Tag: children

Eric, the X-ray Fish

Eric is a x-ray fish.  Just in case you were wondering, yes, he is transparent and looks like an x-ray of a fish, where you can see his bones and little else.  So unusual.  He couldn’t pretend he hadn’t just eaten a sweetie – it would be visible right there in his tummy.   

Eric is one of those fishes you only hear about in children’s stories.  He is more like a person than a fish, which is odd, because I’ve never met a fish who is like a person (though I have met people who were like fish – but that’s a different story).  Eric even wears clothes.  He wears a beanie hat with holes for his gills (without those holes, things wouldn’t work properly. He’d probably drown).  He wears a red belt and blue braces but no pants or shirt.  I find myself asking why would an x-ray fish need pants or shirt.  Yet I don’t question his need for the red belt and blue braces. I guess it is all a matter of style. 

Like human beings, Eric has many personality traits: things he is and things he isn’t.  Unfortunately for Eric, he’s unpopular, scared of strangers, invisible, small, sneaky, bossy, and he always feels cold.  I suspect the cold thing is because you can see right through him.  Can you think of anything transparent that’s warm?  I can’t, apart from bath water. 

And Eric never settles or fits in because everyone sees the belt and braces and beanie hat, but otherwise just sees right through him.  All apart from Connie, his best friend.  She’s a sea urchin, of course, with her punk rocker tentacles.  But Connie and Eric aren’t the easiest of company, even for each other.  Let’s just say that positivity doesn’t exactly abound when those two are around. Most of the time they’re bored and grumpy. Together.

Stella, a fairly wise mermaid, tells them both that they will find unheard-of treasures if they go and swim round a haunted shipwreck to look for treasure chest.  They do this, under some pressure from Stella who refuses to have them around anymore if they don’t buck up and cheer up.  Eric does, in fact, manage to swim into the treasure chest through its damaged lock.  Inside is a mass of plankton who can change its form into anything at all…

Eric, of course, is unsure.  Suspicious.  Hateful.  The Mass is weird and odd.  He’s not sure.  So he shuts the plankton back into the treasure chest and swims away. He got in trouble later.

When he’s asked what went on in the shipwreck, he cannot lie. That’s the problem when you’re totally transparent.

Piggy in his Pocket

There must have been some extra toys in the box.  Too many.  So many, in fact, that its lid wasn’t closing, and Jack, possessing only a seven-year-old’s wisdom, wasn’t sure how to make it close.  It was very important to him that it did close, though, and the only way he could think of doing it was for him to sit on the toy box and see if it flattened them out a bit. 

But, can you guess what sitting on the toy box lid might do to the toys inside?  Yes, you’re right.  Toys got broken.  Even Jack’s small weight was heavy enough to make a crumble, a crack and another.  Then a long sound like Jack’s brother wheezing. 

Jack jumped up from the box’s lid.  What was that noise?  He almost didn’t dare to look inside.  He sat on the sofa for a few moments, staring at the television.  His fourth favourite programme was on, and he watched the swirling background colours as the animated characters chattered.  But Jack heard none of the chattering.  All he could think about was what might have happened inside his toy box.  All his precious things were inside there: a train set full of tracks and scenery, lots of crunchy plastic and metal cars.

And so much Lego you wouldn’t believe it.  But it all usually fit into the box so well.  What was it that was blocking the box up today?

The only way to find out, Jack reckoned, was to open it up and tip it out.  So, he opened it up, but found the box too heavy to tip up, so began to grab the items inside in big strong handfuls.  Mum caught him when he was almost at the bottom of the box.  He tried to explain why he was doing it but she didn’t really want to know.  She just seemed to want to shout and scold and generally be pretty cross and unable to understand that Jack was trying to help.  That was all.  He just wanted to find out what was going on, and to help.

Mum left the room to see to Jack’s older brother, with threats to Jack if he didn’t clear up by the time she got back.

Jack had every intention of tidying up quickly.  He knew how important it was to keep the living room tidy, especially when you had plans to become an aeroplane.  He didn’t want to hurt his feet on chunks of Lego again.

So, Jack grabbed the toys and blocks in handfuls as large as such a small lad could manage, and soon enough almost everything was back in.  There weren’t any new toys since the last time he’d filled the toy box the previous day, but still the box lid would not close.

