Saturday 6 October 2018

All the pumpkins

Handmade lampwork glass pumpkin beads by Laura Sparling

I've been making only pumpkin beads for ten days now.

Handmade lampwork glass pumpkin beads by Laura Sparling

See? Look at them all.

Handmade lampwork glass pumpkin beads by Laura Sparling

And this isn't even all of them. These are just the ones I could be arsed to photograph.

Handmade lampwork glass pumpkin beads by Laura Sparling

And there's another batch in the kiln as I type this.

Handmade lampwork glass pumpkin beads by Laura Sparling


Anyway, I've just about had my fill of pumpkins so if you'd like pumpkin beads or pendants, what's left in the shop is probably the last of them for this year.

I've just looked and I last posted in July. Since then, amongst other things, I have run a half marathon and turned forty-one. Last time I blogged I was halfway through Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Well, I finished that and now I've read all of the Harry Potter books and Hogwarts library books (and have started re-reading them), watched all the Harry Potter films - as well as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - and I now own a wand, some Hedwig pyjamas and a Gryffindor sweatshirt. So yeah, you can call me a convert. I've also finished the new Strike book. Job done.

Talking of books, I'm in one! Harriet of Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery has written a book called The Creative’s Guide to Starting a Business.

'The Creative's Guide to Starting a Business' by Harriet Kelsall

Harriet’s book contains case studies from the worlds of fashion, ceramics, perfumery, sculpture, bakery, upholstery, photography, lino cuts, jewellery and beadmaking. I’m the beadmaking case study. The book is very comprehensive and I have picked up some useful tips and advice from it. It's also really great to read about other creative people and the way they work. The book is available on Amazon and all the usual places, and also from Harriet's website.

Strictly Come Dancing is underway. I don't watch it but I know that when it's here we are on the downward slope to Christmas and it's time for me to start thinking about festive beads and all that, so that is what I will be working on next. Deck the halls etc blah blah blah.

Monday 2 July 2018

Beady stuff and unbeady stuff

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

I've not got a lot to report on the bead front. It's not so much that I haven't been making beads, but more that I've been making lots of the same beads over and over.

I made lots of the 'Shoreline' hearts pictured above and I turned some of those into necklaces.

Handmade lampwork glass heart bead necklace by Laura Sparling

Now I'm on the Bumblebeads. I don't know how many of these I'll make. To be honest, sitting in the shed in these temperatures, making the same bead over and over again is already starting to do my head in and I've only spent two beadmaking sessions on the bees, so I'm not holding out much hope for vast amounts of them.

Handmade lampwork glass bee bead by Laura Sparling

That's why I'm not taking orders for the bees. I've found that I can bear the shed heat until it hits about 36°C and then my brain gives up which makes my hands give up so that's why I'm only making as many as I can make. I appreciate that people are disappointed that they can't order as many of the bees as they like, when they'd like to, but hey, you should have realised that I'm an awkward pain-in-the-arse beadmaker (and person in general) by now. You can tut at me and call me ridiculous – it's fine.

I did make a one-off red heart bead that I love. The glass here is CiM Heartthrob and it's such a glorious shade of red.

Handmade lampwork glass heart bead by Laura Sparling

In other news, running in the heat is HARD. I ran seven and a bit miles in it yesterday morning and sweet flipping Jesus, it was difficult. The heat has got me to the point where I'm walking back from runs in my sports bra like some kind of runstrumpet and I don't even care. We're due to have this weather for another fortnight so I'm not discounting the idea of actually running in my bra at some point.

I finished reading J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy and oh my word, that is some moving stuff. The book is like a cross between a gentle Sunday night BBC1 drama and Trainspotting. After that I read Cara Hunter's Close to Home, which is gripping, compulsive reading and quite short, and it's good but I'd only give it four stars due to its ending.

I also listened to the audiobook of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I'd seen so much talk about it that I had to see what all the hype was about. I was expecting it to be typical chick-lit, but it's not really. Well, the general feel of the book is quite chick-lit I suppose, but the main character is an unusual one which made for a refreshing change. Well worth a read or a listen, I'd say.

Last night I started the first of the Harry Potter books. I know I'm even more behind in this than I was with the House-watching thing but I was missing J.K. Rowling's writing so much I just had to Potter up. I'm about a third of the way through The Philosopher's Stone and I'm really enjoying it.

