She walked the streets not knowing where to go or what to do

She walked the streets not knowing where to go or what to do. The White Lion pub – she used to go there in her college days. Good times. But it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to go in there now. She kept walking.
A trendy cafe, full of people in suits with ironic hair-dos. She didn’t think she’d fit in. She kept walking. A beautiful LBD in a shop window- she used to be that size. Now she’d be lucky to fit a wobbly thigh in.
There was a library- she could have a quick browse and see if there was anything that TJ might like. But what was the point? She never got a chance to read these days anyway. But reading was good- better than hours of daytime telly anyway. Ok, she would have a look.
She struggled with the doors until an old man came to her aid.
“Thank you.” She smiled.
He was the first person that she had spoken to all day. Ben had woken up and rushed to work soon after she’d fallen asleep. She’d had a whole 3 hours last night- the longest night’s sleep in a while.
Melissa never thought that she would be so lonely. People said that these were the happiest years of her life- but it didn’t feel like it. She felt old. And so, so tired.
She went to the crime fiction section. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d read a whole novel. Trashy magazines were her reading option of choice now.
She picked up the latest bestseller. It had to be returned in two weeks’ time. She nearly laughed- she’d never manage a book in that amount of time! She flicked through the pages, it looked like a good read. Maybe one day.
She wondered over to some books that TJ would like. She picked one up. It was about transport. Not many words, although the pictures were pretty good. She showed him a picture of a motorbike.
“Motorbike.” She told him.
He did not look impressed.
Maybe not. She found a book about dogs. She showed him a picture of a Dalmatian.
“Woof woof.” She barked.
He cried.
Maybe he was hungry? A woman and her 3-year-old walked past. The mother looked sympathetic.
“Is he hungry?” She asked.
“Um, I guess so.”
Shouldn’t she know if he was hungry? She felt stupid.
“Well, when was the last time he ate?” Asked the mother.
“Um, breakfast – at about 8.”
“Oh, yeah he’s probably hungry. It’s gone 11. I would feed him now before he starts to scream if I were you.”
Melissa started to feel anxious. Where would she feed him? Was in the library ok?
“Um, do you think I could feed him in here? Or should I find a special room?” She asked.
“You don’t need a special room! You can feed him anywhere you want to. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
Melissa wished that she had half as much confidence. She looked for a place to sit down. There was a cafe- she probably had to buy something to sit there though.
TJ started to scream. An old woman walked past and tutted loudly.
She felt flustered. Did everyone think she was a useless Mum? She hurried over to the library cafe and ordered a latte. The barista took ages to make it. She wished he would hurry up. TJ was drawing a lot of attention.
“Is he tired?” Asked a woman with a purple scarf who was sitting nearby.
“Oh, um, he could be… I think he needs his lunch.” Melissa replied.
She was finally handed her coffee and found a table to sit at. She got TJ out of his pram. He wriggled and yowled angrily.
“He’s going to be a singer with those lungs.” Commented the scarf lady.

Melissa smiled thinly. Now she had to try to feed him. It felt like everyone in the cafe was watching her, waiting for her to make a mistake. She tried to be subtle, but he was so loud. She slipped her t-shirt up carefully, so as not to expose too much flesh, and he thankfully attached quickly.
“We used to nurse in private in our day.” Muttered a woman eating chips at a nearby table to her husband.
Her husband nodded and continued reading the Sun.
Melissa allowed herself to relax a little as her son fed. She reached for her latte and sipped – ah, it was so nice to have a hot drink when it was actually hot.
“How old is he?” Asked the scarf lady.
“Five months.”
“Ah. A lovely age. I remember mine like it was just yesterday. Is he your first?”
“Yes,” replied Melissa, “can you tell?”
“Aha! Oh well, no, I mean, yes. You do seem a little nervous. Try not to worry too much about what other people think. You are his Mum and you know best.”
“Thank you.” This time, Melissa’s smile was genuine.
The chip lady frowned at her.
“How many children do you have?” Melissa asked scarf lady.
“Four. Two boys and two girls. And also five grandchildren.”
“Wow. Four children! How did you stay sane?”
“I’m not sure I did! It was easier in some ways back then. We didn’t have books and TV programmes telling us what we were doing wrong all the time. And our Mums and other family lived nearby, always happy to help with babysitting.”
“Yes, you were lucky. My parents live a few hours’ drive away. And my brother and his partner don’t have kids yet – and they don’t do babysitting.”
TJ stopped feeding and cried.
Oh no, what’s wrong now? Melissa wondered to herself.
“Could he have trapped wind?” Asked the scarf lady.
“You could be right.”

