Dec 14, 2016 | edocr |
Beekle Henry By Nick Creech Illustrations: Eric Lobbecke Text copyright © Nicholas R. Creech 2013 Nick Creech asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or otherwise used without the prior permission of the author Set in Times New Roman For the boys Contents ALSO BY NICK CREECH THE AUTHOR Foreword The King of the Ungle 'Umble Bumble Beekle Henry and the Picnic The Drought, Part I The Drought, Part II Beekle Henry and the Thrush The Butterflies' Ball The Royal Crown ALSO BY NICK CREECH Galiconia A Way with Dragons The Blob, the Frog, the Dog and the Girl Three-P THE AUTHOR Nick Creech is a former newspaper journalist. He has two sons, both now successful and more-or-less responsible adults who still deign to talk to him from time to time in tones of kindly condescension. He has a wife who does the same, mostly. Since leaving journalism, he has written extensively for children, young adults and people who just enjoy a good story. Foreword This book was conceived in desperation. Like many parents I found the notion of telling stories and casting my children as the main characters a useful device to impart knowledge, attitude and possibly even some wisdom. Foolishly, however, I allowed these stories to become an item of barter. Vegetables would be eaten without protest if I would tell a story, baths would be taken without ruinous devastation if I would tell a story, the television would be turned off if I would tell a story. By the time I had plagiarised everyone from Enid Blyton to Herman Melville, not forgetting Shakespeare, Homer and Virgil, I was both a hunted and a haunted man. Beekle Henry was the eventual result, stories which no longer featured the boys but which were unapologetically discursive and wide-ranging and which, read aloud more as a dialogue than anything, I could add to, explain or edit as I went, depending on mood and time available. They were also stories sufficiently complicated that even though endlessly repeated there was within always something apparently fresh and absorbing to be considered. I have always found that kids, like dogs, are as smart as you expect them to be, so I saw no harm in expecting my two boys to be very smart. They were, as indeed were their friends, who somehow seemed to materialise magically whenever Beekle Henry was being read aloud. Later, unbeknownst to me, my younger son, then aged seven, nicked a copy of the manuscript and took it to school, as kids do, to show his teacher. She, to humour him, began to read it to his class and it turned out that the rest of the kids in his group were very smart too. They may not have understood everything I had to say but sufficient for them to maintain their interest right to the end, as in due course and much to my surprise they personally assured me. Many years later, it transpired that Dan's teacher had kept on using that battered old manuscript as class followed class until finally she left the school. I like to think that although some of the ideas and notions that appear here are indeed difficult and may be beyond the grasp of even the smartest kid, nevertheless they will have a comfortably familiar ring when they come to be addressed in earnest. Familiarity, after all, must lead to understanding before ever it can lead to contempt. The King of the Ungle Beekle Henry was lazing away the morning in his hammock. It was a particularly comfortable hammock made from best spider web slung between two convenient stalks of grass, and Beekle Henry was just the sort of insect to make best use of it. It wasn't that he was lazy exactly, just that he liked to rest a lot. With his eyes closed. Snoring gently. To Beekle Henry's way of thinking, resting was just about the only activity, with the possible exception of eating, that really befitted his… well, not to put too fine a point on it… his ellipsoid rotundity. Not that Beekle Henry knew what ellipsoid rotundity actually meant. Dear me, no. If ever he wanted to think about ellipsoid rotundity, he would have to ask Slimy to look it up. Helix Aspersa that is, but Slimy for short. I'll tell you about him in a minute or two. Upside down in his hammock, you couldn't really say that Beekle Henry was anything special to look at, just a lot of legs waving in the breeze, with the middle on the left a touch squashed because it could never quite manage to keep in step and was always being walked on by the others. But right way up, Beekle Henry was definitely another matter. He was sort of like a favourite uncle, except that as well as a stripy weskit and pointy shoes and jolly, pink cheeks, Beekle Henry had two of the most splendid, bluey-greeny-goldy wing cases you've ever seen. They shimmered and shone in the sunlight just like… well, just like magic jewels from the crystal mountain. And the wing cases even held wings, though to tell the truth Beekle Henry most often forgot to remember that he had them. To tell the absolute truth, Beekle Henry most often remembered to forget to remember, because Beekle Henry didn't much care for flying. Now you and I might think that being able to fly would be just the most thrilling thing imaginable because we can't do it, not just by ourselves that is, not without an aeroplane or anything. Just think, we say, if only we could fly… Well, Beekle Henry would say: "Just think, if only I could ride a bike… I say, Slimy. Why don't they make bikes with enough pedals for someone like me? It really is too deciduously aggravating." Whereupon Slimy would look peeved because he didn't know what deciduously meant and he would have to dive inside his shell to look it up in the big dictionary; which would make him even crosser because he would find that Beekle Henry had used deciduously all wrong. Deciduous means losing your leaves in autumn and while I dare say this is deciduously aggravating for a tree – I mean just fancy having to sit outside all winter long without any clothes on – deciduous has got nothing whatsoever to do with bicycles. But by then it would be too late. Slimy would pop out again, terribly indignant because nothing upset him more