Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Bedtime Story (28/6/2017)

I know that I really need to clear out the space under my bed.  And the thought of that task was so dull, that I figured I'd write a silly story about it, instead!

Want to listen to this story?  Then click for the podcast!

Under Billie's Bed

Billie wasn't the tidiest girl;
Her room was always a mess.
But she seemed to get it cleaned up rather fast,
Which one day, led her to confess:

"I just shove everything under my bed.
It's the best way to keep it from view.
If you had an easy way to hide your mess,
Isn't that what you would do?!"

Mum and Dad were not impressed
And they issued a stern reply:
"It's time to sort out the mess under your bed!"
So Billie headed upstairs, with a sigh.

As she knelt on the floor, Billie wondered:
"Just what am I going to find?"
And it wasn't long before she was pulling out
Objects of all shapes and kinds!

There seemed to be endless socks,
No two of which were the same.
There were dusty books and DVDs,
Photo albums and boardgames.

And the more things Billie found,
The stranger they seemed to get.
"I'd better clear out everything," she thought.
"Or my parents will be upset."

So, out came a one-legged doll
And a lollipop covered in fluff.
Out came a dirty dinner plate,
All covered in crumbs and brown stuff.

Out came a dusty recorder,
Billie didn't even know how to play.
And out came a handful of sweet wrappers
And a crumbling ball of dried clay.

Billie found shoes, scarves, hats and gloves,
Plus sunglasses and suncream, too.
She found a leaky old colouring pen
That had turned a patch of her carpet blue.

She found t-shirts that hadn't fitted for years,
Old school books whose pages were full.
She found badges, buttons and rubber bands
And a big, tangled ball of green wool.

There were scrunched up dirty tissues,
And coins scattered all over the floor.
There were dozens of dead batteries
And even an old apple core.

Missing wheels from toy cars,
Random jigsaw puzzle pieces...
Billie even found an old school Summer dress,
All covered in dust and creases.

Billie found pens that didn't work,
And a tube of glue that was no longer sticky.
Finding new homes for all of this junk
Was going to be rather tricky...

But Billie managed it - just about!
Most of the stuff went in the bin.
It took a while, but finally:
"My room's clean!" Billie said, with a grin.

"Isn't it nicer to keep your room tidy?"
Mum and Dad both said with a smile.

"Let's see if you can keep it this neat,
At least for a little while."

But before Billie could go downstairs,
She spotted her school bag, with dread.
"Oh, I know how to tidy that," she grinned...

...And she tossed it under her bed.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Bedtime Story (21/6/2017)

Every now and then, I get challenged to write a story on a particular subject.  This week, my Dad gave me a title for a story and told me to just "go with it."  That title was "Muffin The Puffin."  And here's the story...

If you'd prefer to listen to the story, just click here for the podcast!

Muffin The Puffin

Muffin was fed up.  Every day, he floated in the sea with all the other puffins; bobbing up and down on the waves, before diving down to catch fish to eat.  Every day, he went for his evening flight with all the other puffins; soaring through the sky, as the sun began to set.  And every day, Muffin wished he felt less like just another one of the burrow.

Muffin looked just like everyone else.  His chest was white, his legs and feet were orange and his wings were black.  His beak was striped with vivid colours, but so was everyone else's!  Muffin was tired of fitting in.  He wanted to stand out!

So, one morning, whilst all the other puffins were gathered on the rocks, chatting amongst themselves, Muffin snuck off, into the bushes beyond.  There, he grabbed leaves and flowers and stuck them amongst the feathers on his wings, until he looked very different.  Instead of being black like everyone else's, Muffin's wings were green, blue, pink and yellow, with lots of pretty flowers on display.  He marched back down to the rocks, feeling rather pleased with himself.

But, when he arrived, Muffin's best friend Tiffin eyed him suspiciously.  "What on Earth have you done that for?"  Tiffin asked.  "You look ever so strange..."

Muffin shook his wings proudly.  "I want to stand out," he replied.  "I'm bored of being like everyone else."

Before Tiffin could reply, there was a cry from a puffin down by the water's edge.  "There are seagulls coming!  Quick, get into the sea and dive down as far as you can!"

All of the puffins began leaping into the water and disappearing below the surface.  Muffin and Tiffin followed, but to his dismay, as Muffin splashed into the sea, the leaves and flowers in his wings began to come unstuck and started floating away.  By the time he'd dived safely below the water, Muffin looked just like all the other puffins, again.

