Monday, 25 October 2010

And now, for something completely different...

I don't normally do work related stuff, here.  But a good friend on Twitter pointed me to this post, on Left Foot Forward, whose calculations in turn rely on this post on 2me2you. Neither of which I'd heard of before today, and both of which are flawed to a serious degree, but I can't possibly say why in 140 characters!  For those of you who want an early escape, this is about the Browne Review into HE funding.

So, first the calculations.  2me2you makes an interesting point, which would stack up an awful lot better if his/her understanding of the teaching funding method weren't somewhat awry.  To be fair, it's not a straightforward calculation, but even still... 2me2you has current teaching funding at roughly £7.5bn.  We'd take that, thank you very much.  In fact, if you look at HEFCE's announcement of the current year's recurrent funding, the total teaching grant (including targetted allocations) is £4.7bn, with core funding at £3.9bn - something slightly less than half of 2me2you's estimate.  But why use the facts when they undermine your argument, eh?  The basic problem is that in calculating funding, the author of 2me2you has forgotten to deduct the assumed fee - yes, in current funding, FTEs are multiplied by a weighting factor.  But then HEFCE deducts an assumed fee of - from memory - £3150 per FTE.  This is the basic Band D element of the grant.  My very rough back of the envelope calculation, assuming 2me2you's FTE numbers are right, makes core funding £2.6bn on this basis.  Closer to the real  £3.9bn than he/she quotes, but probably no banana to me, either.

2me2you also ignores the implication of removing that £3150 from each FTE in the remaining funding.  By abolishing the Band D funding altogether, each FTE's funding in bands A and B comes down by £3150 from the core calculation performed on this blog.  In fact, Browne states quite explicitly on page  47 (final para of section 6.2): "We envisage that the minimum level of investment will be consistent with the current premium paid by HEFCE on equivalent courses – ca. £700m per year".  So I'm going to take that as a statement of intent and not bother to re-do the calculations I've been doing all bloomin' week.  So, core funding goes from £3.9bn to £700m - that's a reduction of £3.2bn to core funding, or if you take the targetted allocations, too, then it's £4bn out.  Which, coincidentally, is what the big number touted for the CSR was...  I'm not even going to start on the fees calculations because it's late and there's a bottle of wine calling.  Suffice it to say that as one who does this kind of calculation day in, day out, the numbers look wrong.  Too big.  And the logic looks flawed.  If anyone reads this, then I'm sure someone will know how and be only too delighted to expound.

So, let's just say that 2me2you's numbers can't be relied on, ok?  I've proved half the equation.  If half the equation is wrong, then the result is wrong.  It cannot be otherwise.  And you'll notice that I haven't made a political judgement in any of this.  Though I might, later.

What of our friend Left Foot Forward, then?  He/she relies on 2me2you's unreliable calculations and uses them to make the emotional assertion: "Left Foot Forward has already highlighted the unfairness of the propsals [sic], which will result in bankers faring better than public servants such as teachers."

Now, I hate this kind of argument.  It really gets my goat.  If you're going to tug on the nation's political heartstrings, then have the grace to dress up like a 50s matinee idol and do the job properly.  This is a rational, adult, policy issue.  Please treat your readers as though there's the remotest chance they'd have the intelligence to follow a decent, sustained, rational argument.  Is that so much to ask?

Goats aside, what's wrong with this argument?  Well, let's go back to Browne, and his proposals for repayment.  On p.40, Browne argues:

" ... we will make the following changes to how the current system works to create the new SF Paying system:
• Students with higher earnings will pay a real interest rate. The interest rate will be equal to the Government’s cost of borrowing (inflation plus 2.2%).
• Students earning below the repayment threshold will pay no real interest rate. Their loan balance will increase only in line with inflation.
• Those earning marginally above the threshold whose payments do not cover the costs of the real interest will have the rest of the interest rebated to them by Government.
• The repayment threshold will be reviewed regularly and increased in line with average earnings. As the threshold has not been increased since 2005, there will be a one-off increase at the start of our new system from £15,000 to £21,000.
• Changing the threshold in line with earnings increases the costs of loans for Government. Some of that cost will be offset by increasing the maximum payment period from 25 to 30 years. After 30 years, any outstanding balance will be written off by Government."

