Monday, 19 September 2016

With a degree of trepidation.....

This is a blogpost I have put off writing for some considerable while.  The main reason for my hesitation is because I am not sure how the dollshouse world will view the way I have dealt with this particular house.   So I start this blogpost with the assurance that I have done nothing to the house that cannot be undone with relative ease should it fall into the hands of a true collector of vintage houses.

It's a Triang DH 80, possibly dating from the late 1920s, although they were around for quite a while - there is a picture of one in my 1937/38 reproduction Triang catalogue.
This catalogue, which shows the whole range of toys made by Triang at that time, is very popular with visitors to Small Worlds, especially men. People are particularly delighted when I am able to point out the milk float that I owned when I was four years old 

and they love to hear that the Queen had (and still has) the baker's cart from the same series!  It was on display in the exhibition of her toys in Buckingham Palace in 2014.

I have had my Triang 80 house for many, many years. It was probably one of the those that arrived soon after I advertised for a "large, old doll's house" (note spelling!) when Butterfly was four years old.  It has long been on my list of things to do something with but somehow nothing ever happened to it. 

Sadly, mine never looked like the beautiful one belonging to Eileen, which can be seen on the Dolls Houses Past and Present website.  By the time I acquired it, all the windows and the shutters had vanished and someone had slung a coat of pale pink undercoat over the upper facade, and then given up on any further work.   The porch had also collapsed and there was no front door.  (The house standing next to it, by the way, is the one that later became That Old House in Paris)

I think the main reason I got nowhere with it for so long is because I had it in my head to turn it into a village pub plus b&b, complete with Gideon Bible in the bedside table (and a decent reading light - my pet peeve in b&bs is that they never seem to be run by people who read in bed!).   In fact, there is a shoebox clearly labelled "Things for Triang pub) which contains a snooker table and various other pub-like accessories.

But somehow it never quite gelled as a pub and it stood around in my house in England for about thirty years, and then on display for the first year of Small Worlds, more or less untouched.

One day I was browsing pictures of some typical English houses and came across this one of a house in Essex, our adjacent county, and it reminded me strongly of the 80.   I was still thinking in terms of a pub though.

Something else that has been around for a very long time is a bow window, 8 to 10 inches long, that used to hang on our living room wall as a display case for miniatures.   The 80 and the window always went together in my head but I couldn't really see how to amalgamate them without cutting a chunk out of the front of the house itself.

Had I done that, I really wouldn't have been able to hold my head up in the dollshouse community!

Since the house was very visible in Small Worlds - it's large - Butterfly and I decided we needed to at least do something with the outside, even if I still wasn't quite sure how to deal with the interior.   By 2014 I was beginning to think about a village shop/post office and a tearoom.   And the logical step would then be to make the bow window part of the tearoom - the best seats would be there so that the village gossips could keep a beady eye on events in the street outside....

Still musing on how I could further this plan without vandalising the house, I painted the front white and, with Butterfly's help, created some "pargetting", by adding some Liden whitewood furniture embellishments to the patterned card she had run through her Big Shot.
I wonder if anyone remembers Liden?   It was hugely popular in the fifties and sixties. You could create your very own classical French furniture by sticking bits of plastic onto plain wooden cabinets, painting the furniture white and picking the decorations out in gold 

After painting and pargetting, we got on with tackling the gaping holes that were supposed to house windows.   Basing our ideas on the house in Essex, I made some simple black frames and Butterfly fashioned some leaded lights.
Her work on what is now called The Essex House can be found part way through this blogpost.  

Finally, during last summer, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and do something with the interior. The problem with working when the museum is open is that room is very limited  (but watch this space!).  Nevertheless I put the house on my small worktable and made a start.

Much to my surprise, from that point on, things went fairly quickly.   I already knew what I was going to use for bedroom furniture - a set made up from a pink plastic bed and dressing table and a brown plastic wardrobe, all transformed a long time ago by the power of paint and used for years as a room setting in a breadbin.  

For the bathroom I resorted yet again to my large stock of pink plastic bathrooms and all the equipment also got the benefit of repainting.

The central room upstairs was planned as a living room and I wanted two of my extensive collection of Raines Take a Seat chairs to feature prominently. There are many of these wonderful chairs, made of resin, (a terrible Czech word for me to pronounce - pryskyřice, I keep trying to soften the wrong r) scattered around the houses in Small Worlds. Most of the room, except the chairs which are a fairly new acquisition, had already existed in a small room box made of artists' foamboard.

