My Mate Thomas
A Children's story by John Birchã
(This story, if you like it, prints onto 39 sides of A4 at 12 point, which makes reading it a bit clearer)
To return toHOME PAGE press here or us Back button on toolbar
CHAPTER ONE: In which an alien invasion of
earth is narrowly avoided
There are aliens living at number 34, Sabastopol Road! How do I know? Because my best mate Thomas told me... and he knows about things like that!
It all started last week when he went to the local library, and came out with this amazing book. Believe it or not, according to Thomas this book says that aliens can look almost identical to human beings - not at all like the green-slimy-blobby-things-with-tentacles that I imagined they would be.
Which is a bit of a disappointment, really.
Anyway, the truly amazing thing is that the family at number 34 fit the description exactly.
Can you imagine it - aliens living in our road, and we never suspected a thing!
Thomas told me that he wouldn't have sussed them out at all, if it hadn't been for the appearance of their new car. Well, it's not really what you'd call a new car - it's a very old dirty three-wheeler - but it's painted this most amazing shade of purple. Thomas' Dad says that anyone willing to be seen driving around in that must be weird, and his Mum says that the colour is truly out of this world.
Well, it would be, wouldn't it?
This morning we went down the road past number 34. He showed me their interstellar communications system, with its satellite dish on the side wall.
Thomas pointed upwards. 'That's how they keep in touch with the Mother ship,' he explained. 'It's in orbit... somewhere up there!'
I couldn't see a spacecraft anywhere - only a seagull and rain. 'Gosh!' I said. 'Does that mean that there are more of them... up there?'
'Of course it does, stupid!' Thomas replied. 'They come and go all the time - beamed up and down like on Star Trek!'
There was obviously a strong case for further investigation. We crouched down behind Mr Willis's bread van, which was conveniently parked over the road from the aliens' house - or Earth Command Headquarters, as Thomas now called it. We kept watch for absolutely ages looking for signs of activity, and aliens getting beamed down, but there didn't seem to be anyone at home.
'They're probably out there already,' said Thomas confidently. 'Planning to take over the universe, I expect!'
'Oh yes,' he said. 'They'll be out there now, somewhere, looking for a suitable landing site!'
'A LANDING SITE!'
'Ready for the invasion, of course!'
This was starting to sound serious. 'But why would aliens want to come and take over our road?' I asked.
'Because their planet is about to blow up, and they need somewhere else to live, of course!'
'But where would they all live?' I asked anxiously. 'My sister's been on the council waiting list for months!'
'Don't be a twat!' said Thomas, thumping me. 'They'll get rid of us all first...' He paused for a second and then frowned. 'Or maybe they'd just take over our bodies!'
'Yes, that's more likely. They'd take over our bodies, and then they wouldn't have to dispose of all the corpses!'
'But can't we stop them?' I shivered just at the thought of an alien taking over my body - I'd have to make sure my underpants were clean.
'No chance!' said Thomas. 'It's a bit too late now, I'm afraid.'
'Well,' he said. 'My Dad complained to the council when they played music too loud one weekend. He said that they ought to go back to where they came from - but even the council couldn't do anything!'
'So is there nothing we can do?'
'All we can do is keep watching - and let the BBC know when we think the Mother ship is about to land!'
'Why the BBC?' I asked.
'So that they can warn everyone on the 6 o'clock news. Then people can be on the look-out for aliens entering their bodies!'
This was all getting a bit too much for me to handle. But just as panic was beginning to set in, we were disturbed from our vitally important mission by the return of Mr Willis - who told us to clear off.
In fact he used stronger words than that, because I think he was under the impression we were messing about with his van. Not that we would of course, because Mr Willis is over 6ft tall and built like a Sumo wrestler - rather like my Aunty Madge.
I wanted to stop, and tell him that we were on a vitally important mission to save the world and Sabastopol Rd from being overrun by aliens, but Thomas grabbed my sleeve and pulled me away.
'He wouldn't understand!' Thomas panted. 'Older people never do!'
As we were running down the road, a purple three-wheeler went past, making an odd sort of clattering noise. Muffled bangs and puffs of black smoke came out of the exhaust pipe.
'There!' Thomas pointed towards the little car. 'I told you they were aliens!'
I looked through the clouds of smoke at the figures sitting in the car. 'But Thomas... they look normal!'
He thumped me again - which is one of his more annoying habits. 'That's what I've been trying to tell you, stupid. The more normal they look, the more alien they are!'
'But my Uncle Bert looks ever so normal... and he comes from Birmingham!'
'You heard the car, though,' said Thomas angrily. 'You're not going to tell me that it sounded like yours, are you?'
I had to admit that as I listened to the little car squeal and judder to a halt outside number 34, it did indeed sound just a little bit unreal.
'That's because it's a spacecraft disguised as a car!'
'You can tell by the noise... '
'Anyway,' said Thomas. 'I'm going home for tea!'
'But what about the aliens?' I said. 'Aren't we going to carry on watching them?'
'Dunno,' said Thomas. 'I think I might go hunting for fossils tomorrow. I know where there's the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex buried, you know!'
'But shouldn't we phone the BBC... or let Patrick Moore know about the aliens... did you say a Tyrannosaurus Rex?'
'At the bottom of our garden, underneath my Dad's rockery - I'll let you dig it up if you like?'
'You bet! See you tomorrow then... Bye!'
A Tyrannosaurus Rex! I wish I knew as much about things as Thomas. He's ever so clever, you know - and my best mate!
Eccles cakes and Leprechauns
We've lived in Sabastopol Road since I was born. In fact I think our family's lived here as long as there's been a Sabastopol Road, which according to my Dad is just after the Bored War - whatever that was.
My Gran used to have our house, before she got doddery and had to go into the Nursing home. Gran's a joyrider now - she nicks the other ladies Zimmer frames, then forgets where she's left them. They keep threatening to chuck her out for being a troublemaker, and them Mum and Dad have to go round and beg them not to do it.
I like my Gran!
Our road was not a very nice or safe place to live until Mr and Mrs Evans and their horrid daughter Lucy moved out of number 50 last year. She was thirteen and fat, and hated boys so much that she couldn't go a whole day without sitting on one. At school we nicknamed her Lucifer, and imagined her on a night when there was a full moon creeping out to suck childrens' blood, convinced that anyone that horrid must be a vampire. The only person who got on with her was Ben Gracefield, but then he wasn't afraid to hit her back.
The Stranges are much nicer, and their son Thomas is my best friend.
It was Thomas who told me about the little people at the bottom of his next door neighbours' garden.
I haven't actually seen the little people myself. In fact I'm fairly certain that Thomas is the only person ever to have seen them - but then, that's the sort of boy he is!
I went round to his house yesterday, hoping that he might show me where the little people lived. But it was a bit disappointing really. Thomas told me that they'd all gone out for the day - it being very warm and sunny.
'They like to go down to the beach when it's nice,' he explained. 'It helps them to get a suntan started, ready for when they go on their holidays in the summer.'
