53: I like big books and I cannot lie

And small books, and middle sized books. Audio books, graphic novels, comic books. Fiction and non-fiction, picture books and wordy books. I just like books. The house is full of them: the two things I have far too many of, according to my beloved and the kids, are books and shoes.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Some shelves are more organised than others, of course: Terry Pratchett (although he has started to roam), Charles de Lint, Phil Rickman, poetry, the shelf(ves) of shame waiting to be read, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, my childhood favourites, crime novels by author, Penguin classics. Leave me alone in your living room and I’ll hit the bookshelves first and then your music collection. Leave me alone for longer than the time it takes you to make a cup of coffee (instant is fine, thanks) and I’ll start reading. A question I have heard more times than I can count is, ‘what a lot of books! Have you read them all?’ and the answer is always ‘no, and that means there’s something new to discover’. I keep books I love, and if I know I’m not likely to read them again I pass them on to friends or send them to the charity shops so someone else can discover them.

Image: openculture.com

I grew up surrounded by books and was rarely told what I could or couldn’t read, which means my taste is eclectic, to say the least. I love discovering new authors: I have devoured Tom Cox’s books – even the ones about golf – this year, having picked up one of his cat books in Oxfam. Being able to order new books in advance on Kindle and have them appear as if by magic on publication day is like having many Christmases and birthdays every year. The only problem is that often you get two or even three books appearing on the same day, and then you have to decide which to read first. That happened last week, with Ben Aaronovitch’s new Rivers of London novella What Abigail Did That Summer and Tom Cox’s Notebook arriving at once. Both were very different but equally delicious. Kindle is also wonderful in that if you really love a book and know that one of your friends will like it too you can buy them a copy as well. I subscribe to BookBub, who send me an email every day with daily 99p books that you can filter to the genres you want.

I am not precious about my books. I bend the corners down on paperbacks, and use the slipcovers as bookmarks on hardbacks. Books are meant to be read, not idolised: sometimes they are both. I have some books that have been read so many times they are quite literally falling apart. I possess a lot of bookmarks but can never find them. I love finding fellow fans of series: there are a lot of Discworld fans in museums, I have found, and then you know you have a new reading enabler who you can swap new finds with.

I disappear into books. Once I’m in the story, the kids know that if they want me to hear anything they need to get my attention first, or they have no chance. A good book, for me, is one that makes you want to go and find everything else that author has ever written and read that too, even if its about golf. Some books blaze across your imagination, burning in images that stay with you long after you’ve put the book down. Some authors excel at short stories, others at full length novels. Some do both: Stephen King is one, and Joanne Harris is another.

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

When I was a Key Stage 1 teacher I loved the moment when a child suddenly clicked with reading, and started to work their way through books for pleasure and not for phonics. Some children needed more help than others: one little boy wasn’t interested in the Oxford Reading Tree so I lent him my own book of children’s Arthurian legends because he was obsessed with King Arthur. He started reading them with his mum, and by the final story he was unstoppable and reading independently. I loved story time at the end of the day, and when I had the same class again in year 3 we read a chapter a day before home time. I read to the children nightly, in the same way that I was read to by my parents, and read many of the same books to them as I had as a child. I can’t bear to part with these childhood treasures, even now.

You can learn to do pretty much anything from books, too: over the years I have taught myself to crochet, to (sort of) knit, to sew, to quilt. When I was growing up my Dad’s household manual was the Reader’s Digest Repair Manual (I believe he still has it) and when anything broke he would refer to this bible. I was overjoyed to find a copy of the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing the other week, and then I tracked down the Guide to Needlework on Amazon. I may never need all these techniques – I can’t see myself doing bobbin lace or tatting, for example, but I’ll know exactly where to look if I decide I want to give them a try. A colleague asked me (as I carried my treasure off in triumph) how many sewing books I had. I don’t know, but I did organise them by craft a few weeks ago so at least I can find them when I need to!

I like to crochet or cross stitch and listen to audio books at the same time: that’s multitasking at its best. My book is the last thing I put down at night: sometimes I wake myself up when the book falls out of my hand. My commute is pure pleasure as long as I have a seat: a Central Line delay? No problem, there’s time for an extra chapter. If I have a rough morning at work, you can find me and my Kindle in KFC – the ultimate lunchtime cure-all.

