124: God bless the cactuses

It’s not often that the death of someone I don’t know moves me to tears. The last time it happened it was losing Terry Pratchett in 2015, in fact. The passing of Bernard Cribbins this week was another of those moments. He’s just always been around, hasn’t he. From my childhood with The Wombles and Jackanory (more than 100 stories told there!); Albert Perks in The Railway Children; my kids’ childhood with Old Jack’s Boat; my adulthood with Doctor Who; the refrain of Right Said Fred ringing in my head after many, many meetings going over and over the same subject.

His role as Wilfred Mott in Doctor Who was beautifully done: for me, when Catherine Tate joined the cast, it was too close to her comedy show for me to take her seriously (so shouty!) and Bernard’s presence made her bearable. I have come round to her now after several rewatches, but his performance never gets outshone. Ten’s final episodes (‘The End of Time Parts I and II’) are heartbreaking: John Simm, who played The Master for Tennant’s Doctor, said this week that the hardest thing he had to do was be mean to Bernard Cribbins. He seemed like a genuinely lovely man, who has left a great body of work behind him.

Talking of interminable meetings…

By Thursday this week I had sat through more meetings than you could shake a stick at, and while the content was interesting in many cases my brain was a bit fried and I was overcome with the urge to make something. So at the end of the day the laptop went away, the sewing machines came out, and I spent a couple of hours using a duvet cover and an old favourite pattern to make a new dress.

There are benefits to using a familiar pattern (in this case the Simple Sew Kimono Dress): you don’t have to cut it out, you’re not focusing on any new techniques so your mind is free to think about other things, and in this case it was a quick make. Four seams and a hem, basically, and my dress was done: the pattern is a wrap dress, which has been a wardrobe staple in this recent heat, and then I used some scraps to create the waist ties. I added a pattern-matched patch pocket, and voila! A new frock which I teamed with wedge sandals for work. I love the rather sheepish looking jaguar in the pattern!

I carried on the sewing yesterday: a cross-body bag for the rare occasions I am pocketless, and a Rad Patterns Lucky Lingerie bra that I’d cut out a while ago. The bag was from The Book of Bags by Cheryl Owen, which I won in a magazine draw ages ago (I think) and that did need new techniques: inset zip and inserting a lining. Tricky but I like the end result. I also threaded my overlocker for today’s sewing, and loaded bobbins with black thread, so I am prepped for more creative adventures today!

Making me happy this week:

  1. the Africa Fashion exhibition at the V&A and seeing some of my favourite young people from Spotlight
  2. Working on the Travel by Tardis cross stitch from Country Magic Stitch
  3. Seeing J’s face when I handed over his new GIANT dice bag

That’s all, folks – I have to go and get my bathers on!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Moonglow/The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – Michael Chabon

The Running Hare – John Lewis-Stempel

123: the downside of up-and-coming

Stardate 20220724: Weather remains hot. Still no rain. The garden is wilting. So am I. The summer holidays have started, the Things are already bored, and the fridge is empty.

As I was working in Stratford yesterday on the Great Get Together 2022 on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, I stayed in London on Friday night with my best friend, her daughter and son and some of his university friends. Her son (my eldest godson) makes an excellent espresso martini, I was told, and when we got back from putting the world to rights with the dog round the streets of Shoreditch, there was one waiting for me. I had a brilliant idea for this week’s blog content while we were walking the dog but (three excellent espresso martinis later) I can’t for the life of me remember what it was.

So I’ll tell you about Shoreditch instead.

When I lived down on Hackney Road, a mere 20-odd years ago now, Shoreditch High Street was a no-go area – dodgy pubs with lunchtime strippers, shoe and clothes wholesalers, kerb crawlers on the side streets in search of a quickie, dealers, all-night garages, drunks in doorways, empty office blocks and warehouses. It was not a ‘destination’ but merely somewhere the bus or cab would drive through on the way to destinations. Close to Old Street, Liverpool Street and Spitalfields and the creeping gentrification of the East End, it was inevitable that it would change but there are – as you avoid the balloons, the nitrous oxide canisters and piles of vomit on the street – moments when you question how much this change has been for the better.

