Thursday, 13 December 2018

Throwback Thursday

On this day in 1993...

Today was a day designated for skiving (1). We had the first lesson - in which I wrote my "Chapman's Syndrome" (2) - and then we went on a coach to St Mary's to "practise" ringing! (3) We rang a few things and had visits from Mrs Dawtrey, Mr Campbell and Mrs Fothergill (4). This evening we played charades and wink murder and Beccy's dad bought me a fish cake on the way home. So I didn't actually go to the carol service. In the afternoon, I made the teachers' cake, Michelle's truffles (5) and a guitar brooch for Tim's friend. All in all a rewarding and busy day. 

(1) It was the annual carol service. We always tried to get out of it. It was compulsory. In a delicious twist of irony, tonight was my current school's 'compulsory' carol concert. "Do we have to go?" whined my tutees. "Why wouldn't you want to?" I eventually started responding (in spite of Tuesday's resolution), genuinely surprised. Oh, the difference 25 years makes.

(2) No idea, but Miss Chapman was my History teacher so it must have been something History-based.

(3) A small group of us ringers rang the bells for the carol concert and were therefore allowed to stay in the tower for the entire service because it was too distracting for us to come down partway through. An exceptionally good ruse, although you always have to be very quiet in the tower unless you're actually ringing.

(4) The Head, the Deputy Head, my tutor. Anybody would think they didn't trust us.

(5) Michelle was a wealthy girl who constantly offered people money to do things for her. In 1993, she paid me to make her truffles.

Just fell down the usual diary hole. The week before this, I'd gone to a concert at the Guildhall on my own, followed by a bar with my friends, and then walked to one of the seafront clubs to spend the rest of the night. I'm horrified that (a) I managed to get away with this at 15 and (b) I thought walking that distance was OK. That is FAR. Google Maps says it is two miles. I'd definitely uber it these days.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Tuesday Ten

Ten things I'm looking forward to

1. Team Hums Christmas night out tomorrow. We're going to paint pots and drink prosecco.

2. School carol concert on Thursday. I love a carol concert and it's very handy that school just do one for us. My tutor group keep asking if they have to go. I have to avoid asking why they wouldn't want to, since I realise it makes me sound super old.

3. Faux Z Christmas on Saturday night. We're having our Christmas dinner early, so that we can still enjoy leftovers. I need to go and buy some cheese.

4. End of term and related night out. Of course.

5. Christmas night in with the girls. A tradition. We're having it at mine this year so that I can show off the new decor. I'm in the delightful snack-planning stage.

6. Mother Hand coming to stay. She was very ill the last time she stayed with us so I'm excited about her coming back now that she's better, and excited to see her reaction to said new decor.


8. Going to visit Father Hand in Vegas. Skiing. Going to see Lady Gaga. New Year's Eve fireworks. Seeing Max the dog. All so good.

9. The school ski trip. February half term is only 9 and a half weeks away, people!

10. A summer holiday to Copenhagen with Mother Hand. I don't have any other holidays booked yet so that is quite a long way in the future, but I am already excited about seeing a new country. Possibly two, if we get the train to Sweden. Mother Hand was most excited to realise this would involve crossing The Bridge, as in, The Bridge. That was a confusing conversation for a little while.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Finally lemon gin time

The time has finally arrived. It's been three years since we made the very first bottle of lemon gin. It has been agitated daily by Mr Z's car ever since. We did take it out in the summer for a little snifter but dutifully replaced it until last weekend, when we took it to the Parents Z for Sunday dinner and all had a taste.

When we got back, I pulled out the 2016 vintage to do a side by side comparison. This one has been in a cupboard, not a car, although it's replaced the first bottle in the Z car now.

The one on the right is the older one - considerably yellower. In a side by side taste test, the 2015 vintage is smoother and mellower, whereas the 2016 one has more of a kick to it. Now I've been back to look at the blog posts, though, I see that the 2016 was the rind of two lemons and two limes, which might account for it. It might need a bit more sugar, or it might just need a bit more agitation. We'll see next year.

I'm annoyed with myself for seemingly not blogging about my 2017 effort. This is under the passenger seat of my car. I am pretty sure it is just lemons and sugar, because 2017 was the year Sainsbury's decided to stop doing a deal on Bombay Sapphire in the autumn so I resorted to Bombay London instead and decided I'd keep the recipe the same, since I was changing the base gin.

I have downstairs a fresh bottle of Bombay London and three unwaxed lemons, ready to start the 2018 steep. I wonder if I should put some orange or lime peel in this one, for a change. I'd like to try grapefruit but it wouldn't go with lemon, I don't think.

Blue Monday

One from Hampton Court on Friday, when it stopped raining and we made it to the lake outside.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Weekend WIP

I'm very close to finishing the baby Santa jacket.

I have almost finished a ball of funky fur (or whatever it calls itself) so it is tempting to cast off now, even though the collar isn't as long as the pattern intends it to be. I'm going to have a rummage and see if I have any leftover from when I unravelled a previous attempt at a sleeve. I have a feeling I just bunged it all in the bin in a fit of pique. If I can't find it, I think I will just bind off and have done.

Strictly: My Dance of the Night

What a night! So many dances to choose from. I was very worried that there would end up being a dance off between Stacey and Ashley or, worse, Fay and Ashley, but I think in the end, the right person went home. I know there's a lot of kerfuffle about people with previous dance training getting on well in the show but it doesn't really bother me. It's a light entertainment show. I'm entertained. Job done.