‘Jack,’ called his mother, ‘have you cleared up yet?’. 

‘Yesm’ he said, looking towards her voice. ‘But I can’t close my toybox.’

Mum looked.  ‘But, Jack, it’s closed,’ she said.  Jack turned back to look at his toybox and was astonished to discover that his mum was right: the toys inside were flattened and the lid closed easily. 

Jack was accustomed to things being confusing – after all he was a young lad and didn’t know all that much about the world yet, but this was an odd kind of confusion.  It was as if all the things he usually understood were now going wrong.  Things weren’t right, anyway.  Mum left the room with a sweet goodbye and a ‘Good boy, Jack, for doing as I asked,’ but Jack had his mind on other things. 

What was in his toybox?  There was only one way to find out.  And that meant to have a good rummage in the box again.  Bits of Lego and Meccano spurted and flew onto the carpet next to him.

‘What you up to, Jack?’ mum called from the other room.

‘Looking for something,’ he replied, and moved all his stuff round.  By the time he’d rummaged through everything, and put it all back, he realised that the lid was unable to close again. He was getting fed up of it now: really fed up.  And then he heard a rustling inside the box, and a movement to accompany it. It made a funny sound, not quite a car and not quite a pig, but somewhere inbetween, like a meeoowweeek kind of sound.  There it was again. 

Jack peeped in the box and what did he see?  His cheeky pig toy that usually fit into his hand quite easily had now swollen up.  So, it was the shape and size of a beachball and had, as a result, pushed lots of other toys out on the floor.

‘Hello Piggie,’ Jack said, relieved at knowing what had caused his toybox lid to stay open. He hadn’t considered yet that it was a little odd for the piggie to have swollen. And then not swollen. 

‘Hello Jack,’ Piggie said.  ‘I don’t like being in there.  I was just trying to get out.’

‘But how did you grow?’

‘I don’t know – it just happened.  I like it though, don’t you?’

‘Yes, it’s nice to have someone to talk to,’ said Jack with a smile as he lifted Piggy from their toy box and moved him behind the sofa so he would be hidden from mum when she next walked in.  ‘Where do you want to live, then, Piggy?’ asked Jack.  ‘In your bed, of course,” said Piggy.  ‘Warm and dry and not at all cluttered,’ Jack thought about it.

‘Alright,’ he said, ‘but no wriggling or I will throw you on the floor.’

‘And I will just bounce back in,’ said Piggy. 

So, later on that evening when Piggy had shrunk again and been hidden in Jack’s pyjama pockets, mum tucked Jack up in bed. She kissed him on the nose and wished him a happy goodnight and as soon as she was gone, Jack pulled Piggy from his pocket. Piggy grew and sighed in contentment.

‘Aah,’ Piggy said, ‘this is so nice and comfortable.  So cosy.  So warm. So soft.  Why haven’t I been in here before?’ he asked.

‘Only Belinda Duck lives in the bed with me,’ said Jack.

‘That’s so unfair,’ said Piggy.  ‘Don’t you think?’ he added.  ‘That’s how it is,’ Jack said, and tried to go to sleep.

In the morning, Jack was very unsure about what to do about Piggy.  He’d had a terrible sleep because of Piggy’s growing and shrinking.  It was annoying and disturbed Jack, a lot, but he wasn’t sure of how to tell Piggy.  Jack thought that Piggy might be easy to hurt and definitely didn’t want to hurt him.  But he really wanted a good sleep. 

What to do?  He couldn’t ask his mum because then he’d have to tell her about Piggy having changed and he knew mum wouldn’t find that easy to believe.  Jack thought about it the whole of the day in school and his teachers told him off for daydreaming.  Everything was going wrong, and it was all the fault of the magic that had brought Piggy to life.  And Jack definitely didn’t like it.

So, how did Jack sort this out? What did he do about Piggy? Did he tell his mum, his dad, his best friend?

Jack asked to go to the park as soon as school was finished. He took his tiny Piggy in his pocket, and sat him on the chair. He left him there, and was relieved to share the bed with Belinda Duck.  But the following day his best friend came into school. ‘I found this in the park,’ he said. And there was Piggy.

And Piggy was very, very angry.

