quite enough to let my pun-standards slip that low.

Now, I was on my way to merry old England when I last wrote on the blog and so much has happened that I don’t even know where to start.  I took a punt on an exciting job offer that ended up taking me, the dog and James to North Devon and we’re currently happily settled in Ilfracombe.  I suppose this is the opposite of those “ready to quit the rat race and start living”-type of deals you often read about, but you won’t catch me complaining.  Sure, I do miss France a lot, but at the same time, that dodgy roof at chez nous isn’t going to fix itself and having a salary package sure helps.

Chez Nous N°21 is a blog about life in France, so I try not to diverge too far by saying I do find myself falling for Ilfracombe a bit.  For those of you who don’t know, it’s a small seaside resort surrounded by cliffs and plenty of picturesque Devon countryside.  It carries its history of fishing, smuggling and Victorian seaside frolics well, although none of the local industries, tourism included, are quite what they used to be.  In that regard, it resembles Mazamet: a low income area in a lovely part of the world.  Whereas Mazamet generated its wealth in the factories nestled at the foot of the Montagne Noire and attracted the easy living socialites in the 1920 and 30’s, Ilfracombe was the place to be for the Victorian middle class.

You can see this reflected in the local architecture: the splendid terraces overlooking Ilfracombe harbour are mostly Georgian, but the grandiose guest houses and villas high on the cliffs surrounding the town centre are largely Victorian in style and spirit.  My personal favourite are the dinky fishermen’s cottages tucked away towards the seafront with names like the “Smugglers hideaway” and “Stormy Seas Cottage”.  Our place is of the latter sort, a small cottage just off the High Street.  Both James and I fell in love with it instantly.  I adore the exposed timbers and slate floors, but there was one feature that really sealed the deal for us: a parking spot, worth its weight in gold in Ilfracombe.

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Greetings from Devon

And we were able to fit Graeme the Grand Piano in – a whole novel’s worth of drama in itself, but maybe I’ll rant about it later.  I am getting much better at playing him, having graduated from easy Beatles towards Elgar for beginners.

I do hope you are keeping safe and well, locked down or not.

See you around,

Tiina x

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Closing Time

After a long hot summer spent by the foot of the Montagne Noire, I have just about a week left before I’ll lock up shop and return to Somerset for the winter.  I’m in no means ready to go – it feels like I merely scratched the surface on this year’s renovations, but daily grind is calling… and I do miss James who has already returned to the UK work.

The last few days have been a combination of trying to enjoy the last of my time in France and tying of loose ends, finishing half painted walls and hanging missing shutters…  and although it does not feel much right now, I am glad to be able to wipe these little jobs off the agenda.  The most important one, started when my mother was still here, was to give our entryway a fresh lick of paint:

Less than an entryway per se, but a forbidding corridor, our hallway has been my least favourite part of this house since we moved in.  Despite of the stunning patterned tile right as you walk in, the walls were dirty and where they were not covered in mismatched patches of sage, electric blue, cream or brown paint, the plasterwork was, to put it plainly, falling apart.

Well, I describe it as plaster, but in reality a lot of the framework of our house consists of, in a need of a better term, construction waste, i.e. cement and sand combined with plaster.  This stuff was used widely in the beginning of the century as it was cheap and relatively easy to mix up, but unlike pure plaster, it rarely ages well.  For one, it cracks to buggery with changes in temperature & humidity and if that isn’t enough, it literally disintegrates from a slightest of punctures.  Imagine hammering a nail into a wall made of this stuff – that tiny little pinhole can, and will, easily turn into a fist sized crater.

At some point, sixties or seventies I recon, the previous occupants must have gotten fed up with their crumbling walls and simply covered the holes and cracks with a hearty layer of wallpaper.  Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.  However, when we moved in, the 90’s wallpaper, that had not been desperately well hung in the first place, was peeling off and mouldy so we had to get rid of it as a priority, exposing the hot mess that lay under the filthy surface.

To rectify the situation I would need to demolish all existing “plaster”, all the way down to the houses stone and timber frame, and start anew.  I have nothing against doing so, eventually, but I am going to have to sell a few more paintings before I can afford that.  So, to make sure we will not return to a house where half a wall has crumbled to dust over winter, I decided to add a stabilizer: good old white emulsion.

Paint, as you may or may not know is pigment suspended in a liquid, most commonly in an oil or acrylic based solution.  In a way, to offer coverage and stability, paint needs to act as a low level glue, to adhere to the surface being painted and this is where things get interesting.  My turn-to-dust-plaster walls crumble from the slightest touch, but introduce a bonding agent, such as acrylic emulsion, and you increase your chances of keeping this stuff up on the walls until you have couched up enough cash to do the job properly.

