The shop.

The S&H (who is very clever) is building his mother (who is me) a shop (which is great).

As a result all along the top bar you can see words specific to remote shopping, such as shop and cart.  However when you click on them, nothing happens.  That’s because there’s nothing there yet.

In order for there to be something there, the shop assistant (me) will have to stack the shelves.  This involves taking a photograph of each item, writing the description and the price and going through several routines to get them into the shop. 

At present the shop assistant is writing this while watching the thick, thick snow falling (in November) and planning to spend the rest of the day making the Christmas cards.  The cards are a major production number involving a month of planning and making.  I have just got to the tricky bit, involving engineering, to make it work.

I would be Internet shopping but there is no Internet, I believe because everyone else has woken to see the snow and decided to go Internet shopping.* The snow is so thick I am not even going to walk round the corner to the garage supermarket, I am going to visit the freezer of my own fridge.

In theory (which is always fine and dandy) the shop will come into existence when the S&H and his mother meet, and the clever one with computery knowledge can teach the other one (me) how to do it.  When I have done some learning the shop will appear and I will tell you it is there.

Meanwhile the S&H has installed a doodah for security.  When you click on ‘Leave a comment’ a box comes up for you to tick.  Please tick it.  That’s all.  Your message will come to me as always and I will reply, as usual.

I have been doing a lot of reading about tax and customs and excise and all that.  My reading has lead me to the conclusion that the shop should be for UK customers only.  I am sorry if you live far away, very sorry.  A reader alerted me to the difficulties of shopping from the EU in the UK following Brexit.  (Do you know, I have days when I think I’m writing English and days when I’m not so sure.)  She said goods get impounded and export duties are levied on the remote collector.

I have some experience of this as I have been shopping for miniatures round the world for thirty years.  If you are a giant TV shopping channel you can afford an entire legal department and another postal department and do deals with the post office, though it is worth noting that some giant shopping channels open studios in other countries rather than exporting, because of the difficulties.

I am just one pensioner, I’m the same height as the Queen, younger and with rather more al fresco hair.  I am not expecting, even if the shows reopen and stay open, to make enough to have to pay tax. But I would like to have a few selected porcelain items for sale for collectors.

The situation may change.  Politicians make trade deals round the world, it keeps them out of mischief, sometimes.

These days if I wanted to buy something from abroad I might ask friends in the country I’m shopping in, to do local shopping for me.  One of the huge benefits of attending Miniature shows such as Miniatura, which is properly called Miniatura International, is that you do make friends with exhibitors and visitors from all over the world.  When the countries of the world have finally acted together to save all the people from Covid and then, I hope, save the planet, we’ll be able to do that again.  It may be that we’ll all be given a number of air miles as a lifetime allowance, if it happened I would applaud that and use mine to visit a show somewhere and quite a few museums.  In the current health situation I am staying put.  I would not currently get on an aeroplane with air shared with other people breathing germs into it for anything, I don’t even like being in a room with a lot of people, unless they are masked or family.

I do collect house kits from over the pond.  I pay the import duties happily, they have, in the past, been hefty.

So that’s where I’m up to currently. There will be a shop attached to this website, probably after Christmas and if you are a UK resident you’ll be able to shop there.

I had a French teacher at school whose saying ‘There’s a good time coming but it’s a good time coming’ is frequently very apt. When the good time arrives, I’ll tell you.

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* No, it was because something blew over in the gale and then got snowed upon.  I really hate winter. (And it’s only Autumn, so far.)**

**People burble on about crisp, clear days but it’s only so they can sell you a scarf.


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Shop!

When I threatened  a shop here again, or, to be exact, the S&H thought he could do a shop here again, I thought a response to the question, would you like one? might come flooding in.

As no response has occurred of any variety, I thought three thoughts.  1) You are too busy doing Christmas things to have read the blog and seen the question.  2) You have wandered into this website by mistake and were actually searching for a video of Miley Cyrus twerking.  3) You just come here for a bit of reading and didn’t know I made miniatures and sold them and 4) it was so long since there was a shop here you can’t remember what kind of stuff I made.

Therefore, thought I, perhaps I should show you what it is I do make.

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These are things I make.  They are bas relief pictures, the largest would fit in the palm of your hand.  They are made of paper clay.  To make them I make an original sculpture.  Then I take a silicone mould from the sculpture.  When the mould is cured I press paper clay into the form, remove it and dry it.  Then I paint it.  The results are small, they are for doll’s houses.  The largest, which is my take on a mediaeval inn in Chester, would fit in the palm of your hand.  Prices are various but the largest, which can take up to a day to make, cost about ten pounds sterling.