'But there's no beach round here,' I said, rather puzzled by this revelation. 'We're miles and miles from the nearest seaside, and that's only Middletown. My Mum says the beach at Middletown isn't fit to walk on, even with Wellies!'
'They don't go that far, stupid!' he replied with a sigh. 'They go down the builders' yard and use the pile of sand in the corner - after the workmen have gone home for lunch. That gives them at least two hours to sunbathe!'
Isn't it funny how you can live in a street all your life and not realise what's happening on own your doorstep. And yet Thomas can! It's really amazing.
'So where do they go on their holidays, then?' I asked.
'Ireland usually,' said Thomas. 'They've got distant relatives over there.'
'You mean... Leprechauns?'
'Probably...' began Thomas. But then his Mother called him in for tea, so I had to go home before I could find out any more. Thomas's Mother has an annoying knack of doing things like that - It's almost as if she doesn't want him to tell me about these vitally important things.
After tea Thomas told me a little bit more about the little people. Apparently they live in a large hollow tree trunk which sits in the middle of the hedge which separates his garden from number 52.
'It's quite big inside,' he explained. 'there are four floors, with six rooms on each floor - and five toilets!'
'Of course,' said Thomas. 'They need that many 'cos there's so many people living there. Otherwise they'd spend all day queueing to get in the loo, wouldn't they?'
It all seemed to make some sort of sense, the way Thomas explained it. And the prospect of finding some at the bottom of my garden was also worth getting a bit excited about. 'Do you think there are any little people at the bottom of our garden?' I asked.
'Shouldn't think so,' Thomas replied quickly, and then noticing my disappointment, added. 'There aren't many little people around these days, unfortunately!'
'Oh!' I said, rather lamely.
Thomas assumed one of his 'All Knowing' expressions, which of course he is entitled to do seeing as he knows so much. 'I think it's probably because of pollution and the hole in the ozone layer and... things like that!'
'So there might have been... once?'
'Oh yes,' he said. 'Every garden in the country used to have little people in it. Take a look when you get home, and I'll bet that you'll find a little hole somewhere that used to home to a family of them.'
I made a mental note to have a real good look around our poor excuse for a garden, in the morning before I went to school. There were several possible sites that sprang to mind, and of course there was also the very remote possibility that they hadn't all died out. Now that would make people think...
'Er.. what do they look like, these little people?'
'Oh, it varies,' said Thomas. 'The bigger ones are about as tall as your middle finger, but the children are really tiny. You have to be ever so careful not to tread on them. There's one family, the Wiffles who have ten children, and the little baby is no bigger than your fingernail!'
'Amazing!' I said. 'And you've actually talked to them?'
'Of course I have,' snapped Thomas. 'Isn't that what I already told you?'
'But weren't they scared of you?'
'That's why I offered them some food, as a gift.'
'What did you give them?' I asked, for reference in case I needed to know.
'In fact,' saidThomas. 'I gave them some of my Mum's Eccles cakes, which as you know are totally delicious!'
'And they liked them?'
'Well of course they did, silly!' said Thomas. 'Everybody likes my Mum's Eccles cakes. And when they saw that I was their friend and wasn't going to tread on them, they were fine. Now I know lots of them by name.'
'If you want to know, all their surnames start with the letter W. My best friends are the Wiggles, the Wiffles and the Wobbles!'
'So what more do you know about them?' I asked, determined to find out all I could before Thomas lost interest - he does tend to do that after a while.
Thomas gazed upwards as if in deepest thought. 'Well...' he said, after a short while, 'They invited me to lunch last week!'
'Yes... We had a very nice picnic at the bottom of the garden. They would have liked to do a proper cooked meal, but their dining room is a bit too small for me to squeeze in, and the cooker had broken down!'
'And what sort of things do they eat?'
'Oh, they eat lettuce, and wild flowers, and the occasional beetle. In fact Mrs Wiffle makes a very nice woodlouse stew!'
'Urgh..!' I cried. 'You ate woodlouse stew? That's gross!'
Thomas ignored my expressions of disgust. 'And then after lunch she showed me how they help spiders knit their webs!'
'Do they really do that?'
'Oh yes,' said Thomas. 'They're very clever when it comes to knitting. Mrs Waffle offered to knit me a jumper - but then decided that I might have grown old and died before she got it finished!'
'And what happened after that?' I asked, imagining perhaps that the little people put on a flying display or granted him three wishes.
'Oh, it started raining, so I had to go in,' he said. 'I haven't seen them since!'
'But don't you want to see them again,' I was desperate by now to get my first sighting of a fairy. 'Couldn't you show me them, please... I won't let on, honest!'
'Maybe,' said Thomas with a sigh. 'But not now!'
'Because,' he said quietly. 'There's more important work needs doing first.'
'Oh, didn't I tell you?' Thomas put his arm around my shoulder and whispered into my ear. 'The people at number 27 are international spies working for a foreign government...'
' And I'm the only one who knows!'
'What are you going to do about them?'
'Prove it, of course!' replied Thomas. 'There's probably a reward..'
'Gosh! Can I help?'
'Maybe...' he answered thoughtfully, lowering his voice again. 'Maybe you could bug their house!'
Thomas bent down and picked up a large, black beetle.
In which a submarine is almost spotted
There's a small industrial park at the end of Sabastopol Road. It goes down to the old canal which runs along one side of the town. There were lots of folk down there a couple of years ago, clearing out all the weeds and shopping trollies and old prams that seemed to have found there way into it. Dad reckons that it's a bit like the elephants' graveyard, except that we've discovered where trolleys go to die.
Uncle Clive says the canal used to be very busy with barges in the old days, carrying coal and other things up to the Midlands. But now it's just for tourists, and little kids trying to catch the non-existant fish that don't live there. Uncle Clive pulls a barge on it at the weekends, taking day trippers down to the Olde Swan pub for lunch and then back again - Well, he doesn't actually pull it himself, that's the job of Clarence his horse, as long as there's a constant supply of sugar lumps and he's in a good mood.
It amazes me that Clarence has still got a full set of teeth, the amount of sugar he eats - because he never cleans them. I'd be down the dentist every week with raging toothache if it were me. It's just not fair!
There aren't many factories on the park. Just a small clothing firm, a fruit and vegetable merchant, a firm that makes electrical things, and a couple of large warehouses.
My Aunty Madge worked for the clothing firm for years, and used to bring me T-shirts and things that had gone wrong when they were being made.
'Shame to dump them!' she'd say, as yet another carrier bag stuffed with things was thrown at me. I mean, can you imagine what sort of nerd would dare be seen dead in public with a T-shirt that has three sleeves, or one with SAVE THE WALES or I LOVE MICKEY MOOSE printed on it.
Truth be told, my Aunty Madge is two stitches short of a jumper, if you know what I mean.
Anyway, all this has nothing much to do with what I really wanted to say. Which is, that according to my mate Thomas, the warehouse with the three big sliding doors in the front is actually a factory secretly making submarines.
Yes, you heard me right - submarines!
