Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Catrina And The Grouchy Cat

Couldn't find a picture of my sister's cat, so... ;-)

It's just a short story from me, this week, as I've got rather a lot of paperwork to be getting on with for the "day job!"  Still, hope you all enjoy...

Catrina And The Grouchy Cat

Milly was a house cat.  She loved to lie on the windowsill in the living room and watch the world go by, outside.  She'd flick her tail and purr gently, enjoying the warmth of the sun on her fur.

Catrina was a three year old.  She was loud and boisterous.  She loved to include Milly in her games... Whether Milly liked it or not.

When Catrina was a pirate, Milly would be her ship's mate.  Catrina would plonk a pirate's hat on Milly's poor head and bundle her into an upturned box that doubled as their boat.

When Catrina was a fairy, Milly would be a magical, talking cat.  Catrina would wave her magic wand around and Milly would yelp and hiss, whilst Catrina shrieked: "Listen!  She's talking!"

No matter what the game, Catrina always liked Milly to be involved.  Her parents would plead "please leave the poor cat alone, Catrina!  She might not want to play!"  But Catrina thought she knew better...

One day, Milly decided that she'd had enough.  She was tired of her tail being pulled.  She was fed up of her fur being brushed the wrong way.  She was sick of her sleep being interrupted.  Whilst Catrina played in the garden, Milly eyed the gate, dreamily.  "Out there is a world where I can be left in peace," she thought to herself.  And with one, big leap, she was gone.

Catrina was having so much fun, that she didn't notice Milly was missing until her mother called for her to come inside.  When they realised their beloved cat wasn't there, they searched all over the house and garden, but it was no use.  That night, Catrina didn't want to go to bed.  She was too upset.  When she finally fell asleep, her cheeks were wet with tears.  Milly was her best friend - who was she going to play with, now?!  Maybe Milly didn't like her, anymore.  Catrina tossed and turned, wondering how she could make it up to her beloved cat - if she ever came home...

Meanwhile, Milly had dashed into the woods behind the house.  There, she curled up beneath a bush and slipped into a peaceful slumber.

"HEY!"  A loud voice woke her up and Milly blinked, sleepily.  Another, bigger cat was prodding Milly's tail.  "This is my spot," the other cat said.

"Oh," Milly sighed.  "Sorry."  She slunk off, deeper into the woods, until she saw a group of birds, bathing in a large puddle.  Suddenly, Milly was overwhelmed with an urge to chase them and she bounded over, hissing.

"STOP THAT!"  A much larger bird flew down from a nearby tree.  He flapped his wings so loudly that Milly stopped in her tracks.  The bird shook his head.  "We live peacefully here," he said.  "No chasing!"

"Oh," Milly said.  "Peace is exactly what I'm looking for."

"Well then, don't pick on us," the bird replied and the whole group flew back up into the treetop.

Milly plodded on, deeper into the woods.  Suddenly, the sound of footsteps and laughter echoed all around.  A family came running towards her, with two dogs off their leads.  Milly yelped and darted into a bush to hide.  She lay for a while, with her heart hammering in her chest, before she dared to come out again.

The woods backed on to a busy, working farm.  Every time Milly settled down to snooze in the sun, she'd be woken by the noisy animals, or a tractor engine humming, or the shouting of the farm workers, as they laughed and joked together.  Try as she might, Milly simply couldn't get any rest.

As the hours ticked by, the woods began to get darker and darker.  Strange shadows appeared and unfamiliar noises frightened Milly.  She sighed heavily; the peace and quiet she had longed for was nowhere to be found.  And strangely, she was missing Catrina.  She was missing her over-enthusiastic games and her endless cuddles and kisses.  Slowly, Milly began to make her way back out of the woods and towards the houses again.  As she did, she heard a voice.  A voice that sounded like it was calling her name...

Milly began to bound towards the sound, her fur standing on end.  Faster and faster she ran, until she recognised Catrina's mother, standing in the doorway of their house.  "Oh, Milly!"  She cried, as she saw the cat.  "Wherever have you been?!"

Milly hurried into the house and hopped straight onto the living room windowsill.  There, she lay, watching the lights in the houses all around slowly switching off as people went to bed.  Before long, it was quiet and Milly finally had the peace she'd been looking for.

At least until Catrina woke up the next day...

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Congratulations, Ireland!!

From the Marriage Equality website.

Only 22 years ago, homosexuality was illegal in Ireland.  Today, it's looking highly likely that Ireland will join just 18 other countries in the world, by legalising same-sex marriage.  It's a massive step to have taken and one that has been welcomed by campaigners not only in Ireland, but all over the world.  Rightly so, not only because a decision to give equal marriage rights to all, regardless of sexuality should be welcomed, but because this decision was taken by popular vote.  And the outcome of that vote is rumoured on some websites to be a whopping 70%+ majority in favour of same-sex marriage.  The people have well and truly spoken.

Anyone who knows me, will know that I have passionate views on the subject of equal rights.  Were I able to have voted on this, it would have been with a resounding yes.


There seem to be three main arguments against same-sex marriage and all of them - literally all of them - are ludicrous.  

1. "It's a SIN."

Firstly, congratulations on your use of my favourite Pet Shop Boys song as an argument.

