151: if you go down to the woods today

February has landed at last – January was a very long year, wasn’t it? The sun is shining, daffodils and crocuses and suchlike are starting to show signs of life and, despite the Daily Express’s* constant and dire predictions of the RETURN OF THE BEAST FROM THE EAST and POLAR VORTEX bringing SNOWBOMBS and other such cheery weather, it all seems pretty optimistic and springy out there.

I have just returned from a rather nice ramble through the local woods this morning – just over 10k tagged, though I suspect it was more as my Strava app crashed somewhere in the forest. Soundtracked by some random stuff on Spotify, it was a fairly speedy romp on trails and tracks: everything from the 60s with Simon and Garfunkel, Dusty Springfield and Creedence Clearwater Revival right through to more recent stuff like the Beastie Boys, Zac Brown Band and The Offspring. Along with the many squirrels dashing about the place, I was lucky enough to spot a muntjac ahead of me on the rhododendron walk that borders Gaynes Park, ring-neck parakeets at Stonards Hill in Epping, and many people with their various hounds including one with only three paws and a very friendly face.

Today’s walk was a tried and tested route, which took me through ancient coppiced woodland in the old Ongar Park Wood, Gernon Bushes nature reserve and through to the sports fields in Epping where I looped back round to come home. There were some muddy patches, but the path was nothing like as impassable as it has been in previous years when it’s been a swamp until at least May. This probably says something about the weather over the last year or so, although the bog in our back garden would say otherwise

Essex, despite being ridiculously flat, does have some good walking – I still want to complete the Essex Way at some point, but it may be in stages! Hopefully in the course of training for the Race to the Stones I can cover a bit more of it – there’s a useful book which breaks it down into circular walks. The Stort Valley Way also starts near the village, heading up to Harlow and beyond, and there seem to be a few others in the area as well.

Now I just need to develop a sense of direction.

*please note, I do not read the Daily Express but Google and MSN like to show me the headlines on their homepages. I am cheered by the fact that in a couple of months the headlines will change to HOTTEST SUMMER ON RECORD and GLOBAL MELTDOWN and MORDOR RETURNS. It’s like getting out your summer wardrobe.

Other things making me happy this week…

  • Teaching the Think Small session at Chobham Academy – I love the ideas kids come up with to make animal homes
  • Thing 3 turned 12 yesterday.
  • Finishing January on the Temperature Supernova
  • Crocheting socks.

Less happy-making was having to cancel a long-awaited trip to Cardiff to see the Socially Distant Sports Bar live show with gigbuddy Jen – while I am completely behind all these strikers, they RUINED my weekend. Also, vet bills.

Anyway – next week I shall be broadcasting from France! I can’t wait…

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Last Remains – Elly Griffiths

Men At Arms/Feet of Clay – Terry Pratchett (Audible)

Death Masks – Jim Butcher

Cover image: Forest Track in Ongar Park Wood
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Chris Heaton – geograph.org.uk/p/5931265

150: make, do, and mend.

Another week which has zoomed (or at least MS Teamsed) by in a whirl of meetings and emails. The high point of the week was a day at the Wellcome Collection, host for the Endangered Materials Knowledge Programme’s two-day workshop on the role of Mending and Making in museums. I attended day one in person, and dropped in to the morning of day two online. EKMP is a programme set up to research and capture the skills, technology, knowledge and values being lost as processes become more and more industrialised. It explores how these skills are being passed on, and connects source communities with museum objects. One of the speakers spoke about the annexing of the ‘make do and mend’ ethos from WW2: it’s not all about making do, it’s about making new, learning new skills and mending to extend or repurpose. Just the addition of commas changes the sense of the phrase (much like the ‘let’s eat, grandma/let’s eat grandma’ example).

In museums (in my head, anyway, I am sure conservators will tell me I am wrong), I have always assumed that damage is part of the story of an object: the evidence of being buried as grave goods, the reason something was thrown away, the story of on object surviving centuries underground. You know, the stuff that ends up on archaeological display in the British Museum – helmets with bloody great blunt instrument damage, for example.

As we know from Instagram and so on, ‘visible’ mending – sashiko, boro, kintsugi, darning, etc – is enjoying a moment in the limelight as a reaction to the rise of fast fashion and consumer culture. In my explorations of the handling collection before we sent it off to other museums, invisible mending was more apparent: the ricrac braid covering the tell-tale line where a dress had been taken up or down, miniscule stitching on tears or holes in baby clothing. The attendees of the conference – fabulous people like Kate Sekules and Bridget Harvey, and Celia Pym who was lurking online – wore clothes with gorgeous rainbow darns and embroidery highlighting and reinforcing holes. Catherine Reinhart was darning socks and Catherine Howard brought vintage textiles and encouraged people to tear and mend squares in any way they liked, to add to a collective project. There were lots of links made between making, mending and mental health and wellbeing – both collective and individual. I was secretly thrilled when several people commented on the dress I was wearing (one of my repurposed duvet covers) and my quilted jacket (ditto). Talks on yurts in Kyrgyzstan and fishing nets, on how saris are repurposed, explored how fabrics are remade to support new pieces when they are too far gone to repair.

