Sunday 23 June 2013

A challenging interlude

After all the excitement of the opening of Small Worlds last Saturday I have been enjoying the lack of pressure in the past few days.   It's been a joy to sit in Small Worlds knowing that there is nothing I actually need to do apart from interacting with anyone who drops by.

So I have had a chance to turn my mind to the House of Bears Challenge for June.   I don't really do challenges but I do love the House of Bears and I enjoyed putting together the last one I entered so when I saw it was more literary quotes I thought I would have a go.

Now Bears, I have to confess that when I read the challenge some time back, I managed to get fixed in my head the idea that the quotes were from Pride and Prejudice (I know, I know, what on earth was I thinking?)   Since you kindly offered the option of picking a different quote from the book if the ones you suggested didn't quite chime, I had the happy thought of downloading the book to my Kindle to take it with me to Small Worlds.   Fortunately I took another look at the challenge details before I did.....

I quailed when I saw it was Jane Eyre.....Why quailed I hear you ask?   Well I thought I always hated that book.   

But Bears, dear Bears, I have to thank you so much for choosing it because I have so far enjoyed every page of it.   I read it when I was about 12, clearly far too young to appreciate it, and I haven't been near it since (60 years!)   I was amazed to find how witty it is and how beautifully written.   I think the other thing that has put me off in the past is the terribly sad and scary 1944 film version which has a very young Elizabeth Taylor dying tragically in the first reel.  I just watched the clip and find to my disgust that the scene that has stuck in my memory since 1952, of the two girls marching round the courtyard in the pouring rain - the episode which results in the death of Elizabeth - doesn't even appear in the book!

Anyway, back to the challenge which was to create something inspired by a quote from the book.   In the end I picked one of your quotes:

" I had to cross before the looking-glass; my fascinated glance involuntarily explored the depth it revealed"

Why this quote? Well simply because I had recently acquired a rather nice hand mirror (from that Czech cheapy store that Butterfly gets all her boxes and where we got the museum clock) that I wanted to use in some scene or other.   It's a little too large for a dolls house room but I thought it might work well with a dressing table that has been around for years, also out of scale for a dolls house.

I clearly then needed some sort of doll to peer into the mirrors and went on a hunt for some very sweet little dolls we have which look rather like miniature Sashas.   I was fairly sure they had stayed behind in England, along with our collection of full-size Sashas, but Butterfly assured me they were somewhere in Small Worlds.   

So I climbed to the very top of our long ladder
and tried to dig, whilst precariously balanced there, in the fruit crates that are holding the dolls in national costume.   This is not a good thing to do solo and when I found, near the top of one of the crates, a painted wooden jointed Dutch Doll I decided to give up the search for the mini-Sashas.   Anyway I liked the Dutch Doll better....

So now to combine the three elements and take a successful photo which reflected (oops, sorry) the quote 
" I had to cross before the looking-glass; my fascinated glance involuntarily explored the depth it revealed".

I have to tell you that is easier said than done.   I really wanted both to be able to see the doll's face  in the hand mirror and for that image to be reflected in the dressing table mirror.   

Ha ha.  Talk about a mind of her own. Every time I managed to get the angle right, Doll would drop her arm, or the mirror, or fall over.   I tried both ways round, posing her with her back to the dressing table, and then facing it.   I tried her sitting (and wasted time making a cushion for a twelfth scale sidetable for her to use as a stool, only to discover that of course her skirts completely covered it up).   I tried her standing.   

None of the photos really did what I wanted.   And do you know how tricky it is to photograph a reflection in a mirror without getting either yourself or the camera in the picture?  Very tricky.....


In the end I managed to get something more or less approaching what I was after so, for what it's worth, Bears, here is my offering for your June Challenge.  

And although, as I said before,  I don't really do challenges - in fact am not even aware of most of them - because Our Creative Corner has a strong family connection to me, I do keep an eye on it and when I realised this Through the Looking Glass set-up has many of the recipe elements for their current challenge I thought I might as well join in there too.   Though I suspect it will be hurled out again - because it's not really a creation, it's a choreographing....

