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What (not) to do when you have a nervous child: letting go of old things and trying new things edition

I’m not one for universally acknowledged truths, so this generalisation will probably bite me in the behind, but I suspect that most – if not quite all – parents have, at some point, a series of thoughts around the things they don’t want to hand down to their offspring. The hangups and torments, the weaknesses and inner monologues. While we’re busy wondering if they’ll have our hair, or avoid our grandfather’s unfortunate nose, there are things about our outlook – no matter how much we’ve found peace with ourselves – that we probably wouldn’t hand down with Uncle Joe’s cheekbones and Auntie Jean’s height.

I was a nervous child. And a conflict-avoiding adult. It has taken decades of practicing the things I love – that I’m good at – to create enough of a core of confidence to make certain moves in my life. Weirdly, even though I have a very low opinion of my appearance to this day, I can be brashly confident about, say, posting an outfit photo on Instagram (well aware I don’t look that great! Don’t care!) and I told my then good friend that he loved me before he knew it himself (ten years, one marriage, a house, a cat and a child later I still know I was right). But when it comes to New Things I have to actively fight an inner voice that tells me these things are not for me; they’re for better people, cleverer people, prettier people.

I’m not unaware of how much of this is inextricably bound up with being female in this world. And when I knew I was having a daughter, busy being overjoyed simply because she was, I was relieved in some part not to have the responsibility of raising a feminist-friendly man but also terrified of the threats she was going to face both to her person and to her personhood. I prayed she’d get her father’s slight build, so she wouldn’t have to be a fat, female child – something I’d never choose to go through again – and also his calm, sweet fearlessness. He’s bungee jumped and abseiled down Table Mountain and I swear if he could hang out of an aeroplane window with his tongue hanging out like a gleeful spaniel, he would. I won’t even jump off a low wall and have to say the Lord’s Prayer in two languages under my breath as soon as the engines fire up on a plane.

But it’s more than that. He’s the one I get to make the phone calls and organise the appointments. He’s the one who happily wanders up to anyone in the room, whether he’s met them before or not, and shares life stories. There’s an undercurrent there – a reason he’s so keen to make friends, past trauma – but it manifests itself in this glorious openness. Sitting in the Monsters Inc Laugh Floor in Florida, the camera turned on him and labelled him as the guy who just wanted to get up and dance. Up he sprang and made sure it was the most outrageously embarrassing dance he could possibly manage, making our daughter almost vomit with the giggles, and then sat down, cheeks pink but pride undamaged. He will so happily make an idiot of himself, and then get over it instantly. I would be replaying any moment of accidental humiliation in my head for the next 24 years.

What has all this got to do with getting rid of old things and trying new things? I’m getting to it. You can probably see where this is going.

Our 6yo is her mother’s daughter. Sure, she also has my superpowers (an easy facility with language, a low-effort / high-reward approach to academia) but try as I might to hide my fearfulness it has leaked into the bond between us. She is cautious, frequently shy and absolutely terrified… of being terrified. Unexpected significant changes to routine bother her (she never seems to enjoy the idea of a holiday until she’s actually on it), and she really, really hates giving or throwing things away unless they’re demonstrably so far beyond use – or gross – that she can bear to tear herself away. And because the cinema is loud and dark, she has misgivings about new films – even though she loves TV and will obsessively watch the things she likes – and it’s sometimes hard to work out what will scare her. Some things, like The Jungle Book I predicted (and gave her an out, having offered to go without her anyway); others are harder to anticipate. She is extremely bright and imaginative, and thinks about things very deeply – so deeply she has told me outright, without prompting, that she can’t help considering what the worst thing that can happen is.

It can be hard for adults. On our second trip to Disney World, a place we all love and obviously have to invest both time and money to get to, rides and experiences she’d loved so much she cried when she had to leave them last time suddenly became too terrifying to do again. We started to ride things in turns so she could sit out, although she also braved and enjoyed things I hadn’t expected her to. She surprises and confuses me constantly, and sometimes, I admit, it distresses, frustrates and disappoints me. I so desperately want to be able to share the things I love with her – for her to love them too – that I can forget to let her be herself and learn and grow out of these things in her own time (and accept that she might never love those things, even if she’s not scared of them anymore). Because when I think about it at any length I know she must and will grow out of it, simply because most people do. When I look back, I was every bit as scared and only did things she was allowed to opt out of because my parents didn’t consider letting me avoid them and my big sister made fun of me. So then I was just scared and resentful – which didn’t achieve much, really. I still had to go through the process of becoming not-scared, only then with shame attached. And at the moment that R expressed fearfully that she thought she might ruin the holiday for others by being different, I knew that my gut feeling that pushing the issue was not the way to go was correct.

