129: Quoth the raven ‘nevermore’

OK, it wasn’t a raven but a crow, and it didn’t actually say anything, but ANYWAY. Yesterday my friend Amanda and I ticked off number five on the Magnificent Seven cemeteries list with a visit to Abney Park in Stoke Newington as she was house sitting in Shoreditch again.

We hopped on a bus from Shoreditch High Street which took us through Hackney and Clapton, and then missed the entrance as it was hidden behind hoardings. We didn’t notice till we’d walked as far as Stamford Hill, when it dawned on us that the 400 yards that Google had said had been going on for a while!

Once we’d made it through the building site to the cemetery it was lovely – cool under the trees and with lots of friendly hounds and their people. Like several of the other cemeteries we have visited much of it is now left wild as a nature reserve, and indeed this was the first such reserve in Hackney – it was planted as an arboretum so there is a huge variety of trees on site, as well as a ‘rosarium’. There’s apparently some interesting mushrooms (not that sort of interesting) and assorted fungi about. I was quite taken by this fallen tree where the mushrooms were fruiting into the hollow trunk.

There are fewer celebrity burials in Abney Park than in Highgate and Brompton etc, but we did find a memorial to Isaac Watts, the hymn writer – apparently there was a spot he particularly liked to hang out in. There was also a very imposing statue of him further in – he’s buried in Bunhill Fields along with John Bunyan (all those nonconformist types!) but Hackney was his stamping ground. Our favourite grave belonged to Sophia Caroline Whittle, ‘Relict of the late ‘Censorious”. We couldn’t find out any more about ‘Censorious’ but I’d love to know!

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have been working hard cleaning and clearing their sites in Abney Park so there are shining white stones among the Victorian greys. Many of these seemed to date from late 1918, sadly – just a day after the end of the war in one case. There are lots of little tracks off the main paths, allowing you to explore. Like the others we have visited many of the older graves are overgrown and inaccessible, but that allows for the wildlife to thrive. We saw squirrels and heard a lot of parakeets – but no signs of the owls who nest in the trees, who were presumably tucked up for the day.

It’s funny to think that there are trends in funerary décor as with everything else – in one area there will be a row of Grecian urns, and in another a set of identical angels topping the plinths. Perhaps the local memorial stonemasons have sales? There seem to be a lot of Blitz victims, which is to be expected in East London. We saw the non-denominational chapel, which was only used for burial services and not for worship and which is sadly closed after falling into disrepair. Quinn London, who are also the ones doing the base build at my own dear museum, are responsible for the restoration of both the entrance and the chapel so a trip back might be worthwhile when the works are completed.

One thing that does worry me is the number of people who ‘fell asleep’ and ended up in the cemetery – if someone could double check that I haven’t just dropped off before they plant me that would be great.

After a quick refuelling stop in ‘Stokey’ (as I believe the ‘hipper’ natives refer to it) we headed south again – the first bus that came along was the 106, which took us through Hackney and down to Cambridge Heath station where we got off and walked down Hackney Road to Columbia Road. I lived on Hackney Road for several years, and back then it was punctuated by strip clubs and derelict shops. It’s now restored and rebuilt in many places, with bars, coffee shops and the odd boutique (OK, and strip clubs). I was glad to see the City Cafe II still in situ – excellent bubble and squeak on a Sunday morning!

We walked through Columbia Road, stopping at the British Cheese Shop where I definitely didn’t have a Monty Python moment, and rejoined Hackney Road at the Old Street end, where we decided to detour via Hoxton Street Market and Hoxton Square – I love the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies shop (supporting a literacy charity). The market is hanging on as a community space – the City looms over it and the gentrification of Shoreditch is slowly sneaking up, but until then you can still buy second hand china, clothes, fruit and veg and hear people greeting friends and ‘aunties’. There’s a wonderful old building that was an early asylum, which took serious Google-fu to find out about, and there’s still lots of evidence of Hoxton’s artisan past.

The door of Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

After a quick stop for a cuppa and a biscuit or two we wandered over to the Barbican to buy some supplies (OK, tequila. But we got salad too.), walking via Bunhill Fields so we got two cemeteries in in one day. John Bunyan is tucked up in there, flown over by the ubiquitous parakeets and scampered on by squirrels.

