Saturday, December 10, 2011

What happens when your children don't watch TV.....

When I had my first child, I made a conscious decision not to plonk him in front of the TV. So I didn't. Not until he was nearly two years old and my twins were born. At that point, I really needed the daily half hour afforded by Play School, and the odd 10 minutes of Thomas the Tank Engine in order to get dressed in the morning, or have a little respite from juggling the needs of two newborns with that of a toddler. Bless them all..... it was a tricky time. And if I missed out on those 30 minutes allotted to me for showering and putting on my clothes, I was lucky to be out of my nightie before lunchtime.

A couple of years later we moved from Melbourne to Tasmania, and swapped our lovely old California bungalow and generous city patch of garden for a gorgeous big old weatherboard set in a beautiful acre of big trees and cottage flowers in the Huon Valley. So we decided to dispense with the TV altogether (for the children that is.... I still need my hour of rubbish in the evening for switch-off-and-knit time). With a rambling garden to explore and trees to climb, and space to build and play and run, nobody even noticed that TV no longer featured in our day. Even though we'd only ever watched a tiny amount, the impact had been subtle, but, nevertheless, quite profound on my children. There was an element of negative role play, imitation and acting out in accordance with what they had watched, and it definitely steered their play. But once even that tiny amount of screentime disappeared from their lives altogether, their creativity flourished and blossomed, establishing an independent course free of dictated content. Unfettered by the influence of storylines, characters and language all dreamed up by teams of adults trying to assume a child's perspective and vision, my children flew headlong into worlds entirely of their own making. Entirely. And since the day we hit that off button for good, those worlds have taken my breath away.

I am proud of my decision to quit TV on behalf of my children, and I can honestly say it has benefited them beyond my expectations or imaginings. Earlier this year we went overseas to visit family and friends. Before embarking on our trip, I sent out sensitive and considered messages to everyone we would be staying with, asking them when they watched the box, so we could make alternative plans for those times and set up our own rhythms. Interestingly, every single one of those families were more than happy to switch off while we enjoyed their generous hospitality, and not once was there a request, from any of the children, for the usual television time. For me, this felt like further affirmation of the negligible role TV plays in the lives and imaginations of our little ones. They simply don't need it or want it when there is something better to do. And there is always something better to do.

Now we are approaching the end of the year, and I am surrounded by festive creativity which involves lots of singing, giving and, of course, building. Always building. Lately more drawing has been going on too, and even a spot of writing from my 6 year old, something which he isn't yet being taught at school (we have chosen Steiner education), but which he is simply doing of his own volition. Looking back over this year, I can see for myself exactly what happens when your children don't watch TV, and I can happily say we won't be watching it next year either.....


So, what have we been doing?

We've built planes...


We've built castles...


We've been painting...


We've hung out in the cubby...


We've wet felted...


We've baked soda bread...


We've created elaborate ritual graves....


We've built trucks...


We've made fairy gardens...


We've ridden our bikes a lot....


We've stitched....


We've gardened, and grown masses of veggies...

Phew!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Worth it....

For the last week or so, I've been seriously contemplating spending a lot of money (fortunately in the sales) on a coat and a jacket. Both items have been designed and carefully handcrafted from beautiful, ethical tweeds, woven on the Isle of Mull at Ardalanish Farm. Each stage of their production has been thoughtfully and creatively completed without any adverse affects on the land or the people involved. And Eloise Grey, the woman behind these designs, prides herself on her values, which benefit the environment and the disappearing traditions of beautiful tailoring.

Grey's garments are investment pieces, intended to last for lifetimes and destined to become heirlooms. A little research into the astounding features of pure wool tweeds attests to this - it's an amazingly tough and durable fabric, vulnerable only to moths. And the sculptural cut of her coats defies trends while remaining distinctly stylish. A certain quality of elegance has always transcended fashion, and it is this which really defines her work, together with the ethics of her label.

As well as the sheer beauty of her clothing, what has really struck me about Eloise Grey's approach to fashion is her steadfast principles. I've spent the last two days in bed with flu, and I've been reading her eloquent and informative blog which not only details the process of setting up her business, but also looks into the impact of the fashion trade, mass production and global corporations. To a degree, I've been aware of this situation for several years now, but moving to Australia, which is swamped by cheap imports from China, and mothering three small children, have distanced me from my former ethical lifestyle aspirations. Slowly, I am becoming re-accquainted with my previous modes of living, and given that we now live in the countryside, have added a good few more. We grow a lot of our own food now, and what we can't produce ourselves, we try to source locally. Organics are also very important to us. We make a lot of our children's toys, we buy them either pre-loved clothing or sturdy, tough things which last more than one child. And when we can, we buy handmade items from friends with small, ethical businesses. I also knit, and have been known to stitch, their garments. It's not easy, and I still make choices that are far from ideal, but I am at least aware of trying to make good decisions.

