Monday, 24 December 2012

Don't be Alone this Christmas

It's been hectic here this past week and I've not been able to keep up with work, family and the blog. This time of year can be overwhelming, so I'm joining a group of bloggers inspired by the Big Fashionista to donate a post dedicated to those who feel they have nowhere to go and no one to turn to.

If you are at a low this Christmas, please know that you are not alone. Pick up the phone, there is someone to talk to, that can help you find your way back.

0300 123 3393

08457 90 90 90

Alcoholics Anonymous
0845 769 7555

Info line 08000 50 20 20

London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard
0207 837 7324

0845 767 8000

Preventing young suicide

For people in Northern Ireland  
0808 808 8000

0800 1111


0808 2000 247

0808 800 4444

NHS Direct
0845 4647

If you are in Belfast and you find yourself with nobody to spend Christmas Day with and you'd like company, if you're new to Belfast and don't know anyone then you can pop along to Common Grounds, 12 - 24 University Avenue, Belfast where from
 12 - 3pm you will be very welcome to a free Christmas Dinner amongst people in a similar situation. Thanks to the Agoraphoric Fashionista for suggesting this become a tradition. 

Merry Christmas x

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

I was dreaming...

I was dreaming about setting up a toy store with no pink. Pipe dreams, I could never afford it. It turns out that I can set up an Amazon store though, so I spend some (or lots) of time virtual shopping and set one up. I've not worked out how to get it onto it's own page properly yet so it's not all in-your-face. In the mean time, you can visit it here. Or not.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Christmas Pinks and Blues

When I was a small thing, I really, really hated visiting DIY stores. Those hours and hours spent standing around while my parents looked at tiles, or wallpaper still fill me with dread to this day.  Magnolia  paint on woodchip. Shudders. Toy shops, for the obvious 'I'm a child' reason, were great. Big Barn Toy Shops weren't the order of the day back then, it was all Woolies and John Menzies with Cabbage Patch Dolls and Star Wars Toys. Then came warehouse size stores, cable TV and endless streams of advertising. Now, the sea of pink that appears when you round the corner to the girl's toys doesn't just offend me, it makes me feel dizzy and sick. Even thinking about it makes me feel sick.

I did think that I was safe in the Lego aisle, with their 'toys are for everyone' ethos but the whole Lego Friends thing? It's even appearing in the Duplo range. Why are we so obsessed with genderising our children? It's not so long since women were throwing themselves under horses so we could vote, yet we seem to be hell bent on disenfranchising a whole generation of girls by giving them toys that are all about housework and babies, and making them pink beyond belief. I have no problem with children having kitchens or Henry Hoovers, just so I'm clear. Kids should play these things, it's natural and good for them. But they don't have to be PINK. I am secretly very pleased that the Lego Friends advent calender (the city ones were sold out) has been visited by a Character Building Dr Who and a Cyberman on skis. I've had to spend a lot [read: far too much] time telling Abigail that toys are for whoever wants to play with them not for 'Girls' or 'Boys'.

It works the other way too. We're scared to let our boys do things that might be seen as 'girl' things, and it can be even worse for them. Boys should not be excluded from hairdryers or kitchens. After all, are some of the most successful chefs and hairdressers and fashion designers in the world men? And *whispers* they are no more likely to be homosexual or hen-pecked than the rest of the male population. You would hardly go up to Gordon Ramsey and accuse him of being effeminate or 'under the thumb' because he likes to cook, would you? That's because the world doesn't work that way. I was shocked to see some comments on Facebook yesterday when a mum suggested she might buy her son a toy kitchen for Christmas. Someone actually said 'if anyone asks you could always say it's his cousin's toy'. Why? What's the problem? Surely by encouraging him to lie about who his toys belong to you are making him ashamed of who he is.

If we want to work towards breaking down the last barriers to equality then we need to start as early as possible. It's only by growing up thinking that wearing a pink dress and being a scientist is just as normal as a man looking after a baby and letting them be who they want to be that we'll be giving our children what they deserve.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Princesses and Firefighters.

This week was a bumper crop for books, having gone *slightly* overboard last week on ordering books. I'd read an interview with Dashka Slater about her book Dangerously Ever After and had to have it. I have a real disliking to 'Princesses' and all the Pink Passiveness that comes along with them (because all your problems will be solved waiting for your Prince to come, right?) so a book that could knock that idea on the head had to be in our library. The turnaround time was quite long on these from Amazon, so I got in touch with Dashka through her website. It turns out that only only one of her books has a UK publisher, and sadly for me, it wasn't the one I was looking for. Not prepared to wait for weeks, I worked some google magic and less than a week later there's not one, but two Dashka Slater books on our bookshelf.