I make sculptures of all kinds and then reproduce them, either as a solid form, or, in the case of the dolls, as multiple hollow porcelain forms, internally jointed by metal embedded loops and resin elastic. Smaller scales have hollow lower limbs that are jointed to the torso by wired, stuffed cloth upper limbs.  The smallest have solid limbs with a hole in the top that are wired to the torso with a wire that goes through the hole in the torso and comes out at the arm top or hip in a tiny wire loop.

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Here are the dolls I was preparing for Miniatura just before the world went mad.  The scissors are big scissors but not gigantic, the dolls are 48th scale.  They are smaller than your little finger. Each is an individually made, porcelain doll, china painted, fired twice in the kiln and dressed by sewing clothes on to them.  Prices are variable, about eighteen pounds.

On top of the cost of the item there will be postage costs and packing, though where possible I will reuse packaging that is clean and in good condition, for green reasons, though you will never get a recycled supermarket cake package. I did have a miniatures friend many years ago who was famous for that, you could tell what she’d had for tea last week.  Postage and minimal packaging costs will be actual where possible and I think will have to include tracking costs.  I have been remote shopping like everyone else recently and have discovered that stuff doesn’t always arrive, or arrive in good order.  I cannot make anything twice.  I do not make by factory methods, except for many porcelain pieces going into the kiln for a firing.  Each made item, especially those of many parts, like the dolls, is an individual.  They are made from moulds, which I have also made, but in the drying or firing they can change. Many of the fabrics are hand dyed.

The items I make are art.  They are not meant to be realistic. I do not like dolls that are miniature people.  The dolls are dolls, they live doll lives, some would be permanently smiling at the bottom of a cup of tea.  My version of what I see is usually cheerful, optimistic and slightly naïve.  I like that.  I do not wish for gritty realism.  Life is gritty realism.  Gritty realism is miserable, I’ve had too much of it in the last nine years.

Most of what I make is not expensive for what it is, or the time involved in the making.  The most expensive dolls so far have been £45 at shows, they are the twelfth scale glass eyed dolls, which, despite being those things, were still cheerful and doll-like.

Having said which, if there were a shop, that would give me the chance to make and sell things that were not dolls house items.

Until I find a literary agent (still looking) and get a novel published, the words are free.  The words here will always be free whether there is a shop or not.

If there is a shop it will not be huge.  It will not be the online kind of shop where you sit down in the evening and emerge at bedtime much poorer having bought goodness knows what.  There will just be a few things.  You will not be able to try them for three months then send them back covered in gravy in April for a refund, which you will have to argue with someone in a call centre for two hours of your life to get back.  When I had the shop, shoppers frequently expressed surprise at how much nicer the items were in the hand than in the photograph.  I will always try to rescue a doll you love which has broken in the normal course of careful, gentle play by a collector.  Porcelain is strong.  If you’ve dropped it on concrete and then jumped on it I retain the right to charge for the repair. If you live far from the UK whatever you are buying may take months to arrive, some of my Christmas cards last year got to their destinations in March.  I will never chase you to rate, comment on or give feedback. My inbox currently is clogged with requests for me to do the marketing for huge companies who have already had my money.  I will not put cookies in your computer (though you’re welcome to balance a biscuit on the keyboard.  Every now and then turn your laptop upside down.  You’ll be amazed at the crumbs.  Crumbs!  Chocolate covered ginger fingers, they stopped doing those last July!)

But the items will be 100% me.  They will not be fair leftovers.  They would only be available in the shop.  Once sold they would be gone.

What do you think?  If you are interested please click on leave a comment, below and, you know, leave a comment. (But don’t give me a rating or stars.  Your comment will not go through a third party, or even out for a coffee, it will just pop up in my inbox.)

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To shop or not to shop?

Long time readers (you know who you are!) may well recall the halcyon days of there being a shop attached to this site, in which you could buy the dolls I make and I would post them to you wherever you are.  Some corners of the world do not have very secure post but in the main I managed it because the individual porcelain dolls that I make individually are an individual collector’s item.  They are not plastic dolls of pop stars or Elton John’s music box, or somebody famous’s socks or anything worth nicking, they are not even very big.  They are seriously under priced for the amount of work that goes into them.  It’s a niche thing, like my words, either for you or not.

The shop vanished when the swop of a defunct laptop caused all sorts of stuff to drift off in the ether.  I have just got some of the pictures back from the hard drive, saved by the S&H.

The S&H has just offered to restore the shop.  A way to do it that is less work for the computer donkey headed (me) (and I do apologise if I malign donkeys some of whom can knit*) has appeared on the horizon and the S&H, who is clever, could bolt it on so it would work.  He could even teach the dolt (me again) (hello)  to work it, he thinks.  (He’s very optimistic.)

