Capturing the randomness of a child’s mind

I like to think that my thought processes can be pretty random.  I remember very clearly at the age of 13 my english teacher asking the class to write a ‘stream of consciousness’ right there and then. I can only assume that we were studying Catcher in the Rye at the time.  That particular english teacher was one of those 1980’s cool teachers who wore dangly earrings, had mad mad mad almost mad hatter hair that she was constantly trying to control with her whole hand and a weird, contortion of long leg folding to sit on top of the desk rather than a chair.  You see, streams of consciousness; I like the randomness of them and if you’ve read this or any other paragraph of my writing, you can see I’ve run with it…

But however random I get, it is nothing to the near lunacy of little ones. The nano-second it can take them from ‘I want  a balloon’ to ‘ooh, that’s a corner of a table I’m not actually thinking about whilst searching for a twinkly thing I saw 2 seconds ago, but why does that woman have a… no she’s gone’.  You get what I mean.  And during these weird 10 second trains of thought, we, as parents can only look at them as their faces change; from excited, scared, perplexed and then through all of the expressions possible that will usually lead to a gormless stillness that will leave you, as the parent, wondering if they’ll ever be able to read, or write, or even remember their own name.

Creating the ‘This is my…’ range of books was really an answer to my need to capture that randomness.  To keep hold of memories that come directly from them, those gormless, chubby faces with personalities forming and vehement opinions that can change and be just as forcefully argued in the opposite only minutes later.

And so the “This is my” books were created. Originally accompanied by a 35mm camera, the resultant photos were priceless.  They were simple cameras, a little square window for a child to look through and a button to press to take the photo, followed by a pass to mum to wind on.  My children would often not bother with the looking into the little square and the resultant images were perfect.  A photo of his twin brother’s cheek and a bit of an eye; an image of a foot in a padder, now long gone; an unidentifiable mass of matter on a plastic plate.  And that doesn’t even touch on the number of photos of my bum – what an eye opener that was! (I mean, because that’s all they got to see most of the day!).

The book would guide them through which photos to take – and would have questions for them to answer.  And this is where the randomness would come to the fore.  In their first books, I would have to do the writing, so I would ask them the questions.  And they would answer with that honesty, integrity, seriousness and thoughtfulness that only a three year old can muster when asked ‘what did you like the most about your bed on holiday’.

And there I would sit, keeping a straight face to match theirs as they answered questions in their books.  “What did you like about the bed” – answers would include “It was colourful” (and the photograph to accompany that answer shows the most migraine inducing swirl of psychedelia that I’m surprised I didn’t remember it). The proximity of the bed to a television would also be another excellent reason.

Their ‘favourite bit about the journey’ were invariably the ‘snack’ and the photograph of something that they really “like to eat on holiday” was often the breakfast pastry.  And I love that.

Other questions in other books would induce brutally honest answers – no sensibilities when it came to naming favourite gifts at Christmas or on their birthdays.  It was often the piece of plastic tat bought for them by a childless friend (the piece of plastic tat that I had already earmarked to be sent to the charity shop as soon as their backs were turned).

I love every photo and every answer and I have them all because I got to record it all in the books that I had created for just that purpose.  Their photos were brilliant, their answers completely and utterly random and slightly insane, their funny spelling of words and their awkward less than perfect handwriting when they took over the filling out for themselves.  Because keeping childhood memories alive and doing so effortlessly and with laughter is what they always meant to be.  And I’m rather proud of how well they worked out.

I still look back on them, and those books are here with me, just waiting to be handed around on wedding days….

which will teach them for not consistently name checking my gift as their favourite each year.

 

All of the ‘This is my….’ memory books (including Day as a Bridesmaid, Day as Pageboy and other wedding titles as well as ‘This is my Baby Brother and This is my Baby Sister’ versions for siblings) will soon be available here on memorybooks.co.uk, but until then, they are readily available on our MotherShip site: 2littleboys.co.uk.

This is my Holiday Memory Book for kids

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To CheesePlant or not to CheesePlant

I have been in turmoil people.  Absolute turmoil for the past 3 months or so and I have thrown tantrums and stormed from the office to the high street to eat biscuits and drink hot chocolate in a coffee shop on more than one occasion and yes, I inhaled those biscuits and yes, I felt guilty afterwards.  But there’s nothing quite like frustrated indecision to get you onto the biscuits I’d say.

