119: fifty before fifty

Today it’s my birthday and I have reached the grand old age of 49. Most of me still works, after a fashion and in the case of my knees with a considerable amount of grumbling. The hair is probably a bit greyer under the various purple and red hues I apply to it, there’s a few more laugh lines and it takes longer for the sleep crease by my nose to disappear of a morning. I spoke to someone the other week on her 49th birthday and she’d made a list of 50 things to do before 50. One of them was to do a cold water swim minus the wetsuit, and I said I’d do that one with her, but 50 things in a year is an awful lot. That’s nearly one a week!

Rest assured, dear readers, I will not be making a list of things to do before I am 50 – well, I will inevitably be making innumerable lists before I am 50 but they will be things like:

  • make vet appointments for cats
  • order repeat prescriptions
  • find your glasses
  • don’t forget your lunch
  • tidy the shed

and other such prosaic things. I do not think those things would be on a bucket-list affair. Those probably have things like hot air balloons, sky dives, skipping up Mount Everest. Things that take a lot of organising.

I would like to:

  • swim in the sea
  • swim in a river!
  • make a dent in the shelf of shame
  • walk the Essex Way but not all at once – over a few weekends with friends would be my plan
  • hike up Yr Wyddfa
  • visit the rest of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries (four down, three to go)
  • tidy the shed (it has to be done.)

That’s seven, then – so lots of room for ideas.

I have celebrated so far with a relaxed barbecue in the back garden yesterday and I have been for a swim this morning with some friends. My gift from my beloved is a new second-hand shed that we collected the other day, which needed repainting, some patching with new planks, and general TLC. It’s now in its new home in the garden, waiting for me to hoover out the cobwebs and fill it with things, which means the original shed will have enough space to work in! What was lovely when we went to collect the shed was seeing the original owner’s daughter zipping round the garden on a bike that belonged to eldest stepdaughter originally, which we’d given away in lockdown – reduce, reuse, recycle in action! Literally, in this case.

London sister gave me an excellent Tilley hat for adventuring in (to go with the adventure pants) and broached the idea of doing an ultramarathon next year…apparently one isn’t actually expected to run the thing, and I love a good walk, so why not….

Other things making me happy this week:

  • finishing the stashbusting Summer Night shawl
  • starting the Satuko shawl in a gorgeous yellow colourway
  • evening swim on Thursday
  • the museum’s 150th birthday celebrations
  • the end of Thing 1’s GCSEs
  • new haircut
  • walking through sunny fields

Things making me really f*cking angry this week:

The Supreme Court of the United States. Welcome to the old world order: backstreet abortions, maternal mortality rates shooting up, desperate actions by desperate women who for whatever reason (and those reasons are f*ck all to do with a bunch of conservative men and one traitor to her sex) can’t carry a baby to term, don’t want to have a baby, aren’t ready for a baby, whose lives will be put at risk by pregnancy, who have been raped. Women who cannot afford a baby, let alone the hospital bills for having the baby in the first place.

This is not about babies or children and the right to life: if that was the case they’d do a lot more about gun ownership. Only weeks ago the same court struck down a New York state law requiring people to prove they have ‘proper cause’ to carry a concealed weapon. This, in a country where gun violence has overtaken motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents.

This is not about babies. This is not about children.

This is about power, who holds it and who doesn’t.

It ain’t women, and it ain’t kids. Guess who’s left.

Rant over, at least on here.

Kirsty x

The Sacred Bridge – Anne Hillerman

The Broken Cage – Sarah Painter

Ingathering: The Complete People Stories – Zenna Henderson

118: what do you want to be when you grow up?

This week I was invited to be part of an event at New City College’s Epping Forest campus, which is where Thing 1 is going in September to study Theatrical, Special Effects, Hair and Media Make-up. She has a plan: she wants to do this A-level equivalent qualification and then wants to be apprenticed to a tattoo artist. It’ll use her art skills, she enjoys it and there are a number of career routes she can go down after this. University is not for everyone, and if that’s the route she wants to take then my job is to support her (I may draw the line at being a tester for mad make up though). I had no clue what I wanted to do at 16 (I was 29 by the time I worked it out) so this sort of plan is pretty impressive.

The event was a business breakfast followed by a speed-dating style mock interview session with some of the students, which I always enjoy as I’m really nosy I like interviewing people. It was also an opportunity for me to network with the curriculum managers whose courses the museum could be supporting. We discussed cultural capital, which has slipped down the priority list even further since Covid. I have already been in to the college a few times to work with the childcare students about learning through play, and a few years back I spoke to the Skills for Life group about careers.

