Wednesday 29 April 2015

Bedtime Story (29/4/2015)

Greedy Pig!

George was a pig.  A very greedy pig.

George was always hungry.  He never joined in with the games the other pigs played, because he was always on the lookout for something tasty to eat.

"Oh, George, you greedy pig!"  The others would cry.  "Why don't you come and roll in the mud with us?  Or play in the pig pen?"  But George would simply lie in his bed and snooze until it was time for his next meal.  And even whilst he snoozed, he dreamt of food.

One evening, George had just finished a delicious meal of corn, apples and oatmeal.  For pudding, he'd eaten the scraps all the other pigs had left in their troughs for good measure!

George gave a contented sigh and flopped down onto his bed.  He was just nicely full up - his favourite feeling!  He yawned a sleepy "goodnight" to the other pigs and settled down to sleep.

He hadn't been sleeping for long, when George heard an unusual sound.  He opened one eye and looked around.  All the other pigs were fast asleep.  Dark shadows loomed all around then pig pen and the moon cast a white glow over the farmyard.  Everything looked just the same as it always did.  George shook his head and went back to sleep.  Before long, he was awoken again, by another strange sound.  This time, louder than the last.  

"Did you hear that?"  He asked his friend, Daryl.  Daryl grunted and rolled over.  The sound came again, this time even louder.  Daryl opened his eyes and nodded at George.  George glanced around the farmyard and, to his horror, he saw a shadowy creature, heading for the hen house.

"It's a fox!"  Daryl yelped, waking up the other sleeping pigs.  "What are we going to do?"

George rattled the bars of the pig pen with his trotters, pushing all of his considerable weight against them.  "Hey, you!"  He cried to the fox.  "Come and pick on someone your own size!"

The fox slunk over to the pig pen and narrowed his eyes at George.  "Look what you've done, you silly pig," he hissed.  "You've woken up all the chickens!"

"You were going to eat them!"  George exclaimed.

The fox's tummy rumbled.  "I'm hungry," he insisted.  "You can hardly blame me for wanting a late-night snack!"

George frowned.  "You're not as hungry as I am," he told the fox.  "And I can prove it."

The fox sat back and chuckled to himself.  "You have a farmer to feed you," he explained.  "I have to fend for myself.  There's no way you're as hungry as I am."

George smirked.  "That sounds like a challenge," he said.  "How about we make a deal?  If I can prove that I'm hungrier than you, then you have to promise to leave the chickens alone."

The fox laughed out loud.  "DEAL!"

By now, all the other pigs were awake and were watching what was going on.  They whispered to one another, excited to see what was about to happen.

"Around the back of the farmhouse, there is a big wheelie bin," George explained.  "It's full of scraps of food that the farmer and his family throw away.  If you can push the bin back here, we'll fill two troughs with food.  The first of us to eat it all will be the winner!"

Again, the fox laughed, certain that he'd win.  He raced away and returned, several minutes later, puffing and panting as he pushed the bin towards the pig pen.  "I've worked up quite an appetite," he warned George.  "I'm definitely going to win!"  He stood on his hind legs and pushed open the lid of the bin with his paws.  Slowly, he tossed food down to the pigs below, who hurried to fill two troughs, so that the competition could begin.

At last, the troughs were full.  "First one to empty their trough wins, remember?"  George told the fox.  "And if I win, you leave our chickens alone!"

The race began.  George stuck his snout into the trough and began to devour stale bread, apple cores and vegetable peelings.  Beside him, the fox hungrily snapped up pizza slices, baked beans and leftover meat from the family's Sunday roast.

As the race went on, George's tummy began to feel full.  He'd eaten so much at dinner that he wasn't sure he had room for any more.  He watched the fox, greedily munching his way through the food and he began to worry that he was going to lose!  With a deep intake of breath, George carried on stuffing food into his mouth, until there were only a few morsels left in the trough.  He turned to the 
fox.  They were neck and neck, with just a few scraps left in his trough, too!  But George could see that the fox was struggling.  He'd been hungry for so long, that his stomach had gotten full much faster than George's.

The fox sat back, shaking his head.  "I can't finish it," he panted.

George managed a smile.  "Neither can I," he confessed.  "I think maybe both of us were being a bit too greedy..."

The fox rubbed his swollen belly with a paw and sighed.  "I'm too full to eat the chickens now," he admitted.  "You win."

"George!"  Daryl the pig squeaked.  "You saved the day!"  The pigs all cheered as George sank down onto his bed, groaning.

"You saved the chickens," the fox nodded.  "To be honest, I think I like this food better, anyway.  Although I won't be needing to eat again for a while..."

"Me neither," George moaned.  "I feel a bit sick!"

"Can I come back and eat this stuff again, when I feel better?"  The fox asked.

"You're welcome to it," George said, managing a smile.  "First thing in the morning, I'm going on a diet!"

Everybody laughed, as the fox slunk away into the shadows.  George closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.  And for once, he didn't dream of food...

Sunday 26 April 2015

Derren Brown's "Miracle" - a Spoiler-Free Review!

