When Jimmy Deal falls through a hole in the ground, at his local fairground, he enters a world where anything can happen.
Weird and wonderful characters come his way, as well as a vital stick of blue chalk.
A fast-paced, madcap adventure full of twists and turns.
An extract from the book
The Photograph Man
Jimmy Deal fingered the photograph nervously. The man had given it to him only yesterday – and now he had come back to complain. Jed was the old man's name, Jed McFee, Jimmy had found him hunched outside the fairground like a bundle of old rags waiting for wash day. What Jed had really been waiting for, of course, was his next customer, and Jimmy had been his next customer but now Jimmy was going to complain. As he fingered the photograph he kept walking, step by nervous step, closer and closer, to that disappointing fairground. The rides were rubbish, and all the attendants had dirty fingers and bad breath. It was the same every year, and Jimmy always said he wouldn't go back – but every year he went back, and this time he had come to complain.
Jed was there, an old man with a strange blue hat, old woolly gloves, and a bad cough. He was still sitting polishing his camera. Jimmy took a deep breath and ran up to him. He was about to speak when the ground opened up and swallowed him. Now this had never happened before outside that fairground, Jimmy was sure of it, but this year – at that very moment in time, the pavement cracked in two and yawned like a big polar bear and Jimmy fell down the gap into nowhere. He felt like he was flying – which was great for a while, but he never seemed to reach the ground, he just kept falling and falling until it all got quite boring. Jimmy even yawned, which was a mistake, because that was the moment he found himself in front of Jordan, Jordan Badd. Now Jordan Badd wasn't in the habit of meeting school boys, especially on his day off, so he was not in a happy mood. He was in the kind of bad mood that made his hair turn orange and his ears turn purple and spiky. He was wearing a big yellow coat, with a green waistcoat underneath, and he had bushy brown eyebrows and lips that shone in the dark. Jordan was not the sort of person you would ever meet in the playground. He came out of nowhere – which was exactly where Jimmy had landed.
Jordan sighed noisily, and began picking his teeth with the end of a stick of green chalk.
“Yes?” he asked and he sighed again.
“Yes what?” asked Jimmy, and he looked around to see what nowhere looked like.
“Yes – what have you got to complain about?” Jordan barked grumpily.
Jimmy's mouth fell open, so Jordan pushed it shut again.
“Ulp! I er... how did you know I wanted to complain?” Jimmy demanded.
“I am Jordan Badd you know!” said Jordan Badd.
“No. I didn't know actually. And anyway – who cares? I'm Jimmy Deal.”
Just then a little golden telephone went flying past, it had wings with little jokes written on the side and it made a noise like a mosquito with hiccups. Jimmy laughed.
“Oh do come on!” Jordan snapped and he grabbed the photograph from Jimmy's hands.
“Hey! That's mine,” said Jimmy. “And it's not right. Yesterday that man outside the fair took that photo of me and...”
“Well, look at it! I've gone!”
The two of them stuck their noses very close to the picture and looked at it carefully. Jimmy was right. He wasn't in the photo, there was only a strange white outline where his school uniform had once been, and a yellow glow in place of his hands and head.
“I look well weird!” said Jimmy.
Jordan looked him up and down, “You can say that again!” he said.
“No!” said Jimmy. “Not now, in the photo I mean! Well weird!”
Jordan tutted loudly and disappeared into thin air.
Back outside the fairground Jed was about to take another photograph. It was a pretty picture of two twins in their new outfits. He smiled his strange toothy grin at them and clicked away. The girls fidgeted, pretended they were not enjoying the attention, pinched each other's ribs and eventually stood still. By the time they were walking away with two slightly sticky photographs they had already begun to fade from their own pictures. Jed smiled to himself and coughed at his camera.
“Well... you see Jimmy Deal,” said the headmaster, “life's not always easy you know. It's all right you coming here complaining about photographs.” The telephone flew past again. “And stop laughing boy!”
