The Writers Voice
The Wild Granny Hunt
You meet some funny people in hotels don't you! I mean peculiar people that you'd never find in the street or at work, or anywhere else. Peregrine Woodham was one. I mean he was one of those funny people you meet in hotels; and that's where I met him, in a hotel.
I was staying in this hotel in Southampton
one night. Never been there before - Southampton I mean, nor the hotel neither.
The firm had sent me down to sort out a problem customer. It had taken longer
than expected, and rather than drive back overnight, I booked into one of these
big group hotels. You know the sort; every room's the same in the hotel, same
size, same shape, same colour; the mirror's on the same wall in every room, the
television's in the same corner, the same bland pictures are on the walls. And
each hotel in the group is the same whether it's in Southampton, Liverpool, New
York or even Timbuctoo.
That's where I met Peregrine - in the bar. It was still fairly early in the evening and the bar was almost empty, so I didn't have to wait long to be served. The barman hadn't got much to say for himself and I wandered over to a table and sat down. The plastic decor and plastic flowers did little for my aesthetic tastes; and talking of taste - even the beer was like water. So all in all I was in desperate need of an earthquake or anything to liven up the proceedings.
The answer to my silent wish came in the shape of Peregrine Woodham, and his appearance on the scene was almost as effective as an earthquake. He just arrived at the table with two pints of beer, one of which he put in front of me. He sat down opposite, picked up his glass and said, "Cheers." Just that, nothing more, and totally out of the blue.
To say I was surprised would be the understatement of the century. Not that it is that unusual for someone to buy me a drink; it has been known once or twice in the dim and distant past; but this man was a total stranger, and what a stranger he was. Right in front of me sat a fellow wearing a lime-green suit, purple suede shoes, bright yellow shirt and a shocking pink bow tie. Above all this he sported a moth eaten Van Dyke beard and would you believe it, a gold monocle!
So here I was, sat in the plastic bar of a plastic hotel, drinking a pint of beer that tasted like plastic and right opposite me was a living, breathing, mobile rainbow. He introduced himself, and said that he was looking for a partner in a new expedition which would be departing in about a month from then. Now, I am the last person in the world to turn down a spot of adventure, particularly if it would take me away from the English summer weather; but when Peregrine told me the details, I had my doubts about his sanity.
What he suggested was nothing less than going up the Amazon on a Wild Granny hunt. Even I, who had led such a sheltered life, knew that wild grannies became extinct sometime last century. So I was not a little suspicious of the proposal. Procrastination is not a weakness of mine, but I needed some thinking time, and anyway I wanted to look at a map to find out where the Amazon is. I had an idea it is in North Wales, but geography never was my strong suit.
So I told Peregrine Woodham that I could only go if my mate Florence wanted to come too. At that Peregrine got quite agitated, "No women, no women on the expedition," he said, "It's too dangerous." He was so upset I had to laugh. I explained that Florence's parents hadn't christened him Florence at all, but with the surname of Nightingale it didn't take the jokers of this world long to rename him. As soon as Peregrine realised that Florence was a bloke, he was all right and said that an extra one on the expedition might come in useful, in case of accident, if I saw what he meant. I didn't, but then as I said I needed some thinking time. Then we went our separate ways after agreeing to meet a few days later in a pub near St. Albans. All I had to do was bring Florence Nightingale along.
I wasn't even sure if Florence was back in England. The last time I'd heard of him he'd been off in the Italian Alps to count mountain goats or something. I needn't have worried; Florence turned up all right. He wouldn't have missed it in fact, after I told him about the strange gear that Peregrine had been wearing.
Sure enough, Peregrine arrived true to form, in the same lime-green suit complete with purple suedes and gold monocle. He had changed his shirt, however; this time it was black and covered in gold stars and moons. The pink bow tie had gone too. In its place, a white bow with bright blue spots on it. You'd think a bloke who dressed like that wouldn't worry about anything, but Peregrine was strangely unsettled by Hopalong Roger.
Oh, haven't I told you about Hopalong? He was Florence's dog and was called Hopalong on account of his wooden leg. Flo had considered calling him Heinz but didn't in the end because he was never quite sure just how many varieties there really were in his pedigree.
Anyway, the human kaleidoscope explained his proposition about the Wild Granny hunt, then sat back to await our reaction. Hopalong expressed his contempt for it all by cocking his wooden leg and making his mark on Peregrine's suede shoes. Flo Nightingale, on the other hand, was more enthusiastic than I have seen him for years.
So a few weeks later, Florence, Peregrine, Hopalong Roger, and me of course, were sitting in a plane on the way to the last great Wild Granny hunt. Now, the airline hadn't been too keen on having Hopalong on the flight, especially when they saw what a strange looking cur he was. That brought out the inventive streak in Florence, and he got some cans of hair colouring and sprayed a tartan pattern on the long suffering pooch. Then, would you believe it, he smuggled Hopalong onto the aircraft disguised as a set of bagpipes.
The poor dog had to spend the whole flight lying perfectly still in his master's lap; though I've got to admit that with his wooden leg sticking in the air he did a remarkably good imitation of the old Scottish squawk bag. The thing that really spoiled it was Florence Nightingale insisting on speaking with a Scottish accent. It came out sounding like a cross between a Brummie and a Frenchman with laryngitis. Still, they got away with it, and after a much longer flight than I had expected, the plane arrived at its destination.
