We're off to Arnside for three days tomorrow, staying in a youth hostel. Claire told me this challenge was tailor-made for the trip, and it arrived in this box.
Friday, 23 May 2014
It's a quiet day at the library. The excitement is centred around the computers, where Age UK's 10 o'clock session for silver surfers is in full flow. I hide in a corner and prepare my Witney Gazette.
A man about 50 with special needs and a big bundle of legal letters and forms comes in, receiving help from a volunteer legal helper. They're both very sweet and I'm willing one of them to open the paper. But no – they move it around and test their biros on it, but then leave after 20 minutes intense discussion.
Three 60ish ladies sit down for the 11 o'clock silver surfers' session. Eventually one pulls the newspaper over. 'It's a bit wet'. She pushes it away again, then decides it's dry enough to open. Then 'Ooh ...' Look, it's my lucky day. I wonder who's left that.' They look at me – I pretend to be interested rather than guilty. 'Damn, I almost opened that paper ... erm ... but it was wet,' I say, deflecting suspicion brilliantly. The lady is delighted. 'I'll have to get something from Marks and Spencers. Or maybe I should buy a lottery ticket.' The rest of the group arrive and I have to move tables. The whole group is a-buzz with the find. One person is greedily looking through the paper again in case there's another fiver. It is the third most exciting thing that has happened in Witney, after the barbecue blaze and Neil Lyon's eighteen dolly-strikes.
The downside is moving tables. I'd deliberately sat with my back to the window where no one can go behind me, because I'm working on a children's magazine, and there's nothing more disturbing than a 50-year-old man staring intently at a 'colour the dog' activity - I know this from travelling on the Tube while reading the same magazine - even on a really crowded train, it gains you two empty seats on either side.
Thursday, 22 May 2014
The most looked-at publication in this outward-looking town – so in demand that they have to keep it behind the counter because it's been stolen so often – is the Witney Gazette. So I could borrow it, sellotape a fiver in there, then hand it back over the counter, and sit nearby waiting for someone to borrow it so I can monitor their reaction ...
... As part of my meticulous, almost military preparations, I have just borrowed the Witney Gazette, and looking randomly through it at this week's headlines, you can see why it's such a rip-snorting read: Barbecue Blaze (disposable barbecue burns small portion of garden hedge); Knicker Nicker (six pairs from washing line); Scooter Stolen (child's); Tennis Court Facelift After Six Year Dispute (retarmac). The back page is devoted to a single story, whose magnitude only people from Oxfordshire will grasp: Lyon Delighted As He Hits The Max. Achieving a feat equivalent to six sixes in an over, a 147 clearance or a four-minute mile, Neil Lyon of the Three Pigeons hit a maximum EIGHTEEN dollies in the Oxford and district Aunt Sally league, becoming only the sixteenth player in its history to do so. The story features an exclusive, full-page interview with Neil in which he talks through his feelings as the stick hit each dolly. Sensational.
Where I'd like to leave the fiver is in the self-help section, so it could be found by someone who's looking for Success as an introvert, who wants to know How to stop worrying, or is plucking up the courage to Dare to be you**. Maybe the person who I didn't actually see a couple of weeks ago, who'd clearly dropped a copy of Dealing with panic attacks and run out of the library would find it (on a happier note, on the same day I saw a copy of Coping with OCD left carelessly at an angle on top of the photocopier). Risky though – who knows what finding a fiver could trigger. I'd predict this sequence: joy – doubt – suspicion – paranoia – anger – guilt – sleeplessness – depression, with someone who has panic attacks probably feeding in between suspicion and paranoia. Hmm ... maybe too much for my conscience.
The other possibility is the 'Quick choice' section – I think it's just called this because it's nearer the door – the books don't look any better. The only book in this section which I've read and liked is Misery by Stephen King. The expression 'You dirty bird' is a popular catchphrase in our house, and comes from this book, so maybe that's the one. So they are my choices – Gazette, Self-help or Misery. I'll let the fickle finger of fate guide me in the morning.
