Tag: melissa and the mobility scooter

Melissa and the Mobility Scooter

Melissa’s face was ten years old, but it looked to her as if it was eight, and she found that extremely frustrating.  Why couldn’t she grow up a little quicker?  Her sister was only twelve and already wore make up and shoes with heels but every time Melissa asked mum for some, mum just laughed.  Laughed first, and then said no.  An emphatic no.  With her hands on her hips too.  And that type of no definitely meant no.

Melissa wasn’t only frustrated about her age, she was annoyed how her mum didn’t take her seriously.  In fact, she was annoyed about a great many things. 

She was quite annoyed because the party dress her grandma had bought her was the wrong shape and, in Melissa’s opinion, was far too babyish.  Anyway, Melissa didn’t like lilac anymore, and wanted to wear short skirts and black tights, not floaty, shiny dresses trimmed with lace and ribbons.  And Melissa was also annoyed that grandma was living with them now, meaning that mum had less time for Melissa.

But she was also particularly annoyed about custard creams.  She liked biscuits very much, and particularly enjoyed custard creams.  They were Dad’s favourites too, so Mum had always made sure that every time Melissa opened the biscuit barrel shaped like a beagle, there they’d be.  Delicious custard creams. Melissa would bite off the top layer then lick away the creamy custard part, and lastly would crunch on the smeared lower layer.  It could take quite some time to eat even one biscuit, and that was one of the things she really, really liked about it.

It was all because her mum was on what she called a ‘health kick’.  She confided in Melissa that she was trying to lose a little weight to look good in her bikini on their summer holiday.  ‘France without Flab,’ Mum said, over and over again.  Mum wasn’t just worried about her own weight though – that would have been alright – she was also trying to ensure the whole family only ate ‘healthy’ food.  That meant no cakes and no crisps.  It also meant NO CUSTARD CREAMS.

Add all that to the disappointment about Grandma’s party dress purchase, and the fact she didn’t seem to be growing up as quickly as she’d like, and Melissa reckoned she was a pretty unhappy girl.  Perhaps not unhappy enough to run away from home, but unhappy enough for her to think about it.  As we probably all know, a great many children do think about it, then calm down and realise they are probably better off staying where it is safe and warm and they are surrounded by people who love them.  That’s exactly what had been going on inside Melissa’s mind. 

Thinking not very seriously about running away was what Melissa did to fill the time when usually she’d be carefully licking the custard from her favourite biscuits.  She considered where she’d go on her running-away-journey and what she’d take.  When things got really bad she wrote her goodbye letter in her head. 

‘Mum and dad’, it would begin.  She wouldn’t use the word “Dear” to begin her letter as she obviously wanted them to know how cross she was. ‘Mum and dad. I am running away.  I am taking some of my things like my hand-built bear and my rucksack and my saved-up spending money. I have made five peanut butter sandwiches and have taken a bottle of water.  I would have taken biscuits too but there are none to take.  That is one of the reasons why I am running away. I will get a job tomorrow and will come back to see you when I am a grown-up with a big car.  Goodbye.  From Melissa.’

It wasn’t a letter she had ever actually written though, mainly because she was never very good at literacy and didn’t know how to spell some of the words.  She really didn’t want anyone to laugh at her spelling even if she wasn’t there to hear it. 

One word she really wanted to learn how to spell was ‘mobility’.  Perhaps that was an odd word for a girl like Melissa to learn, but there was a reason behind it.  Melissa wasn’t planning to actually run away on her own two feet (that would be too much like hard work and would take her ages and ages)… No. She had transport – her gran’s mobility scooter!

Of course, Melissa knew she shouldn’t take it, but she made it OK in her own head by saying it was Gran’s fault for buying her a rubbish dress.  Melissa was good at transforming excuses into logical reasons.  Adults call it ‘justifying’, but Melissa just called it ‘making things fair’.
And when it came to the mobility scooter, Melissa was practically an expert.  She knew where the keys were kept and, more importantly, she knew how to drive it.  Or was it ride it?  She was never sure of that one.  Whatever the right word was, it would be a perfect vehicle to go away in.  There was room under the seat and a basket for her things.  It even had a rain cover.  She could probably even sleep in it until she found somebody who would give her a job and let her sleep in their house.

