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

71: rain did not stop play

This week has felt almost normal: two days of delivery and a day in the office, drinks with colleagues on Wednesday and a noisy evening in a pub on Friday night. Never mind that one of those days of delivery was outdoors, with sessions bracketed (but not cancelled) by torrential downpours – we were doing our job, the reason we went into learning in the first place. I did have to wring out the bottom half of my dress while I was wearing it, as we cleaned 100 or so pieces of play equipment under a shelter made pointless by the rising waters and the horizontal rain, but there we are. We had a great day! It was noisy, joyful and inspiring.

British summertime…

I have mentioned the Imagination Playground Big Blue Blocks we are using before: it’s quite well-known and is used all over the world. We also have a kit designed by CO-DB which can be used to create pop-up spaces for craft workshops and more, and we had some of those pieces with us as well. As soon as we started to put out wooden structures we were surrounded by children who had some very firm ideas about how they thought it should be set out: they wanted to build a house, and when there weren’t enough pieces they collected other objects from around the playground to make their creation. They carried across tables and chairs, a giant Connect-4 game, and PE equipment. The house was initiated by a couple of small boys and others soon joined in, bringing their own ideas to the game.

My role that day was supporting our Informal Learning producer. Later in the day we were joined by an artist, Matt Shaw, who has been commissioned to create a ‘plus’ set to add to the Blue Blocks – he brought some rolls of corrugated card with him, some cut up plastic pipes and connectors and large pieces of fabric, to see how they added to the play. The Theory of Loose Parts is behind this. We introduced those about halfway through each session, when the children were evaluating their creations to see how they could add or improve them – something they did independently, rather than directed by us.

It was an interesting day: we had children ranging from Early Years to young teens, and we were presenting them all with exactly the same base equipment. We wondered whether the older ones would engage with the blue blocks or if they’d think they were too babyish for them, but we were surprised by how much they enjoyed it. All the sessions started with free play so they could see how the blocks worked together and could be connected, and then we threw in a challenge to finish off. Often this was to make the tallest structure they could, which they then enjoyed knocking down. Matt’s fabric was used to create dens and sails, and some ripstop fabric lengths became roofs for a shelter built by a team of girls called ‘the prime house’ because it was all primary colours. We asked one group to design and build a way to cross a river, so we saw some great bridges: we’d tested this with schools in early July.

The free play was interesting, as every age group made some kind of fitness equipment, often from a starting point of a dumbbell made from a noodle shape and two round pieces. The oldest group made theirs very elaborate, with a bench press and a leg machine, while the younger ones were more basic. Most groups made a marble run: if two sets of children started making one and discovered there weren’t enough pieces, we encouraged them to team up and create one large one. It was brilliant to watch them testing angles to make sure the ball would move smoothly, tweaking things to ensure it didn’t fly off, and solving problems together. The activity brought children together: this was a council play scheme which had only been open a couple of days, with children from all over the borough. Many had never met before that week, and the blue block activity got them talking to each other for the first time, according to the adults.

Of all the loose parts the children chose to add to their creations, the most popular were a set of marker cones which had been left in the playground – so much so that we will be adding them to our own kit for other events. They became decoration for houses, stoppers on the marble run, wheels, eyes and more. So simple that we wouldn’t have thought of them ourselves, but every group added them in to their creations. They also enlivened the Blue Blocks, which are otherwise just – well – blue.

The idea behind our participation in this playscheme, the school sessions I have mentioned in previous episodes, play streets and festivals is to support creativity and the skills that creativity builds: confidence, communication, collaboration and more (yes, they all begin with C) and I think we saw that in spades this week.

My other delivery day was at Spotlight, an amazing youth space in Tower Hamlets where I was supporting our Creative Producer. This was part of a local transition Summer School for Year 6s going into Year 7, and were working with School of Noise who run workshops encouraging the exploration of music and the science of sound. I learned loads – about how sound travels, chladni plates, about making sound effects and more. The students were really engaged too, and were amazed at how the sounds they could make with their bodies could create music. We tried some Foley in the afternoon, making the sound of fire with bubble wrap, tin foil and a plastic shopping bag, and we saw this video which left us in awe of Foley artists. I have had some strange requests from my Foley artist neighbour over the years but this video really put them into context.

Just having these days with the team in real life, and Friday in the office at South Kensington, reminded me why I love my job and the people I work with. We went out on Friday night to the Zetland Arms in South Ken to say a goodbye to our wonderful director. I saw people I had previously only met on Teams calls, and others I hadn’t seen since before lockdown – it made the ludicrously expensive G&Ts worthwhile. (Lovely director has just messaged me to say thank you for the letter and crocheted angel I handed her on Friday night – when she arrived two years ago we had just been through a horrible restructure and we found guardian angels on our desks waiting for us, so it seemed right to send her off with one too!)

And now it’s August. How did that happen?

Biscuit, anyone?

All this travelling on tubes has meant that I could spend some serious time crocheting daft things – more jammy dodgers, in fact. Here’s eight I made on the tube – there would have been nine, except a small girl was entranced by what I was doing so I gave her a finished one. I think it made her day. These are very satisfying to make, as other than weaving in the ends there is no construction: you join as you go. They will either end up as brooches or tree decorations – these are made with the 2mm hook, rather than the larger one, so the stitches are tighter.

