In my creative writing course in Winchester, we were asked to take a familiar story and change it to show another ending or time period. I have always enjoyed Albert and the Lion, especially when spoken by Stanley Holloway.

So, this too has to be read in a ‘Northern’ accent!

The Lion and Albert

(With respect and thanks to Marriott Edgar)

‘There is a famous seaside place call Blackpool’ muttered the Lion, chewing on a bone that could have been from a cow. ‘Blackpool indeed’ he continued, and then with a som-no-lent roll, pushed his grizzled cheek to the bars. His nose was scarred but that was from his last wife, after all, what else should a lion do?

After dark, he knew how to slip the lock of his cage and go and explore the acres of the zoo. He lay on benches, climbed trees and generally enjoyed his time as the King. He settled scores and discoursed about the ‘maybe let’s eat humans policy.’ He no longer dreamt of Africa, but of kids, and he did not mean goats. So for him, a warm afternoon in the sun was what he liked.

So until dusk and closing time, he put up with the prodding and the cries of, ‘he doesn’t look right’ and ‘why is he not more fierce?’

Occasionally, he managed to snaffle a hat that was worried through the bars in the hopes that he would snatch it, snarl and generally be lion-like.

The Lion stirred; it was hot and he shook his heavy head. His mane was still quite silky and threw some midges and dust into the late afternoon air. Suddenly he felt something, a new sensation, not uncomfortable though, but tickly.

‘What is that in my ear?’ The Lion mumbled and so with his paw, less one claw, the result of a tangle with his cubs, he eased his arm slowly up to the scraggy ear flap where the irritant was. He did not even open his eyes, he was that bored. And so by instinct, his rough and gnarled pad gripped like a baby’s hand around a stick that was hovering and vibrating by his head.

‘Once again I suppose, well just this once’ he growled and as he rolled over he heard a squeak, then a pop and a young child was deposited on the matting floor of the enclosure.

‘Well, what have we here?’ the Lion said, peering out with one eye at a little boy, who was dressed in a sailor suit with a very fancy ‘at in his hand.

The boy was shivering, quaking and his thin blue-veined knees knocked. ‘No flesh on those scrawny limbs’ the Lion thought, but ‘hang it’ and so with a swipe, he lifted the boy up and placed him in his mouth, but gently mind.

It was worth it for the commotion. The lad was wriggling now, eyes wide open but not a word from him, but only small gasps. The boy had a human banging on the cage, ‘what for,’ the Lion thought and anyway, I fancy this little lad, and especially his ‘at.

‘Er you, yes you, Lion, what do you think you are doing with my Albert, put him down’ a rather small lady shouted at him. She was as tense an ‘ampster when picked up, her arms cocked like open shotguns on her hips.

‘How do we resolve this standoff’ the Lion growled. He could just about swallow the lad whole, but the recriminations with the manager, the enquiry, ‘oh dear’ the Lion mumbled.

It was hard to put his point of view succinctly with a mouthful of the boy.

Well, he was a good Lion, and the lad had not really meant him too much harm, and anyway it was hard times at the zoo. What with their last compensation payments following an altercation with little Gladys, it meant that the Lion’s lunches were a bit on the small side.

‘Come on then Lion’ said the women, cracking a smile ‘give us our Albert back?’

‘Say please’ said the Lion, ‘but can I keep his ‘at?’

‘Alright, please then, but that ‘at was expensive!’

‘Don’t push it missus’ the Lion said, and with a second roll of the day, plonked the boy who was still holding his ‘at towards the bars. Scrabbling through, the lad ran towards his mother, worried no doubt about the hiding he was to get.

He turned and his mouth opened.

‘Where’s me stick mam?’ he cried.

At that moment, they both heard a crack as the ivory-handled cane broke in two in the Lion’s mouth. He opened an eye lazily and winked at the women.

‘No flesh on that lad’ he thought, and then suddenly remembered it was supper time soon.

He rolled on his back, eased into a comfortable wedge by the bars and dozed off.

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