Saturday, 22 February 2014

The hotel

We were staying in a huge hotel. It seemed to go on forever, and I was always getting lost trying to find my way back to my room. I'm sure the stairs moved when I wasn't looking! The walls were oak-panelled and there were innumerable flights of stairs. It was quite dark as well, with only candle-light to guide you around the maze of corridors.

We were staying there for free. My friend Cassie had won the holiday in a competition. We'd never have been able to afford the hotel ourselves - it was exceptionally posh. Every night there was a delicious 3-course meal and then a live band.

One night I got lost again trying to find my room.

"Are you ok?" Asked a member of staff who spotted me looking confused in a gloomy passageway.

"Yes, well, I'm lost again. I keep forgetting how to find my room."

"It is a gigantic building, isn't it?" She asked. "But I can help you. You see that door over there?"

"That one?" I said, pointing to a lacquered crimson door.

"Yes. That's the dark room. Go in there and you will find a way back."

"Ok... thanks." I said, but she'd already gone.

I opened the door slowly and peeked inside. She was right - it was dark. I went in, closed the door behind me, and found myself looking at a huge mirror that filled one wall. I say it was a mirror, but it didn't actually reflect anything. Instead in contained a scene of people dancing. It looked like a fancy-dress party - everyone was dressed in old-fashioned clothes and having a great time. It reminded me of The Great Gatsby for some reason. I wondered if it was really happening, or just an image. I kept staring at it, and after a while a couple of people spotted me and smiled. I couldn't hear anything but they seemed friendly enough. I touched the mirror and it was smooth glass. I waved goodbye after a while and they waved back and joined the dancing again.

Intrigued, I left the room. It seemed as though the corridors and stairs had changed while I was in there, and I instantly knew where I was and the way back to my room. I was sharing with my friend Kitty- we each had a luxurious king-size bed and shared a large en-suite bathroom that boasted a roll-top bath. We really were pampered.

All of us were together at dinner that night - Cassie, Kitty, Liz and myself - and we chatted about what each of us had got up to that day. Cassie and Liz had gone skiing, Kitty had spent the day at the spa, and I had mostly wandered around and sat in front of a fire in one of the lounges and read my book.

"Isn't this food delicious?" Marvelled Liz.

She was eating lobster. I wouldn't touch seafood, so had the roast lamb instead.

"Yes," I replied, "I don't think I've ever had such tasty food before."

"They have a Michelin-starred French chef." Announced Cassie, drinking a sip of red wine.

"Wow," replied Liz, "no wonder it's so good!"

"We'll find our normal food so boring when we get back home." Sighed Kitty.

"I wonder what the theme is for tomorrow's ball?" Wondered Cassie.

Every Saturday there was a themed ball. We only got told the theme on the evening before, which didn't give us much time to prepare, but there was a stock of good-quality costumes that the hotel lent out to clients, so we didn't need to buy anything.

After desert (I had chocolate mousse and Bailey's coffee), the Entertainment manager took to the stage.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he announced, "I can confirm that the theme of tomorrow night's ball is...The roaring twenties! As usual, costumes can be borrowed from the hotel, but damages must be paid for. Accessories can be purchased in the central shop."

As soon as he made the announcement, the room filled with voices. Everyone started planning what they would wear , and the ladies, what make-up they'd wear. You could feel the excitement. The Saturday ball was the highlight of the week - everyone made an effort.

"I know what I'm going to wear- if I can find it!" Said Cassie. "A silver and black dress, silver heels, and a short black wig."

"That sounds good," replied Liz. "I think I'll go for a red dress."

The rest of the evening was spent discussing the  ball.

I know that I'd had far too much wine , but I struggled to find my way back to my room that night. I must've been wandering around the corridors for nearly half an hour when I remembered the dark room. Of course! That would set me straight. Strangely enough, I found it around the next corner. There was the large crimson door, standing out amongst all the typical brown ones in the passage. I opened the heavy door and stepped into the room. There was the mirror- still full of life-size people. But as I looked closer, I noticed that they weren't dancing any more. People were looking shocked and milling around. Something had obviously happened.