than the misuse of words, and if Beekle Henry wasn't already asleep again, he would just say: "Oh silly me. Did I say that? How stupid of me." What's that? You lot don't know about snails? Oh yes, indeed. They're most frightfully intellectual and that's why they move so slowly. You see, a snail's shell is not just his house. It's something much more important than that. It's also his library. And of course, it's very hard work lugging all those books around all the time. Now you and I might think that dragging a whole library with us everywhere we go would be the most terrible sweat, but any self-respecting snail would feel absolutely miserable without his books. Books, you see, can tell you just about anything you might want to know and you never can tell when you might want to know something. These days we, ourselves, might choose to use a computer to look up a reference, but for a computer you need to have electricity, even if only to charge your batteries, and who ever heard of a snail with electricity? Why, if a snail had wires running up to his shell he would never be able to move, now would he? So Slimy Snail had to rely on his library and it was most comprehensive indeed. And you can see what I mean about you never can tell when you might want to know something. If you had a dictionary, you could look up "comprehensive" in a trice, and you could look up "trice" too while you were about it. But just for now, I'll tell you. "Comprehensive" means just about as wide-ranging as you can get, but trice, even though it's a much shorter word, is a bit more difficult. If we use it as a noun, it means a very brief time, an instant. So "in a trice" means in a flash. But if we use trice as a verb, it means to haul up, as you would with a rope. Nouns, by the way, are thing words – people, places, objects, ideas and actions – while verbs are doing words. It's quite simple really. We use a verb to do something to a noun, as in stop pinching your brother or I'll stop reading the story. And while we're talking about words, ellipsoid means oval and rotund in this sense, not to put too fine a point on it or to mince matters or, indeed, to beat around the bush, means round or just plain fat. Anyway, as I started to say way back at the beginning, Beekle Henry was napping in his hammock, having just fallen asleep in front of a rather interesting cloud show on the sky, when who should heave into view all a-puff and a-pother but Slimy Snail. "Ahoy, Beekle Henry," he shouted. "Beekle Henry! Ahoy there! Wake up!" That by the way is something you should know about Slimy. As well as being intellectual, he rather liked to think that he looked like a ship. Well, I mean you'd rather look like a ship than a snail, wouldn't you? And so, Slimy's conversation could be very nautical at times. As well as ahoying a lot, he was always saying things like starboard me larboard, and steady as she goes, and crack on the royals, Mr Mate. Mates are sort of like mothers on ships. They're always telling you what to do and getting furious if you don't, though I wouldn't advise you to say Mr Mother, oh dear me no. Beekle Henry opened one eye and then closed it again in a hurry. "I saw you," Slimy shouted. "I know you're awake. I saw you open an eye. Come on, Beekle Henry, or I'll ram you amidships and splice your main brace." "I haven't got a main brace, whatever that is," Beekle Henry said crossly. "And if you ever ram me again, I'll… I'll… I don't know what I'll do." Beekle Henry had tried pretending not to wake up once before but Slimy had got himself up to ramming speed, ploughed straight into his hammock and upended him on the ground with a most fearful thump. Splicing the main brace, by the way, is something you're not supposed to be doing just yet, but as it happens I wouldn't mind splicing mine right about now. Forgive me for a minute... Right, cheers... Where were we? Oh yes... Slimy, however, wasn't going to be miffed and sent off in a huff by anything as transparent as Beekle Henry pretending to be bad-tempered. His news was much too important for that, though he did think to himself how exactly the right word transparent was, and he gave himself a pat on the back for using it. Transparent, you see, means clear as glass and that means that Slimy had seen right through Beekle Henry's ploy. And a ploy is when you try to make someone do what they don't want to do by being devious, which means sneaky, which isn't nice at all, and Beekle Henry should have been ashamed of himself. "Well come on, Slimy," Beekle Henry said. "Now that you're here and you won't go away, what's so exciting? Spit it out." "Certainly not," Slimy said. "It's particularly rude to spit, particularly to windward. But if you care to form line astern, I have a discovery to show you." "A what?" Beekle Henry said. "No, no, wait…" But it was too late. Slimy had dived inside his shell and Beekle Henry could hear him muttering as he riffled through the dictionary. "D-I… D-I-S… D-I-S-C… D-I-S-C-O… Here we are, discovery… The act of discovering. Bother…" "Oh do come out, Slimy," Beekle Henry called. "Just a minute. Just a keel-hauling minute… now let me see… discovery comes from discover and discover is… here. Are you listening? Discover: to be the first to find or find out about. And that's me. I'm the first to find or find out about. Are you quite clear now?" Beekle Henry was nearly incautious enough to ask what the deuce keel-hauling might be but stopped himself just in time. So we can get on with the story, I'll tell you quickly. Keel-hauling was a most unpleasant way the navy had of punishing mutineers back in the olden days by hauling them backwards and forwards right under the keel of the ship and probably drowning them or mincing them to death on the barnacles. And mutineers are people who don't do what they're told, so if your Mr Mother ever threatens to keel-haul you I would be on my very best behaviour for a very long time, if I were you. At least a month. After a moment to put away the dictionary, Slimy popped back outside, polishing his pince-nez and putting them carefully back in