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)

Week thirty five: this week’s post is brought to you by the letter C

Stir Up Sunday is when families get together to prepare the Christmas pudding, and it’s the last Sunday before Advent*. I first heard about it from my original boss at the Museum of London Docklands – I don’t remember this being something we did when I was a child. I have a vague recollection that my grandma used to make the Christmas puddings and when she got too old we either had shop-bought ones (that were usually still in the cupboard in May – who has room for Christmas pud if dinner is done properly?) or no pudding at all. I confess to not liking Christmas pudding anyway.

There was always a Christmas cake though, mum-made and usually with a disaster story attached – my dad is partial to a fruit cake so she made them throughout the year, but the Christmas one always went a bit wrong. This year London sister has made one for the parents and sent it in the post to France, and all they have to do is feed and decorate it.

I didn’t like Christmas cake, either – I still don’t like shop-bought ones. I’m not a lover of candied peel, glace cherries in anything, or unexpected bits of nut. When I became a proper grown up, however, I decided that along with being able to stuff a turkey without wincing (I usually remember to take the neck and giblets out…) I ought to make Christmas cake too. I’d won a Mary Berry recipe book in a Christmas party raffle a few years earlier and found the Classic Victorian Christmas Cake, so thought I’d give that a go – OK, it was the only Christmas cake recipe in any of my books, so it was an easy choice! I think it’s also the only thing I have ever made from the book.

Mary Berry’s cake. Not mine.

I left out the glace cherries and almonds, replaced the cherries with more dried fruit, and rather than soaking the fruit in sherry I used rum. Then I fed the cake with more rum. Mary wasn’t clear on how often you should feed the cake, or on how much you should be feeding it, so I erred on the side of caution and that first cake was a) very moist and b) capable of putting you over the driving limit. So that’s been my go-to recipe since then – I didn’t make one last year, as I usually end up eating far too much of it myself, but this year my budding Heston Blumenthal (aka Thing 2) has been putting pressure on me to make one.

So yesterday Thing 2 and I set the fruit to soak (in the last of the cherry gin, due to a lack of rum in the house) and on Tuesday afternoon we will stir up and bake our 2020 cake. Just before Christmas we’ll decorate it – madam has very strong opinions on cake decorating so I may leave her in charge of that.

*Yes, I know Stir-Up Sunday is technically next weekend, but never mind. I’m sure there will come a time when Thing 2 doesn’t want to cook with me, so until then I’ll make the most of it.

Work is the curse of the crafting classes

This week I have been working from home – an online symposium on Monday about Creativity in Education Now, run by Creative Schools and Creative Colleges. Interesting stuff: the keynote speaker was Bill Lucas, author of Teaching Creative Thinking and my new hero. There was a poor OFSTED rep there, who was trying really hard to say that there were lots of opportunities for teaching creativity in schools as part of the new(ish) inspection framework, but she kept hammering home that everything had to start with knowledge acquisition. She wasn’t open to ‘split screen’ teaching, where creative skills are developed at the same time: as she was an ex-art teacher that surprised me.

The rest of the week was spent on meetings, and on developing a set of learning outcomes for one of the new galleries in the museum. It’s going to be an amazing space – as with the rest of the museum, focused on building creativity in children, young people and their families – and the deep dive back into our thinking over the past year or so has made me excited about the transformation project all over again. It’s been hard at times this year to remember what a brilliant thing we’re doing – losing six months to furlough meant it’s taken a while to get back to this point – but this task has reminded me.

On the subject of creativity – I love what the Natural History Museum have been doing to support audiences. This lovely free Dodo cross stitch pattern is available to download, and you can also make a giant squid or a whole set of nudibranches. The patterns come with really simple instructions, too, and are part of a suite of equally brilliant craft activities. Nice job, NHM.

You can find the V&A’s own offer here – less for kids but some gorgeous Mary Quant patterns remade by Alice and Co Patterns, as well as other projects inspired by exhibitions. You could also check out the #LetsMakeWednesdays posts on the V&A Blog.

