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A story by Àngels Codina, Flora McCrone and Neil Stoker Illustrations by Flora McCrone

Contents Introducing Meritxell


Sunday: Meritxell’s world turns upside down


Monday: Meritxell feels lost in space


Tuesday: Meritxell meets some scientists . Wednesday: Meritxell and global warming

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Thursday: Meritxell discovers superfoods


Friday: Meritxell and the Media


Saturday: Meritxell goes back home


Introducing Meritxell


eritxell was born at noon. Her head appeared at the first deep boom of the big wooden-cased clock in the hall. And at the moment it struck 12, she took her first breath which, as the sound of the clock still echoed around the house, she let out in a despairing wail. And in that moment she chose her own name, because Meritxell is the word for ‘midday’ in the mountains of Andorra. That was where her Mother had spent her summer holidays, clambering over rocks, and rolling down grass meadows so fast that she became quite dizzy, and gulping down glasses of milk still warm from the cow’s udder. (And if you have never been to Andorra, and think it is an odd looking name, you can pretend the ‘tx’ is a ‘ch’, as if it were ‘Merichell’, and you’ll be doing just fine. Just don’t ask why they didn’t use ‘ch’ in the first place, or we’ll never get on with the story!). Punctuality is not a bad quality, her Mother observed, and midday is a very considerate time at which to be born, as it gave the midwife time to have her breakfast beforehand, tidy everything up afterwards, and be home in time for tea. And as Meritxell grew up, consideration for others was something that was very important to her. Indeed some might say that she was a little too considerate. Meritxell was so keen to please people she sometimes forgot what it was 5

she wanted herself. Imagine if everyone was only thinking of other people and never of themselves, no-one would ever go through a door, because they were all waiting for the others to go first!

Meritxell was actually so considerate that she also believed whatever people said. If her Mother said that it was important to wash your hands before mealtimes, then Meritxell believed her, and would wash them very carefully. If her teacher said that the world is round, and the stars in the sky are burning balls of gas, then Meritxell believed her and tried hard to learn everything she was taught. If her neighbour told her that babies are brought by storks, then she would believe her. And if one of her classmates said that Justin Bieber and Rihanna and Harry Stiles had visited her, she would believe them too. Meritxell believed everything, because, after all, if people said something, they must say it for a reason, and it was only kind to take what they said 6

very seriously indeed. Meritxell had two very best friends. Her first best friend was her Grandpa. He was the funniest, kindest, wisest person she knew. He lived with Meritxell and her Mother, in the same house where the little girl had been born all those years before. Grandpa was always tinkering with things that he was either taking apart or putting back together on the kitchen table. Meritxell was never sure which, and sometimes she thought he didn’t know either. When he wasn’t tinkering, Grandpa was reading. He

didn’t read books that you or I would think were exciting. No-one was on an adventure, or learning to be a magician. He also didn’t read books you’d think were useful, like how to make a cake or grow redcurrants, or how to become a successful YouTuber. Instead he read books by Philosophers, people who thought very long and very hard - so 7

hard you could imagine their heads might explode from the sheer effort - about the meaning of life. “It’s only polite,” he would say, “to see what has come out of the heads of people who have thought so hard!” It seemed to Meritxell that he was taking their heads apart just as he might do with a pocket watch, spreading their thoughts on the table and trying to fit them all back in again. Meritxell’s other best friend was her Grandpa’s dog, Hume. Hume was very hairy, very black, and loved everything and everyone so much he would rush from one thing to the next, sniffing it, wagging his tail, and snuffling happily to himself. His eyes, when you could see them through all the black hair, were an even deeper black. It might not surprise you that Grandpa had named him after a philosopher, and when Meritxell asked why he was called Hume, Grandpa would say, “Well he’s a dog, and can you imagine calling out ‘Xenophanes’ every time he runs off ?” “What’s more, Meri,” he would add, as if her name was far too long too, “he’s a Scottish dog, so should have a Scottish name”, and that would be the end of the matter. Oh, and you could say that her third best friend - though I’m really not sure if things can be friends - was her pocket computer. She pretended it was a wizard’s mirror into the rest of the world, and she called it Merlin, in honour of the wizard in one of her favourite books. She could sit at home, or on the pile of rocks on top of the hill, and talk to her school friends on Merlin, or play chess with someone in another country, or watch her favourite programmes, or post her photos on Instagram. And that, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a little bit like magic! So Meritxell’s life seemed almost perfect. Her house 8

was on the edge of the town, with houses and shops and schools in one direction, and fields and trees and hills in the other. She would have breakfast with her Mother and Grandpa, walk to school, and after school she and Grandpa would take Hume out for a run through the woods and along by the river. Then she would sit and do her homework, and learn everything she was told to, and text her school friends to find out what they were doing. And at weekends she would help her Mother at home, except on Saturday afternoons, when she would serve tea and cakes in the Tea Shop. She looked after everyone there, and loved to see them relaxed and happy. But if that was all this book was about, it might be very short, and even a little dull, because though we like to be happy, we don’t seem to really want to read about other people being happy. This book is about something that happened, and about an adventure that this led to. And it was an adventure that would change Meritxell, and maybe others too, but we’ll have to wait and see about that.


Sunday Meritxell’s world turns upside down



he Day Her Life Changed started off seeming quite ordinary to Meritxell. And if your ordinary days are full of people you love, and opportunities to please them, then that was not a bad thing at all! It was a Sunday, and she and her Mother were sitting at the kitchen table on a sunny day, peeling apples. It was that time of year when there were lots of apples on the ground and you have to pick them up swiftly or they’ll go brown and mouldy and start to shrivel. So they sat with a big bowl of juicy apples, and an enormous slightly battered silver saucepan, and peeled and cored and sliced the fruit and tossed it into the saucepan. Her Mother would then make it into apple puree, which Meritxell loved to gobble up with ice cream. Hume rather liked that too, because somehow he always managed to eat some too. Grandpa came into the kitchen with another bowlful of apples, sat down, and took off the sun hat he liked to wear. He leant down to ruffle the top of Hume’s head which he always did with an affectionate ‘grrrrrr’. But this time, he stopped at ‘grr..’, and when Meritxell and her Mother looked up, they could see something was not right. His eyes were wide open, and his face was pale, and he looked like someone concentrating very hard on something. “Grandpa, what’s wrong?”, blurted out Meritxell, and her Mother put down her knife, jumped up and rushed round to him. Just 11

as she did, he took a breath and said in a slightly strange voice, “Oops, had a bit of a turn there, maybe I should go and lie down for a little.” Her Mother knelt down and held his hands and looked into his eyes, and said firmly, “No, off to the hospital with you!”, and ignored his protests as she started to gather some things together. “Meri,” Grandpa leaned over and whispered conspiratorially, ”it looks like I don’t have a choice. I am absolutely fine, a lie-down is all I need, so this trip is just to make your Mother happy. She does fuss sometimes!” And Meritxell stopped worrying, and put her arms round his neck and gave him a big hug. If he said there wasn’t a problem, then she believed him, and she smiled inside at how silly her Mother could be sometimes. So they all bundled into their little car, with Mother driving, Grandpa next to her, and Meritxell sat in the back with her arm round Hume, as he poked his nose out of the window and loudly sniffed the air. The hospital was a big white building with lots of signs everywhere in case you wanted your eyes or ears or feet or practically any part of you looked at. They left Hume in the car, as he wasn’t allowed inside, and he watched them walk through the main door before settling down for a nap. Inside the hospital, Mother walked briskly up to the main desk, where a nurse sat in a pale blue uniform, and Grandpa followed a little behind, holding Meritxell’s hand, and walking more carefully than usual. When they reached the desk, Mother was already explaining the situation. The nurse asked a few questions, wrote some notes, tapped on her computer keyboard, and told them to take a seat. “Everything’s fine, Meri”, Grandpa said as they sat and waited, and Meritxell looked at her Mother, who had cal12

med down now that they were here and Grandpa wasn’t so pale. She nodded at Meritxell and smiled, saying, “Nothing to worry about!” and Meritxell beamed from ear to ear, because it made her happy that Grandpa was OK. She sat and played a game on Merlin where you had to squash tomatoes before they squashed you. Eventually a doctor came out of a nearby door, called Grandpa’s name, and they all went in and sat down. Meritxell knew she was a doctor because she wore a white coat, and just in case she was unsure, she had a badge pinned to her coat saying ‘Doctor Rey’. Mother and Grandpa answered the doctor’s questions, as Meritxell looked round the room, at things to measure your height and weight and blood pressure and who knows what else! “I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about”. Meritxell looked up as Dra Rey spoke to Grandpa, “and we will just keep you in overnight while we do some tests.” Grandpa looked at Mother and said with a grin, “now look what you’ve done! Lucky I brought a friend with me.” He pulled one of his philosophy books out of his top pocket, patted it, and turned to Meritxell and said seriously, “Now young lady, I am perfectly healthy, and I want you to take good care of Hume until I get home, will you do that?” Meritxell nodded vigorously and gave him another of her best hugs. The Doctor had said he would be fine, and Mother had said he would be fine, and he had said so too, and she felt very happy and secure, because he was her Grandpa and her friend, and was a very special part of her life. Meritxell and her Mother sat in the little hospital cafe, and relaxed a little. Meritxell liked sitting in cafes because she could watch everything that was going on around her. It was something she and her Mother and Grandpa did to13

gether on Saturday mornings after doing the shopping. In contrast to her Mother, who drank tiny no-nonsense cups of black coffee, Meritxell always had a milky mix of coffee and chocolate, which was, she thought, what you’d get if you asked a magician to brew a frothy potion of pleasure mixed with self-indulgence. She was just using her spoon to scoop up some of the foam, when everything happened at once. She was thinking about going for a long walk with Grandpa and Hume the next day after school. And then the gentle buzz of the hospital and the people making the coffee was interrupted by a noise that was so loud, it forced its way into your head and bounced around before escaping again. BEEP BEEP BEEP...! Doors opened, and people in loose green overalls and plastic shoes ran out past Meritxell and her Mother. And up the corridor came Dra Rey, in long loping strides. As she hurried by, she turned and looked at them, and though she didn’t say anything, her eyes met Meritxell’s, and said, as clearly as words on a page, that things were not fine at all. I could tell you so much about what happened after that, but then you’d feel as confused as Meritxell did. Everything seemed a blur, but the result stayed the same. Grandpa was definitely very ill indeed; he was in a bed with tubes coming out of him all over the place, and a plastic mask over his face, and machines were beeping. One showed a picture of a heartbeat every time it beeped, as if it were a television saying, look, he’s alive, but only just! At one point, Dra Rey was speaking softly to Mother, and she could hear words like ‘touch-and-go’, which sounded to her about as far from ‘fine’ as it was possible to get. 14

Then they were back in the car, and Hume was so happy to see them he jumped into the front and right back again, but seemed a little confused about where Grandpa was. When they were home, Mother picked up Meritxell in a big embrace, which was very surprising because she hadn’t done that for years, and Meritxell was much taller now than she had been then. “I’m sure Grandpa will be OK,” her Mother said, but Meritxell did not feel happy inside. All she could hear in her head was ‘touch and go’, which Merlin confirmed was definitely something to feel concerned about.