It started with small galleries: lots of artists have lived and worked in the lovely old houses off the main street. Cheap studios as they’d been converted from old warehouses and manufactories: Shoreditch was known for furniture manufacturing and many of the early slum clearances made way for artisans’ and workers’ dwellings like those on the beautiful Boundary Estate and the end of Columbia Road. Tracy Emin, Gilbert & George and more had their studios at the Spitalfields end. These of course are now priced out of all affordability for young artists, and are being turned into architect designed conversions.

Now it’s bars and (this is good) little independent shops as well as some designer outlets alongside the galleries. Redchurch Street, only 0.2 miles long, is apparently London’s coolest street. I remember it mostly as the home of one of the dodgier estate agents I dealt with back when the other Kersti and I were flat-hunting. You can’t spit without it landing in someone’s artisan coffee*. A couple of years back I was visiting the Migration Museum’s incredibly moving Calais Stories exhibition, and a coach pulled up and disgorged a load of French teenagers for whom this was a tourist experience.

The little shops, the cafes, the vintage clothes dealers: these are lovely and great for a mooch and a coffee. Vibrant street art abounds. There’s new hotels, there’s street food markets, there’s the Box Park with the little start-ups on the corner of Bethnal Green Road. But now it’s become a no-go area on weekends for a different reason: the bars which teem with hen parties and stag parties, office workers on a Friday night, trainloads of revellers from Essex and Hertfordshire who go home again afterwards (or pass out on a park bench) and leave the residents to hose down their doorsteps where people have urinated (and worse). There’s a men’s urinal on the streets but nothing for the ‘ladies’. Signs in the bar windows now say ‘People seen using nitrous oxide will not be allowed on the premises’ instead of ‘Lunchtime Strippers’. Sleeping in a room overlooking the street requires earplugs, especially when the hound takes against the dealers hanging round on the corner outside the old Nike warehouse.

I’m sure the novelty will wear off at some point and Shoreditch will settle into quiet gentility, but until then…watch where you’re walking.

*I do not recommend actually doing this.

Things making me happy this week:

  • Thing 3 finishing primary school, ready to join Thing 2 at secondary in September
  • Thing 1 looking so grown up and gorgeous as she went off to her prom
  • Nailing the whole godmother thing just by saying ‘when we were playing D&D last week’ – Fairy Geekmother, perhaps?
  • Getting the Temperature Galaxy up to date
  • Finishing a crochet project
  • Visiting the Small is Beautiful exhibition

See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Tales from the City – Armistead Maupin

Moonglow – Michael Chabon

122: hot enough for you?

Hot, isn’t it.

Properly, officially hot.

Hot enough for the gritters to be out sanding the roads in case they melt, for TfL to be emailing me and telling me not to get on trains, and for the denizens of the internet to be complaining not about the heat but about the latest version of the weather map. It’s far too scary, apparently.

Michael Fish, not being scary.

In the ‘olden days’ (ie when the likes of Michael Fish and Wincey Willis were slapping velcro-backed sunshine and clouds onto the map and suggesting we took a cardigan) weather was a happy thing and it was called ‘summer’. Now – with clever computer graphics which show temperatures and snow and things without the need for double-sided sticky tape, weather maps are designed to bring FEAR and TERROR and QUITE POSSIBLY parties of irritating Hobbits chucking bling into what’s being referred to as ‘the A1 corridor’.

Mordor. Sorry, the weather map for this week.

You can almost predict what’s coming next: mutterings about 1976 and how that was a heatwave, Britain did proper heatwaves back then, droughts, reservoirs drying up, plagues of ladybirds, shortage of Mivvis, that sort of thing. It’s like a badly scripted sitcom, with lines spoken by a hanky-headed, string-vest wearing pensioner in a deckchair. Well yes, it was indeed all those things, though I may have made up the Mivvi shortage – for two whole months – but crucially the maximum temperature reached was 35.9 degrees. This is a good four degrees lower than the potential highs this week which are likely to be record breaking. The first red warning for heat has been issued – they did only invent them last year, to be fair – with a risk to life for even healthy people. Significant changes to daily routines are being advised, with damage to infrastructure possible (railway tracks in London were on fire last week, for a start). Schools are considering closing.

