Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Bedtime Story (27/9/2017)

I'm not going to lie; I almost didn't use that gif, above.  Is it just me, or is Dumbo THE saddest Disney movie OF ALL TIME?!  That scene - you know the one, if you've seen the film - of Dumbo's mum rocking him through the bars of her cage breaks my heart.  I can't even talk about it without crying!  I literally can't watch the film because it upsets me too much.  So, the gif is my way of saying Dumbo is super cute and I love the character and it fits this story, but...  Please don't make me watch the film.  Aaaand after that long and rambling intro (this blog isn't called The Rambling Curl for nothing...), let's get onto this week's story, shall we?!

Click here for the podcast!

Harriet's Hiccups

Lunchtime started off perfectly normally.  Harriet ate peanut butter and banana sandwiches and shared a packet of raisins with her best friend, Tom, who always seemed to be hungry, even after he'd finished his own lunch.  Louisa and Leanne, the Dutton twins, had ham and cheese wraps and a bag of dried apricots.  And Jasper and his cousin Sam both had school dinners.  The friends all sat at the table together, eating, drinking, talking and laughing.  It was just the same as any other lunchtime.

They all finished their food and headed out to the school playground.  And that was where it started.

Harriet was just about to suggest a game of tag, when... "Hiccup!"

Tom giggled.  "You've got the hiccups!"

Harriet opened her mouth to reply, but all that came out was another hiccup.  She stared at her friends and waited.  Another hiccup came out.  Then another!  ""How do I - hiccup - make it - hiccup - stop?!"

Louisa rubbed her chin and scrunched up her face.  "I think you have to hold your breath."

Harriet took a gulp of air, then squeezed her mouth shut.  Her eyes started to widen and her cheeks turned pink.  Leanne shook her head at her sister, then turned back to Harriet.  "You can't hold your breath forever," she warned.

Harriet opened her mouth and all the air came out in a rush.  She sucked in another mouthful of air and let it out normally.  Her face slowly went back to normal.  "Phew," she said.  "That wasn't very - hiccup!"

"It didn't work!"  Tom exclaimed.  "She needs to try something else!"

Louisa shrugged.  "I already gave you my only idea," she told Harriet.  

Sam nudged Jasper with his elbow.  "Hang on," he began.  "Doesn't your dad say something about drinking water when you have hiccups?!"

"Oh, yes!"  Jasper nodded, remembering.  "But you have to do it backwards."

"Backwards?!"  Leanne shrieked, as Harriet went right on hiccuping.  "How do you drink something backwards?!"

Tom raced to the drinking fountain and took a plastic cup from the shelf nearby.  He filled it up and hurried back to Harriet.  "Here you are," he told her.  "See if you can drink this, er, backwards."

Harriet wasn't sure what she was supposed to do.  She tried sipping from the furthest side of the cup, but that only made her tip the water down her front.  She tried walking backwards whilst she drank, but that only made her cough.  "Oh," she grumbled, wiping her mouth.  "None of - hiccup - this is -hiccup - working!"

"Try standing on your head," Sam suggested.

"Standing on my - hiccup - head?!"  

Sam shrugged.  "Well, it doesn't seem any sillier than trying to drink water backwards..."

And so, Harriet did a handstand against the wall and Louisa and Leanne held her legs up.  "We'll count to ten, then you can come down," Leanne suggested.  "One, two..."

"Hiccup!"  Harriet groaned.  "This isn't - hiccup - working!"

She came out of her handstand and blinked for a moment, feeling dizzy.  "What else can I - hiccup - try?"  She asked.  "I don't want to hiccup for-hiccup-ever!"

Tom grinned.  "I know!  You're supposed to scare a person with hiccups!  That startles them and makes them stop hiccuping."

Sam frowned.  "So... How shall we scare Harriet?"

"She doesn't like spiders," Leanne reminded them, whilst Harriet carried on hiccuping.  "If she saw one, that would scare her."

But Harriet was not at all keen on that idea.  "I'd rather - hiccup - not see a spider, thank you - hiccup - very much!"

And so, Jasper told Harriet his favourite ghost story, instead.  The one about the headless lady in the long, grey dress.  But Harriet just thought the idea of a lady, floating around, carrying her head in her hands, was quite funny!  And she went right on hiccuping.

"We're all out of ideas," Tom sighed.  

"Leanne hasn't - hiccup - come up with an idea - hiccup - yet!"  Harriet replied.  "Please, think of - hiccup - something!"

Leanne blew out a long puff of air.  "Maybe you could just scream?"

Harriet gaped at her.  "Scream?!  That'll just - hiccup - hurt my throat!"

"Not if you shout words," Leanne suggested.  "Funny words.  Maybe you'll be so busy doing that, that the hiccups will go away?!"

Harriet blushed.  "I'll feel - hiccup - silly, shouting funny words on my - hiccup - own!"

Sam and Jasper grinned.  "We'll help!"  Jasper promised.  "I'll start: BOTTOM!"

Everyone giggled.  "I'll help, too," Tom cried.  "KNICKERBOCKERS!"

