Fearless Ivan

“Bring me the eyes of the Baba Yaga,” she said, “and then I will marry you.”

Fearless Ivan could not understand why the fairest princess in all the land would want for a pair of old witch’s eyes, but through thrice nine kingdoms he rode on his valiant steed to the forest of crows. When he found the old wooden shack with it’s fence of bones in the gloom of a small clearing, he smiled at his good fortune. This looked to be the house of the old witch. He would soon be married to the most beautiful girl in the whole kingdom.

He dimounted and tethered his horse to a tree. He petted it’s face and looked up at the keyhole of sky above him. Peering into the strangely silent shadows of the forest all around him and the dark, sullen windows of the shack, he wiped his hand down his jerkin, then gripped the hilt of his sword and stepped towards the door. The door creaked open nervously at Ivan’s touch, and in he cautiously stepped.

It seemed there was nobody home. There was no fire in the hearth, and not even half a flame on half a candle. The only sound was a distant buzzing. Perhaps a bee trapped in a jar. As Fearless Ivan prowled the room, the buzzing became more distinct. And then he saw it. Laid on a shelf was a dusty old bottle in which a dim light glowed. When he looked closer, Ivan could see an old man inside it, sat fast asleep at a table. And on the table was a tiny red matryoshka doll, a tiny candle and some tools.

Fearless Ivan tapped on the bottle. The old man kept on snoring. Ivan tapped a little harder. The old man spluttered and woke up. He scowled at Ivan. “What’s the meaning of this?”

“My name is Ivan,” said Ivan. “Fearless Ivan. I’m here to rescue you!”

“You’ll have to speak up,” said the old man, “I’m in a bottle.”

“I’m here to kill the Baba Yaga!” shouted Ivan.

“Oh. Then you’d better leave,” said the old man. “You’re in great danger.”

“Don’t you want rescuing?”

“No,” said the old man. “Go away.”

Ivan peered in closer. “What are you doing?”

“I’m working,” the old man grumbled, “and I intend to finish what I’ve started.”

“But what are you working on? What is so important about a matryoshka?!”

The old man sighed. “I suppose you’ll not leave until I tell you?”

“I’ll not leave till I’ve done what I came here to do.” Fearless Ivan stood adamant.

“Oh, very well then.” The old man patted his pockets and looked about, then he spied and reached across the table for his cob pipe.

“Once upon a time, when I was a young man much like yourself,” the old man tapped out his pipe on the table, “I came to this house looking to prove how brave I was. Brave Ivan, they used to call me.” The old man packed his pipe with tobacco and leaned back in his chair. He pushed the pipe into the thick of his beard and lit it with a taper. Fearless Ivan watched the blue smoke snake and curl out of Brave Ivan’s beard. It seemed to him like the smoldering of a thatched cottage on fire.

“I was promised to – oh, some rich young beauty… I can’t recall her name…” Brave Ivan drew again on his pipe and let his beard smoulder awhile. “And so I came here, to this little wooden house, full of bluster and bravado, in search of a witch.”

“And then what happened?” asked Fearless Ivan.

“Well, I was invited in by a young woman. A very handsome thing, she was. She sat me down and we talked, and she offered me a bottle of vodka.

“I thought to myself, ‘Well, Brave Ivan, you came here to prove yourself, and one way is as good as another’. I made some talk, and the vodka – well, you know how it loosens the tongue. I got to talking all about myself and making myself grand, you know. Ivan The Killer Of This, Ivan The Killer Of That…

“And this young lady, she just laughs – a beautiful musical laugh, you know, like one of those singing trees with all the bells on – and she plays me a tune on the balalaika. And she sang – now how did it go…

I will give you wishes three
Wishes three, wishes three
And then I’ll sit upon your knee
And I’ll call you my own

You’ll whisper what you’d like to do
You and me, me and you
And three wishes will just be two
And I’ll call you my own

