This time the subject was scavengers and my first thought was to write about a scavenger hunt. My only problem was thinking of a story to go with the idea. I did actually come up with a silly joke about a crossword puzzle clue that could be used in a scavenger hunt, though I couldn't for the life of me see how I could use the joke in a story. I told the joke to a friend who laughed like a drain and then insisted that I really had to write a story around it. I protested that I couldn't think of one, but she wouldn't take no for an answer. So I put my thinking cap on and eventually I came up with this little tale.
I hope you enjoy it, but I want you to remember that it's all Nicola's fault!
When the Rotary Club decided to organise a scavenger hunt to raise money for charity, I immediately knew that I had to have David on my team. He seemed quite flattered to be asked to join in the activity. Ive always found David to be a delightful man, full of wit, wisdom and erudition. Unfortunately those are the very reasons why almost everybody else cordially dislikes him. After all, he does The Times crossword every day and he fills in the answers with a blue biro. Thats pretty much guaranteed to upset people.
On the day of the scavenger hunt, Rotary provided each team with a set of clues that defined the things they had to seek out and collect. All the stuff the teams brought back would be donated to Rotary and then sold at a stall that the club maintains at the monthly flea market.
"What if the answers we get to the clues arent correct?" asked Jeremy, who was also on my team. "Wont we come back with the wrong things?"
I shrugged. "A thing is thing," I said. "Whether its the right thing or the wrong thing doesnt really matter, it will still sell at the stall. But the team that brings back the largest number of correct things will win a small prize and, of course, theyll get heaps of brownie points. Thats why we need you, David. Youre really good at solving clues. Youll give us an edge."
"Thanks," said David. "Perhaps we should go and get a coffee, and while were drinking it we can look at the clues and decide on our strategy."
Jeremy and I thought that sounded like a good idea, so we headed for the nearest café. Jeremy ordered a long black, and I ordered a flat white, but David asked for something complicated that made the coffee machine shudder and gurgle for ages as the barista twisted knobs backwards and forwards like a demented mad scientist. Eventually the barista completely vanished inside a cloud of fragrant steam. His disembodied hands reached out from the cloud and presented David with his drink. "Thank you," said David. He took a sip and pulled a face. "I should have asked for almond milk instead of soy," he said and he turned back to the counter, intent on changing his order.
I grabbed hold of his arm. "Never mind that," I said. "Weve got more important things to think about."
"I hate getting things wrong," grumbled David as I guided him towards the table where Jeremy was staring at a sheet of paper with bewildered expression on his face. "Hate it, hate it, hate it," muttered David crossly as he sat down.
"Most of these clues look fairly simple," said Jeremy. "But what on earth are we supposed to do with this one?" He read the clue out to us. "Initially the things the poet says have value to play in a sex shop!"
"Can I see that?" asked David. Jeremy passed the paper over to him. "I do better when I can see the clues written down," explained David apologetically. "Its all those years of doing crossword puzzles, I suppose." He read the paper carefully. "Youre right," he said, "most of these are pretty easy. Theres nothing cryptic about them at all. They just say things like Bring back a bag of edible sheep poo. No room for any ambiguity there."
"Whats edible sheep poo?" I asked, honestly puzzled.
"Souvenir shops sell heaps of it to gullible tourists," explained Jeremy. "Its just a handful of chocolate coated peanuts in a bag that has a cute picture of an excreting sheep on the front of it."
"I see," I said, rather amazed that people would actually spend money on something like that. "OK," I continued, "so what on earth are we supposed to make of Initially the things the poet says have value to play in a sex shop."
"I think that one is actually quite straightforward," said David blandly. "Obviously weve got to buy a copy of Please, Please Me by the Beatles." He paused while Jeremy and I stared at him in perplexity. He shuffled with embarrassment in his seat under the pressure of our collective glare, and took a sip of his strange coffee. "The album," he clarified, "not the single." As if that made a difference.
"How on earth did you reach that conclusion?" I asked him.
"Its simple," he said. "Lark is a synonym for play so play in becomes Lark in which is obviously a reference to the poet Philip Larkin. The clue tells us the value is something to do with sex. Initially means the first time you do something, so the things the poet says must be a poem about his first sexual experience. And of course, Larkin actually wrote a poem about that very thing. He called it Annus Mirabilis. It goes like this." He struck a dramatic pose and recited:
Sexual intercourse beganIn nineteen sixty-three (Which was rather late for me)Between the end of the Chatterley banAnd the Beatles first LP
"The Beatles first LP was Please, Please Me," he concluded. "So thats what we need to get hold of." He frowned for a moment. "Probably we ought to get a copy of Lady Chatterleys Lover as well," he said. "Just to be on the safe side."
Jeremy and I looked at each other, amazed by Davids twisted brilliance. "I told you we needed him," I said to Jeremy.
"And you were quite right," agreed Jeremy. "Lady Chatterleys Lover is easy," he continued. "We can get a copy of that at any decent bookshop. But where are we going to get the Beatles LP from?"
"Well, you probably wont be able to get hold of a vinyl copy of it," said David, "Its far too old for that. But the CD should be easy enough to find. Theres a specialist music shop in Hastings thats bound to have a copy."
After that revelation, the rest of the day seemed a bit anti-climactic. David, Jeremy and I spent it searching out the trophies that the clues had guided us to. Then, laden down with goodies, we headed off to the Rotary club house where the man in charge of the scavenger hunt made a careful note of all the things we had brought back with us. He seemed rather surprised when we presented him with the Beatles CD and the D. H. Lawrence novel. "What are these supposed to be?" he asked.
I explained, and he started to laugh. "Thats very clever," he said through his giggles, "but you couldnt be more wrong," Out of the corner of my eye I saw David stiffen in sudden anger.
"So whats the right answer?" asked Jeremy. "What were we supposed to get?"
"One of these," said the man, holding up a knitted purple cylinder with a large bag attached to it.
"What is it?" I asked, "and how do you get that from Initially the things the poet says have value to play in a sex shop?"
"Things the poet says are words," explained the man. "Their value is what the words are worth. Wordsworth. Hes a famous poet William Wordsworth. Initially refers to his initials, WW. And what WW do you find in a sex shop?" He paused dramatically while Jeremy, David and I shook our collective heads in bewilderment. He held up the knitted cylinder and bag again. "One of these," he said. "Its a willy warmer."
"Ah!" I said, as the penny dropped, "a heater for your peter!"
"Thats a rather small one," said Jeremy. "Did you model for it yourself?"
The man flushed angrily. "No," he snapped. He added up the scores he had given us for each object and wrote the total against our team name on a blackboard.
We stared gloomily at the board. Wed come in second. "I hate being wrong," said David. He was cross with himself again. "Hate it, hate it, hate it!"
"Dont worry about it," I said consolingly. "It was an easy mistake to make. It could have happened to anybody. Dont let it shake your confidence. Youre still the best of us when it comes to interpreting clues." David shook his head. He seemed unconvinced.
"Lets go down the pub," said Jeremy.
"Best idea youve had all day," I said.
Rotary made a reasonable amount of money from selling all the stuff that people brought back from their scavenger hunting. Interestingly, the Beatles CD and Lady Chatterleys Lover sold for twice what wed paid for them. Nobody bought a willy warmer. Perhaps they really were too small to fit the Rotary Club members. In the end, the organisers had to give them away. I took one home with me. I use it as a tea cosy. David has stopped drinking elaborate coffees. He still does The Times crossword puzzle every day, but now he fills in the answers with a pencil and he always has an eraser in his pocket. People seem to get along with him a lot better than they used to as well. Funny, that.