I was delighted, the other day, to become reacquainted with my collection of the Puffin Post magazine, which I had not clapped eyes on since the last century. Launched in 1967 by Puffin Books editrix Kaye Webb (ex-wife, incidentally, of Ronald Searle), Puffin Post was a quarterly magazine for bookish tinies. My collection comprises the fourth and final issue of Volume One, and Volumes Two to Four complete, thus thirteen issues in total. I have been taking my time in browsing through them, savouring the memories they summon.
It occurred to me to transcribe certain choice items for the edification, instruction, and amusement of you lot, and I thought I had found the perfect item to start with when, in that very first issue, I came upon a story entitled The Potato With BIG Ideas. We take our potatoes seriously at Hooting Yard, as you know. Alas, the tale – by Alf Proysen, author of Little Old Mrs Pepperpot – turned out to be rather humdrum. It is certainly not a patch on the potato-based yarn drawn to my attention by Salim Fadhley, A Potato That Wasn’t A Christian. One cannot help thinking that the authors of potato stories for children have a very weak grasp of the nature of actual potatoes. I would bet there is not a potato on the planet which (a) has ideas of any kind, or (b) is a confessor of any of the major religious faiths. And remember, I have studied potatoes intensely, so I should know.
Anyway, back to the Puffin Post. In Volume 2, No. 2, I did find what I was looking for, an absolutely rip-roaring story by Janet Aichison (age 5 and a half) entitled The Pirate’s Tale. It bears comparison with some of Bertolt Brecht’s early piratical short stories. Here it is:
Once upon a time there were some bad pirates. They sailed to a mountain. They dug in the mountain and found gold and silver. The mountain was a volcano.
They saw a bit of volcano then they ran back to their ship and they sailed away to their mountain and hid the gold and silver in their cave and guarded the treasure. A dwarf stole the gold and silver. The pirates woke up and killed the dwarf. The pirates got the gold and silver and the dwarf’s gold and silver.
The king dwarf sent an army to fight the pirates and to hurt the pirates. Who knows which side won the battle? The pirates! The pirates caught the king dwarf and they killed him and they threw him into the sea. A whale threw him up again and the pirates threw him down again. A shark came along and ate him up. The pirates laughed to see the dwarf being eaten up by the shark.
One day the pirates found a crab. It pinched a pirate. The pirates screamed to see the crab. The pirates ran away to the ship and sailed to the mountain and got the guns and killed the crab and the pirates laughed.
One day the pirates found a rat and killed it. The pirates had a cat and the cat ate the rat and the cat died. The pirates looked sad. A pirate found a house and opened the door and went in. It was dusty. He tidied it and dusted it. The pirate found a mouse and gave the mouse a piece of cheese. The cheese was magic.
The pirate said “Oh dear. The cheese is magic. I shouldn’t have given the mouse the cheese.” The mouse died.
One day the pirates found a forest. The forest was bewitched. The pirates went in the forest. The pirates turned into frogs and leapt about all over the place and croaked, trying to talk.
One day the pirates found some children. The pirates kept the children for their wives to cook for them. The wives cook nice things for the pirates. The pirates liked the food and ate it all up. The pirates liked the fish best. They caught the fish themselves from the sea.
One day the pirates weren’t very well. The pirates had mumps. They were very ill. One day the pirates got better and sailed away to the mountain and saw a shark and killed it and the pirates’ new cat said, “meow meow”. The pirates said, “Be quiet, new cat.”
One day the pirates found a ship. The ship had some gold and silver. The pirates stole the gold and silver. The gold and silver is magic.
The pirates died. The cat died.
A work of some genius, I think. In the unlikely event that the now middle-aged Janet Aichison chances to read this, I hope she will leave a comment.
She sounds like a wonderful child. I imagine the adults in her life – parents, teachers, an assortment of grim aunts, a clergyman – were appalled to read her story in the Puffin Post and set about civilizing her. She grew up to be a very ordinary, repressed person who couldn’t imagine anything exciting ever happening to her. Until one day, thanks to Hooting Yard, she was put in touch with her inner child.
If I ever get another pet cat, I am definitely going to call it “New Cat”.
Amazing, genius, hilarious!