Week thirty three: here we go again

You know, I’m tired. I’m really, really tired. And fed up. And angry (though regular readers will have spotted that this is becoming a far more frequent state of mind for me). And resigned. And sad. And all sorts of other emotions that are probably common to a lot of us right now.

On Thursday, we entered Lockdown: The Sequel here in England. Wales and NI very sensibly started their ‘firebreaks’ a couple of weeks ago, before half term so the kids were off school anyway. The trouble is, like many sequels, this one just doesn’t seem to be quite as good as the first – I mean, it’s not as bad as High School Musical 3, but it’s still a bit rubbish.

The kids are still in school, for a start, which means that they’re mixing with their friends: admittedly within their bubbles but, logistically, this means that in a multi-form entry school those bubbles can have just under 100 children in. Those children may have siblings in other bubbles, so no bubbles are sealed. They also have parents and carers, who may still be working – some in schools, with other bubbles – and using public transport and things. But apparently it’s fine because those children aren’t allowed to see each other outside school, and we have all got the message that Covid-19 is only contagious in your house or garden, or where no money is changing hands or being made.

I get to go to work three days a week in this lockdown, because there is work that’s impossible for me to do from home: assessing and decanting thousands of handling collection objects, for example, and packing up the office ready for the move. I didn’t go in on Thursday but from what I hear from those who did, there was little difference in transport and travel. When I do go in, I’ll follow the guidelines: social distancing as far as possible on the tube and in the museum, wearing a face covering properly, washing my hands frequently and so on. I’ll carry on travelling outside peak times – I’m in the office at 6.30am and leave at lunchtime, logging back in at home to finish my day and picking up Thing 3 from school so he’s not going to childcare.

I will follow the guidelines, not because I trust our government or because I like to do what everyone else does, but because in 2020 so far I have missed my niece’s first confirmation, my sister’s 40th birthday, my family holiday, going to live music events and author talks, and being able to see my London sister with the kids. I’ve missed my culture and cocktail afternoons with my best friend. I’ve missed pink-wine-fuelled Chinese meals with the Pink Ladies gang. I’ve missed my own birthday barbecue. Things One and Two couldn’t have proper birthday celebrations. I’ve missed impromptu Friday afternoons in the pub garden. I’ve missed sneaky weekday lunches with colleagues and walks round Victoria Park to see the dogs and ducks. I’ve missed my stepdaughters and grandson being around the house whenever they want. I haven’t seen my parents or the Irish contingent in more than two years, and I miss them. My dad is going to be 80 in February and I’d really, really like to be there.

In the grand scheme of Covid-19, I’ve been very lucky: no one in my family has been hospitalised. None of my friends have either, though many of my friends are nurses and they have lost friends and colleagues. I’ve been able to swim outdoors regularly (though that was cancelled this weekend). I live in the countryside with a lovely garden, so I have outdoor space. I’ve had an unexpected six months with my children, which has been wonderful. Christmas will happen, whatever the red-tops are saying about ‘saving’ it: it’s never been about the parties for me. It might look a bit different this year, but it’ll still happen.

But I’d like to believe there’s an end to this, and until an effective vaccine is in place that’s not going to happen. So until then I will wear the face covering to protect other people, and I will wash my hands, and I won’t hug my friends even though this year we have needed hugs more than ever. And I expect I’ll carry on being angry, and tired, and sad. But it won’t be forever.

Onto more cheerful things…

This week hasn’t been all bad, really. I’ve fitted in a fair bit of making, including finishing the Marble Floor cross stitch design that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. I decided to include rainbow colours, as they have become a bit of a symbol for 2020 and the museum has also collected a lot of Lockdown Rainbows for a display that was due to open at the V&A this month. I’ve also included a phrase which comes from Ren & Stimpy but has become a bit of a catchphrase at work. It needs a bit of an iron, but I think its turned out OK – the geometry feels quite elegant, and I really like the effect of the colours across the middle. I used 18 count ivory aida fabric and DMC threads – two strands for the black (310) and one for the colours (from left to right: 666, 740, 973, 907, 3845, 336, 333). You can find the basic chart here if you’d like to make your own.

I have also been making progress on the Hydrangea blanket: the colours are muted and lovely, and the pattern is simple and repetitive but effective.

I really must sew in the ends.

On the tube I am making socks from one of this month’s crochet magazines. I frogged the first attempt as they were too big, but the second attempt is coming up better! I’m using a Cygnet Yarns wool-rich patterned sock yarn in shades of pink and purple.

One good thing about not swimming this morning was going out for a walk through the very misty woods. We sensibly wore wellies and stayed off the paths a lot, as they are quite churned up after the very soggy October we had. There’s some beautiful fungi in the woods again – you can see a Fly Agaric in the cover photo this week that I spotted up near the fishing lake yesterday, and today’s spots are below. I have no idea what they are but I love the autumnal colours (and don’t plan to pick or eat them!).

It would be remiss not to mention the best news of the international week, which of course is the American presidency: I am more excited about Kamala Harris than Biden, but mostly I’m just happy for my US friends and colleagues. I’ll never forget going into work the morning after Trump was elected and finding my American colleague devastated and googling how to renounce her American citizenship.

My plan for the rest of the day is to finally bind the Bento Box quilt after backing it yesterday, and then settling down with cross stitch and Midsomer Murders. We are watching recorded episodes at the moment and the adverts really give you a sense of who is watching ITV3 of an afternoon – mobility aids, life insurance for the over 50s, charity appeals, and conservatory blinds. Still, it’s always entertaining to see just how bonkers the murders can get! It really is a guilty pleasure, and good company on a crafty afternoon. Thing One is now getting into it as well.

See you on the other side of week 34, when I promise my normal cheery service will be resumed. Everyone is entitled to an off day.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Now you see them (The Brighton Mysteries) – Elly Griffiths

The Spook Who Spoke Again (Falco) – Lindsey Davis

Nemesis (Falco) and The Ides of April (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week thirty two: a roundabout tour of my shed

Last week, post swimming, I designed a new cross stitch pattern as – inevitably – one of us forgets something important. Jill is notorious for forgetting her pants, Sue and I both turned up without a towel one (fortunately hot) day, all of us have had to borrow a tow float or buy a new hat. A checklist was needed, so I had a bit of fun with the graph paper and pencils. I’ll share a picture here when I have stitched it up, but the point of this story is that when I’d finished the design I headed to my shed to find the materials for making.

I love my shed. It came from Freecycle, and it only had three sides and no floor so it’s tucked up against my beloved’s shed. It doesn’t have electricity or really enough space to work in, but it’s my shed and it fills me with joy. It’s the home of my frivolous shelves, which you can see in the cover photo this week and in more detail below. Jars of seaglass and buttons, pretty crockery from charity shops, my beautiful hares from AP Ceramics, ladybird rocks, things that remind me of holidays in Aberaeron, and my crocheted bunting.

As the top of the garden is a bank, I had to dig out the hole for it myself – 10′ x 6′, and nearly 3′ deep at the back. Then we laid broken paving slabs, tarpaulin and plastic pallets, gave it a new plywood floor and I painted the inside white and the outside with wood protector. I added a laminate floor made of offcuts from our kitchen and from Freecycle again, and for my birthday a year later my beloved bought me some decking and a trellis so I could sit outside the shed and make things in the garden. It has a solar panel so I can power LED lights, and plug my phone in when I am pottering about up there.

My moongazing hare lives on the deck and only occasionally gets used as a doorstop. I have some Black-eyed Susans on the trellis, and a tiny fairy door. Next to the shed is where I attempt to grow hydrangeas, hollyhocks and the sad plants I bring home from the garden centre on my rather grandly named ‘terraces’ that we created with tree trunks and the earth from the shed dig.

In the shed – and this is really the point of the story, I promise – are all my craft materials and with them the history of how I ended up doing all the things I do.

As a child, I dabbled. My mum tried to teach me to knit during the Odpins craze in the 1980s – Odpins was knitting using one big needle and one small, which meant garments worked up quickly. Not quickly enough, of course, as she ended up finishing the garment for me. (A batwing cardigan, as I remember). Someone gave me a printed tapestry kit of a squirrel for Christmas one year, and I remember loving that, and even attempting a very ambitious design when I was at university that I carted around for years but never finished. That was in the days before I discovered the joy of graph paper and stranded thread. I am glad I never finished it, it was supposed to be a present for my mum and I suspect it would have been so awful it would have ended up in the craft equivalent of the freezer where my school cookery attempts went to die.

I think I had something like this kit as a child as well – I remember making the purse and the scissor keeper. I found this in the handling collection this week, and it triggered early crafting memories!

So how did I end up with a shed full of craft materials after all those early disasters?

Well, counted cross stitch turned out to be my gateway craft. Way back in 1995 I was looking for a Valentine card for my then boyfriend and couldn’t find one I liked. In the paper shop where I was looking I saw a cross stitch magazine with a pretty pattern for a card on the cover, so I thought I’d have a go. The result wasn’t perfect (much like the boyfriend, in fact) but I loved the process. I was working on the card in the pub where I worked part time, and a customer said his wife did the same thing, and offered to pass me the pattern she was using when she finished with it. It was a Dimensions kit of nine cats in a garden, and again it wasn’t perfect but I really enjoyed making it. I still have the framed picture in the attic – my cats are distinctly cross-eyed and wonky in places, and I’m not sure I used the right colours as I was matching from scraps, but I was so proud of myself.

I like smaller cross-stitches as you can do them on the tube on the way to work – for a few years I was working in Chelsea and living in Epping so I had a long commute! All my Christmas cards for a few years were done on the Central line, in fact, as were many Flower Fairies. I like giant cross stitches too, but there’s only so many you can put on a wall.

