Category Archives: Childhood

New money: pound for pound

new pound coinI like new coins.

Some time in June 1982, I got change from a shop that included shiny new 20p coins.

The design was like nothing I’d ever seen before in British money – heptagonal like a 50p piece but much smaller and lighter (the new light 5p and 10p coins were not to appear for another 10 years, and the lighter 50p coins not for five years after that).

I recognised it instantly as a British coin, but a new coin for a different value. I liked it. (I had a similar feeling when the £2 coins first appeared in 1998.) And in 1982, I had had no idea that 20p coins were about to be a thing.

Today, 28th March, new £1 coins appear: dodecagons. We haven’t had dodecagon currency since the thruppeny bit was discontinued in 1971.
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Borders Railway

Borders Railway UnwrappedYesterday, on Saturday 5th September, I took a train from Waverley to Tweedbank: today you can too, for £11.20: the whole trip from the centre of Edinburgh to Tweedbank in the Borders will take you 57 minutes.

A few months ago I was sitting on a bus and an advert popped up on my tablet: 35 Golden Ticket winners and their guests could win a Golden Ticket and be the first passengers to travel from Edinburgh to the Borders by the new Scottish Borders railway: just say why you want to go, in 50 words or less.

For about five years – I think from when I was about six to sometime before my 12th birthday – my parents rented a cottage in the Borders from the Buccleuch Estates. The rent was £5 a year, and the cottage had running water (which had to be turned off in the autumn, before the first frost led to burst pipes) but the only means of heating the water was to have a fire in the hearth in the living-room.
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Magnetic Girls Talk

If you’ve gone anywhere near the Internet in the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen a mocking reference to the pink/purple Bic “pens for HER”. They even made Newsround.

Via Angry Black Lady Chronicles:

  • Before I bought this product I couldn’t write but now I’m an engineer. Mind you, I only design pink, flowery bridges, motorways and sewers. Blue ones would be wrong wouldn’t they.
  • I think this is what they call “product failure.” Gendered razors I get. What woman doesn’t enjoy a nice shaving strip while scraping the hair off their legs? But pink gendered pens? Come on, son. Either come at me with a ribbed-for-her-pleasure pen, or don’t come at me at all. Pink alone ain’t gettin’ it done, IYKWIMAITYD.

Crates and Ribbons also adds pics from Early Learning of their gendered toys, and points out:

Children aren’t born knowing what is expected of their gender. Boys aren’t born believing that it’s shameful to be a girl. Through the toys that we make for them and the messages that we send them, they are taught about their roles and status every day. And when they grow up, they will pass it on to their children in their turn, unless we make an effort to end this cycle and make gender roles a thing of the past.

This kind of thing amuses me and infuriates me in almost equal measure, especially when it comes to childhood favourites like Lego. When the Lego Group knows from its own research that at least 38% of their potential market is girls, and yet they refuse to market real Lego kits to girls because their marketing managers “know” that girls like dolls, not building things, something is deeply wrong. It takes a huge kind of processing error to ignore your own research and act surprised at falling sales.
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Lego: Sexism Trumps Capitalism

If you’re interested in Lego, you can skip the first 10 minutes of this promotional video, which is a rather dull little film about a Danish family of carpenters and toymakers.

In or about 1980, Lego stopped trying to market itself as a toy suitable for both girls and boys to build with, and started to aim itself purely at boys.

Twenty years later:

“The biggest issue we had was in early 2000 where we were actually losing money, coming out of 30 years of constant growth and constant profit growth,” [Poul Schou, senior vice president of Lego product group 2] said. “Then suddenly in 2000 to 2003 we were faced with a number of difficult years. And I think the biggest mistake, the biggest challenge we had at that time was that we actually lost our interest in boys in our core group.”

Pure capitalism would say “Gosh, we used to sell Lego to girls and boys. Now we’ve been trying to cut out our sales to girls for 20 years – just long enough for a whole generation of children to grow up knowing that Lego is for boys – and our sales are down! Maybe we should stop trying to cut our market by 50% and sell to all children, just like we used to!”
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Sporty kids aren’t bullied

Between twelve and sixteen I was a junior member of the British Sub-Aqua Club. We met at Portobello swimming pool – back when there was a salt-water pool. For years, every Monday night, I spent a couple of hours learning how to swim underwater with a snorkel and mask and fins. I played underwater hockey. We did a week up on Skye where we learned how to dive off a boat, and wear wetsuits, and knife discipline.

All divers carry knives, because you may get tangled in seaweed or a net: knife discipline was the senior instructor informing us, in a tone that made clear he meant what he said, that we were each being issued with a knife, that this knife was to stay in its sheath, that if any of us ever EVER took the knife out of its sheath without a good reason or above water AT ALL or were seen messing about with it, that was IT, the kid who did it was never going back in the water again. A dozen teenage boys and two girls listened with awed attention and you better believe that we never did. (That I still remember that lecture thirty years later – he was memorable.)

