Monday, 2 January 2023

2022 Round up: Places

After two years of having to think every trip through carefully, attending untold numbers of events online instead of in person and cooling my heels on holidays in Britain (I would call this a staycation but I don't want to excite any pedants so will not), 2022 was the year I finally felt like there could be time around and about the place. And, true to form, I managed to get away somewhere at least overnight in every month of the year. I visited all four parts of the United Kingdom. I camped in a new palatial tent that has its own front room. I went skiing again for the first time in two years and I hadn't forgotten how to ski, thankfully. I went to two teaching conferences. Only two planned trips were cancelled - a skiing inspection visit at Easter that was called off due to the P&O palaver; and the camping weekend I had planned in Snowdonia, when I realised nobody else was likely to be coming with me. Not too bad at all, considering the past couple of years. 

(While I am a lover of a selfie, as we all know, I have made a conscious choice to share mainly pictures of just me in this post, where possible, as some people prefer not to be pasted too liberally all over the internet, I mean you Mr Z). 


A little Belfast weekend to see my friend Naomi and meet her new baby, Bethan. Here I am in the museum with an actual cannon from the Spanish Armada.


Finally ditched British shores and headed to France for some much longed-for skiing, in Les Carroz. 


A night and day in Tamworth to update my ski qualification.

A weekend in Manchester for a teaching conference.


A weekend in Portsmouth. 

A couple of days in the Gower, instead of what should have been a second week of skiing. 

A quick visit to London to get a hair cut and catch up with the fam.

Wonderwool weekend in Wales, incorporating a wander around the Four Waterfalls walk. 


A minibreak to a lovely spa hotel in Bucks, so Mother Hand and I could visit Bletchley Park. 


A weekend in Scotland to visit Jen and fam.

A very quick trip to London to see Six at Hampton Court - original cast, just awesome.

Several nights in Birmingham for exam board meetings - both good to be back and frustrating to be back, particularly since this coincided with the rail strikes. I surprised myself by choosing the gym over breakfast after the first day, I'd forgotten what it's like stopping in a hotel, they did not stop feeding us. 


A weekend in the Gower with Rachael and Alex.


The big Iberian road trip: we caught the ferry from Portsmouth to Santander, staying there a few days, then on to Oviedo via Gijon, then a few days in A Coruna with day trips to Santiago de Compostela, Lugo and Ourense, then on to Vigo where we left the hire car, catching the train to Porto for our last few days. Great fun exploring, my favourite part being the As Catedrais or Cathedral Beach, which we made it to for sunrise and low tide. Just awesome. 

On my return, I hopped off to Croyde for a couple of nights' camping in my new tent (bought for a jaunt to Snowdonia earlier in the year that didn't go ahead in the end).

Then Portsmouth. This was not a pleasurable trip as it ended with me dropping Mother Hand off at hospital, where she remained until November. 


Portsmouth, twice. Thanks goodness for the beach, where I went for swimming after most hospital visits. I even saw a seal in the water one evening - a first for me. 


Portsmouth. I was able to bring Mother Hand home for an afternoon.

London, for a hair cut and a niece catch up.

Scotland with Mr Z for our first holiday since 2019. We stayed at a glorious hotel on Loch Ness; this is from the coast near Inverness.

Portsmouth, again. I spent the weekend at home with Mother Hand, ahead of her coming home permanently, phew. 


A weekend in Oxford for an education conference.


Portsmouth for Mother Hand's birthday. 

London for a couple of days betwixtmas, for family catch ups.

Fingers crossed for Costa Rica in 2023...

Sunday, 1 January 2023

2022 Round up: Knits

It hasn't been the year of the knitting. I was working on the same jumper for the whole year - I finished it in the first week of December. I don't even know why it took me so long. I love the jumper, it's a pattern I've wanted to knit for years (Milou), the yarn the lovely...meh. I thought I had lost my knitting mojo but then, in the part of the year left when I'd finished the jumper, I managed to knit some mittens, a toddler jumper, a baby cardigan, my first attempt at brioche in the form of a hat and one hexagon (2021 me is very disappointed with 2022 me, who was meant to continue the streak and get it all finished). 

