I’ve written before about the first little character I ever created for a book – Mr Charlie Chumpkins.
I am little. I like little things. Charlie’s very small, but, like me, perfectly formed – or so I like to think. I like Charlie an awful lot… nevertheless, due to his being so tiny, I had to put him through a few trials – not to be cruel, you understand, just to test his mettle.
*wonders if that is psychopathic behaviour*
Now, anyone of petite stature perfectly understands that while it’s great for Hide and Seek, it can be rather a disadvantage in some situations… supermarkets, for example. One has to be resourceful, nay, acrobatically-gifted, to reach the last box of fish fingers at the back of a high freezer.
(*By the way, I have perfected the art and don’t mind passing on my tip. See end of post for details.)
Anyway, I digress…
It was quite easy to come up with ideas for getting Charlie into trouble in the Big, Wide World. If you’re only inches tall, then there’s potential for catastrophe everywhere from a pizza delivery to a camping holiday, from a wedding to a hospital visit, from a day at school to a day at the zoo… you get the idea. You name it, Charlie’s been there.
I have finally produced a bumper volume of his adventures which is, in fact, two books combined. Ready for the title?
*takes deep breath*
Mr Charlie Chumpkins and The Further Mishaps of Charlie Chumpkins
I enjoyed re-reading it as I’d forgotten a lot (memory like a … what is it?). I thought I’d share a bit here that amused me. This is a chapter called ‘Pest Control’ which introduces the character of Grandma… and her vicious cat, Zimbo:
This is where I inserted a Read More tag.
This is where the insertion of the Read More tag failed.
‘Sam, Dad’s gone to pick up Grandma. Do you mind if I put her in your room this time? The box room’s too small for her now her eyesight’s got so bad.’
‘No, that’s fine,’ I said, crunching on my cornflakes. ‘What time will she be here?’
‘Oh, I think another half an hour. You know what she’s like at locking up. Dad’ll have to check everything before she leaves. And she’ll have to take Zimbo the cat over to Mrs Hodgson next door.’
Grandma’s cat was the most evil cat I had ever come across, jet black, just like a witch’s cat, with claws like razor blades. I don’t know how Mrs Hodgson put up with him whenever Grandma went away. He only had eyes for his mistress.
‘I’ll go up and put my pyjamas in the box room then,’ I said, scraping back my chair.
‘OK, love, but don’t take anything else in. There’s no room to swing a cat in there.’
As I carried Charlie upstairs I said, ‘Will you be OK in there with Grandma? She’ll only go up there to sleep. And she won’t catch sight of you at all. You heard what her eyesight’s like.’
Charlie was very amenable. ‘Of course, Sam. No problemo… as they say.’ He’d been watching too much TV and was picking up all sorts of phrases. ‘I shall be very gentlemanly and close my curtains as your dear grandmother puts on her nightgown.’
A little later, we heard Dad put his key in the lock and in came Grandma in a waft of violets. Not only was she wearing her usual woolly hat, she was also wearing bright pink lipstick and matching nail varnish for her visit. Dad struggled behind with all her carrier bags.
‘Ah, Rose,’ she trilled, throwing her arms wide apart as Mum went towards her. Grandma kissed everyone on the lips. I hoped the lipstick would be all gone before she got to me. ‘I have so been looking forward to this.’ She looked past Mum, focussed on the post at the bottom of the stair banister and smiled broadly. ‘Ah, my lovely grandson. Come and give your old grandma a kiss.’ Her teeth clicked as she spoke.
‘Here I am, Grandma,’ I said, startling her as I came from the other direction. She threw her arms around me and her lips dive-bombed towards me. ‘Oooh, how you’ve grown. Hasn’t he grown, Rose?’ Mum smiled and nodded.
Dad was still on the doorstep, partly hidden behind Grandma’s bags and partly by Grandma herself as she blocked his way. There suddenly came a huge miaow from his direction. Mum and I looked at him and he held up a wicker basket shaped like a bee hive. He gave it a nod. ‘Zimbo’s come. Mrs Hodgson’s in hospital.’
Oh no, the evil cat.
