Thursday, January 19, 2006

In this place that I live.

In this place that I live, I am neither up nor down. Neither up town or down town. But just about around town.

You see this place that I live is not like the place that you live, nor the place that you love. I love it not neither.

Because in this place, how you feel is more closely related to where you live than you could ever conceive.

I know in your world that people are supposed to feel happier if they live by the sea. Or a great big lake. Or have a nice view of a mountain or two. And that if you live in a slum you should definitely feel glum.

But does it really work like that? Or is that just a conspiracy spread by some. Estate Agents. Because in your world the geography influences your mood, but does not dictate it.

Wish that I could say the same for this place. This place that I am in.

For you see that here it is the most desperate issue where you live. For only those in high places can ever feel high. And those who live down town are condemned to feel always down. Let me put it another way. If you live low, you feel low.

Your emotions are so totally tied to your low living abode that you might as well be tied to it. With a rope about your neck. Like a goat.

And as you can imagine the property prices for the places that are high. Well.
To feel high all the time. High on the hill. While the lonely goat is down town. That is worth paying through your happy little nose for.

Money literally can buy happiness. Or at least, high-ness, which is a right royal joy, for the main. A royal highness.

So that is that. In this place we are predictable. Our postcode will tell you how we feel about life. The wife. The usual strife.

As for me, I live neither uptown nor downtown. Just about around town. So that is a middle of the road kind of state of being. I live in Bla-ville. Ho Hum Hamlet.

It’s ok.

I think on the whole, and I can think because I am not permanently high (a downside of the upside)..that I would rather live at your place. By the sea or in a slum. At least I would be able to choose how I feel. Here I am just a victim of town planning.

Of course if I made enough money I might be able to buy a place on one of the peaks. On one of the postage stamp sized pieces of land that is left. But because I live Ho Hum, I am not motivated to elevate my social and emotional status. So I am stuck.

Yes, on the whole, I’d much rather your place than mine.

Your place looks just fine.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Pea

Once upon a time there was a little girl called Pea.

She liked her name. It was a happy name.

Her dad called her name all day long, “Pea….little sweetpea, come and see me you little sweetpea.”

He would wander in the long corridors of their gigantic house calling her name. He would open every door and call for her, “Little pea…sweetpea, come and let me see you, little sweetpea.” Then he would wander in the courtyards and walk around the fountains, all the time calling her name, “Sweet Pea, be my sweet pea, come and talk to me!” His voice was warm and low like black treacle.

Then he would search high and low in the stables, in amongst the horses. All the time calling out her name. “Sweet pea, my sweetest pea, come and say hello to me,”

He moved on to the gardens in his quest to find his happy little pea. He hunted in the herb garden. He searched the flower beds. The rose garden. He walked under the trees where the bluebells idled. All the time calling out for his favourite little Pea, “Pea, sweet pea come and sit with me. Where are you hiding my sweetest little pea?”

Finally he entered into the last place in the garden; the maze. “Come little Pea, come to me, my sweetest of all sweetpeas,” He went around every corner with a huge smile on his face, expectant.

Little Pea meanwhile was wondering where her father was. Her happy father who gave her her happy name. She started to wander through the corridors of the gigantic house looking for him. “Daddy, daddy don’t you hide from me. Where are you hiding from your sweet little Pea?”

Her father’s spicy scent lingered in the air but she couldn’t find him in any of the rooms. She wasn’t quite as thorough as her father and she didn’t check absolutely every room, nor every corridor.

She ran out to the courtyards, and she could smell him there too. But where was he? She called out in her tiny little voice: “Daddy, daddy where are you? It’s me your little Pea…don’t you hide from me!” It rang like a small silver bell.

She couldn’t see him anywhere. She didn’t check absolutely every courtyard. And she forgot about the stables altogether. She skipped out into the gardens. She was sure that she would find him there.

Again, his musky scent was in the air, but he wasn’t by the flowerbeds and he wasn’t in the woods. She couldn’t smell him above the mint and coriander in the herb garden.

“Oh daddy!” she stamped her little foot. “How dare you hide from me? I’m your little pea and you should NEVER hide from me.” She thrust out her bottom lip.

“I’m never going to look for him again,” she announced to the blue, blue sky and the green, green grass. “In fact I’m going to hide so that he can never find me again. Then he’ll be sorry!”

The thought of this revenge quite cheered her up. “Now where is the best place to hide?” she wondered. “The Maze!” she giggled. “He’ll never ever ever think of looking for me there! Ha!”

She ran as fast as she could into the maze. She kept her head down so she couldn’t even see where she was running. She wanted to get so lost that he would never ever be able to find her. That would show him.

She ran and ran, turning left and turning right, and turning right and turning left until she was totally lost and out of breath. She ran straight into a dead end and collapsed there very red in the face! “There!” she said. “Now I’m lost. Serves him right. Nasty daddy, leaving me all alone.”

She lay on her back and looked up at the blue blue sky.

She turned on her side and stared at the spiky hedge wall.

She lay on her tummy and looked at the green, green grass.

Then she sat up. “I want my daddy!” she said and burst into tears.