So if you need me, I’ll be reading….

…and/or making stuff

This week I have handed over a handmade gift to a friend who’s just moved house, combining her family with her mother-in-law and taking on a renovation project. 3 adults, 2 kids and 3 hounds! I designed this one, using an alphabet from Lord Libidan and DMC Coloris thread. I’m working on two other gifts as well, which should be finished and sent off soon!

The Tunisian sock is coming on nicely, and is starting to look a bit more socky, which is reassuring! I like this stitch as it’s really easy to count the rows! The fabric has a more knitted look than normal crochet, so these will be stretchier, I hope.

This week’s cover photo is the museum fox sunning herself outside my office window – when we lifted the containers this week we discovered five cubs, which we think she’s found a new earth for. She’s so confident: the grounds are her territory, and since the building is closed she must feel very safe.

So that’s it from me for the week! Looking forward to the lake reopening tomorrow and getting back in the water and to seeing more than one friend at once as restrictions start to lift.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Cold Case/Flashpoint (Carlotta Carlyle) – Linda Barnes

London Particular (BBC Radio Drama) – Nick Perry (Audible)

What Abigail Did That Summer – Ben Aaronovitch (Audible)

Week fifty two: that was the year that was…

Week 52! A whole year since I sat down at this computer and started to keep a diary of what we all thought would be a 12 week lockdown, by which time the pesky virus would have been sent packing: my first post, introducing the gang, was on 20 March 2020.

Instead, the kids have been in school for less than a term, and we have all become proficient (ha!) at fractions and angles if not SPAG. I have had half a year on furlough,which was – quite honestly – wonderful. My work mates have seen more of my living room than I ever expected, without them even setting foot over the doorstep. My cats and kids have meeting-bombed me literally hundreds of times. I have walked miles and miles around the village and seen the seasons change in close up. We have all forgotten what people look like when they are standing up, but on the other hand I am reminded on a daily basis that even scattered all across London I am part of a brilliant team of people. My beloved has transformed the garden. I’ve swum in icy water – voluntarily! Face masks have become a fashion statement and I’m sure sales of eye make up have rocketed while lip gloss is in freefall. It’s definitely been an interesting year.

On the flip side: many of us haven’t seen family for a very long time. I missed Irish sister’s 40th birthday, my niece’s confirmation, my dad’s 80th birthday, our family holiday in Wales, long lunches and chatty dinners with my girlfriends, cocktails and culture afternoons with my best friend, live music, spontaneous trips out with the kids, days out with my sister, post-work ‘debriefs’, visiting schools and seeing visitors in the museum. Organising the school run has been a military operation – hats off to the poor headteachers who have to manage hundreds of children instead of three!

But we are safe, and the vaccine is being rolled out so maybe the end is in sight: my beloved is old (oh OK, over 50) so his vaccine notification came through this week. One sister has had hers, my parents have finally managed to book theirs in as well. We are doing rapid antigen tests twice a week as part of community testing: it’s not a lot of fun, but there we are.

I started the year with a to-do list of things I wanted to achieve – and that was even before they furloughed us in April. Here it is:

  • Purple jacket (a 1950s design that the sleeves wouldn’t work on, so I gave up in a huff and its been hanging from the curtain rail for about four years)
  • Crochet diploma
  • Say Something In Welsh course
  • Coast ripple blanket (Attic24 pattern)
  • Long waistcoat
  • Attic window quilt (that I cut out when I only had one child)
  • Mini quilt (er, ditto)
  • Seurat cross stitch – at least I only started this last year!
  • Couch to 5k (again)
  • Spring clean the shed, evicting the winter spiders…and being realistic about what I will actually use in my stash, then donating the rest

How much did I achieve?

