A Rescue Dog’s Tale

He looked directly at me when I first saw him, huddled and withdrawn behind the gate, the most beautiful pair of big brown eyes I had ever seen. Slightly greasy fur, black at the end, tan underneath with a fluffy white tummy, legs shorter than they should be for a being of his size, the staff said he was a lovely boy but had had a bad start.  He had come from Liverpool, he had been called Shan and especially enjoyed having his tummy rubbed. That was all we knew. But it was love at first sight and he came home that day.

I sat in the back of the car with him on the way and I couldn’t stop looking at him.  I told him we would always look after him and he’ll be happy and safe now. The door opened, he stepped in trepidatiously, so on edge, unsure what this new life would be, as he inspected every corner of the room.   I remember feeling insubstantial, apologetic; this was the home we were giving him, I hoped it would be enough. He was nervous too, full of unbridled speculative energy, panting, pacing and jumping at every sound I made.  A sneeze made him crash his wide tail around like a propeller, a cough made him cower.

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At first, he refused to leave the house.  For what felt like weeks, he wouldn’t walk.  I would carry him to the end of the road and try to convince him there were great things ‘out there’.  For those early days he was just called ‘this way’ out of unending attempts to coax him towards any particular direction. He was nervous of so many things, I began to construct a narrative around his past.  He objected to men in high-visibility, he hated doorbells, footballs, wide spaces, sudden noises and the taking off of belts.  He was a wild little creature, so watchful, so aware.

After a while we named him Dylan.

It took time but once settled upon, it suited him.

Dylan dog.

After a while he started to trust us.

When I came down in the mornings, or home from work, he would stand up on his back legs to greet me and I would hold his front paws to balance him, like we were dancing together. Gradually, he got braver, venturing to the beach, the crescents, the downs.  He investigated each corner and tuft of grass with such concentration and dedication, it was as if he was trying to understand everything about it.  At the time I was studying counselling and would watch him embody the idea of an ‘authentic being’; something we were all trying to perform, as he responded completely momentarily to any impulse he had.

We got into a rhythm, walking morning and evening through the changing seasons and I became aware of nature for the first time since I was a child. I would notice the first signs of Spring, the last leaves of Autumn, and the point in the year when our walks coincided with both sunrise and sunset in perfect balance.  He would scavenge in the bushes during the summer months, looking for discarded remains of barbecues. He would proudly present his discoveries to me, his most glorious trophy being an uncooked packet of sausages which he pierced with his teeth as I tried to take it from his mouth, leaving sausage meat swirls squeezing themselves up my arm. If he found a dead fish on the beach, he would gleefully rub his back in as much of the flesh as possible and look woeful and confused when I took him home and washed off the stink.

He was indifferent to most dogs and identified early that he was fonder of humans, who were more likely to share their food with him. When my friend brought her dog Lola to visit, we all bought cake and walked across the downs, Lola striding ahead of us chasing cyclists and joggers and Dylan staying back with both eyes on the sponge.

My relationship broke down and I went away for a few months. When I came home, it was just Dylan and I in the house.  I asked a friend to help with walks when I was at work.  She called me on the first day and said she had lost him, that he had run away from her up the downs. She had spent two hours looking for him and had decided to call me when she didn’t know where to look anymore.  I felt total terror. I ran home thinking I wouldn’t see him again.  Just as I got to the front door, the RSPCA called and said they had found ‘Shan’, a woman had seen him on his own and knew somebody must be missing him so had brought him in.  I found him looking forlorn and sad, back where we had started.  I had never been so happy.

 

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After that, I asked a professional dog walker to take him out.  It is with this little pack of his that he learnt to look for water in the crook of tree roots, and he got more confident with other dogs, but I was also told, after several months, that he had discovered a short cut and would just run back to the car and wait there. So, he stared to come to work with me.  By this time, I had changed my hours and had started to rent a shop space on the beach part time.  We had never gone anywhere together other than for ‘walks’ in quiet places.  He had been timid and vigilant, and anywhere with too many people made him pull on his lead until his tongue went blue.  The idea of walking along the seafront to ‘work’ or taking him with me on ordinary ventures seemed like it would be too stressful for him – and me.

But this shift meant a new relationship for us both.  We became complete companions and as I gently pushed the boundaries of his comfort by seeing how he responded to main roads, buses, pubs or friends’ houses, until eventually he came everywhere with me.  He would sleep at the end of the bed and I would poke my head over in the mornings to say hello, and give him a saucer of milk when I made tea.  He would jump up onto the sofa for a cuddle after breakfast and we would have a cuddle before work.  That became my favourite moment of every day.

When I opened the beach shop, we went down every morning, whether it was raining, howling a gale, hailing or sunny.  Some days I wouldn’t see a single soul as we cowered behind the door to shield from wind or sea spray without a customer all day. During the summer months, when the carousel would spin all day, there were buskers, sunbathers, sea swimmers and day trippers coming into the shop in various forms of dress.  He would take an opportune moment to run into Ronnie’s and get his own Mr Whippy poured for him.  He was so joyful, so content, so free, and looking back, so was I.