“And now he can’t find me, never, ever because I was so clever and hid in such a good place. Oh why did I do that?” and she started to wail.

“Waaaaaah Daddy wh-wh-where are you? Waaaaaaahhh wh-wh-where is my Daddy?”

Just then she caught a waft of his spicy smell. She leapt to her feet, “He’s here…he’s somewhere around here…” she gasped.

She started running, but she was in such a panic that her feet couldn’t decide which direction to go in. She ran up a bit and then down a bit. She tripped and scratched herself on the hedge wall of the maze. She got up and ran to the end wall and then fell again, grazing both her knees. She was about to start sobbing in sheer frustration when she heard something on the breeze.

“Little Pea, won’t you come play with me? Where’s my sweetest little sweet sweetpea?”

It was her father. And he was looking for her.

“Daddy!” she shouted, “Daddy I’m here!”

He came around the nearest corner and stood in front of her, smiling all over his face.
“Well there you are my little pea – I’ve been looking for you all day! What fun I’ve been having looking for you!” He knelt down and held open his arms.

She flung herself into his chest.

Crying just a little she said, “Oh but Daddy I’ve been looking for you and it hasn’t been fun at all. I got scared that I would never find you again!”

She missed out the part about hiding from him. But it was alright because he’d guessed that bit anyway.

“Oh my happy little pea! Don’t you know that I am always looking for you…and so even if you found the best hiding place in all the world. I would still find you. Because I’m very, very good at finding you. Much better than you are at finding me!” He laughed and catching her under the arms stood to his feet and swung her round and round and round till she was the happiest, dizziest girl in all the world.

She smiled and smiled and smiled till her face hurt. Then she laughed and laughed and laughed until her ribs hurt. He gently placed her on the ground.

She looked up into his eyes and saw her tiny, happy little reflection in his eyes. “Oh Daddy, now I know that you’re always finding me. I’m a happy little Pea.”

“You’re my happy little Pea,” he tousled her hair, “and that’s just the way I dreamed it would be. Come on let’s go for a walk together.”

He took her tiny little hand in his and led her straight out of the maze.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Green, Red and Black. (A story for K)

“I like the black ones best”

“I like the red ones.”

“Nah, green ones are way the best.”

“Green? Yuk. Green is disgusting. It’s broccoli flavoured.”

“No it’s not, take that back.”

“Ok, I take it back. They’re SNOT flavoured.”

Green lunged at Red, Red ducked and leapt up laughing,

“Ha! You eat snot flavoured sweeties…Ha! You’re weeeeeiiirrrdd.”

“No I’m not!” Green’s hands were fists by his sides. His eyes flashed dangerously.

“Yeah and your dad’s weird and your mum’s weird and your dog is weird. You’re all weird….” Red was shouting right in Green’s face. ‘Go on,’ he thought, ‘you’ll never punch me.’

But Green’s face just crumpled and his arms hung limply by his side. He couldn’t look Black or Red in the face. His cheeks burned.

That was it. So his family was weird. ‘Told you so, told you so,’ said a voice in his head. He fought back the tears.

He heard his father’s voice too, ‘Don’t let them get to you. Folks don’t understand. It’s not their fault.’ Dad was always saying that:‘It’s not their fault. It’s not their fault.’

‘I bet he would even defend Red if he was here,” Green felt suddenly bitter.

‘Well, dad’s right, it’s not their fault. It’s his! It’s your fault Dad’

The anger gushed up out of nowhere straight through his right arm. It swung wildly and connected with Red’s nose. Blood spurted everywhere.

“Don’t you ever call ME weird,” he yelled over Red who had collapsed on the ground. Then he ran as hard as he could. He just ran and ran and ran until it felt like his heart was in his head and beating in his ears.

He sat down on the edge of the road and cried.

His family never fitted in anywhere they went. And they were always moving. Because of Dad’s job. Stupid job! He leapt up and kicked the curb.

“I hate that job. I hate moving all the time and I hate you!” he shouted at his father in his mind.

Dad’s stupid job was secret. He was some special kind of scientist so he couldn’t tell anyone what he was doing. Even Green didn’t know what his dad was doing. The kids at school thought that was really dumb.

Dad didn’t even wear normal clothes. He always wore these stupid chunky jumpers that mum knitted for him. Mum made all their clothes – she didn’t like high street clothes ‘cos she said they were all made in Bangladeshi sweatshops by children suffering from malnutrition.

But normal dads didn’t wear big, bright green sweaters – they wore suits. And they had sensible jobs like being an accountant, or working in an office. Or being a driving instructor.

He kicked the curb again. He hoped he’d scuff his shoes. Why couldn’t his dad be a driving instructor?

He could get one of those special cars that his brother told him about. His brother was a lot older and he learned to drive last year. They have two sets of controls. Two brakes so if the person learning makes a stupid mistake the instructor can jump on the brake.

He liked the sound of jumping on the brakes. “I’d like to be the instructor when dad’s driving the car. Cos then I could jump on the brakes and make him stop! He’d have to stop.” He started to sob. “He’d have to listen to me then. He’d have to ask me what I wanted to do. If I wanted to stop or go. To stay or move.”

