Okay. So you don’t believe in life on other planets. Right? Right.
Well neither did I. Not until my dad got sucked into another dimension and I had to go and rescue him and, along the way, met up with Director Egworth and Martha and Hubert Hinkerdink and Edwina and….
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to take you back to when everything started. In Earth times it was the day before yesterday, but in Jaddamon system times, it was months and months and months. We were away, like, forever, but they know how to bend back time so that you come back here – here being Earth - just before you left.
I know. Nuts, hey? But it works. They use something based on what they told me was the general theory of relativity worked out by this truly ancient dude called Albert Einstein. Well, he’s not ancient anymore. He’s dead. But he worked out this theory years and years ago and the Anherratians found out how to use it to get people back to Earth once they’d finished whatever they were doing on the Anherratian planets and…. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.
As I said – the day before yesterday.
I walked back from school and, as usual, got more and more nervous the closer I got to home. Home is number 16 Ambleforth Drive in Sidley-on-Teague. Sidley-on-Teague is the little market town I live in but as soon as I’m old enough, I’m going to move to London and…. But where was I? Oh yes. Coming home from school and feeling nervous.
So, as usual, I started sniffing the air as I passed number 8 Ambleforth Drive, testing it for the smell of smoke. That day there was nothing. The nervousness lessened a bit. Then, as I got closer to number 16, I saw there was no sign of smoke or flames coming from the back garden. That’s where my dad’s workshop is. At the bottom of the back garden. I couldn’t hear the sound of any loud explosions either. Or small ones for that matter. A really good sign. Sheesh. The nerves could now settle down. For today anyway. I pushed open the rickety wooden gate and walked up the garden path to the front door.
Ah yes. The front door. Half (bottom half) painted a bright, glossy red and the other half still its original faded sky blue. I opened it. There was an immediate flurry of sound – nails skittering on the scarred wooden floor, loud purring and a wheezing, snuffling panting interspersed with a couple of high pitched barks of excitement.
Frobisher Hatfield and Popsy Purrface, our two ginormous Persian cats, and Arnold Maxwell Mumford, our King Charles Spaniel, rushed into the small entrance hall to greet me.
I dropped my backpack and sat down on the floor for a welcome home cuddle. Arnold slobbered and Frobisher and Popsy both tried to climb into my lap at the same time. I hugged as much of them as I could.
Love, love, love my four-footed furries. I mean, pets are the best. Right?
A voice called from the kitchen. ‘That you, Georgie?’
‘Yes, Dad. Just saying “hi” to the guys.’
My dad appeared in the hall a moment later. He was wearing Mum’s frilly apron and was carrying a large ladle that dripped a reddish sauce onto the floor. All three animals did a fast about turn and left me to go and lick up the sauce.
‘Have a good day, did you, pet?’ Dad beamed at me.
“Pretty good.’ I got up. ‘What are you making?’
‘Spaghetti Napoletana. Your mum’s bringing home chocolate cake for dessert.’
‘Yum.’ Mum was the chief confectioner at The Farmhouse Bakery on Rundle Road and she often brought home yummy treats for tea or dessert or just for whenever. I picked up my backpack and went over to kiss Dad hello. Then looked at him suspiciously. ‘No experiments today?’ I asked.
His grey eyes sparkled behind the black horn rimmed glasses that sat at an angle on his nose. He waved the ladle in the air and more drops of sauce splattered on the floor and walls. ‘I got a great idea about how to improve the Pyramid Energy Sourcer,’ he said, ‘and I’ve been working on it most of the day. The experiments will start tomorrow.’ He grinned at me and pushed his glasses straight. Unfortunately he used the hand holding the ladle and it left a smear of napoletana sauce down one cheek.
‘But what about the Ever Cool Pillow? I thought that that’s what you were working on.’
‘Oh. Yes. Well, there was a bit of problem with that,’ he said airily.
Yes, well, there was sort of…a bit of…an explosion. But I’ll get it sorted.’
There was a hissing, popping sound and he turned round and rushed back into the kitchen. ‘Sauce is boiling over,’ he said. ‘No worries.’
