Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Bedtime Story (31/8/2016)

I'm writing this ahead of time, so here's hoping the sun hasn't left us by the time you read this!  This is just a short story, but I'd like to think it has a bigger meaning...

This story is also available as a podcast.

The Day The Sun Ran Away

The Sun glowed brightly in the sky, which is just what suns are supposed to do.  But as he glowed, he watched the world beneath him. 

Children were running in long grass.  Animals were stretching out, enjoying the heat.  Fishermen were sailing on glittering seas.  Flowers bloomed, bells rang and everyone looked happy.  

"I want to join in," said The Sun.  "I'm bored up here, stuck up in the sky, all by myself."  He peered at the Earth and smiled.  "I'm going to go and play with the people on the ground."

So, he began moving closer and closer, wondering what he'd get up to first, when he arrived on the planet.  But to his dismay, the closer he got, the unhappier everyone on the ground below seemed to become.

The children began to cry and cover their eyes.  The animals rushed in search of shade.  Nobody seemed happy for him to join in.  The Sun sighed and his smile disappeared.  "I only want to come and play," he pleaded.

"You're too close!"  One of the fishermen cried, waving his hands.  "It's too hot!  Get back!  Get back!"

The Sun blinked and his mouth drooped.  "Nobody wants me around," he gasped.  "They want me to go..."  So, he turned and fled towards the stars, away from the planet below.

"I'll go somewhere all by myself," he huffed.  "Where nobody can be mean!  I'm obviously not important enough for those people down there."

The Sun wasn't happy, as he drifted away, past stars and smaller planets.  

But down on Earth, the people weren't happy, either.  As their sunshine began to disappear, the day slowly started to turn into night.  The temperature started to drop and the children went rushing home.  The daytime animals fell asleep and the night creatures came out.  It got colder and colder and darker and darker.

Meanwhile, The Sun carried on making his way away from the people who'd hurt his feelings.  "They don't care about me," he sobbed.  "They don't want me around..."

Back on Earth, the people were gathered in the streets, huddled together for warmth, gazing up at the black sky, wondering what was going on.  Suddenly, out at sea, one fisherman realised what he had to do.

Cupping his hands to his face, he yelled into the darkness:  "Come back!  Please, come back!"

The Sun didn't hear at first.  He was so determined to run away, that he didn't take much notice of anything else.  But then, an echo reached him and he frowned.  Were they... Were they calling him home?!  

The Sun turned and sped in the opposite direction, heading for home and filling the world with light, once more.  He stopped in his usual place in the sky and frowned down at the people below.  "I thought you didn't want me?"  He called to them.  "I thought I wasn't important..."

The people below shook their heads.  "Of course you're important," they insisted.  "We're sorry we never told you before.  It's just... You're perfect just as you are, where you are.  Please don't run away!"

And so The Sun promised to stay exactly where he was, shining brightly in the sky, as the Earth rolled around him each day.  From then on, he was never bored, or fed up.  He watched the people play, the seasons change and the world turn, knowing he was important, after all.


Sunday, 28 August 2016

Dream A (CRAZY) Little Dream...

I'm not going to lie to you, dear reader.  Life has not been easy in Emma Land, recently.  There are things getting me down and whilst this is most definitely not the place to talk about those things, it's the ideal place to tell you about a bizarre side-effect of dealing with said things.

Wow.  I said "things" a lot, there.

The trouble is, my brain being the irritating beast that it is, I can't just go to bed at night and control my thoughts enough to ensure that I don't end up staring at the ceiling, thinking stuff through until none of it makes sense and my mind is close to imploding.  At the moment, I'm liable to go to bed and lie there for hours, going over and over situations and conversations, until I'm thoroughly confused and usually, incredibly miserable.


I hate my habit of overthinking everything.  And, seeing as there are genuine reasons to be fretful and stressed out right now, I hate knowing that bedtime - which is, frankly, one of my most beloved times of day - has become a time to lie awake in the dark and worry, rather than a time to drift off into Snoozeville.


In the last couple of weeks, I've come up with a method of countering this hideous period of late-night soul-searching.  You'd think that bypassing the whole "staring at the ceiling and mulling things over until you cry" scenario would be perfect, but actually, all I've discovered is that my method has side-effects.  Some of which are seriously bad for me and one of which is hilarious.

Basically, I've started refusing to go to bed.  Yes, much like a small child, I will do anything and everything to avoid getting ready for sleepy time.  Not because I don't love sleep - listen, there are few things I'm more bothered about than getting a good, solid eight hours of kip a night - but because I know for a fact that sleep is going to take at least an hour or two to arrive, due to the noise in my brain.  So, my incredibly stupid "DO-NOT-TRY-THIS-AT-HOME" method of dealing with the situation has been to force myself to stay awake - usually by watching YouTube videos, binge-watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer or reading blogs - until I look like this:

It works.  I mean, the side-effects are dreadful (a muscle strain in one eye, permanent exhaustion, stomach problems from internalising my stress instead of letting it out... I could go on), but technically, it works.

