Christmas on the cards.

Despite lockdown all over the place, Christmas is on the cards, mainly because I am making them.

I’ve been doing it so long, I can’t even remember how long, possibly thirty years.  In the course of the clear up I discovered early cards made when I went pro miniaturist.  These were miniature scenes, photographed, featuring my dolls.

By the millennium I was making porcelain ‘cards’.  The intention was to collect a manger scene, year by year.  I still have, in a box, the three wise men, waiting to go in the kiln, the camels and all their wheels.  I spent a long time researching axels, unable to find the correct type for a porcelain camel, gave up and in the end did a shrinky plastic tree.

Then actual card making became a hobby, so there followed many, increasingly arty, cardboard cards.

And this year, they’re interactive.

I won’t tell you because some readers are on my list.

I am trying, as usual, to make up for deficiencies in life.  The card in my head is amazing and so huge it will cost nearly three pounds to post each one, so I have to crack on so they can go second class, or I’ll be bankrupt.

I was only going to do sixty, then I thought of some other people and some who needed cheering up so I am making 78, if they all come through all the processes.

At the end of this week, less than lovely medical stuff, so head down, get busy with the Christmas cards.

Christmas will occur if I have anything to do with it, though I can foresee a scenario in which actual getting together is banned though the government round here is talking about a social Christmas followed by a new year in which we all pay the price, having infected each other by giving a virus as a very unwanted present.

It’ll beat the socks that you never asked for either.

Do you remember bath cubes?  Pre bubble bath these were square white cubes, wrapped in pretty paper that you put in the bath to make the water smell nice.  They dissolved eventually but it was always like sitting on freshly spread grit.  By the time you were dried and getting dressed the dimples in the derriere were filling back up again because it was so long ago no one could afford a layer of cellulite.

I saved up for Swan Lake bath cubes for my mother. My father took me to the chemist’s shop where I’d seen them.  I think they may have been half a crown, which was a lot for nicely wrapped grit.

But at least the once-a-week grime ring round the bath smelled nice.

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The eyes have it.

Having spent ten days without my lenses in my eyes I am off for biometry, which is to say, measuring the eyes without the mitigating effects of contact lenses, to see what they can see.

Well I can save them the trouble.  I can say what they can see.

Not much.

I have spent the last ten days in a foreign land I thought I had left at the age of sixteen.  The world has become strange.

And dangerous.  As my eyes have reverted to what they really are, voyages such as going down stairs with or without my glasses, have become very risky.  Where are the stair edges?  Does anyone know?  Other stuff is shifting too.  Door sides are, apparently, negotiable in terms of position but not hardness.

Uncertainty is rife. Previously without my lenses I was a one-woman microscope (not the most fetching title for a comic superhero,nevertheless, accurate.)  Now I cannot see to pluck my eyebrows.  For all I know people at the end of the drive could be greeting me with hilarious enthusiasm because I am sporting a handlebar moustache, and a monobrow.  I have no idea what books I am putting out.  Someone did actually donate Fifty Shades of Grey and I am squinting through the zip lock bag, like fury, to avoid it ending up in the children’s section.

I haven’t vacuumed the new carpet because it’s black anyway.

I used to tell the tale of how I had to know the bus timetable by heart to get to school because I couldn’t read the number on the front of the bus.  I am back there right now. For all I know the garden could be full of weeds.  Passers-by may think I am kissing the pot plants but I am actually just trying to get them into view, I am likely to get closer up visuals of slugs than anyone other than another slug would get.

Amazingly I have been told I would not qualify for free surgery because my eyes are not bad enough, yet I am borderline for driving safely.  Just how badly do some people see?

If you can smell, see. hear, feel and taste you are so lucky.  Yet bees must buzz to each other ‘thozz humnazz cannot zee in ultra violet, you know.’ ‘How duzz they know where the nectar izz?’

The world does not exist at all.  What exists is your interpretation of it, according to your perception of it.

