Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Bear who carried The Northern Lights

(taken from 1968 edition of 'Mrs Pepperpot in the magic wood' by Alf Proysen, illustrated by Bjorn Berg).

I have seen The Northern Lights only once in my lifetime, many years ago. Usually you must go somewhere very cold like Norway to see them. But I was standing in the very north of Scotland that night - the night the Bear came with his lights.

There is a tale that old men used to tell each other as they sat around the fire in their red wooden houses with roofs as steep as ski slopes. It is about a huge invisible polar bear that leaped through the sky following the Fu fu bird, looking for a new home on the other side of the mountain. As he dived from one side of the sky to the other, putting every last gramme of energy in as he stretched out his huge bear paws to find the ledge on the other side, a swirl of greeny/yellow lights traced the path he left behind him.

Every night, the old men said, when the lights were there, it meant that the Bear was not far away, still searching for a new home with his friend the Fu fu bird. Sometimes he would drop coins and lucky children who happened to glance up and catch sight of the lights might find a coin fall into their lap.

A coin like this one, Molly Moo, said the Mother as she put down her sewing and picked up her pin cushion. And there, sewn on the corner of the tiny pincushion was a coin with a hole in it.

'Look closer', said the Mother, and as the girls did so they saw the image of a tiny bird with outstretched tail feathers.

'The Fu fu bird, Mummy,' they both said together.

'Yes, but do you know why the Fu fu bird must carry its tail feathers pointing outwards when most other birds have theirs pointing down?'
They shook their heads.
'Now that is a tale for another day,' she said.
And she put them to bed and kissed them goodnight.

But that night when the North Star crossed over the moon scattering moon dust over the sleeping children, they woke and crept out to the Magic Meadow, hoping that the Bear and the Fu fu bird might be there. And sure enough, they were.

The bear was in no mood to talk. He was washing himself by a stream. The Fu fu bird was reminding him to wash behind his ears (something bears are not very good at) and to hurry up as she was hungry and wanted to catch some fish.

'Catch your own fish,' said the bear, swiping away a nosey fly that wouldn't leave him alone.

'If it wasn't for me you would still be lost in that huge forest. If it wasn't for me being able to swoop to the top of the tallest tree to look for directions, we would still be heading downhill deeper into the woods. And who knows how many more days it would have taken.'

The girls looked behind them and there stretched mile upon mile of thick pine trees; their tops were in the clouds and their bottoms packed tightly together. There didn't seem much room for the light to get through, nor for a large white polar bear and a rather stroppy Fu fu bird.

The Fu fu bird was admiring her reflection in the water. She looked at her nails.
'Tut tut,'she said,'that will never do.' And she picked up a pine cone to polish her nails on.

'If it hadn't been for me, then you would have been picked up by that snowy owl's great talons and fed to its babies for supper.' The bear, who had finished cleaning himself, had now ambled off to chew a small twig and get to that impossible bit of food that had been stuck behind his back teeth for three days now. 'If it hadn't been for me then you would never have got your tail back from the teeth of that fox. You would never have been able to fly again, my friend. It's a good thing I'm a pescetarian.'

The Fu fu bird looked down and decided not to ask what a pescetarian was. Her tail was pointing outwards where the fox had held her tight. Only her loud squawks had brought her friend the bear running. She found him a tasty bit of wild thyme to freshen his breath (as all that raw fish had a habit of colouring his breath a most peculiar colour).

If they were to set up house together then there were going to have to be a few changes around here - personal hygiene being most definitely one of them, she thought.

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Cottage at the End of the World

(taken from an original drawing by Lucy Sheeran)

Once,long ago, a small family moved to the Cottage at the End of the World. They had been a much larger family once upon a time, but now there was just a Mother and two little girls called Molly Moo and Sophie Darling. Each morning they had to wash their clothes, make their beds and put out the brown cow who slept in their bedroom because she was afraid of the dark. And then they had to walk ten miles to the bus stop to get the Honker Bus to school.

These poor little girls had a very hard life. Every day after school before they watched the tele they had to darn their socks and make porridge for the morning. And every night when the north star crossed over the moon scattering moon dust over the sleeping children, they would wake up and follow the star to the magic meadow to see who had come to visit that night. By morning, when they were safe back home in their beds, they were often tired and didn't like getting up for school.

Molly Moo would say, 'It's not our fault - the moon children made us play all night and have worn out our legs completely.'

