Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Damp holiday weekend..........

As I write, the rain is absolutely hammering down outside.

Apparently it's set to continue over the next four days.

Anyone would think it was a Bank Holiday weekend.


We're going camping.

I think we may need to reconsider taking the campervan in favour of one of these........

Monday, 23 August 2010

MY mood in a picture.........

Small Dog's mood in a picture.........

I know just how she feels.

Today has been grey and windy, with rain threatening continually. There is not just a hint of autumn in the air. I've already seen vortices of leaves spiralling along the pavements and the trees are turning colour with increasing speed. I don't hold out much hope for an Indian Summer and have even toyed with the idea of starting my SAD lamp therapy early this year, to try to get a head start on the inevitable dip in my spirits come October.

Despite the fact that I've been really quite busy with work, I just don't feel that I'm getting anywhere, which has resulted in my feeling a bit meh, with a dash of bleagh, and a double helping of ho-hum.

Which doesn't bode well for my creativity.

Perhaps I should just yield to the inevitable and snuggle down on the sofa with Small Dog, who, as you can see, has raised the practice of relaxation to an art form.


Small Dog received a letter in the post this morning.

This is an unusual occurrence and caused a great deal of excitement especially as it was from one of her doggy pen pals. The gist of the correspondence revolved around her pal's concern over Small Dog being offered dog fud.

As opposed to human food.

Enclosed with the letter was a card with a telephone number which Small Dog was advised to have on speed dial. Apparently it's the dog equivalent of ChildLine.

Just what we need. Doggy social services turning up on our doorstep to investigate our feeding practices.

Needless to say, Small Dog has 'buried' the card in her basket and is guarding it.


Wednesday, 18 August 2010

My brain hurts......

In the words of one of the world's greatest unsung philosophers (Homer Simpson)

" .... every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain".

I have spent the last few hours struggling with a software programme trying to get it to do something it was probably never designed to do in the first place.

That was my first mistake.

I'm a great believer in trial and error. I disdain online manuals and laugh in the face of support forums.

That's usually my second mistake.

I subscribe to the notion that software should be reasonably intuitive, and that if I need a manual the size of several paving slabs just to get off the starting block then the software is almost definitely far too complex for me. I don't mind using online help for 'bells and whistles', but the basics should be accessible from the off.

I recently acquired some software to help with illustrations of step-by-step instructions for The Book. It's easy to use and perfect for purpose. However I wanted to do something clever with ghosted photograph backgrounds, to better show up superimposed line drawings in subsequent layers.

This was obviously outside the remit of the basics, so I had to resort to trawling through the printed manual, trying and failing numerous methods of achieving my aim.
Likewise, the comprehensive searchable online manual was similarly mute on my specific problem.

Two hours into the experiment I was beginning to lose the will to live when I decided to try one of the support forums as a last resort. I have had some experience of technical forums in the past, which mostly entailed being given reams and reams of unintelligible gobbledygook, which were probably absolutely spot on, but may as well have been written in Azerbaijani for all the sense I could make of them.

Imagine my surprise and delight therefore, when, within a mere 10 minutes of posting my problem in the technical forum, I received not one, but TWO, perfectly legible, clear, concise and above all, understandable replies, both of which work.


So although I'm worn out with all the 'brainwork' I am really pleased that the problem is resolved and I can actually do what I want with the illustrations.

Edit - This episode IN NO WAY counts as displacement activity.

Relocation, relocation, relocation.........

I am suffering from an extended case of 'writer's block'.

Every time I sit down at my laptop to work on The Book, I am immediately seized by the compulsion to Google something, trawl through emails, check my dwindling bank balance, or some other such internet based displacement activity.

So I have hit upon a damn fine plan to break this vicious cycle.

I have temporarily moved my laptop from the office into the workroom in the hope that a change of scene, coupled with being right in the middle of all the ongoing work related to The Book, will galvanise me into action and unblock my creativity.

Thus far I'm having mixed success, as is evidenced by the fact that I'm blogging right now.


The publishing countdown timer on my desktop is ticking off the days to my self-imposed deadline and now that I have all the various elements I need, it's the process of assembling them all into a composite whole that's causing the problem. I just need to make a start, at just about any point, and put it all together.

Sounds so simple.

So why am I having such a hard time doing it?

Warm, fuzzy glow......

My nerves were stretched to breaking point yesterday over the wrong sort of elastic.

