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Plum Jam? Virtually None…..

I’m addicted to the movie “Calendar Girls” – an oldie but goodie. My daughter and I chuckle away at the same funny parts no matter how many times we see it. I’m a huge fan of Julie Walters so there’s that added bonus for me too.

For anyone who doesn’t know the film, its the true story of how a group of women from a Women’s Institute (WI) group in Northern England rally together to produce a radical semi-nude calendar to raise money for facilities at a local hospital where the husband of one of the women unfortunately died. The idea of anyone in the WI getting naked in public for any reason was very shocking at the time.

There’s a line in the film where one woman asks another: “Annie, what is the point of the WI?” and Annie answers “Enlightenment, fun and friendship!” This got me thinking about women like me (if there are any!), who are not sure about the whole jam and Jerusalem thing but who do enjoy the idea of sharing experiences and making friendships. I have therefore hatched an embryonic theory – could blogging be the Virtual WI for us women?

I sat down to think about it. (Yes, I know I should be cleaning something or reading to the children, but those who read this blog regularly know that it is, in fact, the kids that bring ME up not the other way around, so sshhh) And I wrote my fledgling ideas down:

ENLIGHTENMENT:

Lady-Blogs such as myself laugh, cry, empathise, educate and learn much with blogging and reading blogs of like-minded people. There is a vast array of subjects and issues discussed on blogs all over the UK and the world. The traditional WI talks are intended to enlighten in the same way. Virtual WI wins, however, as you can skip blogs focused solely on the history of bee-keeping or beets if they are not your bag. Imagine having to physically sit through an hour’s presentation on “Tissue Boxes Through the Ages”? Not for me, sorry – I’d rather click and go!

Blogging is something we do that is just for us. Our bit of “me time”. We feel comfortable amongst a group of people with a common interest. It is somewhere we can “go” with our ideas, get feedback, involve others and pass on the benefit of our experience. The traditional WI does much the same thing, except you have to go out in the rain (ugh), or stress to get back from work/picking up the kids etc. to go sit in a drab hall. Virtual WI just happens to be more convenient, at a time to suit, easily accessible (unless your broadband provider lets you down) and you can usually find a subject that suits your mood or interest, rather than being pigeon-holed into what’s on offer that night.

FUN:

I particularly like the friendships, camaraderie, support networks and the way different personalities and points of view blend together. And I have laughed my socks off at some of the blogs I have read. Virtual WI is fun!

There are the events such as the recent CyberMummy which, whether you like the idea or not, had more than a touch of the WI meeting about it. It’s nice to bring Virtual WI to a physical manifestation. (And then go away again!)

FRIENDSHIP:

As bloggers, we pour out our thoughts to those who are, initially, strangers but many of whom come to be dear friends over time. The friendships made face to face at WI groups work the same way, but such geographic and social diversity is tough for them to achieve. Virtual WI coverage wins hands-down here. It also has the advantage that you don’t have to see or deal with those who have unfortunate eye-tics or who are not quite your cup of tea every week. Excellent news.

OTHER THOUGHTS:

There is a “doing good” aspect to Virtual WI in the same way as the traditional one. Whether its helping you network to grow a home-based business, offering free advice to those in need based on your own professional expertise, or simply promoting a charity or fund-raising event to a wider audience, there is so much that can be achieved through word of blog at the Virtual WI. It is also, by its nature, able to focus towards the things YOU think are important, rather than causes and issues chosen at a remote national level which you may or may not agree with.

TRADITIONAL VS. VIRTUAL WI – WHICH ONE IS RIGHT FOR ME?

I’ve always thought that there would come a point where I would join the traditional WI – partly to escape that “empty nest” feeling I feel will come to the fore later on when the kids have left, and partly because I assume I will give up work at some point and will need something to get me out of the house so I don’t machete my long-suffering husband into tiny pieces (Hang on: does this count as a craft project? Hmm, maybe not.) I am not so sure now that I can blog and be blogged that the moment will arrive.

I’m also slightly intimidated by the traditional WI. In addition to craft projects and cake-baking (at which I expect to be crap anyway), it seems today’s modern WI has taken things to a new level. Their website expounds on some rigorous philanthropy and women’s activism particularly in areas like maternal care, poverty etc. This is great and very admirable but, between you and me, I don’t have the strength. I’m not sure this forceful modern WI fits with me, being a bit of a wuss and lazy to boot, or with the traditional reasons women like me would join it in the first place.

So, in conclusion, I think the traditional WI are missing a trick here. Instead of focusing on small groups of worthy ladies of a certain age in draughty church halls, sipping tepid coffee while wielding hand-made flyswatters decorated on an international theme, they perhaps should be broadening their membership and ensuring the WI’s survival by engaging on-line: the Virtual WI. Listening to women of all ages, the subjects they talk about, experiences they share, how and why they help each other. Witnessing good old-fashioned enlightenment, fun and friendship in action.

