Fruit and nut case.

As there seems to be a surfeit of nasty news and I like to be contrary ( who doesn’t?)  (Well OK not you and clearly not me and I would never say so either.)….

One of the list of things that needed mending about me after four and a half years of neglect was a foot.  Yes indeed Holmes, I do declare there is something underhand afoot.  Halong with my aitches, dearart, I ’ad dropped my arch.  ’Ad my dear departed mother been around she’d have been endlessly able to tell me she told me so and she would have been absolutely right.  (See live long enough everything ’appens.) (Well she wasn’t around when I went for ’elp but it started previous, like, doctor, so technically she was.)

It started when I was a ninfant.  I was taken for flat feet once a week to stand in two tiny baths with electric plates in the base of them, they were filled with water and current was passed through.  Amazingly, as you can probably tell whether you are medically qualified or not this did not electrocute me to death at all.  In fact I don’t think it did anything except waste half an hour in a large hospital once a week.  I was also supposed to do foot exercises a lot.  All I can remember of them was that I had to pick up pencils with my feet.  It would be so neat to say that is a skill I still possess today and finish off the blog with my big toe; sadly I cannot.  I was a naughty child and would not do my foot exercises.  Throughout my childhood this was held up as an example of my singular waywardness, usually as we embarked upon some other medical frolic that let my mother dress in her best and flirt with a doctor or two.

Anyhow, did them I did not and a mere sixty two years later, as ominously and frequently predicted, the arch of my foot fell with a mighty thlwup, my ankle rolled over and my left knee basked in affectionate proximity to my right knee.

Sometime later, other events having eventuated, I rocked up at phsio at the hospital and was given an exercise so simple even I could do it.  I just had to do duck feet, stand on tiptoe and descend sloooooooooooooowly.

As the spring weather warmed up and we opened the windows I became aware that I was not the only one doing exercises.  In a house at right angles to mine and close at hand a child was practising various instruments, considerably more assiduously than I had practised foot exercises..  We had Fai…r..y  stops, stips, steps on an oboe for a few weeks.  The fairy was chased out of the forest by a squeaky recorder doing scales, do me so far, far, fur sqkweeek, do me so, me squk, do me so far screeeel, squok.  do me so, do me so, do me so far la tee squaaaaaah!

And then a flute and the Sugar Plum fairy.  In the early days Tchaikovsky must have been whirling in his grave sufficiently to be used as an egg beater.  As progress was made and the weather got warmer it got so good I found myself doing a Frank Muir singalong in the garden.  If you are the right age his Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut Chocolate advert was never bettered and can still be found online.  I didn’t have to look it up, for a lift and a laugh, I simply had to go out and do the weeding.

My foot exercises I did several times a day until the glorious day when worlds collided and  an overweight pensioner found herself performing duck toed relevees in her underwear to the Sugar on and Plum off, begin again Fairy drifting through the open window.  I like to think Frank Muir would have been proud of me and my mother would have enjoyed telling me so and serving me right.

I kept at it and so did apprentice Tchaikovsky and we are both very much better now thank you.

Next stop the Albert ’All in me shorts and Steady On Beethoven that was your Fifth, or not as the case may be.

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Fifteen and a half probably, too hot to get the calendar out.

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The importance of being a hobbyist.

More years ago than I care to remember Terry Curran said to me at one of the earlier Miniaturas where I had turned up behind a table instead of walking around as a customer:  Well now you have turned your hobby into your job, what are you going to do for a hobby?

Good question but nothing to worry about as it turned out.  I think I am a born hobbyist.  My father certainly demonstrated collecting things; if you’ll forgive the double negative he couldn’t not collect.  Anywhere he went featured a return journey via an antique shop.  Like any child I have found demonstration more effective than remonstration, I truly believe dolls’ houses collect me and not the other way round, I hear their little wooden voices calling from antique shop windows, websites, show tables, second hand shops and anywhere else they may be found.  They don’t have to call loudly either.  I hear them.

My real and personal passion, however, is certainly born in me.  I make stuff.  My mother wanted to be creative and I don’t think she ever realised that her cookery, which was the activity at which she excelled, even, on occasion surpassing her ability to spot all that was wrong with anyone else and say so oft and long, was her creativity.  Instead she attended classes for a variety of differing ladylike activities.  There was quite a bit of flower arranging and a lot of social clubs for the wives of.  As she was her, these were all eventually turned into an opportunity to make some very good friends and some even better enemies.  The friends got invited to some very splendid dinners and the enemies were not invited as loudly as possible.  Oh, there is a television play and several books in that.

I know people who think, as my mother did, that creativity is something to aspire to.  It is so much easier than that.  You just do it. 

