Friday, 21 October 2016

Lights, Camera... ACTION!

There comes a time when you realise that a hobby is either slowly dwindling into just something that you used to do, or that it's grown into a passion.

Earlier this year, after much persuasion from friends, I decided to start making YouTube videos.  It quickly became a passion and I wrote about it on this very blog.

So, why, I hear you cry, am I writing about it again?!  

Because, my dear readers, the passion has - rather incredibly - grown.

I've become a full-on YouTuber.  It's bordering on becoming my number one obsession.

Every week, I find myself looking forward to my day off work, so I can whip out my pad and pen, make some scribbled notes reminding me of what I want to do, then position myself squarely in front of the camera and press "record."

If you, or someone you know has become a YouTuber, you'll probably recognise some of my latest afflictions:

  • I've joined several YouTube groups on Facebook, just so I can talk about riveting things such as lighting, upload schedules and channel growth.  All of which would probably have bored me to tears, six months ago, whereas now, I could happily talk "shop" for hours (and bore everyone else around me...).

  • I find myself shrieking at random moments - in the shower, during my lunch break at work, or even when I'm drifting off to sleep - because I've suddenly had an idea for a video.
  • I almost cried actual tears of joy recently, because I passed my initial goal of 50 subscribers.
  • I become irrationally annoyed by other people's lack of basic editing skills (even though mine are still very much a work-in-progress, so in some ways, this is a hypocritical gripe).  If someone uploads a video and doesn't edit out any "ums" or pointlessly long pauses etc, I find myself internally seething.  When I watch a video that features long periods of total silence, where it would have been really easy to include some copyright free music to maintain an entertaining vibe, I find myself externally seething, just for added emphasis.  
  • I won't leave the house without my camera, in case I decide to make a vlog (even though vlogging in the traditional sense is not exactly what I do).
  • Watching Dan and Phil videos is no longer just fun.  It's homework.  They're my biggest YouTube inspirations and I aim to be just as funny and entertaining in my videos as they are in theirs.  So, when I sit down to watch them, I'm not just passively viewing.  I'm studying.
"Wow."  Okay, so I'm studying Phil in a different way... *wibble*

  • I have lost all sense of vanity.  When I started my channel (or rather, when I started regularly uploading videos earlier this year), I was worried about looking stupid on camera.  Now, I think nothing of lying in the bath with a towel wrapped around my legs, pretending to be Ariel from The Little Mermaid.  If it's funny, I'll do it.  I don't care what I look or sound like.  It's exceptionally liberating.
  • I actually put effort into making thumbnails, now.  I care about whether they're bold and bright enough to entice viewers to click "play."  
  • My Christmas list for this year is heavily YouTube-focused.  I want a tripod.  I want lighting.  I feel like I'm suddenly taking this very seriously...
  • I am extraordinarily protective of my channel and the videos I upload.  I welcome constructive criticism that helps me improve, but if someone is just going to be mean about it without justification, I WILL NOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR MY REACTION.  You may as well be insulting my baby.  That I, er, don't have.

My YouTube channel has become an extension of me.  It's more important than a hobby.  It's like my writing; a part of who I am.  

I was going to end this by pondering whether there's a YouTube Addicts Anonymous group I could join, but you know what?  

I don't want to be cured. 

Maybe I'll make a video about that...

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Bedtime Story (19/10/2016)

By the time this story goes live, lots of children will be approaching the end of their first half of a new school term.  I hope it's all going well!  I've aimed this story specifically at those children.  This week's story is all about learning to play together, whatever your differences! This story is also available to download and listen to as a podcast.

Billy And Betsy

Billy liked Betsy.  She was funny and clever and she had a dinosaur on her backpack.

Betsy liked Billy.  He was kind and creative and wore shoes that lit up when he walked.

But no matter what they did, it seemed as though Billy and Betsy just couldn't play together.  They were too different.

When Betsy wanted to dig deep holes in the sandpit and fill them with water, Billy wanted to build great big castles, instead.  Billy would get cross when the water made his castles fall down and the pair would go their separate ways.

When Billy wanted to use the big building blocks to build a car to sit in, Betsy wanted to use them to make towers, instead.  Betsy would be annoyed that Billy was taking too many of the blocks, so her tower wouldn't be as high as she wanted it to be.  Again, they'd go their separate ways.

No matter what the game, Billy and Betsy always seemed to have completely opposite ways of playing it.  It seemed that they just weren't supposed to get along.

