Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Bedtime Story 23/5/2018

It's getting to the time of year that the weather will hopefully be getting nice and warm and walks through the woods or along the beach become a favourite pastime for many.  I can remember family walks as a child - I was often found collecting "treasure" as I went, just like the little girl in this story!

Listen to this week's story as a podcast by clicking here.

Polly's Treasure

Polly loved going for walks with her mum, dad, big brother, Ben and big sister, Penny.  She loved feeling the warm sun on her face, watching the fluffy clouds roll across the blue sky and exploring brand new places.  But most of all, Polly loved collecting treasure.

In fact, Polly loved collecting treasure a little too much.  So much so, that she was always lagging behind everyone else.  "One of these days, you'll end up lost!"  Penny would say.  But Polly never listened.  She just loved to collect things!

One bright, sunny morning, Mum and Dad packed a picnic into a rucksack and announced that the whole family were going on a walk through the woods.  Ben, Penny and Polly hurried to get themselves ready.  Polly grabbed a little, pink bag.  "What's that for?"  Ben asked.

"To put all my treasure in, of course!"  Polly beamed.

The family set off and before long, the houses and shops of their village gave way to wide open fields.  Polly noticed a particularly pretty bluebell, growing on a verge.  She stopped to pick it, gently placing it in her bag.  Mum, Dad, Ben and Penny carried on walking ahead, but Polly didn't mind.  They were only a few steps in front of her.

Soon, the pavement changed to a dusty track, leading up through the fields, towards the woods.  Polly noticed a very shiny pebble on the ground.  She picked it up and paused a while, feeling its smooth edges and enjoying its coolness against her skin.  She popped it into her bag with the bluebell.  Mum, Dad, Ben and Penny were a little further ahead, now, but Polly knew she could easily catch up if she jogged.  She was enjoying herself, taking her time, looking for treasure.

The sun shone down and something glinted on the path.  Polly gasped: "REAL treasure!"  It was a small, pink gem.  It had probably fallen off a bag or a piece of clothing.  Polly picked it up and put it in her bag with the pebble and the bluebell.  Mum, Dad, Ben and Penny were just entering the woods.  They were quite far ahead, but Polly could still see them, so she wasn't worried.  

When Polly entered the woods, she smiled at the shards of sunlight breaking through the trees and painting strips of white all around.  It was cooler underneath the trees and there were lots of interesting things to look at.  Polly noticed a twig on the ground, with a pretty little bud on the end of it.  She thought it looked a little bit like a magic wand, so she stopped, picked it up and put it in her bag, along with the gem, the pebble and the bluebell.  Mum, Dad, Ben and Penny were slowly becoming figures in the distance.  Polly thought maybe she ought to try to catch them up.

Just as Polly started to walk a little faster, however, she spotted a rather unusual looking leaf, lying curled up on the ground.  It was dark green, with lighter green spots.  It was so strange looking, that Polly couldn't resist adding it to her treasure collection.  She opened up her bag and dropped the leaf in with the twig, the gem, the pebble and the bluebell.

Polly closed the bag and looked up.  Suddenly, she couldn't see Mum, Dad, Ben or Penny.  Where were they?!

Polly looked all around her.  The friendly looking woods, with bright sunlight dappling the trees, suddenly seemed dark and scary.  Her family were nowhere to be seen and Polly suddenly wished she could trade all of her treasures for a glimpse of them.  She started to run, her feet crunching on twigs as she went.  Her heart hammered in her chest and her breath came out in short bursts.

Then, finally, she spotted them.

Mum, Dad, Ben and Penny were all standing still in a little clearing, glancing all around them, with worried looks on their faces.  Mum spotted Polly first and cried out her name.  Polly went rushing into her arms, as though she hadn't seen her in a year.

"Where on Earth did you get to?"  Mum exclaimed.  "One minute you were just behind us and the next..."

Polly sighed.  "I got distracted, looking for treasure," she confessed.  "And then when I thought I'd lost you all, I was really scared."

Polly stared into her little, pink bag.  Suddenly, none of her treasures seemed that important, anymore.  The best treasures in the world were right in front of her.

From then on, Polly stayed close to her family as they continued their walk.  When they finally stopped in a pretty little clearing, to share their picnic, Penny asked to see the treasure her sister had collected.  "Wow, you've got some nice things," she smiled, looking into the bag.  "Are you going to get some more on the way home?"

