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Archive for September, 2010

Eileen Walsh is currently playing the lead role in Medea by Siren Productions, at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College, Dublin (ABSOLUT Fringe, until 25th September). Her theatre work includes Macbeth, Terminus (Abbey Theatre); The Gigli Concert (Druid); Disco Pigs (Corcadorca/Bush/Arts Theatre); Crave (Royal Court), The Drowned World (Traverse Theatre) and Mary Stuart (National Theatre of Scotland).  Film and television credits include Eden (Best Actress Award, Tribeca Film Festival), Pure Mule, The Magdalene Sisters, When Brendan Met Trudy, Miss Julie, The Last Bus Home, The Van and 33 x Around the Sun.

What’s the first record you ever bought?

Cliff Richard/The Young Ones – Living Doll.

What’s your favourite smell?

Molecule 01.

Have you ever had a nickname?

Smallie.

What is your favourite room in your house?

The coalhole (under the stairs).

What are your guilty pleasures?

E!

What would people be surprised to know about you?

Not much.

Who is your closest female friend?

My sisters.

Do you have any tattoos or piercings?

Birthmark on my arm known as my teatoo (hot tea burn when I was 3).

Where would you most like to live?

In a 70s’ build, flat roof, sunken living room and I’d be happy.

Who was your first kiss and where did it happen?

A very nice boy who said he’d like to teach me.

What’s the most unusual question you’ve ever been asked?

Did you have to work out for the role? (Medea!) Obviously an American.

What’s the best present you’ve ever received?

A Kinder egg that had been tampered with so that when you put the toy jigsaw together it read I Love You.

What is your favourite word?

Wait.

Who was your first love?

I married him.

If you weren’t doing what you do, what might you have become?

Apparently a dog groomer was pretty high on my list when I was 10.

Is there a book you’ve bought several times as a gift for someone?

I bought several sisters the same book (as a student) and told them pass it on to each other… 100 Years of Solitude …no less!

What happens after we die?

We answer questions.

What female historical figure do you admire most?

Right now I’m smothered in Medea.

Sum yourself up in three words:

G.S.O.H./N.S./O.T.

And finally… What are you anti? What are you pro?

Anti-abortion

Pro- hunting…only joking.

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Self esteem can be a fragile thing. While some people have a strong, inbuilt sense of self-confidence and self-worth, others struggle to see the true beauty in themselves, unable to see the good, and instead focusing on the negative. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but sometimes all that is beholden is a messed-up, backwards, magic-mirror image.

Women who may to the outside viewer appear to ‘have it all’ (that loathed phrase beloved of lady-mags) can in fact feel as though they have nothing, are nothing, and all because they are fixated on what they dislike about themselves – be it a physical or emotional aspect of their self.

One woman who is on a crusade to promote a positive self-image amongst people worldwide is Caitlin Boyle, an American food and fitness blogger. One day in 2009, while feeling utterly down in the dumps about herself, she had a lightbulb moment: why not do something that would make not only herself feel better, but other people too? So she scribbled an affirmation on a post-it-note, stuck it to a mirror, and with that, a movement was born.

Operation Beautiful became an almost overnight success, with Caitlin receiving email after email from women who had stuck post-it notes in offices, on toilet doors, at traffic lights, inside magazines and on scales. Women told her that Operation Beautiful helped them feel more beautiful – inside and out.

As a follower of Caitlin’s blog for the past two years, I was intrigued by the concept of Operation Beautiful. Reading health blogs changed my attitude to myself and my health in an overwhelmingly positive way (even motivating me to start my own food blog) and I loved that Operation Beautiful harnesses the goodwill and positivity of strangers to help others.

For me, the ‘beautiful‘ in the name doesn’t mean being classically beautiful on the outside – it means the inner beauty and spirit that radiates from those who are truly happy in their own skin.

Operation Beautiful started off as one post-it note, turned into a website, and was released as a book two months ago. Wanting to know more, I got in touch with Caitlin (pictured below) and asked her some questions about Operation Beautiful.