  • The purple jacket was finished, and now I just need somewhere to wear it.
  • Crochet diploma is ongoing – I have done the first seven modules and then put it down to do some actual crocheting
  • SSIW: no, but I did finish the Duolingo Welsh course and am on a 515 day streak
  • The blanket adorns our bed and is huge and cosy
  • The long waistcoat got frogged and the yarn got turned into a bishop sleeved cardigan instead, which I love
  • The Attic Window quilt – and another one in the same design – are on Thing Two and Three’s beds, and there are several other quilts of various sizes
  • Finished! Wonky but cute. I will find somewhere to put it one day
  • Seurat cross stitch – on hold while I do lots of smaller stitches.
  • Couch to 5k. Got to week 4 (twice) and damaged my Achilles tendon both times. Still walking though
  • The shed was spring cleaned, the spiders were evicted, a lot of stash got given away….but I seem to have collected more so I’ll have to do the whole thing again this year.

I also made a lot of clothes, did a lot of smaller cross stitches and crochet projects, read an awful lot of books, did a couple of online drawing courses, and have tried to put myself out of my comfort zone sometimes. I have applied for a job share (didn’t get it), to be a school governor (runner up) and for a Arts Council grant (find out next month – third time lucky?).

I wrote a lot on this blog. Some people read it and they liked it, and then some more people read it, and some people agreed with me and shared their own experiences. There have been a couple of posts that have really struck a chord with people: this one on food poverty, this one on mental health and last week’s one on violence against women. Thank you to those who shared them and commented on them on FB and LinkedIn. It’s always good to know that I’m not shouting into the void!

I have really loved writing just for the joy of it and would like to do more, so I won’t be giving up quite yet: the process is a good way to mark the weeks, and to take a sideways look at life as a working mum, a butterfly crafter, and a human being just trying to get along in the 21st century. I just need to find a new way of titling each week: Year 2, Week 1, perhaps?

That was the week I made…

I felt last week that to finish with the usual crafty round up would be to diminish the post: it needed to stand alone as what I wanted to say was too important*. To knock the sharp edges off a stark statement with something cosy felt wrong, somehow, even though I’d done it before. I think I was just too bloody angry. I’m still angry, in fact, especially after a few conversations I have had this week.

(*That sounds remarkably pretentious, I know, but as I’ve said before – it’s my blog and I can do what I want!)

I finished the ‘Galaxy in a Bottle’ cross stitch and been working on a couple of smaller pieces as part of the year of handmade gifts – one of them I designed myself, the other is an Etsy pattern, but both are housewarming gifts that I’ll share at some point. The Tunisian sock is coming on slowly on my journeys to work: I had to frog about 6cm of the leg when I realised I should have turned it after the cuff so it folded the right way. The self-striping yarn is Paintbox Sock Yarn in the rainbow colourway.

I made a couple of ‘Votes for Women’ sashes for Irish sister’s living history interpretation company, using this very clear tutorial by Susannah French.

The nature photos this week are by Thing Two, who went for a walk with her friend yesterday in a local woodland reserve and ‘took some photos for your blog, mummy’. 64 of them…

So there we are! Normal service resumed. Let’s give ourselves a massive pat on the back and a celebratory schooner of sherry for surviving a mad year all round.

Same time, same place next week?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Heart of the World/Steel Guitar/Snapshot (Carlotta Carlyle) – Linda Barnes

What Abigail Did Last Summer – Ben Aaronovitch

Notebook – Tom Cox

The Grove of the Caesars (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week fifty one: not all men, but it is all women

The title this week was suggested by London sister. We – like women I know across the world – have been saddened, angered, outraged by the murder of Sarah Everard, a 33 year old marketing executive who was kidnapped from the streets of South London last week. Her body was found this week in woodlands in Kent, and a serving Met officer has been arrested and charged with kidnap and murder.

Sarah Everard was walking home from a friend’s house at 9pm, a journey of 2.5 miles which should have taken her 50 minutes. She talked on the phone to her boyfriend for 15 minutes of those. She was not dressed provocatively – anything but, in fact. She walked well lit streets and was kidnapped from one of those streets by a man who worked for the people whose job it is to keep those streets safe. He may have had a female accomplice.

