Week twenty-six: “When I was your age, television was called books.”

Wow, six months into this blog and the world still isn’t looking normal, with the R-rate between 1.1 and 1.4 and local restrictions in place in many areas of the UK. The testing system is failing again (offering people in Northern Ireland a test in rural Essex is definitely not a mark of success), and advice from the government is inconsistent around keeping bubbles open or closed. Apparently you can go on an organised grouse shoot with 30 people but your kids can’t socialise outside school with a group of children they have spent the day inside a classroom with.

Anyway. This is not a political blog so I’ll mooch on back to the things that make me happy, like books.

Crime fiction is one of the world’s best selling genres and there’s a host of theories as to why this might be. Exploring human nature, sensational crimes, the tension and excitement as the protagonist come closer to the perpetrator and inevitably finds themselves in danger, our need for justice and the triumph of good over evil. Or is it – as Dorothy L. Sayers wrote in 1934 – that “Death seems to provide the minds of the Anglo-Saxon race with a greater fund of innocent enjoyment than any other single subject.” Whatever – a good detective novel sucks you in, keeps you on the edge of your seat and wide awake till the last page. Our heroes always have to break the rules a bit to get the job done, too. Don’t we all want to be a bit maverick sometimes?

“Commander, I always used to consider that you had a definite anti-authoritarian streak in you.”
“Sir?”
“It seems that you have managed to retain this even though you are authority.”
“Sir?”
“That’s practically zen.”

Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay

This week’s reading (and listening) list has all been male detectives – not planned, just what’s been coming up as I finish one book and choose something new from the virtual shelf of shame on my Kindle. I wrote a while ago about my love for girl detectives, so it’s really only fair that the boys get a look in too.

My first experience with Nancy Drew’s male counterparts was – of course! – Franklin W. Dixon’s Hardy Boys series. While I was never as fond of these as I was of Nancy and her girlfriends, I did pick them up from the library when I saw them. As I got older and was allowed freer range on the parental bookshelves, I read my way through John D.MacDonald’s Travis McGee books (starting with The Deep Blue Good-By). Luckily both my parents appreciate a good crime novel, so I had a lot of choice! So here, in no particular order, are some of my favourite ‘boy’ detectives – let me know who I’ve missed.

  1. Marcus Didius Falco – by Lindsey Davis. Set in Ancient Rome, these are well-researched and funny.
  2. Sam Vimes – Terry Pratchett. Discworld again (Not sorry. All human (and human-adjacent) life is here).
  3. Inspector Lynley (and Sgt. Barbara Havers as his common-as-muck sidekick) – by Elizabeth George. Posh but resisting it. Touched by tragedy. The first one I read was Playing for the Ashes and then I hunted down the rest.
  4. Richard Jury (and posh sidekick Melrose Plant) – Martha Grimes. A few of the later ones got a bit existential but they’re back on track now.
  5. Harry Bosch – Michael Connelly. I have my friend Elaine to thank for this, as she gave me Angels Flight when she’d finished it and off I went to the library for the rest. What would we do without libraries?
  6. Dave Robicheaux – James Lee Burke. Wonderfully flawed antihero here, beautifully written and set in a very atmospheric Louisiana.
  7. Nick Travers – Ace Atkins. Also set in the American south. A blues detective!
  8. Stephens and Mephisto – Elly Griffiths. Set in Brighton, a policeman and a stage magician. Elly Griffitths’ female creation – Ruth Galloway – was in my last list, and her YA novels are shaping up nicely too.
  9. Dr Siri Paiboun – Colin Cotterill. Set in 1970s Laos, Dr Siri is the chief coroner, occasionally possessed.
  10. Inspector Singh – Shamini Flint. Set in Singapore.
  11. Alex Delaware – Jonathan Kellerman. Consultant psychologist to the LAPD, helping his friend Milo Sturgis.
  12. Lord Peter Wimsey – Dorothy L. Sayers. Witty and very of its time – Sayers described him as a cross between Bertie Wooster and Fred Astaire.
  13. Myron Bolitar – Harlan Coben. A sports agent with a posh (but psychopathic) sidekick.
  14. Elvis Cole and Joe Pike – Robert Crais. Elvis cracks wise, Joe is the strong and silent type. Very strong, very silent.
  15. John Rebus – Ian Rankin. Possibly the ultimate maverick cop. Atmospheric Edinburgh this time – I do love it when the landscape/cityscape almost becomes a character in its own right.
  16. Commissaire Adamsberg – Fred Vargas. Honourable mention for her Three Evangelists series, too.
  17. Kenzie (and Gennaro) – Dennis Lehane. Another beautifully drawn city – this time Boston. Accidental library discovery when I was making up my book numbers.
  18. Kinky Friedman – eponymous. Slightly mad, very funny.
  19. Leaphorn and Chee – Tony Hillerman created the characters and his daughter Anne has continued the series. Navajo mysteries, full of legend and landscape.
  20. The Vinyl Detective – Andrew Cartmel. We never find out his name.
  21. Easy Rawlins – Walter Mosley. A charity shop discovery when I picked up Blonde Faith
  22. Dirk Gently – Douglas Adams. Solving mysteries through the interconnectedness of all things.
  23. Last – but not least – Brother Cadfael – Ellis Peters. Medieval monk with a crusader past, set in Shrewsbury during the Anarchy (between King Stephen and Empress Matilda (or Maud))

I’ll stop there, I promise! The wonderful thing about books is that there will always be more people with the urge to write, there will always be friends to recommend new discoveries and – I hope – there will always be libraries.