In the past few weeks we’ve had two issues crop up that I handled, in the first instance, extremely badly while trying to do the right thing. But then which, with patience, lots of love and a bit of strategic thinking, we were able to resolve in a way that made everyone content. So here I offer my mistakes and my successes, in the hope that if you, too, have a child who thinks about everything just a little bit more than they need to, you might find some help – or at least solidarity – in them.

The Moana Incident

When Moana came out in cinemas I was really keen to see it, but R dithered. I was perfectly happy to go without her, but she also really wanted to see it. But, unlike films on DVD at home that I’d seen before, I couldn’t tell her what might be scary and how it would resolve – I didn’t know. So we agreed we’d just get it on DVD and if it was on a small screen everything would be much easier to deal with and could be paused, etc. It arrived at home to her enormous bouncing excitement; then she read the back cover, caught a sight of some words that suggested danger or scary moments, and decided she wasn’t going to watch it after all.

I bribed. I cajoled. I argued. It did not end well.

So I apologised. And I backed off. And then I started to think about why she had wanted to see it (musical snippets on YouTube; the kid’s a sucker for a musical and has been listening to carefully vetted bits of Hamilton for weeks on my phone). For me, getting her to see it was an exercise in helping her to see the worth of overcoming her nervousness; for her, it was a chance to find a new thing she’d enjoy.

So I bought the soundtrack. First we just listened to the one everyone knows. Then we started listening to some of the other songs.

“I know there’s a big scary crab in it. My cousin told me. I don’t want to hear his song.”

One day in the car, when she was in a good mood, she wanted to listen to the soundtrack all the way through. “But the deal is, we’re not skipping Shiny,” I said. “FINE!” came the answer. During the song, she stuck her fingers in her ears.

We listened to the soundtrack all the way through again. One finger came out of her ears. “This doesn’t sound that bad… show me a picture of the crab?” We looked at them on my small phone screen. She looked on with trepidation. I showed her a picture of Jemaine Clement, because we like chatting about who does the voices.

Then one Saturday afternoon, I watched the film. She left the room with the iPad. And kept coming back in, and leaving, and coming back in, and leaving. She caught a glimpse of Tamatoa. She popped back in for the last ten minutes and was monumentally unfussed by Te Ka. Big animals = bad. Lava monsters = fine and dandy thanks, here, incinerate my island I don’t care. 

The next day: “Can we watch it again?” She stayed in the room for everything except Tamatoa.

A few days later, I watched Tamatoa’s scene on my phone, knowing she wouldn’t be able to resist poking her head over. “He doesn’t look that bad, I suppose. And I saw a picture of him on Google with Jemaine Clement’s face.” I laughed out loud.

All of this happened over maybe two weeks. We’ve seen the film over and over again since then, because she adores it. She insists on watching all the credits through to see Tamatoa’s brief end-credit sequence. It’s a great new joy in her life, and she has at least one example in her head now of a time when, having gradually desensitized herself to something that worried her, it worked out for a best. That won’t always be the case, but I needed her to have that example.

So if I have any tips it would be: don’t push, at all, but do gradually build up exposure by going for the most tempting bit. All carrot, no stick.


The Great Clothes Clear-Out of 2017

R didn’t just inherit her dad’s build; she got his height, too. Then again, I’m almost 5’9″ myself. She’s 6yo and right in the middle of the weight range, but she wears size 2 shoes and to get the length right her leggings and dresses – her preferred uniform – are all aged 8-10. She doesn’t like trousers much these days, but it’s just as well on a practical level – the waist gapes if the length is right unless they’re trackie bums like the ones she wears for stage school (yes, it does massively help confidence if you can afford it / talk them in through the door, but it’s by far not the only way if you can’t or can’t right now).

Being prone to impressive growth spurts means you end up with a lot of clothes in good condition that need to move on. Whether to family and friends – her cousin of the same age is slightly shorter and slighter – or to a charity shop.

I suggested we might need to move on a few pieces she’s clearly outgrown – and in some cases never really liked in the first place. CUE THE TEARS.

We tried logic – getting her to try them on to see how badly they fitted. We tried appealing to charity – wouldn’t it be nice for another child to have them? We tried pointing out the horrendously limited storage in our shoebox of a house. To no avail. On – gentle – questioning, two issues emerged:

  • Many of these things were presents from us or her grandparents – what if said grandparents were mortally offended or thought she hadn’t liked their gifts?
  • What if she wanted to wear them again?

