Master James O’Dowd received a memo from the Ministry of the Unique to attend a meeting at 9.07am the following morning at their office in 37.5A Sourgrapes Lane.
It was signed by Alfred Hawers, Esquire, Minister of the Unique.
There was a small footnote: “Take the 8.23 train to Grapeyard Station and follow your nose.”
He looked up Grapeyard Station and found it was at the end of the southern line. As for Sourgrapes Lane, there was no record of it on Google maps so he concluded there must be some truth in following his nose.
With so little information at his disposal, he readied himself the next morning by putting on his only suit and heading off to the train station, a paper bag in his back pack containing a sandwich which he decided he’d need when he had his lunch break.
What the Ministry of the Unique did he had no idea but was eager to discover.
By the time the train arrived at Grapeyard Station he was the last passenger, and the guard was surprised when the train stopped, and he alighted.
There was only one exit from the station and then only one path to follow. About fifty metres along the pathway he came to a sign.
FOLLOW YOUR NOSE, you are now on SOURGRAPES LANE.
He did so, and a little way, further along, came to another sign: FOLLOW YOUR NOSE – SOURGRAPES LANE – MINISTRY OF THE UNIQUE AHEAD.
Around a bend in the road he came to another sign:
THE MINISTRY OF THE UNIQUE. TURN ROUND THREE TIMES IN AN ANTI_CLOCKWISE FASHION and STEP FORWARD.
He did so and to his surprise there appeared a small letterbox in front of him: 37.5A SOURGRAPES LANE.
A path led from the letterbox off towards his right, and an arrow on the pathway indicated the rather obvious direction.
Nothing unique so far he thought though the letterbox did worry him, as he was sure it wasn’t there before he turned round.
The pathway wound up a steep hill, and he was puffing by the time he reached what he thought was the top.
He heard a voice say: “Not very fit is he?”
Then another voice: “No shame the younger generation are so unfit.”
Looking around he saw only a tree and a small rose bush beside the path. The voices seemed to be coming from them.
“You’d best push on,” said the first voice, “the Minister doesn’t like being kept waiting.”
“No point getting off on the wrong foot,” said the second voice.
“Hustle, hustle,” they chorused at him.
So Master James O’Dowd did just that and saw that the path continued up a little way further where a door appeared to be.
The door was further off than he anticipated and he was considerably more puffed by the time he reached it.
“They said he was a puffer,” a voice announced.
“Nothing unique about him,” chortled another voice and the two voices laughed together.
James was becoming quite disorientated by the voices, as he couldn’t discern from where they were coming. Looking about all he could see was the door standing there as if expecting him. On the door was a large brass knocker with a sign attached: MINISTRY OF THE UNIQUE, KNOCK THREE TIMES ONLY.
With curiosity by now beginning to overwhelm him, he knocked three times and waited.
He heard the shuffling of feet, the muffled whispering of voices and the unlocking of locks. As each lock was released there came the sound of someone struggling to carry out the necessary unlocking. A lot of huffing and puffing was coming from behind the door coupled with exclamations of relief as each lock gave way to whatever pressure was being exerted on it.
“That should do it,” came a voice from behind the door and with that the door moved slightly, creaking and groaning as if not having been opened for some time it was doing all it could to resist having to do so.
“Come on,” said the voice, “you put up a fight every time we do this.”
“Cause I’m unique,” came a voice that could only have come from the door, “ why else would I be here? You wouldn’t like me to be like every other door would you?”
“Of course not, just a tad more co-operative would be nice,” said the first voice now considerably more puffed.
“Its another boy,” announced the door, “ been a while since there was a boy at my door. Enter at your own peril,” cried the door finally giving way and opening up.
Inside the door, James could observe a huge hallway stretching down to a tiny dot in the far distance. A small man in a top hat poked his head around the door and looked at the still bewildered James.
“Come in boy,” he said waving James inside.
James stepped far enough inside for the door to close, and the small man stepped up to him looked him up and down and asked, “Just whom might you be?”
“James O’Dowd,” announced James.
“Did you get a memo and did you bring it with you?”
“No,” stammered James not realising he was meant to.
“No matter, I always ask that in case the next boy did bring the memo. If they did, that would be a unique thing, but as you didn’t, you’re no different to anyone else.”
“Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t know I was supposed to.”
“Not a worry, now follow me. It’s 9.06 we’ve a minute to spare.”
With that, the small man walked off down the hallway with James trying his best to keep up.
*The Ministry of the Unique was first mentioned in the below tale: