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THE PANDA THAT WOULDN'T GO AWAY

by Robert Williams

Des, Mick, Clive and Wayne had decided to visit the Tolworth Fete. They gathered outside Des's house to make the journey there.

"I can't believe they didn't ask us to organise it this year," said Des. "After the success we made of it in 1993!"

"This is the first time they'd dared hold one since that fiasco!" said Mick.

"I can't understand it," said Des. "It was such a big hit, we were in all the local papers!"

"For all the wrong reasons," sighed Mick.

"Have we really all got to squeeze in there?" moaned Clive, pointing at Des's Fiat 126, now his only mode of transport.

"Yes, just like the old days," said Des. "Or you can ride on the roof rack if you'd prefer."

Clive quickly bagged the front passenger seat.

"Something a bit bigger would be nice," said Mick as he squeezed into the back seat along with Wayne. "And I don't mean a rickety old van, bus, horse box or milk float!"

"Well I was thinking of getting a new car, to replace this one," said Des.

There were gasps from all round.

"That's the reason I wanted to go to the fete this year," said Des. "They're raffling off a Fiat Panda!"

"That's slightly bigger, I suppose," said Mick.

"And if you don't win?" said Clive.

"I'll just keep this one," said Des.

There were groans from all round.

Once they had driven to the local park where the Tolworth fete was taking place, Des showed them the banner which read 'WIN A PANDA IN THE TOLWORTH FETE RAFFLE!!'

"Where does it say it's a Fiat Panda then?" said Mick.

"It has to be a Fiat, no other company makes a car called the Panda!!" exclaimed Des.

They went straight to the raffle stall, but when Des went to buy his tickets he found there was a catch.

"All proceeds go to the St Malcolm's Church fund to fix the church roof," said the person who was manning the stall.

"Oh god," said Des. "If all this cash is going to go to Dickie the Vicar, I think on principle I should abstain from buying a ticket."

"No Des, think about it logically," said Mick. "The more money is raised through this raffle, the fewer charity discos Dickie will have to hold."

"Of course! Of course!" exclaimed Des. He immediately started buying up all the tickets he could afford.

"How many tickets did you buy in the end?" asked Mick as they left the stall.

"Only about...175," said Des. "Of course it means I've now got no money left to spend at any of the other stalls."

"You're virtually guaranteed the prize then!" exclaimed Clive. "This is good news week! We're finally going to see the back of your silly old car, and Dickie's boring discos as well!"

They spent the rest of the afternoon looking round the fete, and then half an hour before it closed, everyone went to gather in front of the stage. But before the draw for the raffle, they had to sit through the Eddie Large lookalike contest. Seemingly random members of the public walked onto the stage, with the only thing they having in common with Mr Large being that they were all, well, slightly large. But to everyone's surprise, the last contestant to take to the stage was none other than Wayne - who was dressed as Edd the Duck.

"Oh good grief," said Des. "What does he think he's doing?!"

To everyone's even greater surprise, since all the other contestants looked even less like Eddie Large than Wayne dressed as Edd the Duck, Wayne was awarded the trophy.

"This is a travesty," said Des. "How dare Edd the Duck win an Eddie Large lookalike contest dressed as Wayne Coach! It's like Edd the Duck winning a Wayne Coach lookalike contest dressed as Eddie Large!"

"Err yes, whatever," said Mick. "Do you remember last time when they held that Syd Little lookalike contest?"

"I can't understand how I came second in that," said Des. "I look nothing like Syd Little!"

"Didn't John Major win it in the end?"

"Yes he did...now when are they going to hurry up and get onto the raffle?!" exclaimed Des. "Oh look, here comes the mayor to draw the winning ticket. About time!"

They watched and chuckled as the mayor tried to walk up the steps to the stage at the same time as a bunch of Eddie Large would be-lookalikes were walking down it.

"Ahem," said a rather caffuffled mayor, straightening his hat and chain. He took to the microphone. "Greetings everybody! I hope you have all had a lovely day at our Tolworth fete. I'd like to report that this fete has been the most successful to be held in the town for nine years!"

Everyone cheered.

"It's been the only fete to be held in the town for nine years," said Mick.

"Many good causes and local organisations have benefited from the money raised this afternoon," said the mayor.

"Yeah, yeah, we don't care," said Des. "Just hurry up and draw the winning number out!"

"But now comes the bit you've all been waiting for!"

"At last!" said Des.

"It's time to pick out the winning ticket in our raffle!"

As soon as he said this, most of the crowd groaned and started walking off.

"Where's everybody going?" said Des. "Is no one interested in the raffle?"

"You bought up most of the tickets!" said Mick. "There were none left for anyone else!"

"And the winner is...number 241!!"

Des spent several minutes checking through his tickets, frantically searching for ticket number 241, while Mick and the mayor stood about whistling and tapping their feet. Suddenly Des found it.

"It's me!!!" he exclaimed, leaping up and down.

"What a surprise," sighed Mick.