The background is, of course, the Hobbit Hole – I am now onto the bottom half and will be starting a new page this evening. And now I am off to do some other sewing. I should be constructing jeans but I have a PDF that needs sticking together for a dress, so let’s see how far I get!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

The Shadow Wing (Crow Investigations) – Sarah Painter

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (Audible)

From the shelf of shame:

Bring me the head of Sergio Garcia – Tom Cox

Jigs and Reels – Joanne Harris

69: yes, but can you play on it?

This week I have mostly been in my house, having been ‘pinged’ by a (double vaccinated) friend I saw last weekend: I did leave the house on Friday as Thing 3 had to go back to school but by that point I’d done four lateral flow tests and a PCR and all of them came back negative. I find it quite unbelievable that so-called ‘Freedom Day’ is going ahead tomorrow, when cases are shooting up again and school bubbles are bursting on a daily basis. Herd immunity by vaccination isn’t working as you can clearly still catch the virus. Herd immunity like some kind of national chicken pox party seems to me a rather irresponsible idea. Passing responsibility from the government to the people to keep themselves safe seems pretty idiotic also, especially when some of these people being given that responsibility require bloody great posters on public transport explaining how to wear a mask properly.

 © TfL

One of the pluses of being at home has been the opportunity to attend – if only virtually – courses, conferences and seminars that would otherwise be out of reach: those in Australia and America, for example, but also those closer to home but at a tricky time e.g ones that happen while the Things are claiming they are about to actually die of starvation, Mum, die! Like this weeks Crafts magazine event on “Space for play: how can makers bring joy back to our cities?” (Disclaimer: I was given a free ticket for this, as a bonus of attending the CPD I wrote about last week). Thank you to Thing Two, who with assistance from Thing One made delicious gnocchi for the family dinner that night.

Featuring architects, artists and playworkers, this was a really interesting discussion around public art as play space and why it’s a good idea to commission these rather than anchoring a lot of off-the-shelf play equipment in a fenced-off square. Penny Smith of Assemble Play pointed out that playgrounds like these were invaluable when we needed to build a workforce of people with physical strength and co-ordination – but are less useful now, in the 21st century, when employers value creativity, collaboration and problem-solving skills over more traditional needs. Risa Puno, an American interactive installation/sculpture artist, spoke about the need to build spaces that connect people to each other. Hadrian Garrard of Create London, an organisation that commissions public art and architecture, explained why they brought in artists to build these spaces. Artists research a space, work with the local community to find out what they think a space needs, and explore materiality. Higham Hill Theatre, by vPPR, is great for this: a community amphitheatre which joins up the cafe and the play area. This was commissioned as part of Waltham Forest’s ‘Making Places’ scheme.

vPPR selected the site because it was a forgotten parcel of the park, used for anti-social behaviour. By re-activating the site, and creating links to the park amenities, the place is transformed into a site of creativity and play.

vPPR

As Risa Puno says, you never know how people will interact with a space or an installation, so you need to make something that people can explore on their own terms. The Diana Memorial Fountain, never envisaged as a play space, is a prime example of this: once it became clear that people were going to use it as a paddling play area, it had to be made safe to do so. Why not build in play from the start?

In the panel discussion at the end, the speakers were asked where they most enjoyed playing as children: outdoors was usually the answer. Several of the speakers had grown up in rural areas, and talked about fields and woods, which reminded me of my own play spaces.

When we moved to Raglan, I was just seven and only a few houses in our road had been finished: there was a building site opposite the house with no fencing (imagine!) and a meadow next door but one, and for a child whose outdoor boundaries had previously been a couple of lamp posts, this was magical. Piles of brick dust and sand (brick dust does not come out of socks), bulldozers, foundations and scaffolding: this was an adventure playground when the builders had left for the weekend. In the meadow, there was a cave of trees and a stream with very shallow banks and we played for hours in this space. There were tiny fish in the stream and water snails to be caught, archaeological discoveries to be made, wildlife like slow worms and grass snakes in the long grass, and all within metres of the front door. That’s not to mention the castle at the top of the hill and the fields around it, all of which were within ten minutes of home. There was a play park at the other end of the village, which was fun, but once you’ve been on the swings and that mad Wicksteed rocking horse, what else was there to do? So we exercised our imaginations and explored the world, and made discoveries and generally entertained ourselves.

I’m glad we are bringing up the Horde in a space where there are trees to climb and woods to explore, though they don’t have the freedom that I did as a child which is sad but a sign of the times. Walks – when we can convince them to leave the house! – can take hours, and that’s fine by me.

The sun has got his hat on

Summer is putting in one of its brief appearances at the moment, so I have had a couple of happy post-work hours in the garden during isolation. As well as the gnocchi, Thing Two is turning out an excellent G&T with fresh raspberries and strawberries, which was a perfect Friday afternoon treat.

A perfect post-work moment

I had a day off on Friday and spent it cutting out a pair of Morgan jeans, an Anna dress and a blouse hack from this month’s Love Sewing magazine free pattern. Yesterday morning I put the Anna dress together: it was supposed to be the maxi length but where I’d extended the arms on the bodice I didn’t have quite enough fabric so ended up with the midi. The fabric is from last summer – Pound a Metre, I think – and is a light polycotton. I made my first Anna dress last year and it’s become my go-to throw on this summer, so a new version was definitely in order. I managed to jam my overlocker in the process, so I think it’s going to need a trip to to the sewing machine doctor if I can’t work out what the problem is myself!

