Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Bedtime Story (27/7/2016)

I may not have kids of my own, but there's no getting away from the fact that boredom sometimes happens during the long, Summer holiday!  This story came about whilst I was trying to think of as many fun days out as poossible, that a child could have during a holiday.  Then I wondereed: What would happen if you just couldn't choose between them all?!  ;-)

This story is also available to listen to, as a podcast!

Barney's BORED!

The Summer holidays had barely begun,
But Barney was already bored.
"Can't we do something different today?"
He begged as he let out a yawn.

"Let's go to the Aquarium,
I think that's my number one wish.
We can stop off at the pet store too,
And bring home our very own fish!"

But as Barney fetched his hat and shoes,
He decided to change his mind.
"I'm bored of fish; I want to go to the fair
And spend all day on the rides!"

Barney hurried out to the car.
"I'll go on the merry-go-round!"
But then Barney spotted something on the floor;
A coin!  A shiny pound!

"I'm rich!"  He declared. "Let's go to the shops!
I'll buy myself a big bag of sweets."
Barney climbed into the car,
Drooling at the thought of his treats.

But Dad had only driven half way there,
When Barney started shaking his head.
"I've got a real craving for popcorn," he announced.
"Let's go to the cinema, instead!"

So, Dad did a U-turn and off they sped,
In the direction of the theatre nearby.
But just as they parked, Barney frowned to himself
As he looked at the sun in the sky.

"It's ever so hot, I need to cool down,"
He suddenly said, on a whim.
"Let's carry on driving to the local pool.
I think I could do with a swim!"

Dad frowned as he gripped onto the wheel.
"Just make up your mind," he said.
So, Barney had another think.
"Why don't we go ice skating instead?

That'll cool us down, I'm sure,
And there's a rink not far away."
So Dad turned the car around yet again,
Then he heard Barney say...

"Hang on, I've had another thought;
Perhaps we could go to the zoo?"
Dad made a noise through gritted teeth.
"Just stick to one plan, please, will you?!"

He turned the car around again
And drove it incredibly slow.
"You've got thirty seconds to make up your mind;
Where do you want to go?!"

Barney sighed and pulled a face.
"I'm bored of it all," he complained.
His dad stared at him through the driver's mirror,
With a face that was greying and strained.

"Okay," Barney sensed he was in trouble.
"I'd like to go to the park."
But as they headed in that direction,
The sky grew suddenly dark.

"I think it's going to rain," said Barney,
Sighing and shaking his head.
"You'd better turn the car around
And we'll go bowling instead."

Dad's knuckles were white as he gripped the wheel,
But he turned around just the same.
And this time, Barney stayed ever so quiet,
Even when Dad called his name.

"We're here," Dad announced, stopping at last.
He jumped out of the car with a leap.
But all of that driving had worn Barney out;
He was curled up in the back, fast asleep!

"Don't you want to go bowling?"
Dad asked his son, with a face that seemed full of sorrow.
"Oh, yes," Barney said. "Don't worry, Dad...

...I was just dreaming up plans for tomorrow!"


Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Bedtime Story (20/7/2016)

At this time of year, lots of boys and girls are spending their last days or weeks at pre-school or nursery, before they head off to "Big School" in September.  So, this story felt appropriate!  You can listen to this week's story as a podcast by clicking here.

Tilly's Last Day At Nursery

Tilly was quiet all the way to nursery school.  She clung tightly to her mother's hand, as if afraid to let go.  Finally, when they reached the nursery, Tilly stopped in her tracks.  It was her last day there, before the Summer holidays and she had a lot on her mind.  "Mum?"  She asked, in a very small voice.  "Do I have to go to big school in September?"  

Her mum bent down close to Tilly's sad little face.  "I'm sure you'll like it when you get there," she promised.

Tilly folded her arms tight across her chest.  "No, I won't," she insisted.  "They don't have toys like we have at nursery.  And the teacher can't look after you like the ladies at nursery do.  And the teacher probably doesn't do funny voices when she reads a story to the class.  And what if I don't like the person they make me sit next to?!"  Her big, blue eyes began to fill with tears.  "I don't want today to be my last day at nursery school.  I want to stay there forever!"