Twitter has had its usual share of ‘but why didn’t her boyfriend walk her home?’ ‘Why was she visiting a friend anyway, because of Covid?’ ‘Why didn’t she get a cab?’ ‘Why was she walking at night?’. Someone went on the news to reassure women that you’re very unlikely to get murdered by a stranger, while at the same time telling women to stay off the streets in that area. There’s been the usual ‘but it’s not all men’ backlash from – well – men.

No, men, you are absolutely right – it’s not all men. But – as many articles, tweets, etc have said this week – how do we tell which ones aren’t the threats? Because the scariest monsters are the ones that look just like us. Because we can’t tell which ones we need to be scared of, we carry our keys in our hands. We don’t wear headphones when we walk. We wear flat shoes in case we need to run. We walk well-lit streets even though its the longer way home and we’re tired. We check behind us in shop windows. We make sure we know where everybody else is in relation to us. And that’s the way we live. To be told we don’t need to be worried about being killed by strangers is – oddly – not terribly reassuring.

I have a friend who used to use the 26 bus, who was approached by a stranger on the 100 yard walk between the bus stop and her front door. He hailed her as a friend, loudly, because he had seen someone else get off that bus when she did and start to follow her, which he explained as he got close to her. He walked her home and left her at the doorstep: one of the good ones, unlike the one who was following her from the bus through deserted Hackney streets.

London sister runs, and she has been accosted while running, and followed by men in vans. That same sister and her friends were assaulted by one of their history teachers at school, who told them that if they told anyone their big brothers and sisters would fail their GCSEs as he was marking their coursework. The female deputy head, when I convinced my sister to tell, who suggested that perhaps these 12 and 13 year olds had ‘done something to encourage him’. This was a loathsome little man who stank of cigarette smoke and felt it was OK to pin small girls in the corner of a classroom: they had done nothing to encourage him. We chose wrong that day: we thought a female would be a sympathetic ear but we were wrong. That’s when we brought the parents in.

Irish sister drives, and she has been followed home through country lanes in Northern Ireland, by men in cars who were trying to get her to pull over. She used to use a train station one stop further from home when she was in college because it meant walking back through populated streets rather than quiet ones.

My first experience of violence towards women by men was from a classmate, who had attempted to prevent me walking off when I didn’t want to be groped. He left scars on my wrists from where he dug his nails in. I was 14, plain and not terribly confident but I was damn sure that that wasn’t what I wanted. He thought it was OK to hurt me for rejecting him.

At 17 I was walking down the main street in Monmouth in broad daylight when I sidestepped to avoid a man who sidestepped with me and grabbed my breasts. I was so shaken I didn’t do anything till I got home and told my mother, who phoned the police who came and took a statement.

At 20 I was doing temp catering jobs for Adecco, and they sent us to waitress at a formal dinner at a boys’ school, for masons and their sons. We were told to wear black skirts above the knee, white blouses and heels. One ‘respectable’ gentleman casually put his hand up my skirt as I served the soup. The male catering manager – the only man on the staff that night other than the cooks – was not sympathetic.

At 25 I was followed home in broad daylight from Brick Lane tube station to Hackney Road. A loitering man whom I had clocked watching me as I left the station doubled back and started to follow me. I phoned my boyfriend of the time and he met me at a flat out run, at which point the man following me turned and legged it. That same year my flatmate and I were coming out of Bethnal Green tube after a U2 concert and a drunk ran up to her, grabbed her breasts and shouted ‘wahey!’. She tripped him up on reflex, and his head hit the ground: she was worried that she would get into trouble if he was hurt.

At 30 I was rubbed against by a man on a tube – I turned around on that occasion and loudly asked the man to introduce himself as he clearly wished to get to know me better. He got off at the next stop. At 30 I had had enough, frankly. When one of the security team at work made inappropriate remarks I complained to HR.

And none of the above includes the daily microaggressions: the ‘smile, love, it might never happen’ from random men in the streets. Shopkeepers whose hands linger too long when they are giving you change. I’ve been called a whore, a bitch, a cow, and worse, for refusing men’s attentions. I worked behind bars for years, which apparently in some men’s minds means you are as available to the punters as a pint of Fosters. The wolf whistles from building sites which turn quickly to abuse if you don’t respond. The patting of a bottom on the way past. The opening of conversations on public transport and the abuse if you make it clear that you don’t want to talk to them.