Anybody want a peanut?

My family’s all-time favourite film (and book) is The Princess Bride. I know I have found kindred spirits when they can quote the film at length and they know what to say to the word ‘Inconceivable!’ We first saw it on VHS (yes, that long ago!) on Bonfire Night in the 1980s, before we went to Monmouth to see the fireworks, and it immediately took on favourite status. I think all of us have our own copies of the book and the film, and it was one of the first ‘proper’ films I sat down with my children to watch.

Theatrical release poster (image from Wikipedia)

The book starts with the line “This is my favourite book in all the world, though I have never read it,” and author William Goldman maintains the conceit that it’s an abridged version of ‘S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure”. It’s got everything, it really has:

““He held up a book then. “I’m going to read it to you for relax.”
“Does it have any sports in it?”
“Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True Love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest Ladies. Snakes. Spiders… Pain. Death. Brave men. Cowardly men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”
“Sounds okay,” I said and I kind of closed my eyes.”

It also has the greatest to-do list ever. On being invited to see Count Rugen torture our hero Westley, Prince Humperdinck tells us:

“Tyron. You know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder, and Guilder to blame for it. I’m swamped.”

So when this pattern turned up on the Snarky and Nerdy Cross Stitch group on Facebook I knew I had to make it – the designer shared it as a free PDF, bless her. I couldn’t find any of my black thread skeins anywhere, so ended up using perle cotton, but it looks OK.

I’m also working on a crochet dog for a small person’s birthday – its become a tradition for these two children to challenge me to make things, including a shark and Totoro. I haven’t made a dog before, but found this pattern on Ravelry. I’m using Stylecraft Alpaca DK from the stash, as it’s quite fluffy and tactile, so I hope she likes it!

This week’s last make has been a smaller version of the giant blanket for a friend’s daughter. She chose her own softshell fabric, in a pretty pink with a quirky umbrella print, and wanted it ‘between short and long’. I put kangaroo pockets on the inside and outside, and as there was fabric left over I whipped up a matching drawstring bag. Here it is being modelled by Thing 2, who’s a bit taller than the recipient.

The bishop-sleeved cardigan now has one front section and the back – the yarn is holding out so far!

Hello, hello…am I on mute?

Still working from home! It’s been a good week though with some interesting conversations, notably with the brilliant Bilkis from You Be You. We met first way back in March, shortly before lockdown, when we had an inspirational conversation about breaking down gender stereotypes and how we could work together in Bethnal Green. I do love meeting people whose default response is ‘how do we make this happen?’ rather than a ‘let’s think about it’. I felt really motivated after our Zoom chat!

The other thing in my mind this week is our Learning Collection, which is huge, unwieldy and – to be frank – occasionally terrifying. There are some beautiful objects in there but also boxes of dismembered dolls, damaged wax and porcelain dolls and more. I am terrified of masks and dolls, so I do like to know what’s in a box before I open it. We need to edit the collection to make it relevant to future learning, so I’m very keen to get back to site and start! Preferably before we go back into lockdown…

So that was week 26. Half a year. What’s the last quarter of 2020 going to bring?

Kirsty x

(cover photo by Isla Falconer)

What I’ve been reading

Dark Sacred Night (Bosch and Ballard) – Michael Connelly

The Wedding Guest (Alex Delaware) – Jonathan Kellerman

Ode to a Banker (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week twenty two: faeries at the bottom of the street?

Last week’s ‘What I’ve been reading’ included the latest in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, a long awaited event by the many fans of this urban fantasy series. (Side note: it ends on a cliff hanger and the second part isn’t due till September. Argh!) Urban fantasy is ‘a subgenre of fantasy in which the real world collides with the decidedly supernatural or magical world’ (blog,reedsy.com). A J Blakemont, an author, goes further and says,

“Urban fantasy is a hybrid genre that lives at the crossroads between fantasy, horror, science fiction, hardboiled, thriller, and romance. One might say that urban fantasy is a liminal genre; it exists where the other genres meet. It lives at the frontier between the mundane and the fantastical, the natural and the supernatural, between technology and magic. Every urban fantasy story involves some supernatural beings and/or humans with magical abilities; yet it’s also rooted in reality.”

