The Wall that Blinked

A short story written with my son, based on his day at school…

My predator had cyan eyes with purple dots on the irises. Each one shaped like the eye of Horus, they were red rimmed and had a feline black slit of a pupil. These were not the eyes of a creature you would want to meet on a dark night.
I was really proud of them.
They dried over the lunch break. During afternoon class my teacher Miss Bayer said that she was so pleased with our predator artwork that she would put the eyes up on the wall in the classroom.
I wasn’t too sure I liked this. Have you ever walked past a wall of eyes? If you are there with your friends, then it’s possible to think of them like so many miniature stained glass windows. If, like me the following day, you have left your violin in the cloakroom again and have to pass the eyes by yourself on your way to retrieve your instrument, they can be downright creepy.
They’re just paper, tissue, paint and glue, I told myself. I made a pair. I know that. But I still scurried to find my red violin case. I carried it in front of me like a shield as I went to pass them again. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the blink.
I froze. Stupid now I think about it, I should have run. But I didn’t. Down near the bottom of the display, a pair of luminous green eyes the shape of of an infinity symbol had definitely blinked. I waited. I could hear my heart beating in my ears.
Nothing happened. I must have imagined it. I bent to examine the eyes, smiling to myself as I recognised them. My friend Dean had made them, I noticed he had managed to get a splodgy yellow capital D around each of the teardrop-shaped pupils. It was his symbol. He wanted to write it on walls and stuff.  I’d told him that, if he did that, everyone would know he’s done the graffiti and he’d have to clean it off and the police would come to his house. He muttered that everyone knowing the graffiti was his was sort of the point, but I knew that he had thought about it again, and only actually practised it on the side wall of his own house. The yellow seemed to make the green paint glow. I didn’t remember him adding black paper eyelids but when the eyes blinked again, that’s definitely what I saw. I yelped. This time I ran.
I went to bed as normal, but I switched my light back on again when my mum went downstairs. In the dark, I could imagine that there were predator eyes on my bedroom wall too. Weird, glowing eyes, as if a thousand greedy animals were watching me, waiting for the moment that I would drop off so that they could gobble me up. I tossed and turned. I sweated. I drank a cup of water and had to go out to the bathroom. I must have fallen asleep, because I woke when my alarm went off. I was ok for about two seconds, but then I felt like a bubble of sick was rising all acidy in my stomach. I didn’t want to go to school ever again.
Mum had absolutely no truck with this at all, and packed me off to be eaten by the wall monsters.
“What’s up?” asked Dean. “You look poorly.” He had run to catch up with me on the footpath that led to the school gate.
I shrugged and put my hood up on my coat. “Tired.”
“We’re doing about prey today,” he said. “Blinkin’ shame if you had to miss it and go home.”
We hung our bags and coats in the cloakroom, and I nearly walked into Miss Bayer as she stepped out of the stationery supplies cupboard. She was holding a broken piece of wood in her hand. “The whole shelf’s come away from the wall,” she said.
“Don’t look at me!” said Dean.
She twisted her mouth in the way she does when she’s thinking about a tough maths puzzle. “I wasn’t,” she said slowly. It almost sounded like she added “but I am now”, but no actual words came.
We headed to class. I looked away from the wall of eyes. The last thing I needed was my whole class hearing me shriek.
Dean suddenly stopped.
I didn’t even realise until I was a metre or so in front of him. I turned back.
“Did – ?” he said.
“What happened?”I asked.
“Nothing.” He shook his head. He started walking away.
“What happened?” I asked again, bobbing along beside him like a rubber duck in the bath.
“I said nothing.” He didn’t look at the eyes on the wall, and he wouldn’t look at me either.
It was break time before he would admit that something had happened. Even then he pretended like it wasn’t a big deal. “It looked like there was a pair of eyes glowing at me, ok, but it was just the light. I’m not a nutter. I don’t do stupid stuff.”
Dean clearly didn’t want to talk about it, so we played normal games at break and lunch. As home time approached, I started to feel nervous. I didn’t want more of the eyes moving or glowing. I didn’t know what was going on with that wall. All I knew was, I didn’t want to be anywhere near it.
I dashed to be the first to go out to meet my mum on the playground, so of course I forgot my water bottle and had to go back. I stopped just before the place where the eyes hung on the wall. There was a shadow across them and the sparkle of the glitter glue that some of my classmates had used to make their predator eyes looked like malevolent glints in the semi-darkness.
I took a deep breath. I felt like my heart was going to hammer out through my chest. I felt light headed. I didn’t want to be there. I needed to think about something else. Miss Bayer’s words from that afternoon’s class floated through my mind. “Prey has two options for survival. Fight or flight.”
What I was feeling was flight.
When the orange eyes next to Dean’s blinking green ones started to glow, I felt something else. I felt anger.
I stormed to the stationery cupboard and flung the door open.
There was Dean, torch in one hand, my water bottle in the other. He was shining light through the holes in the wall where the shelf had fallen out. They lined up exactly with the orange and green predator masks on the other side of the wall.
“I knew it!” I shouted. “A blinking shame? No one says that!”
Dean looked a bit awkward, but then he grinned.”I got you though, didn’t I? You really thought the eyes were alive.”
I nodded. “You did. But I don’t know why.”
He pulled a face. “There’s just something about walls. I see a wall, I want to decorate it. You had to go and tell me the police would be on me if I drew on walls in public, didn’t you? So I drew on the one at home. And Dad’s grounded me.”
A shape loomed behind me, casting a shadow across Dean’s face. Miss Bayer appeared. “You two. I might have known. Dean – did you pull the shelf out of my cupboard?”
Dean looked a bit scared, but admitted it.
“Great, well, as you like decorating walls so much, you can help fix the shelf back into this one. Tomorrow. Now go on, home. Both of you.”
We hurried out onto the playground to find our parents. As I ran, I glanced back.
I was almost sure that a cyan and purple dotted eye winked at me. But that was impossible.

