Sunday, 30 December 2012

What a long day (part 14)


A second later Delta called out, “Keep driving, don't stop!” and Oscar's guarded house sailed past the window. Delta handed a card to the driver, then turned to Oscar.

“They weren't police – they were Cotwg. We need to get you somewhere safe. Tonight you can stay at mine. My flat's not far from here and you can sleep on the sofa. I don't want you to know where it is, though, so you'll have to wear this blindfold.”

Oscar didn't have time to think about where she had been keeping the blindfold, or why she had thought to bring it with her or have it easily accessible, before it was covering his eyes. The driver drove on, turning left and right, speeding up and slowing down, so much so that Oscar lost his bearings and wondered whether they had taken a scenic route for exactly that purpose. Eventually, they stopped and he heard one of the doors opening.

“Wait there a minute,” Delta instructed him. He waited. Then his door opened, he took off his seatbelt and Delta led him round the car to the pavement. “I still don't want you to know where we are so you'll have to hold your suitcase and briefcase with one hand and hold my hand with the other, and let me lead you.” He heard the taxi drive away and once again felt vulnerable and powerless to Delta's will. He was bigger than she was. Why didn't he try to overpower her? He admitted to himself that it was the curse of being British: no matter what happened, if something was said with enough authority, he did as he was told. He wouldn't like it and he'd complain about it later, but he couldn't do anything else.

Once the sound of the taxi was gone, Delta spoke quickly and quietly, “We're going to walk up a slight slope. There'll be a few bumps but I'll warn you before we get to them. It's dark and it's late so we shouldn't meet anyone. If we do... Don't worry, we won't.” She gave his hand a tug and started walking.

Oscar's steps got more confident the further they walked. If he could see where he were going, this would probably have been quite a pleasant walk; it would have felt shorter and less tiring. As it was, he had no idea how long they would be walking for and didn't know if they were in a built-up area, in the countryside or anywhere in between. All he knew was that it was quiet and that he was being led uphill.

Soon the ground levelled out, they walked down what might have been a ramp, then Delta stopped. “The gate's locked,” she whispered. “We can go through the kissing gate, though. Quietly,” she added. She put his hand on the gate and he pushed it slowly forwards. It swung to the right, as was expected, he touched it gently to the other side, then squeezed through the gap with his suitcase, being careful not to bang it against the fence. Once through, he waited patiently for Delta to follow. “You'll have to carry your case now,” she whispered quieter than before. After they'd taken a few steps forward, he knew why: they were on cobbles. It didn't take them long to get to the other side of the cobbled area, where they stopped again. He heard Delta insert a key into a lock and turn a door handle. He heard her hold her breath as the door creaked a little. She led him inside and locked the door behind them.

“You'll have to be careful, there isn't a lot of room,” she said quietly, then led him on a winding route across a thin carpet to another door. The room smelt of new books and soap.

At the other side of the room, beep-beep-beep-beep told Oscar that Delta was entering a code onto a keypad. He felt her lean away from him as she pushed a heavy door open and held it while he went through. On the other side of the door it was cold and the floor was harder. It echoed when he walked. A few steps away, they entered a lift. Oscar was aware of Delta pressing more than one button, then the lift started to move. He felt disorientated again as he didn't know if they were going up or down. He assumed up because they'd entered on the ground floor, but he wasn't sure if he could trust his logic any more.

When the lift had bounced to a stop, the doors opened and Oscar felt warm air around him as he stepped out. He kept a tight hold on Delta's hand as she led him across a soft carpet, which conveniently muffled their footsteps but did make it harder to pull a suitcase. Oscar's briefcase tapped the top of his leg as he walked but he couldn't do anything about it because he didn't want to let go of Delta and lose her.

A few steps later Delta let him let go of her hand and his luggage, and let him sit down on the most comfortable sofa ever. He sank into its cushiony softness as it hugged him comfortingly.

“Can I take this off now?” he asked, pushing the blindfold up.

“Uh-huh,” Delta replied.

Oscar sighed and leaned back on the sofa. It was so comfortable. He blinked few times, trying to stay awake. Delta said, “Make yourself at home.”

Oscar removed his coat and suit jacket and folded them neatly next to him on the sofa. He lay down on them and fell asleep. He was glad this day was over.

Friday, 28 December 2012

What a long day (part 13)

Before Oscar knew it, the door was open, he was dangerously close to it and Delta was beginning to lean out. Being attached to her, this meant that he too was beginning to lean out of the plane. He was powerless. He uselessly flapped his arms around, perhaps trying to reach the edge of the gaping hole in the plane, or a cord he could pull or undo. Maybe it was best that he couldn't reach any of these things because at that moment, Delta leant even further out of plane, yelled “Geronimo!” and actually leapt forwards as though she were doing a giant belly flop.

The wind rushed past Oscar's face at an alarming rate. It was cold and whistled in his ears. He closed his eyes to stop them watering. This also had the benefit of shielding him from the view, something he wasn't accustomed to seeing in this manner.

