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"The Curse of Catnip"

A Flintloque Short Story by Roger Willcox

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A story of far away places with strange sounding names and Goblins with equally strange sounding names, as narrated to Roger Willcox (whos name is not at all strange unless you happen to be a Goblin!) by Lord Rogipoos Willorcs.

Uncle Rogipoos painted and based by Tony Harwood

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Aha! There you are my good friend. Now you you may wonder why I am looking at this globe thing of all Valon. Well it`s because in my youth I travelled to far off parts including the exotic Orient! Aesha! Ah! Even the name conjures up images of deep jungles, towering mountains, fabulous palaces, and all sorts of stuff like that. (Oh and partying Yetis. Yetis love to have a good time but more of that on another occaision ). The story that I am about to relate regards the peninsula of Vietamin, which protrudes into the South Chinn Sea rather like a beard might protrude from the chin of a Miaowderin Catman. Ha ha, Chinn….chin…oh well I thought it was funny but never mind! It all started with a bit of a muddle in Kin Kon, that prosperous Britorcan colony so envied by the other nations of Valon who wish that they had a colony that was as good, but perhaps not quite so crowded. It really is a busy place you know! However before I go off at a tangent, whatever that is, possibly a Gentlorc who has been sitting in the sun for a bit, I shall refer you to “Thomas Crook`s travellers` guide to Aeshea”, an essential for any traveller to those parts.

Now where are we? Oh yes, in my study at Willorcs Hall. Ha ha, nice one me! Let us see…hmmm…. Vuh for Vietamin, now that comes after kuh for Kin Kon and nuh for Naffal but before Yuh for Yubet. Ah here it is. Ahem, just clearing my throat there.

“Vietamin. Peninsula shaped like a Miaowderin`s beard sticking in to the South Chinn Sea. (I wonder where I heard that before?). The capital city is Saigo noted for it`s milk pudding and the rather unusual practice of choosing, once a year, the prettiest maiden residing in the city to be Miss Saigo and a concubine of the King. One might say that the process of selection is a concubine harvester. After her term of office is over (on the festival of Tat, during which Saigoans try to sell items that they no longer like or require to visiting travellers) the young lady is expelled from the city and becomes Miss Saigo gone. Saigo pudding is actually rather sweet but its appearance, likened to the contents of the handkerchief of a Cool Li with a severe head cold, is a trifle off putting.

At present the country is ruled by the Muc Dynasty of Nngoon having defeated the Trinh Lords in a civil war. During this dreadful conflict the Nngoons attempted to destroy their rivals by slaughtering any of their foe`s Wogobs (Female Goblins) who were unfortunate enough to fall into their hands. These innocent females were elevated by the Buddyist monks of the area to the status of Saint Trinhians.

Catatonic missionaries from Urop were sent to Vietamin in…..well…a long time ago. Unfortunately many of them adopted the local habit of smoking catnip which turned them from Catatonic to Comatose. This just made matters worse as both groups of evangelising priests took different sides in the civil war. The Catatonics to the Trinh and the Comatose to the, eventually victorious, Nngoons. The current ruler is King Bigg Muc, who`s personal hygiene is somewhat dubious so his name is rather fitting. Beefy in build, somewhat “cheesy” of nature, his role is somewhat seedy and he surrounds himself with a coleslaw type mix of  assorted sycophantic courtiers thus leading to unflattering references to “ the Bigg Muc and flies” by his people.

As for geography the central part of the country is highlands and the rest jungle. Between the two runs the mighty Mecon river which is the major transport route of Vietamin. This is no wonder when one looks at the jungle which is very thick. By this I mean thick as in dense, by which I mean dense not as in thick. Perhaps “luxuriant” would sum it up better. Not only is the jungle thick, (we won`t go through that again) it is hot, steamy, smelly and generally not at all nice. There are also lots of very nasty insects and other unpleasant creatures that seem determined to bite, scratch, nip, poison or sting the unwary traveller. We do not recommend a visit.

Vietamin exports black pepper, which is one of the reasons for the traveller not to ask a Cool Li if  one might borrow his handkerchief. (See previous note on Saigo pudding). Sneezing amongst Cool Li Goblins has become almost an art form resulting in the Cool Li joke:-

First Cool Li: “Hey dude* do you call that a sneeze?”

Second Cool Li: “No fellow dude, it`s not!”

Both Cool lis: Ha ha ha!

*Dude, Buddyist and Cool Li slang for “honoured friend”.

The Cool Lis of Vietamin are renowned for their very relaxed attitude to life and just about everything so the traveller should never be in a hurry to get anything done. Such an approach is likely to result in the Cool Li concerned just raising both hands, the first two fingers in a V shape, and a retort along the lines of “Hey dude, hang loose, love and peace, no need to be heavy. Like negative, like bad scene dude! Hey try a blast of this!” Upon which he will produce some catnip and offer the visitor a “took” or puff of their catnip pipe. In such case the traveller will discover that whatever they were wanting done in a hurry is not at all urgent after all! This will possibly end up with the newcomer telling the Cool Li that he loves him, desires to wear flowers in his hair, don colourful apparel, giggle and eat biscuits. Catnip should be avoided by the traveller at all costs unless he wishes to live communally, sire a lot of children by an assortment of  different fegobs, change his name to “Forest-child”*  and never get anything, other than make jewellery from old nails or finger knitted string and bead bracelets and necklaces, done.