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When I was setting up the new shop, he was there as I unpacked, painted and  set up displays, daunted by what I had taken on. Yet, I never felt alone; he was a constant, a reassurance, with his unconditional love and presence alongside me.  When I opened, I was worried he wouldn’t be able to come to work because it was on a main road.  I had a ‘doggy door’ build for him so he could stay in the back room, but he protested against this at the first opportunity. He intuitively knew what our space was and went no further than the doorway, sometimes sitting on the step to watch the world go by.  I know I lost customers because of that but I don’t think I cared.

I made sure he was never too hot, never too cold, never hungry, ignored, or going without a tummy rub. He had his own fan on hot days and a bed and blanket on cold days.

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When I felt alone, he was there with his soft fur, big heart and concerned eyes. When I was celebrating, he beamed with me. He witnessed my heartbreak, glee, bedroom singalongs, failed cooking, drunken dancing, successes, anxieties and momentary breakdowns. There were certain songs that he would sing to; he would just start howling along and I would laugh and tell him “what beautiful singing”. He was constant, unbridled joy.

He had adventures.  He chased squirrels, barked at seagulls, got blown sideways in the wind, ploughed through snow with his mouth wide open.  He scoured pavements for disgusting food that he saw before I did and he would make himself momentarily happy before being sick.

One day, on a morning like every other, which began with us having breakfast and walking to the shop, he was sleeping next to my feet under the til and he started having a seizure.  I didn’t know it was a seizure at the time; I thought he was dying.  His legs were racing, his head was banging and he couldn’t hear me trying to reassure him.  It went on for what felt like hours, but, in reality it lasted only a few minutes, until Dylan, breathless, pacing and confused, came to. I closed the shop and we got a taxi to the vet who told me that in older dogs, it was unlikely to be a one off. We tried some medication but he continued to have seizures for the rest of his life, sometimes with a gap of several months in between and then clustering together like little earthquakes, each time traumatic and terrifying and seemingly so unfair that he had no control over what was taking hold of his little body in such a violent way.

Despite the occasional day spent inside with curtains drawn in an effort to reduce stimulation after a seizure, life carried on as normal. But the combination of age and medication gradually undermined his energy and there was an almost imperceptible shift from the days when he would race ahead of me pulling the lead, to him walking behind me and waiting for me to slow down to wait for him.  I don’t remember the time when we matched each other’s pace exactly, perhaps it was just momentary, but in a way we really did that all along.

His wilfulness, however, never became dampened by tiredness or age. By this time we had met Pete, and I think Dylan knew Pete was here to stay, so began to test his tenacity. He would walk to Pete’s side of the bed in the middle of the night and tap on the radiator, using his paw like a drum stick, banging rhythmically and intermittently to see if he could get a reaction.  Pete’s big heart and infinite patience meant that he did get a reaction, usually in the form of a head rub and a chuckle.  He wasn’t going anywhere.

Dylan was determined to climb the stairs every night to sleep at the end of our bed, even though his legs had become tired, and he wasn’t always able to make it to the top.  We tried to pick him up to lift him, but his heavy pride made him fall to the floor, making him a dead weight and impossible to lift. There was a dance of wills, until he eventually relinquished some dignity and allowed Pete to roll him up in a piece of carpet and carry him up the stairs under his arm. Ends must.

Our walks to the shop became slower and more pained, and I made the difficult decision to start leaving Dylan at home during the day. Instead, we made our evenings and weekends full of Dylan-friendly adventures and his life entered a new stage – that of retired canine living.  His itinerary involved day trips and picnics up the Downs, canal boat holidays in Oxfordshire, ferries to the Isle of Wight, spa weekends in Sussex and a very comfortable mode of transport in the form of a Toyota IQ, with the entire back seat and boot devoted to his senior comfort.

He continued to test Pete’s endurance, though, despite his age and aches. On a riverside walk, this otherwise sedentary older dog decided to leap into the river the moment we weren’t looking at him, and Pete, balancing one leg on the river bank, with one arm holding a tree branch to prevent him falling in, fished Dylan out of the water by his harness.  Either that or we would have had to wait for him to float downstream.

He was aware that I would have done anything to keep him happy and he seemed to recognise that I had met someone who would do the same.

Over the last few years, he took life at his own pace and we followed his lead. A half mile walk took hours and it didn’t matter, we learnt to savour the moments as much as he did, spotting birds and flowers we might have missed going at our own pace. His favourite activity was a pub dinner, during which he would sit under the table and bark until we shared our food. He was a contended little dog. But the cause of his seizures was insidious; a ‘space occupying lesion’ that was too risky to investigate. He would be overtaken by ‘cluster seizures’ which would knock him over when he was mid stride, or cause him to fall over when he was eating his dinner. He found it increasingly difficult to get up despite us helping to lift his back legs and putting carpet off-cuts all over the floor for some traction.

