139: Definitely (still) a cat person

Right up until this morning this was going to be a blog about how – after decades as a dedicated cat person – I was coming round to the idea of dogs making quite good pets really.

Over lockdown, like manymanymany other people, some of my friends became dog owners. 3.2 million pets were purchased during lockdown (how? I am not sure even Amazon were delivering gerbils and so on). As you all know, I love a good walk so am usually up for a good wander and a putting-the-world-to-rights session with friends, and the advent of furry fiends makes these even more enjoyable.

Bella, belonging to my neighbours, was the first: an adorable miniature poodle puppy who is guaranteed to be pleased to see me and is not afraid to show it. She loves to run after tennis balls and bring them back, adores other dogs and was utterly bemused when a new kitten entered their household this year. Watching her try and encourage the kitten to play by bringing it cat toys was funny to watch, especially as Ziggy was really not convinced. This week we have been watching Ziggy attempt friendly overtures to my three furry idiots through the fence – Lulu is predictably outraged and spends ages staring through to a spot where she once spotted Zig, in case he returns. Ted and Bailey treat him more as a form of entertainment.

Ziggy remains aloof.

Dobby and Kreacher then joined the gang: rescue dogs from Europe, they moved in and have proved resistant to the idea of all other dogs. They live with Miriam and Roy, where I occasionally take refuge when working from home and there is building work happening next door. (OK, I take refuge there when I’m not working as well – this is where I play D&D and drink a lot of coffee). Dobby is the original Heinz 57 mixture and Kreacher is a miniature pinscher with enormous bat ears and a pathological hatred of pigeons. They like to sit on my lap during online meetings and stare intently into the camera. They have Mark, another of the D&D party, so well-trained that with just one look he now opens the door for them to go outside and gives them their biscuit afterwards.

On Saturday mornings Miriam, Jill (when she gets up) and I often go for an early walk through the local fields, come back via the market with pastries and drink coffee. They have now banned dogs from the market as it’s getting busy again but we still walk the hounds. Kreacher barks at all pigeons and other birds just in case, tries to stalk pheasants and both of them go demented when they see another dog. This morning Miriam and I took them out again and Dobby managed to get away from me and went to bounce at another small dog, racing round it in circles and until we caught her again. We had taken Dobby and Kreacher into the middle of the field to give the lady lots of space, but she meandered her way along s-l-o-w-l-y by which time D & K were thoroughly overexcited. I got my adrenalin from that this morning rather than a cold dip… and yes Dobby, you are the reason I am still a cat person this morning!

Other dogs in my life include Marshall and Luna, who belong to my timeshare teenagers; Loki, who is a recent arrival to the gang and the world’s biggest puppy; and Jax, who belongs to a friend in London and who I get to join on the odd walk round Shoreditch when she’s on holiday. Another rescue dog, this one hates drug dealers and has happy memories of that time he saw a squirrel in the dog park. He always greets new arrivals to his home by bringing them his teddy bear, which is very sweet. Honourable mentions to Kalie and Barney – the bruise on my leg from Kalie’s head has just about gone!

Crochet, crochet and more crochet

I finally had confirmation that I have a stall at Epping Christmas Market (3 Dec, 10am – 4pm) this year again, so have been making new stock in preparation – the trick is not letting Jill buy all of it before the day as every time I post something new she puts in an order!

There will also be the usual range of earrings (including felted puddings) and other jewellery, crocheted baubles, shawls, and so on. I am particularly enjoying these little jumpers and will be making a mini clothes rail later to hang them on. The jumper pattern is by Blue Star Crochet if you want to have a go yourself.

Other things making me happy this week

  1. My first outing as one of the external advisors to Eton College Collections this week – a meeting, a short tour of their Natural History Museum and an excellent dinner. The occasion was made even better by the discovery that an ex-colleague is another advisor, so we had a good catch up.
  2. A visit to the Young V&A site – it’s starting to come together! This was followed by cuddles with gorgeous baby Rudi.
  3. The start of a friend’s 50th birthday celebrations in the pub last night – building up to a night away at a spa next weekend.
  4. Coffee out this afternoon with another friend
  5. The Elizabeth Line. 20 minutes from Paddington to Stratford!)

