The Very Dab

(‘The Very Dab’ is a Scots’ expression which in my experience has meant ‘the perfect finishing touch.’)

Way back at the beginning of our world, they do say that God had a walk around when he had finished and was well pleased with what he saw. The sun was shining. The rivers were flowing. Tall trees and lush plants waved in the cool breeze.

He stopped to watch some birds drink nectar from blossoms. He smiled at the antics of more of them, as they fluttered in the river shallows, flapping, dipping and drinking.

It struck Him then that the birds were hard to see clearly. They were different sizes but they all came in various shades of browns, perhaps with shadowy grey or white underneath. They all had the same short, straight beak, too. Now that wouldn’t do. He’d gone to a lot of trouble to make each animal unique. Surely the birds needed the same.

He asked Gabriel to summon every type of bird from around the world and have them gather at dawn on a certain day on top of the highest hill in Canberra. He had a plan to make them all look different and marvellous.

On the appointed day, Gabriel had his list ready. The raucous Australian contingent was there first but soon settled and made room for birds from all over the world. Gabriel ticked off thousands of arrivals. When a Cockatiel suddenly made off with the paper list and ripped it to shreds, Gabriel decided that surely every bird had arrived and went to tell God “All here.”

He came up the hill laden with a bulging sack and a satchel full of paintboxes and brushes. His paints were of the self-perpetuating kind – they’d never fade or wear off and their hues would be passed on through the generations.

God opened his arms in welcome  and told the birds they could all choose their own colours as well as a new beak to suit their needs. The birds got so excited many launched into the air. Those still on the ground formed an orderly queue behind a lorikeet that had been dozing in front but soon woke up and squawked. “I want green, red, yellow … a blue head and collar and a red curved beak.”

God painted it all the colours of the rainbow. Next a large cockatoo ambled up and screeched, “Black, black, black and a big black beak shaped like a crab’s claw on top. I’ve got nuts to crack and sticks to beat, “ stammered the parrot as two scarlet cheeks promptly appeared.

One sweet little bird wanted “A long pointed black beak and a mask to match. Oh … and lots of turquoise and a sunny, golden chest.”. As God searched in his sack, He suddenly pulled out an enormous, saggy beak.

“Oh my, here’s a mistake! I can’t think of a bird who’d be able to use this.” From the back of the crowd came a cackle, “I can! Make it pink and it’s mine!”

God signalled for the big bird to come forward and all watched in awe as the great pink bill was hooked on and then layers of plumage splashed white, then black. The gathering stared silently as the cumbersome bird bowed its head and then turned to lope towards the crest of the hill. The crowd held its breath, then cheered loudly when it took off majestically.

The black beak and mask for the Bee-eater was much easier to fix.

The peacock made very particular requests. “Please could my colours be jewelled greens and blues, with shades of topaz and amethyst in radiating patterns in my tail, just so.” The Painter miraculously made this bird’s wishes come true in a flash.

Can you imagine your favourite bird asking for what they wanted?

As the sun began to sink towards the horizon, there were very few birds left. there was just a little paint and God told them they could help themselves. The Fairy Wren dashed into the blue and came out looking superb, while the Galah frolicked in the white, red and black and came out pink and grey. When the last of the flock had gone, God and Gabriel packed up and walked down to the creek to wash up.

“That’s improved the birds, no end,” said Gabriel. God nodded and sighed.

As they stood looking at the sunset, they heard a thrashing in the bushes nearby. A bird flapped wildly through and called from a close branch.

“Oh no! Oh no! Am I too late? Nobody told me this was happening. I don’t see other birds very often and the painted woodpecker gave me such a fright! “

“Oh, hello,” said God, looking round for his paints.

“This little shy one only sings at night. “ Gabriel looked up, worried, as he searched through paintboxes.

“I’m sorry. It looks like there’s no paint left,” replied the angel as he turned to look more closely at the little brown bird as it hung its head.

In the growing dark, God told the Nightingale to come closer and held up his pointing finger. The bird fluttered over and landed there.

