Monday, 23 November 2009

To my local council

Dear whoever sent me a letter,

Account number: 4******5

I got a letter from you on 20th October, but I don’t open the post very often as it’s usually quite tedious.
Anyway, it said I owed you exactly £100 in “instalment arrears”.
I pay by bank transfers which I set up at the beginning of each council tax year so I looked it up just now and found that I’d mistakenly entered £98 for September instead of £198.
I’ve now sent you £100 to make up for it.

The letter also says that my instalments will be cancelled and recovery action of the full balance will follow without further notice, whatever that means. However, you can’t cancel my instalments, only I can, so you didn’t. October’s had been paid nicely as usual.

So I hope we are all friends again, as was quite obviously a genuine mistake, and didn’t really deserve an unsigned
letter with red type on it.

I wonder if you might consider sending your people to my writing workshops. I’ve worked with Legal & General and Aviva, among others, to help them write to people in a warmer, clearer way, not using phrases like “recovery action on the full balance” or “in accordance with the scheme notified” or leaving them unsigned, which might give the impression that you are a cold, bureaucratic organisation with no interest in keeping your local people happy.


Sunday, 22 November 2009

Why Brucie Must Go

It's the sheer arrogance of the smarmy old git.
Brucie appears to believe he is the centre-piece of Strictly Come Dancing. He seems to think that the place will fall apart without him. Last week it didn't. Yes, it fell apart, but only because the director insisted on dumping an un-rehearsed (or underqualified) Ronnie Corbett into the space that Brucie usually occupies. In the hands of the delectable Claudia (who only pretends not to be in control) the programme would have run perfectly.
Bruce is now an embarrassment. He overestimates his public appeal. He insists on telling his tedious jokes, irresponsibly holding up the entire BBC1 programme schedule, just because he can, to make a point about how he won't be rushed.
He was once successful and rich, and actually very very funny, and hence managed to snag himself a collection of decorative wives. He's now fooling himself into thinking that he has innate appeal to womankind. He does a couple of nifty steps to keep us interested; instead we fear that he's going to keel over with a coronary.
Ever second that Brucie spends talking could be usefully given over to watching people dance and listening to relatively intelligent critisism.
Take my share of the licence fee and pay him off. Let him not ruin another minute of prime time television.
And while you're at it, please ban Aleysha Dixon from ever speaking in public.
Please join me in a campaign to put him out to pasture and send him off to a golf course. For ever.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Mice's Tail

One more seasonal story.

Once upon a time there were two mice who were getting by quite nicely in a medium-sized house in Bloomsbury, the literary part of Victorian London. They spent most of their time in the basement which was where the kitchen and pantry were, and although the kitchen maid kept everything scrubbed very clean, the cook dropped enough nuts and raisins about the place for them to live really rather luxuriously. They would sleep during the day, curled up behind the fireplace, which had all the modern conveniences including a built-in oven and a place to heat the irons.

At night, when the servants had finished washing all the pots and pans, scrubbing the floors and hanging all the washing out to dry, the mice came out to play. They were fairly careful not to chew through anything important; they realised that it was a very good idea to let the household think there were absolutely no mice there at all. They had observed with horror what had happened next door when they'd brought a cat into the house.

One winter it was terribly cold in the basement at night so they decided to venture upstairs. Squeezing under the living room door, they found themselves in a magical fairyland and were astonished by the beauty of what they saw. In the middle of the room was an enormous tree, as high as a thousand tiny mice. But what really astonished them were the hundreds of little pink mice who were sleeping in its branches. The two London mice had never really stopped to think what colour they were, but once they realised that they were a nondescript shade of dull grey, they began to be a little disappointed.

"Pink mice!" called the first mouse in a shouty whisper but not a single one of them moved so much as a whisker.

The second mouse joined in and the two of them spent a good 20 minutes making as much noise as they could to try to wake up the pink mice so that they could all play together. Nothing! Not a thing. Not even a polite "hello".

"I wish I could be pink,” said the first mouse. "I wish they would tell us how they got to be that pretty colour."

"I would like to live in a tree where everyone could see me," said the second mouse and they both set about jumping up and down shouting again to see if they could get some answers to their questions.

The mice got so tired that they decided to give up and go to sleep, but they were so impressed by the beauty of the big tree with its beautiful glass decorations and its immense pink mouse population that they curled up in a corner of the sitting room instead of going back to the basement.

The next morning the mice were woken up by three boisterous children who bounded into the room followed by their nanny then their mother and father. Watching carefully from their viewpoint underneath the piano, the mice waited to see what would happen. The children are raced over to the tree and all shouted,

" Please, please! Mummy! Daddy! May we have a sugar mouse?"

"Of course you can, my darlings,” said their beautiful mother in a soft voice which was very different from anything they had ever heard in the kitchen. The children raced to the tree and each one of them grabbed a pink mouse from the fragrant branches. Our two little grey kitchen mice were a little bit envious to see the affection shown to their distant pink relatives. Then, horror! They shivered with fright when these apparently pleasant children grabbed hold of their mice and bit their heads off! They retreated as far as they could, pinned themselves back to the wall underneath the piano and stayed there for the rest of the day shaking with fear until it was dark and quiet again.

When they were convinced that there was absolutely no one left awake in the house, and after a few false starts, they crept more quietly than mice had ever crept before, back down to the kitchen and the safety of the little hole behind the fireplace. They feasted on a sultana and thanked their lucky paws that they were grey.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Cinderella - a new approach

The second in a series of new fairy stories; this one is based on a traditional tale.

