62: Or, what I did on my holidays

This time last week I was in Criccieth, North Wales with London sister (LS): we were peering out of the window at the torrential rain and howling gale and wondering what to do with our day. Luckily, having spent most of our childhood holidays in Wales, we are waterproof and hardy.

We drove up on Friday, via Abergavenny and mid-Wales: through convoy road works, diversions for road closures (including the old Severn Bridge) and finally up through the Dolgellau pass where the car in front of us burned out their clutch, the clouds were down on the road and there were free range sheep on the roadsides. We were staying at the Lion Hotel in Criccieth, where LS explained she was learning Welsh. She asked if it was OK if she practised on them and they promised to help. The hotel is family-run and so friendly, with hot showers, big breakfasts and comfortable beds. We ate in the restaurant on our first evening: whitebait and a freshly baked steak and ale pie for me, and spring rolls and gammon for her. The gammon steak was HUGE, from a local butcher, and came with egg and pineapple – none of this ‘or’ malarkey! They even had a gin menu, featuring local gins – I tried the Rhubarb and Ginger gin.

We went for a walk before dinner, as the rain had stopped and we needed to stretch our legs after the trek up from London: straight to the beach, where we watched a surfer and I got water in my wellies attempting to cross the stream. I squelched for the rest of the walk, causing LS to snigger a lot.

LS had planned our weekend itinerary, and Saturday saw us heading for Aberdaron to pick up the Wales coastal path on a route that would take us to the most westerly part of North Wales….after breakfast, of course, where we discovered that no one knows the word for ‘hash browns’ in Welsh. Google has it as ‘brown hash’ but LS decided ‘tatws wedi hashio’ was better. Not sure we convinced the waitress though!

The sun was out, and we got to Aberdaron in time to buy freshly-baked pasties from Becws Islyn for a picnic lunch on our walk. After a few false starts (getting on the wrong bit of beach, for example) we picked up the coast path and, using the trusty Ordnance Survey book, we headed up. And up. And down. And up. There are steep steps cut into the cliffs and in some cases the path takes you right down to the beach and back up again – Porth Meudwy, where the boat for Bardsey Island leaves from, is a prime example here. It’s a narrow cove with a slipway and not a lot else. The weather by this point was glorious: breezy and fine, and we even had to remove a layer of fleece.

Mynydd Mawr was our destination point: there’s a coastguard station on the very top and the remains of a wartime radar station. The walk instructions at this point were ‘keep walking upwards’: straight to the point there! After a quick peek at the coastguard station we found a spot on the cliff to eat our still-warm pasties and, as we were facing westwards, we could see Ireland in the distance as the weather was so clear. We waved at Ireland sister but we’re not sure she saw us! We moved round the mountain to drink our coffee, eat Snickers bars (the perfect walking snack) and admire Eryri (Snowdonia) in the distance.

The route back took us through some farmland – we were diverted from part of it due to landslips and erosion, and then we rejoined the coastal path back at Porth Meudwy – sadly at the bottom of the steps, so we still had to climb up again! We admired bluebells, foxgloves, late primroses and lots of gorse, and learned about the National Trust’s activity to replace the gorse with heather to create heathland. The final stretch was a scramble across the rocks at Aberdaron as we couldn’t face the final set of down and up steps: the tide was coming in but we raced the waves and rewarded ourselves with an ice cream on the beach. After nine miles of mostly hills we had earned it!

Back in Criccieth, I decided to go for a swim. LS sat on the beach with her book and a G&T. The sea was calm and the beach shelves very quickly, so you don’t need to go out very far to submerge. The hotel landlady thought I was quite mad, and now we get to say ‘o mam bach!’ instead of OMG…

We had fish and chips on the beach for dinner – quite the best I have had for a very long time – accompanied by prosecco and hovering gulls. We didn’t share.