Hi Caitlin, for those not familiar with the concept, what is Operation Beautiful, and what inspired you to start it?

Operation Beautiful involves posting random notes in public places for other people to find.  These notes typically encourage a positive body image or outlook and include phrases like “You are beautiful inside and out” or “Scales measure weight, not worth.” I was inspired to start Operation Beautiful after having a really bad day; I wanted to do something small and simple for someone else to make me feel better!


Were you surprised at how quickly Operation Beautiful became popular?

The idea definitely went viral. I was surprised at first, but in hindsight, I see why it’s been so successful.  We need this type of positive messaging in society, and Operation Beautiful is simple, quick, and effective – both for the note poster and the finder!

Why do you think a note from a stranger can have a positive impact on a person’s self- esteem?

I think it makes people smile when they realize how much goodness there is in the world.  The idea that someone would do this for a stranger is so uplifting.  Also, people place these notes in locations where negative self-talk often occurs, such as the bathroom mirror, the scale, or the changing room at the gym.

What’s your favourite Operation Beautiful note story?

My favorite story is Vit’s.  A teenager in Canada, Vit was in a treatment center for severe anorexia.  Her doctors were concerned that it was going to eventually kill her.  She slipped into the bathroom to throw up her lunch and found an Operation Beautiful note on the stall.  The simple message – “You are good enough the way you are” – made her pause and reconsider her destructive behavior.  She followed up with me a few months later and said she was out of the hospital and healthier than ever.  Vit knew a stranger posted the note, but she felt like the timing was a message from God.

Why do you think so many women struggle with self-esteem issues?

There is a lot of negative messaging in our society.  The biggest mistake we make is beating ourselves up for not looking like models or celebrities.  99% of images in magazines are photoshopped in some way.  It’s time we stop emulating or striving for a type of perfection that doesn’t even exist in the real world.  It’s OK to look like a human!

Your other blog, Healthy Tipping Point, is hugely successful – what drew you to blogging in the first place? What do you think makes Healthy Tipping Point so successful?

I had been a healthy living blog reader for about a year before I joined the community with my own blog.  I loved the sense of community between bloggers and readers and wanted to participate on a bigger scale. I think HTP is successful because I’m upbeat, relatable, and keep it real.  Plus, my fun recipes are simple!

Blogging has become a phenomenon, and blogs have given women a new space where they can express themselves in their own way. What do you love about blogging – and has it changed your life?

I wrote a post about this subject before. Check it out: http://www.healthytippingpoint.com/2010/08/blogging-changed-my-life.html

What keeps your spirits up and helps you feel good about yourself?

I really love running.  Training for races helps me stay motivated and positive.

I believe that many Operation Beautiful readers and participants have said the movement has changed their life. How does that make you feel?

It feels amazing to know that I am part of something so much bigger than myself.  The site wouldn’t exist without all these wonderful people who want to make the world a better place.  It’s awesome to be the one who gets to write about it everyday.

What has the press tour for Operation Beautiful, the book, been like – any highlights?

The highlight of my press tour was being on The Today Show [click for video link]. I was so excited to get to talk to millions about Operation Beautiful and the response has been so positive.

How did you find the transition from blogger to writer – was it always your intention to write a book? When did you decide to write a book about Operation Beautiful?

No! I never thought one post-it would become a website and a book.  I think it’s the natural progression of the site though because the book gives more details on how to lead a truly positive and healthy life – the Operation Beautiful lifestyle, if you will!

What’s next for Operation Beautiful?

I hope the site and book can really change the way we see ourselves and redefine what beautiful is about.

Do you have any more books in the pipeline?

Maybe 🙂 Wait and see!

Readers, what do you think of this initiative?

