Mud On the Road

we're about to go shopping in Salisbury...

Honey, I Shrunk The Universe

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

Adventures in Dolls' House Wonderland
Just popped upstairs to fetch my sheet music';

     From the car park the hotel looked fairly average. We were in Lyndhurst, the New Forest,  on an averagely wet and unpromising Sunday. The sort of Sunday Morrissey had in mind when he wrote the song.*

     Inside  it didn't get any more or less average: a set of blank function rooms accessed via a short run of stairs leading down from a dingy lobby. This was not the stuff of dreams,  not the sort of space in which fancy might take flight nor the imagination be set free to soar.

     The lobby smelled greasy, like the London Underground on a wet weekend in Winter –unwashed anorak and bacon fat.

     But the seven or eight stairs which led down to the function rooms below, proved every bit as vertiginous as Alice's  rabbit-hole.

       We stepped rather than slithered and fell. Though we were running a little late we had no White Rabbit to follow, but we did have a little girl – she held on tightly to a banister to contain her excitement. She believes in Father Christmas and the tooth fairy and hobgoblins and trolls. She has an imaginary pony and she makes tea in a plastic kitchen and talks kindly to her dolls.

     She alone was ready for the Dolls' House fantasia that lay ahead.

     There before us, arrayed on numberless stalls across four large rooms, were replicated in exquisite miniature the foods, gadgets, clothes and household accessories and jewellery and ornaments and furniture and books and, you name it, you fill in the gaps, just about every object with which the full scale world is stuffed, from periods ranging from Tudor to the 21st Century and all reproduced in miniature.

     And somehow, because all of these things, all of this stuff, has been realised, has been miraculously rendered,  in 1:12 scale, often even smaller – think, if you dare, of kitting out a dolls' house inside a dolls' house inside another dolls' house – somehow, because it is so unbelievably tiny, all of this stuff, no matter how banal in the full scale world, becomes delightful.

     An iron, a lavatory, an umbrella, pots and pans, a teapot, a hammer, suddenly they are not merely useful they are enchanting and enchanted.

     We had left the real world behind. Like Alice now we had to stoop and crouch and peer through tiny doors and windows to ooh and aah and gasp at the marvels within.
     It takes a while for the eye and the mind to adjust, to accept that the universe has entirely shrunk. You become so dazzled you begin to think and speak in italics.

     Do try and go to a fair near you very soon. Do take a child as cover.

     To begin with you'll find you're craning and squinting a great deal.

     At first your eyebrows will work overtime as you try to hook the random series of reactions flitting across your mind –incredulity, bewilderment,  mild hysteria tipping into panic (has everyone gone mad?) - to the single expression glued fast to your face: flabbergasted! Explained in the dictionary as 'overwhelmed with astonishment; dumbfounded'.

     And then another revelation.

     You discover that the people standing behind the stalls, for the most part normal looking quite average sort of stall-holding people, are not merely selling these exquisite miniatures: most of them have actually made them.

      Ok, I get that someone had to have made the two miniaturised love birds swinging together inside the gilded cage, one of them with its beak clamped to a nano sliver of lava stone....someone had to fashion the  bronze effect figure of a dancing girl, naked, one foot shyly caught behind the other, a lit lamp held high above her head; the elegant walking canes with their individually wrought and bejewelled knobs.

     And then there's the food: Mrs Pepperpot-sized spreads of canapés  and pastries; dainty biscuits and cupcakes and acres of Swiss roll for Thumbelina to graze on as she sails downstream on her leaf; enough Borrower-sized banquets of pork pies to keep Pod and Homily and Arietty fed, full and fat for a year.

     And not churned out by some factory production line in Bejing but made lovingly and by hand; made with as much love and scrupulous devotion to detail as that displayed by Donald Pleasence when he played Blythe the passport forger in  The Great Escape (1963).


     I suppose on some level all hobbies are about pleasure and joy otherwise what would be the point of having them and doing them?

