Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Bedtime Story (30/3/2016)

I know we should encourage children to try all foods, but there's one vegetable that I just can't tolerate, so I've written this story in honour of my lifelong dislike.  If ever I have kids, I will completely understand if they inherit my inability to eat mushrooms...

I should add that I do like peas, though!

To hear this week's story as a podcast, just click here.

"I Will Never Eat A Mushroom."

"I will never eat a mushroom," 
Jessie said at dinner, one day.
"They're slimy and taste funny,
And when they're cooked, they go all grey."

She leaned against the table.
"I'm sorry Mum and Dad.
But I just can't face another mushroom.
They simply taste too bad."

Her parents sighed and shook their heads.
"They'll grow on you," Mum told her.
"I didn't like them when I was young,
But I love them now I'm older."

Jessie folded her arms across her chest.
"That won't happen for me.
I will never eat another mushroom,
So I don't want them for tea.

I'll eat a bunch of carrots,
broccoli and even sprouts.
But put a mushroom in my mouth
And I'll just spit it out!"

Dad wracked his brains to think
Of a brand new recipe.
"Mushroom soup?" He suggested.
"Or mushroom fricassee?"

"Perhaps we could blend the mushrooms
And make a mushroom mousse?"
Mum's idea wasn't bad,
But it was still no use.

"I'd rather eat a smelly sock,
or nibble the garden gate
Than have a nasty mushroom
Go anywhere near my plate!"

Jessie was determined,
But her parents both were, too.
"How about we cook you up
A tasty mushroom stew?"

Jessie stuck her lip out,
As though she just might cry.
"It really doesn't matter 
Whether you bake, or boil or fry.

I will never eat a mushroom,
Not ever again, I swear!
I'd rather pour a bowl of custard
All over my hair."

Mum tutted at her daughter.
"What a silly thing to say.
Besides, we've chopped them up so small,
You won't taste them, anyway."

And in Dad came, with spaghetti bolognaise,
Complete with mushrooms, too.
Jessie toyed with leaving her chair
And locking herself in the loo.

But truth be told, all this talk 
made her so hungry, she could eat a horse!
So this fussy eater ate her tea
- picking the mushrooms out, of course.

Later that night, as Mum tucked her in,
Jessie said: "I'm sorry I'm so fussy.
I just can't stand mushrooms.
They're too strange and grey and mushy."

Mum smiled: "At least you tried them,
If you don't like them, do as you please."
Jessie grinned.  "Thanks Mum.  And in the morning...

...We should probably talk about peas."


Monday, 28 March 2016

Stop Saying That!

I'll admit it: when it comes to language, I can be a bit prickly.  I'm one of those people who sees someone use "your" when they mean "you're" and has something of an internal freak-out about it.  But lately, the problem seems to be niggling at me more than ever.  People keep saying things - in person, online or over the phone - and my brain starts to make a worrying hissing noise, like a kettle ready to boil.

I will also admit that I'm well aware of how petty it is to be wound up by something so trivial, when there are far bigger, more important things going on in the world.  That's why I've decided to round up some of my most hated expressions and write about them here, in the hope of somehow exorcising myself.  You never know.  It might work...

Current number one on my list of language grievances...


A couple of months ago, I finally decided to join Tumblr (for totally non-Dan-and-Phil-related reasons...).  Since then, I've really enjoyed using the site.  I've chatted to lots of people, discovered funny things and generally become a fan.  But there is one incredibly irritating thing that I see what feels like at least nine billion times a day on that website and it's the following overreaction:

Person 1: *posts selfie*

Are you?  Are you really?  Or are you just saying it, because apparently simply telling the person they look nice is NOT DRAMATIC ENOUGH???!!!

Yes, yes, I know.  A lot of Tumblr users are, like, thirteen or whatever.  But that's barely an excuse.  When I was thirteen, I didn't phone my friends' houses and go: "What did you have for tea?  Burgers?!  HOLY CRAP, I AM CRYING."

And yes, I would much rather teenagers were building each other up and fostering body confidence in one another, than they were putting one another down.  But it's totally possible to make someone feel good about themselves without dramatically declaring that a person's selfie has literally left you screaming.  Oh, sorry, SCREAMING.  Mustn't forget the all-important caps lock.

Seriously, unless you're genuinely crying a river, or screeching until you've gone hoarse, just don't say it.  And if a random person's selfie actually does leave you screaming your head off, maybe step away from the Internet for a while...

Pictured:  Apparently all of the world's teenagers.

And whilst we're on the subject of phrases that are massively overused online...

"I can't even."

I'm guilty of using this one.  I totally get it; you use it when something is so awful/amazing/shocking that you can't even form a response to it.  In a strange way, it kind of makes sense.  But the phrase is so over-used, it's becoming infuriating.  Plus, it only really works as an expression when something is really major and worthy of a semi-speechless reaction.  We've now reached the point where people are just using it to end an average sentence: "There's no chocolate in the house and I can't even."  You can't even what?  Make a delicious chocolate mousse?  Get to the shops, because they're shut?  Be arsed to finish that sentence?!

Worse still, people are starting to use it mid-sentence to describe (or rather, totally avoid describing) their feelings about something or someone.  "Don't talk to me about my friend Dave.  I can't even with him."

NOPE, NOPE, NOPE.  That doesn't make any sense.  It's time we put this annoying phrase to bed, because frankly, I can't even with it.

Again, I feel a bit bad, because a lot of young people use that expression and I don't want this to sound like I'm having a pop at teenagers.  But that said...


