While sailing a full sized chocolate replica of The Beagle down the river to school, Nanny Piggins regales the children with the story of her distant cousin, Freda the Frog and her encounter with a scorpion.
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Hello and welcome to Bedtime Stories with me R.A. Spratt.
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I love doing this podcast. But, like pretty much everything about being a writer it’s a very isolated thing to do. I’m just here on my own in my office writing and recording it every week. Well my dog is here with me, but it’s just the two of us.
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‘The Scorpion and the Frog’ as told by Nanny Piggins
Here we go…
Nanny Piggins was walking Derrick, Samantha and Michael to school. They’d had to walk because they’d missed the bus. And they’d missed the bus because the chocolate chip pancakes Nanny Piggins had made them for breakfast, were so good, they’d all had to have 7 helpings. The trick to getting chocolate chip pancakes that good is getting the pancake to chocolate chip ratio just right – In this instance, Nanny Piggins had actually entirely forgot to add any pancake batter to the chocolate chips so they had basically just been eating giant discs of chocolate.
So they were just bustling towards the school gate as fast as three children and a pig can bustle after they’ve wildly over eaten, when they came face to face with Nanny Piggins arch nemesis.
To be fair, Nanny Piggins did have quite a lot of arch nemesises. You can’t be the worlds most glamorous flying pig without incurring the roth of countless circus rivals, not to mention her baking rivals. But this nemesis was her nannying nemesis – Nanny Anne. A nanny so perfectly perfect at absolutely everything related to child care and personal hygiene it was nauseating.
‘Good morning, Nanny Piggins,’ said Nanny Anne with a smile that did go all the way up to her eyes but only because they were twinkling with joyful malice.
‘Ugh,’ grunted Nanny Piggins. She had long ago given up any pretence of being polite to Nanny Anne.
‘You didn’t bring in your boat today, I see,’ said Nanny Anne.
Nanny Piggins looked at Nanny Anne. Samson and Marget Wallace, the children Nanny Anne looked after, were struggling down the footpath behind her, carrying what looked like a small row boat.
Nanny Piggins glowered. She didn’t want to ask Nanny Anne what she meant but she was dying of curiosity.
‘Didn’t Michael tell you?’ asked Nanny Anne.
Nanny Piggins squeezed her mouth closed with all her might. She knew if she opened it she wouldn’t in fact ask Nanny Anne what she was talking about. She would just lunge forward and bite her on her shin.
‘Oh yes, sorry,’ said Michael. ‘Dinner was so good last night I forgot to tell you.’ They’d had pizza the previous night for dinner. And Nanny Piggins didn’t like to waste good flour of pizza flavoured pizza. If you were going to bake with flour she thought it was a crime not to add chocolate powder. And then tomato and cheese wouldn’t go with that. So as toppings she added chocolate sauce and chocolate cream. ‘We have to make a boat for class, out of something boats aren’t usually made of, whoever’s floats longest wins.’
‘Margaret stayed up all night working on hers,’ said Nanny Anne. This was a lie. Marageret had slept soundly while Nanny Anne had done the work. She said Margaret’s fine motor skills weren’t good enough for her to do her own 2nd grade assignments. ‘We thought we’d bring it in a day early, so the teacher could show the rest of the class what can be done when you apply yourself.’
Nanny Piggins peered closer at the boat Samson and Margaret were carrying. She could see now that it was in fact entirely made out of gaffer tape.
‘Hah!’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘You made it out of gaffer tape? There’s nothing impressive about that. Gaffer tape is water proof. Where’s the challenge?’
Nanny Anne looked taken aback to have her ingenuity questioned. Most people were too frightened to challenge her.
‘Michael is making his boat out of something much more impressive,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘I am?’ asked Michael. He hadn’t actually given his own boat any thought. It wasn’t that he was thoughtless, he just had other thoughts, usually about chocolate and not doing homework that clouded his mind.
‘Oh yes,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Michael is making a full sized replica of the Beagle.’
‘The beagle?’ said Derrick. ‘You mean like Snoopy.’
‘No, the Beagle,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘As in the ship Charles Darwin sailed on, when he made his voyage of scientific discovery around the world.’
There was a pause while everyone took in the magnitude of Nanny Piggins outrageous boast. Then Nanny Anne burst out laughing. And it was the horrible kind of laugh of someone who doesn’t get much practise because they don’t laugh very often, and when they do laugh it is always at someone else.
Laughter shold never be a form of degredation. It is supposed to be an expression of delight. If you only ever laugh at other people you need to take a long hard look at yourself.
