Once, (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 way.

On 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.

“Slugs, 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.

They 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.

“Once 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.

It 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 way that
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.

The 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 chewing gum.
“Oh dear”, thought Ergo, for he was a bright and perceptive slug, “I seem to have run out of chewing gum”

In 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 “jolly pretty”.

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.

After 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.

“The helicopter seems to be turning blue” said Mr Farnsbarnes.

“Gosh, 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.

“Let’s 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.

“Great 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.

“Nothing 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.

Dotty 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.

She 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 speaking voice.
“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!

They 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 even higher.

“Whaaaaaarrrrr and yet twice and thrice Whaaaaaaar!!!” added Nigel.
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 pine nuts.
“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” said Dotty.

“”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 Dot.

“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 lived.

“Any danger of me coming for a ride in your flying machine?” asked Ergo.

“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.

The three friends took off in the helicopter and rose up over I Thought I Told You Not To Be So Ridiculous Valley.

As 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!”

Dotty 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”.

The 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.