Monday 31 December 2018

Happy New Year to all!

I was going to wait until I had some fireworks pictures to post this but I am pretty sleepy now and think, although I'll make it to midnight, all bets are off afterwards. Technically it would not have been a 2018 post then anyway and this is my 127th of the year, hurrah hurrah, I did it! Only some minor cheating necessary and I prefer to think of it as careful planning. Technically, you see, it is 7.21am on January 1st back home, but since it is only 11.21pm here, I think I've got away with it.

So, instead of fireworks, you get my last spritz picture of 2018 - in the Park MGM Italian food court bar, which is heavily packed with Aperol. Sadly this was made with somewhat flat Prosecco and the Americans don't really get sparkling water as a concept, so this wasn't the best spritz of the year; but it was the last.

NYE nails, too. I got them done at my preferred Vegas nail place yesterday. They are disturbingly hard.

Here's to a 2019 full of spritzes, sparkly nails and joy.

The Last Bake of 2018

My step-sib Alex's birthday turned 28 yesterday and picked out a cake that he found disappointing. He said he wished he'd got a cheesecake or a Boston cream pie, since he'd never had the latter and always wanted to try one. So, today, we put one together for him.

I used my foolproof vanilla sponge cake recipe from here and chocolate glaze recipe from here (without syrup, or vanilla...there's no such thing as golden syrup in this country and I simply forgot the vanilla), so the only thing that was new to me was the creme patissiere to go in the middle. I debated not bothering and going with just whipped cream, but, meh, best to do it properly.

The creme pat was as follows -

3 egg yolks, whipped with 5 tbsp of sugar until pale and thick
Beat in 1 and a half tbsp each of flour and cornflour
Heat 1 and a half cups of milk with 1 tsp vanilla in a saucepan until just boiling
Pour slowly over the egg yolks, whisking all the time
Put the mixture back into the saucepan and heat gently whilst whisking until super thick. Mr Z was in charge of this and was very cautious with the heat, so it took a while, but if I'd been doing it I would undoubtedly have burned it, so I guess that was for the best.
Scrape into a container, lay clingfilm on top of the surface so it doesn't skin over, and chill until required.

It tasted pretty good. The cakes rose more than I thought they would; it could maybe have done with a thicker layer of creme pat, but since we were just talking yesterday about cakes having, in general, too much frosting, I think this was fine for today.

2018: Part 4


The first part of October was pretty miserable, although I managed a weekend away in Portsmouth to celebrate my friend Zoe's birthday. We went clubbing. I wore false eyelashes. It was fun.

The rest of it was just the grind of work. I really struggled, particularly with the last few days - thank goodness we broke up on a Wednesday. I went straight off to Hampshire for a mini spa break with Mother Hand and that sorted me right out.

Most of half term was spent doing housey things. Chutney. Knitting. Picking curtain fabric. I went to Wells to have lunch with my old work friend Kaff and we had a wander around the outside of the cathedral. An impressive place.


I started the month by heading back to Llandudno for the final day of my internship. I went for an extra day (just as well, since there are no trains to Llandudno on Sundays in the winter) and visited Conwy Castle and the Tudor house, and had dinner at Dylan's with the other trainers. Good fun.

It was great to be back at the school and see how excited they were to share what they'd been doing.

After the work excesses of the previous months, November felt like a rest. Exam board work abated, finally, for the first time since May, although I still had to write some training and record a feedback event (very weird, speaking into a microphone at my computer non-stop for 60 minutes). I ran a training event for some primary teachers in a sister school, visited another sister school with a view to supporting them, went to another history lecture and generally tried to catch up on a term's worth of neglect in my department. I think I managed it.

I went to the opening of the Bath Christmas markets with my old colleagues, as usual, and to the English national Ballet performing Swan Lake with Parpy Jo. I went to see Six in Southampton with my friend Vanessa and had dinner with my old colleague Paul. And right at the end of the month, the new sofas arrived. Win!