Whatever it is, I love it. I don’t know whether it’s the crossover with hardboiled noir (see my girl detectives post for more ramblings on this subject) or whether its the idea that fairies and other fantastical creatures might be hiding round every corner, but I love discovering a new series – even more so if I am coming late to the discovery and there’s a lot to catch up on. Of course, then you have the problem of finishing the back catalogue and having to wait for the next one, but there we are!

I can thank my Dad for my interest in SF/Fantasy – his enormous library was where I started, with Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, Robert Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and Christopher Stasheff’s Warlock series, as well as Tolkien (of course). Dad shouldn’t be left unsupervised in Forbidden Planet, and Hay-on-Wye is a treasure trove for the whole family.

So this week I’m sharing some of my favourites with you. Please do share your own recommendations, I love a good read.

  1. Ben Aaronovitch – the Rivers of London series. River goddesses (and gods), underground societies, a whole department of the Met to deal with what one of the characters describes as ‘weird bollocks’, and all set in modern London? Aaronovitch cut his teeth on the Doctor Who team so his credentials are excellent. The graphic novels alongside the ‘main’ novels are great too.
  2. Kim Harrison – the Hollows series. Set in Cincinnati after ‘The Turn’, this has witches, demons, pixies, vampires and all sorts of good stuff. Again, we had to wait a few years for the latest instalment in the series to land this summer but it was worth it.
  3. Charles de Lint – the Newford series. As far as I am concerned, Charles de Lint is the grandaddy of urban fantasy. I first discovered him via my Dad who had bought Greenmantle and Moonheart – neither of which are part of the Newford world but which were my introduction to urban fantasy. His books set in Arizona are also excellent. The magic isn’t far under the surface with any of his books, but the urban settings are realistic.
  4. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files – set in Chicago, Harry Dresden is the only wizard listed in the Yellow Pages. Organised crime, vampires, werewolves, pizza-eating faeries and more. I’ve just started rereading from the beginning, to keep me going till September and the next instalment.
  5. Mike Carey – Felix Castor series. Set in London, Castor is an exorcist. His tech genius is a zombie holed up in a cinema in Walthamstow, and his best friend is possessed. Not for the faint hearted, especially the last in the series (I hold out hope for more…)
  6. Neil Gaiman – if not the grandaddy, at least the great uncle. Neverwhere, which tells the tale of what happened to a man who accidentally fell into London Below after helping someone out, is one I go back to time after time. American Gods is also a good example of the genre, and I’m going to throw in Good Omens – not strictly UF as it doesn’t have the noir elements, but it does lead me on to…
  7. Terry Pratchett – the Watch strand of the Discworld series. Another stretch for the UF genre, but Ankh-Morpork is so close to Victorian London, and Sam Vimes is a proper alcoholic cop saved by the love of a good woman (and her dragons), and its my blog so I can say what I want. Pratchett’s characters – certainly in the later books, after the puns and comedy of the early novels – are well-drawn. They’re still funny, but a lot darker.
  8. Kevin Hearne – the Iron Druid series. These lost the plot a bit in the later books, but the earlier ones are excellent. Set in Arizona, the druid Atticus runs into all sorts of gods, and usually manages to annoy them.
  9. Charlaine Harris – Southern Vampire Mysteries.Yes, True Blood. Set in the American South, in a world where the vampires have come out of the coffin thanks to the invention of a synthetic blood subsitute that means they don’t have to feed on humans.
  10. Honourable mentions: Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson novels, Ilona Andrews, Tanya Huff, Faith Hunter, Seanan Mcguire, Kelley Armstrong. There’s a lot of very strong female protagonists (and authors) in this genre that haven’t historically been seen in High Fantasy or SF/F. This can only be a good thing!

Morgans and more

I started the Bento Box quilt patches this week, using a production line method which meant building every patch section by section and pressing in between. And then I ran out of fabric so have to wait for some more of the blenders. They come from Empress Mills, who are an excellent family business but orders are taking a while to process at the moment for obvious reasons. Worth the wait though!

So I decided to tackle some of my to-do pile while I’m waiting, as well as the new Adele apron dress from Alice and Co Patterns.

This is the third pattern I’ve made from this company – the Jump Up Suit and and the Intrepid boiler suit being the others – and they’re so straightforward. The instructions are clear and friendly, with good tips for fitting and customising.

I used the rigid denim left over from making my Morgan jeans a few weeks ago, and chose the crossover back strap option and to knot the straps rather than adding buckles/buttons. There’s a whole set of options for both the back and the waist ties, making this a very versatile pattern, and I can see it getting a lot of wear. Big pockets, too, which are a must!

I really need to go back to work so I can wear these things.

