Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Bedtime Story (29/7/2015)

The above photo is of me and my best friends.  I'm using it to illustrate today's bedtime story, because recently, we were discussing the promises that people make to each other and how frequently they're made without thinking and are therefore subsequently broken - not necessarily through any kind of malice, but simply because we live such busy lives.  It made me think about how easily we say "I promise" and the fact that perhaps, we shouldn't say it quite as often.  We're probably all guilty of going back on our word now and again, but here's hoping none of us are quite as bad as Bobby...

Bobby's Broken Promises

Bobby loved his friends.  He loved playing football after school with Tom, Adam and Paul.  He loved helping Lily to look after her new puppy.  He loved going for bike rides with Alice and Jack.

Everyone loved Bobby, too.  He was so eager to please!  He was always doing nice things for other people.  Or at least... He was always promising to.

Bobby was always busy.  He had an endless stream of friends wanting to play with him after school and at weekends.  He was creative, kind and helpful, so he was always being asked to lend a hand with one project or another.  Being kept busy made Bobby happy.  He liked to see the smiles on people's faces when he did something kind for them.  He enjoyed being a part of several different clubs, teams and projects.  The only trouble was, it could be a little hard to keep track of everything...

Bobby didn't like to admit it, but sometimes he was so caught up in his own little world - trying to be a friend to everyone - that he forgot the various promises he made along the way.

At first, nobody seemed to notice or mind, much.  "I promise I'll bring my new remote controlled car to show everyone at school tomorrow," Bobby had said at the end of one school day.  When he arrived empty-handed the following morning, everyone assumed he'd just forgotten.  Which, of course, he had.  But nobody was angry with him; it didn't really matter.

Bobby loved the warm glow he felt when people asked for his help, or simply wanted to spend time with him.  And he hated saying no to anyone.  So, as time went on, Bobby's promises got bigger and bigger.  And the bigger the promises got, the harder it was to keep them...

"I promise I'll walk Luna with you after school, Lily," Bobby had said, one lunchtime.  Then, as he'd put away his lunchbox, Tom had asked: "Are you playing football after school, Bobby?  It's a big game this afternoon.  We really need you on the team to win!"  And of course, Bobby had agreed.  The team needed him, after all!

And that was why Lily had been left waiting by the door, with Luna barking expectantly, before Lily had simply given up and walked the dog by herself.

The following day, Lily wouldn't speak to Bobby at school.  Bobby couldn't understand why, especially when everyone else was so keen to congratulate him on scoring the winning goal in the team's big game, the day before!

When Adam invited Bobby out for a celebratory milkshake with his parents after school that day, Bobby hurriedly promised to be there.  And when Alice's bike got a puncture just as she was preparing to cycle home, Bobby promised he'd help her to fix it.  But when Lily finally admitted why she hadn't spoken to him all day, Bobby promised to rush home as fast as he could, get changed into his oldest jeans and a pair of wellies and take Luna for a run through the woods with her.

And that was why Adam and his parents waited outside the diner for ages, before finally giving up and going inside without Bobby.  And it was why Alice had to push her bike all the way home.

Eventually, Bobby's friends had had enough.  The next day at school, they made a pact.  "We're not going to believe Bobby's promises, anymore," Alice declared.  She folded her arms across her chest.

"Too right," Adam agreed.  "He's always making promises and then breaking them!"

When Bobby arrived, he was stunned to discover that none of his friends seemed to want to speak to him.  "What's wrong?"  He asked, over and over.  "If you tell me, I promise I can sort it out..."

All day long, Bobby's friends kept up their frosty silence.  By home time, Bobby was feeling very miserable indeed.  He slung his school bag over his shoulder and trudged out of the door.  Glancing over his shoulder at his friend Paul, he managed a smile.  "Hey, Paul?  I promise I'll bring that new DVD in for you to borrow, tomorrow!"  

Paul simply shrugged and raised his eyebrows.  "You said that yesterday.  You promise things all the time," he sighed.  "One day you're going to have to realise that you shouldn't make promises that you can't keep!"  With that, he turned on his heels and walked away.

Bobby couldn't understand it - he was only trying to be everyone's friend!  He made his way to the his sister Karen's class.  Usually, Bobby walked home with his friends, whilst his mum picked Karen up, but today, he decided he'd rather be with his family.

"You look fed up," his mum said, when she saw his long face.  Bobby merely sighed in response and said nothing.  His mum patted his head.  "I'm glad to see you," she told him.  "I need you to do a very important job for me, tomorrow."  

Together, Bobby, Karen and their mum began the walk home.  "What's the job?"  Bobby asked.

"I have an appointment tomorrow afternoon," his mum explained.  "Your dad's going to be at work, so I need you to come to Karen's class, pick her up at the end of the school day and walk her home.  You know she's not old enough to cross that big road on her own, so I really need you to look after her.  Can you do that?" 

Bobby smiled.  "Of course," he said.  "I promise."

The next day, Bobby was determined to win back his friends.  He packed the DVD he'd promised to lend Paul in his school bag and he took a bag of sweets to share at lunchtime.  Sure enough, by morning break, his friends seemed to have forgiven him for whatever it was they were mad about in the first place...

"Do you want to stay behind after school with me, today?"  Jack asked.  "Some of us are going to help paint the sets for the end of term play.  It sounds like fun!"  

Bobby agreed; it did sound like fun and before he'd had time to think about it, he'd promised to help.

Later, after lunch, Lily had some news for Bobby, too.  "I've entered Luna in a dog show," she announced.  "It's at 4 o'clock, today.  Mum says you can come with us, if you like?  I know Luna would love you to be there."

Bobby was honoured and, without thinking, he promised to go along.

Shortly before home time, Tom asked: "Bobby, are you coming to football practise tonight?  We've got another big game next week and I don't think we can win without you!"

Bobby felt rather proud to be asked and of course, he promised that he'd go.

When the bell rang for the end of the school day, Bobby followed Tom out onto the field.  He quickly switched his school shoes for his football boots and began doing his stretches, but something didn't feel quite right...  Had he forgotten something?

"Come on, Bobby," Tom called.  "Show us how you scored that amazing goal!"

Bobby rushed to kick the ball, but suddenly, a thought popped into his head.  Jack!  "I'm sorry," he cried, tugging at his boots.  "I'm meant to be doing something else!"

Bobby darted back into the school and ran down the corridor towards the school hall.  Inside, several children were already busy painting.  "I'm so sorry," Bobby breathed.  "I completely forgot."

"I know," Jack said.  "I saw you run off when the bell rang.  Bobby, you've got to stop making promises you can't keep!"

Bobby nodded.  "I just want to help everyone," he admitted.  But even as he picked up a paintbrush and began to join in, something just didn't feel right.  He glanced up at the clock on the wall.  "Hang on," he gasped.  "It's almost half past three!  I promised I'd be at the dog show with Alice by 4 o'clock!  I'm really sorry; I have to go!"