From list A it contains all three ingredients, lace, fabric and ribbon, from List B it has wood, metal and clay (air-hardening clay is what both the tissue holder and the soap are made from) and from List C it has wood stain and paint......

As for the painted doll - despite her recalcitrance, I grew to quite like her and have not returned her to the fruit crate.   I have no idea when, where, or even why she originally joined our household but she is really rather nice.   She may appear again in reports from Small Worlds.

Thank you for reading thus far and I hope to see you again soon.

I am entering this in the House of Bears June Challenge
and in the Our Creative Corner June Recipe Challenge

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Open at last!

I have just realised that it is just a year since I started this blog to keep track of my journey towards a dolls house museum of my very own in the Czech Republic - the first post was published on 26.6.2012.   To me it feels as if I have been blogging for ever!

This post, which celebrates the actual opening of Small Worlds/Malé světy to the general public, seems the right place to thank all those without whom this journey would simply not have been possible.

  Because when I look round Small Worlds as it is today, and think back to last autumn and then again to March this year, I am amazed at what we have managed to accomplish in the time. 


Do you remember photos like these? 

 They were taken back in the autumn when I thought we would never emerge from the chaos.  Thanks to the sterling help of friend Lynda, some sort of order did finally triumph. Thank you Lynda.....

And then all the houses and hundreds of shoe boxes were lovingly (?) wrapped by my son and daughter and packed, 

along with all the cupboards and drawers which the houses would be standing on,  into a van to trundle across Europe, courtesy of two more friends, to be decanted in neat piles around the newly decorated room. 

Thank you Alison (aka Butterfly) and Adam, thank you Paul and Simon, thank you Pavel. 

Thanks to the speed of the carpenter and painter here (deeply impressive to someone used to the much more laid back style of the English -catch a painter there starting at 5am - all the cupboards and shelves were adapted and painted before I left for the UK in November.   

So when Butterfly and I arrived in March all we had to do was sort the enormous pile of heaven knows what collected over forty years  that I had refused to throw away "because it might come in useful one day", unpack all the houses, renovate a goodly number of them after their sojourn of twelve years in the spider-filled garage, and get set up for the Open Day on May 11th before heading back to the UK that same night........

Along the way we were helped by my sister-in-law Mette, who came over for four days just to sew a fine seam, Irmel and Bep from Holland who taught themselves to thatch a cottage roof (and did many other things as well) and by two Janas who as "unskilled labour" uncomplainingly cleaned the filthiest of houses.....Tak Mette, dank u wel Irmel en Bep, diky moc Jana x2.....

And then there was all the "intellectual" stuff, which includes, in my head, the artwork for Small Worlds - thank you Laura - I love the house logo and the banner; the text for the flyers - and indeed the name Small Worlds - thank you Ruth; the translating of blogposts, flyers, letters to the mayor, house labels, in fact everything that has to be correct rather than be in what has been termed my "darling Czech".   Thank you Heli, Jana, Jana, Mirka, Veronika.  

The Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood is without peer in my book so support from a former curator was hugely welcome - thank you Noreen.   And thank you Andrea for two sparkling ideas which are now taking shape in Small Worlds.   The mouses' saga is yours alone and the ballet school is yet to come.....

And last, but hugely important, the technical stuff on the computer and the negotiating with the print company - thank you Mel (particularly for your unending patience when I yet again forget how to make the banner go where I want it to and lose the damn file....).

It would have been fantastic to have had all those people at the Official Opening on Saturday to thank them in person.   But although none of the "overseas" contingent could be there I was delighted that all the Czech ones were.   It was a glorious day and I think that kept the numbers down a bit - we have had such dreadful weather lately that people grabbed the chance of working in their gardens - but it was a lovely occasion.

