145: Why don’t you…

…go off and do something more festive instead? Stop reading these ramblings and go and open a present. Watch a film or the annual repeat of the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special. The only reason I’m even here is because I seem to have broken out in teenagers and they’re all still asleep for the first time ever at 6.30am on Christmas morning.

Festive makes this week

Normal (ish) service will resume next week! In the meantime, I hope it’s a peaceful day and that Santa/Father Christmas/the Hogfather/Saint Nick/Kris Kringle/Sion Corn brings you joy and lots of pigs in blankets.

Merry Christmas, Nadolig Llawen, Bonne Noel…

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

This Must Be The Place/Bellweather Rhapsody – Kate Racculia

Thief of Time – Terry Pratchett (Audible)

Hogfather – Terry Pratchett

Christmas is Murder – Val McDermid

144: baby, it’s cold outside

Bloody freezing, actually (my garden thermometer is currently reading -5.4) and this morning I am a strange blend of disappointed and mildly relieved as the lake is closed for the weekend. The closure is due to access, as you can’t get cars in and out of the site, rather than as a way to prevent a gang of bobble-hatted loons giving themselves mild hypothermia. The disappointment is because cold water swimming – or dipping, in this weather – is such a rush, and the relief is because the temperature has rarely made it above zero this week and that lake will be COLD.

Last week was the coldest water we have experienced at 0.5 degrees, and it was trying to snow when we got there. A large hole had been broken in the ice to enable dipping, but there was no chance of a proper swim. People were going in, having their picture taken by one of the long suffering Redricks team to prove we were complete idiots, paddling about a bit and then racing out swearing profusely. I still haven’t put my wetsuit on this year, so was in my bathers and bobble hat with socks and glove, and I lasted about two minutes. I was extremely glad I had brought thermals to go under my trousers and a lot of layers – and my trusty hot water bottle. Top tip here: stuff your pants inside the cover while you swim and wrap your towel round the outside. I may need two hot water bottles, just so I can do my socks as well – the worst part last week was the pain as my toes came slowly back to life which made me want to cry. I was wearing my 3mm socks as I knew I’d want to get them off quickly, and they were not enough!

Many articles have been written on the benefits of cold water swimming over the last couple of years (here’s one) and there’s lots of handy advice out there too. Please note I am not including Wim Hof in either of these two categories as he is clearly quite, quite bonkers. And that’s coming from me. What I get from it is a mental reset at the end of the week, time with friends both in the water and during what Jill calls the apres-swim, as we hop about trying to get dry, get our trousers on, and drink hot chocolate with marshmallows. It’s usually child-free, it’s early on a Sunday morning, and the rest of the day is still ahead of us. Redricks Lake, where we swim, is also a fishing lake so you’re sharing the environment with cormorants and kingfishers as well as the usual run of water birds (and fish); there’s lifeguards on hand and you don’t get to go in unless you’ve had your safety induction, which is reassuring. They will also rescue you, strip off your wetsuit (wear your bathers!) and warm you up if necessary.

Later in the day a few of us braved the cold again (fully clothed this time) to go and see the Light Fantastic train from Marconi Bridge at the top of North Weald Common. Thing 2 joined me, and we were out when the snow started. ‘Flurries’ were forecast, but what we ended up with was a good six inches of snow which meant a snow day on Monday and travel chaos for the rest of the week. Today is supposed to be a balmy 7 degrees and tomorrow – gasp! – double figures, so we might finally see the thaw.

The rest of the week has mostly been crochet, as I had a stack of pigs to make after selling out at the Christmas fairs – seven big pigs, eight little pigs, one fairy cake, a Highland Cow and I finally got round to making a jumper for my own tree. I have a few more bits I want to make and then I really, really need to catch up with the temperature galaxy which hasn’t been touched since August. Eek….

Other things making me happy this week

  • Secret Santa exchange at work – this year’s theme was ‘adventure’ and my gift was a gorgeous Doctor Who bag charm, which meant I knew exactly who my Santa was!
  • Girly gossip with Miriam and Edith on Wednesday, accompanied by baby snuggles – there’s nothing quite like a sleepy tiny cuddling into your neck
  • Stomping around the garden in the snow spotting the rabbit, cat and fox prints.
  • The latest Audible version of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, with Bill Nighy as the footnotes and Peter Serafinowicz as Death
  • Ben and Jerry’s Minter Wonderland
  • Thermal leggings

Less happy was discovering when we got to the work canteen on Thursday that due to supply issues there were burgers instead of lasagne. Shades of Shirley Valentine: ‘But it’s Thursday! Thursday is lasagne day!’ The gloom among the whole V&A staff was positively Dickensian.

