Holly Hen (A Story for Children)

Holly hen pottered out for breakfast. She ate her grain and drank her water. It was a cold rainy day. Holly knew the warm summer days were over for another year. She puffed up her feathers to keep warm and went back inside her cosy coop.

Lily hen was sitting quietly and still.

“Are you already laying your egg?” Holly asked Lily.

“Indeed I am, bright and early as always. I like my egg ready for Sarah and Dave’s breakfast,” said Lily.

Holly tried to lay an egg but felt too cold and too tired.

“I don’t think I can lay an egg today,” said Holly, “It’s too cold for me.”

“You Bantams,” said Lily, “You always go broody too early. I’m well able to keep laying for another few weeks.”

“That’s because you’re bigger with more feathers to stay warm.” said Holly. Bantams were the smallest of hens and Holly couldn’t help it if she couldn’t grow bigger.

“Nonsense, you’re just lazy,” said Lily.

Holly didn’t want to be lazy so she tried again to a lay an egg but she just couldn’t.

They heard footsteps and the coop door opened, spilling in light. It was Sarah.

“Good morning ladies,” said Sarah, “Have you any eggs today?”

Sarah lifted Holly up to look under her. Sarah’s hands were warm and Holly liked it when she lifted her. It felt like a little hug.

“No eggs from you Holly, I hope you’re not going broody already. Winter has only just arrived.” said Sarah.

Holly clucked and Sarah put her back down. Then Sarah lifted Lily.

“A fine big egg Lily,” said Sarah, “Dave will enjoy that.”

Sarah closed up the coop and Lily went outside for her breakfast.

Holly tried to lay an egg all day long. By bedtime she felt very sad and went to sleep early.

The next morning it was even colder. When Lily laid her egg she got up and went out for breakfast. Holly wasn’t hungry today. She was never hungry when she couldn’t lay an egg.

Lily’s egg was lying all alone in the straw.

“Poor egg, it must be very cold. I’ll keep it warm,” said Holly.

Holly sat on the egg and it felt nice under her. She even pulled out a few of her feathers so the egg would be closer to her warm skin.

Holly heard Lily start to cluck outside. Lily liked to cluck loudly so Sarah and Dave knew she had laid an egg.

After a while Holly heard Dave’s heavy footsteps and the coop opened.

“Morning Holly, anything under there for me?”he said lifting her up. “I see you’re cheating. That egg is too big to be from a little bantam hen, it must be one of Lily’s. Sarah’s right, you’ve gone broody. I was hoping to get another few weeks out of you yet. My nephew Brian is visiting tomorrow and Sarah wanted more eggs to bake him a cake.”

Dave closed the coop and Holly went out to see the morning.

“Some hen you are,” said Lily, “You’ve made poor Dave very disappointed.”

Holly felt disappointed with herself but knew there was nothing she could do to lay an egg.

The next morning Holly stayed hidden in the coop, too embarrassed to go out. She sat on Lily’s egg again to keep it nice and warm for Dave. Lily didn’t mind her sitting on it. Then they heard footsteps and the door opened.

“The big white one is Lily and the little brown bantam is Holly,” said Dave to Brian.

Brian crouched down and peered in.

“Can I pick them up?” Brian asked.

“You can, but be gentle and hold their wings into their bodies,” Dave said.

Brian tried to pick Lily up but Lily squawked and clucked so loudly that Brian nearly dropped her in fright.

“It’s okay Lily, calm down,” said Dave, “Lily is a great layer but not so tame. She gets frightened easily and isn’t always great on being handled.”

“Sorry Lily,” said Brian.

“Why not try Holly? She’s an old dote,” said Dave.

Holly relaxed totally and allowed Brian lift her, even though he was holding her too tight and pinching her wing a bit.

Brian had a great big smile now and gave her head a gentle rub.

“I love this one,” said Brian, “And look! She was sitting on an egg!”

“That’s one of Lily’s eggs,” said Dave, “Holly has stopped laying for the winter now. She won’t start again until Spring.”

Dave picked up the egg. Brian put Holly back down and she shook out her brown feathers.

“Wow,” said Brian, “Look at all the colours in Holly’s feathers.”

“She’s a beauty alright,” said Dave.

“I’d rather have Holly with no eggs than Lily with lots of eggs,” said Brian and Holly saw Lily look sad.

“Ah now,” said Dave, “They each have their own qualities. Holly is gentle and sweet and lovely to look at. Lily makes lovely eggs and is consistent and loyal. We don’t have favourites, we love them both. No need to pick when together they give us the best of both worlds.”

The coop door closed and Dave and Brian walked away with Lily’s egg.