Polly laughed as she shook her head.  "I think I've got quite enough treasure, now," she smiled.  And as the sun continued to break through the trees, the family walked together - all of them - smiling and laughing the whole way.


Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Bedtime Story (16/5/2018)

This story goes live two days before I meet my YouTube heroes, Dan and Phil (the reasons I have my own YouTube channel!).  So, this week, I've written something a bit different.  Instead of a story, this is a piece about friendship and it is dedicated to Dan and Phil, as well as to the closest friends in my own life, who hopefully all know who they are - love you all loads. xx

You can listen to me read this story as a podcast by clicking here.

What Is A Best Friend?

What is a best friend?

Best friends are pretty special.  A friend is someone who will play with you and make you laugh, but a best friend is someone who knows when you need to be quiet or talk things through.  They're there for you not only when you're doing fun things, or feeling happy, but when you're feeling sad and you don't want to do anything.

Best friends tell you the truth.  Sometimes, it's not always what you want to hear, but a best friend will try to say things in a nice way, so they don't upset you.  They won't tell you lies and they'll listen if you ever have to tell them something important.

A best friend is someone who won't let you down.  They will be there for you in good times and bad.  They won't stop being your friend, just because you make a silly mistake.  You might have an argument, but best friends will always work things out again and say sorry to one another.  Best friends forgive each other when they make mistakes.  A best friend knows you are a good person and that you will always do your best for them.

Best friends don't judge one another.  If you get something wrong, or do something silly, a best friend will still love you just the same.  They'll be the person you end up laughing over the mistake with, too, once you're ready to!

You don't have to have everything in common with your best friend.  You might like lots of the same things, but it doesn't matter if you like something that they don't, or if they are very quiet, whilst you like to be loud.  Sometimes, having differences can make your friendship even stronger.  The important thing is that you can be yourself completely around your best friend - and they can do the same with you!

A best friend will support you when you're in trouble.  They'll laugh with you when you're having fun.  They'll ask if you're okay, if they think you might not be.

Having a best friend makes you very lucky.  And being a best friend makes you even luckier, still.

Who's your best friend?


Monday, 14 May 2018

Breaking The Silence - Thank You, Coronation Street

I've always watched the soaps.  Mainly because my Mum has always watched the soaps.  I'm not remotely religious about it and, just like Mum, I stick to the three main ones - Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Eastenders.  Of the three, if I had to pick a favourite, it would always be Corrie (with Emmerdale in second place and Eastenders being the one I half-watch, largely so I can moan about it...).

Soaps get a bit of a bad press, sometimes.  They're often unrealistic, with their frequent murders and characters who seem to have all had affairs with each other at some point or other.  But, despite the occasionally over-the-top storylines, soaps are supposed to depict everyday life.  Life, with all its complex ups and downs.  And so, over the years, we've seen some major topics covered, from racism to assisted dying.

These storylines often hit harder in a soap than they might in a one-off drama, for the simple reason that the characters in soaps are people we see on TV several times a week.  They're characters we've come to know and love.  We've often followed their lives for several years, seen them get married, have kids, go through various struggles and come out the other side.  We care about what happens to them, because, through watching them so often, these characters have subconsciously become a part of our lives.  We watch them experience love and tragedy.  We see them struggle with their sexuality.  We've been there through their highs and lows.

But, until last week, there was one major subject that none of the main three soaps had really covered: suicide and its devastating after-effects.

Last Monday night, viewers saw Coronation Street regular, Aidan Connor, appear increasingly detached from those around him, as he attended a leaving party in the pub, held for his father and his father's wife, who were intending to move to Spain.  In heartbreaking, yet sensitively portrayed scenes, we saw Aidan looking oblivious to everything and everyone around him, before the screen went black and we cut to him sitting alone on his sofa at home, sobbing.  Then the screen went black a final time and we knew he'd taken his own life.

Wednesday's hour-long episode dealt with the fallout.  We saw devastating scenes in which Aidan's father Johnny went to Aidan's flat, after his son failed to turn up for work, only to find a note instructing him not to go into the bathroom, but to call the police.  Johnny then rushed to the bathroom, where he found his son. 

Coronation Street did well to avoid sensationalising the storyline; we never saw Aidan's body, nor were we told the manner in which he killed himself.  None of that was necessary.  What was shown, was the massive impact the suicide had on everyone living on the street, regardless of whether they were particularly close to Aidan or not.