I made a second pair of Morgans, too, this time in a velvety soft black cord that came from Pound Fabrics. These were quicker than the first pair as – because cord doesn’t twist in the same way denim does – I could cut out the pattern on the double layer. I used leftover turquoise quilting cotton for the pocket linings, and left off the rivets, and they were finished in a day. It probably took me almost as long to remove the cat hair from the fabric as it did to sew them! Cord does attract every bit of fur and fluff for miles around…

Finally, I used a double duvet cover to make a swirly skirt using my favourite Simplicity 8446 pattern. I love duvets for this, as you get a lot of fabric that quite often doesn’t need much ironing, can be tumble dried and comes in some mad prints. I have Doctor Who and Marvel comic versions, as well as a cat one. This time I used a space print fabric. As we’ve been in lockdown for months too with its inevitable home-baked side effects, I also made the decision to forgo the side zip and hacked the pattern to use the stretch waistband from MBJM’s Four Seasons jogger pattern which is much more forgiving! It’s given the skirt a bit of extra length too, so its super swishy.

I whipped up a set of pattern weights using this tutorial at the end of the week – making use of a couple of fat quarters from the stash and some dried beans as fillers. Being superlazy, I used the overlocker for everything so it was very quick. Thing 2 has appropriated one to play with already.

My next project is the By Hand London Anna Dress which I have cut out in a yellow viscose which is very slippery – I have my doubts about how simple this will be to sew!

My new adventure pants get their first outing…

Yesterday London sister and I put on our adventure pants, dug out our walking boots and set off on a road trip to Cudmore Grove Country Park in East Mersea to blow the cobwebs away. Usually sisterly days out include Italian food, eyebrow threading and the odd cocktail, so this was a bit of a break from tradition. We left my Horde at home as we wanted a good long walk, turned on an 80s station to sing along to and headed off into the wilds of Essex.

Sisters on the loose

We read a blog post earlier in the week which talked about the lack of home-nation regional foods in London – specifically the Greggs corned beef pasty which is a staple in Welsh stores but can’t be bought in London. We love corned beef pasties and I remember being able to buy them in Preston, but not down here – surprising, given the number of Welsh people who have migrated to ‘Town’ over the centuries. So, London sister whipped up a batch of pasties for a picnic (I may have mentioned her superior cooking skills in a previous post!), added some cheese rolls just in case, a Snickers bar or two and some Cardigan Bay coffee .

East Mersea (and West Mersea, of course) are on Mersea Island. Connected to mainland Essex by a causeway which disappears underwater if high tides are over five metres, it’s the most easterly inhabited island in the UK. It’s been popular as a destination since Roman times, apparently, and over the years has hosted pirates, WW2 defences, and a lot of oysters.

The country park has a large car park, the all-important toilets and a small kiosk with ice creams and coffee. We parked up, attempted to decipher the map and then decided to pick a path that went past the bird hide (closed due to subsidence). We could see a tree full of little egrets, which was quite exciting, and the path then takes you past a pillbox and on down towards the beach. We turned left first towards Brightlingsea and walked as far as we could, then hopped across some of the many little streams to rejoin the footpath. The beach is narrow but sandy, and we were amazed at the lack of windbreaks given the brisk breeze and the number of wind farms in the area. Even today we pack the windbreaks before anything else when heading off on holiday!

We then headed back into the wind towards West Mersea, following the beach as far as we could, staying well away from the crumbly clay cliff which has apparently yielded fossils and bones (hippos! in Essex!). It’s clearly unstable, and I think the whole island took a bit of a battering in the storms last year as the sea wall has been breached in several places. The wind was great for the kite surfers and we watched a couple doing amazing jumps over the waves for a while. Once we’d walked as far as we could we turned back and ate our picnic sitting on a slipway watching happy kids jumping waves.

We wandered back, found a picnic table near the adventure playground for coffee and a bit of cloudwatching, and then headed back just in time to get caught in the queue for the causeway as the tide was in. It was very exciting to drive back across the causeway with the sea still coming over the road in places!

This week’s swimming has been equally adventurous! Sue and I braved the water in ‘skins’ (without wetsuits) early in the week just to give it a try. The water was around 21 degrees at that stage, and while I loved it Sue wasn’t convinced. We also swam in high wind on Friday, where the reeds were blown flat against the water, and today I did one lap in my wetsuit and one without. The water temp was 19 degrees today and it felt great. I’m definitely keen to carry on through the winter!

19 degrees and glorious

We’ve been enjoying the produce from the garden this week – glorious tomatoes warm from the greenhouse, earthy chard, runner beans, potatoes, apples and blackberries. Thing 2 and I made apple and blackberry pie which was delicious, and she’s been baking them with honey and cinnamon.

And that’s been my week! This week will have to include the trauma of the school shoe shopping as the summer holidays are coming to an end. Compared to the end of the school year these six weeks have flown by.

See you at the end of week 23!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series (from the beginning!)

A Dying Light in Corduba (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Machine Quilting for Beginners – Carolyn S Vagts

Sarah Payne’s Quilt School

Week twenty: are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

I have mentioned before that I’m a bit of a reader and have been since an early age. I suspect, given that my parents are also big readers, that it was partially self-defence and then it became a habit. Both parents read to us and created their own stories – Galumphus the Dragon was my dad’s character, and Jeremy John stories came from my mum. I continued to listen in when my much younger sister was being read to, and for me one of the joys of teaching was story time at the end of the day; whether that was a picture book or, further up the school, a chapter book.