Tears of powerlessness rolled down his cheeks.

“And my dog’s NOT weird!” he yelled at the street. “He’s just different!”
He was one of mum’s experimental matches - a poodle and a Labrador. He was a labradoodle.

‘My dog is kinda weird too,’ he realized. He sniffed hard to stop the river of snot running out his nose.

‘But I like him. I like him a lot.’

He heard footsteps and turned around. He was the picture of misery, with red-rimmed eyes and a swollen face.

It was Black and Red.

‘Oh great and now I get beaten up as well,’ he thought. He put his weight on his backfoot like his mum had taught him to if he ever got in a fight.

But Black and Red held out their fists. And opened them. Their hands were full of green sweets.

“Hey Green,” Red’s voice was slurry due to his bashed nose, “We picked out those sweets you like.”

“Yeah, “ smiled Black, “You can like whatever flavour you like as long as you don’t hit us!”

Red grinned. Black snickered. Green managed a small laugh.

“Thanks guys, “ he looked hard at the ground, “Sorry, for…er, before.” His eyes flicked up to their faces to see if they thought he was even more weird now.

“Yeah we think you’re REALLY weird now,” said Red, “but that’s ok, cos weird is cool with us.”

“I’m not sure weird is cool with me, “ mumbled Green, “I’m pretty sick of weird.”

“My mum’s weird, my dad’s weird, my brother’s weird and even my dog is weird. I don’t like it.” He kicked the curb as hard as he could.

“Huh,” said Red.

“Right,” said Black

Nobody said anything for a while. Red started to eat one of the green sweets while he was thinking. “Yeuch!” He spat it on the road.

“If it helps, “ Black was the first one to speak, “If it helps, you can punch me too. I don’t mind.” He stepped forward and turned his right cheek towards Green.

“Uh yeah. Guess you can punch me again if it helps. Just not on the nose again…” Red grinned. “Maybe a nice black eye this time?”

Green shook his head and smiled. “Well if anyone, Black should get the black eye. You’ve already got a red nose.”

“Yeah and you’ve got a green one snotty,” Red taunted, “No wonder you like the green ones. Taste of snot do they?”

“Actually everything tastes of snot right now,” Green sniffed it down as hard as he could.

The three boys turned and started walking in the direction of their normal, normal and weird homes. They scuffed their shoes along the edges of the road.

“So what is your dad up to?” Red asked Green.

“ I dunno. Researching a new energy source that’s going to save the planet….finding a cure for cancer….figuring out a way to feed Africa….whatever it is. It’s weird!”

He scuffed his shoes extra hard.

Red looked over at Black. They were impressed.

“But weird can be cool you know…”

“Yeah,” Black agreed, “weird is alright you know. He wished his dad was a mad scientist. He was just a boring old driving instructor.

“Mmmm. Maybe,” Green said. “I’ll take some convincing.”

“That’s ok,” Black replied, “Take your time.”

“It takes me ages to get convinced about something. I think that’s just normal, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” said Red, and grinned, “I think that’s just abso-pigging-lutely NORMAL. “

He elbowed Green in the stomach,

“See, there is something about you that’s normal. Here have another green-snot sweet to celebrate, you freak…!”

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Strawberry

She held out the box to him. He knew it was a test.

Still he couldn’t help himself.
“Strawberry soft centre. Yum they’re my favourite.” He could feel his eyes bulging with anticipation.

“Why don’t you try a chewy caramel?” she said.

“Nope.” Eyes now closed. A shake of the head.

“How about a soft centre with a different flavour?” her voice was curvy.

“Nope, I want what I want and what I want is what I always want. I WANT the strawberry soft centre.” His face was turning strawberry now.

“Donald,” her voice was taut. “You know this just isn’t going to work.” She was thought of herself as a patient woman but this was too much. “How can we be taste testers if you won’t taste ANY FLAVOUR OTHER THAN STRAWBERRY?!”

She stood up and middle-buttoned her Laura Ashley jacket. Donald knew from the 3 months they had worked together that this was a bad sign.

She ran a carefully manicured fingertip along her left, beautifully shaped eyebrow. That was a very bad sign.

“I’m going to take my lunch break now, Donald,”

“Buu..”he tried to protest..

“Yes I know it’s only 10.30am, Don-ald.” He noted the ominous syllable emphasis and decided to be very still and quiet. That way he might just get to stay alive and also keep his job.

“ But I need a break now. And while I’m gone I suggest that you consider a change in your position on the strawberry creams. Otherwise I’m going to have to suggest to Mr Wilkins that we send you back to Dispatch Services.”

She picked up her cottage cheese and chive sandwich on wholemeal, turned on her enormously high heels and stalked out of the door.

Donald knew he was at a crossroads. It was called Cadburys. And it could make or break him.

His hands shook slightly. His blood sugar was dropping. With his fast metabolism he was destined to be a taste tester.

He tapped his wash-board stomach. Three weetabix for breakfast less than 2 hours ago and he was ready for a sugar boost already.

‘I’m a taste testing MACHINE’ he thought.

