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Issue 45                                   June 2021
This 45th edition of the New Richmond Reader
       is dedicated to our Auntie Moira van den Heever     
Dearest Karoosters…
We find ourselves moving gradually into winter and the Third Covid Wave. We pray all of our followers and family, and friends are healthy and keep that way. The government led “roll out” of the vaccination programme is a shambles and should have been subbed out to private medical facilities and insurance companies, and hospitals. But the ANC’s dogged determination to control every aspect of our lives; the economy, our health, education, the pandemic, has resulted in a virtually dysfunctional country, due to the sheer incompetence, lack of intelligence and honesty, and inbred corruption, which has resulted a pathetic 1% of the population being vaccinated to date. And it is not due to the lack of vaccines in little bottles and syringes and needles. It is the unmitigated ineptitude of the ANC government.

Last week my wife and I went to the Johannesburg General Hospital, well a part of the former grand hospital which was still open  and operational, a hall with stage and theatre lighting, and after some laborious filling in of forms and doing the usual musical chairs song and dance routine, we got our shots. An hour and a half or perhaps a tad longer but it was done and dusted. They were taking all comers and even a scattering of young people in their 20’s so I think the message is out there that everyone must get their shots ASAP.

The Pfizer m-RNA is the way to go.

Well known Karooster Louis Botha, who presented at BookBedonnerd last year, spoke to me about of the project we shared, namely the recording of our fast disappearing oral traditions and the stories and knowledge locked in the brains of our more senior citizens….here I mean the really very very senior citizens…senior is an adjective which might apply to many of us and whilst it may get you free parking on Wednesdays at the Mall and discounted prices here and there, it somehow is a term we don’t really like to be applicable to ourselves.

I arranged that Louis meet and later interview one of Richmond’s oldest born and bred ladies, auntie Moira, formerly of 33 Loop Street where she would sit for hours with her cuppa and knit sweaters. My wife and her were great tea partners and never got tired of each other’s company. Auntie Moira sadly died last week of just plain old age. As we like to think, she didn’t die, God just came to take her home.

The following is Louis lovely write up of our lady of Richmond and the Karoo.


An afternoon with Moira

In a lifetime we meet many people along the way, but only some of them leave us with lasting impressions.
On my last visit to Richmond for attending Boekbedonnerd, in October 2020, I have asked my friend Peter Baker, owner of Supper Club and co-organiser of Boekbedonnerd, if he perhaps knew an elderly man or woman in Richmond I could visit for stories about the town, how it was then, and compared to today. Peter took me to the Old Age Home in Richmond and introduced me to Moira van den Heever, who was 92 years at the time. We visited her in her room and after I was introduced and explained the reason for my request she there and then accepted an invitation to meet with me the following day. I told Moira I was doing research for another photo book on the Karoo, and that I was interested in the stories of people who were born and bred in the Karoo.
On my arrival the next day at 16:00, the time of our appointment, Moira was waiting for me in her wheelchair, on the stoep of the Home. Her hair was nicely done, she wore makeup and jewelry, and she was smartly dressed. Her deep blue eyes were alert and full of life. I greeted her with a bump of the elbow (as it was during Covid restrictions) and took a seat on a bench next to her wheelchair and we began to talk about the good old days, and how different things were today.
Moira began by telling me that her maiden name was Du Toit and that she was born in Richmond on 26th June 1929. She grew up on the family farm Kouwenburg together with her two younger brothers Boetie and John. When it was time to go to school Moira stayed with her Aunt Cressy in a house opposite the Church, the one that later on became the Supper Club. Moira and her two brothers were a sporty trio and played tennis and cricket. After school Moira trained at the Wellington Nursing College and went to work in Upington. That is where she met her husband Charl van den Heever, during a dance at the Show. Charl began to farm on Oufontein, about 10 miles outside of Richmond. He made name for himself as a breeder and trainer of American Saddle Horses. He became the President of the American Saddle Horse Breeders Association and judged horses on many, many shows. Moira spent some of her honeymoon on a pavilion in Bloemfontein during such a show when Charl had to judge. Moira was instrumental in the founding of the Museum in Richmond, the only horse museum in South Africa and one of only two in the world. This museum is privately run and completely self- sufficient from any municipal grants or funding, and is a must visit when going through Richmond or staying over. Moira was always a beautiful woman and won the title of Queen of the Show during a dance at such an occasion. Moira and Charl had two children, a daughter and a son. 

Moira and Charl developed Oufontein into an oasis in the Karoo. The garden was so beautiful that many a function and wedding were held there. The shearing-shed was changed into a wedding venue during the winter months.  Moira shared fond memories of their time living on the farm. They had many friends. Charl couldn’t read music but liked to entertain their friends with his talent and unique style when playing the piano. The two of them played tennis and Moira also played golf in later years, when the golf course still had oil putting surfaces “greens”. Moira’s sporting genes carried through to her two grand-daughters Michelle and Moira, with Michelle playing tennis for the Western Province. Moira was a very creative person, she made mohair jerseys, tapestries and wool carpets, she enjoyed decorating their home and loved preparing special meals. Her personal recipe book was precious, and unfortunately got lost. Moira was an active reader and had an excellent general knowledge about everything. She was a reformer and an anchor in her community. A woman of character, someone getting straight to the point.
Moira said she was longing back to the days when the roads in Richmond were not tarred, and when the farmers and their families came to town on weekends for playing tennis, golf and to socialize. And on Sundays they went to church. Moira and Charl moved into town again when their son took over the farming. She was 78 at the time. After Charl passed away Moira went to live with her daughter and two grand-daughters in the Strand for a few years but returned to Richmond as it was the place where she had the most memories and where she wanted to spend her golden years.
Moira told me that Richmond is not the same anymore. In the last twenty-five years the standard of the schools dropped, and municipal services deteriorated. These unfortunate changes caused many farmers to send their children away to larger schools in bigger towns or cities. The result of it is that farmers nowadays go away on weekends to visit their children and then spend their money elsewhere, all contributing towards a continuous downward spiral.  
Every now and then some humor came through Moira’s story telling. She told me that Charl, after falling ill, enquired from Spyker, a farm worker, about the healing effects of the daggabossie. Spyker took a long look at Charl and said that once one gets to his age one shall not get healed again. 
Another story she told me was that her husband Charl didn’t like committees at all. He said that if Moses had a committee the Israelis would still have been lost in the desert.
I was enriched by my visit to Moira, and I was very sad when Peter phoned me with the news that she passed away on 11th May 2021, at the age of 93. 
We lost a Grande Dame!

Authored by Louis Botha (with input from Erna, Moira’s only daughter)
June 2021

Plans are moving ahead for BookBedonnerd XIV and we have a great speakers list lined up which you will find below. This programme will be fleshed out as the days churn on. BookBedonnerd will start on the Wednesday with Richmond Filums and of course accompanied by afternoon wine tasting frivolity on Loop Street. The Madibaland online Festival is also on the  move and Darryl and his team from the UWC are going great guns drawing speakers from around the globe.
 BookBedonnerd IV, October 27-30, 2021
1. Dominique Malherbe . Sarah Goldblatt
2. Annari van der Merwe. 
3. Matthys Strydom. Kuns-memoir
4. Raj M. Isaac. Reflections. Short Stories
5. Mark de Wet. Scattered Thoughts
6. Vernon Head. New book
7. Gamieda Henry. Poetry
8. Cecile Jadin. A disease called Fatigue
9. Cecile Jadine. The crazy journey of a medical chameleon 
10. Rhiannon Reid. Dystopian Fiction
11. Chris Marais & Julienne du Toit. New book 
12. Linda o' Shea. X 3 writers
13. Nicola Hayward. Two Birds.
14. Igno Van Niekerk.  Light on Leadership 
15. Leon Nell. t.b.c. The West Coast
16. Shana Fife. Ougat. t.b.c
17. Kirby van der Merwe. Nuwe roman
18. Max & Sue Hoppe. Windmills
19. Garth King. t.b.c
20. Kathryn Costello.  Port St John's 
21. Francois Smith. Die kleinste ramp denkbaar. t.b.c.
22. Pieter Fourie. t.b.c. n Hart is so groot soos n vuis 
23. Frederick de Jager. Op n fiets erens heen.   
24. Barbara Adair
25. Hugh Bland
26. Daniel Lotter
27. Kathy Munro Our Heritage
Booktown Richmond’s Self Publishers Awards will again take place this year as part of the festivities. The Banquet and presentations will take place at the Supper Klub on the Friday evening. Darryl asks that everyone who wishes to present a self-published book please to submit a copy to him ASAP. Please contact Darryl to confirm a delivery address.

Just in case you were thinking that Booktown Richmond was just a figment in someone’s head, Darryl has come up.....again, with a brainstorm. Just click to open and tickle your fancy.   
(Left click to open document)


Sadly, once again we have been abandoned by any department in the Northern Cape Government. Sports Arts and Culture???? Economic Development and Tourism??? They have no interest in anything other than their little pet projects for pals. Another example of ANC incompetence. It’s been two years now that we have not received financial support from any government agency in our very sad state of affairs, Northern Cape. Maybe if the Northern Cape re-joined the “Cape” and we had a Cape of Old we might see some light at the end of the tunnel. We have received some private funding from long time participants and supporters. They have kept the lights on a bit of oil on the gears. We thank them. But Booktown Richmond and BoekBedonnerd are a phenomenon which exist only because of the participation of “our” people who attend in their numbers and give BookBedonnerd its soul and spirit. You are all BookBedonnerd! Aluta continua!!  
In case you are not a member of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation, which is a great organisation to subscribe to, you may not have noticed a wonderful new book hot off the press which for any Karooster is a must to have. Lovely photographs, history and just packed with super information....and Richmond  features quite prominently we are proud to say, Please contact Kathy Munro directly. They also have similar books on Johannesburg, Kimberley, and Capetown, the Hidden Karoo will be you special gift to yourself!!! Enjoy it.
A little over a week or two ago we learned of the sad death of Karooster and South African Actor David Butler. He performed Herman Charles Bosman in Richmond a few years ago and had the audience eating out of his hands, what a sublime performer, good guy, and nice man. I used to bump into him in the Rosebank Mall. It seemed he was always in a black great coat so it must have been always in the winter. He loved the Karoo and had a lovely mansion in Murraysburg. He was to have performed last year but alas the Covid and cash flow scuppered that. This year was in the offing. He loved Richmond and Richmond loved him. No oom Schalk....No Butler.   We are all so désolé. Love to his family from all in Booktown Richmond.

I’ve been a bit slack in getting this Reader in part because along the way I got  the dreaded Covid, from where I don’t have a clue. But from a few days after my vaccination at the Jo'burg Gen I felt pretty crappy, had terrible deep bone shivers, and had headaches which I never get even after a few bottles of crap red wine. Finally, after a week Elizabeth and I got tested and both had the two bars...Positive, so, we are home alone in isolation and just resting it off. We were put onto some Jewish Home Care Organisation called Hatzolah....Elizabeth mistakenly referred to them as once as Hezbollah !!!!! Far from it; they call us several times daily to check our vitals, temperature and oxygen saturation and pulse. Yesterday they sent a nurse to check me out. She was suited like she was ready to head off into deep space. But very thorough, efficient and professional. We are so fortunate to have such outstanding civil structures. The likes of them and the Gift of the Givers and the myriad of other civil organisation should take over the running of day to day South Africa, because it is patently clear that out present government is incapable of getting anything right.

This Third Wave is a bitch and something we should all be very careful about. Keep the bloody masks on, stay away from any crowds, forget the partying and large gatherings. Its’s just not worth it believe me.

