Spring Flowers in Vintage Glass Bottles

Just a short post today.

I mentioned putting flowers in glass bottles in my Gift Boxes post, and as I bought a few recently I thought I’d show you what I did with them.

They’re all vintage (old and second hand), and range in price from £1 to a whopping £3. I love the patina of old glass. The chips and scratches, the antiquated script etched into its surface, evoke a bygone era. Due to the practical nature of these bottles, they also resonate more audibly with human voices now lost in time. People who purchased and handled them, with rough hands and smooth. Took the tiny medicine bottles out of drawers and cupboards to treat coughs and colic, splashed precious cleaning products into metal buckets of water, and carefully measuring iodine or strychnine out of bottles marked ‘poison’.

I’ve grouped these three together here, but would otherwise dot them around a house. (Daffodils £1.)

‘Not To Be Taken’. ‘Poison’ on the reverse face.

I’m also intrigued by the incongruity of using objects as they were not intended to be. Displaying beautiful spring flowers in bottles previously containing poisons, chemicals and drugs seems a delightfully gothic juxtaposition to me. The sort of thing Tim Burton would do (though he’d probably sink tiny mice skulls into them before adding the flowers wouldn’t he).

I think these amber glass bottles were designed to contain medicine, but I’ll be putting small blue or white flowers in mine. Forget-me-nots or bluebells perhaps. I thought about going mad and tying satin ribbons around them, but concluded (yes, I actually gave this some thought) that they look less contrived without. There are lots of other ideas online, one of my favourites below:

vintage flowers 1

Source

I love seeing flowers in old metal buckets and ceramic jugs as well, but given that our current flat is the size of a shoebox I’m limiting myself to glass for now. (Brownie points also go to men who bring pretty vases to go with the flowers that you have NO IDEA how much she’ll appreciate being given).

What do you think? Does anyone have any other ideas for unusual flower displays?

You might also like:

P1070572   gift boxes for students   P1070547

Advertisements

Tractors, Bonfires and Antiques (not at the same time)

My Weekend Up North.

Last weekend I was honoured with an invitation to Tom’s parents’ farm. They don’t really tell people where they live usually, and have been known to escape through the living room window when visitors unexpectedly arrive (his siblings go through the window, that is, not his parents. Though I think they were jealous). Seeing as I’m marrying their eldest son next May, however, I am slowly being let into the fold (Tom tells me this caution results from their not wanting to frighten me off, given that I am favourable breeding stock. I’ll take that compliment).

The wonderful thing about owning a farm is that there are lots of toys around like tractors and chickens to play with. Owning swathes of the countryside also means that you can potter around in complete privacy, and not have to worry about strangers wandering past and telling you you’re not allowed to set fire to/ destroy/ do that. I was lucky growing up as a teenager, as my parents’ house is in the middle of nowhere surrounded by farms, most of whom we knew well and so gave me permission to wander or even ride across their land.  We’re very much intending to buy land ourselves one day, even if it’s just a couple acres of woodland to play with (I suppose we should probably buy a house first though. Sigh). In the meantime, we’ll make do with the playgrounds our parents own.

Day One. 

Me driving a tractor. Well, sitting in it. (I’m not even trustworthy behind the wheel of a car – can you imagine how much damage I could cause with this bad boy?)

Tom’s younger sister, Katie, and her pet cow. “Aren’t all cows on farms technically pets?” I hear you ask. No (I reply) because most of them are mental. This one, however, is very pretty, so has been granted pet status.

After looking at all the cows, messing around with the tractor and sniffing all the cats (I miss cats a lot. They smell SO good) we headed out into the fields with a barbecue, food, copious amounts of cider and logs. We collected a huge pile of kindling from the hedges, dragging dead branches out of the trees and undergrowth to be broken up and put into piles (and yes, archivists I used to work with, I catalogued it according to size. See what you have turned me into).

Katie providing the barbecuing expertise, Tom took on the role of High Commander, ordering us all around (everyone ignored him), and Jim provided the muscle and brute strength.

Tom sawing up logs in front of the AMAZING fire we built. It got bigger, as the night seeped across the landscape and the cider flowed, but here looks quite neat and civilised.