He was pleased with the way he kind of roared the word ‘machine’ in his head. He wondered if it would work aloud. ‘Probably not the best time to practise roaring…’ He tried to focus on the matter at hand. Keeping his job.

It was the best job he’d ever had and he was really good at it. He loved telling people at parties what he did. Actually he never went to parties, but he liked imagining telling people at parties what he did, “I’m a freelance taste tester…. Licensed to taste.” He had a whole speech worked out; “I prefer it shaken or stirred….or on a cocktail stick.” It was certainly more interesting than working with parcels in Dispatch. And he got to wear a suit.

But not if he couldn’t get past the strawberry cream. He eyed her up with her lovely round shape and little chocolatey dimples on top.

“You fox,” he said to the strawberry cream. He chewed his lip. “No, I mustn’t eat you.”
He shut the lid of the chocolate box. Picking up the description of the chocolates he turned his back on the strawberry blonde and tried to concentrate on the brunettes and blondes.

“Mmm, let’s see…a Coffee Cream…or a White Chocolate Swirl…I can do this.” He licked his lips nervously. He searched around for his normally ravenous appetite. “Come on don’t let me down now, baby…”

But it was disappearing rapidly. He just didn’t fancy any chocolate. Except for the strawberry cream of course.

He sighed. ‘This never happens with potatoes’ He thought back to the heady days of taste testing for Spuds R Us. Chipped, crisped, croquetted, baked…he could eat the potato in any form.

Yum just the thought of potatoes caused a rumbling, maybe even a slight hunger pang. Ah, that was more like it. The dilemma now was how to make himself hungry for something that he wasn’t hungry for.

“Make myself hungry…” he started to chew his fingernail as he pondered this. Then stopped as he remembered the first rule of taste testing.

Only focused chewing is allowed.

“ I am a professional and I can do this,” he said outloud using his most confident, un-him like voice. “How hard can it be to get hungry for something…. I don’t want to eat” he tailed off.

He took the caramel square between first finger and thumb and scrutinized it.

He appealed to his rational mind:
“This is a perfectly nice chocolate that millions of people would be delighted to eat, were they in my place right now.”
“And millions of people would love to have my job,”
“I have a great job. And this is a great chocolate. I will really enjoy eating this caramel square..”

“Yes Donald that’s right!” His colleague had slipped back into the room partway through his speech and was delighted to hear him speaking like a rational human being again. He was talking to himself, which wasn't good, but he was actually touching a caramel square. This was progress indeed.

“So Donald?” she asked in her headmistress voice, “You’re going to try a new flavour are you?”

He nodded.

“So I don’t need to report you to Mr Wilkins, then?”

He shook his head.

“And you’re going to be very mature and professional when it comes to taste testing the rest of this layer?”

More nodding.

“And you won’t spit out the Turkish Delight?”

More shaking of the head.

She smiled, revealing teeth kept immaculately white despite all the foodstaining hazards of the profession. She opened the lid and handed him the box of chocolates.

‘This is it,’ he thought, ‘this is what it feels like to be a rational human being who can overcome strong personal preferences in favour of trying something against his every natural inclination…’

He smoothed down his jacket, took a deep, mature breath and looked her confidently in the eye.

Then he grabbed the strawberry cream and ran for his life.

He turned as he reached the door, “Sorry but you can’t make me want any of the others when I already know, “ his face broke into the most enormous smile, “She’s the only one for me! And I’m not going to apologise for it.”

And with that, he was gone.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Time waits for no rabbit

"It's time." said the watch.

The rabbit barely twitched an ear. "What do you mean it's time?" He was sulky. "It's always time with you. You're a watch."

The rabbit and the watch had fallen out several days before, but they were both too passive aggressive to actually talk about it. Instead animosity leaked out in little comments.

"It's time." said the watch.

The rabbit had an overbite that he thought made him look edgy, "You know what?," he said to the watch, "I'm looking at your face....but I don't see your lips moving."

He was going for a Jerry Springer effect. The white fur and the twitchy nose undermined it considerably.

He imagined an audience of people gyrating to the chant of "Go ra-bbit, go ra-bbit, go ra-bbit!"

"It's time." said the watch keeping his voice even and regular. 'Regular as clockwork,' he smiled to himself.

He liked puns and wordplay of all types. Shakespeare was his hero. His only non-timekeeping hero as a matter of fact. That was quite an honour for Shakey...to be alongside Big Ben in the scheme of things. 'A list of the ones to watch for,' sniggered the watch.

He internalised a lot of things. He was an observer rather than a participator, having learned early on in life that if you tried to rise too far above your station you only got stamped on. (He learned this literally from an uncle who managed to get onto the wrist of a porter on the Orient Express. Quite a coup. He was all set to be the best travelled of the family, when he had a nasty slip from the wrist and ended up ground into the red persian carpet in the dining car.)

"It's time." said the watch. He enjoyed being annoying. 'An exacerbated rabbit is quite my favourite kind,' he thought as he watched the long ears twitch in irritation.

