Celtic Illumination, part 355, And all those who sail in her
It was nice to have every day back to myself again, distraction free. Writing is like any other job and given the chance to get away and do something interesting would always be a problem. You have to have your routine and stick to it. I have already covered the multitude of excuses that writers use not to work, from not being inspired to having writers block. There is great debate about who said the following line but someone, probably William Faulkner, said ‘I only write when inspiration strikes, fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o clock.’ There are hundreds of people, mostly teachers, who considered writing a book, or are going to write a book, but only the determined few actually sit down and do it, day, after day, after day.
You would find that by lunchtime you were free, you weren’t really as your mind was still racing away, but in effect the remainder of the day would be yours and with no ‘normal’ job to take up my time I looked about for something to do. One of my neighbours, one of the nice ones, would pop up now and again and we would enjoy an hour or two chatting. Jimmy was a retired plumber and an ardent Liverpool fan, red to the core. In fact his wife told me that he refused to speak to her on their wedding day as she had turned up in a blue suit. One of the other neighbours, borderline nice, had invited us to his daughter’s birthday party. We began to discuss what sort of a present we should get for the child when one of us suggested that rather than buy something shiny and plastic we should build her a dolls house.
So Jimmy and I set about building a dolls house. Our research showed us that, like most other products around, dolls houses could be expensive. One major company sent us brochures which offered everything from assembled, decorated and furnished dolls houses to door knockers. We could see that there was quite a business surrounding the whole issue. We bought certain items like the windows and doors but everything else we made ourselves, out in my shed. Having built one house, which was very well received, we began to wonder if it would be possible to make and sell dolls houses ourselves. Between Skelmersdale and Wigan we found a little shop called ‘Sleepy Bears.’ I think her main interest was china dolls but she did stock a range of dolls houses.
I got the feeling that most dolls houses, especially the ones from the catalogues, were basically decorated boxes so when we decided to try to make and sell some, I knew we would have to be different. Neither Jimmy nor myself had any formal carpentry training, but why let something like that hold us back? We worked well together and if I was still involved with my writing Jimmy would busy himself in the shed. There were three main areas where we decided to be different from all others. Firstly I would make an external chimney and attach it to one side of the doll’s house. On the other side we would build a balcony and the final area would be where I hand cut the roof. I would cut a tile pattern into the roof, which was time consuming, but truthfully I found it to be more a form of meditation.
Then Jimmy had the idea of painting flowering ivy all over the front and sides of the house. It would certainly make each one different and neither of us could remember ever seeing one like it before. One of the photographs with this blog, shows Jimmy and myself with our first ever dolls house, which was the birthday present for the little girl across the road, so no chimney, balcony or custom paint job. The more observant among you will notice to the right, in that photograph, a set of wind chimes that I made from the sign posts I liberated while out and about in my Lugga Bus. We had already spoken to the proprietor of Sleepy Bears and she had agreed to display our dolls house and try to sell it for us. You may think it strange that an ex armed forces rugby playing roughie toughie like myself would be excited by building pink doll’s house, but I was.
We went over one morning having checked, double checked and then checked the house again for imperfections. Jimmy and I knew how much we had spent building the house but we had no idea what to ask for it. As carefully as we could we brought our dolls house into the shop and set it on the floor. We began to look about at the existing display, comparing our house to the others and wondering where best to put it when a customer came in. I felt that the other dolls houses were too clinical, too many clean straight lines, no character to them. The man who came in stood looking at our dolls house; he looked inside and then drew his hand across the roof. “I’ll buy this one,” he said at which point Jimmy and I tried to make ourselves scarce. “Five hundred and fifty pounds,” said the proprietor of Sleepy Bears and the customer produced his wallet.
He paid for the house and left saying that he would send his two sons around that afternoon to collect the doll’s house. Unlike writing where most people take ten per cent this girl wanted twenty five per cent, which was no great shakes and it had only cost fifty quid to make. Normally with a fist full of cash and such a success Jimmy and I would have headed for the nearest pub for a celebratory beer but we didn’t. We headed for the nearest builders merchant for it would appear that we were now in the doll’s house business. We made big ones and little ones, each one different from another. In one way I was so pleased that every house we placed in the shop seemed to leave within a day or two, while all the other dolls houses just sat there, I felt bad for the guys who had made them.
To diversify I began making aeroplanes, bi planes to be precise. I worked on the same basic principal that I had used with my ship in that they would have to be big. The largest sheet of material I could get home was four feet square so guess what; the bi planes had a wing span of four feet and were also four feet in length. Well; when you’re a young child, the bigger is always the better. Once again these were left in the Sleepy Bear shop and she flogged them on for some ridiculous price leaving Jimmy and myself wondering if we could really call ourselves ‘toy makers.’ I did begin to look at our efforts with a serious eye, we were quite successful and I knew that both Wigan and Liverpool had Dolls house shops where they had heard of our efforts and were prepared to stock our houses and planes along the same lines as Sleepy Bears had.
A quick time and motion study showed me why the majority of dolls houses were clinical. The drying time for glue and paint stretched the manufacturing process right out and didn’t contribute much to the profitability of the venture. I’m sure that if I had upped production then organised and streamlined the process I could have structured our venture into a profitable business, but it was more of a pastime for me. Rather than turn myself into a city slicker of the doll’s house world I decided to adopt the good ol boys approach and plod along. We were doing well enough through word of mouth and even had someone come down from Scotland, in a van, to collect a doll’s house he had ordered. Companies were asking me to produce a bi plane for them with their company logo on, things were getting stupid.
In order to keep myself busy and interested I decided to build a remote controlled motor boat, as you do. You’ll never guess how long the boat was. That’s right, four feet. I knew that in one of my children’s toy boxes lay a broken remote control car. It was very basic, only moving forward and backward, but that was enough for me. I fitted the engine to my boat and wired up the electronics. I left the rudder free; thinking that if the boat moved forward in the water the rudder would trail behind. If I selected reverse then the rudder would flick either one way or the other but the boat would turn. My children were so excited when we took it to the canal in Burscough. The first problem was that it floated far too well and we had to scramble about gathering rocks to weigh the thing down in the water. But it worked, even the turning which took a bit of practise. Jimmy was determined that we should step up our production but I wasn’t convinced, even though Jimmy had made a sign for our little company. Morris and Jones, shit builders.