Monday, 23 January 2017

I am so excited!!!

It was my birthday this week - a half-round one as the Czechs say - and I had some simply wonderful presents.   But one in particular I cannot wait to share with you all.  And I don't even have to write a whole blogpost to do it since its creator has done it for me!

Before Small Worlds opened in 2013 I was lucky enough to find a haul of dolls houses in Essex, of which this was one.   Since then it has been standing on the windowsill in the museum, with the upstairs almost empty, a semi-furnished kitchen, and in the other downstairs room, the beginnings of a dolls house maker's workshop.

After my daughter-in-law Laura's successes with jewellery and corsets - all to be found in Gosthwaite's Department Store, though sadly there is no photo of the corsets in situ - I mentioned the need for a supply of dolls houses for this workshop.   

One very good reason for enlisting her help on this project was that she had already given me a delightful little room box with a similar theme, which is probably what gave me the idea of a bigger workshop. 


Empty now!
I was a little taken aback yesterday, almost at the end of the present opening session, to be handed a plastic cauldron brimming with red and silver tissue paper wrapped parcels, all neatly labelled and numbered, coupled with the instruction to open them over a tray....

I soon saw why, and if you go straight to Laura's blog you too can read all about it and admire the delights that I unwrapped.

Thank you so much Laura - I can't believe how lucky I am to be surrounded by such talented family and friends, so many of you willing to have a go at whatever I suggest might be possible - even if you had had no idea that you might have miniature skills at your finger-tips!

I had intended to end with a photo of the contents of the cauldron, beautifully set out in their temporary home here in England.   I have decided, however, to hold it over till the next blogpost because I think some of you might see the photo before reading Laura's blog and that would spoil the delightful suspense!

So watch this space.....

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Here Comes Advent - Week Four

These past four weeks have sped by!   Time for the last Advent post and then we have a whole week until Christmas itself.  

As I mentioned at the end of the last post, Christmas is all about tradition so when we sneak a look at what is happening in the big Walmer Victorian house, things do not in fact change too much from year to year.

But perhaps this year we are looking from a slightly different time perspective ....

The preparations on Christmas Eve are of course all-important.

In the dining room, Kitty is polishing the table..... 

...the silverware is ready for cleaning......

..and in the kitchen Cook is refreshing her memory of the family's favourite trifle.

In the school-room, a last minute practice is going on to make sure the carol accompaniment is perfect.  Someone will have to move that desk!

Charlotte is busy tidying the nursery - she is feeling slightly guilty because this year she is to be promoted from nursery tea.

The stockings are hanging in place on the drawing room mantelpiece.... 

...and in Baby's room, Nanny has made sure that he too has a stocking.   She has freshly washed his very best garment, crocheted by the family's friend, Mrs Randall.....

Time shift to Christmas Day and things are well under way in the kitchen - Mrs Davies the housekeeper has joined the rest of the staff for a well-earned cup of tea and a mince pie fresh out of the oven - it's not often that one sees her out of her room! She is clearly still having a problem choosing the tablecloth for the servants' Christmas feast......

The tree is safely up in the schoolroom and the presents are tucked underneath, ready for distribution a little later in the day.....

And then everything happens at once....nursery tea upstairs, complete with tree and crackers, a Christmas pudding, bravely borne up many flights of stairs by the faithful Miss Tilbury, and gingerbread men..... 
But where are Charlotte and Oliver?   Is it possible that they have both been promoted to dining on this auspicious occasion with the grown-ups of the family?

And yes indeed, that is precisely where they are.....

They have been waiting for this moment for years and are eagerly looking forward to plying the nutcrackers and pulling the crackers as soon as that mound of sprouts is out of the way! 

And outside, next to the chestnut seller, rather fewer carol singers  than in previous years are gearing up for their rendering of the inevitable song - not forgetting to put the heavy stress on every time the word "wish" appears!

Or as Scrooge puts it in A Christmas Carol  
" A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world!"

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Here comes Advent - Week Three

Just before greeting the Third Sunday in Advent, a little photo hark-back to last week's post.   Yesterday there was a Christmas market in Bavorov and I have just received some photos of the tiny Christmas village in situ in Small Worlds which I should like to share with you....

Sadly the train is still bound for nowhere.....

And now for the Third Sunday.  Just before I leave the Czech Republic each year my final task in Small Worlds is to prepare it - in a small way of course - for Christmas.   This can be quite hard to do in September.....

