Sunday, 22 September 2013


This weekend I finished these. Drawn using Adobe Illustrator, they are based on a variety of vintage styles, including some I found on 60s matchboxes. The leaves can be torn off, using the perforations, and then a strip should be cut off and slotted into the bottom of each picture, to allow it to stand up. They are the size of a matchbook. Illutrator is a brilliant piece of software and I really enjoyed making these!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Back in the jug again

School started again last Monday. I was dreading the swift transition from freedom and autonomy to the serfdom of employment, and it reminded me of Geoffrey Willans' wry comments on the return to school. The teachers and support staff came in for two days of time-wasting pep talks, the uplifting effects of which which were nullified by the news that our lunch duties, which I have hitherto used to supplement my lowly pay, are now to be unpaid - no, wait, we are to get a 'free' lunch in return. Shocked by this news, I blocked out the drone of the speakers, whose statistics on GCSE results sent the ICT teacher to sleep.

On Wednesday the shiny, squeaky 7s came in. They're taller than average this year. In fact, had the 11s of last year still been with us, they would have had a nasty realisation that their bully-boy behaviour was going to cut no ice with these lanky kids, up whose noses they would have to squint as they demanded their lunch-money/phone/ipod. (Not that that happens at my school, I hasten to add… since the expulsion of Fat-Fabio-who-had-unfeasibly-small-feet, we have had no student-on-student muggings).

The 7s dropped things all round school. 'Miss, I've dropped my pencil.' 'So you have! Pick it up then.' They got confused and lost. 'Everything okay?' I asked of at least five separate kids, whose sweaty brows and panicky faces gave them away. They twitched and fiddled in the effort of concentrating on the two days of talks, from the head, the deputy heads, the head of year, form tutors and eventually teachers.

I relish these early days. The headmaster reminds them that they have the opportunity to leave behind their old persona. Their primary-school self can be ditched in favour of a new, 'good' self. A clean slate, he says. It isn't that easy, of course, as any fule kno. The problems, whether at school or home, are often still present despite the move from little to big school. It takes a while for the dust to settle in a move like this. It's very easy to be kind to them. I don't know what they are really like yet. I have few clues as to which of them is spoilt beyond redemption, which neglected, or charming, confident or lonely. Most of them are sweet, eager to please, to settle in, to be liked, noticed and approved of. I'm hoping the best for all of them. The least likely can turn everything around in the course of the next five to seven years.

I am losing P, and gaining E. Also vision-impaired, there is a sharp contrast between him and my student of last year. But that's for another post.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Portobello Road

Portobello Road - the posh end
Last Friday I went in search of shoes for my wedding…yup, still looking for those 70s corkers. I went to Paris. I've been up to the East End 'vintage' shops, (since when were denim shorts classified as vintage?). I've searched Camden Passage. On my quest I've met some really interesting and kind sellers, including one who was really quite drunk (at 10 on a Wednesday morning), and another who denounced her neighbouring shop-keeper as a fraud and an ignoramus who 'knew nothing about vintage clothes when she arrived, and knows very little more now than when she came'. (Think I might have stumbled into the middle of a war). I've been given lists of names of shops and sites by these kind stall holders, and visited nearly all of them. These shoes are elusive. The nearest I have come are a pair of magnificent creatures on Etsy which are exactly right - but half a size too small, translating from US to UK sizing, and way too much money.

In the early 80s I had a job in Kensington Market, a mecca for all those cool kids who wanted a bit of street style. I lived in Kilburn so I used to cycle there, through Queen's Park and down the Portobello Road, and on to Kensington High Street. There's a market in Portobello Road and early on a Friday the dealers would pick it over for bargains which would be gone by Saturday when the tourists and general public came. I looked forward to my Fridays, getting up really early, or so it seemed at the time, to find interesting relics from the old days when people burned coal on the fire and used outside toilets. I wasn't really after clothes then, but enamel plates, ceramic door knobs and such. I had very little money to spend - my job paid peanuts and I was signing on. My huge bedsit had a dodgy electric meter which the landlord had fixed to the highest rate, so you had to feed the greedy bugger with 50p every couple of hours. The previous tenant, in response to this greed, had himself secretly fixed the meter so that you could slip a piece of card in and stop the wheel from spinning round, so the supply of electricity was constant. I used to put in a few quid's worth of 50ps so that the landlord was none the wiser to this illicit arrangement. So pennies were scarce and I had to really think about what I spent them on. (Looks like I've come full-circle, now I think about it). Portobello Road market was a good way to feed my second-hand need.

