Friday 29 September 2017

Fave Friday

Ah, Sephora. It's such a comforting place. I swing between wishing there was one in Bristol and being glad there isn't: I would spend calamitously.

Luckily, they are dotted all over Europe, particularly, it seems, in cities where I happen to be. I've been able to visit a couple of branches this summer and, in Lucca, picked up some masks. Lots of lovely sheet masks, obvs, but also a couple of these to try:

I got one in avocado and one in rose. They were about 3 euros each. I popped them in my hand luggage to Durham, thinking I might use one overnight, but then didn't, so it took until the return to work to get trying.

Firstly, I'm glad I didn't open one in Durham. They don't close again, and there is a good four nights' application in here. I ruminated on what might happen if I was to slap on the entire mask in one go, and concluded that I would need to buy a new pillow and that this would get expensive very quickly.

Secondly, they are very cooling and soothing. They would be very good in the summer when your skin is a bit parched, or a bit sun burned; or after a windy day of skiing. They dry after a few minutes to a slightly tacky layer, and in the morning just rinse off.

Do they work? Don't know, really. What are they meant to do? I put it on over serum and my skin did feel baby soft and look very even when I got up in the morning, and for the equivalent of about 60p a night, I think that is a very reasonable win.

I'm trying to work out how this product might fit into the Korean 10-step skincare routine I've been reading about. These 10 Korean steps boggle my mind, tbh. I think my skin would give up. Also I would. They sound like terribly hard work and I think it's too late for my skin, anyway.

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Travel Tuesday: Honfleur

Tutt and I went to France last summer for a long weekend, camping. The camping part wasn't wildly successful but we both enjoyed France enough to repeat it this weekend. We stayed somewhere in southeast Normandy and visited the pretty town of Honfleur on our way back to the ferry at the end of the trip.

The tall houses by the harbour made me think of Bristol, although the awnings were in citrus brights instead of the pastels favoured in this neck of the woods.

Just there for a day, we didn't do much at all except wander around looking for a cafe that sold nice cakes. On the way back, though, I went on the big wheel, which was a great way of appreciating views over the Seine estuary.

It was also blisteringly hot, so it was nice to be on something moving at speed and mostly in the shade, because it very effectively cooled me down.

Monday 25 September 2017

Blue Monday

The Galapagos wasn't all sea and sky (though there are a large number of sea and sky pictures coming up). There was also a lot of epic wildlife, including a huge number of blue-footed boobies (not to be confused with the red-footed booby or the... other kind of booby. Cliff dwelling, maybe?) They were very handsome creatures who felt so safe they just nested right on the ground, often right on the trail, and we were forced to edge gently around them, a few feet off the path to stay within the 2 metre rule imposed by the national park.

Such feet! If I recall correctly, it's to do with their diet. We watched them diving into the sea in some places. Apparently they live for quite some time and only die when they become too weak to effectively break the surface of the water, whereupon they starve to death. Nice.

This picture, in that vein, made me sad. Though they often lay more than one egg, most of the time only one baby survives because they can't manage to feed more than that one.

So, in this picture is a fat and healthy chick who is slowly starving the weaker chick to death, next to one that is long gone. Ah, nature.

Sunday 24 September 2017

Selfie Sunday

Something from Southsea beach with Mother Hand, from a few years ago -

It's hard to beat an ice cream van cone in the sunshine on the beach!

Friday 22 September 2017

Fave Friday

I'm not very good at washing my face. I don't usually wear make up to school (although I have been trying to do this more this year, now that I'm not getting the bus to work); I don't like tissue-off cleansers because they never feel very clean and my skin is a bit dry for wash off ones. I loved Lush's Babyface but they discontinued it and, although I have a stash, using it does require me to run hot water to get it off. I am not usually patient enough to do this before bed. Then I don't put any cream on my face at night because I think my skin isn't clean...and so on. I am a bit too vain for this to be OK but it is difficult to be vain and lazy.

Then I saw this on a favoured blog I read.
I picked up a tube whilst in France last month, where I could pretend that the Euro price actually made it quite reasonable when it's really just 1-to-1 now and therefore probably cheaper to buy here. I've been using it for a month and it really is as good as it reckons itself to be, and there's still two-thirds of the tube left.

It is a gel when it comes out but then becomes an oil on the skin, until you rinse, when it just melts off your face like a milky soap. This is what Clarins claim it does and, you know, they're not lying. My face feels delightful afterwards: very smooth and soft, and not at all tight. It doesn't feel greasy either, which it sometimes does after Babyface. I can do that advert-style splashing of water and it gets it all gone without the need for a flannel. Finally, it sees off make up with surprising zeal. Even waterproof stuff.

