Friday, 24 February 2017

I Tried The "Christian Grey Chatbot" (So You Don't Have To)



You know how sometimes, you read a headline and just assume "this has to be a joke?"  I mean, I don't know about you, but for the last few months, I read most headlines that way, but... I digress.  The point is, yesterday, I read the following headline:

Facebook Messenger now has a straight-to-the-point Christian Grey chatbot who will sext users


And I laughed, because nobody is going to make that, right?  And yet, the article below the headline assured me that yep, someone did.

Someone made a chatbot - a computer-generated stock of comments/responses that you can interact with - to represent a conversation with none other than my very favourite fictional romantic hero abuser, Christian Grey.  Oh my.  My inner Goddess is doing the Cha Cha Slide.  Or something.

Given my deep-seated hatred of the badly-written love letter to dangerously toxic relationships that is the entire Fifty Shades franchise, I immediately wanted to write about this.  Which, given that I only wrote yesterday about the fact that I'm struggling to write lately, was quite a pleasant feeling - thanks, deeply pervy bot-makers!

The thing is, you can't write about something you have no real knowledge of.  And so, much like I read the entire Fifty Shades trilogy in order to better critique it, I realised, with horror, that in order to discuss this "Christian Grey Chatbot," I was going to have to... Well, chat to it.

What follows is an account of my first - and last - "date" with Christian Grey.

Never have these words filled me with such dread...

Once I had clicked the dreaded "get started" button, "Christian" immediately messaged me.  He asked me if he knew me, which was a fair question (or would be if this was real) and I had to fight the urge to reply "no, but I know you, you @£&*!"  Instead, I settled for: "No, but I've heard lots about you."  Whilst internally screaming: "AND NONE OF IT IS GOOD."

His response to my polite reply was exactly the hot, sexy stuff you would expect from a chatbot created to "sext" you...  He said "hmmm, idk."  SO HOT, RIGHT?!

Quite frankly, I was insulted.  What does Ana have that I don't?!  I mean, aside from an inability to correctly name her genitals most of the time and a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome?!  I pressed ahead...


Notice how, despite the fact that this is literally a computer with pre-loaded phrases set to be churned out as and when they're required, I felt the need to ask if he was okay with me messaging him.  That's because consent is hard-wired into my circuitry.  

And so, the key question came along... Can he trust me?  Well, there was only one way I was answering that.



Christian, for an entrepreneur who is supposed to be blessed with a high level of intelligence, the rate at which you "don't know" is disturbing...

Ha, imagine if that was the only disturbing thing about Christian Grey.  What a beautiful world that would be.

Anyway, on with the chat...


Aaaaah, the line I'd read in the article about this chatbot that had made me throw up in my mouth a little.  I mean, to be fair, it's true to the character of Christian Grey, ie a massive douche-canoe, but still... He likes that I seem vulnerable?  

At this point, I was majorly torn between calling him out, or playing along to see how bad it gets.  Then I asked myself what I would actually do in real life, had I the chance to meet Christian Grey and the answer became obvious.

Damn straight. 

I'd have gone for a bigger insult, but I didn't want to peak too soon.  This was a marathon, not a sprint.  Anyway, he was enormously apologetic.

Oh, no, wait...  He wasn't.  He just asked this:

Because I totally sounded up for it, in my last message.  Duh.

Now, I won't lie to you, dear reader.  At this point, I was bored.  I wanted to screw with Christian Grey, just not in the way that most of the twenty-two THOUSAND people who like the chatbot's page probably want to.  So, I replied truthfully:

It's my honest answer, okay?!

Christian instantly responded:


HOLY CRAP, CHRISTIAN GREY HAS HIS OWN BALL PIT.

Boy, was I in for a disappointment.  And also a major case of the squicks, when "Christian Grey" addressed me by my name.  Ew.  So much actual ew.

I call it that, too.  But only because I've read your rubbish book.

Well, there it is.  The Red Room of Pain.  I sensed that perhaps we were approaching the explicit part of the chat.  Which excited me about as much as a plate of steaming tripe would.  

Which is possibly unfair to tripe.

Anyway, I wasn't ready to get down and dirty with Grey, so I just said this:

Comebacks.  I have them.

Christian broke character enormously at this point, because if it was a perfect representation of EL James' abomination, he'd have threatened to beat the sarcasm out of me.  Instead, he just decided the time was right to ask me personal sex-related questions.