But he did have a point, actually, and it was his duty to pass on the message to the white trash (his new pet name for the rabbit). He couldn't help it if the stupid animal didn't realise it was a serious message. 'That's what happens to those who treat time with animosity,' he thought.

Rabbits were notoriously bad at keeping time and absolutely refused to wear watches. The watch shuddered. 'Thank goodness. Imagine the indignity of being worn by that nincompoop!'.

The seconds ticked by.

"It's time" intoned the watch, turning his face just a fraction more towards the rabbit to see if it was even close to realising the urgency of the hour. And the urgency of the minutes come to that.

"Let us not forget the urgency of the minutes," he couldn't resist teasing the rabbit some more.

The rabbit bit. "And let us not forget the TYRANNY of time!" he responded.
'That sanctimonious watch is going to meet with a thump in a minute....or even a second', the rabbit fumed.

And then something quite unusual happened. Something strange and new and wonderful. Nobody knows how it happened. Perhaps too many hours of Jerry Springer?

The rabbit thought he was having an out of body experience. In truth it was more of an out of personality experience. He was suddenly able to rise above his own prejudices, grumps and self-stylings to gain a terrible new thing. Perspective. He felt a little dizzy.

'Maybe I'm not the most important person in the world', the thought was staggering.
'Maybe things aren't organised especially to thwart me.'
'Maybe annoying people who keep trying to tell me things about my life are actually right.' He swayed a little under the force of that one.

He sat back and looked at the watch through new ideas.
"It's time?" he asked.

The watch had never been so unnerved.
He stuttered "Y-yes." thereby losing a fraction of a tenth of a second.

The rabbit continued, " And time isn't really a tyrant, stealing my life, limiting my options? But time is my space...to do the things I want to do? Not tomorrow someday never? But now?" He leapt up in a eureka-y kind of way. "It's time right now! That's what you've been trying to tell me! I've been so stupid!" He grinned, and his overbite didn't look nearly so accentuated.

The watch was a rabbit caught in the headlights. The glare of revelation reflected off the rabbit's white hide.

He was totally unprepared for what happened next.

The rabbit swooped on him and before he could say 'Greenwich Mean Time' he was strapped around the rabbit's paw and hopping down the road with him.
"There's no time to waste!" the rabbit yelled out to anyone who cared to listen as he hared down the road, "There's only time to spend! Come on, watch, let's go.....how do you fancy a trip to the Orient?"

The watch fainted.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Jokes

Jokes.

Jokes are funny.

I like jokes.

Jokes make me laugh.

Sometimes I want to cry. But then I think of a joke and instead it makes me laugh.

Sometimes I really want to cry. When my insides really hurt and the doctors don't know what to do to make it better.

That's when I like to think of my most funniest joke in the whole wide world. I think about it for a long time and even if it doesn't make me laugh it usually stops me from crying.

Mum says that when I was little and I felt icky all she had to do was rub me on the belly and I'd feel better.

Maybe that's what did it. All the rubbing.

The doctors don't know why it happened. Mum says they don't know everything.

Dad says they don't know anything. But stress makes him grumpy. Or that's what mum says to me when dad goes out of the room to get a coffee or have a smoke or go to the little boy's room.

My favourite joke is this one:

Q. What noise did the boy make when he laughed his head off?
A. Ha ha bonk.

I like it cos it's clever and you have to think to work out why it's funny. That's the best kind of jokes. Only not if you have to think really hard when everyone else is already laughing. Then you have to pretend that you understand it and laugh a bit too. That's what you have to do.

This is my favourite joke too because it has a boy in it and I'm a boy. And the boy has something wrong with him, well he has after his head has fallen off anyway.

Sometimes I wish my head would fall off and roll away then I could leave the hospital and see lots of interesting things as I roll down the hill into town. Also I wouldn't be able to feel the hurtiness in my tummy. I wonder if I would feel very dizzy and sick with rolling down the hill even though my tummy was still here in the hospital and I couldn't actually be sick. Only open my mouth and pretend.

Mum's calls it the dry heaves. I get that sometimes.

I also like jokes about chickens. Why did the chicken cross the road? That kind of joke is funny because it isn't funny. And that makes it funny. Unfunny funny jokes are good because you have to know that the person telling the joke is doing that on purpose. It makes you feel like you understand something that other people understand.

The doctor's don't understand what is wrong with me.

But they keep trying new drugs and things.

I don't know what it is.

But I know it's not a joke.

The kangaroo who lost his bounce

"Boing....!" "Bounce...!" "Wahey...!"

The kangaroo tried to throw himself into the air through sheer force of personality.

"Think positive," he told himself, "Focus on the result....Picture myself leaping in the air...That's it, here I go....BOING!"

For a moment he thought he might have lifted a milimetre off the floor. But no, he was just as firmly glued to it as he had been for the past 3 weeks.

Darn it, that 2 day course in the city on Positive Thinking - 'Change your mind, Change your life', had been a complete waste of money. And he'd left his briefcase on the train on the way back.

His narrow shoulders rose and fall with a deep sigh.

No matter how hard he tried there was nothing doing. No loft, no elevation, no propulsion, no va va voom.