The question is, would you like it?

In the late 1950s they discovered how to put flavourings on to potato crisps.  I lived in the test area.  What this meant was that for a while I was among the first in the world to try tomato sauce flavoured crisps (huge success). Salt and vinegar (epic) and so on.  Then they branched out and tried haddock, which was not well received and kipper, a spectacular failure.  A fair few fish flavours were floated and, failing, fairly frequently, fank wifout frace.

It is mainly thanks to me and my pals, walking the streets and spitting flounder flavour crisps in the gutter that there are so few fish crisps on the market now.  (I would try lobster but it would have to be lobster and lemon, I think.)

So this is my question, would you like a bit of this fish stick flavour chewing gum?

No, no sorry, wrong question.

What do you think about reopening the shop?  Might you be a customer?

Opinions please via the click and leave a complaint about all the fish jokes button below.  Thank you.

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*A lie, sorry, I got carried away on a wave of fish.  Donkeys cannot knit.**

**Quilting maybe.***

*** I’m lying again, as I’m sure you’ve spotted. Donkeys’ cannot do quilting.  They can only make a cup of tea.****%%

****No they can’t.  Very sorry.  I’m stopping, Now.

%%Just a quick coffee and wipe down of the worktop.()

() No.

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Keeping keepers.

If you tried to have a look at this website yesterday or previously, you may have found nothing you were expecting.

This website is hosted by WordPress.  They sell space which I buy yearly.  You can see everything I have written here for the last twelve years by clicking around and, in theory, as long as I keep buying the space it will always be here.  However, as the last days show, in a bit of pre-pantomime, oh no it isn’t.

I am not very computer literate, when it got started in a way normal people could join in, in the 1908s, the OH sold his Japanese sword and bought a keyboard that was joined with a wire to the back of the television. He then watched BBC ‘how to compute’ programmes every Saturday, babysitting the S&H, while I was teaching crammer classes at college.

So they both treated the computer as boys toys and I let them get on with it.  The S&H, having learned to compute before he could walk, became very clever at it, frequently confounding his teachers at school, and eventually went on to do a five year degree in it, though most of the interesting stuff he found out on his own,

So the following information is all from him.  When you are on a website, or writing one, sometimes the server goes down.  What is a server?  It’s another computer somewhere else.  You can store your information in the cloud.  What is the cloud?  It’s another computer somewhere else.

While the S&H was starting a business while sofa surfing, he made a virtual computer for a firm because the employees kept logging on and doing computery things wrong.  So he built a virtual model of the computer, sandboxed (separated) from the real computer so that, no matter what the employees did, the original computer programme was still there undamaged.  I don’t think he ever got paid much for this clever idea, which was the forerunner of the cloud.

The actual machines, the S&H assures me, are located in very neutral countries, in huge buildings in specialised storage facilities guarded night and day.

If they go down it’s usually something wrong with the programme or programmers.

When you pay for computers, including smartphones, some of the cost is the secured facility, some is the cost of mining rare metals used in component manufacture, some of which are located in some of the most war-torn parts of the world.  The extraction is not necessarily planet friendly.

The uncomputery bit.

You are a reader, that’s why you’re here, I am another.  In times of trouble I revert to reading the stuff I love because it soothes and cheers me.  I had got through the entire cannon of Terry Pratchett by the third month of lockdown.  If it had gone on much longer, I’d have had to get the Beano annuals out of the loft.  As it is, I have saved the third volume of The Far Side cartoons, unread, in case.  In their case, unread.

I first became aware that some readers put me in the emergency reading category while I was doing fairs and writing my column for Dolls House World, twenty years ago.  Strangers used to loom out of the throng, mutter: I save your stuff, you know, and lurch off.  After a few years there were letters to magazines explaining how in times of trouble readers burrowed through the pile in the spare bedroom and read all of my columns until they were laughing again.  And quite a lot of letters said the same thing.  One lady wrote in to say her husband was cross with her because she had read my column in bed and laughed so much she wet the bed and they had to get out and change it.  And she really wrote a paper letter to say so and the editor really published it.

The computery bit.

If you are an emergency reader of any category; if you enjoy the Parrot has landed, or you need the dementia diaries in the dark of the night, I hope you can see from the explanation in the first computery bit, that the writing may not always be available.  Aliens from another planet could land and take out the Internet and we would all be so stuffed.  Global electricity shortages or a meteor strike could take out the servers.  Now you know the servers and the cloud and whatever else is currently being invented, depends on real metal machines in a building somewhere, I hope you will back up your emergency reading.  You could, of course stick it all on a memory stick, but that’s worked by electricity too.

