"Cheep! Cheep!" came the sound of the birds waking up in the Wobbly Wood. It was morning. Behind the little red curtains in the little red house on the farm, a stripey pyjama-clad arm poked out from between the sheets. Then another arm joined it, sticking in the air and finally a little red face popped up and opened its little red eyes. It yawned. Then it yawned again. Uncle Norman always yawns twice in the morning. Auntie Florrie, lying next to him, buried her head back under the covers and hoped Uncle Norman would either hurry up and get out of bed or go back to sleep so she could do the same.
"Hmmmmmm hmmmmmm", said Uncle Norman sleepily, "Another day on the farm. And such a lot to do!" and with that he swung his little legs out of bed . . or at least he would have done if his back hadn't twinged sharply,
"Owwww!" cried Uncle Norman, "My back!"
"What's all the noise for?" asked Auntie Florrie, peeping out from under the blanket,
"Its my back" said Uncle Norman "It feels like it might be broken!"
"It must be all that stirring you did yesterday. If it hurts so much, then you'll have to stay in bed today" said Auntie Florrie a bit gruffly. Auntie Florrie is always a bit gruff in the mornings.
"But I can't" said Uncle Norman, squirming around on the bed, "If I don't get up there will be no one to stir the porridge pond and no one will get any porridge this morning. You won't have any porridge to sell in the 'House Of Porridge'! And then where shall we be?"
"Asleep" said Auntie Florrie firmly because, although she was very happy running her porridge shop, she had never really thought of it, the porridge pond or even porridge itself as fondly as Uncle Norman did.
"That pond's been in the family for generations" said Uncle Norman, a bit crossly, "My Uncle Norman kept it stirred every morning and his Uncle Norman before him and HIS Uncle Norman before HIM! And HIS Uncle Norman . . "
"Isn't someone to discuss before breakfast!" interrupted Anutie Florrie hurriedly.
"Well in any case" he continued huffily "I'm not going to be the only Uncle Norman who didn't stir the porridge pond. Everyone knows what would happen if it didn't get stirred every morning - it would set solid! And if I was the Uncle Norman who let it set the family name would be ruined, I'd never be able to look MY Uncle Norman in the eye again. Its no good" he declared, "Bad back or no bad back, the porridge pond MUST be stirred!". And he lay back down again in quite a huff.
At last Auntie Florrie spoke, a little more gently this time,
"Oh Uncle Norman, you'll just have to find someone else to stir the porridge pond this morning. How about Auntie Nellie? You could ring her up on the electric telephone"
"Auntie Nellie will be too busy with her custard lake and uncle Sid needs all the custard she can supply down at the trifle factory" said Uncle Norman, a little less huffily.
"How about Uncle Stanley?" suggested Auntie Florrie,
"Uncle Stanley will be too busy capping off the raspberry sauce fountain this morning" sighed Uncle Norman, "Its at maximum pressure this time of year"
"Auntie Bernard?" said Auntie Florrie in desperation.
Uncle Norman gave her a stern look.
"Ah yes," said Auntie Florrie hurriedly "We don't mention Auntie Bernard"
"Best not" agreed Uncle Norman, sagely.
"At least try Auntie Nellie" said Auntie Florrie at last as she rolled over. Not knowing what else to do Uncle Norman picked up the electric telephone that was always beside the bed and dialled Auntie Nellie's number.
"Hello? Hello? Custard Lake House, Auntie Nellie speaking" came the voice at the other end of the line.
"Auntie Nellie? Its Uncle Norman here, from the porridge pond"
"Norman? whatever are you doing ringing me up on the electric telephone at this time in the morning?"
"Well I've hurt my back" he said "And there's no one who can help me stir the porridge pond today. I wondered if you or Uncle Sid might be able to help."
Oh dear," said Auntie Nellie, "Uncle Sid's gone off early to the jam sponge exhibition in the big city and I'm all on my own with the custard lake this morning, we've got a thousand gallons a minute going through to the trifle factory at the moment and I can't leave the machinery running on its own; you remember what happened last time when I nipped to the post office don't you?"
"Yes" said Uncle Norman, "Some of the villagers still haven't got their walls clean and poor old Mrs Badgett has a funny turn whenever she sees something yellow these days"
"Have you tried Uncle Stanley yet?" asked Auntie Nellie, helpfully.
