Oscar the owl was feeling a bit tired. He sat on his favourite branch of the old oak tree and allowed, at first, one eye, then the other, to close. That way his left side could have a little sleep shortly followed by his right side whilst the left side woke up.
So it went on; left side, right side, left side, right side. It would be quite understandable if you were to wonder why, as he was so tired, he didn’t have done with it, close both eyes and get a proper sleep. Well, the fact is that Oscar was a more than naturally inquisitive little owl. He could not bear to miss anything that might have been going on down below him. He was, as his mother always used to say, just a bit nosey.
At the moment that I am telling you about nothing was going on. Everything was still, there was no-one to be seen, even the moles had stopped digging molehills and the chickens were quietly clucking away in the hen-house trying to decide whether it was Monday or Thursday (though why they needed to know escapes me because every day day they did the same thing, scratching around in the dirt and laying eggs, day in and day out.)
Suddenly there was a loud whoop and into the farm yard charged Buster, the dog formerly known as the Yapper. He had a large number five on his back and in a flash he was across the yard, had leapt over the fence into the garden and disappeared behind the house. All was quiet again.
Both sides of Oscar had thoroughly woken up by now. What was the small dog up to? Who would tell Oscar what it was all about?
Well, luckily, there was someone to enlighten him. Percy the Pigeon flew down to Oscar’s perch.
“Good morning, young owl. You look somewhat perplexed.”
“Percy, what on earth has got into Buster and why is he wearing a number five on his back?”
Percy was about to speak but was interrupted by Buster returning in the reverse direction, making a huge leap over the fence and disappearing down the lane. Both birds followed his progress, their heads turning together as if connected by invisible string.
“Percy, what’s he doing? Has he gone mad?”
“Some might say that” said the erudite pigeon “but no, I don’t think he has gone mad. He is practising for the Olympics.”
“Limpix” said Oscar, who had not encountered the word before, “Limpix, what’s that?”
Percy looked as if he might have had enough questions from his querulous friend but he carried on. “It’s O-lympics, young owl.” Now neither of them had noticed that Fergal the Irish Setter had come into the farmyard. He was standing there with one ear cocked and his long tongue hanging out.
“O’Lympicks” called out Fergal. “I think I knew a Seamus O’Lympicks once. Not him, is it?”
Percy sighed and his eyes went heavenwards. If Fergal could pick up the wrong end of the stick he always would. “No, nothing to do with Seamus. It’s the Olympic Games.”
“Oh, I see” said Oscar and Fergal in unison but you could tell from the looks on their faces that they had no idea what Percy was talking about; however by the time that Oscar had worked out what to say the pigeon had flown off. Oscar felt confused. He stared down at Fergal and shrugged his shoulders.
“I know” said the hound “ ’tis indeed mystifying” and with that he returned to the house.
Peace settled on the farmyard and Oscar resumed his left and right snoozing. The sun shone through the leaves of the oak tree, casting a dappled shade over the whole scene. “I ought to have a proper sleep” Oscar told himself and his self agreed. He had been up all the previous night hunting beetles. He would rather it had been worms but they always buried themselves for a good sleep during the night and Oscar never knew how to dig them up. Beetles were a substitute but they were rather too crunchy for Oscar’s taste. A field mouse would have been wonderful but he never seemed to be able to catch the elusive little rodents. So a tiring night it had been. He should get a good sleep. Slowly but deliberately he closed both eyes, yawned, ruffled up his feathers and let his head rest down on his body.
No sooner had he done so than there was a kerfuffle down in the farmyard. He jerked awake and saw Buster, back in the farmyard, still wearing his number 5 and panting like a steam engine. Next to him stood Boris, the alpaca, a character with whom Oscar had had his differences in the past. Boris always maintained that he had been to a posh school in the town but Oscar’s mum said he went to the local school along with the sheep, chickens and the occasional piglet.
“Capital effort, Buster!” said Boris. “You clipped a clear three seconds off your personal best. We shall have you at the Olympics if you go on like this.”
Buster could only pant in reply, his tongue hanging out as if it were flapping in the wind.
“You need to pay attention to your jumps, old thing” went on Boris “You could trim off a couple more seconds if you get the timing right.”