Louisa shrieked with laughter.  "What about made up funny words?"  She suggested:  "OOBLE BLOOBLE DOOBLE DOING!"

"FUBBLE WUBBLE!"  Leanne shouted, clutching her tummy as she chuckled.

"BOGIES!"  Yelled Harriet, howling with laughter.

For what seemed like ages, the gang carried on shrieking funny words - made up or otherwise - into the sky.  Everyone around them looked confused, but the friends were having a fantastic time!  In fact, they were laughing so much, they didn't even notice the bell ring for the end of lunch break.

As they all lined up to go back into their classroom, Tom nudged Harriet, gently.  "Hey, I haven't noticed you hiccuping, for a while?"

Harriet grinned.  "I think they're gone!"

"Wow,"  Tom gasped.  "So, Leanne's idea worked?!"

Harriet turned and smiled at her friends, as they stood in line, ready for the rest of the school day.  "You know, I think it might just have been having good friends to take my mind off it that really worked," she whispered.  "But I'll tell Leanne that it was her idea that did the trick."

Tom smiled back at her.  "You're a good friend," he said.

"You too," Harriet replied.  "Hiccup!"

"Oh, no!"  Tom cried.  "They're back!"

Harriet pulled a face.  "Just kidding!"  And with that, she darted into the classroom, with her giggling friends following close behind.


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Bedtime Story (20/9/2017)

This story may seem a little sad on the face of it, but I've never been one to shy away from dealing with some of the bigger subjects in life.  This week's story is all about love, loss and memories.

For the podcast version of this story, simply click here.

One Last Trip To Granny's House

Alice sat on the front doorstep of Granny Jane's house.

Or at least, it used to be Granny Jane's house.  Now, the rooms were empty of furniture.  All the pictures had been taken off the walls.  It looked bigger and smaller, all at the same time.  It was Granny's house, but... not anymore.

Alice gazed at the big "SOLD" sign in the front garden.  She didn't like it.  She wanted to run and tug it out of the ground and throw it away.  She wanted her Granny back.  She missed Granny Jane's cuddles.  Her funny stories.  The birthday cakes she made for Alice every year...

But the last few months, Granny Jane hadn't been very well.  When Alice and her mum came to visit, Granny would sometimes be in bed.  Other times, she'd be sitting in her favourite chair, very quietly.  She still gave brilliant cuddles, but Alice didn't want to squeeze her too hard.  It was almost as though she was frightened Granny Jane might break.

Alice sighed.  She was supposed to be helping her mum and Uncle Joe to do "a last little clean" of the house, before the new owners arrived to collect the keys.  But Alice didn't like walking around the house, now.  It was strange and sad being there without Granny.

"Alice!"  Her mum's voice seemed to echo along the empty corridor.  "I thought you were going to help wipe down the windowsills?"

Alice rested her chin in her hands.  Why should she clean the house, just so someone else's granny could move in?!

"Alice!"  The voice came, again.  "The new owners will be here, soon!"

Alice stuck out her lower lip and frowned.  She felt almost as though she couldn't move.  She wanted to guard Granny Jane's house.  She wanted to be there when the new owners arrived.  She needed them to know that someone very special had lived here, first.

Sure enough, before long, a blue car that Alice didn't recognise pulled into the large driveway, behind Uncle Joe's truck.  And to Alice's surprise, it wasn't a little old lady that climbed out, but a smiling man, no older than her dad.  A lady got out next, clutching a puppy in her arms.  And then, from the back of the car, a little girl who looked the same age as Alice, stepped into the sunshine.  But she wasn't smiling.  In fact, she looked downright miserable.

Alice rose to her feet, staring at the family.

"Hello!"  The lady called, waving at Alice.  "Are you Laura's daughter?"  She jogged over, still holding the puppy.  "I'm Isobel," she explained.  "We're picking up the keys today."  The puppy squirmed in her arms, desperately trying to escape.  Alice smiled in spite of herself.  Isobel grinned.  "This is Stanley," she chuckled.  "He's very friendly.  And house trained!"

Alice stroked Stanley's head for a while, then pointed into the house.  "Mum's upstairs.  You can go in, if you like."

Alice watched the man take a baby seat out of the car.  He unstrapped a gurgling little boy with tufty brown hair and lifted him up into his arms.  "Hi," he called to Alice, as he followed his wife into the house.

The little girl hung back, staying by the family's car.  Alice could hear her mum and Uncle Joe talking to the new owners and she felt sad.  It was really happening, now.  Granny Jane's house was going to belong to someone else.  Alice folded her arms across her chest and wandered down the driveway, until she was close to the other girl.  "Are you okay?"  She dug into her pocket.  "I've got tissues, if you need one?  You look like you're going to cry."

The girl shook her head and quickly wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.  "I miss my old house," she whispered.  "And my old school and my old friends."

Alice sighed.  "I miss my Granny," she replied.  "She used to live in your new house."

The girl sniffed.  "My Nanna and Grandpa live near here.  Mum keeps saying I can see them more, now we've moved."  She stared at her feet.  "But I really don't want to go to a new school."

"Are you going to the one in the village?"  Alice asked.  The girl nodded and Alice smiled.  "That's my school!  And you look my age.  You'll probably be in my class.  I'll look after you, if you like?"

