Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Twixmas Part III - Wiiiiiiiiiiiiii!

I mentioned toys (plural) in my last post.

Perfectionist Partner was the lucky recipient of a Wii (pronounced 'wee') games console, Fit board and various games.

What they never tell you when you get these things, is just how difficult and time consuming they are to set up and that a PhD in electronics is a minimum requirement.

We unpacked the various boxes and identified the various components and multifarious cables along with the voluminous instruction manuals, one of which was optimistically titled 'Quick Start'


Even Small Dog got in on the act and offered to help, but she was just as bamboozled as we were.

PP almost put her back out, dragging our television out of the corner so we could more easily assess just which plugs went where. I would mention here that the back of our tv resembles nothing so much as knitted spaghetti, with wires and leads all over the show so making any sense of it was hard going.

One hour later, after I'd unearthed the tv instructions we discovered a set of plug sockets we never knew existed, on the side of the tv would you believe?

Some time after that, while we were convinced it was all connected properly, and all the little lights which should be winking at us, were, we were still unable to find a channel on the tv which showed the Wii welcome screen.

More perusal of the multitude of button and switches which festoon the tv suddenly produced the correct channel/screen but of course, having been pressing every conceivable combination of buttons for 10 minutes, we had no idea which particular buttons press and in which order.

Anyhoo. No matter. We were connected and firing on all cylinders.

One of the things you have to do first, is create your own little virtual character, called a Mii (pronounced 'me'). You get to choose a face, hair style, hair colour, all manner of clothing and accessories, give your Mii a name etc.

It's all very Twii

Impatient to get started, bearing in mind it had been several hours since we opened the box, we chose a generic Mii and started to play.

A further several hours later and we'd had a go at boxing, fishing, shooting, table tennis, and a whole host of games designed to help you get to grips with the remote control thingy, which controls the movement of your Mii.

Predictably we were complete rubbish at almost everything, except I discovered a hitherto latent skill at riding on a knitted cow going at full pelt, knocking down scarecrows and jumping over fences. You will just have to take my word for it that the game is hilarious. This is mainly because the cow steers...........well..........like a cow.

However, despite that, for some reason I seem to be quite good at it.

Careering round the course at top speed, riding bareback on a knitted cow, scattering scarecrows in my wake, avoiding (mostly) various obstacles, and flying gracelessly over gates and fences seems to be what I was born to do.

Indeed I was so taken with the whole thing that I couldn't resist yelling 'Yeehaaah!!!' at the top of my voice at every available opportunity throughout the game.

I think I may have found my forte.............

Twixmas Part II - Canon can...........

And so the limbo period between Christmas and New Year limps on, and with it, that strange lethargy which pervades the air at this time of year.

In an attempt to dispel the urge to simply curl up on the sofa with either a book or the TV remote control, we have been setting up our new toys.

Actually, mine isn't really a toy. More a business necessity, bought the week before Christmas and which has been languishing in its box in the workroom waiting for a window of opportunity to install it.

A brand new printer!

It's sitting on the desk in front of me right now. All black and sleek and shiny, patiently waiting for me to request it to print. Which it does first time, every time, smoothly and quietly with absolutely no fuss or messing about.

But best of all, it's connected directly to my laptop so I am freed from the huffs and sulks of the main printer, which I have to access via a wireless network and which can take up to five, finger-drumming minutes to decide to cooperate. The main printer and I have never really seen eye to eye. It is an all-in-one effort, with scanner/copier/printer functions.

Well notionally anyway.

I can only ever get it to print, unless I laboriously unroll a 3 metre long printer lead and connect to it manually.

And even then it's touch and go.

I will still use it for basic printing - letters, invoices and the like. But I just know that it regards the usurper as its mortal enemy, so the fact that I am flirting outrageously with it will mean that the old printer will probably revoke all my network printing rights and sit sulking and shuffling its ink cartridges when I attempt to send anything to print. I just know that anything even remotely complicated like double sided printing will be a complete no-no and I will have to persuade and cajole it for ages, and even then it will mess up and spit sheets of paper at me in a vitriolic rage.

So the plan is that the new printer will be kept for best. Special printing, high quality stuff for games and toys etc.

The old printer is a jack of all trades, master of none.
The new printer is supremely good at what it does. Printing pure and simple.

It was recommended to us by several graphic design people who know what they're talking about, as being in a class of its own for print quality. It has not two, or even four, but 5 ink cartridges, which it doesn't feel the need to shuffle around every few minutes like the old one.

I am smitten.

Saturday, 27 December 2008


And so, with the Christmas festivities fading into memory, I approach the end of the year with the traditional mixture of feelings.