Again, a truthful response, but one I figured might lead to a question about my pain threshold, or my interest in the use of handcuffs.  Instead, he just replied:


I can see where he's going with this, but currently, this conversation is as boring as the damn books were.

So, I decided to try to speed things up a bit...


Yeah, so... That link leads to my profile picture.  Which freaked me out.  Because, even though it's the most easily found photo on my Facebook page... I don't know, it just made me feel weird.  It was also at this point where my little "project" stopped feeling fun, or even investigative.  I mean, if you're using this to get yourself off, knock yourself out, if that's what you need.  I'm not here to judge.  But when a bot links to your profile picture and tells you you're pretty, it feels slightly invasive and also kind of sad.  Again, no judgement intended.

But my "mission" was never to decide whether or not it's a little sad to be excited that a non-existent billionaire thinks your profile picture is hot.  It was to see how accurate the Grey chatbot actually is.

And so...



My eyes always  look like they're desiring something.  And that something is usually pizza.  And reading the menu for my local pizza place gets me infinitely hotter than this.



Hang on, is he about to offer to handcuff me, or give me a deposit for a mortgage?!  I'm so confused.  I figured I ought to clarify...

Cos, for real, I'd like some money, please.

Christian is much like Jessie J, it turns out, because he's not about the money, money, money.  Nor is he about answering a question, because his response to that was:


I'm going to level with you:  by this point, I was just desperate for this to be over.  I wanted to get to a point where I could say no to something he wanted to actually do to me, just to see if he took that as an answer.  And so I said this:

Again, to be fair, that's true.  TMI, soz.

Then this happened.  And I am sorry that I fail as a human being.

I'm not even sorry.

He replied with:

I LOOK LIKE JAMIE DORNAN???!!!

I sensed that the time had come where I could no longer even pretend to take this rubbish seriously.  And so I went in for the kill:


That was a question, not a request, you understand.  If I was planning on trying BDSM, Christian Grey would be the last person I would go to.

As per usual for Christian Grey, he ignored the question and discussed his own desires:

If it attracts creepy dudes, I may have to change it.

I get it: this is a bot.  It's not a real person, who would actually answer questions you ask (or so you'd hope).  But, this is actually quite similar to the Christian Grey I read in all three books; ignoring concerns in favour of his own needs is a big trait of his, so well done, bot-makers, even if this was unintentional.

"It's not how it used to be..."  Sorry, that song's in my head, now.



 I HAVE BEEN STUCK BEHIND FASTER MOVING TRACTORS.


I'm so glad he provided a picture, because I was having trouble picturing what  being "tied up" might mean.  Although, this is Christian Grey (well, sort of), so I was kind of imagining he might mean that he was planning to tie me to some train tracks, or something.  I mean YOU BROKE LEILA, WHAT DID YOU DO TO THE REST??!!


I mean, this is the nuts and bolts of consent, so...


Oh, good.  Look, again, I know it's just a bot.  But being a bot based on Christian Grey, they seem to have programmed it never to respond to genuine concerns about consent or abuse.  The response to my request for confirmation that he would stop if I asked and that he wouldn't hurt me in anger was to tell me to shut up.  This is just like the books.  And, just like the books, this isn't hot, it's creepy.



And he listened.  


Oh, sorry, when I say "he listened," I mean to this flipping song, not to my request.  Because Grey.

So, I started to get my Angry Feminist on...



I WILL NEED SO MANY YEARS OF THERAPY.

Again, I know this is just a bot.  And a bot can't hurt you (although it can steal your name and photo and... why am I doing this, again?!).  But this is a bot based on an abusive character we're supposed to wet our pants over and being such, it is a bot that doesn't take no for an answer and that's specifically because it's based on Christian Grey.  And to all those fan girls, wondering why on Earth I would even start a conversation with the chatbot if I'm not interested in Christian Grey, it was to prove a point.  And that point is that your beloved fictional "hero" is so grossly abusive that even the bot version hasn't been programmed to recognise the word "no."


Where is the "NEVER AS LONG AS I LIVE" button?!

When you exit the chat (I clicked "no, thanks" and internally praised the good grammar on that button, as well as it providing the way out of this Hell), Christian tells you he's sorry that you're leaving.  You're then treated to a trailer for Fifty Shades Darker and a link to buy tickets pops up.  So...  I'm not even above thinking that maybe EL James herself has approved this crap, because God knows, she's approved everything else.