It might not seem to be worth getting wound up about, but trust me, if you had upwards of 100 tiny dolls, plus their accompanying 200 arms and legs awaiting stringing, you'd be stressed out too.

However, my US supplier has come to the rescue, like a knight in shining armour, by offering to send me all of her own stash of tiny elastic, plus some samples of another sort, which, if it's suitable, she will buy for me from her local haberdashery store.

Hopefully that will solve the problem of the existing dolls awaiting stringing, but I still have to accept that my best and favourite elastic is sadly no longer available, so I have to find a way round the problems that presents for future tiny doll creation.

I am so grateful to her for pulling out all the stops and working so hard to resolve my problem. I've been dealing with the House of Caron for nigh on 20 years, and Jackie has been unfailingly helpful and generous during all that time. I wish that all suppliers were so committed to such a high standard of customer service.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

When the going gets tough...........

I'm usually quite a laid-back, 'glass half full' sort of person.


Relentlessly optimistic about life, even in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

Always willing to try new things, embrace new experiences......

But today has stretched my laid-backness to the max.


In order to restore a sense of calm equilibrium I decided to do a batch of dyeing.

I've blogged about my penchant for dyeing before. The act of taking pristine white silk ribbons and transforming them into an array of rainbow colours always lifts my spirits.

And today my spirits have been in sore need of lifting.

However after spending a few hours dyeing and pleating a profusion of ribbons I am now in a calmer place.

This sense of calm has also been aided and abetted by the consumption of a glass or two of a most acceptable Antipodean white wine.

So although all is not quite well with my world, I can just about not care.


Stretched to breaking point..........

I am distraught.

Worried and distraught.

On the verge of panic, worried and distraught.

The cause of this distress?


Or to be more precise, tiny elastic.

For the past 15 years, I have been purchasing supplies of tiny elastic, suitable for stringing tiny dolls, from the US, but earlier this year, the company who made the elastic was bought out and the new owners seem to have changed the composition, so the tiny elastic is no longer as 'tiny' as it was. It's thicker and much less stretchy, which is disastrous.

I have a special tool which I use for making stringing holes in greenware, which is (or rather WAS) absolutely perfect for purpose. It made holes EXACTLY the right size to accommodate the elastic being pulled through after it had been bisque fired.

So what? (I hear you say).

Just make the holes bigger (you might advise)

Well it's just not that simple. It took maybe a year of trial and error to find a tool which would make just the right size of holes. This is because, when the porcelain arms and legs are fired, they shrink by up to 30%.

And the size of the hole shrinks in proportion.

And in any case, making bigger stringing holes in the doll's arms and legs will result in them looking clunky, clumsy and out of proportion.

In short, AWFUL!

You see the problem?

However that's only the half of it. The original tiny elastic was very thin but not so thin as shirring elastic. It was also very stretchy, but strong, unlike shirring elastic.

In short, it was perfect in every way.

The new elastic is ALL WRONG. It won't pull through the stringing holes. If I try to use pliers to pull it through, 9 times out of 10 the top of the arm or leg will break off.
If by some miracle I DO manage to get it through the hole, it is is too thick to make a neat knot.

I am in despair. Especially as I have somewhere in the region of 100 assorted tiny dolls and babies, destined for my new range of kits, awaiting stringing.

*holds head in hands*

It's going to be one of those days............

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The Great British summer.........

Every year at this time, PP and I attend a group BBQ at Fairlight picnic site. Last year it was really hot and sunny, and we all tried to squeeze into the only bit of shade afforded by a clump of trees. This year, it was extremely windy, and squally rain threatened from the outset.

Undaunted however, several people set up a BBQ and started to cook, while keeping a weather eye on the grey clouds massing overhead.

Just a few metres away, the Salvation Army annual BBQ was also in full swing, with around 50 people all trying to look as though they were enjoying themselves, while huddled in jumpers and coats. After about an hour, they gave up the unequal fight and decided to decamp back to their hall, and so packed up all their gear and headed off. Leaving we 16 or so hardy souls putting a brave face on an increasingly weather beaten picnic. Despite the wind, and the blustery showers which did, inevitably fall, we successfully managed to eat what we'd taken, although several people had to chase paper plates and plastic glasses across the grass, not to mention camping chairs which took to the air as soon as they were vacated.

Oh how we laughed as those of us with umbrellas fought to prevent either becoming airborne, or having our arms pulled out of their sockets.

Eventually, after 3 hours of this, we finally conceded defeat, and hurriedly packed up, in what had become a raging gale, threatening to rip off the car door as soon as it was opened.

