Saturday, 9 February 2013


one rainy day, after a walk in the wet grass,  I was fluffing the dog with a towel and calming him with the silly baby talk we often use with pets. 

"There's a good boy, roll over and let me do your tummy, now tickles for the baby one and kisses for the mummy one!" 

My goodness - where did that come from? 

Zoooommm back almost 40 years and I'm sitting on the 'night n day' couch (it unfolded into what was almost a double bed and we slept on it for a year) breast feeding my first born and crooning, "You're the little baby one and I'm the big mummy one!" 

Another zooooommmmm back to see myself, half way between my first and second birthdays, standing in the cream painted wooden cot, in a pale green room. I can reach the window and see into the neighbour's backyard but I'm not looking outside, I'm checking my toys, lined up on the window sill. The collection of plastic bunny rabbit money boxes that grew each pay day when my very young father, a bank teller then, brought home a new one.  They came in a variety of colours, mine were mostly shades of green but also  pink, yellow and blue. Standing on my toes in the cot I could almost look them in the eye. I'd touch each one with my index finger and announce it's place in the family.  "This is the daddy one, this is the mummy one and this is the baby one, and the aunty one, the grandpa one". and so on.

The neighbours could see in the window from their veranda. They said hello to me, and the bunnies, every morning and if the window was open I entertained them with my bunny news,  "The baby one didn't eat his peas." 

The year I was born, Lines Bros in England were mass producing toys from plastic and not far away, in Denmark - where both my great-grandfathers were born - the LEGO company bought a plastic injection-molding machine to produce plastic toys. Two years later that machine was producing 200 different toys, including plastic stacking bricks. It was the age of plastic. I wonder where my plastic bunnies were made.

Dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, 
they can train people to stand on the very edge of a pool and throw them fish.

Friday, 8 February 2013


Kids, teens, young adults - those of the age of a very little person looking up with wide eyed attention, or the age of body language that says, whatever! right up to the age of self importance, seem to have trouble with respect.

After twenty six years working in a P-12 school the biggest change I've seen, is this progression from girls standing back shyly while boys hold the door open, to being physically pushed out of the way so a young person, or even an adult male, can go through the door first. They push from behind, the side or the front. It can be boys and girls and at school, even ..... teachers!  This has nothing to do with the fact that I am no longer 30 something because I see it happening to younger adults -  who don't notice, because they think it's normal! In the car park, in the supermarket, in a lift, someone will assume they are entitled to go before everyone else.

The last person to do this to me was a man of about 40 who - walked toward me from the outside of an automatic door, while I was inside, closer to the door and on my way out - did not slow his pace at all but pushed through the doorway first, knocking me into the side frame.  He kept walking at the same pace, as did his two teenage children who were following. No sign of good manners, no humility, no grace and no respect for others. What happened?

Sister Mary Benedita would be turning in her grave.  When I was at school we never gave cheeky responses to adults, never answered back, never pushed them aside, we gave up our seat on the crowded bus or train for women of our mother's age and older men and we didn't feel repressed ... we felt respectful.

Yes, I know ... boring story. I had those from my father too - how he rode a horse to school and lived on bread and dripping ....  that was his life BUT if he was here now he'd agree with what I'm saying because he was a gentleman.  When I was young I was aware that men opened doors for women, pulled back and held their chair in a restaurant, helped them on with their coats, all as a sign of respect.  Yes, there were a lot of things wrong in those days and all this attention and respect was not always genuine but it gave us a sense of security, of safety, we felt we knew where we were on the ladder of life and could clearly see where we would be as we got older. 

But the plan changed and now I feel cheated - and I'm not alone - even Clint Eastwood said, 'When I was young there was no respect for the young and now that I am old there is no respect for the old'.

Have we taught them to value power and control more than anything else? Have we let them down so horribly that they don't value us?  It would be nice if kids today had examples to follow .. from sports stars, politicians, celebrities but the daily news is full of disappointing examples.  Just ask someone under the age of 25 who they respect. The answers are interesting. 

Adults are no longer respected for being older, for having lived longer, they are not respected for years of study and experience, for war service, for doing dangerous jobs, for having positions of authority, they are not protected or revered by younger adults and children. We don't get respect from our own children, grandchildren, friends children - their sense of entitlement over rides anything we do. Who gets the respect?  In today's culture respect is not deserved or earned ... it is bestowed AND it is bestowed on people like David Beckham, Madonna or Bear Grylls, or whoever is in fashion at the time.

There is always false respect, don't fall for that. Not actually bowing and scraping, but polite nodding and agreement can mean they want something and they think you can help them get it - favour with their parents, the job they want or maybe to sign you up with a new telephone service or sell you a car.   There can be exceptions - kids who are naturally agreeable, but then you worry about that. Some adults receive a type of respect for being 'one of the group' but usually you get little or no respect from teens - they are too busy complaining that their parents don't respect them!!! What?  Is this a generation XYZ thing?