Sunday’s weather was the complete opposite of the previous day, so we headed to Caernarfon for the family zoom call to wish Ireland sister a happy birthday, and then to Newborough Forest and Traeth Llanddwyn on Anglesey for a walk. The Forest is a red squirrel sanctuary, but we didn’t see any: I suspect they were tucked up in their drays hiding from the weather! We did see a woodpecker, two ravens and a lot of sand dunes, and made the sensible decision not to go to the island to see the chapel as we’d have been blown away. We drove back via Llyn Padarn and Llanberis, being awed by the waterfalls in full spate and the number of idiot drivers, and then in the evening we ate at Dylan’s in Criccieth: a beautiful Art Deco building designed by Clough Williams Ellis in the 1930s. No mussels were available so more whitebait, crab arancini and then crab salads.

On Monday’s homeward journey we called in to see our cousin Myfanwy and her husband in Fairbourne, where sheep roamed the streets and the bakery makes excellent brownies. It was lovely to see them – last time I met them it was in Kings Cross so the scenery was very different!

I think the kids were pleased to see me when I got back, it’s hard to tell…


The excitement continued on Wednesday as it was the monthly sunset and full moon swim at Redricks – this month was the flower moon, so there were some mad hats on display. The lake looks so pretty lit up by torches in drybags and glowtubes.

On Thursday I had my last day on site at the museum, as we had to be out on Friday for the building work to start. It looks so empty! We recycled and donated as much as we possibly could: scrap metal and wood, charity shops, the Scrap Project, schools, other museums, churches and charities. It’s going to be an adventure for the next few years to say the least!

Baby cow, do-do-do-do-doooo

A finish this week has been this cow and calf, which is probably one of the weirder things I have made – it was a commission from a friend as a gift for her sister in law, who loves all things cow.

I also frogged half my latest sock (Mulled Wine by Vicki Brown Designs) as I decided I didn’t like the solid colour I was using. I took it back to the toe and redid the foot with a self-striping yarn from West Yorkshire Spinners – Winwick Mum in the Wildflower colourway.

The year of handmade gifts

I had a brainwave a few weeks ago and made a chart of all my work colleagues’ birthdays so I can plan a bit better! I am now ahead of myself, having finished the next one and kitted up two more – one for work and one for a friend who is getting married soon.

I have also picked up the Hobbit Hole pattern again, which has been on hold while I’ve been making gifts – I was stitching in the garden yesterday, and while watching films last night.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…

So that’s been my week! A lot of heavy lifting, glorious walks, time with my sister, cross stitch and crochet. And it’s a bank holiday weekend too – hurray!

See you for week 63, which won’t be nearly as exciting as this week I am mostly doing spreadsheets.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure – Joanne Harris (Audible)

Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly

Pel is Puzzled/Pel and the Staghound – Mark Hebden

61: curiouser and curiouser

This week I was lucky enough to attend a press view of the new V&A exhibition Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser, their latest offer for families. After the last family exhibition I saw at the South Kensington site (Winnie the Pooh) I wasn’t sure what to expect from Alice: Winnie was a very ‘V&A’ exhibition with a thin veneer of Instagrammable experiences but very little else in terms of engaging activity for children. I liked it as an adult but would probably not have taken my children in and expected them to be entertained for long.

I had two children with me and another adult, all from our local school in Bethnal Green: we had been asked by our comms team to find some children to write a review for an online children’s newspaper. I was interested in their reaction to the exhibition as well as wanting to see it myself!

I need not have worried: from the moment we headed through the entrance in the Sainsbury Gallery they (and I) were entranced. Both children were familiar with the books, and were fascinated by the objects and illustrations as well as the immersive nature of the experience. The use of sound to draw people closer to particular objects is really well judged throughout: trains, voices, quotes from the stories. The white rabbit wayfinding motif was beautifully done.

I was also very impressed with the low-tech nature of many of the interactives: much as kids love a screen, they also enjoy the opportunity for physical engagement. Particular favourites for them were the hall of mirrors and the tiny house to explore. There were high-tech moments, of course, and the children were fascinated by both the waterfall of Alice’s tears and the Mad Hatter’s tea party, as well as the virtual reality installation.

