140: so, when are we coming back then?

After being named and shamed twice in last week’s post, Jill would like me to point out that she not only made it down to breakfast at 8am yesterday, she arrived a whole five minutes before I did. And she absolutely did not have two naps on Friday afternoon in the Relaxation Lounge.

This weekend eleven of us have been away on an overnighter to Lifehouse, a spa and hotel in Thorpe-le-Soken in Essex as part of a ‘big birthday’ celebration. Booked last March, it’s been a long time coming and we have all been looking forward to it – and the wait was worthwhile. A few of us had booked Friday off work and arrived before lunchtime, while the others drifted up over the day. It’s just over an hour away from our bit of Essex, so not too far, but still far enough away for it to feel like a break.

Lifehouse, although set in some beautiful English Heritage gardens, is a contemporary hotel and the spa is very well-equipped: pool, hydropool (aka a bloody great jacuzzi thing), sauna and steam room, ‘salt inhalation experience’ and a plunge pool kept at 16 degrees, which after a sauna or steam feels a LOT colder. There are treatment rooms, a HUGE nail salon, and two lovely relaxation lounges – one dark with blankets, and the other light with views over the gardens. There’s a terrace balcony outside this one but it’s November so we admired it from within.

The pool was quite cool, so it was nice to hop out of there and into one of the hot rooms, and there were loungers around so you could relax and read (or crochet). It was quite busy when we arrived and when we left, but there were quieter periods in the day – it being Essex there was a terrifying amount of fake-tanned skin on display as well as our pale (but interesting) skin, and the friendly staff are excellent advertisements for the wide range of beauty treatments on offer. Various members of the gang indulged in massages, wraps, manicures and pedicures, facials, and two of us even did the guided meditation session. I always feel that a day in a dressing gown being terribly indulgent is a day well-spent, and we all made the most of it. Apparently there is also a gym, but I forgot my PE kit, honest. Somewhere there is a ‘hidden sanctuary’ for couples, but we didn’t see that! You can roam the hotel in your robes and slippers, but after 6pm you have to put your clothes on, bringing a whole new meaning to ‘dressing for dinner’. No wet bottoms are allowed in the bar or restaurant which caused much hilarity: maturity is not coming with age, it seems.

We made time in our hectic schedule for a few meals in the hotel restaurant: for lunch on Saturday I had cumin-roasted cauliflower which came with roasted kale, baba ghanoush, mint and pomegranate while others tried out various sandwiches and a risotto, and for dinner I tried the home made gnocchi with slow-cooked bolognese sauce. Chicken in a basket and scampi and chips were not featured on the menu, although I think a bar menu with more than peanuts would be a good addition. The menu is limited but done well, the staff are friendly and helpful, and it’s quite reasonably priced.

Breakfast (always a high point of any hotel stay) was excellent: hot and freshly cooked traditional ‘English’ selection (though it was missing black pudding, it did have good fresh mushrooms and tomatoes); fruits; porridge and overnight oats; cereal; continental meats and cheeses; pastries; toast and jams (Tiptree, of course) and juices. Coffee was generous and fresh, and they would probably have been horrified at the conversations the gang of 40 and 50 something ‘ladies’ were having over their bacon….

We’re already planning a return visit for some other significant birthdays that may be coming up next year…

Other things making me happy this week….

  1. A great night out with work colleagues at Draughts, where we played noisy board games and ate our way through the ‘Players Bundle’ menu. The Korean Fried Chicken bites were so good.
  2. Crochet, naturally. Still making tiny jumpers – now I am being asked to make them in football strips.
  3. Thing 1 is on the mend, and Thing 3 is in Wales with his aunty and our cousins enjoying his first rugby international.
  4. Working with Miriam on her social media posts. More writing!
  5. Sub-10 degrees swim in the lake this morning – still in skins, and according to Isla’s daughter we are ‘all maniacs!’.

This week I will be piloting new KS3 design sessions at a school in Ilford, making more stock for my stall, and dreaming of relaxation lounges.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

This Much is True – Miriam Margolyes

Don’t Need The Sunshine – John Osborne

Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes – Rob Wilkins (Audible)

137: you’re making me climb mountains, Aunty Tan

Well, here I am again after a very relaxing week away with London sister (aka Aunty Tan, to the kids) and Things 2 and 3. Thing 1 declined the invitation as she was going to a drum & bass (drum’n’bass? I don’t know) thing at the Scala in King’s Cross midweek.

