Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Bedtime Story (30/9/2015)

We all know children love playing with their toys.  But we also know they're not always quite so keen on putting them back, afterwards!  So here's a bedtime story, all about one little boy who didn't want to tidy up...

Jacob's Room

It was raining.  It had rained all day.
Jacob was bored - he wanted to play.
He couldn't go out in such wet, cold gloom.
So he was stuck indoors, playing up in his room.

Jacob's mum said: "You have so many toys,
There's enough up here for a thousand boys!
Play with them all - play with the whole bunch.
Just promise you'll tidy it all up by lunch."

Well, Jacob had a wonderful time.
Playing inside, he discovered, was fine!
His mum said: "Just tidy up as you go."
But he didn't and soon, a pile began to grow...

There were colouring pens and sheets of paper,
A sock puppet shaped like an alligator,
A garage and cars and a remote-control truck
And a boat with a sailor and a squeaky toy duck.

Jacob didn't want to tidy when he had better things to do,
So all day long, the pile grew and grew...

There was a pair of roller skates found under his bed
And a bright blue helmet to protect his head.
A policeman's outfit, so he could catch crooks
And take them to a jail made from a huge wall of books.

Jacob had such fun, the hours simply flew,
But all the while, the pile grew and grew...

There was a battered old kite and a broken guitar,
A punctured ball that wouldn't bounce very far,
A box of marbles emptied all over the floor
And a toothsome, fearsome dinosaur!

Jacob looked at the toys: "Should I tidy a few?"
But he decided against it, so the pile grew and grew...

There were teddy bears and rocket ships,
An album of photos from family day trips,
A big green box, full of badges and stickers
And a robot with a laser that really flickers.

Jacob looked at the mess on the floor
And suddenly wondered: "Where's my bedroom door?!"
The pile had grown to such a height,
That Jacob was trapped and he cried out in fright.

"I'm stuck in my room!  Mum, help, it's not fair!"
But his voice was muffled by the toys everywhere.
He waded through train track, toy soldiers and puzzles.
"Oh how will I ever get out of this muddle?!"

Jacob realised what the answer might be
And with a groan and grumble, he started to tidy.
Away went the books and the bears and the balls,
Away went the soldiers - away went it all.

When the last toy was tidied, through his bedroom door
Came Jacob's mum and she gazed at the floor.
"It's so clean in here, have you played at all?"
Jacob nodded and leaned against his bedroom wall.

"Oh mum," he told her.  "Of course I've played.
But when I'm done with each toy, I put it away!"
His mum grinned: "Then come for some lunch and a drink."
Jacob looked in the mirror and gave his reflection a wink...

Jacob didn't regret playing with everything - oh no!
But now he'd learnt never to let a pile grow.
The rain stopped and soon, it was a much brighter day.
So Jacob dashed out in the garden to play.

No more rain, no more cold and no more gloom.
And best of all?  No more tidying his room!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Choctober (please help!)

Okay, everyone, brace yourselves.  For the month of October, I might be:

  • Stressed
  • Hormonal
  • Hungry

Why?  Because, along with a group of other McBusted fans, I've decided to take part in "Choctober."  Yes, despite my utter devotion to all things chocolate-y, in October, not a single mouthful will pass my lips.  No chocolate bars.  No hot chocolate.  No brownies, choccie biscuits or chocolate ice cream.  Nothing.

The reason behind this frankly mad decision is simple: we want to try to raise as much money as possible for a wonderful appeal called Eyes Alight.

Eyes Alight was set up by Izzy Judd (wife of McBusted/McFly drummer Harry) and her family, after her brother Rupert suffered a brain injury that changed his life, back in 1997.  Rupert was involved in a serious car accident and needed long-term brain injury rehabilitation.  Watching her brother go through this rehabilitation, Izzy soon realised that certain things could make the process much easier and she set up the Eyes Alight appeal (a reference to the way patients' eyes often light up at the mention of doing something they had enjoyed prior to their injuries) to raise money for men and women who use the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust's services and community housing (as Izzy's brother Rupert does).  The money raised by the appeal goes towards making life that bit more enjoyable for those undergoing rehabilitation.  It can pay for special day-trips, fund items to help people pursue the interests they had prior to their injuries (by purchasing musical instruments or sports equipment etc) and by providing laptops etc to make communication easier.  The appeal hopes to continue providing group musical therapy, improved communication and special days out, and even to open up green gyms that men and women undergoing rehabilitation can use.  I'm sure you'll agree, it's a pretty brilliant appeal to be supporting and well worth giving up my beloved choccie for.

Not that it's going to be easy!  I'm a self-confessed chocoholic and I can't imagine how I'll manage a whole month without cracking.  But it's got to be worth a try for such an important cause.  And it's just going to mean that on November 1st, I'm liable to eat an entire chocolate cake to myself...

So, here comes the begging bit (come on, everyone, you knew it was coming, right?!).  We've set ourselves the pretty ambitious task of raising £1000 for Eyes Alight.  I know, it's a lot, but we're not messing around - if you're going to go for it, you may as well really go for it.  We've set up a Just Giving page, which makes it super easy for people to donate, should they want to.  And you know, we really hope people do!  Obviously, we know money's tight for most of us with Christmas around the corner, so we really do appreciate any donation, however small you might think it is.  The link to the donation page is here.

To keep everyone informed with our progress, we've also set up a Twitter account for our Choctober mission.  We'll be posting regular updates as to how much we've raised, as well as fascinating chocolate facts, recipe ideas and general chit-chat from the girls taking part in the challenge.  Even if you can't donate personally, it would mean a great deal if you could give the account a follow and RT the odd tweet, just to spread the word of what we're up to.

Well, I guess all that remains is to say thank you to everyone who has offered donations or support so far!  I'm going to need that support in bucket loads, I swear!  In the meantime, there's a Black Forest Gateau in the fridge with my name on it...  May as well eat this stuff whilst I can!

