Monday, 20 August 2012

The Monk

So, I was reading a Writers magazine, and they had these excellent creative writing competitions for poetry and stories. I thought to myself: "I can write stories as well as journalism. I'll give it a go!" Now, I looked on the website and was devastated to find out that it wasn't free. Instead of thinking I'd written it for nothing, I thought maybe you lovely people could read it and give me your opinion.

CAUTION: This is a scary, scary ghost story. Read it if you dare.


Vicki looked forlornly out of the window to the dreary countryside beyond. The storm had set in soon after her parents had gone; she had to fend for herself. The new house still looked abandoned. Wallpaper peeled off the damp walls and there were great cracks in the ceiling. Vicki didn’t see why they’d had to move there so quickly. The phone-lines hadn’t even been put in, for God’s sake.

Not that she minded being left alone; she was 14, and perfectly capable of looking after herself. But this place was plain creepy. She didn’t worry too much; they weren’t the only ones to live at the bottom of the hill. Next-door was a middle-aged couple who has only moved in a few months ago. Apparently they had lost their son not long afterwards, and were intent on moving again.

Turning away from the dismal rain, she flicked on the TV. At least her parents had set that up before they’d left. It seemed that going to the theatre was more important than unpacking though, and most boxes were still full. For a while, she sat quietly. The sky was turning dark when the picture started flickering.

“Damn,” thought Vicki. The rain was torrential now, and the satellite must have been getting buffeted. She looked out of the window again, just to make sure it wasn’t damaged. A fork of lightning lit up the road, and Vicki could have sworn she saw a figure in the cover of the trees, looking straight at her.

Startled, she peered closer, but when the lightning flashed again, it was gone. Vicki was a reasonable person, and she decided it must have been someone walking their dog, or maybe Mr White putting the bins out, or her mind playing tricks on her. The house was a bit daunting, with its spider-webs and creaky floorboards.

The TV was next to useless now, and soon Vicki found herself ambling through the house. She hadn’t even had a look at it before they’d moved, and it looked pretty old. In a cupboard, she found three old books: a history of the village, a journal and a book of ghost stories. ‘Why not?’ she thought, and began to read.

The only thing she found in the journal was a list, written in red pen: Axe, grave, tree, silver bullet, stake, exorcist… these had all been crossed out. There was one left; kindness. It was question-marked and written tentatively. Perplexed, she moved on.

The history book was boring; it had pictures of people she didn’t know, and a lot of descriptions of churches being built and ponds being dug. Then something caught her eye – a dark silhouette in the background of an image of her home; a strangely familiar one. And there it was again, this time 70 years later. It was always in shadow, almost invisible unless you were looking for it. She flicked through the rest of the book, but didn’t see it again.

Then she noticed that someone had marked her pages – a red cross next to the page numbers. As she looked through again, she found another marked page. It was about when the plague had come to the village:

“Although many had worked against the Black Death to try and save its victims, they had no success. The few survivors buried their dead in the field known as the Burydene. One man, a monk who had done everything he could, felt so much guilt at his failure that he had promptly hung himself at the top of the hill nearby, on Friday the 13th.”

Vicki shivered, and moved on to the ghost stories with interest. Soon, she found it; another page marked with red. It told a very similar story to the history book, but added:

“When the monk died, his soul was refused at the gates of heaven. In his final act, he had sinned. But hell didn’t have room for a soul with only one sin to their name, so he was deposited back to earth and his punishment was to guard the bodies of those he had tried to save. The monk now seeks vengeance for the wrongs done to him by heaven and hell, and walks the hill and the field, looking for wandering souls to put to rest. Every Friday he appears, and every Friday after someone dies.”

By this point, Vicki was almost certain that the figure she had seen was the same one in the pictures. If this book was to be believed, it was also a very angry ghost. But no, she didn’t believe in ghosts, or zombies, or vampires; they were just stories designed to make small children be good. She had long since learnt that Father Christmas wasn’t real. Not to mention the infamous child-eating dinner-witch of her childhood, whose coming indicated that she hadn’t finished what was on her plate. Vicki decided that her imagination really was running away with her. She didn’t have much to do now, so she decided to check on the neighbours. After all, they had given them such a warm welcome that she was sure they wouldn’t mind her coming over.

Soon, she was knocking in their door, a lot wetter than she expected to be. She looked around as she waited, but no shadowy figures watched her from the bushes. Soon, the smiling face of Mrs White appeared at the door. A bolt unlocked, then another.

