Friday, 12 September 2014

Daydreams - Adventures of the mind

       “Advantage Miss Brean. Championship Point.”
       The spectators hold their breath, waiting for the reigning Queen of Wimbledon to save herself from an unexpected and humiliating defeat. Surely, her 15-year old opponent, this wild card child with a devastating backhand volley, the perfect figure, flawless complexion and really beautiful hair, won’t be able to hold her nerve! Slowly, carefully, the older player tosses the ball into the air, draws back her arm, positions her racket and Wham! The ball zings across the court and skims over the net, spinning wide of the young girl opposite. Jacy reaches out, every sinew stretched towards the round yellow object and....
       “Jacy Brean! What’s the square root of 945?” Startled by this unwarranted intrusion, I find myself back in the classroom with an empty exercise book in front of me. Miss Sheehan is not amused. “Write out one hundred times, ‘I must not daydream during double maths!’”
       From as far back as I remember my life has been divided into three main states of consciousness. When I’m asleep, when I’m working and when I’m daydreaming. The first two activities together account for...oooh, 33 percent of my time. The rest of my time, if I’m honest, has been spent in a parallel universe.
       But I’m getting better. Motherhood, the need to earn a living and do the normal things of life – such as eating – have forced me to ‘get real’, a state of consciousness to which I used to be a total stranger but where, for the most part, I now reside. I’ve not stopped daydreaming completely, though. After all, daydreaming has its uses. While waiting in a queue at supermarket checkouts, I’m actually galloping across the desert on a beautiful Arab stallion; when confronted by a dull and over-talkative acquaintance, I’m mentally preparing for the next assault on Everest; and train journeys fly by when I’m auditioning for my latest West End play. Last time this happened, Judi Dench took so long over her soliloquy, she made me miss my stop!
       Daydreaming is such a wonderful way to escape the problems and tedium of day to day life, I’m surprised more people don’t indulge. But there you have it – the world is separated into practical people who concentrate on realities and actually achieve something, and people like me whose successes are merely imagined.
       People from all walks of life have imagination, of course, but daydreaming goes beyond the normal ability to envision situations. It puts the dreamer centre stage where he or she can actually feel the relevant emotions, as though living in a novel or film.  Such virtual experiences can help a person to develop empathy and to explore outcomes to real-life problems. And, according to a recent study by Daniel Levinson, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA*, people whose minds wander during tasks may be more intelligent, with greater ‘working memory’ which enables them to do two things at once.
       But there’s a downside. Spending most of one’s time on ‘another planet’ may prevent us from confronting issues in the here and now. It can distance us from others and result in an unrealistic, overblown view of ourselves and our abilities. Does every XFactor hopeful really have what it takes, or are they merely chasing the ‘dream’? Sadly, you only have to watch the initial auditions to see how few competitors possess the necessary talent – talent invariably honed by the finalists through years of sweat, tears and training.
       Lack of concentration can be embarrassing too. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve offended by chuckling after they’ve told me their dog/cat/grandmother’s died! It’s not that I’m heartless, mind – just that I lose track between setting sail for Fiji and winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.
       And, while daydreaming may seem harmless on the whole, much depends on their content. A craving for riches, for example, can lead to gambling, fraud or other dubious practices. Romantic fantasies may revolve around another person’s partner, resulting in broken hearts, homes and families. Or they may lead us to follow a glamorous but highly competitive career to which we may not even be suited.
       A few years ago, I asked a group of friends whether they daydreamed. All did. One girl had the very natural dream of marriage and children, the proverbial cottage with roses round the door. One (rather aggressive) young man imagined battling with a faceless opponent over a parking space – an incident that led to violence and a highly dramatic court case.
       During the discussions, my best friend, Lynda arrived and listened intently without adding any revelations of her own. But then, no one could imagine Linda daydreaming, she was far too down-to-earth. “Of course I do!” she exclaimed. “Really?” we asked, by now completely agog. “What about?” Linda’s eyes narrowed with concentration, as we awaited her pronouncement. Finally, she remembered her most cherished fantasy:   
       “Tax rebates.”

