There are many things that I have observed since I was put in my cathedral to begin my career as an organ. Some are more beautiful than I care to describe. Others are the complete opposite to that. But I have never experienced anything so terrible, so evil or so strange as what I am about to relate, and I hope I will never do so again.
It was Christmas Eve. Since my field of vision extends to outside the windows of the cathedral, I could see that the sky outside was dark as fear, and that snow smothered the ground. The wind howled and shook the bare trees in anger. Or was it anger? Was it trying to warn them of something? It seemed to make the very walls of the cathedral groan in protest. Christmas Eve or not, the scene was far from festive. If the angels were due to come that night to enchant the world with their wondrous music, they never arrived. Instead, there was yet another blizzard which gave the world yet another coat of frozen fur.
The cathedral clock struck the hour. But which hour? Time appeared to have stopped on that night. Perhaps the old bells rang only out of habit, for that supreme being we will always be ruled by stood as still as a dead man’s heart. Or so it seemed to me. Even the gargoyles, who were ordinarily haughty and rather unpleasant, were silent. Perhaps they felt that, for once, they were failing in their task to repel evil spirits. The very scent of loneliness and the taste of silence filled the still, empty air of the cathedral.
A child entered the cathedral. He was no more than twelve years of age, and yet something in his eyes gave him the appearance of one much older than his years. Despite the biting cold, he was only dressed in rags. He sat on a pew and shivered. He looked up at the florid ceiling above him, then closed his eyes, trying to stop the tears that I could see were fighting to break their barriers. He was frozen, friendless and completely alone in the world. He had no permanent home or shelter; no money; nothing. And now he had come to this cathedral for shelter. But he had long lost faith. In fact, he thought, he wondered if he had ever truly believed at all. Of course, he would never tell anyone this. It was a heresy; a crime not to believe in the scriptures. But Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution had been discovered a few years before he was born. Naturally, no one had told him that. He had picked it up, like most other things, from listening to the conversations of the rich on the streets. And yet this boy, as uneducated as he may seem to the reader, was in fact highly intelligent. He knew much more than most boys of his age, but let on nothing to the world around him. How do I know all this? I have a sixth sense: I can tell many things about people that are not necessarily visible to the eye, and can feel the feelings of others in a very literal sense.
Soon, the boy felt himself floating… drifting… then, he crossed that thin border, that equator between waking and sleeping. At first, all there was was silence for miles around, white and beautiful nothingness to the boy; the sort of nothingness people ordinarily experience so rarely because they do not listen to their surroundings; the sort of nothingness the ignorant might call “deadly”, but is in fact one of the most valuable things anyone can possess. But this boy DID listen to his surroundings. After a moment, the scene changed. The boy was sitting on a rock above the sea. Shapes began to emerge from the high waves that lashed at the rock, and they floated in and out of focus. They were strange, but the boy could only see their shadows, and even they were indistinct…. They moved quickly, some passing very close to his face in a rush of air. One thing was clear: they were not solid. And yet they appeared to be somehow alive. They filled the air with a quiet, yet somehow uncanny whispering. The tongue they spoke in was not English, or any other language known to man, for that matter. The boy could tell that much, even though the words lay just beyond his field of hearing. Slowly, the sounds became louder and louder, until all the boy could hear was a huge, incomprehensible cell of noise in which he was imprisoned. Then, above the noise came a voice. Quiet and yet clear, calling his name. The boy had had this vision night after night for as long as he was able to remember.
Then, the voice began to sing. It was a song like no other human ears have ever heard before. The voice was female, clearly that of a young girl. But no ordinary young girl could sing such magic. The music was haunting, but the most beautiful the boy had ever heard. By now, the shapes had vanished back into the depths of the sea’s great mouth, leaving only the song to be heard. Its words were, again, in that language of the shapes, although now, the boy could hear them. Although he could not understand them, they were beautiful words, and he could tell that. “Azio ria, azio ria. Azio ria za. Aniyo zia, anio zia, nianazia.” Those were only a few of the words of the song. The boy had to reach the source of the sound. His eyes searched desperately.
Then he saw it. Every time the boy had had this vision in the past, he had searched in vain for the singer. But now, he saw her. He was sitting on a rock opposite him but he could not reach her. The waves were too high, and water too deep, the current too strong, the fish too dangerous. But he would have risked almost anything to be with that person, nay, that other worldly spirit that sat just out of his reach. Indeed, the rocks were so close, not much would have been needed for him to reach out and touch her. If she had not been a spirit and if the sea did not separate them with a narrow strip, yet far too wide in the eyes of the boy. The spirit that was singing in front of him was the most beautiful thing the boy had ever seen. Her hair was long and black, her eyes the colour of emeralds, her clothes were a cloak of gold and yet she was as light, as free, as graceful as air. But then, the boy realised: he could not join her. For she was a spirit and he a human. They could not mix. In despair he threw himself from the rock and landed beneath the folds of the sea’s embrace…
“What are you doing here?” The boy jumped and woke instantly from his trance. A man was standing over him. He was obviously a vicar, for he was wearing black robes. But, for some reason, the boy instantly did not like him. “Well?”