It works, because when I finally reach the point of almost passing out and I crawl, hopelessly, underneath the duvet, my head hits the pillow and I'm pretty much out like a light.  No nasty lying awake and thinking.  Hooray!

But - possibly due to the fact that I've let myself get so tired that my brain has gone genuinely insane - once I'm asleep, I have the weirdest dreams I have ever had.  Ever.

Recent topics have included:

  • Trying to eat at a dozen different restaurants, at none of which am I ever served and at one of which, I discover that the chef is Eamonn Holmes.
  • Being told to marry Dil, Dan and Phil's Sim on their gaming channel.
TBF, he IS a cutie...

  • Randomly trying - and failing - to seduce Joyce from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, who, in my dream, was the mother of a teenage boy who I had also previously failed to seduce.  DA FUQ, BRAIN??!
  • Setting up a shoe-design company with Phil Lester and deciding it would be fabulous to design shoes that looked like food.
  • Forming a band with various YouTubers and playing a gig for a nameless charity, which we then recorded a fundraising single for.
  • Having a bizarre condition that made it seem as though I was drunk all of the time and having to try to explain to everyone around me that I hadn't been drinking.
  • Getting back together with my abusive ex, just so that I could take him to a festival, eat waffles with him, make him fall madly in love with me and then dump him as part of a reality TV show.
  • Falling in love at a funeral.  Thankfully, not with the corpse.

I mean, my brain is creative and my dreams have always had a tendency to be a bit weird, but I am knocking it out of the crazy park, lately.

Annoyingly, as well as being creative, my brain is enormously analytical, so I've spent most of my days recently, replaying random scenes and trying to work out WHAT THE HECK THEY MEAN????!!!!

Pictured: Me, every morning.  For like, the last month.

I think it might be time to re-establish a healthy bedtime routine.  It's probably not doing me any good to force myself to stay awake until my eyes feel like they're falling out of my head, regardless of the bizarre dreams.

If anyone wants to share their "falling alseep without having a mental breakdown first" tips, please do.  

Because I miss sleep.  

And sanity.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Burkini Ban: Misogynistic, Islamophobic Nonsense.

The picture that has been seen all over the world, of police officers forcing a Muslim woman to remove her "burkini."

We all know that France has, in recent times, been subjected to some horrific terrorist atrocities.  In the last twelve months alone, 219 people have been killed in various incidents, most claimed as the handiwork of the Islamic Extremist group, ISIS.  

Our hearts have broken for France on a frighteningly regular basis, as the country has witnessed stabbings, shootings and bombings, all supposedly in the name of Islam.  We've wept for the men, women and children lost in the most terrible of ways.  We've held vigils, we've changed our Facebook and Twitter profile pictures in support and we've offered our thoughts, prayers and consolations.  That feeling of empathy and solidarity is only right in the face of the atrocities France has suffered.  

But my heart has broken not only for the victims of these warped "soldiers," but for the billions of innocent Muslims who, time and time again, have been forced to remind us that the noisy, violent minority does not speak for the religion as a whole.  We've seen Mosques attacked in the wake of terrorism, as though harming peaceful Muslims in prayer somehow makes the situation "even."  We've seen people who may not even be Muslim, but, to the ignorant, simply look like one (whatever that means), having abuse shouted at them in the street.  It's worth reminding ourselves - countless times, if necessary - that the vast majority of Muslims are just normal people who have shed just as many tears over the acts of barbarism carried out in the name of their faith as anyone else has.  

And yet, the Islamic backlash continues and now it appears to be reaching a new level.

Getty Images

Several French cities have now imposed a ban on the "burkini" - an outfit that allows Muslim women to remain covered up on the beach, in accordance with their religious beliefs.

France is a secular country and views religion as a private matter.  In an incident which has now been seen all over the world, a Muslim woman on a beach in Nice was recently forced by armed police to remove her burkini and appeared to be issued with an on-the-spot fine.  A second Muslim woman has come forward to say that she was also issued with a fine for "not wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism."  Witnesses to this incident claimed that people nearby began shouting "go home" at the woman and her family, and applauded the officers involved.

A tribunal in Nice recently referred to the burkini ban as being a "necessary, appropriate and proportionate" response to the terrorist threat the country has been under for the last few years.  


The burkini was invented in Australia as a means of Muslim women being able to adapt to Australian beach culture, without sacrificing their religious beliefs to do so.  And yet this ban on the garment (which Germany has also apparently adopted) is only going to make the Muslim community feel more like outsiders.  The very opposite of what it was created for.