When they walked into the nursery, Mum spoke to one of the ladies who looked after Tilly.  She spoke in a quiet voice and Tilly couldn't quite make out what she was saying.  Tilly wasn't sure she was in the mood to go off and play, but she bravely kissed her mum goodbye and went to do just that.  It was her last chance, after all.

A little while later, one of the nursery ladies came over to Tilly.  Her name was Chloe and she was Tilly's favourite, because she gave the best cuddles and let the children play with her hair.  "I've got to go to the school to do a special job," Chloe explained.  "I was wondering if you could come with me?"

Tilly's heart skipped a beat.  She didn't know what to say - she was excited to be doing something special, but at the same time, she really wasn't sure about going to the big school...  She swallowed hard.  "Okay."

Chloe held Tilly's hand as they walked into the school.  It really was much bigger than nursery and there was a funny smell about it.  They walked down a long corridor, until they reached the reception class - the very class Tilly would be starting in after the Summer holidays.  "We have to hand these letters to the teacher, for her to give out to her class, okay?"  Chloe explained, showing Tilly a handful of letters.  Tilly nodded silently.  She held her breath as Chloe pushed open the door and they went inside.

As soon as she stepped through the door, Tilly's breath came back out in a whoosh.  The children in the class were playing.  And not just with the same kind of little toys that Tilly played with at nursery, but with all kinds of things!  There was a big, interactive white board in the middle of the class, on which two boys were playing a game.  Another group of children were playing with remote controlled toys.  There were children painting, children cutting and children playing board games.  Tilly could hardly believe her eyes!

"You've come at a perfect time," a voice said, suddenly.  Tilly looked up to see a friendly looking lady.  She recognised her from a visit the nursery had taken to the school a few weeks ago.  She was going to be Tilly's new teacher, Miss Monroe.  

"What time is it?"  Tilly asked, frowning.

"Free-play time," Miss Monroe grinned.  "We have some time every day, where the children can play with toys, or do some painting, or just have a little break from working too hard."

Tilly beamed.  "We have free-play time at nursery, too!"

Before Miss Monroe could reply, one of the boys in the class came dashing over to show her something.  "Miss?  I cut my finger on some scissors!"

"Oh dear," Miss Monroe sighed.  She gave the boy's shoulders a squeeze, the way that Chloe did if Tilly fell over at nursery.  "Run it under a cold tap and I'll get Mr Johnson to help you make sure it's clean, so he put a plaster on if you need one."

"Who's Mr Johnson?"  Tilly asked, as the boy darted off to the sink.

"He's my Teaching Assistant," Miss Monroe smiled.  She gestured over to a young man, who looked like he might be the same age as Tilly's cousin Henry.  Tilly liked Henry - he was eighteen and he'd taught her to play football.  Mr Johnson waved at her as he went to help the little boy.  Tilly shyly waved back.  "Mr Johnson does the most amazing voices when he reads stories to the class," Miss Monroe smiled.  "He's really good at different accents.  He makes all the children laugh!"

Tilly grinned.  "I like it when the ladies do funny voices in stories at nursery."

"Oh, well you'll love story time here, in that case!"  Miss Monroe smiled.  "What else do you like at nursery?"

Tilly thought for a second.  "I like playing with my best friend, Hayley."

"Hayley?"  Miss Monroe nodded to herself.  "I'll make sure that I put Hayley next to you on your table, then."

"Really?!"  Tilly exclaimed.  "Oh, thank you!"

Chloe gave Miss Monroe the letters they'd come to deliver and all too soon, it was time to go back to nursery. 

When Tilly got back, she couldn't help but notice how small everything seemed.  And how the toys weren't quite as exciting as the ones at school.

After lunch, when Tilly's mum came to pick her up, she spoke in a quiet voice to Chloe.  Tilly couldn't work out what they were saying to each other, but she saw her mum smile.  Then her mum hugged Chloe and handed her a box of chocolates to share with the other ladies at nursery, to say thank you for looking after Tilly.

