137: you’re making me climb mountains, Aunty Tan

Well, here I am again after a very relaxing week away with London sister (aka Aunty Tan, to the kids) and Things 2 and 3. Thing 1 declined the invitation as she was going to a drum & bass (drum’n’bass? I don’t know) thing at the Scala in King’s Cross midweek.

So, we drove down via the M40, as the M4 was in its traditional chaotic weekend state of delays and roadworks – there’s the most amazing view as the Chilterns open up in front of you at one point. This area was one of the reintroduction points for the birds, so there’s always quite a few about. Having dosed both kids with travel sickness stuff before we left (Thing 2 has form in this area – takes after her aunt) they alternated arguing with sleeping while we sang along with the traditional road trip playlist of classic rock, surf music, country and western and other songs we felt the kids needed to know. We hit Monmouth for lunchtime, couldn’t find a single space in any of the car parks and headed instead to the Red Door Deli & Diner at Millbrook Garden Centre. They do an excellent omelette, if you’re passing!

We then headed up through Abergavenny (much to the satnav’s disgust, as it was angling for the M4), through Llandovery and Lampeter and finally arrived in Llangrannog around five. Tan had booked Gerlan, over the road from the beach. The flat was lovely, with views over the beach to the caves – both kids had their own rooms, but after two nights Thing 2 decided my bed was more comfortable. I think she secretly missed her sister. The car had to be parked in the free car park up the hill, as despite advertising two spaces there weren’t any at all. ‘Up the hill’ is an understatement – Llangrannog is in the V of a very steep valley!

Thing 2 captured in pensive mode while I was swimming

The chippy was closed, so we ate pizza from Tafell a Tan, who make the best garlic bread, all sea salt and good cheese. Tan took the Things for a walk on the beach, where Thing 3 got water in his wellies and we discovered that our definition of paddling was somewhat different to theirs. Thing 2 thinks paddling means full immersion…

Sunday

I started the day with a solo dip, watched by Tan and Thing 2 from the window (always have a swimming buddy!). Three widths of the 100 metre bay was enough for me, and as I was getting out there were some other mad hardy souls getting in. The water temperature hovered around 14 degrees through the week.

What the hell am I doing?

After a quick trip to Tesco in Cardigan to get supplies (including a Curly the Caterpillar cake for Thing 2, as she hadn’t had a birthday cake the day before) we dragged the kids out on a circular walk via some woodland paths, the Urdd camp and the Wales Coastal Path. There was much whinging about being forced to ‘climb mountains’ until we hit the view after which they were practically skipping up the next slope. We had a family swim when we got back to cool off, and then I acted as sous chef while Tan made a roast dinner. I proved myself competent at cutting carrot batons and selecting potatoes, which was good as I have never managed to roast them properly!

Monday

We were so lucky with the weather all week – apart from a bit of drizzle and wind, we were able to get out and about every day. On Monday we headed up the coast to Aberystwyth, where I was allowed (briefly) to reminisce about my student days there. After lunch in Y Caban and a trip to Trespass to get Thing 3 some adventure pants we took the Cliff Railway up Constitution Hill to see the camera obscura. Thing 2 was sulking as we weren’t budging on our insistence that she would wear both long sleeves and a coat when we headed up Snowdon the following day. Afternoon snacks were indulged in at Ridiculously Rich By Alana, where they make some of the best brownies on the planet – they are available by post, and I promise you won’t regret it.

We took the kids wave jumping in the afternoon, and in the evening we stargazed at the Milky Way, saw a shooting star, and watched the tide come in.

Tuesday

It was three hours to Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) and we were booked on the 10am train so we were up and on our way by 6am – as the dawn broke we were treated to some spectacular views coming through the mountain passes. It was Thing 3’s day to be stroppy, it turned out, especially when we realised he’d forgotten his coat (my fault apparently). Luckily we are Wales veterans so we were able to locate some layers in the car, and I bought him a new waterproof in the shop (in my size, and it’s very nice) to keep him dry. The wind was gusting at 54mph at Clogwyn, where the train was stopping, and there was some doubt whether it would run but it dropped to 48mph and we were able to go up. We shared our compartment with a French family, so poor Tan’s language skills were tested as as soon as they realised she spoke French they started a conversation about Brexit, politics, the monarchy and the difficulty they were having with the north Walian accent. Tan translated the driver’s commentary, but her brain was fried by the time we got to the bottom. The kids were suitably impressed.