There wasn’t a whole lot we could do about the second of these. The rigmarole of trying on tiny jumpers and short leggings helped – she could, with a bit of lighthearted cajoling, recognise that, as angry as she was about it, she couldn’t make the clothes bigger or herself smaller. But the former was a really big issue for her. She seemed to feel especially bad about pieces I could tell she’d never been that fond of, since she felt a sense of guilt she hadn’t even got use out of them when they did fit. A mixture of failed obligation and FOMO. I briskly told her that obligation be damned – you’re not obliged to like or use a gift. You are obliged to politely thank someone for it. Equally, the person you give it to is not obliged to like or use it after. Once it’s no longer yours you cannot dictate the terms (she got a bit reproachful about this – “what if they don’t care about it like I do?!” – but accepted at least she wouldn’t be there to see it).

The sticking point remained. Finally, we came to an agreement. We would gently broach the subject with the grandparents next time we saw them and explain that the clothes no longer fit – and ask their permission to give them away. In the end, she asked my mother hrself, and was so reassured by the answer she forgot to even mention it to my mother-in-law. And once we also pointed out that clearing out would leave room for a few new bits and pieces we needed to get her, the fog began to lift. The very next day after that visit to my mother, she helped me carry every item of clothing she owned into the living room and took control of the whole process: we had a pile for keeping, a pile for the bin / recycling (old underwear and tortured socks), a pile for friends and family and a pile for the charity shop. I held up the items, we agreed on their destination, she piled them up accordingly. We matched socks, stuffed things in bags and handed them to Daddy to send on their way (or temporarily store). And she has never once regretted a single item.

I am sure I will get it wrong again. Sometimes impatience to see her best self breaks through. Sometimes she surprises me so much; at her end-of-term showcase at stage school we were expecting her usual shy mumble, but she read her poem beautifully with a happy smile and bounced through the rest of the show, even the dancing which I could tell was slightly embarrassing her. She’s really excited about having a part as a hula girl in the next show, and a bit where she holds up a sign to the audience. She was a confident narrator in the school Christmas show. She meets new people of all ages and can go from hiding behind my leg to being their BFF in under 20 minutes. She fears being embarrassed and standing out by wearing a BOBBLE HAT IN SCHOOL OMG even though her friends do, but chooses the most outrageously day-glo trainers for out of school that you can imagine, and tells all her friends about them. She says I’m embarrassing her all. the. time. but also happily still gets before-school kisses and cuddles at the gate.

I never know when one of these bone-deep reactions is going to hit, or what understandable or less understandable issue it’s going to hit over. I, too, have to learn as she is learning. Each time I have to remind myself that patience works – and that it’s no less than she deserves. That validating her feelings of fear – telling her she’s entitled to them – isn’t the same as saying there’s anything to be scared of. That, as much as I’m an unapologetically strict parent about certain things – manners and consideration for others, for example – carrot is a considerably more effective tool than stick (metaphorical stick, I hasten to add – I do not believe in ever raising a hand to a child in anger, ever). And frankly, carrot is really all I want to put into the world where my daughter is concerned. Even if she never changes one bit, I’ll love her just the same, just as deeply and fiercely.

I often think I’ve given her the wooden spoon that is the worst of myself. The least I can do is teach her the ways to add the spoonful of sugar that I’ve had to learn the hard way. If she can learn faster than I did – cocooned with love, not shame – then maybe I can have given her a little of the best of myself, too.


Film review: Beauty and the Beast (live action)

It doesn’t feel an overstatement to suggest that Howard Ashman was absolutely key in transforming the lumbering beast that Walt Disney Animation had started to resemble in the mid-80s into the fleet-of-foot animation royalty that dominated the 90s and heralded an era of musical hit after musical hit. He did it through the gift of song – his artistic vision and a lyricist’s pen dripping with inspiration that was at its most passionately effective in partnership with his long term creative collaborator, Disney Legend Alan Menken. The 14th of March marks the 26th anniversary of his sadly premature loss, so it seems a fitting moment to return to some of his very finest work with the company as Disney indulges in its latest project to reinvent its back catalogue into live action for fun and profit.

If Bill Condon (Twilight: Breaking Dawn 1 2, Mr Holmes) attempts to tighten up the more dated elements of the tale as old as time by developing its independent and intelligent heroine’s back story, there’s no need to lift a finger to invigorate the music: it’s aged perfectly.  The sole bum note is the Beast’s new number, a rather pedestrian lament penned by Sir Tim Rice (who also completed Ashman’s work on Aladdin) – though it’s good to see the cursed Prince get his due with a bit more character development. Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens brings a note of gruff sarcasm to his performance which is warm and welcome; he’s also provided with hints of a more complex story than simply ‘petulant child’, and this helps with what has always been a tough sell of a romance – even more challenging with live action characters and hard-working CGI and prosthetics than it is with animated protagonists.

