Thursday, 29 March 2012

Getting home early..

This was the view from my study when I got home this afternoon.  All my lovely white blossom trees are out in force.  The one on the left is a Damson tree that has survived from the days when the whole close was an orchard.  It was badly beaten about and left for dead when the houses were built almost 20 years ago.  The builders even managed to errect a fence over its roots.  Nevertheless, it seems to have thrived and we get a fairly good crop from it most summers. 

All this blossom has been a bit of a surprise because I've had one of those weeks and I hadn't seen the garden since Sunday.  Monday night was a Year 11 Diploma performance (extremely proud of them); Tuesday was Year 7 Parents Evening (talked myself hoarse) and last night was a Year 9 'Once Upon a Time' Performance (really sweet!)

Basically I've developed a unit where the Year 9s devise a show suitable to take into Year 1 and 2 classses at our feeder schools.  They write the scripts and plan all the songs themselves.  Every year I'm always surprised and delighted by the outcomes.  Last night was lovely.  There are some very witty and slightly zany children in this class and their show was particularly clever.

Most schools are beaking up for Easter tomorrow.  Solihull continues until next Wednesday for the pupils and Thursday for the staff.  The only good thing is that we don't start again until the 23rd... The children get two and a half weeks, which will be lovely if the weather holds.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012


Last Sunday I couldn't decide whether I wanted to charge around and do loads of jobs, or just sit in the sun and do nothing.  In the end we compromised a little and took the newest Marcos out for another 'shake down' trip.  We decided to head for South Wales and ended up having a picnic lunch on the cliff above Mumbles pier.  The weather was pretty hazy inland but it was gorgeous once we got to the coast.

We'd never been to the Gower pennisular before so we had no idea where we were going or how busy it was likely to be.  In the event, it was very busy but we enjoyed what we saw of the area and would go back again.  The area has clearly been through a process of regeneration.  The pier is still closed to visitors but it is clearly going to be restored some time soon.  This is the view out to the lighthouse from the end of the promenade at the Mumbles.

We then decided to take ourselves back onto more familiar territory and plotted a return journey across the Brecon Beacons.  The last time I travelled on the road in this picture it was raining so hard that you could hardly see where the road was going.  On Sunday you could see for miles.  We were really struck by how dry this part of the country is looking.  It's hard to believe that this is Wales in March....

We stopped a couple of times to take pictures of the car and the views.  This is the reservoir by the main road across the mountains.  We weren't the only ones who had decided to take 'their pride and joy' for a spin.  The laybyes were full of motorbikes and other 'cherished' cars.

We don't tend to spend days touring around in the car - largely because we both love walking; we're generally fed up of cars by the end of the commuting week and it's a very expensive way to spend a Sunday.  Nevertheless, we both enjoyed the day because it felt like a real 'holiday'. 

We're off the the Brecon Beacons for a walking holiday in a few weeks.  I can't wait to get back there!

Monday, 26 March 2012

Relaxing at the weekend..

Here's the throw that I started in Bournemouth a few weeks ago.  Since I took this picture on Saturday morning I've done a couple more circuits of pale lemon.  I don't think I'm going to make it much bigger but I will probably finish it off with a dark red edging....

On Saturday my Mum had a Coffee Morning at her house so I popped round for a little bit.  The books were only 50p on the book stall so I picked up a couple.  I've just started 'The Soldier's Return' and I think it's excellent.  The 'table topper' will be perfect for the little table in the conservatory (and it was only £2).

I then drove over to Pershore to meet up with some friends for coffee.  I was a little early so I wandered down to the St Richard's Hospice Shop.  This charity has a double unit in Pershore so there's a massive china and homeware section.  I found this lovely little blue and white jug (for £2).  It goes brilliantly with another little jug that I found in the Oxfam shop in Stratford last summer.  It also goes well with my general 'blue and white' kitchen theme.

When I got home I discovered that I'd been lucky in the raffle at the Coffee Morning.  This is what 1kg of chocolate shells looks like.......!

Unfortunately (fortunately...?) I don't actually like chocolate shells that much.  However my lovely pregnant colleague absolutely adores them.  I brought them into work this morning and gave them to her before school.  In a few weeks she is going to need all the energy she can muster - so I've given her strict instructions to eat as many as possible every day!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Doodles and Crochet

I love today's 'Google Doodle' and couldn't resist popping into this post.  Before today I'd never heard of Juan Gris and had no idea that it's the 125th anniversary of his birth.  To be honest I'm not that keen on cubism generally but the musical theme going on here is really cool.