     A swift scan of the magazines in a decent newsagent's gives you an idea of any one of a thousand pursuits which your next door neighbour might be up to their necks in after work and on the weekends: knitting, crochet, patchwork, screen printing, macramé, glass blowing, pottery, kite flying, train spotting, plane spotting, model airplanes, model trains, die cast cars, cake decoration, photography, medal collecting, gun collecting, stamp collecting, all collecting, crosswords, puzzles, Sudoku, woodworking, woodcarving, wood turning, dowsing, metal detecting, fireworks.


     And that's without gardening, gaming, gambling, all species of music, song and dance, the arts across the board, one million varieties of sport, the ownership of animals and the particularly eccentric pleasure of dressing up in silly clothes and rushing about in public.

     I'm thinking here of civil war re-enactments,  Star Trek conventions and the glorious parade of all things Gothic at the Whitby Goth Weekend which, according to the website, has now gone global.

     But these dolls' house people are something else altogether.

     The Victoria and Albert's extensive collection of Dolls' Houses, dating back to the 17th Century, is housed in the V & A Museum of Childhood but most serious collecting is done by adults.

     And the dolls' house which is arguably the most beautiful, lavish and famous in the world was designed and built for a grown up: it is Queen Mary's  Dolls' House which is on display at Windsor Castle.
     Many of the 'miniaturists'  I spoke to at the New Forest fair own two or more Dolls' Houses and, as with any property portfolio, their passion for styling and collecting furniture and art for their homes is catered to by TV channels, magazines, clubs and a calendar of fairs which includes the upscale London 'Festivals', most recently held at the Town Hall in Kensington.

     For many enthusiasts it's historical authenticity which switches their 12 v lights on, for others it's the pleasure of recreating, in Wonderland miniature, a world within a world within a world.

     Imagine. You might never scrape together the deposit to buy a Georgian or Queen Anne  mansion house in the full scale world, but, if you've got a bit of cash still stashed under your mattress - be warned these nano sized goodies are not for free, a sofa and chairs could set you back £45 - then in the 1:12 or the 1:24 universe, the world is quite literally your oyster.

     And apart of the charm and allure must surely lie in the fact that the miniature world is more controllable than the big messy real one; it has the potential to be a perfect world. It's a world in which you can get up on a Monday morning and decide to move all the furniture round without breaking your back or having a row with the wife.

     Cheesed off with the chintz? Fed up with the cold marble tiles underfoot or the clickety-clack of heels on the parquet flooring? In the Dolls' House universe you can rip it all out and start over without breaking the bank.

     And that's just the fixtures and fittings. We haven't even got started on the house's inhabitants....

       Queen Mary's Doll’s House which was built by architect and designer Sir Edwin Lutyens between 1921 and 1924, is, according to the Royal Collection Department, the ultimate Upstairs Downstairs.

     As well as basic dolls' house amenities like electricity, it boasts  hot and cold running water, working lifts, a fully stocked wine cellar, a 'real' library,  a garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll and is packed with arts and crafts made by the leading artists and craftsmen of the day. (Source: The Royal Collection Department of The Royal Household).

     Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House describes the pinnacle of dolls' house creation yet even at this sumptuous dizzy extremity it has in common with humbler miniature homes - the invitation to enter a magical realm, to open, at the end of a long hard day, a little front door, switch on the teeny-weeny lights and, “ ‘curiouser and curiouser!’ Said Alice,” crawl inside and dream all your worries away.

     I'm planning a Grand Design, a sustainable Eco house with spacious yet cosy rooms; a Matisse here,  a couple of Hockneys there; I fancy giant folding glass doors to the views across the river and a big shaded porch facing the sunset in the evening. I see a couple of Adirondack chairs on that porch and the dolls’ house couple,  relaxing in those chairs smugly admiring their view and reaching for the pitcher on the side table which is filled with something ice-cold, something tangy with the scent of mint and limes...

* 'Every Day is Like Sunday' by Morrissey.


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