The Actual Times
Friday, 02 August 2019

Mulberries, Mulberries, Mulberries

Find out how Knot and Albert eating hundreds of Mulberries creates panic in the rabbit community.


It had been the hotest day since records began, certainly everyone was saying that Cambridgeshire particularly was very hot. The grass had turned crispy brown under the bear's paws and the trees were starting to droop as if bowing their heads to the powers that be to give relief from the heat. Food was increasingly abundant. The garlic harvest had taken place, fresh red onions were being picked, tomatoes and basil came together, whilst the redcurrants and wild strawberries meant that Voley was producing summer puddings at the rate of several a day!

Knot loved this weather. The heat, the sunshine, the easy living, the sitting with a paw casually draped into a cool pond. Albert tried to like it as best he could, but during the warmest nights he tended to get a bit hot and bothered behind the ears and would wait eagerly for the sun to set in the hope of cooling down.

This evening, Albert woke with his eyes pinging open like he’d been poked with a sharp stick. His nose started to wiggle. Finally, there was a breeze in the air creating some movement, but that was not what had attracted Albert’s attention. His nose stopped twitching, having pinpointed the smell it was looking for. He sat up and drew in a long, deep breath – mulberries![1]

Mulberries are, without a doubt, categorically, unequivocally, Albert’s most favourite food of all time. Every year he waits patiently for the berries to turn from green, through pink, and then to their ripe, juicy black colour before gorging on them for a month.

Albert leapt up, carefully took off all his clothing, stroked his guitar, but left it where it was, and set off, with determination, towards Knot’s room. He knocked briskly twice, called out, “Breakfast!” and waited.

Knot came to the door yawning. Looking at Albert, Knot gave a little shake of the head in surprise, and a short giggle. “Albert! You can’t go to breakfast like that; where are your clothes? And your guitar?”

“I won’t be needing them today, thank you, Knot. Now crack on, breakfast awaits. Oh, and best not to wear your clothes either!” added Albert as Knot turned to get ready for the day.

“This better be good,” said Knot.

“Oh, it is!” replied Albert simply.

The two bears made their way on their daily commute down the handrail to the Outside. Sometimes Knot marvelled at the ease of their commute. There were never any problems, never any delays, never any obstructions and they both always got to sit down the whole way. In fact, reflected Knot this fine evening, schlooming gracefully through the letter box and into the Outside, the commute of a bear is a wonderful thing. Once outside, instead of turning right to walk round the house to the Garden Canteen, Albert marched straight off in an easterly direction with the sun behind him towards the Outside beyond.

“Stop mucking around, Albert,” cried Knot. “Can’t you see I’m hungry?”

Albert turned around and observed his friend pointing to a vaguely deflated round tummy. “Do I ever muck around where food is concerned?”

“Actually, now you come to mention it, no,” admitted Knot.

“Then come on.”

They walked round the roses, through the archway – Knot swiped a blackberry on the way past – and stopped suddenly underneath the large mulberry tree.

“Behold!” said Albert.

Knot somehow knew that this wasn’t the time for an absence of camaraderie, so swallowed the blackberry whole and began searching furiously for the target object. And then Knot’s eyes rested on a large, black berry hiding behind a raggedy mulberry leaf, and then another, and another. Knot suddenly realised that the branches were concealing thousands of berry families all bunched up together and waiting to be picked.

“Yes, my friend, it’s mulberry season.” And with no more explanation or guidance than that, Albert launched himself with gusto into the lower branches of the mulberry tree and started to eat and eat and eat.

Knot approached a mulberry and prodded it gently. It seemed simple enough, just an ordinary berry; what was all the fuss about? And really, there was no need for no clothes!

Knot reached out to pick the mulberry, and where the golden paw pressed the fruit’s flesh the berry exploded with dark red juice all over Knot’s face, paws and tummy. Knot jumped in surprise and cautiously licked a paw, then picked what was left of the fruit and ate it.  Juice flooded into the bear’s mouth, making Knot gasp, and then the sweet, full flavour of the mulberry came forward onto Knot’s tongue. Never had anything so delicious been eaten by any bear ever before.

Knot looked up to see Albert watching and laughing. “Eat up, my friend, eat up!”