And in the throes of pagan bliss
Fires hiss, wanton miss
You’ll beg for just another kiss
And I’ll call you my own

With two wishes just spent on fun
Putting shillings in the bun
You’ll now be only left with one
And I’ll call you my own

You’ll wish to do it all again
One last wish, make it rain
In the back door come again
And I’ll call you my own”

The old man pointed his pipe at Fearless Ivan. “You’d think I would know better… ah, but I was a young man, and I thought myself a pretty sharp pin. I just kept bragging and boasting and draining the bottle, and having a good feel of her as she played. But the vodka seemed to get the better of me. My head started to spin. It felt like the whole house was walking around. Then, before I knew it, she was putting a cork in the bottle – right on top of my head! And she started shaking the bottle, shaking me about in it, laughing her head off. And here she’s kept me, on the shelf. And now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got my work to do.”

“Don’t you worry,” said Fearless Ivan. “I’ll rescue you!”

“You’ll do no such thing!” cried the old man.

But Fearless Ivan was through with listening. It was time for action! He pulled out the cork and shook the old man out of the bottle. The old man clattered loudly, all elbows and knees, across the floor.

Then Ivan picked up the matryoshka doll and examined it. It was much larger than it looked in the bottle. Painted on it was the kindly face of an old grandmother in a simple peasant dress and headscarf, knitting children’s mittens. Ivan opened this first shell and found another doll within. It was bigger than the first shell, and it bore the cruel countenance of an old witch inside a pestle. He opened this to find the next, bigger still, wore the face of a loving mother, doting on a baby cradled in her arms. Ivan opened this shell and found an even larger one inside – a wicked stepmother beating a child. He opened this to see the innocent face of a young virgin protecting a little doe under her arm. She had the most beautiful face he had ever seen. But this one was tight. Fearless Ivan tried everything in his might to get inside but, much as he twisted and forced her, she would not open. But then it opened of itself, just a crack, and two crafty eyes looked at him from within and chuckled. Ivan cried out in fright and threw the doll down. It smashed on the floor and Baba Yaga herself jumped out.

Fearless Ivan jumped back and stumbled over the old man, who also looked a lot larger out of the bottle. The old man chided Ivan for his clumsiness and threw the bottle at him, which bounced off Ivan’s head, and Ivan did an off kilter two step.

Baba Yaga, now magnificently full-bodied, danced voluptuously around the room wearing seven veils and shaking her breasts at the old man, setting his pipe alight.

Fearless Ivan stood rubbing his head. “Do you have any vinegar and brown paper?”

Baba Yaga stopped dancing and twitched her nose, then turned and looked at Ivan. “Russkim Dukhom! What do you want?!”

“Vinegar…” said Ivan, absently, “and brown paper…”

Baba Yaga looked Fearless Ivan up and down and walked right up to him. “Show me your Russian bone, my pretty boy,” she purred in his ear, and she took a hold of him between his legs. “Ha! Where is the marrow?” She laughed at the young man as she turned away, her black hair a nest of hissing snakes down her back. “You’re lucky I’ve already eaten.” She picked up an old moth eaten rug and threw it at Ivan, “Now get out!” He caught it in his arms and saw it was the skin of his own horse. “If you want to ride him home,” said Baba Yaga, “the bones are outside.”

And so Fearless Ivan took the horse skin outside and dressed it on the fresh skeleton of his horse. He looked into the hollows of it’s sad empty eyes and patted it’s long bony face as, above him, crows wheeled at the tree tops, raucously mocking. Then Ivan rode home.

A Personalised Sign Language Guide

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This is a guide for anyone working with people with physical and learning disabilities, where new staff are trying to get to know someone who relies on their own version of sign language for communication. When people are unable to make commonly recognised signs, communication needs can exceed the tools sign language dictionaries provide. I hope to show how anybody with a smartphone can create personalised communication materials easily using a couple of editing apps. Although the idea is to create communication tools specifically tailored to the individual needs of a person, I will illustrate this guide with commonly recognised signs.