Post-dinner, we were people watching from the roof and observed five Hackney enforcement officers arrive to deal with one graffiti artist – not because of his artwork (which we liked when we went to see it afterwards) but because he was obstructing a parking space with his kit. The area has become famous for the street art – from Stik and others to your basic taggers – and some of the pieces are amazing. Still, heaven forbid you take up a parking space! We went for a late night round-the-block (9.30 is late, surely?) and judging by the drop in people on the streets of Shoreditch we may be witnessing the beginning of the recession – also, people seem to be buying their nitrous oxide in bulk now rather than in the little canisters, looking the aerosol sized cans about the place when we walked the dog this morning!

Tequila sunset

I’m pretty sure it’s nap time now, though – all that walking took it out of me!

Other things making me happy this week:

  • Thing 3 starting secondary school
  • Finishing my talk for the GEM conference this week (phew!)
  • Hanging out with my godson and his girlfriend as well as Amanda
  • Not having Covid any more
  • Several dog walks

See you next week! This week I am off to the Crafts Council for an in person thing, to Derby Silk Mill for the GEM conference – exciting!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

If It Bleeds/The Outsider/Finders Keepers – Stephen King

111: Uphill all the way

Yesterday I fulfilled a long held ambition and went on one of Paul Talling’s guided walks through London, specifically the route of the River Fleet from Blackfriars to St Pancras Old Church. I’ve been a fan of his photos since the very first Derelict London days, when I stumbled across them while researching something completely different, and in 2012 he kindly allowed me to use some of his pre-regeneration photos of the Olympic Park to support a school session I was running at the Museum of London Docklands. When my friend messaged me the other day to say she had a spare ticket for the Fleet walk and would I like to come, there was only one possible answer. As one of my longest-standing friends (37 years!), ex-flatmate in our mis-spent London years and graduate of the Durham Arms school of Sunday drinking, the chance for a catch-up post-lockdown was unmissable too. (Kerst – you know that I’d have said yes even without the walk!)

I never planned to stay in London for more than a few years and certainly never expected to fall in love with it and all its history, but there we are. I have actually done the Fleet walk before, self-guided and in the other direction as part of a partnership with the Hampstead Heath education team: we used Paul Talling’s book and this one to guide us and completed the walk over two days. The first section, from the source just below Kenwood on Hampstead Heath through to St Pancras, was on a gloriously sunny day in early summer. The second part, a few weeks later, was in such torrential rain (in June!) that at the end of the walk we actually had to go to H&M and buy new clothes as everything we were wearing was soaked through. Still, the downpour at least meant that we could see as well as hear the Fleet through the drain on Ray Street in Clerkenwell. Yesterday was hot and sunny and perfect for a lazy ramble through the streets of London.

Blackfriars station, where we had arranged to meet, is on both sides of the river as well as across the middle, and it’s the only one of the big mainline termini I have never caught a train from. Eventually we worked out that if we both went on Blackfriars Bridge we’d be bound to cross paths, so having managed that we headed for coffee and a catch-up before the walk. The start point for the walk was the very beautiful Blackfriar pub, which has been recently restored and the frontage positively glowed in the sunshine.

I won’t go into too much detail about the content of the walk, except to say that Talling’s background as a gig promoter as well as his knowledge of London and its past meant we were treated to a whole lot of side anecdotes about various bands, pubs and local areas. The route took in what’s left of the Bridewell prison, a horde of Millwall fans with a lot of police keeping an eye on them, Smithfield Market (eventually to be the site of the new Museum of London) and Mount Pleasant where the Mail Rail originally started before finishing at St Pancras Old Church and the Hardy Tree. It was only about three miles but took four hours, and we felt we had earned the Nando’s lunch afterwards! We used to go to Nando’s back when we lived in Bethnal Green in the late 90s, so it felt like a good way to end our day. Sunny Saturdays in London always bring out the ill-advised fashion choices – the chap in the turquoise satin tracksuit carrying the bottle of Hooch really was a blast from the past. Here, mate, the 90s called and they want their outfit back!

