I have been working some very late night shifts, dressing the ladies of Versailles.  They are the ladies of the court prior to the French Revolution, when all was grace and elegance and nobody knew what was going to happen next.

In the course of the run-up to Miniatura my work table gets a bit dreadful.


I used to work on the dining table, which was quite large before the OH destroyed it and cut the end off.  There was plenty of room for all the boxes of material.  There are thirty-one years worth of saved boxes of doll dressing material, which can stretch as far as the eye can see, or, as far as the end of the dining table, which, when I used to take my contact lenses out to work, was exactly the same thing.

Now, in my craft room, designed by me with floor to ceiling windows, like the windows of eighteenth century weaver’s cottages, for the light, I can see beautifully, but the room is not big enough for the dining table.  We are still dining on the dining table, downstairs.  I was going to buy a wipeable table for the craft room but had just inherited an eighteenth century folding card table.  This stood, folded, in my parents’ dining room, by the window, with a very small television on it.  As everyone knows, it is very rude, verging on common, to watch television at the dining table, which is the correct place for polite exchange of news and views, though not with your mouth full and your elbows on the table.  So, if you are going to have a television in there it had better be a small one and not on a proper television table, that would acknowledge its presence.  This is why they used an eighteenth century folding card table, I suspect bought to sell in the antique shop.  However it would not sell well because the unfolded table, which may well have stood, folded, in the sunshine since the eighteenth century, is a completely different colour on the inside.

However, in my craft room it can be unfolded and fit a small space to craft in and be folded so the room can be an overflow bedroom with a bed in it when the entire family arrive to stay.  And, anyway, it’s me, I’d far rather have a wonky faded ancient card table to work on as a modern work table, no matter how purpose-built.  People have been doing thinking at this table for about two hundred and fifty years, the table knows when you sit down, you mean business.

Very appropriately I have been dressing eighteenth century for weeks, in twenty-fourth scale.  I do love dressing the twenty-fourth articulated porcelain dolls, and currently, in the manner of Versailles, before it all went horribly wrong.  Therefore I have been up till very late having my kind of fun.  But. just like the aristocracy, it is possible to have too much fun.  Last night at half past eleven I was trying to jam a diamond necklace over the head of an aristocrat, in the normal way, and


her head came off!

Shocktrick shocks!  I had not intended the revolution to start yet!

The ladies of the court, needless to say, were utterly horrified.


Fainting occurred (on those without doll stands.  Those with doll stands didn’t have the opportunity, their feet are fastened to the floor.) They calmed down once I stood them all up again. That’s because they don’t know yet that they are up for the tumbril to Miniatura, where they will be sold, not even to the highest bidder but for a fixed price (£25) for aristocrats!  Each!  What is the world coming to (Miniatura, in a fortnight ) Zut alors!  Mon Dieu! Blimey!

Back to the eighteenth century for me, see you there.


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I am happy to say that the brain scan for the OH concluded that he was having a migraine and nothing worse showed up.  I think he has got off lightly and I think it was a warning and have said so.

And now I can turn my attention to where it should have been exclusively for the last two days and get on with dressing twenty-fourth scale dolls, which is a thing I really enjoy.  Well, I do but still have to take a run up to it.  I find that, as with most creative undertakings, you need to be doing it for a while until you get into the zone and the ideas start arriving.  Warming up is not just for sports people.

Did Michelangelo do a few ceilings in anaglypta and a couple of coats of magnolia first?  Did Barbara Hepworth round off a few rocks before she thought of putting a hole in them?  Did Franz Hals do a few grumpy cavaliers in a greyish vest before he told the model a joke and got him to pop a frilly coat on?

We may never know but I’ll tell you for posterity (if it has any interest at all, which I doubt) that I take a couple of OK dolls to rev up to much better and a few uninterrupted days sewing before I get really creative and start dreaming of outfits and fabrics.

It’s just the way my brain works.  I still wake up with entire poems in my head, fifty eight years after that first started happening.  Brains are amazing.  You are your brain.  You need to keep it hydrated, give it the good food building blocks, and get plenty of sleep and exercise to get the blood and nutrients rushing through it.

