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Archive for the ‘Bedtime Stories’ Category

Mickey the Monkey lived in the jungle, surrounded by trees with luscious long leaves, birds with bright feathers and snakes that slithered over the palms. When she closed her eyes she could hear the caw-caw of toucans, the rustling of leaves, and the trickle of waterfalls. She would play with her monkey friends and family all day long, swinging from branch to branch, dangling from long ropey plants, jumping across rushing rivers.

But Mickey the Monkey was mischievous and curious. The jungle just wasn’t enough for her. She had heard the birds whispering rumours of another world, beyond the forest, where metal animals roared into the night, flashing their big white eyes, where two-legged creatures walked upright all day long and where  the biggest birds you had ever seen floated noisily through the sky.

One day, just before her sister Julie’s 21st birthday, she decided to venture out into this new world and bring Julie back a present that she had never seen before: something that would surprise and delight her – and the whole Monkey family.

Mickey swung to the edge of forest, and then ran, four-legged along the dirt tracks. She soon saw a box laden with bright bananas but as she jumped onto it, the box began to move! The truck took her further and further along the track and, seeing that this metal monster did not want to hurt her,  Mickey relaxed and filled her belly with bananas. Soon she fell asleep, lulled by the rhythm of the truck bouncing along the track.

She was woken by a screeching noise, unlike any bird she had heard before, and opened her eyes to flashing lights: green, orange, red.  The truck stopped moving. She quickly jumped off: this must be it. This was THE TOWN!  

She shimmied up the nearest tree, made of hard, cold stone, with a light at the top! She leapt from here onto a drain, then a gulley, looking for something to take back to her family. Looking for something she never seen before.

The first thing she saw from her bird’s eye view was a hat (though of course she didn’t know its name). She had never seen a hat before. But lots of the two-legged creatures had these things on their heads. She liked them, she wanted one. She swooped down to steal a particularly grand, soft one with a wide brim,  just as a gust of wind blew it off the man’s head. Another man picked it up and started calling, “Sir! Sir! Your hat!” These hats could fly too! But they were very hard to catch.

Mickey would have to find a different present. The second thing she saw, in through the window of a cafe (though of course she didn’t know it was a cafe) was a cup (though of course she didn’t know it was a cup). She noticed that the two-legged creatures were  looking into the cup, talking to the cup, caressing the cup. Then they each put their mouth to their cup and sipped. Clearly the cup was a very special instrument indeed and would bring joy and prsoperity to all who drank from it.

Mickey crept into the cafe through the open door and hid under the table where the couple were drinking their tea. She wondered if she could curl her tail up onto the table and around the handle of the cup without anyone noticing.  

But instead, “Ooh look, mamma, a monkey!” screamed a little boy, and soon all the two-legged creatures were running towards her. Mickey ran out of that cafe as fast as she could and hid behind a rubbish bin.

When she looked out, she saw that she was at a market (though of course she didn’t know its name). Trays and trays of yellow, orange, green and red fruit and vegetables. A man was standing very near to Mickey with a bright green globe in his hands.

“Roll up, roll up!” he called, “Come and see me melon demonstration. Melon demonstration taking place in two minutes”

People started gathering around the stall and Mickey was able to hide in among the legs. She certainly had never seen a melon before. Maybe this could be Julie’s present!

“Alright me lovelies. Fed up with sticky fingers? Not sure how to get the most outta yer honeydew melon? Gather round. This is what you do!”

And with a flick of his knife he cut the melon in two equal halves, scooped out the insides and whizzed them in a machine.

“Da da!” he called triumphantly. “The best melon milkshake for miles round. Milkshake costs just £1 a pop. Come and try one for free!”

As the crowd moved eagerly forward, Mickey was mesmerized by what the man had slung into the rubbish bin. The two melon halves, scooped clean of melon were like two empty cups: or two hats! A cup and a hat!” Thought Mickey. Two presents in one.

Julie will be pleased.

And just as she said this to herself, she saw the truck, no longer laden with bananas, but full of melons, just waiting for her to catch a ride. 

“I’ll be home in time for tea”, she thought, as she snuggled down among the melons and laid her head back to watch the stars.

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I finished reading Tahmima Anam’s A Golden Age today – and will write about it tonight if I get the chance. But at dinner this evening, my daughter sat next to me and said, ‘So mum, how’s it going?’ in a jokey adult sort of way. I told her that actually my head was still in the story I’d just finished reading. I said that I had met the woman who wrote it, that she was a student on the M.A. at Royal Holloway while I was teaching there temporarily and that it turned out later, she was going out with one of my oldest friend’s brothers … It was the hook my daughters needed: ‘wow! really! what’s the story about?’ So I tried to tell them, imagining it would be far too complicated to explain. But actually the nuggets of the story rolled from my mouth and I felt gifted like Sheherazade, and I appreciated all over again the story itself, without the distraction of the perfect wording.

‘It’s a story about a country called Bangladesh and the war when they tried to become independent.’

‘What’s independent?’ piped up my 6 year old.