The girl managed a smile.  "Thanks," she said.  "I'm Freya, by the way."

"My name's Alice," Alice told her.  "Don't you want to go into the house?"

Freya shook her head.  "No," she sighed.  "It's real, if I go in.  I really have moved to a new place and I really have left all my friends behind."

Alice raised her eyebrows.  "I didn't want to go inside, either," she confessed.  "If I did, Granny Jane would really be gone."  She sighed.  "It's a nice house, though.  I could show you around?  Maybe it won't be so hard if we do it together?"

Freya thought about it for a moment, then nodded.  "Okay."

Alice led Freya into the empty corridor, then through to the large, bare lounge.  "Granny Jane used to call this the sitting room," she said.  "I think because it has the sofa in it.  Or, it used to..."

"We've bought a new sofa for this house," Freya replied.  "It's purple!"

Alice grinned.  "Granny Jane's was this funny pinky colour.  And she had an armchair she liked to sit in and look out of the window, into the garden."

"It's a very pretty garden," Freya said, staring through the glass.  "The roses are really nice."

"Granny loved gardening," Alice explained.  "I used to help her, sometimes."   She sighed, remembering.  "Would you like to see the kitchen?"

The two girls wandered into the kitchen and Alice pointed at the old-fashioned oven.  "That's called an Aga," she explained.  "There's a modern cooker as well, but Granny loved using that, instead.  It kept the kitchen really toasty and warm."

"I wondered what an Aga was," Freya said, touching it, gingerly.  "Mum said it was the Aga that made her want the house."  She paused.  "She said my bedroom is already painted yellow, too.  That's my favourite colour."

"Oh!"  Alice smiled.  "The yellow room upstairs is where I used to sleep over, sometimes!  I can show you, come on!"

They dashed up the stairs, together and headed straight for the light and airy room.  "If you look out of the window, you can see the church on the hill," Alice told Freya.  "It sort of glows at night.  I used to think it was magic, but Granny Jane says there are special lights on the ground that come on at night to make it look bright."  She paused.  "I mean... She used to say..."

Freya squeezed her new friend's hand.  "You must really miss her."

Alice nodded.  "I do.  I can't believe she's gone."

Freya sighed.  "She's not really," she said, thoughtfully.  "When our old dog died, my Dad said he wasn't really gone, because I could still remember him.  That meant he would stay with me, forever."

Alice smiled.  "I guess that's true," she said.  "I'm always talking about Granny Jane, so I guess... She's always with me, in a funny way."

"Exactly," Freya smiled.

"You must really miss your old friends," Alice said, gazing at Freya.

"I do," Freya sighed.  "But... Mum says I'll make lots of new ones."

"And you've already made one," Alice beamed.

Freya grinned.  "I hope you don't mind me saying this, but... I'm really glad we're moving into your granny's old house.  If we weren't, I wouldn't have met you and you wouldn't have made me feel better about the whole thing.  And you're right.  This is a lovely house."

Alice smiled back at her.  "Actually, I'm glad you're moving into Granny Jane's house, too.  If someone else's grandma had moved in, it might have been too sad.  But Granny Jane would have loved to see a family living here, with kids playing in the garden."

"And you can still come to visit," Freya suggested.  "Then you can say you're still going to Granny Jane's house!"

Alice gave her a half-smile.  "It's not her house, anymore," she said, softly.  "This is the last time I'll visit Granny Jane's house."

Freya's smile disappeared and she stared at her feet.

"It's your house," Alice went on.  "So, when I come over, I'll be visiting my friend Freya's house."

Freya peeped back up at her, with a big grin on her face.  "Really?!"

"Of course," Alice nodded.  "Like you said, Granny Jane is with me all the time.  She doesn't just have to be in this house.  Besides, I've got so many memories in this house that it'll be kind of nice to add some new ones!"

Freya gave her a hug.  "Thank you for making me feel better!"

"Thank you for doing the same!"  Alice smiled.  "Hey?  Did your old house have a swing in the garden?"

Freya shook her head.

"You're going to love this one, then," Alice declared.  "Wait until I show you the one Granny Jane built for me, in the back garden.  It goes really high!"

And with that, the two new friends went rushing off outside, to start making new memories in Freya's new house.


Friday, 15 September 2017

Why Do Supermarkets Bring Out The WORST In People?!

There are certain places where you kind of expect a bit of bad behaviour.  A noisy bar after midnight, with a 2 for 1 drinks offer in progress, for example.  But I honestly think that one of the worst places for bad behaviour isn't a nightclub, or a school playground or anywhere else that might immediately spring to mind...

...It's the supermarket.

There's something about a trip to the supermarket that just seems to bring out the absolute worst in people.  Maybe it's the monotony of doing the weekly shop.  Perhaps it's horror at the price of loo roll.  I'm not entirely sure, but something definitely sets people off.

How do I know?  Because I've experienced it first hand.  

There's even a name for the bad behaviour seen in supermarkets: Trolley Rage.

