And that goes for this blog too…I’m typing this listening to the tide coming in over the beach at Llangrannog, West Wales, drinking a Tarquin’s Black Cherry gin and tonic. London sister, Things 2&3 and I are here for the week and my plan is to dip in the sea as much as I can, to sleep and not think about work (other than to think positive thoughts about the rest of the learning team in half term hell).
West Wales is my heart home, where I feel happiest in all the world. So I’m getting my fix!
Other things that have made me happy this week:
A day with a colleague at M-Shed in Bristol, where we spoke at the annual Dress and Textile Specialists conference
School assemblies with Really Big Pants Theatre, causing chaos with spacehoppers
Giving people handmade gifts
Trains. I like train journeys.
And now I’m signing off… Have a good week, all of you, and normal service will resume next Sunday.
What I’ve been reading:
Tuesday Mooney Wore Black – Kate Racculia
Doctor Who: Tales of Trenzalore/Twelfth Doctor Tales (Audible)
This time last week I was in Criccieth, North Wales with London sister (LS): we were peering out of the window at the torrential rain and howling gale and wondering what to do with our day. Luckily, having spent most of our childhood holidays in Wales, we are waterproof and hardy.
We drove up on Friday, via Abergavenny and mid-Wales: through convoy road works, diversions for road closures (including the old Severn Bridge) and finally up through the Dolgellau pass where the car in front of us burned out their clutch, the clouds were down on the road and there were free range sheep on the roadsides. We were staying at the Lion Hotel in Criccieth, where LS explained she was learning Welsh. She asked if it was OK if she practised on them and they promised to help. The hotel is family-run and so friendly, with hot showers, big breakfasts and comfortable beds. We ate in the restaurant on our first evening: whitebait and a freshly baked steak and ale pie for me, and spring rolls and gammon for her. The gammon steak was HUGE, from a local butcher, and came with egg and pineapple – none of this ‘or’ malarkey! They even had a gin menu, featuring local gins – I tried the Rhubarb and Ginger gin.
We went for a walk before dinner, as the rain had stopped and we needed to stretch our legs after the trek up from London: straight to the beach, where we watched a surfer and I got water in my wellies attempting to cross the stream. I squelched for the rest of the walk, causing LS to snigger a lot.
LS had planned our weekend itinerary, and Saturday saw us heading for Aberdaron to pick up the Wales coastal path on a route that would take us to the most westerly part of North Wales….after breakfast, of course, where we discovered that no one knows the word for ‘hash browns’ in Welsh. Google has it as ‘brown hash’ but LS decided ‘tatws wedi hashio’ was better. Not sure we convinced the waitress though!
The sun was out, and we got to Aberdaron in time to buy freshly-baked pasties from Becws Islyn for a picnic lunch on our walk. After a few false starts (getting on the wrong bit of beach, for example) we picked up the coast path and, using the trusty Ordnance Survey book, we headed up. And up. And down. And up. There are steep steps cut into the cliffs and in some cases the path takes you right down to the beach and back up again – Porth Meudwy, where the boat for Bardsey Island leaves from, is a prime example here. It’s a narrow cove with a slipway and not a lot else. The weather by this point was glorious: breezy and fine, and we even had to remove a layer of fleece.
Mynydd Mawr was our destination point: there’s a coastguard station on the very top and the remains of a wartime radar station. The walk instructions at this point were ‘keep walking upwards’: straight to the point there! After a quick peek at the coastguard station we found a spot on the cliff to eat our still-warm pasties and, as we were facing westwards, we could see Ireland in the distance as the weather was so clear. We waved at Ireland sister but we’re not sure she saw us! We moved round the mountain to drink our coffee, eat Snickers bars (the perfect walking snack) and admire Eryri (Snowdonia) in the distance.
The route back took us through some farmland – we were diverted from part of it due to landslips and erosion, and then we rejoined the coastal path back at Porth Meudwy – sadly at the bottom of the steps, so we still had to climb up again! We admired bluebells, foxgloves, late primroses and lots of gorse, and learned about the National Trust’s activity to replace the gorse with heather to create heathland. The final stretch was a scramble across the rocks at Aberdaron as we couldn’t face the final set of down and up steps: the tide was coming in but we raced the waves and rewarded ourselves with an ice cream on the beach. After nine miles of mostly hills we had earned it!
