Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Bedtime Story (19/7/2017)

In Summer, it's the perfect time of year for family days out.  Alas, the place we visit more frequently than anywhere else is the supermarket.  So, I figured... I may as well write a story about taking a trip, there. 

You can listen to the podcast version of this story here.

Supermarket Sam

"It's boring!"  Sam groaned.  "I don't want to go to the supermarket!  Why can't we go somewhere fun, instead?!"

His mum rolled her eyes.  "We need to buy food, or you'll have no dinner, tonight," she told him.

Sam trudged to the car.  "It's no fun doing the weekly shop!"

Mum smiled a wry smile.  "I could have told you that," she said.  Holding the car door open, she motioned for him to climb inside.  "Come on.  The sooner we get there, the sooner we'll be home again."

Sam watched houses and trees whizzing by, through the car window.  He pulled a face, when they finally pulled into the supermarket car park.

"Less of that grumpy face," his mum laughed.  "If you're going to be all cross about being here, I'm going to put you to work!"

Sam frowned back at her.  "What do you mean?"

Mum pulled a trolley out from the bay beside the supermarket and handed it to him.  "You're in charge, on this shopping trip.  That means you have to push the trolley."

Sam grinned.  Pushing the trolley sounded pretty good fun!

They entered the supermarket and headed for the fruit and veg aisle, first.  "We need carrots, potatoes and oranges," Sam's mum told him.  "I'll hold the trolley, whilst you go and find those things and bring them back."

Sam went darting off, in search of the groceries.  He liked having a job to do!  Usually, he spent shopping trips just lagging behind his mum and wishing they were finished, already.  He grabbed all of the things Mum had asked him to get - they were quite a struggle to carry all at once - and he dropped them into the trolley.

"Next, you need to go to the fish counter and ask for three pieces of cod, for tonight's dinner."

Sam rushed to the counter and stared at the fish on display.  A man in an apron appeared and smiled at him.  "Can I help you?"

"I need three pieces of cod, please," Sam told him.  He waited, whilst the man selected the fish and wrapped it up.  The man stuck a little label on the package and handed it to Sam, who went dashing off back to the trolley.

"I'm going to cover the fish in breadcrumbs, just the way you like it," Mum told Sam, when he returned.  "What would you like with it?"

"Chips!"  Sam cried.

"Then you need to push the trolley to the frozen food aisle," Mum replied.

Mum had put several bottles of milk, a block of cheese and a tub of butter into the trolley, whilst Sam had been getting the fish, and it was starting to get a little heavy to push, now.  Still, Sam was determined to do it by himself.  He heaved and shoved his way to the frozen aisle and picked a big bag of chips out of one of the freezers.  He dropped them into the trolley and glanced up at his mum.  "What next?"

"Dog food," Mum replied.  "Do you want me to push the trolley, now?"

Sam shook his head and pushed with all his might, until they reached the pet aisle.   "What kind of dog food do you think Pepper would like?"  Sam asked, scanning the shelf.

"You have to choose," Mum answered.  "You're in charge today, remember?"

Sam frowned at the cans, pouches and boxes of dog food.  They all looked pretty disgusting, if he was honest.  But he seemed to remember that Pepper usually had food from a pouch and that the pouch was usually yellow.  He grabbed a couple of pouches that looked familiar and held them up to show his mum.  "Are these okay?"

Mum smiled and motioned for him to throw them into the trolley.

Sam was getting a little tired, now.  The trolley was really heavy, too.

"Just cereal and bread left to get," Mum assured him, noticing that he had definitely slowed down.

They reached the cereal aisle and once again, Mum told Sam to choose which one to buy.  His favourite cereal was on a very high shelf, so Mum had to lift him up so that he could grab a box.  Even though Sam was enjoying being in charge, he was quite relieved when they'd put a loaf of bread into the trolley and were heading to the checkouts.

"Now, do you think you can lift everything out of the trolley and onto the conveyor belt?"  Mum asked.  "I can help you..."

"No, I can do it myself," Sam insisted.  It took him a while, but he managed to get everything onto the belt.

"Don't forget to put a divider down behind the shopping," Mum told him.  "That way, the person coming behind you knows they can start unloading their things onto the belt."

Sam leaned up and stretched to grab a divider.

The lady on the checkout began scanning all the items that had been in Sam's trolley, whilst Sam and Mum packed everything into bags.  When the checkout lady was finished, she told them how much it would all cost.  Mum glanced down at Sam.  "Are you paying, since you're in charge?"

