Sunday, 29 June 2014

Hey Boy, Hey Girl

I came across the campaign Pink Stinks the other day ( - it targets "the products, media and marketing that prescribe heavily stereotyped and limiting roles to young girls" and I'm with it.

I'm quite sick of seeing everything from Kinder Eggs to Lego being separated out via the use of packaging into ones that are 'for boys' and 'for girls'.  Since when did a chocolate egg containing a crap plastic toy become gender specific and since when did it matter whether you were a boy or a girl to make something out of bricks?

I'm lucky that within my daughter's peer group many of her friends have mothers with interesting careers - she sees that it's equally possible for a woman to be a scientist as it is to be a sculptor, social worker, 'person in IT' (come on, even when I did it the kids didn't have a clue what my actual job was!) or teacher.  It feels essential to me that she knows all of these options, and more, are within reach.

And then, in amongst this rejoicing that my daughter sees a world of possibility is a never ending parade of Disney Princesses, feminised Nerf guns, and even entire shops with aisles that are dedicated to 'boys toys' and 'girls toys'.  For her, this results in a conflict between the role models in her life and what companies want her to believe she should like for the benefit of their bottom line.  She's smart enough to know the purpose of the advertising but I would be naive to think that it doesn't influence her, or to fail to recognise views and opinions on what boys and girls 'should' like hasn't influenced every generation before hers.

At this early stage in her life I'm fortunate in that the images she has access to can be managed to a certain extent.  We can make sure she doesn't see Rhianna with her tits or arse hanging out at an awards ceremony (again) when we're using the internet together.  We can stop Page 3 coming into the house.  We can give her positive choices that help her her value herself for who she is, and her achievements, rather how she looks.  But it's far, far harder when it comes to the question of toys and attitudes that tell our girls they should want princess figures and pedicures and our boys they should like diggers and guns.  

But it's not just a question of 'telling' the children that the advertisers are wrong.  Oh no, it's got to be balanced with not being too vitriolic in my opinion of toy princesses with big plastic tits and come hither expressions.  For her to make a choice, her own choice, I need to tone down the face that looks like I've just picked up a dog poo when we walk through The Entertainer.  But until they get shot of the pink packaging, that's going to be hard to do...

Soundtrack: Hey Boy Hey Girl - The Chemical Brothers

Monday, 23 June 2014

Marry Me

Marry me
Take me in
Know my sin
Be my charm
Safe from harm
Marry me

Marry me
Take my hand
Wear our band
Seal our bond
To beyond
Marry me

Marry me
Kiss my lips
Trace the tips
Mine to yours
Distant shores
Marry me

Marry me
And we shine
Souls combine
Time is still
If you will
Marry me

Thursday, 19 June 2014

You Wear it Well

What happens to your sense of style once you have children?  The first inkling I had that mine had taken a vacation was on a weekend in Bath many moons ago with some of my NCT friends.  We were strolling around in the sunshine and I noticed a proliferation of pretty tea dresses.  Where had these come from?  Why had we not heard about their sudden popularity and why were we the only people not wearing them?  I felt somehow cheated that what was obviously fashion news had evaded my radar - it's not that I particularly wanted to wear one, it was more that I didn't want to feel so surprised by not knowing what was happening on the high street.

It's continued in much the same way since - I went to Reading a couple of months ago and noticed four people wearing deer stalker hats in one shopping centre alone.  Are these now a 'thing' or are there just a lot of young hunters in the Oracle?  I can't tell and it irks me.

I think it has a lot to do with your social life and location.  Without the nights in town and oodles of time to browse shops with your friends the only place you can take your sartorial cue from are the folks around you, the internet or the Boden brochure that appears to fall through the letterbox every week (incidentally any top that's described as "fun" by a model quoting her favourite thing in life is "cupcakes" is not getting within three hundred miles of my wardrobe - grow up!).