France has already issued a ban on women and girls wearing headscarves in schools and there are proposals to extend this to the country's universities as well.  Again, how does this stop terrorism?

In France, their secular system of government is supposed to ensure equality, yet over there, it's illegal to collect data about ethnicity or religion.  That means that there are no official statistics concerning the Muslim population over there, including with regards to jobs, police searches, or anything else.  At a time when a minority community are being stigmatised, they have nothing to back up the way they are being treated.  All that does is further ostracise those people, who then believe that nobody is interested in how their lives are being affected by the sanctions imposed on them, or the judgements made against them by those who ignorantly tar the entire religion with the same brush.

And that is exactly what ISIS want.

One of the easiest ways to brainwash people is to see them being badly treated - or at least, treated differently - and to convince them that it's because they are hated.  That those in power and the people they meet on the street hate them.  That they are the enemy.

By banning a garment that was created in order for Muslim women to feel comfortable enjoying the beach alongside their religious and non-religious counterparts, we are further stigmatising a group that has been stigmatised enough already.

Clothing alone does not make a terrorist. 

And it's not even only Muslim women who are wearing these outfits, anyway.  Nigella Lawson famously wore one whilst on holiday in Australia, saying that she wanted to ensure her skin was covered and protected from the sun.  Indeed, the original creator of the burkini, Aheda Zanetti, claims that 40% of her customers are not Muslim.  They're simply women (and indeed, in a few cases, men) from various religious backgrounds, who want to remain covered up on the beach.

And that brings us to a whole other argument.

Are we really, seriously, in 2016, still quite literally policing what women are allowed to wear in public?!  I mean, really?!

Women have, throughout the ages, been told what they can and can't wear.  A few decades ago, we were chastising women for not wearing enough on the beach, because it was deemed unseemly and unladylike for women to wear bikinis.  Now, we're slapping them with fines for covering up too much.  Can anyone else see the blatant hypocrisy, or is it just me?!  Please tell me it's not just me...

The literal policing of women's bodies is not acceptable.  It is not acceptable for Irish women to have to travel to the UK for abortions, because they're not allowed to have them in their own country.  It is equally unacceptable for a Muslim woman in any country, to be told what she is and isn't allowed to wear.  What a woman puts on in the morning is entirely up to her.  

Many women wear the burkini because it makes them feel safe.  Whether that's because it provides religious safety, or simply because it covers their body and makes them feel safe from the over-sexualised and too-often-critical gaze women's bodies are subjected to doesn't matter at this point in the discussion.  The fact is: if a woman chooses to cover her body on the beach, it is never, ever anyone's right to dictate otherwise.  Forcing a woman to take off layers of clothes, with everyone watching (some jeering) and issuing her with a fine for not being "appropriately dressed" is the kind of misogynistic nonsense that should have been dead and buried last century.

Banning the burkini is not going to end terrorism.  It's not going to make Muslim women feel safe, or accepted.  It is going to force us to look at ourselves and the way we treat others.  I can only hope we learn from this ridiculousness and aim to change the situation, before we make it even worse.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Bedtime Story (24/8/2016)

At the time of writing, I have a nasty Summer cold.  So, obviously, I thought I'd share it with you, in the most germ-free way possible... ;-)

Want to listen to this story as a podcast?  Just click here!

What Is A Girl To Do, When She's Got Summer Flu?!

Outside, the sun was shining.
"I should be on the beach!"
But Josie Brown was ill in bed
And fun seemed out of reach.

"Who gets a cold in Summer?"
Josie sadly cried.
"I want to be in the sunshine,
Not on my own, inside."

Josie slunk beneath her bedsheets
And let out a sneeze: "ATCHOO!
Oh, what is a girl to do,
When she's got Summer flu?!"

Josie's skin turned hot, then cold.
Her nose was fiery red.
When she moved, it made her dizzy;
A pain banged in her head.

Her neck hurt, so did her back
And everywhere else, as well!
Was she ever going to feel better?
Only time would tell.

Her open bedroom window
Let the Summer air breeze through.
But what is a girl to do,
When she's got Summer flu?!

Josie's eyes were puffy and red,
Her skin was clammy to touch.
And her throat was far too sore
For poor Josie to eat that much.

The skin beneath Josie's dripping nose
Was sore; all cracked and peeling.
All she could do was lie in bed
And stare up at the ceiling.

She really wasn't happy.
Poor Josie felt quite blue.
So, what is a girl to do,
When she's got Summer flu?!

"Get some rest," Mum told her.
And since Mum was quite wise,
Josie lay back on her pillow
And she quickly closed her eyes.

She slept for hours and hours,
Dreaming of the sun
And playing in the park with friends
Until the day was done.

For the next day or two,
Josie slept away the day,
Dreaming of exciting places
She could explore and play.