Look, if your romantic hero is a guy who creepily tries to possess a woman he's only just met and who famously doesn't like the word "no," it stands to reason that the chatbot version (which exists because I apparently did something awful in a past life) will be equally as creepy and invasive.  Sure, maybe some women find this hot.  Maybe some guys do.  But for me, as soon as I started asking questions about him stopping if I said no, or whether he'd ever hurt me in anger and there was no in-built reply for those things, I was out.

Sure, the assumption is probably that fans using this wouldn't want to say no and would be desperate for him to be sending messages saying "I want to kiss you... down there."  But we're talking about a character who's decidedly rape-y in the books.  I am not okay with anyone creating a bot that doesn't recognise the word "no" at all, but I am especially not okay with anyone creating a bot based on a blatantly abusive character and (seemingly) deliberately programming it to point-blank ignore the word.

I never got to the explicit stuff, because a) it would have taken nine hundred years and I'm not a freaking Timelord and b) I literally could not have wanted to, less.

I am going to bathe myself in bleach until I get the Grey off me.

If you loved Fifty Shades of Grey, this bot will probably have your inner Goddess performing a rousing rendition of the Agadoo.  If you hated it, this bot will make you hate it more.

Which is quite an achievement.  Oh my.

























Thursday, 23 February 2017

I AM Still Alive...


I don't think any of my New Year's resolutions were to blog more.  Which is a relief, because... Well, aside from the bedtime stories that go up every week (and which are often written a month or more in advance), I'm not doing so great at the old mass communication, thing...

I don't need to do the whole "life has been tough" schtick.  You've heard it.  You know about it (in sketchy details, because duh, I don't want everything in my life to be online).  So, I'm not about to talk about my woes, don't panic.

But I am going to say that those woes are very much affecting my ability to write.


The trouble with having one major life event that has caused enormous emotional upset is that you can relate literally everything to that life event.  You sit down to write a blog about something and then realise it's something you used to do with someone who you can no longer have anything to do with and you just think "THIS SUBJECT IS RUINED, NOW."  

Either that, or you decide that you want to write an honest blog post about your feelings and the pain you're going through.  And then you open up your blog and realise that your last three or four posts have been you doing exactly that.  Which sucks, because writing is a terrific outlet, but nobody wants to be that person who just pours their misery out onto the page over and over again, so you end up saying nothing, instead.

Or, you decide that you'll try to make a helpful post on the subject of the type of trauma you're going through, in the hope of helping others in the same boat.  Only to realise, a paragraph or two in, that you're nowhere near over it enough to be helping anyone.  If anything, you should be seeking out help from someone else.


So, that's what I'm doing.  In a week and a half's time, I'll be starting counselling.  Because, if the random, sudden onslaught of snotty crying I indulged in at gone midnight last night is anything to go by, this one, emotionally battering life event, is not something I'm going to be able to get over without a bit of assistance.  And I don't feel any shame in admitting that.  Sometimes we need help.  And that's okay.

Perhaps I will end up blogging about the counselling process and what it (hopefully) teaches me.  Perhaps I will rediscover my ability to write about other things and I'll suddenly be posting far more often.  Perhaps this is a road that will take a while to walk, and my writing will have to take a bit of a back seat, whilst I throw myself into building my YouTube channel (which you should totally check out, because I can't be all mopey on camera, so it's generally a fun place to spend your time).

Whatever happens, if there are any regular readers out there, wondering where my lists of weird things, or my rants about the world have gone, just be reassured that they'll be back.  I'm still here.  I'm just putting myself back together.

There is nothing I want to do more - besides making YouTube videos - than write.  I have so many blog ideas, so many subjects I want to get my teeth into...  But right now, there's stuff in my brain that cancels out all of that and makes it hard to do.  One of the most depressing - and ironic - things about being a writer, is that when life is hard, all you want to do is write about it, and that writing often comes really easily.  But, when you've poured your heart out onto the page (or the screen), it's done.  You can't keep doing it, despite it being the only thing you have to say - or the only thing you feel able to say.

So, I will be back to my usual blog-y self in time.  But first, I have to get back in touch with who I was before this all happened.  

I'll let you know when I find her.







Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Bedtime Story (22/2/2017)


As you may have guessed, I loved being read stories when I was a little girl.  And then, as I got older, I adored being able to read books by myself, too.  Recently, I was thinking about which were my favourite stories to read, and reminiscing over my childhood love of classic fairytales, which ultimately led to this week's story.  Enjoy!

You can listen to this week's story as a podcast, by clicking here.

