Monday, 27 February 2012

Dress it Up However You Like...

...World Book Day is starting to stress me out. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for a day dedicated to books and reading, it's just the costume aspect that is causing me grief. Just in case you are unfamiliar with the concept, World Book Day is a UNESCO initiative, held once a year to promote reading, publishing and copyright. In fact, it's full title is 'World Book (and Copyright) Day. No sneaky 'homers' on the work's photocopier on that day, folks! 'Which day?' I hear you ask. Well, therein lies another little snippet of information for you: almost the whole world celebrates World Book Day on 23rd April, but in the UK and Ireland, we celebrate it on the first Thursday in March. The 23rd of April often coincides with Easter holidays, which is why our celebration is earlier. Of course, this may lead you to suspect that it is therefore not World Book Day, but just 'Local Book Day, for Local People'... whatever!

So, back to the costumes, it is fast becoming a UK tradition that on World Book Day, or the Friday nearest to it, in the case of the Mouse and TR's school, children dress up as a book character for the day. Last year the Mouse chose to go as Pippi Longstocking, which was a fabulously easy costume to put together. All she needed were ordinary, but mismatching clothes, a few extra freckles (drawn on with eyeliner pencil), hair in plaits and a toy orang-utan to represent Mr Nilsson (who was actually a monkey, but we did what we could). TR opted to go as Ben, from the book 'Penguin'. Apart from some eleventh hour rushing about to find him some starry pyjamas (thank you, M&S, for not only selling them but for putting a pair by for me) that was pretty easy too. It had the added bonus of providing TR with the impetus to do a bit of box modelling and he still has the cardboard rocket he built as his prop. He still wears he pyjamas too!

Fast forward to this year and the Mouse recently won a Lauren Child competition, which means she is now the proud owner of a Ruby Redfort selection of goodies and is planning to go as Ruby, teen super-sleuth. That's easy enough - jeans, trainers (or 'sneakers' as Ruby would call them) and her new Ruby Redfort T-shirt: sorted!

Lauren Child

TR has prevaricated somewhat on the topic of who he wants to dress as. This is further complicated by the news that, this year, the children need to pick a book character who is like themselves in some way. Mr Ruby casually enquired whether there was a Mr Men chracter called, 'Mr Ranty,' which provoked a - well, a rant - from TR. (If you're interested, there isn't. There is a Mr Grumpy but any grumpiness on TR's part is possibly attributble to his father's enquiry.) TR is quite a stickler for rules and is interpreting the 'like me' requirement very literally. Thus all Mr Men are out of the question because, 'I am not blue/red/yellow/square/a triangle,' etc. I have tried explaining the idea of characteristics but either it has not been well-received or it is a concept too far. Frankly, if you can't explain personality and characteristics via the mono-characteristc Mr Men, you're not onto a good thing. Accordingly I have given up. For now.

TR contemplated going as 'Where's Wally?' (That's 'Where's Waldo?' for my American public), which got me worrying about sourcing a red and white striped top. Unfortunately the stripes on his Brentford top are vertical, whereas Wally's are horizontal. I've no idea how he is like Wally. Mercifully I have never lost him in a crowd, so can't comment on how easy he is to find. 
There he is!
While I was contemplating this costume, he changed his mind and said he wanted to go as the whale from Julia Donaldson's 'The Snail and the Whale'. TR's reasoning for this was, 'I am big and I like swimming.' I won't comment on that. If you know TR, I know you are now laughing. My mum and my cousin sent me links to whale costume ideas and I contemplated making a whale (not an actual whale - that would require a lab, at least, if not two willing and eager whales). At this point,TR announced that he wants to go as the little boy from 'How to Catch a Star' by Oliver Jeffers and I breathed a sigh of relief. This book character wears jeans and a top - a red and white striped top. De ja vu, anyone? So, now I'm back to trying to find a red and white striped top.