*Published in Psychological Science
See also:

Monday, 25 August 2014

Two new pantomimes - and an early start for 2016!

2014/15 Season

        It’s been a busy weekend. Up at the crack of dawn 3 days running to attend a convention and not getting home until late evening.  So with some relief I woke up this morning with absolutely nowhere to go and nothing to do – at least that was the idea. But you know what they say about best laid plans/mice and men/time and unforeseen and all that…..

       Bleary-eyed,I reached for my Hudl and was idly scanning down the timeline when I noticed the TWEET! Well, who else could it be? Having generously (and with great skill I might add!) RT’d Act One Productions’ latest (and, I must say, brilliantly designed new posters) I’d inadvertently invoked powerful forces, i.e. Jule, in the form of an uncompromising call to action.     “GET WRITING!”
       No preliminaries, no small talk, no theatrical lovey-speke. Just “GET WRITING!”
       “Okay Jule,” says I. “Why the urgency? You’ve got this year’s scripts for Aladdin & the Meanie Genie AND Cinderella – not to mention the extra mid-year script for Alice in Summerland! So what’s the hurry?”
       Jule merely mumbles something about marketing and how we have to get our act together well in advance. Too right! She’s got the POSTERS already!! Leaving retail advertisers at the starting post in the race for seasonal sales!
       “In case you haven’t noticed, Jule, we’re still in the middle of 2014,” I argue.  “This is a theatre company, not John Lewis!”
       “Yes, but, as I mentioned in my email – and DON’T pretend you didn’t get it! – we’re almost booked up for 2014 and now people are already asking about 2015.”
       This is a fair point. Since Act One Productions was formed 5 years ago, demand has increased along with the company’s reputation.  Some of the pantomimes, both short and full-length versions, have proved so popular, they’re going out on tour again next year alongside new productions - not just over Christmas but also other times of the year.*
       “So you see, I hardly have time to turn round for the next 12 months, which means the groundwork has to start now.” By groundwork, Jule’s referring to the scripts on which everything else is based – costumes, scenery, lighting, music, sound and, of course, casting. Looks like I’m going to be busy this autumn!
       “Okay then,” I concede, “So that’s Puss in Boots for the short panto, Jack and the Grumpy Giant for the longer family panto, and Red Riding Hood for the summer show. Will any humans be in the casts next year?” I ask.
       “Whatever do you mean?” replies Jule, and I can almost hear her long eyelashes fluttering with injured surpise.
        “Don't play the innocent with me,Madame! Let’s face it, Jule, you’re not exactly adverse to sticking the odd donkey in here and there. Or elephant. Or duck… Goodness knows what creatures you’re planning to include this time! In fact, it’s not a theatre you need, it’s another Noah’s Ark!”
       “Now THERE’s a thought!” cries Jule. “What are your plans for 2016?”

2015/16 Season

*For performance schedule, check out the website:

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

How to cope with STRESS

1 in 5 British workers physically ill; 1 in 4 reduced to tears in the workplace; unprecedented demand for anti-depressants…..All due to stress.

Yet, stress is not always a bad thing.  The American Psychological Association states that “Stress can be the kiss of death or the spice of life,” depending on how we manage it.

Imagine watching an adventure movie, say Indiana Jones or Fast and Furious. Or riding a rollercoaster.  When things get really exciting, the body’s emergency response system kicks in, making you breathe faster, increasing your blood pressure and heart rate, and really getting the adrenalin pumping as extra glucose and blood cells rush to the rescue.  Once the situation that triggered this response has passed, the body should return to normal.  But if the stress factor continues, the same mechanism can cause intense anxiety.

Much of today’s stress, of course, is far from pleasant, but how we handle it can make all the difference to our overall mental and physical health.  Tobacco, excessive alcohol, overeating or ‘vegging out’ in front of a TV or computer screen will only make things worse.

