tales from the gripped featured image

tales from the gripped

Happy Spooktober guys!

Look, I get it, this is merrie old England and I should leave Halloween for those pesky Yankees, but hear me out:

It’s also 2020

The world is in the toilet and everything is super scary.  And not that funny Halloween-scary: scary-scary.

My generation has muddled through recession after recession before we were old enough to buy our own fags, worried sick over climate change and/or World War III, not to mention cyberbullying, the rise of insufferable baby/dog names as well as how to afford our daily avocado on sourdough toast – if we want to carve a bloody pumpkin we should bloody well be allowed to do so without snickering from the boys in the back. 

There’s a bit of a global pandemic going on, maybe we should do more of the things that make us happy, eh?

So in case you wondered, I just finished carving my very first pumpkin and it was bloody lovely.  James got it from Tesco’s, along with some suitably autumnal flowers.  It’s great to have a bit of colour in the house.  Unfortunately, with the recent storms we have had, the summer seems to have skipped straight to winter and the autumn leaves we could have otherwise enjoyed here were largely swept away by the winds when they were still green.  I have bought some wee skeletons too, from a local shop called the Curious Mr. Fogg – most of their stock comes from Mexico, making them technically Día de Muertos-decorations, but maybe as an actual European peasant I’m allowed to mix my holidays.

Here’s the deal:  I’ve struggled with anxiety most of my adult life, but it has never stopped me from living life to the fullest.  Before the Covid-19 crisis, that is.  I am one of the lucky ones, with a job that I love and wonderful family and friends who support me, but it’s still pretty rough sometimes.  These little silly things, like carving pumpkins and decorating for Halloween, in all their simplicity, make me forget how bloody scary it all is just now.  It’s a distraction, for sure, but can you blame me from wanting to be distracted right now?

So yeah, let’s (zoom) party like it’s 2020, baby.  Buy that big-ass pumpkin.  Eat Weetos chocolate hoops for lunch – that’s basically self-care anyway.  If you’re lucky you may end up making someone else’s day by accident.  We live on a pretty busy road just off the High Street and get a fair few people passing our house each day.  Honestly, the faces of little kids when they spot my Jack-O-Lantern are just something else.  Happiness collateral.

Also, pumpkin soup. I made the innards of my pumpkin into soup. #adulting, much.

Until next time,

Tiina x

P.S. When you do carve that silly pumpkin as instructed by your favourite influencer… or me, post it on Instagram and tag me on it @cheznous21 – let’s spread a bit of silly joy this spooky season.

Home Office Politics

Autumnal greetings friends!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got this lingering back to school feeling.  It could be the change in the seasons: autumnal colours and the cool, crisp air of early mornings… or finally being back to work after the longest, strangest summer holiday of my life.  Although I emerge into the new normal much less bruised than some, as the months on furlough dragged on, I found myself really struggling with anxiety, exacerbated by uncertainty about work and life in general. 

Bright yellow of the Ilfracombe harbour

Unlike me, James has been busy working from home all through lockdown and continues to do so.  Quietly keeping calm and carrying on, he has been doing his part on keeping the shop shelves of Southern England stocked up.

In a wider sense, it seems there is a strong shift towards working from home prompted by the Covid-19 crisis.  When pressed on by necessity, it does seem all of those roles that were previously strictly office based can indeed be fulfilled by an army of homeworkers eagerly skipping the traffic, office politics and the need to wear trousers.

But what do you do if you don’t have tons of space to convert into an insta-worthy home office?  I’ve observed my friends and family resorting into all sorts of tactics to carve out space for their paper clips and PCs, from conquering corners of their dining tables to setting up swanky flat-pack cardboard desks.  As a painter I require slightly different types of a set up and thus ended up perched on a pair of camper van cushions in our spare room.  As for James, well, he spend most of lockdown in our front room, sandwiched between his wee escritoire and Graeme the Grand Piano.

Escritoire-types of writing desks became quite fashionable some years back, especially as subjects of shabby chic transformations: painted in soft pastel hues, distressed or upcycled with cheerfully patterned wallpapers.  Ours is much simpler than that, a straightforward 1930’s (or possibly even later) example in dark lacquered wood, sporting a couple of small drawers and shelves for books.  It’s not the trendiest perhaps, but I like my furniture functional, unobtrusive and above all else… affordable.

Antique Georgian or Victorian escritoires (also conversely modernist mid-century examples) command impressive prices these days, but we picked ours off eBay for 35 pounds.  You wouldn’t be able to buy a new desk half as sturdy and practical for love or money.  However, if you are willing to look past the trendiest of pieces, there are amazing deals to be found in that not-quite-antique category right now.  When new, our desk was a haphazard imitation of arts & crafts pieces with modern detailing such as the vinyl covering of its writing surface and those cute little plastic pulls.  Not quite one thing nor the other, making it somewhat undervalued today.

I’ve got my personal reasons for buying these kind of pieces, namely value for money: that elusive durability vs. purchase value ratio, but also concerns over sustainability of mass production of things.  That cardboard desk looked amazing, but I don’t want to acquire new stuff if there is a viable second hand alternative. 