You should love your brain and be kind to it, which does not include sitting in a chair gawping at TV while shovelling in sugar or alcohol by the hour, the day, the year or the life.  There was a children’s TV programme called Why Don’t You (just switch off your television and go and do something less boring instead?) which started in the seventies. This was as good an idea as the programme in the fifties called All Your Own, in which children demonstrated what they had learned to do with the TV off.  I always envied the violinists.  An old violin came into the house but I only had a little go before it was whisked away, traded up for a better antique.  It had some writing on it: Stradi something or other?

I still have a big block of stone in the garden awaiting a chisel.  Fortunately now I am ambidextrous, so if hitting the chisel in my right hand hurts the metal in the shoulder I can swap it to my left.  After the Min, with a following wind and some sunshine I will get busy.

Though I have had ideas for new dolls for the autumn and kits, all in twenty-fourth.

I could have been telling you that I was about to become a carer again; I think I’ve done enough of that. I think I’ve had a reprieve.


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A distraction.

If I say I am working flat out getting ready for Miniatura, for some reason there will be a distraction.  Merely the act of mentioning how busy I am seems to invoke Loki the joker, who will toss his card in the mix ensuring you get a tricky hand.

Yesterday it was the OH, complaining for the umpteenth time about his skin.  The excessive dryness and itchiness of his skin he has ascribed to the humidity level in the lounge and the new carpet.  He found a site on his phone that suggested humidity levels in the house should be at fifty percent.  It didn’t say at which percent you would have to develop webbed feet.

There was a list of other symptoms, he complained of loudly, and then I shouted at him if he was worried, to do something, instead of endlessly telling me how stupid I am when I ascribe his classic symptoms to alcohol ingestion.  I went upstairs and started working but shortly he appeared at the door saying he had rung the NHS advice line, whose advice had been to get me to take him to the hospital at once.  So I did.  After a battery of tests he returned home very pleased that nothing abnormal had been detected. See!  See! What am I worrying about!

There has just been a phone call offering him a brain scan this afternoon.  I will not be able to take him, he’ll have to walk up the hill or find a space in the car park himself, because I have an appointment to pick up my driving spectacles.  I am not being cruel, I have had a few scans, including brain.  It is not difficult.  You take off metal, you lie on the bed, they inject you, the machine goes backward and forward, you get up, you get dressed, you go home or back to the ward.  By the third go you arrive in stretchy leggings and underwear with no metal anywhere, which speeds things up considerably.

I know many readers (hello) are drawn here in fellow feeling, who are carers of one sort or another.  Living with someone with a difficult condition, whether it is acknowledged or not and however slight or otherwise the caring role, is not easy and never convenient.  No one is ever overtaken by disease at a time when there is little else to do.  The trip to the hospital has never arrived as a sudden distraction from boredom.

Sudden distraction from work, yes, all the time.  Inconvenient for everyone else, always.  Something that could have been prevented from becoming a drama by action thirteen years ago when tendencies were first noted, absolutely.

I’ll keep you posted.  All things being equal I have a lovely twenty-fourth scale assembly of residents of Versailles to show you.  Yes they were living the high life, yes there was glamour and cocktails and all-night games of cards.  Yes the end of the eighteenth century in France was as OTT as OTT can get.  They didn’t even have to go to the pub, there were butlers with bottles absolutely everywhere and a massive marble staircase that people used to wee down while waiting for an audience.  (I know, visited as a teenager with the French family I stayed with, in the sixties.  They had definitely mopped it up by then, the staircase is huge, as waterfalls go it must have been impressive.)  (And damp.)

But we all know what happened next.


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The secret of life.

No rubbish, our kid, you get the good stuff here.

I would like to make clear that I am not writing about the meaning of life.  That is something completely different, as explained by Monty Python.  Neither is this the answer to life the universe and everything.  Douglas Adams had his finger on that one and it’s 42.

No, what I would like to reveal today is the secret of life.  Just.  As you do, well, I do.

I’m hoping it will be helpful to all readers, such things occasionally are.  Most of all I hope it will be helpful to carers, who could do with every weapon available in their personal arsenal to help them to fight back against what sometimes seems overwhelming odds.

Carers are various.  In my life I have been an adult carer looking after the next generation up who were suddenly getting into dreadful difficulties with long term fatal disease.  Stepping in to help, as opposed to running away is something I have applauded and encouraged for eleven years in this column.  Our lives consist of time, we only have a finite resource of it.  Giving it to someone else is easily the most generous thing anyone can do.