There’s enough in the exhibition to engage adults as well: I got hopelessly overexcited at the skeleton of the Dodo at the start of the exhibition and the lovely Tenniel illustrations, as well as by finding out more about the author and the ‘real’ Alice. Film is used throughout, both the familiar Disney version and more obscure anime and surreal interpretations.

The latter half of the exhibition shows how much impact the Alice stories have had on artists and designers: Viktor and Rolf’s fashion, for example, or Heston Blumenthal’s reimagined Tea Party. I was most amused by the inclusion of an ‘educational’ video called Curious Alice from 1971: accompanied by the brilliant White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane, it was supposed to warn children about the dangers of drugs but was quickly withdrawn as the psychedelic imagery was intriguing children with mesmerising visuals.

The high point for the children was the virtual reality installation, which they raved about to their friends back at school, and the opportunity to meet exhibition curator Kate Bailey at the end. She spoke to them about the enduring power of the story and the universal appeal of Alice, which comes across strongly in the exhibition.

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser opened on 22 May 2021. Do book in advance!

The wonders of technology

As I mentioned last week, I am actually in North Wales this weekend so have rather cleverly set this post to publish automatically (I hope) thanks to the wonders of modern technology. As it appears on its usual channels I will hopefully be out on a walk somewhere in Snowdonia!

I have managed to finish the Vappu socks, and have also handed over the latest in the year of handmade gifts to its recipient. I hope he likes it! The pattern can be found here. The lovely bags were painted by Thing 2, who wanted a tote to put her school clothes in on PE days.

Next up is finishing the Hobbit Hole, a crochet cow which is currently legless and another gift or 3.

That’s it from me – I had better go and pack as sadly that can’t be set to automatic….

See you for week 62, or ‘what I did on my holidays’.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Lollipop Shoes/Peaches for Monsieur le Cure – Joanne Harris (Audible)

Pel Under Pressure – Mark Hebden

Attention all Shipping – Charlie Connelly

60: are you suggesting that coconuts migrate?

This week has drifted by in a fuzz of nothing much: the weather has been grey and rainy, and it’s one of those weeks where I feel I have achieved very little. I know I have, of course: we finished packing up the learning office and the handling collection at work with a week to spare before the deadline, sorted the boxes into deep storage, accessible storage and ‘wanted on voyage’ piles; I had some very useful meetings and spent a lot of time staring at spreadsheets. The cutting adrift of the team from the museum for the next couple of years is imminent: there is no dedicated office space for us elsewhere, so I expect I am just feeling a bit lost!

So as the weather was being temperamental again yesterday I decided I’d cheer myself up with a day of watching a favourite film or two. I ended up watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is endlessly quotable and entirely silly, and the compilation of sketches And Now for Something Completely Different. I love Monty Python: its absurdism, and the sideways look at Britain and the British in a way that Little Britain took a bit too far at times. Sketches like the Dead Parrot or the Four Yorkshiremen are instantly recognisable, even to non-fans, as they have entered the public domain, and without groups like Python the alternative comedians of the ’80s probably wouldn’t have existed. Not the Nine O’Clock News, for example, or Naked Video and Absolutely.

Bedivere:  Well, now, uh, Launcelot, Galahad, and I wait until nightfall, and then leap out of the rabbit, taking the French by surprise — not only by surprise, but totally unarmed!
Arthur:  Who leaps out?
Bedivere:  Uh, Launcelot, Galahad, and I.  Uh, leap out of the rabbit, uh and uh….

I was first introduced to Monty Python at uni in the early 90s, along with many other geeky things like graphic novels, and role playing games (we did Middle Earth). One of the things I really loved about uni was that it was suddenly OK to be a geek and to love SF and fantasy, superheroes and quotable films, in a way that it wasn’t at a small town secondary school where the slightest hint of difference made you odd. Uni was full of people who didn’t think it odd that locating the local library was top of the to-do list (alongside the local student pub, of course).

