The Magical Mechanical Bird

a young showmanMy pa made the bird.  He’s Mister William Forsey and when I grow up, I’m going to be just like him – a tinker as well as a showman.  My name is Rufus, by the way.  I’m ten years old and I have a very important job.  I run the Magical Mechanical Bird Show in the little fairground booth my pa built.

only Rufus can fit insideThe ticket office is too small for Ma or Pa to get inside, but I fit just fine.  When I grow too big, one of my brothers or sisters will have to take over and I’ll get on with learning my pa’s craft.  Pa’s proud of me.  He wrote ‘Wm. Forsey & Son’ on the poster, so I’d be part of the company.  Some day we’ll have a whole load of automatons and people will come from all over the world to watch and wonder at them.

preparing the mechanical birdFirst thing I have to do is wind up the machine and check that it’s all working smoothly.  Pa says I’m a natural when it comes to knowing where a lick of oil should go or what bolts to tighten.  You see?  I’ve got tinker’s blood in me veins.  I’ll make wonderful contraptions when I’m older.

hiding the bird from viewNext I pull the curtain across, so the bird’s hidden and go out the front to tout for business.  All the ladies love me and they beg their beaus to buy a ticket.  Ma says it’s on account of my fair hair and big eyes.  I think it’s more likely my witty patter that draws ’em in.
Once a lady said, “Is the poor bird trapped in a cage?”
She thought it was a real bird, even though the sign clearly says ‘Mechanical’.
“Oh no, Ma’am,” I told her. “That bird is as free as I am.”
She was so pleased, she asked her gentleman to give me a farthing, and to show off to her, he gave me three ha’pence!
When I told Pa later what had happened, he said it was a good reply I’d given.  I told him it was true, because both me and the bird are as free as each other – stuck in that booth all day.  That got me a clip round the ear, though, so I need to learn when to keep me mouth shut, I reckon.

selling ticketsAnyhow, once I’ve got a good crowd, I go into the ticket office and sell them all tickets to watch the show.  I have to keep the office locked all day, so no one will steal our takings.  Ma took the chain from Grandpa’s old watch and fixed the office key to it, so I can wear it on me waistcoat, just like a toff!  Real silk, that waistcoat is, and me trousers are pa’s old moleskins cut down.  They’re a bit on the roomy side, but I’ll grow into them.

Next is my favourite part.  I come out of the office, draw back the curtain and you should hear the ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Aaahs’ when they see the machine.  The gilded bird sits on a gold tablecloth and Pa has left all the mechanical parts showing, so people can see how amazing an automaton is.  There’s gleaming brass and steel cogs and cams and levers, a little set of bellows that work a Swanee whistle, so the bird can sing, and the cam is fixed up so that as the bird twists and turns, the notes of its warbling change.

I call out, very loud, “And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, for your delight and delectation, the Magical Mechanical Bird will come to life before your very eyes and ears.”
That’s Pa’s cue to pull the knob at the back of the booth to release the crank wheel, and the bird begins to sing and twirl.

All the punters gasp and cheer and clap and I feel so proud of Pa and Ma and meself, for entertaining folks so royally.

 

The Case of the Magical Mechanical Bird will be on display at All Things Miniature in Haddenham, Bucks on Saturday September 23rd. 

A video of the mechanical bird in action can be seen here, on the Steampunk – Shrunk Facebook page.

A New Chapter

Well no, nobody took up the challenge of writing that missing chapter, So I suppose it will be forever lost.

Moving on, though… The library which inspired the whole story in the first place is about to undergo a complete transformation.

For some weeks now, it has been in the possession of its new custodian.  She loves it, but announced that it needed some figures.  What good is a library, after all, without any readers?  Consequently I was commissioned to create two new characters, from the late Victorian or Edwardian era.  As we chatted through the sort of people she’d like, a story began to emerge.  No surprise there; this lady is a consummate storyteller.

Planning  to attend a demonstration for women's rights

I was asked to make one a female academic.  That suited me perfectly.  I’d been longing to create Olivia Libris, the renowned author.

 

“And the second one?” I asked.  “Male or female?”

“Female,” she decided.  “She’s a suffragette.  Let’s make the library a celebration of women’s education and emancipation.  Could you make a suffragist newspaper to put on one of the chairs?”

So here they are – Olivia and her young friend Philippa, who is based on one of my heroines, the educational pioneer Philippa Fawcett.  (I did my teacher training at the college named after her in London.)

preparing to visit the library

Both are gloriously free of corsets and have removable ‘Votes for Women’ sashes.  The newspaper and a reprinted poster from the time complete the set. 

Tomorrow they will be off to take up residence in the library, unless they have a demonstration planned, of course.

I so enjoyed recreating a couple of these courageous women.  We have so much to thank them for.

Still Probably the Smallest Competition – Update

Olivia Libris here, author of ‘The Vital Chapter’.

Dear Readers,

I understand that some of you are busily engaged in the task of recreating the missing chapter of my book, in order to enter our diminutive contest.  I await your entries with eager anticipation, having completely forgotten my own version of events and having foolishly failed to save a copy.  May this be a lesson to us all.

