Author Archives: Natalie Burnsy

About Natalie Burnsy

I live in Bristol, and I love to write. I work for a creative design company, where I write website copy. However, there are lots of things about modern living that bug me, amuse me, make me ponder, and inspire me. And that's what I want to share with you. Music, art film and theatre reviews, musings and things I wish we can share, think about, and change. They're all here.

Theatre Review – Vitomori @Alma Tavern

Vitomori

The latest dig at the ‘popular’ crowd from writer/producer Christopher Cutting, Vitomori tells the tale of a thousand-year-old vampire who has just discovered the power of social media.

Read the full review here

Small Stories: The end. Or is it?

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As some of you know, the little monthly short story event I was running with Sian Wadsworth, Small Stories came to an end in February. My co-host is unfortunately moving on to pastures new, and I took March off to have a bit of a think about what to do next.

It was a great run while it lasted, and we showcased some really great talent – writers, designers and illustrators. I met some brilliant, eccentric and wonderful people, and generally had a brilliant time!

I was also incredibly touched to read comments (thanks especially to @davidjrodger) from writers who were as sad as me about the end.

Happily, plenty of the talented people involved have kept in touch, and have found new homes at other great events; Let me tell you a story Jack, and Stokes Croft Writers to name just a couple.

Given all the great, talented and interesting people I have met along the Small Stories road, it seemed a shame to call it a day. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to put on a monthly event alone, so instead, I have decided to partner up with the wonderful crew at Bristol Festival of Literature to help them organise their event in October.

I am really excited about getting involved, and am certain that this year’s event is going to be a good’un!

We are only in the early planning stages, but rather than let the great social network of writers Small Stories built up go to waste, I suggest us creative types use it as a platform for sharing ideas, arranging meet ups, sharing events & generally keeping the various talented people in the fair city of Bristol in touch.

Keep an eye out for information about Bristol festival of Literature – there will no doubt be brilliant things in store – and you never know, there may even be a one off Small Stories night at the event, for old-time’s sake!

In a nutshell, let’s keep Bristol’s writers inspired!

Thanks, and hopefully speak to y’all soon!

Natalie

If you’ve not heard of Small Stories, there’s some press about it below, and if you have and questions, comments, ideas or events you would like to share, get in touch @SmallStoryBris, follow me on Facebook  or email smallstoriesbristol@gmail.com

Why we started – according to me!

Live illustration at Small Stories

Interview with me and Sian at the start, sob, sob!

Small Stories – Big Books! Sci-Fi author & publishers Jeff & Ann VanderMeer at a special event

Grave robbing, Slutty Girls & Baking!

A little break up story

The last write up!

Review – Jean-Luc Picard & Me

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Review of the rather fab and very talented Ellen Waddell’s show at the Alma Tavern… Ever thought the Captain of the Enterprise was watching over you, giving you guidance?

No. Thought not.

Review for Guide2Bristol here, and interview with Ellen about why on earth she came up with such a unique topic!

An evening with Noel Fielding @Colston Hall – Review

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Come with me now on a journey through time and space. The last time I saw Noel Fielding was 2008 at the hippodrome for the Mighty Boosh live tour. It was my last year at uni.

The after party was at Academy, where Noel’s then girlfriend’s band was playing. He was hammered, and so was I, and tried to crowd surf where there was no crowd, knocked me over and we spent a good few minutes hugging with the shock of both finding ourselves sprawled on the floor.

He then spent fifteen minutes hiding behind a speaker while a visibly unimpressed Julian Barratt tried to get him back on stage. I mention this as time and space are clearly a major consideration in Fielding’s current stand up tour, and times have changed.

Read my review in Guide2Bristol here…

Sometimes I wonder

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Sometimes I wonder what the hell I am doing. Usually at times like now, when I’m sitting on my own, staring at a screen, and watching the little line at the end of my sentence flashing, as if it’s asking me ‘what is the point of this?’

This will never pay the bills.

It’s telling me ‘It’s late, and you’ve been complaining about being tired all day. In fact, you’ve been writing all day. And that writing does pay the bills. The advertising stuff, that has a purpose, to sell unnecessary things to people who need unnecessary things and to pay you enough to have somewhere to live and to do normal activities, like normal people, rather than sitting here, pondering nothing in particular, when you could be tucked up in bed asleep’.