The Morgan jeans are also a remake of one from last summer, as they have become a wardrobe staple – boyfriend cut and cropped, they are so comfortable. I bought some black lightweight denim from Amazon with my birthday vouchers, so will hopefully get to those tomorrow at some point.

I’ve been crocheting with cotton this week – it’s too hot for anything else! One of my lovely birthday gifts from my colleagues was a gorgeous hand painted flower pot from DOMIcafe on Etsy – not having the greenest of fingers, as my hydrangeas would testify if I hadn’t killed them all, I decided I’d make a crochet cactus to go in it instead. I used Scheepjes Catona from the stash, and this pattern for a round barrel cactus by Zoe Bartley on Ravelry. It only took a couple of hours, and I love it.

I also whipped up a crochet jammie dodger, because why not? The top one is with a 3mm hook, the bottom is with 2.5mm and I think I prefer that one.

So that’s been my week: I’ll be released back into the wild on Wednesday, just in time for the summer holidays!

See you next week for week 70!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Night Watch, Thud!, Snuff, Raising Steam – Terry Pratchett

Listening: The Socially Distant Sports Bar. (Not to be listened to on public transport as you will become that person sniggering in a corner, in front of children, or in earshot of the easily shocked)

65: how to ruin a good book

This week’s ramblings have been brought to you because I have been listening to the audiobook of Cider with Rosie, read by Laurie Lee himself: lush, sunshine-drenched prose, set in countryside not so very far from where I grew up in Monmouthshire. There are some books which, if you mention them to people of a certain age, elicit an instant response of eye-rolling and and ‘urgh, I hate that book, we had to read it in school, it’s so boring.’ It’s true, a terrible English teacher can ruin a wonderful book (equally, a good one can bring it to life: I’m looking at you, Mr Bradley, you and your passion for Jane Austen).

Prime candidates for this, at least for people of my generation, seem to be:

  • Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
  • Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  • Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

All of which are classics, of course, and I love them all, but ‘studying literature’ as opposed to just reading a book can really ruin it for people. Second-guessing what the author meant, analysing their intent in using this word or that, deconstructing poetry often means that you can’t see the story for the words, to paraphrase that famous saying about forests and trees.

My own GCSE texts included a story or two from Leslie Norris’s Sliding, which I still love, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and probably some other ones but, amazingly, none of those listed above featured – probably because of the move from O-level to GCSE the previous year.

A badly-chosen text can have the same negative impact: for me this was Graham Swift’s Waterland, set in the Fens and with content so far out of my sphere of experience as an A-level student that I couldn’t engage. Mr Mills tried his best, bless him, but it was hard going. Ten years later, I found myself spending a lot of time in the Fens around March and Ely, so I went back and read the book as an adult: it’s brilliant, frankly, but it took an understanding of the area and the concerns of an adult to understand it. My youngest sister had The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro as one of her A-level texts: my mum and I loved it, she didn’t – presumably for the same reasons I couldn’t get to grips with Waterland. It doesn’t matter how much you love books and reading, if you can’t engage with the content then you’re unlikely to enjoy it.

I suppose the point of teaching literature is to inspire a love of reading in children, but I do wonder occasionally who chooses the texts. Thing 1 is in her first year of GCSEs and is doing Macbeth and A Christmas Carol and doesn’t like either of them: she loves analysing text but hasn’t engaged with either of those. She’s just said that she likes book she can relate to: she read William Goldings Lord of the Flies before being given it at school and loved it.

I love reading, I don’t understand why they can’t just let us read it, they keep stopping us every five seconds to make us analyse why Lady Macbeth is a symbol of patriarchal society. What if he just liked Lady Macbeth? If they just gave me ‘The Outsiders’ or ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ I could analyse them in about five minutes cos I can relate to them.’

Thing 1

The school Things One and Two attend practise DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) so they are expected to have a book of their choice to hand at all times, and the teachers have door signs saying what their current book is as well. I love this idea, and it’ll probably go further to instilling a love of literature in children who aren’t growing up surrounded by books than if their first encounter with great books is stripping them into their component parts without ever getting to enjoy the stories first.

The year of the handmade gift

Back to a bit of crochet for the latest gifts: I made the ladybird a leaf sleeping bag, and also made this Totoro baby comforter. Both will be going off to a colleague whose wife is expecting. The ladybird is for his older daughter, as big sisters need a present too! It’s back to the cross stitch now, while I carry on listening to Cider with Rosie even though the sun has gone away again.

Another gift is with its new owner today – I have just this minute had a text message to say thank you, so happy birthday Gina! We have always had a resident fox at the Museum, with cubs most years, so this seemed like an apt present. The pattern is from MaxStitch.

I am off now to get on with things….see you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Glamourist/The Conjurer – Luanne G. Smith

Moonshine – Jasmine Gower

Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly

Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee (Audible)

64: short and sweet

64: Short and sweet

A very quick post this week as a) I forgot it was Sunday and b) it’s hot and I’m in the garden with the family using the wonders of mobile technology! The summer seems to have finally arrived without even a sheepish look to excuse its lateness, the pool is up and the place is filled with the timeshare teenagers, the horde and the grandchild as well as the usual added extras.

Yesterday was another hot one and we dragged the kids plus one up to Audley End. Thing 1 was going to a barbecue with her boyfriend (if you want to see the absolute definition of embarrassment, look for a teenager whose parents might bump into the boyfriend’s parents…) near Saffron Walden so it was a good excuse to revisit the gorgeous gardens.

