Dare To Be

When I was at school, the prom queens and the UK-cheerleader equivalents made my life a misery. They didn’t like me based on the fact that firstly, I did not care to follow their style dictates, and secondly, I did not beg to join their silly little clubs. And girls can be mean, much meaner than boys. I would have preferred a straightforward punch-up in the playground than years of subversive torture that I was subjected to by the fairer sex. Little things of mine went missing: calculator, homework book, gym clothes. Nobody would partner me for science experiments. I was told the wrong things to do for homework. I was called names, unpleasant ones, just because I dared to be myself rather than follow the herd or fade into the background.

I hated school because of girl politics. To make my life better, I could capitulate and beg to join the herd, or I could keep my head down.  Or I could be strong and stick two fingers up at them and do as I wish. I chose the third way, simply on the basis that I would rather be a social outcast than a fashion victim or a wallflower.

Of course, no boy invited me to the prom. No corsage arrived. No hired limo. No wedding-cake dress. No highly strung anticipation or squealing excitement. But did I care?

No.

Reason: I was already dating an older boy, a scion of one of the most influential families in England and having a great time. On the night of the prom, Jamie and I were in the oh-so-romantic Angel’s Garden, lying on a horse blanket, looking at stars, drinking champagne from the bottle. It was waaaay cooler than hanging out with a gaggle of hysterical girls or worse, being fumbled by a pimply date at the prom.

Over the years, I stuck to my own dress code. When my mother asked me (nicely) to dress up in something decent, I put the family tiara on. With jeans and sneakers. But at my first year at Oxford, I capitulated and shoehorned myself into my aunt’s old ballgown for the May Ball. My feet were too big for her dainty shoes unfortunately, but I wasn’t going to buy shoes that I will never wear again. Thus, I went to the ball in the appropriate dress but in wellington boots that I wore to rake out the stables. I had a great time dancing the night away, because my feet weren’t hurting in ridiculous shoes.

My younger daughter is 14. Her wealthier friends wear branded goods. Her less wealthy friends pore over magazines and made do with cheap Far East imports from value retailers. Do you know, you are polluting the planet and encouraging child labour each time you buy an item of these unethically produced cheap clothes?

She shrugged. Like me, she is not into fashion. Or girl politics. Plus, she has no money. That is a blessing, because she has so much fun with boys. And so, this mother-and-daughter partnership has developed our own style concept. It’s called HOBOism. There is no shop or internet store to wear HOBO. The label is your name. The only rule is “enjoy wearing yourself”. (The name HOBO is a take on the great British fashion brand HOBBS).

I ran a competition for HOBOs. Hajar Nadhirah Onn from Malaysia takes the biscuit (or crown). Hajar wears the head covering of her religion with pride, but it has never stopped her expressing her individuality and joie de vivre. She is seen here wearing supercool headphones and a quirky batman mask. When I first knew about her HOBOism, she had a Goth make-up on (read: overdone, smudged kohl), walking around a small town in Malaysia, giving people heart attacks. Way to go, Girl! It delights this old aunty’s heart no end to see this.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 6.15.01 PM

And with the hindsight of experience, I would like to exhort all girls out there to have fun with fashion, rather than let fashion wear you. Wear a tiara/batman mask if you want, dammit, you are worth it.

 

Water safety for teenagers

I told my baby-daddy’s parents that swimming tops my list of life-skills, and that their grandchildren will be in the pool by the end of their first week in the world. It is not only a life-skill, but a life-saving skill.

Being able to swim isn’t enough. Your child has to be a strong swimmer who is aware of the dangers. When I was at school, a couple of my friends drowned because they tried swimming across a narrow stretch of water after missing the last boat home.

G is a fantastically strong swimmer, though she doesn’t think so (which is good). Several years back, our canoe capsized in the dark, in the open sea, and she saved her own life. She could easily swim 50 metres in choppy seas. It gives us some measure of comfort that she knows about rip tides too, and she is sensible about the dangers of the open sea. We are going to Australia for Christmas, and she has researched all the dangers about Australian seas already.

