We're All Going on a Summer Holiday - Part 2
(or Heart of Darkness - the sequel)
Written by Norma Williams - Illustrations by Sadie James
"...the horror ... the horror." from "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad.
The holiday party had split asunder almost as soon as it arrived, Gilly and Sid were innocently watching the sea; the Weasels had melted into the countryside; Jim and the dogs were in the pub. Henry had vanished completely.
Jean, one of Mother's old school friends, had become about the only person to knowingly and willingly invite George into her home. She had a problem with rabbits. Jean has two ferrets of her own, acquired on the advice of Mother, who had assured her that no matter how wonderful life is, it becomes even better once you share it with a ferret. So Bill and Fred had arrived, and for a while things had gone along merrily. Bill and Fred had kept the rabbits away, Jean had grown her vegetables and everyone was happy. Then, Jean said bitterly, some hippies had moved into the sand dunes 'and filled their heads with rubbish'. "Look" she said crossly. They looked. The garden was full of rabbits, hundreds and hundreds of them. All eating.A large buck with two white feet was tucking into radishes by the gate. He hoisted a lettuce under his arm, said, "Greetings," with a sneer, and then waddled off into the dunes - he had terrible wind; in fact there was a strange sort of smog of flatulent bunny hanging over the whole garden.
Bill and Fred were sitting in the sun, wearing headbands and love beads. Fred's headband said 'carnivore is just a word', he was combing Bill's fur; Bill's headband said 'Bunnies are People too'. There were some books in the grass - there was 'Yoga for Ferrets', 'How to Love Absolutely Everyone All the Time', and a volume of Dylan Thomas's poetry.
"They were such sensible ferrets when they first came," said Jean sadly. "I'm sure they shouldn't be reading Dylan Thomas," she added, (looking cautiously round before she spoke in case any locals were listening) - "he had some very funny habits, I do hope George can help," she added plaintively.
Quite honestly it didn't look much like it at that moment. George was fast asleep on his back, paws in the air, snoring gently and wetly.
There was a bulge in his tummy and a pair of nutcrackers by his side.
"I expect the journey's tired him out."
They walked down to the beach, carrying the comatose George. Bill and Fred minced along in front, stopping to play 'one potato, two potato' and 'pat a cake'. They really were strange ferrets. George opened one eye and glared at them, but then dozed off again.
"We'll take you to see our special little seaside friend, Waterbaby," said Fred with a coy, confidential smile, which made you want to slap him.
"Who's that then?" asked Mother brightly, trying to enter into the spirit of things. "It's a bloody crab," said Jean sourly.
George opened both eyes this time.
"I think I might have met him already," he said cautiously, and gave a salty burp.
They stared into the rock pool, which, of course, was empty. Empty of Clawed anyway. All there was were a few shards of shell, a few scraps of crabmeat, and the footprints of a large male
ferret carrying a pair of nutcrackers.
"He said he was edible", said George.
"It was a description, not an invitation", howled Fred.
They returned to the house, Bill and Fred scarred for life, trailing behind.
"I'm awfully sorry."
"I'm not," said Jean, "they're getting too daft for words, it'll do them good. Ignore them." Bill and Fred were fitting themselves and black armbands and Fred was reading 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night' aloud in the general direction of the beach.
They were thoroughly enjoying themselves.
"Pair of drama queens," said Jean with a sniff.
In spite of Mother's worries, you couldn't say that the Weasels were any trouble at all. They slept all day and stayed out all night. No one dared ask what they got up to. And Henry Was Still Missing.
Gilly caused the next crisis, caused - George maintained - by her complete lack of holiday spirit. Sid crashed through the cat flap into the kitchen. He was in a terrible state. "What's he saying?" asked Jean.
"I don't know - something about Gilly and a tom cat."
"No, no, no, no," screeched Sid, and shot out again.
They followed him.
Under the garden shed, and under a cracked flowerpot was Gilly. All you could see was quivering little nose and her whiskers. She was being serenaded by the biggest, sleekest, darkest Polecat you ever saw. He was singing, "What's New Pussycat?" with great gusto and a Welsh accent. Somehow you knew, without being told that his name was Tom Jones. As he sang he swivelled his hips and leered hopefully at the flowerpot. Then he pushed his face close to Gilly's and said. "Please come out."