Secondly, at the risk of offending any of the religious friends I have... Faith is a personal belief.  Sure, I'm being simplistic, but at its very heart, it's true to say that if you believe in God and you want to follow His way, that is a personal choice.  Personally, I'm agnostic - I don't think there's enough "evidence" to either prove or disprove the existence of a higher power or an afterlife - but I don't feel any need to inflict my agnosticism on anyone else.  I certainly wouldn't want laws put in place that only protect my beliefs, without protecting those who don't share them.  I would be absolutely, categorically against anyone being persecuted or denied basic rights, simply because they choose to think differently to me.  I have never - and will never - understood the stance that some religious people take, whereby they hold their beliefs (and let's remember, as powerful as faith can be, that's all it is - a belief) so tightly that they are willing to sacrifice the basic human rights of others, by denying them things we take for granted.  And that judgement (because "judge not, lest ye be judged" doesn't count when you're talking about those filthy gays, apparently) is based upon words in a book, written down thousands of years ago.  We live in a completely different world, yet we're supposed to cling to the laws laid down in an era so utterly alien to ours that almost none of us would last a week in it.  

And don't get me started on the "pick and choose" nature of using religion as an argument against same-sex marriage.  Okay, so you're taking it from the bible that it's a sin to be gay.  I hope you're following everything else in that book, too.  So, no pork or shellfish.  No uncovering your head, altering your clothes in any way (LEST YE DIE) or wearing any "garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together" (so guys, everything in my wardrobe is sending me to HELL).   No more than one flower or plant in your garden, what with the fact that sewing "mixed seed" in your field is a sin.  On the same subject, no owning a cross-breed dog, because mixing breeds is not okay.  No protesting against slavery, because the bible is totally down with that, as long as "your male and female slaves (come) from the nation around you."  No trimming your beard, or cutting your hair ("ye shall not round off the side-growth of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard").  If you're female, no braiding your hair or wearing jewellery of any kind.  No gossipping.  No eating "neither fat nor blood."  So, no burgers and no black pudding.  

Basically, if you're not following literally everything on this list, then don't come at me with the "but God says being gay is bad" argument.  God apparently said a lot of stuff you're happy to ignore.  Don't pick and choose, then expect to be able to defend your ludicrous standpoint.  All or nothing.


2. "But marriage has always been between a man and a woman!"

Once upon a time, we didn't allow black people to sit at the front of a bus, either.  You fancy taking a trip down Memory Lane back to those days, too?  

Seriously, the "but it never used to be like that" argument is just an argument against humanitarian progress.  We got rid of slavery.  We got rid of segregation.  We started treating people like... You know, people.  And that's a good thing.  Any law that passes, which enables people to be given the same basic human rights that you or I take for granted is a good thing.

Look, I get that change can be scary.  I'm a Whovian, for goodness sake.  But same-sex marriage is a change for the better.  Or do you really want to be that person who sits in the corner, crying because someone was allowed to do something that you've been able to do your whole life and you just can't get your head around it?

There are people who'll tell you that equality for gay couples somehow undermines the sanctity of marriage.  Does it?  Does it really?  Those straight people who get married, then cheat on their partners, are they really upholding the sanctity of marriage?  People who hold sham weddings so that they can get a visa, are they upholding the sanctity of marriage?!  Sometimes marriage features abuse - is that okay, just as long as the person committing it is straight?!  

The only way the "sanctity of marriage" is upheld is when two people genuinely love one another and want to spend the rest of their lives together, treating each other with respect.  And frankly, those people could be a man and woman, two men or two women.  Love is what makes marriage precious, not genitals.

And as for the whole "but the purpose of marriage is to have children" section of this argument... Ever heard of infertility?  Ever heard of making the choice not to have children?  Or are you seriously suggesting we ban the infertile and those who don't want kids from getting married, too?  God forbid the sanctity of marriage is broken, after all.

They had better be male and female dogs.

3. "It's gross."

Ah, shit.  I forgot that legal loophole, which states that if we allow same-sex marriage, you have to go to a wedding and watch the two grooms go at it right there in the aisle.  Bugger.  Literally.

Except... No.  Listen, I think mushrooms are disgusting.  I find them to be slimy and foul.  But I don't stop other people from eating them.  Why?  Because I don't feel the need to force my views on other people (well, I have a blog, but you know...).  I also can't stand Katie Price (sorry, not sorry), but I get that some people want to read about her or watch her on telly.  I simply choose not to.  I loathe Katie Hopkins, but I recognise that I have the ability to ignore her (as best as I can) and not allow her repulsive hate-mongering to affect my life.  That's the thing - you can dislike something, without it taking over your existence.  I might think you're a raging homophobe if you really do dislike the idea of people being gay, but if I can find some way to be polite to you and treat you as I would any other, then you can find a way to not make a big deal out of two people with the same genitals being attracted to one another.  Attraction is, after all, entirely subjective.  Would you also judge someone for being attracted to people with blue eyes?  No.  Not unless you're absolutely bat-shit insane.

Two guys - or two girls - getting married is going to make no difference to your life.  And if you're seriously spending what little time we have on Earth, mentally picturing gay people and getting all grossed out by it, then I would suggest that you have quite a deep need to reassess your priorities.

Here's the thing:  Gay people exist.  They're out there, living their lives already.  All that "gross" stuff you don't want to think about is already happening.  And it hasn't harmed you in any way, shape or form.  Letting people marry someone of the same sex won't destroy the world as we know it.  Your life will continue tomorrow, just the same as it did yesterday.

There really isn't an argument out there, that could possibly convince me that allowing two people who love one another enough to commit their whole lives to each other - regardless of sexuality - is wrong in any way.  We're all human and we're all just trying to live our lives the best way we know how.  It would be wonderful if we all took a cue from Ireland and recognised that this persecution of others, based on something as subjective as sexual preference, is utterly ridiculous.

