This week I am feeling uninspired, which is not like me at all. The Things are off on their school holidays, the weather is nice and – as my role is formal learning – there are no teachers out there to harass so in theory I have lots of time to catch up on the to-do list. In theory. In reality, as always in August, my head is relaxing on a beach with a good book instead of focusing on the GEM conference presentation I ought to be writing. My butterfly brain has been fluttering from item to item on my to-do list, and lots has been started but not much finished. The first 800 words of the presentation are tweaked to perfection though…
Luckily my sewing mojo has come back so I have at least accomplished something this week. Sometimes sorting out the shed throws a fabric to the top of the pile and reminds you that you had a plan for it. I had a lieu day to use up so took advantage of a rare meeting free day to indulge in some midweek stitchery.
The fabric in question is a lovely dark red cotton with daisy-ish flowers all over it. I love the By Hand London ‘Anna’ dress pattern, and have made a couple of versions previously: a maxi length in a yellow floral digital print viscose (lovely feel, horrible to work with) and a knee length version in a black polycotton where I’d experimented with extending the sleeves. You can make it in a range of lengths and there’s a couple of neckline options to choose from.
I wanted this one to be maxi length but with the longer sleeve so I could wear it for work, and I chose the V-neck option for a change. Rather than front darts for shaping, the dress has a couple of vertical pleats on the front, with darts on the back. The waistline sits high and the skirt is panelled so it’s a flattering flared shape rather than the current trend for tiered flounces. I extended the sleeves to just above the elbow into a flared shape to echo the shape of the skirt, and I was really happy with the outcome and wore it to work on Thursday. Apart from the zip insertion bit where I diverged, the instructions are really clear so if you’re looking for a beginner project with a good result I’d recommend this.
I also used a cotton voile to make a red square top using the Seamwork Bo pattern, a black shirt dress using the Seamwork Jo pattern (and another Bo to use up the double gauze!), added a Moomin iron-on to the bag I made last week, and in the evenings I finished the Travel by Tardis cross stitch from Country Magic Stitch and updated the Climbing Goat Designs temperature galaxy.
Other things making me happy this week:
Absolute Classic Rock not playing Peter Frampton at any point while I’ve been listening
My beloved’s birthday
Swim and a bacon sandwich this morning in the sunshine
Lovely afternoon with board games and friends yesterday
Lots of dog walks with Bella-dog, Loki the puppy, Dobby and Kreacher and their lovely owners
Paper Girls on Amazon Prime Video
Same time same place next week? This week I have three days out in Tower Hamlets with actual people and the blue blocks, a new cross stitch to do and I’m half way through the current crochet project.
You find me at the end of a week off, in which I have done very little that was useful but a lot that was good for my soul: afternoon naps, long walks with friends, family and dogs, relaxed coffees, crafting, reading and a bit of cooking. My beloved claims that there is no such thing as a day off, but that is because he takes Monty Don’s ‘Jobs for the weekend’ section to heart as well as all the other things that a garden requires. I, on the other hand, am of the opinion that if you take a day off the jobs (and the garden) will still be there afterwards and the weeds probably won’t have taken over the world. Unless it’s sticky grass or wild garlic, in which case all bets are off.
On Sunday, post-blog, I met up with a friend in the wilds of Hackney to see Damien Jurado playing at EArtH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney), a gig which had been postponed at least once and possibly twice thanks to the pandemic but which was well worth the wait. Jurado plays small, interesting venues – we have seen him previously St John on Bethnal Green church, at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster and this time the venue was a reclaimed Art Deco cinema auditorium reached via a most unprepossessing doorway on Stoke Newington High Street. After a pint at the Brewdog bar a couple of doors along and up a few flights of stairs you arrive in the auditorium, which was locked up after the last film showed there in 1984 (Scarface, apparently) and left derelict while the rest of the building went through the usual ex-cinema permutations of snooker hall and community venue – not Bingo, for a change.
It’s a lovely space, still in need of a lot of restoration but the original Art Deco features remain and with simple bench seating and a wide stage the acoustics were wonderful. Add in an atmospheric setlist and good audience engagement and the result was a great evening. We particularly liked the young man at the end who begged for his favourite song, with plaintive pleases, and got his way – I liked the proper last song, too, with snatches of the Grateful Dead’s Morning Dew scattered through.
On Wednesday my beloved and I dragged the Things out for a family walk. Thing 1 sulked all the way up the hill but was won over by the tiny calves in the field and the friendly pig – I think we all were, to be fair. We’ve been very lucky with the weather this week, and on Friday the garden was full of one of the Timeshare Teenagers and friends, painting henna tattoos on each other and recovering from what seemed to have been a pretty heavy night out. Other walks have been in the early morning, finishing with coffee and croissants at M’s house in the garden while fending off the muddy paws of Dobby and Kreacher, who assume all laps are for sitting. These are two rescue dogs, who are now so used to the sight of me that they have given up barking when I walk in to the house for D&D sessions. M and I also had a mooch around North Weald Market yesterday, where we marvelled at the sheer quantity of polyester neon on display, pondered the possibility of all the blingy pictures refracting sunlight and starting fires, and were bemused at the current fashion for wearing fluffy mule sliders out in public with socks.
