124: God bless the cactuses

It’s not often that the death of someone I don’t know moves me to tears. The last time it happened it was losing Terry Pratchett in 2015, in fact. The passing of Bernard Cribbins this week was another of those moments. He’s just always been around, hasn’t he. From my childhood with The Wombles and Jackanory (more than 100 stories told there!); Albert Perks in The Railway Children; my kids’ childhood with Old Jack’s Boat; my adulthood with Doctor Who; the refrain of Right Said Fred ringing in my head after many, many meetings going over and over the same subject.

His role as Wilfred Mott in Doctor Who was beautifully done: for me, when Catherine Tate joined the cast, it was too close to her comedy show for me to take her seriously (so shouty!) and Bernard’s presence made her bearable. I have come round to her now after several rewatches, but his performance never gets outshone. Ten’s final episodes (‘The End of Time Parts I and II’) are heartbreaking: John Simm, who played The Master for Tennant’s Doctor, said this week that the hardest thing he had to do was be mean to Bernard Cribbins. He seemed like a genuinely lovely man, who has left a great body of work behind him.

Talking of interminable meetings…

By Thursday this week I had sat through more meetings than you could shake a stick at, and while the content was interesting in many cases my brain was a bit fried and I was overcome with the urge to make something. So at the end of the day the laptop went away, the sewing machines came out, and I spent a couple of hours using a duvet cover and an old favourite pattern to make a new dress.

There are benefits to using a familiar pattern (in this case the Simple Sew Kimono Dress): you don’t have to cut it out, you’re not focusing on any new techniques so your mind is free to think about other things, and in this case it was a quick make. Four seams and a hem, basically, and my dress was done: the pattern is a wrap dress, which has been a wardrobe staple in this recent heat, and then I used some scraps to create the waist ties. I added a pattern-matched patch pocket, and voila! A new frock which I teamed with wedge sandals for work. I love the rather sheepish looking jaguar in the pattern!

I carried on the sewing yesterday: a cross-body bag for the rare occasions I am pocketless, and a Rad Patterns Lucky Lingerie bra that I’d cut out a while ago. The bag was from The Book of Bags by Cheryl Owen, which I won in a magazine draw ages ago (I think) and that did need new techniques: inset zip and inserting a lining. Tricky but I like the end result. I also threaded my overlocker for today’s sewing, and loaded bobbins with black thread, so I am prepped for more creative adventures today!

Making me happy this week:

  1. the Africa Fashion exhibition at the V&A and seeing some of my favourite young people from Spotlight
  2. Working on the Travel by Tardis cross stitch from Country Magic Stitch
  3. Seeing J’s face when I handed over his new GIANT dice bag

That’s all, folks – I have to go and get my bathers on!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Moonglow/The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – Michael Chabon

The Running Hare – John Lewis-Stempel

89: brought to you by Benylin and Lemsip Max

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

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

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

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

December…

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

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

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

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

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

Risen – Benedict Jacka

55: You never forget your first Doctor

Regular readers of my ramblings have probably noticed that I am a happy little nerd (and proud of it). My kids are resigned to the fact that if I am left alone with the TV remote and my latest project they will come back to find me watching M*A*S*H, an eighties movie, Monty Python or – most likely – Doctor Who. Over the past eighteen months or so I have worked my way back through from Nine to Twelve, with a festive break to watch all the Christmas specials. Clara Oswald is still in situ as companion, so I have Bill Potts to go before Thirteen makes her appearance.

While I love the reboot, my first Doctor was Tom Baker – Four – who is still the longest serving incarnation of the Doctor (1974-1981). He is probably the most recognisable with that wonderful scarf and the mad hair. I must have been very young when I first started watching the series, as I was only 8 in 1981. My dad, as I’ve mentioned previously, is an enormous fan of sci-fi and fantasy, so I suspect the Doctor was regular viewing. He also watched Day of the Triffids (the theme tune was more terrifying than the show), Blake’s Seven, The Adventure Game, Now Get Out of That, The Great Egg Race, Quantum Leap and more, so at least I was brought up with a good all-round TV grounding.

The special effects – for the time – were pretty good and the aliens were often quite scary so the old ‘watching from behind a cushion’ trope has some basis in reality. The writers were excellent, and I enjoyed the Terrance Dicks books when I used to get them out of the library. It’s no real surprise that I love Andrew Cartmel and Ben Aaronovitch as writers: they cut their teeth on Doctor Who.