Anyway - this was the most joyful of dances. I liked the little tap notes on the bonnet of the car. I am excited about their show dance next week.

Sunday Selfie

I don't know if this really counts as a selfie because a student took it for me, but here I am pretending to be Henry VIII at Hampton Court on Friday.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Weeknote: 8/12

Work on the Santa jacket continues apace. I've just got the collar left to do and the buttons to add. In the end I went for a red button band with button holes. I thought, if I had to wait to get poppers to put on, it would never be finished.

My thoughts have already turned to what to knit next. I am thinking the top-down boat neck jumper in black with coloured stripes that I've been planning for some time. But, some pinwheels or felted flowers would be more portable for the long plane journey I've got coming up, and I did find another skein of green Cascade that could do with being tree-ed. Plus, this time of year, it needs to be something quick that I can just pick up and start.

Going to:
On Thursday morning I spent some time at another school in our academy chain, working with another middle leader who needs some coaching. I always love going to other schools and seeing other people do it, though it feels a little fraught over there at the moment. I get nervous about these things because it's hard to see myself as somebody who can mentor a colleague that is slightly above me on the food chain (or would be if we were in the same school) to success. But, the conversations were very positive and I feel like I can have a good impact.

On Friday I went to Hampton Court with school (as per the Fave Friday post). I have run very few day trips for school, weirdly, so I always get a bit agitated and nervous about it, but the students were a credit to us. They're such savvy city girls that I forget that they are still children and excited by new things. They were enthralled by the deer pack and several said that the gardens were their favourite bit - they just wanted to run around taking selfies against the privet hedges.

After returning from Hampton Court, I suggested we go for a quick drink. My working colleagues all had plans, but our PGCE student who is just finishing and the PGCE student we had in doing observations in my first year at this school (Charlotte) said they could come for one before going home to do their big assignments that are due on Monday. I got home at 2am. That was fun.

So much gin.

In spite of that, I made it to an RPM class at the leisure centre this morning. It's spin by another name. It was painful and I couldn't keep up, so just like spin always was, then. The instructor came over at the end and insisted I come back soon. Hmm. I might stick to Body Pump.

It's been a bakey week. On Wednesday, feeling overwhelmed by my workload, I threw together a sweet potato cheesecake using this recipe. I left out the nuts because Naomi is allergic, and I swamped the top with salted caramel instead of drizzling. It tasted good.

Today, in a fit of guilt about making Charlotte go drinking with me when she had such a busy weekend planned, I baked her a chocolate log that she needed for her Christmas party tomorrow afternoon. I made it to Mary Berry's recipe. I'm not overjoyed with it - I didn't get the rise I had hoped and the roll was not very tight so there's not much of a swirl, but it didn't crack, at least.

Entertained by:
I started watching Mrs Wilson, which has been interesting. All the legalities of finding out you're in a bigamous marriage after your husband dies - how tricky. 

I continue to read Outcasts of Time but I have fallen into bed exhausted most nights this week, so there hasn't been masses of reading. 

Ready for Christmas now. The tree is decorated. The advent calendar is being opened. I've got a Christmas night out and a carol concert this week. I could do with a break from work. It's nearly time.

Fave Friday

(Posted on Saturday, because gin).

On Friday we went to Hampton Court Palace on a school trip. I do love it very much. A great building with loads of interesting things to look at, plus gorgeous grounds full of swans and geese and deer and mistletoe, and this year a special food festival for Christmas, handing out free samples to the students all day long. Marvellous.

It poured with rain all the way there (causing a big leak on the coach, hence a lot of screaming and creative use of sanitary pads) but by lunchtime the sky was blue and the sun was shining, so we had a long walk around the grounds, too. Idyllic.

It's expensive, but if you think you could get to the other Historic Royal Palaces within a year then getting a membership is a great way of saving some money. I've used my membership four times so it has saved me over £50.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Throwback Thursday

I finally threw this away this week.

This was my first ski helmet; it was also the first piece of specialist ski equipment I ever bought. I got it in Sauze d'Oulx in 2010. I'd gone with money and intentions - I wanted to finally buy my own pair of ski boots; but when we went to ski fit, the fitter couldn't find any that fitted me. I was in tears. I'd already tried to get ski boots at Snow and Rock, where the fitter had eventually given up and suggested I switch to snowboarding. So, I got this helmet instead.

It did lots of ski trips with me, probably more than it should have done. I remember falling over backwards (how, I'll never know) and knocking my head on the slope at the end of my first week of wearing it, so it was probably fairly useless after that, but I liked it.

Still one of my favourite selfies ever. 

I retired this helmet when I bought a new blue one in 2014 but it has taken me until this long to finally throw it away. I did consider recycling it but I'd live in horror of it going to a charity shop and being used as a new helmet by someone who subsequently got a head injury. Yes, I've definitely overthought it. 

The sad helmet buying episode did have a happy ending, by the way, because I went back to the boot shop the next day and was sold a pair of ski boots by a slightly creepy man from Folkestone. He kept jumping up and down. 'I've got a hole in my boxers and every time I do that my willy swings right out of them,' he explained. Erm...not really OK, but OK. 