I’ve also been messing around with making some very geeky earrings from D20s and meeples, am up to date on the Temperature Galaxy and ‘Travel by Tardis’ is halfway done. There’s half a simnel cake left (it was a most welcome apres-swim treat this morning!) and Thing 2 and I tried our hand at making macarons the other day as well. I did do some gardening, weeding the wild garlic out of my little patch and planting a couple of saxifraga and a Bleeding Heart. I can see the shoots of this year’s physalis coming up, hollyhocks are poking through, and I don’t seem to have killed the hydrangea so with any luck I’ll have a nice show this summer.
On Tuesday I am back to work, so I am off to top up my nap. I blame my father. I must also do my Easter bunny impression and distribute some eggs, as the natives are getting restless.
See you next week!
What I’ve been reading:
In a Dry Season/Cold is the Grave/Aftermath/The Summer That Never Was/Playing With Fire/Strange Affair – Peter Robinson
This week I was sad to hear that the incomparable Meat Loaf has died at the age of 74. London sister and I saw him at the O2 on the Last at Bat tour in 2013 and he was struggling then – the voice was going and he was using oxygen off stage, presumably to help with his asthma. It was still a great show – it was celebrating the Bat out of Hell anniversary, so interspersed with the songs were video interviews with Jim Steinman, ‘Mighty’ Max Weinberg and others. It was a memorable show but we were pretty sure we wouldn’t be seeing him live again.
While I wouldn’t say Mr Loaf was one of my all time favourite artists, he’s not far off – not just because of the the music but because of the memories that go with them. Dead Ringer for Love casts me back to the Nag’s Head in Monmouth, while Paradise by the Dashboard Light is a road trip favourite. All his songs – dramatic, not theatrical according to Meat Loaf in an interview with Terry Wogan in 1982 – are perfect for singing along to in kitchens, pubs and cars even when you are not a singer (like me). His style has been described as ‘blustery, wounded romantic-on-the-brink-of-a-breakdown’. Loud is the key – ‘everything louder than everything else’, in fact – and with passion, much like himself. Meat Loaf was larger than life himself – funny, personable, engaging, entertaining.
Primordial Radio were playing a lot of Meat Loaf yesterday while I was crafting and each song raised a smile. Many friends have shared their own favourite songs on social media, referencing pubs and old friends – recollections of VI form or college, in many cases. Could you ask for a better legacy as a singer? RIP, Marvin Lee ‘Meat Loaf’ Aday.
The rest of the week
Has been pretty much business as usual, to be honest – a trek to south Kensington, another one to Hackney Wick and a lot of meetings in between. My favourite geeky friend has her birthday today so yesterday I had fun making her gifts while singing along to the radio – a dice bag and a pair of earrings. I made mermaid scale ones and bat wing ones – using dolls house miniatures – and took a vote on which I should give to her. Her husband had already ordered the Lego bat ones! The dice bag has Lord of the Rings fabric with purple (her favourite colour).
My adorable nephew/godson is in a Harry Potter phase, so a snowy owl winged its way over to NI for his birthday this week, and the 9 and 3/4 cross stitch (with glow in the dark outline and Gryffindor colours backing) is off to Yorkshire.
Neon Pikachu is going slowly….black aida is a pain to work on but the colours look amazing.
This morning the lake was 2.5 degrees and the swimming lane was limited by sheets of ice – we lasted 10 minutes (most of which was getting in!). Madness but the mental reset is so worth it.
See you next week!
What I’ve been reading:
The Sapphire Manticore/The Golden Basilisk – Maria Andreas
Back in prehistory, before there were children, when I was young and mostly irresponsible and drank far too much Mad Dog 20/20 on nights out and other such unwise things, underwear was mostly impractical, lacy and – in the case of the Wonderbra – designed to make the most of my very limited assets through the cunning application of scaffolding and cantilevering and other miraculous feats of engineering.
How times change, eh? These days what I mostly look for are underwires that aren’t going to stab me halfway through a meeting and multipacks of pants in the right size and shape in Tesco. No one should feel too much sympathy for my beloved at this point: I am sure he’d far rather I wasn’t being tortured by my bra than anything else. My frustration often lies in the fact that the sizes left in the supermarket are either for skinny twigs or the larger trees – or if there are any in my size they are enormous ‘granny’ pants in some hideous shade of beige or soon-to-be-grey white. Supermarket pants also tend to be made of very thin cotton lycra fabric and trim which has a lot of stretch but frays easily.