Well, that really doesn't sound too bad does it, all things considered? No, well it wasn't, until I discovered, that I have to dress up too. I quite like the idea of dressing-up and do harbour a secret wish to roam the streets dressed as a pirate, or maybe a Victorian woman, but in practice I can't see me pulling it off. Odd that, because as a child I loved to dress up. Even when not in costume, I was mainly in character. Thus in my ordinary clothes, I was away in my mind, living an extrordinary life. Not any more: now I revel in my Not Very Interesting Life and see it as a bonus if a week goes by without me having to achieve anything extrordinary. Still, I was willing to get over myself, as they say, and don something for the day. Half a day, in fact. Only now I was faced with the same problem as TR: which book character am I like? Over the years I've taken on various literary heroines and claimed them as my own but times and people change and I'm not sure I want to be a middle-aged Anne of Green Gables. I may have got my Gilbert, in Mr Ruby, but I guess I still think of Anne as a young woman: I've aged, Anne hasn't.

Back to the Mr Men, then. Surely I could come up with a single facet of my personality that would be represented in one of the Mr Men? I asked TR for advce and his reply was, 'Well, you're not like Little Miss Somersault because you've got short legs [harsh, but true] and you're not like Little Miss Late because you're only late for most things, not everything [the boy has my number!] but you are like Little Miss Sunshine because you are very smiley and you like to be happy.'

Good save, TR. The boy will go far!  So, Little Miss Sunshine it was... until I realised I own nothing yellow. A quick  look at the back of a Mr Men book and a Little Miss book, where all the characters are pictured, gave me the idea of Mr Jelly. I'm easily startled (I recently jumped at my own reflection - true story!) and I own a bright pink jumper. Sorted! Of course, there was the problem of how to look wobbly. Mr Ruby had some suggestions to make on the topic, but I'm not about to type them here. Then a second problem occurred to me: what was I to wear on my legs? I don't own pink trousers. Back to the drawing board back of the book! My mum, who clearly went to the same diplomacy classes as her grandson and son-in-law, suggested Mr Forgetful.

That's me, that is.

She's got a point: if it isn't written down and attached to my person, accompanied by beeps and reminders, I will forget it. I like to blame the lupus, even naming the phenomenon of my extreme forgetfulness as 'stupus' but who knows if it's not just senior moments come early? A quick check of the back of the book revealed that Mr F is blue - hurrah! I can dress all in blue! He's also pretty much circular, which could be a little harder achieve. I've decided to approach this via the method-acting route, so if you see me between now and Friday, expect to see me stuffing my face with cake.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012 makes me wanna shout!

I had cause today to ruminate upon the matter of what Lulu likes to eat. I know, even by my standards that's a little bit 'out there', but stay with me. One of the ways I waste time keep up with the zeitgeist is by reading some of the posts on Mumsnet. The site was originally conceived as a way for parents to exchange advice on a wide variety of parenting topics. It still provides that, but with a lot more besides. I mostly lurk there to read and chuckle at other people's comedic misfortunes, but I also like to pick up recipes there, or gain advice on the odd thorny parenting issue or awkward social situation. Like any community, actual or virtual, mumsnet has developed it's own in-jokes. These usually develop from particular threads which seem to catch the mood of the moment. One of these was a post about finding other people's shopping lists abandoned in trolleys or supermarket aisles. One mumsnetter urged others, 'ok i hav now new challenge next time you find a note meant for someone else or a shopping list in your trolley you are to hold on to i tight ans report in' (the typos are all hers) and the idea somehow took off. Thirty-two pages and 886 messages later, it seemed everyone had suddenly taken up the latest 'craze'. You can read it yourself if you're at all inclined.

Whatever it is, she's looking good on it
So anyway, whats that got to do with Lulu? Good question! Well, today I went to the supermarket and found an abandoned shopping list in my trolley. Now, prior to reading that discussion, I probably would have popped it straight in the bin, but of course my curiosity was aroused and I unfolded the crumpled scrap of paper, hopeful that I might find something to make me smile. Lo and behold, the first item on the list was, 'Lulu Food'. Not long after, my fellow shopper had written, 'Lulu treats'. I was intrigued! Now, I know I was in Waitrose and so maybe my fellow shoppers there entertain the rich and famous once in a while, but it got me wondering... if I was buying treats for Lulu, what would she like or expect? She's been rich and famous for so long now that I daresay it's been a long time since a chocolate hobnob really did it for her. No, I bet Lulu craves your more sophisticated snack. I had a good look in the biscuits and sweets aisle but failed to find the answer to my question. I know she grew up in Glasgow, but even so, I can't see her enjoying a deep-fried Mars Bar, can you?

