I made the rookie mistake the other day of saying how healthy I’d been since taking up the whole throwing-myself-in-icy-water thing (well, edging into icy water while cursing loudly and comprehensively, anyway). Even though I immediately knocked myself on the head and whistled, I appear to be coming down with something miserable, heralded by a sore throat and a headache. Oh joy – I haven’t got time for this, I really haven’t. This is the week where we are emptying the storage unit and taking kit back to the museum (it’s happening!), testing the last of the school sessions, and generally zipping about being busybusybusy.
Honestly, at nearly 50 I should know better than to invoke the Law of the Sod, I really should. There’s a whole list of things that trigger it, including (but not limited to):
saying, ‘Well, at least it’s not raining’
dressing my children in white
dressing me in white
leaving for anywhere with ‘enough time’ to spare
planning an outdoor event in August
washing the car under a clear blue sky
The basic premise is that fate is laughing at you, and that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. God laughs when man makes plans. Butter side down. That sort of thing. Anyway, I don’t feel well and it’s all my own fault.
Things not making me grumpy this week:
coffee and a wander with my bestie on Tuesday morning
working with the asylum seeking families and children with SEND at my local primary school
team board games afternoon – Cobra Paw was highly entertaining!
Finding a copy of Winifred Aldrich’s Metric Pattern Cutting handbook in the charity shop yesterday
Daffodils popping up all over the place, and at least one of my unfortunate hydrangeas not being dead
I am having a thoroughly theatrical weekend. Having not been to the theatre for several years, I went up to the West End yesterday, and this afternoon I’m off to see my friend performing in The Greatest Cabaret Show at our local arts centre. I’m very glad other people are in charge of the organisation of these things, as until Monday I was under the impression we were going to a completely different theatre in another town entirely.
I’d add in Mad Max, a bit of the Lost Boys, Peter Pan, flashes of Highlander and a whole lot of glitter. The set was dystopian, with clever off-set camera action projected onto a screen. Costumes were punky, the cast had voices made for belting out Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman’s hits (and they packed in songs from all three Bat albums across the two hour show), pyro effects and a LOT of fans in the audience. What there wasn’t, sadly, was much of a plot – as the title says, more holes than the dancers’ fishnets. I don’t see this following in Mamma Mia’s footsteps and generating a smash film, let alone a sequel, sadly – but oh, it was great fun and I do love a good Meat Loaf singalong.
I was with my friends Alli, Kerry and Elaine, who was driving. Elaine and I have a history of driving-related adventures when we go to see things – see here for the last time we ventured out, and on previous occasions I have had a road-rage incident at the Brentwood Centre (David Essex) and had her convinced I was going into labour on the Southend Arterial Road (also David Essex). This time we battled traffic and a truculent sat-nav, taking in a tour of Shoreditch and bits of Islington on our way to Holborn. We managed to find disabled parking quite close to the theatre, and being classy birds we located the nearest Wetherspoons for food and drink beforehand. London on Saturdays is always a bit odd – hen parties, and for some reason a group of young people with inflatable golf clubs. The staff at the ‘spoons couldn’t have been more helpful, finding us an accessible table in the very busy pub and shooing away poachers. Similarly, the theatre was fully accessible by means of friendly staff directing us to the accessible entrance and zipping round to meet us there, helping with the platform lifts and escorting us through the building. It was so lovely to be out and giggling, although I have to apologise to Alli for making her almost spit wine across the table with a wildly inappropriate comment. At London prices you can’t afford to waste it!
Other things making me happy this week…
Lots of walking – solo and with Sue and the Bella-dog, seeing herds of deer enjoying the early sun and rabbits skipping about the place
A lovely handmade Mother’s Day card from Thing 2. I’m glad one of them acknowledges my existence.
The lake is almost in double figures – a swim with Sue followed by a bacon butty and a mug of tea was a perfect way to start the weekend
Trying Tunisian crochet again – more socks!
An interesting visit to the Institute of Making at UCL with a colleague to find out about their materials library
And now I must go and get ready to go out again!
See you next week,
What I’ve been reading:
Cold Days/Skin Game/Peace Talks – Jim Butcher
Making Money/The Truth – Terry Pratchett (Audible)
This post – number 156 – marks the third anniversary of this blog, and since most of those early posts covered lots of walking, it seems only right that I should carry on rambling.
