There's A Long Long Trail A Winding
Not the 9 o'clock News
Why Don't You Just Go and Have a Good Cry
Written by Norma Williams - Illustrated by Sadie James_____________
"Hey Baby, …Don't Fight it … Life is a roller coaster, - just got to ride it." - Ronan Keating.
George was having a nightmare. Red eyes were staring into his, there was a strange sensation in his ears and someone was stealing his food. He squealed and woke up with a jump. The eyes were still there.
"'Ello," said a squeaky voice. "Would yew like your ears washed?"
Sitting in the straw with her paws folded neatly in front of her was a tiny jill ferret. She was pure white with pink eyes and a pink nose and wore an eager, pleasing expression.
George stared at her.
"What's wrong with your eyes?" he asked. "Have you got a disease? Is it catching?"
The little jill giggled.
"Yew are funny," she squeaked, then she hopped up to George, pressed her nose against his, and said earnestly, "I love you."
"Oh go on, let me wash your ears."
"Get off me, woman."
The straw beside them erupted and Henry popped up. His head had a strange smeared appearance.
"She's done mine," he said, "it was quite nice."
At the bottom of the vegetable garden there is an early flowering hawthorn hedge which always has a blackbird singing in it. Under the hedge is a grassy bank, and on the grassy bank there is a little grave which looks quite new.
Sid came slowly down the garden. He was carrying a bunch of spring flowers, the red campion tied up with fennel fronds which were Gilly's favourites.
"Oh dear me," said Mother and began to sniffle. She'd done a lot of that lately.
But… halfway down the path the little white jill leapt out of the ferret run and galloped up to Sid. She bounced to a stop in front of him and pushed her nose into his.
"'Ello," she said.
Sid jumped and squeaked.
"I love yew," said the jill.
Sid looked alarmed…
Then he looked a bit interested…
Then he looked very interested…
Then he looked quite pleased…
He placed the flowers carefully on the grassy bank, turned back to the little white jill, and arm in arm the two little animals walked off together. As they turned the corner they heard the jill ask…
"Would yew like your ears washed?"
Alice had come to stay.
You may remember that Barry the Buzzard had a holiday romance with Bronwyn from Brecon, which resulted in the hatching of Brian, who had a somewhat unusual chickhood. He was raised by the Vicarage dog and as a result of this has some strange, and rather disturbing, habits. Brian's origins are a big, big secret. Buzzards are supposed to mate for life and be faithful, they are not meant to go on the toot with Welsh floozies. Brenda does have her suspicions, but like so many wives before her, she can't actually prove anything. So Brian is tolerated, just. He lives in a dirty little spinney which lies on a hill to the south of Bog Wood. It is a nasty sort of place and since Brian moved in it has become much nastier. Sad little momentos from his hunting trips dangle from the bushes - there are pretty felt collars with "Ginger", "Sooty" and "Tiddles" etched on them. There are bones too. Some of them are little bones and some are big bones. Even more worryingly there are a walking stick, a cloth cap, a zimmerframe and a sock.
As we said above, it is a very, very nasty little spinney.
Brian sat hunched evilly in a tree and watched the farm in the valley below. Mother was trotting round and round the big grass field on her mountain pony, Stanley. Brian wondered if she would fall off today - she often did - and if she did, if he would able to get to her before the Land Rover rescued her. He licked his beak and screamed hungrily.
Stanley had been entered in an endurance race of 50 miles which was to cross the Peak District National Park.
"It'll stop me thinking about Gilly," said Mother sadly.
"It'll probably stop you breathing as well," said Jim unsympathetically. "Why don't you just go and have a good cry like a normal woman."
He had a point. Stanley is a strange animal. He is bright ginger with a white mane and tail. He looks fluffy and cute, which is misleading. He is what the horsey for ads call "forward going" - this is a euphanism, which means that he has brilliant acceleration, but little steering and absolutely no brakes. He also has a buck which has hospitalised three people and - unusually in a horse - an unbelievably filthy temper.
The ferrets were watching too.
"She's bound to kill herself this time," said George complacently.
"But if she wins," said Alice, "she'll get lots and lots of money."
"Of course she won't," said George. "She won't win and she never makes any money at anything."
Alice leapt in front of him eagerly.
"They pay little lads on skinny 'orses thousands of pounds just for running one mile," she squeaked breathlessly. "If a fat ole tart on a pony can do fifty miles I should think she'll get millions."
"I couldn't manage without George's support," said Mother proudly. "He's even managed to find a stop watch from somewhere. And Henry's helping too - he's offered to be pacemaker. I hope he isn't going to get hurt," she added anxiously…
They watched as Henry galloped round the paddock on Trigger, his pet sheep.
Sheep can be quite quick, and as they reached the corner, Henry grappled gamely, but fairly briefly, with the force of gravity - lost - and flew off into a large thistle.
"He isn't much good, is he?" said George.
Henry picked himself up, hobbled painfully after Trigger and began aiming spiteful kicks at his woolly bottom.
