146: Practically perfect in every way

Not really, of course. I have a butterfly brain, a yarn habit that requires two sheds for storage and an insatiable urge to try all sorts of new crafts, an addiction to books and shoes, a callous disregard for excessive housework, and a very strange sense of humour.

Still, it’s that time of year again when we’re supposed to kick off a new go-round of the sun by finding fault with ourselves and making resolutions to stop this, to start that, to do more of x, less of y, to be better. A quick Google tells me that New Year’s resolutions have been around for about 4000 years, thanks to the Babylonians (though they made theirs in spring when the new farming year started) and presumably people have been failing to keep them for around the same, though they had the added incentive of falling out of favour with the gods if they didn’t keep theirs and not just feeling a bit guilty. Being held accountable by someone handy with a smite or with the power to have you eaten by crocodiles or something concentrates the mind wonderfully, I expect.*

January 1st is a terrible time to make resolutions, anyway. It’s cold and dark, it’s often raining, you’re suffering from terrible indigestion after eating your own bodyweight in cheese and Quality Street and quite possibly you have a hangover from ill-advised coffee tequila shots the night before. The inevitable return to work looms large in the diary (if you’re over 30 you’ll probably still have the hangover then too), the interminable round of meetings and the long wait for January payday is ahead of you, and there’s all this expectation to be all self-improving while you’re at it. There’s an actual date in January – the third Monday of the month – called Blue Monday which some bright spark of a professor calculated was the most depressing day of the year.

I have decided that this year we should have a New Year’s Revolution, not resolution. The adaptation of the very sweet (but a bit smug) The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy tells us (or the fox does, anyway) that ‘you are enough’. Let the revolution be to be moderate, not to give up or to change your whole life. To be a bit nicer to ourselves and the people and the world around us. None of us will ever be perfect, and let’s acknowledge that rather than making grand ‘THIS is the year I….’ statements that will be profoundly depressing by the 16th bowl of overnight oats with skim milk and no golden syrup.

If you have to make a resolution, make it something you’re excited about: a new adventure for 2023, take up a new hobby (I have booked a hand-spinning workshop at the Waltham Abbey Wool Show, for example – not that I plan to take it up, but why not have a go when it’s on offer?), make a plan with friends that’s realistic. I have two more of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries to visit, so they are on the list. Set a challenge for yourself but make it one that you want to do, not one you’ll hate the idea of: I want to do a long walk, either the Essex Way or the Race to the Stones. Resolve to treat yourself once a month, to a massage or a cinema trip. We are in the middle of an energy crisis, a cost of living crisis, strikes galore (which I support wholeheartedly) and the gloomiest part of the year – give yourself something to look forward to.

Have a Happy New Year instead.

*I may be mixing up Babylon and Djelibeybi at this point.

The long dark teatime of the year

Timeshare Teenager Two and her partner presented me with five metres of Moomin fabric as a Christmas present, so I spent a day sewing this week – at the stitch show in October I bought the Folia frock pattern by Sew Different and had been looking for the right fabric for it. I also made their Scoop Pinafore in a golden cord, and have started cutting out the Sunrise Jacket in a navy twill, using a Craft Cotton Co fat quarter bundle for the sunbursts. Activity has been slightly hampered by sewing through my fingernail and out the other side, but I am soldiering on….

On the hook this week has been this TARDIS by Army of Owls – which gave me the chance to muck about with shrink plastic for the first time since we used to shrink Wheat Crunchies packets on the heater outside room C2 at Monmouth Comp. I found the door sign image on Instructables, and used felt for the windows rather than embroidering. There will be some earrings as well, as I printed some extra door signs for that reason….

And now I am off for a walk with Miriam, Jill and the hounds. You’re getting this early so you can be saved from making any unnecessary resolutions….

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Bellweather Rhapsody – Kate Racculia

1989 – Val McDermid

Keeper of Enchanted Rooms – Charlie N. Holmberg

Juniper Wiles and the Ghost Girls – Charles de Lint

145: Why don’t you…

…go off and do something more festive instead? Stop reading these ramblings and go and open a present. Watch a film or the annual repeat of the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special. The only reason I’m even here is because I seem to have broken out in teenagers and they’re all still asleep for the first time ever at 6.30am on Christmas morning.

