Sunday, 29 October 2017

I'm A Liddle Enraged...

Every morning, almost as soon as my alarm goes off, I find myself browsing social media, as a way of joining the ranks of the already-awake.  There's something about scrolling through posts about anything from someone's breakfast to their hectic school run each morning, that forces me to shake off sleep and wrench myself from beneath the duvet, in order to be a part of the world, again.

Some mornings, I stumble upon a funny article, or a really witty tweet that ensures that my day starts with a laugh.  And then, other mornings, I'll find myself reading something that raises my blood pressure and means that, once I get up, I'm stomping about like a bear with a sore everything.

Today was one of those days.

Now, there are people in this world whose sole existence is to court controversy, because they have no other discernible talent.  Katie Hopkins, for example.  And whilst I don't ascribe to the "don't feed the trolls" mentality that others have regarding these people (because I believe we should call out things that are wrong or harmful), I also don't like to give them too much of the attention they crave.  So, I'm kind of annoyed with myself for the fact that I'm sitting here, writing a blog in response to an article that was blatantly written with the intention of whipping up a frenzy of "liberal leftie" anger.  But then again, the article is full of genuinely problematic material that has the potential to do more harm than good, so...

This is the article I stumbled upon as I browsed Twitter, this morning.  Written by Boris Johnson's uglier brother from another mother, Rodd Liddle, the piece begins by bemoaning the fact that Scotland has outlawed smacking children.  Liddle refers to smacking kids as "one of life's harmless little pleasures."  And again, I'm really mad with myself for letting that despicable line enrage me as much as it did, seeing as I'm sensible enough to know Liddle wrote it purely to have that effect, but here's the thing: I work with children.  I'm trained in safeguarding and behaviour management.  So, not only do I know how to discipline a child without ever resorting to hitting, I also know what the effects of frequent physical punishment on a child can be.  I know personally, having been raised in an era where smacking was still relatively commonplace, that it doesn't bloody work.  It doesn't build respect, it instills fear.  It instills shame, when you're trying to cover up a mark the next day in your PE lesson.  Maybe a smack stops a child from doing the thing you're punishing them for, but they don't really learn why they shouldn't do whatever it is they did wrong, which makes it pointless.

In the 17 years I've worked in childcare, I've dealt with cases of bruising from "physical discipline" in the home - although thankfully, not for many years.  I've heard firsthand accounts that would make your hair stand on end.  I've counselled teenagers who have been smacked all their lives, for the most minor misdemeanours, and have not only lost respect for their parents as a result, but have never been talked to about right and wrong, so end up confused and scared.  And for that reason, hearing someone describe smacking a child as "one of life's harmless little pleasures" makes me feel physically sick.  

The point of disciplining a child is not to gain some kind of sick enjoyment from "hearing them howl in pain," as the article claims.  It's to teach them to grow into decent adults.  You don't do that by giving them "a nasty pinch to the upper arm."  All that does is make them associate whatever they're being punished for with pain.  Sure, that might stop them doing it again, but as I said earlier, it won't teach them why.  And that why?  Is important.  That's what makes a child stop and think about their actions, in future.  It's what encourages a child to consider others and make decisions that ultimately make them better people.  Because they understand why they shouldn't steal someone else's toy, or bully a kid in the playground.  At each stage of life, a child is learning the right and wrong ways to behave.  It's the jobs of parents, care-givers, teachers etc to reaffirm the right way and explain what's wrong with the alternative.  Can that be done purely by giving them a slap every time they make the wrong choice?

And it's not as if we live in an age where smacking is the only choice a parent or care-giver has.  Ground the kid.  Stop them going to the park after school.  Take their iPad or mobile phone away from them for 24 hours.  Discipline should exist and it's important (believe me, I've seen the consequences of not disciplining a child at all), but it doesn't have to be solely physical for it to work.

Liddle immediately goes on to prove himself full of manure, when he suggests that nowadays, we're "expected to smile indulgently" at "unruly brats" in restaurants, explaining that they're probably only "screaming their little lungs out" because they "shouldn't be there in the first place."

I was taken to restaurants from a young age.  I was also raised in a family that recognised the importance of eating together.  There weren't multiple meals cooked, because I kicked off and refused to eat my greens (actually, it was mushrooms I refused to touch and I still do, but that's besides the point).  Mum made one meal and we all ate it.  Together.  My parents modelled the right way to hold a knife and fork and my sister and I learned to copy.  We'd sit around the table and talk as we ate - we still do.  There is absolutely no reason why kids can't be taken to restaurants and to suggest as much is stupid.  Sure, I've been to restaurants where parents are letting their kids run between tables, screaming their heads off and in those circumstances, yes I've bitten my lip.  But I've had many more meals out where children are sitting at the table perfectly nicely, talking to their families, or colouring in books to entertain themselves before their dinner arrives.  When we start saying things like "kids shouldn't be in restaurants," we may as well revert back to "children should be seen and not heard," which is just utterly backwards.  Kids need a variety of experiences in order to learn how to behave in different situations and why should they miss out on a dinner at a restaurant, just because some middle-class twonk who enjoys hitting children says so?!

But, perhaps shockingly, it wasn't just the "smacking kids brings me such joy" stuff that solely caused my ire, in this particular pile of garbage.  Because Liddle goes on to talk about mental health issues in a way that made that funny vein in my head start throbbing...

