A middle class a-fair

Bank holidays are usually bittersweet for me; a long weekend in which you are supposed to chill, but if you are like me the pressure to Do Something Worthy gnaws away at any time not spent in pursuit of merriment or at least spring cleaning.

We were supposed to be camping this week, but our regular inspection of the BBC 5 day forecast has forced us to concede defeat. I make no bones about being a fair weather camper. Roughing it in a field with portaloos and two young kids (4 if you count the family we were supposed to be going with) is just about bearable, verging on fun when you have glorious weather and copious amounts of alcohol. In 22 MPH winds, Baltic temperatures and rain it is about as appealing as attending the UKIP party conference.

As a salve to the wounds of disappointment we decided to camp out in the garden night before last. All the benefits of camping, sleeping under canvas (well, some kind of nylon material anyway), fresh air, without the hassle of packing up the car and using chemical toilets. But er, we still had to put up the tent, which fit with inches to spare…

20130528-105343.jpgIt was good fun, though by 10.30pm when the kids were still awake it was hard to resist the temptation to pack up and chuck the kids back in their rooms. But we stuck it out, you know, coz we’re hardcore.

The bank holiday Monday was spent at the achingly middle class Suffolk Street Fair. It’s events like this that make me oscillate between contempt and intense life envy. The Suffolks are a slightly Bohemian, vair middle class area of an already quite middle class town. The fair consists of stalls from lots of local businesses; a mixture of art and craft, poncey food, and car boot sale tat with “vintage” prices.

We met some of our friends at the fair, with possibly cuter kids than ours – certainly more well dressed than our dress-refusnik girls!

Kids at the street fair
Consulting map apparently. Actually a leaflet on organic locally produced sausages.

Every year DH and I wander round and wish we could casually pick up a locally designed art print or a £50 distressed wire magazine rack, while at the same time scoffing at the “saw you coming” street sellers. See that is the fundamental (and really the only difference between us and the rest of these hipsters, most of them are richer than us. Our part time public sector salaries and lack of period property are the only things that stop us from becoming Guardianista cliches, and means that we get to play the boy who points out that the Emperor is wearing no clothes, and that the shabby chic piece of driftwood hanging from a bit of twine is, well, just a piece of driftwood. Don’t get me wrong, we want to buy the driftwood, we just can’t afford it.

Man selling beer
£4 for a can of larger? Saw you coming…

There is always good food at the fair. It was difficult to chose between the five vegetable tagine, the falafel and fresh pita bread, or Thai noodle. The spicy noodles won out, as they do every year. I wish I knew what spices they used as they were delicious, even if they did cost £4.50.

The sun was shining, and the jazz band was playing. One of the joys of having young kids is never being without a dance partner. It was just Betty and I throwing some moves, but I didn’t care.

Betty and I dancing in the street
Dancing in the street
Punch and Judy
Beating with a stick – that’s the way to do it!

A Punch and Judy show kept the kids bizarrely enthralled, in the way only the iPad usually does. Well, what child can resist watching a scary wooden puppet, with the bulbous nose of the inebrient, whack a dog with a wooden stick and get whacked in return. The children cackled with laughter at 50 Shades of Candy Stripes while cringing lentil weaver parents shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, clutching their recently purchased organic olive oil and wondering how to explain away the gratuitous violence to their kids later. We didn’t stay to find out the fate of Judy.

We dragged the kids away from the bunting clad street, stopping at the fab charity book shop on the Bath Road. Betty chose six Enid Blyton books (she is undoubtedly her mother’s daughter) – ‘vintage’ as per the order of the day, although as DH found out later when he read them, vintage books tend to come with vintage attitudes to race, women, foreigners, poor people, and basically anyone who doesn’t own an island. I. however, found some light bedtime reading, which I can guarantee contains no black people called Sooty…

Statistics without maths book
It says without maths – that’s go to be good right?

All in all a pleasant day. And while we traipsed along the street fair fantasising about owning one of the Regency townhouses, with wooden shutters and shabby chic decor, it wasn’t unhappily that we returned to our rented little new build terrace, with laminate floors and magnolia walls, just with realism, and the feeling of familiarity. We can’t pull off vintage anyway.


Sweet charity


I’ve been on a bit of a charity shop binge this week. I went away over night for a bit of father-daughter bonding, which was mostly spent eating, drinking and mooching around charity shops. I love shopping in charity shops, but I am not brilliant at it. I don’t have that keen eye for potential, nor an ability to get away with tat in my house! And when it comes to clothes, I wish I was one of those sorts of people who can just whip up an outfit from other people’s cast offs, but I am really just too conventional. Invariably I pick things up and think ooh, I quite like that, then look at the label and find it’s Marks and Spencer’s ::shudder:: I know I listen to the Archers (religiously) and crochet and stuff, but I’m not there yet!

Today, with another day of summer holidays looming, with no holiday and no discernible plans I decided to stop moping (we’ve all been ill this week) and take the kids to the local city farm and to the Emmaus “superstore” nearby. The kids were predictably unimpressed by the animals, which was a shame, as Gloucester City Farm is a little haven in the middle of urban detritus.