Here are some of the photos Kersti and I took over the day. We’ll definitely be doing more of these, and perhaps some self-guided ones as well through our old haunts!

Other highlights of the week:

  • New haircut (short!)
  • Finally coming to the end of the D&D campaign with an epic battle
  • Meeting up with the fab Really Big Pants Theatre Company again
  • Hearing Miss Jacqui speak at a networking event at Rich Mix
  • Finishing the dragon scale shawl I have been working on
  • Lovely swim this morning with the swans

So that’s that! Same time next week, gang!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Old Success – Martha Grimes

Win – Harlan Coben

All the Colours of Darkness – Peter Robinson

92: squelch squerch

This week my walking buddy Jill (cover photo artist!) and I have made the most of being off for Christmas and headed out ‘early doors’ (she’s from Yorkshire) for a couple of welly walks. We love our walks: we put the world to rights, appreciate the scenery, stomp on icy puddles and squish our way through the muddy ones. Some weeks she is grouchy, other weeks it’s me. We test out ideas for work or catastrophise in the knowledge that we can go into the office the next day with our heads back on straight. It’s like therapy. There’s something about walking next to someone, not facing them, that allows stress and those wake-you-up-at-3am thoughts to spill out.

Some days we go further than others: round the roads to Tawney Common, or across to Toot Hill, or round past Dial House and the farm to see the cows, or the old golf course and flood meadows. Sometimes it’s the short 5k through the woods and back, or to the end of the village. Whatever, I always come back feeling better and ready to face the week.

It was a week of extremes: one day it was -4°c and the world was white. The sun was coming up in spectacular fashion, the puddles were frozen and we crackled our way down to the farm and home via the station. The plan was to check what time the light fantastic train was running that day so we could drag the kids up to Marconi Bridge to watch it go through, but they were only doing the Santa Special till after Christmas. We allowed ourselves to be seduced by the smell of frying bacon from the station cafe and indulged in a bacon roll and tea, listening to the brass quartet playing Christmas carols and watching overexcited kids waiting for Santa’s train to arrive.

The following day was much warmer so the puddles were squelchy once more (as you can see from the cover photo). That day’s route took us through the fields to the radio station (hence Marconi Bridge) and past North Weald Redoubt, finishing up at Jill’s house for tea and a rummage through boxes of craft stuff from a friend’s house clearing. I was very good and only came home with a few balls of yarn and some toy eyes. My plan this week was to try and destash some craft things from the shed, not bring home more – I did send some yarn up to Jill’s mum, and got rid of a whole lot of jewellery making stuff, which was a start.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed at least a few days off and will be grabbing the opportunity for a Boxing Day welly walk – we have A, H and the grandchild over today, but I’m looking forward to a few more walks this week.

All can now be revealed…

As it’s after Christmas I can share the gifts I made – the wall hanging was for our Dungeonmaster and his wife and I made them open it while I was there playing board games on Monday. The ‘Eira Owls’ were for their daughters. The little pigs in granny square blankets have been ridiculously popular and I ended up making more than 20 of them as Christmas ‘cards’* for colleagues and my swimming buddies, and then as requests for people who’d seen them on Facebook. They’ve gone off to Wales, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and London. I still have several to do after Christmas but I have to get two presents out in January and a couple for February first!**

(* I don’t send cards to anyone but immediate family, but donate to a charity every year instead – this year it was the Trussell Trust. I make little decorations that can be brought out year after year – I love seeing people’s photos of their trees with my work on!)

(** Yes, I am taking orders. They are £6 each plus postage!)

I hope you’ve all had a great Christmas with family and friends, that you’re all safe and warm and looking forward to 2022. By the time next week’s post appears we’ll be in a whole new year!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Untold Story – Genevieve Cogman

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (Audible)

A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler

The Toast of Time – Jodi Taylor

The Long and the Short of it – Jodi Taylor (Audible)

66: happy birthday to me!