Relief that yet another year has passed without anything too terrible coming to pass, give or take the odd collapse of the financial system worldwide.

Hope that next year will bring new opportunities and the chance to build on past successes.

With just 3 days left of 2008, I am still hopeful that I will be able to make a start on my toy shop basement, so that perhaps by this time next year it will be completed and sitting resplendant under the toy shop *cough*

Of course before I can even think about assembling it I have some major surgery to perform on the frontage, to enable me to install windows and a door. However inspiration has still to strike as to the how and what, not to mention the where to get them from.
Also I have to think about the well-being of the inhabitants. Upstairs in the main shop, Mr Albert Lowther, the proprietor, is quite comfortable. I'd hate to think of the basement as being a dark, dank, damp place, so I will have to add some creature comforts.

As well as housing the toymaker and dollmaker's workrooms, I'm hoping to make space for a small office area. This may require some major restructuring of room partitions etc, all of which still has to be decided upon.

I can feel some lists coming on..............

Monday, 22 December 2008

Kind thoughts at Christmas.............

Apologies to avid readers of the blog for leaving you on tenterhooks with my last few posts. Nothing like a bit of a cliff-hanger to keep everyone on their toes.

As is to be expected at this time of the year, Real Life has been taking up rather more of my time and energy over the past week than is reasonable.

The good news is that our central heating and hot water have been restored to full working order by a very nice man from British Gas, who breezily arrived in a short-sleeved T-shirt and seemed amused by our chattering teeth, blue-tinged fingertips and ears, and suggested that we go outside as it was warmer outdoors than in.

That aside, he did a sterling job of coaxing our recalcitrant boiler back to life, and duly checked out the innards of various other bits of electrical gubbins closely related to the heating system, all of which were declared (more or less) fit for purpose.

The bad news is that our boiler is apparently obsolete (after only 10 years!!!?) and spare parts are becoming increasingly difficult to come by. Not only that, it is obviously hopelessly inefficient to the extent that setting fire to a pile of £10 notes would provide more heat, more cheaply, than running the boiler. I'm paraphrasing here but you get the gist.

In other news, our business computer is also on a life support system, and is currently on the waiting list for a motherboard transplant. Yes we did replace the power supply unit which had been couriered to us in a box not dissimilar to those which carry human organs for surgery.
The power supply replacement was almost as tense as a real operation, as we laid the patient on its back, and one by one disconnected bundles of wires from its brain and vital organs, then repeated the process in reverse.

We said a small prayer (to Geoff the god of poorly computers) and pressed the switch which in a parallel universe somewhere, restored the machine to life and everyone lived happily ever after.

Unfortunately in THIS universe, the patient was declared DOA and a further phone call to tech support confirmed that despite our best efforts, there was nothing else for it but to recall the PC for a full body makeover.

Our timing, as ever, is pants.

Obviously there is nothing to be done until the holiday festivities have subsided, at which time the entire base unit will be couriered to the PC equivalent of intensive care.

Aside from all of that, we have been in the vortex of the usual pre-Christmas mayhem, of which a free-floating sense of panic and anxiety is the primary symptom. We have various family members arriving over the next few days and only one of the three spare rooms are either accessible or presentable.

I won't even start on the price of turkeys this year. Have you seen how much they cost?!!! I don't believe it. £30-45 for a turkey!

Daylight robbery!

Which is exactly what we may be forced to commit unless we can find more reasonably priced birds. I've been eyeing up pigeons in the garden but have been persuaded against taking drastic action. Small dog has helpfully suggested roast squirrel. However her squirrel-chasing forays, although undeniably enthusiastic, have, to date, yielded not one actual catch. In any case, I doubt my ability to make a squirrel look like a plump turkey, although the tail would make an attractive table centrepiece if sprinkled with a string of festive fairy lights.

And before anyone complains about cruelty to wildlife etc, in my defence, I have gone a bit mad.

Which is par for the course at this time of year as legions of women around the country can attest.

Ok, enough of this displacement activity. I'm off to finish writing my Christmas cards (AND YES I DO KNOW THEY WON'T GET THERE IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS!)

Monday, 15 December 2008

Oh no............!!!!

Small dog is disenchanted.

It has been soooooo cold today that we have worried that it may come to this..................

Cold snap...............

It would appear that our central heating system has come out in sympathy with the computer, and is resolutely refusing to turn on.

Despite spending several hours yesterday trying to identify the problem, we gave up in the end and are now awaiting the arrival of a heating engineer, who will hopefully be able to fix the problem and restore heating and hot water.

As there has been no heating since yesterday the house is now completely stone cold, and in spite of wearing several layers of clothing, we are all chilled to the bone. Small dog, muffled in her warmest jumper, has gone back to bed, and I would dearly love to join her. Getting out of an electrically heated bed this morning was sheer purgatory in the absence of any ambient heat. Washing in icy cold water isn't much fun either.

