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.


Saturday, 17 December 2016

How A Health Scare Put Things Into Perspective

Regular readers of this blog will know by now that I am weird.  I am also, therefore, an unashamed fan of weirdness in general.  However, I was not a fan of the weird events of this past Thursday...

I was having a fairly standard day, to begin with.  I was at work and had just finished my lunch.  I got up out of my seat, chatted with a work colleague for a few minutes, wandered back into the classroom, began writing something down and BAM:  I felt a sudden, excruciating pain in the left side of my back, shooting from my shoulder blade down to below my ribcage and extending into my side and chest.  It came from nowhere; I'd made no sudden movements, so I couldn't see how I might have pulled a muscle.  I had no explanation for the pain.  Then, I realised, as the pain began to steadily - and quickly - worsen, that I couldn't breathe properly.  Each time I tried to take a breath in, the pain would stop me from inhaling properly.

Working with children meant that I was very keenly aware not to worry them that anything might be wrong.  So, I disguised my gulps for air as yawns and various other daily occurrences, and I tried to talk in very fast sentences, using the little breath I had to say whatever I needed to.  Thankfully, a colleague quickly realised something was wrong and I darted out of the room to try to sort myself out.

I tried calling my GP's surgery, but just got an answerphone message, saying that they were closed for lunch (more on that later).  Then, following a garbled phone call to my Mum (not because she's a health care professional, but because by this point, I was panicking and my eyes were on the verge of leakage), I rang NHS Direct.  After explaining my symptoms - and doing that ever so British thing of talking said symptoms down and apologising for time-wasting - I found myself sitting in the office at work, waiting for an ambulance.

Sadly, the paramedic did not sing this.  
Which hurt almost as much as the original pain.

Less than twenty minutes later, a First Response car arrived, driven by a very lovely paramedic named Andy.  Andy took all my obs and listened to me apologising for wasting his time (seriously, I am so British).  He asked how my general health had been recently, so I told him about my never-ending cold (you can watch my attempts to cure said cold here) and about the month of stress I've had.  My heart rate seemed normal, my blood pressure was low (which is normal for me) and I didn't have a temperature.  He decided to perform an ECG and that was when we suddenly discovered that the crushing pain and breathlessness almost evaporated completely when I leaned back or lay down.

"Great!" I thought.  "I'll just spend the rest of my life leaning back and I'll be dandy!"

Unfortunately, Andy the paramedic wasn't so thrilled about this discovery, as it turns out that this symptom can be indicative of either Pericarditis (an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart) or a Pulmonary Embolism.

Here's a little fact about me: Turns out that, no matter how stressful life has been over the last month and no matter how many trivial - and not-so-trivial - worries I may have about my current existence, I bloody love being alive.

I heard those two potential diagnoses and I won't lie; I started wondering whether my Mum would remember that I've always wanted Design For Life by the Manic Street Preachers played at the end of my funeral.

1. Yes, I know I am a drama queen.
2. To my fellow Whovians: I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry.

Andy the paramedic decided to first of all phone my GP's surgery.  It was now only five minutes before the end of their lunch hour.  And, despite being told that he was a paramedic with a patient and that he needed to speak to someone, the receptionist still told Andy to call back after lunch.




Yes, I know he could have just driven me to hospital, but the point was that the hospital was a good forty five minutes away, whereas the surgery was less than fifteen.  At that point, I took a break from mentally watching an Emma Tofi version of It's A Wonderful Life (quit judging me) and began an internal rant about the surgery (which quickly became an external rant, which Andy joined in with, once he'd put the phone down).  And, given that you guys know how much I love a damn good rant, I will be repeating most of it, before this blog is finished.  But first, on with the story...

Today, the role of my inner drama queen will be played by Ted Mosby.