One of the last sessions I created at the Museum of London Docklands was a sensory, interactive story called ‘The Cinnamon Birds’, as an introduction to the idea of international trade for Key Stage 1 and family groups. I loved telling it – from gathering my audience Pied Piper-style, moving through the museum with a beautiful dragon puppet on my shoulder, to casting a story spell with tales of cunning merchants and wafts of magical scents and treasures from a pirate chest.

At the V&A Museum of Childhood, we had a hardcore of parents and children who would come every day for the Animal Magic session at 2pm, led by the Activity Assistants who used puppets, music, projection and more to bring both classic stories and their own work to life. It didn’t matter how often the families heard We’re going on a bear hunt! – this time was part of their daily routine. (Lia, one of the former AAs, has now set up her own business with her mum creating sustainable story sacks, with all the contents and materials sourced from charity shops and community markets. I love this idea – check them out, they are Oranges and Lemons and their product is wonderful).

I still love listening to stories – when I’m commuting I can be found on the Central Line listening to audio books and crocheting my way to work. I refuse to confess to the number of times I have missed my stop as I was distracted by an exciting bit…

When my Horde were small I took the opportunity to gather the books that I had loved as a child, as well as discovering new stories. So here are some of our favourite picture books*….

  1. The Tiger Who Came To Tea – Judith Kerr. This is more than 50 years old now and still wonderful. Also her Mog books, and her autobiographical ones. When we get back to whatever normal looks like, keep an eye out for the touring exhibition from Seven Stories.
  2. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak. Another classic from the 1960s, and I love it. A wild rumpus always sounds like fun.
  3. Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell . My bunch all loved lifting the flaps and shouting along with the words, making animal noises. I bought this one at Stansted Airport on the way to France with Thing 1, and her Grandpere spent a lot of time reading it to her on that holiday.
  4. The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle. Another one they loved to recite with me, or finish the sentences when they were very small.
  5. Hairy McLary from Donaldson’s Dairy – Lynley Dodd. We had a CD with these stories too, and David Tennant was perfect as the narrator. Thing 2 also loved The Dudgeon is Coming.
  6. Is it bedtime, Wibbly Pig? – Mick Inkpen. Every parent knows the torture of bedtime! Wibbly Pig’s Silly Big Bear always makes me cry.
  7. No Matter What – Debi Gliori – big thinking for little people.We still love them even when they’re naughty!
  8. My Big Shouting Day – Rebecca Patterson. Another one of Thing 2’s favourites. I think she identified with the main character (so did I).
  9. Dinosaur Roar! – Henrietta and Paul Stickland. We got this one free from Bookstart and Thing 3 LOVED it.
  10. Tiddler – Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. All this pair’s books are wonderful, but this one was their favourite.
  11. Funnybones – Janet and Allan Ahlberg. Thing 3 thought this was hilarious. They also loved Each Peach Pear Plum and hunting for the fairytale characters in the illustrations.
  12. Tell Me A Dragon – Jackie Morris. I fell in love with her glorious, magical illustrations through another Bookstart book – Can you see a Little Bear? – which she illustrated for James Mayhew, and when Tell Me A Dragon came out with a dedication to Terry Pratchett, I bought it for myself. Of course I read it to the children too. Her work with Robert Macfarlane in The Lost Words is exquisite and I was lucky enough to catch the exhibition at the Foundling Museum in 2018.
  13. The Dancing Tiger – Malachy Doyle. Thing 2’s nickname is ‘Tiger’ so we read a lot of books about tigers! This is one of my favourites. We don’t stop dancing when we get old!
  14. The Mousehole Cat – Antonia Barber.We discovered this one via a CBeebies bedtime story, read by Shobna Gulati, and bought our own copy. Thing 1 loved the Storm Cat.
  15. That Pesky Rat – Lauren Child. Runner up here goes to Who wants to be a Poodle? I don’t – I love her collaged illustrations.
  16. I Really Want to Eat a Child – Sylviane Donnio. Another of Thing 2’s favourites! She has always been the most anarchic, subversive child and this story really appealed to her.
  17. Lost and Found – Oliver Jeffers. All of us loved this one – there’s a beautiful TV adaptation too.
  18. Penguin – Polly Dunbar. This one was a library story time discovery when Thing 1 was small. Inevitably she would have fallen asleep in the buggy on the walk to the library but I always stayed for the story!
  19. Not Now, Bernard – David McKee. Poor Bernard! And poor monster…
  20. Whatever Next – Jill Murphy. Thing 3 solemnly informed his playschool aunty that ‘Mummy said I am allowed to go to the moon….but I can’t go up the chimney.’ That one took a bit of explaining.