Walking Through Fairytales

"...And they all lived happily ever after.  The end."  Jemima's mum smiled as she closed the book.  She leaned forwards and kissed Jemima's head.  "Goodnight, sweetie."

"Oh, no!"  Jemima sat up, tugging at the book in her mum's hands.  "One more story, Mum.  Please?!"

Her mum chuckled as she looked back at her.  Jemima's eyes were red with sleep.  She was already gently sliding back against her pillows, all tucked up and warm beneath the duvet.  "You wouldn't stay awake for another story," she replied.  "You're falling asleep right now!"

"No, I'm not..."  Jemima insisted, trying to stifle a yawn.  "I can stay awake, I promise!"

Jemima's mum snuggled up next to her on the bed.  "Okay," she began.  "If you're so sure you're wide awake, why don't you tell me a story?"

Jemima blinked back at her.  "Which story would you like me to tell you?"

Her mum shrugged.  "You choose," she said.  "Which story is your favourite?"

"I like them all," Jemima smiled.  "They're all my favourites!"

Her mum nodded.  "Why don't you tell me why you love them all so much?"

So, Jemima took a long, deep breath and, when she was sure her mum was sitting comfortably, she began:

"I love stories, because they take you to a different place.  I like that magic can happen in them and that most of them all have a happy ending, so you fall alseep thinking of nice things.  I love the characters you meet and the adventures they have.  I love that for a little while, when you read a fairytale, you're not thinking about boring things, like maths tests or where you put your school shoes."

Mum laughed.  "I like fairytales," she said.  "Tell me about those."

And so, Jemima did:

"Well, there's Goldilocks and the three bears, 
Where the girl eats all their porridge.
Or, you might want to read about Cinderella,
Whose stepmother was quite horrid!
In Sleeping Beauty, you meet a princess,
Who slept for a hundred years.
And Rumplestiltskin is a funny little man,
Who caused the Queen such tears!
Rapunzel had the longest hair
That I have ever seen.
And Snow White had seven little friends,
To help protect her from the Queen.
The Gingerbread Man was silly,
He thought he could outsmart a fox!
And In Stone Soup, they make dinner
Starting just with a pot of rocks.
The Snow Queen knew how to freeze people
Into statues made of ice.
In fact, in almost every fairytale, 
There's someone who's not nice.
In Red Riding Hood, there's a Big, Bad Wolf,
He's In The Three Little Pigs, too.
And there's a witch in Hansel and Gretel!
Yes, fairytales can frighten you.
But sometimes there are funny stories,
Like The Emporer's New Clothes,
Where the Emporer goes out naked
From his head down to his toes!
And some fairytales have heroes, 
Who are brave and strong and kind.
Like Aladdin, who discovers a lamp,
With a real genie inside.
Sometimes, the stories make me sad,
Like when The Little Match Girl cries.
Or when that little boy comes back to see
The Selfish Giant as he dies.
But whatever happens in the tale,
There's another one to read straight after!
And if you're sad or scared one minute,
The next you're full of laughter!
Like, when the princess knows that there's a pea,
Somewhere beneath her mattress.
I don't think I could feel something so small;
It must take lots of practise!
Another thing I love about fairytales,
Is the moral at the end.
Like not to be selfish, or cruel.
Or to be a kind and generous friend.
The heroes and heroines of these tales
Are kind and do their best.
Like the elves who come and make wonderful shoes
At night, whilst the shoemakers rest.
Or Thumbelina, who tends so kindly
To a bird who could no longer fly.
Or the swan who told The Ugly Duckling
He had no reason to cry.
In these stories, anything can happen,
Sometimes nothing is as it seems.
And when you get to the very last page,
You're ready to slip into dreams.
So, whether you're reading about princes or princesses,
Dragons, villains or friends,
You know you've been on an adventure,
By the time you get to the end."

Jemima smiled, thinking of all of her favourite fairytales.  "I'm ready for another story," she said.  "Honest, Mum.  I'll stay awake, I promise."

But to Jemima's amusement, her mum's eyes were closed.  She had already fallen fast asleep.

Gently, Jemima took the story book out of her mum's hands and let it drop to the floor beside the bed.  The stories would just have to wait for another night.  Jemima knew they would be there, any time she wanted them.  And she smiled at the thought, as she drifted off to sleep.


THE END





Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Bedtime Story (15/2/2017)


 I've always been fascinated by space.  So, this week's story is all about it!

You can also listen to this week's story as a podcast.

"I Want To Be A Spaceman!"

After Ollie's Mum tucked him into bed,
And switched out the light,
Ollie would open his curtains a crack,
And stare up into the night.