As promised for those who have been following Darryl Conolly’s Sherwood Forest epic have fun with the next instalment. One more to come next edition.
Determined to accomplish her task without undue delay, Queen Bee had decided against negotiating Sherwood Forest incognito. So it was in full royal regalia that, after three days of travel, she arrived at the tollhouse established by Rob-the-Hood and his Ferrymen. On duty that day was Not Much.
          “How much to cross the river, young man?” called the queen from her carriage.
          “Not much, Your Majesty. A mere thirty pence,” answered Not Much.
          “Not much, indeed!” snapped the queen.
          “Yes, Your Majesty?”
          “And what of the royal discount?” demanded the queen.
          “Oh, that’s not much, I’m afraid. Only a third off,” replied Not Much.
          At this very moment the tall, imposing figure of Rob-the-Hood emerged from the tollhouse. “What’s the problem, Not Much?” he called out as he approached the royal carriage, and on recognising the queen: “Welcome to Sherwood Forest, my good lady. And what, if I may be so bold as to ask, brings you here?”
          “Business, Mr Hood,” came her curt reply. “Now, if you’ll take my twenty pence and escort me across the river, I’ll be on my way.”
          “But my lady, Your Majesty, there is no charge for the wife of our beloved King Dick. Here,” he continued, turning to Not Much, “see Her Majesty safely across the river and return immediately, for I sense there is trouble brewing in our fair forest.”
Not ten minutes later a magnificent stallion trailing a large leather-bound trunk trotted wearily up to the tollhouse. Slumped exhausted in the saddle was Staid Marion the Duchess of Pork and recently appointed Secret Service Agent 001 Boss Stick.
          “My love!” cried Rob. “What brings you here? And what, in heaven’s name, do you carry in that enormous trunk?”
          Hastily, Marion explained the events of the week past – her meeting with King Dick and her mission to return Flo White safely to the royal palace.
          “You’re going to need help,” proffered Rob. “With over one hundred ferrymen throughout the forest we should be able to sew things up within a day or two.”
          “Why, thank you, dear Rob, but this is a girl thing; Flo White, Queen Bee and me. Fear not, for I, Boss Stick, shall return the Princess Royal to the palace without the help of your gallant men, as cute as they all are.”
          And with that, off galloped Elastic and Boss Stick, just as the royal carriage bearing the queen re-entered the forest a few hundred metres ahead of them.
A little over a kilometre from her destination, the queen ordered her trusted servant Fred Dunnothing to lead the carriage into a small clearing in the forest, undetectable from the paths that criss-crossed it. Alighting the carriage, she then walked a short distance into the woods, and here again transformed herself into an old pedlar woman; this time a little plumper, a little more homely, and now carrying a basketful of juicy red apples.
          Quietly, and undetected by Fred Dunnothing, she re-joined the network of paths and made her way to 23 Dwarf Drive, the home of the Seven Smurps.
          Minutes later, SSA Boss Stick arrived at the spot where the royal carriage had veered off the path and into the woods, its route easily detected by upturned earth and cart tracks. Here she dismounted Elastic and crept silently toward the carriage, on her person a stink bomb and a small phial of nitrogen oxide, or laughing gas.
          Seated up front of the carriage in deep slumber, with head drooped forward and the reins held loosely in his limp hands, was the immediately recognisable figure of Fred Dunnothing, a cousin of the redoubtable Alfred Doolittle.
          “Good afternoon, Fred!” Boss Stick called out. “You’re a long way from home, aren’t you?”
          “Well, knock me down with a feather!” exclaimed Fred as he sprang to life. “If it ain’t Miss Marion, the Duchess of Pork! And how may I be of assistance to you on this glorious spring day, Your Highness?”
          “Oh, I was just taking a ride through the forest when I noticed your carriage,” said Boss Stick. “Her Majesty in the vicinity, is she?”
          “Can’t say, ma’am, as that would be telling, now wouldn’t it?”
          “Come off it, Fred. Why else would the royal carriage be so far from the palace? She’s around here somewhere, now isn’t she?”
          “Maybe she is, maybe she ain’t. None of my business to discuss her whereabouts, you understand,” replied Fred.
          “And Flo? Seen anything of her lately?” asked Marion.
          “Ah, dear Miss Flo. Dear, dear girl. Can’t say I know where she is. The apple of my eye, that one. The apple of my eye.”
          Sensing a breakthrough, SSA Boss Stick surreptitiously took a stink bomb from her pocket and let it fall broken to the ground.
          “Rotting rodents!” groaned Fred Dunnothing. “That weren’t me, miss! Honest, it weren’t! I done nothing! What a stench! Phew!”
          “Here!” snapped Boss Stick, while uncapping a phial of laughing gas and holding it to Fred’s nose. “Take a deep breath and it will make the smell go away.”
          “Ho, ho!” giggled Fred as he inhaled the gas. “Ha, ha, ha! Hee, hee, hee! This is fun!”
          “Where’s Queen Bee?” demanded Boss Stick above the laughter.
          “Hee, hee, hee! Gone to visit Miss Flo! Ha, ha, hee, hee!” chortled Fred.
          “And where is Flo?”
          “Hee, hee, hee! Oh, my gosh! Ha, ha, ha!”
          “Here; have another sniff,” she said.
          “Hee, hee, hee! Oh, this is fun! Ho, ho! Ha, ha! What did you say?”
          “Flo White? Where is she?”
          “Flo White? Ha, ha! Who’s she?”
          Whereupon Fred Dunnothing fell into a deep sleep.
Some distance up the path Queen Bee, once more in the attire of a humble pedlar woman, had in this time come upon BMW the Big Mad Wolf, who, since being shot in the knees by the Three Little Pigs, had made for himself a crude set of crutches.
          “Pardon me, miss,” he addressed her in supplicant tones, “but are zose apples for sale? I haffen’t eaten in sree days ant am simply ravenous!”
          This, felt the evil queen, would be an ideal test of the product with which she hoped to dispose of Flo White. One half of each of the apples in the basket had been poisoned, the other half being free of poison and therefore quite safe to eat.
          “Why, yes,” replied the pedlar woman, “my apples are for sale at two for a penny. From the orchards of Devon, I might add.”
          Hungry to the point of starvation, BMW lunged forward, grabbing an apple in each paw, as his crutches fell to the ground. Yet he remained standing on his two hind legs. His knees had healed and he was able to walk unaided! Overcome with joy, he tossed the apples to one side and at the top of his voice roared, “Who neets a dainty dessert ven a mouse-vauteringk main course avaits not fife minutes from here?”
          With a spring in his step and a song in his heart, he kicked playfully at the discarded crutches, executed a perfect cartwheel, followed this up with a back-flip and a triple somersault, and swaggered joyfully down the path singing:
“Meat, rancid olt meat,
Is scrumptious from head to feet!”
          Sensing that the wolf may be just the creature to carry out her evil plan to kill Flo White, the queen addressed him. “Mr Wolf,” she said coyly, “where, may I ask, are you off to now?”
          “Vy, I’m off to see ze Vizard, ze Vonderful Vizard off Oz. Nien, zat’s not right,” he corrected himself. He put a paw to the back of his head and contemplated the matter. “Oh, yes!” he continued, “how shtupid off me. I’m off to see ze olt lady who liffs in a shoe. Nein, zat’s not right eizer, now is it? Vere ze deffil does she liff? Oh, yes; now I remember. She liffs in a shack. Nein, not a shack, a shanty. Nein. A shelter? Nein. A shop? Nein, not a shop. A showroom? Nein, not zere. Holt on a minute, I’m gettingk zere. It’s on ze tip off my tail, er tees, er toes, nein, tongue. Tongue! Zat’s it! It’s on ze tip off my tongue! Ah, ha! Cot it! A house! Zat’s it; she liffs in a house!”
          “A house,” repeated the bewildered vendor woman. “And where exactly would that house be?”
          BMW scratched his forehead and felt rivulets of blood trickle down into his eyes. “It bekins mit a ‘c’,” he said confidently. “Cameron Crescent?” he asked himself. “Nein, not zere. Camilla Common? Nein. Charles Cul-de-sac? Nein. Churchill Close? Nein. Cromwell Corner? Nein.” He stood there, restless paw to blood-soaked chin, gazing into the depths of the forest, words swirling in his head – cabbage, cad, cadre, comrade, communist. Communist! “Aha! I’ve cot it!” he cried. “Bolshevik Bypass! Zat’s it! Bolshevik Bypass!”
          “But you said it began with a ‘c’,” protested the pedlar woman.
          “Oh, who cares? B, C, C, B; vot’s ze difference? Cot a CB radio, haff you?”
          “No, but what I do have is a smartphone, and what I can tell you is that there isn’t a Bolshevik Bypass this side of Moscow.”
          “How can you be so sure?” queried BMW.
          “Because I’ve just googled it and the closest I’ve come to such a street is Brezhnev Boulevard,” replied the woman.
          “Zat’s it! Brezhnev Boulevard! I knew it hat a Scottish zound to it!” enthused BMW.
          Queen Bee, alias the old vendor woman, sighed, pondered the situation for a moment, and then sidled up to the wolf with her proposition. “Does the prospect of dining on a tender young woman not yet out of her teens appeal to you?”
          “Not offerly zo,” responded BMW dismissively. “Experience hass taught me zat ze younker ze flesh, ze less it clinks to ze bone. Vell-matured meat is more up my shtreet, in a manner of shpeakingink.”
          “I see,” mused the woman. “But the human I have in mind is Triple A Grade Prime. Royalty, no less. You won’t find choicer cuts of rump and loin in all England; nor even in the colonies.”
          “Temptingk, indeet,” admitted the wolf, “but not my cup off tea, or shoult I say plate off food.”
          “And if I were to arrange for her to be well hung once you have severed the throat; would that not tenderise the meat sufficiently?”
          “It mosht certainly vould,” said the wolf. “Moreover, if you vere to marinate ze dish … er, younk lady, zat vould definitely make ze proposition far more appealingk.”
          “Then I think we may just have a deal, Mr Wolf,” said the woman. “Now here’s my plan of action.”
          So it was that BMW the Big Mad Wolf and Queen Bee, in the guise of an old pedlar woman, huddled together to plot the assassination of Flo White, and the transportation of her carcass to the A1 Abattoir for maturation, seasoning and dissection into bite-size portions much as one would find in a KFC Dinner Box. The murder and consumption of Mrs Nikita Marx would have to wait for another day.
Having completely lost track of Queen Bee, Secret Service Agent Boss Stick some while later came upon the newly-built home of the Three Little Pigs. She wore a skin-tight Superwoman cat-suit, over which was the cap and jacket of the Admiral of the Fleet, lent to her by Sir Walter Raleigh.
          Up to the front gate she marched, came to attention, and flung out a salute, her right shoulder being a full foot higher than her left, which was weighed down by a dozen or more medals, an anchor, a vulture which answered to the name of Rippit, and a copy of the Mail on Sunday, rolled up to form a megaphone. This latter piece of improvised equipment she now held to her mouth and announced her presence: “Ahoy there! This is your admiral speaking. All trotters on deck! All trotters on deck!”
          Such was their consternation at the sight of this apparition that within seconds all Three Little Pigs were lined up and standing to attention outside their front door, their little knees knocking, their teeth chattering.
          “I seek the abode,” announced Boss Stick the admiral, “of the Seven Smurps. For it is there, I am led to believe, that Florence White the Princess Royal now resides. A compass bearing please!”
          “A compass bearing?” questioned the senior pig. “Would not a GPS reading suffice? An RAC Street Map, perhaps? Or better still, a simple pointer in the right direction? After all, the smurps reside a mere three blocks from here at 23 Dwarf Drive. Turn left at the corner, right at the next intersection, then right again. You can’t miss it as it’s the smallest house in Sherwood Forest. But be advised, Flo White already has visitors.”
          “Visitors?” exclaimed a surprised Boss Stick. “And who might they be?”
          “A pedlar woman whom we have not before seen, and the wicked BMW,” replied the pig.
          “BMW? Who, in the name of King Dick, is BMW?”
          “The Big Mad Wolf, of course; notorious in these parts as a gourmet whose favoured delicacy is aged homo sapiens, lightly grilled over a low flame, and served with a Béarnaise sauce and a glass or three of Burgundy’s finest. He also rather fancies roast pork …”
          “Enough!” interjected Boss Stick. “When did they pass this way?”
          “Oh, a good hour ago, I’d say,” replied the pig.