My favourite apps to work with are a photo editor called Aviary and one which can add words and symbols, called Pics Play Pro. I paid for the second one, but their free version might do the job just as well. There will be other apps with similar functions out there, these just happen to be my favourites that I rely on. I’m going to try and break this down into very simple steps.

STEP ONE: SETTING UP TO TAKE A PHOTOGRAPH

You need to keep the image simple and easy to understand. Ideally, the signer should wear a plain top without a pattern on it and should stand or sit in front of a neutral background. Any plain wall without decoration or other distracting details would work best. You also need to make sure you have enough available light, and so a wall by a large window is preferable, or maybe go outside and photograph against a brick wall. But this is only a suggestion – there’s no point putting off doing this in favour of ideal circumstances. The idea is to make this a natural and accessible process.

I keep all my signing photos square for uniformity on a page. To give yourself plenty of room for cropping in the edit, stand about four feet away from the signer.

Your phone’s camera should have a manual setting. Here you can usually find the light sensitivity setting, which can be adjusted for a correct exposure.

Here’s a picture my friend took of me.

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STEP TWO: TAKING THE PHOTO

My friend found taking that photo easy enough, but I was instructing him, and neither of us rely on sign language.

What can happen when I ask someone to sign the word TEA, is that the signer thinks I’m suggesting taking a break.  Getting the signer to understand that you are giving instructions, and not making conversation, can be tricky. You might use flash cards as prompts, or you could have a colleague follow your signing instructions so that the signer understands it is their turn to sign the word. However you manage to achieve it, the important thing is to make sure you capture the fundamental shape of the sign. In the edit you can add a sense of how the sign moves.

To capture the fundamental shape of the sign, you would ideally want the signer to hold their hands still in the position. I might ask someone to show me how to sign a word, then ask them to repeat it and signal them to stop. If they give me permission, I might then adjust the position of their hands a little.

If the signer is not able to hold a sign still, then you will need as much light as possible, so that your camera can photograph the movement with less blurring. If you have proficiency with ISO and shutter speeds on a camera, then you could shoot on a compact or SLR and transfer the images to your phone. But this guide is all about using a device most people have in their pocket at all times, and so my advice is to remember that more light allows your phone’s camera to respond quicker for a sharper picture with less blurring.

STEP THREE: EDITING THE PHOTO

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This is a screenshot of the photo opened in a mobile phone app called Aviary. The first thing to do is to crop the image so we can see the important details more clearly, leaving enough room at the bottom of the image to write the word being signed. Begin by tapping on the CROP icon. I have circled it in red in the picture above.

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You can then select a frame ratio from the bar – I recommend using a square frame – and adjust the size by touching the sides of the frame and sliding your finger, or adjust the position of the frame by touching in the middle of it and sliding your finger. Then select the TICK icon in the top right corner to confirm the crop.

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Then you need to convert it to black and white. Select the ADJUST icon I have ringed. Then select SATURATION and slide it down to 0%. Then tap the tick icon to set it.

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But the picture will probably still lack definition. You want to make sure the signer’s hands stand out as clearly as possible. I typically would adjust the CONTRAST at this stage, found in the same settings. In this instance, I’m taking the contrast up to 69%.

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I would usually then adjust the HIGHLIGHTS (in the same ADJUST bar) to reduce glare and unflattering contrasts in the face. But here I have gone straight to adjusting the tonal density. In this app it is called FADE.

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I have reduced it down to -27, which makes my shirt look solid black. It will allow the words and symbols I add later to be clearer to the viewer.

Before you press DONE, which saves the edited image and exits the app, you can go forward or back through each step of your edit by swiping your finger to the left or right of your screen at the end of any step of the process.

