Happy Tracks in the Snow

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Competition! January 25, 2008

Filed under: storytelling — paulabrown @ 9:32 am

41q76r-4iul_bo2204203200_pisitb-dp-500-arrowtopright45-64_ou02_aa240_sh20_.jpgI’d like to share one of my Christmas presents with you (well not literally of course because it’s mine, mine, mine) – a book called ‘The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories’*

Long ago, before children, when Nige and I used to talk about profound things like the universe and stuff rather the regularity of the children’s bowels and such like, we used to ponder the question of the so-called ‘42 stories’ – that there were only 42 plots or stories in the world we used to wonder what they might be. Try as I might I couldn’t find anything on this until I found this book which has narrowed down the plots still further and they are:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

The author struggled for a while with a whole bunch of stories that didn’t fit until he’d realised they were within the basic plot of ‘Voyage and Return’. The interesting points (so far, I’m on the first chapter of a very fat and daunting book).

  • That the plots in stories from 1000s of years ago to the modern day and in totally different cultures are scarily similar – Cinderella alone is retold in over 2000 different ways in cultures from the frozen north to Ancient Egypt. This he seems to be attributing to a Jungian style ’sea of consciousness’ type idea, that we all have certain processes in our psyches which mean we would all share similar needs and therefore tell stories in similar ways
  • he, uniquely draws on modern popular stories such as Jaws (which mirrors the classic Beowulf very closely) as well as literary greats, generally studies of this kind have only dealt with so-called classics
  • and the scary bit is that in the last 100 years or so stories have started to ‘go wrong’ or literally ‘lose the plot’, the twists and turns which have featured in the different genres have gone and the stories ‘jar’. He explains this later on in the book but hey, I’m a slow reader and not there yet but it sounds a bit sinister and apocalyptic to me… I’ll keep you informed

And now for the competition! Which story has all 7 of the basic plots within it? Answers on an email… (please do, so many of you say you read this blog but you don’t feel shy about posting). The prize is a copy of Barefoot Books‘ version of Lafontaine’s (the inventor of the fable?) Hare and the Tortoise AND a packet of very posh hare and tortoise shaped organic kids biscuits – fancy eh? I’m also doing a second prize of Barefoot’s Tales of Odysseus which is fab (that’s not the answer by the way).

*incidentally if you buy from Amazon via my links here I stand to make about 5p per book so please do bear it in mind, every little helps as the nice people at Tesco like to say…



Filed under: General — paulabrown @ 9:29 am


You may have read in the papers this week that Dr Arnall of the University of Cardiff devised a way of calculating the most depressing day of the year using 7 variables significant to our feelings of wellbeing:

  1. weather
  2. debt
  3. monthly salary
  4. time since Christmas
  5. time since failed quit event (about setting unreasonble goals then feeling awful for failing)
  6. motivational levels and
  7. need to take action.

He calculated the point at which they all coincided and it was January 24th, so luckily it’s over and done with and we can move on.

I’ve recently re-read a book called Happiness, Lessons from a New Science which basically tries to answer questions about what makes us happy from a largely economic point of view but also looking at philosophy as well (with Jeremy Bentham featuring highly).

Anyway the nub of it all is that while poverty should not be glamorised, once we reach a certain level of income (and not that much), studies show that our happiness plateaus and even decreases with very high levels of income. It all makes sense really. In Bhutan, instead of measuring GDP (which they point out would be quite depressing) they measure levels of happiness to measure progress. He then goes on to propose higher taxes because it would discourage working long hours and spread the happiness around. Aaah.

These are the 7 (oh it’s an auspicious number that number 7, as the Chinese will tell you) major factors affecting happiness:

  1. family relationships (particularly marital status and quality of the relationship)
  2. financial situation (remembering that it seems you don’t have to be too much past the breadline before happiness levels increase markedly)
  3. work (preferably meaningful and where you can see your value)
  4. community and friends (involvement in groups, closeness to friends)
  5. health
  6. personal freedom
  7. personal values (including religion or subscription to a philosophy or spiritual system)

He invites us to consider how we would rate ourselves from 1-5 on the above and qualifies that you by no means have to have all of these factors going on for you as this is unlikely. And don’t forget, as Lisa Simpson always said “as intelligence goes up, happiness often goes down

How would you score?



Coming of age… January 24, 2008

Filed under: parenting articles — paulabrown @ 8:36 pm


So my wee boy is now 5, today, and I feel quite emotional (that might be because I’ve heard ‘I get around’ by the Beach Boys – whom I’ve long had a phobia about – about 200 times today as a toy car he got plays snippets of it).

It seems like yesterday that I popped him out (yes I’m one of those annoying women who was still trying to work out if I was in labour an hour before he was out). For him it was emotional as he’d somehow got into his head that by getting older he was that much closer to dying and begged me, while awake for half the night to magic it so he never died. Well I’m good, but not that good.

