(not as far back as the Olden Days, but fairly far back,
somewhere between the Olden Days and last week) there was
a medium sized slug called Ergo. He had some mates. The
mates were slugs, too, and also medium sized. They all lived
in a very unusual place called Don't Be So Ridiculous Valley.
The valley was called Don't Be So Ridiculous Valley because
it was actually a hill, and hills go upwards whereas valleys
go downwards and along. Some people might tell you that
hills go downwards, but they are pessimists. Hills go upwards.
Valleys go downwards, and even then only in the nicest possible
Friday evenings, if it was cool, they would slip quietly
down to the orchard to wait for the fish and chips to fall
contentedly from the branches. Some of the more deep-thinking
slugs thought that the mummies and daddies put the fish
and chips up there in the middle of the night, but most
of them believed that they just grew there, not even by
magic (for if a thing is true it is just true, and not magic)
and they were the ones who were right.
that’s what we are” they said, fairly often.
And frankly, they were right about that, too. Not horrible
black slugs like the ones you slip on in the garden, but
silvery-glitter slugs with bright orange slimy bits underneath,
and small, round, smiley, cheeky faces.
often found it hard to get up in the morning. Perhaps it
was because they had no legs. Or perhaps it was because
they never went to bed. Ergo had a strong wish to do something
in life other than wait for the fish and chips to fall from
the trees. Everything seemed too safe. He had often thought
about running away from home, - but once again, not having
legs made this unlikely. His life was certainly pleasant,
but there seemed such little excitement and adventure. He
did have an old gramophone with some George Formby records,
but the frequent moments of emotional uplift afforded by
these only made him yearn all the more for the unknown glories
which he knew came only to those who made the effort to
break away from the daily safety of being Normal.
a slug, always a slug” said Ergo, with chilling accuracy.
He carefully inserted a stick of chewing gum into his small
and not particularly interesting mouth and slopped wearily
off into the fog. But this time, instead of slopping off
back round to his mother’s house, - where he lived,
- he just kept right on slopping. He hadn’t decided
in a real, executive decision to keep on going, he just
went. And went. And when he’d nearly finished going
he went even a bit further.
was a dull, foggy morning (otherwise there wouldn’t
have been any fog for Ergo to slop off into just now), but
it was dull in a fairly bright sort of way. The sort of
means you can only just see your hand in front of your face
(if you have hands, and if one of them is in front of your
face, which was not the case) - but bright, so that there
was a broad glare right across his field of vision, or vision
of field, I should really say, since it was indeed a field
that Ergo had vision of, - or didn’t, really, if you
see what I mean.
morning dew hung happily on the grass around him, waiting
for something to happen. The thing that happened was that
the dew dried up and ceased to exist. Ergo was thinking
about this rather harsh fact of life as he nosed his way
ever onwards into the unknown. Just then, he ran out of
“Oh dear”, thought Ergo, for he was a bright
and perceptive slug, “I seem to have run out of chewing
their tree house some miles away and not even close to Don't
Be So Ridiculous Valley, the Farnsbarneses were just getting
up and doing their exercises. Dotty Farnsbarnes and her
husband, Mr Farnsbarnes were unlike all the other little
fairy folk, because they had bought themselves a matching
pair of combat helicopters which they kept in a large disused
Owl-hole, which was of course simultaneously occupied by
a Large Disused Owl.
Dotty’s helicopter was pink until midday, and light
blue with a dark blue stripe after lunch (on Mondays, Wednesdays
and Fridays), and Mr Farnsbarneses’ was light
blue with a dark blue stripe in the mornings and pink after
lunch. This helped them to tell the difference between the
two helicopters, which were, in every other respect, identical.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends, the rules were reversed,
and Dotty’s was light blue before lunch and pink after
lunch. This caused a certain amount of confusion, which
they solved either by only ever using one helicopter at
a time, or by not minding if one of them used the other’s
helicopter by mistake.
Over breakfast, Dotty and Mr Farnsbarnes made their plans
for the day, which they decided would involve a trip to
the small village shopping area some distance from their
own area of woodland bits and bobs - which didn’t
really have a name, out across the next lump of countryside
which was called I Thought I Told You Not To Be So Ridiculous
Valley, and which was unlike Don’t Be So Ridiculous
Valley in that it was a real valley which went downwards
and along, and it did it in a very nice way indeed. It was
beautiful countryside, of the sort that Mr Farnsbarnes called
There had been a time, - when they were both young, when
Mr Farnsbarnes had thought that his wife, Dotty, was jolly
pretty, but now she was only a bit pretty, but also a tiny
bit ugly. However, as he reminded himself (for he was an
optimist) she was only a very little tiny bit ugly and still
quite a big bit pretty. This was only fair because Mr Farnsbarnes
was also getting older every day and, it had to be admitted,
was very slightly less handsome than he had been as a young
man fairy. Thankfully, Dotty had not noticed this, as she
was even more of an optimist than Mr Farnsbarnes, - or maybe
she had noticed it, but didn’t mind.