"Did you have a nice last day at nursery?"  Mum asked, as she and Tilly made their way back home.

"Yes," Tilly replied.  "But Mum, you'll never guess what?!  I went to big school today and it was so exciting!"

"Really?"  Her mum asked.  "Tell me all about it."

Tilly grinned up at her.  "Well, they have loads of really cool toys to play with, even better than the ones at nursery.  And the teacher looks after you, just like the ladies at nursery do, plus she has a really nice helper who looks after everyone, too.  And the helper does funny voices when he reads stories!  And Miss Monroe says I can sit next to Hayley when we start in her class!"

Mum smiled.  "So... You don't want to stay at nursery forever, anymore?"

Tilly pulled a face.  "Don't be silly, Mum," she said.  "I can't wait to go to big school!"  

And with that, Tilly rushed ahead, with the sun beaming down on her and a big, happy smile on her face.


Saturday, 16 July 2016

Dani Mathers And Why I'm SICK of Women Being Shamed

The now infamous picture model Dani Mathers posted on Snapchat (naked woman blanked out).

Hands up who had never heard of Dani Mathers, prior to the recent news story about her taking a picture of a naked woman in a gymnasium changing room, then body-shaming said woman to her Snapchat followers?

*raises hand*

Hands up who would be more than happy never to hear of her again?!

Okay, so if you've not heard about this story, here's a very quick recap: Dani Mathers, playboy model (2015 Playmate of The Year), was at a branch of LA Fitness, when she took a photo of a naked woman in the changing room and posted it on Snapchat, with the caption: "If I can't unsee this, then you can't either."  The model came under a barrage of entirely justified criticism for violating the poor woman's privacy and for shaming her figure and has since claimed that the picture/comment was part of a private conversation and was never supposed to be shared publicly.  She's apologised and claimed that she "loves" the female body and knows that body-shaming is wrong.  She has insisted that the negative opinion people have formed of her since all this came out "is not the type of person" she is.  But that hasn't stopped the police from looking into Mathers' actions and it hasn't placated her critics.  She could face criminal charges, she's been suspended from her Playboy duties and has been banned from all branches of LA Fitness.  With good reason.

Look, if you're a regular reader of this blog, you might remember that last year, I wrote about wanting to lose half a stone.  I reached my initial goal a fortnight or so ago (yes, it took me a year - I really like food...) and I would now like to lose another three or four pounds to reach a really healthy weight at which I'm happy in myself.  And for reference, I am a UK size 10.  I shouldn't be fretting over my size.  But I find myself noticing every spare pound of flesh more than is probably healthy.  So, it's fair to say that as someone who is very much aware of her own physical "imperfections," this story hit home.  Hard.

Because the poor, unsuspecting woman who became the butt of Dani Mathers' "joke" (no pun intended) was someone just like me.  A woman trying to get a little healthier by exercising more.  Perhaps someone who's noticed a few extra pounds and has decided to do something about it.  We live in a world in which women are expected to look a certain way.  Magazines are full of air-brushed models and if a female celebrity dares to be photographed on a beach with cellulite on display, the tabloids will plaster her across their pages, with red rings of shame around her thighs.  Surely, the take-home message women get from all that is that we're supposed to make more of an effort to conform to a societal standard of beauty?  We're supposed to be slim, toned and gorgeous, or we're somehow not good enough.

And yet, we find ourselves in a situation where a woman has gone to the gym - a place people go to get healthy, perhaps lose weight and tone up - and instead of being praised for it, a slimmer, apparently more conventionally "attractive" woman is tearing into her for it.  

How are women supposed to win?!

It's hard enough to be a woman in a world in which "beauty" has such strict meaning.  We almost come to expect - in a horrible way - the press to rip female celebrities to shreds, if they're not conforming to the standards imposed on them.  We don't like it (because it's gross, duh), but we're so used to it that it's reaching a point where it loses its shock value.  But when the shaming of women comes directly from other women, we really do have a massive problem.

