The very boring Undergrowby Post Office, with its two bossy, stamping-mad postmistresses is just across the lane from the Stone Quarry Cottage, the swanky, grit-strewn home of the Quarrymistress
and world-famous pet rock whisperer Madge Dumpling, the author of this story. Madge is the Chairman of the exclusive Rubble Club whose weekly meetings for devoted pet rock owners and their pets, are
held in her parlour.
Unlike the dreary Post Office, the Stone Quarry is a truly magical place where pet rocks are hatched out from quite ordinary-looking pebbles, rocks and stones. Although she looks like any other Growby from the land of Undergrowby, only the six inch tall, brown-haired Madge is special. Only she can tell the difference between a common barren rock and a ripe friendly one which is ready and willing to be hatched out into a pet rock. Only she has inherited enough of the magical Dumpling know-how to get them all to hatch them out.
At any one time, thanks to Madge’s constant hard work and dedication, hundreds of newborn pet rocks will always be crammed neatly on the windowsills and mantelpiece of the Stone Quarry Cottage waiting to be adopted. It is a well known fact that a pet rock can turn any Undergrowby gnome`s house into a home, and will bring great good fortune to its owner, sometimes a fortune which is stupendously great and good if that owner adores his pet and pampers it properly. That is why pet rocks are always in demand and Madge’s lectures on pet rock care have such a following.
The Postmistresses across the lane, Hetty and Dora Divine, although they are called The Misses Divine, are quite unpleasant. For some strange, selfish reason they have never offered to adopt any pet rocks at all although they are just across the lane from Pet rock H.Q.. And they live in a great big posh Post Office where they could make room for hundreds! Still, being so boring and unmagical themselves, they are probably just jealous of their talented pet rock whispering neighbour, Madge Dumpling. No matter how much they might wish for a nice little pet rock to cheer up their boring lives, they will never admit it and are too stubborn and set in their ways to come across the lane to get one. Madge knows this for a fact.
Once, when the talented, pet rock whispering Madge popped across the lane to visit them with a neighbourly basketful of orphan pet rocks, the Misses Divine never even looked at them. They threw up their hands in horror, insisting they had no time for pet rocks, they were far too busy all day long with their exhausting and frightfully important post office work, and in the evenings they had their other equally exhausting and important new evening job, organising the Undergrowby Pantomime.
So no, Madge would have to return home with her rocky little friends. They were not interested thank you very much. The horrid old fools!
Sadly for the Misses Divine, the pantomime was not coming along very well. The postmistresses had been auditioning for years but still could not find anyone to play the lead role, Snow White. Well, nobody likes to be bossed around and shouted at all the time, especially pretty little girls. It is enough to make anyone forget their lines isn’t it? But the Misses Divine will not be told. Every time a new Snow White turns up, they scare her off again with their nasty, bossy ways.
Perhaps if they had adopted a lucky pet rock or two, Madge could not help thinking, they would have had more hope of success. If only that pantomime could get underway there would be crowds of excited Growbies coming to watch it every night, and the Rocky Headlands of Undergrowby, now a very serious and sedate gnomestead, would become a major tourist spot. With all those tourists strolling past the Stone Quarry Cottage it would make sense for her to set up a pet rock stall at her gate. Who would be able to resist? She would run out of adoption papers in no time. The more she thought of it, the more determined she became that the pantomime must go on.
By way of encouragement, Madge’s husband Malcolm, at Madge’s request, carved out a huge pantomime theatre into the slope of the Rocky Headlands, just on the edge of the Stone Quarry, with rows of stone seats arranged above a stone stage. He even carved out sliding stone curtains and scenery and everything. That was years ago now, and still there is no pantomime, thanks to the nasty Misses Divine, who, of course blame their failure on youngsters today being spoilt and lazy. There is a solitary, shabby, cobwebbed sign hanging in a corner of the Post Office window. If you could be bothered to squint you would just about make out the sun-bleached words “SNOW WHITE WANTED. AUDITION HERE”€. And to this day, that is all they are prepared to do on the matter. How can they have the cheek to call themselves pantomime organisers ?
