Raindrops keep fallin' on me 'ead
Doris Hits the Trail
Written by Norma Williams - Illustrations by Sadie James
"Just for a minute there I thought we were in trouble." -
from Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.
"I think Wayne's in trouble," said Mother anxiously, peering at the computer screen. "He's just sent an e-mail."
"Oh Good," said Jim, "Just what the world's been waiting for - computer literate weasels."
George hopped on to the back of the chair to look. The e-mail was short and to the point, it said:-
I can't see the thing with the booze no more. Ave bin sobre for 24 hours. I need a boozy cap mushrooms but there ain't non left ere. Pleese elp me explore Hoppy Woods."
"He's got the same literary style as Hemingway," said Mother admiringly.
"He's got the same drink problem as well," said Jim.
"Well I'm not going into Hoppy Woods with the Weasels," said Gilly definitely and Sid nodded silently, and shuddered.
An expedition to Hoppy Woods is serious stuff. By English standards they are huge - nearly 1,000 acres - and they are wild. All sorts of funny things go on in Hoppy Woods, and some funny things grow there too, among them the boozy cap, or "pink spider" mushroom. This is a fungi of terrifying aspect, being yellow with purple
stripes. It has the unique property of turning any liquid into neat alcohol thus making it dear to the hearts of all weasels. Its alternative name is "pink spider" mushroom because any human stupid enough to eat it sees pink spiders - then drops dead! If you are a weasel, you just feel a nice, mellow glow - you still see the spiders - but this, of course, is neither here nor there.
"I wouldn't mind going," said George casually, "but of course I'm practically a wild animal anyway."
"No, you're not," said Gilly from the sofa, where she and Sid were engrossed in Coronation Street. "You're a ferret, and a fat middle aged ferret at that."
"Yes darling," said Mother anxiously, "promise me you won't go anywhere near Hoppy Woods, you know how I worry."
"Oh all right then," agreed George easily. "I won't go."
And Mother beamed fondly at him.
And Gilly gave him a look.
Depression in weasels is a terrible thing to see.
Wayne lay prone on the pigsty wall staring into space. His paws dangled limply, and a rolled up dock leaf was placed soothingly across his brow.
Tracy regarded her suffering parent unsympathetically.
"'e's bin sober for a week, an' 'e ain't 'alf difficult to live with."
Wayne moaned and twitched slightly.
"I'll help you get to Hoppy Woods and get some mushrooms," said George smoothly, "but you'll have to make it worth my while. We'll need transport, and provisions - chocolate mainly - I could help with all that, and you weasels could provide the - er, the muscle power if you like. I'll do all the difficult bits." He regarded the back of one of his sleek paws casually.
"Transport, what transport?" asked Gilly sharply.
"Mind your own business."
"You haven't got any transport," persisted Gilly.
"I can drive," said George confidently. "If she can," he nodded towards the house, "then I certainly can."
You might think you can drive, but if your legs are only four inches long, then you can't. They had hit the first stumbling block.
"What about that 'orse?" suggested Tracy, looking at Zanti, who was dozing in the sun. "That's a big 'orse that is, look at the backside on it - we could all get on 'er."
"I was just about to suggest that when you interrupted," said George.
Gilly snorted rudely and George glared at her.
"Why don't you push off Goody Twoshoes and take him with you?" he nodded towards Henry who was sitting on a log in the sun.
"Yes," piped up Tracy, "we don't want them, she's a snitch," she glared at Gilly - "and 'e's weird 'e is, what's 'e got on 'is 'ead?"
Henry did look a bit strange. He had taken to sleeping on the ceiling with his bats. This comes naturally to bats, but not to ferrets, and Henry's regular downward progress, as he dropped off, first metaphorically, then literally, had put everyone's nerves on edge. He had been fitted with a metal eggcup jammed upside down on top of his head to stop his brains becoming bruised and this indeed had made him safer, but much, much noisier.
And it has to be said that the bats were universally unpopular. Gordon has a tongue like a viper and Mother's self confidence - a tender organ at best - was in shreds.
"They will insist on coming shopping with me," she complained, "they flap round the Co-op insulting people, then they hang upside down above the Danish pastries, it's not hygienic. Besides," she went on, "I don't really think they ought to come with me. People will begin to think I'm strange."
"Oh surely not," said Jim.
Henry had protested loudly on behalf of his pals. The bats, he said, were fun.