Back in Criccieth, I decided to go for a swim. LS sat on the beach with her book and a G&T. The sea was calm and the beach shelves very quickly, so you don’t need to go out very far to submerge. The hotel landlady thought I was quite mad, and now we get to say ‘o mam bach!’ instead of OMG…
We had fish and chips on the beach for dinner – quite the best I have had for a very long time – accompanied by prosecco and hovering gulls. We didn’t share.
Sunday’s weather was the complete opposite of the previous day, so we headed to Caernarfon for the family zoom call to wish Ireland sister a happy birthday, and then to Newborough Forest and Traeth Llanddwyn on Anglesey for a walk. The Forest is a red squirrel sanctuary, but we didn’t see any: I suspect they were tucked up in their drays hiding from the weather! We did see a woodpecker, two ravens and a lot of sand dunes, and made the sensible decision not to go to the island to see the chapel as we’d have been blown away. We drove back via Llyn Padarn and Llanberis, being awed by the waterfalls in full spate and the number of idiot drivers, and then in the evening we ate at Dylan’s in Criccieth: a beautiful Art Deco building designed by Clough Williams Ellis in the 1930s. No mussels were available so more whitebait, crab arancini and then crab salads.
On Monday’s homeward journey we called in to see our cousin Myfanwy and her husband in Fairbourne, where sheep roamed the streets and the bakery makes excellent brownies. It was lovely to see them – last time I met them it was in Kings Cross so the scenery was very different!
I think the kids were pleased to see me when I got back, it’s hard to tell…
The excitement continued on Wednesday as it was the monthly sunset and full moon swim at Redricks – this month was the flower moon, so there were some mad hats on display. The lake looks so pretty lit up by torches in drybags and glowtubes.
On Thursday I had my last day on site at the museum, as we had to be out on Friday for the building work to start. It looks so empty! We recycled and donated as much as we possibly could: scrap metal and wood, charity shops, the Scrap Project, schools, other museums, churches and charities. It’s going to be an adventure for the next few years to say the least!
Baby cow, do-do-do-do-doooo
A finish this week has been this cow and calf, which is probably one of the weirder things I have made – it was a commission from a friend as a gift for her sister in law, who loves all things cow.
I also frogged half my latest sock (Mulled Wine by Vicki Brown Designs) as I decided I didn’t like the solid colour I was using. I took it back to the toe and redid the foot with a self-striping yarn from West Yorkshire Spinners – Winwick Mum in the Wildflower colourway.
The year of handmade gifts
I had a brainwave a few weeks ago and made a chart of all my work colleagues’ birthdays so I can plan a bit better! I am now ahead of myself, having finished the next one and kitted up two more – one for work and one for a friend who is getting married soon.
I have also picked up the Hobbit Hole pattern again, which has been on hold while I’ve been making gifts – I was stitching in the garden yesterday, and while watching films last night.
So that’s been my week! A lot of heavy lifting, glorious walks, time with my sister, cross stitch and crochet. And it’s a bank holiday weekend too – hurray!
See you for week 63, which won’t be nearly as exciting as this week I am mostly doing spreadsheets.
What I’ve been reading:
Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure – Joanne Harris (Audible)
Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly
Pel is Puzzled/Pel and the Staghound – Mark Hebden
Once upon a time, way back in the educational dark ages (well, pre-National Curriculum, anyway) Welsh was not compulsory in South Wales schools. I was at infant school in Cardiff, and Welsh wasn’t taught till juniors. When I was just seven, we moved to Monmouthshire where it wasn’t taught at all. My (English) secondary school headteacher, when the NC was introduced in 1988, campaigned to have the school classified as being in England as many of the pupils were bussed in over the border from Gloucestershire: he claimed that more people spoke Chinese in Monmouth than Welsh. He may well have been right at the time, but that wasn’t the point.
He was unsuccessful, fortunately, but as I was too late to feel the impact of the NC while I was still in school I didn’t get the chance to learn Welsh until I was doing teacher training in Aberystwyth. Conversational Welsh was offered as a weekly elective in the lunch breaks, so I was able to count to ten, talk about the weather and say hello. I could also understand drinks orders in the pub I worked in. This was helpful when the gang from Yr Hen LLew Du made their occasional forays into the English-speaking pubs to try and annoy the barmaids, who were invariably students. Not speaking Welsh at the time was a severe handicap when applying for jobs in Wales, as it was necessary to be able to teach the language as well, which I assume is why for many years Wales’ greatest export was teachers who had fallen into the National Curriculum gap.