In the shed the other day I found my file of finished cross stitch pieces, and I am determined to start using them so they see the light of day. One – a Margaret Sherry cat – has been turned into a birthday card this week. I have a box of kits to work through, too, and that might have to be my 2021 resolution as I am really enjoying cross stitch again at the moment.

Next up was knitting, which I never really mastered as I can’t get the tension right and don’t enjoy enough to persevere with. While I was expecting Thing One I experienced some very odd cravings: Walkers salt and vinegar crisps, Bruce Willis films, and the urge to knit. The last one can probably be put down to a nesting instinct but the less said about Bruce Willis the better. I even watched Hudson Hawk.

Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (1550563a) Die Hard: With A Vengeance (Die Hard 3), Bruce Willis Film and Television

Anyway, I bought a book (of course!) and taught myself to knit. Very badly – I created a wonky small blanket, a cardigan where one sleeve was twice the size of the other, a bag I have never used and eventually settled on making phone socks which you really can’t go wrong with. I don’t knit any more but that was really the start of my love affair with self-striping sock yarn.

I also tried patchwork after Thing One was born, after a crafty friend and I picked up mini-quilt kits at a stitch show. I finally finished that tiny kit in lockdown this year, along with a much larger Attic Window quilt I started at the same time. There’s nothing like an ambitious beginner!

I stopped knitting but carried on with the cross stitching, and tried my hand at simple embroidery. After Thing Two was born I used a bag with an aida (cross stitching fabric) panel to stitch a design of a pair of penguins. Bag charms were quite a thing at the time, so I found myself in the Ebay rabbit hole and discovered beads and findings. One penguin bag charm turned into making jewellery which I still do for school Christmas fairs and gifts, and several boxes full of shiny things. Things One and Two have enjoyed making ‘goth’ jewellery this summer, with ribbon chokers and charms. One of the things I like about making jewellery is that you can combine it with other crafts – I have made crocheted earrings with granny squares and Christmas trees, cross-stitched pendants, origami leaf jewellery, and tiny polymer clay charms.

My mum gave me her sewing machine many years ago, which I never got to grips with, and then after Thing One was born my mother in law gave me her 1960s Husqvarna Viking, which terrified me. We didn’t do much textiles back in school – I have written before about my creative education – and I made a stripy apron back in the one 10 week block we did in first year comp and then nothing else. I used it to back a cross-stitched afghan for Thing One’s first Christmas (that makes it sound a lot easier than it actually was as I has no idea what I was doing!) and then put it away in a cupboard where it lurked until after my MIL died and we moved to North Weald. I became determined to learn how to use it, and started dressmaking. There were a few disasters there, but a friend of mine was learning at the same time so we formed a mini support group. Crafty friends can’t be underestimated: company at the craft shows, someone to share triumphs and disasters with, sources of advice, ideas sharers and crafternoon bee buddies. I have some excellent ones, online and off!

And then one morning I woke up with an overwhelming urge to learn to crochet. My mum and my late MIL (who was an avid crocheter of cat blankets for an elderly cat rescue charity) had both attempted to teach me in the past and I had never got past a wonky chain. I had both yarn and hook, and with the aid of Bella Coco, a couple of handy books and a lot of swearing I taught myself to make a granny square. Crochet quickly became my go-to commute craft, and one unexpected side effect of this has been the number of lovely conversations I have had with people of all ages.

Anyone in London knows that talking to people on the tube is not done but – as we used to find with historic interpretation – anyone doing a ‘domestic’ activity becomes approachable. Sometimes crochet feels like performance art!

My favourite moments have included the two ladies who were watching me put an amigurumi unicorn together and spontaneously applauded when they worked out what it was, and the elderly gentleman who struck up a conversation about what I was making and ended up telling me about his mother’s ‘bottom drawer’ crocheted and embroidered table linen which was always kept ‘for best’. As we got off the tube he thanked me for bringing back happy memories of his mother who had died many years ago. Just this week I was finishing off a square for the Zoom blanket as I was waiting for the bus, and a woman stopped to watch, confiding that during lockdown she’d started embroidery again after not doing anything for 30 years. Craft breaks the ice and makes the world a community. It also makes the inevitable hanging around in tunnels much more bearable.

In 2019 I ran a 10-week after school craft club at my favourite primary school in Bethnal Green – eight children, and we made pompoms, paper plate wreaths, and miles of crochet chain. The real joy of that for me was not the craft, but the conversations that the children and I would have while we sat in the classroom. As we crafted they’d tell me about their day and the things that mattered to them, and going to the school became a highlight of my week: reminding me why we were making a new museum about creativity, and how happy the act of making can make us.

All the materials for my crafts live in my shed, and when I feel the need for inspiration I potter up there and see what makes my heart sing that day; whether that’s a ball of sock yarn, some lovely material or a cross stitch kit. I also have a library of books to fall back on – sometimes just flicking through a book can spark ideas, and the pages of beautiful projects never fail to make me happy. I love a charity shop mooch to find new books, and the Etsy, Pinterest and Ravelry rabbit holes have stolen hours of my life. I don’t mind at all…

So this week I have been working on the Hydrangea crochet blanket, another post-swim robe for someone up at the lake (who described it as like being wrapped in a hug when she put it on this morning), and the Marble Floor crochet. And ALL of them have made me happy.

So there you have it: how I ended up with a shed, a lifelong addiction to craft shops and a whole set of post-apocalyptic life skills.

Let’s see what week 33 brings…apart from Lockdown part two. Stay safe!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Alexandria/Nemesis (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

The Blood Card/The Vanishing Box (The Brighton Mysteries) – Elly Griffiths

Week thirty one: No, I will not keep calm and carry on

I, like many of my friends, seem to have spent the latter part of this week in a state of rising fury: first ignited by the government’s decision not to extend the provision of free school meals to families in need over the holidays and then fanned by the increasingly terrible excuses for their decisions. This high profile campaign to help families through a period of unprecedented need has been spearheaded by professional footballer Marcus Rashford, who was given an MBE for services to vulnerable children only a couple of weeks ago. 322 MPS voted against. Some abstained. One MP resigned after defying the Tory whip and voting for the bill.

“Speaking to BBC Breakfast about being made an MBE, Rashford said: “It’s a nice moment for me personally but I feel like I’m still at the beginning of the journey that I set out to try to achieve. I think what I would like to do now that I’m in this position is just speak directly to the prime minister and really ask for the vouchers to be extended until at least October half-term because I think that’s what the families need.”

Marcus Rashford (image by Sky News)

Rashford is right: families need food.

There’s the usual self-righteous bleating about ‘poor families’ spending their vouchers on unhealthy food, about ‘absent parents’ needing to ‘take responsibility’ for their children, even – against all evidence – that children were being helped by the government pumping money (a ‘pledged’ £9bn) into the welfare system. That feeding needy families is ‘nationalising children’. The ‘uplift’ for universal credit claimants of £20 a week amounts to £1000 a year – and that’s £1000 they won’t have next year. Food has also become more expensive this year, so how far does £20 a week go to feed a family of five? There’s two of us working in this family, and there is still a lot of pasta, omelette and corned beef hash at the end of the month.

Well, here’s the thing; according to the Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest food poverty charity, the huge surge in demand for foodbank use can be explicitly linked to the introduction of universal credit. With a five-week wait for the first payment, people are expected to survive on air, and when you have kids that really isn’t an option.

Here’s another thing: ‘unhealthy’ food is often cheap food, and it’s easy food, and in more and more cases the people claiming universal credit are not Waynetta Slobs sitting on their arses all day, smoking a fag and watching daytime TV. They are families where both parents are working, often full time, and they still can’t make ends meet. And they are tired. They come home from work and the last thing they want is to start peeling bloody carrots and whipping up a Jamie Oliver-approved vegetable-stuffed spag bol.

Free school meals are a lifeline, because they know that at least one meal that day is taken care of, it’s a hot meal and so they can perhaps get away with something smaller in the evening. This year – when the government has forced closure on businesses and expected people to survive on 80% of the wages they couldn’t survive on before – it’s been even more of a lifeline. The persistent Tory prejudice that people are on free school meals because they are single parents is deeply, deeply offensive, as is the idea that single parenthood is some sort of stigma.

I had coffee last week with a friend who works in a Tower Hamlets primary school and she told me that not one but two food banks were active in their school. Gone are the days when the food collected at Harvest Festival would be sent to the local old people’s home: now, increasingly, they are going back to children in the school. Food bank collections used to be a Christmas event, now the crates are next to the tills in every supermarket.

Before I moved into museums I was a teacher in Tower Hamlets and Hackney, in the days before universal school meals for primary school children in Tower Hamlets and for KS1 everywhere else. One of my clearest memories was opening a child’s lunchbox for him and finding a crust of bread with margarine, and nothing else. His sister had the other crust. This child’s mother worked and didn’t qualify for free school meals, but there was no other support. Both children were on the verge of malnutrition but social services were so stretched that they were slipping through the net. Another child used to sneak into the classroom at breaktime and search for food to eat. We would save the milk from the nursery and send it to other classrooms. Free fruit at playtime was a start, free meals were even better.

Back then, those children were the exception. Now schools are dedicating chunks of their ever-decreasing budgets to providing many more children with food parcels, with clean clothes, with helping parents to fill in forms to claim benefits so they can get help. Period poverty, in 21st century Britain, is a thing: girls missing school every month as they can’t afford pads.

I pray that every selfish decision by our current selection of MPs is another nail in the Tory coffin. I am not suggesting that Labour is the answer, but I believe it’s time the people in charge start caring for the people they are in charge of. And thank you to those in the hospitality business who are among the hardest-hit this year, who are stepping up and feeding people anyway.

It is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it… anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.

Douglas Adams

The rest of the week

It seems a bit reductive to now turn to everything else this week, really, but it might help me calm down a bit after that rant!

