Friday 29 December 2023

2023 Round up: Reads

A slightly better year for reading, this year. I continue to go to the library and browse, which helps with picking out books I like the look of, rather than just going on recommendations or books by authors I've previously read. As you'll see, though, I do have some authors that I return to. I've particularly enjoyed the work of Claire North and Karen Maitland this year. Maitland's books set in the middle ages are intensely creepy and don't seem to ever have a happy ending, which I curiously enjoy. 

Ian Rankin - Exit Music

Hafsa Zayyan - We are all Birds of Uganda

Laura Shepherd Robinson - Sugar in the Blood

Sarah Winman - A Year of Marvellous Ways

K J Maitland - Traitor in the Ice

Phillippa Gregory - Dark Tides

Claire North - Ithaca (highly recommended. Some absolutely killer lines)

Kate Grenville - The Secret River

C J Carey - Queen High (it turned out this was a sequel, which explained a lot when I realised) 

Karen Maitland - The Gallows Curse

Claire North - The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (AMAZING...I thought she couldn't have beaten Ithaca but this was probably my read of the year)

Phillippa Gregory - Dawnlands

Gavin McCrea - The Sisters Mao (unfinished - I didn't really rate it)

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi - The First Woman

Alan Garner - The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (reverting back to easy reads as we slid into December)

Claire North - The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (I read this a second time, see above)

Karen Maitland - A Gathering of Ghosts

Candice Carty-Williams - Queenie (not what I was expecting or I wouldn't have started it. It wasn't bad. It's just that I am a bit over beach-read stories of women in their 20s)

Finishing up the year with The Winter Spirits - Ghostly Tales for Frosty Nights, a collection of short ghost stories by various authors. I was weak in Waterstones and bought this on a whim but it's perfect bedtime reading for December. 

Non-fiction - exclusively on audiobook this year as Mr Z installed a new stereo in my old car and so I can link my phone to it now. I can get through an average audiobook in about two weeks. 

Dipo Faloyin - Africa is not a Country - this was my first listen of the year so I don't remember it too well, but - as with Brit-ish and Natives last year - it was helpful in presenting another perspective on world history, particularly as I continue to teach about the early British Empire. 

Kit Malthouse - The Maths of Life and Death - interesting but didn't catch my attention, this one took a long time to get through.

Peter Frankopan - The Earth Transformed (unfinished) - this is 30 hours long and I didn't get past the ancient bits. Frankopan narrates and it made me chuckle that he can't pronounce some of the long words he loves to use. 

Jessica Hill - See What You Made Me Do - I loved this but it was a really tough listen. Made even better by the fact that Hill narrates it and sometimes is near tears with the stories she's having to tell. Most interesting was the case study of the town in America that started using public shaming (with support) to cut domestic violence rates. 

Patrick Radden Keefe - Say Nothing - about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It was OK, some interesting historical points, such as how the IRA saw themselves as very leftie. Coming off the back of the previous listen, it was interesting to consider how much was leftie freedom-fighting and how much was toxic masculinity, in a country where half the male population were subjugated. Not read by the author and, imo, suffered for it - the reader clearly hadn't read the book ahead of time, there were weird pauses where he was obvs turning the page and hadn't prepared to do it, emphasis was wrong in places. 

Johann Hari - Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention - ironically I listened to most of this while stuck in a three-hour traffic jam trying to get to Portsmouth. I didn't think there would be much to know but, as it turns out, it's all a bit creepier than I realised, what with the invention of infinite scroll. I already tightly control the notifications my phone is allowed to give me but this made me want to get hold of that 'How to break up with your phone' book, or at least uninstall some social media for 2024. 

Thomas Halliday - Otherlands - what a gorgeous book. I loved it. Each chapter is set in a different age of the world and written as a narrative description of what you might expect to see. I particularly liked the story of how the eastern Mediterranean refilled; the comment that everywhere, always, life builds on previous life; the explanation of how volcanic gases can smother a lake and kill everything in it; and the stories about how the world is changing through climate change - less coral but more glass sponges. I might buy this in hard copy to keep as there was so much I didn't know. 

