I never get tired of nature, it soothes the frustrated brow and my garden is no exception, it has taken 4 years for it to settle in and there is still some time to go. I cant get over how well the squashes are doing, they just keep growing (all from supermarket veg seeds) some of them are fruiting some of them aren’t, either way come the autumn we should be in for a bumper crop. I am going to do a series of posts on what to do with gluts of vegetables you end up with….if there is something you are particularly interested in just mention it in the comments and I will try and make it for you 🙂
A few years ago I missed the opportunity to see the legend that is Eric Clapton who was playing at the time on the day of my birthday. Imagine my excitement when I discovered he was playing again on my birthday this year and at the Royal Albert Hall no less, well I may have said the words ‘come hell or high water’ and mother obligingly found tickets and hotels etc even managed to book us a special lunch for the day after bless her. The morning of my birthday started well despite the tardiness of the bus for London but this was no real problem as we were not in any rush to be anywhere in London until later that day. Our hotel was modest (a tad scruffy) but immaculately clean and the breakfast was simple with friendly staff so all in all a bargain considering it was also the start of the RHS Chelsea flower show. Wagamama as usual did not disappoint with the choice of Japanese mixed mushroom and pulled pork with pano Apple steamed buns a new thing for me to try at home in the near future. Some shopping was done batman trousers were bought and a new dress with jacket (birthday treats) and new jpg classic woman (thank you mamma).
Having not been to the Royal Albert Hall before it was quite an experience, the building itself is beautiful and so are the contents. The staircases are grand and as we had Box Seats it was quite an experience, no one in front to skew the picture! It was a dramatic wait for the show to stair, my anticipation building as I hoped it would be everything i’d imagined and more. The Andrew Fairweather Revival were a brilliant warm up, with Andy working the songs and the guitars with his usual skill and charm, I was lifted back to the usual excitement of being at a gig. Then the lights go down and mum and I glance at each other. The gig itself was every bit as amazing as I thought, however I have to say it (and im not the only one) he played the wrong version of Layla (acoustic not electric) some would argue better for me, I would have preferred the electric but you cant have it all. Its also weird realising that he dances like your dad, you kind of expect a man of his rhythm to be able to throw some shapes but interestingly no. The light show was spectacular and his guitar accompaniment was perfect.
The next morning after a simple continental breakfast off to the V&A for some free museum fun, and indeed fun it was. I put 50p in the donation box all the same. Through Asia and India right through to the Islamic Middle East an exhibition which particularly caught my eye, the colours were quite extraordinary and the exhibits were fascinating, we only spent an hour in there partly because mum wasn’t feeling too good and also because we were off to Le Caprice for lunch, again quite excited as i had heard so many good things. We had already been called that morning to confirm our table was still required which of course it was, and sat down a moment or two early within 10 minutes the place was full of business lunchers, not a problem however the food was excellent as was the service. My beautiful and imaginative salads stimulated my palette and were visually stunning although I took photos they do not do them justice, I would also like to recreate the burrata was a revelation in my food career, it was heaven (I have now tracked down premade in Waitrose hoping it will be as good)
After lunch it was back home on the bus to Somerset and back to my flat for dinner and a chilled evening with netflix.
Mrs Phelps looked on at the girls they were doing well although Lucy was a hard nut to crack her blind terror and determination meant that it was difficult to break the shell of her psyche but Amelia on the other hand submitted straight away, the men were as she expected their fight or flight instinct being coloured by their desire to protect their fellow team mates regardless of their emotional distance normally. She could see the cracks in the emotional bonds which held their team together, although the men were trying in some sense to save the women the ‘team’ as it were was no more, it became as if four random people had been brought together in a horrible situation.
They begun to cling to each other, both Henry and David stuck unable to move. “We must think of something” they both whispered simultaneously and then jumped apart in an attempt to gain composure, they looked around the room again checking to see if there was any kind of escape route, but there was nothing, “Wait!” Henry said “the phone…it laughed at us but surely we can use it to call for help?” David looked down at the phone as if it were some kind of bomb waiting to explode “Ugh i guess so, anythings worth a try.” After a minute or so Henry broke his stare, he snatched up the receiver on the table clasping it to his ear opened his mouth and stopped.