Once five more precious minutes of doctor lunch break had passed, Andy called the surgery back and was put through to an actual GP.  At this point, I want to say that the GP who dealt with my case was lovely and incredibly thorough and reassuring.  He wasn't convinced that I needed immediate hospital treatment and suggested that I was taken home to lie down, before having an appointment at the surgery a couple of hours later.  

As I lay in my bed that afternoon, I pondered many things.  I worked out how much money I'd lost from January's pay packet, as a result of being taken ill.  I cursed the fact that I had left my glasses in my car at work, and therefore couldn't watch the latest Dan & Phil video (priorities, guys...).  But most importantly, I started to realise how tiny the problems in your life become, when your actual life itself is considered.  You see, by this point, I no longer thought I was dying, but I was pretty sure something bad was going on.  Every time I sat up to drink some water, the pain and the breathlessness would come rushing back and lying back down was the only way to get relief.  That... Well, that didn't seem right.

And all I could think about was how much time I've spent, recently, worrying about things I can't change.

I can't suddenly have loads of cash.  But I can save as much money as I can afford to, and work harder on my blogging and YouTube videos, in the hope of securing additional income.

I can't magically have a husband and kids.  But I can put myself out there and remind myself that my life can be full without them, if it comes down to that.

I can't make people treat me with honesty, respect and consideration.  But I can know when they're not doing so and walk away with my head held high.

I can't eradicate all stress from my life.  But I can change the way I deal with it.

I made a vow, right there and then, to stop sweating the small stuff quite as much as I have been.  It's a cliche, but life is fragile and it can be short, so why waste it on negativity, regret and pointless drama?!

Although, she probably doesn't need it, either.

Fast forward a couple of hours and I was at the surgery, being checked over by my GP (who, I must stress again, was great - I am stressing this, because I'm gonna go on a rant about the surgery later, so...stay tuned).

I went incredibly light-headed at one point and was quickly taken to lie down in a side-room.  There, I was injected with blood-thinners, directly into my stomach (exactly as pleasant as it sounds), just in case I did have a P.E (clot).  An appointment was made for me to go to hospital for further tests, first thing the following morning.

At the hospital next day, after chest x-rays, blood tests (AAAAAAAAAAARGH, I HATE THOSE SO MUCH) and another ECG, it was with enormous relief that each of the big, nasty things (Pulmonary Embolism, Pericarditis, Pneumonia and other things beginning with P) were all ruled out.

A fantastic Acute GP at the hospital reassured me that whilst "some people are puzzles, and some puzzles don't ever get solved" (meaning I was a bit of a medical enigma, but I rather liked it as a general musing on humanity), he was fairly sure that I had somehow twisted a nerve somewhere in my chest, and that I was free to go home (although he also pointed out that my symptoms could be indicative of Shingles and that I should look out for a rash developing in the coming days).  Cue me apologising yet again for "wasting precious NHS time," only to be told that I was doing no such thing.

And at this point in the proceedings, I would like to write something of a love letter...

If I was living in America, just having the response car called out to me would have cost a minimum of $200.  Add on the tests and treatments I had and you're left with one pretty hefty total bill, which could easily run into thousands.  Yet, here in the UK, the only things Mum and I paid for were hospital parking and a couple of drinks and slices of cake, whilst we were waiting for the results of all my tests.  Every single one of those tests, every minute I spent with a nurse (shout-out to the amazing Dawn) or doctor was completely free.

As. It. Should. Be.

We are so lucky to have free health care in this country.  We are so incredibly fortunate to know that we can afford to be taken ill.  As Aneurin Bevan, founding father of the NHS once put it: "No society can legitimately call itself civilised, if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means."

And every single member of NHS staff I met was incredible.  From the paramedic who took the time to carry my handbag from the car to my front door, to the nurse who had given up the previous thirty Christmases, in order to help the sick.  From the GP who took the time to reassure me on Thursday evening, to the Acute GP who somehow managed to make me laugh and be utterly lovely when I was in pain on Friday morning.  Nobody let the side down.  They were all amazing people, doing amazing jobs in difficult circumstances.  

