Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Fair enough.....

It's now Wednesday and I'm still dealing with the aftermath of Saturday's Thame Fair.  In the frantic run up to the fair, the whole house seemed to function as overflow storage for the plethora of stock boxes and bits of exhibition stand.  Since our return on Sunday, we've been busy so I'm only just getting round to properly unpacking.

The fair, though relatively small, stands out as one of the best predominantly artisan fairs in the calendar.  Most of the visitors are serious enthusiasts who have developed a discerning eye for scale and quality, which only comes with years of collecting experience.

We thought that the footfall was down on previous years.  Understandable in light of the recent bad weather and subsequent flooding, which hit the surrounding areas.  On the way to Thame on Friday we passed mile after mile of flooded fields on either side of the road, although fortunately none of the roads themselves had been affected.

As this was our final time at Thame it was lovely to see so many of our website customers in person, as well as meeting a sizeable number of readers of this blog,  ALL of whom enquired after Small Dog.

So this week is all about taking stock, updating the website and taking the opportunity to re-organise the workroom.  I've also got to start thinking about our next fair, which requires zero planning in terms of travel and logistics as it's the online Mini Miniature Show which will run from 20-23rd March.

Which means I can do it in my pyjamas if the fancy takes me.  


Thursday, 20 February 2014

Done and dusted.....

That's it.
I'm done.

Everything is packed and ready to go, from the exhibition stand and stock, right down to spare price labels.

My clothes are neatly pressed and ready to pack.  

Small Dog's minders and house sitters are due to arrive shortly for a thorough briefing on her daily requirements and PP has prepared a two page document on what/when to feed her, her daily routine, diagram on how to fit her harness, vet's phone number in case she's ill etc.

Low maintenance she is not.

I'm going through our checklists for the umpteenth time, checking we've got everything covered, but for the first time in the history of ever, I feel as well prepared as it's possible to be.  I'm not sure this is a good sign as usually at this point I'm scurrying around like a headless chicken trying to do a dozen things at once in full panic mode with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.  I'm not used to feeling this well organised.


Just a quick trip to the supermarket to pick up supplies for the weekend and that's it.

For those of you within striking distance of Thame in Oxfordshire on Saturday, I have it on good local authority that all the roads are open and there is zero flooding so if you're planning to attend you should have no problems getting there.  Always assuming that where you live isn't flooded, in which case you have my sympathies and the understanding that turning out for a miniatures fair is most likely the last thing on your mind.

We're on Stand No. 24 in the main hall, so do stop by and say hello.

We've even made it onto the flyer this year!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Stress squared......

Last full day of prep for the fair on Saturday.

My stress levels are through the roof and I have that spacey, out-of-body feeling which presages a panic attack.

Quite why I get like this is a mystery.... it's only a fair for dog's sake, and over the past 25 years I must have done hundreds.  Perhaps it's bound up with a fear of failure.... turning up with my wares and selling nothing on the day.  Perhaps it's that thing of wanting to be seen to do good work and fear of people thinking I'm rubbish.

Either way, I've been having one of my tranche of recurring dreams which doesn't take a psychologist to analyse.

My stress-related dreams always involve 'out of control' situations.  I'm desperately trying to get somewhere, or find someone (losing Small Dog is a standard one) or tell someone something really, REALLY important but I'm constantly thwarted.

The past few nights I've been in some of my worst nightmares..... exam hell.  Night before last I was sitting the oral part of my French Higher, and the examiner, my French teacher, Mr McNab was talking to me in Serbo-Croat or some similar Slavic language.  Panicking, I tried to respond in conversational French but everything spirals out of control and I'm sealed into a language lab cubicle and left to die of suffocation.

Then last night I was sitting O Grade Mathematics, my most despised subject at school, after Chemistry.  Back in the day, in Scotland, our equivalent of today's GCSE's were called ' O' Grades, and as well as Maths, there was a separate Arithmetic exam.  I wasn't much good at either of them, but I could sort of understand the need for arithmetic.

Up to a point.