She woke to take her medicine,
Then she closed her eyes once more.
And dreamed about the world,
Beyond her bedroom door.

All that sleep worked wonders;
Josie woke as good as new!
But from her Mum's room, Josie heard
A very loud "ATCHOO!"

"Oh no," Josie groaned.  "Poor Mum!
I gave my germs to you!
Oh, what is a girl to do,
Now her Mum's got Summer flu?!"

Josie nodded her young head.
"It's time you got some rest,"
She told her mother, anxiously.
"I know that's for the best."

"With sleep and medicine," said Josie,
"You'll be fine in a day or do,"
I know that's how you beat Summer flu."

And now you know it, too!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Learning To Be (Positively) Selfish

I've always hated selfishness.  I hate it to the point that I've been known to wear myself out, trying to be unselfish, probably to a ridiculous degree.  When my original plans to celebrate my birthday fell through and my friends started asking how else I would like to celebrate it, my stock answer was: "What would you all enjoy?"

I'm not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination.  Sometimes, we all do things that others could interpret as being selfish, even if it's completely unintentional.  But, whilst I have a long list of personal flaws (for starters, I am liable to cry over everything), I do try to ensure that deliberate selfishness isn't one of them.

So, it struck me as being odd when, after a sustained period of stress in my life, someone told me to "be more selfish."

I basically replied with this:

But the more I thought about it, the more right I realised they were.  There's a massive difference between negative selfishness and positive selfishness, and it's one I'm still in the process of learning.  If I was asked to sum it up as simply as possible, I would say this: "Negative selfishness is about putting yourself first, to the detriment of others.  Positive selfishness is about putting yourself first, to ensure you're in better shape to help yourself and others when they need it."

"Selfish" is a word with such negative connotations, that it almost doesn't seem fair to use it when we're actually just talking about taking time for yourself when things get rough.  And let's face it, things get rough for all of us, at one time or another...

It's good to try to be there for our families and friends when things are going badly for them.  In fact, it's not only a good thing, it's the human thing to do; to try to empathise with and give support to someone you care for, when they're having a hard time.  And sometimes, being there for other people almost inevitably means putting yourself further back in the metaphorical queue.  That's fair enough.  When someone is ill, or exhausted, or going through something major and needs support, putting them first feels like the right thing to do and we do it willingly.

But whilst we're pushing our own needs to the back of the queue, we can't abandon them, entirely.  Doing that is to take a shortcut to Misery Town.  Do not pass "Go."  Do not collect £200.

When you put yourself last one too many times, you start to notice the negative impact that doing so can have on your well being.

To counter that, we need to find the balance between putting ourselves last and putting ourselves first, for a change.

If you feel like you never have time for yourself, there is nothing wrong with taking some.

If you feel as though you're always there for other people and you're taking on their stresses as your own, there is nothing wrong with turning your phone off for an hour and having a bubble bath, or lazing around watching YouTube videos, or whatever else makes you feel relaxed.

If you're dealing with a situation involving a family member or friend who's having a hard time and is leaning on you, there is nothing wrong with arranging to meet for coffee with someone else and talking things through, so you don't keep it all inside.  After all, if you're listening to someone else's worries on a regular basis, how else do you stop yourself from internalising their pain, other than by letting it go in some way?  Sharing the burden helps.

If you need time away from a situation, take it.  If you need to do something nice for yourself, to counter the stress you're going through, do it and don't be ashamed about it.  Your loved ones will never want you to be putting yourself last, all the time.  Your friends will understand if you need a bit of "you" time.  And if they don't understand that, then frankly, they're not very good friends.  The people that are good friends will get that to be at your best - for yourself and for them - you need to take some time to put yourself first, every now and then.

I feel like I'm finally getting to grips with the idea that positive selfishness (even though I still don't like using that word) exists.  And that deciding "you know what?  I'm turning my phone off for a while, I'm watching a film and eating a big bowl of popcorn and I'm not going to think about stressy problems - mine or anyone else's" is not a bad thing to do.  On the contrary, it's good for you.

We should all remember, that whilst it's nice to put other people first, we must never continually put ourselves last.  It's okay to be "selfish" now and then.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Bedtime Story (17/8/2016)

This story is one that I hope will remind everyone to take notice of things as they happen - make the most of every moment.

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

Looking For Happy

Bobby wasn't the most cheerful of rabbits.  He kept himself to himself and didn't have many friends.  He spent most of his time at home, all alone.  He thought it was better that way; if he ventured too far outside, he might bump into a fox, after all!

One afternoon, Bobby was collecting baby carrots from his garden, ready to make a delicious stew, when he saw another rabbit, rolling in the grass.  The rabbit hopped, jumped, skipped and rolled, laughing as he went.  Bobby wrinkled his nose.  "What silly behaviour," he tutted.  "I hope he doesn't bump into my garden fence."

