Nanny Piggins tells the story of Ali Baba, forty thieves and a distant fabulously glamerous relative of hers who happened to be a slave girl in the village at the time.
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‘The Tale of Ali Baba,’ as told by Nanny Piggins
‘Can you tell us the story of Ali Baba?’ asked Michael.
‘Well I could,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘But we would need a lot of cake.’
‘Are you hungry?’ asked Samantha.
‘Not yet, but I would be if I told that story,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘It’s not really one stories. It’s four stories in one. So I would need four times as many snacks as usual.’
‘Should we call Hans the baker?’ asked Derrick.
‘I think so,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘I’ve got some jammy dodgers in the kitchen. That should get us through the first bit. So long as he can get here before part 2, and he brings several dozen chocolate coisssants, pink sprinkle finger buns and Portuguese custard tarts, I should have enough energy to get me through.’
‘I’ll fetch the biscuit tin,’ said Samantha.
‘I’ll call Hans,’ said Derrick.
‘I’ll get the removallist trolley so it’s easier for Hans to get all the food into the house,’ said Michael.
And so, one minute later they were all sitting around Nanny Piggins, ready for her to begin her tale.
‘Once upon a time, in the ancient Persian story days, there was a stick collector called Ali Baba,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘Let me guess!’ said Michael. ‘And Ali Baba was a woman, and a pig, and her real name was Ali Baba Piggins!’
‘No,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Ali Baba was a nitwit.’
‘I thought Ali Baba was the hero if this story,’ said Derrick.
‘Oh no,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Ali Baba was a lovely fellow. Very well meaning. Good husband. But no rocket scientist. Admittedly rocket science hadn’t been invented yet. But if it had, NASA would not have been recruiting Ali Baba. He was just a stick collector who got himself in a pickle.
‘You’d better explain the whole thing,’ said Samantha.
‘Well Ali Baba had a brother Cassim,’ began Nanny Piggins. ‘Cassim married a rich woman, bought a nice house and set up a successful business.
But Ali Baba married a poor woman and to support his family he had to spend all day collecting sticks from the hills and selling it for firewood in the town.
Which was hard work. Because remember, Persia was in Middle East. And when you imagine what the Middle East looks like, you don’t imagine great big tree-packed forests do you?
Ali Baba had to travel a long way each day to find these sticks. It really was a silly job for someone who was poor already. But I don’t want to be disparaging of his career choice. I know some people don’t like the idea of being blasted out of a cannon, but I thought that was a lovely job.
Anyway, Cassim was one of those annoying brothers. Not like your two brothers, Samantha. All brothers can be irritating. But Cassim was irritating in just about every way. Despite being really rich and getting richer every year – he did nothing to help his less fortunate brother.
Ali Baba did not mind. He just wished he could provide more for his family.
‘One day, one day Ali Baba was walking a very long way from town in his search of sticks. He really should have considered moving to a Bavarian forest or the Amazon jungle. It would have made his life easier.
But then this wouldn’t be a traditional Persian tale, it would be a traditional native South American tale and there would be a lot more shooting people with paralysing blow darts…
‘Nanny Piggins, I think you’re getting a little bit off topic,’ said Derrick.
‘Oh yes, as I was saying Ali Baba had walked a long way up into the rocky hills and he was tired, so he got off his donkey for a rest.
As he sat on a rock, he heard the sound of hoof beats approaching. Now in the olden Persian days, law and order was not what it is today. Police had not been invented. So there were a lot of ner-do-wells roaming around. In particular there were a lot of gangs of nasty thieves.
Ali Baba was worried that the people he heard approaching might be thieves, so he hid up a tree.
From there, he watched as forty thieves road by on their horses, their saddle bags bugling with whatever they had stolen.
‘And the forty thieves were all pigs, and all ladies, and all related to you?’ guessed Michael.
‘No,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘They were just thieves. They stopped beside a huge rock. Now we get to the strange bit - their leader got off his horse and called out the words, ‘Open Sesame!’
These words must have been magical. Because as soon as the words were uttered, the huge bolder rolled to one side.