The wind down to Christmas began with a visit to Hampton Court with year 11 - a wonderful day, in spite of the torrential rain we had at the start. My first PGCE student in years, George, finished his first placement and I met the second one, Sonia, who will join me after Christmas, thus making my department a little less lonely. We had a Team Hums night out painting pottery, and a staff Christmas night out drinking (apparently) cocktails. You know all this because I've been frantically over-sharing for the past couple of months, so I won't go into too much detail.

I posted this clip of me making a snow angel in Pritt sticks on Twitter and it got over 150 likes. Weird.

After breaking up for Christmas, I did my best to clear the decks of work but failed miserably. Mother Hand came to stay on the Friday and we spent Christmas at Sib Z's. Then, on Boxing Day, we flew off the Vegas (thankfully out of Heathrow - no mysterious holiday-ruining drone for us). And I think you're all caught up on what we've been doing here, as I frantically over-share right up to the wire to get my 127 posts. I think I need to let it go now I have reached 10 years of having the same post count. Well, I either need to let it go or do it properly and post all year. If I did a week note every week of the year and blogged every day in November I'd be at 80ish posts without even trying. I think I remind myself of this every year.

So, how was 2018? Well, busy. I'm always saying it's a busy year. This year has been busy to an entirely new degree. I was excited to think I could make the exam board work my only work, since they were paying me like a (not terribly well-paid but well enough) full-time job, but it never occurred to me that that was because they were asking me to work the hours of a full-time job, only in the space of 4 months, while working another full-time job. The learning curve was steep. There wasn't a lot of time for myself or for Mr Z. I think it will be better in 2020, as long as I can be a little better organised, but who knows? I suspect I'll be back here writing a similar thing this time next year.

But there you go! This was all exactly what I wanted, career wise. It has been good, though educational, to spend this year doing.

Blue Monday

Rounding off the year with this stunner from Lady Gaga last night. I tried very, very hard not to take any pictures at all but I couldn't resist this, during the encore, because the lighting was so beautiful.

Sunday 30 December 2018

Weekend WIP


I'm seven stripes through a fifteen stripe sequence. At the moment I am just assuming each coloured stripe, combined with its grey rows underneath, is an inch, but I should probably actually measure it at some point.

Two things. Firstly, this is the same colour gradient I used for Wingspan and I duly grabbed the leftovers with a plan to use those up first, before winding the new mini skeins, but then when I was rifling through them I decided I must have dropped a few of the early colours because they didn't match. Then, later on, I went back to them and counted and I have 14 of the 15 colours, but none of them seem to match this gradient kit. I am really surprised, because the Moonlight woman looked haunted and said she was never dying this set again once the last kit had been sold, so I assumed she must have dyed them all at once.

Secondly, I have been a little concerned about the darker purples blending too well into the charcoal background and I've been wondering whether I should have knitted it with a pale background. Maybe even white. But, I can't easily wear white or pale grey (I spill) so this is probably for the best. I could maybe use the leftovers from the other gradient kit to knit it again with a paler colour later on. You know, because I have so much free time for knitting the same pattern over and over.

Sunday Selfie

Mr Z and I went to see Lady Gaga's new residency, Enigma, at the Park Theater (yes, I know, but that's how they spell it) this evening. It was an amazing show and she has incredible stamina. She was even singing while they were tossing her around on stage. When she opened the show, she flew in dressed in the sparkliest catsuit I've ever seen, and then they slowly rotated her whilst shining bright lights on her, so she lit up the room like a mirrorball. It was marvellous. Later in the show she said her fans were like a mirrorball, reflecting her back a million times, so I guess that was where she got the inspiration.

Anyway, here is a badly lit selfie of us in the audience before the show started. So exciting!

2018: Part 3


I started the month hot-footing it up to Leeds for the usual conference, which was a lot of fun as usual, although this year my workshop clashed with England in the World Cup quarter finals, sigh.  From there I went to see Jen and Ben in Sheffield for a boozy barbecue school night and then drove to Manchester to staff an assessment centre for a few days. The folks there were weirdly deferential. In some ways, the job I do does demand that deference I guess, but it is still really weird.