          “An hour ago! Heaven forbid that I should be too late,” lamented Boss Stick as she hastily remounted Elastic and galloped off in the direction of 23 Dwarf Drive, home of the Seven Smurps.   
          All was quiet on Boss Stick’s arrival at the little house, with hardly a murmur emanating from the woods that surrounded it. Slowly, silently Boss Stick dismounted Elastic and crept stealthily up to the tiny entrance portico, went down on one knee, and knocked gently on the door.
          There was a stirring inside, and before she knew it, the gruesome visage of BMW, drooling at the mouth, protruded from the window to her left. Curling a huge red tongue over equally huge yellow teeth, he put paw to mouth, bloodied the windowsill, and then spoke: “Ah, my acclaimed, accomplished, und most admirable admiral; how may I be off salfation, er satisfaction, nein, serfice. Zat’s it! Serfice! How may I be off serfice to you?”
          “I come in the name of King Dick,” said Boss Stick, while unfurling her licence to kill and holding it out for BMW to read. 
          “Mm!” he mused, a broad grin on his face. “A poshitiffly pretty piece off parchment, I’ll concede; but off absholutely no falue in ze vays off ze vild. For you see, my dear admiral, ven I am desirous off dinner, I duly devour voteffer or whoeffer ish on hand to shatisfy my appetite. Und for zat I need no licence, no discount wouchers, und no Thurshday-night shpecials. It really is quite zimple, und not in ze least bit macabre. Nein. Malicious? Nein. Mercenary? Nein. Merciless? Nein. Messhy? Zat’s it! Messhy! It’s not in ze leasht bit messhy! Bloot all offer ze place, off course, but not a bone or a shliver off meat to be sheen vithin half an hour off ze delicious deed, such is my dedication to detail: such is my indeshtructible digestive system.”
          “Enough of your ramblings, Mr Wolf. In the name of King Dick, where is Flo White the Princess Royal?”
          “Ah! Ze sharitable, ze sharming, ze sharismatic, und oh sho very comely Flo White. Alash, admiral, a calamity hash befallen her. Nay, a catashtrophe! A catashtrophic calamity!” he chortled. “For as mush as it grieffs me to inform you, admiral, she lies non-compos mentis – in a catatonic trance, if you vill – in her shamber. She hass, you see, come a cropper, croaked, copped it. She is, in short, a cadaver, a corpse, a carrion, a carcass avaitingk the choppingk block.”
          Suddenly, and without warning, Boss Stick flung out a left hook to BMW’s protruding jaw which sent him spiralling to the floor, took a step back, and with one almighty karate kick, laid the front door flat to the ground. Discarding her anchor and admiral’s jacket to reveal the Superwoman emblem emblazoned on her chest, she leapt into the air with Rippit in tow, and zoomed through the house, straight into Flo White’s bedroom. There she found the princess, prostrate on her bed, her mouth slightly ajar, and wedged between her teeth a piece of apple.
          “Strip it, Rippit! Eat!” she commanded her vulture. But the bird, back atop Boss Stick’s shoulder, remained motionless; not in the least bit interested in the lifeless form that lay on the bed. “Aha, the princess lives!” cried Boss Stick. “For if she were dead, Rippit would surely have grabbed the opportunity to feast on the carrion.”
          Quickly, she removed the unsightly piece of apple from Flo’s mouth and hastened to the front room where she expected to find BMW. But the wolf had fled, leaving only a note which read:
“Dear Admiral,
Shorry I couldn’t shtay for ssupper, but Coronation Shtreet vaits for no man.
Maybe another time.
Luff und kishes,
          “Coward!” murmured Boss Stick and hurried back to Flo White’s bedroom. She put an ear to the princess’s chest. Albeit faintly, her heart was beating. And she was breathing. No doubt about it, the princess was alive!
          Excited at the discovery, Boss Stick ran to the kitchen, filled a glass with water and returned to the bedroom. Gently lifting the young woman’s head from her pillow, Boss Stick put the glass to her lips and let a little water drain into her mouth, then patted her softly on the cheek.
          Slowly; ever so slowly, Flo White began to stir. “Oh, golly gee whiz! Where am I?” she said at last, and raised a hand to her brow.
          “You’re in the home of the Seven Smurps, and in good hands,” Boss Stick assured her. “But now we must get you back to the palace. Your father the king is worried sick about you.”
          Gradually, Flo lifted herself up to a sitting position and looked wearily around the room. “Oh, it’s you, Staid Marion, the Duchess of Pork. I didn’t recognise you at first in that cat-suit. Rather becoming, I must say. But as for returning to the palace, that’s quite out of the question right now.”
          “Out of the question?” cried a disbelieving Boss Stick. “Do you not understand, Your Majesty, that for every minute you remain here, your life is in danger? Do you not realise that had not your father, the king, instructed me to find you, you would in all probability be dead by now?”
          “Oh, please don’t misunderstand me, Marion …”
          “Stick. Boss Stick,” interjected the secret service agent. “That’s my new name; the name assigned to me by your father.” 
          “Very well. As I was saying, Stick …”
          “Boss. Stick is my surname.”
          “Well, Boss, the point is this: the person trying to kill me is my stepmother, Queen Bee.”
          Boss Stick looked at Flo White in utter disbelief. “Your stepmother the Queen of England is trying to kill you? That sounds like something out of a Stephen King horror story!” 
          “That may be so,” replied Flo, “but it’s the truth. This, in fact, is the second time she has tried to put an end to me. And believe me, once she gets word that I am still alive, she’ll not hesitate to try a third time. So as you can see, it is clearly not in my interests to return to the palace whilst she resides there. It would be tantamount to committing suicide.”   
          “Now that you’ve explained it,” said Boss Stick, “I can well see your point. It does not, however, solve the problem of how we are to protect you. I certainly cannot sit here waiting for the day that Queen Bee or one of her hired assassins returns. What of the smurps? Could not one or two of them remain behind each day until we have resolved the problem?”
          “Oh, I could never ask them to do that,” replied Flo. “They work as a team, you see; each one playing an integral role. Especially when it comes to Japanese tourists. It really is quite crafty the way they operate.”
          “And how would that be?” asked Boss Stick, more out of curiosity than of genuine interest. 
          “Well,” said Flo, “it usually works like this: Creepy and Crawly will engage a group of about eight or ten tourists and ask them, in fluent Japanese, if they’d like to send a message to their families back home: free of charge. Very, very seldom is this offer declined. So the next step is to ask them to go down on their knees, facing the east – the Land of the Rising Sun. Then, with arms outstretched above their heads, they are to bend forward, touch the ground with open palms, and sway back again into an upright position, each time repeating the words:
‘Aaa, whaa foos we aaa!
Aaa, whaa foos we aaa!’
“And, of course, with every bend forward, so are the bulging wallets in their back pockets exposed, whilst there, waiting to relieve them of their money are Greasy, Grimy, Sleazy and Slimy.”
          “Ingenious!” exclaimed Boss Stick. “But what of the seventh smurp?”
          “That’s Arthur,” replied Flo, “the treasurer and my favourite. He collects the cash and returns expired credit cards, lottery tickets and coupons. All very fair and above board, you understand.”
          The question of Flo White’s protection still unresolved, Boss Stick turned to the Princess Royal and said with a sigh, “As much as it pains me to do so, I must, I’m afraid, turn to Rob and his Ferrymen to help us in the matter of your security.” And without awaiting a response, she stepped from the room, retrieved her discarded anchor, and strode into the forest. Locating the tallest tree in the vicinity, she hurled the anchor skyward, watched it hook firmly into a fork in the branches some distance up, and hauled herself to the tree’s summit. Her head well above the treetops, she put an open hand to her mouth, and let forth the call of the jungle:
“Waa, waa, waa, waa!
Waa, waa, waa, waa!”
          Then, with arms outstretched, she sprang from the tree and swooped to the ground, landing a few feet from the door she had just minutes earlier kicked in.
          Inside, an alarmed Flo White addressed her: “Now I’m not sure if it’s as a result of the poisoned apple, and that I’m still a little delirious, but I could have sworn I heard Tarzan calling from the treetops a moment ago. Or could it perhaps have been Jane?”
          “Neither,” Boss Stick assured her. “It was me summoning Rob-the-Hood and his lieutenants.”
          Thus it was that within minutes a carriage conveying Rob, Big Con, Will Starlet, Fry-a-Duck and Not Much came screeching to a halt at the entrance to 23 Dwarf Drive, the home the Seven Smurps and the temporary residence of Flo White.
          “My darling Marion … uh Boss, your cat-suit becomes you and your catcall beckons me. How may I and my ferrymen be of service to you and our dear Princess Flo?”
          “Wait until the Daily Mirror gets hold of this story, Rob,” said an excited Boss Stick. “Queen Bee, would you believe, is trying to kill Princess Flo!”
          “Well I never!” gasped Fry-a-Duck.
          “Well, I did once; but only once, mind you,” admitted a bashful Will Starlet. 
          “Did what?” demanded an inquisitive Big Con.
          “Not much,” replied Will.
          “Yes, Will?” responded Not Much.
          “Oh, shut up!” snapped Rob-the-Hood. “Down to business,” he continued, addressing Big Con. “From this moment forth, and until further notice, I want at least two armed men patrolling this property 24/7.”
          “Do they have to be men?” asked an indignant Boss Stick.
          “Yes,” replied Rob, “unless, of course, you can find any suitable women for the job.”
          “What of Red Hood? She’s a big girl now.”
          “Indeed she is,” agreed Rob, “but being avowed communists, she and her family are not exactly loyal to the Crown, now are they? No; MCPs it will have to be, I’m afraid.”
          “MCPs?” queried Flo.
          “Male Chauvinist Pigs,” mumbled Boss Stick disdainfully. “His famous ferrymen.”
          “Pigs! Why not the Three Little Pigs?” suggested Flo.
          “Not the answer unfortunately,” responded a resigned Boss Stick. “Apart from being on the small side, they’re all the genuine article – male pigs. No; as much as it dents my pride, we’re going to have to go with Rob’s Ferrymen.”
          Thus was it resolved. And so tight was the security around 23 Dwarf Drive that evening, that on their return home from work, the Seven Smurps had a devil of a job convincing the two ferrymen posted to guard the house that they were the legal owners and occupants of the property. Flo white, it would appear, was out of danger. Or was she?      
The weeks flew by. King Dick, content in the knowledge that his daughter Flo White was being well cared for, but oblivious to the fact that his wife, Queen Bee, had twice tried to dispose of her, continued to rule England in his own happy-go-lucky fashion.
          Queen Bee, convinced in her own mind that Flo was at long last dead, no longer paid much attention to her personal appearance, put on weight in all the wrong places, and grew whiskers on her toes and barnacles on her nose.
          Flo was by now the resident and unpaid seamstress, nurse, comforter, gardener, cook, cleaner and general factotum to the smurps of 23 Dwarf Drive.
          The smurps themselves became all-in wrestlers and in the final of the All-England Championship, defeated the Girls’ Under 10 team from a Manchester convent by six wins to one; Arthur failing to come out of his corner after he had been bitten on the buttock by the mother of his six-year-old opponent.
          Rob-the-Hood and his Ferrymen remained at the centre of activity in Sherwood Forest, fleecing the corrupt capitalists and the unscrupulous clergy of their ill-gotten gains, and redistributing their wealth among those whose hard-earned money had been taken from them in the first place.
          Staid Marion the Duchess of Pork, alias Secret Service Agent 001 Boss Stick and aka Jane of the Jungle, fought Mohamed Ali for his World Boxing Organisation’s heavyweight crown and won 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 after a penalty shootout.
          Red Hood and her father, the founder of Marx & Schlenter (now with twenty branches nationwide and ‘coming to a town near you’) continued to campaign for the nationalisation of all farmland, the abolition of the monarchy and the removal of zebra crossings on the grounds that these were discriminatory. All animals, they argued, should have the right to cross a road; not just zebras.
          The Three Little Pigs, after building themselves a solid house of bricks and mortar with all the mod cons money could buy, had returned to nature and turned it into a pigsty.