Man chop log. Make fire.

Me sawing up logs. It turned out I was a lot better at this than the boys, thanks to my dad training me to help him in the garden/ with DIY since I was a toddler. Some would call this slave labour. Dad calls it spending quality time together (I actually loved it, to be honest – I still get a real kick out of using saws, hammers, axes, brush-cutters, drills, electric sanders etc, and being good at putting flat-pack furniture together. Winning.)

Jim and Katie trying to work out how to use the barbecue.

Look at the size of that beast! More Australian training from my dad.

“Get off my land”.

Once we’d piled on the heavier logs we – eventually – managed to chop up, the fire gave out more than enough heat to keep off the night-chill. As dusk set in we watched a barn owl hunting around us, its wing beats completely silent, only its pale colouring giving it away. Tiny bats flitted through the sky catching insects, and we settled down to UFO (satellite) spotting. Food always tastes better outdoors, especially if it’s a bit smoky, and successfully building a fire that keeps you warm all night feels like a far greater achievement than anything you could be paid to do.

Day Two. 

I warned you about the countryside in my last post. Strange entertainment is to be had there. We spent the afternoon with a few of Tom’s old school-friends, in… wait for it… the Lancaster Antiques Warehouse. I’ll write a post at some point about the dos and don’ts of shopping for antiques/ tat, but this place is a whole experience in itself. There are so many rooms filled with dusty items for purchase that it is fully possible to get lost, and the objects available are… indescribable. I’ve included ten examples below, just to give you a taster of the wonders and delights you can unearth.

Object No. 1: a chewbacca rucksack.

Object No. 2: A peacock fireguard, incomprehensible when not splayed. Whole minutes of fun possible.

Object no. 3: a sexy, red leather chair. (Matching coat model’s own, now on sale from Really Wild Clothing, dress French Connection, cardigan Karen Millen, shoes from M&S. )

Object no. 4: an oak… bucket. Modelled by Tom.

Object no. 5: clothes perfect for a night out on the town, modelled by – a delighted – Dave and Chris. I came around the corner and discovered them literally tearing these on in glee.

Objects No. 6, 7 and 8: a full-length white fur coat, (broken) wooden tribal spear, and a porcelain cat with freaky eyes (we bought the cat).

Object no. 9: Tom found a pimp coat, lined in tangerine satin. And some second-hand (third-hand?) children’s toys.

Object no. 10: my favourite find. A submarine uniform cap.

All in all, we had a wonderful weekend, and were very sad to return to London.

You might also like:

NG tadpoles   the young ones   gift boxes for students

Hunting Tadpoles

Hunt-ing – (noun) The activity of hunting wild animals or game, especially for food or sport.

Right, yes, so I know tadpoles aren’t exactly big game. They’re not that hard to find, or catch… they don’t seem to be the brightest. Just so we’re clear, I didn’t go out armed with a blunderbuss, dropping dynamite into the ditches. Nevertheless, a-hunting I did go.

Tadpoles are brilliant. Aren’t they? Little muddy pearls flecked with gold, wriggling through ponds and ditches, puddles and streams. Jet beads like gleaming pinheads stare at you impassively, before a flick and a wiggle of that elegant crest of tail sends them off to gulp down water fleas, or nibble pondweed from the rocks. Then, they start to get bigger. Braver. More belligerent. The bruisers of the garden pond. Before long they’ve sprouted legs and are contemplating the concept of sub-aquaticism, pushing their little bodies further out of the water and peering above its surface. Then… BANG. Mini frogs! The size of your fingernail, bouncing all over the place.

Two frogs, alike in dignity.

I didn’t really encounter many frogs when I was a child, until I moved to the UK, so my formative impressions were derived from fairy stories. Tales of witches, hobgoblins, and talking animals. There was something dark and primal about where frogs and toads dwelt, and the particular breed of magic they possessed. Holes full of ancient  bones and precious stones deep beneath the ground, and shadowy underwater forests full of hidden, watching eyes. I still get excited when I come across one.

Toby and the Goblins

Me, as a baby.

