Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Bringing Ospreys to Bavorov ......

...in a manner of speaking.....

As I flagged up in my last post, Rose's Room - a gift for my 101 year old neighbour - in this one I am indulging one of my passions, and I hope to tempt a few people into taking a deeper look at the subject – and maybe raise a wee bit of money for it too!

My friends know that when I embrace a new interest I very often get carried away by my enthusiasm for it.  My passion for dolls houses and all things miniature has been around for nearly fifty years; collecting GO literature for even longer.   Fungi began to feature in my life around twenty five years ago, though as a Czech that particular interest is probably somewhere deep in my genes. The greeting when arriving on a visit in the Czech countryside is not the usual British “How’s the weather been?” but rather “Are there mushrooms in the woods?” 
A typical newspaper photo at this time of year

But ospreys, beautiful ospreys, I only really discovered about 3 years ago when a friend pointed me in the direction of the Peregrine falcons supported by Sheffield University. They could be watched via a webcam which was streaming the events on the nest live.  I have always enjoyed watching birds in my garden, but this was a whole new experience. 

But not one that was entirely enjoyable because I soon found the inevitable mess on the nest hard to take – lots of poop, dead bits of pigeon, mouse, or some other luckless animal, all jumbled up together alongside the enchanting fluffy white chicks was less than enticing.

So when the same friend suggested I take a look at an osprey nest, also live-streamed, this time  from Manton Bay in Rutland,  I was delighted to find that these birds are far better housekeepers, leaving no unpleasant evidence of their digestive processes around and devouring almost every scrap of the fish on which they exclusively live. I was immediately converted and hooked.

Once again, as is my wont, I am never content to take a superficial look at something new – I need to dig deep to find out as much as I can about the fresh world to which I have been introduced.   And what a world has opened up to me!   Thank goodness we have the internet – there is so much to learn and absorb about these astonishing birds – birds that were almost wiped out in much of Europe during the last two centuries through the activities of humankind.

The fashion for egg-collecting in Victorian times and beyond, the extravagant modes of the Edwardian era which demanded osprey feathers to decorate the hats and make fans, 
(I promise no osprey feathers have been used in this hat department, but you see what I mean?) the widespread use of DDT, all contributed to the demise of the osprey.

For a swift course in "what should I know about ospreys?", including their history in Britain, you cannot do better than to take a look at the Osprey Basics section of the Dyfi Osprey Project website.

Last year was the first time I thought I should like to have a twelfth scale osprey nest in Small Worlds – though I wasn’t quite sure how to manage the ten or so metre high tree or pole it needed to sit on -  but a search for an actual osprey in that scale was depressing.  The usually reliable firm of Schleich, known world-wide for their excellent animal models, especially horses, were less than helpful on the osprey.   Yes, they used to make them ,
What's with the yellow bib?
but they are not very inspiring as I think anyone who knows the birds will agree, and since they are now "retired"they can be difficult, and also expensive, to come by.

So the idea languished for a while though I did put out a search on ebay which periodically produces a ceramic osprey holding whisky, or some sort of model aircraft kit. Nothing I could put on a nest anyway.

I follow several osprey webcams during the season.  The birds migrate to Europe from West Africa and other warm places, usually arriving in March (slightly misguided really when you consider the relative weather situations in early spring), returning to their nest of the previous year, and if all goes well, also meeting up with their former partner who they probably haven’t seen since the previous autumn.

They bond again very quickly and set about tidying up the nest and producing eggs, usually up to three per nest.   The parents diligently care for the young when they hatch, around 5 weeks after laying, watch them fledge between 7 and 8 weeks later, and continue to feed them their fish diet right up to the time they set off, individually, for points south at between 80 and 100 days old.   

The mother may well leave before the juveniles, the father will stay around to continue to provide fish for the offspring, and is usually the last to leave.  

What I find completely amazing is that each osprey in the family travels alone and finds its own way to warmer climes. The young usually do not fish for themselves until they are en route, and they are self-taught.  Once they do start fishing, they join the ranks of possibly the most consummate of fishers.

The webcam and website I spend most time on is that of the Dyfi Osprey Project (DOP) in Wales.  The reason is simple – the camera work is superb, the knowledge freely shared by the small team working there, bolstered by many volunteers and led by Emyr Evans whose book Ospreys in Wales, the First Ten Years is a revelation, 
is brilliant, and there is a lively chat stream on the You Tube Channel which allows us ospreyholics to contribute to our heart’s content.

So when Emyr announced that DOP had been successful in a bid for Lottery funding to build a new and amazing wildlife centre to replace the ancient portacabins from which this highly successful project has been running for the past 10 years (from 2000 visitors to 40,000 per annum in that time) and that we needed to raise match funding of £250,000 as soon as possible, I knew it was time to resurrect the idea of an osprey nest in Small Worlds to try and add a tiny mite to the total....