We had adventures, so many adventures, all 13 years that he was with me, but he became too uncomfortable and our time together had to come to an end. It was more peaceful than I had imagined but the sadness is more profound than I have ever known.

A friend of mine said that the palliative care we offer our loved ones at the end of their lives means that their body is at ease, enough, to allow the soul to fly free of physical constraints without pain.  And I like to imagine that Dylan’s beautiful soul was free to escape his tired body and run to the Downs, the sea, the parks, the rivers; the places I see and think of him, free on the wind, the waves and in the trees, the crooks of which he would stop for a sip of water and a nice sit down.

 

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Spring in Spain

For the last few years I have booked somewhere that involved a long haul flight in order to escape the final weeks of winter in Brighton.  February, the shortest month, has often felt like the longest, as Spring teases us with gradually longer days without the full bloom of a new season for another few weeks. This year I found myself booking somewhere much closer to home, in Spain, a country I have been to a lot, but never with a full appreciation of how beautiful, diverse and fascinating it is.

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Spring flowers in full bloom

We flew to Seville and drove three hours south through the Andalucian countryside.  I have only ever visitied Spain in summer, heading to the over-developed coast along roads that cut through parched land and dusty towns. This was a different experience, with wild flowers hugging the roadside, lush green fields in the distance, wetlands and flamingos in the nature reserves that ran alongside us.

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A cliff-edge walk in Barbate

Our destination was Vejer de la Frontera, a stunning ‘pueblo blanco’, on a hillside overlooking the Barbate river valley, which weaves past wide, wild hills as it runs down to the sea.  The ‘de la Frontera’ in it’s name means ‘of the frontier’; the ‘border’ between Christian and Islamic cultures. The convergence of the two was evident as soon as we arrived, driving through cobbled, winding, medina style streets punctuated by outside eateries until the roads were too thin for our car to pass.

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Our accomodation, typically whitewashed and decorated in hanging pots

Our AirBnB was deep in the old town, at the top of a winding cobbled walkway only accessible by foot or on the back of a popping scooter.  The layout was typical for the Moorish style houses in the city, originally settled by Arabs from North Africa.  Passing through the front door in a tall white wall at street level led us through to a whitewashed courtyard draped in bougainvillea, which continued up an elaborately tiled staircase to a roof terrace that overlooked the surrounding hills, the flat white buildings on the other side of the city, and in the far distance, the roof tops of Algiers across the sea.  It reminded me of the riads in Marrakesh; a network of hidden worlds tucked behind the high walls that protected those inside from the heat of the sun and anybody who wasn’t invited in.

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Tall walls lead to hidden worlds

 

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Wall mounted pots in all the colours of the rainbow

Vejer is extraordinarily beautiful.  The white walls are a canvas for colourful hanging flowers pots in all the colours of sunrise and sunset.  The central square, the Plaza de Espana, is set around a tiled fountain surrounded by friendly eateries under a canopy of spring shoots and climbing branches.  The steep hills and narrow streets lead you to views across the vivid green countryside, and the air is filled with birdsong from visiting swallows and resident sparrows.

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Traditional Islamic infuences in Granada

 

We didn’t know it before we went, but Vejer is known for it’s food.  As two vegetarians, we assumed there would be a lot of cheese and bread in store for us, but we were spoilt for choice in the bars and restaurants set within countless terraces and courtyards, offering menus that reflected the diversity of cultures that shaped the city it is today.

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Bursting with life in every corner

We had trips out of the city that took us to the wild coastline that runs along the southern edge of the country.  A long walk across sand dunes running through woods took us to a rugged sandstone cliff-edge just outside of Barbate, with endless views across the Atlantic Ocean. Another drive through lush, softly rounded hills lined with wind farms led us to the wild beach of Bolonia, hugged by Roman Ruins, cacti and gorse. We visited the oldest city in Europe – Cadiz, founded 3000 years ago by the Phoenicians, and stumbled across the annual Andalucian festival that saw the streets swimming with groups of people in matching fancy dress, swigging beer and dancing to drums.

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A wild, empty beach in Bolonia

After a week, we drove to Granada. Less whitewashed and infinitely fascinating, it had all the contrasts of a modern European city with the omnipresence of the past in the form of the Alhambra, looming large on a hillside, with the snow-capped Sierra Nevada in the background. We stayed in the UNESCO heritage site of the Albaicin, on the cobbled egde of the city, surrounded by farmland and fallow olive fields. 

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Granada city overlooking the Alhambra

We spent days wandering around the city, stopping for a drink and tapas – a plate of something unordered and unidentifiable as a vegetarian comes with every beverage. We had walks that took us deep into the hillside overlooking the city, with two worlds evident from above; the old and new on either side of the ancient walls.