Things making me less happy this week

  1. Three hours at A&E/Urgent Care GP dept with Thing 1 yesterday – severe tonsillitis (which we were told would have been considerably worse had we waited till Monday
  2. Tube strikes (though I fully support their position, obvs.)
  3. Train strikes (called off but still chaos)

Right, the ironing is looking at me (though I will be watching Bruce Springsteen on Graham Norton’s show on catch-up while I do it). Same time next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Ramble Book – Adam Buxton

Fairy Tale – Stephen King

Last Tango in Aberystwyth – Malcolm Pryce

95: hello North Weald…again

This week started with the postponement of the final night of The Socially Distant Sports Bar’s live tour, which had been scheduled for Cardiff Motorpoint Arena the night before the Wales vs Scotland game of the Six Nations. My gig buddy Jen and I were looking forward it it: a night away with comedy and perhaps one (or two) drinks, and a good catch up since she has left London and is now living in the frozen North and watching birds for a living or something. It’s not the first thing that’s been put back a few months – Damien Jurado was rearranged for April, for example, but I was really, really looking forward to a night of belly laughs and to being somewhere else again.

I like live entertainment – whether it’s a decent pub band or Bruce Springsteen at Wembley, a small folky gig or a comedy night, a play or a musical. The best gigs – no matter how big they are – give you a sense of intimacy, a shared experience even in the most soulless of venues (the O2 at Greenwich, for example). Generally the people around you are fans too, or at least music fans, and they are willing to be carried away on the same wave: the roar when the intro of a fan favourite kicks in, or the big hits. There are shared moments from previous experiences: Jen and I were haunted by a very loud drunken person for several gigs, who we never saw but we knew he was there by his frequent bellows of ‘Play Wonderwall! Play Wonderwall!’ in between songs or when the singer was chatting. Jen and I have never seen Oasis together, so we are always a bit mystified by this. He was at a gig when I was there but Jen wasn’t, which felt quite wrong and I had to text her so she could share.

I’m not surprised the gig was postponed and I know it’ll be great when it finally happens, but I’m so tired of not being able to look forward to things any more because it just makes the disappointment of postponement that much worse. If Covid could sod off now I’d really appreciate it, please and thank you – that’s something we are all looking forward to.

Who doesn’t need a mini-me?

Just before Christmas, in an issue of Inside Crochet (issue 143), there was a little pink haired doll who reminded me of my last line manager Andrea – knowing she had a birthday coming up in January I made it and packed it off to sunny Leigh-on-Sea.

I’ve also been messing about with some jewellery ideas, so watch this space – I really shouldn’t be allowed unsupervised on ebay, but there we are. Ten more pigs in blankets are underway, a neon Pikachu cross stitch, a couple more snowy owls – not enough time in the day, it seems!

See you next week, when I might be a lot less disgruntled. More gruntled?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Glass Gargoyle/The Obsidian Chimera/The Emerald Dragon – Maria Andreas

Torchwood: The Radio Dramas/Torchwood Tales (Audible)

90: a festive poem*

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas and here in Dukes Close

The mother was getting exceeding morose

Three weeks of Covid and labyrinthitis

Had left her with anti-holiday-itis.

Enforced isolation surrounded by kin

Has left her in need of a very large gin.

We’ve watched both the Chronicles, the Muppets and Elf

My Christmas list is solely ‘some time to myself’.

Thing 2 had been nagging to get out the tree

There’s tinsel all over the cat, floor and me.

Their daddy was outside stringing up lights

Along with the rest of the road – what a sight!

There’s Santa and snowmen and snowflake projectors

And probably some cunning reindeer deflectors.

The turkey’s too big for the freezer this year

And Asda online’s substitions are weird

I asked for some candy canes for the tree

But they sent me a single tube of Smarties.

There’s pigs in their blankets and roasties of course

Yet again I’ve forgotten the cranberry sauce.

Upstairs the presents are rapidly stacking

My heart sinks anew at the prospect of wrapping

The stockings are still in the attic, sure enough

So ‘Santa’ had better go shopping for stuff

To fill up the socks so there’s something to open –

Has anyone noticed I’m really not copin’?