One of Steampunk - Shrunk's intriguing room cases, at 1/12 scale.I’m delighted to inform you that The Case of the Missing Chapter itself (a one twelfth scale room in a carrying case) has now been transferred to its new owner – a story-teller par excellence, who took delivery of it yesterday.  

The competition, however, continues apace and you have only a few remaining weeks to enter.  See full details by clicking here.

One final note:  The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that a few more words were missing from the version of the story printed in last week’s post.  In Chapter 3, Harvey’s response to Algy when discussing a possible move to Africa was erroneously omitted.  This fault has now been rectified and the correct version of the conversation is reprinted below for your edification.

Algernon's younger brother, after a long balloon ride“Oh such adventures are just fine for a young fellow like yourself, my dear Harvey.  Nothing to hold you here, no family or obligations to consider.  I’m delighted for you, old boy.  Wouldn’t do for me, though.  There’s this old pile to keep up, the staff to consider, all the horses… and I couldn’t ask Josephine to up sticks and adjust to such a difficult climate.”

“Pah!  Loads of lovely ladies over there!” returned Harvey.  “They have a whale of a time.  As for this old place – sell it up and start afresh.  You’ll make your fortune.  Nothing to lose.”

“Well I’ll give it some thought,” Algernon replied, and promptly left the room and headed back to his study.

 

I look forward very much to reading your competition entries.  Please continue writing and sharing the information among your like-minded acquaintances.

Sincerely yours,

O Libris

P.S. Might I be vulgar enough to insert a brief mention of the splendid Steampunk Dolls House Etsy shop which can be found at this link, where many of Steampunk – Shrunk’s extraordinary one-off creations are available for purchase worldwide?

Probably the Smallest Competition in the World

Here it is, then: the competition to finish off the Vital Chapter saga.

It will be small.  I only do small.

The prize will be small – barely an inch wide or long.  The number of entries will be small, as my ability to publicise on social media is sadly lacking and Steampunk-Shrunk is rather, er, niche, to say the least.

However it will give you the chance to win a totally unique miniature book, which you will have helped to write, and it will be fun, for all of us.

Briefly, then:  I made a 1:12 scale room – a library – in a little case.  It was called The Case of the Missing Chapter and in the room was a very small book, containing the story of one Algernon  Cholmondeley, but with the vital chapter explaining the remarkable change in this gentleman’s fortunes carefully removed by a person or persons unknown.

Your task, dear reader, is to write that missing chapter!  Algy’s story, along with photos of the dolls, gadgets and settings I ended up making along the way, has been serialised on this website over the past few weeks.  It’s reproduced in its entirety below, to save you the trouble of hunting through the archives.

What to do, terms and conditions and all that jazz:

  • Write your own version of Chapter 4 (max 1000 words) and submit it either in the ‘Leave a reply’ box at the bottom of the page or via the contact form just above it.
  • It would also be very helpful if you would tag, share or otherwise notify one or two like-minded friends of the competition and encourage them to visit this site.  (I’m assured this is how savvy entrepreneurs drum up business.)
  • By entering, you agree that if you win or are a close runner-up, your name (real or pseudonym, as you prefer) and your chapter can be printed on this website, which is available for public viewing.
  • No copies of the winning chapter – other than the single prize edition – will be made or offered for sale and the copyright remains the author’s own.
  • Information you provide (name, email address etc.) will only be used for the purposes of this competition and will not be stored or passed on to anyone else.
  • One winner will receive a one-off printed copy of the completed book including their chapter at 1:12 scale (readable with a powerful magnifying glass).  No cash alternative, as this unique item will be, obviously, priceless.
  • Oh yes, closing date – almost forgot!  All entries to be received by Monday 21st August 2017.  Winner will be notified by 2nd September.
  • Phew!  I think that’s it.  I’m new to this sort of thing.

Should I receive any entries (told you it was small!) Olivia Libris  – the entirely fictional author of the book – will select the chapter that seems to her to fit best with the style, content and general silliness of the original and it will be printed for all to enjoy in a further post.

Here, then, is the story as it currently stands:

The Vital Chapter by O Libris
Chapter 1

Since the beginning of the year, Algernon Cholmondeley had been feeling somewhat out of sorts.

It began when his prize peacock simply keeled over and died in the very centre of the drive on New Year’s Day.  By unfortunate circumstances, many guests were due at The Grey House for a party on that very occasion.  Carriages and steam-powered automobiles had been arriving for some time.  Each driver had been forced to swerve to avoid the bird, which was lurching around and staggering about in the most ungainly manner.  The screeching of brakes and the parping of horns and claxons provided an unwelcome accompaniment to the gentle welcome offered by Algernon and his delightful wife Josephine.

At four minutes past five precisely, the peacock stood still, made a feeble attempt to confound death by opening its once-splendid tail, fell to the ground and flopped untidily on the lawn which lay at the centre of the gravelled driveway.