What bothers me is that Dani Mathers, whilst in the hugely privileged position of supposedly having the standard of beauty women are apparently meant to aspire to, is in a career that is known for being ruthless.  Models are worked hard to stay in shape.  They can't afford to gain weight, or let their looks fade in any way.  So Dani Mathers should know better than most, how it is to feel pressure to look good.  Ridiculing someone who is only trying to better herself - whether for health or beauty reasons - is therefore all the more shameful.

When I write something serious, sometimes I need a gif that makes me giggle.
I have a problem.

Another thing I find particularly hard to swallow is the idea that Ms Mathers seemed to think that her actions were somehow forgivable if she claimed that the photo and the disgusting caption that went with it were supposed to be part of a private conversation that the rest of the world never saw?  How does that work?!  Is body-shaming another human acceptable if only your close friends know about it?!

In a strange way, her insistence that the photo and comment were meant to be private almost makes this whole thing worse.  I mean, here we have a woman in a position of influence, who probably has a few female fans looking up to her and undoubtedly will therefore be spouting the kind of "everyone is beautiful" rhetoric that we all should be able to believe (because it's bloody true!), whilst in private, she's breaking the law and violating strangers in order to mock and shame them for not being slim or beautiful enough.  That's the kind of two-faced hostility towards women that we don't need in the world.

We need female role models who speak about the beauty of every other woman and actually mean it.  We need to celebrate women for their achievements, rather than merely reducing them to their physical attributes.  We need to make our minds up: are we trying to encourage women to exercise, or are we openly mocking them for it?!

And you know what?  We need to live in a world in which we openly admit to our mistakes.

So, Dani Mathers, on behalf of women over the world - especially women who maybe wish they could be a few pounds lighter, or who are more than a little aware of their "flaws" - don't mock us further with a casual "oops, nobody was meant to see that" excuse for an apology.  Admit to what you did.  Don't tell us that you're not the sort of person who body-shames women, when you've been caught doing exactly that.  Be strong enough to accept that you were utterly wrong.  Be brave enough to look and see the harm that actions like yours cause ordinary women every single day.  

And make the choice to no longer be a part of that harm.

We are all beautiful, regardless of what is on the outside.  The irony of this whole situation is that it's the professional model who's come out of it looking ugly.

Only time will tell if the world can "unsee" that side of Dani Mathers.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Bedtime Story (13/7/2016)

I saw this gif and thought: "Why can't I have a penguin?!"  And that's how this silly story was born...

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

"Why Can't I Have A Penguin?!"

"Why can't I have a penguin?"
Little Robert cried one day.
"It's all I've ever wanted 
And it's nearly my birthday!"

"It's too sunny for a penguin,"
His dad said. "It's not nice
To keep a penguin in hot weather;
it needs to live in snow and ice."

"But I really want a penguin,"
Robert begged.  "Listen to me!
I'd even give it swimming lessons
And feed it fish for tea."

"We've got no room for penguins,"
His mum said. "None at all.
So stop asking for one, Robert.
You're driving me up the wall!"

"There's room for a little penguin,"
Robert grumpily told her.
"And I'd give him daily ice baths
Until the weather's a bit colder."

"You can't get a pet penguin,"
Robert's sister snapped.  "You fool!
You wouldn't be home to look after it;
You have to go to school!"

Robert grinned.  "I'd take the penguin with me,
It could sit right on my desk.
And when it came to Show And Tell,
I would always be the best!

Because nobody else has a penguin,
I'd be the only one!
And maybe I could teach it tricks
- that would be such fun!"

"You're not having a penguin,"
Sighed Robert's uncle and his aunt.
"We'd really love to buy you one
For your birthday, but we can't!"

"But penguins are so cute,"
Robert begged and urged and pleaded.
He was absolutely certain
That a penguin was what he needed.

But everyone he asked just told him no,
His plan was doomed.
So Robert stomped off up the stairs
And sulked inside his room.

An hour passed, then two, then three,
Before Robert reappeared.
"I've thought of something else,"
He announced, as his family all cheered.

"You're right, I can't have a penguin,"
He very seriously said.
"So that's why I've decided
I want an elephant instead."


