This is a story about luck, or chance or fate. Some people believe that everything that happens is set in the stars at the dawn of time and some people believe everything happens chaotically and at random, and other people believe that we are totally in charge of our own fate. And most of us, well we’re not quite sure what to believe. Perhaps this story will help you make up your mind.
Re-introducing Wicked Uncle Jeff (who is not so wicked at all) and the family of Mum, Dad, Jeremy and Jemima.
Story by Bertie
Read by Natasha. Duration 20.40.
Proofread by Jana Elizabeth
It was Friday morning, and Mum had just managed to pack the kids off to school. But this Friday, Mum had a busy schedule ahead of her – because she didn’t just look after the children, she also worked from home. Her job was cooking for special occasions, like weddings and birthdays and parties. She made cakes and tarts, dainty sandwiches, little nibbles, and all sorts of tasty things on cocktail sticks, and then she packed them all up, put them in the back of the car, and drove them off to the event. Today she had to deliver a feast of snacks to an office leaving-do by 5pm. But before she picked up her electric whisk, she thought that she deserved a little time to herself with a cup of tea, a pastry, and the newspaper. As she glanced over the news headlines she thought to herself.
“Oh dear. Sometimes it seems like the only things that ever happen in the world are wars, disasters, and celebrity divorces. And the weather forecast isn’t much better…..”
But one article caught her eye. She couldn’t miss it really, because there was a photograph of Dad’s brother, Jeff, whom the family liked to called The Wicked Uncle because he was totally irresponsible. He never had a proper job, or settled down with a family, and yet he owned several houses and even more cars, boats and motorcycles.
In the picture, he was smartly dressed for the horse races known as Royal Ascot, and at his side was his latest girl-friend, tall, blonde and beautiful, and wearing a ludicrous pink hat. The article said that he was sharing a box at the races with a Russian tycoon whom he had met by chance on a yacht.
Mum sighed. “Some people have all the luck. Jeff seems to live a charmed life… why can’t we share just a little bit of his good fortune? I know. I’ll see what my horoscope says… it’s always fun to know in advance what sort of a day you’re going to have.”
Mum’s star sign was Libra, which was supposed to mean she was very fair and even-minded. In fact, Mum thought that her star sign gave a very accurate picture of her character. The stars seemed to describe all her family. Dad was a Taurus, which meant that he was stubborn, and that was certainly true, And Jeremy was Leo the lion, which meant that he was cut out to be a great leader, and Jemima was Aquarius, the water sign, which explained why she was so good at swimming. The truth was that really she believed in horoscopes. So as soon as she had finished reading today’s, she immediately wished that she hadn’t. It said:
“The best thing you could do today, is to stay in bed. All the stars and planets are opposed to you. Mars is waging war on you, Sagittarius the archer’s firing her arrows at you, Venus has deserted you, and Taurus the bull is charging you with its horns. Quite frankly, even staying in bed isn’t a fully safe option. Better hide UNDER the bed and stay there until after the weekend.”
Mum stood up crossly and tossed the newspaper in the pedal bin. “That’s ridiculous. I can’t hide under the bed. There isn’t room!… “ she exclaimed “Oh my stars! What a day this is shaping up to be. But I’ll just have to struggle on and cook those nibbles even if all the forces of the Universe are working against me.”
And all day Mum was very careful not to cut herself with a kitchen knife, not to drop a weight on her foot, and not to leave the kitchen whilst anything was cooking in case a fire started. But even so, everything seemed ten times more difficult than usual. She ran out of caster sugar, she burnt her quiche, and she put too much mustard powder in the french dressing. And then, to top it all, she tripped over Rudy – he was the cat – and dropped her egg whites all over the floor. Rudy started to lick up the goo.
“A black cat,” thought Mum. “Get out of here you,” she screamed. “You’re nothing but Bad Luck!”
While Mum was bravely overcoming every obstacle that cruel fate threw in her way, Dad was also having one of those days. He was stuck in the mother of all traffic jams. There had been an accident on the flyover, and the police were investigating. They were painstakingly picking up every fragment of glass, labelling it, and putting each one into its own separate plastic bag. And to make matters worse, Dad was desperate to go to the loo. As he sat at his wheel fuming and sweating, he called the office to give them an update. A policeman tapped on his window.
“Excuse me sir, don’t you know there’s a law against using your mobile phone whilst driving? And by the way while we are about it, your front wheel is on the yellow grid. You can’t stop here. You’re blocking the traffic. That will be two fines in one.”
And Dad had to get out of the car, show his driving licence, and answer all sorts of questions while four policemen examined his tyres and searched his boot for lethal weapons.
It was half-past one before Dad arrived at work.
“That makes sense,” he thought as he turned on his computer. “It’s Friday the 13th. I should have called in sick.”