According to the National Institutes of Health in the US: “The best start to relieving stress is…..a well-balanced, healthy diet as well as getting enough sleep and exercise.  Also, limit caffeine and alcohol intake and don’t use nicotine, cocaine or other street drugs.” Other suggestions are regular breaks, hobbies and spending time with friends and family.

Naturally, different types of stress require different methods of coping:

Overstretched schedule

For some people, it’s hard to juggle work and family commitments, especially when there are children and elderly parents to consider.  But, no matter how packed your schedule, it’s important to find time to relax – otherwise you’re unlikely to help anyone, least of all yourself.  Prioritise, make sure you get enough sleep, and set aside much needed ’me time’.  If your current schedule won’t allow you to, maybe you should simplify your life. Do you really need that top-of-the-range car? The dream kitchen? Or a designer wardrobe?  So many people wear themselves out by chasing after ‘things’ which can never make you happy.  Try to be satisfied with the quality of life rather than the amount of stuff you can acquire!


In recession, job security and fears for the future may hang heavily. People with consistent support from family or friends are less affected by stress-related disorders, so being able to confide in someone close is a real protection. On top of personal anxiety about the future, the news is full of worrying events. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, violent crime, accidents and illness are on every news item, which doesn’t make them any easier to cope with.

Yes, there are plenty of worries to keep you awake at night - if you let them! Try to avoid negative thinking – those ‘what if?’ disasters rarely happen and will only drag you downwards if you dwell on them. Just take one day at a time, deal with every problem as it arises and, if you’re a believer, pray about it. 

Troubled relationships

Spending 8 or more hours a day with a difficult boss or colleague is bound to get you down. Should they annoy or offend you, it can be hard to keep your tongue in check. But do try. Whereas a snide comment or angry response from you can make the situation 100 times worse, time and time again mildness has proved more powerful than rage, keeping tensions at bay and even softening the other person’s attitude.

If someone ‘has words’ with you, perhaps criticising you unfairly (at least in your view) try to keep the argument private, settling things with dignity and respect. You may believe you’re in the right, but it helps to see the problem from the other person’s angle and you may come to see their grievance is valid. Even if they’re completely in the wrong, be forgiving. People who bear grudges often have an increased heart rate and high blood pressure, while letting go of any resentment will lower stress levels.

There’s no doubt, every human on the planet suffers some form of stress. You may not be able to remove the causes; what you CAN do is to deflect your own anxiety by helping others, by reaching out in some way. Giving to others is one of the fastest routes to happiness and peace of mind – the perfect antidote to stressful,and even traumatic, conditions.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Hiking round Hathersage - with Charlotte Brontë & Little John

The limousines set off, engines purring, up the road, past the smoking woodland, and out into open country. Joe gazed out of the window as they climbed steadily upwards onto the moors, which were particularly beautiful at this time of year, with the heather coming into bud and the sun casting a golden glow onto the peaks.
As they continued the journey however, the landscape grew bleak and blackened by peat, a desolate scene relieved only by coarse scrubby tufts of lifeless reeds and bracken. And if this were not enough to make Joe's heart sink, then the sight awaiting him would send it plunging into his trainers. – Extract from The Runaway Children Vol 1 – Flight from the Nunjas.