For me, one of the biggest thrills in life is seeing something that you simply can't explain.  Some people want to learn all of the secrets behind how an illusion or trick is performed, but I enjoy that sensation of feeling completely unable to process how something was done.  Don't get me wrong, if someone wants to let me in on a few secrets, I'll listen and marvel at the skill involved in bringing it all together on stage, but in all honesty, for me, part of the fun is in not knowing how an effect was achieved.  When it's a mystery, it's all the more magical, after all.  I like few things better than sitting down to watch a magic show, or a psychological illusion.  I'm cheerfully waiting to have my mind blown...

And so it was that I sat down in my seat at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth, to watch the incredibly talented Derren Brown's latest stage show, Miracle.

Seeing one of Derren's shows is a strange experience, in as much as even if you've seen him live before (as I had), you still don't entirely know what to expect.  After all, this is a man who has played Russian Roulette with live bullets and lived to tell the tale.  This is a man who, on his Svengali tour, had me genuinely believing that my arm was made of wood and beyond the control of my body.  This is a man who disproved mediumship, whilst telling audience members all about their dead relatives...

Derren quite rightly frowns upon spoilers, so I won't give away any of the secrets from his Miracle show.  What I will say, is that I watched my mum (a "Derren virgin," as she put it) shuffle closer to the edge of her seat as the show progressed.  I watched her mouth begin to hang open, until at one point, her jaw dropped completely.  At one moment in the show, I looked to my left and right, at my mum and my friend Lizzie beside me and simply shrieked: "What the actual f***????!!!!  That's not possible!!!"

It's reactions like that, that make Derren Brown's shows so special.  From the man in the row in front of us, who turned to his girlfriend and said "I don't know how the HELL he did that..." to the woman who ended up on stage and who was later overheard in the car park beside the theatre, numbly muttering "I swear it was real," over and over, the gasps of amazement are a delight to behold.

Derren's shows usually centre around a theme and Miracle is no different.  For this show, Derren is analysing the passing of time, the stories we tell ourselves and the ability to step outside of ourselves.  I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that it's a show that will amaze you and make you think.

But in amongst the trickery, the mind-boggling stunts and the eeriness, there's warmth and humour.  Derren knows how to entertain a crowd.  He knows how to encourage nervous participants up onto the stage.  He knows how to relax an entire audience with a joke.  I can definitely say that I laughed out loud probably just as many times as I gawped in bewilderment.  Although, that wasn't all down to Derren... whoever it was who farted loudly during a serious moment of complete silence: I salute you, my gassy friend.

And Derren, I salute you, too.  What a show!  Yet again, I walked out of the theatre in a state of awe, feeling a childlike wonder at what I'd seen.

I don't want to spoil it for anyone else.  I don't want to know how it's all done.  I just want more of it.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Bedtime Story (22/4/2015)

It's that time of week again!  This week's bedtime story was originally written for my ABC Animals series of children's books, but unfortunately, it never saw the light of day.  I decided it felt wrong to keep this character and her story languishing on my laptop, so here it is!

Eleanor The Envious Elephant

Eleanor Elephant couldn’t help envying her classmates.  She often found herself wishing she was as pretty as Kirstie Koala, or as confident as Harry Hippo.  She even wished she was as quick to speak her mind as Alana the Angry Alligator.
To make matters worse, Eleanor was in her final year at Jungle Junior School and she just knew that when she started at Jungle Senior, she’d find even more creatures to envy.

Eleanor was a bright pupil.  Her teacher, Mr Leopard, often praised her for her hard work and good manners.  She was helpful, kind and her classmates liked her a lot.

But Eleanor wasn’t content.  When she caught sight of her reflection, she’d sigh.  Her ears were too big.  Her skin was too bumpy.  Eleanor envied other animals, who seemed to look just right, whilst she felt clumsy and awkward.

She tried not to show it, but deep inside, Eleanor was a rather unhappy elephant...

One afternoon, as school was finishing, Sally Swallow, the school secretary popped her head around the classroom door.  “I’ve got a request from Archie Aardvark,” she said.  “Miss Giraffe usually helps run the art club after school, but she can’t today.  Would one of our older students like to help out instead?”

The children began rolling their eyes.  “As if I haven’t spent enough time at school,” Alana Alligator snapped.  “Count me out!”

One by one, they made their excuses, until there was only Eleanor left.  She shifted in her seat and took a deep breath.  “Okay.  I’ll help.”

Mr Leopard smiled.  “That’s really kind of you, Eleanor.  Archie Aardvark will be very grateful.  I’ll make sure Mrs Swallow lets your mum know you’ll be late home.”

Eleanor watched as her classmates began grabbing their coats and bags.  “Thanks,” Kirstie Koala said.  “I’d have offered, but I’ve promised to help mum get ready for my sister’s birthday party.”

Eleanor nodded.  “It’s fine,” she said.  But she didn’t feel fine.

Trudging down the corridor, Eleanor felt uneasy.  What if the art club members didn’t like her?  What if they laughed at her big ears, or bumpy trunk?  She gazed at Lindsey Leopard and Jennifer Jaguar as they made their way past.  They were so pretty and graceful!  Eleanor caught sight of her own reflection in the glass as she reached the door to the Art Club.  She was so... Different.

With a sigh, Eleanor pushed open the door.  Inside the classroom were two round tables, with eager animals sitting at them.  The room was filled with the sound of excited voices. 