Des excitedly rushed up onto the stage.

"Well done sir," said the mayor. He shook Des warmly by the hand and presented him with an enormous five foot tall cuddly bear.

"Yes, that's very nice," said Des. "But where's my car?"

"In the car park?" said the mayor.

"No, no, my prize, my new Fiat Panda?" said Des. "Oh, I get it! The key is hidden inside the bear!" He tried shaking the bear up and down to see if he could hear a key jangling inside.

"No, this is your prize," said the mayor. "A panda bear!"

"A panda bear?!" exclaimed Des. "I don't want this!"

"It's yours!" exclaimed the mayor.

Des grumbled as he stepped off the stage carrying his giant cuddly panda and rejoined Mick. Edd the Duck, aka Wayne, was excitedly showing Mick what he had won in the Eddie Large lookalike contest.

"Quack quack!" exclaimed Wayne. "Look what I won, Des!!"

"Best of Little and Large video?! I tried to win that last year!! I've always wanted that!!"

"Where's your new car then, Des?" said Mick.

"Um...slight breakdown in communication," said Des. "It wasn't a Fiat Panda after all. Just...a panda."

Mick couldn't contain his laughter.

"Shut up Mick," said Des. "Wayne, do you want to swap? Panda bear for a Little and Large video? Please?!"

"No!" exclaimed Wayne. "I don't want that! I wanna keep my new Little and Large video!! 'Ere Mick, who are Little and Large..."

"I don't want it either!" grumbled Des. "What use could I possibly have for a cuddly panda bear?!"

They walked back to the car park and met up with Clive

"I knew it," said Clive. "I'd like to see you drive home in that!"

"I know what I'll do," said Des. "I'll stick it on the roof rack, and hopefully it'll have fallen off by the time we get home. Oh and Wayne, please change out of that Edd the Duck outfit, it's embarrassing."

"More embarrassing than driving with a panda bear on the roof?" said Mick.

"Naaah, I'll just tell everyone I'm driving a panda car," said Des. "Ha, ha! Geddit?! Panda car!!!"

Des decided to drive the long way home, under all the lowest bridges, round the sharpest bends and corners, at the highest speed allowed. And yet when they arrived back home, Des was perturbed to find the cuddly bear was still intact on the roof.

"Oh for goodness sake," said Des, lifting it off the roof. "What am I going to do with this thing? Maybe I could give it to Mrs Greasy for her birthday!"

"Her birthday's just passed this year," said Mick. "Why don't you donate it to her though? She could use for one of her giveaways, she's been trying to attract more children to the cafe recently, hasn't she?"

So Des took the cuddly animal down to the cafe.

"I won this in a raffle, but I don't want it," explained Des. "You could use it for one of your giveaways, you've been trying to attract more children to the cafe recently, haven't you?"

"I've no use for that thing," said Mrs Greasy. "I've given up trying to attract younger customers. They're all rude and uncouth these days, anyway. They weren't like that in my day. Youngsters knew how to respect their elders."

"Oh stop droning on, Mrs G," said Des. "Why don't you hold a raffle then?"

"That's a good idea," said Mrs Greasy. "Everyone who eats in here gets a free ticket. That's bound to increase business!" She has obviously forgotten the last time she held a raffle in her cafe in a failed attempt to increase business.

She plonked the bear in her shop window, and Des left the cafe very pleased to have been relieved of the giant panda.

The next morning in their regular daily meeting, Mrs G reported back on how sales had been going.

"To be honest, custom hasn't really picked up since I introduced the raffle ticket idea," said Mrs Greasy.

"What a surprise," said Clive.

"Mrs Greasy, why have you given me a raffle ticket with my mashed potato?" asked Des.

"Everyone who has a meal in here gets a free ticket," said Mrs Greasy.

"I don't even want the meal, let alone the ticket!" exclaimed Des.

That evening Mrs Greasy held the grand draw. Not that many people turned up - but Des and Mick were among them.

"I hope I don't win," said Mick. "I don't want to be lumbered with a useless, fat, albeit quite cuddly, thing!"

"It's the panda that's the prize, not Mrs Greasy!" said Des.

Mrs Greasy got ready to draw out the winning ticket.

"And the winner is...number nine!!"

Des peered at his ticket - and his heart sank when he saw it was number nine. He decided to keep quiet.

"Well it must be one of you lot!" exclaimed Mrs Greasy after several seconds of silence. "I only sold ten tickets!"

Still no one said anything.

"Right, I'd better check my records then," said Mrs G.

"Trust her to keep a record," sighed Des.

"It's Des Wednesday!" proclaimed Mrs G.

"Yes I know it is," mumbled Des.

"Well done Des, here's your prize," said Mrs G, presenting Des with the giant panda bear.

"Mrs Greasy, I don't want it!" moaned Des. "I was the one who donated it to you in the first place!"

"If you don't accept the prize I will take it as a personal insult," said Mrs Greasy.

Moaning and groaning, Des took the prize and stormed off.