Anyway, I stayed with my old boss Nigel in his lovely flat with gorgeous views and drove home during the World Cup semi-final that England played, so I had the roads almost to myself. It was good to reap some rewards this time round.

While I was away, the new floor was laid downstairs. I love, love, love it.

The rest of July was really just work. More work. Lots of work. So much work. It was neverending. I was supposed to be going to London for the very final workday on the last Saturday of the month but that deadline came and went. I was sad, because I had to miss another Uncomfortable Art Tour (the one I'd tried to go on in June was cancelled due to the Portrait Gallery changing their opening hours without notice). I was pretty sick of work by this point. I even went into school for a couple of days and did preparation work for this academic year, just for some variety. I've never done that before. TBF, it has helped this year go more smoothly.

I did make it over the Bradford on Avon to have a nice lunch with Caroline, my old work friend. I also went for a lovely dinner at The Bull on Whiteladies Rd with Mr Z, to celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary. So, yknow. Bits of July were OK.


In the first week of the month, I took a bus trip to London for the evening for a lecture on Columbus and colonialism, which I saw with my friend Burhan. He thought I was mental for going there and back in a day, and he may have had a point, but the National Express ticket was less than £15 so it seemed doable.

We were, of course, still in the middle of a heatwave at this point, so I got myself a little paddling pool and started doing more of this:

The first weekend in August was a big birthday for me. I had a party. Much gin and much joy. No pictures to speak of. Jen and Ben came down to stay with their daughters and the next day I made everybody pancakes before we waved them off. It was a really fun party, even if more than half the people I invited were on holiday at the time.

Shortly after my birthday, Mr Z and I jetted off the southern Italy, where we stayed in a tiny apartment in Lecce and spent most of our time avoiding the heat. We did go to the beach one day. Stupidly, neither of us put on sun cream (in our defence, we were under a sun umbrella the whole time, but it didn't help). The rest of the holiday was spent trying to find an effective after sun for Mr Z.

I know it looks like I'm in the sun, but it was just for the picture.

On returning from Italy, I spent one night in the Gatwick Premier Inn and then jetted off to southern France with Zoe, where we stayed in a tiny apartment in Montpellier (are you sensing a theme?) Zoe is an extremely organised traveller and managed to cram a lot into our few days. I liked the beach club a lot but was sorry there were no sun loungers for us after we'd eaten lunch. We ended up sheltering in a shadow of another beach club, in a spot that smelled strongly of garbage. Not exactly French Riviera. But it was beautiful.

This water was not warm. Not even a bit. 

When I got back it was results day and I had a mini book party with work friends. My book was published at the start of August. Hurrah, hurrah!

I spent the last week of the holidays doing housey things (finally got the piano tuned after 17 years....he had to hit it with a hammer) and gallivanting. I went to Portsmouth for a few days first. Mother Hand and I went and contributed to the lego Tudor painting that Mary Rose were putting together.

We also went out for a really good curry dinner as a belated birthday treat.

Then I went off to London for a couple of days to get a hair cut and do some sight seeing. Burhan and I FINALLY made it on an Uncomfortable Art Tour, which proved worth the wait. I went and had a nose around St James's Palace and had afternoon tea at the V&A. Zoe and I went to the Frida Kahlo exhibition there and then went and ate some very good pizza afterwards. It was the perfect way to wrap up the summer holidays.

Quite pleased to see that I fitted a lot in to August. It didn't feel like much of a break. The re-marks soon started rolling in.


School started again. My third year. There were various school-related things and the crushing weight of hundreds of re-marks - not more than usual in general, but double the amount I've usually done. I assumed everybody was being allocated them equally. Turns out, I was getting them all. Ugh.

Our new drinks-cabinet-of-dreams arrived and we very much enjoyed filling it full of all our booze.

The gin remains on the piano, for now. Even this massive cabinet couldn't contain all the gin. 

In the third week of the month I went off the Llandudno for the internship that represented the final part of the course I did back in January. It is a gorgeous place and I fell in love with it a bit. I'd love to go back for a little summer break. Maybe next July. I reckon I could sneak off there with a laptop and the exam board wouldn't even notice I wasn't at home. 

