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.

Special Fern

Once upon a time a boy lived.  One boy, amongst many boys who have lived.

Do you suppose this boy was special?  Well, of course he was special to his mum and dad and friends and family.  But was he the stuff of fairy tales like this?  He was not.  He was no prince, no goblin, no knight, and neither was there an enchantment placed upon him at birth, or a wicked someone-or-other waiting for his 18th birthday to carry out some deadly deed.

So, you may ask, and you’d be right to do so, why am I telling a tale of this boy?  Why am I telling his story to you, blissfully snuggled at home in your cosy bed, wearing your nightclothes, with your furry animals keeping company? 

Well, I am telling a tale of the boy named Fern because many years ago this boy, who was small, red-haired and not at all brave, decided that he was going to grow a plant.  I wonder how many of you listening to and reading this story are disappointed in his decision?  Fighting a dragon or crossing an ocean or becoming a prince and marrying a princess – they are usually considered to be bigger and better dreams.  They are ambitions and actions that are far more worthy of fairy tales being written.

But this boy did not have big dreams.  His dreams were basic.  All he wanted was to make a space in the ground, to dig a little to loosen the soil, then to plant a seed, water it sometimes, then watch and wait and see it grow.  He wanted more than anything to grow a pea plant, to watch it shoot to the sky, to nip off the stray shoots as they appeared, and to crunch them in his mouth, green and juicy and delicious. Pea plants grow magnificent and tall.  Taller than Fern.  They need supporting with canes and net and string and twist their tendrils as they grow to support themselves. That’s what he wanted.   

Fern had watched his mother grow beans and cabbages, onions, potatoes and carrots.  He’d been with his father to collect elderberries and apples and blackberries but that wasn’t enough.  Now, and more than anything else in the world, he wanted to grow his own plant.  But Fern came from a different time and place to you and I.  Seeds were not easy to get for eight year old boys, so when his friend told him he had some to swap, Fern was happy.  These seeds were valuable so Fern was delighted to swap a shiny, gold pebble and a dried seven-leafed clover for five pea seeds.  He went home delighted and began to prepare the ground in a corner of their garden. 

The month was April, late April, and the weather was warming, but still it was tough for Fern to dig the ground with his sticks. He tried though, and cleared a big enough patch, loosened the soil and made five holes.  He lined each with moss and soggy autumn leaves and a little sheep’s wool found within the hedge, just as he’d seen his mother do when planting her own seeds.  Fern carefully placed each pea seed in a hole and covered each with the loosened soil.  He marked the places with sticks, he watered with clear, clean liquid from their own well, and made occasional visits to check.  After a fortnight, the ground was disturbed and the pea shoots were breaking though, just a very little bit.  Excited, Fern returned the following day and the day after too. 

But when the shoots emerged fully, Fern was shocked to realise that they were not pea shoots at all.  These shoots were furred and brown, and more like spider legs than fresh green seedlings.  Fern called his mother to look and together they dug under the ground a little to find what they thought might be the husk from one of the peas.  But no.  Something was different.  The brown furred shoots were growing from marbled eggs, grown themselves from the moss and leaves and pea seeds and sheep wool, from some form of magic.  It truly was a diabolical trick.  Boy plants peas.  Boy waits.  Boy grows spiders…  Spiders which came from eggs as large as a hen’s, but darker and far more frightening.

Fern and his mother looked towards the remainder of the seedlings.  All five pea seeds had grown spider legs.  Not one was a real pea plant at all.  Shocked, they fell upon the plant spiders and began crushing them and covering each with a layer of stones and then rocks, small at first, then larger and larger to cover each of the monstrosities.  Fern and his mother were soon finished and left, relieved. 

Fern vowed to speak to his former friend and demand his own items back.  What use was a pea plant that grew no peas, but grew only spiders?  He would definitely rather have a seven-leafed-clover.

Fern didn’t visit the growing patch the following day as he was busy with household tasks and assisting his father in jobs around their smallholding, but, of course, he hadn’t forgotten about the newly laid stones and rocks covering the spiders, and a few days later went to check on his handiwork, only to be met with something bizarre.  Something he couldn’t possibly have imagined when he saw the first spidery shoots.
Growing out of the ground, the stones and the rocks, were five things.  You might expect these things to be spiders, or even pea plants if you remember the beginning of our story, and like to believe in happy endings.  But you would be wrong.

These were no spiders; they were creatures the size of rabbits and shape of scorpions, with long, hairy, shoot-like stinging tails.  Fern cried and screamed and brought both father and mother running, the first with hands glittering from butter churning, and the second with hands of oil from greasing the agricultural tools.  Both father and mother had reached for the nearest weapons available – a broom and a spade – and both clobbered the bizarre animals back into the ground.  Each plant-animal returned to the earth with a crack and with a shriek. 

When the final one had gone, and the earth was still, parents and child were silent. Fern stared towards the ground, half expecting another creature to emerge.

‘What form of seeds were they?’ he asked his bewildered father, who shook his head.  ‘I don’t know,’ was all that Fern could say.  He turned expectantly to his mother but she shook her head also.  ‘I have never seen plants of that form before,’ his mother said.