For the past two years I have left a "Christmas Card" in the window, to be revealed at the beginning of Advent, and my plan is that this should be a permanent tradition.   So the very first thing I did in my new work rooms, The Stables, was to create this year's card.

The inspiration for the card came from a single angel who emerged from among the miniature decorations.   As soon as I saw her I thought she was crying out for a shop called "At the Sign of the Angel"....

So I set about finding something for the shop to sell.   And what better at this time of the year than Christmas trees and all that is needed to decorate them?   I knew that I would be able to locate all the Christmas stuff with ease now that The Stables is in operation.

There has been a fairly grotty kit-shop knocking around for about thirty years.  I used it a few times for a Christmas scene, at one point adding the base of a date box to serve as a path for some carol singers.  

I tried to lever off the date box so that the shop would stand flat on the polystyrene snow but whatever glue I had used all those years ago proved intractable and I was instead left cutting a suitable hole in the polystyrene sheet to accommodate it.... 

The shop had suffered some damage in the garage when weedkiller leaked onto it so I had to wallpaper the inside.   

A horrid job because it is full of angles and I am spatially challenged - and fairly useless at wallpapering, particularly if I am using some ancient and much creased Christmas paper, also about thirty years old.  Still, the plan was that most of the wallpaper would be hidden from view by the shop contents so I wasn't too bothered by the poor results.

I needed some shelves to hold display items; an old cigar box dresser served for one set of shelves; for the other I removed the ugly wooden items from a rather nice Christmas tree shelf unit and glued it to the back wall, behind the counter. 

Filling the shelves was easy - there were more than enough tiny ornaments around including one bear made by daughter-in-law Laura, she of the jewellery and corsets in Gosthwaites Department Store. 

The two little bears at the top are among the last left of many made by Butterfly as relaxation after she had finished a set of public exams.   Some of the others found their way into a Teddy Bears Picnic (who remembers this?) Butterfly and I made years ago for another skilled maker - Lynda of the liquorice allsorts and teeny ballet shoes

And since this is a shop selling not only decorations, but Christmas trees themselves, I dug out as many of these as I could find, and pots to suit. 

The trees would eventually find a home on the cigar box dresser. But first some of them needed dressing themselves.   Suffice it to say that it was a very fiddly, sticky job!

Some more ancient items were dismembered and put to fresh use - this was a very satisfying project in terms of reusing objects that had been around a long time.



No shop selling Christmas decorations is complete without a nativity scene.   My tiny scene has appeared on the blog before, in 2013, but here it has much more room to spread out.

The sheep are part of a very fortuitous gift from Ruth Allen, who wrote the enticing text for the museum flyers.  She presented me with several boxes of model railway layout materials including a multitude of animals .....

What have we here I wonder?
Aha, so that's what they are!
As I set up the nativity scene I thought what a pity it was that there was no donkey in that horde of beasts and lo, what should appear on the thought but one single, solitary donkey!   

Not much else to do now, other than to source two signs, one in Czech and one in English, advertising the sale of freshly cut trees, and two more signs wishing everyone a Happy Christmas.

Then came the fun part of putting it all together.   I leave you with a few close ups and the final result, together with my very best wishes for a peaceful and joyous Christmas.

I hope you have enjoyed preparing my Christmas card along with me.   Next Sunday is the last in Advent, time to light the fourth candle on the wreath and take a peek at what is going on in the Walmer Victorian house this year.   Christmas is all about tradition so it may not be so very different from before - or will it?   Come and join me next Sunday to find out.....

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Here comes Advent - Week Two

This second Sunday in Advent brings with it a somewhat eclectic post, covering, as it does, trains, extraordinary enthusiasm for a hobby, and, as befits Christmas, a little music.

Trains and Christmas have always seemed to me to go together somehow - travelling home for the holidays, riding through a snowy landscape, perhaps getting stranded - or even murdered.   A scenario used in more than one novel, not only in the iconic Murder on the Orient Express (which as the fabulous children's magazine Look and Learn records is based on a real life incident with the train) but also in J. Jefferson Farjeon's Mystery in White, something very readable to add to your Christmas reading list. 

Small houses with candles inside have always delighted me and we have several around the room at Christmas.   Tiny villages too have their attractions as may be seen at the end of a previous Yuletide post. 