their case. Snails find it almost impossible to get pince-nez to fit them so if ever they discover a pair they like they take extraordinarily good care of them. Pince-nez, just by the way, is spelt like this… P-I-N-C-E – N-E-Z… but it's not pronounced "pince-nez", as you might think, but "pants neigh", although this doesn't mean they're really horses' trousers. Dear me, no. Pince-nez, that's French for pinch nose, are special spectacles that sit on the end of your nose without ear-pieces or anything and which make you look terribly superior, even if you don't deserve to; which is why snails are particularly fond of them as it's very difficult to look superior at all when you're a snail. "Yes, yes, yes," Beekle Henry said, by now dancing with impatience, which didn't do the middle foot on the left any good at all. "But what is this discovery? What have you found?" "Ah," Slimy said. "That would be telling. You'll just have to come and see. And do try to keep proper station and not go racing off like a corvette." "What's a…?" Beekle Henry started to say and then hastily changed his mind. "No, never mind. Come on, old Slimy. Do hurry up." Of course, Beekle Henry was going to ask about corvettes, and just in case you ever need to know and don't have a dictionary handy, I'll tell you. A corvette is a fast, cheeky sort of escort ship that goes racing about all over the place like a hunting dog, and just as a dog hates waiting for his humans to catch up, corvette captains always hate waiting about for the bigger, slower ships. And so, off went Beekle Henry and Slimy Snail, Slimy moving even slower than usual because he hadn't forgotten Beekle Henry's ploy of a little while ago and was going to get his own back with a ploy of his own. Which just goes to show that it only takes one person to be a bit mean for bad feeling to start bouncing about all over the place like a cricket ball gone crazy – and if you've ever been hit by a cricket ball you'll know that it hurts like anything. It's really much better for everybody if everybody tries hard never to be mean in the first place. "Well," Slimy Snail said at last, after they'd travelled at least a metre. "There it is. My discovery." "My goodness," Beekle Henry said, and then: "Gracious." And then: "Strawdinery." And then: "It really is a discovery." And then: "But what is it?" Strawdinery, just by the way, is not as you might think short for it's extraordinary. Dear me, no. That's what comes from saying words too quickly. Strawdinery is quite different to s'traordinary. A strawdinery is where you get Beekle Henry's favourite food, that extra-special, aged-in-the-wood, southern aspect, late-picked straw, all buttery golden and quite delicious. And when he wasn't resting or thinking about resting, Beekle Henry much preferred to be eating or thinking about eating. So it wasn't really surprising that strawdinery should pop into his mind when he really meant s'traordinary. "What is it?" Beekle Henry said again. Slimy Snail looked down his nose. "It's a plant," he said. "Well, of course," Beekle Henry replied, a touch tartly. And tartly is an interesting word. A jam tart is sweet but a tart lemon is sour. Just at that moment, however, Slimy was much too busy to advise you as to which might be which so I think you'll have to work out for yourselves just what we mean here. And we do that by using what we call context. There are lots of words that have more than one meaning and the way to decide which possible meaning to use is by thinking which meaning best fits the rest of the sentence. So if you were to guess that Beekle Henry was being sweet, you would be quite wrong. "Anyone can see it's a plant," Beekle Henry went on. "But what sort of plant?" "Hmmmm," Slimy said. "Well, actually, I haven't quite got around to looking it up. I thought we might see if it was good to eat first. Because I haven't had my lunch. And I thought you might care to join me." There was sort of a snuffly squeak, an indignant snuffly squeak… "Pardon. What did you say?" Beekle Henry and Slimy exclaimed together. And then they both said: "Nothing. I thought you…" They looked at each other and then they looked all around but they couldn't see anyone else there. They looked at each other again. Then they shrugged. "Well," Beekle Henry said. "I'm sure I don't know what all that was about, but never mind. I'll be delighted to join you for lunch, Slimy old chap. Why don't you try this bit here? It looks jolly juicy – almost as good as buttery, golden straw." "Ugh," Slimy said. "I don't know how you can eat that straw stuff. But yes, you're right. This does look especially succulent. However, old fellow, as you're my guest, I insist. You first." "Well, don't mind if I do," Beekle Henry said. But this time there wasn't just an indignant squeak, there was a most ferocious roar. Beekle Henry and Slimy were both stunned, so stunned that Slimy didn't even pop straight back into his shell, which is what any sensible snail would have done. "Gracious," Beekle Henry said eventually. "What on earth did you want to make a noise like that for, Slimy?" "But-but-but-but…" Slimy said. "It's quite enough to put a chap off his lunch," Beekle Henry added. Whereupon there was another great roar. Then a furious voice that somehow seemed to be floating in mid-air said: "If I hear any more talk about juicy or succulent or lunch, if I hear one more word about eating, there's going to be real trouble. Is that clear? I mean, is that quite clear?" There was a long silence, then Beekle Henry at last plucked up his courage. "Who said that?" he asked in a very small voice. "I did," came the stern reply. "But who are you?" Beekle Henry asked. "Where are you?" "I," said the terrible voice. "I am Dan de Lion. King of the Jungle. And I'm up here, dolt." Beekle Henry and Slimy Snail looked at each other. "Shall we run away?" Beekle Henry whispered. Then he remembered. "Sorry, old chap," he said. "Stupid of me. Can't exactly run, can you? Better face the music then. One, two…" And I need to interrupt just here to tell you that this was really very brave of Beekle