It was all Old Mother Hubbard's fault.
|Once upon a time, not so long ago, in a land that is not so far away, there lived a Prince. He had been given the name of Glorious but preferred to be known as Fred. He was not particularly good at the job of being a Prince, he did not like swords, they were heavy and hurtful. He was singularly lacking in charm and had the manners of a peasant. He loved feeding the pigs, getting sweaty in the fields and telling off colour jokes about sheep.
His father, who, oddly enough, was the King, was in despair. There were dragons laying waste to the kingdom next door. His wife was spending long hours in the dungeons, mixing up noxious potions and cackling loud enough to lay eggs. They were not even golden ones. Across the bay, on the Enchanted Isle a massive bean stalk had once more sprouted and he was terrified that someone was going to make him climb it and confront the Giant At The Top. These days he suffered from vertigo. The dwarves were threatening to go on strike, demanding maids who would cook and clean for nothing and modern machinery rather than shovels and picks. And, of course, there was the perennial problem of deviant frogs demanding to be kissed.
Not that Fred bothered his ugly face about all this nonsense. He had discovered garlic, as his breath attested. It occurred to him that sausages, flavoured with this wonderful bulb, could be smoked and preserved. He was going to call them Smoked Bacon Sausages With Garlic. Another of his failings was marketing psychology.
One day, Fred was having a tea break, lounging in a haystack, straw sticking out of his ears (it is best not to ask how it got there), when a coach came rattling along the road. As a Prince, he had seen many an up-market vehicle, but this one took the biscuit. It was as round as a pumpkin and much the same colour, drawn by six white horses that had faces that, curiously, reminded him of mice. As it drew to a halt opposite him, a lounge lizard of a man stepped down and opened the door. Fred had no doubt that the creature who emerged was the Royal Fairy Godmother. He could tell by the wand that she waved as if conducting the Philharmonic Orchestra, by the clashing gaudiness of her silken gowns and by the bag slung across her body. It bore the Seal of The Honourable Company of Godmothers and a logo that announced that wishes were granted.
'Ahhh. My dear Prince Glorious!' Were those plummy tones enhanced by cooking sherry? 'We have been informed that you will shortly be coming of age and it your statutory three wishes are now due.' She carefully set her tiara straight and hiccuped gently. Gentle Reader, from the description of Fred, you may have come to the conclusion that he was a jewel short of a full crown. Not so. He just could not be bothered with all that statecraft and diplomacy. All lies and subterfuge, he thought. He preferred pigs. You knew where you were with pigs. And you could eat them. So he gave his Fairy Godmother his best bucolic look and replied, 'Yer wot?'
'Three wishes, dear boy.' She peered at him and flicked a pair of opera glasses out of the side of her wand. 'May I suggest handsome looks, impeccable manners and a manly mien?'
'Nope.' Fred took a bite of his Smoked Bacon Sausage With Garlic and breathed his answer at his unwanted visitor. Let us just say that she quailed. 'Ain't nuffin wrong wot I can't fix.' He fixed her with a steely eye. 'But I do got an idea.' He went on to detail it. 'Can you do it?'
'It's a biggie.' The Fairy Godmother admitted. 'I'll need some bits and pieces.' Fred shrugged. Nothing ever was simple where fairies were concerned. Godmother ones were even worse. He just thanked his lucky stars that she was not fully sober. 'I will need,' her tiara had slipped askew and she absently knocked it straight, 'three billy goats gruff, three little pigs, and a serving wench with pretentions.'
Fred had to endure several tedious adventures to find all the Fairy Godmother's 'bits and pieces'. The pigs were easy but their first two sties, the staw one and the wooden one were destroyed by a ravening wolf. The brick one held up and he managed to dispatch the wolf with an axe he borrowed from a woodsman. The billy goats were pathologically afraid of bridges, probably because of the infestations of deviant frogs that lived under them. Luckily, he tricked the frogs by employing inflated balloons with faces painted on them. I was about to say that the serving wench was also easy, but that might be misinterpreted. Fred let slip that he was actually Prince Glorious incognito and she followed him quite determinedly.
Which is how three billy goats became ambassadors to the dragons and ate all their finery, then hemmed and hawed and butted them into going somewhere else. The three pigs negotiated a peace with the Giant At The Top and compensated him with a goose and a tin of gold paint. Then they mechanised the mines, putting the dwarves out of work so they had plenty of time to cook and clean for themselves. Fred married the serving wench, Tracy, and she ran the kingdom while he concentrated on his vegetarian sausage business. He dare not upset the pigs.
Only Prince Glorious did not live happily ever after. He and Fred had been minded by Old Mother Hubbard and, due to vision impairment caused by malnutrition, she had returned the children to the wrong mothers. So the one, true, Prince sadly lived in a shoe with innumerable siblings and dreamt of swords and crowns. Of such stuff, fairy tales are made.