Only another five days of work to go and I can stop for Christmas – now excuse me, I have a cake to marzipan.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Hogfather (Audible)

Don’t Cry For Me, Aberystwyth – Malcolm Pryce

This Must Be The Place – Kate Racculia

143: ho ho no

So, the tree is up (well, down from the attic) and decorated, the turkey and components for various trimmings are safely in the freezer, the lights are ready for my Beloved to put up today, the museum Christmas party is tomorrow, and the Secret Santa is organised. The charity for this year’s card money has been chosen (Trussell Trust, ICOI). I am still surrounded by the vast amounts of yarn I need to make the Christmas orders, having sold out of pretty much everything last weekend. Who knew that the children of North London would love cuddly pigs in blankets so much? I think my best moment was the frazzled parent who ran up to me shouting ‘I need a SPROUT!’, with the five year old who asked me ‘Do you take cards?’ in a close second place.

Cuddly pigs and other Christmas crochet adventures

Thing 2 has been asking searching (and knowing) questions about the existence – or not – of Father Christmas. From an early age, when her aunt and I would go off on increasingly ridiculous flights of fancy, she would ask ‘Are you telling me true, Mummy?’ or ‘Are you lying to me, Aunty Tan?’ So, for a child who was essentially born suspicious, this persistence in believing in all things Christmassy has always been a bit out of character. She is, however, a stickler for tradition and gets quite cross if Christmas films and songs make an appearance before December 1st. The tree goes up on the second weekend in December, which is the compromise reached over several years of negotiation.

This is the first year in several that she has not mentioned the elf on the shelf, which is a huge relief. Things 2 and 3 were quite insistent that we should have one of these abominations and I was secretly delighted when on December 1st I duly placed the elf on a shelf and the pair of them went into hysterics and demanded its immediate removal from the house. However, the following year they persuaded their father to buy another elf and the whole thing began again and of course the responsibility of the elf fell mainly to me.

Unlike my friend Jill who is very good with her elves, I was pretty hopeless at it. Possibly this is down to the very narrow window between putting the kids to bed and me falling asleep on the chair, or – more likely – because I just did not give a monkey’s. You can see my two best efforts (elforts?) below.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a Christmas tradition as much as the next person. There are films which must be watched while putting up the Christmas tree (the 1947 version of Miracle on 34th St, if you must know), films which must be watched early in the season (Elf, Muppet Christmas Carol) and there are films to watch nearer Christmas (It’s a Wonderful Life, Scrooged). We have added the Christmas Chronicles to the list over the last couple of years, as Kurt Russell makes an excellent Santa. I look forward to the annual invasion by Cybermen and Daleks, and will continue to ignore all speeches by members of the royal family. I read Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather and this year I will also listen to the new Audible version.

I have endeavoured to instil a healthy fear of robins into my children, in their role as Father Christmas’s all-year-round eyes on the ground. We have advent calendars. We leave snacks and something boozy out for FC and the gang on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day Thing 2 organises stocking opening with military precision, and all I can say is thank god they’re old enough to bring us cups of coffee while they do it. Thing 1 opens the stocking and goes back to bed.

Every year I buy the largest turkey possible in Tesco – they only had mediums yesterday, which feed 8-10 people, and I seriously considered buying a turkey crown as well even though there are only five people in the house. As it was, the medium only just fitted into the freezer with some creative rearranging. Whether I can get it out again is a different question. I am dutifully feeding (with rum) a Christmas cake which I will probably still be eating in February (a Mary Berry recipe, and without resorting to Mrs Beeton you can’t get much more trad than that). I never liked Christmas cake until I realised that if I made it myself I could leave out the nuts, the mixed peel and the glace cherries and replace them with things I like (like proper cherries, and rum, and fresh orange peel grated).

We open family presents between breakfast and lunch when everyone is dressed, and after Christmas dinner there is the ceremonial ‘eat as much chocolate as you like’ opening of the Quality Street. There may be a cold turkey and stuffing sandwich about 8pm, and on Boxing Day there will be further cold turkey and a ham. At some point I will do a jigsaw.

While I will be a little sad when all pretence at believing in Santa is abandoned (i.e. they stop humouring me), I am not sorry to see the back of the stupid elf.

Other things making me happy this week

  • Excellent co-curation session which I have to write an ‘official’ blog for
  • Seeing some of my wonderful ex-colleagues at the Museum of London reunion last Sunday
  • Hugh Grant’s reading of A Christmas Carol (included with your Audible subscription)
  • Rewatching Derry Girls with Thing 1
  • The chance to do proper ice swimming today

Same time next week then!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

A Child’s Christmas in Wales (Audible)

A Christmas Carol (Audible)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Aberystwyth – Malcolm Pryce

Don’t Need The Sunshine – John Osborne

92: squelch squerch

This week my walking buddy Jill (cover photo artist!) and I have made the most of being off for Christmas and headed out ‘early doors’ (she’s from Yorkshire) for a couple of welly walks. We love our walks: we put the world to rights, appreciate the scenery, stomp on icy puddles and squish our way through the muddy ones. Some weeks she is grouchy, other weeks it’s me. We test out ideas for work or catastrophise in the knowledge that we can go into the office the next day with our heads back on straight. It’s like therapy. There’s something about walking next to someone, not facing them, that allows stress and those wake-you-up-at-3am thoughts to spill out.