We (thank you again, Janas, for the crack of dawn stuff) served coffee and assorted goodies from across the Channel - Irish Whiskey Cake, Yorkshire Tea Bread, English Malt Loaf and Scottish shortbread. (I'm afraid I chickened out of making Welsh Griddle Cakes for a clean sweep).  They were all duly labelled which made for an animated discussion with the translators the night before - one can't apparently say something as simple as "Irish Whiskey Cake" in Czech...... 

Three people were running round with cameras but I only have the photos from my own and since some of them are just me, and the others are the houses you have already seen, there is a dearth of pictures of the event!  

I said some words (in darling Czech) to thank not only all the people I have mentioned above but also the town of Bavorov for its support;  the Mayor also said some words (in proper Czech - at least I assume so), and I got lots of presents which I had simply not expected.   

The wine, chocolates and flowers have made their way to my house, the beautiful orchids are gracing the windowsill in Small Worlds and look enchanting.

So another stage of the journey has been successfully accomplished, thank you for travelling with me so far and I hope that I will still have your company along this road, wherever it leads....

Thursday 13 June 2013

Where's Butterfly when you need her?

Oh my goodness - my friends and family will know just how challenging yesterday was for me in Small Worlds.

Starting with the need to be there at 8am because someone from the  Town Council was supposed to be coming to unbolt the mříž over my back door (I still don't know what it would be called in English), it went from bad to worse with all my most hated activities lining up to be tackled. 

In no particular order these are 
1) Waiting for someone to turn up who doesn't....2) Trying to cut a straight line with a pair of scissors.....3)Measuring something and then cutting to fit.....4)Working out the most effective way of using 6 giant acetate sheets to cover dolls houses of all different sizes and shapes.

Whoever came up with the slogan "measure twice and cut once" was living in a dream world.   My slogan would go "measure umpteen times and then find yourself cutting and re-cutting umpteen times plus one".

I have anyway never been able to cut straight but if it's a piece of paper it doesn't really matter too much.   One can always start again from scratch.   If it's a sheet of expensive acetate measuring 84 x 59cm which one has brought over from England especially to cover the dollshouses to protect them from little fingers and the ever-present dust, then it becomes more nerve-wracking.

The first two sheets went swimmingly well because they each covered one house.   With the aid of the table, which I assumed was accurately rectangular, and a long wooden set square thingy (note the professional language) I managed to cut covers for the two biggest houses - the Colonial and the Cape Cod - both to be seen here in Butterfly's blog post about renovating them.

Well, I say swimmingly but that's not entirely true because it was on the Colonial, the very first house that I tackled, that I discovered I could measure as much as I liked beforehand, I was still going to get it wrong over and over again.   I ended up having to do that horrible thing of cutting slivers off to get it right.    I did better on the Cape Cod and actually I was quite proud of my new-found ability to cut in a straight line.   But please don't tell Butterfly or she will refuse to cut anything for me ever again.   

The point at which I needed her desperately, far more urgently than those actors in Stratford she is currently working with, was when I had to do the smaller houses which didn't need a sheet each.   Because then I had to work out the most cost-effective way of using each sheet.   Those who have worked with me over the years know that maths has never been my strong point.   And nor is visualising or reversing shapes.

I spent a long, long time running to and fro, measuring and remeasuring and then adding up lengths and widths and trying to work out the most perfect combinations.   I was delighted with one sheet which was going to cover a two-storey shop called Tyger Tyger (guess what it sells?) and one other house, I forget which now.   I cut the Tyger Tyger part and then spent half an hour struggling to fix it as I had planned, before realising that it was impossible to do it as I had figured.   Despair!   A wasted sheet! 

So more maths and measuring and running about until I was ready to drop.   But it all got done in the end and though I say it myself - the lines are all straight and there is very little wastage.   Just about the right amount in fact to make windows for the Cape Cod and the Essex Pub, seen here waiting to be pargetted.