Now you wouldn’t think that something as innocuous as a cheese plant could do that to a grown woman would you?  But boy, have they plagued me.  Sometimes, most days.  Some days all day. The relationship that is Sarah and cheese plants is starting to wear thin.

I liked cheese plants.  We had one in our first flat and we kept it alive for a number of years (which I think goes to show how resilient and therefore how lovable cheese plants can be).  But once we’d managed to kill our beloved cheese plant off, circa 1994, I don’t think I gave the genus another thought.

1aRoll on to summer 2015 and I had a very rare girlcrush on an item of clothing.  It was a Vivienne Westwood dress and, you’ve guessed it, the pattern was cheese plant leaves.  I liked the greens and I liked the cut and I managed to snaffle one at a rockbottom price and realised I couldn’t really walk in it… but still…. I stroke it and look at it in my wardrobe now and again and just, well, love it.

(and that’s fine because if you were to line up photos of me at trade shows over the last 7 years, you’d find that I really do get the most out of every item of clothing I buy – so having one in my wardrobe just for strokes isn’t that profligate).

 

Moving on….

So let’s get to 2016 when I take an idle wander around the floors of a well known department store to see what’s ahappenin’ and I notice that, yes, owls have, indeed, had their day.  The pale pink and grey ‘Pantone colours of the year!’ are moving on and we’re still trending through flamingos, pineapples and Rio stylee stuff.  (please see “Mid Week Rant” for the other trend that prevails).

and there I am, surrounded by flamingos and pineapples

…. and I think to myself.

“It’ll be cheese plants next”

And so, as I liked cheese plants more than I like owls, pineapples, flamingos, toucans and, indeed, unicorns (they’ll be everywhere soon….) I thought…

“I should design some products with cheese plant patterns”

Turmoil.  Because I’ve been drawing spider plants, ferns and cheese plant leaves for months now; moving them around the screen, playing with colours, tweaking, changing layer layouts, taking out elements, putting them back in, putting new ones in, isolating, combining.  And then I’ve looked at the cost pricing of having product printed and worked out the cost-trade-retail ratios and yes, may just make some money here and then I wonder if the artwork is good enough and whether we’ll get a garden centre or two interested and then I start to see cheese plant leaves popping up in a few places.

… and suddenly, I’ve found myself feeling sick in a coffee shop with crumbs down my front thinking “I can’t compete with them.

Last week was particularly bad. I was beginning to question it all, and I mean everything.  The very existence of cheese plant leaf artwork on my desktop felt like a virus in the files.  And it’s taken a lot of soul searching to conclude that I’m going to pop all of those artwork files into a folder and chuck them into the virtual abyss that I have named “Artwork in Progress” and here’s why I’ll probably never do anything with those files:

  • I’m not talented enough to compete with the true artists out there.  If I were, I would spend my life being an artist and making money from my art would make me happy.
  • I don’t want to lose sight of what 2littleboys.co.uk is all about.  We make cool shit to keep kids happy, beautiful stuff to keep memories and the odd funny thing for older people.
  • We don’t make patterns
  • We’ve never followed trends or even capitalised on trends we’ve foreseen before. Why start now?
  • We’re not big enough (or talented enough) to compete with the companies who create beautiful product with patterns and who can create a ‘story’ with their ranges.
  • I kinda like unicorns, pineapples and toucans, but not enough to create a range of stationery around them.  What if the trend after cheese plants was something I really didn’t like?

But most of all, and this is key.  

I don’t want to.

And that’s the joy of being the boss.

But it won’t stop me cringing every time I see a cheese plant leaf on a product. I’ll get over it, because FINALLY, I am exhaling and the turmoil of indecision is over.

And now I’m off to buy some soil, fertiliser, a nice big terracotta pot and a plant to grow in my living room.  I’ve moved on from cheese plants. I’m thinking a ficus.

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If there’s any company out there who likes some of these designs – don’t copy them, license them…. We’re fabulous licensors and our rates are very reasonable ;).