Sam's eyes widened.  "I don't have any money!"

Mum chuckled to herself.  "I'm only kidding," she told him, as she paid the lady.

By the time Sam and his mum arrived back at the car, Sam was feeling much perkier than he had when they arrived.  "I liked being in charge, Mum," he told her.  "In fact, I think going to the supermarket is a lot more fun, now."  He climbed into his seat and put on his seatbelt.  "Actually, I think I should always be in charge when we go shopping, from now on."

Mum smiled.  "Really?"

"Yep," Sam replied.  "I'm looking forward to the next trip."  He paused, yawning and stretching his arms.  "Although maybe we should leave it a few days," he added.  "It's hard work doing the weekly shop, you know."

And Sam settled down in his seat, closed his eyes and, as the car rumbled homewards, he was soon fast asleep.


Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Doctor IS A Woman - And About Time, Too!

It's July 16th 2017.  It's raining.  Roger Federer has just won Wimbledon for the 8th time.  

Oh, and something else happened.  Let me have a think, what was it...?

Ah, that's right.  THIS HAPPENED:

Yep, the latest keeper of the TARDIS key was finally announced and, after more than 50 years, Doctor Who is getting a female Doctor at last.

Guys, I've always strived to be honest with you in these blogs, so I'm going to tell you the truth: when Jodie Whittaker pulled down her hood and we first saw her mascara-coated eyelashes, I screamed.  Screamed.  And when the hood came down fully and she stood there, looking like a freaking bad ass, I cried.

I cried for every little girl who watches the show and has never believed she could be the lead character, because they've been told that "the Doctor should be a man."

I cried for every time I've felt that nauseating, stabbing feeling inside my chest, because I've read some small-brained misogynist assuring the world that "the BBC will never cast a woman, because they know it'll ruin the show."

I cried because that time is over.  The Doctor IS a woman. 

We should have seen it coming (and in fact, many did), because the hints have been dropped throughout the most recent season.  The Doctor's conversation with Bill, on the gender fluidity of Timelords during regeneration was one of the biggest clues that, having already seen the Master regenerate into Missy, the Doctor could be about to undergo a more radical change than previously seen...

Of course, there was another, less triumphant reason for my tears.  

If there's one thing we know by now, it's that there is nothing a certain section of the Internet likes less than what they perceive as "political correctness gone mad."  And sure enough, within moments of the announcement, people were popping up on Twitter, insisting that that's exactly what Jodie Whittaker's casting is.

"F**k your political correctness," one idiot yelled into the abyss.  "Doctor Who will totally fail, now."

Aaaaaand you know that how, exactly?  Based on the fact that the Doctor has a vagina, now?!  Because if that's your "logical" argument, then you may as well have just posted:

I expected it.  I think many of us did.  There has long been a loud chorus of dissent whenever the mere idea of a female Doctor has been put forward.  Apparently, she'd "leave bras all over the TARDIS" and "time travel is for men and men only."

I wish I was making those ridiculous comments up...

Look, the show has established that a Timelord can transition from male to female during regeneration, via The Master/Missy.  We've also seen another Timelord go from being a white dude, to a black woman, in recent history.  The seed of male to female regeneration was not just planted, in the last few years, it took root and it flourished into established canon.  The choice to cast a woman as the Doctor was always just a matter of time (pun intended, because I flipping love a pun).

So, if we remove the idea that it's impossible for the Doctor to become a woman, what other argument could possibly exist against the change, beyond personal preference and/or misogyny?!

I get that some people just can't imagine a female Doctor.  That's fine; it's never happened up until now, so it's bound to be a little strange.  I mean, for the first years of the show, I doubt anyone could imagine The Doctor being played by someone other than William Hartnell.  

Until that happened.

Yet, despite the changes in lead over the years, every actor who takes on the role has made it their own, yet retained the same core for the character.  Why do you think Jodie Whittaker will be different, just because she's female?  

The character remains quintessentially the same, regardless of who's playing it.  You're talking about an ancient alien from a faraway planet, who chases baddies and saves the Earth, whilst making the odd comical quip or grandiose speech.  You're talking about someone who is able to travel forwards and backwards in time and across the universe in a box that's bigger on the inside.  How is any of that going to change, just because the Doctor now has a vagina?

I know, I know.  I said VAGINA.  Try not to cry.

The Doctor will still save the world, countless times.  She'll possibly even run in heels, which is frankly almost as impressive as cheating death by regenerating into an entirely different body in the first place.

