A Birthday to Forget

My sister and I are twins. We're fraternal twins, not identical twins, but the number of people who ask if we are identical is beyond belief! The fact that we don't look identical should be a clue but no, people have to ask. Being twins, our birthday celebrations have always been a joint affair. Last year I suggested we go paint-balling and Sally thought it was a great idea. I invited two of my friends and she invited two of hers and all six of us donned the camouflage and took up arms before taking part in battles, skirmishes, campaigns and missions. The photograph was taken before the first battle. It didn't take long for our outfits to be covered in numerous splats of red, yellow, green and blue paint. We all had a great time and talked about it for weeks afterwards.

Back row: Jordan, Mark, Peter (me).
Front row: Kirsten, Sally (my sister), Mollie.
This year, I suggested we have another paint-ball party, but Sally wasn't keen for two reasons. One; doing the same thing again is boring and unimaginative. Two; it's her turn to think of something. Fair enough, I thought. Although she didn't have any firm ideas beyond going to the cinema or maybe the bowling alley. Sally decided that she wanted a party at home with a few friends, a birthday buffet and party games. I thought it sounded boring and unimaginative (and a little bit childish) but it's her turn to choose so... whatever!

May Day

It was a few weeks before Easter when the Cubs and Brownies began their rehearsals for the May Pole dance. It was definitely more of a girl thing than a boy thing; skipping around with garlands of flowers and long lengths of ribbon. It was also the time of year when the Brownies would be getting giddy about who would be chosen as this year’s May Queen. The only difference this year is the fact that Brown Owl had made a radical suggestion for updating the selection system and for the first year ever, both girls and boys could be nominated.

Initially we weren't worried because no boy would ever nominate himself nor be chosen over a girl. It was nothing more than an exercise in equality, balancing boy's rights with women's rights, my mother claimed. But during the May Pole dance class one Thursday evening, Brown Owl announced that the eight nominees for this year's May Queen had been chosen. “...and I'm delighted to inform you that we have five girls and three boys!”

We all gasped. The Cubs began nervously grumbling amongst themselves whilst the Brownies began whispering and giggling behind cupped hands. “I hope Roger Fletcher's one of them!” one of the Brownies giggled. Roger countered and suggested one of the younger Cubs. Other names were suggested until the Cub Scout Leader quietened us down. Once we were attentive, Brown Owl stepped forward and began to read a list of names. “Jane Cleaver, Brian Preston...”

A host of gasps and giggles erupted and somewhere in the background noise, one could just make out Brian meekly mutter “Oh no.”

Brown Owl continued. “Paula Baxter, Claire Woolford, Andrew Preston...” more giggles and sniggers erupted. I looked over at Andrew who hung his head. “Amanda Barton, Peter Jackson and Wendy Miles.”

It took a moment for it to sink in. Initially I thought I’d misheard but the sniggers and giggles and all the eyes glancing at me confirmed that I was on the list. “What!?” I blurted. “How can I be on the list? ...I didn't even nominate myself!”.

My Brother's a Greaser!

My brother's a greaser! His hair is far too long and tatty, he rarely seems to wash and spends every day wearing the same Harley Davidson T shirt, a smelly old leather jacket, tattered jeans and his trusty old pair of baseball boots... and he thinks he looks 'cool'. He looks like a reject from a rock festival and I completely understand our mother's embarrassment every time he leaves the house. He could wear a pair of 'nice' jeans but no... he prefers the ones with a hole in the knee, frayed hems and greasy marks on the lap. What the neighbours must think I'll never know. It wouldn't be so bad if he brushed his hair once in a while... or even washed it! I'd post a picture of him if I'd bothered taking one. He's not what one would call photogenic so it never crossed my mind. Saying that, he used to be cute when he was younger, we've got plenty of old photos from before he grew his hair and wore what he was told rather than what he wanted.

Dreams or Nightmares?