Of course, it wasn’t only textiles, though this was what had attracted me in the first place. There was a talk on why miniature artists make using repurposed household objects, patchwork and bricolage in southern Africa, and from someone who used an old French horn to give his lawnmower a new lease of life. All of these were basically a justification for never getting rid of things which may come in useful (my Beloved would agree with this: he was thrilled when making our deck to use a piece of oak which had been in the garage for 30 years, in case it was handy).

I was particularly interested in a talk on damage and repair in Iron Age shields, which challenged the theory that things like the Battersea Shield and other objects previously thought to have been made purely for ritual purposes or flashy display had actually been used in battle until they were no longer repairable. X-rays and scientific testing showed craftsman-level repairs of small damage presumably caused in day-to-day use, perhaps training – and when damage was inflicted in battle the repairs were deliberately obvious, maybe to say ‘OK, I survived this – come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’. Only when the shield or helmet’s owner was dealt a death blow were the objects consigned to grave or the liminal spaces of the rivers and lakes.

There was, of course, lots of interest in the museum reopening and the work I have been doing with Spotlight and Scott Ramsay Kyle on sustainable fashion and mending. I also caught up with Scott this week, over coffee and a tour of his department at Central St Martins. I’d have loved to have had a go on the looms and spinning wheels, as well as spent time talking to the students. They had a swap shop going on, where students could bring materials left over from projects and swap for something they needed. UCL have a Repair Cafe, part of a worldwide movement, which helps people mend and repurpose.

Later today I’ll be catching up with an online session from the Textiles Skills Centre – find their YouTube channel here – from their Tea ‘n Chat series. After I have defrosted a bit from my ice swim this morning…

Other things making me happy this week…

  1. First training walk done for the Race to the Stones. Just under 9km, negotiating swamps and electric fences. Only six months to get up to speed! https://www.justgiving.com/team/Gwrachod-Ar-Daith for more info on who we are and what we’re doing.
  2. Nice conversation with an older lady on the tube about crochet
  3. An update on the museum’s progress.

Now I must go and defrost a bit…. same time next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Summer Knight/Brief Cases/Death Masks – Jim Butcher

Guards! Guards!/Men at Arms – Terry Pratchett (Audible)

149: spinning around

Disclaimer: before I begin, any typos are the fault of trying to type at an angle due to having a lap full of cats. Attempts to dislodge them proved futile, as they just sat on the laptop. You have been warned.

As mentioned last week, my partner in woolly crime Heather and I were off to the Waltham Abbey Wool Show on Sunday to fondle yarn and to have a go at spinning on a drop spindle – something I have wanted to try for a while. An excuse to have a go at using all those gorgeous piles of fluff and colour and sparkle that are on offer at the shows, and also to learn a new skill.

Led by Michele Turner, aka Craftyheffalumpus, it was 90 minutes of woolly happiness: fluff and squish and colour and interesting crafty gadgetry. Many of these gadgets are surprisingly spiky (hackles and wool combs, for example) and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find them popping up in a gruesomely bucolic (bucolically gruesome?) episode of Midsomer Murders. The Midsomer Weavers and Spinners Guild could be a force to be reckoned with. You read it here first.

There’s also a whole lexicon of new vocabulary: as well as the aforementioned hackles, there are batts, punis, roving, staple, noils, tops, rolags, slubs, and of course the fabulous niddy-noddy. We had a go at using some different types of spindle, working with different forms of fluff (assorted sheep! sparkly things!) and we all went away with small balls of yarn and a new excuse to go and squish (and sniff) different sorts of yarn at the stalls. My favourite was YarnTings with beautiful hand-dyed batts inspired by photos the dyer had taken.

I came home with some lovely things to spin, some sock yarns (of course) inspired by Doctor Who, and a spindle. There were some stalls missing from previous years but many new ones – I have some linen yarn to try making some jewellery with, which I haven’t seen before, and it looks as if it may need less starching than cotton thread. You’ll see from this week’s reading list that I have been doing some research, but so far I haven’t convinced my beloved that we need an alpaca/small flock of sheep for the garden.