I gently touched the shoulder of a woman who was standing nearest to me. I say I touched her shoulder, but of course all I felt was the smooth glass beneath my hand. She noticed anyway, and turned around to look at me. She was crying and her mascara had run.

I asked "What happened?" but she couldn't hear me. She shook her head and turned away. I tried to work out what had happened, and then I saw a couple of policemen arrive. They walked up to someone and were obviously asking them questions. I decided to go to bed - I couldn't stay awake any longer.

I found my room and collapsed into bed fully-clothed. Kitty was already in bed asleep.

I woke up late the following morning, and went for a swim before breakfast. I went to the lobby after that to look for a costume for the ball. I hoped that all the good outfits hadn't already been taken. I wanted to find a bright turquoise or green flapper-style dress with matching shoes and headband. After that I'd research 1920s make-up so that I really looked the part. After a prolonged search through dresses that weren't quite right (or looked perfect but were the wrong size), I found a stunning outfit in emerald green. It had tassels along the skirt and was quite short, but it fitted perfectly. I was chuffed. I also managed to find some shoes of a similar colour- not an exact match but no-one would notice in the gloom of the dancehall. I picked up a matching headband and beaded necklace from the hotel shop. I returned to my room with my treasures to find not only Kitty but also Cassie and Liz trying on their new outfits and listening to music.

"We wondered where you'd got to!" Exclaimed Cassie.

"I was just picking up my outfit." I explained.

"You always leave everything to the last minute," laughed Liz, "I was third in the queue this morning. Do you like my dress?"

Liz had found a beautiful ruby dress and some ridiculously high heels.

"Gorgeous." I smiled.

Kitty was doing Cassie's make-up and I asked if she could do mine too. I could never get the eyeliner right.

We spent the rest of the afternoon getting ready.

I didn't eat much at dinner - I felt excited and a bit nervous. I'm not sure why- it was only a dance- but everyone was a little agitated - hoping that they looked the part and looking forward to the band and dancing.

"Here come the band." Said Liz.

They were all well groomed in smart suits, except the female lead singer who wore a low-cut red dress.

"On no," whispered Liz, "the singer's dress looks just like mine. Except she looks stunning and I look average."

"Rubbish," replied Cassie, "you look just as good as her. And your hair's better anyway."

Cassie was right- Liz did have beautiful wavy hair.

"Anybody want to dance?" Asked Cassie.

"Yes!" We all replied and jumped up.

It must've been around 2am that the music stopped. It was sudden - right in the middle of a love song. Kitty and I were being silly and dancing a slow dance together - and not very well either. Cassie was at the bar being chatted up be some bloke, and I'm not sure where Liz was. I noticed that it went quiet and then a second later there was a scream. Everyone went silent for a moment and then there was lots of shouting and people running around - chaos.

Kitty and I quickly left the ballroom, still not sure what was going on. We asked around but no-one seemed to know. I was just going to find a member of staff, when someone shouted

"She'd dead!"

"Who's dead?" Another voice asked.

"The singer - murdered!"

It felt like time froze. I looked around the room and there was Kitty, staring me in horror. It was quiet and still. Nobody moved. I tried to say something and couldn't.

I happened to glance in a nearby wall-length mirror. I saw not a reflection of the room, but a woman's face, staring at me.

I wiped my eyes - I hadn't realised that I was crying.

Friday, 21 February 2014

The Lego Movie - not just for kids

I went to see The Lego Movie with my 7 year old son. I didn't have high expectations, but thought it would be an enjoyable if not cerebrally-engaging experience. I was wrong. It is a highly enjoyable, but surprisingly intelligent, film.

Living in a 1984-esque world, Emmet Brickowoski is a normal construction worker who follows all the rules. And the city he lives in is full of rules - what to say; what to eat and drink; what music to like; what to wear. Everything is built by following the instructions- and anything that doesn't follow the rules is destroyed. President Business oversees this dystopian place. The president is terrified of anything or anyone that's different or original or creative. So terrified that he has a nasty plan up his sleeve...