Yesterday was my 48th birthday, and among the presents I requested from the various people who asked was an Ordnance Survey map of Chelmsford and the Rodings, and one of their Pathfinder books of circular walks. I bought another map (Chelmsford, Harlow and Bishops Stortford) with one of the Amazon vouchers I was given as well. Those of you who have ever been anywhere with me and experienced my sense of direction might wonder a bit at this, of course, as I am the adult who once got so hopelessly lost in Sainsburys in Whitechapel that I handed myself in at Customer Services and waited to be collected. I am also regularly flummoxed by Google maps on my phone: it’s all very well showing me where I am, but it still takes a few false starts, watching the direction the arrows are moving when I walk, to work out the direction of travel.

Still, you all know I love a good walk, so my thinking is that with the aid of these maps I can explore a bit more of my local area. North Weald sits on the border of both these maps, rather than conveniently in the middle, hence needing two of them.

I have a vague plan that for my 50th birthday I will walk the whole of the Essex Way over a series of weekends, in the company of whoever I can persuade to do various stretches with me. I have a couple of years to plan this adventure, fortunately! I have done some of the local stretches on training walks, and I am keen to do the rest. If I was the sort of hardy hiking person who could be bothered to carry lots of equipment on my back I might do it all at once, but that’s never going to happen!

I like marking big birthdays. I haven’t worried about my age since I was 27 and I cried all day as I was so old. Back when I was still in infant school in Cardiff our class teacher, Mrs Price, asked us to work out how old we would in the year 2000, and 27 was the answer: it felt such a long way away, and such a vast age to a six year old, that I never forgot it. No other birthday has ever felt so traumatic!

My 30th was a mad evening out in London with friends, where we did the Jack the Ripper walk after a few drinks in All Bar One at Tower Hill (chosen as it was formerly the Mark Lane underground station, and I am nothing if not a nerd). My 40th was a barbecue in the back garden, with a ball pool for the kids and surrounded by friends. So I am planning an adventure for my 50th: it’s a big birthday, so I ought to celebrate it by doing something interesting with people I like. Volunteers for future weekends on the Essex Way welcome!

Other gifts included yarn, rhubarb and ginger gin and books: you all know me so well!

There has, of course, been other things in my week: my second Covid vaccine, so I am now fully 5G enabled or something (I don’t care if it causes me to pick up Radio Caroline, quite honestly, as long as it means I can see my parents and sisters). It was the monthly sunset/full moon swim, and this month the moon was up but covered in clouds so I still didn’t see it from the lake. There has been lots of making, but nothing I can share yet!

There has also been a lot of reading: a book that had me grabbed from the first page, and which would have kept me awake into the early hours to finish it if the battery on my Kindle hadn’t died. Once Upon a River, by Diane Setterfield, was one of those 99p Kindle deals that’s been lurking on the virtual shelf of shame since then. I finally got round to it this week. It’s one of the best books I have read for a very long time – if you haven’t run across it already, go and grab it. History, magic, mystery, the Thames: what else do you need?

And now I must head for Tesco, as the cupboard is mostly bare and the Horde need feeding! Same time next week?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Once Upon a River – Diane Setterfield

Madame Burova/The Keeper of Lost Things/Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel – Ruth Hogan

Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee (Audible)

Week thirty three: here we go again

You know, I’m tired. I’m really, really tired. And fed up. And angry (though regular readers will have spotted that this is becoming a far more frequent state of mind for me). And resigned. And sad. And all sorts of other emotions that are probably common to a lot of us right now.

On Thursday, we entered Lockdown: The Sequel here in England. Wales and NI very sensibly started their ‘firebreaks’ a couple of weeks ago, before half term so the kids were off school anyway. The trouble is, like many sequels, this one just doesn’t seem to be quite as good as the first – I mean, it’s not as bad as High School Musical 3, but it’s still a bit rubbish.

The kids are still in school, for a start, which means that they’re mixing with their friends: admittedly within their bubbles but, logistically, this means that in a multi-form entry school those bubbles can have just under 100 children in. Those children may have siblings in other bubbles, so no bubbles are sealed. They also have parents and carers, who may still be working – some in schools, with other bubbles – and using public transport and things. But apparently it’s fine because those children aren’t allowed to see each other outside school, and we have all got the message that Covid-19 is only contagious in your house or garden, or where no money is changing hands or being made.