After last week’s 20k walk I have been FAR more sensible and followed the training plan that’s plotted out neatly on my calendar: 5k on Tuesday evening and two lots of 5 over the weekend (although that turned into an 8 and a 4, but never mind). I’ve said it before and I will almost certainly say it again, but getting out and walking reminds me that I’m very lucky to live in an area with lots of space to ramble and lots of wildlife to admire.
Tuesday evening’s walk took me across North Weald Common, over the fields behind the house and down a country lane. The sun was just setting and the moon was rising, the wildlife was on the move and after a busy day dashing around with work it was a moment of peace.
It also turned out to be the last fine weather for a couple of days, as Wednesday to Friday were drizzly and miserable with snow showers, sleet, rain and wind at this end of the world. Storm Larissa brought lots of snow to other parts of the UK but we just got the dregs which felt very unfair.
Not to be thwarted, however, when the sun came out on Saturday I dragged my beloved and Thing 3 off for a walk to make the most of it. We covered an 8km loop which took us through the woods in the ancient Ongar Great Park where we heard a nuthatch and great tits shouting their heads off, round Tawney Common and back up through the wood on a lollipop route. We saw buzzards, many rooks and crows and spotted signs of spring.
Saturday also included a cold water swim, which at 5 degrees felt icy. The cold snap meant that the pipes had frozen in the cafe and I’d forgotten the flask, so a quick trip to McDonald’s for breakfast was in order afterwards. The lake ducks, who also rely on the cafe for their breakfast, were most aggrieved.
The final walk this morning was a 4km with Sue, one of my swimming buddies, and the adorable Bella-dog and was around Ambresbury Banks just past Epping. We had a good ramble round the banks and along some of the wide tracks in that part of Epping Forest – there’s the remains of the Outer London Defence Ring in the area, lots of puddles for Bella to paddle in (including one rather deeper than she expected!) and lots of interesting leaves and sticks to chase (Bella again).
Other things making me happy this week
Hanging out with teachers – both serving and trainees
On Tuesday afternoon one of my colleagues and I headed off to Central Foundation Girls School in Mile End to meet the Tower Hamlets Secondary Design and Technology Network, who we’d been trying to get in touch with for several years but (thanks to GDPR) have proved elusive. We took along a few items from the handling collection and talked to them about the new museum but most of all we listened to what they wanted from us in terms of curriculum support and school visits.
On Thursday I visited the London East Teacher Training Alliance, who I have been doing sessions with for more than a decade and who are some of my favourite people to work with. I love ITT students as they’re all still so enthusiastic, and the early years students in particular who are all about the play. We did the Think Small session to start with, designing and building animal homes, and then two of our Creative Learning Facilitators joined the session to share the learning they’d gained from using the Hero Arm to talk about limb difference to very young children. We finished up with a fingerprint activity inspired by the whorls created when 3D printing the Hero Arm: thinking about individuality and what makes us all special.
The sizing on these was ridiculous – even with a hook 3 sizes up than that recommended they came up too small and too narrow and had to be frogged and redone. The yarn is the one used in the pattern (Cygnet Boho Spirit), so I can only assume the S/M/L size range in the pattern is for very small people!
Kumihomo: Japanese Silk Braiding exhibition
As I had a rare afternoon without meetings I took myself off to Japan House in High Street Kensington to see this exhibition. It’s quite small but very lovely, and while I knew what kumihomo was I didn’t know about all the applications or how it’s being used today.
I had a great conversation with a woman who was fascinated by the stitching and construction of a Victorian dolman garment, and watched some very soothing videos of dyeing silk and weaving braids. Hopefully we’ll be able to explore this in the programming around the Japan: Myths to Manga exhibition at the museum later in the year.
They always make me happy, to be fair.
And now I have to do the ironing that I didn’t do last week….
What I’ve been reading:
Going Postal/Making Money – Terry Pratchett (Audible)
This week we were finally able to share the opening date for Young V&A – it’s been a long time coming, and there’s still lots to do before we open the doors, but as of 1 July we will be back! Back!! BACK!!! as Smash Hits magazine used to say (a long time ago, obviously). All the things I’ve rambled on about on here – blue blocks, shoes, creativity etc – will all start to make sense.
