Hello, Goodbye

It’s Thursday night and we’re printing out memorial sheets for the service tomorrow. Some of you will know (but not many as I’ve been unable to actually speak about it to more than a few) that K’s Mum, Marnie’s beloved Gran and my not so wicked Mother In Law is gone, she left us last Thursday. She had cancer, she was so ill, in true tradition of me, I chose to ignore that and convinced myself she would get better, a family can’t survive without it’s backbone.

Last Friday I walked around lost, not really knowing what the point to life is now – a spare room with no one to stay. 500 plants and 600 cats that now have no home. A woman that was cut so cruelly at her prime, just when she was starting to really find her independence and confidence, she was truly finally enjoying her life. A person that I can’t believe will not be a part of not only Marnie’s growing up but also my own. Our family is gone.

I’m not going to lie and say our relationship was always easy, I didn’t really know her properly until Marnie was almost here and her opinions were strong. Tired, disorientated me was always on the back foot and I spent a lot of our early years feeling totally dominated by a matriarchal mother of 3 boys that didn’t really understand me – a surprise, full time working new mother, in a job that’s really freaking hard, that I had no choice but to go back to months after birth because I had a mortgage to pay. Doesn’t mean I didn’t love her though and as the years passed we began to understand, respect and love each other little by little. She’s a struggler, she dragged herself through her life which wasn’t easy as a single Mum of 3 but somehow always managed to provide everything needed through her own self sacrifice, hard work and limitless love. I never once heard her moan about her lot, never once did she say she regretted things and wished them different.

Thursday was Gran day so it’s somewhat fitting that that’s the day she chose to leave us. K and I coined a phrase for Gran’s Thursday visits due to her eagerness to help around the house which wasn’t always successful, “the help that doesn’t help”. Things would be rearranged so you couldn’t find them, she would seemingly spend all day doing chores, only to present us when we got home with a massive, useless pile of ironed pants and socks (ironing was her favourite job whilst watching CSI all day) and would try and make us a nice hot meal, forgetting that vegetables were a major part of any diet and thinking that mountains of salt were. She was so eager to make our lives any easier if she could, she loved having Marnie to stay in Largs to give us a break and Marnie loved staying with her, she just would have done anything we needed at her sacrifice, no questions asked. It was a god send knowing she was there and that it made her day to be able to help us out in any way she could.

Last year she was diagnosed with blood cancer, a ferocious beast at best but really not so good when you’re of a certain age, she fought and took all her treatment in good humour. Unfortunately in early December the cancer really took a turn for the worse and she was admitted to the Beatson after staying with us for the weekend of Etsy Made Local. She was in such a state and I will feel forever guilty that we never noticed. They pumped her with chemo and patched her up to some resemblance of the Gran we once knew. They massaged and pampered her back to health and she was lifted by regular visits from her walking group friends. Christmas was spent in the Beatson where things really were starting to look hairy and this was to be the repeat exhausting pattern for the next few months, well for a bit and being allowed home, followed by a catastrophic dive and rush back to hospital. Still rather naively I thought it would all work out OK.

Last week we received the call to say that was it – say your goodbyes – the end. Still I didn’t believe it, someone that strong will surely survive. Everyone was at the hospital, I caught the train to Inverclyde after dropping Marnie at school to say my farewell. I didn’t make it in time, I was 20 minutes late, K met me at the station to tell me she had gone. My world imploded, I shall miss her dearly.

From the biggest branch to the smallest leaf

Those of you who are my friends on Facebook will know about my strange Ebay discovery a while back- an old postcard sent to my grandparents in 1936 from a lady called Rose. I was freaked out and excited at the same time to find it – how on earth did it end up for sale on a international marketplace and also how did I manage to discover it amongst the (actual stat) one billion things on Ebay?

It’s got me thinking about family and who I am. Why do I love vintage and nostalgia so much? The fact I was searching for the postcard in the first place proves I am 1000% my Grandad’s Granddaughter. He was an expert treasure hunter (or toot collector as it’s known by some people, like my Mum).

