Monday, May 13, 2019

A job lot and some history

On my return to home from Scotland I stopped over in Paris for two days and stayed at the home of my friends who house sit for me here in the country. I moved to Paris from London in 1978 so I know the city better than most French people although is has changed considerably and not for the better!

On my stay I came across a homeless guy I see from time to time. He sells on the pavement things he finds in the trash and is always happy in nature. I found these treasures from him and leaving both of us with huge smiles on our faces , me because I found lovely things and he because he got a handful of cash! 

The first thing I saw and bought was this 18th century tea caddie complete with its key! It has had a hard life, I can sympathise, but still remains in my eyes beautiful. He asked me for ten euros, I gave him more of course.

 It even has its original inner lids which is rare indeed. The linings have gone and one back foot is missing but I love it, I have always had a passion for wooden boxes for some reason. 

 You can see the centuries of grime around the lock. I will clean it up with a restoration product without trying to make is fully as was. It must retain its wrinkles.

I walked a lot around the city as usual and as it was a beautiful May the first it was quiet for a change. I took a picture of this building/monument thinking that it could make a good story. It is the main town hall ' Mairie de Paris ' as it is today but most people do not know that this is the rebuilt version after a fire in 1871. 
This is what was left of the original building after the fire that took place during an uprising in Paris between 1871 and 1873. This 'revolution' began when Napoleon III was captured by the Prussians during the Franco Prussian war in 1870. Short version, the movement was radical-socialist and when the third republic moved its base to the city of Tours a new rule took place and many were killed in the two year period. As with the main French Revolution it was a chance for many to impose their ideas but it didn't last. During this period many major buildings and monuments were burnt. This building had an amazing interior fill of glitz and cristal and many works of art, all gone.
Here you can see a rendition of the great burning of the Tuilleries Palace or Royal Residence dating from 1564 onwards. It was part of the same structure as what we now know of as the Louvre, the part which survived. This was a truly amazing building full, again, of incredible architecture and works of art along with the royal collections of furnishings.
This is the view of the building before the fire.

 This is the Palace after the fire. It was gutted and what could be pillaged was done in the years following the fire before its demolition in 1883. the fire lasted several days and was deliberate using petrol and tar to make sure that nothing was left. It seems incredible today that Nothing was done to rebuild it as the walls were in good condition. It has recently been said by an architect/historian that we could easily rebuild it as the revenue it would bring would make it pay over the years.  
This is a view of the interior of the palace. Its architecture closely ressembles that of the Louvre for those of you who have visited it.

 I cannot write about the burning of monuments without mentioning the Notre Dame Cathedral. We are all still in shock over this tragedy indifferent of religious beliefs. You cannot really get close to it now of course as the streets have been closed off and many many people are involved with securing and cleaning up the area. When the central spire fell it was an Arrow in our hearts. 
As I walked around the area I noticed this building that I must have passed a great many times but this time I saw it as for the first time. It used to be a company that specialised in signage and I just noticed the decor remaining on the walls. Typical of Paris, you can always see Something 'new'. We have a saying in Paris, 'Tourists look up and Parisians look down' , avoiding the dog poo ! 

I will finish with a few more bits bought from the homeless guy. I love and collect bits of carvings and these pine-apple décorations were right up my street. The pineapple in architecture and design is symbolic of welcome. I will find somewhere to position these one day. He asked me for five euros but I gave him ten as it seemed too cheap and I wanted to feel good about acquiring them.
These bronzes came with his story. I initially just wanted the keyhole décorations ' escutcheons' but he insisted on fishing out all the pieces and selling it as a lot. He told me he found a Louis Something chest in the street ( Parisians throw out everything! ) and he spent ages dismantling all the bronzes before it want to the trash! I can only imagine what it was like. I ALSO have quite a collection of bronze trims from furniture, all ages. He asked me again for ten euros and again I gave him more.

 Well that is todays story, some of you might find it interesting. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Going Door to Door

Going Door to Door

At LAST back to my miniature world after travelling and looking after mum and then tidying up after my house sitters ! Then gardening, sewing seeds , trimming box topiary and tying up the climbing roses as we wait for summer to take over from spring with bated breath. 
I must add here that the realisation of what I have begun here is finally taking over my brain ! REALLY , a three story 11 roomed house, what was I thinking ! Well too late now to turn back so I must tackle things in order and get as much pleasure out of the process as possible.
At the back of the ground floor there is , if you remember , a door to the left that leads to the dining room end of the drawing room and opposite it is the door to the pantry ( now real kitchen ). 