          BMW The Big Mad Wolf, fast tiring of a diet of squirrel sausage and porcupine pie, yet fearful of going anywhere near 23 Dwarf Drive where two ferrymen stood guard, had taken to staking out the home of Mrs Nikita Marx on Brezhnev Boulevard. Well-aged meat is what he craved, and well-aged meat was what he would kill for. Moreover, he’d have it by nightfall, come hell or high water.
Inside her comfortable little house that evening, Mrs Nikita Marx was sitting upright in bed, one hand massaging the toe with an ingrown nail, the other holding to her nose a copy of Das Kapital. On her bedside table sat her glasses (she was short-sighted) and her hearing aid (she was hard of hearing), while under her bed were stored the AK47 Assault Rifle, the guided missile and launcher, and the atomic bomb her granddaughter Red Hood had so thoughtfully left behind for her protection.
          When next Mrs Marx looked up from her book, she saw standing at the foot of her bed the blurred image of someone wearing a red hood and cape, and in one hand what appeared to be a basket. “Ah, Red Hood, my dear,” she said with a smile. “You let yourself in, I see.”
          “Yes, grantma,” came the answer. “I fount ze key under ze mat vhere you normally keep it.”
          “I’m sorry, my dear, but I can’t hear a word you’re saying,” responded Mrs Marx as she leaned over and affixed her hearing aid to her ear. “That’s better. What was it you were saying, my dear?”
          “Oh, yust how delectable, er delicious, nein, desirable, nein, diknified. Zat’s it! Diknified! How diknified you look.”
          “Dignified?” repeated a perplexed Mrs Marx. “Laid up in bed with my toe bandaged; you call that dignified? And whatever has happened to your voice, my dear? It sounds so gruff, so masculine, so Germanic. Are you on steroids?”
          “Nein, nein,” mumbled BMW, “yust vell-matured meat.”
          “What was that? Oh, do come and sit down close to me, child,” Mrs Marx said patting the bed beside her. “Good grief!” she shrieked as she lurched forward to get a better view of her granddaughter. “Whatever has happened to you? All that facial hair! Those great bloodshot eyes! Those enormous yellow teeth! You really must see a dentist, my dear; they look dreadful. And your ears! Oh, my goodness; look at the size of them! Oh gracious me! The fleas! The ticks! The lice! The flies! You’re riddled with them! And just look at the state of your fingernails. I’d swear they were claws if I didn’t know otherwise.
          “When last did you bathe yourself, brush your teeth, comb your hair? Now before you do anything else, go to the bathroom. There you’ll find a 20-gallon drum of sheep dip. It may not be enough, but it will be a start. Go wash yourself, girl! And when you’re finished, you’ll find the sheep shears I use for trimming the hair on my arms and legs. Good lord, what is the world coming to?”
          Once more drooling at the mouth, BMW lent forward, his face just inches from that of Mrs Marx. “I didn’t come here for a bath, you shilly olt cob, er cod, nein, cow. Zat’s it! Cow! You shilly olt cow! I came here for shome chow, grub, a nosh, a meal!”
          Infuriated at the impudence of her granddaughter, Mrs Marx sprang from her bed and pulled the AK47 from under it. Pointing it at BMW she screamed, “Did I hear you call me an old cow, young lady? Did I?”
          “J, Ja!” stammered BMW as he cowered away.
          “Old cow, indeed! Whatever has that mother of yours been teaching you? Now get yourself into that bathroom immediately, and do as I say. And don’t you dare come out until you’ve washed all that filth from you and removed that hideous hair from your face, arms and legs. Do I make myself understood?”
          “Ja, grantma,” replied BMW sheepishly as he laid down his basket and trundled dejected into the bathroom, his head bowed.
          “What is the world coming to?” Mrs Marx repeated to herself as she went to inspect the basket. “It’s the capitalists who are to blame, of course. Decadent lot they are. No morals, no principles. Just money, money and more money,” she continued and began to unpack the basket.
          “Salt, pepper, mustard, tomato sauce, at least a dozen herbs and spices, chillies, beans, chopped onions, diced tomatoes, chipped potatoes, cooking oil. Poor thing! No meat, but she really did come to prepare a meal. Well, let’s see what we can rustle up for her while she makes herself presentable. Chilli con carne, perhaps?”
          So off to her kitchen went Mrs Nikita Marx, to prepare for her beloved granddaughter Red Hood, a veritable feast.
          Then, just as all the ingredients had been laid out on the large scrubbed table that stood in the centre of the room; and just as the dog that was chasing the cat that was chasing the rat, yapped excitedly around the table; and just as the sounds of a wolf wallowing in water wafted into the kitchen, there was a knock on the front door.
          “Who is it?” called out a carefree Mrs Marx.
          “It’s me, Red Hood,” came the reply.
          “However did you get out there?” called Mrs Marx as she hurried to the door. “You’ll catch a death of cold!” Then, flinging open the door: “Goodness, gracious me! What a transformation! My beautiful young granddaughter; just look at you! Goes to show what a hot bath and a close shear can do, eh. Come right in; your meal is almost ready.”
          “Meal?” asked a perplexed Red Hood. “How did you know I was coming?”
          “How did I know you were coming! Good gracious, girl; you’ve been here for almost an hour already. But I have to say, my dear, you’re looking a lot better than when first you arrived. How ever did you manage to get yourself into the state you were in? Those enormous fury ears, those big bloodshot eyes, those ghastly yellow teeth, the hair, the fur, and oh, those beastly fleas, ticks, lice and flies! I could have sworn you were an impostor. But now, after a hot bath … “
          “Who is that in the bathroom, grandma?” enquired Red Hood as an excruciatingly off-key rendition of the death aria from La Boeheim caused the windows to rattle, the dog to howl, the cat to freeze, and the rat to escape with a pot of chilli con carne, a selection of fine Dutch cheeses and a barrel of pale ale.
          “Conniving capitalists!” screamed a terrified Mrs Marx. “There’s an intruder in the house!”
          “Indeed there is!” snapped Red Hood. “And what, may I ask, is he doing singing in your bathtub at eight o’ clock on a Wednesday night, while you are preparing for him a meal so grand that even that imperialist Prince John would be grateful of? Grandmother, where are your spectacles?”
          “Why, on the table next to my bed, my dear.”
          “And the atomic bomb; is that still beneath your bed?”
          “Yes; untouched since the day you left it here. But do be careful, my dear, for I fear that if you were to explode it, it may well stunt the growth of my pot plants. I’ve heard such fearful things about atomic bombs. They can give one the most terrible headaches, I believe. And runny tummies, and sore throats … “
          “Grandmother, a man-eater wallows in your bath and you worry about runny tummies and sore throats!” shouted Red Hood.
          “Oh, go on then; explode it if you must! But promise me one thing: that you’ll clean up after you. I do so resent having to clean other people’s messes,” said Mrs Marx.
          “Alright, alright!’ conceded Red Hood. “Hand me the AK47.”
          Thus armed, Red Hood strode into the bathroom, expecting of course, to find the intruder immersed in a tub of hot water and sheep dip. Instead, she found a note pinned to the wall above the tub. It read:
“My delicious Mrs Marx,
Shorry I couldn’t shtay for shupper, but ze BBC avaits. Zere I am to record a coffer wersion off Ze Canty Man for ze Chris Effans Breakfast Show.
Tell your grantdaughter to hurry up und grow olt.
Lots off luff und kishes,
Back at the royal palace, Queen Bee was again becoming restless. Something wasn’t quite right. BMW the Big Mad Wolf hadn’t reported the success or otherwise of his mission to kill Flo White with the poisoned apples she had given him, despite an advance payment of five gold sovereigns. So she stood once more before her magic mirror and asked:
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most beautiful of us all?”
This time, the reply Queen Bee received almost caused her to burst a blood vessel.
“While you, O Queen Bee have put on weight, grown whiskers on your toes and barnacles on your nose, there resides in Sherwood Forest a princess whose beauty with each passing day grows and grows.”
          “Dunnothing!” she shrieked at the top of her voice. “The royal carriage! Now!” This was it! If she had to strangle her stepdaughter with her own bare hands, she would do so.
          Thus it was that with Fred Dunnothing at the reins, the royal carriage careered out of the palace grounds and onto the highway at a furious pace, and in record time was on the outskirts of Sherwood Forest.
          “This won’t take long,” the queen instructed her trusted servant. “Remain here until my return.”       
          She hurried into a heavily-wooded section of the forest and there, once again transformed herself into a pedlar woman, this time peddling a tray full of colourful but poisoned ornamental hair combs, especially imported from China at the bargain-basement price of two pence each.
          Unbeknown to the evil queen, of course, high in the treetops above her crouched a young woman dressed only in a loincloth, a lasso over one shoulder and a catapult around her neck. It was Jane of the Jungle, aka Secret Service Agent 001 Boss Stick, aka Staid Marion the Duchess of Pork.
          And as the pedlar woman trod laboriously through the forest on her way to 23 Dwarf Drive, so high above her did Jane follow her every step, swinging soundlessly and with agile precision from branch to branch and from tree to tree.
          When, at last, the pedlar woman came upon the home of the Seven Smurps, there standing in the garden were two men. This, she had not anticipated. Undaunted, she approached them; the first a short and portly fellow bald at the crown of his head. Clothed in a monk’s habit, he carried a Teflon-coated, copper-bottom frying pan in one hand and, by its legs, a live duck in the other. The second man boasted long flowing locks and wore – rather strangely for the time of day – a chic black cocktail dress and matching high-heeled shoes.
          The pedlar woman naturally remembered both men from her encounters with them at the tollhouse on the river; the first while in the guise of a pedlar, the second as the Queen of England. But such was her guise today that neither could be expected to recognise her. “Good day, dear sirs,” she greeted them. “May I interest you in one of these colourful combs from the Orient, made of genuine plastic and sold with a two-year guarantee?”
          “Oh, they look absolutely divine!” gushed the man in the cocktail dress and matching high heels, who, you must have guessed, was Will Starlet. “I simply must have one.”  
          “And you, sir,” said the woman turning to the man in the monk’s habit, “should have two, for although there is no hair on the crown of your head, it flows luxuriantly from above the ear. One above each ear, sir, would complement your splendid good looks admirably.”
          Splendid good looks, thought Fry-a-Duck. Did she say ‘splendid good looks’? Nobody, but nobody – not even his mother – had flattered him so. “I’ll take half-a-dozen!” he blurted. “All different colours!”
          “Help yourselves, gentlemen,” said the woman as she held out her tray.
          Although from her vantage point high up in the treetops Boss Stick, alias Jane of the Jungle, could monitor every move of the three people standing in the garden at 23 Dwarf Drive, she could hear nothing of their conversation. So it came as quite a surprise to her that, when she next looked down upon the three, she saw the two men prostrate on the ground and the woman kneeling at the door of the house.
          Instinctively, Jane sprang into action. Her descent was rapid, if somewhat noisy, causing the pedlar woman to flee the scene and disappear into the forest.
          Stooping over the bodies of the two men, Jane searched in vain for the cause of their apparent demise. They bore no flesh wounds, no signs of strangulation, no bumps on the head. It was only then that she saw that for some strange reason both men wore brightly coloured ornamental combs in their hair; Fry-a-Duck no fewer than six. How pretty one of them would look in her hair, she thought as she drew a pink one from his hair and inserted it in hers. Seconds later, Jane of the Jungle lay sprawled out and dead to the world over the recumbent bodies of the two ferrymen.
          Inside the house, Flo White had become aware of the presence of people in her garden, and on peering through the window, saw the lifeless forms of her good friend Staid Marion – for some strange reason dressed only in a loincloth – and the two ferrymen assigned to protect her.