He loved finding things on the street, going to jumble sales and discovering bargains in junk shops. Grandad made up for lack of monetary riches with a wealth of generosity. He always put up a Christmas tree with little presents hanging for the kids who lived on the road where members of my family lived in Leytonstone. The tree was filled with little bits, some second hand, some from the bargain shop, but everyone got a gift. On this tree there were always special presents for my cousin Surindar, my little sister Amber and myself to be given first, things he had singled out for his girls, special finds. I still have a very ornate precious vintage dressing table set he gifted from a junk shop, a 1940s rubber doll who came from a jumble sale called Pat, she was one of my favourites growing up despite being sooooo old fashioned and also a tin of beads he had collected over time from the streets of East London. That was my first business venture, making bracelets from those beads, I still have loads of them left, too special to sell. Nothing was worth much money or had cost a lot, he didn’t have a lot, but it’s all worth a million dollars compared to the contrasting, overly extravagant gifts we exchange these days. 

When he died, we found in the box room of my Grandparents small terrace house, boxes of presents waiting for people. It didn’t need to be a special occasion, he was just excited to make people happy any day of the year. He was a lovely, kind, warm and generous man.

I’m not crediting myself with having inherited any of these noble qualities from him but the treasure hunter gene is one I most definitely have. I wonder if he would have liked a shop of his own, nevertheless there is a lot of him is in my wee shop. If he was still alive I think he would have enjoyed helping me find the stuff I sell, it’s kind of a joint business even if he’s not here anymore, his impact is so strong. My love of vintage, nostalgia and hatred of our wasteful culture has definitely come directly from his influence. I have so much sentiment in me and that’s all come from him.

My store recently has had some lovely stories of precious items reunited with the person they are meant to be with. I sent a stuffed monkey to a lady in California who had lost all her worldly possessions in the wildfires. The start of her rebuilding her life was when she found a replacement of her precious favourite toy in my shop. Many people buy my vintage ornaments and trinkets because they remember them from their childhood, many are also bought as replacements for broken sentimental treasures. I thank all of my customers who take the time to write to me these stories of where the items I sell are ending up and how much they mean to the people they are gifted to. I love the fact that I play a part in helping something previously unloved on it’s journey to the right person, talking of which let’s get back to the postcards that clearly belong with me…

The Ebay listing never showed the front’s of the cards, there was just a picture of the back , they were being sold for genealogy purposes not sentimental. I was so excited for them to arrive. The front would clear up maybe who Rose was and why she was writing to my Grandparents. So now I can reveal….. the postcards fronts…..

It’s amazing to have them back in my possession, back where they belong. Another treasure discovered, but for once these ones belong with me. 

Atonement

On Saturday afternoon we went to Margate. Marnie is obsessed with crabbing so we went to the harbour shore to fill her bucket with water. It was windy but sunny, the beach was packed. Kevvy pointed out a pile of various lost toys and balls stolen by the wind bashing against the concrete wall. He wanted a brightly coloured beachball, I told him he’d be mad to go out and get it, the mud is deadly. We stood checking on Marnie as she got her water – there was a body lying less than a hundred metres from us but somehow we didn’t notice it. I guess you just don’t see these things if you’re not expecting to. The person was making no noise, there was no struggle, they must have already been unconscious. We went up on the harbour wall, (now directly above the body). We attempted to cast our net out in the wind, still not noticing the person in trouble below us.

Then a man ran into the water, I thought he was drunk, playing around – then I saw the body, he was panicking, crying for help. A jet ski pulled up, they started performing CPR. We tried to get Marnie off the pier without her seeing anything. I was in shock, we retreated as the crowds ran gorily towards the unfolding scene. I cried – as much for the lack of humanity being shown by the public as they lapped up the drama eagerly, as I did for the person in trouble. I met a lady, she comforted me and we talked about how insensitive people were being. By this point I was really upset by everything going on around me. The emergency services turned up on masse. My mum made me sit down and rubbed my back as I sobbed. Eventually they managed to get the body on a stretcher, the ambulance was right down on the mud, sirens on and they were away.