Trolley Rage can encompass anything from pushing in front of someone else at the checkouts (which, here in Britain, is basically punishable by death), to making a dash for the last on-sale item on the shelf, before anyone else gets there.

For me, there are three major things in supermarkets that grind my gears.  And because I love to share, I'm going to tell you what they are.

The first one might be contentious, because I'm about to slag off a parenting technique and let's face it, I don't have kids (unless they're hiding under the bed or something and I just kind of... Forgot?  Maybe I should check...).

Look, mums and dads, I know that kids hate shopping.  It's a universally accepted fact.  And I am all for you picking up a punnet of grapes, or a packet of crisps for them to munch whilst you shop.  


Let's be really honest about it: if you don't pay for the random food item you've grabbed from the nearest shelf, in order to settle your bored toddler, you're stealing.  There's no other word for it.  And in doing so, you're sending your kid the message that that's okay.  Which it's not (even if you use the "but supermarkets make loads of money, they won't miss the cost of this bag of cherries" argument).

When I see parents grab a packet of something and let their little munchkin eat the whole thing, before shoving the now-empty packet into their bag when it comes to reaching the checkout, it makes me ever so slightly rage-y.

Just pay for the damn thing and then nobody has to get that weird pulsating vein in their forehead, okay?!

The second thing that really annoys me, is people with no apparent awareness of the fact that other people are shopping and might, you know, need to get stuff, or make their way through the aisles.

These are the kinds of people that leave their trolleys slap bang in the middle of a crowded aisle, or who casually prop them against an entire display, blocking it from anyone who might want to take something off the shelf.  These are also the people who stand for what feels like a thousand, million years, trying to decide between supermarket juice or a more expensive brand, whilst you're desperately pawing at the shelf, saying "excuse me, please" over and over, unable to reach the flipping juice you want.

I've had run-ins with these kind of people twice in the last week.  At the weekend, I went to buy some pyjamas from my local Tesco.  A woman was looking at the rail where the pyjamas I wanted to grab, were.  She'd been there since before me, so I figured she'd be finished soon and then I could pick up a pair from the rack.  So, I waited.  And then I waited longer.  And longer.  Eventually, I feared I would have aged so much by the time this woman was done staring at the pyjamas and casually touching them (did she have some kind of fetish?!), that I said "excuse me" and waited for her to make room for me to grab a pair.  She did not.  So I tried reaching for them anyway and she body blocked me.  She knew I was waiting to grab a pair, but there was no way she was going to let that happen.

Let me remind you, this wasn't happening over the last TV in a half price sale.  It was supermarket PJs, of which there were plenty.

When she finally moved aside (several minutes later), I reached for the pyjamas and she dived beneath my arm, so she could carry on examining the rest on the rack.  She then stood up, bashed my arm with her head and stared furiously at me, whilst moaning "OUCH" in a very dramatic fashion.  Seriously, you'd have thought I'd actually punched her.

Being British, I of course apologised, whilst mentally picturing myself burying her beneath a pile of pyjamas and other night attire, because if there's one thing we do well in the UK, it's internalised rage.

I might look completely innocent, but in my mind, I've already murdered you.  Twice.

The second incident happened earlier today, when I popped to Tesco (what is it with that place?!) for some batteries for my shiny new cinema sign (my YouTube videos are going to feature this constantly, now).  I arrived at the store.  I could see the batteries, all on display on one of those end-of-aisle shelves.  I could also see a couple, blocking the entire display with their trolley, whilst they browsed batteries.

Again, being British, I tried to lean precariously across the trolley without moving it.  I was talking to my mum, who'd come with me, as I flailed in the general direction of the shelf, and the female half of this couple turned and stared at me like I had just trampled over her baby.  So, I smiled and said "sorry" as I leaned further, trying to grab a packet of double AAs which were just slightly out of reach.  At this point, you'd think maybe a woman with a brain larger than a grain of sand might have moved her trolley for me, to ease the situation, but nope.  This woman was, to paraphrase Maggie Thatcher, not for wheeling.

Having said "excuse me" and been ignored by this point, I had no choice but to gently move their trolley slightly, so I could squeeze between it and the shelf, in order to grab the batteries I wanted.  The woman's response?  DEATH STARES and that most British of traditions: tutting.  As I walked away with my loot, she pointedly "muttered" (loud enough to ensure I heard): "Just push my trolley out of the way, why don't you?!"

Which was just about irritating enough for me to actually snap: "JUST BLOCK THE WHOLE DISPLAY WITH YOUR TROLLEY AND REFUSE TO MOVE OUT OF THE WAY, WHY DON'T YOU?!"

And then I ran away pretty quickly.  Because I'm feisty, but I'm not that brave.

I have ALL the words, but please don't hurt me.

The third thing that winds me up about supermarkets?

People who unpack all of their shopping onto the conveyor belt at the end, but DON'T PUT A DIVIDER DOWN, AFTERWARDS.

Guys.  It separates your shopping from mine.  It's your polite, non-verbal way of saying "I'm done, now; it's your turn!"

Of course, I have a very calm and rational reaction to seeing people do this...

Look, I doubt supermarket shopping is ever going to be anyone's favourite activity.  And I don't want to be some weirdly anal human who starts suggesting that we need supermarket rules, but...

