Saturday, 24 September 2016

Stop Excusing Hurtful Behaviour!

I recently read an article online (I'd link to it, but it made me rage-quit the Internet, without copying the page address), the gist of which was basically "everyone who behaves badly has a reason for their behaviour and we should be considerate and support them through it."

Now, that's a nice idea on the surface, perhaps, but this article was using bullying as their starting point.  It was suggesting that all bullies act the way they do because they're suffering some kind of great pain, or living with issues that they don't know how to deal with.  The unspoken message was that we should excuse bullies, because they only act badly because they're going through their own trauma.

And excuse me, but...

I've written here about my experiences of being bullied on the school bus and so this is a deeply personal subject for me.  I don't doubt that the people who made my life a living Hell were acting out because they had issues going on in their lives.  I'd like to think that no emotionally healthy person would ever spit at someone, or urge them to kill themselves, or tell them they're so ugly they don't deserve any form of love.  It's easier for me to believe that they were battling their own demons and that their behaviour came from a dark and unhappy place.  Otherwise I'm left with the knowledge that they simply took genuine enjoyment from pushing a twelve year old girl to a suicide attempt, and frankly, that's too evil to contemplate.

So, sure.  I'll go along with the "bullies act badly because they're going through their own crap" line.  

But it's not an excuse.  

I'm not going to sigh and shrug my shoulders, absolving abusive people of any responsibility (and bullying is a form of abuse, after all).  We all go through things in our lives that shape us and which sometimes cause huge emotional disturbances, but it's up to us how we deal with them.  We have to make a choice about the kind of person we want to be, regardless of what's happened to us in our history, or what's happening to us right now.  Sure, there are situations, illnesses and moments of emotional stress that cause us to lash out and snap at someone, or behave selfishly, or otherwise hurt someone's feelings.  But when that happens, it's up to us to recognise our own behaviour, apologise for it and make amends.  That is, if we choose to.

The thing with using any kind of personal trauma - be it illness (mental or physical), or just going through a really crappy time - as an excuse for bad behaviour is that a) it doesn't make it okay for a person to repeatedly behave badly without any kind of remorse and b) it assumes that becoming a lousy person is just the natural response to trauma.  Which is rubbish.

When I was being bullied, I was subjected to disgusting behaviour which caused me to fall into a deep depression, during which I lost all of my self-confidence.  Years later, I was still in a spiral of self-hatred and regularly dragged the pins from the badges I liked to stick on my bag, across my arms, leaving bumpy red scars, because I felt worthless and needed to feel a pain that was physical, rather than emotional.  

Regardless of what personal trauma my bullies had endured, I was now traumatised as a result of the way they treated me.  The difference between us is that I made the choice to try to never hurt another person the way they had hurt me.  And frankly, had I decided to become a bully myself, I wouldn't have deserved to be excused for it, because I was well aware of what it felt like to be on the receiving end; I would have had no excuse whatsoever for doling out that kind of abuse onto another person.

Fast forward into my twenties and I ended up in a relationship with a man who abused me.  And guess what?  He blamed his past traumas for his behaviour.  He expected me to swallow it as an excuse and, for a long time, I did just that.  But the truth is, whatever sadness was in his past, no matter what hurt he had experienced, he still made a choice to abuse me.  It wasn't inevitable.  And there isn't an excuse.

I have had enough of hearing reasons why we should excuse people when they behave in a manner that is selfish, inconsiderate or downright hurtful.

Yes, we should feel sympathy for a person who has experienced something sad or traumatic.  Yes, we should try to understand that there are certain circumstances in which a person may be under such stress that they snap and say something cruel, or behave selfishly; we should make some allowances for that, because frankly, if we didn't, then we could never expect anyone to make allowances for our own mistakes and let's face it, none of us are perfect.

But those allowances only stretch so far.  If a person is overly critical or cruel towards us and expects us just to take it because they have "issues," we're allowed to say "no, that's not okay."  If it's not just a one-off mistake which the person apologises for, but a prolonged catalogue of hurtful behaviour that said person seems to think they're entitled to exhibit, we are allowed to stand up to it.

Nothing - and I really do mean nothing - gives a person the right to treat people badly and yet be consistently "let off."  We all have to take responsibility for our actions and own up to our mistakes.  

We may not have a choice about the demons from our past that have shaped our character.  But we do have a choice as to the way we treat others.

Let's make the right one.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Bedtime Story (21/9/2016)

If there's anything blatantly obvious about me, it's that I am frustrated diva without a stage.  I will sing at literally ANY given opportunity and some of my best days out with friends involve trips to a private karaoke booth, where I can warble to my heart's content.  So, it feels appropriate to write a story all about singing!

Here is the podcast link f

Keep A Song In Your Pocket

Shelly was always singing.  She sang in the shower, she warbled on the way to school and she hummed whilst doing her homework.  It drove her parents up the wall!

"Just sing a little quieter," Dad would plead, as he tried to watch TV.

