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

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.

Me.

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!

Kirsty

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

115: lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Ok, I might be exaggerating a bit here, but one of the wonders of living out here in sunny Essex is the variety of wildlife we get in the garden. The majority of it is welcome but some – like the odd rat – is less so. Living near farmland and with a watercourse near the house it’s inevitable, of course, but I still don’t want them snacking on the bird seed.

My favourites at this time of year are the blue tits who colonise the nest box and produce a brood of noisy chicks demanding feeding. The first sight of the babies as they peek out of the hole and glare at us is always an ‘aaahhh!’ moment, and one of the very bedraggled and exhausted parents paid us a visit one evening this week too. Rather foolishly, it had stopped for a rest on the fence outside the back door which surrounds the cats’ outdoor space – Lulu thought it was her birthday but Thing 2 came to the rescue. The bird was remarkably tame (or possibly just knackered) as we were able to get very close. It flew from Thing 2’s hand to my head before we were able to put it safely out of reach of the cat.

The local shrew population has less luck when it comes to Lulu. The occasional one ventures in to the cat space (probably after the strawberries) and doesn’t live to tell the tale, instead becoming a love gift for my (and her) beloved. She’s always most annoyed when we take them away from her. She did bring a mouse in just before Christmas which we didn’t realise until it peeked out from behind my sewing machines, leading to a frenzied twenty minutes with a wooden spoon, an empty cheese sauce pot and finally a rehoming in the compost bin.

Today I have been joined in the garden by a baby sparrow, and every year we have robins, blackbirds, dunnocks, goldcrests, woodpigeons and collared doves. There’s a raucous family of magpies too, whose antics make me laugh. They are scrappy and behave like human siblings, arguing amongst themselves and rough and tumbling in the garden. The poor mother (I assume!) takes refuge on our neighbour’s roof, and as soon as the juveniles spot her they all go and join her. On one occasion there was a panicked squawking as one landed on the telephone wire and ended up upside down without enough sense to let go….

Other garden birds are woodpeckers, the odd sparrow hawk, starlings (nesting in next door’s roof), red kites soaring overhead, moorhens in wet springs and for the first time this year parakeets have flashed past. For several years we had a very tame pheasant who our builders named Colin after one of their colleagues who also strutted about. This year Richmond the Rook is a regular, stalking about in his fluffy rook trousers and hanging about with a couple of jackdaws.

The less feathered friends turn up too: we’re privileged to have badgers visiting from the Common as well as foxes, rabbits and the occasional muntjac. We can usually track their progress by the nibbled plants, much to my Beloved’s disgust. A slow worm can often be found in the greenhouse enjoying the warmth, while toads lurk under stones and tarpaulins and newts haunt the flowerpots. Most years we have a bumble bee nest somewhere, as well as squirrels and tiny mice.

One of my friends described coming through the back gate once as like walking into Narnia – sometimes I think she’s not far wrong!

Other things this week have included cheering on the RideLondon cyclists as they zoomed through the village, binging Stranger Things seasons 1-3 in preparation for season 4, seeing this year’s museum fox cubs playing in the sunshine, Thing 3 going off on his first solo sleepover at London Aunty’s house (it’s fancy, apparently), much crocheting of a shawl which is taking forever, a glorious swim, a mooch about the market, an early walk, and making some tiny things.

This week it’s half term and there’s only three days in work thanks to some Queen or other having a jubilee. The village has broken out in bunting already. I have promised my beloved that I’ll sort out my shed next weekend….

See you next week!

Kirsty x

The Betrayal of Trust/The Various Haunts of Men – Susan Hill

Villager – Tom Cox

114: We’ve come to White City by mistake!

Or, Cemeteries and Cocktails part IV: Brompton Cemetery in the no-man’s-land of west-ish London.

Let’s get this clear right from the start, shall we? West-ish London has never been my stamping ground, other than having to go to work in South Kensington rather often at the moment, and as it turns out it’s equally unfamiliar to my partner in these adventures. Between us we are pretty good with east and north, but west and south are unknowns. Keep this in mind as we progress!

