Not only will Harvey miss out on a trip ‘off world’, but he is also forced to go and stay at Aunties’ for a few days. To him this is a fate worse than death, but little does he realise just what fate has in store for him…
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Following the official disclosure of contact with at least one alien species, and the further revelation that there was a star gate positioned on the far side of the moon, an official meeting was hurriedly convened with a representative from a collective known as the Galactic Council.
A space ship duly arrived several days later, and landed at a Royal Air Force base in the English countryside. Provisional membership was approved, although full membership now depended on the outcome of major negotiations, which were scheduled to take place over the next few months. The United Nations hurriedly gathered together teams of experts, which began to leave for the star gate on a regular basis.
Teams of alien workers also started to appear on Earth, helping to prepare for this membership.
There was also a clamour by ordinary people wanting to venture out into space, so a series of galactic cruise liners were hurriedly chartered to cope with the demand. Places on these ships were however expensive, and even those with the means to afford them still had a long wait due to there restricted availability…
“Hurry up or we'll be late!"
Harvey slumped into his seat, scuffing the toe of his shoe on the footrest. "Do I really have to go?" He looked up at his mother with a pleading expression on his face.
"You know the situation - I feel as unhappy about it as you do, but we haven't any choice!"
His head dropped, as the door closed firmly behind him. His father opened the gates, which lay at the end of the driveway before slipping into the passenger seat. The engine started and the car rolled out onto the road. Normally Harvey would have been very excited at the prospect of a trip to the city, but not today.
They lived in a leafy suburb, with Harvey’s house lying right on the edge of the greenbelt. It normally took half an hour before they hit the dual carriageway, but today he was hoping it would be longer!
Another driveway appeared, with its little car parked neatly by the front door. Harvey watched as the occupants trooped out and clambered onboard, before following them to the first junction. They were the only traffic on the road, and he began to wish that they would get stuck behind a tractor.
"It’s not bad this morning!" Harvey's mother adjusted her hair in the rear view mirror, as he smiled, still hoping for a miracle. His father was oblivious; already engrossed in a wad of documents he had just pulled out of his briefcase.
The two cars made their way along the lanes that twisted round the fields of hay that were nearly ready for harvest. Harvey watched as a big black crow swooped down from the telegraph wires, on its way to feed on the farmer’s crops. There was a scarecrow in the field, but it did not seem to be taking any notice of it.
"It won't be long now!"
He began to fidget, as they approached the turning for the dual carriageway which would lead them into the city. "I'm not going I want to come with you!" He stamped his feet on the floor, pulling faces out of the window.
A tear rolled down his mother’s cheek, dropping onto her neatly tailored outfit. "I know it’s not ideal, but Marjorie will do her best until we get back!"
He hated it when she cried, and it made him stop his protests. He just sat there, as their car sped along at a steady fifty miles an hour. His mother looked back at him periodically out of the corner of her eye as he sat there with a look of total dejection on his face.
The car suddenly pulled off down a slip road towards the housing estate, which sprawled out into the distance. They turned a corner, and there in front of them lay the small parade of shops that would become his home for the next few days. Auntie Marjorie came out to greet them. She did not appear to be very happy about the situation either, although she always looked miserable!
They were nothing like sisters, Auntie was plain and overweight, whilst his mother was slim and attractive, which he felt sure was the main reason they did not get along.
The car stopped and his mother got out, kissing her sister on the cheek.
"Well, this is it!" Before he knew what was happening, his mother had given him a final hug, leaving him standing on the pavement, as she drove off sobbing. Harvey turned towards the shop front, as Auntie carried his bag in through the open doorway.
Once inside, she led him up the stairs to the cramped box room, which was crammed full of cardboard boxes. Without saying a word, she dropped his bag on the floor and left. Harvey jumped onto the small bed squeezed into a corner, pulling the pillow over his head, trying to block everything out. He was feeling tired after the early start that they had made, and closing his eyes he tried to imagine that he was still at home. With his heart still full of disappointment, he drifted off to sleep.