So, we drove down via the M40, as the M4 was in its traditional chaotic weekend state of delays and roadworks – there’s the most amazing view as the Chilterns open up in front of you at one point. This area was one of the reintroduction points for the birds, so there’s always quite a few about. Having dosed both kids with travel sickness stuff before we left (Thing 2 has form in this area – takes after her aunt) they alternated arguing with sleeping while we sang along with the traditional road trip playlist of classic rock, surf music, country and western and other songs we felt the kids needed to know. We hit Monmouth for lunchtime, couldn’t find a single space in any of the car parks and headed instead to the Red Door Deli & Diner at Millbrook Garden Centre. They do an excellent omelette, if you’re passing!

We then headed up through Abergavenny (much to the satnav’s disgust, as it was angling for the M4), through Llandovery and Lampeter and finally arrived in Llangrannog around five. Tan had booked Gerlan, over the road from the beach. The flat was lovely, with views over the beach to the caves – both kids had their own rooms, but after two nights Thing 2 decided my bed was more comfortable. I think she secretly missed her sister. The car had to be parked in the free car park up the hill, as despite advertising two spaces there weren’t any at all. ‘Up the hill’ is an understatement – Llangrannog is in the V of a very steep valley!

Thing 2 captured in pensive mode while I was swimming

The chippy was closed, so we ate pizza from Tafell a Tan, who make the best garlic bread, all sea salt and good cheese. Tan took the Things for a walk on the beach, where Thing 3 got water in his wellies and we discovered that our definition of paddling was somewhat different to theirs. Thing 2 thinks paddling means full immersion…

Sunday

I started the day with a solo dip, watched by Tan and Thing 2 from the window (always have a swimming buddy!). Three widths of the 100 metre bay was enough for me, and as I was getting out there were some other mad hardy souls getting in. The water temperature hovered around 14 degrees through the week.

What the hell am I doing?

After a quick trip to Tesco in Cardigan to get supplies (including a Curly the Caterpillar cake for Thing 2, as she hadn’t had a birthday cake the day before) we dragged the kids out on a circular walk via some woodland paths, the Urdd camp and the Wales Coastal Path. There was much whinging about being forced to ‘climb mountains’ until we hit the view after which they were practically skipping up the next slope. We had a family swim when we got back to cool off, and then I acted as sous chef while Tan made a roast dinner. I proved myself competent at cutting carrot batons and selecting potatoes, which was good as I have never managed to roast them properly!

Monday

We were so lucky with the weather all week – apart from a bit of drizzle and wind, we were able to get out and about every day. On Monday we headed up the coast to Aberystwyth, where I was allowed (briefly) to reminisce about my student days there. After lunch in Y Caban and a trip to Trespass to get Thing 3 some adventure pants we took the Cliff Railway up Constitution Hill to see the camera obscura. Thing 2 was sulking as we weren’t budging on our insistence that she would wear both long sleeves and a coat when we headed up Snowdon the following day. Afternoon snacks were indulged in at Ridiculously Rich By Alana, where they make some of the best brownies on the planet – they are available by post, and I promise you won’t regret it.

We took the kids wave jumping in the afternoon, and in the evening we stargazed at the Milky Way, saw a shooting star, and watched the tide come in.

Tuesday

It was three hours to Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) and we were booked on the 10am train so we were up and on our way by 6am – as the dawn broke we were treated to some spectacular views coming through the mountain passes. It was Thing 3’s day to be stroppy, it turned out, especially when we realised he’d forgotten his coat (my fault apparently). Luckily we are Wales veterans so we were able to locate some layers in the car, and I bought him a new waterproof in the shop (in my size, and it’s very nice) to keep him dry. The wind was gusting at 54mph at Clogwyn, where the train was stopping, and there was some doubt whether it would run but it dropped to 48mph and we were able to go up. We shared our compartment with a French family, so poor Tan’s language skills were tested as as soon as they realised she spoke French they started a conversation about Brexit, politics, the monarchy and the difficulty they were having with the north Walian accent. Tan translated the driver’s commentary, but her brain was fried by the time we got to the bottom. The kids were suitably impressed.

We had a picnic lunch at Dolbadarn castle, a brief wander through Llanberis village and a walk along the lake, which I was not allowed to jump into. Dinner was at the Pentre Arms, as although Google told us the chippy was open, it lied…

Wednesday

The Things went on strike and demanded a doing-nothing day. No mountains, no walks, no driving, so that was what we did. I started the day with a dip in the sea and later we went back to the beach with the kids. We had ice cream from Caffi Patio and I sat with my crochet while the kids played in the water. Things 2 and 3 built a sand castle while Tan and I went and explored rock pools round the headland at Cilborth.

Before dinner, Tan and I walked up to the cliff path to watch the sunset with G&Ts which was peaceful and glorious, and was the source for this week’s cover photo. We started binge watching Ghosts again, and just before high tide we dragged the kids outside with their hot chocolates and watched the waves coming up.