Now, I must admit that when Thomas told me this, I did find it slightly difficult to believe. I always imagined that submarines would be built by the sea, where they could be launched easily. We live miles and miles away from the sea. The nearest is at Middletown, and that wouldn't be a pleasant place to launch a submarine anyway. There are a lot of rocks and the remains of the pier, which collapsed into the sea many years ago. Not to mention all the plastic bottles and rubbish that get washed ashore.
Well, Thomas reckons that they are indeed making submarines at the end of our road - and testing them in the canal!
'It's obvious!' he said, 'That's why those conservation people were clearing out all the rusty supermarket trolleys. They spent absolutely ages doing it up, and now it's clean enough for submarine testing.'
'But my Uncle Clive hasn't mentioned anything about submarines, and he walks the canal every week!'
'Ah,' said Thomas. 'But he only uses it at the weekend, doesn't he?'
'They test the submarines on a Wednesday and Thursday, so it's no wonder he hasn't seen anything!'
'But how do you know about all this,' I asked.
'I was down on the tow-path last Wednesday, and saw one!'
'Well...' said Thomas. 'I saw the periscope sticking up out of the water. Then it turned round, and the Captain must have seen me looking. He was probably scared I might tell, so he ordered the submarine to dive.'
'And... ' said Thomas triumphantly. ' That warehouse is the only building that backs onto the canal. They probably have an underground tunnel through which the submarine passes, between the factory and the canal... it's obvious when you think about it, isn't it?'
So I made Thomas promise he'd show me where they were testing the submarines, after school that afternoon. I wanted to ask our history teacher what he thought about Thomas' theory, because Mr Bligh was in the navy during the war. But Thomas said it was better not to say anything in case it brought back any nasty memories.
I thought that was very considerate of Thomas, not wanting to upset a teacher.
Anyway, instead of going straight home when the bell went, I dragged Thomas off submarine spotting. We made our way as quietly as possible along the tow-path, keeping to the side with all the hawthorn trees and trying not to make ourselves too conspicuous, in case we should scare a submarine captain and force him into diving to the bottom of the canal.
As soon as we were within sight of the large warehouse, we ducked behind a large bush and started our periscope watch. I hoped that it wouldn't be too long, because the bush was very prickly, there was a cold wind blowing, and the damp had found its way through my jeans.
'Will we definitely see one?' I asked after what seemed like hours, but was probably four or five uncomfortable minutes.
'Don't see why not,' said Thomas. 'Unless they made masses of them last week, and then...' He suddenly thumped me, and pointed over to his right. 'Did you see it?'
I picked myself up off the ground. 'See what?' I wheezed.
'Over there... Over there!' he shouted. 'A periscope!'
I looked across the water to where he seemed to be pointing. Circular ripples were making their way lazily towards the bank. Further down the canal, a diving bird came up for air. I looked long and hard at the ripples, willing a submarine to surface within them, but there was nothing.
Thomas saw the look of disappointment on my face. 'Did you miss it, then?'
'Afraid so,' I sighed. 'All I saw were ripples, and that could have been a fish... or a bird!'
'But it wasn't!' said Thomas sharply. 'It was a submarine. If we're lucky we might see it surface again further down the canal. Come on...'
And with that, he grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet, almost dragging me along behind him as we ran down the tow-path.
As we passed the track leading up to the recreation ground, Thomas pointed again at the canal. 'Look, there it is again... Over there!'
I stopped and looked hard to where he was pointing, but all I could see was the neck and head of a diving bird sticking up out of the water about 100m away.
'Are you sure?' I asked tentatively. 'It does look awfully like a bird to me... '
Thomas thumped me again - he does a lot of that - and started walking back the way we'd just come. 'That's the trouble with you,' he sulked. 'You never believe me when I tell you things!'
I caught him up. 'But I do, Thomas...I do... It's just that however I look at the periscope, it still looks like a bird!'
'And has it never occurred to you that a disguise like that would be perfect for fooling enemy ships... No, I bet it hasn't!
He was dead right, it hadn't!
Looking back, I could see that Thomas was right. It would be perfect camouflage - After all, it had fooled me!
'Sorry Thomas, 'I said meekly. 'Can we come again tomorrow and see if there's any more submarines being tested?'
'Not tomorrow,' he said thoughtfully. 'There's something else needs doing tomorrow!'
'There's treasure to be found!'
'Oh, didn't I tell you?' Thomas said lightly. 'I found a pirate treasure map in our attic the other day!'
'It's got a big X where the treasure is hidden. I thought we might dig it up and see how many Doubloons and Pieces of Eight there are!'
'Gosh! Can I help?'
'Possibly,' said Thomas thoughtfully. 'The treasure seems to be hidden in the middle of next doors' lawn, according to the map. But it's OK because they're on holiday for a fortnight. You could make a start after school tomorrow, if you like?'
That's the thing I like about Thomas. He always lets me help him, even with some of the really secret things he discovers!
'You bet!' I said excitedly.
'Anyway, I'm going home for tea now. See you tomorrow, then!'
'See you, Thomas... and don't forget the map!'
'Right,' shouted Thomas from his gate. 'And don't you forget your spade!'
A discovery regarding Thomas' ancestry
There aren't many other kids living in Sabastoppol Road, which is a bit of a pain. I think it's got something to do with the types of houses, or the fact that there's a good bus service into town every ten minutes. They seem to attract old people like magnets, and then no sooner are they settled in and getting to like living there they die off and another lot move in. At least that's what happened with old Mrs Butterworth and Mr Lewis.
With Mr Lewis it wasn't just old age that did him in - he walked under a number 42 bus - but he was over eighty, and probably wouldn't have lasted much longer anyway. It was a shame about the Houses of Parliament though!
Mr Lewis's hobby was making things with matches, and the biggest and the best of these was going to be the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Unfortunately, Big Ben was short of a clock when he died.
His son let Aunty Madge have the Houses of Parliament when they cleared out the old man's stuff, but I don't think Mr Lewis would be too chuffed to see her old Donald Duck alarm clock stuck on the top of Big Ben. It just doesn't look right.
Anyway, it's because there's so few kids living in Sabastopol Road that me and Thomas sometimes hang around with Jenny Morris. It's not that she's anyones girlfriend, or anything like that - I mean, she likes Rolf Harris, furry animals and sprouts - but her Dad's got this really amazing vintage car. It's enormous, shiny silver and with a soft top that he winds down in the summer.
If we get into his good books by keeping Jenny out of his hair when he's busy, he rewards us all by taking us down to the park in his 'pride and joy', as he calls it.
It's the sort of car that people stare at when you drive past, and Jenny and Thomas insist on waving at them like royalty. It's all a bit embarrassing really, but it's funny watching the passers-by wonder who's in the car.
Thomas reckons that the reason why people stop and stare when he waves is that they think they recognize someone out of the Royal family. Therefore, it stood to reason that any resemblance must be because he used to be someone royal in a past life.
'I've definitely got the wave sussed out,' he said today after we'd been for a ride. 'It's a bit like that old clockwork robot of yours, just up and down like it's on a hinge. And that's all there is to it really. That and meeting lots of famous people of course!'