Einstein said that we decide early in our lives whether we live in a hostile universe or a benign universe and behave accordingly.  This was certainly true of my difficult mother, permanently aggressive in unnecessary self-defence because of her father.  I believe notorious Roman emperor, Caligula, was warped by jealousy and his teenage years of seeing awful excess on Capri. He ended up thoroughly stabbed and no one was sorry.

The most difficult challenge in life is rising above your idiosyncratic perception of the world to arrive at a dispassionate view of reality and behaving according to what is, rather than reacting to what you think is the case, based on your subjective view.

The traditional view of Justice is the blindfolded statue with the scales of justice in one hand and the sword in the other..  I think she might have done better with a nice cup of tea in one hand, a box of tissues in the other and her lenses in.

Well, that’s how I see it.

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Fighting force

My heart, I find, is full of darkness,
My head is edge to edge with night
When will this lengthy tunnel pass us
When dawns the day to see the light?

I find the figures so depressing
Why do they read them every day?
How does it help the people left here
To know how many passed away?

This is a war and we are fighting
Kitted out in many ways,
Face masks, gloves and sanitising
For rifles, we have Dettol sprays.

Instead of trenches we have shielding
In our fox holes, hunkered down
Between each dug-out, virtual reaching –
The world becomes a global town.

Under siege from the infection
We keep on, we won’t give in
Through microbial insurrection
We will fight and we will win.


Yet another lockdown was announced this week, where I live.  I am fighting back with the community library, a  book donation holiday during the lockdown and a new jigsaw exchange.*

But, as you can see, even I am a bit gloomy.

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*I can’t stand jigsaws, if I had to do one I’d have a pot of glue handy.  And scissors.  But some people like them and I had a request.

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Slightly insane

Being slightly insane I enjoy anything a bit crackers.  I particularly enjoy the work of Karen Burniston, engineer, so much that she has now earned a whole drawer in my cupboard for her wonderful paper engineering dies.

I made the pop-up ball dies as me to send to the grandchildren.

You can squash these balls flat to fasten into a card so that, when the card is opened they pop up.

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That’s one way to cut me down to size.

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Stunningly lifelike.

There are two sizes of ball, each has trapezoidal dies to make the decoration.  The trapezoids of the larger ball fit the smaller ball sides edge to edge.  I faffed around with the sizes of a printed-out selfie to get the facial features.  I found an A4 landscape selfie fitted well.  Then just arrange the trapezoid dies over the photo and die cut them. I used the Bitty ball for me and the original size Pop-up ball trapezoids to cut the A4 photo.

My grandson (who is obviously missing me as much as I am missing him) pulled the grandmothers off his card and his sister’s card to play with.  There’s a lot to be said for a grandmother you can squash flat.

The pop-up balls are designed to be decorated as you wish or turned into animals with another set of dies you can purchase.  You can find them variously and online directly from Karen and also demonstrations of how to make them on video online.  They take a bit of fiddling with to perfect, it’s all in the card weight and size of rubber band.  I bought a cheap bag of all-sized rubber bands to find the one that worked best with my card.

The pop-up people made the grand children so happy I included some animals in with their next parcel.

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I liked the cat and the short-sighted frog best.

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If you cannot pop up in person to people you are missing, perhaps you could pop up in paper to see them.

Search for Karen Burniston to cheer yourself right up – makes me smile every time.

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See?

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No Time to waste.

No time to waste.

If I’m sounding like the White Rabbit, it’s because I have no time to waste. It’s the last room tomorrow.

Finally after a year and a quarter of house makeover, I’m on to the final room.  Those television shows where they transform the lives of the participants (I nearly said contestants) by waltzing in and remaking and completely redecorating some suburban dump in the three days that will just about fit into an hour long TV show with advert breaks, are a complete lie.  Occasionally they do feature neighbours giving builders biscuits. That was true.  The local supermarket reported a drop in profits when I stopped buying builder’s biscuits.  The housekeeping money suddenly seemed more plentiful too.

Finally the last room.  It’s my bedroom.  This bit is as bad as tipping a cat out of the basket on the radiator. The stuff I have assembled in my room is beyond belief.

