Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Pockets in the Snow

We were awoken the next morning by a familiar wheezing and groaning noise as Oolon’s Cabinet eased it’s way into our part of the Grid. He quickly beckoned us inside, talking excitedly about somewhere he’d heard about from an old friend that we really should visit. I know we are still supposed to be exploring the Northern Continent, but Oolon has such a way with words and a certain charm about him that it’s difficult to refuse. And it was nice to see him happy and not weighed down by whatever he was fretting about a few weeks ago.

The Cabinet made a slight detour to Steelhead to pick up Terry and Miss Virrginia Tombola and then we were on our way once more.

Miss Tombola seemed slightly concerned by the steam escaping from parts of the Cabinet’s ducting system and the fact that several gauges on the console read zero, but Oolon assured us that there was nothing to worry about.

After one of our smoother landings we were out of the door and into the cold, snowy environment of a lovely little mountainside town. The whole place looked Eastern in style to my untrained eye and I began to wish I’d brought a jacket as a light sprinkling of snow started falling.

We ventured out over a bridge and into a lovely, peaceful Zen garden.

However, after only a few minutes of relaxation, Oolon and Terry dashed off without a word of explanation, leaving Miss Tombola, Fuschia and myself to explore on our own. At least we knew that if we were back to the Cabinet within the two hour time window there shouldn’t be a problem (Oolon had provided Fuschia and myself with keys should we need to let ourselves in).

Fuschia found a set of sculptured snow creatures and one in particular looked an awful lot like our own dear “Nessy” in Port Caledon.

Pressing on up the slope we came upon a marvellously constructed wooden, stone and paper building that although appearing in a good state of repair from a distance had obviously suffered at someone (or something's) hands (or appendages).

The door had been shattered, with parts lying strewn all over the floor. The lack of snow piled onto the scattered wood suggested this was quite recent and I began to get a gnawing, worrying feeling at the back of my head. There appeared to be a hole in the ceiling leading up to higher floors and so using my long reach to clamber up, I was able to pull the ladies up through the hole after me.

As we explored, we began to hear eerie noises. Miss Tombola and myself could hear them clearly but Fuschia couldn’t, which is very unusual; her Pixie senses usually pick up on things like that before human ones. As we wandered backwards and forwards trying to pinpoint the sound, it resolved itself into definite music. The music was being played on the bagpipes, no less.

Thoroughly searching the tower revealed nothing except more snatches of the wailing music. There began to be talk of “ghost pipers” and this being a haunted tower. We were determined to investigate further.

Back outside the tower, Fuschia had found a statue of a “sleepy man”, who she said was obviously well looked after and loved by the people of the town. It certainly did seem very well maintained, and she usually does have a certain empathy with objects, so she is probably right.

It was then we discovered the source of our mysterious piping…a young lady playing the bagpipes in the zen garden. She was a very accomplished musician and, as Miss Tombola remarked, had a talent for making even bagpipes sound melodious and tuneful.

We retraced our steps back into the town to see if we could find where Oolon and Terry had run off to. I was feeling a little uneasy after finding the broken down door and the whole situation here seemed a little “off”, if that makes sense.

Passing a bicycle towed carriage, Fuschia and Miss Tombola soon discovered a few retail outlets and as they rummaged through clothing, I admired the craftwork of the armour and swords on sale. Deciding against a purchase, we crossed a bridge and found ourselves in an area populated by “flat” people. This section of town looked like it had been made to look as if it were fully populated by people on the street, but really they were simply flat wooden constructs. I was beginning to get the uneasy feeling again, when suddenly Oolon and Terry made an appearance.

They were both out of breath and were telling us excitedly of a crashed airship they had found on a mountaintop and the fact it was surrounded by blood and near some kind of hidden mountainside stronghold. Fuschia suggested we should head into a nearby tea house and discuss what was going on, but Oolon had that concerned look again and was off taking readings with one of his devices.

As I followed Oolon, asking him what was happening, we heard a sudden cry of dismay from Miss Tombola. We dashed back to the tea house to discover that not only did the tea house have none of its own tea, but Terry had vanished into thin air. Fuschia started getting worried and said she couldn’t sense Terry anywhere nearby.

A certain darkness seemed to appear in Oolon’s eyes and I could tell that he was worried. We quickly made plans to split up and search for Terry. Oolon seemed to think that she may have been relocated to somewhere else nearby. We only had forty minutes until the Cabinet would snap back to Mayfair on her “aetheric elastic” and it would take a good long while to recharge her for another trip. Just as we were finalising our plans, Terry reappeared right back in the spot where she had vanished from.