One, bright morning, their nursery teacher brought a big basket of colourful materials into the garden.  "Look what we found, whilst we were clearing out the cupboards!"  She smiled.  "I bet you can all think of something fun to do with these!"

The nursery children all scurried around the basket, tugging out all kinds of pretty materials.  Bright blue sheets with sparkles, pink taffeta, purple silk, red velvet and lots more, besides.

"We could hang the sheets from the fence and make a stage," Betsy grinned.  "And then we can put on a show!"

Billy frowned.  "But I wanted to to wear the material," he protested.  "We could wrap it around ourselves, so we look like kings and queens.  I was going to build us a palace, too!"

Betsy put her hands on the large piece of red velvet.  "But these are the curtains to go by my stage for the show," she insisted.  "You can't take my curtains away."

Billy sighed.  "Fine.  Have the red piece.  But I'm having the blue sheet."

Betsy watched Billy tug the material out of the basket and walk off by himself.  She held up the red velvet to the fence and suddenly, she had an idea.  She span round quickly and called Billy back.

"What?"  Billy grumbled.  "I let you have the red piece!"

Betsy smiled.  "My show could be about a king, if you like.  And then you could dress up in the material and you can be the star of the show."

Billy beamed back at her.  "Yes!"  He declared.  "We can decorate the stage with materials and leave some behind for our costumes, too!"

Neither Betsy or Billy could believe it; they had completely different ideas, yet somehow, they had joined them!  They could play together at last!

After that, Betsy and Billy became the best of friends.  They began to realise that their different ways of playing made much more sense when they joined together.

Now, when Betsy digs big holes in the sandpit and fills them with water, Billy pretends they're his castle's moat.  Betsy passes the sand she digs out to Billy, to use on his castle.  And he builds his castle a little bit further away, so that the water doesn't knock it down.

And when Billy wants to build a car out of the big blocks, Betsy builds four medium-sized towers and says it's a garage for the car to go in.

They still have completely different ways of playing games.  But now, Betsy and Billy know that that just makes it more fun!


Sunday, 16 October 2016

Do Not Listen To A Word I Say (Just Listen To What I Can Keep Silent)...

"Do not listen to a word I say," the Manic Street Preachers sang, on a track taken from their 1994 masterpiece, The Holy Bible.  "Just listen to what I can keep silent."

I've recently realised that I'm much too good at keeping things to myself.  

It sounds like a positive thing; I can be trusted with secrets, I don't upset my friends by telling them I don't like their outfits, for example and I am not someone who's going to criticise your life choices (unless they're, you know, really bad).  

But it's not all positive.  In fact, there are times when keeping things to myself is a wholly bad thing.  Because, I'm not likely to tell you if you've upset me.  I'm much more likely to brood on it, internalising my feelings until it starts to feel like my stomach is trying to eat itself and I forget what sleep actually feels like.  And that, my friends, is not good.  In fact, doing that to myself is, I've realised, a very bad idea indeed.

The fact is, we're all capable of phrasing things so that they don't upset the people who need to hear them any more than is absolutely unavoidable.  Unless we're genuinely terrible people, we know that if we don't like a dinner someone has prepared for us, we say "I'm afraid I'm not keen on this" or words to that effect, rather than: "This is vile, you clearly don't have a clue how to cook."  So, why is it so much harder to make a tactfully phrased comment when someone has upset us?!

I need to learn that when someone says or does something that causes me emotional pain, it's absolutely my right to say so.  I don't have to scream and shout, but there's nothing wrong with saying: "I didn't like the way you spoke to me/treated me and I'd appreciate it if it didn't happen again."  After all, if someone is a real friend, the last thing they'll want to have done is upset me, surely?!  They won't overreact by my telling them I was hurt by them?!

I guess the problem is, people have overreacted, before.  Massively.

Too often, we live in a world in which people feel they can speak or do as they please, but when they're called out on it, they take offence.  Just look at Donald Trump, for crying out loud; he's a man used to getting away with whatever he likes, but when his disgusting behaviour is rightly highlighted as being wrong, he goes on the defensive.

Other times, people take perfectly valid comments on their behaviour as massive personal insults and they play the victim.  This has happened to me, where I've been well within my rights to say "can you not speak/behave that way towards me, please?  I find it really hurtful," and the other person has responded by making out that I've deeply wounded them and I should apologise.

