You’ve probably heard of Goldilocks (who met those bears) and maybe even Curlylocks (who would not wash dishes nor yet feed the swine) but did you know they were part of a larger family?
There was Swirlylocks, and Wavylocks, and Piggylocks (who could turn into a pig when ever she wanted, which was – mostly – at meals).
There were Silverlocks and Bronzylocks – Goldilock’s sisters.
And there was Wobblylocks. This is her, hair-raising, story.
A long long time ago, when the Locks family was excessively royal and well connected, there was a Princess with very wobbly hair, and her name was Princess Espanza Vespasia Concherta Birgitta Charlotta Emma Phoebe Locks, but everyone called her Wobbilylocks.
Because no matter what she did and no matter how much hairspray she used or how many hair pins and slides and grips and bands her ladies in waiting plied her hair with it wouldn’t stay straight or still. It wobbled. Her crown wouldn’t stay on her head, and her hair wouldn’t stay out of her (or indeed anyone else’s) eyes.
That was bad enough, but if wouldn’t have mattered to her except that straight and still hair was the fashion that year in the Little Kingdoms of Locksovia. So you can imagine that Princess Wobblylocks (that is Princess Espanza Vespasia Concherta Birgitta Charlotta Emma Phoebe) was very upset. When she was upset, she screamed and pouted – for I’m afraid being royal, and the apple of her father the King’s eye - she was very very spoilt indeed, and when she screamed her powerful voice made her wobbly hair wobble back and forth like a great big yellow jelly.
Despairing of making her hair cease to sway, because when it did it knocked vases off tables and pictures off walls, and the big furry hats off the guardsmen at the palace doors, her father begged the court Magician Custardicus the Uncanny to help. Now Uncanny can mean odd weird and scary, but it can also mean someone who isn’t actually knowledgable and I’m afraid that summed up old Custardicus to a tee. He said he’d got his name because he was the “custodian” of all wizardry, but - according to Flourylocks the Cook – he’d really got his name from getting a bowl of custard stuck on his head at a wizards’ party during a “who can hide the most tiny yellow-footed elephants in their dessert competition”.
He stared at the Princess through a quizzing glass and said “hmmm” a lot. And then he gave her a purple pill to swallow made of all the hardest and straightest things in his secret ingredients list. Diamond candy, Parallel Pineapples (that only grow in two straight lines that never meet except at infinity), and stunned medusa hair (I think it was only a stick of rock painted to look like a snake, at least I hope so.) Now you know, I hope, better than to take purple pills given you by anyone, especially by anyone whose beard smells of months old custard, but Wobbilylocks was so set on having straight, flowing hair, that she swallowed it right down. Gulp!
And what do you think happened? Her hair went straight it’s true, straight as an arrow, straight as a bolt of light, straight out in all directions like a great big dandelion seed. And it went solid, solid and not at all wobbily: solid as a great big block of wood, and like a block of wood it went heavy, and Princess Wobblylocks, took a step and went head over heels, bonk!
The Princess was upside down, and her hair stuck out like tree-roots.
Her lips started to trembled and she screamed and moaned and groaned and pouted and shouted and, then something even worse happened. She went solid all through. Solid like a statue. The magic straightner in that purple potion pill straightened her right out.
“Oh dear,” said Custardicus – “I didn’t expect it to do that!”
Then the King wept, because even if Wobbilylocks was a bit spoilt and couldn’t walk near a shelf without knocking things off it with her hair, she was his daughter and he loved her. And he asked Custardicus if the spell could be broken.
“Most certainly,” Custardicus said keeping his figures crossed behind his back. “But I will need a feather from the great wobblybird that lives atop the wibble-wobble mountains to the north and feeds only on lime and orange jelly”.
The King wasn’t sure he believed Custardicus. The wobblybird, didn’t – to him – sound at all likely, but Custardicus explained that to doubt the existence of the wobblybird which was set down in black ink on the whitest pages of the great beastiary (or book of animals) in the castle library was like doubting the existence of the snorth, the gurn, or the gander-cat, and what creatures are more obvious and loved than these.
So the King called for his knights and they rode hard for many days and nights to the foothills of the wibbly-wobbly mountains where the tribes make a precarious living from the flavours of jelly the wobblybird does not devour (which they export) while leaving out every night bowls of lime and orange jelly as offerings to the great mountain spirit.
