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

105: Where did the sunshine go?

Here we are after a week of glorious sunshine, where South Kensington got all continental with people eating outside with no coats on, milk-white English ankles (other shades of ankle are available) were tentatively exposed to the air for the first time in months, and garden centres positively hummed with aged mothers being wheeled out for tea and cake on Mother’s Day weekend. We have woken up today with mist, cloud and a miserable forecast for the week ahead. not to mention losing an hour’s sleep. Typical. This being Britain, someone even mentioned snow in a cheerfully doomladen sort of way.

I, of course, chose this morning to eschew my wetsuit for my weekly dip and swim in skins (aka my mermaid two-piece, before there is general alarm and despondency). One of last week’s swimmers mentioned that not wearing a suit meant no disconcerting wetsuit creep as the cold water seeps up from your ankles to your nethers and beyond, and since this is the hardest bit of cold water swimming I thought I’d give it a go. Also, the water was back in double figures (just) after the aforementioned week of glorious sunshine. I left my wetsuit at home just so I didn’t chicken out when I got to the crunch, and I’m glad I did – the water felt amazing, and it was much easier getting in. I didn’t stay in long and the afterdrop was surprising but a couple of hot cross buns and cups of hot chocolate did the trick nicely.

10.9°c. No susnhine, no wetsuit, no sense.

It was definitely the best way to start Mother’s Day. I have continued the good work by doing some laundry and being whinged at by Thing 1 as there was ‘NO food in the house, Mum, NOTHING’. Not being some terrible Victorian parent, dear reader, there was food in the house but she didn’t like any of it and couldn’t possibly eat it, and could she go and explore the freezer in case there were any overlooked peas stuck in the ice. My beloved’s preparation for MD this year was ‘It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow? Alexa? Announce: kids, it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow’ so I bought myself some Ferrero Rocher at the Co-op when I went to rectify the parlous famine occurring in my kitchen.

Thing 2 gave me a bag of American Hard Gums and Thing 3’s school made sure that all the kids had three daffodils tied with hairy string to hand over, but I do miss the days when they would come home from nursery or school clutching a card covered in pastel tissue paper and still damp PVA which we weren’t allowed to look at till Sunday. I still have the little sticker-covered yoghurt bottles filled with bouquets of tissue paper flowers on their pipe cleaner stalks – a bit faded now but still sweet. I sent my mum a planter with spring flowers (forgot the card though, sorry Mum) and suggested we took some flowers up to my Beloved’s mum’s grave (which was what reminded him of Mother’s Day). I expect she too still misses the days when we came home with sticky paper cards and wonky daffodils.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there, and to all those aunties and friends who fill in when we need a helping hand. I’m sending you a virtual home made card, still sticky with PVA, and a handful of spring flowers tied with hairy string. You’re not sharing my Ferrero Rocher though.

See you next week, when I’ll be coming to you from (hopefully) sunny Northern Ireland – my godson celebrates his first communion and there are rumours of a bouncy castle.

Kirsty x

The Mangle Street Murders – M.R.C. Kasasian

Gallows View/A Dedicated Man/A Necessary End – Peter Robinson

On the Bright Side: The New Secret Diary of Henrik Groen – Henrik Groen

Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor Novels vol 3 (Audible)

94: absolutely pants

Back in prehistory, before there were children, when I was young and mostly irresponsible and drank far too much Mad Dog 20/20 on nights out and other such unwise things, underwear was mostly impractical, lacy and – in the case of the Wonderbra – designed to make the most of my very limited assets through the cunning application of scaffolding and cantilevering and other miraculous feats of engineering.

How times change, eh? These days what I mostly look for are underwires that aren’t going to stab me halfway through a meeting and multipacks of pants in the right size and shape in Tesco. No one should feel too much sympathy for my beloved at this point: I am sure he’d far rather I wasn’t being tortured by my bra than anything else. My frustration often lies in the fact that the sizes left in the supermarket are either for skinny twigs or the larger trees – or if there are any in my size they are enormous ‘granny’ pants in some hideous shade of beige or soon-to-be-grey white. Supermarket pants also tend to be made of very thin cotton lycra fabric and trim which has a lot of stretch but frays easily.