We had a picnic lunch at Dolbadarn castle, a brief wander through Llanberis village and a walk along the lake, which I was not allowed to jump into. Dinner was at the Pentre Arms, as although Google told us the chippy was open, it lied…

Wednesday

The Things went on strike and demanded a doing-nothing day. No mountains, no walks, no driving, so that was what we did. I started the day with a dip in the sea and later we went back to the beach with the kids. We had ice cream from Caffi Patio and I sat with my crochet while the kids played in the water. Things 2 and 3 built a sand castle while Tan and I went and explored rock pools round the headland at Cilborth.

Before dinner, Tan and I walked up to the cliff path to watch the sunset with G&Ts which was peaceful and glorious, and was the source for this week’s cover photo. We started binge watching Ghosts again, and just before high tide we dragged the kids outside with their hot chocolates and watched the waves coming up.

Thursday

After another early dip, we headed to Aberaeron – Y Popty for pasties to eat overlooking the harbour followed by honey ice cream from The Hive. After lunch we headed up to Bwlch Nant-yr-Arian to see the red kite feeding. They do this daily throughout the year and it was truly spectacular. I’m not sure how the kites know what the time is but there were what looked like hundreds of them there by 3pm and the aerial display was spectacular.

We walked round the lake afterwards spotting toadstools, and had a sunset swim back in Llangrannog. Still no fish and chips though – thank heavens for pasta!

Friday

We headed to New Quay, and promised the kids they could have the afternoon back on the beach. No longer trusting Google, we had fish and chips on the quayside under the beady eyes of the local gulls, and spotted a seal bobbing about just outside the harbour walls along with a couple of cormorants dipping for their lunch. There were dolphins in the bay, according to the boat people, but we didn’t spot any.

Tan and I have been able to have whole conversations in Welsh in front of the children when we didn’t want them to hear what we were plotting, as well as practising in shops and cafes which we have enjoyed. People are very patient with us, and are happy to help when we struggle which has been very useful.

As promised we spent the afternoon on the beach, exploring rock pools, eating yet more ice cream, and finished with a last dip where Tan and Thing 3 were properly wiped out by a wave. I did some beach crochet, sheltered from the wind by the cliff.

We drive back via Raglan, avoided the M4 closures and appreciated the Chilterns from other direction. It’s always nice to drive back in the rain, it makes the end of the holiday so much easier!

This morning I have been swimming in the rain at the lake – it felt much colder than the sea, though there was apparently no difference!

Back to work tomorrow…see you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Magpie Key – Sarah Painter

Bleeding Heart Yard – Elly Griffiths

A Heart Full of Headstones – Ian Rankin

Straight Outta Crawley – Romesh Ranganathan

134: What goes on in Cardiff in the dark

My left shin is currently sporting an impressive bruise, just at the height a medium sized dog’s head might reach if – say – they were overexcited by the the scent of a fox, it was dark, and raining, and the aforementioned shin was wearing dark jeans and boots. It’s an excellent bruise which is still changing colour and I do hope the poor hound in question – Kalie, who belongs to Jane, one of my Cardiff cousins – didn’t suffer concussion from the collision.

But why were you hanging about in the rainy dark in Cardiff, I hear you cry? Well, last Sunday London sister was running the Cardiff half marathon, so I went along for the ride and to give her a bit of support in the last couple of miles. My hound-owning cousin was also supporting, in several more places thanks to her speedy cycling, but it’s the thought that counts and I did see her at two places thanks to a bit of speedy lurching across Roath Park. The week before she had run the Ealing half marathon and today she is running the postponed (thanks to the Queen) Richmond half marathon. Mad but impressive. Anyway.

