These shoes were made for walking…

It was my son’s birthday party at the weekend. While my friend and I were standing surveying the kids racing round in a fug of sticky sweat and plastic balls, the aforementioned friend asked: “Who’s the mum with the Gucci trainers on?” I wouldn’t know a pair of Gucci trainers if I fell over them, or rather fell over in them, so I was told what to look for, identified the mum in question and then went back to the kitchen. This conversation was followed just minutes later by my mum asking ‘Whose is the Kipling purse?” It turned out to belong to my friend, the one who had espied the Gucci trainers. By this stage I was beginning to feel as though I was being tested, and found wanting on my status-brand awareness.

I do have a certain brand ‘blindness’ with clothes, and the same ignorance when it comes to cars. I recognise people in cars only once I’ve seen the car colour and actually seen the person I know behind the wheel. I’ve always thought that uninterested approach to cars came from growing up in a family that didn’t have one. So, I was never ‘programmed’ from an early age to make status judgements about people based on the car they drive. And my descriptions of what they look like are similarly limited: for example my mum’s is ‘shiny and black’ (haven’t a clue about the make), ours is silver and has an F in the reg plate. If pressed I’d struggle to remember the rest of it. Oh, and there’s a scrape on the rearside bumper after the gatepost got in the way. But don’t tell hubs!

In many ways brands now augment the class system in Britain. What brands you wear, or drive, or decorate your house with, become a short-cut for demonstrating your membership, or not, of a particular ‘tribe’.

So, whether she knew it or not, the mum at the party was demonstrating with her trainers that she’s a member of the Gucci trainer tribe, and that will have various other subtle connotations such as about what sort of car we can, as a result, infer that she drives, or postcode that she lives in. My friend picked up on this signal, and judging from the way she mentioned the trainers, had assumed Gucci-trainer mum was one step up from her in the pecking order. This despite the fact my friend is studying for a PhD. So far, so irrational in terms of ‘judging’ someone’s worth.

Even when I was younger and more self-conscious about image I was never into clothing brands. First and foremost I have always chosen footwear on the basis of can I walk or cycle in it, and how comfortable is it? Appearances come after wearability. I’m always quite pleased that growing up carless has left these subtle impressions on me. After all if you don’t have a car, you have to walk or cycle, and so practical footwear is a must.

But, before I come across as being all ascetic and holier than thou, my upbringing, involved a mum who liked to move house and decorate, a lot, and who always lived in a succession of nice three-bed semis. Well my mum had a sister, who lived in a very big, detached Arts and Crafts house, with an enormous garden, and a dishwasher (the dishwasher is important, it was the thing my mum most coveted). As a result, my mum was always quite subtly neurotic about what houses say about your status. My dad, however, grew up in what could politely be called quite slummy rented accommodation, near the docks. His parents never owned a house. I’ve become something of a mix of the two in terms of housing. I know that making judgements about what people are like based on what postcode they live in is ridiculous (dad), but I do love big, old houses, with nice gardens (mum) and can’t help thinking that their inhabitants must be ‘better than me’ (mum again). Yet, I live next to two sprawling council estates, round the corner from where my  dad’s parents rented their flat, and am proud of living where I do (dad) but the little voice in my head says that I will be found wanting for not living in the sort of house that ‘says’ things about my status in the world.

So, it would seem that few of us is immune to the siren call of status, and it does appear to be something that’s bred into us at a young age and once we’re programmed to think a certain way it’s very difficult to change. I want my son to grow up to make assessments of people based on what they’re like as people, but in today’s status-driven world, it’s not always easy.

Five antidotes to status issues:

  1. Look objectively at the item in questions, for example, the Gucci trainers. Do you genuinely think that just by wearing them it makes you a better person? Base your perceptions on greater depth, not shallow judgements.
  2. Try not to judge others. If  you judge others, then they may judge you in return. What actually matters about the people you want to make friendships with? If they are nice, caring, generous, funny, warm people, does it really matter that they don’t wear the ‘right’ tribal attire?
  3. Someone may have a big car, a big life or a big house, but you aren’t privvy to the amount of debt they may have got themselves into to create that image. Personal debt levels in the UK are at record highs again. It’s a bubble, burst it.
  4. Remember that it’s big businesses and advertisers that sell status baubles. Do you really want to be told what you should and shouldn’t value about your life and your friends by people who just want to make money regardless of the cost to society?
  5. Status is a bit of a first world issue. There are millions of people, who through no fault of their own, don’t have access to clean water, medicine or decent housing. Does it really matter that much to own a pair of trainers when you look at it in that context. Just be grateful if you have a home, food and people who love you.

