Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Bedtime Story (28/10/2015)

Sleepy puppies.  You are WELCOME.

"I'm NOT Sleepy!"

Isla wasn't sleepy.
She was not tired at all.
In fact, she had a lot to do,
So she ignored her mother's call:

"Bedtime, Isla!  Time to sleep!"
Oh, don't be silly, mum!
As far as Isla was concerned,
Her fun had just begun!

She opened up her toy chest
And tipped the contents on the floor.
Then, she crawled under her bed
And pulled out even more!

With dolls and teddies everywhere,
Isla went on playing.
All the while, her frazzled mum
Just yawned and kept on saying:

"Isla, it's getting late now,
You really need to sleep.
So come on, tidy up these toys,
I don't want to hear another peep!"

But Isla dashed out of the room,
To have some fun downstairs.
"I'm still not sleepy," she called,
As she skipped without a care.

She rushed into the kitchen
And raided the biscuit tin.
She feasted on chocolate chip cookies
And gave her mum a naughty grin.

"Oh, Isla!  You need to clean your teeth,
It's not time for cookies, now!
I need to get you into bed!"
But Isla's mum did not know how.

Isla was a whirlwind;
She never seemed to sit still.
And bedtime was always a challenge.
The stress made her mum feel ill!

But there was no time to worry, now,
Isla was on a mission!
She opened up the patio doors
And ran out of the kitchen.

Into the garden, Isla dashed,
Beneath the starry sky.
She ran circles around the garden,
Whilst her exhausted mum cried: "WHY?!

It's way past your bedtime, now.
You must be tired, Isla!"
But Isla leaped onto the garden swing
And began flying higher and higher...

Next, Isla jumped off again
And ran straight back indoors.
But she wasn't going up to bed.
She wanted to jump on the sofa, of course!

Before her mum could say a word,
Isla was off upstairs again.
Her mum went chasing, far behind.
"Isla, it's time for this silliness to end!"

Isla grabbed a handful of books
From the shelf upon her wall.
"Time for a story," she declared.
"I want you to read them all!"

"I'll read you one," her mum yawned.
"There's no time for any more."
But Isla pulled a grumpy face
And threw herself on the floor!

She kicked, she screamed, she thrashed around,
Until at last her mum sighed: "FINE!
I'll read you two stories, but that's it.
And then it's your bedtime!"

So, Isla climbed up onto her bed
And snuggled beneath the covers.
She opened up the first book
And passed it to her mother.

But Isla's mum had barely started
When a strange sound filled her ears.
She turned to face her little girl
And almost cried happy tears.

There was Isla, sound asleep, Snoring,
Before the story reached its end.
"I do love you," her mum whispered softly.
"Even though you drive me round the bend."

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Self-Publishing: The Truth Behind The Gloss

I wrote a children's book.  You can buy it here.

I just typed "self-publishing success stories" into Google.  There were over four and a half million results.

Every now and then, we hear about a writer who was rejected time and again by traditional publishers, only to self-publish and become a phenomenal success.  Even bad writers have made squillions out of self-publishing (I'm mentioning no names here, but we all know who I mean, right?  Right.).

The saying goes that everyone has a book in them.  Hopefully not literally, as that sounds frankly uncomfortable...  But if we're all aspiring writers, then how can we hope to be that one, shining example of someone who's made a fortune out of self-publishing, when we're merely one author in a sea of billions?

My new ebook received its first star-rating on Amazon, very recently.  It got five out of five.  I was so thrilled, I did a victory dance.  It was every bit as epic as you imagine it to be.

The dream is to be doing well enough with my writing that I can give up the day job and spend days, tapping away at my keyboard until the tips of my fingers are worn.  That might sound hellish to some, but to me, it sounds divine.

The truth of the situation is that my sales figures aren't going to have Michael Morpurgo crying into his coffee any time soon.  Even with three traditionally-published children's books under my belt, I'm an unknown.  I'm dipping my toes into self-publishing, completely aware that the next big success story may never be me.  

But that's not going to stop me from trying.  The sheer number of book-reviewers I've had tell me they "don't do self-published books" today isn't going to stop me trying.  The number of media outlets I've contacted, begging for an interview or a short promotional piece, who've completely and utterly ignored me, isn't going to stop me trying.

That's the thing about doing it yourself.  The clue is in the word "yourself."

Once I receive a print-on-demand copy of my book, I'll see if any local schools want me to do a reading, or even a writing workshop.  I'll keep badgering reviewers, to see if anyone wants a PDF of my book, so they can read and review it.  I'll keep shamelessly self-promoting Seven Days With The Cherry Tree Gang over on Twitter and Facebook.

But most importantly of all, I'll keep writing.  Because the more titles you have, the more of a recognised author you become.  The more ebooks are up on Amazon, the more likelihood you have of earning royalties from sales.