"That's not quite the spirit," said Mother firmly, "we don't take it out on the horse - er - sheep - when we come off." She carried Henry off to the house and her voice drifted back - "No, darling of course you can't put poor Trigger in the freezer - he's your friend."
George watched her go.
"She won't win," he repeated gloomily. Even if she stays on the horse she'll get lost."
This is perfectly true. Mother can't tell her left from her right and only finds her way round Lichfield because the streets have names written on them.
"They follow ribbons," said Alice - "the stoat told me - it's red ribbons on your right, white on your left - it's easy." She bounced up and down in front of George, did a couple of energetic pounces, and said, "Easy, easy, easy." The she pushed her little pink nose into his and said hopefully, "Give us a cuddle."
"Oh look, they're making friends," said Mother proudly from the kitchen window.
It was the evening before the race and the trailer was parked in a field high up in the Peak District. Stanley was tied to the trailer and was tearing savagely at a hay net. Mother was sitting by a campfire, chain smoking. Henry and Trigger - who were friends again - were trundling round and round the field. Henry had found riding far too dangerous, so the faithful Trigger had been fitted with a skate board which was tied to his tail. Steering was effected by means of two pieces of baling string tied to his rear fleece, and a further refinement was an old strawberry punnet which had been fitted with a little seat. Henry was very proud of his unusual transport system, although the sight of Trigger in the Land Rover had caused a little unpleasantness on the journey.
"Got a date, mate?" jeered some overtaking lads to Jim.
Sid and Alice had been unable to make the journey, as both of them were indisposed, which was unfortunate really as Sid was the only person who knew which way round the marker ribbons were supposed to go. Alice's indisposition was of quite a simple nature - suddenly faced with an unlimited supply of food, she had eaten herself circular - and she now resembled nothing more or less than a snowball, with a tail on one side and three pink dots on the other. She was confined to barracks with some clean water and a small dish of "Ferretlite".
Sid's problem was a little more serious, but was also entirely Alice's fault. He is an avid television fan, and he and Gilly had spent many happy hours watching the gentler soaps to which they were both addicted. Stoats are sensitive little souls and a careful watch had always been kept on his viewing habits, lest he see anything which might upset him - and thus it was a bit unfortunate when the more spirited Alice had flipped channels and Sid was exposed to a full thirty minutes of "Eastenders". The effect was just awful. They found poor Sid flat on his back, with his eyes as big as saucers and his paws rigid - he had fainted clean away. He was revived carefully and taken to Hospital, where Paul prescribed camomile tea and rest in a darkened room. He tried to explain the concept of acting to Sid who refused to listen and said that the human race was a disgrace and ought to be ashamed of itself. He was taken home where he climbed into hi little ivy-covered house and went into a deep, deep sulk.
"I do hope we aren't going to have problems with Alice," said Mother anxiously.
Anyway, back to the Peak District, where George is marshalling his troops, an unsavoury bunch consisting of Wayne and the Weasels, Henry, Trigger and finally Brian, who had come along on the promise of a slap up meal. He was perched on the bonnet of the Land Rover where he was stropping his beak on the radiator grill and glancing sideways at Stanley and Mother.
"Tell us again," said Wayne.
"Look," said George, "for the last time, it's red ribbons on your right, white on your left, but you swap 'em over. Got it?"
"Yes," said Wayne, who hadn't.
"What are you going to be doing while we're working?" asked Tracy.
"I'll take care of things this end."
"You mean you're going to sleep."
"Of course I'm not, I'll be on guard and I'll make sure she wakes up in the morning, then I'll tell her we've swapped the ribbons, she'll win, and I'll… er… we'll … be rich."
"What's that bird here for?"
"Just think of him as an incentive," said George.
He watched keenly, as Trigger trundled off into the hills, with Henry and the Weasels bumping up and down in the little chariot.
"What was he going on about?" asked Wayne.
George cuddled down into the straw it was warm, and comfortable. He was soon sound asleep, and he stayed asleep for the next 12 hours. Which was a pity, really.
Up in the dark hills the Weasels examined the first set of ribbons doubtfully.
"What does "red" mean?" asked Wayne.
Dawn came and George slept on. The ride had started and over 100 riders and their horses were getting hopelessly lost in the hills. The red ribbon trail, which had always worked so well in the past, was now making no sense at all. Some were there, some weren't, several appeared to be soaked in alcohol and one had very rude words written all over it. The last one of all had "Bugger it…" written in scrawly handwriting, and a trail of little hoof-prints leading from it.
Most of the riders were wandering round the hills in circles, with the exception of Mother. Stanley had completely lost his temper, bucked her off and returned alone to the carpark, his trailer and his hay. George woke, stretched, yawned and had a leisurely scratch, then peered outside.
"Oh dear," he said.
"Is this anything to do with you?" asked Jim.
George opened his eyes very wide and flipped his ears forward.
"Don't bother going all cute with me," said Jim. "It doesn't work."
"It was worth a go."
"What if she never comes back? Who's going to cook my dinners?"
"We… er… you could live on fish and chips, and" - (George really is very, very cunning) - "You'll be able to watch all the television you want - just think - no more of her moaning halfway through "Neighbours"."
Jim considered all this.