Solving this problem became much easier when I bought an overlocker and began to make my own. You can make your own underwear with a normal sewing machine as long as you have a reliable stretch stitch and the ability to vary the length of your stitches, but at the time my basic Brother machine didn’t have that capability. The overlocker means you can whip up multipacks of your very own in short order.

The first ones I made were the amazing Wonder Undies by Waves and Wild, closely followed by the Speedy Pants for the children – Thing 2 absolutely loves them and I have made multiple pairs for her since. I love the fact that you can choose the waist rise and the leg style and that once you have the hang of it you can make them really quickly. I also love that you can use sensible colours or take advantage of all the mad prints out there – Thing 2’s favourites had unicorns all over them and I love my rainbow ones. This week I discovered Rad Patterns (another NY resolution gone….) and their Lucky Booty pattern. I really like the fact that Rad offer accessible patterns – wheelchair friendly skirts and tops with medical port access, for example.

You also get to make matching bras/crop tops – Waves and Wild came up with their Superstar Bra last year and Rad patterns had a few styles already. The rainbow one below is the Watson bra by Cloth Habit. The Watson also comes with a bikini pant pattern – I haven’t tried that yet but I’m sure I will. This afternoon I’ll be making up the Lucky Lingerie bra and some Wonder Undies for Thing 2.

The only trouble I have found is that home-made pants look absolutely ENORMOUS next to shop-bought – but they feel amazing (‘like a hug for your butt’ as one sewer put it) and last forever. If you haven’t had a go at making your own yet, you’re missing out.

It is, of course, only a small step from pants to swimming costumes – I embraced my inner mermaid this week and made a completely mad two piece using another Rad pattern (the Renee swimsuit) for the top and the Oasis pattern by Ellie and Mac for the bottoms. I wore it this morning for our winter swim (5°c in the water, 1°c out – brrrr!). The fabrics are foil prints from Pound Fabrics in emerald and a fabulous fish scale print which changes colour when it moves.

This week saw the last leaves added to the 2021 Temperature Tree – it’s been quite a ‘flat’ year for temperatures, so let’s see what 2022 brings. I’m doing the Climbing Goat Designs Rainbow Temperature Galaxy this year. I should probably have used the same colour palette but I have gone with the same one as the designer used.

Anyway – I need to go and defrost a bit more, so I’ll be back next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Bridgerton (1-6)Julia Quinn

The Unhappy Medium – T J Brown (badly in need of a good editor)

83: where the hell are all the teaspoons?

…and other such middle aged concerns.

Back in the olden days (also known as the halcyon days when a good lie-in meant up in time for brunch, rather than 7am) I would wake up in the mornings, drift to the kitchen, make a cup of coffee and drink it while reading a book in blissful silence. I might have followed that coffee with more coffee and more book, perhaps even while enjoying a bath.

Mornings these days no longer look like this, not even on a Sunday. The only way I can guarantee a cup of coffee in silence is either to get up at 4.30am or, possibly, not to go bed at all. Recently Thing 1 has been waking up early and binging Chicago Med before school, and while I appreciate a hot doctor as much as the next person, I do love my early morning peace. Thing 3 has developed a penchant for asking difficult questions: Am I adopted?* What happens when cheese falls out of an aeroplane? What can I have to eat?

Today, as it was a swimming day and a Sunday, I managed to grab an hour of peace. The coffee ritual has changed so much in recent years. Now I accompany myself with difficult questions: have I taken my drugs today? What did I do with the mug I just got out? Why can I never find a teaspoon in the mornings? (and its corollary, what happened that pack of teaspoons I bought the other day?) Why does my ankle/back/neck/little toe hurt? What was I supposed to remember? Why is that song in my head? And the post-Covid classic, where am I supposed to be today?

I like to think that at least some of these questions will be answered over the course of the day, but I’m not holding my breath. Especially about the teaspoons.

(*no, sweetie, you’re stuck with us)

Sewing b*&!

It’s technical fabrics week here in the atelier studio dining room, with my first attempt at swimwear – a two piece in some funky fish fabric from Pound Fabrics. I chose the Oasis Mix and Match swimsuit by Ellie and Mac, which was one of their ‘wacky‘ patterns a few months ago. Each week they have a selection of patterns reduced to $1, which is about 77p – they also have their bestsellers reduced to $2 and a range of freebies, so well worth keeping an eye on. I have their duchess coat waiting on my to-do list, which is dramatic and swingy and I’m looking forward to swishing about in it when I get round to making it!

