brick and stone

Some years ago a shopping channel was selling blocks of stone and the tools to sculpt them.  I bought a small flat block, much the size of a standard brick, and a cube of limestone and the instructions to turn it into a gargoyle.  At the time I had attended about three sessions of sculpture, bought chisels and a mask and turned the top half of a breeze block into the dancing baby from Ali McBeale, the television series.  Then I broke my arm.  The half dancing baby was consigned to the porch and the limestone blocks were put in the garage.

I re-encountered the blocks when clearing out the garage prior to its destruction.  I placed them under the kitchen counter to a chorus from the OH of: Do they have to be there?  What are they?  They are in the way.  etc.

Before the garage was demolished we had a nice brick arch to the side of the house, housing a gate leading up the path to the garden.  The pillar part of the arch was also knocked down to about knee level. I bethought me of my blocks, retrieved the lesser block and carved our house number on it and a couple of stylised flowers.

As everywhere downstairs is either piled high with stuff, or has no ceiling, or in some cases, wall, the only place I could find to sculpt was the lounge, which currently has two kilns and boxes full of crafting stuff.  It also, crucially has a small table, which by hook and by crook I have kept clear.  Upon this, on plastic sheeting I began to sculpt.

The OH was loud in his disapproval, angry at the dust, scornful of the result and full of misery.

When I began on the block I placed my Victorian scrap screen, draped with a sheet, between me and the rest of the room, which was fine up to the point where I abandoned my chisel and muttering: sod this for a game of soldiers, got out my Dremel.  Oh I do love a power tool.  It has the ability to get through limestone fast, make smoother cuts than a chisel and cover every surface with a thick layer of limestone dust.  I was wearing a dust mask, though not my twin filter respirator as limestone has much larger particles than porcelain.

The OH was loud to the point of shouting, insisted I clear the table so he could put his porridge there, said the result would be awful, I hadn’t asked his permission etc etc and I could do it on the lawn.

In the end I’m in his shed, as mine is full of the contents of the garage and, apart from the bit where I come out to get shouted at and told what rubbish I am, I am loving it.

I am not doing a gargoyle, I am doing the head of a bloke.  He will be coming through the wall.  He has a headband and an earring.  I woke in the night and knew his name was Frisco.  He will be recessed into the bricks, as limestone is quite porous and I’d like him to stay white for a while.

If he does turn out rubbish as predicted by the OH, we do have a handy skip on the drive but I don’t think he will.  Thirty years of sculpting dolls does give you an idea of what a face looks like.

And why is a bloke coming out of the wall?  Well, dear, a woman would just open the gate and walk through.


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Scattered energy.

One of my greatest challenges, other than horrible diseases and difficult other people, is focus.

There are always a large number of things I want to do, as a result of which I have stockpiled dolls house kits, card making essentials, dies, art materials, notebooks, fabric and a hundred other things that I will do someday.  I know this problem is common among miniaturists, who are all multi-talented.  In fact I would class the hobby as the natural home of the multi-talented because you need knowledge and diverse skills to build and furnish a miniature dwelling.  If you buy the house ready made and simply collect, you still need knowledge, imagination and sourcing skills.

I buy, create, collect and invent; there simply aren’t enough hours in a day.  I do not have a mobile phone and would not dare to get a smart phone, nothing would get done, ever.

After a request I did think about making a paper catalogue again.  They were very home made, competitive (because there was only one of each thing photographed) and quite popular.  I am still thinking about reviving the online store but that requires the major assistance of the S&H, who might be about to get a new job which will involve travel overseas, in which case the shop would be impossible.  I am still entertaining the ambition of putting a thousand hand-made miniatures on the table in spring at the Min, if I can get enough space (the Spring show is growing, space is at a premium.)  I had a quick count in a lull in the autumn and found I had put out 825 individually hand made items.  No wonder I’m always the last exhibitor to leave.

Then I had a couple of poorly days.  I am still struggling with my digestion and back to the hospital this week with my intestines.  Well, I have to be really, it would be tricky to leave them behind.  Long term readers will recall that I had five surgical keyhole explorations, each of which, after twenty months of agony, the right scan revealed, had left a string of scar tissue behind it, tying my intestines in knots.  I think they are slowly getting better, it is now a couple of months since I was last languishing in hospital, vomiting blood.