But for that I would need an osprey or two....
I suddenly realised that I have, amongst my friends, a number of potters. Maybe one of them could create a ceramic osprey rather more useful than the whisky flask?   I knew one of them – the highly adaptable Lynda of the liquorice allsorts, the ballet shoes and the patchwork quilt, would be arriving in late August 

but before that a local friend who is a potter, appeared in Small Worlds.(She too had contributed to Small Worlds in the past – a very stylish dress and hat (complete with feather) in the 1918 department store

Ospreys are almost unknown in the Czech Republic, though there are known nests in countries adjacent to it, some even with webcams, so she was rather taken aback to be met with a request to produce one, but gamely agreed to have a go.  I lent her my 2018 DOP calendar and off she went.

Without warning, she reappeared three days before the village festival in Bavorov, when people come from a fair distance to enjoy the fun. She brought not just one, but two ospreys, and to my surprised delight also a nest complete with eggs and a chick.  “What will you do with them?” she asked.  “Not sure” I replied, “but I will use them in some way try to raise awareness about ospreys here and some money  for the DOP Wildlife Centre as well”.   Thank you Zuzana!

Lying in bed that Friday night, it suddenly dawned on me that Sunday would be the ideal day to make a start on just that.   Lots of people in the village, and the ideal space for a display right outside the doors of Small Worlds, because we share a wide corridor with the library which was closed for the weekend and I could stick up pictures on the library doors into the bargain.

Could I get a display together in the time though?   Anything I wrote about ospreys would have to be translated into Czech – I can speak the language relatively fluently but would not attempt to write anything for display. So I would have to look out sources of information about ospreys already in Czech and then write something for the display to complement what I had found.  I would also have to track down any books or items of osprey interest I might have over here, and also make an attractive display around the nest.

Friday evening was quite busy!  We weren’t expecting as many visitors on Saturday as Sunday but I wanted to have everything in place on Saturday morning before we opened so that we were prepared for the 8.30am start on Sunday. (Czechs are early risers, I am not and we usually open Small Worlds at 11am....)

I proof-read for a translator friend and she nobly rendered my English into Czech at speed, and also looked out a number of useful links in Czech.  She then set up nice documents with a faint osprey picture behind the text and made some small cards with useful weblinks we could leave out for people to take.   
One of the most useful of these is to the imagicat website, a mine of osprey information, including webcams all over the world.

I had already spent Friday afternoon putting the nest into a treetop setting, albeit not up in the air as that would have been too dodgy. 

When I arrived early on Saturday to set up I was a little daunted to find someone I knew already on the doorstep who had brought his father along to see Small Worlds. Since we had been trying to get his father, a model-maker, into the museum for two years without success and he claimed to only have half an hour, I let them in – which actually paid off because whilst his father explored the dollshouses, exclaiming in delight all the way round, his son schlepped the heavy stuff for me!

For such a rush job, I was quite pleased with the final effect......

And even more pleased when on Sunday I discovered that the dodgy internet connection was being helpful and I could have live streaming from Wales on the display table.   

We didn’t raise much money, but I had expected that. 

We did raise quite a lot of osprey awareness though, and I was able to talk about them to my heart’s content.
The display is just the beginning.   

It is now in the museum window, (sadly impossible to photograph well). 

The plan had been to enhance the window display with a fullsize osprey model which I managed to acquire on ebay last week and which Lynda flew over with her.   

However (and I think Emyr may know this) making the model turned out not to be a matter of moments and we have turned the task over to a skilled paper model-maker to complete during the winter. 

I don't think Colin has so far made any birds but his castles are beautifully done.... 

....as was the South Bohemian house he made for Small Worlds.  He felt a local house was sadly lacking.  

There is also an arrangement for me to go into the local school – possibly schools – to talk about ospreys.  I am hoping DOP may be able to give me some tips as to what children find particularly interesting.
During the afternoon, several people told me that they had seen ospreys on fishing ponds here in South Bohemia and a few days later the mayor's wife sent me photos of a board at a nature reserve some distance away and yes, there was an osprey on it. So maybe there are already nests in the wild here.   

But this is very much a country of hunters so I think awareness raising is key at the moment and where better to start than in the schools?

And in the meantime, if you would like to help the brilliant Dyfi Osprey Project create what will undoubtedly be an iconic wildlife centre then there are plenty of ideas on how you can do it - right here!  Or you can go directly to the Just Giving page.....

Another way you can help is to seek out any store of pre-decimal coins you may have stashed away and sending them to DOP (any British coin dating between 1840 and 1967) because there are great plans for table tops and other delightful creations using them.  The postage on my package of half crowns was much less than I expected!

