18 March 2008

The Mousehunter

And so one of the stories on here has now been magically whizzed up, shook around and stretched into a book. It's called The Mousehunter, is published by Faber and Faber, and is out now in all good shops. It will also be out soon in America - published by Little, Brown!

Out of little acorns grow BIG MICE, or so they say...

14 July 2006

The Annual Giant Rolling Festival

Each summer on the mountainous island of Domdrum, giants from all over the world congregate to take part in the annual Giant Rolling Festival. A time-honoured tradition, the festival involves hundreds of giants rolling sideways down the mountains and scoring points for each tree, boulder and house they knock down along the way. There are occasional injuries, occasional deaths – usually of flattened human spectators who fail to heed the safety warnings – and also occasional landslides.

Sometimes the scores become so huge that the giant referees lose track of who’s winning and fights break out among the entrants. It’s all deemed to be part of the fun, however, and it would ruin the event if such exchanges were banned.

The prize is the same every year – a small plaque made from the first tree felled in the original Giant Rolling Festival, which took place 386 years ago. Despite such a paltry prize, the competition is taken incredibly seriously, and is now sponsored by the Wigglywam Bank – a sure sign of its popularity.

Tickets are now available for next year’s festival, including two nights’ free camping, at a price of three-gold pieces. Book early to avoid disappointment.

13 July 2006

How to deal with giants

There was a strange glow to the town of Grimple. It had always been there – at least ever since the fabulously overweight giant Bilderbung was sick over it after eating a rancid whale. But these were the things towns had to cope with if they lived in close harmony with giants. Other places hadn’t fared so well, however.

It’s possibly best not to mention what happened to the small village of Worlington when it came into contact with the notoriously incontinent giant Agretha. And the city of Glump vanished forever when Plompey the Great suffered from a week long bout of the runs.

But Grimple survived Bilderbung’s bilious onslaught and soon became a popular tourist destination. Its pink dayglo look is now a particular favouite with party-goers the world over, and is renowned as the dance capital of the world.

So if a giant ever chooses your home town to ruin, don’t worry. There are always ways of making the best of a situation.

28 June 2006

That Flaming Flower!

That stinky flower with untold power,
Has splattered me in its guff,
I ponk of socks, old rusty locks -
A dash of lemon puff.

No-one’s come near, my smell’s too queer
My friends don’t say hello.
That flaming flower, I need to shower,
It’s really not B O…


23 February 2005

Old Hokey's gone missing

I'm just posting a message concerning the disappearance of Old Hokey. It's been a few months now since she was last seen wandering the globe. In the note she left at her house, she commented on a major new undertaking that had consumed her attention. i can only assume she's working on some sort of full-blown masterpiece, and needed some ideas and inspiration.

I'll get back to you the moment I hear of her return.

18 December 2004

The Winter Wilders

Snow started to fall on Tumbleton Moor. It was a beautiful yet quiet place when the world turned white. Walls and hedgerows vanished into the landscape, and the small town of Tumbleton bolted its doors and retreated into its secure and warm indoors.

At this time of year the Wilders were about. They roamed the land, looking for any food they could find. A long time ago, the townsfolk invited the creatures into their homes to sit out the cold winter, but no-one realised the trouble they'd cause. The Wilders' huge feet trampled through rooms, devastating belongings and people's houses.

Never again were they let in from the cold, and to make sure they came nowhere near, the people would build huge beasts out of the snow to scare them away.

This year, however, a small girl watched through a frosted window as the Wilders skulked past in the distance. All she could see was their silhouettes on the dull grey horizon. She thought it very sad that they had to stay out in the cold.

So she decided not to listen to her parents and go and ask them to come inside. Maybe they'd learnt their lesson by now.

The girl wrapped up warm, with at least four layers of clothes, three pairs of gloves and two warm, bobbly hats. And of course, she had untold numbers of socks inside her shoes. Once your feet get cold, they stay cold.

She trudged through the snow with a small lamp lighting her way. It wasn't long before she found large footprints trailing away into the night, and when she came across the Wilders they were all huddled in a small hole, waiting for day to break.

The girl pulled out some oaty biscuits and handed them to the Wilders.
'Please come with me,' she said, ' you can keep warm and eat as much as you like'.

The Wilders looked at one another, all feeling the cold snow beneath them. They realised it was an option they couldn't refuse, and eventually trekked back to Tumbleton with the girl.

She pleaded with the Wilders to be good, and they decided it would be for the best.

When they reached her home, and after a few strong words from her very worried parents, all of them settled down in front of the blazing fire. The Wilders proved that they could be good, and they were aloud to come back every year.

The girl passed around warming drinks and roasted nuts, and they all felt very happy. It was nice to put bad feelings behind them, and they knew that Christmas this year was going to be very special indeed.

17 December 2004

The Magic Weed

I once grew a weed with magical powers,
That wriggled around when I tickled its flowers.
When I pulled off its leaves it let out a scream,
And grumbled and growled as I ate it with cream

15 December 2004

Ordinary Heroes of the World

I found this book in my attic last week. I hadn't seen it for ages, and I thought it might be nice to share some of the entries.

1. Mildred the Fish Dangler

Mildred's job was to hold a dead fish in the air. It was a well-known tool for forecasting the weather, and the job required him to stand on the outskirts of town, day in, day out, charting the fish's response to the elements.

Because of Mildred's dedication to his cause, many sailors' lives were saved

12 December 2004

The Ghost Ship

I suppose you might expect me to be rather old. And I am, of course. I'm at that point where my age defines how people respond to me rather than my personality. But neither you nor me know how old I am – or maybe I just prefer to forget.

Yesterday, I watched as a boat sailed from my neighbour's house.

It was early in the morning. I'd got up to watch the sun rise, and from the window, beyond the overgrown hedges and the weed-ridden path, I gazed at the ramshackle boat. Mr Greenly had been a sailor in his early years: he sailed the seventeen seas and visited all the wonderful lands you only hear about in stories.

His boat had been sat there, slowly rotting, ever since I'd lived here. It was a splendid little craft, although it was no longer fit for sailing. Holes were eaten into its hull, ivy creeped over its side, and a small family of nuthatches lived in its bow. You could tell from its shape and build that it had once been capable of marvellous things. It had survived many a beating, and I knew it had kept Mr Greenly safe through untold storms.

And that morning, as I sat and watched the glowing horizon, I saw the boat fizzle with a blue light, and a ghost ship lifted from the crumbling wreck. I sat transfixed at this strange sight. Suddenly, there was a sailor aboard the boat, a sail aboard its deck. And it moved. Drifting through the undergrowth, this boat was free. Its age and condition no longer held it to the earth. It drifted, slowly at first, but then its sails caught the wind and it sped off into the distance.