We saw Aidan's former fiancĂ© Eva, absolutely shattered by the news; particularly as Aidan had come to see her the previous evening and given her back her engagement ring.  Eva had thought they might be getting back together.  Now, she realised he'd gone to say goodbye.

We saw Aidan's sister Kate, first refuse to believe that her brother could have taken his own life, before becoming gripped with anger that he could put his family through such pain.

In a beautifully written monologue, we saw Corrie stalwart Gail, highlight the fact that whilst we like to think we know our friends and neighbours, we can never know what's going on inside their minds.  People can appear fine, only to be struggling with terrible, internal demons.  All we can do is be kind and supportive to one another.  Whilst Gail was talking, we saw scenes of other characters being told the news of Aidan's death, making it all the more poignant.  I've linked to the scene here, because I think it was absolutely perfectly done.

Not only were the reactions of characters closest to Aidan perfectly executed in the aftermath of his suicide being revealed, we saw many suicide myths busted by the writers, whilst also witnessing hugely realistic reactions to what happened.  We saw loudmouth Beth refer to Aidan as selfish for taking his own life, whilst another character, Gina, explained that he would have been in so much pain, all he'd have wanted was to find a way to make it stop.  There wouldn't have been any deliberate selfishness in his actions.

We saw Daniel tell Robert about a "friend" who had considered suicide, but who had kept his feelings of depression to himself.  Robert, realising that Daniel was talking about himself and having already mentioned having lost someone to suicide in the past, told Daniel to tell his "friend" that he would always be willing to listen, if they needed someone to talk to.

In a genius snippet of writing that could easily have been missed, had you not been looking out for signs that the writer of this episode - Jonathan Harvey - wanted to get a very important message across, we even saw David Platt's solicitor tell him to "man up," when David became obviously upset.  Cleverly, it was David who had the climax of the episode, when he finally confessed to ex girlfriend Shona that he'd been raped and had had his own moments of feeling suicidal, but that he felt better for having told someone and that he had realised he wanted to live.

To end the show on a positive, uplifting note such as that was incredibly powerful.  To finish a heartbreaking episode by displaying a character reaching out and confessing to how lost and alone he'd been feeling, but that he was now going to seek help, was absolutely the right way to leave things.

But Monday and Wednesday's episodes were more than just brilliantly written, directed and acted.  They were hugely, critically important.

One criticism given by a smattering of viewers (it's important to say how widely praised the storyline has been - and rightly so), was that Aidan's suicide "came out of the blue."  He didn't seem depressed.

I have two responses to that.  Firstly, 45% of men who suffer with depression don't speak out about it.  Toxic messages such as "man up," cause men in emotional pain to bottle up their feelings.  It's this pressure to keep things hidden that contributes to our enormous suicide rate.  Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45.  In the UK alone, 84 men take their own lives every week.  Many of those won't have spoken out about their feelings.  Therefore, when men like Aidan take their own lives, all too often it does seem to come out of the blue, even though the reality is that that person has probably been suffering for quite some time.  In making Aidan seem okay on the surface, whilst holding so much pain inside, Coronation Street have depicted his depression and subsequent suicide with painful accuracy. 

Secondly, if you know the signs, they have been there, all along.  Aidan had been increasingly distracted.  He'd been clearly portrayed as mulling things over in his mind, looking distant or forlorn.  His sister Kate had asked, just days before his suicide, why he hadn't unpacked the boxes that still littered his flat.  He'd given ex lover Maria's son Liam his expensive watch, despite Liam only being a young child.  He gave his father an expensive gift - membership of a snazzy golf club in Spain, as a "goodbye present."  He'd made comments about Eva's baby deserving better than a father like him.  In recent months, he'd put himself down, saying what a bad man he was.  And (SPOILER) back in February, we saw him post a letter to his father, only to intercept the letter and take it back to his flat, when he realised his sister Carla needed a kidney transplant.  In tonight's episode, we discover that that letter was actually a suicide note and that he'd been planning to take his own life for several months, keeping himself alive only so that he could save his sister by donating a kidney.

The signs were there. 