Bobby flung his bag onto his shoulder and ran out of the school as fast as he could.  He darted down the streets, until he reached the main road.  The one his mum always told him to be very careful when crossing.  The one that Karen wasn't allowed to cross on her own...


Bobby turned on his heels and fled back in the direction of the school, with panic in his eyes.  When he reached Karen's class, he saw his sister, sitting quietly in the corner of the room, on her teacher's lap.  Her eyes looked red.

"I... I'm so sorry," Bobby stammered.  

Karen's teacher didn't look very happy at all.  "I've been trying to call your mum," she said.  "But I couldn't get through.  Karen told me you were walking her home, but you didn't turn up!"

Bobby's cheeks flamed red.  "I know... I promised to do something else and I just forgot..."

Karen leaped off her teacher's lap and into Bobby's arms.  Bobby cuddled her close, shaking his head.  He couldn't believe he'd left his little sister all by herself like that.  He'd only been trying to help everyone out!

"I suggest you don't make more promises than you're able to keep," Karen's teacher declared.  "Because if you do, you're only going to end up breaking them and causing much more trouble."

Bobby blinked back at her.  Suddenly, he realised why his friends had been in such a bad mood, before.  He realised how often he made promises without thinking.  And he realised that he was wrong.  Clutching Karen's hand in his, he managed a smile.  "I'm here now," he said.  "And I'm going to walk you home safely.  You can count on that."

He slowly walked out of the classroom, with his sister's hand still in his.  In his mind, he resolved to say sorry to each and every one of his friends for all of the promises he'd made and broken.  And he knew that he would never forget something so important ever again.  Suddenly, Karen's voice broke his thoughts: "I won't tell mum you forgot about me," Karen said, quietly.  "As long as you do something for me in return?"

Bobby stopped walking and glanced down at his little sister.  "What's that?"

Karen grinned.  "Stop making promises all the time.  Only make them if you can keep them."

Bobby smiled back at Karen and gently squeezed her hand.  He'd learned enough of a lesson to know that that was one promise he could definitely keep.

"I promise."

Sunday, 26 July 2015

My Top Ten Musicals (I Think... Subject to change... :-P)

It's from a musical, I swear it's not just an excuse to look at Matt Smith's chest...

I'm a bit of a frustrated diva.  The one thing I say more often than anything else is that if I had my time again, I'd go to drama school and try to carve out a career in musical theatre.  Singing is a passion of mine and I was pretty much raised on musicals (more of which, later), so they mean a great deal to me.

This morning, a friend posted his top 3 musicals of all time and it got me pondering what mine would be.  Then I decided that three simply wasn't enough.  So, until such time that I change my mind (which is inevitable!), here are my top ten musicals of all time:

10. Half A Sixpence

Strange confession time: Tommy Steele was one of my first loves.  Yes, well before Mark Owen or Stephen Gately, it was Tommy I quietly pined over.  He was cute, he could sing and dance and he had amazing hair.  Of course, I didn't realise that he wasn't young, anymore.  That he didn't actually look like Artie from Half A Sixpence, anymore... Don't judge me, I was only, what?  Six or seven?!

Anyway, this is one of those "musicals I was raised on," that I mentioned, earlier.  When I was little, my mum (also a big lover of musical theatre) would put on old musicals on video and we'd watch them together.  I therefore grew up wishing that people would randomly burst into song...

Those old musicals from my childhood will always be amongst my absolute favourites, because of the memories attached to them and the songs I grew up singing as a result of watching them.  To this day, because of watching Half a Sixpence as an impressionable little girl, whenever I have a crush on someone (as readers of my last blog will know I do now...), I have an overwhelming urge to sing "You're Too Far Above Me" as I pine, longingly.  

Half a Sixpence tells the story of two young lovers, separated by circumstance, only to be brought back together when Tommy Steele's character, Arthur Kipps, realises that his first love, Ann, is the only girl for him.  Despite fortunes won and lost in the course of the story, the real message is that love is more important than riches or success and that being true to yourself is worth a fortune all by itself.  It's one of those classic song & dance musicals, with a happy ending.  And I love it.

9. Sister Act

When I think about it, a lot of my favourite musicals are rooted in my childhood.  This one is no exception.

As a kid, I was obsessed with the movie, Sister Act (and Sister Act 2, if I'm honest).  It all started when our next door neighbour let my sister and I borrow the film on video.  We watched it over and over, until we eventually knew pretty much every line of dialogue and every word of every song.  When it was announced that the movie was to be made into a stage musical, there was absolutely no question of whether my sister and I would go to see it.  It was a must.

The show - telling the story of a lounge singer called Deloris, who witnesses a brutal murder and is sent by police to hide out in a local convent, only to end up befriending the nuns and leading their choir to enormous musical success - didn't disappoint.  The music is catchy, there's plenty of comedy and the storyline itself, as silly as it may be, is engrossing enough for you to lose yourself in it completely for a couple of hours.

When my sister and I saw it in the West End, we were lucky enough to see Whoopi Goldberg (the film's original Deloris) take on the role of the convent's Mother Superior.  Seeing the person we'd idolised in the movie, live on stage, is something I won't forget, especially as Whoopi was kind enough to sign autographs for fans waiting at the stage door, afterwards.  I still have my signed ticket.

8. West Side Story

There's a long tradition of crying at musicals, in my family.  It started when I was a kid, watching those old classics on video, with my mum.  I loved them; musicals made me happy.  Then, we watched The King And I (which only narrowly misses out on a place on this list) and for the first time, I realised that musicals can do more than just make you want to sing and dance.  They can move you to tears.  West Side Story is one such musical.

Telling the story of star crossed lovers, Maria and Tony, West Side Story is a modern take on Romeo & Juliet.  Maria is Puerto Rican and set to have an arranged marriage to a man named Chino, whereas Tony is a white New Yorker.  Maria's brother Bernardo is in a gang, The Sharks, who have a fierce rivalry with Tony's own former gang, The Jets.  Racial tensions are addressed, as the gangs clash over and over.  But whilst ignorance and violence goes on all around them, Maria and Tony fall in love against all the odds and dream of their rival cultures coming together in peace.  That peace is shattered when Tony tries to intervene in a planned "rumble" (gang battle), only to witness Bernardo kill his friend - and leader of The Jets - Riff.  Tony sees red and murders Bernardo.  Maria hears what has happened, but despite her grief, she realises that Tony is still a good man and that he is horrified by his own actions.  They dream of running away together and getting away from all the violence around them.  Bernardo's girlfriend, Anita, tries to stop Maria from running away with Tony, but eventually, she realises that the pair are deeply in love and she promises to help them.  Tony and Maria agree to meet on neutral ground and Anita goes ahead to tell Tony to wait for Maria.  But when Anita arrives, other members of The Jets begin to cat-call and use racial slurs against her, taunting her about the death of Bernardo.  Eventually, Anita snaps and lies to Tony that Maria has been shot dead by Chino.  This causes Tony, mad with grief, to stumble into the streets, begging Chino to kill him, too.  Just as he glances up and sees Maria alive and well, heading towards him, a shot is fired and Tony falls to the ground, eventually dying in his lover's arms.  Heartbroken Maria then manages to finally bring peace to the warring gangs, by showing them how hate destroys lives.