  • Pay for everything.
  • Be considerate of other people needing to reach things or get past you in the aisles.

Aaaaaand relax.

I'm going to go and chill out, now.  I think I'll settle down with some chocolate and a glass of wine.

Except there's no wine in the house, so...

...I'm just off to Tesco.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Bedtime Story (13/9/2017)

As someone who lives with a dog who can't always be trusted not to run off when he's not on his lead, this story has just been waiting to be written...

If you'd rather listen to this story, you can hear me reading it as a podcast.

The Runaway Dog

As a puppy, Digby Dog was always on the go.
And his energy didn't disappear as he continued to grow.
In fact, Digby was like a whirlwind all the time,
Darting round the house, driving Mum out of her mind.

If you threw a ball once, he'd keep you at it for hours.
He'd scamper round the garden, trampling the flowers.
He'd dig holes in the vegetable patch - messy, rough and deep.
He'd run wild for ages until he crashed out, fast asleep.

But Digby wasn't a naughty dog; he just needed exercise!
That's why he ran around the garden, jumping at the fence and chasing flies!
His morning stroll around the block simply wasn't enough.
He had energy to burn and for Digby, that was tough.

It meant he sometimes did things that made his family cross.
It wasn't really his fault; he just had energy to burn off!
What Digby really needed was to run: far and fast and free.
And so, one sunny morning, Digby slipped his lead.

He ran down the road, too fast for Mum to catch.
He bounded past the butchers, glancing for sausages to snatch.
He hurried past the hairdressers, where Gran had her shampoo and set,
Then cantered past the corner shop - but he wasn't done, just yet!

Digby was headed out of town, to a wide, green open field.
"Come back, Digby! Naughty dog!" Mum breathlessly squealed.
But Digby didn't come back, nor did he stop or slow down.
He wanted to dart across that field that overlooked the town.

And when his paws landed on that grass, oh! He was delighted!
Digby ran around and around, feeling ever so excited.
He wagged his tail and barked with glee; it was the best day he'd ever had!
But Digby didn't realise that Mum was getting MAD.

She dashed wildly behind him, holding out his lead.
And: "Come!  Come back here!" Digby heard her plead.
But all Digby wanted was to run and jump and play.
He'd stay out in that field for hours if he could have his way.

Still, after a while, Digby started to slow down.
He didn't like the way Mum's face was crumpled in a frown.
He was getting tired of doing all this running on his own.
So, Digby let Mum catch him and she crossly marched him home.

When Digby walked back through the door, he spotted his bed.
And suddenly, he realised he'd like to rest his head.
Unusually for Digby, he went out like a light,
And for several hours, Digby Dog slept tight.

He didn't bark at the postman, or dig the garden up.
Mum barely heard a peep from her normally boisterous pup!
Suddenly, Mum realised that a need to be worn out,
Might have been what Digby's naughty behaviour was about.

From that day on, she walked him longer,
And soon their bond became much stronger!
Now, he's the perfect pet - a really fabulous little chap!
Especially after walks, when he and Mum snuggle up for a nap.

And whilst he still gets excited and can't always calm straight down,
And sometimes, he still digs the garden or does things to make Mum frown,
After a good walk, you'll rarely hear a peep.
Just remember to keep your eye on him, when he wakes up from his sleep!


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Bedtime Story (6/9/2017)

As, by the time this goes live, it will almost be my birthday, when I sat down to write, I started thinking about how much I used to look forward to my birthday each year (funny how that can tail off as we get older, isn't it?!).  This story was written with that in mind.

You can also listen to this story as a podcast.

"I'll Be Six At Midnight!"

Charlie tapped his foot and leaned heavily on his bedroom windowsill.  He could see the streetlights outside begin to flicker into life.  It was after eight o'clock and he knew he was supposed to be going to sleep, especially as he had school, tomorrow.  But Charlie had a mission.

Tomorrow was going to be his birthday.  He was going to be six years old.  Somehow, that just sounded a whole lot cooler than being five.

"Six," he said, enjoying the sound of the word.  "Sssssssiiiiiiix."

Being six sounded ever so important.  And so, Charlie wanted to see the very moment that it happened.  He wanted to see the clock strike midnight, so he'd know it was his birthday.

Of course, Charlie knew he could just go to sleep, safe in the knowledge that it would be his birthday when he woke up.  But that didn't sound as exciting.  Charlie wanted to actually see it happen.  He knew that midnight was the end of one day and the beginning of another, so he reasoned that seeing the clock change would mean he'd get to see the very start of his birthday.  The very first second of him being six years old.

Charlie tiptoed to his desk and took a notebook and pen back to bed with him.  There, he practised writing the number six lots of times.  After all, he was going to be writing that number every time he had to write down his age for a whole year!  So, it made sense to be good at it.

Then, he practised writing it as a word, too.  S-I-X.  Over and over in his notebook.

He wondered what being six would feel like.  Maybe he'd feel more grown up.  Perhaps he would suddenly be really good at football, like his big brother, Jake.  Or, maybe he wouldn't be scared of jumping off the highest diving board at the swimming pool, like his older sister, Florence.  Whatever happened, Charlie knew he would definitely feel different.  He had to.  He was going to be six!

