At the Beach.  Sunny. 

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Milk-bottle white, lobster red
Scantily clad, covered up
Legionnaire hats
Naked tots, entire family clad in bodysuits
And the one family, always one, in heavy shoes, trousers and jumpers
Just in case or taken by surprise?
Sun cream: in blobs, by stripes
There’s no love like a mother with a wet wipe
Two-year-old making a meandering beeline for nothing in particular
The moated castles, the holes, the buried
(Preference of teenagers)
Dogs straining on leads
‘No dogs on the beach’
Scooters everywhere
Child with stabilisers, more zag than zip
Ice cream: in cones, in tubs, on sticks
Why on earth would you give a child that colour ice cream?
Chips, salted and vinegared
The boisterous overcrowding outside the pub
Piled into picnic tables
Armed with plastic cups
Always a raucous one, loud in every way, too much everything
Public toilets, unique smell
Soap’s run out but at least there’s paper
Queues here, there, for everything
Flip flops, bare feet, trails of sand
The sand-encrusted children, writhing sculptures
The saltwater hair
The contortionists attempting a change of costume in public
Dabbling in the scant rock pools
Lifeboat, yacht, canoe, paddle board
No space to throw a ball
Chairs or rugs or sit on the wall
Gulls wheeling overhead
‘Don’t feed the birds’
Wind breaks, pop-up tents
Cricket below the tide line where the sand is firm
The family with everything
Bar the kitchen sink
A puff of wind, mouthful of sand
The mallets come back out
The readers, the snoozers
Teenage love declared by frames per minute
The moaning minnies
The always have something to say
Tempers fraying: heat, hunger, tired
“Don’t throw sand at your brother”
“Don’t even think about putting that on Instagram”
“Because I said so”
Barbecue fume, cigarette reek
Accents from every part
And a few other languages for good measure
Bags from every supermarket
Hardly any cameras
Phone, phone, phone
Phone, tablet, phone
Small child with sandcastle:
“Can I borrow your phone to take a photo Dad?”
The families going home; scruffy, jumbled heaps of belongings
Dragging a reluctant or a howler
Trailing what will later be claimed as all the sand on the beach
(Especially after the third hoovering)
“You’re going in the bath when we get home”
Sand, sea, sunshine, seagull poop

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Some Fashion ‘Rules’ – Or are They Just Opinions?

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Like so many things, and contrary to whatever the ‘experts’ may say, fashion is subjective.  Highly subjective.  Fashion might be dictated by a ‘them’ of mythological, cult status but really it should come down to our own taste and style.  Style cannot be achieved by the whims and fads of following every bandwagon.  At best you’ll like a poster girl (or guy) for this season’s look, at worst you’ll look like you really need some help getting dressed in the morning.

What fashion is also tending to neglect and ignore in this day and age is that there are times and places.  Casual might be comfy, it might be relaxed, it might be the best expression of our individuality but should it really be allowed to roam free across board meetings and weddings?  You might love your pyjamas and duvet look but is this something you wear in town never mind the supermarket?  (For some reason, supermarkets seem to have surprisingly strict dress codes.  You are not allowed to wear pyjamas (our mini-supermarket/corner shop never got that memo, fortunately for harried mothers dashing out to get milk before the school run) and you must never enter their hallowed halls in bare feet.  Bare feet are germy and dirty.  Shoes aren’t).

As we live in a society that places increased emphasis on individuality (as long as you look like everyone else), is it really fair or right that ‘other people’ dictate what we do or don’t wear?  Perhaps we actually need that more today than at any other time.  Years ago, there were pretty clear-cut standards and definitions of what one wore where and when.  Women, for example, didn’t, couldn’t and wouldn’t go out without hat and gloves.  Men wore shirt and collar.  But with increasing options and diversity, perhaps we do need someone somewhere to say, well hang on a moment, this is what you should be wearing in this workplace or to this event.  Knowing what to wear when and where is no longer inherent; we tread fine lines and debate endless rhetoric as to whether this top or these trousers are casual-casual, just casual or smart enough.