But then I ask myself, what is this ‘normal stuff’ I should be doing? At about-to-be-thirty, I know the correct answer. The answer ‘normal’ people want you to give.

I should be concentrating on my career. I should be saving money. I should be thinking about settling down, having kids, getting a mortgage. I should be smoking less, drinking less, going to the gym. Making the most of my weekends. Learning to bake. Dressing better.

I should be more realistic now, I should call my writing what is it, a hobby, something nice to do around the day job, to be dropped in favour of all the things I should be thinking about instead.

If you don’t think this way, people find it strange. They are the people who have achieved the things you are supposed to have achieved. They will measure and compare you to them, logically and without compassion.

They will compare you against the established indicators they have been taught to measure. They will compare your clothes with theirs. They will compare recipes, beauty regimes, relationships, children, DIY tips, where you live, your salary.

They will never talk about love or happiness, only the outward indicators of it.

Their interests and opinions will change with every relationship. Their lifestyles will change with every new home. Their dress will change with every new job. They will not understand doing things alone.

But they aren’t really measuring you. They are measuring themselves. They are checking to see if they fit. They feel better to see that you don’t fit. And that is your purpose. If your opinions aren’t second hand, established, they won’t trust them. They won’t trust anything with a passion becuase they seek approval. And real passion, whether that be for a person or a pursuit, doesn’t need approval, and is difficult to measure.

It doesn’t adhere to a plan, and there are no markers by which to measure it’s success of failure. The only success real passion or love can have is to carry on, despite serving no purpose. It’s often inconvenient and it still happily exists when no one’s watching. It doesn’t need to be compared to anything else, it stands on it’s own.

If you have missed all the markers, if you don’t measure up, if the ‘normal’ people express relief masked as concern that you are doing things wrong, then you are probably doing something right. Right for you, not for anyone else.

So if you sometimes sit and wonder what the hell you are doing, and keep doing it anyway, you are most likely happier than the people who feel the need to compare. Because their happiness can be taken away simply by no one watching, and by the absence of someone ‘strange’ to measure themselves against.

That’s why at times like now, when I should be in bed, but I’m sitting here writing, to serve no purpose, to pay no bills, to please no one, I know I’ll be tired at work tomorrow, but I’ll be happy. And if you are doing the same, in whatever form, don’t worry. You should be happy too.

Zombie popularity may mean society is unhappy. But it doesn’t mean fans want to be the Zombies.

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I read an article yesterday about the theory that zombie fads peak when society is unhappy. The researcher and writer of the piece is an American who is not a zombie fan herself. She is an English teacher who ‘can’t stand violence’ but found it interesting that zombie popularity in the US peaked at a time when ‘people felt that they hadn’t been listened to by the Bush administration’. The rise of popularity in the genre is a puzzling one, and it seems very plausible that the spread of ‘Zombie Walks’ and the growing popularity of zombie films and TV Series’ like the Walking Dead have something to say about society – and about our dissatisfaction with it. Otherwise surely we’d pick something a little less, you know, rotten.

I have been a horror fan, and fan of zombie flicks in particular since I was a little kid. Yes, I know you aren’t meant to watch that stuff when you’re a little kid, but I was a sneaky one. I think my first foray into the world of horror was watching A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was about seven after being expressly told by my mother not to, which, obviously, is why I watched it.

I have also been on one of the zombie walks that Lauro mentions in her article, although I wasn’t a zombie, I was on the run from them all over Bristol. The following year I played the part of a zombie myself. It was great fun.

Zombie’s aside, I love horror films, trashy horror novels, old and twisted children’s fables, Munch paintings, Grosz paintings, horror film scores, I could go on. So on one hand, I clearly have a passion and intrigue regarding the macabre in general, which partially explains why zombies appeal to me. However, on the other I think the appeal of zombies in particular, to me anyway, is something slightly different. And I do think it has something to do with dissatisfaction with society, but not quite in the way that Lauro mentions.

It was after all a comment on society that made zombies popular in the early days – when Romero and Savini were making their now cult classics. Their films clearly expressed dissatisfaction with society. While Night of the Living Dead commented on race and intolerance, Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead was the film that really struck a chord with me. It is a deviation, evolution or mutation of this original societal statement that has held my interest in the genre ever since, and it is that original statement I feel has led to the growing popularity of the zombie genre in recent years.