Festive makes this week

Normal (ish) service will resume next week! In the meantime, I hope it’s a peaceful day and that Santa/Father Christmas/the Hogfather/Saint Nick/Kris Kringle/Sion Corn brings you joy and lots of pigs in blankets.

Merry Christmas, Nadolig Llawen, Bonne Noel…

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

This Must Be The Place/Bellweather Rhapsody – Kate Racculia

Thief of Time – Terry Pratchett (Audible)

Hogfather – Terry Pratchett

Christmas is Murder – Val McDermid

144: baby, it’s cold outside

Bloody freezing, actually (my garden thermometer is currently reading -5.4) and this morning I am a strange blend of disappointed and mildly relieved as the lake is closed for the weekend. The closure is due to access, as you can’t get cars in and out of the site, rather than as a way to prevent a gang of bobble-hatted loons giving themselves mild hypothermia. The disappointment is because cold water swimming – or dipping, in this weather – is such a rush, and the relief is because the temperature has rarely made it above zero this week and that lake will be COLD.

Last week was the coldest water we have experienced at 0.5 degrees, and it was trying to snow when we got there. A large hole had been broken in the ice to enable dipping, but there was no chance of a proper swim. People were going in, having their picture taken by one of the long suffering Redricks team to prove we were complete idiots, paddling about a bit and then racing out swearing profusely. I still haven’t put my wetsuit on this year, so was in my bathers and bobble hat with socks and glove, and I lasted about two minutes. I was extremely glad I had brought thermals to go under my trousers and a lot of layers – and my trusty hot water bottle. Top tip here: stuff your pants inside the cover while you swim and wrap your towel round the outside. I may need two hot water bottles, just so I can do my socks as well – the worst part last week was the pain as my toes came slowly back to life which made me want to cry. I was wearing my 3mm socks as I knew I’d want to get them off quickly, and they were not enough!

Many articles have been written on the benefits of cold water swimming over the last couple of years (here’s one) and there’s lots of handy advice out there too. Please note I am not including Wim Hof in either of these two categories as he is clearly quite, quite bonkers. And that’s coming from me. What I get from it is a mental reset at the end of the week, time with friends both in the water and during what Jill calls the apres-swim, as we hop about trying to get dry, get our trousers on, and drink hot chocolate with marshmallows. It’s usually child-free, it’s early on a Sunday morning, and the rest of the day is still ahead of us. Redricks Lake, where we swim, is also a fishing lake so you’re sharing the environment with cormorants and kingfishers as well as the usual run of water birds (and fish); there’s lifeguards on hand and you don’t get to go in unless you’ve had your safety induction, which is reassuring. They will also rescue you, strip off your wetsuit (wear your bathers!) and warm you up if necessary.

Later in the day a few of us braved the cold again (fully clothed this time) to go and see the Light Fantastic train from Marconi Bridge at the top of North Weald Common. Thing 2 joined me, and we were out when the snow started. ‘Flurries’ were forecast, but what we ended up with was a good six inches of snow which meant a snow day on Monday and travel chaos for the rest of the week. Today is supposed to be a balmy 7 degrees and tomorrow – gasp! – double figures, so we might finally see the thaw.

The rest of the week has mostly been crochet, as I had a stack of pigs to make after selling out at the Christmas fairs – seven big pigs, eight little pigs, one fairy cake, a Highland Cow and I finally got round to making a jumper for my own tree. I have a few more bits I want to make and then I really, really need to catch up with the temperature galaxy which hasn’t been touched since August. Eek….

Other things making me happy this week

  • Secret Santa exchange at work – this year’s theme was ‘adventure’ and my gift was a gorgeous Doctor Who bag charm, which meant I knew exactly who my Santa was!
  • Girly gossip with Miriam and Edith on Wednesday, accompanied by baby snuggles – there’s nothing quite like a sleepy tiny cuddling into your neck
  • Stomping around the garden in the snow spotting the rabbit, cat and fox prints.
  • The latest Audible version of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, with Bill Nighy as the footnotes and Peter Serafinowicz as Death
  • Ben and Jerry’s Minter Wonderland
  • Thermal leggings

Less happy was discovering when we got to the work canteen on Thursday that due to supply issues there were burgers instead of lasagne. Shades of Shirley Valentine: ‘But it’s Thursday! Thursday is lasagne day!’ The gloom among the whole V&A staff was positively Dickensian.