Thursday

After another early dip, we headed to Aberaeron – Y Popty for pasties to eat overlooking the harbour followed by honey ice cream from The Hive. After lunch we headed up to Bwlch Nant-yr-Arian to see the red kite feeding. They do this daily throughout the year and it was truly spectacular. I’m not sure how the kites know what the time is but there were what looked like hundreds of them there by 3pm and the aerial display was spectacular.

We walked round the lake afterwards spotting toadstools, and had a sunset swim back in Llangrannog. Still no fish and chips though – thank heavens for pasta!

Friday

We headed to New Quay, and promised the kids they could have the afternoon back on the beach. No longer trusting Google, we had fish and chips on the quayside under the beady eyes of the local gulls, and spotted a seal bobbing about just outside the harbour walls along with a couple of cormorants dipping for their lunch. There were dolphins in the bay, according to the boat people, but we didn’t spot any.

Tan and I have been able to have whole conversations in Welsh in front of the children when we didn’t want them to hear what we were plotting, as well as practising in shops and cafes which we have enjoyed. People are very patient with us, and are happy to help when we struggle which has been very useful.

As promised we spent the afternoon on the beach, exploring rock pools, eating yet more ice cream, and finished with a last dip where Tan and Thing 3 were properly wiped out by a wave. I did some beach crochet, sheltered from the wind by the cliff.

We drive back via Raglan, avoided the M4 closures and appreciated the Chilterns from other direction. It’s always nice to drive back in the rain, it makes the end of the holiday so much easier!

This morning I have been swimming in the rain at the lake – it felt much colder than the sea, though there was apparently no difference!

Back to work tomorrow…see you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Magpie Key – Sarah Painter

Bleeding Heart Yard – Elly Griffiths

A Heart Full of Headstones – Ian Rankin

Straight Outta Crawley – Romesh Ranganathan

134: What goes on in Cardiff in the dark

My left shin is currently sporting an impressive bruise, just at the height a medium sized dog’s head might reach if – say – they were overexcited by the the scent of a fox, it was dark, and raining, and the aforementioned shin was wearing dark jeans and boots. It’s an excellent bruise which is still changing colour and I do hope the poor hound in question – Kalie, who belongs to Jane, one of my Cardiff cousins – didn’t suffer concussion from the collision.

But why were you hanging about in the rainy dark in Cardiff, I hear you cry? Well, last Sunday London sister was running the Cardiff half marathon, so I went along for the ride and to give her a bit of support in the last couple of miles. My hound-owning cousin was also supporting, in several more places thanks to her speedy cycling, but it’s the thought that counts and I did see her at two places thanks to a bit of speedy lurching across Roath Park. The week before she had run the Ealing half marathon and today she is running the postponed (thanks to the Queen) Richmond half marathon. Mad but impressive. Anyway.

Apart from the extremely lengthy M4-avoiding detour through Newbury, Reading and other probably scenic bits of Berkshire on the way back, it was a lovely weekend. The detour on the way down, skirting Cirencester and Gloucester and through the Forest of Dean, was rather nice as we ended up in Monmouth without sitting in M4 traffic – which was where we were planning on stopping for lunch anyway. We had a bacon roll in Estero Lounge, which we felt we had to try as we’d seen it soooo many times on a local Facebook page. Usually asking when it was open, which luckily it was. It’s definitely a step up from Maureen’s caff and Buster’s the bus station caff, which were the options when we were younger at that end of town! We had a wander up Monnow Street, entertained the ladies in Salt & Pepper with our sisterly double act (but came away with a hat which didn’t make London Sister look like a) a mushroom or b)the Witchfinder General), and marvelled at Boots the chemist closing for lunch.

Dinner was in Cardiff at La Dolce Vita on Wellfield Road, where we had done a lot of shopping on weekends as children as we’d started life in Lakeside. Six of us met there for various pizzas, pastas, puddings and Prosecco-based cocktails* – representing most of the female cousins, apart from Irish sister who said Cardiff was too far for dinner and the other one. It was good to be reassured that the ability to carry on six different conversations at once is clearly a family thing (and going by the photos we are quite definitely family) – I was complimented the other week when I was running a registration desk at a forum on my ability to hold several conversations, remember a spelling and write at the same time, and this is clearly where it comes from. The restaurant runs ‘sittings’ in the evening, much like school lunches but with less custard, and they were very keen to get rid of us as we neared the end of our allotted time. They brought us the bill without being asked, and whipped all plates and glasses away as soon as they were empty. Cousin Sal took great delight in taking the longest time ever to eat a tiramisu… we then repaired to the pub to finish off conversations before walking back through Roath Park.