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Old and new Granada

A favourite surprise was a fused glass gallery in the Albaicin called Reez run by a husband and wife team who create a myriad of colourful pieces in-house.  They had taken their own photos of Granada and transferred them onto glass, as well as creating jewellery, dishes and wall art using moorish design to influence their pieces as well as their own distinctive style.

Another highlight was also the Cave Museum, which gave us such an insight into the history of the area and the development of the unique culture and identity of Andalucia, evolved over centuries from the interface between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, African and European cultures, past and present, giving me a renewed and distinctive sense of ‘Spain’ that I lacked before.

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Our final sunset in Granada – but we’ll be sure to go again

 

 

Midwinter Blues, Reds, Oranges & Yellows

It is the middle of the first month of a new decade.  I really like January; the start of a new year; a chance to rest, reflect and recalibrate after an intense few months during which I, like most people, trudge around like a battery powered toy with one bar left, sleep-walking inside brightly lit rooms at the darkest time of the year to work through an endless to-do list. January feels like the reward for ploughing on, for fighting the instinct to hibernate, and provides the time and permission to finally recharge.

This January, in particular, marks the start of the last year of my 30s and, as well as thinking about the year ahead in the way that I usually do, I am using this as an opportunity to set intentions for the coming decade and I find myself actively trying to make more time in my life for the things that bring me joy.  I was an avid dreamer when I was younger, into every kind of craft, absorbing new ideas, seeking out books and music that would inspire me, and feeling in awe of the world around me. These tendencies are still there but as a slightly jaded adult I want to harness them again, doing things just ‘for the sake’ of them or because they will light up a part that has been left in the dark for some time.

So I began this year by booking myself on to two courses.  The first was Level One Reiki and the second was a glass fusion workshop focusing on landscapes and seascapes.  My reiki workshop was a one day session with Brighton based yoga teacher Sarah Dawson.  I have been to many of her classes, especially her seafront sessions during the summer, and she is a very calming and inspiring teacher. The workshop began with a short meditation to focus our awareness on the present moment and Sarah explained the principles of Reiki, which translates from Japanese into ‘wisdom/knowledge’ (rei) and ‘lifeforce/energy’ (ki).

Our intentions for the day were set out in reiki principles –

Just for today, I will not anger;

Just for today, I will let go of worry;

Just for today, I will do my work honestly;

Just for today, I will give thanks for my many blessings;

Just for today, I will be kind to my neighbour and every sentient being;

 

If ever there was a time to try to bring more positive energy into the world, this is it!  She gave us an outline of the lineage and a history of energy healing before giving us our Reiki I attunement by working through our chakras and opening up ‘energetic pathways’.

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The different chakras in our body and what they represent

This attunement, says Sarah, does not give us anything new, it opens and aligns what is already part of us, like turning on a light.  We can use it for self-healing, or to practice direct healing on others, if it feels right.  There were just two of us in the class, and while the other participant received her attunement, I sat in the kitchen wondering if anything felt different after mine.  Like many people I know, I often find there is a power battle between my adult mind and the rest of me – my core – that inquisitive, daydreaming child, perhaps, who was outgrown by a more ‘rational’ self. It was good to be challenged and try to quieten that questioning inner voice for a while.

We then practiced the treatment which involved placing our hands on the other person – starting with their head and working down to their feet, channelling life force energy having just been attuned to it. Sarah says the way ahead is to Just “do” Reiki and be free of limitations.”

After my Reiki I, I am told to expect several different sensations, such as feeling spacey or tingly, having intense, or past life, dreams. Sarah says “This is simply the energy adjusting and increasing the healer’s capacity to channel it.” It was a fascinating and thought-provoking day and I took lots from it, especially the idea that reiki can be used to self-heal, especially when you are feeling fearful, or negative. “Send love, light and compassion from your heart and channel Reiki to heal that part of you, and breathe deeply to release it”. What better way to start the new decade!

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Post attunement smiles

 

A week later, I drove down to WarmGlassUK in Bristol, which is where I buy my supplies for glass fusion.  I had signed up for a two day workshop in creating landscapes and seascapes in glass.  I have been making glass pieces to sell for about seven years and I find that I have become commercially minded, making pieces to sell and re-making them if they had sold. I wanted to ‘play’, enjoy the process, be open to learning and trying something new.

It didn’t disappoint!  The first technique we were shown was the ‘riverrocks experiment’, which is using the reactive qualities created by the metals in glass to create interesting effects, perfect for a pebbly beach. It is like alchemy!

We then used fine powders to create a landscape, using different shades for the background and foreground, to create a sense of perspective in the scene.