Gaslighting, much?!

One thing I've always tried to do is accept criticism.  If someone tells me I've hurt them unintentionally, my response is always to apologise and try to ensure I don't do it again.  But I've encountered so many people in my life whose go-to response is either to get angry and defensive, or to wail and cry and make themselves the victim in the situation, that now I'm stuck in a place where I all-too-often feel that I genuinely can't say anything to people who've upset me, especially if it's obvious that they've done it without meaning to.

And sure, in some ways, that doesn't have to be a problem, particularly if it's not a big upset.  If you're aware that a person has perhaps just chosen their words unwisely in a face-to-face conversation, where you don't always have the time to consider your responses before they come hurtling out of your mouth, then it's fair enough to write it off.  We don't always have to say something, because sometimes we can rationalise that there was no malice meant.

But there are times when someone will say or do something and, even if it wasn't done with any cruel intentions, it hits a vulnerable spot within us and we know we're going to take it to heart.  And, of course, there are times when people do things and it's not entirely unintentional, too.

In those instances, we shouldn't feel as though we can't speak out.  We shouldn't be surrounding ourselves with anyone we can't be open and honest, with.  Honesty is a key requirement for any kind of relationship, be it friendly, romantic or family-based.  

If we're feeling hurt or angry and we internalise those feelings, it's only going to lead to further negativity down the line.  Whether that's because we make ourselves stressed and ill by bottling things up, or whether it's because we eventually can't keep it in any longer and snap at someone long after the event, the end result is still the same.  We're going to feel worse.  They are probably going to feel worse.  Trust me on this, because I've been on that side of it, too.  

So. I'm making myself a promise.  If someone has hurt me, or made me mad enough that I brood on it and can't just write it off, I'm going to try harder to speak out.  Not to yell at them, or cut them out of my life, or anything drastic like that, but just to tell them: "Hey, that upset me."  

It's got to be better than keeping everything bottled up, right?!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Bedtime Story (12/10/2016)

We've all met fussy eaters and had to struggle our way through mealtimes.  So, this story is dedicated to anyone who has ever had the food face-off that comes with dealing with a fussy eater.  To listen to this week's story as a podcast click here!

"There's A Pony In My Pasta!"

"There's a pony in my pasta, so I can't eat it up,"
Grumbled Lexi, as she fiddled with her cup.
"I'll drink my water, but that's all that I can do.
I don't want to eat the pony.  I mean, would you?!"

Her dad just rolled his eyes as he stared down at the plate.
"There's no pony, Lexi," he said, trying not to get irate.
"So you can eat the pasta.  It'll make you big and strong.
Besides, it's plain spaghetti.  You really can't go wrong."

Lexi turned her nose up as she inspected her meal.
"Fine," she sighed, heavily.  "I'll make you a deal.
I'll have one strand of spaghetti, but I'm telling you, that's all.
There are leopards in the pasta sauce.  They're playing volleyball."

Her dad then shook his head, looking half mad, half amazed.
"There aren't leopards, Lexi," he said.  "Only bolognaise.
Please, just try one mouthful.  It's really tasty stuff.
And then you can have some pudding, when you've eaten enough."

Lexi prodded a piece of minced beef slowly with her fork.
"But there's an alien in the bolognaise, going for a walk!
I can't eat up that alien, I might grow another head!
There's nothing else to do but leave it," Lexi stubbornly said.

"But there are peppers in the sauce," came her dad's reply.
"You like those usually!  Please, just give it a try."
Lexi frowned down at her plate and her head shook left to right.
"There's a monkey in the onions and you're giving him a fright!"

She folded her arms across her chest and loudly declared: "NO!
I cannot eat my dinner, or where will the dolphins go?
They're swimming in the tomato sauce and having so much fun."
She put down her cutlery and insisted: "There.  I'm done."

Just at that moment, Mum arrived, with a massive chocolate cake.
It was so enormous, it barely fitted the plate.
"This is what's for pudding," Mum declared with a smile.
"I thought I'd bring it out now, so we can look at it for a while."

"It looks so yummy!"  Lexi gasped, reaching out her hand.
But Dad's eyes widened suddenly and from his seat, he rose to stand.
"There's a cockerel in the cake," he said, letting out a gasp. 
And from the other side of the table, Lexi heard her mother laugh.