Roath Park was a very big part of my childhood: I remember walking through it on Sundays to ‘the Kiosk’ (now a coffee shop) to get the papers with Dad, and getting a Drumstick lolly to keep us going on the way back. It’s got a very nice lake, with plenty of bird life, pleasure gardens, rose gardens, a wild garden (that’s the dark one where Kalie ran into my leg) where the foxes live, a play area which was notable for having a massive metal slide when I was young, a cafe and various other things that any decent park wouldn’t be without.

After I’d raced across the park to see Tan at mile 12 (before ‘the Widowmaker’ as the final hill is as known) I rewarded myself with a rather nice ‘caramelised biscuit’ ice cream (Biscoff, by any other name) and wandered through the rose garden to the Conservatory which is a HUGE greenhouse type affair that we used to occasionally visit as children. I got bitten by a fish there once. Last time I went there were baby terrapins which I think had been retrieved from the main lake where they’d been released after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fever had worn off. The terrapins are still there but a LOT bigger now, and one of them was doing yoga on the edge of the pool while the rest were just lounging about on a rock. The plants are also a lot bigger, and there is a pair of whistling ducks. I wouldn’t like to get bitten by one of the fish now, they’re enormous.

I did a bit of crochet as I sat on a bench (because I can) and then wandered back to Jane’s for a most delicious lunch cooked by her husband Jason – Moroccan Lamb with Apricots, Almonds and Mint which I cooked for my beloved on Thursday as he’s partial to a bit of lamb too. I’m looking forward to heading a bit further into Wales for half term in a couple of weeks.

*Other cocktails were available and indeed drunk, but they ruined my alliterative streak.

Ooh, bees!

Yesterday one of my crafty friends and I made our annual pilgrimage to Ally Pally to the Knitting and Stitching Show where we squished yarn, stroked fabric, marvelled at gadgets and furniture and spotted Sewing Bee contestants wandering about the place. We got there about half an hour after opening and left just before they threw us out, and we had a great time – Heather and I are butterfly crafters who like to try all sorts of things and often have many things on the go at once, so we take our craft shows very seriously. Before we went in we hit the Toft Metamorphosis space where we crocheted a circle to add to the HUGE butterfly.

This year we started at the far end of the show and worked our way back which meant we avoided all the mad old ladies with shopping trolleys and pointy elbows and had the chance to actually get into stalls. Heather is a DT teacher so we started with the quilting guild show and the gallery spaces, before heading into the stalls for some inspiration.

We had a fish finger sandwich for lunch and cake at 3pm (so disciplined!) – there was much more choice of food this year. At the cake stop we sat with two elderly ladies and we all showed off our hauls, so at least Heather and I know what our future in craft shows looks like! I also ran into one of my favourite freelancers from my Museum of London Docklands days which was lovely!

I came home feeling crafty and made a couple of Christmas decorations using this pattern and Paintbox cotton yarn.

Today I think we are off to Copped Hall Autumn Family Day, with as many children as we can drag out of bed, and this evening it’s the Full Moon Swim at the lake. And I really must do the ironing…. See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

I Believe in Yesterday – Tim Moore

Believe Me! – Eddie Izzard

Twelfth Doctor Tales/Tales from Trenzalore (Audible)

129: Quoth the raven ‘nevermore’

OK, it wasn’t a raven but a crow, and it didn’t actually say anything, but ANYWAY. Yesterday my friend Amanda and I ticked off number five on the Magnificent Seven cemeteries list with a visit to Abney Park in Stoke Newington as she was house sitting in Shoreditch again.

We hopped on a bus from Shoreditch High Street which took us through Hackney and Clapton, and then missed the entrance as it was hidden behind hoardings. We didn’t notice till we’d walked as far as Stamford Hill, when it dawned on us that the 400 yards that Google had said had been going on for a while!

Once we’d made it through the building site to the cemetery it was lovely – cool under the trees and with lots of friendly hounds and their people. Like several of the other cemeteries we have visited much of it is now left wild as a nature reserve, and indeed this was the first such reserve in Hackney – it was planted as an arboretum so there is a huge variety of trees on site, as well as a ‘rosarium’. There’s apparently some interesting mushrooms (not that sort of interesting) and assorted fungi about. I was quite taken by this fallen tree where the mushrooms were fruiting into the hollow trunk.

There are fewer celebrity burials in Abney Park than in Highgate and Brompton etc, but we did find a memorial to Isaac Watts, the hymn writer – apparently there was a spot he particularly liked to hang out in. There was also a very imposing statue of him further in – he’s buried in Bunhill Fields along with John Bunyan (all those nonconformist types!) but Hackney was his stamping ground. Our favourite grave belonged to Sophia Caroline Whittle, ‘Relict of the late ‘Censorious”. We couldn’t find out any more about ‘Censorious’ but I’d love to know!