Other carers, of whom I know increasing numbers as I age myself, are people looking after life partners as those partners succumb to the diseases of age.  Of course what I have written about here is dementia, which has mushroomed in all advanced societies round the world, causing desperate problems financial, practical and emotional and frequently causing illnesses of various varieties due to stress, financial hardship and just sheer exhaustion on behalf of the carer. But other frailties of age can equally, suddenly cast one partner into the caring role.

Yet other carers are children, there are about a million child carers in the UK currently.  Children who come home from school and start caring for an adult in their household in every way possible.

And there are parent carers.  People who have children with such needs that they will never be able to leave home and live independently.  These parents are people who worry all the time about what will happen to their children when they, the parents, die.

None of these circumstances are new in human history.  What is new is developments in medical science that mean that babies born with great disabilities, who would have died in past times are now able to survive and live a normal life span.  Medical developments that mean that adults contracting dreadful diseases, who would have suffered just a few years and died are now able to continue, still with the diseases and the difficulties they cause for many years.

In these columns any ethical considerations of such advances are not mine to expound.  I am a survivor twice of cancer thanks to medical advances and I am a survivor of the surgery twice that saved my life, that had to be corrected with more surgery, in one case sixty-two years after the original surgery that caused the problems but saved my life.  I am glad to be here and have a ton more stuff that I would like to do, and make and write.

What I write of here is my personal experience of the caring role, not to tell anyone what to do.  Each person’s life is their own and we are all here to discover what we can do.  I simply offer support for those times when life is so awful and what seems to be expected of you is so far beyond your previous experience that you don’t know where to turn for support or comfort.  I have told you what I did, or what people whom I know did and how it turned out for them, and you can read and decide if any of that helps you.

I first came upon the caring role in my third year of life.  My parents had good friends whose third son was born with Downes Syndrome. I grew up with this child and played with him and spent time with the family.  He is the reason that when my future husband told me he had inherited Downes Syndrome in his family I didn’t run a mile.  I knew it could be lived with and that someone with the syndrome could be a family member.  Before the Second World War the number of Downes Syndrome children who survived to adulthood was limited to those whose immune systems were better developed than others.  My playmate tended to get virus infections very badly and be extremely ill but was saved by the availability of numerous antibiotics that were developed after the war.  His father had been one of the few that battled for Britain in an aeroplane, he was a very brave man.  By far the bravest thing he did was in his old age.  His wife had died, his other two children had grown and married.  To save them and let them live their lives he sold the beautiful, extensive home fit for a hero that he had lived in and moved into a tiny caravan to provide the money for his last son to be cared for in a nice home, no matter how long he lived for.

I once stayed in a caravan in North Yorkshire in winter.  I was there for a week and it took a couple of months to stop being ill and get warmed through again.

The secret of life I envisaged under the influence of laughing gas, which I promise you isn’t funny at all if you are having a tooth extracted, as I was at the age of sixteen.  The tooth, which was central in my jaw, had died after being struck by a ball and developed an abscess.  I don’t recall the ball but I remember vividly the pain of the abscess being such that I was quite keen to rip my face off.

Out of it while the tooth came out of it, I had a vision and a voice said ‘THIS IS THE SECRET OF LIFE’.  Excellent!  How helpful and unlooked-for under the circumstances.  I saw an oval bed covered in bright yellow silk.  (This is me we’re talking about, I’m not going to have a down-market vision, now, am I?)  On the bed curled head to toe like commas were a man and a woman. And that was it, because it was quite a quick extraction.

Great, so now I knew the secret of life or, as I called it until I got dental braces, the secfet of fife.

But what did it mean?  Was I meant to go into homewares retailing?  Be a marriage celebrant?  Check my writing for absent punctuation?

Some years later, in a book, I came across the Yin Yang symbol and recognised it immediately.  An acid yellow circle with head to toe comma shapes imposed.  What did it mean?

Balance.  The secret of life is balance.  For every down there is an up.  For every wrong, a right.  For work, repose. For tears, laughter.

They don’t necessarily follow one upon the next at speed.  You know from your own life that you can bump along the bottom for years before the upturn. Life is a rollercoaster and you don’t get off until you have experienced the thrills and spills, every one.

That in itself is a help to know and has helped me in my life constantly.  Knowing that no situation is forever and that you just have to stick it out until the change comes, is a great fortification against woe.  The only constant in the universe is change.