"No they're not, they're disgusting," said Gilly.
"Yes," said George, "they're bats - you're a ferret who just happens to be bats, it's not the same thing."
"Please try and find a nicer little pal," pleaded Mother.
And so Henry wandered off, a sad, lonely little figure, looking for a friend.
It was two days later, and lunchtime when the village is very quiet. Zanti was tethered to the flower cart outside the Post Office. She was contentedly chewing a bunch of pink carnations.
A gang of weasels - and George - were looking through the letterbox of the Post Office. Doris was in her customary position behind the counter, she was knitting grimly, jabbing at the wool with her needles and muttering to herself. No one messes with Doris. George had tried once and had been viciously stabbed in the bum with a knitting needle while helping himself to chocolate. There is now a sign outside the Post Office which says:-
on these premises at any time
or under any circumstances.
"You'll have to go in and keep her talking," said George.
The Weasels shifted uncomfortably and looked at each other and muttered.
"She looks a nasty piece of work," said Wayne unwillingly.
"You've got the easy bit," urged George, sensing rebellion, "I've got to go in and actually get the chocolate. Tell her you want a postal order."
"A what?" asked Wayne.
"I don't want any chocolate," said Tracy.
"Well I do," said George, "and if you don't get moving I'll go home and I'll take the horse with me."
Only the prospect of a future of unbroken sobriety could have made Wayne face the fearsome postmistress. He slipped through the letterbox and sidled up to Doris with an ingratiating grin.
Doris regarded him with disfavour. One hairy lip curled in distaste.
"What do you want?" she demanded.
George popped unseen through the letterbox and galloped up to the chocolate counter and began rustling busily.
"A postal order please my good woman," said Wayne.
"Are you being patronising?" snarled Doris, "I'm not being patronised by bloody weasels at my time of life..."
"No, no, no," said Wayne, who was losing his nerve. "Just a postal order please."
"How much for?"
Wayne stared at her in uncomprehending terror. He hadn't a clue.
"I'll have to ask the ferret," he admitted.
Wayne and George sat back to back on the counter. Their paws were tied with sellotape and they were tethered to the scales with parcel string.
"You are absolutely bloody useless," said George bitterly.
"How was I supposed to know?" whined Wayne.
Doris was putting on her hat and coat.
"Oh brilliant," said George, "another trip to the cop shop."
"No it's not," said Doris surprisingly, "I'm coming with you. I'm fed up with the Post Office and I'm fed up with cooking hot dinners for my Bert, he's a pig, he is." She went on, "I've always wanted an adventure, so I'm coming to the Woods with you on the horse."
"Oh please no," thought George bitterly - out of the hands of one batty old woman and straight into the clutches of another.
"I'm going to hold the reins in me teeth like in that film," continued Doris, flushed with excitement for the first time in ten years. "That was a dead good film that was," she added wistfully. "I've always wanted to do that." She popper her knitting into a shopping bag and said briskly, "come on then, let's hit the trail."
"I hope her teeth are going to be up to this," said Wayne.
Mother sat in the police car, sobbing bitterly. Raymond, the village bobby, regarded her gloomily. Raymond doesn't like women at the best of times and it puts his teeth on edge when they weep.
"They've all gone," wailed Mother. "Kidnapped and taken from me," she collapsed soggily onto Raymond's shoulder.
"It didn't look to me like they was being kidnapped," he said sternly. Zanti had passed his police car about an hour ago and had vanished into the Woods at full gallop. She is a large brown horse, but even so she had been carrying a considerable payload. Doris bounced enthusiastically up and down on her back, the reins, as promised, clutched in her gums, her National Health dentures having given up the ghost at the village crossroads. The Weasels were arranged up Zanti's neck and were hanging grimly onto her mane. George was sitting between her ears and was bashing her on the neck with a Cadbury's Finger of Fudge.
"George would never do anything wrong," snivelled Mother, who clings this belief, despite long and continued evidence to the contrary.
Raymond thought wistfully of the good old days, when women reached the menopause and sat down quietly and behaved themselves. Nowadays they all seemed to turn into John Wayne. Raymond thinks that Hormone Replacement Therapy has a lot to answer for.
He tried not to look at Doris's dentures which sat on the dashboard and jabbered vacantly at him wherever he changed gear.
"Sometimes," he thought, "I really hate my job.
