Ollie, The Doctor, and The Dead Banana

banana

Ollie is the ten year old son of a friend. He’s a massive Dr Who fan, and this story was a very risky Christmas present. He’s letting me post it here so presumably it didn’t embarrass the socks off him, even though I’m pretty sure his mother really IS River Song. You never see the two of them in the same room together anyway, and that’s proof, right?

Bad Apple

Ollie was sitting on the sofa, watching TV, when he first noticed his hand disappear. He was about to scratch his nose when there it was. Or rather, there it wasn’t. Right up to his elbow, it wasn’t. Then, back it came, just as suddenly. It looked a bit electrical around the edges, but otherwise … Ollie held it up to his face, palm first, and spread out his fingers. All accounted for; although the end of his index finger had a slight glow to it, he thought. He pressed his palm up against his nose, and sniffed. Chocolate and chips; nothing unusual. Also pocket fluff and small change. Again, not unusual. Ozone and cordite – well, that was a bit out of the ordinary.

Ollie was still sitting there with his hand pressed up against his face, when his mother appeared. Not, pushed open the door and came into the room, appeared. Appeared, appeared. Then POOF – gone again. A moment later, she was back; a tea towel in her hand and her mouth open, like she was about to say ‘Oliver; lunch. Go and wash your hands please,’ or some other parent thing likely to interfere with important kid things. Then she blinked out again; leaving a little hint of room freshener behind. Ollie squinted at the spot from between his fingers, and was just about to get up to investigate when, with an almighty WHOOSH, his mother reappeared; this time waving a shoulder mounted weapon at him and yelling, ‘He’s here!’ into a comm unit clipped to the top pocket of her combats.

‘Over here, now!’ she yelled at him. ‘Quick, before the portal shuts!’

Ollie stood up and started forwards. His mother held out her hand and it fizzled and crackled in the air.

‘Hang on,’ he said, ‘I need my stuff.’

‘No time, Ollie. We have to go now!’ She had that look he recognised from school mornings when he suddenly remembered he had to take gym kit. He always had to go back for that, no matter what.

‘Not without my screwdriver,’ he said, turning and plunging his arm down behind the sofa cushions to fish around for it. There it was, sleek and stubby, with its ring of LEDs at the business end.  Ollie extracted it, clicked it on and off to check the batteries, and stuffed it into his jeans pocket. He extracted the shiny gold iPod he found down there too, and crammed it in alongside. Then he did a theatrical Superman dive over to where his mother was popping and spitting by the window.

That’s when the world really turned inside out.

WHOOMPH.

‘Ah, River, back again!’ The man with a yellow yo-yo pressed up against his eye spun round on his heels and cast the other eye over Ollie and his mum. ‘Early 21st century kit, I see. Temporal stabiliser’s definitely on the blink.’ He dropped the yo-yo into a conveniently yo-yo-shaped slot and tapped it down with his elbow before diving onto an array of vibrating brass plungers.

‘So, young man, brought your fez? No, thought not. No point telling you to hold onto your hat then!’ The Doctor began racing around the console of the Tardis, pulling on levers; his gangly legs kicking out all over the place as he went. Ollie’s brain tried to say ‘Er, ‘scuse me, what’s going on?’ but his mouth had lost its way and just opened and shut itself, like a goldfish. His mother was a storm trooper and he was on the Tardis. Ollie began to think taking notice of the use-by date on jars of fish paste might be an idea. Especially if they came from his dotty aunt’s Yellow Stone Super Volcano Emergency stash.

‘Where’s Amy?’ Ollie’s mother asked, hoisting her weapon and wiping something oily on her pants. Ollie thought that if he did that, he would be in big trouble. But something told him that the rule book had just gone out of the window, and he wasn’t even sure what window that might be.

‘Singing with the Ood.’ The Doctor flung himself across the console, yanked on a long chain, and skidded to a halt in front of a TV screen that dropped out of the ceiling. ‘There,’ he announced, waving one hand at the grainy image. Amy seemed to be shouting something, but there was no sound. The Doctor leaned in a bit closer, screwed up his eyes, and mouthed something back.

