Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Week 18: the kindly cabbie

In week 18 of Our Time of Gifts, I accepted the kindness of a London cab driver when my son injured himself on some glass. And donated some tins to the local Food Bank.

Our Time of Gifts has moved to the Pigeon Pair and Me. To read more about week 18, click here.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Week 17: Samhain spirits

This week on Our Time of Gifts, I wanted to follow the ancient Celtic traditions of Samhain: looking after those who are nearest, by keeping our gift-giving close to home.

Our Time of Gifts has moved to the Pigeon Pair and Me. To read more about week 17, click here.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Week 16: Spring bulbs

For week 16 of Our Time of Gifts, I decided to prepare the ground for future gifts. I'd plant some Spring bulbs, then, when the blossoms appeared, share them with others.

Our Time of Gifts has moved to the Pigeon Pair and Me. To read more about week 16, click here

Friday, 18 October 2013

Week 15: Wallpaper

This week on Our Time of Gifts, some might say that I cheated.

For week 15 of my year-long experiment in giving stuff away, I passed on a freebie that I'd picked up through a local online forum, without using it in any way.

This splendid, genuinely vintage wallpaper lay untouched in our under-stairs cupboard for weeks, before I decided that I just don't have the time or energy at the moment to dream up some creative use for the two vinyl-coated, funky-but-menacing rolls.

So, I put them back onto the same online forum, and they were snapped up within a day by someone who I imagine might use them to coat the inside of a cupboard, creating a stylish seventies surprise for whoever chooses to open its doors.

Some shops are designed to make you buy things you never knew you wanted (and possibly still won't want after you've left the shop, when the spell of its dazzling lights and subliminal odours has worn off).

The same can be said of scouting around for free stuff, whether that's on the local streets, or via the internet. The allure of something you don't have to pay for can override the natural caution that stop you forking out money for useless items.

'Do I really want this?'

'Who knows. It's free, so....what the hell?'

And so you end up with two huge rolls of garish plastic wallpaper.

The flip side is that throwing up your hands to fortune and accepting the gifts that are sent in your direction means your home can end up filled with surprises that you've chosen (because you've bothered to pick them up from the roadside), but which have also - via the help of serendipidity and clutter-clearing neighbours - chosen YOU. And, in my view, there's something beautiful about allowing the karma of the kerbside to shape the way you furnish your home.

This force is at work in our own house. For instance, it would have taken us years before getting round to unearthing a corner of our bedroom from carrier bags of old clothes, if it weren't for this tall unit, which I found the other week on our street:

bedroom, mid-organisation.

Many a grown-up visitor has been bamboozled by this deceptively difficult puzzle, which we took to be a child's game left out by a neighbour. Instead, we have a ready-made intelligence test, perfect for winkling out the brainy ones amongst our friends.

And what home would be complete without this strange, elephantine green thing (another street find)?

Our Time of Gifts is moving! The weekly gift-giving will continue over on the Pigeon Pair and Me. To make sure you don't miss out on future posts, follow me on Twitter, like the Pigeon Pair and Me on facebook, or follow me on Bloglovin'.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Week 14: the sleeping man

 My three-year-old son and I, walking through central London. Covent Garden, to be precise. One-thirty in the afternoon.

Austin: [tee hee]: Mummy, that man's sleeping on the floor! Look! [tee hee] Why's he doing that?

[A homeless man, bundled in grime-edged sleeping bags and broken boxes, was lying prone in a doorway.]

Me: He doesn't have a house, like we do. So he has to sleep on the street instead. It's very sad.

Austin: But why doesn't he just ask his friends if he can come for a sleepover at their house?

[At this point, I felt a mixture of pride and sorrow. Satisfaction that my son's experience of the world meant he was sure there would always be a friend to help a person out of a bad situation. Grief that the reality of the world lies far from this ideal, and that, little by little, he'll come to learn this.]

Me: I think the man's friends probably don't have houses either [I couldn't bring myself to tell Austin that this man might not have any friends at all].

Austin: All our friends have houses. And the children in my class do. And all the ones in Big School.

Me: I know. We're very lucky. It's nice to have a house where you, me, Daddy and Gwen can sleep, isn't it?

Austin: yes. I like our house.

This week, my gift was a donation to homeless charity Shelter.

Homeless picture copyright Tomas Castelazo

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Sunday, 6 October 2013

Week 13: my favourite suits

Once upon a time, a little girl dreamed of being a lawyer. Or a doctor, a scientist, a writer, a vet. She did well at school; teachers and parents encouraged her to study, and go on to University. If she knuckled down and applied her brain, she could become anything she wanted.

These days, women's choices are notably broader than a generation ago. Despite the fact that - even now - only 16% of company board members are women, it feels as though we're moving towards a consensus that women can, and should, be able to succeed in the workplace. Anti-discrimination laws have been tightened up; and high-profile campaigns, like the Everyday Sexism Project, make it commonplace to name and shame the perpetrators of derogatory remarks and actions.

All this is for the good. It spells out a more equitable society, with young women feeling they don't need to put up with being held back from realising their dreams.

But there is a flip side.

In a recent article by Giles Coren, the journalist claims that "Men are judged by their career choices and wealth. Women are free to define themselves in other ways." Coren argues that his daughter won't face as many pressures as his son to succeed in her career. He describes how his own urge to be a "big, swinging dick" forced him away from his pleasant "life of part-time work and domesticity", towards fame and fortune as a TV bigshot in the States.

The problem is, women do increasingly feel this urge*. I see this in friends who have, reluctantly but proudly, returned to work and handed over the care of their children to someone else. I feel it in myself, whenever another Mum from my circle tells me they're going back to their old job, and I experience that familiar stab of envy.

Just as men are now increasingly facing pressures to be body-beautiful, women are being encouraged from an early age to believe that, if they work hard enough, they can have the same money, success and power as men. This is to be applauded, but (sadly for both women AND men), a quest for these sorts of ideals often means having to nurture the ego Coren was invoking when he called himself a "swinging dick". Or, at the very least, it means carrying around the sort of self-belief that allows natural talent and bull-headedness to override setbacks and office politics.

But what happens to these egos if they're not being stoked by career-based plaudits?

Once you've bought into the idea that success in life = success in one's career (and, let's face it, if a young girl shows any promise and is encouraged into a decent job, it's hard for her not to), it's difficult to step off the ladder without feeling as though some dreams of the future have been sacrificed.

In my own case, I know I've made the right choice in suspending my career to look after my children, full-time, through their early years. I wouldn't miss out on one minute of the mess, blubbing or rollocking bear-hugs of child-rearing, in exchange for a skinny latte in a tranquil office.

But the little girl I used to be, is wondering what to make of the fact that all the old markers of her future success (a decent salary, promotions, sitting at a desk with a brimming in-tray) have been thrown out in favour of making sure the kids are dressed in (semi-) clean clothes, and that we all get through the day with the giggles-to-tears ratio heavily skewed towards the former.

And whatever happened to the well turned-out, besuited woman who stepped, fresh, out of the door at 8.09 precisely, every weekday morning?

This week, I acknowledged that she was long-gone, last seen struggling to squeeze an emerging bump into her favourite grey pencil skirt. So I sent that skirt, the accompanying jacket, and several other items of good-quality clothing which - if not exactly well-loved - were markers of my former, career-oriented self, to Smart Works, the charity that provides formal workwear to women on low incomes, so they can attend job interviews with confidence.

Who knows? I may need to borrow them back one day.

*Not the urge to be swinging dicks, of course. Maybe just smartly dressed, competent individuals who are using their years of education and training in a job they've been primed most of their lives to perform.

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