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.

14 October 2004

A terrible tale of fairy ale

Did i ever mention fairy ale? Well, you should know from the start that fairy homebrew - more commonly known as Moonshine - is the strongest beer in the world.

Made from dandelion pollen and enhanced with bumblebee honey, Moonshine could knock out a three-armed giant at twenty paces. But we didn't always know it was so potent. In fact, back in the old days, when the fairies were still perfecting the art , it was almost drinkable. Well, very drinkable, and in all honesty it still is, but the side effects were such that... oh I can't let you know that just yet!

It was nearly forty years ago, and there was a small inn called The Curly Cat, which was a peculiar establishment, full of travellers and salesmen. It was also a friendly place however, due in no small part to the kindness of the landlord.

One night he was sweeping the yard, and there on the floor was a glowing, groaning and very tubby little fairy. He was rolling back and forth clutching his belly, hiccuping and burping aloud. The fairy was of course drunk. He was hopelessly sozzled to the point that he couldn't stand or even fly.

The landlord picked up the little fairy and took him indoors to recuperate. He sat him upright on a pillow, and provided a bite to eat and a thimble full of water. Despite the odd belch, the fairy didn't utter a word, so the landlord went to bed happily, leaving the fairy to his own devices.

In the morning the fairy had vanished, and the landlord thought nothing more of it. He was particularly used to people in that condition, so accepted it as part of his job and got back to work.

A day passed and early the next morning, just as the sun was rising, the landlord heard a knock at the door. When he opened it, there was no-one there, just a large barrel and a note pinned to the top.

"Thankyou for your kindness. Please rest assured that I have given up the Moonshine for life. Enjoy this barrel with your customers, as it was my first and last brew and I have a strange attachment to it.

Thankyou once again,
Bubblepop the fairy".

What a kind gesture, thought the landlord and took the barrel inside.

At this point I'd like to say that the story I'm recounting is in fact that of Lucy Ragwort's, the barmaid at The Curly Cat. I shall explain more later, but I would like to thank her wonderful memory for remembering all the finer details.

So then, the landlord posted a large notice on the door:

And sure as sure can be, that night the inn was so packed you couldn't move – let alone sit down. Everyone wanted a taste of the the magical Moonshine. But, of course, things didn't go quite as planned.

At the first glass, people just smiled and cheered, admittedly not terribly unusual, but after the second glass, things started to go a little odd.

Everyone started to glow slightly. Blushing faces became radiant and beaming, and people started to feel much lighter. Now this could be claimed to be the usual effects of intoxication, but after the third glass, well people really were feeling light headed. In fact they were hovering about three inches from the ground.

Oddly, this didn't seem to happen to everyone. Those who didn't float started to sink until they were weighed down to the floor like anchors. Very peculiar indeed.

And then some foolish person got in the fourth and final round. The problem of lack of seating was no longer an issue. The ceiling was now home to most, and unfortunately those who didn't float were so stuck to the floor that all they could do was groan and wish that they'd never turned up. However, everyone was glowing nicely, so candles weren't necessary.

At this point everyone was told to leave, but such was the state of affairs that the landlord and barmaid had to tie ropes to each and every person on the ceiling and walk them home. Ay least the journey home was lit up for them. Apparently, only three people escaped and floated into the clouds, but it was said that after a few hours they drifted down slowly. They didn't have a clue where they were, but eventually they got home. The landlord left the rest of the people groaning on the floor. They'd be alright in the morning, he thought, taking past experiences into account.

Now I must own up: I was one of those rogue floaters. Yes, I was at the inn that night - and who would want to keep that marvellous night a secret? - but the whole experience was wiped from my memory by the worst headache I'd ever experienced. This was made slightly worse by me having to spend the wee hours in a field of lesser-spotted duck-faced trundlewhoops, but they took one smell of me and made a hasty retreat, so no damage was inflicted.

So beware of tubby little fairies and their Moonshine: as lovely as it is, you never know where you might end up.