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Bullied On The Bus..

I recently read this article from Standard Issue and it really hit a nerve.  Actually, it didn't so much hit a nerve as it pulled on said nerve, twisted it around a bit and left it exposed for some time afterwards.

For many people, it's almost impossible to imagine that a child of just eleven years old could be driven to suicide by bullies on a school bus.  But for me, it's a stark reminder of what was and what could have been.  For me, it wasn't shoe laces.  It was my school tie.  I was twelve, not eleven.  And to my eternal relief, I'm still here to tell the story.  I thought that ending things was the only way out and my heart shatters anew every time I hear of another child who thought the same thing.

The article mentions that 67.4% of drivers have witnessed bullying on the bus, whilst 78% said they had never been advised on how to deal with the problem, should it arise.  To my mind, that's a massive part of the problem.  With bullying so rife, surely the only adult in the situation - the bus driver - should have received some kind of training on what to do?  As a child being picked on, you look to that adult for help and when it doesn't come, you feel more isolated than ever.  I can vividly recall staring pitifully in the driver's direction - sometimes catching her eye when she glanced in her rear-view mirror - desperately praying that she'd stop the bus and do something  Anything.  But she never did.

Let's get one thing straight: bullying is horrific, no matter where it takes place.  From jeering idiots in the classroom, to cowardly trolls on the Internet, I have no time for any kind of bully, in any place, whatsoever.  But bullying on a school bus is so terribly common and so seemingly inescapable, that the mere memory of my own experience still fills me with fear and sadness.  What I wouldn't give to borrow the Doctor's TARDIS and just sit beside twelve year old me on that journey, to and from school.  What I wouldn't give just to silently slip a protective arm around her trembling shoulders. 

When you're bullied in a classroom, if the teacher hears, they'll usually say something.  If you're being bullied online, you can at least switch off your computer, or put your phone down and try to escape it for a while.  But on a bus, there is no escape.  And believe me, I sat on many a journey, wondering what would happen if I pressed the emergency button beside the doors and just jumped out.  Sometimes I was scared I'd be killed.  Sometimes, I was scared I wouldn't be.

In reality, there's nowhere to go.  You're trapped inside a tin can, miles away from home.  You can put earphones in and try to shut out the words being screamed at you, but it doesn't make you any less aware that it's happening.  You can stare, rigidly out of the window, but it doesn't stop someone spitting at you, or throwing food at you.  You're essentially a sitting duck, at the mercy of those who've decided to attack you, be it verbally or physically.  All you can do is sit there and count the stops until you're home.

I was picked on at school.  I was laughed at in class.  Of course I was; I was short, shy and had ridiculously curly hair and a nose the whole school could have taken shelter under on rainy days.  But it was on the school bus that it was always worst.  There, away from the watchful eye of the teachers, it went unchecked.  "You're so disgusting that nobody will ever love you; why don't you do the world a favour and kill yourself?"  If someone said that loudly enough in a classroom, something might have been done to stop it.  But every day on the school bus, it was seemingly fair game.  I was fair game.  And it was inevitable that one day, I would go home and try to do the very thing that I was being viciously told to.  

More than twenty years on, I'm still here and I'm grateful for that every single day.  But I won't get on a bus, unless I absolutely have to and I'm still not entirely convinced that I'll ever be able to look in a mirror and see someone pretty (or even someone average), as opposed to the "ugly freak" I was reminded of being, day in, day out.  Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can scar forever.

We need to demand that changes are made.  One child even attempting suicide as a result of bullying on the school bus is one too many.  Just one succeeding is a tragedy that shames us as a society.  We need to arm school bus drivers with knowledge of how to deal with bullying.  We must insist that, if drivers themselves don't feel able or equipped to deal with bullying on the bus, that a trained adult travels with them to do so.  

It's time to take back control and make the daily journey to and from school a safe place for children and not a time of dread.  I don't want to think of another child sitting there, frozen in terror, trying to blink away the tears, whilst bullies yell insults, or whisper threats into that child's ears.  I don't want to think of another driver, seemingly ignoring what's happening to some poor kid, just a few feet behind them.

It's time for bullying on the bus to stop.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Bedtime Story (23/9/2015)

I've been trying to write stories with something of a "message" lately, which is all well and good, but sometimes, you just want a bit of silliness...

Muddled Up Farm

Gather round, boys and girls! 
 We're going to Muddled Up Farm!
We're bound to see some funny sights,
So take a camera and stay calm...

We might see a cow laying an egg,
Or a chicken being milked.
We could see a pig driving a tractor,
Or a donkey spinning silk.

The farmer gets up early
And his first job of the day
Is to feed all the lions
With a fresh bundle of hay.

Then he visits the pig pen
And gives them milkshakes to drink.
Afterwards, he lets the ducks
Have a swim in the kitchen sink.

He shaves the giraffes and uses the wool
To knit a lovely sweater.
And later on, he dyes it pink,
So it looks even better!

Over in the paddock,
The horses are playing cricket.
Until a kangaroo falls out of a tree
And crashes into the wicket!

The farmer grows blue cabbages
And multicoloured corn.
When it's time to bring it in,
He blows a bright green horn.

Then all the sheep come rushing,
Armed with scythes and shears.
They cut down all the corn
And carry it home in their ears.

In another field, the farmhand works,
Sowing his new crop.
He's growing fresh marshmallows,
With chocolate sauce on top.

Another worker is picking fruit
Straight out of the tree.
Toffee apples and banana splits,
Enough for you and me!

They grow like that, fully formed,
Right there on the branches.
Another tree grows disco balls,
And around it, a bull dances!

Meanwhile, at the farmhouse,
The goats are baking pies.
Whilst high above the open fields,
the sheepdog happily flies.