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Tuesday Ten

Ten things I'd like for Christmas

1. More silk scarves. Now I'm experimenting with using them in my hair, a la Frida Kahlo, I'd like to have more variety. I quite like this one from Aspinall of London.

2. A new Fitbit. My old Fitbit died some time ago and I didn't replace it; but now I am trying to do more exercise I would quite like a new one. I fancy a Charge 3 in grey and rose gold.

3. Placemats. We don't have any place settings and now we're trying to eat at the table more regularly, the requirement for them has been noted. I'm kicking myself for not getting some lovely woven specimens in Peru last year.

4. The new Penguin biography of Henry VII. I can't remember when it's going to be published but I am tired of waiting now.

5. A PA. I have (whisper it quietly) asked my PGCE student to do a bit of photocopying for me now and again. Nothing major, just a few here and there, and only when he's asked if he can do anything to help. It would be life changing to have somebody do all that for me all the time. Just a few hours a week.

6. Chase Bramley Apple and Rhubarb gin. It's delightful. I tried some last month and I asked Mother Hand to treat me to it for Christmas, which she informed me yesterday, she has. Better get on with drinking up some of the other gin I've got.

7. More hooped earrings. I can't get enough of hooped earrings this year. I'd like some that don't go green by the 6th month of wear, though.

8. Speaking of jewellery, some more from Tatty Devine. I always receive compliments when I wear it. I am tempted by these earrings and this bunting necklace.

9. This set of glasses that builds up to look like a cactus. Functional and pretty - my favourite combination.

10. The newest Shardlake book. I usually get them for my Kindle but I fancy this one in real print, so I can savour it slowly and also give my students readings from it when we do Kett's Rebellion. I think it is set in the time of Kett, anyway.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Adventures in Beeswax Wrap Making

I love the idea of reusable clingfilm. When my colleague Naomi's birthday was coming up, I decided I would give making some a go - she is a big fan of the bees and I knew she'd appreciate it. Unfortunately her birthday was last month, but, well...nevermind.

I searched around on the internet and decided to give this method a go. It uses jojoba oil and pine rosin as well as beeswax, to make the finished article a little sticky so that it stays put when you wrap it over a bowl. I bought beeswax chips, jojoba oil and a bag of broken up pine rosin from Amazon, thinking I would just grind the pine rosin up as necessary, since the powdered stuff only came in much smaller quantities.

My first attempts were not all that good. It worked, but not as well as I'd hoped. As many of the commenters complained, the pine rosin didn't melt properly and the finished product was patchy and looked weird. We've been using them, but they're probably not fit for giving away.

I tried a different method on Sunday and I think I might have nailed it. Further reading on the topic suggested that pine rosin melts at a higher temperature than the wax, so I put equal parts wax and pine rosin in an old can and put it in the oven until it was melted - it went in at 180 degrees because my lunchtime chicken was cooking in there, which was probably too high, but I checked it often. Then, I brushed it all over my fabric. Once this was done, I put the fabric in the oven for the wax mixture to remelt and soak all the way through. I cut fabric much bigger than my oven this time, so I had to quarter the fabric to fit it in - but I unfolded it as soon as I got it out of the oven and it worked OK.

This was still leaving me with a very saturated sheet of fabric, though, so on my final try I adjusted again. This time, I cut two squares of fabric the same. I painted one (probably a bit less thoroughly than the others as I had almost run out of wax mixture) and put it in the oven; when I got it out, I immediately laid it onto the untreated piece of fabric, which soaked up all the excess. Et voila - a perfectly impregnated wrap.

I think I will try this method again next time I have a bit of time and inclination to have another go.

Blue Monday

Throwing all the way back to 2006 for this one, taken in Venice on our honeymoon.

We had one day in Venice. It was nice and sunny when we left but we did have a fair amount of torrential rain to deal with earlier in the day.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Weekend WIP

I'm getting quite close to finishing my oldest WIP.

I was very lucky, yesterday, that Deb forgot to bring her knitting to group, because she did the sewing up for me, and while she was sewing up I finished the first sleeve, so she set that in for me too. I finished the second sleeve this evening, which just leaves that and the button band to do. The button band is supposed to be done in the fun fur, but I can just envisage it all getting caught in a baby's mouth, so after much knitting group discussion, I will probably knit the button band in red, add poppers and then stitch fun fur bobbles over the top of the poppers. I could crochet (steady) along the edge but, again, yarn in mouth...

We'll see. I think the button band is going to have to be quite wide because the fronts seem quite far apart, so I might end up adding some of the fun fur just to get it to grow.

The finish has been so quick that it's left me very embarrassed that it's been on the needles for over 12 years. These days I'd knit it in the round and it would be done in a couple of evenings.

Sunday Selfie

A video selfie this week - Angela, the previous ski trip leader, and me, drinking Aperol Spritz at Naomi's party last night.

Strictly: My Dance of the Night

It is getting tougher and tougher to choose. I enjoyed them all this weekend; I think I would have sent Joe home but only because I didn't like the way they adapted the song from Joseph, which isn't really fair. I was gutted that Charles went out (sorry, spoiler) and thought it was quite unfair because everybody knows the rumba is the curse of the male celeb, so giving him that in the quarter final seemed a bit vicious. I thought he did a stellar job, and even better in the dance off.

