Monday, 19 February 2018

FIVE MINUTE FICTION: A WINTER'S TALE

Reader Blue shares a spine-chilling winter story with a twist... this one is NOT to be missed!

As snowflakes landed on her cheeks, Elspeth's eyelids fluttered open. What was she doing here, lying on her back in the snow? She'd catch her death of cold! Elspeth didn't know where she was but she spotted a road not too far in the distance, a dark grey ribbon that twisted and turned as it disappeared over the horizon, promising to show her the way home. She stumbled towards it. Although she wasn't sure how she'd ended up asleep in the snow and didn't remember leaving her home, she had some theories. She'd been so stressed lately, trying to juggle uni coursework with a retail job. She'd probably come out for a walk and fallen asleep from exhaustion. How embarrassing! She hoped her family wouldn't ask what she'd been up to because she didn't think 'Napping in the snow, y'know, the usual,' would go down very well.

As it turned, Elspeth's home wasn't too far and after twenty minutes of sticking to the side of the road, she'd reached her house on the outskirts of town. The back door was ajar, the smell of cinnamon and apple drifted out. Elspeth slipped in... and came face to face with her father.

'Oh! Hey Dad... I just went for a walk,' Elspeth explained.

He didn't react, he walked past her and slumped at the kitchen table with a grunt, staring listlessly at the newspaper he held in his hands before setting it on the table. He'd always been a man of few words but that seemed rude.

Perhaps he was tired, he looked like he hadn't slept in days and his crumpled clothes hung off him. Too many late nights at the office, probably. Her mother hadn't even glanced up from where she stood at the hob, stewing apple and cinnamon, probably for one of her delicious homemade apple pies. Elspeth hoped she could have an extra big portion, all that sleeping in the snow had left her feeling distinctly washed out. Being ignored by her parents wasn't helping. Perhaps they were mad at her for being out for so long - Elspeth wasn't sure how long she'd been asleep but it must have been a while to merit the silent treatment.

The door from the hall creaked open and five year old Joe stood in the doorway. His eyes met Elspeth's and she grinned at him. 'Hey Joey!' she said to her little brother.

'Elspeth?' he whispered. Then 'Elspeth!' as he scurried across the room, arms outstretched as their parents heads swivelled round at the sound of his voice. Elspeth held out her arms to catch him in a hug. The last thing she was expecting was for him to go THROUGH her. He fell to his hands and knees, tears dropping from his eyes onto the terracotta tiles.

She reached out to comfort Joe but her hand went through his shoulder. Their mum scooped Joe up and he sobbed into her shoulder. 'She was here! I saw her! I did!' he cried.

There was a lengthy silence. Their father spoke first. 'You're tired Joey. I think you'd better have a nap. Mummy will tuck you in and read you a nice story and when you wake up, we'll have some apple pie with ice cream, OK?'

Joe wiped his nose on his sleeve. 'OK' he mumbled. His mother carried him out of the room. As soon as the door closed behind them, Elspeth saw her father's face crumple and tears spilled from his eyes. His shoulders shook with sobs. Elspeth had never seen her father cry before, not even when he broke his toe playing football.

Instinctively, she reached out to him - and froze. Her hand was translucent, bordering on transparent. She was fading away before her eyes. This was not good! What was happening? How could she stop it? She could feel panic rising in her chest and she gripped the edge of the kitchen table to steady herself and tried to focus. Her eyes rested on the newspaper lying open where her dad had left it. She smoothed out the page and read it, not bothering to move her hand as it was now completely transparent. The paper was open on the obituaries page. That was when Elspeth saw it, crammed amongst the now-departed ninety year olds. Her name.

"WINTER, ELSPETH: 1998 - 2018. Dearly beloved daughter of Stuart and Margaret Winter, cherished big sister to Joseph Winter. Funeral is at 9:30am, Wednesday 30th January at St Peter's Crematorium. All welcome but family flowers only please."

How... how was this possible?! She tried to scream but no noise came out. She tried to cry but her tear ducts were out of use. All Elspeth could do was stand frozen, hunched over her own obituary as she vanished for the last time.

Cathy says:
WOW... eerie and beautifully written! Thanks for sharing, Blue! If YOU love to write, why not give a 'like' to the CC Facebook Fan Page and join in with the regular story challenges? And feel free to COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Sunday, 18 February 2018

HANNAH: MAKING FRIENDS WITH ME

Reader Hannah shares how she summoned strength at a time when she was feeling lost, isolated and alone. Read on and be inspired!

Hannah says:
Just six years ago I was painfully shy and very unhappy at school. I had zero confidence and a group of girls picked on me on a daily basis, which made my self-esteem drop lower still. I got to the point where I didn’t want to go into school. I was miserable, and lost, and I had no clue what to do about it.

Fast forward to now. I am nineteen years old and in my first year of uni studying psychology, a subject I love. I have good friends, a lovely boyfriend and big hopes and dreams for the future. What changed? I did. I decided that I was sick of being everybody’s target, the one everyone picked on. I asked one of the bullies why she was doing it, and she told me I was ‘just too easy to pick on.’ I was a loser, she said. I looked in the mirror and I didn’t see a loser but I did see a very unhappy girl, with greasy hair and bad posture, unable to stand tall and look people in the eye because I was so sure they’d hate me. I wanted to disappear, and I hated myself, and it was obvious to everyone I knew.