He rides in a golden helicopter
And keeps watch on the farm.
If he sees anything unusual,
He barks a loud alarm.

But everything is unusual,
Here at Muddled Up Farm!
There's even a purple elephant
Blowing bubbles in the barn.

So have one last look around, friends,
Because we really ought to go.
Let's get a lift on the tractor
And let the pigs drive us back home.


Sunday, 20 September 2015


Pictured: Me.

What feels like a million years ago, my first real boyfriend took me to the cinema to see Bridget Jones' Diary (he told me we were going to see a far more blokey film and I nearly had an over sentimental weep when he confessed that he was actually indulging my extreme girliness, by taking me to what was essentially, a "chick flick").  In the opening scenes, we see Bridget, a little tipsy, sitting alone on her sofa, wearing her pyjamas, singing/miming along to All By Myself in a dramatic fashion.  Sitting beside me, my ex's shoulders began to jiggle up and down.  Then a big giggle burst out of his lips.  Before long, he was laughing out loud, to the point where I thought "maybe he wanted to see this film more than I did..."  But then he turned to me - still chuckling - and said: "That is so you."

He was right.  Sadly, he was also hugely prophetic, seeing as all these years later, I am currently single and have been known to wear novelty PJs, drink wine and warble along to power ballads...  But he was referring to the tendency to totally (and dramatically) lose myself in singing and he was utterly spot on.

Ever since I was little, music has been a passion.  And from listening to music, came my love of singing along to it. 

My mum has a really nice voice.  When I was a little girl, she'd play old vinyl albums and sing along to them and I absolutely loved to listen to her.  Even now, when we sing together in the car, I find myself thinking what a sweet tone she has.  

As I became more familiar with the songs mum played, I started singing along.  The Beatles, The Carpenters and several other bands who were technically "before my time" became my staples and I'd practise singing their songs in my room.  When I was only around eight or nine, I sang a duet with my mum at a karaoke night in London, whilst visiting my grandparents.  We sang For All We Know by The Carpenters.  It was the first time I'd really sung in public and I was buzzing, afterwards.  I had been so nervous as I went up to take the mic, but as soon as the music ended, I wanted to do it all over again.

As I got older and more into musicals, I started experimenting with different styles of singing.  I was too scared to have singing lessons (I thought I'd be told I was rubbish), so I taught myself how to sing from the diaphragm, when to use a "head voice" and when to use a "chest voice" and I taught myself harmonies.  I even sang scales to myself, in an effort to increase my range.  I toyed with the idea of doing music or drama at GCSE/A-level and going off to study musical theatre at university.  I had big plans to join a choir, or an Am Dram group.

Sadly, once I started secondary school and was bullied to the point of severe depression, my confidence crashed through the floor.  I didn't believe in myself enough to even contemplate taking my love of singing any further.  I eventually joined a couple of choirs, but I never tried out for a solo.

But whilst my rather lofty dreams of being on stage might have been shattered, my love for singing never dimmed.  It simply became less about practising for an audition I'd never be brave enough to attend and more about liberating myself from my self-imposed shackles.

When you lose your confidence, you stop yourself doing a lot of things you want to do.  But when you sing - and I mean really belt, not caring who's listening - it's one of the most freeing things in the world.  All of that pent-up emotion comes spilling out.  All of your troubles disappear in amongst harmonies and choruses.  You're not that quiet, shy person who doesn't dare say boo to a goose.  You're a Diva.

By the time I reached my late teens, my sister had taught herself to play guitar and had become really good at it.  She had (and has!) a great singing voice and we'd "jam" together for hours, recording covers and writing songs of our own.  For a while, we were in a band with a friend who played drums (although we never played a "gig" - we were too busy recording demos and writing our own stuff!).  I still have a cassette tape of a recording session we did one lunchtime in the music studios at school and I absolutely treasure it.

Nowadays, singing is just something I do for me.  I'll have a glass or two of wine and fire up karaoke videos on YouTube.  I can easily lose a couple of hours that way, trying everything from show tunes to rock ballads and anything in between.  And yes, I am that girl you pull up alongside at traffic lights, only to find I'm belting along to whatever I'm listening to in the car, with no regard for who might hear.  Because I don't care - singing makes me so happy, so liberated, that I don't stop to worry about what I sound like.  Not too often, anyway.

I don't have the best voice in the world.  I make the odd flat sound and there are definitely high notes that I can no longer hit (years of using inhalers for my asthma has dried my throat out and left me a lot more raw than I ever used to be, sadly).  But when I lose myself in a song, I'm having fun and I'm feeling free.  That's what it's all about, as far as I'm concerned.  

I might actually be Bridget Jones, these days, but when I sing, I'm a Diva and the whole world is my stage.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Bedtime Story (16/9/2015)

Recently, a friend of mine asked me if I would write a story about the benefits of sharing, so that she could read said story to her class.  So, Chloe, if you're reading this, this story is for you!

Thomas And The Truck

Thomas could hardly wait to get to school.  As he rushed along the path, he grinned at the thought of showing off his new toy.  

Thomas had turned five over the weekend and his parents had bought him a truck.  But not just any old truck - the coolest truck Thomas had ever seen!  It had big, shiny wheels, lights that really flashed on and off, a remote control to make it move forwards and backwards and to make the tipper go up and down and it made fantastic noises when you pressed the buttons on the side.  Thomas had bounced out of bed that morning, desperate to get to school and show his friends his amazing birthday present.

Charlie was waiting for him at the school gates.  "Did you get any good presents?"  He cried, when he saw Thomas approaching.

"Wait until you see what I've brought with me!"  Thomas shouted back.  But the school bell rang before he had time to show his friend.  "I'll show you at break time," Thomas sighed, as the boys trudged into class.

