Thursday, October 24, 2019

I've been down the salt mines with my fellow Johnny Lunchpails so long, I no longer speak one percent.

Hello children! I am actually somehow here, even though my motivation to blog has been almost - although evidently not totally dead.

I had all sorts of good intentions after my last post at the end of April that I would post after we returned from our holiday in Canada and write about the time we had. Well that didn't happen but we went to Toronto, and it was lovely.

Here I am on an old Canadian train in front of the CN Tower. Toronto was brilliant. Nic and I fell in love with the city and its atmosphere, not least of all because we met such wonderful people when we were there. We were lucky enough to be warmly welcomed by some sewing friends - Andrea and Kristi-Ann both took time out of their days to hang out with us, and the wonderful Sarah and her family met us in Toronto and also hosted us for a day in Hamilton. We also made some fantastic new friends in a great local bar. All of this helped me a lot to restore some of the confidence I had lost after a few difficult years in which social anxiety clouded my brain. So it felt really good to get some of my old confident, extroverted ways back.

We were in Toronto for two weeks and only really scratched the surface of all the things to see and do there. And we didn't even make a dent in all the things to eat and drink - what an amazing food town! But we did do a few of the things I had planned, including a visit to Kensington Market to see the statue of Al Waxman.

This is actually one of the first things we did on our first morning in the city and immediately after this I had a great big London Fog flavoured doughnut. It was class.

We also took a coach trip to Niagara Falls. A coach trip wouldn't normally be my jam but it was the best way for us to get there and it also included a wine tasting and a visit to Niagara on the Lake. It was quite kitschy and super fun, although a lot of the other customers were terrible twats. Our tour guide, Steve, was very cute and funny and Nic and I are still quoting him now - when we drove past Mississauga, he told us, "This is where former Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, lived. Sorry to say, he took too much drugs."

We didn't have much time in the town of Niagara Falls but it was long enough for us to go on a boat trip - on the Canadian side, the cruise is called Hornblower (it's called Maid of the Mist on the American side.) It was a cold and overcast day when we went, which meant that the boat was only half full, and it was INCREDIBLE. I didn't take many photos when we were there because they couldn't capture the sensation of the roaring sound of the falls and the mist and the genuine majesty of it, but I would thoroughly recommend to anyone that they do it. It was AMAZING.

Here is a photo of me in front of the falls - you can see both the Bridal Veil falls and the Horseshoe falls. I'm wearing a red chambray Madeleine skirt that I made in the spring.

I was really grateful for the mental and emotional break that our Canadian holiday gave us, because life got pretty fucking real after that. While we were away, Nic's dad was admitted to hospital twice with an infection. He was back in the care home by the time we got back, so as soon as we could, we went and spent a weekend in Kent to visit him and Nic's family. It was good to see him, but it was a very hard visit and it brought up a lot of strong emotions for us both.

Then in July, my brother was involved in a near-fatal accident when he came off his motorbike whilst out on a ride with his friend on the 12th July bank holiday. He came off his bike on a corner and slid along the road before being hit by the bike, which then hit a metal fence. Luckily for him, a neighbour who was out gardening saw the accident and immediately phoned the emergency services. The quick action of the air ambulance service saved my brother's life - his lungs had filled with fluid and they punctured them to drain them. He was taken to hospital in Belfast, where he was put into a coma because his injuries were so severe.

Nic and I flew back to Northern Ireland the next morning, not knowing if we were flying home for a funeral. Thankfully, my brother had made good progress during the night and he came out of sedation on the Saturday afternoon and was strong enough to have surgery on the Monday. He was in intensive care for the best part of two weeks before he was able to go home. He will make a good recovery, although he does now have a titanium plate in his diaphragm - the surgeon assured him that he wouldn't set off the metal detectors at the airport, though! My brother was extremely lucky - his injuries were severe but he got immediate, top-class care, which didn't cost him anything. He was wearing a helmet and so he suffered no head or neck injuries. It was truly terrifying - I wouldn't wish the trip I had to make on anyone - but we were very lucky. Two other men died in motorbike accidents in Ireland the same weekend - one of them only a few miles away from where my brother came off his bike. It could have been a lot worse.

