Sunday, August 27, 2006

The First Rule of Being a Travel Assistant

"Why, that's nine hours of travelling, boy!" exclaimed Sir Percival Artemus Llewellyn Penhill III, KBE, PhD. "Haven't you ever heard of a plane?!"

"Oh moan," Sneaveweedle whined, feeling himself shrink.

He thought he had thought of everything. A few minutes after being hired on as Penhill's travel assistant, Sneaveweedle had gone straight to the Grivelsby high street to purchase anything and everything he thought a travel assistant might need. And since he still wasn't sure what exactly a travel assistant did, he purchased quite a lot.

First on his list were all 470 Ordinance Survey maps. Not surprisingly, the village of Grivelsby's solitary bookshop wasn't ready to meet such a demand; but Jessica-Rose McDaniels, the shop's owner, decided it was in her best interest to get a hold of the maps when Sneaveweedle began listing his 1,410 reasons -- three for each map -- for needing them.

Sneaveweedle was in the midst of a story about his great-great-great-aunt Maureen and the time she lost a toe to highwaymen in Glossop (which is located on Ordinance Survey map No. 1) when Jessica-Rose said she would gladly order all the maps if he promised to leave. She gently pushed him out of the shop and told him not to call for at least two weeks, as it would take that long for the maps to arrive. As soon as she was back behind the counter, the phone started ringing and she ripped it from the wall.

Concerned by the fact that his 6-year-old Nokia seemed be on the blink -- the majority of the numbers he tried to dial in Grivelsby just rang and rang -- Sneaveweedle's next purchase was a new mobile phone.

Most phone salesmen would stab a family member to hear a customer utter the words, "I want the best mobile phone available," but Sneaveweedle's insufferable personality had become urban legend within the village's customer service community. Grivelsby Mobile Solutions sales associate Nathan Jenkins had heard tales of Sneaveweedle and went to bed each night thankful of never having had to deal with him, and fearful that one day he would.

When he actually heard the voice like a squeaking gate that everyone had talked about, and saw the matted hair and green windcheater, Jenkins crumbled in fear. Despite all he had been taught, he had no choice but to provide the most efficient and straightforward service in the history of mobile phone sales.

Sneaveweedle signed up for myriad travel-related text alerts and programmed the numbers of several travel offices into his new phone. He collected brochures and timetables of all sort and began committing them to memory. He bought four different types of rucksack, several pairs of sturdy walking shoes, the equivalent of seven gallons of sunscreen, an assortment of bum bags, and eight multi-pocketed reporter-style vests. He bought so much travel-related stuff that it filled an entire room of his home.

He then went about planning his and Penhill's trip to western Ireland. He pored over the timetables and very carefully plotted out the route and came up with multiple contingency plans in case there were delays. He made all the necessary reservations and checked at least twice daily that those reservations were confirmed. He had even printed up a full-colour multi-page itinerary.

What he had not done, however, was consider the possibility that Penhill wouldn't want to travel by train and ferry.

"That same amount of time on a plane and we could be in Brunei, Sneaveweedle!" Penhill boomed, waving the itinerary in the air. The two were in his office at the internationally revered Grivelsby University.

"Mmmm," Sneaveweedle moaned, convinced he was about to lose his job. "I guess you were wrong to hire me."

"What?!" Penhill blustered, steadying himself on his massive oak desk. "Pardon? What did you say?"

"Mmmwhoa... I said, I guess you were wrong to hire me," Sneaveweedle stammered.

"Sneaveweedle, I am almost never wrong!" the professor shouted, pointing a bony finger at his assistant. "As memory serves me, which it always does impeccably, I have told you this before. I have been wrong only once in life."

Penhill took a deep breath and raised one of his bushy eyebrows before continuing on in his standard aristocratic boom.

"As it stands," he said, "I quite fancy a journey by train. What with all this rum business in the airlines as of late, a train will be a welcome respite. And it will be a perfect opportunity for a young man such as you to see more of this great country of ours. My only regret is that so much of our journey will be spent in Wales."

"Oh, I've seen plenty of the United Kingdom. I quite enjoy trains. Riding trains is one of my hobbies -- they are a great place to find people to talk to," Sneaveweedle said. "You meet the most interesting people. Summer is the best, when you can find lots of American tourists. They always just smile and nod and will listen to whatever you have to say. Often I will just get on the train and go wherever it takes me, which, admittedly, is always Winchester because all trains from Grivelsby go there but... OW!!"

Sneaveweedle brought his hands up to a sudden pain in his skull, covering his head as if he were in one of those 1950s films that tell you what to do in case of a nuclear attack.

"Do you know what this is?" Penhill asked, waving a large knotted stick.

"Hngh? No," Sneaveweedle moaned, peeking out from underneath his arms. "Did you just hit me with it?"

"It's a shillelagh, Sneaveweedle, known commonly as an Irish fighting stick. And, yes, I did hit you with it," Penhill said. "I say, in every working relationship there must be certain rules. Our first rule will be this: when it is time for you to stop talking, I will hit you with the shillelagh. Understood?"

"Oh, moan. I understand, but wouldn't it be easier to just... OOOF!"

"You see? It's time for you to stop talking," Penhill said. "Now, according to your itinerary we must leave for Fishguard Harbour at 7 a.m. tomorrow. I shall meet you in the village cafe for breakfast at six."

Sneaveweedle, keeping an eye on the shillelagh, simply nodded.

"Oh, and Sneaveweedle, let's be perfectly clear in that we are travelling via train and ferry not because you had a good idea, but because I am forgiving."


The above is a piece of Flickr Fiction, based on this photo by user Pablo Gavilan.
Also taking part in this week's Flickr Fiction are: Elisa, Isobel, Sarah, and Tadmack
The above piece is also the second episode in the story of Penhill and Sneaveweedle. The first episode can be found here.
I would love to hear any comments about what you might have liked or disliked, or what you think should happen next.


Banksy said...

Sneaveweedle sounds like a character by Mervyn Peake, which is a good thing, as he was a great writer.

He also went mad while writing the third book in the Gormenghast trilogy.

David T. Macknet said...

I'm beginning to believe that Sir Percival Artemus Llewellyn Penhill III, KBE, PhD is some sort of a god ... but I can't make out which one, nor are the initials any help, nor can I make out anything by using the letters as a word jumble.

Which god is he, to have been assigned the task of habilitating Sneavewheedle?

tanita✿davis said...

Sir Percival is possibly a god that got voted out of the Celestial Kingdom into hell or some Scientologist suburb, to be stuck with Sneaveweedle. Although I am loving the fighting stick. I think they should be automatic issue for all gods and all goddess type mortals, Irish or no. Imagine the people I could silence!

When I saw the pic for this week, Chris, I knew this chapter would be good. I hate to say it, but I would've gone by train and ferry too...

Sarah Stevenson said...

I'm starting to think no good story is complete without a shillelagh. Whee!

The 1410 reasons, three for each map--nice one. I can't wait to hear about their journey through Wales, which I'm sure will be bendigedig.

Anonymous said...

The characters are developing nicely Chris. I especially liked the bit about the maps. I would like to see some more development of Sneaveweedle and Sir Percy's relationship and more scenes with them together.

Anonymous said...

I love how Sir Percy is the only person who can deal with SW properly. I like the odd little details thrown in - ordering all the ordnance survey maps. I'm looking forward to more advantures.

Dave Morris said...

Penhill III is SO frighteningly similar to Penhill II, I can't even find the words.

I await the new material with a good measure of anticipation.