As the door opened, Mrs White’s head snapped up. Her smile turned to utter terror as she grabbed Vicki by the arm and screamed: “Get in!”

Together they slammed the door and locked it in place. As Vicki turned the last dead-lock, she could have sworn she glimpsed a deep blackness, too dense to be a shadow, just inches from the door. Mrs White drew a shaky breath as the door rattled fiercely.

“That was cutting it a little too close, Victoria,” said Mrs White, as she ushered Vicki into her spotless kitchen. “But don’t worry; he can’t get at you in here. You aren’t wandering any more. We half expected you to come, dear. I take it you found the books we planted?”

Vicki could only nod in amazement, trying to make sense of it all. So the ghost was real. She wasn’t one to stay silent for long. As soon as they were all comfortable in the living room, each with mugs of hot chocolate, the questions came.

When Mr and Mrs White moved in, they did indeed have a son. His name was Matthew. The first few nights they spent in the house went perfectly fine, but on the Friday night, they saw a figure out alone. They were a kind family, and thought the man might be lost. But it was dark outside, and they could see no-one. As turned back, they saw him: the monk. His hood was off and he surged towards them at a startling speed. They ran as fast as they could back to the house, and as they shut the door, he disintegrated against the door frame. In the morning, they found nothing.

Matthew wasn’t fazed, and quickly investigated what had happened. He was sure it was a ghost; he had seen one before. But this one was malignant; you could feel it in the air. By the next week, he had pieced together the information from some books he had bought and made a plan. Each Friday they would try to banish the ghost. He kept record of every way they had tried, but each one was unsuccessful. Finally, he tried kindness, and that was his downfall; as he ran back to the house, the ghost caught him. Mr and Mrs White watched as the ghosts hand plunged into their son’s chest. And then it was gone. Matthew came down with a fever the next day that could not be cured. He died on the following Friday.

Vicki’s heart hammered as she listened to their story, but as it went on, her resolve strengthened. Matthew was a hero, and his actions spurred her on to do something. The Whites said not to go out again that night, but she didn’t care. She was going to fight it, but how? The monk was killing innocent people, so it mustn’t want to go to heaven any more. She had two options, it seemed. She could see if there was another kindness she could perform, or she could send it to hell.

When the Whites had gone to sleep, she crept outside; making sure the door was firmly bolted. The ghost was waiting. She stooped down and picked a bunch of flowers; a gift. When she looked up again, he was suddenly much closer. She gave a start and hurried over to the Burydene, always keeping one eye on the silent, menacing spirit. Just as she laid down the flowers on the grave-pit, there was a shrill cry. It was the sound of rage and death; the sound of a thousand people crying for help or a man’s final yell as his neck snaps. The flowers were not a kindness; they were a mockery.

The rain plummeted, and in the next flash of lightening she saw the ghost again. His hood was down and he rushed at her. She ran towards her front door and clattered into the kitchen. There was no escape; her door was open. She could feel his presence now. He was almost touching her, but she kept her back turned and riffled through the box containing kitchen utensils.

An icy cold flooded her senses, and she knew the monk was upon her. She grasped the handle of the carving knife she had found. She turned, and saw expressionless eyes looking down on her. Her heart jittered and suddenly she felt excruciatingly hot. He let go. Vicki knew she would die now; there was only one thing to do. She took a deep breath and thrust the knife into her neck, severing an artery. In the same moment, she grabbed the monk and held on tight.

As she died she dragged him straight to hell.


This content is copyright protected. Please do not attempt to copy it without the consent of the author (me).

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Handbag Personalities

You should never look in a woman's handbag, right?
Well, that shouldn't be a general rule any more, because you can tell an awful lot about a person through the contents of their handbag.

After reading a couple of blogs on the contents of handbags, I've come to the conclusion that there are four main types of people, and it's all to do with the state of their handbags:

The Compartmentalists.
If you have a nose through these people's handbags, you'll find that everything has its place. They may even have a bag organiser. They generally have bags filled with compartments, and every compartment is utilised. Tissues in one pocket, pens in another, phone in the phone pocket and an organiser wherever it will fit. If there aren't enough pockets in the bag, there will be even smaller bags inside. Sometimes they put tupperware in too.

These people are meticuously organised. They probably hoover on a daily basis and arrive early to everything. Treat with care.