Admit it, you really want one now!

Now, blog-watchers, I wouldn't want to short-change you or fob you off with guesswork and supposition. That librarianship degree didn't all go to waste, you know! Accordingly, I have researched the topic. It turns out that Lulu has her own blog too and she's not entirely silent on the matter of what she likes to eat. Be honest: prior to reading this blog, you wonder how you filled the hours, don't you?

Lulu, as it turns out, likes to keep an eye on her cholesterol levels (so I was right on the deep-fried Mars Bars) and loves fresh herbs. She grows them herself, apparently, and is quite a keen cook. In her own words, or words similar to her own words because I’m willing to bet the real Lulu doesn’t actually talk like a sound-bite from Woman’s Weekly:
Friends who come to my house for lunch or dinner often ask me about the ingredients in my most simple dishes…To me there is nothing better than eating food that tastes great, and is also good for you! If you want to see for yourself if herbs can help you feel younger, try sprinkling some on to any dish like a bit of fairy dust and watch them work their magic!

So, there you have it: I was in the wrong aisle. For ‘treats for Lulu’ I should have been in the fresh herbs aisle or possibly the magical sparkly herbs aisle.  As it happens, I did buy a pot of parsley so she might want to pop round here after all. She’ll have to be quick though, or the guinea pigs will have eaten it all.

Small print: the second item on the abandoned shopping list was 'Puppy Food'. I think the Lulu of the list might be a pet of some sort, but I couldn't have got an entire blog entry out if that. As it is, I'm pushing it.


Sunday, 12 February 2012

I Promise that I Will do my Best...

...To do my duty to God,
To serve the Queen,
To help other people
And to keep the Brownie Guide Law.

Those were the words of my Brownie promise. They've changed a little over the years, although the sentiments have remained largely the same. I joined Brownies when I was seven, then we moved abroad and I became a Sunbeam, then back to England for some more of being a Brownie and then onto Guides and Rangers. During my time as a Guide I also helped at my brother's Cub Pack. (Now that was fun!) Now I have a Brownie and a Beaver of my own (and no, you're not allowed to snigger at that!), both of whom attended Church Parade this morning. It's the church service this prompted this blog entry.

Church Parade was one of the highlights of my Brownie and Guide life. Now, I know that sounds a little unlikely, but bear with me. I was a church kid anyway, or was by the time I got to Guides, so no stranger to a bit of sitting down, standing up, singing, sitting back down again and bowing my head. The church I attended at that time favoured a fairly sparse style of decoration and I always looked forward to a nice bit of Anglican or Catholic fancy church interior, not to mention the eminently singable Methodist hymns. That brings me onto the real reason I loved Church Parade: the Salvation Army band. Now, you couldn't guarantee their attendance but when they did show up, and my memory tells me that was more often than not, you could rely on their brass section providing a rousing accompaniment to, 'O Jesus I have Promised,' which was my favourite hymn when I was ten or eleven years old. Now, I realise it is entirely possible that I was a bit of an Odd Kid, but standing on tiptoe to catch a glimpse of the tubas, while belting out the words:

O Jesus, I have promised
to serve thee to the end;
be thou forever near me,
my Master and my friend.
I shall not fear the battle
if thou art by my side,
nor wander from the pathway
if thou wilt be my guide.

Well, that counted for entertainment, in my mind. I seem to remember considering either joining the Salvation Army or taking up the tuba, but neither of these suggestions were greeted with a great deal of warmth by my parents. Later someone told me that the bonnets worn by the women of the Salvation Army were designed to protect their heads from the bricks that were often thrown at them as they marched through town centres. Frankly, those bonnets never struck me as protection enough from an incoming brick, so I was glad I'd never followed up that particular whim of mine. As for the tuba, well I was all but thrown out of recorder classes, so it's probably as well I never tried that either. Something tells me that, had I taken up the tuba, the chances of me having a brick thrown at me would have increased fourfold.