Liddle describes a rise in mental illnesses amongst children and young people as evidence that "we're not bringing our children up terribly well."  But I would almost go as far as to argue the opposite.  Hear me out...

Back in the "glory days" of acceptable racism, the British stiff-upper lip and disregard for public safety, nobody talked about their feelings.  Parents with a teenager who expressed hormonal angst would almost certainly have told them to "man up," or simply said "we don't talk about things like that."  It wasn't that mental illnesses didn't exist back then - possibly in similar numbers to these days - it was that we didn't speak about it.  We repressed it.  We forced those suffering to shut up about it, because it wasn't the "done thing" to discuss depression, back then.

Thankfully, we don't live in a world like that, anymore.  Dinosaurs like Liddle might pine for those times, but mercifully, they are gone.  Teenagers today are far more aware of social issues.  They can be more open about their sexuality and they are arguably more politically aware.  Most importantly, these days, if a child or young person expresses anxiety or depression, we don't try to sweep it under the carpet.  We let them talk.  We encourage them to work through their emotions.  It's medically proven that bottling things up can cause all manner of physical and mental problems, so why are certain people like Liddle so desperately keen on forcing our young people back into silence?!

Indeed, Liddle refers to "safe-spaces" and the "terror of encountering an opinion which differs from their own" as evidence of a "profound derangement."  Yet, most of the teenagers I know thrive in debates.  They enjoy thrashing out their views with someone who holds the opposite opinion.  Why?  Because young people these days are given the freedom to express themselves and they have far more on hand to help them form their opinions than my generation or any generation before have had.  The internet, social media, societal awareness growing constantly... All of those things help people of all generations - but perhaps the young in particular - to form their views and to read up on those who oppose them.  And as for "safe spaces," if you're someone who genuinely scoffs at the idea of places where a person can speak freely, without judgement, then you must be lucky enough to have never needed one.  Those of us who have encountered abuse, sexual harassment or anything else that means we might want to be somewhere we know will be free from trolls mocking our experiences, know how vital safe spaces can be.  It was a particular Twitter page that advertised itself as a "safe space for abuse survivors" that was the first place I was able to truly talk about what happened to me, without fear of reprisal.  That was a vital step towards putting my life back together and if someone wants to mock safe spaces, I can only say that that person must have no idea how important safe spaces have the potential to be, for those who really need them.  I won't listen to people insult the idea of a safe space without standing up for them, in return.  Too often, critics believe a "safe space" refers to wrapping someone in cotton wool, protecting them from differing opinions and treating them as though everything they say must be right.  That's not my experience at all and I don't like seeing safe spaces reduced to that overly simplistic and unhelpful stereotype.

Liddle goes on to suggest that "mental illness and gender stuff" aren't stigmatised the way they once were (as though that's a bad thing) and instead insists that they now have a "very potent cachet."  He describes young people as "revelling in their victimhood" and it's at this point in the article that I want to reach through the screen and smack Rodd Liddle, so that he howls in pain.

When I was a teenager, I was horrifically bullied, because I wasn't as pretty as the other girls in my class.  I tried to hang myself with my school tie when I was twelve, maybe thirteen years old.  This was something you just didn't talk about, so I kept it largely to myself.  I didn't talk about how depressed I had become, because I was embarrassed and ashamed.  Instead, I would take the badges off the backpack I wore and run the pins along my arms, creating ugly, raised, red lines.  If I couldn't let the pain out by talking openly, I had to let it out some other way.

I don't say any of that in order to revel in my victimhood.  I say it because I know I'm not alone.  And I know how vital it is to realise that others are either going through the same thing, or even better, that they went through it and came out the other side.  Because when I was a teenager, it didn't feel as though there even was another side.

I was far from alone.  When I finally did open up about my experiences, I was stunned to discover how many people had gone through similar things.  These days, we know how common depression, stress and anxiety are in teenagers.  Their bodies are going through physical changes, they have hormones raging through their veins and they're trying to work out who they are and what they want to do with their lives.  It's an enormously stressful time and it's not in the least bit surprising to me that now that we're more open about mental health, more and more young people are talking openly about their experiences.

Liddle - frankly disgustingly -  describes mental illnesses as "the new, exciting activities of our young people," which is dismissive and ignorant.  Anyone who has ever dealt with depression on any level will tell you how un-exciting it is.  There's no glory in it and anyone who does "revel" in depression is almost certainly not actually suffering from it.  The fact is, when you're depressed, rather than "revel" in your "exciting new activity," you would do almost anything to stop feeling as hopeless as you do.  I know that even now, at the ripe old age of 35, I often feel as though my entire teens were robbed by depression.  I should have been out having fun and making stupid mistakes.  But I spent much more of that time inside, hating myself and feeling embarrassed for not being a "proper" teenager.

The fact that mental illness is so openly discussed now and that there is much more acceptance of it is not a damning indictment of our terrible, modern world.  It's an endorsement of our ability to learn to drop our stigmatised, negative attitudes.  Rodd Liddle's reduction of mental illness to some kind of badge of honour, worn by attention-seeking teens, is the kind of harmful bullsh!t that too often stops young people from speaking out.  And not speaking out and getting help can lead to suicide.  So, in my view, it's highly important that young people continue to talk openly about mental health.  It's Rodd Liddle - and those who harbour similarly damaging views - who need to shut up.

