Once upon a time, there was a magical fairy-tale world where marvellous and unbelievable events occurred and, as a general rule, everyone lived happily ever after, unless of course, you’re a wolf. In which case, these marvellous and unbelievable events were only marvellous in the sense of something to be wondered at, and unbelievable in the sense of completely inconceivable that this could happen to you, and were neither wonderful nor positive experiences in the slightest. My therapist says it’s a good idea for me to get it all out as a kind of catharsis so I thought why not kill two birds with one stone and try to do myself and all wolves a service by giving you this exclusive interview. Believe me, life has been rather traumatic for my kind.
Generations carry on with the same dreadful epithets bestowed most unfairly: vicious, loners, cunning. Actually, we are very much the opposite in nature. We are loyal and enjoy being part of a group and are very rarely aggressive unless provoked: the same as anyone really. I mean, seriously, it makes you wonder why the phrases “wolf at the door”, “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and “cry wolf” turn up so often and from where did they actually originate? On top of those, there’s my personal favourite: the ridiculous conception of the werewolf. The beautiful song that we have to acknowledge each other and the beauty of the moon have become warped into a bone-chilling aberrance of nature. I’d argue that this has more to say about human-kind than a wolf’s temperament. I mean, back in the day, my great-great-grandfather was revered and folks would politely go to him for all manner of questions, a favourite being, “What’s the time Mr Wolf?” He would then gaze at the position of the sun in the sky and declare it to be “breakfast”, “lunch” or “dinner” time in a quaint way he had. Time twists things too: traditions become tainted when they are no longer observed in the same way. You have to laugh or you’d cry, as apparently, my great-great-grandfather was not merely providing a service, but was using it as a preamble to consuming the questioner!
They say there are two sides to every story; well, in my experience there’s usually only one: the popular view. This accepted “truth”, is often just the most opportune way of explaining the situation. After all, it’s not only children who try and shy away from the complexities of the real world. Wrapping up these incidents in rhyming couplets is merely superficial sing-song dressing and it doesn’t take a lot to scratch the surface and reveal the sinister workings that lie beneath. Well, I’m going to try and explain why we are so maligned. Mostly it’s a dreadful conspiracy cooked up by these fairy creatures to cover up their own misdeeds and ineptitude. It’s strange how being “thrown to the wolves” is meant to be about someone being sacrificed in order to divert our attention and blood-lust when, in my experience, it is us wolves that have been cast in the role of scapegoat. As we all know, unfortunately, mud sticks: in the end, we may inevitably become what people say and think we are. So now, keeping all this in mind, if you’re ready, I’m going to tell you what really happened in the village of the fairy-tale folk.
I’m at the point where I’m seeking professional help, which is hard to admit, but that’s what I’ve been driven to. My therapist says that we should only seek to prove things to ourselves and that our only true battle is with ourselves. That’s well and good when you’re sat in the comfort of a big leather armchair, but my battles are not exclusively internal and have also involved fiery torches, well-sharpened farming implements and speedy sprints to save my skin. So, it’s clearly not just myself that I have to convince. So, you best write something that reflects us wolves in a positive light for once. I am, of course, grateful for the chance to put my side across, but I’ve learnt the nature of story-telling doesn’t necessarily involve truth or fact.
I had a reasonable childhood, nothing overly traumatic. To my mind, it’s always other people that cause the dramas! To highlight these complications, I guess I should start with my uncle, who nobody really knows apart from through reputation. I have a rather scattered family tree; don’t ask how I’m really related to the cat branch, but I’m reliably informed that it was an unbridled night of debauchery with my uncle, the local rough, seducing my aunt, an infamous pussy of town. I guess he had her with his wolf whistles, and she reciprocated with cat calls. And, as all good family histories go, my uncle then passed the unfortunate baton of resident wrong-doer to my cousin. You’ve gotta feel sorry for my cousin really, as, bless him, he was obviously a tad confused what with being a half breed of canine-feline descent, and that’s never easy to contend with. Never fitting in was something that he became used to and I guess this was what made his actions and choices in life seem even more bizarre. In his defence though, he was a very loyal and tidy creature, taking the “best” genes from each of his parents. Plus, Uncle Rex was never really in his life so it’s not like he had any masculine figures to look up to. I almost used the phrase “role model” but then I don’t think Rex was the kind of guy you would see and think, “Hey, I wanna be just like him.” So maybe his absence in Bertie’s life was a blessing really; every cloud and all that. Anyway, just to clarify things, the wolf in several tales you may already have heard is the same wolf, and that wolf was my cousin: Bertie. I shall get on to all the weird and wonderful quirks of my cousin in good time, but for now, I guess I should start with those three deceptive porkers that initially tainted his reputation.