Too often, our image of what "depression" actually is, is rooted in some kind of parody.  A person who never smiles, someone with visible self-harm scars, who openly talks about wanting to die.  But that is just not always the case.  More often than not, those who are suicidally depressed - particularly men, who have such pressure on them to be "strong" and not show emotion, lest it be confused as "weakness" - keep those horrendous feelings to themselves.  Depression isn't just sadness.  It can - in either gender - present itself as exhaustion, an inability to find enjoyment in things, feeling on edge or anxious, not looking after yourself properly, suffering physical aches and pains or feeling hopeless. What Coronation Street has done is lift the veil on this taboo.  They've broken the silence.  They've shown what happens when a young man, with his whole life ahead of him, keeps his demons bottled up inside and eventually feels so hopeless that he can't go on.  They've shown how suicide affects those left behind.  The anger, confusion, despair and guilt that loved ones feel, when they realise they had no idea of the enormous pain that someone they cared for was keeping to themselves.

This needed to be done.  For every man keeping his feelings inside and contemplating suicide as a way out.  For every person battling depression, who needs to be shown that there is help and support out there, if you speak out (as David did, at the end of the episode).  For every family struggling in the aftermath of a loved one's suicide.

The silence has to be broken.  Only if we speak out about this, provide channels of support and understanding for those in need and break down the stigma attached to mental health issues, can we reduce that horrendous statistic.  84 men per week.  That's twelve men taking their own lives every single day.  One every other hour.

It's time to speak out.  We have to stop the ludicrous idea that men are somehow weak if they show their emotions.  That depression is something that happens to other people, when the truth is, it can affect anyone.

Corrie star Simon Gregson, who plays hapless cabbie Steve McDonald, lashed out this week at a "fan" who ludicrously  claimed that the portrayal of Johnny Connor - Aidan's father - weeping uncontrollably at the suicide of his son, was over the top and "unBritish."  I'm glad Simon responded.  Because that attitude is exactly why this storyline was so important.

It's not "unBritish" to cry, any more than it is "unmanly" to feel lost, depressed or even suicidal.  We have to shake off this toxic masculinity.  It does men no more good than it does women.  It contributes to a culture in which almost half of men who experience depression, feel unable or unwilling to speak to anyone about it, or reach out for help.  That in turn, contributes to our horrendously high suicide rate.  That outdated, pathetic attitude - that men don't cry, that we Brits must always keep a stiff upper lip, even in the face of heart-wrenching tragedy - is causing people to bottle up emotions until they explode.  That attitude is killing people.

I wholeheartedly applaud Coronation Street for their sensitive handling of an incredibly powerful, important subject.  I can't praise the actors, writers and directors enough.  

The silence has been broken.  Let's keep it that way.  If you need help, there is no shame in asking for it.

Let's break the stigma.

Samaritans: Free 24hr telephone number (available 356 days a year): 116 123  Email:

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Bedtime Story (9/2/2018)

Following on from last week's story about a sore throat, I now have some strange looking medicine to take and it has most definitely inspired THIS week's story, too!

As always, the story is also available to listen to as a podcast.

Sid's Medicine

Sid had been poorly in bed all day.
Nothing seemed to be going his way!
His head hurt, his throat hurt, his ears hurt as well.
Would he ever feel better?!  Sid couldn't tell.

But Sid had been to see a doctor, with Dad.
Dad told the doctor that poor Sid felt bad.
Sid had come home with medicine to take.
He hoped swallowing it down would cure every ache!

But when he opened the bottle, Sid frowned.
All his hopes were turned upside down.
The medicine inside had a sickly sweet smell.
It didn't make Sid feel particularly well.

And so "I can't drink this," Sid said,
And he folded his arms and shook his head.
There had to be something else to take, surely?
If this was the only choice, he'd rather stay poorly!

The liquid in the bottle was yellow and pale.
"What if it makes me grow fur and a tail?!
What if I drink it and spots break out on my head?!"
Sid cried out, as he hid in his bed.

"What if I drink this and it makes me sick?
That's no good; I want to get better, and quick!
Can't I go back and see some other nurse?
If I take this medicine, I think I'll feel worse!"

Dad poured some medicine onto a spoon.
"I'm sure you'll be feeling right as rain, soon.
Come on Sid, open up nice and wide!"
Sid clamped his mouth shut, keeping the medicine outside.

"It looks disgusting," Sid said through pressed lips.
"I don't want to take the tiniest of sips.
What if it makes all my hair fall out?"
He added, his face wrinkled with doubt.

"It'll make you better," Dad promised his son.
"Take a spoonful, Sid, please.  Just one!"
Sid pulled a face and turned his head away.
A defiant "no" was all he would say.

