ONCE UPON A TIME there were three toads. Basically, they were happy toads but it must be said that on some days they had arguments, and sometimes one or another would wander off in disgust.
But today was one of the happy days.
Of course, it's very easy to be happy when the sun is shining and no one is causing any trouble, but unfortunately life can't always be like that, and things were about to change!
THE LARGEST TOAD was called Geoffrey. He was very majestic and wore a bow tie. He liked nothing better than a good cigar and a glass of port after his dinner, and loved telling everyone how easy it was to be majestic if you had lots of money and bow ties and port.
Geoffrey first came to prominence soon after coming down from Oxford with the publication of his definitive tome, "The Ribbit in English Literature 1900-1940". He accepted a Chair in Anthropomorphia only a few months later.
To be fair, Geoffrey had had something of a deprived spawnhood, having been rejected by his mother at a very early stage in his development. Quite rightly, he was proud of being a self-made toad. Everyone knew however that he could be very, very overbearing and rude if ever ANYONE let him have the upper hand.
ROGER, HOWEVER, had none of Geoffrey’s nastier little ways. Roger always tried to be a gentletoad, always offering those less fortunate than himself a seat on the bus and agreeing with everyone just to be polite. Roger's background was interesting.
His father had been a Lance-Toad in the STS, the toughest and most highly trained brigade of toads in the army. He had led many a squad of trainees in a mad dash across wet roads in the dead of night as part of their basic training, and young Roger had from his very earliest days heard blood-curdling tales of those who didn't make it. Even the Brigadier had commented to Roger on one of his frequent visits to Cattertoad Camp how he himself had seen Roger’s father limping home in the glorious dawn after the Battle Of The Wolseley Hornet. His father it was who appeared for many years on the famous poster of the toad in the gas mask, pointing at passers-by and saying "Your Country Needs You!". Such was the heritage that the young Roger had to live up to.
It's easy to say he should have been stronger - indeed for many years his father force-fed him on ladybirds, as he put it "to get some warts on your chest". But Roger was not cut out for Army life.
At the earliest opportunity he packed all his belongings in a spotted hanky and, with scarcely a backward glance, headed for the wide world and all the adventures it would bring. It was just a pity he was such a wimp.
THE THIRD TOAD was Jeremy.
Vienna of the thirties was a gay place indeed if you had position and fame. Jeremy's family had neither of these, and in any case, they didn't come from Vienna. Paris had been the home of the Teauds for many generations (the name was anglicised when the family settled in England after the War) and Pére Teaud was the archetypal 'black sheep'.
When he met Jeremy's mother, he was waiting on table at the notorious "Toadies Bergere". (A radical free-thinker, he had always argued that the naked body was nature's finest creation. This was before he saw a toad doing a fan-dance and began drinking himself into an early grave.) With her winning ways and delicate green complexion, this fresh young thing captivated him from the start and in little or no time they became inseparable.
Hard times followed as the couple left Paris to eke out a living as best they could on the inhospitable highways and byways of wartime France. Selling onions produced little more than pin money, and even their delightful musical comedy duet "Ah Yes, Ah Remembére Eet Well" brought about little interest from a fickle public.
Perhaps had they persevered, they would have received public recognition and acceptance. In the eyes of the Church however, their union could never be recognised as he was not a Catholic.
And of course there was the race question. She was a frog.
Jeremy was born shortly after their arrival in England. Schooldays at St. Amphibians were something of a trial, though it was not his fault that a fundamentally delicate constitution was made worse by over-protective parents. A combination of this and Jeremy being born into an uncertain world where only the fittest survive made him chronically, though endearingly, insipid.
GEOFFREY, ROGER AND JEREMY were sitting on a large clump of grass, looking out to sea.
Geoffrey, wearing his best bow tie, gazed up at the clear blue sky and with the air of one who knows said "It goes all the way to France, you know".
Roger turned to Geoffrey. "What does, Geoffrey?" he asked.
"The sky of course," snapped Geoffrey testily, "and what's more, when it gets there it comes all the way back".
"I'm sure you're right," said Roger, "but what is the sky for? I mean, what does it DO all day. And why isn't it always blue?" he added, showing Geoffrey that he too could think in the abstract.
"'To the weak-minded the sky is an enigma'. Shakespeare said that," said Geoffrey pompously. "Shakespeare was a great poet, and he knew all about skies. Shakespeare said that the sky is a great big sheet that lies over everything and flaps about in the wind".
"But did he say that it goes all the way to France?" asked Roger.
"He did. And in one of the most lyrical stanzas of his 'Ode To A Toad', he is quite clear that it also comes all the way back," added Geoffrey ominously. "Even Jeremy knows that, don't you Jeremy?"