"I'm da da doomed," he said, "Whoever heard of a kangaroo who lost his bounce? I'm ridiculous."

"Yeah you are a bit," said the mouse, "But let's face it, you're just a grown-up mouse and mice, well..." he puffed out his chest with pride, "Mice were never meant to bounce."

The kangaroo was flabbergasted.

"I'm flabbergasted," he said. (Kangaroos are well known for speaking their minds.)

"Not only am I being addressed by a mouse - which is clearly without the bounds of all etiquette." he continued. "But this mouse, seems to be implying that to not to be able to bounce is a good thing, and EVEN," (he was getting really worked up now), "and EVEN to suggest that the mouse is superior in this respect to the kangaroo." He pulled himself up to his full (and considerable) height...
" And since when has 'scurrying' and eating cheese placed you at the top of the evolutionary ladder?"

The mouse was unfazed. (Mice are well known for being unfazed).
He replied, "For a start there's no such thing as evolution, everybody knows that. And second of all, what's so great about bouncing?"

(Mice are as brave as they are small. By which I mean they are very small and very brave. Especially when confronting self-preoccupied, verging-on-the-pretentious, secretly insecure marsupials).

The kangaroo was even more flabbergasted.

"I'm even more flabbergasted," he said. "I have to agree with you on the first point. Everyone knows evolution is a ridiculous scam, but your complete indifference to the art of bouncing is...well, frankly I find it terrifying."

"Hmmm," the mouse nodded his head, "so kangaroos are terrified of mice...we'd always suspected it, only no-one ever lets US do lab experiments."

The kangaroo was banging his foot up and down on the ground in irritation. "You know what I meant, don't be disingenuous."

"You can't impress me with your overinflated vocabulary." The mouse was defiant.

The kangaroo deflated. "That's all I've got left now that I've lost my bounce...."

"And what exactly is so great about bouncing?" the mouse's enquiry was genuine.

The kangaroo looked into the middle distance, perturbed. Brushing aside the thought 'where does the middle distance begin and end?' he focused on the question of bouncing.

"Look the bottom line is, I'm a kangaroo. I bounce. That's what kangaroos do. And if I don't bounce where does that leave me? Can I even truly call myself a kangaroo...without the boing boing boing?"

The mouse took a very small pair of half-moon glasses out his breast pocket and balanced them on his nose. With his paws together, tip to tip, he considered the kangaroo with compassion. And mice are not well known for their compassion. He waited till he had really good eye contact with the kangaroo before he said, what he said. Which was this:

"Seems to me like this is really a question of identity. For some time you've been doubting that you're in the right place doing the right thing. But if you change career, that raises fear issues. Everyone you know - does the same thing in the same way. And you're at a crossroads wondering if the pain of changing is greater than the pain of staying the same. But of course this is only happening at a subconscious level, and so to reflect the inner conflict, you have temporarily lost your bounce. This is actually your body giving you a helpful clue that all is not well within you. The question is, do you have confidence in who you are if you aren't the same as everyone else around you? Or is the pressure to conform going to cripple you with fear and self-doubt?"
The mouse took his glasses off and dangling them in one paw.

The kangaroo swallowed, "I'm..."

"... flabbergasted, yes I know" the mouse interjected with a hint of a twinkle in his eye. "Look, don't worry, you'll get your bounce back as soon as you realise you don't need it, to define you."

"Er, right, yep." the kangaroo's body language was humble."Thanks, I'll, er, bear that in mind."

And off he walked into the middle distance, not even worried about his bounce. "Can't believe I waste all that money on positive thinking courses and analysts...when I should just talk to the nearest mouse.." He was more comfortable talking to himself than normal, but then he had a lot on his mind.

The mouse watched him for a while. He smiled and shook his head, "Those kangaroos....they're just messed-up mice." He laughed. "They'd make cute pets though. I like the way they bounce....."

The Carousel

"Round and round, round and round I go," sighed melancholy Carol the Carousel.
"Everyone thinks it's so jolly to be me. Lots of lovely coloured horses, laughing children etcetera. No-one ever thinks about the down sides. The sticky ice creams that get dropped on me. And my back - it kills from giving all those rides. But the worst thing is that I never GO anywhere."
He sighed heavily, causing the horses to wobble slightly on their poles.
"Round and round I go," his machinery creaked as he kept on turning.

The horses perked up their painted ears. "What's wrong with old misery guts?" Prancer asked.
"I guess he feels like he never goes anywhere," replied Nellie.
"What's that?" asked Lancelot, - he was the oldest horse and his hearing wasn't too good owing to the fact that one of his ears got pulled off by a rather hefty 10 year old back in 1972.
"Well neither do we!" Jessica and flung back her wooden mane with a tempestuous toss. She thought of herself as dramatic.

Bubbly Becks piped up. She always had something positive to say. "Yes we do! We DO go somewhere. We go up and down!"
They all groaned. Sometimes Becks being cheerful was enough to send them all into a downwards spiral.
"Well what are we going to do about it, chaps?" Beanie used to be in the army and had retained his posh English accent. He'd tried to hang on to his moustache as well. But the circus people kept painting over it, saying that a horse couldn't have a moustache.
"If we're all in the mood to really GO somewhere, let's do it," Beanie had a brisk but hopeful way about him that was more inspiring than Bubbly Becks 'Babbling attempts at Boosts.
Still there was a lot of cynicism in the ranks, and sniggers. As if carousel horses could really go anywhere.