Organised by Jill, the Industry Placements and Work Experience Manager for the New City College group, the breakfast and interviews were a great event where I got to meet an adorable wedding and bespoke evening dress designer, a local policeman, people from the local secondary schools, people from a nursery franchise who have worked with my beloved for years, an ex-policeman now specialising in safeguarding and business development, and a transformational life coach (OK, this was my friend Miriam) as well as others.

I met lots of students, too – well, 12 of them, as we each saw three students in each ‘speed’ session. We’d been given a set of questions in three sections, and the plan was that with the first student we’d ask questions from the first section (the usual ‘why this role/why you’ queries); with the second question and student we’d ask them more about themselves; and the third student would be asked questions about career and ambition. None of the students had any idea they were about to be subjected to this, and had been dragged kicking and screaming (or at least slouching and mumbling) from their learning rooms.

We had a real mix of abilities and courses: childcare and cabin crew in the first session; drama and Skills for Life in session two; and business and IT in sessions three and four. Some of the students were clear, confident and launched into the spirit of things. One of the cabin crew students made me laugh (internally of course) when I asked her what she’d do if a customer arrived who was late for check in and was being quite forceful: her immediate reaction was ‘call security’ and if – and only if – the customer apologised to her properly then she’d talk to them. Then she told me that the most important skill needed in the cabin crew role was communication and customer service. Bless. The business students all wanted to do events management, as they’d clearly just had a module on this, and the IT students just wanted to lurk in a basement and solve people’s problems remotely (why yes, The IT Crowd was actually a documentary, didn’t you know?).

Based on a true story?

My favourite group were the Skills for Life students, many of whom needed a lot of encouragement to come and talk to us. Jill brought me a particularly anxious one with a ‘come and talk to my friend Kirsty, she’s lovely’. The student, A, was so clearly uncomfortable that I set aside the questions and we just had a chat: A told me that they didn’t know what they wanted to do, but they really loved video games and drawing. Their parents had told them that this was rubbish and they’d never get a job doing that, so we talked about all the different aspects of game design (storyboarding, writing, artwork, sound design etc) that weren’t coding and I told them about Rex Crowle and his career in game design. I asked them if they’d heard about Big Creative Education who do game design courses as well as other creative skills, and then at the end of the session I introduced them to another lovely person rather than leave them floundering. I made a point of speaking to them at the end of the session, giving them the web address of BCE, and suggesting they looked at the journey planner on TfL.

I spent some time after meeting A fuming quietly about people who don’t support their kids: it’s really hard to remember at times, but our dreams are not theirs.


Another student from this group, E, was also brought over to me. Her passion was drag shows, which she travels all over the country to see, and she wanted to be a make up artist because of this. She had no idea about the theatrical and special effects make up course, so I signposted that and suggested she spoke to her tutors about it. We didn’t do any interview questions, but both A and E went away feeling reassured and having broken through a barrier about talking to unknown adults.

Miriam and I debriefed over lunch at Fresko in Debden Broadway and put the world to rights before heading home for an afternoon of meetings, an evening mercy dash bearing coffee to Harlow, and ferrying the kids to Scouts where Thing 3 managed to get covered in tie dye despite wearing an apron.

Things making me happy this week:

  • the epilogue for the last D&D campaign
  • building my character for the next campaign
  • a cool pool on very hot days
  • fresh strawberries, loganberries and raspberries from the garden
  • watching the parakeets
  • the 11 degree drop in the bedroom temperature last night! The cats were also grateful (see a melted Lulu in this week’s cover image)
  • more excellent course feedback
  • making jewellery for the school fete
  • tiny coot chicks cheeping on the lake this morning

See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

A Question of Identity/The Soul of Discretion/The Comforts of Home/The Benefit of Hindsight- Susan Hill

The Midnight Hour – Elly Griffiths

117: once upon a time

A long time ago when the world was young, a girl moved to a new city and fell, most unexpectedly, in love. Not with a person, as you might expect, but with the place. There were a few ill-judged flings along the way, but we all make mistakes.

This was not the plan. I had a perfectly good plan, which was to get a few years teaching experience under my belt in the Smoke and then move back to Wales. I had a term’s supply teaching in a school in Newham, so I’d found a flat in Forest Gate only a few streets away from where my grandparents had lived when they were first married. My parents drove me to London with all my worldly possessions, and as we headed further and further round the M25 my dad got very a bit grumpy and decided to come off a couple of junctions too early which led us down through the admittedly terrifying streets of Edmonton and Tottenham. He was not happy. It was not a civilised bit of London, compared to where London sister was living in leafy Ealing.