Also, if you think you really need it, there is a blemish remover. You will find it has a magnifying glass icon to allow you to zoom in on the picture, and a bar of circles used to select the size of the blemish removal. By tapping on the area you would like to remove, the app clones a nearby bit of the photo and paints it over the blemish. It needs a bit of practice and a whole lot of luck to make it work. But this isn’t for the front cover of Vogue. It’s a communication tool. So you need to save the picture by clicking on DONE, and then find the edited image in your phone’s gallery and open it with another mobile phone app called Pic Say Pro.

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STEP FOUR: ADDING INSTRUCTIONS

Let’s start by writing on the picture the word being signed. Select STICKER.

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This menu will appear. Select TITLE.

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Tap on the words TAP TO STYLE TITLE.

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This menu will appear.

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Tap on FONT to select a font. I use SANS SERIF BOLD. You’ll find it by scrolling down.

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Now select FILL COLOUR

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And make it opaque white. The HUE bar can be ignored. Slide SATURATION down to 0% and BRIGHTNESS and OPACITY to 100%.

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By now, even if you’ve never used an app like this before, you’re already getting the hang of things, and you will find setting a suitable TEXT SIZE an easy thing to do. I use 30 on my edits, but you will want to adjust to fit how you frame things. And so it’s time to tap in the rectangle which says ENTER YOUR TEXT HERE and then confirm it with the tick icon, which will return you to your photo with the text floating on it. Place your finger on the text and slide the word into position. Tap on the tick icon to fix it there.

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On this picture I needed to label the fingers as days of the week. I reduced the size of the text to 20.

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I typed each name individually and slid them into place at the end of each fingertip. To save your finished image, tap on the EXPORT icon in the bottom right corner.

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You can find symbols in Pics Play Pro which can help to convey movement.

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I’ve used a curved arrow to show one index finger striking down against the other, so that you can see how symbols can be manipulated. We start by selecting STICKER.

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Which opens this menu.

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Select MARKS & POINTERS.

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Select the bent arrow.

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Select the white arrow with the black outline. It will appear on the photo like this. You can see a circular blue icon. This allows you to adjust the size and orientation.

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Tap on the arrow symbol and a menu will appear. Select TRANSFORM.

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Now select ROTATE AND FLIP.

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In this case you could select FLIP HORIZONTAL or FLIP VERTICAL.

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And the arrow is now bent the other way.

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I’ve rotated it to the approximate direction I need. I can readjust as I edit.

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Tapping on the blue circle changes it to a resizing tool. Tapping again changes it to a reshaping tool which looks like this. Touching on any of the blue corners and sliding your finger will stretch the arrow into new dimensions. I often use this to suggest perspective in forward and backward movements. As you experiment with this tool, you can go back and forth through your actions by touching the circled arrow in the top left corner.

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For the other symbol I have used here, select STICKER again and scroll down to COMIC.

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Here there are several icons I find useful. I use the one at the top, ringed in red, to suggest the impact of two things striking against each other. I also use it to suggest things expanding. I use the two icons ringed in blue to suggest movement, such as shaking and wriggling.

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When you select an icon, it will then give you the choice to SET SHAPE STYLE. Again, select the white with black outline.

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Yikes. I almost forgot. You can easily add a brief description below your title for added clarity. Something like this.

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Here are some more examples of how you can use icons to convey the sign in action.

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STEP FIVE: PRESENTATION

When you have a collection of sign images, the next question is how to organise them. Do you arrange several on a page under a related subject heading? For instance, you could have QUESTIONS – with signs for Who, What, Where, Why, When, Which, How, Whose or Ask – COLOURS, PLACES, FOODS, TRAVEL, FEELINGS, THOUGHTS – Know, Don’t Know, Forget, Remember, Idea, Think, Learn, Teach, etc. These could then be arranged in a photocopied A5 centre stapled booklet. Or they could be arranged alphabetically, printed on individual sheets and added gradually to a clip file. Or perhaps have the most necessary signs on a double sided A3 sheet which could be folded up pocket sized, with the images placed so that they sit clear of the folds. Such a thing could accommodate 48 signs that someone could keep handy at all times. I’m going to see if I can find a way to build a downloadable template for this. If I succeed, I will update this guide with it featured.

