Books Magazine

Small Worlds

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
My first recollection of anything miniature was a farm I was given for Christmas in 1967. I still have it. Everything that ‘lives’ on this farm is really small and the fact I haven’t lost a rabbit and one of the chickens is remarkable. A fence railing along with a roof from the well have gone missing, but not bad considering child’s play and a million moves of house including one over the pond. I remember spending endless hours making up farmyard stories; the moos, the clucks, the neighs and conversations between the farmer couple, masters of their universe and mine.

Small Worlds

Katy and farm, Christmas 1967

I have no idea where my parents got this farm, but it is unusual in that the architecture is not typically American. No red barn here and I certainly would not have called it a freehold when I was growing up in the heart of the Midwest, rich in its black soil, cornfields and cows. When I did move to England, I discovered a new familiarity in the unfamiliar. A new reality making connections from my little farm buildings to what many call, Tudor Style Architecture with its half-timbered framing.Moving countries not only enlightened me on building design, it also gave me the gift of British humor i.e. Father Ted, one of the most popular British sitcoms ever. It was and still is genius. One of its episodes, Hell, includes one of the programme’s most iconic scenes (*2) whereby sitting in a caravan near a window, Ted gives Dougal a lesson on perspective with two tiny cow figures uncannily resembling the one on my farm. Ted holds them up and says, “Okay, one last time, these are small, but the ones out there are far away.” Ted attempted to give the child-like Dougal a new way of seeing, as miniature things have the power to do.Yes indeed, miniatures spark the imagination transporting adventurers into different worlds; making connections between the small and the life-size. However, unlike big versions, small worlds can largely be constructed and controlled, a definite appeal (particularly at this moment in time) and why perhaps so many of us love them so. Interestingly, according to JR Thorpe (*1) it is between the ages of four to six that children begin attaching voices and concepts to small objects and people, putting me at just the right age to receive a miniature farmyard decades ago, and to write one of my first documented poems.

Small Worlds

'If I Were Small', The Tower, c. 1969-70

Thorpe’s blog also talks about dollhouses. This got me to thinking about Racketty-Packetty House, a book by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924) who is best known for Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Secret Garden.

Small Worlds

Rackety-Packety House, Frances Hodgson Burnett

As it happens, Burnett had also traversed over pond, although in opposite directions, having been born in Manchester then emigrating to America when she was three. She grew up with an English mother, I grew up with this book and a mother who loved this story. This was my mother’s favorite from her childhood with its snippets of Englishness and fairy tales; Tidyshire Castle, Lords and Ladies, mentions of Queen Victoria and Buckingham Palace. The big appeal of course is that it was about a tatty dollhouse and a perfect doll castle with little people leading big lives. It was about ageing, questioning the concept of beauty and tales of love. Here’s an excerpt of a little ditty from Peter Piper to Lady Patsy:
From Racketty-Packetty House I come,
It stands dear lady in a slum…
The house itself is a perfect sight,
And everybody’s dressed a
perfect fright,
But no one cares a single jot
And each one giggles over his lot,
(And as for me, I’m in love with you).
I can’t make up another verse,
And if I did it would be worse…
I still reread this story from time to time and continue to be drawn to the miniature. I incorporate figures into my 3-D art and live with small representations throughout my home. This includes dinosaurs within jungles on my window sill, recent additions to a cow who lives there too. Anything can happen in my world and yours.

Small Worlds

Bessie In Jurassic Park, shot on location: Lytham St Annes windowsill

And so, considering jungles and farms, the small and mighty, here’s my attempt at writing about miniatures in 2021.
It’s A Jungle Out There
Two dinosaurs met a cow
in a plant pot, wonder how?
Master planner in the wood
put them there because she could.
There they lived in harmony
till one of them got hungry
and down come hand from Heaven
plucking Bessie off to Devon
another plant pot a world away.
She’s still chewin’ cud today.

Miniature Farm
Boldly leaping to the other side
I fly across the white-washed fence
landing in another world where I
can disappear, it makes more sense.

It’s small, but big enough for me.
No other place I’d rather be.
The animals invite me in
around the table we begin
to speak in tongues all understand
without broadband because we can.
Then Orwell pops into my head
no escaping, fear to dread
hierarchy is created
words now need to be translated
and anyone who can’t conform
those outside, outside the norm
are marched back to the barn and then
I scrap the story - start again.

Boldly leaping to the other side
I fly across the white-washed fence
landing in another world where I
can disappear, it makes more sense.
Thank you for reading.
Kate :)
*1Thorpe, JR, 27 February 2018, accessed 27 February 2021. (Yes, this was accessed two years to the date after it was written – How weird is that.)
*2 Linehan G and Mathews A. 1996. Father Ted Excerpt Series 2 Episode 1 Channel 4, Small and Far Away, accessed 28 February 2021
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