Nine is my favourite of the rebooted Doctors, and his story arc with Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) broke my heart: he was so wonderfully mad and, I think, the most alien of the modern incarnations. The relationships with the companions have always been a huge part of the dynamic of the show. When Rose was replaced by Donna Noble – with Catherine Tate in the role – I stopped watching it quite so religiously: it was too soon after Tate’s own TV show where she played a series of very shouty characters for me to warm to her. However, on the rewatch, she was actually brilliant and the addition of the wonderful Bernard Cribbins as her dad was just genius. Clara Oswald is still too smug, but I rather liked the ‘fam’ that Thirteen collected and will be interested to see how John Bishop does in the new series.

Image from ‘The Parting of the Ways’

I’d like to see more of Captain Jack Harkness – both back in the TARDIS and a return of Torchwood please. I even liked Miracle Day, though I don’t think anyone else did. I love the fact that Ianto had a shrine down in Cardiff Docks! As for villains….the Daleks and the Cybermen are the classics (it’s not Christmas without one or the other), but some of the Masters have been archvillains indeed. The insane John Simm and the sociopathic Michelle Gomez have been properly scary at times: the tricky Doctor/Master relationship has been drawn so well here that you have to have sympathy for them.

My fondness for the Time Lord has spilled over into my crafting habits: I made a Tardis gift for a Whovian friend when he and his husband moved house, and one of my favourite work skirts was made from a Doctor Who duvet cover. I have enough fabric scraps left from that to put secret nerdy pockets into a lot of outfits! The last cross stitch I designed was a TARDIS in a bottle which is on the to-do pile, and once I have finished the Hobbit Hole I am currently working on and another gift for a friend, I think it will be next on the list.

Who’s your favourite Doctor?

The rest of the week…

…has been quite peaceful, which has been a relief after March’s frenzied union activities. The weather has been chilly but mainly sunny, so on Tuesday morning I went for a long solo ramble through the fields. In typical April fashion, it snowed later in the day.

There have been a few swims – the water has been warmer than the air on most days, but it’s so good to be back in the water regularly. The coots are building their nests in the reeds, so soon we’ll be sharing the lake with the noisy chicks. I can’t wait!

I finished the first of the Tunisian socks and got started on the second, and have also sorted out all my sock patterns from the various boxes in the shed. I think they may be my favourite thing to crochet, you know. I can also now share the latest gift to be given this week – a 40th birthday gift for a colleague who loves video games. The pattern can be found here, and I used the same string art tutorial as last time to do the back.

I also sent this floral wreath one off along with the Suffragette sashes, all the way to Northern Ireland – Royal Mail at least still admit that NI is in the UK! If you look closely you can see the tiny initials of the house’s new inhabitants. The final piece is a hobbit hole, which you can find here.

This week’s cover image was taken on Easter Monday at St Andrew’s Churchyard, where we went to plant spring flowers on my beloved’s mother’s grave. You aren’t allowed to leave pots, artificial flowers or plastic anything on the graves but many of them have been planted with daffodils and other spring flowers. It’s one of the most beautiful churchyards I have seen, with higgledy-piggledy gravestones, a covering of primroses and violets, riddled with rabbit holes and surrounded by fields. The church itself dates from about 1330. There is a small Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery and memorial in the churchyard as well, with the village war memorial in front of the church.

Thing Two is nagging me to go on a bike ride, so I had better leave this here and do some parenting!

Same time, same place next week then?

Kirsty

What I’ve been reading:

The Silk House/The Botanist’s Daughter – Kayte Nunn

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

Week forty seven: it’s half term, give yourself a break!

We’ve made it! It’s half term – for the kids at least, though I have booked a day off on Thursday – and so we have a week off from daily Zoom lessons, Google classroom and the constant round of nagging about doing the work set. I cannot fault their schools, and am in awe of their teachers who are planning and delivering online work and feeding back on it, while also doing the same for the key worker children in school, managing pastoral care and also looking after their own families… but I am so glad it’s half term.