I don't even have a picture of me wearing the finished Milou, although I have been wearing it a lot. Here's an old picture of it, from May, when I finished the body and started the sleeves. Seriously, how did it take me 6 months to knit a pair of sleeves?!

In the middle of the year I took a brief pause to knit a hat and a headband from a ball of yarn that the textiles teacher at work gave me as a gift for swapping car parking spaces with her (car parking is extremely tightly controlled at school, I'm not just anal about my space, promise). She also gave me a bottle of wine but it was the yarn that I was most pleased with and I didn't want it disappearing into stash, so I whipped up a hat for a friend who'd had a particularly nasty lost pregnancy and needed something bright, and then a headband with the rest. 

Then the December binge. I've made a montage of these because I can't get the pictures aligned to my satisfaction using the Blogger editor. 

The jumpers are in my favourite workhorse yarn, Rico Aran; Lara's has some of the ladybird buttons on the shoulder that I bought at Wonderwool this year. The hat was knitted from Adriafil Pascal, a chunky yarn I found in the wool shop in Bath, I just loved the colours; the pink strand is Coopknits and wow, that pink is amazing. I love the contrast. I knitted most of the hat in the recommended needle size, then ripped it back and started again one size up as it was a little bit tight. This has gone to Mother Hand for Christmas. The mittens are from a luscious skein of Triskelion baby alpaca, purchased at Wonderwool in 2015. And the single hexagon, though pleasingly, I have done another 3 and a half today whilst watching the first series of Happy Valley. 

So, I guess I finished strong. I am going to knit a couple more fronts for the Presto Chango before my new nephew grows out of it, then I fancy the shawl I wound the wool for 1+ years ago, and after that I might make a start on the ripple blanket. It's about 2,800m out and a bit more than double that in, sigh. But I guess I am just stashing for retirement, right?

At least that total should be easy to beat in 2023 (famous last words). 

2022 Round up: Reads

Having totted up my reading for the year I find the list is longer than I was expecting, in no small part due to the large number of audiobooks I've managed to get through. This represents a little bit of learning about myself: that I am not good at finishing non-fiction (not really news, I've know this for years) but that I am good at listening to it in the car. I can get through an audiobook in about 2 weeks of driving to and from school and, given that I was driving to and from Portsmouth regularly in the autumn and that my favoured swimming spot is an hour's round trip, sometimes faster. This is also partly due to the fact I cannot stop Audible from taking my money and the credits expire which is really irritating, but considerably less so now I am listening to the books. 

Here's the round-up, then:


The Betrayals by Bridget Collins

The Drowned City by KJ Maitland

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen by Alison Weir

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin

A Respectable Trade by Philippa Gregory

Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed

Life, Death and Vanilla Slices by Jenny Eclair

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

So, I think we can safely say my genres are crime fiction and historical fiction, then. The Betrayals was a gift from Sib and I read it immediately before I put it on a shelf and forgot about it. The Osman books are marvellously well-written. I didn't love the Weir, I think I know the history too well and the book was extremely long (as was her reign I suppose) so it really dragged. My friend Caroline leant me the Jenny Eclair and it was a light-hearted tonic for the autumn. I think Cloud Atlas and Black Mamba Boy tie for best read of the year; maybe Mohamed slightly pips it. I loved Cloud Atlas a lot but it took a while to get going. Black Mamba Boy just blew me away, right from the start. Highly recommend (though there is one extremely violent episode in it, fair warning). 


4000 weeks by Oliver Burkeman - a book about not worrying too much about productivity. I didn't finish it but there was a great point in there about work filling the time you give it, and therefore you may as well give it less, because it will never be done anyway. Profound. 