Archie Aardvark grinned.  “Welcome to Art Club, Eleanor.  Thank you so much for helping.”

Eleanor managed a smile.  “You’re welcome,” she replied.  “What would you like me to do?”

Archie glanced over his shoulder at the two tables.  “The older animals are using mirrors to paint self-portraits,” he told her.  “The younger ones are making cards for their friends and families.  Our job is to keep an eye on everyone and help if they get stuck.  Okay?”

Eleanor nodded.  Archie smiled and joined the youngsters, who were chattering as they glued sequins onto brightly coloured pieces of card.  Eleanor trudged to the other table. 

“Do you want to paint a self-portrait?”  Stephanie Salamander asked.  Eleanor shrunk back.  She hated looking at herself in the mirror.  She was always finding things she didn’t like and that only made her envy everyone else more.  She shook her head.

“No thanks,” she replied. 

Stephanie Salamander picked up a round mirror and stared into it.  She shrieked with laughter.  “Look how slimy my skin looks, close up!”

Gerald Giraffe stared at himself in a long, rectangular mirror.  “My legs are so thin,” he chuckled.  “And look how long my neck is!”

Eleanor frowned.  They were laughing at themselves!  She glanced into one of the mirrors.  All she saw was rough skin, tiny eyes, enormous ears...  She sighed.  There didn’t seem much to laugh about.  Yet the children were giggling so much that Tamara Tree Frog leaped away from the card she was making and came hopping across the room to join in.

“I have big, bulgy eyes!”  She cried as she caught sight of herself in the mirror.

Rhianna Rhinoceros laughed.  “You should join in, Eleanor.  It’s fun.”  She held up a mirror and peered into it.  “Look at my wrinkles.  I look like I’m a hundred years old!”

Eleanor was confused.  “But you’re supposed to have wrinkles,” she said.  “You’re a rhinoceros.”  She turned to Tamara.  “Those bulgy eyes are just right for you.  There’s nothing wrong with any of you.”

“We know,” Tamara replied.  “But don’t you ever look at yourself and notice funny little things like these?”

Eleanor sighed.  “All the time,” she said.  “I wish I could change my big ears and silly nose.”

“But then you wouldn’t be you,” Tamara gasped.  “I sometimes wish I was as big as you are...”

Eleanor’s eyes widened.  “You want to be like me?”  She interrupted.  She’d spent so long envying others that she’d never even imagined that anyone might admire her.

Tamara nodded.  “Yes,” she said.  “But then I think of how silly I’d look.  Whoever heard of a frog the size of an elephant?!”  She paused.  “And if you had a different nose, or smaller ears, don’t you think you’d look silly, too?”

Eleanor smiled in spite of herself.  “I suppose so.” 

Rhianna held out a mirror.  “Come on Eleanor,” she said.  “You’re a work of art, just like we are.  Why don’t you join in?”

Eleanor grinned.  “Okay!” 

Tamara hopped back to finish the card she’d been making as Eleanor took a seat at the table.  The rest of the time passed in a haze of laughter, as the animals painted their pictures and hung them up to dry.  Before long, it was time to tidy up and go home.
Archie Aardvark thanked her for her help, before Eleanor went to fetch her coat and bag.  Then, just as she was leaving, she heard a voice.

“Eleanor, wait!”

Eleanor spun round to see Tamara Tree-Frog hopping towards her, waving something in her hand.  Archie Aardvark and the rest of the animals from the Art Club were watching and smiling. 

“We wanted you to have this,” Tamara said.  She handed Eleanor a pink envelope with her name written on it.  “Archie said we could make a card for anyone we wanted, so we made this for you.”  She smiled.  “It’s to say thanks and... Well, you can read it.” 

“Thank you,” Eleanor replied.

She opened the envelope to reveal a pink card with a blue elephant on the front, made from sequins and glitter.  Eleanor smiled.  She opened the card and read the words:
“To Eleanor,
Thank you for helping us today.  We think you’re perfect, just the way you are!
Love from everyone at Art Club xxx”
A lump formed in Eleanor’s throat.  She found herself grinning as she stood, surrounded by all the other animals.  She felt good.  She felt perfect
“Thank you so much,” she beamed.  As the animals smiled back at her, Eleanor knew that she didn’t have to spend her time envying anyone else.  She was fine as she was!
Soon, everyone began saying their goodbyes and heading to their separate jungle homes.  Eleanor watched them leave, with a smile on her face.  As the last animal disappeared from view, Eleanor caught sight of her reflection in the long, rectangular mirror and smiled.
Her ears were big.  Her skin was bumpy.  Her nose was long.
And she wouldn’t have it any other way.


Monday 20 April 2015

Nothing To Say...

The trouble with blog-writing, is that once you commit to it, you're supposed to keep it up.  Regular little updates are expected, on anything from the biggest news stories of the day, to simply what you had for dinner last night (a very nice roast, if you're interested, which I'm sure you're not).  And sometimes, no matter how hard you try, inspiration just doesn't come.  From anywhere.  So, you find yourself sitting in front of your laptop, desperately hammering the keys, in the hope that you can write about something - anything - before eventually slumping onto the keyboard, in a state of silent panic that you've actually lost the ability to write at all.