Below is the double door to the drawing room that sits in the entrance of Ramsay House.

I wanted to carry on the theme of the lozange shape from these doors to the two back doors and the process for making them is the same. I began by mocking up the thickness of the wall taking into account the mountboard room lining , the actual wall, the void for wiring etc. I felt that I had to make these doors at this stage because they are not accessible without difficulty later on. The kitchen door is a variant with a real glass panel echoing the lozange shape. 

 I think that a glass door to a kitchen is a great idea in RL because you can see who is in before entering and it also saves on accidents. I had wanted to etch the glass with a pattern but as this door is hardly seen I thought it best to get on with other things.
After looking at dozens of 'whites and off whites' I had to make up my mind and decided on a F&B colour ( pricey ! ) then when shopping for food in our local supermarket I found a tin of LINEN color matt white and its perfect! I have a big problem with white, I think that it doesn't really go with anything but off or 'broken' whites are a nightmare because they can be slightly pink or yellow or green and this affects not only the light but all the other colours you put next to it. F&B have an amazing selection of whites but they are in Paris and I am here in the middle of no where and YES I am impatient so there.  
 The doors done and set aside I decided to finish the details on the lower stairs. I ordered a plain ceiling rose from our wonderful Sue Cook and a ceiling light from There was a height issue so the light had to be close to the ceiling , YUP as if anyone was going to bump there heads, really ! I did some wood effects for the treads and tried staining and varnishing but it looked gungy and not very realistic. I actually love painted stairs and as this is my house I decided to paint them to match the woodwork. Another of my préférences is for layered paint when you can see the years of overpainting but not many other people like this. Ramsay House is owned by a family who are not 'precious' about their home and just get on with living and not stressing about chipped paint and stained ceilings. I will build up the paint and then age it with darker corners and skirting boards and door frames and make it look lived in. 
 The paint you can see here is another supermarket matt white acrylic paint which acts like gesso and builds up layers that all need a lot of sanding, a LOT of sanding, my arms are dropping off. 
 I installed the lovely skirting boards from Houseworks and a chair rail on level with the door panel and a base panel of mount board to visually strengthen the lower wall. The way the house is built, no one will actually see this section or under the stairs but that is not a reason to get it right, right? 
 Here you can see the effect on the hallway floor with the door propped up. I now have to give it all another two coats of the LINEN colour and then sand and sand then age and varnish the woodwork as the paint is matt and I would like the walls to be matt but the woodwork to be satin finish. The walls will be a F&B blue grey color which perfectly complements the ochre and linen colours. 
 I hadn't realised just how much space I have in the hallway which is a good thing as it's the hub of the house. The fact that the Drawing room entrance is so close to the stair does bother me but I really wanted double doors to these ground floor rooms to make an impact. You can see how the white white colour is disturbing here against the ochre. People often make the 'mistake' of painting pure white but I suppose it's a question of taste. 
 Another subject, the drawing room fireplace. If you remember I got the scale SO WRONG and had to go stand in a dark corner for a whole day to recover from it ! I saw this Georgian fireplace at Sue Cook and realised that I could never do anything as good as this and Sue's fireplaces really make a room look special. The quality and detail are amazing ! Wow ! AND I can keep the hearth I made the oversize fireplace that this replaces which is great. 
 Here you can see just how much bigger my effort was against Sue's refined one. As with miniatures any difference is times 12 and it can easilly escalade. 
 For the pleasure, here is again the fireplace, thank you Sue for such speedy elegant service!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The rise and fall of a Highland town.


Inbhir Ghòrdain ( Gaelic )

Invergordon is on the right above Nairn and Inverness. Although we say Ross-shire for our county, in most documents it is called Ross and Cromarty as it engulfs both the counties of Ross on one side and Cromarty on the other. Cromarty was once a thriving town due to its geography but is now a small quiet sea side town, famous for its dolphins called 'Dauphin Francais' in French! Perhaps a call back to the times when French was the spoken language of Scotland before English!