I started using a Clarins moisturiser earlier this year when I had to finally admit to myself that my favourite Lush Gorgeous is just a bit light for my aging skin, and I really like that too. I think spending a bit more on these products is just insurance against the future, right? I remember my university dentist telling me that now I was out of my "pig adolescent years" I could finally start taking care of my teeth and maybe the same is now true of my skin.

Now I need to be able to get it in a travel size and I will be 100% happy.

Thursday 21 September 2017

Scenes from the Classroom #33

I am having a blinder of a start to the term. Lessons are going well, SLT seem pleased with me (indicating my results were at least acceptable...I thought they were, but it's hard to tell in a new context), I have taken over the running of the ski trip, I love my new tutor group, all my classes seem reasonable (cautious), and I have managed two work-free weekends in a row, in line with my new year's resolution.

Then there's the little icing here and there. Today I handed out the textbooks to my year 10 class. They're the ones I wrote. I don't tell them this because it's a bit awkward to just announce it, isn't it? Then this...

M: Um, Miss...
Me: ...yes?
M: Well,'s just there's...well, there's a name on the front of this textbook...
Me: ....
M: Well, it's the same as your name.
Me: Yes.
M: Did you write this book?
Me: Yes, I wrote this book.
Whole class: WHAT?! Really? Where? Where does it say that? Did you really? Did you write the whole thing? How long did it take? How did you get to do that?
L: What do you have to read to write a book? (Best historian question: she will go far)
Me: I read lots of things. So many things. You know that book I gave you readings from the other day? That was one of the things.
L: Wow!
L2: I'm so proud to have this book!

These moments are very nice. I spend a lot of time in my non-school jobs with people who have written loads of textbooks and are far more accomplished, so sometimes I forget that it was actually quite an achievement.

The other class were nice about it, but not quite so effusive (today's class are complete geeks who genuinely laugh at my awful jokes) and T, of last week's SftC, said, "Why would anyone want to do that?" and then, when I said I'd given copies to my parents, "If someone gave me a textbook, yknow, I wouldn't read it."

It's good to remain humble.

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Travel Tuesday: Italy: Milano

Tutt and I visited Milan back in 2014 as part of our Italian adventures. We took the train from Verona on a Sunday and had a day trip. The city was really quiet; we took an open topped bus tour: we nearly fell out over it as we waited ages and, when it arrived, it seemed over-priced to me and I didn't want to take it - I still don't know if I can recommend it, but we did see a lot of stuff; and we went to see the Last Supper, of course, of which there are no pictures. It was a marvellous piece of art but I couldn't quite get over that it was painted essentially as a canteen mural. I think da Vinci would be tickled if he realised how famous it has become.

The most imposing structure in Milan is, unsurprisingly, its cathedral, which dominates an enormous main square like a twiddly, twirly, sugar-crafted palace.

The detailing on it is incredible. Here are a few gems I found.

We wandered through the world's oldest shopping centre, the beautiful glass Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which has all the fancy shops in it and is near to the only McDonald's in the world with a non-yellow sign: the arches are white to fit in with local regulations. You can still see it from the middle of the galleria, though. I didn't take a picture.

During the bus trip we were also told a lot about how Mussolini had done a lot of building in Milan, and some of this was pointed out. It's modernist in style but with overtones of Ancient Rome, because the Fascists used it as another tool to promote their ideals. I'd taught a lot about this so it was nice to see some of it in the flesh....stone.

The train station, too, was clearly completed in this era; it had carved fasces on the walls and "Anno IX" which suggested it was completed in 1932, 9 years after Mussolini seized power. The walls are carved with the names of famous scientists of the day, as well as pictures of all forms of transport.

We had a wander in the park after the bus trip, and then went to sit in a pavement cafe, drink Aperol Spritz and eat ice cream sundaes (both just me, I should say). The table next to us had one Asian gentleman, his young daughter, and five women all wearing niqab. I was interested to see that they were all wearing designer glasses or sunglasses, and on some the arms of the glasses went inside the niqab, while on others they were on the outside. It was really interesting to see people dressed like this: I don't see many people in the niqab in Britain (although a parent came to parents' evening with one on last year) and, when Tutt and I chatted about it, she pointed out that religious head coverings like this would be even less welcome in Paris. This made me think that perhaps wealthy Muslim women who favour the full face covering come to shop and peruse the designer collections in Milan rather than any other European capital of fashion because it is more accepting of such things. I don't know why that might be; but it's sort of borne out by the existence, at the station, of a refugee help point for Syrians. I tried to take a picture of the sign but the lady sitting at the desk got quite defensive and sent me off, and then glared at me suspiciously when I tried to take pictures of the architecture of the station, until I went away completely. I wonder why there was a refugee point in Milan?