Whilst there are some clothes that we would ‘never be seen dead in’ (such is the fervour that fashion inspires), we sometimes are forced to admit that they look quite good on someone else.  Therein lies the problem.  Very few people look good in everything.  You can slavishly follow the fashions but if you want to look ‘good’, then you need to find your own style, what works for you, your body and your lifestyle and stick to it.  And it is always worth remembering what we said that we’d ‘never be seen dead in’ because when it comes back on the bandwagon, are we succumbing?

Fashion goes further than dictating what clothes we put on our bodies.  Fashion, perhaps more now than at any other period of time, dictates what our bodies should look like.  Fashion, I blame its narrow-minded designers, neither appreciates nor accepts that we are all built differently.  Very differently.  Completely differently.  When fashion is designed for only one body shape then some of us, if not most of us, are going to suffer.  If we are not ambulating 2D coat hangers with stick insect-style limbs then really is there any point in trying to be fashionable?  We’re not going to fit in those clothes even if we shamefacedly go up half a dozen sizes.  And our bodies will never cooperatively conform to that shape.  Irrespective of diets, exercise regimes, magic underwear or shoe-horns.

Here are some of my opinions and observations:

  • If you are going to wear trousers then make sure that they actually reach to your feet.  Otherwise make it clear that you’re wearing cropped trousers.
  • Personally, I don’t think garish or heavily patterned socks look good when you wear too short trousers or ballet pumps or dollies.  If you want to recreate the Pippi Longstocking look then do so deliberately.
  • If you insist on wearing your trousers’ waist halfway down your legs, I reserve the right to offer you a belt.
  • If you are wearing trousers that low, please do not wear holey underwear.
  • Buying a shoe size too small does not make your feet cuter or more lady-like.
  • Don’t even dare to suggest that a woman can only have ‘good’ or ‘correct’ poise and posture when wearing high heels, I will just look at you like that.
  • If you can’t walk in those shoes, then really what’s the point?
  • They might be calling it ‘cleavage’ so it sounds attractive but that just makes me think of things like hatchets and axes.  Not pretty.  If your toes show in closed shoes then they really aren’t a good fit.  Anything that should be in a containment facility should stay there.
  • This also goes for your bra.  Whilst you may think it’s attractive to have everything hitched up to eye level, it isn’t.  Nor should they be escaping over the top of any containment facility.
  • Just because that was the size bra that you bought when you were fifteen, it does not mean to say that you will still be that same size twenty years later and after four diets, six weight gains and two children.  For your sake, and everyone else’s, find one that fits.
  • There is a key prefix involved when it comes to underwear.  You are meant to wear it under your clothes.  You don’t have to prove that you are wearing some and no, no one actually wants to see it.
  • Your makeup should never be the first thing people see about your face.  Especially not from across a room.
  • If you really want to wear leggings then please don’t wear pairs that are saggy, see-through, laddered or holed.  It’s not pleasant.
  • Leggings are not guaranteed to be the big girl’s best friend.  Or any other clingy clothes.
  • If your skirt is shorter than your coat then expect odd looks.  People will question whether you remembered to actually put one on.
  • Your skirt should never be shorter than it is wide.  And if you have the good fortunate to have ridiculously long legs, be aware that skirts will always look shorter on you, even if they come to the knee.
  • If you have to spend the day uncomfortably holding the edges of your skirt down then it really is too short.
  • Just because the weather has got unusually warm does not mean to say you can take your t-shirt off when you’re out and about.  You’re never as good-looking as you think you are.  And sunburn isn’t particularly attractive looking either.
  • If you’re not at the beach or by a pool then why are you wearing swimwear?
  • Swimwear only ever looks good on everyone else.  (With notable exceptions, admittedly).  Get used to it.
  • Wearing shiny or noisily patterned fabrics does not make you look skinnier.  Normally the opposite.  And you’re giving everyone a headache.
  • Wearing a tracksuit doesn’t necessarily make you look sporty.  In fact, it often gives out the opposite message.
  • If you don’t know what brands are cool then don’t bother wearing the wrong ones.  It still doesn’t make you cool.
  • Decide for yourself whether not wearing a petticoat, showing your arms, going out without a vest in March etc are really crimes.
  • However, if you want to wear tights and a synthetic skirt, please wear a petticoat.  It’s for your safety, static bites.  And the clinging, scrunched up skirt look is never pleasant.
  • Very few women can wear ankle boots with short skirts, most shouldn’t.
  • If you have spent the last twenty years ruing a particular look or hairstyle, don’t re-adopt it the moment it becomes ‘fashionable’ again.  It still won’t look good.
  • Socks are socks.  They don’t have to match.  But you will have to take your shoes off if you wear a holey pair.
  • I might be old-fashioned but you really can’t carry a navy blue handbag with a black dress whilst wearing brown shoes.  The same applies for suits.
  • Never buy a t-shirt with a slogan in a foreign language, not without the aid of a (trusted) translator or a dictionary.  You can easily look like an idiot advertising your idiocy.
  • Decide if you really need to serve as a human billboard for a brand.
  • You don’t messages across your chest or backside for people to get a pretty good idea of who you are.
  • Personally I don’t get t-shirts that claim their superior laundry abilities; however I have been advised that the brand apparently started out in outerwear so their claim makes some sense.
  • Spending more on a t-shirt does not guarantee that the worker has been paid more.  Usually the only thing guaranteed is that someone is making more profit.
  • You may think that it isn’t cool to wear a coat but trust me, you’ll look even more uncool as a hypothermic, drowned rat.
  • Corsets are meant to be passé for good reason so don’t wear anything that’s torture.