(*with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

Pigs in blankets

What I’ve been reading:

Still Life/Dead Beat– Val McDermid

Laidlaw/The Papers of Tony Veitch/Strange Loyalties – William McIlvanney

The Dark Remains – Ian Rankin and William McIlvanney

89: brought to you by Benylin and Lemsip Max

Yes, dear readers, I am still grumpy and out of sorts – added to the distinctly unpleasant labyrinthitis I managed to test positive for Covid on Thursday. I’d had suspicions all week, but as the LFTs were coming up negative and my PCR was unreadable, I assumed it was the supercold that’s been rampaging through the museum team since Takeover Day. Finally an LFT came back positive on Thursday, just as I was planning to make a sortie over the road for the weekly D&D game.

I have the sore throat, changes to taste and smell, a cough and early in the week lots of aching joints and headaches. Add to those the lingering fuzzy ears and dizziness from the labyrinthitis and I’ve had a thoroughly miserable week. Thing 3’s isolation finishes today so he can go back to school tomorrow, and with any luck my beloved and Thing 1 will escape.

Being signed off sick for the week at least meant that I was able to indulge myself in a lot of making stuff, since I’m vertical again, and in binging TV: I’ve caught up with Doctor Who: Flux in readiness for tonight’s finale, and have been watching King of the Hill again. I wonder how many more classic Who villains they can fit in? I was happy to see the Weeping Angels again, and I am sneakily fond of Sontarans as they make me laugh – the whole ‘because I wanted to ride a horse’ thing in the Crimea cheered me up no end.

There was another cross stitch as well but I can’t share it yet as it’ll be a gift.

December…

The 1st of December is, according to Thing 2, the earliest time you’re allowed to listen to Christmas music and watch Christmas films. We’ve watched The Christmas Chronicles so far, and kicked off with The Muppet Christmas Carol. Apparently Thing 1, who’s been studying the Dickens novel for GCSE, had great difficulty writing Bob Cratchit instead of Kermit in her mock exam last week, so at least I’m having an influence. I snuck in Serendipity before the deadline, but don’t tell her. Thing 3 has just informed me that we’re watching all three of the Nativity films today, so that’s that sorted.

My advent calendar this year is from Vicki Brown Designs, paid for in instalments which means a whole lot of sock yarn loveliness is appearing every day to be squished and stroked. My mum sent me a Baileys one to cheer me up as well, and hopefully by the time Christmas arrives I’ll be able to enjoy the mini bottle!

And that’s it from me – it’s been a very quiet week, unsurprisingly!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Blue Murder / Plaster Sinners / Whatever’s Been Going on at Mumblesby? – Colin Watson

Risen – Benedict Jacka

88: 0/10, would not recommend

Well, that was a week of unparalleled misery, quite frankly – topped off by Thing 3 testing positive for Covid on Thursday. Thing 2 was off with the dreaded corona the week before last, I was knocked for six by labyrinthitis (which is not, sadly, a surfeit of David Bowie’s startling trousers) and now Thing 3. Enough already!

Labyrinthitis is a definite -1,000,000/10, do not recommend. It was so horrible I didn’t pick up a crochet hook for a week, or even a book for several days. That bad. NHS 111 recommended taking something called Buccastem, which is supposed to relieve nausea and vomiting related to migraine, and other people recommended Stugeron which made things infinitely worse. A tweet from a lovely museum person crediting my blog from a few weeks ago with making her feel reassured about her upcoming colposcopy made me cry, but so did the lovely Norwegian postal system’s Christmas advert celebrating 50 years since Norway decriminalised same-sex relationships.

Furry nurses are the best

It was Wednesday before I started feeling semi-human again, and Friday before I felt safe to go out of the house. My Beloved did a most excellent job with laundry and keeping the Horde alive, and the furry fiends did an excellent job of keeping me warm. Friends were amazing at relaying Thing 3 home from school, which at least we don’t need to worry about this week as he’ll be off with me isolating.

Lack of new output does, however, mean I can share a piece I finished a while ago but which only got handed over this week – despite the fact that I have seen Heather several times. We were supposed to have a ‘Grumpy People’s Supporters Club’ night out on Friday (well, they did, I stayed on the sofa watching Cowboy Bebop): the last time we saw each other all together was on the hen night back in June! The pattern can be found here and the seller was kind enough to offer to chart the names for me to personalise it as well. I’m told the bride liked it – she loves Art Deco and had a 1920s car to take her to the service, so it should be a good reminder of the day.