For the carer, stuck in a seemingly unwinnable situation, balance is the thing to seek actively in order not to fall out of the rollercoaster before the end of the ride.

Does this mean that in order to survive yourself and be there in the future for your cared-for person, that they have to go into a care home so you can attend to your own needs?  Yes, it might well be the case.

Part of the search for balance is discovering your own capabilities.  You can only do what you can do.

The welfare of the pair, carer and cared-for includes both.  As I have written often, placing the welfare of the carer above the cared-for sometimes for as long as is necessary to restore the balance, is not a bad thing.  If the carer burns out the cared-for will end up in a care home anyway except without the carer to visit them, if they have died.

Working out how to restore the balance in your life is what life is about.  It is completely individual.  Making sure there is balance in your life before you run into difficulties is a very good idea.  Someone who gets up in the morning and sits down for the rest of the day, ordering people about, as my mother frequently did, is not living a very balanced life.

Someone who lives on takeaway meals, someone who exercises to exhaustion, someone who works twelve hours a day, seven days a week, are people not living balanced lives.  You can only weight the seesaw so far before it springs up again, flinging you off.

I cannot tell you what is right and balanced for you, you have to work it out for yourself.  I have often written about facing the realities, getting to grips with what help is available and finding out about stuff rather than burying your head in the sand and hoping it will go away.  Such actions actively seek to redress the imbalance imposed by the sudden descent of an awful occurrence, whether ill health or any other terrible life happening.

Being brave enough to do whatever needs to be done but in an intelligent way, after thought, is a demonstration that learning is occurring and that progress is being made.  It might even indicate that we are acquiring wisdom as we live.

Wisdom is another thing altogether.  Good gracious, I can’t tell you about wisdom.

All I can tell you is the secret of life.


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Many dolls.

Over the last few weeks I have poured, fired and assembled 44 dolls.  To be exact I have assembled 44 dolls from the many more that I poured, fired, glazed, china painted and fired again.

When you are making dolls so small that a few millimetres out can cause rejection, you learn not to work when you are tired, which is why it takes so long.  As to the wastage rate, here is a picture which may explain –


this is the back of the two drawer stack that holds all the reject bits.  All the leg without a friend, all the hand without a hole, every head with a neck hole too big to stop the bead falling out, every wire loop that stuck through the arm, every wire hole that was too small to get the wire through and all the china paint that looked great going into the kiln and rubbish coming out.

The box stack is the result of many years, porcelain is so exacting it’s always worth keeping oddities in case they find a pair eventually.  There are also many more heads (because you only need one head) and bodies (for the same reason) than there are arms and legs, or more commonly, upper arms, forearms, calves, thighs, feet and hands which all have to be paired.

I did at first think the cause of all the oddities was that I was not very good at making porcelain dolls.  In truth, at first, I wasn’t.  The first time I opened the kiln on my own dolls made from my own moulds made from my original sculptures, it was extremely obvious that I had a lot to learn.  Later I was comforted by researching the history of various china companies.  Manufacture in England using local clays began in the 1740s in various places, the locations of which have only been subsequently discovered when archaeological excavations revealed the presence of dumps of wasters – all the bits that had gone horribly wrong.  A trip to any museum with a good collection of eighteenth century china may make you wonder how they could tell the wasters from the good stuff.  Individuality abounds.  Some figurative pieces are sufficiently hilarious to make the aspiring doll maker feel they have nothing to lose.

I used a very few really awful bits of practice porcelain, smashed up with a hammer for crocking pots.  Smashed up china is a good drainage provider.  I had to stop as soon as the pieces started resembling dolls, and I don’t think I ever chucked any on the garden.  If anyone in the future is going to identify my house as a location for doll making, they’d not be able to do so by excavating wasters.

This locality has been a place for making things by hand for at least two thousand years.  My garden was a neolithic flint factory, I turn up the flint nubs from which the hand axes and stone knives were struck all the time.  I do know the flints I find are the discards but whether someone threw them away in disgust wondering if they’d ever be any good, or whether they are just leftovers, I cannot say.

Under my beech hedge grow the lords and ladies that Tudor laundresses used to starch lace collars and keep them high.  Where the canal is now, were reed beds that thatchers have used for making roofs.  A walk into town takes me up Smith Street where busy metal workers bashed out armour for the castle for hundreds of years.