Just stop it.  That's not even a bloody word.  My eyebrows are not on fleek.  They're just groomed.  This is real life, not Cruel Intentions.

When people use common expressions, but get them WRONG.

I read a really interesting article earlier, but I can't actually remember what it was about, because I reached a point where the writer used the expression "every once and a while" and after that, I took literally nothing in, because I was too busy seething "EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE."  Is it really that hard??!!

Other completely wrong phrases that make my eyes sad include:

  • "On route."  No, you are en route.  It might sound the same, but it's not spelt the same.
  • "I could care less."  This is basically an American thing, so I apologise to my American readers, but seriously...  The whole point of this phrase is that you use it to show how little something bothers you.  So if you're saying you could care less, then you're saying that you care more about this thing that you do about other stuff.  The phrase you're looking for is "I COULDN'T care less."  Think about it - it makes much more sense.
  • "You've got another thing coming."  No, you've got another think coming.  That's why this phrase is usually used after "if you think you're getting away with this..." or something similar.  It's a longer version of "think again."
  • "Irregardless."  Why are you making work for yourself?  You don't need those two letters at the start, because the word you're looking for is "regardless."  Otherwise it's a double negative, as well as a double irritation to my poor brain.
  • "Yet alone."  You mean "let alone," right?  I know actual real-life people who say this and I love those people, but they are wrong and they are hurting my mind.
  • "For all intensive purposes."  Look, I know people online like to be intensely intense, but chill out, please.  It's "for all intents and purposes."  
  • "Should of/could of/would of."  WHY DO YOU HATE ME???!!!  It's should HAVE, could HAVE and would HAVE.  And if that's just too much effort, add an apostrophe and say "should've," instead.


We're all over YOLO, right?  we've all used it to death haven't we?!  How do we send it back?  Did anyone keep the receipt?

The word "rape" to describe ANYTHING but actual rape.
I'm currently binge-watching a heck of a lot of Buffy, so expect a blog on that soon...

We've all seen this, right?  People playing computer games online and saying things like "Man, I just raped your ass, LOL" and so on?  If you haven't, consider yourself lucky.  And if you haven't seen it in that context, you've probably seen it on Facebook, as part of the charming phrase "frape" - i.e to "rape" someone's Facebook page by posting a status from their profile, as though they'd written it themselves.  Hahahaaa, hilarious.  Rape is so hysterically funny.

Oh, no, hang on...  Rape's horrendous and we need a new word to joke around with, because using the term in any context other than to discuss the actual hideous crime is to trivialise it.  And that is seriously not cool.

The use of words like "gay" or "retarded" when what you actually mean is "stupid" or "bad."

This goes hand-in-hand with the one above, really.  How is it acceptable to equate homosexuality or mental health issues with something being negative or silly?  Unless you're a twelve year old, you have no excuse for groaning "oh, that's so gay" about anything you perceive as stupid.  And if you are a twelve year old: NEWSFLASH!  Stop doing it.  We don't need any help creating a less tolerant, even more bigoted society and when we use words like these in the wrong context, that's all we're doing.  So, stop being a part of the problem.

And finally...

Deliberate miss-spelling of words!
So much Buffy, so little time...

Once upon a time, back in ye olden days, we didn't have iPhones and text messages could only contain a certain amount of characters (much like Twitter, only you couldn't message celebrities about what superpowers they'd like to gain).  Because of this, people adapted language to create what is referred to by most people as "text speak."  Or, as I like to call it "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, WHY WON'T YOU WRITE PROPERLY?!"

Nowadays, aside from Twitter, there are few places with a character limit.  So, why, in the name of all I hold dear, are people still writing on Facebook, or in text messages, things like: "Dis nu choclat bar is so gud. Gt sum if u can."

Okay, I will, Person-I-Just-Made-Up.  And whilst I'm enjoying dis amazing chocolate, you can go back to school and re-learn how to communicate like an adult human.  

Aaaand breathe.

Okay, I think I've got everything off my chest, now.  I promise, I care very much about the big, important stuff in the world, too.  It's just that these little things niggle at me like the underwire of a bra that's popped out of the fabric and is digging into the side of my boob.


Until we meet again, everyone... I'm off to be less ranty.  BYE!

Sunday, 27 March 2016

I'm Agnostic, But I Still Have Faith...

Faith Hill joke, because HAHAHAHA, hilarious.

So, picture the scene:  I'm sitting here, with an Oreo Easter egg by my side, which I'm preparing to stick my face into, when I stumble upon a series of comments on social media that caused me to have one of those "I AM GOING TO HAVE TO BLOG ABOUT THIS" moments.

It's Easter Sunday and, understandably, many people are talking about their Christian faith, today.  I completely respect that; it's an important day in the Christian calendar and everyone should have a space to discuss their religious beliefs - that's just a part of freedom of speech and it's vital we hold onto it.  

Anyway, I was all prepared to carry on scrolling, like a happy little (Easter) bunny, until I saw a comment that included the word "faithless"and it niggled at me like a stone in my shoe, just big enough to be uncomfortable.  This person was referring to non-religious people as being "faithless" (and also to religious people who choose to live by their own rules, rather than following God's, but that's a whole other blog post in itself...) and the use of that word annoyed me, even though I knew that they were specifically referring to a lack of religious faith, rather than a lack of faith in general.

"Faith" is a word that we often apply to religion, with good reason.  But it has more than one meaning.  I am agnostic - I don't know whether God exists, or whether there's an afterlife or anything like that, but I'm not prepared to entirely rule it out, by referring to myself as an atheist.  I believe that a guy named Jesus existed and I think he probably tried to teach some good stuff in his time, but whether or not he was the son of God is another matter entirely.  So, I call myself an agnostic.  What I do not call myself, is "faithless."