Special mentions also to Mayer Mercer’s There’s a Nightmare in My Cupboard, The Bear’s Toothache by David McPhail, Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss, and – finally, I promise – Lost in the Toy Museum by David Lucas. So many schools read this before visiting the museum that we eventually offered it as a session, and it was very popular.

Thing 2 still occasionally asks for a story – we read The Ordinary Princess by M M Kaye earlier this year, and we’ve started Anne of Green Gables. Thing 3 likes to listen in… he is the biggest reader of them all at the moment.

Even once children have learned to read themselves, there is magic in hearing a story well told. Reluctant readers may find their way in to reading this way, and I always told worried parents that as long as their children were reading, it didn’t matter what it was. Reading schemes, while worthy and phonically sound, are often boring. Find what they want to read and let their imaginations fly!

What are your favourites?

(*not affiliate links, just Amazon. Other book sellers are available!)

Morgan jeans finished at last…

.and they are my new favourite thing. I bought the pattern after making Closet Core’s Ginger skinny jeans, which I wrote about in Week Fourteen. The fly hadn’t gone well, but I liked the process of making the jeans and thought I’d try something in a style I wouldn’t usually wear. I bought some bargain midweight rigid denim from The Textile Centre – the first package disappeared in the post but they were really helpful in replacing it. I buy from them quite often, as they are very reasonably priced and the fabrics are always great quality.

The pattern instructions were very clear – the indie designers are far better than the Big 4 (Simplicity, Vogue, Butterick, McCalls) pattern companies at providing step by step instructions, and usually have good photographs of the process.

Well, these were a dream make, even when I put one of the pocket linings on backwards and had to frog it. I was trying to take special care with the pockets as I’d got them the wrong way last time. I even re-cut one of the pocket linings as I was using a directional print and didn’t want it upside down, even though under normal circumstances no one will be looking at the inside of my jeans! The maneki neko fabric was from Ali Express, and it’s a good 100% cotton quilting weight. Expect to see more of it in a future quilt!

In terms of sizing, I took out 5mm from the straight leg seam allowance, but I don’t think I needed to so I’ll leave it in next time. I also took out some length in the leg – 5cm, this time – and I think this was about right. I like the cropped length with my trusty Birkenstocks.

I was very careful with the fly, after last time, and this time I got it right. I also went the whole hog and added rivets, belt loops and made my own ‘brand’ patch using a woven label from The Pink Coat Club. Both the jeans buttons and the rivets came from EBay.

Overall I am pretty pleased with them, though a sewing friend suggested I made the pockets a bit smaller and placed them a bit higher to be more flattering, which I will do next time. I have some black cord that will work well with this pattern, so there *will* be a next time! I wore them on Tuesday, when I ventured onto a train to take one of my stepdaughters to an appointment, and they were so easy to wear, even as the temperature rose.

I remembered my mask, too – home made, of course.

Foxy!

I’m still working on my attic windows quilt, and will hopefully finish the top this week. I am going to attempt sashing between blocks, so let’s see how that goes! Here’s the different blocks laid out on the fabric I have chosen for the sashing. I’ve tried to be quite accurate with my sizing – I trimmed the single window squares to the same size and squared off the edges before putting them into the larger blocks, and the larger blocks have been squared to 11 3/4″. I’m not entirely sure how big this is going to end up! I have a double duvet cover (well, the reverse of one -the front is going to be a circle skirt) for backing, so hopefully that’ll be large enough!

Attic window blocks

As an aside – I have a Quilting board on Pinterest, and I opened up the site in a new tab to remind me to have a look at it when I’d finished writing this. An hour later, I realised I’d fallen down the rabbit hole and rather than looking at the pins on the board, I’d got about 30 tabs open, had pinned a whole new set of ideas and still hadn’t finished this post!

Adventures in the great outdoors

I haven’t done quite as much swimming this week as one of my buddies was working up in London, but we have managed a couple of early morning plunges and a late afternoon dip, which was most welcome when the temperatures were in the high 20s. We swam just as the sun was starting to go down, surrounded by damselflies and ducks, and it was quite blissful. We did about a lap and a half, so just over a kilometre.

Early morning walks have been good too – we are more than 70% of the way towards the August 30k challenge I mentioned last week. One morning we went round the fields via the flood meadow (see this week’s cover photo) which is filled with wild flowers, and on another via the farm where we finally coaxed the little black barn cat close enough to pet. There’s a lot of black cats on the farms round here! His marmalade friend joined in with the fuss too. Next time we walk we are going to take boxes and pick blackberries, as the hedges are groaning with them.

How does your garden grow?

Closer to home, the garden is looking beautiful – one of the sunflowers is now nine feet tall, and hasn’t flowered yet! The sunset-coloured one below is probably about seven feet tall (you can see the stalk of the big one behind it), and the bees love them. The squirrels will also love the seeds when the flowers are finished.