Dangerously Ever After is the story of Princess Amanita, who loves dangerous things, especially the dangerous plants that she grows in her garden. They are all spikes and stings, wonderfully illustrated by Valeria Docampo, who balances so well her drawings of the Princess - being a fan of dangerous stuff doesn't mean she has to be boyish, you can still wear dresses and have a pet cat you know. This Princess is just herself. I like that. Abigail decided to ask me at this point why the Princess liked dangerous stuff, 'it's just like you like zombies and Jack [the Pumpkin King]' I told her. To which she replied, 'but I don't like zombies, they're scareeeey!'. This from the girl who keeps asking if there is a My Little Pony 'Zombies' episode...
We got back to the book, and enjoyed following Amanita meeting Prince Florian, who was more than a little confused by Amanita's 'nice sword' reply to his complimenting her flowers. A misunderstanding folllows, and Amanita sets off to find the young Prince. She gets lost and scared, as Princesses often do, but she uses her instinct and finds her way to her neighbour's castle. Amanita and Florian form a friendship where they both appreciate their differences. No-one has to change who they are to be friends, and that is a great lesson.

The second book we read was Firefighters in the Dark, this time illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli. Abigail's Granda Dave is a firefighter, so I think she was sucked in from there. A little girl lives opposite a fire station and tells us all about the firefighters do and the fires they fight. Any grown-up who is a fan of magic realism (I'm have to declare I'm a card-carrying Angela Carter Fan) will enjoy the fantasy of the girl's dreams mixed with the visits she has had to the fire station in real life. Kids will enjoy the fantastical dreams and the wild imagination of the illustrations. There are fires started by dragons and little boys who have jumped so high they have to be rescued from space, all told with a dash of humour. Dashka integrates this with the real bravery and seriousness of a firefighter's job in an informative but not frightening manner. She also has male and female, black and white firefighters, done in the best way you can, by just presenting it as normal. Abigail really loved this book it's a definite keeper for her. And me? I loved it too because it lets a little girl dream of being whatever she wants to be.

It's a real shame that these don't have a publisher in the UK. It's our loss.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

A Picture is for Life.

I came across this little book this morning when I was trying to make the girl's books look at least a bit tidy. I have no clue where it came from (sent home from nursery perhaps) but as soon as I opened the cover, I was transported back in time by the illustratiions of Stephen Cartwright to these two books:

I was sent back to the time when these books both filled me with delight and terror when I read them (underneath the covers with a torch for more thrills of course!). I have no real recollection of the stories, but of the pictures which carried warmth, comedy and terror to my little self. And most strangely of all, I could almost taste them.  Does that make me a little odd? I don't know. But I do know that an illustration is more powerful than you might think.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

If You Have a Hat (Kindle Edition)

A long time ago, when I was growing up, books came mostly on paper. Sometimes you got them read out loud on a cassette or LP (or a CD if you're a little less ancient than I am) and if they had a book with them there would be a 'bing' when you had to turn the page. It was really exciting. Zip forward *coughs* years and there are 18 year olds that don't know what a cassette is and technology has zoomed from Speak and Spell to ipods and kindles. The result is that technology is just the norm to young children today. It's intuitive to use and they can't be fobbed off with imitations. Emily has been able to spot a toy phone from 20 paces since she was tiny, far preferring to use the ipod or phone. She made it quite clear from an early age that she'd far rather be solving tangrams or using Spanish flashcards than play with a plastic phone.
When I got a kindle for my birthday this year, I was a little hesitant about getting picture books on it. I just wasn't sure that illustrations would translate from page to e-reader, especially as they would be going from colour to black and white. I bought Emily If You Have a Hat by Gerald Hawksley just as an experiment really. She didn't come to it with any of my prejudices and enjoyed it for what it was, pointing to anything she recognised while announcing what it was. It was difficult to stop her from flicking onto the next page too early by touching the pictures (only a problem if your kindle is a touchscreen version) but I'm sure it won't be long before she understands. Big sister enjoys it too, she's got it nearly all  the rhymes commited to memory so will read it out to Emily with me, which is nice. We also discovered if you use the kindle app on the ipod the book is in colour, which keeps me and my preconceptions happy. However, as I've not bought any more kindle books I think I'm yet to be a hundred percent convinced.