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have been working hard cleaning and clearing their sites in Abney Park so there are shining white stones among the Victorian greys. Many of these seemed to date from late 1918, sadly – just a day after the end of the war in one case. There are lots of little tracks off the main paths, allowing you to explore. Like the others we have visited many of the older graves are overgrown and inaccessible, but that allows for the wildlife to thrive. We saw squirrels and heard a lot of parakeets – but no signs of the owls who nest in the trees, who were presumably tucked up for the day.

It’s funny to think that there are trends in funerary décor as with everything else – in one area there will be a row of Grecian urns, and in another a set of identical angels topping the plinths. Perhaps the local memorial stonemasons have sales? There seem to be a lot of Blitz victims, which is to be expected in East London. We saw the non-denominational chapel, which was only used for burial services and not for worship and which is sadly closed after falling into disrepair. Quinn London, who are also the ones doing the base build at my own dear museum, are responsible for the restoration of both the entrance and the chapel so a trip back might be worthwhile when the works are completed.

One thing that does worry me is the number of people who ‘fell asleep’ and ended up in the cemetery – if someone could double check that I haven’t just dropped off before they plant me that would be great.

After a quick refuelling stop in ‘Stokey’ (as I believe the ‘hipper’ natives refer to it) we headed south again – the first bus that came along was the 106, which took us through Hackney and down to Cambridge Heath station where we got off and walked down Hackney Road to Columbia Road. I lived on Hackney Road for several years, and back then it was punctuated by strip clubs and derelict shops. It’s now restored and rebuilt in many places, with bars, coffee shops and the odd boutique (OK, and strip clubs). I was glad to see the City Cafe II still in situ – excellent bubble and squeak on a Sunday morning!

We walked through Columbia Road, stopping at the British Cheese Shop where I definitely didn’t have a Monty Python moment, and rejoined Hackney Road at the Old Street end, where we decided to detour via Hoxton Street Market and Hoxton Square – I love the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies shop (supporting a literacy charity). The market is hanging on as a community space – the City looms over it and the gentrification of Shoreditch is slowly sneaking up, but until then you can still buy second hand china, clothes, fruit and veg and hear people greeting friends and ‘aunties’. There’s a wonderful old building that was an early asylum, which took serious Google-fu to find out about, and there’s still lots of evidence of Hoxton’s artisan past.

The door of Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

After a quick stop for a cuppa and a biscuit or two we wandered over to the Barbican to buy some supplies (OK, tequila. But we got salad too.), walking via Bunhill Fields so we got two cemeteries in in one day. John Bunyan is tucked up in there, flown over by the ubiquitous parakeets and scampered on by squirrels.

Post-dinner, we were people watching from the roof and observed five Hackney enforcement officers arrive to deal with one graffiti artist – not because of his artwork (which we liked when we went to see it afterwards) but because he was obstructing a parking space with his kit. The area has become famous for the street art – from Stik and others to your basic taggers – and some of the pieces are amazing. Still, heaven forbid you take up a parking space! We went for a late night round-the-block (9.30 is late, surely?) and judging by the drop in people on the streets of Shoreditch we may be witnessing the beginning of the recession – also, people seem to be buying their nitrous oxide in bulk now rather than in the little canisters, looking the aerosol sized cans about the place when we walked the dog this morning!

Tequila sunset

I’m pretty sure it’s nap time now, though – all that walking took it out of me!

Other things making me happy this week:

  • Thing 3 starting secondary school
  • Finishing my talk for the GEM conference this week (phew!)
  • Hanging out with my godson and his girlfriend as well as Amanda
  • Not having Covid any more
  • Several dog walks

See you next week! This week I am off to the Crafts Council for an in person thing, to Derby Silk Mill for the GEM conference – exciting!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

If It Bleeds/The Outsider/Finders Keepers – Stephen King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Not Dark Yet/The Price of Love – Peter Robinson

111: Uphill all the way

Yesterday I fulfilled a long held ambition and went on one of Paul Talling’s guided walks through London, specifically the route of the River Fleet from Blackfriars to St Pancras Old Church. I’ve been a fan of his photos since the very first Derelict London days, when I stumbled across them while researching something completely different, and in 2012 he kindly allowed me to use some of his pre-regeneration photos of the Olympic Park to support a school session I was running at the Museum of London Docklands. When my friend messaged me the other day to say she had a spare ticket for the Fleet walk and would I like to come, there was only one possible answer. As one of my longest-standing friends (37 years!), ex-flatmate in our mis-spent London years and graduate of the Durham Arms school of Sunday drinking, the chance for a catch-up post-lockdown was unmissable too. (Kerst – you know that I’d have said yes even without the walk!)

