I confess to being a little bit down as I write this, as – had it not been for some pandemic or other – I should be tapping away on my tablet, sitting in the garden of a farmhouse in sunny Pembrokeshire surrounded by my family, some of whom I haven’t seen for two years. Yesterday my mum and dad would have arrived from France, my far-away sister and brother-in-law and their children from Northern Ireland, my London sister from the other side of of the M25, and my beloved and I and the children from Essex. We’d be planning a day on the beach at Newport or Newgale, or a mooch around St David’s or Fishguard, making a stack of sandwiches and coffee and counting the windbreaks. At some point in the week we would have seen the extended Wales family of cousins and hopefully my beloved’s Welsh family as well. Instead, here I am in rainy Essex, suffering from mosquito bites after a bike ride on Friday (how do they bite through leggings? How?) and waiting for the kids to emerge from the tent demanding Sunday pancakes. I bear a strong resemblance to Tove Jansson’s Little My in temperament today.
Friday marked the end of the school year for Things 2 and 3, and for Thing 2 also her final year of primary school as she will join Thing 1 at secondary in September. The school organised a socially distanced leavers’ assembly on Friday morning, so they didn’t miss out on all the usual events: yearbooks, a chance to sign each other’s T-shirts (not while they were wearing them for a change!) and to see their friends. Thing 2 is not going to our local large secondary, and she won’t be in the same school as most of her little gang so it was quite a sad moment for her. I think the teachers have definitely earned their summer holiday this year (as they do every year, of course) but this year some won’t have had a break since February half term, and their heads are probably spinning with all the things they have had to adapt to – remote teaching and pastoral care, social bubbles, and much more. I have said this before but I really hope that people start recognising the amazing work teachers do not just this year but every year – and trust them to do what’s best for our kids rather than scapegoating them.
Thing 1 had a birthday last week – she was 14 – and despite a few wobbly moments of anxiety leading up to it I think she had fun. Two of her friends came over and they had a cake picnic in the park, frightening the local youngsters with their mad hair, and taking a lot of selfies. She had her undercut dyed pink on Friday – one of the good things about lockdown is that it’s allowed her to ‘experiment with her aesthetic’ (as she tells me) without the restrictions of school uniform requirements. It’s done wonders for her confidence, and I am loving the baby Goth look she’s developed – I have serious envy of her birthday-money shoes! My hands are still tinged with hot pink from the dye-fest – I did her older sister’s hair too, and forgot the gloves.
I was abandoned on Thursday by my walking buddy, who had a bad back. I went out solo and enjoyed the sunshine on a four mile ramble through the lanes and fields on one of my favourite routes past Dial House and North Weald Redoubt. The hedgerows and verges are now showing the fruits of the flowers from earlier in the season, and they’re alive with insects still – ladybirds and crickets, and so many butterflies (none of whom would stay still long enough to photograph).
There’s also a new set of wildflowers popping up – the bank of willowherb on the farm track is a luscious wall of pink, and the purple of thistles and vetch is lovely.
Back to the title – what’s that all about?
The Case of the Disappearing Nine Patch..
I’m a reader. A big reader. A REALLY big reader. One of the first things I did when I started uni both in Preston and in Aberystwyth and when I moved on to London and Essex later was to find and join the local library. I can sniff out a second hand bookshop or charity shop at a hundred paces. When I visit you, if you leave me alone in your living room I’ll be snooping your bookshelves. I am that person on your Zoom meeting who’s peering past you at the bookshelves. The joy of finding a fellow series fan is unbounded – meeting a fellow Pratchett fan in the wild, noticing a Rivers of London reader on the Tube, those who know the significance of the number 42. (The museum world is a good place to find these people, by the way). We be of one blood, you and I.
But the first series I really got into – I mean, really got into – was Nancy Drew way back in the early 80s. I read them all from the library, snapped them up on market stalls, bought them when they went on the discarded stock shelf. Classic Nancy – not the later series. One of my best sewing buddies was introduced to me first as ‘Ah, Alli likes Nancy Drew too – you two will get on really well’. (We do) I wondered what happened to them all when I left home and then a couple of years ago a younger cousin messaged me and asked if I wanted them back. Why yes, I said, the kids might like them.