They were falling through the air for longer than Oscar expected. He kept his eyes tightly shut and tried to pretend he was on a fairground ride. That didn't help much as he had little experience of fairground rides other than being told as a child that he'd be sick if he went on one after eating. The most exciting thing that happened in his life now was... well, up to this point it had been when next door's cat had appeared at his backdoor meowing for milk.

“Lift your feet up, we're going to land!” Delta suddenly yelled in Oscar's ear. “Legs out in front of you like you're sitting up in bed!” His eyes snapped open and he stuck his legs out as instructed. He felt Delta pull a little to the left, the ground rushed towards them and suddenly he was sliding along on his backside with Delta screaming “Wahoo!” behind him.

Oscar was grateful to sit for a minute to get his breath back. He felt disorientated, shaky and full of adrenaline. He looked about him. All he could see were trees and grass. His hearing felt muffled. Delta unclipped him and stood up. He steadied himself just in time, then sat leaning back on his hands.

“You can stay there while I fold up the parachute,” Delta said kindly. Oscar watched the sun set behind the trees.

Once the parachute and all its paraphernalia were packed up, Oscar followed Delta to the edge of the field, over a stile, up a lane and past some houses. They came out on a dual carriageway next to a cinema and retail park. Oscar was still too dazed to be very aware of this, though.

“Come on, there's a taxi rank up here.” Delta led the way. “You'll be home in no time.”

Oscar was aware of following Delta along the road and into a car park that had a taxi rank, near a bus stop. He got into the first taxi while the driver put his suitcase in the boot. Delta joined him in the back of the taxi.

“Where to?” the driver asked.

“Oscar, where do you live?” Delta asked. Oscar heard himself reel off his whole address, then the taxi started to move.

Oscar spent the whole journey looking out of the window at the passing cars and buildings, at the streetlights and the stars. As they got closer to his home, he began to get his senses back, and to recognise where he was. Soon they were turning into his street. He felt glad to be getting home. He was still trying to fit together the pieces of what had happened today, but the 15-minute taxi ride hadn't been long enough for that. He squinted out of the taxi window in the direction of his house.

“Why are there policemen outside my house?”

Sunday, 23 December 2012

What a long day (part 12)

When Oscar woke up, it didn't take him long to remember where he was. The plane dipped a little, giving him a funny feeling in his stomach. He rubbed his eyes and looked around him. His suitcase, briefcase and coat had obediently stayed in the corner. Either that or the flight had been smoother than he had been expecting. Delta was sitting cross-legged by the window. She turned round when she heard Oscar moving.

We're going to be landing soon,” she told him. “Do you want to come and see?”

Oscar crawled over to the window to look out at the view.

Blimey, we're a bit low aren't we?” he exclaimed as he looked down at the houses and roads which weren't far enough below them. He could almost see the passengers in the cars speeding along the dual carriageway. He thought for a fleeting second that if it were a little lighter they'd be able to see into the houses as well. After looking at the view for a few minutes, something occurred to Oscar. “That airport I can see doesn't look big enough to be Gatwick or Heathrow,” he said.

It's Filton,” Delta told him. “Near Bristol. We happened to come this way so Frog thought he'd drop us off here.”

And dropping you off it might be,” Frog called from the cockpit.

What do you mean?” Oscar asked.

I'm trying to work out where the runway is but I think they've built houses where it used to be.”

What?”

He thinks they've built houses where the runway used to be,” Delta said patiently.

They can't do that!” Oscar said. “Where are we supposed to land?”

Sorry, old chap,” Frog said. “Looks like you'll have to parachute down.”

Oscar looked at Delta. Now would be a good time for you to wake me up and tell me this is all a dream, he thought. She smiled as though she'd read his mind.

Delta, you remember where the parachutes are, don't you?” Frog asked.

Yes, I'll get them,” Delta replied. She crossed to the front of the cabin and opened a cupboard Oscar hadn't noticed before. Inside were a few small packages – the parachutes. She pulled out two parachutes and a few straps. “Have you parachuted before?” she asked conversationally.

No,” Oscar replied.

OK, we'll go tandem then.” She put one parachute away, put the other on, then strapped all their luggage together. Oscar put his coat on and then desperately tried to remember the words of the Lord's prayer whilst he waited for Delta to tell him what to do next. He wasn't in the habit of praying, but this seemed like a good time to start.

I knew they were talking about closing the airfield,” Frog said as he circled around in search of a good place for them to parachute down. “I didn't realise they'd done it already. There isn't enough room to land a plane with all those houses but you might be able to parachute down and land on the little field that's still there by the Concorde museum. Now, that was a good plane. Shame I never got to fly one. Didn't even get to go in one at all. I mean, having my own plane, why would I? Maybe I should give being a passenger a go sometime, have a go in one of those A380s for the next mission.”

Oscar suddenly realised that while Frog had been telling this story Delta had been strapping them together, with their luggage, ready to jump out of the plane.

OK, I've found you a good spot.” Frog said after a few minutes of more circling. “Delta, I'm going to drop you at Teletubby Hill.”

Teletubby Hill?” Oscar asked.

Delta leant towards to window so he was forced to lean that way too and look out. “See that field with the swirly patterns on it? We call it Teletubby Hill.”

