Monday, 16 September 2013

If you want to see the rainbow you have to put up with the rain.

For my birthday, I got a t-shirt which says "Sometimes if you want to see the rainbow you have to put up with the rain."
Picture from
It was from my mum, who knows everything I've been through this year.

Later, I thought about it. I thought, "I've had so much rain this year, I've had a flood." Then I remembered that the first rainbow came after the biggest flood the world has ever known.
When I bring clouds over the earth and a rainbow appears in them, I will remember my agreement between me and you and every living thing. Floods will never again destroy all life on the earth. (Genesis 9:14–15)
Today, I read this:
The existence of the rainbow depends on the conical photoreceptors in your eyes; to animals without cones, the rainbow does not exist. So you don't just look at the rainbow, you create it. This is pretty amazing, especially considering that all the beautiful colours you see represent less than 1% of the electromagnetic spectrum. (
It's an amazing gift that we can see rainbows at all, that the tiny amount of light we can see means that after we experience the storm, we get a glimpse of something so beautiful. I know that more rain is coming, but I have the hope of one day seeing the rainbow.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Flying is happiness. Where are my wings?

Last weekend, I had a dream that I lived in a place where everyone had wings and flew around. I didn't have wings. I was treated as inferior because I had to stay on the ground and live on the ground floor, and because I couldn't fly to other places.

Then I met someone who had developed a new procedure to give someone artificial wings so they could fly. So I had an operation where they attached the wings to my back and gave me a special machine (the size of a handbag) which operated the wings.

Then I was able to fly with everyone else and I was really happy.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Home is where the wifi connects automatically

They say that "home is where the wifi connects automatically".

Well, today I am having trouble getting my wifi to connect at home at all. I had to turn the router off and on again, restart the laptop and refresh the list of possible networks to connect to. Finally, it connected. On my phone, I'm having to use 3G, though, because it won't co-operate.

Interestingly, when I go to Pizza Hut, my phone automatically connects to the wifi in Patisserie Valerie downstairs. Does that mean my home is really the food court?

Monday, 8 April 2013

The next day (part 8)

When Doctor Phoebus had come back into the room, boiled the kettle and made coffee, he and Oscar sat down at the desk.

“So, Lady Amelia tells me you’ll be starting training tomorrow,” Doctor Phoebus said as he set down his mug on the desk and leant back in his chair.

Oscar, beside him, nodded. “Yes, that’s what she told me, too. So what will the training involve?”

“Well, here, we follow the standard Four School training programme: Theory, Culture, Physical Training and School Specialism. You’ll have no trouble with the culture part, of course.”

“I won’t?” Oscar replied impulsively. “I mean, no, I won’t,” he corrected himself, hoping Doctor Phoebus just meant normal, British culture. He could do normal, British culture: drinking tea (although he had had a lot of coffee so far), being reserved and afraid to speak up when he didn’t understand what was going on (and hoping he could keep this up and subtly work out where he actually was), rooting for the underdog (although that seemed to be himself at the moment).

He chuckled along with Doctor Phoebus, then asked, “Can you tell me more about what you cover in the training programme?” And he added, “Here?” to make it sound as though he wasn’t a complete novice but merely enquiring about the methods used as this particular establishment.

“Well, Theory mainly covers the history of Friarr. We won’t make you sit through all of that. You’ll need to go to the classes on the theory of the Power, though, but you’ll see on your timetable which ones those are. Physical Training will make you ready for going out on missions and using the Secret Art of the Breadbin. You’ll need to go to all those sessions. I mean that,” he said seriously. “You’ll regret it if you don’t. And School Specialism is where I come in.” Oscar was pleased to hear the cheerier tone back in his voice. “I’m the Yellow School trainer, so I’ll train you in how to use the Power of Friarr as a member of the Yellow School.”

“Right. And what about the culture?”

“Oh, you’ll just soak up the culture while you’re here. Don’t worry,” he said conspiratorially, “You can pretty much just carry on as normal.”

“I see,” Oscar replied, doing his best to keep from panicking about this new training programme he had suddenly been signed up to. He hadn’t been expecting to be sent back to school. “And how long does the training programme last?”

“Until you’re ready.”

“Until I’m ready for what?”

“To go out into the field. I assume that’s what your aim is.”

“Sure.” That was close enough. His aim was to get out of here and go home.

“Great. Now, have you been issued your Manor Buddy yet?”

“I don’t think so. I mean, I came here with Delta. Does she count?”

“No, not that kind of buddy. Not to worry, I’ll print you off a timetable for now.” Doctor Phoebus pulled the computer keyboard towards him, typed in a password and searched through some files until he found what he was looking for. He clicked on print and reached under the desk to retrieve Oscar’s new timetable.

The colour-coded grid reminded Oscar very much of his school timetable, of the joy he’d had at colouring it in on the first day of each school year, of colouring his favourite lessons yellow and his least favourites in blue. He was pleased to see that there was no blue on this timetable: Theory sessions were coloured pink, Yellow School Specialism was – of course – yellow and Physical Training was orange.

“The grey blocks for Saturday and Sunday morning mean you can have a lie-in,” Doctor Phoebus explained. “It’s quite a full timetable so you’ll want to make the most of those mornings off to catch up on your sleep. Although, like I said, you might not need to go to all of the classes. And Culture in Sunday afternoon isn’t exactly a class and the activities are all optional. I’m going to the noodle tasting this Sunday and the first round of Wild Goose Chase is being shown on the big screen in the hall next weekend.”

“Right,” Oscar replied. “It’s just that this looks a lot like a school timetable and I wasn’t really expecting that. I was told I’d be trained to defend myself because I can’t go home yet, but this is… a lot to take in.”

“Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it looks,” Doctor Phoebus tried to console him. “It’s not like you’re at the Glass Plains – now that is a heavy timetable! But, of course, they really fast-track you through if you’re based there.”

Oscar sighed and wished someone would explain things to him properly. He considered asking Doctor Phoebus how he’d explain this place and Friarr to a complete outsider but didn’t want to sound too weird.

“Anyway, enough of this official stuff. Tell me what you’ve been working on out there in the real world.” Doctor Phoebus said kindly.

“I work for a software company,” Oscar said. “In sales at the moment. I basically meet with clients to tell them about the packages we offer, in the UK and abroad.”

“Have you ever been to Canada on your travels?” Doctor Phoebus interrupted him.

“No,” Oscar said, remembering how Delta had asked him the same thing.

“Oh, you should definitely go some time. I’ll next be going in the spring. Only to visit the Glass Plains this time but I’m trying to get time off to go in the summer and do the tourist thing. Growing up there I never got to do that, of course. And working here, I don’t get to that in the UK either. Worst of both worlds somehow.”

“So you grew up in Canada?” Oscar asked.

“Yes, started training at the Glass Plains right from the age of four and youngest to graduate when I was 15.”

“Congratulations,” seemed to Oscar to be the right thing to say.

“Thanks.” Doctor Phoebus sighed and stared into space for a moment. “Anyway,” he said, sitting up straight again. “Now you have your timetable. Let’s see what you’ll be doing tomorrow.”

They looked at the timetable. Wednesday morning was coloured in bright orange: Physical Training Outdoors (with permission).

“Have you got permission for outdoor training?” Doctor Phoebus asked.

“I didn’t even know there would be outdoor training. Do I need permission?”

“If you don’t know, you probably don’t have it. Lady Amelia will have to approve it. I’ll call her now.”

While Doctor Phoebus was on the phone, Oscar looked more closely at his timetable. Wednesday mornings were outdoor training followed by History in the afternoon. Yellow School specialist training was on Tuesdays and Thursdays; there were theory classes all day on Mondays and Fridays were dedicated to indoor physical training. Saturday afternoons were for outdoor physical training again, although, from what he could hear of the phone conversation, this was sounding unlikely.

To Oscar’s relief, Doctor Phoebus announced that Lady Amelia had not approved his outdoor training. He hadn’t been looking forward to taking part in sporting activities outside during winter.

“I won’t reprint your timetable now,” Doctor Phoebus said. “But it’ll be correct when you get your Manor Buddy. I’ll arrange for it to be sent up to your room. Which room are you in?”

“Uh, last night I slept on Delta Foxtrot’s sofa. I doubt I’ll be staying there.”

“Oh, right, haha, no, you won’t be staying there. A room will have been sorted out for you in the Yellow School wing. We’ll go and find it for you before dinner.”

“Good,” Oscar said. “And what is the Manor Buddy?”

“Oh, you haven’t had one before?” Doctor Phoebus asked. Oscar stared at him blankly. “It’s like a smartphone, only on local frequency so it’ll only work in and around the Manor. Everyone has one. It has your timetable on it and you can use it to communicate with anyone in the building: call, text, you name it. You use it to check in to your classes and you can share your location so people can join you in the social areas. You’ve really never had one of these before?” Doctor Phoebus asked again.

Oscar pulled his Android smartphone out of his pocket. “This is what I have at the moment,” he said.

Doctor Phoebus laughed. “Oh boy! You’re going to have a great time when you get your Manor Buddy! It’s totally customisable and yours to keep. Oh, and I think there’s even a map of the building and grounds so you won’t get lost. Speaking of which, why don’t we go and find your room now?”

Saturday, 6 April 2013

The next day (part 7)

Oscar paid little attention to the journey down to see Doctor Phoebus. He was too preoccupied with worrying about his parents. He replayed the exchange with Lady Amelia over and over in his head as the lift descended. She looked so serious, more and more so the more he imagined her saying the words “very tragic”. He was relieved when the lift bounced to a stop and the doors opened, presenting him with something new to look at to take his mind off things.

The corridor was quite different to those on the floors he had already visited. Here the bare bricks were painted a pale yellow, giving the underground level a cheery feel without being too in-your-face. At the end of the corridor, Daphne knocked on a door and opened it to reveal a small office-cum-laboratory. Oscar followed her over the threshold.

“Doctor Phoebus?” she called. There was no reply. “Doctor Phoebus!” she said a little louder. Was it Oscar’s imagination or did she sound a little exasperated? It was only the second time she’d called his name: she couldn’t start getting exasperated already.

This time, however, a man appeared from behind the desk. He stood up so suddenly that he made Oscar jump. Once he’d recovered himself, Oscar took in the man as he put down what he’d been holding and crossed the room to greet Daphne. Oscar looked at what he’d put on the desk: a short cable and a screwdriver. Oscar watched as the lightly-tanned, long-haired Doctor Phoebus gave Daphne a friendly hug, exchanged a few pleasantries with her then extended a hand to Oscar.

“And you must be Oscar,” Doctor Phoebus said with a smile. Oscar was surprised to hear an American twang in his accent as everything and everyone had been very English so far.

“Yes, Oscar Thornton,” Oscar said as he allowed his hand to be shaken.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you at last,” Doctor Phoebus said amicably. “Shall we get to work?”

Oscar followed Doctor Phoebus uncertainly over to the desk. Daphne hovered behind them, then said “I’ll be off then. See you later,” and walked out the door before either of the men had a chance to respond. Oscar blinked at the closed door for a couple of seconds, surprised at how rude she had been, then Doctor Phoebus interrupted his thoughts.