I Hate His Face

I woke early – as was usual. Nowadays I’m always late to bed and early to rise, with the result that my days pass in a stupor of drowsy anxious tension. I have one problem that is keeping me awake: my little girl. So shy and fearful of groups of others.  Her age-peers regularly attend groups (cubs or scouts, after-school clubs), but Bethany doesn’t.  Bethany won’t. I’m lucky if I can get her to school.

She does possess an uncanny ability to make friends, but it doesn’t last long.  Within a week or two of meeting ‘best person in the world’ this new friend will reveal a single character flaw and is speedily outlawed and only (very) occasionally allowed back into Bethany’s clique of one. 
The whole friends thing is therefore fraught.  She doesn’t feel it, but I do, and it’s making me reluctant to allow her to become involved with other children, on the few occasions she requests for it to happen.  I lie in bed considering what will happen when Bethany’s inevitable friendship meltdown occurs?  And then what will happen to me?  I’ve often become friendly with the mothers of her friends, and feel it is my responsibility to smooth things over?  But I can’t always manage it, and friends are lost.

At any second even the most beautiful friendship could fail.  At any second she could switch a label from ‘best mate’ to ‘acquaintance’.  Does this come after long periods of simmering?  I don’t know, but suspect that sometimes there is not even a period of irritation beforehand – things just happen, just like that. 

For instance, it happened with her best friend – her ex-best friend.  Ben’s a sweet boy, a few months younger than Bethany, and they were thrown together in their small school.  The relationship grew gradually and gently over months till it was decided that they were ‘best friends’ and that they would play together regularly at each other’s houses.  Suddenly, after a number of months of seemingly innocent and sweet getting-on-with-each-other, a time where they seemed as close as could possibly be imaginable, my daughter suddenly piped up with ‘I can’t stand his face’.  What was I, as her mum, supposed to do or say?  I asked questions in the attempt to discover if she was experiencing physical dislike or perhaps a dislike of one of Ben’s particular expressions.

But irrational feelings can’t and aren’t explained away by anything that either parent or child can put a label on.  So, as a loving parent, you ask and you delve a little further.  You try to discover the reasons so you can help to put things right.  Or more right.

The conversation probably went something like this:

Bethany: I don’t want to see him anymore.  I can’t stand his face.
Me:  That was unexpected, Bethie, and it isn’t a good thing to say about a friend.  What do you mean?
Bethany: I hate his face.
Me: Hate and can’t stand are two ways of saying practically the same thing.  Can you tell me why you hate his face?
Bethany: Because it is horrible.
Me: In what way?
Bethany: Horrible.
Me:  Is it something to do with his features, or the shape of his face, or the colour of his eyes?  Or is it more to do with how he uses his face and puts it into different expressions?
Bethany: How am I supposed to know that?
Me: You’ve probably got a better idea than I have.
Bethany:  No I haven’t.
Me: When did you notice that you don’t like his face?
Bethany: I hate his face.
Me: When?
Bethany: When what?
Me: When did you first notice that you hate his face?
Bethany: Always.
Me: Do you know why?
Bethany: Yes.
Me: Can you tell me?
Bethany: Yes.
Me: So…
Bethany: Because it is horrible.

And so on and so on and so on.  In fact, we had a similar conversation over a number of days while I simultaneously tried to comfort poor Ben and explain things as best I could (without telling him the ‘face’ thing), and then to try and placate his mum, and to go about the every day events of normal life. 

Ben was devastated.  From full-on-mate to Beth-can-barely-look-at-you – all in the space of a day.  Poor kid. How on earth was he supposed to accept it speedily and get on with life.  Especially as there had been no falling out and no obvious conflict.

Some weeks later, we’d given up discussing the situation and Bethany volunteered the following information.  ‘I don’t like his face, mum, but I do like him.’  OK.  Progress, of sorts.  Then, the following day – ‘I think I don’t like that expression.  Do you know the one I mean?  The expression that says he’s not happy or bored or something’.  I didn’t know the expression he meant.  After all, unhappy, bored or ‘something’ presumably all had their own facial expression.  But I was getting something, and Beth was getting somewhere too.  She had massively analysed her own response and had eventually narrowed down the response to the undeniable fact that she didn’t like some of her friend’s more negative expressions.  It was a start.