Friday 3 November 2023

Fave Friday

Five favourite moments of half term

1. Level 42 concert

I booked these tickets for Mother Hand last Christmas. It took place in the King's Theatre, a place I've seen pantos and Rocky Horror, and where I danced on stage with the dance school I attended as a child. I was unfortunately late due to a closure on the M4, meaning my journey took five hours (eugh) but luckily arrived while The Christians were still palying.

It was an odd place to see a gig. It was Mark King's 65th birthday. Someone with a walking stick was dancing at the front. But, it was really very enjoyable. Just nice to see people that have worked together for ages, getting up there and having loads of fun and doing what they love.

I'm not really one for taking pictures at things like this, they never look any good, but here's one for the memory.

I think this was my favourite song of the night. 'Southsea, there's something about you!'

2. Bikram

There's a studio in Southsea that still runs a Bikram-style hot yoga class so I went on Sunday morning. I was gratified that I didn't feel overheated, though I did have to take a drink partway through and the sequence was a little jumbled from what I remembered. I also realised I was quite physically broken, either from the long term or from, yknow, being middle-aged and fairly sedentary. I ached for three days. 

I really must get back to doing it more regularly.

On the way home I went into Bread Addiction, clearly one of Portsmouth's best bakeries as there are always people queuing outside. I felt no guilt in buying one each of their danishes, which I ate joyfully over the following 24 hours, still feeling virtuous from the yoga. 

3. Niece/nephew time

On Wednesday, I drove to London to stay with the fam before flying to Stockholm on Thursday. My niece continues to be extremely funny and good company; my nephew continues to grow. We went to the park and played on the swings. 

4. Stockholm

Zoe and I flew to Stockholm for three nights to go to see Madonna in concert. It was cold but what a lovely place! Full of beautiful trees, nice people, cardamom buns, watery places, interesting museums and general relaxation. We went to the hotel spa; I bought some new boots (noteworthy because I have been trying to find boots I like for a year); we went to the Abba museum which included an audition booth experience and a silent disco; we went to the Vasa museum - that is one enormous boat, I would happily go back and stare at it all day, strong Mary Rose vibe; we went to Halloween at a theme park; we ate meatballs and fish sandwiches and slept in and walked around. A very enjoyable break.

5. Madonna concert

Obvs Madge had to have her own spot. The second 65-year-old artist I saw in concert in half term. Just, wow. I hope I am that energetic and fabulous when I reach the age of the free bus pass. 

The theme was her life, so there were lots of dancers dressed as Madonna from bygone eras that she performed with. I liked the bit where a dancer was pretending to be Madonna pretending to masturbate on a bed, as a throwback to the Blonde Ambition tour, but then Madonna went over to sit on the bed and the two of them spooned. A nice touch. 

My first stadium gig! A good one to choose. 

Friday 8 September 2023

Fave Friday

It is unseasonably hot. On Wednesday I wore the dress I wear when it is the hottest day - what a mistake that was. Yesterday I was akin to a swamp (and never been happier to have a quarry swim ticket for the evening, it was bliss). Today I had a lesson in a room with aircon and it was a definite high point. 

Naturally, now term has started everything else has stopped but I have been reflecting on times in my life I've been hotter than now so...

Five blazing hot moments

1. Death Valley. Probably the hottest place I've ever been, but reassuringly dry so it didn't feel too awful.

Probably already sunburned, just in the time it took to take the picture. 

2. Camping somewhere in Nevada. It was some kind of resort ghost town. I paid money to call and reserve a spot while we were on the road - ultimately, it was only us and one RV. Those campers knew something we didn't. It remains the only time we haven't put the flysheet over the tent and, when the sun rose and hit the tent netting at 6am, we were up and out. Never again. 

3. Hanoi. Everywhere in Vietnam was hot but this was next level. The sort of raging heat from the desert but backed up with humidity: sort of like leaning over a boiling pan but everywhere, all the time. We thought it was cute that everyone in Hanoi seemed to get up at 6am to work out in the park together, until we realised that was really the only comfortable time to be outside. I quickly made my peace with constant, running sweat. 

No picture can do it justice but I never wore these clothes for anything other than the gym; it was too hot for basically everything I took to wear, except the swimwear.

Bonus weird picture I found from my GoPro while I was looking through these holiday pictures. What a weirdo.