Solving this problem became much easier when I bought an overlocker and began to make my own. You can make your own underwear with a normal sewing machine as long as you have a reliable stretch stitch and the ability to vary the length of your stitches, but at the time my basic Brother machine didn’t have that capability. The overlocker means you can whip up multipacks of your very own in short order.
The first ones I made were the amazing Wonder Undies by Waves and Wild, closely followed by the Speedy Pants for the children – Thing 2 absolutely loves them and I have made multiple pairs for her since. I love the fact that you can choose the waist rise and the leg style and that once you have the hang of it you can make them really quickly. I also love that you can use sensible colours or take advantage of all the mad prints out there – Thing 2’s favourites had unicorns all over them and I love my rainbow ones. This week I discovered Rad Patterns (another NY resolution gone….) and their Lucky Booty pattern. I really like the fact that Rad offer accessible patterns – wheelchair friendly skirts and tops with medical port access, for example.
You also get to make matching bras/crop tops – Waves and Wild came up with their Superstar Bra last year and Rad patterns had a few styles already. The rainbow one below is the Watson bra by Cloth Habit. The Watson also comes with a bikini pant pattern – I haven’t tried that yet but I’m sure I will. This afternoon I’ll be making up the Lucky Lingerie bra and some Wonder Undies for Thing 2.
The only trouble I have found is that home-made pants look absolutely ENORMOUS next to shop-bought – but they feel amazing (‘like a hug for your butt’ as one sewer put it) and last forever. If you haven’t had a go at making your own yet, you’re missing out.
It is, of course, only a small step from pants to swimming costumes – I embraced my inner mermaid this week and made a completely mad two piece using another Rad pattern (the Renee swimsuit) for the top and the Oasis pattern by Ellie and Mac for the bottoms. I wore it this morning for our winter swim (5°c in the water, 1°c out – brrrr!). The fabrics are foil prints from Pound Fabrics in emerald and a fabulous fish scale print which changes colour when it moves.
This week saw the last leaves added to the 2021 Temperature Tree – it’s been quite a ‘flat’ year for temperatures, so let’s see what 2022 brings. I’m doing the Climbing Goat Designs Rainbow Temperature Galaxy this year. I should probably have used the same colour palette but I have gone with the same one as the designer used.
Anyway – I need to go and defrost a bit more, so I’ll be back next week!
What I’ve been reading:
Bridgerton (1-6) – Julia Quinn
The Unhappy Medium – T J Brown (badly in need of a good editor)
This week my walking buddy Jill (cover photo artist!) and I have made the most of being off for Christmas and headed out ‘early doors’ (she’s from Yorkshire) for a couple of welly walks. We love our walks: we put the world to rights, appreciate the scenery, stomp on icy puddles and squish our way through the muddy ones. Some weeks she is grouchy, other weeks it’s me. We test out ideas for work or catastrophise in the knowledge that we can go into the office the next day with our heads back on straight. It’s like therapy. There’s something about walking next to someone, not facing them, that allows stress and those wake-you-up-at-3am thoughts to spill out.
Some days we go further than others: round the roads to Tawney Common, or across to Toot Hill, or round past Dial House and the farm to see the cows, or the old golf course and flood meadows. Sometimes it’s the short 5k through the woods and back, or to the end of the village. Whatever, I always come back feeling better and ready to face the week.
It was a week of extremes: one day it was -4°c and the world was white. The sun was coming up in spectacular fashion, the puddles were frozen and we crackled our way down to the farm and home via the station. The plan was to check what time the light fantastic train was running that day so we could drag the kids up to Marconi Bridge to watch it go through, but they were only doing the Santa Special till after Christmas. We allowed ourselves to be seduced by the smell of frying bacon from the station cafe and indulged in a bacon roll and tea, listening to the brass quartet playing Christmas carols and watching overexcited kids waiting for Santa’s train to arrive.
The following day was much warmer so the puddles were squelchy once more (as you can see from the cover photo). That day’s route took us through the fields to the radio station (hence Marconi Bridge) and past North Weald Redoubt, finishing up at Jill’s house for tea and a rummage through boxes of craft stuff from a friend’s house clearing. I was very good and only came home with a few balls of yarn and some toy eyes. My plan this week was to try and destash some craft things from the shed, not bring home more – I did send some yarn up to Jill’s mum, and got rid of a whole lot of jewellery making stuff, which was a start.
I hope you’ve all enjoyed at least a few days off and will be grabbing the opportunity for a Boxing Day welly walk – we have A, H and the grandchild over today, but I’m looking forward to a few more walks this week.