And the three, the father, the mother and the son, sat and said the smallest of prayers over the patches where the seeds had been planted and the rabbit scorpions had erupted. And they tried to forget the damp and dark area where Fern had once tried to grow peas. 

Time went by, perhaps another twelvemonths or so, before Fern returned to that very patch.

And on his return he found the land to be overtaken, not by pea plants or strange rabbit scorpion creatures, but by feathery green laced and patchy leaves, with curling scorpion tails of furred spider legs at their bases.  Green shoots expanding into glorious lush green canopies.  Ferns, the boy said.  Ferns that grew and ferns that spread and ferns that provided homes for spiders and small animals and snakes. 

And, as Fern himself grew, he would sit and patiently watch many a scorpion frond uncurl to its own special beauty and splendour, and he was very, very glad.

So, do you think this boy was special?  And not only special to the mother and father who loved and protected him, but special because of who he was and what his unknowing magic helped to create?  I think we all have it in ourselves to create, discover or unfold something special of our own, just as Fern did.

Ettie’s Art

This is the story of a much beloved child, probably just like you are, or once were. 

She’s interested in everything and everyone.  She likes dancing and shopping and ice-creams and making lots and lots of noise.  But mainly she’s interested in drawing.

Etta wants to be an artist.  She may only be a child but she’s already a good artist… very good.  See, take a look at this.  Its a bird.  Obviously!  And she drew this little bird on her second birthday.  Do you know any other children who can draw birds at that age? 

Etta’s life was pretty similar to everyone else’s and Etta grew a little, then a little more.  And before anyone was really aware that the time had passed, there she was – eight years old!  Eight – can you believe it?  She was tall and strong and was still mad about drawing.  You’d think her friends and family would be pleased.  You’d think she’d be praised for not spending her days in front of the television or computer games.  But she wasn’t, because, by the age of eight, lovely creative Etta had retreated completely into the world of her drawings. 

‘Put that pen down and come and eat your Sunday lunch,’ demanded her grandad.

‘Etta, stop staring at that pad, you need to get ready for school,’ shouted her mum.

‘Ettie, why will you never play with me?  Why are you always drawing, drawing, drawing?’ moaned her little brother, Bobby.

And Ettie couldn’t answer.  Wouldn’t answer.  She just knew that she adored to draw.

If you’d asked her what she cared about most in the whole wide world, your would always get the same answer.  Silence.  Her love didn’t need discussion. 

Even her school teachers were concerned. Etta didn’t play with other children, but instead she drew them and drew the worlds they inhabited.  She was well liked at nursery, but by age eight her friends were beginning to lose patience with her.  There wasn’t much fun to be had with a silent friend who never looked up from her sketchpad.

But one Saturday morning in the middle of the school summer holidays, when Etta was eight years old, things changed.  They changed quite a lot.

Etta was snuggled in bed writing a story to accompany and explain a few of her more complex drawings – of angels and large dogs in cloaks… of a small dragon and a fashion designer who only wore high heeled shoes… and of a growing girl (herself) who seemed to get into more than a few imaginary scrapes. 

‘I wonder,’ thought Etta, ‘if things would be more fun in a world where angels and small dragons and dogs in cloaks really did exist’.  She didn’t think a wish could ever come true, and she didn’t think a wonder would come true either.  Nevertheless, she willed herself to fall asleep and wake up in the strange place of her drawings, inhabited by sketched characters and fantasy inventions.

Etta wondered, and stayed in bed, she drew pictures, she ignored conversation requests, she ate meals, and she thought about getting dressed.

But she didn’t get dressed. Instead, she settled back on her pillow and fell into the most soft and warm drowning-in-marshmallows kind of sleep.

The first thing she noticed when she entered her dreamworld was that it was obviously a dreamworld.  But it wasn’t the world she might have expected.  The world was odd and for a while Etta just couldn’t work out what the problem was. But once she realised it, she was surprised she hadn’t noticed it earlier.  She wasn’t in the world of her drawing, she was in the world behind her drawing.  Her dog in a cloak that she’d drawn with so much care was there around her, but it was in front of her and she, Etta, was sandwiched between the back of her dog, and the front of the paper itself.  It was as if her drawing a shape had brought it to life on another cut-out piece of paper and she was behind it.  How strange.  For, when you cut out a shape from a piece of paper, you’re usually left with a hole, not a flat piece of paper.

Another thing that was strange was the way Etta felt.  She felt kind of squashed.  Flat, in fact. She reached out to touch her face and found it was made of something like paper, only she couldn’t really feel it because she didn’t really seem to have those receptors in her hand.  It was more like she heard it was paper rubbing against paper, rather than her fleshy hand feeling how crispy her face was.  She was entirely made out of paper, that much was obvious, but she wasn’t afraid.  Etta knew this was a dream and know that waking up from dreams brought you back to exactly where you were when you fell asleep.  In fact, it was kind of fun to reach out and touch the green tree with brown trunk that she’d drawn at the side of her picture, and then to get more confident and decide to try and walk towards the unicorn who was protecting the kindly dragon.  Everything was white of background, and Etta vowed she would always colour in her backgrounds from now on.  The brightness of the background was blinding, and Etta immediately felt sorry for the unicorn, who could barely be seen against the background.  She should have coloured the unicorn pale blue, she thought.  But, as she walked towards it, she began to get afraid.