We also made a trip to the garden centre for compost and came home with more sad plants – these two Black Eyed Susans outside my shed, these flame-like celosia that look like Calcifer from Howl’s Moving Castle, and some heliotropes and calla lilies.

Bailey and Teddy are making the most of their catio, as you can see – they love being able to come outside and watch the birds close up. The catio is made of a dog cage, bits of fireguard and a lot of cable ties. We keep adding bits on to try and stop Lulu escaping, as she’s a bit of a Houdini!

Hey, what happened with that job interview?

We heard mid-week that we hadn’t been successful but the consensus view is that we don’t mind! We enjoyed the process and we can continue to work together on the project at our own museum with a new understanding of each other’s skills and experiences, and how well we work as a team. Hopefully we also started people thinking differently about how job shares can work, and got them thinking about what innovation might look like in a multi-site organisation!

You can find out more about the V&A East project here and about the Museum of Childhood transformation here.

And that’s it from me for the week – I have a kitchen full of kids causing chaos, more in the tent in the garden, and I probably ought to supervise!

Same time next week for week 21 then!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

American Demon – Kim Harrison (the new Hollows novel! Yay!)

The Pearl King (Crow Investigations) – Sarah Painter

Time to Depart (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week seventeen: The Case of the Disappearing Nine Patch

I confess to being a little bit down as I write this, as – had it not been for some pandemic or other – I should be tapping away on my tablet, sitting in the garden of a farmhouse in sunny Pembrokeshire surrounded by my family, some of whom I haven’t seen for two years. Yesterday my mum and dad would have arrived from France, my far-away sister and brother-in-law and their children from Northern Ireland, my London sister from the other side of of the M25, and my beloved and I and the children from Essex. We’d be planning a day on the beach at Newport or Newgale, or a mooch around St David’s or Fishguard, making a stack of sandwiches and coffee and counting the windbreaks. At some point in the week we would have seen the extended Wales family of cousins and hopefully my beloved’s Welsh family as well. Instead, here I am in rainy Essex, suffering from mosquito bites after a bike ride on Friday (how do they bite through leggings? How?) and waiting for the kids to emerge from the tent demanding Sunday pancakes. I bear a strong resemblance to Tove Jansson’s Little My in temperament today.

Friday marked the end of the school year for Things 2 and 3, and for Thing 2 also her final year of primary school as she will join Thing 1 at secondary in September. The school organised a socially distanced leavers’ assembly on Friday morning, so they didn’t miss out on all the usual events: yearbooks, a chance to sign each other’s T-shirts (not while they were wearing them for a change!) and to see their friends. Thing 2 is not going to our local large secondary, and she won’t be in the same school as most of her little gang so it was quite a sad moment for her. I think the teachers have definitely earned their summer holiday this year (as they do every year, of course) but this year some won’t have had a break since February half term, and their heads are probably spinning with all the things they have had to adapt to – remote teaching and pastoral care, social bubbles, and much more. I have said this before but I really hope that people start recognising the amazing work teachers do not just this year but every year – and trust them to do what’s best for our kids rather than scapegoating them.

Thing 1 had a birthday last week – she was 14 – and despite a few wobbly moments of anxiety leading up to it I think she had fun. Two of her friends came over and they had a cake picnic in the park, frightening the local youngsters with their mad hair, and taking a lot of selfies. She had her undercut dyed pink on Friday – one of the good things about lockdown is that it’s allowed her to ‘experiment with her aesthetic’ (as she tells me) without the restrictions of school uniform requirements. It’s done wonders for her confidence, and I am loving the baby Goth look she’s developed – I have serious envy of her birthday-money shoes! My hands are still tinged with hot pink from the dye-fest – I did her older sister’s hair too, and forgot the gloves.

Baby goth – Hello Kitty Gothcore, I am told.

I was abandoned on Thursday by my walking buddy, who had a bad back. I went out solo and enjoyed the sunshine on a four mile ramble through the lanes and fields on one of my favourite routes past Dial House and North Weald Redoubt. The hedgerows and verges are now showing the fruits of the flowers from earlier in the season, and they’re alive with insects still – ladybirds and crickets, and so many butterflies (none of whom would stay still long enough to photograph).

There’s also a new set of wildflowers popping up – the bank of willowherb on the farm track is a luscious wall of pink, and the purple of thistles and vetch is lovely.

Back to the title – what’s that all about?

The Case of the Disappearing Nine Patch..

I’m a reader. A big reader. A REALLY big reader. One of the first things I did when I started uni both in Preston and in Aberystwyth and when I moved on to London and Essex later was to find and join the local library. I can sniff out a second hand bookshop or charity shop at a hundred paces. When I visit you, if you leave me alone in your living room I’ll be snooping your bookshelves. I am that person on your Zoom meeting who’s peering past you at the bookshelves. The joy of finding a fellow series fan is unbounded – meeting a fellow Pratchett fan in the wild, noticing a Rivers of London reader on the Tube, those who know the significance of the number 42. (The museum world is a good place to find these people, by the way). We be of one blood, you and I.