Spectacularly underwhelmed by the cute ducks and chickens

They were much more impressed by the warehouse sized Emmaus charity shop and ransacked the toy corner then amused themselves on the many sofas (naicely of course!). Meanwhile I roved around the place casting a beady out for charity shop gold.

Now here’s the thing about charity shops, and thrift shopping in general: it’s a long game. I’ve posted about it before. I was enjoying reading Bazaar Style from the library yesterday, and it was full of flea market finds, and “…this Chesterfield sofa that the owner found in a skip and reupholstered…”. Now I don’t know where the people featured in these books live but it certainly isn’t here. Oh, there was furniture outside people’s houses as we walked to the City Farm, but ain’t none of it Chesterfield.

The other thing about these books is all the re-purposed and handmade items look great in Swedish apartments, New York studios and British period properties. But they don’t look quite at chic in a bijou, boxy new build, so new the postcode won’t even work in sat navs. No-one is writing Barratt Home Chic. Maybe because new builds will never be chic, but, well, beggars can’t be choosers and I bet my heating bills are peanuts compared to those drafty, run-down God I want one period properties.

20120811-195546.jpgI uhmed and ahhed over this sugar bowl, I mean, I don’t even use sugar unless I’m baking (and I have at least four different kinds for that). Does anyone still take sure in their tea or has it gone the way of smoking. Certainly no-one I regularly have over does. But, those ladies at Bazaar chic weren’t ones to question the functionality of something so pretty and neither was I. I liked the mug too. You can never have too many mugs.20120811-195556.jpg

20120811-195604.jpgThis top and shoes were from my trip away with my dad. My dad set me a challenge to just buy at least one thing after spending 2 days traipsing around all the charity shops Derby has to offer and coming out empty handed, save for a few Enid Blyton books, which Betty will no doubt eschew in favour of Horrid Henry or the next installment of Captain Flynn and the Pirate Dinosaurs. The top is from Uttam, and it even had the tags still on, so reduced from about £35 to a bargainous £2.50. In the next charity shop I saw these shoes which were a perfectly complementary shade of teal. “Let them be my size” I begged to the Goddess of shopping, and lo, they were my size. At £9 they were pricier than I would expect to pay but they are Monsoon and real leather. Now I had myself an outfit!


These lovely shoes bought for a mere pound more than made up for my £9 frivolity earlier in the week. You can never have too many pairs of black shoes, right?

20120811-195644.jpgI have no idea what I am going to do with this pillow case, but with Bazaar Chic that doesn’t matter, you should buy something because you like it. And because it costs 50p.





This print is by John Strevens. No, I’ve never heard of him either, I just liked it.

So, today’s haul (nearly all) pictured above (except for the teal top and shoes), also included a Tom Wolfe top for DH, a Guess Who knock off game for Betty, a pretty tiger print for Iris’s room (it’s about time we made it into “her” room, rather than the “spare” room, which isn’t actually going to be spare until she sleeps better and can go in with Betty), a joke book for Betty (so she can stop telling jokes like “Why did the cow cross the road? Because he had a sock on his head”), some dominoes (more on those soon…) and a couple of compulsory teddies for the girls who actually behaved beautifully. The grand total: TEN WHOLE POUNDS! Actually, it was £8.75, but I needed to spend £10 to put it on my card. “If it doesn’t come to ten pounds just make it ten anyway” I said benevolently to the girl totting it all up. I could have found some more tat to fill my bag, but the girls were coming to the end of their patience and I was losing perspective over whether a carved soap stone owl was Bazaar Chic or just plain rubbish, so I quit while I was ahead. In fairness we also took a bag of our own stuff to the charity shop, so we about broke even on the decluttering front.

So remember, charity shops, play the long game. Kiss a few frogs to find that Prince. Well, you know what I mean, if frogs were commemorative plates from Lanzarote, and the Prince a Diane Von Fustenburg wrap dress. That you display artfully on your wall with your other designer togs. It’s Bazaar Chic doncha know?


Anyone else read books, magazines, blogs, about people finding darling item at thrift stores and flee markets and transforming them into wonderful object d’art and wonder how they manage it, when all you can find in your local charity shop are Primark clothes priced at more than they originally cost, and paintings of West Highland Terriers?

I think there are a few key aspects to successful charity shop shopping.


The first is you have to have a vision for potential. You have to be able to look at something that, when surrounded by willow patterned tea sets, cut glass knick knacks and football memorabilia, looks pretty naffola, and imagine it fitting perfectly in your country farm house kitchen. Try to think about how your find when you’ve given it a clean, lick of paint, or distressed finished.

Location, location, location

Certain items, when placed in the shelved alcoves of a spacious Victorian house, will look vintage/retro/shabby chic/homespun (delete as appropriate). But when placed on an Ikea shelf in a boxy new build will look like you’ve been raiding your parent’s attic; or in a 70’s house, will look like you just haven’t thrown anything away for 30 years. That’s not to say that you can’t do the thrifted look in a modern property but you have to be sympathetic to your surroundings and the rest of your possessions.