Monday, 11 July 2016

Why Andrea Leadsom Got Non-Mothers SO Wrong...

Photo from the Conservatives' website.

If you haven't heard of Andrea Leadsom, don't fret.  She's just withdrawn from the race to become the UK's next Tory Prime Minister, so you needn't spend too long, familiarising yourself with her.  She withdrew from the Conservative leadership race, following an enormous backlash to comments she made in an interview with The Times newspaper, in which she emphasised the fact that being a mother means she has "a real stake in the next year, the next two," when guiding the UK into the future.  The implication seemingly being that Theresa May, who does not have children, has less of a stake, due to her lack of direct descendants.

There were other reasons why Andrea Leadsom would have been the wrong person to lead the UK into a positive future.  For a start, she admitted that she "didn't like" the legalisation of gay marriage, as it "hurt" Christians.  Despite the fact that she then claimed to be in full support of gay marriage, this comment showed an enormous lack of consideration for the gay people whose sexuality had been illegal for decades and many of whom had been subjected to vile homophobia from the very Christians whose feelings Leadsom was so keen to protect.

She also suggested that she'd be "absolutely" in favour of overturning the UK's fox hunting ban, rather ludicrously suggesting that the ban did nothing for animal welfare and a legal hunting regime would do more for the welfare of animals.  This was in spite of the fact that only last July, a poll showed that a whopping 74% of Britons would be against the fox hunting ban being overturned.

So, is this a woman with her finger firmly on the pulse of the nation?!

But, as it turned out, it was Leadsom's comments on motherhood - and how she dealt with the fallout from them - that derailed her leadership campaign completely.

Leadsom and her supporters have rushed to insist that there was no insinuation that motherhood would make her a better Prime Minister than Theresa May and that The Times were guilty of "gutter journalism."  Still, it's difficult to interpret Leadsom's comments in any other way.  

Yes, she highlighted in the interview that it would be "horrible" to focus on the fact that she has children, whereas Theresa doesn't, but she went on to suggest that having children gives her a "very real stake in the future of our country," and highlighted that "(Theresa) possibly has nieces, nephews...but I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next."

It's not hard to read between those lines.  And if you do, there's little way of reading them aside from "I have children, therefore I have more to lose if I make bad decisions, because it could affect them." 

The trouble is, rather than publicly apologise for any offence caused, Leadsom's first reaction was to blame the press for twisting her words.  Even after The Times released a full transcript of the interview, Leadsom continued to say she had been misrepresented.  Only today did it become clear that she had even apologised to Theresa May for her comments.

The worst thing about all this?  It's just another casual example of the hostility non-mothers so often get from mums.

There appears to be a section of society that genuinely believes that pushing a baby out of your vagina gives you some kind of superpower that makes you better than women without children.  Having a kid somehow provides you with all the answers to life and if you don't have them, your life must be terribly lacking.  If you choose not to have them, you must be inherently selfish.

Every time I hear such crap, I think of one of my favourite pieces of Bill Bailey stand-up:

"There’s this one celebrity, Rosie O’Donnell, a talk show host, and she said this: “I don’t know anything about Afghanistan, but I know it’s full of terrorists, speaking as a mother.”
So what is this “speaking as a mother” then?
Is that a euphemism for “talking out of my arse”? “Suspending rational thought for a moment”?
As a rational human being, Al-Qaeda are a loose association of psychopathic zealots who could be rounded up with a sustained police investigation. But speaking as a parent, they’re all eight foot tall, they’ve got lasers under their moustaches, a huge eye in their foreheads and the only way to kill them is to NUKE every country that hasn’t sent us a Christmas card in the the last 20 years!!
“Speaking as a mother”.
- Bill Bailey
Look, I've been really honest right here on this very blog about my own longing to have children and my fear that at 33, being seemingly terminally single, my chances sometimes feel as though they're slipping away.
But over the course of my life, I've met negligent mothers.  I've known people who were physically and emotionally abused by their mothers.  I've met women who freely admitted they shouldn't have even become mothers, because they resented having to give up their social lives and their sense of freedom.  So, when someone so much as comes close to insinuating that motherhood makes a woman somehow better than a non-mum, it practically brings me out in hives.
Now, I know some amazing mothers, my own being one of them.  In no way am I dissing all mums, because that would be ludicrously judgemental.  But I am saying that being a mother alone is not enough to guarantee that a person is compassionate, thoughtful and liable to really consider how their decisions may affect the future for the next generation.
I know women who can't have children.  I know women who have chosen not to.  And some of the women I know who fall into those categories, are amongst the most thoughtful and considerate people I've met.  Many of them are passionate campaigners for the future, doing their bit for the environment, campaigning for those worse off than themselves and genuinely considering what kind of a world we want to leave for generations to come.
And yet, if we take Andrea Leadsom's words at face value, it would appear that surely, those women without children - whether or not by choice - don't have as great a stake in the future of our country.

