Winter has returned to Denmark!
“Politicians are like babies’ diapers; they should be changed often, and for the same reason.” – Barry Cryer
Thomas isn’t actually tall. He’s called Tall Thomas because he likes to tell tall stories…
Thomas said goodbye to his mum and headed out the front door to a whole day of telling tall stories. But to do that, he needed someone to tell them to. That first someone turned out to be Mr. Marrow.
Mr. Marrow owns a greengrocer’s shop (which is rather appropriate, don’t you think), and he was stacking boxes of tomatoes outside his front window when Thomas saw him.
‘Good morning,’ he said brightly.
Mr. Marrow stopped stacking boxes to look down at him. ‘Oh, it’s you, Thomas,’ he said. ‘What’s up? Your mum sent you for something, has she?’
‘She has,’ said Thomas, and he felt a little excited inside. This was going to be easier than he’d thought. ‘She asked me to buy some strunnions.’
Mr. Marrow scratched his head vaguely. ‘Strunnions!’ he said. ‘What’s a strunnion?’
‘Don’t you know?’ said Thomas. ‘It’s a new kind of vegetable invented by scientists. It’s a sort of cross between a strawberry and an onion.’
‘Don’t be silly!’ said Mr. Marrow. ‘A strawberry is what you eat with cream and an onion is what you eat with sausages. It would be like putting an onion with cream and strawberries with sausages.’
‘No, it’s true!’ said Thomas. ‘It was in all the newspapers last week! This new strunnion will go with sausages, cream, cauliflower cheese, pilchards on toast, fish and chips, egg and chips, chips and chips, Irish Stew, Welsh Stew, Scottish Stew, Chinese Stew and porridge. In fact, they say you’ll be able to put it with just about anything.’
‘Don’t be silly!’ said Mr. Marrow. ‘Only a potato will go with just about anything. And even then, I’d draw the line at putting it with porridge!’
‘No, it’s true!’ said Thomas. ‘It really will go with just about anything. And not only that, they say if you boil it and mash it and add milk, cod liver oil and shoe polish and mix it into a paste, you can use it to wash your car, clean your teeth, mend a puncture on your bicycle and patch up that hole in your roof.’
‘Hmm, yes, I’ve been meaning to get that done,’ said Mr. Marrow thoughtfully. ‘But look, Thomas, are you sure about this strunnion? I mean, really really sure?’
‘Of course I’m sure,’ said Thomas. ‘Like I said, it was in all the newspapers last week.’
‘Oh well, if it was in the newspapers then it must be true,’ said Mr. Marrow. ‘Look, tell your mum I don’t have any strunnions in stock but I’ll have a word with my supplier, see what I can do.’
‘Thank you,’ said Thomas. ‘I’ll certainly tell her that.’
As he walked down the road, he chuckled softly to himself. He couldn’t believe that telling such a tall story could be so easy, nor that it could be so easily believed.
But if his first tall story of the morning had gone well, the second went even better.
Thomaswent to the park and saw his teacher, Miss Learner (which is also rather appropriate, don’t you think), out for a walk. Now, Miss Learner knew all about Thomas and his tall stories so he knew that telling her one wasn’t going to be quite so easy. Still, he had to try. He wasn’t, after all, called Tall Thomas for nothing.
‘Good morning, Miss,’ he said brightly.
She stopped walking to look down at him. ‘Oh, it’s you, Thomas,’ she said. ‘You look bored. Do you want me to set you some extra homework?’
‘Oh no!’ said Thomas, and he felt a little excited inside again. This, too, was going to be easier than he’d thought. ‘Haven’t you heard? Homework has been banned.’
‘Don’t be silly!’ said Miss Learner. ‘Homework will never be banned. Setting homework is the one pleasure in life we teachers have.’
‘No, it’s true!’ said Thomas. ‘It was in all the newspapers last week! Apparently, you might like setting it but you certainly don’t like marking it.’
‘Well, that is true,’ said Miss Learner. ‘All I seem to do is sit up all night correcting silly mistakes.’
‘So the only homework you’ll be setting us is useful things like learning how to eat jam doughnuts without licking your lips.’
‘Don’t be silly!’ said Miss Learner. ‘No one can eat a jam doughnut without licking their lips.’
‘We might manage it if you teach us,’ said Thomas.
‘Hmm,’ said Miss Learner thoughtfully. ‘It would be a little difficult to teach, though. I’ll need some practice if I’m to do it properly. And I do like jam doughnuts. I’ll see you in school on Monday.’
And she hurried off towards the cake shop, to get supplies for her first lesson in eating jam doughnuts without licking her lips. Thomas watched her go. That was his second tall story of the morning, and it had gone rather well. But he wasn’t finished yet.
He told his third tall story to a man who asked him the way to the cinema. The only way, Thomas told him, was to catch a train to the next town, jump into the canal there, swim back as far as the pickle factory and hop round it three times on one leg shouting ‘Good shot, your majesty!’ And if he’d done all this properly and in the right order, he’d vanish in a puff of smoke and reappear right in the cinema foyer. The man thanked him and hurried off towards the railway station.
He told his fourth tall story of the morning to a woman who asked him if he’d seen her lost dog. Yes, he said, he’d seen it. It had stolen an old lady’s false teeth and was running round the bus station biting everyone. The woman didn’t thank him, she just shrieked and hurried off. He could pretty much guess where she was headed.
All told, he had a good morning, probably his best yet. It seemed that whatever he said and whoever he said it to, they just believed him. Yes, definitely his best yet.
Then he met Mrs. Grumblebix.