Once upon a time there was a very beautiful girl who lived in a big old house with her father, ageing stepmother and two older, slightly overweight, overdressed and very badly made up stepsisters. Her name was Helen, and her job was to keep the big old house clean and tidy. This was before the days of Hoovers, Flash and even electricity; what she had to do the work with was a wooden bucket, ice cold water that she had to fetch from the well and a set of brushes that she'd inherited from her grandmother. Suffice to say, the work was never finished. Her clothes were filthy and her personal hygiene was none too good either.

Her stepsisters didn't call her Helen, they called her Cinderella because she slept by the fireplace to keep warm and often got covered in cinders. She hardly ever saw her dad because to be honest he was a bit afraid of his second wife and her two daughters who had made it quite clear that he wasn't to be seen socialising with his daughter. She only had one friend, Buttons, the lad who looked after the horses, the coach, the kitchen garden and all the outdoor house repairs.

One day, the king and queen sent out party invitations to every unmarried woman in the land. They wanted to give their son a chance of finding a decent wife because he was dragging his heels a bit when it came to getting married and settling down. He was one of those 32-year-old commitment phobics who was waiting for "the one". He was familiar with most of the single women in the countryside anyway, and he wasn't looking forward to the ball. The two stepsisters were out of their minds with excitement at the thought of going to the ball and possibly snagging the country's most eligible bachelor. Helen wasn't all that bothered. Besides, she didn't even have a dress and it would take months to scrub all that muck off.

The sisters and the stepmother set off for the ball early, taking the carriage and forgetting about the dad. He arrived down at the kitchen, where Helen and Buttons were sitting in front of the fire, which was glowing red orange and yellow and crackling as the wood heated up. Just as he came through the door, the windows flew open and in floated a rather elegant, grey-haired fairy of a certain age.

"Cinders," she said gently, "would you like to go to the ball?"
"No," Helen replied, "I'm fine here with Buttons and my dad."
"Think about it for a moment," said the fairy, "You could have a beautiful new frock, shoes made of crystal, a golden coach, a whole team of servants and we would do your hair and makeup. The Prince is certain to fall in love with you, you'd get married and live happily ever after."
"Honestly," said Helen, "I’ve met the Prince and he's not all that, although he certainly thinks he is. It wouldn't be long before he decided to look elsewhere and I'd be stuck there pretending to be happy. It would never work out."

The fairy had to think again. This wasn't what was supposed to happen. But as she watched the three of them having a glass of mulled wine and chatting, she thought of a new plan. She quickly flew down to the Palace, stripped off one of the sisters’ terrible makeup and gave her a natural look, put her in a beautiful, simple dress and a pair of killer heels and planted her on the dance floor right in front of the Prince. Ace. Love at first sight. She also fixed up the second sister who was more than content with the Prince’s footman. With her daughters set up at the palace there was no way that their mother was ever going back to the big old house.

Without the ridiculous expense of the stepmother's clothing, hair and personal maintenance budget, Helen's dad found out that he had plenty of money to employ a few more helpers around the place and do up the decorating a bit. Buttons plucked up the courage to ask Helen to marry him and naturally she accepted. Even though they had the choice of some lovely big rooms in the newly restored old house, their favourite place was always sitting by the kitchen fire, drinking mulled wine, watching the flames and listening to the crackling cinders.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

A New Fairy Story

Earlier this year, I wrote some new fairy tales for Lush's Christmas products. I thought you might like to share so here's one. If you like them, I'll follow up with some others. Please feel free to read it to any handy children, and to pass it on, just remember to say where it came from. Thanks.

The Star Sweetie

By Sarah McCartney
Once upon a time, before there were so many streetlights in the western world, we could all look up at the sky and see millions of stars every night. (Except when it was raining, when you look up to the sky and just get raindrops in your eyes.) There are more stars in the sky and there are grains of sand in the world, more than we can possibly imagine stretching further away than even the smartest scientists can comprehend. Most of them are enormous balls of fire, bigger than our own sun, but a handful are very small indeed. A long time ago, one night when it was dark, one of the tiniest stars got a bit bored with hanging around in the sky and decided to visit the earth.The physics was rather complicated but to cut a long story short the star floated down towards the Earth's surface and steered itself towards Yorkshire, for no particular reason except it had always rather admired the cliffs at Whitby.

Not having much control over its flight path in the Earth's atmosphere it slightly lost its balance and tumbled through the open window of a seaside sweet factory. Fortunately, it landed softly in a barrel of icing sugar, jumped out, tripped over and fell into a bucket of the most deliciously scented sweet flavouring, specially blended for a batch of sugar candies which were going to be given away at the town hall Christmas party the following evening. After its journey, the little star was a bit tired and it fell asleep.

The next morning all the workers arrived at 6 a.m. start their preparations for the Christmas party. Before the star had had a chance to wake up and remember where it was, it had been put inside a gift box and tied up with ribbon.

That evening, when the Lady Mayoress opened her presents, everyone was very impressed when a sugary star shot out of the box and lit up the whole town hall with its incandescent light. The owner of the seaside sweet factory pretended that he had been planning this all along, but refused to give away the secret. The little star loved all the attention it was getting, but felt a little bit claustrophobic in the town hall after the freedom of the infinite night skies. At midnight when the doors opened to let everyone go home, tired but happy and full of chocolate, the star zoomed out and straight up, off into the sky.

It's difficult to see these days, with so much artificial light coming from the earth, but if you look carefully sometimes you can see a pink star and now a slight whiff of candy in the sky. That's him, swooping in to take a closer look and wondering whether to come back and light up another party.

© Sarah McCartney 2009.