But I have so far managed to resist the temptations of the boxed, lit villages that appear around Christmas time.   Well, I thought I had, until I was scrabbling around in the loft in my house in Bavorov earlier this year and found, to my amazement, precisely one of those village sets, albeit a very small one.   I then remembered that they had been on offer in the Penny supermarket at some point and I had succumbed.....

It seemed a shame to leave it there, neatly packed in its box.  I shall not unpack it in front of a video camera however - I have spent some of this evening watching in jaw-dropping amazement the extraordinary phenomenon of Unboxing Videos, a concept previously completely unknown and still incomprehensible to me - since in any case I handed the task of setting it up for Small Worlds to the ever-helpful Jana..... 

The plan was to put the village and the clockwork train I happened to have to hand, onto a board in the Stables and leave it for another Jana to move it into Small Worlds in time for the Christmas Market on 10th December.   But sadly we had no boards available that were big enough for the train to run round the houses so we had to compromise with a stationary train.  A train bound for nowhere.....

An unholy tangle..... 

Well, at least the wires are straight now.....

Happy Christmas!

Now to be honest, I was quite happy with our little effort  until I started exploring YouTube for videos of Christmas railway layouts.   Not only are there hundreds of these, of huge and mind-blowing complexity, but there are even more Christmas villages, set up by people in their living rooms for the Christmas season....I had no idea!

And when I came across this one I could only sit back and marvel in awe at the lengths to which people will go in their enthusiasm for their hobby.   Or am I a pot calling the kettle black perhaps?

I shall be back with further Advent cheer next Sunday but in the meantime I leave you with what was actually the reason for a train-related post - one of my favourite songs. To my utter delight I have not only found it in the original film version, enhanced to stereo, but also complete with Christmas decorations! Enjoy.....

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Here comes Advent - 1

There was a rather rash promise at the end of my last post "The blog will be back soon, on Advent Sunday, with the first of four seasonal posts".....

When I stopped to consider,I realised that I had only returned from the Czech Republic armed with material for three Advent or Christmas posts and would therefore have to create something here in order to make good on the promise.

And here we are at 4pm on the First Sunday in Advent and nothing written yet!   

I love Christmas and all that comes before it.  It has always been a very special time in our family and with friends and relatives from all over Europe, we have adopted traditions running from Advent Sunday right through to Twelfth Night on the 6th January.   

But one of my favourites has to be what I learned in Germany when I was 17 - the writing of our Christmas Wish Lists on Advent Sunday.   As soon as it gets dark, we all gather round the table, with a blank sheet of paper in front of each of us and many coloured pencils.   By the light of the first of the four candles on the Advent Wreath, and sustained by Pfeffernüsse and Spekulatius, we write and decorate our lists. 

And here's the very first one I ever wrote..... 

I fear my drawing skills have not improved over the past sixty odd years!   Once they are written we pin them up on a board so everyone can see what they might buy as Christmas gifts.

So what better than to recreate this scene in miniature, with whatever I could find here - unfortunately pretty well everything I use to create is over in the Czech Republic.   

But before the guests are allowed to sit down to list-writing and German cookies, another Advent tradition - building a gingerbread house.  Although I have to confess that ours have never been on quite this scale....

I gathered together a heap of items I thought might be useful in the stage-setting..... 

And without further ado, the story unfolds.  Step forward Sasha and Gregor, whose previous appearance on the blog was earlier this year.

"It's time to tackle the cookie house" said Sasha, shrugging on her smock to protect her pretty lace dress.
Gregor sighed.  "I suppose we have to let the babies watch," he said, heaving the beanbags into place and settling the babies down. 

"Of course," said Sasha.  "Now let's get on with it.  I have cut all the pieces out.   You know you can't cut straight."
 "Huh! You can talk - maybe we can actually get the thing together without you ending up with your hair full of icing sugar!"

"I wouldn't bet on it" said Sasha. "Now for the roof and then we can decorate it".

"I have the very things...." said Gregor producing a bowl full of luridly coloured sweets 
"No way are those horrid things going on our lovely house" said Sasha. "They are much too big anyway. This is how we will do it!"

And so - with Butterfly's help - they did......

The elegant gingerbread house then took pride of place on the Advent table, next to the wreath.   Once again, the babies were allowed to watch, though the coloured pencils were kept well out of their reach. They managed to jog the table, reaching for the cookies, repeatedly knocking one of the candles over! 

And now I am off to write my very own Christmas wish list and enjoy some cookies.   Watch out for the next post on the Second Sunday in Advent and have a lovely evening.   Happy Advent!