mumsnetBack along, my family and I swapped a house for a three-acre field in Devon and a leaky caravan where we lived off-grid for two years. Sadly, we failed to get the planning permission we needed to stay. We are now back within four walls, with a proper loo and everything in a cottage in Dartmoor. So this is now a blog about living ethically amid a fabulous landscape with our home educated kids while we adjust to being 'normal' - for a while... and what we plan to do with our land next

Monday, 11 March 2013

Bearing up under the strain

I have become my mother.

This realisation dawned on me during, of all places, a trip to Build-A-Bear. Against my better judgement, I had bought my daughter a voucher for a bear for her 10th birthday. A Build-A-Bear has been on the poor girl's wish list for the last couple of birthdays and Christmases, and so I felt I should buy her one while a teddy still meant something furry with four legs.

Despite my best intentions, I just couldn't help myself.

'I don't mind the bears, but I'm not getting any stupid clothes,' I said graciously on the morn of our visit. Zena's face fell. 'But that's the point of going to Build-A-Bear,' she wailed. I grunted and left it at that.

There are some things in this consumer-led economy we live in that I just can't deal with - and clothes for bears is one of them. Clothes for dolls are fine, they are human-like in form and therefore require clothing. But bears don't wear clothes. I often wonder what the people in the factories far away who make these things think. Do they long to live in a place that is so rich it can afford to buy wardrobes for bears - or wonder at the decadence of it all? Who knows.

Anyway, three hours later my mood hadn't improved. We were in the shop and Zena had gone into a consumer frenzy - flitting around, exclaiming and cooing over bears dressed like Rihanna, bears dressed like policeman, and, heaven help me, a bride and groom bear complete with vicar. And shoes. Shoes! Why do they have to make 'em shoes?

Despite having spent her ten fabulous years living with a daily diet of anti-consumerist propaganda, shoes somehow temporarily disable the pre-frontal cortex of my daughter's brain. Last summer we popped in to Brantano for some trainers. In aisle sizes 12 to 13, Zena soon became lost in a pile of shoes, all of which I had vetoed on grounds that there were too tarty, too bad for her feet, too high, too expensive, just too hideous.

I telephoned my friend Sophie. 'I'm in Brantano,' I whispered. 'I don't think I am ever going to get out.' An hour later I finished the phone call, Zena was still trying on footwear. I lay down for a while between shoe size aisles 1 and 2 hoping it would help. It didn't. We finally left, Zena skipping out clutching a pair of polka dot red sandals, me reeling into the only sunshine we'd had all summer. We hadn't bought any trainers.

I was experiencing the same feelings of despair in Build-A-Bear. 'No!', I said to roller skates. 'No!', I said to a sleepover kit. 'No! No! No!', I said to a pair of khaki boxer shorts.

'Look,' I said. 'You can have a pair of shoes and one other non-clothing item.'

'Why can't I have any clothes,' she asked.

'Because,' I said firmly. 'We can make them at home out of bits of scrap fabric.'

And that was it - the point where I knew I had turned into my mother. My mum is an excellent dressmaker. She made most of our clothes when we were kids as well as the soft furnishings. I well remember the frustration of wanting an item from a clothes shop while she wrinkled her nose in disdain, pronounced the seam work lacking and that she could make the same thing at home for free.

But what goes round, comes round and now I am doing the same thing. This is partly because I am in love with my new toy - a hand-operated Singer sewing machine. A thing not just of great beauty, but very functional. It only does straight seams, but it does them very well and it makes a satisfying chugging sound as I turn the  handle. I am fairly new to sewing - my mother's expertise being something I could never hope to live up to. But I have taken to it with enthusiasm and it will only be a matter of time before we are all wandering around dressed in badly made clothes created out of second-hand curtains.

Back in Build-A-Bear, Zena finally settled on a pair of flip-flops, a stuffed guitar and a kind of leapoardy bear. This needed stuffing and a heart inserted. 'Now wave the heart above your head, make a big wish and give it a kiss,' trilled the shop assistant. I caught the eye of eight-year-old Matty, his face a picture of abject contempt. It cheered me up no end.

The bear, called Grrrr, is very loved but one of the flip-flops is missing.

'We'll have to go back to buy him more shoes,' said Zena.

'No,' I said grumpily. 'Find the missing one.'

'I didn't mean that,' she said happily holding him up for me to see. 'Look, he's got four feet!'


  1. :) That made me laugh!

    Am I permitted to have a moment of smugness, eeing as I've managed to escape the entire horrific build-a-bear experience (so far).

    Bu dd did announce to me the other day that she has 149 soft toys in her bedroom. So there are some things I obviously haven't managed to avoid.

  2. By the time I got to your making badly made clothes out of second hand curtains, I was really laughing. Have you seen Enchanted? Where Giselle cuts up the curtains to make dresses-its a great film and very funny, I had tears in my eyes from laughing. I have also just bought a sewing machine, an old Singer from 1975, having an idea that I could make "things". I'm really not sure how that's going to progress. Good luck with yours.