Whenever the pigs needed any handy-work doing they would call up Bertie. But did he see a magic bean for all his trouble? Did he heck!
So, as a youth, cousin Bertie (Bertie! Goodness me how the family chuckled at that one. I mean, calling your offspring “Bertie” is already asking for trouble right? But there you go, Aunty Tomasina and Uncle Rex weren’t exactly conventional themselves) had pretty chronic asthma which made him even more of an outcast as he was pretty sickly most of the time and never wanted to join any of our games as he got worn out so easily. The fact that his lung function was so appalling will be an integral point to this part of my tale, so make sure you pay attention to what I’m saying. Where was I? Sorry, I do have a propensity to these circumlocutions every now and then so please bear with me.
Ok, so Bertie was out one day, being the generally shy recluse that he always was, when he met three rather rotund little porcine individuals. Apparently it’s not very P.C. to say folk are big fat fatties these days, but basically they were! I suppose this now puts me in the category of the “big bad wolf” for being critical. Anyway, it was a revelation for Bertie to encounter anyone with more breathing difficulties than himself but, owing to their size and portliness, the piggy-wigs did indeed struggle up hill and down dale and even waddling about on the flat was a bit of a challenge really. Bertie was keen to strike up a friendship as, for once, he felt the tiniest bit superior, and I don’t mean in an arrogant way, just that he felt like this was a group that may not ostracise him as much.
Bertie began to hang out with the three little pigs and they treated him like one of their own, or at least that’s how it felt to my poor cousin. Anyone with eyes in their head could see that they were taking him for a ride and using him as a skivvy and also as protection as nobody would touch them with a scary “freak” on their team. Whenever they needed any handy-work doing they would call up Bertie and he would go round and rebuild walls, fetch sticks for making wattle and even help to thatch the roof on their respective houses! And did he see a magic bean for all his trouble? Did he heck! What was even sadder was that if anyone in the family tried to tell him this he would always leap to the defence of his new best buds. How soon all this generosity of his would come crashing down about his ears, quite literally.
One bright sunny day, with a wonderfully high pollen count, Bertie was particularly wheezy and had decided that to take his mind off how poorly he was feeling he would drop in and see his piggy pals. As he approached, he felt something wasn’t quite right and by the time he got to the first house he noticed that part of the wall was missing and nobody was home. After gingerly calling into the first house and receiving no reply, he peered through the window and saw the place in complete disarray. Wondering what on earth must have happened he went to the second house and found that the fence he had lovingly crafted and put up,was completely torn down. He then hurried as fast as his lungs would allow him, to the third house, as he was now more than a tiny bit disconcerted about what may have befallen his companions after witnessing such structural damage and chaos. On reaching the third his keen ears were deafened by an almighty crashing and all of a sudden the roof literally blew right off. The pigs had been having a massive rave-up and trashed the other houses before rocking out at the third.
All the messed-up villagers were stoned out of their minds – how else do you reckon the cow jumped over the moon?
However, despite being a bash for many, many people, poor cousin Bertie had been left out. The wolf not only kept from the door, but anywhere near the house at all. I mean, if you’d seen the kind of folk that turned up for this bash: all unsavoury types from Wee Willy Winky in his nightgown thinking it was some kind of slumber party to that lazy kid, Little Boy Blue, slumped in the corner, bunking off work again. Apparently though, Sleeping Beauty is his mum and so he has some kind of hereditary narcolepsy which is why he keeps nodding off. But that’s another story, and I’m not one to fuel the rumour mill. Though, actually, with regards to Blue, what’s more shocking is that he’s having a fling with Mary (the one with the lamb, not the contrary one), and in something out of a horror story they recently decided to cook said lamb for Sunday lunch in a bid to increase his iron intake and help his apathy. Is nothing sacred!? And obviously, there was Mary, Mary Quite Contrary herself, touting all her wares at this opium-fuelled orgy. That woman is famed for her garden which, let me tell you, is just a front for all the other things she grows. The local witch doctor and crazy cat lady rolled into one there; a proper wolf’s bane that wench. In fact, all the messed-up villagers had turned up to this piggy party and were stoned out of their minds – how else do you reckon the cow jumped over the moon?