A guide to Dragon Scalers

Agnes Peabody, my baker friend, recently had her roof fixed. Not the most exciting of things you might say, but she opted for a dragon scale roof. And one of a top notch (and very expensive) make, might I add. Anyway, I thought you might be interested in learning a bit about the unfortunate folk who make them. Well, I thought they were unfortunate before I learnt the truth…

I suppose I should start with the basics. A Dragon Scaler is the lowest of the low in the roofing business. It's a pretty dire position to be in, and the worst paid of all jobs, particularly if you consider how much danger's involved.

Dragon scales are shiny and so hard-wearing that they're impervious to anything the elements could throw at them. However, dragons don't happily leave them lying anywhere. Indeed, it takes one hell of an itch to make a dragon scratch so hard that one would fall off. And they're such proud creatures that the only time you'll ever see them scratch is if you're right in their lair with them: but you really wouldn't want to do that.

As you can imagine, most people in the dragon scale trade have very few eyebrows intact. Arm hair is almost non-existent. If you ever want to meet a Dragon Scaler, it's certainly easy to pick one out in a crowd!

After a bit of a search, I found a Dragon Scaler called Tufflin, and he was very open to questioning, particularly after a bit of Moonshine.

Apparently, dragons are susceptible to treats, much like horses. As long as you enter the lair with a packet of mints they will normally let you pick up as many scales as you like. It seems they like to have fresh breath – it makes it easier to breathe fire, so they say. Also, Dragon Scalers help to keep the lair tidy: dragons seem to like having cleaners in to sort out their mess.

So all in all, it's not quite so dangerous as they make out. And he even insinuated that sometimes a Dragon Scaler will have a particular deal going with a dragon so that it will singe eyebrows and hair on demand. Although I wonder whether he's just trying to rubbish the bravery of some of his colleagues.

So I hope that's all a bit clearer for you now. If you're interested in taking up Dragon Scaling I can give you Tufflin's address for more info. But in the meantime, be happy knowing that if you ever meet a spiteful dragon that won't leave you alone, try offering it a mint.

13 October 2004

12 October 2004

The special ingredient

Agnes Peabody, a much respected baker and, dare I say it, very good friend of mine, once made a little error in one of her recipes. Now I know she won't mind me telling you all this, but to make things easier I've changed her name. Besides, Agnes is a rather beautiful name anyway, and I'm sure she would be happy to have that as her pseudonym.

Mrs Peabody's cakes were renowned throughout the land for their taste. Everyone wanted a piece and, if there was ever a new recipe to be had, the shop would be packed for days on end.

One day she came across a new bright blue berry. It was so luscious and delicious, it would be perfect in a new cake. She got to work immediately, stirring and mixing all the ingredients.

Word spread fast, and as soon as the first batch was baked, it was sold out. That morning Agnes sold 43 special fruit cakes, and so took the afternoon off for a well-earned rest.

In that part of the world, everyone sits down at around four in the afternoon to eat cake and drink tea; it's a lovely little pasttime, and this day everyone was eating Mrs Peabody's new cake. Everyone found it to be delicious, but unfortunately, this was not to last.

Come five o'clock, everyone was starting to feel nauseous. Bellies were aching and groaning uncontrollably. No matter how unlikely it sounded, everyone realised it was Agnes's cake.

A crowd of 48 people staggered out into the street and lurched into the cake shop. It was amazing how many people could fit inside it, but fit in they did, every last one.

"What was in the cake?", they all moaned, clutching their stomachs while in excrutiating pain.

Agnes explained that she'd used a new berry, but before she could explain any further, the ground started to shake. Bellies were bulging, grumbling and bumbling, and suddenly everyone let out the most amazing ear-splitting burp you could ever imagine. The belch was so loud and potent that it blew off the roof, sending it flying into the sky and landing in a far-off cornfield. Everyone was blasted to the floor, but it was acknowledged that they all felt much better.

Agnes promised never to use that berry again, and the people agreed it was for the best. After all, she had to keep making cakes, but as long as she tried them first they were all quite happy to keep eating them.

It took Agnes a long while before she found out what that berry had been. The answer came when she visited a chemist's shop and found them on the counter. To relieve long-standing blockages and trapped wind, it said on a sign.