As this passage from The Runaway Children trilogy suggests, Derbyshire High Peak is an area of contrasts:  From lush, leafy forests and verdant valleys to miles of rugged moorland and jagged rocky outcrops. In fact, the area where I live is one of the most popular places for tourists in the world! No wonder that, on her regular visits home, my ozone-depleted, London-based daughter insists on at least one lung-challenging walk every day.
Which means consulting the Green Book, a guide to local footpaths by a husband and wife rambling team.  (I’d give you the title but unfortunately, it’s disappeared, much to my darling daughter’s disgust. We try consulting an Ordnance Survey map instead but, like Captain Catastrophe, a character from the 2nd book in my trilogy, can make neither head nor tail of it!). So we decide to re-visit a favourite walk in Hathersage, a few miles from my home. Like so many quaint Derbyshire villages these days, free parking isn’t easy to find, but there’s a generouslysized car park not too far from the village centre.
“Why are you wearing those stupid sandals? Haven’t you brought your walking boots?” asks my darling daughter (DD for short). I explain that I have indeed brought my walking boots but have forgotten to bring any socks and, as the fields are dry and relatively flat, I can’t foresee any problems, despite the rather high wedged heels I’m wearing. “And anyway,” I add, “you haven’t exactly dressed for a hike yourself in those flimsy trainers.” DD merely shrugs and links my arm. I sigh with relief. First objection tackled, argued and put to bed. (And we’re still talking.)
Having reached the village, we make our way past allotments and a small cricket ground until the path leads us into open fields. “Oh look!” says DD pointing to a tree stump halfway through the second field. “Someone’s lost their glasses!” Now this is what I like about Derbyshire folk; someone has very thoughtfully placed the spectacles on the stump in such a way they can be easily seen - so if the owner is reading this and wants to retrieve them, I’d bet my life on them still being there!

DD is now in full stride, racing ahead of me. The view is breathtaking, so I ask DD to turnaround while I take a photograph of her against the tree-lined hills. “I don’t like having my photo taken,” she replies, going all Diva-ish on me, so most of my shots are of her disappearing rear. She does, however, oblige me with her profile as she stops to chat with a newly-sheared sheep. “I wonder if she’ll let me pet her,” muses DD.

DD & Sheep
 Now, Derbyshire sheep are an unusual breed, not easily alarmed and rather bold when it comes to cadging food from unsuspecting picnickers. They are also rather stubborn and this particular sheep is no exception to the rule. Having settled herself onto a comfy patch of grass, she’s reluctant to give ground, even when DD leans towards her. It isn’t until DD’s hand comes in for the pat that the animal decides to budge - just in time to avoid contact.
Another photo. “Oh Mum, do stop it!” sighs DD, turning her back on me yet again. “You only want pictures for your stupid blog!”

North Lees Hall, front view
After a mile or so we reach our first place of interest: North Lees Hall. This imposing Elizabethan manor was once home to the Eyre family and is thought to have inspired the fictitious Thornfield Hall where Mr Rochester wooed ‘Jane Eyre’ and where his mad wife jumped from the turreted tower. Apparently, author Charlotte Brontë stayed in Hathersage (her model for ‘Norton’) in 1845 with her friend Ellen Nussey, the vicar’s sister.

North Lees Hall, rear view
“It’s very small, isn’t it?” muses DD but I’m too busy taking photographs again. I particularly like the clog-worn steps leading up from the back of the hall to an ancient footpath which I’m certain Charlotte will have trod, and the views beyond are spectacular.