When I began this site at first I printed everything out and was quickly drowning in paper.  However, if you were to print out your favourite bits, that might not be a bad idea.

It’s art of a sort, this website.  Art with words.  The nature of it is transitory, the words fly in through your eyes, flit around your brain and flit off.  A bazillion other writers did it better than I which is why I always know where to put my hand on my Shakespeare or my Pratchett.

If you are au fait with copyright issues, I confirm that you may not pass the contents of this site on as your own work or sell it.  I will always (servers permitting)  give it to you for free and you are always free to download it, save it, print it off for yourself and your use and point anyone you think would enjoy it in this direction.

I am honoured to be your emergency reading, or just your free five minutes with a cup of tea (which is what I was asked for when I began to do this).

It’s just lovely that I can write something (because I like writing) and wherever you are on the planet you can read it (because you like reading).

Long may it continue!

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ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

This is the post I’m too tired to post.

Half way through the morning yesterday the S&H rang to ask if they could pop in for a speed visit.

How lovely.  I ran around vacuuming everything, tidied up all the junk and then quickly made some dinosaur cakes and some Paw Patrol cakes.  I would have to say, unexpected visitors are much less stressful since the house makeover.  Having a place for everything and a room for whatever I’m making, with a door that can be shut, is much less panic inducing than living in a little dump.

The family had been to the Christmas markets in Birmingham and popped in on the way home.

In the following two and a half hours there was: four minutes on the naughty step, eight rides in the lift, three goes of Henry the vacuum cleaner upstairs, three goes of Henry the vacuum cleaner downstairs, a Christmas card, an explanation of how to make more, ten photographs, one demonstration of how to cut down a perennial sunflower, tea and cake or fizzy pop in spiral straw glasses, burps, a railway, four adults trying to turn the train off, a look at a telescope, half a chapter of a Horrible Henry book, the choosing of four more books to take home, almost building an aerodrome, more vacuuming, a temper tantrum (I really must stop doing that), demonstrations of how very difficult astronomy is, small presents (just a pterodactyl), retrieval of scattered socks, one last go in the lift, OK one more and this is the last, into the car, copious tears (not to worry you’ll be back for Christmas any minute now) and a wave bye bye.

So most of today was spent falling asleep in front of the computer with every intention of doing something.

When ageing pop stars marry young arm candy girls, I do so laugh, when what follows is a second family in your seventh or eighth decade.

Grandchildren are lovely in every way, including on the way home.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

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Apologies if you tried to find me earlier today and couldn’t do so.  The host, WordPress has been having technical difficulties, more about this tomorrow.

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The C word

I am making my Christmas cards.

Last year, as you may remember, because of lockdown, I made a theatre and wrote the play to go with it, so folk could entertain themselves.

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This was very popular.  People who are normally just recipients got in touch to say that they liked it.

This year I have to outdo myself.

This is the thing about life, isn’t it?  The only person you are ever in competition with, is yourself.

Before the building began, during the huge tidy up, I found some of the first Christmas cards I made, well over thirty years ago. They were scenes that I arranged with the dolls I had just started making.  I photographed them, with a camera, with film in it.  Then I picked the best one, returned from the chemist, got it photocopied on to the bottom corner of a sheet of A4, which I folded twice to make a card.

There was a fireplace with a boy hanging his stocking.  A snowy hill in town with people sliding along and so on.

For Christmas 2000 I made and sent out a porcelain manger and a porcelain flocked sheep. The next year it was a pantomime horse.  The third year was going to be the three wise men on a camel.  In porcelain, pull-along.  I started in March but reality kept getting in the way and I never fired the men.  I still do have a box of about fifty camels with axels and wheels somewhere.

In the year I fell in love with heat shrink plastic it was a slot-together tree and the decorations, that all fitted in an envelope.

Next there were a few years of arty stuff with cards done by different techniques.

Then my mother’s illness took over.  I made my cards from commercial components, stuck together and hers from similar but different.

Then I had broken arms and cancer and did simple arty ones.

Then it was the lockdown; I decided it was my job to cheer everyone up.

I have always felt the major component of Christmas to be the expectation.

As opposed to the expectoration of a row of elderly uncles on the settee with pipes and pints.

Or the conflagration of the cook setting fire to the gravy.

Or the determination that everyone should have a present, even for the unexpected guest that ends up with the three year old unbranded box of chocolates.

Or the railway station that the last person out of the office is going to spend two days at until the trains start running again.

