92: squelch squerch

This week my walking buddy Jill (cover photo artist!) and I have made the most of being off for Christmas and headed out ‘early doors’ (she’s from Yorkshire) for a couple of welly walks. We love our walks: we put the world to rights, appreciate the scenery, stomp on icy puddles and squish our way through the muddy ones. Some weeks she is grouchy, other weeks it’s me. We test out ideas for work or catastrophise in the knowledge that we can go into the office the next day with our heads back on straight. It’s like therapy. There’s something about walking next to someone, not facing them, that allows stress and those wake-you-up-at-3am thoughts to spill out.

Some days we go further than others: round the roads to Tawney Common, or across to Toot Hill, or round past Dial House and the farm to see the cows, or the old golf course and flood meadows. Sometimes it’s the short 5k through the woods and back, or to the end of the village. Whatever, I always come back feeling better and ready to face the week.

It was a week of extremes: one day it was -4°c and the world was white. The sun was coming up in spectacular fashion, the puddles were frozen and we crackled our way down to the farm and home via the station. The plan was to check what time the light fantastic train was running that day so we could drag the kids up to Marconi Bridge to watch it go through, but they were only doing the Santa Special till after Christmas. We allowed ourselves to be seduced by the smell of frying bacon from the station cafe and indulged in a bacon roll and tea, listening to the brass quartet playing Christmas carols and watching overexcited kids waiting for Santa’s train to arrive.

The following day was much warmer so the puddles were squelchy once more (as you can see from the cover photo). That day’s route took us through the fields to the radio station (hence Marconi Bridge) and past North Weald Redoubt, finishing up at Jill’s house for tea and a rummage through boxes of craft stuff from a friend’s house clearing. I was very good and only came home with a few balls of yarn and some toy eyes. My plan this week was to try and destash some craft things from the shed, not bring home more – I did send some yarn up to Jill’s mum, and got rid of a whole lot of jewellery making stuff, which was a start.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed at least a few days off and will be grabbing the opportunity for a Boxing Day welly walk – we have A, H and the grandchild over today, but I’m looking forward to a few more walks this week.

All can now be revealed…

As it’s after Christmas I can share the gifts I made – the wall hanging was for our Dungeonmaster and his wife and I made them open it while I was there playing board games on Monday. The ‘Eira Owls’ were for their daughters. The little pigs in granny square blankets have been ridiculously popular and I ended up making more than 20 of them as Christmas ‘cards’* for colleagues and my swimming buddies, and then as requests for people who’d seen them on Facebook. They’ve gone off to Wales, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and London. I still have several to do after Christmas but I have to get two presents out in January and a couple for February first!**

(* I don’t send cards to anyone but immediate family, but donate to a charity every year instead – this year it was the Trussell Trust. I make little decorations that can be brought out year after year – I love seeing people’s photos of their trees with my work on!)

(** Yes, I am taking orders. They are £6 each plus postage!)

I hope you’ve all had a great Christmas with family and friends, that you’re all safe and warm and looking forward to 2022. By the time next week’s post appears we’ll be in a whole new year!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Untold Story – Genevieve Cogman

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (Audible)

A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler

The Toast of Time – Jodi Taylor

The Long and the Short of it – Jodi Taylor (Audible)

91: when love comes as a package deal

Once upon a time – November 2003 in fact, at the end of a terrible year – I met a bloke who was kind and normal and I rather liked him. We became friends, and he told me he had two daughters from a previous relationship. We carried on being friends for a bit and in February 2004 we started ‘going out’ together, as we old people would have it – well, he came round for our first date and never really went home again, and now we have three kids of our own as well as the two he started with.

When you fall in love with a bloke with kids, you’re getting a package deal with an extra baggage allowance. You live with the certain knowledge that as well as the kids you’re getting their ex in your life as well, no matter how badly that worked out. I’m not going to tell you it was easy, because for many years it was anything but: things I said and did would be twisted and turned back on me. I wasn’t a suitable person to be around the children: when A got a Facebook account set up by her friend using a fake name, I hadn’t told her mother she had one. A had messaged me and told me about it, and I’d told her dad, and that (given my prickly relationship with their mother) was the end of my responsibility. He didn’t confess to her that I’d told him – so I became the bad guy. Like I say, it wasn’t easy.

H, A and I in 2004

But I love their dad, and so I love them too: at various times one or other of them has lived with us when things have been tricky at their mum’s, or when A was on holiday from college. We practise open door parenting (as my mum and dad did): if they know they’re always welcome here when times are easy, they’ll know there’s always a welcome when they’re in trouble or in need. We patch them up, feed them up, hug them and listen because we love them. My garden has been full of teenagers (throw pizza at them and run is my advice), and that’s a joy in itself. We’ve withheld judgement on questionable boy and girlfriends. I have taken the girls to medical appointments, whether that’s mental health or midwives because sometimes everyone needs to know there’s a hand to hold or a hug waiting for you when you get out. I have frozen mini lasagnes for A when she was away from home and missed my (mediocre) cooking, I have marched H off to coffee shops so she could talk to me about why she was self-harming and how we could help her. Because step-parenting is a package deal, and loving them is an extension of loving their dad.