My book hasn't surged into the bestsellers lists.  It hasn't already sold thousands of copies.  It's not made me a household name.  But it's out there, because I put it there and I'll put more out there until there's literally just tiny stubs where my fingers used to be.  Then I'll dictate books to some poor soul, so I can still put more stuff out there.

I'm a dreamer of improbable dreams, sure.  But sometimes, dreams come true.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The 5 Stages of Having a Crush...

I try to be honest in this blog.  I figure that revealing myself warts and all might inspire someone somewhere to realise that they're not alone in the way they think or feel, or in the experiences they've had.  Life can be lonely when you go through something on your own, after all.  

This morning, something (and I genuinely don't know what) got me to thinking about my love life, or lack thereof.  See, I have this tendency to develop huge crushes that I never do anything about, because I don't believe for one second that anyone I am hugely attracted to could possibly feel the same way about me.  Maybe it's a weird form of self-preservation, having been in an abusive relationship and being genuinely terrified of being hurt again, but I just tend to fall for someone and then never do a thing about it.  

It's time that stopped.  

Because, you see, I'm tired of the endless merry-go-round that I put myself on, over and over again.  I'm sick of repeating the same old routine.  Once I really started thinking about it, I realised that there's a definite pattern to my crushes.  And, for the sake of total and utter honesty, I've decided to share the five stages that my crushes tend to take.  Maybe you'll recognise some of these stages.  Maybe you'll think I'm utterly insane.  Or maybe, just maybe, sharing this will be the kick up the arse I need to actually do something about it, once and for all.

1. The "Jane Austen" Phase.

Being the over-sentimental fool that I am, I don't really do the initial "I fancy him" bit.  Or if I do, I'll find that very soon after (once it goes from "I fancy him" to "I have a crush on him"), I dive straight into what I lovingly call "The Jane Austen Phase."  

Basically, my internal monologue begins talking as though I'm in a novel from the 1800s.  I'm less Lady Marmalade and more Lady Mary from Downton Abbey.

"Oh, heavens.  I do admire him, so!  And yet, I simply cannot express my feelings, for it is unladylike to do so.  I must wait for him to declare that he wishes to become my suitor..."

I have this propensity to swoon, should the object of my affections pass by.  I really ought to carry smelling salts, or something.  I'm all desperate longing, secretly hidden behind a polite smile.  And I smile because I am hopeless at talking to someone I have just discovered I really like.  So, I hide behind my metaphorical bonnet and play my metaphorical piano forte, or whatever it is ladies did in those days...

I hear ya, mate.

2. The "Dress To Impress" Stage.

Despite the crippling shyness I genuinely suffer from (and there are plenty of people who don't believe that I do, because I'm usually able to fake confidence when it counts), once I've decided I like someone, my brain goes: "Right.  I'm literally unable to initiate conversation with such a God-like creature, so I must plan my outfits with military precision."

If I know I'm going to be around my crush, then literally everything gets taken into consideration, from which bra gives me the best cleavage, to which eyeshadow compliments my eye-colour best.  I've been known to literally plan outfits weeks in advance, if I know I'll be seeing someone I like.

I guess this stage isn't really that silly, either.  An outfit that you think makes you look your best makes you feel more confident, after all.  And feeling confident means you walk that bit taller (which is useful for me, seeing as I'm tiny), carry yourself better and give off a vibe of "hey, you should talk to me, because I'm awesome," rather than: "please talk to me, because I am terrified and will not approach you EVER."

To be fair, this stage isn't really a stage.  It's more of a permanent state of mind...

3. The "WHY DID I SAY THAT?!" Stage.

There comes a point where you can't put it off, any longer.  Whether it's my brain being sensible for a change, or whether it's borne out of sheer adoration, there comes a point at which I decide "I am going to talk to him."  Hooray!

The trouble is, my brain turns to mush when I'm talking to someone I like.  I will either suffer from total verbal diarrhoea and talk at him, or the opposite will happen and I'll look into his big eyes and my brain goes: "Nope, I got nothing."

I swing so wildly from one to the other, that I am a mute one minute and a freakishly talkative idiot, the next.  I may give someone I like a compliment and then make an excuse to immediately leave, because I'm scared I've put myself out there too much and he might know I like him (which is terrifying and I can think of nothing to say that isn't "by the way, you're gorgeous and I secretly want to kiss you right in the face" which makes fleeing my only option).  Then, the next time I see said person (whether it's later the same evening, the next day or the next month), I may find myself initiating a conversation so obscure that I end up randomly blurting out nonsense about my choice of footwear.  And those two examples?  Are totally not made up.  I genuinely did once give the guy I like a compliment and then scurry off into the night, like a not-at-all-crazy person.  And I genuinely did once suffer from such a scrambled-brain, that I began casually telling him about my poor wardrobe choices.

I am beyond help.

Pictured: ME.