I have FINALLY finished the Coast blanket, which I am telling myself I started four years ago but I suspect it might be five. I have even woven in the ends, and never have I congratulated myself more for at least starting to do this as I went along.

The tiny squares of the Zoom blanket are piling up, and all the remnant balls from the Coast blanket will be added to that – I WILL get through the stash.

Next up will be the Hydrangea Blanket, also by Attic 24, although I am thinking about making a wrap rather than the whole blanket as – apparently – we have enough blankets. Is that even a thing?

And that’s me for the week. Half term is here and my beloved has most of the week off, so I will be the one in the very dusty classrooms decanting the learning collection. Let’s see what treasures week 32 brings!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Zig Zag Girl/Smoke and Mirrors (Stephens and Mephisto series) – Elly Griffiths

Saturnalia/Alexandria (Falco) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week thirty: in which I am smacked in the head by the inspiration fairy

On Friday I woke up with a fully formed and irresistible urge to turn the iconic Marble Floor at the museum into a cross stitch pattern. It’s an idea I have been playing about with for the three years I have worked there, but neither my design skills nor my patience were really up to it.

So what’s changed? Well, for one thing, working on a project which is all about creative confidence, the iterative design process, and building resilience is clearly rubbing off on me! I felt much more prepared to give it a go than I have done previously.

Secondly, the response to the ‘Storming the Castle’ design I blogged about in week 28 has been so positive that I felt as if something more complicated was doable.

Finally, in the ‘Snarky and Nerdy Cross Stitch’ group files I’d seen a lot of references to an open source design programme called Stitch Fiddle, and when I looked into it it seemed easy to use even for a non-designer like me. For a free-to-use application it has great functionality, and even more if you subscribe. You can use it to create knitting and crochet patterns too, and presumably anything else that requires small squares.

So at 8am on Friday I asked any on-site colleagues to take a few photos of the floor for me – a close-up and a wider angle, and a few people sent me some great images. We work in museums, so slightly odd requests come with the territory.

I started with my trusty grid paper from StitchPoint, trying to turn the uneven blocks you can see in the image into a uniform pattern. The blocks were all made individually by women prisoners from Woking Gaol, and some are more even than others, so this was quite tricky to do. I wanted to create a repeating pattern, rather than an exact replica of the floor itself, and I found it hard to translate the tiles onto my graph paper.

I tried processing the image on the left through another free software application, this time Pic2Pat, so I could see what the blocks would look like on an even grid pattern. This came out like this:

Still not perfect, but much easier to work from! I was able to create a basic circle from this which I then turned into a repeating pattern using StitchFiddle. I haven’t found copy and paste functionality as yet, but for things like this it would be really handy. There is a mirror horizontally or vertically function, but you lose the original and are left with the reflected one only. I did use it later, when I was having problems repeating the fishscale pattern to the left – I flipped it and then carried on working to the right.

Then it got a bit tricky – I could not see where to start the overlay to create the fish scale pattern on the screen, so I went back to basics: I printed the pattern twice, stuck one together as the base layer and then cut circles out of that so I could layer them up with the handy glue stick and the coloured pencil so I could mark where I was up to.

Finally, armed with this, I went back to Stitch Fiddle and created a final digital version which can be found here. I’m going to add lettering to the version I’m going to make, so have been playing around with alphabets on the printed version – I’m not sharing that yet though! I also made a quick version of the Greek Key border. I can see myself using Stitch Fiddle more in the future, as I’d quite like to make more designs with quotes on.

I finished the ‘Storming the Castle’ piece as well, which I am pleased with. I need to iron it, and then decide on finishing – wall hanging or frame? Note the overlocked edges on the fabric too – I’ve never thought of doing that to prevent fraying before but will definitely be doing it every time now!

I’ve also been adding to my portable crochet project – the one I do on tubes, in queues and during zoom conferences when I need to focus. If my hands aren’t busy I find things to fidget with and get very distracted, but a granny square in hand keeps my eyes on the screen. I am making small squares this time, using leftover DK yarn from the stash – when it comes to sewing the ends in I will undoubtedly regret it. This will be a blanket, I think: I am going for a patchwork effect.

Won over by a onesie…

This morning was the third week of winter swimming at Redricks – the weather was cloudy but it wasn’t raining, which after this week of school run downpours was pretty impressive! I really look forward now to getting in the lake, despite knowing that it’ll be even colder than it was last week, and I know the ladies I go with feel the same.

I’m still swimming in a wetsuit, though only 3mm, and I have added neoprene socks and gloves to the kit which make a difference. You wouldn’t think they would, since the cold water is inside them, but there we are. The last thing I do before racing for the towels and hot chocolate is strip the wetsuit off and jump back in the water in ‘skins’ for a splash about which is quite exhilarating. You really do earn the hot chocolate. Here we are this morning – I’m a great believer in the icy plunge, but the other three don’t usually do it and claim that I’m mad.

Ladies of the Lake (photo by Isla Falconer)

The swimming kit bag seems to get bigger every week: mine now contains goggles (which I only wear in the sun), swimming hat, towfloat, a towel, the giant robe I made, a fleecy hat, thermal socks, neoprene gloves and socks…and a onesie. I have resisted onesies for years – possibly as every time I went places like Romford or Harlow shopping there would be fully grown adults wearing them in public. I was totally behind various Tesco and Asda stores when they said people in pyjamas would not be allowed in (I was going to add ‘especially if you’ve made the effort to put full make up on’ to this). But then I tried getting leggings and a top on after a cold swim, when none of your fingers work properly, and decided I’d try one. And – OMG – I was converted. I bought a plain navy zip-up one with a fleece-lined hood and a kangaroo pocket, and it was like wearing a hug. It’s become my go-to for post-swimming wear now: robe on over towel, strip off, pants on and onesie and I’m good to go.

There’s no excuse for this though. Sorry.

Full English: Photo by Isla, socks by Primark, sandals by Birkenstock

So that’s been my week. I’m still sorting the learning collection, discovering treasures that have been hidden in cupboards for years. This includes the little-known ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ edition Action Man, whose elastic joints have seized since 1964 into a very balletic pose, and a whole box of mint condition Star Wars figurines by Kenner. This week I’m onto toys (magnetic and mechanical), and hopefully the clothing collection.

And now I’m off to tuck up under a blanket and catch up with Bake Off… See you at the end of week 31!

Kirsty

What I’ve been reading:

Battle Ground (The Dresden Files) – Jim Butcher

Hard Time (Time Police) – Jodi Taylor

See Delphi and Die/Saturnalia (Falco) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Podcast: You’re dead to me (BBC Sounds app)

Week twenty nine: the magic of stories

Well, this has been a pretty miserable month so far for those of us working in the museum sector. Last week the V&A announced redundancies as part of the ‘recovery programme’, and this week the Museum of London followed suit. They aren’t the first by any means, and they won’t be the last: the Museums Association have a redundancy tracker on their site which this morning stands at just under 3,000 across the UK. Thank heavens for the unions – if you aren’t in one, join now.

These initial phases overwhelmingly affect the front of house, retail and visitor experience teams: the most diverse, the lowest paid, the ones who were on the front line longest at the start of lockdown, and the ones who were first to come back when we reopened.

You know, the ones who greet you on arrival, help you around the museum, take your payment in the shop. The ones who interact with you and share their vast knowledge: not just about exhibits and displays, but where the best places are for lunch with your fractious kids, what there is for you to do, and what else you might like to see.

And they are so versatile and talented: they research objects for ‘objects in focus’ talks, based on their own passions and interests. They develop and lead family and public tours. They tell stories. They run activities. They manage school groups in their hundreds, juggling the ones who are late for their sessions with the ones who came too early, and they mop up the ones who’ve been stuck in traffic. Spare pants for a damp child? Somewhere to empty the sick bucket? No problem.

They are also the ones in the line of fire when the building is evacuated, when there’s a first aid emergency, when the object they came specifically to see is no longer on display, when the café is too expensive, when the toilets aren’t working, when the school groups are too noisy, when there’s too many children in the museum. They smooth ruffled feathers with a smile on their face (even if they then come to the learning office for hugs and emergency biscuits).

Outside their museum jobs they are artists, illustrators, poets, designers of all types, PhD students, writers, jewellery makers, textile artists. Those beautiful props and puppets that support the stories you bring your kids to? Chances are they made those.

Some are hoping that the VE role is the first step onto the museum learning ladder, and some of my favourite colleagues over the years have started here. They are the ones who have the greatest understanding of the visitors for whom they are programming content, and who are the most outward facing.

We understand that these are strange and difficult times and the choice is to shed staff or potentially face the closure of museums across the country, possibly permanently. This week the Culture Recovery Fund announced lifeline grants awarded to smaller organisations – up to a million pounds – which will make a huge difference to their survival. I was really pleased that the Epping Ongar Railway, in my village, is one of the recipients.

It seems particularly insensitive, therefore, for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to announce this week that MPs would be receiving a £3,360 pay rise next year ‘in line with growth in public sector pay’. It will be interesting to see if other public sector workers – nurses, police, fireman, culture and heritage workers, street cleaners etc – are awarded rises at the same scale. I don’t think I’ll put money on it.

Seeking comfort in the familiar

Its been suggested that people with anxiety disorders or depression seek comfort in rewatching familiar films or TV series. You know what’s going to happen and you don’t need to process any new information: which, this year, when we have had so much to take in, has been particularly important. My version of this is re-reading books, and probably explains why I can only listen on Audible to books I have already read!

So this week I have been thinking about books from my childhood that I still go back to now.

