All the Fun of the Fair - Part 1
The Fete Worse Than Death
In which Spring comes to Bog Wood, home of England's more useless predators. Barry the Buzzard has parenting problems, Mother plans a happy day out, George makes plans of his own, Gilly gets all tied up and Sid comes to the rescue...
and as for Tracy...
Written by Norma Williams - Illustrations Sadie James
Spring was coming early.
Mother came trotting happily down the path. In a sensuous celebration of the season she had removed her woolly hat for the first time in six months.
"Here it comes" said George, "By the cringe, she's ugly."
"I didn't realise she 'ad 'air," said Tracy "I thought that blue thing was part of 'er 'ead".
"Darling!" Mother swooped on George and began to tickle his tummy.
"Get your hands off me you mad old bat."
"Guess what darlings - we're all going to the village show; there's ferret racing for you, a show for Zanti and all sorts of lovely things. We'll have a nice family day out - without involving the police," she added hopefully. She popped George back on his log and wandered off to chat to the lettuce.
"Mad as a cut snake" said George.
"I want to come" Tracy stood with her hands on her hips. "If you're going anywhere I want to come."
Gilly's kind little heart swelled in her tiny chest. "All our friends can come," she said happily… Gilly, it must be said does share Mother's tendency towards mad optimism. "It'll be fun".
"It'll be trouble," said Henry.
* * * *
Down in Bog Wood, the animals and birds were all busy with their babies.
Barry the Buzzard hated spring. He hunched his huge wings and stared gloomily at the massive chick which sat in the nest beside him. He hated kids, too.
Every winter he planned his escape and every year he left it too late. Brenda, his fearsome partner would give a tremendous cackle of triumph mixed with spite and there it was, another bloody egg and all hope of freedom gone for another year.
Another six months of squirting regurgitated rabbit down one end and then clearing up the other end, with Brenda nagging and the kid whining. He often wondered if it was worth legging it, but she'd find him, - she'd find him and then she'd rip his tripes out.
He spotted a movement on the woodland floor.
"Would you like a nice weasel?" he asked hopefully.
"Mom says you're not to give me weasel," moaned the chick "I hate weasel. They're all stringy and gritty and they give me the…"
There was a tremendous clatter and Brenda, with four dead rabbits in her talons landed on the branch beside him.
"Mommm," whined the chick spitefully. "He's trying to feed me weasel again, Mom."
Brenda ripped the heads off two of the rabbits and glared at Barry. "You idle sod," she snarled. "Go and get him some proper food."
"May I have a rabbit, my angel?"
"No you may not. Go to the lake and fetch him a duck."
"I can't catch ducks, they flap about."
"Well you'll have to flap faster, they won't you," said Brenda nastily.
* * * *
Back at the farm Tracy was rooting through the dustbin. Her tiny figure had completely vanished, but there was the sound of much energetic sorting.
"We're having a fry-up," she explained. "Here, catch," and she threw a piece of cheese out of the bin and followed this with some cold baked beans and two used tea bags.
"What are you frying-up exactly?" asked George.
"Don't know exactly. It's dead. And a bit flat."
With this she picked some cat litter out of the cheese, carefully arranged the beans in it, stuck it on top of her head, hoisted the tea bags under her skinny arms and trotted off.
Wayne the Weasel, like Barry, is not a good provider, much as he likes to depict himself as the Mighty Hunter and Provider for his Tribe. There is, he reasons, no use in dashing around after food while it is still alive. If you wait long enough it either dies of old age or get squashed on the road. It can then be harvested at your leisure. This means that the weasels have some pretty awful meals and Wayne is more likely to die of hardening of the arteries than a hunting accident. However, it does save drinking time.
Drink, as we have already seen, is major Weasel Problem, or in Wayne's case, not so much a problem more a way of life. We are all familiar with the old rhyme "Pop Goes the Weasel" and this old ditty refers to the ferocious "weasel pop" brewed by all wild weasels. Wayne's personal recipe, handed down to him by his father just before he died of cirrosis of the liver, is a particularly evil brew. The main ingredient is ragwort. This is carefully mixed with hops, cow manure and pigeon droppings. The undigested grain in these combined with a rare strain of E.coli also present made the brew 99% proof. It has a kick like an enraged carthorse and a nice frothy head. Post-mortems carried out on ex-weasels reveal a liver of a leather like substance which smokes slightly and glows green in the dark.
No sooner had Tracy trotted off when Barry shuffled shyly round the corner. He hopped onto the dustbin, swaying dangerously, and looked hopefully into the bin. He gave a little squawk of triumph and hoisted out a roast chicken carcase. He dropped this onto the floor, then he fell off the bin and added the chicken to the rest of his catch, which were two dead frogs.
"Hello Barry," said Gilly," has Brenda hatched the egg yet?"
Barry sighed deeply.
"I think that probably means yes," said George.
The ferrets watched as Barry shuffled off. With both talons full he tried to take off, failed and crashed into the paddock fence. The frogs exploded with a dreary "phut" and green slime dripped from his talons. "Caw," said Barry sadly.
"He's useless," said George.
"Climb up the fence, Barry," called Gilly, "you can take off from there."
Barry cheered up a little and scrambled up the fence, wings flapping, and took off.
He began to fly in circles and cackled with fright.
"Both wings Barry," shouted the ferrets, waving their paws up and down.
They watched as he flew, slowly and unsteadily back towards Bog Wood.
His catch, which now consisted of three cooked chicken bones and some frog entrails, hung sadly from one talon.
