The Tale of Wilbur the Arboreal Whelk
by Norma Williams - Illustrations by Sadie James
A little scientific and cultural foray in which we say goodbye to Wayne as he experiences the ultimate big bang; baby Shane becomes King of the Weasels; George advances the cause of science with an astonishing discovery and a touching little ceremony is unexpectedly ruined by the guest of honour.
There Once was a Weasel called Wayne
Who danced every day in the rain
He got drunk all the time
When in his prime
But now that he’s dead
We’ll try and like him instead
And forget that we found him a pain.
© H. Ferret 2003
Alice, George and the kits were sitting in the vegetable garden enjoying the warm spring sunshine. Tracy had joined them, she had some news, she said, but couldn’t quite remember what it was, so she dozed in the sun contentedly. Sammy was making daisy chains,
using prime numbers, which always made him giggle. Shane was sitting in the spring cabbage. George regarded him with disfavour.
"Can’t you stop him doing that?" he asked irritably.
"He’s only a baby," said Alice.
"I bet you did it when you were a kit," suggested Tracy.
"I most certainly did not!"
"He’ll grow out of it," said Alice fondly.
"I still don’t see why we should have to watch him," moaned George, unwilling to let the matter drop.
Tracy sat up suddenly.
"I’ve remembered!" she said.
"I told you I’d got some news! You’ll laugh when I tell you," she sniggered, scratched under one armpit, examined a nice little scab with interest, then recovered herself, then said, "Me Dad’s dead."
They stared at her.
"Dead as a nit!" continued the sorrowing daughter. "Blew ‘imself up, daft old bugger." She collapsed briefly, sniggered, snorted, then went on, "’e was making some booze, and ‘e put petrol in it, ‘stead of diesel. Bloody ‘ell you should have seen ‘im go. Shot up through the trees with ‘is tail on fire ‘e did, went up like a bloomin’ rocket. Never seen ‘im again. Laugh," ...she snorted helplessly, "we all fell about."
"You’re not a very close family are you?" asked George.
"Are you sure he’s dead?" asked Alice.
"Oh yes," said Tracy, "he writ and told us."
"I didn’t know you could do that," said George.
"Oh yes, he’s writ an told us he’s in Heaven," said Tracy.
"That doesn’t seem likely," said George.
"Anyway, ‘e’s gone," continued Tracy, "so that’s why I’m ‘ere - I’ve come for ‘im." She nodded towards baby Shane who was asleep in the cabbage with one back paw shoved in his mouth. "’e’s the eldest kit."
(Shane had achieved this feat by default, as it was still March he was in fact, the only kit) "So ‘es Chief Weasel now. Mind you," she went on doubtfully, "’e’s a funny looking little bugger in ‘e?"
They all looked at the next Chief of the Weasels. Baby Shane is a bit, well peculiar. He’s bright pink with blue eyes, but then a cross between a weasel and an albino ferret is always going to be interesting in the colour department. He has a narrow, shifty, pointed little face which is surrounded by pink fluff and gives him the look of a slightly goofy hedgehog. So far he had only managed to learn three words, two of which can’t be mentioned in a family publication, and the third of which is 'bogey' - an expression to which he is much attached. "I don’t really think he’s going to be up to it," said George.
"’e ‘asn’t got to do much," said Tracy frankly, "me dad never did."
But Alice said that wasn’t the point at all. Shane was much too young to live in Bog Wood. If he was to become Chief Weasel, then he must have proper meals and come home at night.
"’e can’t do that!" said Tracy indignantly, "’e’s meant to be a wild animal, ‘e can’t ‘ave lunch breaks and go ‘ome to ‘is mum."
But Alice was adamant, and after an animated discussion, (easily won by Alice), she and Tracy took Shane by his little paws, and dragging his second best litter tray behind them, they led him towards Bog Wood, and his destiny.
George trotted up to the house.
"Wayne’s dead," he said.
"Oh no," said Mother, "Oh darling that’s awful, we’ll really miss him."
"No we won’t."
"Oh course, we will, darling, we always miss people when they die."
Mother looked a bit shifty, and said, "well, we just do."
"You couldn’t stand him," persisted George.
"Nonsense," lied Mother stoutly. "I always said he was a dear little animal. We must have a nice funeral," she went on mistily.
"You can’t," said George with brutal frankness, "there’s nothing left to bury, he blew himself up."
"Well, we’ll have something. Who’s looking after the poor weasels?"
"Little Shane! He’s only three months old! Anyway, I don’t think we ought to let too many people see baby Shane."
"Well, he’s a bit unusual, isn’t he? We don’t want lots of nasty television and newspaper people down here do we?"