But the first series I really got into – I mean, really got into – was Nancy Drew way back in the early 80s. I read them all from the library, snapped them up on market stalls, bought them when they went on the discarded stock shelf. Classic Nancy – not the later series. One of my best sewing buddies was introduced to me first as ‘Ah, Alli likes Nancy Drew too – you two will get on really well’. (We do) I wondered what happened to them all when I left home and then a couple of years ago a younger cousin messaged me and asked if I wanted them back. Why yes, I said, the kids might like them.

Who was I kidding? *I* wanted them back. I wanted to read them all again. I wanted to immerse myself in the adventures of the titian-haired detective, her tomboyish friend George and Bess, the girly one. Cool coupes! Lawyer dad Carson! Ned Nickerson, the handsome boyfriend! Honestly, that girl could not go anywhere without falling over a clue, a secret, a mystery of some kind, which she would solve with her loyal girlfriends and her brilliant deductive skills. I never trip over mysteries – except the old ‘where did all the money go this month’ one that we all encounter once we hit adulthood.

So just as soon as I finish my current series, I am opening up that box of delights and taking a trip back to my childhood.

That sort of childhood passion doesn’t really go away, of course, and I still have a sneaky fondness for ‘girl detectives’ though they (and I) are much older now. I’m currently working my way through the wonderful V I Warshawski novels by Sara Paretsky. I first encountered VI at uni, where I was reading American Studies and Indemnity Only was one of the texts on a unit called ‘Images of the City in the American Mind’. VI is a tougher, more streetwise version of Nancy, who fights for the underdog against corporate America. The joy of Kindle is that I don’t have to wait for the library to reopen, of course, to catch up on the later ones.

VI opened up a world of grown up ‘girl’ detective novels – I won’t go into them all in detail but here’s some of my favourites:

  1. Kinsey Millhone by Sue Grafton. I am heartbroken that the author died before ‘Z’ was published.
  2. Stephanie Plum by Janet Evanovich. Brilliant cast of comic characters.
  3. Ruth Galloway novels by Elly Griffiths (and an honourable mention for her Stephens and Mephisto books too)
  4. Carlotta Carlyle by Linda Barnes. Tough Boston PI who drives a cab on the side.
  5. Rev. Merrily Watkins by Phil Rickman. Set in Herefordshire, so makes visits home a bit spooky at times.
  6. Kate Shugak novels by Dana Stabenow. Alaska! Moose! Bears!

Mentions also for Dr Temperance Brennan, Bubbles Yablonsky, Trixie Belden, Jimm Juree and Precious Ramotswe.

I don’t limit myself to girl detectives, of course, but my heart will always hold a sneaky place for these feisty, clever, quick-thinking females.

Their male counterparts will have to wait for another day, but will probably include Harry Bosch, Marcus Didius Falco, Brother Cadfael, Dave Robicheaux, John Rebus, Dr Siri Paiboun, Bryant and May, DI Thomas Lynley, and Richard Jury. Perhaps detectives and their sidekicks are a whole other topic…

If they come with a side-order of the supernatural, so much the better! I’d better come back to that one as well.

Where did that nine patch disappear to?

It hasn’t disappeared at all, really – it’s the name of the quilt block I ended up using this week. Its not one from the book I mentioned last week, or any of my quilt pattern books, but one that popped up on my daily digest from Bloglovin’.

I’d spent a couple of days trying to decide what to do with the blue charm packs I’d bought, and had pretty much decided to go with basic squares again. I discarded the brighter blue solids and some of the prints, as they didn’t quite fit, so I was left with teal, candy blue, buttermilk and buttercup for solids. I still wasn’t entirely happy with the basic layout so I didn’t start to stitch them together – and I’m glad I didn’t! So I grabbed some of the leftovers from the row layout and did a test block, then abandoned the rows entirely in favour of these nine-patches.

Test block

Since each row had been sorted for colour already, I started to build the nine-patches from the rows, making sure I had one of each solid colour in the block with five different print patches. I ended up with 20 blocks, which I trimmed to 12″ squares before stitching them together to make the final quilt top. Some of the patches had directional prints which limited which way up they could go (in my head, anyway).

I really like the way this has come together. It needs a border as it’s not quite wide enough, but I think I have enough neutral solids left to make one, and it’ll need to be backed and quilted before it’s finished. I’ll be backing it with a large curtain I picked up in a charity shop ages ago, so I won’t need to piece a backing.

This week I am going to finish the commission dolls, try open water swimming with friends, try some more drawing, and try not to feel too out of sorts about not being in Wales. At least school is over…

See you at end of week eighteen.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

V I Warshawski series (only 1 more to go!) – Sara Paretsky

Last Act in Palmyra – Falco series by Lindsey Davis

Learn to Draw: Buildings – David Cook