When he came up to the surface again, Muffin wasn't very happy.  "Look at me," he groaned.  "All my flowers are gone!  How am I supposed to stand out, now?!"

All of the puffins headed back to the island, carrying fish to feed to the puffin chicks, who were warm and safe in their burrows.  When everyone was back on dry land, they began feasting on what they had caught.  Everyone, that is, except for Muffin.

"I don't eat fish, anymore," he said, with his beak in the air.  "I only eat... Um... Seaweed."  To prove a point, Muffin grabbed a piece of seaweed that had floated onto the rocks and put it straight into his mouth.  He pulled a face; it didn't taste very nice.

"Are you sure you don't want any fish?"  Tiffin asked.  "There's plenty to go around!"

Muffin shook his head.  "I'm fine with my seaweed," he insisted.

The sky began to grow dark and Muffin was hungry and fed up.  He wanted to stand out, but trying to be different didn't seem to be working.  He plodded off over the rocks, until he came to a squelchy, muddy area that he hadn't visited, before.  The mud was thick and oozy; suddenly, Muffin had an idea.  He would certainly stand out, if his white feathers weren't white, anymore!  And so, Muffin jumped into the mud and rolled around, allowing his fluffy white chest to turn a murky brown.  His wings, legs and head were soon coated with sticky mud, too.  Muffin was thrilled!  Okay, he didn't look as pretty as he had with flowers in his feathers, but he definitely stood out, now.

But when Tiffin saw her friend, she was horrified.  "What have you done now?!"

"Made myself look different to everyone else," Muffin said, proudly.

Tiffin rolled her eyes.  "Well, there's no time to talk about it now," she said.  "Everyone's heading off on the evening flight.  Are you ready to go?"

Muffin nodded.  He watched as the other puffins soared into the sky with ease.  He flapped his wings, but... Nothing seemed to happen.  The mud on his feathers was hardening and he suddenly felt like he was weighed down and unable to take off!

"Tiffin!"  He called, but Tiffin had already flown away and could no longer hear him.  Muffin stared helplessly into the sky, feeling terribly sorry for himself.  He managed to waddle to the water's edge, where he splashed and rolled in the sea, until the mud slowly began to wash from his feathers.  

Whilst he lazed in the water, Muffin spotted some fish and realised how hungry he was.  He ate dinner by himself and, by the time he'd finished, he was perfectly clean, again.  

Gazing up towards the other puffins, Muffin began flapping his wings and soon, he was well on the way to catching up with his friends.

"Tiffin!"  He called, flying as fast as he could.  "Wait for me!"

Tiffin glanced over her shoulder.  "Oh, thank goodness," she said.  "You look like a puffin, again!"

Muffin sighed.  "Yes," he agreed.  "I'm back to being just like everyone else."

Tiffin chuckled to herself.  "Don't be silly," she told him.  "Today just proved how different you can be!  Being different or standing out doesn't have to be about the way you look, or the things you do or don't eat.  It's about being you."

Muffin frowned.  "But... When I'm me, I'm the same as everyone else, aren't I?!"

Tiffin smiled.  "We're all different," she explained.  "We all have our own thoughts, our own dreams and our own personality.  That's what makes you stand out from everyone else, Muffin!  Not only the way you look, but the way you are."  She grinned at him.  "You'll never be the same as everyone else, because there can only ever be one you."

Muffin beamed back at her.  Suddenly, he didn't want to cover his feathers with mud, or flowers, or refuse to eat fish ever again.  He was a puffin and he was proud to be.  Because whilst there were many, many puffins on his island, there was only one Muffin.


Friday, 16 June 2017

A Tale Of Two Cities

In the early hours of Wednesday 14th June, a fire broke out in Grenfell Tower, a high-rise block of flats in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea.  Whilst the death toll from the blaze currently stands at 30, fire chiefs have warned that this will almost certainly rise.

There are people taking to social media to say it's unseemly to politicise this tragedy.  That we shouldn't bring politics into the situation.

But many others - myself included - feel that it is a political matter.  For Grenfell Tower has come to symbolise the stark difference between rich and poor in not only our capital city, but the whole of the UK.  And that is a matter that must be addressed.