Melissa’s mind wasn’t quite made up, but she had made some plans.  Home wasn’t always horrible: she did like her bedroom and the cat, and playing out in the garden… but she was cross as anything because the grown-ups just kept letting her down.  Everybody knew that a life without custard creams just wasn’t worth living.

That night she settled down to sleep, surrounded by toys her family had bought her, in a newly decorated room, and with a music player vibrating to the sounds of her favourite band.  She was warm, she was well fed and she was safe and loved.  That should have been enough for Melissa, and she should have realised how lucky she was… but it wasn’t enough. Not enough at all.

Sleep was good, but it didn’t last forever, and that night Melissa woke while it was still what she thought of as dangerously dark.  Her clock said it was just after 3am, and there was a noise downstairs: a clanking kind of noise.  A door. Squealing.  She wasn’t sure how usual it was to hear noises in the night at home because she was always asleep, but she knew that even during the day their house was quiet.  That meant that, somehow, the night-time noises weren’t normal – and definitely demanded investigation. 

Melissa  wasn’t keen on waking up her mum and dad, mainly because she was still in a bad mood with them, but also partly because she felt if she caught a robber red-handed her parents might start treating her as if she was a bit more grown-up, and giving her more of what she wanted.  For example, lots of custard creams!

Melissa got out of bed quietly and avoided the single creaky floorboard in front of her wardrobe.  She crept downstairs and peeped over the rail into the hall.  The sight she saw was quite startling.

Before I tell you what she saw, I think I need to digress for a moment.  Do you know what digress means?  It means going off in another direction.  So… grandma, in case you hadn’t remembered, was at that time living with Melissa and her parents.  She usually lived on her own, but was recovering after having her hip replaced.  Melissa knew that, though she wasn’t really sure what it meant. What she did know was that gran couldn’t do very much and had to sit or lie down most of the time, and could really only hobble around.  That was why Mum was looking after her and why the mobility scooter lived, for the timebeing, in Melissa’s hallway.  Ok, so that’s the digression over with.  Let me tell you what she saw.
Grandma’s mobility scooter wasn’t in the hallway where it usually was.  It was in the front doorway, and on its way out through the open door!  Melissa shouted at whoever was taking it: ‘Get off.  You’re stealing! You’re a thief,’ before she realised that the only keys for the scooter were still on the hook where Gran always left them.  She recognised the keyring because she’d bought it Gran on her holidays.  It was a fluffy pink hedgehog with ‘Love from Devon’ printed on a ribbon round its neck.  The keys were still hung up, so how was the scooter moving, and who was moving it?

Melissa ran further to the door, and was thankful that mum had lined up her shoes and coat right next to the doorway ready for school the next day.  She grabbed both as she ran down the driveway screaming at the scooter.  What she hadn’t done was to remember to take the front door keys, the scooter keys, to remember to tell her parents and gran where she was going, or even to shut the door behind her.  But Melissa was ten years old, so organisation and forethought didn’t always come easily. 

By now, the scooter was trundling down her path towards the road, not with any great speed, but definitely with determination.  Melissa didn’t even think about how late it was, what she was doing and where she was going – she just wanted to get the scooter back.  Desperate, she shouted at the scooter ‘Stop, stop, stop,’ despite knowing that it wouldn’t.  The stupid scooter seemed to have a mind of its own.  What an odd situation.  Yes, the mobility scooter seemed to be driving itself and yes, Melissa was out on the street in the middle of the night in the dangerous dark, yet Melissa wasn’t actually scared. 

Melissa was cross.  Again.  She didn’t want the scooter to disappear partly because she needed it for her emergency running-away scheme.  But she also didn’t want her gran to be upset and not able to visit her friends or go and talk to the lady who worked at the flower shop who always gave Melissa a bright big daisy-like flower to pin to her coat.  Melissa didn’t want to think about how sad and disappointed her gran would feel when she ran away and took her only transport.

