Drastic Plastic

My task for this week is to gather random bits of plastic from around the house, shove them into jars with a few molar-killing sweets and stick a bow on top, for our school Christmas fair. This is a remarkably cleansing experience. It really is the chance to ‘give something back’.

Every celebration seems increasingly associated with two things: sweets & tiny bits of plastic. Sometimes one is even wrapped around the other (thanks, Kinder egg people). So as we head to the end of another fun-packed year, it’s a joy and a pleasure to hunt and gather all of the stocking fillers, party bag toys and Halloween treats lying forlorn and forgotten, and ‘regift’ them via our jam jar tombola.

Obviously, I have to do this while my children are out of the way, otherwise they will suddenly remember the joy of unwrapping the wind-up beetle or the mini wax crayons (another pack! Just what we need!) and I will be forced to hand them back. In the past there have been a few suspicious glances at the jars lined up on the stall: “Hey! I had a monster like that!”…not any more, my love, not any more.

But what this annual exercise teaches me is that I am absolutely complicit in the accumulation of plastic crap in our house. With one hand I’m packing the jars and with the other I’m buying THIS year’s set of stocking fillers. Perhaps less a case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, and more that two bits of my brain are failing to communicate. I kind of know as I browse the ‘pocket money’ toys that the children don’t need another stretchy dinosaur, but… it’s better than just chocolate isn’t it? So I shell out another fiver on bits and bobs, enjoy seeing their faces as they unwrap them… then find myself a year later dumping the lot on some other unsuspecting parent.

This, of course, is not the end of the story. Because across the school, there are dozens of parents doing EXACTLY THE SAME THING. Last year, my kids had a winning streak. I donated four jars. And how many did they win between them? Yup. Four. Maybe this will be the year I manage to stuff their stockings with useful, disposable & edible items. Maybe. But then, what would I put in the jars next year?


Feminism, food & freebies. It can only be Blogfest.

Ok, let’s deal with the biggie first. Once again, Mumsnet managed to sneak a controversial ‘this will get them going’  session in at the end of the day. Last year Caitlin Moran rescued our senses of humour from Liz Jones, this time Jo Brand got the gig. As she made clear, she’s faced worst audiences. But she managed to raise the thermostat from ice queen to tipsy giggler in seconds.


I’m not going to get into the ‘she said.. then she said..’ as it’s already been done much better by far superior Mumsnet Bloggers. For me there was just a nostalgic, heady thrill to be in a room full of women TALKING ABOUT FEMINISM. I haven’t done that for about 20 years, and for a long time I didn’t think I’d witness it ever again. For it also to be at a conference dominated by mothers just felt, well, exciting. The heartfelt exchange of views – some of which, it has to be said, were lobbed to and from the stage like live ‘think bombs’ – just shows how many strong articulate women there are whose voices are so often still ignored. Frankly Mumsnet didn’t even need to give the session such a provocative title, “Can you be a Mummy Blogger and still be a Feminist?”. Just “Feminism. Discuss” probably would have been enough to set us all off, especially with a panel that strong. It felt as if feminism was alive and well throughout the day, from Stella Creasy’s rebuttals of Toby Young to Sue Black‘s inspirational claim that educating mothers in technology educates the nation. Powerful, life-enhancing stuff. No one was asked about their favourite biscuit. Jammy Dodgers all round, I expect.


Which leads me on to the next major point of Blogfest. The food. I’d like to consider myself a connoisseur now, having sampled last year’s grub as well as this year’s. And I’m sorry, but I reckon 2012 had the edge. Mini croissants, mini cupcakes, mini lemon drizzle… the sweet offerings were all just a bit… small. To the extent they ran out mid-afternoon. The horror! And I’m not sure whose idea the oodles of cabbage was. Sorry, Mumsnet, but was that an ironic nod to the cabbage diet?


Luckily, there were still plenty of freebies to keep us all happy. Mooched around the  beach bar but decided I needed a clear head to find out how to tell a better story with a brilliant panel including AL Kennedy and Lionel Shriver. Wish there had been a non-alcoholic cocktail – Feminista Sista, perhaps? With a dollop of jam? Loved the G&Ts at the end of the day, we were all in need of a drink by then. And when it was finally home time, I have to confess I was the one rifling through all the goody bags to make sure Lionel Shriver was in there… though not literally, sadly. Lovely chocolates, some great kids’ stuff and some rather suspect boob firmer (really, Mumsnet!) all kept me entertained on the train home. My head was absolutely spinning with ideas. I wish I’d recorded the whole day and could tap into it at leisure. Instead I’ve got my tweets to look back on and a sense of righteous indignation, courtesy of Jo Brand.

And finally….family

Or rather, family holidays. Because in a shameless attempt to bag a free Mark Warner trip, I’m crowbarring in a top tip for holiday fun. And it’s this – TRY SOMETHING NEW. Everyone should have a go at something different, whether it’s swimming in the sea, eating a mussel or crazy golf, as the new experiences make the best memories. If your kids see you getting out of your comfort zone, they’ll have a go too. And the day ‘Mum screamed on the mini rollercoaster’ will enter family history. I still haven’t lived it down.