So SHUT UP about 1976: since then we’ve developed a bloody great hole in the ozone layer, the ice shelves are melting, the sea is rising and global temperature has risen about 1.1 degree since 1880 with the majority of the warming occurring since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15 to 0.20°C per decade. Nine of the ten hottest years on record have been in the the last decade, and 1976 doesn’t even feature in the list. Get used to the scary weather maps and maybe have a think about what you, as a citizen of the planet, could do to help: every little helps, as a famous supermarket would have it.

Things making me happy this week:

  • The pool and the lake
  • Watching Thing 3’s end of year performance
  • The portable air cooler thingy in the bedroom
  • The chilled section in Tesco…
  • Thing 1’s 16th birthday – Now, 2006, that was a hot summer…Sorry.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay– Michael Chabon

Tales from the City – Armistead Maupin

121: Hello? I’d like to make a complaint.

July. Ah, July. Month of end-of term madness. School trips of no educational value whatsoever, meeting your new teacher, ‘fun’ runs, school reports, parents’ evenings, sending kids home with piles of work which will never be looked at again, and the most hideous invention of all….. Sports Day.

I hated sports day. I hated it as a child. I hated it as a teacher. I hate it as a parent. I hate the guilt of being a working parent (but not enough to take the day off, as then I’d have to go to the damn thing and hate it even more).

Back when I was in primary school, it was competitive but straightforward. Wearing clothing of the house colour (I was in yellow house) and terrible 80s shorts, we would all traipse out to the field where we would sit in rows while people ran races. We would cheer on our house runners, and the winners and runners-ups would get a rosette. Some kids were positively festooned with polyester ribbons by the end of the day, like exceptionally flammable bunting.

There would be sprints, relays, obstacles, sack races, three-legged races and that old classic… the egg and spoon. Parents would sit behind the rows of children cheering on their little petals and wonder how long it was till home time, whether they ought to join the parents’ race, and what fresh hell six weeks of summer holidays were about to bring. Some parents, like some children, were more competitive than others.

Not actually me. From somewhere up north or something. That’s why it’s in black and white. https://www.chad.co.uk/heritage-and-retro/heritage/mansfield-and-ashfield-sports-day-memories-from-the-1960s-and-1970s-3287881

These days, there is no sitting around cheering on the other year groups and there are definitely no rosettes. There are house points, which I approve of, instead, but I also don’t see an issue with acknowledging that some children are better than others at this. That’s life. The kids who are not so good at running may be good at other stuff and that will be celebrated too, when they smash everyone else in their maths and spelling tests.

No, these days children on sports day must do SPORTS and they must do them ALL DAY. Because it is sports DAY. They must be herded from activity to activity. They must hurl beanbags at buckets. They must throw small rugby ball shaped things with sticks on. Do complicated things with hula hoops. Long jumps. Penalty shootouts. No sitting about cheering their house runners on these days, no siree!

Thing 3’s school followed this pattern but the children had the choice of taking part in competitive or non-competitive activities. The competitive ones would gain them house points, and the others were just for fun. To be fair, they did all get together for track events at the end of the day. Thing 3 said that he had chosen to do the non-competitive events, which was fine until he informed me that one of the non-competitive events was the egg and spoon race.

The bloody egg and spoon race! Non-competitive! How very dare they? That egg and spoon race – for the whole of my primary school career – represented the peak of my sporting achievement. Specifically, not coming last in the egg and spoon race. The race for those kids who have slightly less co-ordination than a baby giraffe. The race where the teachers put those kids that they really couldn’t put through the torture of coming so spectacularly last in any race that required speed. My race. MY RACE. Non-com-bloody-petitive! NON-COM-BLOODY-PETITIVE!!!

