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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Clarice and the Campsite Crisis
A Brainy Bird Tall Tale (no.3)
Ross Hunter, illustrated by Catherine Hunter

Now don’t hang up, Gals, I have good and bad holiday news.”

Clarice was on the telling bone (you are way ahead of me, yes, it’s Cockerel rhyming slang for the phone. You already know Clarice hardly needs one when shrieking to her chums).

“Gals, I promised you a beach resort classy enough to deserve birds like us. But the piggy bank can’t afford Top Bird Class, and ostrich legs do not fit into Cheapo Class seats. Good news: we are going on holiday anyway! Who needs a beakson- seats plastic hotel in an artificial resort? I have booked us in for a back to nature experience, with your toes in the water and your heart in the forest!”

“Clarice, that is brochure-speak”, said Celia, always the sensible sceptical one, “tell us the real plan.”

“Err, it’s a campsite, not far from here. But it is loads cheaper and more interesting than anything we have done yet. You, Clara, cousin Emma and Cyd will find it really exciting. Trust me,” she said more in hope than expectation.

It was going to be very exciting, but not quite as they expected.

So three ostriches, one emu and a snake wended their way to the tented town. True, it was nicely sandwiched between the sea and the trees, and it was clearly popular. More agitated ant hill than peaceful paradise.

Our heroes put on brave faces, and put up the tents. You need a very long tent if you are an ostrich, an emu or a python with a bad back. Level land was not on hand. Four beaks and eight hard claws scratted away at the soil, and sorted it sharpish. Soon, the tents were cosy tunnels of comfort, and the barbeque was making super supper smells. Deck chairs faced the setting sun, long beaks supped at cool drinks. No need for straws, with an ostrich proboscis. The world did not look so bad. A nearby group started singing, with lots of volume, but not much tune or tone. Clara joined in, so all went quiet quite quickly. They were more popular once children realised that long necks helped rescue stray balls from trees. Sunset beach races with excited small jockeys on large birds were loads more fun than bedtime stories, even this one.

Next morning, time to examine the area. The beach can wait, mornings are for exploration. Our team dived into the forest. Ugh! horrid! The place was full of litter. What should have been a sight for sore eyes was an eyesore. Nature covered in rubbish. Clarice hurrumphed, and the girls sighed. They knew what was coming. So you do. Back to campsite HQ. Luckless staff and relaxing campers were pecked into action. They fanned out across the forest and filled bin bags. Tatty jungle was restored to pristine beauty. A triumphant procession convoyed an impressive but embarrassing collection of clutter out of the way.

“Well done, all!” chirped a cheerful Colonel Clarice. “Job done! We will now relax and enjoy the holiday,” said she, grabbing her towel and striding towards the beach.

Not so fast! You stirred the forest more than you think!

A big wood hides more residents than campers realise. Our clean up team took away rubbish, but left scents which were sniffed at sunset by all sorts of curious creatures. Most went back to bed, but a family of wild boars were very interested in the new smells. Boar? Think of a lean, mean bacon machine, at home in the scrub, able to shove snout and tusks though thick scrub faster than I can cycle downhill. Also bad tempered, and territorial, which is a fancy word for not welcoming people or big birds invading their personal space, or forest.

Daddy wild boar, let’s call him Keith, and mummy wild boar, Doris of course, trotted off in search of the smells. Followed by lots of little striped boarettes—you choose names for them, I don’t mind.

When they got to where forest meets campsite, they paused for a good snuffle. Strong smells filled their impressive nostrils. Many barbeques were cooking pork sausages. The boars were not amused. A nod to the squadron and they advanced. Ran riot, to be exact. Snouts down, tusks up, they scoured the campsite. Campers took to the trees or the water (boars don’t do bath time). They watched in horror as deck chairs were demolished, cook stoves upended, toys scattered and tent guy ropes got caught in the tusks: a wave of flattened, waving canvas spread like a wrecking cloak around the now smashed campsite.

What of the Gals? Ostriches don’t climb trees, and they are not wading birds. Only cowards would have made a run for it. Not without lumpy throats and quivering quivers of feathers, the four friends closed ranks and took on the invaders. Cyd was less convinced, and added height by forming a turban on Emma’s head. She hissed furiously at the boars, who, with poor eyesight, ignored her completely.

Our four brave birds linked wings and advanced on the boars. They noticed a new smell and paused from their wrecking game (which they thought was great fun). Slowly, the birds stepped forward, very wary of angry pork with sharp tusks. Pig Family One was equally anxious about long kicking legs and extendable beaks. Everything went quiet, as tree-refugee campers and free birds waited for the brewing battle. Only the crows—Hamish and Ewan, of course—were busy, dancing around the battlefield filling up with scraps and cawing over their ill-gotten gains. Quiet. Still. Like a volcano ready to burst.

And then one brave, silly little piggy, striped hair all bristling, rushed forward before a parent could stop him, and was rewarded by a very sharp Clara beak-peck on the snout, which made him turn round, and a telescopic Emma leg which booted him back behind his own lines. He squawked like, well, like a stuck pig. Musical it wasn’t. The birds strode forward, beaks ahead, soft parts behind, and legs ready to kick.

Even with little piggy eyes, the boars could see their free fun was over. Keith snorted while Doris rounded up the pack, and they fled into safe undergrowth: copse and robbers. The birds strutted proudly.

“Gals, if there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s messy campers.”

Relaxing by the poolside, Clarice reflected on the day:

“I am glad we sorted it all out. As I always say, a bird in the hand beats two pigs in the bush!”

The Gals looked over the battlefield wreckage and tried to imagine a nice, dull holiday.

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