Henry. He could have fled but he chose to stay with Slimy, who couldn't. That's when you really know who your friends are, when they choose to stay and support you, despite the risk to themselves. "… Three," Beekle Henry said, and on three, they both looked up. What they saw, if they hadn't been so frightened, would really have been quite funny: a bright yellow flower on a long green stem, frowning so ferociously that all its petals looked like sergeant-majors. And if you know anything about sergeant-majors, you'll know just how ferocious and funny that is. Think of your mother extremely cross and with bristly whiskers and you'll begin to get the idea. Or think of the expression on my face when I put my foot in my slipper and found the chewing gum you were thoughtfully keeping for later. In the end, frightened though they were, Beekle Henry and Slimy Snail just couldn't help it. They both began to laugh. And the more they laughed, the more furious Dan de Lion became. "When you've quite finished," he said icily. "When you've quite had your little joke, whatever that might be…" And of course that set Beekle Henry and Slimy laughing even harder. At last Beekle Henry wiped his eyes with his blue-spotted handkerchief (beetles never use red-spotted handkerchiefs out of respect for lady bugs) and said: "Well I never. What on earth do you make of this, Slimy, old chap. A talking plant if ever I heard one, and whoever heard of a talking plant? And what's a jungle, anyway?" "Hmmm," Slimy said. "Lunch, that's what I make of it, talking or no talking. And I don't much care what a jungle is until I've had it. Lunch that is." Dan de Lion roared again, this time even more loudly than before, and Beekle Henry and Slimy both got such a shock that they quite flipped over backwards. And then they really were in trouble – serious trouble – just as Dan de Lion had promised. "Oh no," Beekle Henry said after a moment of shock. "I can't get up." "Oh double no," Slimy said. "Oh double no and discombotheration. Just look what you've done, you stupid… you stupid flower." Discombotheration, by the way, is a word Slimy made up all by himself and which he saves for moments when, like now, he is absolutely so bothered he's discombobulated. "I warned you," Dan de Lion said. "Oh yes, I warned you. I told you that one more word about eating and you'd be for it. But you wouldn't listen, would you? You were going to eat me you were, and it serves you jolly well right." And Beekle Henry and Slimy Snail truly were in dreadful strife. For you see, there was Beekle Henry flat on his back and there was Slimy flat on his side, and neither of them could get up. Beekle Henry didn't mind being flat on his back in his hammock, snoring gently – I mean it was absolutely his favourite position in all the world – but being flat on his back on the ground was quite a different matter. You can't tippy down the side of the ground and just roll neatly over the edge and on to your feet, now can you? And as for poor old Slimy, well… If he'd been quicker and not so comprehensively discombobulated then he might have managed to do a complete back somersault and land on his foot again. As it was, he had faltered in mid flip and after teetering first one way and then the other, he had fallen over on his left side or his right, depending on whether you were looking from the back or the front. And that means you aren't any the wiser at all, which is why sailors invented port and starboard, because port and starboard are the same whichever way you face. I suppose you should really look this up for yourselves, but so that we can get on with the story quickly, I'll tell you. When you're on a boat and facing the bow, which is the sharp end at the front, the port side is on your left and the starboard side is on your right. And when you're looking at the stern, which is the back end, the starboard side is on your left and the port side is on your right. Got it? I should have a little practice, if I were you. And just so that you know that I know, back in the olden days port was actually called larboard but because larboard could so easily be confused with starboard when shouting over the wind and the rain and the pounding waves and because so many ships were accidentally wrecked what with the confusion and all, seamen finally agreed that it was vital they think of a different word. Then one foul night when a captain shouted to his helmsman to turn hard to larboard and the helmsman misheard and turned hard to starboard, and the ship's boy, seeing the rocks now rapidly approaching, whimpered, "I wish I were safe back in port," port it became and because the port side was where they always loaded the cargo in port, port it stayed. And just so that you really know that I really know, back in the days before rudders were invented ships used steering oars or boards. Over time, the steer board side became shortened down to starboard, while fear of damaging the steering oar itself was the reason ships always docked port-side to. So now, when I tell you that Slimy was lying on his starboard side, everything should be absolutely and precisely clear. It was certainly clear that Beekle Henry and Slimy were in a very pretty pickle indeed. Even Dan de Lion didn't realise just how parlous their position was. Parlous is a particularly good word and Slimy tells me that he wishes he'd thought to use it, so I really think you should look that one up for yourselves, but just quickly, parlous means perilous or dangerous. What Dan de Lion did was to cross two of his leaves – just like your mother crosses her arms when she's telling you lot for the fourteenth time to go brush your teeth – and then he said: "All right, you two milksops. You can get up now." "What's a milksop?" Beekle Henry asked, but Slimy interrupted. "We can't get up," he said bitterly. "That's just it. We shall very probably starve to death, and all because of your big mouth, you… you… flower." "I like that," Dan de Lion retorted. "Whose big mouth did you say? Who was going to eat me for lunch might I ask?" "But what's a milksop?" Beekle Henry