Right, enough tippy-tappy-typing as my dad-in-law calls it – I must go and make Bumblebeads. Enjoy the weather, if you like that sort of thing, and if you don't, stay cool.

Saturday 16 June 2018


Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling

Hayfever has floored me this week. I've suffered with it for years but every year is different. The last couple of summers haven't been too bad for me but this week has been a very sneezy, very eye-itchy one, and I cannot believe the tiredness. I've been like a red-eyed, nose-rubbing zombie. The tiredness is something to do with histamine and the immune system or something (I don't know - I'm not Gregory House) and it's really knocked me sideways. The hayfever tablets don't help with the tiredness. If you read the leaflet inside a box of hayfever tablets - even the 'non drowsy' type - one of the most common side effects is drowsiness and fatigue.

Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling
'More Jollity'

As such, I've not made that many beads. In fact, I only managed two sets. Bit rubbish, but I figured not driving a propane torch whilst I was struggling to keep my eyes open was the safe option.

Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling

In other news, I'm addicted to House. Yes, I'm aware it's not 2004 anymore but I like to come to these things in my own time. (Maybe I'll watch Game of Thrones when I'm in my seventies?) I'm almost through season two of House and I'm limiting myself to a maximum of two episodes a day because there's only a finite amount of them.

Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling

Bit of a short post, I know, but some words are better than none, right?

Saturday 9 June 2018

I like small beads and I cannot lie

Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling

I know this sounds terribly selfish of me, but I truly am bead-happiest when I'm making the beads I love to make. This week I've made some of the best beads I've ever made, as far as skill and technique are concerned. The beads pictured in this post are just over 11mm in diameter and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of getting the designs and encasing methods to work on such a small scale. Some of the beads – the purple and grey-blue ones – are double-encased; they have opaque cores which are then wrapped in a coloured transparent and then the whole thing is encased in a thin layer of clear. Getting that right, with no core 'bleed', or over-encasing at the bead holes, is not the easiest task. The double-encasing is nice, though, as it allows me to use denser, more saturated colours that look lovely when used in a thin application, and that final layer of clear seems to give extra shine.

Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling

One might think that small beads are quicker to make than bigger ones, what with them using less glass and all, but infactually, they take me longer. I already work at a weary slug's pace, but working smaller requires even slower working. The core beads for those double-encased ones start off at about 4mm long by about 1mm thick - too much heat and you'll boil the heck out of a glob of glass that small, and boiling means bubbles and bubbles mean Water Jug of Death.

Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling

This week, someone said to me that it's a shame I don't make bigger beads. Truth is, I struggle to do so. Lentils, hearts and blown hollows aside, 14mm diameter is generally as big as I go. I've spent years honing the designs and patterns that I think make my beads mine, and over the years those designs and patterns have got tighter and more refined (oh how I wish I could say the same for my thighs) and if I were to try and translate them to larger beads they would look 'wrong'. Dots would need to be bigger and stringer would need to be thicker. My scroll design – and it is a design; my scroll beads are pretty much all the same, save a couple of tiny add-on space-filler swirls here and there – would need reworking and I'm not sure I want to rework it. Small beads are my thing.

Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling

Eagle-eyed bead watchers may have noticed my price increase this week. I make a conscious point of not really following other beadmakers or looking at their work (this sounds absolutely horrible of me, I know, but there are very valid reasons for this which I will discuss another time) so I have no idea what prices people sell their work for, but I had a quick peruse of Etsy last weekend after Chris questioned what I was going to price some beads at. I was so shocked. People tell me all the time I undercharge but crikeyflip, I've been undercharging so very much, and I'm afraid this has had to change. Had I not listened to Chris, I'd have sold five hours' worth of work for £27.00 and I think you'll agree with him that this was not viable. Pricing your own work is always difficult and putting prices up is even harder but I had to do so.

Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling

In other news, I've spent the last two days in a barn in a little Cambridgeshire village. The barn has been converted into a theatre and each summer the local Gilbert & Sullivan group put on a show there. I'm not in the show, and I know diddly-squat about Gilbert & Sullivan, but one of the fellas from our local archaeology group has done the lighting at the theatre for the last eleven years and he needed some assistance putting up the lights, so I volunteered to help.

I climbed to the top of this tower. Blimey.

It's been two days of moving and climbing ladders and scaffold towers, pulling theatre lights up to the rafters, plugging them all in and checking they work, and then positioning and adjusting them. It was hard work but fun.