The Doctor is The Doctor.  No matter what she looks like, or what she has underneath her clothes.  She's still going the have the same core values and the same self-imposed "mission."  The baddies are still going to try to outsmart her and she's still going to kick their backsides.  There's not a single, convincing argument that I've seen, for the Doctor being a solely male character...

"A woman Doctor would be too emotional."

Um, because Tennant never wept about not wanting to go, or anything and The Doctor has never shown emotion ever...  *insert eye roll*

"The Doctor is a stereotypically MALE role."

Yeah... No.  The Doctor has, especially in recent years, been a man in touch with his emotions, with a strong sensitive side and a firm respect for women.  Seeing as people like to compare The Doctor to James Bond when making their "a woman can NEVER play this role" arguments, let's do just that: James Bond is a stereotypically "macho" character, who likes blowing things up and attempting to have sex with anything remotely female.  THAT - rightly or wrongly - is a stereotypically male character.  The Doctor is anything but; in many ways, he's the polar opposite.

"Only a man can travel in time."

Sure.  Because Rose, Amy, Clara, Martha, Bill, River Song and every other woman who's ever stepped foot in the TARDIS and travelled in time has been a figment of my crazy, feminist imagination.

"Boys need role models, so it isn't fair to take this one away from them."

Here's an amazing fact, for you: Boys are just as allowed to have female idols to look up to, as girls are to have male idols.  In fact, it's healthy to have female role models for boys, just as it's healthy for girls to look up to male role models.  Besides which, Doctor Who isn't about to become a show with zero male roles.  Who's to say Jodie Whittaker won't have a kick-ass male companion?  The show has given us brave and loyal guys like Rory, who are perfectly good role models for any boy who apparently can't look up to a woman.  And what of girls, who also want role models?  How about, just for once, giving them a chance to know that they can take the lead and they can save the world?  

And you know what?  If you're so hell bent on needing a male role model to show boys that same thing, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of TV shows, comic books and films doing exactly that.  Pick one and leave Doctor Who to those of us that can appreciate it.

"The ratings will plummet with a female Doctor."

Show me the evidence.  Did Star Wars bomb, once a female Jedi was introduced?  Does nobody become emotionally invested in female characters on Doctor Who?  Because the sheer level of continued adoration from many for Billie Piper's Rose Tyler begs to differ.  Besides, a new lead actor always leads to this argument, regardless of what's between their legs.  Many people thought nobody would watch the show if there wasn't a sexy young guy in the title role and yet there are fans devastated now, at the thought of losing Peter Capaldi.  Sure, ratings go up and down over the years - that's par for the course with such a long-running show.  But I've seen plenty of people getting excited about this casting, saying they'll tune in for Jodie's first episode just to see what a female Doctor is like.  With good writing and great acting, there's literally no reason why people should switch off in droves.  And if they do, there'll more than likely be a whole new generation of fans to take their place.

And, of course, the most commonly heard argument, today...

"You're just pandering to liberal lefties.  It's political correctness gone mad!"

*Sniff*  Aaaah, bullsh*t.

Let's have a look at the previous twelve actors who've played The Doctor over the years (thirteen, if you count John Hurt's War Doctor):  ALL WHITE MEN.  Wow, fifty plus years of pandering to... Who, exactly?  Right wing misogynists?  People who hate change?!

Very few people make the argument that to keep having a white man in the title role is "pandering" to anyone, yet we're supposed to just accept it in the case of a female Doctor.  Why?

Firstly, let's talk representation.  Women watch Doctor Who.  Young girls watch Doctor Who.  And for over fifty years, the message they've gotten from the show is that women are companions.  Sidekicks or potential romantic interests.  Sure, they can help save the day and they can be strong and powerful.  But they're never going to take the lead.

When I watched Jodie Whittaker pull down her hood and reveal herself as the thirteenth Doctor, I cried.  I know others who did the same.  I know of people whose young daughters wept.  Representation matters.  It matters to see someone who looks like you up on screen, being the hero.  That's why people were also campaigning for a black or Asian Doctor.  Because representation is important.  The world is full of people of all ethnicities and sexualities and we all deserve to have a hero who represents us.  If you think that's me being a liberal leftie, so be it.  I call it being a decent human who respects everyone equally.

Secondly, you're assuming that Jodie was chosen purely because she's a woman.  And I call bull on that one, too.  She's barely had time to speak about her new role, but in the brief soundbites she's given, she's talked about being asked to audition.  So, we can assume she went through the same audition process as any other actor would for the role.  To suggest that the BBC would take one of its most popular TV shows and hire a female actor for the title role just to appease "liberal lefties" is at best total ignorance of how television production and promotion works and at worst, total ignorance full stop.

