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.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Summer and sunshine - and sadness

I arrived back in Bavorov on 15th June this year, full of enthusiasm and ready to open Small Worlds for the summer season on the 18th.   Something of a rush, I know, but really all that needed to be done urgently was to change the window display, still full of autumn mushrooms as I had left it at the end of last September, and unpack many of the items I had collected throughout the winter from charity shops and ebay in the UK.   I had also been lucky enough to receive gifts for Small Worlds, and they too needed to be photographed and acknowledged. 

I was delaying a blogpost until all of this had been accomplished but I had not reckoned with the devastating effect on me of the result of the referendum on 23rd June.   It has been so overwhelming that it would be wrong of me not to at least mention it.   It wiped out any desire to do anything for several days.   Others have expressed my feelings more eloquently than I can so I will content myself with linking to them here and here, so that those of you who do not share my feelings can just ignore it,  and I can take myself back into my controllable world of small things, since the real world is collapsing around me.

I remember when I first got involved in the dolls house hobby that people used to ask me why I did it.   My reply then was that I had a job which involved trying to help people resolve intractable problems in their lives, things over which they often had no control.   The world of miniatures is a controllable world - just as the text on my flyers, written by Ruth Allen three years ago, so coherently says:  

Do you remember when you were little? I mean really little, when everything in the grown-up world was too big for you, and it seemed there was always someone bigger telling you where to go, what to do … and then someone gave you a dolls house, or a model garage. Or perhaps a train set or puppet theatre.  

Maybe your Mum or Dad made it for you, maybe a kind aunt or uncle bought it, perhaps it was handed down from another member of the family. 

No matter. Suddenly there was this small world where you made the decisions; decided where everything went, and what they should do......

I feel very blessed that I can still enjoy this hobby, nearly forty years on and that I am now in a position to share it with others.

The day after I got back this year, I whisked the autumn window away and replaced it with a seaside scene, based on an extended version of the shell shop that I wrote about last July.   Sadly, as usual, photos of window displays are not entirely successful.....

In the smaller window I placed a little homage to my mother, who not long after she was widowed, fulfilled a fervent wish to own a Jaguar, a make of car to which she remained faithful for the rest of her life.

Backing onto the Jags, and facing into the museum, I stood a noticeboard displaying greetings cards made by a friend in England, Pat Klijn.  They are beautiful and quirky collages and I hope to sell some for her over here.....

Pat has also been instrumental in acquiring a miner's cottage (seen here in the Beamish Open Air Museum) for me which is currently under construction by the skilful Colin Rose, who built the Czech village house in Small Worlds, to which he has recently added a beautifully tiled roof - a photo of the tiling next time.  

And much more of the miner's cottage next year.....

Having sorted the display, I spread out a lot of the things that I had brought with me, keeping back some surprises that are going to appear in the window during the summer - I don't want to leave the shell shop there too long as the sun beats very strongly onto that side of the building, and colours fade rapidly. 

Here you have an overview of some of my new acquisitions......

...and a close-up of three new chairs from the Take a Seat by Raine Designs collection, many of which are already to be found scattered amongst the houses in Small Worlds.   

There will be more of Raine Designs to come later in the summer.....

Much new china and glass has arrived  

Some very exotic animals 

And a large number of odds and ends - just a small sample here....

My particular thanks to Lynda for her stunning creation of glass jars brimming with liquorice allsorts - sharp-eyed readers should be able to spot one in the photos above - to Noreen for much lovely china and glass, amongst other things, and to Rose for some of the exotica including the delightful binoculars which have already found a home in the Colonial bungalow.
Now all I have to do is find a home for everything else!   

I shall be back very soon with a further report on the summer events in Small Worlds but in the meantime, before I settle down to watch a DVD of Dr Who, I'd like to leave you with a delightful model created by the daughter of Milena the Milliner, who is responsible for the many wonderful hats in Small Worlds - a fully functioning (well almost) Tardis, made out of a plastic bottle..... 

Sadly I am no better at photographing flashing lights than I am at dealing with reflections in windows!

Thank you for visiting my blog after such a long gap - I shall be back soon with more news from the controllable universe of Small Worlds.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

A little learning......

...is a dangerous thing, as the saying goes.   Quite how dangerous it might be we will learn later on.

But I must start with some sad news - in my last post I once again lauded the work of Sheila and Norman Randall and their contribution to Small Worlds.   Norman died many years ago and sadly, in February this year, so too did Sheila.   

It is an abiding sadness to me that she never saw Small Worlds - a planned trip two years ago had to be cancelled because of illness and she never again became well enough to travel.   I owe so much to both the Randalls and one of the last things Sheila sent me was this enchanting tiny dress which she found her younger granddaughter trying to insert a toy dog into.

She hastily came to its rescue, washed it carefully, and despatched it to me.   It is the only example of her knitting, other than the Sasha dress, that I have in England.   I shall miss her.