asked again. "I don't know and what's more, I don't care," Slimy said, which just goes to show how overcome and upset he was, not caring about a new word, so I suppose I'll have to tell you myself. Milksops are pieces of bread soaked or sopped in milk, which people used to eat quite a lot. These days, however, milksop has come to mean a very weak sissy, the sort of person who would eat bread soaked in milk. "What do you mean you can't get up?" Dan de Lion demanded. "Of course you can get up." "We can't," Slimy said. "Everyone knows that if a beetle gets turned on his back he can't get up, he just buzzes around helpless, till he dies of instant starvation. And there's a rock just where it didn't ought to be and I can't touch ground, and I can't touch anything, and I absolutely can't move and furthermore I am also instantly starving to death." And that probably explains why Slimy had slipped into all that bad grammar. Didn't ought to be, indeed. "Are you sure you can't get up?" Dan de Lion said to Beekle Henry. "Well actually," Beekle Henry said politely, "I'm really quite comfortable, thank you. And I don't really want to get up anyway. This is not the same as my hammock, of course, but it's really quite adequate." "And that means he positively, absolutely can't get up," Slimy said, getting crosser and crosser. "And what sort of a king goes roaring around like that at perfectly innocent creatures and getting them stuck so they starve to death?" "I told you," Dan de Lion said with frosty dignity. "I am Dan de Lion and as even you should know, a lion is king of the jungle." "Jungle!" Slimy snapped. "Jungle? What's this jungle thing anyway? I don't believe there's any such word. It sounds most peculiar to me. Most peculiar. I don't believe there's any such thing at all." Whereupon Slimy disappeared into his library, never mind that all the books had been tossed here, there and everywhere and were in a simply disgraceful state, and they could hear him muttering inside. "Now let me see… Juncaceous. Goodness, what ever is that? Well I never… Junction… June… Jungian… Here we are, jungle… Harrumph! Just as I thought. Are you listening out there, you imposter? Jungle: an equatorial forest with luxuriant vegetation, often almost impenetrable…" "Goodness," Beekle Henry interrupted, opening one eye. "What's all that in plain language, Slimy old chap?" "Not here," Slimy said. "That's what it means in plain language. Not here. This is a field, a meadow, a pasture. And if this is a field then it can't be a jungle and that means you can't be a king either," he added, popping back out of his shell and pointing an accusing antenna at Dan de Lion. "You're an imposter," he shouted. "Just like I said. You're an imposter." "I am not an imposter, whatever that is," Dan de Lion said angrily, all his petals looking like sergeant-majors again. "And I was going to help you up, but I certainly shan't now unless you stop calling me names." "But you are an imposter so how can we stop calling you one?" Slimy demanded, equally angry. "Then you'll just have to stay there and starve to death," Dan de Lion retorted. "I know I'm not an imposter and I'm not going to help you up until you stop calling me one. I am Dan de Lion, King of the Jungle, and that's that." An imposter, just in case you haven't realised, is someone pretending to be someone he isn't. Well, now Beekle Henry and Slimy really were in the soup, or caught in a pickle as we might say. And if you've ever had to eat pickled soup, then you have my very deep sympathy. And do you lot know what this sort of situation is called? It's called an impasse, or a deadlock, or a stalemate. But I like impasse best, and an impasse is when both sides think they're right and no one is ever going to change his or her mind. Impasses are really very difficult things and cause a fearful lot of trouble. Every impasse is different so all I can really tell you about them is this: whenever you find yourself at an impasse you should ask yourself whether you're telling the absolute truth, and if you're not then you shouldn't be at an impasse in the first place. You'll just have to be brave enough to admit that you're wrong, and the sooner the better because the longer you leave it the harder it will be. You might ask why you should tell the absolute truth when we know that lots of other people tell lies all the time. Well, the reason is very simple. If you tell lies then sooner or later you'll be found out and then nobody will ever believe that you're telling the truth ever again and just think how enormously frustrating that would be. Why, suppose your house was burning down and you rang the fire brigade but nobody would come. "Oh, I know him," somebody would say. "He's a liar. I bet his house isn't really on fire at all. He just wants to cause trouble." Or just suppose a cricket ball happens to break one of the school windows and some sneak tells a teacher that you did it to shift the blame away from himself. Well, you'd be for it, wouldn't you? And most unfairly too. Except, perhaps, when you said: "But please, it really wasn't me." Then the teacher could say. "Well, as you've always told the truth in the past I'll believe you this time, too. We'll call it an accident." And phew, what a relief! But no more than you'd earned by being honest. Still, none of that could get Beekle Henry and Slimy out of their impasse. Absolutely frightfully difficult things they are, and sometimes there is just no solution at all, because if you're sure that you're right – absolutely, positively sure – you should never give in. If you do, then people will think you've been lying all the time, even though you haven't been. Giving in, in fact, becomes the lie, if you see what I mean, and I do hope you do because it's important. So, if you can't give in and the other person can't give in, what can you do? Well, there's only one thing really and that's called negotiation. And negotiation means that you explore possibilities to see if you can't come to what's called a satisfactory compromise. I'll show you what I mean. Suppose you're absolutely