Call me a liberal leftie.  Tell me I'm too PC.  I genuinely don't care.  But when I see someone firstly gleefully claiming to take great pleasure from causing physical pain to a child, I'm going to call that person out as, frankly, abusive.  And when that same person then reduces mental illness to some kind of weak, attention-seeking and seems to want to hark back to a problematic age when mental health was stigmatised and swept under the carpet, I will also call that person out as a clueless, potentially harmful idiot.

If you're feeling depressed, stressed or anxious, please talk to someone.  Please be open about your mental health and if you need a safe space, free from idiots like Rodd Liddle who choose to mock you and make accusations that cause you to feel unable to speak out, this blog can be one, if you need it to be.

And Rodd?  I hope your daughter continues to grow up in a world where she can talk openly about emotional wellbeing and mental health if she ever needs to.   And as for your enjoyment of causing her physical pain, I'm going to end this with a quote from my Dad:

"I'd say if someone is actually getting pleasure out of hitting their child, then they must be sick in the head."

I'm inclined to agree.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Let's Make Plans!

Earlier this week, I went for a drink with one of my dearest friends and we sat in a bar, making a list of the things we want to do together in 2018.  It was - and this is not hyperbole - one of the loveliest moments I've had this year.  

Some people hate making plans.  There are endless memes to be found in all corners of the internet, equating plans to "obligations" which people then feel a sudden need to wriggle out of.  I have rarely been someone who feels constricted by having a plan to stick to.  I'm ridiculously organised.  For me, a plan is bloody marvellous.  

But it was more than just my love of organisation that made me so happy, that afternoon in the pub.  It was the knowledge that I was sitting with someone who wants to make plans to hang out with me many times over.  It was the excitement of thinking about the fun things we both wanted to do in the coming weeks and months.  It was a way of ensuring that I have the kick up the bum I need to keep on getting out there and doing things.

We all have times in our lives when we just don't feel like doing much.  When depression, stress or anxiety causes us to dread venturing any further from our duvets than is absolutely necessary.  When the black dog has you firmly in its grip, the last thing you might be inclined to do is go out and take part in any kind of social activity.  Those are the times when pre-arranged plans feel like millstones around your neck.  The thought of having to force a smile onto your face and somehow muster up the energy to do more than binge-watch a TV show can be difficult to contemplate.

But, on the other hand, looking forward to something can be a way of lifting yourself out of the doldrums.  Having a reason to get up and out of the house can have a hugely positive impact on your mental wellbeing.  Just taking your mind off whatever's getting you down can be incredibly helpful.  After all, if we constantly dwell on the same thing for long enough, we start making it bigger than it needs to be and before long, it starts to harm us.  Taking some time out can even clear your mind just enough for you to be able to find a practical solution to the problem when you come back to it, later.

For me, sitting with my friend and making plans for the last few weeks of 2017 and well into 2018 made me realise how much I have to look forward to.  A day out with another couple of friends yesterday, in which we also made some pretty major plans for next year, had the same effect.

When I think back to the start of this year, when I was depressed, struggling to make plans for something I'd been really excited about, only to have it cancelled, it's hard to imagine a more different place from where I am, now.  I may not end up doing everything I talked about with friends, next year.  But even if I do half of it, I know that I have a whole lot to be excited about.

For me, making plans has been that last little step I needed to take, in order to get my mental health back on track.  Something as simple as "hey, do you fancy doing  *insert thing here* next weekend?" was, as it turned out, all I needed to make me realise that my world is full of amazing people, good friends and positive experiences.  And making plans for more of that can only be a good thing.

So, here's to making plans and having things to look forward to.  Life is short, after all.  Let's go out there and live it.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Bedtime Story (25/10/2017)

Halloween is coming!  The perfect time to get all dressed up.  And this story is all about a little one who doesn't have a stereotypical Halloween costume in mind...

Listen to the story as a podcast by clicking here!

I Want To Be A Unicorn!

"Pick a costume," my mum said.
She didn't know what was in my head!
You see, practically ever since I was born,
I've wanted to be a unicorn!

But "no, no, no," my brother moaned.
"It's for Halloween," he groaned.
"You need to dress as something scary,
Not be all sparkly like a fairy!"

So I stood right there and started to ponder
Being a witch, or maybe a monster?
But both ideas made me forlorn.
I wanted to be a unicorn!

My mum suggested I be Dracula,
But I gave that costume back to her!
I didn't mind whoever might scorn,
As long as I could be a unicorn!

"Halloween is supposed to be frightening,"
Dad told me, with his grimace tightening.
"You want people to run away!
Why not be a unicorn another day?"

But I simply gave him my sweetest grin.
I was not about to give in!
"You can leave Halloween costumes right there;
All I need are hooves and rainbow hair!"

It seemed to me Halloween was dark and moody,
But I wasn't the type of kid to be broody!
I wanted sparkles on my cheeks and on my head, a horn:
I just simply had to be a unicorn!

I didn't want to scare anyone away.
I just wanted to gallop and prance all day!
If I went out to trick-or-treat,
I wanted to look glittery and sweet.

I moaned in that shop until Mum finally said:
"Fine; don't be scary, be sparkly, instead!"
We paid for our costumes and then we were gone.
I could hardly wait to try mine on!