Thomas fidgeted in his seat and could barely concentrate through his lessons.  Finally, break time arrived and he dashed outside, with Charlie close behind.  Thomas set his backpack down on the ground and gently pulled out the truck.  Immediately, his fingers brushed against the buttons on the side and the lights began flashing and a loud engine rumble, followed by the beep of a horn, caused Charlie's eyes to widen.

"That is so cool!"  Charlie gasped.  "Can I have a go with it?"

Thomas nodded.  "Of course," he said.  "But let me show you how to use it, first.  It's really special and I need to make sure you know what you're doing."

Charlie pulled a face.  "I've got remote control cars at home, Thomas," he reminded him.  "I do know what I'm doing..."

Thomas bit his lip and handed over the remote.  "Okay," he said.  "Just be careful."

Charlie dropped to the floor and sat in the middle of the playground.  He studied the remote control for a few seconds, then began driving the truck around and around, weaving between the legs of his classmates.  "This is awesome," he beamed.  As the truck whizzed around the the playground, a crowd began to gather around Charlie.

"You're really good at that," Emily said.  She pulled a handful of grapes out of the pocket of her school dress.  "Here, put these in the back of the truck and drive them over to Beth!"  She pointed to her friend with an outstretched finger.

Thomas frowned.  "Don't put food in the back," he said.  "You might break it!"

Emily folded her arms across her chest.  "They're only grapes," she tutted.  "Not rocks or anything!"

Ethan, one of the older boys, came rushing over.  "Cool truck," he said.  "How fast does it go?  Shall we see if I can race it?!"

Charlie pressed hard on the remote control and the truck went speeding away, with Ethan running alongside it.

"Don't race it too fast," Thomas grumbled.  "You'll run the batteries out!"

The crowd around them was getting bigger and bigger, as more children came to see what was going on.  Charlie was laughing and smiling, having lots of fun.  Thomas, on the other hand, wasn't.  His cheeks were hot and he felt cross.

His friend Harry came over,  "Can the truck do wheelies?"  He asked.  

Charlie shrugged.  "I can try," he said.

"No," Thomas replied, through gritted teeth.  "No wheelies; it's only meant to go forwards and backwards, it can't do circles!"  He grabbed the remote out of Charlie's hands.  "See?"  He pressed down on the buttons and the truck trundled forwards.  "It doesn't go round and round and it's not even supposed to!"

Charlie cocked his head to one side. "Actually, I think I might be able to make it do wheelies..."

Thomas sighed as he handed the remote back.  Charlie made the truck spin in a tiny circle and everyone cheered.

Thomas' ears felt all hot and prickly.  He felt a strange bubble of anger in his chest.  He rushed to his feet and picked up the truck.  "I don't want anyone playing with it, anymore," he snapped.  He shoved the truck back into his backpack.  Slowly, his friends all disappeared.  Charlie looked at him with sad eyes, before walking away and leaving Thomas alone.

Nobody spoke to Thomas when the bell rang to go back to class.  Thomas didn't try to speak to them, either.  He was too cross.  When lunchtime finally arrived, he ate his sandwiches by himself, before going back out to the playground with his truck.

Thomas sat on the cold, stone ground, making the truck go forwards and backwards.  He made the lights flash and he sounded the horn.  But it wasn't so much fun, anymore.  He wanted to make the truck do wheelies, but he didn't know how.  He wanted to get someone to race alongside it, but nobody wanted to play with him anymore, because he'd gotten so mad with everyone.  He sat and thought for a few minutes, then he had an idea.

Thomas tore a sheet out of a notepad in the bottom of his backpack and took a pen out of his pencil case.  He wrote one word on the paper: "Sorry."  Then he folded it up, put it in the back of the truck and drove it over to where Charlie was standing with Harry, Emily and Beth.  Charlie bent down to pick the paper up.  He opened it, read it and, to Thomas' relief, he smiled.

"It's okay," Charlie called as he jogged back over to Thomas.  "I'm sorry I hogged your new toy."

Thomas shook his head.  "I'm sorry I didn't want to share it with you," he said.  "You drove it better than I could and I think I got jealous..."  He sighed.  "But you know what?  It wasn't anywhere near as much fun playing with it all by myself."  He handed Charlie the remote.  "Want to teach me how to do wheelies?"

The two boys began to play together once more and soon, another crowd had gathered around.  But this time, Thomas let Emily send things across the playground to Beth.  He let Ethan race the truck.  And he let anyone who asked take a turn controlling it, too.  Everyone was still laughing and having fun when the bell rang for the end of lunchtime play.

"Are you going to bring the truck in again, tomorrow?"  Charlie asked, as the boys went back into class.

Thomas grinned.  "Yeah," he said, with a smile.  "And I'll share it with anyone who asks.  It's much more fun that way!"


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Taking Time To Be Kind

I don't always pose with celebrities, but when I do, I'm dressed like a Wally.

It doesn't take much to be kind.  Sometimes, the smallest actions carry the greatest weight.  After all, we never know how precious a seemingly trivial act on our part may be to the person on the receiving end.  Similarly, a thoughtless word or a casual snub might seem incredibly trivial, but can easily end up ruining someone's day.

I've been thinking a lot about the ripple effect that our actions have, in the last couple of days.  Mainly because within 24 hours of each other, I experienced two very small incidents that had a very big effect on me.  The first was hugely positive.  The second... Less so.