I tried to take photographs of people’s expressions, including my own.  I asked her how she felt about the people and the shape their faces took on.  It was becoming clearer that the expressions she could not accept were many.  Patronising faces from adults.  Angry face in the mirror.  Disapproving faces from teachers.  Overly eager faces from peers in the playground, determined to get her to participate in some hated sporting activity.  Disappointed faces from spurned kids.

And it became clear to me that the problem existed because things were not clear to her.  Beth appeared to see all the faces in the same way.   Unless a person was actively smiling at her, the said person’s expression was perceived as negative and critical.  And, this led to further realisations – the fact that smile=good and non-smile=bad, meant that all variations of the smile were open to extreme misinterpretation too. 
Sarcastic smiles were missed and so were cheeky smiles, smug smiles, apprehensive smiles, questioning smiles, enthusiastic smiles… the list goes on. 

So, we got to the crux of the matter.  She was unhappy about spending time with Ben, not because of Ben’s actions, but because she was getting confused and upset by Ben’s facial expressions.  Perhaps his expressions belied his friend’s actions or words, and the complexity of this constructed facade was simply too much for Beth.  She preferred the conflict of moving away from the situation and being on her own. That was preferable to being with someone he was skill-less to interpret.

So, that’s one way that Beth deals with conflict, by heading it off, quietly and without explanation, before it has even started.  However, the other side is far harder to deal with.

We’re not talking about violence, not yet, and not extreme violence, but we are talking about frustrated aggression, and I think there’s a difference.  

I’ve seen her lash out many times – on herself and others. One day she came up the path from school with two equal sized scratches down the sides of her face, in the temple area.  On investigation I found out that her own overly long nails had created then.  In frustration regarding her annoying classmate, she’d sat and gouged out two long scratches in her head.  They’re still there now – scarred for life, and she says she doesn’t care.  Does she?  Is this self-harm side of her nature as scary and as out of control as it seems? She will regularly hurt herself to ‘relieve’ frustration, and will very often say that she feels no pain from physical hurts – only from emotional ones. 

The frustration is sometimes from her relationships with others but quite often about frustration with herself.  It isn’t that she can’t deal with conflict, it is more that the conflict gets her out of her usual routines and patterns, and that’s what she doesn’t like.

For example, in the summer term at junior school, they do a lot of non-curriculum based activities, ranging from sports day to cookery day, dress in a uniform day, bike skills etc.  It’s true to say that most kids love this.  Most of the kids have a ball and delight in being released from normal lessons. But Beth would far prefer keep to routine and to the predictability of lessons in numeracy and literacy.  That suits her.  Sitting around in a field for sports day in which she refuses to participate, does not.  Getting lines following sitting round in a field and subsequently ‘misbehaving’, also does not suit her – and leads to enormous amounts of anger.  She’s a little kid but is also quite deep and feels injustices deeply.  She feels them angrily too, but rarely expresses them properly, and on the few occasions she manages to say what she feels, is told off.

Here’s one example. It is a normal school play time.  Beth likes climbing and makes use of the facilities within the school, of which there are very few.  She also likes the idea of free running and the like, and will regularly jump onto things, climb around, and jump off, all very elegantly.  On this one occasion she jumped onto the school’s grit bin.  It is strong enough to take the weight of even the largest child at the school and she is a long way off being that, being of quite slender build, though tall.  Basically, she was doing no harm, but was told, when she was perched on top of the grit bin, that being on the bin was against school rules.  She was told to get down and told the teacher she would jump off in a minute.  The teacher insisted she get down straight away.  Beth said no I want to jump, so the teacher pulled her down and told her off for being cheeky.  Later, after the tears and sullenness had subsided, the teacher reappeared to Beth, by now shrivelled on her own in a hidden corner of the playground, to reiterate her ‘lesson’. That was the worst thing anyone could have done to her then.  As I’ve probably already said, she’s a child who requires recovery time, and only after that are you able to deal with the issue. 

She reiterated her ‘lesson’ and said, ‘You’ve learnt your lesson haven’t you?  You’re not going to jump on the grit bin any more, are you?’  She stared at her with her pale, blank, absent-looking face and said, ‘I don’t know.  I like climbing on it.  I don’t know if I will jump on it but I will probably climb on it.  Who can say what I will do in the future?’  To Beth, this was honesty tied up with sadness and upset.  To the teacher this was cheek of the most extreme nature.