A second reason for my reluctance to write about this house emerged at this point.   I am not a purist when it comes to scale, working usually by eye, rather than by measurement.   But in this case I have very deliberately, though reluctantly, broken all the rules of scale in a dolls house.   The upstairs is 1/16th scale, because I wanted to use the yellow bedroom and the Raines chairs, downstairs, because I wanted to use the original Triang dresser in the kitchen, is 1/12th.  

Shop fittings are also easier to come by in 1/12th scale and by now the central room,  which had been going to be the tearoom, was scheduled to be the village shop.

This decision meant that, joy of joys, I could attach the bow window to the front and use the two central, unglazed windows as part of the shop display by putting shelves into them, thus avoiding any cutting of the front at all. 

The end room became the tearoom.   I usually distribute the furniture around the undecorated house so that I can decide on wallpaper and flooring.   Once the decisions were made, I set about cutting stiff card to fit all the walls and then papering that, to slide in over what was left of the original Triang wallpaper. None of it was actually in very good condition anyway.  

I struggled with the card cutting for the staircase.   It's horribly narrow and I have big hands and a complete inability to reverse patterns which is deeply frustrating.

This house is inhabited - how else could one run a shop and tearoom?   The couple who live here, however, are in their seventies and would desperately like to retire.  

Sadly no one is interested in buying the shop and tearoom as a going concern and they have to plod on, despite their age and weariness.

I have no idea where they came from - I have a feeling they were in a job lot of furniture that I bought in a charity shop a couple of years ago.  Maybe they will ring a bell with someone?  They have great character, despite their rather small size.  They are fine upstairs - the problems start when they try to work in the kitchen and shop.....


All in all, I was pleased with how this long delayed project worked out.   It is now the first house that people are shown when they come into Small Worlds and their delight in it is a joy to see.   I will end with a series of photos of both work in progress and the finished house.


Getting ready to stock the shop

Liquorice Allsorts by Lynda - can she make anything smaller?

Aha! The Gideon Bible made it in the end......

There are three blog posts brewing for the near future - two of them feature Christmas so you will have to wait a while but the first contains some exciting news for Small Worlds and I hope I will be able to post it very soon.  Watch this space!  

Thank you for being with me so far, it's lovely to see your comments and to know that you are enjoying Small Worlds almost as much as I do!

Addendum - as I said just above, comments are lovely, and often very useful.   How could I not have thought of a size comparison for Lynda's Liquorice Allsorts? Here is one for the European readership - in £sd, euros and Czech korunni:

Thank you Andrea!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

"We could do with thousands more like you...."

This particular post describes a kind of tribute - well, both a tribute and a present rolled into one.

I have spent the past few days joyfully putting together a memory box for a friend who reaches her 99th birthday on August 2nd.   This time last week I had not yet worked out what I could give her as a present - it's quite hard to buy things for someone of 99 when you already know that chocolates, flowers and bottles of Scotch will be pouring in from elsewhere!

For once I am going to be able to answer the question that inevitably comes - "How long did it take you?"   Usually I mumble something like "Well, first you need an idea, then you need to find the right container, and after that it's usually quite fast".   In this case, the idea came five days ago and with time so short, I did not have the luxury of musing too long on the container.   There was a handy wooden tea box sitting waiting on top of the wardrobe in the guest room.   And since it is neatly divided into six small sections, about two and three quarter inches square, that at once defined how much space I would need to fill.

It turned out not to be how much space I needed to fill however, but rather "How do I fit a life of 99 years into such a small space?"

Three sections filled themselves - where she came from, how she found herself in rural Hertfordshire, and food and drink.   Then once I had looked around at what I had available - in Small Worlds it's actually not really a matter of what is available, it's rather can Gil find it in the time she needs to - the other sections fell into place.   Travel and fashion, animals and leisure time and of course, a celebratory corner.   It is, after all, a birthday present.

She was born in 1917 within the sound of Bow Bells and has remained a proud cockney all these years. 

Incidentally, I was fascinated to discover that, because of the rise of ambient noise and the number of high buildings in the area, the sound of Bow Bells now covers a much smaller area than it used to, as you can see from the sound map.  
And since there are no maternity hospitals within that remaining blue area, there will sadly not be many more true Cockneys born in London.

