Monday, 30 December 2013

Technology sucks.....

Facebook friends will be aware that I spent most of yesterday struggling with my new laptop.  Yes, this is the same new laptop purchased last month, to replace my old and infirm laptop, but which runs Windows 8, an operating system designed for tablet, which is apparently fine and dandy if all you want to do is faff around on the internet, but doing any serious work on it is a nightmare.  

It hides things all the time.... I can be doing something on a page and it will suddenly disappear. No amount of searching will find it, so I start again, only for the original page to suddenly re-appear from nowhere.  This is just one example of why I hate it so much.  There are many, many more.

At some point yesterday, I stumbled across an insignificant looking file on the new laptop's desktop, titled Additional Information, which turned out to be a guide to using Windows 8.
As I was already feeling quite bitey, this discovery flicked a switch in my brain and I threw, what in psychological circles is technically termed, a hissy fit.

Having been struggling  with the vagaries of Windows 8 for some time, in a complicated one step forward, five steps back tango scenario, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth that such a file shouldn't be called some useful, like "HEY, stupid! The answers you are looking for are HERE!  or "Windows 8 driving you insane? Look no further!"

But no.

A pissy little document file on the desktop called Additional Information.  I'd wrongly, (but perfectly reasonably) assumed it related to the laptop specs, as it was right next to a folder titled Toshiba Owner's Manual. 

How wrong can you be.

However, I've got the bit between my teeth now, and in characteristic bloody-minded fashion, I'm refusing to read the Additional Information and have decided instead to continue blundering around in Windows 8 hell, cursing and swearing and generally throwing my toys out of the metaphorical pram.

It's actually quite cathartic.

Take this morning for instance.  For the first time, I switched on the new laptop first, flying solo without the old machine riding shotgun, in reserve. (Yes I know I'm mixing my metaphors but I'm right on the edge here so deal with it.)

Having spent several hours yesterday finally getting my email accounts up and running, I decided that today should be Changeover Day so the newcomer was duly put through its paces.  OK, so the emails are all coming in in a jumble as I haven't set up relevant folders or instigated message rules, but at least they're coming in, which is no small achievement.

Then, as I have actual work to do today, I had to install the printer.

"Piece of cake" I hear you say.
"No problemo" you might think.

I even had the sodding installation disk FFS!  I've installed dozens of printers over the years, mostly without any problems at all.

I'll gloss over the whole debacle.  Like a toddler with a teatime tantrum, the new laptop kept spitting out the disk and throwing up error messages.  I tried downloading the printer drivers online but it wasn't having any of that either.

Meanwhile, the old laptop, which I'd switched on for backup, was sitting smugly with an "I told you so" look on it's monitor.

Eventually, with a combination of brute force and sheer determination, I think the printer is installed.  I haven't actually printed anything useful yet, like the packing slips and address labels I need in order to package the orders received over the past few days.  But it has printed several pages of gobbledygook, purporting to prove that the print heads are aligned.

However, perhaps I've finally turned the corner.  This blog post is being written on the new machine so all is not lost.

The next test will come when I try to access my old working files shortly. 

I have a feeling it's going to be a l-o-n-g day.....

(Edit - I was going to find an amusing image to illustrate this post, but I'm scared that if I come out of this screen to find one I'll never get it back again. *sigh*)

Saturday, 28 December 2013


After almost a week of family fun over the festive period, our last houseguests left yesterday.  It felt positively eerie in the house this morning, but on the plus side, breakfast was completed in just one shift.

We did have a lovely Christmas, despite the storms, which provided us with a whole evening of no electricity, so we sat round the fire by candlelight telling ghost stories.  That same storm ripped loads of hip-tiles from neighbouring roofs, almost demolishing next door's shed but thankfully missing our caravan just a few feet away. 

Unlike many poor souls, our electricity was re-connected in the early hours of the morning, so Christmas was able to continue unabated.

Food and drink was consumed.  Silly party games were played.  Sofa snoozes were had.
Nobody was sick and bad.   Bonhomie reigned throughout and no-one had to be physically restrained and confined to the study for outrageous behaviour except Small Dog.

Poor Small Dog.

She loves Christmas and she loves visitors, but a combination of the two usually proves too much for her tiny brain.  There is always too much going on so she misses her naps.  Sofa space is at a premium as is floor space, and she can't stretch out anywhere for fear of being trodden upon.  If she does manage to find a spot for a brief nap someone's feet will suddenly hove into view and she has to spring into action to avoid being squished.  Present unwrapping sends her into a frenzy and she is unable to grasp the concept that not everything being unwrapped is hers.

