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!