That point was reached when faced with problems like....

Train A leaves the station at 6:00 p.m. traveling west at 80 miles per hour, stopping twice at stations en route for 6.5 minutes and 12.8 minutes . On a parallel track ,Train B leaves the station 3 hours later travelling west at 100 miles per hour . At what time will the second train catch up with the first ?


If it takes 3 men 4 hours to dig a hole 2 metres long by 3 metres wide by 1 1/2 metres deep, how long would it take 5 men to dig a hole twice as big with shovels half the size?

No matter how long I look at problems like those, my brain refuses to help and does the equivalent of sitting with its back to me, arms folded, leaving me to wail "WTF!"

Maths was a foreign country and I always had the wrong map and no compass.  The only thing I could make a reasonable fist of was geometry.  Armed with the relevant formulae I could just about work out the volume of a sphere or the circumference of a circle.  But the likes of trigonometry, quadratic equations and calculus may well have been in Klingon for all the sense they made to me.

My stress dreams closely mirror my actual experiences in Maths exams.  Sitting in a crowded hall, desks equally spaced.  I would always try to get a seat on the perimeter of the room but as would inevitably end up right in the middle, usually flanked by the acknowledged geniuses of the year, grinning smugly and flexing their mathematical muscles.

Watching the clock on the wall at the front of the hall, loudly ticking down the seconds till my doom. The invigilator saying (in creepy slo-mo) "You may now turn over your papers and begin".  The rustle of dozens of papers, closely followed by the collective sound of pens moving smoothly across paper.

My hands so sweaty and clammy that I can hardly keep hold of my pen.  Taking a deep breath and turning my paper over.... 

In my dreams it all goes downhill from there on. 

Sometimes my pen doesn't work. Even in a dream I know it's not going to end there.
Sometimes I'm pressing so hard on it I rip right through the paper and continue carving down into the desk.
Sometimes all the words and symbols come alive and start forming scary shapes on the page.
Sometimes I feel that something's going to burst out of my chest, like what happened to John Hurt in Alien, but instead I throw up all over the desk and it's full of disgusting, slimy, writhing creatures who then try to get back into my mouth and everyone's screaming......

Honestly, some people will do ANYTHING to get out of sitting a maths exam.

It's at that point, if I'm lucky, that I'll wake up, sit bolt upright, eyes wide, gasping for breath, sweat running down my face, heart hammering in my chest.

Forget namby pamby dreams where all your clothes fall off in the middle of John Lewis, or you're being chased through a swamp of treacle by some unnamed dreadful amalgam of all your worst fears.  I'd face the bastard zombie child of Freddie Kruger and Michael Myers (genetically engineered and zombified OBVIOUSLY) anytime rather than relive my worst maths exam nightmares.

So, as well as all the actual day to day stress involved in preparing for a fair, I have the additional joy of wondering what exam-related horrors my tormented brain has in store for me during the night. 

Just three more sleeps........ *sigh*

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Sunny Sunday.... shock, horror!

In the absence of howling gales and driving rain we three had a lovely walk along the seafront earlier.

It wasn't too blowy, and in the shelter of a beachfront cabin, with the sun shining, it felt positively balmy.  Perhaps not balmy enough to emulate one family, who were having a full blown picnic on the beach, or one of the beach hut owners, who had set up a charcoal BBQ on their deck.  UK coastal dwellers are obviously made of stern stuff, to even think of doing something like that in mid-February, especially after the weather we've had lately.

We also spent some time watching another family whose springer spaniel had found a dead seagull on the beach and was determined: 

A) Not to let them catch him
B) Under no circumstances to relinquish the seagull.

After chasing him up and down the beach for a while, they did finally manage to catch him and put him on his lead, but no end of gentle persuasion or angry words would convince him to drop his prize.  So eventually they gave up and all set off along the seafront, the dog stepping proudly out with the seagull dangling from his jaws.  The mum and two young boys were trying to appear nonchalant but I could tell that she was mortified, especially as everyone they passed turned to stare, probably thinking "I wonder why they don't take that poor seagull away from that dog".

