This is a bit more fun than writing lectures!

nanosummer2016I haven’t been posting much lately—that’s because I’ve been so flat out with work that I’ve hardly had time to do anything else. But I have a couple of weeks now with just a few hours a day of office work, and even the occasional whole day off.

I’ve become entranced with Nanoblock micro-building blocks over the last year or so, and this is what I’ve made so far these holidays. They are three iconic landmarks from three different countries: the Statue of Liberty, The Louvre, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Each one is built with hundreds of tiny plastic blocks—650 of them, in the case of the Statue of Liberty.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always loved miniatures of anything: little china ornaments, dolls, dioramas, model train sets. Until recently though, I hadn’t actually made anything myself since a childhood obsession with Lego.

Next up: Big Ben, London Tower Bridge, and the Parthenon.

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And so ends another puzzling day…

Tram

This is so cute, I had to post it. For those who don’t know, this is a classic Melbourne tram. Well, it’s a miniature model I made today with the Japanese micro block brand Nano Block.

These W-class trams were designed in the 1920s and built for decades, but they have been largely superseded now by sleeker, bigger, quieter models.  However, it’s the old clackety-clack tram, like this one, that is most fondly remembered as synonymous with Melbourne life. We had conductors on them, too, who would wear change belts, sell tickets, and dispense all sorts of information.

I’ve written before (here) about my new model-building hobby. This is the biggest model I have made so far (though it can fit in the palm of my hand). It came with a formidable set of instructions, but they are precise, every block fits and there are always enough blocks and more. Imagine if one tiny block were missing…

TramNano

 

Look what I made! Look what I made!

Nano-flamingoI’ve been flat-out busy this year with work, and in the last few months, I haven’t even been able to write any blog posts. Things are much easier now though, so I hope to write plenty of posts over the next two months.
During that very busy time, I discovered a new hobby: building miniature construction projects.
I like to go for a quick walk in the afternoon to clear my head, especially when I’m overrun with work. There is an old-fashioned toy shop at my local shops, about five minutes’ walk from where I live. In it I discovered these intriguing little packages, each containing 100-150 or more tiny blocks and promising after construction to result in the cutest figures, each one of which can fit comfortably into the palm of my hand.
Nanoblock is a Japanese ‘micro-sized building block’ that has a cult following around the world. Blocks may be as small as 4x4x5mm. You need a steady hand for this work!

Instruction pages look incomprehensible: but they're logical and precise once you get the hang of them.

Instruction pages look incomprehensible: but they’re logical and precise once you get the hang of them.

I started with the ‘greater flamingo’, because pink flamingos make me smile and remind me of Las Vegas.
But when I opened the packet, I was taken aback: the instruction sheet looked incomprehensible with its cryptic diagrams and only the occasional word. “I’ll never be able to figure this out,” I thought.
However, I stared and stared at the sheet, and suddenly, it started to make sense. I got it. The instructions are actually amazingly precise, once you’re on their wave length. And not only is there enough of each type of brick, they give you extras.

I’ve gone on to make a piano and a great white shark. I’m going to do more!

Nano-piano Nano-shark
Because I work constantly with words, I need to get those words out of my head to give myself a break. Micro-block building is like therapy—a relaxation technique for the busy mind, and the same reason I took up art. I can set up everything I need for the miniature building project—blocks, base and instructions—on a sheet of A4 paper on my dining table.

And my next project? It’s going to be a koala or the Sydney Opera House, I think.

Boys’ toys, girls’ toys: really?

Screen Shot 2014-04-05 at 7.22.57 AMBoys, you are astronauts, pilots, detectives, scientists; girls, you are mothers and baby minders, and you like pretty things for your hair.

Boys, you will build things, go places, blow things up, conduct scientific experiments, see the world; girls, you will stay at home, heating bottles for the baby, doing craftwork, wearing beautiful clothes and dreaming of being a makeup artist, while dressed almost exclusively in pastel pink.

I could hardly believe my eyes this morning when I saw how an online shopping website I subscribe to was advertising toys based so much on gender stereotypes. Like something out of the 1950s, it told me that boys had the whole world to explore, while girls had better stay home.

For boys, the Crazy Forts Construction Toy offers imaginative play in which you create a cave, igloo, pirate ship or castle. To be fair, this toy also has a girl pictured on the box cover with two boys, so it’s unclear why it’s marketed only for boys. There is also a build-a-fort set for girls—the “Princess Play Set” in…you guessed it, pink… “perfect for your little princess”. No mention of pirate ships, caves or castles, though.