"Auntie Florrie suggested him too, I'll call him straight away on the electric telephone! Thank you Auntie Nellie!" cried Uncle Norman.
"Bye!" called Auntie Nellie but Uncle Norman had already pressed the button on the electric telephone to dial Uncle Stanley's number.
"Grrrunt! Stanley here!" barked Uncle Stanley when he answered.
"Uncle Stanley? its Uncle Norman here" said Uncle Norman "I want to ask you something"
"Norman, y'say?" puffed Uncle Stanley (who always thought himself a bit more important than everyone else) "Well what is it y'want, Norman, I haven't all day, don'tcha know!"
"Yes" said Uncle Norman, "I know how busy you are but you see I've hurt my back and I wondered if you could come round and stir the porridge pond for me this morning before it sets?"
"Porridge pond, y'say?" said Uncle Stanley "Not possible! Uncle Radiator's bringing the big growly machine round today to help me cap off the raspberry sauce fountain - its the season for it, don'tcha-know!"
"Of course, Uncle Stanley" said Uncle Norman dejectedly "I thought as much but I'm desperate and I just had to ring and ask you" he was about to hang up when Uncle Stanley grunted again,
"Hold on, Norman" he said "How about I ask Uncle Radiator if he can help you? Maybe he can do something with the big growly machine"
"Now there's a good idea!" sang Uncle Norman excitedly "Uncle Radiator's a real wizard with machinery, I bet he could adjust the big growly machine in no time to stir the porridge pond!"
"I'll send him over as soon as we've got the fountain capped off" said Uncle Stanley "Always glad to help, old boy" and he put down the phone.
Uncle Norman was relieved, he almost chuckled as he lay back down and told Auntie Florrie about the plan. She agreed with Uncle Norman that if anyone could save the day it would be Uncle Radiator and the big growly machine. So after breakfast (which Uncle Norman had to eat lying down in bed) they waited impatiently for Uncle Radiator to arrive. Auntie Florrie puffed and panted as she pushed Uncle Norman's bed to the big wide window where he could see the whole of Porridge Farm and he leaned out anxiously looking up the lane leading over to Wobbly Wood. Then, at last, they heard a sound coming along the lane, a sound that could only be one of two things - either Uncle Benton over the hill practising his growly music again or Uncle Radiator driving the big growly machine down the lane . . .
As the noise grew louder and louder but didn't get any faster they knew it couldn't be Uncle Benton but even the big growly machine had never seemed so loud before. But very soon they could see it WAS the big growly machine, and they watched Uncle Radiator's big smiling face getting nearer and nearer as he sat among the multitude of levers and dials and wheels and buttons and knobs that made the big growly machine work. As he got closer Uncle Norman and Auntie Florrie could see what was making the extra noise: behind the big growly machine was a large section of metal pipe. Attached to this was another section of metal pipe, then another and another so the metal pipe was stretching right back up the lane like a great big shiny snake. As the big growly machine moved along it seemed to be growing more and more metal pipe! Uncle Norman was astonished. As he watched the big growly machine rumbling along it was merrily joining each section of pipe to the last in a feat of engineering beyond even Uncle Radiator's usual genius. Among the big growly machine's parts and springs and bits and pieces was a little platform and there, on a battered old seat, sat Uncle Radiator beaming proudly at Uncle Norman and Auntie Florrie. At last the big growly machine ground to a standstill between the porridge pond and the little red house. Uncle Radiator's platform was level with the bedroom window.
"Morning all!" bellowed Uncle Radiator over the noise of the big growly machine which seemed to have contented itself with chugging noisily and rattling its levers now it had stopped laying the pipe.
"Bu-but . . " stammered Uncle Norman,
"Its alright," interrupted Uncle Radiator cheerfully "I know what you're thinking . . "
"I bet he doesn't" muttered Auntie Florrie who had been looking forward to a peaceful morning.
"Th-the p-pipes . . " yelled Uncle Norman in amazement,
"Yes!" shouted Uncle Radiator "But you're quite wrong . . you see I offset the the ball valves and guddles BEHIND the sectional flange overlays!!" he beamed expectantly at Uncle Norman. Uncle Radiator always presumes everyone else is as clever with machinery and as interested in engineering as Uncle Radiator is.
