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THREE: Trial and Error Those who despise the trials to come will find themselves unworthy to proceed, Whilst the wisdom of the Ancients awaits For him that does not fear The Asking. Come on, you piece of annoying ceramic, just work, will you? Exhausted after three hours of intense concentration, Lottie was getting dangerously close to throwing the ‘special teapot’ out of her bedroom’s third-floor window. While she had always known her Gift wasn’t the easiest thing to work, she had hoped it would be relatively simple to utilise once she had the right tools for the job. Unfortunately, it was becoming rapidly obvious that this was not going to be the case. Lottie let out a roar of frustration and pushed her chair back from the table where the stubborn object in question remained obstinately immovable. Pacing the creaky floorboards of her dustily sunlit room, Lottie kicked angrily at a pile of clothes by her bed. Tidyness had never been one of her strong points – confirmed by the unkempt heaps of clothes, books and papers scattered dramatically around the room. She knew her mother despaired of her messiness, yet Lottie could never quite bring herself to keep the area around her clean and organised. After all, as she had protested earnestly on at least a thousand occasions previously, there was no point in tidying a room that would be untidy again in five seconds. Plus, as she also stated, it was completely impossible to find anything in a tidy room. ‘How’s it going?’ Sid beamed as he appeared at the doorway, adding, ‘Oh, I see,’ when he saw his sister’s face. ‘It won’t work. I’ve tried everything but it just refuses to play ball.’ ‘Why on earth would you want a teapot to participate in ball games?’ Sid smirked. ‘Oh, yes, that’s fine. Go ahead and laugh.’ ‘I’m trying to make you laugh, little sis.’ !"#$%&'()*+,(-.(!%#/0+(1(0"(!%#(2#3*%'4(5"*'%6! "#$%&'(&!)$*+$',-'!.//01./2.


‘Well stop it because you’re not funny.’ Sid sighed and gingerly entered the room, stepping over clothes piles and stubbing his toe on a large leather-bound book at the foot of the bed. ‘Ow! Don’t you ever clear this place out?’ ‘Ooh, brilliant!’ exclaimed Lottie, sweeping the book up and twirling it around as her brother collapsed in pain onto the bed. ‘I’ve been looking for that!’ **** It is possible to have too many biscuits. Unbelievable as it sounds, this was most definitely the case for Delora, tea lady at Number 21 Parkers Lane, the city residence of the Prime Minister. Ever since the sudden retirement of the former incumbent, things at the state residence had decidedly gone to pot. ‘What am I going to do with eighty-five boxes of Party Rings?’ Delora demanded. Alfie, the delivery man, shrugged his shoulders unhelpfully. ‘T’aint my problem, missy. I’s only bringin’ what was asked for.’ ‘Give me that!’ snapped Delora, grabbing his clipboard and holding it at arms’ length in order to read the impossibly tiny print on the delivery list, cursing her forgetfulness for leaving her glasses at home this morning. ‘Who ordered this?’ Tutting, Alfie peered over the edge of the clipboard and stabbed at the delivery note with a nicotine-stained finger. ‘Ul-ricke,’ he stated with all the sympathy of a disinterested teenager. ‘Says so, right there.’ Delora groaned loudly. Ulricke. ‘Right, I see. Well you just leave the boxes here and I’ll try and sort it.’ Alfie shrugged again and dropped the boxes off his pallet truck. ‘Whatever, missy. Makes no difference to me.’ ****

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Benjamin Ulricke was not having the best day. It wasn’t even ninethirty yet and already his desk was almost completely covered with sticky yellow and pink notes, all screaming for his attention. 0,07%(8!(1(9:;<=!(>>>?@AB?CDBE F%3,3'4&4$-'!5334$'6!%3,*73(893(!4-!2/&5!4-(&:!;!'-!<%-=,>!?!7-<3@!A&'!B CALL Cm. GENEK RE: RECENT OPS REPORT (EXPLANATION NEEDED!) ext. 201 B iscuit fiasco! Tea Lady on WARPATH. Phone HR ASAP - K :-S