Madge, far more sensible and efficient than both the sisters put together, knocked on the Post Office door one night. When she saw her, Dora Divine was about to slam the door shut, thinking Madge was trying to persuade them to adopt the pet rocks again, but Madge had propped her foot in the door. “Its about your request for a Snow White”.€ said Madge. “I might be able to help. Can I come in?” Not waiting for a reply she pushed her way past Dora bravely.
“Wait Mrs. Dumpling! Wait! We are far too busy going through the scripts this evening. You will have to book an appointment!” screamed Dora, grabbing on to Madge’s lovely yellow dress to stop her getting into the parlour. Madge, however, unstoppable as ever, did a fast twirl to wrench her glamorous but sturdy dress from Dora’s grip and continued on her business.
It did not take Madge long to persuade the unmarried (probably never even been kissed) pair of pantomime directors to fall in with her plan. “Now, as you know ladies, time is ticking on. Malcolm, my husband, has made you a nice pantomime theatre across there and it’s all going to waste. I cannot bear it any longer and if you have still found no one to take the part of Snow White, I think I have found the perfect actress for you. She is quite new to the theatre, but I am convinced she will be the answer to all your problems.”
“Oh mmmmm, really? You are convinced, are you? Well, that remains to be seen because we are in charge here, not you,”€ sneered Hetty, the thinner of the two, perched in her stiff armchair by the fire. She lifted her ugly wire glasses and screwed up her eyes as she looked at Madge begrudgingly. She tried to hide the worn out love story book she had been reading. (It was not a pantomime script at all, Madge noticed.) “Will this new Snow White agree to be told what to do? Is she obedient? I expect not,” snapped Hetty, and shook her head, her lips pressed thinly together. Dora shook her head too, raised her eyebrows and closed her eyes.
“See for yourselves. She’s waiting outside right now,” said Madge and she trotted proudly towards the front door. She threw the door open and wheeled the trolley in. On the trolley wrapped in a blanket sat the most beautiful pet rock you could ever wish to see, (and the largest). She was a brilliant white colour with little pink cheeks and a big blue bow glued on top of her head. “Meet! Snow€! White!”€ Madge crowed like an performing grandmother unveiling a home-made birthday cake.
“But it’s a pet rock! It can’t speak!” said Dora unkindly.
“Or walk!” said Hetty, tutting, shaking her head and burying her head in her book again rudely, though it was clear she was still listening.
The sisters had very little imagination, and were strangers to the hidden talents of pet rocks, so Madge, intelligently, had expected all manner of stupid objections. She was ready with all the answers like a famous lawyer in a courtroom. She would not be put off without a fight.
“I can’t believe you are allowing yourselves to be defeated by such small details ladies. In this technical day and age, actors can be made to look like they are talking and moving even though they are not. It’s not easy for the inexperienced but there are cures for all ills when it comes to pet rock management. And I should know, I have written countless books about them. Snow White here will be placed on the stage before the curtain rises, looking pretty and I, or someone else if I am too busy, will read her lines for her from behind the backdrop. My husband Malcolm will push her around the stage wherever I tell him, on this nice modern invention you see here, a trolley, which can be camouflaged by covering it in gravel to match the stone stage that Malcolm has made. Snow White already has her own seven little besotted pet rock admirers sitting here at her feet. They can play the seven dwarfs. It will be a triumph! You will be famous for your clever casting and expert directing because this Snow White will do whatever you want her to do, happy to be completely under your control.”€
That last sentence did the trick. The control-freak crazy sisters gasped, suddenly as interested as can be. Hetty had put her book down and was now standing bolt upright. Madge, deliberately ignoring her and speaking to Dora, continued proudly (because the pet rocks, after all, were like her very own babies, brought to life by her through the Dumpling magic) “Oh yes, didn’t you know Miss Divine? Pet rocks are the most obedient pets in the world. They love to dress up and act out the parts of famous pantomime characters. They do it all the time. Many of them dream of being on a proper stage. They never answer back or have tantrums, no matter how bossy their stage directors are. Oh and they can memorize a script faster than you can blink.”