Because, mark my words, the NHS is in crisis.

I heard stories of shifts ending at 8, yet staff not being able to go home until 11.  I was told tales of staff shortages, budget cuts and the huge worry of privatisation.  Staff who'd worked in the NHS their entire adult lives told me, with their faces pale, that it was changing beyond recognition.  That it was changing for the worse.

And we cannot accept that.  To quote Nye Bevan again, the NHS "will last long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it."

We have to be those folk.  We have to fight for our NHS, with every scrap of energy we can muster.  Because there can be nobody reading this in the UK, who doesn't know someone whose life has been saved by our National Health Service.  There can be nobody reading this in the UK who can't think of times when they themselves have received treatment at a GP's surgery or a hospital, which they have not had to pay a penny for.  Imagine allowing an illness to go untreated, because you're frightened about how much it'll cost, or that your insurance won't cover it.  Health care that is free at the point of delivery should be a right, not a privilege.

I am passionately proud of our NHS.  It has saved the lives of many of my loved ones.  It has eased the final days of others.  It has been there for me, not just this week, but many times over the years.  And that is why I will fight for it.  It is also why I become so angry when I don't feel it's living up to its promise of proper patient care...


Doctors work hard.  They deserve breaks.  But the paramedic who attended to me on Thursday was shocked that my surgery turned him away because there were "five minutes left of lunch break."  I, on the other hand, was not.

Sadly, my surgery, Wadebridge & Camel Estuary Practice - a place I've been registered with since I was 16 years old and somewhere I associate with a very high quality of care - has changed, recently.  They have implemented a "call back" service, meaning you can no longer either phone up and get an appointment, or go online and book one in advance.  Instead, you have to ring the surgery, speak to a receptionist about your personal medical issues and wait for a GP to call you back as and when they see fit.  This call may come half an hour later.  It may come several hours later.  And even if/when the GP phones you back, they may very well decide not to see you at all.

How is that providing proper patient care?  When my mother was hugely worried that her knee had become swollen and painful to walk on earlier this year, she rang the surgery.  She was not called back for almost six hours and, when she did get a call, she was not invited to the surgery so that anyone could actually see her swollen knee.  She was just told "I'll refer you for an x-ray."  No reassurance.  No real human interaction.  Mum is lucky; she does not live alone and is not elderly.  But what if she was?  What if going to see the doctor would have been the only human contact she had all day, and now, thanks to this ludicrous system, she would have seen nobody at all?  What about people who are hard of hearing and find it easier to speak to someone face to face?  What about shift workers like myself, who may phone up in the morning, because they're working in the afternoon, only to not receive a call back from a doctor until several hours later, when they're not around to take it?!  It would appear that the system is supposed to weed out "time-wasters" and free up doctors who can then see more needy patients, but it's flawed, because even the paramedic who treated me, admitted that he wouldn't want to have to call the surgery for himself anymore, because their system was so off-putting.  I have seen my family members and friends struggle with viruses, pains and other ailments in the months since this system was put in place, because they don't want to have to explain their problems to a receptionist and then potentially wait for the rest of the day for a call-back that may never lead to them actually getting to see a doctor.  Frankly, that is not patient care and it's not good enough.

Why yes, I HAVE been binge-watching How I Met Your Mother, recently...

And so, I came to realise that as well as my health scare putting my own problems into perspective, it also gave me a fresh perspective on our NHS system, too.  It needs - deserves - better funding, protective measures for staff working a ridiculous number of hours a week, development of treatment centres in rural areas and a higher number of staff entering the system, to reduce the pressure on those already working within it.  And we - you, me and everyone around us who uses the NHS and relies on that free health care - need to stand up for it.  Demand that positive changes are made for patients and staff.  Demand that we never, ever lose it.