My parents weren’t Welsh speakers either: they had been at school in Cardiff in the 1940s and 50s. At that time, Wales was still suffering the hangover of the Industrial Revolution. English landowners – who owned the mines and the steelworks – saw Welsh as the language of revolution, especially with the rise of the unions, and it was banned from being spoken in schools. Children who spoke Welsh in school were made to wear the ‘Welsh Not’ – a sign hung around their necks to humiliate them, much as a dunce cap might be worn. The influx of Irish and Northern English into the Valleys to work in the mines, the steelworks and the associated infrastructure industries further diluted the language.
In 1847 a set of Parliamentary Blue Books were published on the state of education in Wales:
“It concluded that schools in Wales were extremely inadequate, often with teachers speaking only English and using only English textbooks in areas where the children spoke only Welsh, and that Welsh-speakers had to rely on the Nonconformist Sunday Schools to acquire literacy. But it also concluded that the Welsh were ignorant, lazy and immoral, and that among the causes of this were the use of the Welsh language and nonconformity.” (Wikipedia)
Evidence for this came mainly from Anglican clergy (who didn’t speak Welsh) at a time of burgeoning non-conformism in Wales, from landowners (er, ditto) and none of the commissioners were Welsh speakers. The argument that the Blue Books put forward was that embracing the English language would allow the Welsh to achieve their potential and take full part in British civic society – the authors were apparently concerned with the wellbeing of the Welsh (how delightfully colonial!). Non-conformists were often Welsh speakers, and a lot of them headed over the sea to the Americas where they set up Welsh communities and the language survived* – and handily provided me with a dissertation subject for my degree in American Studies. (Welsh migration to the USA from Prince Madoc onwards, in case you’re interested!).
The suppression of Welsh actually started a lot earlier than the Industrial Revolution, with the Act of Union in 1536 when it was decreed that English should be the only language of the courts in Wales, and that Welsh speakers could not hold public office in the territories of the king of England. This didn’t work terribly well at first, as the majority of the population were Welsh speakers, so a lot of interpreters were used in the courts. The upshot of this was the growth of a Welsh ruling class who were fluent in English, and Welsh became confined to the lower and middle classes. From 1549 all acts of public worship had to be conducted in English, though Elizabeth I wanted churches to have Welsh versions of the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible from 1567. The first complete Welsh translation of the Bible came in 1588.
A radio broadcast called ‘Tynged yr Iaith’ (The Fate of the Language) by Saunders Lewis in 1962 marked a national change in attitudes to the language, and you can read much more about this here. Welsh was on the up again…
Back to me (it’s my blog, after all) and my adventures in Welsh. Road signs were in Welsh, and our family holidays were in west Wales where much more Welsh was spoken. My Aunty and cousins spoke Welsh, so I’d always heard and seen snatches of the language. I’d wanted to learn but ended up working in east London as a teacher, and Welsh language courses were thin on the ground.
My London sister started learning Welsh with Duolingo and Say Something in Welsh a couple of years ago, and she encouraged me to learn too. I say encouraged – she signed me up to SSIW’s six minutes a day programme as a birthday present. The end of Duolingo is in sight for me now, though I can’t say the same for SSIW which I find really hard and have had on pause for ages.
I am a lifelong learner, as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post about my adventures in crafting, and it’s been suggested that language learning ‘boosts’ brain power by exercising the parts of the brain that process information. Learning a new language also contributes to a growth mindset, and understanding something you didn’t expect to is a great motivator. My fellow museum bod, gig buddy and Welsh learner Jen and I went to see Elis James and Esyllt Sears doing stand-up comedy in Welsh at the London Welsh Centre last year: I was really excited to be able to understand – or at least get the gist of – about two thirds of the show. (As an aside, we chatted to Elis James afterwards and he was really lovely).