Just like every other room I have done it properly.  Nothing has been moved around in its box and dumped somewhere else.  Everything has been gone through – charity shop, repurpose, reuse, chuck.  I have found correspondence from miniaturists dating back to the last millennium.  Much of which I have managed to chuck or recycle.  Some has gone into new wallets, labelled.   (To assist with chucking it at a later date do you think?  Me neither.)

When the OH was a County Emergency Planning Officer he used to annoy the workforce effectively by handing people piles of stuff with attached sticky notes with ‘PS deal’ written on them.  Just as well I never worked for him, I’d have made him eat them.

Anyway, I have PS dealt with everything, nothing has gone undealt.  I know what the junk is in detail and I am still keeping it.

Labelled.

So today it’s furniture moving, and cutting off the edges of the carpet (I have ordered a new one.)  I shall be glad to see the back of this carpet chosen by my mother.  I am having the deep blue one I originally wanted.

I am paying decorators to do the painting and paper hanging.  I have had eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeenuff.

I have had a conversation with a surgeon about my intestines, and will receive appointments through the post for various procedures to find out what exactly is wrong and before these and the cataracts I wish to be back in my own bedroom, with the house done.

Next time we go into lockdown I’m planning to be faffing around doing pointless crafts like everyone else.

But first my sock drawer.

There is only one question.

The week before last I bought the stuff to have a go at rag rug making. A craft I confess I have not tried yet (probably the only one.)

Shall put my old socks in the bag for textile recycling when the tip opens up again?

Or shall I make my old socks into a rug?  It will, after all, still be socks underfoot.

(There is a possibility I have experienced too much of the makeover lark and have gone completely varnish and gutters.)

Children’s socks as a rug – that would be cute.

Would it?

Get a grip woman! (I can, I have ordered fresh gripper strips, if they can do it on the telly, so can I.)

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Sawdust

Are you an Autumn enthusiast?

I am in a qualified sort of way.  It might be something to do with getting older but I do see Autumn as a sort of death of nature.

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The cannas are doing a last hurrah.  These are last year’s planting, the new ones from this summer haven’t established yet.

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The dahlias, similarly, are showing off still.

However, a couple of weeks ago I became aware of a fine crop of toadstools on the front lawn.  These burgeoned in lines from the flowering cherry in the middle of the lawn towards the hedge.

I called in the expert on trees, according to the flyer he had put through the front door.

He arrived, yes it had flowered in spring, and yes the leaves had been sparse in the summer.

It hangs right over the community library on the drive.  Small branches have dropped off.

So the removal was booked and came a week early.  The flowering tree is chips in a skip.

But when they got to the trunk, cutting it into big logs that were too big for the chipper, I went and had a look.  Inside the tree was sawdust.  The whole core was rotting from the inside out.  All that was left was a thin ring of wood round a dead centre.  It had turned to sawdust on its own.  I didn’t know trees did that.

I shall leave the lawn over the winter so the roots can rot down.  There will be more toadstools, everything will decay.

Is it a metaphor, or just an old tree?

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The removal cost nearly six hundred quid.  Blimey.  I would have a wake if I could afford it, with less than six people from the same household, standing two metres apart in the garden, drinking responsibly and if anyone sneezed in their mask we could all leg it across the empty lawn and on to the pavement.

Autumn.

Are you a fan of it, or not?

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Nikki’s (very small) miniatures.

Middle age, I often think, is a bit like jam.  There you are sandwiched in between your elders and your children, trying to care for both in some very sticky situations.

Nikki compensates by miniaturising and is firmly of the opinion that the settee is for projects in progress, which her family work around because Nikki is taking good care of everyone.

Her preferred scale of working is one thirty sixth, dictated by the need to make homes for Tim Burton key chain figures.  Victor and Victoria’s daughter is a skeleton girl but Nikki chopped her head off and made a new one.  She uses Milliput and air drying clay to make many items because of scale constraints.  This can cause unusual difficulties – unable to find a bathroom set in the right size, Nikki was left holding a bath she had modelled for an hour and a half to stop it sagging while it cured.