"No," quavered Gilly.
"Would you like me to sing to you again?"
"No thank you."
The polecat began to sing anyway.
"Very nice," said Gilly, and stayed where she was.
"Oh come out, do."
"I've got a boyfriend."
"You won't be gone long, he'll hardly miss you," said the polecat, "besides," he added, a bit crossly, "I've paid now."
"Paid," screeched Gilly. "What do you mean, paid?"
At that moment George trotted over the hill and down the track from the village. He was dragging a plastic bag, through which the words, 'Smarties' and 'Mars' could be seen. He took in the scene in front of him very quickly indeed, yelled, "no refunds," and kicked the chocolate into the ditch.
Gilly cried and Mother sobbed, "Oh George, how could you? Poor little Gilly."
George yelled, "she only had to be pleasant to him heaven's sake, it'll do her good, she needs to get out more." Sid dived at George and the fight was enthusiastically joined by Bill and Fred, who were beginning to behave more and more like real ferrets by the minute. Say what you like, peace and love are all very well, but sex and violence are a lot more fun.
At the height of the fuss, the back door of the Land Rover shot open and Tracy's narrow, brown face pushed out crossly. "What's all the bloody noise about, we're trying to sleep…"
At the sound of her voice the polecat swung round. Their eyes met, there was no need for words, somehow you knew, you just knew, what was going to happen next. Two seconds later Tracy and Tom were galloping towards the beach, hand in hand.
Gilly emerged from under her flowerpot. "Made for each other," she said with a sniff.
"It'll be extra for the Weasel," yelled George.
But they had gone.
The next visitor was small, grey and very smelly. He trotted into the garden and grinned round shyly at everyone. "Hello," he said. "My name's Malcolm and I've got a message for the tall, ugly one." He peered at them, then said, "You," to Mother, who jumped. "'Ere you are," he pushed a grubby, fishy smelling piece of paper towards her.
The Land Rover door shot open again and Wayne's face popped out. "What's that smell… yuk… mink!" He raised his voice. "Bugger off," he shouted, "bloody foreigners taking the jobs off decent working men." He head shot in again - there was a sound of snoring.
Mother meanwhile had sat down hard on the grass. "Henry's been kidnapped, look… " she read the note out loud, quite slowly, because the handwriting was awful.
The note said:"to whom it may concern,
We are holding your ferrit henry captive. He has insulted us. He offered to Show Us His Friend Terry. We no what he means. The last time anything like this happened to us it was V.E. Nite. To obtain the safe releese of ferrit, bring 4-large bottles of best gin (no cheep stuff) to the beach at midnite. Or else. Follow the mink.
The Two old ladies."
There was an unreadable signature, then -
"p.s. also bring 8oz dolly mixtures (no metric rubbish).
p.p.s. and crisps (salt and viniger will do)"
When Jim found out how much four bottles of best gin would cost he was inclined to leave Henry to his fate, and there was an ugly incident in the pub, but eventually they set out for the beach at 11.30. The smell of dead fish indicated Malcolm's presence in the dark lane. "'ello," he said cheerfully, "bloody 'ell," there's 'undreds of yer."
There were quite a lot. Apart from the three resident humans, there was George, Gilly, Sid, Bill and Fred, two dogs, and Jean's neighbour Elsie who had missed her 'bus to the bingo in town, and fancied a night out.
Malcolm trundled off into the night with his considerable following wandering after him and tripping over each other in the dark. The mink was a happy little soul, and cheerfully extolled the virtues of his favourite food as they went along.
"Fish 'eads is best when the eyes is still in," he chirped. "You can suck 'em out -'pop' they go, just like that 'pop'." He chuckled. "They shoot to the back of your throat and slide down a treat." He trotted along, gaily singing, "pop, pop, pop, pop," to himself, under his breath.
"Oh goody goody gum drops," said George, "today's happy holiday treat - a nice walk in the dark with the local loony."
The old ladies were camped on the beach under the cliffs. They had made a roaring driftwood fire and were cooking in a sinister looking stew pot.
"'ere you are then," chirruped Malcolm, and he trotted off down the sandy track to the camp.
"Where do the old ladies come from?" wondered Gilly.
