The Furricious Gange Meet the Pole Cat
Martyn MacDonald Adams
Jeffrey knew he wasn't the tallest of the three teddy bears. He stood over thirty centipedes tall - if he remembered that correctly. Although come to think of it, they must be quite short centipedes. Maybe it was woodlice?
No. He was sure it was centi-somethings. But he was definitely over thirty tall, and that was the important bit. Humphrey was slightly taller being the oldest bear. Godfrey was, of course, the shortest because he was the youngest.
Jeffrey also knew that of all the gang, he was the bravest. Unless that is, he got scared or maybe even slightly scared, but then he became the fastest.
And right now Jeffrey was terrified by what he saw.
Now these three bears were known in their home town, as 'The Furricious Gang'. Let me explain the word 'Furricious', it's a word we don't have in our language but animals, particularly bunny rabbits, kittens and teddy bears, do.
When you meet an angry hissing cat - that's ferocious. It might scratch you. When you meet a snarling angry dog - that's ferocious too. It might bite you. But when you tickle a kitten's tummy and it bats its little paws at you and tries to nibble your fingers, that isn't ferocious at all, that's furricious. It's a 'trying-to-be-ferocious-but-not-really' sort of thing.
Likewise, when a little puppy jumps on a baby bunny rabbit and they both roll over and start batting at each other with their paws but their eyes are closed and they are really playing, well that's definitely being furricious because no-one gets hurt. At least, no-one is meant to get hurt.
But the thing in front of Jeffrey definitely wasn't furricious. It was loud, hungry and angry. It was definitely ferocious and what's more, it was being loud and angry between the Furricious Gang and their home. The three of them had gone for their usual early morning walk but now they were cut off. They couldn't get home to safety without creeping the long way round.
The gang live in a town called Godalming, in Surrey. They live underground through a secret entrance near the bandstand, near the church and close to the river. I can't tell you where exactly, because it’s a secret. We have to keep it a secret because if we didn't these three bears would have so many visitors they would soon run out of biscuits, even their chocolate ones, and that would never do.
Besides, dragons think that the word 'furricious' means furry and delicious, so the bears want to stay hidden from them. So let's keep it a secret okay?
The little gang stopped and peered around the stone wall. They watched the monster roaring as it ran up and down the field gobbling grass so fast that most of it sprayed up into the air.
"Is it a dragon?" asked Godfrey, peering from behind the wall.
"No." said Jeffrey, peering from behind Godfrey. "It's the Grass Muncher. Dragons have wings, breath fire and don't eat grass. It comes here every year, and sometimes during the summer."
"It's a bloody nuisance." grumbled Humphrey, peering from behind the others.
They watched it for a minute or two.
"Is it a monster?" asked Godfrey.
"Yes." said Jeffrey, because he knew the mostest, or at least he thought he did.
Godfrey sneezed. "Atchoo! Will it eat us?"
"Yuck!" said Humphrey, flicking a paw and frowning at Godfrey.
"But it's eating grass..."
"It's very angry. Probably because it can't find teddy bears to eat."
"Do Grass Minchers eat teddy bears?" Godfrey's eyes were filling with tears.
"Yes." said Jeffrey.
Humphrey sighed. "I wish the bloody council would tell us when they're going to mow the lawn." Humphrey ducked behind the wall. "We're stuck here for a bit."
Jeffrey ducked back beside Humphrey then realised that Godfrey was still staring at the Grass Monster but now he was doing it in plain view. He grabbed him and pulled back into safety.
Godfrey sneezed again and fell over backwards.
"Bloody hell Godfrey! Haven't you got a handkerchief?" Humphrey, the eldest of the three, seemed a little testy.
"Ye-es." snivelled Godfrey in a very small, squeaky voice.
"Then use it!"
"It's at home." he said, very quietly.
Humphrey's eyes flicked skywards for a moment. "Give me strength!"
"So you are going to fight the Grass Monster?" asked Jeffrey.
"Fight it? Don't be daft! It'd make mincemeat of me."
"I like mincemeat," said Godfrey remembering his last Christmas party.