It’s all very exciting but also quite daunting: I know that the sessions we have planned for the new school programme are interesting, and I know that the galleries are dynamic and interesting and aimed carefully at the different age groups (but still with content for everybody), but WHAT IF NO ONE COMES? We all know that schools are suffering at the moment from teacher strikes (which I fully support), from delivering a pay rise and associated pension/NI contributions unfunded by a spiteful government, from lack of supply teachers, LSAs and other post-pandemic staffing issues. School trips – however much they benefit the students and support the curriculum – are staff-heavy, planning-heavy, resource-heavy. Gone are the days of primary schools with ‘enrichment co-ordinators’ who would take the trip planning load off the teachers.
This is without even considering the ethics of asking parents to fork out cash – for travel, for a facilitated session, for theatre tickets, for entry to charging sites, for exhibition tickets even at a discounted rate – during a cost-of-living crisis. We are free to enter but have to charge for sessions: during closure we’ve been able to offer our sessions free, and this has helped us engage thousands of children across Tower Hamlets, but once we reopen that has to change. My children haven’t gone on theatre trips at secondary school as the cost of that trip is equal to a month’s bus fare for them or two weeks’ school dinners. I hate saying no, but the reality is that for many people culture comes second to food. I had a conversation with a North London secondary school teacher last term who was going back to her headteacher to tell them that she couldn’t justify running food technology (Home Economics, for those of us that remember Smash Hits) this year if it meant asking families to provide the ingredients.
Historically, too, the majority of school trips have been linked to history, geography or English – museums and theatres, heritage sites etc. Design Technology, unless at GCSE isn’t high on the priority list and this is particularly the case for Key Stage 3. I think of this as the Cinderella Key Stage: past SATs and before GCSEs, and no one knows quite what to do with them, when really this should be the point where schools are working hard to spark their interest in creative subjects before they have to make their GCSE options. I do feel that unless their school (not just individual DT teachers, who are without exception wonderful, passionate people) recognises the benefits of DT and other creative subjects in developing the skills children need to make it in the world today (problem-solving, collaboration, communication and so on) they are being short-changed. However, unless there’s a sea change in the government, causing them to create a culture of learning where students are helped to learn skills they need in 21st century life rather than to pass exams, I can’t see this happening. I’m very lucky to have been piloting my KS3 sessions in just such a school but research into the way DT, art and so on are delivered across my key boroughs means they are in a minority.
In previous roles my way around this was to develop cross-curricular sessions: history and maths, history and science, history and pretty much anything we could cram in, especially for primary schools where cross-curricularity is a selling point. This doesn’t work for secondary schools except in ‘enrichment weeks’ and I haven’t seen one of those for a while. School budgets seem to be focused on buying in enrichment or PSHE activities, like the ‘drugs bus‘ which Thing 2 will be visiting this week and which caused much bemusement/hilarity in the office this week. ‘Maddie’s Crack Shack’, after all, sounds more like a CBeebies series than a hard-hitting educational opportunity.
TL;DR: Please, schools, give KS3 a chance. And come and visit me.
This week has been all about learning new skills, in the spirit of my New Year’s revolutions: an online course in pattern cutting on Sunday, with Monisola Omotoso of Pattern Cutting Deconstructed, and two in-person courses on Visible Mending with Hannah Porter of Restoration London. All of them were part of the V&A Academy offer.
Pattern cutting was a completely new skill for me, as usually I use ready made patterns from either the ‘Big Four’ pattern companies or smaller indie designers. I didn’t know what pattern cutting was or how it translated to the bits of paper I apply to fabric and cut out, so the theoretical aspects were interesting, and it also introduced me to a new fabric called aso oke, a hand woven West African material used to make gorgeous traditional wraps and robes.
Starting with a look at Moni’s own career working within the fashion industry and as a freelance cutter at companies like Alexander McQueen, the course took us through how draping in 3D translates to 2D paper patterns, how aso oke is being used on the catwalk today, before taking us through the process of creating a pattern for a top using our own measurements. Aso oke is woven in fairly narrow strips, so you work within the width of these, although the pattern could then be used with any fabric. It also comes ready hemmed, so you don’t have to finish your garment in the same way as you would a ‘by-the-metre’ fabric. I bought my fabric at Metro Textiles.