“Did you know there’s a dead peacock in the middle of the drive, Algernon, old chap?” asked one guest after another as they arrived at the front door.

No seasonal felicitations.  No extended hand offering a friendly shake.  Not even enquiries into the health of the host and hostess.

Some delivered the line with concern, others with wry amusement, a few with puzzlement and still more with unconcealed hilarity.

Nor did it stop there.  Once inside the ballroom, the guests continued to discuss the deceased creature with gusto.  Ladies were heard to express wistful desires for a feather or two to adorn their hats, since the unfortunate possessor of these trimmings would no longer be in any need of them.

“A few of those exquisite breast feathers would set off my new gown quite wonderfully,” one lady was heard to say.  “Just the shade of turquoise I have been searching for.  I wonder whether it would be indelicate to ask.”

The gentlemen seemed more interested in how the bird would taste roasted with an apple and cranberry stuffing, but felt it unlikely that the cook would have time to prepare it for that evening’s banquet.
“Just drawing and plucking a bird that size would take a number of hours, I would imagine,” sighed a gentleman who looked to have consumed more than enough delicacies during the festive season, given the strain placed upon his waistcoat buttons.

Next the conversation turned to possible reasons for the creature’s demise.  The early arrivals were able to give those who had appeared more recently a fascinating account of the peacock’s final hours.  With many sound effects and gesticulations, they re-enacted the problems they had encountered during their attempts to negotiate the drive and park safely.

“Staggering about like a drunk, it was!”  announced Charlie Stammers-Bottington.  “Quite thought I was going to hit the beast.  First it veered one way, then the other, with never a glance towards my vehicle.  And you fellows must admit, it’s not an easy thing to miss.”

Others agreed readily that Charlie’s traction engine was indeed a very powerful presence on any driveway, and would be hard to ignore.

A man in a brown suit, whose brother-in-law was a veterinarian, said he’d heard the aforesaid brother-in-law speak of an outbreak of avian influenza, which had swept across the country from Prussia.  There was a general consensus that this was the most probable cause of death.
“It’ll probably spread to any other birds on the estate,” someone warned.

“Do you keep any other birds, Algy?” Henry Stuffingham called across the room.  “Probably best to have them shot and burn the carcasses.  Can’t be too careful with something like this, y’know.”

Algernon poured himself another glass of brandy and shook his head.  The conversation showed no sign of abating.  His attempts to instigate some lively parlour games fell – if not on deaf ears – on ears that were deaf to any subject beyond the accursed peacock.

Even at dinner, the subject refused – unlike its physical counterpart – to die.
“That roast bird’s a good size,” one wag remarked.  “Not a peacock by any chance?”

The raucous laughter which followed this rather weak joke was the final straw for poor Algernon.
He rose unsteadily to his feet and roared, “If anyone else raises the subject of that confounded bird this evening, they may consider themselves unwelcome in this house, both now and in the future!  Kindly do not allude to it in any way whassover – what sever – oh!  Just drat the thing, that’s all!”

He sank back into his chair, covered his face with his hand and began to weep.

There was the most awkward silence, which seemed to last for an eternity.  It was as if, deprived of their sole topic of conversation, the guests had been rendered quite mute.

Dinner was finished silently, apart from the clanking of silver on fine bone china, which sound now seemed extraordinarily loud.

As soon as was deemed prudent, first one couple then another made lame and hurried excuses for their early departure and left.  There was a veritable stampede for the door, so much so, that quite a queue of vehicles formed, waiting to leave.  All eyes within them stared balefully at the corpse of the peacock, but no lips moved.

It was unlikely that any of these people – his once dearest friends and acquaintances – would ever return, Algernon mused, glumly.  His name would, for all time, be inexorably linked to this bird.

“Oh Algernon?” people would say, “the chap with the dead peacock?”

Sniggers would follow.  He would be a laughing stock from that day forth.

 

Chapter 2

This unfortunate circumstance was, as has previously been intimated, only the beginning of a set of events which seemed to go from bad to worse.

Algernon’s mother-in-law came down with a most tiresome condition, which seemed to involve a great deal of coughing – particularly during the small hours and after lunch – and it was decided that she would have to stay at the Grey House until she was well enough to return to London.

This lady had never been particularly well-disposed towards her son-in-law.  Now that her temper was rendered somewhat shorter, presumably by her malady and lack of sleep, she became quite vociferous in her criticism and complaints about him.

“Why ever didn’t you marry that boy from the East India Company, Josephine?” she would demand of her daughter.  “Much better prospects, I would have said.” or  “Oh my dear, are you still wearing that style?  Surely your husband could afford to buy you something a little less dated?”

Josephine busied herself with bathing her mother’s forehead and preparing herbal concoctions to ease her cough, and looked endlessly miserable.

Algernon couldn’t decide whether this was because she secretly agreed with her mother and was now regretting her marriage or because her mother’s criticisms of her beloved husband distressed her severely, although she was unwilling to contradict her ailing parent.

