Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Picking up the pieces of a broken heart


       Can there be anyone over 16 who hasn’t suffered heartbreak at least once in their life? Other than Sheldon Cooper, that is. When faced with emotional distress, we might envy his total lack of commitment to anything which can’t be reduced to a mathematical formula.

       But facts speak for themselves. The vast majority of teenage relationships fail to result in marriage, while those that do have a high divorce rate. That adds up to an awful lot of break ups and the inevitable heartache that follows.

       You don’t even have to be seriously involved with a person to suffer such pangs; Alice in The Runaway Children is devastated when rejected by her rock star hero, Ricky Retch, while there’s many a teenage girl who goes into serious mope mode if Justin Bieber or other crush doesn’t ‘follow’ them back. And, though they may not show it, heartbreak happens to boys too. Love doesn’t always play fair.

       Matt*, the son of a friend of mine recently split up from a girl he was nuts about. No one really knows why. He was kind, courteous, considerate and respectful of his girlfriend’s deeply held religious beliefs. Sex before marriage was not on the table and he happily abided by strict rules of conduct - agreeing to chaperones, early nights and strict codes of behaviour with no illicit fumbling! Because he loved her. Wanted to marry her. Things progressed, their respective parents met and all seemed set for a winter wedding. Sadly, out of the blue, the young lady ended their courtship.      Nicely, of course, yet with very little explanation. Matt was devastated.

       We’ve all been there. A break up is possibly the most traumatic blow we could ever endure, crushing self-esteem along with any thoughts of happiness and leaving the victim in a hollow of despair. And no wonder. Romantic love is THE most powerful emotion we could ever experience. Shakespeare penned sonnets about it, singers have crooned about it, novelists have immortalised it and even Solomon, the second wisest man who ever lived, was completely bowled over by it. He too experienced unrequited love when a beautiful Shulammite on whom he’d set his heart rejected him for her one true love. But then, he did have 1000 wives & concubines to soothe his fractured ego!

       After a break up, you may feel as though you’ve been thrown into a dark, dank pit. But there IS a way out. Just start climbing – one step at a time:

Stage 1 – Denial, when you can’t believe our loved one doesn’t want you any more. For days, you’ll wait for the phone to ring, convinced he/she will change their mind and realise they just can’t live without you.

Stage 2 – Rage, which can turn love to hate. “The cheek of the guy/girl! How dare they reject ME!”

Stage 2 – Depression, in which despair takes over and self-esteem hits the floor, as you wonder if you’re worthless and unlovable.

Stage 4 – Resignation,giving you a realistic view of your circumstances. It may still hurt, yet you’re beginning to glimpse a time when things will be better.

Looking ahead

       As family and friends will tell you, wounds heal in time. Problem is, they hurt now. Healing a broken heart is like setting a broken leg – you know it’ll get better eventually but in the meantime, it’s simply agonising. How can you lessen the pain? Well, crying will certainly help, so don’t hold back. Tears don’t make you weak – even the strongest people shed them at times, so feel free to have a good, old blub to get some of that pain out of your system.

       You need to look after yourself too. Eat well and take exercise to recover all that emotional energy. Then channel it into interesting and enjoyable activities. Above all, don’t spend too much time alone. Seek the company of genuine people, family and friends, who really care about you. And if you have a faith, then pray, pour your heart out.

       Learn from the experience. Be analytical. Examining what went wrong will help you to avoid the same mistakes again. For instance, what reason did the other party give for breaking up with you? Make a note of it, even if you feel it was a unfair. Why do YOU think they rejected you? Is there anything you could have done to prevent the breakup? Has the relationship thrown up any flaws in yourself, or ways in which you could improve emotionally? How can you apply the experience to future relationships, and how would you conduct yourself differently next time?

       Make a list of comforting sayings to which you can keep referring. These could be from novels, films, plays, scriptures, poems - anything that hits a chord and helps to lift your spirits. Music can help too – but avoid moody, romantic music which could drag you down.

Remember too, in the middle of distress, it's hard to see an end to the misery. But it IS there. Time, patience and hope, along with these practical steps, will help you to reach it.

 

“Questions Young People Ask Answers that Work Volume 1” http://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/