As the garment is symmetrical, you only create half a pattern which you then cut on the fold of the fabric. Moni took us through the process of pattern marking (darts, notches etc), and even managed to do a bit of on-screen sewing using the paper pattern which was apparently a first for the V&A Academy! I’d highly recommend one of these courses – short tasters, which at £15 for 90 minutes is very good value.
The second two courses – Visible Mending – were in person at the V&A yesterday, which meant I got out of the house and spent a lovely day being peacefully crafty. There were only 16 people on each course, so Hannah was able to give one-to-one help where necessary, and all materials were provided along with tea, coffee and biscuits. At £35 per course this is very reasonable.
The first 90-minute course was on Sashiko stitching. I had done this course online previously, and enjoyed the opportunity to learn how to do it in person with proper materials as opposed to those I scrounged out of the shed (it says something about me that I had all the things I needed in the shed, but let’s not go there). The course covered sashiko – beautiful Japanese traditional stitching patterns – alongside satin stitch patching and boro. Sashiko means ‘little stabs’, we were told, and refers to the running stitches used to create the designs. Satin stitch is a dense coverage stitch which is used to fix patches behind holes as well as for decorative embroidery, while boro means ‘ragged’ or ‘tattered’ and refers to layering fabric patches to add warmth and strength to garments as well as for repair. Old garments would traditionally be used to create the rags when they were beyond repair, giving them further useful life. You can see my attempts below!
The second Visible Mending course was on darning, which I haven’t tried before but which is a handy skill to have if you’re going to make your own socks. Again, we were taught three techniques over the session with varying degrees of success! Materials provided included various coloured yarn, knitted samples to practice on and a square of stockinette stitch fabric.
Swiss darning was first up – also known as ‘duplicate stitch’, it can be used to add surface details to knitted pieces as well as to mend and reinforce knitted fabrics. Once I’d got the hang of it it wasn’t too tricky, but my first attempts kept going off the straight line of base knit and off on tangents.
We also tried woven darns, creating a warp and weft from yarn to cover and reinforce the holes we’d cut in the perfectly good squares. Mine were messy but did the trick which I suppose is the point! The houndstooth darn with tassels was a proper dog’s dinner, and I don’t think I’m quite ready to wear my darns with pride, but at least I can fix my socks….
Other things making me happy this week:
Two days with the wonderful DT classes at Ursuline Academy, retesting our ‘Design Can’ sessions and the ‘If the Shoe Fits’ session
A day at St Andrew’s primary in North Weald, working with the asylum seeking families currently staying in the village – so much fun and creativity
Walking therapy with Miriam putting my head back together
The Ninja Foodi thing. It’s my new best friend.
Finishing my dragon scale socks (then realising a) they were two different sizes and b) neither of them fitted me so I have frogged both of them back to before the heel to redo them)
Now I have to go for a training walk! Same time next week…
What I’ve been reading:
Small Favour/White Knight – Jim Butcher
The Fifth Elephant/Snuff – Terry Pratchett (Audible)
Well, here I am back on my sofa with freezing toes after a lake swim – the parents are probably basking in the post-grandchildren peace. Happy birthday to my Dad, who has been impressed by my afternoon nap skills for the last week although is now probably relieved to get his favoured sofa back. We’ve had a lovely week in France: the kids have put away their entire bodyweight in baguettes (daily), Aunty Tan has scienced at them, and the cupboard is stocked with Nutella.
Sunday: after a marathon sleep (even I crashed for the best part of ten hours) followed by an enormous breakfast we had a peaceful day, dragging the Horde out for a walk along the Blavet in the afternoon to stretch their legs a bit. We said ‘bonjour’ to everyone we met (because that’s what you do), saw cormorants and listened to the coypu shouting, and explored the little beach below the lock. I even managed to take some photos of the Horde where they aren’t pulling faces. We walked downstream to the little bar (closed) and back, which is around 5k. The Horde surprised me by wolfing down Dad’s coq au vin – anything in a sauce was unheard of a couple of years ago, so this is progress indeed.