The workroom feels like the Siberian steppes and the bathrooms......well let's just say they're a tad chilly.

I'm off to wrap myself around mug of tea in an effort to keep warm........

Friday, 12 December 2008

Blinking computer..........!

Our new computer is on the blink. There is never a good time for things like this to happen, but now is most definitely NOT a good time.

The problem lies with the power switch which only actually works 1 in 10 presses. If it doesn't switch on first time, then there invariably follows an increasingly stressful period of holding the button in till it goes dead, then trying again and again and again.

It should switch on first time every time.

I've been in contact with the supplier, as it is under warranty, and they duly sent us a new on/off switch, along with a helpful, step-by-step instruction email with photographs and everything.
So yesterday morning we girded our loins and set about taking the case off the desktop unit to replace the 'faulty' switch.

This is what it looks like inside, which is quite scary.

Also scary was the amount of dust and debris lying on the floor of the case. I didn't probe too deeply but I assume it was made up of dust, dead skin cells, and in all probability, various particles of small dog.

Anyhoo, 30 minutes later, after carefully noting the relative positions of the various plugs etc, we had replaced the switch, cleaned out the debris, re-assembled the case,reconnected all the electrical cable gubbins at the back and with a certain amount of trepidation switched it on.





So while PP spent a further 20 minutes getting it to start I phoned tech support again to consult the oracle who suggested that perhaps the power supply is at fault.
So we are now twiddling our thumbs waiting for the imminent courier delivery of a new power supply, which is apparently a much more difficult item to replace.

If that doesn't solve the problem then the whole base unit is going to have to go back to the supplier for major surgery.

Oh joy.............

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Christmas cheer.................

We decided to undertake phase 1 of our Christmas decorations yesterday evening.

Phase 1 is the easy bit......... decorating the tree. Some of the glass decorations are almost 100 years old, having belonged to my grandmother when my mum was a little girl. Each year I hold my breath as the decorations are unearthed from the loft, hoping that these increasingly delicate and fragile baubles will have remained intact. Thankfully this year there were no casualties and the tree is now resplendent.

Phase 2 is the much more tricky bit, decorating the hall. Which involves entwining greenery garlands and twinkling lights between the banisters on our winding staircase. Each year I think I will remember the best way to do it, and of course, each year, with the passing of 365 days, I forget.

This invariably leads to a fair amount of unseasonal language, especially if I happen to tread on one of the lights, which is an occupational hazard.

Small dog has thrown herself wholeheartedly into the decorating frenzy, and even dressed up for the occasion. She is blissfully unaware that hanging on the tree, hopefully beyond her reach, is a tiny, wee stocking, stuffed with a few of her favourite gravy bones for Christmas morning.

Ho Ho Ho

Monday, 8 December 2008

Fair report..................

I have finally emerged from a zombie-like exhausted state following the Kensington Christmas Festival on Saturday. Those 17 hour working days really take it out of a girl!

It was great to meet so many blog-readers, dollclub members and loyal customers, although sadly small dog (aka Business Mascot) could not accompany us to bask in her acclaim. Which was probably for the best as from the point at which the fair opened until right up to the finish, we were frantically busy and she would have felt completely neglected.

I didn't even get the chance to have a wander round, which was good in that I didn't actually spend any money, but disappointing in that I had a shopping list of things I wanted for my toy shop basement. One of the great things about Kensington is that it is a rare opportunity to see so many top miniature artisans together under one roof, and I had been looking forward to visiting several exhibitors, via a carefully planned route, assiduously worked out on my layout plan.

However, we had a lovely grandstand view of the Great Hall from our position up on the stage, and had a really fantastic day, selling out of all our new exotic pullalong/ride-on toys, loads of little toy dolls, all but one of Perfectionist Partner's new Jack-in-the-Box toys and much, much more. So for us it was the best one day fair we've attended in many years and left us feeling delighted that our special tiny toys were so well received.

Fortunately we took a few photos of our stand, and part of the Great Hall before the fair opened and the crowds poured in.

By the end of the day, despite continually replenishing our display, it was looking very sparse, so it's good to have a record...........for the record so to speak.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Blast from the past.............

I am now officially off duty.

Stock packed - check
Stand dismantled -check
Route map printed - check
Lunch and 'refreshments' in fridge - check
Clothes ready - check
Alarm clocks set - check

So as a little 'wind down drink' you'll NEVER guess what Perfectionist Partner has just brought me.

No, it wasn't like that when I was a lass either!

Elfin safety..........

