Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Bedtime Story (28/12/2016)

A lot of us find it strange, once Christmas is over and life starts to go back to normal.  This story is for anyone who misses the festivities the second they're finished!

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


The fairy lights were still twinkling,
The presents just days old.
People were still out sledging,
Slurping hot cocoa when they got cold.

Yes, Christmas Day was over now,
But there was still a festive atmosphere!
For all, that is, except Adrian,
Who would groan to anyone near:

"Why is Christmas over now?
I want Christmas back!
I want to wake up bright and early,
And find toys from Santa's sack!"

His Mum told him all about New Year,
And his Dad told stories of Spring.
But all Adrian wanted was Christmas Day,
For that was his favourite thing.

He didn't want to party 'til midnight,
Or celebrate the turn of the year.
He just wanted to keep on yelling,
So that everyone would hear:

"Why can't we have Christmas again, now?
I want Christmas to be today!
I want to keep singing Christmas carols,
And look for Rudolph pulling a sleigh!"

His Auntie Jane mentioned Chinese New Year,
His Grandpa said to pick a Valentine.
His Uncle Dave longed for Pancake Day,
But Adrian just wanted Christmas time.

"It won't be long until Easter," said Nan.
"And you'll get lots of chocolate, then!"
But Adrian just wanted one special day of the year,
And he was determined to let them know when!

"All I want is Christmas back!
The rest of the year can wait.
I want a big turkey dinner,
With stuffing all over my plate."

"But we can celebrate Mother's Day!
Father's Day, too," his brother said.
"And family birthdays and trips to the sea,
Think of all we can do, instead."

His sister thought all the way to September,
When Adrian would be starting school.
But sitting in a classroom didn't sound fun,
Especially when Christmas was so cool!

"But Christmas feels ever so special,
That's why I love it so much.
Everything about it is magical;
All you can see, hear, smell and touch!"

The whole family gathered round Adrian
As they patiently tried to explain:
"There's plenty for you to look forward to,
Before Christmas rolls back round again!"

"Halloween," Nan suggested to Adrian.
"And bonfire night! When colours explode in the sky.
If you enjoy every special day of the year,
You'll soon find the months will fly by!"

"Besides, what makes Christmas special,"
Adrian's Dad explained to his son.
"Is not just the day itself,
But sharing it with everyone."

He wrapped an arm around Adrian.
"So, we'll make every day count.
Spending special occasions with family and friends
Is, after all, what life is about!"

Adrian still wanted Christmas back,
But he was finally starting to see
That he could get that special Christmassy feeling,
From his friends and his family.

"Christmas is still the best," he said.
"But the year ahead will be fun, I know.
We can plan plenty of new adventures;
Loads of new places to go!"

Soon, Adrian wasn't so worried,
About losing his Christmas cheer.
He knew with his loved ones around him,
It would be a happy new year.


Friday, 23 December 2016

In Praise of All Things Spooktacular!

Look, I know this is an unseasonal topic, but hey.  Sometimes, these things pop into my head at weird times.  So, whilst other bloggers are writing about mince pies and presents and all things festive, I have decided to tell you all about my love of horror.

For me, a good horror film (or TV show, or novel...) gives me the same feeling I get when I strap myself into a rollercoaster seat.  Those butterflies in my belly.  That sensation of not quite knowing what is about to happen.  The adrenalin flooding through my veins...

I recently finally got around to watching the three-part drama, The Enfield Haunting.  I'd had it recorded for five months and been dying to see it (pun intended), but other things just kept getting in the way.  Finally, with a fortnight off work over the Christmas holidays, I figured I could settle down and binge-watch the whole thing.

It did all the things I wanted it to.  I jumped a couple of times.  I leaned forwards in my seat, awaiting something spooky.  I felt my heartbeat increase.  And I loved it.

My love of the horror genre started young.  Like many kids, I was fascinated by ghost stories, and growing up in an RAF family, living on or around military bases, I heard what felt like hundreds.  

"Have you heard about the WWII pilot, who was shot down near here?"  My friends would whisper, in the school playground.  "He still wanders the old airfield, his scarf billowing behind him, even when there's no breeze..."

