121: Hello? I’d like to make a complaint.

July. Ah, July. Month of end-of term madness. School trips of no educational value whatsoever, meeting your new teacher, ‘fun’ runs, school reports, parents’ evenings, sending kids home with piles of work which will never be looked at again, and the most hideous invention of all….. Sports Day.

I hated sports day. I hated it as a child. I hated it as a teacher. I hate it as a parent. I hate the guilt of being a working parent (but not enough to take the day off, as then I’d have to go to the damn thing and hate it even more).

Back when I was in primary school, it was competitive but straightforward. Wearing clothing of the house colour (I was in yellow house) and terrible 80s shorts, we would all traipse out to the field where we would sit in rows while people ran races. We would cheer on our house runners, and the winners and runners-ups would get a rosette. Some kids were positively festooned with polyester ribbons by the end of the day, like exceptionally flammable bunting.

There would be sprints, relays, obstacles, sack races, three-legged races and that old classic… the egg and spoon. Parents would sit behind the rows of children cheering on their little petals and wonder how long it was till home time, whether they ought to join the parents’ race, and what fresh hell six weeks of summer holidays were about to bring. Some parents, like some children, were more competitive than others.

Not actually me. From somewhere up north or something. That’s why it’s in black and white. https://www.chad.co.uk/heritage-and-retro/heritage/mansfield-and-ashfield-sports-day-memories-from-the-1960s-and-1970s-3287881

These days, there is no sitting around cheering on the other year groups and there are definitely no rosettes. There are house points, which I approve of, instead, but I also don’t see an issue with acknowledging that some children are better than others at this. That’s life. The kids who are not so good at running may be good at other stuff and that will be celebrated too, when they smash everyone else in their maths and spelling tests.

No, these days children on sports day must do SPORTS and they must do them ALL DAY. Because it is sports DAY. They must be herded from activity to activity. They must hurl beanbags at buckets. They must throw small rugby ball shaped things with sticks on. Do complicated things with hula hoops. Long jumps. Penalty shootouts. No sitting about cheering their house runners on these days, no siree!

Thing 3’s school followed this pattern but the children had the choice of taking part in competitive or non-competitive activities. The competitive ones would gain them house points, and the others were just for fun. To be fair, they did all get together for track events at the end of the day. Thing 3 said that he had chosen to do the non-competitive events, which was fine until he informed me that one of the non-competitive events was the egg and spoon race.

The bloody egg and spoon race! Non-competitive! How very dare they? That egg and spoon race – for the whole of my primary school career – represented the peak of my sporting achievement. Specifically, not coming last in the egg and spoon race. The race for those kids who have slightly less co-ordination than a baby giraffe. The race where the teachers put those kids that they really couldn’t put through the torture of coming so spectacularly last in any race that required speed. My race. MY RACE. Non-com-bloody-petitive! NON-COM-BLOODY-PETITIVE!!!

Other parents, according to the outraged Y6 whatsapp group (reminding me once again why I have always left these things immediately after being added in previous years) will be complaining that the headteacher enforced the rules she’d made very clear in the letter sent home about sports day. Rules about staying in the parents’ area, not calling your kids over for drinks/suncream/a quick chat. Not taking photos or video, for safeguarding reasons. Those sorts of rules. Other year group chats were available but the content was the same, I am reliably informed. As an ex-teacher I am with the head on this: it’s hard enough herding the kids without having to herd the parents as well. I don’t envy the chair of governors or the head when they open their inbox on Monday morning.

But making the egg and spoon non-competitive? Now THAT I have a problem with.

Things making me less irate this week:

  • Two utterly adorable nursery classes on Friday for our school sessions, filled with imaginative kids and engaged teachers
  • A sewing commission inspired by the dice bag I made for a colleague’s birthday
  • Sherwood on BBC iPlayer.
  • Lovely sunshine and a pool to hurl myself into at the end of the day
  • My baby is back from her week in Norfolk. I missed her!

Excuse me while I go and hard boil some eggs.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old – Hendrik Groen

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michel Chabon

102: growing up isn’t easy…for the parent

This was secondary school week, when our year six kids find out which school they’ll be off to in September. For the lucky ones (including us) it’s your first choice school but others may not have fared so well. In our village, it’s a bit of a lottery – the majority of the children will have selected the school in Epping and will probably have got in, but if they’re in the half of the village that’s past the library they won’t be entitled to school transport as they’re closer geographically to the school in Ongar. Unfortunately as it’s so oversubscribed they haven’t got a chance of actually getting into Ongar – we got Thing 2 and 3 in on the sibling rule as Thing 1 started there when it wasn’t oversubscribed as Ongar parents didn’t want to send their darlings to a new school.