One of her presents was a bag of rawhide twist chews.  She likes to 'bury' her chews somewhere in the house but with so many people around she couldn't find somewhere secret enough for her.  Eventually she decided that behind a cushion on the sofa was the best place but then she had to sit guarding it, checking from time to time that it was still there and staring hard at everyone in the room who then had to pretend they didn't know where it was.  Eventually her neurosis about the safety of her chew pushed her over the edge and she unearthed it and had to carry it around in her mouth, whimpering pitifully.  

In the end we had to retrieve it and put it back in the bag, then try to distract her as she frantically hunted all of her hiding places trying to find it.  Inevitably, the heady mixture of light, noise, people, chew-hiding-place-worry, excitement, presents etc etc etc all became too much and she threw a doggy tantrum, resulting in her being placed in the study to calm down.

 Yesterday evening, when everyone had gone, she stretched out on the armchair by the fire and slept soundly for several hours, unresponsive even to the appearance of a selection of post-dinner nibbles.  Presumably her doggy equilibrium has now been restored as she's back to normal sunny self this morning.

Today we will be putting the house to rights, changing beds, washing bedlinen, hoovering crumbs and debris, running back-to-back dishwasher cycles, hosing down the oven, trying to work out how to amalgamate all the leftovers into one edible meal and perhaps, just perhaps, finally get round to having a 'play' with our presents.

Happy Twixmas........


Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Self-gifting at Christmas.....

Each year around this time, I like to start a little project.  Something to keep me occupied through the winter months while awaiting the return of spring.  

Something not too demanding, enjoyable, and if there's something at the end to show for it, so much the better.

This year I've been casting around for inspiration for my project and I've finally decided on what it's going to be.

I'll give you a clue......

I haven't knitted for years.  My grandmother taught me when I was very young, around 6 or 7 years old.  As I'm left handed it wasn't all plain sailing, but by the time I was in my teens I was quite advanced, knitting Fair Isle, Aran and really complicated lacy patterns.  

When my children were babies I knitted almost all their clothing, and when they were toddlers I created colourful picture knits featuring their favourite story book characters. 
 I continued to knit happily into my mid 30s.

But then, for no obvious reason, I stopped, and haven't purled a stitch since.  It's almost 20 years since I last picked up a pair of needles and a knitting pattern.  So I've decided to have another go, and this Christmas will be self-gifting two pairs of needles, a pattern, and some lovely wool to knit a jumper.
I'm going to start gently, with a fairly easy pattern and see where I go from there.  Hopefully it will all come flooding back to me....

I gave serious consideration to several other things..... scrapbooking, embroidery, needle felting.... but decided against them.  Scrapbooking takes up a fair amount of space and seems to require loads of different papers and materials.  Embroidery is OK, but needlework and sewing form a large part of my day job so I wanted something different.  I've always fancied having a go at needle felting but it would take ages to get any good at it, and I want something I can just pick up and do if I have a spare 10 minutes, and won't take ages to clear away afterwards.

During long winter evenings by the fire, I can keep half an eye on the TV, or listen to the radio, whilst knitting, and there's something supremely satisfying about seeing a garment gradually emerge from the needles.

Needless to say, Small Dog has given the idea a firm 'paws up' and has already placed an order for a made to measure hand-knitted jumper.

She was somewhat less keen when I showed her this......

Granted, she is technically a non-moulting dog, so she doesn't shed her hair, but it does grow, and it does need regular cutting, generally yielding enough clippings to knit a small guinea pig.  I'm sure if I collected it over the course of a year there would be sufficient to create her a jaunty beret like the one above.

And who knows, if the knitting bug really takes hold, this could be us next summer......


Monday, 16 December 2013

'Tis the season.......

I'm pleased to report that our dishwasher saga is finally at an end.  What should have been a simple, straightforward swap of like for like turned into a week-long drama during which a section of the kitchen floor had to be taken up and replaced.  That done, we re-tiled the area and set about installing the new machine.... a job which should take no more than 15 minutes but due to a leaking connection took 2 days as we had to get a new isolation valve.

Finally, this morning, the damn machine was installed and working.  If we ever need to replace this one we're moving house.

So, for the rest of the day we've been returning all the displaced stuff from the kitchen cupboards and reinstating the dining room to its intended purpose, rather than an overflow store room.

I've even made some inroads in to my Christmas shopping this morning and the final Christmas orders will be ready to go in the post tomorrow.

Thereafter I will be in full wind-down mode and not before time.

In other news, Small Dog is entering fully into the Christmas spirit....

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Light relief......

Today we managed to escape the carnage in the kitchen to go out for a posh lunch with friends, which was a welcome distraction.

We left Small Dog home alone, in the role of Cinderella, hoping that she might deal with the teetering tower of washing up which we'd been stockpiling in the hope we might have a working dishwasher this week.

On our return she claimed to have been totally overcome by an uncontrollable case of narcolepsy, which left her completely unable to leave the cosy warmth of her basket for the duration.