 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

A Beginner’s Guide to Traditional Pantomime





        Strange.  I’ve always thought of pantomime as a peculiarly British tradition - as unique to our ‘green and pleasant land’ as the Union Jack, jellied eels, bacon and egg, strongly brewed tea and Marmite.
       Yet every blog I write about panto gets more views from the States than from dear old old Blighty. Maybe the Brits take this ancient mummery for granted. After all, it’s been going strong since Roman times when, along with bread and circuses, it kept the populace pliant and less likely to revolt over the dire state of the nation.
       Similarly, in our day a good pantomime provides a welcome distraction from the miserable winter weather, the endless recession and the absolute fortunes spent on Christmas presents which nobody wants. But whatever is happening in the world, there’s one thing we can count on; from November to February pantomimes will be playing at almost every UK theatre. 
       What is it that makes pantomime so special, so beloved of children of all ages? Distinguished Shakespearean actor, Sir Ian MacKellen (Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings) explains: “Pantomime has everything theatrical: song, dance, verse, slapstick, soliloquy, audience participation, spectacle, cross-dressing and a good plot, strong on morality and romance. What more could you want for a family outing? I believe there’s more pure theatre in a pantomime than you get in Shakespeare, and if it works, it’s unforgettable.”
       Audience participation is one of panto’s most endearing aspects, with the cast positively encouraging audiences to shout, cheer, sing, heckle, hiss and boo! The result may seem anarchic, yet there’s a strong discipline involved – certain rules which unite both cast and audience, creating unity from mayhem!
       Now I’m going to say something really contentious: If you’ve only ever seen a pantomime in the West End, you’ve probably never seen panto! Unfortunately, the bigger the show, the more likely it is to be a vehicle for TV reality and soap stars, retired politicians, pop singers and comedians with smutty jokes.  It may have plenty of glitz and glamour, but very little authenticity.
       For pantomime in its purest form, Act One Panto, a small touring theatre which specialises in the genre, comes as close as it gets to the strolling players of old, featuring mime, songs, dance, acrobatics and comedy – all incorporated into the plot.  Artistic Director Jule Watson has studied pantomime in depth and, while adding her innovative flair into the mix with a contemporary slant, she believes firmly in keeping its traditional core intact. “Before you can break a rule, you first have to keep a rule” is Jule’s maxim. 


How to create a Pantomime?


       Creating a pantomime with Act One is very democratic. After the current season’s productions go on tour, Jule consults with her cast and crew, inviting suggestions for the following year’s offerings. Then, once the theme has been decided, she’ll telephone or email me to commission the script.
       It’s now left to me to create a general outline for Jule to consider. At the same time, I’ll start picking the brains of family, friends and colleagues for jokes or funny anecdotes. (The best of them invariably come from youngsters!) These are all scribbled in my notebook, ready for inclusion where appropriate, along with ideas of my own and any snippets I overhear when out and about.
     Then I think about it. And think about it. And think about it some more....until finally, I get down to the actual writing, which can be completed within a relatively short time, depending on how my ideas are forming.
       Then it’s back to Jule who’ll consider the physical aspects of the show, such as visual gags, special effects and ‘business’. For example, for Alice in Pantoland, we had the comedy duo, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, ‘galloping’ Monty Python-style around the auditorium on wooden hobby horses. (This year’s offering, Follow the Yellow Brick Road, is even more ambitious......let’s just say the actors will need lots of energy and a good sense of balance!) Meanwhile, Act One’s technical team are also hard at work, designing the sets, costumes, sound and lighting, and choosing appropriate songs - some of which are specially composed by our resident Maestro.   


What IS pantomime?


       Literally, the word means All-Mimicking - ‘Pan’ [Greek word for‘All’] and ‘Mimos’ [Greek for ‘Imitate’). Think vaudeville with a plot and you may get an inkling what it involves. The story is usually taken from a popular fairy tale, interwoven with topical themes to which the audience can relate, i.e. the price of food, political manoeuvring, the comings & goings of high profile figures – the sort of material comedians use but – and this is vital – without the smut!
       Although traditionally performed over the festive season (Nov-Feb) panto attracts audiences throughout the year. Act One puts on shows during the summer at theatres, schools, residential homes, private parties and community centres.
       One thing you should be warned about – pantomime can be very, very loud, especially when the audience is encouraged to join in. A classic bit of business is the “Behind you!” scenario, when a monster/ghost/animal keeps appearing behind one of the characters and the children are asked to yell when they see it. The character (usually the Dame) will turn around, only for the monster/ghost/animal to dodge out of sight. “Where is it?” asks the Dame. “Behind you!” cry the kids who get beside themselves with frustration!
       Another well-used gag is the ‘argument’ between two characters when one will say “Oh no it isn’t!” while the other, again urging the audience to join in, says “Oh YES it is!” and so forth. Make sure you and your family have a good gargle before curtain up! You’ll also be expected to join in the singalong at the end!  