Apart from the extremely lengthy M4-avoiding detour through Newbury, Reading and other probably scenic bits of Berkshire on the way back, it was a lovely weekend. The detour on the way down, skirting Cirencester and Gloucester and through the Forest of Dean, was rather nice as we ended up in Monmouth without sitting in M4 traffic – which was where we were planning on stopping for lunch anyway. We had a bacon roll in Estero Lounge, which we felt we had to try as we’d seen it soooo many times on a local Facebook page. Usually asking when it was open, which luckily it was. It’s definitely a step up from Maureen’s caff and Buster’s the bus station caff, which were the options when we were younger at that end of town! We had a wander up Monnow Street, entertained the ladies in Salt & Pepper with our sisterly double act (but came away with a hat which didn’t make London Sister look like a) a mushroom or b)the Witchfinder General), and marvelled at Boots the chemist closing for lunch.

Dinner was in Cardiff at La Dolce Vita on Wellfield Road, where we had done a lot of shopping on weekends as children as we’d started life in Lakeside. Six of us met there for various pizzas, pastas, puddings and Prosecco-based cocktails* – representing most of the female cousins, apart from Irish sister who said Cardiff was too far for dinner and the other one. It was good to be reassured that the ability to carry on six different conversations at once is clearly a family thing (and going by the photos we are quite definitely family) – I was complimented the other week when I was running a registration desk at a forum on my ability to hold several conversations, remember a spelling and write at the same time, and this is clearly where it comes from. The restaurant runs ‘sittings’ in the evening, much like school lunches but with less custard, and they were very keen to get rid of us as we neared the end of our allotted time. They brought us the bill without being asked, and whipped all plates and glasses away as soon as they were empty. Cousin Sal took great delight in taking the longest time ever to eat a tiramisu… we then repaired to the pub to finish off conversations before walking back through Roath Park.

Roath Park was a very big part of my childhood: I remember walking through it on Sundays to ‘the Kiosk’ (now a coffee shop) to get the papers with Dad, and getting a Drumstick lolly to keep us going on the way back. It’s got a very nice lake, with plenty of bird life, pleasure gardens, rose gardens, a wild garden (that’s the dark one where Kalie ran into my leg) where the foxes live, a play area which was notable for having a massive metal slide when I was young, a cafe and various other things that any decent park wouldn’t be without.

After I’d raced across the park to see Tan at mile 12 (before ‘the Widowmaker’ as the final hill is as known) I rewarded myself with a rather nice ‘caramelised biscuit’ ice cream (Biscoff, by any other name) and wandered through the rose garden to the Conservatory which is a HUGE greenhouse type affair that we used to occasionally visit as children. I got bitten by a fish there once. Last time I went there were baby terrapins which I think had been retrieved from the main lake where they’d been released after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fever had worn off. The terrapins are still there but a LOT bigger now, and one of them was doing yoga on the edge of the pool while the rest were just lounging about on a rock. The plants are also a lot bigger, and there is a pair of whistling ducks. I wouldn’t like to get bitten by one of the fish now, they’re enormous.

I did a bit of crochet as I sat on a bench (because I can) and then wandered back to Jane’s for a most delicious lunch cooked by her husband Jason – Moroccan Lamb with Apricots, Almonds and Mint which I cooked for my beloved on Thursday as he’s partial to a bit of lamb too. I’m looking forward to heading a bit further into Wales for half term in a couple of weeks.

*Other cocktails were available and indeed drunk, but they ruined my alliterative streak.

Ooh, bees!

Yesterday one of my crafty friends and I made our annual pilgrimage to Ally Pally to the Knitting and Stitching Show where we squished yarn, stroked fabric, marvelled at gadgets and furniture and spotted Sewing Bee contestants wandering about the place. We got there about half an hour after opening and left just before they threw us out, and we had a great time – Heather and I are butterfly crafters who like to try all sorts of things and often have many things on the go at once, so we take our craft shows very seriously. Before we went in we hit the Toft Metamorphosis space where we crocheted a circle to add to the HUGE butterfly.

This year we started at the far end of the show and worked our way back which meant we avoided all the mad old ladies with shopping trolleys and pointy elbows and had the chance to actually get into stalls. Heather is a DT teacher so we started with the quilting guild show and the gallery spaces, before heading into the stalls for some inspiration.