To this day, I can't hear Somewhere without getting choked up.  And when we finally saw West Side Story on the stage, my mum and I sobbed copiously throughout the last 10-15 minutes of the show.  It only serves to prove that musicals aren't just cheesy song and dance routines.  They have the power to break your heart, too.

7. Phantom Of The Opera

I'll be brutally honest: opera was never really my cup of tea and as such, I didn't have a massive desire to see Phantom.  But whilst on holiday with my mum in New York City, we decided we had to see a show on Broadway and this happened to be the one we picked.  It was phenomenal.

Phantom tells the story of an opera house, haunted by a masked phantom who sends the opera house owners malevolent letters and makes demands as to which singer should play the lead roles in all performances.  The phantom is in love with a singer called Christine, whose beautiful voice has enchanted him.  Kidnapping Christine and taking her down into the opera house cellar, the phantom's disfigured face is finally revealed and he begs Christine to stay with him forever.  However, Christine is in love with a man named Raoul and after she pleads for her freedom, the phantom lets her go, on the condition that she wears his ring and remains faithful to him.  Upon her release, Christine and Raoul plan to run away together, but their conversation is overheard by the jealous phantom, who kidnaps Christine once more and tries to force her to marry him.  Initially, Christine refuses, but when she discovers that the phantom plans to blow up the opera house and murder Raoul, she offers to be his bride, in return for her lover's freedom and the safety of those in the opera house above.  The phantom kisses Christine and is given a kiss in return, which causes him to break down and admit that nobody has ever shown him any affection in all his life.  He allows Christine and Raoul to escape, asking Christine to promise that she will visit him on the day of his death, which she does.

The show is about passion, love and loss and it's an absolute triumph.  You can hardly fail to be moved by the plight of the phantom, with his unrequited love and his life of rejection and solitude.  That in itself, is no easy feat to achieve and yet this musical manages it perfectly.  The show is a visual and aural feast - a spectacle.  I've yet to see the sequel, Love Never Dies, but I've heard from friends that it more than lives up to its predecessor.  Again, that is no mean feat.

6. The Rocky Horror Show

Any excuse to dress up...

Ah, Rocky Horror.  It's bold, it's brash, it's silly, it's rude and it's bloody wonderful.

Possibly the only entry on this list to be truly worthy of the phrase "cult status," this show/film could easily have made its way closer to the number one spot, purely due to the incredible soft spot I have for it.

Created as a loving spoof of old B-movies and sci-fi films, Rocky Horror tells the story of a newly engaged couple called Brad and Janet, who suffer a tyre blow-out on a cold, rainy night in the middle of nowhere.  They head for a castle in order to borrow a phone to call for help, but they end up entering a debauched world of cross-dressing aliens, murder and show tunes.  As you do.  Both end up separately losing their virginities to the master of the household, a "sweet transvestite" named Dr. Frank N Furter.  Frank is from the planet Transexual in the galaxy of Transylvania (because of course he is) and he has been sent to discover the ways of planet Earth.  But, as his servant-turned-executioner, Riff-Raff, tells him, his mission is a failure; his lifestyle's too extreme.  And extreme it certainly is; during his time on Earth, Frank has murdered a delivery boy named Eddie, in order to use half of his brain to bring to life a "perfect man" named Rocky, who Frank created for his own sexual pleasure.  He has devoted his life to the "sins of the flesh" and spends much of his time trying to convince the innocent Brad and Janet to "give yourselves over to absolute pleasure."  Of course, such a lifestyle eventually proves to be his undoing and poor old Frank doesn't live to see the end credits...

Silly it may be, but it's a whole lot of fun.  

5. The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music will always have a very special place in my heart.  It's one of the very first musicals I ever remember seeing on video and it's one of the ones I therefore grew up singing along to.

Based on a true story, The Sound of Music is the tale of a novice nun named Maria, who has serious doubts about her calling in life and is sent to act as a governess to the seven children of a wealthy, widowed Naval Captain named Georg Von Trapp.  Although the children originally rebel against Maria, she wins them over with her kind heart and her love of singing, eventually encouraging the children to sing together as a group. Whilst the Captain is away, Maria allows the children to be free and to recapture the innocent sense of fun they had lost following the death of their mother.  They climb trees, ride bikes and sing together.  Upon his return to the house, Captain Von Trapp is shocked by the antics of his children and their governess, particularly as he has brought with him a friend whom he is considering marrying - Baroness Elsa Schraeder.  He orders Maria to return to the abbey she came from, but upon hearing beautiful music coming from inside the house, he is astonished to learn that Maria has taught his children to sing and has a change of heart.  As time goes by, Maria and the captain grow close, leading to Maria becoming confused by her growing feelings for him.  Jealous at the thought of losing the wealthy Captain to a mere governess, the Baroness plays on Maria's confusion by telling her that it's obvious that she's in love with him and that perhaps, she really ought to return to the abbey.  

Maria's departure is felt harshly by all seven children, who can no longer find fun in anything without her, even singing.  Captain Von Trapp becomes engaged to the Baroness, but even he realises that he misses Maria terribly.  Meanwhile, back at the abbey, Maria's Mother Superior can tell that Maria is in love with the Captain and urges her to return to him.  However, when Maria discovers that the Captain is enaged, she insists that she will only stay at the house until a more suitable, replacement governess can be found.  This news causes the Captain to realise who he really wants and he breaks off his engagement and admits to his true feelings for Maria.

The couple then marry and whilst they are on their honeymoon, their friend Max secretly enters the Von Trapp children in a singing competition.  But when Maria and the Captain return home, they discover that Austria has fallen to the Nazis and that the Captain is being ordered to join the German Navy.  Appalled, the Captain insists that the whole family must travel to Switzerland to safety right away.  As they make their escape, however, Nazi soldiers are waiting and demand to know where the family are going.  Captain Von Trapp quickly tells them that the whole family are performing in the singing competition that night and the Von Trapps are escorted there to sing one last time.  After their song, the family sneak away to Maria's old abbey and are assisted by the nuns.  The show/movie ends with the family making their way on foot over the mountains to Switzerland and to freedom.