Cake with no eggs – apple and cinnamon

   

 Kids home ill today, which always ends up meaning baking. But without any warning of illness, I don’t have the right ingredients in. I don’t even have enough flour and butter, and no eggs at all…
But they’re ill and clamouring for cake.
Ok then. Let’s see if we can make a fabulous cake with only random ingredients…
And we can! This is an awesome, fruity, light cake. I was amazed!

Store-cupboard Apple and Cinnamon Cake

5 heaped dessert spoons of soft brown sugar
5 heaped dessert spoons self raising flour
3 heaped dessert spoons polenta
2 heaped dessert spoons natural fibre boost powder (Matt Dawson branded)
4 kids’ little fromage frais, apricot flavour
2 apples, finely diced
1or 2 dessert spoons cinnamon
8 dessert spoons olive oil
2 dessert spoons lemon juice

I mixed all the above together, and baked for 1 hour at 190c.

I mixed the last of my icing sugar and butter together with some more lemon juice to make a toupee of butter cream icing on the top. It’d be great to kid myself that with the polenta, fibre powder and fruit this approximated to healthy, but it’s cake at the end of the day, and a lovely one too. After all, if you can’t have comfort food when you are ill…

#500 words Harry Potter fiction

Trying to persuade my son to enter the BBC Radio 2 500 words competition this year, I came up with this to show him how easy it is to write 500 words…

When I woke up this morning, I was Harry Potter. I knew that was my name before I even opened my eyes. When I did open them, the bedroom was all fuzzy. Someone had cast a spell that blurred the world. I took my glasses from the bedside table, then everything looked normal. Only it wasn’t. This was an ordinary bedroom in suburban house. A toy aeroplane hung from the ceiling. This wasn’t right. Not for a wizard. This was a house for muggles.

I reached under the feathery pillow. My wand. Once my fingers closed around the holly wood, I relaxed a little. I might not know what was going on, but at least I could defend myself.

There was a rectangular plastic and metal device there too. It lit up when I touched the front of it with my wand, but not even the relashio spell would make it give up its contents. It just flashed “swipe to unlock”.

I sat up. I was wearing pyjamas. They looked a bit like my quidditch uniform. There were muggle clothes – jeans, t-shirt, pants- in a heap on the floor. My school robes hung on a hook on the back of the bedroom door. I slipped out from the bedsheets and flung the black cloak of my uniform over the pyjamas. Again I felt better, more like myself.

I could feel eyes staring at me. “Homenum Revelio,” I muttered, waving my wand. Nothing happened. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. If that spell didn’t show it, a thing, not a person was watching me. I turned towards the door but as I did so, a flash of white caught my eye. An owl. A cuddly snowy owl was perched on the bedpost at the foot of the bed. I picked her up and stroked her smooth, silky wings. “Hello Hedwig.”

I had no idea why she had that name. It sounded like a mistake. Hello Bodyclothes, hello Footshoe.” Not my choice, but Hagrid knew his creatures and it certainly fitted her style.

I was expecting the door to be locked. All those years with Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had led me to expect this of muggles. It opened without even needing the alohomora spell.

“Henry Porter. I was wondering what had happened to you.” Downstairs in the kitchen, the witch was at the stove, stirring a pot of lumpy grains. Orange and green dots studded the mixture and a pile of chopped fungus lay on a wooden board. She added a handful. “It’s nearly lunchtime. It’s risotto,” she said.

I was beginning to think I had been hit with a confundus curse. Nothing was making any sense.

“You fell asleep as we left the studio tour. Daddy thought it was best to put you straight to bed.”

I felt my stomach drop with disappointment. “I’d better get dressed, then.”

She waited until she thought I had gone upstairs. “Finite incantatum,” she muttered.
Then I knew everything.

Frozen Freedom (part 3)

Meanwhile, beyond Arendelle…

Chapter 5

“Three of them pretended I was invisible, for two years…” muttered Hans, shovelling horse dung into a cart. He wiped his brow with the back of a hand, leaving a streak of brown. “Yeah, well, I’m not so easy to ignore now, am I? You can smell me three rooms before you see me.”

“Hey! Horse boy!” Franz approached his little brother. “Hay – get it, hey’s like hay.”
“I appreciate your wit so much that you see me rolling on the floor with laughter,” said Hans, scooping up another spadeful of manure and flinging it onto the cart.
“But you’re not rolling on the floor,” said Franz, puzzled.
Hans smiled his most dazzling smile. “That should tell you all you need to know.”
There was a pause, and then Franz shoved his brother-face first towards the cart.
Hans caught the edge with his hands, avoiding a mud mask. “You’ll have to be faster that that.”
“Whatever. The King wants to see you.”
“It’s about time.” Hans pulled himself upright. “Ok, let’s go. Oh, and Franz? No hard feelings?”
His brother automatically took the proffered hand and shook it. A moment later, he recognised the squidge of manure but by then Hans had slipped his grip and was off and away towards his apartments for a bath.

In the throne room, King Uwe waited impatiently, avoiding the eyes of his courtiers in case he accidentally ordered an execution. That tended to happen when he got irritated. It was thirty minutes since he had sent for Hans. Was there anything that his youngest brother would ever be able to do competently?
The ornate white and gold doors were opened at last.
“You sent for me, big bro?” There was Hans, handsome and insolent as always. The punishments were not working to humiliate him as intended, it seemed he only had to bathe to return to his apparently charming self.
It was time, Uwe decided, for a different approach. “Everyone out. I need to talk to my brother alone.”