But Friday the 13th, which is supposed to be an unlucky day, had been just fine for Jeremy and Jemima at school. Jemima had a swimming lesson – which she loved – and Jeremy was just glad because it was the end of the week, and on Saturday he would be playing football. When they got home though, they found that Mum was frantically searching for her car keys.
“I’m having a bit of a day,” she said, sounding like she was having a nervous breakdown. Jemima knew it would be best to stay out of Mum’s way. Even Rudy was hiding in the coat cupboard. But Jeremy asked:
“Have you looked in the kitchen drawer?”
“Of course I have. Do you think I’m stupid or what?” snapped back Mum.
But Jeremy opened the drawer, which was where they usually kept the keys, and lo and behold, that was where they were. Mum mumbled thanks and grabbed some trays to take out and load into the car.
“Don’t just stand there, help me” she yelled at the kids. “And mind you don’t drop anything. That would be all I need right now!”
Ten minutes later, Mum was gone, and Jeremy went up to his room to program his website while Jemima went to tell Rudy that it was safe to come out of the cupboard now. Then Jemima went upstairs to put the finishing touches to her school project all about Queen Cleopatra of Egypt.
When Mum got home she kicked off her shoes, put her feet on the sofa and said:
“What a day. Thank goodness it’s over!”
But it wasn’t. Ten minutes later the phone rang, and an angry voice asked where the food was for the party.
“But I just delivered it,” protested Mum.
“Not to here you didn’t,” exclaimed the voice.
And after quite a bit of arguing, Mum realised that she must have delivered the food to the wrong office. Some greedy office workers had accepted her snacks and were now celebrating the end of the week with a free feast! While the real party was going on without any food. Mum had wasted her time and money, and at the end of it all, she had lost a customer.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, Dad arrived home looking totally fed up. He had left the office early because he was feeling ill, but on the way back, smoke started rising from the bonnet of his car. The breakdown van towed it away to the garage, and he came home by bus.
“I don’t think I can keep on at this job,” he said. “Ever since the office moved, I spend all my time getting there and back.”
And to top it all, Rudy the cat was sick; Not just sick but had diarrhoea - and not in any old place, like out in the garden or on the kitchen floor but in Jemima’s bedroom, and not just in Jemima’s bedroom, but all over her project on Queen Cleopatra.
There was a terrible scream from the top of the house
“Oh my goodness, what’s happened?” exclaimed Mum.
And then it was followed by a long heart-felt wail….. “My Project !!!!!!!!”
Poor Jemima. She had worked so hard on her project. And now she was going to have to spend the whole weekend doing it all again. And she would have to miss her ballet class on Saturday and her swimming lesson on Sunday.
But at least Jeremy was OK. Nothing had happened to him. He was happily working on his computer until way too late. When Mum came to wish Jemima goodnight, she was sitting on her bed hugging a big bear that she had loved when she was little and looking very sad.
“Mum,” she asked. “Do you think our family’s cursed? I mean, we always seem to have bad luck.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Mum. “We just had a bad day. There’s no such thing as a curse or bad luck. Things just happen sometimes, that’s all.”
But Mum didn’t sound at all convincing. You see, she did believe in bad luck. And in the morning, when Dad slipped on some sick the cat had made in the night, and landed in a heap on the kitchen floor, she couldn’t hide her true feelings any more.
“Listen kids,” she said as she helped a badly shaken Dad up to his feet, “I know this sounds a bit spooky, but we had all better be extra careful this weekend. My horoscope says that lots of bad things are going to happen, and judging by the last 24 hours, it’s coming all too true.”
And that really scared Jemima. “Mum, do you think like, anything really really bad could happen? Like, could we die?”
And Jeremy thought that was absolutely hilarious. He was still laughing about it as Dad drove him to the soccer fields.
He was the goal keeper and he knew that saving the ball required loads of skill and just a few drops of good luck. Fortunately his luck seemed to be in. The other side had some great shots at goal, but Jeremy leapt, stretched and dived and kept the ball from crossing the line. The score was nil – nil until, ten minutes before the final whistle, his team’s defender tripped up the other side’s striker. The referee blew his whistle and pointed to the penalty spot.
The centre forward was about to take the penalty. He placed the ball on the spot and considered the goal. Jeremy reckoned that he was eying up the top left corner of the posts. His opponent ran up and struck the ball cleanly with his boot. Jeremy sprang through the air like a ballet dancer and just reached the ball with his little finger. As he landed on the muddy ground he knew that he was the hero of the match, but oh, his little finger was hurting. The ball had bent it back.
An hour later the phone rang at home. Jemima picked it up, before calling out:
“Mum…. it’s the hospital, Jeremy’s in Accident and Emergency.”