Anyway, the awfulness reminded me of what I had wanted so badly to do during all the years I cared for my demented mother and what I wanted after the cancer diagnosis.  There is a song, I think, about not dying with your song unsung.  My song is comic novels.  After the fiasco of the fake agency I picked myself up, reported the scam to the police, turned myself round, looked up publishers again and sent the extract off into the darkness with a covering letter.

Then I got distracted by miniatures, builders, phone chats, family stuff, rain in the downstairs toilet, shopping channels and all the rest of it, easily.  Not like turning a tanker with tugs, more like gifting a schoolboy a catapult.

I only had to turn up to my writer’s group twice with nothing to read to realise I wasn’t getting on with it.  The essence of writing a novel, encapsulated by Mark Twain, is to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and not separate the two until the job is done.

So I am off to do just that, and not faffing around rearranging the bookcase, tallest on the left, shortest on the right.  No eyebrow plucking.  No organising winter shoes.  No counting plastic propelling pencils.

There still does have to be builder’s tea, three hourly.

You do still have to eat and drink (though after bad intestines, that’s best kept to a minimum.)  And you do still need to sleep.  Sleep is helpful, close your eyes pondering a problem, wake with the solution.  (I used to do this with dolls house building difficulties, fall asleep with a tricky roof, wake up with dormers.  Now I’m doing it in one scale.)

If you requested pictures or dolls, they will still be on the way.

In a chapter or two.


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Site for sore eyes.

I am living on a building site.

This is not a metaphor for something, I am actually living on an actual building site, in the rain. This morning, early, I got up to investigate the dripping noise that was keeping me awake and found it was raining in the sun room again.  I am so used to this I simply fetched the turkey tin from the kitchen, put it under the drip and went back to bed.  Later investigation, through a bedroom window which had let in a flood yesterday, revealed the cause of the problem to be a stack of roofing tiles on the area of previous flat roof that was letting the rain in.  It’s the weight, you know.

I have been living on a building site for some time now.  Weeks.

I haven’t gone into what used to be the garage because it has no ceiling, so I don’t need to look to know that it will be raining in there and probably paddling  We clustered the furniture together in the middle of the floor.  That was the S&H’s old wardrobe that the porcelain slip lives in, obviously and some garden tools in plastic tubs.  The tools will be OK but the floor of the wardrobe has been sitting in several inches of rain for some days now.  It’ll have to come out to stand on the drive near the end when they add concrete to the side of the garage where the new foundations are and level the lot off.  If the weather’s bad that will probably kill it off.

I have learned not to leave anything lying about.  I have yellow trugs. You can’t tell from looking at me but I have.  I left them in the front garden; I’m using them for gardening.  They disappeared.  Scaffolders arrived with yellow trugs.  I asked if it was my trug and the scaffolders said it might be as they have yellow trugs too and gave me one back.  But later the labourer climbed up the ladder with what was definitely my yellow trug.  So I have the scaffolder’s trug and the labourer has my trug, in the absence of which what the garden has, is weeds. I would pull them out but my trug is full of brick dust and it is raining.

Then there are ladders.  The plumbers left the old tanks in the loft and their ladders down the side of the house but I have stopped asking them to remove the tanks because the builders are using the plumber’s ladders on the third storey up, which is the new roof, or will be and they are still there, unless that the massive bang in the night was the ladders descending to the lawn.

I am quite tired.  I am getting up before seven to let the builders in at eight, though I have taken to opening the door in my pyjamas which is a strange place to have a door.

There is a sand pile on the drive and has been for weeks and there have been high winds.  When all this is over I am going to fork out for new contact lenses, ones without such bad scratches I cannot tell if my cataracts are getting worse or not.  My eyes are permanently gritty.

I look after my builders.  They get tea and biscuits at ten.  Tea and crisps or savoury biscuits at one and tea and chocolate biscuits at three.  The mugs are huge and they have access to the downstairs loo with clean towels, soap and a locking door at all times, though if it is occasionally raining in there that is not my fault.  The polystyrene tiles are going to come off the ceiling at some point, on who is anybody’s guess.

There are acro props everywhere on what used to be the carpet.

The OH is finding this all very challenging.  He keeps making gloomy predictions and absenting himself for hours at a time, shopping, to the gym, to the pub, anywhere but here.

I, on the other hand, am loving it.  I love all the builders and they love me.  When they took my bedroom window out and just put a bit of wood there I said I was cold and they fetched silvered insulation board in their socks and filled the gap on my side so I am toasty warm.  Currently everyone is working their socks off to get the roof on and the quality and speed of the build is the talk of the parents collecting children from the primary school up the hill.