Congratulations, Ireland.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Bedtime Story (20/5/2015)

This week's bedtime story was partly inspired by a holiday to Butlin's, that I went on back in September 2013.  So I figured, in the absence of illustrations this week, I'd share a snap from that trip!

Dotty's Grandpa and His Jumbled Tales

Dotty loved her Grandpa, with his moustache and his flat cap.
She loved the way he taught her games, like Clock Patience and Snap.
She loved the trips he took her on, to London, Bath and Wales.
But most of all, Dotty loved her Grandpa's jumbled tales.

You see, Dotty's Grandpa had a habit of forgetting what came next,
So his stories were the funniest and definitely the best!
Grandpa would tell one fairytale, then mix it with another,
Until Dotty laughed so hard she thought she may never recover!
Whenever Dotty stayed over with her Grandpa and her Gran,
She'd clamber into bed, with one very simple plan.
"Tell me a story, Grandpa"  Dotty would beg of him.
And Grandpa would clear his throat and then he would begin...

"Goldilocks lived with her ugly stepsisters, in a cabin in the wood.
Her Bear-y Godmother had a plan to fix it so she could
Go to the ball and meet Prince Charming, where they'd dance all through the night!
But first she had to save Red Riding Hood, who'd had a nasty fright.
A wolf pretended to be Red's Grandma, so Goldilocks took charge -
She rescued Red Riding Hood from the wolf, though he was VERY large.
Once her mission was complete, Goldilocks was tired, of course.
So she popped round to see her friends, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
Snow White made her friend some tea, whilst the dwarves were out at chapel.
And Goldilocks warned Snow White to NEVER eat an apple.
Once she'd perked up again, Goldilocks had to get going.
Although on her way to the ball, she noticed it was snowing!
She rescued two young friends from being turned straight into ice,
By taking on the Snow Queen (who wasn't very nice).
All these things caused Goldilocks to be running rather late
And she sank onto the ground, outside Hansel and Gretel's gate.
"I'll never make the ball," she sobbed, as she nibbled on the post
(The gate was made of chocolate spread, smeared thickly on hot toast).
"Think happy thoughts," Peter Pan told her, as he happened to pass by.
"If you do, I'm sure you'll find that you will start to fly!"
Sure enough, Goldilocks was soon whizzing through the air,
Waving to Rapunzel, who was letting down her hair.
Then Goldilocks crash-landed and she made such a clatter,
That she woke up Sleeping Beauty and bumped into The Mad Hatter.
But Goldilocks was at the ball, with romance on her mind - 
She dashed to meet Prince Charming, so handsome, sweet and kind.
The Prince was eating porridge, as he sat there on his throne.
The King was eating soup, that he had made just from a stone.
Goldilocks went over and asked "is that porridge too hot?
Because if it's 'just right,' I warn you; I might just scoff the lot!"
Then Prince Charming laughed out loud; he'd never heard anything dafter!
And it'll be no surprise to you, that they lived happily ever after."

By the time Dotty's Grandpa had finished his jumbled tale,
Dotty's eyes were always closed; his stories never failed.
And though he got things muddled up and his tales were all over the place,
Dotty always fell asleep with a big smile on her face.


Sunday, 17 May 2015

The 5 Types of People You Might Encounter on Dating Sites...

HELP!  I'm being followed around by badly drawn hearts...

I'm not a fan of online dating.  It's important to say this right off the bat, because... Well, it's a simple fact. 

When you've been single for as long as I have (over three years and counting), well-meaning people start giving you advice.  Which is great, except for the fact that often, it's stuff you're already doing ("go places" - do you think I live in a cave?!) or it's advice that you've tried previously, only for it to fail harder than Katie Price's ill-advised music career.

One piece of advice I get a lot is "try online dating!"  It's a perfectly harmless suggestion and one with a proven success rate; I know couples who met online who are blissfully happy, after all, so I'm not anti the existence of websites designed to bring people together.  The trouble is that dating sites, much like Katie Price's entire career, aren't to everybody's taste.

I'd apologise, but... SHE'S DRESSED AS A MOUTH.

Still, I'm at a point in my life where I'd like to be in a relationship and I spend a fair bit of time thinking about settling down and having a family.  It's something I always thought would have happened by now and yes, it's a source of frustration that it hasn't.  So, in spite of the fact that I'd previously been a member of two different dating sites and hated the experience (let's just say I went on a date with one guy in particular whose behaviour following said date has become a "horror story" I tell at parties...), I decided to give it another try and, in a moment of supreme nerdiness, I joined a dating site specifically for fans of Doctor Who.

Whovian reference for the win.

And in doing so, I discovered a few things.  Yes, there are some lovely guys out there.  Yes, dating sites can be a good place to meet like minded people and get to know them.  But I also discovered that there are 5 types of people you will find on every dating site imaginable (or at least I've bumped into them on all 3 sites I've been on).  And maybe "meeting" these types of people explains why dating sites are still not really my cup of tea.

I say there are five types of people, rather than five types of men, because I'm relatively sure that there must be guys out there, looking for a girl, who've stumbled across the female incarnations of the dating site users I'm about to describe...  

So, before I jump into the list, let me just say: If you're in a relationship with someone you met on a dating site, I am thrilled for you.  Genuinely, I think it's great when it works.  If you've never tried online dating, give it a go if you want to, because you never know what might happen.  But be forewarned that you may encounter one - or all - of these types...

1. The One Who's A Bit Too Keen...

If you're not sure how dating sites work, let me give a simple explanation:  You look at people's profiles, you choose someone you like and you send them a message.  They might message back, they might not.  If they do, you message back and forth and see where it goes.  All very harmless...

