The Wizard of Westwood Cross

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‘So let me get this straight,’ I say, trying to get comfortable in the back of the van. ‘I agree to blog about you, and in return you will show me REAL magic.’

‘Yes.’

‘Right here at Westwood Cross?’

‘Yes.’

Not for the first time, I glance sideways at my mate Andy….but all he does is nod and say quietly ‘This guy is the real deal.’

I’m reserving my judgment. I’ve met too many so-called ‘wizards’ and they’re all from either the Derren Brown school of psychological manipulation or the Dynamo academy of elaborate setups and high impact visual illusions. Alternatively, they’re just plain nuts.

There’s no such thing as real magic.

‘He’s like Gandalf,’ Andy whispers. ‘It’s proper Lord of the Rings stuff, mate: blew me away when I first saw it.’

I return my gaze to the wizard, who is in fact a guy of average appearance in his mid to late forties with a receding hairline and a beard that looks like he just fished the hair out of his armpit and slapped it onto his face. His name, for the record books, is Derek…..but I am told that his friends call him Derry.

‘Why aren’t you rich?’ I can’t help asking the question, because I’m so narrow-minded that I automatically assume anyone discovering that they have magical powers would immediately use them for financial gain.

He simply smiles, shakes his head and says: ‘Money isn’t important to me, David. I was given this power for a reason, and it wasn’t to make myself wealthy. I think I was put here – in this place and time – to make the world….better.’

I sniff. ‘You’re doing a rubbish job.’

‘Yes, well….I haven’t really started yet.’

I take a deep breath, and try to maintain my most serious expression. ‘Okay, Derek. I’ll buy in. A few quick questions, though…before you do anything EPIC.’

‘Go for it.’

‘Firstly – do you believe in God?’

‘No.’

I’m quite taken aback by this: people who claim to have supernatural powers nearly always answer ‘yes‘ to the question of a supreme deity. I try again.

‘What about gods? Plural?’

‘Afraid not.’

‘A goddess?’

‘Nope.’

‘Something evil in the woods?’

‘What?’

‘Just testing.’

Andy is getting restless. He suddenly leans forward, puts his hand on my arm and says, rather urgently: ‘Dave – just WATCH him do his stuff. PLEASE.’

I heave an enormous sigh.

‘Fine – but I’m not blogging about it unless what happens is absolutely incredible.’

‘It will be.’

‘Okay….let’s do it.’

Andy hauls open the back of the van and we step into the car park outside WHSmith. I expect a few moments of meditation or something, but Derek is off like a rocket, doing a kind of fast walk in the direction of Boots. I have to run to keep up with him, and Andy is left at the back because he has the physical conditioning of an elderly tortoise.

For some reason, I’m fully prepared for him to go straight into Boots, but he suddenly veers right and starts hurrying through the main thoroughfare, past River Island and HMV before stopping outside Waterstones bookshop.

When I catch up with him, he turns, looks me directly in the eye and says: ‘In exactly ten seconds, I will go into Waterstones, locate a certain book and turn it around so that it is on the shelf facing the other way. Doing this will start a chain of events that will immediately bring a devastating amount of power down on this shopping centre.’

I’m trying hard not to be rude, but what I’m hearing is ridiculous. ‘Derek – people do that stuff all the time, mate…and apart from making more work for the booksellers, I’m pretty sure nothing ever happens.’

He leans in close to me, and smiles. ‘They’re moving the wrong books, David. Now….GET READY.’

I gulp and make a face, just as Andy puffs and pants his way up to us. Derek is rolling up his sleeves and beginning to move his fingers in a really odd way.

‘Hang on a minute,’ I say, suddenly aware that there might be something a bit off with this guy. ‘Nobody’s going to get hurt, are they?’

He shakes his head. ‘Not at all: the people in Debenhams might feel something, but I doubt anyone else will notice.’

‘You said DEVASTATING POWER?’

‘Just…..watch and learn. Oh, and do as I say. Okay?’

‘Okay.’

‘Sit on that bench, both of you.’

Andy and I wordlessly take a seat on the bench outside Waterstones.

‘Now…..watch Debenhams. Watch it VERY, VERY closely. Not the people…..the building itself.’

Andy and I turn our heads and focus on Debenhams. It’s a bit difficult to stare at the place, because there’s a car outside it with a giant statue of a greyhound on top. This would be even be a distraction in Twin Peaks, but we’re in Thanet…and it’s normal. I give Debenhams a really good, intense stare….until my eyes start watering. A minute or so later, I turn to look at Andy…and he’s not moving: he’s totally, TOTALLY fixated on the building.