It really feels as though summer is over, and we are on the slide into autumn again. And we've not even reached the August summer Bank Holiday weekend yet.

In other news, I'm feeling really rather pleased with myself after spending 2 hours this afternoon struggling to load a video onto a memory card which will play on a digital picture frame. In the end I had to convert the video file from WMV to Mpeg-4 and do some reformatting stuff to get it to work. I am now basking in the glow of having triumphed over technology, a feeling which is becoming less and less familiar to me. Of course when I come to do it again in a few weeks time, I will likely have forgotten how to and have to go through the same rigmarole all over again, but with the added frustration of knowing that I had done it successfully before.


Saturday, 14 August 2010

Saturday in St. Leonards............

Despite the weather forecast predicting rain and storms of biblical proportions today, it's actually been really rather nice, so this morning we threw caution (and my carefully crafted work schedule) to the non-existent winds and took a few hours out to have brunch in the heart of St. Leonards.

According to a recent Guardian article, St. Leonards is one of the top 10 British seaside gems, and as a resident, who am I to disagree?

PP had a hankering for a crepe, which she'd seen advertised at the Love Studios Market Cafe, so off we set. I opted for an Italian-inspired crepe filled to bursting with mozzarella, parma ham, artichoke, basil, olives and fresh herbs which was absolutely delicious. Appetites sated, we then wandered along Norman Road, once the haunt of ne-er do wells and crumbling, run-down properties, which is undergoing a metamorphosis and emerging as an arty-crafty, des-res, 'artist's quarter' of the area, with quirky shops and eateries opening on a daily basis.

It's an area I wouldn't mind living in..... literally a stone's throw from the beach, some lovely hidden parks and gardens, a wealth of bijou residences from which to choose, and a lively, thriving community of people earning a living doing some really quite unusual, eclectic things.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Colour confidence........

I have spent most of the past few days working on a 'prop' to feature in The Book. I had an idea of which colours I wanted, and duly visited a local DIY store to select some paint sample pots in a few muted period colours.

I'm never very confident with colour. I once redecorated a doll's house room FOUR TIMES in the space of a week because I couldn't achieve the ambience I was looking for. I know the old adage about certain colour combinations jarring......'red and green should never be seen', or pink and orange. However, even shades, which according to the colour wheel SHOULD complement each other, sometimes don't.

Or maybe that's just me.

I am particularly averse to pink and orange, a neurosis which I suspect goes back to my childhood in the early 60's, when on a Saturday afternoon, after a dinner of Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup, followed by strawberry Angel Delight, I used to take up my position on the sofa, surrounded by a barricade of cushions, to watch Doctor Who. To this day I can't see orange and pink together without getting Cyberman flashbacks.

The colour palette I chose for my prop was a pastel combination of dusky pink, pale blue and a soft green, which all looked very pleasing. However, having painted various components, on assembling them it just looked all wrong.

So I have spent all morning painstakingly changing the colours of several components, made extra frustrating by having to paint fine lines on already assembled mouldings etc.


I've left it to dry for a while and am hoping that when I revisit it shortly, it will look much better.

If it doesn't then it's back to the drawing board.......

Stars in my eyes.......

The 'spectacular' meteor shower predicted for last night was a bit of a damp squib although I did pad outside at about 11.30pm, in my PJs and dressing gown, with Small Dog along for moral support.

Gazing skywards, it seemed to take ages for my eyes to adjust and it was about 10 minutes before I saw anything resembling a shooting star. However once I'd 'got my eye in' I did manage to spot about a dozen, whizzing around the sky. The trick, it seems, is to sort of unfocus and stare into space (literally) rather than fixing your gaze on a specific area. The meteors were so transitory that it was difficult to catch sooner had I spotted one streaking across the night sky than it had gone. However, PP did join me later and we both witnessed a quite spectacular shooting star - the best of the evening.

Light pollution was a problem though, especially as Small Dog kept running up the garden, switching on the remote security light each time. Eventually I had to capture and hold on to her, at which point she calmed down and following my lead, stared up at the stars.

Perhaps she thought I was looking for the Celestial Squirrel, a little known star from the Sciurus constellation, recognisable by the cluster nebula which forms the tail.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Shooting stars........

Tonight there is predicted to be the most spectacular meteor shower for years. From 10.30 pm onwards it should be possible to see hundreds of shooting stars, depending on levels of light pollution.