Thanks to all of you who commented on my last post.  Most of the blanket was done over the last two weeks during my commute.  I'm also working on a larger throw for the lounge - which started out as my first ever piece of crochet in Bournemouth.  This has gone past fifty rows now so it's a pretty large square and also quite heavy.  It's not terribly conveniant to wrestle with it in the passenger seat of the car.  My plan is to complete the throw at home in the evenings and start a complimentary cushion cover during the commute until Easter. 

After Easter the baby arrives and we will know whether to crochet in pink or blue.  My colleague hopes that she's having a boy - but nothing is certain in  these things!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Finished Projects

I finished the cot blanket for my colleague's baby last night.  She doesn't know whether she's having a boy or a girl so I went for a neutral colour scheme......   (The teddy is one of my collection - she was a Valentine's Gift from Mark this year.)

I keep all my gift bags and re-use them when I can.  This bag was perfect for a 'Mum to be'..

My colleague was delighted with the blanket when I gave it to her before school this morning.  She wants me to make some more bedding when the baby arrives.  I'm really pleased with the end result, given that I've only been able to crochet for 4 1/2 weeks! 

Monday, 19 March 2012


Today I have received seriously good news....  My school has been living with the threat of an Ofsted inspection for about 12 months. We've gone through the whole range of pre-Ofsted torture - training on 'quick fix' outstanding lessons; mock inspections; hysterical SMT, the lot.

During period 4 today an e-mail labled Ofsted landed in my in-box from the Head.  I opened it with that sinking feeling and discovered that an educational miracle has occured!  Ofsted have contacted the school to explain that they have gone through our results and feel that we are making excellent progress.  As a result they will not be visiting us until summer term 2013.

I ran into my colleague's classroom and started to do the 'teacher's hysterical celebration dance'.  Not particularly cool, but it amused her Year 9s.  I then ran down to see if my Head of Faculty had read the e-mail.  Cue more wild celebrations in the Art rooms!

Obviously - being education - there's always a bit of a cloud to spoil the suniest days.  In this case, the new no-notice inspections are due to start in September.  I'm just drawing some comfort from the fact that the inspectors will have done two terms' work in the new framework before we get 'done'.

Teaching can be a very strange job...!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Irish Crochet

I have a lovely French friend C., who comes round most Friday evenings for a chat.  I did A level back in the dark ages so we mostly chat in French until my brain begins to fry.  Then she talks French and I reply in English.... it's great fun!  Anyway, we were chatting a few weeks ago about crochet and my faltering beginner steps.  Since then - while I've been plodding round my granny squares - C. has rediscovered her passion for crochet too. 

At the moment each Friday session starts with a crochet 'show and tell'.... C. politely compliments me on the fact that I'm still going round in squares, then produces the most beautiful pieces of work from her bag.  She is currently working on 0.8mm and 0.5mm hooks with ultra fine silks and cottons.  She's creating amazingly delicate flower motifs.  They are stunning.

She explained last night that she intends to work some Irish Crochet.  Apparently she will have to work loads of these tiny flowers then pin them onto a piece of frabric.  After that she will crochet them together using chains and other simple stitches.  Once she has finished the linking work, she can remove the material and the effect will be somewhere between lace and a free-style crochet picture.  I've had a look at some examples on the internet and added a couple of my favourites to this post.  I think it's absolutely gorgeous.

I think I'm a very long way from being able to follow in my clever friend's footsteps - but I now have a crocheting goal.  I would love to be able to be able to produce something like this!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Hiding truths...

Family history has fascinated me for years.  It all started when my Uncle got in touch and asked me and Dad to explore my Grandad's early life.  Sadly I'd never known this grandparent. He died quite young (aged 63 in 1963) before my parents were married.  Anyway, he had always kept the facts of his early life very simple - he came from Kidderminster; he'd been an under-age soldier in WW1 - going out to the trenches at the age of 15 then being 'held to serve' on Salisbury Plain until he returned to France in 1917; his brother had died in WW1 and the rest of his family were dead.

My Uncle asked us to do some research. He lives in Norfolk but Kidderminster is only a few miles to the north of us in Worcester.  It didn't take very long to establish that my Grandad had hidden a few 'untruths' in this simple story.   His father was alive and living Kidderminster until 1940.  He had a sister and a half-sister.  His sister died in the mid-1970s, having lived all her life in the same town.  The half-sister died a couple of years before we started our research - still living in the West Midlands. 