Not just for me, but for my mum (and dad) friends as well. We are working parents, without exception, and while we are expert jugglers and plate spinners – often holding at least two conversations while simultaneously sorting laundry, thinking about dinner, and praying for bedtime – there is a limit to the number of plates we can keep spinning before something drops. Right now, we are spinning all these parental plates and at the same time juggling the work oranges as well. I know that I am not the only one who feels like we aren’t giving enough time to either. It’s hard to help with maths when you’re in a Teams meeting, for a start. Children – especially young ones – don’t understand that there are other demands on your time and don’t respect the boundaries of an online meeting. Older children can be a help sometimes, but they have their own work to do and its not fair to put extra responsibility on them.

In ‘normal’ times we have our work heads and our home heads, and often we have a commute in between so we have a chance to swap them over, to decompress on the train home, to think about dinner before we are faced with actually having to cook it, to read a few chapters of a book or to listen to a podcast. You don’t realise how valuable that down time is until you don’t have it. Over the last couple of weeks I have been finishing work quite late (for me, anyway, as a committed morning person!), getting up from the dining table where I’ve been working, and starting on dinner straight away in response to the ‘what’s for dinner/when’s dinner/how long till’ conversations. By Thursday I’d completely lost the will to live cook and resorted to the chippy. My head was so overfull that I couldn’t contemplate dinner as well, let alone trying to cook something that everyone would eat. Dinner that night was just one too many plates to spin, so I gave up.

On Friday all three of mine were on a screen-free, mindfulness, wellbeing sort of day as decreed by their schools. An excellent idea, and the secondary school sent home ideas of things they could do (I really approved of the one that said ‘make your parent a hot drink’). I, on the other hand, did not have a screen free, mindful sort of day. I was trying to focus on what my museum learning might look like in three years time. It was too cold – with a wind chill of -8 – to send them outside for any length of time. I couldn’t stop to play board games or do jigsaws, or to go for a walk in the sunshine, so their wellbeing day didn’t do a lot for me.

So this week it’s half term and I still have work to do, and I am going to give myself a break. If they spend a whole day on Minecraft while talking their friends, I am not going to worry about it: they can’t go on playdates with them, so this is the contact they can have. If Thing 1 wants to stay in bed watching emotional teen movies till lunchtime, fine. We can all benefit from a bit of a break, whether its from parental plate spinning or algebra. And yes, there might even be takeaway one night.

Creative chaos

After last week’s ramble about wanting to learn to draw, I picked up my sketchbook and did a couple of Craftsy classes online – I started the ‘Urban Sketching in 15 minutes a day’ course, and then yesterday I tried a line drawing one about how to sketch a house. I really enjoyed them and am learning to embrace the imperfections, as one of the tutors was very keen to impress on me. Craftsy is a great source of courses at the moment, and I took advantage of an offer a couple of months back to get a year’s premium membership for about a fiver rather than $70.

In the year of the handmade gift I sent off a TARDIS cross stitch to a lovely Whovian friend – he and his husband have just bought their dream home, so I used a design by NERDpillo to make this one. I almost didn’t want to fill in all the blue as the black lines were so clean and sharp, but I did. I’m so pleased they like it!

It’s been proper brass monkeys weather this week – today is the first day in a week that the thermometer has gone above one degree. I was quite excited on Tuesday when I got to add a new colour to the Temperature Tree as it was so cold. You can also see a little toadstool in a hoop that I did purely to try out a string art backing technique, and an ombre string art heart card.

Finally, I chopped all my hair off on Friday morning – I tried the unicorn horn method that I used last time and it was still too long at the back, so I put it in pigtails and chopped both off at collarbone level. I love it, it’s curly and I can get a brush through it in seconds flat.

Tiny work doodle

(I was also really, really chuffed to be told on Friday that my article for CPRE had received 2000 views.)

Happy Valentines Day

A shout out to another creative friend here – the very lovely Emma, whose Etsy shop provided my gifts to my beloved for my anniversary last weekend and Valentine’s Day today.

There’s been a sweet theme this year: he indulged my passion for liquorice, and as well as torpedoes I have been given several bags of Spogs. These are a standing joke between us: when we were first together I had a bag of liquorice allsorts, and I’d saved all the spogs for last as they were my favourites. I came home to find he’d eaten them all as he thought I didn’t like them.

So that’s week 47! Happy Valentines Day to you all, you gorgeous bunch. See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Grave Tattoo – Val McDermid

Inspector Hobbes and the Blood – Wilkie Martin

Week forty one: goodbye 2020

The wish ‘happy new year’ has quite possibly never been said by so many people with so much fervency (is that a word?) as it has been this year. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some bad years before: 1994 was pretty horrendous, as was 2003, but those weren’t universally bad. I was glad to see the back of them but felt pretty hopeful about the future. And, to be honest, announcements of vaccines this week are giving me hope for 2021.