  1. I’m going to start with the wonderful Dido Twite books by Joan Aiken. Officially this series starts with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, but I was introduced to them with Black Hearts in Battersea. These have elements of steampunk, mystery, adventure, the Arthurian legend and more. I was really pleased to discover a few years ago that there were some later books in the series that I hadn’t read. Joan Aiken also wrote magical short stories – I loved the collection A Necklace of Raindrops, illustrated by Jan Pienkowski.
  2. The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. There’s eight of these in the original canon, and some that were published posthumously which were based on her diaries. Highly romanticised ‘autobiography’, these books follow Laura and her family from the little house in the Big Woods (Wisconsin) to the wilds of Dakota, through to her marriage to Almanzo Wilder and their move to Missouri. I introduced Thing 1 to these books when she was in primary school, and she loved them too.
  3. The Railway Children by E.Nesbit. First serialised in 1905, this story dealt with some quite adult themes for the period – the imprisonment of the children’s father for spying, Russian dissidents – and I cry every single time I read it. Don’t even get me started on the film – I love both versions. The Psammead books are great too (Five Children and It, for example), as is The Book of Dragons.
  4. The Anne books by L.M. Montgomery. Starting with Anne of Green Gables and finishing with Rilla of Ingleside when our disaster-prone, red-headed heroine is all grown up and sensible, I love them all. So do my youngest sister and my niece, and I have started reading them to Thing 2 when she feels the need for a bedtime story.
  5. The Moomin books by Tove Jansson. Thing 2 is named after the author. Moomins are small, hippo-like creatures who inhabit Moominvalley. The Moominhouse is always open to wanderers and people in need – mischievous Little My, who gets left behind by the Mymble who just has too many children; Thingummy and Bob, who find the Hobgoblin’s treasure; free-spirited Snufkin; the Hemulen; the Snork and the Snorkmaiden. Moominmamma’s heart and handbag are big enough for everyone.
  6. Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence. Arthurian legend brought into 1960s/70s England and Wales. Magic and legend. Good versus evil. Don’t watch the film, not even Christopher Eccleston could save it.
  7. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. I do love the way magic appears in the real world – whether that’s fairies at the bottom of the garden, or the urban fantasy that I love now, I like the idea that there’s more to the world than we can see. I recommend The Owl Service by the same author, too.
  8. The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea. Pidge accidentally releases an evil serpent from a book, and he and his sister end up involved in a battle between good and evil. There’s lots of help from Celtic mythological characters, it’s funny and touching and I really, really wish the author hadn’t died before finishing the sequel.
  9. The Sword in the Stone by T.H.White. More Arthurian legend. This is the first part of The Once and Future King set, and it’s the one most people are familiar with from the wonderful Disney adaptation. The story of The Wart, an orphan looked after by Sir Ector and bullied by his foster brother Kay, this is the early days of King Arthur, before he pulls the sword from the stone. The rest of the books are pretty wonderful too.
  10. Honourable mentions go to The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories, Charlotte’s Web by E.B.White, C.S.Lewis’s Narnia books, the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome, the Green Knowe stories by Lucy M. Boston, Stig of the Dump by Clive King (and more – oh, so many more!)

There, that’s made me feel much more cheerful!

Jumper weather

I finished the crochet cardigan this week, and I LOVE it. It’s so cosy and warm, and the alpaca in the yarn makes it very soft. It’s oversized so I can fit layers underneath, and I can see this getting a whole lot of wear this winter. Thing 1 kindly modelled it for me, even though she protested as it wasn’t Goth enough.

The (Corona)Virus Shawl is also complete, using three balls of Drops Fabel – it’s not huge, so will be more of a scarf. What am I going to do in queues now?

I have started a stashbuster blanket for my new portable project – tiny (three round) granny squares in DK, using up leftover yarn from a couple of other blankets. I’m going for a patchwork effect this time, with lots of bright colours. My Coast blanket has another couple of rows – it just needs to be a foot or so longer, I think. The trouble with making giant blankets is that you get so toasty that you need a nap…

As you can see from the link, the Coast blanket is by Lucy at Attic 24 who designs the most gorgeous colourways and blanket patterns. It’s a shame to keep them in the house, really, so I am tempted to make one of her bags to carry around.

Tiny magic

Thing 2 has been going out for walks this week with some of her friends and their dog – she’s growing up and is enjoying being a bit more independent. Yesterday they were out with other friends so she went for a walk with me instead. Her only stipulation was that it had to be a muddy walk, so we duly donned wellies and headed off in search of puddles.

We ended up by the rope swing after tramping through the fields, and after a bit of play we wandered back through the woods. Thing 2 spotted some hearts in the trees while I was looking at textures, and then we started seeing lots of tiny things – tree fungi, mushrooms and moss that we enjoyed taking close-up photos of.

It was lovely to have some time with her. We crunched through leaves, looked under fallen branches and she even wanted to hold my hand occasionally….

This morning the intrepid Perimenopausal Posse headed off to Redricks for our second week of winter swimming – 11.8 degrees in the water, and sunny. Colder but less rainy than last week which really made a difference! Apparently we should be practising with cold showers in between swims….ha!

So that was week 29. I wonder what week 30 has in store?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

A Song for the Dark Times (Rebus) – Ian Rankin

The Postscript Murders (D.S. Harbinder Kaur) – Elly Griffiths

The Accusers/Scandal Takes a Holiday (Falco) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Listening to…

You’re Dead To Me (podcast) – Greg Jenner

Week twenty-seven: in defence of craft

Here I am again, having survived my first trip to Tesco in two months. Survived is the right word – I haven’t seen it so busy since March, with people stocking up on goods in case the country goes tits-up (the technical term!) again. I’d just like to say I’m not hoarding anything except chocolate malted milk biscuits. Fat chance! The freezer is full, the cupboard is overflowing….and I bet I’ll still end up in the Co-op at least once this week. How does the Horde eat so much? Will their father eventually turn into a chocolate digestive? And…what did I forget?

On Friday I virtually attended an inspiring Zoom conference run by the Craft Council, entitled ‘The Future of Craft in Education‘, which was fascinating (catering was awful though…). I didn’t think staring at a screen for the best part of six hours at the end of the week would be possible, but it was over almost too soon. The organiser ensured talks were short, breakout groups were well-organised and I am in awe of the person who managed the tech as it was seamless.

What happens when you clear a space for your tablet and notebook.

Imagine my horror when the head of one of the big academy chains declared that in order to help children ‘catch up’ with their education they would be abandoning creative subjects in favour of maths, English and. Science. The head of my daughters’ academy (who is, tellingly, from a drama background) was keen to reassure us that they would be looking at how to build core subject knowledge into the rest of the curriculum so students didn’t miss out. Much as I rant about the National Curriculum, it does set out the need for a broad and balanced education. I could wish that the cross-curricular links made explicit in Design Technology were mentioned to other subject teachers, but that’s another conversation!

However, during the pandemic ‘craft’ has come into its own, both as a source of well-being and as a way to do all those little things around the house that people haven’t had time for before: upcycling and mending clothes, cooking and baking, DIY, as well as the things we would more commonly identify as ‘crafts’. In August, Hobbycraft reported a 200% boom in online sales since the start of the pandemic, and as a dedicated online craft shopper I know that demand was high across the sector. There’s been a lot of focus across the cultural sector on the benefits of arts on well-being, and a slew of articles (like this one and this one) have been written on why craft is good for you. Lockdown – particularly for those of us on furlough – has given us permission to craft, to take up new hobbies and to revisit old pleasures. Various friends have taken up embroidery, started sourdough baking, experimented with cyanotype printing, made furniture, followed Bob Ross tutorials. I have loved seeing all their beautiful work on social media and it would be sad if these activities stopped when the world goes back to ‘normal’. The Crafts Council launched their brilliant ‘Let’s Craft’ initiative during lockdown, providing packs for families in need, via food banks and community hubs. This was really important at a time when some families were struggling to put food on their tables and luxuries were – literally – not on the menu.

The last ten years or so have seen a huge drop off in the take up of creative subjects at GCSE and above, especially Design Technology: perhaps due to the government focus on EBacc achievement, perhaps due to a belief that a ‘creative career’ isn’t one you can make a living at, and that all your education should be focused on an end goal of a ‘good job’ rather than on the transferable skills like problem-solving and team working that creative subjects can foster in children. My own secondary school pushed two routes: academic and vocational. I really wish I’d taken some creative subjects at GCSE, as I have definitely found more use for those skills than I have for French and Computer Studies!

And while this recognition of the benefits of craft is long overdue, it’s also a further threat to craft in education. Craft is currently being touted as something that can help children’s recovery, with their wellbeing, but not as a proper subject. Back in the eighties when I was in school there was a subject called ‘CDT’ or ‘DCT’ – craft, design and technology (or design, craft and technology) so craft was right there in front of us. It was in woodwork, in metalwork, in textiles. You could get an O-level with the word ‘craft’ in it – it was a proper subject. You learned how to use machinery (and hopefully how not to cut your finger off like every CDT teacher ever), how to transform a flat drawing into a 3D object, and how to make an apron. Technically the word still exists in the subject ‘Art, Craft and Design’ – but more often this also becomes just ‘art’ or ‘art and design’.

Somewhere along the line that word ‘craft’ was dropped and with it the importance of making. Design became the whole of the thing, even though even Sir Terence Conran said that

…I have always been concerned with the practical aspects of design, and relate my work to the manufacturing process. I have never designed anything that I wouldn’t know how to make myself.

The word craft became associated with craft fairs, with the sort of crochet your gran does, with the WI or the Mothers’ Union….with women, in fact. It became marginalised. It’s not a coincidence that the take-up of DT is mainly by boys, and the reverse is seen in art take up.

Yet…

Craft is democratic. It’s the great leveller – anyone can do it, and the past six months shows that they have. You can have a degree in it if you want – but you don’t have to. There’s so many tutorials on YouTube, on Craftsy, in books and magazines, that you don’t need to go to school to learn it. I crochet, quilt, cross stitch, make clothes – and I have taught myself to do these things.