One day Emmet stumbles upon something that will save the world as well as change it forever, and he is thrown into an underground full of rule-breakers, creative thinkers and those who just don't fit in - the master builders. But he's not popular, at least at first. The problem is that he has never had one original idea. That soon changes though, and he turns out to be a real hero.

I love the references to Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and The Matrix- amongst many others.

On a more basic level, the movie tells kids that it's ok to not always follow the instructions when building with Lego. All kits seems to be so prescriptive these days - you make the car or spaceship or whatever, but then what? Break it apart and do the same again? When I was young we just had a load of bricks, no instructions, and made what we liked. One of the heroes in the film is a 1980's astronaut, which I liked, as most of the parents taking their kids to see this movie will have played with similar.

Of course, this is a film for kids, so there is lots of silly humour (including a few references to butts) and explosions and action. My son loved it, but in a very different way from how I did.

And as a marketing tool - genius.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

No so Wonder Woman

I saw a bit of Wonder Woman recently, and, at the risk of upsetting a whole generation of men, I wasn't that impressed. She seems nice enough as a character, and I like her Amazonian roots and her cool jumps and the way that she can look good even after a plane crash, but still.

The first thing that I noticed was that she is skinny, has perfect hair and make-up and shows a lot of flesh. Not entirely her fault- she is just (as a character) living up to what most men's idea of a perfect woman is. It's sad though. Why does a female superhero need to look like that? She'd look just as good in slouchy jeans and no make-up. Cooler, even, because it would mean that she didn't care about looking 'perfect' or 'feminine' (whatever that means.) A superhero has already proved her awesome-ness by saving lives, being strong, changing very quickly etc. So surely she has so much self-confidence that there's no need to be beautiful at all times too?

I suppose that it's not only female superheroes that need to look good though. Superman and Batman and so on are also good-looking muscle-y men, at least on film.

So I thought about what a female super hero would be like if I invented her. She'd have to have a cool name - Fab Lady will do until I can think of something better. She'd be of average height, average build and with slightly wayward hair. She'd occasionally wear make-up, if she felt like it; and would be a fan of denim and trainers. She'd have super powers, of course. Like flying, turning invisible and the ability to sew her own curtains. She'd only see herself in a mirror though, not her mother. She would have some close friends, but not too many, and have a presence on social media without being too unguarded, boastful or judgemental. Fab Lady would be able to simultaneously cook dinner, write a web page and change a tyre. Ok, so maybe she'd need three hands for that. She could grow an extra one when needed.

Fab Lady would feel equally at ease discussing current affairs at a cocktail party as watching football down the pub with some mates. She would start as a single lady, and then after some chapters, a love interest in the form of a shy bloke in accounts would be introduced. There would be a time when Fab Lady had to decide whether she was ready to settle down, but eventually she would realise that she was in love. Bloke from accounts would be a bit useless at the romantic side of things, but would turn out to be perfect husband material.

After a few years and lots of superhero action, including saving the world from nuclear war, and meeting Dr Who and travelling with him for an adventure or two, Fab Lady and Husband would decide to have a baby.

Fab Lady would fall pregnant that very same day and after a trouble-free pregnancy lasting a month (super heroes don't get backache, swollen ankles or sickness), a healthy baby would be born. Super-babies are born talking, walking and potty-trained, so no domestic drudgery for our hero. Soon super-baby would join his mother on exploits to save the world, although he wouldn't be as awesome as his mother due to being half-human.

Would Fab Lady get old? I'm not sure. Old age isn't fabulous, but it would be much sadder to see her family and friends aging and dying while she stayed the same. That's a difficult one. I guess she would have to get old, but in a stylish way. She'd still be fighting evil masterminds when she was 80 years old, and with attitude.

Book giving day

If you want to give a gift that will really be appreciated this Valentine's Day, why not take part in International Book Giving Day?

The idea is to share your love of reading with a child by giving them a book. There are different ways of doing this:

1) Give a book.

This can be to child that you know or that you see on Friday. The book can be second-hand (good condition) so you don't have to spend lots of money. Maybe give a book to a child at your local school, library or in a café?

2) Leave a book.