'And have you met any famous people?' I asked.
'I almost met the Prime Minister when I was small!' Thomas said proudly.
'Yea! He was in town kissing babies, and patting kids on the head!'
'I don't remember that...'
'That's what all politicians do, you know!' Thomas gave one of his all-knowing shrugs of the shoulder. 'It's the only way they can get voted in!'
'So what happened,' I asked, striking Prime Minister off the list of jobs to do when I left school - I've seen messy babies, and you wouldn't catch me kissing one.
'He patted my head, and I was sick all over his shirt!'
'Gosh!' I replied. 'And didn't they arrest you, or put you in the Tower of London?'
'Nah!' said Thomas. 'He just laughed!'
'And clouted me round the ear!'
'.....So who do you reckon you're related to, then... Henry the eighth?'
Thomas thought about the question for a moment or two. 'No... William the Conker... Definitely!'
'You mean 1066 and all that stuff?'
'Yea!' said Thomas confidently. 'It was probably me that shot wassname... Harold through the eye. I'm dead good with a bow and arrow, you know!'
I must have got an 'I'm not too sure about that' expression on my face, because he then added 'Anyway, my middle name's William, so there!'
What could I say? Thomas the Conkeror! I was in the presence of someone related to last weeks history lesson! No wonder he always won at conkers - and I thought it was because he soaked them in vinegar like I do.
This was head-spinning news. What on earth would the teachers say at school? That old witch Mrs Williams would have to curtsey to Thomas when she came into the classroom from now on, instead of throwing pieces of chalk at him, and trying to wake him up in the middle of the lesson.
There was one thought which crossed my mind, however. 'Er... Thomas?' I said tentatively.
'Mmm...?' He seemed deep in thought, and was wrapping a large beach towel around his shoulders like a cape.
'If you're related to William the Conker,' I said. 'Does that mean I'm related to anyone famous?'
'Dunno,' Thomas was cutting a crown out of a cornflakes packet, and sticking the ends together with sticky tape. 'What's your middle name?'
I knew he was going to say that! My middle name is a constant source of embarrassment to me, and a reminder that all parents go mental occasionally.
'Does it have to be your middle name?' I asked.
'Oh!' I replied, sullenly.
'Is that a problem?' asked Thomas, crown on head, caped and with a blue plastic sword hanging from his belt. 'What's your middle name?'
'Digby!' I mumbled.
There was a pause, then another one as Thomas and Jenny tried very hard not to dissolve into fits of giggles.
'It's not my fault!' I protested. 'I wouldn't have chosen it. My Dad came home drunk the night they were choosing names - it was either that or Ethel, after my Dad's cousin from Great Yarmouth!'
Thomas did his best to keep a straight face. 'Digby, eh?' he said thoughtfully. 'Don't think there's been many King Digbys, has there Jenny?'
Jenny couldn't talk because she was giggling too much. She just shook her head and spluttered.
'Might have been the odd Prince Digby... or Baron Digby, I suppose...'
'And there was a big dog in a Walt Disney cartoon called Digby, I think...' added Thomas.
'Oh, thank you very much!' I shouted.
'My middle name's Victoria!' said Jenny.
'It would be!' I said sharply, before stalking off home to sulk in the comfort of my bedroom.
I could tell my Mum was in the kitchen cooking tea even before I got to the gate. No-one burns fish fingers quite like my Mum.
I hovered in the doorway until she noticed me. 'Mum...?' I started sheepishly.
'Yes dear, what's the matter now?' There was smoke coming from under the grill, but I ignored it - I find that's the best thing to do with parents.
'You know my... middle name?'
Mum pulled the smouldering remains of my tea from under the grill, and threw the lot out of the back door, narrowly missing the vicar who was about to call. I noticed that he changed his mind and went next door instead - wise man.
'Your middle name?' she repeated. 'What about it? I can't keep apologising for your Father's complete lack of taste, dear!'
I sighed. This was going to be as difficult as I'd feared. 'I was just wondering if I was named after anyone...famous?'
Mum laughed as she trawled more fish fingers out of the freezer and popped them under the grill. 'Famous, is it?' she said with a smile. 'Well, let me see... You were called Digby after your Father's Great Uncle, Digby Birtwhistle!'
I cringed at the name. 'And was he famous?'
She laughed again. 'Well, he did have his one moment of fame!'
'He was a great worker for charities in his day...'
'Is that all?' I moaned.
'Don't interrupt, dear... And one day he was rewarded for his efforts when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited the town...'
'He got to ride in their carriage to the town hall!'
'There's an old newspaper cutting about it somewhere. Your Father found it when they were clearing out the old boys' house after he died...'
'Show me!' I screamed, then added quietly, 'Please...?'
I ran all the way round to Thomas's house to show him the cutting. I took it out of my bag and showed it proudly, explaining how my ancestor had actually ridden in the same carriage as the Queen and Prince Albert - just like we did in Jenny's Dad's vintage car.
'Really?' said Thomas, hardly glancing at the discoloured piece of newspaper. Isn't it awful when friends do that to you. I mean, when your middle name's Digby you don't have a lot going for you, and this was big news for me. I felt like saying something really nasty, but bit my lip and ignored his rudeness.
'So what do we do now?' I asked cheerfully. 'Do we tell the witch Williams that she's got to be extra-specially nice to you from now on, or you'll have her executed?'
'Not a good idea!' said Thomas quickly. 'I think we'd better keep this whole thing quiet...'
'Terrorists!' said Thomas quietly, switching the subject in a way that only Thomas knows how. 'We have to beware of terrorists!'
'In Sabastopol Road?'
'Definitely!' said Thomas, putting his arm round my shoulder and leading me off to class. 'I've got my eye on the folk at number 12... very suspicious!'
'What...Mr and Mrs Marsden?'
And to think I actually accepted an aniseed ball from Mrs Marsden the other day - it could have been cyanide!
There be tresur burid ere
You know the sort of day that starts off really badly and then just seems to get worse and worse. Well, when you've got a friend like Thomas, days like that seem to come round quite often. This particular day had started with the fire brigade rushing round to our house after the neighbours phoned to say smoke was coming out of the windows. It's a sign that they're new round here, otherwise they'd have known it was just Mum burning, sorry cooking, my Dad's breakfast. Anything she cooks involves lots of smoke. Even the smoke detector knows that now and keeps quiet - at least that's what Dad says.
Well, to save aggravation, and possibly food poisoning, I started the day without breakfast, which is not a good idea as by ten o'clock I was absolutely starving and seriously fed up. Not only that, it was double maths and french in the morning. So I started thinking about what I could do when I got home. It had to be something interesting, and I was not thinking about homework, I asure you. Then it hit me; what about the pirate treasure map that Thomas had given me.
So when I finally escaped from school it was home and up to my bedroom to look for the map. It was very old, you could tell that because it was brown round the edges and had a funny smell - a bit like coffee actually. The pirate's biro had run out halfway down the page, because he'd changed from black to blue. Perhaps he'd been drinking coffee when he made the map.
Isn't it amazing what you can find out about history just by looking at things.