I used the print at home PDF pattern option, which has to be stuck together but they have trimless pages and you can also choose to just print the sizes you need which makes it easy to cut out. One reason for making this myself is that I’m different sizes on the top and the bottom, so could mix the sizes up for the best fit for both.

As with all their patterns, the pictorial instructions are step-by-step and really clear, and there’s a good range of options to make. I chose to make version one of the two-piece, with the high waist bottoms and the tie back. The thinking was that a two piece will be easier to get out of after a cold-water swim – I tested it this morning and while it was easy to get off I think next time I’ll make the extended strap version which ties at the front. I used a turquoise power mesh lining and was making it on my basic Brother LS14, which has a very limited range of stitches. It’s a great little machine but is best with wovens. I ended up doing most of the construction on the overlocker because of this, but the elastic had to be done on the Brother which meant a lot of creative cursing.

It’s not perfect but it didn’t fall apart in the lake or the washing machine so I’m counting it as a win!

I also made the Kaleidoscope dress from issue 98 of Love Sewing – dramatic sleeves and a swishy skirt. I used a 100% cotton double duvet cover I’d bought in a sale, with large Japanese-style cranes on one side and a plain dark green on the reverse. I love duvet covers for the sheer amount of fabric you get – eight square metres, so great for circle skirts. There wasn’t quite enough of the crane print for the whole dress so I used the plain side for the bodice, and print for the skirt and sleeves. I added pockets (why would anyone design a dress without them?) and pleated the sleeve head rather than gathering. The PDF pattern left a lot to the imagination – mislabelling pieces (shirt instead of skirt, for example) and very few markings so I wouldn’t advise it for a beginner. This is an issue with a lot of the craft magazines – they don’t appear to have proofreaders (or if they do they need new ones).

The dress went together quickly – I hate setting in sleeves so added them as ‘grown on’ ones, which combines a few steps. The channel for the elastic was a nightmare, and the sleeves really need to be finished better as a result. I wore it to work on Wednesday, however, and it was a showstopper: it needed a belt so I added a burgundy obi-style one, and so many people commented (the sleeves! the fact that it was made of a duvet! the dress!). The cotton fabric gives it some structure, rather than the drapey viscose the pattern recommended, and I’m glad I chose it! I can see this one coming into heavy rotation. I do love a dramatic frock!

And that’s been my week, mostly! Thing 2 had her 13th birthday on Friday, so this week I will be heading into Westfield with her and two of her buddies for a shopping trip, as well as visiting a children’s centre and an arts centre. My beloved is off for half term with them, so I get to go to work. Lucky me….

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Onion Girl/Dreams Underfoot/Spirits in the Wires – Charles de Lint (Newford series)

70: I promise you, you’ll love it

Sometimes you get handed a book, or a recommendation for a book, that a friend or family member has loved and you read it….and it’s okay. It’s not life changing, and you probably wouldn’t say it’s great, but it’s readable. There have been many books like that- and that’s fine, because there’s a lot of different authors and tastes in the world and as Terry Pratchett says many times it would be a funny old world if we were all alike.

Sometimes the book is so terrible you question why you’re so fond of that person.

Sometimes you recommend a book that you have absolutely loved to people you like and they think it’s….okay. Not life changing, not great but…okay. I find it’s best not to take these things personally as clearly those people are wrong, or just need to read it again properly, or aren’t in their right minds.

Sometimes a book has rave reviews, and/or a massive marketing budget, and shoots up the bestseller lists, and films are made of them starring people who you may or may not have heard of, and that’s fine too. Sometimes these are good books and terrible films, sometimes these are terrible books and okay films. Sometimes they are terrible books and you can’t bring yourself to watch the film.

