Life Is Story and Stories Are Everywhere

Just recently I penned a guest post for another blog, the topic of which was the reason I write. I know people write for many, many complex reasons, and I think there is more than one reason that compels me to make up stories, but certainly one of the biggest reasons is simply to live more lives. To become other people, to step into their shoes, to create them and control them, to live with them and die with them. It’s the same reason I read, I guess. So that I’m not just me, living this one life.

What I also notice, as I go through my one, short life, punctuated by the lives of the people and worlds I have lovingly created, is how stories are everywhere. How they make up our lives and our worlds, and our day to day existence. Maybe you don’t always notice them, but if you look, stories are everywhere. Everything is, in fact, a story. Or at least, the potential for one. The inspiration for one.

When you get an idea for a story, it’s because you asked a question. You asked, what if? You asked, why? You asked, what is going on here? And you wanted to know the answers to those questions, so you made some up.

Children are wonderful at doing this. Natural play in childhood is nothing but stories and make-believe. I find this utterly enchanting. How they lose themselves completely in made-up worlds. These worlds and stories might make no sense at all to us, the adults, but to them they do. They set them up and let them roll. They start them out of nothing, out of the thin blue air. And they carry them on, for weeks, sometimes years.

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Look at this Playmobil set up. My 3-year-old got given a box of the stuff this week but it was his 10-year-old brother and 13-year-old sister who set it all up like this. I walked past it while tidying up and found myself wondering what was going on. There is one fellow, an outlaw, tied to the roof of a wagon, for instance, and I wanted to know why. There are a lot of rifles placed on a table in the sheriff’s office, and this was also obviously part of the story. The kids had dinner and went back to the Playmobil. I had to do other things, but I would have loved to know what happened next to all these people! This might look like play, and it is, but it’s also a story in action, one that I am sure will develop over the next few days.

A few days ago my youngest sat down to do some drawings on his chalkboard. I wasn’t allowed to join in, I was only allowed to watch. He started drawing big circles and little circles with lines joining them, up. He chatted to himself and when I asked about it, he gave the circles all names like Hop and Plop and Poop and said they were all holding hands because they were friends. They didn’t have faces, but some did have bananas! He then drew a square around them all and said they had gone into a house. This went on for a while, with my son adding further layers to the story. It was a lovely moment, art and storytelling interlinked quite naturally!

Children are just natural storytellers, and we should notice and cherish and encourage this as much as possible. Tonight, one of my older sons early creations, came back to visit us, and I was once again reminded how naturally children construct stories and carry them on through their lives.

When he was almost three, my older son used to get scared at night and get into our bed. We would ask him about this and he would talk about odd little creatures he called the Muckoos. In the day, his sisters would question him, and he would describe them in ever greater detail. (They were small and spiky and multi-coloured and liked to steal biscuits) They also kept him awake at night with their noise and they did lots of naughty things around the house. As the story grew among us all, my son started blaming the Muckoos when things went wrong. I wrote a story about it at the time, which I still have, and may one day do something with!

I’ve never forgotten the Muckoos, and I quite often call my littlest son a Muckoo, as in my mind it sums up a small child, mucky and messy and troublesome and cheeky! I sometimes call him Muckoo Madness, and he will retort; I am not Muckoo Madness!

Anyway, sometimes we have trouble getting the littlest one to bed, and my older son has been helping out the last few nights, by pretending to be a creature called Gavin, who loves stories. This in itself, is just gorgeous. He insists on sitting on a pillow on one side of me, while his little brother sits on the other side. They both get toys to cuddle and we all choose one book to read. Then ‘Gavin’ has to go back to his cave, and my little son happily goes to bed. What a way to use storytelling to encourage a young child to sit still and listen to stories! Tonight, my older son remembered the Muckoos, and ‘Gavin’ told us he was a Muckoo, in fact, the last of his kind. Quite a poignant moment, I felt! It was magical to witness this ‘story’ resurfacing after so many years and I am quite convinced it will continue to develop further layers and complexities…

And for anyone wondering what the last Muckoo looks like, my oldest son agreed to draw one for you!