‘Just because you can’t hear her, Sweetie, doesn’t mean she can’t hear you.’ Ollie’s mother tweaked the large knob to the right of the screen; smacked the monitor a couple of times, then said, ‘We didn’t hear you, Amy. Say again.’ Amy’s mouth made a lot more movements, and the rest of Amy made a lot more movements too – many of them up and down, with whirling arms. Ollie watched. Amy pointed at the Ood, stuck her fingers in her ears, and then mimed something that looked like putting a key in a lock. Then she was shaking her head, throwing her arms up in the air, and doing a jig. Ollie’s mother and the Doctor looked at each other, then back at the screen, then at each other again.

‘No, not getting it,’ the Doctor said, pushing his fingers through his hair and rubbing his chin. ‘Never mind, we know where The Device is, and River’s got the sonic banana!’ He skipped over to the Antimatter Pulse Primer. ‘See you soon, Pond!’

Ollie’s mother began racing round the console too, pulling levers, and pushing buttons. But Ollie went on watching Amy, who was going through the whole hopping about, mouthing at the screen routine all over again. This time, she had some new hand movements. Ollie blinked; they looked familiar.  He screwed his face up to look more closely, because screwing your face up obviously made it easier to see – ‘yes, banana,’ and ‘no alive – dead!’ What? Bananas? Dead bananas? Amy was waving again. Well, frantic flapping, more like. This time he thought she made the words ‘Remember dead banana’. Ollie made the same words back, and Amy nearly took off with excitement. Boy, that girl could jump, Ollie thought. He made the words again, just to see the effect, and he wasn’t disappointed. Amy was leaping up and down and throwing her arms around, so that the Ood sitting nearby had to shift out of the way. ‘Doctor,’ she signed; gripping her wrist as though she were taking her own pulse, and popping her eyes so wide, Ollie thought they might explode.

‘“Tell the Doctor”, ok, I get it,’ he said to the screen. ‘Go-chill-take-a-pill, I’m on it.’ Ollie started to rehearse the message ‘dead banana’ and turned away from the screen just in time to see his mother and the Doctor consulting a battered old book. It looked like the one he’d seen on her dresser once, and she’d locked it away after that.

‘3524,’ the Doctor said. ‘Have we done that yet?’

‘One of the best,’ Ollie’s mother answered. ‘What about …?’

If you two have got a minute …’ Ollie interrupted, ‘Amy told me something.’

‘Told you? How?’

‘You know when you said we had to be more understanding about people with problems, like disabilities and such?’

‘Ok,’

‘And you said we had to learn to communicate with them and not expect them to try to communicate with us all the time because that’s not fair and we have all the advantages and we should be nicer to people who don’t so …’

Ollie – get on with it please!’

‘… So we all did sign language so we could speak to Sadie,’

‘Sign language.’

‘Amy told me in sign language. She said “Remember the dead banana”’

‘Ollie! That’s ridiculous!’ Ollie thought his mother looked hacked off. Wearing black camouflage gear and bristling with all those spacey looking weapons, he thought she looked hacked off and dangerous. Ollie decided to shut up; and mimed zipping his mouth closed.

Suddenly, a whole lot of things happened at once. The door of the Tardis blew inwards, a large rotating box appeared on the deck, and the iPod in Ollie’s pocket started to vibrate. Music. He could hear music. It sounded like …

‘That’s the Pandorica!’ the Doctor hooted, leaping around the box like a giant leprechaun. ‘And The Device is hidden inside! What luck! River, lock and load, we’re going in.’

‘Are you mad? You just got out of there!’