Pantomime Characters


       Regardless of the theme of a pantomime, certain stock characters are common to all:
       The first person we meet is the Dame, normally an impoverished widow who, after introducing herself, gives the audience an overview of her circumstances, accompanied by jokes, cheeky asides and bucket-loads of tears. She bewails the loss of her husband, moans about her feckless son/nephew or frets about her vulnerable daughter or niece. Often, there’s a wicked baron/witch/landlord lurking in the wings, threatening her with eviction. But, whatever the circumstances, they’re inevitably dire and highly melodramatic.
       From the moment the Dame appears, you can’t help noticing her appalling taste in clothes – Anna Wintour she is not! Frumpy, old-fashioned frocks in hideous, garish colours are the norm, while her hair is – for want of a better description – a wig in not-so-glorious-technicolour! As is her face with its grotesque rouge and over-applied lipstick. Another give-away is her voice; no simpering soprano this, but a deep resounding medicine ball of a voice which reaches a crescendo when its owner is roused! You’ve guessed it. The Dame is played by a man! This custom dates back to Elizabethan times when acting was despised and women were not permitted to take part. Whoever plays the Dame not only needs incredible skills, but also a commanding personality so as to whip up an audience yet prevent things sliding into anarchy.
       Just to confuse you even further, since Queen Victoria’s reign, the Principal Boy, (eg. Prince Charming) has usually been played by a woman whose fetching tight-wearing thighs are regularly slapped, macho fashion, by her own fair hand.
       Then we meet the Baddie. This may be the Baron already mentioned, a Wicked Witch, Cruel Queen, Evil Wizard, Captain Hook or Bullying Ogre. Like the Dame, this role calls for a big personality; a Boo-worthy bogeyman who knows how to goad an audience yet can also make us laugh.
       As a counterbalance to the Baddie, a Good Fairy or Fairy Godmother can be featured, using her magic when all other solutions fail.
       Other characters include the Juvenile Leads – Jack and Jill, Aladdin and Jasmine, Beauty and the Beast, for example. The typical male lead tends to be rather feckless, a bit of a dreamer, yet is always likeable and basically kind-hearted. His female counterpart, the Principal Girl is feisty and practical, and both characters must be excellent singers.
       Some productions feature a Funny Animal, such as the Goose (Mother Goose), cats (Dick Whittington), horses, chickens, donkeys, cows, and dogs, all good dancers and always more intelligent than their human owners!
       And, of course, no pantomime would be complete without the ultimate Comedy Duo. Tweedledum & Tweedledee, Biff & Boff, Bill & Ben. Neither are particularly intelligent, but the daftest of the duo is the butt for his partner’s practical jokes. Having this couple in the show provides many opportunities for the sort of slapstick, knockabout humour children love.  

[Photo: Ryan Angelo Deponio & Vicki Glover in Aladdin] 






                     

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Are you a gossip - or is that just a malicious rumour?

       Accused of misappropriating church funds, a previously popular and effective minister was hounded from his parish. Some time later, the perpetrator of this rumour, by now burdened by guilt for his unwarranted remarks, called on the victim to beg for his forgiveness.

       The minister said nothing at first, just closed his eyes for a moment in thought. Eventually he beckoned to his visitor. “Come with me”, he said and led the way to a top-storey window at his home, pausing only to pick up a pillow on the way. Once there, he ripped the pillow open and shook out the contents. Within seconds, hundreds of feathers were dancing on the breeze before floating into the distance.

       “There!” said the minister. “Go and pick up every one of those feathers – if you can. Then you’ll know how hard it is for me to forgive you.”

       According to the Bible writer, James, “the tongue is a little member,” yet it’s harder to control than any other part of the human body. In fact, if we could control it, we’d be perfect people; but as none of us can honestly claim never to say the wrong thing at some point in our lives, we need to make allowances for others, even when unkind things are said about us!

       Celebrities, of course, are prime targets. Bust-ups between stars are the source of endless speculation. Married couples in the public eye often have to endure gossip spread by total strangers, while social media is an endless (and often unconrolled) source of mis-information and rumour. 'Post-truth' they call it, as if any kind of lie is now acceptable. 

       But you don’t have to be famous to play a star role in someone else’s fevered imagination. Living as I do in a small farming village, I’ve been the subject of rumours myself. One such involved a supposed affair with my (then) next-door neighbour – who (I suspect) encouraged the belief to make his (ex) girlfriend jealous and bring her begging again to lie obligingly under his feet! Managing to stoke the flames even higher, the young man started parking his pushbike on my drive, much to my annoyance. (Had it been a Ferrari, perhaps I wouldn’t have minded so much!)

       Years later, my daughter’s reputation came under fire after she left to go to London. Apparently, a malicious rumour started going the rounds that I’d packed her off somewhere to disguise her non-existent pregnancy! Meanwhile, as well as all the ‘affairs’ I’m meant to have had, I’ve also been dubbed an alcoholic, drug addict and anorexic – all at the same time! But then, that’s nothing to some of the weird and lurid tales I’ve heard about other people in the community.

       Not all gossip is bad, though. It often provides useful information such as marriages, births, illnesses, deaths and other matters relating to friends and neighbours. Such conversations prove we’re interested in and care about the people we know.