The house is partially closed for Covid reasons, of course, but we could see the main rooms. I’d love a private library and one that the rest of the family could use! You’d never see me in public again.

The formal gardens were alive with bees on some sort of minty stuff (that’s the technical name) and we watched a pair of crows chasing off a red kite in the field behind.

The organic kitchen garden, on the other hand, was being brought to life by a historical interpreter in role as Mr Vert the gardener, who chatted to the kids about the difficulty of keeping apart the housemaids and the garden apprentices. Mr Vert is known to me more often as my friend Chris, a hugely talented interpreter who has delivered Vikings, Victorians and engineers for me in the past as well as many others for Historic Royal Palaces pre-pandemic. We met him in the cut flower garden, surrounded by irises and peonies, before indulging in an ice cream.

Audley End is run by English Heritage and is well worth a visit, if you haven’t been. We have visited before but discovered new areas this time like the lily pond and rockery, where we saw the swan and cygnet above.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Not much cross stitching has occurred but I did start on a gift for an impending big sister – by LauLovesCrochet who designed the cow and calf I made a few weeks ago. This time it’s a ladybird with an aphid friend, who will have a leaf sleeping bag.

There will be a gift for the baby as well, which I got my colleagues to vote on the pattern for.

So that’s week 64. Short and sweet… like me! Normal service will resume next week.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Pel and the Prowler/Pel and the Paris Mob – Mark Hebden

The Vine Witch – Luanne G Smith

Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly

63: we have the technology

Is it me or has it been the longest four day week ever? It’s been half term, and as we have now vacated the museum in order to hand it over to the people who will transform it I have been working from home. I must confess that Things 2 and 3 have spent a large part of the week building new worlds in Minecraft (or whatever it is they do) and I have not done much with them. With the help of a colleague I have, however, managed to mark 1600 objects as ‘NONE’ in the content management system, and a further 150 or so as ‘NIP’ (or ‘not in place’ for those objects that have gone into temporary storage for the next couple of years. That’s felt like a pretty big achievement! Now – the last part of the task – I just need to find anything that the system still thinks is in a cupboard at the museum and mark those as NONE or NIP as well.

Things 1 and 2 have managed to spend some time with their friends, which has been good for them, and their older sister came over in the week with her boyfriend for a barbecue. Apart from torrrential rain all day on Friday we have been pretty lucky with the weather. Their oldest sister and her little boy will be joining us today and I have promised lasagne for tea, which meant I left the village (gasp!) yesterday to have a sneaky mooch around the charity shops before a Tesco trip. Perhaps that’s why this week has felt so long: it hasn’t been broken up by being on site. Teams meetings just aren’t the same.

The next couple of years will see many of us continuing to work from home, however, as the way we work changes post-pandemic. It’s been hard for some companies to grasp that you don’t need the physical presence of your staff five days a week; we aren’t, in many cases, producing physical outputs as in the days of the factory. Increased connectivity, through applications like Teams and Zoom, mean that we can have ‘cross-site’ meetings effectively without being in a physical space. For those of us who were expected to be the ones travelling to the other sites it means we can meet with our colleagues without adding 40 minutes travel time each way to the meeting which was the pre-Teams reality. Over the last months we have been making use of apps like Google’s JamBoard and Miro, which have allowed us all to contribute to brainstorm sessions with virtual post-it notes (who doesn’t love a post-it thinking session?) and to collaborate on documents. I know this technology has been around for a while, but it’s taken a pandemic for us to catch up with it! You do lose some of the energy that comes from being in a physical space together, of course, but hopefully we can manage some of those too.

There are, of course, fewer people taking up desks in the museum sector at the moment – as well as many others, of course. The Museums Association redundancy tracker is showing 4,126 redundancies that have been “directly or indirectly attributed to the pandemic”. There will be more as recovery progresses. The appetite for indoor activities is, perhaps not surprisingly, lower than expected, especially in areas where virus mutations are high and there are questions around the efficacy of vaccines against these variants.

One outcome I have seen from the slashing of the workforce is a growing culture of toxic positivity. People are so worried that their jobs will be on the line in the next restructure/recovery/redesign programme that they are afraid to say no to anything. The result of this, of course, is an overload of work without the usual team back up: no successful event is delivered single-handedly, yet that’s exactly what’s being expected now as ‘business as usual’ is restarting while other teams settle down into their new structures. For any public event to work you need social media and marketing support, design support, bookings team support, on-the-ground support, support from within your own team, increasing technical support if your event is online – just for starters.

When one of these things isn’t in place – or when teams have been so decimated that they can no longer work responsively but need several months lead-in – then you have a problem. This is especially the case when everyone is competing for the same severely shrunken audience demographic: the one with the dinosaurs is going to win as dinosaurs don’t need marketing. So you have people trying to maintain pre-pandemic levels of engagement, with post-pandemic levels of support: a recipe for failure if ever I saw one. But what can you do when you worry that any sign you’re not coping will be either ignored or seen as lack of competence? So, toxic positivity reigns – and with it rising levels of anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.