What you see when you look up: a tiny garden growing in a police lamp

Museums are also full of people who happily sit in the nerd camp: the Pratchett fans, the D&D players, the people who start phone calls with “‘ello? I’d like to make a complaint!’ or ‘Do you want to come upstairs?’ and brighten your day by making you laugh. At the start of a meeting this week my line manager informed me that she’d woken up with a pain in the diodes all down her left side: well, it was Thursday, and it’s hard to get the hang of Thursdays. I work with Lego fans, with people who think it’s perfectly normal to sit on the top deck of a bus in London to look at buildings, Potterheads, D&D players, Discworld fans, Whovians, gamers, and more. This is why I love my job: it’s a joy to go to work when you have found your tribe.

In stitches

I came home from work on Wednesday unable to think about anything except chocolate cake, for some reason. Luckily I have an excellent recipe that belonged to my Aunty Jan, where you throw everything in a bowl, beat it for two minutes and then bung it in the oven and the result is a brilliant cake that even I can’t get wrong. With a dollop of Mallow & Marsh raspberry marshmallow spread in the middle and a cocoa glace icing, we had cake for pudding after dinner and I was able to get on with my life.

As you can see, I finished the Hairspray cross stitch and handed it over to the birthday girl this week – she loved it. I don’t often get to hand things over in person these days, so it was lovely to see the unboxing. Sock one of the Vappu use-up-the-ball socks is complete, and I have also begun this Cow with Calf crochet pattern.

I’ve also finished the next gift in the year of handmade gifts, which will be heading off this week, so I have achieved more than I think I have over the last seven days! This week I am having a sneak preview of the new V&A exhibition with some children from my favourite Bethnal Green primary school: I went into school to visit them on Friday and it was so good to see them again after more than a year!

And then next weekend London sister and I are going on an adventure, which I am REALLY looking forward to. I don’t even care if it rains (though sunshine would obviously be nice!).

So, that was week 60. Nothing much happened, but there we are. See you for week 61, when I will be coming to you from North Wales.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Inspector Pel and the Faceless Corpse – Mark Hebden

Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly

The Lollipop Shoes -Joanne Harris (Audible)

59: culture and cocktails

Yesterday my best friend and I made our long-delayed visit to Highgate Cemetery, for no reason other than that we rather like a good graveyard. We’d planned to visit it last year but what with one lockdown and another we’d had to put it off. Pre-pandemic, the only way to visit the West (older) cemetery was on a guided tour, but they have been trialling self-guided visits, advance booked in timed slots. This was one of our culture and cocktail days, when we would usually go and see an exhibition or a museum and then have a very indulgent lunch: previous excursions have included The Lost Words at the Foundling Museum, Frida Kahlo at the V&A, and the Mail Rail and Postal Museum. We weren’t able to book anywhere for lunch so the plan was to get and M&S picnic with ready mixed cocktails and go and eat in Waterlow Park between visiting the West and East cemeteries.

Typically, yesterday was the first day of torrential rain in months: it’s been so dry and sunny, if not always warm! Luckily, we met at uni in Preston so we are quite used to rain, so we dug out the waterproofs and sensible shoes (how times change!) and met up at Kings Cross – track failure on the Central Line and the complete breakdown of all new LNER trains notwithstanding. After grabbing our picnic we hopped on the Northern Line and headed for Archway tube. We changed carriages once as there was a very strange man eyeing up handbags – we have never been out anywhere over the years without there being at least one weirdo involved, and at least this one didn’t tell me his life story. On our Mail Rail day a man accosted me at Kings Cross and told me all about his unfair dismissal from Royal Mail, as he was off to Parliament to protest about it. Bless him, I don’t think he’d realised there was an anti-Brexit march going on at the same time…my friend was crying with laughter from a distance as I am a magnet for weirdos.