Poor kid was in even more trouble for that one, and she didn’t deal with the conflict at all well.  In fact, she dealt with it extremely badly.  She refused to work for this teacher for a number of days afterwards, despite her teaching assistants using all available tools in their repertoire to encourage her application.  She’s an intelligent and articulate kid who is regularly reduced to a zombie by her inability to deal with conflict and by her teacher’s inability to deal with pragmatic and pedantic honesty. 

Other forms of conflict are more straightforward.  Like when Beth lashes out at other children who use humour and teasing in a way that she doesn’t understand, or when another child’s facial expression doesn’t tally with her words or actions, and Beth’s confusion makes everything twisted. She’s been known to hit, pull hair, and lash out verbally.

But her main way of dealing with conflict is via the duvet.  She will sit in front of the television, wrapped in a duvet in all weathers. She will take it into the car when allowed, she will sit, completely naked apart from the duvet, in the garden on a summer day, and she will also use it as a form of expression.  She will hide under it when unhappy and feel safe only when talking from underneath its feathery layers.

And, though it’s very much like burying one’s head in the sand, I find myself understanding. Why not? Why not bury and try to escape? When the alternative is aggression and pain, I totally understand.

From a Dog

Hello, my name is Suzie.

I sleep on Max’s bed.
Looking at the nice view
I rest my furry head.
I see other houses,
I see lots of cars,
And when the street goes dark at night
I look at all the stars.
When I look closely in the trees
I see bright leaves and birds.
The view is very beautiful
It makes me lost for words.
I might not see a river,
I might not see a stream,
But the view from Max’s window
Is like a lovely dream.
I need to leave my writing now,
I need to go outside.
Then I’ll come back to Max’s room
And on the bed I’ll hide.
(Wuff, Wuff!)
Written by a little boy

Poem to Morrigan

Happy birthday Morrigan, my gorgeous bonkers Morrigan.
Have a really happy birthday – have a One Direction day!
Liam pours your orange juice while Zayne lays flat the table cloth.
And Harry brings your breakfast to the table on a tray.

And what about the other boys? The lovely Niall and Louis.
What will they be doing at this extra special  time?
Well, Louis will be cooking you a tasty egg fried breakfast
And Niall will be spreading toast with chocolate spread and lime.

And, food all gone, you’re going to open all the gifts you chose yourself.
Then mummy’s going to take you out to Play Zone – big hurray!
And then you’ll go to grandad’s for a little celebration
You’ll have some pressies and a cake and some more time to play.

I can’t believe you’re nine today, you’re really getting bigger,
Happier and funnier; teenager-ier all the time.
But I know you lovely Morrigan – you’ll always be my Morrigan
Even now you’re really old because you’ve just turned nine!!!!!

Happy birthday my most lovely, wonderful, moody, beautiful,
sweet and caring, popular, well loved, stylish, pretty, intense, colourful, clever and  creatively gifted little angel.
Love you forever, from Mummy xxxxxxxxx
And Cormy thinks you’re pretty incredible too 🙂 xxxxxxxxx

Through the Eyes of a Bunny

“Two,” the man snarled. “Two.  Two…”

What did he mean – two?  What.  Two arms?  Two legs?

“Two,” he said again, raising his voice to a shout.  Was he using the word as a shortened form of towards, as a way of giving me directions? 

“Two,” he said again, his voice rising with mania.

I realised, of course.  I realised only too well.  The man’s diction was flawed and lazy.  Alcohol-induced, no doubt. The word was not “two” but “shoo”.  He was ordering me to leave, not gently and with meandering hops as I might have preferred, but immediately with haste and fear for my life. 

He had cornered me in his garden under the parasol-shelter of a rhubarb leaf.  Beneath my feet was a spongy surface of rotted cow manure combined with straw. I smelled my thumper foot disapprovingly. No doubt the manure would make for a delicious crop, but rhubarb wasn’t my thing. Neither was cow manure. 

You humans believe that root vegetables are my thing.  Bugs Bunny implied so, standing coolly on his very human back legs, munching a clean, washed, shiny orange carrot.  But they do very little for me. 

