Sunday 23 December 2012

Christmas is coming - oops, it's here!

Apologies for the long delay since my last post.   My excuse is that my feet seem to have barely touched the ground since I arrived back in England at the very end of November.   And now Christmas Eve is almost on us and one of the things on my long "To Do" list is to get a post up before the end of this coming weekend.   I might just manage it since at the moment there isn't a whole lot to report and all my dolls houses are in another country so can't have their photos taken.

As some of you will know, especially if you also follow butterfly's blog, we are moving out of our home of forty years and will be celebrating our last Christmas here.   So we went to great lengths to find the perfectly shaped christmas tree (butterfly is a perfectionist!) and from Christmas Day onwards we will sit with it by candlelight, trying to also have enough candles lit in the room to allow us to read, do quizzes, jigsaw puzzles and play games.  Sadly, trees do not photograph well but this will at least give you an idea of what we will be looking at over the Twelve Days of Christmas.  We turn into Christmas hermits....

In the other room, our giant ficus plants have had to wander upstairs to make space for the Giant Book Sales and so the Gisela Graham figures we collect each year at the post-Christmas Sale at the local garden centre are now hanging from bare branches, and one can actually see them much better.   

Cue digression:  We have four giant ficuses, lovingly grown over 25 years or so from Ikea plants of the week into the trees that they are now.   We are looking for permanent or temporary homes for them - possibly a church hall, big conservatory or some other large space.  I am happy to transport them a considerable distance to bring them to anyone who might be able to offer them lodging.   It is heart-breaking to have to abandon them when we leave for the Czech Republic at the end of February....

But now to happier things.   This blog post is really a Christmas stocking filled with assorted goodies that I hope you will enjoy - a Christmas interlude in an otherwise over-hectic time for me since it not only includes moving out of our house and setting up the museum but also that most hated of activities - buying a new car.   I cannot think of anything I hate more except perhaps going to the hairdresser.....

So the first thing you can pull out of the stocking is a refinement on the wonderful collection of Christmas creches I showed you at the end of my last post.   I did write about this amazing automated creche in the comments section of that post but just in case you missed it - here it is again.   Such giant creches, known as Betlems, are very common in the Czech Republic and Slovakia but I have never seen one quite as amazing as this.

Whilst I was still en route to England I had the opportunity of not only visiting that wonderful collection of creches but also the privilege of seeing a private collection of dolls and dolls houses near where I was staying outside Bonn.   I have permission to put some photos up and tell you a little about the collection though, since it is not open to the public, I can't of course give any details.  

The collection has been amassed over many years by a now elderly lady who began it when she dug out the body parts of tiny porcelain dolls from the rubbish dump used by a toy factory.  

This led to her reconstructing many hundreds of tiny dolls and then creating settings for them to live in.   Alongside this she was also collecting larger dolls and she now has a fantastic collection, all beautifully displayed upstairs in her not-very-large house.

There was so much to take at once that I simply did not know where to look.   Crammed onto the wide landing and into the small front room upstairs was a feast of wonderful things.   As with the creches, I am simply going to post photos without any commentary - they speak for themselves.   Remember that you can click on the photos to enlarge them to see more detail.....

She told me that one of her greatest pleasures, now that she is retired, is to take her early morning cup of coffee upstairs and simply to sit in her front room, surrounded by all the wonderful things she has collected and made.   I have already arranged to go back for another visit, this time with butterfly, so that we can get inspiration for the Bavorov museum.

This would seem a good point to post the delightful poem that my friend Andrea, of eclectic meandering, found in The Guardian and painstakingly copied into the Christmas card she sent me: 

Doll's House by Jacob Polley

A table set with tiny plates,

the chairs around a paper fire:
diminishment has simplified
the aims and objects of desire,
while blinder faith must still provide
the mincemeat in the wooden cakes,

the creaking stair and wind outside.

For you have held your breath to peer
along the shelves of depthless books
lining a room where nothing's read;
and now, effortlessly giant, look
up to the eaves and in at the beds.