Yesterday, she was fooling around on a yacht; this Saturday she is going out on a yacht with a bunch of teenagers. We just gave her four laws that she must obey: (1) when in open seas, never swim more than 20 metres from the yacht (2) always inform someone if you are swimming in the sea (3) if jet-skiing or water-skiing, you must wear the right lifejacket, which is the one that lifts the head out of the water and (4) do not dive!!!!!

“It is also a social skill,” G smirked. “Many girls can’t swim, or are feeble swimmers, and they just sit around looking pretty and helpless, whilst I have real fun. With the boys.”

Roadmap for raising Gs: https://raisinghappystrongkids.com/2014/08/18/roadmap-for-raising-children/

Across The Counties

Lionheart

Yesterday was officially the end of the British summer as the cold front came in with vengeance. Fierce storms, 70mph winds and driving rain were the forecast, and indeed, when I went out for dinner last night, the roads were relatively quiet as people opted to stay indoors. The forecast this morning was meant to be the same.

Overnight, there had been several fatalities on the road in southern England. This morning, at 6am, there was a massive accident on the M4 at Langley. There was a tailback going back 10 miles.

But over dinner last night, Knight had dared me to do something I have never done before: swim on the River Avon with him.  I have never swam on the Avon with anyone.  What a ridiculous suggestion. Because at the best of times, I hate swimming.  I am a strong swimmer based solely on this very dislike of the water – I swim fast, to get myself out of the water as fast as possible.  But to voluntarily swim on the swollen Avon on the first day of autumn? I must be mad.  Even my normally implacable mother had wailed, “But darling, people have drowned on the Avon!”

But meet Knight’s challenge I must.  After all, isn’t growth all about coming face to face with your inner boundaries, and stepping out of your comfort zone? it’s what keeps us young, as we draw new confidence and new exhilaration from taking the step off our usual daily existence.

So like two misbehaving teenagers, we set off from London at the crack of dawn on this supposedly vicious day to travel to Avon. To our surprise, the sun followed us throughout, with no sign of grey skies or dark clouds, as we drove past the roads of our past. We laughed joyously, and the years melted away.

Whilst at University (though at separate times) we were both members of the Oxford Stunt Factory. I joined, simply because I wanted to go to its Pink Pimms Party in the park after the May Ball. I ended up being catapulted across the river at 3am in the morning, still in my ball gown. After that, I was hooked and became the Club’s fixture.

River Avon is rich in history.  It is 75miles long, slow, meandering, with hidden dangers.  In the past (maybe 5,000BC), when it was young, it was a powerful torrent that the limestone outcrop could not push back. The river gradually wore away at the rock eventually forming the 300 feet deep gorge that is the seaward entrance to the city.

And it was into this river we jumped in, swam briefly, emerged with shivering bodies and chattering teeth, exhilarated, alive.

Warning: Do not attempt this. In April 2014, a man drowned on the same spot on the Avon that we swam in. 

Bristol,_Avon_Gorge_from_Clifton_Down

 

Same view, different eyes

A year after I graduated from Oxford, my family remained in our Oxford house whilst I started work in London. I had to commute. It was a nightmare, but there was no way out. Housing in London (where I wanted to live) has always been exorbitantly expensive, and I was the main breadwinner. We also had lots of children.  So. for almost a year, I had to endure the long commute.  I could not afford to commute by train, because a huge chunk of my salary would have gone to British Rail. The bus would have been too slow. I had no choice but to bike it. My machine was a Ducati Monster, which was a thrill to ride buy quite unreliable.  And it was hellish on winter nights. I just wanted to rush home either to put my kids to bed or to have breakfast with them, depending on my shift.  Life wasn’t easy then.

Thus, I travelled on these roads for over a year without noticing how beautiful they are.  Today, I did.

Avon 2

 

The strength of a nation

Avon 1

Avon and Somerset, Oxfordshire and London. We set off at 6am, and caught the morning sun burning the mists off the grounds in Oxfordshire. We both have great fondness for this county, because Oxford is our alma mater. We had a lot of lovely memories here, punting on the Isis and Cherwell in summer, pubs of St Giles in winter, the higgledy piggledy bookshop on St Giles, friends’ houses in Jericho and summer parties on our colleges’ quads. It was a magical interlude before ‘real’ life began.