I learnt that Mr Greenly had died during that night. I hadn't spoken to him for a week or so, but whenever we bumped into each other, we'd talk and discuss the weather. You seem to do this more as you grow old, although Mr Greenly was more in tune with the elements than most. That following day had proved fine and clear, with a strong southerly wind. Mr Greenly had chosen his sailing conditions well.

There must have been wonderful stories and tales that sailed away that morning. I know I should have asked him more when I had the chance.

10 December 2004

Old Hokey

Well I thought I'd show you a picture of me drawn by my wonderful friend Milagro. He sat and drew it while we were making the most of a terrifically snowy afternoon - hence my scarf, hat and deliciously warm coat. I think he captures my shape perfectly.

Milagro does take on portraits if anyone is interested. He charges a small fee, but I think it's worth it for his talent – he certainly knows how to capture people in their best light.

05 December 2004

Captain Mousebeard of the Silver Shark

In my younger days I travelled the globe - something I'll tell you about in due course, no doubt - but I thought I'd tell you about Captain Mousebeard, who helped me return home. We both survived a harrowing experience, and only for his bravery did I arrive in one piece.

Mousebeard was a stout fellow and the typical seafaring type: swoarthy skin, muscly arms, thick jumpers, and of course, he was the very proud owner of a large bushy beard (in which he kept a family of very well-behaved mice).

Our paths crossed while he was searching for the rare Long-eared Mouse of Shubana Island. I was living on the island, passing my time while waiting for a boat to take me home, and I just so happened to know where he could find one. So we came to an arrangement: in return for the mouse, he would offer me safe passage home.

His ship, the Silver Shark, was a stunning vessel, painted brightly with a sneering fanged shark's mouth at its bow. It was quite a sight to see resting at port, but when you were on it and felt it cutting the waves in two, it was beyond belief.

We'd sailed for two days before things started to go awry. Up to that point I'd been revelling in the salty air and the firm breezes as they directed us home. It was a grand way to travel, but on that third night we hit a storm front scudding across the sea towards us. The waves lifted into the air, the peaks and troughs grew so large that the Silver Shark neared vertical as it rode the seas.

Mousebeard lashed himself to the main mast and called his shipmates to lower the sails. Waves crashed into the boat, water drenched the decks, and many times were we soaked through. And just when we thought things couldn't get worse, Mousebeard felt his beard tugging. He looked down into his bundle of hair, and noticed something writhing and growing. Suddenly, out jumped the Long-eared Mouse. It's body was contorting, twisting and growing on the salty, waterlogged planks.

Mousebeard called out in distress to his sailors, as he picked up the mouse and tossed it into the foaming sea. Everyone surged below decks in fear of their lives, leaving only Mousebeard to man the wheel. All the while, the waves and storm continued to batter the boat. I shut myself inside, and watched through a window as a gigantic spinning hole appeared before the ship. This was no ordinary whirlpool.

With a deafening, piercing scream a serpent rose from the depths and towered into the air. It was the mythical Spearhorned Grak. I could see Mousebeard lurch back at the sight, for it was well known that you never live to tell the tale of the Grak. Instead, whispers of your demise get washed ashore with the wreck of your ship.

But the Captain wasn't one to let a monster get the better of him. He turned the wheel sharply and caught the edge of the whirlpool. The ship sped up and circled round at breakneck speed. And then, before the spear of the beast could impale the Silver Shark, Mousebeard veered out of the swirling maelstrom and rocketed the ship out of the sea as if from a slingshot.

It felt as though the ship was airborne for minutes, as all of the shipmates' lives flashed before their eyes. We landed a fair distance from the Grak, bursting through a wall-like wave and into a patch of calm. The brief glimpse of blue sky gave the sailors hope, and once again they rushed onto deck to sail the craft through the storm.

Thankfully, we made it home safely, and that was all the excitement we had for that voyage. I guess we learned the hard way that Long-eared Mice and salt water don't mix, but it's safe to say that no-one had expected the mythical Spearhorned Grak to be born of such tiny stock.

Captain Mousebeard is now remembered as a true hero for his deeds, and because of his warnings, mousehunters like him are forever wary and careful as they search lands for new breeds.

02 December 2004

King Kandoo's lost dubloons

King Kandoo of Kakdungdoo
Has lost his gold dubloons
He's left them in a little box
With knives and forks and spoons.

The little box has ornate trim
And gold encrusted handles
And little gems that line two holes
For sweetly scented candles

So if you see this little box
You'll find yourself a winner
For though King Kandoo needs no cash,
He still can't eat his dinner.

28 November 2004

The Fisherman of the Clouds

I've spent many hours of my life searching for lost things. Books, keys, pens, everything and anything has seemed to go missing at some point in its life. Now I'm not superstitious, but when people lose things at the same time, then something odd is happening.

This story is about a strange occurence that had everyone in the land completely at a loss

If my memory serves me correct, it all took place one desperately cold winter. Icicles hung from overhanging rooves, the sky bubbled and rippled with grey clouds, and every tree lay barren and tipped with snow. Suffice to say, it was a cold time, and chimneys were constantly frothing with the smoke of fires.

One morning, people woke to see trees and plants gone from their gardens. Mr Bumbling noticed his birdbath had vanished, Elsie Crowbar realised her shed had disappeared, and the Greenwing Stables found that all their horses had gone. Once word got round, it came to light that everyone had lost something or other. Whether it was a small conifer from someone's border or a very expensive statue of Otto the Great, it was very much a cause for concern.

The following morning everyone woke to find even more things had been stolen. But this time it wasn't just from outside: paintings had vanished from walls, cakes no longer sat on the kitchen table, armchairs were conspicuous by their absence. Poor old Dennis Drewshank woke up with frostbite as his roof had mysteriously left the building. This situation couldn't go on any longer.

It was decided that everyone would stay awake that night to catch the thief. As the sun set, people readied themselves; torches were at the ready and eyes were pinned wide open.

In the dark of the night the crook was caught. But not easily.

It took someone with very keen eyesight to notice that a thin, hook-ended wire kept descending from the sky to make off with whatever it caught. And it took a very clever person to catch whoever it was doing it. Panker Tankhurst had a brainwave: she sat on her garden bench just as the wire descended, hooked it onto the arm and was dragged into the sky.

She slowly rose. Luckily she wrapped up warm, as the higher she went, the colder it got. She could see fires in living rooms burning brightly below, and the land looked beautiful. Eventually she felt the clouds on her face and everything went dark. She was still rising, slightly slower now, but she knew she was almost there. And then, suddenly, she burst out into the open air, the nighttime sky shining brilliantly above her. And in front of her, almost eye to eye, she saw the thief, hovering in a puffy little cloud.

He wasn't much to look at; a small man, wrapped up in scarves and mittens, and in his hand was a giant fishing rod - to which Panker's chair was attached and dangling. A look of shock passed over his face. He was caught!