This is the first year the school has had a full cohort of students from Y7-Y13, as it’s been building year by year as a new academy. It has its issues (a severe shortage of maths teachers this year) and I shall be watching their options system with interest as it appears to be more focused than I’d like on the government’s EBacc targets than on the children’s own wishes, but we’ve been happy with it for all the kids. One of the reasons I chose Ongar was because it had more of a creative focus, and you all know creativity is one of my favourite things, but that does appear to be changing. Thing 2 will be making her GCSE options next year, so I will have my eye on it.

Still, that is not the subject of this week’s blog really – it’s more of a long-winded intro. This post is really about me, and Thing 3, and growing up and stuff. He wants to be allowed to walk home from school on his own which might not seem like a big thing in the grand scheme, but…

…one of the best things that’s come out of the pandemic is that I’m still working from home quite a lot and doing the school run a few afternoons a week. For me this is still a novelty. Apart from when I was on various maternity leaves, when school run was a pain as it meant wrestling the others into a buggy and coaxing a tired little one along the mile walk home up a big hill, this is the first time I’ve really had to do this. Our wonderful childminders did it for years, which I can’t complain about as we couldn’t have managed without them, but not me.

So, three afternoons a week I put the laptop to sleep and head off up to the school to collect Thing 3, and I get to brace myself as he hurls himself across the playground at me for a hug. I do the playground thing and chat to other parents, and I know which parents are attached to which child. I get to walk home and chat with my son as he tells me all about his day. This week we’ve compared secondary school notes. Sometimes I’m able to return the many favours my friends have done for me when the Central Line has failed or when I was ill last year, and pick up their children as well. It’s been easier to say yes to playdates. It sounds daft, but these are some of the things I missed as a working parent – once, when Thing 1 was in Year 4, my beloved and I both did school run and another parent did a double take and said ‘I didn’t realise you two were together‘. That was how often I wasn’t there…

And now he is into his last two terms at primary school and from September he’ll be on the bus with his sisters or my beloved will be picking up, and I won’t get to do it any more. So, sorry son, but I’m making the most of you while I still can.

A finish or two

This week I have a couple of days off as I didn’t have any time off in half term, and am plotting and planning what to do with that free time! I’m thinking the new Folkwear Basics jacket, and maybe an afternoon nap or two.

Until week 103 (wow!) then…

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Library at the End of the World – Felicity Hayes-McCoy

The Innocents – Harlan Coben

Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor Novels vol 2 (Audible)

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry/The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

Week eleven: mostly trousers

And we’re back at ‘school’ for the final stretch – I have chosen not to send Thing 2 (in year 6) back to school as I feel strongly that it’s too early to do so. The R number is still closer to 1 than 0, the hospitals are expecting a second spike after the half term heatwave (and presumably the mass gatherings in cities over the past few days, though I wholeheartedly support the right to protest against human rights abuses) and I don’t believe that keeping children in ‘bubbles’ is the best way for them to learn. Children – particularly the little ones – need the freedom to play, to explore, to self-select their learning materials, and to socialise with their friends.

(On the subject of the protests, I’d like to see drone footage of the gatherings – there was an interesting piece the other day which showed how the same scene could be manipulated using different lenses and angles to make the viewer think people were ignoring rules.)

I will say that ‘school’ hasn’t been entirely successful this week! We have managed something every day, but that’s all I can lay claim to. Thing 1 has been a bit more enthusiastic as we have had confirmation of her GCSE options, and she’s been allocated her first choices – child development, art, French and media studies – and she now gets to focus on these alongside her core subjects. I wish she’d chosen history, but then I also wish I’d done textiles instead of French – she can always self-discover later if it becomes an interest!

You haven’t mentioned trousers yet…

It hasn’t all been trousers, of course. Monday and Tuesday were all about finishing my Sewing Bee dress. This is a tea dress that my favourite Bee, Liz, made in Episode 1 of the current series and teamed with Doc Martens – the best way to wear a dress, unless it’s with fishnets, Converse and a fluffy petticoat! I’d love Liz to win, or failing that, Matt (who is just adorable), but I suspect Claire is going to swan off with the laurels this year.

The pattern is the Shelby dress by True Bias, which can also be made as a long romper (all-in-one), or short versions of each. I plan on making the long romper as well, in a slightly heavier fabric for winter. I chose the classic short sleeve option and chose to grow them on rather than setting them in as I hate setting in sleeves.

I used a cheap and cheerful polycotton fabric with a cherry print, that I have used before for a pair of Lapwing trousers so I know it washes well – the dress can function as a wearable toile to throw on over the summer, and I can make a ‘proper’ one for work. In terms of construction, apart from the sleeve shortcut, I followed the instructions and it was a straightforward make. My one frustration with the pattern is that none of the panel lengths matched the next one, so there was a lot of trimming before I could turn up the hem. I think I’ll be making more True Bias patterns in the future.