Humphrey gave him a dirty look.
"Then why do you need strength?" It seemed to Jeffrey like a logical question and Jeffrey knew he was also the logical-est of the three bears.
"Never mind. We've got to find a place to hide before humans see us."
"We could sneak up on it..."
"Have you ever seen a teddy bear after a grass mower has finished with it?"
"I could make you a sword..."
"Ooh, ooh, ooh. I like playing swords!" Godfrey started hopping up and down with excitement - just before he sneezed a really strong sneeze and fell over backwards again.
"Godfrey!" The two other bears took out their handkerchiefs and started wiping themselves down.
"I think he's allergic to Grass Munchers." said Jeffrey.
"You think? Give him your handkerchief before I throw the little cretin to the mower as a small, snot flavoured breakfast snack!" Humphrey sat down and thought hard. "If we weren't so absorbent we could swim along the river, climb up the bank and make a dash for our door when the driver isn't looking."
"We could swim." suggested Jeffrey.
"Can you swim?"
"Uhm... we can learn, really, really quickly."
"Have you ever seen a soggy teddy bear swim?" Humphrey snarled. "They make a lot of ineffectual splashing as they gradually plummet to the bottom, never to be seen again. Not a pretty sight."
"I like splashing." offered Godfrey, just before another sneeze sent him flying backwards.
"We could make a submarine if we could find a pipe and a mirror for a periscope."
"Really?... A submarine. To travel fifty feet. Well, at least you don't lack imagina... But wait! We could make a raft. Follow me." Humphrey made a dash from the stone wall to the bank of the river beside the old road bridge. Jeffrey followed, and Godfrey followed a few seconds later - twice (he sneezed halfway through the first dash).
Now they were hiding behind the cover of the riverbank, Humphrey looked around.
"What we need now, is a plank of wood."
"Like that one on the other side of the river?" Jeffrey pointed across the river to a plank of wood.
"Perfect. Except its in the wrong place."
"I could swim across and get it?" offered Jeffrey.
"Can you swim?"
"Uhm... I can learn, really, really quickly."
"Have you ever seen a soggy Teddy Bear swim?" Humphrey snarled. "They make a lot of ineffect... wait a minute." He thought for a moment. "What we need is a shopping bag and string. We could put Godfrey in the bag, float him across the river until he reaches the other side. Then he could tie the string to the plank, float back here and then we can pull the plank over here, climb aboard and paddle down the river."
"Brilliant!" clapped Jeffrey.
"But we must be very careful. Plastic bags are very dangerous. If a child puts one over his or her head they could suffocate. It's all right for us teddy bears, but not for little children. They mustn't play with plastic bags."
So they searched for a plastic bag but they couldn't find one.
"I found some string!" Jeffrey ran up to Humphrey waving something wet and dangly in his paw.
"That's a worm!"
"Besides, mister fluff-for-brains, it's not long enough to cross the river. Even if you stretch it. No. What we need now is a rope."
"Or a pole?" suggested a voice from behind them. The three bears spun round to see a white cat sitting down and watching them.
"Hello." said Jeffrey.
"Hello." whispered Godfrey.
"Who are you?" asked Humphrey, warily.
"I'm new here. I just moved in. We're neighbours... I think." The cat started licking one of its paws then brushed one of its ears with it. She was wearing a small gold pendant that hung from a neat red leather collar.
"Welcome to Godalming, the town where weird things happen in secret. We live down there behind a secret door." Humphrey pointed towards their door. "So don't tell anyone. It's a secret. What's your name?"
"Snowy." she said, smiling in a friendly way and purring a little.
"This is Jeffrey, I'm Humphrey and the snotty one over there is Godfrey. So where do you live?"
Godfrey waved the, now somewhat wetter, handkerchief in greeting and Jeffrey edged towards Humphrey, just in case Godfrey's new handkerchief came too close.
"Over there, under the trees by the tall white pole, near the church."
"Ah. So you must be a pole cat?" suggested Jeffrey.
"Am I? Yes. Yes, I suppose I am. Although I'm not sure what the humans do with such a big pole. Do you?"