          With great trepidation she stepped into the garden and was immediately struck by the array of brightly-coloured combs that adorned Fry-a-Duck’s hair. How very pretty they looked. So she plucked one from his person, slid it into her ebony locks, and slumped lifeless over his reclining form.
Nutritionally, it hadn’t been a good week, thought BMW the Big Mad Wolf as he loped down the path that led to 23 Dwarf Drive. Squirrels, porcupines and hedgehogs were all good and well, but hardly the real thing. Adding to his woes was the fact that, since his bath at the home of Mrs Marx, he now reeked of sheep dip, which would make catching the little critters all the more difficult: they could smell him from a mile off!
          Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw them; four Homo sapiens heaped one on top of the other. “Marchingk meatballs!” he yelled. “Zere’s enough human flesh here to last me a goot few months.” But first thingks first, he thought to himself. I’ll hide zem in ze forest, zen come back for zem as und vhen required; shtarting mit zis tubby liddle fellow mit ze bald head, zen ze shap in ze cocktail dress, ze voman strangely attired in nothingk but a loincloth, und finally ze youngk princess mit rosy cheeks – it’ll be a goot few veeks before she’ll be ready to eat.
          So began the tiresome task of pulling the lifeless forms deep enough into the forest that they would not easily be found. It was strenuous work and by the time BMW got round to dragging Flo White into the woods, he was exhausted. “Oh, vell,” he said to himself, “I von’t go to too mush trouble trying to hide her. If zey find her, it von’t be ze ent off ze vorld.” And so, having dragged Flo just a few feet into the woods, BMW called it a day; worn out, but elated at his good fortune. Tomorrow he would return for his first decent meal in months. He couldn’t wait.
That day had been a particularly good one, too, for the Seven Smurps. Foreign tourists had thronged the marketplace, as the smurps’ overflowing pockets bore testimony. To celebrate the occasion, the smurps had bought a flagon of red wine, and would tonight prepare a sumptuous meal of peanut-butter sandwiches for their beloved but overworked companion, Flo White.
          Imagine their consternation therefore, when they returned home to find not a trace of the young woman anywhere in the house or garden. She must, they presumed, have wandered off into the forest and got lost.
          “How many times have we told her not to stray from the house?” complained Greasy.
          “As many times as we’ve told her not to talk to strangers,” said Creepy.
          “No good grumbling about it,” chipped in Sleazy. “So let’s form a straight line and scan the perimeter of the forest where the garden ends.”
          Diligently, they set to work and, sure enough, within minutes came upon the lifeless form of Flo White atop a bed of leaves. Gently, they lifted her from the ground and carried her into the house. There they performed the same procedures as before: they removed her shoes, loosened the belt around her bodice, pressed down on her chest, applied mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and drained water into her mouth and throat. Yet Flo lay motionless. Nothing, it seemed, would revive her.
In all the confusion that had surrounded the events of the afternoon, Queen Bee, in the guise of a pedlar woman, had fled the forest and returned to her royal carriage on its outskirts, content in the knowledge that not only Flo White, but three others had succumbed to her poisonous combs. Moreover, there was the added advantage that that disgusting wolf they called BMW would, within a few days, destroy all evidence of there having been a multiple murder on the property of the Seven Smurps. Things could hardly have turned out better.
At five o’ clock the following morning, when Big Con and Not Much arrived at 23 Dwarf Drive to relieve Will Starlet and Fry-a-Duck of their guard duties, they were somewhat alarmed to learn that neither man had been seen since the return of the smurps the previous evening. Of equal concern was that Flo White now lay in a coma, for that was the only way the smurps could describe her condition; her snow-white skin remained warm, her cheeks and lips a bright red, and her hair a gleaming ebony.
          As for discovering the whereabouts of his two fellow ferrymen, not once did it occur to Big Con to scour the forest immediately surrounding the smurps’ residence. And neither did it occur to him that they could have been outwitted by Queen Bee or one of her cohorts. Someone or something, Big Con was convinced, had distracted his colleagues, and lured them away from the property they had been assigned to protect. That their lives may be in danger, or worse still, had been taken from them, was unthinkable. They were, after all, the famed Ferrymen of Sherwood Forest: indestructible. The precursors to Superman, Rambo, The Terminator.
In a similar frame of mind was the happy-go-lucky King Dick, who had lost little sleep over the fact that he had heard not a word from his Secret Service Agent 001 for a good few weeks. His daughter Flo White was being well cared for, he personally was in fine health, his golf handicap was down to eighteen, and his wife … what could he say about Queen Bee? Yes, she was looking a little plump these days. A little worn out; haggard even. And as for that barnacle on her nose, it certainly wasn’t getting any smaller.
          But all things considered, England was in pretty good shape. They’d just won the Eurovision Song Competition for the first time in 400 years, the rugby team had convincingly beaten an All White team from South Africa, and next week they were due to meet an All Black team from New Zealand.
          The only bugbear in the king’s life was that funny little shop on Bond Street started by the last Labour government. What did they call it? Oh, yes, the Trade and Enterprise State Co-operative. Hardly the sort of name that would stick when referring to one’s corner shop. So the locals – God bless the English – had called it Tesco’s.
          What was really annoying, however, was that one evening – in an emergency, one should understand – he had had to pay two-and-a-half pence for a pint of milk! Milk, mind you, that had originally come from his very own dairy in Surrey. And what were the men in the street - the very people who drove the economy, the people who died of dehydration while milking cows - expected to pay for a pint of milk?
          “By the way, Sir Rodney,” King Dick addressed his Chancellor of the Exchequer, who just happened to be standing at his side, “what does the man in the street pay for a pint of milk?”
          “Eh, three pounds, four shillings and sixpence, Your Majesty. Plus tax.”
          “Plus tax? Why the tax?”
          “To cover the Royal Family’s consumption of dairy products, Your Majesty,” replied the chancellor.
          “That much, is it?” responded the king. “Oh well, not an awful lot we can do about that, now is there. By the way, Sir Rodney; have you heard anything of my daughter Flo in recent weeks?”
          “Not a great deal, Your Majesty. Only that she has shacked up with seven pickpocketing pygmies, or smurps as that rascal the Sheriff of Nottingham prefers to call them. A somewhat debauched existence in the depths of a depraved forest, I fear, Your Majesty.”
          Dumbfounded at this revelation, the king turned on his chancellor in a fit of anger. “My daughter, the Princess Royal, who has appeared in countless television advertisements promoting Colgate Toothpaste, Sunsilk Shampoo, Pear’s Toilet Soap, Bo Jangles Bikinis, and Bob Martin’s Flea Powder, is living with a motley mob of misogynist midgets from the midlands?”
          “That would adequately sum it up, Your Majesty,” suggested the chancellor.
          “Poor girl,” he mumbled dismissively. “And what of Marion? Staid Marion, the porky duchess?”
          “The Duchess of Pork – to conform to De Brett’s – is currently in a state of confusion.”
          “Confusion, Sir Rodney? Explain yourself!” demanded the king.
          “Well, to put it bluntly, Sir, just six months ago she was plain Staid Marion. It was then that six of her siblings died – all under mysterious circumstances – and that she became, by succession, the new Duchess of Pork. It was also at about this time, Your Majesty, and quite by coincidence, that she embarked on a campaign to ‘liberate the womenfolk of England’ … “
          “Liberate the womenfolk of England?” repeated an incredulous King Dick.
          “Yes, Your Majesty. Fewer undergarments, fewer over-garments, fewer mid-garments. In short, fewer garments, full stop.”
          “Good lord, Sir Rodney! Do you realise what this could lead to?”
          “Indeed I do, Sir. Truth be known, it has already led there.”
          “Explain yourself!” demanded the king.
          “On last sighting, Your Majesty, Staid Marion the Duchess of Pork, was seen in Sherwood Forest swinging from treetop to treetop attired only in a loincloth with a lasso over one shoulder and a catapult around her neck. She now goes, it has been reported by reliable sources such as Pravda and its correspondent in the Democratic Republic of Congo, by the name of Jane of the Jungle.”
          “By gad!” cried a distraught King Dick. “It is I who have driven the porky duchess to this sorry end! So it is I who must make amends. How many Beefeaters do we have on duty at the Tower tonight?”
          “Let’s see,” said the chancellor as he pulled a touch-screen abacus from his jacket pocket. “Just two, Your Majesty.”
          “Two! Two out of a compliment of how many?” demanded the king.
          “Seven-hundred-and-fifty-two,” responded the chancellor.
          “Where, for heaven’s sake, are the others?” screamed the king.
          “Well, Archibald,” replied the chancellor while inspecting that morning’s roll-call register, is on paternity leave, and Smethurst is on pets’ leave …”
          “Pets’ leave!” yelled the king. “What on earth is pets’ leave?”
          “In this instance, Your Majesty, the need to spend quality time with one’s beloved pet.”
          “The pet being?”
          “A giraffe, You Majesty.”
          “And how, in the name of Noah, did an African giraffe become the property of an English Beefeater?”
          “Frank Drake brought it back from one of his recent expeditions, Sir.”
          “Frank Drake? Who is Frank Drake?”
          “Sir Francis, Your Majesty.”
          “Oh him! And the other 750 Beefeaters; where are they?”
          “On strike, Your Majesty. 748 to be precise.”
          “On strike? What are they striking for?”
          “A change of name, Sir.”
          “And just what name do they want changed?”
          “That of the regiment, Your Majesty.”
          “They want the regiment’s name changed? And why, pray tell me Sir Rodney, would they want to change the name of a 500-year-old institution such as the Beefeaters?”
          “Well, to put it in a protein-packed nutshell, Your Majesty, they have all become vegetarians,” answered the chancellor.
          “Vegetarians!” exclaimed the king. “What is the world coming to? And when exactly did this remarkable transition from carnivore to herbivore occur?”
          “Shortly after I slapped a 50% tax on red meat, Your Majesty.”
          “Remind me, Sir Rodney; why exactly did you impose the tax. Something to do with sailing, if I recall.”
          “It was to pay for the regatta at Cowes Week, Sir.”
          “Oh yes, now I remember. And the remaining two Beefeaters; where are they?”
          “In the mess, Your Majesty, enjoying a delicious soya-bean supper, rich in fibre and good … “
          “Yes, yes. We know all about that. Bring them to my chambers, Sir Rodney; then leave them with me. I have something to discuss with them, privately.”
Thus is was that Beefeaters Umbert Hyde and Ismail Sheikh became Secret Service Agents 002 and 003 in the employ of Monarchy Intelligence Unit 7, or MI7.
          Umbert Hyde, originally a tanner from Essex, was a big, heavily-built man of forty, who, as a side line, kept a heard of Herefords on 60 acres in Regent Street that supplied most of the upmarket restaurants and hotels in the City.
Ismail Sheikh was a wiry little man of 82. Having been a vegetarian all his life, the meat tax had not affected him, and as he had no axe to grind with the authorities, he had refrained from striking.
          “Right, gentlemen,” said the king at the conclusion of formalities, “your mission is to locate the whereabouts of your immediate superior at MI7, Secret Service Agent 001 Boss Stick, and return her unharmed to the safety of either the Tower or the royal palace. But be warned; her sanity has, from all accounts, been impaired, for when last seen she was living the life of an ape in Sherwood Forest. I suggest that you go well prepared for any eventuality, and have therefore had the quartermaster prepare a crate of coconuts, bananas and other tropical fruits that may appeal to her newly-acquired animal tastes. Have either of you ever climbed a tree?”   
          “Oh, on many occasions, Your Majesty. Many, many occasions,” replied I Sheikh. “Whilst playing with Mr Hyde.”
          “Playing with Mr Hyde? Did I hear you say ‘playing with Mr Hyde’? A man of 82 playing with a man of 40?”
