Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Little Matchbox

I found a little matchbox and it opened a memory door.

My next door neighbour gave me the matchbox when I was a little girl. They were called Mr and Mrs Bram, short for Abraham. It's only now I realise how odd that seems, to shorten a surname.

Their house was full of wicker trays and hanging plant pots that Mr Bram had made despite his visual impairment. He read braille which fascinated me. There were flowery chairs and ornaments and a handful of picture books, along with a brass relief covered book I didn't understand. Mrs Bram gave me a sherry and lemonade when Mum said I could, without batting an eyelid. She liked sherry.

It's only now I realise how much my Mum and Dad cared for them, especially Mrs Bram after her husband died. We kept her company and did her shopping sometimes - I can clearly remember helping to put things away in the now vintage kitchen cupboards. I remember sitting on the floor, or on a little stool listening to her. There were interesting things to look through. Treasures.

Mrs Bram said, when she gave me the box, that it was in case I needed to do the "game where you had to see how many things you could fit in a matchbox".

The box is full of the mundane. A 4d stamp, a hair grip, buttons, a miniature light bulb and a tiny piece of lace.

Then there are marvels. A tiny charm that looks like a thimble. A miniscule pencil on a string. And most wonderful a tiny white doll. I will never know where that came from and who played with it.

What use is it? None really. I have never in 41 years been asked to see how many things I can fit in  a matchbox. But of course I can't part with it.

I haven't thought about the matchbox or the lady who gave it to me in years, I have sketchy but happy memories of Mr and Mrs Bram.

Thinking back I remember the night she fell. I remember Mum and Dad rushing next door in the night and me being told not to worry and to go back to bed. I was too young to know what it all meant but afterwards I missed her. The new neighbours weren't the same.

So if I had a sherry (which wouldn't be advisable before school pick up) I'd raise it to you Mr and Mrs Bram. And to my lovely parents. For caring for our friendly elderly neighbours, just because it was the right thing.

Monday, 12 September 2016


This year I remembered. I remembered to take the family blackberry picking before they were all mouldy, eaten by birds or already snaffled by everyone else. Off we went with a couple of tubs to see how many we could find.

Around the corner from our house is a wilderness. A large council building has been demolished and the surrounding area (including a couple of old broken tennis courts) are filled with plants and trees, untended for years. Bits of it are beautiful. Bits of it are less so - I blame the council.

It is a brave place to go blackberry picking due to the ridiculous number of people who let their dogs foul everywhere, but if you are nimble footed it's worth the effort. Hundreds of blackberry bushes have spread everywhere. We filled our tubs to the brim, lamenting those blackberries that were too far into the dense thicket to reach but of course looked the juiciest and best.

I have to say I was pleased with myself. Not only had I remembered to go at the right time, I had carried out a fun family experience which was healthy (well it's fruit) outdoors (excellent for the lungs) and totally free. No-one stepped in dog poo and all was well.

The trouble is i'm not the most domesticated person. I do try but when faced with a massive tub of blackberries I got a bit panicked. We had to use them obviously, but how?

Of course I thought, "Jam! I will try to make jam!"

So I made jam. My free wholesome activity was going to result in delicious jam. I went to the supermarket and bought 2 kilners jars (I'd just recycled, darn it) and a jam thermometer costing a grand total of £18. I then made 2 jars of reasonably effective, quite nice (if a bit gritty) blackberry jam. I'm not sure I've ever paid £9 for a jar of jam before.

A couple of days later Tilly and I went back. I was determined to get the next batch of blackberries and make a crumble, my first since about 2002. We had a great time and again I was filled with joy and happiness. Until, that is, I disturbed what I think was a rat's nest and the resulting squeaking sent me flying towards home barely looking backwards. Tilly was in hot pursuit. We are at one with nature us.

Once I'd recovered from my brush with rodents we tugged three apples from the tree in my garden and made a passable blackberry and apple crumble. We have no idea what the apples are. Paul tried to google it but it's surprisingly difficult. He settled on it being called Gavin. Sufficed to say they aren't very nice unless you cook them for ages and mix them with lots of sugar.

The trouble was even after this I had some blackberries left. It was getting a bit ridiculous. Finally I tried to make compote but since everyone was starting to complain about getting seeds stuck in their teeth I sieved it and made blackberry sauce instead. It tastes exactly like the bit in the little triangle on a tippy yoghurt. Very healthy apart from the sugar.

I can safely say I've had enough of blackberries for a bit. Roll on October when we can go foraging for pumpkins...

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Meersbrook Park Heritage Open Day

I find this time of the year pretty wonderful and yet a bit frustrating. There are just so many things you can do at the weekend and yet you know that only a handful of gorgeous sunny Sundays are left before everything gets decidedly greyer.

Today we made totally the right choice. The Meersbrook Park Heritage Open Day was honestly the perfect community event.

We had just bought lots of lovely food from the Junk Food Project when the girls were whisked off to do Maypole dancing. P's face was beaming and everyone was laughing, even when they were nearly decapitated by small children's ribbons held slightly too low. A picture in the paper for the girls followed (ensuring we were out of shot).We wandered to the walled garden, which I don't think I've ever been in to my shame, and ate cake and drank tea in the sunshine.

Faunagraphic was painting some street art and the girls explored the mosaic hopscotch and the Japanese garden. We noted various inspirations for their wildlife project including the amazing bug hotel.

Then we had to slow down even more. It was imperative you see that we made wooden knives and whittling, as you know, cannot be hurried. I was only slightly hesitant to let the kids loose with sharp implements but I needn't have worried. P tried hard and a team effort helped to create one knife. T of course whittled persistently for over an hour.

Huge bubbles floated past, popped by eager children (I'd have popped one myself but it seemed a bit mean).

Little canvases had been handed out to us on arrival and P sat in the sun sketching and colouring a yarn bombed tree before we wondered off and wrapped another tree in fabric and wool. Well the other trees were getting jealous of the outfits. Our own at home will be treated with the same care and attention this week no doubt.
Finally putting down the knife and sandpaper, both girls then got involved in the beautiful mosaic making in the entrance of the hall - a peacock which will go on the wall when it's finished. T made her own Robin mosaic to take away. We looked at the Ruskin displays and around the local maker stalls, the only shame being that we couldn't see round the hall itself as they were booked up 20 minutes after the event began.

None of the activities cost us a penny. The Junk Food Project was a pay as you feel affair and well worth what we chose to give. The event was a small perfectly formed community day - what Sundays should be.

Monday, 5 September 2016

HIIT Workout

Just a bit of advice. When embarking on a new fitness regime to combat excesses of cheese, wine and scones you may wish to consider HIIT workouts. I would recommend, however, that when googling for said workout you do not put "beginner HIIT workout" into google. There is clearly something wrong with the search engine. The Youtube video it returned for me was obviously made for some kind of fitness expert. I might complain if I can ever get my breath back.

'The Body Coach' introduced the warm up, after which I felt quite tired. At this point he was pretending to be out of breath. I thought perhaps it was just him being nice to indicate his empathy for the beginner predicament. I am now wondering whether he was actually out of breath.

He launched into 8 minutes of frenzied activity the like of which I have never seen, let alone engaged in. It started with 30 seconds of running on the spot with high knees then 30 seconds rest. He suggested kindly that I could rest for 45 seconds if that was better for me. "Don't be ridiculous" I thought, "it'll be fine, besides I can't work out how to pause the video in the right places". 30 seconds of burpees, oh dear God. 30 seconds rest. Have a drink he says - damn I didn't think of that. I raced to the bathroom to slurp from the tap and was back just in time to do 30 seconds of low to high squats. Another 30 seconds "rest". Finally 30 seconds of hill climbers.  Phew, I thought it must be over. Maybe now we do some yoga.

Then said I needed to do it all again. And again.

By round three I was bright red and sweating like mad. Everything felt wobbly. I couldn't make it to the tap and back inside a minute let alone half of one, thus rendering myself completely out of sync with what he was telling me to do. He was climbing a hill and I was still squatting, it was chaos. Before the last exercise I had given up and collapsed in a heap on the floor. I spent the next 8 minutes practically passed out listening to Joe "The Body Coach" doing it all again and telling me it was "hard work". No kidding matey.

Once I had eaten a chocolate digestive and calmed down I read the comments beneath the video. Apparently I should have put the term "low impact" into Google rather than "beginner". This is literally the only time it would have been advisable to read the comments, ever.

HIIT is apparently the way forward. "20 minutes, no equipment, no excuses". Yeah thanks Joe but I dispute that. I now have four very good excuses - exercise my body is not designed to carry out.

Oh and if in spite of my feedback above you still fancy giving it a go, please ensure you do the workout while no-one is in (in your house or any others on the street), and that you choose a room with solid floorboards. And don't forget a water bottle.

Summer Break

There are a few reasons why I chose to have a break from blogging over the summer. The first was that it took me a while to recover from blogging the fantastic Children's Media Conference in July. The event was fascinating and I enjoyed every minute, from the opening keynote by Lemn Sissay, through sessions on gender in media and educational gaming to Chris Riddell's brilliant session.

But it's not a picnic. The difficult bit about blogging an event like this is having to condense hour long sessions into short punchy blog articles as fast a possible before you move onto the next one. Fortunately my brain required a bit of a tune up so this challenge was a good one. I learnt loads and met the targets so felt pretty good overall, apart from my back which had had enough of sitting hunched over a keyboard by the end of three days. If you want to read the blog articles there are here. I would love to do it again, and am really interested in blogging other events if anything interesting arises.

Why else did I take a break? First I wanted a holiday. I'd been juggling two jobs (starting a brand new one in the process) before the schools broke up and my mind was a bit boggled. We have had a wonderful 7 week summer school holiday and I relished every moment of spending time with the kids, family and friends, just focusing on the experience.

Finally things are afoot. I have plans and need time to realise them. I'm having a blog migration (hopefully) and relaunch and am taking time to plan and do things properly so please bear with me. In the meantime I will do a few catch up blogs in the spirit of sharing.

So here we go. The kids are back at school and the kettle has boiled...