Anyway, that's neither here nor there.  Earlier this week, on FB, I bemoaned the current fad for fancy chefs serving *'foam' to enhance their dishes.  We've been watching the run up to the Masterchef Professional final, and it seemed that every other dish was served up with globules of frothy foam floating on the plate.

I will accept that I don't exactly live on the culinary cutting edge, but to me, foam looks very much like dog sick.  It's generally white or yellow and there's something about the look and consistency which, to a small dog owner, signals dog sick.

I don't know who invented it, but I'm fairly sure it wasn't anyone who has dogs.

So when my starter of  Loch Duart Salmon Carpaccio with Wakame, Pear and Caviar Lime Dressing arrived I had to suppress a snigger......

Yes, there was foam.  In just such a pattern as Small Dog might produce as she simultaneously heaves and prances around waiting for me to let her out the door as quickly as possible.

However, my initial scepticism was dispelled as soon as I tentatively tasted it.  I have no idea what 'dog sick' foam tastes like, but I'd hazard a guess it's nothing like that..... it was absolutely delishus.

I am a foam convert. 

Oh me of little faith........ 

*I did take a photo of my lovely starter, complete with foam, but my smartphone is obviously way too smart for me and somewhere between there and here the photo has disappeared into the ether. However, for blog readers who have no idea what I'm talking about, here is a generic example of a gastronomic dish served with foam.


I'd put money on anyone who has a dog thinking "some dog's been sick on that plate..... it's even got the grass in it.

But, if you can close your eyes and manage to get past that thought it's probably lovely.  Unless some dog HAS been sick on the plate in which case..... blearghhhhhh!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Oh holey floor......

In one fell swoop, the minor inconvenience of having to wash our dishes by hand has turned into a major problem and things have gone from bad to worse in the kitchen.  

Further investigation today has revealed that both the floor and sub-floor are damp and rotten. Presumably the old dishwasher had a small leak for some considerable time..... not enough to run over the top of the tiles and make itself known at the front of the machine, allowing action to be taken, but just enough to slowly seep down between the joints in the tiles and gradually saturate the floor beneath.  

If it hadn't broken irrevocably last week, this leak could have continued unnoticed and eventually caused major damage to a large area of the floor.

All of the rotten wood has now been chopped and hacked out and the resulting excavation will have to dry out thoroughly before it can be repaired, hopefully later in the week. 

In the meantime, we now have a large hole in the floor at one end of the kitchen, and the new redundant dishwasher is taking up space at the other, in company with all the boxes of stuff from two of the affected kitchen base units. 

Not quite the stress-free run up to Christmas we were anticipating.

Perhaps we should give serious thought to a different sort of dishwasher...... 


So, just as it was looking as though things were finally returning to some semblance of order, life throws another spanner in the works.

Last week our dishwasher died.  I do accept, that in the grand scheme of things this is neither here nor there but it's dashed inconvenient, especially at this time of year.

It not only died, it attempted self immolation, melting a heatproof cutting board in the process.  Thankfully we detected and tracked down the strong smell of burning and melting plastic before the whole thing burst into flames and burnt us alive in our beds but it was a chastening experience. 

Since then we have been dishwasher-less, and while the manual washing of dishes is almost fun in the caravan, it's somewhat less inspiring on a relentless daily basis.

We did try to get it repaired, but apparently, according to our long-standing, trustworthy domestic appliance repair chap, the cost of the replacement parts, plus labour, took it into the realms of an uneconomic repair.


Just before Christmas too.

Undaunted, we emptied our piggy banks, raided Small Dog's holiday fund, checked trouser pockets, rummaged down the back of the sofa and gathered together enough small change to enable us to order a replacement, which arrived this morning.

So far so good.

But before installing it in its space, we noticed that an area of floor tiling was lifting slightly so PP found the adhesive and lifted the tile..... to reveal an area of very damp wood underneath.


We had the floor tiles laid when we replaced the kitchen about 6 years ago, and as far as we know there haven't been any leaks, either from the old dishwasher or under the sink adjacent to it, so why it's damp is a bit of a mystery.  The walls are fine and the damp patch seems to be confined to an area of floor about 2 feet square.  However, the wood is very spongy and will need to be cut out and replaced.  Which means that all the floor tiles in that area will need to come up, and possibly the base units at that end of the kitchen will have to come out too.

Buggrit doesn't even come close.

Hopefully we can get it looked at later today to ascertain exactly what needs to be done, but until it's sorted we have a new dishwasher sitting in the middle of the kitchen, and all the stuff which has been emptied out of the base units is now in boxes on the table and worktops.

To put it mildly, it's a right guddle.

Whether we can get it sorted before Christmas is debatable, although if push comes to shove we can temporarily install the new dishwasher so that it can be used over the festive period, and deal with the floor replacement issue in the New Year.

