Remembering: A Glimpse into life in London – 1945

Last year on Remembrance Day I shared a story that my grandfather had chronicled while serving as part of the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War stationed in Halifax.  I’m so lucky that my grandfather kept a journal and later, in retirement, turned his journals into family books about his life, his travels and his work abroad.

This year I’d like to share part of an excerpt from his book that details his life while living in London in 1945.  My grandfather, Lt. G. F Kelly, was Staff Officer Electrical Engineering and Liaison Officer to the Director of Electrical Engineering, Admiralty, Sir James Pringle. He was part of the Canadian Naval Mission Overseas with the Weapons and Equipment Department.

By 1945 the years of war and rationing had weighed heavily on Britain:

In the stores all goods were rationed and there was very little selection.  The pride and joy of all officers seemed to be a Royals Razor which had it own chrome case which included the honing stone.  These were not rationed but the Royals Store on Regent Street would sell only a small allotment each day to service men.  This meant lining up at 0800 for store opening at 0900.  I did this trip three times and got razors for dad, Mr. Mason (father-in-law) and myself.

Shirts were hard to find but they could on occasion be bought from Naval Stores.  At the time we wore white shirts with detached, starched collars.  Once your shirt went through a London laundry it came back ‘tattle-tale grey’ and nothing would return it to its original white.  Starched collars were hopeless so we bought cardboard ones which only emphasized the greyness of our shirts.

Eating places were scare.  ‘Lyons Corner House’ of which there were several in London specialized in roast beef.  The chef had a very sharp knife and sliced the meat so thin that you could readily read the pattern of the plate through it.  The real saviors of England were Coleman’s Mustard and Bird’s Custard.  Put on strong enough mustard and you never noticed the sawdust in the sausage.  All desserts were smothered in custard and they all tasted the same.  Brussels sprouts were used at practically every meal and we developed a strong dislike for them.

A friend directed us to a ‘fantastic’ steak house, which was naturally ‘black market’.  It was in SoHo and to get to it you had to pass through a store, go down an alley and enter by a back door.  Naturally you paid for your meal two days in advance.  When we sat down we were offered an extra thick strip of steak, with lots of bright yellow fat.  Despite the fat we ate it up.  It actually was not that bad, until we found out it was horse. 

Canadian Naval Mission Overseas 1944-1945
Sorry for the poor quality, but this is a picture of photocopied picture. My grandfather is middle row, 4th from right.

I love how these few little paragraphs give a small but specific glimpse into the everyday life of Londoners during the war.

In other parts of his book he describes his first night in London and being awakened by the sound of air-raid sirens, which he promptly ignores and goes back to sleep.  The next morning he discovers the building directly behind his had taken the explosion and wardens were now searching the ruins.  In other parts he describes how he clandestinely acquired two bottles of rum on the otherwise “dry” dockyards of Bath, set up a little bar in his office and used his little bar to aid in his official liaison duties.

As I mentioned before, I’m so thankful to have these memories of my grandfather in writing so I can remember and understand the remarkable life he led and one day share his stories with my children.

Lest we forget.




Drawing in Perspective

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m taking design classes at night to help release my creative side.  I took a Drawing class about two years ago and despite the $150 in art supplies we were required to purchase, it was actually a great class.  It was specifically for interior design students so two of the main assignments required you to submit a fully designed room interior completely drawn by hand.  It was a great introduction to drawing in perspective which is something I always thought artists just instinctively knew how to do.  As it turns out, it’s really just a bit of geometry and the ability to drawn straight lines.  Who knew?

With this new found genius (trick), my first assignment was a living room. Everyone had to draw the same room (two windows, fireplace on the back wall and at least 1 couch and coffee table), but how the room actually ‘looked’ was up to each person.  I decided to make the room into a rustic log cabin, set somewhere in the mountains.  I think it turned out pretty good, however the colours of the rug and other furnishings were more a result of the colours I had in my pencil case, than colours I would actually use in this room if it existed.

This is considered a single perspective drawing.
This is considered a single perspective drawing.