"Well, we won't be able to eat it," Mum said, with a sigh.
"Because if you look at the frosting, too, there's a giraffe walking by.
And I'm sure I saw I saw a rabbit hopping in the chocolate sauce.
This cake's not fit to eat.  We'll have to throw it out, of course."

Lexi's mouth hung open and she didn't say a word.
But then a squeal rang out and she cried: "Don't be so absurd!"
Her parents looked down at her dinner and suddenly Lexi knew...
A few mouthfuls of spaghetti bolognaise were all she had to do.

"FINE," she huffed and puffed, as the food slowly disappeared.
It actually wasn't half as bad as young Lexi had feared.
And once most of the dinner had gone from Lexi's plate,
She sat back with a satisfied smile, to eat a slice of cake.

"See how silly you were being?"  Her dad said, with a smile.
"There was nothing funny in the food.  Dinner shouldn't be a trial.
And if you're sensible and eat your meals and be good for your mother and father,
If you're lucky, you might get some delicious pudding, after."

"Okay, I'll try," said Lexi, as her brow began to furrow.
"I'll try to eat all my dinner, next time.  What are we having tomorrow?"
"Fishfingers, chips and peas," said a worn-out Lexi's dad.

"Ooh..." Lexi pulled a horrified face.  "I think there are elephants in that."


Sunday, 9 October 2016

The Amazing TATINOF Review Is Unashamedly On Fire

Earlier this year, two nerds from YouTube took their massively successful UK stage show, The Amazing Tour Is Not On Fire (aka TATINOF), to America, where they ended up staging the final US performance at the very same theatre that's used for the annual Academy Awards ceremony.  Yes, a stage that has been graced by the feet of Hollywood royalty became the setting for Phil Lester to chant "mount the llama" at Dan Howell.

What a time to be alive.

I was only introduced to Dan & Phil (Danisnotonfire and AmazingPhil, should you be unaware of their YouTube channels...) towards the end of last year, when my best friend excitedly declared that she'd found "the male version of us!"  The timing wasn't great - I discovered two people I could enormously identify with and who made me laugh and kept me entertained no matter what mood I was in when I clicked that "play" button, just as I realised I'd missed out on their UK tour.  They had played in my best friend's hometown, too.  We were gutted.

But, despite having missed out on seeing TATINOF - and despite being rather older than the pair's general audience, at 30+ - I delved into their channels and, within months, I was writing on this very blog about how I had come to think that Dan & Phil were the cat's whiskers. 

Fast forward to October 5th, when finally, those of us who missed out on the chance to see the show in person, were gifted with the release of TATINOF on YouTube Red (along with a "Making Of..." documentary).  I waited patiently until October 8th, so my best friend and I could watch it together, with a massive bag of popcorn and a box of Malteasers.  It's what the boys would want...

If you've not seen the show, this is the point at which things might get spoiler-tastic, so consider this your warning!

Okay, so...  Wow.  Like, seriously... Wow.

Let's face it, at this point in their careers, Dan and Phil have a massive audience.  They know that no matter what they do, people are going to watch.  Their live show could, therefore, have comfortably taken the form of the bare minimum.  Perhaps a Q&A, maybe the odd funny sketch.  But if you could think that these two would choose the "bare minimum" route, then I can only assume that you're reading this as someone with no idea who Dan and Phil are.  Because this pair took the idea of doing the bare minimum, ripped it into shreds and created something massive, instead.  And not only did they decide to create a fast-paced, action-packed, thoroughly entertaining stage show that would test their limits as performers and push them to learn new skills along the way, they also made the absolutely perfect choice to fill that show with in-jokes for their devoted fans and, even more crucially, to give the whole thing a vital message that would leave everyone watching feeling uplifted, cared about and encouraged.  More of which, later.

The show's storyline might, to the uninitiated, seem slightly bizarre, but then, if there's one thing we fans have come to expect from Dan and Phil by now, it's a trip into a world that celebrates its own wonderful weirdness.  And so, we just kind of accept the idea that Phil would decide to microwave his laptop to improve the battery life and that doing so would destroy the Internet and bring everything online out into reality.  Why not?!  And of course Dil - Dan and Phil's "son" from The Sims (their joint gaming channel is an incredibly entertaining rabbit hole to fall down...), would turn out to be behind the whole thing.  WHY WOULDN'T HE BE?!