‘Oh ghaf,’ he moaned to himself, lifting the last note up and depositing it in his already overflowing waste paper basket. ‘That’s all I need.’ Problems seemed to have become Ben Ulricke’s stock-in-trade in the few short weeks since his hurried appointment as Operations Manager at Number 21. No matter how good a day he thought he’d had, the next morning’s screaming stickies proclaimed otherwise. He’d read all the manuals, endured the many hours of training by his predecessor – he’d even devoted extra hours at home studying books with authoritative titles, such as: Integrate Your Way To Office Success, Operations Management for the Faint-Hearted and Manage This! But still, difficulties, misunderstandings and downright blunders seemed to beset him at every turn. ‘The tea lady’s gunning for you,’ smirked Anna Hinchy from the Prime Minister’s Office as he passed her in the corridor en route to Delora’s work kitchen. ‘You want to check she doesn’t put something nasty in your tea.’ ‘Can she do that?’ Ben replied, suddenly worried. ‘Well, all I’ll say is that one time when your predecessor upset her he mysteriously contracted a very nasty stomach bug. We almost had to move his direct line to the bathroom, if you know what I mean.’ ‘Ghaf, that’s just brilliant.’

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‘Relax, Ulricke. Just be nice to her and don’t mention anything about Party Rings, OK?’ **** ‘So, first you insult my intelligence by trying to blame a computer for the mistake and now you’re accusing me of not knowing my own biscuit requirements?’ boomed Delora as Ben visibly shrunk. ‘N-n-no, that wasn’t actually what I said, Mrs…’ ‘Delora. Just Delora. That’s all as anyone calls me round here, understand?’ ‘F-f-fine. Yes. Absolutely, Delora. If I could just…’ But Delora was in the middle of a magnificent molten flow of indignation and was not about to be pacified by Some Prat From Operations. ‘And Party Rings, I ask you! Who on earth orders Party Rings for the elected leader of our nation, hmm? Bourbons, maybe, Morning Coffees at a push - he’s even been known to enjoy a Gypsy Cream once in a while. But kiddies’ Party Rings? Just how old do you think our Prime Minister is, eh? Five?’ ‘I-I-I think it was a-um… mix-up with the order codes on the supplier’s site. I’m sure I ordered … um… what you wanted ordering.’ Delora’s eyes narrowed and she folded her arms slowly. ‘And what, precisely, did I order, eh?’ Ben gulped and silently pleaded with the blue linoleum floor beneath his feet to open up and swallow him whole. He was dreading this question. The truth was, he didn’t know what Delora had asked for. In the midst of all the other, far more pressing requirements of his time, the monthly biscuit order had been banished to a back seat in the packed coach-load of Things To Do. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he had a dim recollection of firing off a hasty order at lunchtime last week, when the possibility of securing a dinner date with the gorgeous new girl in the Staff Office claimed most of his attention.

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Considering the options available to him, Ben discarded any hope of lying his way out of the situation and plumped for the embarrassing truth instead. ‘I honestly don’t know, Delora,’ he replied earnestly. ‘My head is officially a Shed. I’m just in way over my head with all this and I’m losing track of everything.’ His honest confession brought about a miraculous change in Delora’s countenance. Gone was the thunderous expression, replaced by an altogether more motherly smile as she reached for the large enamel teapot on her trolley. Ben wasn’t entirely sure this was a good sign, but he was glad of the change nonetheless. ‘Well now, why didn’t you say so ‘afore, eh? Tsk, young ‘un, ‘tis nothing that can’t be solved, now. What you need is a nice cup of tea.’ Hesitantly, Ben accepted the steaming mug of tea, peering into it uncertainly. ‘There isn’t… um… anything in this, is there?’ Delora’s expression darkened. ‘I am a professional, Mr Ulricke. All’s I put in tea is milk and sugar on request. Tsk. That Anna from the PM’s Office should learn to keep ‘er trap shut. Me giving that nice Mr Hendersley the squits, indeed!’ **** ‘So… the book says you’ve been talking to the wrong end?’ Sid asked carefully, his eyes betraying his incredulity of the situation unfolding before him. ‘Yep,’ replied Lottie, shaking her head at her own stupidity. ‘So all this time you’ve been talking to the spout, when…?’ ‘When I should have been listening to the spout and talking to the lid!’ ‘Lotts, isn’t that a bit crazy?’ ‘I know! Honestly, Sid, I can’t believe I didn’t twig that from the beginning. All these hours wasted by being a complete ignoramus!’ Sid watched helplessly as his sister giggled to herself before recommencing the communication exercise. There was no point stating !"#$%&'()*+,(-.(!%#/0+(1(0"(!%#(2#3*%'4(5"*'%6! "#$%&'(&!)$*+$',-'!.//01./2.