Braving the Dragon

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Yellow Yarn

People seem surprised when I say that I’m shy.  It came up in conversation the other day with some friends who, despite knowing me pretty well, just didn’t know that.  I am.  I’m shy.  I don’t like talking to strangers.  I don’t like social situations.  I even feel uncomfortable walking down the street.  I feel like all eyes are on me.  I feel that every word is someone saying something bad or nasty about me.  I feel watched.  I feel judged.  I feel criticised.  I’m not comfortable around other people.  Although paradoxically, I don’t like being on my own for long periods and can be fairly gregarious, I enjoy company.  Or maybe, at least, the idea of it.  In reality, I’m anxious, fretting over every possible thing that I may say or do wrong.  Afterwards, I torture myself for hours replaying all the gaffes and feet-in-mouth moments, cringing at my ineptitude.

One of the hardest situations is going into a shop.  I don’t mean the anonymous black holes (or white, they have far too bright lights in my photosensitive opinion) that modern supermarkets are, I’m talking about the proper, traditional, old-fashioned ones where you’re one on one with a shopkeeper having to ask for things or they can see your every move around the shop.  I hate that.  Sometimes I’ll even try to avoid going into places like that.  (It’s kind of hard when ninety percent of your wardrobe comes from charity shops though).

I have a local yarn shop which isn’t very local; it’s ten miles away in my hometown.  Ten miles is a big distance in this small country, especially when you don’t have your own transport.  It’s an hour away by bus.  And more crucially, a lot of money on a bus ticket away.  I don’t get there very often but as you know I’ve had some special projects on my needles of late that have required special yarn.

I’ve always loved shops like this.  There was a tiny fabric shop that we used to visit when I was a child; it was a single aisle between floor-to-ceiling stacks of fabrics, a cavern of different textured rolls.  We would huddle in front of the counter at the far end, my mother taking an agonising amount of time to make some decision or other, usually involving curtains, whilst I would dream away my life in a fantasy of different coloured ginghams.  I loved the diversity of colours within a simple print, stripes, squares, gingham; the endlessly possible variations on a theme.  We weren’t allowed to touch but I always remember the cottons more than glossy, netted or silky.  I guess that I was always practically minded.