So, your bankers (who earn more) will pay a higher rate of interest.  Your teachers on below £21,000 per year will not pay any interest rate - their loan balance only increases with inflation.  Teachers who earn above £21,000 will pay a real rate of interest, but if their earnings are only marginally above £21,000 the government will rebate their interest to them.  Seems to me, that leaves teachers better off than bankers, no?  And if teachers never earn more than £21,000 then after (an admittedly very long time) 30 years, the debt is written off.  Whereas bankers are unlikely to have that problem.  Teachers 2 - Bankers 0, I reckon.

Browne then goes on to outline *how much* people will pay back.  And here's the shocker.  Anyone earning up to £21,000 pays back nothing. If you earn £25,000 you repay £30 per month.  If you earn £30,000 you repay £68 per month.  Perhaps I'm just turning into a fat, old, capitalist pig-ette, but that doesn't seem like so very much to me.  It does get to be quite a hefty monthly payment if you earn £60,000 (hello, bankers!) at £293 per month.  But I reckon on 60k you can probably afford that.  Just about.  I have to admit, I'm not sure what teachers earn in what timescale, but it strikes me that at the very least we're on Teachers 3 - Bankers maybe 1/2.

What I really like about the repayment proposal is this: if you stop earning, you stop paying.  That means that if I take a maternity career break, I stop paying.  If I'm made redundant, I stop paying.... etc.  That, for me, is a really good feature.

So what do I think of Browne?  On balance, I think it's the very best we could have hoped for.  Yes, I'd prefer that everyone benefitted from the free education I had but if we accept that funds are limited, I'd rather free education was the protected preserve of the under 18s.  University students *do* get a tangible benefit from their education, and I don't really see that there's any harm in them putting back into the system as a result.  Student loans are now an established fact of life.  It seems utopian to hope that we could ever reverse that decision.

Universities do cost money, though, and I think the state should provide some of that.  Browne preserves that.  Not in an ideal way - given my own degree and my recent working background I'd like the importance of the Arts and Social Sciences to see more recognition than across the board 100% cuts - that does worry me.  But I like the idea that funding follows the students.  That seems intuitively ok.

I'm more worried about Compo and Clegg's plans to introduce a fee cap, rather than the soft Browne cap.  This seems to me to be ill thought through meddling for the sake of securing a political legacy rather than because there is a compelling argument to over-rule the Browne judgements.  Word in the corridors is that the fee cap will be between £10,000 and £12,000.  This strikes me as being much higher than any but Oxbridge would have set their fees in the pure Browne model.  This is perverse for two reasons:

First, if you set a cap, you get rid of the idea of levies.  The levy proposal was good, because it meant that if Universities set fees higher than £6,000, they had to surrender some of their ill gotten gains back to the central funding pot, to be recycled into student loans.  Seems like a pretty Solomon-like judgement, to me.  You want to charge extortionate amounts?  Fine.  You help fund it.  But the 'hard' fee cap proposal explicitly rules out levies.  No help with the funding there, then (and presumably 2me2you would approve of universities lightening the funding load).

Second, if you create a free market (dear god, I sound like a Tory: shoot me now!), the effect is counter-intuitive: it drives fees down.  Trust me. None of us (except perhaps Oxbridge and probably not even them) wants to be the most expensive.  It looks bad, don't you know, and we'd be paranoid about being under cut and losing students.  Browne said £7,000 would be what you'd need to charge to replace the cut HEFCE funding, and I reckon only a few brave, high ranking souls would've strayed far above that level.  But we saw after Dearing that if you introduce a cap, then there's a stampede to the level of the cap.  Everyone will make a judgement about whether they want to be top quartile, or top decile in the fee ranking.  Top quartile starts at £7,500 for a £10,000 cap or £9,000 for a £12,000 cap.  How many institutions charge lower than the highest possible fee rate, now?  Not many... Now scale that for a £12,000 fee cap.  Yes, introducing a hard cap will make tuition fees higher.  And that, combined with the removal of the levies, is just perverse.