“I’m sorry for calling you lazy,” said Lily, “I know now how it made you feel.”

“It’s okay,” said Holly, “Sure, aren’t we a fine team?”

“We are indeed,” said Lily, “And you just wait until spring. Together, we’ll make so many eggs they won’t know what to do with them.”



Dad at the Toddler Group (A short story for adults)

There’s a big sign on the door: “Mum and toddler group”. Even the sign is telling me I should turn around and go home.

I know if I don’t go in Sarah will kill me. I made a promise.

I look around. As expected, I’m the only man in the room.

Out! Out!” Anna cries, bouncing up and down trying to get out of the buggy. She clearly recognises the place and I know there’s no going back now.

Hold your horses”, I say crouching down besides her.

Excuse me, would you mind standing out of the door way to do that?” a woman asks me. She is trying to get past pushing an enormous buggy. It’s like the BMW of buggies. Big, shiny, and all for show.

Sorry,” I hear myself saying, as I steer Anna’s buggy to a corner.

By now Anna is starting to get frantic, “Out! OUT! OUT!”

I see the same woman looking at me with pity or disapproval, I can’t tell which. l I fumble with the clasp of the buggy straps. Why won’t it bloody open? The other woman is beside me now, cramping me. With no effort she lifts her baby out, pops her onto her hip. She parks the buggy in a bay of other buggies and now there’s no room left for anymore.

Eventually I get Anna free and she potters off to the toys. I don’t know what to do with the buggy so I just leave it the corner. I look for a seat, somewhere I can watch Anna.

I sit down on a small chair in the middle of a row and I feel my arse cheeks spilling over the sides. The chair is the kind we had in primary school, with red metal legs and a tiny wooden seat. I feel stupid and too big sitting on it but better than standing there like an iijit with my hands in my pockets.

There are toddlers running around everywhere, screaming. I wonder if I’m the only person in the room who finds the noise head wrecking.

I watch Anna. She is playing with a toy train, rolling it on the floor under a table. She looks happy.

A woman sits down 3 chairs away with a baby boy on her knee, younger than Anna, not yet walking. The woman is about 30, brown bobbed hair. Efficient looking. I smile at her.

Hiya” I say.

How’s it going?” she replies and looks away, uninterested. She pulls out a bottle with water from her bag and pours in milk powder. The boy waves his arms in excitement as he sees the bottle transform into creamy white milk.

I contemplate saying something, but don’t know what to say.

Maybe “Nice baby”, but I think that sounds creepy. Maybe “Have you been here before?” ,but that sounds like a chat-up line. Maybe “It’s my first time”, and I grin to myself at how that could be taken.

Before I can think of something to say, another woman sits down next to her . They start chatting easily. I wonder do they know each other. Why can mothers always start conversations with other women that they’ve never met before?

I hear a yell and see Anna about to bite a little boy who is trying to grab the train off her.

Anna!” I shout, jumping up, “Don’t bite!”

I grab her but I am too late, she has bitten the boy who is now roaring. Then Anna starts roaring. Great, I think. I see women everywhere staring at me. I can feel them thinking I can’t discipline my child. My stomach clenches. Will I get kicked out? My one year old expelled from the group for biting?

Shhh pet,” I soothe Anna, “It’s OK, calm down. You’re a good girl but you shouldn’t bite. Biting is a bold thing to do isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Anna sniffs.

“And good girls shouldn’t do bold things, should they?” I ask.

“No.” Anna says burying her face in my chest.

I look to see the little boy in his mum’s arms, a young woman, early twenties with orange streaky hair.

I’m really sorry” I say to her, “Is he alright?”

I know I should probably insist that Anna apologises herself but I know that’ll start a tantrum and I’m not in the mood to draw that on me. I’ve long known that becoming a parent means apologising for someone else’s behaviour. Repeatedly.

He’ll be fine,” the woman replies, “Don’t worry about it. They’re demons at this age! Peter bit his cousin only last week. And actually it was him to stole your daughters train.”

I feel relief sweep through me. She’s not angry.

Well, she shouldn’t have bitten him, I really am sorry.”

She smiles again and moves to comfort her son away from the biter.

When Anna has calmed down I look for something new to play with. I spot a xylophone. I let her bang away at it and walk back to my chair. There is a woman sitting on the chair next to mine. I sit down enthusiastically, seeing my chance to get to know somebody. Sarah seemed to know everyone here, before she went back to work. The woman tenses as I approach. Now I feel awkward. Maybe I look desperate. I probably am desperate.