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Snap Cards Reduced to £3.50

Stock up for down time!

It was after six months of playing Snap using the most hideously designed cards that I finally cracked and created some new sets.  As with everything we sell at 2littleboys.co.uk our products ultimately stem from the need to entertain (or, at the least, amuse) my Irish triplets.

We have reduced the price of three sets of our Snap cards (French, Flowers and London) to £3.50 from £4.99 and hope that by enticing you to buy some, you will encourage your own children or grandchildren to enhance their memory skills whilst playing Snap or Pairs and for them to effortlessly learn landmark London words, names of flowers or even a smattering of french.  Because when they are playing, they don’t know they’re learning!

So go check them out. And then buy some!

Flower Snap cards 300dpi

Our flower snap – because children don’t actually know that most people couldn’t tell a plumbago from a scabious.

French Snap Cards 300dpi

For a little effortless learning of a smattering of french.

 

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and to our lovely shop customers – we have reduced the trade price :).

 

 

Children, Patterns and Looking Up

My first ever ‘proper’ camera was for my 18th birthday.  (At this point, I can hear my teenage offspring pipe in with ‘they had CAMERAS when you were 18.’  Still…. moving swiftly on). My 18th birthday present was an SLR camera, it was black, it was heavy and I thought it was an utterly pointless 18th birthday present.

Yes, I have been and still can be an ungrateful bitch.

So on my 18th birthday, I snapped away until the button could no longer be pressed and took the film to Underwoods the Chemist in Victoria. Using a bewitching form of alchemy, they turned the metal canister of film into actual photographs that they then presented to me in a green and yellow envelope, in the process, they charged an exorbitant amount of money (photographs/process… see what I did there?… no… ok).  And so, from henceforth, the camera came out only on special occasions and gathered dust for the rest of the year.

Snap forward, if you will, a few years and I started to go on holidays.  I took photographs of hills, mountains, the sea, rivers, friends and the odd flower or two.  Oh, and my boyfriend; the ubiquitous selfie with camera balancing precariously on a rock, a table stacked with books, magazines, glasses cases to get to the right height or the car roof with a judicious use of the timer.

I’d then have Boots process the film (Underwoods closed down; I just wanted to show off my age and memory for triviality here) and on visits back to my parents’, I’d show them the holiday snaps and my father would flick through very very quickly and declare that there were not nearly enough photos of people.  “Why do I want to see pictures of mountains and lakes, it looks like every other mountain and lake. Take pictures of people”.  He sort of, kind of, had a point.  But still, I stopped showing him the holiday snaps.

And then I had children. And I took photo after photo after photo.  They were the most photogenic babies you’ve ever seen.  Actually, if I’m honest, my newborn daughter had an interesting look going on first thing.  After an extraordinarily difficult labour, I thought she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.  Then when the photos came back, I realised that, my God she’d looked Fugly).  Still… her head popped back into ummm, a head shape and she, quite simply, gets more beautiful every day, every week, every month… you get the point.

And I’m managing, once again, to get away from my point.

So, the kids grew older, they stopped spending their days in a thankfully vain attempt to damage themselves beyond repair and they eventually worked out that mum was constantly taking photos of them and that they weren’t too sure that they liked it that much.  But the bug had bitten me. I loved taking photos. Husband bought me a better camera and a zoom lens and I was off.

I took photographs of doorknobs, I took photographs of patterns made by mesh, by doors, by window frames, buildings, paving stones, mosaics, pillars, columns, clouds, flowers.  When you’ve got three kids to keep entertained, it’s important to find order in chaos and I suspect that this was what I was doing.  And I think I was doing it pretty damned well.

And then we found little cameras for the children and we would go on ‘mummy adventures’, grabbing a cab into London and becoming tourists and they would snap away. Because you can never see all of London and you can never capture it all on camera. Columbia Market, Borough Market, Houses of Parliament, Smithfields, SouthBank, Soho, Covent Garden, St Catherine’s Dock, Seven Dials, Hyde Park, Regents Park, St James’ Park, Green Park, Barbican, Tower Bridge, Hungerford Bridge and all between.  I’d tire us all out and there wouldn’t be moment of complaint of sore feet and we’d stop for a frozen yoghurt or a hot chocolate (seasonal choices, but way more random than that if I’m honest).  A Pizza Express pizza, or for a special treat, some dim sum in Soho where you can eat the fluffiest cloud bun ever (also known as a char sui bu).  And after lunch we’d keep going.