Be brave. To live is not to fear

despite the scale of what's at stake.
Two children lie in matchbox cribs.
Next door a couple, stiff as pegs,
are tucked together, rib to rib,
the bedsheets bound around their legs.

What happens if you turn away?

Every god has asked the same,
crouched at a sideboard, just in case
sudden little laughter shakes
a heaven like an empty house
where not a plate nor day will break.

That feeling mentioned in the last verse - that something goes on whilst one's back is turned - is so very familiar to me!

Time now to pull a musical break out of the stocking - the fabulous group Chanticleer singing Everywhere I go.   Watch out for the rapid changes of costume.....

At the very bottom of this Christmas stocking you can find yet another wonderful display, this time from America. It is almost enough to put me off trying to produce anything half as good in my museum!  If you have wrapped all your presents and made all your mince pies then just sit back and enjoy it......

Finally, as Christmas rapidly approaches - in one hour's time it will be Christmas Eve here in England which means that my Czech and German friends, who are an hour ahead, are already celebrating Christmas - I should like to thank you for joining me on my museum journey and wish you all a joyous Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.   

See you again in 2013.......

Sunday 25 November 2012

Goodbye Bavorov! Hello Bonn!

I can't believe that the time has already come to head back to the UK, making my usual "airlock" stop near Bonn as I drive across Europe.   One of my very oldest friends lives here and one of the joys of travelling to and from the Czech Republic each year is the chance that it gives us to keep our friendship of 54 years as fresh as it ever was. My stay with her and her ever-patient and welcoming husband gives me an invaluable space between my two very different lives. 

So I am writing this post in "my" room in their house, after an afternoon of playing Racing Demon with her and her grandsons.

Cue digression: If you don't know Racing Demon I can recommend it as the ultimate family card game for any number of players.  I first learned it 60 years ago at boarding school and my joy was great when I arrived in Hamburg in 1959 to live with said friend and her family and found that they too played "Dämon".   After some negotiating over House Rules, we have played happily together ever since, introducing our children, and now our grandchildren to it.   Sadly speed and quick reactions are of the essence and ageing fingers and reduced eyesight are not conducive to winning.  And playing with children means that no swearing has to become one of the House Rules....

Just before I left Bavorov I said goodbye to my museum room and took some final photos before butterfly and I head back in the New Year to start work on the actual houses.   In my last post I promised to report on the work done by the carpenter and the remaining bit of painting that then had to be done.

I spent last Sunday afternoon in the museum, together with the carpenter and his small daughter.   Whilst he laboured on the ex-BBC cabinets, turning them from  horizontal filing cabinets into vertical display counters, she and I tackled the jigsaw I had had the foresight to grab from my bookshelves as we headed to the museum.   

In the end it turned into a race as to whether Tati would finish the job before we completed the puzzle - I could see him eyeing us at intervals to make sure he didn't overtake us!   In the end it was (of course) a dead heat.....  
The painter came back at 6.45am on Monday, clearly hovering outside my house until I turned some lights on, before he knocked on the door to collect the key.   By Tuesday at 9.30am all the painting was done and I had paid off the (now sadly beardless) painter.  On Wednesday I went in to check things out before finally locking up and came to the very first real hitch in what had so far been an amazingly smooth process.

Everything was beautifully painted, with a wonderfully smooth finish, but to my dismay the four newly painted "counters" were a slightly, but noticeably, lighter colour than all the rest of the green units.  I didn't want to believe it at first, because the neon overhead lights can make the colours deceptively different depending on where things are standing in the room, but after heaving several things around so that they were close together and thus caught the same light, my first impression was sadly confirmed.   It really wouldn't matter too much if it weren't for the fact that the drawer units are going to stand directly on top of the counters and the colour difference will be very obvious. 

I spoke to the painter on the phone who thought that the newly painted counters might still darken a bit but the charming paint shop man was immediately anxious because the last tin of paint had been mixed with a new delivery from Dulux and he admitted that it did sometimes happen that the "chargers" of paint colour could vary......bah!!!