“Let me just finish putting this computer together, then I’ll be a much better host.” Doctor Phoebus muttered something about not having been given much warning of Oscar’s arrival as he got down on his hands and knees behind the desk, reached up for the screwdriver and took his computer apart ready to put in the cable he’d also set on the desk. Oscar didn’t know much about the insides of computers so he wasn’t sure what he was doing. He stood uncertainly next to the desk, watching because he thought he should, but not really paying attention. Again, he wasn’t sure where he was or why, and Doctor Phoebus seemed to know more about what was going on that he did.

The office was very tidy despite the rough-and-ready impression the bare bricks and flagged-stoned floor gave. Books were neatly stacked in colour-coordinated bookcases; two cups, a cafetière and a kettle had been set neatly in a row on top of a cabinet Oscar assumed held coffee, sugar and biscuits; the desk looked worked-at but not messy, with papers spread out next the computer monitor, keyboard and mouse. Most out of place was the work bench, which held some kind of science experiment. The apparatus had been set up to create a clear path-way along the middle of the desk, length-ways; with a mirror at one end, about the size of a computer screen, and an empty photo frame at the other. Along the side were some technical instruments and some everyday objects that would otherwise be out of place in this kind of office: a football, an iron and small Christmas tree, for example. The workbench wasn’t much larger than the average desk or dining table so Oscar didn’t think it could be a very serious experiment.

“Just something I’ve been working on in my spare time,” Doctor Phoebus confirmed when he had stood up again and found Oscar staring curiously at the experiment. “I thought I’d investigate how different objects are affected by the power of Friarr.” When he said ‘Friarr’, he did a very curious movement: he put his arms at his sides, elbows bent so that he hands were at shoulder height, stuck he hands out flat to the sides, palms down (as Delta had done on the bus the day before) and stuck one leg briefly out to the side in a small kick (like when someone’s foot pops when they are kissed in a film). He did this so matter-of-factly and as though it were part of the word itself that Oscar was quite taken aback. Doctor Phoebus didn’t seem to notice, though, and went to fill the kettle from a room leading off the office.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Read in context (Romans 2)

When I woke up this morning, 'Marriage Equality' was trending on Twitter because it is currently being debated in America. There were many links to pictures of people holding up various signs, expressing opinions on both sides of the debate. I saw things like 'Love is love' and 'Jesus had two dads', and signs like 'I wouldn't be here without my Mum AND Dad' and 'God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve'. There were, of course, portions of scripture quoted on many signs.

One which I decided to look up was Romans 1:26–27
Because people did those things, God left them and let them do the shameful things they wanted to do. Women stopped having natural sex and started having sex with other women. In the same way, men stopped having natural sex and began wanting each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and in their bodies they received the punishment for those wrongs.
This looks like it's pretty clear about God bringing judgement on those who have homosexual relationships. But I wanted to see it in context because I've seen verses taken out of context before (don't get me started on 'The poor will always be among you'!) and didn't want to be falsely judging people.

So I read the whole of Romans 1. As I got to the list in verse 28, I started to worry about how verses 28–32 could be used as a weapon against people. I kept reading.

All those who use any verses from Romans 1 as a reason for judging people, need to read Romans 2. The first sentence is this:
If you think you can judge others, you are wrong.
It doesn't get much clearer than that, but Paul goes on to explain how people can't judge each other because we are all guilty of sin, and that only God can judge all of us because he is without sin.

If you ever catch me quoting Romans 1 against someone, hit me over the head with a Bible, open it to Romans 2 and make me read the whole chapter aloud!

More here: Romans 2:1 – Those Who Judge Have No Excuse

Monday, 18 March 2013

The next day (part 6)

Oscar began by telling Lady Amelia how he had met Delta at the airport when their flight was rerouted. He told her that they had lunch together in Munich Airport and that they had come home on Delta’s Uncle Frog’s plane. He wasn’t sure that he should tell her about Delta using her martial art on the policemen at the border, or the conversations they’d had about Friarr, or about being rescued from the interrogation room via the air duct.

“You tell it very well,” Lady Amelia complimented him when he paused for breath. “Well, very succinctly, at least.” He suspected she knew those things he had neglected to mention, that Delta had already told her.

“What happened after you landed? When you arrived home?” Lady Amelia asked.

“We got in a taxi which took us to my house. But we didn’t stop there.”

“Why not?”

“Because… it was surrounded by police.” Oscar struggled to say it aloud because he could still hardly believe it was true.

“So Delta brought you here?” Lady Amelia prompted him.

“Yes, she told the driver to keep going and not stop. It was like being in a film. Although at the time it didn’t feel very glamorous. I was so shaken from parachuting out of a rickety biplane and seeing my house surrounded. It was very surreal.” As he said this, he looked up to see Lady Amelia’s reaction. Had he already said they had parachuted down? Maybe he shouldn’t have called Uncle Frog’s plane rickety. Lady Amelia didn’t seem concerned though. She simply smiled amusedly and motioned for him to go on.

“The next thing I knew, the taxi had stopped and Delta helped me out of the car. She led me up a hill and across a cobbled square, and up a lift to her room, where I fell asleep on the sofa.”

“I see. Have you told anyone that you’re here? Have you taken any phone calls?” Lady Amelia asked.

“I phoned a colleague this morning to excuse myself for being late for work,” Oscar recalled. “But he told me the office had burnt down during the night, that there was just a pile of rubble where it used to be.” After a pause, Oscar continued. “So I have nowhere to go. I can’t go home because my house is surrounded. I can’t go to work because it’s not there any more. I can’t go to my parents because…”

“Yes, that was very tragic,” Lady Amelia said sensitively.