Monday Meritxell feels lost in space



eritxell woke in the morning from a fitful and not very restful sleep. She opened her eyes, and in one sense everything looked perfect: the sun was making the curtains glow bright orange, Merlin was on the table next to the bed, and the birds were singing loudly outside the window. But things were far from perfect, and she felt a tight knot of worry about Grandpa in her stomach as if she’d accidentally swallowed her flannel when she’d washed her face the night before. More than this though, something else had changed. It was as if she had ‘borrowed’ the Wizard’s magic spectacles and secretly put them on, and the whole world looked different, but the glasses (being magic!) wouldn’t come off. The world was no longer full of people who told her the truth, people she could safely believe. Instead she found herself looking at a world of lies and half-truths, where other people could not be trusted. Meritxell sat up and in a very uncharacteristic way, felt angry at the world, and angry at the hospital, and Dra Rey, and even at her Mother and Grandpa. There was a snuffling at the bedroom door, and it started to open. Hume slid in and ran up to her excitedly, as if he hadn’t seen her for months, as he did every morning. Meritxell let him jump onto her lap, and she said quietly, 17

“Hume, I think you are the only person in the whole world I can trust.” Hume licked her face, as if to agree. It seemed odd to Meritxell that she had to go to school, as if nothing had happened, but her Mother insisted. “It’s best to keep that mind of yours busy,” she said briskly, “and besides I’ve got lots to do. Grandpa must be all right or they’d have phoned, and I’ll visit later on this morning.” So that was that, and Meritxell took Hume out for a run, then forced herself to gather her things, and set off down the road to school. It was the same way she always went, but it all looked different. The trees had the same shapes, but now looked unfriendly. The sun struck her face, which used to delight her, but this time it annoyed her. The sound of her trainers on the gravel was harsh, instead of energising. She looked straight ahead and tried not to let her thoughts stick long enough in her head for her to hear them. School itself seemed less real, and she avoided contact with friends, and wished her desk was right at the back rather than in the second row. Even Miss Borges, who used to be Meritxell’s favourite teacher, seemed different: in her lips there was no trace of her usual smile, and her velvet voice now sounded scratchy in the little girl’s ears. Meritxell and her classmates had been working on a project about space for a while now, and Miss Borges was talking to them about the Moon. “The Moon orbits the Earth almost 400,000 km away. Can anyone remember how old is it?”, said Miss Borges. Meritxell knew the answer to this, because she learnt everything she was told to, and then a little bit more. But as she sat there with the answer sitting so near to 18

the tip of her tongue, that it was in danger of falling off the end, she found herself forcing her mouth tight shut so it couldn’t escape. Not only did she not want to answer the question, she found that she did not believe the answer was true anyway. All sorts of thoughts, that she’d never seen before were coming into her head, crowding out the ones she was used to. It was as if she was sitting in her favourite cafe, sipping froth, when a coachload of tourists appeared and crowded in and took the other chair, and made so much noise she couldn’t even concentrate on the taste of the chocolate. These thoughts said things like, “How does she know?”, “How does anyone really know?”, “Maybe she’s making it up!”, “What if everything they tell you at school is a lie?”, and a whole lot more. “La la la la la, ” thought Meritxell very loudly, to try to control what was going on in her head, but to no avail. She must have looked odd or maybe she snorted with the effort of it all, but Miss Borges turned and looked straight at her, and mistaking Meritxell’s anguish for excitement, said, “Meritxell, what do you want to say?” And some of the considerate Meritxell must have still been there to make her open her mouth obligingly, or more likely the new thoughts just tricked her, but her mouth did open, and out they came. “How do you know how old the Moon is, and how do you know how far away is it, and how do you know it’s going round the Earth, and how do you know what it’s made of ?” she said, almost defiantly. Miss Borges, who was inclined to get a little flushed anyway, became as red as a beetroot. This was not what she was expecting at all, and children were 19

not supposed to ask anything, only to listen and answer her questions. ”Um, I know that because I’ve read all about the Moon, and all the answers were in those books”, she stuck her chin out a bit, as if she had just made a good chess move, and was saying “Ha, knight to bishop 7, check!” The new Meritxell, awash with new powerful thoughts, barely noticed; it was as if Miss Borges’ answers had burned up in the red-hot atmosphere of Meritxell’s angry disbelief before they reached her ears. “But maybe the books are wrong” said Meritxell. This caused a reaction from the other children, who had been feeling a little sleepy, but now were fully awake, and all eyes turned to Meritxell. “It’s in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and it was on the telly, and in the newspapers!”, yelled Miss Borges, her eyes fixed in Meritxell’s. “But before they said those things, didn’t they say different ones, that they thought were just as right?”, asked Meritxell, “because you said people used to think the Earth was flat or not very old at all.” Miss Borges took the mug she had on her table and noisily sipped some tea, her eyes still fixed on Meritxell. She then breathed deeply, just as Hume did when he was really tired and wanted to go to sleep. “Do you mind if we talk about it later, Meritxell? We still have a lot to learn today and we are spending our precious time with silly questions”, said the teacher with a trembling voice. While Miss Borges intended that to be a kind but firm ‘checkmate’, Meritxell got busy in a different way. Like most modern children, she was very skilled at using Merlin during lessons without being seen. Being considerate, Meritxell was always discreet about this; she had typed ‘Lying about the Moon’ into it. To her surprise, the answers that 20

came back were clear and startling. They said things like ‘Moon landing was a hoax’, and ‘Moon landing FAKE’. And while she was wise enough to at last bite her tongue, she felt another flush of anger at the idea that everything she held dear might be a lie. Her Mother, her Grandpa, Dra Rey, and now Miss Borges and her books, all told lies. Like an apparently dormant volcano, it felt as hot and angry forces were building up inside her, and all her defences of trust and belief were failing and about to be overwhelmed by an eruption of (she was shocked to realise) ...scorn! Later at home, she sat in her room, warmed by Hume, and thought about everything. There was no change with Grandpa, and she was aware that everything in her head was unsettled. Suddenly not knowing what or who she believed or why was definitely uncomfortable inside her head, and it made her tense in her stomach too. But she was also aware that at the same time it also felt quite exciting, and she felt that something important was happening to her. Maybe, she thought, as you grow up you have to have brain shifts, just like you have to start wearing bigger sizes of clothes? It was clear that she couldn’t just go back to where she had been before. It was like everything had been pulled out of a very tightly packed suitcase, and it would only fit back in again if she carefully examined and folded and maybe got rid of some things first. She thought of the Moon, and how she and Miss Borges just believed it when they read how far away it is. And how would you know people had really gone to the Moon, or just pretended? After all, she’d seen movies where they pretended exactly that, and it looked super-real to her. She was using Merlin to looking at the NASA webpage, where 21

they talked about space missions, when she suddenly, she had a brainwave: she’d try to talk to an astronaut, someone who hadn’t just read it all in a book, but been there. That was just the sort of magic Merlin was good at, and Meritxell was really very clever at helping him. She knew that Important Companies often gave their phone numbers because they had to, but hid them in tiny print at the bottom of a page so you had to stumble across by accident. She also knew that the magic of the Internet meant she could talk to someone on the other side of the world instantly. Having a problem to solve focused her mind, and half an hour later Merlin was ringing numbers for NASA. The first two didn’t answer, but with the third, the ringing stopped, the screen wobbled a bit, and a head appeared, with ginger hair in a crewcut on top of a pink face that looked like it had an enormous nose. “Good day”, said a deep voice with a southern US twang, “This is Commander Bloomfield. How may I help you?” “Hello,” said Meritxell excitedly, “my name is Meritxell and I have a very important question about space. Um, are you really from NASA?” “Maam,” drawled Bloomfield, and the corner of his mouth turned up in a half smile, “Ah live, eat and breathe NASA. Ah like to say that ah’m part of the heart and soul of NASA. Ah even wrote it on myself in case ah ever forget.” And there was a blurry movement, and his forearm with an elaborate tattoo appeared on the screen, before the nose returned. “Say,” he added, “you are mighty young to be calling here. What can ah do for you?” Meritxell hesitated; she hadn’t actually thought what words she might use. “Er, my Grandpa is really really ill in hospital and I’m not sure I believe anything anymore or 22

trust anyone and my teacher told me we went to the Moon but she doesn’t really know and lots of people say that was just a lie too and I didn’t know who else to ask...”. It all tumbled out in a rush with words bouncing about like ping pong balls and having to work very hard to stay in the right order so they still made sense. Bloomfield smiled a big Southern smile. “Well, Miss Mer…?” “Meritxell.” “Well, Miss Meritxell, it sure is dandy to talk to you. Ah’m so sorry to hear about your Grandaddy, you must be real anxious. It sounds like you’ve been knocked caddywompus, as my own Grandaddy used to say, and you don’t know whether you’re coming or going.” Meritxell liked this man who was thousands of miles away, and able to see right inside her head in such a kind way. “So are you an astronaut? Have you been in space? Have you seen the Earth like a blue ball in the sky?” she asked. “Have ah been in space?” Bloomfield said, “You bet your bobby socks life ah’ve been in space. Ah’ve floated like ah was a piece of cotton candy, ah’ve looked through the window and watched the Earth spin below. It’s something ah’ll never forget because it’s mighty fine. And you know you said, you don’t believe things? Well it’s one thing to see a picture and it’s absolutely diggedy doo quite another to see something yourself, ah reckon it changes you inside somehow. Say, have you ever seen something you thought was outstanding?” Meritxell decided that ‘outstanding’ probably meant ‘very very special’, as opposed to homework she hadn’t finished, and she thought about that. She had seen the evening sky glow red as if it were on fire, and she had seen frost-covered cobwebs which looked as if they’d been embroidered 23

