Why not two children’s stories?

I feel I always need to push myself to do more. So after writing Pirate Prince Toby as my 1st Challenge this week from my ‘Loose Lips Sinks Ships’ post – I thought I’d add another children’s short story…. here goes

Joshua & His Magic Pen

At the very grown-up age of 6½, Joshua knew a lot of things.  He could name every Dinosaur, knew the difference between an alligator and a crocodile as well as the difference between a kangaroo and wallaby.  He had a mauve telescope and knew all the planets.  He knew about different plants and how to make a helicopter out of a particular leaf just by dropping it from a height – it spun round and round just like a helicopter.

As well as knowing lots of different things, Joshua was a very kind child who helped everyone.  He especially loved his little sister Nancy who was funny and kind and just four.

Joshua’s favourite thing to do above everything else was to draw.  He was an avid fan of ‘Draw With Rob’ by Rob Biddulph, had all his books – one he got signed by Rob himself when Joshua’s mummy took him to a bookshop in London.

One of Joshua’s drawings won a prize – a pen just like the one Rob draws with.  Joshua was so excited.  Just by thinking of a colour, the pen would change so Joshua’s drawings were always colourful even though he only used the one black pen.

There was something called ‘the pandemic’ which Joshua and Nancy didn’t understand very well but they couldn’t go out as much as they used to.  So their mummy and daddy brought them lots of different paper, paints and crayons to use.

Joshua and Nancy decided they would draw a big picture featuring all of their favourite things – princesses, unicorns and anything sparkly for Nancy.  As we know Joshua like dinosaurs, nature, animals and space.  So they put all of these together and soon had a big, colourful picture.

Picture this extravaganza – Joshua did as he fell asleep.

It was Christmas Eve and the house was really quiet.  Joshua couldn’t sleep – he was so excited about Christmas. He felt a prod in his back. ‘Nancy, stop that’ Josuha said rubbing his eyes. ‘I didn’t do anything!’.  If Nancy didn’t do it, who did, thought Joshua as he sat upright in his bed to be confronted by a bright green (his favourite colour) Diplodocus!  That’s a friendly dinosaur for any adults reading this. ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ asked Joshua.  ‘Your magic pen brought us to life.  We need your help. Said Toby the Diplodocus. ‘We?’ thought Joshua rubbing his eyes a little more.  

Peering behind Toby he saw a princess – who looked a lot like Nancy but Nancy was jumping around with Ben the Unicorn!  There was a strange looking alien who had eyes all around their head and a smile bigger than Joshua’s. Her name was Sophie and she could change colours like a chameleon.  Right now she was bright pink and sparkly – Nancy’s favourite combination.

‘Toby, why do you need my help?’ asked Joshua.  ‘Rudolph – Father Christmas’s main reindeer – is sick.  He is the only one who knows the route through space, which Father Christmas has to use to deliver Christmas presents to all the children all over the world in time for Christmas.  Can you draw Rudolph with your magic pen to save Christmas?

Now Joshua always tried everything.  Even though he had a little doubt his drawing wouldn’t come to life he gave it a go and did his best which is all children can do.

Below is Joshua’s drawing – what do you think happened?

That’s right, he sprung into life and said ‘why are you all here? You should be helping Father Christmas.  It’s getting very late and we have lots of presents to deliver’.  ‘Where is Father Christmas’s sleigh’? Rudolph asked.  ‘He’s at my house on Pluto said Sophie’.  ‘Climb aboard and hold on tight’ said Rudolph. ‘Can we come to?’ asked Joshua and Nancy.  ‘Without Joshua’s drawing we wouldn’t have a chance to save Christmas.  Let them come’ said Toby.  ‘Ben the Unicorn and Sophie the Alien agreed, Joshua and Nancy should come.

Everyone grabbed hold of Rudolph and soared into the sky.  Soon they had gone past the dark sky full of bright, twinkling stars.  Joshua pointed out all the planets and named them all.  Sophie soon called out ‘look there’s Father Christmas and his sleigh’.

‘Thank you for drawing Rudolph and saving Christmas Joshua.  Would all of you like to ride in my sleigh and help deliver all the presents to the children tonight?’ asked Father Christmas.