Anyway, it was pretty obvious where the treasure was buried. For a start, you could tell that it was Thomas's neighbours' garden by the drawing of their fancy summer house. There was also an enormous X scrawled over the word 'LORN', and by the side of that the pirate had put
TRESUR BERID ERE
It's a good job he didn't go to our school, or he'd end up like Thomas, doing extra spelling for homework.
I borrowed dad's spade and, trying to look as innocent as possible walked up the road and through the gate of Thomas' neighbours. Looking at the map, it was easy to see where I should start digging, so without further ado atht's just what I did. It was dead easy for a while. In fact I couldn't understand why Thomas hadn't already dug it up, as he usually leaves the hard work to me and grabs the easy stuff himself.
After about half an hour I'd got a hole about a metre square and about the same deep. It was very impressive.
At one point I did just wonder what Thomas's neighbours would think, when they came back off their holidays and found the lawn dug up. But Thomas had assured me that it would be all right, and after all if there was buried treasure then they'd be dead chuffed, and might let us keep some. In fact, as it was me doing all the hard work, I should have the most.
I tried imagining all the things that I might buy out of my share of the treasure. Of course, there would be the problem of the local papers. No doubt they'd want a picture of me holding up hand-fulls of doubloons and pieces-of-eight - but I reckoned that I could cope with being famous.
There would also be all the other kids at school trying to be friendly on the off chance that I might share a bit with them. Now there was a nice thought, that snotty-nosed Nigel Humphries who's always shooting off with his folks on foreign holidays, suddenly finding someone richer than him - just the thought of that precious moment to come was enough to spur me on to further digging.
The next half hour was tougher, as I seemed to strike a solid wodge of clay. There was also a big pipe in the way, but when I hit it with the spade it broke easily, which was good. Then my nice hole started to fill up with water, which was not so good. I tried fitting the bits of the pipe back together but they didn't seem to want to, and it didn't take long to realise that it was becoming bit of a lost cause. The water was also starting to lap over the top of my wellies. It seemed a good point at which to go and consult Thomas.
I climbed over the fence and after emptying the water from my boots looked up at the house. There was a light on in his bedroom, so I threw a pebble at the window to attract his attention. After a few moments, the window was opened, and Thomas poked his head out.
'What's up...?' he started to say. Then took one look at the state I was in, glanced over the fence to the neighbours' garden, and seemed to go very pale. His mouth was opening and closing, but I couldn't make out what he was trying to say. Then he pointed at something and started trying to tear his hair out - weird or not?
'I was doing really well,' I shouted brightly. 'Up to my waist in the hole before it started filling up with water!'
'Aaaaarggh!' came the reply. It was a great impression of a cat being strangled - Thomas is good at impressions, especially the Headmaster and old Mrs Pritchard. You should have heard him after the Head screamed at the whole school on Monday for singing the wrong words to the hymn in assembly. They were good words as well, and they rhymed - Thomas had spent a long time teaching us them.
'There wasn't anything on the map about a pipe,' I shouted. 'So I thought I'd better come and see what you want me to do next.'
'I don't suppose pirates would bother about water,' I said helpfully. 'Only it's getting a bit difficult now, what with all the mud, and my wellies leaking... I think it might be flowing towards the house!'
Thomas's head disappeared for a moment, followed by the sound of feet thumping down stairs and doors slamming. He reappeared at the back door, pushed past me and leapt over the fence into his next door neighbours' garden.
'You Wally!' he screamed. 'How could you! What on Earth have you done!'
I turned and frowned. 'But you said I was to dig a hole, Thomas...'
'I didn't mean actually dig an actual hole, stupid!'
'But how can you actually dig a hole, without actually digging it?'
'You just don't, that's all!' he screamed, frantically trying to fill in the hole, despite the fact that it now resembled a muddy duckpond. Even a swan flying overhead made a second pass just to see what the accommodation was like.
'You should have known!'
'That the map wasn't real!'
This was news to me. 'You mean...'
'Where do pirates live, stupid?'
'And where do we find ships?'
'...On the sea?'
'And how far from here is the sea?'
There was a horrible squelching noise as Thomas slipped into the hole, followed by some words which he probably learned off Simon Potter. ' ...Miles and miles, that's how far the sea is from here!'
Next doors' garden - and Thomas - were getting muddier and muddier by the second. As fast as he threw the soil back into the hole, the horrible sloppy mud splashed back over him and across the lawn - which now looked less like a bowling green and more like a paddy field.
To be honest, I was still a bit confused by the whole business. After all, hadn't Thomas assured me that the pirate treasure map that he'd given me was the genuine article, and hadn't he said only a couple of days ago that I could start digging without him - So he can't really complain if I simply do what he asks me to do, now can he?
Eventually Thomas realised that he had as much chance of winning the battle of the duck pond as he had of getting Victoria Dobbs to give him a kiss behind the school kitchen. With a cry of despair, he squelched back over the fence and pushed past me, muttering as he went in a rather despairing way. 'How could you...how could you?'
'Did I dig in the wrong place?' I asked nervously. 'Was it too deep?....Too wide?....Too narrow?....I don't understand, Thomas....What went wrong?'
Thomas turned around in the doorway, looking like one of those slimy monsters out of Dr Who, and dripping mud all over the floor. 'Everything!' he screamed, before slamming the door shut.
'Does that mean we've given up on the treasure hunting?' I shouted.
'Aaarggh!' came the reply from inside.
There's just no pleasing some folk!
The Thomas way to riches
When I grow up and leave school, I've decided that I'm going to be world famous. A world famous what I haven't yet decided, but my Uncle Bert says that it's very important to aim for the very best in everything that you do - and he's the best Uncle Bert I know, so it's worked for him.
'I thought just the same,' said my Dad, as we were talking about what we'd do if we won the lottery. 'Said that by the time I was twenty five I'd be a millionaire, own three Rolls Royces, a luxury yacht and a string of successful racehorses. Then I'd marry a glamorous and sexy model, build a mansion in the Bahamas and live happily ever after!'
I'm not quite sure when things started going wrong with his dreams, because then Dad started crying the more he thought about it. But I do know from Uncle Bert that at the age of twenty five he was broke, driving round in a rusty pink Lada, and breeding pigeons in Grandad's shed. Then he married my Mum who worked behind the cheese counter in Tescos, moved into Sabastopol Road - which isn't strictly in the Bahamas - and got a job with the council.
I'm also not too sure about the happily ever after bit - Dad says that starts when I leave home.
My mate Thomas reckons that he'll be a millionaire by the time he's twenty, which is really going some. To be honest, I think he probably will be, because Thomas has this amazing knack of being able to get money out of people.
Last month we did a sponsored swim to help raise money for refugees somewhere in Africa. I went all round my family and relations on bended knee, and ended up with a grand total of £26.25 and an old threepenny bit from Grandma - she's not quite all with us, if you know what I mean!
I thought I'd done really well, and went round to tell Thomas just how much I'd collected.
