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.”


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.