And as much as we try to retain our individuality, we are most definitely influenced by those around us.  I found myself wearing the same dress and coat as a colleague when I used to work at Microsoft, we both looked lovely but it was a bit weird.  But then given we were similar age / similar job / similar tastes was it really so strange?  There are items I have bought on recommendation or because I've seen someone rocking a look that I had been too shy to try.  Some purchases are down to practicality (every mother in the village has a coat with a hood) and some I cannot explain - why on earth is it that I own so many scarves now?  Never needed one in my life and since having children I appear to have developed a dependency on them - one of my friends even has separate cupboard space for hers.  Can someone explain this please?

It's not reserved to the girls either - there are shifts amongst the men too.  It takes a bit longer and may involve the buying of kit for cycling / running / DIY but it definitely happens.  We women notice these things and are secretly pleased our husbands are still trying :)

So when I ended up in London a short while ago and found myself in Benetton (a place I hadn't shopped since I was seventeen) it was a revelation!  I bought a pair of jeans with rips in because I liked them even though a small part of me worried I was only a Grolsch bottle-top away from looking like Bros.  I stared at what people were wearing on the train, in bars, at the theatre and it was really exciting - especially the woman who was wearing a beautifully patterned bow tie undone on top of a crisp white shirt.

It made me realise that I do miss fashion and not in a 'I want to blow my cash on something that will last a week' disposable-fashion kind of way, but in the way of appreciating fabric and styling and looking good or wearing great high heels just because.    

Working from home and doing the school run on foot gives me limited opportunities to indulge this.  Or does it?  Maybe tomorrow I'll work from home in these :)

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Move any Mountain

Lots of happy coincidences and serendipitous meetings have been taking place over the past week but let's start with today.

As a means to provoke thought and debate amongst students at my old senior school about their future careers and aspirations, I was asked to go in and talk about my story of  going from being a pupil at the school through the corporate years to becoming a writer.

I may have been small (and covered in eggs & flour,
such was the way we celebrated birthdays at my school)
but I was already planning on moving a few mountains :)
Whilst driving over, I heard a Radio 2 phone-in on the hot topic of how children of working-class white parents (a category I would have been very much put in when I was a teenager) tend to fare less well at school than children of other ethnic backgrounds.  I didn't get to hear the whole programme but I did hear a lot of "I blame the parents".  What I would have liked to have heard is the children's perspective, I think they would have had some interesting things to say - I know I would have had an opinion when I was fourteen (and twelve, and three...never did learn to keep quiet :)).

I decided during the talk that rather than try to describe to the pupils what I'd done, I would read them some extracts from Reasons to be Cheerful that dealt with being a teenager, education, my first foray into work and the relevance of rap music to my career.  After all, I'm a writer, kind of made sense to..

I also decided that I really ought to back up my claim that I could write a decent bit of verse by writing them a rap - although it is entirely possible I was more Pam Ayres than L'il Kim...

It's about the potential we all have to effect change, the possibilities that can come from positivity and just getting out there and going for it.  I'm not yet brave enough to record it as one of my favourite bloggers and fellow seeker of truths Chris Packe but watch this space :)

It All Starts With You

Here’s a question for you
Can a white woman rap?
Will I carry this off
Or will it sound …….rubbish

Here’s another – is the future
Of your own making?
Is life what you’re dealt?
Or is it there for the taking?

If you’ve been told
“You’re a waste of space”
Can you still be successful?
Can you still find your place?

Do you think life’s pre-destined?
Or that you have choice?
Do you choose to hear a positive
Or negative voice?

If you want to get somewhere
If you have that desire
Go find the example
To which you can aspire

Who gets to decide
What we each will become?
Think it’s “different for them”?
Think it’s “alright for some”?

I would challenge that view
That it’s written in the stars
The paths our lives take
Are all choices of ours

Want to work in big business?
Create software, form bands?
Whether you’re something, or nothing
It is in your hands

Your process starts here
You can shape your ambition
Set out what you’ll strive for
Earn recognition

Just think for a moment
How you would define
Your future to be
And say “This is mine”

“I own who I am
And what I will be
It’s within my control
It’s starting with me”

Make yourself a promise
To prove others wrong
Keep a positive outlook
Be fearless, be strong

Believe you can do it
Make it come true
Stay focused, stay hopeful

It all starts with you

Soundtrack: Move any Mountain - The Shamen (for my friend Nina, and for the times we spent rapping along with Mr C :D )

Monday, 9 June 2014

The Young Ones

Rik Mayall is dead and as one of my friends remarked "a generation of British people is in mourning" - how right he is.  