We have left it that after three weeks (so that everything is really dry) he will go and have a look, together with my friend Maria who has been left in proud possession of the keys, and assess the situation.   If he feels Dulux is at fault he will try to get hold of the old colour and the cabinets will have to be repainted.   Maybe I am being ultra-fussy - looking at the photos doesn't in fact give an entirely accurate picture so blog readers will not really be able to tell.  I am in two minds about just letting it go or not.

On the same Wednesday I also finally signed the contract with the Town Hall.   The financial officer went very carefully through each bit of it to make sure I understood it all perfectly.   I am exceedingly satisfied with it - especially the extraordinarily reasonable rent I am paying, which includes all services.

And now I can turn my thoughts to the house move that is imminent in England.   I am told by my daughter that despite the fact that much was despatched to Bavorov in the trusty Transit, the house there is as full as ever.  (Logic tells me that this simply cannot be true - but honesty compels me to admit that it is still very, very full).   So there is a lot of hard work ahead.

However just at the moment I am still sitting peacefully in my airlock, enjoying the company of close friends and undertaking some gentle excursions.   Yesterday I went with a friend who shares a love of the Chalet School books of Elinor M.Brent-Dyer to a medieval market in the enchanting fairy tale town of Stadt Blankenberg.   I spent quite a lot of the day bemoaning the fact the neither of us had brought our cameras - especially when we came across a house shaped much like House No.5 of the Essex Haul.   I got very excited and took photos with my elderly mobile but they are of limited use since I have never managed to download anything from it to a computer.   Helpfully, I have now found a photo on the internet - shame about the school sign.....

And in the true spirit of the approaching Advent season I will finish this post with some photos from a stunning collection of Christmas Creches which we visited today.   All the stalls and houses have been made by one man to house the amazing collection of figures and animals he and his wife have collected in over half a century. 

He has made many hundreds of stables and farmhouses since he retired in 1992 - he is now in his eighties - and has never repeated a design.  The collection is open to the public from the end of October each year - someone set up a website for them but then disappeared, bearing the password, and so it cannot be updated.  The address is correct though and the exhibition is well worth a visit. 

I'd like to thank you for staying with me through this very long post - I hope to see you again soon, this time from across the Channel if the storms are not too fierce.....   

Sunday 18 November 2012

And on it goes.....

Armed with a small glass of ginger wine (note to self - bring some back from UK on next trip) and a few nibbles, and urged on by some forceful voices from across the ether, I am sitting down to report on what has been achieved since my last post just over two weeks ago.

I am delighted to be able to tell you that I had not dreamed that so much could be done before I leave for England this coming Thursday.   I had thought that most of the work such as painting, carpentering (does this word actually exist? If not, it really should) etc., would have to wait until daughter (butterfly of Words and Pictures) and I get back here sometime after Christmas.

Close followers of the blog will remember leaving a room full of assorted furniture made of many different woods and colours.

Whilst the intrepid van drivers, Paul and Simon, were still here we relaxed and did some gentle sight-seeing, but as soon as they had departed on Sunday 4th November a friend came round with her tame carpenter to talk about putting counter tops onto the ex-BBC cupboards you can see on the right of the small picture.   To my amazement he said he could probably do the job (in between others - he's a popular carpenter) before I left for the UK towards the end of the month.   He took all the necessary measurements and went off to prepare the wood at home.

Our tiny town rejoices in the presence of one of the best dedicated paint shops in South Bohemia and so I went there on the Monday to ask about a good (and preferably inexpensive) painter since I had decided that butterfly's talents would be far better occupied in the New Year with working on dolls house renovation rather than painting all the units so that they looked like a coherent whole instead of one big mess.

Cue digression: If you don't know The Spooky Men's Chorale from Australia I strongly recommend them to you.  This song of theirs could rightly be my theme tune.....

By Tuesday morning at 7am I had met the painter (who sports a beard and head of hair rather like John the Baptist must have had when he emerged from the desert), not much later we had chosen the paint and sorted out what he was going to start with, and I left him to it.   I dropped in early on Wednesday to admire what he had done but was somewhat concerned at how pale the light blue paint I had chosen was turning out to be. The photo is actually misleading - it was much paler and bluer than this slightly lilac effect.