I cannot recall a day when I did not wake up thinking of the thing or several that I was going to make that day.  As a child I made things with paper and that terrible glue in the triangular glass bottle with the perishable rubber nozzle that you had to get a grown up to slit a hole in.  It was marginally stronger than the flour and water paste provided by my grandmother for scrapbooks, mainly in the smell.  By the age of five I had commandeered the transparent sticky tape which was expensive and came in a tin. After a couple of years my mother remarked frequently that they wished they had bought shares in the company that made it.  I must have got through miles of it.  Then I suddenly discovered plastic model kits.  Rather presciently the ones of historical figures in accurate costumes were favourite but hard to come by.  Toy shops tended to stock the big sellers which were all boy oriented; trains cars and aeroplanes.  The historical figures were not one-week pocket money items.  The most expensive one I ever managed to save for was the Visible Woman, whose organs and skeleton were all removable.  I still have her in perfect working order and found her very helpful in the early days of modelling dolls to get the proportions right.

As soon as I left home, gardening began.  In a flat I had a window box, which was by the front door, and the minute we had a house (and a greenhouse!) I found my green thumb and by the time we had a baby and no money, in the normal way, if I could grow it we could eat it and I did.

I don’t think there is an indoor craft or hobby I haven’t tried.  Once dollshousering struck I was in my element as the hobby contains every other craft and hobby but in miniature.  I have done glassblowing, metal smithing, embroidery, sewing, woodwork, furniture building, building buildings, art of every known variety, electrical wiring and lighting, modelling, sculpting and every kind of painting and everything else.  I can build a miniature house from scratch and everything in it.  And, not least, the absolute joy of researching social history, a hobby with excellent outings.

And of course endlessly, ceramics, china painting, engineering and dressmaking.

Currently also I go to portraiture once a week where my local art shop persuades people to sit still for two hours at a a time.  For some years I’ve been card making for which I bought  a die cutting machine a few months ago.  I also got into cake decorating when I needed to persuade my mother to eat, though I have since stopped as this hobby tends to be fattening.

And why?  Apart from the fact that I can’t help myself, why do I do it?  Why do I keep on doing it even when I have no time to do it?  What is it about a hobby that is so beneficial that I believe that everyone should have one?  Or two?  Or more?

The thing about a hobby is this:  If it goes wrong it doesn’t matter; if it goes right, it’s a triumph.

Whatever you pick to be your hobby should be sufficiently challenging and absorbing that while you are doing it there is no time to think about whatever would be worrying you if you were not busy doing your hobby.

Ideally there should be progression.  Either that next bit of kit which is just out of reach financially, or the next project which is just a little beyond your capability at present.

Hobby, put a stick on the o and turn the bs upside down and it will make you happy,

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and blogging.  I do that.

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15 weeks to the Min

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Dolls by popular request.

I am always happy to answer emails, in fact I’m utterly thrilled you bother to write.  Thank you if you do.  I got a lovely email asking how I could look at a doll I’d made and decide it was a haberdasher.  You may remember

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the haberdasher is second from the left.

Well I wouldn’t if I did, though sometimes I have in the past.  These days I’m such a clever clogs I deliberately set out to make a haberdasher and also a short fat witch, a fairy lady and so on.  You may wonder why I would do such a thing, though not if you had been to Miniatura and seen my stand.  On the end there is always a hard backed notebook and a pen.  One page has a printed heading ‘please write which dolls you would like me to make in 24th scale and the page next to it has a heading the same for 48th scale.  Long ago I realised that the longest lasting miniature businesses  do what their customers want them to do.  It’s not like choosing which gas provider you’ll have, because no one is obliged to have a dolls’ house and anyone can choose whatever they would like to have in a dolls’ house.  I should jolly well know, as I am the person who wrote impassioned articles in a number of paper magazines for over twenty years defending the right of readers to have whatsoever they pleased in their dolls houses.

It all began nearly thirty years ago when someone wrote a letter to a magazine.  The miniaturist in question had put a teddy bear in a nursery that predated the invention of teddy bears and had been criticised for doing so by a very picky relative.  There followed a flurry of correspondence in which history savvy readers pointed out that there had been toy bears that predated Teddy Roosevelt refusing to shoot a small bear.  History purists defended the critical relative and gave  the miniaturist both barrels in the way that president Teddy had not and then there was another deluge of letters saying things such as: we have a TV in an 1890s house ner ner nee ner ner, and: I have a friend with a punk rock doll in a 1950s house – she should be shot at dawn; everything in my house is exactly dated to half past ten on the morning of June 4th, etcetera and so forth.  Eventually I got very annoyed and wrote a letter too saying that it was a personally owned dolls’ house and the purpose of it was to give the owner pleasure.  A stance I maintain up to this day.

Having made this rod for my back prior to turning professional, this naturally caused large numbers of people to appear at my table searching for Edwardian dolls with Fourteenth century hairstyles, Tudor blokes in pedal pushers and fairies with safety pins in their ears, because, as everyone pointed out, very reasonably, I thought, I had said they could.