Monday: after another marathon breakfast (I have never seen croissants disappear so fast) we headed for Pontivy to the Lantern Rouge, a buffet restaurant offering saveurs d’Asie. If there was a prawn in it, Thing 2 tried it. Over the week she also tried Patagonian garlic scallops, crab rillettes, galettes, camembert (she’s already hooked on Brie), Port Salut and pretty much anything else on offer. From a very early age she has always been my foodie child – if you took her eye off her in a restaurant she’d be peering solemnly at other people’s dinners over the edge of their table. Her Aunty compares her expression at these moments to the T-rex in Jurassic Park – “clever girl!” I think it’s more like the Velociraptors in the kitchen.
Later that day they explored a French clothes shop where they were spoiled by their granny, Decathlon where Thing 3 spent his birthday money on ‘cool trainers’, and they got to go to a supermarket where we were all overexcited by shelves with no gaps in them, fresh vegetables and the sheer variety on show.
Tuesday: saw the beginning of my vendetta against the angry cockerel over the road, who started crowing about 6am and just kept going. He was very lucky I didn’t turn him into a chicken casserole, quite frankly, as this anti-social behaviour continued all week. Dad described me as a little oasis of calm when he came down: audio book on and embroidery in hand while I enjoyed the peace before the chaos.
After breakfast Tan and I decided we’d get in a bit of training and headed off on a walk along the river – the plan was to do 90 minutes and then turn round and come back. We covered just over 10 miles, with a total elevation gain of a whole 6m, which of course is the joy of walking along a nice flat river. The return journey was downhill all the way…
We saw loads of cormorants, herons and various birds of prey, practised with our walking poles, snacked on Tribe bars and coffee, and bonjoured everyone we passed. The river was so still it was throwing off perfect reflections of the trees.
After a nap (me) we dragged Things 2 and 3 off for another walk to the lock and back, and were delighted to see the bridge lizards out enjoying the sunshine. Less fun was Thing 3, who appeared after his shower…
‘Aunty Tan, we have a….situation…’ This turned out to be a shower disaster, where he’d managed to create a waterfall with the shower curtain which flooded not only the bathroom but the sous-sol underneath, where water was pouring through the ceiling. It took many towels, mum, Tan and I to mop up and he was restricted to baths for the rest of the week.
Wednesday: the temperature hit 17 degrees and we – along with lots of French families – hit the beach at Port-Louis. Only one idiot went in the sea though. The kids explored rock pools and collected seaglass and shells, and we walked along by the fort to see the Resistance memorial.
In the evening we ate at the Vieux Bon Temps in Baud: galettes galore, and a burger for Thing 3. The kids were impressed with the flambe-ing of the dessert pancakes (grown ups only!).
Thursday: another early start thanks to that damned chicken, but I did get to finish the embroidery. Later on, abandoning the Horde to their grandpere, mum, Tan and I headed off to visit Barbara (hello Barbara!) who likes reading my blogs, and we put the world to rights over coffee before heading off to pick up dinner and other bits and bobs. UK Lidls always feel a bit grubby, but French ones are shiny and full of exciting biscuits so I stocked up. I also got some chouquettes for the Horde to try – not choucroute, which they would not have appreciated. The boulangerie was chaos, but the religieuse made it worth it, and the bread was amazing.
The rain set in over the afternoon so we stayed in and relaxed (I had a nap) and hoped for better weather the following day…
Friday: having asked the kids what they wanted to do (a choice of a visit to Vannes to see a historic town or Larmor-Plage for the beach). The decision was unanimous, so we headed off to Vannes where Thing 3 had a s Nutella crepe, Mum and I had kouign amman and Things 1 & 2 showed no interest whatsoever in the beautiful historic buildings. Sometimes I am not sure they are mine.
Saturday:I frogged all the crochet I had done over the week as it was too small, after another cockerel alarm woke me at 6am. Damn. The journey back to Calais was mainly uneventful apart from some patchy fog – and we even got put on a slightly earlier train much to the perturbation of the man in the car behind us who clocked that he was Z and we were A, and therefore why were we on the train ahead of him? The terminal was packed with post-half term returners, many of whom were sporting ski racks and snarfing down Burger King. It was reassuring to note that all teenagers in cars seem to sport the same stroppy faces as my own dear Horde….