We passed them several times, the woman looking increasingly desperate, presumably hoping that the dog would eventually tire (it was a VERY big seagull and not a very big dog) and drop it.  I have visions of that dog taking its find to bed with it tonight.  It did seem very determined to keep hold of it.

So anyway.

The sun did shine today, and to prove it here's a photo of Small Dog looking rather

dapper in her new coat (just in case it rained) with HER SHADOW there for all to see.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Hacked off......

I am so hacked off I could spit.

A whole morning wasted because of THIS!

So at this very minute, somewhere in the ether, my personal details are in the public domain for any thieving little scroat to see.

Since the end of January, ALL of my Tesco Clubcard vouchers have been used in various stores in north Kent.... Chatham, Strood, Maidstone by some felonious bastard(s).  I only found out about this following an email from Tesco Clubcard this morning informing me that my account had been compromised.  After following all the instructions and changing my password, I discovered that the email address in my account had been changed and on checking my vouchers balance found it empty.

Cue phone call to Tesco Clubcard, who if the noise levels in the background were anything to go by, had lots of other concerned account holders on their lines.  My vouchers will be reinstated but that's hardly the point.

On Tesco's insistence I then called Action Fraud who collect information for the police and spoke to a very nice chap who just happened to hail from Strood (see above) but I couldn't hold that against him.  I handed over all the information I had, the fraudulent email address on my account, location of stores where the frauds took place etc.  He even gave me a crime number, although what use I can make of it is debatable.

Subsequently I've had to change EVERY online password I have, (which is a LOT!) even those different to the one which was hacked, just in case they've got more than one.

This isn't the first time I've been virtually violated.... in the past my credit card has been hacked (apparently it was flagged up due to the purchase of two first class air tickets to Paris and some very expensive computer equipment, none of which were due to me.  Sadly) and on several other occasions, despite no purchases having been made, other cards were deemed to have been 'compromised' and had to be cancelled and new ones issued.

Fortunately I've never had any financial losses as I have never been at fault.  I've never had a card lost or stolen.... all of these have been online frauds.
It seems to be par for the course these days, but it's no less annoying and frustrating for that.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Dark and stormy night - Part XIV

It's eerily still and quiet this morning, after yet another dark and stormy night.  There are some advantages to being perched near the top of a hill, but wind resistance isn't one of them. 

I lay awake after midnight, listening to the wind howling and feeling the shock waves of huge gusts of wind attacking the house from all sides.  The noise was unearthly, alternately wailing like a banshee and roaring like a big, roary thing.  The rain, hitting the windows, sounded as though someone was throwing bucketfuls of pebbles against the glass.

I must eventually have drifted off to sleep because when I awoke again at 4 it was relatively quiet and the house had stopped shaking.

Brits have a reputation for being obsessed with the weather.  We talk about it all the time and no wonder.  We get a lot of it.  Sometimes all four seasons in one day.  

It's either too hot, or too cold.  Too much rain or not enough.  The wrong kind of snow..... 

But this winter.



Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Thame countdown.....


Work continues apace for the Thame Fair.  I calculate I have 6 days 'making' days left as I need to allow plenty of time for organising, packing, printing leaflets, making price labels, sorting packaging materials etc etc etc....... all of which always takes much longer than anticipated.

My To Do list has sprung a leak and I'm jettisoning items left, right and centre.  Realistically, I need to finish off the 1001 half-completed toys and dolls on my project mats rather than start on anything new.

We also need to set up the exhibition stand in the dining room and work out what's going where, not to mention checking that all the lights are working and everything's shipshape.

So while chaos reigns in the workroom, here's a sneak preview of our new Alice in Wonderland miniature toy display.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Desk tidy......

I think I might have to take some time out today to tidy my desk in the office......

When it comes to paperwork, I'm definitely a 'piler'.

It usually starts well enough. 