I hope you have enjoyed this insight into a slightly larger world than is usual here on Small Worlds - normal service will be resumed in the next episode (including my not holding out a begging bowl in two consecutive blog posts!),but in the meantime I leave you with a close-up of the resident breeding pair in Small Worlds and just one more look at an osprey doing what he does so very well.....

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Rose's Room

Unbelievably, August has almost come and gone.  This year every time I blinked yet another month had disappeared.   I know time speeds up as one gets older, but I hadn’t really bargained for it hitting mach speeds just yet! 

How much faster must it go for Rose who reached the stately age of 101 in early August?   When she was 99 I decided that I should not wait till she was a hundred to try to fit her life into a box.  Then she was 100, the Queen sent greetings and I produced a bower of roses.  So what on earth to make this year?

During last winter I found the basis of a present in a local charity shop – my usual hunting ground.  Fortunately I at once fired off a skype message to the amazing Jo, who cares for Rose for most of the week, to say I had found something. 

Because I then put it somewhere and could no longer neither locate it, nor remember what it was.  Careful detective work between us allowed me to finally track it down in a box that was ready to head over to the Czech Republic in May this year.  

I planned to build a small box behind it and mused over what I could put in it. I fell in love with a picture on the back of a Virago book and for a long time tried to track it down since Virago were only showing part of the scene that I hoped to base my room setting on. 

However all efforts appeared to fail – thank you those who tried to help – including contact with Virago themselves.  In the end we tracked the artist down with the help of Furrowed Middlebrow  Thanks Scott.  

However despite identifying the artist, I got no further with this idea.

After rejecting it, various other ideas floated past but it wasn’t until I realised that one of my collection of Raines  'Take a Seat' chairs looks almost exactly like the one Rose sits in, and that I also had side tables like hers, that I decided to attempt a miniature version of the room in which she spends most of her day. 

Building the box was reasonably easy – some foamboard and glue and inaccurate cutting of lines (I can’t cut straight at all, never could, never shall which much irritates Butterfly) and the basis for the room was there.  

I am not quite sure how it happened that I found myself in the Czech Republic without any photos at all of the things in Rose’s Room that I was going to need to miniaturise.   Butterfly came to the rescue and managed to photograph everything I needed – short-term memory loss on Rose’s part meant that Butterfly didn’t really need to explain in detail why she was doing such strange things with her camera!

My first task after building the room was to try to match the colour of Rose’s arm chair and get something like the right sort of visual finish on the tan “leather” of the Raine’s chair which is made of resin. 

I thought the Old Rose Chalk Paint I had would be just right but it was far too pink. Then I tried mixing up many different paints till I had what I thought was exactly right - a sort of pinkish chewing gum colour. Total panic then ensued in case I hadn’t done enough because I had no clue how I had reached the effect I wanted....

I wasted a great deal of time trying to fit a musical movement into a television because I fancied the idea of making the room a musical box but in the end I gave up in disgust, having more or less ruined a rather nice metal TV  

Actually, as it turned out, the room was full to bursting anyway by the time I had completed it.

As we know, keeping up our fluid intake as we get older is vital, so when I left for the Czech Republic one year I left a model of a full size rabbit with Rose, explaining that when she looked at him she could imagine that in my absence he was reciting my mantra of “Drink!” (She always responds to that with “Didn’t use to be my problem!”).  

So a rabbit was an essential item in the room. It turned out that, rather like the tiny donkey I needed for a crib scene some years ago, there was only one solitary rabbit of the right size in Small Worlds.  Huzza when I finally located him!  He was slightly deformed but I thought as long as he stood sideways he would do once he had a coat of paint.

Some of Milena the Milliner's early work
I knew at once that a key element in the room would have to be miniature versions of the wonderful crochet work done by Jo.   An endless stream of blankets, footstool and chair covers, twiddle muffsjackets, and other woolly items fly off her crochet hook.  Very fortunately I know the precise person to approach for miniature crochet work – Milena the Milliner whose many delightful creations grace Small Worlds. 

But would she be able to create a twiddle muff never having seen one, or even knowing what it is, and a blanket and footstool cover, just working from photographs?   Well, of course she would!  When I saw the final versions I nearly wept with joy, they were so completely perfect – take a look.

See the rabbit?

And compare with the "real thing" 

As luck would have it, my stash produced a very adequate fireplace, not vastly different from Rose’s, with plenty of shelf space on it for the photographs that she has there.  I darkened the wood a little and went for a tile effect to replicate hers, using several coats of nail varnish in the process. 

The fire itself is somewhat different from Rose's – in fact a number of things in the room are not precisely like the originals and one could play a version of Spot the Differences if one wanted to be picky....

My main aim was that Rose would recognise everything in the room when she saw it.

