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Mr Scrubbly set his big brass alarm clock for two o’ clock in the morning. A time he knew Mrs Grubbly would be fast asleep and snoring like a big, fat porker with a heavy cold and flappy rubber nostrils. It would take a gigantic herd of very cross hephalumps – as she called them – to come stampeding through her bedroom banging big iron saucepans to wake her up at that time of night. And even then she wouldn’t get out of bed. Even for the Queen of Sheba. Then Mr Scrubbly set his TeasMaid for four minutes past ten, just to make sure he’d be up in time to carry out his deviously clever, secret plan to catch Mrs Grubbly at it. Only he put coffee in the pot instead of tea, for a nice change.
Even though he knew it would be very dark, and a bit scary at that time of the morning, he had a deviously clever, secret plan that nobody knew about. Except Mrs Dumply the postmistress. He’d let it out to Mrs Dumply in all his excitement, while feeding stale breadcrumbs to the ducks on the pond in Never Ditchwood Public Park next to the separate, enclosed, recreation facility for children under ten accompanied by adults. He made her swear not to tell anybody, and cross her heart and hope to die if she did. But even if she did tell, he hoped she wouldn’t die really, even though it wouldn’t be his fault. And he would tell Sergeant Strickly of the Never Ditchwood Constabulary exactly that if he came round with a few questions to ask. That was if Mrs Dumply did tell someone, and got hit by a double decker bus while crossing the road without looking. Which would serve her right in any case for telling.
Mr Scrubbly’s deviously clever, secret plan was to get up as soon as the alarm went off, and put his favourite, green Christmas dressing gown over his stripy blue pyjamas with the hole in one elbow, and creep downstairs in his fluffy slippers with the Roland Rat heads, which were a bit matted since the steaming hot cocoa incident, and sit on his spindly, hard wood chair, sipping his cup of coffee, waiting.
Waiting for Mrs Grubbly to appear. Because Mr Scrubbly was almost absolutely, practically one hundred per cent, nearly certain, that Mrs Grubbly was getting up to her tricks again. Not even that, because Mr Scrubbly was definitely, no-doubt-about-it, almost absolutely, one hundred and one per cent, nearly certain – and you can’t be any more nearly certain than that – that Mrs Grubbly was getting up in the middle of the night to move his glasses, and other things, round the house to different places, other than where he had put them so he would remember exactly where they were. But they weren’t.
And then Mr Scrubbly got into bed. He switched off the bedside lamp with the curly wood stick that you could run your finger down like a helter-skelter. Round and round, you could run it, from top to bottom without hitting a knobbly bit even though it looked very knobbly. Five minutes later, Mr Scrubbly switched on his bedside lamp and got out of bed. He looked very worried indeed. As worried as the day Mr Slivvery, the ratcatcher had sent Mrs Grubbly an unsolicited, anonymous Valentine’s card out of the blue without telling him until it was too late.
He wasn’t at all sure whether it was allowed to put coffee in the TeasMaid. After all, it wasn’t called a TeasandCoffeeMaid. He looked in his bedside drawer for the book of instructions. And then remembered that he had lent it to Mrs Dumply, the postmistress, to wedge in her wardrobe door, which kept opening, until she got something more permanent. He had done it as a very special favour so she wouldn’t let on to Mrs Grubbly about the deviously clever, secret plan he slipped out by mistake while feeding the ducks on the pond in the park with stale breadcrumbs. He would have to put a teabag in his TeasMaid to make sure not to get into trouble with the manufacturing company, and not to fret about it. He sighed. Mr Scrubbly had been looking forward to a mug of steaming hot coffee.
Then Mr Scrubbly had another dilemma. He looked down at his stripy blue pyjamas and noticed they were creased. And after he had ironed specially for the occasion. He tried to smooth them with his hands. And then he stretched them down till his chin was on his knees to hook the bottoms over his big toes. His pyjama legs looked very smooth then. As smooth as sailing boat sails. He imagined them full of wind sailing on the ocean waves. All that lovely water at the seaside. And then he wanted to go to the toilet to empty his bladder.
Mr Scrubbly came back from the toilet and got back into bed. And then he remembered he had forgotten to pull the chain. Mr Scrubbly went back to the toilet to pull the chain. It was a good job he remembered, he thought, as he climbed into bed a third time. And then he remembered he’d forgotten to wash his hands. He was almost not going to bother when he remembered about germs, and how unhygenic they were, even though you couldn’t see them. And then he thought that he’d better wash his hands, just to be sure, in case he got a bad case of germs. Mr Scrubbly was almost asleep when he remembered the guarantee.
The guarantee for the TeasMaid came separate from the instruction book, and he hadn’t lent that to Mrs Dumply to keep her other wardrobe door closed because, luckily for him, the wardrobe only had one door. Mr Scrubbly smiled craftily. You had to get up early in the morning to catch a Scrubbly out, his mother had always told him. And she was right.
It was sure to say on the guarantee whether it was allowed to put coffee in the TeasMaid, or even hot milky drinks. Not that he wanted a hot milky drink, but he might next time. All he had to do was remember where he’d put it. He knew that it would be in a safe hiding place, and that gave him loads of comfort. But where was that safe hiding place? The safest hiding place in the house used to be in the flowery teapot with the cracked lid and leaky spout that stood on the windowsill beneath the stained glass window, with the picture of a galleon on the high seas, downstairs by the front door.