Who was I kidding? *I* wanted them back. I wanted to read them all again. I wanted to immerse myself in the adventures of the titian-haired detective, her tomboyish friend George and Bess, the girly one. Cool coupes! Lawyer dad Carson! Ned Nickerson, the handsome boyfriend! Honestly, that girl could not go anywhere without falling over a clue, a secret, a mystery of some kind, which she would solve with her loyal girlfriends and her brilliant deductive skills. I never trip over mysteries – except the old ‘where did all the money go this month’ one that we all encounter once we hit adulthood.
So just as soon as I finish my current series, I am opening up that box of delights and taking a trip back to my childhood.
That sort of childhood passion doesn’t really go away, of course, and I still have a sneaky fondness for ‘girl detectives’ though they (and I) are much older now. I’m currently working my way through the wonderful V I Warshawski novels by Sara Paretsky. I first encountered VI at uni, where I was reading American Studies and Indemnity Only was one of the texts on a unit called ‘Images of the City in the American Mind’. VI is a tougher, more streetwise version of Nancy, who fights for the underdog against corporate America. The joy of Kindle is that I don’t have to wait for the library to reopen, of course, to catch up on the later ones.
VI opened up a world of grown up ‘girl’ detective novels – I won’t go into them all in detail but here’s some of my favourites:
- Kinsey Millhone by Sue Grafton. I am heartbroken that the author died before ‘Z’ was published.
- Stephanie Plum by Janet Evanovich. Brilliant cast of comic characters.
- Ruth Galloway novels by Elly Griffiths (and an honourable mention for her Stephens and Mephisto books too)
- Carlotta Carlyle by Linda Barnes. Tough Boston PI who drives a cab on the side.
- Rev. Merrily Watkins by Phil Rickman. Set in Herefordshire, so makes visits home a bit spooky at times.
- Kate Shugak novels by Dana Stabenow. Alaska! Moose! Bears!
Mentions also for Dr Temperance Brennan, Bubbles Yablonsky, Trixie Belden, Jimm Juree and Precious Ramotswe.
I don’t limit myself to girl detectives, of course, but my heart will always hold a sneaky place for these feisty, clever, quick-thinking females.
Their male counterparts will have to wait for another day, but will probably include Harry Bosch, Marcus Didius Falco, Brother Cadfael, Dave Robicheaux, John Rebus, Dr Siri Paiboun, Bryant and May, DI Thomas Lynley, and Richard Jury. Perhaps detectives and their sidekicks are a whole other topic…
If they come with a side-order of the supernatural, so much the better! I’d better come back to that one as well.
Where did that nine patch disappear to?
It hasn’t disappeared at all, really – it’s the name of the quilt block I ended up using this week. Its not one from the book I mentioned last week, or any of my quilt pattern books, but one that popped up on my daily digest from Bloglovin’.
I’d spent a couple of days trying to decide what to do with the blue charm packs I’d bought, and had pretty much decided to go with basic squares again. I discarded the brighter blue solids and some of the prints, as they didn’t quite fit, so I was left with teal, candy blue, buttermilk and buttercup for solids. I still wasn’t entirely happy with the basic layout so I didn’t start to stitch them together – and I’m glad I didn’t! So I grabbed some of the leftovers from the row layout and did a test block, then abandoned the rows entirely in favour of these nine-patches.
Since each row had been sorted for colour already, I started to build the nine-patches from the rows, making sure I had one of each solid colour in the block with five different print patches. I ended up with 20 blocks, which I trimmed to 12″ squares before stitching them together to make the final quilt top. Some of the patches had directional prints which limited which way up they could go (in my head, anyway).
I really like the way this has come together. It needs a border as it’s not quite wide enough, but I think I have enough neutral solids left to make one, and it’ll need to be backed and quilted before it’s finished. I’ll be backing it with a large curtain I picked up in a charity shop ages ago, so I won’t need to piece a backing.
This week I am going to finish the commission dolls, try open water swimming with friends, try some more drawing, and try not to feel too out of sorts about not being in Wales. At least school is over…
See you at end of week eighteen.
What I’ve been reading
V I Warshawski series (only 1 more to go!) – Sara Paretsky
Last Act in Palmyra – Falco series by Lindsey Davis
Learn to Draw: Buildings – David Cook