We carried on with our day, the person was still alive, they were going to be ok, they were on their way to hospital, best place for them I was told. We went to the shops, had a pint, went to a concert. I met the nice lady from the beach in the toilet at Dreamland, we were happy that the person had seemed ok.

The next day we woke up to find out she had died. She was 6.


I know it isn’t my fault I didn’t see her lying there but I will feel eternal guilt. I will always wonder if she still be here if we’d noticed her. I apologise to her parents, family and friends for not seeing her body in front of me. I am deeply sorry for your loss.

Living a frightened life

Today seems appropriate to write a post that I never thought I would write, I may delete it 30 seconds after I’ve published or I maybe not, we shall see!

Most people won’t know that I’ve suffered from depression for most of my adult life, I never talk about this, I never have done really, you probably think I’m just weird or kooky, maybe eccentric, stand-offish, moody or just quiet and awkwardly shy. Some people just don’t like me, I think they think I’m a twat, but they just don’t know me, I guess they may start to see me now.

I hide it well, only the people who’ve been on the frontline would know and that’s not very many. I can normally function by keeping people mostly at a safe distance because it’s easier to let people not understand me, than have to expose what I really am hiding. I exist in the perimeters of most people’s lives, never fully there, not always available, distant, I’m probably very frustrating to most of my friends. I’m not gregarious, I’m awkward and uncomfortable in almost all social situations that involve more than a handful of people I don’t know. I crave routine, despite finding the discipline to stick to it almost impossible. I need to feel secure and acknowledged to be able to function normally but by being so awkward I tend to push people away. When Robin Williams died and everyone “started talking about mental health” it was the worst thing ever for me. I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to wear it as a badge of pride, I’m so sorry for myself that this has been my adult life. I’m well at the moment but am always wondering when is it coming back, it will do and I’m constantly aware of that. It truly is a dark shadow hanging over the happy times as well as the sad.

I had my first breakdown when I was 17, my last around 5 years ago, I have attempted to end it, disappeared (mostly only for hours before my return) but I have plotted and planned many escapes to far off places of peace. My parents have never really wanted to talk about it ever since I first attempted “something stupid”, they suggested therapy they didn’t want to medicate me, I guess they just wanted it to go away, they watched me and checked I was OK and slowly I came out the other side, not unscathed but alive. I’ve been mostly well for the past 2.5 years, sometimes drinking can make me sink, I try to drink beer and not wine for this very reason but mostly I’ve been good, a few wobbles but currently life feels great and I feel positive.

I find it difficult to live in a world that is just so horrible whilst being so sensitive myself. I can’t stand to see people being so cruel to one another. The thought that I can never make the world change is unbearable, the fact that it will probably get worse throughout my lifetime is unspeakable. It makes me anxious and anxiety is one of my problems. As I’ve grown older I’m learning to live with the fact that I can’t do or change everything, it’s just not possible. I have to realise that the small things I do, do make a difference. My brain is ticking over all the time, presenting me with images of who I really wish I was, but of course you will never live up to these self imposed, perceived expectations of yourself, you have to be you, there’s no escape.

Thankfully most people will never understand my ill world, a world where you start to look at things differently, to see all the beautiful things around you as a temptation – a river, the view from a window, a cascading waterfall, the seaside, just crossing the road can be a challenge to make it to the other side. To give you an insight, today I’m off to a amazing friends wedding, it’s on the banks of a Loch and I’m going by myself , which triggers my first red warning light. I also don’t know too many people there, but really it should be a great day seeing my friend marry her love. Even though I’m well, I’ve taken precautions. I will be careful with what I drink, some beers, nothing that could push me over the edge. I have made a list for myself and saved as the wallpaper on my phone of reasons to carry on – the fact that I owe my best friend J a curry next week, my daughter and new baby nephew need me for cuddles, I haven’t given Lynne her birthday present yet, work is exciting and I’m enjoying my projects, I haven’t baked a cake in my new oven yet and my school kid mentee is expecting me at 3.10 on the dot to be waiting for him in reception for our weekly meet. Hopefully this will help to keep any silly thoughts at bay, I tend not to do so well at these kind of occasions. I may have to ask someone to babysit me so that I don’t break away from the crowd, and this is me in a period of wellness.