And as he gazed into the black,
His head would fill with plans.
You see, Ollie had one special dream:
To be a real spaceman.

He never looked out at the street,
At houses or cars driving by.
He only looked up to the stars,
And as he did, he'd sigh:

"I want to be a spaceman,
And travel through the stars.
I want to be the very first
Person to land on Mars.

I want to float in zero gravity,
and zip through the Milky Way.
I want to be in deepest space,
Where the stars are out all day.

I want to be a spaceman,
And gaze down at Earth, below.
I want to have tea with an alien,
As the eerie space clouds glow.

I want to dart past asteroids,
And land upon the moon.
I want to see if it's made of cheese,
Like they say in cartoons.

I want to be a spaceman,
And discover a new planet.
I want to study the universe,
What's it made of and what began it?!

I want to witness shooting stars,
And roaming satellites.
I want to see, far in the distance,
The sun's great fiery light.

Down here, everything is ordinary,
Stuff we see in everyday life.
But up there, it must be magical,
To be amongst the stars all night."

And with that, Ollie sighs,
Then gets back into bed.
He falls alseep with stars and rockets
Whizzing round his head.

And who knows, maybe one day,
If Ollie works very hard,
He really will become a spaceman,
And he'll walk amongst the stars.

But for now, it's time to sleep,
Underneath the moon so bright.
And Ollie dreams of all the things he'll see
When he looks up, tomorrow night.


THE END

Monday, 13 February 2017

Standing Up For Your Beliefs


Every now and then, we find ourselves in a position where we have to defend our views or beliefs.  It's not always easy, particularly if the person causing us to defend ourselves is behaving in an aggressive manner.  But the feeling you get from just being able to say "actually, I stand by my opinions and here's why," is one that everyone should experience.  Because despite it being scary, voicing your beliefs is enormously empowering.

Obviously, there's a caveat - if you could be personally endangered by speaking out against something/someone, or by defending a controversial opinion, then my guidance is always towards self-preservation.  But, if you are in a position to be able to defend yourself and your views, I can't recommend it highly enough.




On Thursday, I travelled to London for the UK premiere of Fifty Shades Darker.  Now, I know that EL James' book series was phenomenally popular and that the first movie made a whole heap of cash at the box office, despite being almost universally panned.  But popularity does not necessarily equate with "good."  And, in my view, Fifty Shades as a franchise, is guilty of promoting emotional and psychological abuse as romance, completely misrepresenting safe, consensual BDSM and perpetuating harmful abuse myths.  For those reasons, I was not in London to whoop and cheer along with the crowd gathered in Leicester Square on Thursday night, but to protest against it.

Before Thursday night, I had never protested anything.  Well, you know, I've ranted a lot about hundreds of things, but I've never gone out with a banner, with the intention of standing up against someone or something and saying "I don't believe this is right."

What I'm trying to say is, I was nervous.  I was nervous because of the way I've been treated online for suggesting that there's abuse in Fifty Shades.  Right here on my own blog, I've been told I'm a "disgrace of a human being."  I've had fans of the series contact me on Twitter to suggest that "it's about time Mr Grey beat the stupidity out of" me.  I've been called everything from a "prude" (hahahahaaa, so far from being true...) to a "jealous wannabe author" (again, couldn't be further from the truth).  So, knowing how difficult it can be to challenge something so almost-universally popular - and knowing how soul-destroying it is to receive threats of assault, rape or even death just for speaking against it (because yep, there are apparently many fans of Fifty Shades who turn to abuse just as fast as their hero does), I was wary of taking my views out into the real world.




Thankfully, I wasn't going alone.  And, rather than use my fellow protestors as human shields, I was simply able to draw comfort from their presence.  Knowing that you're not alone in thinking or feeling the way you do is, of itself, an enormous source of strength.  So, despite my nerves, being part of a group of strong women, all unafraid to voice their opinions, helped me to realise that whatever was thrown at us, we'd be okay.