He made a smile, expressed deep apologies for taking people's belongings, and shot off in his cloud, Panker in tow, to the peak of a mountain that breached the cloud cover. The mountain was bejewlled with trees, and the thief came to rest in a large cave adorned with all the rich pickings he'd stolen from the land below.

Panker was impressed, and distressed, at the sight. As amazing as his home was, he had no reason to go around stealing things, and she made absolutely sure that she told him so. He apologised profusely and explained that he only meant to take a few trees, but the urge got the better of him and soon he couldn't stop himself.

He was eager to give everyone back their belongings, and within a week he'd gone to every house distributing goods. To each thing he stole he attached a note saying sorry and promised never to do it again. He even replaced Dennis Drewshank's roof, to much applause at his skill and dexterity with a fishing rod. The people struck up a friendship with the man, and whenever any help was needed when pruning tall trees or mending chimneystack, they knew who to call.

And that Christmas, when everyone rose from their peaceful night's slumber, people found stockings filled with sparkling silver stars resting in front of their fireplaces. No-one was fully sure where they came from, but they all had a good idea.

27 November 2004

The Bog Thief

The village of Great Mingus, situated close to the Grunting river, had a very special toilet. It wasn't simply a hole in the ground, nor was it a little shed with running water. The hallowed lavatory was a spectacular wooden tower that rose high into the sky. The building's stench carried for miles, but it was an honour to live in its ponky path.

Since the founding of the village, every inhabitant had used this toilet. As such it was considered a sacred place where people could mingle with the voices of the past. Kings, queens, grandparents, pets; if you could name them then you knew they'd been there.

One night however, right underneath the village's nose, the much worshipped toilet was stolen. It had been cleanly plucked from the ground, and all that was left was an immense, empty pit. Where had it gone? What foul thing had stolen thousands of years of foulness?

The villagers were up in arms and crossed in legs. But something had to be done. Snout McMurdoch had the answer. His nose was the most sensitive in the land, and he knew he could follow the smell trail until it revealed the thief.

And so he set off on his journey. Over mountains and across oceans, he followed the wafting ponk until he finally came upon the toilet.

Snout McMurdoch was distraught at the sight. The once towering lavatory was smashed into millions of pieces and spread over a huge field. And there, stood raking the mess was a huge beast. It had dense brown fur, and on its wrinkled bear-like head, huge ears and eyes shone forth. It's massive bulging arms rippled with muscles as it ploughed the land.

'What have you done?' said Snout. 'You've demolished our past and
stolen the most wonderful relic of our village!'

'You didn't need it!' it growled. 'Such wonderful muck shall grow my crops to untold heights. I admit, I maybe should have asked, but what were you going to use it for?'

Snout thought hard about this. After all, the toilet wasn't the only place where all the village's population had been: there was the village itself. That was the best memorial of all.

But what would the villagers say if he came home empty handed? He tried to reach a compromise with the beast.

'Maybe if you helped us build a new lavatory that we could all enjoy together, things would be alright?'

The beast thought hard about this and then arrived at an even better solution.

'I'll help you build your toilet, and I'll even bring you gigantic vegetables when they grow. But in return you must let me use your waste as fertiliser each year,' it said.

Snout agreed, and when he returned to Great Mingus, the whole village agreed too. It turned into a wonderful partnership, and the village never went without vegetables ever again.

25 November 2004

Mrs Fluffbin's Earwax

Have you ever had the sort of earwax that looks like an animal when you pull it from your ear? I admit it's a rare occurence for most, but Mrs Fluffbin made a living from it.

It all started one dark evening in November, as Mrs Fluffbin's family was huddled around the fire. In a fit of spontaneity, she pulled a great lump of earwax from her – admittedly extremely large – ear. She placed it on the table and asked the question:

'And what animal is this?

'A giraffe!' shouted her children.

And again Mrs Fluffbin delved deep within her ear and withdrew another clump of wax.

'And what animal is this?' she asked again.

'It's a Bob-bob!' they replied.

This marvellous game continued into the night. Even Mrs Fluffbin was amazed by the level of earwax residing in her head. But then, in a fine stroke of enterprise, she came up with a brilliant idea that would make her fortune.

With the help of Peculiar Pam, a very fine, if slightly colourful witch, she would be able to bring these wax creatures to life. Put them in a box, stick on a label and there you have it – Fluffbin's Waximals, the new craze on the block.

It didn't take long for Mrs Fluffbin to produce a whole menagerie of Waximals: there were ducks, monsters, rhinos – everything you could dream of and more. And with the aid of her whole family, who made and painted the boxes, and of course, Peculiar Pam, who cast the lovely little spell of life – and who got a tidy cut from the profits – the range soon hit the shops.

Waxanimals were an instant hit and flew of the shelves. And in the case of the bird models they really did fly from the shelves, but that was considered part of their charm and made them very rare collectors' items.

And so, the best lesson to learn from this is to make use of all your talents, no matter how strange.

Oh, and if any of you out there have the Bumbly Giganticus Waximal, I would consider trading it either for money, or with my second Blunderbuss Duck figurine. One's noisy enough, and I know how rare these things are. Now you know where to contact me if you come across one...

23 November 2004

Old Hokey's Field Guide (part 3)

So here it comes, the nastiest most horrible creature ever (well sort of).

1. The Bob-bob

No, not this one. This is possibly the most harmless water bird you'll ever get the pleasure to meet. A very sweet and loving animal, it gets its name from the bobbing motion of its head as it sifts through the water and mud looking for food.

2. The Lesser-spotted Trundlewhoop

And this one isn't it either. The Lesser-spotted Trundlewhoop, however, is a peculiar bird that has great difficulty in getting airborn. They can be quite vicious when in a group, especially if you laugh at their pathetic attempts to fly. They're known to spit and curse like a coven of rabid witches, and can give you quite a fright if caught unawares. As its name suggests, this bird is quite rare in these parts, although you might have seen its close relative, the Very Frequently Spotted Trundlewhoop, grazing in a field near you.

3. The Shifty Skood

This one really isn't that nasty at all, although it does look quite furtive, as it's name suggests. The Shifty Skood is an odd creature, that's often seen lurking in shadows or hiding in the backgrounds of photos. These unfortunate creatures always look like they're up to no good, when in fact they're probably just out for a morning stroll. The Skood's great beak signifies its relationship to the common owl, and it's possibly because of this that it lacks the intelligence to change people's view of it. I'm sure they'd make nice friends given half the chance.

4. The Scabbitt

And here is the nastiest creature I've ever laid eyes on. The Scabbitt - horrible, horrible creature. If you ever find one of these lounging in your living room, be prepared to consider it as not your living room any more. This nasty beast will wait till you leave the house and then rearrange your furniture to disorientate you. They bite things, chew them up and then vomit it all out again, while burping, farting and generally being a great big nuisance. And boy, will it eat you out of house and home.