On Saturday night, I was away at Butlin's, hanging out in Centre Stage, having just seen the 90s boyband, 911.  Those who know me "in real life," know that I was 911 obsessed in my teens, to the point that friends addressed birthday and Christmas cards to "the future Mrs Lee Brennan."  So, as you can imagine, I was quite excited to see the band again (having not seen them since the 2013 Big Reunion tour).  After the show was over, my friend and I dashed over to the venue's VIP area.  My mate Jess had access to the area via a wristband and I wanted to get her attention to ask what she'd thought of the show.  You had to pay extra for VIP wristbands and I wasn't too fussed about not having one, but when Jess told me that 911 were headed for the VIP bar, I asked her if she could cheekily send Lee over, so I could say a quick hello.  Whilst I waited for the band to appear, I stood around, leaning against the railing that led into the VIP area, occasionally waving to Jess, who was standing on the other side.  After a few minutes, a guy came wandering out of the VIP area and smiled at me as he walked past.  I smiled back and thought nothing more of it.  A moment later, he walked around the railings to where I was standing, placed something on the narrow bar that ran along them and then promptly disappeared.  At first, I thought he'd dumped some rubbish in front of me and I was actually slightly annoyed.  But then my friend Lizzie picked the "rubbish" up and realised it was actually a pair of VIP wristbands.  I glanced around for the guy, so I could thank him, but he had already gone from sight.  I had to make a snap decision; rush around the venue (or even outside the venue) searching for him so I could thank him, or just put the wristband on and rush into the VIP area...

I did scan the area around the bar and the entrance, but after not spotting the guy in question, I figured: "Well, he obviously wanted me to use these wristbands..." and off Lizzie and I went.

And here's where we get to that "ripple effect" that I mentioned, earlier.  Because that stranger's small but kind action, in casually leaving those wristbands for us, led to bigger and better things as the night went on.

I got to meet Lee Brennan - the object of my teen affections - as well as another member of the band, Jimmy Constable.  I had photos with them, chatted a little bit and generally felt fourteen again for a little while (pretty impressive, seeing as I'd turned 33 the day before...).

I could spend some time with Jess, actually chatting and hanging out properly, rather than standing on opposite sides of a walkway, waving from a distance.

I got to spend time catching up with a friend I'd not had a chance to chat properly to in ages.

I met new people and had space to dance somewhere other than a massively crowded dance floor.

I even had a fleetingly brief but lovely moment with someone I've nursed a crush on for the last six months, that, because I was a bit tipsy, caused me to make the face below:

Don't worry, I know I'm destined to be the eternally single, unfanciable member of my friendship group.  Just let me have my moment...

...Okay, done now.

As I sat with Lizzie, at 5:30am, eating chocolate cake and dissecting the night's events, the one thing we said over and over was: "Wow, we owe that random stranger one heck of a thank you."  Because we definitely had a more memorable, better night thanks to his small act of kindness, than we would have had without it.  One little action had created ripples of awesomeness.  

But the opposite is definitely true, too.  One small act of unkindness can make ripples that stretch just as far.

Despite having only had two and a half hours of sleep and in spite of a pounding in my temples, I woke up on Sunday morning, feeling perfectly content and looking forward to the day ahead.  Sadly, the feeling didn't last.

I have a recurring stomach problem (doctors are still in the process of trying to diagnose what it actually is), which causes crippling pains, nausea and breathlessness.  Sure enough, by Sunday afternoon, I was experiencing an attack of this as-yet-undiagnosed condition and I felt horrendous.  I tried everything I could think of: Drinking milk to calm my tummy, having a nap, making a hot water bottle, taking indigestion tablets and painkillers... You name it, I did it.  None of it worked.

So, there I was, on my last night of a holiday, with a friend who was perfectly fit and healthy and wanted a fun night out, whilst all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and try to sleep away the pain.  I didn't think it was fair to do that to Lizzie, so I put on a dress, did my make up and hobbled off to Centre Stage.

We picked a comfy sofa in the VIP area (bonus of having the wristband for sure) and I curled up there, instead.  Lizzie and I chatted, Jess joined us and whilst we were definitely having a quieter night, we were still managing to enjoy ourselves for the most part, despite the fact that I was physically incapable of dancing and very much not myself.

After a couple of hours, a guy approached us.  He marched straight over to where we were sitting and loudly declared: "You look fucking miserable."

His loudness and the hostile manner in which he came over to accost me for my apparently off-putting demeanour made me feel incredibly self-conscious.  I told him I felt unwell, but wanted to come out, seeing as it was our last night.  I also made a point of saying he can't have been paying much attention to my "misery," or he'd have actually noticed me laughing and chatting with my friends.  Besides which, what did it matter to him, whether I was enjoying myself or not?  I wasn't causing him any problems by sitting quietly and keeping myself to myself.  I would normally have brushed it off and ignored it, but the guy insisted on taking a seat next to Lizzie and proceeded to continue making judgemental comments about our appearances and demeanour.  Considering I was already feeling ill, his actions were incredibly unwelcome and only served to make me feel as though everyone around me was watching me and judging me, too.  I wanted to go back to our room and hide under the covers.

Now, almost 48 hours later, I'm just as certain that that man had no idea how offensive he was being as I am that the guy who gave me the wristbands had no idea how much he'd improved my night out in the process of doing so.  But the fact remains; one person's casual act did improve a situation, whereas the other person's actions made a situation much worse.

We come into contact with so many people in our daily lives and we can never know all of their stories.  We don't know what has recently happened to them to make them feel happy or sad.  We don't know what problems they might be dealing with, or why they look or behave the way they do.  But our actions - our words, gestures and behaviour - can still influence those people.  We can make or break an hour for them, or even a full day, just with the split-second choices we make when encountering someone.

Life is busy, I get that.  We all have our own lives to live and our own issues to handle.  It's very easy to get wrapped up in ourselves and to not give much of a second thought to the way we behave towards people we're almost certain never to see again.  But just as we have our own lives, our own worries, hopes and feelings, so does everyone else we come into contact with, however briefly.  We can choose to be the person who carries out a small gesture of kindness, or we can choose to be the person who speaks without thinking, or acts without consideration.

Sometimes, it only takes a few seconds to be the kinder person.  The one who holds a door open for the person carrying heavy bags.  The one who simply asks if someone else is okay.  It might seem like absolutely nothing to us at the time, but to the person on the receiving end of a kind gesture - however small - it will inevitably mean much more.