He considered asking his wife which of these was the case, in order to calm his tormented mind, but – if truth be told – his mood was now so low that he strongly suspected that it was the former, and could not bring himself to have his worst fears confirmed.

In February – in fact on February 14th – the parlour maid and Algy’s favourite groom eloped together.  Algernon was furious at the inconvenience caused by this selfish action. Why should servants run off to enjoy a future together without a second thought for those they left behind?  Now he would have to find replacements for them and the new staff would need to be trained in how matters were conducted at the Grey House.

None of the aforementioned events could be called catastrophic, but together they created a most unhappy state of affairs for Algernon and he became extremely downhearted. He took to hiding away in his study for long hours and even chose to have his meals there on frequent occasions.
“Algy, dear, please don’t punish me so!” entreated Josephine.  “I know mother can be rather tiresome and I understand that you are not in the best of humours, but I do miss your company at dinner.”

Alas, Algernon was deaf to the pleadings of his beautiful wife.  He simply became more introspective and silent.

Chapter 3

Image may contain: 1 personOn a bright morning in early spring, Harvey’s hot air balloon crash landed in the vegetable patch.  He’d been aiming for the meadow, but a sudden gust of wind in the final moments of descent blew him off course.

Harvey was Algernon’s younger brother.  Josephine had summoned him back from the Congo as her alarm at Algernon’s state of mind continued to grow.  If anyone could cheer her husband, it would be Harvey.

“What in the name of thunder is going on?” screamed Algernon, racing out of the French doors to inspect the damage to his property.

“Who the deuce has landed that damned contraption on my land?”

He grabbed his steam-powered plasma gun and was about to fire a volley of shots into the basket when he heard a jaunty “Hulloo” in the unmistakable tones of his brother.

That gentleman emerged rather unsteadily from the basket, pulled up his goggles to reveal a tanned, soot-smeared face and raced over to embrace Algernon, who had – fortunately – dropped his weapon and was standing and blinking in disbelief.

“My dearest boy!” Harvey exclaimed, grasping his brother’s hand in both of his own and pumping it up and down as if trying to start an engine.

“But Harvey…” stuttered Algernon.  “After all these years!  How?  Why…?”

At this moment, Josephine rushed up and warmly embraced her brother-in-law.

“Dearest Harvey, how wonderful to see you again.  Do come inside and have a cup of tea.  We’d just love to hear about all your adventures, wouldn’t we, Algy?”

“Um, indeed,” her husband responded weakly, absent-mindedly removing a broad bean tendril from his brother’s greatcoat.  “Yes, of course.  Do come inside.”

 

Half an hour later, they were sitting, sipping tea, around a blazing fire in the drawing room.

Harvey had brought with him a battered map of the diamond mine he had bought in Africa.

“Amazing potential!” he was exclaiming.  “Stunning gems in there.  Worth a king’s ransom!  By Jove, Algy, you should come out there with me.  We could run the place together.  Lord, you should see the engine I’ve got set up for the extraction process.  Such a beauty!  It simply can’t fail.  We’ll make millions!”

Josephine glanced at Algernon.  This was not quite the way she had anticipated that the discussion would go.

Algernon sat listening passively as his brother extolled the virtues of life in Africa.  It was difficult to read his thoughts from his expression.

Finally, he spoke.

“Oh such adventures are just fine for a young fellow like yourself, my dear Harvey.  Nothing to hold you here, no family or obligations to consider.  I’m delighted for you, old boy.  Wouldn’t do for me, though.  There’s this old pile to keep up, the staff to consider, all the horses… and I couldn’t ask Josephine to up sticks and adjust to such a difficult climate.”

“Pah!  Loads of lovely ladies over there!” returned Harvey.  “They have a whale of a time.  As for this old place – sell it up and start afresh.  You’ll make your fortune.  Nothing to lose.”

“Well I’ll give it some thought,” Algernon replied, and promptly left the room and headed back to his study.

“Glad you sent for me, old girl,” Harvey told Josephine.  “I see what you mean.  He does seem rather out of sorts.”

“Oh Harvey, I’m so worried about him!” Josephine cried.  “It is so good of you to have come all this way.  I’m sure it will cheer him up to have you around.  Perhaps you could go riding with him tomorrow, if you’re sufficiently rested.  He’d very much enjoy that.”

“Riding?” asked Harvey.  “You mean horses?  Oh no.  What Algy needs is some adventure.  Give me a day or two to get the balloon sorted out and I’ll take him for a trip in that.  That’ll do him the world of good. You see if it doesn’t.”

Chapter 4: MISSING

Chapter 5

Algernon lifted his telescope to his eye and scanned the horizon.  Just one small smudge of grey over Middlesex.  It was high in the sky.  A less practised eye would have missed it altogether, or mistaken it for a wisp of cloud.

“Pirates at four o’clock,” he called.  “Prime the machine.”

Sure enough, as they moved closer, the unmistakable shape of a steam galleon became clear – smoke belching from her filthy funnels.

“Machine’s primed and ready, Sah!” barked a voice from below decks.

“Good work, Mister Capon.  Keep tracking them.  I’m going to turn her around so they can’t see our profile.  Wait for the order to fire.”

