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.

Thursday 1 November 2012

We're in!!

It's been a slightly nerve-wracking few days.   On Tuesday morning the friends driving the dolls houses and display units over to the Czech Republic arrived in Hoddesdon, picked up the van, and then spent a tough four hours or so loading it ready to head off to the midnight boat from Dover to Dunkirk.   My stalwart children had prepared everything like a military operation, right down to labelling each of the heavy pine drawers which then had to be reinserted into the giant ex-BBC oak cupboards in which they were travelling.    

After about four hours of heavy lifting, and some animated discussion when it came to the final stages of getting the dolls houses themselves into safe positions, all was ready for departure. Though son has the van keys triumphantly between his teeth, I suspect he is somewhat relieved that he isn't the one facing fifteen to twenty hours of driving before getting to the other end.

In the meantime, in another country, I was getting the occasional question via Skype about whether something really needed to come, or could this house stand on top of that one?   In general, I was very happy to be here and not there!   (Those loading will have been pleased about that too.....)

Once the van had safely departed I revealed to those left behind that the last time I had crossed, 3 weeks or so ago, I had for the very first time in many crossings been pulled into the Customs Shed in Dover for a random check on my way out of the UK.   I have no clue what Customs might be looking for as one leaves the country but on Tuesday night I was having kittens that this might happen to the van. There would then have been no chance at all of catching the boat and in fact I would not have blamed the volunteer drivers for abandoning the whole lot in Dover and disappearing home!

However, all was well, and apart from getting lost about twenty miles from their final destination, the van rolled up last night almost exactly twenty four hours after leaving Hoddesdon.   We left it outside my gates for the night and it was still there, looming over the garden wall, the next morning (good heavens, that's today!)

This morning, after a very well-earned sleep-in and a leisurely breakfast, we set off for the museum room and were joined by a Czech friend for the great unloading.   Nothing had shifted at all during transit, a tribute to both the packing and the careful driving across Europe.  There was a short hiatus whilst I went back home to get some scissors to cut the ropes and then unpacking could start in earnest.   

The houses began to take up their places in one corner of the room, and in another, all the wooden shelving and cupboards were stacked ready for a painter to give me a price on turning them into some sort of coherent display furniture.... 

About thirty years ago I bought four giant ex-BBC filing cabinets, with roll down doors, and two ex-BBC oak tables which for many years served as the children's homework desks.   Who would have thought they would all end their lives in a new incarnation in a dolls house museum in the Czech Republic?  

The (massively heavy) oak cupboards just fitted neatly through the doors and will serve in due course, on their sides or fronts, as base units to hold the dolls houses at a reasonable viewing height.   The many pine drawers will then be used to vary the display height of some of the smaller houses.   And will also act as very necessary storage units for working materials and dolls house furniture.

So after an hour and ten minutes work, everything was in the museum room and coherently sorted for the next stage (will these stages ever come to an end???).

When it was all spread out over several rooms in Hoddesdon I had grave doubts that it would all fit into the van.   And once we had it all unloaded into the museum room we looked around and once again marvelled at the miracle of packing that had taken place.   I am so relieved that it is all safely here, and delighted that we didn't opt for the expensive option of a removal firm.   I had been very uneasy about giving the houses into strange hands, however expert.   

But this could not have happened without Alison and Adam, Paul and Simon.  A massive thank you to all of you - and thank you too to Pavel for adding some Czech help at the end!     

My thanks too to those of you who are still following this journey to a mini-museum in the Czech Republic.  I am not sure when the next post will be or what it will be about.   Musings on a name perhaps, and what colour to paint the units....

Any ideas?

See you again soon I hope......