"You know that big house, that stands separately from the others in the Officers' Quarters?"  Another would pipe up.  "If you walk past it at night, you can see a woman's face in the window.  It's the widow of an officer killed in conflict.  She killed herself when he never came home and now she sits at the window, waiting for his return..."

Those stories fired my imagination and I found myself reading books with ghostly topics (age-appropriate, but spooky enough to fascinate and frighten me in equal measure).  I even tried my hand at writing my own ghost stories, using the books I'd read and the tales I'd been told as inspiration.

You see, I didn't (and still don't entirely) doubt that ghosts existed.  I was convinced that they did, because, at the age of around six, I had seen one.

Hear me out...

At the time, we lived in military housing, on a base that had been around for years.  It was the first place I lived where I remember hearing many ghost stories and it's probably where my love of all things spooky began.

One particular night in Winter, my mum announced that it wasn't long until bedtime, so I ought to run up to the bathroom and get my nightie, where it was hanging over the radiator to stay warm.  Immediately, despite the light being on in the hall, I did not want to go upstairs.  I had an overwhelming feeling that there was somebody in our back garden, and that when I got to the middle of the staircase, where it turned and there was a big window, looking out to the back of the house, I would see who it was and it would frighten me.  Now, I hadn't been watching anything spooky on TV, nor had I been chatting about ghosts at school (the stories came after this incident, as I was so keen to tell all my friends about it and they responded with their own tales),  So, there was basically no reason for me to feel that way, but feel it I did.  Anyway, I decided I'd run as fast as I could to grab the nightie and leg it back down the stairs in a flash.  

I can't remember whether I looked out of the window on the way up, or on the way down (although I know I purposefully didn't on one of the journeys and I guess it would make sense for it to have been the way down), but I do know - and vividly recall - that I looked out of the window at one point and saw something I couldn't - and still can't - explain.

There was a woman standing in the garden.  She was dressed all in white and she was glowing, like an angel in a Nativity scene.  She wore a long white cloak-type thing and she had her arms crossed against her chest.  We had no washing on the line, nobody in the family was outside (especially not wearing a weird shroud and randomly glowing) and there was nothing in the garden that could have been mistaken for a bizarrely luminescent woman.  I saw her.  I remember her, well over two decades later.  But when I went back up to bed, shortly afterwards, she was gone.  And I never saw her again.


Six years later, when I was twelve, I was lying in bed, unable to sleep.  My Nan was dying in hospital and we didn't know how long she had left.  I was lying under my covers, all tucked up, when suddenly my room turned freezing cold.  Like, proper cold; it made my cheeks sting.  I sat up and realised that right beside me, on the edge of the bed, there was a chilly breeze, causing the drop in temperature.  My windows were shut (I have such a phobia of spiders that I rarely ever sleep with the window open, no matter how hot it is), so I knew it wasn't that.  At first, I was scared, but just as I was about to duck under my duvet and hide (from the... cold?!), I smelt my Nan's perfume.  Really strongly.  And then, my skin prickled, like there was somebody next to me, sitting really close.  I looked at the clock (I'm still not sure why I did that) and saw that it was just a minute or two after 10pm.  I whispered: "Bye, Nan."  And as soon as I did, the smell of perfume evaporated, my room warmed up again and I burst into tears.  Within ten minutes, we had a phone call to tell us Nan had died at 10pm.

Now, I am absolutely certain that there are plenty of sceptics reading this and thinking "pah, both those things can be very easily explained."  And I'm sure they probably could be.  But I won't ever believe the "sensible" explanation you give me for either.  Because I was there.  And I know what I saw, what I felt and what it meant to me.

But my love of horror and my belief in ghosts don't necessarily go hand in hand.

After all, I might think nothing of curling up under a duvet to watch The Shining, but that doesn't mean that I want to meet a malevolent spirit, nor does it even necessarily mean that I think such hideous horrors could occur in reality.

The fact that you can separate a belief in the afterlife from your enjoyment of horror is one of the things I love about it.  You don't have to believe that the things that are happening on screen, or in the book you're reading, could happen in real life.  You just have to let them in enough to allow them to give you a damn good scare.