Hence the book on the end of the table.  And hence also the modelling of the dolls from the inside out.  The haberdasher could be at any moment in time or space but I still think she will have the basic characteristics of a haberdasher.  I have known a fair few.  They are motherly types with beady eyes and a very keen sense of peering, looking and seeing.  It’s all the small labels on the ribbons perhaps.  Comfortable shoes are of importance, you have to be able to stand all day and climb up the steps to get the wool off the top shelf.  They are mainly cheerful; there’s a lot of soothing in sorting and tidying and rolling and rewinding.  Also, I would have to say they are fairly intrepid, I have known haberdashers who would venture into bombed buildings to rescue antique lace and email places on the planet without email if they were in search of a particular trimming.  Do you think I have encapsulated all that in the modelling?

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I hope I have given her the face of a haberdasher too.

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If you are looking at this with your art critic spectacles, please remember that this doll’s head is the size of a garden pea.

Requests often follow newly appearing houses, well loved television series, and the latest blockbuster movie.  I have had many requests for a short fat witch to live in a cottage  There is an abundance of magical characters at present, my favourites are those inhabiting Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, my ever-present bedside reading, though I think the witch requesters had been Pottering around possibly.  At any rate a 24th scale reasonably priced cottage kit made an appearance at Miniatura, so witches flew into the book in numbers.  I hope I have made her loveable and I think I should make a tall thin complementary witch when I have decided whether she needs a warty nose or not.

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This witch is exactly two inches tall, which in reality, for twenty-fourth scale, would be four feet.  Those curly toed boots are glazed shiny black with brown worn china painted soles.  As you can see she could also be anybody’s undersized auntie.  Especially an under sized auntie with witchy tendencies.  I have had some of them, both courtesy and real in my time.  She has the bland, benign and innocently smiling countenance of the most lethal witches and aunties.  She could walk into any room, say something, start World War Three and walk out again with a happy smile.  Dangerous.

Then there is the fairy.  I think only wonderful Walt Disney thought fairies could be motherly, a bit plump and rather inept.  I have gone for the much older, more traditional kind of super glamorous, slim waisted, pointy faced, elfin eared fairy straight out of Homer and all authors south of him.  A siren, beguiling.  A pain in the neck to model because she cannot have cabriole legs like the witch, she must look as if she will only get out of bed for a thousand dollars a day or two if you expect her to smile.

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When I am making the masters, as well as the overall body type and the engineering I have to consider questions of dressing.  The fairy must have nice knees which will probably be seen and she has a flat back so that when I sew the wings to her dress they will sit and stick out well and not droop off shoulder blades.  Do you think she has a fairy face?

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Supercilious, self assured and quite condescending.  But still lovely, and still all on a piece of porcelain the size of a garden pea.

A strange thing has happened while I’ve been writing.  I have been drawn to the dark side, I think I’m going bats.  I feel a strong urge to make a vampire.  A mittle European vampire and a very stronk urge my dear.  I vill leaf you here vile I go upstairs and check up on my etchings.  Come ven I call.  Do not brink garlic.  Vear a diaphanous nightie and I vill see you on zer balcony.  Or possibly, vear a balcony bra ant later you can pop out for a bite.  Von or zee ozzer.  Excuse me, I must fly.

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16 veeks to zee NEC, arrgh!

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Creativity.

If you are a creative person, the effect of not being able to make stuff for four and a half years and then suddenly being able to do so, is like a little hole in a dam.

I couldn’t do much at first anyway because of solicitors and so on and I still have a house full of furniture and stuff that I cannot do anything about.  The OH went berserk and bought a huge table saw and now we can barely get into the garage.  I have found myself guarding the space around the kiln with a snarl.

Nevertheless as the time and space between me and the last few years widens, the creativity pours out.  I bought a flat light table and used it to copy a photo and reverse it and make two pictures of the GDD, which I photographed and emailed to a craft shopping channel and they were aired so the GDD has been famous on telly for five minutes and she isn’t even two yet.

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Reversing the photo, drawing and painting the result was interesting, is this what she sees in the mirror?   I am not the generation that takes selfies but I might do one of me just to reverse it and find out.

I have been making cards and playing with my die cutting machine for the last few days as the weather has been gloriously rainy and cold.  I am so glad of dreadful weather, otherwise I’d feel obliged to do the garden.  I never thought anything would put me off gardening but looking after two of them in different locations and being told off for whatever I did in the other one has killed my enthusiasm somewhat.  I’m sure it will return.

I’m plotting a novel in my head.  It’s fifteen years since the last and I now know what I did wrong.  I actually wrote a novel co-dependently.  The baddie was writ large and the hero hardly put in an appearance.  It was all  very beautifully done and hilarious in parts but the basic premise was wrong, just like my life.  You’re meant to live your life for yourself, not as a bit part in other people’s lives.  Why didn’t I know that?  Anyway, under correction, work in progress, all going on in my head.