My second assignment was a two-perspective drawing, which is basically when you look into the corner of a room, not at a wall straight-on.  I chose to draw a baby’s nursery thinking it would be fun and a little more creative than a regular bedroom.  But then I had to draw the crib…  which was not fun.  All those straight lines, drawn in pencil, then black pen.  It was so tricky keeping all of the lines in order!  Although it turned out OK, I was definitely cursing my nursery theme at that point.  In the end, the room turned out nice, but perhaps not as creative as I would have liked.

Gotta love the fingerprint smudge in the middle of the carpet – curses pastels!


So recently we were over at a friend’s place and the topic of renovating come up.  They live in a 100 year-old home in a beautiful part of town.  There are tons of original features; the banister railing, the huge, old heating grates, the floors and they’re favourite part: the back staircase.  It’s not a huge house but having the back staircase is a super cool feature.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) the kitchen is not original, it’s a ‘80’s classic that has suffered some over the years.  When they bought the place their real estate agent said it would be simple to knock out the back stairs and expand the kitchen.  But they love the back stairs, it’s one of the main reasons they bought the house.  I would hate for them to get rid of them too, they’re just so cool.

In any event, it got me thinking about how they could re-design their kitchen without losing the back stairs.  They’re still in the “talking” phase about the renovation, but for my own practice, I thought it would be fun to hone my newly acquired drawing skills and see what I could come up with.  I should also say that there is a large built-in shelving system in the kitchen that is also original and also something they love and wanted to keep.  I don’t have the dimensions of the room, but the layout below is a ‘rough’ before picture.

kitchen layout before
The two ‘windows’ on either side of the stairs are actually the entrance to the dining room (left ‘window’) and the entrance to the stairs (right ‘window’).


The original layout had a lot of wasted counter-space.  The L-shaped peninsula created a bit of a bottleneck near the back-door entrance and also had wasted counter-space in the corner of the L.  Additionally, the location of the sink ate up valuable counter real estate, creating another void in the corner.  Finally, the area beside the fridge was completely unused, so additional storage space could be gained in this area.

Below is my tweeked new layout:

Proposed new layout.
Proposed new layout.

I’ve moved the sink to the corner and added a pantry area beside the fridge.  Not discernible in the layout, but I would also eliminate the microwave shelf and instead install an over-the-stove unit, to conserve on upper-cabinet space.  Finally, I  changed the L peninsula into an oversized counter area, to mimic an island, even though it’s attached to the wall and is anchored by the beautiful, original built-in shelves.  Note: the back stairs are still there – yeah!  FYI – The window on the right is really quite low, so installing lower cabinets along that wall would be fairly tricky.

To see how my drawing evolved, I took pictures of the process and worked off of photocopies as I went.  I figured this allowed me to ‘change things up’ if I decided to take a different design direction.  But ultimately I went with one design and tried to select colours that would more closely represent what I would do, if this were my kitchen.

Here’s my initial pencil drawing.
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I started to fill it in with pen, and added some more details and features. My little stool didn’t turn out too bad.
Here comes the colour! And I actually made some progress on the stairs, which still look wonky, but at least they resemble stairs.
Viola!  The final vision!
Viola! The final vision!


All in all it turned out pretty good – though the stairs are a bit wonky and the main cabinet/island seems a bit off. My vision for the room included all white cabinets in a traditional style, but with a darker blue cabinet for the ‘island’ work area.  The original shelving system is intact, with the inside painted a very light blue.  I also envisioned marble counters, a nice herringbone backsplash, wide-plank hardwood and some glass display cabinets.

This little project was a lot of fun and really tested me on the skills I learned in the drawing class.  Only towards the very end did I actually notice two glaring errors, well omissions really.  I asked my husband if he could see the omissions and he didn’t.  I had to point them out.  So I guess it doesn’t take away from the overall effect.  I also have a feeling there are other errors/omissions that I haven’t noticed either… but let’s just keep that to ourselves.


Great Finds

I took an impromptu trip to one of my favourite little antiques mall on the weekend, this time without kids.  Which meant I could actually browse and examine at my own pace.  The novelty!  I picked up some great little finds.

bright blue sherry glassI love this striking blue sherry glass.  The picture doesn’t do it justice, but it’s a beautiful blue glass, very vibrant.

fun polka dot tumblers_1I love, love, love these fun little polka-dot tumblers.  They may be mid-century, they may not be.  Either way, they are just so cute.