These walls had been painted before, in a sort of sage green colour.  This was originally paired with mahogany stained pine panelling, later painted brown followed by electric blue and finally haphazardly tinted cream.  With the help of my mum, I was finally able to lay that particular colour-monster to rest, deep under several layers of matte white paint.  Damage control, to say the least, but I can finally return to my wine and cheese without needing to worry about this particular problem… at least for another year or so.

I will be packing off to England soon, with a heavy hear, but that need’t be the end of Chez Nous N°21!  This blog started out chronicling the ongoing renovation of my century old abode, and I want this to be at the hear of it, always, but at the same time I would love to keep writing while I am not actually… well, renovating.  I am sure I’ll be able to come up with more exciting content from the other end of the pond, but tips on what you like reading about are always appreciated – just drop us a comment or get in touch via social media.

Until then – à tout à l’heure !

Tiina x

Thingamajig

I bought a thingy.

Just this little gizmo.

A thingamajig.

I went to IKEA hungry and this is what I bought… a net canopy for our balcony!  It’s like an adult blanket-fort, but classy… or this is what I’ll be telling everyone who questions my ability to adult.

I don’t even mind the hipster connotations – I am an artist living in a crumbling old Maison de Ville by the foot of the bloody Montagne Noire.  That ship has sailed, mate.

And my mother agreed to it, so it must be class.

Anyway, how’s your Monday?

Ta,

Tiina x

 

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Minty Makeover

Salut – ça va?

I got a new painting project to show you guys!

The veteran readers of the Chez Nous N◦21 blog might just remember the last time I wrote about our dinky kitchen…

Yes, we got there in the end, but it took some serious creativity to turn this narrow space into a cozy kitchen; for example, each wall had an opening of some description and there were only two electrical sockets to power up everything, including the fridge, oven, microwave and our little portable hotplate.

Go figure.

Some industrial strength cleaning products, elbow grease and several extensions leads later – this formerly dirty corridor had been transformed into a functional cooking space fit for two foodies.

Not a perfect makeover, for sure, but it served us well for a time.

Little by little, the kitchen evolved further: we swapped our storage units for a large Art Deco buffet, hired and electrician to sort us out with more sockets and demolished the hood fixed on top of the sink.  The latter had been a real inconvenience for James; whereas the hood bothered me aesthetically, I did not need to worry about hitting my head on a steal frame every time I wanted a sandwich!

Although this piece covered the old window-turned-glass cupboard completely, it offered us twice the space for our cooking & food stuff and I have no regrets about nearly braking both of our backs carrying it upstairs with my long suffering husband.

Sorry, not sorry, James.

We always knew this modular kitchen of ours was a temporary solution so why spend too much time and money fiddling with it, right..?

True, we will build a brand-spanking-new kitchen eventually…  However, it won’t be this year, perhaps not the year after.  This dinky kitchen we have is very functional – but can you blame me for wanting it to be a bit more up-together, too?

Like many DIY transformations here chez nous, this one started out with the words “I had a bit of paint left over from a previous project”.

Sometimes that is all you need, really.

I swear, by the power of Greyskull, I was only going to paint one wall… the one visible from our dining room, but once I set out to work, it was obvious the whole kitchen would receive a fresh lick of paint.  Without a primer nor a filler, I slathered the emulsion straight on top of the damaged plaster and the crumbling paint.  Not my first cowboy building job, but somehow doing any deeper reparative work felt like a royal waste of time and effort.

The old plaster needs to come down completely as it is far beyond repair by simply filling in the cracks.  Unfortunately, we cannot start the works until the space no longer serves as our main cooking space.  Bit of a catch-22 situation, hence why I chose to paint like a charlatan, to get the walls looking neater temporarily.

The shade I chose was identical (literally) to the one I had used for our downstairs bedroom: lighter than light mint-green.  Hardly darker than an old white.  In my humble opinion, it works silly well with the pattern of our stunning cement tiles and the sage-green cabinetry.  In turn, the ceiling received a fresh coat of brilliant white emulsion.  Truth to be told, these greasy, nicotine stained panels had bothered me since we moved in, but I had not managed to get them sorted ’till now.

Although an impressive makeover, the overall effect is subtle and it feels more like the room was deep-cleaned rather than decorated.  And I suppose that really sums it up – in the past, the kitchen felt dirty no matter how much I scrubbed.

When living in a house like this, with crumbling old plaster, cracked ceilings and what not, you become blind to its imperfections.  Overall I love the quirks of my home, but certain aspects of living in an uncompleted project do get under my skin from time to time.  Seeing progress, no matter how small, helps to keep my spirits up.

Hope you enjoyed this little painting update – I already got my eyes on the next one…

Don’t forget to let me know how you get on with your summer projects in the comment section below!

A tout à l’heure!

Tiina x