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Nikki does love pink and pretty but tends towards dark and Gothic.  She was still at school when the Addams Family film escaped and is a great fan of all things Tim Burton.

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As Nikki is working in small scales, weight is a consideration.  Although she has collections of cardboard notebook backs, wood offcuts and metal miniatures, she also uses mediums that are difficult to control in miniature. These dogs are made of shrink plastic motes, glued together

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as are these tasty Battenbergs, glued to glazed paper plates.

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Curtains and soft furnishings in this Corpse Bride House

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are made from air drying clay.  This is very tricky in miniature but has the advantage, for Nikki, who does a really expert paint job on the clay, of being light so that it does not disturb the balance of the small shelf unit on which the house is based.

The rooms are beautiful and so detailed.  In the girl’s bedroom

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Nikki painted a purchased dolls’ house to go with all the toys she made from scratch.

The pink cabinets in the kitchen

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are a nod to Selina Kyle, who, as Catwoman, has a pink cabinet in her kitchen.

Nikki likes to buy laser-cut dolls but add ears (it’s all about the detail) before painting. Just take a look at these wonderful miniatures, see how small they are.

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Here in the sewing room, the Pin Cushion Queen is a Tim Burton Character, made by Nikki in Milliput.  It is sitting on a purchased chair.

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The chest, shelf and sewing reel rack are card, the tailor’s dummy is clay on a cocktail stick, the basket is braid round a card form.

These miniature dioramas are very engaging.  The love and work poured into them, is apparent in the beguiling result.

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The wonderfully miniature miniatures made By Nikki are proof of the therapeutic benefits of taking time to cut the difficulties of life down to size, to be able to return to reality, refreshed and renewed by happy hours spent with the very tiny thoroughly deceased.

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If you have minis that deserve a wider audience please email me by clicking on the link below.  If we all go skidding back into lockdown it could do us no end of good to have another house to live in, other than the one we’re stuck in.  If you want a different life, get out the glue and make it.


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Sylvia’s room.

I am aware that regular readers here are usually creative people.

If you suspect that further time spent at home could be looming in the future, you may appreciate creative inspiration from other readers.

Sylvia makes lots of room boxes and still quilts, although other hobbies have fallen by the wayside.  She has piles of stuff everywhere, in the normal way, and, during the 2020 lockdown came over Elizabethan and made this lovely bed chamber.

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There is such a lot of work in this wonderful room, which is, of course, what makes it so believable.

The room is built on an MDF base.  Sylvia used to buy furniture but now makes most of it.  She has good online skills too, having printed black work, flooring, marble and tapestry.  As a true miniaturist she utilises acrylic paint and plenty of lolly sticks, coffee stirrers and so on.  I never met a miniaturist who thought anything other than that the best price is free.

The wood panelling was a problem until Sylvia decided to paint MDF walls brown and use coffee stirrers as panels.  She visited bathroom showrooms online to find marble to print for the washstand, though she isn’t sure if there were Tudor washstands or not.  I think if it’s your work of art all such decisions are up to the artist.

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Sylvia turned a bed base she already had into a four poster and decorated it with die cuts.  She made the hangings from her fabric stash using a fuse wire needle she made herself for the sewing. The tapestry is a photo, printed on to velvet paper, then distressed with a wire brush.

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Sylvia makes mice, with sewed, glued and beaded clothing.  Elizamouse the First is wearing a lace ruff.  Other items were purchased online or magicked from the stash.

The room is impressive and made without a trip to a miniatures shop, craft fair or any such outing.  In this respect it is true lockdown art.  It is approximately twelfth scale, though Sylvia makes to fit the latest mouse, which is very mice of her, I am sure they are all happy.

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How lovely to be a little Tudor mouse with your very own room.  How nice to be the kind of person who produces a work of art in a time of difficulty.