Elsie explained that they had escaped from a coach party, which had been touring the seaside tearooms. They were living wild on the seashore and were now so fit that no one could recapture them. They had adopted Malcolm as a small, strange familiar, a black cat not really being a viable option when you live on a beach.
Then Gilly squeaked out, "ooh look, there's Henry."
Henry was loosely tied to a breakwater by means of a grubby looking surgical stocking and had evidently taken to captivity quite placidly. He was eating fruitcake and was still wearing his hat.
When his family trooped in to rescue him he just said calmly, "Oh… it's you," and carried on licking the cake crumbs off a nice sultana.
"Gin first, then ferret," said one old lady menacingly.
"Yes, we'll teach you to let your ferrets go round insultin' folk," said the other.
"He really has got a friend called Terry," said Mother timidly.
"Where does 'e keep it, then, under 'is 'at?"
Both old ladies cackled at the thought.
Even Mother had the sense to realise that revealing Terry the Sheep Tick in all his glory would help no one, so she handed over the gin, collected Henry, and the rescue party trooped off back into the sand dunes.
Mother tried to kiss Henry, but he said, "Yuk, gerroff," and wipe his face with his paws.
"Let's watch," said George eagerly. And they all sat down in the warm sand overlooking the beach.
The camp was a horrible sight in the dark. "It only wants heads on sticks," said Jean with a shudder.
"Ohh look," Gilly was all a squeak again; "something's moving on the cliffs."
"It's Wayne and the Weasels."
"And that polecat!"
Wayne was still dragging a can of Weasel Pop. The Old Ladies seemed delighted to see him. Money changed hands. A hideous cocktail of gin and Weasel Pop was mixed, it glowed purple in the dark and hissed and steamed.
Tom soon began singing again. All the Weasels joined in. They sang 'Delilah' with much hip swinging. Then the polecat sang 'Tonight's the Night' with much meaning to Tracy, and she giggled and covered her face with her paws.
"He fancied me first," said Gilly with the kind of feminine logic, which has baffled men for centuries.
The Old Ladies showed the weasels how to do the conga and the hokey cokey and this went down a storm. Malcolm, sitting a little apart with his own fire, shouted "oi" in nearly all the right places and enthusiastically waved a fish head on a stick in time to the music. Then Wayne got up on his own. "He's doing a turn!" said George and everyone shuffled forward to watch.
Wayne began miming something - or someone - he clutched his neck nervously, then he mopped his brow, then he pretended to open a bottle and take a pill. This convulsed him and he had to stop to recover himself. He began again. Now he was driving an imaginary car. He clutched a steering wheel in a convulsive grip, his eyes bulged madly, and he grasped his chest and pretended to take another pill. This did for him completely and he collapsed in sobs of laughter. He beat the sand with his paws and howled with mirth. The rest of the Weasels were similarly afflicted and they rolled about, clutching aching tummies.
Light dawned on Jim. "He's taking you off," he said.
"Well, that's very nice, I must say, after I brought them on holiday," snapped Mother. "Come on Henry, we're going home."
Henry looked yearningly back at the camp. He said he hoped that when they got home Mother would get her act together and buy sultanas and things and make cakes.
Jim said that he had been waiting for over 15 years for Mother to stay long enough in the kitchen to make a cake - Henry should not get his hopes up.
When they got home Jean was formally introduced to Henry and Terry, who was revealed in all his glory when Henry removed his woolly hat with a proud flourish. Terry was now magnificent - a huge tick in the very prime of life, his skin glistening with health. He removed a thread-like appendage from Henry's ear, waved it cheerily in Jean's direction, and then re-plunged it. Henry flinched and so did everyone else. "Very nice dear," said Jean politely, clutching her hanky to her mouth, "but isn't it time we all went to bed?"
The next day was the end of their holiday and George was up very early indeed to make sure that he had finished off all the chocolate in the ditch. He had no intention of leaving any behind for anyone else. He sat in the early morning sun and licked the coating off a Smartie contentedly. It was very busy that morning, he thought, there were rabbits everywhere. He watched carefully, then stopped licking. The rabbits were moving out! Rabbits of course are very highly strung. They need lots of sleep at night and they hadn't had any at all since Wayne and the Weasels arrived. Tired and very grumpy, they all headed off into the hills to find somewhere quieter to live. The last to emerge was White Socks - giddy with lack of sleep and yawning he staggered into the lane and was promptly bowled over by Pete the Postie, dashing off to work in his little red van. Poor White Socks was left dead - dead as a nit and flat as a pancake.
