Friday, 10 January 2014

And so to bed....

A while back, having completed some fairly major work on No 1 Heatherside Corner, Mr PJ and I decided it was time to buy a new bed.

The old one, a massive black and twirly, aluminium-framed, bent-legged monstrosity, which we'd bought in a moment of over-excitement in some faceless bed emporium when we first moved in, (me forgetting to measure the bedroom first), had been squatting, like a giant bug in the centre of the room, leaving all of 12 inches of floor space at the foot end; the only path to the "littlest room".

By the light of day, it looked innocent enough. Just a bad choice really; an overly massive bed in an overtly small bedroom.

But occasionally, when darkness fell, if taking over the entire floor space was not bad enough, it would malevolently stub an unwary passing pinky. Or snag you on the jim jams* as you squeezed past, leaving you dangling, cross-legged, flailing helpless and whimpering, caught on an ornate metal curl, at 3 o'clock in the morning.

And so it had to go.

And what better choice of somewhere to rest your weary head, than a bed made entirely out of sleepers?

Railway sleepers to be precise. But not the ex-British Rail, bitumen-covered, slightly adorned with used loo roll, kind. But newly sanded, beautifully burnished, hand-waxed ones.

Hewn by craftsmen, and not by horny-handed, chainsaw-wielding Navvies.

(Actually I made that last bit up, but only because I am trying to impress upon you, just how lovely these sleepers, made for, sleepers, actually are).

The real Low Pro bed installed, and terribly dog friendly
Step forward The Cool Wood Company, who really do live up to their name.

For these are the folk I came across, on my journey across the world wide web, searching for "chunky", "wood" and "bed," which is what I had set my heart on.

I figured anything originated by good old Mother Nature was less likely to try to bite you in the bedsocks, when you really needed a midnight widdle. After all, if she didn't understand the call of nature, who wood? (Excuse the pun, I couldn't resist it).

Anyhoo, we ordered, paid up, and our new purchase arrived, delivered by a very helpful, and terribly strong-armed gentleman, whose limbs were impressively as big and wide as the sleepers he carried single-handed up our tiny stairs and manoeuvred into place with his legs. And finally, our new bed was installed, much to our joy.

But more so, to the delight of the Small Brown Dog, who had reached the time of life, when jumping Gazelle-like onto the giant "bed-bug" had become more difficult and prone to failure on first go, and required several less balletic attempts, to get it right.

He was ecstatic to learn that he could pretty much roll onto our new "Low-Pro" bed and install himself in the best spot, the centre obviously, and legs stretched to their full extent, languorously sprawl across the superking-sized mattress and yet, still manage to look affronted when we tried to get in too.

A year or so later, nothing has changed.

He's still snoring happily, stretched across our giant bed, taking up most of the room. While we, hang off either side, heads lolling, supported by the wide wooden base, unwittingly buffing the patina up with our faces, as we sleep.

This week I embarked on the mini version. Sans sleeping Small Brown Dog....

When shown photos, Mr PJ became confused as to which one he should be sleeping in.

Which I can only take as a compliment. But seeing as the miniature version is 1:12 scale and he is over six feet tall, it is likely his feet will stick out the end.

The Mini House version.... the very Low Pro.
17th Century Diarist Samuel Pepys often signed off his diary entries "And so to bed".  Had he had a sleeper bed methinks his diary entries may have been somewhat shorter, as he may never have left it in the first place! 

I have yet to make the mattress but that is another story......

*Pyjamas. Stop making up your own jokes.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Roll out the Barrel !

Tucked away in a small corner of Lairs Station near Cynthiana (home of Post-It notes - yes, really), Harrison County, Texas, stands the now abandoned Old Lewis Hunter Distillery. 

Built for making whiskey, the buildings date back to the late 1850's and presumably were owned originally by a Mr Lewis Hunter, young or old. 

But by the early 1900's, it was the short-lived home of the Sharp Distilling Company. Short, sadly, because in 1902, the unfortunate Mr Sharp was killed in the Pacific when his boat exploded, and so his business was sold on. 

By 1914, the distillery was owned and operated by "Uncle" Julius Kessler, a charming travelling door to door whiskey salesman turned booze magnate, who was said to have sold more of the grain-based drink, at the turn of the Century, than any man alive.

The Distillery closed during prohibition; the years from 1920 to 1933, when alcohol production was banned and everyone pretended they didn't drink, but re-opened straight afterwards, in 1934. At that time its registered offices were at 112 Esplanade, in nearby Lexington (according to a list of Kentucky Distillers and Rectifiers published by one Lee W Mida).