One day my beloved will take a photo of me looking tall and thin! Here I am in my Shelby dress, barefoot in the garden.

The rest of the week was all about the trousers, though, I promise.

First up was the New Look 6859 pyjama pattern for my beloved – this is only the second thing I have ever made for him (the first was a pair of Superhero boxers a couple of weeks ago). He actually requested pyjama bottoms in a sort of ‘well, if you’re making stuff anyway‘ kind of way. Again, these are in an anchor & lifebelt print polycotton which can be tumble dried and requires no ironing – from Pound Fabrics, I think. I hadn’t used this pattern before- they have pockets, and they were supposed to have a drawstring as well as elastic but I just left it with the elastic as my cotton tape was nowhere to be found.

Next, it was a second pair of ‘shaggy pants’ for Thing 2, in 100% cotton (from Pound a Metre, this time). Madam chose the fabric herself, and luckily it was just wide enough to be able to cut the fabric against the grain so the stripes ran horizontally. I was impressed that the stripes look so even across the trouser legs, and almost as well on the outer seams. It’s the same pattern as the last pair, but I decreased the seam allowance to 10mm rather than 15mm in the sides and back for a tiny bit more room for her bottom. (You’ll notice that I try and link to Jaycott’s when I share patterns – I’m not affiliated with them in any way but I do use them myself as they are very reliable and often have excellent sales!)

Finally, it was Thing 1’s ‘shaggy pants but a bit more flowy please mum’ – using Simplicity 1069, version A in crepe-de-Chine fabric. I was put off slippery fabrics a few years ago after trying to make a chiffon kimono when I was quite new to sewing, so I approached this particular challenge with some trepidation – particularly when I realised that the pattern had an invisible zip, pleats in the front AND darts in the back. I was pleased to discover that as long as I supported the fabric while sewing it was pretty easy to handle, and they came together easily. I don’t think I have ever put an invisible zip into anything before constructing the garment but it actually made it very easy, and this might be a hack I use again.

Thing 1 modelling her new trousers – note the DMs!

There’s been very little crochet but a lot of cross stitching – I finished the 4th panel and started on the 5th which is coming along well. Cross stitch was my ‘gateway’ craft and still my favourite to go back to, so having time in my days to focus on it is lovely. I suspect, however, that focusing much more on this is going to require new glasses…each panel has 5607 stitches in 37 colours, and there’s 18 stitches to the inch. It should – in the end – replace the print of this painting I’ve had on my bedroom walls since 1991 when I bought it in a poster sale at the Student Union in Freshers Week. It’s looking a bit faded now.

So, you’ve been indoors all week then!

The weather has changed for the worse, though we are getting intermittent sunshine, and yesterday’s walk was very badly timed! A neighbour and I took our girls out yesterday and found ourselves in the flood meadow just in time for the heavens to open with torrential rain, thunder and lightning – and finally hailstones. We both discovered our waterproofs weren’t doing their jobs…we were so wet that the only thing to do was laugh.

Other walks have been less damp – another walking friend and I have been out at 6am a couple of days this week. One morning we were lucky enough to see a pair of hares in a field, as we walked through to Tawney Common. There’s always a muntjac or two on that route, scampering into the woods, and we usually see some of the Ongar Great Park deer in the fields as well.

One day took us through the park farm as well, past Dial House – the kids call this the ‘witch’s cottage’. We spotted deadly nightshade on the railway bridge and some pretty white irises, as well as admiring the continuing progress of the poppies on the rubble heap.

The weather isn’t looking good for this week, either…

True! I’ve cut out the Hot Coffee hoodie and a Beachcomber dress, both by MBJM Patterns – some fun cat-print fabric for the hoodie and Breton stripes for the dress. I want to try and add pockets to the dress without using the colour blocked version, so we’ll see how that goes. The fabric is quite drapey so I’ll tack the panels on in case the extra layers pull the dress out of shape. I should really have made the colour block style but the thought of pattern matching stripes put me off!

So that’s my week! I’m off to make the sauce for tonight’s lasagne now – one of the few meals that everyone will eat!

How’s your week been?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Silver Pigs/Shadows in Bronze – Lindsey Davis (Audible versions)

And I’m onto the last Jilly Cooper!

Week nine: there was this mouse…

So here we are again – week nine, the end of the half term (anyone else feeling like they’ve run a marathon at this point?) and looking forward to a bank holiday and a week off. Yes, I *know* there’s another half term to survive after this one – and it’s the long one – but we’ve just heard from the primary school that Things 2 and 3 attend that children will only be doing four day weeks from this point on.

