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
Is it me or has it been the longest four day week ever? It’s been half term, and as we have now vacated the museum in order to hand it over to the people who will transform it I have been working from home. I must confess that Things 2 and 3 have spent a large part of the week building new worlds in Minecraft (or whatever it is they do) and I have not done much with them. With the help of a colleague I have, however, managed to mark 1600 objects as ‘NONE’ in the content management system, and a further 150 or so as ‘NIP’ (or ‘not in place’ for those objects that have gone into temporary storage for the next couple of years. That’s felt like a pretty big achievement! Now – the last part of the task – I just need to find anything that the system still thinks is in a cupboard at the museum and mark those as NONE or NIP as well.
Things 1 and 2 have managed to spend some time with their friends, which has been good for them, and their older sister came over in the week with her boyfriend for a barbecue. Apart from torrrential rain all day on Friday we have been pretty lucky with the weather. Their oldest sister and her little boy will be joining us today and I have promised lasagne for tea, which meant I left the village (gasp!) yesterday to have a sneaky mooch around the charity shops before a Tesco trip. Perhaps that’s why this week has felt so long: it hasn’t been broken up by being on site. Teams meetings just aren’t the same.
The next couple of years will see many of us continuing to work from home, however, as the way we work changes post-pandemic. It’s been hard for some companies to grasp that you don’t need the physical presence of your staff five days a week; we aren’t, in many cases, producing physical outputs as in the days of the factory. Increased connectivity, through applications like Teams and Zoom, mean that we can have ‘cross-site’ meetings effectively without being in a physical space. For those of us who were expected to be the ones travelling to the other sites it means we can meet with our colleagues without adding 40 minutes travel time each way to the meeting which was the pre-Teams reality. Over the last months we have been making use of apps like Google’s JamBoard and Miro, which have allowed us all to contribute to brainstorm sessions with virtual post-it notes (who doesn’t love a post-it thinking session?) and to collaborate on documents. I know this technology has been around for a while, but it’s taken a pandemic for us to catch up with it! You do lose some of the energy that comes from being in a physical space together, of course, but hopefully we can manage some of those too.
There are, of course, fewer people taking up desks in the museum sector at the moment – as well as many others, of course. The Museums Association redundancy tracker is showing 4,126 redundancies that have been “directly or indirectly attributed to the pandemic”. There will be more as recovery progresses. The appetite for indoor activities is, perhaps not surprisingly, lower than expected, especially in areas where virus mutations are high and there are questions around the efficacy of vaccines against these variants.
One outcome I have seen from the slashing of the workforce is a growing culture of toxic positivity. People are so worried that their jobs will be on the line in the next restructure/recovery/redesign programme that they are afraid to say no to anything. The result of this, of course, is an overload of work without the usual team back up: no successful event is delivered single-handedly, yet that’s exactly what’s being expected now as ‘business as usual’ is restarting while other teams settle down into their new structures. For any public event to work you need social media and marketing support, design support, bookings team support, on-the-ground support, support from within your own team, increasing technical support if your event is online – just for starters.
When one of these things isn’t in place – or when teams have been so decimated that they can no longer work responsively but need several months lead-in – then you have a problem. This is especially the case when everyone is competing for the same severely shrunken audience demographic: the one with the dinosaurs is going to win as dinosaurs don’t need marketing. So you have people trying to maintain pre-pandemic levels of engagement, with post-pandemic levels of support: a recipe for failure if ever I saw one. But what can you do when you worry that any sign you’re not coping will be either ignored or seen as lack of competence? So, toxic positivity reigns – and with it rising levels of anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.
My stress relief, as always, is making stuff: I have been turning off the laptop at the end of the day and sitting in the garden for an hour or so before making tea, enjoying the sunshine and decompressing with some crochet or cross stitch. I am still working on the Hobbit piece in between making gifts, and as May is out of the way I updated the Temperature Tree. Like April, the month hovered in the mid-teens so there’s a lot of the same greens until we get to the last few days. Hopefully this month I can add a new colour as we hit the dizzy heights of 24 and 25 degrees in half term.
I have also been playing with some micro-crochet to create tiny toadstool jars, using this pattern found on Ravelry. I do love these tiny pieces – fiddly but so pretty. The first toadstool image is the original one I made – the others are the second version, where I added a tiny bit of stuffing to the toadstool cap and stitched the stalk to the ‘grass’ to make it stand up better. I also used a smaller bottle for the second version.
Swimming is another destressing activity: yesterday’s circuit of the lake was probably my slowest ever, as I stopped to look at the coot family with four tiny balls of fluff cheeping away, the mamma duck with her five stripy ducklings, another coot family and and a reed warbler. I had an hour while my friend was in a coaching session, so had no reason to race about, and I felt very serene when I came out at the other end. The water temperature was 18 degrees, so my skins dip at the end was quite long too.
So that’s been my week! How was yours?
What I’ve been reading:
Pel and the Bombers/Pel and the Pirates – Mark Hebden
It’s been a funny old week, really. At work we were coming to the end of the consultation period for what we hope was the last phase of the restructure (for a while, anyway) and, being a union rep, its been a bit frenzied for the last couple of months. The people I have been supporting have been angry, confused, upset, worried – about themselves, their colleagues and friends, and the collection – and frustrated. It’s been made more difficult as there was an anonymous leak to the press before it was announced to the museum staff, so the process has been happening under scrutiny from the broadsheets, Radio 4, a few of the arts journals and even parliament, where an early day motion was brought about the National Art Library.