I'll be back in the shed tomorrow. I'm quite looking forward to sitting down all day after two days of theatre lighting shenanigans.

Friday 1 June 2018

Write what you know

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

I'm well and truly back in the beady swing of things. In this post I'm going to prattle on about the last couple of weeks and here and there I'll drop in some photos of beads I made during May to pretty up the post.

CiM Oobleck with black and white

Most of the month was spent catching up with trying out new-to-me Creation is Messy colours, and seeing how they work and what they are like to use. I've mostly been making these little 'potpourri' sets because the variety of beads within them allow me to get a feel for what the glass will and won't do in various applications. For example, a glass that works well as a base might not work well as stringer. This is the case for CiM Mermaid (not a new glass, I know) which looks marvellous as a spacer or encased as a base bead, but spreads when used as stringer. Sometimes you can use that effect to your design advantage. Glasses which do the whole stringer spready thing normally make weird two-tone dots and spots too, where they get a dark patch in the middle. So it's that kind of thing that I look for when testing new glass.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling
'Portillo' Potpourri featuring CiM Harvest and Mermaid

Sometimes you get a glass that does everything really well. CiM Harvest is one of those. It's a glorious streak-free orange that works equally well for base beads and stringer, where it retains its uniform colour and crisp edges.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling
'Seville' Potpourri

One of the CiM colours that totally passed me by was Pixie. This is a bright blueish green and it's fab when its encased but it sort of reacts with itself if you faff with it too much; it feathers and webs on itself. Because of this it is absolutely pointless trying to use it for the kind of stringerwork that I do.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling
'Seafoam' Potpourri featuring CiM Pixie

That's the thing with glass; you have to use it, learn what it does, make a mental note of its quirks, and then store all those notes away in your bead brain files because one day one of those quirks will be just the thing you need to create the particular effect you're after.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling
'Grellow' Potpourri

My bead brain files are beginning to overflow. It's why I keep my Tumblr full of glass recipes. I have a very good memory but fourteen years' worth of beadmaking (which must equate to absolutely thousands of beads) has me saying "What glass did I use for those ones?" or "What did I actually do to get that effect?" more often than I'd like. I wish I could back up the bead department of my brain to a hard drive, or download it every now and then so I have a copy of it, but sadly the technology for this does not yet exist. To get around this, I'm going to do the next-best thing - I'm going to write the book I've been tentatively threatening to write for yonks now.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling
'Mokey' Potpourri

I’ve always intended to write down all the stuff I know about lampworking but this past month or so I’ve come to the decision that it’s actually time to pull my finger out and get on with really doing it. “I’m going to write a book” sounds a bit pretentious, doesn’t it? Like I have things to say that people might want to read. The thing is, I think I do. I’m entirely self-taught and everything I know I have found out for myself through mistakes, hard work and learning from the glass. Do that for fourteen years and you’re bound to accumulate valuable beadmaking information.

So what’s the plan?

I’m going to get the bulk of the thing written and the tutorial photography sorted. When that’s done, I’m thinking I will crowdfund it on something like Kickstarter or Unbound or somewhere, so people can pledge to buy the finished article and I can get it printed into an actual factual book. I’m very keen on it being a real book you can hold, as opposed to a PDF or digital thing as these are open to unauthorised sharing. The working title for the book is ‘Everything I Know About Making Lampwork Glass Beads’ and that’s exactly what it will be. There will be step-by-step tutorials and information on all aspects of making and selling lampwork beads. It will be written from my point of view and my personal experience so it’s not a general ‘how to’ guide as such; it will literally be all my bead knowledge put together into a book. So if you want to know about making borosilicate beads, goddess beads or selling at craft fairs, this will not be the book for you because I don’t do any of those things. Does that make sense?

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

I've made a start on the book. There is a plan thing all typed up which lists all the areas I want to cover. And there are many. There is to be much typing in my future and this book is not going to be some flimsy thirty-four page pamphlet. I've had so much positive feedback about my book plan so far, with many lovely people telling me they're going to buy it, but it's going to take me a while to write it. I'm not putting a time or deadline on it because times and deadlines and I do not mix, but please know that I am working on it. Thank you for all your encouragement and enthusiasm. I will keep you all posted with updates and news of how the book is coming along.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling
'Hydrangea' Potpourri