       Even so, we all need to watch that a seemingly innocence, off-the-cuff remark doesn’t cause problems. For example, “I think Jennifer has a crush on Peter,” could create misunderstandings – especially if Jennifer has someone totally different in mind. Or it could result in Jennifer avoiding Peter out of embarrassment, effectively putting the mockers on a pleasant friendship.

       Another embarrassing situation; you may have said something about another person, only for them to find out where it came from and confront you with it! Surely, it’s always better to be open and frank, to raise any issues you may have directly to their face! You may even find your beef with that person is utterly groundless.

       Twitter, Facebook and other social network site have made rumours run faster and wider than at any time in history, which is why caution should be applied before we send that message. These questions may help you decide whether what you have to say, either verbally or electronically, is really worth repeating:

Is it true? That gossip you’ve heard may be really juicy, but have you checked the facts? If there’s no truth in it, you could, at best, end up with egg on your face or, at worst, be guilty of slander.

Is it fair? Okay, someone you dislike has done something stupid. It’s so tempting to tell everybody you know, so they can share your contempt for that person. But will they? Or will they have contempt for you. Let’s face it, who wants to be friends with a malicious gossip? And talking about someone when they’re not there to defend themselves just isn’t on either.

Is it kind? Perhaps one of the most powerful ways to resist harmful gossip is to imagine it being said about you. How would you feel in that position? Could you really hurt another person’s feelings or harm their reputation? And how would a loose tongue affect your own reputation? Do as you would be done by, is the key.

      Suppose, though, that you’re the recipient of malicious gossip. Remember that, by consenting to listen, you’re colluding with the gossiper - which makes you an accessory to their spite. Usually, we can discern when a conversation is turning towards hurtful remarks and it can take tremendous willpower to stop nasty gossip in its tracks – but it’s easy enough to do. A simple “Let’s change the subject, I’m not comfortable with this,” will usually do the trick.

      It will also mark you out as a kind, fair-minded individual who can be trusted by your peers.

  

      

Sunday, 30 September 2012

The journey begins - Excerpts from The Runaway Children Volume 1

 The Global Order Brotherhood

Miles squinted under the orange glow of a nearby streetlight and eventually made out what looked like a metal ball with a piece of rope hanging down from it. He then realised it wasnt a rope, but a snake twisting upwards before splitting into three heads, which coiled around the ball. Whether it was the night air or the image, Miles couldnt tell, but he began to feel cold and shivery, as though a hundred cubes of ice had been poured down his collar. What is it? he asked, scarcely able to breathe.
This, said Jeff, is Babel - the symbol of the Global Order Brotherhood. You see the globe? Thats the world and each head of the snake represents a different means of controlling it - Fear, Corruption and Lies. Take a good long look at it, Miles. 
Its horrible! said Miles. I wish I hadnt seen it now.
Promise me something, Miles Jeffs hands gripped his shoulders even more tightly and his voice became harsh and urgent, much as it had when talking to Miles parents.
Promise me! If you ever see this symbol, the three-headed snake, youll run. Run for your life! For your own sake, your parents sake, the sake of the whole world - run! Run and never look back! Promise me!”  

Men in macs

Then something awful happened. Joe let go of Alices hand and stopped. He didnt know what was happening. He didnt know why Miles and Alice were running, or who the big men were. All he knew was he wanted to be with his parents. Slowly and deliberately, he started to walk home.
In her panic, Alice didnt notice Joe slip away. She and Miles kept running, not daring to look behind them, jumping over ditches, scrambling under barbed wire, panting until they felt their lungs begin to burst. At last they reached the trees and flung themselves into a mass of dense undergrowth until they could catch their breath.
Only then, did they realise that Joe wasnt with them anymore. Wheres Joe? cried Alice, looking around frantically. Weve lost Joe!

Fernlee Forest 

"It's ME!" came a booming disembodied voice "I'm bleeding!"
"Who are you?" yelled Miles.
"I'm Larch," was the answer, and a man's head suddenly appeared from the high branches of the tree which Miles had started to strip. "When you cut me with a knife, I scream!" 
"I'm Beech" another head popped down from the tree," and if you steal my bark, I'll die!"
"And I'm Horse" said yet another head "and if you hurt me, I will whinny and kick and bite you - hard!"
All at once, dozens of people started jumping out from all over the place; down from the trees and out from the enormous ferns that fringed the forest. At first, it was almost impossible to distinguish the men from the women, as they all sported beads and smocks and dreadlocks, and their faces were smeared with greeny-brown gunge, and their makeshift clothes, dyed to blend into their surroundings, were decorated with assorted leaves and feathers.
"I didn't mean any harm!" cried Miles "I'd never hurt a tree on purpose! Honestly I wouldn't."
Beech bent over him menacingly, his face contorted with rage and his breath foul. "The trouble with you townies, you never think! You just don't care about the environment, do you! Well? Do you?" 