Sunshine superwoman

My stress relief, as always, is making stuff: I have been turning off the laptop at the end of the day and sitting in the garden for an hour or so before making tea, enjoying the sunshine and decompressing with some crochet or cross stitch. I am still working on the Hobbit piece in between making gifts, and as May is out of the way I updated the Temperature Tree. Like April, the month hovered in the mid-teens so there’s a lot of the same greens until we get to the last few days. Hopefully this month I can add a new colour as we hit the dizzy heights of 24 and 25 degrees in half term.

I have also been playing with some micro-crochet to create tiny toadstool jars, using this pattern found on Ravelry. I do love these tiny pieces – fiddly but so pretty. The first toadstool image is the original one I made – the others are the second version, where I added a tiny bit of stuffing to the toadstool cap and stitched the stalk to the ‘grass’ to make it stand up better. I also used a smaller bottle for the second version.

Swimming is another destressing activity: yesterday’s circuit of the lake was probably my slowest ever, as I stopped to look at the coot family with four tiny balls of fluff cheeping away, the mamma duck with her five stripy ducklings, another coot family and and a reed warbler. I had an hour while my friend was in a coaching session, so had no reason to race about, and I felt very serene when I came out at the other end. The water temperature was 18 degrees, so my skins dip at the end was quite long too.

So that’s been my week! How was yours?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Pel and the Bombers/Pel and the Pirates – Mark Hebden

Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly

The Strawberry Thief – Joanne Harris (Audible)

62: Or, what I did on my holidays

This time last week I was in Criccieth, North Wales with London sister (LS): we were peering out of the window at the torrential rain and howling gale and wondering what to do with our day. Luckily, having spent most of our childhood holidays in Wales, we are waterproof and hardy.

We drove up on Friday, via Abergavenny and mid-Wales: through convoy road works, diversions for road closures (including the old Severn Bridge) and finally up through the Dolgellau pass where the car in front of us burned out their clutch, the clouds were down on the road and there were free range sheep on the roadsides. We were staying at the Lion Hotel in Criccieth, where LS explained she was learning Welsh. She asked if it was OK if she practised on them and they promised to help. The hotel is family-run and so friendly, with hot showers, big breakfasts and comfortable beds. We ate in the restaurant on our first evening: whitebait and a freshly baked steak and ale pie for me, and spring rolls and gammon for her. The gammon steak was HUGE, from a local butcher, and came with egg and pineapple – none of this ‘or’ malarkey! They even had a gin menu, featuring local gins – I tried the Rhubarb and Ginger gin.

We went for a walk before dinner, as the rain had stopped and we needed to stretch our legs after the trek up from London: straight to the beach, where we watched a surfer and I got water in my wellies attempting to cross the stream. I squelched for the rest of the walk, causing LS to snigger a lot.

LS had planned our weekend itinerary, and Saturday saw us heading for Aberdaron to pick up the Wales coastal path on a route that would take us to the most westerly part of North Wales….after breakfast, of course, where we discovered that no one knows the word for ‘hash browns’ in Welsh. Google has it as ‘brown hash’ but LS decided ‘tatws wedi hashio’ was better. Not sure we convinced the waitress though!

The sun was out, and we got to Aberdaron in time to buy freshly-baked pasties from Becws Islyn for a picnic lunch on our walk. After a few false starts (getting on the wrong bit of beach, for example) we picked up the coast path and, using the trusty Ordnance Survey book, we headed up. And up. And down. And up. There are steep steps cut into the cliffs and in some cases the path takes you right down to the beach and back up again – Porth Meudwy, where the boat for Bardsey Island leaves from, is a prime example here. It’s a narrow cove with a slipway and not a lot else. The weather by this point was glorious: breezy and fine, and we even had to remove a layer of fleece.

Mynydd Mawr was our destination point: there’s a coastguard station on the very top and the remains of a wartime radar station. The walk instructions at this point were ‘keep walking upwards’: straight to the point there! After a quick peek at the coastguard station we found a spot on the cliff to eat our still-warm pasties and, as we were facing westwards, we could see Ireland in the distance as the weather was so clear. We waved at Ireland sister but we’re not sure she saw us! We moved round the mountain to drink our coffee, eat Snickers bars (the perfect walking snack) and admire Eryri (Snowdonia) in the distance.

The route back took us through some farmland – we were diverted from part of it due to landslips and erosion, and then we rejoined the coastal path back at Porth Meudwy – sadly at the bottom of the steps, so we still had to climb up again! We admired bluebells, foxgloves, late primroses and lots of gorse, and learned about the National Trust’s activity to replace the gorse with heather to create heathland. The final stretch was a scramble across the rocks at Aberdaron as we couldn’t face the final set of down and up steps: the tide was coming in but we raced the waves and rewarded ourselves with an ice cream on the beach. After nine miles of mostly hills we had earned it!

Back in Criccieth, I decided to go for a swim. LS sat on the beach with her book and a G&T. The sea was calm and the beach shelves very quickly, so you don’t need to go out very far to submerge. The hotel landlady thought I was quite mad, and now we get to say ‘o mam bach!’ instead of OMG…

We had fish and chips on the beach for dinner – quite the best I have had for a very long time – accompanied by prosecco and hovering gulls. We didn’t share.