"Oh . . er . . good!" managed Uncle Norman weakly,
"You guessed it," said Uncle Radiator, "The back flow pressure valves are under less strain in the riveting phase so even while she's moving and pipe-laying she just keeps on pumping at a constant pressure . . . . and we're away"
"But what is . . er . ."she" . . er pumping?" shouted Uncle Norman recovering slightly,
"Raspberry Sauce, of course!" cried Uncle Radiator leaping around excitedly on the driver's platform.
"Oh of course" muttered Auntie Florrie through clenched teeth "what else?"
Uncle Radiator came right up to the window but hardly seemed to notice Norman was lying in bed talking to him,
"The big growly machine's still pumping the excess head of raspberry sauce down at Uncle Stanley's fountains but I think she can manage enough power to stir the porridge pond too" grinned Uncle Radiator, wiping his oily hands on an even oilier rag he took out of his oily overalls, "The only challenge was to lay the pipes back over without losing sauce pressure . . which, as you can see, I've done with the old ball-valve-and-guddles-behind-the-sectional-flange-overlays trick. And I think the big growly machine actually likes laying the pipe and rivetting the flanges together as she trundles along, she's been making some of the happiest growly noises I've heard from her in a long time!" he went on.
"We're so pleased for "her"" said Auntie Florrie, who had no time for engineering or big growly machines that filled her morning with noisy and chugs and rumbles.
"So can you get the porridge pond stirred this morning?" she continued, "I've got a very important customer coming to the farm this morning who represents the biggest porridge distributor in a great big town. They could take thousands of barrels of porridge every day and I can hardly let him see that we haven't even stirred the porridge pond, can I?"
Uncle radiator waved her aside,
"Don't worry, Florrie, love,' he said kindly, "She's enough torque to stir Auntie Nellie's custard lake, all we need is to do set the correct rotational angle, centrifugal speed differential and . . .and . ." he paused for a moment while he was thinking (truly clever people do this a LOT) "and . . find a REALLY big paddle!" he exclaimed at last, as his eyes scanned around the farmyard greedily, "Just get ourselves a paddle and we'll be away".
If he'd expected a ready made porridge stirring paddle to be just lying around the yard he might have been disappointed, but disappointed wasn't something Uncle Radiator was used to being. Suddenly he stopped. And his eyes lit up. Uncle Norman strained his neck to see what Uncle Radiator was looking at,
"No!" said Uncle Norman suddenly, and then "Owwwwwwww!!" as he tried to sit up. "Not that, not my lovely porridge wagon!"
Uncle Radiator surveyed Uncle Norman's bright red truck. It could carry dozens of the big churns they used to transport the wholesale porridge orders around the valley, it had a big comfortable cab and, best of all, Uncle Norman thought, it was bright red.
"Hmmmmm lovely big roof" said Uncle Radiator, whose brain was clearly only a short step ahead of his metal cutters, "Whip it off, score a grid, few folds and bends, weld it to the big growly machine's angular driveshaft rods and, but for a few changes on the hydraulic pumpset manifolds, we'll be away!" he said, nodding approvingly and smiling. When Uncle Radiator smiles his whole body seems to light up and its very very hard to argue with him.
"But its my porridge wagon!" protested Uncle Norman, now thoroughly alarmed,
"Roof!" continued Uncle Radiator, making his mind up. And before anyone else could say anything he started moving and adjusting the big growly machine's levers and dials and equipment. A few seconds later he was waving cheerily as the big growly machine swung a great arm over to the porridge wagon and in two good snips was merrily peeling back the roof as easily as you or I opening a sardine tin.
Uncle Norman was beaten. he lay back and wished the day hadn't even started but he knew, deep down, that despite him never listening to you and always talking in engineering jargon, and despite that maddeningly cheerful smile, Uncle Radiator was very good indeed and usually solved every problem . . . . eventually.
When he looked up again Uncle Radiator had the paddle attached to a great big arm sticking out of the big growly machine and was busy manoeuvering it out over the porridge pond. The big growly machine was revving herself up and experimentally spinning the huge paddle made out of the roof of the porridge wagon. Each time she did it the engine noise made a metallic screech and Auntie Florrie, who had come back to see what was happening, had to put her fingers in her ears. She imagined, darkly, that it was so loud that Uncle Benton might even come round to complain about the noise. She stood next to Uncle Norman's bed and clasped his hand. He gripped back worriedly.