‘Well, come in, Mum,’ said my mum. ‘Gerald can take your things up and I’ll put the kettle on.’
‘Ooh, lovely,’ said Grandma. ‘And we’ll have some of my home-made biscuits (Celebrations tin, orange Sainsbury’s bag, Gerald) and I’ve brought some presents for you, too (Pound Shop bag, Gerald).’
My heart sank as I remembered the vest and pants with the jogging bunny she had sent me for my birthday.
Mum went into the kitchen and Zimbo was put down on the living room floor, still in his basket. Grandma delved into her Pound Shop bag and handed me a present with a wink. I sat down on my favourite chair with it and turned it over to look for the sellotape. Zimbo meanwhile, was clawing at the catch.
‘Let him out, Sam, would you?’ said Grandma, falling back heavily into the sofa. ‘He gets a bit fractious if he’s cooped up too long.’
I put down the present on the arm of the chair, got down on the floor and reached out to unhook the loop that was holding the door shut.
Zimbo hissed at me.
Mum came in with a tray of tea and biscuits and sat down next to Grandma on the sofa. Dad followed. He settled himself in the rocking chair that had once belonged to Grandma.
‘It’s OK… Zimbo,’ I said, hurriedly opening the door. Like a black rocket, he shot out, hurtled past me and leapt on to my warmed seat before I could lower myself back on to it.
Grandma laughed heartily, pushing her teeth back in as they slipped forward.
I had left the gift from Grandma on the arm of my chair.
‘Have you opened your surprise, Sam?’ she said.
I arranged my face into one of excited anticipation and reached over to get it. Zimbo’s paw shot out like a barbed lizard’s tongue and gouged four red lines down my arm.
‘What did you say, Sam?’ asked Grandma. ‘Do you like it?’
‘Uh, I haven’t opened it yet, Grandma. I’m just about to.’ I sat on the floor and tore off the floral wrapping paper. It was a cat-shaped photo frame…with a photo of Zimbo inside. He seemed to be glaring at me through the glass.
‘Oh, Grandma… It’s—’
‘Cool?’ suggested Grandma, nodding round the room and laughing so hard that her teeth plopped into her lap. She worked them back into place in a flash.
‘I knew you’d love it, not having had a pet of your own, Sam.’
She turned to Mum.
‘You really should get that boy a cat, you know, Rose. Ooh, that cat and I, we’ll never be parted. We’re soul-mates, you know.’
Grandma had to take her dentures out to eat the biscuits she’d brought in case she snapped a tooth. In fact, we all dunked them in tea to soften them up. I normally saved biscuit crumbs for Charlie, but I didn’t want to injure his little jaws.
All this time he was up in his house having a ‘clean up’. He had little squares of yellow duster, an old toothbrush head and there was a gerbil’s water dispenser in his kitchen which Charlie had to touch the end of to get out drops of water.
I had left Chumpkins Manor, as he called it, in its new place on the chest of drawers in my room as there was no room to put it in the box-room where I’d be sleeping. Mum had never asked why I had a dolls’ house. She was very open-minded about things like that.
Suddenly, I realised that Zimbo was no longer on my chair. The living room door was always kept open, so I guessed that he had gone exploring. While Grandma was telling a story, I sauntered out, as if on my way to the loo, but as soon as I was around the door I sprinted up the stairs.
‘Zimbo,’ I sang. ‘Oh, Zimbo.’
There was silence. Not a movement, not a sound—upstairs, at least.
Downstairs, I could hear bursts of Grandma’s muffled guffaws, broken by sudden gaps where she reinserted her teeth.
I looked around my room, thinking that Zimbo might be asleep on the bed. Mum had changed my bedding into something more appropriate for Grandma with frills and flowers and a pink towel was rolled up on top.
He wasn’t there.
As my eyes scanned the furniture, I was aware of a black shape sitting next to the dolls’ house where Charlie was.
Charlie had shut all the curtains and the front door. There was no glass in the windows so the only thing between him and the cat was thin gingham.
