Authors: Alexandra Adornetto
For every child who has fought a battle that wasn’t theirs to fight.
‘You see, children know such a lot now, they soon won’t believe in fairies, and every time a child says, “I don’t believe in fairies,” there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.’
Peter Pan and Wendy
J. M. Barrie
ow many children have experienced the stomach-sinking sensation felt seconds before disaster strikes? Surely you yourself are no stranger to the hammering heart, goggling eyes and rigid back as you watch raspberry lemonade soaring from your glass in an arc towards your mother’s brand new rug. It all happens as if in slow motion and you are helpless in the face of the powers working against you. But there is another feeling, which I sincerely hope you are more familiar with, and that is the flooding relief when disaster is narrowly averted. The head-spinning joy that comes upon the
realisation that providence is your friend. Fortunately, it is a Persian rug and the raspberry lemonade has blended so naturally with its pink and crimson swirls that your mother will be none the wiser. You are so thankful to have escaped punishment and the need to compose an apology speech that a period of calm follows in which you lie low and revel in your good fortune. Gratitude overwhelms you and for a short time your behaviour even verges on the angelic. Your mother ends up concluding you are unwell, takes your temperature and suggests a day off school!
It was just this kind of quietude that had now descended upon the little town of Drabville and its inhabitants. Since the liberation of the shadows from the fiendish Lord Aldor, Drabville had been forging its way towards a new identity. It would not be an exaggeration to say the town was almost unrecognisable. Having felt the repression of living in a colourless world, the townsfolk now wanted to explore what had once been off limits and rediscover the meaning of
Citizens delighted in staying awake till the wee hours brewing coffee and conversation if the fancy took
them. Children indulged in a whole range of previously prohibited distractions, including building treehouses, making prank calls and borrowing freely from the library tales of danger, elopement and rebellion. People strolled the streets wearing sombreros, ate boysenberry tarts, wore their hair in pigtails and threw copies of the town’s former Code of Conduct onto a great bonfire. Even the statue of Mr Mayor in Poxxley Gardens had undergone a transformation: it now wore a nappy wrapped around its beaming head and had been reclassified as modern art.
Where grey had once been the norm, everything had suddenly become vivid. With colours available in abundance, people had repainted their monotone houses in startling individual shades like Mint Infusion, Sahara Sands and Paprika Symphony, so that no two looked alike. It seemed as if a different sun shone upon the streets, and even the soil appeared a richer shade of brown. It could even be described as ‘cocoa’ or ‘russet’, for such words were no longer out of place.
Drabville had been revived; life breathed into its dead streets. Although the people of the
town had previously lived without putting a foot wrong they had also lived without vigour and nobody wished things back the way they were. The townsfolk made many a blunder while celebrating their new independence, but they were so exhilarated by their freedom to do so that it rarely led to conflict. In spite of the awkwardness that sometimes accompanies adjustment, a spirit of tolerance and cooperation prevailed. The good cheer now evident in the streets was genuine and not compulsory.
In Peppercorn Place, Millipop Klompet also basked in her newly acquired freedom. The most important addition to her life was undoubtedly the regaining of a mother. Those of you with sound memories will recall that Rosie, the former prisoner of Hog House who had been both advisor and friend to the children during their incarceration there, was none other than Milli’s own mother. Milli had been aware of a strong bond developing between Rosie and herself as she and Ernest devised rescue missions and protested against the callous treatment of small and prickly animals forced to double as decorative hedges. But the truth had only
registered (she was now abashed to admit) when Rosie had called her by her pet name, Little Millipede, just as their gondola set off into the unknown on the night of the Hocus Pocus Ball. So preoccupied had Milli been then with foiling the plans of an ancient magician with an insatiable desire for power that there had barely been the time to think about the impact this would have on her life.
Milli could now say with complete confidence that life with a mother was entirely different. Mothers, she now recognised, were indispensable to one’s wellbeing. They could come in all shapes and sizes and you did not even need to be biologically related. What mattered most was that they functioned like an anchor in your life: you could not stray too far into uncharted waters before being tugged gently back to shore. It was the most secure feeling imaginable.
Things in the Klompet household had improved a great deal since Rosie’s return. Her utmost priority was the rebuilding of her family. There was even a schedule on the refrigerator designating times during the week that were set aside for Family Capers. Even
though on any given afternoon Mr Klompet could still be found dabbling in the much less cluttered kitchen, he now engaged in meaningful banter with his wife and children. Rosie had seen enough madness at Hog House to put up with it from members of her own family and it was largely due to her efforts that Milli’s sister, Dorkus, had been enticed out of her room. Dorkus had even ventured as far as the kitchen in recent times, where she could often be found stroking and speaking in soothing tones to the white goods in order to improve her relations with them. However, convinced still that some household appliances had designs on her food, she insisted on taking all meals
the table. As for Stench, the family dog, his company was more bearable now that he was forced to endure the occasional bath. Milli, enjoying a calm she had not previously known, often entertained herself by passing samples of her father’s latest culinary creations to Dorkus under the table whilst delighting in listening to her parents debating Drabville politics. Although life was not perfect, nobody could dispute that things had
changed for the better. The family had settled into a messy, quirky and charming domestic life—Klompet-style.