(Not really. The above is titled Toby and The Goblins, and is by Brian Froud  – art work for Labyrinth, Jim Henson’s amazing 1980s film starring David Bowie. I could happily live in Brian Froud’s imagination.)

panslabyrinth

Me, as a young girl.

(Again, lies. This is a still from the 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth, showing Ofelia searching for toads.)

Even when I was a teenager I’d sometimes catch a few tadpoles, and put them in an old aquarium so I could observe them (if anyone thinks that’s odd then learn ye this lesson: things are different in the countryside. People do strange things to keep themselves entertained. Very strange things). This leads me to my most recent activities. I have purchased a fish-bowl, filled it with rocks and water-weed, and am READY. Fish-bowls are unpleasant for fish, but their spherical form is rather captivating, so I’ve created a safe, predator-free little Narnia for my adoptive babies. I mean tadpoles.

The water has to be fresh (chlorine kills them, so tap-water is a no), so I’ve let it stand for a few days to allow the chlorine to evaporate. When I need to do water changes to refresh it I’ll  use spring water (Evian – these tadpoles are going to be living a life of luxury). I filled it with rocks so they’d have somewhere to hide, and to give them a platform to crawl out onto when they frog. It’s also full of weed (purchased from Amazon. No joke – it came in the post) from which tiny water snails have appeared. I’ll only be keeping a few, to ensure as many as possible survive, and as soon as they turn into frogs I’ll release them near a pond, but it’s going to be a good couple of months.

This is my pond. I may live in a flat three flights of stairs up, in London, in which I am not allowed pets, but damn it I’m a rebel. You’re looking in the bowl aren’t you… look more carefully, as… they’re not in there yet. They’re on a train with me currently, my little Northern beauties, and I can’t wait to put them in their new home. I’m probably the only person on the national rail network currently transporting frogspawn in a big jar (at least, I sort of hope so). I’ll keep you updated!

Is anyone else looking after tadpoles or do you all think I’m completely mad? Let me know.

 

You might also like:

      

A Lazy London Sunday

The Best Park in London, and Mike Tyson Snogging a Pigeon.

I’ve recently forced myself to have weekends off work, rather than just working-away every day like a horrid little business-beaver. Oh MY has this been a revelation! It took me a month or so to get used to it; for the panic attacks to stop when I hadn’t checked my emails for over two hours (I know, I need help), but finally I’ve learn how to forget about work three days per week (self employment = set the length of your weekends. This makes up for the 70-100+hrs of work I have to do per week in the lead-up to exams).

Tom and I will often visit friends or our respective parents’ houses in the countryside at weekends, to ensure that we don’t miss it too much (it’s a bit like suffering from a vitamin or mineral deficiency otherwise. The sort that makes you go mad.) However, now that we’ve managed to trick ourselves into thinking that London doesn’t have to be equated with work, we’ve started spending the odd weekend here. Tom will often disappear and do man-things with his manly mates, but I’ve got a few favourite routines I tend to follow (yes, like a grandma).

Last Sunday, I spent with my lovely friend Kaysea. We met in our first year at university, nearly eight years ago now, and found ourselves repeatedly bumping into each other on the same courses (Renaissance Literature/ Shakespeare/ Tudor Drama/ Early Modern Social Processes… there may be a theme emerging here…). She’s one of the smartest and possibly the nicest person I know so, despite the fact that she always seems to be busy helping people, I’ve managed to shoe-horn myself into her life.

We met at Green Park station, and grabbed a couple of caramel macchiatos (elixir of the gods) and lunch to eat on the hoof. A quick if momentarily-alarming trot across the road, and we stepped into heaven. Otherwise known as Green Park. Despite being relatively small, this is one of my favourite London parks. In summer it always seems more lush and… greener… somehow (this may be because of the name. I am easily influenced). A verdant canopy of plane trees stretches across wide, peaceful avenues, the Doric pillars of their trunks measuring out your progress as you wander down towards Buckingham Palace. Perhaps because it is smaller than Hyde or Regent’s Park, it feels more intimate; as if you are exploring someone’s garden rather than an open public-space.