As for me, I'm on the mend, now.  I was sent home with a prescription for seriously strong painkillers, which I never actually picked up, because I'm a bad ass with a high pain threshold, clearly.  I'm determined to remember those few minutes of terror that I felt, when I thought something dreadful was wrong, so that the next time I get upset about some trivial problem, or some nastiness directed at me on social media, I am able to recognise it for the tiny, insignificant thing it truly is and just get on with the far more important business of actually living my life and making it the best it can possibly be.

It's funny how it takes these things to put life into perspective, sometimes.  Now that I see things much more clearly, I am making a promise to myself to keep my eyes wide open from now on.

Life is short.  Every moment we have should be cherished.  Let go of the negativity, walk away from the hate and squeeze every last moment of brilliance out of your existence.  

And fight for the health care system that allows you to live at all.

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. ;-)


Friday, 9 December 2016

What Did 2016 Teach Me?

So, here we are, with just over three weeks left of 2016.

Don't pretend you're not glad.

Being an analytical kind of person, I like to look back over events and work out whether I gained any important life lessons from them, which I can then carry forwards.  With that in mind, I thought now would be the perfect time to look back over this horror show 2016 and see what lessons I gained this year...

1) I have opinions.  And I will voice them.

Look, this year has been a big one, politically.  And whilst a lot of people are out there, celebrating Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, many of us are doing the exact opposite.  Now is not the time for an epic rant about how I feel regarding those two things (although you can read my thoughts on Brexit here and my two cents on Donald Trump here). but my massive reaction to both events proved to me beyond all doubt that I'm someone who has passionate views on the political and social landscape, and my gut reaction was to want to share those views, by writing them down.  I didn't just write them here, either.  I used my social media accounts to have my say, as well.  Someone told me, over on Facebook, that perhaps I should stop talking about it all, because I wasn't going to change anything by doing so.  And that went down about as well as a lecture on consensual BDSM given by EL James.  Because, no, guys.  Nobody gets to tell me what I should or shouldn't say on my own social media.  If 2016 taught me one major thing with regards to my opinions, it's that I am comfortable with sharing them and defending them.  And in the face of increased racial tension and a higher level of division in the Western world as a result of both Brexit and Trump (Trumpit? Trexit?  Brump?!), I will shout about the importance of equality, tolerance and respect as loudly as my lungs will allow.  Always.

For real.

2) It is NEVER too late to discover a new passion!

In March, I started making YouTube videos.  It's now a weekly thing, where I upload a new video every Sunday at 6pm GMT and I am obsessed with it.  

I won't go into too much detail, because I've written about my newfound love of being a YouTuber already on this very blog, but suffice to say, I discovered something I absolutely adore this year and I am so, so grateful to everyone who told me to give it a go and to everyone who has subscribed to my channel and who watches my ridiculousness each week.  If you haven't ever given one of my videos a watch, you'll find I'm somewhere between being a vlogger and being a general idiot who intends to talk about a particular subject, but ends up donning stupid outfits and filming silly sketches to break up the monotony of my own voice.  That's literally the best way I can describe what I do on YouTube...  

I love it.  I literally could not love it more.  I love every second of the process; from making notes about what I want to say and do that week, to actually getting in front of the camera and filming, to editing it all together.  I.  Am.  In.  Love.

If you're interested, my latest video is here, by the way *plug*:

Yeah, I always look that sexy on camera.  I'm just lucky that way.

Another thing I tried for the first time this year, was archery.  I fully expected to be rubbish at it, and... Well, I kind of was.  But I had loads of fun discovering that I wasn't very good at it; so much so, that I've done it twice more since my first attempt and I'm planning my fourth go before the year is out.  

It turns out that you don't even have to be good at something, in order to take a huge amount of enjoyment out of it.  Who knew?!

Bottom line: ALWAYS TRY NEW THINGS!  If we're taking life-lessons from 2016, that's got to be a personal biggie.

3) Turns out I'm not completely unattractive to the opposite sex... I just can't pick 'em very well.

So says my online dating profile...