Other parents, according to the outraged Y6 whatsapp group (reminding me once again why I have always left these things immediately after being added in previous years) will be complaining that the headteacher enforced the rules she’d made very clear in the letter sent home about sports day. Rules about staying in the parents’ area, not calling your kids over for drinks/suncream/a quick chat. Not taking photos or video, for safeguarding reasons. Those sorts of rules. Other year group chats were available but the content was the same, I am reliably informed. As an ex-teacher I am with the head on this: it’s hard enough herding the kids without having to herd the parents as well. I don’t envy the chair of governors or the head when they open their inbox on Monday morning.

But making the egg and spoon non-competitive? Now THAT I have a problem with.

Things making me less irate this week:

  • Two utterly adorable nursery classes on Friday for our school sessions, filled with imaginative kids and engaged teachers
  • A sewing commission inspired by the dice bag I made for a colleague’s birthday
  • Sherwood on BBC iPlayer.
  • Lovely sunshine and a pool to hurl myself into at the end of the day
  • My baby is back from her week in Norfolk. I missed her!

Excuse me while I go and hard boil some eggs.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old – Hendrik Groen

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michel Chabon

120: this week’s winner is…

It’s Saturday night and I’m sitting in the front room watching Glow Up with Things 1 and 2. Even my Beloved is quite enjoying this one, although he has taken a break to go and pickle some beetroots in the kitchen. Thank heavens one of us is a domestic goddess, eh? I have the same feelings towards beetroot as I do towards boiled eggs: I don’t eat them so I don’t need to know how to make them. I was deeply mentally scarred by beetroot in primary school, where it was served cold with spam and lumpy mashed potato, and the beetroot juice turned everything a uniform shade of bright pink. And, it tastes like damp smells. Ugh. Anyway.

Photo by Eva Bronzini on Pexels.com. Yuk.

So, Glow Up. We are obviously late to this particular party, and we’re definitely not wearing enough slap, but it’s the same basic format as the Great British Sewing Bee/Bake Off/Pottery Throwdown/etc where there’s a set of challenges and someone goes home in tears at the end and talks about how much they’ve learned and how they’ll nevereverever forget their new best friends. This one has the rather irritating Stacey Dooley in presenter mode – as far as I can tell, she’s basically Ross Kemp with more hair and less war zones. If Ross Kemp did hospitals and homeless people instead of wannabe warriors, that is. She does seem to have found a niche, and good on her for that, but her constant use of the phrase ‘please may you’ gets right on my nerves. She also says ‘haitch’ instead of ‘aitch’. It’s a no from me.

We are enjoying it, and it’s nice to have something that 2/3 of the Things will watch happily together which isn’t a badly-dubbed Netflix thriller or a terrible teen romance angst movie. There’s always one contestant that you really want to go home in the first week and every time they survive a ‘face off’ you get to shout at the telly, and when your favourite survives you get to cheer. Thing 1, as I said the other week, is off to do Theatrical and Media Make-up at college in September, so she’s finding this interesting; I, on the other hand, am just stunned at the sheer amount of make-up these people feel they need to wear, filled with wonder at what people do to their eyebrows, and boggling at the lip fillers. The young make-up artists are proper drama queens, and at least one rushes off in tears in every challenge which doesn’t impress the judges. It’s unprofessional, apparently.

Bake Off is Thing 2’s favourite and she can get very critical about people’s Swiss Roll swirls at times. She loves to bake and experiment, and is a dab hand with meringues as she proved with a pavlova for my birthday barbecue last weekend. It vanished in minutes: perfectly crispy on the outside and melty in the middle, it was a hit with everyone. Bake Off always has a bit more of a competitive edge to it, and the congratulations are sometimes delivered through gritted teeth.

Not so the Great British Sewing Bee, which I am hopelessly addicted to. The latest series finished this week, and for once I was absolutely in agreement with Patrick and Esme about the winner. I have had my doubts in the past and on at least one occasion they have been plain wrong and I wanted a recount. Once Annie had found her feet she was brilliant, and some of her garments were gorgeous. Man Yee was also fabulous, and I’m so pleased she made the final along with Debra – Brogan shouldn’t have been put through, as her Origami outfit in the semi-final didn’t meet the brief. At least it wasn’t gingham or floral though. I loved Debra and her model in the final, slipping in and out of Welsh as they chatted. The contestants on GBSB are always ready to help each other with techniques and figuring out strange instructions, and I love the way they all hold hands as they find out the results each week.