‘I look forward to seeing that,’ said Nanny Anne, still smirking smugly as she ushed Samson, Margeret and the boat into the school grounds.
Nanny Piggins grabbed the gate post. It was the only thing stopping her from chasing after Nanny Anne and stomping hard on her foot.
‘Nanny Piggins,’ said Samantha. ‘Nanny Piggins, you’re blocking our way. We need to go through the gate.’
Nanny Piggins took a moment to realise what Samantha was saying. ‘No, you won’t,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘You’re not going anywhere. You’re coming home with me.’
‘We are?’ asked Derrick. He wasn’t terribly disappointed. He was supposed to be doing a maths test after recess and unless it covered the mathematics of measuring cake ingrediants he had done absolutely nothing to prepare.
‘We’ve got work to do,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Life sized solid chocolate replicas of 19th century ships don’t build themselves.’
‘You were serious?’ asked Michael. ‘We’re really going to do that?’
‘I never lie,’ said Nanny Piggins. Which was itself a lie. But the children were polite to point this out.
Once they returned home, Nanny Piggins set to work. And it was an impressive sight to behold. She called in favours with all her chocolate suppliers.
Luckily she consumed so much chocolate in a calendar year she was an excellent customer and every chocolatier in town was happy to help her in her project.
She set to work constructing the Beagle just at the early 19th century ship builders had built the original timber version. She took massive logs of chocolate, which she made herself in the backyard using sewerage piping at a mold (don’t worry it was unused sewerage piping.). Then she took these logs and carved and lathed them into planks, bent them round a frame made of reinforced chocolate beams (she added caramel to the chocolate in the beams for greater tensile strength), then laid sheets of chocolate on top for the decking.
The hardest part to construct was the sails. Chocolate does not lend itself to bending with the wind. So instead she used candy rainbow straps. A confection made purely of sugar, artificial flavouring and artificially coloruing. A substance so diabolically unhealthy it can withstand the strongest gale.
And so after just 16 hours of constant labour her model was completed.
It was a magnificent sight. A Cherokee class, ten gun, brig-sloop with three masts and an unusally high bulwark - made entirely out of chocolate.
‘How are we going to get it in to school?’ asked Michael.
‘We’ll sail it of course,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘We will?’ asked Michael.
‘The park at the end of the street has a river in it,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘5 kilometres downstream it runs right past the school. So sailing it will be the easiest way to get it there and it will be a good opportunity to test it’s buoyancy.’
‘And it will make a spectacular arrival that will really infuriate Nanny Anne,’ observed Samantha.
‘I suppose so,’ said Nanny Piggins. Breezily as if this wasn’t what she had been planning the whole time.
And so, after Nanny Piggins bribed a very nice crane operator from a nearby building site, with some lovely lemon cupcakes, the chocolate Beagle was soon floating in the river.
Nanny Piggins raised the rainbow candy sails and they set off.
‘It floats beautifully!’ exclaimed Michael.
‘Of course,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Chocolate is a very versatile material. It would be used in vehicle manufacture more, if the people making the vehicles could resist eating it. No one want’s to catch a plane that only has one wing because the engineers were peckish.
‘At this speed it we should be at school in 20 minutes,’ said Derrick.
‘What shall we do to fill the time?’ asked Nanny Piggins.
The children stared at each other. They had assumed that sailing a chocolate yacht down their neighbourhood river would be entertainment enough.
‘Why don’t you tell us a story, Sarah?’ suggested Boris.
‘That’s a good idea,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Being on the water like this does remind me of my cousin – Freda.’
‘Was she a great sailing pig?’ asked Samantha.
‘No,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘She was a frog.’
The children were puzzled. They were not entirely sure how a pig could have a cousin who was a frog. But you would never guess form looking at a tadpole that it would transform into a frog. Or that a caterpillar would transform into a butterfly. So who knew what a frog and a pig could be capable of.’
‘Yes, there is a very famous story about my cousin Freda the frog,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘And the time she met a scorpion who wanted to cross a river.’
‘Oh I know that one!’ said Boris. ‘It’s a Russian folk story. The scorpion and the frog.’ Boris let out a sob. ‘But it ends very sadly.
Nanny Piggins rolled her eyes, ‘All Russian stories do. Luckily the folklorist who wrote it down got everything wrong. It didn’t happen that way at all.’
‘And you know the real story?’ prompted Michael.
‘Yes, I do,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘Will you tell us?’ asked Michael.
‘Alright,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Once my cousin Freida was sitting on the river bank enjoying the sunshine when a scorpion scuffled up behind her.