          “Many, many times, Your Majesty, we play Hyde and Sheikh. Many, many times.”
          “Of course, of course,” said the king. “Quite understandable. Now run along, will you: I still have my football pools card to fill out. Oh, and one last thing. If you happen to bump into Princess Flo – you’ll recognise her; she’s the one with the Colgate Smile – ask her to pop by some time. She borrowed my only copy of The Secret Seven in Soho two months ago and still hasn’t returned it, naughty girl.”
On the evening of the mysterious disappearance of Secret Service Agent 001 Boss Stick, Will Starlet and Fry-a-Duck, and the curious ailment that had befallen Flo White, there rode into Nottingham town a rather curious-looking man.
          He was in his mid-forties, short, well-built and balding and had arrived in town in an ornately-decorated, chauffeur-driven hansom cab. He wore a long, flowing robe, crimson in colour, and perched at an angle atop his head was a crown of 24-carat gold, encrusted with a dazzling cluster of diamonds. He was, he told all who cared to listen to him, the King of Diamonds, but was commonly known as the KOD, for in addition, he had in earlier years been a professional pugilist going by the name of the Knockout Demon. His reason for being in Nottingham was to find a wife. Not just any wife, he hastened to add, but a member of the English Aristocracy.
          Yes, he informed the bartender at the Toasted Swan Pub & Pizza Parlour (where on a Wednesday night you could buy one and get one free), he had met with Prince John and had donated £5 to the Aged Aristocrats Retirement Resort, Golf Course & Spa. Yes, he had met with the Sheriff of Nottingham and had donated £10 to the Police Widows and Orphans Fund who were sending their chairman on a round-the-world cruise on the Titanic. Yes, he had met with the Marx and Schlenter families and had contributed £5 to Trotsky’s Topple the Tsars campaign fund. Yes, he had dined with Rob-the-Hood and his Ferrymen at a charge of £20 for a meal that had clearly cost no more than 50 pence to prepare. And yes, he had even met with six of the Seven Smurps in the marketplace, only to discover on returning to his hansom cab that his gold coins had been swapped for worthless Japanese yen.
          But not one of these so-called community leaders had come up with a suggestion that might lead to a meeting with a potential wife. Somewhat disillusioned and out of pocket to the tune of about £100, the KOD asked the bartender, “Oi! Ye don’t pr’hps know where I can find th’ lady o’ me dreams, do ya?”
          “As far as I am aware,” replied the bartender, “there are only two lassies in this here town with aristocratic heritage, Your Highness.”
          “Oh yeh!” said the KOD, a sparkle in his eye. “An’ oo would they be, then?”
          “Well, the one is the Duchess of Pork. Goes by the name of Staid Marion. Something of a tomboy, if you know what I mean, but oh, what a smasher. Lovely looking lass. A real lady, mind you. Takes no nonsense, she does.”
          “Sounds intr’stin’ tha’ one, don’t she?” put in the KOD. “An’ th’ other lady?”
          “Ah! Flo White, they call her. Pure royalty, she is. Pure royalty. No brothers, no sisters, just her. The Queen of England waiting to happen. Can’t get better than that, now can you?” proffered the bartender.
          “An’ where migh’ I find these ladies?” asked the KOD, while sliding two gold sovereigns in the direction of the bartender.
          “Hey, where’d you get these pieces of gold, Your Highness?”
          “In th’ tropics, me ol’ son. In th’ tropics. Now, where does I find these queens in waitin’?”
          “Well, the first one, the stunner; she lives in a manor house on the outskirts of town,” said the bartender. “Twenty bedrooms it has, but nineteen of them are empty: the whole family, bar her, has copped it – mother, father, brothers and sisters – all gone. Worth a small fortune, she is. But word has it that she’s taken to living in the forest. Up in the trees, to be more precise.” 
          “An’ th’ other girl, the Princess Royal; where’s ‘er ‘ouse?” asked the KOD.
          “Aah, you wouldn’t want to know where she lives, Your Highness. It’s a disgrace! A curse on our beloved monarchy. Gimme two more of those gold nuggets and I’ll tell you,” said the bartender.
          Wearily, the King of Diamonds, aka the Knockout Demon, slid two more gold sovereigns across the counter.
          “Aha!” shouted the bartender as he pocketed the coins, ripped the apron from his waist and flung it to the ground. “I resign! Four gold sovereigns for half an hour’s chit-chat is more than I’ve earned in twenty years of slogging it out behind this here counter!”
          “Bu’ th’ address! Th’ address o’ th’ Princess Royal! Where does she live?” the KOD pleaded with the bartender.
          “You know those midgets who stole your sovereigns. She lives with them, would you believe!” he laughed as he sauntered out of the Toasted Swan Pub & Pizza Parlour, where a Margareta costs only two-and-sixpence between 02h00 and 04h00.
          When next a dejected King of Diamonds looked up from his pale ale, he saw a rather distinguished looking man standing behind the counter where, moments earlier the bartender had stood.
          “Good evening, sir,” the man greeted him, holding out a firm hand. “May I introduce myself: Mike Rosoft, owner of this establishment and manufacturer of SoSoft four-ply toilet tissue.”   
          “Barney, King o’ Diamonds and Knockout Demon,” came the reply.
          “Of course!” said Mike Rosoft. “Raised in Gretna Green, in a family of too many with too little, the son of a dealer in second-hand clothing. A vaudeville actor of sorts; later a boxer of ill sorts. Went to Africa, sorted diamonds for a cousin, stole diamonds from that cousin. Bought a gambling saloon, stole from its customers, sold the gambling saloon, bought a diamond mine, sold the diamond mine, bought a gold mine, and committed suicide on board ship while smuggling money out of the country. How very English, sir! An absolute pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
          “Yeah, yeah,” scoffed Barney the KOD. “Know o’ any princesses what’s available?”
          “No, sir. But I do have this daughter. Bright young thing until she was struck on the head by a demolition ball. Right between the eyes, it was. The ball was shattered, of course. But then, so was she.”
          “An’ where’s she now?” asked a disinterested KOD.
          “Oh, on a farm somewhere up north, teaching cabbages how to grow,” replied Mike Rosoft.
          “Teachin’ cabbages ‘ow t’ grow? Now why wou’ she be doin’ tha’?” asked the KOD.
          “Because she is one, now isn’t she,” responded Rosoft.
          “An’ ye wan’ me t’ marry your daugh’er what’s a cabbage?”
          “Well, there’s money in it for you, if you agree, sir. A great deal of money,” said Rosoft.
          “Listen ‘ere, me ol’ son. I owns ‘alf th’ diamond mines an’ ‘alf th’ gold mines in Africa. Since I frew meself over tha’ ship inna middle o’ th’ Indian Ocean an’ swam 7000 miles to Australia, most people finks I’m dead. Now tha’s fine by me; I’ve still go’ me offshore accounts in Zululand, Matabeleland, Disneyland and Wonderland. Na, I fink I’ll gi’ tha’ one a miss, me ol’ son,” concluded Barney the KOD as he lifted himself from his barstool and disappeared into the night. 
Secret Service Agents Hyde and Sheikh had by this time penetrated deep into Sherwood Forest; an ideal setting for their favourite pastime. It was a game which both enjoyed so much that they often played it well into the night, as was now the case.
          “ … 97, 98, 99, 100! Coming, ready or not!” shouted the 84-year-old Sheikh, as he emerged from behind a particularly large tree, tripped on something underfoot and fell. But it wasn’t on the ground that that he landed. Rather was it a mound on the ground, for as he picked himself up, so did he sense that he had fallen over the body of a man.
          “Is that you, Umbert?” he whispered as he kicked tentatively at the prostrate figure. There being no reply, he bent down, took a cigarette lighter from his pocket, lit it, and held it to the man’s face. “Drat!” he muttered to himself as he stood erect. “It’s not Umbert.” He took two paces forward and once again stumbled to the ground, this time finding himself lying atop what definitely felt like a female form. He again took his lighter from his pocket, lit it, and confirmed his suspicion. “Definitely a woman,” he mumbled, “and certainly not Umbert.” He raised himself from the ground and took two paces to the left, and for the third time fell over. Again he took his lighter from his pocket, lit it, and shone it in the face of the person underneath him. “Oh, no!” he groaned, “Another man, but certainly not Umbert.” He stood up, now completely disoriented. “Where the devil is Umbert?” he grumbled softly, took a step to the right, walked straight into a tree, and collapsed unconscious to the ground.
          Not twenty yards away, Secret Service Agent Umbert Hyde became impatient. He had heard the distant sounds of Ismail Sheikh’s stuttered progress through the woods, but now all was silent. He stepped out from his hiding place behind a large elm and headed for the spot from where he had last heard movement, then tripped over an immoveable object, and in falling, cracked his head on a tree trunk, rendering him unconscious.  
Early the next morning a very excited and particularly hungry BMW the Big Mad Wolf returned to his cache of human flesh hidden in the forest just off 23 Dwarf Drive.
          “Cashcadingk caterpillars!” he yelled; for now there were no fewer than five Homo sapiens strewn out before him, whereas before there had been just four. The youngest – the princess with ebony-coloured hair, skin as white as snow, and rosy lips and cheeks – had somehow vanished. But that was no great loss, as she had been replaced by two men; one absolutely ripe for the picking.  
          BMW bounded over to the newcomers; a scrawny old man lying beneath a bigger and much younger individual with a cow tattooed on his cheek. Sinking his great yellow teeth into the older man’s trouser leg, he began tugging at it. Inch by inch he pulled his victim free, and, just as the younger man rolled to the ground, so the old-timer regained consciousness.
          “No!” shouted Sheikh. “Down! Naughty dog! Sit!”
          Momentarily taken aback, BMW eased his grip on Sheikh’s trouser leg, stood erect, and stared him in the face, saliva dripping from his mouth. “Who do you zink you’re talkingk to you, you vashed-out olt varhorse, you vezer-beaten veaklingk, you, you vorsless vorm?” growled BMW as he sprang at the man, his teeth bared. 
          Instinctively, Secret Service Agent 003 Ismail Sheikh, in one swift movement, rolled to his left, sprang to his feet, and karate-chopped the airborne wolf in the throat, sending him spinning to the ground. “Bad dog!” shouted Sheikh, hands on hips.
          Humiliated beyond words, BMW got to his feet, shook himself vigorously, stared his foe in the eye, and with all the strength he could muster, lunged for Sheikh’s throat.
          Anticipating the wolf’s every move, the nimble-footed secret service agent stepped to one side, cart-wheeled in the opposite direction, and watched the wolf sail head-first into a tree trunk and collapse in a heap over a slumbering Umbert Hyde.  
          Sheikh went down on one knee, clasped his colleague by the hair, and with the other hand, slapped his face. “Wake up, Umbert! There’s a wolf on your chest. Wake up!” he barked.
          Gradually, Hyde came to his senses, pulled himself up to his elbows, and with eyes barely registering, turned to his companion and said, “Oh look, Ismail; there’s a wolf on my chest!”
          “Indeed there is,“ concurred Sheikh, “and he’s hungry; so get up, you fool!”
          Still feeling somewhat groggy, Umbert Hyde pulled BMW from his chest, sat up and asked his colleague: “Last night’s game; who won?”
          “Arsenal,” came Sheikh’s reply.
          “No, not that game,” said Hyde; “our game.”
          “It was a draw,” replied Sheikh. “Now get up. There are a few corpses over there that need investigating.”
“Now this,” said Sheikh pointing a finger at the young woman lying comatose in a loincloth, “must be our boss; the ape-woman we’ve been sent to find.”
          “Why would you say that?” asked Hyde.
          “Because she’s the only female here, you fool! Apart from which, she’s the only one in a loincloth.” He knelt down beside her, put a hand to her forehead, then to her chest and pronounced, “She appears to be alive. Quick, Umbert; go fetch the bananas!”
          Minutes later Umbert Hyde returned, an enormous bunch of ripe bananas in tow.
          “Here,” cajoled Sheikh, putting a peeled banana to the woman’s mouth. “Good monkey-wonkey, eat foody-woody.”  For ten minutes the old man persevered, but to no avail. There was not a stirring nor a murmur from their boss, Secret Service Agent 001 Boss Stick.
          “Maybe she doesn’t speak English,” suggested Hyde.
          “Of course she does, you fool!” snapped Sheikh. “She’s a member of the English Aristocracy! I think we ought to get her to a quack.” 