Have a cat, because there’s about to be a lot of text.

And 2020, despite all the challenges, hasn’t been all bad. Yes, there were the cancelled holidays, the various levels of lockdown, Covid-19 as a thread across the year, worry about my nurse friends and my vulnerable family members, Christmas without family and so on, but to end the year I’m going to share the things that gave me joy. In no particular order, I give you…my top ten of 2020:

  1. I’ve had six unexpected months with the Things, which is the longest time I’ve been able to spend with them since maternity leave. Maternity leave is wonderful, but you have a tiny baby, no sleep, you’re juggling any other children you have, and trying to remain an actual person at the same time. In my case, too, I had post-natal depression with both Things 1 and 2 which made the whole experience somewhat frightening, especially with Thing 1, when I didn’t know what was happening to me. So, six months with my children, spending time with them now they’re independent, finding out what they love to do, going on walks, learning new skills with them: thank you 2020, for giving me that.
  2. The glorious summer! Can you imagine being in lockdown without that wonderful weather, in a typical rainy British summer season?
  3. The garden. My beloved and I were both furloughed, and had we not had the garden we’d have been under each other’s feet constantly. We are lucky to live where we do, and the garden at the end of this year – thanks entirely to my beloved – looks amazing. It’s filled with birds at the moment: as I look out of the window I can see an enormous rook, wood pigeons, collared doves, a robin, blue tits and great tits. We have goldcrests, dunnocks, sparrows, nesting blackbirds, occasional woodpeckers and jays. This year I have learned to love the noisy, scrappy, playful brood of magpies that hatched in a tree behind the garden – and to have great sympathy for their put-upon mother.
  4. Open water swimming. We came late to this, starting in July, but it’s been a sanity saver for all of us. Swimming in the summer was wonderful, surrounded by the coot chicks and the grebes, but if anyone had said to me then that I’d be looking forward to getting in a sub-5 degree lake on New Year’s Day I’d have laughed. I never thought I’d take up an extreme sport but apparently this is ice swimming – and I love it. I’m a head-up breast stroker, not a front crawler, but at Redricks this is fine: everyone is made to feel welcome. The mental health and physical benefits have been heavily documented by other people in much more learned spaces, but I have to agree with them!
  5. Our local countryside – I live in North Weald in Essex, and I do a lot of walking anyway, having trained for and completed a couple of walking marathons. This year there are no events, so I have been walking for the sheer joy of it. Being at home for most of the year and being able to just ramble, watching the hedgerows and wildlife, not having to be anywhere: it’s been so mindful, just slowing down and watching the world and the seasons change. On any walk I may see rabbits, red kites, muntjac and fallow deer, and hares as well as fields of horses and cows, friendly cats and lots of dogs. It’s cheaper than therapy, too: my friends and I put the world to rights, and when Thing 2 joins me we spend time looking for tiny fungi and mosses.
  6. Zoom and WhatsApp: I may not have been in Wales with my family but we can still see each other and chat. This year we have had a wider clan WhatsApp chat which gets very silly at times, I have conversations with my sisters and with the whole family. We can still share the things that make us laugh, and then we realise that the whole clan shares the warped sense of humour.
  7. This blog! It’s been such a cathartic experience: sharing when I am down or angry or frustrated, talking about the things I love to do, taking you all on a journey through my creation processes. It’s not a curated lifestyle blog, or a foodie blog, or a crafty blog: it’s just me. I try and be honest, whether that’s about my mental health or my reaction to government policy. I try and be wry and look sideways at disasters. Hopefully I succeed! I use Facebook as a daily microblog, too – keeping a count of the days, with three highlights, positives or disasters of the day. In work writing these days tends to be figures, and proposals, and reports – I have loved the chance this year to write because I want to – and to write what I want to.
  8. The people I work with: Microsoft Teams has kept us all in contact, as has Zoom for those social moments. I am so lucky to work with a core team of brilliant people – we are tightknit, we care about each other, and we have felt supported by each other throughout. The museum we are creating is going to be amazing, and I can’t wait for the days when Monday meetings are round a table and not on screen again. I genuinely love my job.
  9. Making, of course. Crochet, dressmaking, cross stitch, quilting: 2020 has given me time to hone old and learn new skills. Obviously there’s still more to learn, but the act of creating and sharing my creations has given me such pleasure this year. Designing my own cross stitches and sharing those has boosted my confidence, too. I just need to get back to work now to wear all those clothes….
  10. My friends: socially distanced coffees in front gardens, people to walk with, to see over Zoom and Houseparty, to make plans with for ‘when things are normal’. I have never been that mum at the school gate as I have always been working, but this year I have really appreciated the chance to walk up daily with my neighbour and their puppy, to see other parents, and to feel part of village life.
  11. Staged, with Michael Sheen and David Tennant. A comedy that perfectly captured the 2020 zeitgeist: Zoom, spending so much time at home, turning our focus locally, working so differently. And Season Two starts this week! OK, so that’s 11 – but this programme is definitely a bonus!
My top nine Instagram posts (@ladybirdkirsty)

