It was a point of immutable fact that Steve Squirrel was a total blether.
“You’re a total blether, Steve Squirrel,” his mother used to tell him, as if just saying it out loud was all the proof needed.
“I know, mum,” he would reply, eyes downcast in a vague approximation of contrition. “I’m sorry.”
He wasn’t really sorry, though. Steve was utterly convinced that talking to people was the only way he would ever get to have an adventure, and adventure was what he craved more than anything.
Steve Squirrel talked to trees, plants, ducks, geese, owls, insects, rabbits, pigeons, seagulls, and sometimes even rocks. If ever you visit Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens, and a squirrel scampers up to you, chittering away nineteen to the dozen, it’s almost certainly Steve.
His mother said he should avoid speaking to human beings, because sometimes they turn nasty and poke you with sticks. But Steve had no intention of being such a scardey tail. After all, nasty humans were the ones most likely to bring with them a promise of adventure. Any day now, one might turn out to be a burglar, or someone who drives more than 20mph in school zones, or a heavy metal fan. Then perhaps Steve would be able to foil one of their dastardly plots, and he would be a hero.
The type of human being that he really longed to meet, however, was a pirate.
Not the nasty kind you see in the news these days, always kidnapping Scandinavian tourists and demanding impossible ransoms. An old fashioned pirate, with a hook for a hand and an in-depth knowledge of rum, and pistols, and buried treasure. Pirates, Steve knew, were always having adventures. Oh, what he wouldn’t give to put out to sea in a ship full of bloodthirsty buccaneers!
One day he was daydreaming of how this would all go down, when a group of four year old boys dressed in bandanas and eye patches descended on the gardens for a birthday picnic.
Steve didn’t notice they were there at first – although how he managed to daydream his way through all that sugar fuelled whooping and shrieking is a mystery – and in fact his first interaction with the crew came when the leader poked him in the bum with a plastic cutlass.
“Aaaaarrrrrrr,” the pirate shrieked impressively, before collapsing into giggles.
“Parrot?” he asked Steve, hopefully.
“No,” Steve said sourly, rubbing his posterior, “I’m not a –”
Maybe this was his opportunity for adventure!
“I mean... squawk! Squawk! Pieces of 8!”
The pirate captain picked his nose distractedly.
Quick as a flash, Steve ran up the side of his leg and perched on the boy’s shoulder.
“Parrot!” the boy’s face split into an enormous grin. “Your name will be... Swishy!”
“But my name is Steve,” he said.
“Come on Swishy,” the pirate captain ordered, “let’s play pasta passel!”
He ran back over to the rest of his crew, who were sitting in a circle as various of their mothers laid out a picnic for them.
“There you are,” said one of the human mothers. Steve assumed she must be responsible for the pirate captain.
“Swishy wants to play pasta passel,” the captain announced.
“We already played pass the parcel this morning,” his mother reminded him, “don’t you remember? We played it four times, two of which didn’t even have a parcel, but we had to keep going because you cried when I said it was time for musical chairs.”
“They’re too small for musical chairs anyway,” one of the other mums interjected, emptying a packet of crisps into a plastic bowl.
“Let’s not get into that now,” the pirate’s mum said, through gritted teeth, “not in front of the children.”
“Swishy wasn’t there before,” the pirate said. “We have to play again.”
“Oh, don’t worry about me,” Steve said, “I don’t even like pasta all that much to be honest.”
“Who is Swishy?” the pirate’s mum enquired, looking at her son properly for the first time.
“Oh my goodness that’s adorable!” Cooed one of the other mums, “Hold still Josh, and let me take a photo!”
She produced a disposable camera and started snapping away.
“Get that thing off you,” Captain Josh’s mum said in a voice barely more than a whisper, “now.”
“No,” Josh replied, “he’s my parrot.”
“He’s probably riddled with disease,” she groaned, handing a plate of cocktail sausages to the nearest child, who took it as a sign to dig in.
Within moments, all the pirates were scrabbling for food, two of the mums were screaming – one with laughter, the other in an attempt to restore order – and Steve had had enough of being a parrot.
“Happy Birthday, Captain,” he whispered to Josh.
Then he leapt off his shoulder and ran as fast as he could back to his mum.
“Have you been blethering to humans, Steve?” she eyed him suspiciously. “You’ve got that look about you.”
“Yes, mum,” he admitted. “But I don’t think I’ll do it again.”
She nodded in satisfaction.
“Not for a while, at least,” he added under his breath.
After all, the next group of pirates to visit might be an entirely different story.