The Great Pottery Showdown is another favourite: I adore Keith Brymer-Jones and the way he cries when he really loves something. The dynamic between Rich Miller and Keith is great, and the critiques of the challenges are so thoughtful and constructive. Siobhan McSweeney should present everything, preferably in role as Sister Michael from Derry Girls with full sarcasm. The last series, where at one point pretty much everyone was in tears, was great. Again the contestants are kind to each other, and that’s such a lovely thing to see. If you haven’t seen Derry Girls, it’s wonderful: funny, sweet and candid. Binge it now.

I was sorely disappointed by The Great British Dig, however. With that title, I had visions of a set of amateur archaeologists and some very neat trenches, and the best find of the week (Roman villa, King Arthur, Viking burial, Saxon hoard etc) would get to stay and the one who only dug up two plastic soldiers and a ring from one of those eggs you used to get for 10p from the machine outside the paper shop would get sent home. Anyone whose trench had a soggy bottom would get be haunted by the ghost of Mick Aston or something. This was not the case: what we got was a bunch of people putting holes in suburban flower beds and Hugh Dennis being smug about stuff. I think my version was better.*

You can keep your Love Islands and I’m a Z-lister, too. Maybe just put them all on an island and just tell them the cameras are on. Pop back in a year and see if it went all Lord of the Flies when they ran out of bronzer.

(I’m really not a big TV watcher, despite the above: unless I’m ironing or GBSB is on, if I’m on my own I won’t turn the TV on – give me music or a podcast any time if I’m working on something, or I’ll be reading if not. On the tube I’m listening to The Socially Distant Sports Bar, which is wildly inappropriate for children and does tend to cause me to laugh out loud. Mike Bubbins and Elis James can reduce poor Stef Garrero to helpless giggles. Don’t be taken in by the name, this podcast is like two hours in the pub with your funniest mates and while sport does occasionally get mentioned there’s a lot more to it. Go on, you won’t regret it. It’s very sweary though. Very sweary. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

Speaking of competitions, another highlight of the week was the Conference News Agency Awards 2022 event this week. My friend, swimming buddy and all round fab person Isla kindly invited me along to join her company table – I’ve been freelancing for her for five years or so, helping out at awards and conferences, and I remember her making the leap and starting up her own events business. She survived the pandemic by shifting online, diversifying into online events and experiences, focusing on sustainability. The company, We Are FTW Ltd, was nominated in the Small Agency of the Year category and Isla was so convinced she hadn’t got a chance (there were 10 nominees in this category) that she didn’t bother listening to the announcement. Her face when the presenter said ‘And the winner is…. We are FTW Ltd!’ was the perfect picture of disbelief.

The event was themed around Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and the welcome reception featured strawberry daiquiri bubbles, edible balloons and cocktail mists which were great fun, but making the young women staffing the stations wear aprons printed with ‘I’m delicious, lick me!’ was a little weird…. Miriam, who also works for Isla when she’s not being a performance life coach, wore her amazing steampunk hat and looked fabulous, and there were a lot of bow ties in the room. No one dressed up as an Oompah-Loompah, sadly. I wore some completely impractical shoes, we ate very small but delicious portions of heritage beets, beef short rib and a fluffy raspberry mousse, and the afterparty was great fun.

Other things making me happy this week:

  • the final episodes of Stranger Things
  • an afternoon at the school fete, sharing my stall with Thing 2 and M’s no. 1 daughter
  • Launching the new Adventurers Assemble! assembly at one of our favourite Tower Hamlets primary schools: time travel, space hoppers, missing objects and a mission! Giggling kids and teachers, you know it’s a winner.
  • my new shed is finished and my old shed is accessible again!

*I also have a much better version of the second two Lord of the Rings films which would save us all a few hours.

Tomorrow I have to take Thing 1 to Westfield to do some shopping for her National Citizen Service thing – a week away sounds lovely, but they said I’m too old. Ah well. See you on the flipside.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Ingathering – Zenna Henderson

Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to British Birds – Bill Bailey

I Feel Bad About My Neck – Nora Ephron