‘Zimbo… oh, Zimbo,’ I cooed, rubbing my thumb on my fingers enticingly. ‘Do you want some milk?’ Zimbo hissed and looked at me through slitted eyes.
‘Charlie,’ I whispered loudly. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll get him out and we’ll keep the door shut.’
‘Eeeeeeeeek,’ came his voice from inside the little house.
I stepped closer, reaching out.
‘Hello there, Zimbo. Who’s a lovely boy then?’
Zimbo spat at me and flicked out his claws. I pulled down my sleeves over my hands. ‘Come on then, Zimbo. Come to Sam.’
‘Charlie,’ I hissed. ‘Stay inside where he can’t get to you. I just don’t think I can get him out. He’s not going to come to me. If it’s any consolation, they’re only staying one night.’
From deep inside Chumpkins Manor I heard an elongated ‘Oh noooooo’.
I left the bedroom door open and dashed downstairs, hoping that by the time Zimbo next saw me he would have mellowed.
Grandma decided to go to bed early at about eight thirty.
‘Rose, I haven’t seen Zimbo all day. I expect he’s asleep on my bed. You don’t mind if he stays upstairs with me tonight, do you? He keeps my feet warm.’
I could see Mum wasn’t keen, but she didn’t want to upset Grandma.
‘Of course he can, Mum. We can’t alter his routine if that’s what he’s used to.’
‘Goodnight then, all,’ said Grandma, pursing her lips for a goodnight kiss from everyone. ‘Don’t bring my tea and toast up too early in the morning, Rose.’
We all gave her a peck and I followed her up to see what the situation was in my room. Zimbo was now lying by the dolls’ house with his paw outstretched in front of the front door. He opened one eye as Grandma went in. She shut the door behind her and I could hear her singing as she got ready for bed.
During the night, Charlie had tried to sleep in his little sponge bed, but Grandma’s snoring had prevented him from dropping off. Not only that, but he was pretty sure the cat was still nearby as he hadn’t heard Zimbo jump down.
In the dead of night, Charlie decided to check and stole over to the upstairs window to take a look out. He gingerly drew back the tiniest bit of curtain and placed his eye against the slit when a big furry paw swiped at him through the window opening and hooked him out.
Charlie braced himself for landing, which, fortunately, was in Grandma’s hat, knocked off the top of the drawers by Zimbo as he leapt down after Charlie. Charlie felt a heavy paw come down on top of the hat and found himself sealed in. Zimbo then proceeded to bat it from paw to paw as Charlie tumbled about inside.
The cat let go and waited on its haunches, ears pricked, whiskers twitching, ready to pounce like a coiled spring. Charlie wriggled on his stomach to the edge of the hat, commando-style, and peeked out into the dark room, looking for somewhere to run. If he could get underneath the desk, there was a cylindrical pencil sharpener cup under there with the sharpening device missing. He could climb inside and try to roll away from Zimbo.
But how could he get across that space without being caught?
Charlie remembered the rug. He must be near it. That was it; he could crawl under it using his commando crawl.
Taking a deep breath, Charlie dived for the edge of the blue loopy rug and just managed to get under it before a paw slammed down behind him.
The cat was exhilarated. He leapt about like a flying fish, arching his back as he bounced high into the air and pulling up the edges of the rug as Charlie carefully negotiated his route underneath. Luckily, Zimbo’s claws kept getting ensnared in the loops.
Suddenly, Grandma’s toothless voice called out in the darkness, ‘Zimbo? Zimbo! Stop that.’
The bedside light came on.
Charlie could detect it from underneath the rug and lay stock-still. Zimbo, meanwhile, was too engrossed in his game to take any notice and continued to fling himself around, pouncing on the lump in the rug. Grandma was suddenly struck by a realisation.
A mouse, she muttered to herself.
She clambered out of bed and pushed her feet into her slippers. She’d never moved so quickly in all her life. Fearlessly grabbing the tennis racquet propped up at the side of the bed, she lunged at the spots on the rug which Zimbo seemed to be pouncing upon and whacked at them with all her might.
‘Come on, Zimbo! We’ll get him! Hi–ya!’