So, my mission - both for myself and for my readers - is to take more time to be kind.  Be the one who stops and chats to an old acquaintance properly, rather than just waving in the street and then rushing to get on with your day.  Extend the hand of friendship to people you meet and allow others to do the same to you.  Consider what you can do to put a smile on the face of another person, rather than becoming responsible for their frown.  

We all lead busy lives.  But we can all find some time to be kind.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Bedtime Story (9/9/2015)

Every now and then, a story almost writes itself.  This week at work in my "day job," some of the children asked me to make up a story on the spot, using the toys they were playing with as props.  The result was very similar to what you see here...

Three Wishes For William

William couldn't sleep.  He wasn't tired enough.  He stared at the ceiling and sighed, loudly.  He was bored.

He'd tried getting up to play with his toys, but he knew his mum and dad would hear him and tell him to go to sleep.  He'd tried reading a book, but he'd read them all so many times, they weren't exciting anymore.

"Why can't I have an adventure?"  William groaned.  "Why can't something amazing happen?"

He climbed out of bed and stared out of the window.  Outside in the garden, there was a very large rock that William liked to sit on, climb on or play games on.  But something about it didn't look right, tonight.  The rock was glowing.

William waited until he heard his mum and dad go to bed, then he crept down the stairs and outside into the night.  Tip-toeing through the cool grass, he hurried to the rock and bent down for a closer look.  The rock was nearly as big as he was, when he bent down and William knew he could use it to hide behind, in case anyone looked out of their windows and saw him out of bed.  The thought made him smile.

William placed his hands on the rock and gasped.  It wasn't cold, like rocks normally were.  It was hot.

Suddenly, the rock began to shake and to William's surprise, a tiny door opened in the side of it and a funny looking little man came out.

"What are you doing with my house?"  The little man cried.  He had a beard and a pointy hat and he looked very strange indeed.

William's eyes were so wide, they looked as though they might pop out of his head.  "I didn't know this was your house," he protested.  "I thought it was just an ordinary rock!"

The little man stroked his beard.  "Well, it was," he confessed.  "I only moved in, today.  A little sprinkling of magic and it's turned into a cosy home."  He shook his head.  "But I won't be staying long.  Not if you're going to come out here in the middle of the night, waking me up!"

William gasped.  "Oh, please don't leave," he begged.  "Nothing exciting ever happens to me and I really am sorry for waking you."

The little man sat down in the grass and crossed his legs.  "Hmm.  Well, I'm supposed to grant a wish to the first person who finds me," he said.  "But I'm very sleepy and you've made me grumpy, too.  So I don't think I will!"

William blinked back at him.  "A wish?!"  He exclaimed.  "Oh, please let me have one!  Please!"

The little man frowned up at William.  "What's your name, anyway?"

"I'm William," William replied.

"I'm Tobias," the little man said.  "And I suppose I ought to let you have your wish, really.  But then I'm moving house first thing in the morning!"

William sighed.  He didn't want Tobias to go; he wanted to get to know him and learn what other magic he could do!  But at least he was going to get a wish.  He started wracking his brains.  What should he wish for?  To fly to the moon?  To gain super-powers?!  William's mind whirred with all the possibilities.  But just as he was thinking, a terrible howling noise startled him and he scrambled to his feet.

"Is... Is that a...?"  William stammered.

Tobias stood up, tutting crossly.  "Oh, honestly," he grumbled.  "I told you to find somewhere to hide!"  He shook his fist at the creature.

"But... It's a..."  William's face was pale.

"Oh, really," Tobias sighed.  "It's as if you've never seen a dinosaur before!  Don't look so scared,  he's only a baby.  And he doesn't eat meat, so you're quite safe!"

William gaped at the dinosaur.  "But... What's he doing here?  Dinosaurs are extinct!"

The dinosaur came through the garden hedge and flopped onto the grass, sobbing to itself.  With a shaky hand, William stroked its trembling body.  "There, there..."

Tobias folded his arms again.  "He's followed me here," he told William.  "He's part of the reason I moved house in the first place."  He sat back down in the grass.  "You see, I was living in a tree, when a little girl discovered me.  I had to grant her a wish and she wished to go back in time and visit the dinosaurs.  But then, when it was time to come home, she stole this baby dinosaur and brought it back with her!"  He shook his head.  "Well, as you can imagine, I was furious.  I told her I was leaving right away and I told the dinosaur to find somewhere safe to hide."  He rubbed the baby dinosaur's head.  "But you followed me, didn't you?"

William frowned.  "Why can't you just send him home?"

Tobias shrugged, sadly.  "I can't undo wishes," he said.  "I can only grant them in the first place.  If someone changes their mind, or something goes wrong, I can't do anything to fix it.  That's why we say 'be careful what you wish for.'"

The baby dinosaur cried even more and his tears began to form a puddle in the grass.

"He can't stay here," William said.  "What will my mum and dad say if they wake up in the morning and there's a dinosaur in the back garden?!"

Tobias scratched his head.  "The only way to send him home is for someone to wish for it."  He glanced at the poor, crying dinosaur.  "He misses his family," Tobias sighed.  "He doesn't want to be here."

William swallowed.  He knew he could wish for the dinosaur to go home to be with his family, but... He only had one wish and he really wanted to use it for himself!  Nothing exciting ever happened to him and Tobias was already determined not to stick around...  He hung his head, unable to look at the poor dinosaur.  "I ought to go to bed," he whispered.  "Can I tell you my wish in the morning?"

Tobias nodded.  "I suppose so," he said.  "But don't get up late.  I'm leaving, remember!"