Sometimes – just sometimes – you get given a book and it’s wonderful: it keeps you awake long after your bedtime and stays with you so you can’t wait to pick it back up in the morning. This can be for many reasons: the adventure, the need to know what happens next, the lyricalness of the writing, My recent read ‘Once upon a River’ by Diane Setterfield was one of these books. Others include:

  • Boy’s Life – Robert McCammon
  • Hearts in Atlantis and The Body – Stephen King
  • The Once and Future King – T.H. White
  • The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Stardust – Neil Gaiman
  • The Travelling Cat Chronicles – Hiro Arikawa
  • Ring the Hill – Tom Cox
  • The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Nieffenegger

This week I have added another one to the list – a birthday gift from my colleagues but I detect the hand of my wild swimming colleague in this one. Wild Woman Swimming by Lynne Roper, which is a journal kept over five years of wild swimming in West Country waters. It’s a poignant read: Roper took up wild swimming after a double mastectomy and built a community of swimmers around her, as well as becoming a key member of the Outdoor Swimming Society. Sadly she died five years later of a brain tumour, but she filled those five years with adventure and wrote about them in exquisite, immersive prose. I’ll be recommending this one to friends, but I might not lend them my copy….

There may be many more of these magical books on my shelves of shame, or lurking on my Kindle, and I really ought to get round to reading them. I always swear I won’t buy any more books until I have finished the ones I have (I know, I laugh too) and then the BookBub daily email comes in, or I find something wonderful in a charity shop, or someone recommends a book they have loved and suddenly there’s a new addition. Perhaps I need to make a reading resolution that every other book I read is one from the shelf…. that sounds more realistic, at least!

In the meantime, if I promise not to buy them, will you tell me which are your favourite books to recommend to people?

Trial and error, error, error

You would think that if you have sewed a neckband onto something the wrong way up that it would be a straightforward job to unpick it and put it on the correct way. This was not the case with the blouse hack of the McCalls 8104 dress, which I had to unpick three times before I worked out which way was the right way, and which bits I’d sewed together wrong in the first place. I also managed to sew the bodice and lower bodice pieces together upside down when I started it on Monday, so I am amazed I got it finished at all.

The lovely turquoise cotton fabric is from Higgs and Higgs, and I bought it with my birthday Amazon vouchers – I love the statement sleeves and the slightly fitted waist on it, and the fact that there isn’t a standing collar. I’m not sure what it is with sewing patterns, but every collar I have made is just too seventies – indie or big four, it’s a bit of an issue. I shall just have to learn how to redraft them.

In the name of sorting out my shed I have gone through the hundreds of sewing patterns (mainly free magazine gifts) with a view to handing them over to a friend who has just qualified as a DT teacher – if she doesn’t want them herself she can donate them to school! My August resolution is to have a good tidy up in the shed and donate anything I really won’t use to people who will make good use of them. Things 1 and 2 have just had their ears pierced, so Thing 2 has been making earrings and jewellery with one of her friends which is making a dent in the stash already!

I haven’t done a lot else, really – my sourdough starter has been in heavy use this week as Thing 3 has decided he really likes the bread, and with the discard I have made pizza (always a hit) and cinnamon rolls which were soft and delicious. I’ll definitely be making those again!

So that’s my week! I’ll be off now to do a bit of reading over lunch and then start constructing the jeans I cut out last week….

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Wild Woman Swimming – Lynne Roper

Raising Steam/The Truth – Terry Pratchett

How to Sew Sustainably – Wendy Ward

The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook – Susan Briscoe

Visible Mending – Arounna Khounnoraj

Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee (Audible)

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (Audible)

66: happy birthday to me!

Yesterday was my 48th birthday, and among the presents I requested from the various people who asked was an Ordnance Survey map of Chelmsford and the Rodings, and one of their Pathfinder books of circular walks. I bought another map (Chelmsford, Harlow and Bishops Stortford) with one of the Amazon vouchers I was given as well. Those of you who have ever been anywhere with me and experienced my sense of direction might wonder a bit at this, of course, as I am the adult who once got so hopelessly lost in Sainsburys in Whitechapel that I handed myself in at Customer Services and waited to be collected. I am also regularly flummoxed by Google maps on my phone: it’s all very well showing me where I am, but it still takes a few false starts, watching the direction the arrows are moving when I walk, to work out the direction of travel.

Still, you all know I love a good walk, so my thinking is that with the aid of these maps I can explore a bit more of my local area. North Weald sits on the border of both these maps, rather than conveniently in the middle, hence needing two of them.

I have a vague plan that for my 50th birthday I will walk the whole of the Essex Way over a series of weekends, in the company of whoever I can persuade to do various stretches with me. I have a couple of years to plan this adventure, fortunately! I have done some of the local stretches on training walks, and I am keen to do the rest. If I was the sort of hardy hiking person who could be bothered to carry lots of equipment on my back I might do it all at once, but that’s never going to happen!