Melissa burped him gently.
The scarf lady got up to go.
“Think of these precious years as an amazing adventure. And the perfect parent doesn’t exist – no matter what the books say.”

Melissa was suddenly ravenous. When was the last time she’d eaten? Midnight last night she remembered – some crisps.
Two yummy mummies pushing designer pushchairs holding cherubic sleeping babies walked in and sat down.
“Get me a peppermint tea please?” Yummy Mummy One asked her friend, who went to the counter.
“Sure, any food?” Asked Yummy Mummy Two.
“You have got to be joking – I’m on a diet.” She replied, pulling out the latest i-phone and furiously tapping the keys.
“Ah, I am so tired from that class! Who’d have thought that Mum- and baby pilates would be such hard work?” She asked her friend.
“I know, darling. My abs are killing me.” She sat down and got a gossip magazine from her snake-skin handbag.
“Oh my gosh! Look at Lady Tabitha Parkinson-Whattingley! She’s positively obese after giving birth. The poor cow.” Laughed Yummy Mummy Two.
“Let me see… wow, she’s got to be at least a size 14. Didn’t she have the baby three months ago?” Asked a shocked Yummy Mummy One.
“I know. She’s obviously let herself go.”

Melissa looked down at her saggy tummy underneath an old grey jumper. Some baby sick added to the look. Suddenly she didn’t feel very hungry. She put a now sleeping TJ in his pram and quickly left.
As she headed for the bus, she passed a poster of a skinny twenty-something in lace underwear holding a tiny baby. She sighed.
“Just remember – the perfect parent doesn’t exist.” She told herself.

She looked down at her sleeping son – he was almost perfect, even though he was very loud and not a fan of sleep. She was on an adventure- a surprising one, a messy one, but an amazing one.


Once upon a time

Tell us about something that happened to you in real life last week — but write it in the style of a fairy tale.

Now it came to pass that one day Princess Alexandra felt ill and struggled to catch her breath. This did not please her.So she visited Ignelda the medicine woman who lived at the end of the village, near the enchanted forest.

The cottage was most strange, covered as it was in animal furs and unusual plant life. The door was oaken with a large brass frog-shaped knocker.

Alexandra the princess knocked. Soon an elderly lady wearing only purple opened the door. A white cat encircled her booted feet.

“Aha. I was expecting you.” Announced the woman. “Please come in.”

The princess explained her illness.

“Have you ever smoked?” Enquired the crone.

“No, never.” Replied Alexandra.

“Drink this my dear,” requested the medicine woman.

The princess drank the foul-tasting brew.

“Yuk!” Complained Princess Alexandra. “What’s in this? Frog’s eye or newt stomach or something?”

“Indeed,” replied Ignelda.

The princess pulled a face.

“Now please lie down on my couch and close your eyes whilst I examine your inhalations.” Asked the medicine woman.

Princess Alexandra lay down with a sigh.

Ignelda muttered some incantations and wafted floral scent. She then pressed gently on the royal’s chest and placed her ear closely to Alexandra’s mouth, the better to hear her inhalations.

After some time, the medicine woman declared that she had the solution.
She reached from a high shelf for a dusty blue bottle in a tear-drop shape.

“Drink a sip of this potion twice a day, once as soon as you wake and once before you fall asleep. Your breathing will improve.”

“Thank you.” Said the princess. “What shall I pay you for your trouble?”

“I would like that necklace.”

Princess Alexandra reluctantly removed the silver chain from around her neck and passed it to the old woman. It was one of her favourites and glinted with an ethereal light in the gloom of the cottage.

“Many thanks.” Grinned Ignelda. “And remember, don’t smoke.”

Princess Alexandra bid her farewell, clutching the blue receptacle.

As she left, she noticed a dwarf with a seagull on his head waiting outside.

“Blooming bird won’t come off.” He grumbled.

The sun shone bright as the princess mounted her black steed for the journey home. She turned at the sound of distant laughter, but no, it was merely her imagination.