I taught them to look for beauty in buildings, and patterns in the everyday.  I told them to look above the gaudy shop fronts, to see their London through the ages – the old shop signs left long after the shop had left the building. The intricate details of stone-carving. Warehouse buildings now cafes and boutique shops.  And how moving your own body to different angles, you can get to see things from different angles that then, in turn photograph interesting angles. And they listened and they would stop in a street and look around and take a photo of something that you hadn’t noticed before and suddenly you’ll see an intricate chimney pot, or a detail on a window sill that could only have been created by a highly skilled craftsman many many years ago.

memories of looking up

These 9 images in a box are just some of the many photographs we took on our adventure days into town.  (Although I think top right is from our weekend away to Manchester). And I know that at least 7 of them were taken by my children when they were about this age….

2littleboystaking photographs

So, if you’re looking for a day out, just grab any old cameras or phones, take the kids and get them to look up…. just so long as they’re not standing in the middle of a road. Because then we’re back to that whole “attempting to damage themselves beyond repair.” and you should be past that stage by the time they’re into this sort of thing.

Or, you can always leave them at home, and take a wander around your home town and get to know it just a little bit better.  You’ll be surprised at what you’ve missed.

 

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Children at Weddings #1

I was recently asked by Your London Wedding magazine to respond as an ‘expert’ to a genuine question from a reader about entertaining children at her wedding.

My first thought was ‘wow! those letters are actually real’.  My second thought was ‘wow! they think I’m an expert!”  And then I thought about it, and I thought, well, actually, I know a thing or two about children and I know a thing or two about weddings and I’ve written quite a lot about mixing those two entities and I’m knowledgable enough to know it can be quite tricky (I know, it isn’t rocket science, but still…).  So I said ‘yeah, I’ll respond as an expert’.  And this is how it went…

Q I’m the last of my friends to tie the knot and all my mates have kids. I don’t want to exclude them, but equally it would be nice to keep them busy during the wedding breakfast! What are your suggestions for kid-friendly activities that would work at the table?

 

A I Entirely understand the issues surrounding children at weddings. I took my Irish triplets as toddlers to a wedding. I had prepared them each a bag (a very ‘quiet’ freezer bag) and popped in some hula hoops, raisins, nuts etc and they all sat there in the registry office sucking on the hula hoops and thinking it was such a treat!
Children at a wedding can make for a truly perfect day – the photo opportunities alone make it worth having them around!  Conversely, sugar filled youngsters screaming around the place can make everyone feel uptight.  So, firstly, having some form of outdoor space for them to safely run around to work off some energy is a must.  Perhaps a quiet word to the parents to let them know the space is there as a hint might be useful. By the time the wedding breakfast commences, they should hopefully be a little more ready for sedate activities.  There are numerous sites that offer free printable word searches, puzzles and colouring in activities. You can simply roll some up with a little pack of pencils and finish off with a bow. 
Having had three babies in a year, I have spent the past 15 years designing products to keep children happy when they need to stay still. It can be a hard task, but with a little imagination and time, anything can work, because, let’s face it, if you give a 5 year old an empty brown paper bag, some pencils and a few pointers on what they could do with their ‘gift’, they’ll keep quiet (well more than the brown paper bag will!).

Here is a perfectly good example of a downloadable and printable wedding activity book that I found simply by searching on Google. Free Printable Activity Book

 

Our MotherShip site produces quite a few wedding activity books and tins of activities.  Some of which we can personalise.  So if you’re looking for something a little bit special.  Do pop over to the site to see them.

Here are just a few examples:

Wedding Activity Book for the Table

Activity Tins for Little Guests at a wedding

 

If you have any special requirements or would just like a bit of friendly advice, do get in contact.  Simply use the contact us button on the site.

