Why the Obsession With Competing?

11 07 2011

Up and down the country children and adults alike are fretting over school sports days. Sources of worry are diverse: will Jack be allowed to win every race again? Will Ruby’s trainers be up to scratch? Will Liam be able to stand the humiliation of losing? Are children being damaged by competitive sports days? Should there be a prize for everyone?

Our school Sports Day was firmly in the competitive camp. As a child, I was able to run at a perfectly reasonable speed unless it was a race, at which point I would go into slow motion, the ground would turn to treacle and I would barely be able to lift my legs. The notable exception to this was when racing my brother – a highly competitive and extremely undignified affair. Needless to say, I was last in every race at every Sports Day and Swimming Gala for my entire school career.

My parents were not amongst those who provided blue tack for the egg and spoon race or those who turned up with running spikes and mowed down Katie’s dad the year he was trampled in the fathers’ race, neither did they have me training for the sack race in the garden every night, while my mother looked on with a stop watch.

Read more on the Huffington Post…


UPDATE: Sexism in toys

9 07 2011

As an update to my previous post about sexism in the toy industry, I would like to share a few links.

Firstly, here is a more detailed study on the gender stereotypes promoted through toys.

The Pigtail Pals blog has the slogan “Redefine Girly” and is well worth following.

Pink Stinks is another great website. They campaign to challenge the “culture of pink”, enthuse girls about the opportunities available to them, improve girls’ self-esteem and self-confidence, raise their ambitions and provide positive role models.

Camping Tips

24 06 2011

So, the summer holidays are almost upon us and, for those of us trying to stick to a budget, camping is probably somewhere on the agenda.

I’m really not one to try to take all my home comforts camping with me; all I want when I’m camping is somewhere to sleep, eat and have a drink. The first two turned out to be somewhat problematic the last time we went.

The problem with sleeping turned out to be the thing we thought would help the most: an air mattress. While it kept its word and protected us from bumps in the ground, it also indulged in some pretty base treachory, which took the form of wobbling, tipping us into the middle and causing each of us to bounce up and down every time the other moved. Perhaps it would have been less trying if it had been for one person. We ended up deflating it and using self-inflating roll mats instead. They were fantastic but, to be honest, a good layer of blankets and clothes would have done as good a job.

Another caveat is temperature. It can be pretty hot in a tent when the sun’s been on it, but the temperature can seriously drop in the night. I particularly dislike having hot feet in bed and find they get far too hot in sleeping bags, so I prefer multiple layers of blankets. Layering provides good insulation and it’s easy to add and shed layers as temperature dictates.

I’d love to hear about your camping experiences:

  • What is your must-have camping item?
  • What have you learnt the hard way?
  • Why do you like (or dislike!) camping?
  • Do you have a favourite camping food or drink?
I’m afraid to say we also had problems with eating, as our camping stove set fire to itself within 5 minutes of switching it on. I’ve just stumbled upon this video, which shows you how to make a camping stove from various materials. I’m itching to give it a go!

Click here for a slightly more complex version

Good turns, blackmail and horses on the rampage

21 06 2011

This morning, I heard that phrase again: “I owe you one.” On this occasion, it was inspired by opening a door for someone who had forgotten his keys.

I try to live by the maxim “treat others as one would like others to treat oneself”. As far as I’m concerned, this is not the same thing as “one good turn deserves another”.

To me, treating others as one would like to be treated encompasses things like letting out cars at junctions, letting pedestrians cross the road, picking up things that people have dropped, letting children jump the queue in public toilets, giving the person in front of you at the supermarket checkout 5p when they find they’re short of change, helping look for a lost puppy – small things that make the world a friendlier place.

On a slightly less pleasant note, it also covers the converse: owning up when you do something wrong. No, going and telling a neighbour that your cricket ball has gone through their window or that you’ve run over their kitten is not a nice thing to have to do, but a little discomfort on your part will save a lot of headache and heartache on theirs.