Why am I happy in the midst of mud, sand, rain in the house and builders everywhere?

I grew up on building sites.  My dad was a builder. My treat was to go with him to a site in school holidays.  Every winter when other firms laid the men off for bad weather, he did not.  Instead my poor mother had brickies making unnecessary walls in the garden and covering the flower beds with concrete.

I could lay bricks by the time I was four, and, as you remember when we built my shed, I am at my happiest behind a cement mixer.  Wheeling a barrow full of cement feels absolutely right to me. Even with the awful weather we are having it is a joy, though we could do with the Roman invention of waterproof concrete, opus signinum, a lot of the time.  However, it is not too cool yet to stop the mortar going off, so everything is setting, the building inspector is happy, I understand when I’m talking to roofers, window manufacturers, brickies and labourers and we still have the lovely carpenters to come, though not until I have designed the cupboards, and I have yet to get started on carving the stone block to go in the archway.

It’s dolls’ houses but real and I am loving every minute of it.


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Min set up

If the builders manage to unload the bricks off the lorry on the drive I will be able to pack the car and drive to the NEC, which would be handy.  Among other items I am taking are the new articulated 24th scale witches who I have just finished dressing.

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I think they look like your strange next door neighbour and your Welsh auntie.  Anyway, they’ll be there together with all the others, all the 48th scale characters, the wonderful bargains and the new paper pictures.

See you there.

By the way you can still buy tickets at the door on Sunday and there is free parking for this show, get the voucher on the way out.


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The Min

This weekend.


I will be taking some very reasonably priced paper pictures as well as the dolls and assorted porcelain miniatures.

As you can see these are bass reliefs.  As you cannot see they actually look better than this because the photo that I edited a bit, turning up the light, had been saved somewhere in the computer.  Here’s another very unimproved photo

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plenty of cats.  Well, it’s me, there will be cats.

These paper pictures I make by modelling the original, making a silicone mould and then an impress in paper clay.  Once the paper clay has dried I can sand it, so the back is flat, and paint it.  I varnish the end result, which, being made of paper, is light and very suitable for sticking on the sort of house that is made from cardboard boxes.  The method of production is faster than thinking what to paint and painting each picture individually.  The speed is reflected in the price, prices start at £3 which is utterly amazing for an original work of art. If I do ever get to publish the novel and become a famous writer and all that, you’ll have an original work of art made by a famous writer for £3.

Crikey, imagine if it were Dickens, what the Dickens would you give for a picture made by Dickens in his own fair mit?  Blimey if he’d sneezed on it you would have his DNA.  Or a quick wooden pipe whittled by Shakespeare, what would that be worth?  Or Chaucer’s ham sandwich?  Or Kipling’s sliver paper goblet made from a sweetie wrapper?

Of course mine are better than all of these because even if I don’t become famous (you never know, I might and then you’ll know someone famous – imagine that!) they are very reasonably priced, very nice and sometimes funny, little paper pictures for your dolls house and even the £3 ones come in a proper box and a nice gift bag, because the other half of the joy of the fair is the getting home with the little paper bags of treasure.

Which might even turn out to be treasure from a famous writer, maybe.  Eventually, possibly.

Meanwhile Miniatura which really is the mostest famousest dolls house show in the world ever, according to me and a load of other people, featuring famous artists working in miniature and coming from all over the planet to exhibit in a weekend of absolute happiness and art, famously, in miniature.

As always details at


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We die little by little

By things unsaid


The mortal wounds to the living soul.

Love, unexpressed.

We do it every day,

Swallowing the softer words.

Less embarrassing stuck in my throat than hanging off your ears.

Hugs, unhugged.

Touches, untouched, put in a pocket.

We skate on the surface of our feelings

For fear of falling in.


It was my cousin’s funeral yesterday.  Today the world is not the same.



It’s two weeks to the Min, not one.  Sorry.  (Can’t get the staff.)


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The Min.

In a week and three days it will be Miniatura at the NEC.

I stopped telling you all about it in advance in a superstitious way because as soon as I did something occurred and I was unable to be there.  It was nothing minor, it was cancer and broken arms.

On Friday it’s the funeral of my cousin and the following Friday I’ll be setting up at the NEC.

Miniatura has become one of those events that will happen regardless, like Christmas, a tax return, another birthday and rain.  In a world gone crackers and nuts and all wrong, something so enduring is a source of calm and comfort.

It is, reliably, more than you can see in a day if you want to see every artefact on every table.