Craft is community. Manu Maunganidwe, one of the speakers on Friday, spoke of his first experience of craft in the Somali village where he grew up. People came together to build a new house – they brought time and skills and they made a house from the ground up, because you can’t build a house by yourself. He spoke passionately about the need for children to experience tools and making.

Craft is haptic. It connects you through the sense of touch, through the experience of materials: choosing the fabric for a dressmaking project by stroking and folding it to see how it creases, squeezing the yarn at a yarn show, the squish of mud when a child makes mud pies. It is sensual. The process of making is sensory – sanding wood to make it smooth, smooth clay, the pull of embroidery floss through fabric.

Craft is resilience. You make a mistake, you try again. Later, when you begin to design your own projects, you try something out, you tweak it, you try again. This is the same iterative process that designers go through.

Craft is cross-disciplinary: You apply knowledge to solving problems: maths is invaluable across all manner of crafts (to crochet a sphere you need your times tables!), yarn dyers use science, a crochet pattern is a simple code. Last year I made a crochet model to demonstrate hyperbolic planes (negative space) for a maths session, mimicking shapes in nature.

Craft is cultural. Children from all communities grow up surrounded by traditional crafts in their homes: fabrics, art, cooking, embroidery, hairstyling. This is not reflected in the current curriculum. A key part of the day was about how craft could help with anti-racism, and my resolution is to seek out diverse makers for the new schools programme to reflect our local area.

Craft is expression: emotional and artistic. I can’t draw but I can make. No, I can’t draw yet. I will draw.

Craft is co-ordination. Barbara Hepworth, the sculptor, wrote that she had a thinking hand and a doing hand. You need hand-eye co-ordination to hit a nail with a hammer, to direct a needle to the right hole. I am a kinaesthetic learner and I learn by doing, through muscle memory. Crochet helps me focus. I can make a granny square while watching a Zoom conference without looking at my hands. If my hands are empty I find things to fidget with.

One sleeve completed during the craft conference

Craft is revolution. Not just in the William Morris Arts and Crafts Movement sense of revolution, but a quiet, beautiful revolution. Yarn bombing is a public, visual way to express an idea or an issue. After the terrorist attacks in Manchester and on London Bridge thousands of us knitted, crocheted or sewed hearts with a message of support and love for the residents of our cities as well as the victims of the atrocities. I sent some to Manchester and yarnbombed Canary Wharf and the Central line with messages of hope and love. Craftivism is a thing. This week on Radio 4’s Four Thought there was a fascinating programme on ‘gentle protest’ that you can find here.

In how many of these statements can you replace the word craft with the word art?

I know there are things I have missed here: please do share what craft is to you, and why you do it!

The last act for the conference was to make a pledge to craft education – something the Craft Council have been asking people to do for a while. Mine is to carry on pushing craft to anyone who’ll listen, and to be proud to be a ‘crafter’.

And while I’m on the subject…

Here’s the finished crochet puppy for the small girl who isn’t allowed a dog – at least she won’t have to pick up after this one! The cardigan is lacking one sleeve, but I have done the cuff so it won’t take long. We are watching the new series of Ghosts so I am staying awake long enough to finish things!

I also have a giant pile of fluffy quilted blocks – I had to make three more in the end, which still need to be quilted, but then I can start putting the bento box quilt together.

Wild wanders

I went out for an early walk this morning for the first time in a while. The weather has been a bit blustery for the last couple of days, and it really feels as if Autumn has arrived.

The clearance of scrub on the fields behind us is now finished and the brambles have been piled up in stacks all over the place, exposing the pylon anchors left when they put the power cables underground in the 90s. They reminded me this morning of standing stones – twentieth century monoliths. I am heartbroken at the damage to wildlife habitat – there were no deer to be seen this morning, though there was a prowling fox, several green woodpeckers, and lots of rabbits.

There have of course been a few swims – one late afternoon on Thursday. The light is so different at that time of day, with the sun low over the trees. The water is getting colder – around the 17 degrees mark, and I did feel it when I got out of the lake on Thursday. I am in charge of hot chocolate, which always reminds me of post-swim treats when I was young. Machine hot choc back then – I hope mine is better!

The temperature in the lake this morning was 13 degrees, the coldest we have swum and we very sensibly got out after half a lap (about 400m). I tested the DIY dry robe and I was positively toasty! However, this will be me for the rest of the day:

Teddy has autumn nailed

So that’s my week! It flew by. Next week I am going in to the office – how exciting! Is there still life west of Epping? It’s been a long time…

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Breakdown/Heartbreak Hotel (Alex Delaware) – Jonathan Kellerman

A Body in the Bath House (Falco) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week twenty-six: “When I was your age, television was called books.”

Wow, six months into this blog and the world still isn’t looking normal, with the R-rate between 1.1 and 1.4 and local restrictions in place in many areas of the UK. The testing system is failing again (offering people in Northern Ireland a test in rural Essex is definitely not a mark of success), and advice from the government is inconsistent around keeping bubbles open or closed. Apparently you can go on an organised grouse shoot with 30 people but your kids can’t socialise outside school with a group of children they have spent the day inside a classroom with.

Anyway. This is not a political blog so I’ll mooch on back to the things that make me happy, like books.

Crime fiction is one of the world’s best selling genres and there’s a host of theories as to why this might be. Exploring human nature, sensational crimes, the tension and excitement as the protagonist come closer to the perpetrator and inevitably finds themselves in danger, our need for justice and the triumph of good over evil. Or is it – as Dorothy L. Sayers wrote in 1934 – that “Death seems to provide the minds of the Anglo-Saxon race with a greater fund of innocent enjoyment than any other single subject.” Whatever – a good detective novel sucks you in, keeps you on the edge of your seat and wide awake till the last page. Our heroes always have to break the rules a bit to get the job done, too. Don’t we all want to be a bit maverick sometimes?

“Commander, I always used to consider that you had a definite anti-authoritarian streak in you.”
“Sir?”
“It seems that you have managed to retain this even though you are authority.”
“Sir?”
“That’s practically zen.”

Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay

This week’s reading (and listening) list has all been male detectives – not planned, just what’s been coming up as I finish one book and choose something new from the virtual shelf of shame on my Kindle. I wrote a while ago about my love for girl detectives, so it’s really only fair that the boys get a look in too.

My first experience with Nancy Drew’s male counterparts was – of course! – Franklin W. Dixon’s Hardy Boys series. While I was never as fond of these as I was of Nancy and her girlfriends, I did pick them up from the library when I saw them. As I got older and was allowed freer range on the parental bookshelves, I read my way through John D.MacDonald’s Travis McGee books (starting with The Deep Blue Good-By). Luckily both my parents appreciate a good crime novel, so I had a lot of choice! So here, in no particular order, are some of my favourite ‘boy’ detectives – let me know who I’ve missed.

  1. Marcus Didius Falco – by Lindsey Davis. Set in Ancient Rome, these are well-researched and funny.
  2. Sam Vimes – Terry Pratchett. Discworld again (Not sorry. All human (and human-adjacent) life is here).
  3. Inspector Lynley (and Sgt. Barbara Havers as his common-as-muck sidekick) – by Elizabeth George. Posh but resisting it. Touched by tragedy. The first one I read was Playing for the Ashes and then I hunted down the rest.
  4. Richard Jury (and posh sidekick Melrose Plant) – Martha Grimes. A few of the later ones got a bit existential but they’re back on track now.
  5. Harry Bosch – Michael Connelly. I have my friend Elaine to thank for this, as she gave me Angels Flight when she’d finished it and off I went to the library for the rest. What would we do without libraries?
  6. Dave Robicheaux – James Lee Burke. Wonderfully flawed antihero here, beautifully written and set in a very atmospheric Louisiana.
  7. Nick Travers – Ace Atkins. Also set in the American south. A blues detective!
  8. Stephens and Mephisto – Elly Griffiths. Set in Brighton, a policeman and a stage magician. Elly Griffitths’ female creation – Ruth Galloway – was in my last list, and her YA novels are shaping up nicely too.
  9. Dr Siri Paiboun – Colin Cotterill. Set in 1970s Laos, Dr Siri is the chief coroner, occasionally possessed.
  10. Inspector Singh – Shamini Flint. Set in Singapore.
  11. Alex Delaware – Jonathan Kellerman. Consultant psychologist to the LAPD, helping his friend Milo Sturgis.
  12. Lord Peter Wimsey – Dorothy L. Sayers. Witty and very of its time – Sayers described him as a cross between Bertie Wooster and Fred Astaire.
  13. Myron Bolitar – Harlan Coben. A sports agent with a posh (but psychopathic) sidekick.
  14. Elvis Cole and Joe Pike – Robert Crais. Elvis cracks wise, Joe is the strong and silent type. Very strong, very silent.
  15. John Rebus – Ian Rankin. Possibly the ultimate maverick cop. Atmospheric Edinburgh this time – I do love it when the landscape/cityscape almost becomes a character in its own right.
  16. Commissaire Adamsberg – Fred Vargas. Honourable mention for her Three Evangelists series, too.
  17. Kenzie (and Gennaro) – Dennis Lehane. Another beautifully drawn city – this time Boston. Accidental library discovery when I was making up my book numbers.
  18. Kinky Friedman – eponymous. Slightly mad, very funny.
  19. Leaphorn and Chee – Tony Hillerman created the characters and his daughter Anne has continued the series. Navajo mysteries, full of legend and landscape.
  20. The Vinyl Detective – Andrew Cartmel. We never find out his name.
  21. Easy Rawlins – Walter Mosley. A charity shop discovery when I picked up Blonde Faith
  22. Dirk Gently – Douglas Adams. Solving mysteries through the interconnectedness of all things.
  23. Last – but not least – Brother Cadfael – Ellis Peters. Medieval monk with a crusader past, set in Shrewsbury during the Anarchy (between King Stephen and Empress Matilda (or Maud))

I’ll stop there, I promise! The wonderful thing about books is that there will always be more people with the urge to write, there will always be friends to recommend new discoveries and – I hope – there will always be libraries.