‘When you want to do something on your own, without other people being in charge, and this country didn’t want to belong to Pakistan anymore. But it’s also a story about a mother whose children get taken away from her and she does whatever she can to get them back.’ And I just carried on telling them the story, including how Rehana was too poor to look after her children and her brother-in-law took them himself to another country a thousand miles away because his own wife couldn’t have children, but Rehana promised she would bring them back, and one day her friend suggested she could build a big house in her own garden and rent it out for money. And she went to get a loan from the bank but the man wanted to kiss her and she didn’t like that so she left the bank with no money and instead she found a very rich blind man who had married a very young woman who had died after only three years and he was looking for another wife and he said to Rehana that he would marry her if she didn’t mind him keeping a big portrait of his wife in the house… it is such a story, in its contortions and circular patterns, each end finding its beginning. And they loved it!

‘Will you read it to us mummy?’ I said I’d give it a go, I wasn’t sure if they’d understand it – and it might be very upsetting. But they insisted. So I read the first few pages to them snuggled up in bed. From the very beginning my little one was in tears.

‘Why did the children have to go away, mummy?’ It was a heartfelt horror-filled question. And the only way I could hope to dispel the nightmares that might come was by making up a story for her,  a different kind altogether.

‘What shall I tell you a story about?’ I asked her.

‘About a rabbit and a raspberry.’

‘Okay’ I said. 

So here it is…

The Rabbit and the Raspberry

Once upon a time there was a rabbit called Riccardo who absolutely loved raspberries. But this year, 1971 [you see, I was still a little bit in the story of Bangladesh], there were very few raspberries to be found. There was a severe drought for one thing, and for another, the gulumphalumph was eating them all up. The gulumphalumph was a very odd looking creature: he had three ears, a long tail, short stubby legs and a long waffly nose. But he could bounce and spring on his legs, and he could rustle along the ground. This meant he was exceptionally good at finding raspberries. He could jump up to the highest thorny places and stick out his long sticky tongue and swallow them whole, or he could snuffle under the leaves and find them where other bunnies couldn’t.

But the galumphalumph didn’t particularly like raspberries and he was very lonely. None of the bunnies would play with him. They thought he must belong with some different animals, that looked like him. But the fact was, there were no other animals like him anywhere. So he continued collecting raspberries.

Meanwhile, Riccardo the Rabbit was getting quite desperate for a raspberry. The fewer he found, the more he wanted. He began hallucinating, imagining that he could see a raspberry before him, and he would swipe out his paw to pick it, but there was nothing there! All the other bunnies would laugh at him, so he would pretend he was playing a game, and soon all the bunnies were joining in, swiping the air with their paws. But Riccardo didn’t enjoy the game. He had become addicted to the idea of the sweet juice of raspberries trickling down his throat.

Now the galumphalump heard about Riccardo and so he collected thirty of the juiciest, purply-pinkest raspberries he could find and placed them carefully in his best bowl. Then he arranged some leaves around the top, placed the bowl on a cushion and placed the cushion behind a curtain. Then he wrote an invitation to Riccardo,

Dear Riccardo,

Please come to tea at my house tomorrow at 5. There will be something to eat that I know you like very much,

The Galumphalumph. 

Riccardo wanted to tear the letter up. Tea with the galumphalumph. What an absurd idea! All the rabbits knew you didn’t mix with the galumphalumph! But ‘something to eat that I know you like very much’ – what could that be but raspberries! He must go, just in case. And that night, in his sleep he drooled, as he dreamt of raspberries galore.

At 5 the next day, he arrived at the galumphalumph’ s house – a cave scratched out of a tree trunk , with a carpet of moss and ivy hanging in the doorway. The galumphalumph wasted no time.

‘Welcome Riccardo, come inside, and see what I have for you.’

And he swept back the little curtain and Riccardo couldn’t believe his eyes. He thought, again, that he must be hallucinating and he didn’t dare swipe his paw and get laughed at by the galumphalumph of all creatures. So the galumphalumph took one of the biggest, best raspberries and begged Riccardo to try it. Riccardo opened his mouth, shut his eyes and the juice, just as he’d imagined, trickled down his throat. 

‘These are all yours,’ said the galumphalumph, ‘on one condition…’

Humph, I knew it!  thought Riccardo.

‘That you come here everyday at 5 to have tea with me.’

‘Oh – and what will there be for tea?’ asked Riccardo, suspiciously.

‘Raspberries. Just like these.’

What! This must be a trick. Why ever would the galumphalumph give him what he really wanted for nothing in return. No, Riccardo turned his back on the creature and left with a haughty, ‘Thank you, but no. I don’t like raspberries.’

A little bunny had been listening outside. This bunny also had a weakness for raspberries. He knocked on the tree trunk.

‘Excuse me Mr Galumphalumph, but I will be very happy to come to your house every day at 5 for tea.’

The Galumphalumph was overjoyed. And so he had a friend. And the bunny had his tea.

Riccardo was left only with his suspicions.

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