When I did manage to pick up a book again, it was with the intention of working through some of the digital shelf of shame on the Kindle – in the mood for something easy, I chose Colin Watson’s Flaxborough novels which were published between 1958 and 1982. Police procedurals which would probably be tagged with the awful ‘cosy mystery’ label these days, these are witty and terribly British, featuring the Viking-like Inspector Purbright and the eastern town of Flaxborough. I had three on my Kindle already and luckily the rest were cheap as I quickly got addicted.

Lying in bed unable to do anything meant I had a lot of time to do mental crafting, which is at least cheaper than the normal kind. I have a head full of ideas and no way to get to them, as my crafting space (OK, the dining room) is still full of stuff we haven’t put back after the heating was put in. My beloved has taken the opportunity to do small jobs upstairs while the place is already in chaos. I’m not saying I’m getting itchy fingers here but I have things that need making! Things 2 and 3 want new pants and there’s Christmas making to be done. This Hobbit Hole piece needs finishing, too: the pattern is by Vetlanka on Etsy. It’s been a while since I’ve worked on such a high count fabric, but the effect is so delicate.

I’ve taken the opportunity to set up a Facebook page for this blog as well, where I can sell the various bits and bobs I make that aren’t destined for gifts, at least from me. You’ll be able to find it here and I really need to take some photos to get things online! Watch this space.

Anyway, I must head off – there’s PCR tests to do and a book to get back to.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Speaking in Bones – Kathy Reich

Coffin, Scarcely Used / Bump in the Night / Hopjoy Was Here / Lonelyheart 4122 / Charity Ends at Home / The Flaxborough Crab / Broomsticks over Flaxborough / The Naked Nuns / One Man’s Meat Colin Watson (Flaxborough series)

85: is it that time already?

Every three years a letter drops through the door.

It’s from the NHS and it reminds me that it’s time for a smear test – this year I had to wait a month for an available appointment, as the nurse is pretty busy. I have lost count of the number of tests I’ve had over the years but I never miss them. These days they won’t give you a smear till you’re 25, but back then you were advised to get one a year after becoming sexually active. Seems silly to me as HPV and cancer don’t wait but there we are.

In my early twenties, a routine test showed abnormal cells so I had to go back in six months for another. By then there were a lot of those abnormal little cells and they were aggressive little beasts, it turned out. What followed was colposcopy, a loop biopsy and laser cauterisation (what’s that smell of burning? Why, it’s me!). Six monthly tests for the next few years, followed by annual tests for several more, and then when I was given the all clear it was back to three yearly. Had I not had that smear test, those abnormal cells would have escalated into cervical cancer – that’s the one that killed Jade Goody at 27, leaving two small boys growing up without a mum.

About half a million extra smear tests were done between mid-2008 when Goody was diagnosed and mid-2009 when she died, many for women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds (source). Called ‘The Jade Goody Effect’, it didn’t last and in 2018 smear testing hit a 20-year low – the introduction of the HPV vaccine in 2008 for 12-13 year old girls (and boys) is making women complacent. The vaccine, given in two doses while girls are at school, helps protect against invasive cervical cancer as well as pre-cancerous cell changes. Covid-19 has increased ‘vaccine hesitancy’ and disrupted vaccination programmes but hopefully they’ll be getting back up to speed soon: Thing 2 should have her first jab this year and Thing 1 her second. Thing 3 will also be offered it as a boy in England and I’ll be making sure he gets it, as it prevents all sorts of other cancers in men as well as women. I had HPV: it caused the cell changes and like other viruses it lurks in the body and can come back. It’s often symptomless, so I had no idea until I was part of a study later on. As I started to write this blog the radio news broadcast told me that cervical cancer rates are 87% lower in women who have had the HPV vaccine. There’s lots of helpful, sensible information on cervical cancer, smear tests, the vaccine and more here.

Smear tests are not fun. They can be uncomfortable. They’re undignified. Some strange person rummaging around ‘down there’ is never going to be the most fun five minutes of your life – but it is only five minutes, and then hopefully you’re done with it for another few years. If they catch a few cells misbehaving, then they can deal with them quickly – but if you don’t go, they won’t find them. They’ll offer you a chaperone if you want one, and a sheet to cover yourself with. My top tip is to wear something with a skirt, but believe me: those nurses have seen pretty much everything over the years and whatever you’ve got going on its all in a day’s work to them. You can also be glad of plastic speculums, because the metal ones were horrible even if you had a nice nurse who warmed it up under the hot tap.