The original film was, among other themes, a comment on capitalism, and the lack of any real meaning that comes from blindly chasing things that aren’t necessary. That’s both the undead who unthinkingly chase flesh they don’t need to consume, and the group of survivors who end up in an abandoned shopping mall surrounded by all the things money can buy for the perfect consumer lifestyle, which now mean nothing at all.

It is this blind pursuit of material things without application of reason that is intriguing. Further than that I think the genre has gained popularity due to its theme of survival in it’s most raw and basic sense. It’s the theme of hunting, of going back to basics, back to the wild, to the brutal and unembellished skill of taking care of yourself without all the unnecessary things that we now pursue that appeals. It is also interesting that this theme first appeared in the genre in the late seventies, just before the ‘greed is good’ capitalist eighties. However, it is an unrest that has reared it’s head in horrific pop culture manifestations ever since, with the publication of books like Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho portraying the same loss of direction and retreat to violence in order to feel something real and visceral.

As we become increasingly removed from nature and buried in city life, and as new technology distances us from reality and throws us into the virtual, zombies represent something animal and a return to our roots.

In a horribly escapist, simplistic and brutal way of course.

Whether or not fans would want the situations we love so much on screen to occur in reality, (let alone whether we could actually survive them, softened as we are) it’s a way to use the neglected part of our psyche that wonders what would happen if zombies really were.

The genre also addresses a loss of traditional ‘masculinity’. I say this for lack of a better word, as I am a woman, and feel the same way. What I mean is a lack of hands on, necessary pursuits, a lack of having to fight for your survival and fend for yourself. A disconnect from nature and necessity.

Modern living, in places like Britain and America at least where the genre is incredibly popular, is often so sterile it can lead to a lust for getting back to basics. We live a life full of internet friendships, of shrink wrapped meat that bears no resemblance to what it once was, of vitamin pills, fashion, music that appears for judgment in various ‘streams’, likes and shares on Facebook and other social media, design and cult interests that are supposed to display your personality.

You can log in your location to show people the trendy places you have been. You can hire people to do your odd jobs, learning a practical trade has lost it’s respect and doesn’t pay as well anymore. Industry is dying – contracted out to the point that we see no assembly at all, we just buy the finished product. The closest we get is the pre-cut and sanded kit complete with allen keys from Ikea, with that confused little bloke on the manual, baby stepping us through the process just in case we still can’t work it out. We make up for this lack by doing a bit of DIY on the weekend, you know, with real tools. Nothing is hands on anymore, and like the zombies, we are lost and lacking a sense of purpose.

To me, zombies are appealing as they are something to fight against. They make me picture myself as the survivor, fighting that dead, decaying and purposeless part of myself. The survivor is free from banal and pathetic concerns about Spotify appearing in their stream to be judged by someone else, the concerns about the place they live and the way they dress. They are immune to and unaware of marketing, of unnecessary embellishment.

They just survive the way they want to and have to, roaming and fighting their way out of the droning, baying crowd who so badly want to bite them them and make them just another zombie – senseless, rotting, consuming and mindlessly wandering in herds. Without ever wondering what the purpose of it is.

But then maybe that’s just me.

Natalie

So tell me again, how do you feel about what you do?

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Hi, we’re A COMPANY, and we have a PASSION for EVERYTHING we do.

No you don’t, you hyperbolic tit.

No one has a passion for everything they do, especially not at work. Yes, your employees probably got into the area in which they are currently employed due to a healthy interest and reasonable level of skill in it. If you’re lucky, they enjoy it.

Some of us may even have an unhealthy and slightly geeky addiction to whatever ‘it’ is that extends outside work – I’m thinking of coders here, (I’m surprised their eyes haven’t gone square) of social media types who are always sodding about taking pictures of their food, or of themselves in the mirror when they have a new dress/haircut/pair of glasses – because they have to share absolutely everything. Or of designers, who can’t open a packet of anything without telling you about where else they’ve seen the font on the wrapper, and yeah, copywriters too, who can’t read a greasy spoon menu without picking out some grammatical or syntactic error. That is, indeed, an annoying kind of passion.