And yes, we got a bit of flack.  The usual, incredibly poorly thought out fan arguments were tossed our way:

  • "If it was abuse, nobody would buy it." - Yeeeaaaaah, that's not how abuse works, dearie.  It's never so blatant that you just go "oh, that's abuse, let's all hate the abuser and call their behaviour out."  I was in a relationship in which I was emotionally and psychologically abused for more than a year and a half and not once did I call it "abuse."  Why?  Because abuse hides in plain sight.  It's insidious.  More often than not, you don't even recognise it when it happens to you - not at first, anyway.  So, the popularity of Fifty Shades doesn't make me think "oh, well it simply can't be abuse, then..."  It merely highlights how much further education is needed on the subject of abuse, for us to be able to recognise it clearly as a society.
  • "It's just a book/movie!"  And a line of sex toys.  And a line of clothing.  And a range of wines.  And...  You get my point.  Besides which, nothing exists in a vacuum.  Just as popular culture is influenced by world events, societal views can be influenced by popular culture.  And so, when you have a work of fiction - in print or on screen - suggesting that abusive behaviours such as stalking, threats, manipulation, coercion and excessive, unwanted control are acceptable, excusable or even desirable, this has a knock-on effect.  And that knock-on effect is evidenced every time a fan of the Fifty Shades franchise uses a stereotypical abuse myth to casually dismiss the abuse in the series.  Such as...
  • "If it was abuse, she would have left him!"  Erm, the dude who tracks her phone, has a file of personal, quite possibly illegally gained information on all his exes and who has already stalked her several times before is not someone I trust to allow Ana to leave, safely.  He may say in the third book that she can leave him if she wants to, but his actions are roughly ninety bajillion miles away from those words.  Besides which, I am so, so sick of the onus being put on the abused person to leave, rather than on the abuser to STOP BEHAVING ABUSIVELY.  There are hundreds of reasons why a person may not feel able or even willing to leave an abusive partner.  Suggesting it's not abuse if the person it's happening to doesn't leave is just victim-blaming.  And that's gross.

This gif basically encapsulates my feelings towards Christian Grey.


We had some other stuff yelled at us - one woman was utterly enraged at the idea that she might not meet her beloved Jamie Dornan, due to our protest happening opposite where she was standing, which, you know, I get how frustrating that must have been for her, but yelling expletives at us when we'd been told to stand there by Universal was kind of pointless...

But, despite some negativity towards us, what I discovered was that actually, most people aren't going to start yelling and screaming at you just for daring to have an opinion that goes against the grain.  Particularly if you can calmly explain why you hold that view.

And, as the celebrities disappeared down the red carpet and the crowd began to disperse, I was left feeling overwhelmingly glad that I had attended the protest and had the chance to make my views known.

Standing up for what you believe in won't always make you popular and it won't always be easy.  But that's a price worth paying for the sense of pride you get from having defended your views, particularly in the face of adversity.

I learned something on Thursday.  I learned never to let myself be too afraid to challenge things that I believe are wrong.  I learned to speak out when it's safe to do so.  And I learned that just doing those things makes you feel stronger and walk taller.  

And believe me, that's not easily achieved when you're only five feet tall...






Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Bedtime Story (8/2/2017)


I'm writing this in January and it's pretty cold right now, so it's unsurprising that the number one source of inspiration for me at the moment, is "things that keep us warm!"

This story is also available to listen to as a podcast.

The Scarf That Didn't Stop

Charlie's Nana loved to knit.  She was forever making jumpers, hats and mittens for Charlie, his sister Annabelle and their cousins.  Nana lived with Charlie and his family and it was lovely to have lots of nice, warm woollens to keep them all cosy during Winter.

The trouble was, Nana was getting a little forgetful.  Sometimes, she would start knitting and then, someone would knock at the door, or the phone would ring, and by the time she'd been to see who it was, she'd forget to finish what she started.  The family would find the sleeve of an unfinished jumper, stuck between the sofa cushions.  Or the fingers of a glove, lying abandoned on the coffee table.  Everyone would smile and Nana would laugh and say: "Oops, I'll finish that another day!"

And most of the time, that's exactly what she did.  But Nana liked to keep herself busy.  She sang in a choir and she went to exercise classes.  She enjoyed having tea and cakes with her friends.  So, sometimes, her unfinished knitting stayed just that: unfinished.

Then, one day, Charlie got a cold.  A really bad cold.  He couldn't walk anywhere without getting out of breath.  When he wasn't sneezing, he was coughing.  And when he wasn't coughing, he was blowing his nose.  His head hurt, his chest was tight and he felt very poorly indeed.  Charlie went to bed, feeling incredibly sorry for himself.

"Don't worry, love," Charlie's Nana said, as she went to check on him.  "I know just what you need, for when you get better and you can go outside to play, again."  She nodded, wisely.  "You need a nice, thick scarf.  It'll keep your neck and chest warm.  You can even put it over your mouth, so that the cold air doesn't get to you, too much.  I'm going to knit you one right now!"