"You disrespected me" said the thug on TV, holding a knife to the throat of a terrified gang member.  

Do they even know what respect means - or has the meaning of the word changed? They need to understand the words that go with respect - regard, esteem, reverence, deference, consideration, honour, veneration.

Definition of respect -  To admire someone or something deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities or achievements - well yes, that could refer to David Beckham but also to Albert Einstein and also to hard working teachers and parents.  I would add authorities such as policemen and solicitors and doctors but I hesitate. That's interesting.

Speaking of  Albert Einstein (1879-1955), he once said, 'Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolised." Whoops.
This is a huge subject and I'm not attempting to go into it in a broad sense, just offering my personal experience and conclusions - there have been times when I've remembered Kathy Bates in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, rear ending the car of the young girls who had taken her parking spot, "Face it, girls, I'm older and I have more insurance". But that is demanding respect, really disguised fear, and it can't come that way.

Sadly, we can't change the world.  Some things we just have to get used to and until today's kids grow up and discover that something is missing we need to work around their lack of respect.  They will look back one day and discover new feelings for that teacher or friend from their childhood and respect could be reborn.

Choose your battles. It's good advice. The next time you are cut off in a doorway by a 14 year old, or the 18 year old brings friends home and does not introduce them to his parents, or the sweet 16 snaps answers back at her boss, or the kid in the back of the room mutters 'whatever' when the teacher asks him to open his book (or ipad or laptop) - just take a deep breath. Maybe we have to ignore the ignorance, because that's what it is, and find another way to get through to the young people.  Lets be gentle with the little ones and hope they follow the example.

What is it we all crave? Love. We want to be loved and appreciated and listened to. We want successful relationships, we want to be liked, to work together and laugh together and feel respect flowing from us and toward us.  Respect takes time to grow, time and common experience. It's just a little harder than it used to be. When the right situations come along, don't miss out.

1/ A sudden storm, a man and his son rush outside with shovels to dig a drain and divert water rushing toward the house. They come back changed men, a bond formed, respect growing.
2/ Exams in two days, a girl in tears. Big sister puts her work aside to show her how to study and is delighted when little sister passes the exam. The relationship is now stronger than just sisters, it includes respect.
3/ A woman falls when getting off the bus. An acquaintance rushes to her side, calms her, calls for help, rides in the ambulance and sits by the bed until family arrive. She appears the next day with flowers and is greeted  as a friend. A friendship grows from respect.

Back in 1971 someone heard Bruce Willis sing ... (yes, sing!) 
Respect yourself 
Respect yourself 
If you don't respect yourself 
ain't nobody gonna give a good 
Ca-hoot na na na oh oh 
Respect yourself 


Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, 
but always check when you say the paint is wet?

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


The afternoon breeze whips up from the bay. It rattles through palm fronds by the house and brings an air of seaweed to the garden.  Standing at the veranda rail for a moment I enjoy the wind in my hair and the call of gulls flying over the beach below. This outdoor room has seen many happy times, family gatherings for watching whales, boat races and sunsets.

Grasping both arms of a deck chair I lower myself into the seat,  groaning slightly, more from habit than discomfort, I tell myself.  The wickerwork creaks as it takes my weight, it’s become a snug fit lately and I know chairs don’t shrink. I think about buying a larger seat. I am thirsty, but comfortable here for the moment, in the breeze with the birds. The sun begins its downward path and I welcome the shade growing out from the house.

The whine of an old gearbox tells me the school bus is crawling up the hill. It stops at our gate, vibrating noisily and I wave one arm in greeting  just in case the driver is looking. The lid on the letter box slams and my princess is on her way up the path,  joggers crunching over gravel. Her backpack, slung over one shoulder, jingles against her hip. The solitary part of my day is over. 

Thump, thump on the steps. Scuff, scuff over the decking. “Arrhhh, isn’t it hot?” she
says.  Her book filled pack thuds to the floor by my feet.
“No, this isn’t hot, it was hot at midday. This is cool.” I laugh at my joke and she kisses me on the cheek, her long silky hair falling across my face.
“You'd be cooler if you tie your hair back,” I say.
“It was tied back, but the clip broke on the bus.”
The screen door slams. I hear her walking through the house. Water pipes hiss and bang in the wall, drowning the song of magpies in the camphor laurels. I rest and wait.
“You want a drink Nan?” she finally calls from the kitchen.
“Yes please. There’s coke in the fridge.”
“Got it,’ she calls.

The screen door bangs again. She trails a scent of pink soap and washing powder. I feel her touch on my shoulder and a cold can is pressed into my hand.
We open our drinks together. Pssstt.
“I hope you left your uniform in the laundry.”
“Yes fuss pot, I did.”
“And you found your clean clothes in the laundry basket under a pile of folded linen?"
She laughs. “It’s so good to be home, Nannie.”