But all you thousands of companies who proudly declare you have a ‘passion’ for what you do, that’s just bollocks.

I only say this because I am currently writing the copy for a new company website, a digital agency, and have been checking out the competition to get a feel of what’s out there. Apparently, what’s out there is passion. Buckets of it. Everyone has it. Seriously, just type digital agency in Google as see how much passion you get.

To me, thinking as a potential client, that means you can safely ignore that company. It means your chance to make a good first impression has been utterly wasted, or even worse, resulted in a negative response. It’s a great idea to look at what your industry is saying, and common sense to make what you say fit the established tone, to a degree, of the industry standard (of course there are exceptions to this rule). However, constructing a recognisable and appropriate tone for your brand doesn’t mean you have to become an impressionable, flavour of the month cliché. It looks desperate. Have some self respect.

Use your imagination. Use your personality. Your actual personality that is, not one you copied, verbatim, off someone else. If you’re not confident enough to do that, use a copywriter, that’s what we’re here for.

And for god’s sake, at the bare minimum, use a thesaurus.

When the first agency website declared they had passion it probably sounded fresh and bold. I’m sure the first person who said their digital agency had passion meant it. And maybe all these trendy agencies do too. But it’s become so overused as to become utterly meaningless.

As a potential client, all I take from reading this kind of opener is the question; ‘If this agency is so creative and innovative (also hugely overused), then why the hell do they sound exactly like everyone else?’

You can’t all be quirky, unique and passionate. That doesn’t make any sense now does it? So think about what kind of company you actually are, what you can do, and describe that. Odds on it’ll sound more honest, interesting and memorable. It’ll also sound like you actually do have passion, and you mean it.

Jazz festival.

I was halfway through my pint when he came into the bar.

His movements seemed quite nervous, and he appeared to be looking for something. It was a sunny day and the bar was busy, the garden outside was full of people drinking cider and chatting cheerfully.

He stood still at the back of the bustling room for a minute or so, just looking around, unnoticed by the crowd. He must have been in his sixties, immaculately dressed in a dark blue suit, with a neat white beard that came down to the middle of his chest. The beard and suit looked kind of at odds with each other. Besides, it was far too hot to be wearing a suit like that.

He was very thin, and his movements were calm and unassuming, but his stillness made him stand out somehow, that and his kind blue eyes. Despite their kindness, there was something a little sad about them.

I carried on drinking my pint, slowly, wondering what he would do next. Eventually, he moved over to the bar, and stood patiently. While everyone else was jostling for space, he just stood there, stock still. He was concentrating on something in his hands, something he was turning over and over with an effort that said he didn’t want to catch eyes with anybody. I couldn’t make out what it was.

When he eventually got to the bar, he was standing quite near me, no further away than you are now. The barmaid was in her twenties, wearing her short black hair in pigtails, held back by little clips with pink roses on them.

‘What can I get you?’ She asked, without looking up at the man, wiping spilt cider from around the brass pumps on the bar with a look of agitation that silently, but quite deliberately demonstrated to anyone who may care to notice, the often unappreciated effort that went into her job.

‘Excuse me’, he said, though he had already got her attention, despite her not looking up at him, ‘what time does it start?’

His voice was soft and nervous.

‘What can I get you?’ she said looking up, obviously not having heard his question.

‘Excuse me’ he said again, though she was looking right at him now, ‘what time does it start?’

The barmaid paused with the cloth in her hands, confused, and looked him straight in the eyes for the first time. She looked a little startled by the honesty in them. She started talking in a tone much softer than before.

‘What time does what start? I’m not sure what you mean’. She said, slowly looking down at the man’s suit and up into his earnest eyes again.

He looked down at the object in his hands. I leaned in a little to take a look, and saw it was a harmonica. It was beautifully polished silver with a gold plated mouthpiece which he held gently in his thin, papery hands.  The instrument was clearly very old.

‘Oh, he said. ’The music.’ ‘The…Jazz Festival’.

The barmaid looked blank, but didn’t take her eyes off the man. She had now, despite the bustle of the bar, become completely still.

He looked up hopefully at the barmaid.

‘I thought it might be out in the garden’ the man said, then stopped. He looked embarrassed, and continued studying the harmonica he was holding. His hands looked delicate, the skin translucent with age, his nails neat.