I don't often talk about my romantic life on this blog, because... Well, it's largely fictional.  I mean, obviously in my head, I'm married to Phil Lester, but in actuality, I am more flipping single than Bridget Jones ever was.

But, this year, I've had a couple of reminders that I'm not quite as horrendously unappealing to the opposite sex as my state of perpetual singledom would have me believe.  

I got serenaded in July.  Me.  Serenaded.  By a guy in an actual band.  

I had a flirtation with someone recently that seemed to be heading towards something actually happening (I KNOW - I DID NOT KNOW HOW TO COPE) until it turned out... Well, yeah.  Nothing came of it and he's now all loved up with someone he failed to tell me he was interested in, whilst being all flirty with me.  Feel free to insert an insult of your choice, here, whilst dramatically rolling your eyes and tutting "men," if you like.  It would seem that I still don't have a great radar for spotting guys who are only leading me on.  I need to work on that...

I joined a dating site (I'm still not sure why, because it hasn't changed since I was last on one and hated it) and had enough messages to make me think that maybe I'm not going to end up a dried out old husk.  I haven't found "The One," but you know what?  I'm still open to the idea that I'm going to, someday, somehow.  I haven't given up, just yet.

And if all else fails, there's still Phil...


3) My friendship circle has widened!

I realised this year that I know some seriously awesome people.  I work with people who I want to hang out with, outside of office hours.  I reconnected with my childhood best friend and we've had a whale of a time, getting to know one another all over again and making up for the time we've spent apart (to the extent that we're off on holiday together for New Year!).  And I've definitely been more open to chatting to new people and being more confident in new social situations.  Sometimes, you have to step out of your comfort zone and you never know what it will lead to, after all.

And of course, there's an important constant in my life, in terms of friends.  My bestie is still my bestie.  

4) I've realised the importance of openness.

I've talked a lot on my blog about having been in an abusive relationship and how it affected me.  One of the big things that has changed about me, in the five years since, is the way in which I handle my relationships - of all kinds.  I need honesty.  I need people to be honest and open with me.  Sure, I am also a sensitive little thing and I don't want tactlessness, but neither do I want anyone keeping things from me.  If you need to tell me something, tell me.  I've realised, this year more than ever, that I am able to tell people how I feel.  If I think the world of you, I will tell you.  If I feel I've done something wrong and I want to apologise, I will say sorry.  But - and this is the crucial bit, because this is the bit I never felt able to do in my abusive relationship - if you hurt me, or treat me in a way that I feel is unfair, I will call you on it.  Not in an aggressive, horrible manner.  But I will tell you how you've made me feel.  Because honesty is the only way forwards in any kind of relationship.  I will be honest and open with the people in my life and I need to know I will receive complete honesty in return. 

5) My glass remains half-full.

So, this year has seen some sucky things happen around the world.  It's seen some horrible things happen in my own life, in the last few weeks.  And I've felt angry, sad and, at times, completely dejected.

Then, I've given myself a bit of a shake and a stern talking to, and I've realised that, whatever has happened, I still believe in better things happening in the future.

I'm not sure how I became such an optimist, or why I remain one, in the face of so much evidence to the contrary, but the cap still fits, so I'm still wearing it.

I may be 34, single and living in my parents' house, because I'm so broke.  I may be going through some unbearably nasty personal stuff, lately.  I may be shocked and appalled by the growing number of outspoken Alt-Right Nazis popping up all over the place, recently.  But I believe in better.  I believe in the power of good over evil.  I believe in love.  And I always will.

6) I am much more confident than I give myself credit for.

I firmly believe in trying new things and pushing myself out of my comfort zone.  In some ways, that was what starting my YouTube channel (well, I started it years ago, but you know, actually making videos) was about.  But I don't give myself enough credit for the confidence I've been quietly growing over the last few years.