          “What good would a duck be?” asked Hyde.
          “Not a duck, you fool! A doctor!”
          “Oh, one of them. But they charge for call-outs, don’t they?”
          “So, if the mountain won’t come to Ismail Sheikh, Ismail Sheikh is going to have to go to the mountain, now isn’t he? So let’s get moving. We’ll take her to that inn we passed along the way, and call for a doctor from there.”
And so, ignoring the unconscious wolf and the two ferrymen who lay lifeless on the ground not yards from them, Secret Service Agents Hyde and Sheikh drew their carriage up to an equally lifeless Boss Stick, loaded her gently onto it, and headed for the Toasted Swan Pub & Pizza Parlour.
          Not two hundred yards down the road, Sheikh turned to his companion. “Just look at that, Umbert,” he said, pointing to the ornate hansom cab of the King of Diamonds as it raced away in the opposite direction. 
          “It’s probably King Dick,” suggested Hyde.
          “In a funny little hansom? No, Umbert; more likely some rock group on its way to Glastonbury”.
As the King of Diamonds drew close to 23 Dwarf Drive, he was confronted with a most unusual sight, for there, lurching from one tree to another, was a seriously dazed wolf, a strip of trouser leg dangling from his mouth. Stranger still, he reeked of something that the KOD associated strongly with sheep. Was this a sheep in wolves’ clothing? If so, here was an opportunity to make money; lots of it. This could be a fairground attraction to beat all fairground attractions. Perfect, in fact.
          “Oi!” called the KOD as he clambered from his cab. “Go’ a mo’?”
          Hanging onto a tree trunk for dear life, the wolf spun his head painfully in the direction from whence the voice had come. Was he hallucinating, or was that a king addressing him? He shook his head vigorously in disbelief and felt a jolt of excruciating pain race down his spine. He winced, made one valiant attempt to remain upright, and crumpled up in agony.
          “No need t’ be shy,” said the stranger with outstretched hand. “Barney’s th’ name: King o’ Diamonds.”
          BMW rose gingerly to his feet and clutching the tree, responded: “Your maestro, er maggot, nein, magistrate, nein, majesty. Zat’s it! Your Majesty! How may I harass, er harm, nein, hassle, nein, help. Zat’s it! How may I help you?”
          “Tha’ luvly fur what’s growin’ on ye;” said the KOD, “is there anyfin’ underneaf?”
          BMW looked curiously at the man, who, judging by his mannerisms and accent, obviously wasn’t of royalty. “Off course zere iss,” he replied.
          “An’ wha’ woul’ tha’ be?”
          Where did this man come from? thought BMW. “Skin und bone, yust like you,” he replied.
          “No wool … as in jersey, jumper, pullover?” suggested the KOD.
          “Off course not! I’m a BMW, not a BBBS!”
          “An’ wha’ woul’ a BBBS be then?” asked the KOD.
          “A baa, baa black sheep!” retorted BMW.
          “Y’re no’ tryin’ t’ pull th’ wool over me eyes, now are ye?”
          “Now vot vould I vant to do a thingk like zat for?” said BMW, a supercilious grin on his ugly face.
          “’Cause I fink you’s a sheep in wolves’ clothvin’, tha’s why.”
          “No sush luck, I’m afraid. Yust a Bik Mat Volf, und a hungry von at zat. So if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my vay. Zere’s a geriatric I’m dying to eat, er meet yust a few blocks avay.”
In Suite 1242 on the twelfth floor of the intimate little inn adjoining the Toasted Swan Pub & Pizza Parlour, Secret Service Agents U Hyde and I Sheikh stood beside the bed on which their boss Secret Service Agent Stick lay, alongside them, Eyel Yankit, MD.
          “And your prognosis, doctor?” asked Sheikh of the learned man.
          “Oh, I don’t know,” replied the doctor. “Yank it out is what I say.”
          “Yank what out?” asked Sheikh.
          “Oh, I don’t know. Whatever’s causing the ailment, I suppose,” responded the doctor.
          “And what would that be?”
          “Oh, I don’t know. The appendix, perhaps. Kidney, liver, lungs. The heart, the brain. Could be anything, really,” said the doctor with a shrug of the shoulders.
          “Then how will you know what to remove?” asked Sheikh.
          “Oh, the old tried and tested way, I suppose. Trial and error. Take out one organ. See if it helps. If it doesn’t, put it back and try the next one. She could be on the operating table for 24 hours; or for as long as you keep replenishing the mead.”
          “And what would you require the mead for,” queried Sheikh.
          “For me, of course!” snapped an indignant Dr Yankit. “You don’t for one moment think I’m going to stand around here surrounded by body parts, splattered in blood and listening to her moans and groans while you live it up at the Toasted Swan Pub & Pizza Parlour during Happy Hour, do you?”
          Dumbfounded, Sheikh turned to Hyde. “What do you think we should do?” he asked.
          “Let him cut her up, is what I say. What are a few scars here and there if you live to tell your grandkids about them?” said Hyde.
          “And if she doesn’t live to tell her grandchildren; what then?”
          “Ah well, she can always show her scars off to her ancestors, now can’t she,” suggested Hyde.
          “Good point, Umbert. Okay doc, slice her open,” instructed Sheikh.
          “Before I start,” said Dr Yankit, “I’m going to need a bowl of hot water, a dozen towels, six flagons of mead, a truncheon, and a pair of long-nose pliers.”
          “If you don’t mind me asking, doctor, what do you need the pliers for?” enquired Sheikh.
          “Silly me; I left my forceps at home,” the doctor informed him.
          “And the truncheon?”
          “Ah; that’s in case she wakes up during the operation. One hefty blow to the cranium and she’ll be out like a light,” explained the doctor.
          “But we want her to wake up, doctor,” argued Hyde. “That’s why we called you in.”
          “Not with half her body parts lying on the table, you fool!” shouted Sheikh.
          “Just one thing before you gentlemen go,” said Dr Yankit. “This comb she’s wearing in her hair is genuine plastic, I believe. Do you think your boss would mind if I pinched it for my missus? She’s mad about plastic. What’s more, it’s all the way from China.”
          “Save Ms Stick, doctor, and I’m sure she won’t begrudge you a comb. Here, take it,” said Sheikh while sliding it from his boss’s hair.
          Seconds later a startled Staid Marion the Duchess of Pork, alias Secret Service Agent 001 Boss Stick, aka Jane of the Jungle, shot upright on the bed. “Where am I?” she asked in shrill voice, a bewildered look on her face.
          “Quick, Umbert!” shouted Sheikh. “Cancel the mead order!”
Nightfall was approaching when the hansom cab conveying the King of Diamonds drew up in front of 23 Dwarf Drive. “Oi!” he called to the two ferrymen on sentry duty. “Why don’ ye fellas go buy yourselves a’ ice cream,” and tossed them a gold sovereign. “An’ keep th’ change.”
          “An ice cream!” squealed the one ferryman in childish delight. “An ice cream!” giggled the other in nervous anticipation. “Oh jolly jellybeans; an ice cream!” Then together: “We’re going to buy an ice cream! We’re going to buy an ice cream!” And so down the garden path they sang, hopped, skipped and jumped their way to Egbert’s Ice Cream Emporium where, with every purchase on a Wednesday you stood to win a 50 pence down payment on your very own nuclear power plant.
          With the ferrymen on their merry way, the KOD knelt down at the front door of the little house and knocked. Seconds later the face of Arthur the smurp appeared at the window to his left.
          Arthur blinked in disbelief, for standing at his front door was the king. Arthur had never set eyes on King Dick, let alone had him as a house guest. Was he here to collect his daughter? Arthur and his brothers had grown to love Flo White, for not only was she good company, she was a fine cook. They’d never eaten better in their lives. Never had their clothes been so well cared for, their little home been so spick and span, their garden so pretty. He shuddered at the thought of losing her. But what use was she now, lying dead-to-the-world on her bed? He rubbed his chin in contemplation.
          “Oi!” said the man. “I’m lookin’ fo’ a wife, an’ ‘ave it on good aufority tha’ I may jus’ find one ‘ere.”
          Definitely not King Dick, thought Arthur: he already had a wife. And the language this man spoke was certainly not the King’s English. Could he be an Arab? Arthur had never seen an Arab. Whoever he was, Arthur wasn’t taking any chances. The RSPCA didn’t just give pets away to whoever wanted one, so why should he just give away the future Queen of England? “Sorry, Your Highness,” he said finally, “but I think you have the wrong address.” 
          “Come off i’, me ol’ son,” replied the KOD, “I knows ye ‘ave a princess what’s royal ‘idden away ‘ere.
          “Oi! Fancy a dram o’ whisky, do ye? ‘Ere, ‘ave a bottle,” continued the KOD as he pulled a one-gallon flagon of Scotland’s finest from under his robes.
          “Don’t mind if I do,” replied Arthur and took a great swig. “Mm, good stuff this: I could drink it all night.”
          “Go righ’ ahead, me ol’ son; there’s plenty where this came from. Now all ye need is a good cigar, righ’? ‘Ere, ‘ave one: Cuba’s finest.”
          “Don’t mind if I do,” said Arthur. “Got a light?” 
          “Of course, me ol’ son,” replied the KOD as he took a brand-new gold-plated lighter from under his robes and handed it to Arthur. “Keep i’ as a souvenir from th’ King o’ Diamonds.”
          “So that’s where you’re from!” exclaimed Arthur. “Where in the world is Diamonds?”
          “Are diamonds me ol’ son. Where in th’ world are diamonds. Well, they’re all over th’ world – Africa, India, Brazil …”
          “And you’re the King of Africa, India and Brazil?” asked an incredulous Arthur as he took another swig of whisky and puffed on his cigar.
          “No, no; just Africa. ‘Ere! ‘Owes about’ a game o’ Russian Roulette?”
          “Wash that?” slurred Arthur as he put the flagon to his mouth yet again.
          “Quite simple,” said the KOD, pulling a revolver from under his robes and easing it open. “See this ‘ere gun ‘as eight ‘oles. Chambers is wha’ they’s called; an’ righ’ now all o’ em’s empty, see. Now wha’ ‘appens is tha’ I puts a bullet in jus’ one of ‘em chambers wi’ me back to ye, so as ye can’t see which one. Then I closes th’ barrel tigh’, an’ spins th’ chambers, like this. So neiver you nor me knows if th’ bullet’s lined up wi’ th’ barrel or not. Then ye takes th’ gun, puts i’ t’ ye ‘ead, like this, an’ pulls th’ ol’ trigger. Very simple, very simple.
          “Now ye go’ one chance in eight o’ ‘avin’ ye brains blown ou’. So tha’ makes i’ seven chances o’ stayin’ alive. Seven t’ one: them’s great odds, me ol’ son. Great odds! Ye wif me?”
          “Sho far, yesh,” replied Arthur, and took another swig of Scotland’s finest.
          “Now, Wha’s in i’ fo’ ye? Ye may well ask. Well, I’ll tell ye wha’s in it fo’ ye. A ’undred smackers, no less; pounds sterlin’.”
          “And what if I kill myshelf?” asked a befuddled Arthur.
          “Then tha’s your bad luck, now ain’t i’, me ol’ son. No ‘undred smackers. Wha’ I will do, tho’, is pay fo’ your fun’ral. Even th’ flowers. No! I’ll go furver than tha’; I’ll pay fo’ th’ wake an’ th’ tombstone. I can jus’ see it; ‘‘Ere lies Arfur wha’ shot ‘iself.’ Yo’ll be a ‘ero! People will come t’ ye grave from all over th’ world. Yo’ll be famous. ‘Arfur th’ midget,’ they’ll say, ‘now ‘e were a man!’ So wha do ye say? Shall we gi’ i’ a go then?”
          “Marble,” spluttered Arthur.
“Wha’ was tha’?”
          “The tombshtone. It mush be marble,’ insisted Arthur putting flagon to mouth.
          “Oh, o’ course!” agreed the KOD. “Italy’s finest. Fro’ th’ same quarry what Michelangelo used.”
          “Alright,” said Arthur with a hiccup as he unlatched the door and staggered from the house, still clutching the flagon of whisky. “Gimme the gun.”
          “’Ere we are, ol’ son,” replied the KOD. “No need t’ aim, jus’ pu’ th’ barrel t’ ye ‘ead an’ squeeze th’ trigger, nice an’ firm like.”
          Arthur, being the obliging smurp that he was, did as instructed. There was a dull thud as the projectile in the chamber smacked into his temple. This was followed by a loud groan as he slumped to the ground.
          “Well done Barnabus, ol’ son. Saved y’self a ‘undred smackers there,” the KOD congratulated himself as he stepped over Arthur’s lifeless form and entered the building.
          Inside, all was quiet in the little house as, shoulders stooped, the KOD wandered from one room to the next until eventually he came to a room at the rear of the building, its ceiling considerably higher than those of the other rooms. And there, lying motionless on a bed was the most beautiful young woman he had ever set eyes upon. Her flowing hair was ebony in colour, her skin as white as snow and her cheeks and lips a glorious shade of red.
          Mesmerised, he pulled up a chair beside the bed and gently put a hand to one of hers. It was warm and delightfully soft to the touch. For a good few minutes he sat there, intoxicated by her beauty.