Write a short story using the words: child, courageous, World War I.

My grandfather always said “To be truly courageous you must be truly terrified.”
I know what he means now.
I quickly rip off my coat, shoes and gloves and chuck my mobile phone onto the frosty grass. Then I take a deep breath and dive in.
I am going to die. It is freezing. I have never been so cold in my life. My lungs scream and I swim quickly to the surface, coughing and spluttering. I look around quickly, trying to get my bearings. Where is he?
Ah- a ripple of water over there. I swim as quickly as my sodden and shocked body will allow me to.
One quick breath and I dive beneath the surface again.
I open my eyes. It’s muddy and I can’t see far. There he is. I force my icy arms to swim towards him while every instinct is telling me to escape this frozen hell while I still can.
I grab hold of an arm and drag him to the surface. I gasp for air and can’t stop coughing. I turn round to check: yes, he’s still there. I swim to the edge of the lake. Why am I so slow? My arms and legs seem to have given up on me. I just want to close my eyes and let myself fall….
Snap out of it! I tell myself. There is the grass – just out of reach. If only I can keep going… just keep moving forward. I turn around again to check. He is turning blue and his eyes are firmly shut. Oh my goodness. What if he dies? What if I die?
No! I can’t give up, I must get us out.
My breathing is shallow and I can’t feel my arms. They are numb – it’s like they are made of lead, and not mine at all. Still I struggle for that patch of white grass. I must keep going.
I hear a shout. I wonder where it comes from. Was it the telly? Just I just nod off? No, wait – I’m not at home. I’m in a lake, trying to get to the grass. I can’t think straight.
Strong arms heave me up, out of the water. I hear loud talking. A dog barks. I black out.
I wake up with someone pushing down on my chest. I cough.
“She’s back.”
“Well done, we thought we were going to lose you.”
“I’m cold.” My teeth chatter.
I look around and realise that I am lying on the ground, underneath a beautiful weeping willow. Someone puts a blanket on me, but it feels like there is ice in my bones.
Suddenly I remember the boy.
“Is the child ok?” I ask.
“Yes he’s fine. You saved his life. The ambulances are on their way.”
“Ok,” I go back to sleep.

I dream that I am lying in a muddy trench. The noise of artillery fire is deafening.
“Take that you stinking Hun.”
A soldier standing near me shoots at an unseen enemy outside the trench. He crouches down next to me.
“That looks bad. I’ll call the medic.”
I look down and see that I have been shot in the leg. I black out.

I wake again, this time in a hospital bed.
“Welcome back Miss Stevens. How are you feeling?” Smiles a nurse.
“Um… ok.” I mutter.
My chest hurts but I seem to have finally warmed up.
“You were mumbling something about being shot?”
“Was I? Must have been a bad dream. How is the boy?” I ask.
“Oh, Keiren, yes he’s fine- thanks to you. You were very brave, jumping into that freezing water to save him.”
“Well, I’m glad he’s ok.”
“It’s lucky there was someone walking their dog who knows CPR. Apparently they spotted you struggling in the water and pulled you both out. Oh look, you have a visitor.”
It’s my Mum, carrying a huge box of chocolates.
“How are you darling?” She kisses my forehead gently.
“Not bad.”
“I hear you’re quite the hero.”
“I couldn’t just leave him to drown. I saw him fall in and had to do something.”
“I brought you some chocolates. Is there anything else you need? Some PJs? Books? I’ll pop to yours later and pick it up for you.”
“Thanks Mum. Oh, do you know if Granddad fought in the War?”
“Hmm? No, he was a child then. But his Dad, my Grandfather, he fought in World War I. Went to the Somme. Horrific really- he was apparently never the same afterwards. Got shot and nearly died. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, just wondering. Something made me think of it.”
“I remember that he hated when people called him a hero. Said he was terrified the whole time. He used to say…”
“To be truly courageous you must be truly terrified.”
“Yes, that’s right.” She squeezed my hand. “Now, which chocolate do you want?”

A different Christmas

“Dinner everyone!” Shouted Mum.

The family rushed to the table. It looked delicious – turkey, roast potatoes, loads of veg, gravy, Yorkshire puds. A small fir tree in a cheerful red bucket  and topped by a gold star served as the centrepiece.