As soon as I stepped out of the aircraft, I knew I'd made a miscalculation. It was so Hot! Well, how was I to know the Amazon is in South America. I never had got round to looking at that map. So here I was in thick warm English clothes, complete with woollen jumper and padded anorak - you know the sort of thing - suitable attire for a British summer. Anyway, I was wearing the lot, and the temperature was way off the top of the thermometer.
I looked at my companions. Peregrine Woodham was sporting a new light-weight suit; lime-green of course, and Flo was all togged up like an alpine climber.
I had a feeling that the immigration officer was suffering from hayfever, for he had to keep wiping the tears from his eyes while he checked us through. He showed particular interest in Peregrine's style of dress; maybe he thought Peregrine was a suit smuggler or something; and goodness knows what he thought about Florence, who kept speaking in a weird accent to his bagpipes. Just before we left, the immigration officer gave me the name and address of a tailor in the city. Though it beat me why he thought I wanted to visit a tailor while I was on an expedition.
Oh yes, the expedition. Peregrine explained that we had to travel by boat, for the wild Grannies hung out at a place called Clapham Junction, which was a thousand miles up the Amazon river. I wasn't too keen on this idea, as being a sailor didn't appeal to me. In fact, the last time I'd been in a boat I had felt distinctly queasy. That had been on the canoe lake in our local park, but it had been a windy day!
Anyway, I went along with the others, thinking it might be a bit cooler in a boat out on the river. It only goes to show how wrong you can be. On top of that, it turned out that it was time for the annual feast. The only trouble was, we were the food and all the insects in South America were the diners. There were millions of them, and they stayed with us all the way on that thousand mile boat trip. At the end of it I had bites on bites and I'd even been bitten in places I'm too polite to tell you about.
The funny thing was, Peregrine hardly got bitten at all. Maybe the little devils didn't like lime-green, or p'raps they thought his bow tie was a bird that might gobble them up. Anyhow, Flo and me looked like barrage balloons, and he'd barely a mark on him. Come to think of it, Hopalong hadn't been touched either, but who'd go and bite a bagpipe anyway?
So there we were at an obscure place called Clapham Junction in the middle of a rain forest, a thousand miles up the blooming Amazon. Quite frankly, at that moment, I would have given anything to be a in plastic bar in some plastic hotel. But we're never satisfied are we?
There wasn't much time to dwell on the idea, as Peregrine soon had us gathering together our equipment, then off we went into the forest. As we walked, Pegregrine told us about our prey. Apparently they weren't the original wild grannies - you know, the sort that went on the rampage in Europe in the middle ages. No, these were perfectly ordinary grannies, who, about six months before, had gone on strike and refused to do any of the things that grannies are supposed to do. Things such as baby-sitting, knitting pink and blue booties, washing up the breakfast dishes and telling bed-time stories. They even stopped telling old wives' tales. But the crisis really came when they decided not to let anyone teach them to suck eggs. Of course the local people told them that if they wanted to be grannies, then they had to do proper granny jobs. The grannies became proper angry, set up the Granny Lib. movement and took off into the forest.
It was not long before the local economy started to suffer. Nobody came to the market during the day so the stall holders had to close down; knitting wool shops went out of business and none of the grannies drew their pensions, so soon there wasn't enough money in circulation and the banks started to go bankrupt. That was when the Upper Amazon Borough Council got so worried they called in Peregrine Woodham.
Peregrine had got the lowdown from the locals as to where the grannies might be and off we went in that direction. When we got there we pitched camp and started setting the trap. The trap was a series of fine nets which he expected the grannies to stumble into, on account of them not being able to see very well because their spectacles would be steamed up in the hot steamy rain forest.
Then we sat down and waited and waited and waited, but still no grannies appeared. What did appear were about four million insects which had decided to emigrate from the river to the forest. And which bit of the forest did they choose to populate? You've got it - they picked the very spot where we had pitched camp. Hopalong Roger had great fun chasing around seeing how many he could snap up in one go. That is, when he was not fighting off the termites and an enormous woodpecker which had taken a fancy to his timber leg.
The forest was a right queer place. Sometimes it was so full of noise from the insects, monkeys and birds that it sounded as if you were at a Wembley cup final. Other times it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. And that's how we found the grannies - by a pin dropping. Well, it wasn't a pin really, more like a knitting needle. It was Florence who found it, sticking in the top of his hat. And there they were up in the trees, dropping knitting needles on us and laughing like maniacs. So we scarpered. Well, wouldn't you if you had knitting needles raining on you?
The next night we dug a deep pit and covered it with branches. All we had to do then was to get the wild grannies to step on the branches and we would have them trapped in the pit. You've got to hand it to Peregrine, he was full of brilliant ideas like that. Once the trap was set we had to find a bait, and after some discussion settled on using a crying baby. Trouble was we didn't have a baby, crying or otherwise.
Then it was my turn to have a great idea, and as a result we dressed up Hopalong Roger as a baby. We'd never seen a baby with a wooden leg, so we had to cover it with bandages. Then we were ready. The problem was Hopalong didn't mind dressing up, but he refused to cry. So Florence hid behind a nearby tree and set up the most heart rending wailing that you're likely to hear.
It certainly worked. The grannies were there in a few minutes. Unfortunately for us they came from the wrong direction and surprised us so much that we stepped back and fell into our own trap. So there we were, sat in the bottom of the pit with all those jeering grannies looking down on us.
After that the Upper Amazon Borough Council withdrew our grant and we had to make our own way back to England.
Well there it is! You meet some funny people in hotels don't you!
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