 The final weekend of the month was spent at a Tudors workshop in Oxford with some lovely people, and seeing Six for the first time. I am utterly hooked, it was amazing. So spot-on historically (the lyricist has a history degree, so....) and very sharp and funny. They request photograph taking in the final number.

The last day on the month I spent hanging out with my old friend Stu, wandering around Stanborough lakes, for a proper kick of nostalgia. I hadn't seen Stu since we went skiing together in 2011. But luckily, thanks to social media, it didn't feel like that long. It's definitely easier to keep up with people nowadays.

Well! This has been a marathon post. Expect a slightly briefer one for the final installment because I've been doing weeknotes all through the final three months in a desperate, transparent attempt to get me up to 127 posts. Whisper it quietly but, I think I'm gonna make it.

Saturday 29 December 2018

2018: Part 2


We returned from the ski trip on April 1st, and I had a couple of days at home before I hot-footed it up to London for a few days of galleries and sight-seeing. I squeezed in Charles I's art collection at the Royal Academy, the Tower of London and the crown Jewels, Charterhouse, the Mithraeum and a few other off-the-beaten-track sights, and had dinner with my old school friend Sarah, a now annual occurrence which I enjoy very much.

I read a very good book, Why I'm no longer talking to white people about race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge. It was a life-changing experience for me, at least in terms of the way I approach curriculum planning and consider things like positive discrimination. I can really recommend it.

After a week back at school, I went to see Nashville live in concert in Cardiff, with my work friend Naomi.

There was another work trip to London, during which we planned the training for May and didn't talk about operational issues, again.

I did get a bit of chill out time in Russell Square, though, which I love because it makes me feel like a student again. 

Then there was Wonderwool. I thought I was very restrained, this year. I am very keen to knit that lightening bolt jumper for which I purchased the pattern, so I had better find something to knit it in before Wonderwool 2019, or I will have to buy more yarn.

We started getting hedgehog visitors to our garden. They kept coming all summer long but usually with something unpleasant wrong with them - a broken leg, two broken legs, lots of ticks. We started to wonder whether we were becoming known in the hog world as hog A&E. 


At the start of May I went to Portsmouth to take Mum to the doctor and bring her back to stay with us. She was very unwell by this point and we spent much of May living in some kind of seclusion, where we couldn't watch the television or speak on the phone because she panicked. It didn't help Mum much, and by the royal wedding we were at a point where we couldn't do anything else, so the following week, she was hospitalised.

We did go on a couple of picturesque walks, though.

At the end of the month we went to Portsmouth to visit her in hospital. I managed to get my toes in the ocean and we had a very nice curry. The hospital was a great place for her to be, although it took her a while to realise it.

Also in May, I went to London to run the training that we'd planned in April. The team gave me the biggest room 'because you're such a strong presenter!' which was flattering, but it was an enormously wide and very shallow room, so I ended up swiveling my head around more than was comfortable. Also, part of that training (the statutory bit) is very dull and people largely tuned out. But I did it and it made me feel like a rockstar - speaking at County Hall in London is another one to tick off the bucket list. I love that place.

I also started another exam board job, for another exam board. I don't know why, either. I missed the deadline by at least a week, but they offered me another job out of it, which I took, again for reasons unknown.


SO MUCH WORK. I felt like I had been building up to it for months and it was as relentless as I'd feared.

At the start of the month I spoke at a conference at Rugby School. I was incredibly flattered to be asked and was able to share an action research project I'd been doing all year. It was an inspiring place to speak.

Then it was off to London for 4 days of tooth-grinding exam board meetings. It was nice to see lots of old faces and meet some new ones, and the final two days were a lot more straightforward, but I was braindead by the end of it. Next year I need to get more sleep in the run up.

Still, nice to be speaking here again:

And working with this man, Nigel - my first exam board 'boss'. 

The rest of the month was spent frantically trying to keep my head above water. I ended up going to school for a rest. Sports day was positively blissful. I fell asleep on my inflatable and got a sun-burnt leg.