But the night did belong to Faye and Giovanni. And their goats, of course. Whoever was doing the one on the right got the string tangled up. 'I thought the goats were very good,' intoned Craig. 'You were quite good too, darling.'

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Weeknote: 1/12

I think I might actually finish the baby Santa jacket, my oldest WIP. I have been knitting the first sleeve all week and finished it today. Just the second sleeve to go. It is thrilling to get something so old finished. I am inspired to go back to my WIPs and finish them off, one by one - but we've been here before.

Going to:
I've had a couple of work meetings after school this week so have hit a couple of new-to-me places in the vicinity of Clifton. Firstly, Bakesmith's, which occupies the site of a restaurant I went to once for a leaving do when I was an NQT, and we accidentally ran out on the bill. We'd all paid a deposit and the bill they brought us was only for the extras, so we assumed the leaver had paid the balance. But, no. My friend Cath and I had a horribly guilty moment in the loo of the next place we went, but were too poor to go back and cover it.

Anyway, I digress. Bakesmith does a delicious turmeric milk for those of us that are embarrassingly sensitive to caffeine, and I also had a cherry and salted caramel Chelsea bun which certainly put a spring in my step. The other place we went for work purposes was the Alma Tavern, which do recommendable cheesy chips and didn't seem to mind us sharing two portions while we read top scoring A-level essays to see why they were so good.

I've also been to the ballet this week. The English National Ballet is back in Bristol with Swan Lake, so off I went with Parpy Jo. I really love the ENB because it comes with a full orchestra. Of course, I was disappointed not to be tapped up to dance the part of Odette after my beginner's ballet course, but I can't quite manage 32 fouettes yet so it was probably for the best. I did come home and watch this video about that move though, which I found quite interesting.

Tonight I've been to a Christmas nibbles party at my friend Naomi's. Very enjoyable.

Entertained by:
I haven't seen much on TV this week, but I did enjoy the ballet, obvs, and I have been enjoying listening to this song by Sigrid. She reminds of Le Roux, or Little Boots. I don't know why I like it so much, but I especially like the bit in the video when they are under sheets with fluorescent tubes. Utterly weird.

I'm continuing to read Outcasts of Time. They're into the 16th century now.

I've been in a TERRIBLE mood for most of the week and I've had a day of feeling a bit icky about having to build bridges with people that I was terse with at school. On my way home from work last night, I turned into my road to see a large van parked in the middle of it. This isn't uncommon, but he didn't move. After a while I got out of my car to ask if he was leaving. He suggested I park my car on the street until he'd finished. He used the phrase, 'If you'll let me finish...'
I don't think he will be using that phrase on anybody else in a hurry. Suffice to say, he moved very shortly after that.
Luckily I had a good long sleep last night so I am in a better mood today. Twelve school days left and one of those is a trip, and another a day at the uni. I can do this.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Fave Friday

The new sofas are finally here!

Mother Hand bought me a gorgeous Habitat sofa bed for my birthday at some point in my mid-teens. It was dusky red, gorgeously soft and ultra squishy. I couldn't take it with me when I moved out and it sadly ended up rotting in an alley near a place Sib was renting.

Other than that tragic story, I've never had a brand new sofa that I've chosen before, and now we've got two! We bought our house from a slightly tragic man who had just split with his partner of 20 years, and he sold us essentially all the furniture for £1k. The old three piece suite came along with that. It was nearly new but that was 17 years ago and it was cream so, yeah. It was time that it went, though I did feel a big twinge of sadness when I came home last night to a big empty space.

These are very lovely though. I was a bit worried that the generic beige we'd gone for wouldn't turn out to be very nice, since they only had a small sample square, but it works really well with the rest of the room. They've got electric footrests and they recline. The only problem is working out how to get them next to each other without the recliners clashing. Nicer problems to have.

It also means I've been able to finally break out the little stash of cushion covers I've been collecting on various holidays. The florals are from Singapore Botanic Garden. The Bayeux Tapestry is from....well, Bayeux, right? Or it might have been Mont St Michel - somewhere in that vicinity. The weird bird in Tudor dress (Gondran, apparently) is from Carcassone. Those last two are both by the same French designer, Jules Pansu, and I considered them to be over-priced when I bought them (but I was on holiday so, meh) but now I see the Conrad Shop sells them for more than double what I paid, which makes me feel better.


Thursday, 29 November 2018

Throwback Thursday

Mr Z came across this picture today.

Taken circa 2001, at Loseley House in Surrey, taken by Mother Hand with my very first digital camera, so thankfully there is not significant amount of detail.

I've still got that T-shirt and I wear it to the gym. I loved that skirt, from Lipsy - I bought it with my staff discount at Fenwick. I think it might still be lurking in my house because it has good memories attached to it so I thought I'd make it into a cushion or something.

I've still got that man, too.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018


I can't believe I missed a day in November - and I had a post ready to go, too. I could backdate it but I can't lie to myself like that. I have reasons though, and one of them is amusing. Firstly, I was at the ballet and I didn't get home until after 11 last night. Secondly, when I sat down at the computer to post my pre-written blog post (it's about beeswax wraps, you're going to love it), I found an email from Hermes informing me that my parcel (new Boden, mmmm) had been successfully delivered.

I checked with Mr Z. No parcel that he knew of.

I checked the online tracking and found this.

Hmm, the plot thickens.