4. The Over-Analytical Stage.

True story:  I was once at a club and the object of my affections was standing in the opposite corner, having a drink.  My friend was desperately trying to get me to go over to talk to him, seeing as he was by himself, but being a total wuss, I kept refusing.  Anyway, after a while, he went to the toilet.  The toilet door was a few feet away from where I was standing, so as he approached, I smiled and waved and he was so busy looking back that he walked straight into the door.

Once I had finished privately wetting myself with laughter, this caused a major case of over-analysing.

"Was he distracted by my dazzling beauty?  Was he looking back and thinking 'I quite like her?'  Or was he just looking because I distracted him by waving and now he thinks I'm the bitch who could've caused him a broken nose?!"

I am an over-thinker at the best of times.  I do tend to brood on things and it's a curse.  But when I have a crush, that over-thinking gets so, so much worse.  Once I'm past the "too shy to talk" thing and I can actually communicate with the person I like, then my brain goes to town with the analytical nonsense.

"He looked right into my eyes whilst he was talking to me.  Isn't that a sign that you're attracted to someone, or do you think he was just being polite?  But I tweeted him and he didn't tweet back, so do you think he actually hates me and is physically repulsed by me?  Then again, remember that hug we had?  Maybe he doesn't find me utterly disgusting after all.  But perhaps he only did it because he's a nice person and he felt sorry for me because I have 'I am desperate for love' tattooed on my damn forehead..."

If there was an off-switch for these thoughts, believe me, I'd press it.  And of course, it's not just over-thinking, it's overreacting, too.  If he hugs me, I may simply return the hug and seem like a pretty normal human being on the outside, but inside, my heart's beating a Samba and my brain is screaming "OH MY GOD, I TOUCHED HIM!"  

Conversely, if I wave at him and he doesn't wave back, it is the end of the sodding world.

5. Depression and Acceptance.

The trouble with being too shy to do anything about it when you have a crush, is that the person remains oblivious to your romantic intentions and you never find out whether they might have felt the same.  The consequences of this are that you either dither too long, avoiding showing your feelings and end up getting your heart broken as you watch them go off with someone else, or you eventually become utterly convinced that your crush is definitely a one-way thing and you give up, entirely.  Either way, you've reached the wallowing, miserable, binge-eating-cake-whilst-watching-Bridget-Jones phase of unrequited love.  And it ain't pretty.

You do your best to put on a brave face in public, insisting that things are just fine and dandy, but if you're as sensitive as I am, inside, your heart is veritable tube-map of cracks, caused by this hideous realisation that you're going to have to let go of those silly dreams you've been having for however many weeks/months/years...

You're so not.

And so, behind closed doors, you get drunk on cheap wine, croon Nothing Compares 2 U at a frighteningly loud volume and watch Beaches because you "need a cry."  If you're really heartbroken, you watch Les Mis and refer to yourself as "life's eternal Eponine," whilst warbling along with On My Own.  

Or maybe that's just me...


All of this really serves as a reminder that I am too damn old for this shit.  This is one hamster wheel I don't really want to run in, anymore.

Maybe, just maybe, it's time to break the cycle and actually do something about it.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Bedtime Story (21/10/2015)

If you're a regular reader of these weekly bedtime stories and you'd like to purchase the brand new Kindle edition of my children's book, "Seven Days With The Cherry Tree Gang," you can do so here!  Thanks to all my readers for their continued support. :) x

Elliot's Prize-Winning Robot

Elliot was clever.  Not just a bit clever, but really, really clever.  He whizzed through his maths homework in the time it took his little sister Izzy to open up her pencil case and choose a pen to write with.  He was so good at science that his bedroom was littered with certificates and trophies.  When he decided he wanted a remote-control car for Christmas, Elliot chose not to wait and simply built one himself.  

When Elliot was ten, he won the Young Scientist of The Year contest and his face was in all the local papers.

When Elliot was eleven, he built a working train set and was interviewed on the news.

When Elliot started secondary school, his teachers called him a "genius."

He was really, very clever.

But Elliot wasn't content with just being clever.  He wanted to be the cleverest.  He wanted to wanted to be famous and successful and spent all his time building new inventions.

At school, he kept his head down and worked hard.  In fact, he worked so hard, that he usually missed breaktime, because he was too busy to play.

At home, Elliot spent most of his time in his room, inventing and learning.  He hated having to come down for dinner, because he'd much rather be tinkering with machines, or learning equations.

As a result, Elliot's parents were quite worried.

"It's wonderful that he works so hard," his dad would say.  "But he never plays!  He never goes out with his friends.  It's such a shame."

"He doesn't spend any time with us, or his little sister," his mum would agree.  "I don't want to stop him learning, but I do wish he'd remember that there are other important things in life as well."

But Elliot just wanted to be left in his room, with his books and his equipment.  To him, nothing else could possibly be as important.

