#12 Coming Home
Captain Jones

A short while ago, I set a course for home, following from memory – and the smell of hot soup – the route that Max took away from the Wild Things. I have taken over the navigation: the safety of this ship and the care of the crew are my responsibility as Captain and, frankly, I was afraid if I left our final journey to Satnav Steve, we might give a new resonance to the ship’s name and wander the Universe of Stories for ever after. A tad more training is in order for him, I think, before the next voyage. I am beginning to suspect that the characters who gave him references were a little too steeped in fiction.

The ship, on the return, was loaded to the gunwales with treasures beyond price. All had been carefully catalogued and scrupulously examined by In-the-Know Joe, as well as being recorded by Copycat Kate: Mrs Twit’s glass eye, Just William’s cap, an arrow from Robin Hood, Mr McGregor’s watering can, a few last crumbs from Bruce Bogtrotter’s chocolate cake, Snow White’s apple, Sherlock Holmes’s magnifying glass, the sword Excalibur (which may mean that the government of the land now has to be moved to the Story Museum – I do hope they are willing to take that on), and a stray India red rubber ball (not sure where that came from). Our Never-Ending Store still has capacity, but we may be carrying more than there is space for The Story Museum to display.  I am also counting on them having no objection to a menagerie: we have brought with us Dr Dolittle’s parrot Polynesia, for instance – a very conversational creature. And – it seemed a coup when Lookout Kate and In-the-Know Joe adopted it – we have with us a baby dragon. I was anxious it might be a fire hazard, but had Cook Conomos keep its basket in the galley, where she has the wherewithal to put out a sudden blaze – but of course there is the worry that it won’t always stay this size.  I am hoping it is the same breed as Toothless and will stay tiny. Otherwise, even with that courtyard, a full-grown dragon might, before long, cause alarm and a bit of a crush in Pembroke Street. The University’s bulldogs might well take exception.

What an adventure it has been.  We have entered our wildest dreams. We have faced many dangers – the hurtle towards Superhero City made me a little less than captainly, I fear, in my alarm. We have hung on cliffs, dived into thick plots, negotiated unexpected twists and teetered on the brink of open endings.

 

And I have to say I was proud of my crew, whose commitment, imagination and attention to detail carried us through. Copycat Kate’s images were accurate records of skill and beauty and charm. Satnav Steve might have had no sense of direction but he was intrepid about adventure and kept us all cheerful with his lively travellers’ tales. In-the-know Joe brought a close and knowledgeable eye to our discoveries, along with invaluable technical skill and a way of expressing scientific ideas lyrically. Cook Conomos conjured delights out of thin air, not only in the galley but in between watches as she nourished us with her rich store of fables. Lookout Kate was not only a monkey in the rigging but also witty, resourceful and smart, and you could always count on her powers of observation.  Even the bandicoot had her moments: sometimes her tricksiness surprised us in a good way – she came up trumps, for instance, as sous-chef to the cook, when it came to gathering ingredients.  Any shared involvement with stories, it turns out, is a bonding experience.Our arrival into port was a happy one.  We were sailing into the sunset when Lookout Kate called ‘Land Ahoy!’, and we slipped away from aspiring dreams and towards the Dreaming Spires. There were gasps of delight in the Mission Control room at the Museum as we came down the gangplank with our finds. It is a place already bursting with imagination, and accustomed to the magic of going into stories, but even by their standards we had a rich haul.

We have places we still want to go.  We didn’t get to Interactivia – the land of video game stories. I took a decision not to make harbour there because its landscape is changing all the time. It seemed risky to come to rest on shifting sands. I think what we need on our next excursion is the company of children: they seem to be best at negotiating a path through this sort of terrain.

It is also of course true that our venture can never be complete. The Universe of Stories, as is the way of universes, has no known limit. There is no finite number of tales in the world, nor do we ever have enough. Those who hunger for narrative find their appetite is never sated, but only increased by being fed.  And like stars in the expanding universe, new stories are – happily – being born all the time.  We cannot count or itemise every creation in that twinkling heaven.  We can only gaze and wonder, and lose ourselves in the immensity. If you have an exploring spirit, as we do, I recommend that you take off on your own expedition into that universe and find your own treasures. Bon voyage.

Looks like Twist is coming home with me.

 

#6 Too Much Humandrama…
Captain Jones

First watch:
Fine weather dawning for story-collecting.  I’ve got a restless crew though – in that dangerous mid-voyage doldrums brought on by over-excitement and homesickness. The Land of Laughter left them in a silly mood, and they were further wound up by the frustration of being lost in Outer Space (I’m beginning to have my doubts about the skills of the Navigation Officer, though he came with the best references – from James T Kirk, Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain and Dora the Explorer herself).
Satnav Steve tends to blame Twist for misdirection, but when I confronted her, she bristled and denied all knowledge. I thought our action adventures would allow everyone to let off steam, and to some extent they did, but at the same time they added exhaustion to the mix. My crew are, by and large, a skilled and valiant bunch, but even the most stoical can be pushed too far. I think they need settling down.

It’s calm sailing, and Lookout Kate reports distant land. Humandrama, I’m sure. She can see home fires burning. There are families I plan to visit: the Marches (those four girls and their Marmee are always welcoming), the Mortmains (a little eccentric, but that means they are likely to accept my motley crew), and the Cassons (good fun but also unconventional, and the hospitality can be a bit haphazard if their mother has been busy painting in her shed – but then Cook Conomos can rustle up a feast out of the most unpromising ingredients). I have a soft spot for Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis, and we can get to them up the railway line.  I’d like to gather up that moment on the platform when Bobbie’s father returned, for the Story Museum’s collection. It’s a gem, to add to our treasures. Though all that steam will require a bit of ingenious protective packaging from In-the-Know Joe.