And so we dressed up to go trick-or-treating.
Our neighbours had no clue who they'd be greeting!
When they opened their doors and there, on the lawn,
Stood a devil, a witch and... A UNICORN! 

So, next time someone tells you you need to fit in,
Just turn and give them your biggest grin.
You can be anything you want to be...

Even a unicorn, just like me!


Thursday, 19 October 2017

Why Blog?!

You know that old iPhone advert (which subsequently became a meme) that had the tagline: There's an app for that"?  Well, I was thinking about this blog the other day, pondering what to write about next, when I realised many of the subjects I was thinking of, are ones I've already covered, sometimes more than once.  In other words: There's (already) a post for that.

That's not just because I really like repeating myself.  Although, anyone who works with me and hears the same story several times because I insist on telling every colleague, may beg to differ...

It's because this is what I do.  I think about things, I mull them over and put my feelings into words on the virtual page.  It helps to untangle the thoughts buzzing around my incredibly noisy brain (and, if there's not a blog post about my noisy brain already, I've definitely made a YouTube video on the subject).

Sometimes, the things I write are merely observations on my own silly quirks, or on life in general.  Other times, I might want to write something about a hobby or a passion of mine.  Then, there are the occasions when I see something on the news, or read something online, that shocks, angers or upsets me so much, I feel compelled to publish something on the subject.

All of it is done because I'm someone who finds that when thoughts are bubbling up in my brain, I need to get them out.  As I mentioned earlier, writing things down helps to untangle my thoughts.  I would rather sit for an hour, sobbing over the keyboard as I write a piece on a horribly upsetting news story, than lie awake at night, feeling sad about it.  I'd rather bash the keys furiously and post an angry blog on a subject that gets my blood boiling, than find myself on edge and becoming snappy with the people around me, because I've been unable to have a damn good vent.

Now THIS is a damn good vent...

And then there are the personal blog posts.

Yes, I talk about my life on this blog.  My ups and downs, my crushes and heartbreaks, my best days and lowest points are all frequently found here, in one way or another.  And it's for the exact same reason as I write about anything else: to declutter my brain and try to straighten out my thoughts.  By writing stuff down, I often find that I understand a situation better.  Sometimes, I understand myself better.

I have always worn my heart on my sleeve.  It's no secret that if you ask me how I'm feeling,  if you're close enough to me, then you'll get the honest answer, warts and all.  I don't hide my feelings very well.  This weekend, for example, I tried very hard to mutter a casual greeting to my mum as I wandered past where she was sitting.  However, moments earlier, I'd had a ridiculous sobbing session in my room, over something that actually, I should have brushed off like sand from a beach towel.  Still, my skin has never been particularly thick and so I was upset by this thing and, despite my desperate efforts to hide it, my mum saw through me right away.  That's just how I am.  If I'm soppy over someone, you'll know it (they probably will, too).  If I'm angry, I'll rant to whoever's listening.  And if nobody's listening, then I'll blog about it, safe in the knowledge that even if nobody reads what I've written, at least the words aren't pumping furiously through my veins, anymore.

And when my heart feels battered and bruised, the only thing that helps is to talk my feelings through.  Whether it's to a friend or family member, to myself (shut up and don't judge me) or on this blog, I have to release my emotions into the wild.  Keeping them inside feels like swallowing poison; I can feel my emotions churning in my guts.  Vomiting words onto a screen helps to ease that sensation.

I feel no guilt about any of that.  No shame, whatsoever.

One thing I love doing is looking back at old blog posts to see where my mind was, when I wrote it.  Was I happy?  Sad?  Angry?  Hungry?!  

Okay, I'm always hungry, so that's just a given...

But old blog posts tell a story when you read them consecutively.  In the last year, regular readers all know there's been a bit of a storm in my life, involving people I was exceptionally close to.  And yep, I blogged about it.  I shared a lot of the details.  Not to be vulgar or to publicly shame anyone.  But because, throughout all of it, I felt I wasn't being listened to, and I needed people to hear me.  The only outlet I had was this blog.  I felt like I was constantly screaming, internally.  When I wrote a blog entry, the screaming went down a notch or two.  Writing about what was happening became cathartic.  It stopped that churning in my guts, even if only for the hour or two I was writing.  If I could make myself laugh with an appropriate gif, all the better.

And yes, a lot of those posts were angry.  But if you read those angry, hurt-filled posts in succession, you'll notice something.  You'll see a person going through - and I say this with no irony - the stages of grieving and coming out the other side.

From furious rage, to sadness that took my breath away, I poured my heart out because I needed to.  And I make no apology for it, besides understanding that those two people I loved and missed from my life may have found it uncomfortable reading, had they ever stumbled upon those posts.  But, as time went on, the posts were written by a person who no longer had the red mist of anger swirling around her.  They were written by a woman analysing her own behaviour.  A former friend, accepting that her pain had been caused by someone else who was also hurting and that I had made plenty of mistakes, too.  It was talking about things - and writing all of it down, too -  that helped me reach that place of understanding.  So when I look back at those posts, whilst some of the anger makes me blanch, I understand the process I went through.  I appreciate how I came out the other side.

I have written about a great deal of enormously personal things on this blog.  Bullying, my childless status and my experience of abuse, just to name a few.  The abuse posts have been just as cathartic as anything else.  I've written furiously about what I went through, sobbing over my laptop as I remembered things I'd tried to bury, but equally, there are posts in which I talk about using what I went through to help others.  