Only another five days of work to go and I can stop for Christmas – now excuse me, I have a cake to marzipan.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Hogfather (Audible)

Don’t Cry For Me, Aberystwyth – Malcolm Pryce

This Must Be The Place – Kate Racculia

143: ho ho no

So, the tree is up (well, down from the attic) and decorated, the turkey and components for various trimmings are safely in the freezer, the lights are ready for my Beloved to put up today, the museum Christmas party is tomorrow, and the Secret Santa is organised. The charity for this year’s card money has been chosen (Trussell Trust, ICOI). I am still surrounded by the vast amounts of yarn I need to make the Christmas orders, having sold out of pretty much everything last weekend. Who knew that the children of North London would love cuddly pigs in blankets so much? I think my best moment was the frazzled parent who ran up to me shouting ‘I need a SPROUT!’, with the five year old who asked me ‘Do you take cards?’ in a close second place.

Cuddly pigs and other Christmas crochet adventures

Thing 2 has been asking searching (and knowing) questions about the existence – or not – of Father Christmas. From an early age, when her aunt and I would go off on increasingly ridiculous flights of fancy, she would ask ‘Are you telling me true, Mummy?’ or ‘Are you lying to me, Aunty Tan?’ So, for a child who was essentially born suspicious, this persistence in believing in all things Christmassy has always been a bit out of character. She is, however, a stickler for tradition and gets quite cross if Christmas films and songs make an appearance before December 1st. The tree goes up on the second weekend in December, which is the compromise reached over several years of negotiation.

This is the first year in several that she has not mentioned the elf on the shelf, which is a huge relief. Things 2 and 3 were quite insistent that we should have one of these abominations and I was secretly delighted when on December 1st I duly placed the elf on a shelf and the pair of them went into hysterics and demanded its immediate removal from the house. However, the following year they persuaded their father to buy another elf and the whole thing began again and of course the responsibility of the elf fell mainly to me.

Unlike my friend Jill who is very good with her elves, I was pretty hopeless at it. Possibly this is down to the very narrow window between putting the kids to bed and me falling asleep on the chair, or – more likely – because I just did not give a monkey’s. You can see my two best efforts (elforts?) below.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a Christmas tradition as much as the next person. There are films which must be watched while putting up the Christmas tree (the 1947 version of Miracle on 34th St, if you must know), films which must be watched early in the season (Elf, Muppet Christmas Carol) and there are films to watch nearer Christmas (It’s a Wonderful Life, Scrooged). We have added the Christmas Chronicles to the list over the last couple of years, as Kurt Russell makes an excellent Santa. I look forward to the annual invasion by Cybermen and Daleks, and will continue to ignore all speeches by members of the royal family. I read Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather and this year I will also listen to the new Audible version.

I have endeavoured to instil a healthy fear of robins into my children, in their role as Father Christmas’s all-year-round eyes on the ground. We have advent calendars. We leave snacks and something boozy out for FC and the gang on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day Thing 2 organises stocking opening with military precision, and all I can say is thank god they’re old enough to bring us cups of coffee while they do it. Thing 1 opens the stocking and goes back to bed.

Every year I buy the largest turkey possible in Tesco – they only had mediums yesterday, which feed 8-10 people, and I seriously considered buying a turkey crown as well even though there are only five people in the house. As it was, the medium only just fitted into the freezer with some creative rearranging. Whether I can get it out again is a different question. I am dutifully feeding (with rum) a Christmas cake which I will probably still be eating in February (a Mary Berry recipe, and without resorting to Mrs Beeton you can’t get much more trad than that). I never liked Christmas cake until I realised that if I made it myself I could leave out the nuts, the mixed peel and the glace cherries and replace them with things I like (like proper cherries, and rum, and fresh orange peel grated).

We open family presents between breakfast and lunch when everyone is dressed, and after Christmas dinner there is the ceremonial ‘eat as much chocolate as you like’ opening of the Quality Street. There may be a cold turkey and stuffing sandwich about 8pm, and on Boxing Day there will be further cold turkey and a ham. At some point I will do a jigsaw.

While I will be a little sad when all pretence at believing in Santa is abandoned (i.e. they stop humouring me), I am not sorry to see the back of the stupid elf.