Humming softly she taps her fingers on the veranda rail and turns her face toward the ocean. “Will Mum be late tonight?”
The words blow back to me on the breeze.
“I don’t think so.”
Her voice is louder as she turns toward me. “That’s good. I’ve got to ask her about the school camp and she won’t feel like talking if she’s tired.”
“Was there any mail Princess?”
“Yes. Three for Mum, I left them inside.”
“Good. Now tell me about the camp.”
“OK. I’ll find the note.”  Pouncing on her backpack she rips open the zipper.
"It’s called Late Summer Camp."
The paper crackles in her hands as it unfolds. She is crouching on the floor by my feet.  “March 20th to 30th. That’s ten days, much better than a week.”
“Yes, especially if you’re having fun.” I put my drink on the deck. She leans back, against my legs and I stroke her hair, twisting strands into brushes to tickle her dainty ears.
“We take our own sheets and things. It’s not in tents, they have little cabins, AND they have a dining hall.” She slaps at my hand, like swatting a fly and I wonder if the note mentions washing dishes.
“Sounds very different to last year's camp,” I say.
“Yes, it doesn't rain in March!” We laugh together, remembering.
My finger finds the tiny scar below her ear.
“It all sounds good. What is it you have to ask Mum?”
“To pay for it of course.”  Her slim little hand strokes mine.  “Can you talk to her Nan? I really, really want to go. I just have to go.”
“Of course.” I sigh. It always comes down to the price tag. 
“She might phone your Dad for this one. It could be an early birthday present, he never knows what to send, and fourteen deserves something special.”
“Good idea. If you suggest it she might go for it.” Her head lies on my knee and she plays with my fingers. “I love you Nan.”
“I’m glad princess.”
Her fingernails are strong and neat. Mine were chewed stumps at her age.

She springs to her feet and stretches. I remember doing that, once upon a time. 
I climb from the chair and lean on her shoulder. She is so tall today - this child of my child, full of energy and eager for life.
“Homework?” I ask.
“I want a swim first.”
“Go then, but don’t forget to shout once in a while, just so I know you’re still there.”
“Come down with me, you can sit on the sand.”
“No baby, not today. I have to refold those clean clothes.”
“Whatever you want, Nannie,” she says and laughs. Taking my hand, she presses it onto the back of the chair. Her joggers slap the steps as she jumps two at a time and I hear her on the zigzag path, skipping down to the beach.

The afternoon is moving around me, warm air stirring, tree sap rising, remembering other summer afternoons. Walking around the chair I feel with my feet for the backpack. She’s left it open, of course. I step over the pile of books and clothing. My outstretched hand finds the door and I go inside, letting it bang behind me.  I can still do that, all by myself.

by Janine Camm  (C)2006


Sunday, 3 February 2013

with the SOCK MONKEY story

MY INTRO TO SOCK MONKEYS:  Sock Monkeys! I'd never heard of them until about two years ago.  I was in a taxi .... well, not an ordinary taxi, it was a huge 11 seater, mostly used for taking groups and luggage to and from the airport.  So, there I was, perched on one of the 11 tiny seats in the back, trying to find a hand hold and the driver begins chatting about the groups she usually takes and how children get upset when travelling and that she wanted to make in-expensive soft toys to have in the taxi for them to cuddle. Suddenly she asked me if I could sew. I said yes, and she explained that she had seen some sock monkeys and then found the pattern on line. I was a little confused when she asked if I knew how to make them! I told her I'd never heard of them before and didn't know anything about them. So she explained that they were toy monkeys made out of socks and she was collecting socks, especially the long striped ones, which looked better.  The idea of making toys from socks was becoming interesting - and it sounded like something I would do. 

Two sock monkeys in beanies
By the time we'd turned into my road I had an understanding that one monkey needed two socks, the first was cut off above the heel so the heel became the monkey's head.  The sock top, now the bottom, was split up to half an inch below the heel, to form two legs and the cut off piece was shaped to make two little ears. The other sock was cut into strips, one the full length from top to toe, for the long tail and the other half of that sock cut into three pieces - the heel to form the monkey nose and the rest split in two to make the arms.  I could see in my mind where the seams would be and how to put it together, but was not sure what the finished monkey would look like. We pulled up on the road by our letter box as she wasn't happy about taking the big vehicle down the bush track. I needed her foot stool to get out and then we stood on the road talking.  It seems she was having trouble getting her machine to sew the seam on the monkey legs and we discussed that for a while. I asked her name and said I'd have a try and let her know.   

Of course I went home and Googled sock monkeys and now I know all about them!  