When the room had emptied, Hans closed the double doors, strode across the floor and trotted up the dais steps. He hissed at the cat that dozed on the queen’s throne – which fled – then leapt into its place, swinging his legs over the arms of the throne. “What’s up?”
“I am the King, you know,” Uwe reproached him.
“What’s up, your maj?”
Uwe smiled, or at least showed a lot of his teeth. “You’re getting nothing at all from all that shovelling?”
Hans mirrored his brother’s expression. “Biceps like tree trunks and the ability to cut through cr-”
“Exactly,” said Uwe. “So you do get it. I had to do something with you. International protocol demands it. You confessed to plotting to murder a Head of State, Hans. If you had only kept your mouth shut, if you’d kept that ego in check for just a few months longer, you could have been a king yourself.”
Hans opened his mouth, but Uwe waved a finger.
“No. No second chances in Arendelle for you. I heard today that your Princess is now a mother.”
Hans raised an eyebrow. “She married the ice cutter oaf?”
“She did. There seemed no point telling you, it’s not like you really cared, is it?”
Hans frowned for a moment, but shook his head.
“But now I have a mission for you,” said Uwe. “You should understand that I should be executing you and that this is your last chance. As you right royally screwed up in Arendelle, I really ought to get your brother, any one of them, to do this instead. But I hate to say it, you’re the one with the looks.”
Hans smoothed back a wing of his hair. Uwe grimaced – seeing his brother was like looking in a distortion mirror that stripped away the years, the extra pounds and restored a full head of hair. It was painful.
“Another marriage plan?” asked Hans.
“You wrecked my plans to ally with Arendelle, but you know that the Southern Isles is nothing without trade,” his brother continued. “We must have a partnership and our only choice is Weselton.”
“He’s not my type.”
“Not the Duke, you fool, his daughter. Jane.”
“I see.” Hans paused for a moment. “Is she beautiful?”
“Certainly.” Uwe crossed his fingers behind his back. “Her maternal grandmother was even known as Beauty.”
“Let’s hope she takes after her and not her ratty little father,” said Hans. “But it won’t matter for long.” He stretched lazily like a cat.
“As King, I cannot possibly condone any plans you may have beyond making a strategically important marriage,” said Uwe, standing. He paused for a moment, until Hans remembered himself and stood too.
“That’s why I’m not telling you my plan. I’ve learned my lesson on that at least,” said Hans. Without a further word, he strode across the throne room and flung open the doors at the end for a dramatic exit. If he had been in Arendelle, he would definitely have sung a song about it.

Chapter 6

Olaf bustled around, delivering burp cloths, new diapers and food for Anna. He danced as he went, singing jazzy little lullabies. There was no doubt that he was an inspired if unusual nursery nurse.
Anna opened one eye. She barely felt like the same woman who had once slept so deeply that she had nearly missed her sister’s coronation. Now, four weeks after the birth, she slept more lightly the her children and had a kind of sixth sense for danger.
“Olaf! Please, we can’t use your nose as a pacifier.”
Olaf removed the carrot from baby Sven’s mouth and popped it back into his own face with a thocking sound. “Sorry Anna, he just loves it so much. Who’s an itty bitty baby then, yes you are, yes you are!”
“He loves it and he loves you, Olaf, but please, it could choke him.”
Olaf drooped. “Oh, ok. I guess he’s just taking after Sven. Baby Sven takes after Old Sven, huh?”
For a moment, it was as if a grey cloud had settled over the nursery.
“I miss him too,” said Anna, getting up of the bed and giving Olaf a hug.
“Me too,” said Olaf. “It won’t be the same at the christening without him.”
“The christening!” said Anna. “It’s Christening Day!”
This simple fact lightened her mood so much that she and Olaf skipped around singing while they got the babies ready, and when Kristoff joined them he found he automatically knew how to harmonise the chorus. (This sort of thing seemed to happen a lot in Arendelle. Whether it was an extension of Elsa’s powers, no one knew.)

Elsa paced the floor of the chapel. She had to admit, the Prime Minister had done an excellent job. The decorations were brightly coloured but tasteful, stars, snowflakes, diamonds and triangles forming tiny crowns and sceptres. She had herself had added tiny mirrored ice jewels that floated in the air and created an ice sculpture, formed of the names Sven and Iduna, which stood in the courtyard outside. The guests from the neighbouring kingdoms were yet again converging on Arendelle for a royal occasion. Anna loved a party, but for Elsa they were always a source of stress, everything needed to be perfect and not just because it was important to be a good host.
The truth was that Elsa did listen to her Prime Minister’s briefing meetings. She knew what Anna would never understand, defeating Hans’ coup had cost Arendelle dearly, both in terms economic and reputational. Sending a royal Prince back to his home as a convicted criminal had ended Arendelle’s diplomatic relations with the Southern Isles.
Equally, the Duke of Weselton might have been odious, but losing the major trading partner for Arendelle’s wood, kitch Nordic knitted blankets and glogg was a major blow.
She very much needed to charm everyone today, but she couldn’t help but notice at Anna and Kristoff’s wedding that, even though the Arendelleans cheered for her, many visitors seemed afraid of her. That wicked sorceress rumour started by the Duke of Welseton had hurt, and that so many seemed to be able to believe it hurt more.

Elsa slipped out of the chapel and climbed into the carriage that awaited her. As Anna had hoped, Elsa used her powers to transform the outside of the carriages into iced swans. The crowds waved and cheered, they seemed happy with their ice queen and ecstatic about the next generation of Arendelle’s royal family. Would they be so happy if they knew that Iduna would also be continuing the family tradition of magical powers? She didn’t dare think about it.

All seemed to go well until the moment that the Officiant attempted to scoop water over the head of the babies. Iduna, as royal heir, was first. As the water poured over her, the Officiant named her Iduna after her grandmother and Viola for the flowers that Elsa had conjured up in honour of her birth. She giggled and cooed. Her proud mother took her into her arms for a cuddle, then passed her over to her aunt. Elsa pressed her cheek against her baby niece’s soft cheek. Iduna turned her head and planted an open wet mouth against Elsa,which made her aunt feel both proud and sad at the same moment.

Then it was Sven’s turn. Named for a reindeer and given the middle name Agnarr after his grandfather, Sven was a lot less at ease with the water than his sister. His scream of fear as the water touched him startled his sister. she jumped in her aunt’s arms and Elsa watched with horror as her niece shot a bolt of ice into the air. As if in slow motion, she watched the blue-white missile fly towards her nephew. Just as she realised that there was no way that this bolt would hit her nephew, it ricocheted off one of Elsa’s floating ice jewels and headed straight for her nephew’s face.
Anna and Kristoff both dived forward, but to no avail. Everyone watched in open mouthed horror as the bolt of ice entered Sven’s eye and the baby boy’s scream of fear became one of pain.