My midlife crisis wasn’t about buying a sports car, it was about what my life could have been if I hadn’t ever had this, hadn’t fucked up nearly every relationship (and some friendships), hadn’t sat at my desk for most of my 20’s (and a lot of my 30’s) using work as an emotional crutch, had taken care of my appearance and my health, hadn’t been so reckless with money and just generally cared for and about myself. I’ve been so negligent of me (and therefore those close to me).

I truly feel sad about what has happened to Scott, he was playing in work the other day, I stopped to watch. I never knew then that he would inspire me to write this piece, to be honest about myself, to do the thing I don’t like to do, to talk about “it”. Although I understand full well what has happened to him, it has scared me. I’m content at the moment, I truly don’t want to die. Sometimes when someone does what he did, it can seem quite inspiring if you are in the wrong place. Robin Williams’ death was quite an accelerant for me, I don’t feel that now, I just feel so dreadfully sad for Scott and his family and friends, the fact that I’ve nearly done the same to mine on many occasions seems distant.

It’s a tough choice – the thought of living in this crazy, mad cruel world under these dark shadows for many years to come, never being normal, alone in a crowded room or divine peace, never to cry again but also never to achieve your potential, which may actually one day include some happiness, acceptance and joy. It’s a tough choice when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, when the world is too much, when you’ve given up on everything including your future. It’s a sad choice and I wish no-one ever had to make that decision between their own life and death in this way, it’s so unfair to have to battle your way through your time on this earth. For now I chose life, I hope I will remember that I’ve made that choice and it indeed continues to be true for many years to come, I really hope you all do too, try to remember the world’s a much better place with you all in it.

Footnote

I’ve never done this myself but I’m going to leave this here as it seems like the responsible thing to do.

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14.

Climate Change

Hopefully we all do as much as we can at home to preserve the environment – multiple kinds of recycling, donating things we’ve outgrown to the charity shop and repairing things instead of just binning them. This year I’ve started to think more about these issues and how they relate to my responsibility as a seller. Before I ramped up my Etsy this time last year, I always reused branded boxes for my orders as I didn’t need too many, but as demand became higher and I felt like I needed to up my game I bought some nice plain white ones for my shop, and as has as always been my business philosophy (until now) the cheaper the better – maximum profit is my goal otherwise what’s the point of having a business.

I closed my Illustration shop straight after EML for a wee while to rethink my overall strategy. Improving my shops environmental footprint and ethics is one of the key elements I want to address. My greetings cards have always been printed on white inkjet card bought in bulk cheaply, with non sustainable inks because vegetable ones are expensive, envelopes are not made of recycled paper and then they are put in non-biodegradable cellos and a board back envelope. That’s a huge amount of non-ethical things all going into the production of one tiny card. I have been toying about how to make my products more responsible and my timing couldn’t be better.

My studio buddy Lynne has started a Social Enterprise called Re:Craft. Re:Craft is an arts and crafts materials reuse and recycling shop based in our studio. Lynne accepts donations of second hand, part used arts and crafts materials. Re:Craft also takes dry recycling items such as wine corks, cardboard tubes, tin cans etc. they are then resold at reasonable prices. It’s a brilliant iniative that’s going so well and guess what Re:Craft also stocks? – used packaging materials. Re:Craft has made me think about my business, not only products which I’m working on but also how I wrap and present my orders.

It’s important that things from my vintage shop arrive unscathed but why can’t the packaging be reused. Can my customers begin to understand why things may not look so pretty, it’s not because I don’t care, it’s because I REALLY CARE. Surely I just have to let people know why I’m doing it and then they’ll understand. With that in mind I’ve designed some simple stickers to pop on my boxes letting people know why they are receiving an order in a reused box. Hopefully there will not be any reduction of satisfaction in the experience of buying from my shop and customers still feel their order is special and considered.