“Don’t despair, little one. I have found just enough on this brush. Now, open your beak for me.” When the bird did so, God put the last dab of gold on its tongue.

The sharp taste startled the Nightingale. It flew off into the bushes. It was hard to make out where it had gone. Suddenly, the most glorious birdsong floated up into the night air. No-one in the world had ever heard anything like it before.

“Ah,” said God. “That worked. Nightingale is happy now.” He and Gabriel stood to listen for a while and then went home.

So … they do say that is how the Nightingale came to sing so gloriously. When people hear one singing in the distance they stop, wherever they are and listen. They forget what they’re in the middle of but remember, ever afterwards, how that Nightingale’s song made them feel.

©MegPhilp2019

‘The Very Dab’ adapted by Meg Philp from “The Nightingale” by Richard Adams in The Iron Wolf and other stories. London, Penguin, 1980 pp. 111-115.

Notes:

The word “Canberra” is popularly claimed to derive from the word Kambera or Canberry, which is claimed to mean “meeting place” in Ngunnawal, one of the Indigenous languages spoken in the district by Aboriginal Australians before European settlers arrived, although there is no clear evidence to support this. ( Source – Wikiwand)

Birds in story order

Cockatiel

Rainbow Lorikeet

Palm Cockatoo

Rainbow Bee-Eater

Pelican

Superb Fairy Wren

Galah

Nightingale

There are more marvellous photos of all of these birds on the www.

All text and photos by Meg

Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp Copyright © under Australian Law.

 

 

Six Ways to help Listeners ‘twig’ to your Telling.

Storytellers work at many levels

1. Be clear on the setting of the tale. (Map out the story, search images or info online.)

2. See the action in your imagination. Dwell on your favourite scene – the one that hooked you in the first place. Can you make it more alive?

3. Clear up any details or facts in the plot you’re not sure of.

4. Include listeners in the story. Ask them a question or wonder aloud yourself. Make them curious about the outcome.

5. Add fun where possible. This is entertainment!

6. Feel the emotions as they occur, as the story carries you along.

……………………………

Remember that a story told is a give-away, a gift that you hope is passed on.

See if you can find the ways I’ve tried to do this in a story I’m learning to tell.

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Here’s my written version of an Xmas story I’ve adapted from a 1992 adaption of The Mice and the Christmas Tree by Pat Thomson in A Stocking Full of Christmas Stories, which is a 1956 adaption of the story in the collection Little Old Mrs Pepperpot, which Alf Proysen expanded on from his carol Musevisa (Mouse Song) he composed in 1946. He was one of  Norway’s most famous writers, poets and playwrights. The song has since become part of their Jul tradition.

The Christmas Tree Mice. Adapted by M.Philp 2018

Long ago and far away, in a village in the heart of Norway, lived a family of house mice. There was Ma, Pa, Grandma Mouse and seven mousekins, all snug in their home in the pantry wall of an old red house. Each winter the mice celebrated Yuletide just like people did. They got their home ready for Christmas Eve, swept the dust out using their tails, put out good food, got dressed in their best, gave presents and sang around the tree.

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At a nod from Ma, Pa Mouse would roll in an old pine-cone and decorate it with cobwebs. The mouse-children then lined up in order beside their tree and Ma presented each of them with a nut. Then, as a special treat, she went down the line, holding a piece of dark chocolate under each nose, so they each had a good long sniff at heaven.

Next, the mice all caught hold of each other’s tail and circled their tree, dancing and singing all the songs they knew. After that, they played Blind Man’s Bluff until ‘Lights out’ and time for bed.

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But one year, the youngest child squeaked into the dark “No! No! We don’t’ want to go!”

“Don’t be silly,” replied both parents. “We’ve all had our Good Jul. Now off you go to sleep, the lot of you!”

The eldest child refused and explained that they all wanted to dance around that really big tree in the front room of the house. Only yesterday he’d seen it through a crack in the skirting board and had told the others how beautiful it looked.