It’s a hive of industry round here.  Shakespeare was five miles away in that direction, scribbling furiously.  His father was a glover, sewing very small seams by hand.

I feel I have landed in the right place and fit right in to all the history that is here, working away to write words and make things that I hope will make people happy. 

At least I might do if I stopped gasbagging to you and got on with some making.

Four weeks to the show!

details as always at


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Small dolls.

I am busy now assembling dolls.  I realise when I set the parameters for this blog that I don’t often put dolls in the subject matter, which is a bit odd when that is, principally, what I make.

It might be because there are so many steps to making a doll.  I am full of enthusiasm when I first think of a doll that the world needs and definitely hasn’t seen before, but by the time I have designed it, sculpted the parts, made the moulds, poured them, rubbed them down, fired them three times and got them on the table to assemble them, the initial enthusiasm may have waned ever so slightly.

It usually returns unless  a problem has occurred.

I had a table full of bits for numerous dolls down stairs and decided to take the first little tray of doll parts upstairs, having cleared the table upstairs of everything else I am doing, apart from some little bits of card.  I am always making something or writing something, or, both.  I only clear the table upstairs if the grandchildren are coming to stay, or Miniatura is on the horizon.  I am perfectly capable of having three tables in different locations on the go at once, the only reason it isn’t four currently is that the OH has grown tired with rubbish Internet reception in his room and has commandeered my small pine table in the lounge.

So, late at night (seasoned readers – hello! – know what’s coming next) I made my way upstairs to the mostly cleared table, put the light foam tray upon it with one hand and attempted to simultaneously open my camera case with the other hand.

Have you ever had a strong desire to live in a travelling circus and be a juggler?  Me neither, yet here I was, late at night doing one handed tricks, idiot that I am.

The case flipped, not open but out of my hand, seriously assaulting the little tray of doll parts.

Legs and arms everywhere.

It wouldn’t have been too bad had they been huge dolls of six inches or so, but of course they were eighteenth century wooden style doll’s dolls, when assembled under an inch and unassembled really, really small.

I had had the parts for eight dolls.  In itself this was a miracle; the smaller the doll, the harder to rub down and the more prone to breakage.  Normally I would have a little ferret in my many boxes of bits.  Clever clogs that I am, wanting a better representation of pale painted wooden Bettys that these dolls are, I had mixed up a special porcelain colour, unlike any previously used.


On my hands and knees, patting the floor (as you do, well I do) after ten minutes or so I found two legs.  Back at the tray after a quick count, I found I was missing an arm.  The arms, which are just over quarter of an inch long, some clever clogs had mixed to exactly match the pale bits of the carpet.

Work of genius.

I gave up eventually and went to bed.

In the morning, muttering, I went into the room and drew the blind.

And for lo!  Upon the table, slightly under a small piece of card, was the missing arm.

I left everything absolutely alone and after my workout assembled the dolls before any more bits could get away.


What a relief.


Spring Miniatura, which is the 99th show is at Stoneleigh showground on March 16th and 17th, parking is free and right next to the hall, details as always and tickets at


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Little folks.

The fact that I love all the dolls’ house scales is a fairly good indicator of my complete lack of financial acumen.

Dolls are very labour intensive, that is if you want to make a proper porcelain doll that you can really play with and which will last a few hundred years even when it’s under an inch and a half tall.

On my table there is a little box full of 48th scale moveable, bendy, porcelain dolls to dress.  Each doll only costs £10, which is ludicrous when you consider the amount of work involved.  The smaller the miniature, the greater the fiddle and the more the skill required in the making.  I have to top up this box more than any other because any doll-loving miniaturist will sooner or later wonder if they could manage to dress a really small doll.  I do also make jointed dolls, which are solid porcelain with a wire going through a hole in the body and out of a matching hole in the upper arms and thighs.  These dolls are easier for me to make for numerous reasons.  First, they are solid.  To make a solid shape in a mould you need to keep injecting liquid clay until the mould is full up to the brim.  Some shapes made this way can be a bit dodgy because they can create a hole in the middle as the plaster mould absorbs the water.  If the shape is solid you cannot see the hole in the middle when the item is demoulded, the first you would know about it would be when the air in the centre expanded in the heat and the shape exploded in the kiln.  The tiny doll, however, has to have a hole poked through the torso twice with a thin bit of wire, while it is still damp clay.  Any surprise air in the middle has an escape route.  The most difficult part is likely to be rubbing down thin porcelain limbs; if you don’t hold them carefully or rub too violently they will break, sure as broken eggs are smashed and cannot be mended.  As always when I have broken three in a row I know this is nature’s way of telling me to stop making breaks and have one instead.  On the whole (which we hope it is) the wastage rate is not too dreadful, if I pour ten dolls, which is fifty pieces of porcelain, I might get seven whole dolls at the end.