And they did. The mulberry tree seemed to smile down at the two friends as the dark red juice of the berries soaked into their fur and ran down their faces and tummies.

It was some time later in the evening when the two bears sat back with slightly giddy expressions on their faces and Albert declared, “I think we’re sated.”

Knot was so full of berries that only a nod could be accomplish and so they climbed down from the tree and agreed to sit by the honeysuckle at the Elephant Lake for a midnight snooze. They had hardly made it there when they collapsed, limbs akimbo, juice dripping from their fur, and sank into a deep and happy slumber.

It was at just this point that Flo Rabbit’s kittens came skittering around the corner in search of adventure and the first thing they saw was Knot and Albert, dripping red and collapsed on the ground. The oldest one froze, the youngest one ran home in fright, the middle one took charge.

“You there,” she said to the second one, “go home and get help, quickly! And you,” she called to the fourth one, “run as fast as you can to Hospital Hill and fetch the NINAs. I’ll go to the Garden Canteen and get help. Move it, kittens!”

As they scattered she stood on her hind paws, took one last frightened look at Knot and Albert and then dropped to four legs and ran as fast as she could to the Garden Canteen.

She arrived not long after, very out of breath, and ran straight to Voley. “Well, someone’s hungry,” he laughed handing her a rhubarb and ginger jam sandwich. She shook her head and pointed desperately towards the east end of the Outside as she tried to catch her breath. Mrs Vole brought her some elderflower pop and she gasped as it came back to her. She explained all about the emergency, about finding Knot and Albert lying helpless by the Elephant Lake.

Come to think of it, thought Voley, he hadn’t seen the bears for breakfast that evening. This was an emergency. Then something stirred at the back of his head – there was only one day of the year when Albert missed breakfast.

“Come on!” called the kitten urgently.

“What day is it?” asked Voley.

“The waning gibbous[2] past midsummer is almost over, now hurry!”

Voley took a deep sniff of the air as he climbed onto the back of Flax the owl, sent by the NINAs to take him to the Elephant Lake. If my instinct is right I know a bear who’s going to feel a little sheepish after this, thought Voley to himself, but he said nothing.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the Outside things were getting very busy. The NINAs were preparing for a mighty rescue; they had come with stretchers and bandages, tonics and tablets. Flo, Pete and Ben Rabbit, along with their families, were standing in the shade of the copper beech, watching anxiously. Even the newts were strumming a solemn tune from on top of the elephant.

Just as Dr Belina asked for quiet and raised a paw towards Albert, Voley landed on the ground.

“Hold it,” he said.

Everyone looked in amazement and the youngest rabbit held her breath, fearing the worst.

Voley went over to the two bears with swollen tummies. “I just wonder…” he said to himself, and he reached out a hind paw and rolled Albert purposefully into the Elephant Lake. He held up another paw to halt the approaching NINAs as the red staining started to slick away from Albert’s fur like oil. And then…

Blauughhg!” cried a cross Albert, rising from the lake like a phoenix from the ashes to see very many of his surprised friends gazing down on him. “Why would you do that?!”

“They thought you’d had it, old friend,” whooped Pee-Gee from on top of a nearby gunnera leaf. “They thought you’d copped it, unravelled your stitching, met your maker.”

Albert looked round at them all and then at Knot, who was beginning to rouse from his slumber, and suddenly he understood the enormity of the chaos they’d created. Then they started to laugh and laugh. The elephant sprayed them with the sweet mulberry juice of sleeping bears as they all piled into the lake for a summer swim. All except the NINAs, who went back to Hospital Hill for the next time.

[1] Now, mulberries are not native to the UK. They were first brought to Britain by the Romans, who used the leaves to treat lung and throat problems, but then King James I famously ordered thousands of mulberry trees to be brought to England to start a local silk trade. You see, mulberries are the only food of the silk worm. However, King James made a mistake and ordered black mulberries instead of white ones and the scheme was a disaster. Disaster for King James perhaps, but less so for Albert Bear!

[2] Did you know that a gibbous is more than half a moon and a waning moon is one that’s getting bigger? So if a waning gibbous is almost over, then it’s almost time for a full moon.


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