If you are going to be at your dentist's, doctor's or on the bus, you could leave a book behind (with a bookplate to explain why you've done it) for a child to find.

3) Donate a book.

You can donate new or old books to your hospital, library or second-hand shop for them to give out to a local child. Or if you don't have time, why not donate to an African child through Books for Africa?

This Friday I will be giving out 'Washing Line' by Jez Alborough, and 'Click Clack Crocodile's back' by Kathryn White. They are both picture books suitable for 2-5 year olds.

I hope you will join me. :-)

Find out more at

Saturday, 1 February 2014

My first boyfriend

My first boyfriend was called Jake, and he had blonde hair and gorgeous blue eyes. He was so handsome. We were 9. He was a bit boring though. My next boyfriend was Ben. He was funny but he didn’t buy me some sweets from the tuck shop one day even though I asked him nicely, so I dumped him.  A lady needs to feel special, right? Next I went out with Ben’s best friend, I forget his name. After that there was Christiaan – he was the most popular boy in school. I was so chuffed when he asked me out. He dumped me when he saw me flirting with one of the other boys, though. I didn’t see what the problem was with a little harmless banter, but he obviously took himself very seriously.

When I started high school, I had eyes for only one boy – Shaun. It was love at first sight. He didn’t notice me for ages though, which was annoying. I wondered if I was too fat, so I went on a diet and lost a few kilos, but that didn't make any difference. My Mom said you can never be too thin, but she's stick-thin and has always been miserable so maybe she got it wrong. As I was saying, Shaun had fallen for a girl called Phoebe. I don’t know what was so interesting about her. I mean, she seemed to spend more time reading and doing homework than anything else. And she wasn’t nearly as pretty as me, although she did have a certain awkward charm I suppose. Still, I worked on Shaun and eventually he fell for my charms. One day he kissed me after school, out of the blue. No warning or anything. I guess he just couldn’t help himself. I tend to have that effect on men, even now.

Shaun was my first love. I’d liked the other boys, but this was different. He treated me with respect – something that most guys weren’t capable of. He actually wanted to talk, and valued what I had to say. Most of my boyfriends have been less interested in my brain, if you see what I mean. I thought he was a real keeper. I used to picture us getting married. I’d have a huge white dress and he’d arrive on a horse. There’s be loads of pink roses everywhere, and we’d go on honeymoon somewhere exotic. It stayed a fantasy, of course. Shaun dumped me after only a few months. I was having a fling with another boy – it didn’t mean anything – but he was hurt badly. I guess I shouldn't have been messing around, but I was only a kid. He could've given me a second chance.


I heard that Phoebe is now a university lecturer. She always was a nerd. Never been married: that doesn’t surprise me. She and Shuan are still friends. That’s a bit odd. I bet his wife is jealous, I know I would be!

I haven't seen Shaun since we were kids. There was a school reunion a while back, but I couldn't be bothered to see most of those people again. Some of them were horrible to me- especially the girls. I would've liked to see Shaun, but I live far away from my old home town now and it just seemed too much effort. I started writing him a Facebook private message the other week, but whatever I said seemed pathetic, so I deleted it. I would like to catch up, but I wouldn't want him to take it the wrong way. He seems to be happily married now, more's the pity.

I first got married when I was 22. It was a whirlwind romance and soon burned itself out. He was called Rick, and we met at Uni. We parted amicably after a couple of years. Neither of us had any money, so there wasn't anything to fight over.

My second husband, Aaron, was lovely. He was a little older than me and well off. He worked in mergers and acquisitions or something like that. Really clever. I was so fond of him. Yes, he was a little dull, so I had to have a  romance on the side but he shouldn't have taken it so personally! I'd never seen him so passionate as when he was chucking my designer clothes and shoes out of our bedroom window. It's almost funny, thinking back on it.... Anyway, after we got divorced I had to get a job. I hadn't needed to work while I was married to him. Oh well, you live and learn. I wish I hadn't cheated on Aaron though, he was a good bloke. I didn't deserve him.

My sister says I have loyalty issues, but she doesn't know what she's talking about. Besides, I've got the same bunch of girlfriends that I've had since uni, so it can't be that. She's always been a little envious of me.