If you find this guide useful, please feel free to share it or copy it or print it out. It would be good to hear of any successes in it’s application, or any tales of problems that arose and how they were overcome.

The Fierce Lover

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There once was a woman who thought she loved a man. It was the fiercest feeling she had ever known, and her heart would never be still. When he was there, she could not sleep at all, and when he wasn’t there, she slept less than that, tearing at her nightdress all the while.

In the wee small hours she thought she felt his body pressed against hers, his arms enfolding her, but the bed was cold and empty. She rose from her restless pillow and stepped across the room in the moonlight. She stood at the window looking at the moon, and then she hopped up onto the window ledge. She bobbed her head this way and that, took one last look behind her, spread her great feathered wings and flew out of the window into the night.

She arrived outside his house and perched in the tree outside his window. She peered into the soft candlelight, her keen eyes spied a nightdress laid out on the bed. She choked with grief and felt she could have fallen dead on the ground right there and then. “Who?” She cried. “Who?!” She flew back home so fast her little heart almost burst, and she landed on her bed and cried and cried all night and right through the day.

Then, in the wee small hours, she thought she heard his voice whisper in the dark. She could not discern his words, and she feared they were not intended for her ears. She rose from her restless pillow and stepped across the room in the moonlight. She looked up at the moon, then crawled up the curtains and hung in front of the window listening to the night. Then she spread her black leathery wings and fluttered into the dark.

When she arrived at his house, she hung from a branch outside his window and her keen ears heard him say, “I love you! I love you! Be mine! Be mine!” She shrieked with fright and fled blindly away. She clawed herself back into bed and cried like all the tortured souls in Hell.

And then, the next night, in the wee small hours she thought she could smell roses so strongly the whole bed must be festooned with them, but there were no roses at all on the sheets, just a few petals of blood. She rose from her restless pillow and stepped across the room in the moonlight. She sprang up onto the window ledge and looked at the moon. She scratched at the wood and stretched, then spread her whiskers out into the night air and pounced into the dark. She arrived at his house and pressed her little nose to the key hole. Her keen nose could smell a perfume very unlike hers, with oils so rare and exotic she could never afford. She felt so shabby and ashamed that she skulked off home dragging her sullen tail in the dirt all the way.

And then she spent the whole day fretting so hard that she bit down her nails until they bled, and she ground her teeth until they bled, and she cried and cried until her eyes bled. Needless to say, her nightdress hung from her in tatters.

And then she rose from her restless pillow and she stepped across the room in the moonlight, and she leant out of the window and looked up at the moon. She let out a murmur, which turned into a growl. Her hackles raised, she opened her jaws and howled and leapt out into the night.

She ran and she ran, faster and faster, her paws tearing great scars into the earth. She arrived at his house with such fury, the front door took a great leap out of it’s frame and tottered away across the room, crashing into a table and chairs.

The young man’s hair stood on end. He grabbed the first thing to hand – a box – and threw it at her. It hit her between the eyes and sprung open. Out fell a brand new beautiful nightdress and it billowed down over her head.

He picked up another box – much smaller – and threw that too. It bounced off her snout and opened, and out flew a little bottle and smashed on the floor, splashing her with exotic oils from distant shores.

The next thing to hand was a gilded cage. He threw it without a thought and it crashed against her fangs. A little door sprang open and out flew a little bird. “I love you! I love you! Be mine! Be mine!” it sang as it flew around the room.

There was nothing else to hand he could throw, and she pounced upon him and pinned him to the floor, panting at him, her tongue in his face.

And there she was, naked in her own skin, on her hands and knees above him. “Oh, I could just eat you!” she said, and she fell upon him, into his arms.