Anybody want a peanut?

My family’s all-time favourite film (and book) is The Princess Bride. I know I have found kindred spirits when they can quote the film at length and they know what to say to the word ‘Inconceivable!’ We first saw it on VHS (yes, that long ago!) on Bonfire Night in the 1980s, before we went to Monmouth to see the fireworks, and it immediately took on favourite status. I think all of us have our own copies of the book and the film, and it was one of the first ‘proper’ films I sat down with my children to watch.

Theatrical release poster (image from Wikipedia)

The book starts with the line “This is my favourite book in all the world, though I have never read it,” and author William Goldman maintains the conceit that it’s an abridged version of ‘S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure”. It’s got everything, it really has:

““He held up a book then. “I’m going to read it to you for relax.”
“Does it have any sports in it?”
“Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True Love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest Ladies. Snakes. Spiders… Pain. Death. Brave men. Cowardly men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”
“Sounds okay,” I said and I kind of closed my eyes.”

It also has the greatest to-do list ever. On being invited to see Count Rugen torture our hero Westley, Prince Humperdinck tells us:

“Tyron. You know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder, and Guilder to blame for it. I’m swamped.”

So when this pattern turned up on the Snarky and Nerdy Cross Stitch group on Facebook I knew I had to make it – the designer shared it as a free PDF, bless her. I couldn’t find any of my black thread skeins anywhere, so ended up using perle cotton, but it looks OK.

I’m also working on a crochet dog for a small person’s birthday – its become a tradition for these two children to challenge me to make things, including a shark and Totoro. I haven’t made a dog before, but found this pattern on Ravelry. I’m using Stylecraft Alpaca DK from the stash, as it’s quite fluffy and tactile, so I hope she likes it!

This week’s last make has been a smaller version of the giant blanket for a friend’s daughter. She chose her own softshell fabric, in a pretty pink with a quirky umbrella print, and wanted it ‘between short and long’. I put kangaroo pockets on the inside and outside, and as there was fabric left over I whipped up a matching drawstring bag. Here it is being modelled by Thing 2, who’s a bit taller than the recipient.

The bishop-sleeved cardigan now has one front section and the back – the yarn is holding out so far!

Hello, hello…am I on mute?

Still working from home! It’s been a good week though with some interesting conversations, notably with the brilliant Bilkis from You Be You. We met first way back in March, shortly before lockdown, when we had an inspirational conversation about breaking down gender stereotypes and how we could work together in Bethnal Green. I do love meeting people whose default response is ‘how do we make this happen?’ rather than a ‘let’s think about it’. I felt really motivated after our Zoom chat!

The other thing in my mind this week is our Learning Collection, which is huge, unwieldy and – to be frank – occasionally terrifying. There are some beautiful objects in there but also boxes of dismembered dolls, damaged wax and porcelain dolls and more. I am terrified of masks and dolls, so I do like to know what’s in a box before I open it. We need to edit the collection to make it relevant to future learning, so I’m very keen to get back to site and start! Preferably before we go back into lockdown…

So that was week 26. Half a year. What’s the last quarter of 2020 going to bring?

Kirsty x

(cover photo by Isla Falconer)

What I’ve been reading

Dark Sacred Night (Bosch and Ballard) – Michael Connelly

The Wedding Guest (Alex Delaware) – Jonathan Kellerman

Ode to a Banker (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week twenty-five: pink hair, don’t care

There are definitely days when I feel a lot of sympathy for my parents, who brought up three daughters and lived to tell the tale. We have all turned out to be fairly normal and well-adjusted adults, despite the usual teenage (OK, and adult) decisions that probably had mum and dad tearing their hair and added a few ‘natural lights’ (as my hairdresser says) to those hairs that remained.

Monday was one of those days. During lockdown Thing 1 has been ‘experimenting with her aesthetic’ (so she tells me) and has pretty much settled in as a punky Goth. Not a problem – the black hair, the eyeliner, the (fake) septum piercing, the Docs*, the ripped tights and fishnets are all things I can live with as they’re temporary and the look suits her. We’ve been at home for an extended period, after all, and rules have been relaxed in many ways to make the separation from their friends easier.

The one thing I have been firm about, however, is that any extreme hair changes would need to be cut off before going back to school – yes, their big sister could bleach the ends out and they could have any colour hair they wanted until September. Hot pink, punk purple, bright green, mermaid blue, whatever – but it had to go before school started. Thing 1 went for a short bob quite early on and her dad did an undercut for her which her big sister had bleached and dyed, but that could be hidden. Her school rules say ‘no extreme haircuts and any hair dye can only be in natural colours’. The black dye she was sporting was fine, in that case, and the bleached undercut could be cut in again which would remove the bleach. She had been complaining that her roots were showing, and I had said that we’d get some hair dye next time I was in the supermarket but apparently this wasn’t fast enough.

So, on Monday I went off to get Thing 2 from school as she hadn’t taken the bus by herself at this point – Thing 1 wasn’t back in till Tuesday. When we got back Thing 1 was wearing a headscarf and looking suspiciously innocent. She had dyed her roots and her scalp magenta**. I mean, really magenta. Definitely-not-a-natural-colour-by-any-stretch-of-the-imagination magenta.

Then I noticed the eyebrow slit.***

At which point I turned into my mother.

*Apart from the Docs, which are obviously a design classic and I wear them myself.

**I made her wash it out the following day – top tip here people: Head and Shoulders shampoo is great for removing excess hair dye. The roots are still pinkish but at least her head is a normal colour.

***There isn’t much I can do about the eyebrow except take a lot of photos and use them to embarrass her when she’s older.

Cake and cover ups

I mentioned last week that I was off to make an apple fudge cake to try and make a dent in the glut of apples from our little eating tree in the garden. I have no idea what variety they are but they are a pretty pinky-red and the flesh is pink-tinged too, but the texture is a bit woolly. Thing 1 and my beloved are not fans of fruit, Thing 2 and I prefer a crisp, tart apple and Thing 3 can’t be expected to eat them all himself so I have been using them to bake in place of cooking apples. We had a cooking apple tree until a few years ago, but sadly it fell victim to honey fungus and we had to take it down.

I’ve used this recipe before and while I find it a bit dry, its great with custard or some vanilla ice cream. It’s a Simon Rimmer one from Something for the Weekend, and its very simple to make. I used Thornton’s Dairy Fudge as it was all they had in the Co-op, but I expect you could jazz it up with a flavoured fudge – a Baileys one would be delicious!

On the rare chilly mornings up at Redricks Lake – and as we start thinking about how we’ll keep swimming through the winter – we have been eyeing up people’s Dryrobes and wincing at the price tag. I was pretty sure I could make something similar that would keep me warm and allow enough room to get in and out of a wetsuit, so I had a go this week at a trial version.

I started with a wearable blanket pattern in adult size – in this case, the free (and very easy to follow) Billie blanket by Do It Better Yourself Club, which comes in two lengths and can be lined or left unlined. I chose to make the lined version and used softshell fleece fabric for the outside, two large (bath sheet sized) microfibre towels for the body lining, and cotton jersey for the cuffs and hood lining.

Softshell fleece has a woven shower proof front and a microfleece backing fabric, which means its wind and water resistant as well as warm and breathable. It has a similar feel and handle to a scuba fabric, so it’s quite flexible and easy to sew. I used my overlocker for the whole construction, which made it super speedy, and only used my sewing machine to topstitch around the hood to hold it in place.

I first made the blanket as it says in the pattern, though I didn’t do a proper hem as a) I wasn’t convinced my sewing machine would like the four layers of fabric and b) I really couldn’t be bothered to measure it. I just sealed the outer and inner together with the overlocker. It was HUGE! This was the XL size as I wanted it to be roomy enough to change in – frankly, we could all have changed in there. At the same time.

Size XL. My own personal tent.

Once I’d tried taking it on and off, I decided that it might be easier if it opened down the front, rather than having to take it on and off over my head, particularly in cold damp weather when you just want to wrap up in something warm.

So, I sliced it down the centre and overlocked those edges together too, which has made it much more manageable. I’ll use sticky velcro down the front for a quick seal and will also put some down the left front, so it can be wrapped more closely.

The microfibre towels had enough fabric to line the front and back, though the back is a bit of a box and cox job as I had to piece it together! It’s very cosy and weighty enough to be comforting, and I think it’ll be good for the winter. It probably took about 4 hours to make and the cost was considerably less than a proper Dryrobe. Can’t wait to test it out!

I’ve also been working on a different sort of cover up, using some Stylecraft Alpaca DK yarn in lovely autumn colours that I have been hoarding. I had started making a self-drafted long waistcoat with it, but wasn’t inspired by it and wasn’t sure I’d wear it, so I unravelled it last weekend and put the yarn back in the shed until the right pattern came along.

On Wednesday I beetled off to the shed and got the yarn back out again, as in this month’s Simply Crochet magazine the perfect pattern appeared. Well, not perfectly perfect as the recommended yarn was aran weight and mine was DK, but I made a tension square using a hook two sizes larger and it came up to the right size. I just hope I have enough yarn as Stylecraft have discontinued this line – it’ll be down the EBay rabbit hole if not!

Image and Pattern copyright Cassie Ward for Simply Crochet

The pattern is a Bishop-sleeved cardigan – they have used a pale pink as their main colour, but I’m using a lovely red with some toning colours for the sleeve stripes. Using two strands held together it’s working up quickly – I have almost finished the back now.