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The Stationery Show and the C Word

I was reminded over the last couple of days that at least one person had read the blog I had written about embarrassing things I had done at the Stationery Show TWO years ago. (Thanks Simon).

I thought I’d follow up this year with another round up as I’d like to think two days at a stand in Islington is an excellent barometer of where the industry/world is right now.  In reality, I accept that it is actually a mediocre barometer of my mental state.  You tell me.

Firstly, I should like to address the C word head on.  It is a word that I have been known to judiciously use, sometimes converting it to an adverb (i.e. this is so C…… ingly shit).  Yes, I do think it works.  So it was, during conversations with various visitors over the two days, the C word and its veracity and position within our collective lexicons was discussed.  It seems that there is a seismic shift in opinion.  Not one person actually said the word, but most agreed that it does, indeed, play an important role in expressing extreme views/emotions/general feelings toward certain people in our lives/friends’ lives and life in general.  One of my particularly clever customers gave me his view on the entire issue which went something like this:

The C Word is to the F word what the F word was to the word Bloody a couple of decades ago.  Read it again, I think it makes sense.

I don’t think I’ll be putting the C word on any products in the coming decade or so, but never say never.  And I think the shift in the general feeling toward the four letters in a very particular order is interesting.

So what else happened at the Stationery Show this year?  It was busy.  The same people who always walk on by our stand did exactly just that.  I was rude to approximately the same percentage of potential customers as I usually am.  There were, this year, however,  a disproportionate number of people taking photographs without asking, some in such an obvious clandestine manner that I’m relieved that they spend their time taking undercover photos of notebooks as opposed to actually having to take actual clandestine photos. Please just ask to take a photo – I accept times are changing and the ‘no photography’ rules are a thing of the past.

There were some lovely bloggers.  In particular, three woman who were very complimentary and made me glow with pride and then they confused me with acronyms   of social media stuff.  I await enlightenment; a lightbulb moment of clarity that I’m hoping will make it all seem worthwhile.

Two very young ladies popped by and spent ages going through everything and taking photographs (without asking), loudly proclaiming their opinions on each title to each other (and although most of their views were favourable, they did offer up their considered and experienced opinions that some were simply shite).  So, having already ascertained that I must be deaf, being only a metre away, they scowled at me as I took a single step toward them, rictus smile on my face.  “What is it you do?” I ask and they tell me the name of the retail chain in which they work, or maybe their mums worked there, I don’t know.  I had obviously heard of the chain, but I genuinely didn’t know what they did.  So I asked and I can’t tell you what they said, because they looked down and mumbled.  Sam told me once they were out of earshot (you know, more than a metre away).  They weren’t the power tool manufacturers that I had always assumed, but they were just as unlikely to buy my stuff as a power tool manufacturer and I’m not entirely sure what they were doing at the STATIONERY show.  Still, they were good for a bit of righteous indignation.

Ummm, what else; one of my lovely customers brought me cake on my birthday and a thing of beauty that slice of strawberry sponge it was. I offered some up to my next door neighbour.  She promptly declined and then proceeded to extol the virtues of its aesthetics, taking photographs whilst breathing rapturous promises to herself to paint its delicately coloured layers.  All of which, and I’m only guessing here, is what makes her a great artist who deserved the TWO awards she had received the night before.

I, as someone who is currently overweight bemoaned the cake’s calorific content, saw no future potential for the beauty of said cake slice and ate it.  Which probably goes a little way to explaining why I didn’t win an award the night before.

I had a few wobbly moments when I hated everyone (is it just me? Please tell me it isn’t just me).  So a few extended breaks were taken.  I outraged Sam by taking my M&S salads upstairs, borrowing a plate, knife and fork from the cafe, decanted and ate like a civilised human being.  It was brazen and I don’t know their rules, but I revel in that whole middle-aged ‘what are they actually going to do about it’ state of mind.  I even sent Sam proof just to get that whole ‘I can’t believe you did that’ response from him – you know, from the man who’s survived proper muggings without a whiff of PTSD.

food

I had a lovely time talking to fellow exhibitors, some extremely experienced, others not so much, but all of us aware of the rule of mid-sentence stop and slight nod of head to denote potential new customer crossing the invisible line onto the stand.  I laughed a lot during catch-up-on-life sessions with old friends and I didn’t cry.  Not once.