Natives by Akala - I have a paper copy of this book but found it much easier to have it read to me by Akala himelf. Some gems in here for teaching Politics and History, as well as just understanding Britain better, eg Akala mentions that shift in dominant ethnicity of Black people in Britain, away from Caribbean and towards African.

Brit-ish by Afua Hirsch - I found with this one that I was happily getting to a point, often, when I knew what Hirch's point was going to be. This usually happens when my reading has started to sink in. Another audiobook narrated by its author, always a winner.4

The Second by Carol Anderson - all about gun laws in America and how they both reflect and reinforce a racist system. Full of history, strong interpretation, quite scandalous in parts. 

The Secret Lives of Church Women by Deesha Philyaw - accidental fiction choice. Short stories. It worked well for journeys to and from work.

Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige-Hill - continuing on from my 2021 audiobook theme of women escaping cults (see: Educated (the best) and Unfollow) I tried this one about leaving Scientology but it was not my favourite. 

The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes - my current listen, this book is amazing. Just amazing. I love it. Each chapter involves the author trespassing on another piece of land and telling a story about land ownership and common rights in England. I love it. 

Special mention should also be given to other audio treats of the year - The Coming Storm podcast on BBC Sounds; the serialisation of The Dark is Rising, also on BBC Sounds (broadcast in 17-minute chunks across the Christmas period and absolutely superb); various episodes of the Intelligence Squared podcast, namely interviews with William Dalrymple, Olivette Otele and Dipo Faloyin. 

I also started (but did not finish) half a dozen non-fiction books in hard copy....I expect they will pop up on the 2023 audiobook list. 

Saturday, 24 September 2022

Weeknote 38

It's been a minute. 


The start of term has hit me with the usual force of an oncoming train. This year I'm heading the Geography team while my (excellent and well-trained) colleague runs History. This is weird and not quite properly settled yet. I spent much of my school time this week scheduling field trips and completing risk assessments. 

Out of school, I managed to get a pause on the post-results exam board work because Mother Hand is not well and I asked for last weekend off, which they translated as the whole week. I'm not mad about it. I have enough else to do. A new round of papers has been commissioned; I'm finishing up work on chapters for two different books (one I'm not getting paid for, why do I keep doing this); and that scary job I was ignoring in the early spring is still hanging over me. 

In short: normally I get to half term with a strong feeling I want to quit basically everything and get a nice job in a library or something. I reached that point at the end of last week. Make it stoooooooppppp.


I saw the trainer as usual this week although my achilles is still bothering me after I hurt it on holiday by wearing a shoe...a trainer, at that. I didn't fall, or twist, or run. I simply wore the shoe for a day's walking and that was nearly 2 months ago. Problems of the old. Anyway - I am somewhat limited in what I can do (no shuttle runs, how sad). I bunked of yoga to go to a meeting I then bunked off. But I did go to the quarry for the nightlight swim on Thursday. It was chilly but this is rapidly becoming a bright spot of my week: what a shame that this coming week will probably be the last time I can make it this year. Picture from the swim a couple of weeks ago. It's even better now it's darker, but basically impossible to photograph, of course. 


I don't know if I can count it but I have found this ridiculously addictive game on my phone that has taken up a disturbing amount of my time this week. It's like Tetris but not. You have to fill a grid with different-sized pieces to get them in lines or blocks. I'm obsessed. I may have to delete it from my phone. It's not even an actual game - it's a side game within a logic problems game. 

I FINALLY finished rewatching all of ER - an epic marathon that has taken over a year. I am not sure where to go next. There's so much to watch that has built up all this time I've been watching it. And now Strictly is back too. 

I couldn't face reading anything serious so I've been rereading the teen fiction Alanna series. It is probably five years since the last time I reread it, so that's about right. I also finished listening to Akala's Natives on audiobook. In spite of his liberal overuse of the work literally, there was a lot to meditate on and I really enjoyed it. I always think audiobooks are better when they're narrated by their authors.