The wizard Derek emerges from Waterstones, looking incredible smug and self-satisfied, and swinging his arms as if he’s just won first prize in a Lovely Sheep competition.

‘Well?’ he says. ‘Tell me you’ve seen something better than that….and I’ll never bother you ever again.’

‘Something better than what?’ I flash a glance back towards Debenhams. Andy is still mesmerised. ‘Nothing happened.’

Derek grins.

‘I moved the building, David.’

‘What?’

‘I moved the building ever so slightly to the right.’

‘You-’

‘-moved the building, yes. I think you’ll find that the people coming out of it now are a bit disorientated…’

I stare at the glass doors of Debenhams, where a couple are emerging. They’re laughing, joking and swinging their bags.

I’m angry.

Very angry.

‘He HAS,’ Andy confirms, now rubbing his own streaming eyes. ‘He’s only gone and bloody MOVED Debenhams! Look at that sign for Costa: it’s now LEFT of the entrance.’

I crack my knuckles, and pat Andy gently on the shoulder. ‘You’re telling me that when you see a small standing sign for Costa is in a different place, you assume someone has moved the building behind it? You’re a TIT, Andy. An absolute TIT.’

‘Listen, Dave – you don’t understand. Derek-’

‘Derek is bigger than a tit, Andy. Derek is a complete and massive BREAST. You’ve wasted my time: both of you.’

I get up and walk away.

‘Will you blog about it?’ Derek calls after me.

I turn around to give him the finger, but he and Andy are both now deep in conversation. For the tiniest fraction of a second, my perspective shifts and I suddenly see Debenhams on the RIGHT side of the complex….but a quick blink reveals it’s all in my imagination.

think.

I’m 99% sure that Debenhams didn’t move an inch, and I’m only blogging about this for the following reason: if, by some miracle, a future architectural survey reveals any sort of dynamic shift in the Westwood Cross complex, I want to point to this moment and say: ‘I was THERE.’

*

The above entry was written in Debenhams at Westwood Cross, which is slightly right of where it used to be.

 

Attracting Women….with a Joystick (at Westwood Cross)

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I’m actually worried that we might get kicked out of Marks & Spencer. The security here is top notch and, despite the fact that we’re not actually doing anything wrong, we are drawing a lot of unwanted attention from the other customers in the restaurant. I guess it’s because we’re being quite noisy.

‘The blonde! The blonde!’

‘NOT the blonde: go for the old lady, Jay!’

‘You said THE BLONDE!’

‘I changed it to the old lady!’

‘What? WHY?’

‘She’s weak, Jay: she’s WEAK!’

My buddy (and fellow blogger) Jaylord is sitting next to me with two fingers held to the side of his head. He’s concentrating all his willpower and mental focus on random people in the Marks & Spencer store at Westwood Cross: at least, the ones we can see from our table in the restaurant.

Mostly importantly of all, Jay is holding onto the lead of the Joystick I’ve given him, an old Spectrum one from the eighties.

The idea I’ve had is quite simple. Jay will channel all his focus on individual people, and I will then try to control those people with the joystick.

Naturally, we’re going for girls….not because we’re trying to score (I’m married and Jay is taken), but because we’re testing out our god-given psychic abilities to attract women….with the power of our minds (and a joystick).

Unfortunately, I’ve given up a bit on most of the attractive women, and I’ve now decided that an elderly woman might be our best bet.

The NOISE is coming from the fact that I’m shouting a lot and tapping the fire button on the joystick frantically…..because it ISN’T the fire button. I’ve mentally decided that it is – in fact – the ATTRACTION button…..so in order to get the people to approach us, I’m hitting the button REALLY hard and trying to move them as if they’re characters in a computer game….but Jay is now getting upset.

‘Dave – people are looking over here. Big time.’

‘Just keep focusing! I moved the old lady just then!’

‘You DIDN’T move her: she was on her way over here anyway! Look: she’s finished trying on the hats and now she’s coming into the restaurant!’

‘I did that! I’m moving the joystick TOWARDS us. She’s coming to me like a fish on a hook: I’m reeling her in! Look! She’s moving really fast because I’ve got the setting on AUTO!’

‘You’re NOT controlling that old lady!’

‘I totally AM! Just watch for – oh, no – she’s going to hit the table! I’ll try to make her jump….’

It doesn’t work. At the very last minute, the old dinosaur veers off in another direction entirely and heads for the toilets.

I lose my temper at this point, and smack my hand on the table.

‘You’re NOT concentrating, Jay!’

‘Me? Did you ever think that maybe your CRAPPY IDEA IS JUST RIDICULOUS AND DOESN’T WORK?’

‘It DOES work. I saw it on Derren Brown.’

‘That’s a LIE: this is all you. Why did you change to the old lady anyway? You were moving that blonde girl around just fine!’

‘Yeah, but I was going MENTAL on the attraction button, and she just looked over at us with an eye full of evils, as if we were crazy or something.’

‘Dave – you’re sitting in M&S hammering a Spectrum Joystick, and I’m holding the end of the bit that should be plugged into a computer. People are giving us funny looks because you’re creating a two-man freakshow over here.’

I roll my eyes.

‘Let’s just pick someone else, dude: let’s give it ONE more go.’

‘Fine…but then we’re done. Okay?’

‘Deal.’

We both look around the restaurant until our eyes alight on a rather attractive young girl working behind the counter.

She looks over at us and smiles, politely.

‘Jay-‘ I whisper.

‘I see her.’

‘Let’s do this.’

Maintaining eye contact with the girl, who only glances away from us briefly to serve a customer, I begin to hit the ATTRACTION button. Hard.

After a few seconds, I’m really going hell for leather on it.

I can FEEL Jay’s mental energy charging through the restaurant.

It’s SO exciting.

‘Go, Jay!’

‘Keep hitting the button!’

‘I am! My bloody finger is killing me! Just keep concentrating!’

‘This is it, now!’

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‘Ready-‘

‘Wait for it-‘

‘NOW!’

Continuing to smash the button, I pull the joystick towards me and the girl actually COMES OUT FROM BEHIND THE COUNTER AND BEGINS TO WALK TOWARDS US.

‘I told you, Jaylord!’

‘This is EPIC!’

‘Here she comes!’

She walks in a straight line, only once sidestepping a table (when I move the joystick left) in her journey towards us. She’s definitely giving us the eye.

‘Dave-’

‘I know! I KNOW!’

‘Dave-’

Suddenly, she’s right in front of the table.

‘Here she IS, Jay! Here she actually IS!’

I finally stop hitting the button and collapse back into my seat, breathing heavily and looking up at her expectantly.

‘Hi! I’m Dave, and this is Jay: is everything okay?’

She maintains her smile, but the humour is now gone from it. She leans over and whispers: ‘I’m going to have to ask you to leave the restaurant. Two people have complained, and you’re making an awful lot of noise.’

I want to explain, I want to make her understand that we’re not weirdos, but I can just about get my breath. I’m absolutely exhausted.

‘Hold on!’ I manage, as she begins to walk away. ‘Excuse me?’

She turns back. ‘Yes?’

‘Did you come over here by yourself, just then….or did you feel – sort of – compelled to come over?’

She folds her arms, looks down at her feet and then shakes her head, very sadly. ‘You’re not controlling people with the joystick. I’m afraid it’s a really, REALLY stupid idea.’

I want to say something else, but I can feel Jay’s angry stare burning into my neck.

This is all my fault.

We calmly collect our stuff and head for the escalators. I’m a bit disappointed on the way down, when I spot the old lady coming out of the toilets and Jay refuses to help me move her around a bit.

I can understand why he ‘s angry with me, but while – on the surface of it – a lot of my ideas might seem pretty mental, I swear this one was solid gold. After all, I used to know a guy who tried this trick a LOT. I can’t remember his name, but he once claimed to have taken complete control of Beyonce during a pop concert: he reckoned he even moved her offstage a few times and she came back looking confused.

From that moment, I was just crazy in love with the idea. See what I did there?

*

The following entry was written in Costa Coffee at Westwood Cross, where Dave is currently in exile following strange and disturbing dreams that led him to flee the Costa Drive Thru on the other side of the complex. When he’s not making a nuisance of himself in public, Dave is a bestselling YA author who has written books for Disney, Sony, Hodder, Penguin and a variety of other international publishers. His latest series is about to be announced by Hodder Headline in the UK.

 

Meeting Your REAL Father For the First Time (at WHSmith)

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‘Dave, don’t look around now….but I think the man by the stairs might be my father.’

If these words had come from anybody else, it would have been an incredible, life-changing moment, one of those moments that you always remember….like you’re always going to remember the day Cliff Richard finally goes bad and knocks over a post office.

But the words have come from Dean, and – as my friends go – he’s not the most emotionally stable horse in the paddock. Dean thinks everyone is his father, and I feel for him: I really do. I grew up in single parent family with no dad around, and although there were odd times when I could have maybe benefited from a father and son chat, I certainly never felt in any way deprived of some great advantage.

Dean did.