Are you actually expecting me to believe that a massive corporation would take a show that has been beloved to a notoriously obsessive fandom for over half a century and just go "aah, shove a woman in the title role; it'll shut the lefties up for a bit"?!  No.  Money is spent on Doctor Who.  Money is earned through Doctor Who.  Ratings matter.  Opinions matter.  

Change will not happen purely for the sake of change.  Sure, someone - or even several people - may have thought: "it's about time we had a woman in the lead role; that'll shake things up a bit," but those kinds of decisions are weighted with other factors.  Those in charge know one crucial thing: the real fans of the show will not be happy with bad writing, bad acting or bad direction, regardless of who's playing The Doctor.  Chris Chibnall wouldn't have merely been handed the job of showrunner "just for a change."  He'll have been selected because after a search, he was deemed the best person for the job.  Likewise, Jodie Whittaker will have been chosen as the thirteenth Doctor because, after auditions and talks with the production team, she was deemed to be the best person for the job.

And if the production team and the crew and the BBC have all gotten behind the idea of a female Doctor - and they're the ones having to actually put the work in to make the show a success, regardless of who's at the helm - why can't you?!

Literally all we've seen of Jodie Whittaker's Doctor so far, is her standing in a long coat, with her hood up, dramatically pulling that hood down and shaking her hair as she strolls towards the TARDIS.

And you've got "WORST DOCTOR EVER!!!!ONE!!!" from that?!  

That's impossible.  We know nothing about how she'll play the part.  Whether her version of the Doctor will be brooding and tortured, like Eccleston's, or quick-tempered and slightly manic, like Smith's.  Heck, we don't even know how she'll dress, yet (Jodie has stated that the costume used in the trailer is not what her Doctor will be wearing in the show).  So, what exactly are you basing your judgement of her performance on?

Her gender.

And that sucks. 

The Doctor is a woman, now, whether you like it or not.  And if you choose to switch off and refuse ever to so much as glance at the show again, that's your decision to make.  But whilst you're bashing your keyboard with impotent fury, making up easily debunked arguments as to why this should never have happened, I'll be wishing Jodie Whittaker all the luck in the world and waiting excitedly to see what's going to happen next.

Because I don't just abandon a show I claim to love, based on the gender of the lead character.

Good on you, Jodie.  I'm rooting for you.  You're gonna smash it.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Bedtime Story (12/7/2017)

As the Summer holidays get ever closer, I find myself wishing I had a trip away to look forward to.  Alas, I won't be jetting off somewhere exotic this year, but with lots of little ones probably counting down the days to their own holidays abroad, I thought I'd write a little story about flying.

As always, you can also listen to this story as a podcast.

Mara And Kai In The Sky

Mara wriggled in her seat for a better look at the planes.  The airport windows were huge; walls of glass from floor to ceiling.  She was excited for her holiday to Greece, but she was nervous, too.  Mara hated flying, the last time she tried it.  She was worried that this time would be no different.

Her older brother Kai couldn't understand what the fuss was about.  He'd been on a plane three times before and he loved to fly.  

As their flight was called, Kai, Mara and their mum and dad began walking down the funny little corridor to the plane.  At the end of the walkway, they could see a smiling flight attendant, holding the door open for them.  "I like her little hat," Mara said, trying to make herself feel a bit better about the whole thing.

Once the family were all settled in their seats, Kai turned to his sister, with a puzzled look on his face.  "Why don't you like flying?"  He asked.

"I don't like the noise of the jet engines," Mara said.  "They're really loud when you take off and it hurts my ears."

"But then you're up in the sky!"  Kai exclaimed, pointing out of the window beside him.  "And you can look down and see all the buildings and trees getting smaller and smaller, until they look almost like dots!"

Mara sighed.  "But I didn't like the lunch I had on the plane last time, either," she said.  "And then, because I didn't eat it all, I was hungry and tired when we landed."  She paused and folded her arms.  "And I don't like landing, either.  It can be a bit bumpy."

Kai smiled at his sister.  "I reckon you'll enjoy it more, this time," he promised.  "I'll look after you."

The flight attendants began demonstrating what to do in an emergency.  That made Mara feel nervous; she was scared enough already, without having them talk about what to do if there was a crash!  But Kai reassured her.  "They're telling you what to do to stay safe," he reminded her.  "And think of how many planes fly all around the world every single day, without the tiniest bit of trouble."  That made Mara feel a bit better.