You can imagine my delight when barely into double figures my mother promised me new curtains of my choosing.  I’d never had curtains purposed for my own room, designed with me in mind, just the ones which were there when I grew into the space.  In fact, I hardly remember those ones.   I was ecstatic, a trip to the fabric cave and to choose my very own fabric for the first time.

We got there.  My mother made a decision.  Some glossy, stiff curtain fabric.  In brown.  With cream accents.  It wasn’t my taste.  I didn’t care how grown up and sophisticated it was.  I hated brown.  I still do.  Especially coffee and cream shiny fabrics.  With bows.  And an Austrian blind.  I was totally anguished, pained both by the hideousness and the disregard.

I loathed those curtains all my teenage life.  Eventually I rebelled and bought purple muslin tab topped curtains with my own earnings when I was nearly out of my teens.  I do have small moments of rebellion.  That and bluetacking postcards to every available wall space.

I don’t remember going back to the fabric shop after that trip.  I miss it.  I still rejoice in the simple and plain, I am a fan of cotton and natural fibres.  Some things don’t change.

However these days, it’s not boredom and pins and needles that make visiting the yarn shop a challenge but anxiety.  Anxiety washed over me in my teenage years like an overwhelming, all-powerful tidal wave.  Small shops have never been the same since.  Nor have I.

The yarn shop is a small shop where all eyes are on from the moment you walk through the door.  There are two women there; I think that they might be mother and daughter.  The younger one is fairly friendly and I can cope with her but the older one terrifies me.

I mean no disrespect or offence of course and I’m really not trying to cast asparagus on her.  It is probably entirely a figment of my own paranoid, nervous imagination but I dread going in there and finding her on duty, a doyenne with knitting needles in hand, presiding over her kingdom with a stern expression.

It’s a little bit like modern airport travel, going through security where the presumption is that you’re guilty unless proven otherwise.  I feel like a criminal the moment I step through the door and the bell jangles over my head.  I feel guilty; I feel that I don’t deserve to be here somehow.  I don’t know enough, I don’t spend enough, I’m a really bad knitter and yes, I’m still wearing that hat.

I go and hide behind the display unit and gather my nerves.  I feel watched, judged and found to be wanting.  I peruse the cheap acrylics but then worry that she’ll think less of me.  I also worry that she’s decided that I’m stealing buttons despite the very large sign that says I must take the tubes to the till for them to be counted out.  All the special yarn is actually behind the counter so you have to walk past a very sacrosanct barrier between one world and another, a range of yarns that are stacked in traditional cubby holes to the ceiling in a bewildering array of colours, weights, brands and prices.  They are expensive.  Most things are in my world.  I have to apologise and step over the line if I want something; usually it’s just behind her chair so she has to move.  I feel like I’m turning beetroot red and liable to stammer.  Most of the time, these yarns are out of my price range and experience.  I know that she knows that.  What I really want to do is bury my hands in the large basket of reduced yarns.  I like a bargain and have the nose and determination of a bloodhound when I get going.  But it isn’t very dignified hauling out all the yarns in the basket to find something that I actually want to purchase.  I am mortified by my apparent desperation.

My knitting is slowly getting better.  It’s taken four years to learn but I think I can say with some certainty (although perhaps not confidence) that I’m getting there.  I’m about to take on a very scary project (more information will come, don’t worry) but it required special yarn.  Not nasty cheap acrylic from the cheap shop.  (Even the price of that has gone up!)  I also managed to end up with some time to kill, having to hang around the town because my mother wouldn’t let me knit in the bank when she went there.  (She somehow feels that this is an illegal activity, I’m not sure why; neither was she very happy about reassurances that I always knit in my bank).  I got left to roam the streets, which doesn’t amount to much in this small town, a few charity shops, a few cheap shops and a yarn shop were all that could call to me.  I can sniff those out though.

