Today I am going to take the dolls in a new direction. I’ve been working on a doll house for some time now and it has taken shape in unexpected ways. The house consists of a kitchen, front room, master bedroom, nursery and bathroom on one side, and a walled garden, yoga studio, pub, and medical centre on the other. Building the pub reminded me of the British soap opera, the East Enders, centring on a pub, so I decided that my dolls should enact a soap opera as well, called “The West Enders,” particularly since the house is located on the western edge of the city in which I live. The pub is called the King George III, for the last king of both England and America, the two countries in which I have lived.
For this first episode, I am going to introduce some of the cast of characters.
First up is the Panenka-Puppe family. Kevin Puppe was born in Germany but migrated to the UK while we were still part of the EU. (At the moment we still are, but have voted stupidly to leave.) Kevin is the part-owner and manager of the pub. His wife, Steffi Panenka is sitting in front of him holding their youngest child, Mitzi Panenka-Puppe. The Panenka family emigrated to the UK from the Czech Republic, now known as Czechia, many years ago when Steffi and her sisters were quite young. Steffi has five sisters, only two of whom feature in our story at the moment. To her right is her youngest sister, Skipper. Her daughter Evi stands in front of Skipper. Their oldest daughter, Gretchen, is at a friends’ house. On the far right is Dr Bonnie Panenka, palaeontologist and university lecturer, holding Uwe, Steffi and Kevin’s only son. The other three sisters are Ivana, Claire, and Katie Panenka, but I’m not sure if we’ll be seeing much of them soon.
Steffi and Kevin have had a difficult marriage. Before they began having children, they were both very active in sport but when the first two children arrived in short order, Steffi had to spend most of her time looking after them. Kevin lost his job, became very depressed, and when Steffi told him she was pregnant with their fourth child, he left her. He simply vanished, leaving Steffi in a terrible way. Because she had three small children and another on the way at that point, she decided to earn her living as a registered child minder. Kevin blamed Steffi’s sisters for the collapse of the marriage, claiming that they interfered constantly and encouraged Steffi to criticise him. The sisters don’t believe a word of that. They think that the responsibility of fatherhood was simply too much for Kevin. In the end, he came back after Mitzi was born, saying that he wanted a reconciliation because he missed his children. Steffi noted that he didn’t say he missed her, but she took him back anyway.
Kevin struggled to figure out how to make a living for months after his reconciliation with Steffi. Previously he had worked as a football (soccer for the Americans) coach for a school district. To his extreme annoyance, Bonnie Panenka, a keen footballer, has recently taken on coaching some of the children in the doll house as a volunteer. At last Barbie Roberts, a wealthy businesswoman, offered to be the silent partner in a pub, along with her fiancé, Ken Armstrong. Business in the King George III is now booming and Kevin is happy.
Poor Steffi, however, is not very happy. Kevin works long hours and is rarely home. Their marriage seems to lack any warmth, although both she and Kevin have tried to rekindle the excitement of their early years together. Steffi is lonely and without her sister Bonnie, feels as if she would not have any one else with whom she has any rapport.
Christmas is approaching and the Panenka sisters have organised a party for the children for whom Steffi cares. Layla Olivier (age 2), on the far right, is the only child who spends the day with Steffi; the rest only come after school until their parents come to get them after work. To the left of Layla is Lottie Lamb-Cuthbertson (age 8, attending Year 4), then Evi (age 3), and then Lottie’s little sister Alexandra (age 6, attending Year 2). To the left of Alexandra is Viviane Ekpo-Holmes (age 4, attending Reception). Behind Alexandra is Rikka-chan Kayama, nicknamed Rikki, a student from Japan who boards with the Panenka-Puppes and has become Skipper’s best friend. Rikki is 12 and Skipper is 11; both are in the first year of High School, Year Seven.
We’ll leave the West Enders for now and return soon for Episode 2, in which I’ll introduce more of the characters.