Supporting creativity

All around me people are talking about the goodies they are baking and the costumes they are making for Halloween. I have posted several times about my trials and tribulations in the kitchen, most recently, in the little series I did on The making of an incompetent cook. When I was at school, girls studied cooking and sewing as part of a subject called Domestic Science, whilst boys could take woodwork. I always thought that this was unfair. I would have liked to learn how to make things other than food that never seemed to turn out as it should, and clothes that I would never wear. Why I thought I would be better at carpentry I do not know.

I learnt to knit, crochet and sew when I was very young. I enjoyed knitting and made clothes for my dolls as well as stuffed toys from simple patterns in magazines. I moved on to sewing, again with some success. My parents bought me a sewing machine and I made bean bags for myself and friends as well as toys and a few things to wear. My attempts at dressmaking did not turn out as well as the other items I produced. The clothes would hang strangely or be tight where I preferred comfort. I think that I was making for the body I wanted to have rather than the body I had.

When my children were little I was expected to produce outfits for them on themed dress up days, for school drama productions or church nativities. These rarely turned out as I had envisaged. I had neither the skill nor the imagination to produce the amazing creations that other mothers seemed to manage. I was so happy when I discovered that I could buy character dress up clothes from the chain stores on the high street. Despite the obvious, social benefits, I dreaded my children gaining parts in plays.

When they moved on to secondary school I decided that, if dressing up for a themed day was desired, then they could sort out their own outfits. This successfully put paid to their participation. Feeling a tad guilty and a bit of a killjoy, I patted myself on the back for getting through a phase that had caused me such stress, and consigned it to the past.

Except now I have a fangirl who wants to cosplay.

For those who do not know, the latest film in the Disney/Marvel franchise, Thor: The Dark World, opens in the UK on 30th October, just in time for Halloween. Along with SupernaturalSherlock and Doctor Who, my daughter is quietly obsessed with the Avengers. Actually, that is not strictly accurate as her focus is on their nemesis, played by the rather cute (if someone so tall can be described in this way) Tom Hiddleston.

As soon as they became available, my daughter went on line and bought cinema tickets for the opening night of this film for herself and a group of like minded friends. If she can get the costume sorted in time, she hopes to dress as Loki.

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Take a look at this character. I am being asked to assist in creating a look that is more than a simple dress up. To be fair, the trickiest and most important elements to get right will be the helmet and the staff which contains the mind gem that Loki uses to focus his power (I suspect my daughter would quite enjoy indulging in a bit of mind control). Elder son has been tasked with creating these; I am merely being asked to sort out a few items of clothing. Still, I cannot help but fear another blanket clad shepherd or sheet clad urchin (dress up disasters from their younger years). The simplified ideas that I have in my head rarely look as good as I had hoped in reality.

My daughter’s fangirling has introduced us all to fictional characters that we had not paid much attention to in the past but can now enjoy. Thanks to Tumblr and Fan Fiction she can interact with others around the world who share her obsessions. Closer to home she has found a niche in which she is comfortable and I am happy to encourage her participation. I still dread having to help produce an outfit though.

Ultimately, this is my daughter’s responsibility. She is asking for a little support and I will comply. I hope that she is happy with whatever is put together, and gains pleasure from her cosplay. I also harbour a hope that this is not the beginning of a new phase. It is lovely to see my daughter burdened with glorious purpose, doing what she wants; I do not wish to be the parent who lets her down.

Oh, and if you happen to meet her out and about over the Halloween holidays? Don’t forget to kneel…

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Clear out

Who decided that boy’s shirts should button up a different way to girl’s shirts and why? I mean, it makes no sense. I am sure that both could cope with fastening to the right or to the left if that was the way it had always been. As it is, I am throwing away school shirts that are still perfectly serviceable because my daughter no longer needs to wear school uniform and my boy’s will not countenance the idea of wearing a girl’s shirt to school. Knowing the environment that they must face there each day I don’t blame them.