Old Lewis Hunter became a brand name, although it's not clear when, but Master Distiller Charles L Beam, of the Jim Beam whiskey family, apparently had a hand in the production of the new swig on the block.
Old Lewis Hunter Distillery in 1935

Although tip top at whiskey sales, Old "Uncle mine's a large one" was apparently not quite so good at book-keeping... 

Perhaps following in the footsteps of Mr Lewis Hunter himself, who was rumoured to have moved to Lairs Station in order to start the distillery, to avoid higher taxes in another state. 

The Distillery became embroiled in a dispute versus the Kentucky Tax Commission regarding what the US tax man saw as "deficiencies in income taxes for the years 1936, 1937, and 1938".

In 1943, the business was acquired by Canadian drinks company Joseph E. Seagram and Sons Inc who appear to have forgotten to file the trademark until 1958, then cancelled it again in 2001.

It's unclear when the Distillery stopped actually distilling the brand and closed for good, but the general consensus is that it was about 1974.

Which is a bit of a puzzler.....

As the Old Lewis Hunter Distillery Sour Mash whiskey barrel tucked away in a small corner of the garden of No 1 Heatherside Corner is dated '87.

It's definitely a real, hard wood whiskey barrel, not a cheap pine replica, a fact confirmed when I finally managed to cut it open to install a door* and the smell of pure alcohol and carbon hit me.

*Now starting a new career as a BBQ table,  with a door allowing access to a large plastic bucket which sits inside it, which we can fill with ice and beers and wine and other lovely stuff.

And it's got all the hallmarks of the Old Lewis Hunter Distillery, including the date it was filled.

Our Old Lewis Hunter Distillery barrel

But I am entirely bemused by how a genuine 1987 Kentucky whiskey barrel, from a small distillery in Knowheresville, which in theory stopped making the stuff 13 years earlier, ended up in a garden centre in a tiny Surrey village, 36 years later, which is where I found it this Summer.

The text on our barrel reads as follows: 

Old Lewis Hunter Distillery
D.S.P - KY
Sour Mash Bourbon Whiskey
Serial no. 425763
Filled Feb - 27 - 87

But it's final journey, thankfully, is not such a mystery. 

With a little help, I jammed the entire thing onto the back seat of my old battered Saab estate, scraping the paintwork as I went, suspension groaning under the weight, and when I got it home, opened the car door, and well, quite literally, rolled out the barrel......

I've now copied it in miniature. Although, as I have two of them and one has a duck egg blue top but the other has the writing on it, I used artistic licence and amalgamated the two, for my version.

My miniature interpretation of our Old Lewis Hunter Distillery barrel,
started life as a miniature solid wood barrel shaped block.
The text on our barrel is quite faint but still legible
Although hard to read on the real barrel,  the text on the mini one is an exact copy.
The strap work is made of printer's lead strips and painted card,
and the door handle is an old jewellery finding.

DISCLAIMER: The account of the history of the Old Lewis Hunter Distillery has been pieced together from articles found on the web. It may not be historically or factually correct in every detail.
 Or in any detail for that matter. But it does make a good story.....

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Lockets, Snot and Two Sliding Barrels

One of the problems I have faced with the Mini House is where to put the myriad of lighting wires and electrical bits and pieces which allow me to light it up like a Christmas Tree, at the flick of a switch whenever I feel the urge.  The back of the house seemed the obvious choice but I wanted the Mini House to be able to give us a twirl like Brucie's glamorous 70's assistant and my childhood idol, the lovely Anthea Redfern, without showing its underskirts, once on its final castors.

I have a slightly roundabout way of problem solving. It usually goes in random, unrelated-to-the untrained-eye steps... And so it went something like this.

Last week I was off sick with an 'orrible fluey virus, wrapped up in a duvet, small brown dog deployed as a slightly farty hot water bottle, stuffing in Honey and Lemon Lockets, and gulping copious amounts of fluids like you are told to do, although am not sure a mug of medicinal Brancott Estate counts.

I had given up on daytime TV as there was nothing much on, apart from Jeremy Kyle shouting at the great interbred and unwashed, and therefore was slumped in the dining room, staring through a haze of snotty Kleenex at the Mini House, and trying to figure out where to put the wiring.

The real outside, outside toilet
And that's when I realised I needed a wee.  Now, No 1 Heatherside Corner is the place to be, when you need to visit the Littlest Room. We have upstairs ensuite; which used to be orange coloured and downstairs, an inside toilet which used to be outside until we changed the walls around a bit, and an original outside loo, which is still outside but is no longer used as a loo and is now home to the firewood, a nest of rats and several spiders.