I get to go to work three days a week in this lockdown, because there is work that’s impossible for me to do from home: assessing and decanting thousands of handling collection objects, for example, and packing up the office ready for the move. I didn’t go in on Thursday but from what I hear from those who did, there was little difference in transport and travel. When I do go in, I’ll follow the guidelines: social distancing as far as possible on the tube and in the museum, wearing a face covering properly, washing my hands frequently and so on. I’ll carry on travelling outside peak times – I’m in the office at 6.30am and leave at lunchtime, logging back in at home to finish my day and picking up Thing 3 from school so he’s not going to childcare.

I will follow the guidelines, not because I trust our government or because I like to do what everyone else does, but because in 2020 so far I have missed my niece’s first confirmation, my sister’s 40th birthday, my family holiday, going to live music events and author talks, and being able to see my London sister with the kids. I’ve missed my culture and cocktail afternoons with my best friend. I’ve missed pink-wine-fuelled Chinese meals with the Pink Ladies gang. I’ve missed my own birthday barbecue. Things One and Two couldn’t have proper birthday celebrations. I’ve missed impromptu Friday afternoons in the pub garden. I’ve missed sneaky weekday lunches with colleagues and walks round Victoria Park to see the dogs and ducks. I’ve missed my stepdaughters and grandson being around the house whenever they want. I haven’t seen my parents or the Irish contingent in more than two years, and I miss them. My dad is going to be 80 in February and I’d really, really like to be there.

In the grand scheme of Covid-19, I’ve been very lucky: no one in my family has been hospitalised. None of my friends have either, though many of my friends are nurses and they have lost friends and colleagues. I’ve been able to swim outdoors regularly (though that was cancelled this weekend). I live in the countryside with a lovely garden, so I have outdoor space. I’ve had an unexpected six months with my children, which has been wonderful. Christmas will happen, whatever the red-tops are saying about ‘saving’ it: it’s never been about the parties for me. It might look a bit different this year, but it’ll still happen.

But I’d like to believe there’s an end to this, and until an effective vaccine is in place that’s not going to happen. So until then I will wear the face covering to protect other people, and I will wash my hands, and I won’t hug my friends even though this year we have needed hugs more than ever. And I expect I’ll carry on being angry, and tired, and sad. But it won’t be forever.

Onto more cheerful things…

This week hasn’t been all bad, really. I’ve fitted in a fair bit of making, including finishing the Marble Floor cross stitch design that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. I decided to include rainbow colours, as they have become a bit of a symbol for 2020 and the museum has also collected a lot of Lockdown Rainbows for a display that was due to open at the V&A this month. I’ve also included a phrase which comes from Ren & Stimpy but has become a bit of a catchphrase at work. It needs a bit of an iron, but I think its turned out OK – the geometry feels quite elegant, and I really like the effect of the colours across the middle. I used 18 count ivory aida fabric and DMC threads – two strands for the black (310) and one for the colours (from left to right: 666, 740, 973, 907, 3845, 336, 333). You can find the basic chart here if you’d like to make your own.

I have also been making progress on the Hydrangea blanket: the colours are muted and lovely, and the pattern is simple and repetitive but effective.

I really must sew in the ends.

On the tube I am making socks from one of this month’s crochet magazines. I frogged the first attempt as they were too big, but the second attempt is coming up better! I’m using a Cygnet Yarns wool-rich patterned sock yarn in shades of pink and purple.

One good thing about not swimming this morning was going out for a walk through the very misty woods. We sensibly wore wellies and stayed off the paths a lot, as they are quite churned up after the very soggy October we had. There’s some beautiful fungi in the woods again – you can see a Fly Agaric in the cover photo this week that I spotted up near the fishing lake yesterday, and today’s spots are below. I have no idea what they are but I love the autumnal colours (and don’t plan to pick or eat them!).

It would be remiss not to mention the best news of the international week, which of course is the American presidency: I am more excited about Kamala Harris than Biden, but mostly I’m just happy for my US friends and colleagues. I’ll never forget going into work the morning after Trump was elected and finding my American colleague devastated and googling how to renounce her American citizenship.