Nic and I were home for a few days and then back again for a few days the following week - in the midst of all of this was my parents' 40th wedding anniversary - and although the circumstances were horrible, it was good to be together. I really appreciated the close bond I am lucky enough to have with my siblings (and their partners) and my parents. We all really looked after each other during the worst thing we had ever experienced.

With my dad, having a 'thank fuck he survived' drink at the Duke of York

Sadly, things didn't get easier as the summer progressed. Nic's dad's infection worsened and he died in the middle of August. It wasn't unexpected, of course, especially as we had come so close to losing him in December 2017. But you can't prepare yourself for losing a parent. In some ways, it was a comfort to know that he was no longer suffering - one of the things that had been difficult about our visit in June had been that it was evident that his quality of life had diminished greatly. It's also a relief to no longer be waiting for bad news, which is a fear and tension we had been carrying around for the last eight or nine years. But the time between his death and his funeral (a couple of weeks - the English way of doing things is fucking inhumane) was very, very hard. The funeral itself was a lovely goodbye to a kind, gentle, sweet and funny man. I will always cherish the memory of our relationship - he called me his daughter and he loved me, and he loved my parents as well. My dad came over for the funeral, and I know that would have meant a lot to my father-in-law as their friendship transcended distance and language and was rooted in a shared love of their families and of the beauty of nature.

A few weeks after the funeral, at the end of September, Nic and I had a holiday to Perpignan. We had booked it before his dad died, so we had no idea how much we would end up needing it. We spent the last week of September there and we stayed in the same lovely hotel we stayed in last year. It was a brilliant week - the weather was stunning and because we were there for a week we were able to see and do so much more than we had been able to on our previous two visits.

Perpignan and Canigou seen from the roof of Galeries Lafayette

It was my birthday while we were away and we celebrated as we did in 2017, by spending the day in Collioure. I had made a special dress for the occasion from fabric I bought from Ali Express:

Majolica dress - Christine Haynes Emery dress with pleated midi skirt, worn with Saltwater sandals and Jennifer Loiselle necklace. That's a baguette in my hands, but Nic had already eaten the top of it.

We had a beautiful day and were lucky enough to return to the stunning Cote Vermeille on the last full day of our holiday, when it was 28 degrees (celsius, so that's warm) and sunny. We paddled in the sea, drank lovely local wine and went on a boat trip - I like to go on a boat when I am on holiday if this is at all possible. On this boat trip we saw dolphins and I got quite sunburned.

Look at that water! 

A man and the sea - that's Collioure harbour you can see there. The boat tour lasted two hours and took us to Argeles, Porte Vendres and Cap Bear.

One of the best things we did on the trip - maybe the best thing I've ever done on holiday - was to go to Villefranche-de-Conflent so we could go on Le Petit Train Jaune. This is a narrow-gauge train that runs from Villefranche right across the Pyrenees to the border with Spain. It has been running since 1910 and all but two of the engines are original. It is FANTASTIC. We didn't do the whole route - we went to Mont-Louis, which is almost at the highest point of the line, before coming back down the mountain to spend some time in beautiful Villefranche.

We were in an open-topped carriage on the way up and had the observation car of one of the closed carriages to ourselves on the way down. I took lots of photos but none of them can really show what it was like - it was a warm and sunny day, and travelling up through the mountains was really special - one of the things I love so much about Perpignan and that part of France is the dramatic mountain scenery and the beautiful Mediterranean coastline, and seeing it from the mountains themselves was truly wonderful. I have definitely left a little part of myself in the Pays d'Oc.

If I ever run away, this is where you will find me.

In her natural habitat.

So... that's where we are up to. It has been a really intense time personally, and of course it has been a ridiculously intense time in the world too. It hasn't all been bad (as the above photo attests - that was a little moment of perfection on our last day in Perpignan) but it has been a lot. Like, a LOT.