She had been somewhere she called “otherspace” (as far as I could make out somewhere outside of the Grid; I think it’s related to Faerie, but it can be difficult to follow Oolon, Terry and even Fuschia when they start talking about things like that). She said it felt as if some force had grabbed her and pulled her there. Oolon quickly suggested we should move on and just as he did, Miss Tombola vanished in a swirl of strange lights.

It looked like my gut reaction to this place was correct; something here was definitely not right. Oolon quickly explained what he thought was going on: The engines of the crashed airship were apparently of an unusual design and could, if damaged in a certain way, be warping the “aetheric space of the Grid”, creating pockets (like deep trouser pockets) that one could fall into.

We had to find Miss Tombola and fast. We only had twenty minutes left before the Cabinet “snapped back”. Oolon said that whatever happened we had to be back on board the “Old Girl” before that time expired or we may end up being stuck and with “aetheric pockets” I got the impression that this wasn’t a good place to be stuck. He said that if time ran out he would remain here to look for Miss Tombola, and the “Old Girl” would get us back to Mayfair itself. This didn’t seem like an entirely sensible plan but before I could argue Fuschia whisked me up into the air with her pixie magic and soon had me gliding about up and down the nearby mountainsides.

We briefly stopped off at the crash site Oolon and Terry had mentioned, but could find no sign of Miss Tombola there.

We whipped over the gardens and tower that we had explored earlier; still no sign.

As we hit a particularly dense layer of cloud I became separated from Fuschia and found myself floating in front of an incredible sight. It appeared to be a huge statue surrounded by all manner of strange buildings and unusual craft. There was definitely more going on in this place than at first appeared.

Before I could explore further, Fuschia pulled me back to her side as we swooped over the main streets of the city and there, on almost exactly the same spot she had vanished from, was Miss Tombola.

We landed and Fuschia dashed up to her and gave her a huge hug. Miss Tombola explained that although from our point of view she had vanished, to her we had vanished.

We only had a few minutes left and we dashed along the streets of the town to find Oolon and Terry nervously waiting by the door of the Cabinet. Oolon’s face lit up as he saw us arrive with Miss Tombola in tow. We still had a minute or two before our time limit expired and Miss Tombola wondered if she had time to check out one or two shoe shops. It has to be said she really is a remarkable young lady and seems to remain almost entirely unflappable regardless of the situation.

Oolon politely pointed out that it might not be a good idea and ushered everyone back inside.

As I stepped through the door of the Cabinet, the world lurched and instead of finding myself in the usual wood panelled interior I found myself on the familiar streets of Caledon Mayfair. Somewhat confused, I began to make my way back to the Sputnik Estate (knowing that the Cabinet should be arriving back there anyway) and no sooner had I taken a step than I was back onboard the Cabinet once more. Oolon was rather apologetic and began talking about the Cabinet’s “aetheric door” being affected by the interference in the area.

As the “Old Girl” swam her way through the ether back to Mayfair, Oolon broke out the sake he had collected somewhere along the way and was soon in discussions with Terry about heading back to the town sometime in the future and “sorting things out”...

Note: Checking the punchpaper readouts from the Cabinet’s console, it looks as if the place we visited is a region called: Silk Waters Mountain and is in the South West of the Southern Continent of the Mainland. It would certainly explain the presence of the strange out of place vehicles and structures surrounding the town. The strange etheric and spatial instabilites may warrant marking this area as a potential hazard on charts of the Mainland.

Thursday, 22 February 2007


Dear Terry,

I do apologise for not getting this missive into the post promptly but I've been experimenting with the sewing machine for this competition and what with all the exploring on the side, I kept getting distracted.

Where were we: Oh yes, after my rescue from the giant starfish you had to leave us. There are some fantastic statues in Cecropia, but also some rather creepy ones (didn't like them overly much). I wandered ahead of Alfonso and left him to study the freaky things and promptly fell down a hole in the pavement. I really must either get some eyeglasses or have my hearing checked. I'm sure clumsiness isn't a standard Pixie trait, but I do seem to trip over or fall down rather a lot since I arrived here; maybe its the constant battering by these terrible Linden winds?