I headed down there last Friday looking for Those Shoes. It was incredible to revisit after so many years. So much was the same. Yet there were differences. I got talking to Jane, who had run a stall but now keeps a little shop in the arcade under the railway bridge. She told me that she used to pay £45 a day for her stall, but she found the winters cruel, the early mornings and late nights difficult, the market manager disloyal and the other stall holders untrustworthy (she thinks they sold her stock while she was getting a cuppa, and pocketted the readies). We reminisced about the market in the old days. It still has a very linear layout, with antiques at the top end, fruit, veg and cheap shoes in the middle, junk and vintage clothes under the flyover, and those strange boxes of wire and flood-goods at the end where Portbello Road joins Goldborne Road. But the number of stalls under the flyover has shrunk by about a third, and the number of specialist-fittings dealers has really dwindled (no enamel plates). There are still a number of vintage clothes stalls, and enough house-clearance clothes sellers (dead-old-lady clothes). But at either end the Portobello Road has disappointingly caved in to the 'developments' seen elsewhere all over Britain. Instead of the greasy spoon cafes there are now Starbucks and chi-chi bars open to the street. Cath Kidston (oh God, really?) has taken up residence at one end, and Orla Keily (or some such) at the other. Even the antique stalls were fewer, and many supplementing their stock with 'fake' antiques - those boxes, coat hooks, loo door signs etc which have been made and aged with paint techniques.

I wasn't disappointed. The nature of markets dictates that they must be fluid - stall holders and stock wax and wane. I'm sure it will survive, and clothes which seem so modern now will grace the stalls there tomorrow. I hope Jane's shop is a success, though she is tucked away and somewhat invisible there.

the fruit market middle

fruit, T shirts and bars

I did not find my shoes. Bugger. But I did have a truly marvellous day out, reclaiming a forgotten, and important, part of the person I am, and resolving to remember it.

Yesterday, in a another attempt to coax The Shoes to reveal themselves to me in a shop, through the ether or by any other means, I had a shoe cull.  I tried not to let the chosen few know in case they ran for cover. It's hard to coax them out from under the bath. The dull ones will make new friends at the dump, and the witty ones will be the life and sole at Traid, or some other charity shop. One crafty pair reminded me of the hours I spend on Ebay looking for 'authentic' vintage, and have renegotiated their way back into their box at the bottom of the wardrobe. They're there now, wiping the perspiration from their anxious insteps, and warning the others to shape up or ship out. Don't worry others, I love you all.

Under the flyover

I think these are something to do with weaving - I nearly bought some

Beautiful old quilt - smelt a bit funny so I resisted it

I had a friend who lived in the house on the left

Wire in Goldborne Road
Up for demolition - shame.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Back to Earth, no bump!

5 days in Paris. We travelled by Eurostar. Beautifully quick, no ear ache for Himself, and very relaxing. We stayed in a flat I found on Airbnb, a brilliant site. Check it out!

My favourite day was the flea market. Ibought a lovely fabric-covered glove box. Also some blue metal buttons, which pleased me.

It was a fabulous holiday with many happy memories. I made a souvenir book for myself and kept some tickets and things inside.

book in a matchbox

These are some of my favourite clothes. I wear my favourites till they have holes in them. (So does my Dad). Not everyone agrees with my idea of style…but I don't seem to mind!

the outside of the matchbox is printed from a photograph of our hall. My mum papered it with these Victorian dolls. How 70s!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

News from abroad…

A long lost blogger has returned for a short spell. In her absence I have imagined all sorts of horrors. She writes about the resurrection of her rather wonderful house, which so far has taken …is it two years? Can it be? as if that were unheard of, even obscene. And at some cost to herself and her partner. I'm not just talking financial, but many other ways. So when she took a break from posting I'm afraid I feared the worst, and thought of the many ways this kind of strain can play out in a person's life.

Her prose is rather beautiful, and the parallels she draws are apt and poetic.Well, I won't go on…you must read it for yourself. I, for one, am relieved that her online presence has resumed, however briefly, and look forward to the next missive.

Meanwhile, my new brooches are in my etsy shop. Do visit and let me know if they are your cup of tea!
circus puppy

Little Miss Muffet

Mary Had a Little Lamb

Wee Willie Winkie

Friday, 2 August 2013

Time for tea

What sort of art can a blind person produce?