One Monday afternoon, Elliot came home from school with a letter in his hands.  He waved it excitedly as he burst through the door.  "Mum!" He cried.  "There's a nationwide competition to find the best young inventor and the winner gets a family pass to the Science Museum in London!"  He clutched the letter to his chest.  "I'm going to build a robot that walks and maybe even talks!  I'm bound to win!"

And off Elliot went to his room to start work.

Meanwhile, Elliot's little sister Izzy had come home with a letter, too.  She'd been picked to sing a solo at the school choir's concert on Friday.  "Oh!"  Her mum exclaimed.  "I'm so proud of you, sweetheart.  We'll all be there to cheer you on."

Izzy rushed upstairs to tell her brother the good news.  She knocked on his door.  But Elliot simply shouted: "I'm busy!"  And the door stayed closed.

On Tuesday, Elliot and Izzy's dad came home with his own exciting news.  He'd been given a promotion at work!  "We'll go out to celebrate this weekend," he told the family over dinner.  But Elliot didn't say anything - he was too lost in his own world, imagining winning first prize in the Young Inventors Competition.  He didn't even hear what his dad was saying.

Wednesday and Thursday passed in a daze until Friday, the closing date for the Young Inventors Competition, finally arrived.

Elliot knew his robot had to be finished and handed in to the science lab at his school at 7pm.  The teachers were staying late especially, so the pupils entering the competition could have a few last hours working on their inventions after school.  

When Elliot got home, he rushed straight into his room, without saying hello to his mum or Izzy.  When he heard his dad get in from work, he didn't bother going downstairs to see him.  He even stayed in his room during dinner, refusing to finish working until his precious robot was complete.

Finally, at twenty to seven, Elliot picked up the finished robot.  It was brilliant.  It walked, it talked and it even had flashing eyes.  Elliot beamed; he was sure to win!  He bounded down the stairs to show his family.  But when Elliot reached the bottom, the hallway was in darkness.

Elliot frowned and rushed into the kitchen.  There was nobody there.  On the fridge was a hand-scribbled note, saying: "Table booked at The Grape Vine for Saturday night, so we can celebrate the good news!"  Elliot blinked.  The Grape Vine was his dad's favourite restaurant, but what were they going out to celebrate?  And where was everyone?!

The robot began to feel hot in Elliot's hands as he rushed from room to room, looking for his family.  It was getting close to seven o'clock!  If he didn't leave for school soon, he would miss the cut off for the competition!  

"Mum?"  Elliot called, as he checked everywhere he could think of.  "Dad?  Izzy?!"

But it was no use.  Finally, Elliot decided he was going to have to leave.  He grabbed his jacket and his house key and rushed out into the chilly evening air.

Elliot didn't stop running until he was getting close to Izzy's primary school.  His school was another five minutes away, but Elliot was getting out of breath and he was tired from all the rushing around.  He stopped to glance at his watch.  He still had time...

But just as Elliot was about to carry on running, he heard something that stopped him in his tracks.  Singing.

Elliot turned towards the primary school.  From inside, he could hear a beautiful voice, singing a lovely song.  Elliot's chest felt funny and his breath seemed to run out again, even though he'd stopped running.  He had a strange feeling that he knew that beautiful singing voice...

Elliot found himself walking through the school's main doors, past the reception desk and into the hall, with the robot still in his hands.  There, up on the stage, singing all by herself, was his little sister, Izzy.  Elliot felt so proud, it almost made him dizzy.  When did Izzy learn to sing like that?!  And why hadn't she told him she was performing tonight?!

Elliot stood at the back of the hall until his sister finished her song.  Then, Izzy smiled and waved at the crowd.  Elliot blinked.  Was she waving at him?

"I'd like to dedicate my song to someone really special and very clever," Izzy said.

Elliot's cheeks flushed.

"I'd like to dedicate it to my dad," Izzy went on.  "Congratulations on your promotion at work!"

Elliot's mouth hung open.  His dad had been given a promotion?  Why didn't he know about that?!  Suddenly, Elliot felt incredibly lonely.  It was like his family had a whole life that didn't involve him.  He swallowed hard and turned to creep back out of the hall.  He had a couple of minutes to get to his school on time...  But Elliot didn't really feel like it, anymore.  He looked down at the robot in his hands, then back up at his parents, sitting close to the front of the hall, cheering for their little girl.  Izzy took a bow.  The show was over.  And Elliot's feet felt like they were glued to the floor.  A sea of proud parents walked past him with their children, but Elliot stayed rooted to the spot.

"Elliot?"  His dad's voice seemed to come from nowhere.  "When did you get here?"

Elliot's eyes were watery when he looked up at his dad.  "I didn't know Izzy could sing," he whispered.  "And I didn't know about your promotion at work...  I've been too wrapped up in my own little world."