Stone steps behind North Lees Hall
View of crags from North Lees Hall
“Oh come on, Mum!” DD is now decidedly grumpy, so I put my phone/camera away and we look for a way back to the village via the parish church. We amble towards a path which seems vaguely to go in the right direction. Just as we reach the style, a lady appears, walking her dog.
“Will this take us to the church?” I ask.
“All paths lead to the church,” the lady replies, adding: “In the old days, there had to be a way for every farm to carry their coffins for burial.” Here follows a pleasant discussion about Hathersage and its various features, including a dam, the rock pools along the top of the crag, Robin Hood's cave and a swimming pool. “Only it’s closed today for cleaning,” says our new friend. Due to hot sunshine the previous day, a large number of families had cooled off in the pool, but only after smothering themselves with sun-cream: “Which made the water extremely greasy, I can tell you!” (Not to mention all the other unmentionable substances which may have been lurking – but let’s not dwell on that!)
View of Hathersage
Minutes later, DD and I are walking through fields towards the parish church and by this time my feet are starting to hurt a lot. DD has already removed her trainers to walk unfettered through the luxurious grass, so I decided to follow suit - only the grass isn’t that pleasant. It’s soggy and spattered with sheep droppings. “Don’t think this is such a good idea,” I say. “People can catch Lyme Disease from sheep, you know” “Oh Mum, you’re so negative!” “But it’s true!” I insist, “and if anyone’s allergic to ticks or spiders in the grass, it’s you!”
“Spiders!?” DD squeals and starts dancing on the spot like a cat on a kiln, toes curling with horror. “Better get your trainers on, Quick!” I yell, secretly enjoying her discombobulation, as she struggles to put on her trainers and keep both feet off the ground. Somehow, she manages to re-shoe herself and we both continue.
“Oh,” says DD. “Tourists!” Sure enough, a few yards further down the field is a party of Chinese teenagers who have stopped to ask the way from an elderly gentleman sitting by the fence eating sandwiches. He tells them how to get to their destination at which they promptly set off in the opposite direction. “Hoi,” he cries, pointing his finger, “That way!” This the youngsters understood and set off on the right track.
“Lovely day, isn’t it?” says the elderly man, cheerily. “My missus has gone to Wimbledon, so I’m having a picnic and a nice long walk.” Actually, I feel a bit sorry for him, even when he tells me his wife has made his lunch before setting off for the London train, but he seems happy enough and willing to pass the time of day – much to DD’s annoyance. She’s walked on a bit and is now gesticulating, grimacing and beckoning me furiously from behind a hedge.
“Why were you talking to that man?” she demands, “We’re SUPPOSED to be on a walk!”
“Just being friendly,” I explain. “Can’t cut people dead mid-sentence, can I?”
“But you were sooooo loooooong!”
In answer, I get my phone out again and start taking photographs. DD harrumphs, not for the first time, and stomps off ahead of me. Honestly, I do TRY to catch up but am beginning to feel rather tired. Left to my own devices, I’d be having a nap by now.

“Here we are then! St Michael’s & All Angel’s Church.”
Though mostly built in Tudor times, the structure of this impressive parish church actually began in 1381, and there have been other churches on this site since the 12th century.
The graveyard is thought to house Little John, allegedly a Hathersage man. Whether or not this IS the burial place of Robin Hood’s legendary side-kick is open to dispute, yet whoever lies beneath the Yew Tree before the church’s main entrance is certainly very tall; when opened in 1782, the grave contained a male skeleton measuring 7ft. (Our dog walking friend reckons it was over 8ft judging by one of the thigh bones!) Little John’s neighbours include Robert Eyre, a veteran from the battle of Agincourt whose descendants built the church extension along with North Lees Hall.

By this time, my feet are really hurting and I’m looking forward to tea and cake at Cintra’s in the village. This lovely café doesn’t disappoint – in the garden behind the café, we order moist lemon cake, a delicious toasted sandwich and a generous pot of steaming tea from the very pleasant owner and staff! Bliss!

Cintra's Tea Rooms, Hathersage

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Blue John - 'Gem of the Peak'

Blue John – ‘Gem of the Peak’

Slowly and steadily, they continued along an underground river, the tunnel now so dark and narrow Odi began to hyperventilate again.
"Just what I need" he whined "another bout of close-to-phobia!"
"Claustrophobia." Alice corrected him. "Seems pretty close to me!" replied Odi, for once unable to think of anything clever to say. To his great relief, they soon reached another, bigger cavern. So big, in fact, it resembled a magnificent palace, adorned with shafts of sunlight from above. As the Judith Mary approached it's mooring, coming to rest on the banks of a crystal lagoon, all aboard gaped in astonishment.  Not only was the cavern wonderfully bright and airy, it was like no other they had ever seen before.
"It's purple!" Joe cried. "All purple and shiny!"
"We must be in the Blue John mines." Laurel suggested.
"But it's purple!" insisted Joe.
"Blue John IS purple, Silly". Alice tutted despairingly. "Don't you boys know anything?"
"Oh, so that's why it's called blue!" said Odi with a good dollop of sarcasm. "The stuff's purple, so naturally, you call it Blue. That's cool, and not at all confusing!" – “The Runaway Children Vol 1 – Flight from the Nunjas”