Further adventures with Evri

Well, the missing parcels finally arrived! Having been declared lost in the previous week, they then reappeared and re-entered the delivery process on Monday with a ‘your parcels are out for delivery’ notification. They were not delivered. Tracking on Tuesday showed them as actually going backwards in the system to the sender’s local depot. They finally arrived on Thursday. Ordering something this weekend, I was offered the option of free delivery with Evri, or £3.50 for DPD. Want to guess which one I picked?

Swimming with the (frozen) fishes

Between starting this post and now, I have been up to Redricks Lake for a swim – well, a dip. The lake is covered in an inch-thick skin of ice in the dipping spot, and we did have to talk ourselves into getting in there today! I went up in my wetsuit for the first time since last March, and then took it off before I got in as the thought of wrestling it off again was daunting to say the least. I wore 5mm boots and my 3mm boots on my hands which looked very silly but meant I didn’t have to struggle getting the winter gloves off.

It was definitely only for the hardy today at a surface temperature of 1 degree and an air temp of -5…! Thanks to another swimmer for taking pics of Jill and I in the water…I have my new sparkly red bobble hat on, made by Jill’s mum, and my skin matched it when I got out! I lasted about two minutes and then made a dash for the hot choc and my heated gilet. My foresight in putting my pants and thermal leggings into my hot water bottle cover was excellent and I feel amazing now, honest…

Other things making me happy this week

  • Kick off meeting to sort out the handling collection before we move back to Young V&A
  • Omelette at The Full Monty in Bethnal Green
  • Going public with our plan to do Race to the Stones in July to raise money for Parkinsons UK in memory of David Anderson (my Uncle David)
  • New shoes, finally delivered by Evri.
  • Starting to construct the Sew Different Sunrise Jacket – happiness tarnished by discovering that I’d cut one set of panels out the wrong way round. There was swearing.

And that’s it – I’m going to go and defrost in a hot bath now!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Fool Moon/Grave Peril/Summer Knight – Jim Butcher

Hand Spinning – Pam Austin

Spin to Weave – Sara Lamb

Spin Art – Jacey Boggs

The Practical Spinner’s Guide: Wool – Kate Larson

Thud! – Terry Pratchett (Audible)

148: customer disservice

This week I have been wrestling with the delivery company formerly known as Hermes – now rebranded as Evri, as presumably the god Hermes was too well known for actually delivering stuff. I expect deities have firm views on this sort of blasphemy and threatened them with a good smiting unless they changed their name. Usually, I have no issues with Evri as the local couriers are helpful, friendly and reliable.

The problem, it seems, lies further up the chain. Between Christmas and New Year two parcels were dispatched by two different companies – one arrived at the Evri local depot on New Year’s Eve and the second on 4 January. And there they stopped. ‘Sorry, your parcel has been delayed’ was the tracking update. ‘We’ll get it out to you on the next working day’. Readers, this was not the case. The courier said that there was a big backlog at the depot. Evri didn’t say anything, and continued to say nothing.

The ‘help’ pages – and I am using the term ‘help’ in the absolute loosest sense of the word here – said that if the parcel has been with them for seven days then to contact the sender. The sender, not the people who actually have the parcel in their possession and who are, therefore, presumably better placed to know where it is. So I contacted the senders, who then have to contact Evri. One sender responded within 24 hours to an email saying they couldn’t help till seven working days had passed (not what Evri’s site says, but there we are) since the last update. The other sender was also gatekept by a digital ‘assistant’ but eventually let me chat to a real person who said they could ‘urge’ Evri to deliver the parcel.

I tried Evri’s digital ‘assistant’, Holly. I am qualifying the word ‘assistant’ in the same way as the word ‘help’ above please note. Holly is able to ‘help’ with sending a parcel, receiving a parcel, or ‘something else’. Help with receiving a parcel allows Holly to tell you the same tracking info that you have already seen on the tracking page, which is what caused you to click on the chatbot in the first place. ‘Something else’ allows you to report damage to your house or vehicle and you get to upload photos. So I uploaded some photos of the tracking numbers and eventually got a reply saying they couldn’t see any damage in the photos. I emailed the ‘customer service’ (see previous disclaimer) email address that had emailed me, and received an auto response informing me that Evri didn’t do customer service by email and to use the digital assistant. It was all getting a bit circular by this point.

Eventually I received a response telling me they would see what they could find out. This felt promising. Evri could redeem themselves, I thought. Hope triumphant over experience!

Two hours later I received another response saying ‘after an extensive investigation we can tell you the parcels are lost’. They were sorry I was disappointed. Contact the senders who will be able to refund or replace the items. Not, mark you, sorry that they had disappointed me. No offer of compensation. No promises that this would not happen again and no suggestion that they might actually take steps to find out how these parcels got ‘lost’ in the local depot. The onus was placed on me to contact the sellers to tell them someone else had lost the goods they had dispatched in good faith. Clearly Evri don’t update the sellers either, as I had an automated email from them asking me to review the item I hadn’t received.