Needless to say, the Misses Divine immediately agreed to give the pet rocks the lead roles in the pantomime, and Madge, true to her word, came along to all the rehearsals to speak all the lines and tell Malcolm where to push the trolley. And of course the pantomime was a roaring success and the Misses Divine, co-directors along with Madge Dumpling were thrilled to have such a talented, obedient (and unusual) cast. Madge was known to all her pantomime fans (mostly Rubble Clubbers) as the senior director, producer, script re-writer and speaker for the leading lady. Despite the Misses Divine assuming they were in charge, the pantomime theatre soon became known to all secretly as “Madge’s Pantomime”. Heaven knows why.
Every time they set off to direct a rehearsal at the pantomime theatre beside the Stone Quarry, the Misses Divine were unable to avoid adopting a new orphan pet rock from Madge’s orphan stall (which blocked the path leading to the theatre), and soon every windowsill in their Post Office was teeming with the rather drab pet rocks chosen for them by Madge, all of them hoping one day to become stars of a pantomime. Sadly, most of them were too small and drab to be visible on the stage, but never mind.
When a new owner adopts a pet rock they automatically become members of the Rubble Club. When you are in the Rubble Club you have duties to do as a responsible pet rock owner. These duties are listed on the membership form. One of them is to attend the Rubble Club meetings as often as possible to reunite the pet rocks with their old friends and to learn from Madge as much as possible about essential pet rock care.
The reluctant but dutiful sisters brought their orphans along to the weekly meetings at the Stone Quarry Cottage for the weekly shindig, rock cake and gravel tea buffet and fascinating lecture on pet rock care by the world-famous Madge Dumpling herself in person. Once they found out how wonderful it was at the meetings, though they never admitted it to each other, wild horses would not have kept them away. The Post Office would be closed for the afternoon with a sign in the window, “GONE OUT ON BUSINESS. BACK TOMORROW.”
It was at the Rubble Club’s own amateur pet rock dramatics session held one day on Madge’s mantelpiece in a miniature theatre made from a cut-out cardboard box, that the sisters jealousy got the better of them. Because Madge was in charge they would have nothing to do with the mantelpiece theatre at all and when the curtain went up, they did whatever they could do to interrupt the performance. They would not sit still, but rummaged around on the buffet table, crunching noisily on Madge’s crispy rock cakes, smacking their lips, knocking over cups and spilling sandy seaweed tea all over Madges nice, gravelly floor, calling out for a mop and bucket, etc., etc.. Their behaviour was a disgrace! Jealousy on wheels!
In a whispered conversation they decided they would create their own secret pet rock theatre over at the Post Office, far better than Madge’s, over which they would be in sole control. No one, especially Madge would ever be told about it. They had plenty of cardboard boxes of their own, far better ones than Madge’s. (They were experts at packing materials after all.) It would then be their own personal private theatre. Madge must never know about it under any circumstances or so she would be bound to try to put herself in charge, or so they imagined.
It would be called the Secret Midnight Post Office Theatre. Theirs would be the only director’s chairs in the place. They could shout and bang on the counter with their post office stamps to their heart’s content and the rocks would bounce around willingly to dance to their tune and nobody could contradict them. That pet rock theatre brought a new exciting nightlife to the pet rocks in the previously boring Post Office.
Their scripts made no sense but the pet rocks did not care. The orphans took it in turns to be stars at last, but had to suffer all the heartache and bossing around that always accompanies stardom, the Misses Divine convinced them. Their audiences were made up of drab orphan pet rocks who sat exactly where they were told and did not move from their seats until the thrilling performance was over. It was a drab orphan’s dream come true!