Some days we go further than others: round the roads to Tawney Common, or across to Toot Hill, or round past Dial House and the farm to see the cows, or the old golf course and flood meadows. Sometimes it’s the short 5k through the woods and back, or to the end of the village. Whatever, I always come back feeling better and ready to face the week.

It was a week of extremes: one day it was -4°c and the world was white. The sun was coming up in spectacular fashion, the puddles were frozen and we crackled our way down to the farm and home via the station. The plan was to check what time the light fantastic train was running that day so we could drag the kids up to Marconi Bridge to watch it go through, but they were only doing the Santa Special till after Christmas. We allowed ourselves to be seduced by the smell of frying bacon from the station cafe and indulged in a bacon roll and tea, listening to the brass quartet playing Christmas carols and watching overexcited kids waiting for Santa’s train to arrive.

The following day was much warmer so the puddles were squelchy once more (as you can see from the cover photo). That day’s route took us through the fields to the radio station (hence Marconi Bridge) and past North Weald Redoubt, finishing up at Jill’s house for tea and a rummage through boxes of craft stuff from a friend’s house clearing. I was very good and only came home with a few balls of yarn and some toy eyes. My plan this week was to try and destash some craft things from the shed, not bring home more – I did send some yarn up to Jill’s mum, and got rid of a whole lot of jewellery making stuff, which was a start.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed at least a few days off and will be grabbing the opportunity for a Boxing Day welly walk – we have A, H and the grandchild over today, but I’m looking forward to a few more walks this week.

All can now be revealed…

As it’s after Christmas I can share the gifts I made – the wall hanging was for our Dungeonmaster and his wife and I made them open it while I was there playing board games on Monday. The ‘Eira Owls’ were for their daughters. The little pigs in granny square blankets have been ridiculously popular and I ended up making more than 20 of them as Christmas ‘cards’* for colleagues and my swimming buddies, and then as requests for people who’d seen them on Facebook. They’ve gone off to Wales, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and London. I still have several to do after Christmas but I have to get two presents out in January and a couple for February first!**

(* I don’t send cards to anyone but immediate family, but donate to a charity every year instead – this year it was the Trussell Trust. I make little decorations that can be brought out year after year – I love seeing people’s photos of their trees with my work on!)

(** Yes, I am taking orders. They are £6 each plus postage!)

I hope you’ve all had a great Christmas with family and friends, that you’re all safe and warm and looking forward to 2022. By the time next week’s post appears we’ll be in a whole new year!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Untold Story – Genevieve Cogman

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (Audible)

A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler

The Toast of Time – Jodi Taylor

The Long and the Short of it – Jodi Taylor (Audible)

90: a festive poem*

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas and here in Dukes Close

The mother was getting exceeding morose

Three weeks of Covid and labyrinthitis

Had left her with anti-holiday-itis.

Enforced isolation surrounded by kin

Has left her in need of a very large gin.

We’ve watched both the Chronicles, the Muppets and Elf

My Christmas list is solely ‘some time to myself’.

Thing 2 had been nagging to get out the tree

There’s tinsel all over the cat, floor and me.

Their daddy was outside stringing up lights

Along with the rest of the road – what a sight!

There’s Santa and snowmen and snowflake projectors

And probably some cunning reindeer deflectors.

The turkey’s too big for the freezer this year

And Asda online’s substitions are weird

I asked for some candy canes for the tree

But they sent me a single tube of Smarties.

There’s pigs in their blankets and roasties of course

Yet again I’ve forgotten the cranberry sauce.

Upstairs the presents are rapidly stacking

My heart sinks anew at the prospect of wrapping

The stockings are still in the attic, sure enough

So ‘Santa’ had better go shopping for stuff

To fill up the socks so there’s something to open –

Has anyone noticed I’m really not copin’?

(*with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

Pigs in blankets

What I’ve been reading:

Still Life/Dead Beat– Val McDermid

Laidlaw/The Papers of Tony Veitch/Strange Loyalties – William McIlvanney

The Dark Remains – Ian Rankin and William McIlvanney

89: brought to you by Benylin and Lemsip Max

Yes, dear readers, I am still grumpy and out of sorts – added to the distinctly unpleasant labyrinthitis I managed to test positive for Covid on Thursday. I’d had suspicions all week, but as the LFTs were coming up negative and my PCR was unreadable, I assumed it was the supercold that’s been rampaging through the museum team since Takeover Day. Finally an LFT came back positive on Thursday, just as I was planning to make a sortie over the road for the weekly D&D game.