4. Malaysia. This was my first near-equator experience and, again, the humidity was almost unbearable. On the second school trip I took there, the staff were lodged in student flats, rather than the palatial, air-conditioned bungalow of the initial visit; it was a 5-minute walk from the main school and I required a shower before and after every one of those walks. Tough when it's a work thing and you have to look work-presentable. 

5. Corfu. This is a gappy memory for me; we went in the summer of my 10th birthday. Loving the water then as much as I do now, I spent the whole first day in the sea. I even went back in the sea after dinner. I didn't get sun burn, but I did get heatstroke. The only thing I remember about it, other than being very sick, was coming out of sleep with Mother Hand staring desperately into my face, shaking me and shouting, 'What is it? What is it?' in my face. Evidently I had been asleep with my eyes open and calling for her. This sounds terrifying even as a non-parent. 

Most of the ensuing holiday pictures from the trip feature me with a Corfu cap on. Mother Hand got bitten by a snake and we both got horribly travel sick during a trip to the mainland. I tried water-skiing and failed spectacularly to stand up. But other than that it was a fun trip. 

Friday 1 September 2023

Fave Friday

Five favourite back-to-school memories

In honour of the new term...

1. Buying the new school bag. Nanny Hand took me round many shops looking for the perfect item, some time towards the end of August, before I went into (I think) Year 9. I have a dim memory of some kind of half-covered precinct that was probably near where they lived in Redditch, and being my usual unbelievably picky teen self. In the end I picked some hideous canvas shoulder bag that was beige and had camels or some kind of Aztec print on it. Heavy 90s vibe. Mother Hand was suitably disappointed that I got something that was (a) so easily dirtied and (b) relatively impractical for carrying large amounts of school-related items with me. 

2. The smell of WHSmith. It is common for everybody to bang on about the stench of a Lush shop but I think all shops have their own scent and WHSmith is a particularly evocative one for me. What is it? Books, pens, cards, magazines. The smell of choosing a new pencil case, and wheedling for wholly impractical rubbers shaped like ice cream cones and wholly unnecessary highlighter pens. Towers of colourful lever arch files that I never needed because there were always second-hand ones available from Mother Hand's work and, anyway, who needs more than one lever arch folder when you're at school. Doing pocket money maths so you could sneak a CD single in and still afford everything you needed. 

3. On my first day of my first teaching job, I went to the toilets and put my heavily-loaded handbag on top of the cistern. As I turned away from it, it promptly upended directly into the toilet. The main casualties were my camera (I don't know why I felt this was an essential item for an inset day) which happily survived, and a whole tube of new gold and black striped pencils. I still have one of those pencils (naturally I washed it off) to remind me of this humbling experience. My main takeaway, on that nervous day, was that it couldn't get much worse. I was right. 

4. More bags (so many bags) - I fondly remember the time when I got the school bag right by buying a denim backpack from River Island. It was the best bag ever. It was a drawstring, flap over backpack but it had a full length zip down the side so you didn't have to faff. In my memory, it saw me all the way through sixth form, being toted around on one shoulder while I carried my lever arch file ostentatiously, on account of how I was so learned now, all my learning couldn't even fit in a bag. 

5. The weighing and measuring. A funny favourite memory this but it sticks with me and serves as a constant reminder that throwaway comments are not throwaway comments to teenagers. At the start of every new year, everyone in the class was weighed and measured in the first PE lesson. I cannot fathom what the school did with this information and, come to reflect on it, I wonder if they just did it for something to do in the first lesson of the year. Anyway, as a fat teenager this was mortifying for me and I had a horror about anybody seeing how much I weighed. The one I remember the most was going forward to the scale and (what has formed in my mind but is undoubtedly an exaggeration of the actual event) the entire popular clique craning forwards as I gingerly hovered, unwilling to step on. 

'Don't worry Sally,' chirped my ever-cheerful games teacher, 'the scales are probably wrong.'

Friday 23 June 2023

Fave Friday

Five favourite things about June

June is a funny month in my profession. On the one hand, the pressure at school has abated; the exam classes are gone so the timetable is lighter; planning can start for next year. On the other hand, as an examiner it's always rammed with too many tasks and not enough time to really enjoy the long days and the nice weather. I think that, if I ever retire from all of my jobs, June will be the month that feels most different - rivalled maybe by September, I guess. 