We had a fish finger sandwich for lunch and cake at 3pm (so disciplined!) – there was much more choice of food this year. At the cake stop we sat with two elderly ladies and we all showed off our hauls, so at least Heather and I know what our future in craft shows looks like! I also ran into one of my favourite freelancers from my Museum of London Docklands days which was lovely!

I came home feeling crafty and made a couple of Christmas decorations using this pattern and Paintbox cotton yarn.

Today I think we are off to Copped Hall Autumn Family Day, with as many children as we can drag out of bed, and this evening it’s the Full Moon Swim at the lake. And I really must do the ironing…. See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

I Believe in Yesterday – Tim Moore

Believe Me! – Eddie Izzard

Twelfth Doctor Tales/Tales from Trenzalore (Audible)

109: wake me up for tea

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.

Damien Jurado (r) and Josh Gordon

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.

Family walk – the return leg

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!

Kirsty x

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

Insidious Intent – Val McDermid

Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor Novels vol 4 (Audible)

106: coming to you from sunny NI

This week’s blog is coming to you from a sunny Northern Ireland, where I’m on godmother duty for my adorable nephew’s first communion. And I’m feeling pretty sunny, too: it’s the first time I’ve seen my youngest sister and her family since 2018 thanks to Covid cancelling both our 2020 holiday and our trip over for the niece’s confirmation.

Clutching our shiny new passports, London sister and I met at Heathrow on Friday, planning to do the bag drop, get a nice lunch and relax… what actually happened was a queue for over an hour for the automated bag drop, a mad dash to grab a meal deal to eat on the plane and then we sat near the gate for another hour plus as the flight was delayed and delayed. Making faces at small children and chatting to elderly gents is only entertaining for so long. We finally took off just as we should have been landing at Belfast City, but we did get free crisps on the flight. Just as well as the flight attendant was about to get bitten, I was so hungry by then.

It’s so good to see my little sisters: we sat and chattered all evening, covering everything under the sun, decorating the house as a surprise for my nephew’s big day and blowing up balloons.

Balloons!

She promised me a field full of little lambs and sure enough they are skipping about and making me wonder if I can stash one in my suitcase to come back with. I have begun to make friends with them in preparation, lurking nonchalantly on our side of the hedge and smiling in a non-scary sort of way.

My nephew and niece have thrashed me at Harry Potter trivial pursuits, we’ve cried with laughter at S bouncing T off the bouncy castle (a first communion tradition!) and I did get a bit tearful watching my godson make his first communion.

Three sisters

First Communions are a huge event over here, with all the little boys in grown up suits and the girls in bridesmaid type dresses. They all got to do a reading or another part of the ceremony, and the church was full of proud families as well as many watching via the live feed. There’s a scrum afterwards to take photos on the altar, and the kids make a fortune from relatives.

I was slightly less fond when the combination of too many sausages and a bouncy castle had the inevitable messy result, but it’s been such a lovely day. He and I also had a long and philosophical discussion about confession and what happens if you’ve been really good all week and haven’t got anything to confess: do you make it up and then confess to lying the next week? He tells me he’s probably in credit as he only confessed to throwing a ball at his sister once but he’s actually done it a lot which should keep the priest busy for a few months to come. He’s a very curious child, so the priest will most likely have a lot of questions to answer, starting with ‘why does the Body of Christ taste like cardboard?’ and working up from there.

Hopefully we’ll manage a holiday together this summer so we can all spend more time together – I had the advantage of growing up near all my cousins, but these two and the Things don’t have that luxury.

This morning the new communicant has nagged his dad into taking him to mass again, so we are enjoying the peace and contemplating leftover cake for breakfast. Now excuse me, I’m off to make the most of being with my sisters before flying back later.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

On the Bright Side: The New Secret Diary of Henrik Groen – Henrik Groen

Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor Novels vol 3 (Audible)

The Hanging Valley/Past Reason Hated/Careless Love – Peter Robinson

98: don’t have the baby tonight, I’m on my second pear Cosmo…

…so said my friend K 11 years ago this week, as she was lined up to babysit when Thing 3 decided to make an appearance. Ha, I said, nothing’s happening tonight, not even a twinge.