I have the sore throat, changes to taste and smell, a cough and early in the week lots of aching joints and headaches. Add to those the lingering fuzzy ears and dizziness from the labyrinthitis and I’ve had a thoroughly miserable week. Thing 3’s isolation finishes today so he can go back to school tomorrow, and with any luck my beloved and Thing 1 will escape.

Being signed off sick for the week at least meant that I was able to indulge myself in a lot of making stuff, since I’m vertical again, and in binging TV: I’ve caught up with Doctor Who: Flux in readiness for tonight’s finale, and have been watching King of the Hill again. I wonder how many more classic Who villains they can fit in? I was happy to see the Weeping Angels again, and I am sneakily fond of Sontarans as they make me laugh – the whole ‘because I wanted to ride a horse’ thing in the Crimea cheered me up no end.

There was another cross stitch as well but I can’t share it yet as it’ll be a gift.


The 1st of December is, according to Thing 2, the earliest time you’re allowed to listen to Christmas music and watch Christmas films. We’ve watched The Christmas Chronicles so far, and kicked off with The Muppet Christmas Carol. Apparently Thing 1, who’s been studying the Dickens novel for GCSE, had great difficulty writing Bob Cratchit instead of Kermit in her mock exam last week, so at least I’m having an influence. I snuck in Serendipity before the deadline, but don’t tell her. Thing 3 has just informed me that we’re watching all three of the Nativity films today, so that’s that sorted.

My advent calendar this year is from Vicki Brown Designs, paid for in instalments which means a whole lot of sock yarn loveliness is appearing every day to be squished and stroked. My mum sent me a Baileys one to cheer me up as well, and hopefully by the time Christmas arrives I’ll be able to enjoy the mini bottle!

And that’s it from me – it’s been a very quiet week, unsurprisingly!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Blue Murder / Plaster Sinners / Whatever’s Been Going on at Mumblesby? – Colin Watson

Risen – Benedict Jacka

Week forty: god bless us, every one.

And a slightly belated Merry Christmas to you all! Our lockdown Christmas was good, despite not being able to see family. As a child this was how our Christmas always was: we would do a round of the Cardiff family on the 23rd (my late grandma’s birthday) and then we’d know Christmas could start properly. On Christmas Eve, as we got older, we’d usually go out for a meal in the evening and to midnight mass at the local church. In the morning my Grandad Bill would arrive at a ridiculously early hour – before he went back to Cardiff for Mass – then we’d have stocking presents. Later, when everyone was dressed, we’d have family presents followed by Christmas dinner in the early afternoon, and turkey sandwiches in the evening.

Since meeting my beloved my Christmas has been a bit different – we would have his older girls for a few days every other year (alternating New Year in the other years), and we’d spend Christmas Day with his mother until she passed away in late 2012. One of the older girls now has her own son, and we had planned – until Tier 4 – to spend Boxing Day with them. We’d hoped to see the other one on Christmas Day, but she was isolating as her boyfriend’s mum had tested positive for Covid a few days earlier.

Usually we’d see my London sister and her husband between Christmas and New Year as well, but we had a family Zoom on Christmas Day instead – our parents, the Irish contingent, London sister and her husband, and us. It was lovely to see them, but it’s not the same as being together.

Back to Christmas Day! Thing 2 has always been a child who likes to know what’s happening: she finds it hard to jump into new things, and prefers to sit back and watch for a while before joining in. She likes to plan how things will work on Christmas Day, as she knows there’s elements of chaos, so we were woken up on schedule at 6am to watch them open their stockings. Wisely, they also brought coffee up with them!

I love watching the children open their presents. This year we bought Thing 3 a Nintendo Switch, which he hoped for and didn’t expect. Shortly after he opened it we had a brief snow flurry, and he was so completely overwhelmed he didn’t know what to do with himself. Thing 1 had shoes that she’d wanted to spend any Christmas money on, so she wasn’t expecting to have them on Christmas Day. I like to go off-list where I can, to surprise them a bit. Life’s no fun if you know what’s in all your parcels!

So we whiled away the day quietly: everyone ate Christmas dinner and far too many Quality Street, and in the evening I broke into the Christmas cake. I have been feeding it with rum and it’s quite delicious.

On Boxing Day I went for a very chilly socially distanced swim – 5.6 degrees. If someone had said to me last year that I’d be looking forward to jumping into a freezing lake I’d have laughed at them, but my swimming gang and I have had so much joy from this newfound passion this year. Some of my Christmas Amazon voucher has been spent on a wetsuit changing bag and a new tow float, in fact.

I have also had a few good muddy walks with various friends and their dogs this week, and some outdoor coffees on the way home which have provided some much needed adult conversations!. I was supposed to meet my permitted friend this morning for a wander, but there appears to be a typhoon – or Storm Bella – in progress outside so we have decided to regroup tomorrow instead.

