Greta was the luckiest little girl in Pitnamby, for where all the other children had anchovies as pets, she had none other than former University Challenge presenter Bamber Gascoigne. Greta loved her Bamber Gascoigne and would take him long walks in the woods and frequently bathe him in the finest penguin fat she could obtain for showing the older boys her knickers.
Bamber Gascoigne had been bought for Greta by her parents when her anchovy had died from a freak outbreak of stress management counselling. How she had cried when the vet announced that her beloved pet was now only fit for pizza toppings. How upset she was as that first layer of tomato purée was smeared lavishly over the doughy round base. And how distressed she was as the mortal remains of her pet were laid to rest amongst the slices of onion and chunks of pepper. But with a liberal sprinkling of oregano the pizza was a mighty success, and everyone agreed that it was what Greta's anchovy would have wanted. Probably.
The next day, Greta's parents had gone to the charity pet shop to buy a new anchovy for their distraught daughter. The pet shop was run by a bespectacled spoon-shaped man called Horace Limpwhippet and raised funds for armadillo hunting expeditions, which Pitnamby frequently commissioned in order to find a cure for the towns' radishes habit of terrorising members of the Women's Institute with frightening and obusive insults.
"I'm sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Gretasparents," said Horace Limpwhippet gravely, "but I'm completely out of anchovies and I'm not expecting another delivery for fifty eight years."
"Oh dear," said Mr. Gretasparents, "Our darling daughter will be greatly saddened by this shocking news."
"Yes, indeed," said Horace Limpwhippet, "I'm afraid all I can offer is this rather shabby Bamber Gascoigne which the BBC kindly donated to help with our radish problem. It seems they're keen to protect the W.I. from their vulgar behaviour and since Jeremy Paxman took over University Challenge they don't need this presenter anymore."
"Does he make a good pizza topping?" asked Mrs. Gretasparents.
"No," replied Horace Limpwhippet, "but he is a first class pogo-stick delouser."
"That's good," said Mrs. Gretasparents, "Greta's always having problems with pogo-stick lice."
So they took Bamber Gascoigne back home for Greta who was delighted and vowed that she would love him as if he were an anchovy.
"Greta may not have an anchovy," he said, "but at least she has a pogo-stick which is free from parasitic infestation."
The three boys looked at their pogo sticks which were teeming with lice.
"So!" said one of the boys cockily, "We might like pogo-stick lice!"
"Somehow I doubt that," said Bamber Gascoigne, "Come, let me have a look."
He took the boy's pogo-stick and examined it. There were lice all over the pedals, the spring and the secret device that gave it a boingy sound when it bounced. He held the stick up to the sky and addressed it thoughtfully.
"Here's a starter for ten," he said.
Immediately all the lice leapt off the pogo-stick, and went to see the local amateur dramatic society's performance of King Lear where they died of bewilderment. The boy smiled with delight. The two other boys proffered their pogo-sticks to Bamber Gascoigne and demanded "Do mine! Do mine!"
After that, all the children in Pitnamby brought their pogo-sticks round to be deloused, and they regarded Greta as their very best friend.
"We need another expedition," spoke out Major Sir Giles Dithering-Flatulence V.C., D.S.O. (retired) from beneath his harvest of bushy white whiskers.
Mumblings of approval relayed across the hall.
"What exactly happened," said Lady Gipton-Smythe, chair of the society, "to the last expedition?"
"Damned unfortunate incident," replied the major, "bordered to death by a hedge."
"Oh dear," said Lady Gipton-Smythe.
"Brave man, Captain Spanker," continued Sir Giles, "Seems he and his men
had set up camp by the Beech Grove Tea Rooms and a bally privet sneaked
up on them and
"Very well," said Lady Gipton-Smythe, "The motion is that the society funds a 58th armadillo hunting expedition into The Best Wood Around."
"Excuse me," came an interruption from within the audience.
"Yes, what is it?" said the chair.
Bamber Gascoigne stood up and addressed the meeting.
"As you all know, I'm fairly new here and am not fully familiar with the town's policy towards the radish problem. Can somebody explain to me how exactly funding fifty eight armadillo hunting expeditions can stop radishes from insulting members of the Women's Institute."