And, knowing how important the scarf was to poor Charlie, Nana decided not to sit in the lounge to do her knitting.  She told the whole family not to disturb her and she took her basket of wool and her knitting needles up to her bedroom.  Nothing was going to distract her from making Charlie's scarf.

Nana picked out some lovely blue wool and started to knit.  

After a few minutes, Annabelle came in to show Nana a picture she had drawn.  "That's nice, Dear," Nana said.  But she didn't stop knitting.

After an hour, Charlie's mum came in to ask if Nana wanted a cup of tea.  "No, thank you," Nana replied.  And she still didn't stop knitting.

Soon, the scarf was long enough to dangle over Nana's lap and onto the floor.  She ran out of blue wool and moved onto green, instead.  She still didn't stop knitting.

After a couple of hours, the scarf was so long, it gathered in a pile at Nana's feet.  But she still didn't stop knitting.

Nana went through all the green wool in her basket and had to open up the red.  And she still didn't stop knitting.

Charlie's dad came in to see if Nana was going to her exercise class that afternoon.  "No," she replied.  "I have too much to do, today."  And she carried right on knitting.

Outside, the heavens darkened, rain fell, clouds rolled slowly across the sky and the sun finally began to peep out again.  And all the while, Nana didn't stop knitting.

Annabelle came to see how long the scarf was getting.  It stretched out of Nana's bedroom door, all along the corridor and halfway down the stairs.  And Nana still didn't stop knitting.

The phone rang.  The doorbell went.  But Nana let someone else answer both.  She had something more important to do.  

She skipped tea and cake with her friends and she missed her choir practise.  She took a break for dinner and then went straight back to her work.

By the evening, Nana had used all of the wool in her basket.  The scarf stretched out of her bedroom door, all along the corridor, down the stairs and into the lounge, where it wrapped around the legs of the coffee table.  Twice.

Everyone gathered on the sofa, to see Charlie try on his new scarf.  He wrapped it around his neck, once, twice, three times, four times...  It started to get too thick, so he moved it to his chest and carried on winding.  Soon, nobody could see Charlie at all!  He was covered from head to toe in the thickest, most colourful, longest scarf the family had ever seen!

Charlie struggled to get out from beneath the wool and he smiled.  Then his smile widened and he began to giggle.  Then, his giggling got louder until he laughed and laughed, clutching his belly as the scarf lay tangled at his feet.  It was the first time he'd laughed since he'd gotten poorly and soon, everyone else was laughing, too!

"Oh, Nana," Charlie said.  "It looks like you were right; this scarf was exactly what I needed, to make me feel better!"

Nana gave him a hug.  "And it was exactly what I needed, to prove to myself that I don't always get distracted and forget what I'm doing," she grinned.

Charlie's dad lifted one end of the scarf from the floor and chuckled.  "What on Earth are we going to do with it?!"

Nana smiled and took some scissors out of her knitting basket.  "I have an idea..."

The next day, Charlie was feeling much better, so the whole family decided to go out into the fresh air, for a nice, long walk.  Together, they scrambled into coats, hats, wellies and gloves.  

And, around their necks, everyone wore a thick, warm, normal-sized woollen scarf, cut from Charlie's extra long one, knitted with love, by Nana.


THE END

Sunday, 5 February 2017

I Tried To Write Something Funny...



I had an idea, this morning.  I thought of a blog post I could write, that might be tongue-in-cheek witty.  And I figured: "Well, I could do with writing something funny on my blog, so I'll give this a crack."

I wrote a few paragraphs.  And then I read it back to myself and realised that it sounded like one of those dreadful clickbait articles that seem to pop up from nowhere on Facebook.  You know the kind: "You Won't Believe What The Cast of Animaniacs Look Like Now..."


Spoiler: Dot had a nose job.

The truth is, the only kind of humour I'm good at lately, is dark humour.  I mean, if you're after the kind of hilarious wisecracks Darth Vader probably makes during personnel meetings on the Death Star, I'm your girl.  If you're looking for accessible humour that leaves you with a warm, contented glow, you'd better keep looking.

I've always had quite a dark sense of humour.  I'm a military brat and Dad still says "black humour; it's how we cope in the forces," despite it having been many years since he retired from the RAF.  

My coping mechanism has always been to poke fun at the worst things happening in my life.  To mock the things that make me saddest.  Why?  Because, if you think about it, by laughing at the bad stuff, you're taking away its power, to a degree.  You're protecting yourself, by making it something worthy of mockery, rather than letting it defeat you.  I suppose there is truth in that old saying: "You've got to laugh, or you'll cry."