But the Doctor was already twiddling invisible knobs and muttering instructions to himself, ‘Left three, right two, tap the interspatial whatjammacallit with the trans dimensional thingamajig and … Bingo!’ The door creaked open, threads of green and purple gas snaking out into the Tardis and around everyone’s ankles. A sign, Ollie thought, that getting any closer would be a Bad Thing. But the Doctor was firing on all cylinders now, picking up random instruments, checking them over, and throwing them down again. ‘Mallet? No. TV remote?’ He shut one eye, peered at it with the other, and put it in his pocket.

‘Sonic banana?’ Ollie’s mother was standing, one elbow akimbo, wearing an expression of deep tolerance. Like she’d just been landed with supervising Year Five boys’ Christmas party on her own. She was hefting a banana meaningfully, as you do when you find yourself between temporal realities.

‘Ha, yes – now that would be handy,’ said the Doctor, spinning on one heel, lurching forwards, and waggling a finger at the fruit, ‘except that one’s not sonic, it’s real. See?’ he flicked at the skin, ‘Fruit flies. They like a banana …’ The Doctor leaped backwards again and skidded over to one of the panels in the console. ‘Time, of course, is a different matter …’

In Ollie’s head, someone was singing some old track he didn’t recognise. Last century at least, if not the one before. It was certainly a bit crackly. Every few seconds, there was a tiny pop or a click, like a little counter going over. The track in Ollie’s head warbled to a halt and another one began. He pulled the iPod out of his pocket – who did this thing belong to, anyway? He couldn’t remember getting it as a present, and he certainly hadn’t bought it. Obviously, someone had left it at his house. Someone pretty ancient – at least twenty five – because this track was just as naff as the first. He checked out the title, ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’. What kind of dinosaur bought music like that? Shouldn’t be allowed loose with an iPod, that’s for sure. Ollie glanced back at the TV screen to see how Amy’s gymnastics were getting on. She looked a little faint. Not passing out faint, more not-quite-there faint, and the Ood was waving its tentacles at the space where Amy almost wasn’t any more. Like Ollie’s arm wasn’t when all this weirdness started up. Then suddenly, she was gone; what was left of her image swirling into a spiral like she was circling a drain, and disappearing. There was just the Ood now, waving at the screen with all available appendages.

The track moved on to ‘Cry Me A River’. Ollie raised an eyebrow. Smart piece of kit or no smart piece of kit, this thing was going back to its owner as soon as he could figure out what palaeolithic stupidosaurus it belonged to. He glanced up in time to see his mother elbow the Doctor out of the way, hoist a wicked looking weapon onto her shoulder, and disappear into the Pandorica. At least, that’s what he thought he saw. From the Doctor’s reaction, that might not have been quite what happened. Whatever it was, it seemed to have creased the Doctor up in the middle and made him grab his head and handsfull of his hair, before exploding himself upright again and yelling ‘No no no no no!’ Then he was looking at his hands, slapping his own face, looking at his hands again. ‘Ollie, it’s a …’

Trap? That’s how that sentence usually finished in the films. The Doctor was a dancing ghost, fading and convulsing, yelling and slapping. Then he was gone.

‘Hello. Where is everyone?’ It was Rory. Ollie leaped nearly out of his skin. If adults were going to insist on unquestioning obedience from kids, they were going to have to be a bit more considerate about their comings and goings.

‘Gone.’ Ollie was stunned into monosyllables.

‘Gone?’

‘Yup.’

‘Well, gone where?’

‘Dunno. Just faded off and went.’

‘Faded?’ Rory seemed to be having one of those came-in-the-wrong-door moments. ‘You mean like, everything just tuned out?’

‘No, just the people tuned out. The Doctor.’

‘The Doctor?’

‘And Mum.’

‘What, River?’

‘Who? Well, Amy’s gone as well.’

‘Amy?’

‘Yep. And now you’re going.’ Ollie looked Rory up and down, ‘I can see the console through your ribs.’ The iPod vibrated again and Ollie squinted at the screen – ‘Twentieth Century Boy’. More prehistoric tat. The click wheel was interesting though, he’d never seen one whirl and swirl like that. He held it up to show Rory, who was looking even less substantial than before.