Other things making me happy this week

  • Excellent co-curation session which I have to write an ‘official’ blog for
  • Seeing some of my wonderful ex-colleagues at the Museum of London reunion last Sunday
  • Hugh Grant’s reading of A Christmas Carol (included with your Audible subscription)
  • Rewatching Derry Girls with Thing 1
  • The chance to do proper ice swimming today

Same time next week then!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

A Child’s Christmas in Wales (Audible)

A Christmas Carol (Audible)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Aberystwyth – Malcolm Pryce

Don’t Need The Sunshine – John Osborne

142: If the shoe fits…

‘Mummy has too many shoes and too many books,’ my daughters used to say to random strangers in shops (admittedly said shops were often purveyors of these commodities, as we trekked about the abundance of charity shops in Epping). I can’t argue with the former, but in the case of the latter it’s more that I don’t have enough shelves as you can never have too many books.

Imagine my joy, dear readers, when the development of the new museum gave me the perfect excuse to create a whole schools session ALL about shoes. When we were rationalising the learning collection prior to closure I made sure we kept the shoes (apart from the Crocs we used in the seaside session), and this week I have been testing the shoes session at a local secondary school. Called ‘If The Shoe Fits’, it’s a user centred design session for Key Stage 3 again and our guinea pigs were Year 9 students. An enormous thank you to my friend and crafty partner in crime Heather who is a DT teacher there, and to her head of department at Davenant Foundation School for letting me loose in her classroom.

We started by thinking about school shoes vs the shoes we choose to wear off-duty – who decides what school shoes look like; are there rules; what qualities the shoes need to have; why we choose our trainers (22 out of 24 Y9s prefer Nikes). Each group then did a ‘mystery shoe’ activity, comparing a historic shoe to a modern shoe. All the shoes were from the collection – from centuries old children’s clogs (these haven’t even been creased miss, are you sure they’re old?) to new pieces which will feature in the design gallery like Vans Autism Awareness skate shoes.

Then they had a go at making a model of one of the shoes, using materials like cardboard, lolly sticks, tape and more. Some were amazing – the exquisitely detailed version of a child’s leather party shoe created from masking tape and cardboard, complete with rosette, for example, or the clog, with paper straws to represent the ‘horseshoe’ on the bottom. Proper sparking clogs, as the song goes. The students demonstrated amazing creative problem solving skills, thinking about how to represent fastenings, how to make the cardboard curve more flexibly, and how to hold materials together. We deliberately don’t give them glue or staples, partly as there’s collection involved but also because Pritt Sticks are a waste of time with anything but paper and the students get frustrated and turn to tape anyway.

It was a fast paced session so we were strict on time and many of the students wanted to finish their models, but after we allowed this on day one we were firmer on day two. Removing the need to sketch or draw before making takes away the ‘I can’t draw’ problem (I have this) and allows them to get straight into working in 3D.

We then talked about being ‘fit for purpose’ and the idea of specific shoes being used for specific purposes – from steel-toed construction boots and firefighter boots, football boots and cycling shoes, pointe shoes and Lady Gaga’s ludicrous heels, running blades and running shoes for various conditions – and they annotated images in answer to a set of questions. I used images of female sports players and firefighters, male ballet dancers (urgh, look at his legs Miss!) and made sure they were diverse to reflect the students themselves.

The final activity was to create a shoe for a specific person – real or fictional – so they filled in a sheet about the qualities, materials and properties needed and, with additional materials like fabrics, felt, laminate insulation and more, created their own shoes. The outcomes were amazing, with super-bouncy running shoes, shoes for the art teacher, convertible heels-to-flats for their mum, and more.

I tweeted a thank you to the school for allowing me to pilot the sessions with their students, and this response came back, which made my day! This is one of the sessions we’ll be opening with next year, and I can’t wait to be running it alongside a whole gallery full of amazing design.

A note on Christmas music

If you’re like me, your Facebook feeds will be smattered with people going on about bloody ‘Whamageddon’ and whether they are in or out, whether a cover version counts and so on. SHUT UP. No one cares.

Other things making me happy this week:

  • Opening night at the Geek Retreat in Harlow. We had a lovely time.
  • A cracking day at Epping Christmas Market yesterday
  • Liqueur chocolates for breakfast. It’s advent, it’s allowed (thanks for the calendar, mum)

Now I must go and get ready for today’s Christmas fete, this time a school one in North London, and then the Museum of London grand reunion this evening. Same time next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Aberystwyth Mon Amour – Malcom Pryce

Don’t Need The Sunshine – John Osborne

Terry Pratchett: A Life in Footnotes (Audible)