So, 2020 – thank you for all the above. Thanks also to the key workers – not just the frontline NHS crews who’ve really, really, really earned a pay rise rather than claps, but to the retail staff, the cleaners, public transport people, and – the unsung heroes – the teachers who’ve been juggling conflicting and frankly bonkers government advice, online and in-person teaching, pastoral care on unprecedented levels, given up their holidays to care for key worker and vulnerable children, who are now spending this holiday trying to plan mass testing, remote learning and more while being abused by the red-tops for ‘laziness’ and ‘cowardice’. The two schools my Horde attend have been brilliant throughout and their care and dedication is being echoed across the country.

I am not given to New Year’s resolutions, but if I were, mine would be to take the positives from 2020 forward into this year: to slow down and watch the seasons change, to appreciate the time I have with my children, to keep being creative and learning new skills, to keep writing and swimming and finding the positives.

It’s not Christmas without a Dalek

One of the things I like to do between Christmas and New Year is a big jigsaw – you may remember this one from my charity shop trawl before Christmas. It took three days, and those Daleks were trickier than they looked. Things 2 and 3 dropped in to help occasionally, and I took up most of the table, and thankfully it didn’t have any pieces missing – not bad for £1.75! And all finished in time for this year’s Doctor Who special on New Year’s Day which was fantastic, to quote Nine – sad to see Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole go, but bringing John Bishop on board is going to be interesting. Catherine Tate was surprisingly good once I put enough distance between her and her sketch show characters, as was Matt Lucas, so why not John Bishop?

In crafty news, I’m still working on the Hobbit cross stitch… and have so many more geeky patterns on the to-do list! Not much crochet has happened, but it’s not going anywhere.

Do you think he knows about second breakfast?

Facebook memories threw up a quote I’d shared a couple of years ago the other day, and it inspired me to create pixel people of the family and to design a new pattern – I started with squared paper and pencils, as I’m not confident enough to work directly into StitchFiddle yet, and then transferred into the software afterwards. I made a lot more use of the floss chart, too, but need to test it against the swatch book as soon as I remember where I put it this time.

The pixel people templates came from here, and the fonts were from a book I bought a few months ago and this set on Etsy as I wanted to use a range of lettering. I am not sure about using the coloured dots in the ‘Friends’ font (the word ‘nice’), and I might go back to the original one from my pencil drawing. The idea was to incorporate some of the things the kids have enjoyed – Thing 1 binged Friends earlier this year, and Harry Potter is always a favourite.

The final pixel family – the kids love their minis, but my beloved thinks he should have a swagbag over his shoulder. Note that Lulu is next to him, as he’s her favourite human!

I’ve also done a lot of walking – very muddy, very icy, very beautiful.

I’m looking forward to my third dip of the week later this morning – we swam on the 29th and on New Year’s Day. We didn’t have to break the ice in the end, despite being a bit concerned as the temperature didn’t get above one degree on New Year’s Eve! It was so cold, but we felt amazing afterwards. The outside temperature right now is two degrees, but it is only 7am.

New Year’s Day at Redricks

On the subject of temperature, another new project I’ve decided on is a temperature cross stitch using this tree design, where you stitch the high temperature for each day. I’ve just seen that someone is doing two trees, one for highs and one for lows…. must. Resist!

So Happy New Year, everyone! Catch you at the end of week 42.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

That Old Black Magic – Cathi Unsworth

The Not Knowing – Cathi Unsworth

Help the Witch – Tom Cox

21st Century Yokel – Tom Cox