bidding the Large Disused Owl a very good morning, they
carefully selected Dotty’s helicopter, using a calendar,
a clock and a colour chart, filled its fuel tank full of
tea (containing a ratio of two sugars to the Woodland Litre)
- and took off into the morning mist, the pinkness of the
helicopter glinting in the sunshine, reminding them that
it must be Monday, Wednesday or Friday.
helicopter seems to be turning blue” said Mr Farnsbarnes.
is that the time!” said Dotty, looking at the colour
chart on the wall, and reaching out for a large basket of
pigeon’s milk and a bag of onions which they had brought
along for their mid-morning snack. Dotty, who was driving
the helicopter, let go of the controls for a moment as she
leant over to get the bag, and it lurched violently to the
left. Luckily, a bag of onions and pigeons’ milk lurching
violently to the left is not dangerous. If it had been the
helicopter which had lurched violently, it could have been
very nasty indeed.
land, - steering and eating at the same time is all rather
difficult” said Dotty, wisely. She skilfully brought
the flying machine down in the middle of a field, where
she could see enough through the mist to enable her to land
smoothly. The morning dew had recently dried, which was
odd, because the mist was still floating above the field
in its usual soft, light blue way.
to be alive, eh, Dotty!” enthused Mr Farnsbarnes,
jumping down from the helicopter and looking around him.
This started him off thinking, for he was a thinking sort
of fairy - indeed an inventor of some importance to the
local community, (at least in his own estimation, and Dotty’s,
or so she said). He was thinking about the meaning of life,
the nature of a superior being if indeed there was one,
- which he doubted, - and about whether there might be a
way to peel onions without your eyes watering. He was pretty
sure he had the answers to the first two questions- which
weren’t really questions, more like topics for discussion,
- but was stumped about the third problem. Maybe if you
were under water, or just your arms were, you could peel
onions without the smelly onion vapour escaping up into
your eyes. Goggles would be awkward and difficult for the
cook if he or she would soon have to sit down to dinner
with guests, looking nice, and without make-up being smudged.
Of course, he didn’t use make-up, but Dotty did, -
just like all fairies who are just a tiny weenie bit ugly
but not very. “What are you thinking about, my Darling?”
asked Dot, breaking his chain of thought and rather irritating
him. She was always doing it, but he had grown tolerant
of it. Who knows how many inventions she had denied to the
world by breaking his concentration in this way? Probably
heaps. It was a good job there were other inventors of nearly
his calibre in the world, he thought, rather generously.
you would understand, my dear little wife-in-a-million”
he replied. Dotty blushed. She spread out a blanket on the
ground and slit open the bag with a penknife with lots of
gadgets, like a Swiss Army knife but not quite as good because
it didn’t have a thing for getting stones out of horse’s
hooves. This didn’t matter because there were no horses.
Or if there were, they had never seen one yet.
didn’t mind her husband talking down to her in this
patronising way. She rather liked it. It made her feel small
and slightly inferior, - (which was far from the truth,
she had a Woodland PhD in Nuclear Physics, Flower Arranging
and Cake Decorating) and it helped her to love him as much
as she did, - which was a lot, - as it enabled her to look
up to him.
got out two onions, polished one on the front of her shirt
and bowled it, over arm with a slight top-spin, to her lovely
husband, with a warm smile.
“Here you are my husband-for-ever-and-ever”
she purred, in her sweet little voice and fairy accent.
Her accent was a little like an Australian accent with a
hint of something like Russian around the vowels. But despite,
or possibly because of these two things, it was a charming
“Fog’s clearing” observed Mr Farnsbarnes.
“You’re not wrong even a little tiny bit”
agreed Dot, happily. She bit into her raw onion with a loud
but feminine crunch, and chewed thoughtfully. To have had
some children would have been nice, she thought. Still,
she had old Farnsey. And the Large Disused Owl. Lucky, lucky,
lucky me, she thought. She bit the onion again. Some people
didn’t have enough to eat. Some people didn’t
even have houses, but she had Nigel Farnsbarnes, a sister
called Elsie, a half share in two helicopters, a doctorate,
an owl, a tree house, and lots of other things. Phew!
were stretching out on the blanket, feeling happy and munching
on their onions, when Nigel’s hair burst into flames.
“Whaaaaaarrrrrrrrrr” said Nigel, in a surprised
and pained manner, which was not a planned thing, more an
instant reaction to the searing pain that ripped across
his scalp. In a flash, Dotty ran over to the helicopter
and turned on the rotor blades, hoping that the fire would
be blown out, but of course this just fanned the flames
“Whaaaaaarrrrr and yet twice and thrice Whaaaaaaar!!!”