Having said all that, I know everyone has their reasons and some of the attendees had escaped from a local farm and needed the drugs to block out the awful experience of the deranged farmer’s wife who cut off the tails of three blind mice. The farm cat was so disgusted by it all, he felt he was unable to chase them as they were disabled and he thought it was cruel. Mind you, he’s also screwed up as his missus ran away with an owl! I mean, what’s all that about? And his mate Humpty Dumpty killed himself due to some problems he was having in his army regiment, which was then covered up as an accident. Funny how all the king’s men, try as they might, couldn’t put him back together again, isn’t it? And, of course, on the other side of the room you’ve got Rapunzel trying to flog her hair products to the likes of Goldilocks who is busy scoffing all the different kinds of food on offer, though inevitably nothing is quite up to her expectations.
It was at this point, when he saw that literally everyone was there, Bertie realised just how much the pigs had been abusing his friendship and, feeling like an outsider once again, he got really wound up and started ranting at the hosts and their guests about how everything was so unfair. In fact, it’s safe to say that all that pent-up frustration from all the previous years may have chosen to manifest itself at this precise moment and perchance his canine side may have taken over. Thus I can well believe that the party attendees were a bit perturbed and afeared by this show of hostility. But with cousin Bertie his bark was honestly worse than his bite and he would never have harmed anyone. His tantrum induced a rather tight chest and he had to leave to head home and get his inhalers which, in his haste to meet his pals, he had completely forgotten and left in his other fur coat. So, off he went back home to get some steroidal relief.
For weeks after, the press hounds were baying at the door wanting every scandalous detail they could find.
In the meantime, the gossips started their tongues wagging, sharp enough to slice open a tin can. The whispers started going around about how the nasty, reclusive wolf “huffed and puffed and blew the houses down!” Now, they probably got the “huff and puff” bit right but only in the sense that cousin Bertie couldn’t get any words out on account of his extremely tight chest and hideous asthma attack. And, of course, those cunning piggy-wigs thought that it would look better on the insurance as an act firstly of shoddy workmanship and secondly of vandalism upon each of their homes, carried out by the same perpetrator in a bid to fulfil some murderous tendencies spawned out of jealousy, rather than the reality of misuse of loudspeakers and cranking the amps past eleven. Of course, who did the authorities believe: the three innocent-looking porkers with more than a dozen co-conspirators that attended the party and just appeared as convenient “witnesses” to the violent threats, or the wound-up weirdo wolf that had never really been part of society?
Obviously, you would never judge a book by its cover, I’m sure. You would never only see one side of a story. You would never take the majority view and never question this opinion. I mean, you people are meant to be so open minded in your line of work, always weighing the argument as it were. So it must be very difficult for you to understand how such a thing would be possible, but do just try and conceive of the injustice of it all. They all took him to trial and everything, which meant for someone painfully shy, Bertie was put in a spotlight of a most unwanted type. Everyone all over the country was literally “crying wolf” as they constructed a reputation for him as a fiendish monster, a loner who spent his time conniving devious plots to enact upon innocent local residents. For weeks after, the press hounds were baying at the door wanting every scandalous detail they could find. Yeah, our journos can pick up the scent of scandal miles away, whereas your lot, no offence, seem to be much slower off the mark.
That’s how it all started really. After “Pig-Sty”, as we call it in the family, Bertie’s name was tarnished and it seemed that everything he did from then only served to blacken his name further. In the end, when nobody believes you, you may as well fall in line with their expectations and so my cousin really did let himself go. It was such a shame as he could have amounted to so much if someone had just seen past the half-breed qualities and let him feel like he could belong. The problem for Bertie was that his feline streak seemed the dominant trait over his canine side. As such, he had a tendency to be extremely sensitive, take his presentation and grooming far too seriously and well, enjoy embracing a more feminine attitude to life in general. I guess what I’m trying to explain is that Bertie would much rather have been a cat altogether and so would grasp any opportunity to fulfil this wish. My aunt would often find him rifling through her drawers, but she was a very indulgent parent and was also very much used to pussy-footing around and so never directly questioned Bertie about things. But, like I said, despite this secrecy, he still got a reputation.