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Using fine glass powders to create a misty landscape scene

I created a foggy wintry landscape, with a leafless tree on the top layer, to be fused over the first layer on a second firing. I then used a photo of a sunset taken in Brighton over Christmas to use bright reds, oranges and purples to try to recreate it in glass.

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After the first firing – they will go in the kiln again for a second time

There were so many samples we could draw on for inspiration – I love the texture left behind by the powdered glass.

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Colourful glass inspiration

We also played with other reactive qualities in glass – using copper oxide to paint a building – of course I chose the West Pier ! – and placed it over a layer of vivid red and orange powder.  When it is fired, the outline will react with the base layer and turn bubbly brown.

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I used copper oxide to outline the West Pier, which will react with the glass and turn brown after firing

It was so refreshing to try something new with materials that I have been using for a few years, with no expectations other than to play and experiment.  The finished pieces will be posted to us when they are fired and I love the expectation of waiting to see how they will look!

So, this year so far has begun as I have intended – to try to reconnect with a thirst and enthusiasm for new things without too many expectations placed on myself – to find joy where I can and to try to see the world in the inquisitive way that my younger self did.

 

Our Colourful Sussex Wedding

I got married to my best friend in May.  It was the happiest day, which followed a wonderful year of planning, celebrating, hen parties, cake tasting and disastrous make-up trials.  It was love at first sight when we met in 2016, and we got engaged on our first anniversary, in the Pavilion Gardens, Brighton.  We managed several hours of hysterical newly engaged glee before speculating about what our ideal wedding day would involve, and both immediately agreed that an informal, rural barn setting would be our dream.  We had visions of somewhere on the South Downs in Sussex, with fairy lights, hay bales, cocktails and colour.  Lots of colour.  We both love Nepal and have been there, separately, many times between us, and have since been rather obsessed with Nepalese food in all its forms.  So, we agreed that curry, colour – oh yes, and cake – lots of cake would feature on the day.

We spent a few weeks looking at barns; there are lots of beautiful venues in Sussex, but when we saw Pangdean Old Barn, it was love at first sight (again).  It is a restored 18th Century barn on the South Downs Way, home to Nicky Currie and her family.  Nicky and her team also cater events there, and we knew the food would be amazing. They had our preferred date available and it was booked for 12th May 2018.

Having booked the date, I immediately started looking for a dress, and having never been someone who has daydreamed for hours on end about being a bride, I didn’t know where to start, except that I really, really, love to dance, so I was pretty sure it needed to be knee length so I could twirl, unimpeded, for hours on end. I had a booking at Ozone on Church Street in Brighton and tried on all the mid length, netted, vintage style tea-dresses I could find and thought I had found ‘the one’ before lunch.

After a week’s cool down, I revisited, just wondering about the possibility, just the ‘tiniest’ possibility, that I had perhaps been a little hasty in not trying on anything other than what I had been looking for.  So I gave the long dresses a try, even squeezing myself into a ‘mermaid’, a ‘trumpet’, and an enormous layered ballgown which was surprisingly weighty!  And then I really found ‘the one’.   Actually, it was two – made up of a full length gown, a reverse bolero – and I finished it off with a sparkly belt. It was lacy.  It had a train.  It was fitted. It was absolutely nothing like the dress I had in mind. I loved it!

After deciding on the dress, all of the other ideas fell into place.  We wanted to do as much as possible ourselves, adding personal touches, making things by hand, and where that wasn’t possible, we wanted to source as much as possible from local businesses.

We got our wedding stationary from Ivy Ellen; the colour scheme set the tone for the decisions we were yet to make, and somehow seemed to pick out the colour of Pangdean Barn itself. We used the same design, later, for our table plan and as labels on wild flower seeds which would be our wedding favours.

Our next step was booking a local florist. I saw Lib Adams, aka Bettie Rose flowers, on Instagram, and loved her work.  Lib immediately grasped our tentative ideas after one meeting, and after a second meeting over a coffee a few weeks before the wedding, the vision was in full bloom, so to speak.  We wanted a rustic feel and spent months collecting milk bottles and juice bottles, decorating them with ribbons for the table and barn.  We wanted a rustic, woodland feel, naming all our tables after birds and using old wood slices for the table centres. Lib created the most beautiful arrangements of sweet peas, peonies, moody blue roses, and delicate foliage that complemented the theme, colours and spring greens of the season.

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Beautiful flower crowns for the flower girls

We didn’t know what to do about cake; we just knew we like it a lot and nobody makes them better than Elina from Osetta, the cafe across the road from my shop on North Road. I love carrot, Pete loves a Victoria sponge, so we decided, why have one, when we could have several?! She baked eight cakes in the end, meaning we wouldn’t have to decide; and vegans, celiacs and those who love to pick n mix, would all be happy. Everyone commented on the cakes; they were beautiful, decorated by Lib, and utterly delicious.

We borrowed a few items from my own shop, Little Beach Boutique, such as the heart shaped LED lights, which we mounted on the hay stack with knitting needles at the back of the barn.