Field with landscaped swirly pattern
Photograph by David Goddard

It was an overflow field from when the airfield was open. If a plane was going to overshoot the runway or crash, that was one of the designated places to land.”

Lovely,” Oscar said. Could this day get any worse?

Sunday, 16 December 2012

English Teachers

I have had many English teachers over the years, having studied English up to A Level and then done a degree in linguistics. I have already written a blog post where I complain about English teachers who misunderstood my writing; in this post, I will praise the good English teaching I have received.

In Year 12 (aged 17), Mr Spiller taught me the subjunctive. For A Level English Language & Literature, we were studying Alice's Adventures in Wonderland – a brilliant choice! One lesson we read this extract:
unimportant, of course, I meant,’ the King hastily said, and went on to himself in an undertone,
‘important—unimportant—unimportant—important—’ as if he were trying which word sounded best.
 Mr Spiller then asked why Carroll had written 'he were' rather than 'he was'. Various answers were suggested:

  • "Because of the word 'trying' which follows?" No, 'he was trying' is grammatical English.
  • "Because of the word 'as' at the beginning?" No, 'as he was trying' is grammatical English.
Eventually someone said, "because of the word 'if'?" Yes, it is because of the word 'if'. Mr Spiller explained that this phenomenon is called the subjunctive and that it is so misunderstood in English that we are hardly taught it at all and not taught it in our French classes until sixth form. This was true: I hadn't yet encountered it in French. However, thanks to Mr Spiller I can now correctly identify and use the subjunctive in English, and also spot when it should have been used.


In Year 13 (aged 18), Miss Nelson taught me how to use a semicolon. I was so glad someone had finally explained it clearly! She explained that if you have two separate clauses which function as complete sentences, they can be joined using a semicolon. Here was her example:
I went to the shop; I bought a CD.
To write "I went to the shop, I bought a CD" would be ungrammatical because the two clauses are complete sentences on their own. When a comma is put between them like this it is called a comma splice or a run-on sentence. You could use a comma if you were to make the sentence into a list of three or more items, for example:
I went to the shop, I bought a CD and I went home.
It would also work to insert the word 'and' or to put a full stop instead of the semicolon. Although these alternatives exist, I like that there is the choice of using a semicolon, and I was so glad that I finally understood how to use one properly! I now regularly use semicolons in my own writing. I think carefully about how to punctuate each sentence (whether I am writing fiction, a blog post or an email) and use semicolons where appropriate. Sometimes it isn't appropriate to use a semicolon, for example in informal writing (where an n-dash (–) may be more suitable, or it may be better to put a full stop and start a new sentence). I am so grateful to Miss Nelson for giving this lesson and improving my understanding of punctuation, my passion for the English language and my writing.

Can you spot my use of the subjunctive in this post? And what do you think about my use of the semicolon?

Saturday, 8 December 2012

What a long day (part 11)

Delta was settled at the back of the plane, leaning against the wall with her legs stretched out in front of her, one foot over the other so as to be decent.

“Come and sit down.” She patted the spot next to her. “If you're not sitting here before take-off, you'll regret it,” she added.

Oscar was still kneeling near the door. As the plane sped a long the runway, he was thrown towards the back of the plane. Delta was right: he regretted not having already sat down. The regret didn't last long as, to his surprise, he didn't hurt himself at all but tumbled over on the cushions, landing sitting up facing Delta.

Delta giggled and patted the space beside her again. Oscar manoeuvred himself into position next to her, clumsily because the plane was still moving at an alarming speed for its condition.

Soon they were pushed back against the wall as the plane began to lift off from the runway and climb into the sky. Oscar was utterly terrified. He couldn't believe he was actually here doing this. He was a frequent flier, but this had nothing to do with being afraid of flying. He was afraid of dying. He was afraid of falling out of the sky because he was sitting in a glorified tin can with Sellotape on the door and a World War I RAF wannabe in the cockpit. Scenes from his life started to flash before his eyes. Actually they were mainly scenes from war films in which plane were shot down or crash landed and burst into flames. He chanced a look in Delta's direction. She was nonchalantly picking her nails and peering out of the window.

They seemed to climb and twist and turn for ages before levelling out. When they finally did, Oscar had a bit of a headache. Nothing else ached because, although they had been thrown around a bit in the back, the cushions and beanbags had served their purpose and kept them relatively comfortable. He sat up groggily and leant back against the wall again. I'm too old for this, he thought grumpily. Delta, he noticed, seemed perfectly at ease. She was now lying on her front, propped up on her elbows, playing a game on her phone. He almost told her she should turn off her phone whilst on a plane, but he didn't have the energy and was sure she'd say that wasn't true on Frog's plane.

Oscar risked a glance into the cockpit. To his relief, Frog looked like a very competent pilot who was concentrating well on the task at hand. He started to relax a little. In fact, he relaxed so much and was so comfortable that he drifted off.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Remember the poor

Galatians 2:10 says 'All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.' What does it mean to 'remember the poor'?

Today, when I went to the supermarket, there were volunteers from the local foodbank. I'd heard that they were going to be there and was looking forward to doing my part, so I was pleased when I was handed a shopping list and asked to buy something from it to donate.