sure that you're right, and your friend is absolutely sure that she's right. Well then, instead of you saying, "You're a silly old bag-your-head," and her saying, "Why don't you go jump in a prickle bush?" you both could say, "Just supposing that we're both right, or that we're both wrong, what would happen then?" Anyway, back to the impasse in the meadow. There was Slimy quite sure he was right and starving to death for the principle of the thing, and there was Dan de Lion quite sure he was right and not about to give into anyone, and there was Beekle Henry, just resting, with his eyes closed, snoring gently. Slimy had actually ducked back into his library to pass the time while he was dying of starvation by reading the encyclopaedia, but at last he got so hungry that he couldn't concentrate, even on something as interesting as protozoa. Protozoa, by the way, are tiny organisms, mostly so small that you can't see them, and an organism is a living or animate thing, as opposed to an inanimate object, which is not. Living that is. "Hey! Ahoy! Beekle Henry!" Slimy called. "What are we going to do? I really am starving to death." "What?" Beekle Henry said, rather grumpy at being woken up from a nap for the second time that day. "I said, what are we going to do?" "Sensible creatures always take every opportunity to rest," Beekle Henry said, and closed his eyes again. "I can't rest," Slimy said plaintively. "I'm starving. We haven't had any lunch and breakfast was ages and ages ago – so long I can't even remember it." "Well, you could always give in and call him King of the Jungle," Beekle Henry said. "But he's not," Slimy protested. "And I'm shocked at you for suggesting it, Beekle Henry. It's a matter of principle and you ought to know better." "He might be," Beekle Henry said. "Rubbish," Slimy snapped. "This isn't a jungle so he can't be a king." "But he might be king of a jungle somewhere else," Beekle Henry said quietly. "Oh!" Slimy said. "Oh!" he said again. "I hadn't thought of that." And that just goes to show that you have to be very careful that you have thought of everything before you go and get yourself into an impasse and have to starve to death for a principle. "Well, are you?" Slimy said at last to Dan de Lion. "Are you king of a jungle somewhere else?" "I live here," Dan de Lion said. "I have always lived here. I always will live here. Plants aren't like snails, you know. We can't go gadding about all over the world eating anything we fancy. No. I'm not king of a jungle somewhere else. I'm King of the Jungle here." "There you are," Slimy said to Beekle Henry. "Just as I said. This isn't a jungle so he can't be a king." "Really Slimy," Beekle Henry said with some irritation. "You're interrupting my resting. Why don't we call him King of the Meadow?" "But he's not that either," Slimy said. "Well, he says he's a king," Beekle Henry said. "And I don't see why he can't be king of something. He looks the type. And he especially sounds the type, always roaring at people. That's what kings do, isn't it?" "I don't care," Slimy said. "I know he can't be King of the Jungle, and I know he's not King of the Meadow or we would have heard about it." "Well then, perhaps he's King of the Ungle," Beekle Henry said. "Ungle? Ungle? What's this ungle?" Slimy said. "Just a minute. Just a leaf-munching minute. I want to look this up…?" "But Slimy couldn't find "ungle" anywhere, not in the dictionary, nor the encyclopaedia, nor even in the Oxford Companion to English Literature, which is a very important book indeed. "Ungles do not exist," Slimy said after a very long time during which Beekle Henry had thankfully dozed off again. "Ungles positively, absolutely, definitively do not exist." "There you are then," Beekle Henry said. "That must be what he's king of. It stands to reason." Slimy looked doubtful but there really wasn't any arguing with that sort of logic. "What do you think?" Beekle Henry asked Dan de Lion with careful politeness. "Would it be all right if you were King of the Ungle?" "Hmmm," Dan de Lion said slowly. "I don't suppose one letter makes very much difference. All right, yes, I'll be King of the Ungle." "Is that agreed then, Slimy?" Beekle Henry asked him in turn. "Oh, all right," Slimy said, with rather bad grace for someone who was still starving to death. "It doesn't seem quite right somehow, but very well, I agree." Whereupon Dan de Lion swooped down on his stalk and, neat as you please, inserted a delicate petal under Beekle Henry and flipped him right way up, and then he did the same thing for Slimy Snail. So there you are. The impasse became what's called a compromise, and if it doesn't seem quite right to you either, then just remember that most often life itself isn't quite right or fair or even what it seems, and we can only try to do our best, and never to do less than our best. Meanwhile, this compromise did save Beekle Henry and Slimy from starving to death and it also saved Dan de Lion, King of the Ungle, from a most severe case of hurt feelings. And just one more thing. If you ever find a beetle buzzing around helpless on his back, or a snail tipped on his side with his foot all wavy in the breeze, then I require you, very gently, to turn them right way up. And if you're feeling particularly helpful, you might offer to assist the snail to put all the fallen books back on the shelves of his library. 