I am working on the principle that a bit of weeping can be good for a crew.  Releases tension.  And besides bucketsful of tears can be useful for swabbing the deck.  Because we’re after some moments that could have pretty soggy consequences. The happy endings as much as the sad ones. Family reunions (Hetty Feather and her mum, Harry looking into the Mirror of Erised), substitute parents stepping into the breach (Miss Honey, Charles in ‘Rooftoppers’ defending Sophie against the woman from social services, Mister Tom rescuing William), and, well, let’s face it, a bit of romantic soppiness (Will and Lyra’s bench, and quite a few star-crossed lovers). Generally I expect stiff upper lips from my crew, but this may be the time to bawl rather than bale.

Last watch:
Well that didn’t work out quite as I expected.  Yes, there were tears, and also some very jolly family gatherings.  But the crew wandered into a school building and Satnav Steve found himself involved in a fracas with Greg Heffley and a lot of kids yelling “Cheese Touch!”. Cook Conomos too was drawn by a smell of cake into a class full of children and witnessed Miss Trunchbull hitting a chocolate-covered boy called Bruce Bogtrotter over the head with a plate.

And Lookout Kate stayed up late with a bunch of boarders for a midnight feast. Meanwhile In-the-Know Joe, who had been perfecting his time machine, was all over history, and emerged quite shaken by everything he had observed. So instead of coming back aboard rested, they were all even more overwrought, not to mention short of sleep and on a sugar high.

With such a fractious crew, I think we could be heading for trouble. This evening they answered back to orders, as if they are all taking their cue from Twist. And there are mutterings about the strictness of my regime, when everyone knows a safe ship needs a firm hand. They explored a lot of stories today about standing up to bullies. I fear it could be giving them ideas.

I am not sure I shall sleep easy in my bunk.

 

#1.1 The Launch Date
Captain Jones

We launch on an auspicious day: 10 February, Plimsoll Day, the birthday of my hero Samuel Plimsoll, a Victorian who campaigned for the safety of sailors. Gave his name to the load line that shows how deep in the water a vessel can sit.  And also to the shoes schoolchildren wear for PE which were named after him by a sales rep called Mr Lace (it’s true – Lace who was in shoes) because, being rubber underneath and canvas above, they can only be safely immersed in water up to a certain point, like a merchant ship.

There’s our first story, though a true one. Perhaps I shall give my plimsolls to The Story Museum.

#1 Captain’s Blog
Captain Jones

Call me Captain Jones. I run a tight ship and am master of a glorious mission, a quest to find the 1001 objects and moments in your favourite fictional stories, which will take us into uncharted waters. Or uncharted skies. As well as lands with fantastic maps.

Today we were to set sail at 0800 hours from the Museum in our fabulous vessel, the Ever After, a Prattleship-Class Narrative Ark, which will be our home for the duration of the voyage. I’d sent Lookout Kate on a last-minute errand, and meanwhile intended to organise a human chain to load the kitbags and hammocks and collecting gear on board, but some of the rest of the crew had gone AWOL. (I think they’re going to need a firm hand. Proper respect should be paid to my experience and my gold braid.)

The only early boarder was the bandicoot, and she’s no use. Came trundling up the gangplank on the dot with an expression of entitlement.  As if she belongs. Twist stowed away once somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, and has been tagging along ever since. (I confess I’ve got oddly attached to the sneaky piece of work, despite her grumpiness. I suppose if all your relatives were extinct, you might get a bit glum too.)

The others showed up soon after. The Science Officer and the Ship’s Artist had gone exploring.  Too many objects of interest in the Museum, apparently.

The Navigator, Satnav Steven, turned up late because he’d got lost.

Still, just a bit behind schedule, we got everything stowed in the Never-Ending Store and were rewarded with breakfast supplied by Cook Conomos, accompanied by a loud tirade about how the timing of her Greek pancakes had been messed up by the delay.  At least this time she stopped short of throwing pans. (Though mostly she throws them at Twist.)

In case she changed her mind, I retired to the safety of the bridge with the Navigator to plot our course. It’s a tricky business.  Some directions are more specific than others: follow “the yellow brick road” or the train from Platform 9 and 3 /4; “second star on the right and straight on till morning”; “sail away for a year and a day”; “look toward the sun and walk into the sky”; “down the rabbit hole”; “through the wardrobe” … Some are very vague indeed: “one does not simply walk into Mordor”.

Am in constant contact with Mission Control at the Museum, which is collecting your ideas to beam up to us. We’ll be sucking and scooping them up through the Horton Hearing Hoover and in the Charlie Bucket, and catching thought bubbles in our Inter-net.

I gave the command to head first for the Land of Laughter. Always a good starting place for a long navigation through stories.

But Satnav Steven had wandered off again. I heard a voice saying “I have nothing to declare but my genius,” and “It is a truth universally acknowledged …” and tracked him down to the Observation Deck.

I had just given the order to weigh anchor and boost the Narrative Thrust, when Copy Kat, on First Watch, sounded the alarm. She thought Lookout Kate was still not aboard. I’d assumed she was, but she couldn’t be found.  She has a way of nipping up the rigging when not needed. Could she have slipped? Was she overboard …?