I left him to it, picked up my backpack and went upstairs. I was careful to avoid the stair where Dad had made a start on replacing a worn piece of carpet. The reason he had only made a start on it was that, as usual, he had got an idea for another invention while he was halfway through what he was doing and had rushed off to his workshop to work on whatever brilliant new scheme he’d come up with. And that’s why the front door was only half-painted and the worn carpet on the stair was only partially cut away and the light bulb in the passage still hadn’t been changed after six months and… but you get the picture.
I sometimes wondered what it would be like to have a dad like Mr. Clampsey at number 14 Ambleforth Drive who drove to the station every morning at precisely 7:05 to catch the 7:30 train to London. He always wore a suit and tie and drove a spotlessly clean, silver grey Honda Civic. Our ancient, dented, metallic turquoise Toyota Corolla looked so sad next to it. The front door of number 14 Ambleforth Drive was painted (both top and bottom halves) a glossy bottle green. The sunlight glinted off the shiny brass knocker in the shape of a lion’s head on the top half of the front door. And you never heard explosions or saw flames coming from number 14’s back garden.
But then Mrs. Clampsey always looked as if she’d just finished sucking on a lemon and Mr. Clampsey usually looked as if a particularly disgusting smell had just wafted along under his nose. I also knew there weren’t any pets at number 14. Might have shed hair on the spiffy décor, you know.
So I decided, as usual, that life was probably better at number 16 Ambleforth Drive – half-painted front doors and explosions included.
It would be nice though, I thought, if one of Dad’s inventions would start selling. Like the Automatic Back Tickler which Mum used. She swore it was the best thing for relaxing her back muscles after a hard day at the bakery. And it was a bit sad really, that not many other people seemed to agree with her. Dad had sold three of those. It had also caused a blackout in the whole suburb for two and a half hours when he had originally switched on the prototype.
Then there was the Pyramid Energy Sourcer. That had caused such an explosion that the door of his workshop had blown off. Luckily he had been on his hands and knees in front of the filing cabinet looking for some stray diagrams when it happened and so had managed to escape with just the tip of his right ear getting singed. The town council had issued him with a severe warning and, for a long while after that, he had concentrated on inventing things that couldn’t blow up or catch fire or cause neighbourhood blackouts under any circumstances.
He did cause a small fire in the kitchen once though, when he got side tracked by an idea for a travelling tumble dryer, and forgot about the chips frying on the stove.
But that, the kind fireman had reassured me and Mum, could have happened to anybody. Forgetting the chips, he meant, not the bit about travelling tumble dryers.
I wondered what the improvement on his Pyramid Energy Sourcer would be. Whatever it was, I knew Mum would tell him it was brilliant and that she was sure it would sell. Then Dad would give Mum a big, smoochy kiss, tell her she was the best and go prancing out to his workshop at the bottom of the garden. And Mum would usually give me a little smile and say ‘One of these days, Georgie, he’s going to hit the big time.’
I would just nod and be so grateful for Mum’s job at The Farmhouse Bakery.
The animals followed me upstairs and settled themselves on my bed as I changed out of my school uniform and into jeans and a T-shirt with a picture of a grinning ginger kitten on the front. Underneath it, in bright pink italic lettering were the words “I’m having a meowtiful day”.
I only ever wore it at home. I knew I would have just died of embarrassment if any of my friends from school had seen me wearing it. But Mum and Dad had been so thrilled when they had given it to me. They’d found it at a stall in Portobello Road on one of their rare trips to London and had been certain that I would love it.
Well, of course I pretended that I loved it and if I’d been five instead of fourteen going on fifteen, I would absolutely have loved it. As it was, they were going to be the only ones who would ever see me wearing it. I mean they really try. So sweet.
I opened my back pack and took out my homework. Horrible, horrible, horrible. There was an essay on the Boston Tea Party for history, a page of algebra problems, another essay, this one on tin mining in Cornwall for geography, and some English grammar questions. I put the history essay aside. It was for Monday so I could do it over the weekend.