Critics too often like to look down on YouTubers as being people making an easy living by creating very simple content and basking in the adoration of their mainly teenage fans.  Haters like to write off many famous YouTubers as being "talentless."  The simple fact is that to become good at YouTube (and arguably, you have to be "good" at it, in order to become successful), you have to be prepared to spend hours filming and editing.  You have to commit to the time it takes to turn a long piece of footage, with all its "ums" and "aahs," into something shorter, snappier and much more entertaining (believe me, this is a lesson I've learned since starting my own YouTube channel).  You have to be willing to put yourself out there for scrutiny by the general public.  You have to have an idea of what your audience wants and how to deliver it, consistently.  These are skills that Dan and Phil have by the bucket-load.  Not only are they incredibly aware of what their viewers want from them, they are able to ensure that the quality of their uploads remain at the same high level.  

And now, they've proved that their skills extend way beyond YouTube.  Talentless?  Over the course of a ninety minute live show, these boys prove their ability to translate from screen to stage.  They act.  They sing.  They dance.  There's improvisation, so that parts of the show are different each time it's performed.  Phil even learned magic tricks, for crying out loud!  From start to finish, the evidence is clear that both Dan and Phil have invested time and effort into making this the best possible stage show it could be.  They haven't shied away from learning new skills in order to improve it.  They haven't taken the easy route.  And for that, they should be applauded, because it pays off.  Big time.

Be honest, we all quoted along and did the hand gesture, right?  "My name is [Dan]."

From start to finish, TATINOF is an absolute treat for fans of this pair.  If you have a favourite video, there's probably a reference to it.  If you're fond of a particular in-joke, they're almost certainly going to make it.  At the end of the ninety minutes, my mouth hurt from smiling so much.  I laughed more than I had in ages.  I clapped spontaneously just watching it through a screen.  And yes, there was even a moment at which my eyes got a bit... Moist.

Because, beyond the glittery gold hats and the big song and dance routine at the end, beyond all the fan-service and in-jokes, there was a message to this show.  And I don't just mean "hey guys, don't microwave your laptop."

Dan and Phil have, over the years, come to represent the nerdy kids.  The weird kids.  The people who are socially awkward.  The ones who don't necessarily fit in.  Whether or not it was intentional, this pair of "obnoxiously tall" guys from YouTube have come to mean something to those who worry that they're not "cool enough," or that their lives don't have a purpose.  And they know it.

Maybe it could have been schmaltzy, had Dan and Phil themselves suddenly decided "hey, let's talk about how it's okay to be nerdy and that you don't have to change to fit in, or that just making people happy in some small way is a really important way to spend your life!"  I mean, I wouldn't have thought so, but I'm sure there'd be critics who'd eye-roll at it.  So, it was something of a touch of genius to have Dil - the Sim whose lives the boys control - be the one who imparts that message onto them - and by extension, the audience.  

He's got some killer moves as well as some A+ life advice.

We should have known that two people so very aware of their audience and their influence would choose to use their stage show to put out such important messages.  I'm just so proud that they did it in a way that's as delightfully whacky as we've come to expect from them.

So, when it came to Phil finally getting to burst into song (as he had attempted to, several times throughout the show, only to be thwarted by Dan), it should come as absolutely no surprise that the song he (and Dan) sang was about rejoicing in your online activities and the friends you've made through the Internet.  It was a song all about being okay with your life and the person you are, even if society thinks you're weird.  It was a song celebrating Dan, Phil and every single one of their fans.  It even featured a tender nod to the fact that the pair themselves met online ("if it wasn't for the Internet, we never would have met").  

As our favourite YouTubers disappeared back into their microwave (not a sentence I ever thought I'd be typing...), I had SO.  MANY.  FEELINGS.

Gratitude to these incredibly talented performers, for putting together a show that fully celebrates their creative output so far and which makes it obvious that they were thinking of their fans every step of the way.

Pride at just how far they've come (and how far I know they're capable of going).

Encouragement to be me, even though I know I'm weird and I think too much and I sometimes feel like a square peg in a world full of round holes.

Determination to carry on with my own YouTube channel and create something that could, perhaps one day, make people as happy as Dan and Phil's videos have made (and continue to make) me.

Joy at knowing that I wouldn't have met my best friend without the Internet, either (she's the Dan to my Phil) and I am so, so glad I did find her.

I can't wait to watch it again.

Thank you, Dan.  Thank you, Phil.