So how do you rid yourself of them? Scabbitt traps. Big, hefty and very sharp Scabbitt traps. And there can be nothing in this world that will make you happier than catching this little monster...

18 November 2004

Mr Fenfang's Arms

I used to have difficulty keeping up with shoe sizes when my feet grew, as I always found my big toe poked through the side of my shoes before they were done. but they were nothing to what Mr Fenfang had to deal with.

Mr Fenfang had a most unusual feature: his arms. Ever since he was little his arms had grown at twice the rate of the rest of his body. And when that stopped growing, his arms decided they'd carry on doing what they do best.

His arms were nearing a mile long by his 20th birthday, and as he reached 30, his arms rested at a grand 3 miles in length. This clearly posed problems, especially when it came to eating and drinking. Free space was also a matter of concern, and he had to wrap his arms in loops and leave them outside most days.

Mr Fenfang found it very easy to visit the local shop without leaving his home. His arms took a long time to unwind and make their way there however, yet Ms Fellaway, the shopkeeper, was always happy to answer a well-written shopping list. But one moonlit night, he found the shop firmly closed.

All he needed was a candle to light up his home, but there wasn't one to be found anywhere. Mr Fenfang hated to sit in the dark, and a rather radical idea came to him.

He dragged himself out into the night, and let his arms unfurl like fresh fronds of fern. And then, looking up to the sky, he stretched right up until his fingers touched the surface of the moon. It wasn't as big as everyone had thought, and it certainly wasn't made of cheese. With a bit of a pull, Mr Fenfang brough it down to earth and placed it directly behind his house.

The light that shone out from it was blinding, and that night Mr Fenfang certainly didn't want for candles.

The next morning, people in the nearby towns and villages couldn't understand why the land was shrouded in darkness. And then they looked to the horizon and saw the moon sat behind Mr Fenfang's house. Immediately, a large rabble of people headed over to see Mr Fenfang and let him know what a preposterous idea it was to steal the moon for his own personal use.

He failed to agree, but with a bit of persuasion, Mr Fenfang decided it might be best for all if he put the moon back. He had to use both hands, as it felt a little heavier than the previous night, but once it was back in the sky, everyone could rest easy again.

17 November 2004

Old Hokey's Field Guide (part 2)

Here are some more oddities of the natural world. I've tried to include a few of the nastier creatures in this part, although I'll save THE nastiest, foulest, most ugliest creature for next time.

1. Dragonsheep

This is one animal to stay clear of. Despite Dragonsheep being the proud owners of flame-repellent wool, which makes for excellent oven gloves, they can wreak utter havoc. They are capable of breathing fire up to distances of thirty feet, and a herd can decimate a forest in no time at all. Very exciting creatures, but potentially lethal

2. The Giant's Handkerchief Tree

Much recognised and oft mis-represented, the Giant's Handkerchief Tree grows exceptionally large leaves. It has been supposed throughout history that its leaves were used by giants to blow their noses – hence the tree's close relationship with snot puffballs. The likelihood of this is actually very slim, although the leaves are very useful and make excellent kites.

3. The Duck-faced Booby

A most odd seabird, the Duck-faced Booby has the body of a small seagull and the face of a common duck. They live in colonies on small rocky islands, and make the peculiar noise of 'quackeeeee'. They are very susceptible to predators, as they aren't the cleverest of birds. Very cute though.

4. Flickering Firebugs

These interesting creatures lead a very brief life. As soon as they crawl from the pupa, they react with the air and burst into flames. Be careful not to hang out your washing early in Summer, as you'll likely find it covered in small burn holes when you bring it back in again. They do look lovely, however, as they flicker away in the twilight.

5. Tortoise Andronicus

These warrior tortoises are best left to their own devices. If you catch them herding on mountain tops, you can be sure that a battle is about to start. I know little else about them, I'm afraid, but just beware their over-enlarged front claws that give a nasty scratch.

14 November 2004

Old Hokey's Field Guide (part 1)

You get lots of strange creatures and plants round here. Not your usual kettle of fish or punnet of strawberries, and i thought it might be nice to note them down.

1. The Floppy Jowled Flem Fox

It's noted that this animal is often heard rather than seen, for people regularly hear it snorting and croaking as it makes it's way through the night. It can be quite aggresive if you do bump into it, despite the fact that the picture makes it look friendly (I'm afraid my drawing skills fail to capture his true nature!).

2. The Blunderbuss Duck

One of my favourites in the animal kingdom. This very large-mouthed duck quacks so loudly that you can hear it up to four miles away. Thankfully, they like to live alone, but if you do ever see a number of them together remember to put on your ear muffs!

3. The Two-headed Monster Flax

A giant among plants, the Monster Flax towers above almost every other bit of flora on the planet. Interestingly enough, if you let the flowers dry out, they make excellent high-rise houses.

4. Bumbly Giganticus

And wherever you find a Monster Flax you'll find this humungous insect. No-one has ever found a hive, but it is well known that the Bumbly Giganticus crosses oceans and continents in its search for nectar. It is best to stay clear of these creatures, and you get prior warning by hearing the deafening drone of its wings. Rest assured though, that despite the fact that it could easily squash your house if it came to rest on it, Bumbly Giganticus would never have meant you harm. They are usually very gentle and lovely creatures, and should be respected and most of all admired for the good work they do.

12 November 2004

Munchbean and the caterpillars

I must thank my friend Vanita van Tito for this tale. Unluckily for her she was a victim to this terrible scam while on her travels, and still bears the scars to prove it. It took her a long time to be happy sitting under a tree again, I can tell you.

Munchbean was a monkey, and a mischievous little fellow at the best of times. He lived in a tree, which sat out alone in the middle of a forest clearing. As with most other trees, Munchbean's was home to a whole host of creatures. In particular, it was host to a huge family of Fidgety Grubs. These little black caterpillars are covered in prickly spikes, and despite having quite a pleasant demeanour, they do like to munch on everything and anything. And Munchbean had learnt how to train them.

In fact, he'd devised a little plan. His tree was a regular stopping place for weary travellers, and with the caterpillars at his disposal, he'd found a way to launch an ambush. A bit like a monkey highwayman, you could say.

One afternoon, at about half-past three, a traveller came by the tree and took shelter under it's outstretched branches. As he was gently drifting to sleep, he heard a crack, and woke abruptly. He looked up to see a swarm of black prickly caterpillars launch themselves at him. They nipped and bit as he was overwhelmed by their number. And then Munchbean dropped to the ground!

"Give me all your money and I'll call them off!" he shouted.

The traveller searched his pockets and withdrew his money purse. The monkey took it gleefully and told the caterpillars to leave him alone. The traveller took flight immediately, nursing all the small bites that covered his arms.