Typical...... SNAFU



Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Belated Birthday Wishes......

I have been somewhat preoccupied with family matters over the past few weeks, and as a result I missed a rather important anniversary.....

Cue kazoo fanfare.... this blog turned 7 years old on 4 December!

Yes, 7 years of penetrating insights into the human condition, hilariously candid snaps of Small Dog, random rants about life, the universe and everything and even some vaguely  interesting stuff about making a precarious living from creating tiny things.

So, anyway, here are a few Fascinating Facts from my stats.....

Apparently, since its inception, almost 125,000 people have viewed this blog.  No I can't believe it either.  It's not as if I regularly run cat videos.  Some people obviously have way too much time on their hands.  *cough*

In this year alone, it's had readers from 97 different countries. 

My most prolific blogging year was 2009 with 284 posts.  This year has been well below par.... I blame Facebook.

I've written a total of 1371 posts, of which 1322 have been published.  The remaining 49 are still in the drafts folder and I really should revisit them to see why I decided not to hit the 'Publish' button..... although perhaps all those warnings about never texting/posting on FB/Twitter/Blog after the second glass of wine finally hit home.

The most intriguing search term which has ever brought anyone to the blog is 'yorkie zombie'.... which presumably rewarded them with this.....  

It is a source of some comfort to me that though the medium of this blog I can connect with like-minded individuals.

Happy birthday blog.......

Edit: the zombie yorkie post was in January 2009 and can be found HERE  
It was a follow-up to THIS

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Slippery when wet......

I had hoped to be able to put off this task until early in the New Year, but having looked through my stock boxes of undressed toy dolls yesterday I was shocked to discover that I didn't have very many left.

So, there's nothing else for it but to roll up my sleeves and gird my loins for an extended period of doll casting.

Last time I did a batch of casting was early summer, and it was hot, which made the job of working with moulds and casting slip marginally more pleasant.  There's not much pleasure to be gleaned from handling cold plaster moulds, and even colder porcelain slip during the winter months.

But first, because the tub of slip has been sitting in my casting cupboard, undisturbed for several months, I had to go through the tedious process of resurrecting it.  Stored slip settles in its container, going thick and gungy at the bottom, with a layer of watery liquid on top.  It is unusable in this state, so it needs to be thoroughly sieved, several times, and stirred to within an inch of its life.

As my slip pot was only about a third full, I also decided to prepare a new batch to add to it, figuring that it was as well to be hung for a sheep as a lamb.

Preparing slip is a messy business.  

Porcelain slip is incredibly slippy and gets absolutely everywhere.  It's cold and slimy and intractable and it takes a long time to make it workable.

The first step is to cover every surface with newspaper, including the floor.  A little slip goes a very l-o-n-g way.

These days, it is supplied in boxes, which hold a heavy duty polythene bag containing 3 litres of slip.

Back in the good old days, slip was always supplied in large, wide-necked plastic tubs, which made the task of pouring and stirring so much easier, but progress has dictated that poly bags are the way forward so this is what you get......

Just as it would do if it were stored in a tub, the slip has settled in the bag, going thick at the bottom and watery towards the top.  However, the bag does have one advantage over a tub as it can be kneaded and pummelled to mix the slip.  This takes some time and is roughly equivalent to a 1 hour upper body workout.  It's much harder work than kneading bread dough but is probably excellent for conditioning bingo wings and flabby bits.

When the bag has been suitably pummelled, its time for the first sieving......

Despite the thorough in-bag pummelling, there are still lots of lumps and gloopy bits that must be removed in order to produce a smooth, creamy slip.

Who would have thought that three and one third litres of porcelain slip would take up so much bowl space?  The old and new slip need to be very thoroughly mixed together as there is likely to be some difference in colour between the two different batches.  So there needs to be about an hour of sieving and mixing, mixing and sieving until every tiny lump is gone and the slip is one homogeneous colour.  It can then be transferred back into the plastic tub and marked with the date. 


Of course, the kitchen then looks like an explosion in a slip factory and it takes another hour to clean all the bowls and tools, taking care not to allow any of the slippy water down the sink as it would settle in the U-bend and completely block the waste pipe.

This is clearly a Bad Thing.

Eventually, after 3 1/2 hours, I have one tub full of super-smooth slip, which will last approximately 18 months or so.  It only takes a few teaspoons of slip cast one tiny doll with its accompanying arms and legs, so a little goes a long way here too.  However, each time I do a new batch of casting, outwith the space of a few weeks, I will have to sieve and stir the slip all over again.

So, tomorrow morning I can made a start on the first of 15 casting sessions, spread over the next week.

I can hardly wait......