I like marking big birthdays. I haven’t worried about my age since I was 27 and I cried all day as I was so old. Back when I was still in infant school in Cardiff our class teacher, Mrs Price, asked us to work out how old we would in the year 2000, and 27 was the answer: it felt such a long way away, and such a vast age to a six year old, that I never forgot it. No other birthday has ever felt so traumatic!

My 30th was a mad evening out in London with friends, where we did the Jack the Ripper walk after a few drinks in All Bar One at Tower Hill (chosen as it was formerly the Mark Lane underground station, and I am nothing if not a nerd). My 40th was a barbecue in the back garden, with a ball pool for the kids and surrounded by friends. So I am planning an adventure for my 50th: it’s a big birthday, so I ought to celebrate it by doing something interesting with people I like. Volunteers for future weekends on the Essex Way welcome!

Other gifts included yarn, rhubarb and ginger gin and books: you all know me so well!

There has, of course, been other things in my week: my second Covid vaccine, so I am now fully 5G enabled or something (I don’t care if it causes me to pick up Radio Caroline, quite honestly, as long as it means I can see my parents and sisters). It was the monthly sunset/full moon swim, and this month the moon was up but covered in clouds so I still didn’t see it from the lake. There has been lots of making, but nothing I can share yet!

There has also been a lot of reading: a book that had me grabbed from the first page, and which would have kept me awake into the early hours to finish it if the battery on my Kindle hadn’t died. Once Upon a River, by Diane Setterfield, was one of those 99p Kindle deals that’s been lurking on the virtual shelf of shame since then. I finally got round to it this week. It’s one of the best books I have read for a very long time – if you haven’t run across it already, go and grab it. History, magic, mystery, the Thames: what else do you need?

And now I must head for Tesco, as the cupboard is mostly bare and the Horde need feeding! Same time next week?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Once Upon a River – Diane Setterfield

Madame Burova/The Keeper of Lost Things/Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel – Ruth Hogan

Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee (Audible)

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

57: a cheese and pineapple hedgehog for sixty, please.

It’s 7am on Sunday morning and thanks to Thing 2 I have been awake for an hour. She has a habit of setting a 6am alarm (‘but Mu-ummm, it’s on silent‘) and leaving it on a shelf by her bed, where it’s magnified by the wall so it wakes all of us up. Last night she’d had a nightmare and crept into my bed….where she is still fast asleep in a cocoon of blankets, having managed to be the only person who slept through her alarm.

She did have an exciting day yesterday, at a birthday ‘pamper party’ where all the girls got their make up and hair done. She’s a fan of TikTok and YouTube, so she had a lovely time being made up properly. (I have absolutely no idea, to be honest – as far as I am concerned if I can get my eyeliner on both eyes to look almost the same I think I’m pretty much winning). I was doing some gardening while the party was going on two doors away and it sounded like they were having a good time. I think birthday parties are one of the things they have missed most over the lockdown: that permission to eat lots of party food and run around shrieking and giggling in the sunshine. I think we have all missed that, to be fair.

Bleeding heart flowers

Usually I’d have my own birthday party, which before last year was a (very) relaxed afternoon barbecue in the back garden. My birthday is in June so I can count on reasonably good weather, our back garden is made for kids with lots of space and a tree to climb so there’s no need for people to find sitters. I am much better at grown up birthday parties than I have ever been with the kids, sadly. The thought of 30 children running around screaming fills me with horror, as does the idea of entertaining them, so from quite early on I was a big fan of the pizza and pyjama party for the girls: order Dominoes, watch a film in your onesie, and let them entertain themselves. No washing up, apart from anything else, and who doesn’t love pizza? I can manage a reliable birthday cake, or Colin the Caterpillar* is always acceptable.

Ivy graffiti on the tree trunks we use as borders.

Kids’ parties these days are also very different to when I was a child. Way back in the seventies and eighties your parent would deposit you at the front door of the birthday child’s house and run away to do whatever parents did while their child was at a party. Probably shopping, or a quiet sit down with a deep sense of relief that someone else was in charge of the 30 kids hopped up on E-numbers. You knew what you were getting as a guest, too: a couple of rounds of pass the parcel, cheese and pineapple on sticks, sausages on sticks, chocolate fingers, jam sandwiches and crisps, sleeping lions and a piece of cake wrapped in kitchen roll on your way out of the door. Pizza and chicken nuggets were unheard of, and as for carrot sticks and hummus….