I phoned the taxi company and they said they couldn't pass private messages on to drivers. So, if anyone knows a taxi driver on the Sunshine Coast, named Lyn, who drives an 11 seater and makes sock monkeys, please tell her the problem is that most of the striped socks are nylon and sewing machines do not like that.  I tried a variety of socks on two machines and the nylon socks were impossible, I had the same problem she did.  However, woollen socks were okay to sew and cotton socks are a breeze.

SOCK MONKEY HISTORY: Yes, there is a sock monkey history.  Way back in time, long, long ago there were no toy makers for the ordinary folk, except mothers and grandmothers and aunties.  The creative ladies used left over sewing materials and old clothes to make soft toys and dolls for their little ones, stuffing them with old stockings, sawdust, horse hair or newspaper.  I think there were also dads and grandpas and uncles in the sheds or barns carving wooden rocking horses and skittles shaped like soldiers, but we're not talking about them today(that will come up in another post). 

Back to the sewing room. We all know and love rag dolls, gollywogs and glove puppets. When the teddy bear was invented (and that is also another story), it really took off and every two year old had to have one.  As Africa was opened up and people (in England, Europe and the US) became aware of monkeys and lions and other wild animals, the nursery sewers made soft toys to cuddle while the scary stories were told.  

Now, skip to 1852.  Immigrants from Sweden arrived in the US. One man, John Nelson, settled in the town of Rockford.  He was a clever man with big ideas. In 1869 he patented the first machine to knit socks, including toe and heel, in one piece without a seam, then opened the Nelson Knitting Company in 1888.  There were several knitting factories in Rockford and after WWl they were all producing brown work socks for men, with a cream (US tan) toe, heel and top that were called 'Rockfords'.  Nelson Knitting wanted their socks to stand out so they used red yarn for the toe, heel and top of their cotton work socks. These became famous and Nelson Knitting thrived.  

Skip ahead again to 1955. Makers of homemade toys across the US were using worn out Nelson Knitting socks to make toys. Several ladies, using new socks, made monkeys and sold them.  Someone sent a sock monkey to Nelsen Knitting and they were so delighted they bought out the patents, paid several ladies for their designs and became the home of the sock monkey. 

In 1992 Nelson Knitting was taken over by Fox River Mills.  With new machinery socks now have a seam at the toe and the only red bit is the heel, but they are still famous and are known as the Rockford Red Heel. A free Sock Monkey pattern is included with every pair of socks they sell. The socks come in brown, blue and pink, all with the red heel that gives the monkeys the big red lips and promotes the socks to this day.

It's a wonderful story of innovation, invention and enterprise joining with craft and creativity.  If you are interested, a full history, including old photos, newspaper articles and a copy of the original patent is here -(cut/paste if the link is broken)

SOCK MONKEY INSTRUCTIONS:  There are many blogs and web sites selling sock monkeys and sharing the pattern. 

SOCK MONKEYS TODAY:  I've now seen sock monkey fabric, pyjamas, woolly hats, fancy dress costumes, picture books, birthday cakes, sock-monkeys-on-a-stick, masks, mugs, tee shirts, cookies, key rings, giant sock monkeys, tiny sock monkeys - in fact it's a never ending parade.  As usual we have managed to destroy something sweet, simple and precious by making them in factories, in plastic and digitally ....  until we are drowning in the souvenirs.  Help!

Sock monkey baby bottle covers
Though I do think the original idea was wonderful - we could have sock monkeys for the conservatives, who like them all the same and need a herd of sock monkeys, or sock monkeys for the super creative who love colour, and variety, or the collector who will never find one of each, and something different for everyone else, BUT -  just between us, I think the big red lips are scary. I don't mind a red bum or red top but the lippy thing is weird.

Sock monkey hats

The herd of sock monkeys

SOCK MONKEY PROBLEMS: Oh dear. We must also have the negative.  Amazingly, there are people who think sock monkey toys are racist.  Here are snippets from two (unnamed web sites I've visited, but you can Google them)- 'remember the racist caricatures of the 19th and 20th centuries' - 'objects on sale have links to slavery, minstrel shows and racism' - 'sock monkeys and the inclusion of physical characteristics that resemble those found in minstrel shows' - 'no human being or monkey for that matter, looks like these “sock moneys”' (The typo is theirs, I'm sure they meant monkeys).  

Now, I'm thinking, if they don't look like any human being or a monkey, how could they be racist? 

I found this cute little Q and A.

Q/  Are sock monkey's racist?
A/  No. I think sock monkeys love everyone and base their opinions on character and not race.

SOCK MONKEY PHOTOS:  I did make my own sock monkey, from an old pair of stretched and floppy purple cotton bed socks.  I think he looks sweet sitting on the chair beside me. Good sock monkey.

My purple sock monkey                                                             Misc Striped sock monkey

Rockford Red Heel

Sock Monkey to wear


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