Here we are, almost to June payday and I feel I haven't appreciated it at all. It hasn't helped that it has been hot for almost the entire month (UK hot is like UK cold - it's not comparable with the temperatures experienced in other parts of the world but, like the cold is that special damp kind that gets in your bones, the heat is an oppressive, sticky blanket that isn't particularly enjoyable in long bursts...for me, anyway). 

So here's some appreciation.

1. The light. I fully admit to being one of the people that likes it when the clocks change in October and it's darker in the evenings but that's mostly down to just liking a change, I think. The longer daylight hours give me so much energy; I sleep less but I don't really notice it. 

2. The green. Nature is in full swing in June: it's past that slightly fetid new bloom phase of May and not yet onto that slightly scorched later summer look. The leaves look at their best to me in June. I wish we had no-mow June. There's a man who walks his Husky up the 'wood every morning around the time I drive to work: that husky flipping loved no-mow May. It was having a whale of a time bouncing around the small patch of grass near the bus stop, as though it was making world-changing discoveries with every sniff. When I saw it yesterday it looked considerably more subdued.

3. The anticipation. The school year is coming to a close. The tests are done, the data is in. The holidays are on the horizon. 

4. The barbecues. Even if you're not having one yourself, someone else will be, so you get to enjoy the smell without having to risk food poisoning or sit near a blazing heat source in person.

5. The petrichor. I suppose this happens year round, but rain on hot ground smells better in June than any other month, imo. 

Friday 16 June 2023

Fave Friday

Five Favourite Lines from Ithaca by Claire North

It has been a pleasure previously remarked upon to get back into fiction reading over the past few years and I am now into the habit of picking up books from the library and, in the case of this one, actually reading it before it is due back (as a kid I used to take out 6 books and read them all before they were due back...woe is me). This has broadened the variety of books I'm reading and reminded me of the pleasure of picking up a book because of what's written on the back cover, rather than just because someone recommended it on Twitter/it's historical fiction/it's 99p on Kindle. 

Most recently, I finished Ithaca by Claire North. It's an imagining of what Penelope might have done with herself while she was waiting for Odysseus to return from Troy, as the suitors ate her out of house and home. I have enjoyed a few of these Greek-myths-from-women's-perspectives over the past couple of years but this one was particularly good, mainly because of the cracking bits of prose that create a very believable representation of how women operate within tightly-bounded gender roles - namely, that they largely get on and run things and nobody really notices. There's some quite interesting undertone of DV and coercive control that undercuts the humour and shifts the perspective of quite a lot of bits of Greek mythology. To top it off, the book is narrated by Hera, so you sort of know what you're getting from the start. 

Here are my favourites:

1. ...who feels the ageing process accelerating with every moment he spends in the chamber (this is sometimes a solid mood of mine in the classroom)

2. Penelope says, 'Help me, I grow faint.' Autonoe at once kneels by Penelope's side, holding her left hand in hers, and though this is a profoundly pious scene of feminine weakness, it is also now a huddle of curved back and womanly distress that hides what Eos does next from all onlookers.

3. 'Ah,' mutters Penelope. 'I see. Medon, forgive me. I find myself overcome with womanly weakness and must retire.' 

4. 'We shall now run away and hide in a ditch.'...Donning his tatty, faded grey cloak, he nods once and, with the dignity of the centaur, proudly runs away.'

5. 'How do you hide an army? What a foolish question. You hide them in precisely the same way you hide your success as a merchant, your skill with agriculture, your wisdom at politic and your innate cunning wit. You hide them as women.'

Friday 9 June 2023

Fave Friday

Five Favourite Salads

It's definitely salad weather. I've realised that the way I consume recipes has changed over the past couple of years so a lot of them are now screenshotted from Instagram and also from Mob Kitchen, because I follow their Insta and they have successfully sucked me in. So this list looks a bit weird but here we go.

1. Mexican Chicken salad

From Mob Kitchen. I make this with less cucumber, less peppers, more coriander. Mr Z cooked up the chicken and placed it on top for dinner tonight which was also delicious. 

2. Watermelon Feta salad

Also from Mob Kitchen - I told you, suckered right in - though I did see this doing the rounds last summer in a couple of other places. I've only made this once as Mr Z does not approve much of fruity salads; I also did not have any basil or enough tomatoes but it worked OK. The crispy onions go very well with the watermelon. Can recommend. 