I have just come back home from Scotland where I spent ten days looking after mum who was had just been in hospital. She is fine and back on track and I was able to do all the things she cannot, like gardening and pruning and fixing stuff. My mother lives in a small town called Invergordon which is on Ross-shire in the highlands on the east coast. I have never lived in this town but I did go to secondary school ( we call it the academy ) for 5 years, we lived in a small town called Alness 
3 miles away and I would often walk home long the beach after school.

I thought that I would do a post on this town which has a colourful past. It was originally called Inverbreakie until it was purchased about 1700 by William Gordon a London banker. William's son Sir John Gordon inherited it in 1740 and renamed it Invergordon and in the 1750's built a 'new' castle designed by the ultra famous Robert Adam, Scotlands most famous architect. This house replaced a much older Tower House which had burnt down. 
Here you can still see the old tower castle on the left before being demolished and the 'new Adam House to the right. 

These are two photos of the huge Victorian castle built on the site of the Adam house when it fell from grace. Victorians had a mania for gothic castles and 'improvements' and many ancient houses and churches were ruined by their taste and wealth. BUT they did build schools and railways so it wasn't all bad. This castle has totally gone today, no stone left.

Above is what is left of one of the schools they built. There are ugly modern aditions on each side and one day they will probably tear it all down and put up more ugliness.

The castle staircase as it was when built.

These houses were on the hill overlooking the bay or 'firth' and opposite it sat the 'Black Isle' which is not really an island. Any TinTin lovers will remember the book based on this 'Island'. 
The castle was surrounded by a neat grid of avenues and woods named after the owner's siblings. Sir Gordon even made a wilderness garden called ' an American Garden' which was later replaced by the local golf course, the reason my mother lives in Invergordon as my late father was a golfer and champion on a small scale. 
In 1879 there was great excitement when local people saw a strange creature in the gardens
Sir John had wanted to lay out a new village but it wasn't until Macleod of Cadboll came around in the 1780's that this came about and the main street was laid out with smaller streets leading of it, grid style. Roads were improved in the 18th century and harbours built along with a ferry. It soon became the centre of administration for this part of the coast and firth. I add that the firth is very deep and would often serve to moore ships in wartime and later the Queen's Britannia Yacht when she travelled to Balmoral, the highland residence of the Royal family. Two third of the régions imports came through this Harbour and it must have been a bustling town back then. In 1863 nine ships of the Royal Navy with 5000 men sailed into the firth enticed by the new railroad that linked the country. 
In 1912 Invergordon would become a Naval Base. 
In 1841 there were only 1000 inhabitants and by 1911 only another 50 were added ! 
In 1915 a terrible tragedy struck when during a party on the HMS Natal on December 30 the armory exploded and the ship quickly sank Killing over 400 people including many civilians and children. It is said that the screams of the dying could be heard over the water all night. There were rumours of espionage and bombs but in the end they concluded it was faulty cordite in the armory. 

The First World Ward brought prosperity to the area and especially to Invergordon but the decline in the 20's and 30's soon brought things back down. In 1931 the pay cuts to the seamen led to what was called the 'Invergordon Mutiny' and later in 1957 the Navy would leave Invergordon taking it's commerce with it. Followed many ups and downs in the 1960's including what would be the largest grain distillery in Europe until things again turned sour. In 1971 an aluminium smelter was built , turning centuries old farmland into industry with much needed employement. It would close ten years later plunging the area once more into economic darkness. The oil industry came and the sea ports were privatised and transformed into an oil rigg repair station and then came the huge cruise liners bringing many thousands of tourists into the region. 
A visit from the Queen Mary in 2005, the people on the beach giving you and idea of scale!
I took this picture as I walked down from the railway station, you can see a cruise liner dominating the Skyline. Many tourists are quickly whisked away to 'other' prettier towns that boast real infrastructure. 
 Invergordon in the early 19th century. The fountain in the middle of the road was erected to commemorate the visit of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. It now sits waterless on a traffic island forgotten by all.