I once had a friend who talked about poverty as an aesthetic and although I don’t entirely agree with her views, it is true that trends of the future are often set by those who need to get crafty with their fashion and decorating choices.  A good case in point would be looking at the gentrification of our cities and the countryside.  Furniture wise, this effect can be seen in the value of mid-century modern furniture of a certain type: given up by the generation that grew up with it, these bookcases, room dividers and sideboards were lapped up the young trendy things that needed to result in charity shopping.  Now that generation has come of age, with a fully formed style that others are willing to pay large sums for. 

It’s pretty unlikely that those yellow pine things you see stacked up in hospice shops are going to be all the rage, well, ever, but if I’d have to predict a trend of the furniture, I would gently guide you towards Edwardiana.  Think of the world of Edward Elgar: dark stained native woods of the British Isles, pre-first world war shapes and hand crafted details.  You won’t be finding it in IKEA, but with a bit of Mr Sheen furniture polish, it will last you a lifetime.

‘til next time.


Finlandia 4ever blog tittle image

Finlandia 4ever

How d’you do, I…

…see you’ve met my faithful Chez Nous N°21 blog.

Coucou – hope you keeping well and safe.  My furlough continues, so I have been busy holidaying at home.  A couple of social distancing picnics aside, this has meant mostly getting horridly sunburnt on my early morning runs and extra attention (treats) given to the dog.  You know what they say about old dogs and new tricks, but he’s not far off from bringing me my slippers.  My last attempt in training him to fetch footwear ended up with him mauling a pair of Moroccan babouches, but I remain optimistic.  One for the money, two for the show, right?

Anyway, we are not here to stir up past trauma.  However, if that happens to be your game, head over to my art blog to read about the seductiveness of nostalgia.  I don’t usually like to flog my other work here, but I am particularly proud about this personal essay on the attractiveness of an idealised past.  As the blog you are about to read is about my Finnishness too, you might want to start with the artsy-fartsy one touching on my formative years during the early 90’s recession.

So, Tervetuloa, and enjoy:

The regular readers might know that I was born and raised in the semi-rural South West of Finland, in an old textile town of Forssa.  Although I have been living overseas for ten years now, every once in a while my thoughts return home: to the familiar faces and places, the clatter of my native tongue and our vast forests & lakes.  Naturally, each time I visit, I try to bring back a small piece of Finland with me, whether it is food, homeware or a cracking Instagram pic.  Little bits and bobs to remind me of home.  When I first moved to Edinburgh back in 2010, I had a suitcase full of essentials and another for my childhood toy owls, with a load of Finnish glassware and textiles.  You can take a wild guess which one Ryanair charged me an oversized baggage fee for.

Our house in the middle of our street

As I’ve grown and set up a permanent home for myself, in Chez Nous N°21 – our house by the foot of the Montagne Noire, in a way, it became less important to throw my Finnishness around.  When you are renting, especially if you are renting a shoddy student pad, it can be difficult to feel truly at home where you live.  Throughout my studies, home was on speed dial whenever I used a Finlayson towel for example or put on a Marimekko shirt.  When I bought my first house with James, a whole-ass derelict Maison de Ville with an overgrown patch of a garden to match, none of that mattered.  Every spider infested crevice of the place was ours.  I would still adore my pretty Finnish crockery and prioritise Finnish brands (Fiskars, anyone), but these objects no longer served to bridge an abstract distance between where I was and what used to be home.

My mum though, known as the most cunning thrifter on Northern hemisphere, has continued to fill my life with Suomi-awesomeness and I do thank her for it.  It is the thrill of the chase she loves, hunting down the best bargains in second hand shops and on Facebook recycling groups.  Kalevala jewellery, design glass or vintage factory off cuts… if my mum can’t find it, it does not exist.  Her latest treasure: an old Schoolhouse map of Finland big enough to use as a bedspread, haggled down to 20 euros.  I mean, I know her, but that one was pretty impressive.

my mum helping to lay out interior shots for my blog

For a while now, James and I have been living in England again – our beloved home in France is ready for the big, pricey renovations, so we go where the work is.  It is not half bad: I have filled our rented cottage with houseplants that remind me of my mum and she has in turn filled it with Finnish things to remind me of her also.  Those toy owls are still with me, currently sitting on top of an ornamental fireplace with Basil Brush and a little Moomin, a crochet masterpiece made for me by James’ sister in law, who makes magic with a small hook.

Before the global pandemic, lockdown and social distancing, I was too busy to dream of my beloved land of a thousand lakes.  With plenty of time to worry, however, I find myself feeling quite homesick.  And it is not all corona-related.  Perhaps Brexit started it, but being an outsider in England is a bit weird just now.  So whenever I feel down, I go and pick one of my Arabia mugs, make myself a brew and try not to think of it.  We have all needed to get used to being comfortable in our homes lately and my way of achieving this is by cocooning myself in Finnishness, again, as well as getting plenty of cuddles from the dog and the husband.