Anyway, down the hole I found quite a few tunnels and a little train set. It was a bit soggy underfoot, but very intriguing. Why on earth would you put a train set underground? Humans are such funny creatures. Problem was, we didn't get much further because it was past my bed time and then there was the Mardi Gras Ball, which I insisted Alfonso took me back to Caledon for (I wasn't going to miss that after all the work Miss Rothschild had put into it; wasn't it a wonderful evening? And I got to meet Mr Hassanov, he's lovely).

All in all, socialising really put a dent in our exploration time, so after a few days of respite we dutifully headed back to our last location. I do like ballooning; its very peaceful and thankfully has fewer crashes than flying one's self. Almost.

You can imagine my confusion when I discovered that not only was the little train now a different colour, it was also imbued with it's very own powers of flight (and carriages) and someone had blocked up the tunnel in our absence.

There are some very inconsiderate people about, don't you think? Still, there were plenty of other tunnels to explore (yes, I found one of them by falling through another hole in the flagstones; pavement instability seems to be a major hazard of this region of the mainland). But look what we found when we managed to escape from the underground: a big crane with a fun tyre on the end of it. Not sure how useful it actually is, but my darling husband was certainly enjoying himself. It's always good to see him letting his hair down (metaphorically speaking of course).

We had strayed from Cecropia to somewhere known as Calleta, a very odd place indeed. I think it must be home to mad scientists and inventors as well as urchins and hobos, because there were some very funny people about. And some very funny things, but not in a funny way just a scary one. Do people normally keep vats full of eyeballs in their workshops?

There were lots of trains about as well; these seemed incredibly well behaved compared to the Caledon ones and were much brighter. There was a construction yard and a place where all the bits lived (Alfonso tells me its called a depot) and some of the carriages seemed to be lived in, presumably by the hobos.

Did I mention there are lots of hobos here? I thought I recognised the scent of Master Grut as we neared a giant fire and I do recall him mentioning this place, although I had no idea where it was. We didn't see him; no doubt he was off scrounging for gin and chips for Mary (I do hope her cough is getting better).

They were all a jolly nice bunch here and ever so generous. We talked to Miss Tizzy (isn't that a fabulous name? Although she definitely wasn't in one), Miss Wind (no picture of her sadly, Burt discovered the free stewed boot and that was him gone for half an hour), Mr Ferraris and Mr Runo for ages and they were very helpful in enlightening us about this place. Hobo Hub has a certain ring to it, doesn't it? Oh and there was a ghost there, a lady called Miss Smythe eye-eye-eye. Rumour has it that she threw herself off the top of the crane for love, but she seemed a canny enough soul and none of the over-theatrical "woo-ing" you normally get from that brigade.

It was getting late again and the discovery of a steaming bath decided the point as far as I was concerned. I do like a good soak in the bath and despite appearances to the contrary it was clean and very refreshing. We've pitched out tent here in the lee of an empty carriage and we shall continue on our way tomorrow, all being well.

How are the Steelhead Offices progressing? Please keep me up to date and watch out for giant domestic fowl....

Lots of love


Thursday, 15 February 2007

The Channel

Dear Sir / Madam,

Good news! I can confirm that the passage to the Northern Continent exists and is very easily navigable. It is located in a region on the Northern coast called Purple.

I have also uncovered the source of the Mainland’s unusual “plywood” building material, and have acquired a sample for the scientists back in Caledon to examine. Perhaps they will be able to uncover the secrets that allow the Mainlanders to build their strange floating houses.

I will send further reports as I press on into the Northern Continent.

Your Servant,

Professor Alfonso Avalanche (and Mrs Fuschia Begonia-Avalanche)

We slept until very late the next day. It was nice to be on expedition again, but even nicer that Fuschia was there to share the experience this time. I should have brought her along previously, really…but I wasn’t sure she’d enjoy it.

I’m still a little concerned about Oolon. It’s unusual for him to cut short one of our trips in his Cabinet and he always seemed proud of the fact he could extend her presence in a location up to the full 2 hour time limit that seems to afflict his miraculous device. But last night he was back at the helm of the “Old Girl” and whisking her back to Mayfair within the hour. I do hope he’s alright. He keeps on insisting he’s fine and I’m sure Terry will look after him, or at least get in touch with us if there is trouble.

I tried to put Oolon out of my mind as I looked at the vast stretch of ocean ahead of us. I had intended to ask him if he could drop off the balloon so that we could fly over the channel to the North, but as I opened the crate he’d left I realised something wasn’t quite right.