His dad put an arm around his shoulder.  "You're here now," he said.  "That's all that matters."  He nodded at the robot.  "But why haven't you handed that in?"  He asked.  "You spent so much time on it!"

Elliot shook his head.  "I didn't spend enough time with you," he replied.  "I don't care about the competition, anymore."

"Don't be silly, his mum said, as she and Izzy caught up with them.  "You just need to learn to get the balance right between work and play, that's all."

Elliot blinked back at her.  "So... You're not mad?"

"Of course not!"  His mum laughed as she gave him a big hug.  "We're so proud of you for being such a clever boy.  We just want to spend a bit more time with you, that's all!"

Elliot looked down at the robot.  "The first prize in the competition was a family pass to the Science Museum," he sighed.  "We could have all gone together."  He glanced at his watch.  "It's too late, now.  It's five past seven."

"Don't give up that easily," his dad replied.  He scooped Elliot up into a piggyback and began racing out of the school and down the road, leaving mum and Izzy watching, wide-eyed.

"We're too late!"  Elliot yelled as they arrived at his school.  

"Nonsense," his dad shouted back.  They rushed into the building together and headed straight for the science lab.  

Elliot's teacher was just turning out the lights.  "Oh," she gasped when Elliot and his dad came hurrying into view.  "I was wondering where you were, Elliot!"  She looked at her watch.  "You're almost ten minutes late, but...  I'll let you off.  We've just started taking the inventions down to the staff room to be packed up and sent off to be judged by the people at the Science Museum."  She nodded at the robot in Elliot's hands.  "That looks wonderful."

Elliot handed the robot over and watched as his teacher disappeared down the corridor.  He looked up at his dad.  "Shall we go home, now?"

His dad nodded his head.  "I think that's a great idea." 

Elliot slipped his hand into his dad's and they walked back out of the school, into the starry night.  "If I win this competition, I can't wait to go to the Science Museum as a family," he told him.

And from that day on, Elliot was still a very, very clever boy.  He still loved learning and inventing.

But he'd discovered that he loved spending time with his family and having fun just as much.  And that really was a prize worth winning.


Sunday, 18 October 2015

Dear Arrogant People...

Ah, confidence.  It's something some people have in bucket loads, whilst other poor souls don't seem to have any at all.  Confidence can be a great thing.  It can inspire you to take on new challenges, push yourself to the limits and step right out of your comfort zone.  Confidence can be enviable.  It can be sexy.  But there's a line that some people cross and when they do, that confidence stops being sexy in the slightest.  In fact, it turns into something downright ugly: arrogance.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with thinking you're good at something.  There's a whole steaming pile of things wrong with thinking you're better than everyone else and should be worshipped as some kind of hero.  Thinking you're above people, thinking you're too good to have to bother with basic decency and manners, or that everyone should fall over themselves to do your bidding... That doesn't make you a hero.  That, my friends, makes you an arsehole.

Arrogance is irritating.  It's probably my number one turn-off in a prospective partner and it's something guaranteed to make me balk at the idea of having to spend any length of time with a person.  But above all, arrogance is stupid.  It's utterly, ridiculously stupid.  And because I'm someone with half an hour to spare, I'm going to explain why.

Look at yourself in the mirror.  The image you see reflected back might be gorgeous.  You might think you're the sexiest creature ever to walk the Earth.  But you are a human.  And humans, ladies and gentlemen, are massively flawed and often incredibly dumb.

Oh, sure, we've sent rockets to the moon, we've created amazing methods of travel and we've developed cures for diseases that would otherwise kill us.  But make no mistake about it, none of us is perfect.

Take me, for example.  I have an uncanny ability to trip over thin air.  I talk to inanimate objects.  The other day, I made myself a cup of tea and then tried to put the kettle in the fridge, instead of the milk.  I really don't have any grand ideas of perfection, because... Well, duh.

The idea of being so cocky that you think you're constantly right, constantly gorgeous and constantly better than anyone else is bloody hysterical.  Rest assured, if you're arrogant, I am laughing at you.  I will forever be laughing at you.  Because you are being unintentionally hilarious.

You are no better than anyone else.  You bleed the same colour as the rest of us.  You will suffer the same human foibles that we all do.  

You'll feel a compulsion to touch something with a "warning: HOT" sticker on it.  You know, just to be sure (see also: "WET PAINT" signs).

Every now and then, you'll pull a door that has "PUSH" written on the handle.  Then, you'll have to decide whether to try to brush the incident off, or whether you'll do the elaborate "haha, look at me, silly thing" routine, as though you did it on purpose because you are intentionally funny..

Once in a while, despite being a fully functioning human, you'll accidentally bite the insides of your own mouth.  Or, during a meal, you'll inadvertently attempt to chew your own tongue.

You will, at some point, find it almost impossible to open a bin bag and will find yourself wrestling with a seemingly sealed shut rectangle of plastic.  You will almost certainly swear at it, as though that will help in the situation.