*Or something similar.

Thus catnip, grown by farmers in jungle clearings, often for Foo Cat Choo`s notorious Zee Zee Tong, has led to a stagnation of the economy of Vietamin (apart from the jewellery from old nails and colourful string and bead work).

Other exports include coffee, tea and rubber but, surprisingly, not jute! I know that this may be somewhat of a shock for, as every schoolsprog knows, that when it comes to a Geography examination, any question that starts with, “Name the major exports of ……” jute is a pretty strong contender when it comes to getting it right! (I found that fixing a guinea to my exam script with sealing wax worked rather well too).

The cuisine of Vietamin is an unusual fusion of Armorican and Chinnese and is, as in Chinn, usually eaten using sticks. At least, unlike Chinnese “Tayway” the dishes do have names!* Pork predominates and most Vietamin families own a pig. These large, pot bellied, intelligent and affectionate animals are often treated like pets but, sadly for Mister Piggy, it doesn`t stop them ending up as dinner!

*The traveller should, however, be a little cautious if “Deep fried pork balls in batter” are on the menu. He may get something that he had not bargained for!

Interestingly enough the Vietaminese Buddyists revere a Pig Goddess called Miss Piggie, a beautiful, blue eyed sow who can become aggressive if her companion, a frog named Ker Mi, is threatened.

As the countries of Urop began to vie for colonies in Aesha the relaxed, catnip induced, nature of the Vietaminese made them an easy target for Armorican colonisation. The small Vietaminese army (recruits were rare amongst the catnip using Cool Lis since “war is, like, un-cool dude. Make love, not war”, was no match for the Armoricans and soon Bigg Muc became little more than a puppet in the hands of the Emperor Mordred`s  Department of Colonies”.

So, there is the stage set, however, there was one slight hiccup. It all started because of a toothbrush!*

*Invented by the Orc Williorc Addis.

“Aha!” I hear you say, “Uncle Rogipoos is pulling our legs, a toothbrush causing a bother in far away places! Ho ho! Very funny and amusing!”

Ah well, good friends, read and learn!

Teeth are jolly useful things, I mean to say, without them one would be reduced to a diet of soup, custard, ice cream and other soft foods to “gum”. Of course some folk end up without teeth for a variety of reasons which we won`t go into here or we`d be all day discussing it. If you are seriously interested may I suggest “Tooth loss today” by Dennis Tist which covers just about everything one might want to know about it, from a punch in the gob to scurvey!

Many folk who end up dentally challenged end up having spring loaded false gnashers made from metal, wood, ivory or, rather gruesomely, pottery with the teeth removed from dead soldiers (and other persons who may or may not be dead at the time). Indeed, those who fall upon hard times often sell their teeth after having them pulled out! One gathers that Emma Hamiltorc, mistress of the great Admiral Nelsorc, was on her way to have this done when the “Lady” who ran a “Maison des Poses Plastique”* spotted her and offered her a job.

*An entertainment for gentleorcs which, Harry informs me, involves a large white sheet back lit with lanterns between which stands a young, erhem, “lady” who, in an artistic and tasteful way, removes all her clothing to music! Gosh! Poor girl might catch a cold!

So, teeth are jolly useful. I must say that I am somewhat proud of my white, shiny tusks. The prettiest teeth that I have ever seen belonged to the extremely lovely Countess Scarletya, her, rather long, canines being particularly noticeable. Ah, my dear Natalie, now there hangs a tale, a part of which you may well know. Not that I mean that she had a tail, no, I mean tale as in story. Sadly our love was, as Bill Shakesticke put it, “star crossed”. Ah well, perhaps I will tell you at another time. However, it does contain an element of soppiness and lovey dovey stuff  so I shall leave it at that.

Anyway, it used to be that if you wished to clean your teeth you used a damp cloth around your finger, dipped it in salt, soot or ash and rubbed the old “teggies” on them. Mister Addis, a clever cove if there ever was, invented a stick with bristles at one end. Tah dah! The tooth brush was born!

