Good morning dear reader and welcome to a slightly soggy morning at Comb Towers. Joy, joy, we have had rain. I am all things Gunnera this week. After my unfortunate experience a couple of weeks ago with Josh at the seed company, (Anyone For Verbal Tennis, 18th July), I managed to obtain four Gunnera plants from another supplier. They are now happily growing well in the damp ground at the bottom of my garden, soaking up the moisture and will grow up to the sky in time. I happened to mention to Spouse that we would have to protect the crowns of the plants from the winter frosts and so needed to buy some more horticultural fleece. Spouse eyed me dubiously - a familiar phenomenon in our house - and asked me what we will do when they are ten or twenty foot tall? 'Ah ... well', says I, 'we'll just have to put a ladder up or climb up the stalks.' 'Like Jack and the Beanstalk,' says Spouse. 'Exactly,' says I. Which got me thinking ...
Once upon a time, a wife planted four Gunnera plants at the bottom of her garden. They grew and they grew, their massive green leaves forming a firm green bed for the wife to lie on for an afternoon nap. But over the years the Gunnera grew up to the sky and right through the clouds and the wife could no longer lie in the leaves. Come the autumn, the wife who had no head for heights, asked her husband, Jack, to climb up the Gunnera and fleece the crowns of the plants. Jack was not very keen on the idea as the stalks of the Gunnera were spiky and sharp. 'I'll get jabbed and scratched all the way up ... and down,' he protested. 'Oh, come on,' says the wife. 'Are you a man or a mouse?' 'Squeak,' said Jack and then ran to shin up the Gunnera stalk as his wife advanced with frying pan in hand.
Jack climbed up the Gunnera stalk and up through the clouds. Much to his surprise when he reached the top he found a winding road. In the distance he could see a massive stone castle. All thoughts of fleece forgotten, Jack set off to investigate. As he drew near he saw a huge woman, at least fifteen foot tall, standing outside the castle. 'Who are you?' she asked. 'I'm Jack. I've just come up the Gunnera plant. Who are you and how did you get here? We only planted these a few years ago?' 'You don't want to know much, do you?' she said. 'But if you must know, I'm Madge. We have a magic carpet, me and Bernard. We like to build a castle when we spot a new Gunnera. Keeps life interesting. What are you doing up here then?' 'I have to put some fleece on the crowns of the plants, only I've lost it. But never mind that. Can I see inside your castle, Madge? I thought these only existed in fairytales.' Madge snorted. 'Fairytales. Bernard aint no fairytale and if he catches you here he'll eat you for his breakfast.' She eyed him speculatively. 'Well, part of his breakfast maybe; you're a bit on the skinny side. Come on in then, at your own risk.'
Just as Jack was starting to explore, Bernard came home. With nowhere to escape to, Madge hid Jack inside the massive oven. The castle walls shook as the giant sat down heavily and waited for his breakfast. 'Oh, I'm so hungry,' he said. 'I could eat at least four humans today.' 'I haven't got any,' said Madge. 'You'll have to make do with a roast pig and half a ton of potatoes this morning.' Jack thought he had a good appetite but it was nothing to Bernard's. He watched in amazement as the giant polished off all the food. Eventually he was full and called to Madge to bring his bags of gold. 'Get them yourself, you lazy hound,' she said. 'I'm not going to put my back out hauling socking great bags of gold to the table.' Grumbling, Bernard heaved himself out of the chair and the walls shook again as he stomped to his safe and bought out his bags of gold. He began counting the coins at the table but soon his hearty lunch caught up with him and he went to sleep. When he was sure the giant was in a deep sleep, Jack crept out of the oven and over to the table. Whoohoo, it was worth the climb up the Gunnera for some of these. He swiped a bag of gold and ran quickly away from the castle and scrambled back down the spiky plant.
Back on the ground he ran to show his wife the bag of gold. She looked inside and then looked at Jack in disbelief. 'You're such a numpty,' she said. 'I don't know where you got them from. They're actually chocolate coins covered in gold paper, so I hope you didn't pay good money for them.' Jack's heart sank. As his excitement ebbed he became aware of his scratched and bleeding arms and legs. 'Did you fleece up the Gunnera?' asked his wife. 'Fleece?' said Jack blankly. 'Ah ... fleece ... well ...' His wife rolled her eyes. 'That's a "no" then. Well, get back up there and get that fleece on and no more talk of giants, magic carpets and the like. Sounds to me more like you found a stash of magic mushrooms with all that talk.'
Wearily Jack took the fleece from her and climbed back up the Gunnera stalk. At the top the stone castle still shimmered at the end of the winding road. Instantly he forgot his tiredness and his mission. Abandoning the fleece to its fate he set off once more for the castle. 'Magic mushrooms ... I'll show her.'