What he had actually left us with was a rowing boat. Oh well, at least it was suitable for what we were trying to do.

As I was putting it together, Fuschia busied herself making a fine breakfast and getting a few more pictures with her Boxed Brownie, who seemed remarkably subdued and quiet today.

Once fed and watered we set off into the Channel.

The weather was beautiful and the sea calm. I couldn’t see any signs or even feel a breeze from the grid storms that battered the rest of the coastline and the vicious lag storms of the previous evening seemed to have cleared the air, leaving a fresh bright day.

Soon Fuschia was getting all excited and pointing up into the sky. She’d spotted a balloon. The folks on board shouted out a happy greeting and showered us with talk of blessings from the sea. However their attitude soon seemed to change once we said that we were part of a Caledonian Colony on the mainland. Immediately they changed course for our point of origin on the coastline and set off at high speed cackling about the fact that they would raid and pillage our land. So it seemed my fears were correct, the Mainland coast is beset by pirates, both on the sea and in the air. I still felt pretty secure in the knowledge that the colony was at least several days travel by balloon from our current position and they had absolutely no idea where it was.

My arms were beginning to tire when out of the haze appeared a huge shape jutting up through the water. It appeared to be some industrial structure and Fuaschia said that her pixie nose could smell several people on board including, apparently, someone we knew.

One of the platform’s “legs” had a low embarkation area and as we tied the boat up and clambered aboard, Fuschia’s nose was proved to be correct as we were met by Terry!

Apparently Oolon had dropped her off for a little explore on her own and she was as surprised to see us as we were to see her. A bit of investigation revealed the platform to be some kind of high technology mine, anchored to the sea bed. It’s purpose appeared to be the extraction of the “plywood” mainland building material, which it then sent on to the Mainland via a pipeline or vacuum transport system running along the ocean floor. I never even imagined this wood-like material was actually mined. I had assumed it was simply tree wood. Maybe it is actually some mineral related to Cavorite?

As we searched the structure we found several gentlemen dressed in grey garb and wielding mainland weapons (rather similar to the ones Mr Reymont had previously encountered). They didn’t seem to be causing any harm or shooting anyone, so I can only assume they were there to protect the platform from pirates. They obviously did not wish their “plywood supply” to fall into the wrong hands. Fuschia and Terry also discovered an interesting office that seemed to contain some kind of radio and map. The map was marked “SLRR” and the radio kept announcing numbers, speeds, arrivals and departures. It was only after listening for a little while did we work out it was a railway timetable. It appeared as if the map on the wall and the radio were showing / telling us the location of trains on the Northern Continent railway system. Incredible! Maybe the Northern Continent will prove to be more civilised than the Southern one.

Encouraged, we untied our little boat and headed onwards. We were joined on this trip by a Mr Saltair who needed a lift to the Northern Continent. He was one of the Plywood Mine’s protectors and although he seemed pleasant enough, he had a rather “colourful” use of language (so much so that Terry and Fuschia had to put their fingers in their ears for part of the trip). Pointing out that ladies were present did no good and one can only assume that the young man had spent a little too much time around sailors.

As the shoreline of the Northern Continent swam into view, Mr Saltair jumped into the water and paid me for his passage. I insisted it was no trouble but he was soon gone, swimming off into the distance. Some of these mainlanders can be very peculiar.

At last, though, we had made it…the Northern Continent! I felt renewed strength in my arms as I rowed the small boat up onto the rocky shoreline and disembarked onto the beach.

Here we were. The task I had set myself a month ago was complete. I had finally found the Channel between the continents.

No time for pausing and self-congratulation, though, for soon Fuschia and Terry were off exploring. Nearby stood a lovely home, obviously belonging to a keen sailor and nature lover, from the collection of sailing trophies and little cages of insects neatly arranged around the delightful open building.

As Terry and myself were looking at some of the wonderful telescopes and other devices that lay on the beach, we heard a familiar distant cry…Fuschia! Drawing the Webley, we both set off at a run. What had happened? More pirates? Or slavers or torturers? You never know what will be waiting for you on the Mainland. I should never have let her flutter off out of my sight…

We quickly followed the muffled cries and found her trapped under, of all things, a huge starfish! I grabbed a nearby oar and prised her free. Apparently she was exploring, saw it flopping about on the jetty and, being the kind sole that she is, attempted to help it back into the water, upon which act it flailed out at her and trapped her under one of its arms. Thankfully she was safe, if a little winded. The starfish received a swift warning kick from her for its troubles, though.