Whatever kind they want to, I should think. But concept is perhaps more challenging for the young, sighted or not. I wanted to make something familiar with P, something with a recognisable shape which she could recreate herself out of material we could easily source. 3D is easier for her to revisit, (important if the work is to be meaningful), so we're tending towards papier mache construction.

I had played around with cardboard teacups at home (the idea pleases me - a cup made from paper). I took in the one I had made, and also a plastic cup and saucer I had bought from a jumble sale (remember those?) to give her a reference point.

I had a template I'd downloaded from the internet, and P fixed it together with tape and then covered it with glue and wrapping paper. She worked at giving the cardboard total coverage, and smoothing the paper down as much as she could, and I made one too, to keep her company.

Afterwards, though, it seemed that more was needed to make it into a 'piece'. So we typed 't' in braille, and cut them up into individual 't's. We suspended P's cup  from a wooden frame, made by one of our maintenance staff, using invisible plastic thread, and glued mine to the deck. Then we threaded the ts together and put them on so they were spilling out of the cups.

My photos are hurried affairs, but you get the idea?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

I'm melting…

It's too hot to go out, too hot to stay in. Too hot downstairs, too hot upstairs. I love it like this.

Here's my new idea - not so much quilting, less textile, more solid and smaller. These brooches are still made from printed cotton (the scraps), but they are then mounted onto sheets from an old paperback book (a Penguin, naturally), and have a brooch or pin attached. Some of them then have another sheet or two of paper glued on for strength, and others have some feedsack instead. Number One Child prefers the paper approach - I think it's great, but I'm worried people won't think it's pretty enough.

What do you think?

Sunday, 28 July 2013

He's up a ladder, she's out…

a little picture for a bedroom or a bathroom

A needlecase with a woodsman

…so I have spent some time making a couple of little needle-crafted items for my Etsy shop (in between making coffee, fetching bits and pieces, and generally being encouraging to Himself, who to be fair, has spent some time up said ladder in the heat). I must say, I do like a man up a ladder (keeps 'em busy and out of the way).

Thursday, 25 July 2013

school's out 4 summer, school's out 4eva!

new glittery brooch in my Etsy shop

Normally, on a week-day, I get up, get dressed, and cycle up a big hill to do something I love but have little control over. When I have free time part of the pleasure is the planning.

My plans this summer include:
spending as much time as I'm allowed with Number One Child
re-learning how to bind books
making more vintage-style goodies for my etsy shop
charity-shop shopping
Paris (!)
tidying up (properly!)
spending time in the Tate
Visiting the V&A
Finding my wedding outfit
hunting down some decent films to watch
catching trains
being outside
drinking lots of water

I've made a good start with this little brooch, and I'm planning some more needlecases because they're selling well in Diverse Gifts, my local gift shop. But I admit I have been a little side-tracked by blog-land and have been reading some fantastic and inspirational blogs, like this one!

I'd love to know your summer plans. Drop me a line and let me know what you'll be up to this summer!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The best second hand shop in the world, ever

Having a rummage
Ladybird books


We went in search of air…  Brighton is great on a hot day, and it was toasty. The sea breeze wafted up from the front, and we trawled charity shops and flea-markets in search of the perfect find.

I was looking for aggressive 70s wedges in a size 4, to wear with a dress which I rather impulsively bought from ebay. I want to wear it to get married in, later this year. It's small - I'm on a diet.

In the best and biggest flea-market in Brighton, I nearly bought some foldaway opera glasses for £4.00 (but a glimpse into the future revealed my even-more crumpled self regretfully passing them on for 50p at some car boot sale in a few years' time). I probably should've bought the 'making a transistor radio' Ladybird book pictured above, or Marco Polo and his excited camel. Or the lovely sixties umbrella. Or the forties bathing suit, (made for a belle - but I'd never have filled it properly). Or the toy iron-with-a-face (so tempting). But no, I was uncharacteristically strict with myself. Number One Child, though, who is a lot less blurry than she looks in this photo, has an art project on the go, and bought a fistful of tiny photos of people. Taken between the 30s and the early 60s, each captures an unfamiliar face in their respective moment, and fires the imagination with possibilities.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

'I'll take the stairs'

I took my daughter to see the opening of the 'David Bowie is…' exhibition at the V&A. We stood in a 45-minute-long queue - not to get in as such, because as a member I can swan right past the average punter, and anyway it was members-only at the opening night. No, we were queueing for the headsets which delivered music and information about select exhibits. As we waited, and shuffled slowly towards the desk to collect our headsets I had a chance to weigh up the other visitors. They were a motley crew, as you might expect. A fair few were like me, middle-aged mums with shiny teenagers. Some had younger children with them (who must have found the whole thing quite bewildering, like some mad circus, which it was).