I usually head South to The Mall (big noisy road, on TV a lot, you can’t miss it), and cross into St James’ Park. This is always a lot busier than Green Park, given its proximity to the Palace and other tourist spots, but it makes up for it by being absolutely full of birds. Ducks, swans, coots, geese, pelicans, gulls, pigeons, fancy ducks… I like to imagine this is where the aristocracy of the avian world hang out.

We found an empty bench to have our lunch and engage in serious, philosophical discussion about clothes and that. A pigeon landed in front of us, and out of habit I bowled it a scrap of crust. At which point all the pigeons in the WORLD appeared from nowhere, cooing Ride of the Valkyries (this may not have actually happened). I happen to love pigeons. I find them utterly hilarious, and will happily spend hours luring them closer or providing an interpretation of their dialogue, Creature Comforts style. Usually in a French or gangsta accent.  (That’s normal, right?)

This rather forward chap came over and literally took the food out of my hands (yes I know, germs and diseases, blah blah. What doesn’t kill you…)

Once the goose had finished my lunch he stalked off (he wasn’t too impressed with pesto and roasted Mediterranean vegetables anyway), so we took this as our cue to head off as well. We headed West around the corner of the lake, then followed its winding bank East. When the weather allows I’d always prefer to walk and talk rather than sit in a cafe. It seems to make a conversation so much more memorable, as if you’re writing your words onto the landscape.

Cherry blossom finally hinting that Spring has arrived

Mike Tyson loves pigeons too, whilst we’re talking about pigeons. An incident in which an older boy murdered one of his pigeons seems to have been the inspiration for his illustrious career: “I don’t know what possessed me to fight, but it was my first fight and I kicked the living crap out of him… When I started hitting him, I was loving it.” Tyson for sexy pigeons’ rights y’all. (Seriously, I’m actually not making this up)

Tyson and pigeon

Source

Anyway. If you follow the southern length of the St James’ Park lake, you’ll naturally exit onto Horse Guards Road. Cross, and go straight ahead, and you’ll find yourself on King Charles’ Street, flanked by the Treasury on one side and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the other. Probably as a result of not being a native Londoner, I’m always captivated by the sense of walking through history that the city gives you. The ghosts of the past seem to walk the streets alongside you, and I’ll often find myself looking out for Virginia Woolf hunting down lead pencils, or William Blake wandering the charter’d streets.

Turn left at the end of King Charles’ Street, and you can walk North up Parliament Street then Whitehall until you reach the great bronze lions of Trafalgar Square. We stopped briefly to pretend to be tourists, as an excuse to get close to this handsome lad. All 18hh of him.

I couldn’t stop myself laughing every time he did this to real tourists posing for photos, who would scream and literally throw themselves away from him.

Just to the right of Trafalgar Square is St Martin in the Fields Church (it was originally surrounded by fields, obvs). The earliest record of a church existing here is from the early 13th century, though the original was torn down and rebuilt in its current guise in the early 18th century. The stone steps provide a lovely vantage point for people-watching, and for catching the afternoon sun.

After a while we decided to head inside to the cafe, but spotted a chamber orchestra mid-rehearsal in the church, so tiptoed in and hid ourselves on a pew near the back. It’s a beautiful building, and there are often evening concerts and recitals, as well as free lunchtime concerts for anyone who cares to find their way inside. It’s especially magical when unexpected, and feels like you’ve stumbled across something secret and inimitable.

We eventually dragged ourselves away, and headed down into the crypt. The cafe in the crypt, to be precise. It’s a fascinating space, open 8am-8pm most days. Historic tombstones stretch beneath your feet, and vaulted brick arches loom above you, yet it never feels dark or claustrophobic. They’re also opening a new al fresco cafe in May, which I’ll definitely be checking out once the weather allows.

Does anyone else have a favourite London-Sunday routine? I’m always looking for ideas!

You might also like:

Arts Club entrance   IMG-20130324-00038   P1070424

London’s Private Clubs

Or, Where’s That F***ing Books Post You Promised Us?