But then there's that one user you message, who decides that they're basically in love with you two messages later.  "I think you could be the one," they pine over cyberspace.  "I haven't stopped thinking about you since you first messaged me.  Are you thinking of me?  Can you picture us together?  Because you are everything I've ever dreamt about.  I can barely concentrate at work, because all I have on my mind is you..."

This person doesn't know you.  Unless you've sent them your entire life story in your initial message (or your initial reply, if they messaged you first), then they probably don't even know your surname at this point.  But here they are, telling you that they want to commit to a serious relationship with you, because you're the only thing that's on their mind.  AFTER A COUPLE OF VERY SHORT MESSAGES.

This person might be harmless.  But then again, if they're declaring their love for you this early on and with no personal information to base it on, they might also be planning to kill you and wear your skin.  Is that a risk you want to take?!

Creepy singletons of the Internet:  STOP IT.

2. The One Who Can't Stop Agreeing With You...

I'll be honest with you, dear reader.  I like being right.  Who doesn't?!  But a pivotal part of being a functioning grown up in society, is being able to admit when you're wrong, or being able to offer a differing opinion and having the balls (proverbial or otherwise) to stand by it.

Every dating site I have ever been on has featured a worrying number of "yes-men."  It's as though some people are so concerned about scaring off a potential partner, they are willing to agree to literally everything you say.  I've known some people to totally go back on their own words - from literally one message ago - when I've offered a differing opinion.  You'll spot these "yes-(wo)men" very easily, because the conversation will go something like this (note: this conversation is made up, but you get the gist):

You: So, I really like music.  Do you?
Them:  Yeah, especially rock.
You: I prefer pop. :)
Them: Oh, me too.  It's actually my favourite genre.  Pop is great!  I secretly love One Direction.
You: I'm not a fan of them, but I do like Take That.
Them: Oh, that's who I meant.  I don't like One Direction, either.  Take That are amazing.  Their ballads are fantastic.
You:  Their ballads are great, although I prefer their upbeat songs!
Them: Same.  Their upbeat ones are better than their ballads, for sure.  Any other hobbies?
You: I like painting.
Them: That's great!  Watercolours are fantastic, aren't they?
You: I do like them, yeah.  I usually work with oil paints, myself.
Them: Well, they're the best kind of paints.  I like those better than all the others.
You: I've just finished a landscape...
Them: The best paintings are landscapes!  I love landscapes!
You: They can be really lovely!  I usually do portraits, so this has been a change for me.
Them: Oh, portraits are my favourite kind of paintings, actually.
You: I thought you preferred landscapes?
Them: Only when I thought you did.
You ...

It's a shame, because I think a lot of the "yes-(wo)men" are probably lovely people, just trying to get you to like them and scared that if you disagree on something early on, it'll put a stop to whatever might be developing between you.  But you know what?  As much as I like being right, I much prefer having a genuine conversation with a person sharing their actual opinions.  Honesty is better from the start, guys and girls!  It's by being a "yes-(wo)man" that you find yourself eating a spicy meal that you just know will blow your entire arse off the next day, all because you didn't have the heart to say that you prefer your food a little milder.  In the words of the Genie from Aladdin:  "BEEEEEEE YOURSELF."

Copyright: Disney.  Please don't sue me, I'm poor.

3. The One Who Hasn't Read Your Profile...

One of the best things about online dating - in my view, at least - is that you can find out about a person before you decide whether to strike up a conversation.  If you're after someone with a similar interest or outlook, you can find out whether they're on your wavelength before you've even said "hello."  You can't do that in a bar, unless you have some sort of Spidey senses.

So, when I've been on a dating site, I've always made a point of filling in my profile with as much detail as possible (without giving out my entire life history or pin number).  I might mention bands I like, or a hobby I enjoy.  I'll say something about what I'm looking for (most sites offer the chance to say whether you want a proper relationship or something more casual, which is really helpful).  To me, the whole point of online dating is that it's supposed to be easier than approaching a stranger who you may or may not have anything in common with.  And the use of profile information means you should be judging potential mates on more than just their physical appearance (let's face it, very few of us go to a bar and mutter to our mates: "Look at the sense of humour on HIM!").

All of which means it's kind of irritating when someone makes it really obvious that they've not read your profile.  At all.  It's one thing to skim read and then ask what a person's hobbies are, because you've forgotten what they wrote on their personal info page.  It's another to have to ask where they're from and how old they are, because you've literally just looked at their face and gone "they'll do," without so much as glancing at the information they've put in their profile.  

For example, my basic initial profile page looks like this:

Don't judge my answers - it's a specific site with limited choice options...

And yet, since I've been on that site, I've had at least three messages that contain the words "how old are you?", "where are you from?" or "are you single?"


Don't get me wrong, it's flattering to receive messages from someone saying they think I look good - especially as I spent my entire school life being bullied for my apparent hideousness.  But when that information is so readily available, it is pretty annoying for it to go unread.  Whilst I've had some very nice chats with guys who've asked questions they could have answered for themselves, it's always a much bigger tick in the metaphorical box when someone messages you and makes it obvious they have read your profile information before getting in touch.

"What's your name?"  IT'S ON THE SCREEN!!!

4. The One Who Has NO Idea How To Talk To Other Humans...

There used to be a belief that anyone who used dating sites had to be some kind of socially awkward virgin.  Thankfully, thanks to the sheer number of couples meeting online, that outdated stereotype is finally being kicked into touch.  But that's not to say that there aren't a few people online who genuinely don't seem to know how to interact with other humans.

For example, earlier this week, I had a message from a man that said: "You are quite attractive.  Keep it up."