Yes, actual Christmas can be a bit of a let-down, can’t it? All that hope and effort loaded on to making one day perfect.  Just after you have made the house perfect and all the presents perfect (especially the ones that cost a lot, ensuring we will all have to live on fresh air during the coldest months of the year.)

If you supermarket shop late on Christmas eve you can watch them wheeling the giant trolleys of baked beans into the loading bay.  Ready.

So Christmas is all about the expectation, which is why I like to make a very nice card.

I expect I will if I stop chatting to you and get on with it.

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Beautifully articulate, articulated beautifully.

There are never any adverts on this site, unless they are interviews with artists, or something I think you’ll enjoy.  I don’t share content generated by other people, this site is original me.  However, breaking my own rules, this link is to the John Lewis Christmas advert, which I think is art, I hope you agree.  If you are reading this outside the UK, John Lewis is a department store.  We have a tradition in the UK of large department stores and high street chains broadcasting specially made Christmas adverts.  This didn’t happen much last year as we all scraped along the bottom in the pandemic, for which reason spending a lot of money to make something as lovely as this is a real act of faith in the future.

www.johnlewis.com/content/christmas-advert?s_emlid=HERO&tmad=c&tmcampid=81&s_emcid=JLE2869_ATR_20211104_&s_emuid+a5aac1f576d84defa7251b33ff4660d6

The reason I’ve copied the link (by hand, if you’re looking for technical efficiency, you’re on the wrong site) that John Lewis emailed me, rather than just suggesting you search, is that this contains wonderful content about the making of this little masterpiece,  the effort, the actors, the music and performers.

It makes me cry each time I watch it.  So many of us, who were not able to spend last Christmas with people we love, have lost friends and family to the pandemic, or simply were robbed of chances to spend time with those who are no longer here.  I count the little cat who died as family, I could have seen her last Christmas but couldn’t go because of the travel restrictions and by the time we could go, she had gone.

Great art has the ability to evoke emotion, it tells a truth about the world and our place in it.

John Lewis asked for feedback, I wrote utterly beautiful, beautifully uttered.  It is.

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Thick knickers

Welcome to a new category- astronomy.

At the outset, outside (of which more, shortly) let me be crystal clear.  This is not the one where if it is your birthday today you are a Libra and the forecast is for a strong chance of stuff in the post and cake later.

This is the one where you go outside at night and look up.

Last night it was me looking up (instructions in the booklet in the dark with two pairs of glasses, his and mine) while the OH tried to work the telescope.

Oh yes, the OH having done withdrawal in lockdown, saving the world working at the Coronavirus lab, which he quit subsequently, and going to Cambridge (for the day at ninety miles an hour, scroll down) has now enrolled for two degrees (tilt and pan, are we near the azimuth?).  One in astrology and one in cosmology.

Anyone who is wondering: What is it with your husband, Jane, why can he never do things just a bit? has a fellow feeler in me.  I wonder that.  Constantly.

I have hoped in the past that he would not treat me as a workmate.  I don’t mean the bloke who asks you where you got your boots in the tea break, I mean the piece of equipment with the moveable bars that you jam the wood in, prior to tackling it with a saw.

I have held wooden poles at my arm’s length up in the air with no visible support while he drilled holes in them (Hold still! Why are you wobbling? You’re making this very difficult.)  Caught a bag of spanners with my eyeball (Why are you yelling?  I only tilted the fridge!) Held the step ladders steady and braced while he leaned all his weight and a huge power tool, at full stretch over the hedge (Oh look at that! I’ve cut through the cable and it’s gone off.  Why did you let the cable get in the way?)  And, holding the ladder, caught a massive tree branch with my skull as he lopped it off (the branch not my skull, but close call) and gravity unexpectedly caused it to fall downwards. (Try not to bleed so much until I’ve finished these other branches, then we’ll go to casualty if you really want to.)

I am not a big strong girl as you might expect reading all of this.  I am the same height as the Queen. Would that I got treated with the same deference.

The first three questions are – what is the difference between astronomy and cosmology then, hmm? Other than Carl Sagan saying Cosmos so cutely?  Hmm?  And – why did you expect this to be any different from any of his other enthusiasms?  Did you not realise you were going to get roped in, you idiot?

That may be four questions but the universe is vast (and getting bigger, I’ve seen the maths), it can cope with an extra question.

The initial effort where the OH was horrified at the cost of the textbooks, couldn’t make his laptop work in time to catch the online introductory lecture and couldn’t understand any of the maths at all but finally produced an equation that looked like the chant for the chorus in an ancient Greek play, and then asked me to check it out – I just laughed, was sheer entertainment.  It all went down hill when the telescope arrived.  I was co-opted from day one sorting out the legs.