Geek crafting

Over the past year I have made a series of dolls for a DM friend, one for each of his campaign characters. The last one was finished this week, as his wife’s Christmas gift, so I haven’t been able to share progress on it. This one had to have armour and wings: while I could find lots of wing patterns on Ravelry I had to go off-piste with the armour and make it up as I went along.

I have also started work on this sampler from FiddlesticksAU on Etsy: Tolkien fans will recognise the list of Hobbit mealtimes! I love the colours against the black aida fabric.

Less geeky but quite delicious was the stollen I mentioned last week – I have made two loaves so far as they disappear quite quickly!

And that’s been my week. It’s been a quiet one but I am happy to be safe and well with my little family.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Without the Moon – Cathi Unsworth

That Old Black Magic – Cathi Unsworth

Zero Waste Sewing – Elizabeth Haywood

The New Anchor Book of Blackwork Embroidery Stitches

Week thirty nine: small world, big ideas

Serendipity is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? About eighteen months ago, during a quick scan of my Twitter feed I saw an ex-colleague from the National Army Museum, who is now in New Zealand, tweeting about a game called Library Island.

This interactive training activity helps participants to explore strategy, innovation, and the messy business of working with communities. We’ve spent the last two years perfecting Library Island with university staff, health workers, museum professionals, students, and, yes, librarians.

matt finch/mechanical dolphin

This piqued my interest, as a) I really like libraries, b) I’m a museum professional and c) I’m really nosy curious about what other people are up to in the culture sector. At the time I was also doing a lot of thinking about how we could make our school sessions more playful/gamified, so I jumped on the conversation. That tweet opened up a whole new world of conversations around scenario planning and how that approach might be adapted to work with secondary school students, starting with a cup of coffee and a wide ranging chat on a hot day at the museum with Matt Finch of the Said Business School and developer of Library Island.

Fast forward eighteen months and one global pandemic…

At 7.30am on Wednesday (8.30am in Copenhagen, Denmark and 6.30pm in Sydney, Australia) I logged into a Zoom call with Matt, Teresa Swist of the Young and Resilient Research Centre at Western Sydney Uni, and Kirsten Van Dam of Out of Office. This was the third zoom meeting of what’s becoming a knowledge sharing group set up originally by Matt, as the nexus, but which is creating synergies between different projects all over the world. Co-design, co-production and co-creation with communities were all part of this week’s conversation, which link back into the development of the new museum.

I can’t imagine that, without COVID-19, I would ever have had these conversations with people all over the world. Pre-corona, arranging a meeting just with someone in London would have meant building in travel time, trying to find a day when we didn’t already have umpteen things in the diary months ahead of time, and certainly wouldn’t have happened on a Wednesday morning when – in ‘normal’ times – I take the kids to school and then trek into London.

My next meeting on Wednesday – also via Zoom – was a filmed interview about teddy bears and mental health, and then a conversation about how we can make the museum into a virtual environment so we can use the building while its closed. Even my works Christmas socials were online! A party where I don’t have to get on the Central Line home afterwards, perfect.

Zoom and Teams aren’t perfect, but this year they have made the world smaller and my thinking bigger.

Christmas can start now!

I think I am finally ready for the festive season, despite announcements of mutated viruses and the invention of Tier 4 in the last 24 hours. I am sad, as we can’t go and see the older girls (formerly known as the Timeshare Teenagers) and our grandson, but I am also glad we are safe at home.

I finished work for the holidays at lunchtime on Friday after a cheery, chatty Christmas cuppa with the rest of our little learning team. In the afternoon I gave in to the demands of Thing 2 to make a gingerbread house from scratch: we’d never done that before, but when we have had kits previously the biscuit has been quite fragile and the houses have been a bit of a disaster. So, it was back to BBC Good Food, which is usually my go-to for new recipes, where we found instructions – including templates – for a simple gingerbread house. We made the gingerbread and constructed the house on Friday, then left it to set overnight before decorating with Dolly Mixtures, mini Smarties and chocolate fingers on Saturday morning. I think at least as many sweets ended up in Things 2 and 3 as on the house, but it looks really festive. Thing 2 made a mini Christmas tree as well, with a wall of jelly sweets to hold in the Smarties.

Right now I am waiting for the Stollen dough to prove – again, it’s a BBC recipe, this time by Simon Rimmer. It’s funny – there’s nothing to say I can’t make stollen at any time of year, as I really like it, but it has become part of the Christmas routine. The cake was marzipanned yesterday, and I’ll ice and decorate it in the week. I’ve been haunting Pinterest again for ideas, which is always risky.

The Zoom blanket is finally finished and was sent off on Thursday, so that’s out of the way and I can focus on a crochet commission for a friend. I enjoyed making this, apart from weaving in the ends, and the matching hat is very cute. Hopefully the expectant mum will also like it!