My mum was a neuro-scientist, and she says that to a certain extent, boys naturally gravitate toward more adventurous, rough and tumble toys. But the almost complete demarcation in the media seems unnatural, as if we are choosing for our children what their roles will be before they’ve even had a chance to explore these things for themselves. No wonder there are still so few female plumbers, carpenters or mechanics.

When I was a kid, my favourite toys were Lego and my brother’s case of tiny cars, plus our cowboy play sets with hats, toy guns in holsters (very un-PC now) and sheriff’s badges. I also loved my dolls (though I couldn’t understand why my cats would never consent to being dressed in bonnet, dress and booties and wheeled around in my dolls’ pram). My hero was Georgina (“George”), the fantastically independent girl in Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series of novels. In those days, a girl like George was called a “tom boy” because she didn’t conform to the normal idea of what a girl should behave like.

There’s nothing wrong as such with giving girls dolls and encouraging them to nurture babies: many girls do become mothers, after all. But boys become fathers, and in these days of equality, shouldn’t we also then be giving boys dollies with dummies, feeding sets and nappies? See how dumb that sounds? While personally, I have always loved dolls (and still do), I think we can leave the parenting accessories out when children are young, particularly if you’re only teaching parenting to one sex (girls).

I suspect (well, I hope) that advertisers are hopelessly out of date when they market toys in such a way. In most homes, I’m sure, children end up playing together with many of the same toys. We shouldn’t limit girls to home-based toys and boys to adventure toys: let them make up their own minds what they will be.

 

The toy I always wanted…but was afraid to ask for

When I was a child, there was one toy I always wanted but never received. I would visit toy stores and go straight to the aisle where they sold…the Barbie dolls.

Me as a New Zealand schoolgirl in my blackwatch tartan summer uniform

Me as a New Zealand school girl in my blackwatch tartan summer uniform.

To me, this strangely proportioned doll was the last word in sophistication and glamour, an adult doll who had a boyfriend, super fashions, makeup, a camper van and various exciting professions. In contrast, I was a little girl from New Zealand who liked playing with baby dolls, reading Famous Five books and dressing up her long-suffering cats in bonnets and booties.

When we went to live in Los Angeles for a couple of years, my desire was fed even more. Instead of the small independent toy stores with narrow aisles and teddy bears that I was used to in New Zealand, there was the mega-store Toys R Us. This was a mixture of heaven and hell for kids: heaven because of all the amazing stock it had, and hell because there was so much you wanted but would never get.

I hoped that I would receive a Barbie doll for Christmas or my birthday (which are within two weeks of each other), but to no avail. Then, when I was 11, my American friend Andrea, already into fashion and makeup and talking about boys, laughed her socks off when she saw the doll collection in my room. “You still play with DOLLS?” she said incredulously. “A Barbie might be OK, but…BABY DOLLS?”

I put those dolls away after that, but I still always sneaked around to the Barbie aisle whenever we went to a toy shop.

And as a school girl in America, free of uniform...but still wanting a Barbie doll!

And as a school girl in America, free of uniform…but still wanting a Barbie doll!

So, I grew up, and got my own exciting profession, boyfriend (then husband), fashions and makeup. When I was in my 30s, my mother and I were talking one day and I told her about my great childhood longing for a Barbie doll.

“But you never asked for one,” she said. It had never occurred to her that I would want one, and she probably didn’t think such a doll was really appropriate for a little girl, anyway.

I realised then that I had just hoped that somehow she’d know I wanted a Barbie. But she was right: I’d never expressly asked for one. In the 1970s, we children weren’t allowed to whine about toys we wanted, especially when so many children around the world were starving, as our parents constantly reminded us.

When I was 41, I received a special present from my mother: I finally had my Barbie doll. What’s more, it was a mermaid Barbie, because my mother knew I was fascinated by mermaids. “Now don’t say I never gave you a Barbie!” she said. And here it is:

mermaid

This post was written in response to the Daily Prompt word a day challenge, here, which asked, “Was there a toy or thing you always wanted as a child, during the holidays or on your birthday, but never received? Tell us about it”. I got inspired when I read a post by Fransi Weinstein, about a fabulous pair of shoes she coveted as a teenager. You can access her post here.