‘Joke,’ Ollie said, with the vague feeling that it probably wasn’t funny. ‘You’re the Centurion, aren’t you?’ He was right, not funny at all. Rory’s face turning white, then red, then white again was a bit of a hint.

‘Ollie, look what’s happening – the iPod is sucking me in!’ Sure enough, the whirling, swirling click wheel was slowly pulling what was left of Rory into its vortex as the track came to an end.  Ollie stared. He stared at the iPod, then at the space where Rory had been, then at the iPod again. It didn’t help, and another track was coming up – ‘Oliver’s Army’.  Ollie froze; supposing the iPod was turning everyone into tracks on some evil cosmic playlist. Supposing he was next! Well, no digital creepoid fruitoid alien iThing was going to turn him into a rubbish download for lizard geeks who probably tucked their ties into their pants. He needed a weapon. Ollie investigated his pockets for tools, paperclips, bits of blue tack, anything. Aha – his sonic screwdriver! He clicked it on, the LEDs lit up, and it whirred and swivelled around at the end. He was ready. But just as he was about to stick it into the vortex, where he reckoned it would mess with that freaky, swirly, hoovery thing going on, Ollie remembered Amy’s message about the dead banana. He didn’t know why, but he thought this might be a good time to take an adult seriously, even when the instructions sounded barking bonkers mad. She had insisted on a banana; and a dead one at that. But where, in this four-year-old’s-bedroom-on-a-bad-day steampunk flight deck would the ‘Dead Banana – Emergency Deployment For The Use Of’ box be located? Ollie could feel something sucking at his legs, unravelling his insides, pulling on his arms, and probing at his brain with space-cold tendrils. His hands began to fade and look ghostly, and he started to feel sick as the whirling, swirling vortex drew his innards towards the purple and green glowing click wheel. Bent almost double, Ollie suddenly spotted it – the banana! The ‘not-a-sonic’ banana! The DEAD-banana-with-the-fruit-flies his mother had dropped when she vanished into the Pandorica! He pounced on it – skin on or off, he wondered? Did it matter? No time to worry – he plugged it, blunt end first, into the vortex.

Stars jiggled, black holes blinked, something rusty-sounding spat quantum bits into the Antimatter Pulse Primer. Then –

Time stopped.

The music stopped.

The Tardis stopped.

Luckily, Ollie didn’t stop. Instead, in a fit of inspiration that only an uncalled-for close encounter with infinity can trigger, he found Rory’s track and pressed Play. There was a screeching, graunching, thudding, whining moan, with a thundering thump running underneath. Finally, some decent sounds, he thought. Then suddenly, Rory appeared, shaking his head and poking at his ears with his fingers.

‘Ooh. Crikey. Ow – that was uncomfortable. Who knew being compressed to an MP3 file was that – compressy?’ He ran over to Ollie, ‘We have to find everyone’s track, and get them back.’ He grabbed the iPod and began scrolling through: ‘“Cry Me A River”, that’s your mother. Where’s Amy … Ha! She’s going to hate this!’ He clicked the ‘Grandma’ track. ‘Don’t ask, it’s complicated. Now, which one is the Doctor’s …?’

Ollie couldn’t remember what was playing when the doctor vanished. A cold sense of awfulness started to creep over him. Like when the cat was sick in your shoe and you put your bare foot in it the next morning. He would be responsible for losing the Doctor! The Doctor! And to a misbehaving iPod that didn’t even have any decent special effects! What if he turned up on ‘Now That’s What I Call Music 80’? Nightmare! Maybe if he could see the tracks … He grabbed the iPod back and scrolled up and down: ‘Time’, that sounded promising, so he selected it and a mystified bloke wearing a lightning strike across his face whoofed into existence. Oops. The Star Trek theme? Surely not. Ah, what about this one – ‘Who Are You?’ by The Who! It had to be …

There was a loud hum, some rumbling, then a whole lot of crashing as the Doctor and Ollie’s mother fell out of the fake Pandorica, looking stunned and slightly re-born, only without the mess. Over on the TV screen, Amy was introducing the Ood to Strictly Come Alien Dancing with a version of the Highland Fling that seemed to owe a lot to the experience of being bitten by gnats.