“Tragic? Has something happened to them on holiday? Are they going to be alright?” Oscar could feel himself panicking. He felt sick. It was one thing to lose his house and his office, but if the Cotwg were also hurting people he knew…

“Nothing has happened to your parents,” Lady Amelia said softly. “I didn’t mean to alarm you.” Oscar stared at her, taking deep breaths to calm himself. “You are right that you can’t return home at the moment. It’s not safe for you to go out at all because the Cotwg are clearly targeting you. We will train you to defend yourself against them. Your classes will start tomorrow morning but I’d like you to meet your trainer this afternoon.”

“Um, OK, thanks,” was what Oscar heard himself say.

Lady Amelia turned in her chair and called someone over. “Daphne, could you take Mr Thornton to meet Doctor Phoebus?”

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Patricia St John

For World Book Day, I decided to write about one of my favourite authors. As a child, I loved reading Patricia St John's books. From the day I was introduced to Rainbow Garden, I enjoyed everything I read by her. What was wonderful was the way there was always a lesson woven into the story, in a very non-threatening, non-teachery way. I learnt something valuable from each book at the same time as enjoying a great story.

Here are some of the highlights.

The Mystery of Pheasant Cottage

This was my favourite book for a long time, because of the twist in the story which I didn't see coming, and still amazes me today. As I flick through it now to find my favourite bits, it's taking all my self control not to just read it all the way through again. When reading this book, I learnt some Spanish, and I learnt about the simplicity of faith: that Jesus is my friend and that he is in my heart.

Rainbow Garden

This was the first Patricia St John book I read. I lost count of the number of times I re-read it. It was a wonderful story about a girl growing up in a very different environment to me: she lived with her mother, then moved to the countryside to live with friends while her mother was away working. Whilst living with this family, she learns to make friends and not be selfish. She is introduced to the specialness of Sunday (when they had special toys they didn't play with on other days) and joins her new friend in her Bible reading and prayer times. She, of course, discovers a garden at the end of rainbow one day, which becomes a special place for her. This was a really enjoyable read, a story which opened my mind to different ways of life, to realising that not everyone grows up in the same kind of family as me.

Treasures of the Snow

I read this book while I was beginning to fall in love with learning French: as it is set in the Alps, it includes some French songs. I was also impressed by how much the author knew about life in the Swiss Alps. It is a lovely story of friendship and forgiveness. Along with the main character, Annette, I learnt this from her grandmother about letting God's light into our lives:
"When you come down in the morning and find this room dark with the shutters closed, do you say to yourself, 'I must chase away the darkness and the shadows first, and then I will open the shutters and let in the sun'? Do you waste time trying to get rid of the dark?" 
"Of course not!" said Annette. 
"How do you get rid of the dark?" 
"Well, I pull back the shutters, of course, and then the light comes in!" 
"But what happens to the dark?" 
"I don't know; it just goes when the light comes in!" 
"That is just what happens when you ask the Lord Jesus to come in," said Grandmother. "He is love, and when he comes in, hatred and selfishness and unkindness will give way to it, just as the darkness gives way when you let in the sunshine. But to try to chase it out alone would be like trying to chase the shadows out of a dark room. It would be a waste of time."

It's something I keep reminding myself of all these years later.

Where the River Begins

I remember finding out about this book, going to buy it one day after school and reading the whole thing in about three days, which was quite unlike me at the time. This is a simple little story, shorter and less complicated than the others I'd read before. It's about a boy who runs away from home and is helped by a family he meets by the river. It taught me about helping those in need, as the boy and his new friends help each other. I was also starting to think about writing stories at this time, so I learnt from this book that it's OK to write a short, simple story, and that it doesn't always have to be an epic novel with many twists and turns. I imagine the author thinking up this story and writing the whole thing quite quickly, rather than spending months or years over it.

Twice Freed

This a very different to her other books as it is set in biblical times. Inspired by the story of the slave boy Onesimus, mentioned in the short New Testament book of Philemon, this book showed me that Bible stories can be exciting if told in the right way. I still like the idea of taking Bible stories and rewriting them in a form which is more accessible, i.e. an interesting-to-read novel. (This has also been done by Francine Rivers in Redeeming Love, the story of the prophet Hosea, which I read last year, absolutely loved and thoroughly recommend.) Because of the author's careful research and preparation, I learnt a lot about Roman and Greek life through this book, which helped me understand some of the New Testament stories better. Twice Freed shows us how Jesus brings two kinds of freedom: Onesimus is physically freed from slavery, but he is also freed spiritually when Paul introduces him to Jesus. True freedom isn't just about not being a slave and about having freedom of choice. It's also about being free from guilt or a heavy conscience. It's about knowing in your heart that you are free from spiritual evil because of Jesus.

I Needed a Neighbour, Nothing Else Matters and The Victor

These three books were written for teenagers rather than children, and were set in places which were harder to identify with, so I don't remember them as well as the others. What I remember liking about The Victor, though, is that again it presented Bible stories from a different point of view. The main character is the boy who offers his lunch at the feeding of the 5000. He keeps hearing about this miracle-working prophet, and eventually his sister is healed by him when he comes to visit their village.

I discovered when I read the introduction to Twice Freed that Patricia St John passed away in 1993. That means I started to read and enjoy her books a few years after she died. I looked in the front of my copy of Rainbow Garden and saw that it was first published when my mum was a teenager, so she would only have been a couple of years older than me when she first read it. Patricia St John has left behind her a legacy of timeless classics which I hope will inspire the next generation of girls to read and write as much as it inspired me.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

My favourite Psalm

Psalm 139
New International Version (NIV)

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand
    when I awake, I am still with you.
19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The next day (part 5)

“Come on, let’s go.” Delta stood up and motioned for Oscar to do likewise. “I’m taking you to Lady Amelia now. She’ll be able to explain better than me.” And she marched off towards the double doors. Oscar stood motionless for a moment, until Bristol said, “Go on then!”