Friday, 22 November 2013

Retail therapy - - -

I think I must be missing the female clothes shopping gene.  I don't mind shopping for stuff for the house, or the caravan, or the garden, or Small Dog, but I HATE shopping for clothes.

I mind it marginally less than I did a year or so ago, having dropped several dress sizes, but it is still mired with difficulties.

Today I set out with the intention of buying a pair of black jeans.  Nothing fancy, nothing expensive nothing out of the ordinary..... just plain bootcut black jeans, size 14 (short).

It's tempting to assume that 90% of the female population of Hastings & St. Leonards are a size 14 as there were absolutely none in my size.  Dozens of pairs size 6-8 and dozens of pairs size 20-28 but not much in between and no 14s at all.

Except for jeggings.


As I'm not at the cutting edge of sartorial elegance I had no idea what jeggings are, but I'm guessing some marketing bod came up with the word to describe a cross between jeans and leggings.  There were racks and racks of them in every conceivable size, from 6 (which is probably the only size they look even remotely good on) up to 28.  

Don't get me wrong.  Having been within a waffer-thin snippet of size 20 years back I know that larger, curvaceous women have an uphill struggle to find flattering clothes that fit.

But jeggings in a size 28..... I ask you?

In the spirit of investigation into this new phenomenon I tried on a pair. 
It wasn't easy.  Just getting them over my ankles required contortions of which a circus performer would be proud.  While struggling to pull them up over my thighs and hips I wondered if they shouldn't come pre-greased to ease them on.

I hasten to add that they were my size and they did fit.  

Sort of.

But they made me look like a burst sausage.  Not a good look.... even for a sausage.

Peeling them off was just as traumatic and I had to sit on the bench in the changing room for several minutes to regain both my breath and equilibrium.  Perhaps that's the point of them..... they're the clothing equivalent of a full body workout.

After witnessing the humiliating sight of my lower portions in jeggings I didn't have the heart for any more shopping so my quest for a pair of bog standard black bootcut jeans continues.



Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Retail therapy +++

And so another week bites the dust and once again I've been remiss in blog posts.

I can, however, plead mitigating circumstances, as I've been embroiled in THAT four letter word.


October, November and December are our busiest months of the year and we've been flat out trying to keep up with orders and commissions.  It's a lovely problem to have but it doesn't leave much time for blogging.

It's also been a few weeks of retail therapy, starting off with the purchase of my new laptop which is a work essential.  I'm still some way off being able to relinquish my old laptop, on which I'm writing this post, as I'm methodically working my way through installing work programs on the new one and doing a thorough clear out of files and documents on this one in preparation for the changeover.   Predictably, the old laptop has got wind of the usurper and has been exhibiting a whole new range of symptoms.  It goes to sleep at odd times and no amount of persuasion can rouse it.  Neither can I then switch it off.  So I end up having to remove the battery (the equivalent of switching off its life support) in order to be able to reboot it.
It's also throwing up no end of arcane error messages, each more cryptic than the last, so I strongly suspect its days are numbered.

I'm slowly coming to terms with Windows 8, thanks mainly to the advice of a friend who suggesting I install Classic Shell which gave me back my familiar start button and enabled me to actually find stuff quickly.  It's still a steep learning curve but I'm getting there.

On the domestic front, after months of dithering, we've finally taken the plunge and bought a new TV.  Since we donated our old behemoth to a local furniture charity, we've been using the small TV from the caravan, which has a screen no larger than my laptop.  Finding our way through the modern TV jungle required learning a whole new lexicon..... LCD/LED/HD/3D/HDMI, not to mention backlit, megahertz refresh rate, plasma, smart.... the options have been mind-boggling. 

After extensive online research, and visiting every TV in a 20 mile radius, we finally came to a joint decision and made the purchase.  Of course, very like the new laptop, it's not simply a case of switching it on and settling down to watch Masterchef in glorious HD.


First you have to negotiate setup, then you're presented with an 'interactive interface' which should more accurately be called a 'confusing screen'.  Apparently, in the fullness of time, with the benefit of a PhD in electronics and software engineering, we might each be able to set up our own home screens, with favourite programs just a click away.  PP has already started hers and Small Dog has shown some interest in having one too.

As it's a smart TV we can even go online.  So what was the very first thing I did online with the entire world of the internet at my fingertips?

Why watch dogs doing funny things on You Tube of course..... well d'uh.

But in some ways, the most impressive bit of retail therapy arrived in the post this morning.  It's electronic and it's work-related but what's impressive isn't the item itself.

It arrived at 10.30 this morning, delivered by UPS.  It was ordered at 6.30pm yesterday   Impressive I'm sure you'll agree.

But even more impressive is the route it took to get here.....