Grief of any kind is a process and writing things down - getting it all off my chest - has always been one of my most trusted ways of moving through that process.  Without having the capacity to write things down, I would find it all too difficult to cope with.

And sure, I could write a diary (actually, I do).  But writing things openly and honestly gives me the benefit of knowing that I might inadvertently help someone else who happens to be going through something similar, be it abuse, dealing with weird personality quirks or fallouts.  It also forces me to write better than I would if I were merely jotting everything down in my diary.  I can practise the hobby that I love so much and exorcise a few demons in the process.  Seems like a pretty good deal, to me.

Without this blog, many of the thoughts I've had in my head over the past 11 months would have been too heavy to handle.  

Without this blog, my rage at injustices I see in the world, would have no decent, safe outlet; it would be internalised and my body would writhe with it.

Without this blog, I would have taken far longer to have discovered the joy of poking fun at myself for the amusement of others on a much grander scale than I have chance to do in "real life."

This blog is me and my life.  Why write it?  Because it's a part of me.

And I don't intend to stop.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Bedtime Story (18/10/2017)

I am TERRIBLE when I'm hungry; I get "hangry" and all I can think about is how much I want to eat something!  They say stories come from the heart, but this one definitely comes from the stomach!

You can also listen to this story as a podcast!

Hungry Hugh

Hugh was playing with his remote-control car when it first happened.  A loud rumble, that seemed to make his whole tummy shake.  He clutched his belly and frowned.  He'd been so busy playing, he'd barely noticed how hungry he was, but suddenly, it was all he could think about.

Hugh bounded down the stairs and hurried into the kitchen, where his dad was cooking dinner.  "How long until dinner's ready?"  Hugh asked.  He pulled his best "sad face" and blinked up at his dad.

Dad chuckled as he stirred the food in the pan in front of him.  "About twenty minutes," he said.  "You can have a biscuit, if you like," he added, nodding at the biscuit tin.

Hugh opened the tin and took a biscuit.  Then, checking that his dad wasn't looking, he took another, then another.  Scurrying back up to his room, Hugh nibbled on the first biscuit.  Each bite tasted sweeter than the last and before long, he'd scoffed the second biscuit, too.

Hugh glanced at the clock on his bedroom wall.  There were still fifteen minutes until dinner.  He took a deep breath, trying to ignore the gnawing in his belly.  But it was no good; before long, the third biscuit was gone, too.  And Hugh was still hungry.

Creeping down the stairs, Hugh decided he simply couldn't wait until dinner.  He needed something else to eat and he needed it now!  He headed into the lounge, where his younger sister was watching cartoons on TV.  Spying the fruit bowl on the sideboard, Hugh wandered over to it, pretending to be looking for something else.  "Have you seen my pencil case?"  Hugh asked his sister.  He quickly grabbed some grapes from the fruit bowl and shoved them into his pocket, before his sister turned to look.

"Isn't it in your school bag?" 

"Oh, of course," Hugh replied, laughing.  He darted out of the room and into the porch, where his school bag was kept.  Sitting on the little bench, underneath which everyone's shoes were stored, Hugh hungrily ate his stolen grapes.  But it seemed as though each bite only worsened the rumbling in his tummy.  He was still hungry!

Hugh looked down at his watch.  Ten minutes until dinner.  He sighed and sank lower onto the bench.  Suddenly, an idea formed in his mind; Hugh grabbed his school bag and opened it, hoping he might have something left in there that he could eat.  He knew he'd given his lunchbox to his mum, but maybe, just maybe, there was still something left over from snack time.

Sure enough, right at the bottom of the bag, was a packet of raisins that he remembered he hadn't completely finished, that day.  He fished the packet out and tipped the contents into the palm of his hand.  Five raisins came out, all stuck together in a clump.  Hugh ate them all in one go!  The hunger pains in his belly were getting a little less severe, now, but he still felt like he wanted to eat something else...

Hugh snuck into the conservatory at the back of the house.  Mum had just finished making some decorations for the Halloween party they'd be having in a couple of weeks' time.  Hugh hurried to the cupboard where all the party things were being kept.  Opening the door, he fumbled around until he found the large packet of sweets Mum had bought for trick-or-treaters.  He figured it wouldn't matter if just one sweet was missing...

Hugh gobbled up a large marshmallow.  It tasted so good that he simply had to have another.  And some gummy worms.  And a chocolate pumpkin.  Hugh took a look at his watch.  There were only a few minutes left until dinner time.  He sighed with relief and headed into the dining room to take his place at the table.  

His tummy didn't feel hungry, anymore, but it did feel strange.  

As Dad brought out the food and laid it on the table, Hugh pulled a face.  "Do you mind if I only have a little bit of dinner?"

Dad frowned.  "I thought you were starving?!"

Hugh smiled, sheepishly.  "Actually, it turns out... I'm full."  He patted his swollen belly, sighed contentedly and sank into his chair.  "I think I might need a sleep."

"What on Earth have you been eating?!"  Mum gasped.

But Hugh was already snoozing in his seat, dreaming of his secret feast.


Saturday, 14 October 2017

Why Do Trolls Not Understand That Celebs Are PEOPLE, Too?!