Uncle Radiator gave them both a cheery wave and yelled something that might have been "Ready!" but actually sounded like "Geronimo!" before he pulled back on a great big lever and the spinning paddle arm dipped jerkily towards the now setting porridge pond. As the former roof of the porridge wagon touched the first skin of the pond a thick gloopy lump of porridge flicked up and shot towards the house making Uncle Norman and Auntie Florrie both duck at once but, to their surprise and relief, that was the last of it, the paddle sunk beneath the surface of the porridge and the big growly machine's noise went down an octave. Nothing seemed to happen for a few seconds then, slowly, the surface of the pond began to move and a small patch of skin broke up and swirled across to the far side . . everyone held their breath . . then another did the same . .then, as Uncle Radiator turned up the big growly machine's engine, the porridge pond shuddered and seemed to lift up and turn over in a great big sticky "Gloop!".
"Its working, Florrie!" said Norman excitedly and trying to sit up again, "Look, Uncle Radiator's done it!"
And, indeed he had! The porridge pond was glooping away now as the filmy skin disappeared in big swathes and the porridge paddle stirred and stirred and stirred. Unfortunately there were a few casualties, a stray duck who had wandered too close in curiosity was engulfed by a small wave of porridge and so was Uncle Norman's boat, the Porridge Punt. After a moment the duck reappeared, somewhat greyer and heavier than before, quacking indignantly and shaking porridge from her wings but (rather sadly, thought Uncle Norman) the boat didn't seem to be able to repeat the escape and sunk reluctantly beneath the porridge waves. Uncle Radiator appeared not to notice, as he beamed proudly from his driver's platform.
"She's a grand old lass" he said happily as he patted the big growly machine fondly while she stirred the porridge pond. Then suddenly something wasn't the same. It took Norman a few seconds to realise that the engine noise was changing, it was higher pitched again and getting, impossibly, louder. Uncle Radiator, who was more "in tune" with such things was already reaching around the big growly machine which was starting to vibrate alarmingly.
Uncle Norman and Auntie Florrie watched in horror as Uncle Radiator was thrown off a short ladder by the shaking machinery, the metallic noise was getting louder and louder and the pipes that stretched away up the lane were starting to wriggle like a great big many-jointed metal worm. Uncle Radiator tried to climb back up the ladder but once more the machine shook so violently that he couldn't so he stood helplessly beside the screaming machine and patted her side soothingly, as if she were one of Uncle Cowflop's herd of flavoured cows that had eaten too much grass and had a rumbly tummy.
All of a sudden, just as it seemed the noise couldn't get any higher pitched or louder, it did just that and sent Uncle Radiator scurrying for cover under a loose plate where he lay hanging onto the protesting metal with all his strength. Giving a last scream, the big growly machine churned the porridge pond over and over and over and then, with a sickening lurch went totally still and silent for a split second. Everyone held their breath, and then . . "CLANNNNNG!" a huge metallic boom echoed around the farmyard and the big growly machine shook herself to a standstill.
Uncle Radiator, who had been thinking what might happen next, was already watching as the first of the pipes at the back of the big growly machine began to rumble.
"Noooo!" he yelled, to no one in particular, "The sauce pressure!"
But it was too late! The pipe detached itself from the big growly machine and a great gout of thick purple syrup shot up into the air. High above them it flew, exploding outwards as it rained down like a monsoon all over the porridge pond. The big growly machine, released from the raspberry sauce pressure, came back to life and renewed her efforts to stir the porridge pond with a new vigour. In no time at all the raspberry sauce was being stirred into the porridge pond in long streaks of purple, as gloriously coloured as a beautiful sunset (or a horrible scarf) while Uncle Radiator looked on in relief that she was growling and working again. Uncle Norman was frozen in horror as thousands of gallons of raspberry sauce mingled and mixed with the porridge pond. he held his head in his hands and didn't even notice that Auntie Florrie had already let go of his hand. She was moving through the house and out to the lane where she had spotted the only thing that could make the morning any worse: it was a small but very neat little blue car zig-zagging its way down the farm lane past the vibrating pipework. It could only be Mr Pumphries, Auntie Florrie's House Of Porridge's brand new customer!
