70: I promise you, you’ll love it

Sometimes you get handed a book, or a recommendation for a book, that a friend or family member has loved and you read it….and it’s okay. It’s not life changing, and you probably wouldn’t say it’s great, but it’s readable. There have been many books like that- and that’s fine, because there’s a lot of different authors and tastes in the world and as Terry Pratchett says many times it would be a funny old world if we were all alike.

Sometimes the book is so terrible you question why you’re so fond of that person.

Sometimes you recommend a book that you have absolutely loved to people you like and they think it’s….okay. Not life changing, not great but…okay. I find it’s best not to take these things personally as clearly those people are wrong, or just need to read it again properly, or aren’t in their right minds.

Sometimes a book has rave reviews, and/or a massive marketing budget, and shoots up the bestseller lists, and films are made of them starring people who you may or may not have heard of, and that’s fine too. Sometimes these are good books and terrible films, sometimes these are terrible books and okay films. Sometimes they are terrible books and you can’t bring yourself to watch the film.

Sometimes – just sometimes – you get given a book and it’s wonderful: it keeps you awake long after your bedtime and stays with you so you can’t wait to pick it back up in the morning. This can be for many reasons: the adventure, the need to know what happens next, the lyricalness of the writing, My recent read ‘Once upon a River’ by Diane Setterfield was one of these books. Others include:

  • Boy’s Life – Robert McCammon
  • Hearts in Atlantis and The Body – Stephen King
  • The Once and Future King – T.H. White
  • The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Stardust – Neil Gaiman
  • The Travelling Cat Chronicles – Hiro Arikawa
  • Ring the Hill – Tom Cox
  • The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Nieffenegger

This week I have added another one to the list – a birthday gift from my colleagues but I detect the hand of my wild swimming colleague in this one. Wild Woman Swimming by Lynne Roper, which is a journal kept over five years of wild swimming in West Country waters. It’s a poignant read: Roper took up wild swimming after a double mastectomy and built a community of swimmers around her, as well as becoming a key member of the Outdoor Swimming Society. Sadly she died five years later of a brain tumour, but she filled those five years with adventure and wrote about them in exquisite, immersive prose. I’ll be recommending this one to friends, but I might not lend them my copy….

There may be many more of these magical books on my shelves of shame, or lurking on my Kindle, and I really ought to get round to reading them. I always swear I won’t buy any more books until I have finished the ones I have (I know, I laugh too) and then the BookBub daily email comes in, or I find something wonderful in a charity shop, or someone recommends a book they have loved and suddenly there’s a new addition. Perhaps I need to make a reading resolution that every other book I read is one from the shelf…. that sounds more realistic, at least!

In the meantime, if I promise not to buy them, will you tell me which are your favourite books to recommend to people?

Trial and error, error, error

You would think that if you have sewed a neckband onto something the wrong way up that it would be a straightforward job to unpick it and put it on the correct way. This was not the case with the blouse hack of the McCalls 8104 dress, which I had to unpick three times before I worked out which way was the right way, and which bits I’d sewed together wrong in the first place. I also managed to sew the bodice and lower bodice pieces together upside down when I started it on Monday, so I am amazed I got it finished at all.

The lovely turquoise cotton fabric is from Higgs and Higgs, and I bought it with my birthday Amazon vouchers – I love the statement sleeves and the slightly fitted waist on it, and the fact that there isn’t a standing collar. I’m not sure what it is with sewing patterns, but every collar I have made is just too seventies – indie or big four, it’s a bit of an issue. I shall just have to learn how to redraft them.

In the name of sorting out my shed I have gone through the hundreds of sewing patterns (mainly free magazine gifts) with a view to handing them over to a friend who has just qualified as a DT teacher – if she doesn’t want them herself she can donate them to school! My August resolution is to have a good tidy up in the shed and donate anything I really won’t use to people who will make good use of them. Things 1 and 2 have just had their ears pierced, so Thing 2 has been making earrings and jewellery with one of her friends which is making a dent in the stash already!