3. Asian cabbagey salad thing give it its proper name. I don't follow That Vegan Babe but her recipe came up in my feed anyway and the dressing is banging. I have made this with a variety of grains, as I worked through the seemingly neverending stash in the cupboard last year; I think I liked bulgur wheat the best. You'll have to guess the method, sorry, but it's not particularly complex. Or I guess you could just go and look the reel up.

4. Greek salad

Very simple - cucumbers, tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, black olives, oregano, a bit of olive oil and some feta. I've been going to the good cheese shop on North Street when we have knitting group in that part of town and their feta is superb; one block will usually do us three salads, which we eat with lamb chops because we can't have meals without meat in. By we I don't mean me. 

5. Mediterranean Feel Good Salad

Aka salad from a jar. I follow Shred Happens on the gram and he has many good salad recipes, although being partial to a carb, I tend to ignore the cauliflower rice and other carb substitutes in favour of that neverending stash of grains....though that has actually run out now so I should maybe think about doing a restock of my faves. If memory serves, I made this with amaranth (I went through a whole Gillian McKeith phase back in the day; grains ancient in both genetics and shelflife) - it was good flavours but needed a better grain. 

The salad is grain (or processed cauliflower, you do you), diced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, lots of fresh parsley and some chives, a jar of grilled artichoke hearts chopped up and some jarred green olives. Then the dressing is the juice of two lemons, a third of a cup of olive oil (the tomatoes are quite oily already so less is probably more), 3 cloves of garlic, some fresh basil, a third of a cup of sun dried tomatoes and the same amount of walnuts, blitzed in a food processor. 

So that's five and I didn't even get to my favourite potato salad from my childhood, Salad Oliviyeh. I will have to save that for another post. 

Friday 2 June 2023

Fave Friday

Five swims from May

1. Turkish Baths, Harrogate

I was in Harrogate for a conference this month and extended my stay by a night so I could visit the baths and do some other northern things on the Sunday. The Turkish bath was not so much a swim spot as a series of increasingly warm rooms, a steam room that was so hot I couldn't manage more than a minute or two, a welcome cold plunge pool and a warm room for resting in. I love a spa. I wish there was a place like this locally.

Pictures not allowed of course. I found this one online. Probably. Look how gorgeous! Definitely go and visit if you're in the area. 

2. Janet's Foss

This was one of the northern things on my list to do from Harrogate (the other being Hardwick Hall) and I executed my plan perfectly. There's something deeply satisfying about pulling off a full sequence of adulting: an early night, an early start, a short walk in the sun, a splash in a fairy pool and back on the road by 11am with an ice cream and a coffee. The women who sharked my parking space were astonished I was leaving so early but I'd arrived before 9am. 

Janet's Foss is a short (20ish minutes) walk from the Malham car park, across flat ground. It is much beloved of a wild swimming Facebook group I joined a couple of years ago and I couldn't pass up the opportunity upon realising it was only an hour's drive from Harrogate. 

It looks like I had it to myself; when I arrived there were only a few hikers around and I was quite nervous about getting in, but then a family arrived and were most encouraging, followed by a dozen women who began changing, so I got in quick so I could have it to myself. Cold, but magical. Sadly no sign of the fairy queen.

Swimsuit by Batoko. I couldn't decide on a design and then they released the otters and it was a done deal.

3. Bristol Harbour

There's no legal swimming in Bristol harbour and, let's face it, it's not the cleanest place you'll ever go, but when I heard there was a swim pilot I booked myself in. It was an epic place for a dip and, as soon as I got out, I booked in for the following Saturday. The water was very clear, if a little brown. 

4. Cromhall Quarry

There were four Cromhall swims in May, bringing my total to six for the year so far. I feel a bit guilty only listing this as one favourite swim for this month as it is always a nice spot, but it was a crowded swim month. The last of the month was sunny and, while the water isn't quite yet something I'd leap into without fear of a heart attack, it was quite pleasant in just a swimsuit, particularly with the good company of my friend Rachael and with a hearty breakfast afterwards.

5. River Avon

Busted - this wasn't a swim. It was more of a wade, followed by a long paddle. This was my first trip out in the kayak of 2023. 

Definitely not the last!