Now, how did this, most useful device cause such a bother? I shall now reveal all. Erhem, not that I am about to perform a “Pose Plastique”! No I shall tell you all about the trouble it caused. Now read on……

As you well know I am not the sort of Orc to beat about the bush. First it upsets the bush and second there doesn`t seem to be a lot of point in doing it. Now, I know that trees are often scary but I don`t think that I`ve ever come across a bush that needs a lesson in manners! So there! Ha ha, nice one me. However I need to digress a bit from the plot in order to clarify certain things and possibly make things clearer. As you well know now that most blank bits of the map of Valon are being filled in, mostly in a nice shade of pink, by intrepid explorers (many of whom seem to be Joccians) just about everybody is trying to grab bits of  far flung places and colouring bits of the map in their favourite colour. They`re all at it, particularly Great Britorcan. However we are not alone! Oh no, ever since the so called “Age of Let`s Find Out What`s Out There” The Catalucians, Al-Garveyans, Neopolise, Krautians and just about everybody else including us has been landing on some shore somewhere, sticking up a flag and saying “Huzzah! This belongs to us now.” What the locals think is beside the point. However it is a solemn duty, we are told, to bring “civilisation” to these “wild” folk. One must admit that some of them are pretty wild and do things that one would not wish to have as a local tradition in one`s own locality! I mean to say, having all your wives jump onto your funeral pyre (they call it Sooty for some reason), strangling people with scarves weighted with a coin, cutting out some poor bod`s heart and such just isn`t on! The wildest lot of all are, of course, the Yetis of the HippieliarMountains, especially the ones from the High Uns Spag valley. Now these chaps really are wild but in a nice way! For them life is just one long party and, if you ever are invited to one, you will have the time of your life! Singing, dancing, eating, drinking and Sentinel knows what else. Yahoo! No party is complete without singing “The Funky Yeti” (don`t ask, I don`t know what “funky” is either but it is something desirable amongst Yetikind) and doing the dance, the “High Uns Spag Yeti Polonaise”. But I digress.

Now, there are different ideas as to what the colonisation of a foreign land should be. Britorcan favours a policy of “Paternalism” whereas just about all the rest go for “Mercantilism”.

Now I am going to have to generalise a bit here about the difference. In theory Paternalism means taking your new colony, supporting the local rulers who like you, bashing the ones you don`t, shipping desirable stuff like cotton, spices and such home to Britorcan but using some of the wealth gathered to set up banks, local industry and stuff in the colony. The idea being that the “Mother Country” acts like a responsible parent and eventually lets the colony stand on its own two feet with a certain amount of guidance. This can go wrong as with our Amercan colonies who grew up a lot faster than was expected and got a bit miffed, quite rightly, about paying taxes to us but not getting a say in anything. This resulted in tea being thrown about and some general ruckus!

Never mention the loss of the Amercan colonies to King Gorge, he gets in a right old state about it. A pity about the unpleasant  bits, Mister Benson, the Amercan Ambassador to Londinium, is a

splendid chap! I always enjoy “do”s at their embassy in Gross Vender Square, always lots to eat! I noticed at the last one that there were some new paintings displayed on the walls (well you wouldn`t leave them on the floor, would you?). I thought that they  were splendid but the Thymes, so called, “art critic”, a Mister Brian Sewerall, referred to them as “Yankee doodles”. Cheek!

By contrast, Mercantilism, runs the colony for profit of the colonising country and if the locals don`t like it well that`s just tough! This is, of course, a bit of a simplification and generalisation but it does go to explain a bit about why there was trouble in Vietamin and eventually explain how a toothbrush got caught up in it all.

Back to the nitty gritty! Huzzah! Harry, my wife Xenophobia and I had set out on a voyage from Aegyt on an Eastvalonman the “Compound Interest” as I remember. A fine vessel I must say crewed by jolly tars and captained by an experienced Captain. He must have been since we only got lost twice which isn`t at all bad when you consider the fact that we were out of sight of land most of the time. So we made the best of it with unscheduled stops at Jiva where they grow very good coffee beans and dance a rather racy  dance called the “Jiva” and there is an unusual insect called the “Jitter Bug” which, the locals say suffer from severe anxiety which is why they are seldom seen), and Crackertoe, which, after being lost for a couple of days, a stop over went with a bang! Huzzah! The Captain (Fogg by name) apologised for the fact that he`d got us lost but explained that firstly, he was not very good at sums, secondly, his charts had lots of blank bits on them or “Here be Dragons” which is not terribly helpful unless you visit Sinatra, an island that has lots of “Comode Dragons” which are extremely large lizards who will eat you at the drop of a hat! (So it`s best not to wear one, a hat that is, if you ever visit) and thirdly, that he had never been able to tell his port from his starboard. Ah well nobody is perfect.

Fortunately there was a lot of wind about, which I put down to the pickled cabbage, and we reached Kin Kon on time. It was here that the toothbrush first raised its bristly head!

We had taken rooms at the “Oriental Meaowderin Hotel” which is the finest in all Kin Kon. In the Orient there are Meaowderin Catmen everywhere. Aha! When it comes to making a simple thing complex these cats make our Colonial Office (who are bad enough) the Armorican Depatement de la Marine (who are even worse) and the Catalucian Inquisition (who are REALLY bad) look like amateurs!

Our suite of rooms was attended by two servants, a male and female Cool Li called Ping and Pong who were jolly nice and extremely helpful and efficient (I gather they were not users of Catnip). Anyway, after Mister Ping had unpacked my valise and the various trunks (I always travel light) I noticed that I had somehow mislaid my toothbrush! Disaster!