There was a resounding ‘yes’ before Joshua and Nancy, Toby the diplodocus, Ben the Unicorn and Sophie the Alien boarded the sleigh.

Over every continent of the world they flew delivering all the parcels.  But Christmas was nearly ruined again when a sleeping child opened their eyes and sprung up in delight at seeing Father Christmas laying out presents.  Quickly, Sophie changed colours and stood in front of Father Christmas so the child thought what he had seen was his giant teddy in the corner but Sophie had changed colours to look like the teddy and hide Father Christmas.  The child rubbed their eyes, took a second look and fell quickly back to sleep.

‘Phew, that was close’ said Joshua.

They soon reached Joshua and Nancy’s house.  ‘For saving Christmas and being a kind, helpful boy all year, I award you this gold star’ said Father Christmas pinning the star on Joshua’s pyjamas.  Nancy, you’ve been so funny and helpful too so you have a pink unicorn badge.

‘Joshua, Nancy – it’s time to get up.  Breakfast is ready and it looks like Father Christmas has been’.  Called Mummy.

Joshua woke up, his drawing was on the floor next to him.  Nancy was rubbing her eyes in her bed.  Was it all a dream? Joshua thought.  Did he just see Toby the Diplodocus wink from his and Nancy’s drawing?  Nancy didn’t remember anything.  Joshua was sad.  He had dreamed it all.  

‘Where did you get that star from Joshua?  It’s very bright’ asked mummy ‘and Nancy, I haven’t seen that pink unicorn badge before’ said daddy

‘Fa…..’ Joshua was about to say Father Christmas had given it to him but he and Nancy just smiled instead.

‘Happy Christmas’ Joshua said as he patted his star.

Challenge 1 from Loose Lips Post

In my post earlier – ‘Loose Lips Sinks Ships’ I set myself three challenges to focus on this week as a distraction from the doom and gloom news around the global pandemic. The first was to write a short children’s story which I’ve done!

It feels great to complete a challenge set – have you completed any challenges you set yourself this Christmas?

Check out my short story below about a very special, clever pirate – it won’t win any literally prizes but I feel a glow of satisfaction knowing I’ve completed one of the three challenges I set myself this Christmas.

Whatever you are doing, have a peaceful time this Christmas……..

Pirate Prince Toby who changed the Pirate Code

Many years ago on Crossbones Island out in the middle of the Mediterranean – that’s a big sea where it’s very warm all year round and the brightest, sparkliest colour blue you’ve ever seen – lived A Pirate Prince called Toby.

Pirates are usually horrible.  They scare people and aren’t kind but Pirate Prince Toby was different.  He was kind and helpful.

His mum and dad, the King and Queen couldn’t understand why he didn’t follow the ‘Pirate Code’ like his friends.

Now the Pirate Code is a set of rules saying pirates are not very nice.

‘Toby why aren’t you like other pirates?’  The Queen asked.

‘It’s nicer to be kind and helpful.  Why do I have to be like everyone else?’ asked Pirate Prince Toby.

Now this made the Queen think.  She couldn’t answer Pirate Prince Toby’s questions. Could it be her son was right? Why did he have to be like everyone else?

The annual sports day was looming.  Many Kings and Queens were coming from neighbouring islands.  Pirate Prince Toby made sure everyone was happy and ready for their races.  He was entered into the childrens’ running race.  

As they lined up, The King of Crossbones Island – Pirate Prince Toby’s dad – started the race by setting off a bright yellow firework.  It flew high up into the warm, blue sky before exploding with a very loud bang.

Everyone on the start line set off but as the bang rang out, a little girl pirate burst into tears.  The sound of the firework had scared her.  Pirate Prince Toby ran back to the girl and gave her a hug telling her it’s ok to be scared by the bang and they could run the race together if she would like.  Her tears dried and she gave a shy smile.

A strange thing happened as they started to run – all the other child pirates, by now far ahead, stopped and turned around.  They ran back to Pirate Prince Toby and the girl.  ‘You are right Pirate Prince Toby – it is better to be kind’ the others said.  They all run the race at the same speed so they were all joint winners!