the blatantly obvious, he reasoned; it was quite clear to him now that Lottie had completely lost her marbles this time. **** Delora was happily recounting tales of the ‘good old days’ at the PM’s residence to Ben when she felt a familiar buzzing in her tabard pocket. Stopping mid-flow, she stuttered some hasty excuse about a Fig Roll emergency and fled to the Ladies’ loo on the ground floor, running as fast as her thick-stockinged legs could carry her. Alone in the safety of a cream and burgundy cubicle, she pulled down the pine seat cover and sat on it. Producing the hi-tech communication device from her pocket, she squinted to read its glowing blue display. WONKY WHEELS FIXED 6PM C&C. BOURBONS AS ARRANGED. Quickly, Delora began to tap out a reply: BOURBONS NOT RECEIVED. PARTY RINGS IN PLACE. ANY GOOD? She waited, heart thumping wildly, willing the return message to arrive. After several sweat-inducing minutes, the device vibrated and lit up once again: PARTY RINGS MAY MAKE A NICE CHANGE… BRING SURPLUS ALONG. NO JAMMIE DODGERS ADMITTED. L XX Heaving a large sigh of relief, Delora dashed back to her work kitchen, where Ben was still seated, finding himself strangely peaceful after his mug of tea. ‘Was everything alright?’ he enquired, genuinely concerned, ‘with the fig roll thingy?’ Delora dismissed his question with a carefree flick of her hand. ‘Nothing that an old tea lady can’t handle, Benjamin. Now, I think I have some chocolate chip muffins in the back of my cupboard what need eating up soonish. Don’t suppose I can trouble you to try them for me? You know, quality control, like?’ !"#$%&'()*+,(-.(!%#/0+(1(0"(!%#(2#3*%'4(5"*'%6! "#$%&'(&!)$*+$',-'!.//01./2.


Ben shared a conspiratorial smile with his new, unexpected ally. â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Well now, Delora, I think I can probably help you with that.â&#x20AC;&#x2122; ****

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FOUR: A Call to Arms Under night’s blanket the faithful gather, Unseen by eyes that threaten freedom. While the way ahead becomes clearer, Another must lead the journey hence. Much later that day, long after the last of the city’s employees had wearily stumbled onto waiting trains, buses and monorails to head home, a small group of workers hurried through the now deserted streets. As large drops of rain fell onto the darkened streets, the group ducked their heads, passing silently through alternate pools of darkness and light from surrounding shop windows, illuminated signs and streetlamps. Making their way down a dusky side alley, the group continued their journey until they reached a seemingly deserted warehouse at the end of the alley. The sign above the door, framed by smashed light bulbs and painted in faded letters, read: M R VHOOTY’S BARGAIN CASH & CARRY

- for all your catering needs – Looking up at the sign, the leader of the group turned to the assembled party and nodded once. Slowly, the workers formed a line and, one after another, disappeared into the caliginous depths of the warehouse. **** Nobody suspects a tea lady. Across the known world, great corridors of power have echoed with the welcome, familiar rattle of tea trolleys for generations, pushed along by faithful, hardworking – but, crucially, unremarkable – ladies of a certain age and ilk, happily going about their daily business with a smile and occasional whistled tune. Presidents, dictators, Prime Ministers and despots have all succumbed to the delights of a nice cuppa with !"#$%&'()*+,(-.(!%#/0+(1(0"(!%#(2#3*%'4(5"*'%6! "#$%&'(&!)$*+$',-'!.//01./2.