I have been much amused by the story of a winter wonderland Christmas theme park. In fact, when I read the press report online this morning, I laughed so hard I snorted tea out of my nose.

It was THAT funny.

The website for the attraction boasted amazing real snow effects, reindeer and huskies, an ice skating rink, fabulous nativity scene, bustling Christmas markets, an enchanting Santa's grotto and all manner of festive festivities.

Predictably, in these straightened times, the reality fell far short and after paying £25 each for entry, visitors found themselves up to their ankles in mud, queuing for hours to see a tawdry collection of tatty decorations and painted backdrops. Not quite the glorious Lapland experience they had been expecting.

As a result, tempers flared and a former security guard at the site reported that staff were subjected to violent outbursts by irate customers, including Santa being attacked and one of the elves being "smacked in the face and pushed into a pram".

I expect that post-traumatic stress counselling will be offered to the child who had to be comforted after arriving at Santa's grotto to find him puffing a cigarette outside.

Sadly the website has been withdrawn following the closure of the attraction, but you can get a fairly good idea of the story from the following press article

*"Furious parents attack Santa and his elves .............."*

You just couldn't make it up, could you? Priceless.

Ready to go..............

And so today, it only remains to finish the final bits and pieces of packing and make sure everything fits into our very small car.

I'm sure that tomorrow will pass in a blur of activity, from getting up at 5.00 am (yes that IS the middle of the night) till getting back home, hopefully around 9pm.

If you're heading to the Kensington fair tomorrow, do stop and say hello. We're in the Great Hall, up on the stage, right next to Jamie Carrington, one of the best known dollmakers on the planet, so no pressure there then.

On display we will have many new miniature toys and games, as well as a sneak preview of our new home workshop project, a Victorian Toy Shop Window, which will be available from January 2009.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Happy Birthday Blog....!

Today is my blog's second birthday!

Two whole years of toy shop highs and lows, life's ups and downs and the sheer gorgeousness of Small Dog constant throughout.

Originally set up to track the progress of my toy shop build, it has evolved organically into a virtual diary, charting our business successes and failures, lightened by a healthy dose of irreverent, whimsical and sometimes downright bizarre observations on life, the universe and everything.

So what's next..........?

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Shop till you drop..........

Amidst the chaos of preparations for Kensington on Saturday, we took a few hours out of our busy schedule to visit the new Tesco superstore which opened on Monday. This cathedral of conspicuous consumer consumption is a veritable behemoth, massive in every sense of the word and the latest state-of-the-art jewel in Tesco's glittering crown.

As it occupies the site of the old store, which was demolished early this year and is just half a mile from where we live, we have had to schlep way across town for shopping and petrol. So to have a shiny new store re-open feels like Christmas has come early.

However, Monday was most definitely not the best day to visit, as the unbridled curiosity of everyone within a 20 mile radius meant the crowds were 'solid state'. In fact, after a brief shuffle around we abandoned the attempt and returned late afternoon, when the crowds were marginally less and we could replenish our stores with the plethora of special opening offers.

Our joy is tempered by the fact that it will henceforth take several hours to do a weekly shop, due partly to the unfamiliar store layout and partly to the fact that we don't want to miss any bargains, so trailing up and down EVERY endless aisle is essential.

And finally, partly because, with Christmas just around the corner, the store is blinged up to the eyeballs with seasonal stuff, accompanied by an endless playing of the obligatory "20 Christmas Songs You Never Want To Hear Ever Again"

All together now.........."Oh I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day..........So Here It Is Merry Christmas............ Last Christmas, I Gave You My Heart...............

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Obscure reference apology..........

It has been brought to my attention that readers MAY think that the answer to the toy doll's name in the AIM competition MAY be an anagram of Rumpelstiltskin or something to do with Rumpelstiltskin.

That is not the case.

The reference to Rumpelstiltskin was because the heroine of the tale had to correctly guess his name in order to save her child. This was one of my favourite fairy tales when I was a child, mainly because of the illustration of the gory denoument as the enraged dwarf tears himself in two.

Great stuff in the tradition of the best of scary fairy tales.

In any case, good luck to anyone who is going to enter the competition!

Artisans in Miniature.............

As a member of the editorial team for Artisans in Miniature, and wearing my official AIM Press & Communications Officer hat (which, incidentally, is a very fetching poke bonnet worn at a jaunty angle) I am pleased to announce that the bumper double issue of the AIM magazine in now online!

A click on the cover will transport you instantly to the magazine..........

As well as a free marotte project, I have also contributed a Christmas/New Year competition which is free to enter and has a gorgeous toy doll as the prize. Full details available by clicking on the photo below........

CLUE: The answer is NOT Rumpelstiltskin.