Melissa followed the scooter to the end of the road as it bumped and jumped over the flagstones.  She watched as it turned left.  She followed, slowing down a little, because what she really didn’t want was to catch it up.  If she caught it up there could be problems.  There could be big difficulties.  There might even be a driver to confront, and she definitely, definitely didn’t want a fight, even with someone small enough not to be seen over the back of the seat.

Without warning the mobility scooter stopped, reversed and sidled up to Melissa.  She almost bumped into it.  She could see onto the chair.  Nobody was there.  That was surprising. 

But the mobility scooter had another surprise for Melissa.

‘Are your feet hurting?’ it asked.

‘Yes,’ she said, shocked, and looking for a set of speakers so she could work out if she was being tricked by an elaborate prank.  ‘Yes, my feet are hurting.  I didn’t get the chance to put my shoes on properly so they keep falling off.’

‘Get in then,’ the scooter suggested.  ‘Go on.  You’ve been in plenty of times before. You’re safe with me.’  Melissa shrugged.  Genuinely she wasn’t sure.  Was it safe? Who was speaking?  The voice sounded like… well, it almost sounded like her grandma.  And her gran was a very safe person indeed.  She was the kind of grandma who was always lecturing her on wearing the seatbelt and tidying up toys and books so nobody else would fall over them.  Yes, Melissa believed the scooter: believed it was safe and believed she could simply get in to the driverless carriage and arrive home safely.

She climbed in and looked for the speaker or the driver, but nobody was there.

‘Where are you?’ she asked.

‘I’m here. I’m the scooter.’

‘But how can you be driven without a driver?’

‘I’m the scooter.  I’m the driver.’

‘And what about the keys.  I thought it… I mean, I thought you needed keys.’

‘Usually, yes,’ said the scooter, ‘but not when I want to go out on my own.’

Melissa thought about it.  It was odd, but no more unbelievable than electricity or getting maple syrup from a tap in a tree.  ‘Do you go out on your own a lot?’ she asked.

‘Oh yes,’ it replied, cheekily, and Melissa could imagine it smirking.  ‘I go out every night when the rest of you are in bed.’

‘Do Mum and Dad know?’


‘Does gran know?’


Melissa smiled.  That was pretty cool.  Gran had a talking mobility scooter, and nobody knew about it apart from the two of them.  Melissa couldn’t wait to get back home and share the secret with her.  Suddenly she realised she wasn’t cross at all about gran living with them, or about the horrible dress, and she definitely knew she’d miss gran if and when she ran away.  She thought quietly as the scooter hummed underneath her.

‘Can we go home?’ she asked the scooter.

‘Alright then,’ it said.    

‘Can I come out with you again, though?’ Melissa asked.

‘Alright then,’ the scooter repeated as it did a seven-point-turn on the pavement and trundled itself back to Melissa’s house.  The journey home was quiet.  Melissa was thoughtful and the scooter didn’t chatter much either.  It was a quick journey home, and a quiet journey home, but even so, by the time the scooter had turned itself off, all the excitement had tired Melissa out and she was fast asleep.

Melissa woke the next morning with her shoes half-on, but relieved to be safe and snuggled in her bed, in her room, and in her house as if nothing had happened. 

Her brain had barely registered being awake before, without any hesitation, she jumped out of bed and rushed downstairs.  There was the mobility scooter, standing in the hall as if nothing had ever happened.  And, there was gran coming out of the kitchen with a smile on her face to greet her youngest granddaughter.

‘I know gran, I know,’ shrieked Melissa. ‘About the scooter.’

‘Do you now?’ asked Gran.  She ruffled Melissa’s hair and noticed she was wearing pyjamas but had shoes on her feet.  ‘You’ve been out too, then?’ Gran asked. Melissa nodded and Gran nodded back.  ‘Let’s talk about it after school.’