At the end of my last post I promised further glimpses into the lives of the dolls, and others, occupying the chaise-longue in my bedroom.   So I wove a little tale around the two remaining Victorian females.....

Scene 1:  Picture a schoolroom, complete with strict governess, attentive pupil, and all the paraphernalia of learning......

I asked my granddaughter to write something on the blackboard for me - I have never been able to manage chalk.   She has clearly never heard the views of a well-known Victorian educationist who said, when talking of an examination which included mathematics, "I believe that we should have half the young women in the country in brain fever or a lunatic asylum if they were to make up their minds to try for it".   

Clearly this young governess has survived unscathed.

Her pupil, however, seems quite pleased not to be risking the equation at the moment.   She is instead attempting to emulate Beatrix Potter, whose fungi paintings remain unsurpassed to this day.

As befits all schoolrooms, there is a plentiful supply of interesting books 

Some more interesting than others perhaps....

......and even a reminder of the early stages of learning to read...

Happy Days!

Cut to Scene 2 however.....

Who can this be, reclining on the chaise-longue with flowing locks and silky satin dress?  Can her erst-while pupil actually be kneeling in supplication?   Well, not quite, but the relationship between them has certainly changed.   Miss Prissy Prim has ensnared her pupil's father, whose only fault was to seek to find a caring mother for his growing child.  

Little did he know that the lady had a firm dislike of children, despite the profession into which she had been forced by circumstance.   For the moment she is biding her time.  The little Griselda is still being treated well, allowed to accompany her stepmama to church, both dressed in their finery. 

She is even allowed, on occasion, to make much of stepmama's dog - clearly a cross between a Newfoundland and a lapdog.

But I fear it will not be long before the former Miss Prissy Prim shows herself in her true colours - paying little attention to her stepdaughter, but revelling in the silks and satins of her new station in life.

Perhaps she will not have it all her own way though?   Griselda clearly has a mind of her own.   

"If she can show off what is on the underneath, then so can I!" 
                              I only hope this story has a happy ending.....

And finally, I leave you with the last two inhabitants of that end of my bedroom.   With the best will in the world, I could find no way of incorporating a scatty lamb and a white bear into the tale, so here they are, just bidding you goodbye and thanking you for following thus far.

See you again soon I hope.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

A slightly larger world.....

Yet another month has passed without a word from me.   I came back to the UK armed with photos so that I could write blogposts about Small Worlds even when far from the coasts of Bohemia.   But somehow it doesn't seem to work like that.

Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it also makes the writing harder!   So I looked around for some more local inspiration and found it no further away than the foot of my English bed.....

My bedroom here doubles as a playroom for when the grandchildren visit - Sylvanian dolls houses and animals under the window....

.....a wooden clothes horse full of string puppets from a Czech street market...

.....now sheltered by a giant ficus - more of them another time perhaps -

.....a baby doll in a high chair, complete with attendant animals,  

and, tucked cosily in front of the Victorian fireplace, a family of dolls.   Not tiny dolls house dolls, but proper doll-size dolls.   Well, what I think of as doll-size anyway.

These are not actually intended for children's play.   They mainly belong to my daughter but are allowed to grace my bedroom as she has no space to display them herself.

They sit on a "Victorian" chaise longue...

..and the setup always rather reminds me of the photo of my mother with her family of dolls, taken in about 1920, which now stands on the mantelpiece in my bedroom.

So in this blogpost I thought I would introduce you to the family of Sasha dolls.   Ours have been with us for more than 35 years but they were first made in Britain in 1966, a year after they were first produced in Germany.   The German dolls have differently painted faces - our family of dolls is all British.

The family consists of Sasha and Gregor with three babies, from left to right, Kim, Robin, and Nikki.   You will note the careful choice of the babies' names.  Boy or girl, take your pick.  

Sadly our family is still incomplete - we are lacking a redheaded Sasha.   But we can always hope!

When I decided on a photoshoot I enlisted the help of my granddaughter, who was thrilled to at last be given a chance to play with them.   She is responsible for most of the following poses.....

In this photo Sasha is wearing her original outfit of a blue gingham dress but Gregor has clearly been given a handmade sweater for Christmas'
In this family group picture, however, he is once again sporting his football kit, which is what he was wearing when he joined the household. 

Though whose are those jeans he is wearing?  Should be shorts.

I am not quite certain of the provenance of Sasha's delightful dress but I have a suspicion that it is another creation by Sheila Randall, whose husband Norman was responsible for so many of the houses in Small Worlds.

Sheila herself is a highly skilled knitter of tiny garments which are on display in the museum.

I think this pose simply has to be captioned "Bring it on!"

Three little maids?  Or lads?

"It was this big! Honestly....."

And goodbye for now....

The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed two more dolls on the chaise-longue, and, indeed, some animals as well.  Which means that there will be a part two to this glimpse into a slightly larger world.....

Thank you for joining me.   I hope you have enjoyed it so far and look forward to seeing you again soon.