We don't have anything that I think you could call an outbuilding. We've got a garage, but it has a padlock on it. We've got a porch, in that there is a little roof over the doorstep, but it's not a building. People quite often leave parcels there because we live at the end of a sleep cul-de-sac and we cultivate a thick front garden for the sake of our privacy, so it's hardly out in the open. But Mr Z had not picked anything up, and I hadn't seen anything, and the green box had been on the street most of the day because it's bin day.

Ah! Here! This should help. Apparently, the delivery driver has left a photograph of the location of the parcel, to prove its delivery.

This deserves something of a reveal. I can sense you're tense with anticipation at this amazing photograph that will clear everything up. I'm going to add some tense spacing so you will need to scroll down to see the picture.



I just didn't know what to say. I was so speechless, I totally forgot about my blog. I think you understand. 

When we went and looked the parcel was on top of the green box, soaked, though the insides were fine because it was double wrapped in plastic. The weird thing is, the green box had been on the road until about 6pm, according to Mr Z, when he came home and brought it in. So...yeah. 

Well done Hermes. Sterling work. 

Monday, 26 November 2018

Blue Monday

Harking back to last autumn, when Mr Z and I went tramping around Mt Charleston on our last trip to Vegas.

This place is on my mind at the moment, as we prepare for our next trip to Vegas, coming up very soon. I'm going to go skiing on Mt Charleston this time, very exciting - my first skiing outside of Europe. Mr Z has NOT SAID NO to snowboarding lessons either, which is huge progress.

Hopefully we'll have some lovely bluebird days like this one (and some snow).

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Sunday Selfie

Since I'm feeling all festive - here's the selfie I took of myself in a Santa hat when I gave my year 13s some extra time for a coursework task two weeks ago.

One month to go! I can't remember the last time I was this excited about Christmas.

Weekend FO

Mother Hand's Christmas Hat

Pattern: Ysolda Teague's Gretel - well, the first part was, anyway
Yarn: Noro Cash Iroha, a bit less than one skein
Needle: 3.75mm and 4.5mm
Mods: I hadn't intended to make any. Then I did the next cable row after the first set of crown decreases and realised I was 30 stitches short of where I should be. I cannot for the life of me figure out where I went wrong. So, faced with the prospect of ripping back a week's worth of knitting or carrying on but making it up as I went along, OF COURSE I opted for the latter. Hence this is a purple beanie, not a purple beret.

I did ask Mother Hand if she wanted a beret, to which she replied, 'That would be nice for a change.' The last two hats I have knitted for her have been slouchy berets, but for some reason she always folds the ribbing back and pulls them right down. So, it did not surprise me too much that she did not consider my previous efforts to be berets. This one is just a close-fitting beanie. I might put a pom pom on it yet.

I think it would suit a pom pom. 

Weeknote: 24/11

Mother Hand's Christmas hat. It didn't quite go according to plan, but I cast off today and I think it will work OK. More on that tomorrow.

I was browsing and came across a very old plan I had to knit a t-shirt out of bamboo, so I am thinking of starting that next...or the baby Santa jacket for my colleague...we'll see. Probably the latter because it will be easier to just pick up and knit.

Going to:
There hasn't been a lot of 'going to' this week. It's been a quiet one and I've spent a lot of time watching bad TV. I have enjoyed it a lot.

The only break with that was on Thursday, when I went to Bath Christmas markets - see yesterday's blog post about that. It felt very Christmassy on Thursday morning when my car was fully iced and I was delighted to be getting the bus in so I could avoid scraping it. Then after our browse, we had a Thai dinner at Thaikuhn, which does delicious food.

Other than that though - a lazy week. Today I did not leave the house. Bliss.

Entertained by:
Mr Z and I watched all four episodes of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix today and were both inspired. It's a very enjoyable cooking show and I'm hoping for a god at that crispy Iranian rice dish sometime soon. I remember, when I was a teen, having friends from Iran and Iraq - Shara and Neem. Shara had us round once for dinner and made that rice dish. It was epic.

I'm enjoying reading Outcasts in Time that I started last week. Our anti-heroes are currently in the 15th century and wondering why everybody thinks their clothes are so weird. I'm looking forward to when they end up in the 18th century.

FESTIVE! Well-relaxed, too. Bring on the Christmas party season.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Strictly: My Dance of the Night

This week the dance of the week crown must go to Stacey and Kevin, who managed to camp up the paso to such a degree I almost laughed. Particular favourite bits include the 'talk to the hand' and when Kevin plays with her skirt. I saw that they struggled with this one in training so I wondered if the choreographer made it deliberately just on the edge of a parody to make it more palatable. I do love a good paso to a really traditional track, it must be said,

However, I cannot let this week pass without also mentioning the fantastic effort of the live band covering House of Pain's 'Jump Around' - a song integral so to my youth, we had a dance to it. It's all samples in the original (as far as I can tell) so trying to score it for live playing must have been a nightmare; though a little research tells me the squeal played at the start of each bar is actually a tenor sax and not some scratch of a record, so it was probably a little easier than I thought. I wasn't an enormous fan of the dance (high energy, though - good job) but hat's off to the band.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Fave Friday

It's time for the sheds.

You may remember from previous years that it has become a tradition to hit the famous Bath Christmas Markets on opening night. My old workplace still has a training day on the following day so I met up with friend Caroline and Vikki for the usual shed-browsing, mulled-wine drinking experience. 