The Interchangers.
Have a peep inside their bag and it'll look like everyone elses, only with less stuff in. Why? Because every day these lot will chop and change their items according to their needs. On a rainy day, when they're ill, they will have an umbrella. paracetamol, tissues and other pharmaceuticals along with the essential keys, phone, purse and lip balm combo in a leather number. But see their bag on a sunny day and it'll be a lighter material, with sunglasses, sun lotion, water and anything else they think they'll need.

Super-organised to the point of being a bit weird and practical, these people do everything they're meant to be doing and always seem to be on top of stuff.

The Mary Poppinses.
If there's one way to tell who is a Mary Poppins, it's their bag. It will be messy, disorganised and big. But everything has a reason to be there. My sister is one of these, and you can tell by the amount of 'just in case' items that she has; tissues, coffee sachets, paracetamol, plasters, batteries, hay fever tablets and a mutitude of pens all have a place in her bag, even when no-one is ill and she doesn't have her camera.

This group are pretty much your saviour when you need something a bit weird. Don't have any tweezers? not a problem (though they may not have a kitchen sink in there). They're not so organised so may be rummaging for a while, but they'll get there. Their bags are also so big that you can put your extra stuff in theirs if you need to.

The Hoarders.
Can be mistaken for Mary Poppinses. But you'll know when you have a good look in their bag that they are not what they seem. Empty paracetamol packets and sweet wrappers sit at the bottom of their bag, right next to a small fire's worth of receipts. This lot are notorious for not chucking things out of their bag, so may have random items like Happy Meal toys and leaflets.

If you live with this handbag type, you'll soon know about it. They probably don't take the bins out very often and have items strewn over most surfaces. One good thing? They could have stuff that you need in there too, though whether that's on purpose or an accident you will never know.

The Pocketers.
In other words, men. Or women who are just going to the local shop. This group are travel-light most of the time. They'll carry only the essentials; keys, wallet/purse, phone... and maybe a pack of chewing gum. Easy to spot due to their loss of bag.

They're very laid back, and don't see the point in carrying things around so may also be a tad lazy. But they do always have free hands, which come in useful when you're too busy holding your own bags.

And me? I'm an interchanger - Every night I change my bag and its contents for the following day. It depends on weather, what I'm doing, how far I'm walking and how I'm feeling. Here's my bag contents:

This lot covers nearly every eventuality: I've left my sunglasses at home-home because I'm an idiot.
Essentials: Purse, keys, phone, microgynon, brush, mirror, headache cure, hand sanitiser, lip balm, lipstick x2, water, hair tie, pen (and most of these go in the little black bag)
Not so essential: Diary, tissues, umbrella, batteries (why?), other cards (this includes my trusty railcard and my Waterstones card), and my sunglasses, when I have them.

Which type are you?

Saturday, 14 April 2012

A Titanic Mistake

Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. And, as I am currently living in Southampton, I feel totally justified in writing about it.

Over the last few weeks, I have watched the film and the TV series, I have gazed at the memorial and I have talked about the tragedy... a lot. And you know what I found out today? A lot of people didn't even know that it was a real event. It actually disgusts me that someone has obviously known about the film/ TV series, has maybe even watched them, and didn't think to find out if it was true. And anyway, aren't all the best stories based on reality in some form or another?

Nothing gets me upset more than a hugely irresponsible loss of life, and I think that the Titanic is an excellent example of this. Despite several ice warnings, the ship continued to go ahead at full speed, with the lookouts missing their binoculars. Not too long ago, I walked along the an outdoor exhibit of Titanic's boat deck and was shocked to read the number of people in the life boats as opposed to their capacity. Some didn't even carry half of their full capacity. About 2224 people were on board at the time, and only 710 survived. Over 1500 people died that night, including a good few prominent figures.

I thank God that so many enquiries were carried out after the Titanic sank. New maritime regulations were put in place afterwards that I am sure will make us sleep easier if we embark on a ship any time soon. But there are still problems in the ship world. I'm sure we all remember the Concordia capsizing off the west coast of Italy in January this year.

So I think now is the time to remind ourselves of the people who lost their lives 100 years ago, and to pay our homage to those people who have kept the events alive.

Tomorrow, Titanic will sink again. But this time it will only be on our screens and in our hearts.

Officially a household name.. ish

This may sound pretty silly. It may even sound a little too enthusiastic.
But I don't care, it needs to be shared... everywhere!