'Umble Bumble Beekle Henry, Slimy Snail and Dan de Lion quickly became fast friends. Now don't go putting your foot in it by asking how they could quickly become slow friends. Fast does not always mean quick, especially when you're talking about poor old Slimy. Sailormen, and sailorsnails for that matter, like to say "make that line fast" when what they actually mean is "tie that rope up". So you can see what fast really means in this sense: friends tied firmly together like mountaineers roped up on a climb. And this is a very good way to think of being friends; if one slips the others will catch him and won't let him fall. You might also like to ask why sailors, whether snails or men, would say "make that line fast" when it makes no sense to anyone but a sailor. And that is actually, precisely the reason they do it. You will find as you grow older that every group has its own special language, or dialect, or jargon as we say, and that if you want to be part of that group then you will have to learn the jargon. It's sort of like wearing a secret uniform. If you don't speak the jargon then you're not wearing the uniform and that particular group will ignore you. But back to the story which you haven't even let me begin yet. Beekle Henry, with great effort, much huffing and puffing and altogether too many helpful directions from Slimy, actually went so far as to unsling his hammock and set it up again right next to Dan de Lion. His new address, should you ever want to write to him, was The Third Tussock of Grass north-east as the crow flies from the end of the old trough in the South 40. As the crow flies, incidentally, just means in a straight line and I expect I don't need to explain why, but who knows what north-east means? Thought so. Well, it's a way we have of giving directions. The sun, you might have noticed, always rises in more or less the same place and we call that the east. Also, it always sets in more or less the same place and we call that the west. Now, if you stand with east exactly to your right and west exactly to your left, we call the direction you're now facing north, and if you stand with west exactly to your right and east exactly to your left then you're facing south. We call these directions, north, south, east and west, the four cardinal points. So once you know that, it's not very hard to work out that north- east must be half way between north and east and exactly the opposite of south-west, which, of course, is half way between south and west. And what do you think half way between west and north would be called? And half way between east and south? Very good, but I know that one of you smarties is going to say but what if it's a cloudy day and you can't see the sun? What then? We'd all be lost. Well, you might be, but I have a compass and my compass always tells me where north is, which you might think is magic but actually is magnetism. Back in the olden days if you sailed a boat out of sight of land and if it was cloudy and you couldn't see the sun or the stars, you would have no idea which way to go to get safely back to harbour. You might sail in circles for all you could tell until you starved to death or died of thirst, which happened to more sailors than Slimy likes to think about. Then someone in China noticed that a particular sort of rock, often called lodestone, always pointed in the same direction if it was suspended on a thread, say, and allowed to swing freely. And so the compass was invented. Nowadays, of course, compasses are much more sophisticated and we understand that the lodestone isn't really magic rock but simply magnetised rock, which means it always points to the magnetic north pole, which is near enough to the real north pole not to matter. And the real north pole, just so that you know, is that point on the surface of the earth from where, whichever direction you choose to go, you are heading south. And from the south pole, whichever direction you choose to go, you are heading north. Think of an orange. That dimple where the stem used to be is the north pole, so you can see that from there the only possible way to go is south until you reach the little black bit at the bottom, from where the only direction you can go is north. You might wonder why we don't have an east pole or a west pole, and this is because our planet, Earth, is actually spinning towards the east all the time, just like a wheel on an axle. One end of that axle, or as we would say in this case, one end of that axis, is the north pole and the other end the south pole. And once we understand this, I can tell you that the sun doesn't really rise or set at all. It's not moving. We are, just like we were sitting on a merry-go-round passing the candy-floss stall every time we go around. Slimy says that as an experiment, and just to prove that we know what we're talking about, you might like to make your own compass some time. It's quite easy. Ask your mother for a needle, being most careful not to prick yourself, which is what Slimy usually manages to do. Then we also need a magnet – there's one in the bottom drawer of the tool cupboard. Now, what we have to do is magnetise the needle, and we do this by stroking it over and over again with one end of the magnet – it doesn't matter which – in the same direction, always the same direction. You can test when the needle is magnetised by touching it with a screw-driver or something made of iron or steel, but not stainless steel. When the needle sticks to your screwdriver like… like magic, we're ready. We now need a dish full of water and a small piece of thin paper slightly bigger than the needle. What we have to do is use the paper to float the needle very carefully on the surface of the water. Then when the paper becomes saturated it will sink, leaving the needle floating all by itself. And guess what will happen now? The needle will swing round until it is pointing north and however you turn the dish, the needle will always point in the same direction. So there you are. You've made a compass and congratulations, because now you need never be lost at sea and starve to death again, which as you might imagine is a huge relief to Slimy at least. While we're on the subject you might want to ask why the needle, being steel, doesn't sink when the paper, being paper, does. The answer is that the paper sinks when all the air has been forced out of it by the water working its way in and saturating it, leaving the needle to be held up by what's called the surface tension of the water, which is another way of saying the tendency water has to hold together. And it is this property which allows creatures like water bugs to walk over the top of a pond without sinking or having to swim; more magic that has a perfectly simple explanation. And I bet you think I've forgotten about