On the cross stitch frame I have a Lord of the Rings themed pattern, on black aida so the daylight lamp is coming in very handy. A top tip someone told me ages ago was to have a white cloth on your lap when stitching on dark fabrics, or even a light box. No one mentioned cats, which is usually what’s on my lap!

My next post will be after Christmas, so I’ll leave you all with warm wishes for a peaceful, safe festive week. See you at the end of week 40!

Merry Christmas!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Hogfather – Terry Pratchett

Bad Penny Blues – Cathi Unsworth

Without the Moon – Cathi Unsworth

Christmas films ticked off:

  • Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
  • Serendipity (2001)
  • Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion/The Runaway Bride/Voyage of the Damned
  • Blackadder’s Christmas Carol
  • Detectorists Christmas Special (2015)
  • A Christmassy Ted

Week thirty eight: resignation sets in

After last week’s grinching, dear readers, the tree is up and the festive fireplace is decorated. If you look closely at the cover image you can probably spot that bloody elf lurking among the tomtes (Nordic gnomes – the pair on the left are from this pattern and the new addition on the right is here).

I love my fireplace at Christmas: pretty lights and candles, and this year I have chosen to use my late mother-in-law’s angel chimes as a centrepiece. The Google clock is there to play Christmas music, of course. This year I have built a Spotify playlist, which means I am in no danger of being forced to listen to Mariah Carey, Paul McCartney or John Lennon’s Christmas offerings but I can include Kate Rusby, The Black Crowes, Bruce Springsteen, The Killers and The Dropkick Murphys alongside Slade, Wizzard and co.

We have an artificial tree rather than a real one as its a few years old now. We’ll keep using it until it’s too tatty rather than send it to landfill – it’s so covered in decorations as Thing 2 doesn’t like leaving anything out that you can’t see much tree anyway. It sheds a bit, but so do the cats and the three long-haired people in the house!

Remake, refashion, reuse

I love charity shops, I really do. There’s nothing I like more on a Saturday morning than a mooch round the local town, preferably solo, exploring book shelves, bric a brac and the clothes rails. There are such treasures to be found: a new craft book, picture frames, a pair of curtains that can be turned into skirts and quilt backs, a vintage dress or sewing pattern, or a pretty bowl for the frivolous shelves in my shed. Yesterday I spotted dresses from Coast and Cos (sadly not in my size) and gorgeous ’60s glassware (sadly no room in my cupboard).

We are very lucky in Epping, as we have an excellent selection ranging from the well-known Cancer Research and the British Heart Foundation to more local ones like Haven House, St Clare’s Hospice and Eco. The last two have giant versions in Harlow as well, which yielded two giant beanbags and an Ikea cupboard for the conservatory. We also have a branch of Oxfam Books and Music, which I can spend ages in, usually emerging clutching a new art book in the hope that one day I will be able to draw, a craft book, or a classic from my childhood.

Yesterday’s charity shop treasures – a jigsaw for the Christmas break from Haven House, a snowman bowl and some pine cones that smell nice from Cancer Research.

Back when I was at university in Preston there was a wonderful shop called Jet Trading, packed with vintage dresses and accessories, and some of my favourite student dresses came from there – 1970s florals, worn with para boots and a biker jacket. My first LBD came from a charity shop in Monmouth – a 1960s grosgrain cocktail dress.

One of the wonderful things about learning to sew is the ability to hack and alter these charity shop treasures: like the fabric but not the length? Chop it and redo the hem. Looking for something with a bit of weight for a structured skirt? Polished cotton, double wide, full length lined curtains – done! The world is your mollusc, to paraphrase the legendary Terry Pratchett.

And then last week I got my hands on a book called Crochet Hacking by Emma Friedlander-Collins. I have been following her on Instagram for a while now, and thoroughly enjoying her hacking of clothes with a crochet hook and whatever yarn comes to hand. Anyone who has seen my shed knows just how desperately I need stashbusting ideas to get rid of all the ends of yarn from various projects, so this is a much needed addition to my craft library.

It’s a book designed to inspire confidence. It’s colourful and friendly and does not require you to buy anything new – not clothes, or specialist yarn, and for those of you going ‘ah, but what if I haven’t got a crochet hook!’, go and ask in your local charity shop as they are an excellent source of crafting materials as well as everything else. And yes, that usually includes odds and ends of yarn too. It starts by explaining why it’s better to remake than to buy new, and gives a few startling facts about how many clothes end up in landfill every year. It’s a LOT.

The book is divided into sections, showing you how to crochet into denim, jersey, wool and other fabrics – basic instructions and a few projects for each. I really love the custom sleeve stripes and the Fairisle-style cuffs, which both make the sleeves of a top longer in different ways, and the gorgeous kimono style wrap. Some projects require a bit more skill than others, but all of them are achievable.

