Free Sample from Peter Rogerson

This page should contain a FREE SAMPLE of my children's book, Officer Gentry and the Ghost of Mavis Adder. Intended for children aged around 9 - 11 it's a rattling good tale of time travel and adventure. Here's part of the first chapter, and I suppose there's a chance it might encourage lost souls who stumble over my ramblings to order the whole thing. Or not. Maybe not. But if you are interested there's always the possibility of clicking here



Chapter One

The Remote-Control

Officer Gentry wasn’t an Officer except by name. You might think anyone called Officer would wear a military Uniform and order people about all day in a very loud voice, but Officer Gentry was, thankfully, nothing like that.

He was an eleven year old boy who had managed to get that name because his mother was a rather silly woman who, at the time of his birth, had been totally convinced she might well be a pop star one day soon, and she was well aware that pop stars had children with unusual names. The truth was she couldn’t sing (though she was convinced that she could) and anyone who saw her dancing knew that she couldn’t do that either (though, again, she thought she could). But, sadly, the common opinion was she had two left feet, though it would have taken a brave person to suggest that to her.

The boy’s father, on the other hand, had been a really rather distinctive military man, so distinctive that in those far-off days he’d sported a huge moustache, the sort that made it quite clear that he was really an Officer. But behind the moustache and the military bearing everyone who knew him said he was an “old softy”, and his circle of uniformed friends (when there was no chance of him overhearing) whispered that he’d not last long in the armed forces.

But back to Officer Gentry (Junior).

This is what happened eleven years before the story really begins.

The baby was due to be born next week and the hopeful pop-star mother-to-be was enjoying a glass of orange juice in the dining room at the base where the father-to-be worked. It was the Officer’s dining room, but in the armed forces they don’t use the word dining room. Instead they call it a mess. I don’t know why they call it a mess and it does seem the least appropriate of names for a place where food gets to be eaten by people who are all supposed to be older than two, but mess is the word you’ll find in any dictionary.

The mother-to-be was sipping from her orange juice when she pulled the most outrageous of faces out of the blue and turned as pale as most people would turn if they suddenly and unexpectedly came face-to-face with a ghost (of which more later). But she hadn’t come face-to-face with a ghost at all, suddenly and unexpected or otherwise: far from it.

She was beginning to have her baby.

Now when they know that it’s time for giving birth most mothers-to-be have ages to get to hospital and have their babies quite safely in the proper surroundings, but this one didn’t. No sooner did she realize what was about to happen than it started happening and in next to no time the baby was howling and screaming and looking extremely pudgy right there in the Officer’s mess. It was a boy, and he took to a plastic dummy as if he’d sucked one all his life – which I suppose he had.

The silly part of the episode was the desire of the Mother (who was still convinced she’d very soon be a famous pop-star and therefore ought to be fashionable) to name the child after the place where he was born. Pop stars sometimes do things like that, which is why there are some children growing up with the most peculiar (though often perfectly delightful) names.

“It’s quite clear that we’ll have to call him Mess,” she announced, still gasping from the process of giving birth in an Officer’s mess.

The father looked horrified. “But just think! We can’t!” he protested. “Imagine what it’ll be like going out into the street when it’s teatime and shouting Mess at the top of your voice! What’ll the neighbours think? Time for tea, Mess! What in the name of goodness will they say?”

“It can’t be helped. He must be named after his birthplace: it’s fashionable,” she explained, giving him the kind of look which meant she intended getting her own way whatever he had to say.

“But Mess?” he said, trying to sound reasonable even though his moustache was wiggling in the way it usually did when he was agitated and knew he was fighting a losing battle.

“He was born in a mess so he’ll be a Mess,” she proclaimed as the ambulance arrived and prepared to cart her and her newborn offspring to the safety of the local hospital.

“It’s the Officer’s mess!” he shouted after her. “Why not call him …” (here he winced at the very thought of what he was about to suggest), “…what about calling him Officer?”

He saw her face break into a sweaty smile as she zoomed on a stretcher towards the door, propelled by two green-uniformed paramedics. “That’s it, you clever old thing!” she called, “Officer! Officer Gentry! That’s what he’ll be!”

Then she was off, baby in arms, tearing through the streets in a howling ambulance.

And Officer Gentry was exactly what the baby became.

But that was all of eleven years ago.

During that eleven years all sorts of things happened. Officer learned to put up with his name by changing it to Offa when he was taught by an enthusiastic teacher about a really ancient king who’d caused something called a dyke or earth wall to be built on one border of his kingdom of Mercia, probably to keep the Welsh out. This alteration to the actual details on his birth certificate was done entirely behind his parents’ back because, oddly, they were fond of his real name. His enemies (few in number, fortunately) called him Offal but all his friends knew him as Offa, even close relatives like his mother’s sister (Aunt Edith), though his actual parents never suspected.

His dad had a strange attitude to any shortening or changing of the boy’s name. Although he had accepted the strange Officer very reluctantly, as the years passed he had come to look at it with more and more affection until he showed positive signs of anger if anyone dared to refer to the boy as anything but Officer. His mother, on the other hand, couldn’t have cared less what her son was called. She loved him, of course she did, but names didn’t matter once it was plain even to her that she’d never be a pop singer.

After a few years those parents soon realised they just couldn’t get on with each other and started living in different houses in different towns. At first Offa found it confusing, but he soon got used to the idea and actually found there were certain advantages to be had. This was most noticeable at times like birthdays and Christmases when he tended to get two lots of extravagant presents as both parents tried to prove just how much more they loved him than did the other.