"Do you know any other songs?" Mum would ask, after Shelly had sung a particular favourite five times in a row.

And: "Go away and sing somewhere else!"  Shelly's older brother, Sid, would snap, whenever he got tired of her constant tunes.

But Shelly just couldn't stop.  She loved to sing more than anything else in the world.  It made her feel happy!  And not only that, but it helped her with all the other feelings she had, too.  When Shelly was angry, she'd sing a loud song, playing air guitar along with herself.  When she was tired, she'd sing soft, gentle songs to soothe her as she drifted off to sleep.  And when she was sad, she'd either sing a bright, cheerful song to lift her mood, or, if she felt like it, she'd sing a slow, sad song and wallow for a little while...  There was a song for literally every occasion!

One day, Dad announced that the family were going to visit Shelly's Granny.  She lived quite far away, so it would mean a long car journey.  Shelly sang an excited-sort-of-song as she packed her bags.  Shelly didn't see her Granny very often, so she was in a very bubbly mood, by the time she climbed into the back of Dad's car.

Unfortunately, ten minutes into the journey, it became obvious that her parents and brother were in different moods.

"Shelly, you sing very well and I'm glad you're happy, but maybe we could have a bit of quiet for a while?"  Mum suggested.

"I need to be able to hear the traffic announcements," Dad added.

"You're making my ears hurt!"  Sid groaned.

Shelly bit her lip and stared down at her lap.  She wasn't trying to annoy anyone.  She was only singing because she was happy, after all!  Soon, Shelly closed her eyes and tried to sing quietly in her head.  It wasn't the same, though, and by the time they arrived at Granny's, Shelly's happy mood had gone.

Granny gave Shelly a big hug and everyone had a slice of homemade carrot cake.  Mum and Dad told Granny all of their news from home and Sid went out to play in the garden, with Granny's dog, Joe.  But Shelly was very quiet.  She sat in the corner, twiddling her thumbs.  She stayed quiet all through dinner and even when she went up to bed, Shelly only spoke to say "goodnight."

Shelly was just snuggling down under the covers, when the bedroom door creaked open.  Shelly was sharing the spare room with Sid, but he was still in the bathroom cleaning his teeth.  Shelly sat up and glanced at the door.  "Hello?"

Granny smiled at her, as she wandered into the room, walking between the two little beds and sitting on the edge of Shelly's.  "Now," she said, in a firm, but kind voice.  "You don't seem at all happy and I'd like to know what's wrong?"

Shelly let out a huff of air.  "Oh, it's nothing," she moaned.  "I'm just annoying, that's all."

"Annoying?"  Granny exclaimed.  "You're far from it!  Whatever could you do to annoy anyone?"

Shelly shrugged.  "I sing," she said.  "A lot."

"How is that annoying?"  Granny frowned.  "I love to sing!  I sing all the time!"

Shelly gasped.  "You do?!"

"Of course," Granny smiled.  "Music has power, Shelly.  A song can protect you when you feel afraid or alone.  It can bring back memories, make you smile, make you cry... Songs can even teach you things you never knew.  Never let go of the songs in your heart, Shelly.  You carry on singing them.  Sing them to the whole world!"

Shelly beamed at her Granny.  "Really?  Because Sid's always telling me not to be so noisy..."

Granny tutted.  "He's at a funny age, that's all," she said.  "And maybe he just thinks you need to go and learn some new songs and sing them in a place especially for singing."

"I wish there was a place especially for singing," Shelly sighed.  "Maybe then I wouldn't get into trouble all the time..."

Granny grinned.  "Tomorrow, I'm going to take you to my choir," she said.  "We meet once a week and we sing songs and sometimes, we even give special performances on stage!  I think you'll love it."

And Granny was right.  The next day, Shelly went with her to choir practise and discovered that the choir was made up of all sorts of people - young and old - all with one special thing in common:  they loved to sing.  Shelly spent the day singing her heart out and she loved every second.  

As soon as Shelly and her family got home from their visit to Granny's, Shelly went to find out whether her school had a choir that she could join.  And when she realised that it did, she was over the moon.

From that day onwards, Shelly never lost her love of singing ever again.  She learnt all kinds of new songs, made lots of new friends and felt happier than she ever had, before.  She finally had a special place to sing her songs.  And even Sid had to agree, it was nice to hear her crooning away, once more. 

Well... Most of the time.


Sunday, 18 September 2016

Can I Survive 24 Hours Without The Internet?!

I'm writing this blog using the Internet.  Once it's posted, I'm hoping other people will visit my page in order to read it online.  And, once this is finished and I'm free to go about my business, I have no doubt that I'll decide to go off and check out what's happening on Facebook or Twitter.  Perhaps I'll have a look at my YouTube channel.  Maybe I'll check my emails.  The point is, I'm likely to be online.

I am a teensy-tiny bit obsessed by the Internet.  By which I mean: I LOVE IT, PLEASE NEVER TAKE IT AWAY FROM ME.