'Well tell the moon children that you should be sleeping or your teacher will be cross. Don't they have homes to go to?'

'Oh no, the moon children never sleep. They are far naughtier than us,'said Molly Moo.

And so those poor children had to stay up ALL night and never get any sleep.

In the morning, when they put out the brown cow, the meadow was full of buttercups and other cows. But at night, when the brown cow lay sleeping on her feather down bed, the meadow was full of little people moving about, all busy doing things. For it was at night time that the moon children brought with them all the dreams in the world,carrying them until they got to the magic meadow. And then each dream would follow its child around wherever he or she went, never letting them out of its sight.

Sometimes the children brought good dreams with them and they would play and sing and be happy. But sometimes they brought bad dreams which made them cry or shout and heated them up until they turned bright red in the face. These dreams would chase their children all over the place and by the time they got back to their beds they were usually worn out and hot.

There were other people in the magic meadow too. These were people who were somehow lost. Some of them were Grannies and Grandpa's who had got very old and died. Some of them were the cats and dogs who no longer lived in their homes. And some of them were the secret hopes and dreams that the little children brought with them and could play with again all night until the warm sun came up and chased them all home to bed. For no dream likes to be seen in the daylight.

Each night the magic meadow was a different place. Sometimes it was a huge castle with a drawbridge and turrets in each corner. A huge fire burned in the Great Hall and a suckling pig roasted on a spit.

Sometimes there were hills and snow in the distance and strange little mountain goats with bells around their necks carried pink milkshakes around for all to drink. They were most polite little goats, not like those bad tempered goats you find in most fairy tales these days, and always said please and thank you and excuse me as they butted their way through from one side to the other.

This night when the children went down to the magic meadow, not knowing what land would be there that night, they were surprised to see a little boy called Toby whom they'd noticed earlier that week in the village crying by a telegraph post. He was carrying a toy tractor which had lost two of its wheels. The tractor wouldn't go any more and yet Toby was trying so hard to push it along in the mud that the tractor dug its heels in and refused to go any further.

'If you carry on doing that to me I might never be able to move again, and then where would we be?' said a voice behind Toby.

Toby looked round and there, shedding a single tear from the corner of his one good eye was Tiny the tractor with all his familiar scratches and bumps. Large as life. Toby was over joyed to see him and that someone had mended both his front wheels. He climbed up onto the seat and started up the engine first time.

'Come on Tiny,' he said, 'there's a whole field for us to plough.'

The little tractor gave it all he'd got as he chugged away up the hillside. He was happy to be useful once more. He spent much too much time on his own, shut away while all the new big green tractors with their balers and harvesters had all the fun. They said he wasn't useful anymore and that he was too old. But, as any farmer knows, there is always a use for a small old tractor - through narrow gateways and tight corners that the big guys couldn't hope to get into.

So, Tiny wasn't worried that they would get rid of him, only that he was lonely on his own in the shed. Toby often came to see him with his Grandad and would sit on the old shiny brown seat and pretend to drive. Grandad would make the right engine sounds and show Toby how to steer round corners. One day, he said, if he was good, then Tiny would be all his, so he must look after him and not work him too hard.

But Toby wasn't  listening now, even when the old tractor groaned and complained that his back was hurting him. Toby was having too much fun.

'Come on Tiny, we have to hurry or we won't get this finished.'

Tiny started to wheeze and splutter water. Soot came up his chimney pipe in clouds and he coughed. Toby made him go faster.

'Slow down little one, I'm not the youngster I used to be.'

But before Tiny had chance to say another thing, his engine stopped dead and the wheels sunk into the mud. Toby fell off and was once again kneeling down pushing a tiny tractor over a bump in the ground. The front wheels had gone once more and the axle was stuck in the mud.

'I should have listened to my Grandad,' said Toby, dismally.

'Oh it'll soon mend, lad', said an old woman with an apron tied round her waist, who was carrying a basket of washing. 'He never listened me in all the years he was born.'

The cock in the hen house started to crow as the first rays of sun found their way in. The meadow emptied in a trice as scurrying feet made their way home to bed. The brown cow was still snoring on her feather down bed as the children crept back in. Toby was fast asleep somewhere in his own little bed, his hand clutched around a little red tractor with two wheels missing.

And nobody noticed in the morning that there were muddy tyre tracks on his spiderman duvet cover, or that the door to Tiny's shed was just a little bit open.