Before long, the time for take off had arrived.  Mara gripped hard onto the armrest of her seat.  Kai told her to look out of the window.  "And squeeze your nose to make your ears pop," he added.

Mara wanted to put her hands over her ears to drown out the sound of the noisy engines, but she did as her brother told her.  She watched the airport buildings and other planes seem to disappear in a blur as their plane travelled faster and faster down the runway.  Then, it looked almost as though the world outside had been tipped sideways, as the plane left the ground and began climbing into the sky.

"Isn't it cool?!"  Kai grinned.

Mara didn't like to admit it, but her brother was right!  The world seemed to be falling away from them, as the plane rose up into the air.  She had hardly dared to look out of the window last time, but now, she was transfixed, seeing the whole of the city spreading out beneath them as they climbed higher into the sky.  Soon, everything seemed to level out and Mara found herself getting used to being so high up.

"Was that so bad?"  Kai asked her.  Mara shook her head and smiled.

Then, Kai handed his sister a pair of headphones and pointed to a little screen built into the seat in front of her.  "You can watch some cartoons, if you like," he told her.  Mara didn't remember there being a TV to watch, last time!  She beamed, as Kai helped her to set her screen up and pick a movie to watch, before doing the same for himself.

Before long, some flight attendants began coming round with food.  Mara sank back in her seat, a little worried about what might come along.  But, to her surprise, she was offered a bowl of macaroni cheese - her favourite!  Mara wolfed down the whole lot and still had room for some chocolate biscuits, afterwards.

When the captain announced that there was some mild turbulence ahead, Kai explained that things might get a little bumpy.  Mara was nervous, but Kai told her to imagine that she was on a rollercoaster.  That made it a lot easier to deal with the bumpy up and down motions.  In fact, Mara was so brave about it, she even managed to calm her dad down, when he got a bit scared!

By the time the plane began sinking lower in the sky, Mara was almost disappointed.  This time, she hadn't hated flying at all!  She gripped onto her seat all the same, when the plane came down to land.  Yet, surprisingly, Mara wasn't scared of the bumpy landing.  She remembered what Kai had said earlier, about pretending you're on a rollercoaster.  That made it much easier!

The plane slowed down as it travelled along the runway, before finally coming to a stop.  Everyone excitedly grabbed their bags and began making their way back down the aeroplane's narrow aisle, to the door.  

Kai was beside himself with glee as he stepped out into the glorious sunshine.  "We're officially on holiday!"  He cried.  "I can't wait to play on the beach, swim in the sea and try lots of yummy new food!"  He turned to his sister.  "What are you most looking forward to, Mara?"

Mara grinned, taking one last glance over her shoulder at the plane.  "The flight back home!"

Kai giggled at his sister.  "I told you you'd like flying more, this time," he said.  "Come on, let's go and get our cases!"

And the pair jogged ahead of their parents, eager to get their holiday started.


Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Bedtime Story (5/7/2017)

As I write this, it's the Summer Solstice.  It's currently 28C (82F) and I'm melting.  So, this story goes out to anyone finding the hot weather a little tricky to manage...

This week's podcast version is available by clicking here.

Hot And Grouchy

Harry was hot.
Gracie was hot.
Happy and relaxed were things they were not.
Harry was tired,
Gracie was stressed.
They were starting to think rainy weather was best.

The sun shone bright,
The sky was blue.
Harry and Gracie didn't know what to do!
Too hot to eat,
Too frazzled to play,
They just sat looking miserable all day.

"I want a cold bath,
With ice cubes in,"
Gracie moaned and groaned to her twin.
"I want to get in the fridge,"
Harry said back,
As he chewed on an ice cube, with a noisy crack.

How to cool them down?
Mum was at a loss.
And it seemed like the heat was making them cross.
Harry was fed up.
Gracie was, too.
Said Mum: "Hot and Grouchy is what I'll call you!"

They hated sun cream.
They didn't like hats.
When Mum put them on, the twins growled like wild cats.
At the end of each day,
They collapsed in a heap;
Too tired to move, but too hot to sleep.

"Summer seems long,
But it'll soon go,"
Mum told them.  "And you'll miss it, you know!"
Then she added:
"Get in the car!
I'm taking you somewhere; it's not very far."

And so the twins
And their Mum drove,
To a place that seemed like a treasure trove!
It sold many toys,
But best of all?
It sold an enormous paddling pool!