Officer started off by spending half the time with his mother and half the time with his father, but by the time he was five the pop star had become an air-stewardess on transatlantic flights and the Officer had become an inventor, and he was good at it. He claimed that most inventors, unlike himself, didn’t use their usually underrated sense of smell as they ought. If you smell things, he believed, then you found out that little bit more about them. This conviction made him stand out in a crowd because he was generally the only person sniffing things.

He often went into rhapsodies about the various smells of a wide range of plastics, and as for rubber, he’d close his eyes as if Heaven wasn’t so far away whenever he chanced to smell a pencil eraser or bicycle inner tube.

Anyway, the upshot of these differences was the boy started spending more and more time with his dad because he wasn’t in a foreign country and his mum usually was.

There was a problem with living with his dad. The Inventor had shaved off his military moustache and grown a sloppy one in its place. Then he’d proceeded to forget all about military discipline and had become so casual about everything that by the time his son was eleven he was looked on by one and all as “eccentric”, and people didn’t even go to the trouble of whispering it behind his back but suggested it quite openly, to his face.

He might have been an inventor, but he had catastrophes. I suppose it’s inevitable that things should occasionally go wrong for inventors, and he was no exception. Washing the clothes was worst. One of his inventions was a special washing powder that he claimed would remove any stain from any piece of cloth. It even dealt with oily grease from the car, and he was yet to find a stain it wouldn’t remove.

But dad’s special powder was no respecter of original colours and use of it often involved white shirts and such turning a different colour. Officer Gentry was fed up with the unmerciful teasing he got at school on account of his p.e. shorts often being pink or his socks a minty shade of green. But it always seemed to happen every time he got new white things and they were washed for the very first time. Today was a weekend day and he was wearing the dreaded pink shorts as not so many people were likely to see him in them because he was safely out of sight at home and wild horses wouldn’t get him to go further than his own back garden unless he was dressed in more normal colours.

It was almost as if dad delighted in playing the part of the eccentric inventor.

Besides turning shorts pink and socks green he left weird and mysterious things all over the place, mostly to impress anyone foolish enough to visit the house that he was actually involved in very clever and important inventions.

By the time Officer had passed his eleventh birthday his dad was working on time machines because everyone said they were impossible as they went against all the best rules of Nature. In the silence of his own little room at the top of the house the eccentric parent spent week after week with a soldering iron, a few screwdrivers and half a dozen partly dismantled computers. He unsoldered bits and pieces, drew complicated diagrams with even more complicated scribbles (in pencil) on them, and succeeded in making a something unusual inside the plastic case of an old television remote-control.

In the loneliness of his inventing room he tested it several times until it worked to perfection. Then he left it tucked almost but not quite down the back of the settee where Officer (as I’ve said, dad didn’t know about the Offa thing) could be expected to discover it. Then, dad thought, there would be inquisitive questions asked and wonderful answers of great importance given, and the son would learn to adore the father even more, if that were possible..

And the son did notice it, almost straight away.

“Why’ve we got a new remote for the telly when we haven’t got a new telly?” he asked, holding it and staring at it curiously.

“Ah, so you’ve found it,” murmured Dad, a proud glint in his eye. “That’s not a remote control, that isn’t. It’s a time machine and I invented it!”

“Dad! There’s no such thing!” protested Officer, who believed everything he read in books, and only yesterday he’d read about time machines being a load of wishful-thinking nonsense.

“Ah, and who might say that, pray?” asked Dad, frowning slightly like he did when he knew that any minute now he’d be proved absolutely right.

“Everyone,” replied the boy, recognising the look on his father’s face and prepared to be proved more wrong than a sum that should add up to ten but always came to six and a half.

“Not everyone,” corrected the man with a frown, “because I’m part of everyone and I don’t say that there’s no such thing as time machines. And I can’t say any such thing because I know that there is. I’ve made one … and … (he looked around secretively as if he was wary of being overheard) “… and I’ve used it!”

“You’ve … used it, dad?”

“Like I said, Officer, like I said. I’ve used it, been from now to then, and come back quite safely!"

“Now to then, dad?”

“Now to then, son. I’ve been to the Fire of London, I have. Helped put it out, which is probably why it didn’t spread any further, and then I came back.”

“Can I … I mean, it’s my homework, to check on the life and times of Charles Something-or-other, Charles who wrote about Scrooge and ghosts and that.”

“Dickens,” murmured Dad.

“That’s it! So can I use it?”

“Certainly not, lad! Think of what your mother would say if you never came back! What would I say to her? That you’ve been lost in Oliver Twist’s back yard? That David Copperfield locked you in the Old Curiosity Shop? The whole idea’s too terrifying for words!

“So, no, no, no, son. I’m not going to tell you that you press the right year on the buttons like you might be changing to this or that channel on the telly, and then concentrate as hard as you can on things …er… changing because all my time machine does is amplify your deepest wishes a million, million times. Mind over matter, lad, but I’m not going to tell you that. Nor am I going to advise you that the further you go back in time the harder it is to make sense of what the folks say. There’s words, lad, that you never heard of, and ways of saying them that are plainly outrageous. But come to think about it, it weren’t so bad in Dickens’ time, though I’m not going to tell you that either!”

“But dad!”

The floppy moustache flipped a little as its owner shook his head.

“Now I’m going to leave it here, lad, right here on the coffee table, and I don’t mind you touching it, of course I don't, there's nothing wrong with healthy curiosity. But I won't be so pleased if you actually press any button or do any other daft thing! And if you were to actually go away, to disappear, like, then I'd be most displeased because I'd have no way of finding out when you were (notice I say when, lad, not where) so that I could go after you and give you a huge piece of my mind!"

So there you have it. A tempting little taster. If you want to find out more about my thoughts regarding books for children then you could do worse than clicking here.