Oh and there's the garden, but that hopefully is only for sole use by the small brown dog, and never again for the random stranger who once, unbeknownst to us, staggered through our front gate late one night, and having done his business, left his very used and baggy greying underpants on our garden path as a memento of his visit....

But I digress. It was while I was taking my pick of our Temples of Convenience*, that the idea of copying the outside, outside loo came to me as a way of hiding the wires.
*See Lucinda Lambton

The Mini House would acquire a "dunny", but it would look more like our now inside but used to be outside loo, which is actually attached to the house and not halfway down the garden, like our outside, outside loo.

Stay with me on this.

So, when recovered, I built an extension on the back of the Mini House. And added a fake outside toilet door to mimic the real thing.

Which in our world is a vivid pink colour with a large cut glass door knob. We are fully responsible for the pink (well, I am - Mr PJ was less than impressed initially but has agreed it has grown on him over the years - a bit like fungus).

But the lovely crystal knob is the work of an obviously like-minded or thrifty previous inhabitant. But it goes so well with the colour now it would be a sin to change it.

And it was while this thought process was churning away that I realised the fake door would need, not only a glittering doorknob, but a big black sliding bolt too.

A glass bead and an earring back were purloined for the knob but the bolt proved more difficult.

Trial and error and a heap of wrong-uns later I had produced two: one which was smaller and looked the part, but was non-working, and the second, a sliding one which really did work as planned, but was somewhat over-scale and since the door is fake and doesn't open anyway, is actually totally pointless anyhoo.

So to justify all the effort, I thought I would share the step by step instructions with you. Just in case you have the urge to make a sliding bolt which is really far too big for any 1:12 projects you may be undertaking.

Unless apparently it's a castle... (Mr PJ's suggestion).

So here we have it: Lockets, Snot and Two Sliding Barrels...

Or: How to make a working miniature sliding barrel bolt


The things you will need to succeed:

Cocktail sticks
Round-head dressmakers pin
Empty squirty cleaning fluid bottle - try to find one which has an inner tube diameter only slightly wider than the width of a cocktail stick. You want to be able to slide the cocktail stick into the tube but for it still to be a snug fit.
Strip of flat metal or card
Superglue or similar strong quick-set glue for metal/wood/plastic
Black acrylic paint
Black Sharpie pen or fine permanent marker
Point-nosed pliers / wire cutters
Fine tweezers
Craft knife or scalpel

The bits you will need include cocktails sticks, a dressmakers pin, the tube from a squirty cleaning fluid bottle and a flat piece of card or metal.

First step - take your flat piece of metal or card and mark a strip which is slightly wider that the plastic tube on your squirty bottle, and the length you want your finished bolt to be. (Chewed fingernails not a required step...)

Once marked out, cut along the lines with scissors or a knife, so you are left with a long rectangle. This will form the backplate of your sliding barrel bolt.

Take the plastic tube from your squirty bottle, ensuring it is clean and dry, and cut a section slightly shorter than the rectangle you have just cut out.

With a sharp knife or scissors, cut off approximately one third of the backplate. Retain this piece.  Then take the section of plastic tube you have measured and cut one end to match the length of the smaller retained part of the backplate. Cut the remaining piece of tube into three equal sections and discard the middle section. You should now have two pieces of backplate and three pieces of tube, as above.

Take a cocktail stick and cut a piece the same length or slightly shorter than the longer piece of backplate. Take your dressmakers pin and carefully push it through the cocktail stick as shown, about two thirds of the way along, nearer the right-hand end. 

Push the pin all the way through until the head of the pin is right up against the stick. Take your pliers or wire cutters and cut off the underside of the pin as close to the cocktail stick as possible. Don't worry if you still have a small end sticking out.

Tap the stick on a hard surface to gently hammer the tail end of the pin back into the stick until it is flush with the surface. This should push the pin head up leaving it with a small "neck".  Using another cocktail stick, smear a drop of Superglue on both the lower side and around the pin neck, where it goes into the wood. Leave to dry completely. This forms the actual bolt of the lock.

Take the smallest piece of backplate and Superglue the matching plastic tube end to it, as above. It can help to insert a cocktail stick inside the tube while positioning it, and use the tweezers to make sure it is straight, taking care not to get any glue on the stick itself.  Repeat the process on one end of the longer part of the backplate.

Once completely dry, colour the pin and stick with a Sharpie. This doesn't have to be exact but try to colour as much as possible now as it is trickier to paint when assembled.

Insert the longer end of your bolt into the remaining piece of plastic tube. DO NOT USE ANY GLUE AT THIS STAGE.

Now drop a tiny amount of Superglue to the blank end of the backplate you have made. Use as little as possible and make sure it is only at the very end. It must not cover any area that the plastic tube attached to the bolt will not touch. This is very important.