"Ha! Bongo Bam Bam Burp Berries," she said. "I should have known!"

10 October 2004

The thirsty dragon

There are big dragons, there are small dragons. There are nasty vile, flame-spewing dragons and there are cute, cuddly floppy-eared dragons.

Axmagorian was of the cute kind. But he also wasn't the cleverest. Indeed, his story hinges on the fact that he liked to travel but really wasn't much good with directions.

For this poor little dragon's life changed rather drastically when he got lost in a forest one day. It was a huge forest though, and many people would have got lost there given half the chance.

When Axmagorian found a river, he stopped to drink. The river was bright, clear and sparkling, and the dragon lowered his head into the cool water. Before he could take a sip, he felt a few little taps on his shoulder. It was a troop of people, possibly gnomes or forest imps of some sort. They all looked very similar, and the little dragon had never seen any of their type before.

"Get back from our river,
It's not yours it's ours.
If you don't stay away
We'll use magic powers!" they sang in rather lovely block harmony.

Axmagorian was a bit put out. He said sorry, and shyly walked away. He didn't want to upset anyone, but he was thirsty. Maybe if he came back at night, he could sneakily have a drink without them knowing.

At nightfall he returned, and drank heartily in glistening moonlight. As he savoured the refreshing water, once more came the taps on his shoulder. He was caught!

"We'll zap you with lightning,
Curse you for good,
You'll lose all your scales
And be turned into wood."

Axmagorian was suddenly struck by a huge bolt of blue light. His joints froze, his body went hard and he tumbled onto his side. They really had turned him into wood!

"That'll teach you!" they jeered. They all walked up to the petrified dragon and gave him a mighty push into the river.

The dragon made a great splash, but bobbed up to the surface and sailed along with the current.

He drifted along the river for days on end. Axmagorian wasn't sure whether he liked being made of wood, but one thing was definite; he certainly wasn't lost in the forest any more. He also didn't feel hungry or thirsty. In fact he quite enjoyed being taken along by the river. He did love to travel, after all. He could watch the fish and the birds, and all the scenery you could possibly take in. And best of all, he felt entirely safe from harm.

Axmagorian floated all the way to the estuary and into the sea. The landscape was beautiful. He saw things he'd never seen before, and passed through storms and squalls, witnessed stunning sunsets, waves as tall as mountains, and had a thoroughly good time.

Eventually he washed up on a shore. It had fine white sand, palm trees and coconuts, and in the distance he could see forests and mountains. Turtles and lizards crawled along the beach, brightly coloured birds flocked in the sky: he couldn't have asked for a nicer home.

Within a few months of being on solid ground, Axmagorian started to feel the sand below. After months of having no feelings at all, it was a wonderful experience. But it was an odd feeling, much unlike anything he'd felt before, and he realised he was growing roots.

He soon had a firm grip on the earth, and he was growing upwards too. In the spring he grew shoots and with shoots came leaves. He was becoming a tree. Every year he grew taller and birds built nests in his branches. This really was the high life, and he had those malicious creatures in the forest to thank. They would never get to see what he'd seen, and they'd never get to visit his paradise, living all of their lives in their murky dank forest.

08 October 2004

The super pupa

It was a chilly day many autumns ago. I'd been out for a long walk among the fallen leaves and upright mushrooms.

On the ground I came across a giant pupa. Normally these things are tiny and have small caterpillars inside, but something told me this one was different, and not just its size.

I took the pupa home and kept it nice and warm.

For weeks on end I watched as nothing emerged, morning after morning. And then one day I returned from a shopping trip to find the empty silky cocoon lying strewn on the floor. I'd missed it, and I was desperately upset.

But then I felt something warm and smelly drop down onto my shoulder. It was poo, and holding onto the rafters was an overgrown, podgy, and very excitable baby boy.