The cats were pleased to see us, I think – Thing 3 was definitely pleased to see them…
Back to school/work tomorrow! See you next week…
What I’ve been reading:
Dead Beat/Proven Guilty – Jim Butcher
Jingo/The Fifth Elephant – Terry Pratchett (Audible)
Family favourite films watched – Young Frankenstein, City Slickers, The Princess Bride
I have just woken up from the longest sleep I have had in what feels like FOREVER, probably aided by the fact that yesterday London sister (aka Aunty Tan), the Things and I waved off my Beloved at 5am and headed off to France to see my parents (aka Granny and Grandpere, depending on who you’re talking to). They’ve been living in Brittany for almost 20 years, enjoying retirement with the aid of good wine and excellent baked goods.
Specifically, they are in the Blavet valley, in a tiny village bisected by the river which is currently not in flood so Tan and I have some walking planned this week. I have also rather optimistically brought my swimming kit – neoprene boots and gloves, a woolly hat and my bathers – in the hope that we’ll pop over to Port Louis, where there’s a restaurant serving excellent hot chocolate right on the beach.
The last time we were out here was when Thing 3 was about 2, and he turned 12 last weekend so it’s been a while – in the intervening years we have all gathered in West Wales with Irish sister and her family instead but thanks to Covid this is the first time we have seen my parents since 2018. Zoom and Skype just aren’t the same.
Things 1 and 2 now loom over their Granny and it won’t be long till Thing 3 joins them, especially if he keeps eating the way he is! He’s just had a growth spurt and is now taller than his aunty and catching me up fast. Soon only the cats will be shorter than me, as the Things like to tell me.
Anyway – we were on the 7.35 crossing from Folkestone to Calais, and arrived in Pont Augan about 4.30 after a picnic lunch just past Caen. Travel sickness pills meant the kids slept most of the way, waking up only to demand a sherbet lemon or chocolate lime (travel sweets of choice) and so Tan and I could sing along to the travel playlist and spot a LOT of birds of prey who were perching on posts all along the roadsides. Sparrowhawks, buzzards, kestrels, a merlin and a hobby, and even some harriers – the cloud and fog were keeping them at ground level but once we crossed into Brittany and the sun came out (justifying Tan wearing her sunglasses on her head since 5am) we started to see them soaring instead. The kids were supremely uninterested, but there we are.
The Things and I went for a quick walk to stretch our legs and see the goats before dinner (lasagne – a traditional welcome from Mum). Thing 2 made friends with the dog next door and we wandered over to the bridge and back to see the river. Bed was before 9pm for everyone… Today will be a quiet day, I think!
So, the out of office is on and I am looking forward to a week of downtime. I have brought a new crochet project and some embroidery, the kindle is stocked and no one is to ask me anything about storage, interactives or museums in general.
Thing 1 has just surfaced and informed me that she misses the cats, but unlike when her brother got homesick at Scout camp for the same reason I don’t think her dad will drive to collect her. Of 2 and 3 there is no sign as yet. Happy half term!
DPD and Parcelfleet joined Evri on the list of couriers from hell – Addison Lee are on a last warning.
I did finish my crochet socks though. I love a crochet sock.
February has landed at last – January was a very long year, wasn’t it? The sun is shining, daffodils and crocuses and suchlike are starting to show signs of life and, despite the Daily Express’s* constant and dire predictions of the RETURN OF THE BEAST FROM THE EAST and POLAR VORTEX bringing SNOWBOMBS and other such cheery weather, it all seems pretty optimistic and springy out there.
I have just returned from a rather nice ramble through the local woods this morning – just over 10k tagged, though I suspect it was more as my Strava app crashed somewhere in the forest. Soundtracked by some random stuff on Spotify, it was a fairly speedy romp on trails and tracks: everything from the 60s with Simon and Garfunkel, Dusty Springfield and Creedence Clearwater Revival right through to more recent stuff like the Beastie Boys, Zac Brown Band and The Offspring. Along with the many squirrels dashing about the place, I was lucky enough to spot a muntjac ahead of me on the rhododendron walk that borders Gaynes Park, ring-neck parakeets at Stonards Hill in Epping, and many people with their various hounds including one with only three paws and a very friendly face.