Sunday’s weather was the complete opposite of the previous day, so we headed to Caernarfon for the family zoom call to wish Ireland sister a happy birthday, and then to Newborough Forest and Traeth Llanddwyn on Anglesey for a walk. The Forest is a red squirrel sanctuary, but we didn’t see any: I suspect they were tucked up in their drays hiding from the weather! We did see a woodpecker, two ravens and a lot of sand dunes, and made the sensible decision not to go to the island to see the chapel as we’d have been blown away. We drove back via Llyn Padarn and Llanberis, being awed by the waterfalls in full spate and the number of idiot drivers, and then in the evening we ate at Dylan’s in Criccieth: a beautiful Art Deco building designed by Clough Williams Ellis in the 1930s. No mussels were available so more whitebait, crab arancini and then crab salads.

On Monday’s homeward journey we called in to see our cousin Myfanwy and her husband in Fairbourne, where sheep roamed the streets and the bakery makes excellent brownies. It was lovely to see them – last time I met them it was in Kings Cross so the scenery was very different!

I think the kids were pleased to see me when I got back, it’s hard to tell…

Reality…

The excitement continued on Wednesday as it was the monthly sunset and full moon swim at Redricks – this month was the flower moon, so there were some mad hats on display. The lake looks so pretty lit up by torches in drybags and glowtubes.

On Thursday I had my last day on site at the museum, as we had to be out on Friday for the building work to start. It looks so empty! We recycled and donated as much as we possibly could: scrap metal and wood, charity shops, the Scrap Project, schools, other museums, churches and charities. It’s going to be an adventure for the next few years to say the least!

Baby cow, do-do-do-do-doooo

A finish this week has been this cow and calf, which is probably one of the weirder things I have made – it was a commission from a friend as a gift for her sister in law, who loves all things cow.

I also frogged half my latest sock (Mulled Wine by Vicki Brown Designs) as I decided I didn’t like the solid colour I was using. I took it back to the toe and redid the foot with a self-striping yarn from West Yorkshire Spinners – Winwick Mum in the Wildflower colourway.

The year of handmade gifts

I had a brainwave a few weeks ago and made a chart of all my work colleagues’ birthdays so I can plan a bit better! I am now ahead of myself, having finished the next one and kitted up two more – one for work and one for a friend who is getting married soon.

I have also picked up the Hobbit Hole pattern again, which has been on hold while I’ve been making gifts – I was stitching in the garden yesterday, and while watching films last night.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…

So that’s been my week! A lot of heavy lifting, glorious walks, time with my sister, cross stitch and crochet. And it’s a bank holiday weekend too – hurray!

See you for week 63, which won’t be nearly as exciting as this week I am mostly doing spreadsheets.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure – Joanne Harris (Audible)

Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly

Pel is Puzzled/Pel and the Staghound – Mark Hebden

60: are you suggesting that coconuts migrate?

This week has drifted by in a fuzz of nothing much: the weather has been grey and rainy, and it’s one of those weeks where I feel I have achieved very little. I know I have, of course: we finished packing up the learning office and the handling collection at work with a week to spare before the deadline, sorted the boxes into deep storage, accessible storage and ‘wanted on voyage’ piles; I had some very useful meetings and spent a lot of time staring at spreadsheets. The cutting adrift of the team from the museum for the next couple of years is imminent: there is no dedicated office space for us elsewhere, so I expect I am just feeling a bit lost!

So as the weather was being temperamental again yesterday I decided I’d cheer myself up with a day of watching a favourite film or two. I ended up watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is endlessly quotable and entirely silly, and the compilation of sketches And Now for Something Completely Different. I love Monty Python: its absurdism, and the sideways look at Britain and the British in a way that Little Britain took a bit too far at times. Sketches like the Dead Parrot or the Four Yorkshiremen are instantly recognisable, even to non-fans, as they have entered the public domain, and without groups like Python the alternative comedians of the ’80s probably wouldn’t have existed. Not the Nine O’Clock News, for example, or Naked Video and Absolutely.

Bedivere:  Well, now, uh, Launcelot, Galahad, and I wait until nightfall, and then leap out of the rabbit, taking the French by surprise — not only by surprise, but totally unarmed!
Arthur:  Who leaps out?
Bedivere:  Uh, Launcelot, Galahad, and I.  Uh, leap out of the rabbit, uh and uh….

I was first introduced to Monty Python at uni in the early 90s, along with many other geeky things like graphic novels, and role playing games (we did Middle Earth). One of the things I really loved about uni was that it was suddenly OK to be a geek and to love SF and fantasy, superheroes and quotable films, in a way that it wasn’t at a small town secondary school where the slightest hint of difference made you odd. Uni was full of people who didn’t think it odd that locating the local library was top of the to-do list (alongside the local student pub, of course).

What you see when you look up: a tiny garden growing in a police lamp

Museums are also full of people who happily sit in the nerd camp: the Pratchett fans, the D&D players, the people who start phone calls with “‘ello? I’d like to make a complaint!’ or ‘Do you want to come upstairs?’ and brighten your day by making you laugh. At the start of a meeting this week my line manager informed me that she’d woken up with a pain in the diodes all down her left side: well, it was Thursday, and it’s hard to get the hang of Thursdays. I work with Lego fans, with people who think it’s perfectly normal to sit on the top deck of a bus in London to look at buildings, Potterheads, D&D players, Discworld fans, Whovians, gamers, and more. This is why I love my job: it’s a joy to go to work when you have found your tribe.

In stitches

I came home from work on Wednesday unable to think about anything except chocolate cake, for some reason. Luckily I have an excellent recipe that belonged to my Aunty Jan, where you throw everything in a bowl, beat it for two minutes and then bung it in the oven and the result is a brilliant cake that even I can’t get wrong. With a dollop of Mallow & Marsh raspberry marshmallow spread in the middle and a cocoa glace icing, we had cake for pudding after dinner and I was able to get on with my life.