In other news (this is becoming like some kind of regular blog-closing feature), I've finished all the Cormoran Strike books and am eagerly awaiting the release of the fourth one as I am absolutely hooked. I'm now reading (actually reading with my eyes, and not listening to) J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy which is as addictive as Branston pickle Mini Cheddars. I've never jumped aboard the Harry Potter train but I'm in love with Rowling's work. I know I'd probably love Harry Potter too and I shall read them one day.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling
'Nautical' Potpourri

I'm still moving my legs at semi-speed on a regular basis and on Monday I completed my first ten mile run. Ten miles! I've written about that here if you fancy a read. I've got a quarter marathon (6.5 miles) on Sunday so all being well I will have another medal to add to my fledgling medal collection.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling
'Beach' Heart

I'm off for a gentle three mile jog now and then I shall spend the rest of the day in the shed. See you later!

Thursday 10 May 2018

General update

Remember the spiral stringer bead from the last post? Well, here it is as part of its set. That vibrant acid yellow-green is new CiM 'Oobleck' and I will be writing more about it shortly, along with my thoughts on a few of the other new Creation is Messy colours.

I'm still getting back into the beadmaking after a couple of months away from it. I don't think I posted about it here, but I gave up my archaeology degree. Here's what I posted on my Facebook page about this:

"You know how you shouldn’t do something if it makes you unhappy? If you’re not happy in a relationship, or your job, or just in your general life situation, we’re advised to change it if we can, right? Because life’s too short and all that. Well, I’ve made a change and… I am no longer a student.

I started my archaeology degree because I wanted to learn more about the subject and I wanted to get myself a qualification that would allow me to get a good and interesting job if I wanted to at some point in the future. The course started off OK. I was loving it and I was doing well as far as grades go. However, in about November I began to hate it. I hated the workload, the pressure, the having to write in a totally unnatural, wanky academic fashion (if I’d done uni when I was supposed to, I’d probably have found academic writing as a 40 year old a lot easier), and I began to hate the subject. I began to hate it to the point where watching history and archaeology programmes made me feel sick. In fact, I couldn’t watch them because I felt like some kind of fraud. How could I watch Alice Roberts enthusing over some old coins or a fossilised Viking turd, when inside me I had this gnawing “I don’t want to be doing this degree” feeling?

I have a shelf full of utterly fascinating archaeology and history books that I haven’t had time to read properly because I was only using them to scan through and pick out relevant references and quotes. That’s a waste of books.

I said to myself I’d give the first few months of my second year a go and see how I felt. Well, I did that and I felt bad. There’s no fun in reading stuff that makes absolutely no sense to you, no matter how much you translate it and use the BBC Bitesize website to help you try and understand it. And when you have to regurgitate all that stuff your eyes have read but your brain didn’t understand, in the form of 8000 words written in the absolutely correct way, well… basically I was buggered. Yes, I could have struggled on. Yes, I could have just done the best I could for the next two years, but you know what? When I can’t sleep for worry, when I keep getting styes (my number one “You are run down, Laura” signal), when I want to vom every time someone asks me how the degree is going, when I feel that weight of dread in my stomach whenever I look at any of the books or papers, and when I simply feel so unhappy every day, it is not worth it.

I thought vocalising my “I want to quit” thoughts to my husband would make me feel like a failure. But I don’t. I know I’ve made the correct decision because of the feeling of utter relief and lightness I’ve experienced since quitting. I had a go at being a uni student. I thoroughly enjoyed some of it. My love for archaeology and history remains, but now I will learn about it in my own way, in my own time, and without having to cite every single ruddy thing I ever want to communicate. (Tits to you, Harvard referencing!)

TL;DR – I quit my archaeology degree because it was making me unhappy."

So there you go. Back to the beads I go. I have missed them and I even tidied up the shed last week!

My workbench, before and after the tidy-up

My shed is still the same undecorated and unfancy wooden box it's always been, but it's a lot more uncluttered than it was. Here are some of the beads I've made post-tidy:

'Fiery' Potpourri

'Sage' Luminobeads

'Purquoise' Spotties

In other news, I'm still running. I don't know what I'd have done without my running during the whole degree worry stuff. It kept me sane. I ran my first 10K race last month and in September I'm doing a half marathon. You can read all about my running over on my running blog if you like, and I've set up an Instagram account for all my red-sweaty-faced running pictures.

This week's shed listening has been The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling. I listened to the third book in the Cormoran Strike series, Career of Evil, after watching the BBC adaptations of the first two stories, so then I went back to listen to the actual books.