His mum isn’t around now, and it would be fair to say he’s been looking for his biological father for the best part of two decades. He’s exhausted every official channel and record-based avenue there is to be exhausted. All he’s left with now is the odd fraudster and a few supernaturalists who tend to get him believing any old junk because they know how emotionally invested he is in the hunt for his true identity. Moreover, the most recent psychic has proved even more dangerous to his mental health: she’s actually drawn him a picture of the man he needs to look for. He hasn’t shown it to me yet, but I’m so depressed by how sucked in he’s been by these terrible people that I haven’t shown the slightest interest in seeing it.

‘I’m serious, Dave. DON’T TURN AROUND.’

Not for the first time, I wish we’d gone to Costa. I always go to Costa.

Coffee Corner at Westwood Cross is alien territory to me, and I’d rather stare through a wall of glass than look out over the maze of dust-covered bookshelves in WHSmith: it’s like watching rats in some sort of futuristic experiment. Besides, there’s something crawling across the top of one of the bookshelves, and – judging from the fact that most people wander around Smith’s like they’re in need of a blood transfusion – it might one of the customers. All that, and now this:

‘Dave! I said DON’T!’

Of course I’m looking around. I’m looking around because, as Derren Brown would say, the command ‘don’t look around’ contains the suggestion ‘look around’. Besides, I am curious.

Coffee Corner is actually pretty empty today. There are two teenage girls giggling by the top of the stairs, a flock of elderly blue rinses crowding the counter, a smartly dressed woman in a business suit and…

…and…

I turn back to Dean.

‘The Chinese guy?’

‘Don’t be racist.’

‘I’m not being racist, Dean. The man is Chinese. You’re not a racist just because you can correctly identify someone of another race. That’s like saying you’re homophobic because you suspect that the two guys you saw kissing in Tesco were more than just friends.‘

‘I think it’s him, Dave: I think that’s my father.’

‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous.’

‘Why am I being ridiculous? Because you write a bunch of books you think you know EVERYTHING?’

I shake my head very slowly, and take a deep breath.

‘Dude, you’re extremely tall, very ginger and you have a lot of freckles. I would be really surprised if your dad turned out to be a small Chinese man. Life can be strange, admittedly….but not that strange. I have the same colouring as you, but if I didn’t know who my real father was and I wanted to hunt him down, I probably wouldn’t start the search on mainland China.’

‘Yeah? Well let’s hear what you’ve got to say about this….DAVE WHO KNOWS EVERYTHING.’

He fishes in his wallet and pulls out the drawing of his prospective father the latest psychic has given him. Sure enough, the guy in the picture looks a bit like the man by the stairs. He really does: even the slightly angular jut to the chin is there. This makes me really angry: I want to grab the drawing and tear it in half, but doing so would upset Dean. Instead, I just sigh and hand it back.

‘Listen, dude….you’ve got to start getting some resolution on all this. You have to start seeing sense. You have to begin to-‘

‘I’m going over there.’

‘WHAT?’

‘I’m going to ask him.’

‘You can’t! You don’t have the slightest clue who he is!’

‘I’m going to.’

‘Don’t you DARE…not when I’m with you.’

‘You’re so selfish.’

‘Yes I am…and you CAN’T do it.’

‘I can and I’m going to. You only live once, Dave: you should try to remember that.’

Before I can stop him, Dean is on his feet and striding towards the poor isolated man who probably just stopped by at Westwood Cross for a coffee. This man has obviously walked into WHSmith, thought about getting some refreshment and decided to hike it up the stairs to rest his weary feet…and he’s about to run into some desperate lunatic who is going to tell him that he thinks he might be his son.

Dean has to be stopped, but the whole thing happens too fast, and I can’t get out of my seat quickly enough to do anything about it.

Strangely, I’m also rooted to the spot by a grim fascination about what might happen if – by a million to one chance – the man turns out to be Dean’s father.

I know it’s crazy.

I know it can’t happen.

Not even in Science Fiction.

But I have to see….in case it DOES.

I sit there, gripping both arms of the chair, as Dean asks to take a seat opposite the completely stunned gentleman and – almost without any visible preamble – hands him the drawing.

There is a brief exchange between them. Then a more intense conversation. Finally, the older man smiles, nods, claps his hands together in excitement and then….heartbreakingly….Dean begins to cry.

I can tell this because the old man’s face immediately creases up with happiness, and Dean’s shoulders begin to shake.

I’m Dean’s friend, but I’m also a terrible emotional coward…so I just sit there. I even take a gulp of my mocha, as if I’m watching all this happen on Jeremy Kyle.

Then the old man gets up from his chair, moves to sit beside Dean and they hug. They really hug.

I’m in shock, because it’s a power hug, a love hug….an actual father and son hug.

It’s just…..beautiful.

I can’t watch, as I’ve started to well-up myself…so instead I look out over WHSmith, trying to be a bloke, focusing on the dust bunnies that all the people below the bookshelves can’t see. Thankfully, the crawling thing is gone: I guess it found the magazine it wanted.