The Babel Retreat 

It was only once theyd driven through the trees that Joe had his first glimpse of the Babel Retreat, a large fortress, dark and gloomy, skulking at the bottom of the valley in the middle of a mass of dark, swirling water. The nearer it loomed, the more hideous it appeared, its outer walls impossibly high and laced with broken glass and vicious razor wire. Only the moorland springs gave any hint of life, and these bubbled merrily downwards from the hills before converging into the lake. This treacherous water served two purposes. Firstly, it formed a moat around the building making it impossible for unwelcome visitors to reach; and secondly, it provided a constant water supply through a series of aqueducts leading to the cellar.  
On their approach, Joe heard an ominous creak as a large drawbridge was dropped, allowing the limos to cross the moat, and two enormous iron gates opened before them to reveal a large cobbled courtyard. Here, several women stood waiting, all dressed in long robes of purple and crimson, while their heads were covered with crisp, white veils and weird headdresses, which reminded Joe of the paper aeroplanes he sometimes made in class. The tallest of these women stepped forward to greet Mordant as he and the rest of his men left the comfort of their limousines, dragging Joe out with them. Grabbing the boy by the scruff of his neck, Skinner rasped in his ear. Now mind your manners, you little scumbag. That lady there is Sister Prism, head of this joint and your boss from now on. Sisters her title, so remember to use it!" 

Sister Prism 

Slowly, Joe glanced up into those cold, dead eyes. 
"Well?" said Prism, menacingly. But Joe was not going to be intimidated. Even if he was afraid of this tall, pointy-nosed lady with the alabaster skin, he would rather die than show it. Resolutely, he glared back at her, refusing to answer. Sister Prism was not accustomed to people defying her, especially rude little boys.
"Tell me your name, boy!" she warned, "Otherwise, I might think you are insolent, and insolent children have to be dealt with in a very uncomfortable way."
"I think he's shy," suggested Skinner "he's not said a word all the way here."
"Or perhaps he's dumb," said Sister Prism "which would be a pitiful waste of a tongue. Perhaps we should pluck it out and give it to someone who'll make good use of it. Like my cat, for instance!" She chuckled unpleasantly, and her finely chiselled nose began to wrinkle again.  

The canal chase 

"Is he coming after us?" asked Joe, anxiously.
"Just keep running, Joe!"  Roots urged, but Odi couldn't resist a backward peek.
"He's coming all right", he said. "Is he gaining on us?" said Alice.  "Heck no," Odi replied, "that guy's too cool to run!" Sure enough, Bevis had hardly accelerated. Even when the party he was following disappeared round a bend, he kept his pace to a confident stride, his long leather coat trailing obediently.
Roots led the way, feeling more unnerved by this stranger than by all the other agents put together. Somehow, he felt they wouldn't shake this one off so easily. How right he was. No matter how fast they ran, or how far they got, they had only to glance behind them to see the sinister figure advancing on them purposefully. 

The narrow boat

As the Judith Rose cut a swathe round the bend, Miles saw the lock zoom into focus, getting rapidly nearer.
"What do I do?" he called to Roots. "I don't know how to stop it!"
"Switch off the key!" Roots called back, but it was no use. "It's jammed!" shrieked Miles. "I can't move it!"
"Try turning the wheel" suggested Roots. That didn't help either. In fact, the whole engine seemed to work automatically and simply wouldn't respond to anything. And, all the time, they were getting closer and closer to the lock. To make matters even worse (if that were possible), the men in the dinghy were hot on their trail. Miles took a deep breath and did the only other thing he could think of. Only yards from hitting the lock, he pressed the button marked 'Boost'!  

The Blue John Cavern

Slowly and steadily, they continued along an underground river, the tunnel now so dark and narrow Odi began to hyperventilate again.
"Just what I need" he whined "another bout of close-to-phobia!"
"Claustrophobia." Alice corrected him. "Seems pretty close to me!" replied Odi, for once unable to think of anything clever to say. To his great relief, they soon reached another, bigger cavern. So big, in fact, it resembled a magnificent palace, adorned with shafts of sunlight from above. As the Judith Mary approached it's mooring, coming to rest on the banks of a crystal lagoon, all aboard gaped in astonishment.   Not only was the cavern wonderfully bright and airy, it was like no other they had ever seen before.
"It's purple!" Joe cried. "All purple and shiny!"
"We must be in the Blue John mines." Laurel suggested.
"But it's purple!" insisted Joe.
"Blue John IS purple, Silly". Alice tutted despairingly. "Don't you boys know anything?"
"Oh, so that's why it's called blue!" said Odi with a good dollop of sarcasm. "The stuff's purple, so naturally, you call it Blue. That's cool, and not at all confusing!"








