Friday, 30 November 2012

My first bookmash

This charming man, falling sideways

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: 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.


“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.

Friday, 16 November 2012

What a long day (part 5)

It was like a scene from the book Incompetence. Only one check-in desk was open and the trainee manning it didn't appear to know that everyone in the queue had been transferred from Salzburg and that they had been told they would be flying to Heathrow even though they all wanted to go to Gatwick. The fact that they would ordinarily now be half way across Europe around 30,000 feet up meant that the passengers were all getting increasingly frustrated. Had this been a hotel, Oscar wouldn't have been surprised to see John Cleese striding in telling them not to mention the war.

It took a long time for a senior member of staff to turn up and explain to the trainee what was going on, realise that they needed more man-power and call more staff in to open another few desks. Oscar hadn't checked what time it was when they started queuing but it was now half past one. He should have been arriving in London in half an hour. He would then have taken a taxi into the centre of London, in time to get a train to Bristol before rush hour. At this rate, he didn't know if he'd get to Paddington before the last train. He started to plan ahead just in case, working out the scenario in his head so he wouldn't be a shock if it happened. If he arrived too late for the last train, he would check in to the Mercure hotel at Paddington. He would then get the first train in the morning to Bristol Temple Meads station. That probably wouldn't get him there until after 9 o'clock, as commuting out of London is rare. He would have to find a quiet carriage and conduct his first meeting over the phone. That would not be easy, so he might have to rearrange the meeting. Would it be worth doing that now, just in case? He did not want to inconvenience or insult the people who had travelled to meet him where he was based in Bristol by having to call in from a train because he could not be there in person. The meeting had taken months to set up; he could not cancel it now.

“Oscar.” He didn't hear Delta say his name the first time. When she touched his elbow, he nearly jumped out of his skin. She pointed forwards. He looked up to see that the lady at the check-in desk was calling him forwards. He was pleased to see that she was not the trainee. She was, in fact, very efficient. She checked in his suitcase, handed him his boarding card, gave him a voucher to use in any of the airport's many restaurants and bars, and told him which gate the flight would be leaving from. As he walked away from the desk, he checked the value of the voucher. £3 was not going to get him very far. He was grateful that he would be able to claim lunch on expenses.

Today I did cross stitch instead of writing

At the moment I am reading a terrible book by an author I don't like. This evening I watched an equally-bad film adaptation of another of this author's books. So I'm feeling a bit numbed and not really in the mood to write.

This is what I did this evening:

I'm preparing for Christmas already, especially as I'm planning to hand make Christmas cards, many of them with cross stitched designs like this one.

Also, today I went to the Titanic Belfast exhibition. I recommend visiting it if you are in Northern Ireland.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

He has given you the autumn rains

Today's YouVersion verse of the day was Joel 2:23:
Be glad, people of Zion,
    rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains
    because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
    both autumn and spring rains, as before.
My favourite part of this is about how God sends rain in autumn. Today is a rainy autumn day, so it was very appropriate to read this verse this afternoon. I have previously written about how I like autumn. This verse reinforced that and made me appreciate the rain we get and the beautiful landscape it gives us. It is easy to complain about cold, rainy days, but autumn is an exciting time of many colours. We can wrap up warm and go out to jump in puddles and crunch through fallen leaves, or put the heating on and have a cosy indoor day. Let's rejoice because this is the day that the Lord has made!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Kangaroo

When I was seven, I wrote this story:
Once upon a time, there was a kangaroo. One day the kangaroo walked into town. The end.
And I drew a picture of a kangaroo to accompany it. The story, although I didn't know the word for it at the time, was meant to be ironic. Who ever heard of a kangaroo walking? Kangaroos hop! Needless to say, the irony was lost on my teacher, who, although she liked the picture, thought the story wasn't long enough.

There have been two other instances of teachers not understanding my stories. In Year 6 (aged 11) I spelt some words wrong on purpose to reflect how the characters were pronouncing them (which I now know to be called eye dialect). The teacher went through and corrected my spelling. In Year 7 (now at secondary school), I wrote a piece in the first person about someone who had been forgotten in detention and was bored and worried about being on a boring documentary or news programme. The student teacher who marked it said it was well written but it was a shame I found so many things boring. I wanted to tell her that it wasn't necessarily me who found those things boring but the character.