Today’s walk was a tried and tested route, which took me through ancient coppiced woodland in the old Ongar Park Wood, Gernon Bushes nature reserve and through to the sports fields in Epping where I looped back round to come home. There were some muddy patches, but the path was nothing like as impassable as it has been in previous years when it’s been a swamp until at least May. This probably says something about the weather over the last year or so, although the bog in our back garden would say otherwise
Essex, despite being ridiculously flat, does have some good walking – I still want to complete the Essex Way at some point, but it may be in stages! Hopefully in the course of training for the Race to the Stones I can cover a bit more of it – there’s a useful book which breaks it down into circular walks. The Stort Valley Way also starts near the village, heading up to Harlow and beyond, and there seem to be a few others in the area as well.
Now I just need to develop a sense of direction.
*please note, I do not read the Daily Express but Google and MSN like to show me the headlines on their homepages. I am cheered by the fact that in a couple of months the headlines will change to HOTTEST SUMMER ON RECORD and GLOBAL MELTDOWN and MORDOR RETURNS. It’s like getting out your summer wardrobe.
Other things making me happy this week…
Teaching the Think Small session at Chobham Academy – I love the ideas kids come up with to make animal homes
Thing 3 turned 12 yesterday.
Finishing January on the Temperature Supernova
Less happy-making was having to cancel a long-awaited trip to Cardiff to see the Socially Distant Sports Bar live show with gigbuddy Jen – while I am completely behind all these strikers, they RUINED my weekend. Also, vet bills.
Anyway – next week I shall be broadcasting from France! I can’t wait…
What I’ve been reading:
The Last Remains – Elly Griffiths
Men At Arms/Feet of Clay – Terry Pratchett (Audible)
Another week which has zoomed (or at least MS Teamsed) by in a whirl of meetings and emails. The high point of the week was a day at the Wellcome Collection, host for the Endangered Materials Knowledge Programme’s two-day workshop on the role of Mending and Making in museums. I attended day one in person, and dropped in to the morning of day two online. EKMP is a programme set up to research and capture the skills, technology, knowledge and values being lost as processes become more and more industrialised. It explores how these skills are being passed on, and connects source communities with museum objects. One of the speakers spoke about the annexing of the ‘make do and mend’ ethos from WW2: it’s not all about making do, it’s about making new, learning new skills and mending to extend or repurpose. Just the addition of commas changes the sense of the phrase (much like the ‘let’s eat, grandma/let’s eat grandma’ example).
In museums (in my head, anyway, I am sure conservators will tell me I am wrong), I have always assumed that damage is part of the story of an object: the evidence of being buried as grave goods, the reason something was thrown away, the story of on object surviving centuries underground. You know, the stuff that ends up on archaeological display in the British Museum – helmets with bloody great blunt instrument damage, for example.
As we know from Instagram and so on, ‘visible’ mending – sashiko, boro, kintsugi, darning, etc – is enjoying a moment in the limelight as a reaction to the rise of fast fashion and consumer culture. In my explorations of the handling collection before we sent it off to other museums, invisible mending was more apparent: the ricrac braid covering the tell-tale line where a dress had been taken up or down, miniscule stitching on tears or holes in baby clothing. The attendees of the conference – fabulous people like Kate Sekules and Bridget Harvey, and Celia Pym who was lurking online – wore clothes with gorgeous rainbow darns and embroidery highlighting and reinforcing holes. Catherine Reinhart was darning socks and Catherine Howard brought vintage textiles and encouraged people to tear and mend squares in any way they liked, to add to a collective project. There were lots of links made between making, mending and mental health and wellbeing – both collective and individual. I was secretly thrilled when several people commented on the dress I was wearing (one of my repurposed duvet covers) and my quilted jacket (ditto). Talks on yurts in Kyrgyzstan and fishing nets, on how saris are repurposed, explored how fabrics are remade to support new pieces when they are too far gone to repair.
Of course, it wasn’t only textiles, though this was what had attracted me in the first place. There was a talk on why miniature artists make using repurposed household objects, patchwork and bricolage in southern Africa, and from someone who used an old French horn to give his lawnmower a new lease of life. All of these were basically a justification for never getting rid of things which may come in useful (my Beloved would agree with this: he was thrilled when making our deck to use a piece of oak which had been in the garage for 30 years, in case it was handy).