#gucci #parenting #status #statusanxiety #modernlife


Who made this?

“Mummy,” who made this? Says my four-year-old as he regards the wicker fire-basket that sits by the hearth with the bemused and fascinated awe that comes with children that age.

I was slightly unsure what to reply to this, as I so often am with some of his questions. I am vaguely aware, after watching some recent hipster crafting programme on tv that wicker isn’t able to be made by machine, only by hand. So I had to reply that indeed someone had woven the fire-basket but that I hadn’t the first clue who it was. This feeling of having a hand-made item in our home made by person or persons unknown made me feel a bit uncomfortable. This surely must be the epitome of globalised commerce, that items can be made anywhere in the world then just become anonymous items that wash up without any story or real provenance in our western homes.

My son quickly moved on to his Lego, unaware of my discombobulation. But for a few days afterwards the thought wouldn’t go away. Why do we have items in our home that we don’t know the story of? The fire-basket has a lid that I made last year from some old floorboards we had taken up; I loved their patina and the fact they had supported feet for 60 years. They had a story I valued but I wasn’t applying the same logic to other things in our house.

Now, obviously  it wouldn’t be very green or responsible to go through every item in the house and get rid of anything that doesn’t have a back story, but as part of the general declutter that’s been going on for the last few months I have decided to apply a degree of discernment to what’s in our house.  There are also, I’ve discovered, ways to add a touch of humanity to manufactured items. I started with the kitchen table and chairs. They’re nearly a decade old and after four years of my son sitting and mostly throwing his meals around and wiping his sticky hands on the seat pads they are looking past their best. So I set to sanding the veneered surface down and painting the woodwork a gorgeous soft grey. I can now see paintmarks; which are reassuring evidence of my handiwork. I repurposed some old fabric, ‘Is this my old Play-Doh mummy?’ as well as getting hold of some new I then recovered the old seatpads. Just a few hours, but it has made all the difference. I’ve prolonged the life of the table and chairs. In a few years if we fancy a change of colour then I can just repaint and recover, again. I’ve prolonged the life of the furniture and also added some ‘humanity’ to it. Two for the price of one. Antidode: Ensure that the things in your home have stories. They’ll mean more to you and you’ll guard against inviting things through the door that don’t.


Going barefoot

Back this week, after some lovely family time away, to the dying days of the summer, although with rowan berries glowing and acorns on the ground it’s been feeling like the season has been on the turn for a few weeks now.

As part of my project to try doing things a different way I’ve spent most of the summer when I’ve been out in the garden barefoot and so has the little man. It’s always been something I’ve liked to do and I was always first to abandon my uncomfortable shoes when on the dancefloor but this summer I’ve made it much more of a daily habit.

Every morning my ritual has been to waken myself from slumber by walking in the garden in my pyjamas and feeling the dewy grass underfoot. It’s a lovely way to wake up and that first blast of fresh air in the lungs in the morning is really invigorating, but also at the same time, calming.

I first really became interested in being barefoot when first watching the little man learning to walk. Advertising and grandparents will have us putting shoes on little feet as soon as possible, but I kept the shoes off his feet, despite the pressure. After observing him trying to take his tentative first steps I noticed first hand just how he used his toes and his full foot to grip and balance himself – something that with shoes on he wouldn’t have been able to do. Ever since then I’ve encouraged him to abandon the shoe leather in favour of being able to feel his toes wriggle and feet to make contact with the earth.

Barefootedness isn’t really a thing in England, like it is in other countries. My neighbour recently had her grandson to stay over from New Zealand, he walks everywhere with no shoes, and even drives barefoot.  The soles of his feet have become like shoes in themselves.

There are several things I’ve noticed after spending a lot of time shoeless this year, some good, some bad:

  1. It really hurts when you tread on Lego (an occupational hazard in this house) and stubbing my toes seems to be something I do a lot, which also hurts.
  2. Ditto walking on gravel.
  3. Walking on dewy early-morning grass is a delight and wakes you up gently. Although you need to look out for slugs and snails.
  4. Despite me thinking that hard surfaces would slough off any roughness from the soles of my feet, this hasn’t happened. Instead my heels have acquired a deep patina of muck that is immune to scrubs and shower gel.
  5. People look at you a bit oddly when they see you in no shoes, and the little man is constantly being told to ‘put something on your feet’.
  6. This morning I walked out for the first time in months and the ground felt cold – my body could tell me that chilly September mornings are on the way before the garden thermometer.