The thing is, I like to occasionally step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself.  And so, I started wondering if maybe, just maybe, I was spending too much time online and whether I would actually be able to avoid all use of the Internet for 24 hours.  Now, 24 hours doesn't sound all that long.  But I'm someone who wakes up in the morning and immediately goes online.

So, on Tuesday at 7:50pm, I tweeted my followers to say that I would be gone from the Internet for 24 hours.  I put the same message out on Facebook (because I figured, the more people that saw it, the more people there were to furiously berate me if I was spotted on social media before 8pm on Wednesday - which I decided would be the time I was allowed back online).

The very first thing I noticed, once my phone was face-down on the table (so as not to tempt me), was how restless my hands felt.

Seriously, I am so used to my phone being either in my hand, or within easy reach, I didn't know what to do with myself.  I twiddled my thumbs.  I picked off my nail varnish.  I thought back to the days when a mobile phone was literally just a device used to call or possibly text someone else and I had a brief, but wonderous "the world has come so far..." moment.  Then, I remembered that we still live in a world in which we allow Katie Hopkins a platform to air her vile views and where Donald Trump might actually become President of the USA, and then I felt sad and the earlier moment was lost...

I needed cute gifs of puppies, in order to cheer me up.  I needed to go on YouTube for some medicinal Dan and Phil videos.  Instead, thankfully, I was able to spend a couple of hours playing Articulate! with my mum, sister and sister-in-law.  Unfortunately, during said games, my sister spoke at length about the new iPhone update she'd just downloaded and all the cool features it entailed.  I couldn't update my operating system, what with needing to be connected to the Internet in order to do so, so I did what all mature adults would do in that situation: I got mildly tipsy on my sister-in-law's very strong mojitos and kicked my sister's butt in a game of Cards Against Humanity.

Turns out, you don't need the Internet in order to make sick jokes.  

As the first minutes without the Internet turned into the first hours, something became very apparent:  I use the Internet for more things than I ever realised, before.

By the time I went to bed on Tuesday night, I had had to restrain myself from:

  • Checking the weather app on my phone, to see what the forecast was for the following day.
  • Googling several different things out of curiosity.
  • Downloading the latest software update for my phone.
  • Finding a recipe for a cocktail, online.
  • Opening and reading the Facebook messages I'd had.
  • Checking my bank balance via my online banking app.
  • Booking a restaurant online, or at the very least, checking the menu.

On an average day, I would do any of those things without giving them so much as a second thought.  They're just part of the fabric of my life, now.  We have access to shopping, banking and socialising in our pockets.  How crazy is that?!  We have the answers to millions of questions, right there at our fingertips.  And I take those things for granted every single day.  Realising that fact made me feel incredibly ungrateful, especially in a world in which there are plenty of places where people don't have access not only to the Internet, but to safe, clean running water, for goodness sake.  Feeling even slightly deprived because I had chosen to go without the Internet for 24 hours was one HELL of a case of that awful phrase: First World Problems.

By the following day, I was feeling strangely liberated.  I am one of those people who has to answer text messages the second I get them (or at least, the second I know about them if I've been away from my phone or I miss the alert tone).  I'm exactly the same with social media messages or comments, so whilst it was frustrating to see the numbers go up on those little alert bubbles that appear on your phone next to various apps, there was a weirdly pleasant sense of me-time associated with not clicking on any of them.  As though I wanted to say: "No, Internet, we are on a break.  Stop trying to contact me."

Admittedly, by late afternoon/early evening, it was feeling slightly less liberating and more like seeing a pile of Christmas presents under the tree and knowing you have to wait for what feels like an eternity before you get to open any of them...  Who knew junk mail could be so exciting?!

But I was starting to realise that I miss things, by being glued to the Internet all the time.  I watched the news without glancing down to read a funny tweet.  I sat and chatted to my parents, without being distracted by any Facebook messages.  I ate a meal and felt no compulsion to take a photo of it and upload it to Instagram.  Without the distraction of being able to rush to Google to ponder various weird questions, or the ability to lose myself in a succession of hilarious Tumblr posts, I was free to engage more in real life.  It made me realise that maybe I do need to switch off now and again and remember that I don't have to kill a spare hour by going online.  I can just as easily listen to music, read a book or go for a walk.

That said, once 6pm arrived, I had realised why I also need the Internet.  After all, every Wednesday at 6pm, a brand new bedtime story for children goes live here on my blog (check out the full list of previous stories here).  And therefore, every Wednesday at shortly after 6pm, I'm supposed to market said stories, by posting the links on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and anywhere else I think might help increase my readership.  Without access to the Internet, it dawned on me that I had no way of spreading the word about my stories.  I had created something and there was no way to encourage people to go and look at it.

And that got me to thinking about the fact that I was also vlogging my 24 hours without the Internet, for my YouTube channel.  