My daughter is my first born but I was pregnant with her brother before she was six months old so I was always planning ahead when buying her all the things that a child may need or benefit from. Not for her the pretty, frilly, pink things that shops love to promote for our little princesses. My girl wore onesies in bright, primary colours with cartoon animals or stars on them that could suit a boy or a girl.

As the years passed by my daughter was provided with shorts and t-shirts; tartan trousers and roll necks; easy to wear, pull on clothes that she could manage herself, play freely in, and that could then be passed down to her brothers. Kids grow so fast the outfits could just about be made to last until my third child had outgrown them before being consigned to the recycling box, stretched and stained beyond use by anyone else.

I would gratefully accept hand me downs from my sister’s twin boys and from friend’s children who never seemed to hammer their clothes as mine did. Perhaps they were just bought more to start with so each outfit saw less play. Most of these clothes were designed for boys but looked just fine on my daughter. I made sure that she had a dress or a skirt for parties, but these pretty, girlie clothes always seemed an extravagance and would be disposed of, outgrown well before they had worn out. Sure she looked cute, but tights are not as easy to deal with on an active child as a pair of elasticated shorts or trousers.

My daughter does sometimes comment that I dressed her in some odd looking outfits. This might concern me more if I didn’t have the same view of the clothes that my mother put my sister and I in when we were that age. My mother thought we looked so gorgeous; I look back at the photographs and cringe. My mother was a dressmaker, interested in fashion and liked to knit. To this day I hate hand knit clothes and refused to put my children in any such thing. I fear I offended a few elderly relatives with this hard line attitude.

I still try to get the most out of the clothes that I buy my children, although the days when things could be passed down are long gone. My boys are more or less the same height despite having a two year age difference, but they are very different shapes. They also have their own ideas about what they wish to wear and these differ markedly.

Meanwhile, my daughter has developed a more individual dress style. Her clothes are very much her own, although she will sometimes find something in my wardrobe that she can make use of without asking. I can’t complain too much. I only realised that she had taken a pair of sandals on a school trip to France, that I had bought myself for the summer, when I noticed she was wearing them in the photographs she showed me on her return.

Unlike their casual clothes though, many items of school uniform can be passed around. When a PE kit has been forgotten in a locker, a spare can be pilfered from a brother’s wardrobe; if mother has failed to wash enough shirts as quickly as expected, the name label inside the clean ones available can be ignored.

My daughter took great pleasure in throwing away the very tatty and rather tight, grey, school skirt, that should probably have been replaced six months previously, when she finished her exams in June. All being well she will enter sixth form in September where no uniform is required. In the meantime I have shared her school sweatshirts between her brothers who seem able to shred the sleeves of these garments within months. My daughter has worn hers for two years and they still look in reasonable condition, certainly good enough to act as spares.

But the shirts cannot be shared out. They have been worn for a couple of years so are not sufficiently pristine to pass on to another family; they have been bagged for recycling. I feel so uncomfortable throwing away clothes that have not developed tears or holes or stains that cannot be sorted. It feels so profligate and wasteful, which goes against my nature.

And then, of course, there will be the issue of what my daughter is to wear to school next year. When she is in civvies every day she is going to need a bigger selection of outfits than she currently possesses. My boys are always running out of garments of one sort or another in the holidays because, for most of the year, they only need to be out of uniform at weekends. I can see that an expensive shopping trip is going to have to be endured later this month.

I would happily take my boys along but suspect they will decline the opportunity to supplement their meagre collection of clothes. In their eyes, such shopping trips are unbearably tedious; my daughter likes nothing better than to get me into her sort of clothes shops where she can charm my credit card into action.

I have had a very successful clear out over the past few days. Bins have been filled, the local recycling centre visited and space created in the house and garage. Now I need to make sure that we don’t just fill those spaces up again too quickly. Certain items of outgrown school uniform will need to be replaced, and I don’t expect the house to stay this clean and tidy for long. It would be good though if we could manage to get by with a little bit less than we have just thrown away. I suspect that my children are unlikely to agree.

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So many boxes and bins; unwanted items must now be sorted for recycling. 