I think Milan might be better visited on a weekday. It felt a bit like a ghost town on a Sunday, although everything seemed to be open. Probably if we'd planned to do a lot of shopping, it would have been paradise, but it was surprisingly underwhelming for just wandering. There were also some people at the train station 'helping' tourists to buy underground tickets and robbing them at the same time - stealing the change from the machine, sort of thing - which made us both a little jumpy.

Monday 18 September 2017

Blue Monday

Another perfect Galapagos sea view.

Here's a picture of us on that very boat. My new Canadian friends, Kristina and Diana, and our guide. I have forgotten his name.

Sunday 17 September 2017

Weekend WIP

It's not a very exciting WIP post this week for anyone except me. I have finished the Snips and Snails skein I started last weekend and cast on the final skein of Georgetown that I've had for nearly a decade...

'Eugh, more pinwheeels, do something more exciting,' you might say - but this is exciting because it is the final single skein of L&L I have for the pinwheels project. When it's finished, I will have 40 pinwheels, with approximately 90 more to go. That goal I set myself in May of last year will finally have been met! So, it is pinwheels all this week, it seems.

Also, I really love this colour, still. It's so surprising because it's not really my thing but I find it enchanting. The pastels work so nicely together.

Selfie Sunday

A little something from April last year, when I finally made it to the top of Vesuvius, only 26 years after I first started learning about Caecilius and his sad demise at the hands of its capriciousness.

It was a long climb and not comfortable, sliding and stumbling over a volcanic ash path and trying not to sweat too much because I was surrounded by students, but it was worth it for the views, both of the slightly smoking crater, and Naples below.

That linen top was the perfect thing to be wearing, by the way. So glad I managed to make a second one.

More fruit gins

You might remember my forays into lemon gin and more lemon gin from previous years; one more year to wait for the first batch to mature, so it must be nearly time to kick off batch three.

Well, the website with the recipe also has one for raspberry gin, and there were lots of ripe blackberries in the lane early in August, so I have kicked off a couple of new vintages and thought it wise to record my recipes here so that I can find them when I look them up.

The blackberries: I squeezed a large cupful into a 625ml water bottle (all the way from S America) and slugged a bunch of Bombay Sapphire over the top until the bottle was full. Today, I have decanted it into a glass bottle, a 75cl Bombay Sapphire one, berries included, and added 170g of sugar, which was all that would fit in the bottle. At the end of October I should be removing those berries and having a very boozy dessert with them, so I can add a little more sugar then and possibly top up with some gin. I have a large jugful of gin with no home at the moment.

The raspberries: I squeezed a punnet of raspberries - 200g - into what was left of the litre bottle of Bombay Sapphire and added 200g of sugar. I've just topped it up with gin today. I had a sip and it already tastes good, and they've only been in there a couple of weeks.

Both bottles are in the drawer of the fruit and veg cupboard - where else would they be? - since they need storing in the dark.

Party round mine in the autumn of 2018, I reckon. Don't come if you don't like gin.

Saturday 16 September 2017

Scenes from the Classroom #32

We've been back two weeks, and I can see from Twitter that a lot of teachers are remembering why they love their jobs. The initial shock to the system (what? I can't sleep right at this moment? I can't eat right at this moment? I can't pee right at this moment?) has ebbed, we've all realised that we do remember how to plan a lesson, most of our classes have been met, and perhaps they are still in the phase where they want to impress us because it's a new year.

On Thursday I had a year 10 class with a pupil in it I was not looking forward to teaching last year, T. She was hands down my most problematic last year. She barely ever wrote anything in her book and quite often stormed out or was sent out. It was painful. I tried to schedule her for another staff member this year, but it didn't work out. I was dreading it a bit: it's all very well to chuck it away in year 9, but this is a bit more important.