"I nearly went to Hollywood," Jessica said, "I was spotted by a talent scout you know. He was very taken with the pink roses on my haunches....
That raised another groan.
"Jess do stop with that old story, we've heard it a million times," Beanie said with remarkable self-restraint. In contrast Roger the horse on the closest pole to her was actually trying to kick her. An impossible feat because of how the poles were placed, but it showed just how fed up with the story he was.

"Look let's all put our heads together and see what we can come up with. We'd be doing old Carol a favour and ourselves..." Beanie took charge.

There was silence as 24 wooden horses put their wooden heads together. For all that their thoughts were remarkably woolly.

"Right," said Beanie, "What have we got then?"
The horses shuffled their feet and looked away.
"Nobody got any ideas?" Beanie's face fell.
Jessica cleared her throat, "Well about the Hollywood thing," The groans drowned her out, and the roses on her haunch blushed that bit pinker.
She persevered, "Look someone in Hollywood must want a carousel. With all the films they make....and we are a very pretty carousel..." she tailed off with a faux flick of her extra long tail.
Nobody actually wanted to admit it. But Jessica had actually made quite a good point.

Beanie was the first to speak. He cleared his throat in an especially official manner before he did, playing for time while he re-considered what he was about to say. A trick he'd learned on army manoeuvres in the Sudan.
"What do you think troops? The starlet has a good point," he looked around noting those horses keeping good eye contact and which of the ponies were sniggering in the back.
"And I for one have always wanted to go to Hollywood. Been a bit of a dream of mine, actually. To be in the movies."

A very careful equine would have seen he was a little bit embarrassed to admit that. But he brazened it out. 'Chest out, chin up' he thought to himself.
A ripple of cautious excitement went through the ranks. Although they'd mocked Jessica's movie star airs and graces, it had secretly struck a chord with a lot of them. But it was more than they could dare to dream....and how could it even happen anyway? They were firmly tied to the ground, the carousel couldn't go anywhere - as he so often groaned.

"Is everybody with us?" Beanie asked with a glint in his painted eye. "Because we're in this together folks. We can't leave a man behind. Not unless we give him or her the chop. And that's not an option. I'm not prepared to hurt anyone just because they don't want to come with us. Speak up. Anyone who doesn't want to come?"

He looked around deliberately slowly, noting that even the snickerers at the back had quieted down. They were all with him.
"Good," he said.
"Wait!" It was Jessica. "I'm not sure I want to go...." she hung her head.
"What? You of all people, why wouldn't you go? You've talked about it for so long..." Beanie was shocked. She was the last person he thought would get four cold feet.
"That's just it. It's been my dream. But a safe dream, because it was always a faint possibility. I could just stay here and think of what could be," Jessica's voice had lost its brashness. "If I try and fail...then I can't even hold onto my dream anymore."
Quietly she added, "I'm afraid."

The carousel beneath it's gaudy music and colours, was quiet too. It had cost a lot to Jess to admit that to them, and especially to herself. Carousel horses have a strong respect for honesty and they gave it the silence it deserved. That was their way of making room for the feelings of wooden hearts.

At last Beanie spoke, "Jess, it's up to you. You decide whether we all pursue your dream. Or whether we all stay here and go on as usual . Wondering about what might have been."

Not for the first time, Jessica wished she had a delicate lace hanky with which to dab the tear of paint that was rolling down her shapely nose. 'No, it's no good wishing for what cannot be,' she said to herself, 'But it is worth trying for something that just might be....'

"Let's do it!" she burst out! Let's chase my dream...."

And a whinney of Hurrahs went up around the carousel.

"But how are we going to do that?" Prancer was quick to get down to practicalities. "Chase the dream!...all we do is chase each other round this carousel!"

Beanie smiled to himself. He'd been looking forward to this part. "It's not as hard as you might think. How did they move us here in the first place? They have massive trailers - big enough to carry our carousel."

"All the way to Hollywood?" asked Becks

"Oh yes, if you know the right people you can get anywhere. And I just happen to have a few contacts in large vehicles...from my army days."

"Your army days old chap?...now what exactly did happen in Sudan?" old Lancelot asked.

"I'll tell you on the way," Beanie grinned. "This carousel is moving on!"

"Thank goodness!" groaned Carol the Carousel who'd been listening in all the time."Now tell me, by any chance is ice cream illegal in Hollywood? And sticky fingers....and small children...."

Snow place like home

The snowman melted. "Oh no, not this again." Soon all that would remain would be two twiggy arms, a carrot and two lumps of coal. He sighed, "Here I go disappearing again."