Grandma thrashed and Zimbo pounced, whipping themselves up into a frenzy as if they were participating in some sort of tribal dance.
Grandma’s thrashing became so chaotic as she swung the tennis racquet in all directions that she knocked over the glass of water holding her dentures and, thinking that they were the mouse as they tumbled across the floor, she smashed them to pieces.
Woken by the noise, I threw open the door and I looked in, horrified at the two lunatics leaping about on my rug.
‘Stop, Grandma! Stop!’
‘It’s a mouse!’ she shrieked through her gums.
A terrible realisation dawned for me—Charlie.
I gently removed Grandma’s weapon and steered her away in her baby blue nylon nightdress which now crackled with static.
‘Grandma, sit on the bed and stay calm. I’ll get it.’
Taking the empty denture glass, I grabbed a small grey gorilla keyring from a nearby shelf and popped it in. Meanwhile, Grandma was turning herself around to get back into the bed.
She called Zimbo who suddenly stopped his antics and stalked over with his tail in the air, ignoring me completely. He gracefully leapt up on to the warm bed and curled into a comfortable position, blinking slowly… and menacingly. Grandma stroked him lovingly and whispered into his flickering ear.
I quickly slid my hand under the rug, felt for Charlie and slipped him into my top pyjama pocket, then I popped my hand over the gorilla in the glass.
‘It’s OK, Grandma. Zimbo must have killed it. I’ve got it here, look.’ Grandma beamed a gummy smile as she saw the gorilla and stroked Zimbo from head to tail.
‘My clever boy.’
‘It was nothing,’ I said.
‘Not you. Zimbo.’
‘I’ll take it away and you get some sleep, Grandma. Nothing to worry about now. I’ll see you in the morning.’
Grandma closed her eyes and puckered up her lips. I went over and kissed her.
‘Don’t forget Zimbo,’ she sang, still with her eyes closed.
I reached out tentatively and Zimbo fixed me with a stare.
‘Well done… Zimbo.’ I quickly patted Zimbo’s head and moved my hand away just in time before Zimbo’s left paw swiped.
Back in the box room, Charlie explained what had happened.
‘Sam, I am ex-hausted. It was like being on safari, but I was the one being hunted by a big black panther.’
I rolled up one of my socks that I had taken off earlier. ‘This is the best I can do, Charlie. Climb inside and get some sleep. I’ll put you on the shelf behind my bed where Zimbo will have to climb over me before getting to you.’
Charlie rubbed his sore spots. ‘You will keep the door closed, Sam?’
‘Most definitely. Now try to get some sleep. Night, Charlie.’
The next morning Grandma was full of the tale of brave Zimbo and the mouse. She told it all minus her teeth, which made her bottom jaw come up much higher than it used to when her teeth were in.
Dad decided to go out and buy some mouse traps just in case there were others in the house and Mum’s concentration was completely zapped. All she could do was stare into corners and get frightened by shadows. She opened every cupboard door as if a lion were going to pounce out on her and kept the fly swat close at hand.
Finally, Grandma was ready to go. She gave us all a kiss goodbye as Dad took her bags out to the car.
‘It was lovely. We must come again soon,’ she said to Mum, her face working overtime to articulate the words.
‘And you think about getting that boy a cat. He and Zimbo got on like a house on fire.’
I swear I heard a hiss coming from his basket as Grandma left.
‘Everything will be fine now, Charlie,’ I whispered.
What a silly thing to say…
If you’d like to read more, Mr Charlie Chumpkins and The Further Mishaps of Charlie Chumpkins is available from Amazon in both paperback £5.27 and kindle editions £2.61.
Shortie tip from earlier:
*First, find something long from another aisle – I recommend a roll of cling film or foil; failing that, a pack of dried spaghetti should do the trick. (Snatching a walking stick from a passer-by is only to be used in an emergency situation.) Climb onto the bar at the bottom of the lower freezer cabinet and use your implement to hook out the box. Bear in mind that you can always attack from beneath if you can get purchase between the bars.
Disclaimer – if they find you amongst the peas Monday morning with iced-up eyebrows, it’s not my fault.