The funny thing is, I've not run out of subjects.  It's just that it sometimes feels as though I've covered everything I want to say at that very moment, already.  Following her despicable piece about wanting to drown (or shoot) migrants this weekend, I was tempted to blog about Katie Hopkins, but... Well, I've done that already.  Then I thought about writing a piece on the awful abuse Sue Perkins received, after being (apparently wrongly) labelled as Jeremy Clarkson's successor on Top Gear, but I remembered that it was only last month that I wrote about Jeremy Clarkson and I've already written about online abuse, as recently as February.  In fact, I wrote about it twice.

It's not like I shy away from personal topics, either.  This might be a public blog, but I'm not averse to writing about some of the most deeply personal issues in my life, such as my experiences of emotional abuse and my sadness at not having become a mum, yet (and my worry that, seeing as I'm 32 and single, I may never do so).

But today, I just can't seem to find the right words, let alone the right subject, hence the inclusion of what I can only call a "greatest hits" list of links, above, in the hope that someone stumbling upon this blog for the first time might actually realise that I can write a coherent post, now and then.  Today just isn't the day...

Random photo, for no reason.

There are probably several reasons for my lack of brain-function when it comes to writing, today.  Firstly, I'm massively overtired.  I went to see (and MEET - still not over that!) McBusted on Friday 10th April and after that excitement, I only really had a day or so to chill out before I went off to sunny Butlin's in Minehead from Monday-Friday of last week.  Cue many late nights, probably too much alcohol and noisy neighbours who woke us up at all hours with their loud chatter, television watching and... Other stuff I won't mention.  The day after I returned home, I also went to a wedding and stayed up late after the reception, so basically: Zzzzzzzzz.

My mind is also not my closest friend at the moment, seeing as it's bombarding me with images of some poor guy I barely know, who I have quite a crush on.  I don't think I've ever said more than a passing "hello" to him, which is why said crush is so silly, not to mention the fact that he lives and works a good three hours' away.  I'm not put off by long-distance relationships, but I'm sure he's probably put off by the thought of some soppy mare who can't even bring herself to make eye contact when she's in the same room as he is...  So my conscious brain and I aren't exactly on speaking terms. 

Anyway, I sat down at my laptop, with the absolute intention of writing something decent.  And then I was distracted by YouTube.  And then by a site on which I ended up designing a birthday gift for my best friend.  And then by a local property website (because damn it, if I win the lottery one of these days, I need to know what's out there...). Procrastination is truly the greatest skill of any writer.  We might be able to put words into semi-entertaining sentences now and then, but our true talent lies in our ability to avoid doing so at all costs, on days like these.

So, my humble apologies for wasting the last few minutes of your life with this utter drivel.  But I thought it might be interesting to leave a post up online that reminds both me and my readers (if I still have any, after this...) that sometimes, we have nothing to say.  And that's okay.

Sunday 12 April 2015

McBusted Tour 2015 - a Most Excellent Adventure!

Standard gig outfit...

I may be a grown woman of 32, but there are some things in life that give me so much joy, I go right back to feeling like a kid again.  Music is one of those things.  For me, a song can change your mood, evoke memories, or simply make you want to get up and dance and that's a powerful thing.  And live music - actually getting to see the band you love playing the songs you love, right there in front of you - is even better.

Most people who know me are aware that my musical tastes can be pretty diverse.  I can go from listening to the Manic Street Preachers to the Spice Girls in the blink of an eye.  I can be humming along to a Carpenters song one minute, then playing a musical theatre show soundtrack the next.  I don't really engage in musical snobbery if I can help it - if I like something, then I like it.

Last year, my best friend Lydia and I went to Western-Super-Mare, to see a show headlined by McBusted - the supergroup formed when McFly teamed up with two out of three members of Busted.

It was on a beach and we got sunburnt, but it was EPIC.

To say that we were blown away would be an understatement.  We went there principally to watch 5ive and The Backstreet Boys.  We left with a full-blown, incurable McBusted obsession.  We nervously awaited news as to whether the band would stay together and record an album once their sell-out tour and Summer appearances were over.  Thankfully, we weren't disappointed; their self-titled debut was released in December last year and it was a magnificent pop-rock beast of an album.  Lydia and I were excited by the idea of an album, not only because it meant new McBusted music to listen to, but because we fervently hoped that an album would mean another tour.  

But how, we wondered, could they possibly top the 2014 shows?  Their first tour featured fireworks, a flying DeLorean, three huge, inflatable boobs and a crazy amount of fun.  It couldn't be bettered, surely?!

Well, this is McBusted.  And if there's one thing we've come to learn about the band we love so much, it's that they don't do things by halves.  Their brand new 2015 Most Excellent Adventure Tour (MEAT for short) won't disappoint any of their fans.  It certainly didn't disappoint us!  

What's fantastic about McBusted is the sheer level of thought that goes into everything they do.  Their live shows are no exception.  Their set for the MEAT tour was an enormous, old-school video arcade game.  Huge buttons and joysticks adorned the stage, in front of a massive screen, showing computer graphics.  And the best bit?  It wasn't just for show - the whole set was actually a playable arcade game, for which the band had to jump onto the buttons and push the enormous joysticks in order to compete against each other.  It was really impressive and added just another dimension of fun to the proceedings.