Hi”, I say to her, “I’m Adam”

Lucy,” she says, blushing. I realise that there are two tiny legs poking out from under her jumper. She’s breastfeeding a young baby, only a couple of weeks old probably. Tiny little bare feet.

The woman starts to squirm in her chair.

I wonder should I tell her that my wife Sarah breastfed Anna until her 1st birthday, only 4 months ago and it’s really no big deal to me, she doesn’t need to feel awkward. I consider the word breastfeeding and realise there is something intimate even in the word itself. Maybe I could use the word nursing.

Her baby kicks me in the elbow. I look down just as the mum takes the baby off her breast. I catch a glimpse of her nipple and look quickly away but I can see she is embarrased. Her embarrassment is contagious. She starts fumbling, trying to clip back her bra while holding the baby and trying not to expose herself. I can see out of the corner of my eye that she is blushing bright red.

I decide now is a good time to go play with Anna. I walk tom Anna without looking back.

Do you want to do some painting?” She looks at me excited, flapping her arms and babbling in her own baby language. I take this to mean yes.

I walk with her to the art table and put one of the plastic aprons on her. The sleeves are too long and I struggle with her wriggly body trying to roll up the sleeves.

One second Anna”, I say but she is starting to whine. Eventually it is on. I have sweat on my forehead. I feel exhausted. I’d kill for a coffee.

Anna clambers onto one of the tiny chairs and the woman doing the painting smiles at her.

Hello angel,” she says “Here is a paintbrush. You can use any colour you like.”

Thanks” I say to her, helping Anna dip the brush into the yellow paint. “Let’s go with yellow first.” “Lellow” Anna sings to herself, “Lellow lellow lellow lellow”

She squashes the brush onto the paper, then the table, smearing yellow paint blobs everywhere. Thankfully everything is covered in plastic, fully equipped for a toddlers lack of painting skills.

I look at my daughter. She is beaming. She has a large blob of yellow paint on her nose. I can’t help but laugh at her. She laughs back at me, thinking it is hilarious but not knowing what I’m laughing at. This makes me laugh even more. The facilitator smiles at me. My first truly friendly smile at the toddler group.

After awhile I can see Anna starting to lose interest. She rubs her eyes spreading paint over her forehead. She’s tired.

Have you had enough painting?” I ask her.

She nods her head and climbs off her chair.

I take off her apron and use one of the wipes on the table to clean her hands and face. She squirms when I rub her nose.

Will we go home?” I ask her, hoping she’ll say yes.

She frantically shakes her head from side to side, no. We both know who the boss is.

I walk her over to my chair. The breastfeeding mum has gone. I sit down and help Anna climb onto my knee, trying to balance us both on the miniture chair. She rests her head on my chest and I give her the soother from the changing bag. She relaxes into me, her eyes closing.

I see a woman start handing coffee out over a counter but now I’m stuck under Anna.

Maybe I should just sneak out when she falls asleep. I look at the buggy and wonder how easy it would be to escape around the toys, kids and other buggies. Impossible. There is no way out amidst the bedlam. I look at the door just as it opens.

A man walks in holding a girl in his arms, younger than Anna. He looks around the room awkwardly, unsure where to go. His eyes fall on mine, I smile at him, give him a wave. He looks relieved and walks over.

Heya,” he says sitting down next to me, “For awhile there I thought I was the only man here. Imagine how hard that would be?!” He sits his daughter on the ground. She picks up a building block and shoves it into her drooly mouth.

Tell me about it.”


Grassy Toes (From the Sally in the garden series).

Mum was trying to put Jamie to sleep but he was making an awful lot of noise. Jamie was Sally’s baby brother and he didn’t like when it was nap time.

“Why don’t you go out in the garden Sally? It’s nice and quiet outside,” said Dad.

“Can I bring my blanket? I could have a picnic,” said Sally.

“Only if it’s an imaginary picnic. It’s nearly lunchtime,” said Dad.

Sally went to her bedroom. She took off her shoes and socks and put on her big sunhat. She picked up her blanket ,doll ,two teddies and her toy picnic basket. With so much in her arms she couldn’t see where she was going. She dropped them all on the ground and went to find her shopping trolley.

“Have you seen my shopping trolley? I need it to carry my things outside” Sally asked Dad.

“It’s in Jamie’s room. But you can’t go in there because Mum is trying to get Jamie to sleep,” said Dad.

Sally was about to cry but Dad had an idea.

“Why not use you doll’s pram? That’s in the hall,” said Dad.

“That’s a great idea!” said Sally.

Sally put everything she needed into the pram. She pushed it to the kitchen but it got stuck in the backdoor.

