Marvel-lous Merch?

We love Marvel and the Avengers in this house. Adrenaline, adventure, poker-sharp wit, top tech and unimpeachable moral values: what’s not to love? My youngest in particular is a big fan – especially of the female heroes. Where previously the roles for women in superhero romps and big budget blockbusters have been peripheral at best, exploitative at worst, I do dare to dream that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, things appear to be morphing in the right direction…

Many of the most recent cinematic offerings from the Marvel family, Civil War, Infinity war, Endgame and the like, have female characters at the heart of the action, albeit sometimes in awkwardly feminist ‘girl squad’ moments, or as a non-too-subtle nods to today’s post #metoo universe. Still, there are plenty of badass women to celebrate. Here’s just a few:

Scarlett Johansen’s Black widow is brooding and brilliant. Her dodgy Russian back story and secret service training confirm her hard-as-nails rep, and you wouldn’t cross her. She gets some of the films’ smartest lines, and it’s only perhaps the tightness of the black leathers that keeps her character semi-mired in the regrettably chauvinist past of the comic-book world. But then, in all fairness, Captain America’s lycra is pretty figure-hugging too, so it’s probably a score draw when it comes to steamy zip-up onesies.

Then there’s Scarlet Witch: strange and spookily powerful, her superhero ranking is off the scale. This is a woman who [spoiler alert] loses her twin brother and the love of her life on the way to the series’ climax – and yet still squares up to big baddie Thanos again and again. Can the male avengers shoot flames and force-fields from their fingertips? Nope, I don’t think so.

But by far the most fearless/fearsome female has be Captain Marvel (the original Avenger – if we don’t count the ones still on ice at that point). This is a superhero who can jet into outer space and lend a hand in any galaxy she fancies. Can mighty Thor, even with his snazzy lightening eyes or the bionic Iron Man hoik spaceships out of orbit and deposit them safely back down somewhere near L.A.? Nah-uh. Captain Marvel is just the best. She’s even soundtracked with her own uber-cool score of nineties girl-fronted grunge: talk about inter-galactic super goals!

Yet Marvel or perhaps Disney may be missing a trick here somewhere. For my daughter’s birthday I shopped around for a Captain Marvel doll. I found one on Amazon of course but only after a trawl of the usual high street toy retailers came up short. There are, of course plenty of Iron Men, Hulks and Captain Americas to choose from, plus shelves and shelves of Barbies for kids to dress and undress ad infinitem, plenty of ponies with brushable hair and baby dolls as far as the eye can see, but a glaring dearth of female superheroes in plastic form. I wanted to buy my daughter a role model, not just a model.

Amazon doll having dutifully been sourced and purchased, I looked for extras to complete the birthday theme, maybe hoping for wrapping paper or even just an Avengers themed birthday card. Easy peasy: these items are everywhere. Looking for an Iron Man lunch box? You got it. Water bottle with an angry Hulk on? Spiderman wallpaper? No problem. There’s merch galore, but I would be eternally grateful if someone could point me in the direction of any of the above featuring an actual female face.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than happy to buy stuff covered in Captain America, emblazoned with Iron Man or decorated with Thor. They’re all well and good, but please Marvel, give us more girls. Let’s put them everywhere! I want to carry my lunch in a Black Widow lunch bag, dress my children as green-faced Gomora, drink out of a Scarlett Witch water bottle and wrap pressies in the women warriors of Wakanda. Stick these awesome Avengers on your merch, get their fabulous faces in the shops and I reckon you could double your audience, not to mention your profits.

Come on Marvel, there’s a lot resting on this. I know change takes time, but you have the power to do it – and if you don’t, then call someone who does. She’s probably orbiting some other planet right now to the strains of classic nineties indie, but I’m sure she’d be happy to blaze down to earth and sort out your merchandise mishap.

Salut

‘Hello. What’s your name and do you have a hobby?’

Back in the late eighties when I turned the pages of my Tricolore textbook in Madame Scott’s form room, the single most important fact you could learn about someone (French or otherwise) was whether or not they had a hobby. What a person was interested in doing when they weren’t at school was right up there with their hair colour and home town as their key info: the fact that Le Samedi, Jean-Luc liked to jouer au ping pong and Marie-Claire was keen on la natation told you everything you needed to know about them.

There was the unsuccessful stint as a young ballerina, the piano teacher who informed my parents that it would be for the best if I stopped attending her lessons, a brief and meaningless fling with trumpet playing. And the one my family find most amusing of all, the unforgettably faint praise on one of my secondary school PE reports: ‘Lucy is a reliable member of the hockey team.’ Here the ‘reliable’ is, of course, teacher code for, she’s not much cop at the actual hockey but she does at least always turn up. More rewardingly I liked to trawl the record shops of Birmingham and attend record fairs on the hunt for Smiths seven-inches. And charity shops for vintage clothes. They were hobbies of sorts.

But then they tailed off. Stuff got in the way: exams, university, social life and jobs. All of which meant that your hobby wasn’t the most interesting thing about you any more – what and where you were studying and which career you had chosen eclipsed the hobbies in the story of your life. Looking back it probably would have been a good idea to take up more hobbies before starting a family, because the chances of starting something new when your kids are small, are even smaller.