The tuba looks more resilient than the hat.
Sadly, brass bands are notable only by their absence from the Youth Service, but we did have a good singing session this morning. The vicar of our local church is due to move on to pastures new and this was his last youth service there. To mark the occasion, the local Scout and Guide movements organised a 'Songs of Praise' type event, where the leaders had pre-chosen their favourite hymns and they introduced each one with a little spiel about how and why it became their favourite. I learned some pretty intresting stuff here, too. For example, one lady told us that she had been a Brownie, Guide and later Guide leader for pretty much all her life and she has always lived in the same area. So, by her reckoning, she has attended nearly 400 parade/youth services in that one church. I know we've already established that I'm easy to amuse, but that little fact impressed me! Also, I learned that 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic' (yes, we actually sung that and I like to think we rocked the rafters) reminds the leader of the local BP Scouts of Brian Blessed. Now, I admit I do have a head cold at the moment, and my ears are quite blocked. Therefore I can only claim that I think he said it reminded him of Brian Blessed. Quite what his link with scouting is, I couldn't tell you, although I am guessing that he was once Chief Scout. If anyone can enlighten me there, I'd be most grateful. Frankly, the link between these seemingly disparate facts has been bugging me all day.

"The Scouts are alaive?"
BP Scouts, by the way, stands for Baden-Powell Scouts. Confusingly, they are more recently formed wing of the Scouting movement, who prefer to conduct their scouting in a more traditonal manner. I'm not entirely clear on the distinction, although TR is now a BP Beaver Scout. I signed him up on the basis that the groups are small and friendly and they appear to have an awful lot of fun. Plus TR is, by nature, something of an indoor kid, who will happily engage in outdoor activities if you take the trouble to make them sufficiently exciting for him. So far as I could see, the BP Beaver colony appeared to offer exactly that. I sold the idea to him on the promise of marshmallows and I am happy to report that he has eaten marshmallows at least twice since joining. For all I know, the more mod-cons Beavers may be scoffing them every week,  but TR seems very happy in his Beaver colony and I like the fact that he can wear his uncle's old cub cap, once he moves up to cubs, which, by the way, in BP-speak are called 'Wolf Cubs'. Mercifully, the Wolf Cubs no longer wear the long grey socks and green garters, although a photograph on the wall of the BP Scout hut suggests that this practise was dropped only fairly recently.

I'm proud of the fact that my two are part of the Scout and Guide movement. I like feeling a strong link with the past, both my own and the general sense of Scouting and Guiding History. I also like the way it has it's own little subculture of rules and deferences, such as the left-handed handshake and the slightly odd names given to the leaders. (Actually, the Mouse's are known by their firstnames, but that seems to be the exception, rather than the norm.) I like the way the different groups keep common aims in mind, as demonstrated by the words of the promise, which vary slightly according to which part of the movement you are in, but which all express pretty much the same aims and desires. I also like the fact that you can earn badges. My word, as a Guide I loved earning my badges! By the time I left I had a whole sleeve full and had to learn to sew them on myself because, as my mum rightly pointed out, if I could earn my 'Needleworker' badge, I could jolly well sew the thing on myself!


So, come on folks, light the campfire, sew on your, 'Slightly More Enthusiastic About Hymn Singing than is Commonly Thought Normal' badge and join me in a rousing version of...oh, OK, we'll leave the hymns for now and go for a bit of that old Scouting number, 'Ging Gang Goolie'. As my parting gift to you on this blog entry, I'll share the following bit of trivia with you. Apparently the old campfire song was penned by Scouting founder himself, Robert Baden-Powell. He wrote a song consisting entirely of nonsense words, so that scouts all over the world could sing together and not be divided by liguistic differences. It was a lofty aim, although I think the message is clear: if you are going to write a unifying song, try not to pick words that will cause later generations to snigger into their campfire hot chocolates. Also, if you are a Brownie or a Guide leader, consider sharing the origins of this song with your charges. I spent an entire childhood baffled by why apparently responsible adults were making me maintain a straight face while singing about goolies. It took the advent of Wikipedia to teach me the true lack of meaning of this song!*

Here's a youtube link to the song. You gotta love the backing singer! Bless 'em, they look even more easily pleased than me, don't they?