I ended up buying two extra bags of food to donate. It felt pleased to have done my part. I also felt quite humbled.

Remembering the poor keeps us humble. And serving humbly is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.

Friday, 30 November 2012

My first bookmash


This charming man, falling sideways
Thud!

Don't panic!
... and that's when it fell off in my hand.

What a long day (part 10)



After 20 minutes or so of being alone in the interview room, Oscar heard something. It sounded like a mouse scrabbling around. He tried to locate the sound. He looked around the floor and along the bottom of the walls. He even checked behind the pot plant. But he couldn't see any mice or holes in the skirting board. Sitting down again, he was reminded of a time he had seen a mouse in an airport. His clearest memory, however, was of the group of Essex girls who kept screaming. Delta wasn't like that. Delta. Why had he thought of Delta again? He was sure she wouldn't react to seeing a mouse by screaming. She would probably do her breadbin thing on it and kill it. Or maybe she would rescue it and keep it as a pet. Rescue it. He could do with being rescued right now.

The scrabbling, shuffling sound came back. It was getting louder. Standing up, Oscar realised it was coming from above him. Perhaps it was a pipe in the ceiling that hissed as water went along it. He hoped it wasn't a pipe that was broken and leaking. Getting wet or getting gassed would not make the situation he was in any easier.

After a moment, the shuffling sound stopped. There were a few seconds of silence, then one of the ceiling panels started to move. Oscar stared wide-eyed as the panel slid to one side and Delta's face appeared, her long, red hair hanging down through the hole she'd made.

“Don't just stand there!” she hissed. Oscar opened and closed his mouth, lost for words. “Come on, I'm rescuing you!” Oscar continued to stare, mentally kicking himself for resolving to trust her if she came to rescue him.

He found his tongue. “But they said you're a terrorist,” he told her.

She rolled her eyes. “We both know you're going to come with me, so will you save some time and just climb on the desk and lift yourself up into the ceiling?”

Oscar obliged. Unfortunately, he wasn't very adept at physical work like this and certainly wasn't dressed for it. With Delta's help he made it up into the ceiling, then followed her, on hands and knees, along a tunnel.

After a few twists and turns, Delta stopped, moved another panel aside and dropped out of sight. Oscar looked down. It looked like she was in a warehouse. It was cold, the floor was made of stone and he could hear machinery.

“Come on!” Delta waved him down. He got into a good position and dropped.

“Where are we?” he asked. Delta didn't answer. She led him outside and onto the runway. “How did we get here? Don't we have to go through passport control or something?” Oscar asked.

“You're so mainstream,” Delta chided. “My uncle's here. He's going to fly us home on his private plane.”

“Your uncle has a plane?” Oscar couldn't help himself relaxing as the words escaped his mouth. “Cool.” he heard himself add.

The moment Oscar saw Delta jog up to her uncle and his plane, he regretted saying it was cool. He regretted climbing up through the hole in the ceiling and following Delta. For a second, he even regretted ever having spoken to Delta at all. Delta's uncle looked like he'd stepped right out of an old war film. Right up to the goggles, he looked as though he should be a World War I RAF pilot. The plane didn't look in much better shape. It looked like something he'd botched together in the lab. No, lab wasn't the right word – that was too hi-tech. It was like something he'd banged together in a workshop. Delta's uncle hugged her hello, then introduced himself to Oscar.

“Hello, Oscar,” he said jovially. “I'm Frog. I'm a friend of Delta's parents. And it looks like I'm going to be your captain for this evening's flight. I'd love to chat but we'd better get going before it gets dark.” After giving Oscar's hand a quick shake, he pulled open a door on the side of the plane. Oscar goggled as the door swung precariously on what looked like sellotape. He watched as Frog reached up and pulled a ladder down, then held out a hand to assist Delta into the light aircraft. Not that she needed his help, Oscar thought. Once inside, Delta leant her head out of the door and smiled to Oscar.

“Come on!” she said again, and waved him to follow her. Oscar watched as Frog climbed into the cockpit through the window. He stepped closer to the plane, working out how he could politely refuse. Delta reached out and almost man-handled him up the ladder and into the plane. He could tell she was a woman who always got her way.

The shock didn't stop there. The interior of the plane was unlike anything he had seen before. The floor was covered in cushions and beanbags. The walls and ceiling were fuzzy with brown carpet. There was one window, on the opposite side from the door, which looked like a porthole.

Delta pulled in the ladder and yanked the door shut. Oscar crawled forward a few steps, then stopped, in shock at the situation he was putting himself in.

“Make yourself at home,” Delta said hospitably.

“Where are the—”

“Chairs? Seatbelts?” Delta interrupted. “No need. We have cushions. So just get comfy and enjoy the ride!”

Ride? Oscar had been hoping for transport home not fairground entertainment.

“Good evening, passengers,” Frog called cheerfully over his shoulder. (Oscar noticed that he had a proper seat.) “This is your captain speaking. My name is Frog and I will be flying you back to England. We need to get out of here pretty sharpish, so I'll skip the safety briefing if you don't mind. Sit back, relax and we'll be there in no time!”

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

I like reading. How do I write?