The Internet has given me the opportunity to create a space where I can publish my writing for other people to read.   I can publish entire books on Amazon.  I can make videos and post them online for anyone to watch and - hopefully - enjoy.  The Internet has given me the chance to unlock my creative potential in ways that I don't have in my offline life.  I could still be writing, making videos or coming up with stories for children without the Internet, but being able to share all of those things online allows me to feel as though my creativity has a purpose.  It's being viewed and read by people I've never even met in my life.

To me, that's pretty amazing.

So, by the time 8pm rolled around and I could open up the browser on my laptop once more (and finally click all those notification bubbles on my phone...), I had slotted the Internet into a slightly different place in my affections.  I need it, for a variety of reasons.  I want it, because it's still an excellent boredom-killer, a brilliant way of staying in touch with people and a fantastic method of making life that bit easier.  

But I can live without it.  I can do other things, rather than hunch over my phone and scroll mindlessly through Twitter for hours at a time.  If I needed to, I could give up the Internet for another 24 hours.  Maybe even longer.

Just, you know... Don't make me.

Click here to watch my 24 hours without the Internet vlog!

Friday, 16 September 2016

Fifty Shades Darker: Trailer Analysis

So, the time has come again, folks.  The second Fifty Shades movie is due out next February and the first trailer has appeared, sending fans into a frenzy.  Depressingly, it would seem that not even the ghastly inner workings of Christian's mind, as featured in Grey (the book retold from Christian's perspective) has put the most hardcore Fifty Shades fans off.  The trailer for Fifty Shades Darker was watched 114million times in the first 24 hours of its release.  
Speaking as a survivor of a man frighteningly similar to Christian Grey (and as a hater of all things Fifty Shades related), the task has fallen to me to analyse the ...Darker trailer.  Yaaaaay.

Pictured: ME.


So, the trailer begins with plinky-plonky dramatic piano music.  We see Grey wistfully standing by a large expanse of water, watching fireworks.  

So broody.  Much millionnaire. Wow.

Sadly, nobody comes to push him into said water, so we see a title card with the words "This Valentine's Day" flash up on screen, instead.  

Let me just take a moment - literally five seconds in - to moan:


Let's get one thing clear, shall we?  There are certain things that have no place being associated with a healthy relationship:
  • Stalking
  • Threats
  • Coercion/ignored lack of consent
  • Manipulation
  • Unwanted and obsessive levels of control

Grey does all of these things.  Now, I may be a terminally single person who views Valentine's Day as a commercialised beast, but essentially, it's supposed to be a day to celebrate love, romance and healthy relationships.  Fifty Shades has no place being mentioned alongside those things.

Okay, back to it...

We see Grey handing Ana a present, followed by another card, telling us:

Ahahahahahaaaaa.  No.  

Seriously, trailer??!!  Forget the past???!!!!  Which part would you like us to forget?  The bit where your "hero" took an unconscious woman back to his hotel room, undressed her and lay in bed next to her, without her consent?  The part where he stalks that same woman when she asks him for space?  The moment the "hero" beats that same woman with a belt, not stopping, despite her very obvious distress?  The fact that the author of this horror story has ignored and blocked abuse survivors and charities, whenever they point out the dangers of romanticising a man like this?  The plagiarism of Stephanie Meyer's work?  We have a lot of history, trailer.  You're going to need to be much more specific...

I feel the need to point out that we're only nine seconds in and I already feel the beginnings of a rage headache.

I'm going to need to numb the pain.

We then see Christian putting on a masquerade mask and the title cards tell us to "slip into something a shade darker."

Quite frankly, the only thing I'm in any danger of slipping into is a coma from lack of arousal, but okay, trailer.  Whatever you say.

We see a box being opened (presumably the present we saw, earlier), to reveal masquarade masks.  Christian asks Ana if she's intrigued and puts the mask on her.  We're then treated to a shot of the pair in fancy clothes, attending the masquerade ball from the book.  I think we're meant to find Christian incredibly hot in his tux and mask, but I'm not going to lie to you, dear readers, I thought he looked hilarious.  

Is he going to rob the house?!  

The music, by the way, is yet another version of Crazy In Love (you know, like in the first film...), because if there's one thing EL James has proved beyond doubt with her desperate re-writing of books she's already stolen written, it's that she just loves to flog dead horses.

After some dramatic shots of Christian and Ana doing twirly dances at the ball, we see Ana discovering a bouquet of flowers from Christian and we hear his voice-over telling her: "I want you back.  I had no idea what this was going to become."

You mean a relationship in which you abuse her, Christian?  Because I totally saw that coming.  You lack foresight, my friend.

Anyway, Ana looks super happy with her flowers and not at all freaked out or intimidated by Christian's attention, what with having dumped him in the last book/film for being "one f*cked up son of a bitch":

"Ooh, goodie!  My stalker still loves me!"