The headmaster snapped his fingers and marched Jimmy off to a waiting room – it was full of other people who had disappeared from their own photographs. There was a group of old ladies from an old coach trip, a mother with a screaming baby, and a group of giggling girls with bubblegum and long hair. Soon the twins would be joining them as well. There was also the headmaster, Jimmy's headmaster – just Jimmy's luck to complain about a photograph on the same day as his own headmaster, Mr Thwack. “Wacky” Thwack they all called him.
“I thought teachers didn't exist on their day off!” Jimmy suddenly blurted out.
Wacky Thwack looked at this impertinent boy through his sellotaped glasses. “Never mind about that – what were you doing having a photograph from a strange man?”
“I have lots of things from strange men!” said Jimmy.
“Do you now?”
“Yes,” said Jimmy. “Like homework. And lessons, and assemblies. All from very strange people.”
“Don't be clever laddie!” said Wacky Thwack.
Jimmy shook his head. “But hang on,” he said, “that doesn't make sense – every day at school you tell me I should be clever...”
Just at that moment there was an explosion, and gallons of golden syrup began to flood into the room. Everyone turned yellow and sticky – even Mr Thwack, though he pretended nothing had changed. The giggling girls got it all in their hair, while the screaming baby stopped screaming and started sucking syrup. It was all rather messy really – Tuesday had not turned out to be the day that Jimmy had expected. All he wanted was his money back from Jed – not a room full of Wacky Thwack and sticky syrup. It was getting rather distressing when Jordan Badd appeared again and plucked Jimmy from the shiny, golden river and plonked him in a bright silver sports car. It had five wheels, three exhaust pipes and two steering wheels.
“Where are we going now?” Jimmy asked.
“Think of a place.” Jordan told him.
Before he could stop himself, he had done it – Jimmy had thought of school, he knew he shouldn't have done it, but it was just like pink elephants, if anyone ever told him not to think of a pink elephant with a pot belly and glasses then that was all he could think about for the rest of the day. So despite not wanting to think of school, it was the only thing in his head. In the same amount of time that it took Jed to take a picture with his unusual camera, there they were, sitting in the sports hall staring at the ropes and the basketball net.
“At least there's no golden syrup,” Jimmy said.
There was no answer from Jordan because Jordan Badd wasn't there, he had gone, or perhaps he had never actually come, Jimmy wasn't sure. He sighed and shook his head. What was going on? First the photo, then the hole in the ground, followed by Wacky Thwack, the syrup and the bright silver car. Would he ever get out of this mess?
Jordan had given him back the picture of himself and Jimmy looked at it – no joy, he was still just a white outline with a yellow head. What would his mother say, especially if he came out like that on the school photograph. She had been worried enough that he might forget his tie – if his head was missing it would be the end.
Jimmy realised he was still in the car, he discovered this fact when he tried to stand up and couldn't because of the smooth caramel coloured seat belt. And that was when things began to look up. He wondered if the car might take him somewhere else if only he could stop thinking about school. A train flashed into his mind and in the next moment he was sitting on the Glasgow to London express with the men in their business suits and the women with their hair styles and briefcases. No one seemed to mind that he was the only person sitting in a bright silver sports car. They didn't smile at him, of course, but then they didn't smile at anyone.
In the far corner of the carriage sat an old man with a top hat, a dusty coat and a long white beard. He was writing furiously in a large black book. Jimmy unclipped the smooth caramel seat belt and walked over. He dropped down into the seat next to the man.
“You're having problems aren't you?” the old man said, his voice croaking and quivering like a rusty old door opening.
“How do you know?” Jimmy asked.
The old man smiled and nodded, he showed Jimmy the book he was using. Jimmy couldn't understand it, he wondered if it was French, or Australian – they were the only two foreign languages he could remember.
“Backwardian,” said the old man. “It's all back to front. The words are all going backwards. It's called backwardian.” He flipped through the pages, there was nothing at the front of the book, but the second half was full. Jimmy looked closer, he spotted the word 'ymmiJ', he thought that he recognised it.
The old man laughed, “Yes! ymmiJ – Jimmy, it's you – backwards!”