Mum steadily improved and was doing home visits by the end of the month. Better and better.

Weeknote: 29/12

Knitting on the Westbourne has been going very speedily. I was daunted by another 4-ply jumper, since the last one took me so long, but then decided if I could get to the colour changes then I would find it going quite quickly, and this has been the case. As of now, today, I have completed the yoke and divided for the armholes, and completed the first two colour stripes of the sequence - 13 more to go. I have adjusted a little and made the colours 3 rows to 5 rows of charcoal, when the pattern stipulates a 6-2 split, and the first couple of colours really pop. I'm thrilled with how it is turning out. Much too thrilled considering it is my own work.

Going to:
It's been a busy travelling week. Christmas Eve was, delightfully, spent entirely in pyjamas, knitting and watching TV; on Christmas Day we ventured as far as Sib Z's for the Christmas dinner extravaganza. On Boxing Day we got up well before dawn and drove the Heathrow, flew to LA and drove to Vegas. It was a painful flight for my sinuses and I attempted to spend as much of it asleep as possible - the usual Christmas cold finally arrived on the 22nd and I really don't recommend flying with a cold. Thankfully the flight was half empty so Mr Z had a row to ourselves and I slept away most of it.

On arrival, therefore, we felt chipper enough to rent a car rather than look for an onward flight. I was suspicious of this lack of plan beforehand but went with it, resulting in a rather eye-watering spend for a rental car. Then Mr Z developed a worsening stomach ache that prevented him from doing much driving and the traffic was awful almost the whole way, resulting in a drive that lasted 7 hours instead of four and a half, and some heavy-duty keeping-awake tactics at the end. I am never doing it this way again. Please let this be a strong reminder to me. It is not, not, not worth it. I must just bite the bullet and pay the extra to fly here directly.

So, day 1 was spent recovering from the journey but yesterday we made it out of the house to play Twilight Zone blacklight mini golf at Bally's (who wanted to charge $20 flat rate for parking! I don't know what has happened to this place. Luckily a woman with a player's card was hovering by the pay terminal and offered to cover our parking. Being very British Mr Z and I both primly told her no thank you but she persisted, as it's free for her with that card. Very kind) and then went on to Cheesecake Factory for Mr Z's favourite burger and a fat piece of cheesecake.

Not sure what we'll do next. Mr Z has picked up my cold so I am persona non grata. Lady Gaga tomorrow though, woohoo!

Entertained by:
The usual Christmas ghost stories and specials, along with The Crown (I have almost finished season 2) and The IT Crowd (I have seen the first two series). I feel that this is very good Christmassing on my part.

I finished the Outcasts of Time which was readable and interesting but not setting the world on fire. Good ending, though. I've now picked up one of my new Michelle Obama-inspired books, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. It's set in Mississippi and it's very readable so far.

Rested. Relaxed. My neck ache is almost gone. It's nice to be in the cold desert for a change.

Friday 28 December 2018

Fave Friday

This frozen yogurt you can buy from machines and then add your own sprinkles to is a lovely treat for me. There used to be one on Bristol centre, called Pinkberry I think, but it sadly folded, and in any case, it is one of those things that America just does better. Not that better is actually better - as Mr Z pointed out, there may be 6 flavours available but it's all just coming out of one vat of frozen yogurt with flavoured corn syrup being doused over it on the way. Probably. However, the point of this is that it's patently extremely bad for you, whereas the UK version had this sense of virtuousness that didn't suit it. 

It always reminds me of my first visit to Jimmy Beans in Reno in 2009. There was the yarn store, a teacher supplies store and a frozen yogurt store, all on the same lot. They offered yellow cake flavour frozen yogurt and had special sprinkles in - fresh blueberries. I had yellow cake with blueberries and walnuts, two days in a row. I bought some blank dice that I have never used (though I am just now thinking of a good use for them, now that I remember they exist....can I find them, is the next question). The staff at Jimmy's let me rummage through their second storefront, which was all their mail order stock. It was a very happy time. 