I asked my older sister for help. She had always teased me too, but when she saw how unhappy I was she stopped being mean and became my biggest supporter. Her advice made me angry at first. She helped me to find a shampoo that was right for my hair, came with me to get a more flattering haircut, helped me choose cooler clothes. But the biggest difference was she helped me to see that I could be less hard on myself, and that actually I had to do that, because the self-hate was attracting all the nastiness that made school such a nightmare. It took a very long time to change this. Two years, maybe more. And I am still learning every day.

My sister told me she began every morning by looking in the mirror and telling herself the day ahead would be a good one. I realised I looked at myself and silently told myself how ugly I was, how scared I was of the day ahead. I tried to change it, because I thought it couldn’t do any harm, and very slowly I started to feel better. When my sister went back to college she started sending me uplifting cards and postcards which I put on my wall. I stopped comparing myself to others, stopped expecting the worst from every situation and started treating myself with less disgust. It became habit to eat well, exercise, take time to read and study, choose nice clothes and make sure I looked friendly.

I didn’t turn into one of the popular kids. I was still seen as geeky but I did begin to make friends, and the bullies stopped bugging me because I stopped reacting so much. I got really interested in the reasons why we treat others badly and how we can change things. It’s why I chose my uni course. I don’t think the thirteen year old me would recognise the person I am now, but that scared girl is a part of who I am... and always will be. I just learned that she was never my enemy, but someone I had to accept and make friends with. I still start the day with a positive message in the mirror, and I finish it by listing things I am grateful for in my diary. It has honestly changed my life.

Cathy says:
Wonderful words of wisdom, Hannah! Keep being strong! Do YOU have any tips on how to overcome bullying or low self-esteem? COMMENT BELOW to share with others.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

CHINESE NEW YEAR - YEAR OF THE DOG

Chinese New Year falls on the 18th of Feb, this year and we look at what 2018, the year of the Dog, might mean for you...

2018 is the Year of the Dog. In Chinese astrology, each year is related to an animal and an element, according to the 12-year lunar cycle. 2018 is an Earth Dog Year.

Legend has it that, back ancient China, the Jade Emperor declared that animals would become part of the new calendar - and that the 12 who arrived first would be selected. At the time, the cat and the rat were good friends. When they heard the news, the cat said to the rat, 'We should arrive early to sign up, but I usually get up late.' The rat then promised to wake his friend up so they could go together but, because he was so excited, he forgot and left on his own. He bumped into the dog, tiger, ox and other animals - who were all much faster than him - and he managed to convince the ox to carry him on his back. The ox arrived first, but the rat sneaked in front of him and became the first lucky animal. By the time the cat arrived, the selection was over - which is why the cat hates the rat and will always try to chase and kill him!

The global celebrations for Chinese New Year last for around two weeks and are an explosion of light and sound - involving bell ringing, lighting firecrackers, and traditional lion dances. Families gather for a reunion dinners and to clean their houses, sweeping away bad fortune. Traditionally, kids are given red envelopes stuffed with 'lucky money' and positive wishes on New Year's Day.

The year of the Earth Dog is promised to be a good year but also be an exhausting one! It is a good year to get your health in check, eating, exercising and getting rid of bad habits! As well as this, it promises good fortune, financially... sounds good to us! Enjoy Chinese New Year, whether you are a Dog or not!

Cathy says:
Do YOU celebrate Chinese New Year? If not, you can still have fun finding YOUR Chinese zodiac sign! What are YOUR traditions? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

ZOE: I CAN'T OPEN UP...

Reader ZOE shares a problem for CHERRY COSTELLO to shed some light on... do YOU agree with her advice?

Zoe says:
I feel so alone. I have been feeling for a while that I can’t open up to people and that nobody will understand me. It’s not that I’m going through anything major, I just find it hard to see how my feelings would be of interest to people. I’ve always been like this but recently I’ve had people comment on how I should speak to people more, since I’m always there for my friends. The only person I trust enough to speak to is my sister but she’s leaving home soon and wont be there for me in the same way.

Cherry says:
I’ve been there - it’s not nice feeling that no one is there for you, but let me tell you, they are. You sound like a caring person if you’re there for everyone else, but don’t use this to mask your own problems. It’s fairly common for your personality type to try to take on the troubles of everyone else as a way of ignoring their own. You could start by keeping a feelings journal, writing things down no matter how seemingly insignificant is a great way of getting things out in the open. It trivialises situations that may seem major in your head. This may be a step towards being able to be more open in general. All the same, it's worth remembering that not everyone wears their heart on their sleeve... it's OK not to over-share, if that's what feels right to you. It could be your instincts flagging up who you should and shouldn't trust! Don't let anyone make you feel inadequate just for being a private person - a true friend will understand and respect that.

Cathy says:
I was just like Zoe in school! It takes time to trust people and it's scary but opening up it can be a great way to sort out your worries, no matter how trivial. Have YOU had similar issues with sharing your feelings? If so COMMENT BELOW with tips...