You will (at least, if you're British), have someone walk into you accidentally and you will feel compelled to apologise to them for your very presence.

You will eventually find yourself having a conversation with someone who says something you don't quite catch.  And, after asking them to repeat it and still not hearing them properly, you will eventually have to hope that smiling and nodding is the appropriate response (whilst harbouring fear that you've just grinned and said "ah, great" to the news that said person's cat has just died).

At some point in your life, you may do a fart that might not be just a fart.

You will lose your keys/glasses/phone, even if only momentarily.  And you will panic.

There will come a day when you will totally lose your cool around someone you really, really like.

Somehow, despite the seemingly impossible nature of the act, you will eventually fall upstairs.


So, yeah.  I hate arrogance.  I hate, loathe and despise it.  But most of all, I find it hilariously stupid.  

And now, hopefully, so do you.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Bedtime Story (14/10/2015)

I've been watching a lot of cookery shows today and one chef made a dessert featuring mushrooms - yes, you read that right!  Mushrooms are my absolute least favourite food and I avoid them at all costs.  So, this week's story is all about a bunny who finds it much harder to avoid his least favourite food - and how he learns that the grass isn't always greener elsewhere!

Barney The Bunny Who Didn't Like Carrots

Barney the bunny bounded into his burrow, with an expectant smile on his face.  "What's for tea, mum?"

"Carrot soup," his mum replied, not taking her eyes off the pot she was stirring.

Barney's smile disappeared.  "I hate carrots," he groaned.  

His mum tutted to herself.  "They're good for you, Barney.  And I've baked a delicious carrot cake for pudding, too!"

Barney wrinkled his nose and skulked off to his room.  Every day, he ate carrots.  Carrot crispies for breakfast, carrot coleslaw for lunch and carrot stew for dinner...  He'd had enough!  He shook his head and stormed back through the kitchen.

"Where are you going?"  His mum asked, suddenly looking a little concerned.  "Dinner's nearly ready!"

Barney shrugged his shoulders.  "I'm going to eat somewhere else," he replied in a huff.  "Somewhere they don't serve carrots!"

And with that, Barney stomped out of the burrow and began hopping away through the fields.  "Carrots are horrible," he muttered to himself.  "They're too crunchy and too orange and I never want to eat another one again!"

Barney was still grumbling to himself, when he came across a large bird, tapping the earth with her beak.  "What are you doing?"  He asked.

"Looking for dinner," the bird replied.

Barney grinned.  "Me too," he said.  "Can I join you?"

The bird plucked a long, slimy, wriggly worm out of the ground and dropped it at Barney's feet.  "Okay," the bird told him.  "There you go!"

Barney looked down at the worm in horror.  "I can't eat that," he cried.  "Sorry, but I'd better keep looking."

The bird flapped her wings.  "More for me then," she chuckled, slurping up the worm.  "Delicious!"

Barney was determined to find something scrumptious to eat.  He paused for a moment, scanning the field for creatures who might be able to point him in the right direction.  Suddenly, the ground he was sitting on began to rumble and shake and out popped a mole!

"Hello," the mole said, blinking in the sunlight.  "Are you alright?"

"I'm hungry," Barney replied, rubbing his belly.  "I don't suppose I could join you for dinner?"

The mole smiled and scooped up a handful of earth.  "Sure," he said.  "The ground is full of delicious grubs!"

Barney hung back, watching the grubs wiggle about in the mud.  They looked just as unappetising as the worm had!  "Actually..."  Barney managed a polite smile.  "I'm not as hungry as I thought I was... Thanks, anyway!

He hopped on through the grass.  His tummy was beginning to rumble.  "I need to find something to eat and fast," he groaned to himself.

Suddenly, he felt movement in the grass and a large toad bounced by.  "Hey," Barney called.  "Do you know where I could find some food?"

The toad chuckled.  "Just stick out your tongue," he called, as he flicked out his own long, pink tongue and snatched a buzzing fly out of the sky.  

Barney's lips curled.  "I don't really fancy eating bugs," he protested.  The toad didn't respond; he merely bounced away.

"This is much harder than I thought it would be," Barney sighed.  He was about to give up, when he spied a skunk.  Barney managed a smile.  "Hi," he said, holding out a paw.  "I'm Barney and I'm looking for something nice to eat.  Can you help me?"

The skunk narrowed his eyes.  "Now you mention it, you might be able to help me," he hissed.  "I'm hungry, too."

Barney blinked back at him, an uncertain feeling creeping upon him.  "What do you eat?"  

The skunk grinned.  "Little bunnies!"

Barney yelped and began racing as fast as he could, all the way back to his burrow.  By the time he arrived, his family were just finishing off their bowls of carrot soup.

"Did you find anything nice to eat?"  His mum asked.

Barney shook his head.  "No," he replied, pressing a paw to his rumbling tummy.