WordPress does a great thing. It shows you statistics. How many people have visited your blog each day, and how many page ‘views’ you’ve had. Even their country of origin, and your most popular posts and topics. Through these wondrous statistics, that every new blogger pores over, intrigued and enraptured, I’ve discovered that my second most popular topic is Books. ‘Well duh, Jade’, I hear you say, rolling your eyes and huffing in irritation at the opacity of my tiny mouse-brain. ‘Everyone likes books’. I know they do, I know, but the reason this is of note is because I haven’t actually written about books yet, not a specific ‘BOOKS’ post anyway, so this suggests that everyone who clicks on my blog is going straight to the ‘Books’ page I’ve created. Only to be disappointed, horrified and disgusted at my lack of posts about books, I presume. Sorry! Sorry, everyone. Sorry.

I would quite happily read a book a day if I had the time, frowning (I frown when I concentrate) myopically (I actually have very good vision, but like the idea of going blind from reading too much) at crumbling pages. However, I have a job, two jobs in fact, and a fiancé,  and a wedding to plan, and a novel to write, and now a blog! All of which takes up a lot of time. Writing a blog puts your lifestyle choices under greater scrutiny though, so I’m going to use its existence as an excuse to be a better person (read more books. Same thing, right?)

book cover

At the moment I’m reading The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London, by Anthony Lejeune. Partly out of curiosity, partly as research for the novel I’m writing, but also partly because it has nice short chapters with lots of pictures to dip in and out of. It’s a beautiful book, full of photos and anecdotes from history and literature. The history and background of each club is outlined (though their inception rarely strays from a gang of tweed-clad moustaches deciding to start a club for all the bishops/ writers/ army generals/ gluttons/ spies/ delete-as-appropriate  they happen to know), but as much attention is paid to the individual atmosphere and identity of each institution. The most well known are probably The Athenaeum, Boodle’s, Brook’s, The Carlton Club, The East India Club, and White’s, but there’s also The Arts Club, The Beefsteak Club, The Farmer’s Club, The Traveller’s Club, and so on and so forth.  A horde of other private clubs like Shoreditch House also exist, though they rarely require sponsors so are both more inclusive and more hazardous. The Establishment is less important here than money and a recognisable face.

athenaeum

Source

The gentlemen’s clubs of Lejeune’s book are intended to be a home from home, where you can visit or stay and be looked after; sort of a cross between a hotel and a (fancy) home. They’re expensive, membership fees typically ranging from £700-£1200 per annum, and exclusive, as two existing members usually have to sponsor your application. Beautiful architecture, beautiful decor, and a guest list from Who’s Who characterise most. Oil paintings, antique wooden furniture, plush carpets and a swish staircase are essential. Most are located in St James’s, or ‘clubland’ as it’s often referred to (really, I’m not making this up), near Green Park tube station.

reform

Source

I’m not a member of any of these clubs but I have friends who are, and have dated ‘gentlemen’ (a loose term, in some cases) who were club members. Everyone revels in being allowed where others are not. It’s exciting, and intriguing. You feel as if you’re being let in on a secret; as if you may just fall down a rabbit hole or into a painting. Stepping through an unmarked (if not entirely secret) door, whether it leads to a bar, party or a private club, always makes what’s on the other side of the door that bit more thrilling. Some clubs are more relaxed, and allow guests to find their hosts, whilst others have polite doormen guarding the entrance, who will escort you to where you are expected. I prefer the former tactic, as it sets you at ease and feels more welcoming, creating a more pleasant atmosphere. Then again, it, er, would be easy to take advantage of such a lack of austerity!

Arts Club entrance

Source

My curious friends suspect private clubs of bearing witness to various shenanigans, but, sadly, I’m unable to substantiate most of the (lurid, I think is accurate) fantasies they propose. The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London does evoke certain… incidents… from the past. Evelyn Waugh’s “unseemly fracas” when a servant failed to hail him a taxi, and Lord Glasgow throwing a waiter through the window of his club (a brusque “put him on the bill” from Lord Glasgow closed the episode). Nothing salacious from the present is rendered by Lejeune though, so you’ll have to rely on your wicked imaginations instead.

It’s an interesting book, beautifully illustrated with photos and anecdotes. As a veteran club member himself, however, Lejeune isn’t giving any secrets away!

You might also like:

gift boxes for students   Landmark - The Fields of Photography main   the young ones

 

The Sexy Slipper Orchid

A very brief post today. Spring may as yet be absent, but it has sprung in my flat. Since the photos I posted last week, this beauty has flowered.