The 48th scale bendy dolls, however, which are much easier to dress because they can bend their arms and legs to help you, have to be hollow.  This is tricky because the bits are rather small.


Either I’ve nailed it or there is something underhand afoot.  This is indeed a 48th scale foot, you can just see the hole in the top.  The hole must be big enough to admit a cloth-bound wire and some glue and plenty of both so that you can bend the leg back and forth without the wire coming out.  Porcelain is a brilliant material for this because it is porous and drinks glue thirstily.  The skill here is in the pouring.  I have to pour a drip of slip into the mould and then, after a bit of counting, out again to leave a hollow shape.  If some git comes to the door and I’m not fast enough on the outpour, the shape is solid and no good, I have to chuck it and start again.  If I am too fast the shape is too thin to be rubbed down without collapse.  As I pour the mould gets wetter and the time for the plaster to absorb the water changes.

But if I get it right and work for weeks, after the wastage, what I get out of the kiln is this.


There are three different sizes of 48th scale feet here, I’m going to need the glasses to sort them all out, or the poor dolls will have one big foot and one little one, which is seriously nit picking when you look at the first photo, but that’s 48th for you.

The tweezers are of use in the china painting phase.  I do love china painting, it’s great, but the difficulty with pieces so small is how to stand them and where to hold them.  China paint is a powder colour mixed with a medium.  It remains wet until fired in the kiln when the porous porcelain surface absorbs and bonds with the paint.  This is why you can scrub porcelain and why it will last hundreds of years unchanged.  On the kiln shelf there is a thin layer of kiln sand, the job of which is to stop the porcelain paint bonding the painted object to the shelf forever.  It is a sliding layer which is still sand, if a wetly painted porcelain piece falls into it, it will coat it with sand which will fire on there in the kiln.  So the difficulty is to balance the tiny item on the sand without it falling over.

It took me a few years to come up with the answer.


Racks.  For each firing I construct racks from thin wire that will survive in the kiln.  Some of the racks are wiggly up and down, like a barbeque rack, I can prop the unpainted legs on these so the painted shoes are sticking up in the air.  Some, those that appear to be rings, I have made like crowns with wire poking up in the air that I can balance the hollow legs on.  The feat is precarious, and so are the feet, never more so than on the walk from the dining room table, round the corner, through the kitchen, up the step, along the corridor, into the garage and down into the kiln…

…and breathe.

It has taken a week to china paint the contents of that round kiln shelf.  It has taken many years to know not just to plough on when I am tired.

My style of miniatures has always been the style I first fell in love with in eighteenth century cupboard houses.  The child-like innocence and optimism that first captivated me and made me want to have a go is what I still strive for.  I love the house being the place where the dolls live.  I can see where miniaturists who wish to make high art or emulate reality to a great degree are coming from, whether they strive to miniaturise perfection or imperfection in reality.  You’ll never find me devising ways to make miniature coffee stains, or agonising over my drawer handle being insufficiently Chippendale.

I like miniatures to be a happy regression to a time when life was simpler, I like the miniaturists to be able to call the shots and not be wrong and I like everyone to be able to afford something that has the potential to be an heirloom.

If you do too, I’ll see you at the show, 16th and 17th March details as always at


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An evening off.

Yesterday the OH suggested we have an evening out watching a tribute band.

I don’t normally go to watch bands.  I went to see the Beatles in the early Sixties and knew immediately that no experience could improve on that.  The gods were leaning out of Olympus and listening; there was certainly something more in the Sunderland Empire than the audience and the musicians.  David Attenborough gave a radio talk in which he proposed that human male singing behaviour to attract females is akin to similar behaviour in other species, notably birds.  You can see the truth of this in numerous recorded concerts by boy bands; the boy singer warbles and the females respond.