He turned over to find his cousin Rolly rummaging through the boxes. "Oh, Hi!" Harvey looked up at his jolly face. Rolly beamed. Although he was Auntie’s son and, like her, considerably overweight, Rolly was OK!
"Bad luck about the negotiations!"
Harvey just smiled, choked for words.
"Have a bag of cheese and onion, it'll take your mind off things!" Rolly opened a big box of crisps throwing him a packet. He knew they were his favourites, and was doing his best to cheer him up.
Harvey sat up a little disorientated after his sleep. He could see the grey street out of the tiny window, and watched as a big red bus trundled down it towards the local supermarket. Half a dozen people got off, many putting up umbrellas as it had started to rain. It looked equally as miserable outside, as it did in!
The unmistakable smell of chip fat had begun to waft through the doorway, as the shop sprang into life for the lunchtime rush. Harvey walked into the bathroom, where he washed his hands and face, before descending into the chaos of a busy Monday.
Auntie Marjorie stood buttering four slices of bread at the counter for a rather jovial customer.
"A bit more marge please, Marge!"
He winked at Harvey as she grimaced. Auntie hated being called 'Marge', and this made him feel a bit better.
"Cod and chips twice, please!" Another customer came in, as the shop filled to overflowing.
Rolly placed the box of crisps on the shelf, next to the jar of pickled eggs and the pyramid of cans. He had already filled the other shelves with pop bottles and bars of chocolates, and moved across to the deep fat fryers.
"I remember when I was young, fish really tasted like fish in those days!" A miserable looking old woman snatched the two portions out of Rolly’s hand, grabbing a loose chip off the counter as she went. Harvey felt uncomfortable standing in front of all those people, so he turned to walk back upstairs, when Auntie spotted him.
"If you’re staying here, then you'll have to work!"
Rolly watched his face drop, as she pointed to the chipping machine.
"Those potatoes need peeling!"
This was rapidly turning into the worst day of his life!
There was an enormous pile of potatoes in the back room, and Rolly threw him a pair of gloves as he delved into one of the open sacks.
"And don't forget to wash them first!" Auntie continued to bark out her orders as he slipped them on.
Harvey filled the sink with water and began loading it with dirty potatoes. He would have to scrub every one first, before they could be dropped into the electric peeler. When the first one was ready, he fed it in carefully through the small hole in the top of the machine, which whirled it round, bumping it against the side as the outer skin was removed. This was actually quite good fun, only taking a few seconds, before the potato came rolling out all neatly skinned. Next, he placed it in the chopping machine, which made the chunky chips Auntie’s Traditional Fish and Chip Shop was famous for!
"Hurry up with those chips Harvey!" Her voice boomed out over the background noise of the shop. He scooped some up into a bucket, and carried them in to Rolly who winked, with that twinkle in his eye. Harvey always knew he was up to something when ever he saw it!
The dinner time rush was soon over, and after a brief spell of cleaning up; they all went into the back for a rest. Harvey had saved himself a small portion of chips, although he did not feel hungry. His mind kept slipping back to that heated argument his parents had had the night before. He always hated it when they fell out, which was usually over his father’s job.
"Do I have to go to these negotiations with you? We've only been here a few weeks, and I haven't even had enough time to unpack!" His mother was fed up with the amount of relocations, having lived in nine different countries in the last ten years.
"You knew I worked for the Foreign Office when you married me!"
She got increasingly annoyed. “I know I did, but I don’t see why I have to accompany you everywhere!”
His father started waving his hands about. “They’re holding a big formal ceremony, and we’ve all been told to bring our partners!”
His mother started shouting. “Well your not taking me, I’m fed up with all this constant travelling. For once in my life I want to stay in the same place for more than five minutes!”
“I don’t care, you’re coming, and that’s that!” He banged his fist down on the table.
“Oh I am, am I?” She threw an ornament at him, which smashed on the floor by his feet. "What about your son - hasn't he had enough disruption lately?” Harvey did not mind disruption, what was upsetting him was missing out on a journey through the star gate. "We could have at least taken him with us!"
His father dodged another incoming ornament. "Now you know that's not possible!"