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Geena Davis - Not Just a Pretty face

Actress Geena Davis is perhaps best remembered in the role of poor, put-upon Thelma, sidekick to Susan Sarendon’s sassy Louise, in Ridley Scott’s 1991 groundbreaking road movie, Thelma & Louise. Although still acting, Ms. Davis has increasingly turned her attention to activism for gender equality, initially in sport and laterally in the media. Interestingly her positive action in support of a more balanced reflection of society in the media sprang from fairly innocuous roots. Back in 2004 Davis was watching television with her young daughter when it struck her that there was a noticeable imbalance in the ratio of male to female characters portrayed in programmes aimed at pre-teens. Not only was there a marked numerical imbalance, it also became apparent that the roles open to female actresses fell into a narrow range of stereotypes: generally sexualised eye-candy. These were programmes directed specifically at children aged under-11, many of them – on both the big screen and the small – viewed by our children too.

Davis became convinced that this insidious form of gender bias was feeding into the reality that females are undervalued in society. “The more TV a girl watches,” Davis concluded, “the more limited she believes her opportunities will be.” This observation ultimately led to the establishment of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and the undertaking of a comprehensive research project looking at gender in children’s entertainment at the Annenberg School for Communication of University of Southern California. This study directed by Dr. Stacy Smith and covering four hundred G, PG, PG-13, and R-Rated movie, concluded that for every one female character portrayed, there are almost three males and that girls are given far less screen time.

“The more TV a girl watches,” Davis concluded, “the more limited she believes her opportunities will be.”

The researchers also linked their findings to a resulting undermining of self-esteem amongst young girls and a consequent sexist bias amongst young boys. In response the institute developed a programme, called SEE JANE that works in collaboration with the entertainment industry using research, education and advocacy to dramatically reduce stereotyping and increase the number of female characters included in children’s entertainment.

The approach taken by Geena Davis in tackling gender equality at this fundamental level in the entertainment industry has been recognised and rewarded. In 2009 she received an honorary Doctorate from Bates College, a private liberal arts college located in Lewiston, Maine. Although tangible changes have been affected by the Institute, their task is far from complete. However, it is truly inspiring to see a woman turn an everyday observation into such a laudable and practical programme of action and to learn of a Hollywood legend using their fame to such commendable ends. After all as Geena so straightforwardly puts it, “Kids need to see entertainment where females are valued as much as males.”

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Strength and fitness and women

When I gave up smoking many years ago I put on a considerable amount of weight in a very short space of time. Over two stone to be exact, as I attempted to find something for my hands and mouth to do other than dance the lethal mambo with the noxious weed.

I suppose I was in denial for a spell. Until shopping one day I caught a glimpse of myself in a window and stopped dead in my tracks. Who was that bloated double-chinned woman staring at me aghast? Oh dear. It was me.

Being a proactive sort, once I got over the shock and, I admit, some tears,  I decided to get busy with losing the weight and making my exterior fall in line with my slowly repairing interior. If my lungs were improving– and I hoped they were– I figured I might as well up the ante and meet them some of the way. Thus I entered the previously unexplored world of fitness

I can’t say it started out all that well. I took up running, only to run out of puff after a minute. Undeterred, I kept at it. I huffed up hills and puffed down them. I chugged along, pink-faced and sweating, reeling from stitches and shin splints. I hated how it felt, hated the sensation of leaden legs and wondered if I was kidding myself.

But over the weeks slowly the running portions increased and the bent over trying not to vomit portions lessened. After 6 weeks, I ran/jogged a complete 5k without the need to stop. I almost wept with relief and disbelief. Emboldened by not dying,  I committed to running a mini-marathon (10k) and trained on.

Gradually some of the weight shifted. Feeling a little lighter and little fitter I took to other activities. I used my cigarette money to buy some better exercise gear. I added squash to the mix. I joined a kickboxing class and discovered I really liked hitting things ( extremely cathartic, I highly recommend punching and kicking the stuffing out of a heavy bag). I learned how to use kettle bells, and finally with some trepidation I tip-toed into weight lifting.