something to dunk into it, unaware of the intelligence being gathered from under their very noses as they indulge in a spot of elevensies. Not since the invention of the teabag had an idea been as revolutionary as The Covert Underground Project – or T-CUP, as it was known by a select few. Faced with the growing need for covert intelligence operations in a time of increasing unrest between warring nations, a small group of Middle-Minds, loyal to the nation, devised the Tea Lady Project. Daring, yet devastatingly simple, the plan involved the recruitment and placing of hundreds of trained intelligence officers in the world’s Governments, Parliaments, newspapers and media, monitoring the daily workings of each organisation. Whilst occasional operational contact would be made with the tea ladies, they would largely remain as sleeping agents, undetected and unremarkable until they were required to act. For years, covert operatives such as Loonah at The Department of Civilised Society, Treena at The Gingko Observer and Delora at Number 21 did nothing apart from keeping their heads down and their eyes and ears open. Many of the ladies successfully served their time and happily retired without ever seeing active service – ending their days in financially comfortable circumstances as a reward from T-CUP’s high command. The sleeping tea lady operatives of T-CUP had been the Intelligence world’s best-kept secret for years. But all this was about to change… **** Deep in the dusty heart of Mr Vhooty’s Bargain Cash & Carry, a short, rotund lady of uncertain years stepped into the large blue-white pool of light coming from the only working bulb in the building – a lone floodlamp suspended high up in the rafters. She looked slowly around to make eye contact with the forty-or-so figures assembling around her in a five-deep semicircle. As each new person caught her eye, they ceremoniously removed their plastic rain-hoods to reveal a wide selection !"#$%&'()*+,(-.(!%#/0+(1(0"(!%#(2#3*%'4(5"*'%6! "#$%&'(&!)$*+$',-'!.//01./2.


of blue, pink, mauve and bottle-blonde immaculately styled hairdo’s; each one nodding back reverently as their leader acknowledged them. When all hoods were removed, the leader smiled and pushed her hands deep into the gold-edged front pocket of her tabard. ‘Finally,’ she smiled, her expression instantly relaxing the surrounding ladies, ‘T-CUP lives!’ This was met by polite applause, each lady keeping her eyes firmly fixed on her Commander-in-Chief. Milona Fairweather, the fabled head of T-CUP, smiled back at her operatives, hoping her serene countenance offered sufficient disguise to the fear rising within her. Yesterday morning – a mere two days away from her official release from duty – Milona had received the Operational Order – and, with heavy heart, quietly shelved the plans for her retirement cottage by the sea as she began the procedure to bring this meeting into being. ‘Many of us have waited almost an entire working lifetime for this to happen,’ she continued, walking slowly around the room, acknowledging each Tea Lady her gaze fell upon, ‘and, I daresay, few of us truly believed we would see T-CUP operational at all. Yet, here we are – and now our work begins in earnest.’ Reaching into the front pocket of her tabard, Milona produced a small remote control, which she pointed above her head. Way up in the rafters, something gave a loud click, followed by an industrial whirr. The Tea Ladies looked up to see a large white projector screen slowly unfurling towards the ground. Milona hit another button on the remote with practised flourish. A thin silver beam of light appeared from the wall behind the Tea Ladies and a face appeared on the screen. The kindly eyes of an elderly woman stared at them, causing a reverent hush to fall across the assembled operatives, as Milona hit the play button and the film commenced. ‘Ladies of T-CUP, I welcome you. My name is Glenda Trevithick and I am T-CUP’s Chief Operational Officer. You will know me as T-CO!"#$%&'()*+,(-.(!%#/0+(1(0"(!%#(2#3*%'4(5"*'%6! "#$%&'(&!)$*+$',-'!.//01./2.