Just a few streets away from the ruins of the Grenfell Tower, you will find some of London's most expensive homes.  Many stand empty; owned by overseas millionaires.  The reality is that this area truly proves that London is, in many ways, a tale of two cities.

Those living in high-rise blocks all over the country, are frequently amongst the poorest in our society.  The ones for whom austerity measures have hit hardest.  And for too long, it has been these people who have felt abandoned by government, ignored by the state and belittled in the right wing media.

Not far away from the charred remains of Grenfell Tower, you'll find luxury apartment buildings, with penthouse suites.  Each of these gleaming high-rise towers will have sprinkler systems in place - since 2007, any new building above 30m tall must have them.  And yet, when these regulations came into fruition, they were not made retroactive, meaning that the many old tower blocks that dot our city landscapes, did not have them installed.  With many residents of 70s blocks such as Grenfell Tower being placed in their homes by local councils, it's hard not to see how jarring it must have been to watch newer, expensive apartments rising up - homes they could never dream of affording - with all modern safety equipment as standard, whilst they remained in blocks many had long feared were unsafe.

Indeed, just months before the tragedy took place, residents of Grenfell Tower voiced concerns over the safety of the block, warning that only a catastrophic fire, causing loss of life, would make anyone listen to them.

The Grenfell Tower Action Group had repeatedly contacted the Kensington And Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation - the group responsible for Grenfell Tower and other blocks like it - to demand further information as to what to do in a fire, as well as voicing concerns over safety issues with the building itself (including many worries relating to fire).  Each time, they appear to have been left feeling "disempowered" as a result of the KCTMO's inaction.

The KCTMO's failure to react to these legitimate concerns is especially distressing, given that in 2009, when a fire killed six people in South London's Lakanal House high-rise block, the coroner recommended that "providers of housing in high-rise residential buildings containing multiple domestic premises" should "consider the retrofitting of sprinkler systems."

In 2015, a fire at another KCTMO property, Adair Tower, caused London Fire Brigade to issue an Enforcement Order, compelling them to improve fire safety, having found them in breach of health and safety regulations.

It would appear so far that these warnings all went unheeded.  Some of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society were instead left at risk.

The cladding used in refurbishments to the Grenfell Tower (which finished only last year) was composed of a material banned in both the US and Germany, due to its fire risk.  We may not currently know what information was given about the cladding used, but we do know that flame-proof cladding for the building would have cost just £5000 more.  And we do know that the cheaper option was chosen.

Imagine that happening at a luxury apartment block.  The fact is, it almost certainly wouldn't.

Too often, the poorer you are, the fewer choices you have, in terms of accommodation.  The reality for far too many people is that housing is a case of getting what you're given, even if that roof over your head comes with a dangerously outdated boiler, faulty electrics, or no fire safety measures.

The state bears a responsibility to help the poorest in society and yet, too often, through austerity and right wing media bias that frequently demonises the worst off as "benefits-cheats" and "chavs," it is those very people who are still suffering the most.

Whilst London - and the UK - have come together as a community to support the many families who have lost everything as a result of the Grenfell Tower fire, there is still much to be done, by those higher up in government.

As residents of tower blocks all over the country begin to ask questions about the safety of their homes, and as the West London community rallies for justice for those lost in Grenfell Tower, it is time we realised just how stark the gulf between the richest and poorest in our society truly is.  And it's time we started refusing to accept anything but the highest safety standards in social housing and indeed all forms of rental property.

Because everyone has a right to feel safe in their homes, regardless of whether they own or rent.  Too many people in Grenfell Tower spoke out about their fears that their high-rise block was a fire risk just waiting to happen.  Tragically, they have been proven right.  Now, we must ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.

That means giving the poorest in society the voice that they have too often lacked, in the past.

The time to speak out is now.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Bedtime Story (14/6/2017)

I've been getting a bit political on Twitter recently, and one thing I've been thinking about a lot, is how too many people are quick to "other" anyone who is slightly different to them.  We all have differences - that's the beauty of the world - but at heart, humans have far more that link us than separate us.  

This story is also available as a podcast.

Delilah Is Different

There was something different about Delilah;
You might think she didn't fit in.
She never wore ribbons in her hair
And her school lunchbox was an Army tin.

No two days were ever the same for Delilah;
Sometimes, she would run and play.
But other times, she'd sit quietly with a book
And she'd read by herself all day.