I make jokes to relax, and chat to the nurse – this year the fact that I had to wear a mask during the test made me laugh, it seemed so ridiculous. If you’re worried, take your mum. Take your sister. Take a friend – hell, take two or three, make consecutive appointments and go for cocktails afterwards to reward yourselves for being both sensible and brave. You can go to your GP surgery or your local sexual health clinic, they’re free here in the UK and those five minutes might quite literally save your life. You don’t get a lollipop or a sticker afterwards (maybe we should start a campaign?) but you do get a letter in the post a few weeks later with your results.

However and wherever you do it – just do it, and keep doing it whenever they remind you. It’s worth it, I promise.

Birthday presents!

September, October and November are busy months for birthdays – especially when you’re still working remotely! I’ve been late with a few and some have been late collecting their presents but I’m all caught up now and there’s no more birthdays till next year! Secret Santa and a leaving gift are next up, followed by Christmas.

I also made a Totoro amigurumi, which has led to another one – as long as it doesn’t turn into the tinycorn plague all over again (27 of them…) it’ll be fine.

Design by Lucy Ravenscar

And this week I am gearing up for Museum Takeover Day – in the absence of a museum, we’re doing it inside out and taking over our local primary school. I keep telling myself it’s going to be all right on the night…otherwise I’m going to go full Macauley Culkin in Home Alone…

See you on the flipside! Mine will be a large G&T.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Dreams Underfoot/Tapping the Dream Tree/Muse and Reverie – Charles de Lint

Windswept and Interesting – Billy Connolly (Audible)

82: thinking like designers – or possibly chickens

This week I took my new school session out to Thing 3’s primary school to test it on Years 5 and 6 – still playing with blue Imagination Playground blocks, but this time the tabletop version which are definitely easier to carry around. Added to these were scraps of fabrics, pipes, string and other loose parts, building on the work we’ve been doing over the summer.

The session, called ‘Think Small’, is an introduction to user-centred design, helping children to understand the iterative design process, work collaboratively and communicate ideas, and finally to work creatively with materials. These are some of the 5Cs of 21st century skills and are the some of the building blocks for learning in the new museum.

Photo and chickens courtesy of Chinami Sakai

We started by thinking about chickens, and what they need to be safe and happy: brainstorming ideas as a class, and then looking at the Eglu. The chickens in question can be seen above – Mabel, Doris and Tome, who belong to one of my colleagues and who were previously commercial egg-laying chickens. We’re in a relatively rural area, so some of the children already had experience of chickens, and were keen to share their ideas. ‘Space to play’ was the most important thing according to one child whose granny is a chicken keeper. We looked then at the Eglu, a chicken house which was designed to make it simpler to keep chickens in garden and which you can see on the left of the picture.

We moved on to talking about what pets we have at home – cats, dogs, guinea pigs, chameleons, geckos, the odd bird and tortoise, hedgehogs – and how they need different environments. I split the classes into four groups, and each team picked a mystery bag with an animal model. As a team they generated a list of things their animal needed which became their ‘client brief’. They were surprised to discover that they wouldn’t be the designing the home for their animal, but had to swap their briefs with another team. Each group then became ‘animal architects’, looking at the brief together and each child designed a home that they thought met that brief. The hardest bit, we discovered, was when the children had to decide which design from their group met the brief best and would be the one put forward to the ‘clients’. Some groups decided quickly, while others needed some support.

The materials the children were given

The clients gave feedback on the designs and then the architects used the creative kit to build the chosen design, incorporating the feedback, and finally the groups looked at all the designs while the architects talked us through them.

Over the four sessions I refined the format and changed some of the timings, and delivering it to the different year groups allowed me to see how it works with different abilities. The classes are quite small, with less than 25 in each which meant four groups in each session was viable. One thing about working with ‘animals’ was that it gave all the children a chance to shine and share prior knowledge from their out-of-school experience rather than reinforcing classroom learning.

I didn’t let them use sellotape or glue, so they had to come up with other solutions to hold objects together or in a particular shape. One boy shone as a project manager, helping his team realise the design he’d created.

Feedback from the children themselves was entertaining: one of them informed me that he didn’t know DT actually involved ‘making things’, another was keen to find out more about making structures stable. Apparently it’s harder to build than to draw, and it needs more brain power than they expected. Building with blocks takes a ‘lot of thinking’. They were surprised when they had to swap their animals to let other people build their ideas; DT is not just on a computer; and it was interesting to think about what other people need. One asked how long it takes to become an architect, so I’m counting that as a win! One wanted to know if I was really Thing 3’s ‘actual mum’.