It's schmaltzy, yes.  But it's also lovely.  Somehow, despite being about a singing nun and a load of kids who wear clothes made out of curtains, The Sound of Music manages to touch upon several factors common to most of our lives; first love, secret feelings, patriotism, pride and the longing to live our lives in peaceful freedom.  The theme of not giving up on your dreams or beliefs runs strongly throughout and there can be fewer better messages to take away from a musical.  I spent much of my youth, wanting to play the role of Liesl.  And frankly, it's a source of deep sadness that I'm much too old to get away with pretending to be "16, going on 17" anymore...

4. Rent

There's an hilarious spoof of Rent in Team America: World Police, in which several puppets are seen dancing around, singing: "Everyone Has AIDS!"  The truth is, there's a bit more to Rent than that...

Rent is an usual entry on this list, in as much as I became completely, hopelessly obsessed with it, without ever having seen it, be that on stage or in movie form.  My sister went on a school trip to see it and absolutely raved about how incredible it was.  So much so, that she bought the soundtrack and encouraged me to listen to it, whilst she told me the plot line.  I was absolutely hooked - it was so fresh and different to anything I'd ever heard in a musical before, that I quickly fell in love.  When I went to New York with my mum, my absolute mission was to see the show on Broadway, but, devastatingly, the theatre was closed for renovations and the show wasn't playing whilst I was there.  I've since seen the movie version and the stage version (a touring production, which I dragged my friend Lizzie along to!) and my love for the show hasn't dulled a single bit since I first heard the soundtrack and heard the story.  If anything, it has only grown.

Rent is loosely based on La Boheme and tells the story of a group of hard-up wannabe performers and artists, living in New York's Bohemian Alphabet City.  All are dealing with their own problems, from broken hearts, to drug/alcohol addiction, to, yes, AIDS.  The plot begins on Christmas Eve and revolves around roommates Mark (a film-maker) and Roger (a songwriter).  Previously, they had lived with a third friend named Benny, but Benny has since married into a wealthy family and now owns the building and is demanding high levels of rent that his former friends simply can't afford.  Their friend Collins is beaten up on his way to visit them at their apartment and is tended to by a cross-dressing street-drummer named Angel.  Both are HIV Positive and, as they realise they have much more in common, they quickly fall in love.

Mark and Roger have both been unlucky in love, with Mark's girlfriend Maureen, a protest artist, dumping him for a woman named Joanne and Roger's girlfriend April taking her own life after realising that she and Roger both have HIV.  Whilst Mark goes off in search of Collins, concerned that he's in trouble, an attractive neighbour named Mimi turns up at their apartment and begins flirting with Roger.  She's young and clearly troubled, with a drug problem and also suffering from HIV.  At first, Roger pushes Mimi away, but his attraction to her is clear and eventually, they come together as a couple.

Meanwhile, Maureen and Joanne are planning a protest, in the hope of stopping Benny from evicting a group of homeless people from a nearby lot and turning it into a Cyber Arts Studio.  Benny suggests that if they cancel the protest and allow the work to go ahead, his friends can all use the studio to make their films/music etc and can remain tenants in the building free of charge.  The group unanimously reject the offer, instead deciding to continue with their protest in support of the homeless tenants.  A riot breaks out at the protest, which Mark films and eventually discovers that the footage has earned him a lucrative job offer.

As time goes by, Maureen and Joanne split up (only to reunite) and Mimi and Roger become notoriously on-again, off-again as Mimi battles her drug addiction and Roger fights to overcome his jealousy after discovering that former friend Benny is Mimi's past lover.  Mark watches his friend's lives fall apart and begins to panic about being the only one left if they all die as a result of AIDS.  He accepts the job offer and forms a support group for his friends.  Tragedy then strikes, as Angel passes away.  Collins can't afford to pay for the funeral, leading Benny to step in.  The men rekindle their friendship, but the group begins to separate, with Mark taking on his new job and Mimi and Roger splitting up.

By the time Christmas Eve rolls around again, Mark has left his job to work on his own film once more and is finally ready to show it to his friends.  Collins bursts in with handfuls of cash; he has rewired an ATM to provide free cash to anyone who knows the secret code: A-N-G-E-L.  Roger has finally written the one, perfect song he had been searching for and wants to dedicate it to Mimi, but nobody knows where she is.  Eventually, Maureen and Joanne find her, homeless and close to death. Roger plays his song for her and the couple are reunited.  The friends resolve to spend whatever time they all have left together, living as though there is "no day but today."

And it's that final line of the whole show that serves as a reason why Rent will always hold such a special place in my affections.  Living your life, regardless of how long you may have, surrounded by those you love most, is a pretty bloody powerful message.  When you think about the fact that the show's creator passed away before he ever saw it become an enormous success, that message only becomes even more important.  And it's one I carry with me always.

3. Oliver!

This one definitely falls into the category of "musicals I loved as a kid."  I auditioned for the role of Nancy in a school production when I was around 10 or 11 and ended up playing a maid, instead.  But it's okay, you know, I'm totally over it and not at all still bitter or anything...

Everyone reading this should know the plot line of this one, so I don't feel compelled to write it all out, here.  Suffice to say, it's about an orphan called Oliver Twist and is based on the Charles Dickens book of the same name.  Oliver runs away to London to seek his fortune and ends up joining a gang run by a wily old man named Fagin.  He befriends a gang member known as The Artful Dodger and seems destined to remain part of the gang, until he's arrested and ultimately rescued by a man who turns out to be his great uncle.  Ah, convenient plot.  We do so love thee.

With songs like Consider Yourself, Food Glorious Food and As Long As He Needs Me (which I ROCK when I sing it by the way, teachers at my primary school...) Oliver! is rightfully considered an absolute classic musical.  Its return to the West End a few years ago was triumphant and it's still absolutely beloved by many a fan, with good reason.  It's a proper old-school musical, with big song and dance numbers, rousing choruses and characters that are instantly identifiable.

If anyone's looking for a Nancy for their current production, just give me a call...

2. Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

I can't adequately tell you how much I love Stephen Gately.  Or this musical.

In many, many ways, this should be at number one.  Why?  Because it's the musical I've been to see live more times than any other on the list.  I think at the last count, it was three times in the West End and twice on tour, but I could be wrong.  My biggest Joseph-related regret is that I never saw my beloved Stephen Gately in it, but to be fair, I've seen Lee Mead play the title role three times and he blew me away on every occasion.

I'm not even sure where to start on this one.  It's hard to explain just why I love it so much, without resorting to "CHEESE."  Because, let's be perfectly truthful:  Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is pretty much as cheesy as musical theatre can possibly get.  It has song and dance routines.  It has a random Calypso number in it.  It has a Pharaoh dressed as Elvis, for crying out loud!  And yet it just works.  