I baked some new-to-me cakes this week: redcurrant friands, for a colleague's birthday. They were interesting because they used only whipped egg whites as a rising agent. The method involved whipping up the egg whites and then bunging in a load of melted butter. I was convinced this would not work, but they came out beautifully. I should trust Lily Vanilli recipes more: I also thought her brownie recipe would not work but they come out perfect every time. 

A small amount of knitting was done. I am still working on the same jumper I cast on in December. I feel like I'm letting myself down. 


Generally just quite overwhelmed. I'm putting it down to the new term and Mother Hand being back in hospital, which is pretty awful but has afforded me two visits to Portsmouth and the beach so far this month, so has a silver lining. I even saw a seal during my first visit: the first one ever in Portsmouth (I'm telling everyone at least twice, I was so astonished). I went for a brief ramble around Farlington Marshes last weekend, inspired by reading Phillipa Gregory's Tidelands which is set in a similar environment just along the coast. 

It's hard to stay all in your own feelings when the world is out there being so beautiful all the time. 

Sunday, 29 May 2022

Wonderwool 2022

Look, we had a good run of weekly posts, I lasted nearly 3 months, but it's just not me, is it? Who would I be if I kept you regularly updated, rather than disappearing for months at a time, leaving you wondering if the work pile finally fell on me and crushed me to death, or if I won the Euromillions jackpot and am off living a life of luxury?

So anyway, yes, lots of things have happened in the past two months, but I'm here to talk about Wonderwool. This was my 10th visit to Wonderwool and the 8th spending the whole weekend there. It was both epically exciting and very nerve-wracking to be back in those great halls with what felt like half of the nation's fibre enthusiasts. Old friends were seen and masks were worn. Favourite stalls were visited (fivemoons, Birdstreet, Brimstone buttons) and others much missed (especially Triskelion) - there were some significant holes in the programme this time and I fear they weren't all last-minute covid cancellations. There was no scotch egg man and the fancy pastry place AND the ice cream van both sold out of my favourites before I could get to them. 

But still, it happened. It finally happened. We stayed in the 2018 bunkhouse in Brecon Forest, a booking that we had made back in 2019 for the 2020 show that was cancelled. It was particularly lovely that the weekend fell at the end of the Easter break this year, so we managed to squeeze in a walk around the Four Waterfalls trail on the way there. Hilly but glorious. 

Now to the yarn. I tried very hard to be restrained, I really did. I just kept thinking about all the yarn I had at home and how I have now been knitting the same 4-ply jumper for 5 months and it's still not finished. But...pretty. So much pretty. 

Clockwise from the top red:
  • Two skeins of Woolly Wumpkins (new to me) merino 4-ply in Bouquet for Mummy. The colour has a bit more variegation in it than can be seen in the picture, it's a really banging red. 
  • Ten skeins of fivemoons Luna 4-ply in Drizzle. This as in the sale bin, expertly pointed out to me by Jenny, and will do at least two jumpers. Maybe three, if I stripe it. It will go so well with that red. I'm thinking it will also work with the rainbow gradient I bought back in 2018. I sense a lot of stripes in my future. 
  • Four skeins of fivemoons Chandra in Black Cat. To go with...
  • Sealy McWheely (also new to me) Silver Linings minis. There are eight different colours blended with grey. The dyer explained that she had done it to represent coming out of covid - a bit of bright in the grey. I couldn't decide which colour I liked best, so I bought the minis. I have a pattern picked out already - Tiny Dancer
  • Two skeins of yellowish, one from Urth Yarns and one from Riverknits. I have some dark red 4-ply from Bristol Wool Fair and I'd like to knit a Hinterland in it, with the colourwork in yellow. I bought the Urth first and then saw the Riverknits. Hopefully one will work. Maybe even both. 
It didn't seem too bad until I input it into Ravelry and realised it is 5,500m odd. Essentially four or five more sweaters. I really had better retire.

Of course there were a few buttons -

I'm obsessed with that MoP star, I need to find something really special to put that on. The ladybirds are for my niece, they will do a great cardigan for her. Yknow, in my copious free time. 

I'll leave you with the obligatory wool bunny picture. 

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Weeknote 10? 11? 12?

I jinxed myself, didn't I, by saying that last week I wrote about wasn't busy. Two days after that last post, the inspectors called, but we successfully put them off due to covid absences, which seemed good but actually just meant a prolonged stress period, where we knew they were coming but not when. I found myself in the happy position of having everything marked that needed to be marked and thus dropped that resolution like a hot potato, something I am now deeply regretting. So here's the bumper edition...


Isn't it funny how an inspector visit can sharpen the focus? Displays I've had waiting in the wings for years went up. Curriculum documents that had been open tabs on my work laptop since November suddenly found themselves well and truly spruced. Student profiles left dusty since September found themselves squinting into the light. Line management meetings moved from cosy chats to laser focus. 

Alongside this, I started the online modules and buddy meetings for the professional qualification I'm undertaking, which almost seemed like a nice break. 

They came last week for two days but didn't scrutinise anything on my line, so it was a fairly quiet couple of days for me. Actually a fairly pleasant couple of days, because my lessons were far more meticulously planned than usual and so I wasn't scrabbling around at lunchtime for a starter activity or a bunch of photocopies. I had a good conversation about curriculum with one for 45 minutes, which was interesting and positive for me. Now I guess we will just wait to see what happens. 

In other work news, I've been finishing the third drafts of my papers, ready for our committee meetings; gently worrying about the status of my two quite abstract big jobs that I am struggling to get started with; doing some reading around for them; preparing for the summer exam series from an examiner point of view; fighting with the exam board about their demands on my time, and winning. I actually said no to them this week, even though I feel terrible about it. 


I have been to the gym and lifted as heavy as I can. Twice. Twice!

I've been to my trainer sessions, obviously, and to a yoga session which was much needed after a particularly heavy glute session. 

And last weekend, I went swimming in the quarry. The quarry looked gorgeous; it was a bright and sunny day. The quarry water was 8.5 degrees. The outward swim was fine, with the wind behind me, but I did not enjoy the return swim, with the wind slapping the water into my face. It was so cold that I started to get intrusive doom thoughts - supposing a huge monster is lurking down there and is about the come up and grab me (I was the only one in the water); supposing my toes are getting frost-bitten and when I get out of the water they are black; should my fingers be tingling like this? I'm sure I've been in the water for too long; I must stop this swim immediately right now (not a possibility at the quarry, where there is only one entrance/exit point). 

Trust me when I say - the hat was not overkill. 

Still, I made it back. When I got out, I actually felt pretty warm, but after drying and dressing, my body felt cold for a couple of hours (body, not limbs...weird). I was wearing my wetsuit, which has no legs, so this seemed to be odd. 


Yeah, that just hasn't really happened. I'm reading a book I'm not really enjoying and for some reason, I'm not interested in picking up my jumper to knit. I finally watched series 1 of The Outlaws, filmed in Bristol, which I enjoyed hugely, although I found it quite heavy to watch. 

This past weekend I went on a little jolly, something combining work with the hobby of travel. I went to Manchester for a teaching event. I spoke at said event a few years ago. I have to admit (this makes me feel like a huge snob) that I don't get masses of professional development out of it; I am at that jaded point in my career now where almost everything people share at this particular event feels like a reminder of something good that I have been forgetting to do, or something I already do, or something I don't think is worth doing. Still, I like hanging out with the folks that go and so I booked myself a tres fancy hotel in the centre of Manchester, with a spa, and had very good breakfasts and a sauna and swim on Saturday morning. And some of the speakers were very good; I just could have seen them from the comfort of my hotel bed, if I'd thought about it. 

Going back to Manchester is always weird. I'm always trying to figure out if I remember anything about my surroundings from my visits in the 90s. It's like I expect to turn a corner and be confronted by something that sparks a memory. I doubt I ever go anywhere that I went back then; indeed, I'm pretty sure the only place I ever went in actual Manchester was the station, which looks similar but different. In spite of that, I do find myself getting a little overwhelmed with memories of turn-of-the-century Sally. Turn-of-the-century Sally would have been overwhelmed to be staying at the Midland though, tbf, so we're probably even. 