What's really dangerous about Left Foot Forward's and 2me2you's arguments is that they feel so appealing.  Anyone who wants to present themselves as the last bastion of social inclusion, of truly egalitarian liberalism, or even (whisper) of socialism is going to agree with the argument because at a superficial level it stacks up.  And so people will retweet, or quote, or track back to the original without either really thinking about it, or without having understood the issues.

Worse, it seems to me, is the vast number of people who are quoting in an approving way without having read, or understood, the report.  It is not enough to read the Sunday supplements and form an opinion based on that and the ramblings of an ill informed blogger.  This debate is informing the future of Higher Education which is politically, morally - and perhaps least of all - economically important.  If we want to carry on being the intellectually rich culture we have been for so long then we at least deserve to think about this in an informed, meaningful way.

Now, I couldn't possibly have said all that in 140 characters.

And to get back on topic (for this blog, anyway)... I think one of the kids has nits.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Project Shush

This is a baby blanket for a friend at work, whose baby is due imminently.  Well, yesterday, actually.  Although rather unsympathetically, I'm hoping it doesn't arrive for another three or four days as the Browne review into student fees and financing is due to report on Tuesday and life would be everso much easier if the new baby's daddy was at work, helping me to do the modelling.  Oh yes, I've got my prioirities all straight, let me tell you!

The blanket is a lovely mix of fibres.  The white is bamboo derived polyester - reflects the light beautifully and is lovely and soft, but a bit of a bugger to work, if I'm honest - the yarn splits far too easily.  The green is a mix of cashmere, merino and silk.  Not the most practical fibres for a baby blanket, perhaps, but it's washable will be lovely and warm...  All double knit, crocheted with a number 4, beech wood hook, if you're interested...

Thursday, 2 September 2010

New Hair!

It's purpler than the photo shows, and for some reason (I think they think they're being kind) the children are unable to take a photo which includes my chin!

The cunning thing about this hair is that if I have the parting on the right (as pictured), it's purple on top, but if I put the parting on the left (where it normally lives) it's brown with just some purpley bits showing through - kind of night and day...!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

More holiday crafty goodness.  Here's how the babette blanket is shaping up (these progress photos have mostly been on Twitter until now...) and my doesn't it go well with the rug???

And here's one where the Quilt Inspector has crept in:

He doesn't quite get crochet.  He tried to join in once, by chewing all my lovely wooden hooks.  All he got was a severely smacked nose  (I was rather disappointed he didn't get spinters, I must admit!)

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Work in progress

So, the red quilt is coming on leaps and bounds, thanks to my new sewing machine...

This is the finished quilt top:

It's all based on log cabin blocks, with some traditional blocks in the centre, some offset log cabins in the centre of each row, and some corner blocks at each corner.  The sashing is (surprise, surprise!) Amy Butler chrysanthemum fabric. 

I'm particularly pleased with this corner block (top right corner in the photo above):

The piece at the bottom of the picture is  just a slice through log cabin corners - I like the 'plaited' effect it gives.

The offsets were simply done randomly and, again, some of them have worked out nicely:

The back uses up some left over log cabins from making the centre block, and a piece of modern (polyester) kimono I picked up at the Festival of Quilts:

The plain red was hand dyed with Jacquard Procion MX in Carmine Red, mixed with Omega Dyrect Poppy.

Here's a detail of the kimono:

Because life isn't particularly restful at the moment - and to compensate for so much red in the bedroom - I free machine embroidered an Om at the top of the kimono...

I traced the image onto a piece of sulky Solvy, and used the needle as a felt tip to colour it in, with a couple of layers of nappy liner behind to stabilise.  It's worked well, although because of the circular nature of it, it has ruckled the fabric a fair bit.  I'd have got on better if I'd used a hoop.  Must get a hoop!

Anyway, all that remains to do now is to make the backing bigger - more plain red - perhaps add some velvet to the head and foot end of the front, and put it all together... so not much work there, then!