Mum bought a pool;
Water pistols, too!
"Anything to keep you cool all Summer through!"
And when they got home,
They set it all up.
Soon, Harry and Gracie had their own little tub!

Harry swam and splashed.
Gracie paddled and splished.
They were finally cool enough to do as they wished.
The pistols were filled
And they used those, too.
To cool down their dog, who had been looking blue.

Soon, Harry was wet
And Gracie was drenched!
Mum made cool drinks, so their thirst would be quenched.
They ate ice cream
And were no longer stressed.
In fact, they now thought Summer was best!

So if you're hot,
If you need to get cool,
Go and get wet in your paddling pool!
In this heat,
You'll dry off, fast.
So go and enjoy the sun, whilst it lasts!


Sunday, 2 July 2017

Long Live Queen!

When my sister was only 4 or 5, she developed what could arguably be described as her first crush.  It wasn't on a youthful kids TV presenter, or a smiley-faced member of a boyband.  Nope, the object of her adoration was none other than Queen's flamboyant lead singer, Freddie Mercury.

Of course, given her young age, it was a very innocent form of love.  It was also one I shared.  Our mum was (and is) a Queen fan and we were familiar with not only the music, but with Freddie's amazing stage presence, even though we'd only ever viewed it through a TV screen.  In fact, such was my admiration for Freddie, that when I was given two rubber ducks to play with in the bath when I was only a pre-schooler myself, I had lovingly named them "Band Aid" and "Fred," in honour of the concert I'd seen snippets of on TV over the years (or rather, the group of musicians behind the Christmas song I adored), and the lead singer of the band I'd loved the most.

When Freddie Mercury passed away, in November 1991, my sister and I were absolutely gutted.  If I remember rightly, we both cried.  My sister hung posters of him in her room and would sadly kiss him goodnight, before bed.  To this day, if you ask her, she'll tell you "Freddie will always be BAE."

He WAS magnifico-oh-oh-oh-ooooh.

But whilst Freddie may have seemed the driving force of Queen - the indescribable showman - the band as a whole were - and arguably still are - a force to be reckoned with.

You need only listen to the likes of Muse, The Darkness and even Lady Gaga, to see how influential Queen continue to be.  Their brand of operatic rock still feels gloriously fresh, all these years later.  It may be a cliché, but I still can't hear that guitar solo from Bohemian Rhapsody, without wanting to break into the kind of head-banging that Wayne and Garth from Wayne's World would be proud of.

That song - still loved and praised several decades after it first burst onto the music scene - has come to sum up the eclectic range of styles Queen experimented with.  They may be seen as essentially a classic "rock" band, but over the years, they played around with everything from metal and glam-rock, to disco and opera.  This was a band clearly unafraid to think outside of the musical box, frequently pushing themselves to reinvent their sound and yet somehow always sounding instantly recognisable.  You can just tell it's a Queen song, no matter what style it takes, from the very first seconds.

Talk to most people about Queen and they'll point to their biggest, brashest hits: Bohemian Rhapsody, Killer Queen or Don't Stop Me Now.  But Queen weren't just good at stadium sing-along hits.  They were able to capture raw emotion in softer songs, such as Who Wants To Live Forever?

Indeed, two of my absolute favourite Queen songs are not the ones that get your hands clapping, but the ones that get you right in the chest; Too Much Love Will Kill You and These Are The Days Of Our Lives.

In fact, the latter brings a lump to my throat every single time I hear it.  From the gut-punch that comes from the knowledge that Freddie is no longer with us, as he sings "these days are all gone now..." to possibly the most devastatingly sad guitar solo of all time, that song is just sheer emotion from start to finish.  If you've ever wondered what it would sound like if a guitar could cry, just listen to Brian May's solo on that track.  His guitar isn't gently weeping, it's wailing.  It's a primal howl and it breaks me every time I hear it.

Combine the heartbreaking melody with Freddie's terribly frail appearance in the music video (his final one) and it's even sadder, still.

I can remember being hugely excited when Made In Heaven came out in 1995.  It was to feature music recorded when Freddie was still alive, completed after his death and so hearing tracks from the album was an incredibly bittersweet experience.  One of the tracks, Heaven For Everyone, became my favourite Queen song (aside from the two previously mentioned tear-jerkers) and seeing the song reach number two in the singles chart and hearing it played at the youth club I attended back in the day, was a glorious experience for a 13 year old kid who had grown up with one heck of a soft spot for the band.