‘What a shocker! Well done young man, we’ll make a Time Lord of you yet! Better get GCSE maths first though, eh?’ The Doctor winked at Ollie’s mother, who was staring at the iPod with the slightly iridescent banana sticking out of it.

‘What’s that?’

‘It’s the dead banana, not the sonic banana which would have reversed the polarity of the event horizon and – bleuurrrgh.’ The Doctor pulled a face with a protruding Haka tongue.

‘Event horizon?’

‘Bleuurrgh?’

Ollie’s mother and Rory looked at each other, drew a blank, and looked back at the Doctor, who had begun gesticulating and crowing as though he had just won X Factor.

‘Yes, clever lad, young Ollie. Chip off the old block, I’d say.’

‘Start your saying where you left off with the event horizon … ’

‘Ah, yes, how demonically devious was that? Docking an event horizon behind every iPod and creating tracks for the entire population. Genius! Genius Mix, in fact!’ The Doctor hooted at his own joke, which rather fell flat with Ollie’s mother, who had an old Nokia, and never used iTunes.

‘And if we’d used the sonic banana – bleuurrgh? Bleuurrgh being …?’

‘Blow instead of suck,’ the Doctor windmilled his arms backwards, then windmilled them forwards, ‘so all those black holes would have spilled through this way, and crushed the entire universe, instead of us being hoovered out that way, to leave a nice, clean, conveniently vacant solar system.’ The Doctor stopped, beamed, leaned on his imaginary Dyson, and fell over in a sprawl onto the console.

‘You mean iPods were sucking people up, making tracks of them and …’

‘And deleting each album as it became full – yes!’

‘That really does suck,’ said Amy. ‘Not to mention, if I find whoever chose my track, they had better be wearing full body armour.’

‘So who did it? Who’s behind all this?’ Ollie’s mum was wearing one of those expressions he’d seen on teachers when they were hell bent on finding a culprit, so he looked away because not making eye contact obviously meant you were innocent. His eyes drifted to the iPod and its still glowing screen.

‘Look at the album title,’ Ollie said. They all looked. It was ‘The Sound of Silence’. 

Behind the Doctor, the handbrake on the console slipped, with only the faintest of hisses, to the off position …

(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2012 

Blue Bell Hotel: I’m not Alex Polizzi but …

Blue Bell conservatoryLet me say right off that the staff of the Blue Bell Hotel in Burton Agnes are as warm, friendly and accommodating as anyone could wish, and the rooms are very well appointed. For family reasons, I’ve had cause to stay there on several occasions over the last couple of years and so comparative standards have been easy to generate. The last time, earlier this month, we hit a drop in the usual quality of service, and all of it due to lack of attention to detail. The big things were right, as always, but the little things – not so much. I’m going to list them here; not in a belated hissy fit of unreported affront, but because when I gave this feedback personally to the manager, his acceptance could not have been more gracious or his promise that I would see a difference next time, more sincere. And given that I had just told him he looked like the handy-man rather than the front-of-house chap in charge, this was quite an accomplishment. Here we go then, but please take a look at the *positives too.

