a man in a long summer dress and floppy hat pushes an empty supermarket trolley with a wall of plain cardboard boxes in the background and fluorescent lighting overhead.
Thinking Out Loud

Non-essential Firebreak Fuss

I wish that the level of outrage expressed over the limits on the sale of non-essential items in supermarkets was expressed over some other issues. The ableism that’s grown in 2020 springs to mind.

There’s pure misinformation circulating on twitter about period products and baby milk being banned by Welsh Government. Actual fake news. There were concerns about being unable to buy pyjamas in case of a hospital emergency but shops are given discretion so if there’s a genuine need then you can buy. It’s all to prevent browsing and not to be unfair for independent shops selling non-essentials.

The repeat argument I saw on my socials was books versus booze. What’s essential to some is non-essential to someone else. Food and drink all fall under the essential list. What about a spiralizer versus a stew pack or a DVD versus dog food? It’s not helpful to pick on a single item and compare it to another.

Of course, the isolation of lockdowns and quarantines and bubbles has had an impact on the mental health of many of us. Reading is an escape, it’s something that’s helped me this year. We had warning, time to stock up on paperbacks from Mozzas. Maybe some people will line the pockets of Jeff Bezos with their literary spending sprees. If you’re gagging for a book, look up your local indie book shop (hello Griffin Books in Penarth) or download a book for free from the library. You don’t even need an e-reader or tablet for that, I’ve just got an app on my phone. Or re-read something you already or message me and I’ll drop one off to you.

That said, I get that the whole debate circling about books brought out a whole load of middle class assumptions and unchecked privilege. We had Monday to Friday to get prepared and stock up. Cool. Unless maybe you only get paid once a week. Or you’re living hand to mouth and this particular week wasn’t one when you could afford to do a big shop.

Buy your kids clothes online. Fine, for some, but your cheapie kids gear isn’t sold online, Primark doesn’t have an internet shop. And all of this assumes that people have access to the internet, to WiFi, to smart phones or other devices, or even that they have a bank account at all. Some people aren’t part of this cashless society for all sorts of reasons.

That dicksplash in his grundies and that maskless thug ripping plastic sheeting off clothes in Welsh supermarkets don’t get a shit about the bigger picture. They’re just selfish attention seekers. We’re all frustrated darling but we’re not throwing toddler tantrums in the aisles.

“Only selling essential items during firebreak is to discourage spending more time than necessary in shops. It should not stop you accessing items that you need.” – @WelshGovernment

Supermarket staff from a range of stores in Barry have said that if you ask for an unavailable item and you have a reason, they will get it for you. The barriers are to stop people browsing.

Look, we’re 3 days in with another two weeks to go. If you’re struggling to get hold of something that you need desperately, let me know or find your local mutual aid group on Facebook.

Two children's books on batman bedding. The larger book on the left is 100 Things to Know About Space and the other book is Grandpa Was an Astronaut by Jonathan Meres.
School Days, Thinking Out Loud

World Book Day

Before I launch into a rant of sorts, please know that this isn’t anti World Book Day. What they stand for and what they aim to do is brilliant. World Book Day is the world’s biggest campaign to provide every child and young person in the country with a book of their own. Their twitter biography sums it up:

The biggest annual celebration of books and reading in the UK & Ireland. Share a Story with us on 7 March 2019. A charity, sponsored by National Book Tokens. @WorldBookDayUK

Our school isn’t dressing up for World Book Day this year and I’m cool with that. Instead, the children have been asked to take their favourite book into school. It’s perfectly in keeping with the whole ethos of sharing a story, building a love of reading, getting kids excited about books and seeing what a huge range of stories and factual books there are.

Yet some parents still moan. If they’d had to dress up there’d be other parents moaning. I think it comes from the everyone-else-is-dressing-up-why-can’t-we zone while completely missing the point that every child in the school will still have a free book token and a chance to share their favourite book with their class.