Duolingo is excellent for vocabulary building and for sentence construction, but I have real problems with SSIW. I’m a visual/kinaesthetic learner – when I did the VAK assessment for a management course a couple of years ago I scored equally highly on the Visual and Kinaesthetic scales and extremely low on the Auditory. It wasn’t anything I didn’t know already but at least it explained why I was having terrible trouble with SSIW!
I learn by doing, or by seeing – if my hands aren’t doing something then I tune out very quickly. This means I take a LOT of notes in meetings. It’s not diligence, it’s self-preservation – if I’m not taking notes I tune out. My previous line manager used to be able to tell when I switched off if a meeting went on too long!. I crochet my way through conferences or use a fidget toy, as if my hands are occupied I’m able to focus on what’s being said. SSIW, as it’s entirely auditory, really doesn’t suit my learning style at all – writing down the week’s sentences in advance was useful, but ideally I would be writing them down as I went along. But not knowing how to spell most of the words made that quite tricky, as did the fact that I generally did the SSIW sessions while I was ironing and refereeing the Things. Perhaps I need to sit down, on my own, with a pen and paper and try my usual learning method of copious note taking. I have a Welsh dictionary, and a grammar book, so there’s really no excuse.
*As an aside to this, there have been a lot of jokes on social media in the last couple of days that a Welsh-speaking nation have finally beaten the All-Blacks at rugby….sadly, it was Argentina, so Max Boyce probably won’t be memorialising this in song.
Despite being back at work full time it’s been a productive week! Normally at this time of year I’d be making jewellery to sell at the Christmas markets but this year I don’t have any booked for obvious reasons.
I mentioned in last week’s post that my plan for the rest of the day was to finish the Bento Box quilt. That’s the one I quilted as I went along, so after I’d backed it I was able to add another few lines of quilting in the ditch just to hold it together, and then bound it. I backed it with a 100% cotton sheet I’d bought in a sale, and bound it with a ready-made cream bias binding from Bertie’s Bows. Just to recap, the coloured fabrics are Stuart Hillard’s Rainbow Etchings designs for Craft Cotton Co, and I used nearly two jelly rolls to make it. The blenders, wadding and multicoloured quilting thread are from Empress Mills, and I used this tutorial.
I also promised I’d show you the Winter Swimming cross stitch when I’d finished it…the wording is my own work, using DMC stranded cotton, alphabets from this book, and the mug design can be found here. Despite the fact that I can hear the rain hammering on the conservatory roof right now and it’s still pitch dark at 7am, I’m really looking forward to getting back in the socially distanced lake this morning!
The Hydrangea blanket is coming on nicely – I am just about a quarter of the way through it now. It’s such a relaxing pattern to do, and I am following Attic24’s colour order as well. The yarn is Stylecraft Special DK from Wool Warehouse, where the official Attic24 shop can be found. I really love the faded colours.
Yesterday’s job was to cut out a couple of dresses as I haven’t done any dressmaking for a while and at some point I’m sure I’ll get out of jeans and leggings for work again – at the moment I am mainly surrounded by dusty boxes and ladders, so looking tidy is not a priority. Both patterns are by Simplicity – K9101 was free with Sew magazine and the Dottie Angel (8230) is one I have made before. It’s great for throwing on as a top layer. I’m making version A with the double pocket from B, in a pinstriped denim. You can see the back of the fabric I’m using for K9101 behind – it’s a cotton duvet cover I picked up at The Range. I’m using the navy side for this, and there’s a purple side as well which may well end up as an Avid Stitcher drop-sleeve top. I do love a layer.
The weather this weekend has been truly atrocious, so yesterday Thing 3 and I spent some time doing jigsaws together. He has loved puzzles from a very early age (I do too), and when I declared a screen-free afternoon yesterday we had a few games of Dobble and then made a 3D puzzle of a baseball boot and a couple of Star Wars puzzles.
Thing 2 played a couple of games of chess with her Dad and Dobble with me – Dobble is like extreme snap and trickier than it sounds! I foresee a massive boom in the sale of chess sets, by the way, as a result of the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. We’ve just binged it and the finale had us on the edge of our seats.
Now excuse me, Duolingo has just told me it’s time for Welsh….see you at the end of week 35! I’ll leave you with a photo of a Little Egret who was hanging round the brook on the High Road all day on Friday.