Danish enamel pitcherI have no idea what I’m going to do with this little yellow enamel pitcher, but I couldn’t resist it.  It’s in great shape, no chips or cracks.  According to the bottom stamp, it’s Danish made – Dansk Design Koben Style, which is still a popular brand today.  I figure the styling, colour and patina make it from the 1970s, but that’s a total guess on my part.

Danish enamel pitcher_2And finally, when I thought I was done my browsing, I took one last look in one of the back rooms and lo-and-behold, I found this awesome little fella:

vintage electoulux fanThese retro fans are definitely trendy at the moment, and as such, I haven’t seen one for under $75.  This one was only $38 and it still works.  I’m not sure where I’m going to put it just yet, but I’ve been told it won’t be going in my daughters’ room – they’ve proclaimed it too scary-dangerous!




On this day when we remember so many men and women who gave their lives, I wanted to share a story from my grandfather.  I’m particularly interested in capturing this story here because as we commemorate this  69th anniversary of the end of WWII, there are fewer and fewer veterans who can share their first-hand accounts.  I cannot possibly imagine the sacrifices so many made for our freedom.

My grandfather passed away in 2012 at the age of 94 and lived a long, wonderful life with experiences that almost sound like they come for a Jonas Jonasson novel.  In his retirement years,  he set about chronicling many of his travels and life experiences and created somewhat of a family biography.  This particular story comes from his personal book entitled “For King and Country” which provides his own account of his time in the Canadian Navy stationed in Halifax and London, UK during WWII.

My grandfather, Sub-Lieutenant Frank Kelly, Royal Canadian Navy
My grandfather, Sub-Lieutenant Frank Kelly, Royal Canadian Navy

As a 21-year old, very ‘green’ cipher clerk stationed at Halifax Harbour in November 1939:

“Our greatest ‘boob’ was a signal coming from the HMS Furious saying she would arrive “Point of Arrival” (in Halifax) 08:00 that day, Nov 20, 1939.  We were on the 00:00 – 04:00 shift.  The signal was addressed to Naval Service Headquarters, Ottawa, copy to Commanding Officer Atlantic Coast (us).  We misinterpreted this to be a destroyer group taking over the escort of a convoy on its way to Britain.  The Operations Duty Officer in the adjoining office was having what appeared to be some much needed sleep.  The signal was left on Lt. Cdr. Gauvreau’s desk.  We went home and to bed.

Now what actually happened was that at 08:00 HMS Furious, an old cruiser/aircraft carrier, accompanied by two cruisers, HMS Revenge and HMS Repulse, entered Chebucto Bay and headed for Halifax.  Across the mouth of the harbour was an anti-submarine net, fitted with a gate controlled by two ‘gate vessels’ who opened and closed the gate as required.  The harbour is protected by “Sandwich Battery” which had a few 9.2 inch guns.  Nobody told “Sandwich” that British war ships were expected so when Sandwich lookout reported ships, it was assumed they were German.  Sandwich Battery  went to Action Stations – PANIC!!  The RCAF were notified but their planes were open-topped two-seaters which might be able to drop hand grenades.  By God’s kindness one of the officers manning the gate vessel was ex-Royal Navy and he immediately recognized the HMS Furious and her escorts.  On his command, Sandwich withheld its fire.  He opened the gate and let the naval force enter.  They had been approaching at some 25 knots.

Commodore R. Reid, Commanding Officer Atlantic Coast lived in the dockyard.  He looked out his window at a little past 08:00 and lo and behold sees what looks like half the British Fleet steaming up ‘his’ harbour and nobody had even told him that these ships were in waters under his direct command.  HE WAS NOT AMUSED.

When Grant and I reported for duty at 16:00 we were told to see Lt. Cdr Gauvreau immediately.  When he deemed to speak to us, he inferred that we should be shot.  After a long silence, he told us that due to our inexperience, the Commodore will not punish us.  I guess the truth of the matter was that it was up to Ottawa to inform their Commanding Officer and the trouble was at Naval Service Headquarters.  The great secrecy was due to the fact that HMS Furious was loaded with British Treasury gold headed for the vaults of the Sun Life Company in Montreal for safe keeping.”  