Rosie’s responsibilities were not confined to keeping her family in check. She was also kept busy fulfilling her role as one of Drabville’s new Custodians of Concord. In order to ensure that peace and justice were maintained, the town had appointed a circle of custodians to advise its citizens on all matters of dispute. These persons were esteemed in the community and regularly consulted in times of difficulty. Rosie was often found seated at the kitchen table poring over documents and chewing the end of her pen whilst she sipped tea and her glasses slipped down her nose.
You and I both know that life as part of a family is rarely conflict free and the Klompets were no different from anyone else. But, aware of the years lost, they felt so fortunate at being reunited that their disputes often ended in laughter. Milli and her mother shared a predisposition to stubbornness and did not always see eye to eye. But another trait they shared was an inability to harbour a grudge for
very long. Any flare-ups were momentary and passed as quickly as Sunday evening does before the school week resumes.
But Milli’s contentment with her new life did not lead to neglect of old comrades. She still spent much of her time with her best friend and fellow adventurer, Ernest Perriclof. Since their defeat of Lord Aldor and their return to Drabville, the children had been treated as heroes. Tiles bearing their names and commemorating their courage had been added to the library’s mosaic walk. In the first weeks following their homecoming, there had been festivals and brunches in their honour and they had barely been able to walk down the street without having to shake hands with someone or pose for a photograph. But the festivities and congratulations had eventually petered out and the citizens had settled down to enjoy a life with fewer limits.
Although they rarely spoke of them, Milli and Ernest had not forgotten their unorthodox guardians, Mr and Mrs Mayor. Once or twice they had returned to Hog House, even though their families did not approve, fearing it might
trigger a hankering for past indulgences. The pair had found the windows boarded up and the manicured gardens allowed to grow untamed. They could not help but feel a hint of sadness when they saw that not even a wisp of tinted smoke now puffed from the four chimneys of their short-lived home. In Mr Mayor’s office, the flamingo’s desk sat abandoned and the ceiling ended not in frothy clouds, but solid plaster. The lion paws on the dining chairs’ curved arms no longer twitched, possessing as much life as the solid oak they were carved from. In the vast and airy kitchens, the only smells that wafted to greet them were mould and damp. In the room that had been the children’s nursery, the carousel was jammed and refused to turn even when they climbed onto the horses and urged them forward.
Without the magicians, Hog House was simply a derelict old mansion. Its numberless rooms had vanished, and where there was once a rabbit warren of mirrored corridors, a single oak-panelled passageway now stood. Mrs Mayor’s chambers were as quiet as a museum on a sunny afternoon and nothing floated in the
air but dust motes. The children tried to use the elevator to descend to the dungeons where they had once been imprisoned, but no matter how many buttons they pressed, the elevator remained stuck fast.
The children did not miss the manic Mr and Mrs Mayor or their cruel ways, any more than they missed the floating Lord Aldor and his menacing presence. What they longed for was magic and adventure, for every child enjoys playing dress-ups once in while and there had always been a new and astonishing corner of Hog House to explore when boredom overtook them. But the house and its previous grandeur had become dusty and deserted. The magic had already left it by the time a victorious Milli and Ernest returned to Drabville. As for the Mayors, they were never seen or heard of again, although rumour reached Drabville of a bejewelled and velvet-clad couple who had been spotted working as janitors in a fast food outlet several towns away.
The wistfulness the children felt for their old home did not last long for there was plenty to keep their minds occupied in the new Drabville.
At the Perriclof dinner table, for example, general knowledge quizzes had replaced the silence games. Occasionally, as a special treat, a slab of velvety cheesecake or a hunk of Rocky Road rewarded the winner. And Ernest found, to his surprise, that his younger siblings had personalities of their own. They took great delight in playing practical jokes on him, such as hiding his treasured rocks in his socks or under his sheets. He was most distressed on one occasion to find that the icing on a bun he was about to eat was actually glittering with fragments of his precious amethysts.
Milli and Ernest also made every effort to remain in regular contact with their old friends Nettle and Leo. Having discovered a talent for the creative arts, Nettle was happily designing and producing her own line of jewellery,
nothing of which even remotely resembled safety pins. She had a thriving stall at the Sunday Craft Market, which had earned her the respect of all the street traders. Nettle had inherited her parents’ gift for business, although her sales were honest and hypnosis did not feature in her techniques for attracting
shoppers. Leo, meanwhile, had been reunited with his parents and happily helped with the care of his new baby sister, Spatula (pronounced Spat-chew-la), as well as completing his studies in both Horticulture and Heroics. Although Leo was in an older form at school, he was not ashamed to play marbles with Milli and Ernest, and preferred spending his lunchtimes with them reminiscing about sea perils and gondolas.