I never planned to stay in London for more than a few years and certainly never expected to fall in love with it and all its history, but there we are. I have actually done the Fleet walk before, self-guided and in the other direction as part of a partnership with the Hampstead Heath education team: we used Paul Talling’s book and this one to guide us and completed the walk over two days. The first section, from the source just below Kenwood on Hampstead Heath through to St Pancras, was on a gloriously sunny day in early summer. The second part, a few weeks later, was in such torrential rain (in June!) that at the end of the walk we actually had to go to H&M and buy new clothes as everything we were wearing was soaked through. Still, the downpour at least meant that we could see as well as hear the Fleet through the drain on Ray Street in Clerkenwell. Yesterday was hot and sunny and perfect for a lazy ramble through the streets of London.

Blackfriars station, where we had arranged to meet, is on both sides of the river as well as across the middle, and it’s the only one of the big mainline termini I have never caught a train from. Eventually we worked out that if we both went on Blackfriars Bridge we’d be bound to cross paths, so having managed that we headed for coffee and a catch-up before the walk. The start point for the walk was the very beautiful Blackfriar pub, which has been recently restored and the frontage positively glowed in the sunshine.

I won’t go into too much detail about the content of the walk, except to say that Talling’s background as a gig promoter as well as his knowledge of London and its past meant we were treated to a whole lot of side anecdotes about various bands, pubs and local areas. The route took in what’s left of the Bridewell prison, a horde of Millwall fans with a lot of police keeping an eye on them, Smithfield Market (eventually to be the site of the new Museum of London) and Mount Pleasant where the Mail Rail originally started before finishing at St Pancras Old Church and the Hardy Tree. It was only about three miles but took four hours, and we felt we had earned the Nando’s lunch afterwards! We used to go to Nando’s back when we lived in Bethnal Green in the late 90s, so it felt like a good way to end our day. Sunny Saturdays in London always bring out the ill-advised fashion choices – the chap in the turquoise satin tracksuit carrying the bottle of Hooch really was a blast from the past. Here, mate, the 90s called and they want their outfit back!

Here are some of the photos Kersti and I took over the day. We’ll definitely be doing more of these, and perhaps some self-guided ones as well through our old haunts!

Other highlights of the week:

  • New haircut (short!)
  • Finally coming to the end of the D&D campaign with an epic battle
  • Meeting up with the fab Really Big Pants Theatre Company again
  • Hearing Miss Jacqui speak at a networking event at Rich Mix
  • Finishing the dragon scale shawl I have been working on
  • Lovely swim this morning with the swans

So that’s that! Same time next week, gang!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Old Success – Martha Grimes

Win – Harlan Coben

All the Colours of Darkness – Peter Robinson

99: ghouls just want to have fun

Yesterday my best friend and I marked off the third on the list of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries of London with a trip to Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. I’m rather ashamed that, despite living or working in the borough for 22 of the 25 years I’ve been in London, this is the first time I’ve visited what turned out to be a really pretty and peaceful spot smack in the middle of Mile End. We discovered a mutual love of graveyards back in Preston when we were at university together, so this is a thirty year old tradition. For once we weren’t exploring in pouring rain, which is usually the case on our expeditions!

Here it’s more about the nature than about the big names buried in the site, and there are no enormous monuments or mausoleums like those on our previous adventures at Highgate and Kensal Green. We were also not chased by strange men jumping out of a skip, or confronted by a pickled baby. We did have a very good mocha from a tiny coffee TukTuk called the Blue Daisy though. Many of the headstones are tiny, well below knee height, and all the stones are higgledy-piggledy and crammed together as a lot of the park was cleared by the GLC in 1967 after it was closed in 1966.

There are local ‘names’ buried there – the wild animal importer Charles Jamrach, for example, whose story I told for years in my London immigration sessions at Museum of London Docklands. Clara Grant, the social reformer and ‘Bundle Lady of Bow’ is there, also remembered in the name of a local primary school. She believed that children could not learn effectively if they were cold, hungry and unhappy – it’s a sad fact that more than a century after she started the ‘farthing bundle’ scheme there are still huge numbers of children in poverty in Tower Hamlets. There’s the grave of Alfred Linnel, who was trampled by a police horse in Trafalgar Square when he attended a protest against the Bloody Sunday violence the week before. You can also see the Blitz Memorial, built of the bricks of damaged houses from Poplar and commemorating those who died in the Blitz. There are public graves, such as that of 27 of the people who died in the Princess Alice disaster in 1878.

The site was declared a local nature reserve in 2000, and even in this urban area with the District Line rattling past we heard the drumming of a woodpecker and the shrieks of the now-ubiquitous parakeets. The ground was covered in snowdrops, winter aconite and crocuses and there were plenty of magpies, squirrels and this rather Goth pigeon lurking about. He was patient enough to let us take a photo before flying off.