The Four Suitors

There was once a very pretty girl who lived in a cottage by the river. Her mother and father had passed away, leaving her the little house and a tidy bit of land, but there was so much work to do, she had no time for courting.

One day, when she was cutting a little irrigation channel off the river, she paused to watch the sunlight dance on the water. She was quite mesmerised by it dazzling her eyes. And then she heard the river speak to her. “Marry me,” it chuckled, “and I will keep your crops watered, keep a steady turn of your mill wheel and look after your ducks and always run true and clear for you. I will never let you down.”

The girl said, “My dear mother and father are no longer here to consult on the matter, so you must give me time to consider your offer.”

The next day, she was picking apples from the tree, and the fresh sweet air filled her lungs, and the droplets of dew on the hard pink skin of each apple and the sun dappling the leaves quite mesmerised her. And the the tree whispered to her, “Marry me, and I will shelter your crops from the harsh sun and prevent the wind from scouring your land and taking the roof from your house. I will provide a home to the birds that they may sing to you every morning, and bestow you with fruit in abundance.”

“As I have no mother or father to consult,” said the girl, “you must give me time to carefully consider your offer.”

The following day, she was hanging out her washing, and she paused to watch a little bird weave it’s way thru’ the billowing sheets and clothes, and his singing, quite naturally, mesmerised her, and then he landed on the peg she held in her hand and she heard him speak to her.

“Marry me, marry me,” tweeted the little bird, “and I will pick the flies from your crops and sing to you every morning so that you always awaken with a smile.”

“Give me time, give me time, little bird,” she replied. “It is such a lot to consider.”

The day after that, she was tending her sweetpeas, and she paused to watch a little bee move about the flowers. His soft buzzing as he busied about his work quite mesmerised her. And then he came and landed on her finger and she heard him speak to her.

“How sweet life would be if you would just marry me,” hummed the bee. “I would pollinate your crops and make you such sweet fragrant honey, and life would be a dream.”

“Allow me time to dwell on that dream,” said the girl.

And then, the next day, a handsome young man came along. He wore the finest clothes and rode a beautiful white stallion. He was surely the handsomest fellow she had ever seen. She gazed upon the sunlight in his hair, his broad, sheltering shoulders, his strong, protective arms, and his big blue eyes quite mesmerised her, and he came right out with it. “Will you marry me?” he warmly smiled, and right away she agreed. And, there and then, his feet were straight under the table and his shoes under the bed.

And in the bed they happily lay, their limbs entwined, when the tree threw itself down on the house and crashed thru’ the roof. The pair jumped out of bed and ran downstairs into the kitchen and found it flooded up to their knees, the table and chairs floating about the room. They waded outside and found every head of corn picked clean. She heard the little bird singing above her and looked up and, from high above it tipped it’s tail and smote her in the eye. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the bee came and stung her on her nose.

She looked at the handsome fellow by her side. She gazed upon his broad sheltering shoulders, his strong protective arms, his big blue eyes and the sunlight in his hair. “Ah, well,” he smiled. “I’d best be off then.” And so he left her. And this is the end of my tale.

Midwinter Lullaby

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It’s the longest night of the year
And there’s no Christmas spirit
There’s no winter cheer
Gonna save your weary heart
From the fears
That tear it apart

When you hear church bells chime four
When that mocking full moon
Has skipped by your door
Here’s a song I wrote just for you
In the hope it helps
To see you thru

So sleep, little angel, don’t howl at the moon
Benzodiazapin will bring you sleep soon
But if those little pills let you down
Just call me
I’m always around

Just sitting here
On the longest night of the year

Like Two Birds

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Take me in the meadow
Take me on the mountain
Take me for your true love
On the mountain
On the mountain

I see you a wagtail
You see me a starling
We gaily sing together
Be my darling
Be my darling

Skip me cross a river
Make a wish for ever
Take me for your true love
In the heather
In the heather

Companion site to The Frank Garland Show http://youtube.com/thefrankgarlandshow