We ate this, above, today at Bally's after playing mini golf. Yellow cake flavour again, but no fresh berries or walnuts this time. I'll keep hanging out for that perfect combination. 

2018: Part 1


The year began with a visit up north to Sheffield, for Jen's 40th birthday. Jen throws an excellent party. This one involved roughly twice as many bottles of Prosecco as there were people, and not everybody was drinking it, and those that were were bunging additional spirits into it. There was dancing in the kitchen and fighting for control of the Sonos playlist. A good party, indeed.

I went up to London for a History meeting, as usual. It was just a day trip this time. I was back the following week for the exam board meeting - they've now decided to hold these online, which I have mixed feelings about. I'm not sad about getting to spend 4 days at home instead of living in a hotel, but on the other hand, it's nice to hang out and see people. I had dinners with Richard and with Zoe, and went over to Sib's for dinner one night too. I guess it just means I'll have to go to London for fun a bit more often from now on.

Straight after the exam board meeting, I had to drive to Birmingham to stay with Granny Hand, so that I could attend a three-day teacher training course. It was a very good course and will lead to more work of a slightly different kind. It was fun to hang out with people that are geeky about teaching.

Then, immediately after that, I had to go on a school trip to Belgium. It would have been a fun and enjoyable trip had I not come down with a stinking cold. I ended up sitting on the coach whimpering, while our amazing tour guide led everybody around the major sites. And on top of that, while I was away, Mr Z had to have Mitten put down. Sad times.

A Flemish mitten.

I was not sorry to see the back of January.


This was meant to be a quieter month. I had cleared the decks ready for finishing my book. By this point I'd been writing it for 7 months but had (predictably) been unable to maintain the motivation to work on it regularly, so it was not yet half finished, ahead of a deadline at the start of March.

So, naturally, I said yes to a last-minute request to go on the school trip Berlin. We did have fun. But there was not much fun in the following week, when I tried to write as much as possible. By the end of the week I was over halfway through so it wasn't all bad.

Not much else happened in February, though. I think I went to a History conference in London, but it wasn't my favourite. Lots of people presenting on stuff I already knew or didn't agree with. I get grumpier as I get older. I nearly hopped on a train to see Sib instead of going to the afternoon workshops. 


My deadline was the start of March, which was a Thursday, and I begged for an extension to the Monday, even though I had an exam board meeting on the Friday and plans with Sib on Saturday before he left for Peru. So, it felt like not small amount of divine intervention when it snowed heavily on March 1st. I made it into school, only to be sent home again almost immediately. The meeting was cancelled. The trains were cancelled. I spent all weekend writing, apart from a walk up the 'wood with Mr Z.

I got it done! My own manuscript, at nearly 40,000 words, all mine, all my work, not sharing the byline with anybody. Exciting. So exciting. But also - such a huge relief to get it finished and out of the way.

I had to do a First Aid course that lasted for a whole weekend. Luckily it was an outdoor-focused one, so we went on some nice walks around the woods and river bank near the hut. I saw a kingfisher. It was good fun, in spite of being a weekend about First Aid.

I made it back to London in March for the postponed exam board meeting, which was meant to be used to discuss operational issues for the summer but became about something else entirely. This was a portent. We never managed to discuss the operational side of things.

I went to see Matthew Bourne's Cinderella at the Hippodrome. The story is set during the Blitz so it had delicious period details that I much appreciated. I also caught up with my old university housemate, Emilia. She is a politics professor in Finland. Whenever we meet, I have to go home and look things up.

Then, at the end of the month, it was SKITIME! We went back to my favourite resort, Sauze d'Oulx - my first visit there since 2010. It was such fun to ski the same old trails as a much better skier.

We had a fancy dress day. This was the outfit I was wearing when I had to have a shouting row with an Italian ski rescue guy in an army uniform with a tattoo on his neck, about why I wasn't taking a student to hospital (don't worry, she was fine - I knew she was fine, he didn't). I like to think I really channeled Wonderwoman that day. It felt good to be back in charge of the ski trip.