As you can see, I finished the Hairspray cross stitch and handed it over to the birthday girl this week – she loved it. I don’t often get to hand things over in person these days, so it was lovely to see the unboxing. Sock one of the Vappu use-up-the-ball socks is complete, and I have also begun this Cow with Calf crochet pattern.

I’ve also finished the next gift in the year of handmade gifts, which will be heading off this week, so I have achieved more than I think I have over the last seven days! This week I am having a sneak preview of the new V&A exhibition with some children from my favourite Bethnal Green primary school: I went into school to visit them on Friday and it was so good to see them again after more than a year!

And then next weekend London sister and I are going on an adventure, which I am REALLY looking forward to. I don’t even care if it rains (though sunshine would obviously be nice!).

So, that was week 60. Nothing much happened, but there we are. See you for week 61, when I will be coming to you from North Wales.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Inspector Pel and the Faceless Corpse – Mark Hebden

Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly

The Lollipop Shoes -Joanne Harris (Audible)

59: culture and cocktails

Yesterday my best friend and I made our long-delayed visit to Highgate Cemetery, for no reason other than that we rather like a good graveyard. We’d planned to visit it last year but what with one lockdown and another we’d had to put it off. Pre-pandemic, the only way to visit the West (older) cemetery was on a guided tour, but they have been trialling self-guided visits, advance booked in timed slots. This was one of our culture and cocktail days, when we would usually go and see an exhibition or a museum and then have a very indulgent lunch: previous excursions have included The Lost Words at the Foundling Museum, Frida Kahlo at the V&A, and the Mail Rail and Postal Museum. We weren’t able to book anywhere for lunch so the plan was to get and M&S picnic with ready mixed cocktails and go and eat in Waterlow Park between visiting the West and East cemeteries.

Typically, yesterday was the first day of torrential rain in months: it’s been so dry and sunny, if not always warm! Luckily, we met at uni in Preston so we are quite used to rain, so we dug out the waterproofs and sensible shoes (how times change!) and met up at Kings Cross – track failure on the Central Line and the complete breakdown of all new LNER trains notwithstanding. After grabbing our picnic we hopped on the Northern Line and headed for Archway tube. We changed carriages once as there was a very strange man eyeing up handbags – we have never been out anywhere over the years without there being at least one weirdo involved, and at least this one didn’t tell me his life story. On our Mail Rail day a man accosted me at Kings Cross and told me all about his unfair dismissal from Royal Mail, as he was off to Parliament to protest about it. Bless him, I don’t think he’d realised there was an anti-Brexit march going on at the same time…my friend was crying with laughter from a distance as I am a magnet for weirdos.

We started with Highgate West, following the main route to start with and then wandering down the smaller paths as they appeared – there was a really helpful volunteer as we arrived, who kept popping up with useful information across the day. The sites are run by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, so everyone is full of interesting knowledge – I do love a volunteer!

We were enchanted by the way the grounds have been left to grow wild, and spotted little Great Tits and a beautiful jay as we walked around. It does mean a lot of the space is inaccessible as many of the monuments and graves are unsafe, but even the main paths give you a good view and they are very well maintained. There’s a red route on the map which gives you the highlights like the Circle of Lebanon, the Egyptian Avenue and the main tombs, but you can also follow the smaller marked paths.

We were surprised to find the grave of Alexander Litvinenko in the old side, who was interred in a lead lined coffin – we hadn’t really registered that people were still being buried in this side, although there is very little space. The graves range from the very simple to the very elaborate, with a heavy emphasis on obelisk and angels (which we kept a careful eye on, and definitely didn’t blink). Our favourite on this side was George Wombwell’s, with a sculpture of a very friendly lion. He was a menagerist, with three travelling animal shows.

We found a shelter in Waterlow Park for our picnic – although it had stopped raining by then the ground was a bit too damp to sit on. I can highly recommend M&S’s Blackberry Gin Bramble, though I’m told their Cosmopolitan tasted like parma violets, and is not recommended. We offset the cocktails with the Crayfish and Mango salad.

Lunchtime company

Post lunch, we visited the East cemetery, where I made a pilgrimage to Douglas Adam’s very unassuming grave. No towels in evidence, but a whole flowerpot of biros. We loved the descriptions of people on their graves: scientists, poets, doctors, philosophers. Our very helpful volunteer popped up and pointed out the death mask of Bruce Reynolds, one of the great train robbers, and we found Malcom McLaren’s death mask later. We also found George Eliot, Jeremy Beadle, Karl Marx (hard to miss), Sheila Gish, Ann Jewson Crisp (who had a faithful dog, Emperor), Claudia Jones, and a whole lot of people called Martha.

The day was rounded off with a hot chocolate in a little cafe in Highgate Village – we earned it by walking up the rest of Highgate Hill! A cyclist passed us on the way up, huffing and puffing, and we were in serious awe of his stamina as that is one very steep hill. He also passed us on the way back down towards Highgate Station, freewheeling but still puffing. Highgate Village is an odd place that doesn’t feel like London – apart from the property prices.