"Faithless" joke, because HAHAHAHA, hilarious.

I may not have faith in the classic, religious sense.  But I have faith, all the same.  To me, "faith" means putting your trust in something and that doesn't have to refer to a Deity of any kind.  I know other agnostics - and atheists - who are equally strong in their alternative faiths.  I also know a lot of wonderful religious folk who would never dream of assuming that just because people like me don't necessarily have faith in God,that it therefore means that we don't have faith in anything.

But that one comment caused an uncomfortable itch that just had to be scratched.  Because the sad fact is that there will always be some people who believe that religious faith is the only kind worth having, just as there will always be atheists who believe that religious faith is utter lunacy and who treat believers with contempt as a result.  Neither is helpful.  People are free to believe or disbelieve as they choose.  I choose to sit on the religious fence (again, I could write a whole other blog about what my beliefs are...), but that doesn't mean that my life is devoid of any faith, whatsoever.

So, in the spirit of today - a day in which light triumphs over darkness and hope reigns supreme, let me answer that stranger who referred to non-religious people as "faithless," by telling you some of the things I have faith in...

I have faith in love - in all its many forms.

Yes, I'm single.  Yes, my last relationship was abusive.  But yes, I believe in love and I always will.  Love has an incredible power to heal and strengthen us.  Just a hug from a friend can make the world a brighter place.  An act of kindness by a family member can remind us that we're not going through life completely alone.  Love can make us bolder, braver and better as people, when we choose to show it, rather than keeping it to ourselves.  Love, in a world where people hurt one another, where wars rage and where sometimes hope seems in low supply, can be a beacon of light, bursting through the dark.  I believe in giving love to those around us, accepting the love that exists in our lives - in whatever form it takes - and cherishing that love above all else.  My faith in love will never die, because love itself never does.  Relationships may fail and friendships may falter, but love on a grander scale will exist eternally.  In the words of Marvin Gaye,"only love can conquer hate."  It's still true.  It will always be true.

I have faith in people.

They say that people will always let you down, but people are capable of greatness.  For every time a person commits an atrocity, you need only look to the other, better people, reacting to that atrocity by seeing what they can do to help.  There are good people in this world; people who dedicate their lives to making things better for others.  People who campaign, people who stand up against hate and people who make the world a brighter place, just by being themselves.  Despite the many times I say "ugh, I hate people" (and sadly, it is a common phrase...), I still believe in humanity.  I believe that together, people are stronger and that when we join forces to create a community against evil, we prove that humanity is worth keeping faith in.

On a smaller, more personal scale, I believe in the people around me.  I mentioned before that I have faith in love and that's in no small part due to the people who show me it, every single day.  My family and my closest friends will always help me when I need it.  They will always encourage me and want to share in the good things that happen in my life, as well as support me through the bad times.  I mean, really, they actually know me, warts and all, and they still want me around - if that's not worth having faith in, nothing is.

I have faith in the people I choose to keep closest to me, because they've proved themselves time and again to be worth that faith.  I just hope they have as much faith in me and that I always prove that faith justified.

I have faith in following a dream.

You have to have faith in your dreams and aspirations.  If you don't, how are you supposed to chase them?  That was kind of an unintentional poem - feel free to put it on a t-shirt.

I believe in my biggest goals in life.  I have faith - even when it's hard to keep - that pursuing those goals will one day lead to success.  When I check my blog hits and see that a post I spent hours on has only been read 50 times, sure I get a bit downhearted.  But when I check another one and see that it's been read 5000 times, I remind myself that I'm doing my best and I haven't given up, despite the knock-backs.  And that knowledge is enough to make me stronger.

Reaching for our goals and chasing our dreams is the only way to move forwards with positivity.  If you want something badly enough, you have to go for it.  Sure, some of my dreams are downright silly, but what is life without those silly dreams?  And hey, Phil Lester tweeted me the other day.  DREAMS CAN COME TRUE, GUYS.  

Although that's just step one in my many dreams, regarding him...

And finally... I have faith in ME.
For example, I had faith that I could eat this massive breakfast.  

I am a survivor.  I've been hurt, cheated on, lied to and abused.  But I'm here to talk to you about it and to tell you it's possible to go through all of those things and not be broken forever by them.  I'm stronger than I ever knew and I've never lost my belief in love, or my faith in people, despite the stuff I've been through.  I know who I am, what I believe in and what I want out of life.  I try to be a good friend and a kind person.  I try to think about how my actions affect other people.  I may not be perfect - far from it - but I'm trying.  

Having faith in yourself is possibly the most important kind of faith.  After all, you're going to live with yourself your whole life, so you may as well believe in the person you are.  Trust your choices, listen to your heart and your head and be honest enough to admit when you've made a mistake, so that you can learn from it.  

Have faith in who you are and try to make that person someone good.  Not because a God might be watching, or because a religious text tells you to.  But for yourself and everyone around you.

When you really think about it, there are plenty of things to have faith in.  Plenty of things to hold onto, when we need something we can truly believe in.  Whatever you choose to have faith in - be it religion, or something else entirely - is equally valid.  A person's faith is just that - personal.  

I have faith, this Easter Sunday.  I hope - no matter what form it takes - that you do, too.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Bedtime Story (23/3/2016)

Today's bedtime story is inspired by two of my great loves - shoes and Doctor Who.  I feel as though this could be chapter one of a new children's book...  What do you reckon?!  Let me know in the comments.  

To listen to this story as a podcast, click here!