Oscar was intrigued. There was that word again – Olympics. He had to find out what it was all about. He fluttered down and perched on the garden fence.
“What-ho, young Oscar!” called Boris. “Thought you’d be asleep by now, old chap.” Boris was sometimes intolerably cheerful.
“Couldn’t sleep” mumbled Oscar then raising his voice a bit “Boris, what are the Olympics? And what’s it got to do with Buster?” The selfsame dog had rolled over and fallen asleep by now.
“Don’t you know, Oscar? It’s the Olympic Games this year and it’s going to be in London. They have athletes from all over the world coming to to race each other or dive into the water or row boats or …. lots of things. Then they have competitions for people in wheelchairs or no legs and this year, as a special treat, they have competitions for us – yes, animals and birds, even fishes. There’s a special competition for chickens to see who can catch the largest weight of worms, jumping competitions for fleas and even a burrowing contest for moles. Buster here has been entered in the dog steeplechase and I’m his trainer.” He stepped back, looking extremely pleased with himself.
“Nothing for owls, I suppose” said Oscar in a rather downcast, nobody-notices-owls-sort of way.
“Do you know, I’ve no idea. Be a good wheeze though. Let me see what could they have? A twit-twoo contest? No, I think not. Perhaps…”
“What about a mouse relay” ventured Oscar.
“A what? A mouse relay? How would that work?”
“Well, you could have teams of owls carrying a mouse back and forth from one tree to another, perhaps a field apart. It has to be in the dark, at night and the mouse must be alive so it wriggles. If the mouse is dropped that team is out.” Oscar felt rather proud of himself. Boris was looking thoughtful.
“Yes, it has potential…. at night, you say. That means that the spectators won’t be able to see anything; that could be a bit of a drawback, not good for ticket sales but hang on, old thing, we could dress the competitors in day-glo jackets and paint the mice fluorescent pink, then it should all be visible. Be quite a spectacle, what.”
Oscar was not at all sure about this but he said nothing. By this time he was feeling very tired so he settled down for a good day’s sleep, hoping that there would be no more interruptions. He slept so well that he dreamed of hunting little fluorescent pink mice whom, when he swallowed them down, tasted of birthday cake icing.
The sun had almost set by the time he awoke. Looking down he saw Percy the Pigeon scratching around amongst the straw of the barn floor. The little owl swooped down and landed on a feed trough.
“Good evening, young owl. A good sleep I trust.”
“Lovely, thanks Percy. I want to ask you something.”
“In that case, speak. Ask away” and Oscar told Percy all about the Olympics and in particular for Boris the alpaca’s ideas for a mouse/owl relay race.
“That Boris is a bit given to wild ideas. I am not sure whether a whole collection of day-glo coated owls is going to work and I fear the be-nice-to-all-little-animals brigade are going to kick up about painting mice fluorescent pink. He fails to think these things through, I am afraid. Do you remember the disaster about the bendy hay wagons idea. We all knew that they would not work.”
“I’m not very keen on the idea but he is so enthusiastic. Apparently Buster is in training for the dog relay (small class) and everyone is talking about the Limpix.”
“Olympics” corrected Percy.
“There ye are, talking about me friend Seamus again.” Fergal the Irish wolfhound had wandered into the barn.
Percy looked a little exasperated “No, not Seamus …. oh, never mind.” He never had much time for the wolfhound and that dog’s ability to pick up the wrong end of the stick every time.
“Fergal” said Oscar. “Have you heard about the animal Olympics?”
“Oh, not that old idea again. You’ve been talking to Boris haven’t you. All a figment of his imagination it is, to be sure.”
“But it’s all happening. Buster in the steeplechase, chicken contest, mole burrowing.”
“All hooey Oscar me lad. He’s making it up.”
“Are you sure?”
“Sure I’m sure. It’s about as real as that school he says he went to – all a fantasy.”
Percy turned to Oscar, “Well, what a relief. I suspected that there must have been some confabulating on the part of that alpaca.”
Oscar wondered what that word, confabulating, meant but he said nothing. After all, he didn’t want them to think that he didn’t go to a good school.