On the way home I got to pull the emergency handle on the Central Line for the first time ever, as a man who had clearly had a few too many that afternoon was in a bad way and collapsed. We left him in the safe hands of the man at Debden Station and I hope he got home OK!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

I finished the second sock and they are large enough to allow for a bit of shrinkage – my laundry skills, like my cooking, can be a bit erratic at times. I love the way that the colourway on the sock yarn has reversed itself for the second sock, and there was enough left over (I hope) for a pair of Vappu socks.

You can also see that I have finished the D20 cross stitch and handed it over as a housewarming gift for a colleague, filled in April (range of 6-16 degrees for the month) on the Temperature Tree and just have the final ‘T’ to go on the Hairspray cross stitch pattern which is destined for a birthday gift. The final image is the Suffragette sash I made a few weeks ago, now in NI and in context!

This week has felt quite productive, all in all! And right now I had better go and whip up a flask of hot chocolate and get my swimming bag packed.

Same time next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Juniper Wiles – Charles de Lint

Museum of Desire – Jonathan Kellerman

Serpentine – Jonathan Kellerman

Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book – Brian Froud and Terry Jones

Death Set To Music (Inspector Pel) – Mark Hebden

The Lollipop Shoes – Joanne Harris (Audible)

58: head, shoulders, knees and toes

I came home from work on Wednesday and as the evening progressed, my foot began to hurt. I mean, it really hurt. So much so that I couldn’t put any weight on it – some of the time. And then sometimes it was fine. I hadn’t done anything to it that I knew of – no mis-steps, or ankle turns, or falling off or into anything. It just hurt. Scientific exploration (oh ok, poking at it till I discovered where it hurt most) revealed an area just between the top of my foot and the ankle bone where it was tender but not swollen but didn’t tell me why. I’d been on my feet all day – except when I’d been crawling on the floor cutting up plastazote for boxing the handling collection. I’d been wearing Converse (of course) rather than anything impractical – I wouldn’t walk a marathon in them but they’re pretty practical the rest of the time.

So, knowing I had an ankle support somewhere I went on a hunt for it. The ankle support dates from when I twisted my ankle at an Aerosmith gig. Don’t ask. Anyway.

Twenty five years ago I possessed a wrist support. That was it. I worked, mostly. This week, in the course of the hunt for the ankle bandage I discovered I now have:

  • the ankle support (phew)
  • multiple random lengths of tubigrip bandage for ankles and wrists (I assume)
  • two elbow supports
  • no less than eight knee supports ranging from pressure straps through to neoprene ones with carefully placed kneecap holes. Eight!
  • a selection of KT tape in interesting colours and patterns.

How does this even happen? I have never had a major injury other than a broken arm at the age of four. I am mostly kind to my body: I take it on walks, I feed it nice food, I submerge it in a lake a couple of times a week. There could probably be a lot less of it (it’s on the to-do list) but on the whole it’s pretty healthy so why do I possess enough stretchy bandaging to go to a party as a patchwork sports mummy? The pairing of the words ‘Kirsty’ and ‘sports injury’ would cause Miss Brooker and Miss Jones from the Comp PE department to collapse in hysteria, but here I am at 47 with enough joint supports to cause a physiotherapist to weep.

And let’s not even start on my back, neck and shoulders or the three pairs of glasses for very small, far away and middle distance. It turns out that people, unlike wine, do not improve with age.

Ice cream in the park

It’s been a pretty rough week, all in all, quite apart from the mystery ankle injury. On Monday we discovered that our little museum team was being restructured yet again (that’s three times in two years, for context). If it goes ahead, we stand to lose the person who has been the absolute heart of the team for the past two years: making sure we stayed connected through furlough and lockdown, establishing the birthday habit we now have, fighting for us and the project at high levels. When she joined the museum after the first, bruising restructure she made sure she met every single person for a one to one to find out our hopes and ambition for the new museum and for our roles within it: from the cleaning, catering and security teams to the heads of teams and those people from the other sites with responsibility for the project. When we were restructured again the following year she worked to find alternative roles within the museum for as many of those affected as she could. The grief and anger within the team has been palpable this week, though she was at pains to reassure us that we would be OK. We are a tight team who work cross-departmentally, who are generous with time and knowledge and who share a passion for the project we’re working on. We are also tired and demoralised, and fed up with being restructured. There’s only so many times you can rebuild something before the component parts become unstable: hence the saying ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

I really felt I’d earned the sunset/full moon swim on Monday night, and pottered round the lake getting my head back on the right way round. The atmosphere was lovely, with candles and a fire pit, and the moon rising behind the trees as we were getting changed. This week’s cover photo is by me, as I finally managed to sort out my waterproof phone case!

By Friday we had earned a picnic in Victoria Park watching the puppy obedience class followed by an ice cream from ‘The Conefather’. Just getting off site as a team and being able to rant and let off steam was a relief – we are still mainly working remotely, so very much ships passing in the night (or the corridor), and online chats just aren’t the same.

This friendly bee came to join our picnic

There has been much therapeutic crafting going on: a gift I still can’t share but will be able to next week after it’s gone to its new home, the ongoing lacy socks and another cross stitch underway.

This week is a three day week for me, as it’s Bank Holiday and I’ve booked Friday off as a mental health day (and the dentist) as well. I’m off swimming shortly so I’d better go and get myself sorted!

Enjoy the long weekend!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Library of the Dead – T.L. Huchu

The Stranger Times – C.K McDonnell

Juniper Wiles – Charles de Lint

Chocolat – Joanne Harris (Audible)