Niamh And The Time-Travelling Shoes

The shoe shop was eerily quiet.  In one corner, an old lady was trying on a pair of comfy looking slippers.  In another, a teenage boy was trying to decide which pair of trainers he liked best.  Niamh sighed as she scanned the shelf.  Nothing stood out.  Pair after pair of black shoes, with very little detail lined up like soldiers.  She shook her head at her mum.  "I can't see anything I like."

Her mum gave a weary sigh.  "Well, you need some new school shoes," she said.  "Yours are falling to bits and they're getting too small for you.  Have another look.  There must be something here."

Niamh stuck out her lower lip as she glanced at the shelf once more.  She shook her head and turned back to her mum.  "Can't we look somewhere else?"

"This is the last shoe shop in town," her mum said, almost laughing at the question.  "We're not leaving until you've picked something."  She sat down heavily on the shop's worn old sofa, as if to make a point.  "Remember, they're only for school.  They don't have to be amazing shoes.  They just have to fit."

Niamh groaned, rolling her eyes as she reached out to take a shoe off the shelf.  Her arm brushed a big, cardboard sign saying "20% off" and the sign fell to the ground, clattering against the shelves on its way down.  Niamh blinked at the shelf.  In the space where the sign had been was a pair of shoes.  They looked just like normal black school shoes, but there was something about them that made butterflies stir in Niamh's tummy.  They gave her an excited, yet slightly nervous feeling, like the one you get when you reach the top of a big rollercoaster.  Niamh picked up the shoes and held them out to her mum.  "I like these," she found herself saying, almost without realising the words were coming from her mouth.

"Sit down and try them on, then," her mum replied.

Niamh slipped her feet into the shoes,  A black buckle ran across each foot and as Niamh did them up, she realised that each buckle was patterned with tiny pictures, woven into the fabric.  Stars, trees, houses and even people peeped out at her.  Niamh glanced up at her mum.  "They fit perfectly."

"How much are these shoes?"  Niamh's mum called to the shop assistant.

"They're on special offer," he replied, hurrying over with a smile.  "Only fifteen pounds, down from twenty."

Niamh's mum turned back to Niamh, who nodded and grinned in response to her unspoken question.  She definitely wanted these shoes.  She wasn't sure why, but she knew she had to have them.

After Niamh's mum had paid and they'd left the shop, Niamh clung tightly to the box containing her new shoes.  All the way home, she felt a bubble of excitement growing inside her, until she could barely keep it in any longer.  When they finally arrived back at their house, Niamh practically flew up the stairs, desperate to put the shoes on again.

"So... What's your secret?"  She asked aloud, as she removed the shoes from the box.  She lay them on the floor and sat, staring at them.  She was almost sure they were making a noise - a strange, distant hum.  And when she touched them, they felt as though they were heating up, somehow.  Niamh put them on and hurriedly did up the buckles.  She walked around her bedroom, as if waiting for something to happen.  When nothing did, Niamh couldn't help but feel disappointed.  She stomped around her room, trying to see if the shoes would flash, or make a sound.  But nothing happened.  Niamh slumped to the floor and stared at her feet.  Why did these shoes feel so special, if they didn't do anything special?

It was then that she noticed the writing on the soles of the shoes.  Very faint, silvery words, difficult to make out at first.  Niamh rubbed the soles with her hands and, to her surprise, the writing began to glow.  There, on her left foot, were the words: "Three jumps to travel."  And on her right: "Four jumps to home."

Niamh scrambled to her feet.  With her heart in her mouth, she jumped.  "One," she counted.  And another jump.  "Two..."  Her last jump was her biggest, yet.  "THREE!"

The walls of Niamh's bedroom seemed to evaporate before her eyes.  Where her furniture had been, stars whizzed past.  She thrashed wildly, unsure of what was happening, before just as suddenly, she landed on the ground with a bump.

Niamh glanced all around, blinking and staring with her mouth hanging open.  She was sitting in a wide, open glade, with tall trees all around the edge.  Where was her house?  More importantly, where was she?!

Niamh looked down at her feet, again.  "Three jumps to travel," she said, aloud.  "So... These shoes make you travel places?!"  She paused, looking at the words on her right foot.  "Four jumps to home," she reminded herself.  "So, if I want to go home, I just have to jump four times..."  She slowly stood up and dusted herself down.  "Well, I don't want to do that just yet.  I'd rather explore, first!"

For what felt like hours, Niamh walked through the woodland, wondering just how far away from home she was.  There didn't seem to be any houses for miles around and even stranger, there weren't any people.  In fact, she hadn't even seen any birds...

"Where have you taken me?"  Niamh tutted, glancing down at her shoes.  "We're in the middle of nowhere."

Suddenly, a crackle of branches caused Niamh to stop in her tracks.  From high up in a tree, Niamh finally heard the beating of wings and saw what looked like a strange cross between a bat and a bird hurry away, into the sky.  She stood, staring up into the clouds.  "That was the weirdest bird I've ever seen..."

A loud thump interrupted her thoughts and Niamh span around, her eyes wide.  Another loud thump was enough to convince her it was time to run.  She turned on her heels and fled back the way she'd come.  The thumps carried on behind her and she felt her heart pounding in her chest.  A sudden roar, unlike anything she'd ever heard before echoed all around Niamh and when she finally found herself back in the glade, she fell to the ground, gasping for breath.  The thumping sound kept coming.  Whatever it was that was heading her way, it wasn't giving up.  Niamh hurried to her feet, just in time to see an enormous shape, heading through the trees.  It was bigger than any animal she'd seen in a zoo and Niamh shook her head as she desperately tried to work out what it was.