I have three days of NaBloWriMo left and I have writer's block. The problem is that when I read great writing, I don't feel inspired, I feel belittled. I don't think, wow, I'd better get writing! I think, I could never write anything like that, why should I even try?

I've just read this blog post: http://makeitmad.com/2012/11/28/preach/. It is an account of two Christians delivering food to homeless people in California on Thanksgiving Day. It is one of the best-written pieces of work I have read in a long time.

My favourite author is Douglas Adams. I am currently re-reading the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy for the nth time. Douglas Adams's writing is so effortlessly brilliant. It doesn't read as if he is trying to sound clever. The sentences aren't clumsy. It reads as though everything has been very cleverly constructed, but as though he didn't have to agonise over every word choice. It is as though it has just flowed from his mind onto the page. Perhaps part of the reason it feels like he has written like that is that the book barely has a plot so it's almost a stream of consciousness with chapter headings. Whatever the reasons, whether I can put my finger on them or not, I love reading the Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy. If you haven't read it, please give it a go.

Any ideas you can give me for how to improve my writing or how to get inspired for writing will be greatly appreciated. I love reading so much that I'd like to give writing a go.

How I ended up at Minecon

"Would you like to go to Paris for our anniversary?" Nicholas asked sweetly.

"Yes," I almost snorted. Who wouldn't want to go to Paris?

"Would you like to go to Disneyland?" he added.

"Yes!" I exclaimed. Who would pass up the chance to go to Disneyland whilst in Paris?

Later, he revealed that there would be a Minecraft convention the same weekend.

It was too late: I'd already said yes.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Nice things

Yesterday I posted about how I like to do nice things for other people. It turns out I also like it when other people do nice things for me. When we got home from holiday today, we discovered that my parents had bought us an anniversary present, let themselves into our house and left it on the table for us to find. What I also liked was discovering bread, ham, yogurts and tomatoes in the kitchen all ready for packed lunches tomorrow. Thank you, parents!

Another nice thing is to have internet connection! Whilst on holiday we didn't always have a good internet connection – sometimes expensive, sometimes slow and sometimes non-existent. As soon as we got to the airport today, we went to McDonald's to use their free Wifi – it felt good to be re-connected to the outside world. Thank you, McDonald's!

PS I have just discovered that the yogurts are rhubarb flavour – my favourite!

Things I have learnt about myself today


Things I have learnt about myself today:
  • I like to have alone time sometimes. Today I spent the morning shopping on my own and it was really nice.
  • I wake up in the evenings. I already knew that but it has been evident to me the last few days.
  • Doing nice things for other people makes me feel really good. So does meeting new people and chatting with them.

I'll expand on the last point. Today we queued for tickets to a free event that didn't have many spaces left. We'd forgotten to queue earlier in the day so we went in the evening when queuing opened again to see if there were any tickets left. When we arrived, there weren't any left but there was a possibility of up to 30 more being released.

In the queue, we got chatting to the couple behind us. They were very excited about the event and had missed out on getting tickets earlier in the day. About an hour later, 20 wrist bands arrived at the desk. My husband and I were numbers 18 and 19 in the queue so we each got one. Unfortunately, that meant that the couple behind us didn't get in – a single guy behind them got the last one.

I felt bad because I hadn't actually been that excited about going to see this band. Nicholas and I wondered if we should have offered our wrist bands to the couple behind us. We decided that if we saw them again we would. When we got outside, we caught up with them walking back to the hotel. They were upset about missing out on tickets again. So we gave them ours. They were very touched and we all went for a drink together.

It was great not only to make them happy by giving them the chance to go and see a band they liked and had been looking forward to going to see, but also to spend time getting to know them. We had the usual first-time chat about what jobs we do and where we live, and we discovered hobbies that we had in common. We had a really fun evening, and when it was time for them to go, we exchanged Facebook and Twitter contact details.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Things I have learnt today


Things I have learnt today:
  • Minecraft is used in education and can be used to learn about physics and electronics.
  • Minecraft is used in visualising designs for the use of public spaces.
  • Mojang has a Director of Fun.
  • The lead developer of Minecraft might be related to me – he looks like a cross between me (long ginger hair and glasses) and my brother (ginger beard).
  • Geeks like having long hair and beards (are they too lazy to cut their hair or shave, or is it an intentional fashion choice?) and hats (that one must be an intentional fashion choice).
  • Life without much internet access is strange when you're used to checking Facebook and Twitter many times a day or looking things up whenever you want.
  • Doing little more than watching one YouTube video is enough to use up all my roaming data allowance.
  • It was worth using up my data allowance to watch this video and cheer myself up.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Disneyland and Minecon


Disneyland is so much fun. I've had a great afternoon, even thought my feet really hurt now from all the walking around. It wasn't too bad that it was raining because, although our feet got a bit wet, the queues were really short.

We're at Disneyland for Minecon. We've just picked up our goody bags  I'm excited to have a discount voucher for the shops on site – I'll be able to buy some souvenirs and maybe even start my Christmas shopping.

The hotel we're staying in doesn't have wifi and we have to pay for internet connection. So I'm broadcasting the signal from my phone to upload this from my laptop. Quite apt that I'm doing something so geeky at a computer game convention.