Well I didn`t want to bother the very obliging chappie so went down into the reception hall to find out where I might obtain a replacement. This was a mistake. Oh yes, one of titanic proportions as it turned out!

The goblin at the reception desk was quite helpful, if a trifle over dramatic about the situation.

“Oh no!” said he (a Mister Pung I gather) “Oh, terrible sorry oh honourable visiting guest. No toothbrush! I sort it out for you, wait please.”

Well actually it was more “Oh No! tellible solly” et cetera but for clarity I have used Albionish otherwise this tale would become even more confusing than it already is!

At this he produced a small gong and struck it.

Bong.

(It was a very discrete gong unlike those used to add drama to a situation. They go BONG! As you well know).

At this a small, smartly liveried, Cool Li appeared. Mister Bung spoke to him.

“Eah! Kin kon fuey char siu chop suey chow mein sweet an sour ho fun wan ton prawn cracker. Chop chop!” He said in that peculiar manner the Chinnese have of making everything sound as if there was a heated argument going on.

Don`t ask me what it meant, it could have been items from a menu as far as I knew.

“Please,” Mister Bung smiled, “follow honourable gong gob Gung. He show you to place to obtain new tooth brush.”

So far so good.

However, in the Orient nothing, and I mean nothing, is simple. I should have been warned when the, very courteous, gong gob led me to the shops which were at one end of the reception hall. Golly, a fat wallet is a jolly good thing to have with you if you ever visit! That was not the problem, no, I should have heard alarm bells going in my ears when Gung ushered me into the, very exclusive, emporium of “Pud Dee Tat, Kin Kon Branch”! Now where Pud Dee Tat goes you can almost certainly count on Doctor Fu Cat Choo being close behind.

Fu Cat Choo, head of the dreaded Zee Zee Tong, and the cruellest, villainous and wicked evil mastermind in all Valon! Harrumph! Actually he`d probably like to know that I said that about him.

Golly! Talk about ridiculous prices! Toothbrushes! Good grief, all designer names, diamond encrusted, gold plated, inlaid with lapis lazuli, all sorts, and not one at less than half a zillion Yen. The Yen is the universal currency in the Orient which leads to the saying “I have a Yen to buy that”.

All I wanted was a simple wooden toothbrush as made by Mister Addis.

I explained this, I think, to Gung who adopted that sort of smile which suggests that the words are entering their right ear but are falling out of the left one as a jumble of random letters.

“Ah…so!” he smiled and nodded enthusiastically.

“Departmentlostanfound you want. Follow me please.”

“Aha! I was getting somewhere!” Oh, foolish me!

I was led to an office in another part of the building. Gung motioned me to enter and take a seat before beating a somewhat hasty retreat.

So, there I was, seated on a quite comfortable chair in a smallish, windowless room decorated very tastefully in the Chinnese style. Back at home in Albion Chinnoisery was becoming the fashionable thing. Across one end of the chamber was a counter behind which were purple velvet curtains embroidered with gold dragons. Light was provided by a pretty Chinnese lantern with pictures of cherry trees, pagodas and Catpeople.

I waited.

I waited some more.

I waited some more more.

And some more as well.

Then, just as I was about to give up and see if I could find a shop outside the Hotel that would sell me a simple, ordinary, every day, tooth brushing type of toothbrush when,

BONG!

Yes indeed, you`ve guessed, a big gong sounded. The curtains parted theatrically and a tall, particularly inscrutable looking, Meaowderin emerged from behind them. He inclined his head in a sort of bow and smiled in a manner that suggested that he had just swallowed a wasp!

“Ah…..So!” Why do they all start by saying that? I don`t know but they do!

“So sorry for your long wait but I have to examine all aspects of case. So, you Rogipoos, traveller from Albion in company of beautiful lady Xenophobia and secretary Harry Oliphaunt, lose toothbrush I believe,”

“Well yes,” I replied, “I just want to get a replacement, that is all.” I hoped to clarify things as soon as possible and just get a new toothbrush as soon as possible.

“Ah, not so simple matter.” He purred, “Very much to consider,” he paused thoughtfully.

“Is it possible that toothbrush stolen: In which case servants will be put to hideously fiendish and cruel Oriental torture until confess, or did you just mislay piece of dental hygiene equipment? Very important matter! Where you last see toothbrush?”

“Um,” I replied, “I last used it before going to bed aboard the “Compound Interest.” I replied.

“Curses!” the miaowderin almost spat, “Eastvalon ship out of honourable jurisdiction! Risky Ricenoodles!” (An exclamation rather like our own “Golly Gosh!” or “Great Gravy!” used regularly in the Orient, particularly in some of the less desirable restaurants). “This mean I can not impound ship, authorise complete examination of same down to last nail and rivet, or interrogate Captain and crew, Pity. If had been local junk,” (a boat in this case, not rubbish), “would have done this and be able return toothbrush to you in about three months time and execute those responsible! Ah…………So!”

He sounded disappointed.

“Well no matter,” said I innocently, “If you`d be so kind Mister….?”