I am officially in a magazine. And not just any magazine, my favourite magazine: Company magazine.
Ok, so it's just a little tweet I did to them for their Twitter book club #readitandtweet, but still, it's a start. I feel like I am on my way to magazine journlismness. Seriously though, I am right there. Bottom, left-hand corner on page 95. Me, my tweet, recommending my favourite author.

Go me.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Just Getting on With It

Every now and again, I have a down day/ weekend/ week. I think everyone does.
My sister had it recently, when she had a bad meeting for her dissertation. Her tutor decided to tell her that she hadn't done nearly enough work in a pretty bad fashion. My sister was rather upset about it all.

But you know what? After a good, long talk about the matter, we decided that I would be her new tutor. What Stacey needed was a little bit of helpful guidance and some weekly targets to help her along. She needed a pep talk from her boyfriend (which she got) and she needed someone to turn around a tell her that she was doing well, instead of telling her something bad.

As a result of these pep talks, she picked herself up, dusted herself off and wrote a week-by-week plan of what she was going to do for her dissertation. Now she has aims, she has already completed nearly 8000 words of her 10,000 word dissertation. Considering she was on about 3500 two weeks ago, I would say that's a pretty sizable chunk done. I am proud.

So now it's my turn for the down-ness as I find myself slowly drowning in a torrent of work, with six pressing issues and six more that will be pressing soon. I've made myself a schedule, but it seems a little impossible to me. And just when I begin to get really bad, I remember that actually it's not the end of the world.

I am using my sister as an example, and she reminds me that you can do something that seems impossible if you work hard enough.

Maybe by next week all those pressing issues will be gone.

At least, that's the hope.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Lazy Days

Usually, I can't stand being lazy. I get upset if I stay in bed til after 10, even though I have nothing better to do til  3pm. i am personally affronted if I have left my room in a state (this means rough around the edges to every normal human being). I get annoyed at peple who don't take bins out, or don't wash up straight after they've eaten, or don't pick up dirty clothes off the floor. God only knows what will happen when I move in with my boyfriend.. he is rather prone to being lazy. We may need a rotor.

Yes, I'm serious.

I also enjoy making lists so that I remember what I'm meant to be doing with my time, just in case I forget. In fact, I love lists. And useful space saving techniques, like putting all your pens in a pot on your desk so they're easier to find. I once noticed my sister didn't have one, so I made her one. Let's just call me an obsessive cleaner and organiser.

So yes, I do not like lazy. And yet today I am finding that lazy is a good thing.

I haven't gone so far as to stay in my PJ's all day, but I have put on tracksuit bottoms and a cosy jumper, instead of my usual jeans and top combo.

Instead of sitting at my overladen desk, I have opted not to bother cleaning it and to snuggle up on my bed with the laptop instead.

I haven't been outside, even though yesterday I was determined to go into uni to do work.

 Some things will never change. The list is still right next to me and I have actually done work today. But today I learnt a valuable lesson:

You don't have to be active to be proactive.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Feel the Happy

Recently it seems like everyone around me is a grumpy old sod. 

Yesterday was Valentine's Day and while I know we brits don't celebrate it anywhere near as fervently as the Americans do, I was sad to see so many people calling it 'just another day on the calendar' or 'another excuse for the shops to get money out of us'. My first thought is that they all must be resentful of the couples who are celebrating it, but shockingly quiet a few were happily coupled up. So then I had to wonder why exactly they couldn't just celebrate Valentine's day as the one day in the year where you will find people walking around with giant heart-shaped balloons or have a stack of roses anonymously delivered to your door. It's not like romance is dead or anything.

Personally, I think this severe lack of joy is a serious problem. And it got me into thinking of a few ways to combat the hate and hostility towards what I see as a perfectly innocent little day that would never purposefully try to hurt anyone.

As of now, ladies and gentlemen of the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, you all should adhere to the following rules to ensure the love is spread evenly across the surface of our little spot on earth:

1. Smile. All the time. At people who you dont' know. At people who look particularly grumpy. Because when you smile at them it will guarantee to brighten up their day a little bit.

2. Be nice to everyone. Open doors, say your pleases and thank yous and if you're in no hurry, why not let that poor, ruffled young man slip before you in the queue, because you can bet he'll be really grateful.

3. Do a good deed once a day (at least). Yes, even if it's quickly running to the shops for your sister because she has a stomach ache.

4. Play happy music quietly. Let it seep into their consciousness. Before they know it they'll be whistling 'Singin' in the Rain' and feel happier.