My Minecon experience started at the bus stop this afternoon. When the bus was late, rather than talking about walking or getting a taxi to the hotel, someone said, “If we had jet packs...” That and the fact that someone was already wearing a costume told me that I'm in for a nerdy weekend.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

What a long day (part 9)


Whilst locked in the office on his own, Oscar had some time to reflect on how his day was going. He'd never had a day like this before. It had started quite normally, with a plan to catch a flight home and spend the rest of the day there, possibly preparing for tomorrow's meeting, possibly relaxing and catching up on some TV. Instead, he had been delayed because the plane he was supposed to catch had landed in the wrong country, had met a very mysterious woman he still wasn't sure he could trust, and had now been interrogated by two men claiming said woman was a terrorist. He resolved that if Delta came and rescued him, she must be good after all, whatever else happened. If she didn't come to rescue him, he wasn't sure who would. The two men who'd brought him here hadn't given him the impression that they were legitimate security staff, so he wasn't sure that it was officially known that he was here. No-one else knew he was here. He pulled his phone out of his pocket. As he suspected, he had no signal, so there was no way he could alert anyone to the fact that he was trapped. He soon started to feel claustrophobic and panicky. What if no-one came back?

Le Ciel de Paris

If I weren't determined to write a blog post every day this month, I would be going to sleep right now. I've just got in from having the most amazing dinner with the most spectacular view. This was the view from the dinner table:

Yes, that is the Eiffel Tower, lit up in all her glory. If you think that's good, you should see what she does to mark the changing of each hour. I won't spoil the surprise: you'll have to visit Paris to see it. The best view is from the Ciel de Paris restaurant. Another good way to see it is from an evening river cruise. I haven't yet seen it standing on the ground next to it – I'm thinking about doing that tomorrow.

So, that's what I have to say about the spectacular view. Now on to the amazing food. Well, the amuse bouche (yes, it was so posh they brought us an amuse bouche to start) was fromage frais with herbs, which was very nice with the bread they served with the meal. For my starter and main course, I think I enjoyed the accompaniments better than the main part. The apple and raisin chutney served with the foie gras was the best chutney I have ever tasted, and the mashed potato served with the veal was just the right amount of creamy and buttery. For dessert, the sorbet was so sharp it almost bit my tongue off! The fresh fruit minestrone was an original twist on fruit salad. To finish, I was recommended a fancy hot chocolate. I'm not a fan of dark chocolate so it was a little on the bitter side, but I enjoyed what I could, considering that I was already full.

We had to wait a while before the waiter brought us our bill but he excused himself by saying that he'd been busy because of a marriage proposal. The lady had said yes and he'd had to go and open a bottle of champagne for the happy couple. What a romantic place to propose.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

What a long day (part 8)


While Delta was out of Oscar's sight (she'd gone to the bathroom), two men introduced themselves to him as airport security and asked him to please come with them. As he followed them back past the restaurants and duty-free shops to security, he struggled to place the accent of the man who had spoken. This wasn't his forte but he didn't think it was a German accent. As the man who had spoken turned to open the door to a small office, Oscar spotted a black feather embroidered on his blue shirt. The same symbol was on his hat, and on the uniform of his colleague. Oscar made an effort to hide a small gasp, then entered the room and sat at the seat indicated to him.

The room was simple, with a single desk, two chairs on one side and one on the other, a small window offering a little light but no view to speak of, and a pot plant in the corner. The two men sat next to each other opposite the desk from Oscar.

“We have reason to believe,” started the man who hadn't spoken yet, in what was unmistakably a sing-songy, Swansea accent, “that you are travelling with a known terror suspect. She was last spotted at border control and we know she was working with an agency in Austria. Please tell us all that you know about the organisation that calls itself Friarr and the operation it was undertaking in Salzburg.”

For a moment Oscar was speechless. Terror suspect? He'd just thought Delta was a sweet girl who'd had a sheltered upbringing, and that she had decided to be fully inducted in the religious order her parents were part of. He realised now that he'd actually believed the story she'd told him, to the point where he felt like he should be defending her now.

“Uh,” he said nervously. “I'm not really sure what you're talking about.”

“Oh, come on, we've seen you together. You had lunch together, you haven't been out of each other's sight all day. We've only just been able to get you on your own!” It was hard to take the man seriously with an outburst like this.

“Gethin!” his colleague chided through gritted teeth.

“But Huw,” Gethin whispered in reply, “it's true. I'm sure he knows something and can help us get the girl.” The two men whispered a few more words to each other while Oscar wiped his brow and thought desperately about what he should say. Should he trust them and tell them everything Delta had said, or should he believe Delta and keep his mouth shut in order to protect her?

The two guards stopped muttering to each other and turned back to face Oscar.

“How do you know the woman you have been travelling with today?” Huw asked. “How did you meet?”

“I'm travelling alone,” Oscar answered truthfully.

“I'll rephrase my question. How did you meet the woman you had lunch with today?”

“We met in the airport,” Oscar answered, sufficiently truthfully and sufficiently vaguely.

“Were you on the coach with her when it crossed the German border?” Huw asked.

