Wednesday, 25 January 2012

True or Faux

Sometimes a memory pounces on you with little or no provocation, like a frisky kitten after a short nap.

'They're aw fur coat and nae knickers!'

That was the snippet I overheard as I was walking past a gaggle of old dears the other day. And that's when the memory jumped me. I wasn't reminded of someone displaying false airs and graces, or even of a case when outward appearances had been deceptive. No. I was recalling a coat. A fur coat. My mothers knee length, mink coloured, musquash fur coat to be precise.

This isn't her coat (she's not quite sure what happened to it),but it does look very like the picture I carry of it in my head 

It was a luxurious coat, so thick and sleek it was impossible not to want to reach out and stroke it. I remember as a wee girl sneaking in to her room, opening the wardrobe, and burying my fingers deep into its silken pelts as I rubbed my face against it, back and forth, lost in its downy softness. Whenever she wore it I would get as close as possible, my face either nuzzling her sleeve or snuggling in to the skirts as we walked. 

But probably the most vivid memory I have of that coat is like something from a Billy Connolly sketch. It was the 10th of December and we had just moved house, only to discover that the previous occupant had pocketed the money my mum had given them to buy enough coal to see us through the coming week ( our arrival fell in the middle of the delivery schedule). The house was freezing, being unheated for two weeks prior to our arrival. My sister and I were to share a room and we set about unpacking every bit of bedding we could find. We went to bed wearing our night wear as well as extra cardigans, jumpers and at least two pairs of socks. It wasn't enough. Out came the coats and they were added to the pile of duvets and blankets. Ahh! But who would get the fur coat? An argument ensued in the midst of which I pulled out the top trump of being the pitiful little sister ( well, all's fair in war and fur coat procurement!).Needless to say I fell asleep cooried under its comforting weight, feeling slightly guilty, but more importantly warm :o) 

I'm afraid the coat spent most of its later life in a cupboard. It became very unacceptable to be seen wearing the fur of any animal, in some cases down right dangerous. Mum thought about a faux fur replacement but it wasn't the same. None she looked at were as soft, warm or inviting as the real deal. It was fur or nothing - she opted for nothing. That hasn't been the case for everyone though.

A couple of months ago I bought some velboa, a low pile faux fur fabric (try saying that when you've had a few!) that's meant to look like antelope hide. It's not a fabric that I usually go for but I wanted to try something a little different, and the antelope was the most subtle design I could find. Every handbag I have made from it so far has sold almost immediately. This is my latest one.

Faux fur definitely seems to have appeal. As far as I can tell you can get a fabric that replaces any kind of pelt or skin you can think of. Crocodile, snake, leopard and mink to name but a few. Even leather, suede and sheepskin have a fake alternative. It's quite obvious that we still love animal fur/skin (I think it must be primeval), but feel better about ourselves if we use a faux version. 

And this is where I come to a moral crossroads.

It is indeed reprehensible to breed and farm animals solely for their pelts. Yet I eat meat, fish and poultry, also bred and farmed, and have no intention of becoming a vegetarian. What is the difference between skin and flesh, and why do I feel so different about them?

While I agree that keeping these animals in cramped cages is deplorable, freeing them in to the wild is not always the answer. Non indigenous species play havoc with the balance of nature.  We have, at times, had our fish pond raided by mink , no doubt  descendants of those released at some point by a well intentioned but misguided activist. Would it be deemed acceptable if they were housed in a more humane environment?

Musquash, or Muskrat, in the wild

And what about all of those pelts that have already been used? I'll admit that I would love a vintage fur coat and occasionally have a look on line for one. Oh to be so warm and cosy! I like to justify that aspiration by saying that these animals were killed years ago, long before my time. I had nothing to do with it and don't condone any further killing.
Then again by wearing such a coat would I be saying I thought it was okay to wear fur, regardless of what age it was? Would I be guilty of perpetuating the desire for such products? But to my way of thinking even the use of faux fur panders to this desire. Should it be frowned upon too?

Just what is the problem with fur? Is its use vilified solely for humane reasons or does it smack slightly of the politics of envy?
So many questions! Which road do I take? And how can I be sure that the choice I make is because that's the path I want to travel down, not just the one it would be more politically correct to follow?  

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A matter of taste.

"Oh I love your scarf. It's gorgeous," she said. " Where did you get it?"
"Thanks," I said as I fiddled with the fringes " It was a gift"
"Well whoever bought it for you has excellent taste."
"Yes, they do." 

That was the brief exchange I had at work last week and I've been pondering over it ever since. Excellent taste? Hmm, bit of an assumption to be made based on one scarf don't you think. Also fairly egotistical on my part to have agreed, the inference being that I also had good taste since I was wearing it. Just what is good taste anyway and who gets to decide?