Reputation has an irritating way of proceeding you around here. For example, I just happen to like country walking. It’s not stalking, as some would say. I can’t help it if flocks of sheep happen to be in my way as I wander about. These critters are scared of my shadow. Well, to be honest, so am I now. It’s a sorry state of affairs to be in when you’re judged before you’ve been given a chance. That’s partly why I’m seeing this therapist: apparently working through these issues will make me more employable and allow me to create a positive life-narrative and reaffirm my sense of self-worth, whatever that is.
So anyway, moving away from me, remember my poor cousin the part dog-cat mishmash? Well, Bertie had been suppressing a lot of instincts, including the post-traumatic stress disorder after the incident with the pigs. It must have been a very confusing time for him. In fact, this next tale will reveal the aspect of Bertie’s character that would have been harmless enough had it not been for other people and their prejudices and bigoted ideas. Sometimes I wish that Bertie would have just opened up to someone properly, but with all the things going on in his life I can appreciate why he wouldn’t want to confide such things as it would only serve to make him even more of an outsider in society. As it turns out this was to be simultaneously the most liberating and most constraining moment of his life. I’m sure many literary critics would read something into it, such as finally achieving a desire and then having nothing left, so it is fitting that there was nothing further for Bertie to aspire to. But this is real life and whatever the motivation for things, not everything is Freudian, despite what they would have you believe. At the end of the day, he was my cousin not a case study.
Anyway, he was out wandering around the woods (see, we all do it, family trait) in the more “unsavoury areas”, shall we say, and that’s when he saw Red. I don’t mean he got crazy with rage, I mean he spotted Little Red Riding Hood. To quickly dispel a few myths that are universally accepted: Red Riding Hood was not some cutesy little kid that skipped through the woods with a big basket of goodies for her beloved ailing and aged Granny just because she was of a charitable disposition. In fact, that little brat was more in keeping with the granny-bashing, hoody-clothed youths of today. And Granny was certainly no invalid, let me tell you! She was always off out at all the local Zumba and Pilates classes and would not be caught eating “goodies” unless they were of the organic variety and free from pretty much everything. So, Red’s mother had packed a basket of locally produced, fair-trade fruit and veg and the like, and bribed her daughter with the promise of the latest video game, if she would take the offering to her beloved granny. Begrudgingly, Miss Riding Hood began her trip to see her health-conscious granny.
As it was, Granny wasn’t in, having gone to her self-defence aqua-aerobics class.
Now, this is testimony to what a weird creature Red must have been. Why she was going this strange route via the outskirts of the forest to see Granny is unfathomable to everyone. Even the authorities never really figured it out when she was questioned later. We all have our theories, as that’s what happens after such things occur. Speculation and all that. Doesn’t change the facts though. I reckon the little skank was up to no good and probably looking to score some magic mushrooms or the like, as we all know who else lives in that area of the woods: Contrary Mary, the “herbalist” that grows all sorts in her garden and then wonders why she can’t make her mind up about stuff! Gosh, this interview is really helping to get thing’s off my chest, even if you are ending up with several deviations from me.
So where was I? Ah yes, Bertie was in the woods and came across Red. So obviously, being obnoxious, she taunted him a bit. Having seen the stories in the paper, she called him a pussy rather than a wolf which sadly really hit a nerve for him, considering all he really wanted was to be a cat. I guess he wasn’t sure if he was meant to be in a cat’s body and the closest he could get to this feline streak was embracing his feminism and, as such, he had been desperate to break out of himself and cut the wolf loose for such a long time. So, seeing Red completely whacked off her face he decided to leave her yelling insults and take the basket of goodies to Granny to make sure that the old dear had some sustenance for the coming days. Obviously, he didn’t realise that she was one of the golden brigade more than capable of doing it for themselves and someone who wouldn’t likely appreciate any offer of assistance.