We'll never know that exact reasons for my Grandad's complete 'cutting off' from his family, but we've researched enough to guess some of the factors.  Grandad stayed in the army at the end of WW1 and went to fight in Ireland with the Worcesters.  If he returned to Kidderminster in the early 1920s he would have spent the best part of 7 years away from home and experienced many awful things.  During this time his father had re-married and there was a young half-sister.  His sister was living with an Aunt, rather than with her father, which gives more clues to general family relationships.  I suspect that he just 'moved on' for work.  He couldn't keep in touch by post with his father because my Great-grandad couldn't read (he signed his marriage certificate with a 'X')

My Dad and his brother have cousins that they have never met.  We felt that it was better to avoid them and are very careful what we put on family history sites.  Nevertheless, we've put together a huge family tree of the bigger 'clan' and I have spent time with more distant relatives. 

The amazing thing is that the family originally come from Bewdley and the Wyre Forest (the town in my previous post).  I know that they were one of a group of families who lived and worked in the forest.  They were desperately poor and frequently got into trouble with the law.  The only documentation that I can find on them (appart from the census returns and BMD records) are their regular court appearences!

You may think it strange, but I feel that I owe a great deal to this Grandad who I never knew.  He is my only muscial ancestor - so without him I could never have become a Music Teacher.  It must be a strong gene because there are loads of musicians that I have met in the modern extended family.  I recognise many of my other character traits in the way that my Grandad seems to have responded to the situations that he found himself in.  This research has also explained the tremendous affinity that I've always felt for the area round Bewdley.  I like to think that it's 'in my genes'!

This is the only 'family house' still standing (the small end cottage closest to the camera).  It's on the hill above Bewdley. My Great grandfather lived there in the 1881 census.  The other cottages that the family rented were so poor and unsuitable for modern living that they have been all been demolished - or disappeared under the Kidderminster ring road!

We walked past this cottage again on Sunday morning.  It's in a very poor state and it isn't clear whether anyone is actually living there at the moment. If I had unlimited funds I would love to buy this piece of family history and create a little weekend bolt hole for myself, family and friends.  It's the kind of cottage that would look great if it was painted white then furnished with splashes of colour and lots of handmade things.

Unfortunately I haven't got unlimited funds...... but I guess it's still good to dream!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Out in the Spring Sunshine..

Given that the sun was shining brightly yesterday morning, there was only one thing to do.. a walk! We put a picnic together with the left-overs from Saturday night's meal and drove a few miles up the River Severn to Bewdley.  We parked the car in one of the riverside carparks and headed off down the lane to Ribbesford...

This is a view of Ribbesford Court.  It was home to General de Gaulle after the fall of France in 1940 and became became a centre of 'Free French' military activity for a while.  It's now a private home again.  The trees behind the house are part of the Wyre Forest.

We climbed the hill and then picked up part of the Worcesterhsire Way.  It was wonderful to stride out along these tracks in the shelter of the hedge, with the sun on our faces...

We'd done about 5 miles by the time that we got to this little track.  It's actually a 'corpse road' - the route that people had to use to take their dead to burial in the church at Ribbesford.  It still has a slightly 'other-worldly' quality to it...

After another mile or so, we picked our way into the upper part of Bewdley itself.  This is the original part of the town and you can see the remains of fairly ancient buildings....

We continued alone the old road into Bewdley - through an area know as Wyre Hill..  The tiny old cottages haven't changed much in the last 150 years..

Eventually we arrived at the back of the Georgian town.  This part of the town is still known as 'Welch Gate' - which gives some clues to the way that the Welsh border moved over the years!

We picked our way through the town and back to the river bank.  (Bewdley has a very pretty river frontage but I'm saving that for another post.)

The sun was still shining and it was really warm - perfect weather for a picnic!  We had salad, beetroot, cheesy potato salad, cold roast chicken and fruit for lunch... all washed down with a little rose wine and plenty of black coffee. 

It was warm enough to sit and crochet in the sun for an hour or afterwards.  Mark bought a 4X4 magazine along as well, so we were both completely content!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Silver Linings..

I had grand plans for some serious walking this weekend but today hasn't been quite as I expected.  I've been able to enjoy the good weather - but only in the garden.  The sun has brought out the first flowers on the Magnolia in my front garden. I think it must be at least two weeks early.