In the lift, Delta pressed the number five. She was quiet, watching the numbers go up on the screen above the door. When the doors opened onto another pink corridor, she marched off to the left and Oscar hurried to keep up. At the end of the corridor, she knocked twice on a dark, wooden door and waited to hear “Enter” from within before opening the door.

The lady who was seated behind the desk looked a little taken aback when she saw Delta and Oscar appear at the door. She had clearly been writing and had stopped when she looked up, her pen still in her hand, now held up in the air, her elbow resting on the desk.

“Delta,” she said politely.

“Lady Amelia,” Delta said. “This is Oscar Thornton, who I was telling you about earlier.”

“About whom you were telling me,” Lady Amelia said, not unkindly. Delta gave a slight nod and ushered Oscar forward. Lady Amelia rose, set down her pen and came out from behind the desk to shake Oscar’s hand.

“Nice to meet you,” Oscar said nervously as he took Lady Amelia’s hand. It was cool but soft.

“Likewise,” Lady Amelia said. “Delta has told me a little about you, about how you met and why she brought you here. We thought it best that I explain where you are and what is going on. Delta, will you be joining us?”

“Um, no, I have things to be doing.”

“Very well. Oscar?” Lady Amelia indicated two armchairs in the corner of the room, to the right of the door, a small coffee table between them and a drinks cabinet behind. Oscar gave a little wave as Delta left, then joined Lady Amelia in the corner.

“Would you like a drink?” Lady Amelia asked when Oscar sat down.

“Coffee would be nice.”

A few moments later a waitress appeared as if from nowhere with cups and saucers on a tray, along with a coffee pot, sugar bowl and delicate jug of milk. The crockery was in keeping with the décor of the room: mostly white but embellished with pale pink roses. It was quite elegant and suited Lady Amelia very well.

“I have much to tell you,” Lady Amelia said when they both had cups of steaming coffee in front of them. “Why don’t we start, however, with you telling me what you have experienced over the past 24 hours?”

The next day (part 4)

Oscar’s supremely relaxing bath-time was finally interrupted by a door slamming and a familiar voice calling, “I’m home!”  This was followed, after a few seconds of silence, with Delta calling “Oscar?”

“I’m in the bathroom,” Oscar replied.  “I’m in the bath,” he added as the door knob started to turn. Delta stopped turning the door knob and instead stayed in the sitting room and spoke to him through the door.

“It’s time to go down to lunch,” she said. “So get out of the bath and get yourself dried and dressed. I’ll  be waiting out here.”

“Can I use one of your towels?” Oscar asked as he started to sit up and get ready to get out of the bath.

“My towels? Why don’t you just use the drying room?”

“The drying room?”

“Behind the curtain. It’s a shower but also a drying room. Make sure you press the right button.”

Oscar looked over his shoulder to the curtained-off cubicle. He shrugged, got out of the bath, put a towel around himself to mop up the drips, then decided to give the drying room a go.

Behind the curtain, he felt very much like he was about to have a shower. The curtain was drawn, with the towel thrown over the rail. He stood in the middle, facing the buttons on the left-hand wall. It wasn’t hard: one said ‘shower’, the other ‘dry’. He reached out and pressed ‘dry’. He felt immediately warm and cosy. The warm air wasn’t really blowing on him the way it does from a hand dryer, but he was aware of it being around him. In a matter of seconds he was completely dry, including his hair. He wrapped the towel around himself again and collected his wash bag on the way to the door.

He tentatively opened the door a crack and peered through. Delta was sitting on the sofa opposite the bookcase, reading a magazine. He stepped through the door and crept over to collect his clothes from his suitcase. Delta didn’t look up as he took his clothes back into the bathroom to get dressed.

Once dressed, Oscar joined Delta in the sitting room.

“Let’s go then,” Delta said, setting the magazine down on the coffee table. “I’m starving.”

“OK,” Oscar said, and followed her from the room.

He realised that he didn’t know what he was going to see on the other side of the door. He knew the he had come up in a lift and walked a short distance on soft carpet, but that was all.

Through the door, Oscar followed Delta the short few steps to the lift. As they waited for the lift to come, Oscar looked the other way up the brightly-lit though windowless corridor. The carpet did indeed look soft – it was the same as the one in Delta’s sitting room. The short corridor had three other white doors leading off it, which Oscar assumed led to other rooms like Delta’s.

In the lift, Delta pressed G for the ground floor and lift started to move.

“Which floor were we on?” Oscar asked, looking at the panel to see how many numbers there were.

“Four,” Delta replied. “Oh yeah, you didn’t see anything last night, did you?” Oscar smiled at her. “I’d forgotten you haven’t seen any of the headquarters yet. You are going to love it,” she said decisively.

The ride down to the ground floor was pleasant enough. Oscar had a quick look at himself in the mirror in the lift, wearing suit trousers and a shirt without a tie. He hoped he was appropriately dressed. Delta was still wearing her black dress and white cardigan so he thought his plain white shirt probably was suitable.

The lift doors opened to reveal a pale pink lobby with modern paintings on the walls. Through a tall window on the left, Oscar saw a small, paved courtyard, surrounded on all sides by high stone walls. There was a garden bench down there, and a round table with four chairs around it.

Delta led the way to a set of double doors opposite the lift. She pulled open the right-hand door and held it for Oscar go through first.