Picasso quote pendant on Etsy

My dictionary defines taste as ' a person's tendency to like and dislike certain things'

Okay, so everyone has taste then.

It then goes on to elaborate 
 'taste: the
 ability to discern what is of good quality or of a high aesthetic standard'

Ah! Now that changes things somewhat doesn't it. While good quality might be quantifiable I can't help feeling that a 'high aesthetic standard' may be a bit more subjective. If nothing else, working in the shop has shown me how ludicrous that concept is. One mans junk is another mans treasure (and aren't all charity shops grateful for that!).

After a moudie around the interweb thingy most of the images I found would seem to indicate that our concept of good taste in all things is minimal, neutral, highbrow and expensive. 
Well I'm sorry but I'm just not buying it! Whats wrong with a bit of clutter and colour? Good taste can be cheerful and cheap too you know.  

My two closest friends and I have different tastes. One fills her house with some of the most amazing charity shop finds. I doubt if she has a minimalist bone in her body. Her home has more in it than I'm used to but it works for her. The other is far braver with colour than I am and has a very definite style that mirrors her confidence. She has a voracious appetite for books and buys them anywhere, caring little for authors and the prizes they've won, recommending them only as long as the story is good.

I like to think of us as sine waves on an oscilloscope. Occasionally our wavelengths cross, we find a pair of shoes/painting/music that we both like, but in general we are more than happy to merely appreciate the others choices, offer admiring comments while continuing to travel our own path.

So what does that say other than our tastes are complimentary? Are they good, bad or merely mediocre?  What do our tastes reveal about us, if anything? 

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Blue - more than just a colour.

I really struggle at this time of year. 

I used to put it down to the end of the festivities. An excess of socialising had left me tired, exposed to numerous bugs and viruses and seeking solitude. Removing the twinkling lights and tinsel was bound to make everything look dull and uninteresting. A fortnight's diet of rich food was enough to make anyone crave simple pasta dishes and uncomplicated carbohydrates. And after all the hype and excitement in December it was understandable if it was replaced by a certain amount of lethargy in January and February.

I would go in to a sort of 'semi hibernation', sleeping longer, avoiding company and rarely leaving the house. Well if some animals could do it why shouldn't I? Okay, so not much was achieved for two months but I would emerge at the end of March ready to face anything. Surely that wasn't a problem, was it?

A few years ago a friend came to visit me in the middle of my hibernation.
"This is sad you know." she said
"Well a bit unconventional perhaps, but I wouldn't have said sad exactly." I replied
"No, I mean this is S.A.D., Seasonal Affective Disorder. Loads of people suffer from it, but there are things you can do to help alleviate the symptoms"

When she left I summoned up enough energy to have a little Google and see what I could find out about S.A.D. and just how to beat these winter blues. Logically it all made sense. Unfortunately there are times when logic is of absolutely no use whatsoever, unless you happen to be a Vulcan and have your emotions firmly under control. 

Any time I see the word 'depression' logic takes a back seat. 

I suffered a mild case of post natal depression after the boys were born. It took me three months to admit it though. My head knew that the way I was feeling was due to hormones running amok. My emotions on the other hand had me convinced it was because I was a failure as a mother already. I would make a terrible job of bringing up my children if I couldn't even cope at the beginning. If I asked for help I would be admitting defeat and letting everyone know just how useless I was. Fortunately very supportive family and friends got me through it.

Now, according to these articles, it would appear I'm so weak I can't even cope with a change of season without becoming depressed. I'm a failure at getting through the winter!  Yup, those emotions completely failed to register the bits about lack of sunlight, melatonin levels, serotonin levels, you know all the stuff that proves there is a biological reason for feeling the way I do.  

Friends and family came to the rescue once more. Logic was forced back in to the drivers seat and I've taken steps to make winter as bearable as possible. Blinds have been taken down and curtains are open as wide as they'll go to let as much light as mother nature can manage( and to be honest I think some days she could try harder) in to the house. That's been supplemented with a light box and a daily dose of vitamin D. My work table, should I ever get around to actually doing any, has been moved closer to the window. 
I'm back to working two days a week so I have no option but to socialise, while the walk to work gets me out into the light and provides some exercise ( yes I know I should be doing more but hey, baby steps!)

I'm not going to lie and say I've got it completely beaten but, as with most things, once you recognise the problem and admit to having one it no longer has the upper hand. And we all need a little help sometimes. As Eeyore says...

'We can't all, and some of us don't. That's all there is to it.' 

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