At this point Terry received an aetheric message through the special bracelet that Oolon had given her and had to go, but Fuschia and I decided to search the coast further…there was a whole new continent to explore and Fuschia was just as keen as I to explore it.

Nearby was a ship that had obviously been captured by the local mainlanders from the pirates and put to a more legitimate use. Below decks was a neatly laid out bar and stage and Fuschia was soon encouraging me to assist her in a duet of one of her favourite Faerie songs to the empty bar.

I was growing tired and as we left the bar night was falling. All that rowing was taking its toll, but Fuschia was unstoppable and her excitement was quite infectious. She dragged me on into a little stand of trees and insisted she could smell magic, and she was right. The sight before us was both eerie and beautiful and without a doubt quite magical.

The creatures didn’t move or respond to us, merely shimmered in the pale moonlight. For some reason the whole scene seemed very serene and peaceful. It felt almost as if we were on sacred ground.

And then she was off again, pulling me along by my hand, the ethereal creatures all but forgotten. Out of the trees, across an open cobbled area….and tumbling down an unseen hole into darkness….

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

The Long Night

Dear Diary,

This entry finds me sitting in a tent on a small, flat plain. All in all, its been a rather trying day.

It started, as these things do, with an informal gathering in the Cabinet. Terry was there, as was my lovely husband and I was delighted to find that Miss V. Tombola had also joined us. We had another visitor, too: Mr O'Toole, who we had last seen at the Valentine's Ball. It was good to see him still in military garb; gentlemen always look very fetching in their regimentals.

Alfonso wanted to explore the safety of the known passage to the Northern Continent, to ensure that our gallant comrades in adventure would not find it populated by pirates and brigands as so much else of the Northern coastline appears to be. Everyone agreed, so we set off into the unknown.

We arrived at a most unprepossessing place. Apparently it is called Purple, despite the lack of any violet inclinations in the decor or statuary. There reside a lighthouse, a tug boat, a train station and some very large buildings of unknown purpose.

Shortly after arriving, we all fell victim to a most peculiar and violent weather phenomenon known as a lag storm. Whilst several of us were pinned to the spot, Miss Tombola and Oolon both blacked out and Mr O'Toole vanished for a considerable amount of time. I should have known that this did not bode well for the rest of our visit, but at the time I attempted to remain stoically optimistic.

It became obvious that although the locals we encountered (a Miss Audina and a Mr Acropolis) were friendly, the buildings were not. At least it would appear that I am not the sole focus of animosity in this region, as neither Mr Mesmer nor Mr O'Toole could gain access to the majority of the edifices. In a display of pique at his continued exclusion, Mr Mesmer (who had appeared most unexpectedly) displayed a talent for biting social commentary I had not hither to thought him capable of. At least he was no longer looking aged and wizened by this point. He's a very odd chap.

Several of the group decided to carry out their own investigations of these buildings, whilst those of us cruelly excluded began a search of those areas we could access. The Lighthouse was most interesting, with a stunning view from the upper chamber. Sadly, there was no sign of the Northern Continent on the horizon.

An attempt was made to start the tug boat that stood beside the lighthouse, but even Miss Tombola's mechanical genius failed to coax the beast into life. It was becoming clear that this part of the mainland was both judgemental and obstreperous and everyone's nerves were becoming a little frayed.

Oolon, Terry, Mr O'Toole and Miss Tombola decided that there was little of interest here and decided to return to Mayfair, leaving only me and my darling strongman to continue our investigation. Hence the tent.

We will continue on tomorrow by balloon to the structure that Alfonso believes lies in the centre of the channel (we had hoped to cajole a lift from Oolon, but he had apparently lost all interest in the venture) and then on to the Northern Continent. Let us pray that there is more there of note and less prejudice against certain members of our community.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Giant Robot Rampage Fear Grips City

Clipping from New York Times forwarded to Mr Oolon Sputnik by Professor Alfonso Avalanche:

Giant Robot Rampage Fear Grips City

The streets of New York City stand deserted today as sightings of a giant mechanical man have led the mayor to enforce a city-wide evacuation.

The call was made yesterday evening by the NYC police department responding to reports of citizens leaping from the top of the Empire State Building. However, before the police could intervene, the “Giant Robot” and the several gentlemen accompanying it made their escape into the city’s subway system.