Never stop being you.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Bedtime Story (5/10/2016)

Being a military child, I moved around a lot, so I know what it's like to have to adapt to new people and new surroundings, when you're young.  Yes, I write a fair few stories on the subject, but it never stops being relevant for kids who move around when they're young.  I wrote this story with that in mind.  Here is the link to listen to this story as a podcast!

Heather's New Home Town

Heather had liked her old house.  It had a bush in the front garden, with pink roses growing on it.  And there was a built-in wardrobe in the spare room, that she sometimes liked to use as a den.

She had liked her old home town, too.  She knew the man in the post office and he always let her take an extra penny sweet when Heather went in to buy some with her mum.  She knew the lady who delivered the post and who always wore shorts, even when it was raining.  And she knew the lollipop man, who helped her cross the road safely on her way to school.  His name was Robert, but Heather always called him Smiler, because he was so cheerful all the time.

The new house was quite nice, but Heather didn't really want to be there.  She missed her old bedroom and her friends at her old school.  Everything was different in the new town; the park didn't have a zip-wire and the corner shop didn't have a hot food counter, like the one in Heather's old town, had.  She was going to miss being treated to a sausage roll on the way home from school, now and then.

Mum was still busy unpacking boxes in the new house.  Heather's little brother was having his afternoon nap.  Heather sighed and glanced out of the window.  "Mum?"  She asked.  "Can I go for a walk?"

Mum frowned, looking like she might say no.  "You don't know this town very well..."  She began.  "I don't want you getting lost."

Heather's face fell.  "Please, Mum," she begged.  "I know the way to the shops and back, because we went loads of times before we moved in.  I promise I won't get lost."  She folded her arms across her chest.  "I am eight and a half, you know.  You let me walk to the park from our old house by myself..."

Mum pulled a face.  "That was because the park was only around the corner," she insisted.  

"The shops aren't much further away than that," Heather insisted.  "I won't be going very far by myself."

Heather's mum tutted and opened her mouth to argue.  But there were a whole heap of boxes still left to be unpacked and the last thing she needed was a grumpy Heather to deal with as well, so, with a long sigh, she finally nodded her head.  "Go on, then.  But only as far as the shops.  And I want you home in an hour, tops."

Heather promised and kissed her mum on the cheek, before heading out into the street.  If this town was going to be her new home, she figured she'd better get used to it.

It was still morning and before long, Heather noticed the postman coming down the street.  He was wearing long trousers and Heather sighed to herself.  She missed the post lady in her old town.  But as she got closer to the postman, he smiled at Heather and waved.  Heather couldn't help but wave back.

"Morning!"  The postman called, cheerily.  "Lovely day, isn't it?"

Heather managed a smile.  "Yes," she replied as he passed by.  "It's sunny..."  Her words trailed off as she decided to carry on walking.  

Her new school, which she'd be starting the following week, was just around the corner from Heather's new house.  As Heather paused, looking at the unfamiliar building, a smiling lady approached her.  The lady was holding a stop sign and she had a reflective yellow coat tucked under her arm.  "Hello," she grinned.  "I don't recognise you as one of my regular schoolies!"

Heather giggled.  "I'm not," she replied.  "Not yet, anyway.  I start next week."

The lady nodded.  "Well, I'm Beatrice and I work as the lollipop lady," she explained.  "I'll look forward to seeing you next week!"

The lady had kind eyes and something about her smile made Heather feel instantly better.  

Heather kept walking until she reached the shops.  Digging into the pocket of her jeans, she pulled out a fifty pence piece and decided to pop into the post office for some sweets.

The post office was bigger than the one in her old home town, and Heather felt a little bit disorientated as she stepped inside.  She found the pick 'n' mix sweets and began scooping some into a little paper bag, carefully counting in her head to make sure she didn't go over fifty pence worth.

"Delilah!"  A voice called, suddenly.  "Those new chews have arrived!"

Heather peeped from around the corner, to see two women, around her mum's age, opening a large box of chewy sweets.  

"I think we've got to taste-test them, don't you?"  One of them asked the other.

The lady Heather assumed was called Delilah was about to answer, when she spotted Heather.   "Hello," she smiled.  "Are you alright, there?"

Heather nodded and walked slowly to the counter.  "I'd just like to pay for these sweets, please," she said, putting the bag onto the counter, along with her fifty pence piece.

"Would you like to try one of these new chews, too?"  The other lady asked.  "They've just arrived!"

Heather blushed.  "I've spent all my money on the stuff in the bag..."