Where it is fighting for space with the dolls.  Here they are, out of my head and into existence.

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Left to right they are, a short fat witch with curly toed boots; a haberdasher, a giant, a fairy man, a fairy lady, the shrunken Darcy.  They are all 24th scale and all internally jointed.  The fairy man is really small and slight.

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So is my hand, the doll measures two and a quarter inches or five point five centimetres tall which isn’t tall at all..  You could make him a room in one of those cook’s match boxes.  I think he might be popular because of the size but I have only managed four of him so far.

The little Darcy which is the smaller version of the original Darcy is here with him for comparison.  He is the sum of all the original parts with moulds taken from them except for the head which is new.

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This original Darcy is going to wear breeches, which is why he has his stockings on already.  I do make socks for dolls but in small scales they cause havoc with shoe fittings and the dolls are always to be found shoeless in the box when you put socks on as well.  Maybe they just get hot feet.

That’s it for now, creativity calls.  These days I can scarcely get out of bed fast enough to get busy, though I am back to doing a work out every day and feeling the benefit of that too.

One of the unexpected benefits of giving your life to someone else for a while is that you are so grateful when you get it back again and so pleased with every hour spent doing something lovely.  I am living in the middle of a personal creative renaissance, and happy to be here.

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16 weeks to Miniatura.

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Wastage rates.

I am busy rubbing down the newest six 24th scale dolls.  I am keeping busy, as so often in the last few years.  If the body of someone close to you is affected by disease, once you are sure you have done all you can to help the person, then unless you are going to sit around waiting for them to die or get better and your practical help is not required, then your best bet is to mind your own business and get on with your own concerns.  The OH came out of his liver scan white as a sheet, the situation is grave but still recoverable and with no apparent cancer, which is great.  Having had cancer I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, it’s terrifying.

So my job now is to get on with my job and, as always with brand new dolls, I am finding out what difficulties I have lumbered myself with.  Even after twenty five years of designing dolls I am still producing things that are tricky to rub down.  I am, however, doing it so far ahead of the show that I can afford the time to go slowly and to stop and rest when I am tired and, so far, this is having a dramatic effect on wastage rates.  I am very glad that I spent so many years interviewing artists working in miniature because it has given me an insight into wastage rates.  Unless a physical item is made by a machine, which can be programmed to repeat the same actions, exactly, hundreds or thousands of times, there will always be wastage.  The more complex and multi stage the  process required to create the item, the higher the wastage rate even if the craftsman is experienced.  Every experienced craftsman allows for wastage rates.  I recall Phil Grenyer, of Glasscraft telling me that: You just don’t want to be walking on too much broken glass.  I also own one of Terry Curran’s vases that had come out of the kiln so perfectly that he didn’t want to sell it.  These people are both master craftsmen who have made thousands of the items they sell and are internationally known and respected for their work.  And I would note, neither of them when they had finished their multi-part task had to segue into a different discipline and put clothes and a wig on it.

Nevertheless it is a pleasure to use skills you have honed over many years of practice.  I have designed a ten part fairy man who will be considerably less than three inches tall and has correspondingly slim limbs.  Upper arms as always are a difficulty.  They are thinner than a thin stick of charcoal and more fragile and they have to have a hole through the middle for two strands of elastic going down to the stringing hook in the hand and back up again.  If these items are left in the mould too long they will crumble when removed but can sometimes be reshaped with wet clay round a wire core.  I always kid myself when pouring that  I won’t be able to tell which ones I’ve reshaped but the fiction only lasts until I’m rubbing down, during which the thought that rises unbidden, with frequency, is : which fool poured this bit of rubbish?  I’ve lost three bodies so far, I should have poured them a millimetre thicker.  If I get one fairy man through all the processes, I’ll show you.

Shrunken Mr Darcy was difficult too.  The original came out so well

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that I thought I would see what happened if I took moulds from the finished body parts and gave him a new head.  You can see how thin his upper arms are.  When I took the mould from them, the liquid clay is poured into a hole exactly the size of the arms in the picture.  Once it has dried out enough to be demoulded it has shrunk by about 12%.  Once dry enough, three days later, to be rubbed down it will be about 18% smaller than the original, though of course, in the rubbing down, the hole in the middle will still be large enough for two strands of elastic, so the porcelain ‘walls’ round the central hole are comparatively thinner. 

There is no doubt about it, learning is taking place.  It took me a while to find this picture, that I was so pleased with when I took it.  Now I can make the original sized Darcy much better than the one in the photo.  How I fare with Darcy mark two remains to be seen.