But the longer he watched the other rabbit, the sadder Bobby began to feel.  He had never really frolicked or played in the meadow.  Not since he was a tiny bunny, anyway.  Seeing the other rabbit, with his eyes glinting in the bright sunshine as he jumped about, made Bobby feel upset and a bit cross.  He waved a paw.  "Hey," he shouted.  "Who do you think you are?!"

The rabbit flashed him a smile as he bounded past Bobby's house.  "I'm happy!"  Was all Bobby heard.

All afternoon and long into the evening, Bobby kept thinking about Happy.  He felt sorry for shouting at him, when all he was doing was having fun.  And even more than that, Bobby wanted to meet him again, to see if maybe - just maybe - he could join in and have fun, too!

Bobby thought about it all night and by the following morning, his mind was made up.  He was going to go out and look for Happy!  Maybe if he found him, Happy would teach him how to have fun, instead of feeling so lonely and cross all the time.

Bobby left his house and began his search.  The first creature he came across was a starling, with beautiful, freckled feathers.  "Hello," Bobby said, a little shyly.  "I'm looking for Happy.  Do you know him?"

The starling lifted a wing as she shook her head.  "No," she replied.  "But if you want to, you can swoop and fly with me, for a while."

Bobby frowned.  "Rabbits can't fly," he insisted.

"But they can pretend," the starling said.  "Sometimes, the little bunnies jump off that tree stump over there, with their paws outstretched.  And they have so much fun, pretending to soar through the air!"

Bobby wasn't sure it was a good idea.  After all, he was supposed to be looking for someone.  But he decided to give it a try and to his enormous surprise, the starling was right; it was a lot of fun!  After several jumps, he was out of breath, but he gave the starling a big smile.  "I'd better keep looking," he said.  "See you later?"

The starling nodded.  "See you later," she called, as she beat her wings and disappeared up into the clouds.

Bobby decided to carry on with his search.  After a while, he met a squirrel.  "Excuse me?"  He called, as the squirrel darted up a tree.  "Do you know where Happy is?"

The squirrel glanced back down.  "Can't say I've heard of anyone called Happy," he admitted.  "But I do know a lot of bunnies.  They come to play and we have races up and down this tree.  Fancy giving it a go?"

Bobby would normally have said no, but he was still feeling really good after pretending to fly with the starling, so he nodded his head.  "Okay," he said.  "Just for a while."  

He spent several minutes, scampering up and down the thick tree trunk with his new friend, giggling as the squirrel overtook him.  "I think you win," he said at last.  "I'm not sure rabbits are supposed to climb trees.  It was fun, though!"

He waved goodbye and set off to search for Happy once more.

He hadn't gotten very far, when he bumped into a badger.  "Hello," he waved.  "I'm looking for Happy.  Do you know where I can find him?"

The badger frowned.  "I don't think I can help you," he said.  "But if you've got time, I'm in the mood for a game of hide and seek.  Would you like to play?"

Bobby really wanted to find Happy, but he was starting to have a lot of fun, meeting the other creatures who lived nearby, so he decided a few more minutes couldn't hurt.

The badger rushed off to hide, whilst Bobby counted to ten.  Then, Bobby darted around, searching for him, until he finally found him, chuckling to himself under a bush.  "Is it my turn to hide, now?"  Bobby giggled.  "Because I've just thought of a really good place!"

He and the badger carried on playing for ages, until Bobby suddenly remembered what he was supposed to be doing.  "Oh, I'd better go," he said.  "I've got to find Happy!"

"Okay," the badger replied.  "Maybe come back tomorrow and we'll play again."

"I will," promised Bobby, as he hopped on his way.

Bobby carried on searching for what felt like hours, but he couldn't find Happy anywhere.  He said hello to lots of different creatures and played all kinds of games, but eventually, he decided it was no use.  Happy was gone.  He turned for home, feeling tired.

Just as Bobby was in sight of his house, a bundle of brown fur came shooting past, rolling through the grass.  Despite how fast the bundle was travelling, Bobby recognised him right away.  "Happy!"  He cried, bounding after him.  "I've been looking for you!"

The rabbit from the day before stopped rolling through the grass and gave him a funny look.  "Happy?"  He smiled.  "My name's Brad!"

Bobby blushed.  "Oh..."  He mumbled.  "I'm sorry..."

"Don't be!"  Brad insisted.  "I mean, I am happy.  It's just not my name."  He paused, dusting himself off.  "Why were you looking for me?"

Bobby sighed.  "Well...  Yesterday, you looked like you were having so much fun.  I wondered if you could show me how."