“Oh, so sorry, thrill of chase make me forget manners! Shameful, most embarrassing for my honourable ancestors oh forrin bar barian!” (a local term used by the Meaowderin class which means “honoured guest” I believe) “My name is Senior Meaowderinof first class yellow button of Divine Imperial Dragon with Bamboo Shoots and Water Chestnuts, parasol holder to Divine Emperor`s Concubines fourth class, Bun Gee Jump.”

“Perhaps,” I enquired hopefully, “You could tell me where I could buy a new toothbrush?”

He looked as if I had just stuck an icicle down his back. I know what folks look like when you do this because in the depths of winter it was quite a common jape to do so to ones fellow school chums. Ho ho, what innocent fun! Even better was to wait until everybody else was asleep in the dorm then quietly remove a nice, big, long icicle from outside the window and carefully placing it under someone`s bedclothes so as not to wake them then return to bed and wait for the horrified scream of the victim when he discovered it! Ho ho, the innocence of youth. Mind you, our dormitories were cold enough to have icicles on the inside, Huzzah! Character building what?!

It became obvious that the loss of my toothbrush was no laughing matter to Mister Senior thingummy with brass knobs on Bun Gee Jump! You would have thought that he could have stretched a point, been a bit flexible, bounced the idea about and be a trifle elastic regarding this but he was taking the matter as seriously as somebody about to leap from a high bridge with rope tied to his ankles! (Not that I know anybody apart from Professor Von Schortarsche who would even dream of attempting such a thing!

“Excuse please,” the meaowderin said, “just need fetch something.”

“Oh goody,” I thought, “perhaps he was going to get me another toothbrush?”

Oh such folly!

“Kri Ket!” (Aha! Was he a relation of Grasshopper?) He called to somebody behind the purple velvet curtains.

This was answered with a BONG! of a gong and moments later a very surly looking Boxir dogman appeared carrying a black lacquered box painted with gold designs which was placed on the counter. The dogman stepped back in front of the curtain with his arms folded and an expression that suggested that given half a chance he would enjoy tearing my arms and legs off! Nice chap.

Bun Gee opened the, rather nice looking, box. I remember thinking that Xenophobia would rather like one. She liked nice things like that.

“Ah….so,” The Meaowderin rummaged through the contents of the box,”Let us see, ah yes lost property claim form LPCF 973, Toothbrush. Ah now, language, Meaowderin, no, Cattonese, not really, Armorican, not quite. Ah here it is! LPCF 973 Toothbrush, loss of, Albionish Translation.” He handed me a form which was made from a large piece of paper folded in half to produce a four side document.

“Please to fill in,” He said, handing it to me.

Now fortunately I always carry a small pencil with me so I got this out and prepared to fill in the first question which was “Honourable name of foolish person who lose toothbrush.”

I perused the form, golly why did they need to know my favourite colour? Did it really matter to them what my mother`s maiden name was? How did a brief description of  the processing of jute help secure the restoration of my, or any other, toothbrush?

Hey ho, well when in Kin Kon do as the Kin Konese do. So I deftly brandished my trusty HB and set about the form. This produced a surprising response from Mister Jump.

“No! Oh no no no no no! No fill in form LPCF 973 Toothbrush in pencil! Must be in official black ink with officially approved quill or pointed bamboo pen! This never do! You some iriot stoopid cookie boy?” This last phrase I gather is the Meaowderin for “jolly good chap”.

“Now you need form Q stroke BP application form for quill or bamboo pen!”

Gulp!

“Can I, fill that in using pencil?” I enquired innocently.

At this point I began to think that he was going to suffer from apoplexy. His fur was standing up, his tail was thrashing from side to side and his whiskers were twitching, Oh dear!

He slumped forward and began to gently thump his head on the counter which, fortunately for him, had a pile of forms, possibly filled in using official black ink from an approved quill or bamboo stick.

He was sobbing, poor chap.

“Why,” he cried helplessly, “did honourable mother make me take sixteenth level official Meaowderin exams in black ink from official quill handed down from generation to generation just to have me do this? Where did I go wrong? What I do to deserve having to deal with stooped iriots who not got proper writing materials? Ah ha ha ha ha ha!”

I`m not quite sure if he was laughing or crying.

I walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder in a friendly sort of way.

“There there old chap,” I said reassuringly, “Don`t fret. Perhaps a nice cup of tea would help, or cocoa?”

Cocoa always makes things seem, somehow, better, especially if a little whiskery is added.

“Come along old chap,” I cajoled, “Let`s have a nice cuppa and calm things down. Have you got the makings behind those curtains? Don`t worry, I`ll brew.”

Far from having a calming effect this last sent the poor fellow into some sort of frenzy.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” he shrieked, “No, no! Not Albionish tea! Aaaaaaaargh! You make too strong, leave it in pot for too long and add milk to it. Drink from cup with handle, use saucer, and crook little pinkie when drinking! No! Please! Anything but Albion style tea!”