“Aye, Sah!” came the same clipped voice.

Like the rest of the crew, Edwin Capon was proud to serve under Admiral Algernon Cholmondeley.  Their airship was the envy of the fleet and the scourge of the pirates who had, for far too long, held the airways to ransom.

 

Too late, the commander of the pirate vessel – one Sydney Strangefellow – saw what lay ahead.

“Put her about, boys!” he croaked, his fear only too obvious to his crew.

“A trap!  That’s the Algernaut!”

“God save us!” screamed one of the men – an optimistic fellow with a high regard for the generosity of his Maker, since he and his shipmates had spent their lives ruthlessly terrorising the high skies.

Panic broke out on the vessel and men ran helplessly hither and thither.  They knew – every black-hearted villain of them – that nothing, let alone their old rust-bucket of a ship, could withstand the weapon now fixed of upon them.

 

“And … FIRE!” shouted Algernon.

There was a flash of turquoise blue as the plasma gun loosed a volley of shots towards the pirate vessel.

The end was quick.  An explosion of blinding white light and then – nothing.  Not so much as a nut or a bolt remained of the incinerated galleon.

A cheer went up from the crew of the Algernaut and a door opened from a cabin below decks.

“Why the cheers?” asked a soft, sweet voice, as Lady Josephine emerged.  “Have you clever boys destroyed another pirate vessel?”

“We have indeed, your ladyship,” smiled the midshipman, bowing his head deferentially.  The Admiral spotted it miles off.  They didn’t stand a chance.”

“Well jolly good show,” smiled the lady.  “I’ll go straight away and prepare some tea for all hands.  And I’m sure I can find some particularly delicious cake as well.  You boys certainly deserve it!”

“You spoil us, my dear,” said her husband, who had come below to share the good news with her.

“Not at all,” laughed Josephine.  “Thanks to your splendid invention and your excellent crew, the skies above London have never been so safe.”

“Three cheers for the Hadmiral and ’er ladyship!” barked Edwin Capon, and the crew’s enthusiastic cries could be heard far below, in the city that owed its safety to Algernon Cholmondeley.

Do please enter and encourage your friends to do likewise.  You can use the ‘Leave a reply’ box under this post, or here’s a contact form, if you’d like to keep your entry just between ourselves…

What Happened After The Vital Chapter

Here it is at last – the final part of Algernon’s story:

 

Chapter 5

Algernon lifted his telescope to his eye and scanned the horizon.  Just one small smudge of grey over Middlesex.  It was high in the sky.  A less practised eye would have missed it altogether, or mistaken it for a wisp of cloud.

“Pirates at four o’clock,” he called.  “Prime the machine.”

Sure enough, as they moved closer, became clear – smoke belching from her filthy funnels.

“Machine’s primed and ready, Sah!” barked a voice from below decks.

“Good work, Mister Capon.  Keep tracking them.  I’m going to turn her around so they can’t see our profile.  Wait for the order to fire.”

“Aye, Sah!” came the same clipped voice.

Like the rest of the crew, Edwin Capon was proud to serve under Admiral Algernon Cholmondeley.  Their airship was the envy of the fleet and the scourge of the pirates who had, for far too long, held the airways to ransom.

 

Too late, the commander of the pirate vessel – one Sydney Strangefellow – saw what lay ahead.

“Put her about, boys!” he croaked, his fear only too obvious to his crew.

“A trap!  That’s the Algernaut!”

“God save us!” screamed one of the men – an optimistic fellow with a high regard for the generosity of his Maker, since he and his shipmates had spent their lives ruthlessly terrorising the high skies.

The steam-powered plasma gunPanic broke out on the vessel and men ran helplessly hither and thither.  They knew – every black-hearted villain of them – that nothing, let alone their old rust-bucket of a ship, could withstand the weapon now fixed of upon them.

 

“And … FIRE!” shouted Algernon.

There was a flash of turquoise blue as the plasma gun loosed a volley of shots towards the pirate vessel.

The end was quick.  An explosion of blinding white light and then – nothing.  Not so much as a nut or a bolt remained of the incinerated galleon.

A cheer went up from the crew of the Algernaut and a door opened from a cabin below decks.

“Why the cheers?” asked a soft, sweet voice, as Lady Josephine emerged.  “Have you clever boys destroyed another pirate vessel?”

“We have indeed, your ladyship,” smiled the midshipman, bowing his head deferentially.  The Admiral spotted it miles off.  They didn’t stand a chance.”

A touching moment for the valiant couple“Well jolly good show,” smiled the lady.  “I’ll go straight away and prepare some tea for all hands.  And I’m sure I can find some particularly delicious cake as well.  You boys certainly deserve it!”

“You spoil us, my dear,” said her husband, who had come below to share the good news with her.

“Not at all,” laughed Josephine.  “Thanks to your splendid invention and your excellent crew, the skies above London have never been so safe.”