Where was I? Oh yes, working at home – that means no progress at all has been made on the portable sock project, which has the heel flap done on sock 1 and is ready to turn when I get back on the tube tomorrow.

Sock bristling with stitch markers

The Hydrangea blanket has a few more stripes, and I have also been working on rainbow jewellery which will hopefully find their way into an experience hamper at some point. The rainbow pattern is by Ever Laughter and you can find it here. She used aran yarn to make her applique, I have used Perle no 8 for the necklace and Scheepjes Cotton 8 for the brooches. I like the pastel one just for a change up! The pile of squares is the Zoom blanket underway in Stylecraft Special DK.

I’ve managed to sew up both the dresses I cut out last weekend, too. Both were pretty quick makes and came together in just a couple of hours each, and both have proper pockets to put things in. You can’t underestimate the value of pockets!

Being at home all week – with Lulu on downstairs cat duty – has reminded me how much that cat loves my beloved. The first picture is when she heard him come through the back door – Thing 3 is currently complaining that she jumped off him as soon as her human came downstairs. She’s not a lap cat like the other two, but will lean on you or cuddle up if you’re sitting down and if my beloved is not in the room. If he is, you haven’t got a look-in….

I’ll leave you this week with a picture of a clematis in the garden still bravely struggling on. I love the colours of this one.

See you at the end of week 36, when we can see how the cake turns out! This week’s cover photo is the woods on Stonards Hill in Epping looking very autumnal.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

The Penguin Killer – Ste Sharp

Enemies at Home/Deadly Election (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

The Law of Innocence (Mickey Haller) – Michael Connelly

Gobbelino London and a Scourge of Pleasantries – Kim M. Watt

Week thirty four: dw i’n dysgu Cymraeg

Once upon a time, way back in the educational dark ages (well, pre-National Curriculum, anyway) Welsh was not compulsory in South Wales schools. I was at infant school in Cardiff, and Welsh wasn’t taught till juniors. When I was just seven, we moved to Monmouthshire where it wasn’t taught at all. My (English) secondary school headteacher, when the NC was introduced in 1988, campaigned to have the school classified as being in England as many of the pupils were bussed in over the border from Gloucestershire: he claimed that more people spoke Chinese in Monmouth than Welsh. He may well have been right at the time, but that wasn’t the point.

He was unsuccessful, fortunately, but as I was too late to feel the impact of the NC while I was still in school I didn’t get the chance to learn Welsh until I was doing teacher training in Aberystwyth. Conversational Welsh was offered as a weekly elective in the lunch breaks, so I was able to count to ten, talk about the weather and say hello. I could also understand drinks orders in the pub I worked in. This was helpful when the gang from Yr Hen LLew Du made their occasional forays into the English-speaking pubs to try and annoy the barmaids, who were invariably students. Not speaking Welsh at the time was a severe handicap when applying for jobs in Wales, as it was necessary to be able to teach the language as well, which I assume is why for many years Wales’ greatest export was teachers who had fallen into the National Curriculum gap.

Old College exterior – Aerial drone photoraphy Aberystwyth University Feb 14 2019 ©keith morris (CAA approved commercial drone operator) http://www.artswebwales.com keith@artx.co.uk 07710 285968 01970 611106

My parents weren’t Welsh speakers either: they had been at school in Cardiff in the 1940s and 50s. At that time, Wales was still suffering the hangover of the Industrial Revolution. English landowners – who owned the mines and the steelworks – saw Welsh as the language of revolution, especially with the rise of the unions, and it was banned from being spoken in schools. Children who spoke Welsh in school were made to wear the ‘Welsh Not’ – a sign hung around their necks to humiliate them, much as a dunce cap might be worn. The influx of Irish and Northern English into the Valleys to work in the mines, the steelworks and the associated infrastructure industries further diluted the language.