I have come away from the process knowing a lot more about the workings of the conservation and curatorial teams, and have seen the museum values of generosity, collaboration and innovation demonstrated by the staff on a daily basis. The term ‘grace under fire’ has never made more sense, particularly as some of the meetings were being led by people whose jobs were also at risk of redundancy. It’s never felt more important to be a part of the union.
The kids have also been at home for their Easter holidays, which always makes online meetings more of a challenge! At least I wasn’t trying to manage home learning as well as the meetings, which really would have been the final straw. As it was, I made it as far as Wednesday and then decided I’d take Thursday off to clear my head.
Wednesday evening was a bit of a treat. As part of the rehoming of the learning collection I had sent some boxes off to Northern Ireland to Time Steps Living History, which is a historical interpretation company. Owned by Ireland sister, Time Steps provides sessions in schools, community venues, care homes, and historic sites and celebrated 10 years in business this week. ‘Sent some boxes’ sounds quite straightforward, doesn’t it? It skims over the fact that in the process I have had to raise a complaint with Hermes who won’t accept parcels for NI as they think it’s international (their international site thinks otherwise), and have a lengthy web chat with DPD whose delivery driver was unable to raise the museum contact despite having two phone numbers, a one hour slot when people were actively looking out for them and detailed instructions on which gate to use. Still, they got there in the end.
Where was I? Oh yes, Wednesday evening. Ireland sister and I videochatted while she unpacked the boxes, as I’d forgotten what was in them. It felt like Christmas for me, watching her discover tiny clogs, lots of ephemera, historic costume replica, toys, and more. All these things have been hidden in boxes in our cupboards, and now they’ll be having a new life when she can get back into schools and the community. My niece and nephew were also on the call – she is a mini history buff and he is incurably curious, pouncing on the wooden toys and experimenting. After a really hard few days (weeks!) it was wonderful to bring a bit of joy to someone.
Thursday became a bit of a mental health day, with reading and making things and generally not looking at screens except when I wanted to. It was lovely to be able to talk to the Things without having to take a pair of earphones off, be able to listen to the Minecraft explanations without half my mind being on my next meeting, and to be able to sit in silence at times. Silence is under-rated in these days of working from home and hyperconnectedness.
I have also managed to swim twice this week. The urge to get back in the water – chilly or not – has been so strong in the past few weeks that I’ve been able to visualise the chill of the water as it creeps up the legs of my wetsuit. On Monday I was so happy afterwards I got the giggles, as well as the silly grin we all get. The air was warmer than the water, which was sitting at 9 degrees, so getting changed was quite pleasant. Yesterday, the water was 10.6 degrees and the air was in single figures with a biting wind, so I was glad of my onesie with no awkward fastenings. In the van next to us a little girl had put her face underwater and got brain freeze – luckily I still had some hot chocolate left in the flask to share with her!
Copped Hall walk
Last Sunday my beloved and I dragged Things Two and Three out for a walk (Thing One was having a bit of a wobble so didn’t join us). We parked up behind the cricket pitch in Epping, crossed over the M25 on the Bell Common tunnel and followed the footpath up to Copped Hall. I’d never been up there before, but had always had the footpath earmarked for exploration at some point.
The path takes you down through a field where we could see a herd of deer ahead of us, and past a pillbox which is part of the Outer London Defence Ring – it was the second one listed in this blog post if you want more details! You then follow the road up past some very large houses (Rod Stewart is a former resident on the estate) and finally come up to Copped Hall itself. The kids loved climbing the tree outside and sitting on the haha watching the world go by. The walk back took us past woodlands swathed in primroses and violets, past the deer again and up a steep hill bordered by blackthorn in bloom. Copped Hall itself is being restored by volunteers, so it’s not open to the public apart from a few days a year, but we are planning to go back on one of those.
So that’s been my week! Today I was out at 7am ‘checking to see if the Easter Bunny had been hiding eggs in the garden’. I had hoped that this phase of my life was over, but the horror on the face of Thing Two when I tried to suggest that the Easter Bunny had already given me the eggs for them melted my resolve. This afternoon we are going to see Timeshare Teenager #1 and the grandchild for the first time since last summer, and the sun is just coming out so hopefully it’ll be a bit warmer! Happy Easter to you all: may it be peaceful and filled with the things that bring you joy.
What I’ve been reading
The Animals at Lockwood Manor – Jane Healey
A Private Cathedral (Dave Robicheaux) – James Lee Burke
A Dangerous Man – Robert Crais
Vesuvius by Night – Lindsey Davis (Audible)
A Comedy of Terrors (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)
Last week’s ‘What I’ve been reading’ included the latest in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, a long awaited event by the many fans of this urban fantasy series. (Side note: it ends on a cliff hanger and the second part isn’t due till September. Argh!) Urban fantasy is ‘a subgenre of fantasy in which the real world collides with the decidedly supernatural or magical world’ (blog,reedsy.com). A J Blakemont, an author, goes further and says,
“Urban fantasy is a hybrid genre that lives at the crossroads between fantasy, horror, science fiction, hardboiled, thriller, and romance. One might say that urban fantasy is a liminal genre; it exists where the other genres meet. It lives at the frontier between the mundane and the fantastical, the natural and the supernatural, between technology and magic. Every urban fantasy story involves some supernatural beings and/or humans with magical abilities; yet it’s also rooted in reality.”
Whatever it is, I love it. I don’t know whether it’s the crossover with hardboiled noir (see my girl detectives post for more ramblings on this subject) or whether its the idea that fairies and other fantastical creatures might be hiding round every corner, but I love discovering a new series – even more so if I am coming late to the discovery and there’s a lot to catch up on. Of course, then you have the problem of finishing the back catalogue and having to wait for the next one, but there we are!