I’m not going to be able to totally ditch the packaging yet, we have a physical shop and things need some protection when displayed on the shelves but this year I’m going to work on not only order packing but also my actual products. I guess that’s happens when you grow up in business, money is not the sole thing that matters, being true to yourself is much more important. The caring aspect is a key thing that makes you different from all the big boys. Do things have to be more expensive, well yes unfortunately that is probably going to be true, but hopefully my customers will understand why and will support me in this transition.

Reusing old box rules

Find all old address labels, bar Codes etc on the box and use a permanent dark coloured marker to completely black out all bar codes and labels.

Check that the box is still solid and not torn or crumpled, check the packing tape is strong enough to hold.

Pack your items well and secure the box properly. Place your new shipping label over the old, blacked-out address.

Download the printable sticker sheet here to use on your own reused packages to let people know you are saving the earth by reusing a box.

Download to print sticker sheet here

And follow Re:Craft here to keep up to date 

My International Women’s Day Inspiration

My International Women’s Day Inspiration are the Dagenham Women. I was born in Dagenham and my Mum worked at the Ford Motor Plant before I was born. She was there around the time of the passing of the Equal Pay Act 1970 which came into force in 1975, which aimed to prohibit inequality of treatment between men and women in terms of pay and conditions of employment. My Mum and subsequent generations of women have benefited from the tireless campaigning of Rose Boland, Eileen Pullen, Vera Sime, Gwen Davis, and Sheila Douglass. I now find myself working in a very male dominated industry so I appreciate even more and personally benefit from what they fought for – A law makes it illegal to have separate pay scales for men and women based on their sex. I would not be where I am today without them paving the way for my generation of women to be able to go out and work under the same conditions as men.

Women sewing machinists at the Ford Motor Company plant in Dagenham took strike action on 7 June, 1968 in support of a claim for regrading, parity with their male colleagues in the C pay grade and recognition of their skills. After 3 weeks on strike they settled for 92% of the C grade rate. Although not an equal pay strike, the strike was given a high profile when the whole plant was closed and Barbara Castle, the Employment Minister, was brought in to help negotiate a settlement.The women left to right: Olive, Ann, Chris, Joyce, Vi, shop steward Rose Boland, Joan and MadgeJuly 1968

MCR Pathways journey begins

Last week I completed my training as a MCR pathways mentor and tomorrow I go to my school in Shettleston to meet my teenage mentee for the first time. We will be meeting for an hour every week, for at least the next 2 years. It’s my chance to give something back. I have spent most of my life sitting in a chair making shapes move and although I’m incredibly proud of my job and still feel so excited when I see something I’ve done or my name on television, at the end of the day it’s not going to change the world.

During the summer K and I helped Marnie with a wee stall at the 25th anniversary of her Afterschool Club where she sold badges she had designed to raise money for WWF. The pitch next to us was an MCR pathways information table. K and I got talking to the lovely lady and we both expressed interest. After the fete I just got back into the normal routine of the week, but with it always in the back of my mind that I really wanted to take part in the scheme. I asked my boss who was OK with me shifting my hours a little to accommodate the weekly visit to school, but with Etsy Made Local looming, I didn’t feel it was right to take anything else on.
Unfortunately EML this year left me with an empty feeling. We did a survey, some people still weren’t happy, it’s too cold, the venue isn’t big enough, they didn’t think we should have a stall despite the months of unpaid work it takes to put it on ( yes it’s time to start again next month “IF” we are doing it again this year, boo hoo! ). I was so tired, broken physically and disillusioned, there is no real feeling of pride, just relief it’s all over without much incidence for another year and I can sit and watch a telly programme without having to make endless lists or answer emails at the same time.
This lack of any feeling, apart from the fact that I had wasted a huge chunk of my year, prompted me to fast track my pathways training, get my PVG and do something that really helps me to focus on the positive things I achieve, not let myself be dragged down by the couple of negative comments and the best bit is that I get to help someone else along the way. Being oversensitive is truly one of my worst traits, I don’t take criticism well but hopefully being a mentor will let me see life from another perspective, help myself rise up from the fire, start getting on with things and stop moping about.

