The Kindness of Strangers

Mumsnet Logo

In the last month I have received via Mumsnet*: an offer of a free holiday home for a week, some dried lavender, Estée Lauder Night Repair serum (that was a MN giveaway). Some ebooks and resources to improve my writing, some yarn to make so more blanket squares, and volunteers to try out a pattern I designed. That is just in the last month. From complete strangers.

When the above Mumsnetter recently offered my family the chance to stay in her house abroad she said “Not sure what I will tell my husband, probably that you are from university” because who would believe that people who have never met in real life could feel the need to do such a thing? It is testament to the generosity of Mumsnetters over the years (and the things that I have done in return) that my own husband didn’t bat an eyelid when I told him that a person from Mumsnet who I knew only by user name had made such an offer.

But my love for Mumsnet is not just cupboard love. It’s about more than the material things I have received. It is about the advice and support I have received in spades.

When I have been up at 3 in the morning crying because breastfeeding was going so badly, Mumsnetters have been there. When I had a home birth, not only did Mumnetters give me loads of advice in making the decision in the lead up, they were there cheering me on and doing virtual knitting in support while I posted between contractions.

I’ve cyber stalked Mumnetters and found them at my workplace, at my knitting group, and conversely I have converted my friends to the Cult of Mumsnet. Some people are very coy about their affiliation with the site in real life, partly to preserve their anonymity, and possibly partly because of the bad press it often gets.

Some of the criticisms are deserved. Mumsnet has gone through periods of turmoil where certain groups of posters have ruled the virtual playground. But these criticisms are true for many online forums, and as with every forum it has evolved, and grown.

A lot of the bad press it gets stems from bitterness and jealously. Liz Jones takes a crack or two at it on occasion, but her dazzling wit and astute observations (sorry, it’s hard to convey sarcasm in the written word) continues to be outpaced by the shrewd and scintillating posters who chose to put their brains and words to good use on Mumsnet rather than waste it on the misogynistic heap of shite that is the Daily Mail.

During the last general election, the media hailed it as the Mumsnet election, and politicians and politicos flocked to the site to woo the votes of its posters. It was mostly media hype, but a nod to the rise to prominence of the female story in the slightly more egalitarian world of the Internet (unless you count the Guardian Forums). But in the same way that the media and government used Mumsnet as a symbol of all women, so too is Mumsnet used as a way to beat all women down. When journalists and comedians mock Mumsnet, what they are really mocking is women’s freedom of speech. Ho ho ho, let’s laugh at the women who think their lives are meaningful and who think they have something important to say. God forbid that mums engage in anything but tending to their children and husbands. It shows complete ignorance and, at the very least, lack of proper research. For you don’t have to look very far on Mumsnet to find women (some men, but it is mostly women) making a real difference in the world, whether it is advising another mum how she can continue to breastfeed her baby, making blankets for the recently bereaved, or taking part in numerous campaigns to bust rape myths, improve miscarriage care, and improve reproductive choices in third world countries.

On a personal note, I truly believe Mumsnet has made me a better parent, you know, apart from all the time I’ve spent neglecting them. If it wasn’t for Mumsnet I wouldn’t have stuck with breastfeeding, I wouldn’t have done Baby Led Weaning with my children, I wouldn’t have worn my second child in a sling for so many months. That’s not to say that those choices themselves make me a better parent, but knowing about these choices, finding that there is more out there than Gina Ford and naughty steps, has given me the confidence to make the right choices for me and my children. And that’s not to say that all Mumsnetters are the sling wearing, lentil-weaving type; far from it. There are many Mumsnetters who would rather poke themselves in the eye with a blunt pencil than wap their baps out to feed their children, or who would rather spend an evening at a Peter Andre autobiography book launch than even to discuss parenting online. There are even people on Mumsnet who don’t have children. And that’s the thing about Mumsnetters, they are so diverse that it is impossible to even try and levy any sort of criticism against them as a community.

Mumsnet Crochet Blanket

If this post sounds familiar, it’s because I have written a paean to Mumsnet before, when I started contributing to the Mumsnet Woolly Hugs Blankets (if you are bored by my writing yet another sycophantic blog post, then tough, it’s my blog!) Once again I find myself with another couple of balls of yarn, donated by yet another stranger, to make squares for a blanket of someone I don’t know. But I don’t need to know her. I just know she has lost a child and needs support. God forbid it should ever happen to me, but I know that Mumsnet would be the place I would turn to in my time of need.