These days there are plenty of hobbies, but none of them belong to me. The years of taking kids to baby and toddler groups have given way to a new era of youth groups and a myriad pastimes.

The list over the last 12 years for my brood includes football, tennis, swimming, netball, korfball, hockey, art club, ballet, coding, choir, bell ringing, and the full gamut of uniformed groups. Jean-Luc and Marie-Claire would certainly be impressed.

Kids these days or maybe just kids round here are spoilt for options of things to try their hand at, and this is indeed a wonderful thing. Cambridge is the sort of place where you can try anything. If you were looking to find a club dedicated to the appreciation of underwater uni-cycling, I imagine you’d find it here. For this and the fantastic opportunities afforded to my children, I’m very grateful.

But what about me? – Apart from the occasional exercise class I have been hobby-less for 12 years or more. I’m hoping that while you grow out of some hobbies, there are others you grow into. However time-poor we are, surely it must be possible to claw some of this time back and channel it into a passion or a pastime, something that could reasonably be called a hobby?

I am making a conscious effort to get stuck into a something new, something for me, and it had taken me long enough to get round to it. I do different things to different degrees of success and completion. I have numerous craft projects on the go, half finished. My husband despairs of the old bits of furniture kicking round the house that I may or may not get round to upcycling. I play netball on Mondays and here I am writing again. I need to find time, make time, or just beg steal and borrow it from my other commitments to make sure I have a hobby of my own.

So maybe if I ever happen to visit La Rochelle and have a conversation with Jean Francois, I’ll be sure to mention that ‘je m’appelle Lucy et je joue au netball.’ And when I grow up, I want to be a writer…

Inconvenience food

I’m a big fan of Greta Thunburg. But when I think of the poorly planet Greta has opened our eyes to, I’m a bit torn. On the one hand she inspires great hope. Here is a young woman with everything and nothing to lose, with the guts to warn us of a natural disaster on a scale not seen since it started getting too chilly for even the mammoths.

That someone her age should be so switched on, not to mention motivated to get off her teenage behind and do something about it, while the rest of us procrastinate around the peripheries is just plain awesome.

That this amazing young woman who hasn’t even finished school yet is in the running for a Nobel Prize – Piers Morgan’s odious Twitter outbursts notwithstanding – is profoundly positive. Imagine a future populated by mini Gretas: informed and eloquent stars of tomorrow, unafraid to practise what they preach.

And it’s inspiring that after thirty-odd years of climate-change apathy, someone is finally willing to peak above the parapet and say, ‘yep, I’ll take this on’.

But then, on the other hand, it’s pretty depressing that a sixteen-year-old has to school us on this stuff at all. I can’t help but feel that, even by the time our teenage hero had started clanging her chimes of doom, it may already have been too late for our sad little planet.

So what now? Oddly it seems that the only way forward in this predicament may be backwards. We’re all too bound up by layer upon layer of progress. Our world is built for convenience, to make life simple, to placate us with that comforting old lie that we can have it all.

Take supermarkets for example. Surely they have to go: they’re just too convenient by half. Everything you want under one roof, a one-stop shop, crammed to the rafters with overly-packaged goods you probably didn’t come in for, and accessible by car? Yes please.

I polished my eco halo last week and popped into our local pop-up refill shop. (Full Circle https://fullcircleshop.co.uk ) to fill up a bottle of fabric conditioner – my own tiny drop in the plastic-filled ocean.

Looking around the shelves at the vast array of washing liquids, detergents, seeds and pulses available by weight or volume, it occurred to me that if you chose to refill everything here you would need endless empty bottles and boxes plus limitless time on your hands to fill, weigh and pay for each item. And then you’d probably need your car to get them home. Bang goes convenience…

It’s why supermarkets came along in the first place. They do away with the time and effort it takes you to hoik your containers from shop to shop till you have everything you need. One step forward, two steps back.

The idea of shopping locally was all well and good when there was someone at home all day with the time and inclination to schlep round a myriad of individual stores to “pick up the messages”, as my Scottish Granny used to call them. It’s just not what we do any more.  The milkman was right all along… who knew re-usable glass and electric vehicles were a good idea anyway? We used to be green by necessity, now I think we’re plastic by choice.

In our defence, we do have a lot on our plate. We’re all supposed to be raising our own young Gretas, enjoying ‘me time’ as well as couple time, spa days and date nights. Our homes should be ideal; and our horizons must be expanded by travel – (just don’t go by plane). Then there’s the active social life we’re told to have, the hours spent at the gym, not to mention mindful minutes and time set aside for box-set bingeing. Hands up for less convenience in their life? No thanks.

But in the end, we have to do something. For me I’m replacing the word ‘need’ with ‘want’ in my family’s vocabulary to see if it changes our story. And if facing the future means a little backward thinking, then so be it. I’ll be here re-filling and re-using, taking baby steps towards our greener goal.

Greta is the kick up the backside we all needed to change. I just really hope we don’t let her down.

NB – First published on http://www.magpieonline.co.uk/featured