These shenanigans happened many times to unfortunate passers-by, until, by Royal decree, a search party was sent out to ambush the ambusher.

Lady Ermine Ramsbottom led the party, and formed the bait. She sat underneath the tree and waited, fully protected by armour-plated longjohns and undergarments. As the caterpillars dropped down, she sat quietly, happy to let the caterpillars chew to no avail. And then she waited for Munchbean to show his face. Eventually he landed, and as if by magic three huge armed guards jumped out and seized him.

The ambush was a success, and Munchbean's threat to all travellers was extinguished. However, Lady Ermine was in awe of Munchbean's prowess with controlling the Fidgety Grubs, and asked for clemency from the Queen. Munchbean was only a monkey, after all, and after paying back his stolen money to the travellers twice over, he was ordered to set up a travelling caterpillar circus.

And so it was that Munchbean's Peculiarly Fidgety Circus became a huge success. He travelled the world to packed audiences, who were totally in awe of the death-defying stunts. Of particular note was his Caterpillar Wheel of Death, which held everyone in a state of disbelief.

If only you could have seen that act!

10 November 2004

Witches with itches

Imagine three witches,
All witches with itches,
Which witch with the itch would you scratch?

Would you scratch the first witch?
A short witch with an itch,
And green hair and a dark blue eye patch.

Would you scratch the next witch?
A tall witch with an itch
But no clothes, a big nose and three toes.

Or would you scratch the third witch?
A fat witch with an itch,
And a cat and a flock of pet crows.

So if there were three witches,
All witches with itches,
Which witch with the itch would you scratch?

And if you did scratch the itch
Of a smelly old witch,
Just what sort of bugs would you catch?

07 November 2004

The oldest giant in the world

Whenever there's an earthquake it's because a giant has died, or so the saying goes. I presume they therefore always keel over while on their feet, but I do have my doubts about the truth in it.

Verity Fleapot, though was not quite dead. She was in fact the oldest living giant, at a very ripe age of 422. She had a reputation of being as old as the hills and equally as tall, and yet, as much as everyone knew and adored her, she could be something of an obstruction.

Whenever Verity left her home for a walk, it wouldn't be like any normal person's stroll: unfortunately, her legs didn't move as well as they used to, so she walked slower than a snail's pace, aided by a massive walking frame. She could leave her home in the morning and not get back for three weeks – and all she'd gone out for was a bucket of milk from the local farm.

For the little town of Hambling this proved to be a major problem. One day, Verity arrived looking to buy some food. It just so happened that it was Spring, and Hambling had planted all their crops out that previous week. There were all sorts of seedlings poking through the ground, but upon Verity's very slow arrival, the whole town fell into darkness.

Verity Fleapot made such an effective, slow-moving sunblock, that all the crops started to wilt and their growth faltered. The townsfolk realised that something had to be done and approached the giant with a solution.

"If we build you some wheels, would you mind us attaching them to your frame?" they asked. "Maybe then you could skate along merrily?"

The giant happily agreed. Verity was a lovely lady after all, and wouldn't want to be a pain.

So over two days of banging and clattering, the town of Hambling built four giant wheels and attached them to Verity's frame. It was a marvellous success, and Verity, after a slightly wobbly start, was on the move again. With a small push she shunted along nicely, and at a fair rate of knots too, and soon she was a mere blob on the horizon.

It was a beautiful sight to see an old treasure get her speed back again, and the town could once again bask in sunshine.

04 November 2004

The beautiful ogre

The other day I pulled an ugly face. It seemed appropriate as I was teaching a little imp that humans could pull funny faces too. However, it backfired somewhat as the wind changed at that exact moment, and I’ll now look like this until the wind turns again.

Funnily enough, it reminded me of a story set on a little island inhabited by ogres.

When you’re an ogre, you’re big, ugly and mostly mean. The uglier and bigger and more monstrous you are, the better. So if you’re actually quite nice looking, with a pleasant outlook on life, then ogres won’t take too kindly to you. In fact they’ll hate you.

And if you’re an ogre who’s beautiful and quite friendly, then that’s the most horrific thing ever. Other ogres will absolutely despise you and the ground you walk on. You will be the most hated thing in the whole world.

Poor Huffwink was this ogre. And he really was the nicest ogre you could ever hope to meet, while being exceedingly handsome to boot. But all this was lost on other ogres. They kicked him, shoved him, scorned him, threw stinky muck at him. He had a terrible life.

And then he realised that if he pulled a nasty face and waited for the wind to change, then he could make himself more likeable. And, strangely enough, it worked. If Huffwink felt a change in the wind brewing, he’d go and stand on the tallest clifftop in full breeze, and let nature do its work.

Sometimes it could last for weeks. He could be ugly and fit in with others of his kind, and best of all he could be liked. But, as all things do, his plan took an unpleasant twist. He was out on the cliff one day, ready for the wind to change, when unexpectedly he made a pout with his lips right at the wrong moment. The wind took a quick right turn, and Huffwink was suddenly extraordinarily beautiful. The poor ogre was more beautiful than any other creature in existence, and all the other ogres made sure he knew about it.

Once again they beat him, but this time they bound his hands and cast him into the sea, never to return.

Huffwink floated badly, but was able to swim a little despite not using his arms. Eventually though his strength left him, he fell unconscious and started to sink. As the water washed over him, the fish rallied at his legs. They’d never seen anything like him, and with the help of mermaids and mermen, he was saved, and towed to a distant far off shore.

When Huffwink woke, he was lying on a white sandy beach. There were gnarled palm trees in the distance, which resembled flying dragons, and walking towards him was a group of giants. They were all wearing grass skirts, and among them were some of the most lovely girl giants he’d ever seen.

As you can guess, the giants thought he was one of them. They took him in and looked after him. He told them of his woe on the isle of ogres, but he never revealed his true identity. After all, no-one could tell anyway, even when his exceedingly beautiful face had worn off with the wind.

Finally, Huffwink was happy, and it felt wonderful to be accepted. And before long there was a whole tribe of beautiful ogres, although that’s a very big secret. If you ever see exceptionally beautiful giants, never ever let on that they might be ogres, for they might take offence. Remember, giants are generally a lot BIGGER than you.

03 November 2004

The man who liked to sleep

Mr Penfold Twofold liked to sleep.

He liked to sleep so much that he missed his first eight birthdays by dozing through the day.

As if that wasn't enough, he slept through his own wedding and he even snored through the birth of his first child. He could sleep for weeks on end.

Mr Twofold's sleeping got so bad that his dreams became more real than reality, and that was a very strange position to be in.

Eventually, Mr Penfold Twofold forgot about living a real life. While asleep he donned a wizard's hat and cape and became the Great Suprenzo, who mystified and entertained the masses with his stunts of wonderful expertise and magic. And when the Great Suprenzo would have to sleep, he would dream he was Mr Penfold Twofold. But sleeping was so boring, so he tried to do it for as little as possible.