So all in all, I’d say it was a successful and exhausting two days. Will I return next year?  You’re C….tingly right I will.

 

 

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My birthday and Emojis

Happy Monday!

It’s my birthday week and I suspect much cake will be eaten. I will be charming the pants off every buyer who stops by our stand at the London Stationery Show and I will probably be complaining about my back aching. I’ll be complaining a lot. But then it’s my birthday week, so it’s allowed.

And on my actual birthday, I’d like to think that a few birthday cards will pop through the letterbox and land on my doormat. I will, hopefully, receive quite a few texts from friends including the ubiquitous ‘Happy Focking Birthday’ from one particular individual who shall remain nameless.

And then, Facebook will tell a bunch of real-life friends that it is, indeed, the day to celebrate my birth. They will post on my wall with good wishes. Whether it’s a ‘Happy Birthday honey’ or a ‘Hope you have a lovely day’, I think it’s nice to know that people I haven’t seen for a few years have spent 30 seconds of their day thinking how much I’ve aged on my profile picture and writing me a birthday wish. An emoji heart at the end of one of those written actual words of well wishes will also be acceptable. Just to emote a feeling of warmth and sincere love for yours truly. Any other emojis, are, if I’m honest, banned. A bottle of champagne would be ridiculous (I don’t drink), a party hat – I’m not 6, and don’t get me started on a tick or a 100 – I’m not even sure what they mean.

So you’ve probably gathered at this point, I don’t like emojis. I don’t like them for quite a few reasons.

Firstly, I think they’re infantile. They’re the keyboard equivalent of a 2 year old with a crayon firmly held by a chubby hand drawing something that looks bloody awful and telling you “it’s mummy” or a “beautiful flower”.

Emojis are lazy and their overuse MUST be affecting the literacy and eloquence of us as a society.  Why would you need to know the word ‘perturbed’ or discombulated‘ when you can just select a confused emoji and have done with it.  If you don’t know the words exist, then you’re not making the most of a language that is rich with nuance and culture, that is in need of preservation.

Now at this point, I should come clean. Because 12 years ago, I saw the popularity of the original emojis – the smiley on a Nokia – using the colon symbol and an open bracket for a smile.  I ran with those first emojis, producing a range of postcards using existing grammatical symbols to create a range of 4 simple emotions.

I can remember showing it to someone who was working here for some holiday money – his response went something like this:

“That’s just great. You have the worst of both worlds. A hideous expression of modern pop culture combined with a ‘text’ that takes at least 24 hours to be received by the intended recipient. Good job.” Now imagine that being said in the monosyllabic tones of a 19 year old history student with a serious and untreatable case of sarcasm and you’ve kinda got the vibe.

“Perfect” I responded and sent to print.

And they did very well for us, those postcards. We were ahead of the curve by about a year so they made it into quite a few boutiques that do nonchalant cool with twists of irony so brilliantly.

And we also produced some matching ‘txt speak’ versions including LOL (which I think my lovely in-laws still think means Lots of Love). And I use text speak and the standard wink, smile and unhappy faces when I’m not really thinking about what I’m writing or when I think a more detailed response is unnecessary.  My own phone can not read emojis any more complicated than a few of the basics.  Consequently,  I often find myself looking at a text from a friend that is made up entirely of black squares.  I’m hoping that it’s a barrage of emoji abuse, but I can’t help but think it’s possibly an offer of a free meal – I just wouldn’t know.  But, all bad choice of ‘phone aside, I still can’t help but think that the world has gone mad with it, hasn’t it?

Orwell called it. I know that the comparison has been made by many many, far more eloquent people than I, his explanation of ‘Newspeak’ in 1984 sums it all up for me – Orwell explains that Newspeak “…. is a language characterised by a continually diminishing vocabulary; complete thoughts reduced to simple terms of simplistic meaning”

… and dumbing down our ways of communicating with others is really very scary. I’m perturbed. And I don’t think there’s an emoji for that.

So, on my birthday, if you simply post an emoji cake on my wall, I will judge you.

Thx for reading 😉

txt-3

 

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