He continued to sob helplessly and kept on banging his head, poor devil. Never thought that an innocent cup of tea could lead to such a reaction. I rather like a nice cup of tea, very refreshing. Not quite cocoa, but still very pleasant. Lady Alisorc is rather partial to iced tea with a slice of lemon (no milk of course) in the summer. All very civilised out there on the west terrace shaded by a large parasol. Salmon and cucumber sandwiches cut in triangles with no crusts, scones with clotted cream and jam a selection of cakes and biscuits. Lovely!

But I digress.

I decided at this point that it would be best if I withdrew. Ah! That`s when I discovered that the large, unfriendly looking, Boxir was now standing in between me and the door. He had the sort of smile on his face that suggested that he was looking forward to doing some very unsympathetic things to my appendages in a few seconds time. How wrong could I be?

“No worry, honourable guest,” he said in a deep bass voice, “Mister Jump do this regularly. I think his heart not in job.”

“Oh, I see,” I said, nor really seeing at all but it seemed the right thing to say at the time. “Can I go now?”

“Not quite,” the dogman intoned, “please to fill in this first.”

I was about to panic as he slipped his hand into the black quilted jacket much loved by his kind.

He handed me a small slip of thin card with “Customer satisfaction survey” printed on it.

Oh no! another ruddy form! I know that Mordred has referred to Chinn as a “sleeping giant that it is best not to disturb because when it wakes it will shake the world” but I presume it will be by having forms to fill in for every possible eventuality!

The Boxir smiled in a friendly sort of way.

“You may use pencil, just tick box that most seems appropriate to statement.”

Phew!

I looked at the card, at the top of it were printed Agree strongly, Agree, Neither agree or disagree, Disagree, and Disagree strongly.

Hmmm!

Statement one, “My enquiry was handled with courtesy and efficiency.”

The sobbing coming from behind me had now turned to a low, sorrowful moan.

I ticked Agree strongly. Well I felt sorry for the poor chap. I scanned the other statements and ticked “Agree strongly” to all of them even the one that said “In future I will use this service in preference to other similar ones.”

Sometimes a teensy little fib can be helpful.

I handed it back to the Boxir who bowed and thanked me politely before giving me another piece of paper informing me that the “Customer satisfaction survey” had been performed by Chum Mix and thanked me for my cooperation.

As I departed I looked at my pocket watch. Golly, I had been in there for two hours!

Outside I was greeted by Bung the Gong gob.

“Suffering spring rolls, you out quick! Usually have to wait at least nine hour! Give Gung chance for quick nap on job! Very good! Most customers come out looking VERY stressed, you hokey dokey as they say in Albion. Want nice cup China tea? Most customers do, sooth nerves after!”

This sounded a good idea and so I took a nice seat at a table in the lobby whilst Gung, who I was beginning to like, went and fetched the tea. He emerged with a tray upon which were a pot, a cup without a handle, a small vase with a flower in it. Very tasteful. There was also a small biscuit. Gung set about pouring the tea which was pleasantly fragrant and most refreshing.

“Tea Lapsong Suchon, very good for calming nerves,” the Gong gob informed me, many other type tea you must try sometime. Just ask for me at main desk and I fetch. Oh, no forms to fill in.”

Obviously young Gung knew his stuff regarding tea and much more.

“Gung,” I asked, “Apart from tea, do you know where I could get a new toothbrush?”

He looked thoughtful.

“That hard question boss,” he stroked his chin, “They got them at shop in lobby but very expensive, all designer stuff to fleece celebrity tourist, plenty money to make there! Total tear off! Not know of any other toothbrush shop round here. I use stick with end rubbed to fibres, jute strand not bad to clean teeth also.”

I was beginning to think that a stick or jute strand might not be a bad idea after all!

I finished my tea and was about to go when Gung said,

“Not forget fortune cookie, tell you about what future has in store for you.”

He instructed me to break the “cookie” in half, which I did, to discover a small slip of paper.

“Bet it good fortune boss, you got lucky face!”

Hmm! It read, “You will find what you seek, water will bring surprise.”

Aha! Of course, why hadn`t I thought of it before. All I needed to do was go down to the harbour, find the “Compound Interest” go aboard, find my cabin and doubtless my toothbrush would be on the wash stand. Ah! Simple!

I bad farewell to my new chum and, having given him a few Yen for his troubles left the hotel where the door gob hailed a rickshaw. These are jolly good things, a two wheeled carriage pulled by a cool li. Fortunately, unlike Londinium where the streets are covered not with gold but with horse muck, the Kin Kon street cleaning department is highly efficient. Anyway when Cool Lis seem to be able to carry large burdens and pull rickshaws horses are somewhat “de trop”.

We rattled along the cobbles at a good speed, golly, a darned sight quicker than your average sedan chair I can tell you. At the docks I paid the rickshaw gob and gave him a tip which brought a smile to his face revealing that any enquiry about toothbrushes would be lost on him.

Fortunately the “Compound Interest” was still being loaded. Chinnese porcelain in chests packed with tea to minimise breakages. Clever what, two cargos in one!