Melissa, beaming, ran upstairs to get her uniform on, with all thoughts of running away having disappeared to be replaced with the excitement of magic and shared secrets.  She never wanted her grandma (or the mobility scooter) to live anywhere else!


Do you think Melissa was right to be so upset about the lack of custard creams?

How do you think gran would have felt if Melissa had taken the scooter?

And, what do you think will happen next?

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.

Oh No, Where’s Wednesday Gone?

It was Wednesday.  It was wet too.  The skies were spitting out wetness from their huge black clouds, and Melissa was not happy about it.  She’d hoped to go out with her gran, perhaps to the shops on the way home from school, and she knew that gran wouldn’t want to go if there was even a little bit of rain.  Even in her mobility scooter with the rain cover. 

Melissa sat through her numeracy lesson and was so sick of bus stops that she wanted to scream, but she didn’t.  Then she had PE, and that was OK, but she didn’t get picked for the dodgeball team she wanted to be in, and the people on her team were all rubbish.  That was annoying.  And then at lunch time there wasn’t anything in the canteen that she liked.  The pasta looked too dry and the baked potato looked too hard, and the chicken was far too rubbery.  The salad wasn’t filling enough and the chips were too filling, and the pudding was just boring – fruit or a cookie.  She didn’t know how much the school lunches cost, but whatever it was, it was too much.

I think I’m going to digress a bit in this story too.  I know I’ve told you a bit about what Melissa is like and how she discovered her gran’s mobility scooter was more than a bit special, but I don’t think I’ve told you what she looks like or what she likes to do with her life, so here goes.  She’s ten, but you knew that bit.  She looks younger, but I think you knew that bit too.  And she’s what her mum describes as ‘a bit of a bruiser’.  Where the other girls in her class talk about clothes all the time, Melissa doesn’t.  She’s into Japanese cartoons and making huge wall drawings of dragons and monsters.  She has a few friends, but not too many.  Just the right amount.  Melissa and her two favourite female friends all have dark brown hair.  All have long, straight, dark brown hair.  Her mum sometimes calls them ‘the three witches’ but Melissa has no idea why.  She’s quite tall, too, is Melissa, and is one of the oldest girls in her class.  Her face is round and happy looking, but that belies her real personality. She’s usually such a misery.

So, digression ended, once again, it was Wednesday and just after a lunchtime that was uninspired for Melissa.  Next came music which included far too much singing for Melissa’s liking. They were all preparing for the school show which would be taking place the following week.  She wasn’t impressed.  She didn’t want to sing, and she definitely didn’t want to be in the show, but like most things that happened when you were a child, she didn’t seem to have any choice in the matter.

I’m wondering if any children listening to or reading this story feel as if they have no choice about anything?  Does it make you feel mad?  Well, Melissa was getting madder and madder as the day went by.  Music came and went and she’d already been told off by her teacher about five million times (according to Melissa) and there was only one more lesson till the end of the day.  She usually loved art but today was an exception. Perhaps it was a Moody Melissa day, but she got told off about fifty million times in art, for talking, for passing notes, for giggling, for spilling paint, for not following instructions, for not listening, and, (worst of all) for calling her teacher a very rude word.  Melissa’s mum had been called and had to pick her up early and go in to talk to her teacher, and the headmistress.

They asked Melissa’s mum if her child had any problems at home. They asked her if Melissa was eating well and if she was getting enough sleep.  Every time, mum tried to explain that Melissa just sometimes had Moody Melissa days, but the teachers didn’t understand.  They thought it was something the teachers or the school had done.  But it wasn’t.  It was just something that came from inside Melissa herself.  Something that was as uncontrollable as her dad’s wiry hair, or the old family dog’s flatulence (that’s farting, or trumping)!

By the time Melissa and her mum were ready to leave the school, it was going dark and mum looked upset.  ‘I won’t get to go on my run now,’ she said accusingly to Melissa. ‘Why did you pick today to be so Moody Melissa?’