Earlier in the day the Mayor arrived to have a quick look round before Saturday's official opening - he hadn't been yet - and I was of course balanced precariously right on top of the ladder trying to fit a quart into a pint pot on the already overloaded top shelves.   He has promised to say a few words on Saturday.   
I too shall say a few words, mainly of thanks to all those who have helped in this adventure, but I can't decide whether to risk my "darling Czech" as someone once described it, or call on the help of one of the friends present, many of whom are well-used to coming to my rescue when I need not only to be understood (not usually a problem) but slightly more elegant or accurate in the phrasing.

I promised a glimpse of the Children's Corner so here is a before and some after views of it.   As you can see, it's not very large but it seemed quite wrong to me to have a collection of dolls houses which visiting children were forbidden to touch, without giving them something that they can actually play with...


I forgot to mention another hated activity - working with material.   There needs to be a curtain over the sink area and I have spent the past few weeks searching for a pole skinny enough to fit into the hooks I had already bought.   This week I found a pole - and promptly lost the second of the hooks.   (I have been carrying one around with me whilst pole-hunting.)     Looking in every possible pocket, bag, nook and cranny did not produce it so I tried to buy new hooks.   None to be had in the village so I resigned myself to heading into the nearest town to continue the hunt.

In the meantime I measured, with some difficulty, the giant Ikea curtain that needs to be cut down and in fear and trembling took the scissors to it.   Not quite as straight as the acetate but I can diddle with the hem when I come to sew it up.   Oh how I hate sewing!   I hid under the desk at school when they came round asking who would like to take extra sewing on Saturday mornings.   Definitely not me.....

Oh and guess what - as I sat in car outside my house some time later I was moved to look in the pocket of my anorak which was lying in the back, and lo - there was the second hook!  I swear I haven't worn that jacket since I started pole-hunting.......

So today I got the curtain up.   One stitch I did learn before I hid under the desk was tacking which is I'm afraid all I have done with the length.  There are some skilled sewers visiting in August - and it would make a change from patching my much-loved summer dressing gown which they are now refusing to do any more.....

So everything is pretty well ready for Saturday's opening, including the stowing away of all the working materials which some of you will remember we were able to have very luxuriously spread out for the nine weeks we were working on the houses.    Not so any more - everything is neatly tucked away under the remaining worktables and screened off from the Children's Corner.....

This has turned into a much longer post than I had intended but just to finish off here are some promised photos of our "new" window display.   Unfortunately it really can't be taken from outside - all one gets is a photo of me reflected in the glass  - but here's just a glimpse of it from the inside

Thank you once again for following this adventure - I am much looking forward to the official opening on Saturday and my one sadness is that Butterfly can't be here to share in the pleasure of finally opening Small Worlds to the public.   The adventure will go on - there are still many houses to describe and to work on so I hope that you too will continue to enjoy the journey with me.

Saturday 1 June 2013

Can it be Christmas?

Well if you go by the weather at the moment, then possibly it can.....and I must say that it feels a bit like it for me this weekend.

I am in Bonn at the moment, staying with one of my oldest friends, and enjoying the "airlock" between my two very different lives, a village in South Bohemia and what has now become a suburb of north London.   And the reason it feels like Christmas is that not only were there four ebay parcels to open waiting for me here, but that Small Worlds has received two brilliant items on long loan.

First the ebay parcels - whilst "on leave" from Small Worlds I have been amusing myself by trawling both the UK and German ebay sites for dolls house items.   One thing that has emerged from that, other than a few purchases, is further confirmation of what I already knew - what a fantastically lucky find the Essex Dolls House Haul was.   Most of the houses I have seen on ebay are not only very expensive, but also, to my mind, fairly boring and samey.

Three of the six Essex houses are anything but that, and to think that I got all six for the princely sum of £35.55, is simply amazing. 

Bep experimenting with thatching methods

Plans are afoot for their imminent reincarnation (you may remember that one is scheduled to become a Ballet School) but they already look good from the outside.   

As far as the Ballet School goes, I am pleased to report that the multi-talented Bep, who was last seen thatching a cottage, spent some of her time in Small Worlds making tiny tutus.....