As for the rest…. No, I mean, really? When was I ever going to use half this stuff? In fact, most of this stuff. Tin mining and colonists throwing crates of tea into the Boston Harbour? On what planet was I ever going to need that? I couldn’t wait for the day when I wouldn’t have to do homework any more. Adults have it so much easier, don’t they? No homework. Doing what they want without older people telling them what they can and can’t do. It was a nice, warm, spring afternoon and what I should have been doing was lying on the small patch of lawn at the back of the house enjoying the unusually mild weather and reading a magazine.
I knew that my dad wouldn’t have a problem with that but Mum was stricter.
‘If there’s something you have to do but really don’t want to,’ she always said to me, ’just do it first. Then it’s out of the way and you can get on with the stuff you really want to do.’
I sighed, sat at the little desk Dad had set up for me under the window, and opened my book with the algebra homework. Algebra was the one thing I really didn’t want to do. So, l followed Mum’s orders – well, I suppose it was more of a suggestion really - and did it first.
An hour later, I was finishing off my essay on tin mining in Cornwall when the animals suddenly sat up then leapt off the bed and rushed out of the room. I could hear the stairs creaking under their combined weight as they hurtled down to the entrance hall.
Mum was home. I hadn’t heard the front door open and close but with the pet alarm system in full swing, I didn’t need to. I got up and stretched. My neck felt stiff from bending over my homework. I don’t think that’s good for fourteen year olds. I thought that maybe I should start a petition or something. Like only being set twenty minutes a day worth of homework. I bet I could get every school kid in England – scratch that – in the whole of the U.K. to sign that petition. I could probably start a political party on the strength of it. That would be truly, totally awesome.
But in the meantime, Mum was home.
I went out my room and onto the narrow landing. I looked down the stairs into the entrance hall.
‘Hi Mum,’ I said.
Mum looked up from patting the three furry bodies that were padding and weaving around her. ‘Hello, my darling,’ she said. ‘Did you….?’
She stopped as a loud bang followed by the sound of shattering glass emanated from the back garden.
‘Oh dear,’ said Mum.
‘He told me the experiments were only starting tomorrow,’ I said as I ran down the stairs.
‘We’d better go and see…..’
We hurried through the kitchen and out the back door. Frobisher Hatfield, Popsy Purrface and Arnold Maxwell Mumford followed, almost galloping on their fat, furry paws to keep up with us. From the expression on their faces, they were apparently convinced that some kind of totally brilliant treat was going to be produced for them in the shed at the bottom of the garden.
We had almost reached the workshop when Dad opened the door and stepped outside. He looked dazed but managed to wave at me and Mum as we got closer. I noticed that he was still holding the big spoon that he had been using earlier to stir the napoletana sauce. It was now encrusted with a crispy black substance. I mean, gross.
‘Henry, are you alright?’
‘Fine, fine,’ said Dad. ‘Um…. just had an idea about the Pyramid Energy Sourcer while I was putting the finishing touches to the sauce.’ He blinked at us then managed a bit of a smile. But his eyes still looked sort of unfocused. ‘It was tasting pretty good,’ he added.
‘Is your workshop ruined?’ asked Mum. She sounded resigned.
‘No, no. Nothing that I can’t clean up in a couple of hours. I’ll do it tomorrow.’ He looked at us. His eyes were beginning to focus a bit better now. He was looking more cheerful by the moment. I noticed that some of the black, crusty substance from the spoon had landed on his left ear. Yuck.
‘Let’s go and have supper,’ he said. ‘Everything’ll seem better after supper.’ He scratched absentmindedly at his left ear and smiled at Mum.
I glanced at her, wondering if this time she would get angry with him, but, as always, she simply rolled her eyes and smiled back at him. ‘You’re hopeless, Henry,’ she said, as we all trooped back to the kitchen.
He put his arm round her. ‘Hopelessly in love with you, Millicent Abbott.’ he said.
She said ‘Oh Henry,’ sounding all exasperated. But, a moment later, I saw her arm slide round his waist.
It was my turn to roll my eyes.