Of course, it's no good having all the fancy set and nothing to back it up with.  Music is obviously an incredibly subjective thing, but for my money, McBusted are responsible for some of the best pop-rock songs in recent years.  On the MEAT tour, classic McFly and Busted songs, such as Year 3000, Obviously, Air Hostess and Shine A Light were mixed in with the brand new, original McBusted songs from their debut album.  Tracks like Air Guitar and Get Over It already sound massive on record, but they were bloody enormous when played live!  The crowd joined in, shouting the lyrics back at the band and leaping around with delighted enthusiasm.  The band are a tight unit when playing live and their energy and showmanship ensured that everyone was kept entertained.  And if anyone doubted the musical ability of the band members themselves, they need only have heard James Bourne's gorgeous vocals on Beautiful Girls Are The Loneliest, to have been reassured that this is a band with real talent.  When James' voice blended with that of McFly frontman, Danny Jones, the result was truly stunning.

McBusted are a band that know their fans and are more than happy to come up with ideas that will satisfy them on every level.  And so it was that prior to performing Busted's Crashed The Wedding, the band held their own wedding of sorts, with Harry playing a priest (albeit a topless one) to the "bride" (Dougie) and "groom" (Matt), whilst Danny, Tom and James donned bridesmaids' dresses.  Suffice to say, the scene was greeted with sheer joy from the fans.  It's silly little moments like this that set McBusted apart - they don't take themselves too seriously.  They just want to make their live shows as much fun as possible, for themselves as well as the paying audience.  And it works, because when you can tell that a band are having the time of their lives on stage, you can't help but feel that sense of fun and enjoyment seeping into the crowd, too.  The band are open enough with their fans that it doesn't feel as though they're having a great time without the audience being involved; in fact, the crowd are an integral part of a McBusted show and the gigs are all the more enjoyable as a result.

I always want to lose myself in a live show, fully embracing the experience as much as possible, but I couldn't resist taking a few photos.  I'll post a few here, before telling you about the exciting thing that happened before the gig (yes, I'm telling events in reverse order, but there's a reason - I'm saving the best for last!)...

I'm pretty thrilled with some of the pictures I took!

And speaking of photographs...

Before the gig itself, Lydia and I were lucky enough to attend a meet & greet with the band themselves.  It was one of those moments where you almost have an out-of-body experience; afterwards, it felt like I'd watched it happen, rather than actually lived it, but lived it I did!

We were all led upstairs to a conference room, dotted with circular tables and sofas, on which sat groups of very nervous and excited fans.  Lydia and I were two of the last people to be taken into the room, so we stood, rather than sat.  After ten minutes or so, a member of staff came into the room and ushered a group of 17 people into the corridor to form a line.  Lydia and I were near the front of the line and that was when the nerves really kicked in.  Suddenly, I was minutes away from meeting one of my absolute favourite bands (not to mention my number one celebrity crush, the lovely James Bourne!).  

Our line was eventually taken into yet another conference room, but this one had a large screened area set up, which we all knew was where the band would be standing to meet fans and have photos taken.  Because we were the first group to go in, the band hadn't actually arrived yet, so every time the double doors at the end of the room opened, everyone appeared to suffer a collective heart attack as we all turned in unison to see if it was McBusted.  Finally, after what felt like dozens of false starts, the doors opened and in came Tom, Harry, Dougie, James and Matt.  A huge cheer erupted from the waiting fans, followed swiftly by cries of "where's Danny?!"  as we realised there was a band member missing.  A minute or two later, the door opened again and Danny sauntered in, with a cheeky wave to the crowd.

Lydia and I were the third or fourth pair of fans to be taken to meet the band and I almost briefly forgot how to walk as I made my way over to talk to Harry and Matt, first.  Everyone was lovely - our cheerleader outfits got a lot of attention (all of it positive!) and we had hugs from each band member, which was really nice.  Considering that the band have been doing these meet & greets every night, meeting hundreds of fans over the course of this tour, they didn't seem fed up or jaded; we were greeted with smiles and warmth and it really made the whole experience incredibly special.  It's not every day you can say you've met and had a cheeky cuddle with not one, but two people from your top ten celebrity crush list (don't judge me for actually listing them...).  

All in all, it was an incredible evening and one I doubt I'll ever forget.  The band, the music, the show... I don't think anything could have been done better.  But I'm sure if there's another album and another tour, they'll find a way to prove me wrong!  

From one very happy fan: thanks boys. 

If anyone has a spare half an hour, in which to watch two girls whooping a lot, here's the vlog that Lydia and I made.  Go on, check it out... ;-)

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Bedtime Story (8/4/2015)

It's Wednesday and that can only mean one thing - it's time for another original bedtime story!  If you're new to this feature, you can catch up with previous bedtime stories here and here.  Once I work out how to file all of the stories together to make it easier, I promise I will do.  You'll have to bear with me; I'm something of a technophobe...

Apparently this month is "National Pet Month" (or at least Twitter tells me it is and Twitter is never wrong...), so I thought what better than a story inspired by my favourite animal and one of the most common pets found in the UK - the dog.  Hope you enjoy it!