But Sid's head was really pounding, now.
He wanted to feel better - and soon - but how?
He took a deep breath and, pale and grim-faced,
Sid gave the medicine one tiny taste.

His eyes opened wide and he swallowed the lot.
"I thought it would be horrid, but it's really not!"
The medicine was actually far from gross!
In fact Sid couldn't wait for his next dose!

And sure enough, the medicine started to work.
Soon, Sid was sat up in bed with a smirk.
There were no nasty side-effects to worry about,
And before long Sid was well enough to play out.

Now Sid follows his doctors' advice to the letter!
He knows if he takes his medicine, he'll get better.
Whether it's gloopy, runny, yellow or brown,
Sid patiently swallows his medicine down.

And that's what all of you should do, too,
If you've got an infection, or even the Flu.
Just swallow that medicine, straight from the spoon,
And you'll be feeling much better, soon!


Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Bedtime Story (2/5/2018)

As I write this, I've been struggling with a sore throat for what feels like MONTHS.  Naturally, it's on my mind a lot, so I figured I'd write a story about it...

The podcast version of this story is here!

Tilly Can't Talk!

Tilly woke up one morning,
Feeling horribly weak.
Her throat felt sore
And when she opened her mouth,
Tilly couldn't speak!

Tilly's eyes bulged wide and then,
She bounded out of her bed.
She swallowed hard,
Then again tried to talk,
But she just squeaked, instead!

When words came out at last,
They sounded as quiet as a mouse.
Tilly's head pounded.
There was a lump in her throat,
As she ran through the house.

She burst into her parents' room,
To try to say what was wrong.
Mum and Dad frowned,
They could barely hear Tilly,
So she stopped trying, before long.

Tilly was told to stay home,
Whilst her sisters went to school.
Her throat really hurt
And not being able to talk
Was by now, definitely not cool.

Tilly tried eating a bowl of ice cream,
To make her throat hurt less.
But she still had pain
And when she'd talk again
Was really anyone's guess!

Tilly wanted to chat to her mum,
Or sing her favourite song.
But her voice was gone
And her throat was so sore,
Tilly wondered what had gone wrong.

Mum took her to a doctor,
Who made Tilly try to say "aah."
Her throat was red,
The nice doctor said.
Redder than it should be, by far!

So, Tilly was given medicine
And told to go back to bed.
She still couldn't talk,
So she just went to sleep,
In the hope of mending her head.

It was very quiet that day,
With Tilly not making a peep.
She didn't talk or sing,
She just read her books,
In between dreamless sleep.

Tilly didn't like not having a voice.
It made her feel all alone.
Nobody knew
What she was trying to say
And she got bored of being at home.

She got bored of medicine
And of not being able to sing.
She even got bored
Of eating ice cream,
If you can imagine such a thing!

She hated flapping her arms about,
To make clear what she wanted to say.
She missed talking
To her sisters at home
And her friends at school, through the day.

Tilly hadn't realised just how much
She relied on being able to speak.
She wanted nothing else
Than to get her voice back.
Without it, the future seemed bleak.

So, imagine the joy a few days later,
When Tilly awoke with her voice!
She talked, sang and shouted
And everyone listened
- they didn't have much of a choice!

It felt so good to talk again,
And for her throat to not feel sore.
Tilly rejoiced
In her newfound voice
And would do so forever more!


Sunday, 29 April 2018

We Need To Hang On To Our NHS

"Don't bother coming with me," Dad told Mum, when his appointment for a pacemaker check came through the post.  "It's a bit earlier than expected, but it's just routine."

Nobody thought any more of it, really.  Sure, we hadn't thought Dad would need a pacemaker check for several months, yet, but at least they were keeping an eye on him.  So, it came as something of a shock when, on the day of his appointment, Dad phoned home to tell us he was being admitted as an emergency.

It turned out that there had been some software glitches and the hospital had called Dad in earlier than planned, in order to ensure the software in his pacemaker was working properly and sending out the correct readings.  Sure enough, his software was working fine, but the technician checking it spotted that the readings themselves didn't look right.  A medic was called.  Tests were done.  It was concluded that a wire had frayed and come away, meaning there was a danger of the pacemaker not working properly, or stopping altogether.  For reference, Dad's heart doesn't work without a pacemaker.  If the pacemaker stopped, he would stop, unless he was in a place where he had medics on hand to pace his heart externally until surgery could be carried out.  Had there not been a software glitch that meant he was called in much earlier than expected for a check-up, the wire could have come apart completely at any time, causing the pacemaker to fail and that would have been it.