When my mum and I talk about our mutual love of musicals, one word comes up over and over again: Escapism.  For a couple of hours, you can forget about real life and become completely lost in a world in which people spontaneously burst into song and ridiculous, unlikely things happen.  Musicals can be uplifting and fun and Joseph is a prime example of that.  I could walk into a theatre in the foulest mood possible, watch Joseph and emerge with a face-splitting grin.  In fact, I have been to see Joseph in a bad mood and just as I said, the show put such a smile on my face that I couldn't even remember what I was in a mood about in the first place.  It's just that sort of show - energetic, funny and shamelessly cheesy.  By the time the cast perform the "Joseph Megamix" at the end, I defy anyone not to be on their feet, clapping and singing along.  I said earlier that I can't adequately tell you how much I love this show and I really can't; you just have to go along and experience it for yourself.

Oh, the plot?  Well, if you're familiar with bible stories, you'll know that Jacob has 12 sons, the youngest of which, Joseph, is his favourite.  Jacob gives Joseph a fabulous, multicoloured coat as a sign of his love.  Joseph's brothers are incensed by this and bundle him off to be sold as a slave in Egypt.  They later kill a goat, smearing the blood all over Joseph's coat and tearing it into pieces, so that they can lie to Jacob and insist that their brother has been killed.  Joseph, meanwhile, becomes a slave to a man named Potipher and actually enjoys serving him, until eventually Potipher's wife makes a move on him and Potipher throws Joseph into jail.  Whilst in jail, Joseph meets two men who have had very vivid dreams that they cannot explain.  Joseph discovers that he can work out the meaning of the dreams and later, when the Pharaoh struggles to sleep due to confusing dreams, Joseph is sent for.  His interpretation of the dreams ensures that Pharaoh is able to keep the people of Egypt well-fed during a period of famine and Joseph becomes the Pharaoh's Number Two.  Meanwhile, his brothers are struggling and cannot cope with a lack of food and dwindling supplies.  They, along with Jacob, travel to Egypt where they beg for help.  Joseph tests them by planting a precious golden cup in his brother Benjamin's sack.  When the brothers all rush to Benjamin's aid, offering to be taken to jail in his place and insisting on his innocence, Joseph realises that they have become decent, honest men in his absence and reveals his true identity, becoming reunited with his family at last.

And then they do a megamix of the show's songs, because OF COURSE THEY DO.

1. Les Miserables

Hankies at the ready...

I said earlier that musicals are about escapism.  I stand by that.  But sometimes, a musical is so powerful, so emotionally raw that you escape into something that basically leaves you a gibbering wreck.  It sounds awful, but when that's done well, it's frankly beautiful.

Such is the case with Les Mis.  It's number one on my list and yet it's one of the shows I've yet to see on stage (shocking, I know; I nearly went to see it in Prague, but I figured it wouldn't be in English, plus the friend I was with wasn't keen, so we went to see a black light show that turned into live, onstage porn instead. Long story...).  Still, I've seen the 10th anniversary performance many times, I own the 25th anniversary DVD and I've seen the film.  Someday, I will see the show in the West End, too.

The plot to Les Mis is so long and complicated that I'm not going to even attempt to summarise it, here.  I'm just going to link to the show's Wiki page, instead.  And if you don't fancy clicking through to read that, I'll briefly state that Les Mis has literally everything, from unrequited love (I think of myself as something of an Eponine, depressingly...) and civil unrest, to selflessness and tragedy.  I cry at a lot of musicals, but Les Mis is in a league of its own.  I start sniffling around 10-15 minutes before the end and by the time (spoiler alert) the musical's hero, Jean Valjean, shuffles off his mortal coil, beautifully accompanied by two of the show's previously deceased characters, I am literally bawling, with snot and tears all over my face.  It really is a very sexy image that I've just conjured up; you're welcome.  For those who are familiar with the musical, I can even tell you the exact line at which I cross from ladylike sniffling to all-out grief: It's "Take my hand, I lead you to salvation, take my love for love is everlasting..."  We're talking "Boyzone performing Gave It All Away using the late Stephen Gately's vocals" level of tears, here.  And if you don't know what that looks like, it looks like this.  I can only apologise for my big, puffy, mascara-stained face at the end.

But back on topic...

Les Mis doesn't shy away from searing honesty, gritty plot or emotional battering.  Set with the French revolution as a backdrop, the musical gives us passionate characters, desperate situations and genuine heroes to aspire to.  The songs range from bold and rousing to heartbreakingly beautiful and the sensation I get at the end is always, despite the tears, one of being incredibly uplifted.  The prospect of a bright, brave new future "when tomorrow comes" is always enough to dry my eyes and leave me emboldened, somehow.  It's still escapism, but on a different level.  There's no cheese, little camp silliness to be seen, here.  But it's all-consuming; if you allow yourself to be taken in, you'll still find yourself escaping from real life into a world that can churn your guts and make you cry, yet somehow still leave you thrilled by it all.  And that is the magic of the musicals.  Sometimes, they can break your heart, but still leave you wanting more.  

There are so many other musicals that I adore, but which I just didn't have space for on this list (and I'm sure I've done a top ten before and it's almost certainly changed since then).  I haven't mentioned the likes of Funny Face, Chicago, Hairspray, The King And I, Blood Brothers or Cabaret.  There hasn't been room for Annie, Finnian's Rainbow or Funny Girl.  But I love all of those as well, of course!

A musical can be fun, silly, raw, emotional or rousing.  Whatever it's like, however, it should always touch you on some level.  It should always cause an emotional response.  Whether you leave the theatre (or switch off the DVD) dabbing your eyes, or grinning and singing to yourself, you should feel like you've just witnessed something magical.

Because you have.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Heart Wants What It Wants...

I was convinced I had a "type."  In fact, even my friends were convinced I had a "type," to the point that one of my friends once suggested a celebrity crush I might develop and lo and behold, that celebrity (Graham Coxon from Blur, in case you're interested) remains one of my biggest celebrity crushes to this day.  He's a bit geeky looking, with his ruffled hair and thick glasses, which I've always found attractive.  He's a bit awkward in some of his mannerisms, which I find adorable.  He's also a hugely talented guitarist and I happen to rather love his singing voice, too.  And any kind of talent is always attractive in my eyes.

Be still, my beating heart...

The trouble with having a "type" - a certain set of attributes (physical or otherwise) that you always prefer in a mate - is that every now and then, someone comes along and throws you completely, by... Well, by not conforming.

If you were to ask me to describe my "type," I would probably say the following:

  • Brown hair, preferably with a floppy fringe, styled in a sort of "boyish" fashion.
  • Big, brown eyes.
  • Under 5'10 (because I'm so damn short).
  • Good sense of humour.
  • Non-smoker.
  • Sensitive & loyal.
  • Someone FUN.