Melissa didn’t know, and didn’t think she’d picked the day anyway. To her it was a mystery where it came from and why.  She shrugged and continued walking next to her mum.  But her mum didn’t seem to want her there.  Her mum seemed annoyed and upset, far more than was usual when she was called into school.  Melissa wanted to ask her what was up, but she knew she couldn’t, because if she did her mum would start crying.  Some things were better not talked about, Melissa had learned that.  Anyway, mum always hated work on Wednesdays.

They walked home in silence, and were soon overtaken by gran on her mobility scooter.  She’d just been for a hair cut (and restyle) and had also been to take some money out of the bank and to visit a friend.  It was great that gran was getting out a lot more, and Melissa was relieved she hadn’t taken her gran’s scooter to run away.  Just imagine how much trouble that would have got her into, if she got this much trouble just for calling a teacher a slightly rude name!?

Gran waved as she passed and said a cheery ‘Hello’ as she overtook. 

‘Why can’t you be more like your gran?’ asked mum.  ‘She’s in so much pain, but she never does anyone harm and she’s always smiling and never calls anyone a rude word.’

Melissa looked at the pavement as she walked.  ‘I don’t know’ was all she could think of to say.  ‘Sorry mum, I don’t know.’

She wanted to shout at mum about how comparing people was wrong and how, of course gran was happy – she didn’t have to go to school and she had a magical mobility scooter.  Melissa would be happy too, if that was her life.

By the time they got home, dinner in the slow cooker (a gooey vegetable casserole) was ready and served with a big splat into Melissa’s least favourite bowl.  Vegetable casserole was her least favourite meal, and she hated couscous as well.  But she was hungry and was forced therefore to eat it.  Every spoonful was a spoonful of misery.

After dinner it was homework time.  Melissa had a large book with pages and pages of printed questions.  Once a week she had to complete four of the pages.  This week the teacher wanted them all to complete six of the pages, all apart from Melissa who hadn’t done last week’s homework.  She had ten pages to do!  Ten pages.

She sat at the kitchen table with her book spread around her.  She sharpened her pencil, broke it and sharpened it again.  She brushed the shavings onto the floor then realised what she’d done, and picked them all up before mum came back in the room. She got herself a drink, over-poured it, had to mop it up, then spilled again as she brought it over to the table.  Drops fell onto her homework book and she had to use her school cardigan to soak them up with before they spoiled the book.  She’s been messing around for over an hour before she even made a pencil mark in her book.  Things were not going well.

Mum came in.  ‘Procrastinating again?’ she said.

But Melissa wasn’t procrastinating, it was just one of those things and one of those days. Before she knew it, the whole day would have disappeared. Wednesdays were always like that.

Guru Caretaker

Travis was no ordinary man.  He was tall, handsome, intelligent and sensitive, with kindly eyes and knobbly knees.  That all sounds fairly ordinary, but you need to look further than that to find out what was so extraordinary about him.  No, he didn’t have superhero powers.  No, he wasn’t a secret scientific genius.  No, he didn’t make wedding dresses from bin liners or manage to complete the world’s most difficult crossword in the shortest time.  But he was definitely extraordinary. 

You see, Travis was a school caretaker, and had been one for the last fifteen years.  He was good at it, unlocking and locking gates, organising the playground and carrying out essential maintenance.

He worked hard, he was cheerful, and he was well loved by staff and children alike…

But the job was just a cover: a cover for his real skill.  Travis was the Guru Caretaker.

If a child was in trouble, they went to Travis.  If a teacher was upset, they went to Travis.  When the head mistress was stressed and trying to determine which decision to make, she went to Travis.

Travis didn’t know everything, and he couldn’t advise on anything, but he did have skills, and they weren’t just screwdriver-related.  He could listen, for a start.  And he didn’t tell other peoples’ secrets.  He loved animals and hugged them whenever he could.  He shooed away tears too.
But, as is often the case with caretakers, he was often forgotten.  He wasn’t on the frontline of teaching, and he didn’t make the headlines in the school newsletter.  Never did they write ‘Caretaker mends chair then carries injured child to first aid box’, but that was fine by him.  Travis liked the quiet.  He liked the calm of this job.

