Thimble and the Girl from Mars, the fourth book in the Thimble Monkey Superstar series, has been published this week, and here is my exclusive contribution to the book’s launch – the whole of the first chapter! If you enjoy it, why not go to www.jonblake.co.uk to buy the book?
CHAPTER ONE: Squidgers, Squops and Ducky-Ducky-Quack-Quack
Dad had never liked the Thing By The Telly. That was what he called it because he’d never heard of a Titan Gamestation 5. But I loved the Titan Gamestation 5, especially when I’d loaded it with Deathwish Hopscotch 6, which was also Thimble’s favourite game. Being a monkey, he couldn’t actually work the console himself, but I couldn’t have had a better audience. Thimble lived every moment, leaping at the screen and screeching when things got hairy, shaking both fists in triumph when I made a kill and hiding behind the sofa when the Hopscotch Joker appeared.
Needless to say, Dad did not enjoy this spectacle. Every few minutes he’d lower his Authors Monthly and tut or groan, and every time he did, the tut or groan would get slightly louder, until they would eventually become as loud as Thimble’s screeches, so I could hardly hear the Hopscotch Joker’s evil cackle.
One day it all became too much for me. I had a major hissy fit, flung my console to the floor and cried ‘Dad! Why don’t you just sit somewhere else!’
Dad lowered his Authors Monthly once more, revealing a face of the utmost gravity. ‘I see,’ he said. ‘First I must share the Great Hall with a monkey. Now there is no room for me at all. No room for the master in his own castle!’
Dad suffers from delusions, by the way, including thinking our bungalow is a mediaeval fortress called Dawson Castle.
‘I just want to play the game,’ I said.
‘You are addicted to that game!’ he replied. ‘And look how it makes you behave. Like. . .an animal!’
Dad couldn’t avoid glancing at Thimble as he said this, who nodded enthusiastically, as if Dad had paid me a great compliment.
‘It’s fun,’ I replied.
‘Fun?’ said Dad. ‘You don’t know the meaning of the word. Fun was what we had when we were kids and those blasted machines hadn’t been invented. Ball-in-cup, Rat-tat-ginger, Ducky-ducky-quack-quack, real games, Jams! Games that prepared us for life!’
‘So you’re always saying, Dad.’
‘Well perhaps you should give that stupid screen a break and try one of them.’
‘We haven’t got ball-in-cup, Dad. They stopped making it in 1934.’
Dad thought for a moment. ‘We’ve got Tiddlywinks,’ he said.
‘Dad, no – ’
Too late. Dad disappeared from the room, clattered up to the Red Tower (his bedroom) and remerged several minutes later clutching an ancient box, frayed at the edges, with PROPERTY OF DOUGLAS K DAWSON scrawled across it in faded felt pen.
‘This is more like it!’ said Dad. ‘A simple game. A game of both skill and strategy. A game played in the greatest universities.’
‘Sounds boring, Dad.’
‘Jams, this game is the cornerstone of civilisation. Play this every day and you will become a man of learning and a credit to the community.’
I sighed wearily. ‘Can Thimble play?’ I asked.
‘Is that really a good idea?’ said Dad.
‘He won’t understand the rules.’
‘But you said it was a simple game.’
‘For humans. Not for monkeys.’
‘He’s not stupid you know, Dad.’
‘Oh very well. You can play as a team. But if he can’t tell his tiddle from his wink, he’s out.’
Dad squatted down on the floor and lined up his squidger on a wink. There was a look of fearsome concentration on his face.
‘Now,’ he said. ‘Shall I squop or shall I shoot?’
‘What’s a squop?’ I asked.
‘Landing my wink on your wink,’ Dad replied, ‘thereby disabling it.’
‘Don’t do that, Dad. We haven’t even had a shot yet.’
‘Ok,’ said Dad, ‘I’ll show mercy. But I warn you, from this shot on, I shall be playing in a fully competitive manner.’
Dad’s squidger squeezed down on the edge of his wink, which flew into the air, snicked against the side of the pot, then settled beside it.
‘Hard luck, Dad,’ I said.
‘That was a marker,’ said Dad.
Hardly had Dad said this when a second wink landed clean in the middle of the pot.
‘Yes!’ I cried. ‘Thimble, you beauty!’
Dad looked outraged. ‘He did it with his tail!’ he cried.
‘Is there a rule that says you can’t use your tail?’ I said.
‘Of course there’s a. . .’ Dad thought for a moment. ‘Well there would be a rule,’ he said, ‘if humans had tails.’
‘So there isn’t a rule,’ I replied. ‘Your go again, I think.’
Looking decidedly unhappy, Dad lined up his squidger for a second shot, mumbling encouragements to himself. The wink flew like a bullet, smack against the other side of the pot.
‘That’s not fair!’ cried Dad. ‘The pot moved!’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, Dad,’ I replied. ‘How can the pot have moved?’
‘It was. . .a minor earthquake!’
‘They happen all the time, Jams! Just because they don’t make the news doesn’t mean they don’t happen!’
I ignored him. ‘Come on, Thims,’ I said. ‘It’s our turn.’
Thimble readied himself for another shot. His tail was an amazing thing, basically an extension of his spine, but with the ability to grasp as well as a third hand. It was if thousands of years of evolution had been preparing him for this game of tiddlywinks, and sure enough his second wink was as accurate as his first.
‘Two-nil!’ I cried.
‘Beginner’s luck,’ mumbled Dad.
Oddly enough, Thimble’s beginner’s luck held out for his next shot, and the one after that, and the one after that, while Dad’s luck if anything got worse.
‘Shall I get a pen and paper to keep score?’ I suggested.
‘I can remember the score,’ snapped Dad.
‘Well it’s easy to remember yours, Dad, because it’s nil, but I’m losing count of Thimble’s.’
‘I’m just getting my eye in,’ said Dad.
These were Dad’s last words for a considerable while. His face became steadily grimmer and his actions more robotic. The sun went down, the birds flew home to roost, but the results were just the same.
‘I think we should be getting to bed now, Dad,’ I suggested.
‘Best of five hundred,’ mumbled Dad.
‘But Dad,’ I replied, ‘Thimble’s two hundred and forty-nine up. You would have to win the next two hundred and fifty-one.’
‘It’s not going to happen, Dad.’
‘We’ll see about that.’
‘Come on, Thimble, bedtime.’
Dad dashed his squidger to the floor. ‘STAY RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE!’ he cried. ‘NO-ONE IS GOING TO BED TILL I HAVE WON THIS GAME OF TIDDLYWINKS!’
To be honest, I was a little bit scared by now, but that did not stop me from doing the responsible thing and leading Thimble to the bathchamber to clean his teeth. As we made our way to bed, I could hear the sound of great crashings and splinterings from the Great Hall – probably a late-night horror movie on telly, I told Thimble.