Ana replies in voice-over: "I don't see how this can work."  And I, watching this trailer whilst wishing I was doing literally anything else, scream at my computer screen: "THEN RUN FAR AWAY AND NEVER RETURN, AS IF YOU ARE SIMBA FROM THE LION KING."

Oh, you have no idea how much I would rather be watching The Lion King...

Cut to Ana walking through Jose's photo exhibition, looking all sad, wistful and, if you ask me, mildly terrified.  It appears that she has every right to be, because when she turns around, Christian is staring at her like this:

Not at all looking like he's going to kill her, or anything.

And Ana, as you would, if you turned around and saw the ex you recently dumped staring at you in a mega creepy fashion, is delighted:

The ROMANCE is palpable.

I genuinely can't decide whether this is a case of bad acting, bad chemistry or bad source material (well, the source material is atrocious, but you know...), but if I was watching this with literally no clue what happens in this series, I would be thinking I was watching the trailer for a psychological thriller about a guy who refuses to let a woman go.

Which is exactly what it is.

There's then a scene of Ana in her fetching silver dress from the ball, asking an admiring Christian whether he's just going to "stand there, gawking," to which he answers: "yes."  

We're then treated to the sight of Christian and Ana pushed up against the wall of the shower, with the water running, eating one another's faces.  I think this is meant to show us how passionate their relationship is, and that Ana wants him just as much as he wants her, but thanks to the creepy thriller vibes we've had so far, I'm now just convinced that the victim in this psychological thriller is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

After some more hot, sexy scenes (I would describe them in more detail, but I was really busy, attending to a chipped nail, which was more interesting), we hear Ana say: "This time, no rules.  No punishments," then we see the happy couple on a boat.  Because, see, they're a healthy, normal pair of lovebirds.  Or something.

Push him in, Ana.  Please.  Do it for me.

We hear Ana's voice-over continue: "And... No more secrets."  Then, of course, we see the couple all tucked up in bed, only for Leila to appear ominously watching them.

Now, Leila was a character who was handled appallingly badly in the books (for a start, she was made to talk like Gollum from Lord of The Rings) and it'll be interesting to see how she's treated in the films.  Let's face it, it can't get much worse, can it?  I mean, in the books, we see how much research EL James did on the subject of mental health and the treatment thereof (none) and how much compassion she's prepared to show towards a character with severe mental health issues (very, very little), so I can only hope that if this film gets just one thing right, it treats Leila better than the books ever did.

Here's hoping.

Then, because this film doesn't seem enough like it's not even in the same postcode as a "LOVE story," we're given a glimpse of Ana being attacked by Jack Hyde.  It's always intrigued me that a man who thinks of women as property and who isn't overly bothered by freely-given, enthusiastic consent as long as he gets what he wants, is rightly treated as a "bad guy," in the same franchise as a man who thinks of women as property and who isn't overly bothered by freely-given, enthusiastic consent as long as he gets what he wants, is treated as the "hero."  Jack and Christian are not that different.  They're both psychopathic abusers.  It's just that one has good looks, money and enough manipulative charm to get under our heroine's skin.  If this was written intentionally - if this were a thriller - I'd be heaping praise on EL James for this clever writing tactic that speaks volumes about our often-shallow society, but it's not written that way.  We're supposed to hate Jack and love Christian.  Who, in case you've forgotten, conveniently victim-blames Ana when he hears about her attack and decides not to get the police involved.  Swoon.

Anyway, the attack is suitably chilling, although I won't lie, it took me several watches to realise that this wasn't Christian, because forcibly stopping Ana from leaving just feels like something he'd do.

You know I'm right.

Because this film is looking likely to be as awful as the books by this point, we gloss over this assault of Ana, in favour of a return to the masquerade ball, at which we are treated to our first glimpse of the child molestor "Mrs Robinson."

I don't know if I'm just going slightly insane from boredom/depression, but I honestly thought she was Jennifer Saunders and I briefly got excited at the idea that this was about to become a comedy.

If there's one thing this film is lacking, it's the ability to be ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS.

We don't have any further chance to meet this character, however, because we have the very serious business of Ana discovering Grey's grotesque invasion of her privacy, in the form of the dosier he had compiled on her when they met.  It includes photos taken without her consent, which, you know, I'm just saying: Jack Hyde and Christian Grey = NOT SO DIFFERENT.  Ana, once again, looks overjoyed to discover that her sort-of-boyfriend knew her bank details, address, family addresses and various other personal information, without her ever having provided it.  Because this is the height of romance, guys.

"So, er, you're re-dumped." - Fifty Shades if I wrote the script.

After some images of Ana running away (which I like to imagine were shots of her taking my earlier advice...), we see Leila confronting Ana at home, asking: "Do you think you're the first woman who's tried to save him?"