Seriously, go watch The Shining.

Just as listening to music can take you to a different emotional place, so watching a horror film (or reading a horror novel) can be its own form of escapism.  Sure, you're escaping to a place you definitely wouldn't want to visit in reality, but whilst you're thinking about demons or poltergeists, you're not brooding about your own troubles (in fact, they can make your own woes seem trivial for a short while, and that is no mean feat).

There is something wonderful about allowing yourself to get swept up in a spooky story, or settling down to watch a film that you know is going to freak you out (even if you do end up watching it from behind your hands).  And when you know you're going to have to keep the light on for a bit longer before you go to sleep, you just know the film/book did its job!

I understand why there are people out there who don't like horror, for a hundred different reasons.  Some people just don't believe in ghosts and find the notion of demons, monsters etc ludicrous.  Other people just plain dislike being scared.  And that's fine.

But, for me, there will always be a special place in my heart for the films, books and anecdotes that have scared me the most.  Anything that causes a strong reaction in me - whether it's laughter, a warm fuzzy feeling, or complete and utter terror - is always going to resonate for longer than something I watch and just think "meh" about.

So, here's to the ghost stories, the horror films and the tales of monsters from long ago.  May you continue to scare and delight me for many years to come.

And, er, may I not need to pee in the middle of the night after watching something scary...

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Bedtime Story (21/12/2016)

As this is the final story before Christmas, I would like to take an opportunity to wish everyone a happy holidays - here's to lots of fun, love and laughter.  Merry Christmas! xx

This story is also available as a podcast.

Bella's Fretful Christmas Eve

Bella was seven years old and she had lived in the same house her whole life.  At least, she used to.  Right up until a few weeks ago, when she and her family moved to a completely different town. 

Bella had settled into her new school and made lots of new friends.  She had chosen a pretty purple paint for the walls of her new bedroom and even helped her parents decorate it.  She had all of her things exactly where she wanted them.  

But Bella was worried.

When the family moved, they had given their new address to lots of important people: Nan and Grandad, Granny and Grandpa, Bella's aunties and uncles and even Bella and her brother Charlie's school friends.  But now, on Christmas Eve, Bella realised they had forgotten someone.  Someone very important.

As Charlie sat on the sofa, with a big bowl of popcorn and a mug of warm cocoa, watching a Christmas movie with Mum and Dad, Bella sat on the floor, staring at the gas fire in the lounge.  Their old house had had a real fireplace, and every year, Bella and Charlie would write a letter to Father Christmas and then Mum would light a fire and throw the letters in, so that they would burn and disappear up the chimney.  Bella had never been quite sure how the letters got to Father Christmas, once they were all burnt, but Mum assured her it was magic.

But this year, they'd had to write letters and post them.  There was nothing magic about that, surely?  And with all the fuss of moving, they'd forgotten to send the letters until just a couple of days ago.  Neither Bella or Charlie had had a reply.

Bella heaved a sigh.  "Mum?"  She said, her eyes looking sad.  "How will Father Christmas know where to bring our presents, this year?  We forgot to send him our new address when we moved!"

Mum smiled.  "Don't worry," she replied.  "He just knows.  He knows where all the little boys and girls in the world are."

Bella still wasn't convinced.  "But how?"  She pressed.  "There are millions and millions of boys and girls!  He surely can't have an address book that big?!"

"He'll find you," Dad promised.  "Now, why don't you come up onto the sofa and watch the movie with us?"

Bella shook her head.  She was still too worried.  "I'm going out into the garden," she announced, hurrying to find her coat before anyone could stop her.  

It was already dark outside and it was very cold, but Bella ran down to the end of the garden and fetched as many twigs and sticks from the bushes as she could.  Snapping the longer ones into smaller pieces, she began lying them on the ground to form the words:

"Bella and Charlie Evans live here."

"There," Bella said to herself.  "Now, when Father Christmas is flying his sleigh up in the sky, he'll look down and see that and he'll know to bring our presents to this house, instead of the old one."

She jogged back into the warm house and settled down to watch the rest of the movie with her family.