Now, especially when the children are younger, there’s an assumption that an invite to a child’s party is also an invite for the parent and all their younger siblings, which means – if you have the whole class invited – you’re suddenly feeding 60+ people on party food. If you’re a parent who does the daily pick-up, you probably know all these parents (or at least the childminder) and have some idea who they are. I, on the other hand, have really only started doing pick ups regularly in the last year or so, so when the kids were younger I had no idea who anyone was. Thing 2 was never a child who could be left at a party as she was so shy, so I always had to stay with her (usually with her physically attached to me like a limpet for most of the party). There was also a hardcore clique of parents at their original primary school and – as a working mum – I was never part of that so parties were an exercise in isolation. I really hated the idea of inviting 30 people to a party who would basically ignore me…so I didn’t. The primary school Thing 3 currently attends is much more welcoming, as are the parents! I still go down the small party route, and Thing 3 prefers a birthday treat like the cinema and a McDonalds. These days the request is usually to go to the fun session at the swimming pool with some friends, and one year I took Thing 1 and her best friend to HyperJapan for the day. You have no idea how much of a relief this is…

*Other caterpillars are currently available, at least until M&S win their case against Aldi.

Image by Aldi

Jab one done: the rest of the week

On Tuesday I had the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccination, at the centre in Loughton. It was incredibly well-organised, and I was in and out in less than an hour and on my way home. I had the AstraZeneca vaccine, which my beloved had had a few weeks earlier, and the side effects kicked in after 24 hours. I was fine all the first day, apart from feeling a bit dopier than normal, and then – bam!- it was like being hit by a tree. I spent most of Wednesday on the sofa asleep and then was fine on Thursday apart from a sore arm. Not much fun, but I’m halfway there now and hopefully it means at some point I’ll be able to visit my parents.

As usual, I got several rounds of my crochet done while I was waiting – I am making these lacy socks from Simply Crochet issue 108, in Marriner Yarns’ Cosy Toes sock yarn. It’s the first time I have used this merino blend yarn and it feels lovely and soft. I’m using the jellyfish colourway which is soft greens and pinks and I am trying to be good and measure the tension so they actually fit.

Toe-up

On Thursday night I went for an evening dip in glorious sunshine. I didn’t swim far as I was still feeling the last of the vaccine but just being submerged in the lake was enough. We were some of the last people out before the lake closed for the evening so were lucky enough to see the fish jumping for the gnats, and I also spotted a parakeet, a red kite, a cormorant and a heron.

Finally, last Sunday we dragged the children out of the house for a family walk (I do mean dragged) to the flood meadow and back. The meadow is currently covered in a carpet of cowslips and deadnettles. The children also managed a two whole minutes without arguing, which was nice.

So that’s it from me! Tomorrow night I am looking forward to the full moon swim at Redricks, and have managed to do the waterproof test on my underwater phone holder thingy so might manage to get some swimming pictures.

Same time next week! This week’s cover photo was taken from a prone position in Victoria Park, at a team picnic in the sunshine.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Another Time Another Place (Chronicles of St Mary’s) – Jodi Taylor

The Quantum Curators and the Faberge Egg – Eva St John

The Quantum Curators and the Enemy Within – Eva St John

Chocolat – Joanne Harris (Audible)

54: one of those weeks

It’s been a funny old week, really. At work we were coming to the end of the consultation period for what we hope was the last phase of the restructure (for a while, anyway) and, being a union rep, its been a bit frenzied for the last couple of months. The people I have been supporting have been angry, confused, upset, worried – about themselves, their colleagues and friends, and the collection – and frustrated. It’s been made more difficult as there was an anonymous leak to the press before it was announced to the museum staff, so the process has been happening under scrutiny from the broadsheets, Radio 4, a few of the arts journals and even parliament, where an early day motion was brought about the National Art Library.

I have come away from the process knowing a lot more about the workings of the conservation and curatorial teams, and have seen the museum values of generosity, collaboration and innovation demonstrated by the staff on a daily basis. The term ‘grace under fire’ has never made more sense, particularly as some of the meetings were being led by people whose jobs were also at risk of redundancy. It’s never felt more important to be a part of the union.