Every now and then something extra occurs: music.

Following the Beatles and their remarkable capacity for writing money, there was an upsurge in showmanship by some bands who could produce music, especially when assisted by technology and, to be fair, an awful lot who couldn’t under any circumstances but did the gig anyway.

But there were one or two who eschewed the bells and whistles and a very few singer-songwriters who only needed a guitar, a microphone and a chair to make magic.

Such a person was John Martyn, who was actually called David McGeachy but chose the name of a guitar for his stage name.  He left the planet in 2009, sadly but not before leaving a fantastic musical legacy, much of which was just him and a guitar because that’s all he needed.

If you have never heard the music of John Martyn I suggest you listen online.  He could not only make his guitar sing, he could do it himself and wrote most of it too.  I think perhaps lack of showmanship did him a disservice in the Sixties and Seventies because, despite several major hits, he was always niche; his music enjoyed by people who were not ‘fans’ as much as people who liked proper music played by the man who wrote it, properly.

So, after an afternoon of kiln watching, when the OH suggested a bit of band watching at the theatre of the local university, I was quite keen to go.

The John Martyn Project is the name of the group, all independent singer songwriters who have come together just because they like the music.  This in itself is interesting because most of them weren’t born when John was at his most active.

The audience were, though.

It was time travel.  Never have I been in an auditorium with quite so many of my contemporaries.  I was not the only one with a seventies hairstyle, though some had given up the hair completely and quite a few were sporting that interesting long-grey-ponytail-from-three follicles look.  I had difficulty negotiating all the steps because I had had a knee pack up on me on Wednesday.  There was a smattering of sticks, a tidal wave of comfy shoes and a few having an evening out in highish heels, mainly waving away assistance to do one step at a time.

After the intermission, in which the OH purchased a tee-shirt, for leaving in a drawer, the band got a little experimental and the audience played on phones and sent emails until the expected songs returned.

It was very good entertainment, they could certainly play the instruments and we found the car park more readily, returning, than we found the theatre setting out on the huge campus.

Good music transcends fashion, but you knew that already and are reminded of it every time you are played Vivaldi in a phone queue.

The John Martyn Project are worth a couple of hours if they surface near you, you can find out where with your search engine.  The music of John Martyn is worth listening to, too.

May you never go much longer without these songs to hold.


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Like Christmas but better.

Opening a kiln is somewhat like Christmas but better.

There has been a great deal of anticipation and several weeks of work.  I started mould making in the autumn.  The pouring occurred as soon as the holiday ended, with over a week standing in the cold.  As there were several hundred very small items the rubbing down took about ten days, Then came the first firing.

The first firing in which items that could be squashed to dust between your fingers are magically changed to items that are hard and make a distinct chink if you drop them on the kiln shelf (rather than placing gingerly.)  All of this is like writing your list, checking it twice and doing a bit of shopping.

Then comes the wrapping, or in this case, glazing.  The only items I usually glaze are doll’s fingernails, and eyes.  Rarely shoes.  But in this case I was glazing hundreds of small items in numerous colours, some of them very experimental.  What will occur?

About thirty years ago a new couple appeared at a miniatures show, exhibiting bone china.  They had booked the show before they opened the kiln, because you have to book months ahead for popular shows.  After opening the kiln they must have discovered that the glaze they used was unsuitable for either the type of clay or the size of the ware.  What they had to exhibit was their first table full of miniature plates, every one of which had curved backwards, (and they had arranged publicity.)

That could happen to anyone.  I once interviewed someone who said every time she put the kiln on she prayed to the kiln gods.  I’m not surprised, the variables are vast.

All the stuff to do with kilns is variable.  Every brand of clay is different, every batch of clay from the same brand can vary.  I have just discovered that the brand of clear glaze I have used for thirty years has been discontinued.  Various online suppliers of glazes are keen to assure me that theirs is a good substitute.  Ah, but will it work in miniature?  If you ring to ask they will want to know the size of the unfired ware, when you answer in millimetres they go very quiet because they don’t know.

Add to this the interesting fact that every time you fire the kiln the electric elements degrade so you can add variable firing times to the mix, and multiply it by the kiln engineer who put my temperature dial on upside down and couldn’t get it off again, so that I have to guess and stand bent double working it out before I put the kiln on…

There’s a mantra – clockwise reversed is still clockwise and forward to increase is still forward but the values are reversed though the click to full on, is now the click off.  I mutter, trying to stand on my head in the garage.