Um... Thanks?   

Sadly, that's just the tip of the "I HAVE NO CLUE HOW TO SPEAK TO MY FELLOW HUMANS" iceberg.  Back in late 2011, when I was on my first dating site, opening gambits from potential suitors included:

"Hi, you're cute.  Would you fuck my wife and let me watch?"

"Hello.  Here's a picture of my penis...(and yes, he actually did send one) Can I see your tits?"

and my personal favourite...

"Even though you're not very pretty, I would still consider going out with you.  Want me to send you my mobile number?"

Reader, I married him.  

Seriously though, there are people out there, letting the side down.  It's 2015.  Internet dating is one of the major ways of meeting someone, these days.  And yet sometimes, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the Internet is solely the domain of the socially-crippled sex fiend.

It's dizzying, it really is.  And yes, I have just discovered fun things to do with my webcam.
Not that.  Get out, you perv.

5.  The One Who Would Be Great, BUT...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: perfection doesn't exist.  If you're turning down potential dates because you're waiting for someone perfect to come along, then I hope you're also remembering to feed your unicorn and take your dragon for its MOT, because you're living in a fantasy world.

That said, there are legitimate reasons why we sometimes have to turn down someone who might have been a match in other areas.  And it is massively frustrating.

It could be cultural or religious differences, opposing moral beliefs, wanting different things or distance (I once chatted to a guy who lived in Northern Scotland and thought "he'd be great, if only we didn't live A BILLION MILES APART").  For the record, my distance limit is now London (it was Bristol, but damnit, the South West just isn't coming up trumps for me).  I think long distance can work, if you're both willing to try, but you do have to be sensible about it.  Anyway, there could be any number of reasons why someone who seems nice might not ever become your romantic partner.  

Now, I don't want to sound overly picky by saying that.  I'm genuinely not dismissive without reason - I've been single too long to do that, after all.  It's not as though I'm casually going "oh, his eyes are brown and I prefer blue - DELETE!" like some kind of dating site Cyberman.  Relationships are obviously about compromise and it's vital to be able to try to make it work with someone you like, but some things are insurmountable.  For me at the moment, it's age.  I'm 32 (33 in September, although I'm in denial, so shhh) and whilst I've always tended to go for younger men, I do have to draw the line somewhere, or I'll turn into Joan Collins.  Twenty five is probably the youngest I would date, based partly on my feeling slightly uncomfortable at the thought of being with someone more than 7 years younger than I am and partly on the fact that I've met very few men aged 24 or under who are 100% ready to settle down and think about having kids.  It's just a question of being in different places in your lives sometimes and the last thing I want is to fall for someone who's not ready for the kind of relationship I'm ready (and want) to have.  It wouldn't be fair on either of us. 

Admittedly, there are men out there who are young, but want to settle down.  And I know a couple of women in relationships with much younger men (10 years younger or more), but I suppose it's down to preference, at the end of the day.  For want of a better word, being with a guy ten or more years younger than me would probably make me feel a bit squicky.  Like I was some kind of female version of The Child Catcher from Chitty, Chitty Bang, Bang.

Try not to envy my mad MS Paint Skillz.

What I'm saying is, sometimes you meet someone online and get on really well with them, but there might be something that stops you from taking the leap into an actual relationship.  And that's okay.  With any kind of dating - Internet or otherwise - it's always best to go in knowing what you want.  It's only when you rigidly stick to an ideal and refuse to compromise that the problems start...

Having tried three different dating sites on and off over a period of three and a half years, I think I've reached the view that it's not really for me.  But that's not to say that it won't be for you.  After all, you can't say you don't like something until you've tried it.  I just hope that the above descriptions give any potential dating site users a handy checklist of what to look out for.  And if you're someone like me, who's tried online dating, well, I hope reading this has raised a smile, even if it's a wry one.

As for me... Well, I haven't deleted my latest dating site profile, but if I'm honest, it's looking increasingly likely that I'll have to go back to my tried and tested real-life routine of forming a crush on someone and being too terrified to do anything about it.

It's working well for me so far...


Or maybe I'll force myself to admit that it's time I strapped on a pair of metaphorical balls and actually did something about a crush, for once.  Watch this space...*

*...Not literally, you'll get really bored.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Bedtime Story (13/5/2015)


This week's bedtime story is extra special, because for one week only, it features the awesome artistic skills of the very talented Emily Clark!  Having pictures to go along with my words has been a wonderful experience - one I've not had since my ABC Animals books (Alana The Angry Alligator, Bertie Bullfrog And The Bullies and Charlie The Cheating Cheetah) came out, back in 2011.  So to see an artist's impression of my stories again is a real treat.  If there are any budding illustrators reading this, I'd really love to hear from you; regular pictures would be a wonderful addition to the weekly "Bedtime Story" feature and who knows where we'll take it from here...  So please do get in touch if you'd like to illustrate a story, even if only as a one-off.  In the meantime, a HUGE thank you to Emily, for this week's beautiful pictures!

Now, without further ado, let's get onto the story...

Barry Doesn't Want To Play

The sun was rising and all the jungle animals were getting ready for the day.  But over on his favourite tree branch, Barry the monkey lay perfectly still. 

“Look at Barry,” Peter parrot squawked.  “He’s not even up, yet!”  He flew over to the branch, with a banana in his beak.  “I’ve brought you some breakfast,” he said.  But Barry turned his head sadly and said nothing.  Peter looked down at the other jungle animals on the ground.  “Barry doesn’t want to play,” he called. 