He seemed to find this very amusing, but Jimmy didn't. He didn't want to go backwards at all, he wanted to grow up and play for Tottenham.
“Don't worry,” said the old man. “It's all rather simple. I sit on this train and look at people and write it all backwards, that way I know what's going to happen instead of what's already happened. You see that man there – he's going to spill his coffee, just about... now! Oops, there it goes! I don't make it all happen, but writing backwards helps me to see it all. Now just look at that woman over there...”
“Yes, but what about my problem,” said Jimmy. “My photograph. My mum will be very unhappy if I appear in the school picture without my hands!”
“Hmm, you're right. It's old Jed – he keeps using that camera without any film in it.”
“But forgetting to put film in your camera doesn't give you any pictures at all!” said Jimmy.
“Yes it does – with a bit of imagination. The problem is most people don't have Jed's imagination – so it all fades away. That entire picture of yours will be gone by tomorrow morning I'm afraid. Yes, I'm afraid so – it says it here on page 0005.”
“No five thousand – backwards,” said the old man. “0005. Fun isn't it?”
“No! I wish I'd never been to the fair this year, all the rides are rubbish.”
“Oh, well...” the old man began flipping the pages forwards, or rather backwards, in his book. “Hmm... Well, I suppose... perhaps I could. All right then, just this once. Pass me that rubber.”
The old man rubbed out three lines of writing. There was a sudden flash of light, Jimmy's stomach turned upside-down inside as if he had just gone over a hill too fast, and the next thing he knew it was Monday morning again and he was sitting at home eating toast.
His mother was there too, not looking at all distressed. She even smiled at him.
“Going to the fair, Jimmy?” she said. “It's back in town you know.”
Jimmy swallowed too much toast at the very thought of it and had to be slapped on the back several times. Eventually he shook his head, his eyes still watering.
“I'm not going anywhere near that fair ever again,” he said. “Ever!”
“Well, don't choke on your toast dear, there's no need for that. Here have something on it to help it down. How about some golden syrup?”
As Jimmy choked again his mother shook her head. Jimmy decided it was time to go back to bed.
+ + +
In his bedroom a convention of clouds had gathered. This was quite a surprise to Jimmy for though they often gathered in the park when he wanted to play football with his friends on a sunny day, he had never seen them in his bedroom before. They were huge gloomy clouds which had crept in through his bedroom window and filled the room with their grey faces. He caught one of them slipping into his sock drawer, it was heading for his nice red ones with the snowman on. There were two more squeezing inside his pyjamas. Jimmy chased them out, beating them with an old, Spiderman comic. A scowling purple faced cloud with a silver lining crept up on him and made him jump under the covers quickly. Jimmy began to wonder what was going on when there came a tapping noise on the window. It was the postman, not looking at all like a cloud of any size or shape. But he was holding a letter, it was addressed to: Jimmy Deal, Hiding Under the Covers, Deep in his bed, Shaking like a leaf, Worried. It wasn't his usual address, that was 35 Acacia Avenue, but it was his present situation so Jimmy accepted the letter and watched the postman go whistling down the road, folding letters into paper aeroplanes and then launching them at the letter boxes of the other houses in the street. Jimmy guessed that that was why they never got any post, the paper aeroplanes were far too big and flimsy to get through the shiny steel mouths of the letter boxes. Jimmy sat up in bed and opened the letter. It said this:
Clouds chasing people? Now you may think that sounds very unusual, but many people walk around all day with them hanging on their shoulders, watching their every move.
Gloomy, grumpy, grouchy clouds... Tired, terrible, tangled clouds... Fearful, frantic, ferocious clouds... Lurking, lolloping, leering clouds... Clouds that can swallow a person whole.
Jimmy stopped there, he had read enough, it was getting cold in his bedroom and he shivered. The clouds were turning frosty and before he knew it snow began to drift out of their mouths and flutter onto the carpet. Soft white flakes twinkled and settled on his nose. The weather in their house was taking a turn for the worse...