Gratuitous photo of Tom Burke as Cormoran Strike

The books are far more detailed than the television programmes and you learn way more about the characters. I'll be getting The Silkworm when my next Audible credit comes through. The Strike audiobooks are narrated by Robert Glenister and he does a marvellous job of it.

Right! Off to the shed for me. Its black and white today, I think, possibly with a splash of that Oobleck thrown into the mix.

Friday 4 May 2018

A glimpse into my crazy

Yesterday was a bit of a meh shed day. I just couldn't seem to get going. I had a colour combination all sorted and I knew what I wanted to make but my brain and hands were engaged in some kind of conflict, as described in this tweet:

Applying a trail of fine stringer in a spiral around a bead is a pretty straightforward technique and it's one that I've done thousands of times, but yesterday it just wasn't working. Well, it was, but as far as my brain was concerned, it wasn't working correctly.

I've written umpteen times about how picky I am with my work. Every time I do, people leave lovely comments and assure me that my work is fine and that the beads are handmade and they're not supposed to be 'perfect' and all that. I put the word 'perfect' in inverted commas then because I've personally never described my work as such. I'm a perfectionist, yes, but in the sense that I try to make a bead as best as I can possibly make it; I'm not actually striving for absolute perfection.

Yesterday, I tried and tried to make a 'correct' spiral bead and after the five failed attempts which ended up in the water jug – and that's not counting the attempts that didn't make it past the base bead or encasing stage, then through to the stringer application one – I eventually made the spiral bead I was after. I did put three not-quite-right attempts in the kiln, though, as I knew I wanted to write about this ridiculousness in order to give you a glimpse into my crazy.

Here is the 'correct' bead:

And here are the three beads that I rejected but didn't kill:

At first glance, these three probably look alright. Chris did his usual "WHAT? They're absolutely fine. Get them sold, missus!" about them. But no, they're not leaving the house. You might be able to see why I rejected them, but if not, I'll explain. From left to right...

The first bead was rejected because the spiral is not 'tight' enough; the gaps between the wraps are too wide apart for my liking.

The second bead is okay stringer-wise but the base bead has an irksome glitch in it where the grey glass did a striation thing.

The third bead was rejected as it just doesn't look balanced to my eye. I also wasn't happy with where I melted the stringer off; the tail end on the left hand side isn't close enough to the bead hole.

So what am I trying to illustrate with this post? Am I writing it to get an "Oh, Laura, you're such a perfectionist" reaction? Or am I in some way being superior, trying to say that I'm so pernickety – far more pernickety – than other beadmakers? No, absolutely not. I'm trying to show you that this is why I say no so much. It's why I say no to commissions and no to remakes. If I can spend so very long trying to make what is a very basic-looking bead, which I will sell for about three quid (you do the laughable maths there; minimum wage doesn't come anywhere near it) how can I possibly commit to commissions and remakes?

Am I complaining? No. Because this is just how my brain works. It's what makes my beads my beads. Is there a medical term for my prohibitive bead pickiness? Probably, yes. Is it tied up with all the other annoying things my brain puts me through like my constant anxiety and my awkwardness when doing general life things? Almost definitely. I accepted these annoying aspects of my me-ness  long ago; some days I struggle with them, but other days I embrace them. Just as these complicated brain quirks make my beads my beads, they also make me me, and I kind of like that.

Today I'm intending to finish the set that this spiral bead is part of. Will it happen? I'll keep you posted...

Monday 2 April 2018


A few months ago I made the decision to remove my PDF tutorials from my website.

Why did I do this?

There are several reasons:

Firstly, I felt that the tutorials were a little outdated; I produced them years ago and the photos were taken at what is now considered a very low-res. I was no longer happy with the tutorials and the presentation of them.

Secondly, I just do not have the time anymore to offer email advice and assistance to everyone who writes to me with regards to issues they're having with a tutorial.

Thirdly, I got disillusioned with the whole lampwork-PDF-tutorials-as-a-thing thing. I used to charge for them, and then I didn't. (A few years back, HMRC were talking about having to pay a tax on digital downloads and I couldn't be arsed with extra admin, so I made them free.)  Some folk sell their tutorials for crazy money. Some people write tutorials for free so magazines can publish them and take the financial rewards for them. (THIS IS NOT OK.) In the past I have written tutorials for magazines where I have been paid, but nowhere near enough. So basically, the whole tutorial thing had started to bug me.