And some were what I had hoped for - the poseurs of that era, still dressing up to show off in public, as they had back in the day. They came singly and in couples, and had made such an effort to stand out it seemed rude not to stare. One woman, 60ish, wore half her short hair black, the other half white (like a '30s Cruella DeVille). Her skirt suit was black with white trim, and her stockings white and black the other way round from her hair, if you see what I mean. She tapped the floor with an elegant walking stick. I'm not sure she wore a monocle - but she should have.

A couple stalked past. He was impossibly thin, she sported middle-aged spread. Incredibly angular, he appeared to have traveled at such speed that the top of his head was still trying to catch up with the rest of him. They gleamed and glittered with lurex and post-punk plastic, and were very smart and disdainful, raising their eyebrows in pity and pursing their lips in disapproval at the rest of us. How exhausting it must be to be elevated to so lofty a position.

The exhibition was spectacular. I'm sure there are many reviews for those of you who are interested. For me, some of the most interesting pieces were: footage of David performing some spectacularly embarrassing mime which made me laugh out loud (he is brave to allow us to see that), a lovely photograph of Lindsay Kemp looking very beautiful in full make-up and glittery cozzy, DB's ridiculously impractical asymmetrical knitted jumpsuits and the two dolls with DBs animated heads projected onto them. There was no mention of Angie at all, which seemed a bit peevish, considering…

As we passed through the exhibition, our dodgy earphones delivered music. Every time a new song played I felt 'That was my Bowie era…no, wait, this was…'. What a versatile musician, and what a lasting impression he made. Number one child thinks him a marvel and she's made a little shrine to him in her bedroom. I had rather forgotten how much I love his music, and now I have Hunky Dory playing in my head all the time.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Git off ma land…

Blisteringly hot last Sunday, and Himself had far better things to do. But he's a trooper, so he got up at 6 with me, had coffee, grabbed 2 of the 4 suitcases, and trundled off ahead. I grabbed the other two, gritted my teeth (what's left of them), and followed on behind. We crossed the main road easily (7am on a Sunday, who's out there?) and passed through the estate (council, not stately home) to the park. 7am on a Sunday in Brockwell Park, and the world and her keep-fit mum-auntie-father-brother-civilpartnership-on-a-mission-to-look-good-in-a-bathing-suit were all there. We passed dog-walkers. Their charges were - well, charging - all over the place, excited at the prospect of freedom for an hour or two. We met runners, joggers, walkers and crawlers (a baby was giving his mum a rare lie-in by taking the dad out for a stroll).

We got to the lido car-park. It was already very full. Damn. I asked the guy in charge were there any pitches left? He looked stressed, and told me it was too early in the morning for this. He was obviously already dealing with fuckwittery. One couple had parked their double-decker bus diagonally across two spaces and were setting up stall in a third pitch. She was brittle in opposition,  expecting her partner to back her corner. Another vendor had parked her car right in the middle of two spaces, and the attendant was pleading with her to move over and make space for someone else. We waited. They moved. We moved in and unpacked.

My stock was mostly books. Books have formed the foundations of my life. I am addicted to them. I like the feel of them, I like to touch them, and most of all I like the way they smell. We have too many. I was selling some I had collected during my profession as a book designer. I specialised in gardening and health, so I had quite a few on those subjects, which I had used as reference when commissioning illustrations or photography, or for ideas. A man came over and browsed. 'Interested in gardening?' he asked. I explained. 'Book design?' He told me he was engaged in some work involving teaching Chinese to primary school children and that he was putting it together in a book. 'I need a mentor,' he said, and gave me his email so I could volunteer my services at some future date.

Himself went back home to paint the windows (another story for another time). I was left with one neighbour, Kim, whose bike you see in the picture above (it went for a tenner), and another neighbour to my left, whose goods crept ever closer to mine throughout the morning, preventing people from coming down to see my books and also some of her own stuff too, which she hung on a rail. I grew increasingly irritated at the big cardboard box, which she kept moving on top of my stock. Eventually, like some character from a radio 4 play, I stuffily squeaked at her that I was going to move her box so that punters could get to my suitcases, and she blinked back at me in bemusement, not getting it at all. I thought about the pioneers and claim-stakers shown in the films of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. They would've understood.