The kids have also been at home for their Easter holidays, which always makes online meetings more of a challenge! At least I wasn’t trying to manage home learning as well as the meetings, which really would have been the final straw. As it was, I made it as far as Wednesday and then decided I’d take Thursday off to clear my head.

Wednesday evening was a bit of a treat. As part of the rehoming of the learning collection I had sent some boxes off to Northern Ireland to Time Steps Living History, which is a historical interpretation company. Owned by Ireland sister, Time Steps provides sessions in schools, community venues, care homes, and historic sites and celebrated 10 years in business this week. ‘Sent some boxes’ sounds quite straightforward, doesn’t it? It skims over the fact that in the process I have had to raise a complaint with Hermes who won’t accept parcels for NI as they think it’s international (their international site thinks otherwise), and have a lengthy web chat with DPD whose delivery driver was unable to raise the museum contact despite having two phone numbers, a one hour slot when people were actively looking out for them and detailed instructions on which gate to use. Still, they got there in the end.

Where was I? Oh yes, Wednesday evening. Ireland sister and I videochatted while she unpacked the boxes, as I’d forgotten what was in them. It felt like Christmas for me, watching her discover tiny clogs, lots of ephemera, historic costume replica, toys, and more. All these things have been hidden in boxes in our cupboards, and now they’ll be having a new life when she can get back into schools and the community. My niece and nephew were also on the call – she is a mini history buff and he is incurably curious, pouncing on the wooden toys and experimenting. After a really hard few days (weeks!) it was wonderful to bring a bit of joy to someone.

My gorgeous niece Catrin modelling a replica bonnet. Image © Time Steps/Stephanie Lavery

Thursday became a bit of a mental health day, with reading and making things and generally not looking at screens except when I wanted to. It was lovely to be able to talk to the Things without having to take a pair of earphones off, be able to listen to the Minecraft explanations without half my mind being on my next meeting, and to be able to sit in silence at times. Silence is under-rated in these days of working from home and hyperconnectedness.

I have also managed to swim twice this week. The urge to get back in the water – chilly or not – has been so strong in the past few weeks that I’ve been able to visualise the chill of the water as it creeps up the legs of my wetsuit. On Monday I was so happy afterwards I got the giggles, as well as the silly grin we all get. The air was warmer than the water, which was sitting at 9 degrees, so getting changed was quite pleasant. Yesterday, the water was 10.6 degrees and the air was in single figures with a biting wind, so I was glad of my onesie with no awkward fastenings. In the van next to us a little girl had put her face underwater and got brain freeze – luckily I still had some hot chocolate left in the flask to share with her!

Copped Hall walk

Last Sunday my beloved and I dragged Things Two and Three out for a walk (Thing One was having a bit of a wobble so didn’t join us). We parked up behind the cricket pitch in Epping, crossed over the M25 on the Bell Common tunnel and followed the footpath up to Copped Hall. I’d never been up there before, but had always had the footpath earmarked for exploration at some point.

The path takes you down through a field where we could see a herd of deer ahead of us, and past a pillbox which is part of the Outer London Defence Ring – it was the second one listed in this blog post if you want more details! You then follow the road up past some very large houses (Rod Stewart is a former resident on the estate) and finally come up to Copped Hall itself. The kids loved climbing the tree outside and sitting on the haha watching the world go by. The walk back took us past woodlands swathed in primroses and violets, past the deer again and up a steep hill bordered by blackthorn in bloom. Copped Hall itself is being restored by volunteers, so it’s not open to the public apart from a few days a year, but we are planning to go back on one of those.

So that’s been my week! Today I was out at 7am ‘checking to see if the Easter Bunny had been hiding eggs in the garden’. I had hoped that this phase of my life was over, but the horror on the face of Thing Two when I tried to suggest that the Easter Bunny had already given me the eggs for them melted my resolve. This afternoon we are going to see Timeshare Teenager #1 and the grandchild for the first time since last summer, and the sun is just coming out so hopefully it’ll be a bit warmer! Happy Easter to you all: may it be peaceful and filled with the things that bring you joy.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

The Animals at Lockwood Manor – Jane Healey

A Private Cathedral (Dave Robicheaux) – James Lee Burke

A Dangerous Man – Robert Crais

Vesuvius by Night – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

A Comedy of Terrors (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)