‘I’m very sorry sir’ she said, but paused, as if surprised the term had come out of her mouth. It wasn’t the kind of bar where you would refer to anyone as sir.

After a moment, she continued ‘I don’t know what you mean. Maybe you are thinking of another pub, we don’t have any jazz on here’.

The man looked back up at the barmaids face, a little panicked, and began turning the harmonica quicker in his hands, without taking his eyes off her.

‘But he told me it was here’ he said, looking the barmaid straight in the eyes. ‘That it was here, that it was today’.

The barmaid struggled for something to say. She fumbled awkwardly with the cloth that she had until now forgotten she held in her hands.

‘Well maybe it’s at one of the other pubs in the area… but I know most of the folk round here, and I’ve not heard anyone talk about anything like that’.

‘But he told me it was here, that it was today’, he said again, speaking quickly for the first time. He looked down again and was silent.

The barmaid looked a little uneasy, and when I looked at the man, now studying his hands intently, there was something incredibly sad about his eyes. Maybe not quite sad, just lost. He searched the surface of the harmonica again, then then put it back in his pocket and looked up.

‘Maybe it’s later’ he said, his voice less hurried now. ‘Can I stay here for a while, you don’t mind do you?’

The question threw the barmaid, and she stepped back very slightly.

‘Well of course, it’s a pub after all’. Suddenly she looked ashamed by how abruptly she had answered.

‘I mean, can I get you a drink?’ she recovered, her tone soft again.

‘Yes. Yes please. I’ll have a lime and soda water please, just a small one’ the man said.

He stood looking around the bar while she poured it. Searching for someone.

As she passed the drink over, she hesitated without resting it on the bar. ‘Why don’t you call him?’ she said before placing the drink very gently in the spot she had cleaned so vigorously moments earlier.

‘Oh’. The man blushed slightly. ‘I couldn’t do that. It wouldn’t…’

He paused.

‘It wouldn’t be right. We only just got in touch again, and…’

He stopped. ‘I couldn’t do that’. His stance appeared strangely wilted.

He reached into his pocket to pay for the drink.

‘Don’t worry, the barmaid said, shaking her head slowly. ‘It’s on the house’.

The man straightened up a little, his sad eyes suddenly hugely grateful. He blushed slightly again, the rosy glow looked odd on his thin, papery cheeks. He didn’t look down this time.

‘Well, thank you’. He looked like he didn’t know what to do next. He looked around the bar once again.

‘Maybe I’ll just sit outside’, he said. ‘And listen’. ‘If the festival is nearby, maybe I’ll hear something’.

‘Good idea’, said the barmaid.

I had finished my drink, and was planning to go home, but I ordered another, and moved to a seat in the window, so I could see where the man had gone.

He sat at the back of the garden, apart from the crowd. He barely touched his drink while I sat and sipped at mine. No one noticed him, back there in the shade. They carried on chatting cheerfully, getting louder as the sun started to set and the cider and the heat took their desired effect. I wondered, as the rest of the crowd got drunker, louder, if the man could hear. I didn’t suppose it really mattered.

By the time I finished my drink it was dusk. I had to go home to my wife. I looked around for the barmaid, but didn’t see her. I guessed she must have finished her shift.

I put on my coat, and as I left, I looked back into the garden. The man was still sitting there, hardly moving, his blue suit looked black now. But there he sat, very still, listening. Still listening.

 

 

 

Smoking Suffragettes & Secret Segmentation – The Invisible Power of Copy

SWUX

From the early psychology of sales and ‘user testing’ in the 1920’s to how the user journey has progressed from subtlety of suggestion to a personalised experience, this talk looks at why content creators, marketers, front end and design need to work collaboratively like never before.

My aim for this talk is to inspire people working in each area to communicate more, and to realise that like any different cultures, we speak in different languages and need to learn to understand each other because diversity is healthy and fun!

You can view the slides from my talk here, and if you’d like to talk creative collaboration then leave me your comments below!

Thanks to @SWUX for having me up to speak – a great group!

The picnic basket’s lament

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I’ve been asking myself some of the big questions lately. I think it’s because I’ve had a lot of time on my hands. Not that I have hands, but you know what I mean.