So, when it comes to a major purchase for myself, I am trying to be extra careful. Even though these garments will cost me more in the short term, the alternatives are far more expensive in the long - in terms of their impact on humanity and the earth. Many of them will have been manufactured in sweatshops, made from fabrics doused with countless chemicals at all stages of production, and ultimately intended for one or two winters at most. I'm ready for something more than that.

These days I'm working in a profession where appearance counts - on a relatively deep, psychological level. I'm having to think about how I represent myself. I haven't bought a new winter coat or jacket in nearly a decade, and it's time for me to make a considered purchase, taking into account my age, my work, my environment - and also my feelings. I have lately realised that good clothes matter a lot to me, and I am now quite comfortable acknowledging this. For me, clothes are very important, and I like to feel really really good in them. A great piece of clothing is an emotional investment. It can comfort you, cheer you, transform you. It can feel like an old friend, or even an extension of you. I appreciate unusual design and have sourced handcrafted items on ebay and in second-hand shops for decades now. I'm a self-confessed fabrics snob, always seeking natural over synthetic. I refuse to knit with acrylic and will always pay for pure wool over and above blends. I also look for things from reputable shops in the sales, and I have many lovely English vintage items in my wardrobe - also, thankfully, an ethical choice. Sadly though, none of my pre-loved coats have lasted beyond a few years, mainly because the shoulder seams and linings have torn (although I do have one green jacket I am going to have re-lined and fixed up).

So I have more or less decided to spend this considerable amount of money, and buy myself these two classic, beautiful pieces of clothing which I know will connect me into a whole chain of farmers, weavers, the designer, the tailor, and the efforts involved in all of their incredible endeavours. The real downside for me, of course, is the transportation involved in flying them over from England. But when I consider that nearly all of the alternatives will have been shipped from somewhere to somewhere for some stage of their manufacture, I realise that this one, albeit long, journey is also worth it. There is actually no one like Eloise Grey here in Australia, and nothing like these garments. I wish there were - I can see a lot of potential for this kind of thing here in Tasmania, an island full of sheep and alpacas. I hope that one day someone sees fit to develop a really good clothing label here.

For this, and for now, I cannot spend locally, but these are clothes my daughter will inherit and, hopefully, cherish. I know that their value exceeds their cost, and that they will stay the course. In so many ways, they really are worth it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pottering


The days are brightening in the Valley. We've had an exceptionally cold, but exceptionally beautiful winter - a bit like the ones I experienced as a child, deep in the English countryside. Snowfall, morning mists, dawn frosts and icy roads (not that I enjoy the latter too much on the school trip of course) and it's all been one big excuse for snuggling up with hot mugs of cocoa, sticky puddings and warm veggie bakes. But now the days are warming up - a little - and I am harbouring thoughts on the veggie patch...

Traditionally the growing of our family's food has been my husband's domain, but lately I have been feeling inspired to get out and sow and plant and dig and tend. Time is the issue, with young children to care for and meals to set on the table, but I decided to go ahead and order the bright red Hunter wellington boots and join the Diggers' Club anyway. So my new spring challenge is how to incorporate gardening into my day.

The thing is twins. Having twins is a totally unique experience, and quite different to having children of different ages. Twins are amazing, and adorable and heart-stopping, but they also impact not only on your physical sphere, but your mental one. With two four year-olds in the house it's a real achievement to complete a thought process, let alone sit down and drink a cup of tea. Recently my husband spent the day out with them, while our eldest was at school, so I had a day to myself. I walked the puppy by the river, did a little work, wasted some time on the internet and even managed to win a beautiful designer dress on ebay. But most of all I was able to have some peace, and began to remember what it was like to feel calm and free of interruption to my thoughts, dreams and musings. Don't get me wrong - I was very pleased to welcome them all back home at dinner time. My children are the very centre of my life and I feel incredibly blessed to have them, especially as I didn't so much as entertain the notion of motherhood until I was nearly 40. (I was lucky enough to have three in less than two years without so much as a nod to the ticking clock.) But while I've reveled in my life as a mother, the last four years have been almost a total immersion in the lives of others, and the other day it did feel nice to have some breathing space for a change. I also had a glimpse of what the days would be like without any of them at home. The twins will be at kindergarten twice a week next year, and instead of the gaping hole I once saw opening up before me in their absence, I could picture lovely long-ish stretches of time full of not very much. Pottering about the garden, drinking pots of tea, reading, spinning, staring into space, hanging out with friends. It felt good.