But that's just my go-to response.  In reality, the heart clearly wants what it wants and frankly, we might be oblivious to what that actually is, until we find it.

I say that as someone with a bit of a crush on a person who does not have a floppy fringe or brown eyes and isn't a non-smoker.  Now, I'm not saying for a second that the current real-life guy who makes me go all swoon-y and stupid is THE ONE or anything.  I've only spoken to him a couple of times, after all; I barely know him.  For all I know, he's got some stunningly beautiful girlfriend at home and I am a mere passing blip on his radar, barely registering more than a half-glance.  And he might be incredibly insensitive, deathly dull and with a propensity to cheat.  All of which would make my crush on him disappear faster than a winner of The Voice's musical career.

Even gorgeous Ricky knows I'm right...

That said, realising that said crush doesn't entirely conform to my "type" made me realise that having a "type" at all is... Well, kind of rubbish, really.

Sure, we all have turn-ons and turn-offs.  For example, for what it's worth, I have never found guys with particularly long hair attractive.  But when we have a "type," we're constricting ourselves and potentially missing out on something - or rather, someone - really special.  After all, whilst we might usually have a "thing" for blondes, that's not to say that a brunette couldn't make our hearts leap, if we just open our eyes and cast our nets a little wider.  As much as I don't expect it to happen, I could meet a long-haired guy tomorrow and fall so head over heels in love with him that I forget my enormous dislike of long hair on men.  Stranger things have happened.

Besides which, the most important things on our lists of qualities we look for in a potential partner should always be the things we can't see.  The reality is that eye colour or hair style is trivial and doesn't truly matter to me.  But being with someone who makes me laugh and who ensures that I feel safe and loved definitely does.

I guess what I'm saying is that I've realised that maybe I don't have a "type," after all; at least not physically.  Beauty is so subjective that what I find attractive could be a complete and utter turn-off to someone else (and vice versa).  There are no real rules when it comes to attraction and realising that I fancy whoever I fancy regardless of whether they fit into a very narrow box of attributes has been quite a freeing discovery.  I don't care about eye colour, hair, height or any of those silly things I thought I needed to find in a person.  I care about whether I feel a bit giddy when he talks to me, because of the butterflies in my tummy.  I care about whether he has a good heart and the kind of personality that makes me want to keep getting to know him better.

The heart wants what it wants.  So let's stop trying to squeeze people into a "type" and just let the heart work it out for itself.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Bedtime Story (22/7/2015)

People often why I don't illustrate my own stories.  THIS is why...

It may just be a short one, but there's something distinctly fishy going on in this week's story...

Jimmy The Fish

Everyone in the coral reef was afraid of Jimmy the fish.  He wasn't that big.  He didn't look that scary.  But Jimmy wasn't very nice.

If other fish were playing games, Jimmy would deliberately blow bubbles in their direction and spoil their fun.  When fish were swimming happily, Jimmy would deliberately splash into their paths, knocking into them, before darting away, chuckling to himself.

He made nasty comments to the smaller fish.  He tried to fight the bigger fish.

No, Jimmy wasn't a very nice fish at all.

One morning, after he'd made two crabs cry and laughed at a lobster, Jimmy was feeling tired.  He decided to look for somewhere peaceful to sleep, where he could rest without those silly other sea creatures annoying him.

He hadn't swum for long, when he came across a hermit crab.  "Hey you," Jimmy crowed.  "Leave that shell alone and buzz off.  I want to sleep somewhere quiet and that shell would be perfect."

To his surprise, the hermit crab shook his head.  "No," he shot back.  "It's mine.  Go away, Jimmy."  The crab retreated into his shell, leaving Jimmy furious.

Jimmy swam on for a while longer, until he stumbled upon a small herd of seahorses, playing noisily together.  "Shut up," he snapped at them.  "I'm going to sleep here and I don't want to hear your silly noises!"

The seahorses swam away in fright, but Jimmy could still hear them, so he decided to keep looking for the perfect place to sleep.  He swam on, until he saw an eel, lazing on a rock.  "Oi," Jimmy called.  "Get away from that rock!  I'm going to sleep here and I don't want you in my way!"

The eel slunk off into the murky waters, away from the reef.  Jimmy was about to settle down, when he noticed that the rock formed part of the entrance to a dark, gloomy cave.  "This is perfect," Jimmy said aloud, swimming into the cave.  "Nobody will disturb me in here."

Jimmy swam further and further into the cave, until he could barely see the reef outside.  There, he closed his eyes and smiled a smug smile.  He hadn't been sleeping long, when a very deep, very loud voice boomed: "This is MY cave!"

Jimmy opened his eyes.  Two more eyes were glinting in the blackness.  Two angry eyes.  Jimmy didn't wait to see who had spoken.  Instead, he began to swim as fast as his fins would allow, leaving a trail of bubbles in his wake as he darted through the water.  Once he was finally out of the cave, he turned and gasped - it was a shark!  And it was right behind him!

Jimmy saw the eel still hovering by the rocks.  "Help me," he begged.  "There's a shark!"

The eel simply hid away, saying nothing.

Jimmy rushed through the water.  He was a fast swimmer and soon the shark was trailing behind him.  It wasn't long until he came across the seahorses he'd frightened earlier.  "Everyone hide," he yelled.  "There's a shark coming!"

The seahorses turned their backs on him.  "Why can't you be nice for a change?"  One of them tutted.  "Stop spoiling everyone's fun!"

Jimmy gasped - they didn't believe him!  He glanced over his shoulder.  He could just make out the shark's shadowy body moving closer.  There was no time to waste!  He hurried on, eventually meeting the hermit crab whose shell he had demanded.

"Hide in your shell," Jimmy told him.  "The shark might get you, otherwise!"

The crab did as he was told, but he didn't sound afraid.  He merely yawned as he retreated into his shell, saying: "Telling tall tales is your latest nasty trick, is it?"

By the time Jimmy reached the busiest part of the coral reef, the shark was beginning to catch him up.  "SHARK!"  He yelled.  The other fish swam for their lives, hiding behind rocks and leaving Jimmy alone.

All too soon, the shark was upon him.  "Not so tough now, are you?"  The shark hissed.

Jimmy swallowed hard.  He thought about trying to befriend the shark; that would really make the other sea creatures scared of him!  But then he thought about how sad he'd felt when nobody believed him or wanted to help him.  And he remembered how frightened he'd been when the shark had first chased him out of the cave.  Finally, he realised what he needed to do.

"Oh yes I am tough," Jimmy shouted.  "And I'm not letting you hurt any of my friends."

"Friends?"  The shark chuckled.  "I thought you liked picking on the other fish?"

Jimmy felt his heart beating hard in his chest.  "I did," he confessed.  "But I don't want to do that anymore."