The Great Suprenzo learnt how to fly like an eagle and swim like a dolphin. He could turn invisible and breathe fire. He was quite a man, and led the most wonderful life that was coveted by all.

And of course, Mr Penfold Twofold managed to sleep through his own death. But that didn't matter because everyone loved the Great Suprenzo, who, incidentally, learnt how to live forever.

01 November 2004

10 things you need to know about the Snot Puffball

1. The Snot Puffball is infamous for exploding and covering passers-by in green goop.

2. It is known to mushroom specialists as Fungi Snotticus.

3. It is more familiarly known as Giant's Bogey.

4. It usually grows to almost a metre wide, and can be filled with up to 3 gallons of green mushroomy gunk. According to the Picker's Delight handbook, the largest ever reported specimen of a Snot Puffball was 1.6 metres wide. It exploded over one Mr Gingus McLingus back in 1764.

5. The Snot Puffball only grows in close proximity to the equally famous Handkerchief tree.

6. It is the main ingredient in Booger Butter: a delicious mushroom paste that's used to flavour stews.

7. The Snot Puffball is closely related to the less well known Sneezy Inkcap, a small mushroom that emits a fine spray of spores early in the morning.

8. The Snot Puffball was brought back from the brink of extinction by mushroom enthusiasts. They later earned the title of the 'Bogeymen': this was due to them being seen searching for mushrooms in woods while covered in snot-proof armour.

9. The Snot Puffball was considered a delicacy in the Court of King Umbert of Nostril. The green insides of the mushroom would be gently warmed and then used as a dip for crisp fingers of toast.

10. The Snot Puffball is best dropped onto passers-by from a height of at least three metres. For maximum snot coverage, aim for the head.

27 October 2004

The ice house

Last winter I awoke to see the garden covered in an icy sheet of frost. On my path, much to my surprise, lay a small dead bird, apparently caught out in the freezing weather. I had no idea how it got there, but it reminded me of the strange tale of the Ice House.

There once was a house encased in ice, which stood on the far side of Umpama mountain. It was a small and humble building, but trapped within the ice it looked beautiful and twinkled like a glimmering diamond.

No-one knew what was inside the house or how it came to be covered in ice. Some people said that inside the house was a mischievous god trapped for eternity, and others believed that a horrendous beast was imprisoned there, restrained for the good of the world.

Either way, no-one went near it for fear of upsetting whatever was inside. Children were told of the horrors that awaited them if they so much as peeped into one of the windows. But of course, children don't care much for hokum.

One day a little girl called Ilya thought she'd find out for sure what was inside. She took the long and winding path up Umpama mountain until she reached the building. It was more beautiful than even she imagined, sealed within its sparkling blue ice block.

She peered into the icy tomb. The house looked empty and decrepit, and then she saw a window. Ilya peered closer: there were curtains, solid as though frozen in time, and further inside was a table. She crept forward ever closer, and suddenly lost her footing.

Her nose banged into the ice. It was deadly cold, and a shot of pain ran from head to toe. She felt her nose turn runny, and gradually a large icicle, harder than stone formed at its tip.

The Ice block in front of her started to melt. It rapidly shrunk in size and a stream of water coursed around her legs. Eventually, only the building remained. It looked soggy and unkempt. The door suddenly opened and out walked the most beautiful woman Ilya had ever seen.

'So you broke the curse,' she said. 'I have a lot to thank you for. I only hope someone will break your curse one day.' With a puff of smoke she vanished. Ilya stood alone, her nose aching from the freezing icicle. It would be with her forever.

Ilya returned home, but due to the icicle received a less than warm reception. Everyone stared and made fun of her. In a few years she returned to the house on the mountain to live a life of sadness. It was the only place where she could get some peace, but It wasn't much fun having an icicle on her nose.

Any way, back to that frosty morning. When I saw the bird lying there, I wondered if it might have broken Ilya's curse and fallen foul to its icy spell. I like to think that it did any way, if only so that it didn't just die of cold.

26 October 2004

A quiet halloween indoors

A witch and a ghost raised their glasses to toast,
The devils and demons outside.
But tonight they would stay a long way away,
For they'd much rather keep warm and hide

We'll pretend that we're nice, get a curry and rice,
Maybe brew up some tea on the range.
We don't care for a fright on this Halloween night,
We think it's all terribly strange.

So tonight we'll behave while the children are brave,
Facing up to the monsters and ghouls.
We'll lock our front door, eat jalfrezi and more,
And heat up while the night slowly cools.

So midnight passed by, the bats left the sky,
And a werewolf howled up to the moon.
When the sun reared its head, they both went to bed,
And they promised to meet again soon.

24 October 2004

The last otter race

Otter racing - a nasty sport if ever there was one. Thankfully people don't do it any more. I thought you'd like to know why.

The little town of Hickmingus used to hold regular otter races. They took place around the river, which was transformed into a large stadium for the event.

Ordinarily, such matters would be simple affairs: a pair of otters would charge around the course, over land and under water, and whichever came first was the winner. However, once a year they'd hold a super race. Thirty otters would be sent onto the course in a brutish melee. They charged round hairpin bends, up and down tightropes and jumped through burning hoops. At the end of the course was a lethal stretch of underwater tunnels, and usually only five or ten of the otters came through it alive. The winners would be crowned and given a wonderful meal and sent on their way.

The sport was terribly popular. But the otters had a surprise in store at the 2001 Great Autumn Otter Race. Three of the otters who were to participate in the race sent word far and wide throughout the land. They were looking for the descendants of Otto the Great, and as it happened, they managed to find them.

So the Autumn race begun. The crowds were huge; cheering and hollering filled the air. The otters were released and they charged around the course. And then it happened. Everyone in the crowd thought it was drums banging, but how wrong they were. Boom boom boom boom. Over the tops of the stadium came the most amazing and terrifying sight.

An army of two hundred giant otters came charging into the stadium. They crushed people underfoot, demolished buildings and walls, and most important of all they set the small otters free.

The townsfolk of Hickmingus got the message and never held another race. They realised they'd been horrible to otters, so built a statue to Otto the Great and stuck notices of apology to every tree in the neighborhood. They weren't sure if otters could read, but it was the thought that counted.

I guess family, no matter how distant, is a wonderful thing to have.

21 October 2004

The witch and the curly cat

I've avoided talking about witches because of the chance that they might take offence to seeing anything in print about them. But what the heck! You only live once.

I thought I'd tell you a story of a witch who had a very rare cat that caused more trouble than it was worth.

The witch in question was called Varma. She had a nasty streak, but mostly was lovely to be around, and she made a delicious steak casserole. However, as all witches do, Varma had a black cat, and it was a little different to the norm.