I was chatting to one of those friends today about all the lovely blogs that paint beautiful pictures of life with children - harmonious images of household creativity and calm mothers quilting and baking at the centre of them. They are beautiful, and we read them because that's what we are striving for. But while I decry the sceptics and cynics who deride these blogs, I am aware that sometimes they can make the more vulnerable among us feel a little inadequate occasionally. If you read them when you've had a day from hell, they can seem a little smug.... But mostly I find them inspiring and heartwarming, and I love the connection I feel to that way of life, even if it remains more of an aspiration than a daily reality in my own house. My house is hugely creative, but also chaotic and crazy and full of the emotional turbulence of young children. They may spend an hour or two in artistic reverie but then one of them will grow frustrated or a fight will erupt.... And that's ok. I'm sure the beautiful bloggers deal with all of that as well. They just don't blog it!

Perhaps we write our vision, whatever that may be. Perhaps we simply try to make sense of our days. Perhaps we need to vent. Or perhaps we just like to muse, query, reflect, ponder and contemplate. Gardening seems like a good way to do all of the above. This springtime. In my red Hunters.... With a pot of arctic fire on the brew.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Home Sweet Home....




An Englishwoman's home is her castle....

(This one isn't mine....)


We have just come home. Having been away on a big adventure, on the other side of the world, we are now snuggled up by the fire, while autumn's copper and gold unfolds in the Valley around us. The children are opening up the toy cupboards to greet old friends, and our cat is tripping us up, all purrs and devotion. Hot chocolate and fruit loaf revives me, and a good soak in a lavender bath unwinds me after our long journey, but after falling asleep at 7.30am, I am wide awake six hours later, my mind whirring from the trip we've just made and all the experiences we've had.

We've been to England - back 'home' for me. Having not returned to the UK since emigrating to Australia four and a half years ago, I was wondering how a visit there would impact on me. I was slightly anxious about confronting what I might miss. As it turned out, the England I remember is quite a different place these days.

While I was delighted to return to my favourite childhood haunts with my own children - ruined castles, ancient burial sites, mystical stone circles, eccentric National Trust properties, gentle bluebell woods, quaint little villages full of secrets and treasures, Roman villas, Anglo Saxon churches and magnificent 1000 year-old cathedrals which took a century to build - I was surprised to find myself constantly unable to find my way around the places where I grew up. I kept getting lost - thanks to the modern malaise of shopping. Not my own wish to shop, but the wish to shop, which has now reached epidemic proportions.

England is being overtaken by the virus of consumerism, and towns that were once easy to find from the main roads and motorways are now obscured by the arrival of horrifyingly huge retail parks. In turn these require the building of endless roundabouts and extra roads in order to be reached, and multi-storey car parks in order to be accessed. The elegant Regency town of Cheltenham, where I spent my adolescence, has virtually burst at the seams, with shopping arcardes and superstores having rent it apart. Bristol, where my brother lives, is now attached to an entire landscape of car parks and hotel-sized retail enterprises that threaten to disorientate and nauseate even the hardiest of shoppers, and Gloucester, once home to my grandparents, has also been eclipsed by a sea of concrete and the bleeping tunes of transactions.

Bewildered by the sheer proliferation of such unabated consumerism, I found myself constantly asking - who could possibly be shopping to this extent? How would they find the time? Why would they want to spend that time shopping, especially with their children?

It got worse when we arrived at Dubai. There the shopping arcades are opulent temples to the gods of spending, pressurising all who enter to step up, look the part and leave with nothing in their minds or their wallets. This was a whole new game and it scared me because I could see how it actually affected people's thought processes, diverting their intellects and their energies into consuming. There, shopping is a way of life, and people who aren't careful or conscious are sucked right into the eye of the storm without a thought for the value of the rich and beautiful, but now disappearing, Arabic culture that pre-exists the coming of the malls by thousands of years. Or the environment.