I’m kinda glad Lt. Cdr Gauvreau didn’t shoot my grandfather…  Stories like this don’t appear in the history books or in any documentary, but these are the stories we need to remember.  The imperfect stories as seen through the eyes of those who lived it.  My grandfather overcame his inexperience and went on to become an officer in the Canadian Navy and served until 1950 before beginning a lengthy and successful career as an Electrical Engineer.

In uniform in front of the Ottawa Parliament buildings.
In uniform in front of the Ottawa Parliament buildings.

Lest we forget.



Thrify Finds

July has been busy.  We travelled down to New England for 10 days and then headed to Washington DC,  through Virginia and back up via Pennsylvania and New York.  It was a great road trip and we miraculously got great weather throughout.  I always love going to New England because it seems there’s an antique store or flea market at every turn.  And they’re always packed with some pretty cool stuff.  But since our car was already pretty jammed with our beach stuff, luggage and what seemed like an ever expanding quantity of stuffed toys, I had to keep my thrift-ing to a minimum.

I found these cool canning jars and vintage bottle in an antique store just outside Wells,  Maine.  I really don’t know anything about them, if they’re really old, or only sorta old, but I love the vintage feel and the blue one is just so pretty.

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I also found these two little dishes for three bucks each.  I’m thinking of starting a little collection of pink and turquoise glass pieces.

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Speaking of collections, I was actually surprised at how little Pyrex I came across on my travels.  I was hoping to find it spilling out of every flea market and antique store I came across, but I actually found very little.  I did manage to find this nice butterprint-turquoise casserole dish at a very good price, but I was hesitant to buy it because I’ve never seen a lid like this one before. It just seems out of sync with the colour and pattern.  Does anyone know if this is actually a mis-matched lid from another pattern?

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And to close off this post, I had to include this picture of a little sign taped to one of the front doors of the an antique shop we visited.  May the ‘why did the chicken cross the road’ jokes begin!



Happy Thrift-ing!



Home by the sea

I mentioned on my About page that I have a milestone birthday coming up.  Well, it’s now already passed.  Yup, I’m no longer in my thirties.  Sad face.  That said, I’ve actually been thinking about this birthday for some time, and saving up to do something big, or at least memorable.  I scoured my Bucket List to see what would be a suitable 4oth birthday event without breaking the bank and one that the family could enjoy too.  I decided upon ‘See the icebergs in Newfoundland.’  This one would actually cross off two from my list, the icebergs and visiting a province I haven’t yet been to.

I spent the better part of the winter planning the trip, but in this post I want to talk about one of the oh-so-cute vacation homes we rented during our trip.  This is the little home by the sea that we rented for three nights in the tiny, outport town of Elliston, which is on the Bonavista peninsula and just a short 4km to the town of Bonavista, Newfoundland.


It’s a renovated ‘salt-box’ home that is over 100 years old.  For those of you who have yet to visit the ‘rock’, as we affectionately refer to Newfoundland, you will see this quaint style of home throughout the province, most with a clothesline billowing in the wind in the backyard.  It really is quintessentially Newfoundland.  The door on the front is ‘just for show’ and likely denotes where the original door may have been.  There is not a door on the inside.  The actual entrance is around the side not shown.  The cottage backs onto a small bay, with incredible views that you just can’t beat.

Here’s the back of the cottage with its great deck, perfect for the bbq.
The views are spectacular. And yes, that’s a little baby-iceberg out there.
The view from the living room: breathtaking!


The door on the side of the cottage leads to a small entryway right next to the kitchen.  In the kitchen the cabinetry is all new but suits the age of the home.  It looks like a salvaged farm sink was installed to add to the vintage feel.  Even the stove is retro – and works like a charm, although I didn’t try the oven.  Naturally there is a new fridge and microwave (not pictured.)



On the opposite wall in the kitchen was this lovely antique pastry table.  Or at least that’s what I think it was.  I opened the top door and guessed that flour would have been stored in the interesting bin.



When I opened the two smaller doors, I came upon a rare find.  It looks as though the long-ago owner of this table inserted some household helpful hints and cooking suggestions.  It was really neat to read all of the suggestions for what to serve with meat, as well as the time-tested hints for removing stains, cleaning your tinware and of course, getting rid of a tan from your face/hands.

Don’t we all have some spare chloroform in our house, just in case we need to get out a paint stain??
Apparently boiled rice goes with both leg of mutton and side of mutton… who knew?

