Author Archives: Brenda B

Face Masks

[photo credit @misseysmithyoga]

Until very recent days, the jury was firmly out on whether face masks, specifically single use dental masks, or home made versions, including wrapping one’s face in a scarf or towel, was any use whatsoever against COVID19. And that wearing them was actually more dangerous as it gives people a false sense of safety. But we have been seeing footage of many people in other pandemic affected countries wearing various versions of face coverings so a bit of research was imperative. Here are five links you might like to read to get familiarised with the various opinions, before deciding what to do.

World Health Organisation

Smart Air Filters (private company)

US National Library of Medicine

Make Masks Save Lives

The Local (Switzerland)

Research shows that we need to use hepa filters (vacuum cleaner bags) and wire or similar to make a bendy shape to fit snugly over the bridge of the nose. Without an idea how to get those materials in an already over stretched postal service, so second-most effective filter is several layers of 100% close woven cotton, of tea towel type fabric or similar. There is a sensible balance to strike between too many layers of dense cotton, so that its hard to breathe, and not enough to filter.

The best way BY FAR to avoid transmission is to stay at home. We do know this by now.  But what about those who have to go to work? Hopefully by the time of writing, the government will have provided all the necessary PPE for front line medical staff. But what about our cleaners, refuse collectors, bus drivers, delivery workers? What provisions are being made for them? My guess is not much or nothing.

So if you want to make these, for friends or family or your postman or anyone you know who must go out for essential work, here are the two patterns I’ve adapted.

Pleated style (with or without elastic) American

Feedback from wearers of these isn’t very positive. They don’t fit well, and elastic around the ears is painful, causing the sewing community to come up with some ingenious solutions, headbands, and tabs of various kinds. If you do try these, make them much wider, based on an 8.5 or 9inch square so they reach right around the face. But I’ve given up on them.

Shaped (with fabric ties)

The mask pictured above is 100% cotton, two layers, with ties, the upper tape ties on top of the head and the lower ties around the back of the neck. People seem to like these a lot better, and I’ve made a range with an inner pocket for an industrial mask liner. But I’m now just making a much simpler two- layer cotton poplin version.

If you can make them yourself and improve on these I’d love to know.


Bear in mind at all times that these will most certainly NOT protect you 100%. The word in some of the research is you might get 60% for 20 minutes, so please follow advice to stay at home. If you MUST go out, do maintain your distance. These masks are merely an added layer of protection against any airborne bugs in droplets from coughs and sneezes and even so they are not ever going to be foolproof. I can’t stress that enough. So:

  • wash your hands before and after wearing your mask.
  • wash after every use: 60 degrees machine wash (with your smalls) or soak in a basin with a drop of detergent and boiling water from the kettle and then rinse.
  • never use fabric conditioner: it adds a sticky film and clogs the fabric. And many people are highly allergic to the stuff.
  • do not touch or rub your eyes: one theory is that wearing a mask may make us more likely to touch our face more often while out in public. Touching supermarket trolleys etc and then your face may very well not be wise.
  • these are definitely NOT medical or industrial grade. And I am not medically trained. Do your own research before deciding whether one of these will be helpful in your lifestyle at the moment.
  • either way, stay indoors, stay distanced and keep safe.

Image from the 1919 influenza epidemic. I love the hats but please tie your mask underneath before putting your hat on top.

Much love, B

Where Grandad Lost His Leg

low winter sun

So we were walking up The Line. It’s the name we’ve always used for the waggonway, the steep incline that used to haul coal skips from the Rainton pits to the docks. And she said:

“this is where my Grandad lost his leg. And his arm.”

Someone’s phone was ringing and it was urgent so we stopped, breathing hard in the thin frosty air, and as we stood in the blinding low sunlight, considered whether the tale of Grandad’s horrible injury needed a phonecall-free space to be properly told.

“He was wheeling his bike up from The Blast all laden with coal, and the wires, the heavy cables of the waggon pulleys twanged and caught him down one side, slicing off one arm and one leg like a cheese wire. It’s not clear quite how this happened because he’d made this trip up from the shore many, many times and knew it in the dark. It took him the whole afternoon and evening to crawl up to the Dawdon Hotel, shouting all the way. Nobody on Cottages Row heard him until he was just outside the hotel bar.”

He was in hospital for months, but he did survive.

Some events remain embedded in the place as memories, but maybe also of imprints, of blood soaked grass, of living dna smeared all along the path. He’s still here somewhere.

It Snowed

snowy yards

“It’s always nice to have snow before Christmas.”


“Allus nice te hev snaar afore San’a comes.”

Take your pick as to the spelling, but we talk, tak, speak, spak different here.

Geraniums are still in flower in the sheds and polytunnels down the Fishbone, and none of the brussels have frosted. The bulbs we all planted last year down around Dalton play park are coming up, sightless and spindly wet.

There’s not enough snaar te mak a snaarman and it aal melted off by the neet, but it’s the start of winter proper, mid January.

She thought about putting out the washing this af’noon, the sun was awa bleendin’, but stepping out over the slippery back step to a puddle of ice, thowt better on it.


Twelfth Night


She put up her decorations on 1st December, Christmas tree dragged raggedly out of the cupboard under the stairs, brisked up in that sprightly way she has, all spic and span and polished in a whisker and all of a sudden it was here, in our few streets: Christmas.

And like the inevitable flick-trip of a line of dominoes, one by one our windows began to twinkle with rock and roll Santas and nodding snowmen, strings of coloured lights raced across the sills, floofy white ’snow’ etched out the double glazing and Stop Here reminder signs at three or four doors, just in case Rudolph passed us by, out there on his way over to Murton.

Then just as suddenly, on Boxing Day, we’re back. Winter,  bleak and crisp and even, twinkles no more. There’s the occasional lazy days dozer-in, or she who loves it all so, so much, the bling and sparkle and pzazz, that here and there those bright strings and salutations twinkle away through those rambling days when nobody can actually remember what day it is, or whether it’s noon or night, and then, suddenly, it’s the New Year.

Twelfth Night is either the 5th or the 6th this year, depending on how we count. Dawn is breaking almost imperceptibly earlier and it’s still just about light at 4pm. No snow, not yet, although it’s forecast for next week, and down the Harbour the roads out and away are all flooding from the heavy rain. Caterpillar wood is on fire but it’s just the remains of the sunset, no-one is there.

One last stray firework fizzes a long whooshy pink out over the dene. It’s 2016.

Dark Days


Mornings freshly crisp and laundered like the new year. Low light, little sign of our glorious warming orb under the soft canopy of dim day.

The little sparkling lights of festival will stay in some windows until the Saturday following New Year’s Day, or the 5th or some might say the 12th.

We revel in this small tradition, this small spark of joy, no stars, no moon, a string of lights in a neighbour’s window, just the job.