No wonder Odi was confused. Despite its name, Blue John – a semi-precious stone from Castleton in Derbyshire – is generously threaded by bands of purple which tends to predominate.
However, there is also a yellow banded variety of this rare fluorite and one theory is that, during the reign of Louis XVI, it was exported for use by French ormolu workers who dubbed it ‘bleu-jeune’ (or ‘blue- yellow’ to Derbyshire folk like me!) Another source for the Blue John name may be miners drafted in from Cornwall. They referred to the stone as ‘bleujenn’, a Cornish term for a flower or blossom.
According to “Gem of the Peak” by 19th century writer William Adam, Blue John was discovered by the Romans but, as no evidence has ever been found for such a claim, we might put it down to historical embroidery! What we DO know is that Blue John was a popular material for fireplace panels during the mid-18th century. A Blue John plaque dated around 1760 can be seen in the Friary Hotel in Derby, while Robert Adam, the famous architect and interior designer used it to decorate nearby Kedlestone Hall.
At their 18th century peak, the Blue John Cavern and Treak Cliff Cavern in Castleton (the only sites in the UK where Blue John is mined*) produced 20 tons per annum. By the late 19th century, 3 tons per annum was mined, a figure further reduced to a mere half a ton today. Castleton is highly protective over its unique resource which is why all items made from Blue John, such as boxes, pots, vases and distinctive jewellery, are created by local craftsmen.
*The only other place where Blue John can be found is the Deqing Fluorite mine in the Zhejiang Province of China.


Monday, 16 June 2014

How to cope with ANGER

       Sad but true, at some time in your life things will fail to go your way: Family and friends may disappoint you; school, college and work mates may betray you; and people in authority may undermine your confidence.
       So how do you cope when the person you thought was your best friend flirts with your crush, your parents or teachers don’t listen to you and inexplicably you become the butt of feeble jokes? (Hopefully NOT by going berserk with a shotgun – a pattern which seems to be increasing these days as disaffected youths use violence in answer to small or imaginary sleights.)  
       Okay, so the anger may be justified, but can you control what others do or say? Hardly. The only person you can really control is YOU, and hopefully this post will help you to do that.

Stay calm

       This is stating the obvious yet it’s vital not to lash out in the heat of rage. If you feel you’re about to lose control, just walk away.  Better to leave the scene than do anything you may later regret - prisons are full of people like that! Cool down, breathe deeply, then proceed to the next stage.


       Try to view the matter calmly and objectively. Are you being overly sensitive? Could you have contributed to the problem in some way? Were you unwise to burden your friend with a confidence? Did you set yourself up to be ridiculed? Was the other party being cruel intentionally, or just indulging in some witty banter? Even if the answer is ‘No’, would retaliating in kind make things even worse? Could anger make you even nastier than the perpetrator? Or blind you to your own faults:
       “Everyone’s unreasonable except me?!”


       Whenever you’ve been hurt, let down or inconvenienced by someone, remember this undeniable truth: Everyone’s imperfect – including YOU! Can you honestly say you’ve never been thoughtless, betrayed a confidence or put your mouth into gear before your brain!
       The tongue can be particularly tricky – like the rudder of a boat, it’s comparatively small compared to the overall vessel, yet, unchecked, it can steer even strong relationships onto the rocks. If you’ve ever blushed at embarrassing things you’ve said in the past, then accept that others can be just as slack-jawed in unguarded moments.
       “If only everyone else was perfect!”