“Three cheers for the Hadmiral and ’er ladyship!” barked Edwin Capon, and the crew’s enthusiastic cries could be heard far below, in the city that owed its safety to Algernon Cholmondeley.

Closer to The Vital Chapter

Here is the second chapter of the story of Algy.  If you missed Chapter One, you can read it here.

Chapter 2

This unfortunate circumstance was, as has previously been intimated, only the beginning of a set of events which seemed to go from bad to worse.

Algernon’s mother-in-law came down with a most tiresome condition, which seemed to involve a great deal of coughing – particularly during the small hours and after lunch – and it was decided that she would have to stay at the Grey House until she was well enough to return to London.

This lady had never been particularly well-disposed towards her son-in-law.  Now that her temper was rendered somewhat shorter, presumably by her malady and lack of sleep, she became quite vociferous in her criticism and complaints about him.

“Why ever didn’t you marry that boy from the East India Company, Josephine?” she would demand of her daughter.  “Much better prospects, I would have said.” or  “Oh my dear, are you still wearing that style?  Surely your husband could afford to buy you something a little less dated?”

Algernon's wife is desperate to find a way of cheering him upJosephine busied herself with bathing her mother’s forehead and preparing herbal concoctions to ease her cough, and looked endlessly miserable.

Algernon couldn’t decide whether this was because she secretly agreed with her mother and was now regretting her marriage or because her mother’s criticisms of her beloved husband distressed her severely, although she was unwilling to contradict her ailing parent.

He considered asking his wife which of these was the case, in order to calm his tormented mind, but – if truth be told – his mood was now so low that he strongly suspected that it was the former, and could not bring himself to have his worst fears confirmed.

In February – in fact on February 14th – the parlour maid and Algy’s favourite groom eloped together.  Algernon was furious at the inconvenience caused by this selfish action. Why should servants run off to enjoy a future together without a second thought for those they left behind?  Now he would have to find replacements for them and the new staff would need to be trained in how matters were conducted at the Grey House.

None of the aforementioned events could be called catastrophic, but together they created a most unhappy state of affairs for Algernon and he became extremely downhearted. He took to hiding away in his study for long hours and even chose to have his meals there on frequent occasions.
“Algy, dear, please don’t punish me so!” entreated Josephine.  “I know mother can be rather tiresome and I understand that you are not in the best of humours, but I do miss your company at dinner.”

Alas, Algernon was deaf to the pleadings of his beautiful wife.  He simply became more introspective and silent.

 


	

Gertie and Lord Horatio Backgammon

Well I didn’t know what to expect.  In truth, I’ve never encountered a lord before.

I was met at the railway station, after a most bracing journey in a steam locomotive, by one of his staff in a gleaming vehicle.  The man didn’t say much during the journey, but as we turned into the drive, he said quietly, “Don’t be alarmed by his Lordship, Miss.  He’s fine when you get to know him.”

If anything, these words made me more apprehensive than I had previously been.  As I alighted from the contraption and the smoke from its boiler began to clear, I saw a figure who could only be Lord Horatio standing beside a rusting collection of gears and machine parts.  Despite my determination to maintain a calm demeanour, I have to admit that I gasped – or possibly squealed slightly.

“Miss Jekyllton-Smythe, I presume?” he boomed, as he began advancing towards me.
He wore the tallest top hat I’d ever seen, adorned with a pair of very complicated goggles, and on the arm of his leather greatcoat he carried a most fearsome-looking weapon.  I must have been staring at it, for he glanced down and lowered his arm.
“Don’t worry yourself about the transducer,” he said. “I was just tinkering with it when you arrived, and it takes a while to unstrap it, don’t y’know? So, welcome to Backgammon Towers, my dear lady.”

His words were friendly enough, though it was difficult to read his expression, since the vast majority of his face was covered, either by his enormous moustache or by the huge monocle he wore.
I fixed my gaze on the remaining visible eye, smiled and bobbed my head slightly (should one curtsy to a lord?) and thanked him for his hospitality.

“Hmph, yes,” he responded gruffly.  “My housekeeper tells me that you’d probably like to be shown to your room so that you can tidy yourself.  Not that you appear at all untidy to me, let me add.  The ways of the fairer sex are something of a mystery to me.  After that I suppose you’d like to take some tea on the terrace?”

“That would be delightful,” I said, quite relieved to discover that he found our meeting at least as awkward as I did.

As soon as we’d finished an excellent pot of Earl Grey, Lord Horatio escorted me to ‘The Board’ – the area of his garden I was to be redesigning and planting for him.  It was a level area and had been well cleared, however I wasn’t sure how I would fit all the features he wanted into this small space.

“You mentioned a pond, your lordship…” I ventured.
“Yes. Doesn’t have to be large. Cleo positively thrives in small, cramped spaces. She’s currently housed in a large bottle. Be good for her to get some fresh air.”
“And Cleo would be the, ah, pet you mentioned in your letter?”
“That’s it. Highly intelligent, she is. Beautiful creature. Just needs a bit of room to stretch her tentacles once in a while.”
My next question died on my lips. I swallowed and nodded.
“Perhaps a little fountain or some such?” his lordship continued. “She’d enjoy that.”