I'm planning on sitting out on the patio for a while to see if I can spot any. And of course, as it is traditional to make a wish on shooting stars I'm making a comprehensive list.

Small Dog has expressed an interest in joining me but only if I provide her with a lounger chair for the duration of the exercise. However I expect she'll probably be more interested in looking for Canis Major than meteors......

Business lunch........

I have called an impromptu business lunch meeting.

Following my extensive 'To Do' list reorganisation yesterday, I have come to the conclusion that the only way to get it all done is to delegate, and apportion specific tasks to individual members of the management team.

Small Dog especially, acting in her capacity as sleeping partner, is going to have to buck up her ideas and pull her weight, otherwise her gravy bone ration is going to experience swingeing cutbacks. Her attendance at business meetings is patchy to say the least. She will usually only deign to join us if there are complimentary biscuits, preferably of the two finger type which come wrapped in silver foil. However today, due to large scale tightening of the fiscal belt, there will be nary a biscuit to be seen.

Her disgruntlement is clear to see and she is already grumbling under her breath. I'm certain I heard her threatening involvement of C.U.R.R. (Canine Union for Rest and Relaxation) of which she is, apparently, a card-carrying member. Quite how she squares this with her management role I'm not sure but she has always been a renegade sort of dog.

Next thing I know she'll be calling for a wildcat strike.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Ho hum............

Although we've only been back from holiday for two days it already feels as if we've never been away.

I've been hard at work since our return, trying to get back on track. Yesterday and today I've been working on some display 'sets' which are going to feature in The Book, so I'm going to have to keep them under wraps. However there has been much sawing, hammering, glueing, and painting going on in the workroom which is all good, and some progress has been made.

I also got a timely reminder of what's hovering just over the time-event horizon with the arrival of the first Christmas catalogue in the post.

In August. I ask you.

KDF feels like ages away, but it will inexorably creep up on me like a stealthy badger. I'm trying really hard to stick to my self-imposed deadlines (which to be fair, have been moved several times already this year) but there's nothing like an impending, immovable deadline to galvanise me into action.

So, instead of relaxing in front of the TV this evening, I'm working on my extensive 'To Do' lists and trying to knock them into something approaching achievable.

Will I never learn........?

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


I've had several people questioning whether my spider bite could actually have been caused by something else. Apparently it is a commonly held belief that UK spiders don't or can't bite.

I can assure all spider-bite doubters that it was most certainly a bona fide spider. It must have crawled into my jumper sleeve, which had been draped over my chair in the tent awning. When I pushed my arm into the sleeve it must have gone into attack mode and stuck its fangs into me. I quickly withdrew my arm and shook the sleeve (I was in the campervan at the time) and a large, black spider dropped out onto the carpet. I was so shocked I just kicked it out the door without thinking it might be a good idea to capture it for identification.

However, I did have another spider bite previously, several years ago. That time I had picked up a damp towel hanging over the banisters and felt a sharp sting like a jab from a needle. I dropped the towel and was dismayed to find an enormous house spider attached to the bit of skin between my thumb and forefinger. I shook it but it was firmly attached so I had to knock it off with my slipper, before bludgeoning it to death. On that occasion it actually drew blood and again my hand swelled up like a balloon and was painful for several days.

I normally react quite badly to mosquito or any type of insect bite, but those two spider bites were off the Richter scale for swelling and pain.

Perhaps with the amount of spider venom currently circulating in my system I might develop special spidey powers, although being able to shoot webs from my wrists would be of limited practical use and conceivably a major inconvenience in daily life.

However I could certainly handle looking like this...........

Although with my luck I'd probably end up more like this.......

PS - Read THIS if you still doubt the capacity of British spiders to bite humans.

Post holiday stress..........

We returned from holiday yesterday.

Well, I say ‘holiday’. I should perhaps use the word advisedly. It is heavily imbued with overtones of rest and relaxation, a longed-for oasis of calm in an otherwise turbulent life.

Having spent 10 days on ‘holiday’ I now feel only marginally less stressed than when we left, and in definite need of another holiday to recover from this one.

It all started promisingly enough. We arrived at the campsite at the appointed hour and found a lovely spot on a terrace, overlooking a wooded valley leading up to sunlit, grassy slopes, atop which a horse and rider were trotting out in the sunshine.

After setting up the van, we set about the task of pitching the day tent/awning. Our campervan, though undeniably small, is perfectly formed. I like to think of it as ‘diminutive’ and ‘cosy’.

