Don't throw your junk in my backyard... Part 1


... how did that song go again?  This post has been building for a while.  I'm just not sure where to start - so I've decided to break it up into manageable chunks.  We start the story in an inner-city suburb of Riga, Latvia - a suburb which historically was a place of wooden manor houses.  Later, in the late 19th century, the area was built up with two-storey wooden apartment houses for the workers.  Today many of these houses remain - buildings right up along the side of the road, with large green communal courtyards, or backyards, behind them.  This is what our house had behind it when we bought it - a big yard shared by the inhabitants of three houses - nothing much else but dilapidated wood sheds, some grand old oak and maple trees, and some shabby lawn.  Oh, and the wooden table and benches in the middle where the daily piss-up would happen - in the summer, anyway.  You see, many of our neighbours - the people living in the other two houses - are ageing alcoholics down on their luck.  May not be polite to say it, but its the truth.  Our suburb is like what West End in Brisbane used to be before it was gentrified.  Or Footscray in Melbourne.  A bit, well...  scummy.  Huge potential.  But scummy nevertheless.
Not to worry, we thought, and whacked a huge fence up through the middle of the courtyard when we finally settled on the house - this was about 4 years ago.  Most of the ramshackle, built-by-uncle-Sergey-with-scrap-wood sheds were torn down, the piss-up table was removed, and we had our own backyard.  All 400 square metres of lawn, apple and cherry tree, acorns and dirt.  Of course, the neighbours were mildly annoyed - they were still left with some space, but a part of it was now inaccessible.  And I felt a little uneasy about bringing the first whiff of gentrification to our courtyard.  But we struggled on with the house, and after the building crews began to find all the rotten internal and external walls, our new back yard started turning into a timber yard.  We had a supply of rotting beams that kept on growing.  At one point we thought the pile of wood would be higher than the actual house.
Long story short (I'll leave some more detail for parts 2 and 3), but after the building work was completed and we moved in, the yard stayed as it was.  Bits of firewood and piles of 100 year old brick and building supplies and old beams stacked in piles.  The spring came and melted our beautiful blanket of snow, and there it all was in front of us.
Needless to say we have not yet gathered the stamina to order 10 huge mini skips to pile everything in.  That's one of the many jobs I see round the corner.
What we did do today though was start pulling down the last remaining wood shed, which was full of treasures from when we took over ownership of the house all those years ago.  The boys thought we were in junk-lovers heaven, and kept dodging rotten beams to dart in the shed and drag out finds.  An interesting thing about our house is that it has a commercial space which has been a hairdressers, a shoemakers and an op shop at various times in history.  In its last incarnation it was a second-hand store, and the cash registers, clothes racks (sans clothes, unfortunately) and scales (clothes were sold by weight!) were still left.  Not to mention the big "used clothing" sign above the door.  All of these treasures were in the shed today, besides a few more.  Everything filthy, musty and very "lived on" by alley cats.  Nothing a good scrub won't fix though...  if the 'treasures'don't go to the tip, that is!





This is my favourite - a wrought iron and brass bedstead.  This we found stashed in the attic after we bought the house - in the darkest corner.  Amazing that it was still there, considering how heavy it is and how most metal things get stolen and traded in as scrap metal around these parts.


A suitcase full of high-heel galoshes and old 1950s Russian sewing patterns.  Oooh la la!


 Selling clothes by weight with big old grocers scales - typical of the immediate post-soviet time in Riga. Another treasure we took home long ago was the shop's abacus - shop keepers would use the abacus back then to check if the cash registers were correct.  Go figure.


One of the cash registers still works - beeps and dings and the drawer opens when you hit the right button - awesome


So Tiss and Mik got all entrepeneurial and decided to take the "used clothes" sign out the front of the house and set up a stall, with some of dad's clothes from the dirty clothes basket.  They didn't sell anything, but one of the inebriated neighbours turned up at the end and they hot-tailed it back inside, dirty clothes and all...  

3 Responses so far.

  1. There's nothing like an inebriated neighbour!

    I wish I had a ready stash of vintage shop fittings and Russian clothing patterns.

    You need your own TV show! This stuff is brilliant!

  2. Fifee says:

    You should sell the bricks to a demo salvage place - must be others like you who could use them, esp in cash strapped Latvia. Win-win.
    wow a treasure trove for a collector. Nirvana. The stories that must exist in those objects....
    Fascinating - keep on tellin this tale. Love the backyard with the huge trees!

  3. Jonathan says:

    Would love to have been there whilst you were cleaning it all out...What treasures!!

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