Except Andrea Leadsom is forgetting something.  It's not being a mother that makes you automatically care for the future of the country, or indeed the world.  It's being an empathetic, considerate human.

At the time of writing, I don't have children.  But I recycle.  I campaign to raise awareness of abuse.  I speak out against bullying.  I get incensed when I see people dropping litter.  Why?  Because I care about the future of this planet and the people living on it.  I want a nicer, kinder world for the next generation to inherit.  I want Earth to survive long after I'm gone.  And I do all that without having had a child.  Because - shock, horror - it's perfectly possible to do so.

Leadsom confidently said that she had children who would go on to have children of their own.  But what if they don't?  What if they can't?  How would Andrea Leadsom feel, if she thought someone was implying that they cared more about the future of the country, or indeed the world, than her kids do, because her kids didn't grow up to become parents, themselves?  Oh, sure, they might grow up to have nieces and nephews, but no direct descendants, so they wouldn't have as "tangible" a stake in the future...  At least, according to their mother's own words.

And to follow Leadsom's words to their own logical conclusion - if having children gives you more of a stake in the future, doesn't that mean you're only concerned with your own descendants, not with the future of the wider population?  Because that seems rather selfish, to me.

Substitute "cunning plan" for "words."

If it seems as though I'm misinterpreting Leadsom's words, it's worth noting that I'm taking them from the transcript released by the newspaper itself, after she complained at having been misinterpreted in the first place.  It's difficult to interpret the words any other way.

And it's difficult to interpret the reaction any other way, too.  From angry non-mothers like myself, tired of hearing insinuations that we're selfish, devoid of meaning in our lives, or somehow not as important, the reaction was the same one I've see time and again when something like this crops up (and it does so with rather depressing frequency).  From Leadsom's supporters, the tired old "she didn't mean it that way" defence came out, only for it to be rather quickly ditched by some, in favour of "you're not a mother, you couldn't possibly understand."  And yes, I had that response from her supporters, when I dared to question Leadsom's comments on Twitter.

Leadsom herself rushed to the stance of angry self-defence.  There was no "I apologise for any hurt caused to women who don't - or can't - have children, as we would expect from someone looking to lead the country.  Of course, it must be scary and horribly unpleasant to be judged and criticised for comments you didn't think were going to cause offence.  But as I've said many times over on these pages, if you say something that does cause offence on such a wide scale, you should be the bigger person and offer an apology.  Leadsom's lack of one - and her subsequent insistence on playing the misinterpreted victim, despite the interview transcript being readily available - shows that she was not in a position to ever take on the stressful role of Prime Minister.  And her apparent views prove that she's wildly out of touch with a huge proportion of the electorate.

Whether or not you care about the future of the country or the wider world has very little to do with whether or not you are a parent.  It has everything to do with your sense of humanity.  Andrea Leadsom would do well to remember that in her future endeavours.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Bedtime Story (6/7/2016)

I'm writing this on a very warm and sunny day.  Hopefully, this good weather will continue, but just in case, I figured I may as well write a story about it for posterity! ;-)

This week's story is also available as a podcast!

Too Hot!

Sunlight streamed into the garden.  Jenny sat on the steps leading down from the patio.  "My bottom's hot," she groaned.  "Even the floor is too hot, today!"  She leapt to her feet. "I need to cool down!"