The aim of this stage is to only glue the remaining section of plastic tube, which is now on the end of the bolt, to the backplate but NOT the bolt itself.  Very gently and carefully, slide the short end of your bolt into the pre-glued plastic tube end, taking great care not to get any glue from the other end of the backplate on any part of the bolt itself.  Once you have the bolt straight, gently press the final plastic tube end in place and hold until the glue is set.

You should now be left with two parts of your sliding bolt as shown above. The bolt should slide within the plastic tube freely. 

With a fine paintbrush, paint the plastic tube and backplate, and any parts of the actual bolt you wish with black acrylic or similar. Make sure any paint does not cause the sliding part to stick by moving it from time to time as it dries.
Your bolt is now ready to glue in place and test.

Once in place, the sliding part of the bolt should move freely within the plastic tube "barrels".

Fix the short piece to the door frame and the longer bolt part to the door itself using glue or strong double sided tape. If the frame and door are not flush you can pack out either part of the bolt using thin strips of card or wood as a backing.
Somewhat rustic looking and maybe a tiny bit too large for internal Mini uses but would work on shed or barn doors or on older era Mini builds.  Or Castles.....
In situ, on the "outside, inside toilet", but originally inspired by the "outside, outside toilet"....
And now hiding all the wiring and socket strip for The Mini House.

Thursday, 10 October 2013


Watch any series of Grand Designs, Kevin McCloud's house building show (where folk who profess to have hardly any money, yet always have enough dosh to hugely exceed their initial budget) and you can bet your bottom dollar at least one set of hopeful house builders will sell up and live in a caravan, while the building work goes on around them.

Home from home...
It seems to be the done thing, to decamp your entire family and the dog, into the smallest, dampest, coldest place you could possibly live, while your dream home rises above you. 

Forget renting. Far better to move into a tiny fibreglass airless box with deflated tyres, which previously housed chickens, and sit there with your 2.5 children and 1.0 pooch, bemoaning your lot, while flicking through the latest Fired Earth/ Farrow & Ball catalogues.

While your husband, who is now doing all the work since you fell out with the builders over door handles and they downed tools, dangles precariously off the half-finished roof, and tries to waterproof the house by nailing your vastly overpriced reclaimed traditional Welsh slates in place with a toffee hammer*.
*The builders really did take all their tools, and the children were given a Fortnum's sweet hamper to soften the blow of not having cable for a few weeks.

So, from the outside looking in, there they are, Mr and Mrs Middle England, ensconced in their little caravan, which has seen better days and will be unceremoniously dumped without a backwards glance at the end of the “build”.

While they wait for the day they can relax in comfort on their (very reasonable at £18,000) sofa, in the (£76,000) cinema room and whinge to the somewhat unmoved Mr McCloud just how awful it was living in a box on wheels for a few weeks.

Leaving the sad little van to carry on rotting away quietly, tyres slowly perishing, local poultry eyeing it up as a potential step up the coup ladder, until the time when it finally gets to light up the children’s faces. 

But only as they watch it burn on Bonfire Night, topped off with a home-made effigy of the now slightly crispy Mr McC (he was just a little too scathing about spending £40,000 on a bath tap).

What a sad end. And so unnecessary. For the little mobile home, and the lovely Kevin.

I’m lucky. I don’t have to live in a caravan while the work is carried out on The Mini House.  

Mr PJ, the small brown dog and I, are happy where we are in No1 Heatherside Corner. 

But I like to think, if we were to move into a caravan, while The Mini House "build" was in progress - something which could take months, possibly years even, this would be our temporary home of choice.
The next project, perched on a lovely blue pallet
(for which is there for no other reason apart from the fact it goes nicely with the red paint
and is as rare as Hen's Teeth; when did you ever see a completley blue pallet before now?)
Bit drafty, I grant you, but its little tyres are still inflated, there are curtains, of sorts, at the windows, a space-age Perspex roof, and it comes with a proper front door, even if it isn’t attached at present.

I found this little treasure at a car boot sale and borrowed the £5 to purchase it from my Father in Law, who exclaimed in a loud voice “That will go nicely with your dollies house”, making him and everyone else around me snigger.

But at 42 years, 51 and a half weeks old, I am a grown up and therefore I care not a jot for other folks mockery and derision, as I see potential - the next project, when The Mini House is finished.

I see a mini Airstream.  I see The Pod. I see a Teardrop trailer. I see a tiny retro interior, with a sleek silver roof. 

I have quite a vivid imagination , it has to be said.  

But what I don’t see is “kindling”. 