I came across a few good, practical tips for children that I thought I’d share:

  1. if you ask a child to do something for you need to wait 10 seconds for them to do it, apparently that is how long it takes for them to process it and stop doing whatever they’re doing
  2. it takes an average 30 times of telling / asking a child something for them to get it – if you times that by the 10 seconds you’re starting to get a picture of non-instantaneous action, non?
  3. kids need to go slow, if you find this hard when rushing to pick them up after work or similar, try actually moving really slowly to reinforce this – example was of a woman trying to get into ‘slow time’ that she sort of slow-motion space-walked from the car to the childminders to get into the spirit of it all
  4. beware over-use of forward-facing buggies or car seats as they inhibit language learning – I don’t mean for a trip to the shops, more like spending half the day in one. The problems is, apparently that the child can’t see your lips move as you speak so can’t replicate the sounds.
  5. February is looming and with it flu season. I highly recommend this as a flu prevention: as soon as you feel a cold or flu coming on, make a footbath of a hot water as you can stand with 3 heaped tablespoons of english mustard powder in. Soak your feet for 20 mins or so, preferably while downing high doses of good quality vitamin C (eg blueberry extract or similar), drinking green tea and taking echinacea (but again very good quality).

that’s all folks…


playing outside January 21, 2008

Filed under: parenting articles,the kids — paulabrown @ 10:44 pm


We’ve got a cul-de-sac (isn’t French posh?) opposite us, one where cars don’t reverse in 3rd gear like in our street. The kids can play outside. It got me reminiscing. I used to disappear for hours when I was about 6 or 7 in our cul-de-sac and we even had a street gang where anyone joining had to touch the gang leaders younger brothers ‘willy’ (is there a good word for this appendage?) to join. It seemed quite normal at the time.

I spent some of my childhood in Alberta, Canada and though often minus 40 in the winter we played outside a lot. We lived next to a prairie and hunted rabbit for tea (I was Laura Ingalls Wilder) and ski in the Rocky Mountains and listen to John Denver and make Taj-Mahal shaped ice sculptures and once my parents had the police out trying to find me when I was hidden in the most enormous pile of crispy autumn leaves (I’ve never seen autumns to match those since) for over 4 hrs. What a lark! I’ll be laughing on the other side of my face when my kids vanish like that.

It made me laugh though when we visited a native Athabaskan village in Alaska on a return to that same landscape a few years ago and the kids were all in playing with computer games when there was the most stunning landscape to explore…

Playing outside relatively indendpently (as of old) is really important for independence, getting along with your peers, exposure to sunlight etc. A friend organises Outdoor Fridays for toddlers  – morning rambles / toddles and I’m planning to run outdoor Friday afternoons in our neighbouring cul-de-sac and take it over, we might even take turns to do hot dogs each week. We might pass on the initiations though…



Filed under: utterly random posts — paulabrown @ 7:59 pm


My most random blog post so far…

Living as I do with my head in the sand, I haven’t read a copy of Heat magazine in 10 years and don’t know anything about the lives of the rich and famous. Here are some celebrity faux-pas’ I have made:

Once my mum and I were walking along a road in Spain, on the Costa del Sol, and a blonde man came and asked us directions for something. We were chatting and as I remember we were a touch rude to him but gave him the directions nonetheless. Something about him looked familiar but we wandered on. My dad and our friends came running up behind, breathless, asking us what on earth Robert Redford had wanted. Apparently Rob turned and winked at them…

I lived in Madrid for a year during university and lived with a male model (no one famous but it got us into lots of swanky bars) and one night I’m chatting to this man when I ask him what he does for work. He mumbles something about films and then we move on. Turned out he was Pedro Almodovar and if you don’t know who he is suffice it to say he pretty much is the Spanish film industry and Penelope Cruz’s main source of work.

Said male model claimed to have once been sick on Mick Hutnall’s girlfriend but I never could be sure about the content of truth in anything that boy said…

Has anything like this every happened to any of you? Month’s subscription of Heat Magazine for the best story!



Filed under: parenting articles,the kids — paulabrown @ 6:49 pm


I want to say it’s been an easy day but frankly it hasn’t: I read my book til 1.30am last night which I know is ridiculous but it’s a teen novel called Beast by a Bristol writer who I met in a coffee shop (we get chatting and I ask her whether she works and she’s only a writer who’s published and everything and even won awards) so it seemed only polite to stay up all night reading her book.

Then there was the blind man who I couldn’t help across the road because I had 3 wild boys running away from me towards school, one murmuring something about being sick. Then there was the poo in the bath, but less of that. We were also thinking about setting some seeds or whatever people who actually know something about gardening do this time of year, with this weather I’m toying with planting rice… But really, Nige is loving his new job in Early Years and things are pretty good, she says, reaching for some wood…


Dates for your diary

Filed under: Barefoot Books - titles,Bristol news,storytelling — paulabrown @ 6:40 pm

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  • National Storytelling Week begins – 26 January – in Bristol this has manifested itself as the Bristol Storytelling Festival
  • Shrove Tuesday (Barefoot Book recommendation: Mama Panya’s Pancakes is a great book with a Kenyan pancake recipe!) – 7 Feb
  • Chinese New Year – 7 Feb (recommends Great Race)
  • World Book Day – 6 March
  • St Patrick’s Day – 17 March (Paula recommends Barefoot’s Tales of Old Ireland)
  • Vegetarian Week – 19 May (Barefoot’s Herb The Vegetarian Dragon!)