Thing 2 has been a fan of refashioning for a while, as it happens: earlier in the summer she persuaded me to chop a skater dress that she’s been wearing for years into a crop top and skirt, as it was just too short for her. When she loves an item of clothing she tries to make it last as long as possible: this particular dress had been her older sister’s and I think was aged 5-6. It’s lasted really well, and now has a new lease of life. Last week she chopped a pair of pale grey leggings (really, what was I thinking?) into a pair of shorts, and rather grandly handed me the legs with a ‘here you go mum, I saved you the fabric’.

So I have had these legs sitting on my sewing table (oh, OK, the dining room table) and during a meeting I tried them on my arms. I have mentioned how easily distracted I am, haven’t I? They were the perfect length for arm warmers – working in what’s essentially a Victorian cast iron and brick greenhouse, as I do, means you develop a fondness for a handy layer. Armed with the Crochet Hacking book, some variegated sock yarn, a wool needle and a crochet hook I spent a few hours while in ‘receiving mode’ at some meetings jazzing up my new accessories with a few rows of crochet, some truly awful blanket stitching and some simple embroidery. The instructions in the book were really easy to follow, and now I’ll have warm hands in work!

The rest of the crafty week has been spent weaving in the ends of the nine-patches for the Zoom baby blanket, ready to put them together, and I started a pixie hat to go with the blanket as the baby in question is due in January.

A tidy pile of nine-patches and 2/3 of a pixie hat.

The cross stitch is coming on – I am working on fabric with 18 squares per inch, and my eyes are not what they used to be so yesterday I gave in and bought some of those magnifying specs from the chemist. I really must organise my eye test….

So that’s been my week. We are counting down to the end of term now – I failed as a parent on Friday and forgot it was Christmas Jumper Day, only realising as I was leaving school after drop-off that no one else was in uniform. Thing 3 seems to have forgiven me – I had it in my head that it was next week, when they have their Christmas dinner! Things 1 and 2 will be remaining at home after their isolation period ends on Tuesday: Welsh secondary schools are all moving to online teaching this week in a bid to stop the spread, but once again the English government is failing to act and is forcing them to remain open despite advice from the scientists to close.

Today Things 2 and 3 have asked if we can make stained glass biscuits – I have said yes, on the understanding that they don’t take a bite out of each one on the tree as they did a few years ago.

Let’s see what week 39 has in store!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Gobbelino London and a Contagion of Zombies – Kim M Watt

Hogfather – Terry Pratchett

Christmas films ticked off this week:

  • Arthur Christmas
  • Alien Xmas
  • Muppet Christmas Carol
  • Over Christmas (short series on Netflix)
  • Scrooged

Week thirty seven: bah humbug

I am not good at Christmas – well, I’m not good at the build up to Christmas. I am tense. I am stressed. The mere sight of a Christmas tree before December 1st turns me into the Grinch. My family – bless them – have been asking me for weeks what the children would like for Christmas. I don’t know. Ask them! Ask their father! He is good at Christmas. He has ordered presents. I have not ordered presents. I have not booked my Christmas delivery slot at Tesco (other supermarkets are available).

I have not done Christmas cards for anyone but family for the last several years – work colleagues in a normal year get a tree decoration, and I donate the cost of cards and postage to charity. This year it will be a food bank charity. Until last Sunday I was in deep denial and we ended up dashing to Tesco to buy advent calendars (which we eventually got in M&S, as everywhere else was sold out)

And don’t even get me started on that bloody elf. He could stay on the shelf for all I care, but Things Two and Three come downstairs and look for the stripy little sod every morning. The first year we had an elf, the kids went into hysterics and I had to promise to send it away. I rehomed it, but that didn’t last and their dad bought a new one in Poundland a couple of years later. I salute my neighbour who has two big elves and three baby elves, which is a whole lot of work. Luckily our elf – dubbed ‘Candycane’ by the children – just does what it says on the tin and sits on various shelves rather than getting up to twee mischief.

I am mellowing slightly, however, and Christmas lights are allowed to be put up this weekend. The tree goes up two weekends before Christmas and I am not budging on that. I have noticed that Thing Two has persuaded her dad to get their ‘bedroom tree’ down already, but I’m ignoring it. Teddy the cat was thrilled to catch his first bird as a result of this, however, and proudly dragged the fake robin downstairs to show us… he was practically strutting for the rest of the evening.

Teddy’s first bird…

This year – of all years – I am enjoying the Christmas lights on the way to school, and one of my neighbours always goes all out to decorate their house.

There is one thing that’s guaranteed to make me feel a bit more Christmassy, luckily, and that’s a Christmas movie (Christmas music, too, but we’ll do that another day). Thing Two refused to allow us to watch any before December 1st, but now it’s open season and I can indulge. So here, in no particular order, are my favourite festive films.

1.The Muppets’ Christmas Carol. Michael Caine in possibly his greatest role ever. Excellent ghosts. Muppets. It truly has everything.