Albert Saves The Day

Albert was always getting into trouble.  He couldn't help it, really.  He just wanted to have fun and play with everyone, but somehow, he always ended up making a mess.

Albert had joined the Barnaby family as a small puppy, with big eyes and cute, fluffy ears that flopped over his face.  Over the next year or so, he'd grown into a huge dog, with far too much fur, a waggy tail that was always knocking things over and a habit of getting into mischief.  The Barnaby family - mum, dad, Alice and little Gregory - loved Albert to bits, but his naughty ways were forever catching up with him.

If you dropped anything on the floor, Albert would try to eat it, whether it was edible or not.  Letters, school homework, jumpers, even mum's pink, frilly knickers weren't safe from Albert's jaws!

If Albert thought he was going for a walk, he'd come bounding through the house so fast that he'd knock flower pots and crockery flying as he went.

And once you were on a walk with Albert, he'd drag you along at such a pace, it was a wonder that everyone in the Barnaby household didn't have one arm longer than the other!

One day, mum could finally take no more.  "Enough!"  She cried, as she watched Albert dash into the garden with her morning slice of toast.  "That dog has got to be trained, otherwise he's going to have to leave!"

Gregory's mouth hung open.  "Mum!  You can't send Albert away.  He can't help being big and a bit silly..."

From outside in the garden, Albert's ears drooped and he blinked sadly at Gregory, as the little boy rushed to throw his arms around Albert's furry neck.

"Gregory and I will train him," Alice insisted.  "There's no school today, so we'll take him up to the park."

Their mother sighed.  "Well, you can try," she said.  "But he's on his last warning."

After the breakfast things were cleared away, Alice and Gregory put Albert on his lead - after something of a struggle - and walked, well, jogged, to the park.

"Okay, Albert," Alice commanded.  "Sit.  Sit!  SIT!"

Albert jumped up and put his front paws on Alice's shoulders, knocking her onto the ground and covering her brand new dress in grass stains.

Gregory shook his head.  "What about teaching him to stay?"  He gingerly took off Albert's lead and took a step back.  "Alright, Albert," he told the dog.  "Stay."

Albert went off in a mad dash, whizzing around the park, sending children, other dogs and old ladies running for cover.

Gregory groaned and sat down in the grass beside his sister.  "This is no use," he sighed.  "He's hopeless."

Alice fished a tennis ball out of the pocket of her dress.  "We could try fetch?"  She suggested, as a last resort.  "Albert," she called, as she threw the ball as hard as she could.  "FETCH!"

The ball shot across the park and landed in the river with a plop.  Albert sat on his bottom, scratching his ear and letting his long tongue hang out of his mouth.  He didn't move an inch.

"Oh, Albert," Gregory sighed as he scrambled to his feet.  He and Alice wandered over to the riverbank.  "I can see the ball," Gregory told his sister.  "It's right by the edge,  I think I can reach it."  He turned to his sister.  "You try to get Albert back on his lead and I'll get the ball."

Alice hesitated.  "Are you sure you can reach it?"  Before Gregory could answer, there was a loud bark and the pair spun round, to see Albert chasing a terrified squirrel across the grass.  Alice shook her head.  "Okay," she said.  "I'll try to get Albert.  Just promise you'll be careful?"

Gregory nodded and turned his attention to the ball.  It was just a little way out, floating gentling as the sun dappled the water.  He crouched on his hands and knees and leaned forwards.  It was just out of his reach.  Gregory sighed and leaned a little further...


Quick as a flash, Albert span round and darted across the grass to the river, with Alice in hot pursuit.  "Come back," she screeched.  But Albert wouldn't stop.  When Alice realised what had happened, she screamed for help, but Albert leaped straight into the water, grabbing Gregory's shirt collar in his mouth and tugging the little boy to the riverbank.  He nudged Gregory out of the water and, once they were both back on dry land, he barked and barked until help arrived.

When the pair got back home, their mother could barely believe what had happened.  She hugged Gregory tighter than ever before.

"Albert saved me," Gregory told her, as he sat in front of a warm fire, with a cosy blanket around his shoulders.  "He was a Super Dog."

His mother nodded, stroking Albert's fur.  "He's more than proved himself," she smiled.  "He's going nowhere; he's a hero and he's right where he belongs."

Albert rose to his feet, wagged his tail and knocked mum's cup of tea all over the carpet, before swiping a biscuit from the coffee table.

"I think he might still need some training, though..."  Mum sighed, as Albert darted out into the garden before anyone could catch him, leaving Gregory and Alice breathless with laughter.  Through the window, they watched him rolling around in the grass, covered in biscuit crumbs.  Albert - the most mischievous hero of them all!

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Here Comes The Sun...

Photo not taken this weekend, but you get the gist...

Something happened this weekend.  A big, yellow ball appeared in the sky.  A big, yellow ball that hasn't made many appearances, recently.  We've had wind, rain, frost, even snow, but actual sunshine that you can feel on your skin?  That seems to have been in hiding for the last few months.

But this weekend, out it came and with it came the definitive proof that this is Britain.  Everyone suddenly decided en masse to hit the beach, or the park.  Barbecues were brought out of hibernation and I spent a good while stuffing all my jumpers into a drawer, not to be seen again until at least September.  Because if there's one thing we know here, it's that the sun is not guaranteed ("ne'er cast a clout till May is out" and all that...), so when it comes out, we've got to make the most of it!