I don’t think it’s incorrect to say that women –by and large– often avoid weight-lifting. Which is such a shame because as we age and our bones become less dense and lifting weights regularly along with a considered diet is one of the most efficient way to combat osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease as it is commonly known.  That aside, a strong body is a boon when avoiding injuries accrued by life and all it hurls at you. Muscle is good and beneficial in so many ways.  It gives us shape, burns through calories – even when we are resting, it magics bingo wings into oblivion, lifts rear ends, flattens stomachs, makes legs look lithe and in general makes us feel better.  I can find no flaw to gaining muscle.

I have a few vague ideas from talking to friends why more women don’t lift weights.

Intimidation.

‘I don’t know, I’d feel embarrassed. Everyone would be looking.’

In the Carlisle where I used to train, the free weights area was dominated by men, many of whom were large and intimidating looking. They also appeared to know what they were doing. ( Now, armed with more experience I attest that many did not).

It can take pluck to enter this testosterone filled zone. Once in there you are then faced with a dazzling array of ugly-looking barbells and plates and weights. What to do with them?  As you stand there pondering, other thoughts enter your head. Am I in the way? Why is that man grunting like that? Oh, I am in the way. Jesus, I can’t even lift the bar from the rack. Eek! To the machines!

So you retreat to the safety of the treadmill or cross trainer, glad to be out from under scrutiny. But the truth is you ought not be worried. Most of the people in the free weights section are so busy concentrating on their own work outs they will hardly notice you, and even if they do, you should remember that they all started out in much the same boat as you find yourself. Plus, and this was always a big thing with me, if I pay gym membership, I will damn well use the gym, all of the gym.

Realistic weights

It doesn’t help that most images of women and weights generally consists of a slim, sweat free model in a sports bra and lycra pants, curling a pink dumb bell –weight 2k max.  Oh yeah baby, feel the burn. Or not. To get stronger you’ve got to lift as heavy as possible. 2k dumbbells? Why? Your hand bag probably weighs more, as do the bags of shopping you’ve hefted along the pavement countless times. Lifted your toddler up a few dozen times in one day? Then for gosh sake, you’re probably already well able for a 10 kilo bar. (Some people swear by higher repetitions and lighter weights. I don’t really get that. Muscle builds as it repairs, you break it down when you tax it, but simply tiring it? Again, if it works for some so be it, but it would not be something I would champion)

‘I don’t want to get bulky’

Another common misconception is that weight lifting will suddenly cause women to sprout muscles like the incredible hulk. (I wish) Let me categorically say that as a woman I have no where near the testosterone levels of a male, so unless I’m planing on injecting steroids sometime in the near future ( I’m not) I am unlikely to bulk up. Even holding onto the bit of muscle I have managed to build takes hard work and dedication.

Women also have a higher percentage of body fat over all, which means that even if you do develop muscles, you might have to drop weight before you see them ( oh abs, I know you’re under there somewhere, but cheese comes first). What I am trying to say is you can carry muscle and still look feminine.

Which brings me to my next point.

Contra to the slender model with pink/purple dumb bells are the images of a masculine looking woman with bolted on fake boobs, posing in a bikini, spray-tanned the colour of a walnut. Why these women are associated with your average weight lifter is a bit of a head scratcher to me. Sure they lift weights, but these ladies are highly competitive body-builders, usually photographed ripped and cut and performing for a very specific competition. They are the apex of a very specialized commitment to a very specialized look and form. They are not the norm, yet they are more often than not the image that pops into a person’s head when women and weight comes up. A more realistic image of the average lifter would be that of a actress or athlete. Think Jessica Biel in Blade 3, Venus Williams, Jada Smith, Xena, Michelle Rodriguez, Dara Torres (photo in post). These women have strong, fit, athletic bodies, and they can hardly be called unfeminine, ( although some people with the IQ of a puddle do attempt such foolishness,  but I have no interest in sliding into the negative today)

Mixed signals

‘I just want to tone up.’

This is the one that makes me laugh, but only because I used to say it myself all the time. To tone. What on earth does it really mean? Well, to most of us that means be less flabby, tighten certain areas, get Michelle Obama’s awesome arms. How do we ‘tone’?  Afraid there is only one way. We build supporting muscle and we drop body fat.