The supporting cast is stalwart and solid; Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth is reliably…McKellian. Ewan McGregor can safely be counted on to belt out a rousing tune; his Lumiere’s Be Our Guest might lack the tongue-in-cheek suaveness of the sorely missed Jerry Orbach but taken as its own performance is still a Busby Berkeley extravaganza in which the running joke of Belle failing to actually get to eat anything remains. Audra MacDonald’s Mme Garderobe gets a fuller role and injects necessary notes of both pathos and jollity as a result of her continuing love affair with harpsichord husband Mastro Cadenza- a newly-created character and gleeful cameo from Stanley Tucci and his spectacular dentures. The challenges here are largely of realisation rather than performance; where Cogsworth and the Maestro’s household objects lend themselves to mimicking facial expressions, Lumiere’s tiny face, Mrs Potts’ flat surface and the wardrobe’s unnerving facelessness are at times slightly unnerving. While this doesn’t prevent national treasure Emma Thompson from being bumblingly charming and pretty much pulling off that crucial titular ballad, she’s one of the few characters that is preferable in her briefly-observed human form.

But what of Belle herself? Emma Watson’s is a very cool and reserved take on one of Disney’s more fearless heroines. In many ways she’s a more realistic introvert, and there are some touching moments, such as a small bubbling up of glee at being given the library to explore and in the richer relationship with the delightful Kevin Kline’s Einsteinian Maurice. Still, this interpretation leaves some of the high drama sadly lacking; for one, her Fraulein Maria hilltop moment is oddly muted. It perhaps doesn’t help that Watson is well nigh steamrollered by an absolute barnstormer of a performance from Luke Evans on full-bodied form as Gaston, rolling effortlessly from high camp to cartoonish villainy with a genuine note of unhinged violence. Where Be Our Guest and Beauty and the Beast should dominate the score, it’s actually tub-thumping tavern jig Gaston and menacing rabble-rouser Kill the Beast that lead the way as the film’s most engaging musical moments. There’s been much press coverage of Josh Gad’s Le Fou being the first obviously gay Disney character, though this is rather more disappointingly blink-and-you’ll-miss-it than advertised; still, he’s an able enough foil for his puffed-up partner in crime, even if his conflicted moments are a little lacklustre.

Condon’s Beauty and the Beast is a beauty but a funny film; just a touch too paint-by-numbers to attain the high standards set by Jon Favreau’s lavish and loveable take on The Jungle Book and certainly not about to replace the near-perfect Ashman swansong from which it took its cue. But it’s an affectionately crafted and solidly enjoyable family night out; the lights of its most stirring numbers remain undimmed and that wickedly effective Gaston is possibly even an improvement on the source material. If, being honest, it wouldn’t be included in the bookshelves of the mind where my most prized treasures rest together, I wouldn’t refuse to include it in the library.

Beauty and the Beast is on UK general release from Friday March 17th. Many thanks to @disney_uk for two press preview tickets. All opinions my own; more blog-based movie reviews here; even more film stuff on my Letterboxd profile.

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The top three red lipsticks (that I’m thinking of right now)

I never used to wear red lipstick. Never.

To wear red lipstick was surely to court attention. To assume a certain level of confidence in one’s appearance. To take up visual space.

And then I got over myself. (Or maybe just got older). I drifted down the red lipstick railroad, making stops at some of the suburban outposts like Lipstick Queen’s Medieval and other great red lipsticks for people who are scared of red lipstick. I still like to visit these at weekends. But since then I’ve taken the plunge into central scarlet. I love a rich, matte finish, a painted pillarbox with precise edging and vibrant pigments. If it has just a touch of softness, so much the better.

Here are my current favourites – but, in the words of the Haunted Mansion’s Ghost Host, there’s always room for one more, so I’d welcome any recommendations.

  1. Besame 1941 Victory Red, $22

besame 1941.PNGA fairly new addition to the Besame family, the brighter 1941 shade supplanted even Agent Carter’s 1946 ruby Red Velvet in my affections. A slightly thicker formulation – Besame mixes are forgiving on the lips due to their softness, but messy to apply and a little prone to feathering – it wears better than the Red Velvet and is a better daytime shade, with just a hint of a sheen over a matte base. It’s quite an all-comers shade as I’ve seen it look beautiful on a variety of skin tones and with various hair colours, including my own paradoxical Mediterranean look: deeply dark brown hair with very pale skin. Taking Besame’s advice to apply, blot thoroughly, and re-apply gives it greater staying power, but you’re likely to need a couple of top-ups during the day, particularly if you’re an all-day tea-sipper like me.