He'd got £250! I couldn't believe it! And do you know how he'd done it? He'd borrowed Jenny Morris's old doll, painted it black, and then splashed tomato ketchup all over the poor thing. Then he'd gone all round the neighbourhood. As soon as someone opened a door, he'd push the doll towards them, still dripping ketchup over their doorstep, and say that if they didn't sponsor him for lots then the real babies would get it!
I'm not sure that Mr Babstock the RE teacher who organised the fund raising would approve of this, but you've got to hand it to Thomas, it worked brilliantly. The only sticky moment apparently, was when Miss Jenkins at number 1 threw a wobbler and threatened to phone the police - her eyesight's not too good, and she thought it was a real baby. A neighbour had to give her a couple of tablets to quieten her down.
Miss Jenkins still hasn't forgiven Thomas, and gives us real dirty looks when we walk past her house.
If he doesn't make his fortune from robbing banks, then I've got a feeling that when Thomas gets older he's going to become a famous inventor, because he's always making things out of old bits of wood and meccano. Last summer he converted his old go-cart into a land yacht, by giving it a mast and sail. After he'd greased the wheels and put a 'go faster' stripe on the sides it looked dead good, and I'd swear the thing would have won the British Grand Prix if he'd entered - assuming the wind was in the right direction.
We launched it one Sunday along the canal tow path - or at least Thomas launched me with a heck of a kick - and with a gentle breeze behind me, everything seemed to be going fine. Then I saw Uncle Bert's horse Clarence.
I'd forgotten all about Uncle Bert and his weekend trips along the canal with his horse-drawn barge. I don't know who was more scared, me or Clarence.
When you're only a couple of feet off the ground, a fully grown cart-horse at close quarters looks like an elephant, and this was not the best moment to discover that Thomas hadn't equipped his go-cart with brakes. I jammed my heels into the gravel path, felt the rubber tearing off my shoes, pulled hard on the wheel and closed my eyes.
The cart swerved to the right, struck a large stone, and catapulted into the air, apparently managing a backward somersault before we landed in a tangle of cart, mast and sail among a load of Japanese tourists on Uncle Bert's barge.
The Japanese were terribly impressed, and took lots of pictures. Apparently they thought it was all included in the price. Uncle Bert was not amused!
Then there was Thomas's famous dog walking service. That started after we were watching Miss Myrtle and her fat corgi Booboo pass by one day.
'Look at that,' Thomas shook his head and sighed. 'Like a melon on legs!'
'She can't walk very far these days,' I said. 'My Mum says she suffers with Roomitisisimum or something!'
'Who, the dog or old Miss Myrtle?'
'Miss Myrtle, of course!'
'Well, I know something,' said Thomas. 'That dog of hers needs a good long walk, and that's what we're going to offer to do!'
When Thomas decides he's going to do something, then it takes someone a lot stronger than Miss Myrtle to stop him, and it didn't take him long to persuade her that Booboo would be a whole lot happier with a bit more exercise, and at the very reasonable rate of £1 a walk how could she possibly refuse?.
'Be careful boys,' she said nervously as Thomas took Booboo's lead for the first time. 'She's very delicate, is my precious Booboo!'
We started off with just Booboo and my Aunt Meg's spaniel, and took them for a walk down the road and back round by the canal. The two dogs seemed to get on fine, and by the end of the week both Miss Myrtle and Aunt Meg were beginning to notice the difference. Not only that, they were recommending our service to their neighbours - and that's when things started to go just a little bit haywire.
Rather than take a couple of dogs at a time, Thomas decided that it would be a whole lot easier if we took them all at once. So he made this contraption that several dog leads could be fastened to. Not only that, he said that if we put on our roller skates we could do the whole thing in half the time, double the number of dogs we could excercise in an afternoon, and make a massive profit.
Well, like most of Thomas's plans, it seemed perfectly sensible until we actually got started. Everything was going fine until Damien the dalmatian saw a rabbit on the canal bank. He took off an a truly amazing speed, almost strangling Booboo to whom he was chained, and nearly yanking me off my feet. Then Thomas's two dogs decided that this seemed like a nice game, and could they join in please.
It must have been a good ten minutes later that Damien finally gave up the chase. For the last four he'd been dragging along poor Booboo, whose eyes were now bulging alarmingly out of their sockets as she gasped for breath. The little dog now lay on the path, totally unable to move, paralysed with exhaustion except for a nervous twitch in its tail. I'll swear her little legs were three inches shorter!
Needless to say, poor Miss Myrtle nearly had a fit when she saw the state of her poor Booboo. Thomas decided that as it was me that had hold of the dog, then it should be me that returned it to its owner. It was a good half hour later that I deposited the dog into her arms like a sack of panting jelly, and made a tactical and very hasty retreat.
A couple of the other owners were also starting to get a bit concerned about the length of time that we'd been gone, and when Miss Myrtle starting telling folk that we'd tortured her poor Booboo, who was now a nervous wreck and refused to go out of the door, then the whole scheme collapsed.
There are other examples of Thomas's inventing and money making schemes, but to list them all would probably fill a book. One of these days though, I'm convinced that he'll think up something that won't get me into trouble....maybe!
Breakfast that isn't quite breakfast
and aliens that aren't quite aliens
Mum tried to burn the house down this morning. She was cooking Dad's breakfast at the time, and I don't think it was intentional, but it was very impressive at the time.
Dad's very brave really. It doesn't matter how blackened the sausage, wizened the bacon or congealed the egg, he just smiles and says, 'Thank you, my dearest!'
The one I feel sorry for is next door's cat, because Dad waits til Mum's not looking and then throws his breakfast out of the window and onto the lawn, whereupon it is immediately devoured by the enormous Tabbykins, a cat of very little brain who has to be carted off to the vet every now and then by Mrs Trollope to be 'seen to' .
Personally, I blame the diet, but I daren't say anything or Dad'll get into touble.
Anyway, back to the kitchen burning. I don't know the full details, because I wasn't actually there when the fun started. But according to Dad, Mum was just transferring a particularly soggy and greasy piece of fried bread from the pan to his plate, when it ignited and burst into flames.
Mum panicked, screamed and dropped the flaming bread onto her slipper and set that alight. She kicked off the slipper, which did a sort of flaming somersault into the waste paper basket under the curtains. Our cat, which until that moment had been enjoying a snooze in the basket leapt out, shot through the cat flap with its tail smouldering and jumped into the garden pond - just as Mrs Willis the postman, or is it postperson, was passing. She got a heck of a fright and dropped a whole pile of letters on the pavement, just as the wind picked up and blew them all over the road.
Meanwhile, the frying pan was still turned up full on the cooker, and as it started smoking Dad rushed from the table and made a grab for it, tripped over Mum's leg and they both ended up in a heap on the floor.
Then the fat in the frying pan burst into flames, the smoke alarm went bananas, and I thought I'd better phone 999.
Fortunately the Fire Station is only just round the corner in Paradise Street, and they're used to my Mum's cooking, so it didn't take them long to come and put the fire out. The worst bit was that with all the foam they used the Rice Krispies got wet, and I hadn't had my breakfast.