Lastly, I got a tad peeved with people just expecting stuff for free. People email me or leave comments asking me how I make particular beads, and suggesting I write more tutorials or make videos for this bead or that bead, or showing a certain technique. A few years back I added a PayPal donation button to my tutorials page and in the whole time it was there, and out of the thousands upon thousands of visitors to that page, only two people used it.

I intend to re-photograph and update my tutorials at some point. I don't know when that will be because my university work has taken over my life right now and bead tutorial photography is not a quick and easy thing to do properly, but when I do it, I will probably sell the tutorials as some kind of combined eBook or something, perhaps with some new ones added in. In the meantime, the tutorials are not available on my website, or by email.

I know that me making the tutorials unavailable has annoyed some people (they wrote and told me so) and fair enough - I can be annoying, but ultimately, these are my beads and my work, and this is my business. With my beads I have always done what I feel is right for me personally. I don't expect everyone to understand this, but thank you to those who do.

Sunday 4 February 2018

Runblog 3: Moved

Alright? If on the off-chance you're here looking for another Runblog post, I do have one for you but it's not here; it's on my new running-based blog, Laura Can Run. Head on over there if you fancy it. You can subscribe by email too, if you like.

I'll be back to beads here just as soon as I have some. The second year of my degree starts tomorrow and I have a lot to do. I don't foresee that many beads happening over the next three months but I'll keep you posted.

Sunday 28 January 2018

Runblog 2: Shut up, brain

I made a conscious effort to not overdo the running this week. My thigh occasionally does a little groan at me, normally when I'm doing something running-unrelated, reminding me that it was pretty knackered only a couple of weeks ago, so I make a point of listening to those groans and taking it a bit easier and so far, so good. I've been doing daily squats and assorted leg strengthening exercises and I think that's been helping a lot.

I did a 5km run on Monday and that was a tad tough. I knew my body was capable of it but my brain was telling me that it wasn't. I was all "We've done this many times, you daft brain. My legs and I can do this just fine, thank you very much for asking!" but my brain was telling me and my legs that we couldn't go on and that it would just be better for all of us if we stopped running, walked home and had a nice rest. I told my brain to shut its filthy piehole, and my legs and I completed the run. I also faffed about trying to do one of those running action shots. I propped my phone up against a post, set the self timer thing and ran past it. I managed to capture my leg. Still, my leg was running so I reckon the photo qualifies as a running action shot. (And don't be looking at my VPL; my Runderwear makes my arse look like a joint of pork.)

My mudguards for my bike arrived so I fitted them and went out to test them in the rain on Wednesday.

Post-cycling selfie

There was no grubby-buttocking incident this time, so that was a fiver well spent. I timed the ride wrong, though, and I got caught up in the school-home-time cycling traffic alongside the busway. I was bombing along on my bike amongst schoolyouths bombing along on their bikes and there was a moment where I felt like some kind of geriatric Goonie.

To date, bar parkruns, I've done all of my running alongside the busway. It's straight, flat and smooth, and I only ever have to cross one road. Apparently varying your route is a good thing to do so on Friday I planned a run somewhere that wasn't the busway.

Post-run selfie

I have no sense of direction. At all. The part of my brain that does directions and maps is just utterly useless; somehow my brain can remember the names of the entire Lockhead family from the terrible '90s BBC soap Eldorado, but it is incapable of working out how to get to a place. I studied Google Maps and worked out a route that was about 3.5km – a loop, all run on paths that I walk on a very regular basis going to the shops and the library and such. Except for one bit. There was one tiny bit that I didn't know but after looking at the map about fifteen times before leaving the house, I was confident I'd logged it it my head, but nope, I got to that bit and instantly my brain became all befuddled and I ended up doing a three minute scurry-about, trying to correct my route like a malfunctioning sat nav device. The stupid thing was, I was only five minutes from home! Eventually I sort of got my bearings and headed in the general direction of where I wanted to be and I ended up on a green, amongst children's boingy playground equipment, but I kept on running and sure enough I ended up on the right road and I was able to complete the run and make it home. I honestly shouldn't be allowed out without a helper.