I am fiercely proud of them: A left uni when she got pregnant, and presented us with a gorgeous grandson who is now three. He has chronic allergies that are increasing as he gets older, so she spends a lot of time researching those and how to help him, so she can be informed when she sees consultants and health visitors and so on. He’s a bright little button. At the same time she started the Pass it On Kids UK group, which not only stops things from going to landfill but makes sure that toys, clothes and food get to people who need them. Right now she and her fellow admins are raising money for gift vouchers so families in need will have Christmas dinners and presents. H struggles with mental health issues but is determined to get past them, and I am proud of her too: for reaching out for the help she needs, and for getting up every day (notice I didn’t say morning). They are my girls, whether I hatched them myself or not. I might not have been the perfect stepmother but I have done my best.

In the news over the last few weeks there have been horrendous stories of step-parents who have not only not loved their package deals, but have tortured and brutalised them ending in their deaths. My heart breaks for those babies, who were let down by their parents and by overworked social workers with massive case loads, few resources, and not enough time to seriously investigate the accusations made by friends and family.

Not very Christmassy, but from the heart.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Canterville Ghost – Oscar Wilde

Clock Dance / Vinegar Girl – Anne Tyler

Hogfather – Terry Pratchett

90: a festive poem*

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas and here in Dukes Close

The mother was getting exceeding morose

Three weeks of Covid and labyrinthitis

Had left her with anti-holiday-itis.

Enforced isolation surrounded by kin

Has left her in need of a very large gin.

We’ve watched both the Chronicles, the Muppets and Elf

My Christmas list is solely ‘some time to myself’.

Thing 2 had been nagging to get out the tree

There’s tinsel all over the cat, floor and me.

Their daddy was outside stringing up lights

Along with the rest of the road – what a sight!

There’s Santa and snowmen and snowflake projectors

And probably some cunning reindeer deflectors.

The turkey’s too big for the freezer this year

And Asda online’s substitions are weird

I asked for some candy canes for the tree

But they sent me a single tube of Smarties.

There’s pigs in their blankets and roasties of course

Yet again I’ve forgotten the cranberry sauce.

Upstairs the presents are rapidly stacking

My heart sinks anew at the prospect of wrapping

The stockings are still in the attic, sure enough

So ‘Santa’ had better go shopping for stuff

To fill up the socks so there’s something to open –

Has anyone noticed I’m really not copin’?

(*with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

Pigs in blankets

What I’ve been reading:

Still Life/Dead Beat– Val McDermid

Laidlaw/The Papers of Tony Veitch/Strange Loyalties – William McIlvanney

The Dark Remains – Ian Rankin and William McIlvanney

89: brought to you by Benylin and Lemsip Max

Yes, dear readers, I am still grumpy and out of sorts – added to the distinctly unpleasant labyrinthitis I managed to test positive for Covid on Thursday. I’d had suspicions all week, but as the LFTs were coming up negative and my PCR was unreadable, I assumed it was the supercold that’s been rampaging through the museum team since Takeover Day. Finally an LFT came back positive on Thursday, just as I was planning to make a sortie over the road for the weekly D&D game.

I have the sore throat, changes to taste and smell, a cough and early in the week lots of aching joints and headaches. Add to those the lingering fuzzy ears and dizziness from the labyrinthitis and I’ve had a thoroughly miserable week. Thing 3’s isolation finishes today so he can go back to school tomorrow, and with any luck my beloved and Thing 1 will escape.

Being signed off sick for the week at least meant that I was able to indulge myself in a lot of making stuff, since I’m vertical again, and in binging TV: I’ve caught up with Doctor Who: Flux in readiness for tonight’s finale, and have been watching King of the Hill again. I wonder how many more classic Who villains they can fit in? I was happy to see the Weeping Angels again, and I am sneakily fond of Sontarans as they make me laugh – the whole ‘because I wanted to ride a horse’ thing in the Crimea cheered me up no end.

There was another cross stitch as well but I can’t share it yet as it’ll be a gift.


The 1st of December is, according to Thing 2, the earliest time you’re allowed to listen to Christmas music and watch Christmas films. We’ve watched The Christmas Chronicles so far, and kicked off with The Muppet Christmas Carol. Apparently Thing 1, who’s been studying the Dickens novel for GCSE, had great difficulty writing Bob Cratchit instead of Kermit in her mock exam last week, so at least I’m having an influence. I snuck in Serendipity before the deadline, but don’t tell her. Thing 3 has just informed me that we’re watching all three of the Nativity films today, so that’s that sorted.

My advent calendar this year is from Vicki Brown Designs, paid for in instalments which means a whole lot of sock yarn loveliness is appearing every day to be squished and stroked. My mum sent me a Baileys one to cheer me up as well, and hopefully by the time Christmas arrives I’ll be able to enjoy the mini bottle!

And that’s it from me – it’s been a very quiet week, unsurprisingly!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Blue Murder / Plaster Sinners / Whatever’s Been Going on at Mumblesby? – Colin Watson

Risen – Benedict Jacka