Do it with confidence

You may not have a beautifully restored Victorian property, and you may not wear vintage clothing (it’s hard to pull off delicate tea dresses when you’re built like a tea pot), but sometimes you just need to just wear or display your charity shop finds with confidence. Mix it up a little, adding vintage or vintage inspired accessories to simple outfits works well, but don’t go overboard, you don’t want to look like an extra from the House of Elliott. Plus, dedicating your whole life and wardrobe to a different era, is in my opinion, a little bit sad, and sometimes oppressive. Vintage/retro/homespun is very fashionable right now, and no longer unconventional. Retro blogs are ten a penny and technicolor Instagram photos have become clichéd. Always just buy things you really like and they will work for you. Jump on a bandwagon it will look contrived. Be confident in what you like. For example, I’m very jealous of MeMeRose’s tapestry Irises below



Good charity shop finds require dedication to the cause. You have to keep going, and really root around. This is where I fall down a lot, as I rarely have the time to go charity shop shopping, and am rarely without one of the children, both of whom lose patience fairly quickly (although the good thing about charity shops is that children are easily pacified with an on GI Joe or hideous cuddly toy for 20p!).

I have to admit that for all my good advice, I’m not that great at charity shop shopping myself. Firstly, I live in a boxy new build, where my previously shabby chic furniture (i.e. begged, borrowed and stolen) now just looks a bit, erm, shabby shit! Also, I just don’t always have the Vision that is needed. I just don’t have great taste! However I do often have the confidence to just try things. My husband states his most vivid memory of me before we went out was me in my fake fur coat which I wore at university! I am much more conventional now, especially since I turned 30 *sigh*. I’ve given away my zebra print knee-high boots, the fake fur coat was left in a nightclub (accidentally – but I never got it back). The Laura Ashley velvet trousers which I recently found in a charity shop are much more sensible. But I have recently found a few good finds which I will share (but hopefully in a non-smuggy “oh look, I happened to find vintage Chanel sofa which I quickly reupholstered” kinda way!).

The heart plate at the bottom actually has Flora printed on it underneath (as in the margarine) so it was obviously some give away. Not exactly vintage chic then, but I really liked it, which was the important thing. Inspired by the heart plate, I thought I should also keep it company with the heart-shaped dish. I just really like the way it has been shaped. We’ll probably keep Betty’s hair clips in it.

These vintage kilner jars weren’t actually from a charity shop, but from a woman at my knitting group who’s mother has recently had to go into a care home. She bought a big box of them and said to help ourselves. A lot of the women in the group are vintage fans (and pull it off so much better than I do!). I thought I would take a couple though, and maybe fill one up with origami hearts or something (no, I’m not heart obsessed really! They just look nice).

These vintage circular needles were also free from someone at my knitting group. I can’t knit very well, and that puts me off trying again, but these fab needles may just inspire me.

There is nothing like the satisfaction of finding a gem of a book in a second hand shop

Oh, I just LOVE second hand book shopping! These books were all from a charity book shop. For the measly sum of £5.20 I got Cath Kidston’s ‘Make’; The New Hite Report, a report on femal sexuality by Shere Hite; a random Womanguides Reading Toward a Feminist Theology by Rosemary Radford Ruether; Drina Dances in Exile by Jean Estoril (I was so pleased to find a Drina book in a charity shop, and one I don’t have – they were childhood favourites), and Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I can’t wait to share with my girls. Oh and last week’s copy of the Economist (20p!)!

This teeny tiny picture frame is going to look so cute when I stick a little cross stitch or something in it.

Finally, the piece de resistance, my new coat. My last coat also came from a charity shop, a 100% wool black tailored coat, but since having Iris it’s a little snug…so I was excited when I spotted this electric blue number. Drawn to it like a magpie, I was overjoyed to find it fit perfectly. This is one of those things that can look pretty old-lady-ish if you wear it timidly (you can wear it like me exclaiming to all who will listen “Look, I got it in a charity shop! Isn’t it fab?!”). I thought the label said Jacque Vert, proper old lady shop, but I didn’t care, I’d just wear it it with confidence as I loved it. But that was actually the label for the the shirt underneath. The coat was made by Dereta, which a bit of googling suggests is a department store from the 50s-60s, so it turns out it is real life proper vintage! Funny, since I couldn’t purposely spot a vintage item if it came up and smacked me in the face with a pair of Jackie O sunglasses! Another reason that I should limit my attraction to ‘vintage’ is that I bought this beautiful Merino coat which has been immaculately kept for possibly 50 years, and within two days the baby had smeared food on the collar which I desperately tried to scrub off with a baby wipe…

Remember, just pick stuff that you really like. Vintage just means old, retro just means old-fashioned. It doesn’t always mean good:

See the 25 Vintage Ads That Would Be Banned Today