When I’ve finished the fairy man I’ll be starting on a short fat witch with curly toed boots.  I’ve had a few requests for witches recently.  It usually means that someone has designed a 24th scale dolls’ house that looks like a witches cottage to everyone.  I have also done a giant wizard for requests who I am only going to do a few of before I shrink him to a size that  is similar to the witch.

When I’ve finished these I have several items in mind that I want to try in this scale and then I must get on with 48th scale because stocks are running rather low. If you are a mail order collector I’ll be pouring for you soon.

It is a pleasure to be a craftsman, to have skills you yourself have acquired.   It is lovely to be able to be happy creating things that make other people happy too.  Good use of time spent awake, I think.

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19 weeks to Miniatura (crikey, is that all?)

 

 

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Happy birthday.

To me yesterday.  Happy Birthday to you to, whenever it is.  I tend to have mine once a year, though the Queen and teddy bears are allowed twice, what about you?

I have until this year hated my birthday.  Not because I’m getting older, I think wisdom is a good swap for age.  I am not sure when we started valuing young people because they could sing or looked cute on camera over older people with a few wrinkles who knew stuff.  It seems to be multi cultural, around the world leaders are judged on their appearance of youth, which begs the question: if they arrived at the podium in a pram, would we respect them more?

I hated my birthday because I am adopted.  It was a defeat for my mother and she made sure it was always a misery for me.  She invariably sent a card saying: on your birthday I do not think of you, I think of your mother who gave you away.  Enchanting stuff.  This year, that could no longer happen and I am so relieved.  Your birthday is supposed to be about you.

The S&H the DIL and two (count ‘em TWO) grandchildren drove all the way to celebrate.  We met at the restaurant of their choice at a time to suit them because I remember the awful times we went to see my mother and she had cooked elaborate, time-critical meals and we were five minutes late and had spoiled everything forever and wrecked life in general and the day in particular.  I also frequently arrived ‘Looking like that’ as in ‘What did you come looking like that for?’  Or we were dressed formally and it was smart casual or the child was wearing an ‘unfortunate outfit’.  So I don’t do any of that.  Whatever you wear and whenever you get there is fine by me, I’m just super glad they will load the children into the car and drive all that way to see me.  I pay for everything without a murmur, with delight that I can do it, and I express no opinions on anything that is said or done.  As a reward I get to feed my grandson while his mother is snatching a bite of lunch, I get to chase my granddaughter round a restaurant, several times, I get to take her to a toy/clothes/children’s shop her parents have spotted and buy great stuff for her and do a cold early tea with a bottle of my father’s champagne so they could get off home in time for bedtime.  I even was able to put my feet up for the evening once I had put everything back again that the GDD had helpfully fetched.  The fetching included my dumbbells which she was carrying around effortlessly while we all nudged each other in amazement.  She is eighteen months old and carrying my weights around in one hand while strolling round the room deciding where to put them. It was very like the scene after Olympic Weightlifting when the cleaner comes on to the stage and lifts the Olympic bar and weights up in one hand to vacuum the stage underneath.

It was a great day but the best bit came in the post in the morning; it was the present I really wanted and it was a hospital scan appointment for Wednesday for the OH.  The light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming train or it might be the daylight.  Which it is is immaterial, for the first time it is there.

Older, wiser, better at the business of living, more grateful for good times, birthdays are great.  They are a reminder that we are all here to learn and doing it day by day.

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Miniatura 30th September 1st October 2017.

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Next room qualified

Now that so-called higher education has turned into a government cash cow, institutions of advanced learning are ramming as many fee-paying students in as possible, whilst simultaneously lowering the entrance requirements.  The cynical may consider that this is because they have to show the actual attendance numbers in the lectures to obtain the government hand out  contribution to the holiday fund salaries and running costs.  In the hallowed groves of academe, janitors with wide brooms are paid quite a bit to sweep up hovering students and pop them into the nearest room to bump up numbers.  Many years later, if the student has been able to buy enough exam results, the system, if we can call it that without laughing, is likely to produce interesting outcomes, however briefly.

Prisoner at the bar, I sentence you to be taken from this place to a place where you will be ploated, have your leg hairs singed, an apple placed in your mouth and be roasted at sorry, wait a minute,  what do you mean inappropriate?  All right I’ll try againI sentence you to be sieved into dariole moulds, topped with whipped cream  what now?  Really?  Third time lucky, I sentence you to be minced finely and pressed into a greased, lined, half pound loaf tin…….’

‘Breathe in, out again.  Cough.  Move your arm like this.  Yes, I see the trouble.  Your joints have dried out.  Have you been placed beside a radiator through the winter?  I think you have, look, the veneer is coming off round that bracket on your face.  It’s easily cured, take this glue, squeeze it into every crack and hole you can find, clamp your legs up as tight as you can with these and don’t move for twenty four hours.  Next day get someone to give you two coats of this varnish all over.  I know this will work for certain, none of the other patients have come back at all.’