She didn't have to wait long.  With another fearsome roar, a dinosaur came bounding out from the woods.  Niamh's younger brother Archie was obsessed with dinosaurs and Niamh recognised it straight away; it was a Tyrannosaurus Rex!

"But... But you're extinct!"  Niamh stammered, backing away from the T-Rex as it eyed her, hungrily.  She glanced quickly at her feet.  "So... When it says "three jumps to travel," it doesn't just mean distance... It means travelling in time!"  

Niamh didn't have much time to dwell on her new discovery, as the enormous dinosaur kept on coming towards her.  Its nostrils flared and it flashed a set of razor sharp teeth.  Niamh knew what she had to do.  She squeezed her eyes shut and jumped as fast as she could.

"Four jumps to home," she breathed.  "One, two, three, four!"

As she jumped for the fourth time, her feet landed on something she knew wasn't grass.  The frightening roar was no longer echoing in her ears and she couldn't feel the breeze on her skin.  Niamh opened her eyes slowly and, to her relief, she found herself back in her bedroom once more.

What seemed like a million questions swirled around Niamh's excited head.  Could she control where she travelled in time?  And if so, how?  Would the shoes work forever?  Where else was she going to end up?!

From downstairs, Niamh heard her mum calling her to dinner.  Niamh slipped off her new shoes and put them safely back in the box.  The truth was, she had no idea what was going to happen next time she wore them and jumped three times... But she couldn't wait to find out.  As she walked out of her bedroom, Niamh turned back and smiled at the shoe box, sitting proudly by her bed.  She felt that excited, nervous feeling in her tummy, again.  They were certainly no ordinary shoes.  And now that they were hers, Niamh had a feeling that her life was about to become extraordinary, too!  She didn't know what was going to happen next, but she was definitely ready to buckle up for more adventures.

Niamh closed the door and trotted down the stairs, smiling a secret smile every step of the way.


Sunday, 20 March 2016

Do You HAVE To Forgive In Order To Move On?!

Giles, I love you, but I'm about to pick apart this argument in spectacular fashion.

Sooooo...  I've talked quite a lot on this blog about some pretty personal stuff that's happened to me in my 33 years on this planet.  I've discussed the abusive relationship I was in and the recovery process I underwent whilst piecing my life back together, afterwards.  I've talked about bullying and the frankly horrific experiences of it I had at school.  But in all that conversation, there's something I've never really touched on and the reason for that is because I'm well aware that in doing so, I'm going to be positioning myself directly opposite a lot of other people and potentially opening myself up to a whole heap of "OMG EMMA, YOU ARE SO WRONG," which I simply don't have time for, in amongst the serious business of my day to day life (dossing about on YouTube counts as serious business and don't tell me otherwise).  The trouble is, I'm one of those people who can only keep things inside for so long, before they burst forth anyway.  So, rather than end up having some kind of weird brain explosion, I figured it would probably make more sense to say this as rationally as I can, at a time of my choice.  And that time, ladies and gentlemen, is now.

Brain explosion narrowly avoided, but here are some of the contents, anyway.

Let me preface literally everything I'm about to say here, by highlighting the fact that I am a very forgiving person.  There are people in my life that my closest friends and family members can't forgive because they've hurt me badly in the past, but I'm not someone who believes in holding a grudge, so I tend to think "well, okay, I'll give this person another chance" more often than not.  That's not to say that I'm a total pushover, but I also don't believe in giving up on people too easily.  We're all human and we all make mistakes and besides, I'm not blameless; I'm certain people have had to forgive me for things, too.  In the matter of small arguments, little problems and everyday mistakes, then sure, we should be forgiving and forgetting, because the alternative is to let the really silly little things people do that we perceive as "wrong" build up in our heads until we start getting enraged about it all and that's clearly not good.  So, for the most part, I'm pretty forgiving and I hope the people in my life will forgive me when I do or say something a bit stupid, too.

Can't resist a big but...

BUT there is one thing that drives me battier than a bell tower in a Dracula story and that is the idea that you can't truly move on from a seriously traumatic experience until you've managed to forgive the person who caused it.  

Nope, no, non, nein.  I'd type "no" in the Greek language of my forefathers, but I think you've got the point.  

The suggestion that we have to forgive someone who's caused us enormous pain in order to be able to move forwards with our lives is just ludicrous and wrong.  Like I said, I don't believe in holding onto a grudge and I don't think it's necessarily healthy to go through life hanging on to hate or anything like that, but forgiveness is categorically not something that has to go hand in hand with successfully moving on from a dreadful experience.  

Take me, for example.  The very last time I saw my abusive ex face to face, he looked me straight in the eye and told me: "I know exactly how I've treated you and I'm not sorry, because you were weak enough to let me do it."  

In the four and a half years since I left his house that day, I have done everything I can to move forwards with my life.  I've had support from an abuse charity, I've tried online dating (epic fail), I've gotten myself to an emotional place in my life where I no longer blame myself for what happened to me and I like who I am.  I've written a book that's very loosely based on my experiences and it's getting 4 and 5* reviews on Amazon.  I've succeeded in putting myself back together again and whilst what I went through changed me and will always be a part of me, I consider myself to have moved on.  

Do I forgive my abuser?

People choose their behaviour.  All that "but I had a sad childhood and I don't know any better way to behave" rubbish that people like EL James like to pump into fictional characters, in order to explain away their horrendously douchey behaviour is just a flimsy excuse that has no place being passed around as truth.  Once again, for those at the back: PEOPLE CHOOSE THEIR BEHAVIOUR.