Hi ho, hi ho…

…it’s not off to work I go. It’s quite odd trying to get back into the swing of work and our major capital project while still being at home, although I must confess it’s been a lot easier this week with no children around to ‘help’! On Tuesday I attended whole Teams meetings with no one wandering behind me to see who I was talking to, typed complete sentences and wasn’t interrupted once with demands for food or mediation. I do feel as if my head may well start spinning on my neck and explode as there’s so much to take in, but by Thursday I was up to this month’s emails. Hurray!

That was my week then! The cover photo was taken at sunrise on Monday, looking towards Ongar from the top of the common. The image below is from the same walk – I loved the way the trees were framing the sun – and the wasp nest is from a fallen tree at Dial House. This was only part of it – it must have been hge!

Wasp (?) nest in a fallen tree at Dial House

See you at the other end of week 26!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

A Capitol Death (Flavia Albia series) – Lindsey Davis

Further Adventures of Carlotta Carlyle: Three Mystery Stories – Linda Barnes

Two for the Lions/One Virgin Too Many (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week twenty three: the annual ordeal of the school shoes

It’s the end of August which means the annual ordeal of purchasing the school shoes. And it really is an ordeal: whether you are the parent who has to brace themselves at the cost of the things; the child who has to wear them; or the shop assistant who has to measure about 3,000,000 feet a week at the moment while soothing the shredded nerves of the end-of-tether parent and the child whose idea of school shoes is often very different to their parent’s.

It’s only in the last few years that I have been able to enter a Clark’s shoe shop without having a full blown panic attack, and I had to work up to that via their franchises in the local Mothercare before they were big enough for school. Even now this shop is always my last resort, even though Clarks school shoes are excellent quality and worth every penny.

Let me tell you a story….

Once upon a time, back in the dark ages when I was at school, buying school shoes involved a trip to Cardiff to the Clarks shop to have our feet measured and to buy sensible school shoes. Now, I am blessed (or cursed) with wide feet with narrow ankles and my youngest sister has very narrow feet. Middle sister has middle sized feet. Every year, my Dad would choose this date above all others to Give Up Smoking. This was something we would all have liked him to do (and which he wouldn’t manage for another thirty years or so, as it turned out). He liked smoking (heck, I liked smoking) and by the time I was born in the early ’70s he’d been doing it for about twenty years and it had become a bit of a habit.

So, on a hot August Saturday at the end of the month, when the whole world and their mum were converging on Cardiff to – yes, you guessed it – buy school shoes, we would hop in the car and head to town. By this time Dad hadn’t had a cigarette for about nine hours and the lack of nicotine was starting to show. We would find our way to the multi-storey carpark, where Dad would drive past many, many, many car parking spaces in order to find the perfect one while middle sister became increasingly travel sick. Still no nicotine. Having parked, we would make our way to Clarks.

I dreamed of nice school shoes. I really did. This being National Welsh School Shoe Shopping Day, there would be a long wait for feet to be measured, in the hot, busy shop filled with whinging kids (three of which were his own) and there would still have been no nicotine. His fingers would be twitching towards the breast pocket of his shirt, but he was GIVING UP SMOKING.

The ritual of the foot measuring complete, the real trauma fun would begin: trying to find a shoe that we liked and that both parents thought was suitable and sensible. The cracks would begin to show at this point, as this was an impossible compromise. Dad would be muttering (mostly) under his breath as the parade of buckles, lace ups (these were the days before velcro straps) and classic t-bar sandals grew ever longer. Eventually all three of us were fitted with shoes (“They’re black, they fit, you’re having them!”), and we would leave the shop at speed. Back on Queen Street, in the August heat and the Saturday crowds, my mum would hiss, ‘For God’s sake Robert, GO AND HAVE A CIGARETTE’.

And thus was Dad given tacit permission to smoke for another year. The year I started secondary school I tried to head this off at the pass by agreeing with the first pair of shoes that fitted me. They were absolutely hideous lace-ups, and the heel was so wide that it shredded my poor ankles into blisters so I had to wear horrible heel grips to keep them on. And he still got told to go and have a cigarette.

And that, dear readers, is why Clarks is always my last resort.

My own beloved children have also been blessed with wide feet – in the cases of Things 2 and 3, not only wide but deep, if that’s a thing. I blame their father. We have always had to size up for those two, for this reason, and it does limit their choices. Thing 1 was prescribed Doc Marten boots to support her ankles as she’s hyper-mobile, and her feet haven’t grown since she got them (hurray!).

Last year was simple – 2 and 3 were at primary school and we bought them both plain black trainers: Skechers for the girl and Kangol for the boy. They lasted the year, so that was a win. This year, Thing 2 is starting secondary and has to have black shoes which can be polished. Thing 3 just wanted shoes which didn’t lace up, so it took approximately ten minutes to find a pair of Kangols which fitted. Thing 2 wouldn’t countenance anything but slip-ons (mum, straps don’t go with trousers) so dismissed all Skechers out of hand.

The size 6s were too tight, the size 7s were too big. There were no other shoes. And that’s how we ended up in Clarks.

Can I have a cigarette now Mum?

Spray starch to the rescue

Ever since Liz made a yellow tea dress on the Great British Sewing Bee this year I have wanted a yellow maxi, and with this in mind I bought some yellow pixel-style flower print viscose back in April, which has sat on the pile as I’ve had nowhere to wear a nice dress! The fabric is soft and drapey, and I was really looking forward to using it. The By Hand London Anna pattern has been in the digital stash for ages, and when looking for a project this week I decided to pair the two.

The Anna pattern is very straightforward – no sleeves to add, pleats rather than darts on the front, and a simple panelled skirt with a rather dramatic split up the front. You can cut it to midi length, and I’m sure it would make a pretty above-the-knee too if you left the split out. Before cutting the fabric I shortened the pattern by 20 centimetres – now, I am ‘average height’ at five foot four-ish, so I can only assume they are designing for giantesses. 20cm! The instructions are clear and friendly, with good illustrations, so an adventurous beginner could tackle this easily.

Making the dress, however, was an absolute nightmare. Cutting out the pattern was very hit and miss, despite deploying about a million pins and my new pattern weights, several rocks and a few tins of beans – it moved about with the scissors, stretched out of shape and slithered over the table. I made the bodice – the pleats are a wild guess as marking the fabric accurately was also almost impossible. Then I remembered a top tip I’d seen for working with slippery fabrics – spray starch! That made life a lot easier – I starched and pressed the skirt seams before I constructed it, and did the same with the zip and hem.

Flushed with the success of my starchy sewing hack, I decided to try another hack to put the zip in – using sticky tape to hold the zip in place instead of pins, given how much this fabric moved about.

NEVER AGAIN. My needle hated it – it skipped stitches, gunked up, on three occasions actually snapped. The thread snapped. I snapped. It took forever to get the zip in and I think the kids learned a few new words as well.

Anna dress

Eventually the dress was done. The hem – starched to within an inch of its life and made with the help of the Clover hot hemmer – was the easy bit in the end. You can see the frock on my dummy above – luckily it looks better on me than it does here! Since the weather has changed dramatically in the last couple of days I’ll be styling it with DMs and layers rather than sandals, but grunge is always my winter go-to so that’s OK. If I make it again I will size down, I think.

My second make of the week was much easier – I saw a pattern on a sewing group on Facebook and fell for it. Thumbhole cuffs? Hood? Pockets? Yes please!

I’ve had a lovely Moomin print jersey in my stash for a while – a bargain from Ali Express – and I was saving it for a pattern that would show it off. This Double Down Dress from Little Ragamuffin was it. I had enough Moomin fabric for the front and back centre panels, the sleeves and the pockets – with some black jersey for side panels and the hood, it was perfect.

The pattern has three neckline options, an open back option, inseam pockets (and there’s a free patch pocket hack on the LR website) two hood options, three cuff options, three different lengths and at least four sleeves to choose from. It also has options for different cup sizes so you don’t have to do a bust adjustment if you’re blessed with boobs (I am not). I bought the pattern bundle with the Vegas sundress so you can also layer the two.

I chose the assassin hood style, and chose not to line it as the fabric is quite lightweight, the above-the-knee length, inseam pockets and the inseam thumbhole cuffs. Again, the instructions are pretty straightforward and if you’re printing from a PC you can use the layer option to print the size you need.

Using the overlocker for most of the construction meant that it was speedy to make up – the inseam thumbhole and the hem do require the sewing machine, but that was it. It might possibly be my new favourite dress and with so many options I can tweak different versions. I love the flared skirt.

Happy hooker

I finished the custom dolls this week and handed them over – they are quirky portraits of a couple who live some distance apart. My brief was to make the girl doll ‘witchy’ which was fun! The basic pattern is the Weebee doll (available on Ravelry) and my customer is a member of an RPG group whose DM had already commissioned character dolls for me (his was a Cyborg!). I loved doing these – adding the little details like the beard, the temple greys and the girl doll’s short fringe made them really personal.

Mini-Joe and Mini-Kat

It’s also cool enough now to pick up a blanket project – I am working on the Coast blanket from Attic24 (started in 2017, oops) in double bed size. You can see it in this week’s cover photo.

Autumn is on the way…

This week’s swim was definitely on the bracing side – the water was 18.5 degrees on Friday morning and we swam in the rain as the weather was very changeable. We’d earned the hot chocolate we indulged in afterwards! I am looking forward to winter swims though.

My beloved and I dragged Thing 3 out for a ramble around the Common one afternoon – we were lucky enough to see a large group of deer, but we are sad about the devastation the landowners are wreaking as they clear the brambles and trees. The feeling is that building on the land is now inevitable, which will leave a lot less space for wildlife. I can’t believe they have started the clearance while birds are still nesting – we have another set of baby blackbirds in the garden, looking ridiculously scruffy and grumpy – and they have grubbed up the area around the badger sett too.