Friday, 27 August 2010

Holiday snaps

Well, I was going to upload pictures of a lovely day spent at Lincoln cathedral with Mum and the kids, but it's such a ball ache to upload large numbers of pictures to Blogger that, instead, I shall send you to the Flickr page where I've uploaded the pictures, and commented on them. 

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


Well, here we are in Lincoln, the kids, the dogs and I.  On our jolly holidays.  Only for 3 days because - well, you know - there'd be little point in reckless extravagance or unlimited enjoyment!

I have been playing with needles.  The cathartic potential of stabbing things for hours and hours, and coming out of it with a beautiful result, has recently occurred to me.  So I've been needle felting.  This is my first attempt at 'flying solo' - not a bad thing, but it could have done with a little more thinking through before hand - the design would have been better on the diagonal and the whole thing would be more useful if it were a little bit bigger.  As it is, it's an iPhone cover...

I've also been to the Festival of Quilts which was stunningly beautiful.  Some really inspiring work, there.  My particular favourites were an incredibly intricate mosaic quilt of a woman draped in a red fabric.  She was made up of tiny (3/4cm?) mosaic squares, each individually stitched on - presumably must have been bonded with something first, but it's not evident what, as all the edges were free... just a stunning piece of work!  And then the phoenix quilt, which was a beautiful blend of colour and technical skill.  The feathers are so beautifully quilted, and the tail and wings have little fiery trails of embroidery spinning out of them.  I came away feeling inspired and inadequate, in equal parts!  But, I bought a new sewing machine, so perhaps the inspiration will win out...!

And now we're at Mum's, eating and walking and doing not much.  In fact, I should go and chivvy the troops out of bed.  We're going to take a quick tour of the cathedral this morning, before bundling into the car and heading home for a visit from Dad and stepmother, tomorrow.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Obviously, I haven't died.  I'd have told you anything that exciting!  I am just, as ever, ill disciplined...

Where to start?  Hasn't the weather been glorious?!

It's been a busy time; I'm planning a restructure of two of my teams at work, which will begin next week, so large chunks of time have been spent thinking about team structures and roles and individuals and pulling together a business plan and a communication plan.  But that's there, or thereabouts, now.  The senior officers' team had a very useful awayday in Buckinghamshire recently.  Well, two days, divided by a really good meal and a wine tasting.  Was nice to spend some time with the rest of them, and I'm finally beginning to feel that I can offer my opinion without worrying whether I'm just being collossally stupid!

This morning, joy of joys, I'm off to Coventry for a speed awareness course.  Which will, I'm sure, be a useful and informative way to spend 4 hours, and not at all an extremely onerous way of avoiding points on my licence.  I question the wisdom of opting for this, actually, since I've just sold my car and aim to make do with the train and the bike for as long as I possibly can... but there you are.  There's probably a principle at stake somewhere.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

I haven't been well.  On Sunday I had cystitis which, by mid afternoon, had turned to blood in my wee, and by evening a bit of wee in my blood, and a whole world of pain.  So off to A&E who were good enough to supply sympathy (really!) and antibiotics.  And a diagnosis of roaring kidney infection

So I've been phenomenally tired.  I have slept a good 18 hours, each of the last 4 days.  And still I could sleep.

Today, though, I have taken a bona fide day off sick.  It's quite sunny, outside my bedroom window, with a slight (chilly) breeze.  I thought I'd be brave, and *do* something, so I went and made a block of the red quilt.  And got two more blocks three pieces together.  Once they're finished, that's the end of the piecing for that quilt, I think - just some sashing to do and it can all be slung together (oh no!  I've just remembered the block I don't like, which will have to be remade.  But that should be straightforward).  The problem is, I have no idea how I want to quilt it.  Quilt it??  I have no idea how I want to back it!!  I have a vague notion that black and white might be nice, with the usual row of scrappy pieces, but I can't find any black and white fabric that's mostly white....  Any pointers gratefully received (any evidence of readers at all, actually!)

So then I fancied toast.  With marmite.  But there's no bread, so I wandered into town, and provisioned us.  And came home and felt tired, so have been in bed ever since.