In 1847 a set of Parliamentary Blue Books were published on the state of education in Wales:  

“It concluded that schools in Wales were extremely inadequate, often with teachers speaking only English and using only English textbooks in areas where the children spoke only Welsh, and that Welsh-speakers had to rely on the Nonconformist Sunday Schools to acquire literacy. But it also concluded that the Welsh were ignorant, lazy and immoral, and that among the causes of this were the use of the Welsh language and nonconformity.” (Wikipedia)

Evidence for this came mainly from Anglican clergy (who didn’t speak Welsh) at a time of burgeoning non-conformism in Wales, from landowners (er, ditto) and none of the commissioners were Welsh speakers. The argument that the Blue Books put forward was that embracing the English language would allow the Welsh to achieve their potential and take full part in British civic society – the authors were apparently concerned with the wellbeing of the Welsh (how delightfully colonial!). Non-conformists were often Welsh speakers, and a lot of them headed over the sea to the Americas where they set up Welsh communities and the language survived* – and handily provided me with a dissertation subject for my degree in American Studies. (Welsh migration to the USA from Prince Madoc onwards, in case you’re interested!).

The suppression of Welsh actually started a lot earlier than the Industrial Revolution, with the Act of Union in 1536 when it was decreed that English should be the only language of the courts in Wales, and that Welsh speakers could not hold public office in the territories of the king of England. This didn’t work terribly well at first, as the majority of the population were Welsh speakers, so a lot of interpreters were used in the courts. The upshot of this was the growth of a Welsh ruling class who were fluent in English, and Welsh became confined to the lower and middle classes. From 1549 all acts of public worship had to be conducted in English, though Elizabeth I wanted churches to have Welsh versions of the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible from 1567. The first complete Welsh translation of the Bible came in 1588.

A radio broadcast called ‘Tynged yr Iaith’ (The Fate of the Language) by Saunders Lewis in 1962 marked a national change in attitudes to the language, and you can read much more about this here. Welsh was on the up again…

Back to me (it’s my blog, after all) and my adventures in Welsh. Road signs were in Welsh, and our family holidays were in west Wales where much more Welsh was spoken. My Aunty and cousins spoke Welsh, so I’d always heard and seen snatches of the language. I’d wanted to learn but ended up working in east London as a teacher, and Welsh language courses were thin on the ground.

My London sister started learning Welsh with Duolingo and Say Something in Welsh a couple of years ago, and she encouraged me to learn too. I say encouraged – she signed me up to SSIW’s six minutes a day programme as a birthday present. The end of Duolingo is in sight for me now, though I can’t say the same for SSIW which I find really hard and have had on pause for ages.

I am a lifelong learner, as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post about my adventures in crafting, and it’s been suggested that language learning ‘boosts’ brain power by exercising the parts of the brain that process information. Learning a new language also contributes to a growth mindset, and understanding something you didn’t expect to is a great motivator. My fellow museum bod, gig buddy and Welsh learner Jen and I went to see Elis James and Esyllt Sears doing stand-up comedy in Welsh at the London Welsh Centre last year: I was really excited to be able to understand – or at least get the gist of – about two thirds of the show. (As an aside, we chatted to Elis James afterwards and he was really lovely).

Duolingo is excellent for vocabulary building and for sentence construction, but I have real problems with SSIW. I’m a visual/kinaesthetic learner – when I did the VAK assessment for a management course a couple of years ago I scored equally highly on the Visual and Kinaesthetic scales and extremely low on the Auditory. It wasn’t anything I didn’t know already but at least it explained why I was having terrible trouble with SSIW!