Fear

The last thing any of us want to do is attempt something, fail, look stupid, feel stupid or injure ourselves. But fear should not hold us back from attempting new things. Forget fear, fear sucks.

If you are a member of a gym, grab the floor staff and ask to be shown how to use equipment properly. Go in when it is quieter and ask to be shown proper form. See the big huge guy squatting heavy? Wait until his set is over( very important) then ask him how he got started on squats. He might tell you to bog off, but nine times out of ten those big guys are terrifically helpful and know their stuff. Go to websites, like Sumptuous.com or  Crossfit. Look at what women are doing. Weight lifting is no longer the domain of the male. Women of all makes, shapes, ages and sizes are squatting, dead lifting, split jerking and doing elaborate hang power cleans.

Aside from the weight lifting what else can we do? Honestly, assuming we are not injured or have a medical condition, when it comes to getting fitter we can do almost anything. We only need to start. Try a yoga class, investigate what suits your level of fitness. If you’re very unfit start with walking. If you can, take up running. Buy good runners, start slow and steady until you can run for at least 5k. If you already jog rack it up a notch. Practice sprints ( 200m, 400m) until your quads scream and your lungs burn. Lunging is free, it hurts but it’s free. So too is squatting (bane of my life due to tight hip flexors). Buy a skipping rope, they are as cheap as chips and nothing and I mean NOTHING gets your heart rate up as fast, nor co-ordinates your movements quicker. Lie down on the floor and do a press up, if you can’t do one, learn how. Stretch, oh by golly stretch or you will one day wonder why you are stiff and your toes seem so far away.

Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself or step outside your comfort zone.

I’m still learning, I still make mistakes but I’m making gains too. At 37, I can honestly say I have never been stronger or fitter than I am now, and that in itself is empowering. When I look at the other ladies where I train, ( Crossfit in Sandyford) and see them struggle and triumph it makes me smile (like when the awesome Rosie, who probably weighs 60 kilos wet, threw up 37.5 kilos in a push press the other week). I’m proud to be a part of something so inspiring. It makes me want to do better.  I think back to when I was 30 and puffing my way through 3o fags a day and couldn’t run up a flight of stairs without hearing the Grim Reaper clear his throat and I hardly recognise that person.   It wasn’t always easy making the change, but then things worth doing seldom are.

I’d love to hear what everyone is doing/thinking about doing.  Have at it ladies!


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Babybeef is the name of the electro pop solo project of multi instrumentalist Sarah Carroll Kelly. Her music combines pure hyper-coloured unashamed 1980’s influenced FM plastic pop with darker driven sounds & undercurrents that references A-ha, New Order, Devo and the more contemporary, fresher sounds of LCD Soundsystem, The Juan MacLean, Daft Punk & Yeasayer. In 2009 she was invited by Sligo’s The Model Niland Gallery to perform as part of their New Spaces For Music programme and this year, she played a special show at The Science Gallery in Trinity College Dublin as part of their BIORHYTHM exhibition. This month, she releases her debut album on After The Quake Records. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/babybeefmusic

What’s the first record you ever bought?
Technotronic’s Pump up the Jam single on cassette.

What’s your favourite smell? Fresh cut grass (makes it seem like there’s an endless teenage summer ahead, and I’m about to drink some mi-wadi and try to ready a comic without the glare of the sun bouncing back in your eyes, on a tartan blanket).

Have you ever had a nickname? Jackie (after Jackie Stallone).

What is your favourite room in your house? The sitting room. It’s full of Flea Market and vintage finds and has a gorgeous painting over the mantelpiece by Chris Jones.

What are your guilty pleasures? eBay, vintage furniture, sad stories (with happy endings), Judge Judy and Tayto.

What would people be surprised to know about you? Four songs from the album were written in two weeks. Stephen Shannon, my producer, convinced me to turn my then EP into an album.

Who is your closest female friend? My sister, Joyce.

