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.