Humphrey shrugged but Jeffrey, who knew about such matters, explained.
"They do dancing." he said. "Or so I've heard. Every spring, I think. In May... maybe. I read about it. Special dancing. For fertility… I think."
The cat frowned. "Pole dancing?"
"Yes. They're a strange lot, humans. Especially in this town. They hang bits of cloth on the pole and call them flags." Jeffrey added, knowing that was a real fact and was indeed true. He didn't actually recall seeing anyone pole dancing in Godalming, but anyway sometimes things were far more interesting if they weren't actually seen. Like vampires, werewolves, witches, and angels. Perhaps they did their pole dancing late at night? Perhaps they danced naked under the moonlight? Who knew? Humans were such strange, scary, creatures.
The cat frowned. "Why do they hang bits of cloth on it?"
"They must have been naughty so the humans string them up as punishment. They used to do that to naughty people and they still do it to their underwear. I've seen it in their gardens. But I have also seen a kind old man sometimes sneak into a garden and rescue the smallest bits of ladies' underwear. He's a hero. But apart from him, mostly, they're a weird bunch, them humans."
The cat nodded sagely. Her previous owner, a little old lady, had purchased a little bird in a cage. Snowy naturally assumed it was a packed lunch meant for her owner's favourite feline. She was most surprised when the lady, upon finding the cage empty, Snowy covered in feathers and smiling from ear to ear, got really, really angry.
If her owner had wanted to eat the little morsel herself she should have said so! So Snowy had left home in a huff. She had to agree, humans definitely are a weird lot.
"Will you protect the pole? I think it's precious to the humans."
"I don't think so. It's too big for me."
"Oh dear. One would think the humans would look after their poles better, put them all together in one safe place - like a pole vault perhaps; or maybe they could return it from where it came?"
Humphrey slapped his forehead. "Yeh. Right! Return it to Pole-land? That's enough of the puns Jeffrey!"
Jeffrey looked confused while Humphrey turned to the cat.
"We need help Snowy. Can you help us? We need to go home. There is a monster lawnmower outside our door and we need to get past it."
"But I like buns." whispered Godfrey to Jeffrey not sure why Humphrey had said Jeffrey had had enough of them. He hadn't had any recently, and it was fast approaching the time when they should have finished breakfast. So he started looking for them, between sneezes of course.
"How can I help?" asked Snowy.
"Well, the current plan is to find some string and a carrier bag. We put Godfrey in the carrier bag and sail him across the river holding one end of the string. Then he gets out of the bag when he reaches the other river bank and ties it to the plank. Then we pull both the plank and Godfrey back here. Then we all jump on the plank and drift downriver until we're near our secret front door, then we all jump off and go home without being spotted by the lawnmower man."
Snowy thought for a moment.
"So you need a very long piece of string and a plastic carrier bag with no holes?"
"… and Godfrey drifts across the river, even though the river current will send him far downstream, and you're sure that absolutely no water will get into the bag and that Godfrey will magically know when to get out?"
Humphrey nodded half a nod then frowned.
"Then, somehow, Godfrey scrambles out of the carrier bag without falling in or losing the bag, and manages to drag the, by now very wet, string and then ties it to the plank - because Godfrey is an expert at tying knots?"
Humphrey looked blank, the gears of his fluff-based brain whizzing round very, very fast… well, fast for fluff anyway, which really isn't fast at all.
The cat looked across at Godfrey who was now rooting through the long grass looking for buns. He sneezed and did a backflip.
"I think one or two aspects of that plan are not properly thought through. Don't you?" She looked at Humphrey sideways.
Humphrey sat down heavily on the grass.
"You're right. Godfrey doesn't know how to tie knots." He said.
"Besides," suggested Snowy, "Wouldn't it be easier just to cross the bridge?"
"Brilliant!" Humphrey shot to his feet. "I should send Godfrey over the bridge."
The cat covered her eyes in exasperation. "No. No. No. You ALL cross the bridge, launch the plank, jump on it and drift downriver."