The only problem with Besame is it’s very hard to come by in the UK; a very kind friend in LA sent me the Victory Red when it was released, along with a lovely special edition pin which was a launch gift, and I’ll be stocking up on Besame cosmetics when we’re in the US in a few weeks. If you have American pals near a Sephora – or the flagship store in Burbank, California – it might be quicker to beg a favour than wait for the infrequently updated European website to be stocked!

2. Illamasqua Sangers Blood Red, £19.50

illamasqua.PNGThis was a very kind birthday gift from another friend (I pick them super well, do I not?) and I absolutely love it. It’s much more matte than it appears on the website images (though full marks for showing different skin tones), and has a very thick, crayon-like texture which means you feel like you’re applying it with a trowel. It is mildly drying, but it clings on impressively – I rarely have to do much more than a quick post-meal reapplication, and it survives my habitual tea-drinking admirably. The shade is very similar to the Besame, and I have been known to mix them together to take advantage of the more silky feel of the Besame on the skin, without losing the staying power of the Illamasqua.

3. Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Red Carpet Red, £23

I got a handful of CT samples when I bought a foundation and lip pencil from the shop in Covent Garden and this was among them. It is such a beautiful, classic Hollywood shade, with just a hint of softness and sheen so it’s never harsh – like combining a matte lipstick with a touch of highlighter. I immediately popped in again to ‘give it a try’ and wandered around town for the afternoon feeling like an absolute superstar. Because of the price I delayed splashing out on my own tube, but after suffering an epic cold / sinus drama over the last three weeks I needed something to cheer me up, and it had to come home with me this weekend as a post payday treat.

Because I still look bleary, I haven’t yet got a good picture of myself in it – but I’ll be sure to Instagram on both my day-to-day and style ‘grams when I do.

As ever, I hugely welcome tips. I’ve yet to find a shade of pure red I like in the NYX liquid lip ranges, but I feel they should get an honourable mention here are a favourite of mine – an absolute bargain at £5.50 each, so I have three other colours instead.

Disclaimer: None needed – the gifts were from brand-neutral IRL friends, not PRs, and I spent my own cash on NYX and CT!



Redecorating the kid’s bedroom with Dulux part II: the painting


But it’s not OK to have such a dreadfully dull wall colour. Not when you’re six, anyway.

So, you might remember we were kindly approached by Dulux to try out some of their Endurance+ range paint as part of their campaign to overhaul kids’ bedrooms and let them be part of the process of creating their personal space – a laudable aim and one which I only put a few parental parameters on (I cannot live with pink, I just can’t).


We settled on sunny Vanilla Sundae, a fairly bright yellow, that would add a bit of spark to the room – which doesn’t get much natural light – without being eye-watering. It’s not a big room, just 10′ x 8′ and the ceiling isn’t very high, being a pretty squat 1960s build, so we settled on 5l of paint. We didn’t need to do an undercoat, as the original wall colour was pretty light, but there were some test patches of paint to cover, as you’ll see in the ‘before’ shots. It wasn’t until I had to take those that I realised how embarrassingly drab we’d let the room get; so much so this is about the only ‘before’ photo I can bear to publish. When we first moved in, hurriedly, it was the first room to get a quick dash of paint, a new wardrobe and a pair of curtains, just so we could get our then-toddler settled in. Now a newly minted year 2, with a wall full of certificates for this and that, drawings and posters (Tangled, My Little Pony, Squarehead and Marvel superheroes all represented), the flat calico and basic bed suddenly seemed a pretty poor reflection of the cool, grown-up girl our little dynamo has become.


We started with the usual prep and masking off, and she wanted to get stuck in immediately. While we got to work with the rollers, we shoved a paint brush into her hand and got her to go around all the little masked-off bits in the room – around power sockets, thermostats etc – and she started work on the pipes. When we moved in, we had to add a new gas supply to the house, and the copper piping has been exposed ever since, and not in a cool, steampunky sort of way. While the paint is not designed for that particular job, we glopped a generous layer on and it worked surprisingly well.


The first coat went on pretty quickly, and were it not for the test patches we might well have got away with one coat as it had very good coverage. We left it for the minimum four hours the tin recommends, before adding another coat; this was a bit trigger-happy, as we created some patchy bits by getting ahead of ourselves (our fault, as it was a fairly damp day, so we should have gone for more than the bare minimum time). After leaving this second coat overnight to dry out thoroughly, we made some touch ups in the morning and… boom. Job done.