Thing 3, of course, was mostly just concerned that I didn’t embarrass him too much…

Meanwhile…

As you can see I have some sewing to be getting on with! My first foray into swimwear, for example: a two piece that will be easier to get out of in the winter swimming. The water was 12.6 degrees this morning, so we’re on our way to single figures. There’s also been cross stitch in the evenings, which I’ll share when it’s finished. See you next week…

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Forests of the Heart/The Onion Girl – Charles de Lint

Comet in Moominland – Tove Jansson (Audible)

79: meerkats and wildcats and parrots, oh my!

Yesterday we managed a family day out to Capel Manor Gardens – not far away geographically but work has got in the way all summer. It took a while to get out of the house while different children threw almighty strops about being asked to go out/get dressed/brush hair/etc but eventually we made it. £20 for a family ticket, with two adults and up to three children (under 16) was quite reasonable, and Things 2 and 3 took a stamp trail each.

We started with the animal collection, which is quite small: meerkats, an invisible porcupine, rabbits, pygmy goats, fluffy rabbits, parrots and a few other crowd-pleasers. Careful peeking through small gaps by my beloved located the Scottish wildcat. A wander through the Which? garden area where they are testing different plants and flowers was interesting, and then the kids wanted to head for the very well signposted ‘Secret Faerie Garden’.

The Horde discovered an absolutely enormous fallen tree to climb, despite Thing 1 having her arm in a sling, as well as a fairy door, statuary and a ‘ruin’ which came from one of the Chelsea Flower Shows. The kids tackled the Holly Maze and the sensory garden, we wandered through the cactus garden and the succulent greenhouse, and then headed to the cafe for lunch.

Lunch had a limited menu – chicken curry and rice, chickpea falafel and rice, chicken nuggets and chips, jackets, sausage rolls, pizza – but it was quite reasonably priced for a good sized portion. We decided to make the assumption that it was the counter person’s first day, as service was a little strange and very slow. It was tasty if not very hot, and at £34 for five main meals and five drinks, it was good value. There are also lots of picnic areas around the site, so you could take your own lunch if you wanted, or the cafe also sells sandwiches and snacks.

After lunch we wandered round the demonstration gardens, mainly ex-Chelsea Flower Show designs – I loved the one filled with pumpkins and nasturtiums (so did the honey bees), and the slate garden. The kids found all the stamps, and got a medal in return, and we escaped via the gift shop. General verdict was that it was a nice day out – I’d like to have seen inside the manor, and some of the gardens need some maintenance to bring them back up to show standard, but if you’re looking for some good ideas for your garden then it’s a great place to visit.

I’ve only been on the tube one day this week, but managed to finish the dragon’s egg dice bag after several attempts to get it the right way up! The pattern is the free Dragon’s Egg lined dice bag by 12SquaredCreations, and is easy to make up as long as you pay attention to the pictures!

I also finished the succulent terrarium cross stitch, which will be a gift.

And right now my stomach is telling me it’s lunch time, so I’ll be off! See you next week,

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Equal Rites/Witches Abroad/Maskerade – Terry Pratchett

Wyrd Sisters – Terry Pratchett (Audible)

76: back to school

Normal service resumes after the last couple of weeks! It’s September after all, with the new school year kicking off: new shoes, new bits of uniform ordered if not actually delivered thanks to the shipping delays, driver strikes and shortages that definitely aren’t anything to do with Brexit, good heavens no, timetables downloaded, last minute coursework that Thing 1 assured me all summer she’d done, and so on.

Last weekend I braved Westfield (is it only me that feels the need to shout ‘Westfield! in a bad Radio 1 DJ sort of way?) with Thing 2 in order to buy school shoes. She has very very wide feet (an I fitting) so I knew Harlow at the end of August really wasn’t going to provide what we needed. Instead we had a mum and daughter day out shopping. We also needed school trousers, as we haven’t been able to find the particular style she wants online – the Next ones came up like thick leggings, the George ones were too high waisted, the suggestion of the Banner or Trutex ones either earned me a withering look or weren’t in stock (ditto New Look, Very, Tu, Morrisons, Matalan – everywhere!).