Tuesday 30 May 2023

Ski Trip Number 13

In April, I got to take the school ski trip away for the first time since 2020. I'd picked my favourite resort in Italy again, for the first one back in a while. It was wildly popular, selling out in just 24 hours, so that I had to extend the places to 50, making it my biggest trip ever. I had an eye to the fact this was trip number 13 but decided we would call it trip number 14, as there was the aborted 2021 trip that I had to sell to parents because I'd already put my name to a booking form, even though it was cancelled and all the money was repaid on insurance. Trip number 13 was cancelled, I decided. There will be nothing unlucky about trip number 14. 

(I should say that I am not really superstitious about numbers but Mr Z is, which has its effects on a person).

It was not good to wake up on the day of the trip to Radio 4 announcing that there were severe delays at the Port of Dover. Late morning, the tour company rang me to let me know that we would have a delayed start, so I went to school and sat in a cafe, making a WhatsApp group for all the parents on the swanky new trip phone. 

We set off two hours late and got to the port in good time. It seemed deserted, but as the driver pulled round, the attendants asked him if they'd contacted him to come down. No, he said. They told us to leave and he asked where to go. 'Anywhere but here,' said the man, gloomily. So we headed back up the motorway. By this point it was 9pm. The students were asking if we were still getting the 9.10 ferry. They weren't far off...

At Folkestone services, there were more attendants in high vis, who tried to turn us away. 'We've got 65 coaches in here already, you can't come in.' The coach driver managed to convince them that we had to come in as we were meeting our onward drivers there, so they grudgingly gave us a space on the petrol station forecourt. There were toilets and a shop nearby, and it was brightly lit, which was a relief. However, this is not the place I would have chosen to spend the next 9 hours with 50 teen girls. It was the world's worst sleepover of all time. Endless talking and up-and-downing and general kerfuffle persisted through the night until everyone was on their last nerve. In the end I went and stood in the aisle for the last half hour before dawn, eyeballing the back row who just would not stop talking. 'She's just standing there watching us,' one of them whispered. 'Yes, because you won't shut up,' I hissed back. 

Worst night of my life, I reckon. I spent some time thinking about whether there have been worse, but that wins. 

Finally, at 6.30am, our onward drivers started up the coach to bring us down to Dover. I felt positive. But then we spent the next 13 hours queueing in Port of Dover. Port of Dover's facilities before check in amount to half a dozen ladies toilet stalls and a Costa concession. There were around 60 coaches queuing at any one time and I can categorically state - this was not enough. The toilet queue never got below 45 minutes long, though the men's toilets were, to borrow a phrase, free flowing. In the end, half the staff walked back into Dover and bought Morrison's entire sandwich cabinet back so we at least had something to eat. The students were happy, tbf. They had power for their phones. They had each other. They had 59 other coaches of teenagers to flirt with. The BBC were filming from the cliff so they got on the news, much to the delight of the parents ('Is that you quietly sobbing by the coach Mrs Z?' one of them joked after sending a picture of the TV through on the WhatsApp group). No, that was me screeching 'SAFEGUARDING' at the cliff when I didn't know who was filming. 

The parents mounted a letter-writing campaign to Suella Braverman and our local MP. 

The students mounted a campaign to get every car and truck that flew past the coach queue to beep at them. 

I paced. 

Finally, at 7pm, we made it to the front of the queue. I should say that it's not really clear whose fault this is. It's natural to want to blame the French but, to be fair to them, I'm not sure what else they could have done. There is one building with three kiosks in it for checking coach passports, and it was fully staffed. Now, they could have laid on extra staff and had them come onto coaches to do the checking, but this is impractical now that all passports have to be stamped. The rumour is they asked the British government to expand the coach facilities, a request that was refused. So...nobody really to blame then, except obviously Brexit. 

By the time we made it to the other side, we were booked on the 9.30 ferry. Only 24 hours and 20 minutes late. This necessitated a stay in France, at a hotel where the poor hotelier had gone for some shut eye after being assured by our tour operator that we would not arrive before 2am, though the drivers had told them 1am. We got there at 1am. We spent 15 minutes trying to wake her up before Dave Coaches beeped the mega horn and succeeded in task. It seems she had had to do the same for a coach party the night before, who had arrived at 3am, and she'd turned the entire allocation of 60 beds around overnight. 