Spot the pigeon.

After a good wander around the paths and desire lines we decided we’d walk through to Spitalfields for lunch – a good two mile wander along some of the side streets and then along the Mile End and Whitechapel Roads where you can still see some gorgeous houses among the Pizza-Go-Gos and fried chicken joints. Whitechapel and Spitalfields markets were buzzing, unlike Oxford Street where I’d been working on Friday. You forget what a stranglehold the Arcadia Group had on the British high street until you see the empty shop fronts of House of Fraser, Debenhams, Top Shop and so on. (Soho, where I had a meeting in the afternoon, was reassuringly busy and grubby still, complete with businessmen taking three or four attempts to go through the ‘private dancing downstairs’ door and ‘rooms by the hour’).

I really fancied noodles so we went to Xi’an Biang Biang Noodles on Commercial Street, where we both had the hand-pulled BiangBiang noodles with beef in special sauce. Gloriously splashy and messy and well-earned after our long walk. All in all a good day out, and our next one will be Brompton Cemetery in April.

This week it’s half term and I have an exciting co-creation project lined up with Spotlight and the mixed-media and materials designer Scott Ramsay Kyle, which will be full on but fun. See you on Sunday!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Locked Room – Elly Griffiths

The Best Thing You Can Steal – Simon R Green

Ninth Doctor Novels (vol 2) (Audible)

Ink and Sigil – Kevin Hearne

Running Tracks – Rob Deering

81: it’s showtime!

It’s been mentioned before that I’m a bit of a butterfly when it comes to making and crafting: I usually have several projects on the go that can be picked up and put down, taken on tubes, worked on as a way to help me focus in meetings or at D&D games, focused on while the TV happens in the background, that sort of things. These are alongside the ones that need more attention – things with sewing machines or full coverage cross stitches, for example.

So, imagine my delight yesterday when my crafty buddy H and I visited the Autumn Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace – the first live craft event we’ve been to since the Waltham Abbey Wool Show in January 2020, before all those lockdowns. I’ve always liked the autumn one better than the spring one (at Olympia) for the exhibitions of quilts and students’ work. The venue is also pretty amazing, with glorious views over London. ‘Ally Pally’, as it’s known, is one of those Victorian ‘people’s palaces’ which have so much history attached to them: the BBC broadcast from there, it was used as an internment camp during the First World War, there’s an ice rink and a beautiful park.

We started with a plan to work our way around the outside stalls, which took us through (among other things) the Embroiderers’ Guild Members’ Challenge exhibition ‘Exquisite Containers‘. We spent a long time talking to the Guild member watching over the exhibition, admiring her mother’s stunning or nue book covers: after working for many years and bringing up her family, she vowed after retirement that she’d dedicate her time to her craft and did just that for the next 25 years or so. We talked about the loss of creativity in the school curriculum – she had written a stern letter to Gavin Williamson lambasting him about the destruction of the creative subjects.

‘I do believe we are muted’ – Philippa Moggridge

H is a DT teacher which gives us an excellent excuse to talk to people about techniques, and I was keeping my eyes open for makers who were working with up/recycled materials. Maria Thomas’s work ‘Relative’ explored her place in the world as a mother, daughter, aunt, niece etc through mixed media pieces like the Free Range Egg Custard Tart jacket pictured here. These pieces were inspired by the housecoats her mother put on after work to do housework and cooking, to protect her ‘good’ clothes. I loved the way books, vintage packaging and text were blended into the patchwork and quilting. I’d really like to work with her.

Onome Otite‘s textile collages filled us with joy – so much colour and movement in her pieces inspired by Cirque du Soleil, using bright ankara and batik fabrics. There were several stalls selling African wax print fabrics, and when I find the right pattern I have all their cards. Lovely bright reds and yellows called to me, but I resisted.

After the exhibitions we hit the stalls – usually H is a good influence on me, taking lots of pictures of projects we’d like to do rather than buying the kits. Yesterday we were terrible influences on each other, though at least her ‘this will be a Christmas present!’ buying was a good excuse. There are so many lovely kits and fabrics to buy, and you can squish and squash them all you like, and have chats with the stallholders. We got hopelessly overexcited when we saw Matt, Peter, Mark and Raf from the Sewing Bee, especially when Matt and Peter stopped for a photo op with us. I came home with an English Paper Piecing jewellery set, some Foundation Piecing patterns, space invaders jersey fabric (new pants coming up!), some sewing patterns from an indie maker, a lot of business cards, haberdashery bits and bobs and gadgets, a sari silk skirt in my favourite reds, and a Christmas decoration kit which I can only put down to end of day panic buying. We had a go at marbling fabric, admired woodblock printing and mini screen print kits, got carried away by puffins, hares and highland cows, lusted after high-tech sewing machines and storage furniture. I left with a lot of ideas for things I really want to make. Now to find the time….preferably before the next show!