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Reasons To Be Cheerful

It’s a tense time right now in the UK. The nation has felt divided since Brexit and the looming snap election has opened that wound and stabbed it with a dirty stick. My personal Facebook page is an endless landslide of anger, fear and finger pointing. And yes, I’m finger pointing too. I’m as angry as the next person and truly believe our country needs to vote in favour of hope and change. But this is not a political post. Nor a negative one. I need a break from all of that and decided to write a post about the things that make me cheerful. And not just cheerful, but bloody glad to be alive…

Walking barefoot

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We all did this when we were little kids. We didn’t think twice about it. We had to be reminded and nagged to put our shoes on before we went outside. Now people think you’re weird if they see you walking around without shoes on. But being barefoot makes me feel happy. It makes me feel calm, safe and grounded to feel the warm earth or the wet grass under my toes. It makes me feel somehow looser, sillier, younger and freer. Try it some time. I do it whenever I can. I truly believe in some powerful way it helps you to feel reconnected to the earth and to nature. And we could all do with a bit of that.

Cake

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Tea and cake. Coffee and cake. Wine and cake. Take your pick but make sure there is definitely cake. A nice big flat slab of it. Any cake will do. Me, I’m not fussy. (Unless it’s banana, ugh) Apple cake, carrot cake, coffee cake, fruit cake. Every now and then only a big fat squashy chocolate cake will do. The kind you get all over your face while eating. I think cake is another thing that makes me feel like a little kid. The whole act of making one, from cracking the eggs against the side of the bowl, to shaking the flour through the sieve, to sitting on the doorstep to lick the bowl out afterward. Happy times. I find making a cake cheers me up. I find eating cake has the same effect. Win, win.

Watching Children Play

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I mean the kind that doesn’t involve adults. Just little kids playing like no one is watching. Just totally lost in their own little worlds. Whether it’s building Lego, or pushing cars about, or making little figures move around. I find it spellbinding. I sometimes catch my little one holding two cars or two dinosaurs and making them talk to each other. ‘Hello’ says one, ‘hello’ says the other. There might be a bit more chat before it descends into a language only he can understand. It’s magical to me that he’s totally happy to be alone, to be playing with something he chose, to be directing that play the way his developing mind sees fit, and that it is all totally real to him. Warms me up no end.

Greenery

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This is one of my photos from the lane I walk down every day. At this time of year from one end to the other, it’s like a tunnel of green. There are Oaks on both sides, gigantic majestic relics of yesteryear, spreading their arms across to the other side, shading the way. Splashes of colour from rhododendron, dandelions, daisies, dead nettles and pink clover. Bees humming through the wild flowers. Pigeons cooing on the telephone wires. Crows flapping past in two’s and threes. And when I turn my head, wherever I look I see a wall of green. So much green. It’s the same in my garden, due to the trees we have and the trees around the area. They are all so huge that my windows are filled with green. It makes me feel like I can breathe easier, just knowing they are there.

Singing Loudly To Music

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I do this whenever I can and I have the worst voice ever. In the car, once the kids have been deposited and there is no risk of me embarrassing or deafening them, I turn it up loud and sing along. When I’m cooking the dinner, I put on an old CD, turn it up and dance around the kitchen while singing at the top of my voice. The best thing about music is the way it installs memories in your brain that will then later be exploded every time you hear that song. Tastes, smells, sounds, emotions, all will come rushing back in a an overload of nostalgia. Plus, singing and dancing cheer me up. As long as no one is watching or listening!

Night Skies

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I’m lucky that I live in a beautiful place with a beautiful garden, but wherever you are in the world, you can go outside at night and look at the sky. This always cheers me up and calms me down. Like walking barefoot in the day, sitting up to watch the sunset or lying on the ground under the stars, is the best way to feel reconnected to the earth. It just makes me feel steady and still. Sometimes I feel like the day belongs to the people, and the night belongs to the animals. It feels a bit like trespassing to sit and enjoy it with them.