Certain traditions must be observed. 

1. Cheese must be purchased from the Welsh cheesemakers who sell their cheese in small truckles covered in different colours of wax. This year I bought two pickled onion, one chilli and one fig and honey. 

2. Puddings must be purchased from Georgie Porgie's. They're the best Christmas puddings ever. I was overjoyed when Mr Z discovered one in a plastic bag behind the fridge in the summer. Christmas pudding in the summer is a win. The stall always have lots of free samples, too. I bought a couple of chocolate, orange and Bailey's and an apple and cider. 

3. Gin must be sampled, and sometimes wine and other spirits too. Last night I sampled the new Bath Gin orange sloe. It was very good, so I bought a medium bottle. While I was there, a girl came over to ask for a sample. She definitely seemed underage to me but the chap handing out samples gave her one of the rhubarb and started explaining about the brand. She necked it, nearly choked, looked horrified and literally ran off in the middle of his spiel to her mirth-filled friends waiting on the corner. Ahh, her first neat gin: I was glad I could be there to witness it. I could have told her that drinking it neat gets easier with practice.

4. Mulled wine must be purchased from the place where they ring the bell outside and provide a free mince pie. This year they'd upped their game by offering a shot of brandy for an extra £2. 

5. Something with a robin on it must be purchased. 

My obsession with robins remains healthy. Last year I bought a smaller version of this, which is by Robyn Coetzee Glass. She does some amazing other birds, too. I want to buy them all but they are ...well, I'd say they are fairly priced for the effort that has gone into them. Luckily, when I was looking up the name of the stall for this blog, I discovered that she mainly sells her stuff from a shop that is approximately 10 minutes' walk from school. I foresee a lot of glass birds in our future. 

Christmas can begin now. I'm feeling festive. I was so demob happy at school today that I found myself thinking, oh I can't fit that in with y13 because it's basically the end of term. Still nearly four weeks to go, though. 

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Scenes from the Classroom #37

There's a lot of chat at the moment about how strict teachers should be with students.

My general rule of thumb is, strict. I like my own way. My classroom is my kingdom. Lessons are short and should be all about learning. I also like to think I can spot a fake illness at 40 paces, with 95% accuracy. They usually occur when a challenging task has been set or when there is a bigger issue going on outside of the lesson.

This week with Y7...

A: *high pitched mumble*
Me: Pardon?
A: *squeak squeak* really sick *squeak* [pained expression]
Me: Sorry, what?
A: I feel really sick can I go
Me: Oh, I'm sorry you feel sick. Have you got a drink in your bag?
A: Yes but I feel really sick
Me: OK, well, just sit back down and have a drink, and lay your head on your arms and have a rest and we'll see how you feel in a bit
[Long pause, during which nothing happens]
A: But I feel really sick. Can I go to First Aid?
(Note: if they really feel sick, they always ask to go to the toilets)
Me: The nurse isn't in until period 2
A: But they will let me sit in First Aid
Me: First Aid is for emergencies in lesson time. I'm sorry, but we were reminded about this in our staff briefing this week so I can't let you go. Why don't you try having drinks?
A: I feel sick though
Me: Yes, I know, try having a drink and just resting for a bit. I won't make you do any work...
A: Mrs F said I could go to her in the library if I ever feel bad can I go to the library? (spoken like this, with no apparent punctuation)
Me: I'm afraid not, because Mrs F isn't in until period 2 either
A: [stares, with tears creeping out of her eyes]
Me: Just try sitting down for a bit quietly with your drink
A: [stares some more]
Me: A, just pop yourself down and get your drink out and we'll see how you feel in 5 minutes
A: But...
[Another long pause]
Me: Just settle yourself down on that chair, A
A: But....I don't want to

THERE it is.

And then when I followed up later in the day, it turns out she's having some issues with her friendship group.

I feel the need to justify myself now: don't think me heartless. There's just a lot of time wasting that could go on in schools if you let it.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Scenes from the Classroom #36

When I walked into my classroom after lunch today, one of my year 10s was sitting opening and closing her mouth in a fishlike manner and her friends were suggesting she hold her breath. Assuming she had hiccoughs, I shouted BOO! in her face as I went past. She screamed and then burst out laughing. I burst out laughing. The rest of the class also burst out laughing. There was much merriment.

'Did I cure your hiccoughs?' I asked, a minute later.

'Oh no Miss, I didn't have hiccoughs! They were just trying to teach me how to roll my Rs....'

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Travel Tuesday

When Mr Z and I went to Italy in the summer, probably the best thing we did was take a cooking class. I felt very fortunate to land a place as I only emailed about a week beforehand, thanks to the craziness of my summer schedule, but luckily we managed to bag some places alongside a Canadian-Italian couple who clearly didn't need any help.

Neither did Mr Z as it turned out, because he spends a lot of time watching videos of nonnas cooking on YouTube. Who knew?

It was a very relaxed evening that began by meeting Gianna and then taking a trip to the local food market, to shop for the freshest and best ingredients with which to make our dinner.

We stopped on the way back to her kitchen for a little coffee with almond milk, which is a Leccese speciality. It's not really almond milk: it's almond syrup. I approve. 

Once we got into the kitchen we started cooking a feast. It began with making some focaccia, which involved grating a small boiled potato in with the flour and and yeast. I got to press the dough into the dish when it had risen. That was a lot of oil. No wonder it tasted so good. 