All can now be revealed…
As it’s after Christmas I can share the gifts I made – the wall hanging was for our Dungeonmaster and his wife and I made them open it while I was there playing board games on Monday. The ‘Eira Owls’ were for their daughters. The little pigs in granny square blankets have been ridiculously popular and I ended up making more than 20 of them as Christmas ‘cards’* for colleagues and my swimming buddies, and then as requests for people who’d seen them on Facebook. They’ve gone off to Wales, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and London. I still have several to do after Christmas but I have to get two presents out in January and a couple for February first!**
(* I don’t send cards to anyone but immediate family, but donate to a charity every year instead – this year it was the Trussell Trust. I make little decorations that can be brought out year after year – I love seeing people’s photos of their trees with my work on!)
(** Yes, I am taking orders. They are £6 each plus postage!)
I hope you’ve all had a great Christmas with family and friends, that you’re all safe and warm and looking forward to 2022. By the time next week’s post appears we’ll be in a whole new year!
What I’ve been reading:
The Untold Story – Genevieve Cogman
A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (Audible)
A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler
The Toast of Time – Jodi Taylor
The Long and the Short of it – Jodi Taylor (Audible)
Well, that was a week of unparalleled misery, quite frankly – topped off by Thing 3 testing positive for Covid on Thursday. Thing 2 was off with the dreaded corona the week before last, I was knocked for six by labyrinthitis (which is not, sadly, a surfeit of David Bowie’s startling trousers) and now Thing 3. Enough already!
Labyrinthitis is a definite -1,000,000/10, do not recommend. It was so horrible I didn’t pick up a crochet hook for a week, or even a book for several days. That bad. NHS 111 recommended taking something called Buccastem, which is supposed to relieve nausea and vomiting related to migraine, and other people recommended Stugeron which made things infinitely worse. A tweet from a lovely museum person crediting my blog from a few weeks ago with making her feel reassured about her upcoming colposcopy made me cry, but so did the lovely Norwegian postal system’s Christmas advert celebrating 50 years since Norway decriminalised same-sex relationships.
It was Wednesday before I started feeling semi-human again, and Friday before I felt safe to go out of the house. My Beloved did a most excellent job with laundry and keeping the Horde alive, and the furry fiends did an excellent job of keeping me warm. Friends were amazing at relaying Thing 3 home from school, which at least we don’t need to worry about this week as he’ll be off with me isolating.
Lack of new output does, however, mean I can share a piece I finished a while ago but which only got handed over this week – despite the fact that I have seen Heather several times. We were supposed to have a ‘Grumpy People’s Supporters Club’ night out on Friday (well, they did, I stayed on the sofa watching Cowboy Bebop): the last time we saw each other all together was on the hen night back in June! The pattern can be found here and the seller was kind enough to offer to chart the names for me to personalise it as well. I’m told the bride liked it – she loves Art Deco and had a 1920s car to take her to the service, so it should be a good reminder of the day.
When I did manage to pick up a book again, it was with the intention of working through some of the digital shelf of shame on the Kindle – in the mood for something easy, I chose Colin Watson’s Flaxborough novels which were published between 1958 and 1982. Police procedurals which would probably be tagged with the awful ‘cosy mystery’ label these days, these are witty and terribly British, featuring the Viking-like Inspector Purbright and the eastern town of Flaxborough. I had three on my Kindle already and luckily the rest were cheap as I quickly got addicted.
Lying in bed unable to do anything meant I had a lot of time to do mental crafting, which is at least cheaper than the normal kind. I have a head full of ideas and no way to get to them, as my crafting space (OK, the dining room) is still full of stuff we haven’t put back after the heating was put in. My beloved has taken the opportunity to do small jobs upstairs while the place is already in chaos. I’m not saying I’m getting itchy fingers here but I have things that need making! Things 2 and 3 want new pants and there’s Christmas making to be done. This Hobbit Hole piece needs finishing, too: the pattern is by Vetlanka on Etsy. It’s been a while since I’ve worked on such a high count fabric, but the effect is so delicate.
I’ve taken the opportunity to set up a Facebook page for this blog as well, where I can sell the various bits and bobs I make that aren’t destined for gifts, at least from me. You’ll be able to find it here and I really need to take some photos to get things online! Watch this space.
Anyway, I must head off – there’s PCR tests to do and a book to get back to.
What I’ve been reading:
Speaking in Bones – Kathy Reich
Coffin, Scarcely Used / Bump in the Night / Hopjoy Was Here / Lonelyheart 4122 / Charity Ends at Home / The Flaxborough Crab / Broomsticks over Flaxborough / The Naked Nuns / One Man’s Meat– Colin Watson (Flaxborough series)
An early start day as I was heading back to one of my regular schools, this time to deliver the Think Small sessions – a 9.30 session start, preceded by an 8.30am meeting at another school about the Kids in Museums Takeover Day happening on Friday. Takeover Day is, in terms of organisation and the level of buy-in from the rest of the team, the biggest day in the formal learning year. Also, to add to the fun, this year we are doing Museum Takeover Day with half the usual staff and – to make it really fun – no museum, If I’d had any sense at all I probably shouldn’t have booked in two days of teaching and the central heating fitting.