I was particularly interested in a talk on damage and repair in Iron Age shields, which challenged the theory that things like the Battersea Shield and other objects previously thought to have been made purely for ritual purposes or flashy display had actually been used in battle until they were no longer repairable. X-rays and scientific testing showed craftsman-level repairs of small damage presumably caused in day-to-day use, perhaps training – and when damage was inflicted in battle the repairs were deliberately obvious, maybe to say ‘OK, I survived this – come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’. Only when the shield or helmet’s owner was dealt a death blow were the objects consigned to grave or the liminal spaces of the rivers and lakes.
There was, of course, lots of interest in the museum reopening and the work I have been doing with Spotlight and Scott Ramsay Kyle on sustainable fashion and mending. I also caught up with Scott this week, over coffee and a tour of his department at Central St Martins. I’d have loved to have had a go on the looms and spinning wheels, as well as spent time talking to the students. They had a swap shop going on, where students could bring materials left over from projects and swap for something they needed. UCL have a Repair Cafe, part of a worldwide movement, which helps people mend and repurpose.
Later today I’ll be catching up with an online session from the Textiles Skills Centre – find their YouTube channel here – from their Tea ‘n Chat series. After I have defrosted a bit from my ice swim this morning…
Disclaimer: before I begin, any typos are the fault of trying to type at an angle due to having a lap full of cats. Attempts to dislodge them proved futile, as they just sat on the laptop. You have been warned.
As mentioned last week, my partner in woolly crime Heather and I were off to the Waltham Abbey Wool Show on Sunday to fondle yarn and to have a go at spinning on a drop spindle – something I have wanted to try for a while. An excuse to have a go at using all those gorgeous piles of fluff and colour and sparkle that are on offer at the shows, and also to learn a new skill.
Led by Michele Turner, aka Craftyheffalumpus, it was 90 minutes of woolly happiness: fluff and squish and colour and interesting crafty gadgetry. Many of these gadgets are surprisingly spiky (hackles and wool combs, for example) and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find them popping up in a gruesomely bucolic (bucolically gruesome?) episode of Midsomer Murders. The Midsomer Weavers and Spinners Guild could be a force to be reckoned with. You read it here first.
There’s also a whole lexicon of new vocabulary: as well as the aforementioned hackles, there are batts, punis, roving, staple, noils, tops, rolags, slubs, and of course the fabulous niddy-noddy. We had a go at using some different types of spindle, working with different forms of fluff (assorted sheep! sparkly things!) and we all went away with small balls of yarn and a new excuse to go and squish (and sniff) different sorts of yarn at the stalls. My favourite was YarnTings with beautiful hand-dyed batts inspired by photos the dyer had taken.
I came home with some lovely things to spin, some sock yarns (of course) inspired by Doctor Who, and a spindle. There were some stalls missing from previous years but many new ones – I have some linen yarn to try making some jewellery with, which I haven’t seen before, and it looks as if it may need less starching than cotton thread. You’ll see from this week’s reading list that I have been doing some research, but so far I haven’t convinced my beloved that we need an alpaca/small flock of sheep for the garden.
Further adventures with Evri
Well, the missing parcels finally arrived! Having been declared lost in the previous week, they then reappeared and re-entered the delivery process on Monday with a ‘your parcels are out for delivery’ notification. They were not delivered. Tracking on Tuesday showed them as actually going backwards in the system to the sender’s local depot. They finally arrived on Thursday. Ordering something this weekend, I was offered the option of free delivery with Evri, or £3.50 for DPD. Want to guess which one I picked?
Swimming with the (frozen) fishes
Between starting this post and now, I have been up to Redricks Lake for a swim – well, a dip. The lake is covered in an inch-thick skin of ice in the dipping spot, and we did have to talk ourselves into getting in there today! I went up in my wetsuit for the first time since last March, and then took it off before I got in as the thought of wrestling it off again was daunting to say the least. I wore 5mm boots and my 3mm boots on my hands which looked very silly but meant I didn’t have to struggle getting the winter gloves off.
It was definitely only for the hardy today at a surface temperature of 1 degree and an air temp of -5…! Thanks to another swimmer for taking pics of Jill and I in the water…I have my new sparkly red bobble hat on, made by Jill’s mum, and my skin matched it when I got out! I lasted about two minutes and then made a dash for the hot choc and my heated gilet. My foresight in putting my pants and thermal leggings into my hot water bottle cover was excellent and I feel amazing now, honest…
Other things making me happy this week
Kick off meeting to sort out the handling collection before we move back to Young V&A