Just then, a voice called out to the rabbits.  "Hello?"  Bobby glanced over his shoulder to see the badger heading towards him.  "I hope you don't mind, but I had such a great time playing with you, I thought I'd come over and ask if you found Happy in the end?"

"Um..."  Bobby began, but before he could say anything, the squirrel from earlier came scurrying over.  

"Hello again," he said.  "I wanted to invite you to a little gathering I'm having tomorrow.  We had such fun earlier, I couldn't hold it without you!"

Bobby beamed back at him.  "Really?!"

"Of course!"  The squirrel replied.  "Did you ever find Happy, in the end?"

Suddenly, a beating of wings distracted everyone and they glanced up to the bright, blue sky.

"Don't forget to come and fly with me again tomorrow," the starling called down to Bobby.  "And I promise I'll keep a lookout for Happy, for you!"

Brad smiled at Bobby.  "You know... I don't think you need me to teach you how to have fun," he told him.  "I think you always knew how.  And I think you did find Happy, today.  It just wasn't what you thought it would be!"

Bobby smiled at all of his new friends.  "I'm happy," he said.  

"Being with friends makes everyone happy," Brad agreed.

Bobby nodded.  "Would anyone like some carrot stew?"  He asked.  "There's plenty to go around!"

After that, Bobby stopped being so grumpy.  He learned that he only needed to be alone when he wanted to be.  He had lots of fun with lots of new friends.

And he never needed to look for "Happy" again.


Monday, 15 August 2016

Nerdy Life Lessons!

This morning, whilst I lay in bed, pondering the truly horrifying thought of having to get up, I ended up browsing Twitter.  There, I spotted a frankly brilliant blog post by Lauren Laverne, on the life lessons she gained from musicals.  My first thought was "OH MY GOD, I could have written this!"  And then I grumbled to myself about how I tend to either have ALL THE IDEAS for blogs, or literally none at all.

And then it struck me that there's another genre that taught me a whole heap of valuable life lessons.  Nerdy TV shows.

Yes, I am a nerd and proud of it.  And so, here's my little list of life-lessons, gained from an entire existence spent watching nerdy TV shows.  In reverse order, because I like to save the best for last...

Knightmare taught me the importance of being CLEAR when talking to people...

My love of slightly nerdy TV shows goes right back to my childhood.  Many hours were spent, sitting in front of the telly, watching a group of kids try to guide a friend through a maze of relatively terrible CGI.  And when I wasn't watching Knightmare, I was playing it, by wrapping a scarf around my face (or pulling a big hat down over it) and asking my friends: "WHERE AM I?!"  Don't judge me...

But in all seriousness, it was that show that made me realise - very early on in life - the importance of clarity, when talking to others.  Okay, in reality, a muddled instruction probably isn't going to result in your mate being eaten by a monster, or falling to their doom, but it is important to make sure that what you say to people is easily understood.  Yes: simple, clear intructions are important in certain practical situations.  But more than that, have a think about how many misunderstandings and subsequent arguments could be avoided if we just chose our words more carefully?!  Our words have the power to affect other people enormously, so we should be choosing them wisely.

I can trace my belief in trying to always be clear in my meaning, either through the spoken word or the written - right back to Knightmare.

The X-Files taught me that it's okay to allow someone else their beliefs, regardless of whether or not you share them...

There were many reasons that I wanted to be Dana Scully, when I was younger.  Snogging David Duchovny was high on the list.  But I was impressed by almost everything about her.  She was strong, she was brave, she was intelligent and she held onto her beliefs - or, in certain cases, lack of them - with an iron grip.  It may have been ridiculously frustrating to watch Scully encounter aliens and monsters and yet somehow stubbornly refuse to believe in either, but hey, at least she was consistent.

And yet, as the series went on and Dana continued to grow as a character, we saw - more and more - that she was able to accept (however begrudgingly) Mulder's greater willingness to believe in the paranormal and, crucially, we saw that she was able to love and accept him, despite not ever entirely sharing his belief system.

In short, Dana Scully taught me that we don't have to have beliefs - religious, moral or political - in common with someone, in order to get along with them, or even love them.  Everyone is entitled to believe - or disbelive - in anything they want.  Our job isn't to adapt our own belief system so that it matches theirs.  It's simply to accept that person, regardless of differences.  Which leads me nicely on to my next point...

Red Dwarf taught me that unlikely friendships can form between people who would otherwise never give one another the time of day...

Okay, let's be real: the characters in Red Dwarf kind of hate each other.  There's no disputing that.  But, in a bizarre way, they kind of love each other, too.  And that's what makes this show so good.  Lister may spend half his life bitching about Rimmer, but when Rimmer's in danger, his crewmate usually comes through for him.  Rimmer himself may be a spectacular coward, but even he has proven himself to be able to muster up some kind of defence for his unlikely buddies, over the years.