My plan for the rest of the day is to finally bind the Bento Box quilt after backing it yesterday, and then settling down with cross stitch and Midsomer Murders. We are watching recorded episodes at the moment and the adverts really give you a sense of who is watching ITV3 of an afternoon – mobility aids, life insurance for the over 50s, charity appeals, and conservatory blinds. Still, it’s always entertaining to see just how bonkers the murders can get! It really is a guilty pleasure, and good company on a crafty afternoon. Thing One is now getting into it as well.

See you on the other side of week 34, when I promise my normal cheery service will be resumed. Everyone is entitled to an off day.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Now you see them (The Brighton Mysteries) – Elly Griffiths

The Spook Who Spoke Again (Falco) – Lindsey Davis

Nemesis (Falco) and The Ides of April (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week nineteen: in which I looked tidy for the first time since March

A Tuesday interlude…

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.

That’s me on the right, by the way (Powerpuff Girls image from pngwave.com)

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?

Muddy puddle!

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.

Angry bread

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.

Chocolate Fudge Brownies

  • 50g self-raising flour (or plain flour and 1/2 tsp baking powder)
  • 100g plain chocolate
  • 50g butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4tbsp golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • optional: 75g walnuts, chopped

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.

Hot hemmer in action – image from Clover website

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?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Dead Land by Sara Paretsky (The latest VI Warshawski novel – I am all caught up!)

Tales from the Folly – Ben Aaronovitch (a Rivers of London short story collection – too short!)

Last Act in Palmyra/Time to Depart (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis on Audible

Listening to…

Hollywood Park – The Airborne Toxic Event

American III: Solitary Man – Johnny Cash

Podcast: The Socially Distant Sports Bar (Elis James, Mike Bubbins and Steff Garrero) via Spotify

Week seventeen: The Case of the Disappearing Nine Patch

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.

Baby goth – Hello Kitty Gothcore, I am told.

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:

  1. Kinsey Millhone by Sue Grafton. I am heartbroken that the author died before ‘Z’ was published.
  2. Stephanie Plum by Janet Evanovich. Brilliant cast of comic characters.
  3. Ruth Galloway novels by Elly Griffiths (and an honourable mention for her Stephens and Mephisto books too)
  4. Carlotta Carlyle by Linda Barnes. Tough Boston PI who drives a cab on the side.
  5. Rev. Merrily Watkins by Phil Rickman. Set in Herefordshire, so makes visits home a bit spooky at times.
  6. 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.

Test block

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.

Kirsty x

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

Learn to Draw: Buildings – David Cook

Week ten: lazy days

So here we are at the end of week ten, and we’ve survived half term. Actually, it’s been lovely: the weather continues to be glorious, and we have taken advantage of the slight easing of lockdown rules to go on a couple of socially distanced walks with a neighbour and her daughters. Her twin girls fall between Things 2 and 3, and in normal circumstances at this time of year the kids would be in and out of each others’ houses all day making up dance routines (or TikTok-ing, this year), splashing in the pools and bouncing on trampolines. It’s been lovely seeing them back together while we grown ups put the world to rights. The best fun was when we walked through the woods to a brilliant rope swing where we spent a good hour jumping off over a stream bed before following the meanders back to the path home.

Following the path through the woods

Rope swings have been a bit of a feature of our exercise this week – we also visited one in Gernon Bushes, near Coopersale, which has been there for years and which someone has kindly fixed a seat to this year! The first time I went on it I faceplanted spectacularly as I forgot to let go….

This route took us through what’s known locally as the rhododendron path – it borders the Gaynes Park estate, and while they did a lot of clearance last year they have left this beautiful section on the way to the motorway bridge. The bushes are several metres high in places, and dense with flowers as you can see. We brought a cutting home at the children’s request to see if we can grow one for the garden.