I made the first of this year’s apple cakes, using eating apples from the garden. The recipe was my late Aunty Ruth’s and it’s delicious with butter – hot or cold.

Aunty Ruth’s apple cake

My furlough comes to a part-time end this week – I go back remotely three days a week for September, and four in October. The children start going back to school on Thursday – Things 2 and 3 this week, and Thing 1 goes back the following week. The uniforms are labelled, the PE kits are sorted and the school bags are packed.

Let’s see what week 24 brings! Who wants to guess how many emails are in my inbox?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

The Dresden Files – Jim Butcher (I’m up to #5 now)

Three Hands in the Fountain – Lindsey Davies (Falco series – Audible)

Week nineteen: in which I looked tidy for the first time since March

A Tuesday interlude…

I have had a whole host of new experiences this week already! Not only my first virtual job interview, but it was the first time I’d applied for a job share, for a secondment, and for a temporary maternity cover role. It was also the first time that I’d prepared for and attended an interview as part of a team.

Keen followers of the East London museum scene will know that the V&A is branching out even further eastwards than Bethnal Green, and creating a shiny new museum on the East Bank in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. There are so many parallels with our own redevelopment project, and both projects are working across the same boroughs, that we felt it would bring a new dimension to our own practice as well as a wider insight into the locality if one of us were to move a couple of stops down the Central Line for a few months.

The trouble was… none of us were keen on doing it alone, as we all have specific experiences and this role would cover all our audiences. I am formal, C is informal and H is creative. As a triumvirate (or an unholy trinity/three-headed monster depending on who you talk to!) we work very collaboratively: bouncing ideas off each other, supporting each other, representing the team and feeding back, developing ideas together (some madder than others – the Museum LARP session hasn’t come to fruition yet but there’s still time!) and bringing all our individual skills to the learning party.

That’s me on the right, by the way (Powerpuff Girls image from pngwave.com)

In a team Zoom social, someone suggested we ALL applied for it as a jobshare. “That’ll blow their minds, ha ha!” they said. We chatted about how that could work, what it might mean for each museum, and our line manager and director (I know she’s reading this!) were supportive. So…. we did.

The three of us contributed to the supporting statement and then put in our separate application forms, and crossed our fingers. We weren’t sure if we’d even get an interview, as a three-way job share might have been a step too far, but we all felt our statement was really powerful. We were fairly sure that with a combined 40+ years of experience in the culture, arts and heritage sector we could demonstrate a good understanding of what the role would require. We also proposed an outline of how the job share might work, and how the role could be managed. We are lucky, as we had a period last year in between line managers when we had to work in a similar way, sharing information and acting as one.

On Monday we were told that we’d be interviewed….on Tuesday. Cue frantic Zooming, planning our strategy and going over the job description, all the information we had to hand about the East project, trying to anticipate the questions we might be asked and challenges the panel might raise about managing the job share. We broke down the role responsibilities, decided on an order for us to answer questions so no one had more of a voice than the other two, and came up with a plan for how we’d pass the baton between us.

One of the most important things we did was to share our CVs with each other, so we could ensure the most appropriate person could answer a question. So useful – I had no idea of the breadth of experience in the team! As a team bonding and development exercise it worked really well. Going through the documentation we had access to and matching it to the role description and our skill sets – as a team and individually – was a great way to remind ourselves what a well-rounded team we are. I don’t know about C & H but my confidence in what we were trying to do was boosted immensely by this.

I usually hate internal interviews (OK, I hate all interviews) but knowing I was in this with my brilliant colleagues made it better. Three against three, and we could fill in the gaps for each other. For the first time ever I am not sitting here post-interview thinking ‘I wish I’d remembered to say that!’ The virtual format probably helped, as at no point could I see the whole panel.

Whatever the outcome, I think we acquitted ourselves pretty well! (Plus, I put make up and a dress on for the first time since March.) Can’t wait to get back to working with the team!

(Sunday update: we haven’t heard whether we were successful or not, but I still feel good that we did something that put us outside our comfort zone, helped us understand the benefits of the way we work anyway, and which put us on the wider museum radar.)

Sunday service resumes

After the interview and a debrief with the team I went for my first massage since the end of January. I hold a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders, probably from sitting in all sorts of weird positions while I crochet, cross stitch or sew; and I also suffer from migraine and tension headache. I try and have a monthly treatment with the wonderful Paula, who lives round the corner, and I have been seeing her since she was training to be a sports massage therapist.

Since qualifying as a sports therapist she has taken additional courses in cupping, facial massage and gua sha and she combines these (along with a sympathetic ear!) to create a bespoke experience for each of her clients. And it is blissful…although you do have to answer a few funny questions about cupping marks in the summer. Here in the village its like a badge of honour or membership of an exclusive club – Paula’s clients compare marks! There was a lot of interest from Bangladeshi women when I did an event at work last summer after cupping – they wanted to know where I’d had it done, and if it helped. Some said their husbands had it done regularly too.

At the moment, of course, facial massage is off the table so I had 45 minutes of work on my back and neck, including some gua sha, and I felt AMAZING afterwards. Thoroughly relaxed, and looser than I had been for several months. There’s no cupping yet, as there’s a risk of blood clots after Covid-19 (though as far as I’m aware I haven’t had it), so that’s something to look forward to.

The great outdoors

I’ve had a very active week! My swimming buddies and I have been up to Redricks Lakes three times this week – my cover image is the main lake. Sue and I went at 9am on Wednesday, and had our first independent swim in the main lake. We went back on Thursday afternoon as it was so hot and then Rachel joined us for an early dip on Saturday. There’s a nice mix of swimmers – super fast triathletes or club members who zoom about front crawling, fitness swimmers and people like us who mainly breast stroke round chatting and enjoying the process.

There’s a lot more bird life in this lake, so we encountered a mama coot with a young noisy brood of six tiny, scruffy chicks, and more coots with older chicks who are a bit more independent. There was also a grebe with her chick, who we swam quite close to. They don’t worry too much about the slow swimmers but the crawlers gave them a shock!

My walking friend Jill and I have signed up for Runkeeper’s August challenge, where we need to track 30k over the month. We are early morning walkers, except on Sunday when we have a lie-in and don’t go out until 7am. Today we knocked 8k off the 30k challenge, with a walk through the Lower Forest (aka Wintry Wood) to Epping and back via Coopersale and the Gernon Bushes nature reserve. We are not the fastest walkers but we do use it as an opportunity to clear our heads for the coming week and to put the world to rights. Both of us are subject to depression, so this is talking therapy for us.

We try and do a couple of shorter walks in the week, and then a longer one on Sundays. The summer is best as we can use the fields and woods, but in the winter they get a bit swampy – the Cripsey Brook feeder streams surround the village, though luckily we have an excellent flood alleviation scheme. This last winter we did a lot of our walks in wellies, and yes – we did jump in muddy puddles. Why should the kids have all the fun?

Muddy puddle!

The great indoors

Cooking with Kevin this week included making cinnamon sugar sourdough pretzels – we love soft pretzels in this house, and there was a lot of sourdough discard to use up. We also had pizza, which is becoming a firm family favourite.

Angry bread

This was also the week that I put the bread in the oven for a cold bake and when I took it out an hour later the casserole was empty….. and the dough was still rising on the counter behind me. It had a normal bake instead – but don’t you think the way the ‘ear’ has baked into eyebrows makes him look a bit cross?

Thing 2 and I made chocolate fudge brownies, too, using a recipe that I have had for years – I’m not even sure where it’s from but its very easy and quite delicious.

Chocolate Fudge Brownies

  • 50g self-raising flour (or plain flour and 1/2 tsp baking powder)
  • 100g plain chocolate
  • 50g butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4tbsp golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • optional: 75g walnuts, chopped

Melt the chocolate, butter and golden syrup over a gentle heat and set aside to cool.

Stir in the beaten eggs, flour, vanilla and walnuts if you’re using them.

Pour into a lined 18cm square tin and bake at 180c (Gas 4, 350f) for 25mins.

Serve warm with ice cream.

See? Super easy!

The crafting table

This week has had no finishes at all! Monday and Tuesday were so busy prepping for the interview that nothing got done.

I did make a start on the Closet Core Patterns Morgan jeans – the front is done, but I’ll leave full details for a proper review next week. I will rave about two tools I’ve been using to make them this week instead though. The first is the Clover Hot Hemmer (Long) which I’d had on my Amazon crafty wishlist for ages, and which was one of my birthday voucher purchases. It’s so useful – usually when prepping pockets I’d either spend ages with a chalk pencil, the iron and pins marking out the hems, or I’d be superlazy and guess the width which meant wonky pockets. With this ruler-type gadget you simply fold over the fabric to the right depth and iron. Brilliant, and no burned fingers either.

Hot hemmer in action – image from Clover website

The other gadget is a wool pressing mat – this gadget claims to retain heat to make pressing easier, quicker and more efficient. It seems to work – though the steam leaks through so I have been using mine on the ironing board or my cutting mat. Anything that makes ironing easier is a plus!

I have almost finished the first of the custom dolls – she needs a haircut (don’t we all right now?) and a mouth but otherwise she’s pretty complete. I’d forgotten how long it takes to do the hair! The companion doll has long hair and a beard….

I’d better get back to my crochet hook….

Same time, same place for the Week twenty update?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Dead Land by Sara Paretsky (The latest VI Warshawski novel – I am all caught up!)

Tales from the Folly – Ben Aaronovitch (a Rivers of London short story collection – too short!)

Last Act in Palmyra/Time to Depart (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis on Audible

Listening to…

Hollywood Park – The Airborne Toxic Event

American III: Solitary Man – Johnny Cash

Podcast: The Socially Distant Sports Bar (Elis James, Mike Bubbins and Steff Garrero) via Spotify