There was an incident in my life several months ago, that would once have reduced me to a quivering wreck.  Instead, I handled it.  I was scared and outnumbered, but I held my ground.  Afterwards, someone who'd seen it happen told me they'd "almost wanted to cheer," when they saw how confidently I'd defused the situation.

I've realised I'm pretty good at handling myself, when I find myself in hot water.  I've learned that I may be small, but that doesn't mean that I can be walked over.  

And having confidence in that aspect of my life has bled into others.  I will talk to strangers far more confidently, nowadays (although if there are any kids reading this, don't talk to strangers, obviously...).  I can walk into a room where I don't know anyone and sure, I'll be terrified and nervous, but I can handle it.

Not bad for the shy, short kid with unmanageable hair, who barely dared to put her hand up in class, once she got to secondary school...

7) I've realised some loves are here to stay.

I am counting down the days until the Christmas special of Doctor Who.

I am already wondering when the Manic Street Preachers will tour again (despite having seen them twice this year).

I am gazing lovingly at my Dan & Phil advent calendar as I write this.

Yeah, some things inspire me, entertain me and just make me happy.  And those things are going nowhere.


8) But I've come to accept that sometimes, situations - and people - change.

Sometimes, in the words of Take That,  Everything Changes.  

It might be that people grow apart and find they no longer have much in common.  It could be that a place you always hung out at, closes down and a time in your life is lost to the past.  Perhaps you fall out with someone and it gets so nasty that there's no going back.

Sometimes, things change in your life and it feels like the end of the world, only for it to turn out that new, better opportunities are waiting as a result.  Other times, something changes - a relationship breaks down, a job is lost etc - and it really is just something bad that you have to deal with.  Either way, you'll eventually reach a point at which you can try to take a lesson or two from the situation.  That sounds trite and perhaps even a little holier-than-thou, but I really do think that when life throws you a curveball - as it has me, a couple of times this year - the best thing to do is deal with it, grieve and go through the pain of it (if it's a negative change), then try to learn something from it, if you can.   I'm not saying that everything happens for a reason, because sometimes bad stuff just happens.  Relationships end, financial crises take place, people you trusted hurt you...  It would be gross of me to turn to someone who's just lost everything and shrug "oh, everything happens for a reason!"  So, no, not everything does happen for a reason.  But, in time, you can try to learn from every situation you go through.

Sometimes, when situations change unexpectedly, you learn what sort of person you are.  You learn how resilient you can be and how easily you can adapt.  And, in the case of really negative changes that arise from bad situations, you may very well learn what you will and won't tolerate in your life, and what kind of people you want - need - to surround yourself with, whilst you rebuild your world.   All of those lessons can serve to make you stronger, however much an unexpected change may knock you for six at the time.

Sometimes, things change back for the better, and the damage of a negative situation can be undone.  Sometimes, that doesn't happen, and your life goes off in a different direction to the one you expected it to take.  Either way, it's not selfish to put yourself first when you're being hurt by a situation or the people in it.  If you genuinely can't see a way to fix the problem, you can only try to fix yourself, after all.  

I guess what I'm saying is, occasionally, life will take a turn that you definitely weren't expecting.  You'll find yourself in a place you never thought you'd end up, perhaps without someone you thought you'd always have around.  And that can be frightening, confusing, upsetting and a whole heap of other, negative "ing" words.

But you'll have you.  That's the one constant you'll have throughout your life.  So, be the sort of person you want to have on your side.  And be honest about that; ask yourself whether the way you're behaving in a situation is the way you would want someone else to behave towards you, if they were on your side of it.  No matter what's thrown at you, rise above the bad and build a world for yourself to live in, that you are happy with.  Whatever - and however long - it takes.  

Thanks, Doctor.

So, I guess it's been a year of ups and downs in many ways, but I've taken everything I can from all that 2016 has flung at both me and the wider world, and I've hopefully taken on board some major life lessons that I can carry through to 2017 and beyond.  And I'd like to think I've grown as a result.

Sadly, just not in height. 😉