*Warning: do not confuse Mumsnet with Netmums. It’s like confusing Father Jack from “Father Ted” with the Pope. You know, if the Pope said “hun” a lot and used smileys.

Behind the scenes of a yarn bombing

So, it’s about time I did a proper write up of Tuesday night’s yarn bombing. I’d been planning it for weeks, spending most evenings making bollard cosies and lamp post tags.

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We have adopted the Montpellier Chapter as our den of iniquity. It’s a very “naice” place (originally chosen because it was the only place NOT showing the football). This was the second time we had been in there, crocheting away, the table strewn with wool. The waiter came in periodically, a faint look of bemusement on his face, but unfailingly polite. We finished up our creations there with a cup of tea. Actually Georgia was still sewing hers up as we were walking to our target!

Our initial target was a big public garden in the town. Wednesday was the start of the local music festival and all the festivals are based in this garden. Well, nearly all of them. We turned up at the gardens with nary a marquee or even a tent in sight. I quickly checked on my iPhone to see if I’d got the right dates. I had, but no mention of location. Stitch This suddenly had a brainwave that the music festival is usually held at the Town Hall. So we traipsed in the pouring rain to the Town Hall. “Are there even any bollards near the Town Hall?” I wailed, bollards being central to this yarn bomb. “There’d better be. I’ve just spent two chuffing hours on this train finishing this thing getting weird looks” replied Stitch This. Except she didn’t say “chuffing”.

Through an alley way and outside the Town Hall we found a bollard-tactic vista and got cracking straight away. It was getting late for us poor tired mothers of young children (sorry to ruin the mystique for you there).

It was lashing with rain, but it didn’t really matter. It just made things a bit awkward that we couldn’t put our bags down while we were sewing up. Instead we were manically running around, swapping scissors and yarn needles.

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Most of the bollard cosies had been pre-sewn to make it easier to just slip them over but a couple still had to been sewn on as did the lamp post tags.

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This was Stitch This’s first foray into yarn bombing and she was giddy with excitement. Her yarn bombs were a green sea creature closely resembling a head on a stick, and a magic wand with the words “Music is Magic” sewn on, and even some gold sparks! The wand was actually a mash up of some UFOs including a scarf of doom.

I ummed and ahhed over whether or not to add a tag. It seemed very self promoting and I thought it might ruin the air of mystery. However I put a lot of work into the project and it would be nice to have more visitors to my blog. In the end I did and I added a message saying that if people wanted to take the yarn bombs to please think about it and remember the yarn can be undone a recycled. I love yarn bombing, even if it has become less subversive and more ubiquitous. But the only slightly negative comment I have ever had was questioning the wastefulness of all that yarn, which was a good point. I have to hope that people who take the yarn bombs do so because they want them for decorative purposes, and if not hopefully my note will make them think twice.

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All in all they made for a great sight. I haven’t actually seen them in broad daylight, but I have been updated by various Twitter observers that they are still in situ. The Cheltenham Town Hall staff were very pleased with them and have been tweeting about them and putting pictures on their Facebook page.

Picture from the Cheltenham Town Hall Face Book page
More from Cheltenham Town Hall Face Book page

My new posse and I have big plans for the next festival, and we are going to keep meeting at the Montpellier Chapter (you think if I mention them enough times they will give us a discount?) so watch this space…

A finished Mumsnet blanket

Regular readers might remember that I have contributed squares to a couple of blankets which are made as a group project by a bunch of women who for the most part have never met, for people they have never met. The people who these blankets are destined for have been bereaved in some way, and the blankets are a way of sending a little bit of comfort.

 

While often derided as just ‘words on a screen’ Mumsnet, and other forums, are places where relationships are formed. I’ve never met most of these women, yet many of them have been there for me in my darkest hours. But my darkest hours have been nowhere near as dark as those who have lost husbands or children.

 

These blankets are usually hand delivered to these families, bristling with energy; a collective unconscious. I’m sorry to say I didn’t contribute to the blanket pictured above. But there have been others that I have contributed to, and there will be more. I just wanted to post the picture of this piece of work. It’s amazing that scores of disparate people can make so many different squares that come together to look so beautiful. And some of the people who have made these squares are complete novices, trying out a new skill to lend support to a stranger. And let’s not forget the donors provide money or yarn to the cause. You can read more about this blanket here. In the meantime I’m just going to marvel at the blanket, I just need to get this thing out of my eye…