Her mum rolled her eyes.  "Honestly Jenny, you moan when it's too cold.  You grumble when it rains because you can't play outside.  And now, it's lovely and warm and you're still not happy!"

"Because it's too hot," Jenny protested.  She rushed to the end of the garden and slumped in the grass, beneath the apple tree she sometimes liked to climb.  The tree provided a little shade and it was a bit cooler under there, but Jenny still wasn't satisfied.  "Muuuuuuum," she moaned.  "I'm burning."

"Don't be silly," Jenny's mum called, glancing up from the magazine she was reading.  "You've got sun cream on.  And if you're really worried, you can always play inside."

"Sun cream!"  Jenny exclaimed.  "That's it!  I need more of that!"

Her mum pulled a face.  "Jenny, sun cream doesn't cool you dow..." she began, but Jenny had already darted past her into the house.  She returned with the bottle of sun cream held triumphantly aloft.

"If I put more on, it'll stop me from getting too hot!"  Jenny squeezed a huge dollop of cream into her hands and smeared it over her arms, legs, face and neck.  She was already wearing sun cream, so her skin soon began to glisten in the light and streaks of white began to show all over.  

"Jenny, that's enough," her mum insisted.  "You're getting all slippery."

Sure enough, as Jenny trotted across the patio to take the sun cream back into the house, the bottle slid out of her hands and her feet slipped on the warm paving slabs, sending her flying.

"This is ridiculous," Jenny howled, sitting on the patio, nursing her bruises.  "I'm still too hot!"

"Why don't you go into the freezer and get an ice pop?"  Her mum suggested.  "Bring the box out; I'll have one, too."

"Good plan," Jenny grinned, rushing into the house.  She returned with a box of ice pops, took out a strawberry one and hurriedly ripped the wrapper off.  Almost immediately, the hot sun began to melt the ice pop.  Jenny had only had a couple of licks of the tasty strawberry ice, before it began to dribble down her hands and onto her clothes.  Before long, there was a wet, pink patch all down her top and her hands were all sugary and sticky.  

"You've gotten yourself into a rather gooey mess," her mum chuckled, nibbling her own ice pop.  "Why don't you find something to play with?"

"It's too hot to play," Jenny huffed.  

"Well, your sandpit's quite close to the apple tree," her mum pointed out.  "It should be a little shady; why not play in there?"

But Jenny was wearing so much sun cream that as soon as she went to play, the sand began to stick to her skin.  It was scratchy and uncomfortable and worst of all, because of her sticky hands, Jenny couldn't even rub it off!  "Mum!"  She cried, wandering back to the top of the garden, looking like a sandy, squelchy mess.  "I can't get this sand off me!"  Before her mum could answer, Jenny slumped down into the grass, looking thoroughly miserable.

"Don't forget I mowed the grass this morning..."  Jenny's mum reminded her.  But it was too late; when Jenny stood up, not only was she covered in sun cream, sugary syrup and sand, but she also had grass cuttings all over her legs.  Her mum clapped a hand to her mouth and tried not to laugh.  "Jenny...  I wish you could see what you look like..."

"I need a bath!"  Jenny exclaimed.

Her mum's eyes widened.  "You can't go in the house like that," she cried.  "You'll get grass and sand and sticky mess everywhere!"  She rose to her feet, shaking her head.  "No, there's only one thing for it.  I'll have to fetch the garden hose."

Jenny glared at her mum as she pointed the hose in her direction and bent to switch on the outside tap.  "Mum," she protested.  "I'm not a plant, I don't need..."


The jet of cool water hit Jenny and the grass, sand, sticky syrup and sun cream slowly began to wash away.  

"I'm sorry," her mum chuckled, as she switched the water off, leaving Jenny standing in the middle of the garden, utterly soaked through.  "But you did need to be cleaned."

Jenny beamed.  "Sorry?!  Why would you be sorry?  That's the coolest I've felt all day!  Thanks, Mum!"  And she flung her arms around her mum's neck and enveloped her in a close - and very wet - hug.  