Oscar blinked and stifled a ‘wow’. This was where she had lunch? White, linen cloths covered the many tables, around which sat all sorts of people, some smartly dressed like Delta, others wearing more casual attire. Above them a sparkling, crystal chandelier hung from the high ceiling. Light also came from the full-height windows which gave magnificent views of a sloping lawn and glistening lake with trees beyond. There was a grand piano on the far side of the room; although no-one was playing it, Oscar was still deeply impressed.

Delta touched Oscar’s elbow, whispered, “Shut your mouth,” and led him over to an empty table. He hadn’t realised he’d be staring open-mouthed and hoped no-one had been watching him. As soon as they sat down a waiter in a grey waistcoat set two cake stands on the table: one with three plates of cakes, the other three plates of sandwiches. Delta thanked him and he bowed as he moved away.

“Help yourself,” Delta said as she herself took three sandwiches with one hand and put them on the plate that was in front of her. Oscar obeyed and started to eat. He didn’t want to talk about the place or ask too many questions while there were so many people around so he ate silently. Delta seemed happy with this – she’d clearly not been lying when she said she was hungry.

The waiters in the grey uniforms moved seamlessly between the tables, taking away empty plates and bring out more towers of sandwiches and cakes. Some carried trays of drinks which they distributed to various tables. Bottles of fruit juice were brought to Delta and Oscar. Delta nodded her thanks as her mouth was full. Oscar simply smiled, lost for words. The drink was yellow like orange juice but smoother and sweeter like mango.

The level of chatter was generally quite low, although a group of young men at a table nearby were talking passionately about a game they were crowded around a laptop watching their friend play. At a table near the piano, someone had just taken a guitar case off his back and he sat down to join his friends, many of whom were trying to persuade him to go and play the piano. Oscar’s attention was then drawn to two girls who had entered. They both had long hair down around their shoulders like Delta’s. One wore a knee-length dress not dissimilar to Delta’s, the other tight jeans with boots and a loose-fitting, striped jumper. They approached Delta and Oscar’s table.

“Delta!” the one in the trousers called, her arms out for a hug. “When did you get back?”

“Late last night,” Delta  said as she wiped her mouth on her napkin. She stood up to hug her friends, then invited them to join her and Oscar for lunch.

“How was your trip?” the other friend asked. “What did you bring me? Apart from this piece of eye candy,” the friend added, nudging Oscar. Oscar blushed and took a gulp of juice.

“This is Oscar,” Delta introduced him. She had sat back down opposite him. “He was also working in Salzburg. We were on the same flight coming home yesterday. Oscar, this is Bristol.” She indicated the blonde on her left, who had just sat down and helped herself to a sandwich from the new stack the waiter had just brought them. “And this is Cordelia.” Oscar’s new admirer grinned, waved and seated herself next to him, opposite Bristol.

“So, how come I haven’t seen you around here before?” Cordelia asked.

Oscar cleared his throat. “Well, because I haven’t been here before,” he answered. “I only arrived yesterday.”

“I can show you around if you like,” Cordelia suggested.

“No need,” Delta interjected. “He’s going to see Amelia after lunch.” This was news to Oscar.

“Lady Amelia?” Cordelia asked.

“Yes,” Delta replied. “I had my debrief this morning and Oscar’s going to see her this afternoon.”

“Who’s Lady Amelia?” Oscar asked.

“You don’t know?” Bristol set down her glass and stared at him.

“I only arrived yesterday,” Oscar said defensively. He looked at Delta for help.

“Sorry, I haven’t really seen you to tell you anything yet. Don’t worry, we’ll soon fill you in.”

“Lady Amelia runs this headquarters,” Cordelia said helpfully. “She sets the missions and debriefs you afterwards. She’s in charge.”

“Missions?” Oscar asked.

“As in when you go somewhere and do something… Delta, I thought you said you met him on a mission.”

Delta blushed. “I met him when I was on a mission. I didn’t say he was on the mission.”

“Are you even Friarrn?” Bristol asked, incredulous.

“Not so loud!” Delta hissed. “He hasn’t been to see Lady Amelia yet. He hardly knows anything about Friarr. I’m sure she’ll start his initiation soon but…”

“Initiation?” Oscar asked. There were too many new and slightly scaring words being used for Oscar’s liking.

“Nothing bad, just telling you what school you’ll be in and getting you started on your course to learn all about…”

“Look, Delta,” Oscar said, quietly enough that only those at the table could hear, but forcefully enough that Delta knew he was serious. “I have no idea what is going on. You brought me here yesterday when I couldn’t go home. You blindfolded me so I couldn’t see anything as I came in. All I have seen is your sitting room and this dining room. Now you’re talking about initiating me into something called Friarr and sending me on a course. What about the rest of my life? I have a house and a job and…” he stopped short. He wasn’t sure if he did have a house or a job any more. “And a family…” He lived alone. “And…”

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The sky above the clouds

It struck me today as I was driving to work under a big, grey rain cloud that one of my favourite places to be is the sky above the clouds.  Here is a picture:
View from the window of a plane
The sky above the clouds

The weather could be doing anything down there but it's always sunny up above the clouds.

Friday, 18 January 2013

The next day (part 3)

Oscar picked the correct of the two identical doors which led from the sitting room, and found himself in a bathroom like none he had seen before. A large, round bath dominated the room, on a platform in the centre, with wood panelling around the edge. It had a headrest on one side with a small screen opposite it, so one could watch television whilst in the tub, he assumed. The taps were at the side, so that they wouldn’t get in the way of the bather’s head or feet. As Oscar moved into the room, he turned to the left and found a stack of neatly-folded, fluffy, white towels on a three-tiered heated towel rail. He set his wash bag on the floor next to the towel rail, then straightened up to survey the rest of the room. At the far side was a square sink, backed by a section of tan-coloured mosaic tiles. Next to this, Oscar noticed a curtain. Again, he felt a little uncomfortable being so nosey but this was a very curious place and it intrigued him. He hesitated only a second longer before navigating his way around the bath to the clean, white curtain on the other side of the room. The curtain was cleverly hiding… he would first have described it as a shower cubicle but it was more like wet room, with space for a family of four to all stand on the wooden slatted mat in the centre. Oscar correctly guessed that behind the door in the far corner of the room, he would find the toilet. What he did not guess was that there would also be a sink in there, a fresh supply of hand towels, a wide selection of soaps and lotions, and an automatic flush.