"I suppose she'll be alright on her own up in the hills."
"Of course it will."
""We'd better go home then. What time does the chippy open?"
"How do you know that?"
"I'm a ferret - it's my job."
The little sheepy hoof-prints whichlead from the trail ended by a 'bus stop on the A^ just below Hob Tor. By the 'bus stop Wayne and the Weasels, Henry and Trigger were having an argument with the driver of a big red 'bus.
"I don't take weasels," said the driver. "Nor sheep, I'm not licensed for sheep, anyway, it's not that sort of 'bus. We're going to Blackpool."
"Let them on you mean sod," said an old lady. She poked the driver with her brolly, and added.
"We could do with a laugh."
Wayne settled back in his seat.
"What's Blackpool?" he asked.
Mother had taken shelter in a cave high up in the hills, on Mam Tor. Brian perched on a rock outside the cave and craned his neck inside hopefully. The cave was dank, and black and cold and horrid. Mother sat on a damp rock and unwrapped her last Mars bar.
"That looks tasty." A voice from the dark above echoed eerily round the cave.
"Give us a bite," said the voice again. There was a flapping sound. She looked up.
"Are you bats?" she asked.
The cave erupted in squeaky laughter.
"Did you 'ear what she said?"
"I love it when they ask that."
"Has she asked the bat question?" asked someone in glee.
"She has, she has!"
"Ask us again!"
"Ask us again!"
"Are you bats?" asked Mother obediently, and the cave erupted in uncontrolled mirth.
"Only I live with bats," added Mother despondently, during a brief lull in the celebrations, "and they cause quite a lot of trouble."
She had focused her eyes now and could see that the cave roof was liberally draped with large fuzzy bats.
"Pipistrelles," said a voice.
"Show me a bat in trouble and I'll show you a pipistrelle," said the voice definitely and there was a chorus of agreement from the other bats, as they all bobbed up and down - or rather down and up - in agreement. Voices bounced from all round the cave.
"Flighty your pipistrelles."
"Flighty!!" shrieked a voice in agreement.
"But lazy with it."
"Live in houses, idle little sods."
"Not like us, proper bats we are."
"We're Natterer's bats."
"Myotis nattereri," elaborated someone, helpfully.
"We're quite rare, we are."
"Not like your pipistrelles."
"Common as muck, your pipistrelles."
"Little buggers get everywhere."
There were shrieks of agreement, and someone shouted, "That's right, that's right."
The natterers bats were obviously well named. Once they started talking, you couldn't stop them.
"Can you help me get home?" asked Mother as the bats paused briefly to get their breath back. "Course we can duckie. Ask our Vernon, he's Head of Communications."
A bat with long ears, a pink face and ginger armpits flew up and landed gently by her face.
"How would you like to be on the 9 o'clock news?" he asked
So, to sum up, our family party is now spread over three different counties.
Jim, George, Stanley, and the Land Rover, are at home in Staffordshire. Jim and George are eating cod and chips and watching a particularly challenging episode of "Home and Away".
Brian and Mother are in Derbyshire at the bat cave, with Vernon and finally, Wayne, the weasels, Henry and Trigger are in Lancashire - Blackpool to be precise - Wayne and Co are on the Big Dipper, and Trigger and Henry are sitting on the beach with a lettuce sandwich and a choc ice.
So we'd better get them all back together again.
"I've never been so humiliated in my life," yelled Jim. "I was trying to have a quiet five minutes watching the news, when the picture faded, President Bush vanished in a cloud of interference, and then a squeaky voice - which said it belonged to someone called Vernon - informed the whole of the Western World that my wife was being cared for by a tribe of bats in a cave on Mam Tor, was safe and well and could be collected at my convenience." He paused and then went on bitterly, "I can't even go down the village to get fish and chips without the kids dancing up and down behind me, flapping their arms about and shouting, "Hello Batman." He glared at her. "My Mother was right about you… she said you'd be nothing but trouble. I'm going for a lie down."
But he couldn't because the 'phone rang.
"That was Lancashire Police," said Mother. "The want us to collect Wayne and Henry and the sheep. They're at Blackpool - or rather on the town limits - they've been thrown out."
"How can anyone possibly be thrown out of Blackpool?" It's like being evicted from hell. What have they done?"
"Apparently they couldn't get the Weasels off the Rollercoaster - Wayne seems to have found his spiritual home. He's had five hundred pounds worth of rides, he'd been round fifty times before they managed to cut the power off. They sounded a bit cross."
"It's all turned out quite well really, in a funny sort of way."
The Land Rover was thundering back down the M6. In the back lay the Weasels, Henry and Trigger. Wayne had a "Kiss Me Quick" hat on. He kept saying, "Wheeeeeeee" and turning round wistfully to look north.
"So much has happened I haven't had time to be sad," continued Mother. "And at least I know one thing."
"None of this was George's fault."
So eventually they all went to bed and everything was quiet in the ferret pen, except for a slight slurping sound - George was having his ears washed - Alice was home for good.
And in the flowering hawthorn hedge, above the grass bank, Gilly's blackbird sand on the summer dusk.