Sunday, 4 December 2016

Here comes Advent - Week Two

This second Sunday in Advent brings with it a somewhat eclectic post, covering, as it does, trains, extraordinary enthusiasm for a hobby, and, as befits Christmas, a little music.


Trains and Christmas have always seemed to me to go together somehow - travelling home for the holidays, riding through a snowy landscape, perhaps getting stranded - or even murdered.   A scenario used in more than one novel, not only in the iconic Murder on the Orient Express (which as the fabulous children's magazine Look and Learn records is based on a real life incident with the train) but also in J. Jefferson Farjeon's Mystery in White, something very readable to add to your Christmas reading list. 

Small houses with candles inside have always delighted me and we have several around the room at Christmas.   Tiny villages too have their attractions as may be seen at the end of a previous Yuletide post. 

But I have so far managed to resist the temptations of the boxed, lit villages that appear around Christmas time.   Well, I thought I had, until I was scrabbling around in the loft in my house in Bavorov earlier this year and found, to my amazement, precisely one of those village sets, albeit a very small one.   I then remembered that they had been on offer in the Penny supermarket at some point and I had succumbed.....

It seemed a shame to leave it there, neatly packed in its box.  I shall not unpack it in front of a video camera however - I have spent some of this evening watching in jaw-dropping amazement the extraordinary phenomenon of Unboxing Videos, a concept previously completely unknown and still incomprehensible to me - since in any case I handed the task of setting it up for Small Worlds to the ever-helpful Jana..... 

The plan was to put the village and the clockwork train I happened to have to hand, onto a board in the Stables and leave it for another Jana to move it into Small Worlds in time for the Christmas Market on 10th December.   But sadly we had no boards available that were big enough for the train to run round the houses so we had to compromise with a stationary train.  A train bound for nowhere.....






An unholy tangle..... 







Well, at least the wires are straight now.....








Happy Christmas!

Now to be honest, I was quite happy with our little effort  until I started exploring YouTube for videos of Christmas railway layouts.   Not only are there hundreds of these, of huge and mind-blowing complexity, but there are even more Christmas villages, set up by people in their living rooms for the Christmas season....I had no idea!

And when I came across this one I could only sit back and marvel in awe at the lengths to which people will go in their enthusiasm for their hobby.   Or am I a pot calling the kettle black perhaps?

I shall be back with further Advent cheer next Sunday but in the meantime I leave you with what was actually the reason for a train-related post - one of my favourite songs. To my utter delight I have not only found it in the original film version, enhanced to stereo, but also complete with Christmas decorations! Enjoy.....

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Here comes Advent - 1

There was a rather rash promise at the end of my last post "The blog will be back soon, on Advent Sunday, with the first of four seasonal posts".....

When I stopped to consider,I realised that I had only returned from the Czech Republic armed with material for three Advent or Christmas posts and would therefore have to create something here in order to make good on the promise.

And here we are at 4pm on the First Sunday in Advent and nothing written yet!   

I love Christmas and all that comes before it.  It has always been a very special time in our family and with friends and relatives from all over Europe, we have adopted traditions running from Advent Sunday right through to Twelfth Night on the 6th January.   

But one of my favourites has to be what I learned in Germany when I was 17 - the writing of our Christmas Wish Lists on Advent Sunday.   As soon as it gets dark, we all gather round the table, with a blank sheet of paper in front of each of us and many coloured pencils.   By the light of the first of the four candles on the Advent Wreath, and sustained by Pfeffernüsse and Spekulatius, we write and decorate our lists. 

And here's the very first one I ever wrote..... 



I fear my drawing skills have not improved over the past sixty odd years!   Once they are written we pin them up on a board so everyone can see what they might buy as Christmas gifts.


So what better than to recreate this scene in miniature, with whatever I could find here - unfortunately pretty well everything I use to create is over in the Czech Republic.   

But before the guests are allowed to sit down to list-writing and German cookies, another Advent tradition - building a gingerbread house.  Although I have to confess that ours have never been on quite this scale....

I gathered together a heap of items I thought might be useful in the stage-setting..... 

And without further ado, the story unfolds.  Step forward Sasha and Gregor, whose previous appearance on the blog was earlier this year.

"It's time to tackle the cookie house" said Sasha, shrugging on her smock to protect her pretty lace dress.
Gregor sighed.  "I suppose we have to let the babies watch," he said, heaving the beanbags into place and settling the babies down. 

"Of course," said Sasha.  "Now let's get on with it.  I have cut all the pieces out.   You know you can't cut straight."
 "Huh! You can talk - maybe we can actually get the thing together without you ending up with your hair full of icing sugar!"


"I wouldn't bet on it" said Sasha. "Now for the roof and then we can decorate it".

"I have the very things...." said Gregor producing a bowl full of luridly coloured sweets 
"No way are those horrid things going on our lovely house" said Sasha. "They are much too big anyway. This is how we will do it!"






And so - with Butterfly's help - they did......

The elegant gingerbread house then took pride of place on the Advent table, next to the wreath.   Once again, the babies were allowed to watch, though the coloured pencils were kept well out of their reach. They managed to jog the table, reaching for the cookies, repeatedly knocking one of the candles over! 









And now I am off to write my very own Christmas wish list and enjoy some cookies.   Watch out for the next post on the Second Sunday in Advent and have a lovely evening.   Happy Advent!




Thursday, 3 November 2016

"Stands the church clock at ten to three..."