An hour later my waters broke, contractions were already well advanced and my sister was on her way over to relieve K. Thing 3, The Boy, my surprise baby arrived three hours later – four days early.

If you were to ask me how I felt during that pregnancy the answer would be – then and now – ‘worried’. How would we afford a third baby? We had decided we’d stop after Thing 2 but by the time the letter arrived from the hospital to tell my beloved to make an appointment it was too late. We’d just got back from a week in France with my parents, and we’d had to stop six times between Calais and Caen for me to have a wee – my period wasn’t due for another two weeks so it was too early to test, but I knew. I was almost 37, working full time and with a three year old and a one year old already. The positive test result was not a surprise.

I was on antidepressants, so they got me off those. The 12 week scan was normal but the blood tests came back with high risk of Downs Syndrome, so I had CVS testing which came back with good news but also the news that this little pudding was going to be a boy – which really was a surprise, after his daddy had produced four girls. I refused to believe it completely until he arrived! I was referred to a consultant – despite being ludicrously healthy, with no problems in my previous two pregnancies. Each time I saw the consultant or his registrar I asked why I was seeing them and got a different answer every month – none of which were very helpful and I never saw the same person twice. They kept sending me for scans which were all normal, they decided to send me for the blood glucose test much later than they should have done (also normal), and the only result was that I became more and more worried. At 36 weeks I got cross and demanded that I was signed off by the consultant as otherwise I wouldn’t be able to have the baby in the birthing centre (as it happened he was a labour ward baby as they were so busy that night – we were the last ones in before they closed the ward to new arrivals).

He was probably the easiest of all three of the Things – apart from not sleeping anywhere but on me at night for his first few days which meant I got no sleep at all. I think this is often the case for third babies as they basically have to drag themselves up. I probably enjoyed his babyhood more because I didn’t get post-natal depression this time round, and he went onto a bottle at 12 weeks as I couldn’t keep up with his feeding.

And now he’s 11, went off to his first Scout camp yesterday (OK, his dad went to get him at 11pm as he was homesick for the cats apparently) and is off to secondary school in September. No more school runs (I have only really done these on a regular basis since lockdown so the novelty has yet to wear off!) where I have to brace myself for a hug as he launches across the playground at me. He’s nearly as tall as me now, with longer hair and a nice line in snark – can’t think where he gets that from. He’s still my baby though.

In other news….

This week I made a dragon (called George) as a prop for our D&D game, and started this year’s temperature tracker. I’m using this Rainbow Galaxy pattern by Climbing Goat Designs for 2022.

I’m also working on the Neon Pikachu (still), yet more pigs in blankets, and another unicorn… work truly is the curse of the crafty classes.

But first, the ironing!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Something to Hide- Elizabeth George

Self-help for the Bleak – Rich Hall

1979 – Val McDermid

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Novels (Audible)

Running Tracks – Rob Deering

90: a festive poem*

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas and here in Dukes Close

The mother was getting exceeding morose

Three weeks of Covid and labyrinthitis

Had left her with anti-holiday-itis.

Enforced isolation surrounded by kin

Has left her in need of a very large gin.

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

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

Thing 2 had been nagging to get out the tree

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

Their daddy was outside stringing up lights

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

There’s Santa and snowmen and snowflake projectors

And probably some cunning reindeer deflectors.

The turkey’s too big for the freezer this year

And Asda online’s substitions are weird

I asked for some candy canes for the tree

But they sent me a single tube of Smarties.

There’s pigs in their blankets and roasties of course

Yet again I’ve forgotten the cranberry sauce.

Upstairs the presents are rapidly stacking

My heart sinks anew at the prospect of wrapping

The stockings are still in the attic, sure enough

So ‘Santa’ had better go shopping for stuff

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

Has anyone noticed I’m really not copin’?