We added some personal touches of our own to add to the rustic theme; we used an old pallet for our table plan and we sanded and painted another pallet to make our order of service, with the names of the songs, readings and bridal party written on it in colourful inks.  We used the ceramic heart bunting that we sell in the shop to decorate the pallet with “O’Fossey”, our married name, and draped some to say “welcome” at the entrance. We organised for colourful lanterns and extra fairy lights to be rigged up across the ceiling, added photo garlands, a dressing up box and photo booth – and had some delicious cocktails in kilner jars on offer for our guests.

All that was left to prepare was the hair and make-up!  After a few disastrous (but very funny) make-up trials, I was delighted to find Natasha of Pretty Me Vintage, who understood the look I was going for.  Nicky from Coco Belle Styling, spent the morning doing all our hair – I loved having it in rollers while I opened a bottle of fizz!

My mum was to be giving me away, my sister was my maid of honour and three of my best friends and their daughters were bridesmaids and flower girls.  Seeing everybody together was incredible, unforgettable.  We met the registrar in the living room at Pangdean before going in to the barn, taking a moment before going in.  Nicky, the owner and also the caterer at Pangdean, was hands on from the moment we arrived, holding up the umbrella as we walked into the barn, before creating the most delicious wedding food I have ever had.

I was blown away by how beautiful the barn looked, and seeing my soon to be husband looking back at me from the end of the aisle took my breath away. When we got engaged, there had been musicians playing one of our favourite songs, purely by chance, in the Pavilion gardens.  We went up to them, in our excitement, to tell them that Pete had just proposed and they asked if they could play at our wedding.  Twelve months later, there they were, playing Into My Arms by Nick Cave as I walked up the aisle hand in hand with my mum.

It was the perfect day, completely unforgettable, and complete joy from start to end.

…and I managed to dance in my dress!

 

All the photos are by Ella Penn Photography 

 

The Slow Life

A little while ago, myself, my partner and my (elderly) dog spent a week on board a 60 ft narrowboat wading our way slowly through the leafy Oxfordshire countryside.

It was the fastest way to slow down I have ever experienced.

“If you are going faster than the walkers on the towpath, then you are going too fast” we were told in our induction. Not just permission – instruction – to slow down.

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Wading into a dark horizon on our first night…

For those of you who have never been narrow-boating, as well as being a lovely way to spend a few days going from one place to another and then going back again, it also offers transportation back in time to an almost forgotten age, preserved now by the passion of a few people who have made a home and a life along the routes of Industrial Age canals that once connected the country. Once bustling networks, used daily to carry tonnes of goods to trade, the canals now feel like a silent, hidden world, shaded by the canopy of trees that help to muffle the sounds of the wider, faster, world that they helped to build.

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Working our way oh-so-slowly towards Banbury…

To move the boat, you steer from the back. By the time you get where you are going, the boat has already been. Moving just above the surface of the water, you are invited to feel a small part of something much larger than you. If you look directly ahead you see the gentle parting of the otherwise still water in front of you. The canals have no current, the waters are undisturbed until you wade through them, slowly enough that water birds, unflustered by your presence, glide alongside. If you look up, you feel shrouded in the shelter of trees, invited to study their shape, experience the light through their leaves as you move below them.

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You can cruise slower than walking pace for hours, traveling, in reality, no further than a few miles. At that speed you are invited to savour the idiosyncrasies of the landscape which is moving, almost imperceptibly, around you. You can hear the sound of the water rippling below, the rustle of leaves, take in the sight of a housemartin skimming the unbroken surface of the water before you. There is the smell of damp ground, earthy water, thick with the remnants of its former days. The backs of disused factories host bird nests made from gathered twigs foraged downstream. The flow is broken only by meeting a boat traveling in another direction, passing each other at a pace that ensures you have time for a cheery hello.

The connection between the canals and their industrial heritage is most tangible when you arrive at one of the many locks that punctuate the waterways. Giant cogs turn wheels that open sluices and enable water to pour in. You literally have to pause and go with the flow as the boat is lifted to higher ground by the weight of the water or taken underground as it empties beneath you.

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The ancient locks that line the way.

You can moor the boat anywhere along the towpath, providing it isn’t already marked as private, and spend an afternoon with your feet in the grass or while away the evening immersed in the sounds of nature, watching the sun go down as you prepare for the most peaceful nigh’ts sleep you’ve had in a long time..

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We hired our Narrowboat for a week from Oxfordshire Narrowboats and sailed from Lower Heyford to Banbury and back again. You can find out more here – https://www.oxfordshire-narrowboats.co.uk

Our first editorial

I was delighted to see Little Beach Boutique featured in our first editorial recently. Smallish Magazine, which specialises in ‘Family life for the Modern Mother’ ran a feature in their May edition all about Brighton, aka ‘Britian’s Riviera’ and we were described as a ‘firm fav’ in the North Laine shopping area. They mention our limited edition children’s books by Temporary Measure and our handmade felt slippers and describe us as ‘bijou’ which brought a smile to my face (because I had to look it up!)