The girls were still separate in the large room they had stumbled into after the bust in the hallway, Lucy unable to gain any sense from Amelia who was still fully under the influence of the gem, has begun to wander unsuccessfully round to find some way of escape. Amelia looked withdrawn, eyes blank and skin pale she was staring at her hands with a look of disbelief, she had been like it for about 15 minutes now. Not that Lucy had seen as the lighting had not exactly helped the situation although her eyes had started to adjust to the low light and was starting to see some shapes more clearly. They continued to feel their way round their respective sides of the room Lucy looking for a way out and Amelia exploring the warped environment she had entered under the influence of the mind controlled state she was in.
In fact it was not literally mind control it was a fuge state which was caused by her shock during the team building exercise.
Henry stood still a look of utter terror on his face, David stared at Henry with a look of confusion he had not heard the noise he had only witnessed the reaction as Henry put the receiver to his ear. “What happened?” asked David, who really wasn’t sure whether he wanted to know the answer to the question. “That voice…I heard it again…it just laughed again and called me a fool..” Henry looked crestfallen what were they to do if they couldn’t call for help? David was reeling with confusion with all the problems he could see how the team would manage to pull this together, maybe they weren’t as good as they thought they were after all.
This is of course what the consultants wanted them to think, its obvious that in a universe where every ending is a happy one they would manage to sort everything out and rescue the girls…but this is not that kind of universe.
Lucy began to wonder how long they had been stuck in this room, she cast an eye round the room to see what Amelia was doing, she was kneeling down still staring around the room as she had been when Lucy last looked. Lucy fumbled for her phone maybe that would give her a clue? The handset just went blank when she pressed the power button. ‘bugger’ she muttered ‘I wonder how that happened’ she thought to herself she was sure it had full charge when she had left the house that afternoon, it seemed odd that the power had drained to quickly, she could always check tomorrow when the team building was over. Then she heard a scream she flinched and swirled round to see Amelia standing covered in blood but looking around there was no one else there.
The CCTV camera screens flickered intermittently the operative in charge of the screens had decided a smoke and a nap would be more productive, it was 8pm how much drama could there be? They had barely started the evenings activities so he figured they wouldn’t notice.
Elsewhere in the house all manner of things were unfolding. Mrs Phelps had also been watching with interest on a separate set of CCTV camera screens and it amused her to see how things were developing.
David and Henry had now found what they thought was the dining room in which they were to be briefed, in truth they were in an observation room and will remain there until the Amelia and Lucy joined them. In the corner of the room was a small screen showing a camera attached to a silent drone which was following the girls. It took a moment for David and Henry to realise what was going on and suddenly the thought dawned on them, what if something happened they had no way of helping they were helpless. Amelia was at that moment entranced by the bust on the table unable to break her stare even though she knew that she needed to, there was a gust of wind which washed over her like a warm summer breeze, then everything stopped. The silence rang through the house deafening to both Lucy and Amelia, a stark contrast to the almost enjoyable breeze just moments ago. They looked at each other and shivered, it was dark, the gust of wind had blown the candles out down the hall leaving them to scrabble for their mobiles for a light. Amelia managed hers first and gasped as she saw the bust had grown in size and had crushed the table it stood on into fire wood. Then they heard a dripping sound, a single droplet of water falling every few moments just loud enough to alert anyone who might be near. It made Lucy wince, one because she hated the sound of dripping taps but also because she needed the loo; Amelia on the other hand was trying ineffectually to remain calm and collected about the whole situation, this would have worked if she wasn’t the one standing so close to the dripping water, looking up into the rafters it wasn’t clear were the water was coming from but she was pretty sure she didn’t really want to find out.
There was a long pause and then Lucy’s voice came trembling from the dim lighting behind Amelia “what on earth are we going to do now?” There was a clattering somewhere in the distance, she hoped she had imagined it because otherwise that meant that they weren’t the only ones in the room, although she thought they would have at least seen the other two by now, she had assumed they were safe but after what just happened her anxiety levels shot through the roof. She quickly thought back but couldn’t remember anything from the past hour, she wondered what the hell was going on whilst fumbling for her mobile to turn on the torch and shone it around her, she just caught a glimpse of Amelia who was about 10ft away from her before the light died along with her battery. Panicked by the dark Lucy called out to Amelia in the dark, “Amelia are you ok?” There was no answer, surely she had heard her she was only a few feet away.
She heard it again only this time it was different, there was a buzz and a tingle each time it dropped. The atmosphere felt electric almost fully-charged some might say.