I can thank my Dad for my interest in SF/Fantasy – his enormous library was where I started, with Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, Robert Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and Christopher Stasheff’s Warlock series, as well as Tolkien (of course). Dad shouldn’t be left unsupervised in Forbidden Planet, and Hay-on-Wye is a treasure trove for the whole family.
So this week I’m sharing some of my favourites with you. Please do share your own recommendations, I love a good read.
Ben Aaronovitch – the Rivers of London series. River goddesses (and gods), underground societies, a whole department of the Met to deal with what one of the characters describes as ‘weird bollocks’, and all set in modern London? Aaronovitch cut his teeth on the Doctor Who team so his credentials are excellent. The graphic novels alongside the ‘main’ novels are great too.
Kim Harrison – the Hollows series. Set in Cincinnati after ‘The Turn’, this has witches, demons, pixies, vampires and all sorts of good stuff. Again, we had to wait a few years for the latest instalment in the series to land this summer but it was worth it.
Charles de Lint – the Newford series. As far as I am concerned, Charles de Lint is the grandaddy of urban fantasy. I first discovered him via my Dad who had bought Greenmantle and Moonheart – neither of which are part of the Newford world but which were my introduction to urban fantasy. His books set in Arizona are also excellent. The magic isn’t far under the surface with any of his books, but the urban settings are realistic.
Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files – set in Chicago, Harry Dresden is the only wizard listed in the Yellow Pages. Organised crime, vampires, werewolves, pizza-eating faeries and more. I’ve just started rereading from the beginning, to keep me going till September and the next instalment.
Mike Carey – Felix Castor series. Set in London, Castor is an exorcist. His tech genius is a zombie holed up in a cinema in Walthamstow, and his best friend is possessed. Not for the faint hearted, especially the last in the series (I hold out hope for more…)
Neil Gaiman – if not the grandaddy, at least the great uncle. Neverwhere, which tells the tale of what happened to a man who accidentally fell into London Below after helping someone out, is one I go back to time after time. American Gods is also a good example of the genre, and I’m going to throw in Good Omens – not strictly UF as it doesn’t have the noir elements, but it does lead me on to…
Terry Pratchett – the Watch strand of the Discworld series. Another stretch for the UF genre, but Ankh-Morpork is so close to Victorian London, and Sam Vimes is a proper alcoholic cop saved by the love of a good woman (and her dragons), and its my blog so I can say what I want. Pratchett’s characters – certainly in the later books, after the puns and comedy of the early novels – are well-drawn. They’re still funny, but a lot darker.
Kevin Hearne – the Iron Druid series. These lost the plot a bit in the later books, but the earlier ones are excellent. Set in Arizona, the druid Atticus runs into all sorts of gods, and usually manages to annoy them.
Charlaine Harris – Southern Vampire Mysteries.Yes, True Blood. Set in the American South, in a world where the vampires have come out of the coffin thanks to the invention of a synthetic blood subsitute that means they don’t have to feed on humans.
Honourable mentions: Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson novels, Ilona Andrews, Tanya Huff, Faith Hunter, Seanan Mcguire, Kelley Armstrong. There’s a lot of very strong female protagonists (and authors) in this genre that haven’t historically been seen in High Fantasy or SF/F. This can only be a good thing!
Morgans and more
I started the Bento Box quilt patches this week, using a production line method which meant building every patch section by section and pressing in between. And then I ran out of fabric so have to wait for some more of the blenders. They come from Empress Mills, who are an excellent family business but orders are taking a while to process at the moment for obvious reasons. Worth the wait though!
So I decided to tackle some of my to-do pile while I’m waiting, as well as the new Adele apron dress from Alice and Co Patterns.
This is the third pattern I’ve made from this company – the Jump Up Suit and and the Intrepid boiler suit being the others – and they’re so straightforward. The instructions are clear and friendly, with good tips for fitting and customising.
I used the rigid denim left over from making my Morgan jeans a few weeks ago, and chose the crossover back strap option and to knot the straps rather than adding buckles/buttons. There’s a whole set of options for both the back and the waist ties, making this a very versatile pattern, and I can see it getting a lot of wear. Big pockets, too, which are a must!
I really need to go back to work so I can wear these things.
I made a second pair of Morgans, too, this time in a velvety soft black cord that came from Pound Fabrics. These were quicker than the first pair as – because cord doesn’t twist in the same way denim does – I could cut out the pattern on the double layer. I used leftover turquoise quilting cotton for the pocket linings, and left off the rivets, and they were finished in a day. It probably took me almost as long to remove the cat hair from the fabric as it did to sew them! Cord does attract every bit of fur and fluff for miles around…
Finally, I used a double duvet cover to make a swirly skirt using my favourite Simplicity 8446 pattern. I love duvets for this, as you get a lot of fabric that quite often doesn’t need much ironing, can be tumble dried and comes in some mad prints. I have Doctor Who and Marvel comic versions, as well as a cat one. This time I used a space print fabric. As we’ve been in lockdown for months too with its inevitable home-baked side effects, I also made the decision to forgo the side zip and hacked the pattern to use the stretch waistband from MBJM’s Four Seasons jogger pattern which is much more forgiving! It’s given the skirt a bit of extra length too, so its super swishy.
I whipped up a set of pattern weights using this tutorial at the end of the week – making use of a couple of fat quarters from the stash and some dried beans as fillers. Being superlazy, I used the overlocker for everything so it was very quick. Thing 2 has appropriated one to play with already.