Monday, 12 February 2018

EASY-PEASY LEMON-SQUEEZY PANCAKE RECIPE!

Reader Mimi shares her tasty and incredibly easy recipe for pancake mix - no excuses now! 

Mimi says:
This recipe is super easy and super tasty!

TIME: 20 MINS
SERVES: 12

Ingredients:
100g plain flour
2 large eggs
300ml milk
1 tbsp sunflower/ vegetable oil
fresh lemon, to taste (optional)
caster sugar, to taste (optional)


Put the oil, flour, eggs, milk and a small pinch of salt into a large mixing bowl. Whisk gently with a fork until nice and smooth. If you can, leave the mixture to rest for half an hour if not… get cracking!

Grab a medium sized frying pan and set it over a medium heat. Oil generously. When it’s heated up enough, drizzle your pancake mix into small circles in the centre of your pan. Cook your pancakes for one minute on each side until golden... turn gently using a spatula, or flip them if you're brave!

To serve, try squeezing a slice of lemon and a sprinkling of sugar - or, come up with your own yummy fillings! Sliced Banana? Nutella? Maple syrup? You decide!

Cathy says:
Yummy! Thanks Mimi! My favourite filling is sliced banana and a drizzle of honey. Do YOU have a fave filling? Let us know in the COMMENTS SECTION below...

Sunday, 11 February 2018

IS THIS A CRUSH?

Ahead of Valentine's Day, reader Imogen talks about how to spot a crush... and why it's not the same as real-life love...

Imogen says:
We've all been there. Totally in the thrall of that cool boy (or girl) we're actually too shy to even speak to... and kidding ourselves there'll be a happy-ever after. It can feel so overwhelming it takes over everything - when I had a crush on a boy from the Sixth Form when I was thirteen, I was obsessed. I made my friends hang out opposite the sixth form building every lunchtime in the hopes of catching a glimpse of him. I drew his name and mine inside a heart at the back of all my exercise books. I cried about him at night, and when he started going out with a girl his own age I hated her with such venom it made me sick and shaky for weeks. And then the feeling faded, as fast as it had arrived, and I had a new crush - a less dramatic one. When I was fifteen I started seeing a boy a year older than me, and suddenly real life relationships seemed more appealing than imaginary ones. So how do you know it's a crush?

- You dream about him all the time... but you've never actually spoken to him.
- He's a lot older than you, or unreachable in some other way... a teacher, a pop star, an actor.
- You know that NOBODY else in the world could ever understand you the way he does...
- ... even though you don't actually know what his personality is like.
- You practice writing your name with his surname in the back of your books.
- You plan your day around catching a glimpse of him.
- If he ever spoke to you, you'd panic so much you'd probably be speechless.
- Your friend threatens to tell him how you feel and you are horrified at the very idea.
- If he's a public figure, you collect as much info on him as you can.
- You are devastated if he gets a girlfriend.
- You happily turn down dates with real life boys because they're not HIM.

No matter how real the feelings may seem, they are a practice run for a real relationship and a part of growing up, so remember that and keep an eye on the bigger picture. In time, the fantasy love affair will fade, and you'll be ready for the real thing!

Illustration by Cathy Cassidy.

Cathy says:
Wise words from Imogen! Have YOU ever had a crush on someone who is way out of reach? COMMENT BELOW to share your story!

Saturday, 10 February 2018

VOTES FOR WOMEN!

Reader Callie shares her beautiful piece to mark 100 years of women first gaining the vote!

Callie says:
One hundred years ago, UK women couldn’t hold property the same as men. They couldn’t open a bank account. They couldn’t become an accountant or a lawyer or claim equal pay for doing the same work as men. They couldn’t sit in the House of Lords or obtain a fair court order against a violent husband, and had very few rights as we know them today. Most importantly, they couldn’t vote.

One hundred years ago, just after the end of WWI, change was ignited when an act was passed in parliament, allowing all married women over the age of thirty the right to vote. This monumental act was the start of basic change to social attitudes towards women. Although it was a milestone in women’s rights, it is important to realise that it was still another ten years before ALL women could vote and still today there is progress to be made, but it was a start!

History still largely views the suffrage movement  - those fighting to gain the right for women to vote - as radical. At the time, suffragettes were arrested and imprisoned, and when they went on hunger strike to draw attention to their cause, they were violently force-fed. I view their struggle as courageous and inspiring. Figures like Emily Davison, who gave up her life for the cause by throwing herself under the kings horse right up to today’s feminista heroes like Emma Watson and Malala Yousafzai; if we let these gals guide us, we will prevail. I also think it’s important not to exclude men in this fight. Even back during the suffrage movement of the early 19th century, there were male supporters.

There’s still a long way to go and we’re not there yet. Women are still not taken seriously in many lines of work, such as science and politics, but let’s keep pushing forwards. Spreading awareness, and being there for each other is key. Oh, and when the time comes, never forget to use your vote!

Cathy says:
Really important stuff, Callie, well said. We have to keep fighting, let's never let things slide. What are YOUR views? Leave a COMMENT BELOW and tell us how YOU feel!