"I think the best person to answer that question," began Lady Gipton-Smythe, "is the man who devised the plan. Mr. Humsbadly, would you care to outline your scheme for the benefit of our new member?"
An unshaven slob of a man in a shabby tweed overcoat, a frayed straw hat and a plentitude of cider in his complexion staggered uneasily to his feet. As he spoke he showered the two rows in front of him with a fine spray of fermented saliva, and a single stem of barley danced to the movements of his chapped and scabby lips.
"Well, waart we duz is," he explained, "we gets ze armadillos, swings 'em by ze tail an' hits ze radishes. Squashes 'em flat. See?"
"I see," said Bamber Gascoigne," and how many armadillos have you captured so far?"
"Well, none as yet," said the major, "that's why we have to have these expeditions. Difficult blighters to find."
"These expeditions," continued Bamber Gascoigne, "they're always to The Best Wood Around?"
"No point searching the Worst Wood," said the major, "Imagine the quality of the armadillos there!"
"And this wood is the expanse of forestation which extends from Pitnamby to Quopford Beck, some two miles down the valley?"
"Indeed," said the major.
"Not South America."
"Yes, I used to be a quiz master. I have some knowledge of the fauna indiginous to that particular continent."
"Not a lot of use here then," quipped the major.
"Mr. Humsbadly," Bamber Gascoigne soldiered on, "You are, are you not, Pitnamby's Village Idiot?"
"Man and boy," grinned the rancid man, clasping his hands proudly around his ample belly.
"Tell me, Mr. Humsbadly, have you considered an alternative plan? Perhaps a less expensive and less dangerous strategy?"
"Well, perhaps you could start by talking to the radishes. Asking them not to do it."
The idiot's mouth reddened as he struggled to suppress a snigger. Nascent guffaws spasmed in his stomach, shook his shoulders and squeezed through his tightened lips making speeeft, speeeft noises. Eventually the whole laugh burst out of his body and erupted into an explosion of mirth.
"Talk to radishes!" he managed to say between his unrestrained convulsions, "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!"
Other members of the audience also began to laugh. Soon the hilarity had spread infectiously throughout the whole meeting and the committee was rolling about on the floor in paroxysms of giggles. Bamber Gascoigne took this as his cue to leave.
He strolled up to Gorple Farm where a particularly large crop of radishes had recently been harvested. There, behind the cow shed he caught a bunch of radishes having a meeting. They hadn't spotted the quiz master and continued discussing strategy and boasting about their exploits.
". . . and then I leapt out of the shopping basket and said 'Why don't you go snorkling in Norway you pale green pair of bookends?'" said one of them. The radishes chuckled childishly at this.
"This morning," giggled another radish, "I called Mrs. Cumberswanage an ordinary piece of household coal tar! You should have heard her scream."
"I have an appointment with the dentist this afternoon," another radish added. The others listened intently. "I plan to liken Miss Bloomsgarvle, the receptionist, to a pinewood stool with a slight wobble."
Once again the bunch sniggered and chuckled.
"A stool with a slight wobble!" exclaimed Bamber Gascoigne. The radishes jumped in alarm and turned towards their secret observer. "A piece of coal tar and pair of bookends! What kind of childish nonsense is this?"
The radishes shuffled their leaves in an embarrassed rustle.
"Well, um, it's just a bit of fun," one of them mumbled.
"It's pathetic," said Bamber Gascoigne, "I've never heard such pitiful insults. I really would have expected better from you."
"Like what?" said the radish.
"Well, I don't know
The radishes squealed with delight at this.
"And Mrs. Cumberswanage could be a saggy-fannied old bint."
Now the radished were jumping up and down in great excitement.
"And as for Miss Bloomsgarvle, well, I'd be more inclined to liken her to the back end of an east African wildebeest with advanced piles."
"Good morning, Bamber Gascoigne," she said politely, "And how are you this fine day?"
"Very well thank you, Lady Nyblin-Cock," replied Bamber Gascoigne, "you loathsome horse-featured nauseous tart."