Although only minor damage was caused to the sidewalk and roadway, the matter of large creatures within city limits is taken very seriously in NYC after the passing of the Kong Act nearly a decade ago.

The following four gentlemen are sought in connection with the incident and are alleged to have secretly smuggled the automata into the city inside the ornate crate visible in the background of this picture.

Citizens are warned not to approach these gentlemen as they are believed to be dangerous and possibly deranged. Any sightings are to be reported directly to the police.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Ghost Town

Oh Em,

What are we going to do? I know you think I shouldn't pay him any mind because he can be a proper misery at times and if that was all he was doing, I'd be forced to agree with you. But he's being too nice and on three or four separate occassions within the space of two hours was heard discussing the relative merits of women's fashion and commenting on the exquisiteness of ringlets! It's just not right, I tell you. He didn't do that when you travelled with him, did he?

I knew a bloke called Jackson once; stalwart and calm under pressure, never failing to keep a firm hand on the rudder and all that. When he started to panic, you knew things were bad, really bad. So you can imagine how I felt when Terry started to openly worry, seeing as she's always been a bit of a Jackson figure to me (and even Alfonso is now beginning to believe me that something funny is going on).

We went to visit Steelhead this afternoon. I had written to Miss Projects, a lovely lady Oolon has invited over to the Cabinet for tea on several occassions, to ensure that our presence would not be offensive to the residents (some places get very sniffy about us non-humans), and she assured me that we would be most welcome. I had heard about Steelhead from other residents of Caledon such as Mr Pearse, as was interested to see it for myself, as well as it providing a pleasant distraction from my concerns.

As usual, we assembled at the Mayfair estate and made ready for the off. Miss Rothschild and Miss Tamala Tombola sent there apologies, but Mr Mesmer (who never seems far away these days) and our dear Mr Chaplin did grace us with their presence. Oolon actually looked slightly more relaxed than he had been in several days, due in no small part, I am sure, to the presence of my darling husband, but later on (after we had entered the ETD) the look returned; far away, preoccupied.

Everyone agreed that Steelhead sounded like the perfect destination and we sallied forth (I think I spent too much time talking to Mr Burleigh and Mr Somme at the opening of New Babbage; very military). There was the usual small talk, meaningless chit-chat that humans seem to find so very comforting and necessary. The Old Girl seemed quite content and everyone was being very nice about her, so I suppose that flattery works even with her.

Our arrival in Stealhead was without incident. My, everything is so large there! I imagine it was all pretty huge to my normally sized associates, but think how tiny I felt, surounded by these monuments of architectural engineering. But it was quiet, so ominously quiet; not a bird song, not another living soul. Were we truly in Stealhead, or somewhere that merely looked a great deal like it?

Wherever we were, there was a great deal to marvel at. The hotel contained an extravagent ballroom that would be magnificent for the Caledonian social season, but it was just as deserted as everywhere else. Alfonso spotted smoke on the horizon and we decided that we should investigate, in case someone was in distress. And then you'll never guess who we bumped into? Miss Virrginia Tombola, who happened to be visiting as well. It was good to see a familiar face in this ghost town.

It was only after we arrived at the docks and found the charming little paddle steamer that I noticed we were two people short. Terry and Oolon were not with us; they didn't get to see Mr Chaplin's fine new wardrobe or take part in the enlightening discussion of the virtues of steam in waterborne vessels. Mind you, neither did I. I like steam, its warm and impressive and some of the creations it ends up in are almost alive; it gives them character and personality. But I don't need to know how it works. And there were mushrooms to sit on, and a pixie can't resist those sorts of opportunities for long.

I wanted to go back and see what had happened to Terry and Oolon, but there was so much to see. There was a magnificent steam train (which my dear Alfonso decided to play with and pushed some buttons that he really probably shouldn't have, hence all the steam on the plate). It rained for a little while we were inspecting the engine, something I have become unaccustomed to since leaving Faerie, but Mr Chaplin was as prepared as ever and sheltered me with his umbrella. The Brownie was most pleased, as he was struggling by this point with all the added atmospheric moisture (bad for the paint, apparently).

And there was a gallery of some sort, wherein my husband found yet another toy to play with. As I'm sure you can imagine, it was rather embaressing later on in the visit when we met the gentle lady who had built both the train and rororororory (planet whizzy thing with too many syllables in it) and had to explain that we hadn't broken her inventions and, despite his bulk, hadn't even bent them a little. Thank goodness Miss Tombola was with us to ensure the structural integrity, so we could do it with a straight face. Alfonso actually thinks this would make a good ride for the circus.