When I look back Dean is on his feet again, and he’s coming back to the table.

Our table.

The old man is following him.

They’re coming over to see me, together….as a family.

Steeling myself up for a monumental moment, I take another gulp of my drink and stand as they approach.

‘Dave,’ Dean says, sniffing. ‘I’d like you to meet someone pretty special: this is James Dao Wen: James Dao Wen, my mate Dave.’

We shake hands: it’s awkward, but as we all sit down together I suddenly feel that the fates have finally done something truly, spectacularly incredible.

I’m in the moment.

Then Dean leans over to me and whispers. ‘You’re right, mate: it’s not him, but he’s followed me over here and now everything’s a bit awkward. Can you sort it out?’

I look from Dean to James, and back again.

Nobody moves.

I end up buying James Dao Wen two mochas during the next twenty minutes, the first out of sheer decency and the second purely because Dean went to the toilet and I just couldn’t stand the silence.

Worst. Hour. Ever.

*

This entry was written at the Marks & Spencer Restaurant in Westwood Cross shopping centre, home of the infamous Iceland Carrier Bag Cross Cult and the Costa Coffee Employee of the Year (according to Dave). Davey Stone is a blogger and bestselling author of YA books for Disney, Hodder and Penguin worldwide. His latest series is about to be announced by Hodder Headline in the UK.

Last Day at the Costa Drive Thru

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I sit bolt upright in bed. I’m half naked and covered in a thin film of sweat, but I’m on my feet in seconds and I practically fly past my wife as she comes out of the bathroom. When she finally catches up with me, I’m bent over the sink splashing water on my face and muttering.

‘What’s wrong?’ she asks, worried. ‘Are you ill?’

‘No,’ I say, putting my hands flat on the sink and looking at myself in the bathroom mirror. ‘I’m not ill.’

‘So what is it? A bad dream?’

‘I’m not going back to Costa: not today, not tomorrow, not ever.’

‘But you love writing there…..’

‘If I go back, he’ll know……he’ll know, and he’ll kill me. I’m telling you: this time, he’ll actually kill me.’

‘Who?’

‘Noel Edmunds.’

‘You had THAT dream again?’

It’s not a dream; it’s a bloody nightmare….and it’s been happening – on and off – for nearly a week.

I arrive at the Costa Drive Thru. It’s early, and the sky is still a bit dark…but they’re open for business. I grab my laptop and plough through both sets of front doors, but instead of walking into the plush, comfortable interior of the drive thru, I arrive in the studio of Deal or No Deal. The music is blasting, the audience is clapping and that grinning bastard Noel Edmunds is bounding up to greet me like a dog on heat. He’s wearing that fake beard: the one that looks like a child crayoned it onto his face. I want to rub it off, but I can’t get to him because the show is starting and I’m ON.

Then I see the Baristas: the entire staff line-up from the drive thru…even the ones I don’t have nicknames for, like the ridiculously charismatic girl who dances behind the counter or the tall dude who looks like Benedict Cumberbatch from Sherlock Holmes: even the hot brunette who always wears that strangely robotic headset when she’s on counter duty. Familiar faces, but….

….they’re standing in that semi circle with the numbered boxes, and on top of each box is a different Costa drink. There are fruit coolers, mochas, cappuccinos, lattes, espressos: you name it.

On the board, instead of the usual sums of money rising from 1p to £250,000, there are the calorie contents of each drink….but I’m not looking at any of those….

….because I’m looking at the one word on the board that occupies the place where the 1p usually is. It says POISON.

One of the cups is poisoned.

I look down, and see that I have a small espresso on top of my own box.

I hate espressos.

Suddenly, Noel is beside me. The Gnome-faced Master of the Dream Factory is in full, twisted Willy Wonka mode, and he’s doing that thing he does a few times every episode: he’s pretending to take a phone-call from the banker, a phone call that’s really from the producer telling him how much money he’s made that episode. That’s why he’s always grinning: it’s never bad news.

Noel makes a shocked face (during which his beard almost slides off) and he says ‘Davey, Davey, Davey – the banker is offering you a swap!’

I look up, and realize that all but one of the baristas are gone. The remaining cup is front of a maestro I tend to think of as Vogue, because she looks like she does cover shoots for the magazine on her days off.

She has a mocha.

I love mochas.

I look down at my horrible espresso, but before I can make a decision Edmunds is there again, rubbing his face and pretending to be concerned. He points at the board.

‘Davey – you’ve got either the poison or a truly magnificent coffee left. Have a think about this: did you bring a delicious drink in WITH you, or have you been carrying the poison all along?’