Saturday, 29 September 2012

The final showdown - excerpts from The Runaway Children Volume 3

The Island of Dreams

“We must be nearing land!” cried Captain Bob. “Watch the horizon, boys!” They peered intently ahead, willing the land to appear with all their might and were at last rewarded by a faint strip in the distance.
“Ahoy there!” everyone cried excitedly.
“Where do you think it is?” asked Joe.
“Oh, somewhere friendly, I hope!” The Captain was so pleased at having arrived anywhere, the exact location didn’t really matter. Besides, the mere sight of the island as it blossomed into view was enough to lift the saddest of spirits. Fringing the beach of perfect white-gold sands, palm trees and other exotic plants swayed in the warm breeze and beckoned invitingly. The waters surrounding this jewel were a clear turquoise rippling gently over reefs of spectacular coral. Joe and Odi had, of course, visited many islands during their voyage with Mr Smyle, but this was different. There was something magical about the place that took the breath away.
As the Mersey May drifted slowly towards shore, its passengers heard the beat of distant drums and other instruments; pipes and flutes and strings; all united in the sweetest melody. “It’s like a dream,” whispered Joe. “A wonderful dream.” 

The ‘Exquisite One’

“Salutations,” replied the visitor. “I am Nimros, High Priest, devoted to the humble service of ‘She whose feet must never touch the ground’ and on whose behalf I command you and your party to attend her at the temple tomorrow.”
“Thanks very much, but we’ll be far too busy working on my boat, which is why we came here in the first place.”
“No!” boomed the visitor. “It is forbidden for any work to take place on the Island of Dreams until ‘She whose feet must never touch the ground’ has departed.” Bristling at the word ‘forbidden’, the Captain snorted derisively. ”Oh really!” he bellowed, “We’ll just have to see about that!”
“Tomorrow,” Nimros insisted, “you will pay homage to the Exquisite One at the temple.” Captain Bob was about to tell this Nimros chappy exactly what he thought of that idea, when the High Priest gave another imperious wave of his hand and turned to leave.
“Until tomorrow then!” he concluded, only adding to Abihu as he passed, “All must attend, or be cursed for ever!” 

The Nunjas

Pulling alongside the Mersey May just long enough for the children to climb aboard, the Captain sped off in his dinghy again, heading straight towards the nunjas’ canoe. “Geronimo!” he yelled, as much to encourage himself as scare the women, and he veered dramatically in front of them, cutting right across their bow.
“Out of the way you old buffoon!” bawled Prism contemptuously. Captain Bob’s reply was to turn back and once again attempt to head the canoe off course. Unfortunately, his inflatable was no match for the heavier craft, and when the two collided, it was Captain Bob who ended up in the water, his great weight dragging him down to the coral reef below. “Goodbye fool!” Prism cried exultantly, before turning her attention towards the Mersey May.
“And now for the brats!”

The Tsunami

For the second time that day, Bob Craddock prayed, but the wave kept coming, closer and closer, remorselessly rising higher and higher all the time so that, when at last its shadow towered over them, it was topped by a foaming white crest of surf and began to curl over, set to crush them under a trillion tons of saltwater. 

The Vision

        "What we have here, Miles, is the world of the future. Concrete as far as the eye can see.  Flyovers, runways, carriageways, motorway services, leisure complexes, shopping malls, skyscrapers five miles high. That's the future, Miles. The day will come when there won't be a tree, or a straggly blade of grass, or one nasty, messy, prickly plant to spoil the view!”
"You can't have a world without trees!" Miles argued, lamely. "They provide oxygen and shelter and homes for the birds....and, anyway, they look nice!"
        He was answered by a contemptuous snort. "Now you sound like Roots! Miles, Miles, Miles. I can see you have a lot to learn about economy. You can't have trees taking up all that space just because they look nice! If it's nice you want, you need solid things - like gold and diamonds, things that last forever!" Then he paused, bending down to stare eyeball to eyeball with Miles so as to have the maximum effect. "Like ME!"  

The Hero

       "Never mind the old guy!" yelled Mordant from a very safe distance. "It's the kids we want - especially the blond one! Come on, lay off the old geezer!"
Skinner, Brown and Griswold would have been only too glad to lay off Captain Catastrophe. The only problem was Captain Catastrophe refused to lay off THEM. He'd already brought Griswold to the ground and was sitting quite comfortably on the poor man's head, while at the same time twisting Skinner and Brown's neckties with such an iron grip, their faces had turned puce.
"Pick on little children, would you?" he was growling "I'll teach you to pick on people smaller than yourselves!" and he bounced on Griswold for all he was worth and gave the other two men's neckwear an extra tug for luck.
 
