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U3A Writing: The Old Apple Tree

Mike Eastwood tells a tale which begs to be read alound to a young audience.

The old man settled comfortably into his garden chair and sipped slowly at his green lemonade. 'Green Lemonade!' you might ask, for you may never have seen any.

Perhaps I should explain, the old man was a wizard and in fact could make his lemonade any colour he wanted. If he were in a boat, he would drink blue. If in an aeroplane he would drink a lovely shade of white to match the clouds, but his favourite colour was green, because he loved sitting in his garden.

He was known to his neighbours as old Mr. Winston, and generally well liked as a kindly old man. The only people who knew he was a wizard were the local witch (Mrs. Lovejoy) and the local doctor, who sometimes asked Mr. Winston for help when he had a particularly difficult case.

His pet blackbird, which he called 'Yellow Beak', was also well known by the neighbours, but no one knew that he and Mr. Winston could talk to each other.

Now! Where was I? Oh yes! Mr Winston was sitting in his garden enjoying his lemonade and watching the bees, busily working on the roses to get the pollen out, whilst Yellow Beak sat in the branches of the old apple tree, one eye closed, but keeping a very careful watch out of the other, in case a fat juicy worm should poke his nose up from the soft green lawn.

Mr. Winston was thinking about a new spell that he wanted to try out later in the afternoon, when suddenly Yellow Beak gave a shriek and suddenly disappeared. There, sitting in his place in the apple tree, was Mrs. Lovejoy's cat Griselda.

"Goodness, golly and gobbledegook!" exclaimed Mr. Winston, "The cat has eaten my Yellow Beak."

He tried calling to him but could only hear a faint squawking sound in reply. Now, Mr. Winston was very fond of his blackbird and was furious with the cat. He cast a fixing spell binding Griselda to the tree and went off to find Mrs. Lovejoy to tell her what had happened.

Mrs. Lovejoy was very upset and accompanied Mr. Winston back to his garden to see for herself what had happened. She said that she thought it very unlikely that her beautiful black cat would be so mean as to eat Yellow Beak, as she knew for a fact that they got on so well together. Her darling Griselda had spoken of Yellow Beak so often as an intelligent and friendly bird that she was sure they had been good pals.

They both stopped and looked up into the tree where Griselda sat as if glued to a branch. Mr. Winston released the spell he had cast, expecting the cat to jump down from the tree. But as the cat prepared to move, she also disappeared.

Well Mr. Winston and Mrs. Lovejoy were very upset. They tried every spell that they knew to try and find the missing cat and blackbird and finally, as the sun was setting, they had to admit that they were defeated.

They went into the house and brewed a nice cup of nettle tea to try and steady their nerves. In fact they both felt so poorly that they sent for their friend Dr. Driver, to see if he could do anything to help.

Dr. Driver was a very round, red-faced man, always cheerful and happy. But when his two friends explained to him what had happened he became very serious. He fished in his black bag and produced two large round pills. "These will take your mind off things and give us time to think," he said. "I have heard of something like this before," he said.

"Before you moved into this house, it was owned by a very clever professor. He was so clever that he spent all his time solving problems and ignored the garden, which became wild and overgrown. These were perfect conditions for the apple tree gnome, and he came and set up home in the old apple tree in your garden. He was known as Jack and was responsible for making all sorts of things disappear. We all thought he had disappeared himself when you came, and the garden was cleared, but it seems as though he may have stayed on."

The three friends stayed together for most of the night, discussing ways by which they might find their pets again. Magic seemed to have failed them and the only thing that they thought they might try was to cut down the old apple tree. Mr Winston was quite upset by this, as he was very fond of the old tree. However, he missed his friend Yellow Beak so much that he finally agreed that the tree must come down.

Very, very early the next morning, before even the birds were awake, Mr Winston and Dr. Driver took a large saw, and holding one end each, started to cut down the tree.

They had only just started when they heard a loud rough voice. "Alright I give in, there is no need to make a mess."

A little door in the tree appeared and through it walked the ugliest gnome seen. He had large green spots all over his face and the hairiest hands you could think of.

"Oh, you poor thing!" exclaimed Dr Driver "you have got greengage disease, how painful and uncomfortable for you." He fished in his black bag again and produced a bottle of brown medicine. "Take this quickly," he said, "and your greengage will soon disappear."

Meanwhile Mrs. Lovejoy and Mr. Winston had gone inside the tree in search of their pets. They found a treasure trove of stolen goods that the gnome had collected, as well as three robins, a thrush and a very pretty little jenny wren.

Tucked away in a corner, huddled together, were Griselda and Yellow Beak. They were still too weak from the gnome's spell to be able to say anything and clung to their owners as if they would never let them go again.

Outside the gnome explained to the Doctor that he had had to steal and to cast spells in order to find friends because he was so ugly and ill. No one would normally want to have anything to do with him.

The Doctor, Mr. Winston and Mrs. Lovejoy felt sorry for Jack, and now that they had got their pets back safely, were prepared to forgive him. In fact they agreed to let him stay in the old apple tree provided he behaved himself in future. The Doctor's medicine soon worked, and whilst Jack was still ugly, he no longer had the green spots and he looked almost like a normal gnome.

The Doctor went home. Mrs. Lovejoy and Griselda went home and Mr. Winston settled in his garden chair, sipped his green lemonade and listened as Yellow Beak told him the story of his adventure in the old apple tree.


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