It won’t be this week, for sure: this week I am trialling my new school session in Thing 3’s primary school, and updating a talk about play for a local FE college. My hallway is full of boxes of strange resources like model chickens and miniature blue blocks (as seen in this week’s cover photo), scraps of fabric and laminate insulation. I’m also working on the next birthday present, and playing around with a small crochet bag design.

I’d better go off and do something useful….

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Tales from Moominvalley/Finn Family Moomintroll/Comet in Moominland – Tove Jansson (Audible)

Trader/Someplace to Be Flying/Dreams Underfoot – Charles de Lint

80: umbrellas and Marjorie Proops

There has been a standing joke among the learning team that every time I go out with the play kit I bring the rain. This week I have been out all week in schools and for four out of five days the rain was torrential at times, and on the one day it wasn’t I brought a plague of wasps instead. There’s definitely a pattern forming, and at this rate no one will sign up to work with me next summer! Still, we had a good week and met a whole lot of children at two primary schools in Tower Hamlets, as well as working with games designer Rex Crowle (Little Big Planet/Knights and Bikes) and a Tower Hamlets secondary school to deliver a webinar as part of the V&A’s Upstart Careers Festival. On Friday night – not surprisingly – I was unconscious on the sofa at 7.30pm.

With further rain forecast, my best friend A and I had planned one of our ‘culture and cocktails’ days out – this time to the second of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries. This week marked 30 years since we met on our first day at university in Preston: it still feels like yesterday since we arrived with our parents and our worldly possessions with no idea of where we’d be staying (Lancashire Polytechnic, as it was at the time, wasn’t that organised – a large number of students used to be bussed in from Southport’s Pontins holiday camp until accommodation was found). My first sighting of A was of her throwing a strop in the car park, and then we found ourselves in opposite rooms in the same flat. We’ve grown older (if not up), produced six kids between us, become mad cat ladies, ranted a LOT and supported each other through all sorts of good and bad things. Every so often we manage a day out – not as often as we’d like – and we do love a cemetery.

We visited Highgates East and West back in May, and so this time we went anticlockwise round to Kensal Green. This is the last resting place of people like Brunels (Isambard and Marc), Charles Babbage, Steve Took, the odd royal, a whole lot of political types and thousands of people like you and me. Some rejoiced in the most glorious names: Eudoxia Penemenos, for example, and Andalusia Grant, who we were pleased to find had lived up to her name with an interesting life. The cemetery is also a good illustration of the area’s multicultural make up: Irish, African-Caribbean, Vietnamese, Cypriot, Italian, Greek names and more, and even a stone entirely in Welsh. I was very taken with the stone of David Montgomery Pelham, ‘impresario’, whose epitaph read ‘I would not have missed it for anything’.

The tomb of Andrew Ducrow, equestrian and circus owner, caught our imagination with its sphinxes, bee skep and magnificent hat.

A tradition of our days out is that one of us will be approached by some strange person, and hanging about in graveyards only increases the chances of that. This time it was an elderly gent who’d been leaning into a skip, only to lurch towards us when we approached and start going on about umbrellas and Marjorie Proops (I have just checked and she’s buried elsewhere!) – and then he kept running after us! We thwarted him by striking out cross country, and spent some time wondering whether he was the resident ghost. Highgate has its vampire, perhaps Kensal Green has the old man who got wet and died of a chill, and is doomed to wander the paths for eternity in search of an umbrella….

The cocktails part happened at Parlour, on Regent Street (not that one). We had their weekly seasonal lunch which at £19 for three courses was very good. I had the smoked mackerel, chicory and apple salad to start followed by fillet of sea bream with peppers and almonds, while A had baked goats cheese followed by slow cooked Goosnargh duck with beetroot and blackberries. We both finished up with the artic roll, in coffee dolce and chocolate peanut butter flavour. I had the Kensal Green Tea and A had a Hot ‘Queen’s Park’ Mama and a Lady Cosmo. I think we’ll be back: so friendly and the food was great.

This morning I have been swimming: the water temperature was down to 14.6 and we expect to start the winter swimming season next weekend. I’ve dug out my woolly hat and onesie already!

That’s all, folks – see you here for week 81!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Lords and Ladies – Terry Pratchett

Gobbelino London and a Melee of Mages – Kim M. Watt

Inspector Hobbes and the Common People – Wilkie Martin

Carpe Jugulum – Terry Pratchett (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)