Her father was killed six weeks after she was born and her mother had to take in washing to make ends meet.   The life of a war widow in those days was truly hard.   But the childhood memories of growing up in Bethnal Green are clearly very happy ones - apart from having to deliver the heavy parcels of clean laundry, for little or no reward.....   
Rose passed the scholarship exam into a Central School, the only one in her street to do so, and no small achievement in those days.  She still remembers some lines from As you Like It, in which she clearly must have taken the lead:
(to DUKE SENIOR ) To you I give myself, for I am yours.
(to ORLANDO ) To you I give myself, for I am yours.

The Columbia Road Flower Market already existed but was a very different place from the tourist delight it has long since become.  The children used to gather up the flower heads left at the end of the day's selling and make little gardens in the mud.   A day out in Victoria Park was a great treat, although often hampered by having to look after a neighbour's young child, when little more than a child oneself.   The Bethnal Green Museum was a suitable place to meet nice young men.....

When the second world war in Rose's lifetime arrived, she decided to join the Land Army and that took her to what was then rural Hertfordshire, to work on one of the many nurseries in the Lea Valley.   She never returned to the East End to live but still retained her love for it.   And the work in the nursery led to a life-long love of gardening, even though her early days there had brought some surprises - such as the fact that cucumbers grow hanging downwards!

The Land Army more or less fed the nation during the war years - one man was so inspired by watching one girl working he was moved to write a poem 

To all Land Girls - from an admirer 

I saw a Land Girl working
Alone in an open field.
Her, hard, once elegant, hands
A stalwart hoe did wield.
Her back was bent as she slew the weeds
That spoiled the potatoes' growth;
She never wilted, she never paused,
She had taken her silent oath. At last the day was nearly done,
The sun was sinking low;
She gathered up her jacket
Then slowly cleaned her hoe.
She passed the chair where I sat
(I am feeble in body and sight).
She smiled at me as she said
Been hot to-day. Good-night.''

We hear the valiant deeds of our men in

"furrin parts,"

Deeds which bring the tears to our eyes, a
glow of pride to our heart-
But when the war is over and peace at last
I shall always remember the Land Girl, who
made her hoe her sword.

It wasn't until I met her that I realised how passionate East Enders are about seafood.   Pie and mash shops abounded, serving not only pies but jellied eels in parsley sauce, Jewish shops sold pickled herrings straight from the barrel, a "beigel" with smoked salmon was a rare treat, and fish and chips (known as potatoes) were served up in newspaper.  Two penn'orth would buy you a lot!  Vinegar came with everything, even chili vinegar on the jellied eels.

To this day Rose enjoys fish and chips, eels and cockles - thoroughly doused in vinegar of course.   Hence the giant bottle of Sarsons in the corner!   

And what better to accompany them but a half of Guinness?   After all, it is good for you!

This is a memory box and amongst Rose's memories are ones about lovely holidays - starting with a week in Southend with her mother every year where they stayed in a boarding house, bought their own breakfast, and the landlady cooked it.   This was known as 'Bed and Attendance'.  They went up to bed by candlelight....

Then many holidays in the north, visiting Blackpool and the Lake District, coach trips in Europe and at least two cruises....and always smartly dressed, with hair just so.   Nothing changed there then.....

At home the bicycle was of great importance - down
the lanes (busy roads now!) to the local pub for a quick game of darts.  Or maybe dominoes.  And always lots of visitors, often bedding down for the night where they could find a space. 

They may have had to fight the cat for it!

The last section of the memory box is really just to bring Rose my very best wishes for a wonderful birthday - I am writing this on the eve of flying back to the UK to raise a glass with her and I cannot think of a better toast than the words on the Land Army recruiting poster - Rose, we could do with thousands more like you!   Happy Birthday...... 

I finish with a few photos of the work in progress - and for the curious, the stats - 17 hours to make, which includes 5 hours of assembling and sticking things down - 120 things to glue and I didn't count the individual cockles either!

Not a scrap of red paint in Small Worlds - are these tomatoes too orange I wonder?

Mixing red doesn't work - so no red bike!

How on earth does one make jellied eels?

Hmm, broken window screen glass looks a bit like jelly....

Rose loves marmalade - hope she like Silver Shred...

I know that she prefers milk chocolate

Nearly there with the eels - now to peer at a photo to get the skin colour right....

I hope to see you all again when I get back to Small Worlds next week - I have plans for a new window display.  See you soon and thank you for joining me today.