Happily, she has had a strong start. No argument about the seating plan, where she sits next to my desk. Not a peep about how the book should be laid out; copying down everything from the board even when I haven't asked the class to (this is common to some of our more conscientious students). Thursday was the best though, because I gave them an activity I first used with a class as an NQT and she showed me a way of doing it BETTER. I still can't get over it. Fifteen years and she hacked it in about two minutes. I had to resist the urge to jump up and down squealing at this, because she is suspicious of excessive praise, as many difficult students seem to be; but I did ring home on Friday night and leave a nice message about her.

It may not last, so I wanted to record it while it was good. Those teacher training adverts are all over the place again, thanks to the latest iteration of Educating... and even though I really love what I do, they make me roll my eyes. 'The kids teach you to be a better teacher' - ergh gag. Then I get moments like this one and I think, yeah, I could be on one of those adverts, making people want to throw things.

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Travel Tuesday: Cu Chi Tunnels

During last year's visit to Vietnam, I went on a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, from Ho Chi Minh City. These are a three-layered maze of tunnels where the Vietcong hid during the Vietnam war.

I was interested to find out that the tunnels led to the nearby river for ease of escape. The network was extremely substantial, and included schools, hospitals, entertainments - all kinds. They were very ingenious about it. 

The whole thing did make me feel slightly sick, it must be said. I have a creeping dread about being stuck in a cave somewhere, which I attribute mainly to my size, so peering down these tunnels made me feel decidedly strange.

Vietnamese people are considerably smaller than fat English history teachers.

I'm not convinced my foot would fit down this one, let alone the rest of me.

We were taken down a set of tunnels, which had been specially widened by 40% to accommodate tourists who like their cake. I decided I would press on and experienced what must be my closest ever brush with a panic attack at the opening to the tunnel. I really, for a moment, thought I would not be able to go in, but there were three people behind me, including a faintly racist NZ tourist who kept whinging about how difficult it all was (there were other things that marked her out as a racist, not this whinging) and my pig headedness would not allow me to go back, so I managed to force myself forwards. At one point my hips were briefly wedged in the tunnel, so I crawled on my hands and knees, seeing stars and sweating, until we were out. I wouldn't repeat. How they all lived down there for months on end, in tunnels even narrower, is beyond me.

They were pretty ingenious with the panji stakes, too.

When I teach about the Vietnam war I always point out that Vietnamese people with sticks beat Americans with state-of-the-art weapons, partly because they were fighting for their home. They set a lot of booby traps like this one, filled with sharpened bamboo stakes. Apparently villages used to make them together in some kind of bonding exercise. This beats any team building event I've ever been to. They indicated to each other where these traps were using leaves with sticks stuck in them. The mind boggles.

They were up against some big old weapons.

But they had AK-47s, which could be stored under water until needed (!) and thus trumped the M16. We were invited to shoot AK-47s for a small fee. I declined. I was pleased to see that it was no longer possible to pay a bit extra and shoot a cow, as it apparently was when my friends visited 10 years ago.

Interesting place. It felt a bit dark and sinister, but I'm not really surprised about that.

Monday 11 September 2017

Weekend WIP

More hexagons. I'm up to 34 now. Another 96 to go. I'm more than one quarter finished.

The blue looks quite green and dark in this picture but it's quite sky-like in real life, and that beige has this amazing purple sheen to it on the second one I made - it was such a surprise to see it that I briefly thought I had accidentally drawn on my yarn with a purple biro (there is biro on a lot of my belongings).

I have two more to make to kill off this skein, then there is only ONE. MORE. SINGLE. SKEIN. left. Remember back in May...that's May 2016, if you're counting...when I said I'd be done with all the single skeins by the end of the year? Yeah well, I would just like to say, I didn't specify which year, so, yknow.

Let's not mention the fact I have found some blue that I missed in Ravelry destash and had two set aside to fetch home when I go to the US in October.

These are quite addictive when you get going. I was in London for the weekend and knocked out two. I would have done a 3rd on the train home but then Jenny, my PT, ended up on the same train as me so we just nattered all the way back.

I think I've found a pattern for the watermelon gradient I bought at Wonderwool, but I don't really know what to start next. I still have knitter's malaise. Sigh.

Blue Monday

Having been on some exciting summer holidays, you'll be happy to know that I have a whole bevvy of new blue-themed photographs to share with you.

I'll begin with a seascape from the Galapagos. This was from a day-trip off San Cristobal, to Isla Lobos. Lobos are sea lions - you can see why.

They were such posers I had to join in.

Sunday 10 September 2017

Selfie Sunday

Another solo ski trip selfie: this was on the funicular to the glacier in Tignes, October 2012. Loving the guy behind me: completely unimpressed by my narcissism.