I remember Marie Wilkes, who left her two children in the car on the M50, not far from where I lived in south Wales, while she went to get help for her broken down car. I remember Stephanie Slater, who went to show someone a house and was never seen again. There are so many more whose names appear on Crimewatch as unsolved cases: women killed by these ‘unlikely’ strangers. So forgive us if we aren’t reassured.

There is a live petition at the moment to make public sexual harassment illegal. There is an open consultation and call for evidence on violence against women and girls from the government which was reopened on 6 March. Please sign, please contribute. It’s 2021 and we should not be having the same conversations about reclaiming the night and reclaiming the streets. 80% of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported: because victims don’t want to relive the experience, because they believe police won’t believe them, because they have left it too long, because, because, because. That means 80% of sexual predators are being allowed to carry on with it, and women continue to live in constant awareness.

(This is not to say that men aren’t also victims of rape, of domestic abuse and violence, because I know they are. Statistically, however, they are less likely to be the victims of constant microaggressions and to have to actively change they way they live and behave on a daily basis as a result of this).

So be an ally, if you really want to help. Call out your friends when they make comments about women, and don’t dismiss the fears of women around you. Go out of your way to make women feel safer – hang back, cross the road, whatever it takes. Watch this. Teach your sons what to do and what not to do. Teach them that the word ‘banter’ is often bullying in disguise. Teach them the what the word ‘no’ means and to respect it.

Teach your daughters the word NO and to shout it whenever they feel uncomfortable, that their bodies are their own and that no one – no one – has the right to touch them, even if they are ‘just playing’. Teach them that they don’t have to submit to being kissed by relatives if they don’t want to be. Teach them that they have power over their own bodies and that no one has the right to take that away from them.

Sarah Everard. Photo from Sky news.

Cover image by Tanith Galer. Candle in the window as part of the vigil of light for Sarah Everard, 13/3/21

Week fifty: Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus

As a Welsh transplant to the wilds of Essex, St David’s Day for me is always a day of hiraeth – I love my little bit of Essex, I love London but for me ‘home’ is Wales and always will be.

…it means a deep sense of longing, a yearning for that which has past, a sense of homesickness tinged with grief or sorrow over the lost or departed. One attempt to describe hiraeth in English says that it is “a longing to be where your spirit lives.” This description makes some sense out of the combination of words that describe this feeling. The place where your spirit feels most at home may be a physical location that you can return to at any time, or it may be more nostalgic of a home, not attached to a place, but a time from the past that you can only return to by revisiting old memories. Maybe your spirits home could even be neither of the above, one from which you are not only separated by space


There’s a deep sense of homecoming as you cross the Severn – preferably via the ‘old’ bridge, which in Wales is a measure of how bad the weather is. You know it’s windy when they close the bridge to lorries and high sided vehicles, and really windy when they close it to everyone. This sketch is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at the experience, but it’s not far from the mark! Even the Things know that the Severn Bridge means we’re ‘nearly there’, although no words can describe Thing Three’s disappointment at not being able to see ‘the Whales’ when he was about three and London sister and I took them home for a weekend.

Once you’re over the bridge, of course, you have the big decision: ‘over the top’, which takes you down via Devauden and up over the ridge between the Usk and Wye Valleys, with a final sweep down the long hill through Llansoy and into Raglan, or down through the Wye Valley itself, through Tintern and Redbrook before you hit Monmouth over the Wye Bridge. The M48/M4/A449 route never enters the discussion: why would you take the motorways when you have the Usk and Wye to guide you home?

When I was a child in Cardiff, St David’s Day meant dressing up in Welsh costume and wearing a daffodil with its stem wrapped in damp kitchen roll and tinfoil. There would be an Eisteddfod –  a Welsh festival where competitions are held in music, poetry, drama, and art – in the morning and then we’d have a half day. In Raglan we had the Eisteddfod but not the half day, which seemed a bit unfair!

Now I’m a grown up and living in Essex I have to make do with buying myself daffodils, though last year my beloved planted loads of bulbs in the garden which are just coming out. We had leeks with our dinner too.