If you are one of us and would like to send me a photo of your art to inspire us all, I’ll get back to you, if you write in English.  I am not clever on a computer and can not get those translation programmes to work for me.  Fortunately we all speak art and in times of trouble we can be at home, working away but together online, inspiring each other.  Sylvia says she doesn’t aim for perfection but just enjoys the making, which sounds to me like a pretty good benchmark.

JaneLaverick.com was eleven years old last month, created by request for miniaturists, artists and collectors.  Join in, there’s no judgement here, we just enjoy the making.

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Going up the walls.

I have finished going up the walls.  It took a couple of weeks because I had to have enforced breaks when my metal arm seized up.

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I don’t suppose Michelangelo had the same problem.

(If you have low self esteem I’d recommend painting a frieze – instant delusions of grandeur!)

Actually he did, he kept a diary, complaining constantly about drips of paint in his eyes.  His first lot went mouldy and he tried to use the mould as a get-out. 

When I was immersed in dolls’ housering I discovered that replicating work of the past, in miniature, answered many questions about architecture.  In the main the answer was: because that’s what they had to do to make it work.  At the foot of this column I will answer the interesting question: Why are all the figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel outlined in black? I was amazed when I went there.  It gives the entire work of art a fantastic cartoon-like quality to modern eyes. (And I do mean Tom and Jerry.)

So anyway, not the Sistine Chapel but would you like a look?

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It starts along the RSJ that separates the dining room from the lounge. Here I strictly stuck to books and your suggestions, pencil pots and so on.  And the stencils I had drawn and cut.

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There’s a bunch of keys going round the corner and a sock monkey.  Then I did exactly the same as Michelangelo, abandoned the plan and did what I liked.

For some time, thinking endlessly about books, I was struck by a notable feature of literature.  Namely that the best drawn characters transcend the pages and take on a life of their own. So I began to add the characters who have jumped out of the pages at me.  Here is Gollum.  Yes we love Frodo and his friends and assorted wise and kind elders and magical creatures but it is poor gibbering Gollum I love the best.  He encapsulates the nature of addiction and stands for a universal truth that we all recognise and find echoed in ourselves, which is really what great writing is about, I think.

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Then there’s a musical box, which a couple of people suggested and I do have on shelves.  Then there’s Mr Toad just about to get into his shiny yellow motor car.  I do love Toad.  He is utterly obnoxious and reminds me of my mother. Loud, crass, fearless, tactless, hypnotic.

On the end of that wall there are inhabited books, a tribute to Colin Thompson, who I missed until Megan told me about him.  Up at the top of the wall the detail is too small to see well, which is why none of the books are titled.  And there is an owl money box.

The window wall will be covered with curtains, so the next painted wall is the one behind the sofa.  Here reigns the wonderful Nigel Molesworth imparting the nollidge you need to akwire to keep the brane klene and be topp.  This 1950s hero, written by Geoffrey Willans and drawn by Ronald Searle, was my childhood icon.  Not only did I long to be subversive, I too went to a posh school with huge amounts of healthy sports, strange swots and unfathomable parents.  I had days when I felt Nigel Molesworth was the only person in the universe I had anything in common with at all.

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Next to him is a scene from my unpublished book in which Socks the cat climbs the ectoplasm net into the biplane and then there is James Bond.  If a character ever escaped, it is James Bond.  He is a billion trillion pound, multi-person phenomenon.  He is the absolute embodiment of everything the red-blooded Western male aspires to be. He is suave, cool, good-looking, strong, brave, daring, successful, on the side of good, always gets the girl and has killer throw-away lines.  I don’t live too far away from Daniel Craig, whom I once saw cycling down my road, wearing a balaclava.  I am quite certain it would have been the meeting that moved mountains, had he not been cycling quite so quickly and me been digging out the dandelions prior to planting 20 mid-season tulip bulbs.  You see? He is actually a middle aged actor and I am a very (very) late middle aged gardener.  It’s the power of the character, that’s what it is.

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Next up Alice holding the ‘drink me’ bottle, discovers a small sized door and wishes to go through it.  A miniaturist no less.  I wonder how many girls have been called Alice because of this Alice?  My granddaughter’s middle name is Alice, for this reason.