My house is in chaos. Only one person at a time can watch TV and all my craft kit is hidden behind a pile of god knows what. The company told us they’d be sending a moving team down on Monday to – you know – move things, but by the time the poor lads had arrived from darkest Yorkshire my beloved had moved everything possible and they were at a bit of a loose end. He had a lovely time over the weekend being all ‘but they won’t know how to empty a fish tank!’ and ‘they won’t know how to dismantle the railway/small nuclear reactor/quantum leap thingy’. Gentle suggestions of ‘well, perhaps you could do those bits and they could do the furniture’ were unwelcome, apparently, and he had a great time hurling things into boxes and piling them up.
Today’s sessions were great fun, though: we had started the school year here with the giant blue blocks, so it was lovely to see the kids again. The appearance of the museum team means fun, apparently, which isn’t a bad thing to be known for! It’s such a warm and friendly school to visit, and the children are kind to each other. The Y6 teacher and his teacher trainee clearly have something going which they probably need to keep a bit more to themselves in front of kids and visitors (it was reaching the ‘would you like to be alone?’ stage while I was setting up my session) but there we are.
Central heating day! No 8 is being dragged (kicking and screaming, naturally) into at least the mid-20th century! With two key Teams meetings scheduled for the morning which would almost certainly not be improved by background drilling! I decamped to Miriam and Roy’s house, round the corner, and where I can more usually be found on Thursday nights playing D&D. Dobby, one of their mad but adorable rescue dogs, took possession of my lap as soon as I sat down and stared intently at the screen till she was properly introduced. She kept my knees warm and her mistress passed me coffees to keep my spirits up. Two meetings and a visitation from their other lovely hound Kreacher later, I headed home to inspect the chaos. One radiator had been fitted and a lot more furniture had been moved as it is apparently not the done thing to put radiators under windows – also, they didn’t have any skinny radiators. The singing Yorkshiremen spent the day hammering and drilling under the watchful eye of my beloved, who was feeling a bit surplus to requirements as there was nothing much he could do. He did go and get them samosas for lunch from the bakery, which I think they enjoyed. The samosas are excellent but the owner is a bit creepy with the females of the species.
Technically, I had a block of time set up in the afternoon for prepping the Takeover Day session. I did manage some admin but failed utterly to do any of the resource prep: we do at least have an activity pack to distribute to the teachers and a timetable. Still, I now know what everyone wants for lunch and just how excited a museum team can get at the thought of fish fingers and chips (samosas again for the vegetarians) followed by school sponge and custard.
Two cats were shut in the kitchen and one in the extension so the fitters could work without interruption from furry fiends intent on homicide. Lulu was distinctly unimpressed, slashing my thumb when I attempted to move her from her perch and I remained unforgiven for the rest of the day. I eventually managed to feed everyone about 8pm, and then sent them to bed.
Up with the lark, or at least my beloved who was on an early shift. Yes, I had a bath and the kids and I revelled in the heating in much the same manner as the Aardman Animations tortoise in the electricity adverts. Yes, that was electric and we are now on gas central heating but it is, as they say, easily turn off and on-able. The bath was so good I almost forgot that I had three kids to get to school.
As it happened, there was an epic bus fail so I had to spend some time having words with the bus company about buses that either don’t turn up, turn up 15 minutes late and then don’t stop, or which just disappear off the tracker. I was late for my own meeting, the kids were an hour late for school but I did at least get the resource prep done.
True to form, just when you need the printer to behave itself it decides to throw a wobbler. Paper jams, communication breakdowns, random cancelling of jobs, refusal to print from powerpoint/word- or printed one and then not the rest. Much threatening of said printer with percussive maintenance, replacement with a pen and paper failed to do the trick Eventually I fooled it by printing to PDF, emailing them to myself and printing from the PC which was apparently acceptable.
And then the stapler gave up. Paper clips to the rescue!
My beloved was replacing plug sockets in the afternoon so no gadgets for the kids. Instead I bribed them with cold hard cash to help me cut up the t-shirts for the takeover day session into strips for rag rugging. My mistake was to give them the cash before the job was finished. I eventually finished about 8pm, with my shoulder frozen. My work table was still inaccessible so most of the work was done on the floor which probably didn’t help!
Started with a late bus, followed by a long gap between tubes so I was running late from the moment I left the house. The school emailed and asked for my DBS number at 9.15am, so of course I didn’t have it with me and had to be escorted everywhere. I missed the 12 o’clock meeting as I was still teaching (must remember to build in contingency time to my diary!). Thank heavens for my line manager who lives round the corner from the school and who fed me coffee and lunch afterwards and restored my sanity. You can’t beat a cheese bagel and salad with a friendly cat.