"Well, I'm afraid we finished the soup," his mum went on.  "But there's still plenty of carrot cake, if you'd like some?"

Barney nodded and sank into his chair.  "Oh, yes please," he said.  Suddenly, carrots didn't seem so bad, after all!

"Make mine a really big slice!"


Saturday, 10 October 2015

This Year, I've Got Christmas All Wrapped Up!

Yes, that's me.  No, I didn't make it over that pole.

I love Christmas.  For me, it's a wonderful, heartwarming time of year, to be spent with family and friends.  I love the guilt-free pigging out that we all do.  I love the fact that it's socially acceptable to be tipsy on Bucks Fizz at ten thirty in the morning.  I love the evenings spent gathered around the telly, watching the soaps, whilst we attempt to digest the year's biggest roast dinner (and still we open a tube of Pringles, because "IT'S CHRISTMAS!").

What I'm much less keen on is the cost. Because for me, being in a fairly low-paid job, getting into a financial knot over the festive period has become almost as inevitable as crying over the seasonal John Lewis advert.

He was a penguin who found LOVE. Of COURSE I wept. 

So, this year, I've become one of those people.  You know, the really irritating ones who post on Facebook "well, that's all my Christmas shopping done!" at some point in September.  The ones so smug, you sort of want to dollop brandy butter on their heads (but you wouldn't, because damnit, what a waste of brandy butter that would be... Mmmm, brandy butter).

It's not quite mid October and I have not finished my Christmas shopping.  So, you can put away your festive condiments; my smugness has not yet reached hair-smothering levels.  That said, out of my four closest friends, two are completely bought for.  I've also made lists for my parents (and crossed two big items for my dad off already) and for my sister and her partner.  I've split said lists into things to be ordered sooner and items that can wait until closer to the big day.  Put simply: I'm spreading the cost of Christmas to make it a damn sight easier on me than it has been in previous years.

Yes, yes, I know it's not about the money you spend.  Of course it isn't.  One of the gifts I'm going to be buying for my best friend costs under a tenner and I'm certain she'll be thrilled with it.  And that's another part of my grand plan this year - shopping around and buying things when they're on offer, or hunting for a last-minute bargain are great ways to make my wallet a little happier as we approach the festive season.

I almost wish I hadn't mentioned this, because now it's all I can think of...

Essentially, Christmas - in my eyes at least - is a time to be spent with the people you care most for, eating, drinking and generally being merry.  I am an annoyingly sentimental and enthusiastic lover of all things festive and knowing that I'm actually managing to spread the cost of presents and therefore reducing the level of "oh my GOD, how will I pay my bills in January?!" is only going to make me even happier, as December inches ever closer.

And I'm not writing this to be smug.  Seriously, I have a lot still to buy and I'll be doing that little last-minute dance in and out of shops on Christmas Eve, because frankly, I enjoy that.  I love the cold chill on my cheeks and the sense of expectation in the air as I stroll the streets, looking for one or two final gifts to fill my stockings with.  Not my stockings, but... Oh, there's a mental image you'll never get out of your head.  Sorry about that.

Basically, I'm writing this for two reasons.  Firstly, because if there's anyone else out there who's on a strict budget and panicking a little about how they'll afford Christmas, I want them to know that the thought really does count more than the financial worth of anything you give.  Just being with people is one of the most valuable gifts of all and memories last a lot longer than most presents do.  And if you do want or need to buy gifts for people, there are definitely ways to make the festive season less of a financial strain.  Spread your gift list into three sections marked "October," "November" and "December" and work out a budget for each of those months - then you can spread the cost of buying Christmas presents over the course of several weeks, rather than racking up big bills over a shorter period of time (those people who've finished their Christmas shopping already really might be on to someting...).  Spend only what you can afford and shop around for bargains!  But please, please don't ever think that expensive presents are what Christmas is really all about and don't get yourself into trouble, trying to buy things you can't afford.  I've had Januarys where I've struggled to pay for anything, because I've overspent at Christmas and it really isn't worth it.  Much like young kids often play more with the boxes than the toys, my family always treasure the "together-time" we have over the festive period more than anything I've ever bought them.  That's the thing to remember, when money is running low and you can't get that extra gift for someone.

Which brings me onto the second reason I wanted to write this little blog.  I had a shock earlier this week, when someone I knew passed away very suddenly.  He was only middle-aged and had a young family.  When I last saw him, he seemed a little under the weather, but his death came as a total shock.  Even though he wasn't a close family friend or anything like that, I was still stunned and deeply moved by the news.  One of the thoughts I kept having, over and over again, was "he won't be there with his family at Christmas."

We're here.  We're here right now.  And at the risk of being over-sentimental, that means more than anything else.  You can't wrap love up in shiny paper, or stick a bow on the top of it, and it doesn't come with a gift receipt.  But it's something we can give - at any time of year - and it means more than anything you can purchase in a shop.