Frozen Freedom (Part 2)

After my eight year old loved my Frozen fanfic first two chapters, I now present chapters 3 and 4…

Chapter 3
The agitated reindeer was the first sign that all was not well.
“Bernd, what’s wrong buddy?” Kristoff gathered up the small corvine that was now anxiously butting his knee with its tiny horn buds.
Elsa swept ahead, keen to get to her sister.
Opening the door of the Royal Birthing Suite, previously the Green Bedroom, she was greeted by the sight of a troll cuddling one baby while Anna frantically rubbed the back of another.
“Elsa! She’s stopped breathing.”
Kristoff ran to his wife. He put the reindeer on the ground and lifted his baby from Anna’s shoulder, scared at the floppiness. He put his daughter gently on the bed. He placed his mouth over her tiny nose and mouth and breathed gently, while pressing her chest with his fingertips. Nothing happened. He tried again. Then Anna tried, then Kristoff again.
Elsa felt a tug at her sleeve. A short, grey troll in a green dress stood at her elbow, the little prince swaddled securely and fast asleep on her shoulder.
“It won’t work,” said Bulda, nodding at the frantic parents. “She’s almost gone.”
“But, she can’t just die?” asked Elsa.
“Everything dies,” said the troll, calmly. “But it doesn’t always have to be so soon.”
“You can change this? Then why aren’t you doing it?” demanded the Queen.
“It’s not me that can change this,” said Bulda, with a pointed look. “I cannot create life.”
“Wait -what? I don’t understand. I can’t create life.”
Olaf bustled into the room, carrying a large pile of towels and a tiny bucket of warm water. “I got these, Anna said last week that they might be important,” he said.
Elsa stared at Olaf. “Oh. Maybe,” she said. She looked at her hands, and as she did so, a simple snowflake formed, growing to the size of an Arendelle penny and twisting, turning, spinning in her palm. Its fractals were easier to see as it grew, and yet still linked to the progressively smaller versions of itself repeating on into unseeable infinity.
“Oh good,” said Olaf. “I don’t like to go on wild goose chases. I’ve been on those and they’re all hissy and flappy, which is ok if you like that sort of thing, but I’d rather spend time with my best buddy reindeer -” He paused. “That’s you now, Bernd,” he said to the reindeer that sat forlornly in front of the bedroom fireplace.
Bernd rapped a hoof on the floor in acknowledgement.
“Yeah, thanks,” said Elsa. “But you’re wrong -”
“Bulda,” supplied the troll, twisting a large ruby necklace.
“Bulda. I hit Anna with my powers, twice. She nearly died, twice. My powers and humans don’t mix.”
“Don’t they?” said Bulda. “Then why are you still wearing that fabulous dress? I’d love to have that in my wardrobe.” She held out her arms.
Elsa looked down at the violet silk. As if reflecting her mood, the flowers looked shrivelled and frost bitten. “I can make dresses just by picturing the design,” she said.
“A potentially lucrative sideline,” said the troll. “What else?”
“I can control the weather and water. I can create living ice creatures which can live indefinitely.”
“You can do all that, and you still don’t believe you can save your niece?”
“What do I do?”
“A jolt of your powers to her heart will restart it. But Elsa, there will be a price.”
“What do you want?” asked the Queen. “I can give you jewels, gold, cloth, and anything else that my Prime Minister tells me is an asset of my kingdom.” The troll tilted her head as if picking up on the bitter edge to the final words, but Elsa’s desperation shone through and she smiled. “It is not a price payable to me, but it falls to me to tell you of it.
“Long ago, Grand Pabbie Troll asked your father if you were born with your powers or cursed with them. He answered born – and it was a lie. It always is. None of you has ever been born with these powers, but you might as well have been because it is at these moment that your lives begin. You died, Elsa, moments after your birth, just as your niece is doing now. Your father faced an impossible choice. He knew of your mother’s powers, of course. She tried to save the Bjorgmans when they were trapped in the frozen lake, but you know this…”
Elsa’s mouth had dropped open.
“You did not know this,” said the troll.
Elsa shook her head. “I never knew. My mother had powers? Why did she never tell me? And the Bjorgmans? Kristoff’s parents? She tried to save them? This is all too much.” She put her hands to her head.
“But all that is of little matter now. What matters is your choice. Help your niece, and she will live, but she will have your powers. You know what it is to live in fear of them. You will need to raise her, and in so doing your sister will fear that you are stealing her daughter. You may save your niece but lose your sister. And your love for your sister is what has made you ‘you’, as you are today.”
Elsa looked anguished. Then she set her jaw. “Then there is no choice to be made. If the price of saving my niece is me, then it is a price worth paying.”
“Your mother could not live with the price she had agreed”. The troll’s ruby earrings glinted as she turned her head. “They knew there was danger in sailing the winter’s ocean, but they knew it was the only option for their youngest child to survive even if they did not.”
“Wait,” said Elsa. “My mother knew they would die on that voyage? But they went anyway.”
“Oh yes. She had no choice. Any longer and she would have given birth here at the palace, and that would have been impossible. No third child could have survived and the heartbreak would have killed her anyway.”
“Third child?”
Bulda patted her hand. “Your brother. He was born on born the ship. Grand Pabbie can feel that he has survived.”
Elsa got to her feet. “I have to do this. I have to save her. But then, I need to know. I need to know where these powers come from, and I need to know about my brother.”

Chapter 4
Anna was feeding her daughter, while her son dozed in the twin crib at the side of the bed. She felt hazy after thirty six hours awake, and she knew she wasn’t going to be at her most rational.