Apparently, my early attempts at writing were too sophisticated.

Monday, 12 November 2012

"Open it"

Three-year-old Jason knew where Nana kept the snacks. Whenever he went to her house, he ran to the kitchen, opened the cupboard beside the fridge and took out what he wanted. This particular day, his older cousins were also visiting, following him round the house and generally "looking after" him. When he helped himself to a packet of crisps, bossy, ten-year-old Clara suggested he ask his mummy first.

Running back into the living room, he asked, "Mummy, can I have a packet of crisps?"

"Maybe there's something you should ask Nana," she replied, implying that he should ask her permission as it was her house.

He promptly ran up to Nana, missing the point entirely, held up the crisps and said, "Open it!"

Sunday, 11 November 2012

What a long day (part 4)

Oscar was frozen in his seat, trapped between the window and the ever-increasingly-mysterious Delta Foxtrot. He wasn't sure what had just happened. He wasn't sure if he had perhaps been dreaming or hallucinating. He peered between the seats in front, where he could just about see one of the fallen men. He watched as the man got slowly to his feet, roused his partner and staggered off the bus. As soon as they were off, the doors shut behind them. He tried to look at them as the bus started to move, but they were on the other side and he couldn't see past the other passengers and seats. As his gaze moved from the front towards the back of the bus, as he strained to see, his eyes finally found Delta, sitting beside him, looking surprisingly calm. He stared at her for a moment, then sat back and stared straight ahead, at the back of the headrest in front of him. He felt a little unsafe now. Suddenly he wasn't sitting by a sweet, ditsy young woman who liked to chat; instead he was sitting by an unpredictable ninja, someone who might get up and beat someone up without any warning. He hoped he wasn't her next victim. It looked as though the blue-uniformed men had only been stunned, not seriously injured or killed, but being kicked or hit in the face hadn't looked pain-free.

Oscar kept staring straight ahead for a further 30 minutes, racking his brain for how to deal with a situation like this. Everything he had learnt or experienced to date seemed useless now. He relived snapshots of lectures, seminars and textbooks; conferences, business meetings and journal articles; network breakfasts, working lunches and even charity balls. It was like his life was flashing before his eyes, a life of mundane money-making without a thought for how to survive in the real world. But was this the real world? Had it really happened?

Finally, he snuck a glance in Delta's direction. She had her eyes closed and her earbuds in, her iPod held loosely in her right hand: she looked very peaceful. Had Oscar had an encounter like the one she had just had, he would have been shaken to his core. She had made it look almost routine. Only 'almost routine' because she hadn't seemed immediately prepared or willing. But she'd done it, then come back to her seat, and sat quietly for the rest of the journey. Oscar didn't know whether he should ask her about it, ask if she was OK. He wondered if he should probably steer clear of a woman like that. But he was a little curious. What she had done looked like some kind of martial art. She'd used moves he'd never seen anyone do before, but he wasn't exactly experienced in any kind of combat, so he didn't know if those were standard moves or something different, rare.

After an hour they arrived at Munich airport. The airport here was pretty busy, too. The coach stopped at front the door and the passengers congregated outside to be ushered together to check-in. Once inside the airport, luggage in tow, the group was asked to wait at the customer service desk for instructions of where to check in and for information about their new flight. Oscar overheard a few agitated passengers discussing what time they thought they would get back to the UK, whether the airport would provide lunch and whether they could claim compensation. Oscar's main objective at the moment was to get away from Delta, but she seemed to be following him.

Oscar was a frequent flyer. He had been delayed in airports before. He knew that after a certain length of time, determined by the airline, vouchers for food and drink would have to be provided. He knew that if a flight was delayed overnight, the airline would offer to put passengers up in a hotel. He'd never been redirected to a different airport, though, so he wasn't sure how long they were going to be waiting or what they would get in return. Oscar was normally relatively composed, even when others were obviously frustrated or angry. He rationalised everything and made logical decisions. But, given the circumstances, even he was feeling the panic begin to rise in him again.