William trudged back through the garden, not daring to glance behind him.  He could still hear the dinosaur crying and the sound made him want to cry, too.  Once he was inside, William dashed upstairs and jumped into his bed, with his covers over his head.  But he couldn't sleep.  Every time he closed his eyes, he saw the dinosaur and he felt more and more guilty.  The minutes ticked past and turned into hours.  The sky started to get a little lighter.  William tossed and turned.  He felt horrible.

Finally, as the sun began to rise, William could stand it no longer.  He ran back into the garden.  The baby dinosaur had fallen asleep beside the rock and was snoring, gently.  He watched it for a moment and knew he'd made the right decision.  William banged his hand against the rock.  "Tobias!  Wake up!"

The tiny door opened and Tobias came out looking grumpier than ever.  "Twice, you've woken me up!"  He cried.  "When I said don't be late, I didn't mean come whilst I was still asleep!"

William ignored him.  "I know what I want to wish for," he said, breathlessly.  "I want you to send the dinosaur home."

The dinosaur's eyes popped open and William thought he saw it smile.

Tobias stroked his beard.  "Really?  You know you only get one wish, don't you?"

William nodded.  "I can't let this poor baby stay here all alone."

Tobias smiled.  "Then I forgive you for waking me up."  He waved a hand and spoke some words that William didn't understand and, in a flash of light, the dinosaur disappeared.

William felt glad, yet a little sad at the same time.  He nodded his head at Tobias.  "It was good to meet you," he said.  "I'm sorry I woke you up."  He turned and began walking back to the house.

"Hang on a minute!"  Tobias called.  "Come back!"

William glanced over his shoulder.  

Tobias looked him up and down.  "Maybe I misjudged you," he said.  "You did a very kind thing, letting that baby go home to his family, even though it meant giving up your wish."  He grinned.  "Perhaps I'll stick around after all.  If that's okay with you?"

William's eyes widened and a huge smile spread across his face.  "I would love that!"

Tobias nodded.  "Good," he said.  "Then go to bed and get some sleep.  I've got all kinds of magic to show you when you wake up."  He yawned and stretched.  "I think you and I are going to be good friends, William.  And I think we're going to have a lot of fun!"

"Me too," William beamed.  "Thank you!"

He hurried back into the house and climbed back into bed.  He still couldn't sleep - he was too excited!  Something told him that he was about to have all kinds of amazing adventures.  And he would never be bored again.


Saturday, 5 September 2015

Cor, Look At The Sense of Humour On HIM!

Why not begin with an image that makes me giggle?!

Go on any dating site and you'll find hundreds of people all saying the same thing in their profile information: they're looking for someone with a good sense of humour.

I was no different, either of the times I signed up for online dating.  In fact "someone who makes me laugh" is amongst the very first things I say when asked what I'm looking for in a partner.  Life can be hard and laughter is not only a nice bonus from time to time, but as far as I'm concerned, it's pretty bloody crucial.  In my family, we laugh at the bad as well as the good; I suppose it's a coping mechanism, really, but it works for us.

Laughter makes us forget our own personal troubles, or at least minimises the pain they're causing us at that particular moment.  Laughter relaxes us and is medically proven to have health benefits - when we laugh, we feel good.  It's no wonder that so many of us refer to ourselves as looking for someone with a good sense of humour to share our lives with - who would want a partner you can't laugh with?

Of course, laughter isn't just healthy or fun.  It's also sexy.  Let's be honest; if someone makes you laugh, they often become more attractive in your eyes as a result.  Why?  Well, I'm not about to get all science-y on your ass, but I'm fairly sure that it probably has something to do with a rush of endorphins, or the general sense of being more relaxed around someone we can have a good giggle with.  Plus, funny people often seem confident, entertaining and interesting to talk to or hang out with - all attractive qualities.

Going right back to my childhood, a lot - and I mean a lot - of my celebrity crushes have been on stand up comedians or comic actors.  Two of my earliest crushes were (and you can mock if you like) the late great Robin Williams, because he made me laugh in some of my favourite films, and Chris Barrie (he of the gif at the top of this page), because he played my favourite character in one of my favourite sitcoms (Red Dwarf).  Years later, once I was in my teens, my most-fancied male member of the cast of Friends usually rotated depending on which of them I felt had had the funniest lines in recent episodes.

I went through a BIG Chandler phase.

Fast forward a few more years and I got really into stand-up comedy.  It began with a Sunday morning radio show on 6Music, hosted by the comedian Russell Howard.  I had seen Russell on TV and thought he was strangely cute (I am Mistress of The Back-Handed Compliment, clearly), but listening to him on the radio week after week led to me developing something of a crush.  I travelled to see him perform in a comedy club in Bristol and I absolutely fell in love.  Not with Russell Howard himself, but with stand-up.

There's something genuinely fantastic about live, stand-up comedy.  The way you can walk into a comedy club after a hellish journey through terrible traffic, take off your coat, settle into your seat and be helpless with laughter minutes later never ceases to amaze me.  Your shoulders feel lighter almost as soon as the first big belly laugh happens.  Stand-up, done well, feels intimate, no matter how big the venue.  You're listening to a person tell you about their life.  You're being allowed access to someone's thoughts and opinions.  You feel as though you're collectively sharing views, even though you haven't said a word - and that's because a good comedian can capture those little moments that we all share and make you feel somehow included in their world as they spin anecdotes, or go off on a rant.  Of course, the more uplifted, happy and relaxed you feel in that environment, the more you want to go.  I wanted to go a lot.  The more I went, the more I began to have my favourites, of the many performers I saw.

And I saw a lot of people in small clubs just 7 or 8 years ago, who are hugely well known, today.  Sarah Millican, Greg Davies, Josh Widdicombe and Jon Richardson, to name but a few.  Aah, Jon Richardson.  I admit it; that was a crush on a comedian that made me ever so slightly insane for a while.