The Fond Memories

"I feel very bad about what happened," Wisteria kept saying "But then, if things had been different, I'd never have met my Gordy!"
When he could get a word in edgewise, Gordon took up the tale from when the children had disappeared.
"As you know, we put up a terrific fight against the sheriff and his mob, so much so, they called in the Marines......."
"Not to mention the riot squad and the entire mounted police......" Wisteria echoed. 
        "Black Marias, fire engines, armoured cars, ambulances....." mused Gordon, his eyes dewy with happy memories.
"Poor Gordon broke his finger!" Wisteria exclaimed.
"Aye, and a few ribs besides!" he crowed. "In fact, if it wasn't for Wisteria here...."
"I shudder to think what would have become of him!" His wife took up the tale. "There he was lying face down in a hollow, right in the path of an enormous digger crashing through the forest at full throttle......"
     "When the brave lass grabbed me by the feet and pulled me to safety! We've been an item, ever since.” He stopped to beam fondly at his wife who gazed fondly back at him.  

The Roots of the matter
"But that's Roots!" said Joe, reeling with shock. "I thought he was your friend!" 
"Not any more!" said Gordon "Oh, we've tried. When he returned here at first, we were forever inviting him round, cooking him meals, washing his clothes....."
"Darning his socks" Wisteria chipped in. "Cutting his hair, cheering him up....."
".....but it wasn't any use. He'd just sit there accusingly, as though we were to blame for his stupid forest being chopped down. Anyway, I couldn't handle it any more, so I told him to go...I mean it got to be embarrassing....."

The final showdown
Huddled under a rock in the shadow of Flinder Mount, Roots sniffed the air. "There's a storm brewing," he said "about two hours away if I’m not mistaken."
"Do you think Prism's still looking for us?" asked Joe anxiously.
"You know her better than I do, Joe," his companion replied "but we'll be safe here, at least for a while...
Joe nodded wearily. He just wanted a place to rest his head and was content to let Roots make the decisions. If only he could sleep.....
Before long, he felt himself drifting and was vaguely aware of Roots putting a fleecy jacket on top of him. He began to dream that he was home again with Mum and Dad and his brother and sister, sitting in front of the fire with a mug of steaming chocolate and the neighbour's cat rubbing itself against his leg. It was all so quiet and peaceful.......until Mum switched on the vacuum cleaner!
"Wake up!" she said "Wake up Joe!" and he opened his eyes to see it wasn't his mother but Roots, shaking him urgently.
"We've got to get out of here, quickly!" Sitting up, Joe became aware of another noise, the noise of several engines, and he could feel a stiff breeze swishing through the valley.






Monday, 24 September 2012

Meet The Tree People - Extract from The Runaway Children Volume 1 - Flight from the Nunjas