I really want to crochet, but if I start anything new with the red quilt still incomplete, there might be trouble.  I have my eye on the babette blanket.  And there's an impending baby at work who could use a little crochet blanket like Joe's...

I'm watching some workmen instal a netting roof over the five-a-side football pitch in the park, opposite, and trying to convince myself that the dogs are *only* farting, and there's no need to pad around the house in case that horrid smell has a physical source.  And thinking about going back to sleep...

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

In the end, I did none of the solipsistic, moochy things that were making me so despondent, and gardened instead.  I found some poppies on special offer in the garden centre (I only went for a bag of compost) and so bought 3.  They're very beautiful, so I had fun on Monday morning, taking photos of them.

I love how my camera captures each hair on the stalks and buds.  The opening bud is still trying to shrug off its little cap, today.

Then I decided they were so beautiful I wanted to make one, so I spent half an hour in the shed with various bits of mulberry bark, crepe de chine and velvet, before admitting that the creative spark seems to have left me for a while.  Oh well...

 I also seem to have picked up one of these.  It's a bit of a triffid, with largish leaves and this lily-like flower.  I can't remember what it's called, but there was a hole just the right size for it at the back of the bed.  Which is no mean feat, considering just how little bed there is, in this garden.

So then I tied back the daffodils, and planted the bedding plants.  These are begonias, which the snails are enjoying very much, thank you...  There were also sweet williams, snapdragons, and marigolds.  I expect the snails will enjoy the marigolds, too, when they've tired of the begonias.  Oh well, I never was a huge fan of begonias.

I filled various tubs, window boxes and stray pots with geraniums.  I do like a good geranium.  And a couple of straggly tomato and strawberry plants went into the bottom of the tub with the clematis in.  I don't think they'll survive -they got rather too dry in their little plug plant pots - but it's got to be worth a try, right?
And then the aquilegia, which is actually rather coming to the end of its season, looked so stunning in its shady corner that I took a sneaky picture of that, too.

And after that, it was just a question of throwing some alpines in the front (which was just a series of gravel beds, and now has  fig tree (with 3 figs) in a large tub; some window boxes of peas, beans and tomatoes, and an extensive alpine bed.  Looks less ordered, but much nicer.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

In the early mornings, I belong to old men.  I leave the house at 6.30 (must remember to bring my insulated mug home), to walk to the station.  The first person I talk to, most days, is the elderly gentleman round the corner who's just taking his dachsunds for a walk.  They are beautiful dogs: miniature, long-haired.  The older one is black, with a delicate curl to her fur and limpid eyes which blend into her coat.  The younger, more excitable one is brown, with black tips.  She's inquisitive and bright, and always thinks she'd like to say hello to me.  After a sniff or two, she remembers I'm a stranger and barks.  Between the impulse and the memory, her owner and I share How Are Yous.

Then, two corners later, there's the singing alarm clock man.  I overtake him and his wife on the final stretch, these days, but they both Good Morning and smile.

Some days, there's an Asian lady, scurrying over the road with a mug of tea, chatting and giggling for a few moments.

Weekends are altogether different.  There's no imperative to get up, but the puppy sneaking onto the bed makes it unpleasant to stay there, and disruptive to fight him off.  So mostly I'm up by 8 at the latest.  Which does constitute a lie in, admittedly.

This morning, coffee and poached eggs and a snuggle on the sofa with my young son.  And here I am, be-dressing gowned, waiting for the bathroom and wondering what to do.  In fact, there's nothing *to* do.  Well, there's a quilt in the making, and a bit of work to finish, but neither of those are speaking to me at the moment.  I suspect I shall browse T K Maxx for a ball dress I don't need until next month, and go to Boots, to find the wherewithal to remove my moustache.  I harbour fantasies of weekends spent in shared endeavour; children and partner and I all wrapped up in mutual delights, and so I can't help feeling a sharp sense of anti-climax at the prospect of shallow, solipsistic mooching.  But the children are of an age where they don't want to be with their parents in public, and the partner doesn't mind sharing the bed with the dog. 