Eventually we made it to the right bit of London, which – being on the edge of Wanstead Flats – was at least much leafier and my flat was lovely. Each day I would hop on a bus down Green Street to the enormous school I was working in, travelling past shops full of glorious sari fabrics, vegetables I’d never even heard of before, Caribbean takeaways, Indian sweet shops, the West Ham stadium, noisy markets, multiple languages in my ears and people everywhere. It was chaotic and colourful and completely new to me.

I next lived in Plaistow, near an African church full of chattering families in bright wax print outfits; then Kersti and I moved to Whitechapel. Whitechapel was noisy and scary at times: if the wind was in the right direction we’d be woken up by the muezzin calling the local Muslims to prayer at the East London Mosque and the walk from the station in the dark was not pleasant. The kitchen tiles were held on by blu-tack, the heaters were broken downstairs and the radiators upstairs were rusting away, we had the worst letting agents in the world but the balcony looked out over a disused Jewish cemetery which was spooky and atmospheric and magical. The walk through Bethnal Green to our favourite pub took us through every sort of housing: post-war flats, streets of ‘Improved Industrial Dwellings’ built around the same time as the museum, shabbier (but gentrifying) Georgian streets, past a listed Brutalist block which was being turned into luxury flats that none of the previous council tenants could ever have afforded, an early tower block, past workers’ dwellings and Peabody Buildings. I wrote a tour of the area a couple of years back, taking in a circle around the museum and exploring the phases of social building and philanthropy over the past century or so.

I worked in Wapping, surrounded by evidence of the past in the shape of warehouse buildings, Execution Dock, historic pubs, cobbled streets and peeks through tall buildings to the river. Three years working in Chelsea at the National Army Museum showed me another part of London which was much shinier and elegant, but I never fell in love with it the way I had with the East End.

Holding forth on the Limehouse Cut

By the time I moved across to work at the Museum of London Docklands in 2005, there was no hope. I immersed myself in the history of the East End (and got paid for it!). My specialist subject was migration and diversity, even writing a unit for the London Curriculum on the subject. The move to my current role means I don’t have a much of an excuse for social history any more, so this week I jumped at the chance to deliver a training session for our local teaching alliance on local history and using museums. Over an hour and a half we took in London’s oldest stretch of canal, a lost river, a school which was bombed the the First World War, London’s original Chinatown, a Hawksmoor church, a couple of old pubs, wharves, the beginnings of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the East India Company, Ian McKellen’s pub and Canary Wharf before a visit to the museum. Luckily the sun stayed out for us, and it was great to see the trainees again – they’d all just got their PGCE results, and many were looking forward to starting their first teaching jobs in September. ITT has always been one of my favourite bits of working in museums, as they’re my visitors of the future. I’m looking forward to next year already!

Making me happy this week:

  • working at the Digital Accountancy Show at the Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium for We are FTW. This year I got to be the voice of god and make all the announcements. I will also never run out of socks again.
  • The usual Sunday swim with J followed by the apres-swim hot choc and a bacon roll
  • Getting excellent feedback on the first part of my current course
  • Lunch with M, R and E with added babies
  • Saturday dog walks followed by coffee and enormous croissants
DAS 2022. Birds-eye view from the 4th floor, home to the NFL suite. Really I was scoping out the free notebooks.

This week I’m back in ‘proper’ work mode as we count down to the museum’s 150th birthday in a fortnight. I can tell you the history of it if you want!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Villager – Tom Cox

Attack and Decay – Andrew Cartmel

The Vows of Silence – Susan Hill

116: I’ve got one nerve left, and these are the things getting on it.

Hope you’ve all survived the Jubilee weekend without too many hangovers, overexposure to bunting and wavy people on balconies etc. I’m sure her Maj is a lovely lady and so on, but the novelty of jubilees wore off for me sometime in 2012 – the golden one – and it seems overkill now to be up to four. Leave the poor woman alone – let her stop in with series 4 of Stranger Things or a few episodes of Midsomer Murders on catch-up, maybe order in an Indian and have a nice quiet weekend with the corgis. I also feel strongly that the conspicuous expenditure on entertainment, people marching about, flyovers by the Red Arrows and suchlike is nothing short of crass at a time when food banks are being asked for items that can be eaten cold as people can’t afford to cook them, when inflation is predicted to go over 10% and when people on average incomes are terrified of the next hike in fuel prices that we know is coming. But hey, she does a lot for tourism or something, which apparently justifies this sort of thing. And I did like having an extra day off, so thanks for that at least.