This is the reason for our change of plans.  "Winnie" - our aged Range Rover - failed her MOT yesterday.  This wouldn 't have been a significant problem but she then decided to have a major transmission failure on the way back from the testing station.  I got home yesterday afternoon to find oil all over the drive and Mark sulking in the lounge!

Anyway, some succinct coaching language (along the lines of "Get out there and at least find out what's broken") persuaded Mark back outside to find out the extent of the damage.  He made a shopping list for the replacement parts last night, collected everything together first thing this morning and has been working on the vehicle all day (helped by Thomas)

I am seriously proud of him.  His friends said he'd never be able to fix her this time... but he has!  In addition, he's saved us hundreds of pounds.  He's still got to do all the work on her to get her through the MOT re-test, but there's a fair chance that we'll be able to go walking tomorrow.

Every cloud has a silver lining.  I've pottered around the district and discovered another local wool shop.  I've also had time to do some more crochet.  I'm on the 50th row of my throw and have started the baby blanket for my colleague.  My parents are coming round for dinner tonight so I've also had time to prepare the meal.  To be honest, it's been nice to slow down a bit!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Happiness Is..

..... sitting in the sun, in the car in the supermarket carpark, eating an extremely illegal chocolate eclair!  Yesterday I completely gave into late afternoon sugar cravings and it felt GOOD!  I'd stopped off on the way home to get some more rolls for sandwiches and found myself making a quite detour via the cream cake display.  Fortunately I went to Pilates later so some of the illegal calories were exercised away...!

Today my form and I decided that we're going to have 'Cup-Cake' Friday tomorrow....


My school has a vertical tutoring system so I have a group of 20 children ranging from 11 to 16 in age.  The smaller class size means that I've got to know them pretty well and I positively encourage a 'family' atmosphere.  I think it's needed because the school is very large - almost 1300 kids - and they need somewhere where they can be seen as individuals.  Anyway, my little 'family' has been having a difficult and very busy time recently. One lad has lost his Grandmother; another has just had to have his dog put down; four of the younger girls are involved in various shows across the West Midlands so they are exhausted; and my Year 11s are so strung out about 6th form entry that you play a tune on them..! After some informal chat at form time we decided that sugary products were the only thing that was going to see us through to the end of the week.

Obviously I don't treat them to cake all the time - but I think they appreciate the treat if it happens occasionally and with good reason.  Hopefully their lives are going to become a little settled again soon.  I hate seeing them struggle.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012


Here are a few sunset pictures from the balcony of our room at Bournemouth a couple of weeks ago..

The skies were absolutely spectacular..

And the colours just kept getting better...

I was particularly pleased that this full-on shot into the sun worked so well..

The lengthening days make a huge difference to my lifestyle.  Today Mark and I got home with enough time to pop a casserole in the oven, then go for a decent length walk round the lanes before it became fully dark.  British Summer Time begins in a couple of weeks - I can't wait for the lighter evenings!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Back to Malvern

Thank you for all your kind comments on my previous post.  I did a lot of sorting out in my life this week and reached Friday exhausted but much happier.  I'm now 'rocking and rolling' again as normal! 

I've also really pushed on with my crochet.  I love the fact that I can do it while Mark is driving us to and from work.  The commute had always felt like a lost hour or so.  Now I've got something pretty to show for it.  Here's the throw so far.

The wool that I bought last week for this project has been more or less used up, so I had a fab excuse to go back to 'The Knitting Parlour' again today.  This time I haven't messed around.  I bought a couple more balls of the pale yellow, three balls of a pale apricot and three more balls of the red multi-colour wool.  I hoping that this will give me enough to finish the throw and create a couple of matching cushion covers - although the cushion covers will have to wait until I've done the baby blanket for my colleague.

Actually I've had an amazing day today.  Last week I noticed a beautiful evening gown in a shop in Malvern.  Today Mark went shopping with me and we went back to this shop to have closer look.  I tried on several dresses and they all had that elusive 'wow' factor.  In the end Mark bought me one!  We go to quite a few formal events each year and I've been 'rotating' several long black dresses for about five years.  This dress is completely different and I love it.  Unfortunately I can't post a picture quite yet because it needed a couple of small alterations to fit me perfectly.  I'm picking it up in two weeks time.

Just to finish off our lovely trip, we also went out for lunch.  I had a goats cheese salad - which was delcious.  I adore the combination of goats cheese and walnuts but I never bother to do it at home because Mark hates both of them!

Hope that you are all having an equally nice weekend!