I dutifully made notes. The orangery was to have stained glass panels. Flower beds in four sections. A gravelled path.
“Oh and some lawn!” Lord Horatio exclaimed enthusiastically. “You simply must come and see my lawnmower. One of my greatest inventions!”
I followed as he strode towards an enormous outbuilding.

“What do you think of that?” he demanded, his voice bursting with pride as he threw open the door.
“Oh my goodness!” I exclaimed, as I stared at what appeared to be a fire-breathing, metal-clad dragon.
“All my own work!” declared his lordship. “Call him Galahad! Entirely run by clockwork, don’t y’know? The flames aren’t real, of course.  Just a bit of wimsy!  Blades are razor sharp, though.  My gardeners tell me the cut he gives is second to none.”
“Stunning,” I replied. “Quite splendid.”
“Jolly good,” he smiled (probably – it was hard to tell with the moustache). “I think we’ll make a fine team, my dear lady.”
“I think we will, your Lordship,” I said, bravely.

And, do you know, I really think we will!

Lord Backgammon’s garden is a work in progress.  However the 1:12 scale figures of his Lordship (pictured here) and the delightful Gertie will be on display on the Steampunk-Shrunk stall at the Craft and Vintage Fair in Glastonbury Town Hall, once a month.

Other Steampunk and Victorian themed figures, rooms and items can be found online at The Steampunk Dolls’ House or at Rune Smith of Glastonbury at 1 Monarch Way, just off Glastonbury High St.

 

 

 

The Case of the Withdrawing Room

It’s a tiny room – just 8 inches wide by 6 inches high, and a mere 3 inches deep when the case is closed.  As it’s at 1:12 scale, that equates to the same number of feet in our measurements.

That suits her ladyship very well, though.  She can withdraw to this secluded space and make her plans in private.

As her songbird warbles mournfully above her and the light of her lamp flickers on the table, she puts down her parasol,  loosens her corset, sits on the leather-upholstered chair and takes up her journal and pen.

Her ladyship has a dream.  She wishes to become a tinkerer.  Certainly there are social mores which frown upon such behaviour from a lady in her position, but she finds following her husband and his acquaintances around the grounds, while chatting politely to their dull little wives, incredibly tiresome.

She has persuaded one of the gardeners to tutor her in the rudiments of welding and metalwork, and by patiently dismantling clockwork machinery, she is teaching herself to build simple gadgets.  The lamp was one of her first.  It’s simple, but effective, switching on when the attached clock shows that dusk has fallen.

Her latest invention sits on the shelves beside her chair.  It is a jewel-encrusted mechanical insect which scuttles about the room.  Certainly it isn’t yet perfected, but the one thing her ladyship’s life has taught her is endless patience.

There is a short video tour of the room on my Instagram feed.  Can’t load it here, for some reason.

The room has attracted considerable interest and several people have expressed a wish to buy it.  If it doesn’t sell, it will be on my craft stall in Glastonbury on June 17th, as will copies of her ladyship’s journal.

Heart of Glass – Part 2

Hello.  It is me, Bjørn again.  I was telling you in the previous post how my life was saved by Dr Oskar Kopp and how I started to work as his assistant, while secretly wishing to study and become a great man like the Doctor himself.

One day I was brave enough to tell him of my dreams.  He sat silent for some time and then a strange expression crossed his face.
“Bjørn, my boy,” he said, slowly, “you have not the heart, or the brain, for greatness.  To do work like mine you need a strong, strong heart.  You need a keen, keen brain.  You are a good boy, but alas, you have neither… as things stand.”

Those last three words hung in the air, as if they held a promise.

“If you ver villing, though, zis could be altered.  Wat if I ver to offer you a new heart and a new brain?  You have seen ze marvels I can do.  It would be ze most glorious experiment, in ze name of Science!  If you ver villing, you could become a showcase of mein art!  Your mechanised brain and heart on display for all to see ze vunders of ze clockverk body.  You could achieve anything once zese adjustments had been made.  You’d be as great as me.  Maybe greater…”

Eagerly I agreed.  My weak heart, which had almost killed me once, would be replaced with a dependable clockwork mechanism, encased in a glass dome, so that all could wonder at its strength, and at my master’s skill.  I would be a walking advertisement for his abilities.  He explained less about the alterations to my brain, but I was led to understand that my ability to learn, to reason and to imagine would be considerably enhanced.

With a delicious sense of anticipation, I lay on the slab, allowed him to cover my face with a cloth soaked in some sleep-inducing substance  – and later awoke as you see me now.

Certainly now my mind and heart are stronger, keener than they were.  I can work harder, faster, better and I hold information and make deductions at lightning speed.  All this, the Doctor expected.  Perhaps he feared it slightly.  Yet he found a way to maintain his dominance.

Clockwork must be wound.  Each day my heart must be wound up or I will cease to function.  The winding mechanism has been set into the centre of my back – where only he can reach it.  In this way,  he ensures that I remain his servant.