Well, I didn't know what to make of it. And I actually started to feel very bad. This was someone's baby, and I'd stolen it. I grabbed him from the ceiling, wrapped him up nice and warm, cleaned my shoulder, and then rushed out to the place where I found him. I had no idea who could have left him there, and i couldn't see any signs of anyone having been in the area. I decided to leave a note pinned to a tree, and took the baby home. I had no choice but to care for him.

Nobody ever called by for him.

The baby grew at such a rate that it was unbelievable. He ate enough food for an elephant, and by his first birthday he was six feet tall. He still looked like a young boy, but his height told me that this wasn't any normal child. Oh you should have seen the nappies...

And he kept growing. By his third birthday he was 20ft tall. I struggled to find enough room in the house, I struggled to find enough food to fill his massive appetite. It was a difficult time for all concerned. And then there was a new development.

When he was almost five he started to grow wings. His height was nearing 50ft tall now, and his wingspan was almost double that. It was getting very difficult to keep him in the house, and it took me weeks to make a pair of trousers. They didn't ever fit even when i had finished them. It seemed quite a useless situation. But I did love him all the same.

When he was seven years old, he'd grown to 100ft tall. We had to come to an agreement. He was old enough to realise that living in my garden wasn't ideal. We talked about what was happening to him, and he came to the conclusion that he had to leave.

It was a sad day when he flew off, and I never knew what he was or where he came from. But it was nice to have the sun shine on my house again.

07 October 2004

An odd event

Odd things happen when you least expect them. Like unexpected and unfortunately very necessary DIY: removing giant frogs from a chimney so that the house doesn't catch on fire, for example. At the end of it you realise that it was quite fun, but you sort of wish it had never happened in the first place.

I say this as I learnt of a little story recently. It concerned a very odd occurence.

A happy-go-lucky man was strolling through some woods one day when he saw a blue cat staring up at a tree. The cat was staring so intensely at something among the branches that the man stopped too and started to look. As far as he could tell, there was nothing there, just a few leaves and branches, but as the cat continued to stare, so did he. There must be something very grand up there if it can interest a cat so much, he thought.

The man waited and waited for something to happen, and after ten minutes had passed a small group of people passed by. They too saw the man and the cat staring purposefully into the tree, and so stopped and looked. They chattered among themselves; it was all very exciting, we can't wait for something to happen, they muttered

Over the course of the day many more people came across the tree and the small group of people staring at it. By evening, that small group was a merry gathering – people just kept on arriving, and by nightfall the word had got round to such an extent that there were nearly 100 people transfixed on the tree. No-one dared leave for the sake of missing what was going to happen, so people fell asleep standing up, in the knowledge that someone would wake them up if whatever was going to happen happened.

By the morning, the crowd was nearing 1000 in number. Noblemen and noblewomen arrived on horseback in droves, and even the King and Queen appeared with their entourage. Flocks of birds flew to the nearby trees to watch the happening, herds of cows meandered to the site, and a legion of clucking chickens marched up to the tree from a nearby town. It was all too exciting to be missed.

For three days the crowd grew and grew, everyone watching the tree with such a devotion, it was unnatural. And then at some point on that day, the very first man who had stopped at the sight of the cat realised that the creature had vanished. The cat had mysteriously walked off without waiting to see what happened with the tree. And then it dawned on him that the cat had fooled him. It had played a big game and tricked every one of the thousands of people filling the woods, many of them not even able to see the tree from where they were.

He slung his head low and crept out of the mass of people. A woman told him that he was a fool to leave now when something might happen at any minute. But he just blushed and kept walking.

Eventually, after a few weeks of nothing happening, the crowds dwindled. People finally went home. A fun time was had by all, but it was slighty tarnished by a feeling of anti-climax.

People never talked about it afterwards. Only one man knew why everyone was standing there, but no-one could remember who he was anyway as there was so many people present. It was one of those collective feelings of embarrassment that chooses to hide itself forever, rather than cause blushing and silly feelings all round.

But the cat remembered it for a very long time, and always smiled when it wandered through the woods.

Silly humans, it thought to itself.

03 October 2004

02 October 2004

The Ballad of Limey Lang

Old Limey was a friend of mine. He didn't have the nicest of lives, unfortunately. Although at least he could say that a song had been written about him. Well, he probably would have said that if he hadn't died before it was written. Anyway, the least I can do is record it for posterity here.