by fairies, and she had watched a newly born foal stagger up onto its legs for the very first time (which was possibly the most outstanding thing she’d ever seen). She told Bloomfield, who said “Well those sound real special, and I bet you a dollar for a nickel that seeing ‘em was different from being told about them, or even seeing a picture?” He was quite right, thought Meritxell, hoping that didn’t mean she had to give him a dollar or even a nickel, because she had neither. She’d learned about spiders’ webs in school, and read about them in books, but to see one, and think about the spider who’d spent all night making it, and about all the flies minding their own business in a buzzy way, when ‘wham’ they’d be caught, and wriggling would only make it worse. Yes, seeing them was a different thing entirely. And even though she could describe it to other people with all the special adjectives in the dictionary, she couldn’t take them there to see to really make them understand how special it was. “So have you been to the Moon?” Meritxell asked Bloomfield. “No Maam”, he replied “There’s only a handful of astronauts that were lucky enough to do that.” “So how”, Meritxell continued, “do you know they went at all? People on the Internet say it was all pretend!” “Well, ah can’t know in the sense that ah was there,” Bloomfield replied, “but ah’ve been in a rocket and been launched into space, so ah know that part’s as real as the shoes on my feet. Then ah’ve spoken to people who ran the Moon missions, and ah’ve spoken with people who know the men who did go, and ah’ve worked here in NASA all my life, and ah trust the people here. They’re people who’ve always told the truth about things ah do know about, so ah also trust them on 24

this. You said you don’t believe anyone any more - that sounds real uncomfortable. It also sounds kind of confusing, after all if you talk to two people, and one says we landed on the Moon, and the other says we didn’t, then if you don’t believe one, you’re believing the other! Me, ah go with my gut, and ah believe people ah trust until there’s a reason not to. Then ah might change my mind, but that’s OK too.” There was a sound of a telephone, and Bloomfield looked round, then back at Meritxell. “Listen, Miss Meritxell, it’s been fun chatting to you on the other side of the world, but my coffee break is over and ah have to go and see a man about a rocket ship. You take care y’all, and good luck working it out!” “Good bye Commander Bloomfield,” said Meritxell, and thank you so much for talking to me!” The screen clicked off, and she was alone again, except for her thoughts, and Hume of course. “Goodness,” she thought, ”did I really just talk to an astronaut?” It seemed somehow unreal, as if part of her own brain was saying “Huh, you say you talked to an astronaut? Prove it!” And of course she couldn’t, because she was sitting alone in her bedroom, but she did believe she had because she could remember it so vividly. Commander Bloomfield’s nose filling the screen, the sound of his accent, the way he pronounced her name. Yes, it had happened! But if she had to justify that to her own head straight afterwards, how much harder it would be to convince herself in the morning, or in a year’s time. And it would be even harder to persuade someone else entirely. Then as she started to get ready for bed, she thought about what he’d said. “So part of knowing things seems to be about how much you trust people and why?” she won25

dered. Just as she believed she’d spoken to an astronaut because she trusted herself, Commander Bloomfield hadn’t been to the Moon, but people he trusted had, and he believed them. Did that explain why her teacher believed it too?, she thought. Did Miss Borges just trust the books she’d read and the TV programmes she’d watched? “Is that all there is to it?,” Meritxell was thinking as she drifted off into the land where none of this mattered the slightest little bit.



Tuesday Meritxell meets some scientists



he next morning there was a big surprise for Meritxell. “I need to spend time at the hospital,” her Mother said, “and the school have agreed you can have a few days off, so you’re going to stay with your Aunt Dora.” Normally Meritxell would have been thrilled. Aunt Dora lived in the City, so she could see things she never got to here. She was also allowed to stay up late, and be a little bit more grown up than her Mother liked. However now wasn’t a good time. She was feeling confused inside, and she wanted to be near Grandpa too. But there was no changing her Mother’s mind, and the only saving grace was that she was allowed to take Hume with her, so she could look after him, as she’s promised Grandpa. She would look after him, and he in turn would look after her with all the power in his small and very hairy body. So an hour later, she and Hume were at the railway station, and climbing into a train, with a small suitcase and a shoulder bag containing Merlin, a small book of Grandpa’s that he had been reading before he went to Hospital, some chocolate and other essential supplies. She was pleased there was an empty compartment, as she didn’t particularly want to talk to anyone else. They settled down, with Hume half lying on her lap, and Meritxell was just starting brood about the unfairness of life 29

in general, and Mothers in particular, when there was a commotion outside. As a whistle blew, and the train started to move, there was some shouting and banging, and the door to her compartment was slid open by a very sensible looking brown leather shoe at the end of a leg dressed in equally sensible thick stockings. Then as the door started to slide shut again, it was halted by a bottom, covered in a tweed skirt. Having wedged the door open, the owner of the shoe and bottom straightened up, and tumbled into the compartment, carrying two big bags. She was a stout woman with a round face and spectacles that looked, thought Meritxell, a bit like a butterfly, that might fly off at any moment. “Excellent,” she said brightly, “Room for us and our specimens”. Then a second woman appeared, who was as tall and gangly as the first woman was round and stout. They deposited their luggage in the racks and on the floor, sat down facing each other, with a sigh of pleasure, and, as if only just aware of her, turned their heads as one towards Meritxell and Hume. “Good morning, young lady!”, said the round tweedy woman, “I do apologise, I believe we’ve intruded rather on you and your Canis lupus familiaris. My name is Eva, this is Hillary, and we’ve just been on a scientific expedition, and a highly successful one I might add.” Meritxell wasn’t sure what she’d called Hume or why, and being generally put out at their appearance, decided it was not a polite thing to call people or animals names before you knew them a lot better. However, despite everything she mustered up the energy to say, “Good morning, my name is Meritxell and this is Hume”, although not enough to add any warmth to it. 30

Pleasantries exchanged, they all lapsed into silence as the train rocked and fields passed by, and Meritxell stroked Hume as she stared miserably and determinedly out of the window, and wondered how Grandpa was. She seemed to be almost in a trance, and was shaken out of it by a thump and a cry of annoyance. She looked round, and saw the stout woman, Eva, bending over a pile of papers and books and that had spilled out of a bag onto the floor, gathering them in again. Some had skidded over by Meritxell’s feet, and as she bent over and picked them up, she knocked her own bag off the seat, and its contents joined the general mess. This, along with her annoyance at not being alone, but really mostly due to everything that had happened the day before, and to her constant anxiety about Grandpa, felt too much for her brain, and her body took over. She started to cry, silently at first, but then she started to sob helplessly, and her brain watched as this happened, startled but unable to intervene. Hume looked up at her with his dark black eyes peering out of his black fur, and licked her, which in his experience solved most problems. Eva, who had by now kneeling on the floor as she tried to scoop everything up, realised what was happening, stopped, looked up and said, “Goodness, child, what on earth is the matter?” And despite these being people she’d never seen before, and ones to boot that she was not pleased with, and partly perhaps because Eva had spoken quite gently and was looking at her intently, Meritxell, with tears streaming down her face, told her exactly, though not always intelligibly, what the matter was. As Meritxell’s flow of words started to slow, Hillary, si31

lent until then, but just as watchful, leant forward with a large handkerchief, which Meritxell gratefully took to wipe her eyes, as well as her nose which had joined in by running quite unpleasantly. Meritxell also used it to hide behind a little, to cover her embarrassment as her breathing shivered and jerked, and then calmed down, allowing her brain to recover its composure, and try to take charge as if nothing untoward had just happened. The storm having passed, Hillary and Eva became quite maternal and very practical, which is another way of saying that they unpacked a flask, poured a cup of hot sweet tea in a plastic cup, and handed it to Meritxell along with a ginger biscuit. This got the attention of Hume, who decided he would like to become friends too, and got down and started exploring among the spilt papers on the floor, all the time keeping an eye on the biscuits. As Meritxell slowly sipped her hot tea, Hillary poured two more cups for them, and then she bent down and picked up Grandpa’s book, which had fallen onto the floor in the commotion. “Ah,” she said, “Aristotle! This is your Grandpa’s book is it?”, and she thumbed through it, noting the pencil marks in the margins where Grandpa had found something particularly interesting. “One of my heroes,” she continued, “Some call him the first scientist, and the first serious biologist! Eva and I are biologists too, though not always,” and here she winked at Eva, “as serious as we ought to be.” Eva saw that Meritxell, whose energies were being rapidly restored by tea and biscuits, looked a little interested, and chipped in, “So Meritxell, you say that you don’t trust anyone or believe what they say any more?” Meritxell sipped and nodded, a little uncomfortable at implying that 32

she didn’t trust these people, who were feeding her, either. “Well,” continued Eva, “you are in good company, because scientists are trained not to believe things either!” That, thought Meritxell, seemed quite absurd. Fancy being trained to not believe things! “Excuse me,” she said, “but I don’t understand.” Meritxell’s newfound companions needed no more encouragement than that. Glancing at each other as they spoke, Eva and Hillary started to explain, starting and finishing each other’s sentences, so that it became hard to work out who was saying what. “Scientists are people who try to understand how the world works, by asking lots of questions, and using something called the Scientific Method, which is the best way to find out if something is true or not,” they said in their higgledy-piggledy way. “We said Aristotle was the first scientist, and in many extraordinary ways he was, but he was trying to make sense of everything in the world on his own, and he got lots of things right and lots of things wrong. And everyone believed him, or not, for 2000 years, but they didn’t know how to decide what was right or wrong either.” “For example,” said Hillary, “he thought that everything was made of a mixture of earth, fire, air and water.” “And aether,” interjected Eva with a chuckle, “don’t forget, he added aether.” Meritxell thought that was very odd, as she had been told from when she was very small, that things were made out of atoms and elements like iron and sulphur, and you breathed things like oxygen and nitrogen. And of course she had believed that without question. And while she’d now noticed those beliefs and marked them down as something to think about later, she couldn’t imagine ever 33