"Oui," said Jeremy, betraying his ancestry in the stress of the moment.
"The sky," said Geoffrey heavily, but warming to his subject, "is basically Conservative. When things are going well, it is the truest of blue. Much of the time it is merely grey but sometimes, when things are becoming really unpleasant, it can appear quite red at the start of the day".
"I like clouds," said Jeremy, half to himself.
"Clouds," said Geoffrey with a withering air of finality, "are a very different story!"
Geoffrey stood up and stretched. "I'm going for a walk along the sand," he said. "Is anyone coming?"
Roger said what a good idea, and began gathering together the tea things. Toad’s picnics are well known for being messy affairs, and the vol-au-vent crumbs had gone everywhere.
"Jeremy," he said, "I want you to have picked up EVERY CRUMB you can find by the time Geoffrey and I get back from our walk". Roger would never have spoken this way if he had thought there was any chance at all of Jeremy answering back. "And don't forget to rinse the banana skins!"
Off the two hopped, Geoffrey slightly ahead, leaving Jeremy searching the sand and between blades of grass for the tiniest slivers of pastry.
Roger was not the fittest of toads, so it was not long before his hop started to lose some of its spring. Geoffrey of course had bounced well ahead in the first ten minutes, quite unaware of Roger dropping further and further behind. In fact, if Geoffrey hadn't seen something very unusual and stopped in his tracks he may well have lost Roger altogether. As it was, an exhausted Roger came upon Geoffrey staring up at what was undoubtedly the strangest object that either of them had ever seen.
"What is it?" gasped Roger, trying to get his breath back before Geoffrey hopped off again.
Geoffrey took out his reading glasses and moved closer to the sign at the bottom of the steps. "F O G H O R N," he read slowly. "Foghorn, foghorn, what is a foghorn?"
Toads don't actually have eyebrows, but if they did Roger would have raised his. "Don't you know?" he asked. This was the first time that he had ever suspected that Geoffrey didn't know absolutely EVERYTHING.
JEREMY WAS VERY BUSY.
Every grain of sand had been turned over and each blade of grass parted from its neighbour as all the crumbs were collected and carefully stored inside a sandwich tin. Jeremy was so engrossed that it came as something of a shock when a face appeared from between the last two tufts of grass he examined.
"Good mornin'," said the newcomer. "It be a glorious day for a picnic".
Jeremy racked his brains. He knew that face, and yet somehow he couldn't quite place where he had seen it before. There were clues of course - the eye-patch and the parrot on the sleek green shoulder - but Jeremy was truly at a loss. Luckily, he was saved the embarrassment of having to show his ignorance.
"I be Natterjack," said the face. He obviously felt that no further introduction was necessary. He was right.
"Great heavens," exclaimed Jeremy, "you're Natterjack, the right-hand toad of Blind-Eye Festiniog, the most feared pirate in the Caribbean". Jeremy had never met a celebrity before and was quite overcome by the thrill.
But then a cloud of suspicion came over him.
"Aren't you a long way from the Caribbean?" he said.
"I be on leave," replied Natterjack darkly. "Are you a friend of the fat frog with the bow tie?"
"Geoffrey is not fat, and he's not a frog," said Jeremy, surprised at his own boldness. "He is a well-built toad, and he is very wise and knows absolutely EVERYTHING."
Natterjack smirked. (Jung's well-known treatise 'Der Todenschmirken - Ein Perspektiv ' clarifies the anthropological significance of this expression, but Jeremy unfortunately had not read the famous text and therefore failed totally to see through the forthcoming deception.)
"He don't know what a Foghorn is," said Natterjack.
Jeremy had no wish to listen to what he was sure Geoffrey would regard as slanderous suggestions, and took the only course open to him to bring the conversation to an end. He offered Natterjack a vol-au-vent.
"Thank'ee, thank'ee," said Natterjack as Jeremy began to pick up the fresh crop of crumbs. "The pastry's uncommon light".
"Geoffrey baked them, and Roger and I helped," said Jeremy defensively. "Why are you hiding in the grass, anyway?"
"There be no good reason, save to look at the sea and the sky," replied Natterjack. "Nothing to do with treasure. Blind-Eye's thousands of miles away, and if any ship comes round yon point it certainly won't be the 'Incognito'," he said.
(The 'Incognito' was as well known as Blind-Eye Festiniog himself, having terrorised the Seven Seas whilst appearing to keep itself to itself.)
"Certainly Blind-Eye has no booty buried under that there foghorn," went on Natterjack, "and no one could say he's the kind to swing an innocent toad or two from the yardarm just because they got in his way. Why, Blind-Eye would write to the newspapers if anyone ever made such a suggestion!" he said.