‘I’ll just hold the scope where I want it and you adjust the telescopic legs to suit.  Just undo the screw, while you hold the other two legs where they are.  Careful now, it mustn’t get unbalanced and hurry up, this is heavy.  No, you can’t stand there, I’m standing there.  What?  Just reach.’

And this bit of joy was in daylight on the lawn.

A trillion years ago the OH’s mother had a pet rabbit that suffered from red water.  This is basically as I understand it, some poor animal being forced to live in an unheated hutch in the North East, in the winter and consequently bleeding into its urine, poor thing.

Last night, though not a rabbit, I had the red water too.  It was better by about four in the morning after some hours under a duvet and three quilts and I’m OK now thanks but it was very instructive on the necessary equipment for astronomy (and cosmology).

We went out at eight to set the scope.  I put on the old fleece I wear for doing the books and the bins in the winter and with the usual (left hand down! Not there!  Here! I’ve got the weight, no I haven’t, you hold it!) palaver, got the scope onto the patio.

The telescope comes equipped with a torch thingy that has a red light, and, like all the other bits of kit, is adjustably fastened to the telescope’s telescopic legs.  This gives it the opportunity to slide down the legs while you are trying to read the instruction book by it and undo the leg height screw on the way down.  I have no idea why circus clowns bother with a comedy car, a comedy telescope has much more scope for comedy.

The task at hand was to read the instruction book in small enough doses to be comprehended, remembered and followed.

(What?  What did you say?  No, before that. No, not that, you’re repeating yourself. I know that.  The next bit, no, you just said that.)

The handset is some sort of computer with buttons.  Utilising these, the location and time are entered, the scope is pointed at three objects in the sky which are entered into the handset and then it knows where it is.

(I’ve done that, that’s Jupiter.  Obviously!  No, that’s too faint, somewhere we know but in a different bit of the sky.)

I pointed out that Cassiopeia was helpfully ranged over our shoulders, above next door’s chimney, but was ignored and various other suggestions, all wrong.  We were not helped by next door’s cats who were out prowling, or, to look at it another way, ‘stupidly setting off the security lights.’ Nothing blocks your red vision of an instruction booklet quite as successfully as a sudden security floodlight.

Three quarters of an hour on the patio, outside at night in November later, it turned out that the reason the handset was not talking to the telescope was that someone, who had last had a go with the scope three nights previously, had forgotten to turn something off and flattened the batteries, which is why nothing got recorded and we would have to do it all again on the next dry, cloudless night, with new batteries.

So we got the tripod legs, which are wider than the doorway, and the rest of it, back indoors, switched everything off and then I discovered the red water.

Turns out that what you need for astronomy (and cosmology) is not a big telescope, or three books costing nearly a hundred pounds each, or a laptop that works during the lecture, instead of afterwards.

It’s thick knickers.

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Keeping up good cheer.

Again I find myself writing about the effects dementia has on the wider family.  I don’t want to encumber you with thoughts that might be depressing, if everyone in your family is bursting with good health.  If they are, enjoy every minute and, instead of reading this, click on one of the categories in the column to the right.  The Parrot has landed is all humour, so is Mrs Beetroot.

However, if you do have a family member who is struggling with ill health and it is affecting you, read on.

The situation is that my Step-Mother-in-law, whose health tumbled downhill in isolation, during the lockdown, but was supported by her adult son, who lived in the same town, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a couple of months after her son committed suicide.  Her daughter, who lived at a distance, had social services caring for her mother, four times a day, but SMIL became noticeably very strange when suffering from backache, or any pain at all.  Noticing the behaviour, the social service consultant then determined that SMIL should be placed in a facility with twenty-four hour care.  As this could have been anywhere with a space in the area, the daughter acted and took SMIL to a nursing home in the next village to her own.  This took SMIL away from all that was familiar. At first she seemed to do well, chatting to the other residents, but quickly became very demented refusing to wash or dress.

I have become involved at a distance.  Realising the implications of SMIL losing her familiar and happy life, which involved a different, busy, social activity every day of the week, I began telephoning her every day at the start of lockdown and have done so ever since.  We get on well.  My father-in-law’s second marriage, once his first wife had died of Alzheimer’s, was to a much younger person.  Not only is there is just sixteen years between SMIL and me, her birthday is the day after mine.  We share similar views and have enjoyed Dolls’ housering and card making and paper crafting together for thirty six years.

When my father-in-law remarried, he was keen to get on with his new, happy life after five terrible years.  The OH and I were a reminder of the sad years,  during which he came and stayed every other week for four days, so, whilst I wouldn’t say he shunned us, I would say he got on with other things.  His sister-in-law, who he stayed with on the other weekends, was similarly rejected and surprised.  I never really embraced his new family, he didn’t even want to visit us at Christmas, which left a void, which puzzled the S&H, Christmas always having been Grandad’s visit for one or two weeks. I didn’t need to explain that Grandad preferred his new family, the S&H was bright even at four.