If there's one thing guaranteed to get my interest piqued, it's talk of my favourite ever girlband.  Yes, I'm talking about Ginger, Sporty, Baby, Scary and Posh: The Spice Girls.

A few days ago, I was scrolling through Facebook, paying very little attention to the photos of people's dinners/babies/cats/completed Christmas shopping lists and the "share this if your husband is the light of your life!!!1!!one!!" updates, when I stumbled upon a short video of Mel C (aka Sporty Spice) being interviewed by John Bishop for an upcoming TV show.  In the clip, Mel explained that whilst she had fond memories of being in the band, there was definitely bullying within the group and that she often found it very hard to deal with.  Mel was visibly upset as she spoke and, having experienced bullying myself, both at school and in the workplace, I felt for her.

And then I did a stupid thing.

I read the comments.

We all know that any online comment section is going to feature the worst of humanity, collected together like flies on sh!t.  I was expecting nasty comments about how Mel C was "the least talented one" (like hell is she; she's had a musical theatre career!) or jibes about her looks (beauty is subjective and whilst I've always thought Mel to be very pretty, I knew there would be cruel folk in the comments, making her out to be "Ugly Spice").  But beyond all that, I also expected that there would be people discussing what Mel was saying in the clip and perhaps expressing some sympathy.

And yet...

It just wasn't happening.  What was happening was some spectacular "othering" of this woman, based on nothing more than the fact that she's famous.

"I was bullied at work," one woman crowed, "and it really WAS Hell for ME, because I didn't have the luxury of being rich and famous, like Mel did!  She should try living MY life!"

"Still accepted all her royalty checks, didn't she?!" A man agreed.  "So it can't have been that bad!"

Hang on a second, let me get something straight...  Are we seriously implying that being "rich and famous" somehow buffers you from all of life's negative experiences?  And are we supposed to believe that just because a person gets on with their job, despite the problems they're having within it, the problems are somehow less real?!

The idea that being wealthy, successful and well known means that you can't possibly suffer the way that "normal" people do is utterly ludicrous.  Look at Robin Williams.  Chester Bennington.  L'Wren Scott.  These were all people who had achieved success in their careers, had reached a certain level of fame and were apparently much better off than most of us will ever be.  And yet all of them took their own lives.

Yes, fame can bring you money, meaning that you might not suffer the same financial concerns that plague many regular people.  And of course, there must be something nice about making headway in your chosen career to the point that you are known for it, potentially on a global stage.

But fame is not a bandage for all of life's wounds.  A break up, a personal illness or - yes - bullying, still affects a person, regardless of how many people know their names, or how many zeros are on the end of their pay check.

In fact, when life is giving you a rough time - when you are going through some kind of personal trauma - fame is almost certainly salt in that wound, rather than any kind of bandage.  

Just like both Mel C and the harsh woman in the comment section, I've been bullied in the workplace.  I know how much I hated having to smile and pretend I was fine just in front of the parents bringing their kids to the pre-school I was working at (and of course, the kids themselves).  If I'd had cameras thrust in my face and reporters desperately chasing me for a story, let alone fans - and detractors - talking at length about how easy my life must be, because I had wealth and fame, I can only begin to imagine how much worse the pain would have been.  

When people talk the way that woman in the comment section did, they don't make a clear, or in any way valid point about fame cushioning celebrities from life's problems.  What they do do, is make it clear they have a pretty massive chip on their shoulder about their own lack of wealth, success or notoriety.

"Well, I had it much worse, because I'm not rich and famous!" is not a meaningful or helpful contribution to a conversation.  It's the kind of thing a jealous kid says, because their next door neighbour's bike is newer and shinier than theirs.

Reading that woman's comment made me upset and angry that there are people in the world who genuinely seem to believe that when you accept fame and fortune into your life, you somehow also agree to lose your human capacity to feel, as well as your right to any kind of sympathy, should something bad happen.

Aaaaaand then I read the guy's comment.

I originally put it on a par with the woman's ridiculous bleating about celebs having it easier because they're celebs, but in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, it feels far worse.

The guy was, if you recall, suggesting that Mel shouldn't have carried on accepting her royalties, if she was that unhappy in her job.

I get that Mel C was in a place of luxury, in as much as she was probably earning a pretty decent amount and was therefore more likely to be able to quit her job and not have to worry about being broke as a result.  But she'd still receive royalties from the songs she recorded with the group, if she went the way of Geri and left.  So, was this guy suggesting she shouldn't accept those payments, either?  By way of somehow proving herself?!  And who the hell does she have to prove herself to, anyway?!

When I was being bullied in my old job, I still took my wages home when they were given to me.  The money was one of the things that kept my life stable; despite what was going on at work, my wages meant that I could afford to do things outside of my job, that took away some of the sadness I'd been feeling.  It helped me to keep living my life.  In the end, when I did hand in my notice, with no job in place to go to next, I ended up being doubly depressed, because by then, not only had I been bullied out of a job I once really loved, but I was also financially crippled as a result!

I mentioned Harvey Weinstein above, because the guy in the Mel C comment thread was echoing sentiments I've seen written by others (many men and some women) about the actresses who've made allegations against the producer.

"If they were willing to prostitute themselves for a job in the first place, they can't whine and stamp their little feet about it now," one guy ranted in - you guessed it - another Facebook comment thread.