Jeremy was reassured, and would have stayed that way had he not seen the pair of waterwings lying on the tuft behind Natterjack.
"I'll just tidy those away," said Jeremy, picking up the waterwings and turning them over to let the air out. "Why, they're still wet," he exclaimed.
It wasn't however until he saw the word 'Incognito' printed boldly on a sea of azure atop a rampant toad that a terrible sense of foreboding overtook him. Jeremy turned to look out to sea. There, nosing round Spawn Point, was what to all appearances was an inshore dredger. Even Jeremy saw through the illusion however, for fluttering at the masthead in the strong inshore breeze was the leek and crossbones. This was 'Incognito'!
Through a fog of mixed emotions - upholding the honour of the Teaud family name and the almost overwhelming desire to finish the washing-up - Jeremy knew exactly what he must do. Casting the waterwings aside, he raised his head to utter that chilling primal ribbit that for ever remains dormant throughout the lives of most toads, and set off pell-mell along the sand in search of Geoffrey and Roger.
"Curses!" cried Natterjack. "Ah well, qué sèra sèra". He selected another prawn vol-au-vent. "It's turned out quite nice again," he said.
"IT’S MIS-SPELT," said Geoffrey.
"How do you mean?" asked Roger.
Geoffrey had been puzzling over the strange word, and had obviously come to a conclusion.
"FROGHORN!" he said. "That's what it should say. It's mis-spelt".
Geoffrey put his nose in the air and turned away. Roger knew Geoffrey's opinions of frogs and wasn't prepared to argue. It wasn't that Geoffrey was prejudiced, he just had the firm conviction that all frogs were lazy, unreliable and slimy to an unacceptable degree. Roger believed that you should speak as you find, but he knew Geoffrey's views only too well and had always found it best to speak up in support.
"Frogs are no use at sea, you know," continued Geoffrey. "They panic at the first breath of wind, and have no sense of direction. Toads on the other hand have been known since earliest times to be sailors and navigators par excellence. Take this vessel" droned Geoffrey, oblivious to Roger's stifled yawn and indicating a bright yellow pedalo drawn up on the beach. "You and I could take this to sea blindfolded and still find our way back to this self-same spot".
"I'm sure you're right," said Roger "but it's not our pedalo and anyway we toads have nothing to prove, have we? It might even belong to a frog," he added.
Roger knew immediately he’d said the wrong thing! Geoffrey's eyes gleamed.
"A frog's pedalo!" he exclaimed. "By George, you could be right. Look at the colour. How could anyone of breeding choose yellow!" Geoffrey pulled a napkin from his pocket and jumped into the drivers seat.
"Blindfold me!" he said to Roger. "We're going for a trip in the bay!"
HOPPING AT TOP SPEED along the sand, Jeremy had no time to wonder why Geoffrey and Roger were half-a-mile out at sea, blindfolded, in a yellow pedalo. All he could see was 'Incognito' slowly turning to port, the leek and crossbones fluttering atop her mainmast. How could he warn Geoffrey and Roger of their impending fate?
Arriving at the foot of the foghorn, Jeremy thought fast. A ribbit wouldn't carry all that way across the water, but he had to attract their attention somehow. With a flash of inspiration, he scampered up the steps of the tower and found himself confronted by a huge scallop-shaped horn pointing out to sea. Quickly Jeremy traced the pipes and tubing round in circles until he came to what he knew must be the mouthpiece of the horn.
He could never explain whether it was a hereditary power in the diaphragm (his mother and father had been notoriously loud singers) or a long-suppressed wish to play the tuba, but when Jeremy blew that foghorn even the fishes put their fingers in their ears. 'Incognito' stopped in her tracks and the yellow pedalo turned round and hurried back to the beach without Geoffrey or Roger even touching the tiller!
"What was that?" spluttered Geoffrey, as the pedalo bumped onto the sand.
"Quick!" said Jeremy, pulling their blindfolds off and dragging Geoffrey and Roger ashore. He needn't have worried. As all three looked out to sea 'Incognito' turned tail and, in the guise now of a millionaire's schooner, began her long and leisurely journey south to the sun. Only the distant sight of Blind-Eye Festiniog shaking his fist for all he was worth reminded them of how close they had come to death and disaster, and probably also to missing their tea.
Of course, the Coastguard came to see what all the noise had been about, but not before Geoffrey, Roger and Jeremy had uncovered Blind-Eye's treasure under the floor of the old Foghorn. Jeremy was the hero of the hour and, whilst he did try very hard to fend off the media pressure, eventually gave an interview to Kirsty Wark for ‘Newsnight’ with all his friends looking on.
Even Natterjack was there.
"Wasn't that nice?" he said.
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