There was a hotel cat, which I appreciated. 

We left at 11am on Monday morning, finally limping into our Italian resort at gone midnight that night. 58 hours of travelling. A day's skiing lost. But worth it. 

Luckily, the rest of the trip went off pretty much without a hitch. No major injuries, no lost students (some naughty ones who could have get lost but thankfully didn't), no bad weather. Lovely, helpful coach drivers and a smooth return journey. It seems number 13 used up all its bad vibes on the journey over.

And what a treat to be back in Sauze for a fifth time. Having skied in France at half term for my last couple of trips, I had forgotten what it was like to go somewhere that was so thoroughly deserted. Easter in Sauze is quiet and there were days when we had it almost to ourselves. I managed to get a repeat of this picture from 2010.

Chuckling at skiing in sunglasses with my hair down. I'd find both of these things intensely irritating now. But I still prefer a mitten to a glove. 

Here endeth the saga. I don't do story posts like this anymore but I had to tell the full tale, for posterity. 

Sunday 28 May 2023

Wonderwool 2023

Predictably late again. Lots of things have been happening this year and I have had such high hopes for documenting my little trips away and other adventures but, here we are, almost halfway through the year and you know I'm about to enter my busy period, so I guess we will just move on. 

Wonderwool weekend was as lovely as ever. I was much in need of some respite and even considered having a day to myself in the bunkhouse on the Saturday, though in the end I got a very early night and felt recharged enough for a wander, albeit a short one: the Saturday felt even busier than ever before, thanks probably to the quieter crowd last year due to ongoing covid restrictions. 

I also had a slow start to the yarn-buying, spending much of Saturday shopping for purchases for Emma instead. I made up for that on Sunday, though managed to hold off on buying sweater quantities of anything, which was a definite win. 

Some lightly padded project bags from Soft Accents

A kit to make a child's cardigan - I got the robin kit, but it helpfully came with the pattern for the pudding jumper as well. I was going to make these for the mini Hands for the winter but it seems they will be in Peru so I might direct elsewhere. 

A Latvian mitten kit. I got chatting to the chap on the stall about the British Empire, a weird but predictable conversation in which he asked me if it was really all bad and I had to say we didn't really talk about it in terms of pros/cons when we are teaching it. Honestly, it gets everywhere. Everywhere. 

A skein of DK Merino from Penrhallt Alpacas: this colour winked at me as I walked into the hall on Saturday morning and it was the last thing I bought on my way out. It was just too nice to leave behind.

A sale grab bag of 5 skeins from fivemoons.

A skein of DK merino from Lay Family yarns and a matching pom pom, to make a hat for the SIL. 

Three complementary skeins to make some kind of shawl.

A skein from Mamie and Florrie, who do a wonderful line of sock yarn dyed according to What Three Words pictures - they take their colour inspiration from pictures of the location. This one, the darker green, is Buxton Woods.

Some rainbow yarn - two teeny skeins for adding a single rainbow stripe to the cuffs of some socks or mittens, and a ball of DK for some mitts. 

And a couple more pom poms. 

I had great fun picking out the three skeins of green brown, which I plan to use to make a shawl inspired by Brecon Forest, which is where we stay for the weekend. I made it out for a quick walk on Sunday morning, when the weather was gorgeous and there wasn't a frost. 

I haven't picked out a pattern yet but I am really determined to have it done to wear next year. 

Another wonderful weekend with wonderful people. 

Monday 2 January 2023

2022 Round up: Places

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

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


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


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


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

A weekend in Manchester for a teaching conference.


A weekend in Portsmouth. 

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

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

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


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


A weekend in Scotland to visit Jen and fam.

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

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


A weekend in the Gower with Rachael and Alex.


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


A weekend in Oxford for an education conference.


Portsmouth for Mother Hand's birthday. 

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

Fingers crossed for Costa Rica in 2023...

Sunday 1 January 2023

2022 Round up: Knits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2022 Round up: Reads

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

Here's the round-up, then:


The Betrayals by Bridget Collins

The Drowned City by KJ Maitland

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen by Alison Weir

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin

A Respectable Trade by Philippa Gregory

Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed

Life, Death and Vanilla Slices by Jenny Eclair

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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