“I was looking for shelter from the cold and I was so tired I went to sleep.”
“Went to sleep?”
“What’s your name?”
“Gabriel? Gabriel what?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, “you don’t know”?”
“My parents died years ago. I never knew my surname. I was too young to be told.”
“You are attending divine service, of course.”
“Well, I would rather do that than go back out there again.”
“I would rather attend divine service than go back outside.”
“What do you mean? You will, of course, be worshipping with us.”
“No.” Gabriel gasped. He could not believe he had revealed his lack of belief. “I- I mean yes, of course. Of course I will. What could I have been thinking of? Oh, sir, please forgive me!”
Gabriel stared at him. “But it’s freezing out there!”
“Get OUT of my cathedral this instant!”
Gabriel took a deep breath. “It’s not your cathedral. It’s everyone’s, or people wouldn’t come here. And besides, I don’t understand. I thought Christians were supposed to follow the will of God. And I thought that that was to be kind and loving. But you’re sending me out to freeze to death!”
“You are possessed by Satan!”
“I am not! Satan does not even exist! And why should it be considered evil to have my own opinions? I don’t understand.”
The man looked at him thoughtfully. Then, very slowly, he nodded. “Very well,” he said, icily. “You will not go out tonight. And you will not join us for divine service.” Gabriel thought he saw the ghost of a smile cross the vicar’s face, and then instantly disappear again. But it was a smile void of laughter; void of humour. “Instead, you will follow me.”
“Follow you? Why? Where to?”
“FOLLOW ME!” the man repeated, louder this time. In spite of himself, Gabriel found himself standing and following the vicar, as if drawn by some invisible rope or chain tied around his middle. Indeed, he fought as hard as he could, but felt such a strain on his stomach that he felt he must obey.
If I was not able to see all parts of the cathedral, my tale would stop here. But I have the good fortune to have that power, so from hence I shall go on.
Here is a link that contains an article on a recent nomination she received from her Form Tutor at school for the Cambridgeshire Young People of the Year. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you will find Alexia.
September 7th 2013
Everything There Is To Know About Me
Chapter One -Some Stuff About Me
Now, seeing as this is called “Everything There Is To Know About Me”, I think I’d better tell you everything there is to know about me before I tell you about my life. Well, not EVERYTHING, that would be a bit boring. Unless you really want to know that I live in a palace on the moon and that I have a real pet alien and that I come to school in a flying saucer every day and how many times I brush my teeth per year. No, I think I’ll stick to things that aren’t deadly secrets. For the moment, anyway. Are you sure you want to know? Really? All right, here goes:
I’m a very self-critical perfectionist. My “best” isn’t always what I’m the happiest with. The way I look at it is that you can always do better. I love any genre of fictional books and HAVE to read every night or I can’t sleep. Also, using my imagination is another necessity for me. Now, that does NOT mean to say that everything you are reading here is totally made up. It just means not all of it is necessarily factual. You can never be sure with me. Something else I love: Music, (writing and playing as well as listening. Mainly Classical, Renaissance, Baroque, etc). I play three types of recorder, the piano, the organ and I sing in several choirs, as well as composing whenever I can. That’s the main reason why I did not want to include a CD. The publishers tried to persuade me, of course, but I didn’t want the book to fail just because readers wouldn’t like my compositions. That wouldn’t be very intelligent, would it?
Now, I’m going to LEND you the key to my private world now, so all you billions of readers had better keep it to yourselves. Don’t go telling everyone what Alexia Sloane daydreams about, or I might just compose something and dedicate it to you. Right, so I usually fantasise about being somewhere in my imagination or in a book. Maybe looking for ideas for stories and books in spite of the fact I know I should be concentrating. Actually, it’s more in maths and science lessons, to be honest. But it depends what we’re doing, of course!
Oh dear. You want to know what really annoys me. Hmmm. I hope you’re not one of these people, or you may be offended. I can’t bear people who patronise me. If it’s younger children than me, well, I’m older than them, so how DARE THEY? If it’s adults, well, I think they should know better, don’t you? I quite often feel like doing it back. “Ooh, how nice. You spent the holidays writing a book? That’s good, isn’t it?” Grrr! But, being the nice, obedient, polite little girl that I am, I wouldn’t do it, of course.
My bad habits? How dare you! I don’t have any. I’m a nice, obedient, polite little girl! Well, actually, I do practice my music WITH THE DOOR WIDE OPEN. For some reason, my family doesn’t seem over keen. Not sure why. I’m just trying to encourage more classical music listening. They should appreciate it. But it’s mainly my parents, so on second thoughts, it’s quite normal. That’s adults in all their flying colours for you.
Now, an embarrassing story: Hmmm… Actually, I’m not sure whether I should write this. Oh, all right. If you insist. Well, it was only in year seven so not that long ago which makes it worse. Well, (naming no names) I had a person in one of my classes who I thought was a boy. And so I mentioned something about this when we had to do some drama. I said that this person should play a boy’s role because he WAS a boy. And then the others in my group, (including the person) burst out laughing. I asked why and found out that he was actually a girl. I think I need to improve my hearing. Maybe I’ll book an ENT appointment.