I have come to learn that when the Young Ones first aired I was seven...which makes me wonder what on earth my parents were doing allowing me to watch it and thank them heartily for some frankly lax parenting.  I revelled in the danger of the programme, of Rik (with a silent 'p') Vyvyan, Neil and Mike living a squalid student house with a talking hamster, a psychotic landlord and the likes of Amazulu, Madness and Motorhead popping up in their lounge (as well as cars and boxes containing vampires).  My primary school playground was awash with conversations about the delicious deviousness of the programme, the violence, the language, the spectacle of Vyvyan losing his head after sticking it out of a train window.....

We watched Alexi Sayle chant 'Doctor Marten's boots' and enjoyed the vicarious thrill that comes with knowing that you are watching something that grown ups will not approve of, even if you don't entirely understand what's going on.

I was bought the Young Ones book by my parents one Christmas (and once again I tip my hat to their understanding of precisely what I wanted but didn't dream I'd get) and still remember the excitement of the cod-graffiti inside, the references to what vindaloo and ten cans of export-strength lager does to your insides ("don't let the bottom fall out of your world, let the world fall out of your bottom..."), and Rik's odes to Cliff Richard and Felicity Kendall that didn't exactly chime with his position as an anarchist...

The Young Ones was my entry into grown up comedy and a warm up to the joy of Ade and Rik belting the hell out of each other, and the gas man, with frying pans in Bottom.  And as I look across those people who would have been my playground pals, they're all sharing memories of Flash, Alan B'Stard, the Comic Strip, Man Down and Drop Dead Fred.  Rik in all his frying pan throwing, crotch-thrusting, acid-tongued, nimble-footed, loose cannon glory, thrilling and funny, sharp and just a little bit dangerous.  He will be missed. 

Soundtrack: The Young Ones - Cliff Richards

Monday, 2 June 2014

I Hate You So Much Right Now!

I thought that I had experienced it all - whether between me and my oldest brother when we were growing up, or between my own two children - I thought I had pretty much covered every possible thing that children can argue over: what to watch on the television, who sits where in the car (and which window they get to look out of), who is believed to be cheating in a game, and who gets to play with the baby building blocks that have long outstayed their welcome.  Been there, done that, got the memories of rolling around fighting on a brown swirly-patterned carpet in front of a massive wood-framed television to prove it.

But no, as it turns out I hadn't quite covered everything as I discovered when my children fought over a mooring ring.  Yep, that's right.  A piece of metal embedded in a piece of concrete. For those of you yet to encounter the child-entertaining qualities of one of these things, here it is:
I wonder if Argos sells these.....

I managed to take the picture in the brief moment when both pairs of hands were not clutched around it, knuckles white, palms gradually taking on the scent of rusted metal and batteries thanks to the heat generated by their basic desire for this most vital part of being a brother or sister: being the one that wins.

As there is no way to 'share' a mooring ring, they settled for pushing, shoving, shouting and all while being close to the canal.  They were supposed to be watching 'crafty rafters' being cheered across a finish line, not fighting to the near death over something that is designed in the interest of safety.  I decided that if they were going to fight, they could do it somewhere they'd be less likely to drown.

Resigned to having to move, but still trying to get the last touch on this most precious ring, they took it in turns to shout "I HATE YOU!".  To each other, about each other, and within earshot of other people.  It was exasperating, upsetting, tiring, and more than a little embarrassing.  And then I remembered that it passes and that one of the best things about children (when they're not shouting so loudly that it makes you want to pretend they're not your children), is that they don't bear a grudge and that they don't really mean it, even if they do feel it in the heat of the moment.  Within ten minutes they were friends again, making each other laugh and being kind to one another.  The moment had passed, the dust had settled and peace was restored.  The mooring ring was released from their grip, the battle for supremacy already becoming a memory and as we made our way home all sibling smiles, I allowed myself an indulgent look at my now happy children and made a silent vow to never, ever go on a canal holiday.  

Soundtrack: Caught Out There - Kelis