When he arrived at the little cottage he knocked and politely waited before opening the wooden door carefully and peering round the corner and calling out so as not to frighten the ageing woman. As it was, Granny wasn’t in, having gone to her self-defence aqua-aerobics class. Bertie placed the basket on the kitchen table and was about to leave the house when he had a primal urge to answer his call of the mild, as it were. He popped into Granny’s bedroom and began hunting through her wardrobe: the cross breed was finally able to cross dress
Having been around for a number of decades, Granny certainly had a wonderfully eclectic wardrobe filled with 1960s flowery numbers, ‘70s flares, ‘80s neon brights and ‘90s shoulder pads for power dressing days. Bertie was in his element. All the sadness he’d been suppressing for so many years found freedom as he cried tears of joy at finally realising his true self as he donned a flowing kaftan that covered him in all the right places and gave him a smooth silhouette to die for. He swished around the room and popped a shaggy waistcoat on over the top to become the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Adding a long sparkly necklace and wide brimmed straw hat, he smiled at what he saw in the mirror. Reflected there was the someone he had always wanted to be. Held in a moment in time, my cousin felt totally at peace.
The frightened scream that alerted the woodcutter did in fact belong not to Red Riding Hood but to Bertie.
However, not all stories have a happy ending for ever after. Red happened to stumble in at this point, banging open the door which terrified Bertie, lest someone find out the truth about him being a pincher of pensioners’ possessions. Realising that Red is pretty much still half-baked, Bertie jumped into bed hoping he could fool her drug-addled brain into believing it was some kind of trippy hallucination and praying that he could pull off the OAP look. Leering into his face, while simultaneously checking her phone, Red questioned: “Oh Granny, you don’t look like your social media pic which you only updated three minutes ago.” To which, technophobe Bertie answered, “Ummm, it’s an old photo dearie.” Red looked sceptical and then further asked, “Also, why are you wearing those old people clothes?” Bertie, even more confused by this, was totally at a loss for words. Sadly, due to the ever-increasing independence and health of the elderly, unbeknownst to my cousin, he had not chosen the regular attire of this pensioner but in fact Granny’s own mother’s outfit and she was currently out in a lycra leotard and fluorescent velour tracksuit.
The frightened scream so often related in this tale, the one that alerted the woodcutter to a dangerous situation, did in fact belong not to Red Riding Hood but to Bertie. The hooded hooligan really had this wolf by the ears and started battering my poor cousin when the woodcutter walked in on the scene. Now, I’m trying not to stereotype here, but he was wearing a red, checked shirt and did have braces and well-worn, ripped jeans and probably would have been a lovely understudy for one of the Village People. In a little told fact, he was actually trying to help the wolf rather than kill him; perhaps he saw a kindred spirit. Well, Red Riding Hood certainly wouldn’t have accepted any assistance, what with being an independent woman who don’t need no man to get on in life. Then in a perfect storm of elements, Granny chose that moment to return home and, without a moment’s hesitation she grabbed her shotgun from the mantelpiece, and that was the last of poor Bertie.
Of course, it was all hushed up as the woodcutter didn’t want to be emasculated any further and for word to get round of his certain sympathies, and Red didn’t want anyone to know about her special kind of trips, and Granny certainly didn’t want anyone hearing about her mother’s poor taste in clothes. She wasn’t so bothered about being thought of as a gun-wielding killer (after all, she’d just been to a self-defence class, and a woman’s gotta look out for number one in this world). So, the three of them cooked up a story of the evil wolf lying in wait to devour a poor, innocent young girl, and maybe even her granny too. And how the brave, manly, woodcutter on hearing the struggle came to the rescue. All therefore maintaining a semblance of normality associated with their stations in life. And what’s shocking is how easily it was all believed. An open and shut case, it was declared. We knew as a family there was much more to it, but we thought we may as well let sleeping dogs lie, in all senses. And what a lie. Well, here’s the truth now, for you Bertie. I’m sorry it couldn’t have been different.
Now, let me tell you another story. Oh, pardon me? Golly, really! Oh, how witty of you, “That’s all we’ve got time for Mr Wolf”. Ahh yes, I can see by the clock that the time has just flown while I’ve been chatting away. Well, if you don’t already have plans, I’d love to have you for dinner.
Part of The Learned Pig’s Wolf Crossing editorial season, spring/summer 2017.
Image credit: still from The Big Bad Wolf film, Walt Disney (producer) 1934