5. Tell your loved ones you care. Nothing says happy like a few words and a cuddle.

With any luck your entire community will be grinning like fools by the end of the week, and you'll feel good about yourself too. Let this guy be your guide:

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Dementia and the NHS

All over the world, Dementia sufferer numbers are rising at a worryingly fast rate. Kyra O’Reilly investigates how this could affect the NHS and the public’s future.

According to a recent report from Dementia UK, there are currently 750,000 people in the UK with dementia, two thirds of which are women. And this number is rising.

 It has been estimated that by 2021 that number will increase to 940,000 and by 2051 that number will have escalated to a staggering 1.7 million.

By that time, many people who are currently in their 20s could be at huge risk of this incurable condition.

With these figures, the question is; how will this affect our healthcare system?

Dementia is a psychiatric syndrome that causes severe memory loss, as well as causing a decline in normal brain functions like language, judgement and understanding.

The most common form of Dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which 62% of dementia sufferers have. However, there are several other kinds, including vascular dementia, Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Fears for the future

Experts are concerned the NHS and care homes alike will not be able to cope with the rising number of cases due to recent figures released by Dementia UK.

Currently, there are many jobs at risk in the NHS, including doctors and nurses. With the NHS in danger of being the next to face monumental spending cuts, this number of frontline staff could drop perilously low.

The NHS has taken a hit in the past year already, with staff having a pay freeze and wards closing in several areas.

Mary*, a senior staff nurse, said: “The pay freeze is the government yet again kicking us nurses [when we’re down].

‘We always take a low [pay] raise anyway and they feel they are safe to do this as nurses very rarely strike- we are humane.

There are not enough staff in the wards and nursing homes at the moment and experts feel that this urgently needs to be addressed by the NHS and the public, as dementia can be dangerous in certain circumstances.

For example, if a sufferer spills a drink and then forgets it, they could slip over and injure themselves. If there are too few staff, something this simple can easily be missed.

In the future, experts foresee the decline of dementia wards and care homes, with relatives replacing the carers who were properly trained because the ratio of staff to patients is too low.

They also predict the deterioration of dementia healthcare in the NHS simply because there is not enough nursing staff or people willing to study for these positions.

Richard Sharples, a specialist doctor in older persons mental health, said: “There is an urgent need for better care of patients who are in hospitals. There needs to be urgent thinking and research into better ways of providing social care.”
It appears that it is up to the public need to get involved in order to make sure that their care is in safe hands as the outlook is currently not a positive one.

Plans for improvement

Mary had many ideas on how NHS care could be improved. She said: “With Dementia care in particular I would set up homes that really do care and treat people as if it was their home.”

She talked about a recent documentary that showed such a home, where the staff did everything with the dementia sufferers that they would do in a normal home. For example, they would help them do the washing, cooking and cleaning.
The staff loved their jobs, so they didn’t leave and had great morale. However, there was a waiting list to get in.

“I believe all homes should be like this in the future. Also, I feel more money could go into dementia research and see if we can detect early and find earlier treatments that are effective,” Mary said.

“[In the future], capital investment into the provision of wards that are ‘fit for purpose’ is likely to drop. The number of staff to patient ratio may not be adequately maintained. Medical cover is being stretched more thinly and will continue to do so,” said Richard.

“Treatment and suitable help for those with dementia is possible for the future. But this needs to be thought about now, rather than later, if it is to be done all over the UK and funded adequately.”

Monday, 2 January 2012

Roll on 2012

So, it's a new year. But this time there's something very special about it. Forget about the dismal end of the world theories, I am talking about bigger and better things.

The Olympic games are coming to the UK again after 64 years, and guess what? I'm going! Years later, I can say to my grandchildren that I was there. And I'm seeing possibly the most famous event of all : the athletics. Of course, the Paralympic games are also coming to the UK, so I can't wait for both. It will no doubt be an exciting time for anyone living here.

The Queen is having her diamond Jubilee, and of course us Brits get a four-day-weekend to celebrate in style. Everyone will be encouraged to have lunch with their neighbours that day, which is rather sweet. I only wish that we had another Royal Wedding too, just to put a little more limelight on the UK.

There are going to be lots of music and arts festivals around to showcase the amazing talent we have to offer. Needless to say, our tourist industry will be booming, and our products will be much better.

As for my year personally, I am finishing University and graduating in November.

It's an important year, and I hope we live it to the full. That's my New Year's Resolution.