Eventually, a member of staff returned and led the group of waiting passengers to a check-in desk.

What a long day (part 3)

'I love Thornton's chocolates!' Delta crooned. Oscar regretted what he'd said, hoped upon hope she wouldn't ask him about his work. But he was in luck: she asked no questions and began to talk at length about her love of chocolate, how she likes to be bought chocolate as a gift, how she buys personalised chocolate gifts for friends. Oscar wasn't listening to all of it. He was enraptured by the way her face lit up, her bright, wide eyes, her ecstatic expression, her smile when she sighed contentedly. After about a minute, he realised what he was doing, that he was watching her speak but not listening to a word. What am I becoming? he thought, that I'm captivated by this woman I've only just met? It was unusual for Oscar to warm to someone so quickly, and for him not to be listening. He was a businessman, set in his ways, who make formal, professional relationships, not emotional connections. This was new and different. He was a little scared but mostly excited.

He came out of his reverie just as Delta was finishing a story about the personalised chocolate hearts she'd given an old school friend on the occasion of her wedding. Oscar laughed with her at the end even though he didn't know what he was laughing about.

'I'm so glad you understand,' Delta sighed. 'Not many people see my side of the story.' Oops, what had he agreed with? He smiled non-committally.

'Tell me more about yourself,' Oscar suggested. 'Why are you travelling from Salzburg to London alone?'

'I was visiting a family friend,' she said. 'What about you?' she asked.

'Business,' Oscar said shortly. 'I usually travel alone. I quite like it.'

'Especially when you get to meet people like me?' Delta said with a smile.

'It doesn't happen as often as you'd think,' Oscar said truthfully. The truth was that this had never happened before. He'd never struck up a conversation longer than Is this seat taken? or Coffee please, two sugars.

'I feel honoured,' Delta told him.

The bus began to move. As the driver manoeuvred it out of the airport and towards the motorway, Oscar and Delta silently looked out of the window at the distant planes and passing cars. Oscar considered getting his newspaper out of his briefcase and continuing to read.

'I was kind of here on business, too,' Delta said quietly as the bus gathered speed.

'Kind of?' Oscar asked. Delta was silent for a moment, her face turned towards the window.

'Have to ever been to Canada?' Delta said, turning back to Oscar.

'No,' he answered. 'Never. I've only travelled around Europe. My company hasn't spread as far as Canada yet. We're looking to expand there next year actually.'

'If you do go there, look up a place called the Glass Plains. They're in dire need of some good chocolate.'

Oscar was about to ask why she was talking about chocolate when he remembered that she believed he worked for Thornton's. Then he thought of a more pressing question.

'What does that have to do with why you were in Austria?' he asked.

'The Glass Plains is where it's based. There's a branch in Salzburg, in the big castle on the hill. I was there sorting out some problems with a nearby restaurant.'

'So you're in the restaurant business?' Oscar was a little frustrated that she wasn't being more explicit, but was pleased with himself for working it out.

'No,' Delta replied.

'Something in hospitality or entertainment?' Oscar ventured.

'Wrong again,' Delta replied.

'Are you going to tell me or make me guess?'

'It's fun making you guess,' she decided.

After Oscar had run through everything he could think of, from journalist to pirate, Delta told him the nearest he'd been was with pirate, but that she wasn't evil.

At this point, the bus slowed down and Oscar looked out the window, know that they must be near the German border now. He noticed a row of toll booths ahead. He also noticed that Delta was looking a little agitated.

'Don't worry, it's just a toll booth. They're not going to ask for passports or anything,' he assured her. Nonetheless, she picked up her handbag from between her feet and started rummaging for something.

'What are you looking for?' Oscar asked.

'Hairbrush,' she mumbled. 'Here, hold this,' she added, handing him a small tin which fit neatly into his palm. He was about to ask what it was when she instructed, 'Open it.' He obeyed and took off the lid to find a pile of neatly stacked hair bands inside. He blinked. Yes, he'd definitely seen right. Why was this woman pulling out a tin of hairbands and a hairbrush?