The electrician phoned on my way home: could he come and fit the spur for the boiler, which was currently plugged into an extension cable, in the next half hour. Nothing like a bit of notice, is there – we compromised on 45 minutes and when he arrived we couldn’t find where he was supposed to be connecting the thing to. I missed another meeting and was late for the next…but we made it to the end of the day.
Thursday is D&D night and as lots of us had an early start we kicked off early – it turned into a board games evening which was just what I needed. A couple of games of Bang! (during which I was forced to shoot both the kids several times – I refuse to sit between them again if we’re playing that!) and a couple of riotous rounds of Scrawl later I was a lot more relaxed. Dobby and Kreacher are very democratic and take turns climbing on everyone’s laps: I think they just like having their ears rubbed.
Awake at 4am once again, which has been a bit of a pattern this week – argh! Takeover Day and I haven’t done this, I haven’t got enough staff and I haven’t got a bloody museum to do it in! There will be an ‘official’ blog over on the V&A site at some point so I won’t go into it too much here.
I abandoned Thing 3 with wonderful Miriam to take to Breakfast Club so I’d be able to get to Bethnal Green on time – bless my lovely friends (like Toby, who also retrieves Thing 3 when I can’t get back in time!) – and headed off on the 7.13 bus which was mercifully on time. I treated myself to an almond milk hot chocolate (try it, it;s delicious) from Starbucks on the way past and headed to Globe where most of the team were there before me.
True to form, as the blue blocks were involved and I was due to be outside it rained, so we hijacked the hall for the morning. Helen the director and I worked with the nursery and reception classes all day and we had great fun building and adding in things from the mountain of recycling that parents had donated. I was given a new dress made from gold and bubble wrap, went on a road trip to Australia in a car, slept in a mermaid’s cave, watched a small child disguise herself as a sausage roll and was also treated to the sight of my director being a cloud. The other team’s sessions were equally successful and many, many parents were dragged upstairs to our ‘museum’ by their excited children at the end of the day. We ate school lunch with the kids, who were outraged that we got extra fish fingers and lots of chips.
The traditional debrief followed at The Florist Arms, where they do excellent pizzas and where some of the teachers were a bit bemused to see the museum team reviving themselves with a tequila slammer before 5pm. We were also saying goodbye to our creative practitioner, Fran, who was my first recruit after I joined and who is leaving us to be a freelancer. She’s brilliant and we will miss her very much – she’s kept me sane for the last few years, is wonderful with kids and adults alike, creative, and extremely accident prone. I was home by 9pm and blissfully unconscious on the sofa shortly afterwards.
Started with a positive Covid test handed to me by Thing 2, leading to LFTs all round and ordering PCRs for the family. If anyone wants me for the rest of the weekend I am in the bath (and thanks to Miriam for the bath bombs!) and I’m not getting out till Monday.
See you next week!
Windswept and Interesting- Billy Connolly (Audible)
Dreams Underfoot – Charles de Lint
London Bridge is Falling Down (Bryant and May) – Christopher Fowler
The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman
The Long and the Short of It – Jodi Taylor (Audible)
Saving Time – Jodi Taylor
The Quantum Curators and the Missing Codex – Eva St. John
Every three years a letter drops through the door.
It’s from the NHS and it reminds me that it’s time for a smear test – this year I had to wait a month for an available appointment, as the nurse is pretty busy. I have lost count of the number of tests I’ve had over the years but I never miss them. These days they won’t give you a smear till you’re 25, but back then you were advised to get one a year after becoming sexually active. Seems silly to me as HPV and cancer don’t wait but there we are.
In my early twenties, a routine test showed abnormal cells so I had to go back in six months for another. By then there were a lot of those abnormal little cells and they were aggressive little beasts, it turned out. What followed was colposcopy, a loop biopsy and laser cauterisation (what’s that smell of burning? Why, it’s me!). Six monthly tests for the next few years, followed by annual tests for several more, and then when I was given the all clear it was back to three yearly. Had I not had that smear test, those abnormal cells would have escalated into cervical cancer – that’s the one that killed Jade Goody at 27, leaving two small boys growing up without a mum.
About half a million extra smear tests were done between mid-2008 when Goody was diagnosed and mid-2009 when she died, many for women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds (source). Called ‘The Jade Goody Effect’, it didn’t last and in 2018 smear testing hit a 20-year low – the introduction of the HPV vaccine in 2008 for 12-13 year old girls (and boys) is making women complacent. The vaccine, given in two doses while girls are at school, helps protect against invasive cervical cancer as well as pre-cancerous cell changes. Covid-19 has increased ‘vaccine hesitancy’ and disrupted vaccination programmes but hopefully they’ll be getting back up to speed soon: Thing 2 should have her first jab this year and Thing 1 her second. Thing 3 will also be offered it as a boy in England and I’ll be making sure he gets it, as it prevents all sorts of other cancers in men as well as women. I had HPV: it caused the cell changes and like other viruses it lurks in the body and can come back. It’s often symptomless, so I had no idea until I was part of a study later on. As I started to write this blog the radio news broadcast told me that cervical cancer rates are 87% lower in women who have had the HPV vaccine. There’s lots of helpful, sensible information on cervical cancer, smear tests, the vaccine and more here.