‘Open sesame?’ said Michael. ‘As in sesame seeds? Like you get on the top of bread rolls?’
‘Exactly, open sesame!’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘Wow!’ said Michael. ‘Does it only work on rocks?’
‘I presume so,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘I’ve tried it on bank vaults and the lock to Hans’ chocolate chip cupboard, but it has never worked for me.
Anyway, as Ali Baba watched on as the thieves disappeared in the cave and rolled the boulder back behind them.
Ali Baba was too frightened to move. He didn’t want to get down from the tree in case the thieves came out again. So sat up there for an hour, before the thieves re-emerged. Their leader said, ‘Close Sesame!’ and the boulder rolled back. Then the thieves road away back down the road.
Ali Baba was so astonished by what he had seen, he went over to the boulder for a closer look. He laid his hand on the huge rock. It was just as solid and just as heavy as any other rock. If he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, he never would have believed that such a large stone could move. Ali Baba stepped back and tried the words for himself.
‘Open Sesame!’ he said.
And immediately the huge rock rolled to one side, just as it had done for the thieves. But that was not the most astonishing part. What really blew Ali Baba’s mind was what he saw behind where the boulder had been. There was a massive cave full of the greatest treasure imaginable!’
‘Gold and silver and jewels?’ asked Michael.
‘And carpets and silks and artworks?’ asked Samantha.
‘Oh no,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘The cave hid a treasure much more valuable than any of that. The cave was cram filled with – cake.’
‘Cake?’ said Derrick.
‘Oh yes, wonderful, magically good, spectacularly delicious cake,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘Every type of cake you can possibly imagine and many times beyond the imagination of any of us. There was chocolate cake, coffee cake, lemon cake, fruit cake, syrup cake, sponge cake, Victoria cake, orange cake, angel food cake, devils food cake, black forest cherry cake… you name it – every type of cake ever invented was there.’
Ali Baba’s eyes practically popped out of his head. His brain practically exploded from taking in the beauty of it all.
Now, I don’t want you to think badly of this poor simple man. He was essentially a good person. But when you don’t have much money. And you work every hour of daylight fetching sticks in a very arid area that doesn’t have many trees. You are going to be hungry, a lot of the time, in fact – pretty much all of the time.
And when you are permanently that deliriously hungry, the sight of one slice of cake can make you lose all sense of morality. So seeing a whole cavern full of cake will instantly send you temporarily insane and drive you despicable behaviour.
I’m sorry to say, that even though that cake was not his, Ali Baba grabbed up a slice and ate it. You shouldn’t judge him too harshly. After all the cake didn’t belong to the thieves either. They were thieves and they had stolen it. Also it was a dry climate so the cake would have gone stale before long. So you could argue that Ali Baba was doing the cake a favour.
Still – eating stolen property is not acceptable. Just because you didn’t steal it, doesn’t make it alright.
So after seven or eight large cakes, Ali Baba began to come to his sense. He realised that stealing was wrong so he stopped eating.
But he also realised that his wife and son back home were still hungry, and they would love a slice of cake. So he wrapped up one medium sized chocolate cake and put it in his saddle bag. All up he had only taken 9 cakes. There were tens of thousands in the cave so he was pretty sure the thieves would never notice the few he had taken.
Ali Baba left the cave, said ‘close sesame’ returning the boulder to its place. Strapped the saddle bag to his donkey and returned home.
When he gave the cake to his wife and son they were delighted. They’d never seen cake before. They shovelled it into their mouths in pure unabated joy. It was the happiest the little family had ever been. But now we come to the plot twist.
Ali Baba’s sister in law, Mrs Cassim turned up – wanting to borrow some kitchen scales. When she came inside and saw chocolate stains all over the faces of Ali Baba’s family. She grew suspicious.
She went home and told Cassim. ‘Your brother Ali Baba eats better than you. He and his family have so much chocolate cake it was smeared all over their faces when I visited them.’
‘Really?’ said Cassim.
He didn’t like the idea of his brother having something he didn’t, so he went straight over to Ali Baba’s house to find out about it.