The ladies had no idea that Madge knew exactly what they were up to. She was well aware that the Misses Divine were copying her ideas and in every way turning into the perfect pet rock owners she always knew they could be, sentimental old softies like herself. The pet rocks, silently of course, had been updating Madge with all the post office gossip during their weekly visit to the Rubble Club.
No one would have guessed the pet rocks were leaking out all the gossip because of course they cannot speak and be heard by anyone but a pet rock whisperer like Madge. Madge was able to read the pet rocks little minds as clearly as if they were blabber-mouthed chatterboxes. Indeed, to her that is exactly what they were.
Reading pet rocks minds was just one of her skills. She was also a pet rock breeder, trainer and therapist, a renowned speciality caterer, a newspaper reporter and editor, portrait painter, local gossip, prize-winning karaoke star, linguist (speaking pigeon, seagull and of course pet rock), miniature fancy dress costumier, football luck-bringer, gatherer of useful discarded items like cocktail umbrellas and last but not least, she was the hostess /chairman and friend to all the members of the Rubble Club.
So of course with all these extraordinary talents she had no trouble with the simple task of finding out everything that was going on at the Misses Divine’s house. She learned all about the postmistress sneaking the orphans into the Post Office after dark and holding midnight performances on the shelf behind the stamp counter. She was not surprised to hear about the sisters bossing their little pets around mercilessly, and how the orphans loved it.
Back in the old days when they still lived with Madge at the Stone Quarry they had often been told bedtime stories about extra special pet rocks who are chosen to go on the stage and now here they were themselves on the stage, acting their hearts out to the audience of orphans in the Post Office lamplight. Madge listened carefully and did not tell them the post office counter was not the real stage for fear of bursting their happy bubble.
Even though the ladies were turning into sentimental old softies where the pet rocks were concerned, their nasty habits persisted in their dealings with the outside world. They still shouted at their customers and at each other and banged their stamps hard to frighten the children in the post office queue. As Madge Dumpling explains to the post office orphans when they wonder why the Misses Divine shout so much and write stupid scripts for their pantomime, (unlike Madge’s own prize-winning scripts). “Well rockies my darlings, unlike me and you, some pet rock owners are stupid and bossy and when they are stupid and bossy, that is what they like to do.”
It is all part of a pet rock’s education to know these things after all. A pet rock may look like a little lump of stone but inside it has a heart as big as the sun, the mind of a genius and the memory of a mountain, as every sensitive pet rock lover knows only too well. They deserve a good education.
As this story draws to a close you may be wondering what happened to the pantomime theatre after the Snow White season finished. Well, it is thriving nicely, with pantomime after pantomime being shown back-to-back. All the pantomime stars are extremely large pet rocks but even the largest pet rock is not very large. Still, the audience members know this and are happy to carry binoculars in order to spot them on the stage. Despite this small snag the devoted audiences continue to grow. The Rubble Club is so packed out every week that a marquee has to be erected to accommodate them all in the Stone Quarry garden.
The pet rocks, because of the sudden increase in membership quantity, are permanently in demand and Madge is constantly at work by her fireside, clapping and chanting the secret Dumpling magic chant to hatch them out. Luckily she is not fond of sleep. Despite all her other aforementioned duties she has now taken over managing, producing and directing the Undergrowby Pantomime Theatre single-handedly (with a spot of unskilled help from Malcolm and a few dozen Rubble Clubbers). She was forced to take sole charge because apparently the Misses Divine now have too much important confidential evening work to do in the Post Office. And thanks to the pet rocks reporting their weekly news to Madge Dumpling we all know exactly what they are working at, don’t we? However, for the sake of the still friendless Misses Divine and their stage-struck family of Post Office orphans, let us politely pretend we know nothing.