If we're counting travelling as hobbying then there have been some good developments on that front. I've got a weekend in Portsmouth coming up this weekend, then a week of skiing, then a weekend in Wales (finally WONDERWOOL!), then another weekend in Wales, camping in Snowdonia. Mother Hand has booked us something nice for May half term and I've just booked flight to Edinburgh for June, so I can see for myself how late it stays light around the solstice. Zoe has booked us some travel to Spain in August: we're getting the ferry to Santander, driving the pilgrim route and then flying home from Porto. I'm quite giddy at the thought of it all. 


All very springlike, tbh. My mood has lifted. I feel upbeat and positive. I've got much to be thankful for and much to look forward to. Hibernation is no longer the order of the day; today I actually cleaned something. Bring on the warmer weather and the good vibes. 

Sunday, 6 March 2022

Weeknote 9


It has not been the busiest of weeks, I must say. The 20 minutes of marking a day had to cease at the end of the week because, incredibly, I ran out of marking. I know. How? It's amazing. The marking has, of course, started to come in again and the discipline requirement will shift slightly to focus on doing it without an imminent deadline, but that's a problem for next week. 

I did some paper redrafting and a very small amount of reading for other projects - not enough, but at least some. I have these two meaty projects needing my attention that I just keep parking because I am not yet sure how to break them down into stages. I've never considered this as a cause of procrastination before, either because my projects are usually broken down into stages for me or because I've never been willing to examine the procrastination properly. I suppose that when I was writing the teaching book, it took me over 12 months just to write the chapter outline - probably longer than it took to write the whole thing - and that was mainly because I was the one who had to make the decisions, rather than writing to someone else's plan. 

What to do? It would be easy to pass it off as imposter syndrome but it's not. Nor is it a lack of productivity. It's more a lack of experience in formulating a plan, I guess. Something for me to consider in the coming week, when those plans really better get done or I am going to start to feel stressed and agitated. 


I had a day at Tamworth snowdome which was some pretty hefty exercise (and also comes under the category of Working, because it was a refresher for a ski course). I haven't been to Tamworth on a weekday before and it was refreshing to find it almost empty and with plenty of space for doing the necessary training and picking up some tips from the coach. 

The day left me a bit stiff for my visit to the trainer on Thursday but it was good to get back into the gym and I had high hopes of a weekend visit as well, but then came down with a minging cold that has kept me in bed most of the weekend. It's not covid - I tested and it isn't similar to what I had before - but it has floored me. Either it's a particularly virulent strain or my immune system is completely wrecked from two years of isolating. 


Basically no hobbying occurred this week. I did some reading, of Alison Weir's Six Wives: Katherine of Aragon. It's good but I should probably have read it before I taught the Tudors at A-level for six years, because the story is super-detailed but they're mostly details I already know, so it feels a bit wordy for me. There are some interesting asides in there that I wasn't aware of, to be fair. I just wish I was reading something else.

Something else did arrive this weekend in the form of Jerry Brotton's This Orient Isle, looking at the relationship between Elizabethan England and the Islamic world, which I am looking forward to getting my teeth into, but it's hardly bedtime reading. 

I've been playing around with my new phone but it's a bit half-hearted. I really miss my old phone. I'm still considering getting a new battery and reverting to it, but that would be a chronic waste of a brand new fancy phone. 

We finally finished Super Mario for the Switch so have started all over again, naturally. 

Entertained by:

I haven't done much TV watching, either. Today I binged the series Close To Me, that I had saved on the TV box, which was OK but probably would have been better spread out over a few weeks (or viewed when not feeling like a phlegm-producing sawmill). 


Fine, until I was overcome by the cold of doom. Thankfully it does seem to be lifting.