“This looks fab!” Smiled Dad as he carved the turkey.

“I helped with the potatoes.” Piped up Daisy as she filled her plate with veg.

“I set the table.” Announced Thomas, pouring himself some fizzy drink.

“Thank you Lord for this meal and our family.” Prayed Grandma.

The Christmas tree in the corner of the room twinkled with fairy lights, and was surrounded by beautifully wrapped gifts.

“When do we get to open our presents?” Asked Thomas, eyeing up a schooter- shaped one.

“I told you already,” Laughed Mum, “After dinner and the Queen’s speech.”

“Ok.” Sighed Thomas.

“These potatoes are excellent,” said Dad, “They taste almost like the ones I used to have when I was a kid.”

“Thanks,” replied Mum, “The food techies are getting better and better at the flavours, don’t you think? You’d almost think that this turkey once ran around in a farmyard.”

Dad laughed.

“Mum, did people really used to eat food that grew from the ground?” Asked Daisy.

“Yes. Well, things like fruit and veg did. Some of them from trees, too.”

“Trees used to grow actual food?” Wondered Thomas.

“Oh yes,” said Grandma, “I used to grow apples (from trees) and potatoes (under the soil) in my back garden.”

“Wow.” Both kids were silent for a moment as they processed this.

“But this ain’t bad.” Smiled Dad as he munched on a parsnip. “The butter could almost have come from a cow.”

“Those were the days, eh?” Reminisced Mum.

After dinner, the family sat in front of the telly wall to watch the Queen’s speech. She almost looked human, in the right light. The eyes gave her away though – you could always spot the cyborgs from the glint in their eyes.

Thomas peered out the window at the sky full of stars. One day, they would hopefully find a planet of their own again, like his parents used to have.

Cute cat videos

As you probably know, communication is about the sender and the receiver. The sender, let’s call her Penny, says or writes something. The receiver, now known as Lenny, hears or reads it. Simple.
The problem though, is that there can be misunderstanding. Perhaps Lenny mishears Penny’s words and is offended. Maybe Penny says something as a joke and Lenny thinks she’s being serious, etc. It’s easy for Penny’s intention to be incorrectly interpreted by Lenny. What she says may be read as something completely different. And that can lead to problems.
This problem is magnified on social media. Let’s say that Penny posts a cute YouTube video of a kitten playing with an old lady’s ball of wool. She does this because she thinks it’s funny, and her friends will probably find it funny too.
But what does Lenny think when he sees it? Here are some possibilities:
Lenny thinks:
1) Cute. I love kittens!
2) Gah-  I hate YouTube videos.
3) Gah – I hate kittens.
4) Gah – I hate old ladies.
5) Yawn.
6) What is Penny really trying to say? She knows that I love kittens, so maybe it’s a clue that she fancies me?
7) How could she be so cruel? Both my cat and my Granny died last month, and here is Penny, making light of my grief.

So you see that, no matter what Penny’s real intentions were for posting the video, Lenny can interpret them in a hundered different ways. That’s not her fault of course, the real concern here is Lenny, the reader’s, reception and attitude.

But maybe Penny posts videos like this every day. Well then, you could understand if Lenny was a bit annoyed. So Penny isn’t completely off the hook. And if she knew that her close friend Lenny was very sensitive about kittens and old ladies (if option 7 were true) then maybe she should have thought twice before posting.

Should she though? Her intentions were innocent – she didn’t mean to upset Lenny. It’s a conundrum.

Whenever there is any kind of communication, there is the potential for misunderstanding and hurt.

If Lenny really hates the videos that Penny posts, he could block her, or even remove her as a friend. Or maybe he should take a break from social media for a while if he’s going to be so upset. In the end, the only thing that Lenny can control in this situation is his own response.

Also Penny, if she is aware of Lenny’s feelings, could be more sensitive – within reason. But I don’t think this should stop her posting kitten videos – it’s a free country. However, if she was posting to deliberately hurt Lenny, that would be different.

I think it’s a good idea to be sympathetic to your audience when communicating, but remember that as long as you have good intentions, it’s not really your fault if it gets misinterpreted. That’s not an excuse to post kitten videos every day though – be aware that your words and videos may upset other people, even if you didn’t mean to.

In the end, the only way you will never offend anyone is to never say anything. Simple.