Then there’s Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg off for a stroll in Lancre Forest with Greebo.  Oh I do love Greebo.  I was spoiled for choice with Terry Pratchett, few writers have authored such phalanxes of memorable characters.

Here we are going round the bend

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First there is Matthew Shardlake, CJ Sansom’s Tudor Lawyer.  I think this character is hardly beginning.  I do hope he gets into film before the author is much older.

Last, but not least, Mr D’Arcy fresh from the duckpond.  Oh yeah.  Colin Firth says he has been a curse, which might be his own fault for draping himself with duckweed so effectively.

And that’s it, my oeuvre.

The OH hates it with a passion.

I am not going to do the doileys, I think that’s it.

It used up a whole box of acrylic paints and two pots of gold. (Paint.)

The reason Michelangelo outlined his people in black was that he got down from the ladder after a couple of days, squinted upwards and said:  You can’t see them from down here, I’ll have to do something about that.*

So, what do you think?  Rubbish?  Not far off a public convenience wall?  Like a kid’s bedroom (this is the OH’s opinion.)?

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Hmm?

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* I’m extrapolating but, you know.**

**And, of course he said it in Italian.  But you can imagine the gestures.  It’s quite annoying, when you suspect you have perpetrated art, to climb down and find you can’t see it.  Sciocchezzo!***

***What do you think of it so far?





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A happy week.

Last weekend should have been Miniatura, which is always a happy week.  It lifts me, cheers me, gets me out among those I regard as blessed, being the folk who miniaturise the world and all their troubles.  But it did not occur.

However, that saying about doors and windows – when one shuts another opens – turned out to be wonderfully true.

Early in the week a lady stopped by to ask if I would like a lot of books for the community library, as she was clearing out the loft.  I accepted with alacrity and two big bags full of books arrived on the drive.  The next day the OH was out in the garden when another lady stopped by with exactly the same question and result.

I took myself off to the local hardware shop, where I found a lovely metal three tier trolley, perfect for the books. It was so desirable that the one in the shop had been thoughtfully glued to the wall.  Taking my queue from this, and the theft of the first metal table, I requested assistance from the OH who helpfully sunk a huge metal ring into the drive, and with the addition of a padlock and chain there is now a modern take on a mediaeval chained library on the drive. It really looks the biz, there is still room for a plastic table with big books and children’s books behind it and I now have enough books to rotate the display and probably keep us all going through the next lockdown and beyond.

I went off to the opticians for drops in my eye so the optometrist could look at the back of my eye.  The eye that suffered the blow, which was my good eye, has responded by very quickly growing a type of cataract and I am now borderline for driving and have been referred for cataract surgery to save my sight.

I came home trying to console myself, reminding myself that at other times in history and in other locations on the globe, I would just lose my sight and to be glad that I have enough inherited money left over to have the surgery privately.  I did know I was struggling to see, so do you, if you’ve noticed the typos.  On a bad day I squint to see the words on the screen.

But as I came back, weighed down with dark words, determined to stay positive and grateful, it suddenly got a lot easier.  For lo! A big cardboard box of crafting things as a thank you from Hochanda for the lengthy birthday card, was waiting in the porch.  I was thrilled, absolutely thrilled.  They really didn’t have to do that, because I didn’t win.  There are stamps in the box, dies, paint pens, enough card to make all of my Christmas cards, bottles of glue, ink pads and some lovely little glass rectangles, which you are supposed to put in memory albums but which look like real dolls’ house glass windows to me.

The box was huge and so was my delight.

I instantly used the black paint pen on the frieze, of which more next time.  I shall use every single thing, and the box.

Such a pleasure, a box full of lovely things just for me.

I have put so much into giving things to other people since March.  At least once a fortnight I go off to the post office with a parcel, to lift spirits and keep the people round me and at a distance going, it was an amazement to find something coming in the other direction.

Bad things happen and good things happen.

Sometimes in the same week.

But to bring the good things into sharper focus all I have to do this week is put my head in a box.

Magic!

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