This was all a bit too much for poor Oscar, the man who lived alone in a thirty-year-old house in need of repair. Somehow he came to the conclusion that the best thing was to have a nice, relaxing bath, where he could soak away his worries.

As the bath was filling, Oscar experimented with the knobs and buttons next to the taps. One released scented bubble bath in with the water. By the time he’d realised what it was, it was too late to stop it so he accepted the fact that he was now going to have a bubble bath. Once in the bath, put his head on the cushiony-soft headrest, which was perfectly positioned to support him as he leant back and stretched out his limbs in the spacious, circular tub, completely hidden by pretty-smelling bubbles.

Oscar tried to rationalise what had happened over the last twenty-four hours, and what was happening to him now. It was difficult. Thinking warmer water might help, he sat up a bit to find a temperature control. The button he stumbled upon did not adjust the temperature but Oscar lay back as soothing, ethereal music reached his ears. He wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care about anything now. He tried to, but it didn’t work. He tried to think about the journey he should have had home. He tried to think about his house, surrounded by armed guards. He tried to think about his office, now a pile of rubble. But he couldn’t. He even tried to think about how he should probably have called his mother. But even that didn’t interrupt the heavenly relaxation he was now experiencing.

Friday, 11 January 2013

The next day (part 2)

Delta reappeared wearing a smart, black, knee-length dress with a white cardigan thrown over the top. She'd plonked an alice-band on top of her hair, which was down around her shoulders. In her arms she carried a multi-coloured folder bulging with pages.

“I'll be back before lunch,” she called to Oscar. “Make yourself at home.” And with that, she stuck her feet into a pair of flip-flops that were conveniently by the door, and left.

Oscar sat for a while, not moving, not thinking. Then he got up to make himself some coffee. On his way to the coffee machine, he caught sight of his reflection in one of the windows (the one that was showing a dark street in the snow) and saw that he still had the blindfold on his head. He pulled it off and tossed it onto the sofa.

Initially Oscar was disappointed to see the limited choices he was presented with on the screen on the front of the machine: tea, coffee, chocolate, fruit, other. Oh well, he thought, better a generic cup of coffee than nothing at all. He touched 'coffee'. The other words faded out and the word 'coffee' moved to the top of the screen. Then an array of further choices animated their way onto the screen. He could choose not only the type of drink he wanted – espresso, americano, latte, cappuccino, etc. – but also the country of origin of the beans, how he wanted the beans to have been roasted, whether he wanted syrup, how much milk or sugar he wanted, the temperature he wanted the water to be heated to. The only button missing was whether he wanted a biscuit for dipping. At the bottom there was a star and the word 'favourites'. He touched this to see what Delta had programmed in. 'Skinny latte with a shot of caramel' was the only option. He winced: that would be far too sweet! He pressed back and opted for a double-shot black americano made with heavy roasted beans from Guatemala. That would wake him up.

As he sipped his drink, he wandered about the room. He was intrigued but cautious. He didn't know when Delta would be back, only that it would be before lunch, and he didn't want to be caught nosing around her belongings.

He scanned the bookshelves. There were titles he recognised, like The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and some he didn't, like Wooing the White School, Ready for Red School and Yearning for Yellow School. Delta had mentioned something about colours and schools; these books must be related to that.

In the corner was a very old-looking mahogany desk, with shiny handles on the drawers and a leather top. A computer keyboard was on the desk; behind it sat a computer screen. Oscar peered at it: the screen, with its mahogany frame, looked as though it were part of the desk. He reached out and touched the top of it. The screen started to move: it sank down into the desk and a lid fit itself onto the slot it had disappeared through, completely hiding it from view. Now there was just a keyboard looking out of place on an antique desk.

This desk was the only clear surface. The coffee table, windowsills, bookshelves and the other desk all had an assortment of items scattered over them haphazardly: the tablet PC and the mp3 player Oscar had spotted earlier, a few books, coasters, magazines, printouts of webpages, a few ornaments. The place certainly looked 'lived in'.

On the opposite wall from the door out of the apartment were two windows. One showed the dark, snowy street Oscar had seen his reflection in; the other a bright, cool day in a large, green park. Oscar moved closer to the latter. He judged it to be mid-morning by the height of the sun in the sky. The grassy lawn was about three storeys below the window, with a path close to the building. There were a few people walking along paths which led from one side to the other, round a pond and over to the play area with no children in it. A man sat on a bench under a tree reading a book. He was wearing a scarf and hat and gloves so it must have been cold out there.

Through the other window, the Victorian Christmas-card-like scene looked to be only one floor below, which made Oscar feel a little disorientated. He knew to trust the other window because he knew it was mid-morning and not the middle of the night, but this view did look very real. He considered opening the window to see what would happen, but he didn't want to risk getting snow inside.