I feel a little rage break is needed...

...And we're back.

Victim-blaming is of the most gross, hurtful and depressingly common reactions to stories of abuse or accusations of sexually predatory behaviour.  And it seems to me that yet again, the guys who are slinging these harsh words around are forgetting that they're talking about real people.   Sure, real people who work in Hollywood, live in mansions and are hugely famous, but still people.

If an actress comes across one of the most powerful and influential producers in Hollywood and is purposefully intimidated or sexually advanced upon by him, she will be aware of his standing.  Aware of his ability to make and break careers.  Aware of the power he wields, if it comes to her word against his.  Possibly, she may even be aware of previous allegations that hadn't yet seemed to have harmed his glittering career.  It's not necessarily a case of should she speak out, but does she feel able to?  Does she think she'll be believed?  Does she even think it'll change anything?

The circumstances may be different, but at heart, Weinstein preying on actresses as he's alleged to have done, is not so far away from the company boss, harassing the young intern, just starting out in her career.  It's still a person in a position of enormous power, behaving in a way that, as a result of his seniority, he believes can be shrugged off as "banter."  It's still a question of whether that intern feels she'll be belittled and laughed at if she speaks out.  "Oh, take no notice, Geoff's just got a bit of an eye for the ladies."

The fear, shame, embarrassment and anger felt by that young intern are no different to the emotions an actress might feel when groped and harassed by a powerful, famous producer or director.  And it seems that Hollywood has that same "office mentality" of turning a blind eye and tutting "well, you know what he's like..."

I'm tired of reading these kinds of comments every time a famous person speaks out about a personal problem.  I'm sick of people tutting and shaking their heads because the person talking just happens to be a celebrity, as though fame insulates them from harmful experiences.

Yes, being famous enough to have a fanbase must be wonderful.

Yes, having more money than you or I will ever probably have in our lives must mean financial aspects of life are a lot easier to handle.

But fame alone doesn't mean that a person no longer feels things.  It doesn't prevent them from experiencing heartache, pain or suffering.  Fame doesn't mean that a person can't be a victim of something or someone, and speaking out about bad experiences should be applauded, rather than mocked.  

We're all people and we all deserve to be listened to and believed, regardless of what job we do and how much cash is in our bank accounts.  

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Bedtime Story (11/10/2017)

As Halloween approaches, I've been thinking about the things that scare me.  I try to be brave, but that doesn't always work out, haha!  The idea for this story came pretty easily and I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I have writing it.

If you're brave enough, click here for the podcast!

I'm Not Scared!

I'm not scared of spiders,
With their long and hairy legs.
I don't mind the way they crawl,
Or their silvery, sticky webs.

I'm not scared of creepy crawlies
Of any kind at all.
I don't mind bugs with wings and things,
Or insects big or small.

I'm not scared of witches,
Who cast their wicked spells.
I'm not creeped out by cauldrons,
With their bubbles and weird smells.

Vampires?  They don't scare me.
I won't let them suck my blood!
If I met Dracula, I'd hit his head
With a big garlic bulb - THUD!

I'm not frightened by monsters,
Who might hide under my bed.
The thought of them doesn't scare me,
At night when I rest my head.

And I'm not scared of the dark,
Or the shadows that lurk in the night.
The thought of all the lights going off
Never gives me a fright.

Ghosts don't scare me one little bit,
As they float round a haunted house.
And I'm not scared of hairy rats,
Or of a scurrying mouse.

No, I'm not scared of anything.
At least, that's what I say.
I'm really very courageous,
As long as those things all stay away.

So, I won't fear bugs or monsters,
Or ghosts straight from the grave.
And as long as I never see one,
I can keep on being brave!


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Bedtime Story (4/10/2017)

Arguments are a fact of life, sadly.  We don't always all get along, 100% of the time.  But it's important that arguments are resolved and that everyone feels listened to.  I wrote this story with that thought in mind.  

This week's story is, as always, also available as a podcast.

Bobby VS Bailey

It was pouring with rain outside the treehouse.  Bobby frowned as he poked his nose out of the door and watched the seemingly endless downpour.  "It's been raining for ages," he groaned.  He folded his arms across his chest.  "I'm bored."

The treehouse belonged to Bobby and his sister, Clara.  But every day, their friends Bailey, Sam and Jessica came over to play, too.  Today was no different and everyone was feeling just as bored as Bobby was.

"Why don't we put our hoods up and go outside?"  Sam suggested.  He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and made the face he always made when he was about to have a good idea.  "We could go on a bug hunt!  Bugs come out when it rains, because they live in the holes in the ground, or the cracks in trees, and sometimes when it rains, their homes get filled up with water.  So, we could go hunting and see what we can find!"

Jessica wrinkled her nose.  "I don't think my mum and dad want me out in the rain," she said, in a voice that made it sound like she didn't want to be out in it, either.  "They made me promise to stay in the treehouse."

"We don't have to be out long," Bailey shrugged.  "Maybe we could get a plastic tub, poke some holes in the lid and collect some bugs, then bring them back here to look at?"

Jessica still didn't seem entirely convinced, but eventually, everyone agreed to the plan.  They climbed carefully down the ladder from the treehouse and into Bobby and Clara's house, where it was nice and warm and dry.  Clara ran to the kitchen to collect a tub, whilst everyone else waited in the conservatory, pulling up their hoods and getting ready to go back out into the rain.