"...and is there honey still for tea?" 
Thus enquired 
the British WW1 poet Rupert Brooke in his poem The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, so evocative of the English countryside in May.   

And what better title for a window display based around that most British of events - teatime?   I have been musing on the various names for this event. The French call it 'Le Five O'Clock', the Czechs 'Čaj o páté' which both mean that they believe we take tea in England at 5pm.   I have always thought of teatime as 4pm, and Rupert is clearly even more anxious to partake of his cup that cheers.


The idea for this window display came about when I found 3 teapots at a jumble sale, all in the shape of buildings.


This made me think of looking for some more similar pots in charity shops. My friend Lynda also joined in the hunt..... 







We ended up with seven fullsize pots (two of which did not make the cut into the final window display).


















I then found a whole range of tiny ones as well and so the display was born. 




   
Butterfly had acquired a set of library steps - from another jumble sale - which provided the perfect display area for the big pots; a small dresser served the same purpose for the tiny ones.

It was clear, though, that this would not be enough for a full window display so what else could I find in the Small Worlds collection?

A hunt revealed a number of tiny tea sets and then all I needed to locate were suitable tables to place them on.  




Thanks to the glories of the new workspace, where everything has a labelled home, and which you read about in my last post, this was fairly easily accomplished.   

In this photo you can see the relative sizes involved - the mouse house teapot on the left is a fullsize pot and the pink and white rabbit one at the back is a child's tea service....  



The next step was to create some sort of background against which all these items could be displayed. 


Here I have reaped the benefits of a philosophy that dictates nothing should ever be disposed of, in case it might come in useful one day. When we moved into our home of forty years, way back in 1972, we found numerous interesting items in the old garage at the bottom of the garden.   Amongst these were two ancient wooden clothes horses.   My then husband said they were fit for nothing but the bonfire (he loved bonfires) but I demurred.   

And sure enough, time has proved me right.   The larger of the two is now in my bedroom in England, home to around 30 assorted string puppets, mainly Czech ones but with two or three Pelham Puppets amongst them.  





The slightly smaller clothes horse I included in the carload that went over this summer from the UK to the Czech Republic, and it turned out to be just the right thing to support the required drapery.


And what of the drapery?   Well, that's another example of the benefits of never throwing anything out.   Back in 2012 my son got married and the whole wedding was done on a fairly tight budget - you can read about it on Butterfly's blog since she was the main creator of what turned out to be a delightfully decorative day. 

The venue had horrible grey plastic chairs that absolutely had to be covered for the outdoor part of the ceremony.   We begged white net curtains from friends, trawled for more in charity shops, and the final effect was all we could have wished for....  


At the end of the day I bundled all the nets into a suitcase and though I have no recollection of taking them to the Czech Republic, I found the case in the attic of my garage there.   So all the props were ready to hand....


Joy of joys, I now have more than enough space to set up practice runs for new window displays - hugely important this time because I needed to know precisely where everything was placed since the backdrop would have to go into position last and once it was there, shifting anything would be extremely tricky.  Very usefully, the windowsills in The Stables are almost exactly the same size as the display window in Small Worlds itself. 

Not only the library ladder, complete with pots, the small tables and the dresser had to be sited, but also the Ladies who Take Tea, the little chef, and one or two other miniature teapots and services needed to be carefully placed.  




By the way - why are all milk jugs in these tea services clearly out of scale? They are all much smaller than seems correct for the corresponding teapots, not to mention the cups!

Putting the whole affair into the window was a tricky business.   I could not have managed it alone but fortunately I had visitors from Prague for my very last weekend in Bavorov.   Not only did Jana and Ondrej put up shelves and prepare one of the Christmas displays but they were crucial helpers in creating the window display.   Without Ondrej's height and long arms some very delicate rearranging could not have taken place.   It was he too who lifted the backdrop into place once Jana and I had fiddled around for ages. 



This activity of course also involves much running in and out by one of us to view the whole thing from the street, and a lot of shouting through the window to "move it to the right, no not that one, the other red one, right I said, not left...."   This becomes particularly fraught once the backdrop is in place.....

I leave you with a glimpse of the two that did not make it into the window but did get a place on the shelves in Small Worlds, and a picture through the window of the final display.





And finally - a tale that I feel must have some sort of moral to it.  

On my very last day, just as I was leaving the Czech Republic for several months, I stopped by Small Worlds for something. As I left, I noticed that the sign perched on the dresser, "Stands the church clock...." had fallen to the floor.   I decided to leave it - getting into the museum involves unlocking three sets of doors and in any case I could see no way of reaching it without knocking things over.   I climbed into the car, turned on the engine, switched it off again, unlocked all the doors, attempted to reach the sign, could not do so, locked up again, stared at it through the window, decided I really could not leave for the UK with it like that, unlocked three sets of doors, tried again to reach it, failed, locked up, got in the car, got out again, and went through the whole process for what, thank goodness proved to be the last time. By dint of much twisting and turning I managed to get the sign off the floor without dislodging anything - which would have been a total disaster - into place on top of the dresser, and finally locked up for the last time and left Small Worlds to look after itself for the winter.

My grateful thanks to Jana and Ondrej from Prague for their, as always, sterling assistance, and to Jana from Bavorov and Veronika, who open up during the Farmers Markets when I am not there in person.

The blog will be back soon, on Advent Sunday, with the first of four seasonal posts....

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you then.