  1. No hot water in the room. I discovered this late at night and waited until the morning to report it. The staff said that, had I mentioned it at the time, they would have moved me immediately to another room, and I know they would have done that. I had unpacked and was less concerned about being clean than collapsing under the duvet!
  2. One of the light bulbs at the bedside was out.
  3. The soup course had arrived without a spoon, as did the boiled eggs the next morning.
  4. Breakfast had been moved from the large, airy conservatory to the brasserie. This is more cosy but also out of the way of staff traffic and so I had to go looking for someone to get coffee, marmalade and the like.
  5. A small point I didn’t mention was that the tables for one were set with the guest’s back to the door, which is not most people’s choice. We generally like to see who’s coming into our space. I rearranged mine.
  6. I was offered shower facilities in the room adapted for people with disabilities. This is a decent sized room with plenty of floor space and the heating had been put on earlier for me. But one of the glass shelves in the large wet room was tilted at such an angle as to be unsafe. Any glass item placed on it was at risk of sliding off and maybe smashing on the tiled floor.
  7. The emergency cord in the disability room had been tied up and would have been out of reach of a disabled guest who had fallen or was sitting on the toilet and needing urgent assistance.
  8. Standard and Superior rooms. Now here’s a thing – five of us stayed there on the occasion of my father’s funeral. I had booked four Standard rooms and my cousin had booked a Superior room because that was all that remained at the time. On inspection, we could not see the difference but it turns out that, in always asking to avoid the two rooms at the front of the hotel where double glazing is not permitted and both traffic noise and headlights cause disturbance late into the night and from very early in the morning (this is farming country), we had also been allocated Superior rooms. This means that a Standard room is one in which you might not be able to sleep, while a Superior one is likely to be quiet and lacking frequent, intermittent light pollution. I discovered this when I questioned the bill and argued that, as the primary purpose of a hotel bedroom is sleep, the ones where this is possible should not be regarded as Superior but Standard.  What remains is how to describe the others (rooms 13 & 14, since you ask). I have suggested blackout curtains so that the intrusive light from full beam headlights would be excluded. Anyone who can sleep on a clothes line or has the kind of hearing impairment that renders traffic noise irrelevant, should have no trouble sleeping with the implementation of this low cost, simple adjustment.
  9. Finally, the anonymity of the manager. I’ve seen him at all times of day and he appears to be very hands-on. As he pointed out, he is the one who fixes the boiler, and so he probably spends quite a bit of time in the hinterland of the hotel. However, front of house is also an important job because it models dress standards to the staff (who all have a uniform), and leaves guests and visitors in no doubt as to who has the authority.

Every one of these problems is about attention to detail; checking rooms thoroughly before guests arrive, making sure the right cutlery is available, making it easy for guests to access available items, and adhering to a dress code commensurate with the role. They promise to put this right, so if you visit before I do, check and let them know if they haven’t come up to scratch.

*Now read the good things:

  1. This is a country hotel way out of reach anything that might be called a conurbation and so it is in farming country. There is a large lawn area to the back of the hotel and a friendly horse in an adjoining paddock.
  2. There is outdoor seating in a simple patio area.
  3. Parking is bliss.
  4. Staff will help with anything at all – including changing the menu if what’s on offer doesn’t suit.
  5. The chef will come out and discuss the ingredients of a dish, add something or leave it out if you wish.
  6. There is free wi-fi, now the first thing I look for in a hotel.
  7. Staff have a smart casual uniform so you know who’s who and who to ask for things.
  8. The rooms are spotless and well appointed with flat screen TV, double or two single beds, good wardrobe space, writing desk, storage, hair dryer and bath/loo/shower room with shampoo, soap, and shower gel. Take your own talc though.
  9. There is a bar, which is the local pub for people who live nearby. The bar man knows about the ‘legs’ in a glass of wine.

These are the reasons I will go back. If problems persist or recur – well, I’m there often enough now to be almost family so on the verge of feeling free to nip into the kitchen and rustle up some eggs for myself, if necessary! I won’t be hesitant about mentioning a glitch, don’t you be either. This is a place that wants to get it right and they will listen.

And Alex Polizzi? Watching The Hotel Inspector was like taking a course in how to point out flaws in the nicest possible but appropriately assertive way. Brits are not good at this; we creep away and whinge to our mates, or deliver an anonymous rant to a website. Or we go for a tirade modelled on a 1950’s headmaster, or a wrongly red-carded premiership footballer. These are not at all helpful. What people in the business say is ‘if you like what we do and how we do it, tell everyone; if you don’t – tell us’.