Just past the kitchen is the small living room.  In the picture below, my back is to the doors leading to the deck.  It was a great spot to cozy up with a coffee and play some checkers with the kids.


I love these charming old homes with their low ceilings and even tinier staircases.


Upstairs there were three small bedrooms.  Two with queen beds and one with two twin beds.  I think we must have thrown our suitcases in along with all our stuff, because I don’t seem to have a picture of any of the bedrooms.  The small upstairs hall was so tiny and cute.  The floor was original but painted and naturally there were no two boards the same width.  I counted the number of floorboards in the hall, with an average width of 3″.  So with only six boards across, the hall was maybe 18″ wide… maybe.  It was tight.  But the ceiling was in it’s original state which I thought was a nice touch.


The bathroom was fully updated with a new sink, new shower and new toilet, but I loved the attention to detail, using a vintage dresser for the vanity and using faucets that, although new, suited the home perfectly.


IMG_0753Oh and I can’t forget the vintage radio that was atop the fridge.  It worked like a charm and was so mid-century! Love it.

IMG_0754Overall this little cottage by the sea was perfect for our family for exploring Bonavista and the various towns and outports along this part of the Newfoundland coast.  It’s also only a couple kilometres from a puffin sanctuary where there is great viewing of Newfoundland’s provincial bird.

IMG_1074IMG_0909The trip to Newfoundland was a fantastic birthday present to myself and definitely an experience the family will remember for a long time, if not forever.  I’ve travelled to many beautiful places, but Newfoundland captured a piece of my heart.


If your interested in the Anchor House of Ellison, NL, you can find more details here:  







I was at a street sale the other week, and for the most part didn’t find anything worthy of purchasing.  Lots of people selling baby/kids stuff, but nothing else really interesting.  Well, that is until I got to the corner house.  You know when you’re garage-sailing and you can just tell this house is gonna have some good stuff, well this guy didn’t disappoint.  The home-owner was a retired radio dj, so his garage was a virtual time-capsule of milk crates filled with old vinyl, cool signs on the wall, various vintages of turntables and other neat stuff.  I don’t really have a need for any of those things, but it was kinda cool to browse through it all.

As I was making my way back down the driveway, I spotted a box under a table filled with old magazines.  It turned out to be about two decades worth of Science and Mechanics, with a handful of Popular Science thrown in – all from the ’50s and ’60s.  I must say, it was a pretty cool find.  I found myself immediately leafing through the magazines mesmerized by the old-school ads, the retro cars and all the crazy articles; “Build an electric clothes dryer”, “Pick the right antenna for your Top TV reception” and of course the very necessary “How to tame wild hummingbirds.”

I decided to buy a couple and ended up paying ‘face-value’ for them – yup, I paid what they paid back in 1955,  25 cents.  I bought two Science and Mechanics (1952 & 1955)  and one Popular Science (1960), mostly because the cover page was for the Chevy Corvair and I knew my grandma owned a Corvair back in the ’60’s, so I thought my dad might like to browse through it.

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In 1955 apparently it was easier to build your own clothes dryer than to purchase one.
In 1955 apparently it was easier to build your own clothes dryer than to purchase one.
There are some serious directions.  Although I suspect getting your hands on some asbestos board to build this dryer may be a little tricky!
These are some serious directions. Although I suspect getting your hands on some asbestos board to build this dryer may be a little tricky to do in 2014!

I also like this article for spray-it-on suede, as a potential home-based business no less!  In fact, I was surprised at all of the ads for home-based businesses.  There were ads for how to make money at photography, doing door-to-door sales of “Presto” a chemical in a can designed to put out fires (it looked more like a can of mousse than anything able to actually put out a fire) and plastic laminating as a one man business.

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But my personal favourite has to be “The Snooper – find a fortune in uranium.”  Just send away for the Geiger counter and let the money start rolling in.  It even comes with it’s own radioactive sample, just so you know it works.  And of course it comes with an ‘ironclad money-back guarantee.’  If the irony doesn’t kill you first.


It was great reading through all these old magazines and basically taking a walk back in time.  I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with them, but I’m toying with the idea of matting and framing the covers since the colours are so vibrant and the look so retro, so stay tuned, that may be a future post.