Just then, Ergo, who had been making his way peacefully
through the field, having noticed the Farnsbarneses enjoying
their picnic, leapt onto the blanket, grabbed the pigeons’
milk with one of his slimy knobbly bits that slugs have
instead of hands, and emptied the entire basket of it (2.4
woodland litres) over the roaring flames on Nigel’s
head, which by now were several woodland feet high, and
not very funny at all for poor old Nige.
The fire went out instantly, but the top of Nigel’s
head continued to smoulder and smoke, giving off a column
of black fumes, the smell of which reminded Ergo of barbecued
“Oh, thank you, thank you!” yelled Dotty, rushing
over to Nigel, who was rolling around on the ground, holding
his head. He was still in considerably more than a medium
amount of pain.
“What happened?” asked Nigel.
“Your hair just..er, caught fire, darling husband-of-my-dreams”
“”I know, but why?”
“Why does the river flow to the sea? Why does the
wind whisper in the night? What is Life? How many inches
in a nautical mile?” said Dotty, a trifle flippantly.
The only thing she cared about was that he was safe. Her
Nigel, safe and sound, if a trifle smoky around the scalp.
“No, I insist on knowing” raged Nigel Farnsbarnes,
still rolling about in pain.
He suddenly remembered Ergo.
“Oh, - er, thanks for, - er, extinguishing me with
the pigeon’s milk, mate” he said, a little inadequately.
“It was the least I could do” said Ergo.
“Why didn’t you do more then?” asked Mr
Farnsbarnes, jokingly as he winced with pain, and held his
head with both hands.
“Well, it was the least and the most I could do,”
explained Ergo, not seeing the joke. “In that sense,
it was the only thing to do”.
“Do you mean to say that the only available thing
to do when you see a man with his hair on fire is to throw
a basket of pigeons’ milk on it? I think not!”
reasoned Mr Farnsbarnes, who always liked a stimulating
argument, “What if there wasn’t any pigeons’
milk, but there was a fire extinguisher?”
“Come on, Mr Farnsbarnes” interrupted Dotty,”
this is a silly argument”.
“Let me introduce myself” said Mr Farnsbarnes,
to Ergo. “I’m Nigel Farnsbarnes, - inventor,
man of letters, oh, and quite a good gardener, and this
is my wife, Dotty, who is, well, wife of me, the inventor
and so on. Pleased to meet you. And you are..?”
He left that sort of inquisitive pause that people leave
when they are inviting you to finish the sentence. Ergo
wondered why he didn’t just say “What is your
name?” but he didn’t.
“Ergo. A slug of medium size, from Don’t Be
So Ridiculous Valley” offered Ergo.
“Well, slug or not, you certainly saved my hair from
not being extinguished!” said Nigel, sounding like
an idiot, but not knowing what else to say.
“That’s not wrong, and no mistake” said
“Glad to have been of service” said Ergo.
“Why do you think my hair burst into flames?”
asked Mr Farnsbarnes.
“I don’t know. We don’t get much spontaneous
combustion of the scalp around here” said Ergo.
“I know, I live here, too. Well, not here, exactly,
just over that big hill and round through the big woods...”
Nigel’s voice trailed off as he realised that Ergo
probably wouldn’t be interested in exactly where he
danger of me coming for a ride in your flying machine?”
“It’s the least we can do!” said Nigel.
“Why don’t you do more then?!” quipped
Ergo, who had got the joke after all.
three friends took off in the helicopter and rose up over
I Thought I Told You Not To Be So Ridiculous Valley.
the journey continued, the Farnsbarneses discovered that
Ergo was actually the slug equivalent of a great bloke.
Ergo began to tell them funny stories of life in Don't Be
So Ridiculous Valley, - and all about his mates in the orchard,
eating their fish and chips every Friday night.
“He’s a really nice chap, this slug”,
said Mr Farnsbarnes, as he began to blow softly on a mouth
organ which had been lying on the floor, having fallen out
of Dotty’s handbag. “Pass me an onion, Dot!”
reached over from the helicopter controls and passed him
another large, white onion, and Mr Farnsbarnes began to
munch hungrily on it, between little, tuneful blows and
sucks on the mouth organ.
”Where are we going?” said Ergo.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Dotty. We’re
only going back to our house. It’s quite boring, really”
“Not at all”, replied Ergo, “I’m
sure it’s very interesting. Could I come with you?
You see I’m looking for adventure and this is the
most exciting thing I’ve ever done”.
Farnsbarneses told Ergo he would be most welcome to return
home with them, and so he sat up in the co-pilot’s
seat and watched the trees flashing past beneath them as
they flew. Soon, they arrived at the Farnsbarnes tree residence,
where they landed. Ergo was introduced to the Large Disused
Owl, who had been woken up by the noise of the rotor blades
and was a little bit grumpy.