The stress caused to everyone in a family when someone has an unexpected medical emergency is huge.  You worry about whether they're going to be okay.  For us, distance was an issue, too - we live 40 miles away from the hospital he was admitted to, so it wasn't a quick trip to get there.  You panic about the practicalities; calling people to let them know someone won't be at work or at a planned event.  Explaining what's happened, to other family members.  

The one thing we didn't have to worry about was the cost of Dad's treatment.

That's because our National Health Service provides free healthcare for all.  Unlike systems such as the one used in America, where rising insurance premiums mean that millions of people cannot afford health care and will sometimes even neglect symptoms rather than face enormous costs for their treatment, at no point during Dad's hospital stay (8 days), did we have to work out the cost of his tests, his eventual surgery or any additional medication he may have been given during his time there.  We didn't have to worry about something not being covered by our health insurance package.  We didn't have to fret that his sudden medical emergency was going to lead to a financial crisis for our family.

And that is how it SHOULD be.

Our National Health Service was set up to provide universal health care, free at the point of use.  Whoever you are, whatever your financial situation, you can walk into a hospital and receive treatment, without any financial burden to you or your family.

Back in February, Donald Trump tweeted that the UK system was "going broke and not working" and used it as an example of why America should not follow suit and have a free, universal healthcare system.  He claimed the people of the UK were marching in the streets because our system is not working.  He was wrong.  

The people were marching to protect our NHS.  They were marching because they love our NHS and are proud of it.  They were marching because we need to hang on to it.  Yes there are problems with the system, yes it is suffering from being underfunded, from staffing cuts and from the threat of privatisation, but free, universal healthcare is something the people marching on the streets wanted to defend, not curse.

Our health service should never be a privatised organisation, driven by profits, rather than patient care.  Our health service should be a system in which patients are safe and those who work tirelessly to treat patients are rewarded with equally safe working conditions and a decent level of pay.

Yes, there are problems.  The NHS has been hacked at by a succession of governments who have not protected it the way it deserves.  The threat of privatisation looms large and there is an understandable fear that companies rivalling one another for NHS contracts will not result in greater choice for patients, but a system which values profits, first and foremost.

During Dad's 8 day stay in hospital, we saw staff working long shifts, showing extraordinary dedication.  We saw nurses and doctors going above and beyond for their patients.

We also saw technicians having to work as porters, because there were no porters available, thus cutting down the number of scans etc that those technicians were able to carry out.  We saw the frustration etched on the faces of hardworking medical professionals, who were having to send home people who needed treatment, because there simply wasn't the space for them.

The right wing press will insist that the strain on our health service is caused by so-called "health tourism" and excessive levels of immigration.  But we live in an ageing population.  A growing society.  Our health service hasn't been given the funds to catch up with those things.  The truth is, there's not merely one reason our NHS has been struggling.  The reasons are multiple.  But the answer is not privatisation.  The answer is not a system in which the poorest in society cannot afford to become ill.

During Dad's 8 day stay in hospital, my mum worked out that she'd probably paid well in excess of £50 just on parking.  All of that goes to a private company - the NHS doesn't see a penny.  Why?  Why can't we have a percentage of the ludicrous fees charged to park outside a hospital put back into the hospital itself?  It wouldn't feel so galling to spend £6 to sit by your sick relative's bed for a few hours, if you knew some of that money would eventually go towards the care of patients.

Taxation is the main way the government are likely to find extra cash for the NHS and I was one of the people who fully agreed with the Lib Dem's suggestion of adding an extra 1p in every pound onto income tax, to be spent on the health service.  It needs funding.  It has to be protected.

People like Trump might think a free healthcare system is something terrible.  Something to be mocked.  But they misunderstand.  A healthcare system which is universal and free at the point of delivery is something to be so, so proud of.  It's just that you have to look after it and keep it properly funded in order to keep it working.  And that's where governments have failed our NHS.  They've not listened to those working within it.  They've penny-pinched.

Those whose jobs involve looking after patients just want a better system to work in.  We spoke to one nurse on the day Dad was admitted, who confessed: "If you come into this job for the money, you're going to be disappointed.  But then again, if you come into it for the money, you're not the right person to be doing this job, full stop.  It's about wanting to help people.  It's about caring.  I'd rather any money went on equipment and employing extra staff, than getting a huge pay rise for me."

