Modern Fairy Tales.


The Red Overalls.


It was in the depths of lunchtime of yesterday that seven kings found themselves ambling nonchalantly up Stroud Green Road . They'd not been to that part of London for sixteen and three quarter years and were dumbfounded by the changes that had occurred.

"We remember this road when it was all rag trade", said the king with brass spectacles. "Yes", said another king, the one with thick hair covering only his left leg, "I remember too; but I've been told that the shops have been through a series of changes, the most bizarre of all being the fate of the overall shops". Those garment shops had closed and been superseded by computer stores.

The period when the overall shops were trading had been marked by an increase in the building industry when the population had been encouraged by their rulers to build their own houses. Inevitably, the wearing of overalls was ‘de rigeur’. The local baron had set an example by building a palace in the middle of a crossroads, thereby forcing all traffic to make detours. Nobody complained because he had made a pronouncement that all first born sons would be given lap top computers, which would benefit from constant upgrading, if they built new houses on top of each other.

The townsfolk thought this a crazy idea, but they were poor and were in great need of lap tops. That was the time that the overall shops emerged. The town was surrounded by woodland which could not be built on. Indeed, nobody was allowed into the woods unless they wore a nicely tailored set of red overalls, fashioned from dyed Harris tweed and lined with haircloth.

The strolling kings continued talking amongst themselves, the most knowledgeable extolling the virtues and drawbacks of the changes that had occurred in the area. That king had thirty five daughters and two sons, all, except one of which, were computer literate. We can elaborate on her later in this story. Or, actually, perhaps we will forget about her.

It was, as I've said, a day like any other, but one where only one mode of dress was permitted. The seven kings were nonplussed because nobody could find any overalls, let alone red ones. They enquired in every shop that they passed. An old woman in a baker's shop offered to make a pair out of dough. She baked it straight away and coloured it red with food dye. The king that had been fortunate enough to benefit from the old woman's generosity ran off into the woods whooping for joy. He'd not been told of the dangers of the woods and before he could utter the words "Try equivocation and blancmange underwear", he'd been attacked by a parliament of magpies, attracted by the delicious smell of the dough overalls. He died, and that was that. There were now six kings. By the way, that unfortunate king was the one with a gold plated screw driver bolted on to his left elbow.

Those kings, while we're talking about it, were an extraordinary group. Short, tall, fat, thin. One had fish scales under his ornate clothing, but he was self conscious and never showed himself naked. Another was sewn together from mushroom skin and smelt like fungi, as you can imagine. Still another was composed of words which danced a tune as he walked. I've forgotten the characteristics of the other kings walking up Stroud Green Road . Suffice it to say that they were all in pursuit of the red overalls.

Eventually, when they'd progressed as far as the woods and found nothing, the kings were on the point of giving up. They knew that to enter the woods was forbidden. But they also knew, from shopkeepers that they'd talked to, that a great tower was rumoured to occupy the central clearing in the wood. This tower was guarded by three unicorns who pawed the ground ferociously whenever anyone unknown appeared. Inside the tower a spiral staircase climbed floor by floor to a height of three hundred and seventy eight feet, two and six eighth inches. Everybody had heard but could not verify, that on each level of the building there were racks and cupboards filled with red overalls. All sizes and designs.

It was decided that one of the seven kings should explore the woods and find the way to the tower. The other kings went to a nearby pub and discussed the problems and difficulty of obtaining such a simple garment as red overalls. They settled down into the big armchairs in The Ghost in the Bin pub and enjoyed a few pints of bitter from a small brewery in Kent . One of the kings surfed the Internet while news was awaited from the woods.

It transpired that the king in the woods had found the tower quite easily and by means of a throaty growl, had managed to seduce the unicorn on his side of the tower. The unicorn had only one weakness - the loss of all discipline when he heard that growl, which reminded him of a beautiful unigirl that he'd once known. "Please enter my tower, oh your Royal Highness", said the unicorn. "How remarkably easy", thought the king to himself. "If I can find at least one pair of overalls in this tower I will be able to wear them and get out of the woods safely. Then I can lend them to the next king who can climb the tower and get another pair. He'd probably have to secrete them under his outer garment".

So that is what he did. No sooner had he returned, than the second king was hot-footing it to the woods to grab his own pair. The pub had become quite rowdy in the interim – the drinkers were apprehensive about the progress in the woods.

Six of the kings managed to get their red overalls without so much as a snort from the unicorns, because the first king to venture into the woods had told them the secret whereby they might pacify the unicorns. However, the fifth king, in his excitement, forgot to tell the sixth about the throaty growl and the sixth one gambolled into the woods unaware of the danger awaiting him. He approached the tower in the overalls given him by the fifth king and was about to enter when a deep whinnying sound reverberated through the wood causing the trees to groan and creak. One of the unicorns was charging thunderously at the sixth king with steam jetting from his flaring nostrils.

"Aaaaaagggghhhhhhh!!! screamed the king as he was spiked through the back by the unicorn's ebony inlaid horn. He was impaled on the trunk of a large ilex tree by the entrance to the tower. Even though he was wearing his red overalls, he'd not been exempted from punishment because he hadn't uttered the throaty growl. Well, I can report that the sixth king never returned to the pub in Stroud Green Road , and, to tell the truth, nobody noticed, because they didn't like him anyway. Also, he was not computer literate and didn't travel by bus. He's still stuck on the ilex with the unicorn attached.


Jan. 18 th./19 th. 2004.


© Fabian Peake