Its correct name is Paphiopedilum, which sounds like a whole bag of wickedness doesn’t it. I’ve had this orchid for two years, and has it flowered once until now? Has it hell. Instead, it seems to have spent its time reproducing… sort of… as it has duplicated, and I’m looking forward to having two of these hypnotising blooms staring at me over my breakfast cereal for a while.

You might also like:

Press 2   thelwell 1

Horsing Around

Am I imagining it, or did spring finally peek out at us last weekend? To celebrate the (slightly) warmer weather and much hoped for sunshine, I went for a hack in the countryside with an old school-friend.

Everyone I meet who doesn’t ride assumes that it is for ‘posh’ people who breakfast on swan, spend their days riding down commoners, then return home to sleep atop a vast mound of treasure like Smaug (voiced, incidentally, by the mouthpiece of the upper-middle classes, Benedict Cumberbatch). After eighteen years of riding at different stables and privately with friends, I can promise you that this isn’t the case. I’ve come across a few swanky establishments, where the yards are spotless, the equipment flashy and modern, and the horses worth a lot more than I reckon I would be if you put me up for sale. They’re professional, but they’re definitely not a typical model, and they don’t suit me. I grew up reading stories about old-fashioned, run-down stables, scruffy ponies who tried to kill you, hard work, sweat, mud and tears. It sounded like heaven to me.

A Hoof In The Door       Jill And The Perfect Pony       Blackbirds At The Gallop

Just look how much fun this lot are having! Three great books above.

The best pony-stories were written in the 1940s and 50s, when you could keep horses in gardens, and take them on adventures, and people with lots of money from fancy stables were spoilt and hateful (and always got their comeuppance). I was lucky enough to get a good technical grounding (riding round and round and round in circles surprisingly paid off), combined with a lot of private experience riding on my own or with friends. I’ve ridden horses through rivers and houses, cross country and in the show ring. Although I’ve fallen off literally hundreds of  times (being dumped on my arse in nettles more often than not) I’ve got a knack for coping with naughty ponies. Bucking, rearing, bolting, scared of traffic, scared of cows; no problem. My school-friends and I used the refer to my old pony as The Creature, because he was very good at throwing people off. If he knew his way home he’d also leave you where you landed. Ours was a tempestuous relationship. thelwell 1 thelwell 2 Thelwell 3

Thelwell 4

The above images are all by Thelwell, and if any of you are riders I can guarantee you’ll at least be smiling right now. They’re supposed to be satirical; but they look pretty accurate to me. This is what horse-riding is like, and it’s the best. It can be exhilarating and exciting, peaceful and therapeutic. Horses are beautiful animals, and looking after them is a joy, but galloping so fast the wind brings tears to your eyes, knowing there’s no way on earth you’re going to be able to stop until you run out of grass, or meandering through woodlands and across fields at dawn or as the sun sets, are pleasures beyond compare.

Riding in London is very expensive, though owning your own horse is a lot more so (unless you keep it in the field next to your house and are given it for free because it bucks everyone else off onto electric fencing. Ahem. Then it proves to be a lot cheaper). Luckily for me, my lovely friend Hannah lives in London, and (most importantly) she knows where horses are to be found. She picked me up from Stanmore tube station, right at the end of the Jubilee line. I was standing outside the station, feeling slightly self-conscious in my beige jodhpurs and leather riding boots as spotty youths stared at me, clearly perplexed, when I got a text saying: “I’m out the front, in a red postal van”. This was… unexpected… but what a sexy little van it is! Who needs a sports-car when you can have an ex-postal van?

Postal Van

This is not Hannah’s van, but it is what it looked like in my head (source)

We arrived at the strangely quiet stables (later discovering that everyone else had spent the last four hours trying – and failing – to persuade a horse to load onto a trailer) and it was perfect. I don’t know if the smell of a yard or stables can be universally appreciated, or if it simply evokes happy childhood memories for those who grew up riding, but to me it smells wonderful. The combination of hay, leather tack, mud, horses, oats and fresh air produces a sweet, earthy bouquet, that instantly makes me feel at home wherever  I am. It would surely sell very well if it were bottled.