I haven’t done a lot else, really – my sourdough starter has been in heavy use this week as Thing 3 has decided he really likes the bread, and with the discard I have made pizza (always a hit) and cinnamon rolls which were soft and delicious. I’ll definitely be making those again!

So that’s my week! I’ll be off now to do a bit of reading over lunch and then start constructing the jeans I cut out last week….

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Wild Woman Swimming – Lynne Roper

Raising Steam/The Truth – Terry Pratchett

How to Sew Sustainably – Wendy Ward

The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook – Susan Briscoe

Visible Mending – Arounna Khounnoraj

Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee (Audible)

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (Audible)

69: yes, but can you play on it?

This week I have mostly been in my house, having been ‘pinged’ by a (double vaccinated) friend I saw last weekend: I did leave the house on Friday as Thing 3 had to go back to school but by that point I’d done four lateral flow tests and a PCR and all of them came back negative. I find it quite unbelievable that so-called ‘Freedom Day’ is going ahead tomorrow, when cases are shooting up again and school bubbles are bursting on a daily basis. Herd immunity by vaccination isn’t working as you can clearly still catch the virus. Herd immunity like some kind of national chicken pox party seems to me a rather irresponsible idea. Passing responsibility from the government to the people to keep themselves safe seems pretty idiotic also, especially when some of these people being given that responsibility require bloody great posters on public transport explaining how to wear a mask properly.

 © TfL

One of the pluses of being at home has been the opportunity to attend – if only virtually – courses, conferences and seminars that would otherwise be out of reach: those in Australia and America, for example, but also those closer to home but at a tricky time e.g ones that happen while the Things are claiming they are about to actually die of starvation, Mum, die! Like this weeks Crafts magazine event on “Space for play: how can makers bring joy back to our cities?” (Disclaimer: I was given a free ticket for this, as a bonus of attending the CPD I wrote about last week). Thank you to Thing Two, who with assistance from Thing One made delicious gnocchi for the family dinner that night.

Featuring architects, artists and playworkers, this was a really interesting discussion around public art as play space and why it’s a good idea to commission these rather than anchoring a lot of off-the-shelf play equipment in a fenced-off square. Penny Smith of Assemble Play pointed out that playgrounds like these were invaluable when we needed to build a workforce of people with physical strength and co-ordination – but are less useful now, in the 21st century, when employers value creativity, collaboration and problem-solving skills over more traditional needs. Risa Puno, an American interactive installation/sculpture artist, spoke about the need to build spaces that connect people to each other. Hadrian Garrard of Create London, an organisation that commissions public art and architecture, explained why they brought in artists to build these spaces. Artists research a space, work with the local community to find out what they think a space needs, and explore materiality. Higham Hill Theatre, by vPPR, is great for this: a community amphitheatre which joins up the cafe and the play area. This was commissioned as part of Waltham Forest’s ‘Making Places’ scheme.

vPPR selected the site because it was a forgotten parcel of the park, used for anti-social behaviour. By re-activating the site, and creating links to the park amenities, the place is transformed into a site of creativity and play.

vPPR

As Risa Puno says, you never know how people will interact with a space or an installation, so you need to make something that people can explore on their own terms. The Diana Memorial Fountain, never envisaged as a play space, is a prime example of this: once it became clear that people were going to use it as a paddling play area, it had to be made safe to do so. Why not build in play from the start?

In the panel discussion at the end, the speakers were asked where they most enjoyed playing as children: outdoors was usually the answer. Several of the speakers had grown up in rural areas, and talked about fields and woods, which reminded me of my own play spaces.