“Let’s cheer him up,” cried Seth the snake.  He slithered up the tree trunk and sang a song to Barry, but Barry sighed and closed his eyes.  Seth frowned and glanced down at the animals gathered at the bottom of the tree.  “Peter brought him breakfast and I’ve sung him a song, but Barry doesn’t want to play.”

Leonard the lion cocked his head to one side.  “What if we play a game?  How about hide and seek?”  He sat down and put his front paws over his eyes.  “I’ll count to ten, Barry.  You go and hide!”  Leonard counted to ten, but when he uncovered his eyes again, Barry was exactly where he’d always been.  Leonard shook his head at the other animals.  “Peter brought him breakfast, Seth sang him a song and I’ve tried to play a game, but Barry doesn’t want to play!”

Gordon the gorilla beat his chest and grinned.  “I’ll tickle him,” he said, as he climbed the tree.  He tickled Barry’s ribs, but Barry didn’t even raise a smile.  Gordon sighed.  “It’s no good,” he announced.  “Peter brought him breakfast, Seth sang him a song, Leonard tried to play a game and I’ve tickled him, but Barry doesn’t want to play.”

“Perhaps he’s thirsty?”  Jim the frog asked.  He filled up an empty melon skin with water and carefully carried it up the tree to Barry.  But Barry shook his head at the drink and let out a long sigh.  Jim shrugged.  “Peter brought him breakfast, Seth sang him a song, Leonard tried to play a game, Gordon tickled him and I’ve brought him a drink, but Barry doesn’t want to play.”

The animals began to move away from the tree, when suddenly, a small voice called to them from the bushes.  “Excuse me!”  A little mouse appeared, nodding her head at the tree.  “I couldn’t help but notice... Peter brought him breakfast, Seth sang him a song, Leonard tried to play a game, Gordon tickled him and Jim brought him a drink, but... Has anyone tried asking Barry what’s wrong?”

The little mouse scampered up the tree trunk and ran along the branch.  She sat beside Barry’s sad face and smiled, kindly.  “Why don’t you want to play?”

Barry sighed.  “I do.  But in the night, whilst I was sleeping, I caught my foot on this branch and got a splinter.”  He pointed down to a small piece of tree bark, stuck in his foot.  “I couldn’t get it out, so...”  Barry’s voice trailed off. 

The mouse stared down at the animals at the bottom of the tree.  “You see?  It’s not that he doesn’t want to play!”  She scurried along the branch and very carefully pulled on the tree bark, gently removing it from Barry’s foot.  “There you are!  It’s gone, now.”

Barry beamed as he sat up on the branch.  “That feels so much better,” he said.  “Thank you!”

“Don’t mention it,” the mouse replied.  Then, she hurried back down the tree to where all of Barry’s friends were waiting.  She glanced at each one of them in turn.  “You know,” she explained.  “There’s usually a reason for the way our friends behave.  It never hurts to ask them how they feel!”

Barry swung his legs over the branch.  “I feel brilliant, now,” he announced.

The animals gathered at the bottom of the tree all smiled as Barry came down to greet them all, properly.  “So,” Gordon Gorilla began.  “Do you want to play?”

Barry grinned and nodded his head.  “Of course I do!”

And as the sun shone brightly in the sky, the friends hurried off together; their laughter ringing through the jungle.


Saturday, 9 May 2015

Rank Your Manics Records - My Turn!

I am a Manic Street Preachers fan.  To anyone who knows me, or who regularly reads this blog, that fact will not come as a surprise.  What may be more surprising, is the fact that Manics' frontman, James Dean Bradfield, recently ranked all of the Manics' albums from worst to best and I sat, veering so wildly between nodding in agreement and shaking my head in horror, that it left me rather dizzy...

Manics fans are a slightly (okay, deeply) obsessive bunch and so the album ranking soon began appearing over and over in my Facebook timeline, accompanied by the inevitable squabbling: "Why wasn't THIS album higher?  How could he place THAT so low?!"

And so it was that, a few days ago, my gig buddy, Kirstie and our friend Mikey hit upon the idea of composing our own lists, in which we'd rank the Manics' albums from worst to best, with reasons for each ranking.  Completely dull if you're not a fan.  Probably liable to enrage you if you are.  So, without further ado, let's jump in and see which album is picking up the wooden spoon...

12.Know Your Enemy (2001)

It's a cliche to put this in last place, to be honest.  I'm almost embarrassed to do so, such is the notoriety of fans' displeasure in this album, but... Well, it's my least favourite, so cliche or not, here it is!  So why is it in last place?  

Well, I got into the Manics in 1999 and I hungrily devoured their back catalogue (not literally - DISCLAIMER: EATING CDS IS BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH).  I knew their first three "Richey" albums (as I used to call them) off by heart and I was absolutely in love with their two "post-Richey" albums.  When you've just got into a band and you're waiting for a new album, it's a heady mixture of anticipation, fear and excitement.  I can vividly remember buying Know Your Enemy and rushing to listen to it on my old Sony Discman, which I'd dug out of retirement for the express purpose of listening to it in the car on the way home from a shopping trip to Truro, with my parents and sister.  And my first reaction?  Was, I'm ashamed to say, disappointment.

It didn't sound anything like the last two albums.  The soaring string section was gone.  The album sounded messy and disjointed and rushed.  It sounded like the band were trying too hard to be punky and hard-edged, rather than making the album they actually wanted to make.  It didn't surprise me at all when James described Know Your Enemy as a hurried "reaction" to the band's previous success.  

Whilst there may be several songs I like - and the album has grown on me a lot since that first listen - it just doesn't sound like the band I love at their best.