Mr Pumphries was unaware of the morning's excitement. Mr Pumphries drove along in his neat little blue car in his neat little blue suit with his neat little toothbrush moustache (no it wasn't blue!) and he hummed a neat little tune to himself. Mr Pumphries liked porridge, he wasn't what you could describe as a porridge man as such, but it was what porridge meant to him that mattered to Mr Pumphries. And to Mr Pumphries porridge represented what he loved most in all the world and that was neatness. And numbers. And computers. And in his job he was allowed to sit in his office all day and type numbers into his computer. he didn't even have to speak to people much (and Mr Pumphries didn't like to speak to people much, they didn't listen to Mr Pumphries the way his computer did). To tell the truth, Mr Pumphries was a rather boring little man. Even Mrs Pumphries thought so and she would sigh whistfully as she brushed Mr Pumphries' little blue coat each morning and waved him off to work. "Mr Pumphries might be boring," she thought to herself, "But he's MY Mr Pumphries" while in turn Mr Pumphries kissed his wife goodbye and sighed a contented Mr Pumphries sigh for he knew his day would be filled with data, statistics and maybe, he chuckled to himself, no people to bother him. So Mr Pumphries wasn't as happy as normal when he went out to visit a new supplier and this particular morning, as he arrived at Uncle Norman's Porridge Farm he was even more annoyed to find himself 7.4 minutes late because he'd had to steer carefully around the pipes in the lane. Mr Pumphries' computer had made him a special report on what to expect at the porridge farm and it hadn't told him to expect pipes in the lane. Mr Pumphries didn't like the unexpected . . . or pipes in the lane . . . or being 7.4 minutes late.
So Mr Pumphries hardly noticed Auntie Florrie puffing towards him across the yard as he parked his little blue car neatly in front of the porridge pond and got out. if Uncle Norman had been astounded by the big growly machine, Mr Pumphries had gone through astounded, past astonished and was coming out the other side of amazed as he surveyed the scene before him. Mr Pumphries' jaw dropped open and he was staring in disbelief at the porridge pond when Auntie Florrie arrived flustered before him. Mr Pumphries' report hadn't told him to expect Auntie Florrie arriving flustered in front of him either and, when he'd torn his eyes away from the purple streaked porridge pond, he narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously.
"Mr P-Pumphries?" said Auntie Florrie, extending her hand.
"It is he to whom you are addressing yourself" he said stiffly and looked down at her outstretched hand.
"I'm afraid things aren't quite in the normal routine" said Auntie Florrie getting the idea and withdrawing her hand.
Mr Pumphries was taken even further aback. His computer report hadn't told him to expect abnormal routines either and Mr Pumphries was begining to wonder what other unmentioned surprises his morning might have in store for him.
"I'm very sorry" he said, looking back at the pond, "But my report said you were an efficient operation here. What stands before me is clearly a shambles. And there's no "shambles" mentioned in my reports" he said indignantly, privately vowing that there would be by this afternoon. And with that he got back into his neat little car with a curt "Good day to you" to Auntie Florrie who looked desperately at him,
"But Mr Pumphries, won't you just . . " she began and Mr Pumphries, who had obviously thought of another acid thing to say, began to wind down his neat little blue car's window. As he opened his mouth to speak, however, something even more awful happened. The big growly machine, happily stirring the now thinning porridge hit a lump which shot up into the air. Luckily it wasn't a very big lump because it headed straight for Mr Pumphries' neat little car, in fact straight for Mr Pumphries neat little face and that's where it hit him with a wet "Splot!", all over his neat little toothbrush moustache.
Auntie Florrie was horrified but, being Auntie Florrie, she had enough gumption to get out her hankie which, to Auntie Florrie, was the nemesis of all things not clean. But when she got close to Mr Pumphries she noticed a strange thing, Mr Pumphries was looking puzzled. But not angry. In fact, as Auntie Florrie watched in amazement, Mr Pumphries began to smile and his neat little tongue flicked out and licked another bit of the purple porridge from his moustache.