What I’ve been reading:
The Forest is Crying – Charles de Lint
The Spook who Spoke Again – Lindsey Davis
The Ides of April/Enemies at Home (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (audible)
The Law of Innocence (Lincoln Lawyer) – Michael Connelly
I confess to being a little bit down as I write this, as – had it not been for some pandemic or other – I should be tapping away on my tablet, sitting in the garden of a farmhouse in sunny Pembrokeshire surrounded by my family, some of whom I haven’t seen for two years. Yesterday my mum and dad would have arrived from France, my far-away sister and brother-in-law and their children from Northern Ireland, my London sister from the other side of of the M25, and my beloved and I and the children from Essex. We’d be planning a day on the beach at Newport or Newgale, or a mooch around St David’s or Fishguard, making a stack of sandwiches and coffee and counting the windbreaks. At some point in the week we would have seen the extended Wales family of cousins and hopefully my beloved’s Welsh family as well. Instead, here I am in rainy Essex, suffering from mosquito bites after a bike ride on Friday (how do they bite through leggings? How?) and waiting for the kids to emerge from the tent demanding Sunday pancakes. I bear a strong resemblance to Tove Jansson’s Little My in temperament today.
Friday marked the end of the school year for Things 2 and 3, and for Thing 2 also her final year of primary school as she will join Thing 1 at secondary in September. The school organised a socially distanced leavers’ assembly on Friday morning, so they didn’t miss out on all the usual events: yearbooks, a chance to sign each other’s T-shirts (not while they were wearing them for a change!) and to see their friends. Thing 2 is not going to our local large secondary, and she won’t be in the same school as most of her little gang so it was quite a sad moment for her. I think the teachers have definitely earned their summer holiday this year (as they do every year, of course) but this year some won’t have had a break since February half term, and their heads are probably spinning with all the things they have had to adapt to – remote teaching and pastoral care, social bubbles, and much more. I have said this before but I really hope that people start recognising the amazing work teachers do not just this year but every year – and trust them to do what’s best for our kids rather than scapegoating them.
Thing 1 had a birthday last week – she was 14 – and despite a few wobbly moments of anxiety leading up to it I think she had fun. Two of her friends came over and they had a cake picnic in the park, frightening the local youngsters with their mad hair, and taking a lot of selfies. She had her undercut dyed pink on Friday – one of the good things about lockdown is that it’s allowed her to ‘experiment with her aesthetic’ (as she tells me) without the restrictions of school uniform requirements. It’s done wonders for her confidence, and I am loving the baby Goth look she’s developed – I have serious envy of her birthday-money shoes! My hands are still tinged with hot pink from the dye-fest – I did her older sister’s hair too, and forgot the gloves.
I was abandoned on Thursday by my walking buddy, who had a bad back. I went out solo and enjoyed the sunshine on a four mile ramble through the lanes and fields on one of my favourite routes past Dial House and North Weald Redoubt. The hedgerows and verges are now showing the fruits of the flowers from earlier in the season, and they’re alive with insects still – ladybirds and crickets, and so many butterflies (none of whom would stay still long enough to photograph).
There’s also a new set of wildflowers popping up – the bank of willowherb on the farm track is a luscious wall of pink, and the purple of thistles and vetch is lovely.
Back to the title – what’s that all about?
The Case of the Disappearing Nine Patch..
I’m a reader. A big reader. A REALLY big reader. One of the first things I did when I started uni both in Preston and in Aberystwyth and when I moved on to London and Essex later was to find and join the local library. I can sniff out a second hand bookshop or charity shop at a hundred paces. When I visit you, if you leave me alone in your living room I’ll be snooping your bookshelves. I am that person on your Zoom meeting who’s peering past you at the bookshelves. The joy of finding a fellow series fan is unbounded – meeting a fellow Pratchett fan in the wild, noticing a Rivers of London reader on the Tube, those who know the significance of the number 42. (The museum world is a good place to find these people, by the way). We be of one blood, you and I.
But the first series I really got into – I mean, really got into – was Nancy Drew way back in the early 80s. I read them all from the library, snapped them up on market stalls, bought them when they went on the discarded stock shelf. Classic Nancy – not the later series. One of my best sewing buddies was introduced to me first as ‘Ah, Alli likes Nancy Drew too – you two will get on really well’. (We do) I wondered what happened to them all when I left home and then a couple of years ago a younger cousin messaged me and asked if I wanted them back. Why yes, I said, the kids might like them.