ZEE. If you are watching this message, it is because our project is – finally – operational. Today is the culmination of years of meticulous planning, untold sacrifices and silent, devoted service. Many of our number are no longer with us; I myself may not be alive when you see this film. Many of us have given our lives, our dedicated daily service, in order to make today possible. Some of us have given more than anyone should be expected to offer within the line of duty. Whilst your work has gone unnoticed by the world, your efforts have not escaped our notice. TCUP exists simply because you believed. I thank you, all of you, from the bottom of my heart, for your tireless efforts. Your Commander-in-Chief will brief you shortly on the particulars of the situation that has brought T-CUP to Operational Status. However, before this happens, let me say this: you, ladies, carry the hopes of myriad nations upon your shoulders. Your tea trolleys are no longer simply tools of your trade – they are weapons of warfare. The future of our peaceful way of life now rests firmly in your hands. Remember, ladies: Nobody suspects a Tea Lady.’ Glenda’s matronly expression eased itself into a smile as the picture faded to black and the projector fell silent. Milona stepped forward. ‘T-CO-ZEE passed away last week,’ she stated, her matter-of-fact tone tempered slightly by a wobble at the edge of her voice. ‘Her dying wish was for this generation of Tea Ladies to see active duty. At the time, all I could do was assure her that you were all ready, willing and able, should the situation arise. It would appear she got her wish.’ Swallowing hard to remove the lump in her throat, she turned to face the screen and pressed another button on the remote control. The sound of a slide machine humming into life filled the cavernous interior of the Cash & Carry. ‘So, to business. We have an enemy rising, Ladies. An adversary with significantly stronger powers than our Founders ever anticipated. They are gathering support with alarming alacrity. And they are right here, on our doorstep, within the corridors of power.’ !"#$%&'()*+,(-.(!%#/0+(1(0"(!%#(2#3*%'4(5"*'%6! "#$%&'(&!)$*+$',-'!.//01./2.


A picture of Number 21, Parkers Lane flashed up on the screen, eliciting gasps from the floor. Delora’s knees began to shake slightly as eyes turned to face her. The slide clicked to reveal a shot of The Gingko Observer’s offices. Treena let out an involuntary cry. Loonah stared at the dusty concrete floor as The Department of Civilised Society appeared before them. Several other images followed – supermarkets, TV station headquarters, estate agents – until the final slide appeared, causing the Tea Ladies to break out into nervous chatter. ‘Yes, Ladies – even here.’ ‘But ‘ow is that possible?’ gasped Delora, voicing the question everyone was silently thinking. Milona sighed and turned back from the screen to address her operatives. ‘We have no idea. But somehow the enemy has infiltrated the very core of our Founders’ fortress. The University of Middle Minds has been compromised. We are – regrettably – on our own.’ ‘How are we to proceed without Middle Mind intelligence?’ a younger Tea Lady asked, hastily shushed by several older colleagues around her. ‘The question is valid,’ Milona answered. ‘I have no answers for you at present, I’m afraid. T-CAD-E are currently investigating alternate courses of action. We have some Higher Mind collaborators who have agreed to step into the breach for the time being. It is believed that there may be a third option – something new and untried – but it’s risky and time is not on our side. That’s all I can say for now. As of this moment, you are at STRENGTH ONE. Continue all regular duties as usual, but be on your guard. We expect the situation to change any day. Watch out for communications and maintain deep cover until further notice. Any questions?’ Loonah raised her hand nervously, panic constricting her throat, afraid of the answer she may receive. ‘Who is the enemy, Commander?’

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Milona acknowledged her obvious struggle with a grave smile and clicked the remote. Loonah took one look at the all-too-familiar face grinning smugly down at her from the screen and closed her eyesâ&#x20AC;Ś ****

to be continued...

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Travels With My Teapot (or Tea Ladies Arise!) ©Miranda Dickinson 2012 All Rights Reserved  

Part two of the epic British spy comedy thriller. What dreadful secret lies in store for the agents of T-CUP? And will Lottie ever figure ou...

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