Lady Alisorc is very proud of the Chinn Porcelain back at home, it has the famous “Scary willow” pattern on it. She maintains that tea tastes so much better in a Chinn cup. As for me I like my cocoa in a large soldier`s enamel mug. The mug is large, not the soldier, by the way, however I do agree over tea. Golly, I`ve suddenly got a yen (pun intended, nice one me) for a pot of broken orange peako. Don`t ask me who broke it, but somebody must have. How do you break tea? Is there an “undamaged orange peako”? Hmm. Ooh and some potted beef sandwiches without crusts. You know, triangular sandwiches (in fours and “sans crust”) really DO taste better than square ones! But I digress,

Gosh! What a crowd! Jolly JackTars and assorted matelots, Cool Lis, laskars from Serendip, the jolly nautical lot! (A lovely place by the way. Serendip that is. They make excellent tea there and a nice hot, fruity curry too). Oh dear, now I have a rupee for curry. That`s like having a yen for something but in Serendip. Hey ho! Thank the Sentinel I am not ruled by my tummy! No more than seventeen courses please, well unless I happen to be in the Ruffels Hotel In Singeapaw . They do a hundred course curry, the courses are, as you might imagine, very small but I will relate tale that another time.

Well, I sought out Captain Fogg who, I was told, was at that moment being searched for by some of the crew because he, as I gather it is usual for him to get hopelessly lost wherever they berthed. It would seem that one time when, before the revolution in Armorica, he had gone ashore in Massay (not a good place to get lost at all!) he tried trailing string behind him a bit like Thesaurus when he was seeking the Minitaur (a very tiny bull headed monster which played havoc with the skirting boards at the palace of Minus in Crate) in the labyrinth of sewers and drains beneath the city. This, however, was a failure since, ever keen on an enterprise that might make money some budding entrepreneur was busy following him and rolling up the string in a ball. They eventually found him being extremely sick near a Massay Fried Chicken stall run by a certain Monsewer Sant-Ders. Now where have I heard that name before?

Unable to find the Captain I asked the First Officer if I might revisit my cabin in search of my lost toothbrush.

He said that this was no problem as they had no passengers on this trip but that I could take my time because it was unlikely for them to locate Captain Fogg before the tide. Good!

Well it wasn`t on the wash stand. So I proceeded to go through the drawers (no, nobody had left their underwear there, I mean those wooden deep tray like things that you get on chests and such like. By chests of course I mean an object of furniture not the front of the upper torso. Just thought I`d clarify that in case you get confused. No wonder Albionish is so hard for Johnny foreigner to learn!). Still no luck.

“Ah!” thought I “look under the bed!”

I have found this to be a good policy if I lose anything. For some strange reason it always turns up under the bed. According to Mystic Mog the Faeries collect up lost things and place them there. Jolly nice of them to do so if you ask me. The woods at Willorcs Hall are “Faerie friendly” so they don`t, as in Londinium, have to beware of the Faerie catchers. Don`t mess with the Faerie folk! I mean to say, remember what happened to the church at Broomcoat? Sank leaving just the tower! Enough said!

Triumph! There it was, a little dusty perhaps, but it was there under the bed. This was a large brass monster of a thing, the bed that is, not my toothbrush, fastened to the floor with brackets to prevent it sliding about in rough seas. Very sensible!

I thus had to crawl underneath it to retrieve my dental polisher. Aha! Mine once more. You can become quite attached to a toothbrush you know. Unfortunately I forgot that I was underneath the bed and, raising my head in my moment of toothbrush glory managed to knock myself out cold. Oops!

So it was that I came back to my senses. I lay there, toothbrush in hand and somewhat dusty. It was then I became aware of a slight rolling motion. Uh oh! Scrambling out from beneath the bed I looked out of the porthole. Oh no! Sea, lots of it. My watch told me that I had been absent from the conscious state for over an hour!

I made my way up to the deck and headed for the quarterdeck where Captain Fogg was looking through his telescope in a nautical sort of way. The fact that he was looking out at where we had been and not where we were headed seemed not to matter at all. The First Officer looked surprised to see me. His name, I discovered, was Mister Sheen, a very clean and efficient sort of chap most of the time I gather. Very keen on inspecting the brasswork, making sure that it was well polished, ship shaped and Bristle fashion.

“Oh!” he said in that “Oh!” style which suggests that something is seriously amiss. “Thought you`d gone ages ago. Oh dear, very sorry old chap but they found the captain sooner than anticipated and we made the tide with only minutes to spare. Sorry old bean, but we`re on our way to Saigo in Vietamin in a bit of in a hurry. Having caught the tide we have a decent chance of beating the Armorican clipper the “Pile de Francs” to Sago and so get top money for the cargo. Rub there nose in it a bit what? Usually they sail on past us at a great rate of knots making loud botty burp noises at us as they go by. No manners those fellows. Mind you I gather that her Captain, Berdsaye I think it is, as as smart as paint. I just hope that the Captain doesn`t decide to take over on the navigatiom or we`ll end up Sentinel alone knows where! So Might as well make yourself comfy and enjoy the trip. My fault, should have checked that you`d gone. Ah! See you found your toothbrush! Jolly good! I`m lost without mine! Oh excuse me. Helmsman, left hand down a bit, there`s a good chap.”