For a start it was curly, and had huge ears and big bright eyes. It also had the most unusual habit of devouring everything it came across. It would eat paper, tins, frogs; it even even chewed on books, and for a witch this was dangerous.

One morning Varma was preparing a spell when her curly cat walked past. It looked a little off colour, and let out a huge burp. A puff of green smoke whisped into the air, and Varma's cauldron turned into a three-eyed monster that stomped out of the house taking the front door with it.

Varma noticed that her largest spell book had been thoroughly chewed, and to go with it, pots and boxes of ingredients had been devoured too. The curly cat had become a random spell generator.

She turned round to see the cat burping again. This time a puff of purple smoke drifted into the air. Varma took shelter as storm clouds filled the ceiling and lightning and rain poured down. Her curly cat charged off like a drowned rat.

Over the course of the day, Varma had to deal with a number of crises. Her curly cat turned her into a snail, it made her pet tarantula grow to mammoth proportions, and it even turned her home to jelly. And those acts of magic weren't even the half of it.

Thankfully, though, its magic powers didn't last, and by the next day the curly cat had finished expelling spells. It had also learnt its lesson, for because of a rogue spell it now had six legs rather than the usual four. So all was reasonably good in the end. Varma even started to enjoy being a snail, but that didn't last long sadly, as she was picked off by a small greenfinch within the first week.

19 October 2004

The fallen angel

Portly Tumbledown was a large, and slightly overweight angel. Well, that wouldn't really be fair to the people of the world who are slightly overweight: Portly was exceptionally overweight, and unfortunately it got him down… in the biggest way possible.

One day, the clouds beneath him started to crumble and drift apart. In a panic he tried to use his wings to stop him falling, but they couldn't take the strain. Eventually, like a lead balloon, Portly plummeted to the ground and landed with an almighty splat on a flock of sheep.

They were none too pleased, but at least it softened his fall. Many villagers watched his descent from afar. Never had they seen an angel before, and they rushed to his aid.

The villagers attempted many projects in order to get him home again. They tried catapults; built towers of immense size that splintered and toppled as Portly climbed; and they even tried force-feeding Portly Bongo Bam Bam Burp Berries in the vain attempt to make his wind so explosive that he rocketed himself into the heavens. But nothing worked.

In the end, it was decided that the only course of action was to impose a diet on the angel. There would be no burgers, no sweets, and definitely no chocolates, and Portly would have to exercise daily under close supervision until he'd lost the weight.

After two months of near starvation, Portly was a changed angel. He'd lost weight and was fitter than ever. The villagers cheered as he flapped his immense wings and shot into the sky.

But he flew for days to no avail: he couldn't find his home, and the clouds and palaces he was used to just didn't exist any more. Portly was lost. In the end he returned to the village that helped him get airborn again. They were so pleased to see him that they threw a great festival and danced long into the night.

Portly never found his home, but he soon forgot about that. Life in the village was much better anyway, although the sheep never forgave him.

The hanging boy

He slipped, got caught on a branch and had to wait until Autumn before he dropped to the ground.

The magic socks

On Pongo Snodbury's sixteenth birthday, a surprise parcel arrived at the door. There was a small note attached:

Dear Pongo,
I had such a delight making these. I hope you love wearing them equally as much!

With love,
Granny Snodbury

PS. They should last for a very long time indeed.

Pongo hastily unwrapped the parcel and found a wonderfully bright pair of fluffy socks. They had yellow and green stripes, and a shiny silver thread running from top to toe.

He couldn't wait to put them on, and found they were the warmest socks ever. They were easily the most comfortable he'd ever had the pleasure to own, although they were clearly 'round the house' socks, and not ones to be seen in public with. Come that evening however, there was a slight problem – he couldn't take them off.

He picked, he pulled, he grabbed, he dragged, he teased, he freezed – he did everything he could to those socks on his feet, but to no avail. They just wouldn't budge.

He asked his Gran why he couldn't take them off, and she chuckled. "Oh," she said, "I thought the man at the bazaar meant anything made with the silver thread would last forever, not would be worn forever!"

So Pongo was lumbered with green and yellow striped socks for all his days. Throughout college he was ridiculed for their colour. Throughout his working life he was ridiculed for his extremely whiffy feet. Even into old age, nobody would go near him because the smell was so potent.

Poor Pongo lived a sad life because of his magical socks. They commanded his dress sense, dominated his life, and ultimately they killed him. For when he was sixty he decided once and for all he would rid himself of them.

He tied his socks to a stout rope, which in turn was tied to a branch of a tree. And then, from the highest reaches of the tree, he jumped. But the socks were too strong, and brought the tree with down them. When Pongo's body was found, all anyone one could see was his yellow and green socks sticking out from the greenery.

And, of course, everyone thought Pongo loved his socks – after all, he was always wearing them – so they buried him with them. Although they couldn't have removed them if they'd tried.

So Pongo and his magic socks were partners for all eternity.

16 October 2004

The Pishogue

I heard of this from a traveller a long time ago. If you're squeamish it might be worth waiting for the next story...

The town of Caragrach was soulless and empty. The land was stuck in a deepening, endless night, where the world slept heavily and saw no sun.

On the edge of Caragrach there was a small plot of land. A towering stone wall surrounded its edges, and boxed in by the gateless boundary was a rickety shack. Rumours circled about its inhabitant: a hunched bulky figure who meandered around the town swaddled in a thick heavy cloak. No one knew how it left the walled home, and no one even knew for sure if it was a man or a woman. But one thing they did know was its name.

“Have you seen the Pishogue around?” people would mutter hesitantly. The mere mention of the word would make corpses turn in their graves, passers-by rush back to their homes, or even scare the children from the streets.

Caragrach lived with the Pishogue, and the Pishogue put up with Caragrach – but it was clear that the two didn’t get on. And in the end it took just a tiny thing to break the peace.

In the midst of a bellowing storm, the Pishogue was drifting through the winding cobbled streets, the rain driving over its cloak. The sky was blue-grey as always, and the menacing clouds scudded over the rooftops.
On its way to wherever it was heading, the Pishogue came across a mouse, shivering nervously on the floor. The rain battered down onto its head, and it desperately tried to blink in between each spot of water. The mouse’s delicate arm stretched out for help, its tiny paw clenched tight.

The Pishogue picked up the mouse and shielded it by its chest. It could feel the gentle pulse of its heart, and it knew it didn’t have long to live.
And then, from a house at the side of the street, a door burst open, and a group of men charged at the Pishogue from behind. They’d watched it from their windows, and saw that it was an ideal opportunity for the townsfolk to let the wandering outcast know how they felt. They laughed and cheered as it tumbled to the floor.

The Pishogue fell with full force onto its chest, landing awkwardly on the bumpy cobblestones. As it stirred, it started to lift itself up from the floor. Blood dripped from its hand: the mouse had been crushed within its care.