I’ve seen popular mythology about my species.  I know we’re universally known as Oryctolagus cuniculus and I also know how you humans feel about us.  We’re mischievous, troublesome, rodents.  We spread disease like myxomatosis, and apparently spread fleas, though I’ve never experienced more than a passing itch myself. 

I know you think we’re always having sex, and this makes you madly jealous.  To be fair, to me sex is rarely a consideration.  Just a few seconds here, a few seconds there.  Most of the time I don’t think of it.  I have better things to do.  I think of only one thing.

I think of food.  Tangy, juicy food.  Not carrots (though they fill a hole in a pinch) and definitely not these sour sticks of rhubarb, but the green glories of asparagus, celery, spinach and kale: all of which grow here, in the garden of the scruffy old man with a gun.

But you know what I like better than juicy, delicious vegetables?  Vengeance. 

The quivering, shivering form of a man with a gun: he’s excited. He’s ready to shoot: ready to take me home for his pot, just as he has taken home many of my family members before me.  But it isn’t going to happen.  I’ve been sharpening my teeth and sharpening my vegan attack skills.  Vengeance is mine, says this bunny as he pounces.

Something Happened in a Field

In a field.

On the edge of a town. 

In a country.  It doesn’t matter which. 

Something was going on: something unusual. 

My eyes were opened that day, when the unusual happened, and I learned to smile again.

The unusual event occurred because of the actions of a young girl named Tabitha.  Tabby, as her parents liked to call her, was nine at the time and very much enjoyed all the standard activities of any other nine year old girl from her home town: arm wrestling, breeding leeches and baking wholefood Halloween cupcakes all year round.  Tabby was also fascinated with the world around her – with plants and hedges and what life was like down the drains. 

But Tabby lived in town.  Yes, there were hedges but they were usually neatly trimmed privet or towering conifer screens.  Yes, there were plants, but not the ones she was hoping to see – the hemlock, the meadowsweet and the elder. She was, I am sure you’ve worked it out by now, training herself to become a hedgewitch – a person whose knowledge of nature and use of home-made potions give her the skills to change the health and wellbeing of those who come to her for help.

But, Tabby was only nine years old, and all her friends went to the local doctor’s surgery or chemist when they were unwell.  Nobody thought to ask Tabby what to take when their throat was sore (and she knew – a confection of sages and honey and yarrow would do the trick) or when their heart raced too speedily (that was one she’d yet to learn).

So, Tabby became disheartened: a healer not allowed to heal.  Here she was, with all these useful skills and all this incredible knowledge and nobody seemed to care.  It sometimes made Tabby cry, but other times she wanted to run away and leave the city for somewhere a little more sympathetic. 

But where could a nine year old girl go when her very youth forces her to stay with her parents?  And if she was to depart, what would she do when she got there?

It took a great many days, but soon enough Tabby forgot about escape, and forgot about witchery.  Instead she settled into her schoolwork and began to build up her arm muscles for better wrestling.

One day a speaker arrived at her large, red-brick junior school surrounded by high fences and security systems.  He followed the head teacher into assembly and took the green chair behind her. Tabby looked in interest because this man didn’t look like a teacher or fireman or policeman (the school’s usual visitors).  Instead, he looked shabby and a cross between a farmer and a circus performer.  His hair, like Tabby’s, was a mass of springy black curls, and his clothes were brightly coloured and, though she hated to think of it, they were a bit silly. 

He was the only person Tabby had seen who wore an embroidered waistcoat and a scarf round his neck when he wasn’t outside in the winter.
Nevertheless, Tabby impatiently listened to her head teacher burbling on about the child in year 6 who came top in a swimming competition, and the sad news that Hamish in year three was beginning his second round of chemotherapy.  They all said a little prayer for Hamish, and Tabby joined in, but her heart wasn’t really in it.  Come on, come on, she urged, but still… she and the speaker had to wait till the end of the head’s talk before any introductions were made. 

The man was called Ted, and he owned a farm some 20 miles away and he was asking all the schools in a circle round his home to discover if there was any enthusiasm for a family festival to be held on his land.  There would be music, food, circus skills and (and this interested Tabby the most) full training in natural healing. To Tabby it sounded like heaven on earth, and she raised her hand with enthusiasm when the head teacher asked for a handful of volunteers to stay behind after assembly to talk to Ted and give him suggestions.