I don’t have any photos of us riding, because we were riding, but took a few on a brief (and very necessary) er, pit stop.

To the pub!

Samson and I on the left, Hannah and Padraig on the right. Rocking the sexy reflective gear.

Me trying – and failing – to compete with Samson’s forelock.

I admit that riding in the rain or the freezing cold is not much fun but, fingers crossed, spring has finally remembered that it has a job to do, and we’ll be getting some warmer weather soon. If it does, the best way to explore the countryside is on horseback.

Does anyone else ride in or near London? I’d be very interested to hear of your experiences!

10 Ways to Go From Student Digs to Living Like a Real Person.

 

the young ones

1)  Keep houseplants.

My family have always brought plants inside, even when we were surrounded by the Australian bush, Pacific jungle, and British countryside. The idea of living in the city without at least a few house plants therefore seems like a living death to me, and guests are always drawn to them (former flatmates have not been, but if the plants go I go, so they’ve had to lump it). That said, I don’t really have the faintest clue how to look after them aside from each plants’ light and water preferences (by that I mean quantity and regularity of water; I’m not discerning between tap, bottled and carbonated), and this is more a trial and error process. I feel slightly guilty throwing a dead plant away, but my plants need to fend for themselves.

Orchids flower for ages, and are otherwise easy to care for aside from a few nonsensical rules (they like to be in clear plastic pots, and to be watered ‘from beneath’. Which sounds like some sort of weird fetish I know. I don’t like clear plastic pots though, and have better things to do than stick them in the bath every week, so my orchids just have to make do. They punish me for my lack of care by refusing to flower regularly, but they do so grudgingly every couple of years which is sufficient to save them from the rubbish bin).

Spiderplants are great as they are easy to look after, and can recover quickly from the occasional drought. For something a bit more impressive, Rubber-plants can get big if you look after them properly, and need very little maintenance.

Ferns are also lovely but need the right level of shade/ light, and struggle to recover from dry spells (when, er, someone forgets to water them for a while).

raptor

They also attract these, so beware.

 2)      Hang framed pictures on your walls, rather than blu-tacking posters to them.

The transience of posters does not shout out Grown Up, which is sort of what you’re after from a home rather than a den. Or squat. Landlords hate blu-tack, but are surprisingly amenable to picture hooks. I always ask estate agents if we can hang pictures, and they always say yes. Even if your landlord wanted their walls pristine, the agent’s acquiescence cannot be reneged upon. Buy second-hand picture frames in antique shops, or have frames made for specific pieces if this proves difficult, and even postcards and posters are turned into a piece of Art worthy of Display. Hang pictures that inspire you, or that have a story behind them.

Both the above frames were bought second hand, and are framing ephemera finds (the top is a printed sketch of Disraeli, whose manor house I used to look after when I worked for the National Trust, and below that is a programme for an 1883 Smoking Concert at the Vaudeville Club. I don’t know what a smoking concert is, but I’d like to.)

The above poster we bought from the Imperial War Museum, and the frame – for once – I had made specifically for it.

On the left is a very old photo of my great grandfather, sitting on the steps of their house in British Guayana (as it was then known), surrounded by his beloved family dogs. On the right is a 17th century legal document written on vellum – another ephemera fair find.

Gorgeous second-hand frame above  from an antiques warehouse near Lancaster, framing a postcard of Vita Sackville-West’s desk in her writing tower at Sissinghurst.

3)  Lots of mirrors.

Don’t go crazy; you’re not trying to recreate a fun-fair, but large expanses of wall were made for large mirrors. Even cheap mirrors bring light into a room and make it seem bigger (this is an optical illusion. Otherwise known as magic), but antique/ vintage/ skip finds are even more impressive. When I first met Tom he and two friends were living in a ground floor flat near a school, so the curtains were permanently drawn and we were plunged into a perpetual, squalid gloom. Mirrors would have helped (that’s a lie, nothing would have helped, but it’s the thought that counts).

4) Avoid clutter.