Humphrey though for a moment. "Even better. Yes! Why didn't I think of that? Godfrey! Jeffrey! Come here."
"Something to do with having fluff-for-brains?" she suggested, but quietly to herself so that they couldn't hear.
They made a dash across the bridge and appeared on the other side.
"Jeffrey, you grab one end and I'll grab the other." said Humphrey.
Snowy called out "Don’t forget..."
They lifted the plank. "One, two, threeeeeee..." yelled Humphrey
"...to think it..."
The plank struck the water with an enormous splash and quickly moved to the middle of the river before lazily drifting away.
"...through first." Snowy sighed, closed her eyes and shook her head.
Jeffrey looked at Humphrey's dismayed expression. "I think your plan was better. One should never trust the plans of a pole cat."
Humphrey nodded in agreement.
"Besides," explained Jeffrey "there might be alligators in the river. Perhaps we could make a submarine now? If we can find a pipe and a mirror for a periscope."
Humphrey spotted Godfrey, he was grinning from ear-to-ear and holding up a shopping bag.
"Well done Godfrey! Too late as usual, but well done anyway."
Godfrey dived inside the bag to search for buns. He didn't find any.
Humphrey clapped his paws. "That gives me an idea!"
"What?" Asked Jeffrey.
"We'll wear shopping bags over our heads as a disguise!"
Godfrey, now with the bag over his head and unable to see, was staggering round and round in circles - until he sneezed.
"But not that one." suggested Jeffrey.
"Snowy!" Humphrey called out. "Can you find us two more shopping bags?"
"Any particular colour?" she asked sarcastically.
"Any colour will do."
"Red please!" called out Jeffrey.
"With some buns in?" squeaked Godfrey, disappointed that he'd missed out on a treat earlier.
Snowy set off, not really intending to find any discarded bags. She just wanted to be away from these idiotic bears. Perhaps she could scrounge a breakfast from a human. She idly imagined a golden fish swimming in a bowl of milk, with maybe a cream topping and a little catnip on the side.
The Furricious Gang dragged their shopping bag back across the bridge to the river bank and waited for Snowy to return. After ten minutes, which is a very long time for teddy bears, Humphrey decided that one of them should set off to find more shopping bags so that each of them would have their own disguise.
As Godfrey had effectively made the inside of the bag his, what with the sneezing and all, he was volunteered to do the finding. So, wearing his disguise over his head, Godfrey set off along the path, past the church and into the graveyard.
What Humphrey quickly realised is that poor little Godfrey couldn't see where he was going. He kept banging into things, like gravestones and the wall, and he kept walking round in circles. In the end, Humphrey ran up and stopped him.
"What we need is..."
Just then Snowy appeared dragging two new carrier bags. "Don't ask me how or why. But I happened to find these. I thought they might be able to help."
"Brilliant! But I think we might have a problem," said Humphrey. "plastic bags like these are dangerous to children, they must have air holes - and we can't see out of them anyway."
"Come here." sighed Snowy, and she went to each one in turn and using her sharp claws she made big airy eye holes so that they could see out.
So Humphrey thanked her and invited her around to tea one day at their secret home. Then, safely wearing their new disguises, the three bears walked the long way home up to Church Street, along the paths to Great George Street hen back down the path to the Bowling Club. They managed this without being spotted, or eaten, by the Grass Muncher; but mainly because the driver of the lawnmower had stopped some time ago and had nipped into the high street for breakfast at the BBC (Bacon-Beans-and-Chips) place.
So, if you happen to be in Godalming early one morning and see three upside-down shopping bags strolling down the high street, you'll know it’s probably the Furricious Gang out for a walk. Please don't lift the bags off the bears though, there might be a dragon watching and dragon's think teddy bears are furry and delicious.
However, if you see a white cat with a red collar, then do wave hello. It might be Godalming's very own special pole cat.
...and if you happen to visit a certain place in Godalming at the bewitching hour in the middle of the night during the Spring Equinox on a leap year, you might just see the humans of Godalming pole dancing... and maybe, if it's a warm evening, they won't be wearing any clothes!