Delilah nodded.  "Okay.  I've not seen you, before!  And this is a small town, so we tend to get to know everyone.  I'm Delilah and this is Marie."

Heather smiled and gave them a little wave.  "I'm Heather," she explained.  "And I've just moved here, with my mum and brother."

"Welcome to town," Marie grinned.  "Is it very different to your old place?"

Heather chuckled.  "Actually, not as different as I thought..."

Delilah clapped her hands.  "Well, it's always nice to see a new face."  She took two chews out of the box and dropped them into Heather's bag of sweets.  "Consider those a welcoming gift," she laughed. "I hope you'll be happy, here."

Heather nodded.  "I think I will be," she said.

Marie smiled.  "Glad to hear it."  

Heather thanked the ladies and left the shop feeling brighter than she had all day.  On the way back home, she spotted the postman coming back up the road and she waved again.

Heather paused outside her new house.  There was a bush beneath the windowsill, with pretty little blue flowers, just beginning to bloom.  Heather smiled to herself.  Everything about the new house and the new town seemed so different, yet it was somehow just the same.  Different people, perhaps, but the same smiles.  New places to explore, but the same feeling of being exactly where you belong.

She opened the door and stepped inside.

"Home, sweet home."


Friday, 30 September 2016

How Do Fake Facebook Statuses Raise Awareness Of Cancer?!

Okay, okay.  I'm about to rant about something I've ranted about before, so bear with me, folks.  It's just, like all good action sequels, THIS TIME IT'S PERSONAL.

Every now and then, a "game" pops up on Facebook.  The purpose of this "game," is to confuse people by posting a status that is not true.  If someone likes or comments on that status, then HOORAY, you win at life (or something) and you get to send them a message explaining that the status was fake and now they have to post a fake status to see how many people they can drag into the "game."  And guess what, guys?  It's all to raise awareness of breast cancer (or another form of cancer, depending on the month...)!  So, you're never allowed to criticise this "game," despite the fact that it's about as entertaining and useful as filing your nails on a cheese grater and ending up shaving your fingers off.


Last night, a friend posted that she was pregnant.  Being a semi-decent sort of human, I commented to congratulate her.  Within minutes, the dreaded message had arrived in my inbox:

Lol, you shouldn't have commented/ or liked my last status Hahaha! Now you have to pick from one of the below and post it as your status. This is the 2016 Breast Cancer Awareness game. Don't be a spoil sport. Pick your poison from one of these and post it as your status. 1. Just found a squirrel in my car! 2. Just used my kids to get out of a speeding ticket. 3. How do you get rid of foot fungus? 4. All of my bras are missing! 5. I think I just accepted a marriage proposal online?! 6. I've decided to stop wearing underwear. 7. It's confirmed I'm going to be a mommy/daddy. 8. Just won a chance audition on America's got talent! 9. I've been accepted on master chef. 10. I'm getting a pet monkey! Post with no explanations. Sorry, I fell for it too. Looking forward to your post. Ahhh don't ruin it. (Don't let the secret out). And remember it's all for the 2016 Breast Cancer Awareness month.😂

I don't blame the friend in question.  It's not her fault that this ridiculousness has taken off to such a level that it pervades Facebook on an irritatingly regular basis.  She wasn't acting out of malice.  She believed that she was just playing a "game" to "raise awareness."  So, the following rant is not directed at my friend.  

But I hate this "game."  In fact, I have so many issues with it, I don't know where to begin...

Okay, actually, I do.  I'll begin with a question:  How is this raising awareness of breast cancer?  How is this helping cancer research in any way, whatsoever (especially if the damn point is that you have to keep it secret?!)?  I have never, in all my many years of existence, heard a scientist say: "Oh Heavens, no, we don't need money with which to research this disease.  What we really need more of, are cryptic Facebook statuses."

Maybe I'm asking the wrong people...

But seriously, why?  Why is this a "thing?"  

I'm aware of breast cancer.  And the funny thing is, I'm aware of it without having to post that I've just been accepted on bloody MasterChef (or that my bra is purple, or that I "like it in the hallway" or any other status that's part of some "game").  Want to know why?  Because I've known people who've had the disease.  I've known people who've survived it and I've known people - some tragically young - who've died from it.  The funny thing about about watching someone go through the pain and emotional distress of dealing with cancer in any form, is that you become pretty bloody aware that the disease exists.

