24 October 2007

Those Who Knew Them: Mr Badger

In a double blow this week, following the sudden death of Children's Literature, As A Dodo has received tragic news from the Wild Wood. The following tribute to the late Mr Brock Badger was penned by his old friend (and The Wind in the Willows co-star) Ratty.

Ah Badger! You've never met a finer felllow! Hated company of course. Hated Society, and invitations, and dinners and all that sort of thing. Couldn't bear people fluttering and fussing around him. But still, one of the best of all the good creatures I've known - a better beast than Otter, Toad or even Moley. Always willing to help a friend in need. Always ready with wise words and good counsel. Stout of body and of heart, that was old Badger. Or at least, that's what we all thought.

I remember how I found out what had happened. I'd set out for the Wild Wood with dear old Mole. Oh come on, old chap, you know Moley: a bit beneath the salt perhaps but as kind and honest a fellow as one could want to meet. Besides which, one has to face it, we're all in trade these days, are'n't we? So it's best we muddle along together. Anyway, Moley had scrabbled and scratched his way up from that charming, little hole of his and popped in to ask me if I cared for a jaunt to see old Badger. Of course I said, "Yes."

To tell the truth, it had been quite a while since any of us had seen Badger. But there was nothing in the least odd about that. The best one could usually hope for was to catch the sound of a rustling in the hedgerow as he went past or maybe a brief sight of his stripey head and wide, high shoulders before he disappeared back into the woods. If you were especially lucky Badger might give you an "Oh ... company!" before he set off. Still, beneath it all he was the most decent of sorts. And he had a soft spot for Moley, what with them both living sub terra and all that.

As I say, Moley and I set off to see Badger. I'd packed a few little things for a picnic on the way - cold chicken, cold tongue, cold ham, cold beef, pickled gherkins, salad, french roll, cress sandwich, ginger beer, lemonade, just a snack as I say - and we made a very pleasant journey of it until we came to the Wild Wood. You know, I never understood why Badger would want to live in such a place. The squirrels are alright, and some of the rabbits, but as for the rest ... A fellow can't take two steps in there without seeing the pinched faces and beady eyes of all those stoats and weasels staring out at one. Wild things they are, and they let their children run wild too. Why only a few weeks ago, Toad dropped in to see Badger and left his new motor car outside and by the time he came out the car had gone and all that was left was the horn. A couple of days later and Otter was telling me he'd seen the very vehicle being advertised on eBay (whatever that may be). Still, it never worried Badger ... though he did always make sure to carry a big stick (for myself I always prefer a brace of pistols ... or at the very least a taser).

In any event, we made our way through relatively unmolested. The shock was to come when we got to the fine old hummock where Badger lived. At first we didn't suspect anything unusual at all - there was the door scraper, there the mat, there the engraved brass plate reading "Mr Badger". All seemed perfectly normal. But then we got to the door itself and saw the sign. I can still see Moley peering at it, rubbing those thick glasses of his to make sure he'd read it right. "Condemned by order of Sir David King, UK Government chief scientist," he said, "TB Hazard ... Keep out ... Gas."

"What does it mean, Ratty?" Mole asked me, "TB hazard - is that something to do with Mr Blair?"

"No, Moley, old chap," I replied, "I'm afraid it's tuberculosis. All the while we thought old Badger was a fine old fellow, it looks like he's been poisoning the cattle with TB."

"But I thought the Independent Scientific Group let Badger off," said Mole and I could see tears of concern welling in his eyes.

"Dear, kind-hearted Mole," I said. "Sir David is a knight of the realm, I'm sure he knows what he's talking about. And besides, Badger did always have that terrible cough didn't he?"

Mole paused a moment. "Yes," he said, "I wonder where he got it from."

Dear fellow that Mole is, I never had the heart to tell him. But there had always been rumours of course: there was always something a little furtive about the fellow, after all. And why would an old man like Badger would be wanting to hang round with all those young Wild Wood types? And, we must face it, we all know they've brought all these dreadful diseases with 'em, don't we?

Yes, it seems Badger wasn't quite the creature we all thought he was. Well, at least he had the good taste to keep his vices to himself.

Now then, who's for a nice slice of ham?

The As A Dodo editors add: Mr Badger will be gassed and cremated, in accordance with Sir David King's report. The stoats and weasels face instant deportation.