You know what, guys?  This isn't even funny, anymore.  In this scene, we're being shown a woman with enormous psychological trauma (CAUSED BY THE DAMN "HERO" WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BE WETTING OURSELVES OVER) telling the new partner of the man who emotionally broke her that others have been in this position and gotten hurt in the process.  And although the trailer is ambiguous as to what Ana thinks at this moment, those of us who've read the books (because HI FANS, I'VE READ THE DAMN BOOKS YOU ACCUSE ME OF NOT READING) know that Ana sticks by her beloved Christian and cures him, because she is oh, so perfect and magical and we should all wish to be more like her.

Which is bull.

This is it, right here: THIS is why I hate, loathe and despise this franchise more than I have ever hated any work of fiction before or since.  This is EL James (and now her husband, who wrote the screenplay for this film) saying: "hey, other girls tried and failed to save Christian, but let's gloss over the enormous emotional and psychological price they paid in doing so and focus on the fact that ANA WINS!"

No.  No, no, no.  NO.

I've been there.  I've been Ana.  I've told myself: "Nobody else has ever gotten through to him like I have.  Nobody has ever been this close to him.  I can save him."

I was wrong.  Because - in all but what I can only assume is the tiniest number of cases - you are always wrong.

You can't "cure" an abusive person.  You can't magically "fix" them, just by loving them the "right" way.  There is no "right" way.  What made my abuser hold me and tell me he loved me one week, was the very thing that made him scream at me and tell me I disgusted him, the next.  That's because abusers thrive on staying in control.  And by keeping you off-balance, they ensure they retain that.  An abusive person will only change if he or she can acknowledge their behaviour as being abusive and want to change, via extensive, professional help (Doctor Flynn, with his victim-blaming and abuse-enabling behaviour does NOT count).  Christian never acknowledges that he has abused Ana in any way.  He talks about wanting to change, but he doesn't show any major changes in his treatment of her, or his behaviour in general.

But that desire to "save" the abusive partner is what keeps people in dangerous relationships.  All-too-often, it's what keeps people in situations where they run the risk of being emotionally destroyed, beaten or even killed.  So, by all means, tell me that this is "just fiction," or "pure fantasy."  But in perpetuating the myth that the "right" person, with the "right" kind of love can somehow cure an abuser, EL James is spreading a disgusting, dangerous message that personally offends me on a primal level, because, at the core of this message, she's telling people like me - who walked away from abuse (or those who were killed by their abusers) - that we just weren't the right one to "magically fix" the people who harmed us.  We just didn't love them the "right" way.

And I have a message for EL James in response to that:

Okay, Emma.  Breathe.  You have fourteen seconds of this to go, then you can reward yourself with a night out at the cinema.


And, as if by magic, the trailer Gods have favoured me!  The last fourteen seconds are just title cards, reminding us of the name of the movie, Fifty Shades Is Abuse  Fifty Shades Darker and the release date (Valentine's Day 2017).

Well.  There's little more I can say, beyond the fact that what I just watched did not in any way resemble the trailer for a "LOVE story."  It appeared to be the trailer for a thriller about some gross creep who invades the privacy of the woman he wants to be in a relationship with and whom other women try to warn his girlfriend away from.  Despite the boat ride and the masquerade ball and the shower sex, at no point did I think: "Yep, this is a movie about a romantic and truly healthy relationship."

Fans are going to argue that I'm coming at this from a biased viewpoint (because they don't have any original arguments left, judging from experience...), and that this is a love story about a damaged man finding redemption in the love of his soulmate, but all I can say to them is:

A few people have asked me whether the 50 Shades Is Abuse campaign will be protesting the second film.  Well, you'll be thrilled to know that my campaign co-runner Natalie and I are already planning on getting the ball rolling for that very soon.  So stay tuned if you'd like to get involved, as we'd love to see an even bigger turnout than we had for the first movie premiere.

For now, if you need me, I will be weeping silently over the fact that there are still actual, real-life people who see this story as romantic.

No.  Just... Really, really no.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Bedtime Story (14/9/2016)

So, by the time this story comes out, it'll be just a few days after my birthday!!  Woohoo!!  And, at the time of writing it (in July...), I'm currently trying to pretend I'm not overwhelmingly sad that the two guys in the gif above aren't attending this year's Summer In The City (to be fair, they're touring Australia and I'm hugely proud of them and very glad for their Aussie fans, but STILL... Gutted for me, because I want to meet them more than anything).  So, those two thoughts merged to create this story.  Hope you enjoy!

To listen to this week's story as a podcast, just click here!

"The ONLY Thing I Want For My Birthday..."

Jacob wasn't happy.  His birthday was only a few days away, but he wasn't in the mood to celebrate.  A party had been arranged, his mum was planning on baking a cake and he'd been promised lots of awesome-sounding gifts.  But Jacob wasn't bothered about any of it.

The only thing Jacob wanted for his birthday, was the very thing he couldn't have.

"I'm wrapping your presents up tonight, when you've gone to bed," his mum told Jacob, as they ate dinner.  "Are you getting excited, yet?"