The Pirate King and Queen of Crossbones Island were very proud of their son, Pirate Prince Toby.  The Pirate King said ‘Pirate Prince Toby, you have shown all of us that kindness is better than being horrible.  Today I decree a new Pirate Code.  All pirates will be kind to each other, helping everyone where they need help and respect each other – that is the greatest treasure of all’.

Everyone agreed and a loud cheer rang out across the islands who from that day forth were known as the ‘Pirate Islands of Kindness and Togetherness’.

‘Loose lips sinks ships’

This was a famous wartime poster meaning talking without a thought of the consequences could get people killed during the war.

The state of fear and uncertainty spreading in the UK now from the same ‘loose lips’ only now battle ships aren’t sunk, people are. People who are already struggling with their mental health, those who are alone and isolated understandably overthink what they hear to the most disastrous extremes in some cases. We’ve seen reports from charities of an increase in the suicide rate.

Politicians and media don’t appear to be thinking before they speak. They don’t publish the whole facts. A stark example for me is the coverage of the new variant of Covid-19 in the UK. The reporting by UK media and press briefings by our Government give part of the picture. ‘The new variant is out of control’ – not the wisest words from a Government minister. This fear has seen 40 countries ban UK travellers as they obviously don’t want the new variant.

Growing anxiety stems from these sources. I’ve only seen one brief report by a scientist explaining all viruses mutate. We see this every year with the annual arrival of flu. The new strain is thought to have happened in someone with an immune suppressed system where the virus mutated to spread quicker.

The scientist went on to explain the UK has one of the best Geno systems for identifying these changes. It doesn’t mean we are the only country to experience it but are one of the first to state it. Further brief reports have shown mutated strains of the virus are already in Europe. I wonder if these facts were published along with the usual ‘this virus is out of control’ thanks Matt Hancock MP, would we be the pariah of the world with 40 countries banning our travellers, imports/exports or would the world be working together to find a solution?

Currently, everything seems negative with no light in sight. However, we know this isn’t the case.

At the moment everything is as grey as these clouds. Give it time the sun will rise again as these pictures illustrate taken this morning just a few meters and a couple of hours apart.

I’m going to stop listening to the ‘news’. None of it is balanced and it only serves to increase frustration.

Instead, I’m going to set myself some challenges in the run up to Christmas. By the end of this week I aim to:

  1. Have written a short children’s story
  2. Devised one new thing I will start in January
  3. Set a new habit to enhance my self-care

What about you? will you switch off the news and do something more positive yourself?

It takes a taxi driver…..

To remind me what really matters in life.

2020, as we all know, has been a unique year. For some, it’s been a daily struggle just to keep pushing forward.  For others it’s been a time to take stock of their life.  Are they happy?  Is now the time to re-train and do something completely different?  Should they follow the voice in their head saying now is the time to start that business?

The pandemic, Covid-19, Coronavirus has many names but the affect on humans globally is uniformly devastating or utterly full of potential with new opportunities depending on their particular life and mindset.

For me, this year has been melting pot of everything.  At the start of the year I decided to investigate an alternative to MHFA England (Mental Health First Aid) training which is reactive and non-accredited.  I discovered Nuco Training which offered Instructor training for FAA levels 1, 2 and 3 – the same levels of Adult MHFAEngland training, still reactive but accredited.  Much more valuable.  However, before I could undertake this Instructor training, I had to attain Level 3 qualification in Education and Training – which looked like a year’s course.  Due to the pandemic, I completed this training in less than 12 weeks and became an Instructor able to deliver all three FAA levels regulated by Ofqual by the end of October 2020.

To make things even more interesting, I discovered i-act training and their two courses:

Managing and Promoting Positive Mental Health and Understanding and Promoting Positive Mental Health.  The former aimed at those managing teams.  The latter aimed at anyone.  Both courses are accredited by Royal College of Psychiatrists and are proactive – teaching wellbeing before someone becomes unwell.  On top of these positives, it has over 50 self-care tools and was written and designed for the workplace.  A platinum product, head and shoulders above anything else I’ve seen in all of my years in the sector.

The unrest of the pandemic has meant any plans for family gatherings have been scrapped at the last minute and there seems no end in sight.  

Like most, I had holidays cancelled earlier in the year but was able to get some long-awaited outdoors repairs done at home – social distancing of course.

The news is constantly negative.  There appears to be no balanced views given.  This is almost as bad as completely fake news.  If we aren’t given all the information, how can we make the right judgements for us?

Luckily, we were able to keep our Christmas Holiday booked a year ago, but only just.  The day after we flew out of London, it went into Tier 4 constraining travel – unless you are a business mogul as business meetings are exempt!

All of us globally facing various constraints on our lives will naturally feel there is no end.  Logic tells us there is.  Flu was an aggressive pandemic in the early 1900s.  Now we live with it and all of its different strains annually. Those that are vulnerable may succumb to flu.  It’s likely the pandemic will morph into a similar annual event and something we all have to live with.

No matter how old or vulnerable someone is, they are missed sorely when they pass.  There are many people the world over hurting right now.  That is the circle of life, we live and we die – not always when we are ready to.

Coming up to Christmas is particularly painful for those whose family have passed due to the pandemic. Equally, for those for whom this Christmas will be the first without their loved one who died prior.  Not being able to mourn together is an additional pain.

Setting off for this holiday at 4am, the taxi driver shared this is the first Christmas without his wife who died last Christmas from an aneurysm.  He was at work.  His three children were at home.  The guilt and shock we carry when we aren’t with the people we love at times like this hurts deeply.  Not being able to mourn/celebrate on the anniversary must be more so.

That taxi driver’s pain illustrates there is no rhyme or reason to life.  We can’t predict the future nor can we live in the past.  All we can do is tackle each day as it comes.  Make sure we are happy with our lives as they are.  If we aren’t, what can we change?  What can we do differently, do we have any evidence for feeling the way we do? Are there some things we just have to accept?  Only we can answer these questions by taking the time to look at our lives and ask these tough questions to be able to move forward and thrive – pandemic or no pandemic.

Whatever you plan on doing this Christmas, I wish you the best time possible and a brighter 2021!

Remembering Henry….

Henry’s wife loves Christmas.  In fact, Henry’s wife loves any celebration – Halloween, Guy Fawkes Night, Easter – it doesn’t matter.  She loves putting together celebrations at their house for all the local children.

Henry came to the UK as young man to find work.  In Turkey, his dad was a policeman and didn’t like Henry ‘tearing around’ on his motorbike.  There was no work there so he came to the UK in his twenties.

Pre-pandemic, Henry and I would have a challenge – who could get in the office first.  I always won by about 10 minutes so Henry always had to get the hot chocolate drinks and then we would put the world to right together.  We both ended the conversation smiling and ready for the day ahead at work.  No matter what the issue, we always saw humour in everything.  We both had the same mantra ‘smile and keep going – what else can you do’.  So many times that thought has got me through troubled times.

Now just 60 he often told me about his childhood back home, how you never see lemons like those from his childhood anywhere, about the different roles he had after arriving in the UK – always a hard worker.  Henry told me about life on the market stalls, working in burger bars, training in data networks which led to his job now where I met him.  

Over the years we worked together, Henry would tell me about his famous BBQs, the homemade houmus he was known for, generous with everyone, Henry often brought in leftovers for his fellow engineers and anyone else in the office.  On hearing I didn’t eat meat, he made a special batch of humous and brought in some bread!  Henry loved his BBQ – especially sneaking the odd glass of ‘real’, as he would say, Ouzo without his wife seeing – or so he thought!

Last October, Henry brought in photos of the bundles of hand wrapped sweets his wife had put together – it literally covered the dining room table!  Whilst he’d say ‘she’s mad, there’s no stopping her’ about his wife, he clearly loved these events as much as she did.  Pictures of their many cats adorned his phone as well.  They had more than 10 cats at the last count!

By far, the festivity they enjoyed the most was Christmas – although it sounded a mission to me.  Henry and his family lived North London way and every year would drive to a particular farm to select their bespoke Christmas tree, which had to be wide, full and bushy.  As Henry explained, to get a tree as bushy as the one his wife wanted, he had to buy a really tall one.  I never really believed this took up the whole wall of his living room until he showed me some pictures.  The before photo showed a meter or so of the top of the tree bent right over along his ceiling before he cut it off.  After decorating by his wife the after photo looked amazing.  Henry was so proud.  He said the most difficult part of Christmas was driving the tree back home from the farm.  Tied to his roof rack he drove exceptionally carefully!  Could you imagine being behind a moving tree on the motorway?  That size would have eclipsed his car!!!