The sailor at the wheel replied, Aye Aye Sir, left hand down a bit it is.” Gosh, I always thought that they said things like “Two points to port” and other stuff like that in the Navy lark,

“Sorry about that, got to do a bit of the old navigation stuff from time to time. Oh, by the way, was the brasswork in your cabin well polished? Save me inspecting it later.”

I confirmed that it was so clean and shiny that you could see your face in it. This seemed to please him a great deal.

“Hmm, best not mention that you ended up here by accident. Captain will start going on about stowaways and clapping you in irons in the chain locker with just hard tack and water. Don`t know which is worse, the hard tack or the weavils in it. I`ll say that the HEVC has sent you along as a “Customer Service Surveyor”, what? Good idea. I`ve got him looking out astern for any sign of the “Pile de Francs”, should keep him occupied until nightfall. Good show, won`t get under the old feet what?”

Thus I resigned myself to the week long journey to Saigo. You know, we never got even slightly lost at all. The Captain thought that having a “Customer Service Surveyor” aboard was a jolly good idea even if I was the only passenger. Meanwhile First Officer Sheen had a brass plate engraved for my cabin door with “Customer Experience Officer” in rather elegant copperplate. Golly, I`ve been called a lot of things in my time, some of which are not printable, but this was a new one. Huzzah! Had to do my bit so I drew up a lot of forms with tick boxes and all that “Agree strongly” and such stuff on them. The Captain was jolly chuffed to fill in his. It had statements like “I found the Captain efficient, approachable and looked very nautical when viewing aft (sailor talk for back) with his telescope.”

Mister Sheen liked that one, everybody ticked it “Agree strongly” which ensured that Captain Fogg spent his time glued, not literally, to the aft rail (Gosh, I`m getting all nautical) peering at the horizon through his telescope while the First and second officers did all the sailor type stuff. Actually, I was quite enjoying myself. Made sure that the desk in my cabin had lots of pieces of paper with graphs of “customer satisfaction” on them and pie charts. The cook made excellent pies so this seemed quite apt. Did one for sweet and one for savoury. This kept the Captain very happy, especially when Mister Sheen mentioned that the “Compound Interest” was the first HEVC vessel to have a “Customer Experience Officer”. This was possibly bad news for the Masters other HEVC ships because Captain Fogg happened to mention it to the Company`s powers that be who were so pleased with “their new proposal” that from then on all HEVC ships had a CEO (Customer Experience Officer). Got its own uniform, official forms and everything! The Meaowderins would doubtless be envious. So, ever after officers, crew, passengers and even stowaways find themselves endlessly ticking boxes for an ever smiling CEO! Grief! I am pleased to say that, as supposedly the first CEO ever, I was given the rank of Senior CEO (retired) and have the uniform which I wear when boating. Jolly swish and nautical it is too! Huzzah, dance the hornpipe and splice the mainbrace me hearties!

In the meantime I wrote a letter explaining my predicament to my darling Xenophobia which Mister Sheen said he would ensure that it was sent to Kin Kon as soon as we docked in Saigo. As for getting me back to Kin Kon that would be a little more of a problem because, apart from the meagre salary that I would draw as a, ahem, “Customer Experience Officer” I had only a few Yen left in my pocket! Sheen suggested that I wait in Saigo for the next Kin Kon bound HEVC clipper or whatever and then, wearing one of his old uniforms with a few embellishments and some “official” documents signed by the Captain go aboard it with a valise full of “Customer Satisfaction Forms”, pie charts (Cherry was the most popular sweet and Minced beef and onion the savoury pie of choice on the “Compound Interest” by the way), graphs and such, pass myself off as a CEO. Unfortunately the “Compound Interest” was going on from Saigo to Nipping with a load of triangles. Something to do with “triangular trade”. Obviously the Nippingese are musical! (As I was later to discover but that is another story).

So, I ended up in Saigo, supposedly employed by the Honourable East Valon Company, looking for a passage to Kin Kon. Simple, you would think, however, things that seem simple, such as playing an enhanced “Royal Circle in Lungs” and moving one`s playing piece to Rottenham Caught Road with the bottle of Irn Bru in Whacky Families, can become much, much more complex, especially when the Armorican Departement de la Marine, Catnip and rebel Cool Lis get involved. Ah, but, dear reader, that will be for next time. I must end here as I hear the dulcet tones of the gong for dinner being struck by Cook with Silly Willy the Washer Upper`s head. Such a satisfying “Bongbongbongbongbongbong bong” it makes. I think that the main course is shepherd`s pie, better get a satisfaction chart ready for later.

Cheers and Huzzahs!

Uncle Rogipoos.

~

Webmaster's Notes

An Orcs in the Webbe Original! "The Curse of Catnip" was written exclusively for Orcs in the Webbe and published on Friday 17th May 2013.