I loved it, and I was good at it. Women have a slight genetic edge over men in learning how to dive and to swim in cold water, but I mention this just for the sake of smugness: most of it is training. I loved being able to use my fins to zip through the water like a fish. I loved being able to see underwater. Snorkelling was great. I had huge confidence in the water and would have liked to learn how to use an aqualung. It was an entirely new experience for me when the other kids started demanding to be on my team when we played underwater hockey, because my team usually won.
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This strange thing happens to my city every year

My parents never used to throw anything away. Sometime in 1982 I found an Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme from 1964, tucked into a box with a lot of other theatre trivia, and what startled me wasn’t finding a thing like that from before I was born: it was the size. Obviously meant to double as a wall-planner, the programme had been folded out of an A3 glossy sheet of paper: it was a calendar for the three weeks of the Fringe, which then ran concurrently with the Festival, and every show and venue was listed on it. I mean the whole thing fitted on to one side of A3 paper. Twenty years later, supposing that anyone had wanted to print such a thing, you could not have fitted one day on to a side of A3.

I’ve lived in Edinburgh for most of my life, and so for most of my childhood it did not occur to me that there was anything strange about how, every August for three weeks, the city blossomed with theatrical performances. That was just what people did in August, it seemed to me: either stage a show or go to see one.

In the 1970s and 1980s, tickets were cheap, concessions were half-price, and some venues that couldn’t get fire insurance or proper seating dealt with this by offering free shows, entry by donation.

Lavender Menace, Scotland’s first queer bookshop, did some magnificently silly readings of lesbian and gay romances to the tiny audiences that could fit into its basement home on Forth Street; when it moved to a larger venue on Dundas Street, that was where I first heard David Benson “do” Kenneth Williams, and heard Armistead Maupin read from Tales of the City before he was famous.
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Our constitution, July 2012: Cultural Rights

The British are second only to Americans in being the kind of foreigner who is an international stereotype for never understanding any language but English. (An English secretary, who understood French pretty well, travelling with her boss, who spoke only English, took advantage of the situation to eavesdrop on the English company’s competitors discussing the terms of the deal in French, sure that neither boss nor secretary could understand them. True story.) Still, the stereotype holds up alarmingly well: over two-thirds of the UK population are English-speaking monoglots: and thanks to Doctor Who and Star Trek, this is practically an interstellar stereotype.

“To create a constitutional order that reflects a broad public commitment to a more inclusive, egalitarian, and communitarian way, and to mark Scotland out as a ‘progressive beacon’, the following additional provisions might be considered:”
1. Enhanced constitutional rights (c) Cultural rights (ie for Gaelic, Scots)

Cultural rights isn’t just language, of course, but language is likely to be the most contentious of the cultural rights issue, both by those who take for granted it should be English and those arguing for Gaelic and/or Scots.

More and more the international festivals in Edinburgh in August seem primarily for tourists – the days are long past when you could get home from work, decide you felt like going out to a show, and pick something from the Fringe programme that was handy to get to and would cost a fiver or less for an hour or two – and when concessions for students, under-16s, unemployed, and pensioners meant half-price, not “so we’ll knock a quid off the £12 or more we’ll be charging you”. But once upon a time that was do-able: when I was reading Hamlet for Higher English I could and did go to all the perfomances one year on the Fringe, and it didn’t cost my parents their life savings the way it would if an enthusiastic schoolkid got the idea of doing that this year. We should keep the Scottish BBC funded by licence fee. We should be investing in written and spoken Scottish culture.

I also liked Kenneth Roy’s trenchant finish to his three-part dissection of the current state of Scottish newspapers in the Review, earlier this year:

The Scotsman needs to win back all the broadsheet people – the ones who take those decisions, the others who influence them – and move out from there to the idealists and teachers and artists, the many thousands of us who are alienated by the state of our mainstream media. We are there for the taking. We wait for something better. We long for it every day.
Can this be done by the Johnston Press? Clearly not. They talk not of newspapers, but of products. They have failed journalism and they have failed journalists. Their grave is fit only to be danced on. I suggest the Eightsome Reel. I issue this challenge to the wealthy patriots of Scotland, of whom there are many. Get out there, form your consortium, convince us of your honourable motives, and make a reasonable offer to this lot’s bankers to take a great newspaper out of their hands. Better still, let’s have a trust along the lines of the Guardian’s, safeguarding the paper’s interests and supported by all who care about Scotland.

But what language is our culture? Continue reading

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