Peter Matthiessen

Once, someone lent me a copy of Peter Matthiessen’s Snow Leopard. And I can honestly say it’s a book that changed my life.  It made me look at the world in a different way, and see it as a bit more beautiful.

“The concept of conservation is a far truer sign of civilization than that spoilation of a continent which we once confused with progress.” 
― Peter MatthiessenWildlife in America

Since reading that book, I’ve read others by Matthiessen.  His writing is lyrical and thoughtful, and I found odd phrases that stayed with me for a long time. Birds of Heaven, his 2001 love letter to cranes is enough to make anyone want to work in bird conservation. Which is what I do, and it made me feel happy, and proud, and like I’m not doing enough.

Peter Matthiessen died on the weekend. The New York Times published a brilliant profile of him just before he died (the photo is from that piece). What a life.  What a man.  If you haven’t read his books – do – you won’t regret it.

Peter Matthiessen – b May 22, 1927, d April 5, 2014. One of the greats.  May his work inspire many more people to think about nature and care about the world a little bit more.

Silo-ed

In the Tube tunnel yesterday, I saw a giant poster advertising Hugh Howey’s Silo trilogy (Wool, Dust and Shift). I read these recently and thought they were great – a really interesting imagining of a dark future.  Like all good sci-fi dystopian novels, they’re as much about the human condition as they are about people living underground and seeing the world through electronic screens. What I really liked about these books was their intricate imagining of everyday life for people, and the way that the reader’s viewpoint changes and develops throughout the series – at the start we are in the dark with everyone else.

I do love a bit of dystopic fiction – I think it’s my favourite genre.  At what age can you introduce your kids to the idea that civilisation might end?

For anyone who hasn’t read these books yet – do.  There is even a trailer!  And Mr Howey has some interesting views on self-publishing.  Anyone for a revolution?

Kinder #nosurprise

Why is it that toy manufacturers and sellers feel the need to tell children what they should like?  Me and the little kiwi currently like playing with everything.  Sometimes he likes to try on my rings and necklaces, sometimes he likes playing with trains and dinosaurs.  Yesterday, his childminders (who are WONDERFUL, btw) let him build a “mine” and he went in with a flashlight and dug out a “diamond”.  Imagination is a fantastic thing, and we should be liberating our children, not constraining them. right?  So why do Playmobil – a toy manufacturer who I *previously* thought was awesome, feel the need to package “surprise” toys in pink and blue bags, and label them “for boys” and “for girlls”.  And I just found this text on their website relating to their Christmas promotions –

At the Unicorn Fairyland little girls will be excited about the newborn Unicorn baby and a beautiful jewellery box with ring. Boys will be thrilled with the exciting Dragon’s Treasure Battle with super Dragon card game.

Really Playmobil?  Girls can’t play with dragons?

Kinder, perhaps the original “surprise” toy provider have also disappointed by packaging their eggs in pink and blue and putting very stereotyped toys in each –  ‘Sprinty’ cars in the blue eggs and fashion dolls in the pink ones.  There is much more about this here at let toys be toys – the campaign against gender stereotyping and divisions being marketed to children.

And even LEGO, one of the most gender-neutral toys ever, have managed to set back the idea that women are equal to men with the launch of the insipid “Friends” range, where the work of a female journalist is described thus:

Break the big story of the world’s best cake with the Heartlake News Van! Find the cake and film it with the camera and then climb into the editing suite and get it ready for broadcast. Get Emma ready at the makeup table so she looks her best for the camera. Sit her at the news desk as Andrew films her talking about the cake story and then present the weather to the viewers

– summed up wonderfully by the achilleseffect.

Utterly depressing. Perhaps one of the saddest facts about this whole situation is that we seem to be going backwards – how is it acceptable for shops to tell girls they shouldn’t be doctors or scientists.  Come on toy sellers and manufacturers, give our kids a break! If you want to differentiate, use non-gender related categories. And how about using colours other than pink and blue?  If toy manufacturers have no imagination, where does that leave our children?

Of course, presenting the news about cake needs a van FULL of make-up

Reading matters

So, over the weekend, I took the little kiwi to our local library.  He loves the library – and it’s a great place to hang out with him.  Basically, he takes books off the shelves and gets me to read them to him in series, and there is never enough time to choose any to bring home.

Anyway, this was a particularly good library visit because I managed to get myself some books – and read my first Neil Gaimans –

Coraline (also a very dark and beautiful animated film from the director of the Nightmare Before Christmas) and the Graveyard Book.  Both of these books are amazing and emerged into the world long after I was a sensible age to read them.  Which of course is even more the case now, but now I don’t care!  The Graveyard Book is just wonderful – a brilliant imaginative world, exciting story, revenge, and narrow escapes, good and bad…  it has it all.  And the great thing about reading Young Adult Fiction (or kids books if you like) is that they’re short and you can romp through them in the hour when lights should really be out and you should be asleep.  And if you’re a bit tired the next day, you’ll have the other mother to thank, (or Silas).

The little kiwi got his favourite Jez Alborough book – Six Little Chicks – which I absolutely adore, as well as a whole bunch of others.  Perhaps more on those later.