                 
Scene from Fernilee Forest on which Fernlee is based

An hour later, the whole village had congregated and everyone was sitting cross-legged round a huge fire which Beech, Larch and Horse had built, using a mixture of dead wood and peat, which smoked horribly and stank even worse. Miles was staggered to see how many of the villagers there were at least a hundred people, all living in total invisibility from the outside world. Normally, theyd be strumming home-made fiddles and guitars, and relaxing with mugs of gooseberry wine and mead made from honey, chatting happily about the days events. Now, however, the urgency of Laurels call to council had created tension amongst them, so they waited in silence until Laurel stood up and began to address the assembly.
"First of all, let me introduce you. This is Miles Hadwin and his sister Alice who have just survived a horrible and traumatic experience. Their mother has been arrested on a trumped up charge of treason and for all we know, their father's in custody too. We DO know that their younger brother has already been abducted and, considering hes hardly eight years old, must be feeling very scared right now."
"So what are WE supposed to do about it?" Beech piped up, as he chewed on an apple, apparently unmoved by the childrens plight.
"Yes, what's it to us?" Horse echoed. It wasnt that he didnt care, but he enjoyed the peace of the forest and was loath to get involved with outsiders.
"If you'll give me a moment, I'll explain," replied Laurel. "Now, like me, you have all come to be here largely due to our disappointment with the modern way of life. We're dropouts, hippies, crusties, whatever people like to call us, but we're all united in this respect. We hate the way the world is, we despise its materialism and greed, and we despair of seeing a just society, which cares about the environment. So, we've rejected it, and here we are, minding our own business, looking after ourselves, and keeping out of the rat race...."
"Actually, I'd like to challenge that remark". A young man with a long ponytail and a bone through his nose stood up. "You can speak for yourself but I've faced water cannons with the best of them!"
"Yeah, and I've broken a few shop windows in my time!" agreed another villager who glowered indignantly from under generously pierced eyebrows.
"And I've knocked dozens of policemen's helmets off!" exclaimed another tree person proudly.
At this, several others started boasting about their past achievements until Laurel had to clap her hands to get their attention.
"Look, I'm not here to criticise anyone. What you do or don't is entirely up to you. The fact is we may be very quick to join a riot when it suits us, but are we willing to get personally involved? Are we prepared to help three kids who, for no fault of their own, are up against sinister powers intend on destroying their family?"
"So what's in it for us?" asked a villager.
"Yeah" said another "is it ecological, I ask myself?"
"Or ethical" remarked Beech. "After all, these kids' parents could be fascists for all we know."
"They might even be bankers! Or tax collectors!" someone suggested. "Or meat eaters!" cried a wag, wearing what looked like a bin bag over his head. Some of the villagers laughed, infuriating the more fanatical vegetarians amongst them. Laurel sighed with frustration. "Can we please stick to the point!" she begged.
"The point being.....?" came the bored reply from a man who was virtually covered with tattoos.
"The point being.... who is prepared to help these children find their family and rescue them?"
The village council began to groan again with most of the members unable to see any reason to help two snotty little middle-class school kids. All except for one rather pale, skinny young man with extraordinary dreadlocks, which twisted and twirled in every direction but his scalp. Hed been listening intently to Laurels pleas and was deeply disturbed by them.
Noticing his thoughtful expression, Laurel turned to address him directly. "What do you think, Roots?" asked Laurel.
"I think, he began falteringly, I mean…that is…what I think is, that every little person who gets stolen away from his house should have an automatic right to be rescued, and if no-one else will do it, then…then it ought to be us. That's what I think..... and I'd like it to go on record, please!"
"Rescued from what? School detention?" someone demanded. There was another roar of laughter, which quickly died out as Laurel took her position in the middle of the circle and, with arms akimbo, she turned gradually to challenge each villager with a long hard stare. Miles was very impressed. "Not even Alice could compete with that!" he thought.
Once satisfied she had everyone shifting uneasily at her silent reproach, Laurel spoke softly but with authority.
"From forces so corrupt, so pitiless, so.... EVIL, they make your worst fascist, capitalist nightmare seem like a fairytale in comparison!" There was a pause, broken only by a few nervous titters. Then Laurel continued. "Has anyone here heard the name Elymas?"
Most of the villagers shook their heads, although one or two gasps could be heard. Eventually, a large, ginger-haired man in a homemade kilt rose to his feet.
"Did I hear you say Elymas?" he asked gravely.
"That's what you heard, Gordon" Laurel replied.
"And you say hes after these poor wee creatures?"
"He is", said Laurel.
Gordon spat with contempt. "That's what I think of Elymas! And if he's got the clout to be rounding up innocent children from their schools and dragging them out of their very beds.....then anyone with any decency has a duty to use every skills and every wit and every fibre of their souls to stop him!"
Another man stood up. Unlike most of the others, his head was shaved and he sported a goatee beard. "I've heard of Elymas too, but I thought it was just another conspiracy theory. No one can be that evil, that depraved. And if only half of what I've heard is true..... then there's no hope for any of us!"
"Rubbish!" snarled Gordon "He's a mere mortal who can bleed like anyone else. Count me in, I'll help the children, right enough! Who knows, I might even get the chance to spit in the devil's own face, him and his cronies!"
Laurel glanced around the council. "Anyone else prepared to volunteer?"
After a while, Larch rose to his feet. "Not that I'm bothered about the children, mind," he mumbled, desperate to maintain his hard man image,  "but it's a long time since I last saw any action and I'm getting rusty."
Beech too rose to his feet. I could do with some practice, myself. He announced. I dont know who this Elymas is, but Im always up for a riot in the interests of justice, of course! He added, a little too quickly to be convincing.
Just then, Miles thought of another very important reason for the tree people to help them and he sprang eagerly to his feet. "And I'll tell you something else about those horrible men. When we were trying to escape, they set fire to the wood near Alice's school and burnt it!  ALL of it! All those wonderful trees!
Gasps of horror engulfed the Council and, almost immediately, to a man (and woman) the rest of the assembly stood up, including Horse who growled angrily, "I haven't a clue who this Elymas is either, but anyone who murders my brothers deserves a good pasting, and no mistake!
Laurel hugged each one of the volunteers. "I knew you'd help!" she said.
"There was never any doubt of that with me" said Gordon swirling a rope enthusiastically.
"You're such a big softie!" Laurel exclaimed, and flung her arms around his massive neck.
"Soft in the head, you mean" Larch said. "So let's get practical. Tell us Miles, where did these nasty beggars take your brother then?"
Miles wracked his brain. He remembered one of the men referring to a place, which was on the tip of his tongue. "I think it was....Bab...babble...babbly....."
"Come on Laddie, stop babbling!" rapped Gordon. "Have you any idea what SORT of place it is?"
It took several more minutes for Miles to think, but at last, he remembered something. "It was a treat, I think he said. Yes, a Treat....the Babel Retreat at Moorside!"
"The Babel Retreat!" cried Larch. "You must be joking! We'll never get in there!"
"Aye, it'd be easier to break into Buckingham Palace!" said Gordon, and then his craggy face broke into a grin. "But then, Im always up for a challenge. So, whos with us then?! Who's for Babel?" And the whole assembly cheered.
Extract from The Runaway Children Volume 1 - Flight from the Nunjas