Then there is the placing in the kiln.  Some brave souls stack items in other items.  When I worked on the magazines we frequently received humorous photographs of vases welded inside baths and stuck stacks.

I do not do that.  I place every item flat on the shelf surrounded by its own half millimetre of space so thoroughly I could almost sell Airbnb flats professionally.  Though as items shrink and move in the firing they could well end up more attached than a newly engaged couple on Valentine’s Day.

Like Christmas I just have no idea what I am going to get.  Not a clue.

The kiln has just gone off but you absolutely cannot peek.

Years ago I read a book about doll making in the Victorian era which painted a picture of Victorian child workers taking very hot items from a kiln and throwing them in a human chain.  This description, which got published in a book, was completely fanciful.  You could not do that because by the time the items had got out of the kiln into the air they would crack with thermal shock before they got thrown to the first child standing with hopeful oven gloves.  I had a doll making friend who opened his first kiln too soon.  He retrieved the still-warm dolls and laid them on a wooden board in great excitement, followed rapidly by despair and a series of tiny ‘chinks’ as each doll cracked between the eyes in the thinnest part of the face.

Just like Christmas you have to wait, you cannot open the presents too soon.

I will wait until tomorrow and then feel the kiln.  If it has cooled I  might take the bungs out and let the air in.  If it is still warm I will wait.  I won’t know what I’ve got until I can unpack it.  There are three and a half shelves and I will have to wait until the last shelf at the bottom is cool too, to avoid thermal shock.

It is still alarming, exciting and unfathomable.

The best thing about it, is that, when I open the kiln to see what I’ve got, it won’t be socks or bath salts.


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A day off.

I’m late posting because I’ve been having a day off.  I don’t often do that, which is odd; in theory I’m retired but in practice I’m working more than ever.  I like to have a purpose or several purposes for each day and feel very satisfied if I have done all I set out to do in the day.  But today I’ve had a day off.

It’s because I’ve worked solidly for seven days, starting at nineish and finishing at night at elevenish and having a few breaks between.  That was after over a week of pouring, starting at nineish and finishing at half nineish at night because of the cold in the kitchen.

I worked until half eleven last night and stopped when the kiln was loaded and ready to go.  In the kiln are several hundred pieces of small porcelain items.

Today all I did was the washing machine twice.  The first with some ordinary clothes and all the dusty ones.  Porcelain, once poured, dried and retrieved from the mould, emerges with seam lines, lumpy bits, holes, imperfections and so on.  It then has to be gently rubbed until perfect.  I use old tights which are abrasive enough.  I wear a respirator, a headband, an apron, and very old trousers, top and ancient cardigan.  I work next to the Welsh dresser, which gets covered with bin bags.  I work on the dining table with three covers and sit on a covered chair, resting on a builder’s plastic waterproofing sheet.  All the dust rubbed off goes in a lined bin.  All the time I am working a battery ioniser is on.

Yet the dust gets everywhere.  Despite the headband when I fall into bed at night the dust falls out of my hair, my ears, my fingernails and coats the bed.

So today I cleaned, vacuumed, washed all surfaces and the floor and changed all the bedding.

Then I put the kiln on.

I was still working right up to the end last night because I realised some of the pieces might have air trapped in them.  Air trapped in a piece of porcelain would expand and explode, which you definitely don’t want, so last thing last night I was making holes in anything that might have a hollow in it, which was a lot of pieces.

Then I spent a few hours covering the shelves with kiln sand and carefully placing every piece of hundreds with a tiny border of space round it.

This morning I put the washing out and the kiln on, then I got on my exercise bike because for a week I’ve been getting up and sitting down, which as regular readers know, I consider to be dangerous activity, or lack of it.

And then I really stopped.

Tomorrow when I open the kiln I will know if there is success.  If there is I will spend a few days glazing the ware then there will be another firing.  If that is successful I’ll be on to china painting and firing again.

Then all I have to do is grit scrub my fingernails off, dry everything, match up the pieces, assemble and if that goes well, just dress and wig.

The thing about retirement is, I can’t imagine how I ever had time to work.

So, today, I had a day off.


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