George watched all this, he had two more Smarties, then he sat there in the sun, plotting.
Jean had made a nice farewell breakfast for them and they were all tucking in. Henry said it was quite nice to be home, and Mother beamed fondly at him. Then Jean said sharply, "Where's Terry?"
"Who?" asked Henry blankly.
"Terry - you know, your best friend."
"Oh him," said Henry vaguely, "he's dead."
"And more to the point," said Jim, "where?"
Henry looked round vaguely, "Here, somewhere, he sort of exploded," he added and peered round the table short-sightedly. There were all sorts of things on the plates that could have been tomato sauce - but… then again...
"Oh no…" Jean clutched her hankie to her mouth.
Henry had remembered more of the tragedy.
"All his legs shot off," he elaborated. Jean fled to the bathroom.
"I'll really miss you," said Jean bravely, but not very truthfully as they loaded up the Land Rover. "Don't worry about the rabbits," she added, "I'm sure George did his best."
Right on cue George appeared at the garden gate. He was manfully dragging the corpse of a rabbit behind him. He reversed up to them, dropped the mortal remains of White Socks in front of them and gave a weary brave little sigh. Mother was instantly all a twitter with hero worship. Everyone else was a lot more sceptical.
"What's he done, kicked it to death? It's as flat as a pancake," said Jim.
"And it's got a tyre mark down it's back," added Gilly.
"It looks like a lavvie hat with ears."
"I don't know why I bloody well bother," yelled George, "I get up at daybreak, come home covered with blood, and what thanks do I get?"
Gilly prodded him with a cautious paw, then she said, "It's chocolate."
"It's chocolate," repeated Gilly stolidly, "not blood. He hasn't been hunting, he's been pigging out somewhere."
"Shut your face," snarled George, "I should have sold you to that polecat when I had the chance..."
A fine fight was in progress, when Elsie dashed down the path and said, "Come and look." They all ran after her, out of the house and down the lane to the road to town.
It was the Wicked Old Ladies. They were sitting meekly in the 'bus shelter by the side of the road. They had put their stocking on and combed their hair. They were waiting for the coach. They were going home.
"Oh dear," said everyone.
But… just one thing made you suspicious. Malcolm was there too. He was sitting on the bench, very primly and neatly with his tail hanging down.
The coach came. On the front it said "Eventide Homes for the Elderly". The driver got out and gave the old ladies a good talking to. They listened and nodded, then, - quick as a flash - the whacked the driver over head with their sticks, grabbed their suitcases from the coach and fled off down the beach, yelling, "so long, suckers." Malcolm scurried after them, he turned once, gave what might have been a wave (or might not) then they were gone.
"It's been a lovely holiday," said Mother happily. No one said anything. "Jean's going to miss us, she really took to Henry, I could tell."
Back in the village Elsie poured Jean a large scotch and patted her hand reassuringly. "Thank goodness they've gone," said Jean, "she was always weird at school, but now…" She gulped the scotch down. "That horrible, horrible ferret and that disgusting parasite - it'll take weeks to get my stomach right again."
The Old Ladies never went back to the old folks home. They stayed on the beach with Malcolm forever. They brewed hooch from potatoes mixed with gin and Weasel Pop. They were soon rich and famous, (Robbie Williams was a regular visitor). They never forgot Wayne and his picture was on every bottle, with the legend Weaselum Prostratum ("drunk as a skunk") underneath it. They sent him Christmas cards and e.mails and never forgot his birthday.
It was nice to be home thought Gilly,
curled up in her own cosy little bed. She thought about the bright blue sea, dark polecats and the fire under the cliff. She thought sleepily, "Tracy's been eating too much ice cream, she's getting really fat." Then she went to sleep.
Mother makes a bid for equestrian glory at the County Show under rather peculiar circumstances.
Will she make a prat of herself?
Will George help?
Why is Tracy getting fat?
Will Henry get the blame?
And what did Barry get up to in Wales (and with whom)?
And what will Brenda have to say about it?
Stories by Norma Williams