That soft spot has never really dimmed.  I often decide to have a "Queen Day," where I "binge-listen" to as much as their music as I can.  There's something about Queen's music that stirs me in a way that only a select few other bands have ever managed (the Manics being the obvious one).  Their songs still excite me.  Their melodies still take me over completely and leave me smiling and singing along, no matter where I am.

I've never been lucky enough to see Queen live.  Obviously, in their heyday, when Freddie was still strutting his stuff on stage, I was much too young.  Now, tickets for their performances with Adam Lambert sell out so fast that I'll be lucky if ever get the chance to go.  Not that I wouldn't give my right arm for the opportunity...

Queen's music has soundtracked many people's lives, perhaps without those people ever stopping to give it a second thought.  From the football fans singing We Are The Champions on the terraces, to the kids who just seem to instantly know that stamp-stamp-clap motif from We Will Rock You, even if they're not sure how they know it, Queen's music is still seemingly everywhere.  And that's just how it should be.

So, from the girl who named her rubber duck "Fred" all those years ago: Freddie, Brian, Roger and John... I still love you.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Bedtime Story (28/6/2017)

I know that I really need to clear out the space under my bed.  And the thought of that task was so dull, that I figured I'd write a silly story about it, instead!

Want to listen to this story?  Then click for the podcast!

Under Billie's Bed

Billie wasn't the tidiest girl;
Her room was always a mess.
But she seemed to get it cleaned up rather fast,
Which one day, led her to confess:

"I just shove everything under my bed.
It's the best way to keep it from view.
If you had an easy way to hide your mess,
Isn't that what you would do?!"

Mum and Dad were not impressed
And they issued a stern reply:
"It's time to sort out the mess under your bed!"
So Billie headed upstairs, with a sigh.

As she knelt on the floor, Billie wondered:
"Just what am I going to find?"
And it wasn't long before she was pulling out
Objects of all shapes and kinds!

There seemed to be endless socks,
No two of which were the same.
There were dusty books and DVDs,
Photo albums and boardgames.

And the more things Billie found,
The stranger they seemed to get.
"I'd better clear out everything," she thought.
"Or my parents will be upset."

So, out came a one-legged doll
And a lollipop covered in fluff.
Out came a dirty dinner plate,
All covered in crumbs and brown stuff.

Out came a dusty recorder,
Billie didn't even know how to play.
And out came a handful of sweet wrappers
And a crumbling ball of dried clay.

Billie found shoes, scarves, hats and gloves,
Plus sunglasses and suncream, too.
She found a leaky old colouring pen
That had turned a patch of her carpet blue.

She found t-shirts that hadn't fitted for years,
Old school books whose pages were full.
She found badges, buttons and rubber bands
And a big, tangled ball of green wool.

There were scrunched up dirty tissues,
And coins scattered all over the floor.
There were dozens of dead batteries
And even an old apple core.

Missing wheels from toy cars,
Random jigsaw puzzle pieces...
Billie even found an old school Summer dress,
All covered in dust and creases.

Billie found pens that didn't work,
And a tube of glue that was no longer sticky.
Finding new homes for all of this junk
Was going to be rather tricky...

But Billie managed it - just about!
Most of the stuff went in the bin.
It took a while, but finally:
"My room's clean!" Billie said, with a grin.

"Isn't it nicer to keep your room tidy?"
Mum and Dad both said with a smile.

"Let's see if you can keep it this neat,
At least for a little while."

But before Billie could go downstairs,
She spotted her school bag, with dread.
"Oh, I know how to tidy that," she grinned...

...And she tossed it under her bed.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Bedtime Story (21/6/2017)

Every now and then, I get challenged to write a story on a particular subject.  This week, my Dad gave me a title for a story and told me to just "go with it."  That title was "Muffin The Puffin."  And here's the story...

If you'd prefer to listen to the story, just click here for the podcast!

Muffin The Puffin

Muffin was fed up.  Every day, he floated in the sea with all the other puffins; bobbing up and down on the waves, before diving down to catch fish to eat.  Every day, he went for his evening flight with all the other puffins; soaring through the sky, as the sun began to set.  And every day, Muffin wished he felt less like just another one of the burrow.

Muffin looked just like everyone else.  His chest was white, his legs and feet were orange and his wings were black.  His beak was striped with vivid colours, but so was everyone else's!  Muffin was tired of fitting in.  He wanted to stand out!