Do you have any tattoos or piercings? Yes, several.

Where would you most like to live? Am happy where I am on my street in Kilmainham (but in another life,  I’d live in New York or Berlin).

Who was your first kiss and where did it happen? With DG in the French classroom after school.

What’s the most unusual question you’ve ever been asked? “What’s your favourite smell?”

What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received? An electric guitar from my parents when I was 15. I nearly lost the plot. Still have it and it has a great sound.

What is your favourite word? ‘Pucleimnach’ (only the Irish language could come up with a word that describes perfectly the crazy jumping and frolicking of lambs).

Who was your first love? Had a huge crush on Macgyver. I tried to watch him when he started on Stargate but he wasn’t half as hot… must’ve been the bombs made out of apples and chewing gum that impressed me.

If you weren’t doing what you do, what might you have become? I’ve been lucky enough to have worked as an artist and designer, a tutor and a musician. As long as I’m doing something creative, I’m happy.

Is there a book you’ve bought several times as a gift for someone? ReadyMade: How to Make [Almost] Everything. It’s an amazing book I got in the IMMA bookshop. It’s full of things to make out of rubbish like a recliner out of water bottles, mats out of clothes pegs and clocks out of chopsticks. It sounds lame, but it really makes you want to start a make-and-do session.

What happens after we die? Hopefully your mates and family have a good cry and chat about how great you were!

What female historical figure do you admire most? (Not sure if this counts: This person is relevant to me in my history) Cindy Sherman had me in a spin in art college. The constant invention and portrayal of characters and scenarios broadened what a female artist could do in my eyes. Her work helped me find my ways of working and thinking and pushed me towards performance and video. That in turn got me started on Multimedia and digital sound so without it, Babybeef wouldn’t exist.

Sum yourself up in three words: Creative, quirky and hard-working.

And finally… what are you anti? Getting unprovoked hassle from chavs. Makes me want to turn into Clint Eastwood in Gran TorinoWhat are you pro? Using empty spaces and units for pop up exhibitions and gigs. Dublin has reverted to its creative roots out of necessity. It’s the best thing to come out of recession.

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Ladybird, Ladybird

The other day I walked into a shop filled mostly with items made of red and white spotted fabric, or rose-printed fabric, or brown paper and string – you know the look – and there among the pale pink and green teacups (fetchingly mismatched, made in China) a mug caught my eye, and instantly, automatically, I reached for it. The image on the mug was of a very familiar book cover, the first book I ever read at school, in what we called Kindergarten, but most schools now call Junior Infants. It was Play With Us, book 1a of the Ladybird Key Words Reading Scheme, and the cover showed the faces of Peter (in feathered headdress) and Jane (in yellow cardigan), poking their well-fed and rosy-cheeked little faces out of a tepee.

I loved the Ladybird readers in 1976, though it was nothing to do with the stories inside. I loved the sense of checking off each word in the sentence, of progressing down such a few lines to complete a whole page, of looking at the new vocabulary words at the bottom of the page and realising I’d just read them without stumbling. I loved the rapid progression from book 1a to book 1b to book 1c, moving into the sudden glamour of the 2s: 2a We Have Fun and 2b Have a Go, with more words to a line, more words to a page, getting the feeling of a real book. I loved the physical curves of the text, the confident reach of the letters’ descenders, the large stamp of the capitals (the words, apparently, were in a hand-lettered typeface created for Ladybird) and the detail of the illustrations.

Lots of original Ladybird books are collectors’ items, now, particularly books from their series How It Works, Well-Loved Tales and Adventures from History. The rarest title now, apparently, is the MOD limited edition of The Computer from the How it Works series: Ladybird collectors’ site The Wee Web notes:

This private edition was limited to 80 – 100 copies and was printed without the usual Ladybird copyright information, and was produced in plain boards. The plain printing style of these 80 editions was at the request of the M.O.D., as they did not want their trainee staff to know that they were learning from a Ladybird book.

Do admit, that is the purest brilliance.