And so Cinderella went to the ball

My sixteen year old daughter has spent this afternoon preparing for her school prom. Her beautiful dress was bought months ago at a discount store; the accessories have been cobbled together from bits and pieces that either she or I already owned; the transport would have been a decorated trailer with straw bales and ribbons, organised by friends, but this became impractical when the weather turned seriously wet and windy; they will now arrive in parent’s cars. She has done her own make up and requested that I help with her hair. As neither of us has any expertise in this area, I can only hope that we have created a look that will be in some way acceptable for such an event.

I dislike this sort of ostentation with a passion. If it were marketed as a simple party then I would question the timing (GCSE exams start in earnest next week) but could shrug my shoulders and let it go. If it were a Leaver’s Do; a chance for classmates to enjoy a final get together before heading their separate ways; then I could understand the significance. However, most of the two hundred plus students attending will return to school next week to sit their GCSE’s, and be back next year to prepare for ‘A’ levels. In my mind it is an expensive, American import that does not fit with the structure of British schooling where there is no high school graduation. It is an extravagant excuse for the cool kids to flaunt and compete in the dress and beauty stakes.

I am blessed to have a very beautiful daughter. Not only is she gorgeous on the outside but she is independent, original and sassy in her thinking. Not for her the dyed blonde hair, fake tan and must have, fashion clothing. If her hair needs a wash or her legs need a wax then it is probably because she was too engrossed in her writing to think about such fripperies. If the way she looks raises negative comments then she considers such concerns to be other people’s problems. Whose business but hers is it what she looks like? Loki is her hero: ‘I do what I want!’

When she announced in the New Year that she wanted to go to prom I was a little taken aback. She generally eschews crowds, unless at a rock concert, and complains bitterly about the banal music played too loudly at disco’s, where she prefers to stand at the back drinking tea with a few close friends. Prom, with it’s pretty dresses and prettified girls (who could look so lovely without the spurious interventions), seemed the antithesis of what she would consider to be a fun night out.

Having recently cleared out her bedroom and unceremoniously dumped everything pink in favour of black, I was curious to see what sort of dress she would wish to wear. The one she found looks amazing on her, but is so different to her normal look. Still feeling a bit bah humbug about the whole event I refused to fund any purchases beyond the normal cost of a dress (kudos to her for finding a suitable garment in this price range) and the entrance ticket. Being the girl that she is, she managed to beg or borrow all that she didn’t already own and to blag a lift with some friends who had already organised their transport. Whilst I admire her resourcefulness, I am still surprised that she has chosen to attend.

Nevertheless, I helped her to get ready and provided the taxi service to get her to the required meeting point near the expensive venue where the prom is to be held. I sincerely hope that she and her friends have a fabulous evening. I think it is ridiculous that her school promotes this sort of endeavour, but am aware that there are many who find the prospect exciting and who have poured hundreds of pounds into their preparation. Perhaps my daughter wishes to witness the extravagance as much as take part; I guess even I am looking forward to seeing the photographs that she has promised to take.

For the sake of all those who are making the effort to create a memorable event, I hope that the forecast heavy rain and high winds take a break to allow for the arrivals; the competition for transport originality is often amusing if preposterous. After the anticipation, it would be such a shame if the dream of looking like a prince or princess for a night were washed and blown away by the weather before the festivities could even begin; I do not wish to see anyone’s reverie ruined.

For my daughter though, I do not believe that she has too high expectations for the evening and regards it as an excuse to party with friends. From what she has told me, many of those at her table are well grounded about the whole rigmarole; they will hopefully be able to enjoy a laugh together however it goes. I have no issue with my daughter thinking differently to me and wishing to attend. She looked stunning done up in her finery; I hope she has a ball.

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The unacceptable passing remark

The weather forecasters tell me that rain is on the way, bringing to an end the cold but sunny weather of the last week. With this in mind I decided to walk into town yesterday as my new glasses were awaiting collection at the opticians. It seemed a shame to spend a dry, bright day indoors.

I walk into town along a series of quiet lanes, cycle paths and footpaths. It is a picturesque route with only the occasional cyclist or dog walker passing by. I always try to smile and exchange a greeting; I see it as a simple, friendly gesture. I am generally wary of strange dogs but realise that most are harmless, as are their owners.