When we moved to Raglan, I was just seven and only a few houses in our road had been finished: there was a building site opposite the house with no fencing (imagine!) and a meadow next door but one, and for a child whose outdoor boundaries had previously been a couple of lamp posts, this was magical. Piles of brick dust and sand (brick dust does not come out of socks), bulldozers, foundations and scaffolding: this was an adventure playground when the builders had left for the weekend. In the meadow, there was a cave of trees and a stream with very shallow banks and we played for hours in this space. There were tiny fish in the stream and water snails to be caught, archaeological discoveries to be made, wildlife like slow worms and grass snakes in the long grass, and all within metres of the front door. That’s not to mention the castle at the top of the hill and the fields around it, all of which were within ten minutes of home. There was a play park at the other end of the village, which was fun, but once you’ve been on the swings and that mad Wicksteed rocking horse, what else was there to do? So we exercised our imaginations and explored the world, and made discoveries and generally entertained ourselves.

I’m glad we are bringing up the Horde in a space where there are trees to climb and woods to explore, though they don’t have the freedom that I did as a child which is sad but a sign of the times. Walks – when we can convince them to leave the house! – can take hours, and that’s fine by me.

The sun has got his hat on

Summer is putting in one of its brief appearances at the moment, so I have had a couple of happy post-work hours in the garden during isolation. As well as the gnocchi, Thing Two is turning out an excellent G&T with fresh raspberries and strawberries, which was a perfect Friday afternoon treat.

A perfect post-work moment

I had a day off on Friday and spent it cutting out a pair of Morgan jeans, an Anna dress and a blouse hack from this month’s Love Sewing magazine free pattern. Yesterday morning I put the Anna dress together: it was supposed to be the maxi length but where I’d extended the arms on the bodice I didn’t have quite enough fabric so ended up with the midi. The fabric is from last summer – Pound a Metre, I think – and is a light polycotton. I made my first Anna dress last year and it’s become my go-to throw on this summer, so a new version was definitely in order. I managed to jam my overlocker in the process, so I think it’s going to need a trip to to the sewing machine doctor if I can’t work out what the problem is myself!

The Morgan jeans are also a remake of one from last summer, as they have become a wardrobe staple – boyfriend cut and cropped, they are so comfortable. I bought some black lightweight denim from Amazon with my birthday vouchers, so will hopefully get to those tomorrow at some point.

I’ve been crocheting with cotton this week – it’s too hot for anything else! One of my lovely birthday gifts from my colleagues was a gorgeous hand painted flower pot from DOMIcafe on Etsy – not having the greenest of fingers, as my hydrangeas would testify if I hadn’t killed them all, I decided I’d make a crochet cactus to go in it instead. I used Scheepjes Catona from the stash, and this pattern for a round barrel cactus by Zoe Bartley on Ravelry. It only took a couple of hours, and I love it.

I also whipped up a crochet jammie dodger, because why not? The top one is with a 3mm hook, the bottom is with 2.5mm and I think I prefer that one.

So that’s been my week: I’ll be released back into the wild on Wednesday, just in time for the summer holidays!

See you next week for week 70!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Night Watch, Thud!, Snuff, Raising Steam – Terry Pratchett

Listening: The Socially Distant Sports Bar. (Not to be listened to on public transport as you will become that person sniggering in a corner, in front of children, or in earshot of the easily shocked)

68: Rage against….pretty much everything

Hot flushes, night sweats, the need to carry tweezers with you at all times, difficulty sleeping, problems with memory and concentration….just some of the symptoms of perimenopause that people tell you about. Apparently there are 34, but I’m trying not to treat this as some kind of hormonal bingo – I mean, what the hell do you shout when you’ve ticked them all off? And do you even get a prize?

One of the symptoms they don’t tell you about is the rage. The all-consuming, completely random rage. We are not talking a ladylike ‘tsk tsk’ here, this is fury incandescent enough to power whole countries.This week, for example, some of the things I have been furious at include:

  • people who stop in the middle of the pavement
  • old ladies walking up steps
  • sellotape
  • cat litter bags that don’t open properly
  • Oyster card readers
  • bra underwires
  • people who wake me up in the middle of the night
  • cinnamon jelly beans.