Something had happened. She had no idea that Elsa even knew how to do first aid, but when her sister had pulled Kristoff aside and then as he had come to put his arms around her, Elsa had picked up her niece.
Miracles existed. She was sure of it now. Her daughter had wriggled in her aunt’s arms the moment that Elsa had placed an ungloved finger over that tiny little heart. It must have been the right sort of cardiac massage or something.
There had been tears and gratitude, promises that Elsa’s debt for the past was more than paid, if indeed anything had ever been owed. Anna had never believed in keeping score on these things, but she knew that Elsa felt it strongly.
Iduna was tiring now, her sucks intermittent and little snuffly snores becoming more frequent. Anna knew she should rock her daughter to sleep and place her in the crib, she knew she should get some sleep so that she was not too tired to feed Sven when he woke. She still wasn’t totally sure that they should have named their son after a reindeer, but it seemed to matter to her husband.
At that moment Iduna opened her eyes, and her mother was sucked deep into the deep blue.  The hypnotic stare of the newborn baby, absorbing love from her mother like a little swaddled sponge, might have lasted moments or a hundred hours. Anna had no idea how time passed. Eventually the beautiful  eyes closed and she reluctantly put her daughter down into the crib next to her brother. Anna turned onto her side, attempting to sleep. It was funny, she thought as she started to drift off, all babies were said to start with dark blue eyes, but she could have sworn that her children had both had turquoise eyes when she first saw them.

Elsewhere in the palace, Elsa wondered a corridor, her head full of storms, shipwrecks and mysterious surviving babies.
“Your majesty?”
Elsa recognised the voice and gritted her teeth. “Prime Minister.”
“Are you ready to release a statement to the public?”
“A statement?” Elsa was momentarily confused. Should she announce to the world that she had a brother?
“The royal birth. The baby? The succession?”
“Oh.” Elsa smiled proudly. “Yes, I’m ready. In fact, I think I’d like to do it personally. Would you like to accompany me to the balcony?”

When the Queen stepped out onto the balcony, the cheer was so loud that it must surely have woken the royal babies.
“Good people of Arendelle, this is a great day. Today, the Princess Royal has given birth to twins.”
She waited for the gasps and coos to subside, and then continued. “Twins, a girl and a boy. And let it be known that the Princess was born first, followed shortly by her brother. As the customs and traditions of Arendelle dictate, we will therefore be welcoming my heir, the future queen of Arendelle at the royal christening in four weeks time.”
As she withdrew from the balcony to cheers and applause, the Prime Minister placed a hand on her arm. Elsa bristled at this breech of protocol, but the Prime Minister did not remove his hand. “It might have been wise, your Majesty, to inform me of the twins before the announcement. Provision will need to be made.”
“I do not see the problem,” said Elsa, coldly. “We will not require two christenings, so there is no added administrative burden to your staff, and all the new babies’ needs are being met out of the Royal List which I believe I can allocate as I wish.”
She turned, forcing the Prime Minister to either remove his hand or to execute a martial arts move. He chose the former.
“You should have informed me nonetheless. As for that little speech, this child may be born first, but she remains heir presumptive.”
“I was clear,” said the Queen, with icicles practically forming the words in the air, “that my niece was firstborn. She will be queen.”
“I did not disbelieve you,” said the Prime Minister, equally frostily. “I merely intended you to understand that, in the case of your marriage and procreation, your own child would take the place of your niece as heir apparent.”
Elsa moved to leave the room, but stopped with her back to the doors. “The only thing apparent here is that you are far overstepping your place, Prime Minister. My head may be on the coins but my private life is my own.”
She spun on her heel, flicking her plait over her shoulder and whisking her purple shawl around her shoulders  so that, as the door slammed behind her, the Prime Minister was left with the impression of a galaxy of icy, twinkling stars.

 

Frozen Freedom (Part 1)

As my toddler watches Frozen for about the 120th time, I present a fanfic sequel, tying up some of the loose ends… as with all fanfic, the characters are not my property…

Chapter 1
A tiny reindeer calf nudged its way through the market place, crossed the bridge and pushed through the crowd at the palace gate. The guards uncrossed their halberds to let it through, then crossed them again as the crowds surged forward.
As it emerged in the palace hallway, the reindeer munched a bunch of flowers that a lady at the gate would soon discover was now missing.
It clattered up the stairs, took a right along a red carpeted hallway and stopped at a door. A short snowman with a crooked carrot nose was bobbing up and down, attempting to peek through the keyhole.
“Did you find Elsa?” asked Olaf.
The reindeer shrugged.
“Oh, that’s ok, Bernd. I could really have used an icicle, they make great spy glasses. I guess it won’t be long now.”
He leaned forward to peek again, and nearly toppled over as the door swung open and Kristoff ran out.
“It’s twins!” he yelled, pushing his sweaty blond fringe out of his face. As Olaf tried to shove past him, Kristoff slammed the door and wiped his face and then high-fived a surprised Olaf so hard that his middle section separated and he dropped to pieces. As Olaf’s middle tried to catch his escaping legs, Kristoff caught up the reindeer calf in his arms for a hug. He was rewarded with a big slurpy lick on the cheek.
“She did it! We did it! I mean – woah.” His legs gave out and he slumped to the floor, leaning his head back against the blue and white painted door. “What am I going to do now?”
Bernd looked at him with tender concern.
“You’re going back into there to be a father,” it said, using Kristoff’s voice. (Everyone always thought that Kristoff was a poor ventriloquist talking to himself. They didn’t realise that his reindeers used him as a conduit for communication.)
“I know little buddy, I know. I wish I could have done more for your daddy. He was my best friend.”
The reindeer licked him again.”Don’t live in the past. You have to look after the Queen.”
“The Queen?” said Kristoff. “The Queen! I have to go tell her!”
He dashed away.
After a moment or two, Olaf tried the door handle, found it would open and slipped inside to visit the royal babies.