‘Aisle three, unless they’re in an alternate universe.  Sorry, sir, no we don’t believe in big tins of biscuits anymore, you’ll find them in the Heisenberg aisle in discrete packets.  Are you looking for something in that fridge, Madam?  If you stand there any longer you’re going to get hot feet because of the first law of thermodynamics.  No you don’t need a lever or a fulcrum to get the yoghurt, I’ll reach it for you.’

Come on!  Good politician!  Good politician!  Well done, on your hind legs and…………..speak!  Very good, well done now sit!  Sit minister!  Sit!  Good boy!  Biscuit, here catch!  Well done!  No, sorry the member for Berwick North will have to wait for walkies, sit down.  No!  Bad boy!  You must WAIT for WALKIES!  Oh now I’ve done it, sit down everyone, sit down, there’ll be no bones in this house until you do.’

‘Welcome on the channel to an hour of fashion.  First up, this handy ice pick holder with the separate front pocket for your pitons, and we all know you can’t have too many of them. Long shoulder strap.  Nice bright colour to show up against snow. North face of a glacier, it’ll be ideal.  Next up quite a few sundresses in different colours.  I don’t see the point myself; you’d be risking exposure no matter what colour they are, perhaps they have a thermal lining, let me peer inside………no the fabric is as flimsy as it looks.  Yes I can hear you in my ear and I am moving on, what – shoes?  That’s more like it.  Oh.  Well you couldn’t even do Everest by the tourist route in them.  The climber modelling them is standing on her toes and there are no spikes on the soles that I can see.  No, not very good at all.  Impractical.  Ah now this is better.  I’ve just been handed a bunch of elasticated rope ties, sorry what?  Thongs?  Pardon?’

Open wide.  Hmm.  Wider.  Mmm, I see.  Well I think I’ll paint the tongue purple, it’s quite shapeless and frankly, I can’t see myself doing much else with it.  The teeth are a lot easier, they’re getting my creative juices flowing nicely.  And that’s another huge problem I need to address in the design stages or it’s just going to wash all my hard work away.  How would you feel about quilted vinyl in a nice shade of pale gold lining the cheeks?  It really is the new neutral, isn’t it? If I can get that done by Saturday, I can start hollowing out the teeth to fit the light bulbs after the weekend and then I’m going to, come back!  Come back, I haven’t told you where I’m going to fit the bench seating!’

Stand still and put these handcuffs on when you’re told, you naughty, naughty burglar.  Put that gun down at once or I shall get really cross.  Now we don’t call people nasty names like that, do we?  And while we’re at it we’ll take Mummy’s tights right off our face, thank you Mr. No Manners. What will people think? No one can see who you are!  Silly boy! And I’ll take the bag of play money thank you!  Don’t go running away like that or I shall get really quite vexed and use my little Taser and then there’ll be no finger painting this afternoon for you.’

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I began writing this before politicians and journalists started verbal fencing ahead of the election, now it doesn’t seem very far fetched.  Has anyone any idea what they’re doing?  At all?  Hmmm?  (You’re all right, you’re just reading.  Fully qualified if you got this far.  Well done.  Someone ought to have a handle on things.)

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Some weeks and a half but not that many.

 

 

 

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Mouldy round the edges.

One of the ways I can tell I’m getting older, apart from teensy weensy clues such as a mirror, is how long it takes me to recover from mould making.

You probably don’t think of mould making as being physically demanding but the older I am the more apparent it is that this is so. Hours of standing are the main problem and seeing, in the tiny sizes.  When you are making a two part mould the size of a sugar cube, you need to be able to stand very still, to pour accurately, to get your fingers into tiny spaces and to see what you are doing well.   All these attributes are affected by age.  I have in the past made moulds for several days at a time.  I couldn’t do it now, I’d be found in a small dead heap covered in plaster rubble by day three at the latest.

All the rest, in theory, gets better with experience.  For the first five or six years when embedding a master shape in a modelling clay bed you need to draw the midline round it and work out which bits are the undercuts and will not release.  For example, for a sphere the  equator can be oriented in any direction, the shape will still release from two halves of solid hard plaster mould.  For a human head you cannot site the equator round the head east-west under or over the nose, each time you demould the wet poured clay head the nose will pull off and so will the ears if they stick out.  You might be able to site the equator north-south down the middle of the nose, which will work well if you have a very double chin and small ears, though you will lose fine detail on the nose such as a hook.  Most of the time I site the midline round the jaw, up the edges of the ears, meeting behind the top of the head to allow room for the pour hole.  This is not the case with every head.  However after twenty five years doing this stuff I can look at the head of any person and tell you instantly where I would put the mid line to demould them.  I could go on Mastermind or any television quiz with this skill and win.  The skill is not much use in the real world but entertaining on bus journeys and in boring meetings.  Though, of course, if I’m ever in a meeting with you you will now know that I am not staring at you out of passionate adoration but just having a look to see where your edges are.