It has, reliably, something to make you think: Well, I can do that, something to make you think: I might be able to do that with help and something you know you could never make in a million years with all the help in the world because the thing is just mind blowingly wonderful and art and tiny.

It will, reliably, make your feet tired.

There will definitely be things you want  to buy, there will also be things you just have to have and things you would like if you won the lottery.

There will be lovely people you want to hug.

There will not be someone there who you were hoping to buy from last time but forgot in the rush.  If you want it and you see it you should get it, always.

You will have to waste time eating, sitting down and going to the toilet.

There will be someone whose guts you hate because they have made something fantastic that you wish you had made but didn’t think of it.

You will, reliably, go home spent up, absolutely knackered and totally inspired.

When you get home you will sit with your feet right up and go through all the little paper bags and feel ludicrously happy, until you remember the item you meant to buy but got distracted and then you will start the shopping list for next show (only six months to go.)

I love Miniatura.  In a world gone mad, with people missing and bits dropped off, it is a day or two of completely reliable happiness.

I’ll see you there.  October 5th and 6th NEC, Birmingham, UK.

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Strange things happen to the time after a bereavement.  Some hours drag by, most plod.

Whilst each hour takes you further from the source of sadness, though it would seem to soothe, every second is one more in which the person you are missing has not been alive, which is more cause to lament the hours that pass, carrying someone away from you on a tide of time.

I have not seen my cousin much over the last few years.  He married eleven years ago, finally, and his new wife bore him off like a trophy, which she had every right to do and they settled, at last into coupledom, which was all I ever wanted for him.  On probably hundreds of occasions he had visited, had a lovely time and then gone home alone.  It was certainly time he had time as half of a couple.

Then there were the five years I was caring for my mother which left hardly any time for anything else, not to mention all the weeks I tried to live there, followed by all the weeks I tried to live here and there simultaneously.  Then there were the months when the S&H was meeting and marrying his wife, all centred round the death of her father; any spare time left from my family was given to their family.

Then my cousin had cancer and was too ill to travel and so had I and was I.

You always think there will be time.

There is no antidote or cure to the river of time that sweeps all people away from you, that’s just what it does.

You have to make sure you are present in your own life, for every second of your own life.  Time out ingesting substances, is time stolen from yourself.  Time spent living in your head in recriminations or anger or resentment is time you allow the past to steal from now.

My cousin was an accepting person.  He never got in a stew about anything, however I was, was OK with him.  As a result all I remember of all the time we spent together is laughter.  We laughed such a lot at such silly things, we were never together without laughing.

If your time with someone is precious, and all time with people you love is precious because it is limited and you cannot see the end from here, make sure whatever you do in the time you have together will look good as a memory, when a memory is all you have.

Laughter makes a good memory.  Kindness makes a good memory.  Smiling at someone is a good memory.  A lovely paper letter is a wonderful memory, it’s an authentic voice from a happy time.  Gifts are best if made. 

Time itself, time spent together, generously given to me by my cousin who travelled from wherever he was for a Christmas dinner, a summer evening, an autumn afternoon, a child’s birthday.  These are the times I have, safe in memory.  I compare them with times spent with other people. Times going to visit my parents, once I had escaped, were always stressful.  The potential for being wrong was all-encompassing and whatever gift I had taken was never right.  Times spent with my in-laws were difficult too, it wasn’t their fault, my mother-in-law was ill almost as soon as I knew her and needed care, at our expense.

I try hard to make the times spent with the S&H and his family as much like the times spent with my cousin as possible. All laughter, no agenda.

Soon it will be time to pack the memories away and get on with my life.  It could have been the other way round, it could have been him remembering me.

Time is the concept we use to measure the passing of life.  The Venerable Bede wrote that life was as a sparrow flying through a Saxon hall house.  The time spent flying through the house was not the reality.  The reality began when the sparrow escaped and flew free through the wind’s eye at the end of the hall, out from the candle light and into the sunshine.

I hope so.


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A week

A week. Just seven days,so much can happen.  So much emotion crammed into seven days and seven nights.

My cousin died.  He was only 71. I first saw him 65 years ago when we moved back to the North East of England. Instantly he became the nearest thing I would ever have to a brother. We were opposite physically.   I was small chunky and darkish. He was small delicate, blue-eyed with fair curly hair.  I liked dolls and reading. He liked Meccano, mud and trains.  We both liked the Beano and sand.  Living two streets apart we went every weekday to our respective schools.  He went across the river on a ferry, I went in the opposite direction to the posh girls’ school in the next town.  As our mothers were sisters and best friends we saw each other most weekends and every school holiday for weeks and weeks.