When it finished, it was almost time for bed.  Dad rose to his feet and glanced out of the window.  "Oh!"  He gasped.  "Look!  It must have started snowing whilst we were watching TV - everything's gone white!"

Bella was horrified.  She rushed to look out of the kitchen window at the back garden.  Sure enough, her message had been buried by the snow.  Her little face fell and she blinked back tears.  How was Father Christmas going to find her, now?!

Mum took Bella up to bed and tucked her in.  "Please don't worry," she told her, as she hung a stocking on the handle of Bella's bedroom door.  "Everything will be okay, you'll see."

But, when the lights went off and Bella was alone in the dark, she found herself worrying more than ever.  She wanted to hurry out into the snowy street, waving her hands up at the sky and shouting for Father Christmas to see her.  How was he going to know where to go?!  And if he didn't know where she lived now, how would he be able to give her the peach satin ballet shoes she so desperately wanted, this year?

Bella climbed slowly out of bed and peeped out of her curtains, to the wintry night beyond.  "Please find me," she whispered.  "I've been really good, this year.  Please find my house, Father Christmas!" 

Suddenly, she had another idea!  Bella rushed across the room to the little desk in the corner and pulled out her big art pad and pens.  In huge, bold letters, she wrote across a sheet of paper: 

"Father Christmas, please stop here for Bella and Charlie Evans!"

Beside the words, Bella drew a picture of the ballet shoes she wanted for Christmas.  Then, she grabbed some sticky tape from her desk and opened her window, ever so carefully.  She reached out around the glass pane and, with her arm shaking and snow landing on her skin, she stuck her sign to the outside of the window.  

"There," she smiled.  She closed the window, shivering from the cold, then scrambled back into bed.

But sleep didn't come easily to Bella.  The wind had picked up outside and before long, she could hear something flapping against the window pane.  Sure enough, by the time Bella crept out of bed to look again, her sign had been blown away.

With no ideas left, Bella let out a long sigh and crawled beneath her bed covers.  A single tear rolled from each eye as she finally gave up and went to sleep.

In the morning, Bella's bedroom door burst open and Charlie came rushing inside, swinging his stocking full of gifts.  "Wake up, Bella!"  He cried.  "He came!  He knew how to find us and he came!"

Bella's eyes widened as she saw the stocking on her door handle, weighed down with beautifully wrapped presents.  "But... How did he know?!"  She gasped.

"There's more downstairs under the tree," Charlie shrieked, ignoring her question.  "Get up, quick!"

Soon, the whole family were gathered around the Christmas tree, opening presents, smiling and laughing, just as they always did each year.  Before long, all of the presents had been opened... Except for one.  

Lying right underneath the tree, was a beautiful looking gift, wrapped in shimmering red paper, with a gorgeous gold ribbon on top.  On the gift was a tag with Bella's name on it.  With a squeal of delight, Bella tore the paper open, to reveal a cream box.  She opened the lid and there inside, was the loveliest pair of peach, satin ballet slippers that Bella had ever seen.  She took them out and put them on right away.  With a giggle, she began to twirl around the Christmas tree, until something caught her eye.  Tucked inside the box where the slippers had been, was a little envelope.  Bella took it out and quickly opened it.  She pulled out a note, written in a glittering ink.  It said:

"No matter where you go in the world, if you wish hard enough, I will always hear you.

Lots of love,

Father Christmas."

Bella hugged the note to her chest and a huge smile spread across her face.  "This is the best present of all," she said.  "Merry Christmas, everybody!"

So, the Evans family settled down to enjoy their very first Christmas in their brand new home.  And they all knew that it was a special one, which they'd remember forever.


Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Bedtime Story (14/12/2016)

Okay, so it's no secret to regular readers of this blog that I am a foodie.  One of the best meals of the year is surely Christmas dinner?!  So, I figured, why not write a story to celebrate it...

This story is also available to listen to as a podcast.

Gracie And Ben's Christmas Feast

"How long until dinner?"  Gracie cried,
As her brother Ben slumped on the sofa and sighed.
The presents were opened, Christmas music was blaring,
But into the kitchen, the hungry children kept staring.