I read the Key Words books during that year only, because that was the work my teacher gave me to do. I can’t say I was ever drawn to any of Ladybird’s rather unimaginative story books, because there was so much else in the book world to choose from, and that may be part of the reason that despite the good memories, and despite my weakness for any old over-exploited iconography (I coughed up for the Penguin teatowels, and playing cards, and mugs, and all the rest), I put the Play With Us mug back on the shelf. The other reason, of course, is that I don’t actually want, every time I stir my coffee, to revisit Mother and Jane endlessly and without bitterness doing the washing up while Peter and Dad share a pipe in the shed.

I was thinking about all this, and about what books mean to children, the other day while a friend and I watched a queue of excited child readers at the Mountains to the Sea festival waiting for Sarah Webb to sign books for them. I chatted to my friend about not buying that mug, and she laughed and said she’d had exactly the same experience – the automatic reach, the pause, the recoil – though in her case the Ladybird image was of Little Red Riding Hood, but she’d quickly decided her childhood memories weren’t up for grabs and she didn’t want branded merchandise trampling all over them. She’s right. Peppa Pig, Dora the Explorer, Thomas the Tank Engine, or those godawful Disney princesses – give them an inch. It’s possible to theme a child’s life with these brands, made flesh in sippy cups and lunchboxes and t-shirts and hairbands and duvet covers. I resist that for my children. I’ll resist it for myself, too.

The Ladybird mug – and whatever else you can get – is part of the reclaim-your-childhood vibe that swept over us a few years ago, and part of the mock-vintage thing too: a nice clean print of the Ladybird book cover on your coffee mug, so you can nod your sentimental old noodle to the past without actually having to have a nasty, dusty, broken-spined, and possibly crayon-defaced book on the shelf. I don’t celebrate the sexism and snobbery of the Ladybird reading scheme. I don’t celebrate the unlikely, steady perfection of life chez Peter and Jane, in a world where high tea was always laid on a clean cloth at half-past five by a neat-waisted mother without a migraine. I do celebrate how I felt about ploughing through the books, and the early joy of independent reading, but I don’t need props to do that. I don’t want to live a Ladybird life.

Well. Have I become completely humourless? Did you learn to read with Mother and Jane up to their elbows in flour, and Peter and Dad up to theirs in WD40? Are you living a themed life?

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The sea, Mam, the sea


My mother recently had a significant birthday. To mark this fact, my sister and I took her on her first foreign holiday.

I would tell you which significant birthday it was were it not for the fact that Mam’s next ‘first’ is to conquer The Internet. No doubt her first mission will be to google her youngest daughter and find out what secrets and lies she has been disseminating about the family on the worldwideweb all these years. If I say what age she is, she will find out, she will brain me and she will eat it with one of the small, scallop-patterned soup spoons she keeps for “company”.

Let me instead present something only slightly less revealing: my mother in her swimsuit. She is very, very cute in it. It is purple with a neon-pink trim and it only took us three shopping trips and a very heated half-hour in the dressing room of Marks and Spencers to find it.

This is also a first. When we were children, Mam found she couldn’t look at any large body of water without feeling dizzy. Not a swimming pool, not any river bigger than the stream up the road; certainly not the sea. My sister and I didn’t learn to swim and neither did she. I don’t know why deep water inspired such vertigo and nausea in her. It was just a fact and a given. By the time I wanted to ask, I was afraid to. My fear of asking was as irrational as her fear of the water itself.

I know her seasickness was fear-induced because somewhere between my sister and I leaving our landlocked county in our late teens and all three of us going on her first sea-and-sun holiday as adults, she was able to shed it. Last week, she waded straight into a warm Atlantic up to her waist, laughing as the waves knocked her off her feet.

“Isn’t it amazing to think I haven’t done this before?” she said, a huge smile on her face.

I was further out, floating, shielding my eyes to look back at her big achievement. She was proud of herself and I was proud of her. And from somewhere else I felt sadness, and entirely unrelated to the sea I was floating in, I tasted salt.

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