Delilah liked different kinds of things.
Different music, TV shows and books.
And because she didn't like what everyone else did,
Delilah got some funny looks.

Delilah's Mum came from overseas,
And Delilah sometimes used different words.
She could talk in two languages
And she'd use whichever one she preferred.

Delilah ate different foods at lunchtime;
Things the other kids at school hadn't tried.
She'd often eat something mysterious,
Whilst the others ate burgers and fries.

Delilah believed in different things, too.
Her God had a different name.
Yes, Delilah stuck out like a sore thumb at school;
She was definitely not the same.

But here's the funny thing about Delilah:
She might seem different to you,
But Delilah had plenty about her
That was the same as everyone else, too.

Delilah once fell over in the playground,
And she had a bad cut on her knee.
The blood that came out of that cut was red,
Just like blood from you, or me.

And every night, Delilah slept in her bed,
Because like everyone else, she was tired.
And Delilah had plenty of favourite things,
And lots of people she admired.

Delilah could love and Delilah could laugh,
And Delilah would cry when sad.
Delilah could be well behaved,
And sometimes, she could be bad.

Delilah got hungry, angry or worried,
Just like anyone else does at times.
In fact, deep down, Delilah was like
Anyone you'll meet in your lifetime.

Delilah had things that made her stand out,
But that's fine - we are all unique.
If everyone dressed or talked the same,
The world might seem pretty bleak.

But in spite of all the things that made her different,
Delilah still did fit in.
Because her friends knew that differences didn't matter;
They were all the same, within.

And that's the thing to always remember,
Whether it's Delilah or some other name.
We all have plenty that makes us different,
But deep down, we are ALL the same.


Friday, 9 June 2017

Why I'm Allowing Myself To Be Hopeful...

When I walked down to my local polling station, yesterday, there was a queue waiting to go and vote.  After I'd popped a cross in the box on the ballet paper, I wandered into town and, as I approached another polling station, an enthusiastic lady asked if I was on my way to vote.  When I said I already had, she gave me a thumbs up.

A General Election is always a chance for the people to have their say, but yesterday, for the first time since I became of voting age, I felt a little sliver of hope that maybe, this was going to be an election that had the potential to bring about real change.

We've lived under Tory austerity for years.  We've witnessed our police force being cut and our NHS being decimated.  We were hurtling towards a hard Brexit that half the country definitely didn't want.  

And yet, there seemed to be hope.  There were opposition MPs standing up and saying "no, we want to offer an alternative."  There whisperings that young voters could, if inspired to vote in large numbers, sway the election result.  For me, a Liberal voter, there seemed a real possibility that we could unseat our current Tory MP and return to our previous Lib Dem one.  And Jeremy Corbyn was out, meeting the electorate and holding enormous rallies, whilst Theresa May was... Well, hiding from public debates, to put it bluntly.

But, despite that sliver of hope, the polls seemed to be suggesting another Tory majority was almost inevitable.  Theresa May, having called what was essentially a vanity election, looked on course to get her much-wanted/needed "mandate" to take the country through a hard Brexit and continue snipping away at services.

I wasn't planning on staying up too late to watch the election results.  To be honest, the thought of seeing Tory win after win was too depressing.  But I figured I had been vocal during the entire election campaign, so I may as well watch for a bit to see how it all went.  The plan was to be in bed by midnight.

Then one o'clock came.

Then two o'clock.

Three o'clock.

The thing is, from very early on, exit polls were predicting that Theresa May wasn't going to get the landslide she had initially expected.  In fact, the polls were predicting a hung parliament.  In other words, Theresa's unnecessary election had blown up spectacularly in her face.

I couldn't look away.  It quickly became a matchsticks-in-eyes, drinks-on-standby, glued-to-the-telly affair.

My only regret is not having snacks.  You don't know pain until it's 3am and you're desperately craving literally ANY kind of crisp.

By 4am, I had to admit defeat and go to sleep.  But, not before it become almost absolutely certain that neither the Conservatives or Labour were going to get a majority and that a hung parliament was now definitely going to happen.  Someone was either going to have to try to scrape by with a minority government, or form a coalition with someone else.

I won't lie; the Lib Dems' outright refusal to consider a coalition with Labour annoyed me, immensely.  They may be a traditionally centrist party, but their manifesto had far more in common with Labour's than the Tories' and it felt foolish to instantly rule it out.  But, at that point in the proceedings, I wasn't sure what the final numbers would be and whether Lib Dem support would even be enough, so I lay down, closed my eyes and tried to force myself to stop trying to work out what kind of coalition - if any - could force the Tories out.