I've not done a parkrun yet this year. Cambridge parkrun is in a country park so the route is muddy and there are lots of tree roots to dodge. When it's been raining there are puddles too, and sections of the route become mighty slopslippy.  I had to do a bit of tree root and puddle jumping on my last parkrun and I'm pretty sure that's how I twanged my groin, so I decided that I wouldn't run there again until the weather improves a bit. I know that's a bit runner wimpish of me, but I just don't want to risk injuring myself again. However, with my self-imposed parkrun hiatus, I was getting such parkrun ennui on Saturdays. Every Saturday my Instagram and Strava feeds light up with lovely parkrun photos and I was missing it so I decided to volunteer and yesterday I donned a hi-vis vest and did a bit of marshalling.

Probably one selfie too many

I was positioned at the point where the parkrunners head off on the final straight of the course, up towards the finish funnel. The runners have to go past this point three times before they can head off towards the finish so I was doing a mix of cheering people on as they completed each lap, and spurring on the just-about-to-finishers. I absolutely bloody loved it! Everyone talks about the parkrun atmosphere and I thought I'd experienced it as a runner, but nope, the volunteering was where I really grasped what they're all on about. I have never clapped and cheered so much in my whole life and every time a runner panted, "Thank you, marshal!" at me I got such a lovely feeling. Some fella high-fived me as he ran by and another gent shouted, "Thank you, marshal, lovely hat!" each time he went past me. A lovely lady came up to me after her run and said that my encouragement had really helped her at a point where she was flagging. That was so good! All I'd done was stand there clapping and shouting stuff like "Excellent running skills!" and "I love your leggings!" and "Keep going, you're doing fab!" and here was this lady telling me how that had actually worked. Magical. I had such a big grin for hours afterwards. After we packed up I put my name down for marshalling again next week so I will try and come up with some more things to shout – something better than the nonsensical "Yeah, you're doing a good!" that my mouth said to someone at one point yesterday morning.

Next week I'm going to do three runs with one of them being a 6km one, and hopefully none of them will involve me acting like lost idiot.

This week's runstats
Number of runs: 2
Total distance run: 8.8km (4.56 miles)
Standout running tune of the week: Cliff Richard - Wired For Sound

Sunday 21 January 2018

Runblog 1: On my bike

I mentioned that I was going to do a weekly running blog post so here I am doing that very thing which I'm calling my 'runblog'. How imaginative.

Yesterday I did my first run of the year. Hurrah! Oddly, I was sort of nervous about doing it. I was all "What if I've lost fitness?" and "What if I can't run and I have to walk because my body has forgotten how to run?" about it , but I gave myself a good talking-to, and after a twenty minute warm-up, I got my arse out of the door and into the rain. I walked to my usual starting point and Weezer's Feels Like Summer started playing as I broke into a run. This made me grin (because it's January and it was pissing with rain) but I grinned even more when I ran past a flock of geese in a very muddy field.

Look at them all having muddy funtimes

This particular bunch of sky-honkers fly over our house most Saturday mornings and I love hearing them. They live at the lake over the road from this field and yesterday it was like they were at some kind of goose day spa, thoroughly enjoying a therapeutic mud treatment.

Anyway, I set out with the intention of running a slow, easy mile and that way if my groin was playing me up I would just swear a bit and walk home. I ended up running two miles and I could have gone further but I didn't want to push my thigh luck. Running deliberately slowly is difficult. I'm not a fast runner at all, but making a conscious effort to run at a slower pace than usual is quite tricky and I actually ended up running faster than I did on my last parkrun. Ah well. It was just so wonderful to be back out there running. I've missed it so much and I ran most of the way with a stoopid smile on my face. This was partly due to my new Tikiboo nebula leggings. They're just so utterly cosmic!

I am in love with my nebula leggings

They are beautifully made too. They have a zippered back bumpocket (useful for stashing keys and fruit pastilles) and they also have a waist drawstring which guards against cases of baggy gusset syndrome. Nobody wants a baggy gusset when they're running. Or at any time, really.

I got home and did a long cool-down and a bit of foam rolling on my thigh. This is quite awkward and it looks very wrong, like I'm trying to hump a big grey sausage, but it really works. In case you're not aware, foam rolling is a way of doing a sort of deep tissue massage. You put the foam roller on the floor, and under the bit of you that want massaged, and then you put your weight on the roller and move slowly over it, back and forth, concentrating on any niggly bits. (Yeah, actually this does sound like I was trying to hump a big grey sausage, doesn't it?) Foam rolling can be a tad painful but at the same time it's really nice. It's particularly lovely on aching calf muscles. I've just got a smooth roller but you can get textured lumpy ones that really scrumble your bodymeats.