(*with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

Pigs in blankets

What I’ve been reading:

Still Life/Dead Beat– Val McDermid

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

The Dark Remains – Ian Rankin and William McIlvanney

75: delays to normal service continue

Ten years ago, on a bank holiday weekend much like this one, I came downstairs to find a message from London sister on the answerphone, left in the early hours of the morning: my brother-in-law had had a massive heart attack and they didn’t know if he was going to make it. I wandered back upstairs and told my beloved, who said – like we all did – ‘are you sure? what? that can’t be right’, or words to that effect. But he’s really fit and healthy, he’s only 36. That sort of thing. He had an undetected heart condition, apparently: scanning young adults is not routine, so it was never picked up. It’s the same thing that caused footballers like Fabrice Muamba and Christian Eriksen to collapse on field.

They had been out running and out of the blue he had dropped. She did CPR and with the help of a passer by – as she didn’t have her phone on her – had called the ambulance and he’d been raced off to hospital where they operated. He’d been half an hour without a heartbeat and was given a 10% chance of making it through the next 24 hours. I still go cold thinking about it now.

London sister and her husband met at school when they were 11, and did the whole playground ‘going out’ thing, so he’d been in our lives for 25 years at that point. They broke up, as you do when you’re 11, and got back together on my 20th birthday (which made remembering stuff a lot easier). He was a hugely talented guitarist, a sound engineer who had worked on some great albums with some very big names, a guitar teacher, a rock to the whole family when our Grandad Bill passed away. He and I hadn’t always got on, but I love him dearly.

They married in 2005, in a joyful ceremony (I’m not sure I’ve ever seen another bride turn round and give the entire congregation a thumbs up and a massive grin when the vows were said) with a reception where their first dance was to ‘If I had a million dollars’ by the Bare-Naked Ladies.

High Beech, 2011 – pre-cardiac arrest. Thing 1 nicking her aunty’s water

Things 1 and 2 adore their uncle (and aunty, of course), and Thing 1 treated him as a giant climbing frame. Thing 2 didn’t like a lot of people but he was one of them. I don’t think that that she talked to him much, but she did at least acknowledge his existence which was rare. At five and rising three they didn’t understand what was happening, and Thing 3 was only seven months old at the time. I was due to go back to work a few days later, at the end of my maternity leave. I am not sure how much use I was back at work, but there we are.

Both London sister and my brother-in-law are, fortunately, stubborn types. He pulled through, and after several months in hospitals he came home. He had to learn to walk, talk and eat again, and both their lives have changed irrevocably. The long – and ongoing – journey they have been on since then is not my story to tell. Thing 3 never knew Uncle Mk1 as he was too young, but he adores Uncle Mk2 and treated him as a climbing frame in much the same way as his big sister did. He was a sturdy child, to say the least, and had to be reminded to be gentle at times.

Thing 3 and his beloved uncle and aunty

The swift work of my sister and the NHS meant that we still have my giant, grumpy, funny, beloved brother-in-law in our lives, and my sister still has her soulmate. They have raised thousands for C-R-Y (Cardiac Research in the Young) and Headway since then, and I am proud to have been a small part of that when we did a half marathon together. Well, together at least part of the way – she finished before I did!

Twelve people each week under the age of 35 die due to sudden cardiac arrest. If more of us knew how to do CPR – I have the vaguest idea, having last done first aid training when I was a student teacher in the mid-90s – then that number could probably be reduced. There are defibrillators all over the country now, but I am not sure I would know how to use one.

When I went back to work I asked our HR team about first aid training: no, I was told, it’s only for front of house staff. While I wasn’t working on the floors, I was delivering sessions in basement classrooms without a radio or a telephone, or on gallery, so I was working with the public. Still not good enough, I was told. This seemed shortsighted, but they wouldn’t budge.

If they can find the space in the school curriculum to teach financial literacy and ‘British values’ they can find a space to teach CPR: a half day out of the school year isn’t that much and it could – quite literally – save a life.

Normal service returns next week, honest.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Mort / Interesting Times/Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett

Week forty eight: but my mind is broken, not my leg

When I was 29 I thought I had my life in order: I was a home owner, I had a settled relationship and I had a job I loved.