I made a rather disturbing discovery today. It would appear that the aliens living at number 34 Sabastopol Road may not be actual aliens after all - despite what Thomas told me at the beginning of the week.
Even though we stopped our official alien watch on Monday, I must confess that I have been keeping a bit of an eye on number 34. It's not every day you get the chance to see an alien, and according to Thomas this particular lot were planning to take over the world - which sounded pretty serious to me.
Well, I was going very slowly past their house - or Earth Command Headquarters - this morning, with my coat collar turned up, dark sun-glasses and my Dad's hat on to avoid detection, when the whole family of aliens - or non-aliens - came out and started talking to me. I nearly died on the spot.
There was no doubt about it, they had me cornered. I figured that Thomas would probably have known exactly what to do, but I was stranded - weaponless and with no cavalry to back me up. I waited in fear and trembling for them to take over my body.
'Hello there!' said the Father. 'Aren't you the boy from number 3?'
Damn, I thought, my cover's blown already. I glanced nervously at his face, and realised for the first time that his skin was slightly dark. Not black like Sonny Mayville from Mrs Preston's class - just different. Trust aliens to get something as simple as that wrong!
I remembered that Thomas had told me that secret agents, if captured, were told to say nothing other than their name, rank and serial number. I hadn't got a rank or serial number as far as I knew, so there was nothing left but to admit that I was indeed the boy from number 3.
'Yes!' I mumbled grudgingly from behind my coat collar, trying to edge my way around the family from number 34. They were all smiling, and it was making me nervous. If they really were aliens, then at any moment they might try and take over my body - and I wasn't ready for that.
'We've not been here very long,' said the Father. 'We come from a long way away.'
I knew it, I thought. Next he'll tell me which planet they came from.
'We came from Wergs,' he said with a grin. 'Do you know where that is?'
I didn't, unless it was one of those moons they've just discovered going round Jupiter. I shook my head.
'We tried to settle there,' he continued. 'But the people in our street didn't like us, so we had to move.'
I could quite understand people not liking aliens moving into their street, and wondered why it had been so easy for them to find a house in Sabastopol Road.
'We hope to be happy here,' the Mother chipped in, with a really funny accent. 'And you will be friends to our children, yes?'
She pushed their two children forward and then reached down deep into the folds of her colourful dress. Her hand reappeared clutching what seemed to be a chocolate cream egg, which she placed into my hand. I gulped, muttered a sort of thanks and did a runner. In fact I think I broke the speed limit down our road.
I dashed round to Thomas's house to tell him the news. Jenny was round there as well, so I told them both. Apparently Thomas hadn't even told Jenny about the aliens, which I thought was absolutely amazing - her being a sort of mate, despite being a girl - so I had to fill her in on the whole story.
Needless to say, she hadn't realised that there was the possibility of aliens living in our road, and I'm not at all sure she believed me. Thomas looked a bit embarrassed as well, which was odd.
'They said they came from Wergs... or somewhere!' I said. 'Is that in our solar system, Thomas?'
'I think it's near Wolverhampton!' laughed Jenny.
I ignored her. After all, what do girls know about aliens and outer space. Thomas tried to interrupt me, but I ignored him as well and carried on with my exciting news. It was only when I got to the bit about the chocolate cream egg, that I seemed to grab their attention.
'Did you say chocolate cream egg?' Jenny's face lit up as I got to the bit about me escaping from the hoards of rampaging aliens. 'They gave you a chocolate cream egg... just to be friends with their kids?'
Perhaps I should explain that Jenny would kill for the chance of a bar of chocolate. In fact, she nicked my last Rolo the other day.
'Yea... ' I said slowly. 'But I'm not sure we should accept things like that, just in case they are aliens!'
'Oh, I don't know!' Jenny licked her lips. 'It might be worth the risk for the odd chocolate cream egg!'
'Perhaps...' said Thomas quietly, 'Perhaps it would be a good idea to get to know them better.'
'They're in your class aren't they, Jenny?'
'Seem all right to me!'
'But what if they are aliens...' I persisted. The other two gave me a funny look. 'But...'
'I reckon,' said Thomas, putting his arm round my shoulder and leading me aside. 'That if they really were aliens, then the egg which you've eaten would have hatched by now, and exploded from your stomach, releasing an alien baby to terrorise your bedroom!'
I felt the colour drain from my face, and had a sudden desire to go to the toilet.
'It hasn't happened yet... has it?'
I shuddered with fear. 'Er...No!'
'In that case,' said Thomas softly. 'I think we can safely give them the benefit of the doubt... don't you?'
'Mmmm...' I wasn't feeling well.
'Well, what are we waiting for then!' Thomas trotted off down the road. 'Let's go creme egg hunting!'
Jenny ran off after him. I felt my stomach gingerly for any tell-tale signs of hatching aliens.
'I... I think I'll just go home and lie down for a while!' I shouted after them.
I was still feeling a bit groggy when I got home. The kitchen was still blackened from the morning's indoor barbecue, although most of the foam had now gone off the floor. Mum was - as ever - busy cooking something.
'Hello dear!' she greeted me cheerfully. 'Omelette for tea... OK?'
Almost an expedition
I'm not entirely sure what my dad does for a living, but I think it's something quite important; perhaps even top secret. You see, he invents things for his firm on the industrial estate. At least that's what he told me, and I don't see why I shouldn't believe him. Mum tried to persuade me that he designs the knobs that go on kitchen cabinets at MFI, but I know that's not the sort of job he'd take on - that's a wiffy sort of a job. No, I reckon it's probably something secret for the Ministry of Defence, like a stealth bicycle which won't get nicked when you park it in front of the sweet shop, like mine was a couple of months ago. Or maybe a secret computer watch that can work out your maths homework simply by asking it the questions. I asked dad last week if he could invent me one, after old 'Twitchy' Parker gave us some horrible sums to do just because my mate Thomas wouldn't stop talking.
Thomas was telling me about the expedition he was organising to capture the Yeti which lives in the small patch of woodland at the end of Farmer Riddle's big field, the one where he keeps his two Hereford bulls. They are enormous, those two. He calls them Archibald Titan the Third and Dunderall Magnificent, but we call them whatever we like from the other side of the fence, and they look back at us like we're insects and if we dare to put so much as a foot inside their field, they'll squash it into the nearest cowpat.
So why was Thomas planning an expedition that involved walking into that very same field? I said it was like that Roman emperor Nero throwing the Christians into the lions' den, except that this was a bulls' den.
'Don't worry,' replied Thomas in his usual confident manner. 'I've read this book on bullfighting, and I know absolutely everything there is to know about handling them!'
'Would I lie to you?' Thomas looked hurt.
'No, of course not!' I replied. After all, best mates don't do that sort of thing, do they?
'It's easy, really' said Thomas. 'All you've got to do is show them who's boss, and after that they're, like, putty in your hand. All that stuff about red cloaks and the fancy matador bit is a load of bullsh.... twaddle!'
'That's what the book said!'
'Just show them who's boss?'
'Just look them in the eye?'
'And say ''OK bull, just get out of my way'''
'Something like that!'