Jacob pushed his food around his plate and sighed.  He didn't want to be ungrateful.  He didn't like making his mum feel sad.  But he just couldn't raise a smile.  "The only thing I want for my birthday is for Dad to come home to spend it with me," he said, in a small voice.

Jacob's dad was in the Army.  He'd been away for a few weeks now and Jacob missed him terribly. He knew it was his dad's job and that Dad couldn't help missing his birthday, but knowing that didn't make it any easier.  "It's not going to be the same without him," Jacob sighed.

"You sound just like your dad when you mutter like that," Jacob's mum chuckled.  "And that face you just pulled was the image of him, as well."

"Me looking like him isn't the same as him being here," Jacob insisted.

"I know that.  But your birthday will be great just the same," Jacob's mum promised.  "We'll have a lovely day and we can tell Dad all about it.  He's promised to video-call, remember?"

Jacob managed a weak smile.  That night, he went to bed and tried his hardest to get excited about his birthday.  But without his dad being home, he just wasn't sure how.  It was Dad who made his special birthday pancakes for breakfast ever year.  It was Dad who organised all the party games when Jacob's friends and family came over to celebrate.  It just wouldn't be the same without him there.

The morning of Jacob's birthday arrived at last and the sun came bursting through Jacob's bedroom window.  He could hear his mum bustling about in the kitchen and he tiptoed downstairs, still rubbing his eyes.

"Birthday pancakes!"  Mum called, smiling brightly.  "I hope they taste as good as they do when your dad makes them.  Happy birthday!"

Jacob smiled and glanced at the pile of presents by his place on the kitchen table.  He felt the tiniest pang of excitement and his smile widened just a little.

"What are you going to open first?"  His mum asked, bringing the pancakes to the table.

Jacob shrugged.  "I don't know..."

Jacob made his way to the table and began opening his presents.  They were brilliant - a skateboard, a book about dinosaurs, a DIY space rocket kit and a couple of really cool t-shirts.  Jacob smiled, but his chest swelled - if only his dad was here to help him build the space rocket, or teach him some cool tricks on the skateboard...  "Thanks, Mum," he said.  "These are awesome."

His mum squeezed his shoulder.  "I know today isn't quite the same, but it'll be okay, I promise."

After Jacob had eaten breakfast and gotten dressed, he took his skateboard outside.  He remembered some of the tricks his dad had shown him in videos they'd watched together and he tried his best to copy some of the easier ones.  Mum came out to watch and she took photos to send to Dad.  When he was worn out, Jacob went back inside and started work on the space rocket model, whilst Mum decorated his birthday cake.  Jacob remembered all the things his dad told him when they made models together: "Always look at the instructions first, lay everything out in front of you so you can see it all before you start and don't glue anything into place until you're sure it's where it's supposed to go..."

Once Jacob had finished putting the model together, it was time for his friends to arrive for the party.  They brought him extra gifts and they all played lots of cool party games that Jacob's mum had organised.  Mum had made a huge chocolate cake and everyone enjoyed a delicious birthday tea, with crisps, sausage rolls, mini pizzas and cake for pudding.  It was fun.  Jacob couldn't help but enjoy himself and for a while, he laughed and smiled with his friends and family like there was nothing different about the day at all.

That evening, when everyone had gone home, Jacob cuddled up to his mum on the sofa and smiled.  "Thank you for a lovely day.  You were right; it was great."  He sighed.  "I do really miss Dad, though."

His mum cuddled him close.  "I know," she told him.  "But he's going to video-call us in a minute, so let's be ready!"  She switched on the laptop and waited for the call to come through.  Soon enough, a bleepy noise signalled that Dad was calling and before long, his face appeared on the screen.  Jacob beamed and waved.

"Happy birthday!"  His dad called, waving back.  "Have you had a good day?"

Jacob told his dad everything - what presents he'd had, what they'd had to eat at the party, what games they'd played... As he spoke, he realised how lucky he'd been and he flashed his mum an extra big smile.  But the one thing he wanted more than anything was to hug his dad.  Jacob sighed.  "I really wish you were here."

His dad grinned.  "It sounds like I am."

Jacob's eyes widened.  "What do you mean?!"

His dad raised his eyebrows.  "You remembered the skateboarding videos I've shown you, online, right?"

Jacob nodded, staring wordlessly at the screen.

"And you remembered what I always say about building models?"  Dad went on.

Again, Jacob nodded.

"And you've been thinking about me, even whilst you've been having fun with your friends and enjoying your party?"

Jacob nodded once more.

"Then you've got me right there with you," his dad said.  "Right where it matters.  In your heart and in your thoughts."  He smiled through the screen at Jacob.  "Look around the room you're sitting in.  Can you see pictures of me?  Photos of us together?"

"Everywhere," Jacob replied, glancing at the family photos on the mantlepiece and up on the walls.

"I'm with you, Jacob," Dad said.  "In everything you do and all the things you say.  When you love someone, they're never far from you, no matter how many miles might be between you.  They're in your heart all the time.  I'm in yours and you're in mine."  