I want to do some form of cross-training on my non-running days. Until now that has been walking, which is great, but I do it anyway because I don't drive, so it doesn't ever feel like I'm actually doing a thing, if that makes sense. Ideally, I'd like to go swimming but the nearest pool is in town and that is just a hassle. And besides, I loathe swimming pools. Not the swimming  – the swimming is great – but I can't bear the rigmarole of it. You have to pack things and take shampoo and stuff. And then you have to stand in puddles in the changing room and you drop things in puddles and have to faff with lockers and keys. Then you go and swim and while doing so you try not to think of the other people's wee, arse particles, snot, germs and foot badness you're bobbing about in, let alone accidentally swallowing. On top of this, I end up performing an are-my-tits-still-in-my-cossie check and a pull-cossie-out-of-front-or-rear-crevice manoeuvre every two minutes. When you're done with the actual exercise you have to negotiate the changing rooms again but this time it's worse because you are wet. And cold. And oh god, look, there's the token unashamedly naked woman, leg up on the bench, towelling her undercarriage, but don't look at her, don't look, oh you looked at her and you made eye contact and why can't she just do the remove-cossie-and-put-underwear-on-under-the-towel thing that most of us perfected in the the gym changing rooms at school? Christ, it's stressful. And you will undoubtedly put a freshly-socked foot into a puddle. Then you have to battle for mirror space in the hairdrying area which is far too muggy because of all the hairdryers huffing hot air about, and there will be a couple of women applying a full face of make-up and spritzing hairspray and bodyspray all over the show, when all you want to do is get one tiny glimpse in a mirror to make sure you look borderline presentable and get the hell out of there.

So yeah, swimming is out.

That leaves the gym (just NO never) or cycling. So cycling is what I decided on. I've got a secondhand mountain bike which is a bit shit, but it's purple (and that goes a long way in my world) and it's got a lot of gears and it works and I'm not Bradley Wiggins so who cares? I pumped up its tyres, dusted off its cobwebs and squirted a bit of WD40 about, and pootled off. It was icy cold, snowing and therefore wet, but I just can't ever resist snow and I'd made up my mind to go out in it, and going out in it is what I did.

Wet and cold in my Guy Martin Proper hat that my dad gave me as a "well done on your running" gift

I cycled along my normal running route and most of the time I was thinking to myself "This is actually quite a long way and you normally run this, you weirdo" which made me feel proud of how far I've come (literally) since September, but it also made me think about how amazing anyone who runs long distances is. And I don't mean marathons or ultras – those people are incredible – I mean further than six miles, which seems like such a long way to me right now. I was going to do two circuits of my route which would have been about 10km but by about 6km it was snowing really hard and I couldn't feel my face so I decided to go home. My bike doesn't have mudguards so I ended up with a very soggy and mud-splattered bottom, and it took me about two hours to warm up afterwards. I really enjoyed the cycling and have now ordered a set of mudguards to try and minimise the grubby-buttocking that future wet bike rides will throw at me.

Because this past week has been full of me not running, I've been reading about running. Lots. I read No Run Intended and Run Intended by Hannah Phillips, both of which were amusing, entertaining and very inspiring - great stuff! I also read Your Pace or Mine? by Lisa Jackson, which was really good too. I'm partway through the audiobook of Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer which is incredible. Kathrine was the first woman to officially finish the Boston Marathon and flip me, she is one heck of a woman. I little-bit love her and I've not even finished listening to the book yet. I also got myself a copy of Build Your Running Body which is so good. Every time I pick it up I learn something new.

One last thing: I've started an Instagram account for my running. I wanted a place where I could ramble on about it without feeling bad for non-runner people. As I said in my last running post, I know how infuriating social media running posts can be. If you'd like to have a look, the account is lauracanrun and apparently I still can, even after almost a month off.

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Beads, beads, beads

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

I've not got a lot to say, really. My groin is still injured, and I'm increasingly pissed off about not being able to go for a run, so I thought I'd post photos of the beads I've made over the past few days. There are the 'Magma' beads up there and then there are these 'Mango & Blueberry' ones...

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

...and then 'Minimalist Mango'...

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

...and these 'Cornflower' ones...

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

... and I had a big Lonelies jar sort out today and I ended up with three strands of assorted beads.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

Some of these beads are in the shop as I type, so if any of them tickle your bead fancy, do take a look.