I think I managed a few more than one run on this trip, but, as you might not from the melting snowflakes on my ski mask, the weather was quite poor.

Tuesday 5 September 2017

Travel Tuesday: Llanthony Priory

My inspiration for Tuesday Tens has dried up somewhat. I swing between things I'm looking forward to, things I'll do when I'm not at work and things on my to do list. Nobody wants to be reading that every week. They might pop up every now and again (if you're lucky) but I have a new Tuesday trope now: I'm going to share my travel adventures with you. I always have plenty to say about my holidays but I'm usually too busy being on them to say it.

In April, I managed to tear Mr Z away from his office for long enough to go camping in Llanthony Priory, east Wales - and if you just said, 'Camping? In April?' then you are not alone.

(Yes, that's our tent. No, we didn't exactly choose that colour. On the website it was blue and brown. We couldn't send it back because, as usual, we'd left it late to order it and we didn't have time.)

It wasn't exactly a campsite. More of a field with a tap in it. There was a public toilet round the corner, and we witnessed two groups of (presumably) DofErs camping in the corner of the field, rising early and striding off. We nearly ran one group of them over, a couple of hours later, when we'd finished our leisurely breakfast and were driving off to Hay-on-Wye for the day. Imagine a bunch of fed up looking teenagers in anoraks on this road.

This is the view from Gospel Pass which is flipping gorgeous. The pictures aren't enough: please go there. The other side from these is very hilly and it looks like a great place for clamber one day when it's neither too hot nor too cold. The grass had that heathy, springy quality to it and the ground was a myriad of small hillocks, though I have no idea why.

Hay was very nice. Charming. Small. How do they squeeze that whole festival in there?

I only bought two books, though Mr Z's presence was a heavy moderator.

The priory itself was surrounded by these noisy things and their parents. They were spray painted in pairs of symbols so that it was easy to work out which lamb went with which ewe. This was a happy family.

This grassy bank, however, wasn't sure about it.

In truth, the sheep were the noisiest things around. The place is very tranquil and wedged at the bottom of two steep hills, so there's no phone signal or anything. An ideal getaway if you don't mind roughing it or have a better camping set up than we do. There's a pub that does nice dinners and a cafe that looks like it does nice breakfasts, and another pub in the priory ruins, which we didn't visit. There's a B&B there too, if you really can't face camping. 

I did enjoy the ruins. I was reading Bring Up The Bodies at the time and Cromwell was just drawing up the plans for dissolution of the smaller houses, so it was very timely. This priory was built next to the church built on the site of St David's 6th century cell, which is still standing, so it is a good historic place to visit. I'll avoid spamming with masses of photos of crumbling arches and pillars. It was very photogenic, though.

Mr Z and I did a photo shoot for our first album cover.

It did rain on the first night but Mr Z had invested in a new double sleeping bag and we therefore weren't cold. We may be a little old for sleeping directly on the ground now, though.

This is a good place to visit on
 a long bike ride, I'm led to believe. Nephew Z visited a few months back with a friend: they biked there and back from Bristol in three days. He did nearly fall asleep during Sunday dinner, it must be said.

Monday 4 September 2017

Blue Monday

Nothing ever seems as blue as underwater, I think.

Although I posted some blue Monday pictures a while back from Lisbon Aquarium, I found some more that I hadn't shared. They're a bit blurry but, meh.

Happy first day of the new school year! I'm so excited to get started! Sorry. Don't hate me. Here's something calming.

Sunday 3 September 2017

Weekend WIP

I am still struggling to get on with my knitting. I am about halfway through the gorgeous blue angora jumper I started way back in March, which I am enjoying, but for some reason am not desperate to finish. I think the thought of the sleeves is putting me off. Sleeves always take longer than I think they're going to, and these are long, belled affairs, so ... meh. On the plus side, I tried it on this week and it isn't too small, which is my perennial bottom-up garment fear.

This weekend I turned back to the trusty pinwheels, trotting out three in quick succession and starting a fourth.

This is the May 3013 LE. It's like a paler, duskier version of Sookie's Last Stand.

Out of interest, I pulled out all the hexagons and scattered them randomly across our filthy, soon-to-be-replaced dining room floor.

Already big enough for a lap blanket after blocking, but I do have 90-odd more to go. Although I scattered these at random and felt a bit overwhelmed by the big differences in colour, I can see two different palettes in this now, so it will either make two blankets or one with some carefully colour spacing.

Of course, the rest are yet to come - and, tbf, they're all a lot more blue than this little lot.