Now, as I’ve said, Ali Baba was lovely but a bit of a nitwit. It took Cassim about three seconds to get him to break down and tell the whole story of the cave that opened to the words ‘Open Sesame’. Cassim was amazed.
‘We must go back there!’ he insisted. ‘And get the rest of this cake.’
‘Oh no,’ said Ali Baba.
‘I insist,’ said Cassim. ‘We shall set out first thing in the morning.’
But when Cassim went home and he thought about all the treasure he was going to steal the next day, he began to think – why should I share this with my useless brother? If I go up into the hills now, I can steal all that cake for myself.
So that is what he did.
Cassim harnessed all 28 of his own donkeys, gathered up 112 saddle bags and set out up into the hills.
Cassim got to the cave Ali Baba had described just before dawn. He said the magic words, ‘Open Sesame!’ and the boulder rolled back.
‘What an idiot Ali Baba is,’ thought Cassim. ‘He should have stolen all this cake himself when he had the chance. He doesn’t deserve to get any more now.’
So Cassim started packing up all the cake into his saddle bags. He spent hours getting it all in so he could steal as much as his donkeys could carry. Cassim was just about to leave, when he heard hoove beats approaching.
‘Oh dear,’ said Cassim. ‘I’d better get out of here.’
He rushed to the door but when he got there, he couldn’t remember the magic words.
‘He couldn’t remember “open sesame”?’ asked Michael.
‘No,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘You know how it is? When you know you know something. And it’s right on the tip of your tongue. But you just can’t recall the word. That’s what happened to Cassim.’
‘He knew it was some sort of seed,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘So he started making wild guesses…
Open sunflower seed.
But none of these worked. Then suddenly the boulder began to move. And Cassim realised, it was only opening because the thieves had said the real magic words on the other side.
Cassim froze in fear. And when the boulder rolled aside the thieves saw him. They also saw that he had packed up all their treasure ready to steal…
‘Please say they forgave him and let him go home if he promised not to do it again,’ begged Boris, tears already streaming down his face in anticipation of what was about to come next.
‘Would you like to put your paws over your ears, Boris?’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘You can think that while I tell the children what really happened.’
Boris nodded and put his hands over his ears immediately.
Nanny Piggins leaned in and whispered, ‘The thieves drew their swords and fell on Cassim, killing him instantly.
‘Gosh!’ said Samantha.
‘Then,’ continued Nanny Piggins. ‘As a warning to anyone else who might dare to rob them – they cut Cassim’s body into four pieces and hung them up by the entrance to the cave.’
‘That’s awful,’ said Derrick.
‘Gross!’ said Michael.
‘Lahlahlahlahlah!’ said Boris, he still had his hands over his ears and he was desperately trying not to overhear what Nanny Piggins was saying.
The next morning when Cassim didn’t come home, Mrs Cassim was worried. She ran over to Ali Baba’s house and begged him to go looking for her husband.
Ali Baba did not want to go. He knew his brother well and he had a very good idea where his brother had snuck off to. But Ali Baba was a good man, so he took his donkey and headed up into the hills.
When Ali Baba got to the boulder he was afraid. For there was a blood stain on the ground in front of it.
Ali Baba said the magic words. The boulder moved. And he saw his poor brother as the thieves had left him. Ali Baba was distraught. He buddled up the body of his brother and put it on his donkey, then took it back to his brother’s house in town.
‘That’s the doorbell!’ cried Nanny Piggins. ‘It must be Hans! Quick children, run and grab the baked goods from him. There is still so much story to tell.’
The children grabbed the tarts, croissants and finger buns and rushed back to their Nanny. Hans came along too. He loved a good story. And Nanny Piggins continued.
‘And so Ali Baba took Cassim’s body back to Cassim’s house. And this where we meet the true hero of the story,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘For Cassim had a slave girl.’
‘He had a slave?’ said Samantha. ‘Was that allowed?’
‘Oh yes, in the ancient Persian story days, in fact in pretty much all the ancient story days, there were slaves,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘There were a lot of tremendously not nice things going on back then.’