Now, I didn’t tell you, but I’m quite ambitious. I’d like to spend at least a month in Germany, Italy and China, both to practice the languages, (all of which I’m learning) and to learn more about the culture. I want to go to Cambridge University to study either languages or music and I’d like to become an interpreter and an author. But I’ll always stick to music as a hobby, of course!
You want to know what my favourite SMELL is? I don’t know, the questions I’m asked. I don’t really have a FAVOURITE smell as such. I just have quite a few smells I really like: Honey, lavender, most other herbs and scented flowers, strawberries, vanilla, chocolate and last but DEFINITELY NOT LEAST- wait for it… CHEESE!!! Yes that’s right. Almost ALL cheeses. They smell like they taste. How could I NOT like the smells?
Now, recently, someone asked me something which I have nicknamed “the film question”. They asked me what a film about me would be called and who I’d like to play in it. Well, if there is anyone in this world stupid enough to even consider making anything LIKE a film about me, (which, just to reassure you, I doubt there is) it would be called something along the lines of “Dots” (because of Braille) or maybe “Without Darkness” as opposed to, “Without Light” for pretty obvious reasons. I really don’t mind who would play in it. I hardly know any actors at all. All I would want is good ones so that it would make me look reasonable in the film. (This would, of course, be very fictionalised).
I’ve also been asked a few times what I’d have for “a perfect meal”. Now, as you may have gathered by now, I’m rather strange. Not to say totally bizarre: I don’t particularly enjoy eating. But, if I have to, I’ll tell you the answer to the above question: No meat or fish, for a start. I’m not vegetarian, but I want to be. (Not allowed yet. Been forbidden by adults). For starters, I’d have garlic bread with cheese on top. Beside that, I’d have olives, cherry tomatoes, pickles and a SMALL bowl of nuts in the middle of the table. It would be a mixture of peanuts, pistachios and cashews, I think. First course: Hmmm. Pizza or spaghetti? Okay, pizza. It’s healthier, isn’t it? It has tomato on it. I KNOW you can put tomato source on spaghetti, but there’s lots of butter and stuff in spaghetti. Okay, so for the main course, a SMALL margarita pizza along with a salad of lettuce, cucumber, LOTS of onion, parsley, garlic and broad beans. And for pudding, CHEESE, of course! Hmmm… I’m hungry. I think I’ll go and have a snack. Or a perfect meal or something. (Looks at watch). On second thoughts, it’s just gone five in the evening. Maybe I’ll wait a couple of hours.
Chapter Two – More Detailed Stuff about Me
Now, I’ve mentioned my hobbies briefly, but I haven’t gone into much depth. In this chapter, I’ll explain a bit more about them.
Let’s start with writing. Ever since I was about four, I wanted to tell stories. And I did. And people seemed to think they were reasonable. So, by the time I was about six, I had decided I wanted to be a writer. It wasn’t until I was about eight or nine that I thought I’d also like to be a freelance interpreter. So, two years ago, I started writing a novella. I’m hoping to publish it soon. Before then, I concentrated very much on competition projects rather than huge ones. I have won a few writing competitions and am still entering some, but, at the moment, my novella is the main thing I’m working on. It’s called “A Piccolo’s Tale” and is told from the point of view of a piccolo. It’s historical, set in Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
So many people ask me where I get inspiration from. Almost any other writer would say something like, “books” or, “I listen to people’s conversations” or, “I travel around the world looking for ideas.” But I don’t really use any of those things. Yes, I read masses, yes, I eavesdrop too much for my own good and yes, I do travel, but that’s not really where I get inspiration. Usually, anyway. Usually, an idea just comes into my head at a completely random time and for no particular reason. That’s how I thought of my current work.
I’ve also mentioned that I like languages. You may like to know why it is that I am trilingual. Well, my dad is English, so he speaks to me in that language and my mum is half French, half Spanish, so that’s what she speaks to me in. I learnt French before I learnt English, because I learnt to talk while I was in France.
Now, music. I started singing in my school choir from reception. At the beginning, when I didn’t know much about music, I loved it. Then, I started learning the recorder when I was six. I started with the descant, which is what all recorder students start with. I reached my grade five by the time I was twelve. At that age, I started on the treble, which is big than the descant and the sopranino, which is smaller. When I was nine, I started the piano and, when I was ten, I began to sing in Great Saint Mary’s in Cambridge. (Goodness knows how I got in. You have to audition. The choirmaster literally made me sing a couple of scales and said I was in! I think he must have been depressed at the time.) I’ve also had singing lessons since I was eight and reached grade four recently. So, by the time I was in year five or six, my musical knowledge had hugely improved and I realised that the school choir was not my thing. I wanted to sing opera in Italian about love and death, not short nursery rhymes about cats and spiders!
Chapter Three – Xue Zhong Wen
I’ll start by telling my story from when I was four. That’s when I started school. From the beginning, I never really learnt much, but I still loved the atmosphere. That was up until I got the sense to realise that the atmosphere was completely the wrong one for a school: Lessons were constantly disrupted, there was never any science, I was left alone most break times and the students who refused to learn were the headmistress’ favourites. All in all, it wasn’t my favourite place, to put it mildly, by the time I was about nine.