And just like that, I feel at home.

I would like to keep exploring the idea of national identity through objects we surround ourselves with (or what your mother surrounds you with), so I have been planning a post on few of the brands casually namedropped here.  Inspired by an incident regarding an eagle-eyed little lad who outed me as a Finn based purely on my slippers, I thought that what we trendy Finnish folk fill our houses with might make interesting reading.  I have my personal preferences for sure, but some of them are formed in the womb, alongside our hatred for carpeting and low-grade insulation.

See you soon with an update,

Tiina x

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.


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

Wish you were here!

The sun is high and so are our holiday spirits.  My mum and my wee nephew are half way through their holiday and both are absolutely in love with my adoptive home town and the French pace of life.  Mazamet is not a bad place to be in the summer: just last weekend we enjoyed the dance and music of the Fanfares Sans Frontières-festival, drove up and down the Montagne Noire and celebrated Bastille Day with a picnic up at the Lac De Montagnes.  It is all weird and wonderful for little Jim, but he’s taking it all on his stride like a seasoned citizen of the world, picking up bits of French, trying the food and hanging out with his new best friend – Rusty the dog.

I got my hands full to say the least, so better crack on and skip straight to the photographic evidence of our adventures:

Here’s a few pics from the Fanfares Sans Frontières.  I loved the marching bands and the bag pipes, but you can’t beat a bit of Samba…

It’s funny how enjoyable photography becomes when you have another pair of hands to hold the dogs lead!  These are my favourite snaps from around Mazamet centre ville.

I could not write this post without posting a few snaps of this adorable little fella, my nephew Jim – naturally with the consent of him mum.  I don’t think Rusty has ever felt this loved in his life.  Being a rescue, he needs a bit of attention and Jim is more than willing to fuss him to the ends of the earth.

Oh, and here you have some more dog photos.  The internet needs more Rusty, I am certain of it.  These are taken at the Lac de Montagnes and Payrin.

Right, that should be all for now!  See you again with a bit of painting and decorating news from chez nous N°21


Tiina x

Take a Seat banner

Take a seat…

La canicule has shifted and I am back on the chain gang; fixing little bits and bobs and trying to keep my mum and my nephew content in their holidaymaking.  They arrived from Finland a week ago and I am already running out of exiting things to do.  Thankfully, Les Fanfares Sans Frontieres-festival is almost here and it happens to be the best of Mazamets summer events, in my opinion anyway.  Having had a jolly good time swimming, barbecuing and burning every inch of my body in the sun, I am not quite finished taking photographs of my latest painting project so I thought I’d share another nifty chair restoration I finished yesterday.  This time around I revamped a relatively modern seat, not older than perhaps 15-20 years, and made out of aluminium.

Les Fanfares sans Frontieres, Mazamet, 2018, photo by Tiina Lilja

How I came by this piece mirrors a familiar tale:  Not a full day had passed since I wrote about finding a small Art-Deco-esque chair near our bins at Champs de la Ville when another appeared, deserted by the very same communal recycling point near our house.  It was a petite metal framed patio chair, in pretty good nick but repainted rather clumsily with a heavy-duty matte emulsion.  I needed a break from answering awkward questions from a nine year old so restoring a chair seemed like the perfect excuse for a bit of alone time as acetone based paint stripper and children don’t mix all that well.

old aluminium chair with its white paint job

Based on the thickness of the paint on this chair I expected to find several different colours, but there were only two distinct layers: heavy-handed white emulsion and the original teal & white powder coat enamel.  The latter turned out tricky to remove, but I enjoyed every minute of my time spent lurking under the guises of toxic fumes.  Three coats of paint stripper, some serious sanding and a quick steel wool polish later, I had managed to clean the chair down to bare aluminium.

The polished metal had next to no imperfections so I was happy to leave it as it was.  The seat, however, needed more work.  There was a bit of old rust and dinky scraps of enamel so I prepped these parts to be painted by giving them a quick once-over with medium grit sandpaper.  My chosen colour, blush pink, was largely dictated by what I had in the house, but it worked well with the dark brushed aluminium.  I’d bought the paint for our bathroom door two years ago and, based on the thick dried up layer of paint, it needed using up.

Although I am happy with the results, arguably this one was not entirely worth the effort.

You might be surprised by my sudden sensibility, but not all projects, no matter how satisfying they might be to execute, are cost effective.  Money spent on the paint-stripper, paint (although scraps) and other sundry potions and bits like sandpaper, not to mention my precious time, totals more than the chair is worth.  But I do appreciate a good up-cycling project.  Not to mention locking myself away from child-minding duties.

This seat will serve us well on our balcony, for years to come, but unlike the one I just upholstered, it perhaps falls under the vanity project-category.

Voilà.  Another wee task tasked.

Now, if you excuse me, I am off to read a story.  About an Alsatian dog called Roi, who catches crooks and stuff.  And I am pretty excited about that.

Tiina x