I have been sewing here and there although my time and mental capacity for it has been greatly reduced. In June and July, I made a couple of lovely shirt-dresses using McCall's 6891 and 6696:

Marin dress with Swedish Hasbeens peep-toe sandals

Carol Brown dress with Swedish Hasbeens Lise-Lott sandals

I made a M6891 earlier in the year - in fact, I am wearing it in the first photo in this post - but I wanted to combine that lovely notched neckline with a pleated skirt so I combined the bodice with the lovely full skirt from M6696. I bought the fabric for both of these dresses - stretch cotton - from Fabric Godmother and I wore both dresses a lot over the summer. They are fun and have a sweet retro charm whilst being super comfortable. I might make a cold-weather appropriate one if I can find the right fabric but if not, these will be waiting for me to wear and love them again in Summer 2020.

I have done a bit more sewing with denim. I made a Cleo pinafore! I made one when we got home from Canada and the weather was shitty out of some barkweave denim from the Village Haberdashery:

Tilly and the Buttons Cleo dress with stripy top from New Look and red Swedish Hasbeens boots

I made another one recently from some leftover mustard denim that I used to make a Pippi pinafore last year. On both of them, I squared off the bib pocket and omitted the hip and bum pockets. I sewed the 'mini' length which, as you can see, is not mini length on me because I am a shortarse! I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I like them both - I didn't think this dress would suit me but I like it anyway.

On a pinafore kick, I ordered the Fiona sundress to make a denim one to wear as a pinafore (after trying on a similar dress in Gap to see if the style suited me.) I was heavily influenced by Becca from Redwsews on this - she is so super stylish!

Fiona dress in Barkweave denim, worn with stripy top from Seasalt and Swedish Hasbeens sandals

Another Fiona dress, this time in a lighter wash denim but worn in the same way because I am predictable.

I made the cute lower-backed version of the dress and while I am not totally happy with the fit, I have worn both of them lots already. My measurements put me in a size 10 but I was worried about the buttons gaping in the skirt so I sized up to a 12, and ended up having to take everything in all over... and then in the second one I cut a 10. I need to go down to an 8 in the bodice and maybe do a full bust adjustment if I make another but achieving the perfect fit has never been something that bothers me terribly and it hasn't stopped me from wearing these dresses.

In fact, I like them so much that, before we went to France, I ordered the Jenny overalls pattern and I made dungarees. DOLLY CLACKETT IN TROUSERS SHOCKER. It has been another surprise hit:

Jenny overalls, worn with that New Look top again and my Swedish Hasbeens boots

I made these in a 10 - I did learn from the Fiona dress - and the only adjustments I made was to shorten the rise by about 5/8 to account for my short torso. This is an adjustment suggested in the instructions and I did a tissue fit to see if it was something I would need. I don't wear trousers so I don't honestly know if this was something I really needed to do or if it made much of a difference to the fit. But they are comfortable to wear and I don't get a wedgie and I don't appear to have a polterwang or anything, so I am happy enough. These were fairly straightforward to make - the instructions are very comprehensive - but I did really hate the instructions for inserting the lapped side zip. There is a lot of bulk there with the pocket and I struggled with it a bit, but I think I would do better if I were to make these again. I don't know if I will - I'm not sure how many wide-legged overalls I need in my life - but never say never, because I didn't think I would EVER make a jumpsuit type creation and here we are.

I do enjoy wearing them and Nic absolutely LOVES them - like, he really really loves them - so that makes me happy. He's had a tough time and he looked after me and my entire family when my brother was in the hospital - making and wearing some dungarees isn't a hard thing to do to make the man smile.

 I mean, really. What a babe.

So yeah - that's the craic with me - a long-ass post for what has been a hard-ass few months. I'll be back at some point - I have some more sewing projects planned and some knitting and some trips to take. Who knows what life will throw at us. But it is good to keep this space and I'm grateful to any of you who are reading. Thank you, and until next time!