The stay-behinders were few. Just the one – Tabby. Disappointingly, all the other kids laughed and one of them shouted ‘dirty hippy’ at Ted as he left the hall. Tabby waited patiently in her chair until all the children had left. Just her, the head teacher and Ted were in the room.

Ted walked up to her and sat down on the row of chairs in front.  He offered his hand for her to shake. ‘Ted Tuesday,’ he said, ‘Festival Organiser. Perhaps’.  Tabby grinned at him as she shook ‘Tabitha Frost,’ she said.  ‘Trainee hedgwitch.’

And so their friendship began.  That day Tabby gave Ted so many good pieces of advice, so much so that even the head teacher became fired up with enthusiasm.  Because Tabby knew so much and come up with so many ideas, it was agreed that Ted would visit the school every Friday lunch time and that he, the head teacher and Tabby would work on the festival plan together. Tabby was delighted. It was what she had been born to do, and what every life moment till that point had been about.  Her parents came in to meet Ted and came up with some good ideas too – a classical music area, a young performers’ tent, and a wholefood internet cafe. 

Plans really were progressing, and Ted had even received official permission to hold the festival.  A date was arranged – the final weekend in July, when most of the kids would have completed the school year and would be looking for something fun to do.  Ted had designed and distributed posters and flyers and had created a website, linking it to Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, and all kinds of what’s on sites.  It seemed that Tabby had a talent for promotion too as she handed out cards and flyers and even went on the local radio station to talk about it.  Interest was growing, even within the walls of her dull school, so much so that six other children had volunteered to help over the weekend, and eleven full families had ideas – stalls selling everything from made-soap to imported musical instruments. 

One family, Tabby observed, with great delight, actually made teepees, and they had offered to display their communal, conical tents.  Tabby could barely think of anything else. 

Finally, the end of school term was upon them, and the children ran happily from their classroom and towards the gates. Tabby was as keen and lively as the rest, because she had the festival to look forward to, but Ted was there, standing next to her dad, and both were looking very worried indeed.  What on earth could have happened?

Ted’s usual smile was missing even as Tabby ran to him, her face saddening. ‘What’s wrong?’ shouted Tabby to Ted, but it was her dad who answered.  She saw in his eyes that something bad had happened.  Tabby’s first thought was that her unborn brother or sister was in trouble, but what dad said made her realise why Ted was the one looking so troubled. 

‘I don’t think the festival can go ahead, Tabby,’ her dad said.  ‘The field’s flooded and the council have looked at it and said no.  It will be too dangerous for the younger children, as it causes and carried diseases.  Basically, it really isn’t a good idea.  Ted would get into so much trouble.’
Dad hugged Tabby’s shoulder and she sighed, patting Ted’s arm as she did so.  ‘It doesn’t matter,’ she said, then immediately corrected her fake politeness.  ‘Actually, yes, it really does matter. We’ve worked really hard on this festival.  We need to do it even if the field is flooded.’

‘But we can’t,’ Ted said.  ‘The field really is bad.  You just missed the storms last night here, but we were in the middle of them.  I just don’t know what to do.’

‘I’ll tell you what to do,’ said dad. ‘Come back to our house and we’ll all have a cuppa and think about how we might be able to get round this.’
Ted agreed and the three of them walked back to Tabby’s house.  On their walk the grown-ups talked of many things – mainly finding alternative festival sites. They considered an old fairground, a school, a playing field etc, but all their suggestions were lacking in at least one necessary feature.  Maybe they weren’t big enough, or there was no car parking, or there were no water taps, or they were too near a motorway or a residential area where people might complain at slightly later night noise.

By the time they got home, all three of them were downhearted, especially Tabby who took herself off to her room as soon as she had got in and taken her shoes off.  It was hard to believe, she thought, just how different the weather was at the farm, because here things were dry and warm and the weather forecast said it would stay that way.

‘Wait a minute,’ Tabby shouted out loud, shaking the walls of her echoing room.  She knew the very place for a new location – the enormous field her friend’s ponies were kept. Tabby ran downstairs to yell the idea to her dad and to Ted.  ‘Jess’s field,’ she said, ‘…the pony field’.  She’d said enough. Her dad and Ted looked at each other, and dad nodded. He went to make a call.