Amelia was frozen, she couldn’t move for fright, the bravado she had affected earlier had weakened and died, this was too much for her now the atmosphere thick and soupy as she tried to move her arms and legs, she thought she heard something…someone calling her name maybe? She looked but she couldn’t see anyone around her. Why was she here? Who brought her to this place? She couldn’t remember the last few hours had been erased and something was different, she felt like her body wasn’t her own somehow.
Henry and David looked on at the small screen wishing that they could think of a way out to rescue them, they looked at each other desperate with fear “what are we going to do?” Babbled David horrified at what he saw. Henry cast around for some kind of inspirational plan to save the day but all he saw was a table and a terrified David.
Then they noticed the speakerphone on the table silent and unrelenting then they hear a laugh it wasn’t loud but it wasn’t a pleasant one like that of an innocent child, it was mocking derogatory in its tone. Both of them jumped in alarm and looked at each other “where the hell did that come from?” Whispered David, Henry rolled his eyes “the speakerphone duh!” “Yes I know that but it must be somewhere in the house” said David “true but with the internet nowadays you can be anywhere in the world and still taunt people” replied Henry. Defeated by the argument David looked around in the hope of an escape route but nothing came to his immediate attention, he sighed and looked at Henry who had started to eye up the table as a booster to get to the chimney duct, one o f the only truly possible ways of escaping this room. The door they had come in seemed to have disappeared.
The rain had stopped but the wind still howled through the trees and the many large fireplaces throughout the house. It made it cold for the team as they changed into their dry clothes (no warmer but at least not wet anymore) they had barely spoken since they were all picked up from the office 4 hours or so previously. The usual nod of ‘hello’ and the odd ‘so how was your weekend?’; although they worked together they didn’t socialise together, which outsiders might find odd but it is not uncommon.
It had been easy to decide the room arrangements, as none of them were connected romantically it was girls in one guys in the other. Even with this segregation there was still unease whilst they were changing for dinner.
The girls the usual hair, clothes and make up routine; the guys sat on their respective beds glued to their smartphones (despite the lack of wifi it seemed there was some 3g reception floating round.
The rooms themselves were high-ceilinged with pale green paint (at least thats what it looked like) it could just be dust and age for all anyones guess.
One thing they did collectively feel was that something was not right. Although of course none of them knew this through not having spoken to each other.
Amelia checked her email on her smart phone she was surprised to get the signal working, nothing exciting came, a couple of funny videos from her family and a boring meeting she was due to be having this week. She checked Facebook her last status update was “off to ‘team building’ exercise…” 3 people had liked it, she wondered if they had been sincere when they had pressed that ‘like’ button.
Lucy was feeling very unsettled and she wouldn’t mind admitting it just not here and not now. The room was uninviting and lacked warmth in any form; she was sure she had seen a cockroach scuttle by at some point and they were apparently going to eat here? She felt the need to say something at least, the silence was deafening as every creak and moan between here and the front door rang through the house in waves. Although conversation had been limited (as it always was, after the incident everyone got on with their own jobs) she was sure some kind of pleasantries should be exchanged as she turned to speak to Amelia she picked up her phone.
“So are you looking forward to tonight?” Lucy ploughed on anyway as she could bare the silence no more. Amelia slightly startled at Lucy’s sudden outburst she was momentary disorientated; “Umm i guess so, i always look forward to a challenge, the fact that i don’t know what we will be doing adds to the excitement, how about you?”. Lucy slightly shocked by such a frank response she stammered “Umm uh yes, challenges are great…” she trailed off feeling slightly out of her depth. They lapsed back into silence both slightly relieved that the moment was over. “I suppose we should go downstairs soon” Amelia said trying not to sound too bossy, “I thought they were meant to be coming to get us?” Lucy chimed in “at least we wouldn’t get lost on the way then”. “Unfortunately i don’t think thats an option in this house” Amelia replied “I suppose we just head back the way we came and hope there is some signage?” Lucy begrudgingly agreed and they set off down the hall way together.