With some caramelised onions and my favourite buratta cheese. 

After that we were taught to make pasta. We made a couple of different kinds, including the local orechiette, which are meant to look like ears, and little tubes. What was leftover, we made into spaghetti. 

It was quite hot in there. 

We made a fresh tomato sauce to go with the pasta, which involved squeezing the tomatoes underwater to get rid of all the seeds - a good tip. We also wrapped chicken thighs around sun dried tomatoes and then rolled them in good bacon, and made another meat dish that I have already forgotten about...clearly I didn't take enough pictures...and Gianna made a panacotta for us to enjoy afterwards with her three home-created spirits.

These were limoncello, rhubarb and the third? I forget. They were quite strong. 

It was an excellent experience that came with plenty of wine and I really enjoyed spending some time cooking with assistance, as well as chatting to the nice couple who was there with us. Gianna had good English but her daughter, though heavily pregnant, stayed the whole time to act as translator when needed. I can definitely recommend going along to one of these sessions if you ever go to Lecce. In fact, I might go again if (when) we return to southern Italy - I'm thinking next May half term. Already queuing up next summer's holidays. 

Monday, 19 November 2018

Blue Monday

A throwback to my last big adventure.

This was the train that transported us from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, or 'Machu Picchu town' as it is otherwise known. It was a comfy tourist train with windows in the ceiling and a friendly snack trolley. And look hoe blue it was! Almost as if it was meant to be.

I'm having fond memories of my trip there this evening and wishing I could go back again, though there's not much to warrant a second visit. I guess it was just nice to explore and see new things.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Sunday Selfie

I looked back through my phone for the week and my only selfie is a very bad one I tried to take with the Six queens in the background (they actively encourage this) so I am sharing this one of me and Mother Hand at the Vyne, which we visited in half term.

Happy new week, everyone!

Weekend WIP

I finally cast on the purple hat Mother Hand has requested for Christmas. I'm using Ysolda Teague's Gretel pattern, which I discovered in my library but have never knitted - I must have bought it years ago and then never cast on.

The yarn is Noro Cash Iroha, which I bought from my knitting group friend Emma's stash some years ago. I think I've used all the other stuff I bought so it is high time this was made up and loved. It's a soft blend of silk, cashmere goat and wool, with a bit of nylon in there. It's been quite nice to knit with so far and has a good sheen, which is good because this purple is daaaaaark and it could do with a bit of shine.

Ysolda offers three options for this beret - fitted, regular and slouchy. I think I might go for fitted, purely because every time I make Mother Hand a hat she seems to try to wear it like a beanie, even though I always knit it as a beret. At least this way it might work both ways.

Weeknote: 17/10

I did eventually pull out the purple yarn this week and cast on for Mother Hand's hat. The yarn came out midweek but the casting on didn't happen until this morning. I was annoyed that I didn't have anything to knit all week, but not annoyed enough to go to the trouble of doing the long-tailed tubular cast on (which in the end I didn't do anyway).

It's been a while since I knitted a hat and I am pleasantly surprised with how quickly it is going.

Going to:
I went to an exercise class at the leisure centre on Sunday, for the first time this year. I am ashamed to say I pay a monthly fee for the leisure centre and have not been since New Year's Eve last year. That means that exercise class cost me £350. I am booked to go again tomorrow though, so I will get a bit more of my money's worth, particularly if I can keep up my attendance. I hadn't realised my nearest centre, Longwell Green, was offering Les Mills classes and I quite like those, formulaic though they are, because you always know what you're getting.

I did some training for some primary colleagues on Tuesday which was fun and interesting - they face such different challenges, I think, that's it's always a pleasure to chat to them.

On Wednesday I went to a Henry VIII lecture by Tracy Borman. It was very entertaining. I went beforehand to ask her to sign my book (Private Lives of the Tudors, I recommend) and she was very lovely. She asked if I was studying History and, when I told her I was a teacher, she had the grace to pretend I looked young enough to be a student. Thus I adore her and will be buying all her books.
In the questions at the end, one man asked about the rumour that Henry VIII was syphilitic. He turned out to be something of an expert on the topic and gave us all his evidence to support this theory. Fascinating, but also made me think of what I often say to my A-level students - never underestimate what old white men are willing to argue about. Tbf he wasn't that old but I think my point stands.

On Friday I went to a Japanese-themed birthday party for my ex-colleague Xannah. I was caught short for an outfit so I went on Parpy Jo's suggestion and wore a tabard covered in sarcastic comments - 'a bottle of saki'. The first person to ask, when I said, 'I'm saki!', replied, 'Who's that?' so I don't think I can claim this as an unmitigated success, but it was OK.

On Saturday, after knitting group, I went to Southampton with my friend V to see Six again, and then had dinner with my old colleague and friend Paul and his not-so-new boyfriend, who I hadn't previously met. Six was as excellent as it was the first time round and I am already plotting a return to London in 2019, when it goes back to the Arts Theatre. It was great to see it with V, a fellow historian, so that we could discuss how clever and spot on it all was.

A busy week! I am getting my life back.

Entertained by:
Six, obviously.

I have picked up a fiction book I bought last year, Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer. It's good so far. It's about two brothers living through the 1348 plague - I haven't got any further than that yet.