So, one morning, whilst all the other puffins were gathered on the rocks, chatting amongst themselves, Muffin snuck off, into the bushes beyond.  There, he grabbed leaves and flowers and stuck them amongst the feathers on his wings, until he looked very different.  Instead of being black like everyone else's, Muffin's wings were green, blue, pink and yellow, with lots of pretty flowers on display.  He marched back down to the rocks, feeling rather pleased with himself.

But, when he arrived, Muffin's best friend Tiffin eyed him suspiciously.  "What on Earth have you done that for?"  Tiffin asked.  "You look ever so strange..."

Muffin shook his wings proudly.  "I want to stand out," he replied.  "I'm bored of being like everyone else."

Before Tiffin could reply, there was a cry from a puffin down by the water's edge.  "There are seagulls coming!  Quick, get into the sea and dive down as far as you can!"

All of the puffins began leaping into the water and disappearing below the surface.  Muffin and Tiffin followed, but to his dismay, as Muffin splashed into the sea, the leaves and flowers in his wings began to come unstuck and started floating away.  By the time he'd dived safely below the water, Muffin looked just like all the other puffins, again.

When he came up to the surface again, Muffin wasn't very happy.  "Look at me," he groaned.  "All my flowers are gone!  How am I supposed to stand out, now?!"

All of the puffins headed back to the island, carrying fish to feed to the puffin chicks, who were warm and safe in their burrows.  When everyone was back on dry land, they began feasting on what they had caught.  Everyone, that is, except for Muffin.

"I don't eat fish, anymore," he said, with his beak in the air.  "I only eat... Um... Seaweed."  To prove a point, Muffin grabbed a piece of seaweed that had floated onto the rocks and put it straight into his mouth.  He pulled a face; it didn't taste very nice.

"Are you sure you don't want any fish?"  Tiffin asked.  "There's plenty to go around!"

Muffin shook his head.  "I'm fine with my seaweed," he insisted.

The sky began to grow dark and Muffin was hungry and fed up.  He wanted to stand out, but trying to be different didn't seem to be working.  He plodded off over the rocks, until he came to a squelchy, muddy area that he hadn't visited, before.  The mud was thick and oozy; suddenly, Muffin had an idea.  He would certainly stand out, if his white feathers weren't white, anymore!  And so, Muffin jumped into the mud and rolled around, allowing his fluffy white chest to turn a murky brown.  His wings, legs and head were soon coated with sticky mud, too.  Muffin was thrilled!  Okay, he didn't look as pretty as he had with flowers in his feathers, but he definitely stood out, now.

But when Tiffin saw her friend, she was horrified.  "What have you done now?!"

"Made myself look different to everyone else," Muffin said, proudly.

Tiffin rolled her eyes.  "Well, there's no time to talk about it now," she said.  "Everyone's heading off on the evening flight.  Are you ready to go?"

Muffin nodded.  He watched as the other puffins soared into the sky with ease.  He flapped his wings, but... Nothing seemed to happen.  The mud on his feathers was hardening and he suddenly felt like he was weighed down and unable to take off!

"Tiffin!"  He called, but Tiffin had already flown away and could no longer hear him.  Muffin stared helplessly into the sky, feeling terribly sorry for himself.  He managed to waddle to the water's edge, where he splashed and rolled in the sea, until the mud slowly began to wash from his feathers.  

Whilst he lazed in the water, Muffin spotted some fish and realised how hungry he was.  He ate dinner by himself and, by the time he'd finished, he was perfectly clean, again.  

Gazing up towards the other puffins, Muffin began flapping his wings and soon, he was well on the way to catching up with his friends.

"Tiffin!"  He called, flying as fast as he could.  "Wait for me!"

Tiffin glanced over her shoulder.  "Oh, thank goodness," she said.  "You look like a puffin, again!"

Muffin sighed.  "Yes," he agreed.  "I'm back to being just like everyone else."

Tiffin chuckled to herself.  "Don't be silly," she told him.  "Today just proved how different you can be!  Being different or standing out doesn't have to be about the way you look, or the things you do or don't eat.  It's about being you."

Muffin frowned.  "But... When I'm me, I'm the same as everyone else, aren't I?!"

Tiffin smiled.  "We're all different," she explained.  "We all have our own thoughts, our own dreams and our own personality.  That's what makes you stand out from everyone else, Muffin!  Not only the way you look, but the way you are."  She grinned at him.  "You'll never be the same as everyone else, because there can only ever be one you."

Muffin beamed back at her.  Suddenly, he didn't want to cover his feathers with mud, or flowers, or refuse to eat fish ever again.  He was a puffin and he was proud to be.  Because whilst there were many, many puffins on his island, there was only one Muffin.