Tim Westfield! Westwood. WestWOOD. Not field.

Thing 2 has been, from a very early age, a child who knows her own mind. In many ways this makes me proud. In other ways it makes me want to slug gin in my coffee and leave her to it. Despite Westfield’s (Westfield!) many shops, we failed to find either shoes or trousers so I ended up buying shoes we could both live with online and she can either alter her thinking about the kind of trousers she wants or wear skirts for the year. I too can be stubborn. We did have a lovely lunch at Wagamama followed by bubble tea for her, and she chose some new clothes at Primark and New Look as well as some bits and bobs from Flying Tiger. I bought some more notebooks – I do love some stationery!* I took her over to the less shiny side of Stratford too, as she wanted some baskets for her bedroom: after Westfield (etc) I think the old Stratford Centre came as a bit of a shock to the system. I used to shop there when I first lived in London as it was the closest place to Forest Gate. It hasn’t changed much, really, in the last 25 years. The planners tried to make it look pretty by installing shiny leaf sculptures (or possibly fish) in front of it in 2012 in case tourists happened to glance in that direction on their way to the Olympics, but it didn’t really help. I suspect some actual investment might have been a better idea, except that just didn’t happen, and what they were left with was an island of Poundlands and Shoe Zones.**

The ‘Stratford Shoal’ by Studio Egret West in 2012. It’s not so shiny now.

*as it turned out I did not need to buy notebooks as I came home with many many new notebooks from the Digital Accountancy Show I worked at later in the week. Ah well. Still, you never know when you’ll need a notebook. Or ten.

**I could go on about the regeneration of Stratford for 2012 at length, but I won’t because it makes me quite annoyed.

Making and doing

I had a few days to recover from the ordeal of shopping with Thing 2, so obviously this involved fabric and leaving pins all over the floor, crochet and cross stitch. After the challenge of making Irish sister’s 1920s skirt I gave in and bought the Japanese Haori and Hapi pattern from Folkwear that I have been ogling for several years. They are not cheap patterns, but come with wonderful histories of the garments and traditional detailing information. They are also adding more and more of their paper patterns to their PDF catalogue, which makes me happy indeed.

I used a gorgeous fabric from Kanvas Studio – Moonlit Lilypads from their Moonlight Serenade collection, and for the lining some tie-dyed cotton that was sold as a star print but when it arrived the print was distinctly…. herbal. The fabric is a one way print which the pattern isn’t suitable for but I rather like how its turned out despite that.

I made the Haori option – a lined, mid-thigh length jacket which comes up quite long on me. The pattern was occasionally a bit confusing to follow, with hand drawn illustrations, but as long as I took it slowly and did a lot of pinning and tacking it wasn’t too bad to construct. My hand sewing is shocking, so if I ever decide to enter the Sewing Bee I’ll have to work on that, and I cheated by machine stitching some of the bits I should have slip stitched but hey, I’m the one wearing it. I love the sleeves, and this is quite cosy to wear so I think it should get a lot of use.

Continuing the Japanese theme, I used some of the leftover koi fabric from making a Simple Sew Lottie blouse to make this Nori Kimono bag. I lined it with some ladybird print polycotton fabric that was an ebay purchase, and it’s had a compliment or two already. I haven’t worn the blouse yet! I love this fabric, it’s so colourful.

As ever I have been cross stitching and crocheting: the temperature tree is up to date, the Hobbit Hole is finished, the Build Your Own Beehive Shawl and the socks are ongoing, and I took a break to make a chicken sweater as one of my lovely colleagues adopted some commercial laying hens (not battery ones!). These are all the bits I haven’t shared with you in my last couple of sensible weeks.

The chicken-adopting colleague, myself and two others also visited Tate Modern to see their summer activity – drawing freely in the Turbine Hall as part of the Uniqlo Tate Play programme. The artwork is amazing and it was great fun adding our little bits to it! I really want to make something out of one of those banners!

The latest thing I have been up to is dabbling in Dungeons and Dragons for the first time in about three decades – I filled in for someone who couldn’t attend a regular game on Friday and managed not to kill his character off so hopefully I’ll be allowed back! The host (Dungeon Master) and his wife have a beautiful gaming table so dice trays are very much the order of the day – I played around with an online tutorial yesterday, and using things from in the craft shed I made a collapsible fabric one and another using a shadow box frame. I’d forgotten how horribly velvet frays so I shall have to do something about the edges but it was quite quick and fun to make.