Also when I was 29, I found myself single and looking for somewhere to live. It was after viewing yet another dingy bedsit (sorry, ‘studio flat’) in East London that I found myself on Mile End station, standing at the end of the platform where the wall went all the way to the edge and the driver wouldn’t have time to see me. I stood there for a long, long time, staring at the track, and eventually a kind person came and talked to me and put me on a train instead of under one. Without the kindness of that stranger I would, in all probability, not be here.

That moment should have been the one where I recognised I needed some help, but as I had always seen myself as a bit of a Tigger – when I hit the ground I bounced. I put it down to viewing dingy bedsits, decided to stay in Epping, and carried on. I found a flat and moved in. The day after I moved in, someone phoned to check in on me. I opened my mouth and started to cry, and couldn’t stop. Even then, I didn’t go and get help.

I decided I would be brave and grown up and do Christmas on my own, as it felt like an admission of failure to go home. It wasn’t until I met my best friend for lunch in London and she went straight home and phoned my mother that things started to move: my dad came and got me and took me home for Christmas. My mum found me sobbing over the sellotape, phoned the doctor I’d known for many years and marched me off to see her. I was diagnosed with depression. 2003 is known to me and my friends as ‘Kirsty’s lost year’: I made very questionable decisions, I cooked a lot but ate nothing, I drank far too much (not a good idea with anti-depressants), I slept little. My beloved Grandad Bill died that year, which is one of the few things I remember. I made some new friends, who took me under their collective wing and put up with the fact that I was so far away with the fairies that Tinkerbell was my next door neighbour. My best friend had a baby and made me godmother, despite me being so patently unsuitable for the job at the time. It was a year of feeling like a ghost in my own life

In late 2003 I started to pull myself back together: I got a second job, in a pub, which meant I wasn’t drinking or staying home alone. I moved to another flat and met the man who would become my beloved, and slowly I started to feel ‘normal’ again. I came off the antidepressants after a couple of false starts, and a couple of years later Thing One arrived. I was terrified: labour had been frightening, long and painful as she was lying on my sciatic nerve. An aggressive healthcare assistant kept telling me I was breastfeeding wrong: I was failing at parenting after less than a day! They took my baby away as she kept breathing too fast and brought her back several hours later without a lot of explanation. The expectation is that your baby will arrive, you will fall instantly in love and motherhood will kick in instinctively – but it doesn’t. It wasn’t too long before that I hadn’t been able to take care of myself, and now there was a baby?

I went back to work when she was five and a half months old, to find I had a new line manager who I barely knew (he was lovely, but that shouldn’t have happened while I was on mat leave: this was before ‘keeping in touch’ days). I worked full time and I was exhausted. I felt guilty for going back to work but we had to eat and pay rent, didn’t we? She had terrible colic, so evenings were horrendous and for six nights out of seven I was on my own with her till 8pm as my beloved was either working or with the older children at his mother’s. At a couple of months old she stopped putting on weight, which was another worry.

I was desperately afraid I’d hurt her, but I had no one to talk to about whether this feeling was normal or not (it wasn’t). I loved my baby so much that sometimes just looking at her made me cry, but I was terrified of what I might do because I couldn’t cope. I couldn’t tell anyone though, in case they thought there was something wrong with me and took her away.

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: It is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’

C.S. Lewis, author

There was a baby boom that year, so her nine month check was delayed. When it eventually came round the health visitor took one look at me, said we’d deal with the baby next time, and made a doctor’s appointment for me on the spot. I was diagnosed with post-natal depression, signed off work, and put back on the tablets – this time with some counselling support, which took the form of cognitive behaviour therapy and which helped me see that I wasn’t a total failure. My London sister became my lifeline, as she was close enough to help – my parents were settled in France by then. Luckily her work brought her to the east side of London regularly. I don’t know what I would have done without her appearing and doing the aunty thing.

When the PND kicked in with Thing 2 I recognised what was happening and marched myself off to the doctor as soon as I started feeling odd. With Thing 3, I took up exercise and tried to prevent the slide, which mostly worked as long as I kept running.