Mrs.Grumblebix was his next door neighbour. She was an older lady who never seemed to say much but his dad said this was because she had a name that sounded like a bad-tempered breakfast cereal so she was probably too embarrassed to speak to anyone. But Thomas liked her, and it was while he was walking home from his best morning ever of telling tall stories that he saw her. She was struggling up the hill with a heavily loaded shopping trolley.
‘Good morning,’ he said brightly. ‘Can I help you with that?’
Mrs. Grumblebix stopped struggling to look down at him. ‘Oh, it’s you, Thomas,’ she said. ‘Thank you, that would be lovely.’
Thomas took the trolley from her and started wheeling it along the pavement. He didn’t find it a struggle at all.
‘This is easy,’ he said.
‘Ah, well, you’re a strong lad, aren’t you,’ said Mrs. Grumblebix.
‘I certainly am!’ said Thomas. ‘I’m so strong, I once pushed a whole house along a road.’
‘Don’t be silly, Thomas,’ said Mrs. Grumblebix. ‘A house is much too heavy to push.’
‘It’s true!’ said Thomas. ‘I did it with one hand. The owner said he wanted to move house so I helped him do it.’
‘Don’t be silly, Thomas,’ said Mrs. Grumblebix. ‘That’s not what moving house means.’
‘It’s true!’ said Thomas. ‘I pushed it so fast, I broke the speed limit and got a speeding ticket.’
‘At your age?’ said Mrs. Grumblebix. ‘Sounds like a tall story to me.’
‘All right, you win,’ Thomas admitted glumly. ‘It’s a tall story.’
‘Hmm,’ said Mrs. Grumblebix thoughtfully. ‘You like telling tall stories, don’t you.’
‘Only when people fall for them,’ said Thomas, ‘and they don’t always.’
‘No, we don’t always,’ Mrs. Grumblebix agreed. ‘Don’t you think it wrong to tell tall stories?’
‘Not at all,’ said Thomas. ‘After all, no one ever gets hurt by them.’
‘Really?’ said Mrs. Grumblebix. ‘I’ve just seen a man being fished out of the canal. He said he was trying to get to the cinema, said some boy had told him this was the best way to get there. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?’
Thomas didn’t answer. They reached her gate, Mrs. Grumblebix took her trolley from him and thanked him for his help. Then she did a most curious thing. She held up a hand and made little sign over his forehead.
‘What was all that about?’ said Thomas, puzzled.
‘Nobody knows this but I’m actually a witch,’ said Mrs. Grumblebix, ‘and I’ve just put a spell on you. And the spell is that every time you tell a tall story, you’ll grow taller. Just a little but you’ll grow taller.’
Thomas laughed. ‘That’s a good one, that is,’ he said. ‘That’s the best tall story I’ve ever heard. It’s even better than some of mine, and I tell some really tall ones.’
‘I’m sure you do,’ said Mrs. Grumblebix. ‘But just remember what I said over the next few days, okay? Just remember what I said…’
Available now at Smashwords.
Love is blind but marriage is a real eye-opener.
Yeah, okay, I’ll admit it. I like trains. My earliest memory is that of my father holding me up at a level crossing to watch a steam train go by, and me being too frightened to watch and too curious not to, all at once. The first Christmas present I remember was a tinplate clockwork train set that, had it survived, would be worth a small fortune today. I grew up with Tri-ang Railways, electric-powered trains that were half the size of my old clockwork ones but infinitely more detailed. As my school was within spitting distance of the main London-Weymouth railway line, I could watch the Bulleid Pacifics come racing through on what we knew as “the one o’clock Pullman” – better known as the Bournemouth Belle. I joined my schoolfriends in compiling long lists of engine numbers – though what we were then expected to do with them, no one ever told us. I even managed to scrounge a short cab ride in a Standard 5 at our local engine shed while it took on water. They were wonderful, carefree days full of hot summer holidays at the seaside, snow at Christmas and the constant mortal dread of Spotty Perkins in 4B copping something unusual on the main line before I did.
It was all swept away in 1968 with the elimination of steam on BR. In place of the Bulleids, electric multiple units that were cleaner (yes), faster (possibly) yet also utterly clinical. Watching one in action, one had the feeling that it had lost its steam engine somewhere along the journey and was hurrying to find it again. We were, to a trainspotter, not impressed.
But I digress. When I came to Haderslev for the first time, my girlfriend was my guide. How could it be otherwise? I knew nothing of the area and there was the offchance that the one person available to ask directions of actually couldn’t speak English. Anyway, the first time she took me down into the town, we took a footpath that passed under a bridge carrying what looked suspiciously like rusting rails.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“The old railway line to Vojens,” she replied. “It’s closed now but the track is still in place.”
Well, of course I got thinking. And I thought how wonderful it would be if someone started running preserved trains on it. Four years later, that dream came true. In 2010, a society was formed that sought and was granted permission to run tourist trains on the line. In summer 2011, those first trains ran. In the course of four days of operation, three round trips a day, an astonishing 5,000 people paid good money to ride in a train dating from the turn of the last century. Yes, I was one of them (how could I not be?). This year, the train was back – this time with a vintage diesel since the expected steam engine was awaiting boiler certification. I was on the first trip.
So there it is, the first run of the season. We are told that steam will return on 14th July, and you can bet your best Sunday driver’s cap I will be there. (UPDATE: We are now told the steam loco won’t return until 28th July.)
There is a homepage for the group running the trains (site in Danish – use Google Translate). The good news is that they have just been given permission by the line’s owner (Banedanmark - think UK Network Rail) to run trains for the next five years. I don’t anticipate moving from Haderslev in that time…