It had been a totally different story at the Christmas party. There he was very together and solidly the centre of attention. Everyone was magnetically drawn to him, or so it seemed. As they stood around admiring him, his icy colouring contrasted with their little black cocktail dresses and tuxes. He was right in the centre of the "In" crowd. Mind you, the only people he actually knew there were the little ice cubes. He nodded an imperceptible hello as they bounced up and down in excitement. They were in the highest of spirits to be found swimming in some Jack D and Coke. He preferred Cosmopolitans himself.

Yes, he was the flavour of the month alright. All the girls were posing hanging off him, while he worried slightly about the melting effects of a hundred digital cameras going off in his face. Like a menopausal woman, he worried about hot flashes. But at least he didn't have any worries about red eye. "Coal-black baby, that's me."

He enjoyed being the centre of attention, even if no-one was exactly talking to him. More about him...or around him. But that was very close to being popular and that was good enough for him. He waited all year for this - party season. It was easy to feel in the middle of the action when it was going on all around him. Hot bodies, pumping music, mistletoe over every door. He could do with a bit of mistletoe over his head, he thought to himself. Romance was happening all around him. He could watch it, hear songs about it, overhear lovers' conversations. But nobody ever saw the snowman in that way.

"Truth is I don't see myself that way," he thought. Yes, romance had always eluded him. But then again maybe he eluded it. "I'm so out of my depth at these high-class parties," he thought to himself, "But if I hang out with my own kind I feel kindof inferior by association." He was caught between a rock and a cold place.

"But I'm so much in demand here," he tried to justify it, "and the money's good too. It's just a shame that it leaves me feeling so empty afterwards. I feel like I disappear as soon as I'm out of the limelight." Ironic considering how much the party organisers tried to keep him out from under the glare of the hot lights. A melted snowman went from a neat party feature to a health hazard in a matter of seconds.

The snowman was always trying to keep one foot in each camp - his natural environment and the glamorous party scene. And he didn't even have any feet. Still, it was an uncomfortable proposition for any snowman, let alone one who didn't have a clue how to forge a deep relationship with someone in his sphere.

"I just want to feel settled. I want to feel comfortable in my own snow. And be able to be real with a snow-woman," he sighed. He went through this loop every new year. Once the parties were over and nothing had fulfilled him, he just started to melt away in disappointment.

His self esteem was trickling away and creating a small ice rink around him. His shoulders sagged and his head got closer and closer to the ground. His carrot was looking decidedly droopy.

Suddenly he became aware of a buzzing around his head. "Ohh no, one too many Cosmopolitans," he sighed. But the buzzing turned into humming and the humming into singing and soon there was a surround-sound opera at full pelt. "Where on earth is that coming from...?" He looked down to see a red squirrel with a tiny pair of ice skates doing figures of eight around him.

"Watcha!" yelled the squirrel, "I love this! This is brilliant!"
The snowman regarded the squirrel with disdain. He much preferred the company of humans to animals. Even if the humans never did speak to him.
"Weeeeeeeee! Oooooooh!"squealed the squirrel, "This is amaaaazzzzzinnn'!"
If the snowman had been in possession of an eyebrow he would have raised it.
"Oh really?"
"Yeeeaaaah! It's faaaantaastic!" the squirrel leapt in the air, span 360 degrees and almost landed on his feet. BOOM he hit the ice hard and slid on his face over to the snowman's chest which stopped him abruptly.
"OOh what do you keep in your chest?" asked the squirrel," Any cokes in there? I LOVE coke."

"Humph you seem to LOVE everything," replied the snowman, "do you LOOVE falling on your face in public?"

The squirrel sat up on his haunches and scratched his head. "Hmmm. Never thought about that before. Actually I don't mind it. I don't mind it at all. I'd rather fall on my face occasionally than never try to do a 360. When I get it right, it's aaammmaazzziinnn'" the squirrel grinned. "Seriously, got any coke? I'm parched with all this ice dancing."

The snowman cracked open his freezer chest and handed over a Diet Coke, "I'm watching my weight," he explained to the squirrel. And sagged closer to the ground. The squirrel took a long swig of the coke, burped loudly and asked
"Do you ever have any fun?"

"Of course," the snowman replied. "I go to parties. I'm a feature. People take photos."

"Oh and you enjoy that do you? It makes you feel aliiiivve, like me when I'm skating?" the squirrel skated backwards in a circle to illustrate his point.

"Well actually I feel a bit down after it's all over. And I sortof start to melt away. There just doesn't seem to be any point to going on." The snowman sank down even closer to the ground.

The squirrel stopped abruptly on the edges of his skates, creating a tiny little spray of ice. He looked at the snowman thoughtfully.
"Well I think you should stop all that partying with humans and hang out with those who are going to talk to you and not just about you. That's only going to erode your confidence."

The snowman nearly turned into an icicle. That was just the best advice he'd heard all year. Even if it was only the 8th of January.

"You know I keep doing the same things year after year and always expecting it to make me happy, even though it never does. I hang out with a crowd that don't really know me...and all I really want is to find something that I love." The snowman
was having an epiphany. "And someone."

"Funny you should mention that", said the squirrel, "but you see that cute snow woman over in the next field? Well she sent me over here to talk to you. To break the ice if you will. Perhaps you should send her over a diet coke..." The squirrel grinned.