I learn by doing, or by seeing – if my hands aren’t doing something then I tune out very quickly. This means I take a LOT of notes in meetings. It’s not diligence, it’s self-preservation – if I’m not taking notes I tune out. My previous line manager used to be able to tell when I switched off if a meeting went on too long!. I crochet my way through conferences or use a fidget toy, as if my hands are occupied I’m able to focus on what’s being said. SSIW, as it’s entirely auditory, really doesn’t suit my learning style at all – writing down the week’s sentences in advance was useful, but ideally I would be writing them down as I went along. But not knowing how to spell most of the words made that quite tricky, as did the fact that I generally did the SSIW sessions while I was ironing and refereeing the Things. Perhaps I need to sit down, on my own, with a pen and paper and try my usual learning method of copious note taking. I have a Welsh dictionary, and a grammar book, so there’s really no excuse.

*As an aside to this, there have been a lot of jokes on social media in the last couple of days that a Welsh-speaking nation have finally beaten the All-Blacks at rugby….sadly, it was Argentina, so Max Boyce probably won’t be memorialising this in song.

Creative industry

Despite being back at work full time it’s been a productive week! Normally at this time of year I’d be making jewellery to sell at the Christmas markets but this year I don’t have any booked for obvious reasons.

I mentioned in last week’s post that my plan for the rest of the day was to finish the Bento Box quilt. That’s the one I quilted as I went along, so after I’d backed it I was able to add another few lines of quilting in the ditch just to hold it together, and then bound it. I backed it with a 100% cotton sheet I’d bought in a sale, and bound it with a ready-made cream bias binding from Bertie’s Bows. Just to recap, the coloured fabrics are Stuart Hillard’s Rainbow Etchings designs for Craft Cotton Co, and I used nearly two jelly rolls to make it. The blenders, wadding and multicoloured quilting thread are from Empress Mills, and I used this tutorial.

I also promised I’d show you the Winter Swimming cross stitch when I’d finished it…the wording is my own work, using DMC stranded cotton, alphabets from this book, and the mug design can be found here. Despite the fact that I can hear the rain hammering on the conservatory roof right now and it’s still pitch dark at 7am, I’m really looking forward to getting back in the socially distanced lake this morning!

Onesie and wellies optional.

The Hydrangea blanket is coming on nicely – I am just about a quarter of the way through it now. It’s such a relaxing pattern to do, and I am following Attic24’s colour order as well. The yarn is Stylecraft Special DK from Wool Warehouse, where the official Attic24 shop can be found. I really love the faded colours.

25% of a Hydrangea Blanket

Yesterday’s job was to cut out a couple of dresses as I haven’t done any dressmaking for a while and at some point I’m sure I’ll get out of jeans and leggings for work again – at the moment I am mainly surrounded by dusty boxes and ladders, so looking tidy is not a priority. Both patterns are by Simplicity – K9101 was free with Sew magazine and the Dottie Angel (8230) is one I have made before. It’s great for throwing on as a top layer. I’m making version A with the double pocket from B, in a pinstriped denim. You can see the back of the fabric I’m using for K9101 behind – it’s a cotton duvet cover I picked up at The Range. I’m using the navy side for this, and there’s a purple side as well which may well end up as an Avid Stitcher drop-sleeve top. I do love a layer.

The weather this weekend has been truly atrocious, so yesterday Thing 3 and I spent some time doing jigsaws together. He has loved puzzles from a very early age (I do too), and when I declared a screen-free afternoon yesterday we had a few games of Dobble and then made a 3D puzzle of a baseball boot and a couple of Star Wars puzzles.

Thing 2 played a couple of games of chess with her Dad and Dobble with me – Dobble is like extreme snap and trickier than it sounds! I foresee a massive boom in the sale of chess sets, by the way, as a result of the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. We’ve just binged it and the finale had us on the edge of our seats.

Now excuse me, Duolingo has just told me it’s time for Welsh….see you at the end of week 35! I’ll leave you with a photo of a Little Egret who was hanging round the brook on the High Road all day on Friday.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Forest is Crying – Charles de Lint

The Spook who Spoke Again – Lindsey Davis

The Ides of April/Enemies at Home (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (audible)

The Law of Innocence (Lincoln Lawyer) – Michael Connelly

The Good, the Bad and the Furry – Tom Cox