When we were kids, one of our cats went missing. If the neighbours whose dog had got him had owned up, we’d have cried, had a funeral and moved on, rather than spending weeks putting up notices and riding round on our bikes looking for him.

“One good turn deserves another” is a little different. The debt should be in the eyes of the person who received the favour, not in the eyes of the person who did it! Doing someone a ‘good turn’ with the expectation of getting something in return is only going to lead to upset.

It seems to me, though, that we seem to have got into a mindset where we think we ‘deserve’ favours – people do things for others with the expectation of getting something in return. I have no problem with making up-front agreements. I’d be quite happy with, say, doing a couple of nights’ babysitting in return for someone looking in on the cats and watering the plants if we went away. What really grates on me, though, is when people try to hold favours over one another.

What I’m getting at is don’t expect payment for something you’ve offered for free and equally don’t ask for something for nothing.

Suppose Simon passes Adrian’s gate and sees that it is broken. Simon goes and gets some wood from home and patches up that gate so that Adrian’s dog doesn’t escape. Adrian thanks Simon when he next sees him. A couple of weeks later, Simon asks Adrian to lend him £50 and Adrian say he’s sorry, but he doesn’t have any money to spare at the moment. Simon gets annoyed and says “What? That’s all the thanks I get for fixing your gate? That took ages and I used my own wood – do you not think you owe me?”

Simon’s gone into this voluntarily, without any arrangement for repayment of any kind. He’s then making demands of Adrian that Adrian in unable and/or unwilling to fulfil. He is using his having fixed the gate as leverage for emotional blackmail. The potential consequences for Adrian are a) jeopardising his friendship with Simon and b) being perceived as miserly and ungrateful by others or c) running into problems because he’s lent Simon money that he didn’t have or needed for something else. If Simon likes Adrian enough to fix his gate, surely he wouldn’t want to make him feel like that?

It strikes me that what it all boils down to is a lack of consideration and empathy. We are all so wrapped up in our individual, materialistic bubbles, inhabited only by ourselves and the content of the media available to us, that we have lost touch with one another on a human level. We interact with one another as we would interact with a computer game. We don’t do things like stealing because we might get in trouble, rather than out of consideration for the victim.

A few weeks ago, as I was driving home, three horses ran across the road a few feet in front of my car. I pulled over onto the verge, grabbed my halter, which, luckily, was still on the passenger’s seat, and got out. As I got out of the car, a white van pulled up in front of it and a man and a girl got out with a bucket and a couple of halters. They said that the horses belonged to a friend. By this point, the horses were galloping up and down a busy road, in a 60mph limit. All in all, it took about 30 minutes to catch them and get them back into their field. While we were trying to catch them, the traffic was pretty much at a standstill. Some drivers started using their horns and others were forcing their way round, driving half on the verge. Only one other person got out of her car, not to help, but to complain that it was taking too long to catch them. The man explained that one of them bit and kicked when it didn’t want to be caught and one wasn’t halter-broken. The woman tutted and flounced back to her car.

Several people whom I have told about the incident have expressed surprise that I stopped and helped catch the horses; they would have informed the police and carried on. Reasons given for not stopping have included not knowing to whom the horses belonged, being scared of horses or not knowing how to catch them and “the horses’ owner wouldn’t do the same for you; you don’t owe them anything”. My perspective is that the horses’ owner isn’t the only one benefitting – there could have been a really serious accident. All those people sitting angrily and impatiently in their cars were benefitting. There was plenty they could have done without leaving their cars – blocking the road would have been a good start!

I find it really difficult to understand the mentality that says “it’s not my problem” and prioritises getting to the theatre/cinema/pub/work on time over a potential hazard that could kill or harm others. We have become a selfish, selfish society, if it’s really come to that.

When you were a child, what was your favourite book?

18 06 2011

I read a lot as a child. I really enjoyed school and pony stories, but I did read other stuff as well, honest!

Enid Blyton featured quite heavily. Not so much Famous Five and Secret Seven so much as Malory Towers, The Book of Naughty Children. All heavily moralistic!