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A guide to Brighton ‘Britain’s Riviera’ in Smallish Magazine in May

We were in great company, alongside the newly completed British Airways BA i360, as somewhere to visit, and local favourite, the Coalshed, as somewhere to eat.

May is a perfect time to visit Brighton, so it is well timed. The city comes to life with two festivals running alongside each other. The Brighton Festival is curated by Kate Tempest this year and I am really excited about the personal touch she has already bought to the established way of things, with a focus on inclusivity and branching out into areas of Brighton that haven’t be featured in recent years. I’m excited about ‘For the Birds‘ which is an ‘immersive night time adventure’ running throughout the month. As a bird nerd and someone who loves to get away from it all up South Downs, this is the perfect event for me!

I am also excited about the Brighton Fringe festival which runs throughout May.  It always boasts a packed line up of events and brings music, art, comedy, theatre and a sense of adventure to each corner of Brighton.  A great way to see the city and its amazing creativity whilst peeking behind the doors of some of Brighton’s historical homes and buildings is to follow the Artist’s Open Houses trail. There are always some established listings who open their doors each year and become veritable art galleries for three weeks. Alongside them are new listings made up of artists collectives exhibiting for the first time.  I wish I could go every weekend-but I still wouldn’t have time to see it all!

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Make time to visit the Artist’s Open Houses during the festival this May.

We hope you’ll be able to pay us a visit if you visit Brighton during May-but it is always a great place to come…and we are open every day!

Bye for now x

,

 

Spring Inspiration From Brighton

Brighton is beautiful at the moment. A heavy fog for most of February seemed to obscure the horizon for days on end, but it eventually cleared away, and from behind the mist, some much needed spring sunshine appeared and made the sea sparkle again.  Spring is here, albeit tentatively.

No matter what the weather, dog walkers and joggers pound up and down the seafront, but it is at this time of year, as the clouds start to clear, even for a day, the crowds decend to warm their faces and stretch their legs over the pebbles.

I went up the British Airways i360 on a beautiful sunny Sunday and saw Brighton from above, reaching for the Downs, the glorious Recency layout of Brunswick and Adelaide and the lonely and majestic West Pier.  It is a wonderful view from up there!

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The West Pier as seen from the British Airways i360

As well as the beach, people are often drawn to Brighton because of the volume of independent shops and eateries which offer unique, diverse and interesting selections which won’t be found anywhere else. In particular The North Laine, between the station and the sea, is home to dozens of small shops and independent traders. For decades it has  been seen as the most vibrant area for quirky clothing, vintage finds, vegetarian and vegan cafes, boutiques and some of the best pubs in the city for people-watching over a delicious craft beer. Spring is a particularly good time to do this!  My favourite is the Dorset Pub, just on the corner of Gardner Street and across from us here in Little Beach Boutique.  It is the best place to sit and watch the world go by and offers excellent home-cooked style food.

When we’re not basking in Spring sunshine or watching buskers from the Dorset, we have been busy coming up with some new glass designs here in Little Beach Boutique, inspired by the season.

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One off glass curve handmade here in our North Laine shop and workshop

Above is a one-off piece of fused glass, made with layers of sheet glass, with strands of copper leaf placed in between, and colourful ‘confetti’ and ‘frit’ placed on top to convey spring shoots peeping through the ground. It has been fired twice – first to fuse the individual peices together, and second, to ‘slump’ it into a mould so that it will be free-standing. It looks beautiful in a sunny window on these fresh spring days.

We have also been producing some new designs for screen-printing onto our hand made coasters and glass tile frames. Following themes of wanderlust, travel and exploration, we have designed a hot air balloon silk-screen which we have layered with pieces of ‘dichroic’ glass.  ‘Dichro’ adds an iridescent quality to glass pieces, and a few small bits added between the layers, before going into the kiln, looks beautiful when fired….

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Hot Air Balloon Fused Glass Tiles handmade here in Little Beach Boutique

We have also been running our popular fused glass workshops and have been putting dates in for the months to come.  The next available date is 14th May – if you would like to learn how to make your own glass pieces and in a fun and creative environment, why not book a space with some friends and have a wonderful day out in Brighton during the May Festival?

We have been adding lots of new pieces to our Spring collections, so do watch this space for more to come!  In the meantime, enjoy the spring sunshine! X

A North Laine Christmas

It might only be the 1st of November but here at Little Beach Boutique we’re already excited about Christmas because we’ll be joining some of the best independent shops in Brighton for a one-off late night Shopping Event this December.

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The North Laine  is always beautiful at Christmas, with fairy lights draped between buildings and the varied and vibrant gift shops offering a wonderful range of products, many of which can’t be found on the high street. This year there will also be carol singers to get us in the mood for the festivities!