“Let me lift that down for you,” said Dad.

“Thank you,” said Sally.

It was much quieter outside. The only noises were the birds in the garden trees but Sally liked that noise. It was much nicer than the noise of Jamie crying.

The pram was easy to push on the patio but was much harder to push on the grass.

Sally took out her blanket and lay it on the ground, trying not to squash too many buttercups.

“You sit there Dolly Lucy, you here Teddy Tom and Teddy Tickles can sit next to you,” said Sally as she put her toys on the blanket.

Sally gave them each a pretend cup of tea.

“I forgot to bring any bread and butter so you’ll have you eat daisies instead,” Sally said to her toys.

Sally sat down and had some pretend milk in her cup but didn’t eat a daisy because she knew that could give her a sick tummy. Toys didn’t get sick tummies so it was okay for them.

Dad came into the garden.

“I’d love a cup of your tea” said Dad.

“You can share with Dolly Lucy. She doesn’t really like tea anyway. She prefers milk.” said Sally.

“Like you,” said Dad.

Dad sat down on the blanket and Teddy Tom fell over.

“Daddy! You knocked over Teddy Tom” said Sally.

“Sorry Teddy Tom, the blanket is a bit small for all of us” said Dad sitting Teddy Tom up again.

“Here’s your tea,” said Sally.

“Thank you. Mmm, delicious,” said Dad pretending to sip his tea.

“Do you know you have no shoes on Sally?” Dad said.

“They’re in my bedroom,” said Sally

“Silly Billy, you’re always supposed to wear shoes in the garden,” said Dad, “What if you stand on a stone?”

“I won’t. I watch where I’m going,” said Sally. “I like wearing no shoes in the garden.”

“Why?” said Dad.

“The grass feels nice under my toe-toes,” said Sally, “It’s tickley and soft and sometimes a bit bumpy and I like it.”

Dad smiled. “That’s a good reason not to wear shoes. I think I’ll try it.”

Dad took off his shoes and socks. He put his socks into his shoes because Mum always tells him his socks are smelly and there’s less smell when they are hidden in the shoes.

Dad wriggled his toes in the grass.

“That does feel nice,” said Dad, “It feels airy.”

“Grass isn’t airy. It’s grassy,” said Sally.

Sally lay down on her blanket and closed her eyes, which is what mum wanted Jamie to do inside. Sally thought it was easy to close her eyes and didn’t know why Jamie found it so hard.

“If you’re going to sleep then I’ll go back inside,” said Dad, “I’m supposed to be getting lunch ready anyway.”

“Can I have my lunch out here?” said Sally.

“Why not?” said Dad standing up. He picked up his shoes and carried them to the house.

“Yippee!” said Sally.

“Oww!” said Dad.

Sally looked up at dad. He was holding his foot in his hand.

“What happened?” said Sally.

“I stood on a stone,” said Dad.

“Silly Billy Daddy,” said Sally, “You should have been looking where you were going because you’ve no shoes on.”

Sally lay down again and waited for her picnic.

Sally’s Wriggley Worms : A toddler story

Sally puts on her wellies.

“Wrong feet,” says Mum.

Sally puts her wellies on the right feet. That feels better.

Mum opens the door and Sally hops down the steps. One, two, three.

Mum puts on her garden gloves and kneels down by the vegetable patch.

Sally kneels down next to her and pulls out a big huge weed.

“That’s not a weed!” says Mum.” That’s an onion!”

“Oops,” says Sally and tries to put it back in the ground but it doesn’t fit anymore.

Sally finds her red shovel. She starts digging under the tree.

“Don’t dig there. I planted daffodil bulbs in the ground there.” says Mum.

“Oops,” says Sally.

Sally picks up her watering can and turns on the tap. Water splashes all over her and her dress gets wet. Sally doesn’t mind getting wet. She fills her watering can.

“Don’t give the flowers too much water Sally, we don’t want them to drown,”says Mum.

Sally puts down her watering can. She sits on the grass and looks around for something to do. She sees a big long worm sliding towards Mum.

Sally picks up the worm and shows it to Mum, “Look, a wriggley worm!”

“Yuck,” says Mum.

Sally sits down on the grass again.

“I don’t like worms but the soil loves worms,” says Mum, “Maybe you could find me lots of worms and put them in this soil. Worms make the soil really healthy. Then it will grow great vegetables.”

Sally jumps up again and finds loads of worms and spends the rest of the morning putting them in the vegetable patch.

“You’re a great helper Sally,” says Mum when it’s time to go in for lunch.

“So are you Mum,” Sally says, “Even if you are afraid of wriggley worms.”