Thrown together, with no option but to work as a unit, the "boys from the Dwarf" are quite literally, the most unlikely friends in the universe.  And for the most part, they might shudder at the thought of even being referred to as "friends."  But, whenever they get themselves into trouble, they're capable of working together as a team to defeat a common enemy.  They're able to support one another when it counts.

To me, watching this as a kid, it was a valuable lesson in accepting that you don't have to be best friends with everyone, in order to be able to work together.  And just as importantly - if not more so - it taught me that we shouldn't just surround ourselves with carbon copies of who we are.  If we can learn to accept that not everyone is going to be 100% on our wavelength, and if we're prepared to get to know those people anyway, it can lead to unexpected friendships - and a greater understanding of others, too.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer taught me that your friends are the family you choose for yourself...

I truly feel that there's something amazing about having a close circle of friends around you.  Nothing cemented this belief more (aside from Friends) than Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

In every situation Buffy finds herself in, she has an incredible support network behind her, in the form of her friends.  Willing to put their lives in danger in order to protect their friend, the Scoobies prove their dedication time and time again.  And it goes way beyond fighting demons, too.  When Buffy needs emotional support, her friends are there.  And vice versa.  There's an incredible level of closeness between the Scooby Gang, especially the three core members, Buffy, Willow and Xander.  Yes, they fall out, yes, they disagree, yes, they sometimes keep things from one another.  But in the end, they come through for each other when it matters the most.  

After (SPOILER) Buffy's mum dies, her friends truly become family to Buffy and her sister, Dawn, with Willow and Tara moving in to the family home and Giles assisting with practical issues, such as money.  Indeed, in a lot of ways, after Buffy's dad disappears from the scene, Giles acts as a father figure to the slayer.

Watching this in my teens was pretty amazing, to me.  I was from a military family; I had spent my entire childhood moving around from place to place and had never had that one, consistent group of friends that I could rely on.  But Buffy made me believe that I'd find them, someday.  And when I finally did, I cherished them all the more.

Good friends - best friends - love you unconditionally, not because they feel a compulsion to do so out of family loyalty, but because they choose to.  They come to you as strangers and end up being like family.  Sometimes closer.  

Buffy also taught me that sometimes, you can find the strength to support the people you love through unspeakable things.

Okay, so none of my friends have - thankfully - turned into evil witches and started flaying people alive, or trying to end the world.  But when (SPOILER) Willow does that in Buffy, Xander manages to stop her in her tracks - and save the world in the process - just by reminding her that he loves her and is willing to help her get through the pain she's feeling as a result of (SPOILER) the loss of her beloved girlfriend, Tara.  When it would have been really easy to hate Willow, and when being unable to forgive her for her actions would be completely understandable, Xander (and later, the rest of the gang) realises that her behaviour has come from a place of complete and utter grief and that what she needs is to be supported and loved.  I can barely watch that scene without going a little misty-eyed...

Obviously, in reality, there are times when you have no choice but to walk away from someone - please remember that if you're being harmed physically or emotionally in real life, it's not your responsibility to "fix" the person hurting you - but Buffy teaches us that when the people we love behave in a manner that's out-of-character, rather than simply giving up on them right away, we should find out what's causing the difference in their behaviour and try to work out how (and if) we can help them through it.  That was always an incredibly powerful message to my youthful ears and it's one I try to stick by, today.

It also goes hand in hand with...

Doctor Who taught me that you don't just give up on things/people who are important to you, nor do you shy away from doing the right thing.

So, I said I was writing this blog in reverse order and I very much am, because my top two nerdy TV shows will always be Buffy and Doctor Who, with the latter in first place.  My abusive ex once said to me that "everything you'll ever need to know about life and love can be learnt from Star Wars." Well, I feel that way about Doctor Who.  I'm a nerd.  Deal with it.

Doctor Who has taught me never to give up when something is truly important.  You need only look at how long Amelia Pond waited for her "Raggedy Man," or how long Rory was prepared to wait for the grown-up Amy Pond (literally thousands of years), to know that this is a show that encourages you to do the very opposite of throwing in the towel.

Having the guts to stand up and say when something is wrong, to vocally defend those in need and to keep reaching for a dream even when it seems out of reach are all things I passionately believe in.  And you can learn all of those lessons from Doctor Who.

In every episode - no matter how fantastical the plot line - that integral message shines through.  The Doctor himself, for the most part at least, possesses a belief that things will be okay in the end.  That nothing is insurmountable.  There is no evil that cannot be countered when you have the right team around you and good will triumph in the end.

Even the Doctor's ability to regnerate could be seen as an example of this unshakeable belief in not giving up.  He "dies," only to start over again.  We all have moments where we feel like our dreams are "dying," or that we're not going to win in a certain situation.  But we can always change the way we're doing things, or alter our outlook, rather than give up altogether.