Then there is the million dollar plaster question – how runny?  I have a friend who did a degree in ceramics and can tell you the formula of water to dry weight of plaster, just like that.  Round here it’s seven rounded old soup spoons of plaster to one pot noodle pot of water two third up from the bottom but varied if it’s the middle of winter or summer.  In the middle of winter the radiators are on so I can dry the moulds on them, in summer there is sunshine (this is the theory, not the actuality) in which to dry the moulds.  So you can pour them a bit wetter and get better detail but still dry them out.  When the head I have modelled is the size of my little finger nail, plaster running wetly round the tiny eyelids is helpful, thick solid plaster sitting on them in a lump like a rhino on a pincushion, is no help at all; it’ll make an impression, but not much.  Then there is the interesting question of how long to stir the wet plaster before you pour it into the moulds.  Too soon gives great detail but is so thin it runs between the hair fine gaps in the moulding bricks and off the edge of the bench.  Then you have to chisel the plaster off the kitchen floor as well as everything else, late at night when you are tired and just want to stop.   If you go for the safe option and stir the plaster until it is thick as a brick the holes left in the moulds will be crude and undetailed and so will the dolls.

It’s called experience.  I would think I was very odd if I hadn’t spent so many years interviewing artists for magazines.  They all say the same: as you age your physical skills and stamina decline but are replaced by your knowledge and experience.  It’s a metaphor for life.  There must be a day when you are the best you are ever going to get.  There you stand at your maximum gorgeouseness and height, finally with a bit of dress sense, wearing clothing appropriate to your age and body type, knowing how to do quite a lot of stuff and able to interact with a number of people with benefit, or at least no actual damage, to both parties and able to cope with most of life without getting in a stew.  How nice it would be on that day if you could receive a message, perhaps a little gold edged card in the post saying : Happy Optimum Day!  After This – downhill all the way.

On the other hand, with age surprising occurrences, that are unrelated to bits dropping off, can still happen.  ’Frinstance in the past fortnight I have been accused of wisdom by three separate people, unbidden, just as a comment in three different locations and circumstances.  Who knew?  Me apparently.  I do remember considering my grandmother to be the fount of all wisdom, though so did everyone else.  She had had a lot of life experience.  I recall her stories of life growing up in a pub on the river Tyne.  As a child it was her job to launder the white smocks she and her sisters wore over their clothes.  In late Victorian times, when she was doing this, many of the ships on the river,and hence the customers in the pub, would have been in the coal trade.  If people covered in coal dust and little girls in white smocks in the same crowded room sounds like a recipe for endless work, I think it was too.  Her father helped, he lit the fire under the copper at five in the morning when  he got up so the water would be boiling when she was ready for it.  I think she started doing the smocks when she was eight.  She gave up millinery to raise her little brother.  Grown up he died in the war when his ship was torpedoed and he, small and slight, couldn’t hold on to the driftwood any longer.  His shipmate came to tell her because he didn’t want her to learn the news in the official letter.  She thanked him for bringing the news himself.  She lost a baby and later her husband at only seventy, I am fairly sure the drink got him, though no one has ever said so.

My grandmother excelled at entertaining children, at waiting patiently, at accepting what people could offer, at not fretting, at making the most of what there was, at gratitude and continuing to have faith and love when situations were bleak.  She never let all she had learned in the hardest of ways shrink her soul one inch.

The purpose of life is to learn; when you finally fulfil your purpose and have learned the lessons that life can offer as well, even though you are going mouldy round the edges, like a planet you will have acquired your own gravity which will draw people to you.  And I’ll pop along too and submerge you up to your equator in wet plaster just as soon as I’ve finished chiselling it off the kitchen floor.

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Only 22 weeks to get these moulds poured and up to the NEC

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When the going gets tough……

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Poured 60 got 41.  You have to remember that the largest is only three inches tall.  The wastage rate is caused by numerous factors.  Bad pouring, when I get tired and either pour them so thick there’s no hole in the middle, or so thin they crumble when I demould them or impatience when I get them out before the plaster has pulled enough water out of the clay, or the man from Porlock comes to the door to sell me double glazing at length and they dry out and blow away with a gusty sigh.

Bad rubbing. Sometimes I’m a really bad rubber.  You wouldn’t think it to look at me but I am.  There is a way of wet cleaning poured porcelain where you partially fire it and then clean the lumps and seams off by hacking with a knife and scrubbing with industrial sanders. This is fine for huge dolls and violent makers. I dry rub my dolls which means that after they have been decanted from the moulds they are left to dry for three days until they look like small chalk shapes.  I then sit with a twin filter respirator, an apron and a shower cap on a sheet of plastic in a closed room and placing a section of old tights on a finger I rub very gently until fine dust curls like smoke into the air where it is zapped by an ioniser and dragged earthwards.  I was fortunate early in my career to read of a doll maker who thought the dolls couldn’t hurt her because they were small, so she dry rubbed them in the living room with no safety equipment and died of silicosis.