‘Unlike Ali Baba, this slave girl, was so smart and wise if she had known about thermodynamics and jet propulsion could easily have been a rocket scientist. Her name was Morgiania…’
‘Piggins?’ guess Michael.
‘Why yes,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘And as it happens she was staggeringly beautiful and a pig and one of my distant relatives.’
‘Awesome,’ said Michael.
‘And Morgiana Piggins soon came up with a plan. While it had been nice for Ali Baba to retrieve his brother’s body, it was also foolish.
The thieves would know that someone else knew the secret of the cave. And they would want to kill him. It was vitally important that no one in town find out how Cassim died. Or word would spread, and the thieves would soon find Ali Baba and his family.
So Morgiana went into town and found a cobbler.
‘A fruity dessert with dumplings on top?’ asked Boris.
‘No,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Not that type of cobbler. Although that type of cobbler is very good. Remind me to make one later.
No, the cobbler Morgiana fetched made shoes, so he was good at sewing leather.
Morgiana blindfolded the cobbler and brought him back to Cassim’s house where she got him to sew Cassim’s body back together. That way when they held the funeral for Cassim, no one in the whole town realised what had happened to him.
Meanwhile, up in the hills, the thieving bandits had returned to the cave and saw that Cassim’s body was gone.
‘Someone knows our secret,’ said their leader. ‘We must find them and kill them.’
‘What a rotter,’ said Boris.
The leader sent one of his thieves down into the town to act a spy and find who took the body.
The spy could learn nothing, until he came across a cobbler who was boasting about being so good at sewing he had sewn together a dead body just the previous week.
The spy asked the cobbler to tell him the location of this house. But the cobbler explained he couldn’t because he had been blind folded.
‘It was clever of Morgiana to think of that,’ said Boris.
‘Yes, but the spy was clever too,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘He put a blindfold on the cobbler and told him to feel his way back to the house. And the cobbler took him straight to Cassim’s door.
‘What a silly cobbler,’ said Boris. ‘I think I prefer the fruit kind.’
‘The thief took out a piece of chalk and made a mark on Cassim’s front door. Planning to return that night with the other 39 thieves so they could break into the house and kill Ali Baba and his family.
But Morgiana Piggins had seen him put the chalk mark on the door. She realised what the spy was up to, and she knew how to thwart him. She went around marking every other door in the neighbourhood.
When the gang of thieves returned that night. They couldn’t find Cassim’s house because all the houses had the same mark. The leader of the thieves was so angry he killed the spy on the spot.
‘Wow, that’s harsh,’ said Derrick. ‘It wasn’t really the spy’s fault.’
‘I know,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘But gangs of thieves don’t have unfair dismissal tribunals. So that the way it went.’
The next day the leader sent another spy into the village to try again. This spy also found the cobbler and got the cobbler to lead him to the house. This time the spy marked the house by smashing a chip of stone out of the stone doorstep.
But again Morgiana saw him do it. And as soon as he was gone, she went down into the street with a chisel and knocked chunks out of every other doorstep on the block.
When the thieves rode down into town that night, they couldn’t find the house. The leader was so angry he killed this spy too.
‘His work place morale must have been dreadfully low,’ said Derrick.
‘It was,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Unsurpisingly no one volunteered to be the spy who tried again. So the leader went down into the town himself. And he was a bit more clever about it.
He went around asking if anyone had recently become rich. And he soon heard of a stick collector whose brother had suddenly died leaving him his house and money. The leader knew this was his man. So he got together all of his remaining thieves. There were only 37 left now. And he packed them all up into jars.’
‘Jars?’ asked Derrick. ‘Like jam jars?’
‘No, glass hadn’t been invented yet,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘He packed them into oil jars. You see oil was stored in big clay jars in the ancient Perisan Story times. And these jars were big enough to hold a man. The leader hid his men in these jars and approached Ali Baba’s house pretending to be an oil salesman.’
He asked if he could store his oil pots in Ali Baba’s yard for the night.