And that’s the little things. That doesn’t even cover the big stuff, like 40,000 screaming people at Wembley not wearing masks (had they all been double vaccinated? Were they all tested before entering the ground? Did they have to show their vaccine passports?) Or pretty much everything the bloviating buffoons in charge of the country say, particularly on the subjects of education or post-Covid recovery. Aggressive England fans shouting that football is coming home as if some silverware is going to solve England’s problems. (I will be supporting Gareth Southgate tonight, for those of you in any doubt: I think he’s a really nice bloke, who is down to earth, honest, well-dressed, intelligent, and if the team win people might just shut up about a penalty he missed 25 years ago, the poor sod. I couldn’t care less about England winning, but I would like Southgate to win.)

They call it ‘the change’, which sounds quite gentle, but this isn’t like WonderWoman spinning around and reappearing in sparkly pants. This is more like American Werewolf in London at full moon, complete with snarling and a really bad hair day. There are definitely moments when I’d be happy to bite people, and there are definitely moments when people need to realise that these bared teeth are not a smile and that backing away slowly is their best hope.

Back in the saddle

This week my colleagues and I have been back in a school, launching our Summer of Play programme in a Bethnal Green primary school. We saw nine classes over three days, and had enormous fun – I was only there for two days, as on day three I got as far as Whitechapel and then had to turn round and come back as Thing 3’s class had to go into self-isolation.

We had two activities running simultaneously: Fran, our creative facilitator, was working on barefoot coding and I was working on design challenges using the Imagination Playground kit above. With Key Stage One we were doing timed challenges and with Key Stage Two we were designing ways to cross a river: you can see me above in a boat built by a Year Six class. What we needed that day was probably an ark, as we were delivering sessions in between rain storms!

There were some surprises across the days: Year One worked brilliantly as a team, building together and sharing really well. Years Five and Six worked well when the teams were split boys against girls, but not so well when they were mixed. Some children worked really democratically, others not so much. Some teachers pitched in and got involved, others found it hard to let go and had to be gently persuaded to let us get on with it…but it was so good to be back doing what we do best, which is engaging with learners and talking to people.

The next lot of schools isn’t till September, but over the summer we’ll be out and about at festivals and play schemes with the kit, and I can’t wait.

Crafty!

On Friday I attended the launch event for Craft School – Yinka’s Challenge which is a nationwide challenge from the Crafts Council to get children and teachers engaged with craft thinking and making along three themes: play, storytelling and empowerment. I love these Crafts Council CPD sessions, as they are often designed as make-alongs. I had a free ticket, but people who paid £10 got sent a ‘material play pack’ including clay, so they could join in. The brilliant Rebecca Goozee, education manager, is very keen on embodied learning and plans sessions with great makers so you can learn along with them. I always find it easier to focus if my hands are busy, as regular readers will know, so these sessions are great for me. I fixed my pile of escaping bra wires and did some cross stitch as the sessions went on.

The final session, with a ceramicist, took the form of an informal conversation between the maker and Rebecca while they made pinch pots, rather than a tutorial (as the first two sessions had been) and it was wonderful – just listening to them talk about how working with the clay made them feel, and about their own experiences in the world of making, was incredibly soothing. If I was the Crafts Council I’d be thinking seriously about a podcast series in this format!

There was also a conversation between Yinka Ilori and his secondary school art teacher and mentor, who was clearly one of those teachers who stay with you for a lifetime. A lot of conversations that day – as the majority of the attendees were craft, art and design teachers – hinged on those teachers who supported us to become what we wanted to be and who gave us the space and the confidence to discover our passions and talents. And on those teachers who didn’t….

The three themes of the challenge sit well alongside my own museum’s new mission, so I hope we’ll be able to work with the Crafts Council in a more formal way moving forwards!

I can’t share the cross stitch I was working on, as it’s a gift, but here’s the Temperature Tree update for June and early July. As you can see, June wasn’t terribly warm either – a low of 13 and one day when we hit 27 ( a pale yellow at the very top). July’s not shaping up too well either.

So that was week 68 – we’re more than halfway through 2021 according to the tree, and coasting towards the end of term in ten days or so. Same time next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Guards Guards, Men At Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant – Terry Pratchett (these are the first five of the City Watch series: you can see a reading order here)