I want to hit him.

Instead, I point at Vogue’s cup and say ‘Swap.’

He claps his hands, grabs my espresso and runs over to her, practically spilling the lot in his mock excitement. Then he comes bounding back with the Mocha, and the studio audience gasps I drink it down.

It tastes good: really good. I look over at Vogue to give her the thumbs up, but she’s ripped open the box that was under the cup and on the inside of the lid, etched in blood, is the word ‘POISON’.

Then I start twitching.

Once. Twice. A lot.

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Noel shakes his head, and at first I think he’s crying…but then his mouth twists into a sardonic smile and his teeth become pointed at the ends. He’s also clapping his hands together like a complete maniac.

I hit the floor, hard. The room spins, and I can feel the life ebbing out of me….and a searing pain that gets worse and worse until there’s a horrible flash and I’m lying in an open grave with dirt hitting my face: I’m being buried alive by the Smurfs: the actual Smurfs, from the cartoon. There’s even a ginger one. I try to scream, but a thunder clap drowns out my voice. Then, suddenly….

….BANG. I’m awake.

It’s a sign that I’m drinking too much coffee….and you know how insane I am about signs. Regular readers will remember what happened after I posted the Cry For Help blog entry: I actually astro-turfed my garden off the back of that one. It cost a fortune.

I’m staying away from the drive thru for the time being. The drinks there are incredible, the staff deserve medals for the lengths they go to in order to please the customers and the atmosphere is always lively and buzzing…but I can’t stand at that counter ONE more time and order a mocha: not after I’ve been warned to stay away. After all, I might get served by Vogue, who I now strongly suspect works in secret for Noel Edmunds.

The truth is out there.

This entry was written at the Marks & Spencer Restaurant in Westwood Cross shopping centre, home of the infamous Iceland Carrier Bag Cross Cult and the Costa Coffee Employee of the Year (according to Dave). Davey Stone is a blogger and bestselling author of YA books for Disney, Hodder and Penguin worldwide. His latest series is about to be announced by Hodder Headline in the UK.

Secret Cult in Thanet?

Thanet - it's all happening right under your nose...

The Cult of Westwood Cross – it’s all happening right under your nose…

I’m having coffee with Mike at the Costa Drive Thru and it’s the usual mix of girlfriend troubles (for him) and the pressures of family life (for me) when something he says suddenly catches my attention: big time.

I frown a bit, put down my cup and mutter: ‘What was that again?’

He shrugs. ‘I’m just saying: she never really seems interested in what’s going on with me and-‘

‘No.’ I shake my head. ‘Not the stuff with Laura: you said something before about a gang at Westwood-‘

‘The Cross Cult.’ He points out of the window. ‘Complete mentalists, mate: I’m so glad I didn’t end up getting involved in any of that stuff.’

I try to look where he’s pointing, but all I can see are shoppers. There’s a couple going into Staples, a few guys coming out of Pets at Home and a small group leaving Matalan.

‘Cross Cult?’ I ask, trying to get a glimpse of anything remotely unusual.

‘The Cult of Westwood Cross, mate: two of ‘em just went into Matalan. A few years back, I nearly joined myself.’

I lean back in the chair and fold my arms. I know how much Mike likes to talk, so I’m desperate not to indulge him….but he looks so serious.

‘The idea of a shopping centre having a cult is just ridiculous. A cult is a religious thing: what do they worship? Tesco?’

‘It’s not that sort of cult: it’s more of an underground hobby group. You know Iceland?’

‘The country?’

‘No: the supermarket.’

‘Of course I know Iceland….but there isn’t one at Westwood Cross.’

‘Exactly. Now: WATCH-’

I can’t believe I’m going along with this, but as he points I find myself staring intently at the doors of Matalan.

‘Wait for it-‘

‘What exactly are we waiting-‘

‘THERE! NOW! LOOK!’

Coming out of Matalan is a couple in perhaps their early thirties. Both are ordinary looking, wear perfectly general clothing and are burdened with shopping bags….

….Iceland shopping bags.

‘That’s just a coincidence,’ I say, with a nervous laugh. ‘You probably saw them go in and just made it up-‘

‘OVER THERE! Coming out of Staples!’

I switch my viewpoint, and – sure enough – there is a third man on his way out of Staples: a distinctive looking guy in a biker jacket.

He is also carrying an Iceland bag.

I shake my head slightly, and I feel my nose scrunching up in that weird expression I tend to use whenever the world goes a bit Twin Peaks on me.

Mike grabs my shoulder and says : ‘Now……CHECK IT OUT.’

As we both look on, the three people converge into one group, and begin to have a conversation: an intense conversation. They all look slightly uncomfortable, and the biker dude keeps looking behind him.