So I dry rub.  I try to place all the poured parts for the same doll in one tray, which is harder than it sounds when I am pouring eight dolls at once.  I may have several pours, so that the parts for one doll are scattered over a few different trays, poured on different days.  First I collect the parts for the same doll into the same place.  This is not easy, they are small white chalky blobby lumps the size of garden peas.  It’s art, you know.  I rub all the bodies first, then the heads, then I trial fit the heads on the bodies and rub the adjustments so that they do.  I put the heads aside.  I dry rub the upper arms and fit them to the shoulders, making adjustments and making sure the shoulder holes align.  I rub the lower arms and hands.  There is always a high wastage rate here because of the fingers and because each lower arm has a wire stringing hook, which I have made, embedded in it and hopefully not sticking through it, though this can happen in the kiln as the porcelain shrinks.  I fit the elbow into the hole in the arm and adjust.  I do the same with the legs and the feet.  If I get impatient or think of things that annoy me, I break the tiny fragile porcelain pieces like nobody’s business.  After five breakages or an hour and a half, which is, apparently the pathetic length of my concentration, I stop, remove all the safety equipment and have a walk, a rest, a cup of tea.

The cleaning of six hundred pieces of porcelain takes several days.  Then they get fired to bisque, glazed on the nails and eyeballs and refired.

When everyone has cooled down they get washed and scrubbed with grit scrubbers, wet, to make the porcelain smooth and beautiful.  I do not like this bit at all. Two days of scrubbing with the water running off your elbows is not much fun but better in summer than in winter.

So at last I sit for days and days trying to find the parts that matched when they went into the kiln and discarding all the parts that have warped in the heat.  I try to match the parts for each doll, though an odd arm appears from nowhere always.  I discover that I have ended up with seven left feet for a doll and only one right.  Or all the left thighs are solid all the way through.

After more discards I have dolls to china paint and I try to make pairs of feet to paint shoes upon, knowing that when I get to stringing, my carefully paired painted shoes will be reduced to a selection of odd ones when the stringing hook pulls out of the left leg.

When they are out of the kiln again I match doll parts in little heaps.  There will be more discards as I string and find the insides that I poured lumps in and the heads that have bigger neck holes than crown holes which cannot be strung without the beads pulling through the neck.

But eventually P4190075

dolls.  Here are a couple of ladies for whom I am planning a steam punk future.  The doll in the middle is my mother.  She is proving very popular at Miniatura in the fur coat and terrible velvet turban hat as worn in the Fifties, a sweet Victorian granny in a mob cap and the Two Soups? waitress.  I am planning on quite a few men and boys in breeches, which is why they have white socks.

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That is how you pour sixty but get forty one, though this time forty because the best Mr Darcy has already been sacrificed.  His joints were so well engineered I will take moulds and shrink him with a new head.  He can be his teenage self ( yummy) or someone else.  He is either on the end or fourth from the right in this picture.  We shall see, for now, I am sculpting.

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When I began making dolls 25 years ago I thought I was saving the dolls, now it seems they are saving me as positive thoughts fill my head and four and a half years of pent-up creativity pours out of my finger ends.

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Half a week less to wait.

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The flowering of hope.

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The flowering cherry tree in the front garden is spectacular this year.

Which is a help, while we wait for the hospital appointment for a scan I can do with all the help from nature that I can get.  You might consider, seeing that I put a name to the problem six years ago that a few more weeks waiting to get my understanding confirmed would be neither here nor there.  Six years is a long time to wait and learn until an opportune moment presents itself, when you know that all the time the condition is deteriorating and you cannot do anything about it.  At the end of all that time a few more weeks should make no difference, you would think.

It’s like long distance running.  Marathon runners report that you hit a wall.  I do feel that I have been running through a brick wall for six years.  Then, they say, you sight the finish line and are suddenly aware of the superhuman effort that the last few yards will take from you and even then you might not win.

The tree in the garden is so beautiful.

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Under it the very average grass, the beech hedge still dormant, the tulips and beyond the grey and rainy road.

But the tree

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My heart feels so depleted the only metaphor I can offer is the visual one.

Except that in the tree, in the hollow middle of the tree where the heart of the tree is hollowed out and quite dead looking

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a bluetit has built her nest and is sitting on a clutch of eggs.

I am grateful to nature for the metaphor.  I hope the eggs hatch.  I hope the tiny bluetits grow.  I hope none of them get eaten by the cats.  I hope they fledge.  I hope they learn to fly.  I hope they take flight into a new and hopeful life.

I do.

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5 months and a bit to the next Miniatura.

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