I bought several dolls house books on UK ebay, and when I got to Bonn there were more ebay parcels waiting - a set of furniture and dolls for the house in the Children's Corner and a couple of other items that had taken my fancy.   
I hesitate to say that I have no idea what to do with the Jester - hesitate because I have little doubt that Andrea will at once come forward with an impossible back-story that I shall feel impelled to illustrate in miniature form!   

But maybe he can join the puppet group that Bep found time to restring (and in some cases to refoot, rehead and rehand....they have been much played with by my grandchildren).    If you are wondering about the white polythene structure on the table, it is a new chimney for the thatched cottage - more of that in another post.

But on to something much more exciting.   Very many years ago - about thirty in fact - I was asked to help locate a suitable dolls house for the younger daughter of the friend with whom I seek refuge each time on my journey across Europe.   (I think I may have been partly responsible for infecting said daughter with the highly contagious dolls house bug. I well remember her enthusiastic participation, at the age of ten or so,  in cake making for our patisserie.)    
I found a suitable house somewhere in London and transported it to Germany in the back of my camper van.   Susanne fell to with a will and sat alongside her father whilst he was enjoying his hobby of making full-sized furniture, working on Mini-Mundus kits to furnish her Greenleaf Pierce house.   Luckily she did not have to make the house up from kit form since I had managed to find a shop display one, already assembled.    Later the family moved to New York where it became very easy indeed for Susanne to continue to pursue her hobby since America is an amazing mecca for miniaturists.

And now I am delighted to say that she has offered me her house, complete with furniture, on long loan to Small Worlds, and I took delivery yesterday.

Although the furniture has suffered a bit from living in a family of four boys, there is nothing that cannot be repaired, and I am delighted to see it all again.

Last night we unpacked the furniture in order to repack into the all-too-familiar shoe boxes (I thought I was done with them!) and tomorrow we will try to get everything into the car.   Theoretically son left the space for a house measuring 35.5x33x25 inches when he loaded the car.

We shall see.....

I was particularly happy to renew my acquaintance with the family and servants of the house, which were made to order by a friend of mine, after the style of Judith James who made the dolls in our big Victorian house.

The Pierce will not appear immediately in Small Worlds since Butterfly has reserved the right to add the Pierce to her list of successful restorations and she won't be back in the Czech Republic until early next year, but in the meantime I shall enjoy its visit in my spare room.  

Thank you Susanne!

Almost more exciting is the other long loan to Small Worlds because it was completely unexpected - and there is so much of it.   Or maybe I should say - so many of them!  

Fourteen small, neatly labelled boxes of the most perfectly preserved lead soldiers......

I had asked Susanne, with her four boys now grown out of the playing-with-soldiers phase, whether they might have some no longer wanted ones to go in the fort in the Children's Corner.   They hadn't, but my friend then announced over supper last night that she had something, though certainly not for children to play with, which could be of interest.  And she then produced the fourteen boxes which had been collected by her brother and passed to her by his widow.  I am overwhelmed by this donation - I knew her brother well and so it is an added joy to be able to have something of his in Small Worlds.   

I have the perfect display shelf for them, though I am a little worried about scale and perspective.  And the regiments will have to take their turn as there won't be enough room for all of them to do battle at once.   But it will be delightful to set them out, turn and turn about.

Thank you Inge!

I have been somewhat daunted to see on the news tonight that there is flooding both in southern Germany and the Czech Republic, some of it directly on my route.   Spare a thought for the people of the very beautiful city of Passau which, sitting as it does on the confluence of three rivers, has been subject to severe flooding throughout its history.

I am crossing my fingers that there will not be a repetition of 2002, when the frontier was closed between the two countries because of the heavy floods.  I hope that my next blogpost will come from Bavorov and will highlight the Children's Corner which still has to be set up before the Official Opening on Saturday 15th June.

Thank you for following this journey - see you again very soon.