Our Birthday and a bit on gold leafing

Happy birthday to us!

We are (two years and) two days apart. And as we madly adore each other (and are actually, legally married), this situation is going to be the status quo for the rest of our lives.

Those of you who know me well will appreciate this: the last few years have therefore seen a gradual and reluctant letting-go on my part of a heretofore lifelong, absolute and compulsory immersion – for me and everyone around me – in all things ME ME ME for the duration of my birthday; or even, ideally, as long as I can stretch it out for (I managed two weeks for my 30th, a proud Personal Best).

In other words, I have long held a deeply rooted belief that one’s birthday is the one magical day of the year on which you are entitled to spoil yourself and be treated or even indulged by others; to generally have a lovely time, feel amazing and like the queen of the world. Nothing bad must be allowed to occur; for just these sacred 24hours, your life should really be the joyful, fun, loving and entirely stress-free place you always imagined it would be when you were little. (This goes for others too throughout the year incidentally; it’s honestly not just a ME-fest. Although I find that if one is after this level of intensity, one does need to drive it oneself somewhat…)

And now, for the sake of appearances, I must concede defeat (although there is a six year-old within me defiantly stamping her foot who will never give in).

So this year, I made the grand sacrificial gesture of organising a surprise dinner for the Owl (birthday: the 9th) on my birthday (the 7th, i.e. last Saturday).

The venue I chose for this momentous occasion was Ooh Fondue (a 3day pop-up on Well Street in Hackney – have we mentioned how much we miss Hackney?); it was atmospheric and delicious and it was also extremely last minute, but nevertheless some of our favourite people were able to come and we had a truly lovely time.

In the process, I also conceded that the Owl is just not as excited by birthdays or Christmas or surprises in general as me. So to be honest, it was probably more a case of my organising something – anything – “for him” just to make sure we did actually celebrate our birthday, albeit in a manner he may not have chosen for himself. Still, it’s the thought that counts, right?! We both had a super-nice time. And he did not have to organise it himself. Result!

Prior to this, I spent a perfect Saturday birthday afternoon on board the good ship Maria Elisabeth gold-leafing the undersides of a pair of antique French “coolie” shades I bought on eBay having given up on finding exactly what I was looking for.

Here they are in various stages up to and including the shellac varnish which sent them temporarily cloudy…

20131211-132652.jpgI haven’t done anything with gold leaf since school. It was fun but super-fiddly! So there’s lots of ‘texture’ shall we say in some areas, although I like how that is juxtaposed by the flat areas I managed, where the sheet of leaf looks like it’s pooling where I brushed it down. I absolutely didn’t want perfect squares. And the alternative was liquid leaf, which wouldn’t have given any texture at all, so I’m really happy with this.

The shellac varnish goes on:

Two things to say here: I got finger prints and a rather substantial smudge on the leaf whilst putting it down on one of them which I didn’t know how to get off. They’re barely visible so I just lacquered over them on the basis that the longer I left it unsealed the more visible they’d become. Maybe white gloves?! But then you’d have to deal with uncontrollable static when trying to lay the leaf down… Some on the brush would have been good (I seem to remember some National Trust restoration program where the craftsmen doing it properly rubbed the brushes on their heads). Anyway, I decided I could live with it.

Second thing: you can actually paint the under-surface orange/ yellow before you lay your leaf so that any tears are more disguised. I barely had any tears (once I’d patched them up with gold dust…!) but the few there were I painted in with an Old Gold lacquer I found lying about. I am undecided as to whether this was the right thing to do. I could alternatively have left them as is, or re-applied some size to those spots and re-leafed. Again: pretty sure (especially as they’ll be facing down) that I can live with it. It’s important to keep these things in perspective.

I’ve got navy wrapped electric cord and Edison bulbs to go with them. I shall update this post when they arrive and have been assembled.


20131211-180959.jpg (incidentally, Urban Cottage Industries are my new design crush. I’m not two-timing those lovely folks at Stoves Online, honest – this is more of an idle flirtation. Although that said I have actually bought something from U.C.I. so maybe it’s actually my beloved S.O. I’m using and abusing…)

I originally wanted Lee Broom crystal bulbs, but:
a) they’re too expensive for us at £100 each excluding fittings, and
b) I’m not 100% sure they’re not actually a teeny bit tacky… Have you seen his ‘crest’ logo?! Cringe. Which is a shame because I do actually love them on a design level.


It’s a moot point anyway – refer point (a). And since I ordered the Edison bulbs I haven’t had a single collywobble about the change of plan which means it was a good decision…!

Incidentally I didn’t mean to get two but they came as a pair (for £35! New ones are more like £60+ each!) and we’re going to hang them together at slightly different heights over the dining table.

It’s going to look great.

Happy birthday to me us.


2 thoughts on “Our Birthday and a bit on gold leafing

  1. Judy Havrlik says:

    Hi Minky and Jonathan, happy belated birthdays. Shall try to remember for next year! Good to hear you have nothing more demanding than a bit of gold leafing to do on the floating home. Does that mean that you are all shipshape and Bristol fashion and set up for a toasty winter? Have I missed an exciting episode re boiler and or wood burner.

    Looking through your very instructive blog on the ancient art of gold leafing I noticed how carefully you had protected the table while working. Was it a freudian slip, quite intentionial or have you maybe not even noticed? Do scroll down and read the headlines. Not that I agree, mind you quite the reverse. Well done is more to the point.

    We are in Bhutan. It’s quite exhausting but endlessly fascinating. High altitude and much uphill struggling. I’m getting too old for this! It’s doubly hard as I walloped my little toe on a sofa leg before leaving and it has been agony climbing up and down flights of steep stone steps to every monastery, fortress and palace in the place. Actually we have only scratched the back of it. Thimphu, the capital, Pukhana which is up and over and down the other side. False promises of a 360degree view of the snow capped Himalayas filled us with expectation. However, when we got to the top (in a 4x4I hasten to add) we were shroudedin cloud anD couldn’t even see the trees at the side ofthe road.

    The local architeture is very decorativelots of carved, painted wood and a commmitment by the govt to maintain this with new build. You must come and see my piccies!

    Can’t be so enthusiastic about the local cuisine. Red hot with chillies of all shapes and sizes. Slightly tempered down for foreigners or an offering of lasagne but not exactly showered in Parmesan. Local served-with -everythinng dish is chillie cheese. You got it. Boiled chillies sprinkled with grated, dried local cheese and then boiled again. That is if our lovely guide knows what he’s talking about.

    Wonderful local costume worn by men and women. Great textiles and handicrafts. Haven’t had much time for shopping so much to see and do. Next stop Borneo via Kathmandu and KL.

    Pip pip Joods

    Sent from my iPad


    • Amazing, I’ve always wanted to go to Bhutan, how lucky are you?! Sorry about the food though. Surprising as I really enjoyed the food in India and Nepal – it was even very Tibetan in Darjeeling. Such a great part of the world…

      The thing about gold leafing is that it’s easier cheaper and quicker than any of the other major jobs that need doing which are, frankly, slightly intimidating especially when it’s about to get seriously cold… The main thing is the deck which we can’t paint until the spring anyway as the paint will never dry in the cold (with or without a poly tunnel). In the meantime I find the little things make me feel like we’re getting somewhere…!

      Have a wonderful trip xxxx

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