The most frustrating thing is that social media genuinely is ideal for awareness-raising.  Most of us spend half our lives glued to a computer screen or a phone.  Sites like Facebook are therefore perfect for posting illustrations as to how to check your breasts for lumps, describe symptoms of various cancers that perhaps do need awareness-raising (we all know that a lump can be a sign of breast cancer, for example, but are we all aware of the other possible symptoms?), or to share details of how to donate to Cancer Research (or other cancer charities).  It's an ideal place to create an "event" to actually raise awareness and much-needed financial support - be it through a coffee morning or cake sale (like the ones being undertaken for MacMillan Cancer Support, currently), or a sponsored run etc.

And yet, we choose to "raise awareness" by posting "orange" as our status and then sending nudge-wink messages saying "ooh, quick, post the colour of your knickers, but don't tell any men the reason why - it's to raise awareness of cancer!"  Um... Is it?  How?  And why are we excluding men from the narrative?  Do they not get cancer?  Do they not have mothers, sisters, partners and friends whose potentially cancerous symptoms they should be aware of?  And just how are we raising awareness in the first place, when all we're doing is posting something cryptic or outright false?

Seriously, I'm writing all this stuff when what I actually want to ask is:

Which brings me on to the part where this became personal.

The friend I mentioned earlier has unfriended me from Facebook.  Now, again, this rant is not about her and I am in no way blaming or attacking her.  But I do want to talk about the reason for this unfriending.

If you've been paying attention, you'll have noticed that this whole thing started off with a fake pregnancy announcement.  Yes, one of the false statements you can put up on your Facebook page as part of this hilarious "game," that really does make us all so much more aware of cancer (I feel like my sarcasm is showing a tad), is that you're pregnant.

I'm 34.  I always expected to be married with kids by now.  The fact that that hasn't happened is unbearably upsetting at times and I have written about the ache of childlessness on my blog, before.  I also have friends who cannot have children for various reasons and I know the pain they suffer as a result, too.  For those reasons, I would never, ever write that I was pregnant on social media, only to reveal that it was a "joke."

Now, the friend in question posted earlier today that she was angry with people who'd apparently contacted her to tell her that a fake pregnancy announcement might be deemed insensitive to those who are trying and failing to get pregnant, those who can't get pregnant, or those who worry they'll never get the chance.  Said friend was furious that people didn't get the "joke" and highlighted that the status was "to raise awareness of breast cancer."


Only a few weeks ago, I received news of the death of an old friend, from breast cancer.  We hadn't spoken in years, but the news shocked and upset me more than anything I'd heard in a long while.  No amount of statuses saying "it's confirmed, I'm going to be a mummy" would have saved that woman, who was far, far too young to die.  No amount of "I like it on the kitchen table" would have created a greater amount of awareness of the dreadful disease that killed her.  Cryptically writing "red" as a Facebook status and messaging women, imploring that they "don't tell any men" would not have raised the cash needed to increase research into finding the elusive cure for cancer.

So, I say again:

Of course, when my friend posted her annoyance at being moaned at as a result of her "I'm pregnant - actually no I'm not" status update(s), several people piped up to groan about how others needed to lighten up and stop being so sensitive.

The trouble is, when it comes to realising how our words can impact on others, being less sensitive is the very last thing we should be doing.

Then came the "oh my GOD, it's just a GAME!" responses.

In which case, you know what?  Keep it at that.  Don't make out that it has anything to do with raising awareness of cancer.  Because hiding behind the excuse of "but pretending I was pregnant and getting dozens of congratulatory messages from friends and family was all to raise awareness of this dreadful disease" just feels really, really grim.  And I would say that whoever made the "joke" or played the "game" - friend or not.  I've said it to the friend in question (and got myself removed from her friends list as a result) and I'm saying it here, in public:

Cancer isn't a game.  If you genuinely want to raise awareness, Google the symptoms of cancer and share them on your Facebook wall.  Write about it, scream about it from the rooftops if you so choose.  If you want to support Cancer Research, hold a fundraising event, or take part in one of the many sponsored events that take place every year.

The message you automatically receive if you "like" or comment on a status posted by someone playing one of these "games" tells you that you're a "spoilsport" if you don't join in.  Well, maybe I am.  But until you can prove to me that sharing these statuses is seriously doing anything to really raise awareness of cancer, or to help those suffering with the disease, it's a label I'm going to continue to wear.