Charlie padded back to the desk and put his notebook and pen away.  He climbed back into bed and gave his teddy bear, Mr Truffles, a big squeeze.  He hoped that he wouldn't have to stop having his bear in bed with him when he was six.  After all, Mr Truffles had been with him ever since he was born!

Lying in bed, Charlie watched rockets and planet shapes drift across his ceiling.  His space night-light had been in his room since he was very small, too.  Charlie didn't like the dark, so the soft light, casting patterns onto the ceiling, stayed on all night, every night.  Charlie couldn't sleep, otherwise.

Suddenly, Charlie's eyes widened in horror.  What if he had to get rid of his night-light when he was six, too?!  Charlie's heart began beating faster.  Maybe the light and Mr Truffles would just disappear at midnight?!  Or, maybe he would change and not want them, anymore?!

Charlie swallowed, hard.  He'd been so excited about turning six and being all grown up, that he hadn't even stopped to think about all the reasons he liked being five.  Everyone kept saying how big he was going to be when he was six and the thought suddenly scared him.  What if none of his clothes fit, anymore?!  What if he grew too big for his bed?!

Charlie shook his head.  He didn't want to be six, if it meant changing too much, too soon.  He didn't like the idea of leaving five behind, anymore.

Charlie's digital clock glowed in the dim light.  He could see the numbers changing each minute.  Midnight - twelve o'clock - was getting closer and closer.

He hugged Mr Truffles and squeezed his eyes shut.  "I'm not ready to change," he whispered.  "I'm not ready to be all grown up, yet."

Charlie opened one eye and peered at the clock.  It was 11:59.  Charlie sat bolt upright in bed and stared at it, unable to look away.

And then it happened.  All at once.  So fast, that if he'd blinked, he would have missed it.  12:00.  Midnight.

Charlie took a few, deep breaths, then stared up at the ceiling.  The orange, glowing shapes of rockets and planets were there, just as they always had been.  He quickly glanced down at Mr Truffles, grabbing him to make sure he was still real.  Once he was sure, Charlie jumped out of bed and hurried to his chest of drawers.  He pulled a t-shirt out and tugged it over his head.  It still fit perfectly!  Charlie let out a long, slow sigh of relief.

"I'm the same," he whispered to Mr Truffles, as he climbed back into bed.  "I'm still me."  Then, a smile crossed his lips.  "But I'm six!"

Suddenly, being six was the coolest thing in the world, again.  He was older and it sounded like a much more important number, but nothing else had to change.  Not yet.

Charlie squeezed Mr Truffles tight, then closed his eyes and finally drifted off to sleep, dreaming of birthday cakes and presents.


Friday, 1 September 2017

YouTube: The Creators vs The Audience?!

As most of you will probably know by now, I have something of a passion for YouTube.  I love watching videos, subscribe to many varied channels and even have a channel of my own, which I'm incredibly proud of, despite it still being a very small fish in a ridiculously enormous - and arguably, overcrowded - pond.

Of course, I'm not alone.  YouTube is big business and has made household names of many of its most popular creators.  There are YouTube conventions, such as Playlist Live and Summer In The City, bringing the online sensation very much into the real world, with opportunities for fans to meet their favourite YouTubers and spend huge amounts of cash on associated merchandise.  There are also chances to learn more about the actual art of being a YouTuber, seeing as so many people out there have spent long enough watching content on YouTube, that they're now thinking about giving it a go, themselves.

Given that I'm both a fan and a YouTuber (albeit one you almost certainly haven't heard of, unless you're already subscribed to my channel), I take a keen interest in the changes YouTube implements as it continues to grow, and I enjoy participating in online discussions on subjects surrounding YouTube.

Except one subject.  There is one issue, which crops up now and then, that genuinely turns my stomach.  I don't want to have to talk about it, because it shouldn't be a subject.  But it is.  And frankly, it's one we need to tackle.

Okay, Will, I'm getting to it, alright?!

That issue is, depressingly, the argument between fans and content creators as to who owes more to the other.

This was brought back into the light today, after a YouTuber (Chai Cameron) tweeted a request for people to submit contributions or questions for a planned discussion on "Expectation vs Reality" for YouTubers and the art of making videos as a career.

One of the people who decided to respond to the tweet was Alfie Deyes - millionaire YouTuber and partner of equally (if not more) famous creator, Zoella.  His tweet said simply: "You have to upload.. it's your job, we pay for your house."

Now, let's briefly put aside the "YouTubers would be nothing without their fans" thing for a second (don't worry, I'll be zooming right back there, in a minute...) and ponder whether this was a necessary comment from one of Britain's most successful YouTubers?  After all, the request for tweets seemed to be aimed at fans, rather than already-famous-content-creators.  And whilst Alfie might have thought he was being witty - or perhaps he's just sick of having people tell him he's wealthy because of them (again, more on this later) - was it really a helpful comment?  Because when a YouTuber brings this subject up, particularly in the slightly whinging, eye-rolling manner that this tweet could easily be taken (whether intended that way or not), all it does is start the argument again.  And Alfie surely knows as much.  Therefore, his statement could very easily be seen as a red rag to a bull; a deliberate attempt to start pointless (pun intended) drama.