At the very top of the gallery was a massive clock; the cogs and gears were fearsome, grinding and rolling relentlessly, beating out the march of time. Mr Chaplin was enthralled and watching him, in amongst the cogs, in his element, it was like watching Oolon with the Old Girl; gentleness, respect, understanding and more than anything else, love.

I couldn't bear it any longer; I had to know what the pair of them were up to, so I made my apologies and flew back to the Cabinet. They were exactly where we'd left them. Now sometimes, as you know from your own experience, Oolon will stay with her if she's being temperamental, but she wasn't. And from the look on Terry's face, there was much more to it than that. Not that I got to grill her about it, because that was when the highly talented Miss Hilra arrived.

Now Miss Hilra is a very clever lady - she not only built the steam engine and the whirling sculpture but also that monumental clock. Mr Chaplin was positively enthralled when he met her and the two of them chatted away for ages, discussing the ins and outs of clockwork mechanisms like old friends. She showed us several of her inventions, all delightfully crafted.

In the midst of this, Terry wandered off (to do some shopping as it turned out) with Oolon not that far behind. It took me an awfully long time to find them again, but Terry seemed to be behaving quite normally and was investigating the dress sense of the West with gusto. I still couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong, so I stuck to Oolon like glue. At one point a lady rushed past and Oolon swore he'd seen the Lady Sen. I didn't get a close enough look to see if it was or not, but there was something about the way he said it that sent a cold shudder right through me. Do you know, he asked me if I was his new shadow; I stuck out my chin and said yes and that if he didn't like it, tough. I know I wasn't being very polite, but a pixie has to do what a pixie has to do (if she thinks its right).

There were several interesting vehicles on display during our visit. Miss Hilra brought a strange article along for us to inspect (something Oolon referred to as belonging to a D Lawrian, which both of them found highly amusing but I'm afraid I missed the joke again). And then there was Miss Tombola's ornithopter.

And there were metal men, too (not naughty ones like Mr Sabre, though). Big ones, bright and shiny and full of energy even though they never moved a muscle. But Oolon was distracted and seemed keen to leave, even though we weren't due to for a good while longer. Mind you, I later learnt from Miss Projects that gigantic domestic poultry destroyed at least one rural building shortly after we left with nothing but their beaks, so perhaps it was for the best.

Now we knew that Miss Tombola (the other one) was opening her new tavern that very same evening and intially I thought that perhaps Oolon was merely determined that we should be there for the first toast. But as he ushered us out of the Cabinet and back to Mayfair, I felt an urge to make him go out before me; we're not clairvoyant as a general rule, us pixies, but every now and again you just know. I couldn't muster the nerve to do it, more fool me, and I dutifully trouped out on my merry way.

I could have sworn I heard the Old Girl kick into life as I stepped through, but it was too late; he'd shut the door and I couldn't get back in. The longer we waited for him to appear, the more everyone became concerned and I suddenly realised that I may never see him again. When he did appear I shouted at him, which was very wrong of me, and he got very annoyed (quite rightly so) and stalked off.

I went inside to be with my friends but I don't mind admitting I wasn't in much of a party mood (a bad place for pixies to be). It was lovely to see Mr Smashcan and Mr Wormser again though, and to make the acquaintance of Miss Chernov at last. Terry was entertaining them with tales of our latest venture and Alfonso was helping himself to a stiff pint or two (so he was worried, too). Mr Chaplin had very kindly offered his services on the bar, but sadly was obliged to return to Toxia soon after.
Oolon came back after a little while and I went and apologised to him. I hate it when anyone is upset and I wanted us to be friends again, but I was a little scared he would still be angry with me. He looked grey and drawn, so I sat down next to him and patted his knee; silly really, but he looked like he needed it. He told me, in a very hushed voice, how he had nearly left us this evening but that he couldn't go, no matter what the outcome. We talked, and although I still have no idea what is wrong, he's here and we will find a way to look after him. He isn't alone, no matter what he thinks.
We found Alfonso asleep under the console when we got back to the Cabinet. I'll swear that man could sleep on a log; must come from being of circus stock.
Oh yes, I did wash my feet, thank you for asking.
Your affectionate friend,