So in the early mornings, I belong to old men, and at weekends I belong to myself.  It's a strange discipline!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

It's a funny thing, applying makeup on the train. The first few times, you are focussed on the motion, the gentle sway interrupted by arrhythmical lurches. You have to learn to balance your arm as if on a gimble, so that the lurches don't result in interesting streaks of mascara down your cheek, or a quick stab of eyeliner. That takes a couple or three repetitions.

Once that's mastered though, there's really nothing to it. But it's an odd sensation, and you sit quietly at the back of the carriage, in an airline style seat which you've carefully picked out because its twin is unoccupied and there's nobody across the aisle, either.

Five weeks in, and I am sitting this morning in a face to face cluster of 6 seats. The airline style seats  over the aisle are all full, and facing me, but there's nobody else in my pod. I settle, tucking my briefcase behind my legs and my handbag on my lap, and rummage in the side pocket for my glorious  makeup bag. It balances neatly on the opening of my bag, and I unzip it and begin the familiar routine: lid off the eyelid foundation, finger in, a quick slick across each lid and blend into the brows.   Somebody over the aisle rustles, loudly. I am not distracted. Lid on one pot and off another. Dip in the  brush, and spread the powder that's supposed to neutralise the shadows under my eyes. And then spread a bit more, because it has an increasingly uphill task, these days. Brush back, lid on, reach for  the crayon pouch. As I slide the first crayon from its holster, my eyes rise and flick round the carriage. I am gathering an audience. Over the aisle, one glance retreats hastily back to its laptop, one book is briskly raised, and the chap looking slightly over his shoulder is too late to disguise his gaze, and shifts slightly in his seat. I twist the pearly crayon out of its case, and, resisting the temptation to run my tongue over my lips, rub it over each eyelid. It's quite difficult to spot against the shadow neutraliser.   Next is the black crayon. I steal a glance across the aisle, and wonder whether they'd be less shocked if I went for the full Marilyn Manson rings.  I do my usual smudgy corners.  Mascara next.  The tension  mounts, but I manage not to smear it everywhere and, with a flick of the blusher brush and some judicious blending, job's a good'un.

I can't decide if my audience is thrilling to the delicious risk of a poke in the eye, or whether they're just surprised to see a woman so publicly at her toilette. So I look again. The book is being read, and the laptop judiciously tapped. But Mr Over The Shoulder has an expression of incredulous disapproval. I might as well have been hooking up my bra.

I mentally shrug, and settle down to read the paper over my new neighbour's shoulder. Why is it that, even in tight spaces, men must sit with their legs splayed?

And the man over the aisle has an iPad.

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, 10 May 2010

This, mes petits choux fleurs, is amongst the coolest gifts I have ever been gifted.  "Why is that?"  I hear you cry.  Well just look at it!  It's a Billy Bragg (I don't want to change the world, I'm not looking for a New England, are you looking for another girl?) autograph!  Not only is it a Billy Bragg autograph, but it's a Billy Bragg autograph written on an SWP leaflet, and collected at the Make Votes Count rally outside The Work Foundation this very afternoon.  How perfect is that?  Only very perfect!  How many years does that take you back?!  And who would give me such a perfect gift? Well, only my beloved who chose to go and rediscover his activist youth, this afternoon.  Yes, he went in search of his youth and he found Billy Bragg.  So many metaphors...

I am going to frame it, and hang it in my office, thereby firmly establishing my credentials-by-proxy.

So we went to Epsom, yesterday, to the family party.  It was one of those large events, 50 odd guests, designed to show how well my father is coping with my stepmother's new circumstances (mobility issues, dementia, high dependency and so forth), so high on emotion, tension, and stress.  It went remarkably well, but poor Dad was really struggling.

Lots of lovely people there, though - my favourite aunt and uncle; my sister, her husband and two small nephews; the dotty next door neighbour. 

In other news, a friend writes "am sure you must have more hours in your day than anyone else - which isn't fair!  Or perhaps you don't waste as much time 1) drinking 2) watching mindless tv 3) shouting at small children 4) drinking!"  So you might like to know, friend of mine, that I am sitting in front of The Daily Show (Global Edition), with a glass of wine beside me and the laptop on my lap, arguing with Daisy about whether she can stay up a bit later if she uses the time to have a shower or whether bedtime actually means bedtime NOW.  I'm just very practised at looking sober in type...