We started with Highgate West, following the main route to start with and then wandering down the smaller paths as they appeared – there was a really helpful volunteer as we arrived, who kept popping up with useful information across the day. The sites are run by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, so everyone is full of interesting knowledge – I do love a volunteer!

We were enchanted by the way the grounds have been left to grow wild, and spotted little Great Tits and a beautiful jay as we walked around. It does mean a lot of the space is inaccessible as many of the monuments and graves are unsafe, but even the main paths give you a good view and they are very well maintained. There’s a red route on the map which gives you the highlights like the Circle of Lebanon, the Egyptian Avenue and the main tombs, but you can also follow the smaller marked paths.

We were surprised to find the grave of Alexander Litvinenko in the old side, who was interred in a lead lined coffin – we hadn’t really registered that people were still being buried in this side, although there is very little space. The graves range from the very simple to the very elaborate, with a heavy emphasis on obelisk and angels (which we kept a careful eye on, and definitely didn’t blink). Our favourite on this side was George Wombwell’s, with a sculpture of a very friendly lion. He was a menagerist, with three travelling animal shows.

We found a shelter in Waterlow Park for our picnic – although it had stopped raining by then the ground was a bit too damp to sit on. I can highly recommend M&S’s Blackberry Gin Bramble, though I’m told their Cosmopolitan tasted like parma violets, and is not recommended. We offset the cocktails with the Crayfish and Mango salad.

Lunchtime company

Post lunch, we visited the East cemetery, where I made a pilgrimage to Douglas Adam’s very unassuming grave. No towels in evidence, but a whole flowerpot of biros. We loved the descriptions of people on their graves: scientists, poets, doctors, philosophers. Our very helpful volunteer popped up and pointed out the death mask of Bruce Reynolds, one of the great train robbers, and we found Malcom McLaren’s death mask later. We also found George Eliot, Jeremy Beadle, Karl Marx (hard to miss), Sheila Gish, Ann Jewson Crisp (who had a faithful dog, Emperor), Claudia Jones, and a whole lot of people called Martha.

The day was rounded off with a hot chocolate in a little cafe in Highgate Village – we earned it by walking up the rest of Highgate Hill! A cyclist passed us on the way up, huffing and puffing, and we were in serious awe of his stamina as that is one very steep hill. He also passed us on the way back down towards Highgate Station, freewheeling but still puffing. Highgate Village is an odd place that doesn’t feel like London – apart from the property prices.

On the way home I got to pull the emergency handle on the Central Line for the first time ever, as a man who had clearly had a few too many that afternoon was in a bad way and collapsed. We left him in the safe hands of the man at Debden Station and I hope he got home OK!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

I finished the second sock and they are large enough to allow for a bit of shrinkage – my laundry skills, like my cooking, can be a bit erratic at times. I love the way that the colourway on the sock yarn has reversed itself for the second sock, and there was enough left over (I hope) for a pair of Vappu socks.

You can also see that I have finished the D20 cross stitch and handed it over as a housewarming gift for a colleague, filled in April (range of 6-16 degrees for the month) on the Temperature Tree and just have the final ‘T’ to go on the Hairspray cross stitch pattern which is destined for a birthday gift. The final image is the Suffragette sash I made a few weeks ago, now in NI and in context!

This week has felt quite productive, all in all! And right now I had better go and whip up a flask of hot chocolate and get my swimming bag packed.

Same time next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Juniper Wiles – Charles de Lint

Museum of Desire – Jonathan Kellerman

Serpentine – Jonathan Kellerman

Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book – Brian Froud and Terry Jones

Death Set To Music (Inspector Pel) – Mark Hebden

The Lollipop Shoes – Joanne Harris (Audible)

58: head, shoulders, knees and toes

I came home from work on Wednesday and as the evening progressed, my foot began to hurt. I mean, it really hurt. So much so that I couldn’t put any weight on it – some of the time. And then sometimes it was fine. I hadn’t done anything to it that I knew of – no mis-steps, or ankle turns, or falling off or into anything. It just hurt. Scientific exploration (oh ok, poking at it till I discovered where it hurt most) revealed an area just between the top of my foot and the ankle bone where it was tender but not swollen but didn’t tell me why. I’d been on my feet all day – except when I’d been crawling on the floor cutting up plastazote for boxing the handling collection. I’d been wearing Converse (of course) rather than anything impractical – I wouldn’t walk a marathon in them but they’re pretty practical the rest of the time.