It’s like a scene out of a spy movie, and it’s incredible to watch.

Incredible.

After a few seconds, I turn back to Mike.

‘How often do they meet?’

‘Once a fortnight.’

‘Where?’

‘Coffee shops.’

‘Who is the leader?’

‘Guy from Kingsgate: nobody knows who he is, but apparently at the meetings he wears a rabbit mask. His deputy is a bloke called The Fisherman: a hairy dude who hangs around Westwood Cross, smoking a fake pipe.’

‘That’s ridiculous.’

‘Ridiculous or not: it’s TRUE. I don’t know what they’re actually into, but Iceland is a big part of how they identify each other. You can’t just join. You have to get noticed. You have to be approached.’

‘How?’

‘You need to walk around Westwood Cross with an Iceland carrier bag.’

‘Honest?’

‘Honest.’

‘I could totally do that. Er….when, exactly?’

‘ALWAYS, Dave. Every time you come to Westwood Cross. You never know who’s watching.’

‘Right! Come on: I’ll drive.’

‘Where are we going?’

‘Ramsgate Iceland….for bags.’

‘You’re not seriously considering-’

‘Of course I am. It’s me.’

We head for the car, and I feel a burning excitement in my stomach.

It’s like this: I come to Westwood Cross all the time, so I might as well be part of the massive.

The Fisherman is waiting.

From left to right: The Fisherman, The Kingsgate Bunny, Random Ginger Civilian.

From left to right: The Fisherman, The Kingsgate Bunny, Random Ginger Civilian.

The above post was written by Dave at the Costa Coffee Drive Thru at Westwood Cross in Thanet. The photoshoot re-enactment of Thanet’s mysterious ‘Cross Cult’ was constructed by Chiara Stone and features Dave (right) and his mates: Ramsgate artist Matt Harrison (left) and popular Thanet blogger Matt Thomas (middle). The photograph was taken on a rainy night somewhere between Costa and Matalan. In true Twin Peaks fashion, the Owls were Flying.

Daddy! You Were Looking at That Lady!

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My son had been learning to swim for a few weeks when I took him to a lesson for the first time. He’s five years old and, because he’s almost as clumsy as I was at five, I like to keep a close eye on him. That means tramping poolside with a book or my phone (no bags allowed) and sitting there in those blue clown shoe covers they give you just in case you haven’t turned up looking enough of a fashion victim in whatever you’re wearing.

We’ve just hit the pool and both been drenched by the shower (he deliberately calls me over pretending he’s hurt his foot before pressing the button) when I notice that – really quite oddly – there are a lot of dads at poolside.

A lot of dads.

In fact, it’s pretty much all dads: one long line of attentive fathers coming along to cheer their sons and daughters as they attempt to learn a vital, life-saving skill…..except that’s not what’s actually happening.

This is because the swimming pool with all the children in it is right in front of them, and the pool they’re all staring at is on the left.

I glance over to see why this pool has a group of ten men all looking like they’ve just missed the Last Bus to Heaven….and it’s empty apart from awkward boy of around ten splashing and crashing his way down the lane.

Then I see her.

She looks a bit like a young Kara Tointon from Eastenders, she’s wearing a white t-shirt and dark, tight fitting short leggings and she is possibly the most attractive swimming instructor I’ve ever seen in my life.

Still, because I’m a judgemental hypocrite, I shake my head at the other dads, give my son a hug and promise to watch him as he learns to swim.

I sit at the end of the row, but not before shaking my head at the others, making an audible sigh and muttering ‘unbelievable’ as I make my way to my seat.

My son’s lesson begins, and I pointedly ignore the other pool.

I feel really proud of myself.

I feel like a better man, a proper dad and a complete BOSS at controlling my sexuality.

I don’t care about ogling this girl and I don’t care how monumentally sexy she might be: the only thing I care about is watching my son learn to swim, and I do this for twenty-five minutes of a thirty minute lesson.

Then she comes to the end of the pool, and begins to waggle.

She actually waggles.

I know it’s part of her teaching method, but she’s using both arms to describe circles in the air, and moving her legs in a cyclic motion which is producing a waggle.

A truly epic waggle.

A woman might say it’s good-hip movement or coquettish or even ‘dainty’ but for me – a hetrosexual human male – it’s just….indescribable.

What I don’t realise at this point is that a little just-for-fun paddling contest has begun in my son’s pool, and now all the other fathers are watching the race…

…the race that my son wins.

He cheers ‘Daddy! Daddy! DADDY!’ and all the other fathers are suddenly staring at me.

I don’t see them, because I’ve suddenly decided that I need to learn to swim again.