Henry was watching the afternoons rugby scores which he had missed due to being dragged to Ikea (an existential nightmare in itself) apparently necessary due to the dog eating some bathroom soft furnishings, why she could not shop in Sainsburys or something similar like everyone else was anyones guess. He was not intimidated by the imposing nature of the house or by the thought of a mystery evening ahead, although he didn’t mind admitting he was curious. The gothic house was a nice touch he thought though added atmosphere to the ‘mystery’ they were supposed to be solving. He was however quite peeved about being made cold and wet when the taxi sped off, he was going to complain about that to someone, he didn’t appreciate having to change before dinner but hey-ho. Looking over at David who was similarly peering at the smart phone screen although Henry was unsure as to what was so interesting. “Hey David, do you think we should head down soon?”
David looked up from his phone “sorry? I was miles away” he looked down at the images splayed across his screen and closed them quickly. He has been trying with little success to stay calm, he didn’t feel comfortable here, even though he knew this was inevitable (the place was not designed to be plush and welcoming) he hadn’t heard Henry calling over to him although the noise had startled him. Henry repeated himself. “oh uh yes Henry i suppose we should” he flailed around gathering his things together. As the manager of the team some people may be wondering how this is possible, but the truth is David was a good manager, just not under pressure.
They had expected to see the girls walking down at the same time, both of them were quite sure they had heard two sets of foot steps walking past their door just now. They paused a minute to get their bearings, the dimly lit hall way was hard to navigate they stayed close to the edges so they could try and maintain a straight line direction back towards the stairs they can climbed earlier.
It looked menacing in the candle light. Sat at the end of the hall way was a small table with a bust on-top. It was no one recognisable, the poor lighting coupled with dust and cobwebs tarnished the bronze work. Amelia and Lucy were entranced by the jewel sat between the eyes, they gravitated towards it to get a closer look.
To be continued in fourth part.
They all traipsed upstairs, wet and covered in mud.
Amelia Dawson cursed the decision to have a ‘team building’ exercise, but management insisted after the ‘magical’ consultant had said that they needed to work together better; she thought they worked well together but what was she to know? If she had her way they would have been doing something far less bizarre than spending a night solving a mystery in some gothic mansion in the countryside.
Henry Gibbon winced as he started up the stairs, his old rugby injury had been playing him up since the weather changed the day before. The bag he had packed for this weekend was starting to feel rather heavy despite the lack of things in there. His thoughts turned to the ‘team building’ he had been roped into by work, it was frustrating to think that the consultants had concerns with the way they worked, he understood that there may be room for improvement but would rather it be less extreme than this. Still he hoped there would be a warm bed at least to get some sleep in.
Lucy Peppermint followed the two in front of her, lost in the architecture of the building and its dramatic gothic interior; the wall hangings were floor to ceiling and the gargoyles glared menacingly from the rafters. Oddly she was quite looking forward to this evening, although it was not anything she would normally do but recently she had taken the decision to try new things; she only hoped that this wasn’t a step too far.
David Large brought up the rear of the party as the manager of the team he felt it best to hang back to see how they respond to the start of the exercise, although little did they know that it had started the moment the consultants had arrived. Watching them had been interesting, and no doubt there would be changes after this ‘team building’ but the result was anyones guess at that moment.
Mrs Phelps watched them climb the stairs with interest, the weather had been unfortunately appropriate in adding to the atmosphere for this evening. The wheels had been set in motion the task started now.
You may be wondering what the hell is going on by now? The gothic mansion, the team building, the mystery solving. Well to give you some background; the bedraggled team we have been following this short while are involved in a lengthly human experiment designed to ascertain the affect of stress on a team and whether it can be rebuilt in the face of disaster. Why you ask yourself would anyone do this? Large corporations need good teams, good teams have ups and downs and its the way they handle the downs that can make or break them. So the hypothesis is to see if ‘shocking’ a team who are trying to solve a problem can be brought together more effectively with the addition of an extra much larger problem.
Why are they in a gothic mansion you ask? Well 2 reasons, one why not? and two it adds atmosphere to the task at hand. Imagination can do two thirds of the work in increasing the intensity of the experience.
The house itself is largely staged, although the building is several hundred years old most of the contents is not. The weather does its own thing but seems to be inclined to be stormy the night of most ‘exercises’ making the whole process so much easier (difficult for something to be imposing and intimidating with sunny glades all around you).
Enough has been said now, until next time.
The door creaked open just an inch and the group were faced with a small elderly woman (clearly a housekeeper in the clique way she would be) “Yes?” she said peering out into the darkness of the night. “We are here to stay the night? Party of four under Dawson”.