Best of all, although we’d packed R off to the grandparents the night before so she wasn’t sleeping in a wet-walled room (just enough time for me to barrell through a fat Sarah J. Maas number), she was able to move straight back in on the Sunday night, since the paint has a very faint smell. While it gives off just a bit of a painty, yeasty vibe, it’s not at all unpleasant or unmanageable, and since none of us are prone to reactions to these things we were all very happy for her to sleep in there with just cracked-open windows to encourage thorough drying. All in all it was an exceptionally easy process – and it turned out that 5l was just spot on for two coats and touch ups – in fact, there’s just enough left in the can for anything else we spot. It’s dried to a lovely even yellow, slightly brighter and deeper than the colour on the can – a really Fluttershy shade.


Going just a tad further than we’d requested…

We have more changes to make to her room, including the addition of an amazing Teen Titans Go! wall sticker, though we’ve been advised by the sticker manufacturer to leave newly-painted walls to dry out thoroughly over four weeks before whacking it on. I christened the process by surprising R with a lightbox and letters – with some colourful ones on order too – which I think all adds to the theme of light and colour which we’re really going for. Her new cabin bed was paintstakingly assembled and yes, she does do her homework in there, sat at the pull-out desk from the bed she chose, in the light of a room that is painted in a cheery colour she picked under the purple lampshade that was her preference. While it’s now crowded with boxes and books until we work out the best storage arrangements (hence no photos: I have my pride!), finally the beginnings of her personality are stamped on her own space – a privilege I didn’t realise I’d been denying her.


We’re really happy that Dulux gave us a shove over the finish line. I have a plan in my head for our living room now (pale mint green walls, pale grey bookshelves, mustard cushions) but since it involves some purpose-built shelving and a new sofa it might have to wait a year or so for some hardcore saving…

Disclosure: The paint was provided for us by the Dulux team, but everything else down to the rollers and opinons is ours.

Redecorating a kids’ room with Dulux

We’ve been talking about redecorating our daughter’s room for a year, and thanks to the kind offer of some assistance from Dulux, I think we’re finally going to get started! There has been an element of laziness, but also fear of expense (we have some furniture to obtain as she’s still in a small bed and needs to graduate to a full size single, we’re hoping cabin bed) and considerations for how to make the most of storage in a fairly small room.


The Superhero Room: I’m more of a Marvel girl, but I could totally live with this

But we’ve also been having The Conversation with the kid about how she wants her own space to be. As a kid, I came from the House of Magnolia, and I was rarely allowed to choose the paint or decoration in my room; when we moved house when I was 11, I was given a list of white paints ‘with a hint of [insert other colour here]’ and told to pick one. Apparently there is a difference between white with a hint of blue (as chosen by me) and white with a hint of grey (as chosen by my sister) but it definitely takes a better woman than me to spot it. These days I admire my mother’s simple, fresh approach to decoration – she’s branched out into buttermilk – but I also recognise that I’d have eaten my own arm to be allowed to choose the colour in my own room.

Enter Dulux. The team there got in touch to highlight their kids’ room designs which include a quiz  tool and workbook to help children make sense of their room decorating choices.  This includes the ideas for themes that you’ll see scattered through this post, and an array of articles on getting kids involved in the processOooh, that sounds interesting, as we’re planning to redecorate, I said. Would you like some paint? they replied. Hell yeah, came the response. More on our choice in a moment!


The Jungle Room

I have to admit, I’d already put some parameters around our 6yo’s choices; as a 1960s build, our house suits pastels, and I insisted on something light in such a small room anyway. I also can’t live with pale pink (I never could), but will accept lilac. We’ve been planning to go for a peaceful green in the living room when we get round to replacing the ‘we’ve just moved in, quick paint it something inoffensive’ pale calico we slathered the place in four years ago. So we had already circled around a few colours anyway. I did in the end find that applying some boundaries does help with a child as young and imaginative as mine – given too many choices and possibilities the indecision and mind-changing is endless. She struggles with committing to a dessert, let alone thinking about a colour she can live with for the next few years.


The Storybook Room

Even though she was pretty sure she wanted something in a yellow hue, we had a go on the Kids Room Tool and no matter which options she chose, the Storybook Room came up as the final option. Which, though R wasn’t so keen on the blue, was appropriate enough given she’d been leaning towards a My Little Pony inspired look (with a hint of Teen Titans Go!).