‘Jess’s mum says fine.  They’ll put the four ponies in the horse box and bring them to your farm for the weekend.  You pay for the feed and you clean up after. Either that, or they stay, and we offer them as a festival feature.’

‘Either is great. It’s a deal,’ agreed Ted.  ‘Now I must get onto the council – they’ll need to come and look at Jessica’s pony field. What’s the address?  What size is it?  What facilities does it have?’ 

It didn’t take long for Ted to make a phone call and to rush off. ‘They’re coming now,’ he said on his way out.  ‘I’d best go meet them.’ And with that, he rushed into the hall.  ‘Thanks all,’ he shouted again. ‘Will give you a ring as soon as I know anything.’

Tabby went upstairs with both sets of fingers crossed.  She was reluctant to uncross them even for a moment in case she jinxed the council person’s decision.

After three hours it was nearly time for Tabby to go to bed and the phone rang. ‘It’s on,’ Ted shouted. ‘It’s on.  Start setup tomorrow, for the next three days, and we’re ready to go.’

Well, of course, Tabby was far too excited to sleep.  There was so much to do, and best of all was that she was so close – only a five-minute-walk from the festival site.

The following morning was a whirlwind of packing vans, unpacking cans, putting up tents and tables, laying out stalls, sorting signs and partitioning the four fields that had been made available to them. The food vans, the portable toilets, the bands and entertainers and people running workshops – all were told about the change of address.  Everything was going smoothly and everything was on track.  The ponies were all settling in well to the spare field at Ted’s farm.  It had been decided that at least two of them were too grumpy to be safe around young children.

Ted and Tabby were excited, but also nervous. There was so much that could go wrong – so many things that may have needed cleaning up and sorting out, but Ted seemed confident. He seemed it, but wasn’t really.  He was a wreck.  Everything that could possibly go wrong was there in his dreams actually going wrong.

Tabby woke up earlier than the birds the next morning, and got dressed without alarm clock or reminders. She appeared at the breakfast table as mum and dad had just begun to pack their breakfast in bags ready to take to Jess’s fields, or The Festival Field, as it was now known. It took more time than usual as mum was unwell and needed to keep sitting down, but they got there in the end.

Tabby had been to this field many times before but had never seen it like this.  Flags and bunting: hundreds of flags all the same blue and silver and red flags strung from high posts.  Gravel paths had been laid. There were tents and a large stage.  There were all kinds of people there, and old-fashioned fairground rides – even an old fairground helter skelter.  And Tabby certainly wasn’t too old to have a go on it.

Tents had been set up for kite-making, mask-making, and lots more crafts and circus skills, and already lots of people were arriving and buying food and clothes.  A man on stilts was followed by a juggler on a horse, and behind a pile of wood logs was a mud pit, already being played in by a couple of dogs and some very grubby children.

Tabby gasped and adjusted her sunhat as she walked further through the site.  Ah, she could smell them properly now: the candy floss and the rich, deep aroma or strong curry.  Tabby licked her lips.  Suddenly the sandwiches in mum’s bag didn’t seem half as appealing, despite her own hunger.

Someone bumped into her as she was walking, entranced by the smell of onions and hot dogs. When she turned to look it wasn’t what she had expected.  She’d been bumped into by a large metal bed frame on skis, being pulled by a dog team of two teenagers. They were raising money to help a sick child, but Tabby had no money so smiled and walked on towards a group of groups of kids learning to juggle beanbags and wobble diabolos.  There were ten swingball sets too. 

Tabby didn’t even see Ted till the loudspeaker stopped playing the pop music and introduced the festival’s organiser onto the stage.  He was wearing his patterned waistcoat and was introducing a couple who played guitar and flute. He gave Tabby a huge thumbs-up and invited her onto the stage, where she made a speech. 

The festival was a huge success.  A great success.  A miraculous, dry success.

‘Same time next year?’ Ted asked Tabby as she set out to find her parents, on her way to the hot dog stall.  She hadn’t forgotten her hedgewitchery and her need to heal, but what was more important was her need to be part of this amazing festival. Oh, and to eat lots and lots of junk food. Just for today.