So, knowing I had an ankle support somewhere I went on a hunt for it. The ankle support dates from when I twisted my ankle at an Aerosmith gig. Don’t ask. Anyway.

Twenty five years ago I possessed a wrist support. That was it. I worked, mostly. This week, in the course of the hunt for the ankle bandage I discovered I now have:

  • the ankle support (phew)
  • multiple random lengths of tubigrip bandage for ankles and wrists (I assume)
  • two elbow supports
  • no less than eight knee supports ranging from pressure straps through to neoprene ones with carefully placed kneecap holes. Eight!
  • a selection of KT tape in interesting colours and patterns.

How does this even happen? I have never had a major injury other than a broken arm at the age of four. I am mostly kind to my body: I take it on walks, I feed it nice food, I submerge it in a lake a couple of times a week. There could probably be a lot less of it (it’s on the to-do list) but on the whole it’s pretty healthy so why do I possess enough stretchy bandaging to go to a party as a patchwork sports mummy? The pairing of the words ‘Kirsty’ and ‘sports injury’ would cause Miss Brooker and Miss Jones from the Comp PE department to collapse in hysteria, but here I am at 47 with enough joint supports to cause a physiotherapist to weep.

And let’s not even start on my back, neck and shoulders or the three pairs of glasses for very small, far away and middle distance. It turns out that people, unlike wine, do not improve with age.

Ice cream in the park

It’s been a pretty rough week, all in all, quite apart from the mystery ankle injury. On Monday we discovered that our little museum team was being restructured yet again (that’s three times in two years, for context). If it goes ahead, we stand to lose the person who has been the absolute heart of the team for the past two years: making sure we stayed connected through furlough and lockdown, establishing the birthday habit we now have, fighting for us and the project at high levels. When she joined the museum after the first, bruising restructure she made sure she met every single person for a one to one to find out our hopes and ambition for the new museum and for our roles within it: from the cleaning, catering and security teams to the heads of teams and those people from the other sites with responsibility for the project. When we were restructured again the following year she worked to find alternative roles within the museum for as many of those affected as she could. The grief and anger within the team has been palpable this week, though she was at pains to reassure us that we would be OK. We are a tight team who work cross-departmentally, who are generous with time and knowledge and who share a passion for the project we’re working on. We are also tired and demoralised, and fed up with being restructured. There’s only so many times you can rebuild something before the component parts become unstable: hence the saying ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

I really felt I’d earned the sunset/full moon swim on Monday night, and pottered round the lake getting my head back on the right way round. The atmosphere was lovely, with candles and a fire pit, and the moon rising behind the trees as we were getting changed. This week’s cover photo is by me, as I finally managed to sort out my waterproof phone case!

By Friday we had earned a picnic in Victoria Park watching the puppy obedience class followed by an ice cream from ‘The Conefather’. Just getting off site as a team and being able to rant and let off steam was a relief – we are still mainly working remotely, so very much ships passing in the night (or the corridor), and online chats just aren’t the same.

This friendly bee came to join our picnic

There has been much therapeutic crafting going on: a gift I still can’t share but will be able to next week after it’s gone to its new home, the ongoing lacy socks and another cross stitch underway.

This week is a three day week for me, as it’s Bank Holiday and I’ve booked Friday off as a mental health day (and the dentist) as well. I’m off swimming shortly so I’d better go and get myself sorted!

Enjoy the long weekend!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Library of the Dead – T.L. Huchu

The Stranger Times – C.K McDonnell

Juniper Wiles – Charles de Lint

Chocolat – Joanne Harris (Audible)