Still focussed on yellow as the main colour, we then looked at the options available in the Endurance+ range that the Dulux team recommended for being harder-wearing. Of those, the more light and warm shade was Vanilla Sundae, and the team have kindly sent us some so we can finally get cracking! These are the reasons R has given so far for choosing yellow:

  • To remind me of sunshine on rainy days
  • Because it’s your favourite colour, Mummy, and one of mine
  • Because it’s the colour of Fluttershy
  • Because it’s cheerful and light

The Sports Room

We’ve started to do some research into decals and wall stickers. R was all for painting murals and scenes across the wall, but I’m simply not that good a freehand artist, and with a graphic designer dad on board having something custom printed is a more likely option (if we can’t find one we like as is). Also, as I pointed out, she might not like the same things in a couple of years that she likes now – she’s just started getting into Harry Potter, and she already can’t decide how much of the bedroom should be dedicated to her equestrian pals, and how much should represent DC’s finest young superhero team. So stickers will let the room grow with her, while the cheery paint continues to allow light into a room whose windows face across a drive to another house, limiting the natural brightness.

I really am glad that she’s getting a bit of a say in making her own space. I’m getting serious itchy pants about the state of our living room because I spend so much time there; things feel more like home when you can stamp your personality on them. As she’s getting older – going into year 2 next week – she’ll be getting more homework to do at home, and when she has play dates they spend more and more time in her room. Dulux’s research claims that 92% of children say they’d be happier to work and play more in their rooms if they had a say over how they were decorated; I can’t guarantee any results, but I can appreciate the feeling! While I hardly want her to stop hanging out with us in the living room, I’d like her to feel her room is a haven; I was a bookish kid who spent hours holed up reading, and the cosier the place you can do things like that, the better.


The Circus Room

I’ve not yet taken the ‘before’ photos – mostly because her room is a tip – but once we get up and running I’ll document it with another post and Instagram (Stories ‘n all) is likely to be part of the process. I’m no natural interior designer, so all tips and tricks are welcome… and if anyone can recommend a good value company for getting a mid-height cabin bed, I’m all ears!

Disclosure: As stated, Dulux has kindly offered to supply the paint for our project from the Endurance+ range; opinions are my own, and there has been no other payment for this post.

On Ghostbusters 2016 and objectivity

My husband and I saw Ghostbusters separately. We each saw it alone, which is perhaps the best way to know whether you really enjoyed something; you’re not reacting to it with anyone, so it’s all on you.

I loved it. He thought it was fine. We, like everyone else in the world, both fell hard for Holtzmann; we diverged on Hemsworth. I was pleasantly surprised by his straight delivery and almost deadpan gaze; my husband found him a bit lifeless. We agree that the first half hour takes too long to get to the point. I would say that too much space is given to Wiig and McCarthy to do their thing as individuals when the strength of the film is the union of all four characters, and in particular the rock solid contributions of Jones and McKinnon. He reckons that they are both simply not that funny in the first half of the film – individually and together. We were both glad that, even if Patty is still relegated to being the only non-academic of the group and a bit ‘urban’ (which could have been a massive cringe as the only notable POC in the film), she’s actually far more rounded than the trailer suggested, and massively well self-educated to boot.  But still: overall I loved it, pre-ordered it on Blu-ray (yes, some people still do that) and can’t wait to see it again, and he thought it was a bit better than okay but… yeah, whatever.

Here is where I wonder if it’s actually impossible to separate political joy and filmmaking objectivity. Do we even need to? My husband’s position is arguably more ‘objective’ than mine in that he is, by definition, less invested in the film being good. He has never had to go out at night worrying if tonight is going to involve (another) assault or death; on a recent re-watch of the original Ghostbusters he himself pointed out how revoltingly predatory Bill Murray’s Venkman is but I think he could see it rather than feel it. As a child I watched that version many, many times every summer – that and Mannequin were the only vaguely suitable films in English that my grandma’s local video shop in Athens carried – and yet I never loved it. At the time it was groundbreaking in many ways and the premise remains an excellent one, but I did not warm to it the way I did Back To The Future, The Goonies and Pretty in Pink. Even Mannequin, frankly. That’s fine, I didn’t have to. I can accept that it wasn’t, in the end, made for me.