My third husband, Lester, was a bit of a loser. We just weren't right for each other. We couldn't stop fighting at the end - the divorce has only just come through in the last few days. I don't really know why I bothered to marry him in the first place. I guess I was lonely.

I'm 42 now and I've decided that it's time I grow up. I've promised myself that I won't get married again. Not unless I'm really sure and I know that I won't be tempted to stray. Maybe I shouldn't even date for a while, not until I've had time to cool down after Lester, at least. We'll see. There is this hot new guy in the office though...
I wish I was a 12 year old again. Love was so much simpler, back then.

The first girl I loved

I'd had a couple of girlfriends in primary school. I'd play kiss-chase and write them a Valentine's day card, that sort of stuff. But it was in my first year at high school that I fell in love for the first time. I remember talking to my Mom about it (she is a cool Mom and never made fun of me.) Our conversation went a bit like this:

"Mom, can I talk to you about something?"

"Sure honey, what is it?" She replied.

"There's a girl at school, and well..."


"She's pretty and clever and I like her smile, and..." I said.


"I like her, I mean really like her."

"Oh honey, that's lovely. Do you think she likes you too?" Asked Mom seriously.

"I don't how, I mean, how do you tell?" I wondered.

"That's a great question. The only way you can tell is to ask her."

"Like, ask her to be my girlfriend?"

"Ya. Or tell her that you like her and ask how she feels."

"Oh man, what if she doesn't like me? What if she laughs at me?" I worried.

"That's a risk that you're going to have to take. Otherwise you'll never know and always wonder."

"But it's embarrassing!"

"It can be." She smiled gently and patted my hand.

So, on my mother's wise advice, I took the plunge. I invited Phoebe to my birthday party. She seemed happy to be invited, which gave me a bit more hope. But did she say yes just because she felt sorry for me? Argh- this love thing was tough.

I was so nervous before I asked her out. Dry mouth, racing pulse, squirming tummy- all the clichés. I nearly bottled it. When she said yes I couldn't believe it! I'd convinced myself she'd laugh in my face and run to tell her friend.

We got on so well together. We spent hours chatting, and she even took an interest in my cricket stories (I was on the school team.) I remember the first time we held hands - oh man. Mom liked her too. They got on surprisingly well. We went out for two years, and she was the first girl I kissed. There's something about first love isn't there? It's so uncomplicated.

But another girl, Melissa, had been flirting with me for a long time. I had ignored her at first. But so much attention is flattering, and she was very pretty. One day after school, she walked up to me and kissed me- just like that! I was annoyed at first, but then she kissed me again. It was nice. I forgot all about my girlfriend for a minute. I felt bad afterwards, but it was too late. Melissa told everyone at school the next day that we had kissed and she was now my girlfriend. I'd wanted to tell Phoebe myself about the kiss, and that I wasn't going out with Melissa, but Melissa got there first with her own version. So I spent that day avoiding Phoebe- I was such a wimp.

I did apologise to Phoebe later, but the damage had been done. I hadn't planned to go out with Melissa, but she latched on to me and it was easier to go along with it. She told me we were going to the cinema together that weekend and that I was paying, and I did as I was told. I know, but I was a teenage boy after all. We only went out for a few months before I found out that she was cheating on me with James, in the year above ours. One of my friends saw them kissing by the bike sheds. Classy. I shouldn’t have been surprised.


I haven’t seen Melissa since high school, but I saw on Facebook that she’s got divorced again.

Phoebe and I get on well now. She’s good friends with my Mom, which isn’t as weird as it sounds, and she’s like a surrogate auntie to my two boys. Mom and she have taken them to a couple of plays. Thomas and Harry are always so well behaved for them. They are 10 and 13, and have a lot of energy. I’m sure I was never that crazy!

Phoebe’s done really well for herself. She’s married to her job – a lecturer at the university- and has had some academic books published. Mom jokes that she’s the one that got away. I do like her – as a friend, I mean. I’m happily married to Helen – 18 years now. Man, I’m getting old. When you’re 12, it feels like every Saturday lasts a week, and you think you'll never grow up.