It’s been a very productive few weeks, as you can see! I’ll see you all again for week 77…now I must go and do the ironing I have been putting off for months.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Soul Music/Sourcery – Terry Pratchett

Thief of Time – Terry Pratchett (Audible)

72: it’s not goodbye, it’s au revoir

This week I have not done a lot, really – work, read, enough stitching and crocheting to make my arm and shoulder ache, watched a lot of films (with Jason Statham in, for some reason – not my choice) and fed a lot of children.

I did go out on Wednesday: to give blood (donation 24! The things I do for a mint Club) and then into Bethnal Green where we said goodbye to the old Museum of Childhood before the base builders etc move in for the next couple of years. It was a quiet goodbye, with a lot of faces missing from the team I joined four years ago: a few through natural career progression but more thanks to the many restructures that we have been through in that time. I also ate at Chiringuito in Bethnal Green for the first time (fish tacos) and learned more about flying ants than I ever thought I needed to know. This is what comes of working in museums, where we acquire random bits of information through being incurably curious about pretty much everything. Top tip for you people out there – curators and other museum people are good to have on pub quiz teams*.

Photo by Helena Rice

For the next two years we are wandering souls, washing up in small groups in corners of the V&A at South Kensington, clutching our laptops and wondering where we left our pen last week. 40% of our time is ‘on-site’ at the moment, though for the learning team that time is currently out and about with our blue blocks, which is great fun even in the rain. (I am writing this on Saturday morning, by the way, as tomorrow I will be out with the team all day at The Get Together in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park).

This seems to be a fairly normal work pattern right now, as far as I can tell. Hybrid working, blended working, whatever you want to call it, seems to be here to stay, certainly in the non-people-facing jobs. It’s good not to have to commute all the time, and platforms like Teams and Zoom are making it easier to stay in touch with colleagues, but I do miss the spontaneous Friday lunches and the kitchen chats, or feeding the ducks on a lunchtime walk. It’s too easy when working at home to not have those social moments. In ‘normal’ times you spend 36 hours a week with your colleagues, and if you have good ones (I do) they become your work family. I miss the kettle moments (water cooler moments, presumably, in those nations less reliant on tea for functioning), team problem solving in the office (gang, have you got a minute?), people popping in and out to raid the biscuit tin. Our office was the home of the biscuit tin, which meant we knew what was going on on the floor as people came in for Oreos and hugs. Mostly I just miss people!

*However, a whole quiz night made up only of museum people is a terrifying experience. If you are the quizmaster/mistress, be very very sure that your answers are correct, or the likelihood of a dawn duel with historically accurate weaponry is high. You have been warned.

Why my arm aches…

This week I started the shawl pictured here – the Build Your Own Beehive Shawl CAL by Fleabubs and Lala. I did not need another project, but this was such a pretty pattern and I already had the yarn sooooo…. the yarn is Stylecraft Batik Swirl in the Rainbow colourway. The shawl is made up of ten-row repeats of three different stitches – trellis, pollen and honeycomb. It feels a bit more scarfy than shawly to me at the moment, despite increasing the starting chain from 60 to 80, but my friend Ruth who pattern tested it says it pays for blocking. I hope so – when it comes to scarves and shawls I definitely lean towards the dramatic swish and swirl rather than the single wrap! Perhaps this is what comes of working in historic buildings, where ‘work blankets’ are definitely a thing in the winter.

I’ve also made progress on the Hobbit Hole – only the lettering to go now, which is exciting, and then I need to frame it and find it a home.

I am off work next week. About half an hour after booking the time off, Irish sister messaged me…

How could I resist? So this week I’ll be making a skirt for a 1921 schoolmistress, using a historic pattern that is very light on instructions. That’s the problem I have found with vintage patterns: the publishers assumed that all women had been taught the basics of sewing and garment construction and knitting and crochet, either by their mother or in school. That’s not the case these days, sadly, so this week will be a learning curve all round!

I am off now, as we are going to see Timeshare 1 and the grandson shortly. See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Lost Tribes of Pop – Tom Cox

Stardust – Neil Gaiman (Audible)

From the shelf of shame….

Jigs and Reels – Joanne Harris

Holy Fools – Joanne Harris

Meadowland – John Lewis-Stempel