A pile of Urgent Stuff
A pile of Not Immediately Urgent But Getting That Way
A pile of Not At All Urgent But DONT' Throw Away
A pile of Can't Decide What Do Do With 

And so on.... you get the idea.  But inevitably, about two days into this damn fine system, something happens and all the piles miraculously combine to create the current mess.

If you're thinking (and you probably are) "Bloody Hell Sandra.... call THAT a mess?!  You should see MY office desk, it's feet high in piles of paperwork.  I'd give my eye teeth for a desk as tidy as that...."

Ah, but what you can see here is the tip of the iceberg.  There are further piles behind the laptop, under the desk, to the side of the desk, behind my chair, beside the printer, on top of the printer..... and so it goes on.

So at some point today I fully intend to restore order to all the various piles of paperwork.

Which brings me to the vexed subject of 'assistants'. There has been some discussion on one of the artisan forums about trying to recruit some pixies to assist with stuff like this. Personally, I find that pixies are overrated.  They have the attention span of a gnat.  

Elves are better, but they're very hot on terms of employment,  their working environment and the like.  It's very hard to keep them happy and in my experience they inevitably form a union and go on strike.

Don't even THINK about fairies.  They leave trails of glitter everywhere and can only stick at a task for a few minutes before they've got to go and shine their wings, or replenish their fairy dust.

As long-term blog readers might recall, I do actually have some otherworldly assistants in the form of Vern and Malcolm, my displacement goblins.

Well..... I SAY they're assistants.  They don't ever seem to do much in the way of assisting, as can be seen HERE or HERE.

However as I'm currently up to my eyelashes in Stuff To Do, I thought they might be drafted in to help with clearing my office desk.

I don't know WHAT I was thinking......  They cleared precisely two empty envelopes into the bin before discovering my calculator and settling down to work out how much back pay they're owed.  I don't know what devilishly difficult calculus or algorithm they used but apparently, between them, they're due £5863.14 for what they allude to as 'services rendered'.

If these 'services' related to lackadaisical loafing, inert indolence and nonchalant napping, not to mention no end of mucking about and horsing around, then I'd be grudgingly forced to agree.  However with regard to doing anything remotely useful they're on a hiding to nothing.  Which, coincidentally, is what I calculate they're owed.

We're at something of an impasse as they're now refusing to lift a horny, taloned claw until their demands are met.  Small Dog, who has her own 'employment issues' is watching with interest.

So.... there's nothing else for it.  I'm going to have to roll up my sleeves, clear a very large space and get on with the desk clearance myself.

*deep, heartfelt sigh*

Monday, 3 February 2014

End of an era......?

The recent lack of blog posts is mainly due to being consumed with preparations for the Thame Fair on 22 February.  The list of exhibitors has now been released and can be viewed HERE.

Preparations have been particularly onerous, mainly due to the unforeseen implications of changing the way I work over the past year, as  I've been increasingly making to order and special commissions.  This means that I don't have to keep large stocks of the full range of miniature toys and toy dolls, each in a variety of colours.  I can make just one or two and place them on the website with details of how to order in the colour(s) or style of your choice.

This is all fine and dandy, until a miniatures show hoves into view.  I can't turn up as an exhibitor with just a handful of miniatures to display.  Customers rightly want to take their purchases home with them, and they want a range of miniatures from which to choose.

Back in the day, when I averaged at least one specialist show each month, I would always have a reasonable stock, and items which had sold were replaced on a rolling basis. However, now, primarily because of my MS, we exhibit at just one show a year.... the Thame Fair later this month.

So I am in a quandary.  I either have to up the number of shows we attend, to justify the additional effort required to maintain stock levels, or cut them out altogether.  The former is no longer a realistic option, so I'm tending towards the latter.

I would of course, really miss the direct contact with collectors, many of whom I've known as customers and/or students at my workshops, for many years.  Despite the stress and hard work involved in preparing for, and attending a show, they are always enjoyable and the first-hand feedback is invaluable.  It's also a great opportunity to interact with fellow artisans and see what they are doing.

So will this be the last year, in over 25 years, in which Tower House Dolls will exhibit at a show?    The jury is currently out......