"It's ages since breakfast," Ben's mood took a dive.
Mum frowned: "Then next year, don't get up at five!
Find something to snack on whilst the two of you wait
For a big Christmas dinner served up on your plate."

So the pair took some candy canes from their Christmas tree,
And as they nibbled, they thought of how fab dinner would be.
There'd be turkey and cranberry sauce, potatoes and stuffing,
What's as good as Christmas dinner?  Surely nothing!

"I can't wait for sausages wrapped in bacon,"
Gracie declared, dreaming of the feast Mum was making.
"And Dad's carrot and swede mash is ever so tasty,
Especially when you smother it with plenty of gravy."

"I even like sprouts," Ben declared.  
And at the empty dining table, he sadly stared.
"And bread sauce and red cabbage and all of the veg."
Images of food danced around his head.

"And we get to pull crackers," Gracie said with a smile.
"And leave all the toys on the table in a pile.
We read all the jokes and we all wear our hats,
Oh, there can't be any dinner better than that!"

Ben beamed at his sister.  "Then there's the pud!
Christmas pudding with cream always tastes good."
"Or trifle, remember?" Gracie said with a grin.
"With strawberries and raspberries and sponge fingers in!"

Ben nodded and smiled. "And later tonight,
If we get peckish, you'll see the sight
Of turkey sandwiches, with cranberry sauce,
Or mayonnaise if you prefer that, of course."

Then, just as their tummies were really rumbling,
Through the kitchen door, their parents came stumbling,
With bowls full of food, ready to eat.
Gracie and Ben rushed to take their seats.

Out came the turkey, the stuffing and sprouts,
And with each dish, the children gave excited shouts.
They pulled their crackers and with their Mum and Dad near,
They declared: "This is the best dinner all year!"

It's true, Christmas dinner really does take some beating.
So I'll end this by wishing you all Season's Eatings. ;-)


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Bedtime Story (7/12/2016)

It's finally December and the Christmas stories can commence!  It's my favourite time of year and I'm so excited to share some brand new festive stories with you all.  I hope you enjoy this one, which was inspired by reminiscing over the above Christmas gig outfit!

To listen to this as a festive podcast, just click here!

The Littlest Angel

It had been a long year and the Christmas decorations were getting impatient, as they began to wake from their sleep.  The shiny baubles bumped into one another as they rolled around their box.  The reindeer, with their flashing noses, were desperate to stretch their gangly legs.  The fluffy Santas that went "ho, ho, ho" when you pressed their tummies, waddled around the attic, waiting excitedly for the hatch to open and the time to finally come when they'd be taken downstairs and put up for all to see, once more.

"I wonder what the tree will be like, this year," the sparkling glass snowman said, wrinkling his carrot nose.  "Do you think it'll be a real one again?"

The woolly Christmas pudding decoration sighed.  "Last year, that real tree left pine needles all over me," she grumbled.  "I like a real tree, but I hope it's a bit comfier, this year."

Everyone chattered and giggled, as they waited for their big moment to arrive.  Everyone, that is, except for one little angel.  The littlest angel in the box.  She lay quietly, right at the bottom, not wanting to get her hopes up.  You see, the littlest angel had a big dream...

...She had always wanted to be placed right at the top of the Christmas tree.  She wanted to sit proudly, watching over everyone as they opened their presents, ate their special dinner and played party games.  She wanted to feel important.  But she didn't think she was.

Every year, the family placed an enormous angel, with glittering gold wings, at the top of their tree.  It was a nice angel - a beautiful angel - but the littlest angel wished that she could switch places with her, just once.  She knew it would never happen, though.  The family loved their big angel.  They even had a name for her: Angelica.  The littlest angel had never been given a name.  Although she liked sitting proudly on a branch of the tree each year with her friends, she often wished that she could see the view from the very top.  And over the years, the littlest angel had begun to get dusty and old.  Her silver hair wasn't as shiny, anymore and there were bits of red tinsel stuck in it.  Her smile had faded a little.  Each year, she seemed to disappear further towards the back of the tree.  She was afraid that this year, she wouldn't be put on display at all.