Talk it over

       If, after careful examination, you’re convinced the other person deliberately set out to hurt you, by all means approach them – but only when you’re feeling calm. Think of what you want to say beforehand, write it down and rehearse it. Avoid emotional phrases such as “Why do you hate me?”  “What have I ever done to you?” “How dare you speak to me like that?”  Instead, make statements that are reasonable and matter of fact. For example: “I felt your remark/action/attitude was rather hostile. Am I right in thinking you have an issue with me?”
       You may find the other person was oblivious to the offence; perhaps it was a misunderstanding, or they could simply have been in a grotty mood with everyone. On the other hand, they may have meant to upset you and have no intention of apologising. At least you’ll have set matters straight.
       “Can we sort it out?”

Let it go

       If the person is genuinely sorry for any offence, the best thing you could do is to forgive and forget, especially when dealing with a friend. After all, you wouldn’t discard a favourite shirt or pair of trainers, so why throw away a valuable friendship?
       By keeping calm and standing back from the pain you feel, you’ll often find the matter was nowhere near as serious as you first imagined. You’ll earn respect for your rational way of dealing with things, hold onto genuine friends (however imperfect!) and perhaps save yourself and others from an awful lot of grief!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

For some folk, fairy tales are Grimm!

       Terrific fun, of course, but children’s plays – especially pantomime – can be a perilous occupation. Not only do scripts have to be side-achingly funny, but politically correct, issue aware and socially on message into the bargain. 
       And there’s another factor we writers need to contend with – choosing a theme that won’t give children nightmares.
       According to a recent survey by US TV channel Watch, one in five parents have turned their backs on traditional fairy tales, considering the yarns too frightening for young children. Whether anyone asked their offspring what they thought is open to question – after due consideration, I tend to think not, as most kids I know love nothing better than a good scare!
      Some of the adults interviewed also find some stories either reactionary, unrealistic or immoral.  Tales such as (Hansel & Gretel and Rapunzel involve kidnapping, for instance.) Parents also seem to think children should be set a good example which, apparently, the thieving Goldilocks and Jack (of beanstalk fame) are not. Neither, it seems, are Cinderella and the Sleeping Beauty due to their obvious stereotyping of the female gender. As a result, a whole generation of under-fives are now being reared on modern alternatives such as Thomas the Tank Engine, Mr Men and The Gruffalo.
       Of course, many of the original tales dreamed up by Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm and others were actually quite horrific - no doubt they could give your average video nasty a run for its money! Take the Ugly Sisters, for example; in the original version, they mutilated their own feet to fit into Cinders' dainty glass slipper. Snow White involves a rather nasty account of attempted child murder - by a family member at that! And what the Big Bad Wolf did to poor old grandma doesn't even bear contemplating!
       Even so, it's thought that fairy stories help children deal with real-life fears. Psychologists such as Bruce Bettelheim believe they provide coping mechanisms for youngsters, enabling them to chart their way through difficult situations in an increasingly hostile, adult-controlled world.
       In his book, Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bettelheim argues: "Fairy tales are loved by the child…..because — despite all the angry, anxious thoughts in his mind to which the fairy tale gives body and specific context — these stories always result in a happy outcome, which the child cannot imagine on his own.”
       Children can also learn to identify human traits and frailties. Take any well-known folk tale and it's easy to parallel even the most exaggerated characters with flesh and blood people.
       Like Mum, for instance. When in conflict with her child, a mother who's normally cast as the good fairy is, to the child's mind, quickly transformed into the wicked witch; Daddy becomes the wise old Wizard, the fearless woodcutter rescuing Little Red Riding Hood from the slavering jaws of the wolf, or (my favourite) the eternal magic money-tree! And I'll give you three guesses who Justin Bieber represents. My own handsome prince has just got his bus pass, which just goes to show not all fairy tales end happily ever after! Meanwhile, a host of walk-ons in these fantasies i.e. ogres, beasts and pixies substitute for teachers, siblings and various friends or rivals.
       Personally, I find echoes of old fairy tales in almost every book I read, in films, in plays and even video games. It's said there are only 6 (or is it 8?) basic plots for which every writer has a different way of telling, each unique in its own way.
       And without such tales, there wouldn't be pantomimes - putting me out of a job for a start! Which reminds me, it's time to get on with my next pantomime script!