Freida didn’t want to move. You know how it is when you’re sitting in the sun and you feel so warm and comfortable like a slice of toast in a toaster. So she just peered at this scorpiom out of the corner of her eye. Generally she didn’t care for scorpions and I know it’s dreadfully speciest of her but to be fair scorpions don’t look very hospitable.
‘But your’e always telling us not to judge other by their appearance,’ Samantha reminded her.
‘Yes I know,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘But that’s because you’re obsessed with physical beauty. Handsome princes with rippling muscles and chiselled jaws and beautiful princesses with golden locks and pretty faces. That stuff is ridiculous. Scorpions are quite another matter. People are prejudiced against them because everything about them screams – I’m going to sting you!’
They’ve got big angry pincers that are specifically designed for pinching. And they’ve got a hard chiton exterior that is designed specifically for stopping you from biting them back. And they’ve got eight whole legs – so they have an unfair advantage when it comes to running away. Which is really just cheaiting. But the most ostentatiously offensive thing about scorpions is their tail. It’s just a huge stinging weapon that they pull up over their heads and wave about to intimidate people.
But my cousin freida was too sun addled to run away – she simly enquired, ‘What do you want?’
It turns out that this scorpion was quite the silver tongued devil. He was tremendously polite. ‘My dear,’ said the scorpion. ‘I would dearly love to cross this river. Could I please, persuade you to carry me across on your back.’
My cousin glowered at him. ‘But you’re a scorpion. How do I know you won’t sting me?’
‘Of course I wouldn’t do that,’ said the scorpion. ‘If I did we would both die because I would also drown.’
‘I suppose so,’ said Freida. She was heading across to the other side anyway, because that’s where the nearest bakery was situated, so she decided to obligue. ‘Hop on and I’ll swim you over.’
‘Now Freida was seriously swimming. She used to be a breast stroke champion, you know. Frogs are always good at doing frog kicks. So swimming across the river that day was a real pleasure. It was lovely and sunny. The water was cool and clear. It was glorious. she’s almost forgotten there was a scorpion on her back. When all of a sudden KAPOW – she felt a searing burning pain pierce her back.
‘Did you just sting me?’ demanded Freida.
Clearly the scorpion had. But it was so unbelievable she had to ask.
‘Yes, I’m afraid I did,’ confessed the scorpion.
‘Well ow ow ow owwy,’ said Freida, ‘I really hurts!’
‘Yes, I’ve been told a scorpion sting does feel that way,’ agreed the scorpion.
‘By all the other people you’ve stung?’ guessed Frieda.
‘Yes, they did all mention it,’ said the Scorpion. ‘Right before they died. Their last words in fact.’
‘But that’s just so stupid!’ exclaimed Freda. ‘If you sting me, and I die. You’re going to drown here in the river.’
‘I know,’ said the scorpion.
‘Then why did you do it?’ demanded Freida.
‘Because – that is my nature,’ said the Scorpion.
Boris burst into tears. ‘I told you this story was so sad.’
‘It’s only sad because the Russian version ends right there,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘It’s supposed to be some sort of fatalist moral tale that teaches children that wicked people will always be wicked even if being wicked harms themselves. Which is a dreadfully uncharitable, unforgiving thing to teach children.’
‘It could just be teaching children to steer clear of scorpions,’ said Derrick.
‘Well that’s hardly fair on all the nice scorpions,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘Are there any nice scorpions?’ asked Samantha.
‘We’ll never know,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘No one ever goes near them because of the outrageously slanderous things said about them in folk stories. Which has probably caused them to have terrible chips on their sholders and grudges against humanity which actually does make them want to sting everyone.’
‘So we should steer clear of scorpions, then?’ asked Michael, just to clarify.
‘It’s probably best to, just to be on the safe side,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Unless you’re wearing a full suit of medieval steel armour.’
‘I don’t think we have one of those,’ said Michael.
‘Until we do, just let the scorpions have a safe distance,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘So getting back to the story,’ prompted Derrick. ‘Did Freida die?’
‘No of course not,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘She was a Froggins.’
‘I thought you said she was your cousin,’ said Samantha.
‘That’s what the frog branch of the family is called,’ explained Nanny Piggins. ‘She was as healthy as an ox.’
‘Is there an ox branch of your family?’ asked Michael.
‘Yes, the oxens,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘But stop interrupting. What this scorpion didn’t realise was that Freida was no ordinary frog.’
‘She was related to you,’ agreed Michael.
‘Yes, and more than that,’ she was a Spiny Headed Greening frog,’ said Nanny Piggins, nodding triumphantly.