His coffee and tour of the room complete, Oscar sat down once again on his sofa-cum-bed. He set his mug on the coffee table in front of him, on a spare coaster between a DVD case and a puzzle book. He checked his phone: no messages, emails or missed calls. He wondered what to do with his freedom. Having a shower and changing into clean clothes might be a good start, he said to himself. Having just returned from a trip abroad, he fortunately had a suitcase full of clothes and toiletries to hand. Being a very organised person, he was fortunate enough to have a spare change of clean clothes as he always packed extra just in case. Just in case of what? he'd sometimes asked himself. Just in case of kidnapping by young woman and imprisonment in luxury apartment. He smiled to himself: this certainly was a situation he hadn't banked on getting into.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

The next day (part 1)

Oscar coughed, then heard a shriek. He opened his eyes. All he could see was a white cushion. He was sleeping on Delta Foxtrot's sofa. He must have turned over in the night so that he was now facing the cushions.

Urgent whispering was coming from a short distance away. Oscar closed his eyes and pretended to still be a asleep while he strained to hear what was being said.

“But how did you get him up here?” someone asked.

“In the lift,” a sleepy voice replied. It was Delta's.

“But how did you get past security?”

“We came in through the shop.”

“You know about—”

“Everyone knows the way in through the shop.”

That must have been the room they'd wound a weaving path through the previous night, the one that smelt of books and soap. A secret entrance into... wherever it was they were. Oscar wondered if he should get up quietly and sneak out. He could leave without anyone else knowing he'd been here.

“There's no way he can stay here without anyone finding him,” the unfamiliar voice said. So that idea was out the window.

“Look, it'll be fine,” Delta said. There was a rustling sound. Perhaps she was getting out of bed. “I'll speak to Amelia.”

“That's Lady Amelia,” the other voice said sternly. She'd forgotten to whisper: Oscar had heard her loud and clear.

There was movement nearby. Oscar kept his eyes shut tight and didn't dare move. He wished he weren't here.

“Oscar?” Delta said sweetly, suddenly right next to him. Oscar jumped and sat up, almost falling off the sofa but saving himself just in time. Fortunately, that gave the impression that he'd just woken up. “Good morning,” she added.

“Uh, good morning.” He nodded and remained seated.

“Delta,” the other person said from behind Oscar. He turned his head to see her, which gave him the opportunity to see the room he was in. It reminded him of a hotel suite from a brochure he'd seen on one of his business trips. He was in a fairly large and sumptuously decorated sitting room. The carpet, as he had experienced through only his feet the night before, looked very fluffy. There were two sofas, both white, both very squishy. In his sweep across the room as he turned his head, he caught sight of a widescreen TV, an antique bookcase which covered one wall (full of books, with a ladder for reaching the higher shelves) and a state-of-the-art coffee maker in one corner. The person his eyes met when he finally made it all the way round, twisting in his seat so he could see, was a nervous-looking maid. She wore a black dress with white collar and white pinny, and comfortable black shoes. Her hair was pulled severely back from her face and she was wringing her hands in front of her. Oscar missed most of her conversation with Delta whilst reacting to the rest of the room. Was this really where Delta lived? He glanced up at the ceiling: it was white with patterns around the walls and a beautiful, golden centre-piece where the light (almost a chandelier) was fitted. When he thought about it, the widescreen TV seemed out of place in the stately-home style décor of the rest of the room. Then he realised that this wasn't the only technology: screens and devices littered the many surfaces. The coffee machine in the corner sported a colour touch-screen; two windows showed different weather, so one must be screen; a tablet PC and an mp3 player resided on the desk by one of the windows. Oscar wasn't sure what to make of it all. Delta seemed to be extremely rich. Why, then, were Delta and the maid talking about whether he was allowed to be here? And who was Lady Amelia? The way he saw it, Delta owned this place, the maid worked for her and Delta could do whatever she wanted.

When Oscar tuned in to the conversation again, the maid said, “What I really came up here for was because you're late for your debrief.”

Delta snorted. “But that's not until half past—”

“Half past nine,” the maid finished her sentence. She still looked very tense. “I make it...” she checked her watch. “Nine twenty-nine.”

“What!” Delta and Oscar both said at the same time. Oscar dived for his phone as Delta rushed from the room. The maid threw up her hands then left by another door.

Oscar grabbed his phone from his coat pocket and speed-dialled the office, tapping his leg nervously with his free hand. The line went dead. That was strange. There were three lines in to the office and an answer phone. It should connect to something. He tried his direct line in case there was someone near his desk who could pick it up. It wasn't the first time the phone line into the office had been interrupted. One time there had been roadworks outside their building and a workman had cut through the wrong cable. But there weren't any roadworks going on at the moment. He opened his contacts and thought about who to call. Marcus would be best: he did almost the same job as Oscar so he would understand what the meeting was about but not have the authority to discipline him for being late today.

Oscar thanked his lucky stars as the phone started to ring.

“Oscar, what's going on?” Oscar could sense the panic in Marcus's voice.

“I was hoping you could tell me,” Oscar said. “I haven't been able to get to work yet and when I rang in the line just went dead. Could you get a message to—”

“Oscar, stop talking! The office burnt down.”

“What?” Oscar leant back on the sofa, sinking into the impossibly-soft cushions. “So the meeting...” he trailed off.

“Is off,” Marcus said shortly. “There will be no presentation or meeting today for sure. We're not sure what happened. All I know is the building is just a pile of rubble. We're in Costa up the road waiting for more information. It's crazy, people with laptops and phones everywhere. Where are you?”

Oscar didn't answer straight away. How could he say he didn't know where he was? That would sound stupid. “My flight was delayed,” he said truthfully.

“Well, let us know when you're back and we can fill you in.”

“Thanks, Marcus. Bye.” Oscar put the phone down next to him and didn't move. Partly because he couldn't – the sofa was so soft it was going to take some effort to get up. That wasn't his top priority right now, though. First his home and now his office. What was he going to lose next?