Those of a less generous disposition might refer to it as ‘cramped’ or even ‘poky’.

Therefore the day tent provides a useful, multipurpose, semi-alfresco annexe which serves as breakfast area, reading room, entertainment area, storage, wine cellar, Small Dog boudoir, etc. It offers welcome shade on hot, sunny days and shelter on rainy ones.

One group of friends joined us later in the afternoon, fortuitously pitching their much larger motorhome next to us. Two more groups of friends arrived over the course of the weekend and a party atmosphere ensued, promising much in the way of R&R over the days to come.

However, camping, even with the relative home comforts afforded by a campervan, is primarily an outdoor pursuit. Aside from sleeping, almost every waking minute is spent outside and there are many essential ‘jobs’ to undertake.

Fresh water must be collected from a service point, and ferried back to the van where an ingenious (if Heath Robinson) pump, devised by PP, transfers the water from an aquaroll into the van’s onboard tank. Waste water is collected in a large, flat tank on wheels, which sits underneath the van. This must be regularly emptied at the waste water facility. Ditto the van’s chemical cassette toilet. Not to mention regular visits to the onsite recycling facility, and the shower block, washing up area etc etc etc.

Rest and relaxation, therefore, come quite far down the priority list. Which, allied to the surfeit of fresh air taken on a daily basis, results in a permanent ‘I-could-just-do-with-a-nap’ feeling.


Small Dog is similarly affected. She is normally a frequent napper, but while camping she feels it is her duty to constantly patrol the perimeter of our pitch, warding off potential incursions from other dogs, as well as rabbits, squirrels, birds, children etc. When not on patrol, she likes to lie in her chair, keeping a wary eye on proceedings lest she miss out on the opportunity for a bite of sausage, or a welcoming lap to sit in.

However, undaunted, we all gamely attempted to get into the holiday spirit, hampered by resolutely grey skies, leavened only by occasional glimpses of the sun. At each brief appearance of the big yellow burny thing, everyone on the campsite quickly erected their chairs and sat out hopefully in the expectation of a few hours of warming sunshine. Mostly this expectation was dashed within a few minutes as clouds scudded in from nowhere, bringing all their friends with them for the duration.

Then, on Day 4, just as we were finally beginning to relax and get into the swing of things, I received a nasty spider bite. I had been pulling on my jumper when I felt a sharp sting on my arm. Suspecting a bee or wasp has somehow found its way into the sleeve, I shook it vigorously and was shocked to see a large black spider fall out and scuttle off. Almost immediately a painful red lump came up on my arm which we treated promptly with a sting/bite relief solution and ice pack, followed by antihistamine cream and tablets.

However, next day the swelling was worse and extended all down my forearm, with pain radiating into my hand and up the arm into my neck. Large fluid-filled blisters appeared at the bite site. I was also feeling shivery and unwell and spent most of the day in the campervan hoping it would improve until we finally made a call to NHS Direct who suggested I make a visit to a local doctor to have it checked out.

Without a positive identification of the offending spider, it was decided that as I’d survived for 48 hours the spider probably wasn’t poisonous, but that the bite was infected, so I have been on antibiotics since then. For several days the only relief I could glean from the throbbing pain in my arm, was to raise it above my head. I made an interesting spectacle, and hoped that fellow campers didn’t infer that I had developed fascist leanings.

To further add to the catalogue of unfortunate events, PP put her back out, and was forced to adopt a curious crab-like gait. As bending over was extremely painful, she had to perform a slow-motion version of the splits if she needed to pick anything up. By this time, what with my stiff-armed fascist salute and PP’s crustacean scuttle we were designated as the site entertainment and campers were going out of their way to view ‘The Odd Couple’.

Not to be outdone in the incapacity stakes, Small Dog was taken ill on our last day. I will spare you the gory details but it wasn’t pleasant and we feared that we would have to cut our holiday short and head back home a day early.

Luckily one of our friends is a vet, and she kindly checked her over then gave her some medication to tide her over till we got home. However Small Dog’s last day on holiday was spent feeling poorly, wrapped up in her blanky on her little chair, with only a bowl of water to sustain her.

So all in all, not a universally successful time was had by all, although we seem to have successfully survived more or less intact.

Now there is just the small matter of the laundry mountain to tackle, not to mention the post mountain, and email mountain. The weather today is resolutely miserable grey and wet, and I am sure that I can sense the first hints of autumn in the air.

I’m looking forward to getting back to work for a rest…………

EDIT - my mood in a picture