Unicorns were supposed to be gentle and magical and mystical.  But this one (perhaps it was because it was flat) looked a little odd.  With a face a cross between a donkey and a cow, and a body the shape of a guinea pig’s, Etta knew there were some problems with her sketch. She’d been just about to reach for her eraser to rub it out when she’d felt tired and fallen back to sleep. 

The unicorn looked odd, and so did the dragon.  In fact, the dragon’s huge nostrils peeping out from behind the unicorn’s tail, gave its face more of a horse like look than the unicorns.  Etta was finding this disturbing.  She wished she was a better artist, and also wished she had a friend to share it with.  It was lonely in such a flat and peculiarly drawn world.

She woke, to her relief, and went down to the living room where everyone else was watching television. ‘Have you lost your drawing pad?’ asked mum. ‘I’m having a break from it,’ said Ettie.

The Smile When Things Go Right For Him

You know that completely remarkable thing about Dan, and his life.  The most, most utterly wonderful and inexplicably amazing thing about Dan’s life, is when things go right.

He’s almost a child of three states.  The first, the dark side, where Dan’s own label for himself comes from, the dark side of life and thoughts and dread.  The second, the blank state, where nothing breaks through and nothing matters.  And the third, this amazing, this wonderful happy state where everything is and has always been great.

The problem is that it really is far too fleeting.  Dan isn’t up and down.  To be honest, he’s mainly hovering somewhere around the blank zone, but when life works for him, I mean, when it really works, he shines.

He also talks, and talks and talks and talks and talks.  Sometimes he rambles. Sometimes he almost prefers when we’re not listening to him.  Other times he talks so much around a subject that I ask him to write.  Dan wrote ‘Land Pirates’ as a tiny boy, clearly inspired by Pirates of the Caribbean.

We spend most of our time on land, but the only time that we go in water or on a ship is to get to each piece of land.  We travel by not ships, but we go in rafts made of wood – that we made on an island. We travel in any type of weather, no matter what.  Even if there is a storm because our rafts are made from strong wood and sand-clay to stick them together.  We also use rope.

Whenever we get bored, on an island, all we do is play card games and dig for treasure.  When we get thirsty, we drink rum!  And when we get hungry, we eat fish and sea creatures.

By the way, my name is Captain Jack Sparrow.  Some people call me just Sparrow.  They say “Sparrow!”.  I am very clever but sometimes I can be quite silly.  When I am silly it is really just clever as well because I’ve not died yet!  Sometimes we get washed up ashore. When that does happen we do the usual.  Play card games, drink rum and eat fish.
It was the first day that I had not woken up since I last ate fish, and that was a long time ago.  Then I noticed that my crew was gone!  So, I ran as fast as I could until I stopped at the edge of the cliff.  I had cliff dived loads of times before but that was because either someone was chasing me or I was escaping.  But then I thought, “Should I do it?”.

“I will do it” I said out loud to myself.  A second later I jumped, and while I was in the air, I saw lots of blurriness and I didn’t know what was going on.  So I grabbed onto the cliff face and crash, bang, wallop! I fell again… Meanwhile, my crew was walking along the beach  where I was in the first place and  I realised that, actually, I had seen lots of little brown-clothed people (my crew) and I was smacking my head because I had forgotten who they were.  Suddenly, again, crash, bang, wallop, I was on the floor!  I said to myself, “Its going dark and I’ve only climbed a few rocks of the cliff”.

Later, when I was just a few rocks away from the top, I saw a snake so I got my sword out and cut it in half.  It was a really long snake so I used it to go to the other side of the cliff, swinging.  I think it was an anaconda, the size of a bus.  When I was at the top, I was so happy that I got my sword out again and started running with my sword cutting lots of pieces of grass and trees.

Then I met up with my crew.  They said “Where have you been, Captain?”.  I replied “…”.  My crew took me back to my raft.  I was not badly damaged because I had fallen on an inflatable bed that some people may have used.  Soon I was back on land again but this time it was a much better place and there were lots of stone buildings with other pirates in them, so we decided to go in the drink warehouse, which was also a pub.  I had a drink of rum with my dad because he had suddenly appeared in it.  The pub was very dirty and messy because there had been lots of drink fights there and there was broken glass all over the floor.  That is why I always wear boots – just in case there is anything on the floor.  But there was a problem.  I saw a man with tentacles on his face.  IT WAS DAVY JONES!!!!!!!!

Quickly, I leapt out of my seat and started fighting him.  It started everyone else fighting, and another big drink fight began.  There were even cannons but I started to fight perfectly with Davy Jones.  I was surprised then without even looking I stabbed him.  But, Davy Jones’s heart was actually in a chest.  But I had the chest so I got it out, stabbed the heart and killed Davy Jones.  And the fight stopped instantly.  Me and my crew walked out and never went on land ever again.