Before long, the friends were stomping down the road, keeping their eyes peeled for creepy-crawlies.

"Mum says we're only allowed to go as far as lane at the end of the road," Clara reminded Bobby.  "She doesn't want us out in the rain too long."

"Told you," Jessica grumbled, tugging her coat tighter around herself.  "It's not nice, out here!"

But Bobby was determined.  "We're going to find some bugs," he insisted.  He turned to Sam.  "Where's the best place to look?!"

Sam frowned.  "They won't be in their homes, but they'll be looking for shelter," he explained.  "So... We should check underneath bushes, perhaps?"

Bailey nodded, as the friends approached the wooded lane at the end of the road.  "I think we should look for a spider," he said.  "We'll spot those easily!"

Jessica cringed, but Clara gave her arm a squeeze.  "It's okay," she told her.  "It'll be more scared of you than you are of it."

Everyone began searching for bugs, but nobody could find any.  They were all getting very wet and they were starting to feel cold.  "We're looking too close together," Bobby huffed.  "We need to split up!"

"We'll go together," Jessica insisted, clutching Clara's arm.

"I'll look over by that tree stump," Sam replied, scurrying off.

Bailey pointed to a large bush, just as Bobby pointed in the same direction.  

"I'm going to look under there," the boys both said in unison.

"Hey," Bobby frowned.  "I said it first!"

Bailey shook his head.  "We said it at the same time!"

"Well, that's going to be my place to look," Bobby insisted.  "Find your own!"

Bailey hurried over to the bush.  "I got here first," he called.  "So I get to look here!"

Sam glanced over at the boys.  "Can't you just look together?"  He asked.  "That's what the girls are doing.  It's not a competition, you know!"

But Bailey and Bobby felt like they were in competition, now.  And neither boy wanted to back down.

Bobby barged Bailey out of the way and grabbed at the branches of the bush, lifting them up.  A large spider came scuttling out from beneath.  "I found a spider!"  Bobby cried.  "Clara!  Bring me the tub!"

Bailey rushed past Bobby and wrenched the tub out of Clara's hand.  "It was my idea to look for a spider," he hissed.  "So I get to catch it!"

Bobby tugged the tub back out of Bailey's hands.  "Well, the tub is from my house!"  He snapped.  "So I get to catch it!"

Clara rolled her eyes and folded her arms, shivering against the rain.  "Stop arguing!"  She shouted.  "We're all wet and cold!  I don't care who does it; just one of you catch the thing, so we can go home!"

Bailey blinked at the floor, his eyes scanning mud and wet leaves.  "I can't see it, now."

Bobby shook his head.  "That's your fault, for taking the tub from me!  I could have caught it straight away, if you hadn't!"

"Well, you were trying to take over my idea!"  Bailey argued.

As the rain continued to pour and the boys kept arguing, Sam let out a long sigh and began hunting for the spider, whilst Jessica stayed well out of the way and Clara tutted to herself.

"If Sam catches that spider, you aren't allowed to come back to the treehouse to look at it," Bobby snapped.  

"FINE," Bailey shouted.  "I'm going home, then."  He turned on his heels and splashed through the puddles as he stomped down the lane.

Jessica hurried down the lane after him.  She glanced over her shoulder at Bobby as she passed.  "I'm going home as well," she announced.  "I've had enough of all this shouting.  And I'm cold and soaking wet and I don't even like spiders!"

Clara rushed after Jessica.  "Come back to the treehouse," she suggested.  "I'll get Mum to make some of her special hot chocolate, with the marshmallows on top.  It'll warm us right up!"

Sam shook his head at Bobby.  "I can't find the spider, anyway," he sighed.  "I think I'll just go home, too."

Bobby opened his mouth to argue, but suddenly, Bailey's voice echoed down the lane: "Guys!  I found an even bigger spider!"  He pointed to a wall and motioned for Bobby to bring the tub.  Everyone rushed down the lane to meet him.

"Wow!"  Bobby exclaimed, as he set his eyes on the spider.  "It really is even bigger than the last one!"  He handed Bailey the tub, but Bailey shook his head.

"It's your tub, from your house, remember?"  

Bobby smiled, wryly.  "But you found it."  He took a deep breath.  "Why don't we work as a team?"

Together, the boys managed to coax the spider into the tub and they placed the lid - which Clara had carefully poked holes into - on top.  Gently, the boys took it back to the treehouse, taking it in turns to carry the tub.

Before long, everyone was back in the treehouse, cosy and dry, sipping hot chocolate and looking closely at the spider.  Even Jessica had to admit, it was pretty cool to see it up close.

"I'm sorry we got so cross with each other," Bobby said to Bailey.

"Me too," Bailey agreed.  "We work much better together."

Sam took a sip of his hot chocolate.  "We shouldn't keep it for too long," he said, nodding at the spider.  "One of us should probably take it down to the garden and set it free."

Bailey and Bobby nodded.  "I'll do it," they said in unison.

Everyone exchanged glances.  "Uh-oh..."  Clara began.

Bailey laughed.  "We'll do it together," he promised.

The friends all breathed a sigh of relief, as they finished their hot chocolates.  Outside, the rain finally began to subside and the sun peeped through the clouds.  

It had been a good day, after all.