The Big Chill

Stages flanked by 10ft-high daffodils, a fake moon rising in the sky and a hillside sauna with no ob

Now in its fourteenth year, the Malvern valley festival offers a melange of jazz, folk, ambient, dance, comedy and spoken word performances, alongside an art trail, moonlight cinema and Victorian fairground, to name just some of the other attractions

Highlights from the Big Chill, Saturday 2 August

Jamie Woon is the first act to grace the Open Air stage on Saturday, and already a change to the programme. Accompanied by drums and double bass, Woon knocks out slick soul numbers where everything rides on a funky riff. He does have a gorgeous, expressive voice, but when I realise that this is basically Darren Hayes-lite, I start to feel a bit nauseous and gladly make my way over to the Castle stage. First up here are the Spokes, a folk-inflected rock five-piece who combine Celtic modes and the bright melodic cut of the violin with driving guitars and ample drum rolls. It's lively enough but they seem to denote power merely by increasing the volume, and the crowd blanket-sits its way through their set. Expect to hear them on a Vodaphone ad sometime soon.

Nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, the Portico Quartet play with complex time signatures and unconventional instrumentation to fling out quick, hot jazz numbers and deceptively soothing ambient ones. Technical sophistication aside, the Quartet's ability to exploit the full potential of their instruments' timbre mean they really do sound fresh and new, almost as if they play four instruments each and employ a different combination for each song. From the crowd reception, they already have a dedicated fanbase that will only grow if they do clinch the Mercury Music prize. That the Malvern Hills are bathed in sunshine by this point can't do any harm.

Back on the Open Air stage, Fujiya and Miyagi combine pared down guitar riffs with computer game scales and a chattering bass to create a kind of rock electronica which has everybody dancing. It's a very British kind of sexy funk, "if only he wasn't wearing that hideous sports jacket," grimaces my friend G. But the sun is still shining and spirits are high in anticipation of one of the weekend's highlights, up next.

"Big Chill - you dirty bitches!", Noel Fielding simpers to the crowd from out of his Nannageddon guise before stripping to reveal a skin-tight sequinned siliver jumpsuit. So begins the much anticipated 45-minute set from the Mighty Boosh in which the band invoke a number of memorable characters from the three series of their TV show, and generally rollick.

A "Robots in Disguise" sketch which features Rich Fulcher as a priapic cyberman is a particular highlight. The psychedelic monk and the polo-eyed Cockney Hitcher both perform numbers, and even Bollo is afforded a pink feathered mohawk. At one point the crowd starts to boo when a technical hitch threatens to repeat an already-seen Boosh moon video skit but order is restored and the set ends with the requisite mistaken death of Naboo set piece, all to much whooping and laughter from audience and performers alike.

You know that the crowd would pretty much settle for anything Fielding and his band presented right now, such is the current affection for the Boosh. That said, its all been carefully choreographed and very well practised and Noel Fielding is the consummate showman. Sardonic romping music hall for the 21st Century.

The evening ends with a set from Plaid, featuring a unique dance performance from Wayne McGregor's Random Dance troop. It's this kind of collaboration, and a willingness to give it the final main stage slot on the Saturday night that makes the Big Chill one of the better festivals.

Nichi Hodgson is a 25-year-old Yorkshire emigree working as an Editorial Assistant on an Arts Database. She freelances on arts, culture and gender issues

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

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How gendered are this year’s most popular Christmas present toys?

Meet the groups fighting back against the gendering of children’s toys over the festive season.

You’re a young girl. You go into WH Smith’s to pick out a colouring book for Christmas. You could buy the Girls’ World Doodling and Colouring Book, a "gorgeous gift for any girl". In this, the pictures range "from flowers, fans, feathers, to birds, buttons and butterflies". Or Colouring for Girls: Pretty Pictures to Colour and Complete, where you can colour in "beautiful birds, seashells, cupcakes, pretty patterns and lots more". The counterpart Boys’ Colouring Book has a range beyond buttons and feathers: "Planes, trains and automobiles – plus the odd alien spacecraft".

In the run-up to Christmas, this kind of gendered marketing is rife, particularly finding its way into the predominantly pink colour scheme of girls’ toys.

Take Amazon’s page "2016 Toys for Girls": a pink icecream trolly set, a pink light-up tablet, pink building blocks, pink and purple friendship bracelets and so on.

There are several groups taking action against the "pinkification" of children’s toys. One of these is Let Toys Be Toys, a group that targets large supermarkets with the aim of reducing the gendered marketing used on children’s goods.

The Let Toys Be Toys blog focuses on specific examples of targeted gendering within shops, catalgoues and online. A particularly revealing example of how prevalent this has become in recent years is in two pictures published from the Argos catalogue, one from the Seventies, and one from nowadays. The eye-wateringly pink page from now makes the 1970s page look dour by comparison. The lack of change over four decades of what kind of products are marketed at girls is equally striking:

Despite the efforts of campaign groups such as Let Toys Be Toys, the prevalence of gendering within the highest-rated children's gifts for 2016 is staggering.