When I was six, I started to ask about learning another language. I’m not sure why I was so interested. Maybe it was because so many members of the family have been language teachers. When asked what I’d like to learn, I said that I didn’t know. I just wanted to learn another language. That was when my grandpa suggested Chinese. “After all, it’ll be very useful if the Chinese keep getting more powerful,” he had said. I immediate said I’d love to, so my mum put up adverts for Chinese teachers where she works. A young Chinese student contacted her and said that she was interested. So, very soon after, I started Chinese lessons with Jingyi Zhao. (I called her by her English name, Jenny, at the beginning.) I immediate took to the language and Jenny complimented me on my ability to pronounce the Chinese tones. I’ve always thought that music and languages could go together, especially with tonal languages like Mandarin. Jenny is now doing a PHD in philosophy at Cambridge University, as well as playing violin in the orchestra of Trinity College. We shared a passion for music, languages, books and philosophy, so, as you can imagine, me and my Chinese teacher were soon great friends. It was thanks to Jenny that I got an A star in my Chinese GCSE this year.
Chapter Four – Chocolate Sprouts
One of my most interesting and exciting memories is going to Brussels when I was ten. I had won a competition called “Young Achiever of the Year” and, as a prize, I could ask to do something or be given something as well as a rather nice trophy. A normal child would have asked to go to Disney Land or Sea World, or perhaps for a video game or some money. But not me. I asked to go to Brussels. Now, it wasn’t because I wanted to taste real Brussels sprouts. I’d already had those. I wanted to go there because, as I’m sure you know, that’s where the European Parliament is and I want to be an interpreter. That would be a perfect place to practice, I thought. So that’s what I got. I was invited by an MP at the European parliament which I found rather exciting, even though the MP was not one our family would be in favour of.
So we drove to London King’s Cross to catch the Euro Star. We thought we’d miss it, so my Mum was having hysterics, of course. I had never been on the Euro Star before, but, quite frankly, I was expecting something a bit more luxurious. All there was to do was eat, sleep, eat, sleep, eat, sleep, etc, etc, etc. When we finally got there, I could hear a mixture of English, French and Flemish. Flemish reminded me of German, but I couldn’t understand much of that. I WAS able to understand all of the English and French, of course.
When we got to our room in the hotel, there was a terrible, disastrous catastrophe. It was hardly surprising. It’s against the laws of our family to go anywhere at all without something going wrong. This time, it was that we had been sent to the wrong room. The MP who had invited us had said that it would be overlooking the EU, but the one we were sent to originally wasn’t. It was just looking over a shop or something, I think. My Mum had another fit again, so they sent us to the right room. I think they must have realised that when my Mum has fits, you shouldn’t mess with her. We finally slept (in the right room) and, amazingly, I slept well! It must have been the Belgium chocolate air, because I never usually sleep well.
After a croissant and a glass of orange juice the next morning, we walked just across the road into the EU. There, the head of training for interpreters welcomed us, along with a few members of her team. After chatting for a while as if we had always known each other, the head of training for interpreters and I went into one of the little booths to practice my interpreting. I interpreted a VERY boring speech about radioactivity and packaging from French to English, Spanish to English, English to French and Spanish to French. The head of training said I was very good! I think she was just being nice, to be honest. What she was actually thinking must have been something along the lines of, “Oh, what a cute little ten-year old! She wants to be an interpreter – that’s SO sweet! But she’ll never pass the tests to save her life. Oh, let’s not tell her. We don’t want to disappoint her.” But I still enjoyed it.
Lunch. Now, I never thought lunch could be so embarrassing. Well, I didn’t find it embarrassing at the time, but looking back, I don’t know how I could have born it: We were having lunch with the MP who had invited me in a very good restaurant. The only problem was, I was, (and still am, although much less so now) a VERY fussy eater. And there was no pizza in the restaurant! Can you possibly imagine?! NO PIZZA IN A RESTAURANT! So my darling Mother had to go looking all over the street for some sort of pizza take away. She found one in the end. Quite enjoyed it, actually.
In the afternoon, I got a bit of a shock. Actually, I didn’t. I’m lying. I found it perfectly normal when I was ten that the deputy President of the European Commission should call me up to his office. Now, I hasten to add that I don’t find that normal anymore. So, he called me up, along with the parents, (no idea why he asked THEM to come too) to his office. After a rather informal chat, he awarded me a rather smart medal. Well, it’s not a medal, exactly. He called it a “paperweight”. It’s oval with a picture of the interpreting booths at the top and the politicians sitting with their hands raised on the bottom on one side and the European flag with “Parliamentum Europeum” on the other.
The journey back was just as boring as the journey to Brussels. Once again, all we did was eat, sleep and I also fiddled with my medal. When we arrived, it was strange smelling English air, as there was no hint of sprouts or chocolate.