Very, very badly.

‘Excuse me,’ says the guy on the end. ‘Your son is trying to get your attention….’

I look back towards the pool, but Bast is now a bit….angry. He’s standing up in the water: his arms are folded and there’s a horrible expression on his face.

‘Well done, little dude!’ I shout, clapping and smiling.

‘Daddy!’ comes the barked reply. ‘You were looking at that THAT lady!’

Now everyone in the pool is focused on me: even the people just going for their afternoon swim.

Judgement.

Suddenly, I’m in the sports version of Jeremy Kyle…and I’ve FAILED the lie-detector test.

On the way home, Bast asks what I like best about taking him to his swimming lessons: I tell him it’s the clown shoes.

 

Happy Time!

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This is a strange situation. I’m at a new Wednesday morning toddler group with my daughter in the wilds of Kent when I begin to suspect that the woman running the group might be mentally ill. Now, this situation is not as immediately detectable as it might seem: the adults who run toddler groups have to be lots of different things. They have to be fun, friendly, charismatic and slightly bonkers in a really engaging way. The balance has to be right.

So….we’re only about halfway through the session when I realise that something is off. The songs are not just being energetically acted out for the kids: they’re being absolutely charged up into something approaching hysteria. When she does ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ she lunges forward at the child like an untamed lunatic and when she goes back for the ‘Gently Down The Stream’ bit she practically lays on her back and drags the kid horizontal.

The parents are all clapping along, but a few of us are glancing around now to see if we’re thinking the same thing. There’s an unspoken agreement that we might be about to witness a very special session.

‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’ becomes a dodge rally as she thunders down the mat and practically all of the parents are forced to roll aside. When she claps her hands, it’s like someone letting off a rocket in your ears…..and the ‘Stamp Your Feet!’ bit is so violent that I’m frightened the poor cow will either sprain her own ankle or break someone’s toes while showing everybody how happy and knowing she is.

Then the mistake: I make eye contact, and I smile at her. She becomes ridiculously gleeful at this, and erupts into a round of ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ which kicks off a situation so disastrous that it actually that ends the group early.

No….I’m serious: stay with me, here.

In the middle of ‘Head, Shoulders…’ when she gets to the section that goes ‘…aaaaannnd eyes and ears and mouuuth and NOSE,’ this lovely, big-hearted girl quite literally brains herself with a tambourine, catching the bridge of her nose in the process. Subsequently, she starts to bleed from both nostrils. A lot.

I’m not good with blood. I don’t mind a small cut, and I usually manage to stay strong around my children when they hurt themselves….but a full gush from this girl has me feeling a bit light-headed. As gasps go up from the other parents, I lie flat on the ground and lift my baby daughter into the air in an attempt to pretend I’m just playing and not about to pass out.

The only person who hasn’t noticed the nose bleed is the victim herself: it has to be pointed out to her by two concerned parents. By this time, however, she has moved onto Incey Wincy Spider and is not in any mood to be stopped. She simply smears the two lines of red with the back of her hand and plunges on.

Let me tell you something; you’ve NEVER experienced Incy Wincy Spider until you’ve seen it performed by a strangely pretty girl with blood streaming down her face: it’s like a scene from Hellraiser.

On she goes. It’s only when FIVE different sets of parents complain that she reluctantly ends the group before pleading, and I mean quite literally pleading folks to come back next week for more fun. A few of the dads look like they might take her up on the offer.

Me? I’m a bit too ginger to be exposed to that much raw energy and enthusiasm….and that much blood.

I don’t know if she needs help: maybe she’s just really enthusiastic, beautiful person, maybe she’s a truly great children’s entertainer who will one day stare out of a screen at us from the brightly coloured studios at CITV or CBeebies.

However, I put it to you – just as a mere speculation – that she might also, one day, stare at us from a window in the slightly less colourful rubber room at The Smiling Sunshine Sanctuary for the Childlike Insane. If it turns out to be the latter, then I beg you – gentle reader – not to pity her. For I strongly suspect that every day will be Happy Time in that beautiful place.

All together now…..

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This article was written at Costa Coffee in the Westwood Cross Shopping Centre on Wednesday 2nd July 2014When he’s not writing ‘Bloke Called Dave’, Davey is a bestselling author for young adults. His books, published by companies like Disney, Sony, Hodder and Penguin, have sold over a million copies worldwide and have been translated into fifteen different languages. These include The Illmoor Chronicles, Davey Swag, Gladiator Boy and Undead Ed. He has written stories alongside Terry Pratchett in Knights of Madness, reviewed books for SFX and Interzone magazines and produced fictional histories for Games Workshop’s Citadel Journal. He is married with two children, and lives in Kent.