'I knew I shouldn't have let my hair down,' she chided herself as two men in blue uniforms boarded the bus.

What's going on? Oscar thought, trying desperately not to panic. I thought we were at the toll booth. Just as this thought had finished travelling across his mind, Delta stood up to pass him, her hair now up in two bunches, each with five hair bands running down them, holding the hair down in two straight ponytails. Past Oscar, she paused in the aisle. She raised her hands to head height, elbows bent, hands facing the floor. She brought her hands round in a slow circle, about two feet in diameter, breathing in deeply and closing her eyes, until her hands rested in front of her, palms up. When she opened her eyes a second later, Oscar, who was transfixed, was sure her eyes glowed red. She took two steps forward, put her arms up to the sides, elbows bent, hands sticking to the sides, raised left knee, then kicked one of the blue-uniformed men hard on the chin. He fell backwards. Oscar, wide-eyed in amazement, realised that her high-heeled boots could really do some damage. He was amazed at how well she kept her dignity in the skirt she was wearing. Next she began to spin on the spot like a ballerina. It was amazing really, considering the boots she was wearing and the small space she was in. Her hair spun out around her, glowing, and caught the second blue-uniformed man in the face. He, too, fell to the ground. Delta turned and rushed back up the aisle.

'Budge up,' she said shortly to Oscar. 'I'll have the aisle seat now.'

Friday, 9 November 2012

Valuable lessons

Oscar and Delta will be back soon. In the meantime, here is a list of lessons I learnt at work today, the last day before I go on holiday.
  1. Don't change the margins and make yourself repaginate a 200-page document. Again.
  2. Don't leave writing instructions for formatting foreign-language resources to the last minute, after all the formatters have gone home so you can't check they understand what they've got to do.
  3. Run away and hide before anyone can tell you that the author of the document they are currently formatting has copied three quarters of the content from the internet!
  4. Check how data is going to be used before deciding how to enter it. Fortunately the data entry temp was in the office today and available for some of the afternoon.
  5. Don't expect to get everything done.
  6. Do expect to work late. Very late.
  7. Only expect free takeaway if the boss is also staying very late.
  8. Don't start locking up before you've actually finished working because you won't be able to get into the kitchen.
  9. Read the specification carefully and don't assume interns will follow it. This will avoid having to edit said 200-page document at 6 o'clock on a Friday evening.
  10. Stop thinking about work and look forward to your holiday!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

What a long day (part 2)

 'Ladies first,' Oscar indicated the way with his arm to let his new friend board the bus ahead of him.

There was a man at the door holding a clipboard, making sure all the right people got on the bus. 'Name, please,' he said as they approached.

'Delta Foxtrot,' said Oscar's new friend, the woman with the thick red hair, iPad, oversized handbag, and now interesting name. Delta boarded the bus, leaving Oscar standing in the cold wondering about her name.

'Sir?' the man with the clipboard asked. Oscar quickly gave his name and hurried onto the bus to catch up with Delta.

'Window or aisle?' Delta asked when he joined her half way up the bus. They'd been told the bus would be full and had each made an unspoken agreement to sit together, the way travellers who have just met often do.

'No preference,' Oscar replied honestly. He had been in a hurry to get home; now he was keen to learn more about Delta Foxtrot, woman of mystery.

'I'll take the window then,' Delta said, sliding into a seat on the right a few rows from the back. Oscar stowed his coat and briefcase in the space overhead and sat down.

'So,' he said, deciding to strike up conversation before Delta had a chance to put her earplugs back in. 'Delta Foxtrot? What an interesting—'

'Code name,' Delta finished the sentence.

'Code name? Like a secret agent?'

'Not really. It's just what I tell people.' She sat back and peered out of the window.

'Why?' Oscar wouldn't normally ask something so boldly, but the word was out of his mouth before he'd realised he was thinking it.

Delta shrugged. 'Because it's a silly name. I think my parents named me that as a dare. What's your name?'

'Oscar Thornton,' Oscar replied proudly.

'What, like Thornton's chocolate?' Here we go. This is what everyone asked.