Smear tests are not fun. They can be uncomfortable. They’re undignified. Some strange person rummaging around ‘down there’ is never going to be the most fun five minutes of your life – but it is only five minutes, and then hopefully you’re done with it for another few years. If they catch a few cells misbehaving, then they can deal with them quickly – but if you don’t go, they won’t find them. They’ll offer you a chaperone if you want one, and a sheet to cover yourself with. My top tip is to wear something with a skirt, but believe me: those nurses have seen pretty much everything over the years and whatever you’ve got going on its all in a day’s work to them. You can also be glad of plastic speculums, because the metal ones were horrible even if you had a nice nurse who warmed it up under the hot tap.
I make jokes to relax, and chat to the nurse – this year the fact that I had to wear a mask during the test made me laugh, it seemed so ridiculous. If you’re worried, take your mum. Take your sister. Take a friend – hell, take two or three, make consecutive appointments and go for cocktails afterwards to reward yourselves for being both sensible and brave. You can go to your GP surgery or your local sexual health clinic, they’re free here in the UK and those five minutes might quite literally save your life. You don’t get a lollipop or a sticker afterwards (maybe we should start a campaign?) but you do get a letter in the post a few weeks later with your results.
However and wherever you do it – just do it, and keep doing it whenever they remind you. It’s worth it, I promise.
September, October and November are busy months for birthdays – especially when you’re still working remotely! I’ve been late with a few and some have been late collecting their presents but I’m all caught up now and there’s no more birthdays till next year! Secret Santa and a leaving gift are next up, followed by Christmas.
I also made a Totoro amigurumi, which has led to another one – as long as it doesn’t turn into the tinycorn plague all over again (27 of them…) it’ll be fine.
And this week I am gearing up for Museum Takeover Day – in the absence of a museum, we’re doing it inside out and taking over our local primary school. I keep telling myself it’s going to be all right on the night…otherwise I’m going to go full Macauley Culkin in Home Alone…
See you on the flipside! Mine will be a large G&T.
What I’ve been reading
Dreams Underfoot/Tapping the Dream Tree/Muse and Reverie – Charles de Lint
Windswept and Interesting – Billy Connolly (Audible)
Back in the olden days (also known as the halcyon days when a good lie-in meant up in time for brunch, rather than 7am) I would wake up in the mornings, drift to the kitchen, make a cup of coffee and drink it while reading a book in blissful silence. I might have followed that coffee with more coffee and more book, perhaps even while enjoying a bath.
Mornings these days no longer look like this, not even on a Sunday. The only way I can guarantee a cup of coffee in silence is either to get up at 4.30am or, possibly, not to go bed at all. Recently Thing 1 has been waking up early and binging Chicago Med before school, and while I appreciate a hot doctor as much as the next person, I do love my early morning peace. Thing 3 has developed a penchant for asking difficult questions: Am I adopted?* What happens when cheese falls out of an aeroplane? What can I have to eat?
Today, as it was a swimming day and a Sunday, I managed to grab an hour of peace. The coffee ritual has changed so much in recent years. Now I accompany myself with difficult questions: have I taken my drugs today? What did I do with the mug I just got out? Why can I never find a teaspoon in the mornings? (and its corollary, what happened that pack of teaspoons I bought the other day?) Why does my ankle/back/neck/little toe hurt? What was I supposed to remember? Why is that song in my head? And the post-Covid classic, where am I supposed to be today?
I like to think that at least some of these questions will be answered over the course of the day, but I’m not holding my breath. Especially about the teaspoons.
(*no, sweetie, you’re stuck with us)
It’s technical fabrics week here in the atelierstudio dining room, with my first attempt at swimwear – a two piece in some funky fish fabric from Pound Fabrics. I chose the Oasis Mix and Match swimsuit by Ellie and Mac, which was one of their ‘wacky‘ patterns a few months ago. Each week they have a selection of patterns reduced to $1, which is about 77p – they also have their bestsellers reduced to $2 and a range of freebies, so well worth keeping an eye on. I have their duchess coat waiting on my to-do list, which is dramatic and swingy and I’m looking forward to swishing about in it when I get round to making it!
I used the print at home PDF pattern option, which has to be stuck together but they have trimless pages and you can also choose to just print the sizes you need which makes it easy to cut out. One reason for making this myself is that I’m different sizes on the top and the bottom, so could mix the sizes up for the best fit for both.