          “This i’ it Barnabus, ol’ son,” he at last said to himself, “th’ woman o’ your dreams. Th’ future Queen o’ England! Can’t ge’ much be’er than tha’, now can ye.”
          But there was obviously something very wrong with the young woman, for try as he may, he could not wake her. He stepped outside, knelt down beside Arthur, retrieved his revolver, emptied the chambers of the seven remaining corks lodged in them, pocketed the gun, and shook the smurp by his shoulders. “Wake up!” he shouted. “We ‘ave t’ get tha’ young lady what’s in your ‘ouse t’ a doctor! Wake up!”
          Arthur stirred; put a hand to his temple, expecting to feel a gaping hole in his head. There was none. “Whatsh happened?” he asked. “I thought I’d shot myshelf.”
          “You’re alright, me ol’ son. Them was champagne corks in th’ chambers. Moët et Chandon, no less; France’s finest. Now ge’ up an’ ‘elp me carry th’ princess what’s in your ‘ouse t’ me ‘ansom cab. We gotta ge’ ‘er t’ a doctor.”
          With an unconscious Flo White duly settled on board the hansom, Barney the KOD and his cab driver sped off in the direction of the Toasted Swan Pub & Pizza Parlour, leaving a bewildered Arthur to face the music on the return that evening of his six brothers.
Travelling in the opposite direction at a furious pace were Secret Service Agents 001 Boss Stick, 002 Umbert Hyde and 003 Ismail Sheikh along with Rob-the Hood, Big Con and Not Much. They arrived at 23 Dwarf Drive to find a distraught Arthur sitting on the front doorstep, head in hands.
          “Arthur!” shouted an angry Rob as he dismounted his steed, “Where are the ferrymen sent to guard your house?”
          “Your guesh ish ash good ash mine, Mishter Hood,” answered a still inebriated Arthur.
          “And Flo White?” put in Boss Stick. “Is she safe?”
          “Shafe, I can but hope. But no longer here, I’m afraid. The King of Africa hash taken her to the Toashted Shwan to await the arrival of Doctor Yankit.”
          “Thank goodness for that,” sighed Boss Stick. “At least the doctor will know to remove the comb from her hair.”
          “Remove the comb from her hair? What good will that do?” asked a puzzled Arthur.
          “Follow us and we’ll show you,” snapped Boss Stick. Then turning to agents Hyde and Sheikh: “Right gentlemen, where do you say we’ll find Fry-a-Duck and Will Starlet?”
          “Over there; not fifty metres into the woods,” said Sheikh pointing in the direction of a large elm tree.
          And there they were, the macho ferrymen lying side by side on a bed of fallen leaves; a pretty pink comb in Will Starlet’s flowing locks and no fewer than four combs of differing colours adorning the straggle of hair that clung to Fry-a-Duck’s neck.
          “No point in standing on ceremony,” announced Sheikh as he bent down and pulled the poisonous combs from the ferrymen’s hair. “Wakey-wakey, gentlemen: the world awaits.”
In Suite 1247 on the twelfth floor of the intimate inn adjoining the Toasted Swan Pub & Pizza Parlour, Dr Yankit looked up from the prostrate form of Flo White and addressed Barney the KOD: “This, Your Highness, is a very serious case of plasticus combelitis.”
          “Gi’ i’ t’ me in plain English, doc. Wha’s th’ ma’er wif ‘er?” asked the KOD.
          “She has what we in the profession call the plastic comb syndrome. To put it in layman’s terms, she has become highly addicted to all forms of plastic; especially plastic combs,” explained Dr Yankit.
          “So wha’s th’ solution?” asked the KOD.
          “We’re going to have to ween her off the plastic comb she wears in her hair. This could take weeks, months, even years. It’s a long and costly process, I’m afraid,” answered the doctor while wringing his hands at the prospect of a substantial monthly fee for ‘professional’ services rendered.
          “Why don’ ye jus’ yank i’ out?” the KOD asked Dr Yankit.
          “Yank it out?” exclaimed an indignant Dr Yankit. “Yank it out? Why, that could prove disastrous! Catastrophic!”
          “In wha’ way?”
          “Well, she would almost certainly express symptoms of violent withdrawal,” responded the doctor.
          “An’ wha’ woul’ tha’ lead te?”
          “Typically, Your Highness, plasticus combelitis addicts begin satisfying their craving for all things plastic by combing … or should I say scouring rubbish dumps for discarded plastic bottles and containers. Rather distasteful, but nonetheless quite legal. They then progress to shoplifting, gate-crashing Tupperware Parties, digging up fibre-optic cables, and stealing the plastic covers off cricket pitches. By this time they have acquired an insatiable appetite for plastic in all its forms, and in one recorded instance the Lego factory in Denmark was broken into and twenty-thousand plastic bricks were stolen, consumed and regurgitated within 24 hours: a world record!”
          “So wha’ d’ ye propose te do?” asked the KOD.
          “Oh, I don’t know,” replied the doctor. “Drill a hole in her head, I suppose, and remove from her brain the thingamajig that’s causing the addiction.”
          “An’ ‘ow big is th’ thingamajig?” queried the KOD.
          “Oh, I don’t know. About the size of a cricket ball, I suppose.”
          “A cri’et ball!” gasped the KOD. “Tha’s about th’ size o’ ‘er entire brain!”
          “What has to be done, has to be done, Your Highness. It’s a no-brainer, if you’ll excuse the pun.”
          “Well, y’d be’er ge’ on wi’ i’,” said the KOD. “An’ stop callin’ me your ‘ighness, I’m only five foo’ free. Now, wha’ are ye goin’ te need?”
          “First up, £50 … “
          “Oi! Ye do realise, don’ ye, tha’ thi’ is th’ future Queen o’ England, we’s talkin’ abou’,” interjected the King of Diamonds.
          “In that case, make it £250. I’m then going to need a bowl of hot water, a dozen towels, a hand drill with a two-inch bit, a pair of long-nose pliers, a truncheon, and eight flagons of mead,” the doctor informed him.
          “Okay, so th’ £250’s ye fee, righ’. Th’ ‘and drill is te ge’ at th’ thingamajig, righ’. Th’ pliers is te remove th’ thingamajig, righ’. Th’ truncheon is te wack ‘er on th’ ‘ead if she wakes up, righ’ So wha’s the mead fo’? Anaesthetic?” suggested the KOD.
          “You could say so, yes,” answered Dr Yankit.
          “’Ere’s th’ 250 smackers,” said the KOD taking a fistful of gold coins from under his robe. Then turning to the window, he called down to his cabbie, “Oi, Ernie! Go fetch me a drill wi’ a two-inch bi’, a pair o’ pliers, a truncheon, an’ eigh’ flagons o’ mead.”
          Just then the door to Suite 1247 of the intimate little inn adjoining the Toasted Swan Pub & Pizza Parlour flew open and in stormed the Seven Smurps, so angry that you could almost see the steam rising from their little heads. “Out of our way!” ordered Greasy as he and his brothers hastened to the bed on which Flo White lay.
          “Oi! I remember yo’ fellas! You’s th’ ones wha’ swapped all me sovereigns fo’ worfless yens, ye li’le bligh’ers!” 
          “And we’ll break every bone in your body if you so much as lay a finger on Flo!” warned Grimy, wielding the truncheon he’d dispossessed Ernie the cabbie of just minutes earlier.
          “Crawly!” shouted Creepy as he yanked the offending comb from Flo White’s ebony locks, “get rid of this dangerous piece of plastic.”
          No sooner had Crawly thrown the comb from the window of Suite 1247 of the intimate little inn that adjoined the Toasted Swan Pub and Pizza Parlour, than Flo White came miraculously back to life. 
          “Golly gosh and gee whiz!” she cried as she raised her head from the pillows on her bed. “Whatever happened to me? Where have I been? Where am I now? How many inches are there in a mile? Who let the dogs out? Has Donald Trump invaded the sun, yet?”
          Startled, Barney the KOD rushed to the window. “Oi, Ernie!” he yelled to his cabbie, “cancel th’ eigh’ flagons o’ mead!” But there was no reply, as Ernie the cabbie lay spread-eagled on the ground, a brightly-coloured comb sitting neatly in his hair.
          The Seven Smurps were ecstatic. Their beloved chief cook and bottle washer was alive and well. Life could return to normal. No more baked beans on toast. Their clothes would be clean, crisp and comfortable once more, the house neat and tidy, the garden free of weeds and alive with birdsong. What more could a brood of slovenly smurps wish for?
          Barney the King of Diamonds, however, had other ideas. He had returned to England to find a wife. Not just any wife, but a member of the aristocracy. And here the lady was in all her splendour, lying gracefully on a queen-size bed on the twelfth floor of an intimate little inn that adjoined a pub and pizza parlour known as the Toasted Swan.
          And if she, Flo White, were to marry him, he would, in time, become the Prince Consort, husband of the Queen of England! This was the stuff that dreams were made of, and Barney the King of Diamonds, Barney the Knockout Demon, was a dreamer with few equals.
          He flung himself to the floor, and on bended knees clasped Flo White’s folded hands in his. “I ‘ave a dream,” he announced. “A dream tha’ yo’ an’ me’ll rule th’ world. Marry me an’ I’ll make ye th’ ‘appiest queen wha’ ever lived. Yo’ll ‘ave diamonds on ye fingers, gold on ye toes … “
          “Enough!” commanded Boss Stick as the door to Suite 1247 of the intimate little inn that adjoined the Toasted Swan Pub & Pizza Parlour swung open for the second time that evening. “I come in the name of King Dick to return Florence White the Princess Royal, to her rightful home!”
          “Oh, goody gumdrops!” enthused Arthur, “our washer-woman is coming home!”
          “Cook!” corrected Creepy.
          “Cleaner!” cried Crawly.
          “Gardner!” grumbled Greasy.
          “Garbage Remover!” growled Grimy.
          “Sweeper!” suggested Sleazy.
          “Slave!” shouted Slimy.
          “There you have it!” exploded a fuming Staid Marion, the eminent women’s rights activist, Duchess of Pork, M17 Secret Service Agent 001 Boss Stick, alias Jane of the Jungle, and heavyweight boxing champion of the world. “You’re nothing but a bunch of male chauvinist pigs! Agents Hyde and Sheikh, remove these myopic midgets from the room please! Immediately!”
          Throughout this exchange, Barney the KOD sat in stunned silence. He was captivated. Who needed the future Queen of England for a wife and all the responsibilities and problems this would entail when standing right before him was this attractive young woman, so steely-strong in her beliefs, so in control of her herself: a Duchess, a Superwoman, a Queen of the Apes, a famed pugilist, and the Boss of M17? Could a lowly multi-billionaire from the colonies ask for more? He was star-struck, besotted, and head-over-heels in love with the young woman.
          It was at that very moment, and in the midst of Barney’s dreams of Staid Marion and he sitting on the warm sands of a far-off desert island, that the door to Suite 1247 on the twelfth floor of the intimate little inn that adjoined the Toasted Swan Pub & Pizza Parlour flew open for the third time. Standing in the doorway was the epitome of masculinity, Rob-the-Hood. “Marion, my darling; marry me!” he bellowed in full voice.
          “Marry you?” retorted a furious Boss Stick. “Marry you, when you and your revered ferrymen could not even ensure the safety of the future Queen of England? Be gone with you, Mr Hood, for I will be hoodwinked no more!”
          Meekly, Rob-the-Hood slunk for the door, his shoulders drooped, his head bowed. But as he put hand to door, so it was thrust open from the outside, and in marched a confident and upright Arthur, the smurp.
          “Miss Flo!” bellowed Arthur in assertive voice as he approached her bed. “I have worshipped you from the day I first set eyes on you. I have loved you with a fervour that no mere mortal can express. I see your image with every sunrise, in every plant that flowers, in every drop of rain that falls, in the light of day and in the dark of night. I see you washing dishes, mending clothes, cooking, cleaning, and working your fingers to the bone. I see you growing old, grey and ugly, long before your time. Will you marry me and return to 23 Dwarf Drive to be our slave for evermore?”
          “Yes, Arthur! Oh, yes, yes and yes again! I will marry you and forever be your slave!” shrieked an overjoyed Flo White, the Princess Royal and future Queen of England as she lifted him from the floor, set him on her lap, and began scouring his dirt-encrusted scalp for lice. 
          Flabbergasted, horrified and ashen-faced, Staid Marion strode from the room. Not only was her good friend Flo White, the Princess Royal and future Queen of England going to marry a commoner, the future Prince Consort was a lazy good-for-nothing 4’6” dwarf with lice in his hair! Worse still, not only was Flo to be his wife, but his slave! It was all too much for any self-respecting women’s rights activist to accept. 
…………………….to be continued…….
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Booktown Richmond’s 15th Anniversary
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October 28, 29, 30. 2021
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