A delightful little antiques shop called Spirals (after the staircases) opened a couple of years ago, on Castlegate in the small market town of Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. In the beginning people peeped admiringly through the pretty window display into the tasteful ground floor garden room, but few ventured further. Rather oddly, you may think, it has now become a junk shop with no name. And, when you look inside, it's bursting with happy, smiling customers. Visitors are cramming down their ice-creams (Brymors at No.1, across the road), desperate to get in and grab the bargains before someone else does.
What has happened ? The proprietors, Mr and Mrs M, looked at the shop's performance objectively and decided that "pile it high and sell it cheap" was what locals and visitors liked best. So they did.
Just look at these prices!
I'm sure that Mrs M regrets the desecration of her beautiful interiors - the chalk painted furniture and antique garden ornaments are mostly gone - but she throws herself into running the new-style shop with enthusiasm.
A view from the spiral staircase.
New stock arrives daily, with useful pieces of furniture for sale as well as small items. Mr M, as well as now being a junk dealer, is also a fine art specialist and always has a few rarer pieces tucked away for the discerning buyer, so don't forget to look at the shelves behind his desk.
Er, should I be telling you about The Shop With No Name?
Have you encountered them in your garden? Tree bumble bees (Bombus hypnorum) are a good news story in pollinating insect circles. They are new to our shores, first observed in the UK on July 17th in 2001. Unlike some other species they are thriving, spreading fast and they look like this.
Ginger thorax, black abdomen and white tail.
The trouble is, we have a nest of them in an air brick next to the path to all those things in the garden that we have to visit frequently. (Thank goodness we no longer use the outside privy!) As we have learned, the tree bumble bee defends its nest in a very pro-active manner. When disturbed, a posse of very aggressive workers emerges from the air brick and dive-bombs us.
Wikipedia says,"They may well sting unprovoked." Help!
The bees love our pesticide-free cottage garden flowers.
When Mr N returned from his bike ride this afternoon I listed my heroic deeds,
"I've pegged the washing out, put the rubbish in the dustbin, taken delivery of a new compost bin and set it up, cut the grass, trimmed some trees and bushes, filled the garden waste bin, picked some herbs for dinner, brought the washing in, swept the garden paths - all while risking guerrilla bee attacks!"
"Oh, stop whinging," he said, "You just did it for the buzz..."
Last Tuesday we enjoyed a momentous family gathering. Our Antipodean cousins had crossed the world and we had travelled just a few miles east to meet up in York. (The story behind all this excitement can be found here.) They stayed in the historic Dutch House, reputed to be the oldest brick-built house in York. Their son (at present completing a doctorate at Oxford) had organised the accommodation, cleverly providing them with as much experience of the old country as possible. Every few minutes groups of tourists gazed up at their house - they checked out the bricks and we pretended we were invisible.
The Dutch House is a stone's throw (or a brick's lob) from York Minster which proved to be a perfect place for soaking up Olde English culture, whilst getting acquainted with new rellies. Our cousins were buzzing with the excitement of seeing history in three dimensions and so, as always, were we.
For good or ill, the Minster has changed and no longer has a solemn atmosphere - everywhere the ancient is juxtaposed with the positively brand new.
A clever automaton amused us all for just 50p.
"No Mr N, it isn't a UFO that's forgotten it's way home..."
It was in fact a small, glowing chamber where we could get very close to original sections of medieval stained glass, observing detail usually only seen by long-sighted contortionists.
Down in the undercroft we could see the foundations of this huge building. We shivered at the thought of tons of carved Yorkshire limestone (from Tadcaster) balanced above our insignificant human flesh - like frail gnat's bodies beneath a giant's fickle fingers. Thankfully the Minster's fabulous treasures, displayed on clever disembodied hands, diverted our thoughts...
My second favourite old/new combo on the day was this...
...a parade of delicate and disturbing headless saints, made by artist Terry Hammill in 2004, doing semaphore in their high Gothic niches. What could they be saying?
My friend J took me to a different kind of Fair today - no antiques, but oodles of stuff for homes and gardens. The shoppers belonged to quite a small demographic - middle-aged and a bit older, comfortably off, mostly ladies who lunch.
We should have been looking at these...
...and maybe a present for the grandchildren.
But something distracted J - why were there so many blondes around?
I gently explained that there comes a time in these women's lives when they have to choose - little grey mouse or elegant woman who's still got IT (a darker hue would be unthinkable - black smacks of fortune-telling or worse!) Of course dear J was puzzled. She's used to being a rarity - a natural blonde, even now that she's "of a certain age".
J in her natural habitat - and natural hair colour.