I waited till the weekend to make Welshcakes, as they are delicious but time-consuming. My sister bought me a little bakestone for my birthday a few years back, which means I can cook them properly – any heavy based frying pan will do, but it’s just not the same. My mum always made these cakes, with a last giant one at the end made of the scraps rolled out and that one was Dad’s. They are best sprinkled with sugar hot off the griddle: my beloved has been known to butter his but he’s a bit odd sometimes. I still use my mum’s recipe, which I am going to share here so you can make your own.


  • 8oz self-raising flour (or 8z plain flour with half a teaspoon of baking powder)
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice (I use more, I like ’em spicy – yesterday I used 1/2 tsp mixed spice and 1/2 tsp cinnamon)
  • 2oz lard
  • 2oz butter (I use Stork these days for baking)
  • 3oz currants/mixed dried fruit (not glace cherries, you heathens.)
  • 3oz caster sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • small amount of milk if needed

Rub in the the fat and flour. Add the dry ingredients and mix. Add the wet ingredients and mix into a dough. Form it into a large ball and knead it a bit but not too much. Stick it in the fridge for twenty minutes.

Roll out your dough – not too thin, you’re not making biscuits here. Cut out using whatever cutters you have handy. Preheat your bakestone/griddle/heavy based frying pan and melt some butter or add some oil. Cook gently – if you cook it too fast you’ll have a burned outside and a raw middle. Like pancakes, it’s trial and error here.

Put your cooked cakes on a wire rack and sprinkle sugar on them. Don’t forget to quality test them as you go. You’ll know you’ve done it right if they don’t have time to cool down.

For a Christmassy version I use cinnamon instead of the mixed spice, fresh orange peel and dried cranberries.

This week my beloved has been looking at houses in Wales, as he’s been watching Escape to the Country again. Although he’s Essex born and bred, his mum’s first husband was Welsh, his aunt also lives in Wales, and his cousins do too. I would LOVE to move back, but in this case I am being the voice of reason and saying things like ‘yes, but what would we do for a living?’ He says I can be a freelance consultant sort of person and every time he shows me a house he lets me pick a studio…. maybe it’ll happen!

Back to my ‘real’ life

This week my blog post on reimagining the handling collection at the Museum was published: this is the first in a two-parter, and my colleague has written part two on what’s happened to all the things we aren’t keeping. I trained up this week on how to update the collections management system, which means I have no excuse not to do the technical side of the project. Luckily there’s a batch option otherwise it’s going to take me years.

I’ve also had a lot of meetings: some have been in my role as a union rep, supporting colleagues who are impacted by the restructuring process in the museum. They have all impressed me with their passion for not only their roles but also for the conservation work of the museum. Working at one of the smaller sites means I don’t often have contact with other departments, so I’m gaining a much wider view of the museum’s work and also getting to meet (if only virtually) some people who really do espouse the values the museum wants from us: collaboration, generosity, integrity. A couple of them have even made me want to cheer during the meetings, which so far I have resisted.

Still not enough to stop the kids talking to me

I finished my socks during a meeting where I had a ‘watching brief’, and I’ve been working on the Galaxy in a Bottle – So. Many. Black. Stitches. It’s looking lovely and I like that you can still see the sparkly fabric through the stitching. I don’t think I’m going to be able to frame it in a hoop, sadly, but this may the time to experiment with framing on stretcher bars.

February is finished on the temperature tree – you can see how warm most of the month has been by all the green leaves. Winter chill seems to have returned with a vengeance though, so March might look very different.

Next up this week is the Tunisian crochet socks, as I have finally found the tension. They’ll be my commute project as I get to go to the office twice this week! The kids are also going back to school in what feels like a highly-organised operation by the teachers. I think they are looking forward to it, and I know I am.

Today I am going to start making this suffragette sash for the Ireland sister. I can’t remember the last time I did any fabric painting so this should be fun!

So that’s been my week! Cross your fingers that the return to school goes well, and I’ll see you same time, same place next week.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Hardware/The Big Dig/Deep Pockets (Carlotta Carlyle) – Linda Barnes