When I woke up, it was to the news I had expected; the election had resulted in a hung parliament, the Tories were the biggest party, but had lost several seats, Labour had made major gains and we were now all just waiting to see what would happen next.

Now, call me naive, but a big part of me expected that what would happen next, would be Theresa May's resignation speech.

After all, this was a woman who had hid from public debates for the majority of her election campaign.  A woman who had called an unnecessary snap election, at a time when she was predicted a landslide and who had appeared shaky and obstinate when the polls predicting her majority started to slip in number.  A woman who had resorted time and again to cheap smears against her opponents, rather than providing real answers about the costing of her manifesto, or what exactly she wanted to achieve in her Brexit negotiations.  I shouldn't be shocked by that, seeing as Theresa May is a sock puppet for the soundbite: "Brexit means Brexit," "strong and stable," "No deal is better than a bad deal," but you know... Some answers would have been nice.

Now, we were watching as Tory MPs lost their seats to Labour, including in places such as Canterbury, which were assumed to be safe.  Theresa's snap election had surely proved to be her undoing?!

But... Nope.  

Instead, Ms Weak And Wobbly herself, insisted that she would be staying on as leader of the Conservatives and indeed, as Prime Minister.  She called up Northern Ireland's DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), with the aim of getting them to shore up her minority government and push them into majority territory.

Despite the DUP having an appalling track record on LGBT rights, women's rights, climate change and having the kind of links to terrorism that the Tories had insisted made Corbyn an unsuitable choice for PM, May was willing to climb into bed with them, in order to retain power.

She pootled off to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen for permission for form a government and then gave a genuinely stunningly arrogant victory speech, during which she never even mentioned how divided the country now is, the fact that she had lost her party's majority or the fact that she is (for now, at least) responsible for governing a country of people that showed by the election result, that they are not prepared to give her the mandate she wanted.  There was no mention of listening to opposing voices.  No humility.  In fact, given her speech, you'd be forgiven for thinking the Tories had won the landslide they were originally predicted.

So, why am I hopeful, in the face of all this?!

Okay, so this is a slight exaggeration...

Because the tide is turning, that's why.

By not giving Theresa May the blank cheque she was expecting, the country has said a firm "no" to a hard Brexit, to further austerity measures and to the chopping up and selling off of our NHS.

By voting for Labour's progressive, inclusive manifesto, for the many, not the few, the people are proving that they're aware that a change is needed.

By voting Labour in droves, despite the despicable smear campaign run by the right wing media, people are proving that it's us who control election results, not The Sun or The Daily Mail.  And they're proving that they will not have their hands forced by fear.

By voting in larger numbers than they have in years, the young people of this country have shown that the future could be brighter.  That they are politically aware, engaged and not prepared to accept a harsh, right wing agenda.

Theresa May's position is now surely untenable.  Her vanity has stripped the Conservative party of their majority and she is so unwilling to relinquish power, that she has cosied up to a party whose politics are wildly at odds with the majority of decent people in this country.  Even in the relatively unlikely event of her own MPs not staging a vote of no confidence in her, the people have very little confidence in her, now.  And when she is inevitably forced to step down, a new leader will not have been publicly elected and it is highly probable that there'll be another election long before the end of the five year term the Tories now want to serve.  And honestly?  I think, with the swell of support for their fairer and more inclusive policies, particularly from the young, Labour would win it.

I'm allowing myself to be hopeful, because this election has proved that your vote does count and that voting can make a real difference to the status quo.  I'm hopeful, because people are saying "hang on, no; we don't want a Tory/DUP coalition!"

Eventually, people's voices will just grow louder and louder until someone has to listen.  

Corbyn already has.  

If the Tories don't follow suit, they're signing their own death warrant.

And that makes me hopeful.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Bedtime Story (7/6/2017)

On the day that I'm writing this story, I'm currently awaiting a trip to the funfair with my friend and her son.  I'm a big kid when it comes to things like this; I love going on rides, seeing the stalls and having lots of fun!  So, this story seemed appropriate to write, today...

A podcast version of this week's bedtime story is also available by clicking here.