My next project is the By Hand London Anna Dress which I have cut out in a yellow viscose which is very slippery – I have my doubts about how simple this will be to sew!
My new adventure pants get their first outing…
Yesterday London sister and I put on our adventure pants, dug out our walking boots and set off on a road trip to Cudmore Grove Country Park in East Mersea to blow the cobwebs away. Usually sisterly days out include Italian food, eyebrow threading and the odd cocktail, so this was a bit of a break from tradition. We left my Horde at home as we wanted a good long walk, turned on an 80s station to sing along to and headed off into the wilds of Essex.
We read a blog post earlier in the week which talked about the lack of home-nation regional foods in London – specifically the Greggs corned beef pasty which is a staple in Welsh stores but can’t be bought in London. We love corned beef pasties and I remember being able to buy them in Preston, but not down here – surprising, given the number of Welsh people who have migrated to ‘Town’ over the centuries. So, London sister whipped up a batch of pasties for a picnic (I may have mentioned her superior cooking skills in a previous post!), added some cheese rolls just in case, a Snickers bar or two and some Cardigan Bay coffee .
East Mersea (and West Mersea, of course) are on Mersea Island. Connected to mainland Essex by a causeway which disappears underwater if high tides are over five metres, it’s the most easterly inhabited island in the UK. It’s been popular as a destination since Roman times, apparently, and over the years has hosted pirates, WW2 defences, and a lot of oysters.
The country park has a large car park, the all-important toilets and a small kiosk with ice creams and coffee. We parked up, attempted to decipher the map and then decided to pick a path that went past the bird hide (closed due to subsidence). We could see a tree full of little egrets, which was quite exciting, and the path then takes you past a pillbox and on down towards the beach. We turned left first towards Brightlingsea and walked as far as we could, then hopped across some of the many little streams to rejoin the footpath. The beach is narrow but sandy, and we were amazed at the lack of windbreaks given the brisk breeze and the number of wind farms in the area. Even today we pack the windbreaks before anything else when heading off on holiday!
We then headed back into the wind towards West Mersea, following the beach as far as we could, staying well away from the crumbly clay cliff which has apparently yielded fossils and bones (hippos! in Essex!). It’s clearly unstable, and I think the whole island took a bit of a battering in the storms last year as the sea wall has been breached in several places. The wind was great for the kite surfers and we watched a couple doing amazing jumps over the waves for a while. Once we’d walked as far as we could we turned back and ate our picnic sitting on a slipway watching happy kids jumping waves.
We wandered back, found a picnic table near the adventure playground for coffee and a bit of cloudwatching, and then headed back just in time to get caught in the queue for the causeway as the tide was in. It was very exciting to drive back across the causeway with the sea still coming over the road in places!
This week’s swimming has been equally adventurous! Sue and I braved the water in ‘skins’ (without wetsuits) early in the week just to give it a try. The water was around 21 degrees at that stage, and while I loved it Sue wasn’t convinced. We also swam in high wind on Friday, where the reeds were blown flat against the water, and today I did one lap in my wetsuit and one without. The water temp was 19 degrees today and it felt great. I’m definitely keen to carry on through the winter!
We’ve been enjoying the produce from the garden this week – glorious tomatoes warm from the greenhouse, earthy chard, runner beans, potatoes, apples and blackberries. Thing 2 and I made apple and blackberry pie which was delicious, and she’s been baking them with honey and cinnamon.
And that’s been my week! This week will have to include the trauma of the school shoe shopping as the summer holidays are coming to an end. Compared to the end of the school year these six weeks have flown by.
See you at the end of week 23!
What I’ve been reading
Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series (from the beginning!)
A Dying Light in Corduba (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)
I have mentioned before that I’m a bit of a reader and have been since an early age. I suspect, given that my parents are also big readers, that it was partially self-defence and then it became a habit. Both parents read to us and created their own stories – Galumphus the Dragon was my dad’s character, and Jeremy John stories came from my mum. I continued to listen in when my much younger sister was being read to, and for me one of the joys of teaching was story time at the end of the day; whether that was a picture book or, further up the school, a chapter book.
One of the last sessions I created at the Museum of London Docklands was a sensory, interactive story called ‘The Cinnamon Birds’, as an introduction to the idea of international trade for Key Stage 1 and family groups. I loved telling it – from gathering my audience Pied Piper-style, moving through the museum with a beautiful dragon puppet on my shoulder, to casting a story spell with tales of cunning merchants and wafts of magical scents and treasures from a pirate chest.
At the V&A Museum of Childhood, we had a hardcore of parents and children who would come every day for the Animal Magic session at 2pm, led by the Activity Assistants who used puppets, music, projection and more to bring both classic stories and their own work to life. It didn’t matter how often the families heard We’re going on a bear hunt! – this time was part of their daily routine. (Lia, one of the former AAs, has now set up her own business with her mum creating sustainable story sacks, with all the contents and materials sourced from charity shops and community markets. I love this idea – check them out, they are Oranges and Lemons and their product is wonderful).
I still love listening to stories – when I’m commuting I can be found on the Central Line listening to audio books and crocheting my way to work. I refuse to confess to the number of times I have missed my stop as I was distracted by an exciting bit…
When my Horde were small I took the opportunity to gather the books that I had loved as a child, as well as discovering new stories. So here are some of our favourite picture books*….
Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak. Another classic from the 1960s, and I love it. A wild rumpus always sounds like fun.
Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell . My bunch all loved lifting the flaps and shouting along with the words, making animal noises. I bought this one at Stansted Airport on the way to France with Thing 1, and her Grandpere spent a lot of time reading it to her on that holiday.