On a similarly moralistic note, I loved the Jill books by Ruby Ferguson. They were about a girl whose father died and she and her mother, a children’s author, moved to a small village. The other children in the area were very into riding and Jill was desperate for a pony, although she’d never ridden before. The books focused on doing things properly, being honest, putting one’s pets first etc. Jill was by no means a sickly sweet heroine – she would quite often be struggling with frustrations and “ignoble thoughts”. Unlike her friends, she and her mother were not terribly well-off and Jill was always taking part-time jobs and looking for ways to support her ponies. “Pot-hunting”, entering shows with the sole of wish of winning prizes, was seriously frowned upon in these books – a stark contrast with the more modern books I’ve picked up! There is also no boy-chasing at all – another contrast with modern pony stories. I would whole-heartedly recommend these.

The Pullein-Thompson sisters were great favourites as well. Again, they were not about chasing boys and trophies and, as in the Ruby Ferguson and Enid Blyton books, the lazy and the conceited always got their comeuppance!

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley was a favourite and I still re-read that from time to time. My brother gave me it for my eighth birthday and it really stands up to the test of time. It’s about a girl called Penelope who lives in London and, with her brother and sister, goes to spend the holidays with relatives on their farm in Derbyshire. The farm had been the home of the Babbingtons, who plotted to save Mary, Queen of Scots, who was incarcerated at the nearby Hardwick Hall.

None of the heroines in these books shies away from doing things because she’s “just a girl”. They all face up to things. None of them thinks she only exists in the mirror of men’s eyes.

The values in these books had a big influence on me: no one likes a show-off, put your animals first, take responsibility for yourself (it is NOT your mother’s fault that you have forgotten your PE kit!), be truthful, kind and considerate and look up to your elders.

Projects and links

17 06 2011

Question: what’s the link between Finnish teachers, Geronimo, the NHS, building a youth centre, Osama Bin Laden, horse riding, surfing polar bears and healthy eating?

Answer: I’ve been reading about them this week.

Let’s Move

Let’s Move! is a comprehensive initiative, launched by the First Lady, dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams. Sure, this is an ambitious goal. But with your help, we can do it.

Building Projects

naturalhomes.org are taking donations for wooden pallets. The pallets for an Earth Tipi project to build 6,000 sustainable homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Each home needs 200 pallets and costs $10,000. Each Facebook sponsor will have their name placed on their pallet and a photo of the pallet on the Earth Tipi website. All the photos will form a gallery of Facebook sponsors with links to the sponsors Facebook page or profile.

Another interesting building method is the bottle brick. ‘Bricks’ are made by stuffing plastic bottles with rubbish. They are then enclosed in a wire frame and covered with cob.

Village Earth are taking donations to employ youths to build their own youth centre on Pine Ridge. From the Village Earth website:

Help the Wounded Knee Community Development Corporation (WKCDC) employ youth to renovate [an] old one-room schoolhouse into their own youth center! They need to raise $5000 by June 30th to purchase the remaining supplies for the project.

The Wounded Knee CDC has been approved to administer funding from the Federal Job Training Partnership Act, enough to pay approximately 40 youth (ages 14-22) from the district to transform an old one-room school-house into the Wounded Knee Youth Programs Facility. However, the funding does not cover the entire amount needed for materials and supplies.

Even if you can’t donate, please share the links.

Lakota Horsemanship Organisation

The Lakota Horsemanship Organisation is a non-profit organisation which runs workshops and takes children and young people on visits, camps and memorial rides. In an environment with 80% – 90% unemployment, with a huge school drop-out rate, where alcoholism and drug addiction are rife, where dwellings house several families and often don’t have heating, electricity or even running water, it is hardly surprising that the teen suicide rate is 150% higher than the national average and projects like this are really important.

As well as monetary donations, they take donation of the following goods:

  • Horse tack and accessories of any type
  • Medicine, ointments and care products
  • Arts and crafts supplies for the kids and for workshops
  • Outdoor equipment, sleeping bags, tents etc
  • First aid sets
  • School material, pens, writing pads, painting books

In the News

Free Summer Fun

8 06 2011

The summer holiday season will soon be upon us and who doesn’t know someone who’s going somewhere that makes you green with envy? At this time of year, it can feel as though you’re no one if you’re not going somewhere that’ll make everyone green with envy.