Chapter 2
“So, your Majesty, what I mean to say is…” The Prime Minister paused, and adjusted his collar.
Elsa had her elbow on the tabletop, gloved hand under her chin. Her other glove lay discarded on the floor. She flicked her flingers and little translucent, blue-white skaters appeared in a spray of snow flakes and skated about on the polished table surface. Eventually she noticed that the Prime Minister had stopped talking. “I’m sorry. I am listening, really.”
The little figures pirouetted. The female figure bent and, with a graceful swooping motion, lifted the male figure above her head.
“Your Majesty, this is most unorthodox.”
“I know,” sighed Elsa. “Of course you would expect the male dancer to be stronger and to perform the lift, but with my tiny dancers the skirts seem to lend the females added oomph.”
“Not your ‘tiny dancers’, your Majesty. This briefing.”
“We have to do it. I’m the Queen.”
“You are indeed, your Majesty. And I need not remind you that Arendelle is a representative democracy with you as the Head of State.”
“You didn’t need to, but you did it anyway.” Elsa pointed and the dancers executed a perfect figure of eight.
“Indeed. We kept the show on the road after your father’s death, until you came of age, and now we have reverted to his method of government. What I am suggesting, your Majesty, is that we might try something a little more in keeping with your modern approach to monarchy?”
Elsa looked the Prime Minister in the eye. She saw nothing but honesty radiating off the man. “Are you suggesting that you take control?”
“Only of the small, day-to-day matters, your Majesty. I would of course revert to you for big decisions, matters of state, that sort of thing…”
A tinkly whooshing blizzard like ten thousand tiny arrows cut across his words. The table top was now surrounded by a jagged ice perimeter wall and the tiny dancers were saved from plummeting to the carpet.
“Prime Minister,” said the Queen, “how long have you been working for the Duke of Weselton?”
“I don’t know what you mean, your – ”
Elsa stood. She reached forward and snapped off one point of the table’s ice wall. She turned the flat icicle over in her hands.
It was definitely not a dagger, thought the Prime Minister, and the Queen was not threatening him. And yet, something unspoken hung between them. This fragile-looking, wide-eyed woman could create weaponry from thin air.
This was not the only peculiar thing. The royal tailor was going crazy trying to discover the maker of the clothes and shoes that the Queen and the Princess Royal were now sporting. The Prime Minister had his suspicions. He remembered a pair of ice skates that appeared on his feet out of nowhere at the end of what was now only referred to as the Hansean Attempted Coup. But he couldn’t prove anything. That was what was most frustrating thing.
He bowed low. “With your permission, your Majesty, I shall retire-”
“Well that is good news, I didn’t expect you to agree so easily-” Elsa began, but the Prime Minister raised his hand and continued.
“Your Majesty, I shall retire to my offices and permit my aides to draw up a constitutional settlement to allow best use to be made of Arendelle’s assets, which of course includes the person of your Majesty.”
“My – my person?” said Elsa, uncertainly.
“Yes, your Majesty. As an unmarried monarch without issue, you are of course an asset of the State of Arendelle. It may be that it is imperative that you marry.”
His exit wasn’t exactly undignified haste, but if he had tried to leave any faster, he wouldn’t have had time to get the door open.
Elsa gathered herself up to her full height, prepared to deliver the perfect retort, but sagged realising the moment had gone. “I should’ve just frozen the lock shut,” she muttered.
The door was flung open, and there was her brother in law, Duke Kristoff of the North Mountain. He hadn’t wanted the title and didn’t like it, but protocol demanded that the Princess should marry a man with a title and Royal Ice Master and Deliverer didn’t cut it. She smiled to herself. Cut it. Ice.
“What’s happened to Anna?”  One look at Kristoff’s red cheeks and generally panicked demeanour convinced her that she should have been in the room with her sister. Something must have gone wrong.
“You’re a father!” he blurted out. “Wait. What? No, I’m a father, you’re an aunt!”
“And Anna?” asked Elsa, an icy hand of fear clutching at her heart.
“She’s good, really good,” Kristoff reassured her. “Tired, you know, but Bulda says that’s normal for human females…” He trailed off in the face of Elsa’s ice cold stare.
Human females?” she asked.
“Yeah, uh, Elsa? There’s something I should probably tell you about my family. They’re -”
“Trolls,” said Elsa. “I should’ve guess when they all showed up like that for your wedding. I thought they were just being friendly to me, y’know, one magical creature to another…” She stopped. “Oh my. So you knew, you knew about what happened when Anna and I were little?”
Kristoff nodded. “I watched. That was the night they adopted me. And Sven.”  A small black thundercloud seemed to hover over his head. Elsa waved a hand and it vanished.
“Let’s not dwell on the past, brother of mine. Let’s go and celebrate your baby, give the royal seal of approval.”
They stepped out into the corridor and walked briskly towards Anna’s chambers. Elsa sent a spray of ice magic over herself, creating a vibrant purple dress, decorated with sprays of pansies and violets.
Kristoff smiled. He was not big on fashion, but he appreciated the way Elsa’s magic incorporated living flowers into the clothes that she and Anna often wore. Pink flowered clematis wove itself into her plait.
“So what have I got, niece or nephew?”
“Um, both, actually.”
In the State Room, the tiny ice dancers climbed down a table leg and ran to the window. Scaling the sill, they reached a latch, and opened the window. Then they were out, outside, leaping and drifting down to the ground where they skated off at high speed to the lake on the north mountain which would be their home. They were born knowing this, just like all the tiny dancers before them, created by the Queen during her meetings with the Prime Minister.

 

Easy Banana Cake

Ok, I should probably confess that this amazing recipe came about by accident. My son came home from school with a week’s worth of fruit in the front pocket of his backpack. The apples were salvageable for another day, but the bananas and pears were definitely turning a bit brown.

“Yuck,” said my toddler, after demanding ‘nana for about ten minutes before I remembered where they were likely to be (my son had put them next to the fruit bowl, obviously, not in it where I’d have spotted them in a few seconds). My husband has a pathological hatred of wasting food, so I decided to use up the fruit in a cake.