This time round, I have been on the anti-depressants since 2014: a friend was killed in an accident, and I was heartbroken. Grieving so far away from their family and our mutual friends was hard. I went to Cornwall to scatter their ashes, foolishly thinking that that would give me ‘closure’ and I’d be fine afterwards, and…I wasn’t.

I don’t see the tablets as a cure, but they give me the time and the headspace to be able to see a way through each day. There are bad days still, when I feel as if I am wading through treacle and the world is a long way away. They are becoming further and further apart, which is a blessing, and I have to say that having six months on furlough last year made a huge difference to my mental state. I keep walking, and I keep making things, and I have friends who also have varying forms of depression and anxiety. We support each other and stage the odd intervention when we see things aren’t right.

On Thursday I took Thing One to the Emotional Health and Wellbeing Service for an assessment. We have been there before, when her anxiety first started in primary school after being bullied. We self-referred last September and pressure on the service is so high that it took this long to be seen, but the keyworker she’s been assigned was wonderful, and will be putting a care plan in place for her. She told me before half term that she just wants to go back to school: the routine, her friends, clear expectations. It’s hard enough being a 14 year old girl without a global pandemic preventing you from seeing your friends.

It’s a shame that this service stops when they are in their early twenties. Getting help after that becomes much more difficult, only really kicking in after a crisis and then anti-psychotics seem to be the default setting rather than care. This service is so underfunded, and a lot of responsibility is devolved to the schools who are also not equipped to cope with the levels of mental health issues being seen in pre-teens and teenagers at the moment. I’m pleased that Thing One feels she can tell me anything, and I hope that all my children (both natural and the timeshare teenagers) feel the same. I hope that my adult friends can too.

I’m going to break out into cliche here: if your leg was broken no one would tell you to pull yourself together, and it’s past time we had the same attitude to your heart and your mind. I was lucky to have friends who saw through the fragile bravado and the manic socialising, but not everyone – especially in this time of isolation – has support like that.

Postscript…

I started writing this on Friday, while I was reflecting on Thing One’s visit to EHWS, and over the past couple of days I’ve thought several times about deleting it. Is it too much? Have I been too honest? Do my friends, family and colleagues need to know this about me? There are things here that I have never  spoken aloud, for example. Then I re-read the last paragraph above and realised that to delete it would be to become guilty of hiding my own mental health issues, when the point of the post was to talk about depression and anxiety openly.

So, the post will stand and I will stand by it. This is me: not brave, because it should not take courage to speak when you’re ill, it should be normal.

The fun stuff

I finished my sock at last! Now to do the other one. I do love crocheting socks, and as I’ll be back in the office and on trains twice a week for a while these are a great portable project. In one of my magazines there was a supplement about Tunisian crochet and it had a sock pattern, so I’ll give that a go soon too.

One sock!

There’s been a lot of cross stitch: here’s the temperature tree update, and I have been working on a Happy Sloth design of a galaxy in a bottle. I’ve also been frankenpatterning (combining two patterns to make a new one) as I wanted something particular but couldn’t find it. More on that later!

Spot the really cold week…

On Friday we had a family Zoom call: my lovely dad was 80 and we couldn’t be with him. Obviously as a teenager I was convinced both my parents were trying to ruin my life, but they were pretty cool really. Without my dad I wouldn’t still be able to say the formula for solving quadratic equations on demand or my times tables. I would have no clue about the need for balance and options in my life. I wouldn’t know how to annoy my kids by standing in front of the TV, and as I get older I appreciate his afternoon nap habit more and more – even at 47 he’s a role model! I blame my parents for my love of books, and Dad specifically for the science fiction and fantasy habit. Happy birthday Dad – I love you!

Mum and Dad, 1969.

So that’s been my week! Normal service (well, as far as that goes) will resume next week.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Inspector Hobbes and the Blood/Inspector Hobbes and the Curse – Wilkie Martin

A Capitol Death (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week forty: god bless us, every one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geek crafting

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

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

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

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

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Without the Moon – Cathi Unsworth

That Old Black Magic – Cathi Unsworth

Zero Waste Sewing – Elizabeth Haywood

The New Anchor Book of Blackwork Embroidery Stitches