This is the high street today, as you can see it's a busy day!
 This was our 'Bank of Scotland' one of two banks now closed in the town. There are only 3 cash machines left. My cousin now uses this to showcase his paintings.
 This is the old Town Hall today, used only for rummage sales, it used to show movies when I was a child. Below the same building at the beginning of the 20th century. The houses on the right were demolished and replaced by ugly 70's architecture. 
The house below, another remnant of Victorian times is empty today but had been what they call a half way house, housing ex convicts and homeless people, mainly men. My mothers house is just behind this to the noise was a problem. Today who knows what it will become.
 Below is our local Library in part of the old school now demolished. The style is odd. They say they will close it as no one uses it. 
 This was our police station and jail. Today it is for sale as the police have moved to a 'real' town. It's another exemple of Victorian Architecture. In the background you can see the warehouses that now obscure the sea views. Ugly things.
Scotland has a rather violent religious past as do many countries. I was brought up in the Protestant religion although we never went to Church except for funerals. My sister and brother didn't marry in a Church nor did my parents. Our churches ( those that have not been abandonned ) are simple with plain seats and no religious iconography visible. Crucifixes were forbidden in our homes as symboles of the catholic faith. One day I sent off for a booklet on Catholicism and when it arrived my mother burnt it ! Below is the local Catholic Church, you can imagine how few there are in the region. As I grew up I would hear the phrase ' We know who you are and where you live', ominously referring to 'them' ! Scary.

 Above the derelect 'High Street News' today and below as it was in Victorian times. I used to buy sweets there from school and it was a busy place. In the early 20th century it was a very busy little shop. It has been empty and open to the elements behind for years despite a 'flying freehold' above belonging the neighbouring house. It makes me sad to see it forgotten like so much else in the village. 

 Above you can see the 'firth' and the opening between the two 'Souters' that lead to the North sea. This natural defence was what made it an ideal place to moore ships during the war. Huge guns were built on the tops of each and nets to block submarines were placed below water level.

Below you can see how catastrophic this new oil industry was to the coastline. Waste and polution and radio wave interference were just some of the downside.

Below you can see how this industry has taken over the beaches. Every day they landfill more sea to spread their business. The salmon used to have a 'road' through these waters to our river and each year they fray up the river to spawn and reproduce. This industry totally disrupts this migration. 
 When you finally manage to get to some beach this is the view across the bay to the Black Isle on the left.
 Below is the path I took home from school, three miles of collecting stones and shells and dead crabs! My mother used to go through my pockets when I was alseep and throw it all out! The road was very quiet and safe back then but I stopped walking home when I was picked up by someone who said he knew my family and it didn't end well. I was 12. I hid that shame for many years and it did rather take the fun out of freedom.
I grew up surrounded by nature and this is what we call 'Gorse', it is Deadly prickly, NOT to be msitaken for 'Whin broom' which smells divine and is harmless.
 The odd way that lichen grows and spreads on granit.
 These stone show how granit can suddenly become white or pink in the same stone, the countryside is full of this stone although many houses and made from red sand stone which has to be faced to protect it from the elements.
 Below the red stone most buildings are made from. More fragile than granite but easier to work with making it I presume a cheaper option in the day.
Appleblossom on a Sunny day.
Below a mass burial in 1944 for the crew of a Sunderland flying boat that crashed on take off on the town. The majority of the crew were Canadians and their families still come over to honor their graves. The whole crew died and the fire lasted three days as their fuel tanks were full. The Church in the photo has been abandonned for many years and will surely fall down like all the others.  
Below a visit from the Queen. We Scots are mainly NOT pro royalist and have little interest in the 'Royal Family'. The Queen is spoken off as the 'Queen of England' and we are so NOT English. When they moored her yacht on the pier the town would lay down red carpet, paint the piles of coal white and try to mask the towns misery in case her royal eyes should , OH MY GOD , fall upon reality. We used to wonder if she realy thought that coal was white! The country made her sell the yacht as it was a money pit but not before Prince Philippe stripped it of all its furnishings ( he had designed them it is said)

In conclusion it is a sad neglected town full of empty spaces and falling down buildings. There is a huge potential for tourism, repairing the centuries old piers and buildings hotels and tea rooms in local venacular but alas corruption is abound and really no one cares. They recently demolished the centuries old red stone warehouses on the high street and left an enormous wasteland in their place. They could have easily transformed them into a tourist center and tea shop. The level of obesity, child mothers and unemployement, not to mention the places to get drunk make it for me a terrible destination. 
Alness the town I grew up in is not on the sea despite being only 3 miles away but it has a lot more life and charm and is often labelled the prettiest village because of it's floral displays.