From 6.30 yesterday it travelled from the depot south-west of Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport north-east of Paris.  This presumably involved negotiating the infamous Paris Peripherique, on which it is possible to spend entire days.
From there it flew to Koeln in Germany!  
Why? I have no idea.  Perhaps it fancied a jaunt.
From Koeln it flew to Stansted, then by road to Crawley, then finally turned up here at 10.30am.
I tracked the journey on Google Maps and it's a total of around 900 miles.
In just 16 hours!
And that's including time spent in depots during handovers, being scanned on arrival and departure.

That's not just impressive.  That's absobloodylutely AMAZING!


Monday, 11 November 2013

Computer says #!?%@!?

My old laptop, the one I'm using to type this post, has been seriously poorly for some time.  In its declining years it's developed a whole panoply of ailments, all of them apparently chronic and some of them seemingly terminal.
On a bad day, it can take up to an hour to boot up, and if I have any more than two programs open simultaneously it goes into cardiac arrest and I have to defibrillate it.

It's been getting slower and slower to the point where it just hangs endlessly.  I suppose the human equivalent is going upstairs to get something then standing on the landing for 10 minutes trying to remember what it was you've gone up for.

It's definitely knocking on a bit..... in human terms it must be about 125 years old (if you think of 1 computer year as equivalent to 25 human years) and everything about it is slow and outdated.


And this is a BIG BUT, my whole life is in there.  Personal and business.  When it comes to laptops I practice reincarnation, transferring files and photos from each successive ailing machine into the new one.

In essence it contains my whole life from the past 15 years, since I got my first ever laptop.
This makes it hard to cut the ties which bind us.  But needs must and I'm being driven to distraction by the glacial speed, endless error messages and constant crashing.

It's time to bite the bullet and get a new laptop.  For the past few weeks I've been meticulously reading reviews, checking specs and trying to find the best machine at a price I can afford.  It doesn't have to be top spec, or play the latest games.  I just need to be able to do basic business stuff, word processing, desktop publishing, spreadsheets etc, as well as handle photo and video editing.

Having done my homework, and identified a mid-range, mid-priced workhorse, I took the plunge and bought one over the weekend.

So now I have one burning question.....

Q: WTF is Windows 8?

A: It is a new circle of computer hell designed to turn a moderately computer-literate user into a gibbering wreck.  That's what it is.

I feel as though I'm trying to learn a new foreign language, say Urdu or Chinese, which doesn't use our alphabet.  It's completely counter-intuitive and it's driving me nuts.

After an hour or so of getting nowhere fast, I inadvertently stumbled into what looked tantalisingly like a familiar desktop screen.  My joy was unbounded but short lived, as I inadvertently lost it again.  Having felt as though I'd been wandering in the desert and found a miraculous oasis, it slipped away like a mirage.

Things keep happening out of the blue, like split screens, and ghostly icons down the right hand side.  I suspect I'm hampered by not having a touch screen but it's a laptop with a keyboard so I expect it to work like one.

There isn't even a Start button.  I have no idea how to turn the damn thing off.
And where are the programs?
And how do I put an email shortcut on the familiar desktop (always supposing I can ever find it again)?

It's going to be weeks before I can even think of trying to do anything productive on it.  I have no idea if any of my suite of programs will work so I suspect the process of installing them may be fraught with difficulties.
In the meantime I'm committed to nursing this failing machine, while I try to get to grips with the new one.  I'm going to do a thorough sort through of all my files and documents, and this time I'm only transferring stuff I need, rather than the whole kit and caboodle.

This will take some time.  But that's OK because it will give me a chance to try to get the measure of Windows 8.  Either that or it will be drop-kicked out the window.





Saturday, 9 November 2013

Wonders in Miniature.....

This weekend heralds the arrival of the first Wonders in Miniature online show, showcasing holidays from around the world.  It's on now and you can view our dealer page HERE.

We have a range of Christmas-themed miniature toys, doll's dolls and DIY kits on offer, including these.....

 Jaunty Fox Terrier with handmade wicker cart

 Festive Humpty Dumpty on chair

 Traditional Jack-in-the-Box

 A Victorian Christmas - Illuminated Toy Theatre

 Holly toy doll's doll and husky with wicker sleigh are available as kits

 Deluxe Toy Doll's Doll in Christmas Red

The show runs through till tomorrow evening (Sunday 10 November) so do make a visit to browse the artisan's tables.

Also closing tomorrow on Ebay, we have a little Jumeau-style doll's doll dressed in shades of vintage dusky pink.  

The link to the auction is HERE

We will be listing each week between now and Christmas so do check regularly by my seller name  sandramorris-towerhousedolls 

Good luck if you decide to bid!


SAD times......

The first few weeks after the clocks change in October are always a bit of a struggle for me.  Losing an hour of daylight in the early evening is a big deal for someone who's not a morning person.

It hasn't helped that the small amount of daylight we have had has been of the dull, damp, grey variety.  Or dreich, as we Scots call it.