And probably the most valuable life lesson of all...

Doctor Who taught me that EVERYONE is important.

The Doctor frequently travels with humans.  Regular, everyday people, with pretty normal lives.  And he never fails to let them know how spectacular they are capable of being.  

It's not just his regular travelling companions, either.  The Doctor takes great pains to ensure that nobody - however insignificant they believe themselves to be - ever walks away from an interaction with him without knowing how important they really are.

And isn't that the greatest life lesson we could learn from a nerdy TV show?!  Everyone out there in the world - no matter who they are, where they're from and what they believe in - is important.  And should be made to feel as such.

If we keep that in mind, we begin to realise that we all deserve to be taken seriously.  To be cared about.  Respected.  Nobody on this planet is unimportant and therefore nobody should be made to feel that they are.

In fact, every single other lesson nerdy TV taught me over the years leads up to this one.  If we remember that everyone is equally important, then we think harder about the way we speak to people.  We consider that we don't have to share beliefs with everyone, but we have to respect everyone's rights to their own views.  We start to understand that even if we seemingly have nothing in common with someone, that doesn't mean we can't work alongside them and try to get along.  And those people we choose to keep closest to us become people whose importance we don't want to ever forget.  We stand by them and we hope they'll do the same for us.  We learn not to give up on those people unless we have no other option.  We learn that we - and they - should stand up for what is right and vocally defend those who can't defend themselves.  

Because we are ALL important.  Every single one of us.

So, thank you to my favourite TV shows, for teaching me so much.  

Long may we learn from the things we love.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Bedtime Story (10/8/2016)

If there's one thing people notice about me almost as quickly as they notice my unruly curls, it's my height.  Or lack, thereof.  At five foot nothing, I'm pretty much the shortest person I know, aside from children (and my sister, who had the good grace to stop growing at 4'11.5" - thanks, sis!).  So, this week's story is, essentially, the story of my life!

Click here for a podcast version of this week's bedtime story.

"I Want To GROW!"

Cassie was shorter than all of her friends,
Even when she stretched, on the very ends
Of her toes, they towered above.
It didn't seem fair and she'd had enough.

"I'm going to have to make myself tall,"
Cassie announced, one day, to them all.
"You can't do that," her friends started to snigger.
But Cassie was determined to make herself bigger.

That same day, she went off to the park,
Planning to stay until long after dark.
She hung from the monkey bars, until her arms ached,
Vowing to save herself from her short fate.

"I'll hang here until I stretch," she declared.
Nobody answered, but she didn't care.
Still, hanging so long was causing her pain.
Eventually, Cassie slumped back down again.

"Never mind," she groaned. "I'll find a new way!"
And she darted off, leaving her friends to play.
Back home, Cassie filled her shoes up with earth,
Ignoring her parents' obvious mirth.

"When you put a seed in the ground, it grows,"
She explained, wriggling her toes.
"So maybe I'll grow if I stand in this soil?"
Mum frowned.  "Or maybe your shoes will be spoiled?!"

"You can't just make yourself taller," Dad said.
"Some people are tall, some are shorter, instead."
But Cassie sighed, still wracking her brain.
"Ooh," she cried.  "It's started to rain!"

Cassie ran, muddy feet and all,
Out to the garden, straight into the squall.
"Rain makes the plants grow," she happily cried.
"It doesn't grow children," Dad snapped.  "Come inside!"

Cassie grumpily did as she was told.
She was wet, she was angry and terribly cold.
But worst of all, she was still petite.
She stared down at her muddy, wet feet.

"I just want to be bigger," she said, her head sadly bowed.
"When you're short you can't see when you're stuck in a crowd.
And you can't reach anything on a high shelf.
You're like a pixie; a small little elf."

She let out a sigh, with a shake of her head.
"And all my trousers are too long," she said.
"Nobody notices you when you're small.
I hate being tiny.  I want to be tall!"

Mum and Dad smiled at their daughter.
"Life's not that bad, just being shorter.
We notice you.  So do all of your friends!
Your height's not where the sum of you ends."

Cassie looked her parents up and down.
"What do you mean?"  She asked, with a frown.
Mum grinned. "I mean there's no need for you to be stressed,"
And she held her hand against Cassie's chest.

"So, outside you're small, but I think you'll find,
It's more important that you're helpful, loving and kind.
And if you're those things, then goodness knows,
Who cares about the distance from your head to your toes?!"

"Besides, even though you might think it strange,"
Dad added: "We actually don't want you to change.
You might not be tall, but you're our little girl.
To me, you're as big as the whole, wide world."

Cassie grinned, as pleased as could be.
"I'm short," she admitted.  "But that's just me.
Besides, it's only on the outside.  Because, you see...
Inside, I'm sure I'm seven foot three."