George looked at her very hard.
"You mean he’s worth something?"
"Oh, yes, he’s very rare. He could be worth a fortune. We don’t want anything to happen to Sammy or little Shane do we?"
"Of course we don’t," said George.
Down in Bog Wood, Shane’s introduction to his tribe wasn’t really going to plan. The weasels were quite used to computers, but a litter tray proved to be pushing technology just that little bit too far for their little brains to take in, and they stood in a frightened huddled group, staring at in awe.
"No good’ll come of it."
They were frightened of Alice too, who stood guard over Shane, glaring at them.
"’is mum’s scary," they moaned.
They have a point here. Where the kits are concerned, Alice is scary. George had to admit this. His plan to market Shane and Sammy to the mass media would have to be shelved. Any attempt on his part to exploit the babies would mean getting his ears comprehensively boxed by their fierce little mum. Something else unusual, and marketable, would have to be found. He went for a walk, and a little think.
"I wish you wouldn’t just appear like that darling, you make me nervous sometimes."
George sat on the draining board and looked earnest.
"I’ve found something really unusual in Bog Wood. I think you’d better come and take a look."
Just inside the wood, close to an old woodpile and astonishingly close to the lane and the fence, was a silver birch tree. As you know, silver birches don’t usually bother with branches much, they usually just grow straight up and have done with it, but this little tree has a branch about 4 foot above the ground, and on this branch a small, black creature sat shyly, silhouetted against the white bark, basking in the afternoon sun.
Mother peered upwards eagerly, "Good lord, it’s a whelk."
"Oh, is that what it is," said George innocently, "I wondered."
"They don’t usually live in trees, and we’re 100 miles from the sea. This could be really important."
"That’s what I thought."
"I think I’ll ring the BBC."
"I was hoping you’d say that."
Sure enough the discovery of an inland, tree dwelling whelk caused a sensation in the scientific world. George was on the front page of every magazine, from National Geographic, ("Positive Proof of The Flood by Genius Ferret") to "Hello" ("Exclusive pictures!! At Home with George Ferret in deepest Staffordshire.") Soon the BBC had their top man booked for a live outside broadcast at 9 p.m. on the 30th April when George would introduce Wilbur - as the whelk was called - to the astonished outside world. Mother and George walked down the lane together to inform Wilbur of the coming event.
"I wonder if he knows how important he is," said Mother, wiping a sentimental tear from her cheek.
"Oh I think he possibly does," said George coolly.
At 8 p.m. on the 30th April, the Great Naturalist arrived in a Rolls Royce which was followed by an assortment of sinister looking BBC vans, a mobile canteen and an ambulance.
"Goodness me," said Mother, "what a lot of fuss. Are you nervous darling?"
The Great Man got out of his car. He was wearing a safari suit of white linen which was so beautifully ironed it made your eyes hurt. He ignored Mother, who had cleaned her Wellingtons especially, shook hands with George rather gingerly, then wiped his hands on a red bandana.
"We’re going to watch on television," said Mother proudly, "good luck darling."
And so, the Great Man, his entourage, and their guide, trooped off down the lane in search of Wilbur and scientific enlightenment.
"Have you brought your cheque book?" asked George.
"Are you sure it’s up that tree?"
"This had better not be a wind up ferret."
George stared at him hard.
"Oh it isn’t," he said blandly, "I can assure you it’s deadly serious."
Nine o’clock came and the powerful television lights were switched on and the cameras rolled. The Great Man sat in the grass, staring up into the tree with an expression of wonder. His attitude towards George had undergone a change too, he was positively civil.
"We’re privileged to be here tonight," he said in an awed whisper, "and to have the chance - the first chance on television - to see real evidence of The Great Flood. And this is all thanks to this clever little chap by my side, George, a very ordinary..."
"Not that ordinary," said George coldly.
"Quite, quite. This, er..."
"Try Cleverdick," said a voice behind him. There was a peal of squeaky laughter.
The Great Man swung round. Behind them on the woodpile sat a ready assembled audience of weasels, moles, badgers, the buzzards, some crows and Alice with the kits. There were some advertisement hoardings as well.
"Wong Dot Com for all your
Rare Welks supplied,
Discownt for bulk purchase.
"H. Ferrit of Nitesbridge
Pomes writ for any occashun."
It was one of those seminal moments when the words "stitch up" leap immediately into the human brain.
The Great Man struggled.
"Keep the cameras off the vermin," he hissed.
"Who are you calling vermin," said an outraged voice from the woodpile.
"Look, just shut up."
"Pay us then."