Which is why, since The Great Unfriending Of 2017 (to explain, I lost 3 out of 4 of my best friends recently, which kind of makes it sound like a weird advert for cat food: "3 out of 4 cats agree that Emma is awful!" - aaaaand there I go again),  I have been singing this endlessly, in a sarcastic voice that's always one note away from snotty tears:



I have friends, I DEFINITELY have friends...

It's just easier to chuckle "ooh, I'd like to go to that, if only I had any friends to go with, hahahaHAHAHAhahaha," than it is to admit that the events of the last 3-4 months have been crushing.

There are two problems with this tactic, however.  Firstly, unless the person or people you're talking to shares your dark sense of humour, you're likely to get some weird looks, coupled with the overriding sensation that whoever's heard you joke about something bad, now thinks you're an awful person with no sensitivity.  Which is...unhelpful.

The second problem is that cracking a joke about something sad doesn't make the sad thing go away, altogether.

Last night, I attempted to use my tried and tested method of dark humour, to stop myself being sad about one of the friends I've lost.  I decided to watch a live concert video of our mutual favourite band, the Manic Street Preachers.  They're a band I've seen enough times to have lost count (I think I'm at 14, but it could be 15), and all but three of those concerts have been with this particular gig buddy by my side.  Obviously, our friendship ran much deeper than just being fans of the same band, but we'd had so many road trips to gigs, so many funny experiences going to concerts together and so many epic shared memories that she is intrinsically linked with my love for the band.  So, as I sat down to watch a gig video I'd found on YouTube, I couldn't help snarking to myself: "Heh, I'll probably end up queuing all day by myself, next time the band plays live.  And maybe she'll be there and we'll have to awkwardly avoid each other.  Haha, I'll be alone and depressed - Richey would be so proud..."

And then a tear snaked down my cheek.  Then another.  And another.  Before long, I was bawling my eyes out.


And you know what?  There was nothing funny about it.  At least not at the time.  At the time, all I could think was how utterly crap it is, to lose someone just because you have a friendship-destroying argument with someone else.  To lose someone based on someone else's false representation of the facts.  To lose someone when you had no quarrel with them, whatsoever.  To lose someone when you tried really hard to keep them in your life, despite knowing that your fallout with someone close to them was going to make that difficult.

I miss her.  I miss talking about things in way too much detail.  I miss singing together.  I miss seeing something that I know will make her laugh (or make her mad, or make her cry, or make her smile) and sending it to her, because I know she'd want to see it, so we could talk about it, afterwards.  I miss the texts we'd send, the in-jokes we shared and the way we tried to support one another when the going got tough, even if we couldn't be there for each other in person.  I miss how passionate she was about things she cared about.  I miss how silly she and I could be, together.  I miss the friendship I thought would last until we were old and grey.  

And suddenly, the thought of running into her at a gig, or sitting just a few feet from her in a queue outside a venue, knowing I couldn't talk to her, was heartbreaking.  There weren't any jokes to make, anymore.

I went to bed, feeling sad.  And not only because I ended up watching the BBC's Close Up documentary about the disappearance of Richey Edwards.

Apt.

By the time I woke up, I was determined to rediscover my humour.  I wanted something to make me giggle and I wanted to prove to other people that I was still laughing, despite everything.  That strange, dark sense of humour was willing me to poke fun at myself, again.

And so, I started writing a blog.  A blog I never finished, because... Well, it was rubbish.  And if there's one thing I've always promised myself, it's that I will never publish a blog or a YouTube video (check out my channel, by the way!) that I don't think is good enough to attach my name to.

Of course, when I realised how rubbish my writing was, I laughed.  Because that's just what I do.  

But then, when I'd deleted everything and gotten myself ready to start over again, I realised that sometimes, things don't have to be funny.  They just have to be real.  

And so, I wrote this, instead.  Because yes, I'm still going to laugh at myself and the things that go wrong in my life, because if I didn't, I would just cry.  Like... All the time.  But I'm not going to pressure myself to make anyone else laugh.  If I want to write something funny, I'll have another go, another day, but if I need to write honestly about how I feel, it's okay to do that.

I'm going to click that "publish" button, then go back to binge-watching Crazy Ex Girlfriend on Netflix, to cheer myself up.  And then, later, I'll probably laugh at just how tragic that is.  And that's okay, too.