Dreams

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When I was a little kid I dreamed about being a writer. I also dreamed about being a mother and working with animals. All of these dreams have come true. But you never drop dreaming, or at least you shouldn’t. I dream of writing more books and of writing the one that sees me find true success. I also dream of owning a vintage VW Campervan. A real old style hippy bus. I’d like to live in it eventually and leave the house to the kids if they need it. But before that, I want to go travelling. I want to jump in the van every single weekend with the husband the kids and the dogs and go somewhere we have never been before. I want to work our way all around the UK and then move on to Europe. I want it to have crochet blankets and wind chimes and lots of cushions! We’ve been saving up for nearly three years now. It’s a family thing. we’ll get there one day!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my personal reasons to be cheerful list. There are so many more things I could have added it to it, like reading and writing, gardening and going to see live music. How about you? What cheers you up when the world feels like a scary place? What’s on your reasons to be cheerful list? Please feel free to comment and share!

My Shit Tree…And Other Christmas Let-Downs

I blame the perfect people of Facebook and their perfect trees and decorations. I mean, once upon a time, when there was no such thing as social mediawe didn’t know what anyone’s house looked like at Christmas unless we visited them. Although, I suppose, to be fair, there have always been those treacly Christmas movies, with their perfect trees and perfect families. But these days it’s pushed into your face even more and  we know what everyone’s Christmas tree looks like. And they are all gorgeous, and evenly balanced, with matching decorations and a colour theme. The lights hang perfectly, looking like they are a part of the tree, not some extra tangled mishap that’s been thrown on in some haphazard manner.

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My tree looks like…well, it never looks like the picture I have in my head. This current one looked awesome in the shop (my 9-year-old chose it) but when I got it home, I realised the trunk was too short and stubby at the bottom and would result in the heavy tree falling over in the pot. (Been there, done that.) That’s okay, I cheered, while my cynical, Christmas-hating husband looked on, I just have to lop some branches off the bottom! He left me to it, and once I’d trimmed it, I found the giant pot that sits by the back door waiting to come in every year and started to dig the weeds out of the dirt. I released a few worms and checked there were no slugs or snails on the bottom, and then I lugged it in through the back door and positioned it proudly on the carefully laid out Christmas wrapping paper.(Every year I promise myself a proper tree skirt AND a little wooden train going around…) All good so far! I was feeling all excited and festive. I wanted to get it up with the lights on before my son got back from school, so he could do the rest of the decorations. I dragged in the tree and husband dutifully held it in place while I shoveled dirt back around it.

And inevitably it leaned a bit, so I fiddled some more, added more dirt and some bricks for good measure, and said aloud to my husband; every single year I say I am going to buy a tree stand and every year I don’t and use this same old annoying pot. Then my poorly 12 year old looks up from the sofa and claims; ‘the problem is, it is not a very neat tree.’

No. Well, real trees are not ‘neat’ are they? That’s what we love about them! They’re bushy and fragrant and real! They come in all shapes and sizes and that’s what we like! It’s interesting!

Refusing to be beaten by cynics, I set about sorting the lights. Two sets worked but had become so entangled I swear to God they have actually fused together and become one. I gave up on them before I got too angry. Another set didn’t work. I plugged in a brand new set I purchased from eBay last January (yes, January!!) when I was searching online for lights that looked really traditional. I found these beautiful lights from America, with ceramic bulbs! It wasn’t until they arrived that I realised our plugs are different. Not to be deterred I purchased what I believed to be the correct adaptor, but when I plugged it in, the whole thing blew up.

Well, I’m sure I’ll definitely get around to fixing that one day and won’t have wasted any money whatsoever.

But for now, luckily, I had purchased another set of star shaped lights this morning at a bargain price, plus they are battery operated! Yay me. I put them on and they looked fantastic. But they also looked sort of out of place among the other smaller lights. Never mind maybe I will grab another pack next time I’m there?

On with the rest of the lights. One twinkly multicoloured pack also battery operated and work! One ancient pack, they work, but only some come on, but oh well, stick it on anyway. How the hell do other people wrap lights around trees? I look forward to doing it and then start hating it right away. There is never a branch where you need one to be! You can see way too much wire. I end up with bare areas no matter how hard I try to distribute them evenly. I thought I liked it until my daughter told me to look at it from where she was sat. Where it looked crap.