Henry was pretty unwell all the time I knew him.  He never let his health get in the way of his work – often working long hours away from home all over the UK – or doing something for others – friends, neighbours and strangers.  His favourite saying was always ‘I keep going, what else can I do?’ in his thick accent with a huge beaming smile.

In April, Henry died as a result of the pandemic.  Knowing how much he did for his family and others, how they relied on him, I can only imagine their pain coming up to the first Christmas without him.

Going back into the office without our early morning hot chocolates, putting the world to rights will be strange.  But I will always remember Henry with a smile.  What more can we ask?

This Christmas, tell those you love that you love them, be grateful for the good in your life, don’t carry around worries and concerns – the weight will drag you down.  Kindness rocks.  As Henry showed, people will always remember how you made them feel and that is the best legacy of all.

May you have the best Christmas you possibly can and a brighter 2021.

Feels good….

After a decade plus of devising and delivering mental health, wellbeing and empowerment workshops, it feels good to have my company logo on an accredited course I deliver!

Of course, all Instructors delivering the FAA qualifications Levels 1, 2, and 3, through Nuco Training can have their own company logo on, but it still feels like a personal validation that ‘my work is good’!

I feel all humans, no matter how expert they are in anything they do like to know from others they are doing well.

Now and then, I will look at this certificate and say ‘good job’ to myself.

Whatever you do, validate yourself as being your own expert. There is no one that knows you better.

Disrupting they way we do things can bring more positive impacts than we thought…..

I attended an informative webinar last night ‘Sustainability and mental healthcare delivering – how to learn from the Covid 19 pandemic’ hosted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists with speakers from service provision in Wales sharing their research and findings.

Professor Alka Ahuja described the process for moving services in mental health to a virtual platform. Surprisingly clinicians were more reluctant than patients. They evaluated every step to ensure they were capturing accurate experiences from all areas giving real evidence for change and sharing. Now in 90% of GP surgeries, care homes and individuals can now access mental health services without having to leave their home removing anxiety, cost of travel, impact on the environment and protecting both patient and client from the risk of infection by Covid-19. Clinicians having to self-isolate because of their own vulnerabilities can safely continue to work reducing pressure on NHS.

Over the pandemic, they have rolled the virtual platform to prisons, police and plan on opening up for services in dental, optometry and pharmacy to be delivered the same way. Demand for virtual access has risen especially following suicides in schools in Wales. Almost everyone, regardless of their circumstances has a smart phone and can access services easier and quicker than in the traditional in person mode. Professor Ahuja explained the ‘whole school approach’ of services combining health and social care to ensure safeguarding for all.

UCL’s work on Psychological Therapies researching ‘More of the Same or More with the Same” opening up the extra benefits of the virtual platform. I like the ‘More with the Same’ part. Thinking differently, harnessing technology can deliver so much more.

Gemma Johns, another speaker gave a strong argument for the environmental benefits of virtual delivering. Since March 2020 129 billion facemarks and 65 billion pairs of plastic gloves have been used. Neither is required for virtual service delivery.

Improvements to wildlife have also been noted by researcher with less people travelling about. In addition food waste has reduced as more people are switching to store cupboard tinned or frozen foods away from fresh. Gemma showed a film featuring people aged 2yrs – 23yrs talking about their view of the impact Covid-19 has had. Five key themes were evident:

  1. Travel emissions and air pollution
  2. Water pollution has reduced
  3. Animals are more protected
  4. Recycling and plastic waste
  5. Food and energy waste

Dr Jacinta Tan was the final speaker. She outlined the benefits to future healthcare Covid-19 had presented with the forced move to find a way to deliver services accessibly to patients using virtual platforms. The evidence shows the benefits to retaining virtual delivery in some form once the pandemic is over. ‘Build Back Better’. Why would we return to traditional methods which don’t deliver the same positives as virtual delivery. This mirrors the use of virtual tools in business for training delivering.

The speakers acknowledged there is a risk to virtual delivery – is the person receiving the virtual service in their home vulnerable and alone or in an abusive relationship with their abuser listening in? Safeguarding training will enable investigation and support where required. The benefits clearly outweigh the risks increasing accessibility for service users in a quick, efficient way.