* Small print: if you're not from the UK or otherwise unfamiliar with Brit-slang, don't Google that term. It's not all that rude but I can't promise you that your Google results won't be.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Corsets and Crinolines

The Ruby family have had one of those winters where we seem to catch everything going, sometimes more than once. It all started on November 5th, when, a few hours after the firework display, TR was sick. It's continued in that vein pretty much ever since. Roll on Spring, I say!

Today, three out of four Rubies are tucked at home, feeling too ill to do much of anything. Whether the smallest Ruby will stay healthy, or whether he's just biding his time, well I guess we'll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, there may be a global recession but I like to think that we're keeping the paracetamol, bathroom cleaner and throat sweet economies buoyant. Want to buy shares? Unsure where to invest? You heard it here first!

Today the Mouse suggested that she and I watch the film version of Little Women and so we sat on the sofa together and shared tears and laughter along with the March family. The Mouse is a big fan of Little Women. She's read the abridged 'Usborne Stories for Girls' version and even attempted the original version, although she came unstuck rather at one of the long sermons. I remember my mum reading me 'Little Women' and 'Good Wives'. I think I was around nine or ten at the time. I then went on to read 'Jo's Boys' myself, which was a cunning trick my mum often played with books that were a little difficult for me: read me part of them and then leave them tantalisingly within reach, knowing full well that I'd be unable to resist the next installment. She's a clever one, my mum.

At eight years old, the Mouse is already something of a book worm. She reads almost constantly, which obviously I am delighted about, although when she's reading instead of getting ready to go somewhere, I am sometimes tempted to commit the sin of agreeing with the Louisa M Alcott quote, “She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.” She also seems to have acknowledged the universal truth that, when you are too ill to do much of anything, a good sob on the sofa, to a nice period drama, is just what the doctor ordered.
Today she is too ill to read but is wise enough to know other ways to quench her continual thirst for
stories. After the film version of Little Women, she asked to listen to the audio CD of Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'Little House in the Big Woods'. We are listening to it now, as I type. I just caught the line, 'And that was head cheese!' which, if you're interested, is some edible dish made from a pig's head. Can't say I fancy some at the moment.

Fun with a pig's bladder.
At the Mouse's age I was a book worm too. What impresses me about her book addiction is that the Mouse has plenty of other activities to distract her from reading, whereas I had pretty much nothing else to do. I often wonder if I would have been so immersed in a culture of reading and stories, had the usual distractions been available to me. As it was, not only was I a child in the technology-lite seventies, but I spent two years of that childhood living in a remote outpost of what was once the British Empire. We had no television, no toyshops: only playing outside in the surf... and books. I used to save up my 50c weekly pocket money until I had enough money to visit the book shop. Then we'd all take the twelve mile bus or LandRover journey together and I'd buy books in the English book shop: bliss! I remember clutching the book to me, cherishing it's 'new book' scent and desperately wishing-away the twelve mile journey so that I could finally start my new book. It sounds idyllic, doesn't it?

Tropical beaches, tropical diseases and a whole lot of reading.

On the downside, we fell ill there too, only with more exotic, tropical diseases: dengue fever, dystentery - that kind of thing. On one occasion I caught some illness that laid me low for two whole weeks. I had a high temperature and was delirious with it on occasion. A good friend lent me the box-set of Little House of Prairie, which I read avidly and thus begun a life-long love affair with the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Stuck upstairs in my room, while life carried on downstairs without me, I became completely immersed in Laura's world. In my delirium, Laura's pioneer life and my remote island existence merged, to the point where I began to hallucinate and, on one memorable occasion, ran downstairs in my underwear (it was too hot for pyjamas) and raved incoherently about jack rabbits. 'Jack rabbits! Jack rabbits! On my bed! Pa, shoot them - shoot the jack rabbits!' is apparently what I shrieked at everyone, to the undying amusement of the rest of my family. To this day, I remember being indignantly bundled back off to bed by my parents, who were both almost helpless with laughter.

Well, I'm not advocating becoming so immersed in literature that you can no longer tell the words on the page from the thoughts in your own head, but I am glad that the Mouse knows, already, what it is to lose yourself in a good book.