I've been watching the Little Drummer Girl on the beeb (they are killing it for drama this year) but finding it quite hard to follow. Still, the late 70s vibe is very good visually. I want all their coats.

Quite enthused, really. Christmas is in sight. I've got a week at school with no interruptions next week, for only the third time this academic year. There are some other fun events coming up over the next month that I'm looking forward to, and minimal additional work, for once. The new sofas are being delivered at the end of next week and the new curtains will follow shortly after, and then we can put the Christmas tree up and really enjoy the space. Hurrah, hurrah.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Strictly: My Dance of the Night

CONTROVERSY this week, as I go for the pro dance. I absolutely adored Gloria Estefan as a kid and had her greatest hits album, a fact I had actually forgotten until I saw this number (all my albums got stolen when Mother Hand moved house, in the days before digital music was really a thing, so I have only replaced what I've remembered...hence the gap which I shall be addressing shortly).

Truthfully, this pro dance gets me out of a hole as no way could I even narrow it down to two this week. I can't remember a season I have enjoyed as much as this one. Stacey's salsa, Fay's paso doble, Joe's quickstep, Ashley's jive and Charles's samba - all joint top for me. Graeme's sheer pleasure in dancing the jazz theatre was also delightful to watch. And Kate and Lauren came a very close third to all of this. Impossible to choose.

The final is going to be incredible.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Fave Friday

I love a good history T-shirt. Here are two that have come my way this year.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Autumnal Caramels

I am a big lover of a baking blog though I rarely make things from them. Sometimes a recipe pops up that I'm keen for though, and this is what happened last week when I came across Bourbon Maple Pumpkin Seed Caramels on the Sprinklebakes blog. They were duly made at the weekend and have kept us going on a sugar rush all week.

I adjusted the recipe a little from the original; I subbed in golden syrup for corn syrup because, yknow, Britain; I roasted and salted my own pumpkin seeds (worked fine); and when it came to the bourbon, I added some kind of blend of Jim Beam and apple sours that Asda had available. I'm not a whiskey drinker and trawled through pages of whiskeys in the Asda online store; they were mostly scotches which Mr Z tells me is categorically not the same. The few available bourbons were expensive for something I expected to bung in a caramel and never drink. This was the very last available item on the scroll, but it has done its job well. There's a slight alcoholic kick and a slight taste of apple which is just perfect with the rest of the flavours. Although Heather is a dyed-in-the-wool southerner and might well be horrified at the idea of adulterating good bourbon with some fru-fru liqueur knocked back by barely legal drinkers on the sesh, I like to think she would enjoy the apple flavour.

225g unsalted butter
400g caster sugar
225g light brown sugar (I had to add in a bit of dark to make the weight up)
240ml golden syrup
170g can evaporated milk
400ml double cream
120ml pure maple syrup
120ml apple bourbon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
300g pumpkin seeds

Spread the pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt (you'll know how salty you like it. I'm quite salty myself so I added a big pinch). Roast at 180 degrees for about 10 minutes - keep a close ear on them, they will be popping and ticking when they're hot. They keep on popping and ticking for a while after they come out, too. Cute.

Put everything except the booze, salt and seeds into a saucepan. Heat gently with lots of stirring until it all dissolves together in one big sinful, diabetes-inducing mass. Put in a sugar thermometer at this point, when it's still coolish.

Bring to the boil and boil until the thermometer gets to 120 degrees C. It took about 25 minutes. It doesn't need stirring as long as your temperature isn't too high. The caramel will probably have reduced by about a quarter and be much darker. I heated mine until it hit temp but really I should have kept it at that temp for a few minutes, I think - mine hold their shape in the wrappers but they're very sticky unless they're straight out of the fridge.

Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and the whiskey. Be prepared for a lot of heavy bubbling.

Pour into a lined rectangular tray and sprinkle the pumpkin seeds over straight away. Refrigerate when cool enough. When you're satisfied with the set, turn them out and cut into pieces, wrapping each one in greaseproof.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

More spare cats

After introducing you to Spare Cat yesterday, this post popped up on Twitter today and I thought it timely.

Japanese guard is very gentle when keeping stray cats out of a museum

I love this. It seems the museum held a cat exhibition in 2016 and the cats have been trying to get in since them. More videos and information in this news article.

I hope when I'm reincarnated I come back as a cat. I feel we already share a lot of traits. I love sleeping, ignoring instructions and doing exactly as I damn well please too.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Spare cat

There has been a mitten-shaped hole Chez Z since her demise in January. Both of us have moments when we see her ghosting around the house and last week I thought I'd trodden on her. Weird.

Luckily this monster has been heroically trying to fill that hole.

Introducing Spare Cat.

He's been around for a while. He used to be an acquaintance of Mitten's. He'd come round in the evenings and they'd sit either side of the French window, chirruping at each other. Then she'd go outside and hiss and wave a paw in his face, and he'd slink off a little way. It was kind of cute. 

When Mitten died, we didn't see him for some months, and when he came back he had a shaved back leg and a pronounced limp. He pops round every so often (probably because we feed him) but he is a nice cat to have around. He goes quite nicely with the floor, for one thing. For another, he really loves being fussed, which is a nice treat.

Last week did mark a new level of bold, though. If we ignore him, he sits on the rocking chair in the back garden, and when you go near the back window, he rocks it. Such a character.  

It is nice to have a cat around again.