There is a strong interconnection between physical and mental health. We also know healthy people = a healthy community.

Virtual delivery and training is here to stay as tool for a menu of options – would you agree?

Check out the link below for the whole presentations. Whether you have a passion for mental health, the environment, healthcare, business growth or empowerment – there is so much information in here for you!



Despite Growing Talent, an inclusive employment programme I run, being on hold due to the pandemic, it’s always lovely to catch-up with some of the people who have participated over the years on how they are doing especially now.

Amongst the doom and gloom, uncertainty and insecurity the global pandemic has spread, some heart warming news!

Catching up with Jane, Debbie & Sharlene from past Growing Talent programmes, it was great to see their ignited self-belief and drive for personal growth has not been diminished by the challenges presented by Coronavirus.

Jane updated me on her current role. Still with Baxter Storey, who she joined on completion of Growing Talent 4, but now at a different account, she decided to use some of her personal time volunteering in her local community to help young people. Despite the application and joining process – rightly thorough screening – Jane is determined to support and encourage those that need it. Just as enthused as she was at the start of her journey all those years ago, it was a joy to learn how well she’s doing.

Debbie contacted me to share she had made it into print! Yes, her Christmas jumper, almost as bright as her smile, lights up the PwC welcome floor in the Welcome Team’s newsletter to raise money for charity on the annual ‘Christmas Jumper Day! Despite a challenging year – more so for Debbie who loves her intrepid travelling to far flung places, Debbie has also just won a new internal role after being interviewed by a Partner at PwC! Fearless as a lion and always up for a challenge – Go Debbie!

Just this week I learned Sharlene had come full circle. After completing Growing Talent in 2019 she joined a national facilities company in their facilities administration team. Unfortunately, like so many, Sharlene was made redundant earlier this year. Did she retreat into herself? Of course not! She moved house and got a job with Department of Work and Pensions as a Work Coach encouraging unemployed people to find the right role for them – and hopefully referring some to Growing Talent once the pandemic is over!

I am always in awe of the spirit, determination, innovative, empathetic DNA of the amazing people I work with on Growing Talent.

I know the next chapter for Jane, Debbie & Sharlene is going to be amazing because they will make it so.

For more information on Growing Talent check out – http://www.growing-talent.co.uk

Exports in the sky…..

They say you learn something new every day…Totally true for me today.

Watching the news channel this morning I stumbled across an interview with the CEO of Heathrow Airport talking about the negative impact Coronavirus has caused. This wasn’t startling news for me. We all know only too well how much business and people are hurting all around the world. Even with the welcome news of vaccines, there is still a long journey ahead of us.

What I found amazing was John talking about Heathrow Airport being the biggest port in the UK. Really? Apparently, 40% of all UK exports leaves via Heathrow Airport. 95% of this is via passenger aircraft. The pandemic has seen an 88% drop in air transport. In November 2020 there were 1 million flights instead of the normal 7 million.

To bring this into context, John gave the example of goods going to Mexico City. Pre-pandemic there would be two flights a day – making exports relatively accessible and cost effective. Now there are just two a week – causing an immense financial burden.

The pressure on staff, families and businesses resilience must be unbearable taking all their strength and ingenuity to find ways to keep going. This is even more difficult when faced with illogical Government restrictions.

Take the removal of the Canary Island from the air corridor this week. When the were added in November – their infection rate was higher than it is now. Instead of judging each of the islands on their own stats as they all have their own airports etc, they are judge on just one islands massive spike – Tenerife.

Those who had booked a break in the sun to Lanzarote or Grand Canaria now face additional costs to isolate on their return or cancel their holidays and lose their money adding more pressure and stress to their lives..

Is there a better way?

I know next time I fly, I’ll be wondering what cargo we’re carrying apart from luggage!

“An exceptional course led by a great facilitator! Using the methods and tools covered on the course, could really make the world of difference to someone who needs it!” feedback from Christopher, Team Leader

Proactive mental health and well being training is vital in the workplace especially when it’s accredited and really does make a difference!

Why do so many employers wait for issues before implementing training, then implement unaccredited, reactive training?

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