Remember the last thing that my abuser said to my face?  "I know exactly how I've treated you and I'm not sorry."  Well, that became even clearer two months later, when he angrily texted me out of the blue, after thinking that I had attempted to warn off his next victim (I hadn't).  Somehow, probably because I was still very raw, confused and messed up about the whole thing, we ended up in a text conversation, in which I apologised for my behaviour in the relationship.  Like I said, I was messed up and I'd been massively manipulated by him for almost two years, so I wasn't thinking straight.  His response to my apology was to agree that I was to blame for everything, but to tell me that he wasn't going to have any hard feelings about it.  


And yet there are people out there who truly believe that despite all the work I've done to move forwards with my life and all the positive changes I've made since I walked away from him - dedicating myself to raising awareness of abuse, writing about it, speaking to the press etc and just generally becoming a more confident person - that I can never truly be thought to have moved on, because I don't - can't - forgive him for choosing to abuse me and for acknowledging that choice and yet blaming me for it.

No, no, no, no, no, no, nooooooooooooooo.

I live my life positively.  I love my friends and family wholeheartedly.  I follow my dreams, however unattainable they sometimes seem.  I am not sitting in my room at night, rocking back forth, eaten up with disgust and hatred over this person who caused the worst trauma of my life.  I've moved on.  I'm okay.  I just don't forgive him, that's all.  It's not a big deal; I'm not going to try to track him down and firebomb his house or anything.  Unless a memory is triggered, or I'm actually talking about abuse specifically, I don't even think of him that often, anymore.  That's just part of the whole "I've moved on" thing.  Forgiving him has just never been necessary in the recovery process.  Acknowledging what he did was pivotal. Learning where the red flags were was incredibly important.  But forgiving him?  Not so much.

I mean, think about what we're saying when we tell people to forgive in order to move on.  Are we seriously suggesting that the woman who's been raped should be able to forgive her rapist, or she'll never move forwards with her life?  Or that the parents of a teenager driven to suicide by bullying should forgive the bullies, or forever be seen as living in the past?!

There is nothing wrong with forgiving someone.  If you're able to forgive those who caused you serious emotional distress or physical harm, then more power to you.  But we should never be suggesting that all people who experience the worst kinds of trauma must forgive those responsible.  That's dangerously close to victim-blaming for my liking ("hey, put yourself in their shoes; your feelings aren't valid").  And in cases where someone has shown utterly no remorse for their actions, it seems pretty disgusting to be telling the survivor of a traumatic event: "Remember, you're not moving forwards if you haven't forgiven the person."

Just don't say anything even close to that.  Ever.

As long as a person isn't living with an unhealthy level of anger that eats them up and causes them additional emotional harm, it is perfectly possible for them to move forwards without being forced into forgiving someone who's traumatised them.  It's holding onto the pain and not finding a suitable outlet that keeps someone from getting on with their life.  It's being stuck in the anger/sadness phase that will hold a person back.  But those phases are passable and once you get them out of the way, you're back on track towards becoming you again.  People talk about forgiveness as though it's a magical cure-all that will make you some kind of shining beacon of survival.  It's not.  

The only person you have to forgive, post-abuse, is yourself.  Because you weren't to blame.  Whether or not you choose to - or are able to - forgive your abuser is another thing entirely, but not doing so doesn't mean you get stuck in a trauma cycle forever, or that you somehow didn't survive and are now incapable of ever putting yourself back together again.

Someone once even told me that I had to forgive my abuser, in order to "prove" that I'm "the bigger person."

NEWSFLASH:  I'm a better person, because I'm not the one who chose to abuse someone else.  Additional newsflash: I'm literally five foot nothing.  I will never be the "bigger" person, unless I wear massive heels and everyone else is sitting down.

To summarise, Giles is right to a point: forgiveness is a compassionate act and people do need to be forgiven when they've done something stupid and you don't want to destroy your relationship - in whatever capacity it exists - with them as a result.  So, if you and I have an argument and you say something really hurtful in the heat of the moment, the chances are that I'll forgive and forget in time.  I would want the same understanding shown to me, after all.  But if you choose to abuse another person in any form, they don't owe you forgiveness.  They don't have to forgive you in order to move on.  To suggest that they do is to overlook the massive effort it takes to get over something traumatic and life-changing.  It's akin to saying "you're not really over those third degree burns you suffered that time, because you haven't taken to lying in a vat of hot oil every night."  It's absurd.

Every day, I make an effort to be proud of who I am.  To be kind and considerate of other people.  I don't feel any overwhelming bitterness about what I experienced.  In fact, in a weird way, I try to take positives from it and see that it showed me how strong I'm capable of being and taught me to recognise abusive traits in other people I meet.  I live my life as best as I possibly can.  I've moved on and I've managed to do that, despite living with the knowledge that my ex was well aware of what he did to me and felt no remorse for it, whatsoever.  That took effort.  But I did it.  I did it because it was more important to forgive myself than it could ever be to forgive him.

So, let's stop telling people who've experienced trauma that forgiveness is the only way to move on.  Being happy, learning to have faith in yourself and not holding on to bitterness or rage: THAT'S how we show we've moved forwards. 

No "F-word" required.

And I don't have to forgive you.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

My Name is Emma and I Have a Problem...

Spoiler: I own two out of three shoes pictured...

Those of you who read my blog on Monday will know that I'm not very well, at the moment.  I've finally seen a doctor about it and it turns out that I have some kind of virus that's gotten to my chest and made me cough and wheeze even more than is usual for an asthmatic.  I'm on steroids and I'm expecting my six pack and beard to magically appear any day, now...