No Matter What – Debi Gliori – big thinking for little people.We still love them even when they’re naughty!
My Big Shouting Day – Rebecca Patterson. Another one of Thing 2’s favourites. I think she identified with the main character (so did I).
Dinosaur Roar! – Henrietta and Paul Stickland. We got this one free from Bookstart and Thing 3 LOVED it.
Tiddler – Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. All this pair’s books are wonderful, but this one was their favourite.
Funnybones – Janet and Allan Ahlberg. Thing 3 thought this was hilarious. They also loved Each Peach Pear Plum and hunting for the fairytale characters in the illustrations.
Tell Me A Dragon – Jackie Morris. I fell in love with her glorious, magical illustrations through another Bookstart book – Can you see a Little Bear? – which she illustrated for James Mayhew, and when Tell Me A Dragon came out with a dedication to Terry Pratchett, I bought it for myself. Of course I read it to the children too. Her work with Robert Macfarlane in The Lost Words is exquisite and I was lucky enough to catch the exhibition at the Foundling Museum in 2018.
The Dancing Tiger – Malachy Doyle. Thing 2’s nickname is ‘Tiger’ so we read a lot of books about tigers! This is one of my favourites. We don’t stop dancing when we get old!
The Mousehole Cat – Antonia Barber.We discovered this one via a CBeebies bedtime story, read by Shobna Gulati, and bought our own copy. Thing 1 loved the Storm Cat.
I Really Want to Eat a Child – Sylviane Donnio. Another of Thing 2’s favourites! She has always been the most anarchic, subversive child and this story really appealed to her.
Lost and Found – Oliver Jeffers. All of us loved this one – there’s a beautiful TV adaptation too.
Penguin – Polly Dunbar. This one was a library story time discovery when Thing 1 was small. Inevitably she would have fallen asleep in the buggy on the walk to the library but I always stayed for the story!
Thing 2 still occasionally asks for a story – we read The Ordinary Princess by M M Kaye earlier this year, and we’ve started Anne of Green Gables. Thing 3 likes to listen in… he is the biggest reader of them all at the moment.
Even once children have learned to read themselves, there is magic in hearing a story well told. Reluctant readers may find their way in to reading this way, and I always told worried parents that as long as their children were reading, it didn’t matter what it was. Reading schemes, while worthy and phonically sound, are often boring. Find what they want to read and let their imaginations fly!
What are your favourites?
(*not affiliate links, just Amazon. Other book sellers are available!)
Morgan jeans finished at last…
….and they are my new favourite thing. I bought the pattern after making Closet Core’s Ginger skinny jeans, which I wrote about in Week Fourteen. The fly hadn’t gone well, but I liked the process of making the jeans and thought I’d try something in a style I wouldn’t usually wear. I bought some bargain midweight rigid denim from The Textile Centre – the first package disappeared in the post but they were really helpful in replacing it. I buy from them quite often, as they are very reasonably priced and the fabrics are always great quality.
The pattern instructions were very clear – the indie designers are far better than the Big 4 (Simplicity, Vogue, Butterick, McCalls) pattern companies at providing step by step instructions, and usually have good photographs of the process.
Well, these were a dream make, even when I put one of the pocket linings on backwards and had to frog it. I was trying to take special care with the pockets as I’d got them the wrong way last time. I even re-cut one of the pocket linings as I was using a directional print and didn’t want it upside down, even though under normal circumstances no one will be looking at the inside of my jeans! The maneki neko fabric was from Ali Express, and it’s a good 100% cotton quilting weight. Expect to see more of it in a future quilt!
In terms of sizing, I took out 5mm from the straight leg seam allowance, but I don’t think I needed to so I’ll leave it in next time. I also took out some length in the leg – 5cm, this time – and I think this was about right. I like the cropped length with my trusty Birkenstocks.
I was very careful with the fly, after last time, and this time I got it right. I also went the whole hog and added rivets, belt loops and made my own ‘brand’ patch using a woven label from The Pink Coat Club. Both the jeans buttons and the rivets came from EBay.
Overall I am pretty pleased with them, though a sewing friend suggested I made the pockets a bit smaller and placed them a bit higher to be more flattering, which I will do next time. I have some black cord that will work well with this pattern, so there *will* be a next time! I wore them on Tuesday, when I ventured onto a train to take one of my stepdaughters to an appointment, and they were so easy to wear, even as the temperature rose.
I remembered my mask, too – home made, of course.
I’m still working on my attic windows quilt, and will hopefully finish the top this week. I am going to attempt sashing between blocks, so let’s see how that goes! Here’s the different blocks laid out on the fabric I have chosen for the sashing. I’ve tried to be quite accurate with my sizing – I trimmed the single window squares to the same size and squared off the edges before putting them into the larger blocks, and the larger blocks have been squared to 11 3/4″. I’m not entirely sure how big this is going to end up! I have a double duvet cover (well, the reverse of one -the front is going to be a circle skirt) for backing, so hopefully that’ll be large enough!
As an aside – I have a Quilting board on Pinterest, and I opened up the site in a new tab to remind me to have a look at it when I’d finished writing this. An hour later, I realised I’d fallen down the rabbit hole and rather than looking at the pins on the board, I’d got about 30 tabs open, had pinned a whole new set of ideas and still hadn’t finished this post!
Adventures in the great outdoors
I haven’t done quite as much swimming this week as one of my buddies was working up in London, but we have managed a couple of early morning plunges and a late afternoon dip, which was most welcome when the temperatures were in the high 20s. We swam just as the sun was starting to go down, surrounded by damselflies and ducks, and it was quite blissful. We did about a lap and a half, so just over a kilometre.