At 1, Himself reappeared, very hot and bothered, having slipped on the ladder up to the windows and spilt half a pot of milky paint on the ground. He swore and cursed about it as he gallantly helped me pack up again, and back we trundled with half the stock we'd brought. At home I cashed up. £50 minus a tenner for the pitch. For 5-ish hours. About minimum wage?

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The intimacy of clay


my student's creation is the small domed yurt in the foreground

The helter skelter is my favourite one

In art M's class have been making a city out of clay. They started by drawing 'footprints' on paper to determine the shapes of their buildings, and then using the coil process they built up the walls, added roofs and windows and doors, and other features for decoration. As my vision-impaired student has been off for two weeks of this seven-week term she's missed a lot of lessons, and when we returned to the class we were amazed to find what the others had achieved. We appreciated the progress of their constructions and worked hard to catch up with them so that ours could be part of the city too. As we did, I looked around for inspiration, and I was suddenly struck by something about their shapes. Many of the buildings were round and very tall, with domed, mushroom-like roofs…a couple of them even had a hole in the middle 'to let the smoke out'. I caught the art teacher's eye and nodded my head at these rather explicit creations. She winked and laughed, and agreed that all the other art teachers had remarked on this curious phenomenon. We looked down at my effort. Still in the early stages of construction, it was kidney shaped, with grey leathery walls which grew outwards. Strange, how clay inspires us to create such intimate reconstructions!

I hastily put a roof on mine - it's far more decent now.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

another obsession

I'm obsessed with paper…there, I've said it! This is lovely, clever, and inspirational.

all fun and games

Last year, owing to the financial constraints of the school budget, sports day was really only for the lower school. Years 7 and 8 were taken to a small local venue for an afternoon of activity and it was all rather low key and disappointing.

This year we returned to the full-fat excitement of the big sports stadium we usually use. The cycle there was a half-hour of uphill struggle (literally). I don't know what gradient it was but it felt almost perpendicular, and I got to the stadium limp and sweaty.

Enthusiasm ran high amongst staff and students, who turned up wearing their house colours, some with 'face paint' (water colour applied really thickly). They had made posters for each house, and had perfected chants of disdain about their adversaries. Mathew, Mark, Luke and John were dissed in turn, (don't know what Jesus was making of all this), as cheers/jeers were delivered, and then the events began.

The participants had either chosen their event or had been press-ganged into it. The blind student I support was allocated to the javelin competition. 'Whose idea was that?' I was asked by the alarmed adult-in-charge. Actually she did well, and was the most relaxed I've seen her in a while. We sat on the grass afterward and watched/listened to the relay races, tall pitted against short, leopards against hippos. Very exciting.

The star of the day was an athletic year 10 with that particular posture and walk demonstrated by the muscular runner. Her muscularity is extraordinary, and matched by her ego 'n' attitude, a diva-in-the-making. I've had run-ins with her before, astonished by her arrogance and disregard for others. Now I get it. She is a goddess. She had a lovely time parading her ease on the track before us all, and we had a great time watching her wipe the floor with the other runners.

Afterwards I cycled home again, downhill all the way this time - it took about ten minutes! Lovely end to a great day out.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

new brooches

I've been playing around with ideas recently, and enjoying the feeling of ancient quilted feedsack between my fingers. Notions of childhood, half-buried memories of collecting things - pebbles, leaves, shells, bubble-gum wrappers (with funny cartoons on them), stamps from foreign countries, and scraps, which were taken into school to swap with  other collecters in the playground. I found some scraps on ebay which looked so familiar I bought them - angels with pink or blue wings, their  hair bobbed,  ruby lips and rosy cheeks an expression of innocence. I've made some pretty brooches and am in the process of putting them into my etsy shop. They will look good on a jeans jacket, a summer dress, a t-shirt…but you'll have your own ideas!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Stocking up…

I have fallen by the wayside. I see that every so often other bloggers do the same. Some are truly addicted and come back to share. Others, like me, find it harder to do this. I haven't had much to say 's all, so I haven't posted recently.

I've been invited by a local shop keeper, Anita, (in Brixton) to sell in her lovely shop, Diverse Gifts. She's taken my brooches, needlecases and a bag. Her shop has been around for 12 years, which is a long time by today's standards. Her main interest is jewellery, and she has some lovely things in her shop. Restocking might be difficult but Anita is happy to take stock as it's being made, so I think it may work well. She is a lovely, laid-back person and I like visiting, so if you are ever in Brixton, feel free to drop in!