11. Send Away The Tigers (2007)

This isn't an album I dislike.  Far from it; I love the anthemic, big sound and the return of the sweeping string section and on first listen, I was pretty much in raptures over it, because it reminded me so much of the "glory days" of Everything Must Go.  But on repeated listenings over the years, that has actually become its undoing.  For me, this album was trying a little bit too hard to be the Manics of 1996.  It was aping Everything Must Go and, on reflection, just not quite reaching the same heights.  Whilst it has songs on it that I genuinely love (the title track is one), the awfulness of the lyrics to Autumnsong still makes me cringe every time I hear them.  Oh and let's not mention the Underdogs edit, just in case Sean is reading this...

That all said, if I had the figure for it, I'd still suggest my gig buddy Kirstie and I went to our next gig dressed as the girls on the album cover.

10. Generation Terrorists (1992)

There will be fans out there, baying for my blood due to placing the band's debut album so low in this list.  The fact is, I do love it.  I have a very big soft spot for how messy it sounds, because unlike Know Your Enemy, it wasn't made by a stadium-playing, polished band, but a group of young men determined to take on the world.  In many ways, it shouldn't be this low on my list, but...  Let's face it, it isn't without its faults.  Whilst the album contains truly iconic Manics' songs, such as Motorcycle Emptiness and You Love Us, it also contains... Well, Damn Dog

It's also too long, too wordy and frequently too naive.  I love it, but it's like looking back on an outfit I wore when I was 16 and groaning "whyyyyy?!"  It's kind of beautiful, wistful and ever so slightly mortifying, all at once.

9. Postcards From A Young Man (2010)

This album contains one of my favourite Manics lyrics ever.  I love it so much, I have it tattooed on my shoulder: "This world will not impose its will.  I will not give up and I will not give in."  Those words got me through my recovery from a relationship with an abusive man and they're pretty much my mantra for life, these days.  Those lyrics - and the title track they come from - almost pushed this album much higher up the chart.

But then I remembered that I don't adore the rest of it quite as much.  Don't get me wrong, there are some great songs on there, but there's a fair bit of what sounds suspiciously like filler, too.  As a whole album, it's a perfectly entertaining listen and when I heard it for the first time, it felt like a natural successor to Send Away The Tigers, or even Everything Must Go, but there's something almost too radio-friendly about it for me to place it much higher in this list.

 8. Lifeblood (2004)

The cover makes me feel a bit squicky, but this album gets slated far more than it deserves to.  I've talked in this blog about disliking an album on first listen because it didn't sound enough like the band I loved, but this is an album that sounded nothing like my Manics and which I absolutely loved it for.

There are electro-pop beats, there's a lower vocal register for James than I think he'd ever really gone before and there are raw, beautiful songs on this album.  There's no need for the loud guitars.  This is the Manics experimenting with doing something different and that, in my view at least, is why so many fans absolutely loathe it - they wanted the band they were familiar with.  But for me, this album is triumphant proof that the Manics can wander into uncharted territory and come out with something stunning.  

It's odd to me that James feels like this album is "an investigation that didn't work," because to me, the sparse, unusual aspect of it is what makes it stand out from their other records (and I mean that in a good way).

In fact, Lifeblood might even be higher on this list if it wasn't for Fragments.  I can't hear that song without wanting to loudly defend the band to anyone who'll listen.  "THEY'RE BETTER THAN THIS, I SWEAR!"  Boys... What were you thinking?!

7. Gold Against The Soul (1993)

In the past, the band have dismissed their second album as being overly produced and not raw enough.  I think they're being pretty unfair, to be honest.

Gold Against The Soul is a polished-sounding album, but why should that be a crime?  The lyrics are still recognisably Nicky/Richey poetry and the guitar riffs have "Bradfield" written all over them.  It's the same band who recorded Generation Terrorists; they've just grown up a bit and written something less thrashy and more radio-friendly.  

For all the criticism Gold Against The Soul gets from fans and band members alike, it's the album from which we get La Tristesse Durera, From Despair To Where and Roses In The Hospital - three of the Manics' best known "early hits" and all songs I think have stood the test of time.  In a way, this album could easily have been the one that preceded Everything Must Go, as the strings, polished performances and overall feel are not a million miles away from one another.  It's one of the albums I listen to the most and an excellent CD to blast out whilst driving in the car.

6. Rewind The Film (2013)

The title track of this album, along with the video for it, remains (in my opinion) one of the most beautiful things the Manics have ever done.  The poignancy of wanting to wistfully look back on your youth before it all fades away forever, never fails to form a lump in my throat and I'm proud of the band for making an album that could have been so bleak and stark seem warm, genuine and quintessentially Manics, whilst also being markedly different in places to anything they'd released before.

Tracks like Show Me The Wonder and Anthem For A Lost Cause are two songs that I fell in love with from the very first listen and they continue to feature in my "fantasy Manics setlist."  This is an album on which the band let go of twiddly guitar solos and bombastic production, in favour of creating something simple and beautiful.  I can put this album on and just drift away for a bit.  Lovely.

5. Futurology (2014)

I know at least one, if not both of my fellow fans making their own lists will disagree with me here, but I think Futurology is the best Manics album in years.  It's loud, it's a bit edgy and best of all, it sounds coherent.  The whole thing just runs nicely from start to finish, which is something I can't say for Postcards From A Young Man, for example.  Every song on the album sounds like it's supposed to be there, in that exact place and I adore listening and singing along to it loudly as I'm driving in the car, blissfully unaware of the fact that my windows are down and people are staring...