The trouble with having lots of time on your hands due to illness is that you're very limited as to what you can do.  I can't go for a day out anywhere, because I'm liable to start spluttering and gasping for breath if I walk too far.  I can't go to watch a film at the cinema, because the audience would most definitely lynch me for coughing through all the important bits.  I'm largely housebound, with the exception of the odd short walk to stop me going insane.  And being housebound is very dangerous, because I have a problem I'd like to share with you all, today.

My name is Emma and I think I might be a shopaholic.

I have this urge to buy stuff.  It happens a lot and it's usually not even stuff I need.  

I will browse websites that sell dresses and skirts for literally an hour at a time.  I have the Irregular Choice website bookmarked in my favourites, because you just never know when you'll get a sudden urge to buy quirky, gorgeous heels.  I lose entire evenings on Amazon, just looking at the weird stuff you can buy, even though I have NO need to be buying any of it.  This morning alone, I spent half an hour browsing phone cases, before deciding that I'd check later to see if you can have a personalised one made.  Because I need Dan & Phil on a flip case, duh.

Actually, I've got such a problem that just writing that last sentence reminded me that I never did get around to checking about personalised flip cases (it has to be a flip case - I drop my phone at least seven times a day).  And as a result, I have created this masterpiece, which, when I have a spare £19.95, I will definitely be ordering:

Sorry Dan.  You can be on my iPad or something.

The trouble is, I don't actually have an income to justify my urge to splurge.  There are currently three weeks until pay day and I have the princely sum of £36.71 in my bank account.  And depressingly, roughly £34 of that is earmarked for bills.  There's cash in my wallet, but that's not money I can simply chuck away on the most beautiful phone case known to man, either.

In summary, I have a massive love of shopping (be it online or in person - I'm not fussy), but literally no funds with which to do it.  Well, no funds for a while, anyway.  Sadly, March, April and May require me to buy wedding gifts, car insurance, birthday presents and other such things.  That's all stuff I obviously don't mind spending money on (well, with the exception of the car insurance - the only good thing about that is the free meerkat toy I totally didn't choose a comparison website just to to get), but it does mean that for the next couple of months, no matter how beautiful the shoes on the Irregular Choice website may be, they're going to have to stay there and I'm going to have to mourn the absence of them on my feet.

It's not just buying stuff for me that I love doing, I should point out.  Few things make me happier than splashing cash on people I love, too.  I get all excited when I see something I know one of my friends or family members would really love and the next thing you know, I'm typing out my debit card details on some website or other...

Now, before anyone starts to worry that I'm getting myself into debt and I'm one shopping spree away from a payday loan with an interest rate of 900000000%, fret not, my friends.  I'm ridiculously anal about money.  I save coins and pay them into my bank when I have £5 or £10.  I have not one, but two piggy banks for emergencies.  I have only ever been overdrawn twice in my life - once was due to someone else's mistake and it was rectified within an hour and the other time was when I went under by 20p the day before pay day, because a bill was taken out two days earlier than it was meant to be.  So, essentially, that wasn't my fault, either.  

I will only buy stuff if I can afford to, because I see no point in getting myself into trouble just for a pair of shoes, a pretty dress or a really amazing phone case (I NEED IT, OKAY?!).  I also do a budget every month to work out how much I have to spend on myself and I'm pretty strict about sticking to it.  If I can't afford it, I don't have it, simple as that.

So, actually closing the websites in my browser and walking away from the clothes shops won't be a problem.  I can do it.  

But that won't stop me window shopping.  It won't stop me wandering down to our local shoe shop to browse the pretty heels.  It won't stop me spending much too long on Amazon, looking for the most random of items.  My recent searches, in case you're wondering, have been for:

  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer strappy tops
  • Irregular Choice heels on sale (those shoes are an obsession)
  • Interesting car stickers (what? WHY?!)
  • Body spray variety packs
  • Nail varnish sets
  • Nerdy clothing
  • Doctor Who shoes
  • Alcoholic milkshakes.  Don't judge me.

I figured that I can't be the only one with a compulsion to buy ALL THE THINGS, so I thought I'd share this with you guys, so you can either nod sagely in agreement or, alternatively, tut in judgement at my materialistic ways.  

EDIT: I emptied my coin jar and found enough to order the Phil phone case.  I AM ILL AND NEED TO CHEER MYSELF UP, OKAY?!

Send help.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Bedtime Story (16/3/2016)

Here we are again!  Time for another bedtime story...

If you'd like to listen to this week's story as a podcast read by yours truly, just click here.

The Butterfly House

Harvey was Liam's best friend.  They did everything together; they sat next to each other at school, shared snacks at break time, ate lunch together, played football in the field after school and were forever round at each other's houses.  That was why Monday was a very bad day for Liam.  It was the day that Harvey broke the news.

"Dad has a new job," Harvey said, avoiding Liam's eyes.  "He starts next week.  It's all happened really quickly, but... We have to move to a big city and I have to go to a new school."

The rest of the day was a blur for Liam.  He didn't know what to do or say.  He was always with Harvey; he knew the rest of his classmates and he liked them, but none of them were as good as his best friend.  He didn't want anyone else.  He wanted Harvey to stay and if that couldn't happen, then Liam decided he may as well just be by himself.

The week went on and Liam could barely even talk to Harvey, let alone anyone else.  On Friday, Harvey's last day, the boys exchanged addresses and promised to stay in touch.  Harvey asked Liam to promise him that he wouldn't be sad.  But Liam just gave him a little half smile, then watched him walk away.