'Yes,' he lied.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

What a long day (part 1)

Oscar Thornton arrived early to the airport. He always does. That way he can relax and get a coffee and be first in the queue to get on the plane. It was a cool, breezy day in early December. Snow had covered Salzburg the previous night, but that didn't usually stop Austrian airports from functioning, so he wasn't worried. Having checked in, he made his way to the departure lounge. Once through security and re-dressed, he made a beeline for the coffee bar. Coffee in hand, he scouted out a seat.

The airport was particularly busy today so he ended up at a small table opposite a woman whose nose was deep in her iPad, her tea neglected in front of her.

'May I?' he had ventured, indicating the vacant seat. Her curt nod said yes.

He sat down and sighed. Today was going to be a long day.

A full hour, three cups of coffee and half the newspaper later, Oscar sighed again and stretched a little. As he put his newspaper down on the table in front of him, he was surprised to see that the woman opposite was still there, still reading her iPad intently.

Fortunately he'd managed to seat himself near one of the screens which shows the departure gates and times. He turned to look at the screen, waiting for it to refresh and show his flight. He waited again. The screen refreshed again, showing later times, then back to earlier times, with the flights currently about to leave at the top. When it refreshed again, a cool sweat began to break out on Oscar's brow. He was beginning to recognise some of the destinations, but London Gatwick wasn't one of them. Panic began to seep into his brain. Was he here on the wrong day? At the wrong time? Had he missed an announcement over the tannoy? The more he stared at the screen, the more sure he was that the flight was not there.

'Excuse me?' he said, turning back to face the woman opposite. She didn't look up. He saw the tell-tale white wire appearing from under her thick, red hair: she had earbuds in. 'Excuse me?' he said again, this time gently nudging her arm. She jumped sharply, and narrowly avoided dropping her iPad on the floor.

'I'm terribly sorry,' Oscar said sheepishly, 'But can you check for me that your flight is on the screen?'

'What?' she asked, as though she'd just woken up and wasn't sure what was going on. She peered at him suspiciously over her glasses.

'Can you check the screen there and tell me if your flight is on it?' Oscar repeated, adding, 'It's just that mine isn't so I want to know if I'm mistaken or if—'

Just at that moment, a voice came over the tannoy: 'Can passengers travelling on flight BA2653 to London Gatwick please return to check-in? That's a call for all passengers travelling on flight BA2653 to London Gatwick to please return to check-in.'

Oscar turned to the woman, who stared back at him. 'What?' she said again.

'That's my flight,' Oscar explained. 'The one that was missing from the screen.'

'It's mine, too!' the woman said, coming to her senses and standing up quickly, stuffing her iPad into her oversized handbag whilst putting on her jacket. Oscar picked up his belongings, didn't stop to push in his chair, and strode after her back through security to the check-in desks.

A small crowd was forming around the British Airways check-in. What's going on? people were whispering. Has the flight been cancelled?

A flight attendant called the group to attention. 'I'm afraid your plane has been redirected and has landed in Munich,' he announced. The group turned to look at one another, murmuring.

'Munich?' said the woman with the thick red hair, glasses and oversized handbag  'Isn't that, like, in another country?' she asked Oscar.

'Yes, it's in Germany,' Oscar said quickly, still listening to the attendant explaining how they would be bussed to Munich. After the attendant had finished, Oscar turned to the woman to find her looking like she was trying to mentally map together Europe and work out how far Munich and London were from Salzburg. 'Salzburg is next to the border with Germany. Munich is about an hour and a half from here by bus. The flight to London will be about the same as the flight from here. Then they'll put us on a bus from Heathrow to Gatwick.' Oscar saved her the pain of asking.

'Heathrow?' she asked, inclining her head.

'Yes, for some reason they're flying us to Heathrow. Terminal 5.'

'Terminal 5. Of course.'

'Let's go and get our suitcases,' Oscar suggested.

'OK,' the woman replied and they followed the crowd to the baggage pick-up.

Outside, the cool December air tickled their exposed faces. Before coming through the doors, the woman had paused to put on a scarf and hat. Then she and Oscar joined the queue to get on the waiting bus.

To be continued...