Early morning walks have been good too – we are more than 70% of the way towards the August 30k challenge I mentioned last week. One morning we went round the fields via the flood meadow (see this week’s cover photo) which is filled with wild flowers, and on another via the farm where we finally coaxed the little black barn cat close enough to pet. There’s a lot of black cats on the farms round here! His marmalade friend joined in with the fuss too. Next time we walk we are going to take boxes and pick blackberries, as the hedges are groaning with them.
How does your garden grow?
Closer to home, the garden is looking beautiful – one of the sunflowers is now nine feet tall, and hasn’t flowered yet! The sunset-coloured one below is probably about seven feet tall (you can see the stalk of the big one behind it), and the bees love them. The squirrels will also love the seeds when the flowers are finished.
We also made a trip to the garden centre for compost and came home with more sad plants – these two Black Eyed Susans outside my shed, these flame-like celosia that look like Calcifer from Howl’s Moving Castle, and some heliotropes and calla lilies.
Bailey and Teddy are making the most of their catio, as you can see – they love being able to come outside and watch the birds close up. The catio is made of a dog cage, bits of fireguard and a lot of cable ties. We keep adding bits on to try and stop Lulu escaping, as she’s a bit of a Houdini!
Hey, what happened with that job interview?
We heard mid-week that we hadn’t been successful but the consensus view is that we don’t mind! We enjoyed the process and we can continue to work together on the project at our own museum with a new understanding of each other’s skills and experiences, and how well we work as a team. Hopefully we also started people thinking differently about how job shares can work, and got them thinking about what innovation might look like in a multi-site organisation!
You can find out more about the V&A East project here and about the Museum of Childhood transformation here.
And that’s it from me for the week – I have a kitchen full of kids causing chaos, more in the tent in the garden, and I probably ought to supervise!
Same time next week for week 21 then!
What I’ve been reading
American Demon – Kim Harrison (the new Hollows novel! Yay!)
The Pearl King (Crow Investigations) – Sarah Painter
Time to Depart (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)
I have had a whole host of new experiences this week already! Not only my first virtual job interview, but it was the first time I’d applied for a job share, for a secondment, and for a temporary maternity cover role. It was also the first time that I’d prepared for and attended an interview as part of a team.
Keen followers of the East London museum scene will know that the V&A is branching out even further eastwards than Bethnal Green, and creating a shiny new museum on the East Bank in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. There are so many parallels with our own redevelopment project, and both projects are working across the same boroughs, that we felt it would bring a new dimension to our own practice as well as a wider insight into the locality if one of us were to move a couple of stops down the Central Line for a few months.
The trouble was… none of us were keen on doing it alone, as we all have specific experiences and this role would cover all our audiences. I am formal, C is informal and H is creative. As a triumvirate (or an unholy trinity/three-headed monster depending on who you talk to!) we work very collaboratively: bouncing ideas off each other, supporting each other, representing the team and feeding back, developing ideas together (some madder than others – the Museum LARP session hasn’t come to fruition yet but there’s still time!) and bringing all our individual skills to the learning party.
In a team Zoom social, someone suggested we ALL applied for it as a jobshare. “That’ll blow their minds, ha ha!” they said. We chatted about how that could work, what it might mean for each museum, and our line manager and director (I know she’s reading this!) were supportive. So…. we did.
The three of us contributed to the supporting statement and then put in our separate application forms, and crossed our fingers. We weren’t sure if we’d even get an interview, as a three-way job share might have been a step too far, but we all felt our statement was really powerful. We were fairly sure that with a combined 40+ years of experience in the culture, arts and heritage sector we could demonstrate a good understanding of what the role would require. We also proposed an outline of how the job share might work, and how the role could be managed. We are lucky, as we had a period last year in between line managers when we had to work in a similar way, sharing information and acting as one.
On Monday we were told that we’d be interviewed….on Tuesday. Cue frantic Zooming, planning our strategy and going over the job description, all the information we had to hand about the East project, trying to anticipate the questions we might be asked and challenges the panel might raise about managing the job share. We broke down the role responsibilities, decided on an order for us to answer questions so no one had more of a voice than the other two, and came up with a plan for how we’d pass the baton between us.
One of the most important things we did was to share our CVs with each other, so we could ensure the most appropriate person could answer a question. So useful – I had no idea of the breadth of experience in the team! As a team bonding and development exercise it worked really well. Going through the documentation we had access to and matching it to the role description and our skill sets – as a team and individually – was a great way to remind ourselves what a well-rounded team we are. I don’t know about C & H but my confidence in what we were trying to do was boosted immensely by this.
I usually hate internal interviews (OK, I hate all interviews) but knowing I was in this with my brilliant colleagues made it better. Three against three, and we could fill in the gaps for each other. For the first time ever I am not sitting here post-interview thinking ‘I wish I’d remembered to say that!’ The virtual format probably helped, as at no point could I see the whole panel.
Whatever the outcome, I think we acquitted ourselves pretty well! (Plus, I put make up and a dress on for the first time since March.) Can’t wait to get back to working with the team!
(Sunday update: we haven’t heard whether we were successful or not, but I still feel good that we did something that put us outside our comfort zone, helped us understand the benefits of the way we work anyway, and which put us on the wider museum radar.)