We drove on, passing rolling farmlands and pastures, fields ready for winter cereal or those with tall corn already growing. We drove past deer, horses, cows and sheep. The leaves are starting to turn auburn and gold at this time of the year. It is this that deeply binds Englishmen and Englishwomen to our country rather than the glitter and opportunities of the capital. I hope my son will return after his 6 month tour of duty of the Middle East back to his beloved England once more. He promised me he would do his best to come home, and to bring others safely home too. We have one Englishman whose time is running out, a John Cantlie. My son said, it is worth the sacrifice of his own life and others like him to bring John Cantlie home, because all the British men and women involved had gone into this voluntarily, with their eyes wide open, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

“We will never leave one of our own behind, Mum,” my 25 year old Lieutenant said. “It’s not machismo, but a simple ideology.”

My boy is young, passionate, idealistic, fiery and so proud to be English. Someday, he will make a fine leader. But as his mother, I just want him home where he belongs. Here, in England.

Knight touched my hand lightly as we drove into the capital at nightfall. We had driven in silence for the last few miles and I had tears running down my cheeks.

“What I said in my speech just now, though I misquoted slightly, is something you have shown me,” he said. “That you can judge the strength of a nation by the face of its women.”

And through my tears, I smiled for him and my son.

I Don’t Want My Daughter To Be A Fashion Victim

OK, here are the statistics:

The total UK household consumption on clothing and footwear is € 59 billion. To put this figure in perspective, the spending on Education is €16.1 billion whilst Health is a paltry €17.9 billion. The Chinese textile industry creates about 3 billion tons of soot each year. Millions of tons of unused fabric at Chinese mills go to waste each year when dyed the wrong colour. Think about the negative impact.

Yet walk down any high street and you see a dominance of mass-produced clothing shops with happy, frenzied shoppers: Matalan, Primark, Peacock, H&M, Next, Topshop, Uniqlo, to name but a few. In the UK, supermarkets are getting into the scrum as well, with Tesco and Asda churning out their own brand at impossibly low prices. Internet companies too have sprouted from nowhere to push dubious, cut-price fashion into an already over-polluted fashion world. What do these purveyors of mass clothing have in common?

Affordable ‘style’, of course. You could be forgiven for thinking that these value retailers are doing the public a service by striking at the heart of elitism through making couture affordable to the mass market. For research, I popped into Primark in Oxford Street and found that I could afford to dress quite well (in a blatant copy of this season’s catwalk offering) for under €20. Teenagers, even with their limited spending power, can afford to buy a dress a week at Primark prices.

And indeed, they are encouraged to do so by mass advertising campaigns and peer pressure. Venture anywhere in a shopping mall and you will see impossibly glamorous (and heavily airbrushed) models selling the lie that you too could look like this if you part with a mere €20, never mind the genetics and artistic manipulations.

When I was in Monaco in May, the mega yacht of one of the owners of these ‘value retailers’ was in port. It was a blatant advertising of wealth, with a Jacuzzi on the deck and uniformed deckhands polishing the brass late into the evening. The math behind it bothered me a great deal: how many €20 frocks do that particular fashion chain have to sell, in order to keep the gin palace afloat, never mind its purchase price?

I made my 14 year old daughter read this report in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2007/apr/22/clothes.fashion

According to War on Want, “Bargain retailers such as Primark, Asda and Tesco are only able to sell at rock bottom prices in the UK because women workers in Bangladesh are being exploited.”

It’s never attractive to wear clothes that were made off someone’s sweat in inhumane and often dangerous working conditions, whatever the external appearance may be. But this being the real world, women and girls want to look attractive, and since most of us are not blessed with ideal proportions, perfect features and flawless beauty, we aspire to achieve some modicum of that dream through fashion. And who could blame us: our sisters from the pre-historic era had been adorning themselves with bits of bones and stones.

Ladies, hear my plea. Embrace HOBOism. It’s a style concept without a label. It’s fashion without stores (or internet shops). With HOBOism, you wear yourself instead of being a slave to fashion (courtesy of poor women in Bangladesh and other parts of Asia).