I don’t know how many of you watched the BBC TV series, Beautiful People, but there was an episode in which Simon’s family had been telling everyone they were going away on a fantastic holiday, but found themselves too short on cash to actually go, so, to keep up appearances, they locked themselves in their house for a week and carried on as though they were on holiday. They decorated the house, dressed in their holiday clothes and held holiday-camp-style competitions in their living room. They had a whale of a time.

I’m not suggesting that you go to the lengths of lying to your friends, family and general acquaintance about your whereabouts, but here are a few ideas for fun holiday activities on a shoestring budget.

House Swap

If you fancy getting away, how about swapping houses with a friend who lives in another area? You can have fun making lists of local sights and activities for one another and you won’t have to worry about finishing absolutely everything in the fridge and getting someone in to water the plants and feed the pets.


Picnics are vastly under-rated. You can go where you like, within legal limits, obviously, and eat what you like, when you like. You don’t need to be near a café or restaurant, you don’t need to comply with their times, you won’t find that there’s nothing you like on the menu or that everything’s over-cooked. It won’t be hideously expensive. Basically, it’s all on your own terms and you don’t have to be on your best behaviour!


Spend a pleasant summer’s day by a river, enjoy being outside, take a picnic and maybe a book or a radio and you’ll maybe get something to take home for tea. It’s not free to fish everywhere – you need a ticket or club membership in many places. dofreefishing.co.uk has information on where you can fish for free and what you can catch there.

There really is something very satisfying about catching your own food!

Free Days Out

For ideas on free days out, try dofreestuff.com. There’s also a list of free museums provided by the Department for Culture. It would also be worth checking your council’s or local attractions’ websites, to find out whether admission is free or discounted for local residents.

Discover your home town

Very often, we look further afield for our holiday fun, but how many of us can say that we’ve taken the tourist trail round our home town? Get a guide-book out from your local library and find out what you’ve been missing out on.

If you can get hold of a walking tour map itinerary, you could give yourselves the full-on tourist experience. Go in a large group and you can take turns at being the guide and being the tourists. Why not go the whole hog and create characters for yourselves?

Cycle paths, bridleways and green lanes

The countryside and, for that matter, towns are full of paths and shortcuts you would never see from public transport or your car. They say a change is as good as a rest, so why not look at your town from a different perspective?

Scavenger Hunts

These are great, in that you can easily make them age-appropriate and you can even sneak a bit of learning in there.

For those who don’t know, on a scavenger hunt, each participant has a list of items they have to find. The first to return with the full set of items within the allowed time wins.

They’re nice because you can pass time with spin-offs. A rainy-day project could be making or decorating bags to carry collected items in. The journey could be spent making up the item list in the style of the game ‘Granny went to market’.

Let the Children Camp in the Garden

Just because you’re not going away, it doesn’t mean you have to stick to the term-time routine. Why not let the children camp out in your garden? You can have a quiet night in and they can imagine they’re anywhere – American pioneers, heading west, nomads in the desert, circus performers, a travelling fair, jungle or arctic explorers – the world’s their oyster! If you have a sandpit and or a paddling pool, they could create their own beach. They could put on their own circus act with your friends. It gives a taste of independence, with the safety net of running back in if they need to.
Maybe they could cook on a camp fire, under adult supervision? Some easy cooking ideas:

  • Baked beans – cook them in a pan then eat them out of a mug
  • Jacket potatoes – wrap them in tin foil and put them in the embers of the fire, once it dies down
  • Marshmallows or toast – put them on skewers and toast them over the fire
  • Cocoa – make it in a pan over the fire, then pour into a mug. It goes really well with marshmallows.

When you’re camping in the garden, you might see all kinds of wildlife you wouldn’t see in the daytime: hedgehogs, foxes, owls, badgers etc.

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