Odd Things I Own #1

My home is a sanctuary: when I close the door, I’m in my own private and safe world, shared with my husband and cat. I have all my books around me, plus a lot of quirky mementos, souvenirs and collectables. More than quirky, some of them are patently odd, but that’s why I like them. Here are a few of them:

Osbourne dolls

You’ve had a quick glimpse of my Ozzy talking-head doll before; now meet the whole family: Ozzy, wife Sharon, and children Kelly and Jack. These were sent to me by  a TV network to promote the reality show The Osbournes in 2002. They talk—or did. The batteries on three have worn down and I suppose I should get them replaced. Sharon still says “Shut the —- up and go to bed”, “The wicked witch has nothing on me”, and “Did anyone feed the dogs?”

Osbournes talking-head dolls

Lucky leprechauns

When I was a girl, my paternal grandmother gave me three little Wade Irish Porcelain leprechauns, which she said were lucky, but only if you had all three. They had red, yellow and blue hats. I took these leprechauns everywhere with me, through various countries, many houses and flats. Then, in 2000, a cleaner broke one of them, knocked the head clean off the red one, and the head had just disappeared. A short while later, I happened to look into the window of an antique shop, and there I saw a little red-capped leprechaun. He was sitting on a small dish, but no matter, I had to have him, and my set was complete again.

photo 2

Lou and Andy from Little Britain

If you’ve seen the British comedy show Little Britain, you’ll already be laughing at these plush toys of two of the most popular characters: Lou (right) in his fake-leather jacket and gold chain, carer to Andy, who’s only pretending to be in a wheelchair. If you squeeze Andy’s hand, he says some of his famous lines: “I don’t like it—I want that one”, “Yeah, I know”, and “MONSTER TRUCKS!”. And not to forget carer Lou’s “What a kerfuffle”. My husband bought me these two because he knew how much I enjoyed the show.

photo 1

Mini shopping trolley

This was sent to me by a PR company about 10 years ago to promote a shopping centre. It’s a perfect working model in every way. At the moment, I use it to house a mermaid doll or two (that’s a story for another day), but I always thought it would make a great alternative fruit holder in the kitchen.

photo 5

Coral and Lucy Locket

My cat, Lucy Locket, puts up with my odd possessions and knows which toys in the house are hers and which are mine. She’s not that fond of Coral the witch, but I love her. Coral is a handcrafted witch doll from Wellington, New Zealand, who was given to me by my lifelong friend, the New Zealand actor Yvette Parsons. Have a look at this clip of Yvette talking early this year about one of her current touring productions, Dolly Mixture, which features a strange lady of a certain age who loves collecting dolls…

As for Lucy Locket, she’s in this post because, by her very species, she is decidedly odd.  Someone who perfectly describes the oddness of cats is fellow blogger Goldfish from Fish of Gold. In a guest post on Merbear’s blog Knocked Over By A Feather, Goldfish said, “…all cats are whack-a-doodle. Every single one of them is weird as all get out. They may be insane in different ways, but all cats are completely deranged, and when you get down to it, it’s totally bonkers that we allow them in our homes.”  You can read more of her post about the weirdness of cats here.

LucyCoral

Shower cap cat

A present from my mother that is…well, just odd. But there’s something about it that I really like—its madness, I suppose.

photo 4

Plenty more where they came from. Watch this space…

Sideshow alley and the silver dollar

The Caryon Files

At the Royal Melbourne Show, 2013. These days, it’s $5 a game (five balls). There aren’t many prizes there worth more than that… Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013

When I was a girl living in Auckland, New Zealand, we went to the Easter Show every year. What fascinated me most  was the sideshows section: the clowns with open mouths that you dropped table-tennis balls down in the hope of getting enough points for a soft toy; shooting tin ducks as they rolled out in a row; trying to fish things out of paddling pools; throwing rings around various prizes…I loved it all.

I particularly liked the rows and rows of cheap trinkets for sale. My favourite was the doll on a stick. I don’t know why: maybe it was the glitter that made them look so appealing. Anyway, I never got one. But then again, I probably never asked for one. Children didn’t, in those days. You just hoped your parents would somehow know that you desperately wanted something, and that they would magically buy it for you.

I was reminded of this because this week, my husband and I went to the Royal Melbourne Show. I haven’t been since I first moved to Australia more than 20 years ago.

And there they were: the glittery dolls on sticks. There were Kewpie dolls, mermaids, fairy dolls and more. I could have one for $8 or $12.

I didn’t buy one. Instead, I took these photos, which as my husband remarked, we could send to our digital photo frame that sits in our living room:

Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013

Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013

IMG_2129

Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013

Despite all those childhood memories of candy floss (cotton candy), dolls on sticks and clowns in a row, I think the music died for me in regard to sideshow alleys the day I learned a lesson about longing for valueless trinkets.