thinking everything was made partly of fire. It sounded like a fairy tale, and she found herself asking a question. “Did people really think everything was made just from those?” she asked, “That sounds completely mad!” “People thought that for thousands of years!” repeated Hillary, “Isn’t it odd to try to imagine yourself living in a world of different thoughts?” “So how,” asked Meritxell, “is Science different?” “Ah, people started using the Scientific Method,” said Eva, “which is partly about how each person did things, and partly about how they wrote about it afterwards.” “Actually there’s not really one Scientific Method,” Hillary butted in, “there are different ways of getting ideas and testing them to see if they seem right or wrong.” “But the key,” said Eva, “is that it is hard to know if ideas are right, but easier to know if they are wrong. So just like you, young Meritxell, we spend our lives trying to disbelieve, trying to prove that other people’s ideas are really not very good at all.” “It’s an ideas competition, like a big wrestling competition with lots of rounds,” Hillary added, excitedly, “All the bad ideas get beaten, and each round the ideas that are still standing take part again to see if they can knock anyone else’s idea out.” “And like a real wrestling tournament,” Eva continued, “the ones still standing at the end might be the best fighters in the world ever, or might just not have met the real champion yet. But they are more likely to be the best than the ones they’ve just vanquished. That, Meritxell is our Truth: it’s just the best we’ve seen yet.” “Our best guess,” said Hillary. “But who knows!” finished Eva. Eva and Hillary paused in their double act, having be34

come quite carried away, and concentrated for a while on drinking their tea, which was now not very hot at all, but was still Tea. Eva bent down and picked up one of the papers still lying on the floor and held it in the air. “And, perhaps the most important thing of all,” she said to Meritxell and Hume (who was pretending to listen but really eyeing the food), “is that we write down what we tried, and what happened, and what we think that means. So I can write down my experiments, and Hillary here can read about them even if she’s on the other side of the world.” “Which I sometimes do!” said Hillary. “And,” continued Eva, “she can make up her own mind and try her own experiments”. “So,” they both said together, paused, looked at each other, and Hillary finished, “So instead of there being one extremely bright person like Aristotle, there are thousands of slightly less bright people like us, who share our ideas and pass them on to the next generation, who can start where we left off instead of beginning all over again.” “We stand on the shoulders of giants!,” added Eva enigmatically. All this time, Meritxell was thinking furiously, trying to take it all in. Her decision to disbelieve everyone was a little shaken in the presence of people saying they didn’t believe things either, and in fact their whole job was not to believe things! She felt confused, even without the mention of giants, as if someone had just told her that they were not not not hungry, and she had to work out whether to make them lunch. But lunch it turned out was exactly what they all needed, and having tidied up their papers, they all shared sandwiches and chocolate. Hume was allowed to join in, and agreed that these were some of the brightest people he had 35

met in a long time. The fields soon gave way to factories, blocks of flats and playgrounds, and it was time for Meritxell to brush the crumbs off, repack her bag, and get ready to disembark. Eva and Hillary were carrying on to the next station, and continued talking as one person who had split into two: “Lovely to meet you”, “Such a delight”, “Try reading Aristotle”, “But just don’t believe anything he says”, “Except when it’s true”, even as the train was slowing down. As Meritxell left, they were starting to pour out more tea. Meritxell and Hume climbed onto the platform, where Aunt Dora was already waiting. Dora was being practical and acting as if everything was normal, much like Meritxell’s Mother, as she greeted them and took the suitcase. It was a short walk from the station to the apartment, and they rode up in the lift to the very top. Meritxell put her stuff into the room she always stayed in, put a blanket down for Hume, and stared out over the city, with the people crawling like ants down below, and the rooftops shining in the sunshine and stretching into the distance. Life wasn’t back to normal, it was still very strange and different, and the train journey with Eva and Hillary felt like a dream that might or might not have happened at all. But her tears in the train seemed to have washed part of the stress of the previous day away. It did for the first time since Grandpa’s turn, feel better rather than worse, in the way it does when you’ve started tidying your room, even though you know you have most of it to do still.



Wednesday Meritxell and global warming



eritxell woke to the mouth-watering smell of hot chocolate, and the rather less appetising smell of sleeping dog. She immediately ignored those and thought about Grandpa, and wondered how he was, and how strange it must be to sleep in a hospital with people walking around and machines beeping. So the first thing she did, sitting on her bed with Hume beside her, was to switch on Merlin and call home. Her Mother looked tired on the screen, but was pleased to see and hear her, and told her that Grandpa was being looked after as well as possible. Aunt Dora came into the bedroom and sat beside Meritxell giving her a kiss on the top of her head. Then she and Hume both squeezed up so Mother could see and talk to them too, which was lovely in one way, thought Meritxell, but being in the middle felt a bit like being a tube of toothpaste. At breakfast, Meritxell found she was rather hungry, and while she filled herself up with bread and slices of cheese and ham and hot milk, she talked to Dora, and Dora listened. Aunt Dora was very good at that, which frankly most people are not, because they seem to think that interrupting and giving their own opinions is more important. But Dora would nod and look interested, and make little noises or ask questions just enough and not too much. Even after Meritxell had finished, Dora just said “Goodness that’s a 39

lot you have to think about!”, and then said she had to go to work, but Meritxell could come and meet her for lunch if she wanted. That suited Meritxell very well, as it meant that she could be on her own for a while and do some exploring and some thinking. So half an hour later she and Hume headed out. As she went down in the lift, she wondered if Commander Bloomfield would have ‘ridden the elevator’ instead, and smiled. Hume was excited to have a whole new city of smells to investigate. He seemed overwhelmed at having to choose just one to sniff at a time as he dashed from one spot to another uttering strange sounds that were half whimper and half growl. Meritxell was idly looking in shop windows, and wondering what it would be like to sit in the same shop every day, and if the owners really loved flowers or greetings cards or children’s clothes that much. Then she became aware of an odd noise in the distance, as if lots of people were shouting. She turned the corner into a large square, and there found herself looking at a large crowd, who were carrying banners and flags and were singing and chanting. A wide banner in front of her said in large letters “Don’t be a fossil fool!”, and another “Stop frying the planet”, and a third “Turtles against climate change”. Lots of people were dressed normally, but the turtles banner was carried by two people in turtle costumes. “Heavens,” thought Meritxell, “What on earth is going on? Who are all these people?” Curious, she walked towards them. “Excuse me,” she said looking up at one of the turtles, “what’s happening, and why are you dressed like that?” Hume joined in by sniffing the turtle’s leg. The turtle’s head 40

tilted down and a human face peered out. “Hello,” it said, “We’re dressed like this because turtles are wonderful creatures that have been around on this earth for 250 million years, and because of us, they are in danger, and we need people to wake up to that now!” He spoke with a real passion that was infectious, or would have been to people who weren’t feeling very different at the moment and not believing anyone. Meritxell was very interested in the idea of turtles, which she’d seen on TV and in books and in cartoons but never face-to-face so to speak, and she decided that talking to a man in a costume didn’t really count either. She listened to what he said, and wondered if any of it was true. “What do you mean, they’re in danger?” she asked. “I mean that we humans are burning so much coal and oil, that we’re causing global warming, and that’s going to change all sorts of things, and beautiful animals like turtles are going to be the first to suffer. The seas will rise and cover the beaches they use to lay their eggs on, and this may sound weird, but a warmer world will mean that most turtles are female, and that’s not good. And I could go on!” Meritxell had no doubt at all that he could go on a lot. She was just making a mental note to ask Merlin about what makes turtles female, when they were distracted by a chant that was coming nearer. “Hey! Wake up and hear the warning! Let’s all stop this global warming!” Like a wave, it flowed towards them, the turtles joined in, and then it passed. Meritxell was fascinated, and had also been thinking about what he said. “So how do you know any of that?” she asked. The turtle looked down and remembered he’d been talking to someone. “Don’t you read the papers?” he 41

said, “Don’t you watch the news? Don’t you listen to the scientists? Can’t you feel that there’s warming? This planet is on fire, and it’s us, us who’s doing that! Hey, read this.” He handed her a leaflet, as another wave washed towards them, “Extreme storms become the norm, our planet’s getting way too warm!” and Meritxell and Hume left him to his chants. It seemed, she thought as they walked on, that the Turtle man really believed the planet was getting warmer, and that that was important. He hadn’t seen it for himself in the same way that Commander Bloomfield had seen the Earth from space, but he was listening to lots of other people, including scientists, who believed it too. The people in the crowd were passionate, colourful, and noisy, and seemed to have lots of different things they were worried about. “Capitalism isn’t working”, “No to nuclear power”, “Is meat worth it?”, they said, and Meritxell wondered how all those things linked together. Hume was in charge now, and pulled her round to the front of the gathering, and Meritxell saw that they weren’t gathered in that square by accident, but were facing a grand building with steps leading up to a glass revolving door. Above the door was a very large and very smart sign that said “Energy Conference”. People came down the steps in dribs and drabs. As they did, the crowd chanted at them “Drill for oil, the Earth you spoil”, and they looked rather uncomfortable, and trotted away as fast as they could while still pretending they weren’t hurrying at all. As Meritxell and Hume went out of the square, she had so much to think about now that when they passed a street stall cooking and selling doughnuts, she stopped 42

and bought a bagful. Then she sat down on a bench in the sunshine, with Hume at her feet, and started to eat the doughnuts. They were the sort of doughnuts that almost melted in your mouth, and she took big bites or nibbled them all round the edges, and Hume collected all the bits she deliberately dropped. Then she looked at the leaflet she’d been given, and it had diagrams and stuff about scientists, so she looked at it more closely. “Scientists agree the Earth is getting warmer!” it said, and there was a graph next to it, which Meritxell knew from school, meant that something was becoming more of whatever it was being. As she was reading this, a man sat down at the other end of the bench with his own bag, and stared out into the distance as he ate. He was wearing a smart suit with a tie, and on the front pocket was a big badge saying ‘Conference Speaker’. “Excuse me,” said Meritxell, feeling very brave suddenly, “But what is that conference?” The man in the suit turned to Meritxell, as if he hadn’t been aware that she was there. He looked tired. “That conference, young lady, is where all sorts of people in the energy business are talking about everything there is to talk about in the energy world. And that’s a lot!” Meritxell ate some more doughnut and thought how friendly everyone was to her when she asked her questions, because she guessed he really just wanted to eat in quiet. “So why are all the people shouting at people coming out of the building?” she continued. “Well,” said the man in the suit, “it turns out that a lot of people think that the energy business is causing harm. We go to really tough parts of the world - the bottom of the sea or the deserts or the jungle or deep under the ground - and we do rea43