One of the things that Rose much enjoyed doing in the past year was building a dolls house with me so that too had to feature in the room - I cheated a bit by just finding photos of the front and back of the house we had made, cutting them to shape, and putting some foamboard between them to get depth.  It looks fine tucked away in a corner. 

Photos, book covers and pictures are relatively easy since one can shrink and stretch anything on the computer, unlike in the olden days of this hobby when you either had to search catalogues for a picture the size you needed, or, slightly later on, you had to work your way down through a magnifying/shrinking photocopier and ended up with loads of sheets of pictures that were useless size-wise.  

I duly shrank the photos to size – two of Rose’s mother, one of her brother, one of herself posing proudly in her Land Army uniform, and one of her post-war workmates enjoying themselves. I asked her where she was at the time. “Behind the bar serving!” was her reply.

I shrank Her Majesty the Queen as well and then set about making frames for all of them. I hate making frames...

Not only the photos required framing of course, but the pictures on the walls.   The engraving of Columbia Road was a 99th birthday gift from Lynda of the Liquorice Allsorts, and many other tiny items in the museum.

Her grandparents lived in the adjacent road to Rose in Bethnal Green when she was a child. Small World anyone?

I found the Columbia Road engraving on the internet easily enough - it even shows the primary school Rose attended.   

Much harder were the two red setters in a moorland setting.  Would anyone like to hazard a guess as to how many similar paintings there are? In the end I had to ask Jo for the artist’s name and then it was easy.

And the beautiful painting of roses which Rose admires every night on her way to bed is from a calendar showing the work of Dora Marshall, the mother-in-law of a friend of mine. My thanks to her son Kenneth for allowing me to use it – it’s particularly apt because the Marshalls lived for many years in the same town as Rose, and Dora painted local beauty spots which are also in the calendar, and which Rose recognises.

As I said, I hate making frames and will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid cutting and joining bits of wood to create one, including hunting for hours to find something to adapt.  I was very pleased with my successes this time!  

Cardboard from some game, a ready-made frame that just required a fourth side that I provided by cutting up a foil takeaway container, and best of all, some weird "tiles" that are almost like paper to cut but possibly made of something like bamboo.   

These were bought from our favourite Czech cheapy shop a while ago "in case they might be useful", as indeed they were, since I was able to use them to frame all the tiny photographs, as well as the card which has the fingerprints on of everyone who was at Rose's 100th birthday party last year - all 62 of them!

Quite apart from making sure that some of the books Rose enjoys were visible, and also the crossword puzzles that we do every day, I suddenly realised that the mantelpiece would not be complete without reproducing her birthday presents from me of the past two years.

Her 99th birthday present - Rose's life in a box - was easy enough. Another photograph of the "full-size" version,like the dolls house, a small wooden box, and there it was.   

The 100th birthday present of the rose arbour was quite another matter.  Much fiddling about with assorted oddments could only produce an approximation of the real thing - but Rose recognised what it was meant to be and it looks much better in situ!

More assorted oddments provided the basis for the bottle of Ensure, a food supplement that Rose drinks daily 

Then all that remained was the assembly.....

I had long since decided that my original frame, the one that started the whole idea, was far too busy to go on the front of what was turning out to be a very full room. 
Serendipity produced the perfect frame from my stock but I didn’t attach it to the box until I got to England, nor did I set up the room, other than to test out where what should go.   Once back in the UK I gave the much simpler frame a coat of chalk paint and then it was assembly and delivery time.

I leave you with a few views of the finished room ......

The original....
...and the copy

And as I had hoped, Rose identified everything once she had the right glasses on!

In case you are wondering – I have already had an idea for 102, and I have also already forgotten what it is!

In a few days’ time, a sticky post will go up on the blog (that just means it will stay on top for a while, even if I add new posts) that is something of a hop-out-of-kin.    

In an ironic coincidence, this sticky post will be, amongst other things, seeking to raise a little money for something very close to my heart. 

But there is another worthwhile enterprise that I also need to draw to your attention. Dolls house enthusiasts who follow my blog will almost certainly know of the website Dolls'Houses Past and Present, to others it will perhaps be something new.    

This website is a mine of essential information for dolls house collectors and holds a massive archive of photos and articles of great use to us, has a quarterly on-line magazine, and provides a brilliant on-line contact point for those who share an interest in miniatures and dolls houses
Unfortunately the website structure has been collapsing for a while and is now barely functional. The current webhost can no longer support it in the form we need.  We were terrified that all this, to us vital, information would be lost but the decision has now been made to seek funding for professionals to build a whole new website, and transfer the previous contents, which, because of the extensive nature of the site, will not be cheap.
If anyone who reads and enjoys this blog would like to make a contribution towards a new Dolls Houses Past and Present website then here is the fund-raising page that you need , with full details of why we feel it is so important to keep this resource going.   It will even take Paypal.

Many thanks!