I’m going to keep my barefoot project going for as long as possible, as I’ve now got to the stage where I find wearing shoes constantly a bit restrictive, but it may also mean that when the time comes over the next couple of months for colder weather, slippers and boots I may appreciate their cosy embrace a little more.

Wood, sweat and tears

You know when you do those things that seem like a really great idea at the time, but then half way through you wish you’d never started? I’m just in the middle of finishing one of those projects.

A couple of weeks ago on Pinterest I came across a great idea for a small garden hideaway. That’s doable I thought. We’ve got loads of bits of wood kicking about, how hard can it be? A week and a half later my elbows, wrists, shoulders and back can testify in applications of Voltarol just how hard it could be.

I’m on the home strait now, just frustratingly held up by the local DIY store running out of OSB board. Oriented slant board, apparently. That’s something I didn’t know a week ago. But the hideaway now has sides, a door, a roof, a pull-down table and will be something that when it’s completely finished I will be rather proud of. Proud because I eschewed the rather tempting ready-to-put-up garden sheds and structures, tempting though they were, in favour of designing my own bespoke construction and re-using as many materials as I could. There really is something great about this sort of challenge, I’ve used my brain and my hands, I’ve worked out problems and found solutions. All in all, it’s been far better for my health than simply clicking ‘add to basket’, which would have taken no effort whatsover and cost me an awful lot more money.

I’ve also discovered how much I really love wood. It’s so easy to repurpose. As well as the garden retreat I made a mud kitchen from an old pallet for my son. All from bits of wood retrieved from a neglected bit of the garden, which once cut, sanded, cleaned and painted came up as good as new.

It may take my aching body a few days to recover from this building work, but it has been worth it. I’ve enjoyed knowing that I can make something entirely from scratch, and although I’m not the best wood-worker in the world I honed my skills as I went along, and in no small way it has been good for my soul. I just need to make sure that I’ve got enough Voltarol to see me through to the finish line!

ANTIDOTE: Make things, and don’t worry too much about how much skill you think you have or have not. Making things with our hands keeps us connected to previous generations.

Tuning into the seasons

This week is Lammastide, or more officially August 1 was Lammas or Lughnasadh. The Pagan wheel of the year from which these calendar markers come from, is I’ve found, one that’s worth looking into if you want to break away from commercially enforced seasonal markers. There are some overlaps: Yule is the winter solstice and shared with Christmas, Ostara, or the spring equinox is roughly equivalent to Easter and Samhain falls on Halloween.

When I started to research a bit more I found out that Lammas traditionally marked harvest time and also the turn of the season from summer into autumn. But surely August is still summer isn’t it? It’s when we all take our summer holidays and pack up our buckets and spades. But August can be an incredibly wet month and so many a bbq or summer fete has been rained off this month as our expectations of this time of year override the soggy reality. As I look out on to my wind-blown garden I can see rowan berries ripening into jewelled-orange and boston ivy tinged with purple-red, spiders are festooning the cotoneaster, and in the early mornings there is a damp earthiness in the air that smells like the turn of the season despite what the calendar says.

Over the last few years I’ve been coming to the realisation that taking note of seasonal changes is about looking around me and noticing rather than sticking rigidly to a calendar that imposes dates and times on the natural world. It makes more sense to me that autumn should be August, September and October culminating with Samhain on October 31.

And this is where it gets interesting. On the Pagan wheel of the year Samhain is when the wheel turns, one year ends and another begins. There’s always been something about the marking of New Year’s Eve on December 31 that has never fitted with me. I hate the way that after a three-month run-up to Christmas, the Boxing Day sale adverts start on Christmas Day evening and these all-important mid-winter celebrations are encouraged to come to an abrupt end all ready for January, the Monday morning of the new year. Celebrating the end of one year and the beginning of the next at Samhain, however, makes so much more sense when the fecundity and growth of long summer days has turned golden brown, set seeds and begun its winter hibernation. The winter months of November, December and January culminating with Imbolc on February 1 as the start of spring then become a time to huddle indoors round the fire, or go for bracing walks in the cold, expectant for the first snowdrop to raise its head and begin the whole cycle of growth all over again.

ANTIDOTE: Look around you to observe times of the day and year, rather than referring to clocks and calendars.