"Mmmmmmmmm!" said Mr Pumphries, unusually. Mr Pumphries hadn't said "Mmmmmm!" in his whole life - even when Mrs Pumphries had cooked him his favourite food (which was chips, cut straight in three inch strips and all lined up on the plate facing in the same direction). Auntie Florrie froze with her hankie in front of her as Mr Pumphries got back out of his neat little blue car.
"Wonderful!" he exclaimed. "Wunderbar!" "Magnifique!" he trilled as hundreds of new statistics unfurled in his mind.
"I'm sorry . . ?" stammered Auntie Florrie,
"This . . this . . . this "creation"!" exclaimed Mr Pumphries. "Its absolutely delicious!"
"Oh . ." said Auntie Florrie staring in amazement as the little official almost skipped around the yard.
"A taste sensation!" he sang, "I can sell so many churns of this we'll all be rich . . rich . . RICH!" he shouted. To Mr Pumphries, 'rich" meant he could buy lots of new computers, ALL of which could be programmed to communicate exclusively with Mr Pumphries.
"How many churns can you supply per day?" he fired at Auntie Florrie,
"Well at the moment we think possibly a h-hundred" said Auntie Florrie quickly recovering.
"Nonsense" said Mr Pumphries expansively, "My customers will buy this in their thousands, we'll need to START with at least a thousand churns a day! I will go and make the arrangements right away. you must come to my office tomorrow to sort it all out. We will go into production next week!"
And with that Mr Pumphries hopped across the yard back to his car from where he turned around and spoke more calmly to Auntie Florrie.
"Thank you" he said earnestly "You have changed my life today, Auntie Florrie. From now on I will know what it really means to be a true porridge man!"
Auntie Florrie didn't know what to say so she just smiled as the neat little blue car drove erratically back up the lane and Mr Pumphries voice came sing-song back through the window carrying operatic arias about purple porridge and multiple computers that dedicated every single megabyte to communicating exclusively with Mr Pumphries.
Auntie Florrie did the calculation to herself. She and Uncle Norman would be rich in a few months, they could buy a new porridge wagon and porridge punt, have a holiday, perhaps even expand the porridge farm! There was one big problem though, how would they ever be able to produce thousands of churns a day? She was so deep in thought that she hardly noticed Uncle Radiator who had come up behind her.
"I was thinking," he said, "Little feller said you need thousands of churns a day, right?"
"Yes" said Auntie Florrie, at last,
"Well I could weld an asynchronous pair of crossbeams flush to the treadle loom" he said "Then the swinging arms would just drop nicely under her hopper. A few tweaks to the main drive pipes, bit of hydraulics, small subsidiary engine (with a separate camshaft crank assembly) and we'd be away",
Auntie Florrie sighed: more engineering!
But Uncle Radiator was smiling.
"Auntie Florrie" he said gently,
"Yes, Uncle Radiator" she said, stopping to listen at last,
"I'm going to get the big growly machine to make you a little growly machine that can stir the porridge pond every morning and can also fill thousands of churns a day so you can sell the porridge to Mr Pumphries so he can sell it to everyone in the big city!"
"You can do that?" said Auntie Florrie,
"And Uncle Stanley will be able to sell us his raspberry sauce!"
But Uncle Radiator was miles away in his mind, he was already working out how the big growly machine could make a thin trench in the ground and lay a long pipe between the raspberry sauce fountain and the porridge pond, he'd have to regulate the flow with some new back pressure variable angle adjustor plates of course but a slight modification to the guddles and ball valves . . . a flow-capped master flange adjustor assembly . . or two . . and they'd be away . .
But what about Uncle Norman? He'd been lying in bed the whole time with his head in his hands. Well, Auntie Florrie brought him a bowl of the purple porridge and even Uncle Norman, who was a porridge purist, had to admit that it really did taste delicious. And so, Auntie Florrie and Uncle Norman sat (and lay) happily that morning making their plans for a porridge empire (with no bad backs and thousands of churns of porridge) while Mr Pumphries typed furiously at his computer telling it everything he could about Auntie Florrie, the porridge farm, Uncle Norman and purple porridge quotas. Under the shade of the big growly machine Uncle Radiator wiped his oily hands on his oily overalls and day-dreamed of engineering (with multiple arrays of master flange adjustor plates).
Towering above him the big growly machine rumbled contentedly to herself.
And up the lane the birds sang happily in the Wobbly Wood.
Copyright © Ashley Mortimer 2009