I must have seen Jon at least a dozen times.  He originally co-hosted the aforementioned 6Music show that unwittingly kick-started my love affair with stand-up, before Russell Howard left and Jon took over completely.  Back in those days, I had so many texts read out on his show, that for a long time, complete strangers on the internet would refer to me as "THE Emma from Cornwall."  Jon himself occasionally waited to say hello after gigs and, given that I was single and so was he, I was was even so bold as to slip him my number in a card, once.  A decision which I now realise was probably ridiculously stupid, seeing as he was on his way to television stardom and I was just a very average-looking fan.  Like I said, I'd gone slightly mad, at that point.  I mistook polite friendliness for genuine interest and I'm saying this openly, because when I take the piss out of obsessive fans who tattoo band-members' names on themselves, or who threaten to kill themselves if One Direction don't return following their planned split, I'm doing so with knowledge of what it feels like to have that one thing (or person) in your life that you pour all of your energy into, regardless of whether you get anything back, purely because that one thing (or person) is the only thing that makes you feel good.  And I also know how it feels to come out the other side and realise you're attaching meaning to something that doesn't mean anything at all and that maybe your actual life needs looking at, before you start thinking that that that one thing (or person) is all that matters.  Thank God the worst I ever did was slip him my number.  Imagine if I'd had "Jon" tattooed in a heart somewhere about my person?!  It doesn't bear thinking about.  Take it from me; if you have an urge to do something that stupid to "honour" a celebrity crush, then please just give your wallet and bank cards to a responsible adult until you've realised how silly that idea is.  Because it is.  "This too, shall pass" and all that.

Undoubtedly the worst I've ever looked.  

I suppose what I'm saying here, in my time-honoured rambly way, is that I attached a deeper meaning to this particular crush because, in a weird and possibly vain-sounding way, he reminded me of myself.  I was painfully shy; he was saying he was, too. I was going through a rather neurotic phase; he was known for being neurotic.  But whilst these things got me down, there was this very handsome bloke, standing up on stage and getting people to laugh about them.  It seemed like such a positive way of dealing with what I'd always seen as my faults, that I guess I felt that Jon spoke for me as much as for himself and that created this bizarre sensation that maybe he'd "get" me in a way that others hadn't.  Like I said earlier, good stand-up feels intimate and there are few things more intimate than feeling like a stranger is talking with your mouth.

So, I, as a comedy fan, was perhaps "not done cooking," as my friend Lizzie and I like to say.   I was still lacking life experience and a certain level of maturity; I didn't have the same confidence in myself that I have now (and, ironically, that would crash completely before I ever would have it to this current, occasionally shaky degree).  What I'm trying to say is that comedy came into my life at a time when I needed it.  I was a bit low; not living the life I wanted to live and unsure of what to do about it.  I coped by laughing about it and in comedy clubs, I found a place full of people, many of whom were doing the exact same thing.  Laughing at the things that torture us is a common coping technique and not only were many of the people I went to gigs with back then battling their own demons, but many of the comics we saw on stage were, too.  

The link between comedy and tragedy is well known; we need only look at the fate of one of my first loves, the brilliant Robin Williams.  Yet, in a strange way, I think that link between laughter and sadness only served to strengthen my love of comedy and indeed, my propensity to form crushes on comedians (because Jon Richardson may have been a big crush, but he was really just one in a long line...).

I'm sensitive and I've had my own issues to deal with over the years.  Recognising sensitivity, or a tendency towards self-doubt in others is something of a skill of mine.  I tend to gravitate towards people who understand what it's like to brood or overthink something; people whose minds are always ticking over.  I've known a few people who've tried their hands at stand-up and they've always been the people whose brains seem wired similarly to mine.

Then there's the fact that I enjoy letting other people take centre stage if they have that kind of personality where they feel the need to be "the funny one," yet I equally like making my own friends laugh.  And, of course, I look to seek out people who will be on board with my rather black-humour when it comes to taking the piss out of something horrible.  We all deal with things differently, but that's definitely one of my major coping mechanisms and when I recognise it in another person, for some reason it attracts me to them.  I think I've also got a very caring nature and something of a need to be needed, if that makes sense.  If someone has got a sensitive side and they do hide behind their smile, I not only know what that feels like, but I want to support them, because I know how vital it is to feel cared for when you're in a dark place.  Add to that the fact that I genuinely do feel as though life is too strange, too silly and and too painful to be taken seriously all of the time and you've kind of got why "good sense of humour" is something that will always be near the top of my list of attributes I look for in a partner - and why it's important to so many others, too.

Yes, if you can make me laugh - whether it's by making a sarcastic aside, being quick with a pun (God, I love a good pun) or by doing something silly just to get a reaction - then we're off to a good start.  I'll feel relaxed, I'll be smiling and let's face it, we all get a confidence boost when someone laughs at our silly jokes, so you'll be feeling good, too.

It'll be no surprise to anyone reading this that it's a comedian who currently tops my "celebrity crush" list.  In case you're interested, it's this one:

If he had to click his fingers every time I had a mildly dirty thought about him, his hand would eventually fall off.

Josh Widdicombe is very funny, is a similar age to me (so makes references to things from my youth, making me feel that "ooh, I can identify with you" thing that is also SO attractive), has proved on The Last Leg that he has a strong moral compass and is generally very bloody cute.  It's a testament to how cute that it took me about fifteen minutes to type that last sentence, because I kept being transfixed by the gif above it.  Click that sexy finger, Josh.  Aaaand that's the weirdest sentence I've ever written.

I doubt there'll ever come a day when comedy isn't something that means a lot to me.  Whether it's switching on a sitcom guaranteed to make me laugh, or booking tickets to go and see a favourite stand-up live, it's unlikely I'll ever lose my love of comedy in any form.  After all, we all need a good giggle now and then.  And as long as a sense of humour is so vital to me, I'll just carry on fancying the pants off guys who can make me laugh, too.