Something else that has annoyed me this week is the outpouring of hate for Amber Heard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of hers and other than Aquaman I couldn’t name a single film she’s been in. Some of Johnny Depp’s films – Benny and Joon, for example – will always remain on my all-time favourites list. However, this whole fiasco should never have been live-streamed, should never have become a media circus, should never have been allowed to become entertainment in the most public of ways. There’s no way the jury could have avoided all media, no matter what they were told to do by the judge, and the Depp PR machine has steamrollered across Twitter and the rest, casting Heard as a figure of ridicule and hate. Well-timed public appearances this week by Depp, extremely public support from Paul McCartney and so on: Heard never stood a chance at coming out of this anything but badly. Neither of them were perfect, and what people seem to be ignoring is that he has been cleared of the charges of defamation and ‘won’ in that respect, but was not cleared of domestic violence. People also seem to forget that both of them are actors – and he is vastly more experienced than her- and that both are more than capable of playing the parts they want the public to see. It’s their job, after all.

But the thing that most annoyed me – I know, I know, all this rage can’t be good for me – was the absolute fiasco my friend E and I experienced trying to get to the Emirates stadium on Friday night to see the Killers. She uses a wheelchair, and public transport in London is not terribly accessible in many cases – especially in the case of the older lines and stations. So, wisely, she had pre-booked parking at the stadium. Arsenal’s disability liaison person had put her on the list, she had confirmation in email form, the postcode of where she needed to get to and a street address. When she had followed up with a phone call as no parking permit had arrived, she was told that she was definitely on the list but was advised to be there early as the roads would be closed. Doors for the event were at 6.30.

Bearing this in mind, we left Debden just after 3.30, which – for a 40-50 minute drive – should have left us with enough time to park, have a catch up, get something to eat and be in our seats with plenty of time.

We arrived within sight of the stadium at 4.30, and explained to the chap manning the road barriers that we had disabled parking booked at the stadium. He told us that the access was via Drayton Park, and how to get there, so off we went. The chap manning the access at Drayton Park – to whom we explained once again that we had disabled parking booked, and that his colleague had told us to come here – gave us a set of directions involved road closures, bags over signs, turned off cameras and so on, which would definitely get us to the stadium parking. So off we went.

Half an hour later, having seen pretty much every residential street in a half mile radius (including a one-way street we should not have gone down) we had established that there was no access to the stadium thanks to bollards, strategically placed planters, brick walls and so on. We went back to the Drayton Park man, compounded the traffic offences by pulling a U-turn across a box junction, and when we told him there was no access to the stadium following his instructions, he gave us another set of similar ones, assuring us once more that it was correct.

Readers, he lied.

Half an hour later, having seen all the same streets again, asked advice from some residents and a local park warden, seriously considered abandoning the car and walking, we decided to go back to the original man and demand assistance. It was either that or kidnap Mr Drayton Park man and insist he piloted us to the stadium.

Original man, to whom I was speaking very calmly and politely and definitely not shoving an email in his face while E and several other drivers added helpful details, got on the phone to Drayton Park man, gave him the licence plate number, said we had an email and told him we were coming back round and to let us through. So we went round and he let us through. E queried (tactfully, honestly) why he couldn’t have just let us through in the first place and he gave us some utter rubbish about it being to do with ‘the capacity of the car’. Five minutes later we were in the queue to access the underground parking, and discovering that all the other people with disabled parking booked had been given the same run-around. Ninety wasted minutes, when all he had needed to do was move a bollard.

A few weeks ago I heard a talk by the wonderful Miss Jacqui who spoke eloquently about the Social Model of Disability, which expresses that the problem of accessibility does not lie with the disabled person but with the way society is run and organised, and provides a way of explaining how society goes about disabling people with impairments. It was eye-opening then, and watching it in action on Friday – with the addition of incredibly unhelpful people manning actual physical barriers – was appalling.

However, once we got into the stadium the staff could not have been more helpful and a brilliant show by the Killers and Sam Fender in support more than made up for the hassle. Brandon Flowers looked ridiculously hot in his rather 70s, disco-style suit, the sound was great and confetti cannons and fireworks are always a hit. E would have preferred to have the Manic Street Preachers in support but you can’t have everything!

Mmm. Brandon. So smiley.

Things making me happy this week:

  • gorgeous swims surrounded by wildlife this week: coots and chicks, grebes, parakeets, heron, cormorants, and actually seeing a cuckoo for the first time
  • helping a colleague at an early years stay and play event
  • same-day delivery from Asda
  • the new Phil Rickman novel, set around Whitchurch and the Doward in placed I know
  • dinner out for a friend’s birthday
  • being proud of my eldest stepdaughter for bringing her local community together
  • blocking the shawl I made

See you next week!


What I’ve been reading:

The Pure in Heart/The Risk of Darkness – Susan Hill

The Fever of the World – Phil Rickman

The Man Who Died Twice – Richard Osman