A wee bit about MCR pathways

In Glasgow, our most disadvantaged young people are five times more likely to leave school aged 16 or earlier and less than half progress to a job, college or university place. It is a shocking situation but one that we can and will change across the city and across the country. It is no surprise that while care experienced young people have great potential, they struggle to thrive due to instability in their personal lives. They often don’t have positive adult role models to build aspirations or access to social networks that can introduce them to the workplace.

At MCR, we know that there is amazing potential and talent in our young people. Varied, unique and inspiring in every single one. But for many, that potential has yet to be discovered. Life experience has knocked the confidence out of some, firmly locking away those seeds of flair and hope. It is our aim to uncover, nurture, develop and help to realise the skills and capabilities in looked after young people. We know that each person has a specific set of abilities and passions and we want to see them flourish. We support looked after young people practically. Guiding them on pathways to education, employment and fulfilling lives.

I’m so looking forward to starting tomorrow and to meet my child. I know it’s not going to be an easy journey, but it’s something I’m ready for and am excited to take part in. Hopefully it will help me put stuff into perspective and push me into getting on with the challenges of the year ahead.

 

To find out more about being a mentor yourself visit  MCR pathways website here>>  MCR mentors come from every walk of life, age group and type of organisation. Over 40% are male helping young people who lack a male role model. There are as many under 35 years of age as over 65, with the majority at the peak of their careers. Every profession and job is represented.

A post for my childhood friends

Yesterday my old school friend Karen died and we are all gutted. I hadn’t seen her in years but we all reconnected a few years back on Facebook and had a reunion over the holidays. Sadly she didn’t come to this one. She would always be the first to virtually congratulate, commiserate or send love to any of us if needed, she was a truly caring and lovely person. This is not going to be a sad post, although this post is obviously inspired by the saddest of events and I offer my deepest sorrow to her husband and three beloved children. This post is to celebrate childhood friendships and how lucky I was to recently catch up with my oldest ( in years known and not their actual age) buddy’s again.

Over Christmas we caught up over a drink at the local pub, for some of us it’s 30 years since we’ve seen each other. It’s weird how the friendship bond between us all is still there, never broken, just dormant for a few years. It was great to laugh together, complete stories and memories that have had missing pieces for years, make plans for the future and generally enjoy being adults together.

Most of the guys I’ve know since I was 5, some before. It’s amazing to meet up with people you haven’t seen in decades and realise we can still enjoy hanging out. We have all most definitely had a lot happened in our lives since our school days, there’s huge chunks of time to catch up on – which we did, but we also enjoyed the comfort of remembering being small together. There’s only a very select amount of people in this world you can share memories of fish paste sandwiches, Princess Diana’s wedding, a strange man in the woods, arguing over who will be George Michael’s wife, British bulldog injuries and the “Order of the Desk” whilst having a beer.

That’s what makes school friends special, you get to know them as children when life is so much simpler, when you think that you’re going to make a fortune with your rose petal perfume company and marry Phillip Schofield and live in the country. You try your best to beat them in races at sportsday, win first prize in the drawing competition, cheat at pass the parcel so you get the prize, ruthlessly push each other out the way vying for the attention of the school heart throb, but at the end of the day none of that matters, you’re never going to fall out over it. Instead of talking about what’s wrong with the world you talk about Star Wars, Aha, Strawberry Shortcake and Garfield, and your favourite restaurant is the Happy Eater.

Seeing my friends again has made me remember that having crazy hopes and dreams for this world is good for the soul and Karen’s death has reminded me that life is so short. At the beginning of the year Karen was taking part in a pass it forward scheme to bring even more kindness to the world than she already did. I hope my friends and I can take on that legacy and complete the challenge for her.

Despite our bad news  I look forward to our future now we are back in touch- Sara and I may not be developing that rose petal perfume company we started when we were little (but to be honest it was pretty hmmm) but my friend Sarah and I have vowed to open a pub at home together, we are determined. We’re still dreaming together but maybe this time we’ll make it come true, there’ll most definitely be space for everyone at the bar and Karen will always be remembered as the girl in the red shoes.