Could you guess what Travis used to do?  Before he began the job he was born to?  He used to work in an office, in charge of twenty people.  He used to get up each weekday morning and put on his suit and tie, and get on the train to the biggest city imaginable, with big crowds of other workers, and then come home again eight hours later.  He was miserable and he was lonely. But the Guru Caretaker was already being born.  He would be the man who could turn his hand to almost anything. He would be the man who was trustworthy and reliable and never stressed.  He would be the man he was longing to be: the man he was born to be: the man he was going to be.

So, he told the people he used to work with in the biggest city imaginable, that he was taking a break from his job.  They asked how long.  ‘Forever,’ he said.  The caretaker job was there, almost magically waiting for him, and that was fifteen happy, satisfied years ago.

I’m telling you this story not because Travis is the best caretaker ever, but because of how he helped a young boy I know.  You see, I walk my dog, Englebert, on the fields next to the school, and I usually walk right past when Travis is unlocking the gates.  We usually say a cheery hello and sometimes talk more, but one day was different.  I was walking later than usual, and Travis had almost finished his work.  He got talking to Englebert and patting him on the head.  Englebert loved that.  I said goodbye and walked to the shops.  On my way back, there was Travis having just finished at school.  We walked and talked and Englebert walked and panted. 

There was a young boy, a pupil of the school, just hanging about behind him.  ‘What’s up with the boy?’ I asked.  Though he wasn’t crying, the boy was clearly upset.

‘Upset.  Just needs a bit of time out,’ said Travis.

Turning to the boy he said, ‘Why don’t you take some time out? Sit a while. Consider.  Hasty decisions are often regretted’.

‘But I want to punch him.’

‘I’m sure you feel like that now, but what will it solve? Will things be better tomorrow if you punch him?  I think the answer is a definite no.’  It was clear from the boy’s posture that Travis’s words were getting through.

‘Sit,’ Travis continued, ‘just sit and look.  Experience it all.  Everything.  The breeze on your face. The angry thoughts.  And let the breeze carry them away’.

‘I’m cold,’ the boy said, and then with some thought, ‘Are you a counsellor?  Dad says I need to go to one ‘cos it’ll stop me being so angry’.

‘No, I’m not a counsellor,’ said Travis, ‘I’m the school caretaker – you know that’.

‘And that means you take care – not just of the school buildings, but of the school children too,’ I said.

‘I do the best I can,’

The boy looked at both of us and shuffled on the bench. 

‘Can I go home now?’ he asked.

‘Son,’ I asked, ‘what have you learned today?’

‘Well, I have learned it is important to experience things now, rather than worrying about what’s been done or what might happen.’

That’s good, I thought – he’d picked something up. 

‘So how might you deal with this kind of conflict?’ Travis asked.

‘Well, I think because I am calmer and more relaxed I don’t care what Josh said and I don’t want to hurt him anymore.’

‘What’s changed?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Josh’s actions haven’t changed.  He still kicked you and you still felt stupid.  What’s changed?’

‘I’ve changed. The way I deal with it has changed. It like I don’t let myself stay angry, so I’m not angry.’

‘Not quite.  Understand that anger is natural and normal, but living in pain in the midst of that again reality is not. Feel the emotion. Accept the emotion and move on from the emotion.  Choose a more positive option. Take control.’

The boy looked more than a bit bewildered but I sense he got the gist of what Travis was saying. 

‘Whatever next?’ I said, as the boy left his school mates playing football on the field, and returned to the classroom.

‘Ninja dinner ladies?’ Travis suggested. ‘It isn’t as odd as all that.  I have got a tale to tell you about chief welfare officer, Mrs Docherty.’

So, I want to praise the unsung hero, the Guru Caretaker.  Without him the school wouldn’t run.  Without him, tears would be shed and secrets would be spread.  Little boys would be mad and little girls would be sad.

Let’s praise that unsung hero.

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.