And make the most of it, I did.  Mum and I took our dog, Rusty, to a local park and let him run free, chasing balls and sniffing the bums of any other hound lucky (or unlucky...) enough to cross his path.  And sniffing the bums of their owners, just for good measure...

I went for walks without a coat on (I KNOW) and felt that lovely warm sensation on the back of my neck as I strolled by the river, watching the sunlight dapple the gentle tide.

Today at work, I willingly spent almost an hour outdoors, defying my hay fever with the kind of foolhardy resilience I usually reserve for when I'm in the front row at a concert and I really need a wee, but don't want to lose my place...

Seriously, once I'm on that barrier, I'm going NOWHERE.

It's a bit of a corny old cliche, but there really is something lovely about the sun coming out after a long bout of cold, grey, rainy weather.  You can't help but look around and notice that the world has taken on a new hue.  It's almost like seeing colours for the first time - the sky looks bluer, the grass is greener and everything has a beautiful, golden sheen.  

Things look brighter in a literal and metaphorical sense, once the sun comes out.  Somehow, the Winter blues start to lift from our shoulders and we fill our heads with thoughts of paddling in the sea, picnics in the park and long, light Summer evenings that seem full of possibility...

...That is, until we start thinking about hay fever, wasp bites, sunburn, headaches and, in my case, making that hugely important decision between having to shave my legs every day, or simply hoping nobody notices the prickly in-between days (hey, being single does have a perk!).  Like I said, we're British; we can only handle so much optimism.

But seriously, once the sun is in the sky again after a long, damp and chilly Winter, you just can't help but feel better for it.  That sensation of warmth on your skin - of shrugging off your jacket after months of wrapping yourself up in layer after layer and still being too cold - is a genuinely lovely feeling.

So, I may be getting in on this act a bit early, because of course we'll have chilly, rainy days before the Summer really gets started, but here's to the sunshine.  I've missed you.  Please stick around for a while?!

Friday 3 April 2015

Three Cheers For GOGGLEBOX!

On the face of it, it's a totally daft idea.  "I know, we'll stick cameras in people's living rooms and film them watching telly!"  It's ridiculous.  It shouldn't work.  And yet...

Well, here I am, writing a blog about it.  Not to mock Channel 4's Gogglebox, but to sing its praises.  Because I am unashamedly in love with the show.  

For all the accusations of being "set up," the show has managed to retain the number one reason so many people love it as much as I do: it feels real.  

In almost every house, up and down this funny little island we call home, there is a TV (sometimes more than one), or a device on which we can catch up on shows online.  And whilst we all lead busy, different lives, there are certain things that bring us all together as one.  TV is one of those things.  We might have wildly differing political views, or completely contrasting cultural backgrounds, but TV - no matter what slightly snobbish people might like to say - can be something that grounds each and every one of us and makes us the same.  Regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, faith or race, most of us have a favourite TV show, or, at the opposite end of the scale, a show we love to hate.  Television has the power to unify us and remind us that no matter how different we appear, we're often more alike than we think.  Millions of us watch programmes and then natter about it to our workmates, friends and relatives - it's just a part of everyday life.

That unity is one of the chief reasons I love Gogglebox.  As sentimental as it sounds, it makes my heart swell when I see so many people, from different walks of life, all watching something and often having the same reaction.  We all cry at the sad things and we all laugh at the funny stuff.  And of course, when the families and friends that take part in the show do have differing views on the programmes they're watching, it's just as truthful - what family doesn't disagree now and then, after all?!  

It can be strangely lovely to watch a family I've grown rather fond of express an opinion wildly different to my own, too.  It proves to me that different views on certain things don't mean that we can't all get along, just the same.  I don't think any less of, say, Steph & Dom, if they detest a TV show I like, or they offer an opinion I completely disagree with.  They still make me laugh (even though if I ever went for a drink with them, I would almost certainly die).

Photo: The Telegraph.

Most of the people who watch Gogglebox have a favourite family on the show.  The wonderful thing about it is that there's such a fabulous cross-section of society represented - there's someone we can all identify with, somewhere in the mix.  It's both touching and strangely reassuring to watch the show with your family and look around, thinking "ooh, those people take the mick out of each other just like we do" or "I like that they always have a snack in front of the telly - I won't feel so bad about this extra biscuit, now..."

For what it's worth, there are a lot of people on the show that I have a soft spot for, but if I had to pick a favourite family, then it's definitely the Siddiquis.  There's something really heartwarming about the very clear affection the brothers, Baasit and Umar have for each other, as well as the love and respect they have for their dad, Sid (and vice versa).  Sometimes in this busy, slightly materialistic world, it can feel as though genuinely nice people are hard to find, but the Siddiqui family prove that not only nice, but lovely - and very witty - people do still exist. 

Photo: The Guardian.

And therein lies the power of the show, really.  Because here I am, saying how lovely three people I've never met are, based on a few minutes per week of them watching telly as a family.  When you put it like that, it sounds ridiculous and yet...  Well, just as we take fictional characters to our hearts when we love a TV show, so millions of us have taken the Gogglebox families to our hearts as well.  Because no matter what their views, or where they're from, they're essentially the same as we are.  They're families or friends, sitting down to watch the telly with the people they love.  And we can all identify with that.