As you know, my mother also had dementia, she died in January 2017.  The care of her was a very illuminating experience, particularly the way I felt after she died.  A few years later, her older sister, who reached a hundred and three, died, also in a care home, having spent most of the last years sitting in a chair staring into space.

From these experiences I would say it is almost a normal and a healthy reaction, for family members who have been involved in the care of an elderly and very challenging relative, to feel immense relief when the difficult person dies.  My aunt’s daughter and grandson were at pains to tell me that there was no need to be sad, at all, for someone who dies at a hundred and three, and they said it in very cheerful tones of voice (though the laugh afterwards may have been very slightly overdone.)

I told SMIL before she left home that she wasn’t going to get rid of me easily and I have rung every day since.  The phone calls are not direct.  She can no longer understand her own mobile phone, though she could manage to call the police on it, whilst in the nursing home. Accordingly I ring the office, speak to whoever is available, which has been a resident on a couple of occasions. I request a member of staff will find the nurse’s phone, the mobile which is shared by all the residents. I wait five minutes while the luckless member of staff charges round the home looking for the phone, then I ring the number of that phone and ask to speak to SMIL.  This doesn’t always work.  On a couple of occasions other family members have been visiting.  On a couple of occasions SMIL has shouted at me and banged the phone on the nearest resident, or furniture.  Yesterday she was lying on her bed and couldn’t be bothered to speak to me.  Sometimes the staff advise me she isn’t well enough to talk.

Some days I ring back at a different time.  Some days I am advised not to and request that staff tell SMIL I called and give her my love, whether they manage this or not, I don’t know.

One of the features of care homes, which is obvious on your first visit, is that you couldn’t possibly work there if you were a lazy person.  Staff do very little in the way of sitting down and very much in the way of keeping their temper in the face of provocation.  By now I have spoken to many of the day time workers in SMIL’s nursing home, some I like very much, one not so much.  SMIL’s daughter has a good rapport with one worker in particular.

It is apparent from the moment your family member enters a care home that it is a busy place in which your family member will be just one small problem.  One care worker was keen to tell me of the time SMIL was standing in the dining room pointing her stick at the other residents (who were keeping their heads well down and terrified) and threatening them.  I have written constantly about aggression in dementia; supposing you had charge of an entire home full of people like that?

Once you cede control, your demented person will lose their back story. The person who dandled you, knitted your school jumpers, saved up for your Christmas presents and took the dog on the last trip to the vet while soothing you, is gone.  In their place, care home staff are meeting, for the first time, a threatening elderly person with strange bodily habits and a penchant for calling the police and setting them on you, if they take agin you.

All of this is a very good argument for keeping the demented person with you or in their familiar surroundings for as long as possible.  My mother only went into the care home when the money for the monthly bill for care in her own home, £13,000 at the time, could no longer be met by equity release and the only option was to sell the house and realise the rest of the money locked up in it. Including spare funds that would ensure continuing care in the home for an unpredictable length of future if something happened to me.  Four and a half years after diagnosis, still in her own home, my mother was well enough to discuss the situation with me, understand the move was financially inevitable and visit her flat in the home to approve it.  She chose her own decorations and carpet and joined in with ‘new address’ cards to her friends and family.

Contrast this with the behaviour of SMIL, who, only six months after diagnosis, constantly asks where she is.  Of course, my mother had not had a global pandemic and the loss of a child to deal with.  During the pandemic repeated blows of fate and their affect on mental health, has been a recurring motif in news broadcasts, I suspect in most democracies.

We are pre programmed to feel most confident in familiar situations.  The lift engineer told me that of all classes of people stuck in lifts, those that panic least are, reliably, children.  For them, everything is new and they are just learning how to respond to situations.  I remember interviewing a South African miniaturist whose parents were horrified on a camping trip with her as a child, to find her stroking a puff adder because she thought it was pretty.

By the time you get to your eighties you are likely to be set in your ways and find comfort in the familiar, whatever that is for you. Abrupt removal from the familiar on top of numerous other blows would be enough to destabilise a sane person, as news broadcasts bear witness.  For the demented person, it’s the push over the edge.

You may now be ready to cast SMIL’s daughter as the villain of the piece.  She is not.  She lost her brother recently under difficult circumstances, has been trying to help her niece, who is only a student and yet managed to move quickly to save her mother from possibly being sectioned somewhere terrible miles away. If that had happened her mother would not have been rescuable, unless she exhibited calm and sane behaviour, guarantee able by her relative, which in light of subsequent events, would never have happened.