Hide all your crap, or throw it away. Clothes go in wardrobes, books on shelves, papers in folders, and nearly everything else in boxes, chests or drawers. The things you keep out are on display; they should be aesthetically pleasing and/or meaningful. I admit that I like clutter, but I’ve learnt to hide anything utilitarian, or to keep it inside something else. The hardest thing for a hoarder or collector like me is to throw things away or resist putting them on shelves, windowsills etc, but I have learnt to do so (sort of. It’s a learning process, alright).

5) Buy fresh flowers.

I know they’re an unnecessary expense when you’re on a student budget or trying to save your pennies, but everyone enjoys fresh flowers. They bring colour and life into a room, and you can often get them cheaply from supermarkets (not Waitrose. Go to Waitrose for nice flowers, not for cheap ones), or if you time a market-trip right and are able to appear as they’re closing up and desperate to get rid of stock. Single stems can also be displayed in bottles or jars, and spread around a room or house, making a single bunch of flowers go a lot further. (If you’re single, or ‘courting’ as my gran would say, displaying flowers given to you by a different boy –the different boy doesn’t have to exist. Just so we’re clear – is also an effective way to inspire further acts of generosity and chivalry).


6)  Collate and display books, music and films.

A single pile of books or a bag full of cds and dvds is what children have. If you’re sharing a house, buy bookcases from Argos and display all your books etc together in a shared living space.  It’s a lot more impressive, pleasing to observe, and wonderful to be able to share your collections. If you’re worried about reclaiming books when you eventually go your separate ways, buy a cheap stamp and inkpad, and brand the inside cover of your own tomes.

Lots-of-books

This is not quite what I have in mind (reblogged from here)

books

This is more like my flat, but again, not exactly what I was going for (reblogged from here)

7) Buy antique/ vintage/ second hand furniture.

Furniture is more interesting if it’s a bit battered, as it has a history to it. ‘Antique shops’ are often more like second-hand shops in terms of price, and car-boot-sales are great for finding a bargain. A family friend once picked up a ‘door-stop’ for a pound at a car-boot-sale. The doorstop happened to be a medieval stirrup, valued (once he’d got it home) at several thousands of pounds.  I’ve never been that lucky, but I’ve often found valuable and/or beautiful antiques that cost a lot less (than they look like they should) by being slightly (often imperceptibly) damaged.

I found this carved wooden coffee-table in an antique shop, and after some hard-core haggling (I said what I wanted to pay, she agreed) I got it for £45. A lot better than Ikea.

8) Paint the walls, and get new curtains or blinds.

You can ask that landlords have this done for you, but if they refuse they’ll usually be quite happy for you to do it yourself. Neutral colours will obviously be preferred, but if you want something more interesting (and you’re paying) you may as well ask. I’ve lived in so many rented houses with old, tatty, ugly curtains, moving up a price bracket (when I got a job and became a person) made me realise what a difference changing these would have made. Even if you can’t replace them, taking them down and hiding them is better than staring at tattered swathes of antiquated fabric covered in wax and suspicious stains.

9) Put things in jars rather than leaving them in boxes/ packets.

I learnt this trick from my mother, who has a knack for creating beautiful houses (we’ve moved house a lot). Cereal boxes and packets of pasta for example are not designed for display, but to grab our attention in a supermarket. Is your flat a supermarket? I hope not. HOWEVER. Storing cereals, rice, pasta, lentils, sweets etc in matching glass jars and throwing their cheap, tawdry casing in the bin makes an art installation out of food.

10) Finally, keep it clean.

This is the bug-bear of any naturally clean and tidy person. Leaving the washing up rotting in the sink/ all over the kitchen units is just nasty. DUST, for the love of God. Dust largely consists of human skin – get rid of it. My lovely fiancé once declared that a flat we shared was ‘a real dust-trap’. My query ‘have you ever dusted it?’ was met with confusion. Boys do not dust, I have learnt. Hang clothes up, vacuum regularly… Don’t bother with a cleaning rota, just assign each other different jobs. I hate cleaning the bathroom, but I hate taking the rubbish out more, so by taking on the bathroom-cleaner mantle I get to bully Tom into taking out the rubbish and doing the washing up.  Winning.

Does anyone else have any tips/ flat-sharing nightmares? Expressing them is cathartic, I promise.