I'm doing well with my Christmas shopping, this year.  I've got a budget, I'm sticking to it and I've pretty much got my list of things to buy sorted, for the coming weeks.  But more importantly, I've got people to buy things for.  My family will be with me on Christmas morning and my friends and I will have our annual pre-Christmas get-together.  Regardless of how much or how little I've got to spend this year, I've got Christmas all wrapped up.  And I know how bloody lucky that makes me.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Bedtime Story (7/10/2015)

I went to lots of different schools as a kid, what with growing up in a military family.  So changing schools is something I became very familiar with!  Just a quick story this week, but one about something that may affect many young readers at some point during their lives.

Pippa's New School

Pippa caught sight of herself in the mirror, as she tugged on her shiny, new school shoes.  She took a deep breath as she did up the straps.  Today was her first day at Appleton Primary.  A whole new school, in a whole new town...  Pippa glanced up the stairs towards her brand new bedroom and thought about running and hiding under the bed.

"Pippa?"  Her mother's voice came calling from the kitchen.  "Are you nearly ready?"

Pippa managed a weak nod.

"It'll be fine," her mother promised.  "Try not to worry.  Just be yourself and you're sure to make lots of friends!"

Pippa shuffled her feet and stared at the floor.  "Will you stay with me for a little while?"

Her mother squeezed her shoulder.  "I'll sit in reception with you until your new teacher comes to take you to class," she told her.  

Pippa played with the end of one of her long, red plaits.  "Okay..."  She grabbed her purple backpack and slung it over her shoulder.  She forced a smile onto her face as she followed her mother to the front door, but as soon as they began walking, doubts began creeping into her head and she clung tightly to her mother's hand.

What if nobody likes me?

What if I don't know where to go at lunchtime?

What if the work is too hard at this school?

Questions swirled inside Pippa's head and she squeezed her mother's hand even tighter.  

"I'll be right there at the end of the day," her mother promised in response.  "I know it's a bit scary starting a new school..."

"A bit?"  Tears started to prick the backs of Pippa's eyes.  "Mum, I don't want to go a new school.  I liked my old one!"

Her mother stopped walking and gave Pippa a big hug.  "It's too far away, sweetheart," she reminded her.  "We'd never get there on time."  She wiped a tear away from Pippa's face.  "Shall we go to that pizza place for dinner, tonight?  The one we went to the night we moved to the new house?"

Pippa nodded her head.  "Okay."

They continued walking and soon, Pippa recognised the school appearing at the end of the road.  Her stomach felt like it was falling to her knees and her breath came out in short bursts.  She kept her hand tightly on her mother's as they went into the reception together.

"Good morning," the receptionist said, brightly.  "Mr Day will be here, soon.  Would you like to take a seat?"

Pippa perched on the edge of a seat, nibbling on one of her fingernails, whilst her mother chatted to the receptionist.  Time seemed to stand still, whilst she waited for her new teacher to arrive.  Eventually, a girl with black, corkscrew curls came into the reception, holding a piece of paper.  "Morning," she said, in a sing-song voice.  "I'm just handing in my note about next week's trip."  She turned and smiled brightly at Pippa.  "We're going to the toy museum," she explained.  "It's going to be so cool."

Pippa returned her smile.  "That sounds great," she said, her voice a little shaky with nerves.  "Mum said we could go there, once we've finished unpacking all our stuff."

"Did you just move here?"  The girl asked.  "You must be the new girl in my class!"  She held out a hand.  "I'm Roxy.  And if you're the new girl, that means you'll be coming on the trip next week, too!"

Pippa's smile began to spread.  "Really?!"  She shook Roxy's hand.  "I'm Pippa, by the way."

Roxy nodded, still smiling.  "Nice to meet you, Pippa.  Cool backpack, by the way!  Purple is my favourite colour."

Roxy's smile grew into a grin.  "Mine too!"

"Our teacher's called Mr Day," Roxy told her.  "He's lovely.  He does really fun quizzes and stuff.  You'll like him."

"He sounds great," Pippa agreed.

"Do you want to sit by me?"  Roxy asked.  "There's a spare seat on my table."

Pippa rose to her feet.  "I'd really like that!"  

Pippa's mother smiled at Roxy, then at Pippa.  "Well, it looks like you've made a friend..."

"Oh, mum..."  Pippa tutted, blushing.  "You're going to be late for work, aren't you?"

Her mother laughed and kissed Pippa on the cheek.  "Are you okay if I go, then?"

Pippa nodded.  "I'm fine!"  She turned to Roxy.  "Mum's been so nervous about me starting at a new school..."

And with that, the girls linked arms just as Mr Day wandered into reception to greet them.  Pippa turned and waved to her mother.  "Have a good day," she called.  Then she disappeared around the corner, arm in arm with her new friend.