Which was the first word from Mr PJ’s mouth when I bought "Dunroamin" back home with me.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Mr Pearly Jones has an epiphany

“Look” I said, waggling a tiny carved stool with a woven rush seat under his nose while he tried to watch the cricket.  “It’s just like ours”. 

He rolled his eyes, “It’s too big” he mumbled, apparently finding the exploits of  Mr Broad, Mr Pieterson et al, more interesting.

“No, it’s exactly to scale” I protested. “One in twelve, measure it if you don’t believe me”. 
He sighed deeply and shook his head.

I rummaged deeper in the old wooden workbox where I have started to keep all my tiny purchases in readiness for when the Mini House is ready to be furnished.

I brought out a small wooden whiskey barrel and waved it excitedly at him. “See” I cried, “A small wooden whiskey barrel!”. Mr PJ sank further into our old battered leather sofa (yes, I have a wee one of those in the box, too)  and resigned himself to the fact that he has accidentally married a member of the Stating the Bleedin’ Obvious Club of Great Britain.

“How much did you spend on that?” he asked. Ah now, there was a question I wasn’t prepared for. I stared innocently at the polished oak object in my hand as if it was the first time I had seen it and was wondering just how it had got to be there. “What this….?” I stalled for time. “Oh, not much. I can’t remember exactly. Pence really.”*

[*Thank goodness for trusty Answer No.3 when confronted with uncomfortable queries regarding new purchases. Always a handy one to have at your disposal for use in such emergencies.

Although Answer No.2 - “It was in the Sale” is not to be sniffed at, and Answer No.4 - “Why do you always ask me that? How much do you spend on cricket/football/apps/beer?” is another useful one to have at the ready.

And of course, when all else fails, Answer No. 1, The Ultimate Answer, the trusty response known across the land and hovering on the tip of every shopping enthusiast’s tongue, which can always be trotted out when the Big Guns are called for…. “What? This old thing? ” thus confusing the accuser and concealing the truth in equal measure without actually answering the question.]

Anyhoo, I digress. There is a point to all this, so bear with me.

Cricket ball, cricket helmet and the Mini House
And never the twain shall meet....

The further I delved into the recesses of the box and triumphantly held aloft one tiny item after another; first, a hand blown Ray Storey turquoise glass bottle, next a tiny Victorian door bell, swiftly followed by two 1/2 inch high brass candlesticks, a teeny tiny travelling trunk and a small leather armchair, the more Mr PJ’s eyes rolled in their sockets before finally closing altogether, accompanied by a sound suspiciously like snoring.

It was almost as if he just wasn't interested. 

I'd had a funny feeling about this from day one, when I staggered up the garden path carrying the rather heavy, dilapidated and unloved Mini House in my arms, and was greeted by Mr PJ whose immediate reaction was "What the Hell is that and more to the point, where on earth do you think you are going to put it?"

I could tell even then, he wasn't feeling the love. 

And then, as time moved on and the dining room became full to the brim of small random pieces of wood, bottles of strange glues, copious books on dolls houses, and other oddments, he became more bemused by it all.

"It's a hobby" I protested. "Yes, of course it is" he replied, adding "you saddo" under his breath. 

And so we agreed to disagree. He likes his cricket and I like painting cocktail sticks silver* and glueing them to the inside of a house shaped wooden box. (*See stair rods) 

But this was all to change, for this weekend, my Mother came to visit and asked to see what progress had been made on the Mini House. I was otherwise engaged so Mr PJ showed her around.

Later that day, just as we were about to board a train, he turned to me and said "I think I finally get it!" 

"I opened the doors and saw the little staircases and the stair rods you had made, and think I finally understand why you are doing it."

I was absolutely delighted that he'd finally demoted me from Chief Saddo to Just Slightly Barking again. I had momentary visions of us becoming the husband and wife dream team of the dolls house world, him hunched over a bandsaw, me sitting beside him, happily fashioning something exciting out of cocktails sticks. 

But then, just as I was about to launch into a spirited and uplifting speech about what our wonderful joint dolls housing future had in store for us both, he wandered off to poke a half-melted cough sweet which was stuck to the platform, with his toe, before hopping onto the train and promptly going to sleep again. It was then that I realised the moment had probably passed.

There have been no further similar outbursts from Mr PJ since and I haven't tempted providence by showing him any more of the treasures from the box. 

I'm just happy in the knowledge that he is less likely to use the Mini House as emergency kindling now, should we run out of logs during the cold Winter months ahead. Like he once accidentally did with my wooden candle box which had been sitting next to the log basket....

But with next week's Miniatura fast approaching, I wonder whether he will still "get it" when he sees my shopping list.....