While my son got his school shoes on, I skimmed the internet for banana cake recipes. There were “ultimate” banana cakes, and “best ever” banana cakes. The method for both of these seemed to involve putting the cooked cake (in the pyrex dish you would obviously naturally bake a cake in) into the freezer for a rapid image1chill. Who has space like that in their freezer? Ours is crammed with chips, ice lollies, ice cream, frozen herbs, frozen peas, fish fingers and assorted meats and fish that we buy and suddenly realise we can’t plan a meal around before the use by date.

I decided “really good” banana cake would do, and eventually settled for “easy” banana cake with cream cheese frosting from an Australian website. I love Australian food websites, they are often no-nonsense and have the temperature in celsius and the measures in both metric and cups. Also, I’d got a pot of quark in the fridge that outlasted the blackberries it was supposed to join on top of a flan case, so the icing sounded a great idea for really using things up.  After delivering my son to school, I popped into the shop for eggs, the only real missing item…

Once I started, I realised I’d misread, and I only has two squashy bananas not four, and not enough icing sugar so I had to make chocolate cream cheese icing (it works, think about the Dairy Milk and Philadelphia cream cheese you can buy!).
The end result is so delicious for an improvised recipe, it deserves to be recorded for posterity, so here goes:

Stick the oven on at 180c and butter a 20cm/8 inch silicone cake tin, which needs to stand on a baking tray.

2 eggs
125g (half a block) butter
315g (1.5 cups) golden sugar
2 mashed bananas
2 mashed pears
1 tspn vanilla essence
buttermilk made with juice of 1 lemon and 100ml milk

Mix these all together. I used a turn-the-handle hand whisk but you can probably use a food processor.

Then fold in:
1 tsp baking powder
220g (1.5 cups) self-raising flour

Pour carefully into silicone tin. Bake for 1 hour. Check it’s cooked by sticking in a skewer or narrow blade knife. Leave it for ten minutes, then turn it out onto a rack.

In a bowl, mix:
half a cup cocoa
2 cups icing sugar
1 pot quark (I guess other cream cheese would work too)

This blends nicely to a nice bitter chocolate creamy icing and a quantity that will spread right over the top of the cake and down the sides in one thick layer. You could probably split the cake horizontally and put some in the middle if you want, but it doesn’t need it.

Yum.

Morpurgo, Music and the Mozart Question

IMG_1935How do you explain the holocaust to children? If you are going to try, the good news is you can do it as engagingly and sensitively as Michael Morpurgo does in his current stage show “The Mozart Question”.

In a rare treat, the former children’s laureate was in Ashford, Kent today at Revelation St Mary‘s (the town centre church which is a stunning arts venue in its spare time). Accompanied by Alison Reid, violin soloist Daniel Pioro and the Storyteller Ensemble string quartet, Morpurgo tells his short story with drama and humanity.

The Mozart Question is NOT in the Da Vinci Code mould, using a famous historical name to build an improbable and inexpertly written thriller.
Instead it is the fictional story of Paulo Levi, a fifty year old virtuoso violinist who is interviewed at short notice by a cub reporter who has heard him perform and knows only that she must not ask the Mozart question.
Using well known classical violin music (which was slightly different from the selection featured on the 2012 CD of the show) to tell the tale, with Pioro stepping into the roles of both Paulo and his father.
The music left my 7 year old totally unable to sit still (sorry if you were there and thought he was fidgeting, he finds it easier to listen to music while moving I found out today!) His absolute favourite’s were Monti’s Czardas and Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – super fast violins-  and something he referred to as a Barber’s Shop Quartet. I explained that this last one is actually completely different music, but it’s a good term to use without totally giving away a nice surprise scene.

There were some lovely moments of humour, real poignancy and Morpurgo’s love of both language and music shines despite the potentially difficult material about the role of orchestras in Nazi extermination camps. I managed not to cry. But this was a performance primarily for children, so I asked my son to name his favourite bits:
– “I liked the story. It was really sad and happy at the same time”;
– “the fast music was really good. I played air violin when it came on”;
– “Mummy bought me the book, so I could read along a bit. The pictures in the book helped me listen a bit more”;
– “I was a bit scared about going to meet the author, but he was really nice and shook my hand”;
– “I wasn’t completely sure what The Mozart Question actually was, but I think there were three really… why did that music calm people down when they were going to die? Does that bad thing happening with the music make the music bad to listen to? And was his daddy silly to not want to hear it?” (These three questions emerged over the hour after we saw the show).
Once home, it was also the perfect opportunity to explain about Naziism and what happened to Jewish people, gay people, disabled people and more who didn’t fit in with that world view. He was a bit worried about using the shower tonight, a bit sad, and didn’t think anyone should decide that four million people should be killed. Then he decided to play Star Wars figures. It’ll be interesting to listen in and see if those games change as a result.

As always when taking a child to a performance, you have to be relaxed about how they are. At the beginning, my seven year old said loudly “Which one is he?” I replied that the author was the one in the red shirt. “Oh. He’s really old, isn’t he?” says my son.
He asked repeatedly why one violinist wasn’t playing at first (this became clear five minutes later), and later, during a quiet moment e asked why one spotlight wasn’t on.
But for a 75 minute performance without interval, I was really impressed that he basically listened, even if he squirmed.

At seven, my son reads confidently but has so far only read Morpurgo’s “Kaspar, Prince of Cats”. He was inspired with today’s performance though, so I expect we’ll have the full library soon.
Having bought the book that was performed, we hoped to get it autographed but it turns out Morpurgo is a fellow sufferer of RSI. Instead, he handed out signed book plates and came around chatting to everyone and shaking hands. What a nice man!
I mentioned how much my wriggling child had loved the music and Morpurgo asked if he learned an instrument.
“Not yet.”
“I think you will very soon,” says the author.
When we got home, my son announced he wants to learn the violin at school next year.
And he wants to play the Monti.
That alone was worth the entrance price.

Seaside Poetry

  
A proud Mummy post today. My big kid was set homework this week which should have been right up his street. The “beachcomber” topic that they have been following at school is interesting to him, but he is suffering from end-of-term-itis and really didn’t fancy doing extra poetry on the theme of creatures in rock pools at home.