Her daughter is currently fighting a Deprivation of Liberty order by swatting up and begging for an extension of current circumstances, in pursuit of which she is in attendance and coaxing her mother to get showered and dressed.  I went shopping in a well-known high street store with a good returns policy and sent SMIL a new outfit, as encouragement.

The truth remains.  Every person is an individual.  How they respond to a situation may have similarities to other people in the same situation but will still be an individual response.  You absolutely cannot control their response.  You cannot control the response of other individuals to your relative.  The first night in the care home, my mother’s engagement ring was stolen by another resident, who then went round showing people her new jewellery. My mother never got the ring back.  My mother, racially prejudiced, hated the second-in-command, who was Jamaican, with such a passion, I was glad she died before the second-in-command was promoted.

The government has been caught wondering what to do about the care crisis.  There are nations who do not have a standing army.  Instead, all able bodied citizens are expected to do a few weeks every year as soldiers, most regard it as free keep-fit.  Perhaps we should have a similar system in which everyone spends a week as carer in a care home, or a geriatric nurse.

At the very least it would help you to value every day of your life and freedom.

At the most you might find a new career in which, if you have the patience of a saint, are physically fit and don’t let things you can’t control get you down, you’ll have a job for life.

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Reasons to be cheerful, part several.

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Here are the new perennial sunflowers, blooming in the place of the triffid, which is now just an envelope of seeds and compost. As you can see, unlike normal sunflowers, which are one stalk and a flower, these bear multiple stalks, each with multiple flowers, on one plant.  This is their first year planted; I cannot say if they will flower earlier in future but here in late October in the northern hemisphere, despite frosts, they are flowering profusely.

Why am I writing about the garden? I am doing so because it is cheerful.  The situation with SMIL is grim, she is hitting people with the phone and her daughter is now frightened to visit her.  As I am too far away to visit, (four hours return trip with a half hour of difficulty in the middle,) and can only get hold of SMIL on the phone intermittently, though I ring everyday, I am trying hard to focus on the positives.  For me the garden is always positive and a great source of optimism and interest.

I had three sunflower plants, bought from a shopping channel as unusual specimens, which they are. I gave one to the GDD in a 14 inch pot with permanent feed, hers is on the balcony outside the kitchen window and flowering away. She is proud of it and does the watering.  I put this one in a big pot for me and this one

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in a south facing flower bed, where it is happy.

I also have an end of season, cheaply bought, supermarket passion flower, flowering.

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The dahlias are having a last hooray

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they are keeping the bees busy, as you can see.

Raymond Evison’s autumn flowering clematis are lovely.

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I bought one plant for me and one for Sasha next door.  I delivered hers in a big decorative pot on wheels, while she was back in Russia, visiting her mother and trying to recover from long Covid.  She does not have green fingers, but you need to be spectacularly awful at gardening to kill off a Raymond Evison clematis.  You need to buy them from Raymond in the Channel Islands, find him at www.raymondevisonclematis.com.  Although Raymond’s clematis are easy to locate in any garden centre, they are, when not bought from him, all too easy to find neglected.  Buying them directly from him by post is not cheap but you really do get what you pay for: absolutely top quality plants in peak condition.  My plant isn’t even planted properly, I had used up all the John Innes compost for Sasha and, because of the shortages couldn’t get hold of any, so it’s planted in a right mixture, predominantly supermarket potting compost, which does not have the correct structure or nutrients for clematis. I will add the proper stuff when I can get it, a trowel full at a time, meanwhile just look at the blooms. blooming from layers of rubbish, poor thing.

I am also very thrilled that my intestines have suddenly started working again properly, without the pain, after a mere four years of agony.  My rib that I cracked a few weeks ago is OK without the Ibuprofen gel and right now next door’s cat is chasing leaves on the lawn.

SMIL is always at the back of my mind.  I am trying to leave her there until I pick up the phone.  When I have replaced the receiver I allow myself no more than half an hour reflection, then I get up and do something else very deliberately.

Of course it is easy for me, I am not the primary carer. I am trying to support SMIL’s daughter, who is, with my experience, when she asks.

Worry is like a rocking chair, it doesn’t get you anywhere but it does give you something to do.  I find success in getting out of the chair and going into the garden, doing hobbies, getting busy. In dementia, I believe family members and other ranks have a duty to care for themselves.  Not permitting the disease to consume any more lives than that of the person in whose head it is situated, is the secondary focus, after the welfare of the demented person.

Don’t sit and worry, get busy.

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