Who was I kidding? *I* wanted them back. I wanted to read them all again. I wanted to immerse myself in the adventures of the titian-haired detective, her tomboyish friend George and Bess, the girly one. Cool coupes! Lawyer dad Carson! Ned Nickerson, the handsome boyfriend! Honestly, that girl could not go anywhere without falling over a clue, a secret, a mystery of some kind, which she would solve with her loyal girlfriends and her brilliant deductive skills. I never trip over mysteries – except the old ‘where did all the money go this month’ one that we all encounter once we hit adulthood.
So just as soon as I finish my current series, I am opening up that box of delights and taking a trip back to my childhood.
That sort of childhood passion doesn’t really go away, of course, and I still have a sneaky fondness for ‘girl detectives’ though they (and I) are much older now. I’m currently working my way through the wonderful V I Warshawski novels by Sara Paretsky. I first encountered VI at uni, where I was reading American Studies and Indemnity Only was one of the texts on a unit called ‘Images of the City in the American Mind’. VI is a tougher, more streetwise version of Nancy, who fights for the underdog against corporate America. The joy of Kindle is that I don’t have to wait for the library to reopen, of course, to catch up on the later ones.
VI opened up a world of grown up ‘girl’ detective novels – I won’t go into them all in detail but here’s some of my favourites:
Kinsey Millhone by Sue Grafton. I am heartbroken that the author died before ‘Z’ was published.
Stephanie Plum by Janet Evanovich. Brilliant cast of comic characters.
Ruth Galloway novels by Elly Griffiths (and an honourable mention for her Stephens and Mephisto books too)
Rev. Merrily Watkins by Phil Rickman. Set in Herefordshire, so makes visits home a bit spooky at times.
Kate Shugak novels by Dana Stabenow. Alaska! Moose! Bears!
Mentions also for Dr Temperance Brennan, Bubbles Yablonsky, Trixie Belden, Jimm Juree and Precious Ramotswe.
I don’t limit myself to girl detectives, of course, but my heart will always hold a sneaky place for these feisty, clever, quick-thinking females.
Their male counterparts will have to wait for another day, but will probably include Harry Bosch, Marcus Didius Falco, Brother Cadfael, Dave Robicheaux, John Rebus, Dr Siri Paiboun, Bryant and May, DI Thomas Lynley, and Richard Jury. Perhaps detectives and their sidekicks are a whole other topic…
If they come with a side-order of the supernatural, so much the better! I’d better come back to that one as well.
Where did that nine patch disappear to?
It hasn’t disappeared at all, really – it’s the name of the quilt block I ended up using this week. Its not one from the book I mentioned last week, or any of my quilt pattern books, but one that popped up on my daily digest from Bloglovin’.
I’d spent a couple of days trying to decide what to do with the blue charm packs I’d bought, and had pretty much decided to go with basic squares again. I discarded the brighter blue solids and some of the prints, as they didn’t quite fit, so I was left with teal, candy blue, buttermilk and buttercup for solids. I still wasn’t entirely happy with the basic layout so I didn’t start to stitch them together – and I’m glad I didn’t! So I grabbed some of the leftovers from the row layout and did a test block, then abandoned the rows entirely in favour of these nine-patches.
Since each row had been sorted for colour already, I started to build the nine-patches from the rows, making sure I had one of each solid colour in the block with five different print patches. I ended up with 20 blocks, which I trimmed to 12″ squares before stitching them together to make the final quilt top. Some of the patches had directional prints which limited which way up they could go (in my head, anyway).
I really like the way this has come together. It needs a border as it’s not quite wide enough, but I think I have enough neutral solids left to make one, and it’ll need to be backed and quilted before it’s finished. I’ll be backing it with a large curtain I picked up in a charity shop ages ago, so I won’t need to piece a backing.
This week I am going to finish the commission dolls, try open water swimming with friends, try some more drawing, and try not to feel too out of sorts about not being in Wales. At least school is over…
See you at end of week eighteen.
What I’ve been reading
V I Warshawski series (only 1 more to go!) – Sara Paretsky
Last Act in Palmyra – Falco series by Lindsey Davis