"You're doing well, you've won two raffles in two days!" exclaimed Mick.

"And not only that, exactly the same prize in both of them," grumbled Des. "I should charge this thing lodgings..."

The next morning Des was sitting forlornly on a bench in the street by the bus stop, with the panda sat by his side. Mick happened to walk past on his way to post a letter.

"Des, you don't normally get the bus," said Mick. "Where are you taking Panda?"

"I'm, er, just taking him shopping," said Des. "Oh look, here comes the bus now."

Des got on the bus with the panda bear.

"One return and one single to Kingston please," said Des to the driver. "(The return's for me, the single's for the bear)."

"Cuddly animals go free!" exclaimed the driver.

"Oh good," said Des. He went and sat on the seat at the back, with the panda by his side.

When they reached Kingston bus station, Des got off the bus - accidentally on purpose leaving the bear on the seat.

"Yes!!" exclaimed Des as the bus drove off, with bear still on board. "I've got rid of it at last!!"

He spent the next hour or so doing his shopping in town. But when he got on the bus to go home, he was perturbed to find it had the same driver as before - in fact it was the same bus.

"That's a bit of luck!" said the driver as Des got on. "You left your cuddly friend behind!"

Des looked to the back of the bus - and to his horror he saw that the panda was still there.

"I don't believe it!" murmured Des under his breath. He turned back to the driver. "Oh yes, great, how lucky." He went and sat back with the bear. "When are you going to leave me alone?!" he said to it, prodding its nose. "You're going to haunt me forever, aren't you!"

Devoid of any other ideas, the next day he waited for the bus once again with the bear, even though he had no shopping to do. Once again, when they reached the bus station, he got off leaving the bear on the back seat. This time he immediately got on another bus to ride back home again.

"He he," said Des, rubbing his hands together with glee. "That panda's not going to come back this time!"

Later that day, back home, Des received a knock at the front door. When he opened it, his heart sank. He could not believe his eyes. Mrs Greasy was standing there - holding his panda bear.

"Hello Des," said Mrs G.

Des stared and pointed at the bear in amazement.

"Where...did...you...find...that..."

"You left it on the bus by mistake!" said Mrs Greasy.

"But..."

"I got the bus into town today, since my scooter is in for a service, and I found your panda bear sitting on the back seat!" exclaimed Mrs G. "That was a bit of luck, wasn't it!"

"Yes, how lucky," said Des through gritted teeth. "Thank you very much Mrs Greasy."

He grabbed the bear and slammed the door.

Next morning, Des was hanging around on a bridge overlooking the main road, with the panda balanced on the edge, waiting for a lorry to pass underneath. When he saw one, he pushed the panda off the bridge, and it landed right on top of the lorry.

"Success!" exclaimed Des. "I definitely won't be seeing that panda again now!" He hurried off home.

As the lorry travelled at some speed along the road, it was forced to stop suddenly at some traffic lights when they turned red. The force at which it stopped caused the bear to tumble off the lorry and fall on the roof of the vehicle in front - which just happened to be Wayne's van. This came as no small surprise to the lorry driver who wasn't used to seeing cuddly panda bears falling in front of his windscreen.

Wayne happened to be on his way home from some window cleaning business, and was totally unaware that he now had a bear on his roof. When he reached his house, he veered hard left into the drive, the panda tumbled off and rolled across the road straight into Des's drive opposite.

Seconds later Des came walking along the road with a spring in his step. As he walked up his drive, he did a double take.

"You know," he thought to himself, "I thought I just saw that panda lying in my drive. Naah, can't be."

But he looked back, and he was right. The bear was there.

"That does it!!!!!" exclaimed Des in a rage. "There's only one thing for it!!"

He angrily picked up the panda, jumped into his car with it and drove as far as he could. By nightfall he found himself out in the middle of nowhere, deep within the highlands of Scotland.

"Right, this should be remote enough," said Des. He took the bear, and placed it on a wall by the side of the road. "Sorry Panda, but it had to be done. I hope you enjoy your new life in Scotland!"

As it was very late, he had a meal of emergency chocolate biscuits and slept in the car. The next day he attempted to drive back home, which took a very long time since he had no idea where he was. But eventually, very late that night he arrived home. Tired, but very happy for the fact that he had finally rid himself of the panda he didn't want.

Three weeks later, Des received a strange postcard. It had a picture of some bagpipers and 'Greetings from Scotland' on it. He turned it over to read the message.

"'Hi there, having a great time here in Inverness, wish you here, see you soon, Panda'," said Des. "This is a wind-up! Which one of those scallywags is having me on? Mick? Clive?" But he checked the postmark - and it was indeed from Inverness.

A few days after that Des's doorbell rang. He opened the door, but there was no one there. Except a giant panda wearing a kilt and a tam-o'-shanter and a haggis tucked under its arm.

"Aaaarrgghhhh!!!" yelled Des.

So in the end he decided to give it to Mick, who gave it to his niece for her birthday.


Copyright © Robert Williams
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