Hotel Topologika
Little Seedbottom
Near Stratford
1st April 1989
My dear Aunt Jocasta

How are you? How is Uncle George? I hope you got my letter from Paris. The Louvre was just amazing, and the hamburgers in the fast food opposite Gare du Nord were nearly as good as yours.

I will be eternally grateful to you both for enabling me to see Europe. Despite having been born and brought up in the States, I still feel, like you, so British! Seeing the land of one's ancestors in one's youth is surely better than hanging on for one's retirement. It's a shame yout health wasn't up to the trip.

Thank you for your card. Yes, I had an interesting twentieth birthday. I treated myself to an excursion to Startford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's town. 'Treat' is probably not the correct word. It was the weirdest trip I've ever known.

It began like any other. According to the coach driver, we had six hours free. I tried to stay with Araminta (that girl I wrote you about from Paris) but she went off with some 'Nam veteran.

Anyway, Ann Hathaway's cottage was out of this world. I had a cup of English tea, then bought some postcards (I've put one in with this letter to save a stamp), then found this quaint old antique shop. That's when things started to go wrong. Well, not exactly wrong. They just started to, well, happen. I'll try to explain.

This old, brass cauldron in the shop window caught my attention as I walked by. The shop was run by three old ladies, and when I said that I was interested in viewing the cauldron, they flipped. I mean they seemed to think I really did want it, and wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. Of course there was no way that I could have shipped it back to the States. It was even more enormous than that old rocking chair you used to have! (Did Uncle George ever fix it for you?)

My refusal seemed to offend them. They began to cluck and moan. I felt like I was in a Spielberg movie! I was out of there quick, I can tell you. I could swear one of them was after me with a broom. Outside the shop was this enormous pine tree which seemed to groan - yes, groan - as I ran past it. I took refuge in a pet shop a couple of blocks away, where an asp tried to bite me! I dived into the museum (strange to be in a country where people have to pay to check that no one has run off with their own heritage). I got out of there when an ass's head looked me up and down.

Well, all this had brought on a migraine, so I asked a policeman where I could find a drug store. He looked at me kinda strange, as did the chap in the drug store, shoving this green, bubbling phial under the counter as he sold me some pills.

Outside, the spring sun was still up, so I headed for the river. The Avon was as beautiful as Fodor's said it would be. I began to feel a whole lot better, strolling along, letting the pills and the fresh English air do their thing. Maybe I'd imagined it all. Maybe I was just overtired. I'd sure done a heck of a lot of travelling in the last few days. Maybe it was all just a bad dream, and I'd wake up in a minute or two back on the couch.

I must have taken a wrong turning. Suddenly I had the strangest of feelings. Don't ask me how, but right then I began to realise what was going on, and the thought sent a shock down my spine. Before my very eyes, the scenery was changing. The woods across the river looked like Scotland, the streets might have been Egypt, or London or Venice - anywhere. There was nothing I could get my bearings from. Modern Stratford was leaving me behind.

Even the ground at my feet looked different, unnatural. It was made of boards. I wondered if I was on some sort of platform or stage. Maybe I'd strayed onto some sort of riverside film set, I thought: that would explain some things. But the whole area looked too realistic: those were real trees, real buildings, and across the river, the suddenly muddy, boiling river, were real people.

But wait: why were they pointing at me? It was horrible; I hate people staring at me. This was worse: they were talking about me too, their voices drifting across the churning water: "Marry, 'this a strange churl, that standeth over there. Methinks it knoweth not the time of day!"

Then I realised something even more horrible. Their clothing was completely different to mine. Where I was wearing Levis and my old football shirt (I know you disapprove of that, Auntie, but when one is travelling) these olde worlde hippies had long flowing garments that swung stiffly in the increasingly chill breeze. It felt like winter, was winter, and it would be dark within minutes.

To cut a long story short, I was standing in a world that, although it was at that moment definitely NOT Stratford-upon-Avon, still had this Shakespearian flavour. I'd been transported into the Bard's world - the world of his plays - and players.

You're thinking your nephew's gone nutty, I suppose, that Europe has gone to my head. Please please believe me, Auntie. This REALLY happened. I had to use all my wits to get back to the modern world. Luckily I didn't need to know all that much about the Bard himself - or his works.