lly dangerous work, and that means people have petrol for cars and fuel for aeroplanes and gas to heat their homes. And they drive their cars and fly on holiday and keep warm in winter, and then complain. We’re the Bad Guys, when they’re the ones using the energy.” “So are they right? Is the Earth getting warmer?,” Meritxell asked, “This leaflet says that scientists say it is.” “Hmm,” he said ”maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but if it is, do you think we should just stop making energy? Look around you, this is a big city. Everyone in this city is using energy that we extract and deliver. Without it, no city!” “It says here we should use the sun’s energy and not burn oil,” said Meritxell. “Well,” said the man in the suit, “in a way I agree with them. But the only way that will happen is by us getting a lot better at using the Sun. You can feel the warmth on your face now, and if we could really capture enough of that heat and store it, and move it to where people need it, then we wouldn’t need so much oil. So at the moment we can’t, we don’t know how, but I reckon scientists and engineers will sort that out. There’s a problem, but we can solve it, that’s what we’re good at.” And with that, he popped the last bit of doughnut into his mouth, said a brief farewell, and disappeared back toward the hall. Meritxell was left trying to digest what he and the Turtle had said and fit them together somehow in a way that made sense. They both seemed to be looking at the same thing, coming to different conclusions, and being very sure that they were right. The Turtle thought we should stop drilling for oil, and the man in the suit thought we had no choice if we wanted cities to work. And both had talked about scien44

ce, but again in different ways. The Turtle had said that science showed he was right, which was confusing because Eva and Hillary had said science was much better at saying what was wrong than what was right. The man in the suit seemed to be talking about science in quite a different way, that it would somehow solve everything. It was almost as if they were wearing different ideas just as they wore different clothes. Meritxell wasn’t sure she’d learned anything, and her head felt more confused than ever. The day drifted on, and Meritxell was surprised when she got to the apartment, that she hadn’t worried about home or Grandpa at all. Although that made her feel a little guilty, she realised that it also made her much less anxious, and feeling anxious seemed to mean feeling uncomfortable without being able to do anything about it. She told Aunt Dora about the demonstration and the man dressed as a turtle and the man in the suit. As ever, Aunt Dora sat and listened so well that it felt like a conversation even though Meritxell had done almost all the talking. “So what do you think about what all the different people were saying?,” Dora asked. Meritxell didn’t really know, because there seemed to be so many different conversations going on which were all sort of talking about the same things, but never quite connecting with each other. It was a bit like someone waving at you, and you thinking they wanted to speak to you, when all the time they were looking at the person behind you. One of the hard things, she said to Dora, was that when she was talking to each person she found herself listening as much to how important it was to them as to the words they were using, as if they were saying one thing in her left ear, and another thing in her right. 45

After tea, Meritxell took Hume for an early evening walk in the park. Hume was very happy to run and sniff the grass and find little smell messages that other dogs had left behind. Meritxell had been told once that dogs could ‘see’ smells much better than people, and she wondered what that must be like. There were certain smells she was very pleased not to be too aware of, but then Hume seemed to find those the most exciting ones of all. They walked along the river, and Hume ran on ahead, straight towards a man who was sitting very still. When Meritxell got nearer she could see that he was fishing. There was a rod propped up, with a line disappearing into the water, and on the bank was a net and a big container. Meritxell had always been told not to disturb fishermen or to make a lot of noise near them, because they liked to sit and be alone, and somehow the noise warned the fish not to eat any worms just now. So when she saw Hume nuzzling up to him, she was very apologetic, and said she hoped Hume hadn’t spoiled his fishing. The fisherman’s face had been hidden because he was wearing a hat with a big brim, but when he turned towards Meritxell, she saw that he was an elderly man, perhaps as old as Grandpa, and he smiled at her warmly. “That’s quite all right, young’un,” he said, with a strong country accent, “I love dogs, and while I like sitting alone with my thoughts and the fish, it’s good to talk to people too. And it seems the fish are out today anyway! What’s his name?” He reached down and patted Hume’s head, and Meritxell found herself sitting on his fishing box, chatting to him as they all three watched the river flow slowly by, and the sun sink down towards the treetops. 46

So it was not long before the fisherman knew about Grandpa and why Meritxell was staying in the city, and how confusing things were in her head. She was wondering at the same time why she was telling so many strangers such private things, but then talking seemed to help, as if once thoughts came out into the open, she could look at them and tidy them and say, ‘no you’re in the wrong drawer, you should go in here!’. When she told him about her adventures that day, he nodded slowly, and sighed. “I’m an old man now,” he said, and the world has changed in so many ways, it’s hard to believe that was me all those years ago. And there have been all sorts of ructions and commotions in the world of people; wars and revolutions and new gadgets and ideas. So I just come and sit and fish, and let myself be with the sun and the wind and the river. And the fish mostly ignore me, but occasionally let me catch them, just enough that my wife believes I really am off fishing. All I do know is that the river has changed. There were fish here that I never see now. And eels, there used to be so many eels, I could eat them for tea almost every day. Now I hardly catch any. Do you know about eels?” Well Meritxell knew lots of things, although she wasn’t currently very sure if any of it was true, so she was a bit disappointed that he’d picked a topic she knew nothing about at all. If he’d said seahorses or sticklebacks or tadpoles, she’d have felt much more able to have a conversation. “You mentioned turtles,” said the old man, “they are born on a beach, swim all over the ocean, and then find their way back to the very same beach. Well eels are extraordinary animals too. They live in the rivers like this one here, then 47

when they’re the right age, they swim out thousands of miles into the middle of the ocean! And as if by magic, all the eels know just where to go. They meet other eels, breed, and then the babies who’ve never been here before swim all the way back to the rivers.” That did seem quite wonderful, Meritxell thought, and very odd too, and she wondered why on earth they did things in such a complicated and long-distance way. “So something’s changed”, said the fisherman, “and maybe it’s this global warming, or maybe it’s stuff we pour into rivers, or maybe it’s something else. Humans are certainly doing enough to change a lot of nature, and it seems to me we should try to do less damage somehow. We’re like giants stomping around in the dark, not realising what we’re treading on.” The sun was nearly set, and it was time for them all to head home, so Meritxell and Hume left the old fisherman to pack everything up, and they walked slowly back to Aunt Dora’s. As the old man had reminded her of Grandpa, she called Mother again on Merlin, and then she sat in a chair by the window where she could watch the city being still busy at night. She’d been flicking through Grandpa’s book on Aristotle, and while she wasn’t really reading it and didn’t understand it all anyway, she was excited to find a bit where Aristotle talked about eels too. And if there had been lots of eels in Ancient Greece when he was alive, and lots of eels here when the old man was younger, it seemed important somehow to her that things seemed to be changing a lot right now. Then she looked out at the cars moving through the streets, and all the lights in the streetlights and windows, 48

and thought of the man in the suit, and how that was all energy that people had dug or sucked out of the earth somewhere, and how easy it was for her to just turn it on or off at the switch on the wall.


Thursday Meritxell discovers superfoods



he next day Meritxell went shopping. When she’d got up, she found Aunt Dora rooting through the cupboard of pots and pans, discarding every lid, wok and frying pan, letting them clunk loudly onto the hard granite kitchen surface. Hume was keeping a keen eye on her, just in case she decided to put something more edible onto the floor. “Auntie, what is going on?” exclaimed Meritxell. “Well dear, the first problem is that we seem to have run out of food, we only have some porridge oats and a dribble of olive oil left in the larder, and secondly where is my favourite non-stick perfect-size cookanything-in-it pan?” Meritxell had no idea what her Aunt was talking about, but a little later, all three of them were outside. Dora was striding purposefully, and just in front of her Meritxell skipped along the pavement, singing softly to herself, a basket in one hand, and Hume’s lead in the other. She was looking forward to seeing who she would meet today, and Hume was happy just being out amongst all the smells in the street. Dora was one of the most sensible people Meritxell knew, except when it came to her health. This was a passion of hers, and constant vigilance meant that she was always finding problems with her digestion, joints, weight, energy levels, or general well-being. She was convinced that any health problem was caused by what she ate, and therefore 51

the solution lay in changing what she ate. “There’s genes and there’s diet, ” she said to Meritxell, “I can’t do anything about my genes, but food is my responsibility.” That sounded extremely sensible to Meritxell, but what was confusing was that each time she visited, Dora was excited about a different food, and had a different theory that she was exploring. Last time she had been focusing on alkaline foods. “Some foods are easier to digest, because the are naturally alkaline,” she said, reading from her book, “so it’s better to eat more of these, and fewer that require acid production. It’s a wonderful way to reduce bloating. And bloating,” she said turning and looking directly at Meritxell, “is something you’ll want to avoid when you’re my age!” Acid, Meritxell knew, was generally seen as a bad thing in life, and bloating was such an odd sounding word, like a mixture of boating and floating she was not surprised Dora wanted to avoid it. This visit, alkaline foods were less in evidence, and Dora’s focus was now on antioxidants. “Antioxidants are nature’s way of preventing cancer, and are also effective at controlling bloating,” Dora had read out to her from her newest book. That sounded just as sensible to Meritxell as the reason for eating alkaline foods, as she wondered if and when she would start feeling bloated, and if that would mean she would swell up like a balloon. So shopping for food with Dora was always interesting. On their way to the greengrocers, Dora stopped, and called to Meritxell, who was quite a way ahead, to cross the road. It was a new shop called ‘Sofia’s Superfoods’, and just the sort of shop that Dora loved. The windows were full of signs mentioning ‘balance’ and ‘health’ and ‘natural’. Meri52

txell tied Hume up, and as they went in, she noticed a small round terracotta plaque next to the door that said ‘Susanne Langer (1895-1985), philosopher, once visited a shop on this site’. Heavens, thought Meritxell, what a lot of signs there would be if there were one for everyone who ever went in any shop! The shop was unlike any Meritxell had been in before. It was as if four people had built it, but one had wanted a chemist, and each of the others a supermarket, greengrocers and cafe. Dora was talking to one of the assistants, about the signs above many of the beautiful multicoloured fruits and vegetables which said ‘great superfood’ and ‘powerful antioxidant’ and ‘full of vitamins’. “What is a superfood?” asked Meritxell as she caught up with them. “This is my niece Meritxell,” said Dora, introducing them, “and Meritxell, this is Sofia, whose shop it is.” Sofia, a thin woman with an enormously wide crop of auburn hair, looked down at her, and said “Good morning Meritxell, thank you for visiting my new shop. Superfoods are foods that have more of the good things in them and less of the bad things. They give you more energy, help your immune system, skin and overall health.” She sounded a bit like one of the people on the TV adverts, thought Meritxell, but Dora was nodding. “More antioxidants, less bloating,” she added, to give her particular spin on it, and Sofia smiled and said, “That might be true. I like the American phrase, ‘more bang for your buck!’.” “So which foods are ‘super’?”, Meritxell asked curiously, avoiding looking at Sofia’s hair, and looking at the display instead. “It really depends on what you need.” Sofia replied, “If like your Aunt you want antioxidants, then kale and kiwi 53

fruit are excellent. If you want energy, then a something like quinoa is good.” Meritxell wondered if it was just food that sounded like it began with a ‘k’, and when she said that the others laughed, and said that that was not how it worked. “Broccoli’s a superfood,” added Dora, smiling because she knew that was one of Meritxell’s least favourite foods, ever since someone had said it was like eating brains. Meritxell blanched and deliberately changed the subject. “Who is that person on the plaque?” She asked. “Ah, Susanne Langer,” Sofia said, “Have you ever heard of her?” Dora and Meritxell both shook their heads. “She was an American philosopher I like a lot,” said Sofia, handing them copies of a leaflet. “She believed in the constant human attempt to invent meanings.” When they both looked blankly back at her, Sofia tried again. “We humans try to make sense of the world, and we do that for everything, and in different ways,” she said, “so while scientists pick things apart and try to find out how they work, other things that can’t be picked apart are just as important to us, like art and music. Maybe even more important! And Susanne Langer thought about what these things mean to us and why.” Meritxell had sometimes wondered where things that made you feel fitted into the world of Grandpa’s watches or Eva and Hillary’s specimens or Commander Bloomfield’s space rockets, or even Miss Borges’ arithmetic. They seemed so different, but surely they ought to fit in somehow into whatever was ‘true’. She wondered if Grandpa had heard of this philosopher, and what he thought about her ideas. Her mind swung back to the kale and quinoa. “How do you know these are superfoods? Do scientists tell you?” She 54

asked, and Dora added, “Meritxell is on a bit of a quest at the moment!” Sofia thought for a bit, “Some scientists do, and some don’t, but I also talk a lot to other people, who I think talk sense. I really trust my nutritionist, who isn’t a scientist or a doctor, but really seems to understand bodies, and what is important to me. Then I listen for people who see the world in a holistic way, not just trying to pick it apart like scientists often do. And I also try things out and decide if I feel better or not.” She smiled at Meritxell, and added, “I call it my ‘pick and mix’. If it works for me I keep it, if it doesn’t, I don’t.” They left Sofia and her shop, Dora with some bags and Meritxell with a puzzled frown. Could it really be a case that we can just decide for ourselves what is true?, she was thinking, and just what Sofia meant by things ‘working for her’. Dora was watching her from the side. She almost felt she could see and hear cogs in her head turning, trying to find a combination that brought some peace to her. She felt almost privileged to be able to be with her niece as she struggled to free herself from one mental skin that she had outgrown. They walked on to Roots Greengrocers. Where Sofia’s shop was new and stylish, almost as if it was persuading you how good everything was just showing it beautifully and with lots of adjectives, Roots was quite the opposite. It felt traditional and no-nonsense. You could imagine Mister Brown the owner up at the crack of dawn at the big fruit and veg market poking the turnips and popping strawberries in his mouth to check how sweet they were, or talking to the local farmers about the best type of manure for asparagus. It was a shop that Meritxell loved though. 55

The colours, the shapes, the textures of all the fresh fruits and vegetables made her feel alive, and the perfume of all the fresh herbs was almost the best smell she knew in the world. Mister Brown rubbed his shock of salt and pepper hair with fingers as thick as carrots and as rough as the earth the carrots came out of. “Miss Dora?”, he said, being a man of few words. Dora introduced Meritxell, and he nodded

silently. “We’ve been learning about superfoods!”, Meritxell informed him, “Which of yours are super?” “Ha ha ha!” Mister Brown couldn’t stop an explosion of laughter erupting from his mouth. And then he laughed some more, and then he laughed so much he went bright red, because when you laugh you can’t breathe. Meritxell became concerned and wondered if people ever died laughing. Eventually he subsided, and wiped his eyes, because he’d been crying too. “Which of yours are super? That’s a good’un” he muttered and chuckled again. “Well young 56

Miss,” he continued at last, “I can assure you that all of my foods in here are super. The lettuce is super, the tomatoes are super, and the onions are particularly super!” He saw that Meritxell was frowning, and thought he was teasing her. “No,” he said, “I mean it. Food is food is food, and I’ve no time for all that hippy dippy touchy feely nonsense. I could take some cattle feed like kale, pop a ‘superfood’ sticker on it and sell it for twice the price. But it’s no better or worse than any of the rest. Eat everything, not too much, enjoy the taste, and you can’t go far wrong, is how I see it.” Dora was surprised, as she’d never heard so many words tumble out of Mister Brown’s mouth in all the years she’d known him. She didn’t agree with him particularly, but he was who he was, she observed to Meritxell as they left the shop, a bell ringing as the door closed, and walked back home. They’d bought a pale orange thick-skinned butternut squash, and a bag glossy green apples that reminded Meritxell of home. As they wandered back, her head full of completely new ideas that didn’t agree with each other or with the other ones she’d already stored in her head, she bit into an apple, and thought of her Mother, and of Grandpa.


Friday Meritxell and the media



he next morning, Meritxell and Hume rushed down the stairs and went to the living room and found Aunt Dora sitting on the armchair. She was holding a steaming mug of tea in one hand, and a newspaper in the other. She was concentrating so hard while reading it, that she didn’t notice the two pairs of eyes staring at her, until Hume barked, and Meri yelled “Moooooorning, Auntie!”. Then, of course, Aunt Dora did notice them! How could she not?! And she reacted in a funny way. But before telling you how she reacted, imagine first that, after a hard day at school, you were luxuriating in a hot bubble bath, half reading your favorite comic book and half dreaming, and suddenly you heard a bark and a yell right next to you?! You might almost jump out of your skin and drop your comic into the water and splash most of the water onto the floor. Well, that’s how it was for Aunt Dora, who leapt out of her seat in surprise, gave a little shriek… and poured all the tea onto the rug! “Meri, you scared the living daylights out of me!,” she cried. Meritxell, was chortling (which in case you don’t know, is half chuckling and half snorting, neither of which Aunt Dora thought in the slightest bit appropriate) at the bedlam she’d caused. But she also felt also a little guilty for having frightened her Auntie, so ran towards her and hugged her 59

and told her she was really really sorry. They cleaned up the mess, and, excitement over, Meritxell climbed into Aunt Dora’s lap and asked “Auntie, what were you reading?”. “My newspaper of course, Meri. You do know what a newspaper is?”, Dora asked with a tilt of her head, looking down at Meritxell. “Of course, Auntie, duh. It’s not like I’m a baby!” Aunt Dora laughed inside, because even though Meri was indeed not a baby, she was also still very much a child, albeit one who was growing up in front of her eyes. “Why do you read the newspaper?,” asked Meritxell. “I want to know what is happening in the world, and newspapers tell me that,” said Dora. Meritxell, who having met so many people in the past few days felt a much wiser person, told her auntie that the only real way to know what is happening in the world is by going to see it for yourself. This time, Aunt Dora could not avoid a guffaw escaping from her mouth. “Of course, my little girl! But the world is enormous! And in a huge world like ours, there are millions of things happening at the same time. It would be impossible to see them all. That is why there are journalists. Their job is to be our eyes and our ears, to find out what is happening out there and to explain it to us afterwards. And besides,” she added, “how would I look after you if I was running around China or Iceland … or the Amazon?” Meritxell kept silent and thought hard about what her aunt had said. She thought it made sense, especially how hard it was to see everything everywhere at the same time. When Commander Bloomfield was in space watching the Earth spin round, he couldn’t be down here at the same time. 60

“What about scientists?”, Meritxell asked, thinking about her tea party on the train, “Aren’t they the people who find out about the world?” “Scientists try to work out how the world works,” said Dora, “but they’re not the people to ask about who’s going to be the next American president. And besides,” she added, “have you ever seen what scientists write?” Meritxell had to shake her head. “Well let me tell you, it’s like reading a book written half in words you understand, and half in words you’ve never seen before. Grandpa’s books are babytalk compared to them. Sometimes I think they’re a secret society who just talking to each other in their own secret language. So journalists also tell us what the scientists are really saying in words we understand.” That was confusing, because Eva and Hillary, the two scientists Meritxell had met, were so easy to understand, and they’d talked about how open and sharing science was. And, thought Meritxell, how could Aunt Dora rely on what those people, those journalists, said? “But how do you know that what is in the newspapers or on TV is true?”, she asked. “Journalists are a little like scientists and doctors,” said Dora, “They have a very strict set of rules they follow to be called a journalist, and one of the most important ones being telling the truth. And they know things are true either because they’ve seen it themselves, or else they checked by asking other people. My friend Peter, who works in a newspaper, says they don’t publish or broadcast anything that hasn’t been confirmed by at least three people! So why shouldn’t I trust journalists? Why would they be interested in lying to us?” “Wow! That’s so … outstanding!” Meritxell exclaimed, so excited that could not help clapping. Maybe, she thou61