All weekend, Liam was quiet.  He didn't want to play games, or go out anywhere.  He stayed in his room, staring sadly out of the window.

On Monday, Liam trudged to school, with his bag hanging heavily over his shoulder.  He sank into his seat and gazed at the empty chair beside him.  What was he going to do, without his best friend?

The teacher started talking, but Liam wasn't really listening.  She said something about going out into the garden to look for minibeasts.  It was the sort of thing that Harvey would have thought was really cool and that just made Liam miss him even more.  He glanced up, as his teacher handed him a magnifying glass, a little net and a whiteboard and marker pen.  "Come on Liam," she said in a soothing voice.  "Get your coat, it's chilly outside."

Liam followed his classmates out into the garden, shivering in the breeze.  He wasn't even sure what he was supposed to be doing.  He plodded through the grass, swinging his net to and fro.  Suddenly, a beautiful butterfly, sitting on a blade of grass, caught his eye.  Its wings seemed to have all the colours of the rainbow on them and they fluttered gently as the wind blew.  Liam swung his net and bam - the butterfly was trapped.  He clamped a hand over the top of the net as he brought it to his face.  "Don't be scared," he whispered.  "I'm going to be your friend.  I don't have a best friend anymore, so you can be my new one."  

Sneaking away from the rest of the class, Liam found an old shoe box that someone had dropped.  "I'll turn this into your house," he told the butterfly, using the end of his magnifying glass to poke holes in the lid.  The butterfly fluttered around inside the net.  It looked like it was trying to escape and Liam felt a bit cross.  "No," he told it.  "You can't just fly away; I want to be your friend!"  He carefully tipped the butterfly into the box and put the lid on tight.  He stowed the box away, under a bush, before hurrying to join the rest of his class.

By breaktime, Liam was keen to see his new friend again.  He rushed across the grass and pulled the box out from under the bush.  

"Want to play football?"  He heard some of the boys from his class call.  But Liam just shook his head.  He opened the lid of his box just a crack and smiled at the butterfly.  It was flying around the box very fast, almost like it was panicking.  Liam frowned.  "Don't be cross with me," he said.  "I'm your friend, remember?  I'm just keeping you safe in your new house."  He tugged at the grass and tipped a few blades into the box.  "See?  I'm making it nice for you."  He added a couple of daisies, but the butterfly still darted at the lid, as though it wanted to fly away.  Liam crossly shut the lid and hid the box back under the bush.

At lunchtime, Bethany Bryant, who sat on the other side of Liam in class, asked him if he wanted to join in a game that she and her friends were playing.  Liam said no and scurried off to find his butterfly house.  He sat cross-legged in the grass, nibbling on a sandwich, watching the butterfly flutter around the box.  He dropped in a few crumbs.  "Is that what you want?"  He asked.  "Are you hungry?"  But the butterfly just went on whizzing around.  It looked like it felt as cross and sad as Liam did.

"What's in the box?"  A voice called.  Liam glanced over his shoulder and saw Lennon and Harrison, twin boys from his class.  He quickly shoved the box back under the bush and shook his head.


The boys disappeared, just as the bell rang for everyone to go back into class.

At the end of the day, Liam felt tired and lonely.  He missed Harvey.  He didn't like being all by himself and his new friend didn't seem to like him very much.  He rushed to the bush and pulled out the box, planning to take the butterfly house home, so he could keep an eye on his friend overnight.

"What is in there?"  Lennon asked.

Liam spun around.  He hadn't noticed anyone following him.  "Nothing," he insisted, hugging the box tight.

"There must be something," Harrison said.  From behind him, Bethany Bryant nodded in agreement.

"You've had your head in that box all day," she added.

Liam sighed.  "It's my friend," he told them all.  "I found it, earlier."  

He opened the box, but this time, the butterfly didn't try to fly out.  Its wings drooped and it stayed where it was.

Bethany peered over Liam's shoulder.  "It looks sad."

Lennon and Harrison crowded round.  "It probably wants to go back to all its butterfly friends," Harrison said.

"But it's my friend," Liam protested.  "I need it."

Lennon frowned.  "But it needs to be free," he replied.  "If you keep it in there, it'll die."

Liam blinked up at him.  "It's all I have," he said, in a small voice.  "Harvey's gone...  I don't have any other friends."

Lennon wrinkled his nose.  "Well... What about me?  And Harrison?  And Bethany?"

Liam glanced from face to face, as Harrison continued:  "We were all worried about you, so we came to find you, to see if we could cheer you up."

"That's what friends do," Bethany chipped in.  She pointed at the box in Liam's hands.  "You can't trap something on its own; it'll be miserable.  That butterfly wants to fly off with all its friends and that's what you should be doing, too."

Liam swallowed, hard.  He opened the lid a little further and smiled at the butterfly.  "Go on," he told it.  "It's okay." 

The butterfly spread its wings and darted out of the box, up into the blue sky beyond.  Liam watched as another butterfly joined it in the sky, wheeling and soaring together, higher and higher.

"Doesn't it look happier, now?"  Lennon asked.

Liam nodded.  He had a strange feeling in his chest.  He was sad that his friend was gone, but...  He was happy that he had new ones.

"Want to come back to our house?"  Harrison asked.  "We're going to play on our new computer game."

Liam smiled.  "Okay, just for a bit," he said.  "Then, I'm going to go home and write Harvey a letter."

And, as the friends all walked away together, Liam turned and took one final glance at the butterflies.  Floating and dipping, making patterns across the sky, they flew freely in the air.  They were going to be okay.

And so was he.