HOBOism is a battle cry to women to be comfortable in their skins, to enjoy playing and living, and to express their individuality boldly. It’s sticking two fingers up to the dictates of the fashion czars. It is a reflection of your life, your life.

Note: HOBOism is most emphatically NOT wearing unisex long shorts and shapeless t-shirts.

Examples of my HOBOism

Pyjamas top and jodhpurs at 5am
Pyjamas top and jodhpurs at 5am

I have a functional wardrobe that reflects my lifestyle: mostly old riding boots that are falling apart (but which are oh-so comfortable!) and decades-old, faded warm jackets. And I have a rule: never more than 5 minutes getting ready.

This is an illustration of HOBOism at its best: I went riding last week with a dashing Knight in my pyjamas (because he woke me up at 5am, throwing stones at my window). I hurriedly threw a pair of jodhpurs on but kept the pyjamas top. As we were going for a rather elegant breakfast after the ride, I put on a simple, old, brass tiara and a torn, tatty scarf. Breakfast lingered into lunch, into late afternoon apple-scrumping, before we slowly meandered our way from Lyndhurst to London. Upon arrival at the capital, the Knight invited me for early cocktails at an incredibly glamorous location. A quick change in the ladies transformed the tiara into a glamorous choker and the tatty scarf into a stylish top, and despite still being in my jeans and muddy riding boots, I held my own amongst the well-dressed peacocks. In the process, I won the Knight’s deep admiration for my style and made a rather big impression on him.

From dawn to sunset: tiara and tatty scarf to glamour.
From dawn to sunset: tiara and tatty scarf to high-octane glamour.

And here’s the deal: both the tiara and the scarf are up for grabs. OK, the scarf is torn and tatty, but the tiara is very interesting. It is more than 30 years old, possibly more. Its provenance is probably Welsh, and resembles entwined stalks of the filix-mas. I found it in the attic of my parents’ house years ago.

To win both, email me a photo (or sketch) of an outfit that you think defines the HOBO fashion philosophy. The best entry wins. All entries will be published on my blog: www.raisinghappystrongkids.com

Entries should be emailed to: jk@sunyoga.com by the 17th of October. May the best HOBO win.

HOBOism - you don't have to dress up!
HOBOism – you don’t have to dress up!

 

Sources:
– British Retail Consortium
– National Statitistics Office (on UK business bysector and location)
– University of Southampton on Retail Recruitment and Graduate Schemes
– ‘Retailing in the UK’, by the Euromonitor
– Clothing Retailing in the UK, by Mintel
– Verdict Research: UK Value Clothing Retailers 2009
– British Council of Fashion Industry’s Facts & Figures 2009
– British Lifestyles, by Mintel

 

A Walk Through New Forest, Hampshire

When the children were young, we often went into The Forest to forage and to sketch. Those are my most precious memories of being a mother, and I would gladly have more children just to enjoy the pleasure of teaching them about The Forest again. Today was a blessed day, a trip down memory lane, as I went into The Forest with my parents and my niece.

Warning: do not use this page as reference when foraging for edible mushrooms.  Fungi are terribly complicated because species from the same family could look vastly different, depending on its stage in its lifecycle. Always take advice from an expert. Also, please do excuse my spelling – I am an amateur.

Amanita fulvaf1

 

Boletus edulisf2

Amanita muscariaf3

Amanita pantherinaf4

Lactariusf8

Russula emeticaf9

Amanita citrinaf10

Cantharellus cibarius (chantrelles)f12

Sclerotinia f16

Stereum ostreaf22

Hypoxylonf26

f27

Fistulina hepatica (beef steak)f29

Discomycetesf34

Hydnum repandum (hedgehog)f36

Laccaria laccataf40

Pleurotus ostreatus (oyster mushroom)f42

Outsmaniella nucidaf43Photographs are the copyright of Kate Rhiannon Jones & Jacqueline Koay 2014

Article on the dangers of eating foraged mushrooms:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2778804/Wild-mushroom-foraging-alert-Walkers-warned-dozens-cases-poisoning-far-year.html 

One life, One Love

My mother never fell out of love with my father. He is her only love, the man she left their hometown with, both of them filled with the optimism of the young. He had a high-flying career in many foreign countries whilst she kept the home fires burning. Life had not been that easy or ideal for her, but she always smiled her big, beaming smile that made us all feel loved and important. We have always known that we were very important to her. Though she was a shining star before she fell in love with him, she shone only for him from the moment they met, and not the world. To the rest of the world, she was just an extension of him, the appendage, the stay-at-home wife.