“I did travel to Germany by coach today.” Oscar had resolved to lie as little as possible without giving anything away.

Huw took a deep breath. Gethin looked as though he were about to say something but Huw stopped him.

“Is the woman you had lunch with today also travelling alone?” Huw asked.

“Yes.”

“Did she tell you why she was in Austria this week?”

Oscar thought carefully about how to answer this question. He could simply answer 'yes', thus answering truthfully but frustrating his interrogators. Or he could give some indication of what she had said she was doing in a way that would put them off the scent. The longer he left it, the more suspicious they would become, so he would have to think of something quickly.

“She did. I think she said she was visiting a family friend.” He thought that would be the safest option.

Huw tried a different tack. “What do you now about Friarr?”

Oscar frowned and shook his head.

“What is your favourite colour?” Gethin chimed in.

Oscar blinked at him, then responded, “What's that got to do with anything?”

“Just answer the question!” Gethin tried to sound menacing but his high-pitched voice didn't lend itself well to that.

“I don't really have a favourite colour,” Oscar said. He had not thought about questions like that since childhood. And then it had probably changed every other week, depending on who his friends were or which football team was winning the league, or which colour wasn't in his hideous school uniform.

“Look, Mr...” Huw looked at Oscar enquiringly.

“Thornton.” Oscar now wondered whether they shouldn't have asked him that at the beginning.

“Mr Thornton, we're going to need you to tell us what you know about Friarr and what you know about the woman you were with today.”

Oscar paused for a moment, then said, “We are both travelling alone. The coach to transfer us from Salzburg to Munich was full and we ended up sitting next to one another. I told her I was here on business. She told me she was visiting a family friend. After that we talked about the weather.” Although he couldn't remember it now, he was sure the weather must have come at some point in their conversation – what self-respecting Englishman wouldn't mention the weather at some point early on in any conversation? “If that doesn't sufficiently answer your question, I don't know what will. I don't know anything much more than the fact she is on the same flight as me today.”

The two guards took a moment to compute what Oscar had said. He thought they were considering whether he really didn't know anything or whether he was hiding something. He sensed they believed he might be part of Friarr and part of whatever Delta had been doing with them in Salzburg. Telling them the little he knew might put him in danger. He hoped what he'd said was enough to spare him his life and let him get home. He glanced at his watch. It was half part three. The flight would be boarding soon. He didn't want to miss another flight.

“Please excuse us for a moment,” Huw said at last. He and Gethin got up and left the room, closing the door behind them. Oscar got up and followed them to the door, tried to open it and found it to be locked. They've locked me in! They've actually locked me in! He tried the door again, just to make sure he wasn't panicking unnecessarily. Then he crossed the room to the window. It didn't have a handle. And it was frosted, so no-one outside would be able to see him. He put his hands in his pockets and turned his back to the window, facing the door. He wasn't sure what to do next.

Monday, 19 November 2012

What a long day (part 7)


Oscar Thornton did not make a habit of listening to other people's conversations. He also did not make a habit of answering the phone whilst at dinner, and he did make a habit (although not a conscious one) of being offended when other people were rude. Therefore, he had fewer qualms than normal about overhearing Delta's telephone conversation. It would have been a lot more effort to not listen, actually, because she was speaking as though the person on the other end were right in front of her, as though Oscar were not there at all.

“Hello?” she said first of all. Then, after a pause, she added excitedly, “Oh, it's you!” Then there were a few exchanges of seemingly nonsense words – perhaps this was come kind of code or inside joke. Next she filled the caller in on her present situation. “You should have called earlier, I'm in Germany now.” A pause. “No, they didn't send me here, the airline did. Apparently the plane was here so they put us all on a coach here.” Another pause. “No, don't worry, that's fine, I understand.” A few giggles. “Frog!” Did she just call the person on the other end Frog? Was she speaking to a Frenchman (Oscar wouldn't put it past her to be rude to foreigners) or was it a nickname? “I have to go now,” she announced suddenly. “Bye, see you soon.” She put the phone back in her bag.

“Sorry about that,” she said to Oscar. “A family friend who's a pilot. He's just landed in Austria and wondered if I wanted a lift. I told him it's too late because we're not there any more. It is Germany we're in, right?”

“That's right,” Oscar nodded. He didn't feel he could ask whether the caller's name really was Frog or if it had meant something else, or what they'd been talking about at the beginning of their conversation, because he wasn't really supposed to have been listening to any of it.

The next hour passed fairly uneventfully, for which Oscar would have been grateful, except that he just could not concentrate on reading his newspaper. He even tried doing the crossword, but he couldn't help worrying about what Delta had been telling him about over lunch, about this order she was a member of and the martial arts they did, the schools, the goddess and the wild geese. She was now sitting a few feet from him, by the window, with her earphones in, nodding along to the music whilst she looked in the direction of the window. He was perplexed by her. On the one hand she was so vulnerable and na├»ve – not knowing where Munich was, being concerned about her hair style – but on the other hand so dangerous – she had floored two policemen! He was no more calm about getting on a plane with her. But he was getting more curious.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Writing on a plane?

