I can see the whole world. Floating in the south pacific ocean are a tiger, a camel, a bell, an anxious looking ghost (are they soluble in salt water?) and, I’ve just realised rather appropriately, a seal, an octopus and two lobsters. The seal is made of wool, like the tiger and the camel, which explains why he is not smiling. There is also a pair of Dutch kissing children. Up close they are not so cute, having hollow eyes and magnets in their mouths.
This little crowd of objects are on a shelf in front of a huge national geographic map. It gives me something to stare at when I’m bored with the sky, and reminds me how tiny I am. Even tinier than the finger puppets, Mexican toys and cracker prizes on the shelf. I tried to get rid of them when I painted my room over the weekend, but I couldn’t. Small things inspire me.
Children are said to be fascinated by the miniature, with various theories put forward as to why. They live for a while in an over-sized world, so do other small things appeal because they too are dealing with proportions not meant for them?
Personally I don’t think small things enthral small people because they relate to them. There is something alien and a bit scary about seeing the world from the point of view of a being a few inches high. That in itself is compelling. It brings the possibility of seeing the world another way – with us as the giants, even children – and from that, the question of which of these views is the ‘right’ way. Hopefully the next step in this reasoning will be to realise that perhaps there isn’t a ‘right’ way, and ping! We can get our heads around the idea that what is normal for one person may be very different from what is normal for another.
I didn’t grow out of my obsession with the miniature, but then it was instilled in me quite thoroughly, partly by my parents – other grown-ups with a love of small and hidden worlds.
My father had kept a box from his childhood, resembling a treasure chest but about six inches long, which he called his Borrower box. Inside were a tiny pocketknife, an inch long but with a blade you could pull out just like his man-size Swiss army knives, a mouth organ with real reed chambers that a Borrower could have played, and other diminutive wonders. I coveted these objects but I didn’t assume they were meant for me, or other children. I could see how precious they were even to an adult.
I find myself doing the same, now I’m a grown-up of sorts. All these tiny things – inch-high zapatista dolls, a rubber duck the size of a sugar cube, a baby doll the size of a button – are not being saved in case I meet a small person who wants them. They let me dive into a world I love that feeds my imagination, and hold onto different ways of seeing that still excite me.