Many modern women would scorn her – she could have been so much more – but she is my inspiration. If I am 1/100th the woman my mother is, I would be honoured. I have always wanted to love only one man, to bear his children (pieces of him), to put all my emotional investment in the family we build together and to grow old with the one I started my journey with. My mother has taught me over many decades that the only true love is one that is tempered by the years and forged in selfless love, and that being in love means waking up with the same person, looking forward to the new day together. My mother taught me too that excitement is seeing the world through the eyes of my children, not through exciting idealised love that does not exist nor last. My mother, my role-model, I believe her.

Of Mothers and Sexuality

My 81 year old aunt took me aside at lunch one fine day, and said to me firmly, “Girl, you need to update your boudoir skills, you have been with the same bedfellow for far too long. It gets stagnant, you know?”

I opened and shut my mouth like a goldfish, for want of something to say. Bedroom advice from an octogenarian? Golly, am I such a sad case?

But she was right. I was becoming complacent, or to self-justify, ‘comfortable’. Lovemaking was still active and regular, but nonetheless comfortable. I am 46 and have had 5 children. A quick mental run through my lingerie drawer revealed sports bras, an assortment of bikinis, cotton blacks and the occasional Santa-inspired ones from Christmas crackers. Fortunately, there are no granny-pants there yet. And no boudoir wear.

Being the obedient sort of person, I decided to obey my aunt. On a recent trip to the Czech Republic, I splurged out on some naughty, classy undies made of Bohemian lace. I still have not worked out the conversion rate, but my purchases ran to four figures, and since it was not Thai or Indonesian paper money I was dealing with, I know the credit card bill will be severe. And the worse thing is, I know too that I would wreck my lavish purchases in a space of a few washes – I still have not mastered the art of laundry, and the washing machine always seems to get the better of me.

But get those frivolities I must, though they are completely out of sync with my life and who I am now.

Because those little pieces of Bohemian lace remind me of my younger self. My younger self would spend my hard-earned cash on Janet Reger and Agent Provocateur. My children’s father was perplexed why he was allowed to rip some knickers off in the heat of passion, whilst others were strictly on a see-no-touch basis. He could never figure labels out.

Oh, I remember the delicious guilt, knowing that in the little bag contained two tiny pairs of lace that cost as much as one riding class at the Hyde Park Barracks for my daughter. And of course, I remember the sensual pleasure of wearing them. It was like a naughty secret.

Like marriage, sex in a long-term relationship needs investment. In an ideal world, love will see you bound to each other for life, even if sex ceases to be exciting after a while, because after a certain age, companionship trumps over a roll in the sack. You look for the connection and the comfort, squeezed in between children’s homework and 6am football practices, and forsake the occasion and the drama. It is beautiful, deep and reassuring, but the other dimension is missing, probably lost forever.

And indeed, over the years, as I aged (and in particular, after suffering from cervical cancer), my mindset shifted towards becoming healthy and functional instead of naughty, sexual, a little irresponsible, coquettish. I am proud of my body, but it is almost in a clinical way. I glorify my taut muscles and toned skin, but I forget that once, there was a playful, sexual being within me. The teenager who seduced the man who would become the father of her children by inviting him to a party that never was, and who wore delicate French lace. In black. Oh, the fun and headiness!  Clothes, or underwear in this case, does maketh one.

It took an 81 year old to remind me of that. Thank you, Auntie.

Undies

Window display at Rigby & Peller, holder of the Royal Warrant. I wonder if the Queen wears this?
Window display at Rigby & Peller, holder of the Royal Warrant. I wonder if the Queen wears this?

Anorexia Kills

I received the sad news that my friend’s 16 year old daughter died of anorexia-related complications. She was 16, pretty, lots to live for, and certainly not fat at all.