I find it interesting that my over-riding impression of my birthplace was imprinted with shops. It's left me wondering whether it's me or England that's changed. Probably both. I remember being overwhelmed by the aggressive, commercial consumerism that typifies Melbourne when we first arrived there nearly five years ago, and have been so glad to be free of it on the isle. Perhaps England is just catching up with this kind of Americanised shopping culture, and I noticed it more on my return, partly because it sits so inelegantly within the glorious green countryside and ancient architecture, and partly because I have avoided supermarkets, let alone superstores, for nearly a decade now.


Other post-Tasmania impressions of the mother country? I found it crowded and cramped, and full of dangerously fast drivers. I found it buzzing with interesting ideas and brimming with style and individuality. I found the gardens too small, the houses too squashed together, and the parks, pubs and cafes delightful and atmospheric. Would I go back? Maybe, but not for a long long time. In many ways it all comes down to people, and while a lot of my old circle are building their lives in other parts of the world now, I still have friends and family in England, and there is nothing like spending time with people you have known for 10, 20, 30 years. In Australia people know me primarily as a mother. In England people have known me as a rock journalist, a student of Jungian psychology, an author, and much more besides. I will always miss having these people around me, as there is nothing like having that kind of shared history with friends. It cements you together. But while I would like nothing more than to have these people all around me all of the time, they would have to come and live here. For now, at least, in Tasmania we have a life we could never have were we in England. And fortunately for us, we also have an already dear set of friends with whom we are building our community - for now and hopefully many years to come.


Snow-topped mountains, wild tangles of forest and miles of empty beaches. Magical houses with enchanting gardens, and acres of bush to lose ourselves in. Summer houses for outdoor parties , weatherboard cubbies for children seeking a room of their own, and verandahs to sit and knit on with mugs of tea and thick slices of cake. Pristine rivers, pure, clear air, and valleys full of weather that changes by the hour. Places where the ringing of tills is still an alien sound, and people who have no more wish to hear it than I..... Yes, for now, Tasmania is definitely home. Sweet home.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ker-Ching!

Why are so many blogs dedicated to shopping? I clicked on a new link today, thinking I would be led to a charming blog about boyhood, with ideas for games and places to go and maybe even a few tips on wild-thing management.... but no. Instead I was transported to an endless sea of posts recommending this, that and the other to buy. Grrrr..... and this was a blog written in Tasmania too, where lots of us have come to escape commercialism, and children have the chance to grow up without setting foot inside a shopping mall.

Why would I want daily shopping suggestions? How could I - or anyone else - possibly afford to purchase my poppets item after item, and what kind of message would I be sending them if I did? I have been thinking about this a lot lately because, while I am more than happy to discover the odd beautiful garment, or gift for one of my children (or me....) I am beginning to feel utterly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of blogs enthusing over so much stuff. To buy.

I understand that some blogs are linked with online businesses and thus provide useful advertising space, although even that can get a bit much occasionally, especially if there is little else to read, or you're trying to save and can't afford that gorgeous dress/child's teaset/beautiful artwork.....

Really, do we honestly need anymore shopping opportunities? Aren't we already absolutely saturated with marketing, advertising, magazines, media overload all pushing us to consume? I would really like to see a more thoughtful approach to blogging, especially amongst those of us who aren't actually trying to push a product. And next time I trip off into cyberspace on the trail of an interesting sounding site I hope I end up in an inspiring, informative space instead of being confronted by someone trying to grapple my purse from me.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

...and the living is easy






We've been lazy this summer. Grabbing at the relatively few hot days we've had and sprawling on the lawn with rugs, cushions and beanbags. The wild things have been charging around on bikes, dining al fresco, taking cover in a tent made from an old playpen and a sheet, and playing house in the newly fixed-up cubby. We've watched swallows nesting and fledglings make successful departures, we've chatted to the cows in the neighbouring paddock, and we've installed a large white rabbit on the front lawn, sharing her with the school and another family. We haven't been away, although we did see in the new year camped out in a friend's garden. And we've had lots of lovely day trips to beaches, hilltops, meadows, friends' houses, and the rainforest five minutes away. But mainly, we've been lazy.... and I can't believe how quickly this summer holiday has gone by. Two weeks and we're back at school. Where did it all go?



Wednesday, December 22, 2010