But this Ghostbusters, at this time, was. And I accept the gift wholeheartedly. I feel an intense and lasting joy at the lack of casual rape jokes, at the tongue-in-cheek references to fanboy trolling, at the deliberately practical and unsexy costumes, at Holtzmann’s triumphant battle scene, at female friendship that doesn’t centre on relationships, at flawed women being flawed. And it doesn’t matter to me whether future generations objectively think that joke was as funny as it could have been, etc. I lost patience with this Ghostbusters only when it delivered heavy-handed fan service to the original (Aykroyd’s lamely game cameo was really just awful, and Murray’s awkwardly unnecessary; Hudson’s was actually quite sweet and natural but made the sad lack of Ramis even more keenly felt). When it was its own, kickass thing, behaving as if comic female action leads are just the most natural thing in the world, it was exactly what I always knew could happen if we just let it.

To be honest, the best case scenario is that women in the future find this film a bit of an embarrassing relic that their mums like. That there are so many original, brilliant feature films that don’t need to rely on an existing formats to make their point that this seems a bit old fashioned and unnecessary. I do not need it to last. I do not need it to be ‘objectively’ brilliant to do exactly what it was has done (even if I think it does actually stand up just fine most of the time, thanks). If the greatest value this film ever has is as a gender political statement, then that is more than enough for me.

And if my husband has to stand there in his wrongness, be wrong and get used to it, then I dare say we can both live with that too.

A little friendly competition

At a recent parents’ evening, 5yo Ramona’s teacher told us how seating our daughter with her best friend tended to improve her work. “There’s a bit of healthy competition going on there, which I admit I sometimes use to get the best out of them.”

Although it shouldn’t, hearing of competition between girls in a positive light does sound strange to me.  I don’t think I’m alone in suspecting that women are raised to think that rivalry is negative – that it’s somehow incompatible with having each other’s backs, owning ‘squad goals’ and knowing where the bodies are hidden.

The thing about surrounding oneself with an army of intelligent, wonderful, interesting human beings is that at some point anyone with all but the most cast iron self-confidence will doubt themselves. I pride myself on having a particularly strong group of pals, each of whom fulfils a part of me that it’s more fun to share: working to make dreams and passions a reality, navigating a particularly sticky work situation, sitting in the cinema holding hands and crying. Each one of those women is astonishingly talented and beautiful – and if I’m totally honest I have a history of being the Fat Friend. Frankly, Peggy Carter might know her value but she had to prove it in a room full of men. Trying to blossom in my own right when I’m surrounded by an entire garden centre feels more challenging – and thinking of it in terms of competition makes me feel about as positive as a Japanese knotweed infestation.

As a result it’s easier to just shy away from it all. No one likes to look too keen; it’s even counterproductive, for how could I compete? Yet I can clearly see that in my daughter’s case, still blissfully free of hang ups and damaging mean girl narratives, a little friendly rivalry is proving good for everyone. When you strive to emulate each other’s strengths, you also pay tribute to them.  Comparison can be the thief of joy, yes, but what could be better than being most inspired by the people you choose to be friends with?

In one of my daughter’s favourite films – the subtle and profound My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks – the essential conflict is caused by introducing the idea of competitiveness. A school musical showcase becomes a “battle of the bands” as some slinky sirens literally feed off disharmony. “What’s so wrong with a little competition?” purrs the leader, and the slanging matches begin. But in the end it is a competition that brings down the bad guys – an epic sing-off, in fact – and in order to do it the girls have to include a friend they’ve been inadvertently keeping at arm’s length despite her best efforts to atone for past cruelties. It’s easy to read it as ‘all competition is bad’, but it seems to me that the message is actually that winning is fine  – provided you don’t get there by trampling on anyone, and you consider everyone’s strengths and not just your own (the good guys also have to acknowledge some self-centered and exclusionary behaviour among themselves).

At some point, my daughter will  learn that other people will overtake her, and that she will have to make a decision whether to try, try again or change direction. It’s not easy to know whether you’re giving up too soon or flogging a dead horse; too much comparison can make A look like B, but too little and you end up as one of those people cruelly made a laughing stock on a TV talent show. At some point she’ll have to get used to the idea that other people will look up to her and – this is the tricky bit – accept this as valid. Suffering from imposter syndrome is not at all unusual among women, and I am certainly a veteran. I love that Ramona is getting the opportunity to stretch herself, and see where she can lead and where she can learn. She’s acquiring graciousness and generosity as she helps others with what she finds easy, and since humility is particularly hard to come by in small children I hope she’s learning that too. To genuinely congratulate a friend who has done better than you at something you care about is not easy; envy comes quickly. But it feels so much better and is so much more inspiring and hopeful than the alternative.

When it comes down to it, I want to believe that good things come to good people. And I honestly believe that a little genuinely friendly competition brings the kind of self-awareness and self-confidence that’s needed to act like a good person in the world.

And all I’ve ever wanted to do is raise a good person.