Once I’d explained that he had to do it and no, I wasn’t going to do it for him, he sat down with me and decided to 1) do the poem on just one rock pool creature and 2) research that creature to get the information to go into the poem.
He also had to make sure there was an adverb, an adjective and a simile…

This is the result – an acrostic poem. Getting there was a bit blood-out-of-stone but worth the effort in the end…

The Beadlet Anemone

Aggressive animal, stings like a bee;

Nobbly blue beads on a blob of orange jelly;

Exciting red tentacles wave slowly to and fro;

Mouth on its bottom; slippy-slidey foot to go.

One hundred babies will come out of it one day;

Nestled in its rock pool, eating its prey.

Enemy anemone, keep away!

 

Pink for a Princess?

Welcome to the world, Princes Charlotte of Cambridge. You are only a few days old, but in your honour, the Royal Mail are producing pink stamps and Westminster is being lit up pink.

You may not even have worn anything pink yet.

You probably don’t even know if you like pink yet.

But don’t worry, you will.

You see, there’s a sweeping assumption in our capitalist economy that women like pink.

You only have to walk into the toy aisles of any supermarket or store to find that girls like pink. They must do – so many of their toys are pink. Their toys? Yes, we know those are for girls because they are pink. It’s an unwritten gender identifier.

Women must continue this love of pink into adulthood– there are pink versions of mobile phones and computers, and the dominant colour of mother’s day cards and gifts this year was again pink.

Pink is soft. Pink is feminine. Girls are sugar and spice and all things nice, so pink is for them.

The colour name comes from the flower (as it does in other languages, albeit a different flower, usually rose). Girls like flowers, so pink is for them.

Always has been this way.

What do you mean it hasn’t?

Some people get very upset when they hear that pink for girls, blue for boys, is not innate and is in fact only a convention that is around one hundred years old. They write angry comments on the Internet about trying to turn boys into girls and things just ARE, so GET OVER IT.

But it is nonetheless true that the pink-blue divide didn’t really happen until the first decades of the twentieth century. The reasons appear to have been a combination of technology, and fashion.

Until this point, babies of whatever gender tended to wear white clothes (yes, boys in white dresses and long hair, something probably regarded as horribly feminising today!) which could more easily be boiled clean and which couldn’t fade unlike the dyes in brighter clothes.
Boys were more likely than girls to wear pink, because men wore red uniforms and the convention was that boys were simply small men. Blue was associated with the Virgin Mary and so a more feminine colour.

This changed when sailor suits became fashionable – it was the height of fashion to dress small boys in these blue and white outfits and, with the advent of faster chemical dyes and mass production of children’s clothes, it was easier to dress children in colours more generally.

The transition of pink to a colour for girls took place gradually over the 1920s-1940s. Somewhat more horribly, its softer, feminine connotations were one of the reasons it was chosen as the colour of the Nazis’ symbol denoting homosexuality during the Third Reich.

But it’s SCIENTIFIC FACT, the online comments tell me. Little girls like looking at pink more. Well no, it appears that the test which “proved” this actually found that both adult men and adult women prefer blue tones, and that at the margins women preferred the red-purple spectrum and men the green-yellow, but children and the colour pink itself were not actually tested (thanks Wikipedia!)

More worrying is what pink has come to symbolise.
It is used as shorthand for what is expected of little girls, and by extension of women.
The focus of “girls’ toys” is so often physical appearance, shoes, clothes, nurturing and motherhood, art, romance, and domestic chores, as if those are the only things in adult women’s lives. Make the toys doing that pink, covered in hearts and sparkly, and you send the message that the subject and the colour things are interrelated.

It certainly works- my toddler identifies pink things as “mine” – if it is pink it is definitely hers and not her brother’s, so she chooses pink for exclusivity and to support her sense of self in opposition to her brother (who actually doesn’t mind pink!)

The focus of “boys’ toys” is so often war, action, saving (in the superhero sense), science, technology, mess and trouble, and blue, black, dark green, and sludge colours. Include no female figures, or write “no girls allowed” on the front, and girls soon learn that these are not toys aimed at them.
Pink is only a problem when it becomes a barrier to children discovering their own interests, either because they learn to reject what is not “appropriate” according to their peers, or because an adult simply never thinks to give them a toy because it is for the “wrong gender”.

In the same toy range, boys get play tool kits, girls a play make up purse.
Boys get a whole train set of boy characters (girls get one or two added-in pink engines) while girls get a whole dolls house of women and baby characters with cupcakes to eat, and boys get maybe a “Daddy” or a boy with a football, if they are lucky.

Boys get war games, superheroes and science kits, girls get pink play versions of domestic appliances, princesses and they can have a science kit as long as they use it to make perfume or cosmetics.

I’m not saying one set of toys is superior to the other, just that there are some assumptions being hidden behind the colour pink and it is being used to stereotype our kids.

We should be aware of it.

If we have become accustomed to it to the point that we RAGE VIGOROUSLY against anyone suggesting that it is not the natural order of things, then we have a problem.

At this point, we often meet the just-ignore-it brigade.
“If your daughter wants a toy aimed at boys, she can.” But how much better if it was just a toy, that didn’t make her feel a bit excluded?
If a boy wants to play with a pink toy, he can, of course, and we’d support him in so doing. I just wish no peer or social judgement would be made of him, that he won’t have assumptions made about him, his masculinity or his sexuality?

What we tell our children in our words and actions and assumptions is not consequence free. But it is our job to try and help them to be themselves just as hard as they can be.

What I’m trying to say is that, if a real Princess wants to wear a plastic tiara, sparkly plastic high heels and a pink nylon dress to pretend to be a “princess”, she can.
Equally, if she wants to wear trousers, get muddy, fire weapons and make weird coloured science experiments she can do that too.
But she can also pick and choose, no child is a stereotype and finding what she loves to do and be is the secret of happiness.

There’s more than one way to be a girl.

There’s more than one way to be a princess.

Let’s hope Princess Charlotte has the freedom to work out what she enjoys, even while the world’s media try to watch her every move and commentate on it.