Another parcel, for which I had paid next day delivery on Thursday so I could use the item over the weekend, is at their hub and didn’t even make it to the local depot. As someone pointed out to me yesterday, Evri have won plaudits two years running for being the worst delivery company on the planet – which in an industry of terrible service really does take some doing.

Things making me happy this week

  • An online course run by the V&A Academy – visible mending with Restoration London, on sashiko and boro stitching.
  • Waltham Abbey Wool Show – we have a spinning workshop booked
  • Finishing the 2022 Temperature Galaxy cross stitch
  • Giving my 20-somethingth pint of blood
  • Seeing the face of my Whovian colleague when she found a crocheted TARDIS on her desk for her birthday
  • Making more daft crocheted items and some earrings
  • Plotting 50th birthday shenanigans (to be revealed soon)

And now I am off to Tesco to stave off starving teenagers

Kirsty x

Gardens/Favours – Benedict Jacka

Kill the Farmboy – Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne (struggling with this – I loved the Iron Druid series but this is amateurish)

Night Watch – Terry Pratchett (Audible)

Storm Front/The Law/Brief Cases – Jim Butcher

147: what the heck was that?

That was week one of 2023, apparently, which has passed in a blur of meetings, taking care of poorly child and cat (who have the same thing, it turns out) and getting back into staying awake all day. Cat had to go and have a sleepover at the vet on Thursday, where he made friends with all the staff, but they wouldn’t take Thing One. Shame, really, as getting a vet appointment is considerably easier than getting to see a doctor.

Hopefully you all heeded last week’s excellent advice and have spent the first week of 2023 thinking of nice things to do with your year. I have booked in a massage and am looking forward to next weekend’s woolly workshop and show, and to an online V&A Academy course on Tuesday.

I am not sure I managed to get the hang of last week before it was all over, quite honestly. I did manage to get as far as November in the temperature galaxy, which serves me right for not keeping up with it since August, and have finished the Mk II TARDIS (slightly bigger on the outside, at least). I made the roof more domed and outlined the windows as well as the panes, but I think I prefer the smaller one which has now gone off to a new home with a Whovian colleague who had a birthday this week. Hope she likes it!

Having said I definitely wasn’t going to do a temperature stitch this year, I went back to Climbing Goat Designs to just have a look and ended up buying this one and, after this year, I will use a larger range of colours in case of extreme temperatures again. I have also ordered some printed space fabric to stitch it on, for a change, and I might brave the glow-in-the-dark thread for the stars. I am definitely not doing one next year though.

I also did some work: planning a new session for schools and thinking about what we’re missing from the handling collection. Suddenly the six/three/one month before opening to-do lists are NOW and not a future countdown. This sense of ‘ARGH’ wasn’t helped by this Time Out article on things to do in 2023 – we are number 13. It’s all starting to get a bit real… there’s such a lot that needs to happen before we open the doors, including getting all our kit back out of the various storage spaces and catalogued, working out how to store it all in my shiny new learning centre cupboards, convincing schools that even though we’re not doing historic toy sessions any more there’s still a good reason to come and visit, and at the same time as business as usual we’re also working on the first of our paid exhibitions which opens in October.

The session I was planning this week is based on Rachel Whiteread’s Place (Villlage) installation which was one of my favourite objects in the museum, and which is being redisplayed in the new space – the problem here is that trying to create a gallery based session before the gallery is installed is a bit tricksy as it all may change down the line. I really dislike dolls*, but this collection of dolls houses is atmospheric and magical, and provides excellent potential for literacy sessions. I can’t wait to see the new installation.

We’re also planning game design sessions, architecture, storytelling, and more – it’s all very exciting, but the marketing to teachers is keeping me awake at night!

*yes, it’s been suggested that I may be in the wrong job. I am also scared of masks.

This week I am bored with…

  • All things royal. Every time I turn on the TV or open Google there is some new ‘revelation’ from Prince Harry’s book which was allegedly leaked this week. Enough already. Siblings fight and there’s no law that says you have to like your sibling’s choice of partner. The trick is not to tell them and hope they work it out for themselves. Also, no one likes someone who constantly whinges that it’s not fair and everyone is horrid. Grow up.
  • ‘Train cancellations’ on the Central Line. Which appears to be yet another excuse for constant delays.
  • Laundry. Where does it all come from?
  • Work. It is cutting into my nap time.

On that note, the washing machine has finished, so I will sign off!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Paper Magician/The Glass Magician/The Plastic Magician – Charlie N. Holmberg

Kill the Farm Boy – Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

Gardens – Benedict Jacka

Thief of Time – Terry Pratchett (Audible)

Watching: Black Spot (Netflix)

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)