Today I was approached by a large, black, fluffy creature with a waggy tail, smooth hackles and a hangy out tongue. The owner was close at hand and assured me that the dog was friendly – good as gold – just like him, dammit. I was past before his words registered. Was this man suggesting in his friendly, jokey way that if he had not been so good then he might have behaved differently towards me? At no time did I feel threatened, but I was disturbed that this stranger saw fit to offer me what I think he saw as a complement by suggesting that I was in some way attractive enough to attack.

I have read articles in the media that disturb me in much the same way. They suggest that, if a woman chooses to dress in short skirts and low cut tops, then she cannot blame a man for raping her. If I were a man then I would be deeply insulted by this suggestion. Even if attracted to a woman, men will not generally feel an uncontrollable urge to commit rape.

When I was a teenager I used to like to wear short skirts. I did not favour the barely there, belt style, micro minis but rather a mid thigh length, straight skirt worn with thick tights and flat boots. My dad hated this look and told me that it did not suit me. I am not sure if this was because he did not like the short skirts or if he simply thought that they did not flatter me. As I have always had chunky legs in proportion to the rest of my body this may well have been true but was really beside the point. I wore the skirts because I enjoyed wearing them; end of argument.

I still have this attitude to clothes and I still have chunky legs. When I wear skirts and dresses that end a few inches above the knee I am not trying to look sexy or attractive, I just like these clothes. I dress in outfits that I enjoy wearing and neither want nor expect to attract attention. Given my advancing age I sometimes think that I should conform a little more, but then decide that this is not necessary; it is my body and I will dress as I like. If others think my style unattractive or unflattering then I can live with that. I don’t really expect to be noticed and I am comfortable with the way that I dress.

On my journey into town yesterday I was wearing trackies and a hoody (another look unlikely to flatter but very practical for a walk) so nobody could accuse me of trying to attract attention. I can only think that the man who made the comments noted that I was a woman alone on a deserted stretch of footpath between fields. I wonder if he thought that I was vulnerable. Once again the media promotes caution amongst women, suggesting that they do not go out alone for fear of attack. A lone woman is cast as a potential victim.

I am not going to live my life expecting to be victimised. When we read of a woman being attacked we should remember that large numbers travel freely and safely on a regular basis without coming to any harm. Most men are not assailants. There are some of course; it is possible to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and to be unlucky, but this is rare. I will not live my life behind locked doors nor view every strange man as an assaulter just because the media stirs up fear to gain attention.

Having a teenage daughter I have to be careful of the advice that I give her on this subject. With her tall, willowy figure she looks fabulous in whatever outfit she chooses be it short skirts and strappy tops or jeans and a t shirt. When she goes out with her friends I advise her to travel with the pack and to keep her mobile phone to hand but I do not ban her from going alone to a meet up point. It would be impractical and unfair to stop her from going out or to suggest that I should accompany her every time. I have to allow her to gain her independence even if I do worry about her every step of the way. The simple precautions that can be taken to deal with ‘stranger danger’ are one thing but warning her against all men is too much of a sweeping condemnation of an entire gender. I have sons too.

I would be devastated if my daughter were attacked (and would be none too pleased if it happened to me) but I would also be devastated if she were run over by a car. I will not ban her from crossing roads and I will not ban her from going out to socialise. What I will do is to ensure that she understands the potential dangers and knows how to take steps to avoid them. I will trust the boys that she is friends with to treat her with respect and will not assume that they mean to harm her for their own gratification.

While people accept the premise that a girl who dresses provocatively deserves her fate if she is subsequently assaulted, the myth of a man’s inability to control his actions will be accepted and perpetuated. The sexist jokes will continue and the weaker men will absolve themselves of responsibility. All of us, male and female, need to take responsibility for what we do, but how we choose to dress shouldn’t come into it. Our conversation and actions are the indicators of how we wish to proceed. It is those that should be noted and, with the participants consent, may be acted on.

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