Tessie At The Fair

Tessie had barely slept on Friday night.  She was much too excited about what the next day was going to bring!  A few days earlier, a funfair had come to town and her parents had promised that on Saturday, they would take her there.  

Tessie had never been to a real funfair, before.  She'd heard lots about them and she'd seen pictures, but she had never been and she could hardly wait!  Mum had told her that there would be loud music, bright lights and lots of rides to try.  Dad had said that there would be a sweet smell of candy floss and popcorn in the air, and that she might even win a teddy on one of the stalls.  It sounded amazing!

On Saturday morning, Tessie washed, dressed and ate her breakfast quicker than she had ever done it, before.  She could hardly wait to get out of the house and go off to the fair.  Luckily, it wasn't too far to walk.  All the way there, Tessie was full of questions:

"What will the rides be like?  Are we going to eat candy floss?  Can we stay all day?!"

Tessie heard the funfair before she saw it.  She could hear people excitedly screeching and laughing.  There was thumping music, blasting.  Strange noises she'd never heard before echoed down the road.  And then there was the smell!  Tessie could smell hot dogs and fried onions.  Then, just as Dad had promised, she got a waft of something sweet, too.

Finally, the funfair came into view.  Tessie gasped; she'd never seen anything like it!  

Brightly coloured rides, with fluorescent lights and pretty painted pictures all over them, filled every space of the usually empty land.  There were rides that span, rides that swung, rides that went up and down and, right in the middle, a big, rectangular structure, with a metal floor and a grid-like ceiling, but with no walls.  On the metal floor, lots of shiny, glittery cars were being driven around by happy, laughing people.  They were bumping into each other and shrieking.

"Those are the dodgems," Tessie's mum explained.  "Some people call them bumper cars - you drive around and bump into each other.  It's lots of fun!  Would you like a go?"

Tessie began to frown, as she watched the cars whizzing around and bumping into one another.  Wouldn't it hurt, to crash your car into another one?  Wouldn't you get bumped around in your seat?  Suddenly, Tessie felt rather unsure.  She shook her head and didn't say a word.

"Alright," Dad said.  "Let's try something else.  What about the Chair-O-Plane ride?"  He gestured across to a strange carousel, with lots of chairs hanging from long, metal chains.  Tessie watched, as excited people clambered into the chairs and were strapped in, before the chairs rose up high into the sky and the top of the carousel started to spin, causing the chairs to swing round and round.

Tessie swallowed.  It looked rather high up.  And wouldn't all that spinning make you dizzy?!  Again, she quietly shook her head.

Suddenly, Tessie wasn't as excited about being at the funfair.  Everything looked scary.  The music was too loud and there were too many people.  She clung to her mum's hand and her feet seemed rooted to the spot.

"What would you like to go on?"  Dad asked, crouching down to her level.  "The swing boats?  The carousel?  The helter skelter?"

Tessie's lower lip began to tremble.  She could hear spooky sounds coming from a nearby ghost train and people were screaming on a ride where they were being spun round and round.  She blinked back at him and said nothing.  She almost wished she was safely back at home.

"You don't have to go on any of the big rides, if you don't want to," Mum assured her.  "Maybe just look at the stalls for a while, or like Dad said, try something like the helter skelter?"

Tessie frowned.  "What's a helter skelter?"

Dad pointed to a large, brightly painted tower, with a slide running around the outside.  "It's just a big slide," he explained.  "You climb up to the top of the tower, then you sit o n a mat and slide back down."  He smiled at her and gave her hand a squeeze.  "I can go with you, if you like?"

Tessie thought for a while.  She liked the slide at nursery school...  Maybe a bigger one wouldn't be so bad?  It did look very high up, though...

They began walking towards the helter skelter, with Tessie dragging her heels and feeling rather unsure.  When they got to the entrance of the tower, Dad turned to her.  "Shall we give it a try?"  

A friendly looking lady held out a mat, with little handles to hold onto.  It looked prickly; a bit like a doormat.  Tessie bit her lip.

"If you get to the top and you decide you want to go back down, that's fine," Mum assured her.  

In a very small voice, Tessie heard herself reply: "Okay."

It seemed like a very long climb up to the top of the tower.  Dad carried the mat in one hand and held onto Tessie's hand with the other.  The inside of the tower was dark and echoey; it made Tessie feel even more nervous.  When they finally reached the top, the shock of the fresh air hit Tessie's cheeks and made them all rosy.  She felt her breath catch in her throat; it really was very high up!  