She fired one final salvo, before bowing to the inevitable. "Well if I do go, then I’m not going to enjoy myself!" She had then stormed out into the garden, in a flood of tears. His mother was an artist, with the artistic temperament to go with it!
"Harvey!” Rolly suddenly attracted his attention. “I've got something to show you!" He looked across at Auntie, who was dozing in her chair. "Over here!"
Harvey crept across the room, to where Rolly was sitting on the settee. He was pointing to their new digital television, which was connected to one of the cable network systems.
"Sit down here, whilst I find the chocolate wafers!" Harvey did not need asking twice, now this was a bit more like it!
Rolly grabbed the remote control as the television came to life. It was very big, with a large speaker attached to either side. He was surprised at the particularly crisp picture, which was unusual for a set of this size. Rolly opened the chocolate wafers, offering one to Harvey before settling down.
“Welcome, welcome wherever you are, this is the show that can take you far!” Harvey wondered what was going on, as a man in a red suit swivelled round.
“I'm Dele Berry, your host for today!”
“It’s an interactive quiz show!” Rolly pointed to the screen as the show’s host gave way to a view of the studio audience that was sitting in front of him. Rolly was selecting camera angles, which made the programme a bit more interesting. He then selected the main option again, as the host pointed towards them, with a big grin on his face.
“I wonder who'll be playing today? Remember all you have to do is to call 20-30-40 now, and you could be playing 'Trip of a Lifetime’!”
"What's this then?" Harvey was getting very curious.
"Ssssh!" Rolly was concentrating on Dele, waiting for his signal.
“OK, the lines are open for your chance to play 'Trip of a lifetime'. Dial-20-30-40 now, and you could win tickets on a luxury deep space cruiser!"
"Wow!" Harvey suddenly got very excited. "Can we?"
Rolly had already reached for the telephone. He had been desperate to have a go ever since he had seen the first trailer advertising the program. But when he dialled the number it was engaged. Harvey urged him to try again, and at the second attempt they entered the stacking system, with countless others.
“Welcome, you are now through to Dele!”
The boys looked at each other, suddenly realising how close they were to appearing on the programme.
“Who's our first caller today?” Dele looked expectantly towards them. Although he could not see anyone, he made great play of the fact that they could see him. He did another swivel, pointing back towards the screen again. That was the best thing with this interactive television - everyone thought the presenter was talking directly to them at home, and it made things more intimate, particularly when milked by an old pro like Dele.
A voice rang out, as Dele listened expectantly. “Hi, I'm Bob.”
Dele smiled. “Welcome to the show Bob. Are you ready to play?”
Bob got very excited as the camera panned to the other side of the set.
“We now need the help of our lovely assistant, Sabrina.”
A leggy blonde girl with big hair walked out from behind the back scene, wearing a flimsy little dress and very high heels. “Hi, Dele!” She tottered over to where he was standing, as the audience clapped at the choreographed routine, which developed as he swung her around so that they both came to rest with an arm around each other and the other one waving at the audience.
They broke off, as she went to stand by her little table. “OK folks, lets 'spot that dot’!” Sabrina took hold of three red glasses, which she showed to the camera. On the table sat a black counter, which was easy to spot on the green surface. The audience stared into a big screen, which was showing a close up of her placing the counter under the middle glass, which she then swapped around with the other two.
“OK, Bob - 'spot that dot’!”
The audience shouted out, as he studied the glasses.
“I think it’s under the last one!”
Sabrina lifted the glass gently, as Bob held his breath. “Yeeeaa…nooo!” It was not there, and Sabrina lifted the middle one to reveal the counter. Bob left disappointed, as the next caller got through.
“My name’s Audrey!”
Dele raised his eyebrows. “Well now then Audrey, are you ready to ‘spot that dot'?”
She studied the glasses, as Sabrina swapped them around again. Audrey was silent as the audience shouted out, “the middle one.” Dele tried to hurry her up a bit.
“I'll start the clock, you've got ten seconds!”
She still was not sure, as the clock counted down.
“It’s the first one!”
There was silence, before Dele spoke. “So you think it’s the first one… are you sure?”