Look no further than the Ultimate Christmas Gifts Guide from Toys R Us. One of the most immediately obvious examples is the way in which the pink/blue colour schemes are used to market identical products. This is repeated again and again:

This identical drawing board is uniquely packaged to the binary colour codes that are so common within children's toys stores.

The same applies with this keyboard, where the young girl and boy are pictured almost identically, save for the coordination of their clothes to the colour of their toys.

The message is a hugely limiting one: one that allows little movement away from the binary of pink/blue. The effects of this are longstanding. A recent poll from YouGov shows that "only a third of parents approve of boys playing with Barbies". The data goes on to explain that "while most parents approve of girls playing with toys marketed to boys, a minority of adults approve of the opposite".

Images like this were the inspiration behind Let Toys Be Toys, back in 2012. The campaign began on Mumsnet, the forum for parents, on a section called "AIBU", which stands for "Am I Being Unreasonable?". One parent posted the question: "Am I being unreasonable to think that the gendered way that children’s toys are marketed has got completely out of hand?" The heated discussion that followed led to a sub-section with the founding memebers of Let Toys Be Toys.

This aside, Let Toys Be Toys has made signifcant progess since it began. It targets large stores, focusing on gendered signage both in store and online. In their four years, they have campaigned for signs like "girls' toys" and "boys' toys" to be removed from retailers such as Boots, Debenhams, Morrisons, Toys R Us and TK Maxx. It is the go-to hashtag on Twitter for examples of the often shocking gendering of children’s toys.

"This is ostensibly about toys, but what we’re really talking about is gender stereotypes that shape our children’s worlds in an apparently very unassuming way," says Jess Day, a Let Toys Be Toys campaigner. "It seems very innocent, but actually what we’re doing is giving children very clear instructions about how to be a man and how to be a woman."

These clear instructions work beyond colour coordination: where girls are sold the image of the pink "girly girl", for instance. This is evident in children’s fancy dress costumes. Early Learning Centre’s (ELC) children’s fancy dress range imposes very rigid gender roles. To give examples from the current christmas range:


Credit: ELC

Again, the predominant colour sceme is pink. The roles offered are mainly fairies and princessess: generally make-believe.

“I found it really interesting that there were almost no ads showing girls doing anything," comments Day. "Physically they were very passive. The only physical activity we saw girls doing was dancing. They weren't really moving around much."


Image: ELC

By contrast, young boys are offered the possibility of pretending to be a firefighter, a policeman or a doctor, among other practical, professional roles.

This year's Toys R Us Christmas advert follows on from this, with girls mainly dressed as princesses, and boys dressed as knights and kings. Much like the pink/blue colour scheme that we see all over children's shops, these fancy dress costumes create an unnatural binary. They send out a message that restricts any kind of subversion of these two supposedly polar opposites.

What's more, the subtext is one that is deeply rooted in expectations, building up a picture where careers such as that of a policeman and fireman come more naturally to boys, who have been socialised into these roles from childhood through fancy dress costumes of this type. Instead, girls are later forced to learn that most of us aren't going to become princessess, and none of us fairies – and so the slow process begins to unlearn these expectations.

There are certainly groups who try to counteract this. Manufacturers such as the toy brand IamElemental aims to break down the gendered distinctions between boys' toys and girls' toys, by creating female action figures.

“We always say that we are not anti-doll or anti-princess, but that if you give a girl a different toy, she will tell a different story," says Julie Kershaw, a member of the organisation. "As the mom of two boys, I always say that it’s just as important to put a strong healthy female action figure in a boy’s hand as it is a girl’s”.

Like the campaigners behind Let Toys Be Toys, IamElemental sees children’s toys as the starting point.

“We want kids – both girls and boys  – to internalise these messages early and often,” says Kershaw. “While there are certainly biological differences between girls and boys, gender-specific toys are not a biologically dictated truth. Toys are not “for girls” or “for boys”  – toys are for play; for exploration and creative expression.”

This attitude is ingrained in a child’s early years. Only through reconfiguring the gender sterotypes of the toys we buy for our children can we begin to break down their expectations of how to behave in age. We challenge you this Christmas to avoid these highly gendered products. Below are our three favourite Christmas presents for children this year, for girls AND boys, as approved by Let Toys Be Toys:

Mini Table Tennis (£7.99)


From: The Little Toy Box

Djeco Intro to Origami - Animals (£3.99)

From: Rachel's Toy Shop

Seedling Make Your Own Dino Softie! - Dino(sew)or Kit (£5)


From: Gifts For Little Ones