With that, Jenny went rushing around the garden, looking for things to play with, on such a bright, sunny day; leaving her mum slightly damp-clothed, but with a grin on her face all the same.  "It's going to be a long Summer..."


Monday, 4 July 2016

The Power of Reaching Out

It doesn't take much to make someone's day.  It doesn't take much to break it, either.  

It's very easy to believe that we're islands, floating along, too wrapped up in our own thoughts, needs and desires to consider those we pass along the way.  But it's simply not true.  Humanity is intertwined.  People are linked, without ever realising it.  Why?  Because of the power we have to affect one another.

I've been thinking a lot, lately, about the way a stranger's actions can impact on the kind of day we're having.  And I won't lie; it started out focused entirely on the negative...  

I recently wrote about the sudden, unexpected racist attacks I experienced on Twitter, after saying I was saddened by Britain's decision to leave the EU.  The hurtful names I was called, the unfair and incorrect judgements made against me by complete strangers and the bullying mob mentality of those sending the nasty messages all had their own effect on me.  I went from feeling as though I was merely expressing my views on social media, like any number of people do every minute of every day, to worrying that I had done something wrong and that perhaps I brought the nastiness on myself.

As the day wore on and the insults continued to pour into my notifications, I also found myself feeling cornered, scared and somehow other.  

And don't even get me started on how STUPID racism is in the first place...

Did the people sending the insults stop to think about how I might feel to receive them?  Almost certainly not.  But that didn't alter the effect.

Contrast that with another encounter on Twitter in the past week...

I'd been a bit low, for various reasons, but I'd been using social media relatively normally.  So, I was surprised to receive a message from someone , simply asking if I was alright, because I didn't seem my usual self.

Someone had taken the time out of their day to contact me, based on nothing but the tone of my tweets, which had led them to wonder if I was okay.  They didn't have to ask.  They could have carried on scrolling.  But they made the choice to check in and see if I was alright.  And that tiny action on their part completely changed the course of my day.  I felt valid.  I felt cared about.  I felt better, just for knowing that someone gave a damn.

That tiny event changed my whole way of thinking.  It made me realise that whilst we can break a person's day, or sour their mood with our thoughtlessness, we can also bring a bit of sunshine to a total stranger, just by trying to be nice.

When we reach out to someone we don't know, we're not doing it because we're duty bound by friendship or relation.  We're not doing it because we expect anything back from them (or at least, we shouldn't be).  When we reach out to someone we don't know - when we offer a stranger a little kindness, or we help out someone in need - we're doing it just because it's a nice, kind thing to do. 

How many times have you overheard someone struggling to find change for the car park?  How often do you notice someone on social media, saying they feel low and need a friend?  Be honest: how often do you walk by, or carry on scrolling? 

Yesterday, I was in London, visiting my sister.  We popped to ASDA and my sister went  to the in-store opticians,to buy a glasses repair kit.  As she reached the counter, she handed over her debit card, only to be told that the machine wasn't working.  I wasn't with her at the time and my sister hadn't brought any change with her.  She said she'd wait for me to join her, apologising to the staff member who'd rung her single item through the till.  But as I arrived, a man, upon hearing that the kit was only £2, took out his wallet and handed a coin to my sister.

It was, in reality, a tiny, trivial act (and as it turned out, my Mum appeared with £2, so the man didn't have to part company with his cash after all), but all three of us - my Mum, my sister and I - were still talking about the kindness of that man as we finished the rest of our shopping and left the supermarket.

It takes next to nothing to do something kind for another person.  But we never know how doing so will affect them.  

It takes very little effort to do something cruel towards another person.  And too often, we don't even think about how doing so will affect them.

We have a choice, every day, as to whether or not we reach out to our fellow humans.  And we have a choice as to what kind of interaction that will be.

Having experienced both, I have resolved to try to reach out a hand of friendship and never a hand of hostility.

It doesn't take much to reach out with kindness.  But you just might make a person's day.

We are not islands, floating around entirely isolated.  We are all linked, as we make our journeys through life.  And reaching out to another person, to offer just a little support along the way, can truly lighten the load.

Give it a try.