No time for any more right now, Auntie. I'll write again in a day or so. Don't worry about me. How is Uncle George getting on in Kashmir?

Your loving nephew


Keyword      AVON Hints                                            Hint
ANGLER       What can I do with the angler?                          10
ARDEN        How can I get through Arden?                            65
             What can I do at the clearing in Arden?                 66
ASP          How can I avoid being killed by the asp?                39
ASS          How can I avoid having an ass's head put on me?         33
BANQUET      What is the purpose of the banquet?                     49
BARGE        How can I get off the barge?                            40
BEACH        What can I do at the beach?                             35
BEAR         How can I get past the bear?                            21
BIRNHAM      What can I do in Birnham Wood?                          51
BLOOD        How can I remove the smell of blood from my hands?      48
BUTT         I can't get past the butt of Malmsey wine.               7
CAPITOL      How can I avoid being killed in the Capitol?            32
CASKETS      How can I tell in which order to open the caskets       17
             on January 6th?
             How can I tell in which order to open the caskets       31
             on March 15th?
             How can I tell in which order to open the caskets       42
             on June 24th?
CAULDRON     Which object should I choose from the witches'           1
             cauldron on January 6th?
             Which object should I choose from the witches'          30
             cauldron on March 15th?
             Which object should I choose from the witches'          46
             cauldron on June 24th?
CELLAR       How can I use the information from the Boar's Head      20
CHEST        How can I get the large chest at the beach?             36
             How can I open the small chest?                         67
CLIFF        How do I get down the cliff?                            56
COLOSSUS     How do I get past the colossus?                         58
DRINK        I can't win the drinking contest.                        6
DROWNING     How can I avoid drowning in the river?                  29
DUCATS       How can I avoid having to give back the ducats?         38
DUNSINNIN    How can I get back from Dunsinnin?                      52
FARM         I don't know what to do at the farm.                     3
FOG          How can I get through the fog?                          55
GAOL         How can I get out of gaol?                              24
GHOST        What can I do with the Scotsman's ghost?                50
GOLDSMITH    How can I avoid the goldsmith taking my ducats as       62
             How can I avoid the goldsmith taking back the           63
             How can I get back past the goldsmith when I'm          64
             carrying neither the chain nor the ducats?
GRAVEYARD    How can I get east of the graveyard?                    41
HOUSE        How can I get into the house?                           25
             How can I avoid being killed in the house?              28
HOVEL        How can I get into the hovel?                           27
HUNCHBACK    How can I keep the kingly hunchback?                    34
ILLYRIA      How can I tell which house to enter in Illyria Court?   15
LEAR         How should I advise King Lear?                          19
MAZE         I can't get through the maze of mountain paths.          2
MELTING      How do I avoid my flesh melting?                        44
MOOR         How can I avoid being killed by the Moor?               14
MOOR'S CODE  How can I decode the Moor's code?                       16
NAME         What name should I give when I'm asked?                 61
OBJECTS      Tell me the use of a particular object.                 69
PASSWORD     How can I interpret the jester's password?              18
PHIAL        What should I do with the phial?                        23
PINE         What can I do with the howling pine?                    26
PORPENTINE   What is a porpentine?                                   59
             How can I get the porpentine?                           60
SAVE         Why is saving sometimes regarded as an "ill deed"?      22
SHIELD       How can I get the shield from the Scotsman?             54
SHREW        How can I get the shrew?                                37
SLINGS AND   How can I avoid being killed by slings and arrows?      53
SPEAR        What do I do with the spear?                             8
STATUE       What should I do with the statue?                        5
TAVERN       How do I get into the tavern?                           57
TREASURE     What should I do with my valuable items?                 4
             I can't find all the treasure.                          70
UNDISCOVERED How can I get through the undiscovered country?         45 
VASTY DEEP   What can I do about the Vasty Deep?                     11
             How can I call spirits from the Vasty Deep?             12
             How can I avoid being killed by the spirits from        13
             the Vasty Deep?
WARM         How do I avoid feeling warm?                            43
WATCHMAN     How can I get past the watchman?                        68
WITCHES      How can I persuade the witches to give me more          47
             than one item at once?
WORM         What can I do with the worm?                             9