Chapter Five – A Very Christmassy Christmas Holiday
Part of the deal when you join our family is that you have to be prepared to travel. If you’re not, you can basically forget about it and go and see some other family and beg them to adopt you. We go to all sorts of weird and wonderful places. (Well, actually, it’s more the parents. But us children go to a few slightly less weird places.) Well, I’ll tell you about one of my favourite holidays. It’s not very weird, but I loved it:
It was at Christmas time in the holidays. I was staying in France as usual but that’s not what I’m going to tell you about. That would be tedious. My grandparents, (who I always stay with in France), have friends in Germany. And a member of these friends’ family was getting married. I’m learning German, so they decided to take me with them to the wedding. So off we went, driving from France to Germany in my Grandpa’s big car crowded with suitcases. I won’t bore you with the details of the journey. I’ll just say that we arrived at the house of the seniors of the family, (my grandparents’ friends), uneventfully.
There was snow on the ground and it all felt exactly like I had just walked into a Christmas card scene: cute little snowflakes falling and gathering on the ground, the big Christmas tree with a lovely fireplace in the sitting room, etc. After the grownups had chatted for long and laborious periods of time, (my Grandpa trying his very best to communicate in German with Ludwig, the Grandfather of the German family, who spoke no French or English), we all went to bed.
The next day, we went to see the Christmas market. Another Christmas card stage set. There were stalls selling sugared peanuts, almonds and cashews warm from the pot, delicious crepes filled with everything anyone could possibly want – (chocolate, sugar and, best of all, CHEESE!) and other rather yummy snacks that I won’t mention here, just because I don’t have access to that sort of thing in England, and if I did mention them, I would soon be suffering from depression. But it wasn’t only food that the little stalls were selling. There were little glass objects, pretty handmade jewellery, lovely wooden animals, (especially reindeer) and bells. There were scented candles in their boxes, Christmas baubles and other tree decorations. People called out to each other and traditional German Christmas music played in the background. As I was dragged away from the market, I could still smell those sugared nuts, beckoning me to try them again. Although it was still snowing, it wasn’t miserable and freezing like it is in this country every time a few tentative snowflakes dare to peer through the sky; it was very festive and surprisingly warm.
That afternoon, it was the wedding. I sat next to Jasmin, one of the girls from the family. We had made friends at the market. There was only one problem: she couldn’t speak any English or French or Spanish. Only German. And my German was about at the same level as a cat’s vocal capacity. (Okay, let’s be honest: it still is.) But what is fantastic about Jasmin is that she is extraordinarily chatty. So my German actually came on in leaps and bounds in just a day. The wedding service wasn’t particularly exciting. It was nice, but no different to the ones I have to sing in with my choir in England except that it was in German.
After the wedding, there was what I, as an extravagant storyteller who loves to exaggerate everything, would call a feast. Except that I didn’t like it, because there was nothing I really enjoyed except the cheese. Thankfully, Jasmin was sitting next to me, and she is as picky as I am, so we spent most of it chatting. So that wasn’t a success. But what WAS rather interesting was what happened after the “feast”: in Germany, it’s the custom that, after a wedding, all the guests have to break as much crockery as humanly possible. Seriously, it’s true. You go into a little shed thing and you throw plates, cups, saucers, bowls and pots at the wall. (They’re not nice ones. Just normal, boring ones.) “The more crockery you break, the happier the marriage will be,” Jasmin told me, jumping up and down with excitement as she threw yet another plate at the wall.
Well, I got to hear German Christmas music, taste real riedecuhen, (potato cake things which are delicious) go round a real German market, taste German cheese, (very important, of course) and throw crockery at a wall. PLUS, I made a friend AND my German improved. Conclusion: A VERY SUCCESSFUL SUCCESS.
Chapter Six – Dots and Lines
Now, I’ve talked about how I love writing, but I haven’t actually given any examples of what I’ve written. So that’s what I’ll do in this chapter. Firstly, here is the opening to my novel that I have already mentioned:
I remember being handed to him for the very first time. I remember the way he opened my case, looked at me in admiration and lifted me out, gently, gently, so very, very gently. The way he put my mouthpiece to his lips, dry from lack of water. The way his long, agile fingers moved nimbly, brushing against me as if he truly thought I was one of his race or as a beautiful animal. I sang out pure joy at being touched and owned by him and I knew that, from that moment on, the bond of music was, and would always be between us. A bond that could never be broken once it had been formed. Even after his death, his spirit would remain to play me with softness, feeling, love and skill.
But good fortune and happiness is very far from being all I remember. You may be part of that group of people who believe that an object such as me can have no feelings. No thoughts. No senses. No memory. But if you want to know the truth, turn over the page and read everything that happened to me, my master and his friend in those terrible times. If you do not, then close this book now and forget everything you have read here so far. But I will never forget as long as I am able to make music. I must not. I cannot. And neither would you.
Now here is a short story I wrote recently:
The Dreadful Misunderstanding
I finished work for the day as usual and was just walking out of my little booth, having left my two colleagues in the booth to finish off the speech, when I was stopped by the head of interpreters herself. She was very tall and had a lot of authority about her, and I was extremely surprised when she spoke to me.
“Emma,” she said, “may I call you by your first name?”
“Yes, of course,” I said, wondering why I was now on first name terms with the head of interpreters, someone I had never spoken too before.
“Emma,” she said again, “I am afraid I have some rather bad news for you.”
“Did I make a stupid mistake when I was interpreting?” I asked, terrified that one of the politicians had complained about something I had said.
“No, no, this is not only bad news for you. It is bad news for all of us. I have been trying to tell everyone individually, but of course, you know how many there are of us, and so I will have to be quick. You see, the thing is that what we have been afraid of for many years has finally happened,” She was usually extremely cool and calm, but her face showed pure distress now. “We will be replaced by machines. I am sorry, Emma, I know it is abrupt, I just could not think of any other way to say it, and they did not want to tell us before in case we all resigned and they were left with no interpreters at all when they were not sure it would actually happen!” She let all this out in a rush.
“What? Oh, I am so sorry. I mean, I do not believe it! And who is they?”
“The inventors. Emma, I am afraid there is no place for interpreters any longer. Not in this time of development. I came to tell you that we are all jobless from now on. Again, I am sorry, but I must go and inform some others.” And with that, she walked away.
So I was now out of work. I was not looking forward to trying to find something else. All I had ever been good at was languages and that was mainly on the oral side. What was I going to do? “Do not panic,” I told myself firmly. “Stay calm. You will think of something.”
When I got home, it was all over the news that all interpreters were now out of work, to be replaced from tomorrow by machines. They showed one of the machines on the screen. It was the size of a small mobile phone, sleek, black and perfect. But I knew otherwise. So did all my friends who had ever worked in the field. These machines could never replace the human brain. One day, they would make a mess of everything.
Of course, I and my fellow interpreters campaigned against the machines, or the “lingueloquences” as they were called. We wrote to the politicians to warn them, but to no avail. They much preferred the idea of something small and modern to interpret information into their language. The only thing I did during that terrible time that was remotely enjoyable was create twists on famous people’s quotes about languages. One of them was: “If you talk to a machine in a language it understands, it translates it into gibberish. Only if you speak to a machine in its language will you receive a comprehensible translation, because that goes to its nonexistent heart.” It was based on Nelson Mandela’s, “If you speak to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head. If you speak to a man in his language, that goes to his heart.” But that, of course, was far from cheering me up. It was just something to do, a worthless pastime during weeks that could not be passed.
Things did not take long to go wrong. Only a few weeks after we interpreters had effectively been thrown out of work, something happened which exactly matched our predictions. I was sitting hunched in my chair staring into space. The radio was on, but I was not listening to the news properly, just sort of half listening to it. At least, that is what I was doing until I heard the news reader’s voice change into something which sounded suspiciously like the Prime Minister’s. Then I sat up and listened with both ears to what he was saying:
“I am speaking to you from the cabinet room at 10 Downing Street. This morning, the Chinese President declared nuclear war on America, and, as we are close allies with that country, we are compelled to step in and assist it. Consequently, this country is now at war with China.”
So it had happened exactly as I had thought it would. Except I knew better than to believe what the Prime Minister had said. China had not declared nuclear war against America, or any type of war, for that matter. That was what the politicians thought. But it was the machines that had interpreted something the Chinese President had said completely wrongly. Mistaken the tones, most likely. That was exactly the sort of thing I had suspected about those machines: Not being able to cope with tonal languages such as Chinese. And now, we were going to have a third world war. Had not the two world wars against Germany been enough? Oh, no. They had to have a third one. And all because of a mistake, a misunderstanding, a misinterpretation of the truth.
Now, a couple of my poems:
The Magic Box
My box is made from golden dreams.
It’s lock is the heart of a secret.
It’s key the promise to keep it.
I will put in the box
The whisper of the wind through towering trees,
Water from the depths of a forgotten ocean,
A silver silence that sweeps softly through my slumber.
I will put in the box,
The voice of my shadow’s reflection,
The first rainbow time gave birth to,
A turquoise tear from twilight’s thoughts.
I will put in the box
The start of a circle,
The first word of a language,
The last note of music.
I will put in the box
A sixth sense which only I can have,
A star that can’t die,
A red rose with emotions.
In my box
I shall talk to the wind and the rain
And the snow and the storms and the night and the day.
The clock is ticking
On and on
One more second’s
Been and gone.
The examiner frowns disapprovingly
As if to say,
“Write the chapter now, silly.”
But the clock keeps ticking
On and on,
And two more seconds
Have been and gone,
And still my sheet remains
As blank as blank,
And so does my mind
Just blank, blank, blank.
“I would give anything at all
For one idea”
That is my mind’s call.
But still the clock
Goes tick, tick, tick,
And still an idea
Just doesn’t click,
And three more seconds
Have been and gone
As the clock ticks on and on.
Suddenly, my mind is filled
With an idea on which to build
But I can’t quite
See what it is.
It’s just a small explosion. FIZZ!
My pencil forms
A web of words
That tells of worlds
In giant herds.
Webs of words
Are never gone
And clocks keep ticking
On and on.
Hope you enjoyed those. At least you’ve got a flavour of my style now. Not that you wanted to taste such a thing, of course.