To the yarn shop, I went.  I had a plan.

 As my knitting has improved so has my knitting confidence.  I know what I’m talking about.  Most of the time.  If not then I’ll just shut up.  (Perhaps, if nerves don’t get the better of me.  I have the gift of the waffle).  That knowledge has probably come from stalking the forum boards on Ravelry, I learn through osmosis.  These days, I can talk knitting with the best of them.

I went on the offensive.

She was there, behind the counter, waiting, watching.

I cheerfully greeted her and made small talk about the atrocious weather, making sure to comment on her baby knitting.

She replied.

I explained what I was looking for and how I was terribly sorry but it would be in that sacrosanct space behind counter and probably even behind her chair.  I smiled, I was charming, I chatted.

I got my yarn.

We discussed the confusion that American terms and patterns can cause.  I found out that 5 ply (which the American sport weight is) is actually available in this country and is traditionally used to knit up guernseys.  We discussed the one that she was making at the moment.  All small talk.

I got some other supplies.

I smiled some more and waltzed at the shop.  Having paid, of course.

It was exhausting.

But the dragon has been conquered.

We’re now on speaking terms.

I will not be quaking in my DMs quite so much the next time I go in and find her on duty.  And of course, I will make sure to ask how her gansey is getting on.

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What Happened to Old-Fashioned Appreciation?

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It seems inconceivable that manners, good plain Ps and Qs, could ever pass out of fashion.  To me, the simple pleases and thank yous of daily life are an inherent part of humanity, a vital cog in the machinery of society.  You could probably throw in apologies for good measure too.  What would happen to society, to social interaction if we just throw these niceties out of the window?  And why would we?

My little booted footsteps around the Internet are much like my thought patterns, at best diagonal but usually just plain mysterious and inexplicable.  One of the American news sites has various Lifestyle sections on it and the other day I found myself deep in the Parenting section.

Now, admittedly I don’t have anyone to parent except myself, my husband and a blue tit called Manky but it was fascinating reading.  I started with an article about teaching children to apologise (and how I got to that, I really couldn’t explain and I’m not sure if this was the exact article, I’m sure it was longer).  Saying sorry is a tough one and I could see the need for the article.  It’s easy perhaps for parents (especially as childless people aren’t always quite so forgiving) to excuse their child’s misdeeds either by apologising for them or by embarrassedly muttering about their age or some problem or other.  I believe it’s essential to learn, preferably at an early age, how to own up to your mistakes, with no shame or guilt (unless appropriate) then apologise for the mess-up.  I’m sure you can all think of instances where you wished that an adult had acquired this skill.

I also appreciate that there’s a fine line, as with everything, for parents to tread.  A child can easily be made to feel guilty about a trivial issue or error.  I’m one of those adults who apologises for everything, something that my growing confidence is slowly losing the habit of.  Sometimes.  It can be frustrating to hear someone say sorry every five minutes just as it can be frustrating to feel guilty about everything, including the weather or any other random uncontrollable event.

I can understand that perhaps in this day where people feel that it’s dog-eat-dog and where a little humble pie long went past its sell by date parents maybe sometimes feel that they’re weakening their child but the article explained that it’s about empathy, appreciating someone else’s position, being in their shoes.  That can never hurt.  Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all tried to wear someone else’s shoes for a while?  If we could put ourselves in someone else’s position for a bit?  With all the challenges and issues that parents face, I can appreciate that it’s not always easy to actively and consciously develop, well I suppose, a policy but shouldn’t good manners be second nature?  Shouldn’t teaching our children good manners be second nature?

From there I stumbled on a similar article but this time about teaching gratitude.  (I think that this was actually the article that I read).  Gratitude is a theme that appears quite often blogs and it does seem to be something that we adults sometimes need to work on a little, to cultivate in our lives.  After all gratitude is a little more than a token thank you.  Modern life often promotes perpetual dissatisfaction in that constant pursuit of better, faster, newer, more.  Do we encourage children to be appreciative?  And do we only encourage children to be grateful for material rewards?