Ma Mouse choked and coughed. She reminded them how dangerous it was to go into those giant rooms.

“Not … if they’re all fast asleep!” stressed the littlest mouse, looking at Pa with shining eyes.

“Oh well, … it is Christmas,” declared Pa looking at  Ma. “Follow me, children!” Off they set. Ma brought up the rear, calling “Mind you go carefully and very quietly.” Grandma decided to stay behind and finish knitting her scarf.

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One after the other they quickly crept along, inside the walls of the house till they emerged from the crack in the skirting board. There was the tree reaching to the rafters. “Ooh … aah” they sighed. “Oh, it’s lovely … and so tall! ”

“That’s a Norwegian Spruce for you!” announced Pa. The mischief of mice then skittered by the wall till they sat beneath the wondrous tree. The littlest mouse whimpered to the eldest “But … where are the stars you saw? You said there were lots of sparkling stars all over.”

Meanwhile, Ma Mouse had arrived at last at the opening but couldn’t get through because of her big tummy. She was breathless and grabbed a cord to steady herself. Suddenly, the tree lit up with twinkling stars.

The rest of the family crept around the tree admiring those magic lights, the tinsel; the strings of flags. They even clambered among the pile of boxes underneath. I don’t know who it was found the truck first, but soon all the children were in the back and Pa was in the cab. Imagine their squeals of delight when it started to move and Pa drove them across the room to Ma who pleaded “Children. Not so much noise! Someone will hear!”

They all waved to Ma as the truck went past and then squealed at it veered towards the door, which suddenly clicked open. Each mousekin jumped and clung to their neighbour. As the truck swerved away, a fat brown cat walked in, carrying its tail high.

Pa drove straight back behind the tree. When they came round the other side, there sat the cat on the mat. Pa turned the wheel hard round and drove faster. The wheel stuck there!  Each time the truck came round the tree, the cat made swipes with his paw as it zoomed past. The mice froze with fear in the back.

Oh no! The truck began to slow down! Pa drove in among the boxes. As soon as it came to a stop, he yelled “Everybody out! Up the tree!” Little grey bodies scampered up the trunk and hung on to the highest branches for dear life.

Cat Below pulled at the mat with her claws and squinted up. “Come on down,”she sighed impatiently. “Tonight is not the time for catching.”

“Oh no, we won’t!” shouted the eldest mouse, clinging to a star. “You’ll pounce on us and torment us. We know what cats do.”

“Not tonight!” sighed the cat, looking at her clean claws and then up at these new ornaments. “Christmas Eve is the only time I’m kind to mice!”

The mice froze again as she slowly stretched and got up, walked to the door and called back, “Better watch out … if I see you tomorrow … !” The mice held their breath. Then the door closed and she was gone.

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When the family were safely back in their little home, Ma Mouse made all the children promise not to go up to the big house again, to always do as they were told and never to give cheek to the cat. They promised, with their front paws crossed behind their back.

Then one by one, each mousekin took from their pocket, some little strips of tinsel, or a Norwegian flag, wisps of wool, snippets of ribbon and thin silver stars. These they proudly hung on their own cone tree.

And so it was from that night on and ever after, the mice had a fine Yule tree and a  happy story to tell their own children every Merry Christmas.

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[Dedicated to LC, my Lucky Cat]

All text and photos by Meg. Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp Copyright © under Australian Law.

Sources

‘The Mice & the Christmas Tree’ by Alf Proysen (adapted) in A Stocking Full of Christmas Stories collected by Pat Thomson. London, Transworld, 1993. pp109 -118.

[Pat Thomson has written over 50 books, great to read aloud. Look out for them in libraries]

Mice Word list

I learned a lot about mice here! A collection of mice can be a trip, horde or a mischief!

Alf Proysen: Norwegian poet, playwright, musician, author & songwriter

Mrs Pepperpot stories

Christmas in Norway (includes choir singing Proysen’s song (Musevisa)

PS. Spot the mistake in one of the photos. Happy Days!