And of course, it worked.  Very quickly, someone non famous responded: "Without YouTube, what income would you have?  None.  So yes, we are paying for your house.  Don't take it for granted.  It could leave you any second."

And guess what?  She's right.

That doesn't mean that I support anyone who badgers famous, wealthy YouTubers with similar comments out of the blue.  Most YouTubers are very aware of their fanbase and many of them take time to thank those who have supported them along the way (my favourite YouTubers, Dan Howell and Phil Lester, are really good at this and it's one of the many reasons I love them).  Most YouTubers who have achieved financial security and fame as a result of their YouTube content and their additional, related ventures (merchandise, book deals, live shows etc) know how lucky they are.  They are aware that they're in an enormously privileged position that many people will never achieve.

I say "most," because this, sadly, doesn't apply to all big YouTubers.  There are people out there, who believe that their fame and success is owed to them, because they've worked so hard.  

But what's the unspoken implication of that point of view?  That smaller YouTubers, who've never reached the same heights, don't work as hard?  Isn't that mildly absurd, given that almost all YouTubers who are now hugely famous and wealthy as a result of their channels, will have once upon a time, been a small YouTuber, without the enormous fanbase and the guaranteed views?!  Success rarely happens overnight.  In many cases, it's a long haul, rather than a sprint.  And without the work put in at the start, when nobody was watching, would they have made it as far as they have?!

I'll be honest and say that I've never particularly liked Alfie and it's because of comments like this and similar ones in the past, which do tend to paint him - possibly wrongly - as someone who believes he's owed success.  Someone who is vocal in his dislike of having people comment that he wouldn't be where he is today, without the fans who've watched his videos and bought his merchandise.

And, believe it or not, I get why he might not like being told that.

This gif is so appropriate...

Look, I'm a YouTube minnow.  My channel is tiny.  But I know how much time and effort goes into creating content.  You have to think of an idea, write a script, set up your camera and - if you're lucky enough to have them - lights.  Then you have to film, which can take anything from half an hour to a couple of hours, depending on the style of video you're making and how many different locations or outfit changes are needed (for my channel, I do a lot of "sketches" or "skits" to break up the parts where I'm just talking to camera, so it can sometimes take an hour or two to film everything).  Once everything has been filmed, you have to import the footage to your editing software and the edit can take several hours (a short video that's been pretty quick and straightforward to film might take me 1-2 hours to edit, but a longer one, with things like green screen or key frame animation involved can often end up taking 4, 5 or even 6 hours).  Once the video is finished, you have to design an eye-catching thumbnail and either upload the video for immediate release, or schedule it for the time you want it to go live on your channel.  Once it's up, you have to market that video, to try to encourage as large an audience for it as possible.  It's not a quick process, if you're trying to do it well.  And to feel as though the credit for your success is being given to your audience, rather than you...?  Well, that can't be easy.  I can understand people feeling mildly aggrieved by having viewers tell them "we pay for your house," or "you're only famous because of us."

Notice, I said "mildly" aggrieved.

Because, on the flip-side, what a bloody lovely "problem" to have.  I go through the above video-making process at least once a week and I consider it a good result if the video I worked so hard on gets more than 40-50 views.  The idea of having a fanbase that guarantees you hundreds of thousands - possibly even millions - of views, is a mere pipe dream for someone like me.  I also write this blog and have published five books, but only three of those have been with a (very, very small) traditional publisher.  The other two were self-published.  The thought of having such a huge audience via YouTube, that I could be handed a book deal by a major publisher, knowing the book will sell in large enough numbers to make me a viable option for success, is mind-blowing.  And as a teensy little speck of a YouTuber, the fantasy of people buying MrsManics merchandise - t-shirts, stationery sets or even a make-up range - is just that: a fantasy.

The fact is, you only get those things if your audience is big enough.  And yes, you only get that audience if you work hard and are very lucky, but that audience has to be there and I don't believe anyone riding the crest of the wave should ever forget what it was like to be doggy-paddling, with your head barely above water.

And so, whilst I don't entirely feel comfortable with viewers who tell YouTubers "we made you as famous as you are," or words to that effect, I equally dislike seeing famous YouTubers seemingly forget that those viewers do kind of have a point.

Still, I would never have even seen this little Twitter exchange, seeing as I don't follow anyone involved, until someone I did follow (very much past tense) - another famous, British YouTuber - responded:

I vowed not to swear on this blog anymore, once I started writing bedtime stories for kids, so... This next part is going to be a CHALLENGE, because MAN, do I want to swear.


Okay, first of all, let's pick the earlier bits of this tweet apart, shall we?!  The "dedication, motivation, ideas and creativity" part reads rather nauseatingly like a massive pat on her own back, as well as those of her massively famous friends.  Golly, aren't we clever?!  It places Louise and Alfie on a pedestal, as though "dedication, motivation, ideas and creativity" are attributes exclusive to famous YouTubers, who already have millions of subscribers.  And, speaking as a very small YouTuber, who is 100% dedicated to her channel, motivated to make a success of it and full of creative ideas for content for it...