That was right up until Mrs Grubbly made a pot of tea in it after the brown pot with the blue stripe broke in an unavoidable Maunday Thursday accident when the vicar called and gave her such a fright. He had come round to ask whose bike it was leaning against the vicarage gate, when he noticed his shoelace had come undone. After bending down to tie his shoelace he bent up just as Mrs Grubbly opened the door holding the steaming hot, brown teapot, with the blue stripe, in one hand. As the vicar’s head hit it, it knocked off his beret, and the boiling tea went all over the place. His scalp was scalded and they had to telephone for the ambulance. What a kerfuffle that was. The brown teapot with the blue stripe broke into so many pieces it would be impossible to glue them together again. That teapot was Mr Scrubbly’s favourite. He liked it even more than the Elvis Presley teapot that was a souvenir from Las Vegas he bought at a secondhand shop in Brighton. It was the worst Maunday Thursday Mr Scrubbly could remember since the one when his grandad told him about how the Ttitanic sank and all those people died. He didn’t sleep properly that night for the nightmares he suffered and woke on Good Friday morning with enough of a headache to warrant a junior aspirin with half a tumbler of water.
Anyway, Mrs Grubbly went to make a pot of tea to calm the vicar down in the flowery teapot with the cracked lid and leaky spout, forgetting that was the secret hiding place where Mr Scrubbly kept his special birthday, lucky five-pound-note, which got soaked with the hot, Assam tea, they kept for really important visitors on special occasions. And as the vicar didn’t visit so often, this was one such, despite the unfortunate circumstances that had prompted the occasion to come to pass.
After that Mr Scrubbly had to think about a new, safest hiding place that not even Mrs Grubbly would know about. Somewhere she wouldn’t think to make hot tea. Something nobody never, ever used, in somewhere nobody never, ever went. Immediately, all the fluff and dust under Mrs Grubbly’s bed came to mind. She was far to plump and round to get under there so never, ever did. It was the last place anybody would look.
The ancient chamber pot under Mrs Grubbly’s bed had never been used for as long as anyone could remember. Not that Mr Scrubbly was going to ask, for fear of giving things away. But things don’t always work out quite as well as Mr Scrubbly would expect them to. And, as not expected, things didn’t work out quite as well as expected that very first night after Mr Scrubbly chose the chamber pot under Mrs Grubbly’s bed for the secret hiding place for his special, birthday, lucky five-pound-note. What with all the excitement of the vicar’s surprise, unannounced visit, and the misfortune that had accompanied it, as luck would have it, for the very first time ever in history, Mrs Grubbly had an emergency, and Mr Scrubbly’s special birthday, lucky five-pound note received another severe soaking.
“That special birthday five pound note will bring you luck one day. Mark my words,” Mrs Grubbly pronounced as she watched Mr Scrubbly hanging it out on the washing line to dry a second time. But it hadn’t so far. “You’ve got to give it time,” Mrs Grubbly kept reassuring him.
Suddenly, Mr Scrubbly was hit by a massive brainwave, and he sat up in bed. It would in the biscuit tin, with the Victorian Mail Coach on the lid, that’s where the TeasMaid guarantee would be. Mr Scrubbly had finally managed to get his mind onto other more cheerful things. That was the second-most safest hiding place after Mrs Grubbly’s chamber pot had turned out not to be so safe after all.
Along with the perished elastic bands and odd buttons that were bound to come in handy one day, there was the Belgian franc he was going to start his foreign coin collection with, when he got round to it, and the French stamp Aunty May had sent on a postcard while on a day trip abroad. “They really do drive on the wrong side of the road on purpose,” she reported when she got back. “I’m surprised we didn’t have more accidents.”
The biscuit tin with the Victorian mail coach on the lid stood on the windowsill beneath the window with the stained glass picture of a galleon on the high seas downstairs, next to the flowery teapot with the cracked lid and leaky spout, which, among other household items, Mr Scrubbly was trying to erase from his memory. Mr Scrubbly got out of bed and crept downstairs as quiet as a mouse wearing woolly bootees.
At the same time as he crept, Mr Scrubbly tried very hard not to think of bogeymen creeping about in the dark downstairs. But the trouble with trying very hard not to think of bogeymen creeping about in the dark downstairs sets you to thinking about bogeymen creeping about in the dark downstairs. Mr Scrubbly was thinking very hard about bogeymen creeping about in the dark downstairs, when he thought he heard a bogeyman creeping about in the dark downstairs. He switched the electric light on because he knew that made them disappear. There was Mrs Grubbly with a torch looking in the biscuit tin with the Victorian mail coach on its lid.
“What are you doing at this time of night?” he asked Mrs Grubbly.”You almost gave me the fright of my life.”
“I’m looking for biscuits,” said Mrs Grubbly. “And all I can find is elastic bands and useless bits of paper.”
“I hope you haven’t thrown anything away,” said Mr Scrubbly. And even by the torchlight he could see Mrs Grubbly going bright red.
Copyright © 2014 Bryan Hemming
Une fois. Encore.
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