I’ve just been thinking, wondering, what I am. You know, what is my purpose? Why am I here?

When I first arrived I was so excited. The couple who picked me up put me in the bleached wooden display cabinet in the kitchen, pride of place. They looked just like the couples from the photos in the shop.

I was right in the middle next to the retro seventies plates. Some beige and dark brown, some with beautiful gold leafing around the edges. When the sun streamed in through the windows, the light hit their gold and sparkled all around me. I thought of all the adventures I could have with my new friends, all safely tied up against my red and white lining with my fine leather bows. I’d heard about what beautiful picnics we would go on from my friends in John Lewis.

They had never been taken out on a real picnic yet either, but they had heard about what happened from the chatting shoppers on Saturday afternoons when they carefully selected one of us from the shelf. There were also photos of other wicker baskets on holiday in frames next to us, sitting in meadows with couples, the man wearing horn rimmed glasses, the woman in a light summer dress by Cath Kidston. They looked so happy with their hummus and dips, cupcakes and a copy of the Guardian laid out on the grass. I couldn’t wait.

I wasn’t sure then who Cath Kidston was, I thought maybe she was the woman in the photo, but I later learned she made things that looked like they should be in a farmhouse kitchen a long time ago. I was excited about getting to know the bunting too, but I’ll tell you about her later. I thought a lot about that photo in John Lewis a lot while I sat in the cabinet, waiting.

I was most excited to get to know the seventies plates. Not so much the pretty patterned ones, even though I loved looking at their shiny gold, but more so the brown and beige fellas. The looked well used, worldly wise. I bet they had some stories to tell about the dinners they’d had with seventies rock stars, the wild parties, the hippies, the free love!

I wanted to be free too. I still do.

However, when I started talking to the plates, they weren’t nearly as friendly as I had hoped. They seemed uncommunicative and depressed. I couldn’t work it out. What was there to be depressed about, sitting here in the sunshine with the pretty plates to chat to and look at? And that lovingly made bunting that must have been created by some friendly, homely soul – she must have some great stories to tell, too. I imagined how warm and loving she must be.

But the plates just seemed full of ennui. I asked them about the seventies, asked whether they had met David Bowie or had been owned by a hippie commune or had ever been out on a picnic like the one I so wanted to go on. I asked them what the dewy grass felt like on their backs.

They wouldn’t answer. They just stared blankly at the shiny display glass.

Eventually they told me the truth. They had never met the rock stars, they had never been down on the table, or felt the sun on their face – except through the glass. In fact, they had never seen the seventies. Both they and the pretty plates were actually only a year old.

They said that the beautiful gold plates were fine to look at, but they had nothing interesting to say. All they were interested in was whether their gold was still shiny. They tried to glint even harder when their owners had new friends over.

The beige plates hated watching them posing and shining, trying to get the attention of the couple with the horned rimmed glasses and Cath Kidtson dress while they talked about the nuances of real ale and how being vegan was much easier these days.

They were bored and listless they said, and felt terribly alone. A plate without a purpose, is barely a plate at all they said. I didn’t understand them at the time, but as the months drew on, and I watched the summer fade into autumn, praying each day to be taken off the shelf, I understood them completely.

I needed to talk to someone. To feel some love, to hear something real. It was time, I thought, to get to know the bunting. I pictured her being lovingly stitched, her triangles being cut from well used aprons that had started to fray, from old bed covers and table cloths and children’s clothes no longer needed now they were all grown up. But as I was about to start the conversation, the plates stopped me in my tracks.

Don’t do it they said. Just leave the bunting alone. She’s gone insane.

She thinks she was born in a Victorian house in Washington square – she saw the name on a book somewhere. She’ll tell you about the mistress who stitched her while sitting by the fire on cold winter nights. She’ll tell you about the children she watched growing up from her place in the kitchen, just over the aga. But none of it makes sense. It’s all lies.

She lost her mind when she found out where she was really from. Stitched by a machine and packed by very poor children in a dirty factory somewhere. Shipped over here in a box with millions of others, all exactly the same. She couldn’t handle the truth that she was never really loved.

She told us that story then just hung herself there. Silent. Won’t speak a word.

That was about a year ago now, and I don’t really speak to the others anymore. We have nothing to say. Nothing to share.

At least we all look nice when people come round.