Week fifty: Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus

As a Welsh transplant to the wilds of Essex, St David’s Day for me is always a day of hiraeth – I love my little bit of Essex, I love London but for me ‘home’ is Wales and always will be.

…it means a deep sense of longing, a yearning for that which has past, a sense of homesickness tinged with grief or sorrow over the lost or departed. One attempt to describe hiraeth in English says that it is “a longing to be where your spirit lives.” This description makes some sense out of the combination of words that describe this feeling. The place where your spirit feels most at home may be a physical location that you can return to at any time, or it may be more nostalgic of a home, not attached to a place, but a time from the past that you can only return to by revisiting old memories. Maybe your spirits home could even be neither of the above, one from which you are not only separated by space


There’s a deep sense of homecoming as you cross the Severn – preferably via the ‘old’ bridge, which in Wales is a measure of how bad the weather is. You know it’s windy when they close the bridge to lorries and high sided vehicles, and really windy when they close it to everyone. This sketch is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at the experience, but it’s not far from the mark! Even the Things know that the Severn Bridge means we’re ‘nearly there’, although no words can describe Thing Three’s disappointment at not being able to see ‘the Whales’ when he was about three and London sister and I took them home for a weekend.

Once you’re over the bridge, of course, you have the big decision: ‘over the top’, which takes you down via Devauden and up over the ridge between the Usk and Wye Valleys, with a final sweep down the long hill through Llansoy and into Raglan, or down through the Wye Valley itself, through Tintern and Redbrook before you hit Monmouth over the Wye Bridge. The M48/M4/A449 route never enters the discussion: why would you take the motorways when you have the Usk and Wye to guide you home?

When I was a child in Cardiff, St David’s Day meant dressing up in Welsh costume and wearing a daffodil with its stem wrapped in damp kitchen roll and tinfoil. There would be an Eisteddfod –  a Welsh festival where competitions are held in music, poetry, drama, and art – in the morning and then we’d have a half day. In Raglan we had the Eisteddfod but not the half day, which seemed a bit unfair!

Now I’m a grown up and living in Essex I have to make do with buying myself daffodils, though last year my beloved planted loads of bulbs in the garden which are just coming out. We had leeks with our dinner too.

I waited till the weekend to make Welshcakes, as they are delicious but time-consuming. My sister bought me a little bakestone for my birthday a few years back, which means I can cook them properly – any heavy based frying pan will do, but it’s just not the same. My mum always made these cakes, with a last giant one at the end made of the scraps rolled out and that one was Dad’s. They are best sprinkled with sugar hot off the griddle: my beloved has been known to butter his but he’s a bit odd sometimes. I still use my mum’s recipe, which I am going to share here so you can make your own.


  • 8oz self-raising flour (or 8z plain flour with half a teaspoon of baking powder)
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice (I use more, I like ’em spicy – yesterday I used 1/2 tsp mixed spice and 1/2 tsp cinnamon)
  • 2oz lard
  • 2oz butter (I use Stork these days for baking)
  • 3oz currants/mixed dried fruit (not glace cherries, you heathens.)
  • 3oz caster sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • small amount of milk if needed

Rub in the the fat and flour. Add the dry ingredients and mix. Add the wet ingredients and mix into a dough. Form it into a large ball and knead it a bit but not too much. Stick it in the fridge for twenty minutes.

Roll out your dough – not too thin, you’re not making biscuits here. Cut out using whatever cutters you have handy. Preheat your bakestone/griddle/heavy based frying pan and melt some butter or add some oil. Cook gently – if you cook it too fast you’ll have a burned outside and a raw middle. Like pancakes, it’s trial and error here.

Put your cooked cakes on a wire rack and sprinkle sugar on them. Don’t forget to quality test them as you go. You’ll know you’ve done it right if they don’t have time to cool down.

For a Christmassy version I use cinnamon instead of the mixed spice, fresh orange peel and dried cranberries.

This week my beloved has been looking at houses in Wales, as he’s been watching Escape to the Country again. Although he’s Essex born and bred, his mum’s first husband was Welsh, his aunt also lives in Wales, and his cousins do too. I would LOVE to move back, but in this case I am being the voice of reason and saying things like ‘yes, but what would we do for a living?’ He says I can be a freelance consultant sort of person and every time he shows me a house he lets me pick a studio…. maybe it’ll happen!

Back to my ‘real’ life

This week my blog post on reimagining the handling collection at the Museum was published: this is the first in a two-parter, and my colleague has written part two on what’s happened to all the things we aren’t keeping. I trained up this week on how to update the collections management system, which means I have no excuse not to do the technical side of the project. Luckily there’s a batch option otherwise it’s going to take me years.

I’ve also had a lot of meetings: some have been in my role as a union rep, supporting colleagues who are impacted by the restructuring process in the museum. They have all impressed me with their passion for not only their roles but also for the conservation work of the museum. Working at one of the smaller sites means I don’t often have contact with other departments, so I’m gaining a much wider view of the museum’s work and also getting to meet (if only virtually) some people who really do espouse the values the museum wants from us: collaboration, generosity, integrity. A couple of them have even made me want to cheer during the meetings, which so far I have resisted.

Still not enough to stop the kids talking to me

I finished my socks during a meeting where I had a ‘watching brief’, and I’ve been working on the Galaxy in a Bottle – So. Many. Black. Stitches. It’s looking lovely and I like that you can still see the sparkly fabric through the stitching. I don’t think I’m going to be able to frame it in a hoop, sadly, but this may the time to experiment with framing on stretcher bars.

February is finished on the temperature tree – you can see how warm most of the month has been by all the green leaves. Winter chill seems to have returned with a vengeance though, so March might look very different.

Next up this week is the Tunisian crochet socks, as I have finally found the tension. They’ll be my commute project as I get to go to the office twice this week! The kids are also going back to school in what feels like a highly-organised operation by the teachers. I think they are looking forward to it, and I know I am.

Today I am going to start making this suffragette sash for the Ireland sister. I can’t remember the last time I did any fabric painting so this should be fun!

So that’s been my week! Cross your fingers that the return to school goes well, and I’ll see you same time, same place next week.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Hardware/The Big Dig/Deep Pockets (Carlotta Carlyle) – Linda Barnes

Week thirty four: dw i’n dysgu Cymraeg

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.

Old College exterior – Aerial drone photoraphy Aberystwyth University Feb 14 2019 ©keith morris (CAA approved commercial drone operator) http://www.artswebwales.com keith@artx.co.uk 07710 285968 01970 611106

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.

Creative industry

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!

Onesie and wellies optional.

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.

25% of a Hydrangea Blanket

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.

Kirsty x

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

The Good, the Bad and the Furry – Tom Cox