Madge was wielding a giant hoover in the hall. 'Oh, it's you is it? The chocolate coin thief. Bernard knew he was a bag short, so I knew where it had gone. He's not a happy giant today and he hasn't had his lunch yet and he's partial to a bit of roasted human in a sandwich. If he gets the smell of you, you'll be on the menu.' 'No chance,' said Jack confidently. 'He'll have to catch me first.' Madge shrugged and eyed him up. 'Reckon you'd make a nice roast with potatoes and veg around you. You'd go down a treat.' Jack was beginning to think this escapade might not be such a good idea after all and was about to back out when he heard 'Fee fie fo fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive or be he dead, I'll break his bones to make my bread.' 'Hells bells,' said Madge. 'He's home early, he must be hungry. Quick, get in the oven. He can't smell you in there.' Reluctantly Jack climbed in, hoping Madge's talk of roasting him was just that ... just talk. Madge went back to the table. 'Don't be such a plonker, Bernard. We don't eat Englishmen any more. You can have a Frenchman, we're not in the E.U. now.' 'Hmph' said Bernard. 'Too much garlic in a Frenchman. What's for lunch? I'm starving.' 'Pie and chips,' said Madge and put a huge plateful in front of him. Being a giant, Bernard had a big frame to fill. Jack grew very hungry watching Bernard munch is way through plate after plate of pie and chips. At last he finished and called to Madge to fetch his golden hen. 'And what did your last one die of? I am not your servant. Fetch it yourself, I'm busy.' 'I wouldn't pay that woman in washers if she was my servant,' grumbled Bernard as he fetched his golden hen. 'Lay me a golden egg,' he commanded the hen. Promptly she laid an egg. Jack's eyes widened in surprise. Indeed the egg was golden. Wow, he wanted a piece of this action. Gently stroking the hen, the giant fell asleep. Jack crept out of the oven and carefully removed the hen from the table. He tiptoed out of the room and once outside the castle, ran back to the Gunnera and shimmied his way back down into the garden.
His wife was weeding in the vegetable patch. Excitedly Jack put the hen down in front of her. 'Watch this,' he said, 'we're gonna be rich.' His wife raised her eyebrows sceptically. 'No-one ever got rich keeping hens. 'Lay me a golden egg,' Jack commanded the hen. The hen laid an egg. Just that, an ordinary egg. Jack eyed her in dismay. 'A golden egg, I said.' The hen laid another egg, an ordinary egg. 'What's with you,' said his wife. 'Chocolate, now eggs! I think you've lost the plot. And have you fleeced up the Gunnera plants yet?' 'No, I haven't. But I know there's gold to be had up there. Madge and Bernard ... they live in this amazing castle. You should see it. They must be as rich as anything. I tell you, that hen laid a golden egg for Bernard and if you'd seen the pie and chips he put away for his lunch ...' 'Mmm, definitely magic mushrooms,' said his wife. 'I'll have a look and see where you're getting them from and if you don't get those Gunnera fleeced up today, you won't be getting pie and chips either. In fact, you won't be getting anything.'
A mulish determination settled over Jack. He'd show her. The fleece was tangled up in the spiky stalks of the Gunnera. Once he had freed it, Jack set off once more. Standing on the path above the clouds he looked for Madge but she was nowhere to be seen. Jack slipped into the castle and wandered around the ground floor rooms, marvelling at the polished furniture and roaring fires burning in every fireplace. Coming into the kitchen he eyed one of the pies the giant could not manage at lunchtime. Hunger made him drool and he took a slice and stuffed it into his mouth. Pure heaven, Madge was a great cook.
Then the walls and floors started to shake as Bernard approached. 'Fee fie foe fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive or be he dead, I'll break his bones to make my bread.' Jack hid behind a large copper pot just as Madge appeared with dinner. She slapped it down on the table. 'Bernard! Change the record, for goodness sake. You're getting fixated. There's no-one here but me. Now eat your dinner and get out from under my feet. I've got work to do even if you haven't.' 'Well, I can smell an Englishman, I don't care what she says,' muttered Bernard, as he tucked into a mound of mashed potato and gravy. Jack eyed the stack of pork chops piled on a separate plate enviously. When he had finished, Bernard got up and bought a golden harp to the table. 'No good asking Madge to bring it,' he said. 'I might as well ask the cat and we haven't even got one. And anyway, she doesn't even like this music. Led Zepplin or Black Sabbath's more her stuff.' The golden harp started playing music and soon the giant dozed off. I'm with Madge on this one, thought Jack. That music is truly terrible, but a golden harp ... I bet that's worth a bob or two. Surely my wife won't turn her nose up at that. Jack crept to the table and picked up the harp. Immediately it stopped playing and Bernard woke up. 'I knew it,' he roared. 'A flaming Englishman and stealing my harp! Oh no you don't.' Jack kept tight hold of the golden harp and legged it. He could run much faster than the lumbering giant. He climbed back down the Gunnera, the sharp, hairy spikes gouging chunks out of his arms and legs. Up above, he saw Bernard peering down through the cloud base. 'Best get you and Madge on to your magic carpet,' shouted Jack. 'I'm gonna chop these Gunnera down. Time for you to move on.' Bernard roared and shook his fist at Jack, but there was nothing he could do. They were not earth dwellers and once again he had been outsmarted by an Englishman. Ten minutes later, Madge and Bernard took off on their magic carpet and Jack took an axe to the Gunnera. When she saw her precious plants in ruins, his wife wept. 'Now what are we going to do? However can we afford to replace them?' 'No worries,' said Jack. I just happen to have a golden harp here. It will fetch a bob or two, more than enough for a few Gunnera.' His wife looked at the harp. 'Gold paint, Jack. I don't know where you got it from, but they saw you coming. I think you need to go for a long lie down. That, or see a psychiatrist, or maybe both. Giants ... magic carpets ... castles in the clouds! I've found that patch of magic mushrooms, Jack, so there won't be any more nonsense with our next Gunnera.
Oh, won't there? Jack looked up to the sky. Madge and Bernard were up there somewhere ... The End
Goodbye, dear reader. Have a good week. I hope you are enjoying the summer holidays. If you're sitting out in your garden this week, look up to the sky. You never know, you might just spot Madge and Bernard passing by. Very best wishes to you.