sophisticated, which is a particularly lovely word. Try it. Just trips off the tongue, doesn't it? Well, it can mean having a lot of worldly knowledge and culture, but in this case it means developed to a high degree of complexity, which just means complicated. Anyway, enough of all that. Beekle Henry's new address was a particularly salubrious location, and if Slimy had to look up "salubrious" so that I could spell it correctly I think it only fair that you lot should look it up to see what it means, but as you've been interrupting so much and we're way behind I'll tell you quickly so that we can get on with the story. "Salubrious" means encouraging good health, wholesome or just plain nice. And indeed, the view from Beekle Henry's new home stretched all the way to the creek and the trees beyond and the vista was indeed extremely pleasant. "The trees beyond", you should understand, was a very long way indeed for someone of Beekle Henry's ellipsoid rotundity, and for someone who moved as slowly as Slimy, it was just about the end of the world. Everything is relative, you see, to everything else. You and I would think nothing of walking to the trees beyond, but we'd probably baulk a bit at walking to the mountains beyond the trees. A horse, on the other hand, would gallop over the mountains without even stopping to pack some oats for lunch, but when the horse came to the ocean beyond the mountains beyond the trees beyond the creek then that would be a different kettle of fish, if you see what I mean. Relatively speaking, horses are not particularly good swimmers; but then again, fish are absolutely terrible gallopers and they don't like wearing saddles one little bit, I can assure you. Relativity is, in fact, so interesting that a very great man by the name of Albert Einstein had two of the best ideas of all time as a result of thinking very hard about it. These are the Special Theory of Relativity and the General Theory of Relativity, which are about time and gravity and light and space. Now we all know what time and light and space are, or we think we do, but who knows what gravity is? That's right. If you take a running jump, what brings you crashing back to earth is the force we call gravity, or weight, and what we're actually doing when we weigh something is to measure its gravity, and gravity is the force that pulls things together. The heavier something is, or to put it another way the more mass something has, then the more it pulls other things towards it. Think about two little specks of dust up there in space in the middle of nowhere in the middle of nothing. Know what those two little specks of dust are doing? They're pulling each other together, and when they join up they'll start pulling more specks of dust towards themselves, and then more, and then more until eventually you might end up with a planet like this one, the one we live on, which has so much mass that when we jump up in the air, instead of pulling the planet up to us, it brings us crashing back down to it. When Albert Einstein was quite a young man, much younger than me and not much older than you, which just goes to show that it's never too early to start thinking, he predicted amongst other things, and it turned out to be true, that gravity actually bends light. This means that space is curved and that time is really not what we might think it is at all. And Einstein also formulated the very important equation E=MC2 , by which he meant energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light multiplied by the speed of light. This is all probably a little difficult to explain to you right now but tuck it away in the back of your minds for when you're a bit older. It's all quite fascinating to think about and thinking, as Slimy often says, is even more fun than eating. These ideas of Einstein's are called theories, incidentally, because they haven't altogether been proved to be true and maybe they won't turn out to be entirely correct. However, that doesn't make them any the less valuable. Dear me, no. You see, even if the ideas prove to be mistaken Einstein has still saved everybody else the trouble of having to think of them, which means they can spend their time looking in different directions. Ideas, in fact, are just about the best things of all, but with certain exceptions of course. If I ever find out who had the idea of putting a squirt of shaving cream on my toothbrush all ready for me to clean my teeth… well they'd better look out, that's all, because they'll find themselves very relatively uncomfortable about the posterior. Another new word? Well you try sitting down on it when you've just been spanked. By the way, did you make a note of Beekle Henry's address? I should if I were you. Notes can be very useful when you're trying to remember something and I bet you've forgotten where he lives already. Dan de Lion's address was more or less the same as Beekle Henry's, so you can make a note of that too, but Slimy was another matter. Up to now he had lived wherever he happened to find himself, which is what comes of dragging your shell about with you all the time like a sort of caravan. And while you might think it's a nice idea to have a warm bed-sock and a hot cup of chocolate and a good book right there whenever you might want them, lugging everything about wherever you go is an awfully tiring business, I can assure you. It tends to explain why snails prefer modest establishments. Most of them find a simple residence – or schooner in Slimy's case – with all mod cons and, say, a sauna and a billiard room with, of course, the all-important library, quite enough to cope with. Mod whats? Modern conveniences like kitchens and bathrooms. And a sauna? Oh yes, indeed. Snails regard saunas as pretty much essential for working up a good slime and they much prefer billiards to darts for obvious reasons. Well, you wouldn't play darts inside yourself, now would you? And who can tell me what a schooner is? Well, a schooner has two or more masts, unlike a sloop which has only one, and if all the m
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