Audrey mumbled. “Yes, Dele!”
His face sucked in some air, as Sabrina lifted the first glass.
“I'm afraid you’re wrong!” The counter appeared under the middle one again, and the audience groaned.
Rolly was getting excited, particularly when the line suddenly buzzed.
“Hello you’re through to Dele Berry!”
He nearly dropped the phone with excitement.
“Hello, Dele's waiting!”
Rolly suddenly spoke. "Hi I'm Rolly from Auntie’s fish and chip shop!"
Dele started laughing. “I'll have piranha and chips, and make it snappy!” You could hear the audience laughing, as Rolly stumbled his way onto the show. “Are you ready to play 'spot that dot'?”
Rolly managed to get out a rather pathetic ‘yes’, as Sabrina switched glasses again.
He was so busy watching her that he did not notice Harvey, and before he had a chance to say anything, Harvey shouted out, "I think it’s the middle one!"
Dele looked towards them. “Are you sure, or are you fishing for a clue?” Everyone went into fits of laughter as Dele clutched his aching sides. “This is the best call I have in ages, shall we see if he's right?”
The audience cheered as Sabrina lifted the middle glass, revealing the small black counter. Rolly sat motionless on the settee, not quite believing what they were doing.
“Now, tell me, who you've got there helping you at your plaice!”
The audience continued to laugh, as Rolly managed to get the words 'my Cousin Harvey' past his lips.
“Well boys, this could be your big chance, because today you’re going to play 'Chip of a lifetime!” This got the audience whipped up into frenzy, as Rolly rapidly became a laughing stock.
Harvey blushed, sinking into his seat, trying to hide beneath the scatter cushions. Rolly took another wafer, seeking solace in its thick chocolate.
“So – you’re cousins. Do you look alike? I bet you’re parents think you’re a chip of the old block!”
Even Rolly had to smile, amid the embarrassment.
“So tell me, is that the shop on Main Street? Only I heard there was a fight in there last week and a cod got battered!”
The roar was deafening from the audience as Dele rattled through all of the old jokes in his repertoire.
Rolly began to pull himself together. "Is that really Delhi Belly?" The audience now went out of control as Rolly got his words all muddled up.
“Listen, son, I do the jokes around here!” Dele knew he was on to a winner, and was determined to milk it for all it was worth. After all, there was a ratings war going on!
Harvey was getting really excited now as he unwrapped his wafer bar.
“Well then, Rolly, how would you and Harvey like a trip on a luxury deep space cruiser?”
Harvey just sat there open mouthed as Dele swept past the camera, with members of the audience trailing behind.
“OK boys, you have to guess two out of the next three shuffles to win ‘Trip of a lifetime!” Sabrina put the counter under one of the glasses, and started shuffling them around. “Which one is it under, my little chipmunks?” The volume of laughter rose again from the audience as Dele reeled off the latest of his running gags.
"The first one!"
Sabrina raised the glass, revealing the counter.
“I like your style, son; I think we have a winner on our hands!” The audience cheered as they got behind him. Harvey on the other hand, had a feeling that things were going a little too well, and that they would be lucky to get it right next time.
Sabrina shuffled the glasses and Rolly chose the first one again. Harvey watched her lifted the glass with a groan from the audience, as there was no counter beneath. Everything now depended on the final shuffle, and the audience went quiet, as she moved the glasses for the last time. “Spot that dot!”
Dele, realising the show was slipping away from him, and fearing a backlash if they lost, decided to walk up the isle to ask individual members of the audience what they thought. A skinny woman with a big nose shouted out something, waving her arms about excitedly. Dele approached and she leapt out of her seat, rushing towards him. The audience cheered as the camera swung round to where a security man was having to restrain her.
“It's just one of those shows folks!” Dele composed himself again, as Harvey suddenly worked out what Sabrina was doing.
"It’s a trick question - it’s not under any of them!"
She lifted all of the glasses with her left hand, opening the palm of her right to reveal the counter.
“Congratulations, boys!” Dele adjusted his jacket, putting on his big fake smile for the cameras. “We have ourselves a winner!”