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Look what I found today, in my lovely kitchen shop!  Aren't they beautiful?  They had to be tested, though, immediately.  The only recipe I could find that needed lots of mixing bowls was, unfortunately, for banana and golden syrup muffins.  So  I mashed bananas and beat eggs, and creamed butter and sugar to my heart's content. 

They didn't last very long, though, so I might have to try it again.

In other news, it has mostly rained today, and I either have a stinking cold or stinking hay fever, I can't work out which.  So I've blitzed it with lemsip and loratidine (?) and still the sneezes keep rolling in...

We have all stayed indoors, today.  My beloved has rigged up a television and freesat in the front room, so I have curled under a rug watching rubbish films on the satellite channels.  My poor son is being copiously and violently ill.  I rather suspect a migraine, but since he can't keep anything down I can't even offer paracetamol. 

Tomorrow, we have to go to my stepmother's birthday party, which will be trying.   And is a long journey.  Perhaps if small son is still copiously ill, we won't be able to make it...

Thursday, 6 May 2010

So.  The apron.  It's delightfully fifties, and reversible (the other side is a white, floral Alexander Henry fabric which I will show you another time, the camera being almost as big as the photographer, today).  The ties and bodice top and waist strip are made from a lovely Alexander Henry day of the dead fabric, which there wasn't quite enough of to make the whole thing... but I love this pattern.  It's almost good enough to waltz around in wearing nothing but lingerie and high heels underneath...

And on that salubrious note, I'm going to go and cast my vote.  Do the right thing, people!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

I missed my early train. I hustled my low heels out of the house and down the road as fast as I could. A heeled, bustling, grey suited fury.  Overtook the labourers strolling to the cafe, swerved efficiently round the bus drivers in a huddle around their bus door (honestly! They have a whole flippin' bus station! Why do they need to park on the pavement?) and rounded the corner - a full minute, minute and a half from the station door, never mind the platform - just in time to see my (fast) train pull into the platform above me.


So now I'm on the middle train, which isn't really mine at all, and I must change at Nuneaton, and then at New Street. Well, it was that  or wait 16 minutes at the station for my late train.

Between Nuneaton and Birmingham, I need to put my makeup on.  I didn't actually mean to turn into the sort of woman who does her makeup on the train, but in the fine judgement between that and getting out of bed before 6am, somehow public vanity seemed like the lesser evil.  Somehow else, the possibility of going to work without makeup was dismissed altogether.  Didn't even enter into the equation.  Such are the hidden shallows of seniority!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

I will never understand how it can be 7.18, and the train advertised for 7.16 can still be showing as 'on time'.  On my way to the station, I passed my alarm clock. He is a somewhat weatherbeaten man, probably not  much beyond his early sixties. He wears (always) a crumpled, leather hat with straw-like whisps of blonde hair escaping in every direction beneath it. His face has a similar leathery consistency as the hat, but several  shades paler and split by a large smile. His jacket is red, waxed (presumably) cotton, faded to a dusty tomato colour. I haven't paid much attention to his trousers. They're a khaki shade of brown. I imagine they're cords.  Every morning, he walks his wife - a short woman in a long skirt, grey bun bidding for freedom from high on top of her head - to the station.  Every morning, they are engrossed in conversation as they climb the stairs, and then wait silently on the platform for the train. She climbs aboard, and every morning he watches her settle before waving a
jaunty farewell and setting off again. On his way home, every morning, he sings.

On days when I'm catching the early train, I walk behind them, watching him lean his head down to catch what she's saying; observe the fondly solicitous hand on her elbow as they climb the stairs. Pass them on the platform - nod, smile - as I take my place where the front of the train will be. On days when I'm catching the later train, I hear him before I see him, singing as he walks alone to the next place. He breaks neither his song nor his stride, but tips his hat, smiles and passes by.

I like catching the later train; his song is cheery and feels like sunshine. But I like catching the earlier train, too. They are so lovely together. I hope they are as deeply, fondly contented as I imagine them to be.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Chocolate mousse didn't go so well; failure was roundly blamed on the children but, in truth, I'm not sure it wholly belonged there. 