“Don't look so worried Peter.” my mother said. “I'm sure he's done this hundreds of times before.”

“Well maybe not hundreds....” the doctor said. “...but you've nothing to worry about.” he assured.

'Nothing to worry about'... that's easy for them to say. All I recall from last night's dream was looking at myself in the mirror, clad in feminine underwear and being told that the bra I wore was a 'special' training bra for boys. 'Special' because it's designed in such a way that it cannot be removed by the wearer. It's not the sort of dream that I want to recall, either consciously or subconsciously. I seldom seem to have 'normal' dreams, just weird ones where I'm somehow forced or encouraged to wear girl's clothes and more often than not, I wake in a cold sweat and struggle to get back to sleep.

“Pay attention Peter... the doctor's speaking to you.” my mother said as my mind visibly wondered.

“Sorry.” I gulped. “You were saying?”

“I was saying that after a little dream analysis... we'll hopefully get to the bottom of why you're not sleeping too well.” the doctor reiterated.

“Hopefully.” I gulped.

“Now, if you'll just concentrate on the watch, and try to clear your mind of all other thoughts....”

The watch swung like a pendulum. I followed it as best I could and tried to clear my mind whilst the doctor calmly recited a repetitive string of hypno-clich├ęs; relax, clear your mind, concentrate on the watch, your eyelids are heavy, you're feeling drowsy, empty your mind, follow the watch, blah blah, blah.

“Right well thank you... we won't keep you any longer Doctor.” my mother said. “Come on Peter... let's get you home.”

Peter's Room part two

After discovering that his school friend Peter is a petticoated boy, John has been invited
to Peter's birthday party. Of course John would rather avoid the party since his petticoated
friend will have to wear a party dress for the occasion, but John's mother suggests that
he shows his friend some support by not only attending his birthday party,
but by wearing a party dress too. [read part one here]

John is dressed and ready to go to the party, but with all the worry surrounding his outfit, choosing Peter a birthday present, let alone a birthday card has completely slipped his mind. Fortunately his mother has thought of that and has a card ready and waiting for him to sign, plus and ready wrapped birthday present. “What is it?” John asked. “Oh Mum he won't want that!” he exclaims when he's told that he'll be giving his friend a Disney Princess colouring book. He signs the card and seals the envelope, hoping his friend won't be too offended with such a girlie gift and card. John's mother asks if he's ready to go and with his handbag, gift and card in hand, he is. Now he has to take the giant leap from the front door to the car, which he finds panic inducing to say the least. The little solace the front seat offers is just enough to calm his nerves, but when his mother tells him to sit in the back, he begins to protest. “Petticoated boys don't sit in the front, they sit in the back.” she tells him. “Now do as you're told and get in the back.” she insists. In a clear strop, Peter gets out of the front passenger door and into the back of the car. When he arrives at Peter's house, his doubly annoyed to discover that his mother has activated the child locks so he has to wait for her to let him out. It's a nervous wait after ringing the doorbell as the wind whips around his legs and up his dress. John had half expected it to be just he and Peter in attendance, but there's three more petticoated boys there; one of whom he recognises from school. Everyone compliments his dress and John tries his very best to appear grateful... he returns the compliment to Peter who's wearing the prissy pink dress he'd seen displayed on the mannequin in his room. Sheepishly, John hands over the birthday card and gift and mumbles “My Mum chose them.”

...a few new captions

A handful of captioned images taken from vintage sewing pattern covers and catalogue pages.