I found the articles thought-provoking but I didn’t mean to blog about them.  What brought them back to mind was a little episode in the supermarket today.  It made me sad because I suddenly realised why we have such a self-focussed and ungrateful generation growing up before our eyes.  It is our fault.  What are we teaching our children by our words and our example?

Join me in an aisle of my local supermarket.  There is a mother with probably three children, I was looking at cleaning bargains at the time and after hearing, I didn’t want to stare too hard.  The mother is fairly smart, has possibly been to work during the day and the children are in various school uniforms (which is normal in this country).  I would estimate them to be middle-class.

The daughter is saying something about buying something for someone.

The mother’s reply is loud and clear, almost angry, which is why their conversation caught my attention in the first place, and is delivered as she marches down the aisle with her back to the children.

She says, I cannot quote but only approximate an abbreviated version:  No, I’m not going to waste my money buying anything for your teacher.  They get paid quite enough already.

The tone is angry, the voice is loud.  I would even venture rude as a description.

I am surprised.

I know that in recent years there have been more end-of-year teacher-themed gifts and cards available, surprisingly because it seems that this simple tradition has become old-fashioned.   Maybe because of a lack of gratitude.  In this modern world anything is game to be marketed and merchandised to high heaven and I quite agree with the idea of not supporting such pointless commercial geegaws, especially when it involves tat and expensive in the same place.

But to discourage gratitude in a child?  To a teacher who has devoted countless hours not just in the classroom but in their evenings, weekends and holidays to your child’s development?  And sadly, it’s probably the case in too many instances that a child spends more time with their teacher than any one of its parents.  What example does this set?  What has that child learnt?

It seems perhaps that basic manners along with the appreciation and fellow-feeling that motivates them has gone out of fashion.

Is it a waste of time to show gratitude though?  However few pennies there may be in our lives right now, what stops us from getting pen and paper to say thank you?  Or to encourage a child to draw a picture or design their own card?

It made me sad, very sad.

What would life be like without please and thank you?  And however nice it would be to lead a life without the need to say sorry whilst we’re all imperfect I’d rather continue saying that too.  Otherwise, what will tomorrow be like?

(I would like to add that I am not judging this particular lady, her family or her circumstances all of which are completely unknown to me.  I merely took an observation at the time which caused me to reflect upon life and attitudes in general.  This article is the result of those thought processes).

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Pushing My Sympathies

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I’m prepared to tolerate most people and their idiosyncrasies, hey I have a few of my own after all, but there are a few situations where I find it pushed beyond its limits.

The first circumstance.  A woman who walks into a crowded room with a baby asleep in a car seat.  And then promptly extracts sleeping baby roughly from an all-in-one body covering anorak thing and wakes it up.  Baby starts screaming.  Mother looks around surprised at us all.  I look at my friend and we both agree that the baby was asleep and that the mother woke it.  We both decide that the motto ‘let sleeping babies sleep’ is a good one and should have been followed.  For the benefit of all present.   And opt not to pick up the wailing babe and smile at the ‘poor’ mother.

The second circumstance.  A lady, older admittedly, who starts using a walking stick, a trekking pole like my own.  Now I have to treat a fine line here, I don’t want to be hypocritical and I know that plenty of people probably are baffled by why I am using one.  The lady in question claims to have a bad leg.  Aw.  But here’s how I see it.  If you’re wearing ridiculously tight clothes (think vacuum packed ham joint but fortunately she’s bony) then superbly ridiculous high-heeled, ill-fitting shoes which make you totter and wobble anyway then I am going to be incredibly suspect about the cause of your discomfort.  And as it seems to be of your own making (and due to your own folly in my humble opinion when it comes to fashion choices), I will choose to withdraw my sympathy.

Judging Others

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Don’t judge people by your standards.  Everyone is different.  Everyone has different standards.  Everyone sets standards for themselves.  Judge people by their own standards.