ght, journalists have the key to the truth! They find out everything that’s happening and check it’s true, and even help us understand what scientists are saying. “Auntie, can we go to Peter’s newspaper and meet some journalists? I would so love to talk to them and see where they work,” Aunt Dora raised an eyebrow at this, but agreed to ask, and in just a few minutes she’d phoned her friend Peter, and arranged for Meritxell to visit his newspaper that afternoon, although she couldn’t take Hume with her. And so, a few hours later, Meritxell stepped into the reception of a large building with shiny black glass. Peter was already waiting for her. He was a tall, grey haired man who smelled as if he had just smoked one hundred cigarettes. He was wearing a grey shirt, grey jeans, and grey shoes. Meritxell thought that maybe it was of because of the smoke of the cigarettes that he had become all grey, and imagined him as a walking column of ash. Or maybe, like meat that was smoked, he would live forever! They shook hands and he smiled at her. Her eyes widened with surprise to see teeth were as huge and sharp as those of a crocodile. But she realised quickly that rather than being scary, he was quite the opposite! I know it may sound the weirdest thing you have ever read or heard, but even though he had teeth that looked like a monster’s, Peter’s smile was so friendly that it made Meritxell feel quite safe, as if she was at home. Meritxell followed Peter into a lift, and they shot up to the fifteenth floor of the building. When the door of the lift opened, and she heard the sound of dozens of telephones ringing, the clack-clack of hundreds of fingers typing on the keyboards, loud TVs mounted on the walls, together 62

with mumblings and loud voices, all mixed in a soup of noise. She clamped her hands over her poor complaining ears. “Goodness! Is it like that all day? Maybe it’s because I live near the countryside, but I think I couldn’t bear this! Do you use earplugs when you work?” Peter gave a big resounding laugh that showed all his teeth in their full glory. “Of course I don’t, my beauty! As a journalist, all my senses have to be razor sharp! My right ear listens to the BBC on the radio, my left one listens to local radio stations or to the phone, my right eye watches the TV, and my left eye is reading my computer screen. And in my spare time I surf the Internet and look for news on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, and YouTube.” He was saying this as they walked along a wide corridor with tables on both sides at which stressed-looking journalists were sitting staring at screens or talking on the telephone. Meritxell’s eyes were like dinner plates at the very idea. It was like listening to an octopus explain how it played piano duets, table tennis and computer games all at the same time, and she wondered if any journalists exploded, and if they did whether that would be in the newspapers. “Goodness, I can hardly do my homework if my dog, Hume, is sniffing my feet, whereas you manage to make a newspaper everyday with so many distractions!” Peter smiled with satisfaction. “Those are not distractions, Meritxell. Those are The News, my life blood! It’s in my veins to be like that! I couldn’t work from nine to five in a silent and boring office, I need action! I work until midnight everyday to provide the people in this city with the information they want and need! I don’t have a wife, I don’t have kids, I don’t 63

do any sport. Actually, I can’t. I just work, eat and smoke. I sleep a little, too, and, occasionally of course, I go to the toilet. But that’s all. I know that’s the price I have to pay to have this job. And I’m happy with that.” “Listen, Meritxell,” he confided, “I’m going to tell you something very important for me. It’s the thrill of knowing that I may be the first to find a story and break it to the world, that makes me get up every morning.” Meritxell thought about her mornings where a combination of the smell of breakfast and Hume were the things that made her leave her warm cosy bed. They finally arrived at Peter’s desk. He got her a chair and they sat and he talked about newspapers and answered her questions. Meritxell thought again about what Dora had said about journalists. “You talked about the TV, the radio, the Internet, and social media, but what about going out to look for the news?”, she asked, “Aren’t your journalists in India and Argentina and South Africa…, or even around the corner or in the city centre?” Peter sighed. “Ah, the good old days!”, he said. “If only we could… What you say is very old-style.” Meritxell was unsure what old-style meant, but he was continuing. “Many years ago, people would learn about things in America weeks after they happened, because they had to sail over the ocean to tell people. Then we got telephones and radio, so we heard the news more quickly, but it was still just a question of publishing a newspaper once a day. Then we got 24 hour TV, and now we have the Internet, and as well as printing our paper, we add news every few minutes on our website.” His voice was speeding up as if he was acting it out in 64

real time. “So we can’t waste any time travelling, we can’t even waste time talking to the neighbour, or to the scientist that has made a discovery, or to the novelist who has just published his masterpiece” he said, “We have to publish, publish, publish, all the time, and as fast as we can. That is why we are always connected to the Internet and with our senses placed everywhere. We have to be the first ones to give a piece of news, because if we are the first to give a piece of news, then more people will buy our newspaper or visit our website. That is why the kind of news that we publish also has to be interesting to the people. We publish what people want to read, not what we think they should know! Imagine that we have two news stories and we have to decide which one to publish: one is Miley Cyrus having had a tongue tattooed on her belly, while the other is the discovery of a new planet. We would choose the news on Miley Cyrus, of course, because who cares about planets, haha! And the bigger the audience we have, the more advertisements we’ll have and the richer we’ll become. Or,” he added with a wry smile, “at least maybe we won’t be the next newspaper to go out of business!” Meritxell was stressed just imagining herself working there. She remembered the day she had forgotten to do her maths exercises and did them five minutes before class started, and she made lots of mistakes. So, she wondered, how can these people do such this important job of finding and telling the truth with so much pressure and still get it right? “Aunt Dora told me that every journalist has to check with at least three people, that what they write is true. Does that really happen?”, she asked Peter. “Meritxell, again, that’s very old-school. That’s what every journalism book 65

says a journalist should do. But do you know how old these books are? At least fifteen years old - which is older than you! Things have changed so quickly, that that’s not realistic at all… You know what I mean, honey? I mean that they are not close to real life any more. At that time, there was no Internet, no social media… Only radio, television and newspapers, and journalists took their time to produce news. Nowadays, however, we have to work at the speed of light! If we had to confirm every piece of news we publish three times, we would publish at a snail’s pace…, and we’d lose money, and probably our jobs.” That was not what Meritxell wanted to hear at all. Her head was buzzing again from the way he talked. It sounded like running all the time just to stay in the same place, and spinning plates and juggling balls at the same time. Not the best way at all to have your head clear and your thoughts in any sort of order, let alone know if any of it was True. Then something else occurred to her. She thought about how things were happening all over the world: babies being born, presidents giving speeches, storms and earthquakes and football matches and inventors inventing things and scientists working out how things worked. And the more she thought, the more events she thought of, and it was as if her head was a balloon that was being filled with water from a tap that would never switch off. It gave her such a headache she had to shake her head violently to make the ideas stop. Maybe that was what it looked like in Peter’s head, and maybe that’s why he’s so grey, she thought. But she also realised that no-one could write about everything, and some things might not be interesting to everyone, like what she had for breakfast every day. “Pe66

ter,” she asked, “If there are a zillion things happening everywhere in the world, how do you choose what goes into your newspaper? Even with your online thing, surely you can’t say everything?” She said this with a slight anxiety that if she was wrong, maybe what she ate for breakfast was in a newspaper somewhere, and that would be very peculiar indeed. Maybe there would be a newspaper called The Breakfast Times or The Croissant that talked about nothing else? She snapped out of this fantasy as she realised Peter was answering her question. “We have to choose of course!” He said, “Some things go in and a lot doesn’t. As I said, the audience rules, and because we need people to buy our paper, we ask ourselves whether they are stories people want to read. And of course different newspapers make different choices, and tell the stories in different ways.” Peter took her over to a table covered with different newspapers. “These are all today’s papers,” he said. Some papers had words so big they seemed to shout at you, while others looked much more polite. “So do they all tell the truth though?”, Meritxell asked. Peter smiled, and said “Ah, but whose truth?”. Then, the phone rang and Peter told Meritxell had to leave her because he had to write a story. He picked up a copy of his newspaper from a big pile, and handed it to her as a souvenir. Then he took her back to the lift doors, shook her hand, gave her a final flash of his large teeth, and he was gone. She rode the lift down, and as the numbers of the floors went down one by one, it was as if all the stress that his office was filled with, seeped out, so that she stepped out onto the street, feeling only a little shell-shocked. Oddly, his newspaper world that was supposed to tell us the truth, had 67

seemed so unreal and separate from this warm buzzy city life of ordinary people doing ordinary things. As she sat on the bus back to Dora’s flat, Meritxell flicked through the black and white newspaper, and smiled at the thought that maybe it wasn’t all the smoking that had made him grey, but, like a chameleon, he’d taken on the colour of the work that he was so passionate about. She looked at the headings and the pictures, and she thought about what all the stories meant, and why these had squeezed out the thousands of other stories that could have been chosen. And while she was reading it, she could not stop thinking that she still had no idea if these lucky stories that had forced their way in, were the most important ones, or even if they were true. If newspapers were printing what they thought people wanted to read, and people believed that what they read must be important and true because it was in newspapers, then it all seemed to go round and round. It felt like when Hume suddenly saw his tail out of the corner of his eye, and he would spin like a mad black hairy top trying to catch it in his mouth, until he became exhausted, or tripped and fell over and did a sort of somersault that brought him to his senses. She felt completely let down at finding how different the newspaper was from what she had expected, and quite exhausted at the effort of trying to find something she could trust, something she could hold on to. As she lay in bed later that evening, trying to sleep, Meritxell found it hard to stop thinking, not just about Peter and the newspaper, but about everything else that had happened that week. People’s faces, the things they’d said, and the way they’d made her feel, drifted through her head 68

and mixed together. Commander Bloomfield, who believed things because he’d seen them or trusted people he knew. Eva and Hillary, who believed in science, and in what they didn’t know, which was hard to understand and must be a very odd way to live. The Turtle man who believed science was saying the world was in danger, the man in the suit who thought that science would save them, and the fisherman who didn’t seem to have much faith in what anyone was doing. Sofia who believed her nutritionist and said that science couldn’t answer every question, and Mister Brown who seemed to think that we were just thinking too much! And then Peter and the journalists who were supposed to be finding out the truth, but were overwhelmed and having to write what people wanted instead. Meritxell was looking for something. She wasn’t quite sure what it was and what it looked like, and was starting to worry how she’d know when she found it. The air was cold, and all around her stretching into the distance there were tall fir trees. Above her head a moon lit her way, but her feet seemed to know where they were going anyway. It was as if she were a passenger and they were taking her deeper and deeper into the dark forest, whether she wanted to or not. The moon was becoming fainter, and she became aware that she was surrounded by murmuring voices, as if all the trees were telling her something. Then the earth beneath her feet started to soften. Before she knew it, she had sunk up to her ankles. She started to try to run, but the more she tried the heavier her feet became. She sank further into what she thought must be quicksand, and as it came up to her chest, pressing in so she could hardly breathe, she realised the voices had all become laughter. A scream of panic rose inside her throat. Then she heard a different noise and she was shaking. 69