But for all the complaining I have done - and will do - about cuts to services, underfunding and waiting times etc, I still feel passionately proud of our FREE National Health Service.

Yesterday, I was in a car accident (yeah, it's been a great couple of weeks!).  The car was drivable, I made an insurance claim and figured I was fine.  Within hours, I started to get sharp pains down my spine and across my neck and shoulders.  By this morning, it was really hurting.  So, I nipped to my local Minor Injuries Unit, where I was checked over by a nurse, given painkillers and advised as to how best to treat the acute neck sprain caused by the crash.  

I didn't pay a single penny.

When someone you love becomes unwell - or, indeed, when you are taken ill - there is enough to worry about, without also panicking about the mounting cost of treatment, potentially running into thousands.  Free healthcare is something to be so proud of.  

We must hang onto our NHS with everything we've got.  

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Bedtime Story (25/04/2018)

Sometimes, a story is inspired by the strangest things.  In this case, today's story was inspired by the above gif, which is just so deliciously satisfying, I felt the need to stare at it for a long, long time!

If you'd rather listen to this story as a podcast, just click here!


Outside, the rain was pouring.  Annie and her sister, Bella, were feeling bored.  Their mum had a cold and was napping on the sofa, so Annie, who at almost nine was the oldest, was in charge.  Mum had put on a DVD for the girls to watch, but Annie wasn't interested in it and Bella kept moaning that she was hungry.

"Shall we bake some cookies?"  Annie suggested, the idea suddenly popping into her head.  

Bella frowned and gestured towards their sleeping mother.  "We said we'd stay here, watching the film.  Besides, we're not allowed to touch the oven."

Annie shrugged.  "We'll use the microwave, then," she said.  "Anyway, Mum's tired and not feeling well.  If we go into the kitchen, we won't be in here to disturb her.  And when she wakes up, she'll have some delicious cookies to eat!"

Bella was hungry and the thought of freshly baked cookies was too much to resist.  She quickly nodded and followed Annie into the kitchen.  "Shall I get one of Mum's recipe books down from the shelf?"  She asked, reaching for a stool to stand on.

Annie shook her head.  "We made cookies at school a while ago," she said.  "I think I remember how to do it.  We need flour, first."

She reached into a cupboard and pulled out a bag of flour.  The bag was heavy and the side split as Annie heaved it onto the kitchen counter, sending clouds of flour all over the place.  When the floury dust had finally settled, Annie's hair looked white.

"What do we do now?"  Bella asked.

"Mix the flour with some butter," Annie said, knowingly.  She wasn't sure how much of the flour they needed, so she tipped half the bag into a mixing bowl, creating another cloud in the process.  She didn't quite know how much butter to use either, so she instructed Bella to "finish whatever's in the tub - we've got another one in the fridge, anyway."

It was hard work, trying to mix the flour and butter together.  "It went all creamy when we did it at school," Annie insisted.  "This looks more like breadcrumbs..."

"Are you sure it was flour and butter you mixed together?"  Bella asked, frowning as she watched her sister trying to mix the ingredients with a big, wooden spoon.

"Oh," Annie blushed.  "Actually...  It might have been sugar and butter, instead."  She turned to her sister.  "Quick, get the sugar out of the cupboard!  I'll tip it in, now."

"How much do you need?"  Bella asked, grabbing the sugar.  "All of it?!"

Annie shook her head.  "Let's try one spoonful for every cookie we want to make."  She paused and stared into the bowl.  "How many do we want to make?"

Bella counted on her fingers.  "Well, one for me, one for you, one for Mum, one for Dad when he gets home from work...  And maybe one for Granny and Grandad when they visit at the weekend?  That makes six."

Annie frowned at her sister.  "Do you really only want one cookie?!"  She plucked a random number out of the air.  "Let's put in twenty five spoonfuls.  Then we'll have loads of cookies to share."

It took a long time, adding all the spoonfuls of sugar.  Annie let Bella do it and her hands were a bit shaky, so lots of sugar ended up all over the counter and the kitchen floor.  When they'd finally reached twenty five, Annie started stirring again.  The mixture seemed ever so dry.  It wasn't sticking together at all.

"Isn't the dough supposed to be a bit wetter than this?"  Bella asked.  "Are we supposed to add some milk or something?"

Annie shrugged.  "Maybe?"  She bit her lip.  "Perhaps we should add some, just in case."