Oh, and by the way, have you worked out why I called this chapter “Dots and Lines”? Well, dots is how I write in Braille, as opposed to lines, which is what you use.
Chapter Seven – Alexia’s Anti-pop
There are many songs and pieces that I would associate with things that have happened to me. In this chapter, I’ll give you a flavour of a few of them. (You’ll be surprised to hear that there aren’t too many cheesy ones!)
The first piece that springs to mind is minuet in G by J S Bach. I remember one of my two friends at primary school playing it in assembly. He played it beautifully, but I was the only one to really appreciate it. (No one except me and this friend liked classical music at the school; the others must have thought he was ridiculously stupid to play something like that in front of us all.) From that moment on, I always wanted to learn the piece. But when I finally did, it just wasn’t quite the same as when my friend had first played it. Maybe it was because he was German, so German music came naturally to him. But I think it was much more this: that his piano playing far exceeded mine in terms of level.
The next piece-: ah well, the next piece is just a bit different to the minuet: it’s…HAPPY BIRTHDAY. Now, before you start saying, “Oh, yeah. Everyone would say that. Oh, that’s so cute! I bet it’s about her first birthday or something!”, it’s not: I have a little sister, Melissa. (I’ve been trying to avoid mentioning her, to be honest. But she insisted I do, so I will before something terrible happens.) Now, Melissa is excellent at bouncing around like some sort of ball, at playing exhausting games and generally being hyper; however, she is about the least musical child I have ever come across. I’m not being horrible; I’m just telling the truth. You’d think that just about anyone could work out how to play happy birthday on the piano by ear. Not Melissa. She’s got the music and she still ruins the highest note. (Just because she can’t sing high!) Because of that, the tune is disfigured every time she plays it.
Now, back to my sort of music: Have you heard of the “Duo For Two Cats” by Rossini? No, don’t laugh. It’s a real piece. If you haven’t heard it, you should look it up. It’s not only audibly hilarious, but also visually. (Not that that affects me, of course.) The lyrics consist of one word: “MIAO”. There’s not really a good reason for me putting this one down; it’s just that I love the humour and the story behind why Rossini wrote it:
At the time Rossini was composing, there was a lot of conflict going on between composer and performer. The composers wanted their music to be performed AS WRITTEN. In contrast, the performers didn’t want to stick to rules. They needed to add trills and runs and all sorts of flavours. So Rossini wrote the duo to show all this. (“How can a piece of music show that?”), you ask. Well, listen to the piece, (and watch it) and you’ll find out!
I’ll mention one more piece: “Friend Minutes Thirty Three” by John Cage. I first heard it just under a year ago, when my friend and I were having one of our usual musical chats.
“Have you heard “Four Minutes Thirty Three” by John Cage?” he asked. (He knows and has memorised just about every piece of music in existence, as far as I can see.)
“No. Is it good?”
“It’s great! I’ll play it to you.” There were no instruments in the room, so I was mystified.
“Are you some sort of magician?”
“No. I don’t need any instruments.”
“Are you going to sing, then?”
“No.” Then, he sat back in his chair and said nothing for what felt like a very long time. Then, I said, “Is that it? Just silence?”
“Yes,” he replied, “but you’ve only heard about three minutes of it. There’s another one minute thirty three.”
And that’s always stuck in my mind as an example of musical humour.
Chapter Eight – A Few Chats
Now, I’m lucky enough to have had a few chats with some rather exciting people. I wasn’t sure whether I should include them in case it caused history’s most terrible jealousy rebellion, but, once again, my darling little sister insisted. And, just because I’m a nice, obliging big sister, I will do so:
Person: Anthony Horowitz.
See what I mean? You’re already jealous. Oh, well. Now that I’ve started, I might as well carry on.
Some organisation somewhere heard about me, and, because of “everything I’ve been through” (goodness knows what that means) they asked me what I would wish for. I realise now that I should have said, “go back to Vienna in a time machine to Mozart’s time and have a master class with him”. But, afraid of being severely spanked for taking my music too seriously, (That routinely occurs, emotionally, of course, by my dear parents). So, instead, I said, “I’d like to meet a famous writer.”
“Okay. Give us a list,” they replied. Here was my list in roughly the wrong order:
1. Philip Pullman.
2. Anthony Horowitz.
3. Michael Morpugo.
Of course, I should have said:
4. Charles Dickens.
5. C S Lewis.
6. Jane Austin.
7. William Shakespeare.
But, for some unknown reason, I was told that that wouldn’t be possible! I still don’t understand that.
Anyway, this organisation contacted the first three I mentioned. Two didn’t reply. I was deeply offended that Philip Pullman didn’t, I must say. But one of them did: Anthony Horowitz. So, it was settled. I was driven down to London in a black Jaguar. (I can tell you, that was scary. I didn’t know people went around inside those animals, so you can imagine my reaction when one stopped outside the house and informed me it would take me to Anthony’s.)
After having taken me to Anthony’s, it said that it would be taking me back home at the end of the day and promptly vanished.