"All right, all right, I’ll pay you. Just shut up." He turned back to the tree.
"And," his voice had dropped back to it’s confidential whisper... "here he comes now, the first sighting of our tree dwelling, antedeluvian, whelk." Wilbur shuffled over his branch and sat posing in the light. He looked very handsome, (for a whelk), even with the addition of the words 'for sale' which were now written on his shell in chalk. But there was even more excitement to follow, for behind him, shyly, crept another, smaller whelk.
"Good lord there’s two of them," whispered the awed presenter. "He’s got a mate."
The silence which followed was broken by a mole, who asked loudly, "How do they do it?"
"Do what?" asked the Great Man irritably.
"It must be difficult up a tree."
"Do they take their shells off?"
Much laughter rang out at this risqué suggestion and even Wilbur seemed amused, he crept forward, right to the edge of the branch and peered down at them.
"They lay eggs," said the Great Man sulkily.
More screams of laughter rang across the woods.
"Pull the other one!"
"They lay eggs," repeated the presenter angrily. "The er.. the mummy whelk lays the eggs and the - er" the daddy whelk finds them and fertilises them later."
"How?" persisted the mole.
"I don’t bloody know do I?" screamed the maddened naturalist.
"Perhaps she puts a sign up saying ‘Whelk-um’" suggested the mole.
At this all the animals collapsed screaming with laughter and Wilbur, who had joined in, lost his balance and dropped onto the grass with a dull thud. As he landed his shell shot off and a familiar crumpled fluffy little creature crawled out.
"Look at the state of me membranes!" it shrieked angrily, "me plagiopatagiums knackered. I’ll be hanging over the kettle for a week."
"You’re not a whelk," screamed the Great Man, who was now beside himself with rage. "You’re a bat. A nasty common little pipistrelle bat."
"Who are you calling common?" snapped the ex-whelk, glaring up at him, "At least I don’t go mincing round the woods in me pyjamas."
A great deal of noisy prime time unpleasantness followed, and the nations television screens suddenly went black.
"Well," said Mother with a sniff, as the BBC caravan trailed back up the drive, "I’m sure we’re all glad to see the back of them."
"Yes," said Jim with satisfaction. "He’s had his last all expenses paid trip to Bongo Bongo Land. It’ll be morris dancing and racing from Fontwell for him for now on."
"While everyone’s here," said Mother who had gone very determined on this issue, "we’re going to have a little ceremony in memory of poor Wayne."
"We’ll light a candle and float it down the brook, and while it goes, we’ll all remember Wayne."
"Because I say so."
The candle was lit and the good citizens of Bog Wood stood round in a sulky group.
"Would anyone like to say anything?"
"Good riddance," said George.
"I meant something nice," said Mother coldly.
Then from behind them came a furious, familiar voice"
"Go on, run me over why don’t you, bloody canapé eating, chardonnay swilling BBC b******s." It screamed.
And the figure of Wayne shot into the yard, he was chittering with rage and was shaking his fist at the departing film crew. He looked awful. His tail was bald, he was covered in boils and had developed a pot belly.
"He’s put weight on," said George with interest, "I didn’t know dead people did that."
"You said you was dead!" complained Tracy in the voice of one who’s been cheated.
"You said you was dead and ‘ad gone to Heaven."
"I said I was in Burger Heaven, you silly tart," screamed Wayne.
"You were supposed to come and get me."
A quick word about Wayne’s Big Adventure. After flying through the air and leaving Bog Wood, he had crossed the A38 like a guided missile and landed in the muck bucket of the drive thru’ Burger Heaven on the new traffic island, and for a day or so, it had seemed like heaven. There were bright lights, horrible music and all the half eaten burgers he could scoff, but a diet of E numbers, pure fat, additives and caffeine had soon begun to tell, and after two days, jumping out of his skin with nerves, Wayne had written a plea for help to his family.
The final insult came when Wayne noticed baby Shane. "Well that’s nice innit ‘e’s got my ‘at on!" Wayne snatched the Official Weasel Hat from Shane’s head and batted his son and heir round the ears with it. "I’ll let you know when I’m dead," he screamed, and still out of his mind with nerves and screaming with maniacal laughter, he galloped off down the lane and out of sight.
And so, everything went back to normal. Life went on in Bog Wood as usual, and if you didn’t notice the two empty whelk shells under the silver birch, you could have sworn nothing had ever happened.
Cousin Ted from Tamworth arrives to cheer everyone up. Alice tries to rule the roost, there’s a very unusual visitor from Bog Wood who manages to cause a lot of trouble and cost an awful lot of money and Wayne goes on yet another trip of a lifetime.