I decided to visit my aunt, I hadn't seen her in years, she was the black sheep of the family or so said my mum and dad.
I had just reached the front doorstep when something nudged me in the back and I fell down. The door opened, an android came out and helped me to my feet. “Hello Jimbo, I'm Lettie, you'll have to forgive Nottingham, he likes you. Come in, Mrs Pearson will be here in two minutes, she's walking down Laburnum Avenue.”
I walked inside, I glanced behind, a very small white horse followed me inside, it was very big inside. “How do you know my name? I mean...”
“Your iDross in your pocket told me everything I needed to know. Mrs Pearson will be here in 30 seconds.”
“Hello Jimbo, how you've grown, you're bigger than me now.” Mrs Pearson was indeed not small. A large blond woman wearing jodhpurs is quite something, I can tell you.
“I need to shower and change. Lettie will cook the dinner. You're invited to dinner. But first Nottingham can take you for walk. You do like fish, don't you?”
I put my arm around Nottingham's neck and off we went. Out of town, across the moors and up a steep hill, Nottingham knew the way.
It was called High Cliff, there was a sign, the iDross in my pocket started a long speech about... I told it to stuff it. There was a big stone table with a flat metal compass on it. There were bearing lines for all the surrounding hills, church spires and big chimneys; three to the east were labelled Winter Solstice, Equinox and Summer Solstice.
It was a calender. When the sun rose over Hill Top it was the shortest day in the year just before Xmas, Hill Crag marked the spring and autumn equinoxes, and Hill Bent midsummers day. Nottingham found the grass more interesting.
A gong sounded in my pocket, I pulled out my iDross and Lettie smiled at me and said “Dinner ready very soon!” I put my arm around Nottingham and we went back.
“Did you have a good walk, Jimbo? This is my wife, Mrs Tinge.” I hugged Mrs Tinge. “Pleased to meet you.” She was quite different from Mrs Pearson, she was dark-haired and much quieter, but I decided that I liked her too. I sat between them in the garden.
Nottingham examined the grass and Lettie served small glasses of sweet, deep-yellow Sauternes and baguette slices with splodges of pâté. That was followed by a chickpea salad with chopped gherkins and olives.
The main dish was a salmon poached in red wine and herbs, and the dessert was melon balls in apple juice.
We had a long chinwag, the sun went down, it was a warm summer evening. I noticed a weight on my shoulder, a very warm weight. It was Nottingham's head.
“Aha, a job for you, Jimbo. Grab that bucket there by the tap. Swill it out with water into the flowerbed. Go to the kitchen and put two bottles of beer into it. Fill the bucket with water to the red mark and put it on that table.”
Nottingham knew what to do.
I woke, it was dark, I was inside the house on a very large bed the size of a small swimming pool. Perhaps Lettie had carried me in from the garden. I could see the ghostly-white outline of Nottingham in the garden, he was probably asleep. Lettie was dancing in the moon light, what else would an android being doing at this time of the night.
“Wakeup, wakeup! We're taking the kids for a picnic.” The four of us walked down the road to The Home For Wacko Children, there stood almost twenty kids and two carers, Nora and Lorna. Off we went, out of town, across the moors to a meadow, it wasn't far to go.
In his mind he thought that in the mind were several pieces of string knotted together – too many knots made the kids super-active and jump up and down – highly strung – likely to run away. But too few knots made the kids too quiet – they just sat around doing nothing.
The kids from The Home For Wacko Children had too many knots in their heads or too few or perhaps none at all. But what could he do about it, he was just Nottingham with the short legs.
The kids loved Nottingham, he was white and furry and had four legs, rather short. The kids put their arms around him and hugged him, he liked that. They could sit on his back and go for a ride, a slow ride, more of a walk, he was safe to ride. The smaller kids rode with Lettie, she sat behind the child and held tight; she was very light, just an aluminium frame with lots of tiny servo motors.
But best of all you could put your arms around his neck and whisper all your secrets into his ear and he never ever told them to anyone else.
The kids loved Mrs Pearson too, she was also soft and cuddly, she sometimes carried the smaller kids. Mrs Tinge and that new guy, Jimbo, were also cuddly and soft.
Mrs Pearson and Mrs Tinge organised games for the children: sack races, egg-and-spoon races, three-legged races, of course rides on Nottingham, skipping – anything to tire the little screaming wretches.
Lorna and Nora picked up the kids when they fell over. Lettie kept guard, there were two boys who liked running away. Did she have eyes in the back of her head, of course she did, she had eight eyes in her head.
“And now it's time for what?” bellowed Mrs Pearson.
A little voice said lunch.
“That's right. Now spread these blankets on the grass and sit down, there's a packet of sandwiches, an apple and a bottle of water for everyone.” Less screaming and a lot of munching.
“And now it's time for what?” bellowed Mrs Pearson.
A little voice said snooze.
“That's right. Make yourselves comfortable.” Mrs Pearson grabbed two armfuls of children and fell onto a blanket.
The sound of coconut shells in my pocket: I pulled out my iDross. “It's a video of Nottingham one hour after he was born, isn't he cute? That's Nottingham in his day job, walking round the paddock at the riding stables teaching the kids to ride.”
“That's Mrs Pearson and me riding to the town square to get married, Nottingham is pulling the cart. And that's Lettie in the cart on All Fools Day. I'm sure that Nottingham thinks that he's human.”
Nottingham watched the kids get up and walk back to the home. They looked happy enough. Had he made them happier? Even with his short legs? He liked to think so.