Getting naked for a calendar is not so radical out here in the Virtual WI – its what we do with our thoughts on our blogs every day. In my opinion, here lies the future for women like me much more so than trying to fit into an apron-clad scary women’s empowerment movement. I, for one, am not looking for that – all I really want is a bit of fun and a jolly network of mates. Perhaps that way of thinking is too simplistic, but the Virtual WI I’m seeing in the blogging world embraces it and allows for the way modern women like me can and want to come together: it fits with our lifestyles, doesn’t involve any lobbying of MPs (unless you want to) and most particularly no hateful plum jam.

Anyone else out there want to join my Virtual WI? New members welcome and you don’t have to bake a bloody thing if you don’t want to.

Fashion – turn to the left. Fashion, turn to the right. Oooooooh Fashion! (David Bowie stylie)

So last week goes down as the time when my long friendship with Sue was sorely tested.

Sue and I have known each other for 8 years, and set up a local village netball club together. We compete in a nearby friendly league in separate teams. Sue is ambitious to win all her matches, I try to pick the positive out of every result. Our captaincy styles blend and it works. Our youngest sons are the same age and in the same class at school. I helped strap her into her wedding dress on her big day and we have shared many a silly, giggly evening over the years. You get the picture – Sue and I are good friends.

Er – scratch that. Were good friends.

For Sue is responsible for my attendance at the Pampered Food Fetishist party (thereby showing me up as a domestic devil, not goddess), the subject of a recent blog. Last Friday, blind trusting fool that I am, I went to another Sue-prompted event – the PTA Fashion Show.

Now what I know about fashion can be written on a grain of rice. One that’s been nibbled by mice to half its original size. Then ground into dust. My own wardrobe consists of sporty jeanswear that I am possibly too old for; workwear in any shade you like so long as it’s black; some dodgy butt-covering cardies; and a series of hideous evening outfits bought for one event, hated beyond belief and never worn again. And pyjamas – there is a glut of pyjamas going on. Not sure why.

I adore shoes and handbags. But that has nothing to do with fashion. I like what I like – simples.

So the usual sense of my impending failure as a normal woman began as we entered the village hall. Ten minutes previously I’d been ensconced in front of a warm fire, hubby had been lightly stroking the stubble on my calves and the kids were, for once, watching TV and not bickering. Now here I was, ten minutes later. Ripped from the bosom of family life. Slightly soggy from a cloud burst that, of course, erupted the minute I stepped outside the front door.

Oh my days. It was worse than expected. The lighting made you wince in its unflattering brightness. One girl had a definite greenish tinge to her and will now forever be known as “Shrek”. Someone else tall and thin thrust a raffle book in my moo-ey before I’d even taken my brolly down and picked the twigs out of my cleavage. The walls were lined with an assortment of hanging rails not a million miles from a church jumble sale (albeit on hangers instead of on the floor). The audience assembled was an average age of 72. And there SHE stood next to the microphone, waiting with evil anticipation and crinkly hair for the show to start.

What is it with the women who run these type of events? Chirpy, overenthusiastic, vocal in the extreme and – if they only knew it – alarmingly threatening. A sort of Fashion Commandant.

So Frau Fashion kicked us off, and some of the braver school mums strutted their stuff in items rejected politely by several High Street chains. The models were a little hesitant and the outfits were – ahem – challenging on occasion but under the blistering command of the head of the Fashion SS, overall they conducted themselves well. One poor love seemed to have been labelled as the “Fashion for the over 60s” model – she has a great figure and would have looked good in anything, but was type-cast into elasticated slacks and drapey net thingies in a myriad of garish colours, designed to cover a multitude of sagging bosoms and varicose veins she did not yet have. Bless.

Once Der Fuhrer had finished her patter and the “show” was finished (plus my illicitly snuck-in bottle of white wine), we were encouraged to begin a cat fight over the items around the walls. A couple of women did actually sprint to the nearest rails. I worried for their hip replacements.

I did not run. Instead, a friend and I sought out the rails to find the worst item of the night. And it was hard, believe me, with so much to choose from! But my quiet competitiveness rose to the fore, and not to be discouraged I found the piece de resistance. A handbag!

In a beautiful shade of diarrhoea tan, with a matching fringe that should catch nicely on fire at any BBQ or firework party, there it sat. I was immediately drawn to it. Not because it was nice. I didn’t want to own it, you understand. Or use it in anger for the purpose for which it was intended. No. I wanted to give it a name and a decent home – it was an ill-treated animal needing to be rescued. The name came to me instantly. I would call it “Smelly Monkey”. It would be looked after all its days and go to the great unpicking factory in the sky when its time came to be reincarnated as a butt-covering cardi in the next life.

I was only stopped from purchasing it by my friend Kate who said “Sarah – put it down. It’s probably got fleas.”

At the thought of having to de-louse it, I lost interest. Despite knowing that I was consigning him to a life spent with Eva Braun and her posse, I walked away. Who knows where Smelly Monkey is now – I hope wherever he is, he is happy.

As for Sue, she and I will be discussing what constitutes a good evening out as somewhere along the way, she has clearly lost her way. The Pampered Pickling party I can allow – it was fun with friends and pink fizz – but this – well. I have no words.