*Not as a librarian, but on my, erm, 'other' stuff
**Not you, obviously; him or herself
Wednesday, 14 May 2014
This one, Claire has explained, doesn't mean that I have to produce a technically accurate diagram of a heart. As a male, that would suit me, and I also have the necessary knowledge via my brother-in-law, who is an amateur medical researcher and bogus doctor (it was from him that I learned that the head bone is connected to the brain bone). In fact I have to draw a map showing the people, places and things in the space they occupy in my heart, with the closest ones having a big area in the middle. It was Lola's idea to have make this a challenge – she did one of these herself.
It's a change of direction, forcing me to explore inwards rather than into new corners of the world. I won't be showing it to any relatives beyond my immediate family, however, as aunts and uncles are still arguing about who sat where at our wedding.
clearly interested in higher things than money, but I thought 'a' would need an incentive to reply.
So if anyone manages to find the bottle, get the cork out (not easy – pushed right in and sealed with puncture-repair glue), extract the message (would need tweezers), be arsed to reply AND type the blog address correctly, plus figure out how to leave a message, then they'll fully deserve their £10 and an album by Sefton (see challenge 16). If Kate finds the bottle, I'll still send her Sefton's album, and it'll give them an interesting anecdote to tell when they receive their Grammy for their album of duets.
The launch site was our closest point to the Thames, Swinford bridge**.
So we parked illegally, and in a short ceremony witnessed only by the toll-booth man, a long queue of drivers, my wife and two minuscule Chinese girls, I kissed the bottle and launched it.
As it left my hand I realized that I should have checked for boats; I'd had to change the bottle to a very chunky one to fit the message in, and didn't want to spoil anyone's Hoseasons boating holiday by killing them. Also, it would have brought up too many issues around the prize: Would they deserve a prize if, technically, they hadn't 'found' the bottle, but merely been struck and killed by it? Should I give them the prize even though they hadn't said the code word? What would they do with cash and an album now in any case? If there was a thud and a scream, I decided to 1) run away and 2) relaunch with a new message***. But there was a splash, and the bottle bobbed up to the surface. The camera battery gave up before I could photograph the bottle starting its journey. Seeing as it had lasted for about two million photos, if I believed in omens**** I would have thought this was a bad one. In fact, even though I don't believe in omens*****, this was definitely a bad one. I just hope it doesn't mean that Kate Bush's young son, Wonderful Bertie, wades into the river to reach the bottle and gets into difficulties******. If Bertie drowns, I can't honestly see that Grammy happening.
**at 5p per crossing, the cheapest toll bridge in Britain; slogan: 'Same low low prices since 1782'
*** The nightmare scenario is, of course, the bottle lands on Kate, and Sefton finds it.
*** The nightmare scenario is, of course, the bottle lands on Kate, and Sefton finds it.
******actually more Kate's fault than mine. He's just a little boy, Kate - what were you thinking?!
Monday, 5 May 2014
Another slow burner from left field*. This has been in the news recently, after someone found a message after just short of 100 years. Clearly, the joy at beating this record would be tempered by the fact that I'd be dead. So I'm going to throw it into the Thames, with the hope it will be picked out by Kate Bush, who lives 48 miles downriver, and I'd imagine spends a lot of her time staring at the water trying to think of songs. I've chosen the bottle that I think would catch Kate's eye ...
Why has no one ever told me about seeds? Basil seeds, it turns out, are tiny little dots, like full stops. That's what I expected from seeds. But chilli seeds – sit down for this one – are actually the bits you throw away when you chop a chilli ...
How daft is that? To me, as far-fetched as planting a banana skin or a tomato tin. It's made me curious/suspicious though – how do you get a potato? – plant the skin? Or any basic foodstuff – a grape, or a walnut, or a pie? And why have people been keeping this from me for fifty years? Anyway, I'm prepared to put aside the secrecy, to move on to boasting at how flippin well my seeds are doing, thank you very much.
Look at this rainforest of basil – looks like the answer to global warming from my angle.
And meantime in the chilli section, a monster is emerging, which could easily be the first sign of the first mass-produced chilli jam ...
With hindsight, it was in the stars – I was born on St Basil's Day (as any fool knows – the second of January – it was only because of my mother's insistence that I wasn't named Basil), in the coldest winter in living memory (1963-4), so that's clearly where my obvious knack with basil and chilli comes from.