Mum prepared herself for the worst. She picked up the phone as bravely as she could and she had to ask the nurse to repeat what had happened three times before she understood that her son had probably broken his little finger, that his football trainer had to leave, and that somebody should come wait with Jeremy until he had an xray.
“Yes, I’ll come right away,” said Mum. She went to the drawer to look for her keys, but they weren’t there.
“Don’t you remember?” said Jemima. “Dad’s car is broken-down, so he took yours to his golf match…. .but do you know what? Uncle Jeff lives not far from the hospital, maybe he could go and wait with Jeremy.”
“Oh I expect he’s away on one of his exotic holidays,” said Mum. “You know Uncle Jeff, he spends his weekends scuba diving or trekking in the Himalayas.”
But in fact Uncle Jeff was having a quiet weekend at home for once, and when Mum called, he said he would be only too pleased to help out, and besides, it would be an opportunity to catch up with his nephew and have a good chat while they waited.
And by the time Uncle Jeff got to the hospital, Jeremy had already had his xray, and a splint was holding together two fingers on his left hand.
“Good job your trigger finger’s still in tact,” said Uncle Jeff. “Come on, let’s go clay pigeon shooting. I reckon we’ve safely got two hours while your Mum thinks you’re still waiting at the hospital.”
“Wow!” said Jeremy. “You bet!”
But back at home, Jemima and Mum had yet more anxiety. Rudy was still sick and didn’t want to come out of the coat cupboard. They both wished that they had taken him to the vet that morning – but now it was Saturday afternoon, and they would have to wait until Monday.
“This has to be the most unlucky weekend any family ever had” said Jemima.
But Jeremy came back looking pleased with himself. After all, he was the hero of the match, and though he didn’t let on to Mum about it, he had a great time clay pigeon shooting.
When uncle Jeff heard about Rudy he said: “Don’t worry. I know a woman who can do wonders for any cat. She has healing hands.”
And although Mum didn’t have much faith in Uncle Jeff’s cat-healing friend, she was willing to give anything a try. So Jeff took poor Rudy off in his basket and Jemima went with him. They returned later with a very well and satisfied looking cat.
“That’s a miracle. What did she do?” asked Mum.
And Jemima explained:
“She said that he was suffering from stress and all he needed to do was to chill out. So she gave him a massage for an hour, and he was purring away in cat-heaven – and look – now he’s completely better.”
“Well, well,” said Mum. “Jeff seems to have an easy answer to every problem.”
Mum asked Uncle Jeff to stay for supper and he said that he would be delighted to eat some proper home cooking. She made her special cottage pie with steamed vegetables that she had grown in the garden and while they were eating, Jemima asked:
“Uncle Jeff. Why are you so much luckier than we are? I mean, like, you’re Dad’s brother. But everything always seems to turn our right for you, and Dad, well, he just doesn’t seem to have any luck at all.”
Dad gave his daughter an annoyed stare, but he couldn’t protest as his mouth was full of cottage pie. Jeff saw this and smiled affectionately at his brother.
“Well first of all, I don’t think I’m luckier than your Dad. Not one bit. He has a beautiful family, and I just have strings of girl-friends. In many ways, I’m quite envious of his steady life. And secondly, luck is just all about how you see things. Everything that’s happened to you this weekend could be seen as bad luck, but if you look at it differently, it could also be seen as good luck.”
“Good luck?” exclaimed Mum. “What’s been good about anything that’s happened yesterday or today?”
“Well lots of things,” said Jeff. “For instance, you delivered your party snacks to the wrong address. You lost a customer, but I’m willing to bet that the other office were very impressed by your delicious cooking. And probably they are feeling just a bit guilty about eating your food for free. So I see that as an opportunity. They are your next customer, and perhaps they will be a bigger and better customer.”
“And Dad’s having trouble getting to work since his office moved. So why doesn’t he suggest to them that he works from home? Anyone can work from home these days, and it’s a much better lifestyle.”
“What? Have him at home all day? I’m not so sure about that idea,” said Mum.
But Jeff went on. And as for Jemima. Yes, her project was ruined, but that gave her a chance to do it again, and do it even better. And even Rudy being sick was good luck for him, because he scored an enjoyable cat massage. As for Jeremy, yes he broke his finger, but he saved the match, and breaking his finger to do it made him even more of a hero in the eyes of his mates. And finally all this has been a wonderful opportunity for a family get-together – which is something we don’t do often enough.”
“So actually Jemima,” said Uncle Jeff, “I don’t especially have any good luck. In fact, I’m always getting into all sorts of trouble and scrapes. You lead a much more steady life, and in some ways, I’m quite envious of you. But I believe that the whole trick is not to see our little problems as bad luck, but to see them as opportunities.”
And although Mum didn’t entirely see things the way Uncle Jeff did, she now understood the secret of how he seemed to be always followed around by good luck.