The beach was covered in yellow sand, punctuated with sea coal; if you looked up from the ditch you were digging for the sea to fill up, there was always a ship carrying coals from Newcastle to everywhere else, on the horizon. We went to Camel island and climbed the rocks to see the view of the nearby sea stack, stacked with Kittiwakes who would rise, crying into the sky in huge numbers and fall off back to the rock one by one.

Then you could build a sand castle and excavate it, he from one side and I from the other, until you could lean your head in the sand and see each other through the tunnel. Blessedly my difficult, controlling mother was occupied, putting the world to rights to her little big sister.  I was free to play in the rock pools, watch the sand wash between my toes and make sand cars round my cousin. or have him make them round me.

Every Christmas was the same. At his house we played games and he would be forced to show his presents and give me something from his tuck box and make a face.  Quite why they never just had a liquorice pipe put aside for me I don’t know.  At our house the same display of conspicuous wealth, though I never had sweets, sometimes my father would subject us all to a slide show.  ‘Now this is, oh what’s that.  I don’t… oh, it’s upside down.  That’s it. Got it.  No, what’s wrong?  Ah, back to front.’  When he put the lights on we had all gone to sleep.

There was Christmas Tea, a major event for my mother, followed by Just A Small Sherry and Morecombe and Wise.

And we laughed.  We always laughed. I laughed a lot when he was around.

We grew up, moved away. Jobs and so on.  I married, he was the best man.  We settled, he visited.  I had the S&H, he came and played with him under the table, under the bed, on the floor.  The S&H did not want a train set, which was a great disappointment to both of us as we had plans.

He visited a great deal.  He went round the world, sending postcards and letters to me and to my grandmother from everywhere.  Our grandmother said she felt as if she had been round the world with him.  So did I.

There were fleeting girlfriends but they were never going to match up to his mother, who sat up in bed one day at the age of 80 and suddenly died.  One Self Employed Works Outing and Christmas Party at my house he looked up over the turkey and said he’d met a girl at a party and that was how I came to acquire Aussie rellies just eleven years ago.

We even had cancer at the same time but on Wednesday he sat up in bed and died.

Sometimes on the beach, when it was really sunny, the sea fret would roll in like clouds.  You could barely see your feet in the sand, the seagulls sounded muffled and the damp got into everything and made you shiver.

The publisher is a scam. I have adhesions that hurt all the time.  The builders have knocked down the arch, there is rubble outside and junk in heaps inside.  The plumbers have left a hole in the wall.

I can’t even hear the laughter draining away on the tide, the mist is so thick.


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In this column I have frequently written about junk.  The detritus of living.  The stuff we bought with actual money which is now cluttering up the corners of wherever we live, covered with a layer of dust and some cobwebs and decorated with a ticket, a twist tie, a pebble and a little key.  What is the key for?  When did we ever have a door that feeble or a suitcase that tiny?

The builders announced, a mere year after being asked, that they would commence building the extra rooms on top of the garage, to accommodate the grandchildren who now live in another country altogether but may visit if there is somewhere to put them.

The builders, however, following the plan drawn by the architect, who appears to have vanished prior to the visit of the building inspector who has that many questions for him, cannot begin.  They are unable by virtue of the boiler for the hot water and central heating, an outside tap and a sink which are all connected to a wall which will be demolished.

So first the plumbers.

All week I have had plumbers.  Their two day visit, already three, will recommence after the bank holiday.  On Thursday I was quite keen to make use of the facilities in the smallest room, two of which I possess.  One had no water and the other had no floor.  I went next door in the end.

The bank holiday.  A hot bank holiday.  What am I doing?  Clearing out the garage which next week will have no walls or roof and in which live two kilns, umpteen moulds, all my masters, gallons and gallons of slip and everything else one collects in the course of thirty years of making dolls in the garage.

The OH has been rubbish.  He has stayed out of the way.  He has rested his eyeballs in front of the TV.  He is currently out practising his darts. I am just slogging on.  I am filthy, sweaty, tired and disenchanted with tidying up thirty years of junk.  (Though I did find some cracking plant labels, unopened packet, result.)

None of which matters in the slightest because I am a person with a publishing contract.

Oh yes I am and they want the pictures.

You may sing.

I have, all week.


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