We had the ‘Year 7 transition meeting’ this week for Thing 2, via Zoom which was in some ways good as we didn’t have to travel to Ongar; but, equally, bad as then we didn’t get to have fish and chips for tea afterwards. It was good for the children to ‘meet’ some of the staff they’ll be seeing in September (crossing EVERYTHING here) but they didn’t get the chance to see the classrooms and to meet other children. One thing that continues to reassure me throughout this lockdown is the very real care the schools – secondary and primary – have for their communities. Mr O, who heads up the secondary school, talked directly to the children, answered questions both sent in advance and those sent during the meeting, and assured us that any catch-up English and Maths would be delivered as part of the wider curriculum and not at the expense of the creative subjects which made me happy. They have also managed to spin the second half of this term into a positive for Thing 1 in Year 9, seeing it as an opportunity to prepare for the start of the GCSE courses in September.

What was that about a mouse?

Well, I was out on my usual morning walk on Wednesday, taking nice pictures of flowers in the hedgerow, doing the whole hullo clouds hullo sky hullo sun” thing and I happened to glance down and there was this tiny mouse sitting in the road near the verge. Next to him was his very very squashed mama mouse and an equally flat sibling. The teeny mouse’s eyes were still closed. He was a very small mouse. I gave myself a good talking to about nature red in tooth and claw, and food chains, and all that sort of thing, and I walked away….and then I saw the buzzard hovering over the common. Yes, dear reader, I took the mouse home with me (if his mama and sibling hadn’t been squashed I would have left him, I promise).

With much headshaking my beloved retrieved an old gerbil tank from the shed, and we googled how to look after baby wild mice – off I went to the pet shop for sawdust and kitten milk, and we made him comfortable. He wasn’t injured or worried, and took to curling up on my hand and feeding from a dropper quite well and by day 4 his eyes were beginning to open. The kids named him Noodle because of his tail, and while I was the only one daft enough to get up at 2.30am for the night feeds, Thing 2 took a lot of care of him in the daytime. Sadly, when I was feeding him this morning he had a convulsion of some sort and died, so he has been buried with much ceremony near at least one of my gerbils and several of my beloved’s childhood cats in the garden. Thing 2 is painting a headstone for him as I type. I am under strict instructions to keep my eyes peeled for any more lonely rodents… next time I’m going to pretend I didn’t see anything.

OK, back to the pretty flowers then!

The hedgerows are bursting into bloom at the moment – high level flowers rather than wildflowers in the verge. The scents of honeysuckle and elderflower in the mornings is quite heady, and the high hedges are constellations of wild roses and blackberry blooms.

The garden has also begun to flower like mad, with self-seeded foxgloves putting up spires all over the place (we’ve always had one a year, but this year there’s about 20 scattered about), last year’s lupins which didn’t do anything, more honeysuckle, strawberries, aquilegia, the gorgeous Gertrude Jekyll rose that my late mother-in-law planted and more. The bees are going mad, particularly for the lavender and the lupins. This afternoon we harvested the first bowl of strawberries, which we’ll have after dinner.

You’ve been enjoying the weather then…

Oh yes, definitely – this week has been glorious. I’ve been doing portable crafts – starting a new virus shawl in the sock yarn I retrieved from unmaking my first socks the other week, picking up my cross stitch and generally enjoying the sunshine. I love the virus shawl, it’s so relaxing – at least if you don’t completely forget an entire row on several rounds and have to unpick it. There’s many patterns and video tutorials available, including one by Bella Coco, but as a kinetic learner I found the written pattern linked above to be the most accessible for me. I’ve made several of these over the last few years and they’re a great way to showcase gradient or variegated yarn.

Virus shawl

The cross stitch is an IMMENSE undertaking – Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte – which is my favourite painting ever, and it’s very detailed, Fifty colours…it’s going to take a while. It takes several weeks to do one page, and there’s 15 pages. I started in in February 2019 and worked solidly on it for a while but then got distracted, as I tend to do. If the weather holds I’ll be able to do lots in the garden.

A mammoth undertaking…

I also used the MBJM Four Seasons pattern again to whip up a pair of shorts for me, and made up the last Centerfield top I cut out last week. I can never get the hood to cross over properly, and the neckline broke two needles on my overlocker, but it’s wearable.

On Friday we took the kids out for a bike ride again, this time along the ‘rhododendron path’ which goes through to Gernon Bushes, an Essex Wildlife Trust reserve that we can access without going along main roads. The Essex Way goes through it, and while the local landowners cleared a lot of the huge rhododendrons last year there’s still some beautiful ones left that tower over the footpath. It really is glorious at this time of year, and as an added bonus the path crosses the M11 via a footbridge so we always stop there for a break so the kids can wave to the lorries (oh, ok, so can the adults!).

The path through to Gernon Bushes

Wishing you all a peaceful week ahead!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Jilly Cooper, all week. Pure escapism.