I was assured that the second coat would come up darker but I woke at 4am convinced that I had made a horrible mistake and that the white walls, with the massed blue-white units plus the fact that several of the dolls houses are also white, would look horrible.   I was so agitated that I couldn't drop off to sleep again until I could get hold of the painter at the crack of dawn to stop him putting on any second coats.   I got him at 6.45am by which time he had already put a second coat onto three of the drawer units but he seems completely unflappable, said he could use up the first lot as undercoat so it wouldn't be wasted,  and by 7.15am we had emerged from the paint shop complete with the new colour.

I am thrilled with the result - friends who visit me will have no difficulty in recognising it since I have it on all my outside doors here and it is going to offset the houses beautifully. 

(I know that because whilst I was waiting for it to be late enough to phone the painter I ran around the four houses I had here in the ex-barn, putting a piece of wood that had usefully fallen off my front door against each of them...)   

And boy am I glad we didn't attempt the painting ourselves - it's a much bigger job than I had realised and he is stunningly well-organised, and the finish on everything is brilliant.  And he has also done the horrible radiators......  

By Tuesday this week the painter had done all that he could before the carpenter did his stuff, which was going to be at the weekend and so I could turn my attention to getting the blinds up.   
I had not been able to source any within my budget that were big enough for the windows so I ended up with two for each window from one of the big DIY stores in a nearby town.  My original plan had been to ask a friend to put them up but he felt that my drill might not be powerful enough and he did not want to risk making unneccessary holes in the walls and then not managing to get the job done.

One of the things I have been anxiously waiting for, especially since I am having a problem getting any Czech insurance company to cover the museum contents, were the bars on the front windows.   I realised that if men were coming to put these up they would certainly have big enough drills to get the blinds up as well.   So I phoned the Head of Works and was relieved to hear that not only were the bars coming in the next couple of days but that the men could also do the blinds - well that's what he said anyway.
I arrived at the museum at 7am on Thursday to explain how the blinds needed to go up to find the men already busy with the mřiž (excellent pronunciation practice for those amongst you learning Czech!).   I need not have risen so early - it was after 8 before they came in to look at the blinds and then there was much tooth-sucking and "We can't possibly do this, you will need a proper company to do this job".  They also insisted that it would not be possible to put them up above the windows but that they would have to fit into the niches, which didn't suit my plan at all since I want to use the wide windowsills for display purposes.   After some persuasion on my part one of them suddenly acknowledged that yes, I was right, and there were two ways of putting up these particular blinds.  (I knew that all along - that's why I bought them!)

More tooth-sucking and then one of them made a phone call which resulted in the rapid appearance of both the Head of Works and the Mayor.   I must have missed the bit in which agreement was reached that they would have a go since the next thing I knew was that they had to go to deliver some wood (where to I know not) and would be back in half an hour, together with some long, strong screws.

I filled in the time with attempting to make dividers for the storage drawers and established that it takes two large fruit boxes to make a set of dividers rather like these.   Cutting the boxes up is hard work, especially with the wrong equipment - I swear they are better made than some modern furniture - and I can tell you right now that my drawer dividers will not be covered in giftwrap!

 The men reappeared on time and then it was as if they had suffered a sea change.   With the utmost skill and professionalism they measured, drilled, put in screws and up went all four blinds within a very short space of time.   I summoned up my best Czech and told them they were hvezdy (stars).  "Oh" said the big burly one, "no one has ever called me that before". And off they went, refusing any beer money. 

So now all that is left is the transformation of the BBC filing cabinets and the painting thereof.  Since the latter hasn't yet happened I think I will keep both those things for a last blog from the Czech Republic just before I leave on Thursday - this one has gone on quite long enough and I have finished the bottle of ginger wine.....

Thank you for continuing to follow this journey to a museum in the Czech Republic - I am still searching for the right name for it - and I hope to see you here again soon.