The grip of the earth was becoming looser. She knew that noise, it was Hume barking, and she was being shaken awake. Meritxell opened her eyes with a sharp intake of breath, and looked up at Dora, who was leaning over her holding both her shoulders. Hume’s face appeared and gave another little bark. The nightmare was over, but Aunt Dora was taking charge, and before she knew it, Meritxell was sitting on the sofa, leaning against Dora. They were both sipping steaming mugs of hot milky malty chocolate, and Hume was lying half on her and half off, as if he was making sure she was absolutely all right. “So, little Meri, what’s going on?” Dora asked gently. And Meritxell wasn’t really sure, as she hadn’t been in control of her dream, and she didn’t know what to say or where to start. But somehow, between sips of hot chocolate, she did start, and she just talked about everything she’d seen, and all the people she’d met, and what they’d said. She talked about how scared she was about Grandpa dying, and how frightened she’d felt when it seemed that everyone who she’d believed were telling the truth were lying to her. She talked about how that fear had turned into anger, and that anger had started to pour out of her, and change how she saw everything. Then she talked about all the odd people she met, and the different answers they’d given her. She talked about how she was trying to make sense of it all, but how the more she tried, the less sense it all made. It was a little bit like that moment on the train when she’d burst into tears and been given tea by Eva and Hillary, except that she felt even less sure what to think or why. Aunt Dora just sat and did what she thought was most 70

useful, which was to listen with an occasional murmuring grunt to show she was still there, and exude love and reassurance to her niece, much as Hume was doing. When Meritxell’s stream of words had stopped, there was a pause while they both sipped their drinks, and Dora asked, “You’ve talked about what everyone else thinks and says, what do you think? What feels right to you?” If you’ve ever been asked how you feel about something, you might know that that can be the hardest question of all to answer, sometimes because there are things you are not really allowed to say. “One thing that really confuses me,” Meritxell said eventually, “is that I feel the person I’m talking to is right, and that lasts until I talk to someone else. And I end up thinking that I just don’t know anything.” Dora smiled, and said, “Well I expect that Grandpa would tell you about a very wise person, a long time ago, who said that the only thing he knew was that he knew nothing. Everyone who’s ever been born has to work out what they think is important in life, and what or who they trust, and although I spend lots of time telling myself stories, ‘not knowing’ is probably the most peaceful place to sit.” They sat some more, and Meritxell asked, “Do you think Grandpa will be all right?”. Aunt Dora looked down, and said “I’m guessing you mean, will he die or not?” When Meritxell gave a nod, Dora gave her a squeeze and continued, “Well I don’t know the answer to that, but I think that either way he’ll be all right.”


Saturday Meritxell goes back home



he sun streamed through the shutters, and would have woken Meritxell, if Hume hadn’t already been nudging her and generally saying ‘GET UP!’ in a doggy kind of way, and she hadn’t anyway been lying there wondering how Grandpa was. She took him out for a run in the park. When they got back, Aunt Dora was bustling around in the kitchen. Meritxell gave Hume his own breakfast, and then she and Dora sat down for theirs. It was Saturday, and there was a pile of pastries and fresh bread on the table. Meritxell was gazing into the distance, lost in thought, as she sipped her bowl of hot chocolate and ate a small almond croissant hungrily. She glanced up and saw her Aunt watching her curiously. “I just spoke to your Mother, and it’s time to go home, Meri” said the Aunt, “How are you today?” ‘How are you’ can mean almost anything you want it to, and sometimes lots of things at once, especially after the night before, so Meritxell finished her mouthful and picked up an apple and custard slice as she wondered what to say. “I’ve got so much to think about,” she started, forgetting her mouth was really rather full, “it’s hard to know where to begin. And then it feels wrong to spend time thinking about this and not worry about Grandpa and Mother.” “Do you think worrying would help either of them”, asked her Aunt quizzically, with one eyebrow raised. Meritxell was 73

getting used to her questions, and knew there was no need to answer unless she wanted to. “When my head is full,” her Aunt continued, “I find the best thing is to do something quite different, and when I check I often find it’s all sorted itself out without any effort from me whatsoever!” So Meritxell did something quite different. She helped wash up, and packed her bags, gave her Aunt a very tight hug, and not long after, she and Hume were back on the train, and they were out of the city and speeding through fields and past villages. It was like watching people’s lives pass you by, she thought, as she looked out at houses and schools, and farmhouses. Then the landscape started to feel more familiar, either because she recognized things, or perhaps felt she ought to recognize them, as her own station approached. Hume seemed to sense it too, as he became more excitable and started making strange high-pitched noises that were a bit more than growls and a bit less than barks. Then they were pulling to the platform and her Mother was standing there, looking up and down the train. Meritxell and Hume jumped out and ran to meet her, and there was a lot of hugging by Meritxell and jumping up and down and barking by Hume. As they drove home, Meritxell asked about Grandpa. Mother just said “You’ll have you wait and see, let’s just sort ourselves out first.” They pulled into the drive and unpacked themselves. Meritxell tried to run into the house, hampered by Hume, who was rushing round and round and through her legs as if he wanted to be trodden on. Then Hume stopped, cocked an ear as if listening to the wind, and leapt at the door, pushing his nose in as Meritxell turned the handle 74

and forced his way in before there was really enough room for him. The reason became clear as Meritxell followed, and there, sitting in the kitchen, making a fuss of Hume, was Grandpa. The next hour went by so quickly, it was hard to remember the details. There was excitement, and there were tears, and lots of talking, and (just in case things got too emotional) tea and cake. Grandpa said that hearts could be funny things; they had a bit of a flutter and everything would get very difficult, then they would recover, and the body would start acting as if nothing had ever been the matter, and wondered what the fuss was all about. Doctors had prodded and poked and measured and muttered, and decided that he could go home, and had timetabled regular prodding and poking in the future to check that his heart wasn’t have any more turns. And finally, as everything calmed down, Meritxell’s mother busied herself with some pruning, and Grandpa had a chance to talk to Meritxell about her adventures. They sat on the garden seat that was like a grown ups’ swing, he in his hat and she with her feet on his lap. As they rocked gently in the sunshine, she told him everything. How her world had felt like it had turned upside down when he’d had his emergency. She said it felt like she was seeing it all through different eyes, that nothing was true any more, and she felt adrift in a sea of lies and no-one she could trust. She told him about her talking back to her teacher, and talking with Commander Bloomfield in America. She told him about the scientists and the climate march, and the food shops, and the newspaper. And she told him how confusing it all became, because she realised people weren’t lying, but they 75

all believed different things, and had different ways of deciding what was true. All through this Grandpa sat with his eyes closed, patting her feet, and occasionally opening one eye to look at her. He said nothing until she had finished, and then neither of them said anything, but just moved slowly to and fro, as if the swing was also unsure of what to think, and was being rocked this way and that by everyone’s opinions. “I pop into hospital for a few days, and look what happens when I come out!,” he said, “It sounds as if you’ve had an adventure just like explorers in the past who used to sail across the seas without knowing what they’d find. Would they find lions or kangaroos or sea snakes or volcanoes or the edge of the world? But your adventure has been looking inside other people’s heads, which is just as exciting, with far less chance of being eaten or buried in molten lava or falling off into space! I’ve always loved that adventure, it’s what I’m doing when I’m reading my philosophy books.” He looked across at Meritxell’s mother, and added, “I often think of it like gardening. Thoughts sprout, as if from nowhere, and unless I pay attention, everything gets all tangled up and overgrown. So I spend time here or there trying to keep it in some sort of order, but it feels as if I’m managing it rather than really being in control. And that feels enough.” “Do you know who Hume is named after?” Grandpa said after another pause, one eye opening. Meritxell knew it was a Scotsman, because Grandpa had told her that, but that was all. “It’s one of my favourite philosophers,” continued Grandpa. “Someone who was above all practical, and if ideas became too airy fairy, he had no time for them. He 76

thought we could only really know things from our own experience, and even then we could say what had happened, but not what would happen. That leaves everyone to work out their own version of the truth, if there is such a thing, for themselves.” Meritxell looked up and watched the clouds, that looked like wisps of cotton wool, and thought about what she would look like from up there, and what clouds would think if they could. Maybe they’d look down and make up stories about that the towns and lakes and mountains were. Grandpa continued, “David Hume used to say that we could see the sun rise every day of our lives, which for me would have been thousands and thousands of times, and we could still never know that it would happen again the next day. I know now that just because my heart has been beating constantly all my life, which probably means billions of times, I don’t know that it’s going to beat the next minute. But there’s the sun, and here I am, and we can live perfectly well without being certain we know anything.” That fitted with what Dora had been saying, Meritxell thought, and Hume seemed a very appropriate name for the dog, who was lying most inelegantly in the shade of their swing. He seemed astonished and delighted every time anyone appeared, even if they’d only left the room a little while before. “I used to believe everyone,” she said, “and that felt lovely and warm and safe, but then I didn’t believe anyone or anything, and I couldn’t even if wanted to. I felt I was like I was completely alone, and that wasn’t comfortable at all.” “And yet,” said Grandpa, “even when you felt alone and uncomfortable and maybe lost, was any of that true? It 77

sounds as if you were fine, with clothes and a home and people and food; you just had a movie inside your head that said different!� Meritxell liked the idea that there was a movie or a TV set inside her head, because she could imagine everyone’s heads being the same, except they were all switched to different channels. It made her chuckle because she knew people at school who seemed to watch nothing but sports channels, and she could imagine funny conversations between them and other people watching films about nature. One would be talking about football or skiing or gymnastics, and the other about butterflies or locusts or great white sharks. It helped her think about how scientists and food faddists and climate people could all think they knew the truth, and why they might find it hard to understand why the others believed something different. It really had felt like a different programme had been switched on in her head a week ago. Hume, unaware of any of Meritxell’s inner adventure, let alone his great philosophical namesake, yawned and stretched, and decided it was time to think about food again. THE END




The girl who didn't know what to believe  
The girl who didn't know what to believe  

A story by Àngels Codina, Flora McCrone and Neil Stoker. Illustrations by Flora McCrone.