Slowly, the other sea creatures began to peep out of their hiding places.  Jimmy smiled at them and then glared back at the shark.

"I've learnt my lesson," he said.  "And now you have to learn yours.  Go and pick on someone your own size and leave me and my friends alone!"

One by one, the crabs, lobsters, seahorses and fish that shared the coral reef with Jimmy began to swim over to his side.

The shark smiled.  "You're lucky," he told them.  "I'm not that hungry.  I'll let you off the hook."

And with that, he was gone.

All of the sea creatures cheered and Jimmy cheered the loudest.  He really had learnt an important lesson.  And from then on, Jimmy the fish was the friendliest fish in the sea.


Saturday, 18 July 2015

"Get Over It!"

Yes, this is the video to "Get Over It" by McBusted. It NEEDED to be here.

"Get over it."

They're three very simple, little words, aren't they?  Incredibly easy to say and in some cases, pretty easy to do, too.  We use the phrase more often than we realise.  Angry that someone cut you up whilst driving? "Get over it."  Annoyed that you didn't get an invite to an event?  "Get over it."  Just split up with someone who was quite blatantly bad for you in every single way?  "Get over it."

But some things aren't quite as easily forgotten.  Some things, such as bereavement, we never truly "get over."  Instead, we simply learn to live with what's happened to us and cope with it on a daily basis.

For me, abuse has been one of those things.  I don't want to be a victim; my abuser made me one whilst I was with him and I certainly don't wish to remain one, now.  I also don't want what I went through to define me.  I'm a daughter, friend, writer, nursery nurse and ridiculously-obsessive fan of various bands/celebrities as well as a survivor of abuse and I don't want that one, negative experience to become the focal point of who I am as a person.

That said, it is a part of who I am.  A big part, really, seeing as it changed my life completely and set me on various paths I may never have travelled, otherwise.  And whilst I have moved on with my life and live happily, able to talk openly about what happened without becoming upset when necessary, yet equally able to shut it out of my thoughts completely most of the time, it does occasionally creep unwelcome into my mind and when that happens, it can be genuinely devastating.

People have a habit of being a little snooty about "trigger warnings."  It's understandable to an extent - after all, if we're tuning in to watch a TV programme about The Holocaust, we surely don't need to be warned that it might be upsetting.  But whilst some insist that trigger warnings are just another case of "political correctness gone mad," it's important to remember the reason we sometimes have to give them.

For example, this scene has a trigger warning: MAY CAUSE SNOTTY TEARS.

Sometimes, it's hard to know what your triggers are going to be.  And it's definitely hard for us to know what might be a trigger for someone else.  That's why the warnings are often necessary - nobody wants to upset someone unintentionally, after all.

Or maybe some people just don't care?

I usually know what my triggers are.  Certain songs remind me too much of my ex and the events that unfolded whilst I was with him.  As strange as it sounds, even certain kinds of clothes and certain TV shows bring back memories.  Most of the time, these aren't upsetting enough to be referred to as "triggers."  They're simply things that cause me to shudder briefly, before (hopefully) putting it out of my mind and moving on.  "Getting over it," if you will.

But some things are triggers.  Some things cause me to lose my breath, feel sick, start shaking and generally become very upset.  Usually the things that cause such a reaction are words, rather than 
songs, or anything visual.  It's reading a piece in which the author is victim-blaming.  It's stumbling upon a blog that defends abusive behaviour, using common abuse-myths, such as "he can't help it" or "he only does it because he loves her so much and can't handle it."  That's why I would prefer people to use a trigger warning when posting links to such articles or blogs.  Not because I've failed to "get over" what happened to me four years ago, but because I know I'll always be affected by things like that.  The wound that being in an abusive relationship caused has healed over, but it's still a scar.  It's still a weak area that will hurt if prodded.

Which leads me onto the assumptions that people make.  When arguing on the subject of abuse in fiction (yes, I'm talking about Fifty Shades - how did you guess?!), I am coming from a place of having experienced abuse personally and having had extensive support from an abuse charity, in order to put myself back together sufficiently enough to become involved in activism online and awareness-raising of abuse in all its forms.  Or, to put it another way, I know what I'm talking about.

And yet some of the most common things Fifty Shades fans will resort to are the following barbs:

  • "Go and learn what abuse actually is."
  • "You need to educate yourself on the difference between abuse and love."
  • "You've got no clue about abuse and how it affects people.  If you knew the slightest thing about it, you wouldn't resort to calling a love story abusive."
  • "Why don't you do some actual good and help real people who've been abused instead of wasting your time trivialising the issue by focusing on a made up story?!"
  • "You think this is abuse? God help you if you ever find out what abuse really is.  It's a fucking book.  Get over it."
All of the above comments are real arguments I've had from Fifty Shades fans.  Strangers, who don't know anything about me, are telling me to "educate" myself on what abuse is.  They're berating me for not helping real abuse survivors.

What they either don't realise - or, sadly, don't care about - is that I've had a very personal education into what abuse is.  I lived it.  And since rebuilding my life, I've spent a great deal of time talking to other survivors online and supporting them through their healing process.  I've "met" many people on Twitter and Facebook who are either fresh out of abusive relationships, or are trying to escape them and who have been traumatised (and no, that's not too strong a word) by reading Fifty Shades and need to know that they're not alone in their feelings (just the same way I needed to, when I first read the story).

Whilst I would never advocate that people should put a trigger warning on all of their interactions with any person who might disagree with their views, I do have to ask a question:  Why is it somehow acceptable to make remarks like that about abuse?  If we were debating a new cancer drug, would it be okay to snap at someone: "Go and educate yourself on cancer.  I bet it's never even affected your life"?  It wouldn't be okay, because it would almost certainly be wrong; cancer is such a prevalent disease that very few people don't know someone who has suffered with or even died from one form or another.  Abuse is just as common.  Yet we seem to find it easier to assume that the person we're arguing with has no personal experience of it, doesn't know anyone else who has gone through it and does nothing to support those who have.

And it's that ignorance that serves as one of my biggest triggers.  I would never assume that someone I was debating with - on any subject - was entirely ignorant of the topic at hand.  Even when discussing abuse in Fifty Shades, I like to imagine that if Christian had beaten Ana black and blue and screamed at her that she was worthless, the readers would see that as abuse.  I tell myself that it's only because abuse is so misunderstood (especially emotional/psychological abuse) and so insidious that the readers are failing to recognise it, particularly since EL James has wrapped it all up in a bow and stamped "LOVE story" on it.  I also know that there are some survivors of abuse who don't have any problem with the relationship in Fifty Shades and whilst that concerns me deeply, I would still never dream of implying that those people don't know what abuse actually is.

We put trigger warnings on material that might cause someone distress.  And in much the same way, we need to be thinking about the way that our words - our accusations - may cause distress to others.  Judging someone as being ignorant, or of not caring about helping people, simply because their viewpoint differs from our own is arrogant at best, cruel at worst.

Last night, I was triggered by hearing those phrases listed above.  Because when strangers assume that you can't possibly know what abuse is and that you're not doing anything to help real people because you're only talking about "A BOOK," it makes you feel as though what you went through is being minimised.  And that what you're trying to do to raise awareness is being mocked.  One fan read a discussion I was having with another, in which I had said that I was actually a survivor, triggered by the books and yet she felt the need to tweet me the words "LONG LIVE EL JAMES, LOL!"  What did she expect that to achieve?  What reaction was she hoping for?  And why?

I can "get over it."  I can rationalise that some people get their sad little kicks out of trolling others online.  I know that these people don't know the real me and haven't the slightest clue of what I do to help people, or what I experienced myself.  But wouldn't it be nice if I - and people like me - didn't have to?  Wouldn't it be great if instead of making snap assumptions about people we don't know and, in the process, making hurtful and untrue judgements against them, we considered how triggering those words might be?

We can never know what another person has lived through, unless they open up to us.  And even then, we'll only ever know half the story.  We won't know how hard they had to fight to "get over it."  So before we judge or accuse others online, assuming to know all about them based on nothing but an opposing view, perhaps we ought to ponder our words more carefully.  Ask ourselves whether we're about to make a potentially hurtful judgement on someone we don't know.

Insert motivational quote that aided my abuse recovery here.

I've moved on from what happened to me.  I can laugh, I can have fun and I can go for days - weeks - without giving it a single thought.  But I'm unlikely to ever be entirely "over" it.  It'll always be a painful memory.  It'll always be a scar.

So next time you're in an argument with someone online, don't assume that simply because a person disagrees with you, it must make them entirely ignorant of the subject being discussed.  Don't presume to know their life history.  Don't think that your words won't be triggering.

And if you can't continue a discussion without resorting to snap judgements, then walk away from that argument.  

Get over it.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Bedtime Story (15/7/2015)

My greed is notorious.

So, last week I wrote a story based on a much-missed celebrity love from my youth.  I didn't want to write anything too emotional this week, so I decided to write a slightly silly story about a more trivial love of mine... FOOD!

"I'm Not Hungry!"

Julia was a fussy eater.  Dinner time was always a struggle.  Peas would fly across the room, gravy would be splashed across the walls and a high-pitched wail would cry out: "I'M NOT HUNGRY!"

Of course, Julia was hungry.  She was always hungry.  She just didn't want to try the foods her poor, anxious parents had cooked for her.  She wanted sweets.  She wanted chocolate.  And she most certainly didn't want vegetables...

One night, Julia's father read an advert in the local gazette: "Chef available for home cooking.  Fussy eaters a speciality!"

With a trembling hand, he dialled the number and made an appointment for the very next evening.

Gino Fantastico arrived the following day, with gleaming chef whites and an enormous, twirly moustache.  In a broad accent, he cried:  "Where is the fussy eater?  Come now, let me meet her!"

Julia was bustled into the kitchen and she scrambled into her chair, with her eyes open wide.

"Now, you say you don't like eating?  Then thank Heavens for this meeting!"  Gino danced around the kitchen, tossing ingredients into pans and mixing strange concoctions.

Julia stuck out her lower lip.  "I'm not hungry..."

"I don't believe you're not.  Let me serve you something hot..."  Gino handed Julia a plate of steaming peas.

"Yuck!"  Julia pouted.  "I'm not hungry!"

Gino frowned at Julia, then raised his eyesbrows at her parents.  "Oh, this is a fussy child.  Let me cook up something mild.  I shall have to hurry...  Would you like a chicken curry?"

Julia pulled a face, but Gino began twirling around the kitchen, chopping onions, dicing chicken and putting rice on to boil, faster than Julia had ever seen anyone manage it before.

"You seem to think that food's not nice, but wait until you try this rice!"

Gino placed a bowl of rice and a serving of curry in front of Julia.  She sniffed it and shook her head.  "I'm not hungry."

Gino's eyes widened and his moustache seemed to twitch all by itself.  "This is crazy.  Let me make some gravy.  Or perhaps you'd rather have dessert?  Jam sponge and custard wouldn't hurt!"

Julia frowned.  "But I'm not hungry..."

Gino threw his head back and laughed.  "Of course you are, you simply must be!  How about a slice of bread that's crusty?  Or maybe I'll make a crunchy salad bowl?  That's bound to fill a rumbling hole.  You need to eat some dinner soon, so grab a fork and pick up your spoon..."

Gino darted around the kitchen again, peeling vegetables, opening packets and scattering cutlery all around the room.  Julia's parent's watched with their mouths hanging open, as sauces splattered up the walls and pans sizzled on the stove.  Gino turned to Julia with his big eyes twinkling.

"Voila!  I have made oodles of noodles. 
I have served jelly in an old garden welly!
I made fish and chips
And doughnuts with dips.
I've cooked a stew and dumplings, too.
There are endless supplies of savoury pies,
A full English roast
And hot, buttered toast.
I've made Italian Canneloni and a bowl of macaroni.
There's a juicy steak and a fresh pasta bake,
With garlic bread
On a salad bed.
I've got a few more eggs to fry,
Then you can give this meal a try!"

Julia sniffed the wonderful smells filling the air.  "I'm not..."  She began, but she knew she couldn't lie, as her tummy began to rumble.  Her parents grinned and Gino returned to the oven, still singing to himself.

"There's still more to come,
My job's not yet done.
I have a pizza to top with pepperoni and cheese.
There are so many courses,
Each with their own sauces,
So grab the ketchup and give it a squeeze!
I'll bake you a cake
And I'll fry up some hake
And I'll serve the fish with some mushy peas.
Then I'll ice that cake
And a bite you can take.
Julia, I only aim to please!

Now, look at all the food you'll get!
Tell me, are you hungry yet?"

Julia's mouth turned up at the corners and a very small smile began to play upon her lips.

Gino leaned in closer and beamed.  

"See, there's no reason to be so glum,
Dinner time can be such fun!
There are so many different flavours to try,
If you turn them away, life's passing you by!
So pick up your fork and give your meal a taste,
We haven't another moment to waste!"

Julia bit her lip.  "But... I'm not hungry."

Her parents hung their heads, as Gino's smile evaporated from his comical face.

Julia giggled.  "You don't understand," she said, holding out her empty plate.  "I'm not hungry because I've eaten so much!"

Julia's parents jumped to their feet in celebration, smiles on their faces and relief in their eyes.

Gino danced all the way to the front door, singing as he went.

"All that cooking was exhausting for me,
I need a very tall, very strong coffee!
So I'm off now, to find a cup...

...And you lot can all do the washing up."