We met at St Pancras, which was heaving with Sunderland supporters who were on their way to Wembley for the Division One play off or something. There were lots of them, and even at 10am the station pubs were awash with red and white stripes as they all got into the spirit of things (except the poor man who’d brought his wife and son and who was being dragged off to Leicester Square. He was not being allowed to get into the spirit of things, judging by the look on his face.). Wycombe were the other team in the play-off and presumably they just had to get on the outer reaches of the tube – we didn’t see any, anyway! They lost, possibly as their fans weren’t in the spirit of things.

A and I successfully negotiated the Piccadilly line to Earl’s Court and to the cemetery, which was about 10 minutes walk past nice houses. We tried the North Lodge cafe first, with an almond milk hot chocolate for me and a flat white for her, and we shared an almond croissant. Cute dogs galore, and very clean toilets. I could have lived without the person in front of me in the queue ordering his ‘iced americano, yah, with just a dash of oat milk, yah’ and adding daft things to his drink every 30 seconds. So, I suspect, could the baristas.

The cemetery looked green and lovely, so we set off in search of Emmeline Pankhurst’s grave and whoever else was laying about in there. Unlike the previous three, Brompton is clearly used much more as a leisure space by the locals – lots of cyclists, runners and dog walkers were in evidence. It didn’t feel as friendly as the others, either, possibly because people weren’t all there to see the graves and so there were less hellos from fellow wanderers.

The cemetery leaflet very helpfully lists their ‘Top 25’ must-sees and there is a downloadable PDF with another 75, so every so often you find a small metal number in the path telling you where someone is. Other notables in Brompton include John Snow (the cholera one, not the newsreader or the Game of Thrones one. Duh!), Sir Henry Cole (without whom I would not have my current job or something), and James Bohee who was apparently the best banjoist in the world. We didn’t find all of them but we did meet a lot of extremely tame crows and squirrels, who were happy to share one of my emergency biscuits.

After 180 odd years there are a lot of graves in the cemetery – it’s still a working cemetery so there are recent burials as well as the older ones. These are very well tended, some with beautiful miniature gardens and one which is permanently decorated for Christmas. You’re no longer allowed to build giant mausoleums any more, sadly, or have the huge family plots. I have always quite fancied a mausoleum, to be honest, but since that doesn’t seem to be an option I’ll go completely the other way and have a woodland plot instead. One mausoleum we rather liked was that of Hannah Courtoy, who sounds like a woman I’d like to have met: she had three children with an older man and although they never married she – somewhat controversially – inherited his fortune which paid for her Egyptian-style tomb. It looked like a TARDIS, so we half expected a Doctor or 14 to appear.

We wandered past the catacombs (the plan is to go back in July for a tour) and the Brigade of Guards monument, and worshipped briefly at the paws of a supremely disinterested cat who was drowsing in a coat-lined hollow in the sunshine. Many of the older sections have been allowed to grow wild so are covered in grasses and spring flowers attracting bees and all sorts of wildlife.

What’s White City got to do with all this, I hear you ask?

Once we’d had a good explore and put the world to rights, we congratulated ourselves on not having been accosted by weirdos or chased by strange men in skips, and decided it was time to go and find some lunch – Nandos or a good burger, we thought. We left the cemetery and headed back to Earls Court – and somehow we missed. We took the next road down from the one we’d come in from, thinking that we’d find our way back, and next thing we know we have seen a lot of seedy hotels, some very expensive houses, and we’ve found ourselves at a huge Tesco on the A4 where a strange man was juggling clubs in the middle of the road.

With the aid of Google Maps we oriented ourselves, found a bus that was supposed to go to South Kensington and with a sigh of relief we sat down and anticipated a good lunch. It was with dawning horror that we slowly realised the bus was going to White City instead, despite what the bus timetable had said. There was our weirdo, too, in the shape of a little old lady who rang the bell for every stop but did not get off! Instead, she harangued the poor driver until he let her off somewhere between stops as she claimed he had not opened the doors where she wanted (he had) and she did not want to walk back.

It was with another sigh of relief that we spotted Westfield – not where we’d wanted to be but we were pretty sure we’d find some lunch there. We did, in the shape of GBK, and a well-earned burger and fries. We passed on the joy of going shopping, and headed home instead. Next up: a return to Brompton and then Nunhead. What excitement will a foray south of the river provide?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Not Dark Yet/The Price of Love – Peter Robinson