It was a stormy night, the rain kept falling.
Limey was sleepy but the birds were calling:
"Limey, Limey!" they whistled together,
"Visit the river, if not now then never!"

He worked his way down, he went through the trees,
He jumped over bushes, he fell to his knees.
In front of the river, a glowing delight:
A small little fairy, a wonderful sight.

"So you found me," it said, it hovered and dipped,
"But you look so tired, and your clothes are ripped."
Limey then smiled, he felt his heart pound.
His head slumped down and he slipped to the ground.

In a restless slumber, he felt himself grow,
When twenty feet tall he started to slow,
"Are you happy now?" a voice shouted out,
And there was the fairy who gave him a clout.

Limey soon woke, he shook his head twice,
There were his feet, no smaller than mice,
And here was his body, bigger than big,
What was he doing? He took hold of a twig.

But the twig was a tree, his hand was immense,
Where was that fairy? He was suddenly tense.
"What have you done? I feel all queer?"
He said as he sat, and flattened a deer.

"Calm down!" said the fairy, floating lower and lower,
"People will like you, you’re a bit of a grower.
At first you were dull, but now you’re a giant.
I thank you a lot, you were very compliant!"

"I had no choice, I was happy ‘til now,"
He shook off his shoe and knocked over a cow,
"But why am I huge? What have you done,
If you grew me much taller, I’d compete with the sun."

Limey stopped moving for fear of squashing,
Another poor creature, oh think of the washing.
But perhaps it was right, maybe friends will appear,
"I’ll be popular and happy," it was all coming clear.

So up jumped Limey, a giant through and through,
And the fairy disappeared, it had things to do.
It called by the town, "Food on the way!
A nice fleshy giant, it will make your day."

When Limey reached home he called for his friends,
But all that was waiting was a trap with sharp ends.
It snapped on his foot, and closed itself tight,
It bit into his skin, he put up a fight.

He bent down to loosen the mantrap that clung
To his leg, but he stumbled. Bang bang went a gun.
He felt a sharp pain in his chest, so he cried,
But nobody listened, he lay there and died.

His ghost floated up, away to the moon,
The air there was clear, but it all came too soon.
He looked back through tears at the fires down below,
They were having so much fun, how he wished he could go.

Bring out the cleavers, dig out the knives,
Round up the children, chop up some chives.
Fetch all the vegetables, grab all the wine,
Dress up smart - let’s all wine and dine.

Screw in the skewers, light fires on the floor,
Once more, they shouted, there’d be food for the poor,
I’ll take some arm, you take some thigh,
We’ll barbie him proper, raise him up nice and high.

So the people rejoiced, the festivities could start,
From the gift he had given they could all take heart.
And the feast ran all night, "Good old Limey," they sang,
And that was the end of old Limey Lang.

01 October 2004

The tree of stars

A monkey once told me a story. I had little reason to trust a primate at that stage in my life, but for reasons I may divulge later, I came to believe him.

The monkey told me that once there had been a tree so large that it caught stars as they fell from the sky. The tree grew upon a mountain top, and over time its branches spread as wide as the sky was high. As the branches grew so did they catch more stars, and before long the tree was a gleaming bright beacon that could be seen for miles around.

Travellers used the sparkling light of the tree to guide them through the darkness, but before long, they became greedy. In the dead of night, travellers would chop branches down and use them as a glowing staff to guide their way. In no time at all the glistening tree was fully robbed out. It had been shorn of its tendrils, and all that remained was a lifeless stump.

Without the tree to guide them, travellers took to using the stars of the sky as their map, and knowledge of the radiant tree vanished as fast as it had been cut down.

After he had finished the tale, the monkey had one last thing to say.

Before the light of the tree had been lost forever, he picked up a seed and took it as far away from humans as he could. He found a lush green forest, dug a small hole and buried the seed. One day, he said, another tree would grow tall and strong and catch the stars. But no human would ever be allowed to see it.