“Sir Ironsword,” the King called. “You are the bravest of my knights and the hardiest, climb thou the wibbily-wobbly mountains and seize the tail-feather of the wobblybird that my daughter be restored to me.” The King spoke in that very formal way because the Knights expected it and he was a kind man and hated to disappoint them, although he might as well have said: “Hey Ironsword mate, climb up and get me a tail-feather will you, please.”
Well Ironsword tried. He was very strong, and very tough, and very brave. He had killed the great Dragon of Orn, and cut off the head of the Troll King’s Least Favourite Beast (which was an interesting story in itself that I will tell you another time) but he couldn’t climb the wibbly-wobbly mountains.
This was because (owing some say to the, er, um droppings – sorry – of the wobblybird) the mountain itself was like a great big huge giant vast jelly, and when Sir Ironsword ran at it his martial legs pounding on the grass – he just bounced off.
Well, he tried, and tried, and he bounced, and he bounced. He landed on his head and the sound his armour made was like forty tins of corned beef landing on a marble floor at midnight.
Sir Mightythews, and Sir Trysalot, and the King himself, and even Custardicus with “patent magic jelly-walking shoes” tried. But they all failed especially Custardicus whose shoes turned out to be made of magic-jelly and to have been intended only for walking across sleeping bears (which was another interesting story).
Then the smallest and most insignificant of the King’s knights – the one who kept falling off his horse – and who could only afford cardboard armour: Sir Wobblylot stepped forward. “Let me try” he said.
Well I’m afraid, Ironsword and Mightythews and Trysalot all laughed. They didn’t take seriously a knight who hadn’t killed even one dragon – and a knight in cardboard armour didn’t stand a chance against any dragon, even one with a severe cold, and snout-droop. Even Custardicus, who had nothing to recommend him at all – except a beard with its own flea circus – sniggered. The King however was a good man and he shook Wobblylot’s hand and wished him well.
Then Wobblylot started to climb. And when the mountain wobbled left, he wobbled right. And when it wobbled right he wobbled left. And when it went up and down (which had made the King sea-sick) Wobblylot just grinned. He liked it. He had in fact been born in these parts, the son of a family of poor jelly-farmers. Their fortunes blighted by being able to grow only lime jelly, a crop most often raided by the wobblybirds – and he had run away ‘to ground’ as they say in those lands of someone who goes off to solid parts to seek their fortune, as we might say run away “to sea”.
So wobbling and bobbling he clambered and climbed until he came to the nest of the wobblybird.
Now he was very brave to do so. For no one in all the wibbly-wobbly mountains had ever seen the terrifying wobblybird that devoured their prized orange and lime jelly in the night. On hearing the dreadful wobbly beating of its great wibbly wings they flung themselves face down until it had past. Also the great beastiary in the Castle described the bird as having “the face of a yak, the beak of an octopus, the breath of a camel, the temper of a gym-instructor, and wings fully twelve snoods in length”. (A snood is an ancient measurement roughly twelve seventeenths of a gyre, so you can see that such a bird would be very scary indeed!)
However, and it is an important fact that books (and people with their faces in the dirt) are sometimes mistaken, the wobblybird was actually only the size of a sparrow. A thin sparrow that hadn’t been at all well, but felt it might try a worm if you could fetch it a very small one. In fact – it was a sparrow – a poor lost sparrow that had been trying to live for years on jelly getting weaker and weaker. (It told Wobblylot later – for he had the power to speak to birds, provided they were smaller than a hedge-hawk from his mother’s side of the family (which is an interesting story in itself) – that it didn’t even like lime and orange jelly, but it just disliked it less than raspberry, pineapple, forest-fruit, mango, or onion: those being the other flavours of jelly grown in those lands.
So Wobblylot took the sparrow down the mountain in his cardboard armour, and when he touch its feathers (still on it) to the Princess she at once turned unsolid again and her hair wobbled as much as ever.
And all the jelly-farmers rejoiced that the wobblybird would no longer eat their crops, until someone (it might have been Custardicus) said he’d read that there was a jellywolf that devoured raspberry and onion jelly and was only kept away by the sound of the wobblybird’s wings. But even that didn’t damp their spirits much because as they said, not having raspberry would be a change, and no one had actually liked the onion jelly very much.
And Princess Wobblylocks decided she would never be vain about her hair again but take it as she found it, and her father decided to fix his ornaments to the wall, and Sir Wobblylot was awarded a proper suit of armour and permission to court the Princess whom he’d fallen in love with. And they all lived wobbily ever after.
Except the sparrow who was so tired of wobbly food and wobbly land that he ate one of Custardicus purple pills and became the famed Iron Eagle of the Ninth Legion (but that’s another story.)