Yet she believed she was. And media tells us that women have to be thin to be successful/beautiful. Giorgio Armani used anorexic-looking models this year, for example, the so-called heroin-chic. There are many websites that promote this dangerous propaganda too.

One of G’s friend in her previous school was hospitalized for eating disorders. A 13 year old should not be worried about being fat. Some of the bitchy girls commented behind G’s back that she is fat.

But does G care? Heck, no.

I post a lot about her because one of the things I want to propagate is “healthy and strong is beautiful”. Like her million dollar legs. They are not thin legs, but do you want a thin pair over G’s powerful pair? Girls should be taught to feel empowered by their femininity, not enslaved.

I get infuriated when people compliment me on my ‘slimness’ (especially in Asia). No, I don’t aim to be slim. In certain stages of my life, I was unfortunately slim because I was bereaved, or I was going through chemo, or I could not eat. There is nothing to celebrate, yet that farking word “slim” is so celebrated in Asia. Please think, and use that word responsibly. Don’t propagate the slim culture, because at best, it will give girls stupid useless targets to aim for; at worse, it kills.

Beauty is an inner thing.

Raising self-sufficient kids

My mother always made excuses for me to absolve me from doing chores and even from thinking.  She always had the perfect excuse: I had homework to do, I was tired, it was faster if she did it herself anyway and a whole host of other excuses, when it came to washing up, taking the rubbish out, cleaning my own room, right down to fetching myself a cup of tea. In her simple, generous and selfless mind, I always had other more important things to do.  I was going to be an important person in the future, destined for greater things, and thus, my every moment should not be wasted on menial tasks and mundane things.

It may sound idyllic, but my mother had robbed me of learning opportunities. I never learned to be self-sufficient. All I needed to do was use my voice.

The career paths I had chosen did not help me either. From my twenties onwards (apart from my short PhD years), I had nurses, secretaries and maids running at my every bidding. I always had people to file things away, sweep up my crumbs, wash up after me, run my errands, open jars and load syringes. As I grew older, I morphed from a pampered kid into an arrogant adult who hid her insufficiencies behind her successes. My excuse – nay, make that self-justification – was, I was earning a six figure salary, why should I know how to change car tyres? I needed hired help, to free me to do the ‘more important’ things in life, such as playing with my children, cooking wholesome food, reading, partying.  That was all good at the headline level, but filter that down to day-to-day living, it became a crippling shortcoming. Examples: because I no longer have a personal assistant, I have missed the same flight three times in the week, I am always going overdrawn in my accounts because I am bad at keeping track on my spendings, I do not know how to operate household appliances, I leave my kitchen mess for others to tidy up, I can never find my own things … need I go on?

In the beginning, I tried on this ruling class mentality with my children’s father, but got nowhere. He was the only one who was not prepared to jump over hoops at my bidding. Indeed, I often credit him for teaching me life’s lessons, including one in self-sufficiency.

Kicking and screaming, he had dragged me into the real world. I had learned how to change fuses and clean our house (on the first night I slept over! I am still reeling with shock about it). But almost thirty years of unsympathetic lessons from this taskmaster, I still have the occasional bad habit, like handing a banana on auto-pilot for him to peel.

I arrived home in England and all the old-time bad habits surfaced once more. My passport. It was out of date. Can you imagine, I managed to get through immigration with an out-of-date passport, but fortunately, Border Control in the UK side allowed me in. My family’s office scrambled into action.  The appropriate forms were miraculously pushed into my hands, appointment for Priority Service made, proxy letter written and printed (for someone to go and get my new passport), directions to the local photographer given … all I had to do is walk the 200metres to the photo shop.

But see the post-it stickers? Yes, I am that incapable.

And having learned from the previous generation’s mistake, my girls were brought up very differently. Oh yes, their father made sure of that.  Despite her delicacy, Kat could change car tyres and U-tubes (kitchen sink). Despite her lack of domesticity, G could fix herself a nutritious meal and self-medicate (at 14!). And even though she spends a lot of time on the football field, she stays on top of her schoolwork with zero interference from us. As she often comments, “I brought myself up.” That’s what happens when you have a mother with a disability in the real-life department.

10626604_430910057049659_1422669222916429186_n