By the time night fell, Raymond wasn't the only person unhappy with his lot. It is one thing to boast about being practically a wild animal, but Hoppy Woods are full of the real thing and George wasn't enjoying himself. It hadn't taken long for the Weasels to find the boozy cap mushroom and mix it with water from the brook. They were all now happily drunk and were sitting round a fire with Doris, singing rude songs and eating warm rabbit. Doris had proved a natural in the wild. She had unravelled her knitting and skilfully lassoed two rabbits, which she had expertly dispatched and gutted. She had then skewered them with her knitting needles with a violence and enthusiasm which had made George flinch. Flushed with success Doris had vanished into the night and returned with two scrubby looking sheep which were no tethered to a tree, and presumably represented the main course.
George was sitting bolt upright with his back against an old oak tree. It was very, very dark. He could hear foxes barking. He can hear this at home, but there he is safe. George sleeps in a box, which is inside a hut, which is inside a wire run, even so, ever since he was a kit, George has pushed Henry to the front of the box for added security, reasoning that if anything did get in it would gobble Henry up first. He gulped. He would have been glad to see Henry. He flattened himself against the tree again. A mix of warm rabbit and Finger of Fudge gurgled uneasily in his tummy. He badly needed to use a litter tray, but as far as he could see, there weren't any. He would have to go into the woods, alone and in reverse - something could come up behind him and... he gulped again. He began to feel ill. Where was that stupid woman when he needed her he thought savagely. It was typical of humans, all over like a hot flush when they were of no possible use, then, just when you needed them, with their mobile 'phones and their Land Rovers, where were they?
Something huge and warm and dark pushed against him. George squealed with terror.
It was Zanti.
"Come on," she said, "let's go home."
Zanti was hungry and walked briskly. George lay weakly on her broad back, and the sheep, rescued and tied to her tail with knitting wool, pattered gratefully along behind. However, as we all know, it's surprising what the sight of home can do, and by the time they reached the yard gate, George was feeling positively himself again and almost cocky.
They were greeted with toe curling enthusiasm by their human companion, and Zanti was given a bran mash with cooked linseed and finely chopped carrots and apples. George was escorted to the 'fridge and a meal of best steak with a little egg yolk prepared for him.
"I might want that cream cake, afterwards."
"Oh course, darling, anything."
And so it was, that two days later, the following appeared on the front page of the Sun newspaper:-
hero ferret rescues valuable horse
"Size doesn't matter!!!"
A true hero emerged this weekend when George (aged 4 and a bit) rescued a horse (aged 11 and a bit) estimated by this brave ferret to be worth "at least three million pounds."
"I had to do it," he said modestly at his detached home in Staffordshire today, "there was no one else, so I just got on with it."
His human companion Mrs Norma Williams (who said she could not remember her age, but added that she usually worse contact lenses which made her look much younger) said she was proud of him, but added that it was just typical of a plucky responsible little animal like George. "He's always been special," she said.
Her husband was heard to mutter, "hasn't he just."
The horse was not available for comment.
So it all ended quite well for everybody really, except for Doris's husband Bert, who suffered terrible indigestion from a diet of Chinese takeaways. Doris was eventually lured from the woods with the promise of a really decent holiday, and she made Bert draw out all his savings and take her on safari in Africa where she terrified some lions, petrified some elephants and came home feeling 20 years younger.
As soon as Henry saw the sheep it was love at first sight. Jim refuse to let them live in the house - he said people might talk - so they had to live in the field with the cows, but they soon escaped and went to live in the vegetable garden instead.
George lay in his box and listened to the sound of Henry's new pals chomping their way through the lettuce. "She'll go made in the morning," he thought happily. He pushed his brother to the front of their box with one large back foot, had a quick scratch, then he fell sound asleep.
In which Mother tries to cure a broken heart by trying Endurance Riding - a sport designed for the young and healthy.
George has a flutter on the horses.
Wayne has an unexpected holiday,
and we meet, Alice, the albino ferret who manages to be a bad influence on absolutely everyone,
and we become better acquainted with Brian, Barry's love chick, who has all the social skills and graces of Vlad the Imapler.
Who died very suddenly and unexpectedly
at home on 9th March 2002, aged 4
Thanks for all the fun, Gilly, and a special thanks from our rescue jills, who are here just because you showed us what fun living with a little jill ferret can be.
* * * * * * *