Anthony lives in a flat. Except it’s not just any old flat. He actually OWNS the whole block! No one else lives there. So he has a lift and everything! Now, in his sitting room, he has a grand piano, which he plays for an hour a day. But that’s not all. At the back, there’s a book case. But, like the flat, it’s not just any old bookcase. When you turn it, it reveals a tiny spiral staircase. This then leads up to his little balcony. Actually, it’s not that little. It’s rather large. And that’s where we had lunch. Now, before you ask, there is NO WAY, no, NO WAY I am going to tell you what we had for lunch. All I will say is that, thankfully, it was vegetarian, and there was cheese.
Over lunch, we chatted about writing mainly, of course. When we had finished, we went back down the little spiral staircase and played some piano together. That was fun. We chatted some more about writing, and then, finally, the Jaguar came to pick me up and take me back home.
On Sunday September 30th, there was a two page coverage in the local Cambridge paper on Alexia.
If you would like to see the article in its entire glory the Scanned Newspaper Article is here.
Tien Gang looked down at his hands. They were not a typical concert pianist’s hands at all. They had short, stubby fingers, and were not even very flexible. It was his feet that were beautiful. His toes were very long, thin and supple. At school, he had always been nicknamed “Daddylongfeet”. Even now, some of his old friends still teased him by calling him that.
Today his hands were hurting and warm, the joints stiff and inflamed. He had been noticing a little stiffness for the last few days, but had put it down to not enough exercises at the piano. But that couldn’t explain inflammation, could it?
Alarmed, he went to his little music room crowded with scores, books, papers and tuning forks, sat down at the piano and tried some quick scales, arpeggios and glissandos. But his hands didn’t seem to want to obey him. What had always come as naturally to him as breathing was now a strain. He knew he had to make an appointment to see the doctor quickly.
The receptionist glared at him as he entered the surgery. As usual, he was late for his appointment. But taking in the jet black hair that fell over thick eyebrows and twinkling intelligent almond eyes she didn’t dare ask why. After all, he WAS Mr Gang.
“How can I help?” asked the doctor.
“My hands.” replied the pianist, showing them to him.
The physician frowned.
“Hmmm, I’m afraid to tell you, sir, that you probably have arthritis.”
“I beg your pardon?” Tien’s eyebrows disappeared into his hair, and his brow furrowed. “Arthritis?”
“I’m very sorry sir, but I think that is the case.”
“But I’m a pianist! My hands are my career! Is there no cure?”
“I’m afraid not. But we can give you a cast to wear at night to slow the process down.”
“But it must stop it!”
“Nothing can stop arthritis,” the Doctor said, gravely.
Tien’s mind went as blank as a music sheet waiting to be written on. Compose yourself, he thought firmly.
“Very well,” he said, trying not to let his voice crack, or go out of tune, as he liked to think of it. “I’ll take the cast.”
The doctor nodded, and reached for some polystyrene from a drawer. “Press your hand into this, please, sir. We’ll get the cast to you as soon as possible. Wear it all night every night.”
“Thank you, doctor.”
When the cast arrived, it was an ugly plastic thing with Velcro to attach it to the hand. Tien tried every night for two months. Those two months were pure hell for the pianist. He couldn’t sleep a wink and that meant he couldn’t concentrate on his piano practice which meant the world to him. Finally, not being able to bear it a second longer, he decided to think of a solution. He thought day and night for a further week, and finally, it came to him: He would play the piano with his feet.
After all, didn’t some artists paint with their feet? And he remembered very well the Chinese proverb from The Wisdom of Confucius, which he had read and reread almost as often as the famous piano concerto by Grieg, “Heavenly music is interpreted differently by everyone”. Didn’t that mean he could play his music however he wanted, because everyone had different ways of doing so? He tried playing the first movement of The Moonlight Sonata with his feet, putting a chair beneath his legs to keep them up. He did this every day for as many hours as he could. For the first couple of months, the music was hesitant and slow. But then, one day, the blank sheet of music which had been Tien’s mind ever since he had been told he had arthritis filled with notes, and the instrument seemed to be speaking to him as never before.
Within six more months, Tien Gang was once more on the stage in one of the biggest concert halls in the world. The hall was packed with people, excited to hear him play once more. They didn’t know he was now playing with his feet. That had been kept secret. What would be their reaction, Tien wondered? There was only one way to find out: The pianist cleared his throat and silence fell instantly. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “welcome. Today’s concert will ;com” he smiled to himself, “let us say- different to usual. I will now begin with The Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. I hope you enjoy it.” He sat down at the piano, put his legs up on the chair, placed his bare feet on the piano and began to play what he had been working on since he had decided to play with his feet. The audience looked at the pianist in astonishment. What was going on? But the music was too beautiful to think about this. When the piece was over, tumultuous applause filled the hall and Tien Gang received the most appreciative standing ovation he had ever experienced. The pianist stood up and bowed. When the noise had died down, he explained everything to the audience. From then on, Tien Gang continued with his career, and went on to become the best-loved pianist of the day.
Note: In China, the surname is always said first. I chose the name Tien Gang because in Mandarin, the word Gang Tien means piano.