More often than not, what makes Gogglebox such compulsive viewing isn't just finding out what other people thought of the shows you've watched on telly that week.  It's watching people interacting with one another.  It's the in-jokes, the little quips, the gestures between people who know each other inside out.  People who genuinely care for each other.  The Reverend Kate Bottley - one of the Gogglebox regulars - once said that the show isn't about TV.  It's about people.  And I couldn't agree more.

So, on this very grey and miserable Friday, I'm still chirpy, because one of my absolute favourite TV programmes is on tonight.  A show in which people watch the telly and talk about it.  It sounds ridiculous.  Maybe it is.  But it works.

Gogglebox is on Channel 4, Fridays at 9pm.

Wednesday 1 April 2015

Bedtime Story (1/4/2015)

Welcome back to the Wednesday "Bedtime Story" feature, everyone!  If this is your first visit, let me explain:

Every Wednesday at 6pm GMT, I'll be posting a brand new "bedtime story" for children aged 4-7 years old.  I've written each one with the intention of them being read aloud at bedtime, hence the name of the feature.  I've had some lovely feedback from last week's story, Sidney The Shell Bird, which I want to express a big thank you for - it makes my day when my stories are enjoyed.  So I'm very pleased and proud to present this week's tale, for you to share aloud with your little ones. If you like these stories, please do share them around and if they continue to prove popular, I might start posting them twice a week, rather than weekly.  Enjoy - and don't forget to check back next week for more! 

This week's bedtime story really is a bedtime story, in as much as it's inspired by bedtime itself...  :-)

If You Don't Go To Bed...
By Emma Tofi

Tilly Tucker hated bedtime.  She was never really tired.  She'd sneak out from under her covers and play with her toys for as long as she could, before her mum came and carried her back to bed.

Tommy Tucker loved bedtime.  He loved to snuggle down, cosy and warm, ready to drift off into sweet dreams until morning.  But Tommy's bedroom was next door to Tilly's and drifting off to sleep was never easy with her around...

One night, after Tommy had drunk the last slurp of his warm milk and wrapped his thick, comfy duvet around himself, the door to his bedroom creaked open.

"Tommy!"  Tilly called.  "Let's play dress-up!"  She raced to his wardrobe and flung open the doors, pulling out shirts and shoes and scattering them across the floor.

"Tilly..."  Tommy groaned.  "If you don't go to bed, I'll tell mum."

Tilly folded her arms.  "Boring."  She bounced onto his bed.  "Let's jump up to the moon!"  Tilly began jumping up and down, stretching her arms up to the ceiling.

"Tilly!"  Tommy snapped.  "If you don't go to bed, I'll tell dad."

Tilly shook her head. "Boring," she said, again.  She reached behind her brother's head.  "Shall we have a pillow fight?!"

Tommy rolled his eyes.  "No!  Tilly, if you don't go to bed, I'll..."

Tilly cocked her head to one side.  "You'll do what?"

Tommy took a deep breath.  "If you don't go to bed, I'll stick a jelly on your head."

There was a pause, then a giant giggle, as Tilly shuffled forwards on the bed.  "A jelly on my head?!"

Tommy nodded.  "Yes.  If you don't go to bed, I'll stick a jelly on your head.  And I'll power-wash your toes with daddy's brand new garden hose."

Tilly shrieked with delight.  "What else?!"

Tommy grinned.  "Well....

If you don't go to bed, 
I'll stick a jelly on your head.
And I'll power-wash your toes 
With daddy's brand new garden hose.
I'll make you bake me twenty pies
If you will not close your eyes
And it'll be an even bigger number
If you don't hurry into slumber!"

Tilly clapped her hands with glee.  "What if I'm not sleepy?!"

Tommy shifted on his bed, letting his sister slide underneath the duvet beside him.

"If you're not feeling sleepy,
I'll tell you stories that are creepy
Until you're so scared by such high-jinx
That you need your forty winks!

I'll find a secret map
That leads to somewhere you can nap
Beside a buried treasure chest
Filled with things to help you rest.

I'll fill your bath with cream
If you don't settle down to dream.
And I'll put mustard in your shoes
If you don't lie down for a snooze!

If you don't go to bed,
I'll make you mow the lawn instead.
Then you'll wash the clothes you've worn
Until at last you start to yawn.

If you don't admit you're tired,
I'll think of something else inspired,
Like making you eat sprouts
Until you're definitely worn out.

I'll dye your blonde hair blue
Unless you say you're tired, too.
I'll make you ride an armadillo
If your head won't hit the pillow.

I'll tie you to my kite
If you don't smile and say goodnight!
And you'll sail into the skies,
So be quick and close your eyes!

I'll stick jam on your nose
Unless you go to bed and doze!
I'll paint your face just like a clown
Unless you come and settle down.

I think it's rather odd
That you avoid the Land of Nod!
So, let's not hear another peep,
Because it's time for you to sleep."

Tommy grinned to himself, then turned to his sister.  "Ha, Tilly, I've thought of more..."  He started.

But Tilly was fast asleep, with a smile still on her face.