'Or ''This field 'aint big enough for the four of us!'''
'What about showing them an advert for beefburgers?'
Thomas shook his head. 'Nah!' he said. 'Stick to shouting at them!'
It was then that 'Twitchy' Parker the maths teacher got fed up with the interruptions and showed us who was boss.
Having spent quite a bit of time looking at those two bulls of Farmer Riddles, if only from the safe side of the fence which states quite plainly
in large red letters, I hadn't really given much thought to standing on the other side. After all, I had no doubts at all that Dad could invent something that would hypnotise those bulls and give us ample time to run into the woods, grab the Yeti and dash back again before they woke up from their trance.
It's no wonder that the Yeti has never been captured, if no-one can get across the field to where it lives.
So later on that day, when Dad was home from work, I asked him. I didn't actually mention bulls in case he threw a wobbler - like parents do when you mention anything vaguely dangerous like hypnotising bulls - and suggested our cat instead.
'Why would you want to hypnotise the cat?'
I sighed. 'No particular reason..... just wondered that's all!'
Dad gave me one of his special 'What's he up to' looks and went upstairs to change for tea. Halfway upstairs he turned round and shouted 'They say that you can hypnotise a chicken by forcing it to look at a black line. Though for the life of me, I can't see how looking at a line can hypnotise anything!'
A straight black line, now there was a thought. I wondered if Thomas had thought of a straight black line.
'That's what I was going to suggest.' said Thomas. 'Show them who's boss and stick a black line in front of their face... common sense, really!'
Having cleared up the problem of how to stop two enormous bulls stapling us to the fence with their horns, there was one other little matter troubling me.
'This Yeti,' I asked tentatively. 'Is it as big as the ones I've seen in my encyclopaedia, because if it is...'
Thomas shook his head impatiently. 'Will you stop worrying,' he said. 'You only get the big ones in Tibet. Everywhere else they're only titchy.... I bet you could get one easily in a dustbin liner!'
I tried to imagine fitting a Yeti into a dustbin liner and failed. 'So this one's not dangerous, then?'
'Would I be organising an expedition if it was dangerous?' Thomas sounded shocked. 'Trust me, it'll be a doddle!'
No more was said until the following Saturday, when Thomas woke me up early by hurling mud at my bedroom window - Mum loves it when he does things like that.
'Whassmatter.....?' I called sleepily out of the window.
'It's Yeti hunting day!' Thomas called sotly from down below. 'Get a move on, or we'll miss it!'
'But I always have a lie in on a Saturday morning!'
'So does the Yeti!' said Thomas. 'That's why it's going to be so easy to catch it, if we go now.'
I groaned. Thomas's adventures usually started off this way. 'OK!' I called. 'I'll be down in a minute. Have you got everything we need?'
Thomas held up two pieces of paper, on which he seemed to have drawn lines. 'I reckon that if we put these on the ground under the bulls' noses, then they'll be totally hypnotised 'til we get back... Brilliant, eh?'
'You are sure about this?'
'Tried it out on a woodlouse yesterday afternoon...'
'And did it...'
'Worked perfectly! Just stood there for ages without moving!'
Well, that sounded reassuring at least. I hurried downstairs and grabbed a couple of pieces of toast, mumbling something to Mum about going for a nature walk with Thomas. She groaned.
'No more trouble, eh?' she sighed. 'I don't know what it is about you two, but on your own you're fine. But together it's like.... letting off a firecracker in.... a firework factory!'
Thomas and I walked down the road and into Gorse Lane, trying hard not to look like we were on a secret Yeti hunt, but it was difficult because neither of us really knew what you should wear if you're definitely not going on a Yeti hunt. So as we walked along, hands in pockets whistling Old MacDonald, and trying to look as innocent as possible, one or two people gave us a funny look. Maybe they suspected something. If so, then the sooner we captured the Yeti the better, otherwise someone else might get there first.
Gorse Lane leads up to Gorse farm where the Riddles live, and then there's a public footpath which skirts round the big field where the bulls are kept. Unfortunately the footpath doesn't go anywhere near the woodland where we were headed.
We stood in front of the fence and I looked at the red notice again.
'As I'll ever be!' I said nervously. At my words, the ears on Dunderall Magnificent pricked up, and the big beast ambled slowly towards us.
'That one seems bigger today!' I said.
'Nah!' replied Thomas. 'Just your imagination - now give me a hand to get the things out of my rucksack.'
We took out the two pieces of paper, and smoothed out the creases. Looking up I saw two large and inquisitive eyes looking over the fence at our antics, and suddenly the prospect of trying to hypnotise several tons of solid muscle with a very small black line on a piece of exercise paper seemed ever so silly.
'You're quite sure....' I started.
'Thomas waved the piece of paper under my nose. 'This,' he said confidently. 'This is going to revolushonise farming, and could make us very, very rich!'
I held my piece of paper at arms length and slowly walked up to the massive form of Dunderall Magnificent. There was a slightly puzzled look on his face, which gave me some encouragement.
'This might take a minute or two.' said Thomas. 'Just hold it steady and say the magic words!'
'What magic words?'
Thomas sighed deeply. 'You are feeling sleepy, of course!'
We both stood there for what seemed like years, but probably wasn't, repeating over and over 'You are feeling sleepy....you are feeling sleepy....... you are feeling sleepy.....' I could feel myself starting to yawn.
'How are you doing?' asked Thomas, who was standing several metres away. 'Is it working yet?'
I looked up just as the bull reached over and ate the piece of paper.
'Er.... could have a problem here, Thomas!'
Just then there was a shout from the other end of the lane. 'Oi.... What you two beggers doin', eh?'
It was Farmer Riddle, large round and angry. I'm not sure which seemed the more dangerous at that moment, the bull or its owner. I started to shout back that we were on a Yeti hunt and it was vitally important that we got across his field to the woodland where the Yeti lived, but only got a couple of words out before Thomas yanked my arm and made me run off with him.
'Them bulls is dangerous animals!' shouted the Farmer Riddle after us. 'And valuable. Don't let me see you messin' around here again, or I'll set the dogs on you!'
When we were well out of sight, I pulled Thomas to a halt. 'Wouldn't he like to know that he's got a Yeti living on his farm?' I panted. 'It might be worth a lot of money!'
'Nah!' replied Thomas. 'He's too stingy is old Riddle. Anyway, he wouldn't know a Yeti from an Old English Sheepdog, so there's no point!'
'So what do we do now?'
'Go back to your place for a drink and one of your mum's burnt cakes, I reckon!' sighed Thomas.
'But what about the Yeti?' I asked. 'Surely you're not giving up just because old Farmer Riddle shouted at us?'
'Nah!' said Thomas. 'I don't give up on anything.... it's just that there's more important things to do!'
Now that sounded more like the Thomas I knew! 'What sort of things?' I asked.
Thomas seemed deep in thought for a moment or two. I suppose he was trying to sort out what was the most important thing to do right then.
'I think...' he said after a while. 'I think that the time has come to launch our first space rocket to the moon!'
What can I say!