As Christmas got ever closer, the decorations began to get ready for their biggest event of the year.  The fairy lights practised twinkling in the gloom of the attic.  The noisy decorations began checking their batteries.  But the littlest angel continued to lie very still and very quiet.

The other decorations began to worry.  Eventually, Angelica made her way to the bottom of the box, where she peered closely at the littlest angel, with a frown on her usually smiling face.  "What's wrong, little one?"  She asked.  "Can I help?"

The littlest angel shook her head, sadly.  "I just wanted to look pretty on the tree," she sighed.  "I wanted to sit right at the top and feel special, just once."  She looked down at her dusty dress.  "But I expect they'll hide me right at the back this year.  That's if they even put me on the tree at all."

Angelica blinked back at the littlest angel.  "Of course they will," she insisted.  "The family love all their decorations because they've had them for so many years.  Christmas isn't about having everything looking perfect and shiny; it's about being with the people you love and reminiscing over times gone by.  You'll be a part of this Christmas, because you've been a part of their Christmases for such a long time!"  She gazed thoughtfully at the littlest angel.  "Does it really mean that much to you, to sit at the top of the tree?"

The littlest angel nodded, weakly.  "I know it's silly," she whispered.  "I just wanted to feel important."

Angelica smiled.  "In that case, I have an idea."  She wrapped one of her glittery gold wings around the littlest angel and held onto her tightly, as she made her way back to the top of the box.  "Stay with me," she instructed.  "I promise, you'll soon see just how important you are."

Finally, the day came when the hatch to the attic opened, and a torch illuminated the dark space.  A pair of big hands lifted up the box of decorations and carried it carefully down to the brightness of the front room, where the two daughters that lived in the house were gleefully dancing to Christmas music.

"Can we decorate the tree, now?!"  The girls cried, rushing towards the box.  The older girl opened it up and chuckled to herself.  "Hey, Sienna, look!"  She called to her sister.  "Angelica has a friend with her!"  She gently lifted Angelica out of the box, staring at the littlest angel, tucked safely under one wing.  "Do you remember this little angel?"  She didn't take the littlest angel away from Angelica, but gently pointed to her, smiling.

"Of course I do, Robyn," Sienna laughed.  "She's my angel!"

"She's as old as you are," Robyn confirmed.  "We got her on your first Christmas, when you were still a baby."  She pointed to the red tinsel, sticking out of the littlest angel's silver hair.  "That's from the time you tried to make her a hat out of tinsel, remember?"

Sienna giggled.  "And look how faded her smile is," she said.  "That's because a few years ago, I hung some chocolate coins on the tree and the fairy lights melted them."  She pointed to the littlest angel's face.  "She had chocolate on her mouth, as though she'd been eating the coins when there was nobody around, so I had to wash it off, didn't I?!"

As the sisters laughed over Christmases past, the memories began to flood back to the littlest angel, too.  Suddenly, she began to realise that Angelica had been right.  She had been a special part of their Christmases over the years.  Perhaps she was a lot more important than she thought!

"I think she and Angelica are friends," Sienna said, stroking Angelica's glittery golden wings.  "I don't want to separate them."

Robyn nodded in agreement.  "Let's keep them together."  She rushed into the kitchen and returned with a damp cloth.  "This little one's dress is all dusty, though," she said.  "I think we should clean her up and make her look as good as new."

Once the littlest angel had been scrubbed clean, she lay back in the box with Angelica, watching Sienna and Robyn as they danced around the tree, adding tinsel, fairy lights, baubles and all kinds of ornaments.  It looked so beautiful, the littlest angel wanted to sing.

Then, finally, the girls gently lifted Angelica and the littlest angel out of the box and placed them right at the top of the tree.  The littlest angel's chest swelled with pride, as she admired the view, feeling very important, indeed.  She finally realised that it didn't matter that she was little, or that her hair wasn't as shiny as it used to be and her smile was faded.  She looked that way because she had been loved over the years.  And suddenly, she knew that it didn't matter where on the tree she was; she was a part of the family's past, and as long as those memories stayed in everyone's hearts, she would be a part of many more Christmases to come.

And that made the littlest angel feel enormous.