A great flash of lightning rocketed down to the street, and the black clouds started swirling overhead. The townsfolk tumbled to the ground and scrambled for cover.
The Pishogue clambered to its feet and stood breathing heavily in the pouring rain without saying a word. From the bleak and dripping houses, eyes crept around curtains once more to stare at the mysterious figure.

In an instant, the Pishogue had regained its composure, and was marching down the street once more – only this time with a purpose.

As it reached the high walls surrounding its home, the Pishogue waved its hand and then strode right through, Its shape and form making no impact on the rocks. The shack’s door remained open, and tatty curtains that dropped to the floor were bellowing in the wind as it rocketed around like a hurricane.

The Pishogue entered and grabbed hold of a painted black hessian sack, which was garnished with glistening ribbons. The sack sagged heavily to the floor, as though the weight of the world rested within.

The rain was now falling so heavily outside that the noise was deafening, but this didn’t bother the Pishogue. It took the sack out into the rain and walked slowly back into Caragrach. Wherever it trudged, the clouds frothed overhead, bringing the tempest.
Water was rushing down the deserted streets in torrents, and as the Pishogue reached the first set of houses, it stopped and stood like a rock diverting the flow of water around its feet. It lifted the bag with both arms locked tight, and pulled apart the opening.

A great rush of steaming air shot out like a meteor and joined the sky, fusing with the elements. An almighty crack of thunder blew out from the street, and frightened faces peered out from their quaking houses.

In a swirling action, the Pishogue twisted the sparkling sack, sending violent blasts of air shooting around the houses. People struggled to hold on to anything that was fixed to the floor. Buildings were shaking free from foundations, cobblestones were loosening from the street. Everything was being sucked up into a violent melee.

Meanwhile, the Pishogue stood firm, oblivious to the fury that was being spent all around. The town was vanishing into the storm, piece by piece, and in turn, the storm was being sucked into the Pishogue’s sack.

With a quick flurry of its wrists, the Pishogue closed the sack, and the storm vanished from the sky. For the first time in years, the sun burst out onto the ravaged land, now empty and free of streets and buildings. There were no more people to judge and jeer. There was no more everyday drudgery. The land was once again its own. The Pishogue had freed the land of its polluters and persecutors.

Trees rustled in the light breeze, birds took to the sky, and the Pishogue returned to its home.

15 October 2004

Fairy Snuff

I thought it was about time I told you about Fairy Snuff, one of those wandering minstrel types who roam the lands. He's an odd little fellow to be sure, but I do like him.

In the court of King Albrecht, there were three knights, two bishops and a queen. They lived in a small tower in a far-off land. It was a peaceful place, full of green trees and grassy plains. The sun shone occasionally, but the skies remained overcast for much of the time.
One night at the tower, news arrived of a strange travelling minstrel who was in the area, and with the court being generally quite a dull place, King Albrecht ordered for the three knights to ride out and bring him back in order to entertain the queen.

Each knight went in a different direction, one to the north, one to the west, and one to the east. The first knight travelled for three weeks without finding the minstrel, and one night, he bumped into an old washerwoman, cleaning her clothes by the light of the moon. ‘You shouldn’t be riding in these parts at this time of the night. There are monsters around!’ she told him. But when she stood up to wish the knight well, he realised that she wasn’t old and wrinkled, but in fact was the most beautiful person he’d ever seen.

The knight dropped from his horse and took the lady by the hand. ‘You are so fair and lovely,’ he said, ‘you must surely know of a minstrel who is wandering these parts?’
Before answering, the lady stretched up to the knight and kissed him on the cheek.

"A minstrel is but a passing craze,
His words and wisdom know,
You shall stay here for the rest of your days,
‘Til your love for me does grow."

The knight suddenly took on a glazed expression, the lady’s face turned back into the haggard old washerwoman’s, and he never returned to the tower.

And so it was that the second knight went west. He had also been travelling for weeks before the first mention of the minstrel came to his ears, and with the kind words of a blacksmith, he was sent to a most peculiar village.

The place was small with only a dozen buildings at the most, but standing high above it was an enormous giant. Its three arms were circling in the wind, and as the knight rode up to its gigantic hairy feet, he realised that there was some sort of building attached to its side. People were wandering up and down, and he asked what was going on.

‘This here is Unglebunk,’ said a small child, ‘he makes our bread for us.’
The knight peered up into the sky, and realised that the giant was in fact acting as a huge windmill. As people fed him the right mixtures of food, and his arms swung in the right direction, a magical process took place within his body until out popped beautifully formed loaves of bread.

‘Well this is amazing!’ said the knight, but right then, out of the sky fell a rogue batch loaf that plummeted directly onto the knight’s head. He was killed instantly, and so ended the story of the second knight.

But the third knight had much more luck. On his second day of travelling, he bumped into the minstrel while trotting along a coastal path. The minstrel was a squat sort of fellow, with spiky long hair, a white face, and brightly coloured clothes, and he greeted the knight with a bold flourish of his arms and a waggle of his head.

‘Let me introduce myself… I am the great Fairy Snuff,
A little short to the floor, but wise in the head,
My routine will leave you giggling and red!’

The knight looked down with a frown, but tried to manage a smile. Was this really the person he had to take to court? Either way, he offered the minstrel an appearance before King Albrecht, and if he accepted the ride, they could be there in a few hours. Fairy Snuff accepted, and they arrived at the tower shortly before nightfall. The bishops approached the gates and ushered them into the great hall, where the King was sitting with the Queen.

"Excite us and please us, oh Fairy Snuff," said the knight, "and the King will duly reward you."
The minstrel took his staff, made a lively jump into the air and landed on one foot. While balancing, he waggled his bottom and then span into a pile on the floor. "I am the great Fairy Snuff," he announced, "watch my dance, let me entrance, and tickle you in every way."

The king’s face dropped. "Is this what I have to put up with?" he said.
"Throw him out, and if we ever see his face in this land again, chop off his head!"
Fairy Snuff was unceremoniously thrown out into the night and his eyes erupted in tears.

Fairy Snuff thought that was the last straw. All he wanted to be was an entertainer, but he didn't deserve to be treated like that. I'll teach them, he thought.

He waggled his behind, did a little dance, and shook his wand. The castle flashed orange and polka dot pink, and started to rock back and forth as its foundations faltered. Then it shook violently, and in a great explosion it went rocketing up into the sky like a firework.

Fairy Snuff sat down and smiled. He watched the castle blaze through the sky like a falling star until it vanished over the horizon. His work was done.

I suppose there's a lesson to be learnt here for any aspiring egotistical Kings or Queens. Just remember that even though you are in charge, it doesn't mean that what you do is right or that your underlings are less powerful than you.

I think King Albrecht understands that full well now.