"We can turn around and walk back down, if you like?" Dad promised.  "You don't have to go down the slide."

Tessie peered down the side of the tower.  At the bottom, she could see Mum, holding up her phone to take pictures.  She took a deep breath.  "I'll do it," she said.

She and Dad sat close together on the mat, and Tessie gripped onto the handles.  Dad counted to three, then pushed off down the slide.

The fresh air hit Tessie's cheeks again as they picked up speed.  Butterflies darted around her stomach as they rounded each bend.  Her eyes watered from the fast pace of the slide.  But, to her surprise, she found herself laughing.  It wasn't scary after all - it was fun!  Really fun!

When Tessie reached the bottom, she was grinning from ear to ear.  "That was amazing," she squealed.  "Can we do it again?!"

"Of course," Mum replied, giving her a big hug for being so brave.  "It's my turn to go on it with you, now!"

After that, Tessie stopped feeling frightened of the funfair.  She still felt like some rides were too big and scary for her, but she was determined to have as much fun as she could.  She laughed and shrieked as she and Mum crashed into Dad's car on the dodgems.  She felt like she was flying as she soared through the air on the Chair-O-Plane.  She picked the most beautiful horse to ride on the carousel.  She even felt brave enough to go on the ghost train!

By the end of the day, Tessie was very tired, but delighted.  She could hardly wait for the funfair to come back to town again.

When she went to bed that night, she fell asleep quickly and disappeared into a noisy, sparkly, exciting world that smelt like popcorn and candy floss.  She'd loved her day at the funfair.  She'd loved the dodgems, the carousel and the bouncy castle.  But her favourite ride would always be the helter skelter.


Sunday, 4 June 2017

Wonderful Wonder Woman!

I wasn't going to write this, today.  In the wake of yet another terrorist attack in the UK, I was worried that it might not be right to sit here and talk about a movie I went to see, yesterday.  But then, I realised that the message of that movie was one of strength, resilience, doing the right thing and above all else, love.

What better thing to write about, today?

I was nervous about seeing Wonder Woman.  Much had been said and written about this female-directed superhero movie; the first to feature a female superhero since Catwoman (many of the reviews for which were not kind).  The questions I kept seeing being asked were "can a woman superhero bring in the same kind of large audiences as males do?  And is she going to be a heroine that people get excited about?!"

The answer came to me before the film had even started.  As the lights were going down, a young man walked into the cinema, holding the hand of a little girl.  That little girl was probably only six or seven, but she was dressed up as Wonder Woman.  She sat transfixed throughout the movie and, at the end, rushed off down the road, with her superhero cape trailing behind her.

So, yes.  Wonder Woman is a heroine to be very excited about.  Not least because in Wonder Woman, women and girls finally have a superhero who is every inch as bad-ass as her male counterparts and the writers didn't feel the need to make her hyper-sexual, the way so many female characters in these kinds of films have been, over the years.

Instead, Diana (as she is known throughout the film) is strong, brave, fiercely principled, curious and determined.  She believes in love.  She fights for what she feels is right.  She is, in many ways, a pacifist, despite being a fearsome warrior; she fights only because she has to, and because she believes in a peaceful outcome as a result of her efforts.

Watching the film, I was reminded of how I felt as a teenager, when I first switched on Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  I was watching a powerful woman show herself to be every bit equal to any male hero, if not stronger.  I was watching a heroine who was witty, unwilling to be controlled or contained and who was utterly compelled to do the right thing.  It made me feel emboldened.  Strong.  It gave me hope.  It made me proud.

Gal Gadot was superb in the title role; her portrayal of Diana's innocence combined with her enormous emotional and physical strength, to make Diana a fully rounded character, whose story was entirely engaging.  You rooted for her from the very start, because you believed in her.

Chris Pine was warm and witty as Steve, the American spy who literally crashes into Diana's world and is instrumental in her discovering her true abilities, as he leads her into "the war to end all wars."

With genuinely beautiful cinematography, a rich script, full of humour and depth and a stirring score, Wonder Woman had me hooked from start to finish.

Most crucially, that finish featured Diana accepting her role as Wonder Woman being borne out of a belief in love and that good will prevail.  At times like this, Wonder Woman is exactly the heroine the world needs.

I want to be her when I grow up...