So, in an attempt to head off a bout of the winter blues I've been assiduously using my SAD lamp in the workroom, every day.  As well as adding a blast of welcome brightness, it's hopefully boosting my serotonin levels and raising my mood.  Even if it's not actively helping, it's certainly doing no harm, and the extra light in the room is extremely helpful work-wise.

It's getting much colder now too, which is an excellent excuse to make full use of our little woodburner.  Straight after we've finished work, we vie over whose turn it is to set the fire.

PP favours a very particular method, involving newspaper twisted into lengths and laid in parallel formation, with a graduated structure of varying sizes of kindling and compressed pellet thingys then a log.

My fire-setting method is much more random.  I scrunch up the newspaper into balls and lay them two abreast.  Then I lay a haphazard grid of twigs, interspersed with compressed pellets then a log.

Both methods result in a roaring fire but there is usually intense discussion over whose is best and why.

Meanwhile, Small Dog can be absolutely anywhere in the whole house (usually napping) but within 10 seconds (we've timed her) of either of us opening the door of the woodburner she's suddenly right there, sitting hopefully on the rug, overseeing proceedings.  She watches very carefully, simultaneously keeping one ear on noises emanating from the kitchen, which herald the preparation of dinner.

If we were to do a poll in our house, on "What is your favourite time of the day?"  this would win hands/paws down.

I've come to the conclusion that a real fire acts like my SAD lamp in raising my spirits, much more so than the previous gas coal effect fire.  There's something mood-lightening and comforting about watching flames dancing around the wood with occasional flaring and sparks, along with the sound of crackling and the faint smell of woodsmoke.

And Small Dog wholeheartedly agrees......

Saturday, 2 November 2013

It's a Dog's life......

Transcript of a conversation between myself and Small Dog this morning.

Me: (emerging from the shower room swathed in towels) What are you doing in there?  I only just made the bed.

SD: (yawn, stretch ) Whott tym doo yue kol this?

Me: (unimpressed) Time you were out of MY bed you lazy little tyke!

SD: (fixing me with a hard stare)  MUURRRMM!  Ai thinc yue wil fynd it is the weakennd and if yue luke in mai termss and kondishuns itt kleerli staits ai am alowd tue hav a lyin.

Me: Bollocks Small Dog. Get out of that bed now!

SD: (sulkily) Ai wil gett upp in a minnitt.  Just as sune as ai hear sumthen delishus goen intew my brekkfast bole.


Monday, 28 October 2013

It WAS a dark and stormy night.....

Here on the south coast we're recovering from the brief but brutal visit of Storm St Jude.  Appropriately, St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes and depression, and today is St Jude's day.

We seem to have escaped lightly..... we have a tree down in the garden, some hanging baskets are no longer hanging and a bit of the back end of the caravan blew off.  Fortunately we found the missing piece halfway down the road.  It's a bit cracked but PP is sure she can mend it.

Some of our neighbours weren't so lucky, as there are loads of fence panels down all around us.  Thankfully, all of ours are still vertical.

So far there are three reports of loss of life.... a teenage boy was swept off Newhaven beach, a girl was killed by a tree falling on her mobile home, and a motorist was killed, also by a falling tree.

Tens of thousands of homes are without electricity, including my daughter's in East Anglia.

It's still squally outside, but the worst of the storm is now heading east out into the North Sea, towards Denmark and Germany.

So what's next I wonder.......

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The silk route.....

When I'm working, Radio 4 forms the soundtrack to my day.  It entertains, amuses and informs, so I was both delighted and intrigued this week when I found myself listening to a programme all about my favourite fabric..... silk.

I have to say, that if the house was burning down, and I had the opportunity to save something from the workroom, it would have to be my boxes of irreplaceable silk, collected over the past 30 odd years.

The little dolls I make are impossible to costume in anything other than silk.  And not just any old silk.  It has to be exceedingly fine silk.  On days when I feel a bit 'meh' I can always be cheered by sorting through my stash of wonderful silks, savouring the colours, patterns and the luxuriously soft feel of them.

Many of my silks are no longer available which makes them all the more precious.  For decades I've kept an eagle-eye out for even the smallest snippets of silk.... at markets, boot fairs, antique shops, fabric shops....

A piece of silk just 10cm square will yield enough to create a bustled jacket and bonnet, so even the most inconsequential amount is to be treasured.  I have some tiny pieces of gorgeous silks which I can barely bring myself to use, as I know that once they're gone, they are gone forever, never to be replaced.

This week I've been working on some special commissions, including one for a little toy doll in a closely fitted Princess line jacket over a pleated skirt, with a neat little gathered bonnet, taken from this book, one of my 'go to' resources for Jumeau-style costumes and accessories.