As we know, Ali Baba was nice but dim so, of course, he said “yes”. He even invited the leader to stay the night inside his house. The leader couldn’t’ believe his luck. He whispered into one of the jars to tell his men what to do. They were to wait in the jars until they heard him throw rocks onto their lids, then they were to storm inside and kill everyone.
But that night, as Morgiana was making a great big cake, she ran out of oil before she could grease the tin. She knew the oil salesman had stored his jars in the yard, so she went out to fetch a little.
When Morgiana lifted the lid on the first jar she found a thief asleep inside. She checked the others. She realised that all the thieves had sneaked into her Ali Baba’s yard this way.
So Morgiana, quietly went back inside and got the huge bowl of cake batter she had been making. Then she took it outside and tipped it into the pots. One after another.
‘And the thieves drowned!’ exclaimed Derrick.
‘That’s awful!’ said Samantha.
‘No, they didn’t drown,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘They ate the cake batter. And when their stomaches were full of all that sugary, buttery goodness they came to their senses, realised that being a thief was a very naughty thing indeed, snuck out of the pots and ran away.
Later that night when their leader threw stones out of the window onto the lids of the jars, no one responded.
The leader was furious. He would have to kill Ali Baba himself. So he tucked a knife into his belt and went back inside to finish his dinner with Ali Baba.
Just then, Morgiana came into the room carrying their dessert – a fabulously delicious bowl of sticky date pudding. She realised that the leader was going to kill her master if he got the chance, so she came up with yet another plan.
‘I shall dance for you,’ declared Morgiana.
‘You will?’ said Ali Baba. ‘There really is no need. We wouldn’t want you to do anything you weren’t comfortable with.’
‘No, I shall dance,’ said Morgiana.
‘But we’ve almost finished eating,’ said Ali Baba. ‘I want to go to bed.’
‘You will sit there while I dance,’ said Morgiana, with such a firm tone that Ali Baba was a little afraid and decided to just sit there and sulk instead of arguing any more.
And so Morgiana started dancing. Swooshing one way, then the other.
She was a Piggins, so of course, a fabulously talented dancer. So even dim-witted Ali Baba and the greedy murderous leader of thieves were soon entranced by her performance.
Morgiana danced closer and closer, her movements becoming more passionate and animated. It was the most beautiful dancing ever seen before or since in all of Persia. So the leader of the thieves didn’t even notice when Morgiana yanked the dagger out of his belt. And he definitely didn’t have time to react before she stabbed him with his own knife right in the chest with it.
‘What have you done!’ cried Ali Baba. ‘You just killed my dinner guest.’
‘Ask yourself, why did he bring a knife to the meal?’ asked Morgiana.
‘To cut up his steak with,’ said Ali Baba.
‘Okay, well that would make sense,’ agreed Morgiana. ‘But he was also going to use that knife to kill you. For that man was the leader of the band of thieves who killed your brother at the cave.
‘How can you be sure?’ asked Ali Baba.
‘Well there is no DNA evidence or finger print technology yet,’ said Morgiana. ‘But the 37 men hiding in his oil pots was very suspicious. And he hasn’t even touched his sticky date pudding so there is no doubt in my mind that that man was thoroughly evil.
Ali Baba looked at the pudding bowl and saw that this was true.
‘Oh Morgiana, you have saved me and my family,’ said Ali Baba. ‘How can I ever repay you?’
‘Duh! I am a slave,’ said Morgiana. ‘So unslaving me would be a good start.’
‘Of course,’ said Ali Baba. ‘I shall free you at once. But that is not enough. You are so wise and brave. I must offer you more. I know! I shall allow you to marry my own son.’
Morgiana looked at Ali Baba’s son. He was nice enough. But if brain surgery had been invented, no one would be asking this young man to do it.
‘That’s very kind,’ said Morgiana. ‘But I’m not in a rush to get married. There’s an unattended cave full of cake up in the hills. I think I’ll go and live there.
And so they all lived happily ever after. Except for Cassim, and the two spies and the leader of the thieves. Not so happy for them. But for everybody else it was a very satisfactory ending. The end time for bed.