World Book Day’s current campaign is #ShareAStory. It’s not #SendYourKidToSchoolInARandomCostumeThatsNotNecessarilyInABook or #BuyABookCharacterCostumeFromTheSupermarketEvenThoughYourChildsNeverReadThatBook or #WearYourFavouriteFancyDressOutfitRegardlessOfWhetherOrNotItsInABook

It isn’t about dressing up. That’s just one of many ways in which schools can mark and celebrate the day. Write a story, find a fact in a book, design a book mark. My kids have dressed up some years but other years they’ve had a pyjama day at school for a day of bedtime stories. The years we’ve dressed up, we’ve talked about their favourite books and did what we could with clothes and props we already had. Think Iggy Peck the Architect (patterned knitted jumper, skinny trousers, daps and a pencil behind the ear) or Jesse Aarons from Bridge to Terabithia (jeans, raglan top and a crown made out of twigs).

I know that my children and I are coming at this from a place of literary privilege. I grew up in a home of books, we had regular tips to the library, I saw my parents read for pleasure, my best friends enjoyed the same boks as me, I had books as gifts, we had day trips to Hay on Wye, I ended up studying books at university (English Lit) and there are books in every room of our home. I read to my children and they read because they want to. When the new Health Visitor first visited after my youngest was born she glanced around the living room and said “you’ll be fine, you’ve got books”, to which I said “none of them are about parenting”. “It doesn’t matter,” she replied “it makes a difference.” The sad thing was, most of the houses she visited didn’t have books.

Not everyone lives a life immersed in books. I know mothers who taught themselves to read as adults. At Christmas in a toy shop I was browsing the children’s books when I overheard a woman say to her friend “no, she wouldn’t want a book as a present, that’s boring” and my heart broke a little. 4 in 10 boys and 3 in 10 girls aged 11-13 who took part in a 2010 National Literary Trust survey did not own any books.

Spending just 10 minutes a day reading with children of all ages can make a crucial difference to their future. Literacy matters. The National Literacy Trust research showed that children who don’t own books were two and a half times more likely to read below their expected level than children who have their own books* (19% compared to 7.6%). It helps to put important campaigns like World Book Day into perspective.

Schools have enough to deal with and your misplaced outrage about fancy dress or late notice about taking in a book isn’t going to be their top priority. Remember it’s also the season for belated St David’s Day Eisteddfodau, British Science Week and bloody Red Nose Day.

Of course, all the Matildas and Boys in a Dress, the Tigers Who Came to Tea and the Highway Rats are delightful. A gaggle of primary aged children in fancy dress is a wonderful thing. There’s joy and creativity in making outfits. But if your school isn’t dressing up for World Book Day, don’t be a dick about it. Dress them up on the weekend or this evening if you’re really gagging to take that photo for Instagram. Even better, just read a book with them, find out what their favourite book is and why.

My boys both chose books that are space themed, which isn’t surprising as they both want to be astronauts (the youngest wants to be the first ventriloquist in space, please tell me no one’s beat him to it). Both books are signed by the authors because they’re both from different literary festivals. They’re not the books they’re in the middle of reading but they’re important to them. One’s a book of facts and the other’s a story.

This quote hit the nail on the head more succinctly than my waffling diatribe:

If your child’s World Book Day costume costs more than a book, STOP RIGHT THERE! Make something from a cereal box, and BUY A BOOK instead.**

If you found yourself cursing World Book Day as you stressed over a costume last night, take a moment to be grateful that your child has access to books. If you fumed about your school not letting you show off via your offspring’s costume today, take a moment to be grateful you had one less thing to stress about and that your child has access to books. And if you don’t give a shit about books or which children have access to them, I’ll take a moment to be grateful for World Book Day doing what they do.

*National Literacy Trust online survey, took pace in November and December 2010

**from an instagram post by @brightbuttonschildminding spotted on @childcare_adventures