‘Sorry, we don’t understand the significance,’ said Michael.
Nanny Piggins shook her head sadly, ‘The education provided to humans is sadly lacking. They teach you no end of mathematics. But nothing about the various species of venomous frogs.’
‘Venemous frogs?’ said Derrick. ‘Is there such a thing. I knew frogs could be poisonous if you ate them, but to be venomous don’t they have to have some way of attacking your enemy with their poison, through fangs or barbs.’
‘Oh Freida did,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘There are two known species of venomous frogs. But they don’t have fangs in their mouth. They have spikes on their foreheads.’
‘Whoa,’ said Michael.
‘They sting their victims by headbutting them,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘The venom flows through their spikes and is injected into their victims bloodstream.’
‘Now normally Freida was a lovely, delightful frog,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘She would never headbut anybody. But when she’d been stung by a scorpion, a hitchhiking scorpion who she had gone out of her way to help that really made her cross. She bopped him hard on the face.
The scorpion tried to fight back by pinching her with his pinchers. Tjen she tried to bop him with her forehead again and they got into quite the rumble, wrestling back and forth. They’d been at it for some time when the scorpion noticed something.
‘Hey, why aren’t we drowning yet?’
They looked down and realised they were on the bank of the river. While they’d been wrestling they had washed ashore.
‘You didn’t die of my sting,’ said the scorpion.
‘No but I feel awful, thank you very much,’ said Freida. And she was being sarcastic with her thank you. She meant the exact opposite.
‘I feel awful too,’ said the scorpion.
‘Good,’ said Freida. ‘That’s my venom working.’
So they both lay on the bank writhing in agony for a full half hour. But they were tough creatures and neither of them actually died. When they started to feel better they both felt a little foolish, about attempting to sting each other to death in the middle of a river.
Not water safe behaviour at all.
So they had learned their lesson. The scorpion and the frog both promised never to attack each other ever again – no matter what their base animal nature might make them want to do.
‘Awww, a happy ending,’ said Samantha.
‘Not quite,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘The scorpion and the frog reached out to shake hands on it. When all of a sudden an eagle swooped down and ate them both. The end. Time for bed.’
‘Wait!’ cried Michael. ‘They did both die!’
‘Yes, I just said that,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘This is a terrible story!’ wailed Boris.
‘It is,’ agreed Nanny Piggins, as she popped a piece of chocolate in her mouth. ‘But my true story is more complicated and intriguing than your Russian version.’
‘Nanny Piggins,’ said Derrick. ‘I don’t want to alarm you. But my feet are getting wet.’
‘And where did you get that chocolate you’re eating?’ asked Samantha.
‘I was sitting on it,’ said Nanny Pggins.
‘You’re sitting on the hull of a ship,’ said Samantha.
‘Oh, so I am,’ said Nanny Piggins.
They looked about and realised that while she was telling her story, Nanny Piggins had eaten a large hole in the hull of the ship, and now water was leaking in quickly.
‘The boat is sinking!’ said Michael.
‘Oh dear,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Chocolate is apparently not as buoyant as I had imagined.’
‘Certainly not once you’ve eaten it,’ agreed Derrick.
‘What are we going to do?’ wailed Samantha.
‘Start bailing out water?’ suggested Derrick.
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘There’s no time for that.’
‘There isn’t?’ asked Derrick.
‘No,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Clearly the first thing we must do is - start eating the rest of the ship. We don’t want it to go to waste.
They did not need to be told twice. Nanny Piggins and the children set to work eating as furvantly as they could. As the ship sailed into sight of the school, there was already a huge crowd of children watching them sail down the river.
When a massive chocolate yacht sails down a river – word soon spreads.
When the chocolate replica of the Beagle drew in by the touch line of the school rugby field – Nanny Piggins, Boris and the children had eaten the sails, the masts, the decking and prow.
And as soon as the ship touched the bank, the rest of the student body rushed forward to help. They grabbed the hull and pulled it up onto the shore where the whole school chomped happily on the remains of the boat.
Later that day Nanny Anne lodged a formal complaint. Margarets gaffer tape boat had scored top marks on the assignment. Michaels had. Which Nanny Anne said wasn’t fair considering that it didn’t exist anymore and couldn’t float at all because it had been eaten.
But the headmaster told her that Michael deserved to win because his boat had sailed five kilometres down the river. And besides, it was delicious.
Then the headmaster hung up on Nanny Anne so he cold go back to eating the large chunk bulkwark he had snuck back to his office.
So they all lived happily ever after, except for Nanny Anne – the end.