Archive for February 24th, 2011

Last Wednesday evening, around tea time, my daughter grew about three inches.

Growth spurts are bad news in our house because they inevitably mean the sudden relegation of an entire wardrobe to the charity bag. Then, only when there is one outfit, peering sad and lonely from a rail of empty hangers, do we admit the terrible truth. She needs more clothes.

Any colour, as long as it's pink...

If I was made of money, I’d only ever shop at Boden, from the comfort of my own sofa, accompanied by music I love and a glass of good champagne, but I should probably pay the bills this month, so we are forced to supplement the Boden buying with that dreaded place – the High Street.

What I hadn’t accounted for was how much more of an ordeal shopping would become now my daughter is about to hit the grand old age of ten. The problem is, she has no idea what JLS stands for, prefers Oliver! to High School Musical and has the audacity to listen to Indigo Girls and Seth Lakeman rather than Hannah Montana or Justin Bieber.

Until we hit the shops, I had no idea how many shades of pink existed in the world. From angelic off-white pink (clearly for girls who never eat ketchup) to the garish colour borrowed from the latest chick-lit best seller.

‘It’s not that I hate pink,’ my daughter informs me in the very first shop we descend upon. ‘It’s just that pink is for pyjamas.’

What about a sensible pair of blue jeans, then? A safe bet, you would think. Yet why do manufacturers impose the proportions of a woman’s size eight on young girls? Hipsters. At this age they do not have the hips to hold them up; ‘Skinny’ jeans. Now, there’s a body shape to desire! Blood circulation to the ankles is just so overrated, darling.

Probably the best of this bilious bunch are certain high street stores who cannot help but to ensure their shop logo glares back at us from the front of every item of clothing (we all know the culprits) If my daughter must be employed as a walking billboard, then is it too much to ask that we are at least offered a free outfit and a contribution to the college fund?

In the final shop, a girl, probably about seven, clonks past trying on a pair of heels and I grow all misty eyed over an off the shoulder number, with the word BABE spelled out in diamanté studs. Oh, the top has a point. It was surely only last week my bundle of joy stared up from my arms, cushioned by the promise of a whole drawer’s worth of teddy bear rompers to chose from … Yet, something tells me this isn’t what the top means, not what it means at all.

A laugh from beside me. ‘Mum, I’ve found something!’

She yanks a top from the rail and holds it up; ‘I HEART SHOPPING!’ the top screams.

You see, if not following the crowd has taught her anything, it has certainly taught her irony.

Tonight, when she is asleep, I’ll sneak up to her room to steal her sole trusty outfit from the floor; a good old Amy Ray youth t-shirt and a pair of currently unavailable M&S magic jeans that grow with her. I’ll pop them in the washing machine and if I hang them on the radiator they will dry by the time she gets in from school tomorrow.

And by the way, I’ve decided I prefer laundry to shopping any day.

Amanda Dixie works in a library and is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing. She lives in Glastonbury and dreams of one day owning a pair of goats. She tweets at @MrsPelephant.

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A couple of weeks after I’d started work in Dublin, a colleague-of-a-colleague asked to pick my brains about the British publishing industry. He’d written a few books for the Irish market and was keen to spread his wings. Could I put him in touch with someone in England?

No problems, I said. If you let me have the proposal, I’ll look through it, make any suggestions I think might help your chances in the bigger, more saturated UK market, and once you’re ready with that and your sample chapters, I’ll steer it towards the appropriate editor. Of course, since I didn’t know the publishing house’s forward schedule, I couldn’t tell him if his book would be a fit; but if the editor thought it might be, the proposal would go forward to the commissioning meeting for due diligence and then….

The would-be author, a successful businessman in his, I’m guessing, mid-fifties, cut me off. ‘Oh!’ he said (I’m paraphrasing here). ‘I don’t have any ideas for a book yet. I just wanted to work with a big British publisher. Can’t you introduce me to an editor who’d just agree to publish my book once I *did* have an idea? Doesn’t it work like that over there?’

I was reminded of this yesterday, listening to BBC Radio 4’s morning news show, ‘Today’. In a somewhere-in-the-middle news item about the Irish election, the presenter made an offhand reference to ‘the end of cronyism’. It pulled me up short. Not because of its incisive commentary (hardly) – but because it suddenly struck me, listening to the end of the report, that it’s so much harder than it sounds for the nation to achieve.

From the outside (by which, for these purposes, I mean England), it all looks so simple. Ireland got rich, people did each other favours that they really shouldn’t have; this behaviour should cease and desist instantly. Even the news I’ve seen from within Ireland seems to think this is the answer. To which I say, we’re missing the point.

The Irish mentality is hard-wired to lend a hand, to try to help each other out. To go back to my author-businessman story, I can see how it came about.  You want to write a book and become a British bestseller? No problem. I know someone who worked in that field. She’ll help you to do it. No matter if you have talent, the appropriate skills or, you know, an actual concept for a book; that’s all secondary.  From an English perspective, this looks utterly bonkers. But two successful businessmen thought this was more than reasonable, and looped me in.  Sound familiar?

(image c/o Zazzle) Right, who's first?

During my time in Ireland, I saw iterations of this ‘I know someone who can help’ mentality, in different aspects of daily life, time and again. And really, the sentiment is admirable. Why on earth *not* help someone if you can? I’ve been aided in this way, personally and professionally, more times than I can count. And in Ireland you see why the instinct is particularly strong; it’s a small country with historically large families; your degree of separation from everyone must be far fewer than the traditional six. So ‘helping someone’ in the abstract becomes, very quickly, helping your niece; or your boyfriend’s sister, or your sister’s boyfriend. Something that’ll make the next family gathering beyond awkward if you say no.

The American version of this, of course, is networking, where the emphasis has somehow shifted from how can I help others? to how can others help me? A logical consequence of arriving in the Land of Opportunity and needing the support of others to get on your feet, I suppose. But in Britain, where nepotism is a fate right up there with queue jumping, cronyism isn’t a close cousin of, well, helping your cousin. It’s wrong. And it’s absolutely not something you want in business.

We all know that whatever went on on that golf course, and doubtless in countless other situations we don’t know about, was desperate and should never have happened. But my point is this. When we’re looking to rebuild Ireland, especially those of us looking from the outside, we should think carefully before we insist the Irish give up the urge to help each other along. It’s a core component of the national  character, and when it’s not bringing down the Euro, we’re all incredibly pleased to be associated with it.

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