As with all their patterns, the pictorial instructions are step-by-step and really clear, and there’s a good range of options to make. I chose to make version one of the two-piece, with the high waist bottoms and the tie back. The thinking was that a two piece will be easier to get out of after a cold-water swim – I tested it this morning and while it was easy to get off I think next time I’ll make the extended strap version which ties at the front. I used a turquoise power mesh lining and was making it on my basic Brother LS14, which has a very limited range of stitches. It’s a great little machine but is best with wovens. I ended up doing most of the construction on the overlocker because of this, but the elastic had to be done on the Brother which meant a lot of creative cursing.
It’s not perfect but it didn’t fall apart in the lake or the washing machine so I’m counting it as a win!
I also made the Kaleidoscope dress from issue 98 of Love Sewing – dramatic sleeves and a swishy skirt. I used a 100% cotton double duvet cover I’d bought in a sale, with large Japanese-style cranes on one side and a plain dark green on the reverse. I love duvet covers for the sheer amount of fabric you get – eight square metres, so great for circle skirts. There wasn’t quite enough of the crane print for the whole dress so I used the plain side for the bodice, and print for the skirt and sleeves. I added pockets (why would anyone design a dress without them?) and pleated the sleeve head rather than gathering. The PDF pattern left a lot to the imagination – mislabelling pieces (shirt instead of skirt, for example) and very few markings so I wouldn’t advise it for a beginner. This is an issue with a lot of the craft magazines – they don’t appear to have proofreaders (or if they do they need new ones).
The dress went together quickly – I hate setting in sleeves so added them as ‘grown on’ ones, which combines a few steps. The channel for the elastic was a nightmare, and the sleeves really need to be finished better as a result. I wore it to work on Wednesday, however, and it was a showstopper: it needed a belt so I added a burgundy obi-style one, and so many people commented (the sleeves! the fact that it was made of a duvet! the dress!). The cotton fabric gives it some structure, rather than the drapey viscose the pattern recommended, and I’m glad I chose it! I can see this one coming into heavy rotation. I do love a dramatic frock!
And that’s been my week, mostly! Thing 2 had her 13th birthday on Friday, so this week I will be heading into Westfield with her and two of her buddies for a shopping trip, as well as visiting a children’s centre and an arts centre. My beloved is off for half term with them, so I get to go to work. Lucky me….
What I’ve been reading:
The Onion Girl/Dreams Underfoot/Spirits in the Wires – Charles de Lint (Newford series)
Yesterday we managed a family day out to Capel Manor Gardens – not far away geographically but work has got in the way all summer. It took a while to get out of the house while different children threw almighty strops about being asked to go out/get dressed/brush hair/etc but eventually we made it. £20 for a family ticket, with two adults and up to three children (under 16) was quite reasonable, and Things 2 and 3 took a stamp trail each.
We started with the animal collection, which is quite small: meerkats, an invisible porcupine, rabbits, pygmy goats, fluffy rabbits, parrots and a few other crowd-pleasers. Careful peeking through small gaps by my beloved located the Scottish wildcat. A wander through the Which? garden area where they are testing different plants and flowers was interesting, and then the kids wanted to head for the very well signposted ‘Secret Faerie Garden’.
The Horde discovered an absolutely enormous fallen tree to climb, despite Thing 1 having her arm in a sling, as well as a fairy door, statuary and a ‘ruin’ which came from one of the Chelsea Flower Shows. The kids tackled the Holly Maze and the sensory garden, we wandered through the cactus garden and the succulent greenhouse, and then headed to the cafe for lunch.
Lunch had a limited menu – chicken curry and rice, chickpea falafel and rice, chicken nuggets and chips, jackets, sausage rolls, pizza – but it was quite reasonably priced for a good sized portion. We decided to make the assumption that it was the counter person’s first day, as service was a little strange and very slow. It was tasty if not very hot, and at £34 for five main meals and five drinks, it was good value. There are also lots of picnic areas around the site, so you could take your own lunch if you wanted, or the cafe also sells sandwiches and snacks.
After lunch we wandered round the demonstration gardens, mainly ex-Chelsea Flower Show designs – I loved the one filled with pumpkins and nasturtiums (so did the honey bees), and the slate garden. The kids found all the stamps, and got a medal in return, and we escaped via the gift shop. General verdict was that it was a nice day out – I’d like to have seen inside the manor, and some of the gardens need some maintenance to bring them back up to show standard, but if you’re looking for some good ideas for your garden then it’s a great place to visit.
I’ve only been on the tube one day this week, but managed to finish the dragon’s egg dice bag after several attempts to get it the right way up! The pattern is the free Dragon’s Egg lined dice bag by 12SquaredCreations, and is easy to make up as long as you pay attention to the pictures!
I also finished the succulent terrarium cross stitch, which will be a gift.
And right now my stomach is telling me it’s lunch time, so I’ll be off! See you next week,
What I’ve been reading
Equal Rites/Witches Abroad/Maskerade – Terry Pratchett