Bella fetched the milk bottle from the fridge and poured some into the bowl.  But no matter how hard Annie stirred, the mixture just wasn't sticking together, properly.  "Eggs!"  Annie cried, suddenly.  "I think we used eggs at school!"  She grabbed two eggs and passed them to Bella.  "Crack those into the bowl and I'll keep stirring."

Bella did as she was told, but she'd never cracked an egg, before.  She wasn't sure how to do it.  She hit an egg against the rim of the bowl, like she'd seen Mum do, sometimes.  But the shell didn't break.  "This is a very hard egg," Bella groaned.  She tried again, hitting it harder, this time.  "It won't crack!"  Finally, Bella tried tapping it against the kitchen counter.  That worked!  The shell split open and egg yolk and sticky see-through stuff went seeping out all over the place.

"Quick," Annie yelled.  "Try to catch it so you can put it in the bowl!"

Bella grabbed at the slimy stuff and dribbled it through her fingers into the bowl.  Or rather, she dribbled as much of it as she could actually catch, anyway.  "My hands feel yucky now," she moaned.  "I think we'll only use one egg.  I don't want to do that again."

The kitchen counter was now very messy.  The spilt flour and sugar was mixing with the egg and creating a strange, sticky paste.  And try as Annie might, the mixture in the bowl still wasn't sticking together the way it was supposed to.  It had gone from being too dry, to looking suspiciously like it might be too wet.

"We need some chocolate chips," Annie decided.  "That might make it go thicker."

"Do we have any chocolate chips?"  Bella asked.

Annie wasn't sure.  "We do have some chocolate bars," she told her sister.  "Maybe we can break those up and stick the pieces into the bowl?"

Bella fetched the bars and unwrapped one.  She and Annie broke several big pieces off and chucked them into the mixing bowl.  Annie stirred with her spoon, until she decided enough was enough: "It'll go thicker when it cooks," she declared.  "We just need to put blobs on a plate and we'll cook it in the microwave.  That way, we haven't touched the oven, so Mum can't be cross."

Bella held out a plate, whilst Annie splatted small spoonfuls of the mixture onto it.  The mixture immediately spread around and joined together.  Bella frowned.  "Maybe we'll just make one big cookie?!"

Annie placed the plate into the microwave.  "How long do cookies need to bake for?"  She asked to nobody in particular.  "I think maybe half an hour?"  She fiddled with the dial on the microwave, then pressed the start button.

After a couple of minutes, a strange smell came from the microwave.  And the runny mixture on the plate seemed to be seeping over the edges and out of the microwave door.  "Uh-oh," Annie frowned.  "We'll need to clean that up, before..."

"Before what?!"  Mum's voice jolted the girls out of their thoughts.  Mum glanced around the kitchen, at the spilt flour, the sugar and egg all over the counter and the gloopy mess coming out of the microwave.  "Girls, haven't I always told you not to try to cook anything, without me?!  It's not safe!"  She paused, shaking her head at all the mess.  "What were you even trying to do?!"

"Bake cookies," Bella sighed.  "Annie thought she could remember the recipe, but..."

Mum chuckled to herself.  "You're very lucky that strange smell woke me up," she said.  "I mean it, you mustn't touch the microwave again, until you're old enough to know what you're doing."

"Sorry Mum," Annie mumbled.  "We were just trying to bake some cookies to cheer you up, because you weren't feeling well..."

Mum smiled.  "Well, I'm feeling lots better, now," she assured them.  "And cookies sound wonderful.  Why don't we clear all this mess up and start again from scratch?"

Both the girls thought that was a wonderful idea!

Once the kitchen was clean again, Mum showed them how to cream butter and sugar together.  She demonstrated how to properly - gently - crack an egg into a bowl.  She taught them how to follow a recipe and use the scales to make sure they had the right amount of everything.  Before long, they were all sitting back on the sofa, eating warm chocolate chip cookies, fresh out of the oven.

"These are delicious," Bella grinned.  

"See how well things turn out when you do them properly?!"  Mum laughed.

Annie rolled her eyes.  "I think my cookies would have been fine, if I'd just remembered what order the ingredients went," she insisted.  "And anyway, I helped make these, so I must be quite good at baking."  She sighed to herself.  "I think I'll try making a cake, next."

Mum and Bella grinned at one another.  "Have another cookie, Annie," Mum said.  "I think we've all earned them."