It doesn't sound like a band trying to recapture a past era.  And yet, it doesn't sound like a band making a point of trying to be different.  In fact, it doesn't sound like anything else, really.  Take a song like Europa Geht Durch Mich, for example; who else would write and record that?  I mean, honestly?!  And yet that's a proper, stomping rock song that was begging to be written and played at full volume.

Then you get to Dreaming A City and you can just tell that Sean was obsessed with old school computer games, without having read a single interview.  It conjures up images of "POWER UP" and "NEXT LEVEL" signs, along with bright graphics and desperately hammering at the controller.

For what it's worth, despite what comes next on this list, it's almost certainly going to be Futurology that I play on my way to work on Monday.

4. Journal For Plague Lovers (2009)

Imagine you're a Manics fan (for some of you, it won't be very hard, admittedly...).  Imagine that you got into the band after Richey Edwards disappeared, never to be seen again.  Imagine you'd read countless interviews and stories, referring to the lyric books he left behind.  And then imagine the band announcing that they were finally going to put some of those lyrics to music.  

When I heard that news, it was like a Manics version of Christmas, in which Santa wears guyliner and a faux fur leopard print coat.  "YES," I thought to myself. " AT LAST!"

I've blogged before about being a self-confessed "Richey girl."  Well, the thought of getting to see those left-behind lyrics was stupidly exciting.  Of course, when I did read them, a lot of them were... Richey-baffle.  Which is my term for Richey's habit of writing such intellectual lyrics that the layman can't actually understand them... But I was impressed all the same.  Richey's biting (and slightly warped) sense of humour came through as I'd hoped it would: "Oh what joy, me and Stephen Hawking, we laugh.  We missed the sex revolution when we failed the physical."

The music was, of course, always going to be important on this album.  Would the band try too hard to ape The Holy Bible?  Or would the emotional weight of using their lost friend's words cause them to write something too dreary and depressing?

In the end, Journal is a gorgeous, rock beast of an album, on which music and lyrics melt perfectly into one another.  When the words call for melancholia, the band bring it.  When they call for angry guitars, that's what the listener gets.  I'd waited so long for this album and it didn't let me down.

My only gripe is that the final track, William's Last Words, was moulded into something I'm not sure Richey ever intended it to be.  The lyrics were edited by Nicky Wire, from a hugely long piece of prose Richey wrote, seemingly from the viewpoint of a man approaching retirement.  Sure, you can take whatever metaphor you like from that, but the transformation from rambling prose to, effectively, a goodbye letter to the band sits a little uncomfortably with me.  I completely understand Nicky's need to do it, possibly for himself, possibly for the fans, but it's the only song on the album on which I'm not sure the band have put across what Richey actually meant.  But hey, I never met the bloke and I'm probably analysing his lyrics just as much by saying this as Nicky was when he edited them in the first place...

3. This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours (1998)

Upon its release in 1998, this album was as far away from the Manics' punky, confrontational early style as it was humanly possible to get.  Stripped back and melodic, this album was unafraid to be lyrically raw in places, yet musically beautiful.

Some suggest that if you're a fan of the band's early rock sensibilities, then you won't like this much gentler offering.  I would say that's not entirely true.  Many Manics fans - myself included - are eclectic in their tastes and there's no reason why you can't love a much softer, more polished version of the band just as much as you do the earlier version.

This album is the first completed solely using Nicky Wire's lyrics and in many ways, you can tell.  There's a simplistic, at times inward-looking feel to many of the words and it feels as though it's this simplicity that inspires the music.  This isn't a band with a manifesto, or a point to prove.  It's a band just writing beautiful songs and proving themselves to have far more substance to them than their early critics would ever have credited them with.

2. Everything Must Go (1996)

"Perfect" is a word that is frequently overused.  So it's with some hesitation that I'm about to use it.

This album is perfect.  

When you think about the circumstances surrounding the birth of this album - the disappearance of Richey Edwards, the band's decision to try to carry on as a three piece, the full glare of the music press, waiting and watching to see what the new incarnation of the Manics would do and the fans, some of whom felt there shouldn't even be a Manic Street Preachers without Richey - it's a wonder that this album was made at all, let alone that it should be so heart-stoppingly brilliant. 

But that's the Manics for you.  In the face of almost unimaginable awfulness, they regrouped, dusted themselves down and made a record that was unashamedly triumphant in the face of all that had come before.  Soaring strings, anthemic melodies... It was everything you could possibly ask from an album.

It was bittersweet; Richey's lyrics were featured on almost half the songs on the album and his guitar playing could be heard on the closing track, No Surface All Feeling.  It's an album without Richey, with Richey.  It's the sound of a three-piece who, somewhere at their heart, are still a four-piece.  And of course, with heartbreaking irony, this - the album they made after losing their bandmate in such sad circumstances - was the album that finally catapulted the band to deserved fame.

Triumphant and yet laced with wistfulness.  Perfect.

1. The Holy Bible (1994)

I once wrote a whole blog on why The Holy Bible is my favourite album of all time, so rather than regurgitate that again, I'll let you click that link and read about it in the detail it deserves.

For those of you who aren't inclined to read an entire blog about an album that is at times scary, dark and confrontational, I'll summarise:  You have to listen to this to truly realise how perfect Everything Must Go is.  The Holy Bible is a band plumbing the depths, howling in the dark, grabbing you and forcing you to confront the unthinkable.  Everything Must Go is the sound of the shackles being removed and the sun breaking through the clouds (as corny as that image undoubtedly is).  

The Holy Bible is a lyrical masterpiece, a musical punch in the face and a statement unlike almost any other, by any band I can think of.  It's my number one Manics album.  And it always will be.