"Brenda's going to kill him when he gets back with that load of rubbish," said George.
* * * * *
"I can never understand all this fuss about hunting," said George smugly. "I've never had any trouble in feeding myself." The ferrets were sitting in the Land Rover, watching Mother, red faced, struggling out of the Co-op with four shopping bags.
"I hope she's remembered the Smarties."
* * * * *
The days grew warmer and longer and everyone practised for the village show. Or at least, everyone but George. "I'm already the perfect animal athlete," he maintained calmly. "It would be an insult to my iron constitution to over-train. In fact," he added, "if I were any fitter I'd probably be slightly dangerous, so I'd better go and have a lie down." And the perfect animal athlete waddled off to his log and was soon fast asleep.
It must be said, that Henry and Gilly weren't much better. Gilly was willing, but not very fast. Henry was extremely fast, but after about five seconds couldn't remember what he was supposed to be doing and either wandered off or went ballistic in the broad beans. Things weren't looking good. No one was helped by a contingent of weasels, who stood jeering on the sidelines. Even Barry, who now sported two black eyes and several missing feathers, cheered up a little as he watched. It was nice, he thought, to see someone else in trouble for once. "You're all too fat," giggled Tracy. "Watch me," and she galloped round the veggie garden like a small brown missile.
George did watch. He watched and he plotted. Soon he had cheered up no end. If you want to win, he thought, you need brains, not brawn. You also need an extremely stupid woman, and he trotted off up to the house to find one.
"Why's that ferret hanging around so much?" asked Jim suspiciously. "Is he stealing things again?"
George was in the kitchen. He was sitting on the draining board, wearing an expression of great sweetness and innocence.
"Of course he isn't stealing," said Mother crossly. "He's been practising for the show, I expect he's just come to tell us about it."
"I'd be very careful if you intend going on church property with that animal," said Jim, "last time you appeared in public he got you arrested, evicted and accused of devil worship all in one morning. He could probably have you excommunicated with just one flick of his paw."
* * * * *
The morning of the show was particularly beautiful. The sun was shining kindly, the blackbirds sang and the air smelled sweetly of warm grass. It was the kind of day you dream about, in the middle of winter, say, or when you are abroad. There is nowhere in the world like England in April.
The Land Rover and trailer were in the yard. Also in the yard were Mother and Zanti. They were having a terrible row. Mother was nearly in tears and Zanti had her front legs splayed out and her feet firmly rooted with the air of a horse who is going nowhere. "Please, please get in the box," sobbed Mother.
Jim lurked in the kitchen. "Another bloody show season," he thought gloomily.
(The following awful scene will be tragically familiar to every horsey family in England).
Mother sat down on the ramp of the trailer and wailed. "She won't load, and I can't find my make-up bag."
"How can you possibly lose your make up bag?" asked Jim, "it's the size of an aircraft carrier."
"Don't be so bloody rude."
"I'm not getting in the box," yelled Zanti, "the feed bowl's full of weasels and there's a buzzard in the tack locker."
"Why on earth do you do this?" asked Jim. "It's the same every year, why don't you just go shopping like a normal woman?"
"It's my hobby," screamed Mother. "It's what I do for fun." And she burst into tears.
* * * * *
By the time Zanti was loaded and they were under way, no one was speaking. Mother was totally demoralised by the loss of her make up bag. She hadn't slept either - someone had stolen her Walkman and all her story tapes.
For once the ferrets were official passengers. George and Henry sat on the front seat, but Gilly most surprisingly, was in the carry box, hiding under some straw. Pinned to the box was a sign, typed by Mother at the request of George the night before, it said "My name is Gilly Williams and I AM a ferret". Gilly, explained George was feeling very nervous and was trying the power of positive thought. There was a very strange smell in the car - a mixture of excited wild animal and cheap perfume.
Just a few minutes after the family had left, the neat little figure of Sid appeared in the yard. Now stoats are wonderful creatures, but they do have one failing - they are vain. By the time Sid had finished preening his ermine front, washing his tippy tail and fluffing his tiny ears, everyone else was halfway to the show. He stood disconsolately in the yard, looking up the drive. In one paw was a posy of Gilly's favourite red campion, wrapped in a sprig of fennel and tied up with a golden barley straw. Sid sighed and began to trot up the drive. Then he stopped. Coming from the dog kennel was a muffled thumping sound. He peered inside and squeaked with shock. There, trussed like a turkey was his Gilly. Her little paws were all tied together with one of Mother's hairnets and she was gagged with sellotape. Chattering with concern he carefully unwrapped her. What had happened?
"You may well ask," snarled Gilly, "my bloody, bloody bother." Gilly the wise, the good, the kind, had completely lost her temper. "Come on," she said and the two tiny animals galloped towards the village. "I'm going to make him sorry he was ever born," puffed Gilly, "and that trollopy weasel," she added.
* * * * *
The Land Rover pulled onto the Church field. George was sitting on Mother's shoulder like a strange manevolent parrot, his tail fluffed out and twitching with excitement.
Two of the vets from the local practice were judging, as was another of George's old friends, the galloping Major. They watched George's arrival.
"Oh, Lord," said Paul, the younger vet, "it's that weird woman from the farm with that ghastly ferret."
"There's something very strange about that whole set up," bleated the Major, and reached for his brandy.
* * * * *
"Here we are darlings," trilled Mother, who had recovered somewhat. She pulled on the handbrake and switched off the engine.
"Right," said George. "What shall we do first…" and he leapt from the car and vanished into the crowd…
to be continued