Given that the doll to be dressed measured under 1  3/4" tall, creating a 6-piece jacket, tailored exactly to the doll was challenging to say the least.  However, perseverance paid off, and having cracked the pattern I couldn't resist making a few more, including one for my little French doll shop.

 I've just listed two of these on the website HERE

I'd also like to point out that those impossibly tiny buttons, which measure less than 1mm in diameter, are SEWN onto the jackets, using a superfine needle which only just fits through the practically microscopic holes in the buttons.  I'll gloss over the colourful language I employed while searching on the floor for them after they repeatedly pinged off the end of the needle.  Trying to find such small buttons, lost in the pile of a carpet definitely taxes the patience.

However, I hope you'll agree that the end result is worth it!

Awaiting a dark and stormy night....

Apparently, we are expecting a storm to rival The Great Storm of October 1987.  It's already fairly blustery outside so we've been battening down the hatches, removing lighter objects from the garden, and loading the caravan with as much heavy stuff as we can.  As I write, PP is tacking a tarpaulin over the log store.

It's always tempting to venture down to the seafront when it's windy, as the high seas are incredibly dramatic.  Thankfully common sense usually prevails.  It's not unknown for people to be swept off the promenade or the beach by huge waves so we'll give that a miss.  In any case, we live at the top of a hill, which is quite exposed, so there will probably be quite enough drama going on just outside our windows without risking life and limb on the seafront.  

Small Dog HATES windy weather.  Her default position is to lie down completely flat on the ground and refuse to budge until she's picked up and carried.  So I expect she will view the storm from the comfort of her basket, especially as she's the proud owner of a new blanky, so soft it barely registers to the touch.



Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Sew far, sew good......

I've spent most of today in the workroom, putting the finishing touches to a new little toy doll......

Her bodice and bonnet are studded with tiny, iridescent Swarovski crystals which catch the light and reflect it back in rainbow colours.

I'm really rather pleased with her and will be keeping her for La Mignonette (my little French doll shop) but I have a further three on my desk in different colours, which will be listed on the website as soon as they're finished.

For such a little doll (she measures a smidgen under 1 3/4" tall) there's quite a lot of sewing in her costume, so I've been wielding an impossibly small needle, threaded with superfine thread.  There's something very calming about sewing tiny stitches, and transforming a few inches of silk and lace into a perfectly fitted costume for one of my little dolls.

Granted, when I occasionally drop the needle, I have to scrabble around on the floor with a magnifying glass in order to find it.  And just picking it up from the desk can take several minutes as it always takes several attempts to catch it. Similarly, threading it is a challenge, usually accomplished with the help of my powerful magnifying lamp.

So why do I persist in using such a small needle?

Primarily because using a normal size sewing needle would make disproportionately big holes in the tissue-thin silk, ruining it completely.  But also because it is impossible to do anything other than sew tiny stitches with such a tiny needle.

As any crafts person will tell you, having the right tools for the job is half the battle.....


Friday, 11 October 2013

October offers..........

Blimey, two blog posts in a row that aren't all about DIY, Small Dog, or what goes on in what passes for my brain.

But the title of this blog is 'Tales from a Toymaker' not 'Tales from DIY Hell', or 'Tales from the World of Small Dog', or 'Tales from Someone Who Should Really Keep Her Weird Thoughts To Herself'.  


I thought I should mention that we have only a few of our October Kit of the Month packs left, to make a little Halloween Toy Witch, complete with teeny broomstick.

One of my talented customers has sent me a photo of her finished witch, along with a lovely Jumeau style doll which is also made using one of my kits.

In the run up to Christmas I'm going to be listing various miniature toys and dolls for auction on Ebay, the first of which ends this Sunday.....

So do keep checking back to see new Ebay listings, and if you decide to bid, Good Luck!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Colour me happy......!

This month's issue of The Doll's House Magazine landed on the doormat this morning and I was delighted to turn to page 20 and see my first article as 'Guest Columnist' in glorious technicolour.

Or, to be more precise, glorious shades of blue, since the theme this month is 'Colour' and the focus of the article was the quest for the perfect shade of blue for my workroom.....

Predictably, Small Dog had managed to shoehorn herself into one of the pictures and but is being remarkably blasé about her stratospheric media profile.  Perhaps she think that this will contribute towards her ceaseless quest for Employee of the Month.

In other news, I've had a very productive week so far. As a result my lovely workroom has been a hive of activity and is currently cluttered with  a number of boards adorned with 'work in progress". 

There's one with a batch of illuminated toy theatres in various stages of completion.....

 Victorian Christmas Toy Theatre

Nativity Toy Theatre

 And another with some long overdue vintage china dolls awaiting their costumes....

And yet another with some new circus pullalong toys....

All of which, with luck and a following wind, will be up on the website shortly.