We’ve teamed up with neighboring shops such as Present in the LaineLavender Rooms, Pretty Eccentric, Whirligig, Silverado, Bluebird Tea and Toby Tiger  in offering a 10% discount on all purchases  – as well as a glass of fizz for our customers. We’ll also be giving out a free gift to shoppers.

The offers and late night shopping start at 5.30 on December 8th and finish at 8.30. Visit our Facebook page for updates and further info…we hope to see you there!

In other news, we’ve been sourcing some wonderful new collections this season from some emerging designers, small businesses and makers, including a new range of skincare from Nathalie Bond Organics,  accessories by Imagination Illustrated and beautiful Jewellery by Misskukie, all designed and made in Britain.

 

I’ve been feeling inspired by the new season and have been making some glass tiles to reflect the change in the environment around us.  I was pleased with these tiles on an earthy green glass. The tree branch is screen-printed and layered with orange frit (crushed glass) with the words ‘Let’s Fly Away’ written underneath.  The woodland scene is also screen printed from my original drawing and layered with a slightly sparkly green confetti (very thin glass) to add some intrigue.  I have mounted them both into white box frames which really sets them off.

 

I’ve also been running regular fused glass workshops which have really gained momentum this year. There have been some wonderful creations and I’ve been so amazed by the variety and creativity in what people produce in one day.

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Playing with colour and texture in our fused glass workshop here in Brighton

We hope to see you soon here in Little Beach – bye for now x

Creative Days of Glass Fusion

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“Introduction to Fused Glass” Workshops run monthly at Little Beach Boutique in the North Laine, Central Brighton

 

I have been running fused glass workshops once a month for a year now, and they have been so much fun!  I have often been amazed by how quickly each person gets into the flow of making their own unique and beautiful pieces – even people who say they have no artistic tendencies and just came along for a nice day in Brighton!

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I love this turtle tile, made by someone who was completely new to glass

Each workshop is aimed at complete beginners, as an introduction to glass.  I tell people about the different types of glass they can use for different effects – stringers (long rods), frit (crushed glass), metals, papers and ‘inclusions’  – soon into the session we start with learning how to cut glass – and that’s when the fun starts!

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This colourful kingfisher panel uses different types of glass to make the most of the strong colours and transparent qualities

You can approach glass a bit like a blank canvas, layering and assembling pieces where you want them – a little like a collage.  The unique quality with glass is trying to visualise how it will look after it has been fired. A kind of alchemy occurs when it is fired in the kiln – colours deepen, textures change, metals react, bubbles emerge – and it can often be a surprise – mostly a good one though!

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These pieces are going to be linked with a piece of driftwood to make it a unique glass boat decoration

Very few people come with an idea of what they want to make, but find that they soon feel inspired by the sample pieces we have in the workshop, or feel drawn to a particular colour, or come across an interesting shape in a piece of glass and start from there.

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These glass butterfly coasters were made by one workshop attendee using glassline paper, colourful dichroic glass and some turquoise frit.

What I love most about the workshops is seeing the diversity of the pieces people produce – abstracts, seascapes, scenes from nature, detailed drawings, textured pieces, Christmas decorations.  People find it quite meditative to absorb themselves into something so focused and completely different for the day.

The workshops take place in our colourful downstairs space in my shop Little Beach Boutique.  It is right in the heart of Brighton, in the North Laine area, surrounded by lovely coffee shops, cafes, boutiques and restaurants – a Sunday workshop here could be the perfect ending to a weekend away by the sea!

In case you feel inspired, there are dates and details about the glass workshops on our website – http://www.littlebeachboutique.com

Maybe I’ll see you soon!

Time to teach the joys of glass

I have started to teach fused glass workshops in the basement of the shop. I can’t wait to show other people why glass is so much fun!  Glass is a fascinating medium.  I discovered it on a weekend workshop and it soon became a favourite hobby of mine, and, later, my main source of income.

After an introductory workshop, I was hooked. I rented a workspace in the Open Studios on Brighton Seafront and started to teach myself.  Fused glass is made up of layers of sheet glass, decorated with other forms such as crushed ‘frit’ that adds sparkle, depth and texture. It is arranged almost like a collage and essentially ‘cooked’ in the kiln so that it melts, or ‘fuses’ together.

That is when it changes occur – it is like alchemy! Colours deepen, or alter altogether, sharp edges soften and round off. It loses its brittleness.

And it is almost always a surprise!

 

Glass Making Workshop at Little beach Boutique. Brighton
Teaching my first ever fused glass workshop

Blue glass wave made at Little Beach Boutique
The beauty and alchemy of glass. 
Beginners Glass Workshops at Little Beach Boutique
I think they look happy- they are certainly focused!

We hope to see you soon!

Suzanne x