Sunday service resumes
After the interview and a debrief with the team I went for my first massage since the end of January. I hold a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders, probably from sitting in all sorts of weird positions while I crochet, cross stitch or sew; and I also suffer from migraine and tension headache. I try and have a monthly treatment with the wonderful Paula, who lives round the corner, and I have been seeing her since she was training to be a sports massage therapist.
Since qualifying as a sports therapist she has taken additional courses in cupping, facial massage and gua sha and she combines these (along with a sympathetic ear!) to create a bespoke experience for each of her clients. And it is blissful…although you do have to answer a few funny questions about cupping marks in the summer. Here in the village its like a badge of honour or membership of an exclusive club – Paula’s clients compare marks! There was a lot of interest from Bangladeshi women when I did an event at work last summer after cupping – they wanted to know where I’d had it done, and if it helped. Some said their husbands had it done regularly too.
At the moment, of course, facial massage is off the table so I had 45 minutes of work on my back and neck, including some gua sha, and I felt AMAZING afterwards. Thoroughly relaxed, and looser than I had been for several months. There’s no cupping yet, as there’s a risk of blood clots after Covid-19 (though as far as I’m aware I haven’t had it), so that’s something to look forward to.
The great outdoors
I’ve had a very active week! My swimming buddies and I have been up to Redricks Lakes three times this week – my cover image is the main lake. Sue and I went at 9am on Wednesday, and had our first independent swim in the main lake. We went back on Thursday afternoon as it was so hot and then Rachel joined us for an early dip on Saturday. There’s a nice mix of swimmers – super fast triathletes or club members who zoom about front crawling, fitness swimmers and people like us who mainly breast stroke round chatting and enjoying the process.
There’s a lot more bird life in this lake, so we encountered a mama coot with a young noisy brood of six tiny, scruffy chicks, and more coots with older chicks who are a bit more independent. There was also a grebe with her chick, who we swam quite close to. They don’t worry too much about the slow swimmers but the crawlers gave them a shock!
My walking friend Jill and I have signed up for Runkeeper’s August challenge, where we need to track 30k over the month. We are early morning walkers, except on Sunday when we have a lie-in and don’t go out until 7am. Today we knocked 8k off the 30k challenge, with a walk through the Lower Forest (aka Wintry Wood) to Epping and back via Coopersale and the Gernon Bushes nature reserve. We are not the fastest walkers but we do use it as an opportunity to clear our heads for the coming week and to put the world to rights. Both of us are subject to depression, so this is talking therapy for us.
We try and do a couple of shorter walks in the week, and then a longer one on Sundays. The summer is best as we can use the fields and woods, but in the winter they get a bit swampy – the Cripsey Brook feeder streams surround the village, though luckily we have an excellent flood alleviation scheme. This last winter we did a lot of our walks in wellies, and yes – we did jump in muddy puddles. Why should the kids have all the fun?
The great indoors
Cooking with Kevin this week included making cinnamon sugar sourdough pretzels – we love soft pretzels in this house, and there was a lot of sourdough discard to use up. We also had pizza, which is becoming a firm family favourite.
This was also the week that I put the bread in the oven for a cold bake and when I took it out an hour later the casserole was empty….. and the dough was still rising on the counter behind me. It had a normal bake instead – but don’t you think the way the ‘ear’ has baked into eyebrows makes him look a bit cross?
Thing 2 and I made chocolate fudge brownies, too, using a recipe that I have had for years – I’m not even sure where it’s from but its very easy and quite delicious.
Melt the chocolate, butter and golden syrup over a gentle heat and set aside to cool.
Stir in the beaten eggs, flour, vanilla and walnuts if you’re using them.
Pour into a lined 18cm square tin and bake at 180c (Gas 4, 350f) for 25mins.
Serve warm with ice cream.
See? Super easy!
The crafting table
This week has had no finishes at all! Monday and Tuesday were so busy prepping for the interview that nothing got done.
I did make a start on the Closet Core Patterns Morgan jeans – the front is done, but I’ll leave full details for a proper review next week. I will rave about two tools I’ve been using to make them this week instead though. The first is the Clover Hot Hemmer (Long) which I’d had on my Amazon crafty wishlist for ages, and which was one of my birthday voucher purchases. It’s so useful – usually when prepping pockets I’d either spend ages with a chalk pencil, the iron and pins marking out the hems, or I’d be superlazy and guess the width which meant wonky pockets. With this ruler-type gadget you simply fold over the fabric to the right depth and iron. Brilliant, and no burned fingers either.
The other gadget is a wool pressing mat – this gadget claims to retain heat to make pressing easier, quicker and more efficient. It seems to work – though the steam leaks through so I have been using mine on the ironing board or my cutting mat. Anything that makes ironing easier is a plus!
I have almost finished the first of the custom dolls – she needs a haircut (don’t we all right now?) and a mouth but otherwise she’s pretty complete. I’d forgotten how long it takes to do the hair! The companion doll has long hair and a beard….
I’d better get back to my crochet hook….
Same time, same place for the Week twenty update?
What I’ve been reading
Dead Landby Sara Paretsky (The latest VI Warshawski novel – I am all caught up!)
It’s Sunday afternoon and here I am feeling pleasantly relaxed after a successful swim this morning, at Redricks Lakes – about 20 minutes’ drive away between Harlow and Sawbridgeworth. I say ‘successful’ as this was my second attempt at completing the induction. Two friends and I went on Wednesday evening as well, and they finished – and I didn’t. I was bitterly disappointed as I love to swim and had been really looking forward to it, but I think so many things put me out of my comfort zone that I felt quite ill. If you don’t have a wetsuit, you have to use a tow float and I found it very restrictive, creating drag behind me and preventing me from floating or swimming on my back; it was early evening so the sun was blinding me through the condensation on my goggles; and the instructor was quite firm about using front crawl which I am no good at. He also made us put our faces in the water and blow bubbles. I really, really hate getting my face wet! Other people in the induction group raced off at triathlon speed and…. I floundered. Luckily there was a lovely lady on a paddle board who talked me through, encouraged me to come back and try again when I felt better, and generally boosted my confidence. Thanks Siobhan! I emailed Phil, who books the induction, and asked if I could try again today and he was very helpful.