Things 1 – 3 on the rhododendron path

As I type this morning I am recovering from my long walk of the week – solo today, and covering 8.5 miles. I was hoping for 10, but it was getting hot and I was getting hungry so I took the quick way home instead of retracing my steps! I picked up the Essex Way on the edge of the woods and then followed that to the outskirts of Ongar, past St Andrew’s at Greensted – the oldest wooden church in the world, and very pretty. I love this route as it follows the green lanes with very little road in this stretch. I hope to walk the whole of the Essex Way to celebrate my significant birthday in a couple of years – I have covered the stretch from Epping to Willingale while training for the Shine Marathon last year, and would love to do the rest over a few weekends.

The devil is in the detail…

This week’s making has been very small scale, unlike my walks! Apart from a bit of crochet in the queue for the chemist and the Co-op (the virus shawl has become my queuing project!) and whipping up a couple more pairs of MBJM Four Seasons shorts from some remnants of jersey and stretch denim, it’s all been about the cross stitch.

Four Seasons shorts – so comfortable!

Thing 3 and I tried some cyanotype printing with some garden plants, with moderate success – we enjoyed watching the paper change colour and developing the prints in water. I think we need to find an acrylic sheet to hold the plants down flat while they develop so we don’t lose definition in the middle.

Cyanotype printing

Thing 2 and I have been baking – this week we made soft pretzels, cinnamon rolls and Hummingbird Bakery chocolate cupcakes with coffee icing from the Cake Days book. All very unhealthy but so delicious. Baking is Thing 2’s happy activity – she does love to cook, and with 16kg of flour to get through it’s nice to have alternatives to bread. We used cinnamon sugar on the pretzels instead of salt, I recommend this as a great breakfast. I also insisted on raisins in my cinnamon rolls.

Cinnamon rolls

And here’s my cross stitch update – there’s still a few gaps in this section, but it’s almost finished. The cross stitching technique, with its capacity for detailed colour changes, really captures the pointillist style of Seurat’s painting – looks better from a distance!

Centre top panel of Sunday Afternoon on the Island

What’s growing this week?

The garden is lovely – the roses are heavenly, and while out walking the blasts of elderflower and honeysuckle are blissful. The garden is full of bees (especially when my beloved discovered a bumble bee nest under a raised bed) and they are loving the lupins, lavender, cotoneaster and the mass of foxgloves that have seeded this year. I spent some time yesterday cutting back periwinkle and mahonia to give my hollyhocks a chance for some sun, and cutting hawthorn shoots away from my physalis plants which have self-seeded beautifully so I should have a good show of ‘lanterns’ this year. Strawberries are ripening every day, and its so decadent to be able to pick and eat them warm from the sun – the raspberry canes are blossoming too, so with any luck we’ll get a good crop. Home grown lettuces have been the basis of this week’s salads, and I think we’ll have fresh peas with dinner tonight.

Honeysuckle in the garden winding round a dead buddleia tree

The hedgerows and fields are producing new flowers as well – I spotted my first bindweed of the year on my walk this morning, some beautiful escaped sweet peas, mallow and grass vetch.

One of the most lovely flowers this week has been the poppy – the Oriental one in the garden is still in bud, but the fields are splashed with red and this rubble pile at the local farm is covered with them. I love the way they almost glow in the early morning sun. You’ll also spot the farm cat and – not a flower – a fledgling magpie who let me take a photo of him before he flew off. Unlike the green woodpecker, who squawked indignantly at me and flew off across the field!

That’s it from me for the week – I’m posting early today so I can sit in the sunshine this afternoon! Term starts back tomorrow, much to the Horde’s disgust, although Thing 1 now only has to do GCSE subjects and Things 2 and 3 are on a four day week.

I’ll leave you with an image of a baby blue tit we found on the ground while out walking – no, I didn’t bring this baby home with me! Feeding a baby mouse with milk is one thing, but I draw the line at smooshing up worms. He was a noisy little chap, shouting away at us and demanding food – I made Thing 2 put him back as close to the nest as we could.

Hungry baby blue tit

Hope your week was as good as mine! One of my favourite moments was a comment about last week’s post that said reading it was like taking a holiday in someone else’s life. Thanks Olivia! Olivia is one of the museum world’s treasures, with her wonderful stories, so this was high praise indeed.

See you at the end of week 11…

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Still on Jilly Cooper, sorry… the doings of Rupert Campbell-Black and co are much more interesting than the current omnishambles of real life.