We were living in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, and I was 11. One weekend, there was a local fair and my brother and I were allowed to walk down the road to it. We both had a couple of dollars saved up, and that would be enough for some games and some forbidden confectionery (our dad was a dentist).

At one toss-the-hoop game, I was mesmerised by a plush soft toy that I was determined to get. I was nearly there, just narrowly missing it on my last attempt. The stallholder felt sorry for me.

‘You can buy it, if you want,” he said.

“How much is it?”

“A dollar.”

I was crestfallen. I had nowhere near a dollar left. Then I thought of a great idea, and a way to get that toy.

“Would you accept a silver dollar?” I said. “I have one at home. I could go and get it.”

The stallholder should have said no. Instead, he said, “Well all right, if you want to do that.”

For those who don’t know, a silver dollar was a US coin, some versions of which were made of 40% silver and 60% copper (thus worth more than its face value). They were made by the US mint for collectors, and were not much circulated. My grandparents had visited us in LA from New Zealand recently, and we’d taken them to Las Vegas. My grandmother put a small amount of money in a slot machine and…out came tumbling 20 Eisenhower silver dollars. She gave one to me and one to my brother. It was the sort of thing you would keep forever because your grandma gave it to you.

But off home I went, into my little box of treasures, fished it out and back to the show with it, where I paid for my coveted toy.

You know, I can’t even remember today what that toy looked like. I do remember many years later, as an adult, throwing it away in disgust because I wished I’d kept the silver dollar.

I inherited the other silver dollar from my brother, Phillip, who died at a young age. But it just wasn’t to be. Years later, thieves broke into my house and stole just about everything portable, including my jewellery boxes with their sentimental bits and pieces, Phillip’s silver dollar among them.

So now I go to shows and just look. I keep my dollars in my purse—even though they’re not glamorous Ike silver dollars, but just plain old Australian copper $1 coins.

 

 

I, Robot or, “Danger, Will Robinson! (“Exterminate! EXTERMINATE!)

The Space-Robo, made in Japan by Tomy, 1969.

The Space Robo, made in Japan by Tomy, 1969, and bought for my brother.

When I was a kid, robots were all the rage. Before the digital age, before the time of personal computers, they had a kind of mystique about them.

This was encouraged by the romanticisation of robots on screen as either heroes or villains. The loyal bodyguard-type robot in the 1960s series Lost in Space, which I saw in endless repeats in the 1970s, was endearing and long-suffering, as Dr Smith referred to him variously as a “Neanderthal ninny”, a “blithering booby”,  a “nickel-plated Nincompoop”, a “tintinnabulating tin can” and many more sensational insults (you can see more of them here).

On the other hand, the robot-like daleks in Dr Who were just about the scariest things ever to me as a child. This is one of the earliest TV series I remember—and I didn’t even watch it. In fact, I refused to watch it with Dad, so horrified was I by it and everything about it—even the opening music. In the middle of the night, I sometimes awoke, imagining a dalek was coming to get me, screaming “Exterminate! EXTERMINATE!” as it came inescapably closer. Interestingly, although the daleks appeared to be robots, they were actually supposed to be cyborgs, that is a biological entity enclosed by a protective metal shell. Whatever—to me, they were robots.

Then there was the demonic H.A.L. 9000 in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey (“Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose any more. Goodbye”), which I didn’t see until the 1980s. Today in 2013, H.A.L.’s most chilling lines are featured on a phone app I have.

We imagined, in the 1970s, that by the year 2000, real robots would be attending to our every need. Robot servants would be cooking and cleaning for us, so we were free to go off to school or work in our personal flying car. Blame The Jetsons for that one!

I was reminded of “the robot age” of the mid-to-late 20th century yesterday, when I visited my mother. I happened to go into her spare room, where she stores toys from her three children’s youths. I spotted the robot pictured above, and it brought back memories of long ago. This one belonged to my late brother Phillip, and came complete with flashing lights and battery-powered action.

While researching this story, I came across The Old Robots Web Site, dedicated to the first wave of robotics. It includes an impressive array of “educational and personal robots” from the 1940s-90s, which you can see here. On this website, I discovered that the robot at my mum’s house is a Space Robo from 1969, made in Japan by Tomy, and part of the “Lighted Magic Dial” series.

We were living in England then, but Dad had been on a business trip to New York, and I think it was probably there that he bought the Space Robo, which is now, apparently, a rare collector’s item. I wish we had kept the box!