Oh yes!  I can’t blame him.  He could not risk creating a monster who would overpower him.  Each day I must stand meekly before him while he winds, and winds, and chuckles gently to himself.

I am grateful to Doctor Kopp.  Yet I must think of myself too.  Am I destined to be subservient to him for the rest of my life?  Also, he is an old man.  Who will wind my heart when he is gone?  I must make plans.

It is indeed fortunate that in my ‘adjusted’ state, I no longer require sleep.  That secret room, the alchemist’s study, with its ancient spell book and equipment is my domain while he sleeps.  There are spells in the grimoire he has barely glanced at – spells that could create my freedom…

Bjørn, Dr Kopp and the Alchemist’s Study have now left the Steampunk Dolls’ House and moved on to a new home.  However there are many other figures still available there and at Rune Smith of Glastonbury.

Here are the links:  Steampunk Dolls House online Etsy shop

Rune Smith of Glastonbury

 

The Steampunk Bride

“We almost sold the engine room,”  announced the young man who runs one of the shops (the physical one) I supply, when I wandered in with some new stock last week.
“Came that close!” He squeezed his thumb and forefinger together.  “It was going to be a wedding present. They’re going to a steampunk wedding. They still might buy it, but then one of them said, ‘Oooh, I wonder if she could make a steampunk bride and groom…’.”
He looked at me quizzically.

“Maybe,” I said cautiously.  “I’ll give it some thought.”

I’d made a promise to myself when I started making the steampunk miniatures: NO COMMISSIONS.  I’d done them in the past and my vision rarely coincided with my clients’.  It often ended in tears.

This project was interesting, though.  The groom would obviously be in the usual smart dress suit with top hat and goggles.  I even had the ideal fabric – the remains of a black and gold jacquard scarf I’d found once in a charity shop.  It was dressing the bride, though, that intrigued me.  There were so many ways that could go…

I held out for at least two days, busying myself with the Garden of Ingenious and Mechanical Delights that is my pet long-term project.  Then I thought, ‘Well, if I just make a bride and groom and take them down to Rune Smith, it’s not exactly a commission.  The customers can decide whether they want to buy them, or go for the engine room.’

Bride first.

I trawled through steampunk websites and Pinterest for inspiration.  Would she be a cheery burlesque bride –  all thighs and cleavage?  A Victorian crinoline type with parasol and meringue skirt?  I didn’t fancy either much.  I wanted to do something new.

The fabric scraps box was upended and I picked out everything cream, ivory, coffee and toffee coloured.  The ribbon and lace boxes followed.  Then the leather offcuts box.  A plan was forming.  Steampunk is all about innovation, reusing and combining materials in unexpected ways, so that was what I would do.

First  lace-trimmed drawers and a cotton lawn petticoat, with gathered organza hem and a layer of coffee-coloured lace.  The skirt itself involved a solid day of handstitching all manner of fabric shapes and layers together – khaki drill, cream cotton lace, satin, ribbon, bias-cut pieces of handkerchief fabric and embroidery floss.  This was embellished with copper wire and (wince – hate it, but it had to be done) an assortment of watch cogs and fly wheels.  I always baulk at gratuitously applying machinery parts that have no function, but I had a feeling they’d be expected.

The bodice was a fragment of pale chamois leather, cut asymmetrically and laced at the front with gold thread.  The bouquet was a ribbon rose embellished with more cogs and wire, and I opted for a Game of Thrones type veil in bronze and blue organza with a simple wire and ribbon headdress.

I loved her.  I was exhausted.  But did she fit the brief?  Was she steampunk enough?

I decided to ask for some wisdom from a Facebook group I belong to – one specialising in making miniatures from everyday objects.  I posted a quick video of her and asked their opinions.  I’d purposely chosen this group, rather than one of the dedicated steampunk groups I belong to, to get a more ‘person-in-the-street’ opinion on what constituted steampunk.

The responses were many and various! Many iconised likes, loves and wows. The comments ranged from the singularly unhelpful ‘Dress her in black!!’, through ‘What IS steampunk?’ to one person who solicitously explained the difference between cogs and fly wheels as she thought I must be confused.  As I had hoped and expected, though, many of the kind and lovely people took time to suggest extras and modifications that would help me to fulfil the brief.

The veil – their collected wisdom told me – had to go.  The headdress had to include (oh shudder and groan at the dreary cliché!) a top hat, and possibly goggles.  The bouquet needed to be bigger and bolder, the bodice more decorated and – at her waist – either a pouch or (I loved this idea) a chatelaine.

So, having added several necklace chains worth of metalwork, a (heavily disguised) kid leather hat and gone along with the other ideas  – except the dratted goggles; I have my pride! – I reposted my altered little lady.

Unanimous praise – well almost.
‘I wish she had the glasses’  one of the goggles advocates wrote!

Well if that person is reading this, they might like to take a trip over to the Steampunk Doll’s House, where they will find many of my steampunk ladies and gentlemen sporting goggles in all shapes and styles.

Now I’m off to finish the groom.