So today I tried again! My fabulous friend Sue came with me to be my support swimmer and she was quite determined that I was going to finish. This time we had wetsuits so I didn’t need a towfloat, and I knew what to expect when we got in the water. It was a much larger group this time, and they divided us by ability – swimming club speedy types in the first group, and family groups, slower people and juniors in the second. Bobbing about in the wetsuit was great, I felt confident enough to take the goggles off when they steamed up and swam without them. I put my face under water and blew bubbles. I LOVED IT. Now we can go whenever we like, and I suspect they’ll be seeing a lot of us. I feel really good that I didn’t give up after the first time, and overcame the panic.
The only thing I’m disappointed by is that you don’t get a certificate and a badge to sew on your swimming cossie afterwards…..
As you can see in the photo above it was a bit cloudy – at one point we were swimming in the rain but it passed over quite quickly.
Unlike yesterday which was an exercise in soggy social distancing. For the first time since lockdown began a group of us decided to get together for a coffee in my garden, so the kids could run around and we could catch up, provide counselling and eat chocolate biscuits. And the heavens opened in truly biblical fashion. Being from Wales, Yorkshire and Ireland we are all quite used to the rain, but this was quite ridiculous. There was only so much room under the tree, so we huddled under umbrellas while the kids got absolutely drenched playing ‘back to base’ in the rain and swooping on the chocolate digestives as they ran past.
It was so lovely to see my cronies, however bad the weather was – it’s easy to forget how much support we get from our friends, and how sharing problems and issues with them can change our own perspectives. This is particularly true at the moment!
We still nattered for two hours, and – of course – the rain stopped and the sun came out minutes after they had all left.
Cooking with Kevin
Kevin the sourdough starter is still alive, and currently I am baking every other day or so – he has spawned two junior Kevins who have gone to new homes with friends, and every so often he makes a break for freedom from his Kilner jar after he’s been fed. I’m now onto my second 16kg sack of flour since April.
I have started using the cold bake method, using a cast iron casserole dish with the lid on and not pre-heating the oven – this gives a chewier crust and a lighter colour. You can take the lid off for the last five minutes to crisp it up a bit but I don’t always remember!
The most successful thing we have made so far, however, is sourdough pizza using this recipe from King Arthur Flour. It comes out like a ‘proper’ pizza, according to the kids, and they love adding their own toppings. We had ours with ‘nduja, red onions and mushrooms last week, and it was delicious. I’d like to try sourdough pretzels next, as I do love a pretzel! Ideally fresh from the oven with cinnamon sugar, but Marmite butter is a good alternative.
I have been positively wallowing in fabric this week, delving into the shed stash to retrieve fat quarters and playing with prints. My initial plan was to use some Totoro panels and various Japanese prints together, but couldn’t decide on a block to use. I really liked the look of a Bento Box block, but my fabric was already in squares and some of the prints wouldn’t work in a thinner strip so that plan is on hold. I did make a test block out of polycotton scraps and I really like the effect so will be going back to that at some point!
And then I found a package of fabric in the stash with a space theme – astronauts, planets, galaxies, flying saucers – and some black/marbled black solid fabrics so at some point I must have been thinking of an Attic Window quilt. That made the decision pretty easy, but I have been playing with the blocks again and can’t decide on a random scatter of prints or to make blocks of four together. I quite like the random scatter but also the idea of blocks of four smaller ‘windows’ with sashing between them.
I finished the Disappearing Nine-Patch quilt too, although I forgot to make a border and just ended up using the backing fabric to bind it. It was hard to manipulate that much fabric so I didn’t do much quilting on it – but even with that managed to get a giant tuck on the back. It’s ended up about 5 feet long and about 4 and a 1/2 feet wide, so it’s definitely the biggest thing I have ever made. Here it is in all its glory – as you can see, Lulu was not keen to move when I was trying to take photos of the quilt on the bed. As soon as I put the camera away she came to inspect my handiwork, of course. Cats. Cats are nice.
The denim for my Morgan jeans finally arrived yesterday, so I cut out the paper pattern ready to start on the jeans tomorrow. Let’s see if I can get the fly right this time!
The other thing I have tried to do this week is a bit of sketching. I am not handy with a pencil – the peak of my drawing skills came when I was 12 and Mrs Allan gave me a B- for my pencil sketch of my mum’s avocado plant. I would love to be able to draw, and one of the things I’d like to do is urban sketching. I love artists like Michael Powell, Phil aka @maltzcreative and Kate Lycett, particularly their buildings and streetscapes. I started with a photograph of Aberaeron that I took when we were on holiday in 2018, as it’s a place I know well, but I need to work a lot more on proportion and perspective! I suppose its another one of those things where practice makes perfect.
I think I need to put in guidelines with a ruler first, and then fill in the gaps. Still, I am enjoying the learning process!
I had better go and feed Kevin and think about dinner….
See you in week nineteen!
What I’ve been reading:
V I Warshawski series (yes, still – but I’m on the last one!) by Sara Paretsky
Last Act in Palmyra – Lindsey Davis (Falco series – Audible)