The Evacuee

The story of an evacuee that begins in the autumn of 1940... 10 year old Billy says a tearful goodbye to his mother before boarding the bus to who knows where. All the other kids are just as nervous as Billy, even more so when they arrive at the small church hall in a remote town somewhere well away from the city. They stand in line waiting to be picked and some of their potential hosts inspect them as if inspecting livestock, picking the healthiest and cleanest looking ones first. Poor Billy was always one of the last to be picked for football games and he's one of the last today. A stern looking middle aged lady arrives late and is 'furious' that all the 'decent' children have been claimed. “Is this all you've got left?” she snaps at the billeting officer as she sneers at the three remaining children. The lady reluctantly picks the tatty looking red haired girl next to Billy, before entering into a heated debate about whether or not she should take Billy too. “You did put your name down for two children Mrs Postlethwaite.” the billeting officer reminds her. In the meantime, the smallest child is taken in by a family who've agreed to take four instead of three evacuees. The billeting officer pleads with Mrs Postlethwaite but the lady refuses to budge.

“I said I could house two girls at the most and you've only got one!” Mrs Postlethwaite retorted. “I don't like boys, I don't trust boys, and I have no intention of housing one... especially a scratty little street urchin like that!” she says as a well manicured nail points directly at Billy.

Halfway House

Lawrence has recently been taken out of foster care due to him turning 16 years of age, and has been residing in a residential housing scheme for the last five months. It's a kind of 'halfway house' which helps youngsters make the transition between foster care and living by their own means. The halfway house provides a stable and secure living environment and helps its residents to find work or a suitable college course and assists in finding permanent accommodation outside of the welfare system. Lawrence's current halfway house is called Elm Tree House and is more geared towards residents with mental health and disability issues, but it was the only one in the area which had an available place so that's where Lawrence ended up. It's not a bad place by any means and like most of these types of residential housing schemes, the aim is to get their residents to eventually move out and learn to live an independent life.

House Rules

Aunt Katinka was always a staunch advocate of petticoating and claimed that it was commonplace in ‘the old country’. It’s not at all common here in Blighty, apart from at Aunt Katinka’s house. My mother used to send me to stay with her a few of times a year as a child and spent every moment having to abide by her unusual house rules.

From the moment I arrived I'd be buttoned into a dress and if I showed even the slightest hint of objection, she'd swap my knickers for a nappy which wouldn't be changed until bed time. She didn't make me wear girls clothes every day. Some days I wore my own clothes but always over my knickers, or if I’d been disobedient, over a nappy. To begin with I suffered terrible nappy rash but I soon learned to shut up and put up as I'd rather spend my days wearing a pair of knickers than a nappy.

My mother knew exactly what went on but insisted that petticoating was harsh yet harmless. At least my mother didn't petticoat me at home, nor did she ever threaten me with it. However if I ever played up or got in trouble, my mother would threaten to send me to stay with Aunt Katinka when school broke up. “She'll happily have you every school holiday and half term if need be!” I recall my mother saying. The visits to Aunt Katinka's stopped when I left school and so did the petticoating... thank god!

Now I’m an adult and I'll be staying with Aunt Katinka again for a few weeks, but only until I sort myself somewhere permanent to live. The last thing I expected was for her to pick up where we left off all those years ago!

My First 'Mixed' Girl's School

Having grown up in Ashford, where one school on the far side of town had adopted the policy of 'educational petticoating' several years ago, I knew that some schools were less desirable than others, especially for boys. Educational Petticoating schools (or 'mixed' girl's schools) are becoming increasingly popular these days, with seemingly every large town or city having at least one, so when my mother booted up Google Maps to show my sister and I the location of a our new house and our new school in the new town we'd be moving to, I asked “It's not one of those schools where the boys wear the same uniform as the girls is it?”

“Nooo.” my mother replied. “The boys and girls have separate uniforms.”

“Phew!” I replied. “Told you!” I cockily said to my sister who, only a few days previously had claimed that our new school is a 'mixed' girl's school. I was 95% certain that she was only trying to wind me up because she knows how much I'd hate it.

“Told me what?” Julia smugly asked.

“That it's not a mixed girl's school.” I retorted.

“Actually Matthew, it is a mixed girl's school.” my mother stated.

“What?!” I blurted as she clicked on the school and followed a short cut to its website. “But you just said...” I stammered as she clicked through to the uniforms page and...