Jacob's chest swelled.  He thought back to his mum telling him how much like his dad he was and he suddenly felt incredibly proud.

"Anyway," Dad went on.  "You've not opened your special present from me, yet."

As Jacob glanced away from the screen, his mum passed him a little package.  Jacob unwrapped it to reveal a game for his console and he grinned.  "I've wanted this one for ages!"

"I know," Dad replied.  "You've got a few more weeks to practise on it, before I come home and play it with you - you can see if you can beat me!"

Jacob laughed.  "I will," he said.  "Thanks, Dad."

"You're welcome," Dad smiled.  "I knew you'd been after that game for a while."

Jacob shook his head.  "I don't mean the game," he insisted.  "I mean...  For letting me know you're around.  Even if you're... not."  Jacob pressed a hand against his chest.  "You're here."

Dad nodded and echoed Jacob's actions.  "You're here, too."

Later that night, as his mum tucked him into bed, Jacob flung his arms around her neck and kissed her cheek.  "Thanks, Mum.  Today has been the best birthday ever."

His mum kissed him back and smiled.  "I'm glad.  Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Mum," Jacob replied.  And, as the moon rose in the sky outside and the stars twinkled, he smiled to himself and placed his hand on his heart.  "Goodnight, Dad."


Sunday, 11 September 2016

The Great Escape (Rooms!)

Pretty sure this is my best look ever.

Today is my birthday.  Woop-woop.  

Yesterday, we celebrated this fact (a day early, but hey, I was born two days early, so I'm all for doing things in advance), by taking a trip to The Escape Rooms in Plymouth.

If you're wondering what on Earth that is, let me attempt to explain...

Escape Rooms (also known as Exit Games, Adventure Rooms and other similar titles) are a real-life version of escape-themed computer games, in which you're put into a room, the door is locked behind you and you then have a time limit (usually an hour) in which to solve the various hidden (and not-so-hidden) puzzles dotted around the room, in order to find the key that gets you back out again.  Ever since I first heard about these games, back in January this year, I've been dying to have a go, so it was with great excitement that I arrived at The Escape Rooms in Plymouth, yesterday.

Obviously, if I told you too much about what we discovered inside the game, it might lead to me accidentally giving away some of the puzzles you have to solve, which would defeat the object, so forgive me if this particular review is sketchy.  It's purposefully so, but for the best reasons, I swear...

Anyway, on arrival, we were given a quick rundown of what was about to happen and told what the best time any team had taken to get out of the room was (24 minutes).  We had picked the Germ room, which was Cold War themed.  Our mission was to solve clues left us by a double agent, in order to escape without being attacked by chemical weapons.

Now, for my claustrophobic friends: don't fret.  These games could still be for you.  The first room we entered in our quest was relatively big and the health and safety brief we had before the game started reassured us that we could come out at any time if we felt unwell or needed the toilet etc.  We were also given a walkie talkie, so we could ask for help if we needed it and we were reassured that the rooms are all monitored by CCTV and that if we looked like we needed a clue, one would come!  So, we cast any fears aside and went straight into puzzle-solving mode, as soon as the door was closed behind us.

I wasn't expecting the game to be so immersive; the second we were locked in, I was no longer just "Emma."  I was a contestant on The Crystal Maze.  Seriously, the adrenaline kicked in, I became intensely aware of the fact that we only had an hour to solve everything and make our way back out and I started expecting this guy to appear...

"Ooh, Mumsie!  We've got guests in the Germ Room!"

Once you're inside the room, it's time to find your role on the team.  There were five of us and although we started out running around like headless chickens and probably not communicating all that well, we eventually settled into something of a routine, with one or two of us trying various combinations on several locks, with the rest of us trying to solve as many puzzles as we could, in order to work out what those combinations might be.

When we eventually got the key we'd been so desperately searching for and unlocked the door it fitted, we were surprised to find ourselves in another room.  And there was a third room after that! Discovering that the game didn't end the second we unlocked that first door definitely made it feel like good value for money.  The price for five of us was £70, so £14 each and we all agreed that it was money we were happy to pay for the experience we had. 

Nothing was physically challenging (I had to jump at one point, to reach something on a high shelf, but that's only because I'm incredibly short and wasn't wearing heels...), but there was plenty of mental exercise to be getting on with!  Lots of hunting for clues, working out double meanings and, as the very friendly staff member put it: "looking at things from a different perspective."

We eventually made it out with just three minutes to spare and I'm not ashamed to say that I did a big squeak of delight as we unlocked that final door and burst into the corridor beyond!

 It was a brilliant way to spend an hour - a great team-bonding exercise, a good mental workout and a fantastic adrenaline rush.  We're already talking about all the other escape rooms we plan to try!!

So, if you're looking for a day out with a difference, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend trying an escape room.  Give it a go - and let me know how you get on!