Disheartened I turned them all off and decided to forget about it for now. In my head I was thinking, isn’t this the same thing that happens year after year? It’s like Groundhog Christmas for me. Every year I do the same thing. I promise myself next year I will get the best tree ever. I will buy more lights, because more lights is surely the answer and I never seem to have enough lights or remember how many lights will not work or be tangled together never to be parted again. And I think about all the lovely trees I have seen in shops, on TV and on Facebook, and I long for the same look, the same feel, and I make plans to achieve it.

And yes I actually do make plans. I have a little Christmas notebook I write in all year, adding presents when I buy them so I can tick them off. Last year I decided I wanted this year to be much more traditional and home made in look and feel, hence the sought out bulb shaped lights. It was going to be home-made this and home-made that, old fashioned and cosy. With paper chains and paper snowflakes and even home-made crackers on the list.

Why do I already feel like that picture is slipping away from me?

Because my tree looks shit.

And money has done that thing it does so magnificently at this time of year. You know, vanishing, drying up, running out, backing off, hiding. It does then suddenly start to get stressful, and I feel angry with myself again because last year I promised myself as usual that this year would be different. I would buy more throughout the year and would avoid a last minute financial meltdown.

Why am I always searching for the perfect Christmas?

I suppose they sell it to us, don’t they? In movies, and in adverts, (God don’t even get me started on those bloody adverts), and in shops and catalogues. And I’ve saved about a million different recipes about how to cook the perfect dinner because of course I will do it this year, because after last year I promised myself I would! (When serving Christmas dinner I lose the ability to count, often forgetting to serve one person, or like last year, dishing up an entire plate for an extra person who did not exist.)

When I look back on all the Christmassses of the past and I try to work out what made them great, or okay, or even terrible, it’s strange what actually comes up. I can remember some awesome Christmassses. When I was about seven or eight and it felt like the presents under the tree were a mountain. I got a Charmkins house and  My Little Pony stable, and a great big rag doll. I’ve seen the photos. We were all very, very happy. When I was ten I got a flufy tiger and sat on the landing after we’d been sent to bed, listening to the adults still talking and laughing, and feeling sad that Christmas was over. I remember sitting by the tree and staring at the lights, feeling dazzled by them, like I might cry. The best things were stuff we weren’t normally allowed like fizzy drinks and sweets and chocolates, and everyone watching TV together, and passing them around and having extra people in the house like grandparents and funny uncles.

I can only really remember two really sad Christmases. They were both terrible and heartbreaking for very different reasons. The kind of things you think at the time will mean you will never enjoy Christmas again.

But you do. Our first Christmas as a family was one of the best ever. Our first daughter was only 4 months old and everything was just so exciting. Another one I remember as being above and beyond was our first in this house, after a terrible year of things going wrong, we were finally settled and secure, and the kids all had bean bags and we had this dopey foster puppy with us, and I can just remember us all sprawled out, or cuddled up.

Last year was pretty damn good from start to finish, yet as normal, there I went again afterwards, scribbling in my book, trying to plan it better for this year, trying to achieve that elusive stage of perfection I seem to see all over my Facebook feed and on TV.

But maybe it’s good to stop and think and try to remember the ones that counted. Why they were sad, or why they were amazing, had nothing to do with trees, or lights, or crackers or food. It was only ever to do with the people you love.

So, in tribute to this and to them, my loved ones, my family, I will endeavour from this moment on to forget about the lop sided, leaning tree with its mismatched only half working lights, and forget about the plans to collect holly and ivy and spray fir cones and make centre pieces, and name plates, and I will forget about how beautiful other people’s trees and houses look compared to mine, and I will just relax. Love my shit tree and everything else that will inevitably go wrong at this strange time of year. I will accept my shit tree and concentrate on the people, knowing that in their little eyes, every Christmas tree is amazing and beautiful, and every wrapped present exciting, and that just being together is all any of us ever really want.

And when it is all over, I will try really really hard not to think about how much better it could have been, if only…