Still, it will probably taste good.  It's currently in the fridge, setting, and I am tempted to make some meringues, to go with it, just to prove that I *can* keep the bubbles nice and light and delicious.

And there was the consolation of 10 egg yolks that needed not to be thrown away.  Egg yolks which, as it happened, whipped up very nicely to make eggy bread.  What do you call eggy bread?  When I was little it was french toast, but that's something else these days.  At Uni, it was universally referred to as Tinkers' toast, but I'm not sure that's sufficiently enlightened to be encouraged.  Anyway, we had eggy bread (with golden syrup trickled on top) for brunch, and then I took my temper out to the shed.

The shed is a place of gloriousness.  In fact, it's two sheds in one.  The back door leads to a bike storage/general shed.  The front door (and windows) though are mine.  All mine!  It is my retreat from family life (and failed chocolate mousses).  It is a fully insulated, boarded and decorated room in the garden.  I have electricity, light and heat.  It is my atelier cum office (cum retreat from failed chocolate mousses).  Often, I make quilts and clothes in it.  Today, I am mostly making an apron. 

This image is very cleverly (if I say so myself) stitched together with a tool called Double Take which you can find here - I rather stupidly moved the chair half way through taking the pictures (contrary to the fisheye impression, the inside of the shed is a very tight space, not always conducive to spinning round taking pictures!).  I have lots of fabric storage under the cutting table on the right, and you can just see a little pressing board on top of the cutting table at the back.  The white blob just above the floor and under the laptop is an overlocker, and the main sewing machine is in the sewing cabinet on the left.  The zig zag shelves hold all my paper dressmaking patterns, and cunning thread storage boxes, while the book cases (there are two of them at right angles) hold books, magazines, art materials and so on.  My shed is truly a place of wonder.  And peace!

And that's enough for one day.  There may be a photo of the apron, later.  But there may not!
Coffee in the morning, when work doesn't beckon me early out of my bed, is one of my favourite times of day.  I am recently re-acquainted with the joys of the Bialetti stove-top coffee maker; and it's fast re-become one of my favourite things.  I can show you it this morning, thanks to a manic splurge of housework at about 9pm yesterday when a couple of friends texted to say could they come for a nightcap, since they were at the restaurant down the road.  Well, of course they could!  Friends always welcome!  But the house was a tip... about 45 minutes later, it was presentable, and I'd even put my makeup on.  And then they texted to say service was slow, and perhaps they'd better go straight home and rescue the babysitters!  Oh well, this morning we reap the benefit of a lovely clean house.

So, another blog.  If it only lasts half as long as the last one - no, I'm not going to link, those of you who know it do, those of you who don't, won't.  Anyway, if it lasts half as long as the last one, that'll be good going.

This will, I suspect, be mostly a rambling about things I'm making.  Which, today, will be chocolate mousse.  But since I haven't got started yet, here are some pictures of the very lovely creatures who inspired the blog name...

 This is Silas.  He's 8.  Or possibly 9.  I'm not so good with chronology.  He is, as you see, a faithful friend - mostly Border Terrier with a little Lakeland throwback, he is the sweetest natured, most obedient dog I have ever known.  Unfortunately, he is also hairy.  Very hairy.  And blonde.  Very, very blonde.  This is not always a good combination of traits.

This is Beano.  He's 8 months.  He is young, and bouncy, and very inquisitive - hence the odd camera angle and mischievous light in his eye.  He is a Lancashire Heeler, and while we love him very much, he has a lot to learn!  Although in the last few days we have made excellent progress with the "not climbing onto Mum & Dad's bed" rule.  *sigh*...

And this is Jip.  We don't know so much about her, as she's a rescue dog.  I got her in 2006, and think she was 8 then, so 12ish now.  We think she's also a Lancashire Heeler - or mostly.  She was a very unsettled dog when she first arrived, but is now sweet natured and loving.  But it was hard work!

And later, there will be chocolate mousse.  Which I'd better get on with!