2. Scrooged. You can’t go wrong with Bill Murray in anything, and this also has one of the best Christmas theme songs ever in the shape of Al Green and Annie Lennox’s ‘Put a little love in your heart‘. It’s not Christmas till Carol Kane has thwacked Bill Murray with a toaster, frankly.


3. Miracle on 34th Street – the 1934 version is my favourite, but I am quite fond of the Richard Attenborough one too.

4. Elf – The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing out loud for all to hear.

5. It’s a Wonderful Life – my dad’s favourite. James Stewart is wonderful as the frustrated savings and loan owner whose life never goes quite to plan. He’s so human, and if anyone deserves an angel its him.

It’s a Wonderful Life

6. The Christmas Chronicles – a late entry by this Netflix original, with Kurt Russell as a great Santa. Goldie Hawn needs to lay off the Botox though. Plus, a guest appearance by Miami Steve (Steven Van Zandt). The sequel is brought down by the really naff ending.

7. The Hogfather – I reread the book every year, and although this isn’t strictly a film its still part of my Christmas watch list.


8. Arthur Christmas. Another new one, but a great voice cast.

9. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. If only for the cat.

There are others, of course, but for me its not Christmas until I have watched this lot. (For the record, yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie.)

I feel more festive already.

Lost: one (crafty) mojo

This week – quite apart from it being December – has been a bit challenging, to say the least. Thing One was already isolating after contact with a Covid case in the last week of November, and then on Monday we received an email telling us that the whole of years seven and ten now had to isolate as the number of cases had risen among both students and staff. Back to the home learning then, and I made the decision to work from home with them. While I could leave Thing One alone for a few hours in between my beloved leaving for work and me coming back, it wasn’t fair to expect her to supervise the (very determined) Thing Two. And yes, mum, I know where she gets it from!

Thing One had a great virtual parent/teacher conference this week which told me what I already knew – my daughter is brilliant – and she has worked really hard this week. One of her English tasks was to write a speech, and she spent far longer on it than the allotted lesson time as she was so passionate about her subject. She was writing about mental health; as someone who has been diagnosed with generalised anxiety, this is really important to her (and to me, as someone who lives with depression) and I am really proud that she is engaging with this in her work.

Thing Two is a different matter. She is still getting used to secondary school after six months at home, and unlike her big sister she is not a self-motivator. My work week has been punctuated by demands for assistance with geography, history, English and science (though she did at least get on with the maths by herself). The only plus was that she did the art homework she’d been resisting while avoiding her geography. I have found meetings having meetings with a bad-tempered little presence in the room quite tricky, especially as she’s a curious little bird and likes to come and see who I am talking to. Really I should invite her to the design meetings as she’s the right age and we could pick her brains!

I am tempted not to send them back for the last few days of term, to be honest: the infection rates are highest in the 11-16 age group, as secondary schools didn’t close during lockdown, and keeping them safe has to be my priority. I don’t want whatever Christmas looks like to be spent watching them for symptoms of the virus – Thing One is already fed up of me pouncing on her and feeling her head for signs of a temperature. Poor Thing Three is having to go to school still, as the girls aren’t showing any symptoms, but I suspect he likes the escape.

Having to wear the mum head and the work head at the same time is tiring, as you need to have separate brain spaces, so by the time we finish for the day and I have fed the horde crafting is the last thing on my mind. Dinner is nominally 6pm, but I am flexible as to time zone: it’s six o’clock somewhere, to paraphrase the song.

The very quick stitch I started last week is mostly a frame and some wording, very little has happened with either blanket and the sock is positively languishing in my work bag.

Sometimes when the crafty mojo vanishes it’s good to pick up something different just to get the hands moving, so I delved into my Ravelry library yesterday evening and whipped up a weeping angel amigurumi which will end up on the tree next weekend. The photos were taken on the kids’ mini tree which is lurking upstairs (yes, the one where Teddy ‘caught’ his robin).

I dragged Thing Two out for a muddy walk yesterday, through the woods to the rope swing. We tested out our new wellies, and looked for fungi and mosses. The winter sun was golden and lovely in the trees, and we followed deer tracks through the mud. There has been a lot of rain this week, so it was good to get out into the sunshine.

So that was week 37. Winter has set in with a vengeance, with sub zero temps – the lake was 5 degrees yesterday, so hopefully it won’t be too much colder this morning. We didn’t get to swim last week as the police shut it down as a ‘gathering’ despite the social distancing measures that Redricks had put in place. Is it weird to be looking forward to getting into freezing water?

See you at the end of week 38, when the tree will be up and I’ll be well into my list of festive films. Which ones have I missed out?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Crochet Hacking – Emma Friedlander-collins

The Dark Archive (Invisible Library) – Genevieve Cogman

Forged (Alex Verus) – Benedict Jacka

The Third Nero (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)