She said it, kids.  Not me.

Then, let's take a little peek at the "you wouldn't have our videos to watch," part.


Look, I admit it:  When I get a notification that there's a new Dan, Phil or Dan & Phil Games video, I get excited to watch it right away and I click "play" the very first chance I get.  Because I love their content and I want to support them.  But you know what?  Truthfully, if I felt that they believed their audience had no part in their continued success - if they wrote something as staggeringly arrogant, blinkered and patronising (that little heart at the end of the tweet made me want to punch a freaking wall) as Louise's tweet - I would question whether they had lost sight of the very much two-way street their careers are driving down and I would be forced to asked myself whether I wanted to support them, anymore.  And, if (heaven forbid) that day ever came, I would find something else to watch.  Because you know what?  YouTube is saturated.

Sure, the household names get the majority of the views, but that doesn't mean there aren't some fantastic small YouTubers out there, making regular, funny, entertaining content for anyone who stumbles upon it, to enjoy.  For example, I would recommend Penny Dang extremely highly, if you're keen to find someone new.  She should have thousands of subscribers - she's warm, funny and engaging and I really look forward to her videos.  She was also my 100th subscriber, so she's got a special place in my affections.

My point is, there are other people out there.  Amazing, witty, talented, clever, creative people, whose content is far better than their sub count or overall views might have you think.  For a big YouTuber like Louise to write a tweet in a way that makes it sound like her channel is somehow better or more important, and that people should be grateful for her serving them, is ridiculously entitled and beyond arrogant.  

For every big YouTuber, there are thousands of small ones, many of whom are making content just as enjoyable as someone like Louise or Alfie.  The world of YouTube would not fall apart without either of them, however much they might like to think it would.

And now, for the part of the tweet that raised my blood pressure to dangerous levels...

"So who is serving who here?"

Well, this is what I had to say:

The emoji really helped my point, I felt.

A YouTuber doesn't become massively famous, rich or successful unless their content reaches a wide enough audience.  Therefore, they have to be good enough to make people want to watch them.  So, they deserve some respect for their "creativity, motivation, dedication, blah, blah, blaaaaah."  Of course they do.  I can promise you that I mean that very sincerely, because as a creator of content myself, regardless of how small my own audience might be, I would like to think that people appreciate the amount of work that goes into making my videos each week.  


If I ever became famous, it would almost certainly be as a result of my audience getting bigger and bigger.  Those subscribers watching my videos, supporting me in any other endeavours I undertook (writing a book, or making live appearances) would be helping me to turn a hobby I am passionate about, into a potential career.  Their continued willingness to watch my videos and fork out their hard-earned money on merchandise or tour tickets etc, would be what perpetuates that career.

To put it simply:  It would be viewers that made me and, if I got too big for my boots, or became lazy about my content, because I just assumed people would watch it no matter how little effort I put in, it would be viewers that would inevitably break me, too.

If you know why this is here, we should definitely be friends.

It's utterly insulting to the millions of people who watch Louise's - or any other big YouTuber's -  videos, to imply that YouTube success is some kind of one way street.  Creators and their audiences are not islands.  They are a natural pairing who "serve" (have I mentioned how much I detest that she used that word?!  Is that coming across??!!) each other, equally.

You can't have success if you don't have an audience.  That's literally the most simple truth of all, here.  Having an audience of guaranteed viewers allows you to create content as a career, rather than as a hobby.  It is what leads to sponsorship deals, live appearances, book deals and magazine articles.  NONE of those things happen when you're dipping your toes into the water, with a hundred or so subscribers.

But that audience has a responsibility, too.  Whilst by merely clicking the subscribe button, they don't owe the creator anything, they must also understand that the creator is still in charge of his or her own content and doesn't have to tailor it to what they want.  They must also understand that the creator is entitled to lead his or her own life away from YouTube and may choose to keep certain aspects of that life private.

As an audience, fans are entitled to share their views on content, but they can't make demands.  They have to accept that they might not love every little thing a YouTuber says or does.

And as creators, YouTubers must understand that, if they have a lucrative income as a result of their channel and their associated merchandise or endeavours, they owe that success not solely down to their own hard work, but to the fans who support them with their views and who spend money on their creations.  

Again, that level of success is impossible without an audience.  Who's going to ring up and offer me a book deal, when I only have 143 subscribers?!  Who's going to suggest we buddy up to produce a range of t-shirts or hoodies?!

YouTubers need their audiences, just as their audiences need them.  It's ebb and flow, give and take.  To suggest it's a one way street is blinkered and conceited.

I'm sure that Louise and Alfie won't care if someone like me writes a critical blog about them.  I'm sure it won't bother them at all to know that someone thinks it's arrogant to believe they're owed success, or that they give their audiences more than their audiences have given them.

But those same audiences are full of people whose support and financial expenditure has contributed enormously to the wealth and success that they are now able to enjoy.

What a shame they either can't, or won't see that they need those people just as much as they believe those people need them.