I thought about writing the next instalment of my story whilst on a plane this evening. Don't worry, I wasn't considering catching a plane somewhere just so I could write on a plane. I was on the plane anyway and contemplating what to do during the flight. Other considerations were reading about people flying through space (that most remarkable of all books ever to come out of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor) or playing on The Sims 3 on my laptop. In the end I did none of these things, bought a crossword book in the airport and completed three crossword puzzles during the hour-long flight. That makes me sound very clever. I actually had some help from my very talented husband. OK, it was he who bought the crossword book and I helped him with a few clues. Alright, I looked over his shoulder and called out the answers to the easy ones before he could get to them.

We have now arrived in our swanky hotel and are on our laptops on a very high but very comfortable bed. The hotel feels a bit Cotwg so far. (If you've been reading the story What a Long Day you will know what this means, or you will find out soon in the next few instalments.) I might post a few stories about our holiday, if there is anything interesting to report.

What a long day (part 6)


An edit from yesterday: £3 was indeed not going to get Oscar very far at Munich airport because the currency in Germany is the Euro. Let's say he had €5 as I think that would be more reasonable.

Now back to the story.

When Oscar entered the departure lounge, it became apparent that he would be claiming for more than just his own lunch on the work expenses. Delta had no money with her, having spent the last of her Euros in Salzburg and not wishing to add any more to her already large credit card bill. Her €5 voucher bought her a coffee and a cookie, and she was going to need more than that. As she was still following Oscar around, and as she had asked him so politely, he felt obliged to buy her a meal too. In the airport restaurant, he dared to broach the subject of what had happened on the coach. He hoped that after hearing her explanation he would feel more comfortable about getting on a plane with her.

Oscar looked down at his plate while he asked her, avoiding eye contact in case she was embarrassed to speak about it.

“Secret Art of the Breadbin,” she answered, quite confidently.

“The secret art of the—”

“Breadbin. Yes. It's a kind of martial art.” Delta took a sip of water, set down her glass, picked up her knife and fork and continued to eat.

“I'd gathered that much,” Oscar said. “Where is this martial art from? It doesn't sound very oriental.”

“Canada,” Delta answered, putting a piece of steak in her mouth.

“OK. And why did you feel you had to knock out the two men who boarded the coach?” Oscar had stopped eating and was watching Delta while he waited for her to finish her mouthful and answer.

“They were from the Cotwg.” She pronounced this 'Cot-wug' and said it very casually, as if it were common knowledge.

“Oh, and what is the Cotwg?” Oscar asked.

Delta looked startled for a moment. Had she expected him to know what she was talking about, about breadbins and cotwg and a martial art from Canada?

“I'm sorry,” she said after a moment. “This is my first mission alone. I wasn't expecting so many questions. And I haven't met many people outside of Friarr so I don't know how much you know.”

“Well, I don't know what Friarr is,” Oscar admitted. She emphasised the second syllable, so she clearly wasn't talking about a monk.

Again, Delta looked surprised. “OK,” she said slowly. Oscar could almost hear the cogs working in her brain as she contemplated how she was going to play this. “Well, what do you want to know?”

Oscar glanced up at the departure screen. The flight to Heathrow wasn't leaving for another two hours. He smiled resignedly. “Tell me everything.”

“Friarr,” Delta said, “is a bit like a religious order. We have a martial art, the Secret Art of the Breadbin, and our leader is the Great Goddess Nora.” When she said this, she set down her cutlery and raised both hands in front of her, as though in surrender. “We always do that when we say her name,” she explained when Oscar looked confused. “There are four schools in Friarr,” she continued, “which each use the power of Friarr differently. I'm in White School, like my mother and grandmother. I use the power of Friarr in the way you saw. I spin around and power flows out from my hair.”

Oscar smiled and nodded serenely. This woman was speaking very matter-of-factly, as though she were utterly convinced of this fantasy. He was worried for her sanity. Did she really believe all this?

“The enemy of Friarr is the Church of the Wild Goose, shortened to Cotwg. They always wear blue and their symbol is a goose or goose feather. I recognised the uniforms of the men who got on the coach. Didn't you see the goose emblem on their jackets and hats?”

“I can't say that was the first thing I noticed,” Oscar replied. “I'd just been handed a tin of hair elastics.”

“Yeah, I realised afterwards that I should have left my hair up. Always be prepared,” she mimicked, “That's what my mentor always tells me. The job isn't over until you get home. Ugh, I hate it when she's right.”

“You said you were doing something with a restaurant,” Oscar's presence of mind and recollection of their earlier conversation surprised even himself.

“That's right. There's a restaurant in Salzburg – it's called M32 – on top of the big hill, which is run by the Cotwg. They've been up to some dodgy business and I was called in to help. The castle on top of the hill is a Friarr base, so I was working from there.”

“I went to that restaurant!” Oscar exclaimed. He thought back to his visit. “I remember seeing a red light shining over from the castle, a bit like a search light.”

“That was me,” Delta said proudly. “It's mainly a Red School base, hence the red light. But they wanted the elegance of the White School for this operation.”

“I see. And did you achieve...” Oscar started to ask her whether she had achieved her objectives when her phone rang and she held up a finger to silence him while she answered it.