Guest Writers

This is one of a large number of Scottish related articles by Guest Writers which have been added to Rampant Scotland. The pages were previously part of the "Scottish Radiance" Web site and there are many more articles in this series being added over a period of months.

The Enchanted Frog Prince

By Hamish Brown

Background to the author:

Hamish Brown's varied career as mountain traveller and climber, besides his interests in the rich heritage of Scotland and a fascination with far peoples and places has led to a prolific, wide-ranging output of articles as well as his popular books. Many of his articles have appeared in The Scotsman and the Evening News and from these a selection has been edited by Hamish (typically, while in the Atlas Mountains) under the appropriate title of TRAVEL. Whether on foot or ski, sailing or canoe-ing, looking at prehistoric monuments or chasing birds and flowers or leaping to the defence of Scotland's shrinking wildlands Hamish writes with a contagious enthusiasm, with humour and an eye for beauty. A few topics and places have been omitted as they have appeared more fully in other books but no attempt has been made to alter the freshness or topicality of the pieces. Hamish has simply added a few linking passages and arranged the pieces in a certain chronological and thematic order. This is one man's travels but they will appeal to all who enjoy the rich landscape and traditions of Scotland.

Born in Colombo in 1934 Hamish Brown has roamed the world ever since: living in Sri Lanka and Japan, escaping from Malaysia to South Africa as a war refugee and taking in a dozen Middle East and East African countries during National Service days in the RAF. He has climbed and travelled extensively in the Alps and less-known areas of Europe as well as in the remote Andes or Himalayas and each year spends some months in the south of Morocco. When not busy traveling and writing home is at Kinghorn with view over the Forth to Edinburgh.

For twelve years Hamish introduced youngsters to the Highlands, pioneering what has become 'Outdoor Education' then, after a spell as County Adviser, he set off on the 112-day walk over all the Munros - a landmark event-which is told in the award-winning Hamish's Mountain Walk. This was followed by the longest trip over the English, Irish and Welsh peaks, told in Hamish's Groats End Walk, while the recent Great Walking Adventure tells of travels ranging from the Ultimate Challenge (his invention) to treks in Corsica, Norway, the Andes, Atlas and Himalayas. Hamish has edited two classic anthologies: Poems of the Scottish Hills and the huge Speak to the Hills besides a volume of his own poems Time Gentlemen. He has written a guide to the island of Rhum and published Five Bird Stories besides keeping up a variety of articles in many magazines and newspapers, including The Scotsman, some of which are here collected as TRAVEL.

The Enchanted Frog Prince

Tony and Alice are twins, living in an Edinburgh flat, who are visited by a bird, Mr Jack Daw, who tells them bedtime stories while their mother is in hospital.

When the rat-tat-tat came they threw down the pillows and rushed to the window. Mr Daw looked at their flushed faces.

Hello? Hello?" he queried.

"We've been fighting!" Tony grinned.

At the same time Alice yelled, "Mummy's coming home. Tomorrow!"

"We were only play fighting," Tony quickly added, seeing the look on the bird's face. "With pillows."

That was fairly obvious from the state of their beds. The bird perched on the chair while they straightened up the covers and thumped the pillows into shape and put them back. They climbed in and gave a mutual "Whew!"

"By the big, blue, bubbly Bimbasha river!" Tony laughed.

"So, what's tonight's story about?" Alice asked.

"Frogs. Enchanted frogs!"

"Not the frog that gets kissed and turns into a prince or was it a princess? That's soppy!"

"You'd be surprised," the bird smiled.

"Well, make it a cheery one for the last night," Alice begged.

"Yes, nothing Grimm," and Tony was pleased to receive a look which showed the bird had seen his pun.

Alice hadn't.

"Once upon a time."

They groaned so the bird let out a chuckle.

"A time not so long ago. Your mummy may even have read about it in the newspapers or seen it on TV ...."

"A true story?" Tony queried.

"Of course, if it was on TV," Alice replied.

The bird gave what sounded like a snort.

"There was this prince, heir to the kingdom and the most eligible bachelor in all the world. Girls of all kinds longed to win his hand but he gave little sign of wanting to marry anyone. He'd much rather be out in the country or talking to his flowers or doing a spot of painting. He made a few attempts at finding the right person but when you're a bit unique that makes it rather difficult. But at last he fell in love with a beautiful, beautiful princess and everyone began to say this was it for sure. She was the sweetest young thing. The press went daft about her. Even the monarch looked pleased. Then - " He paused to gain full attention. "Then the Prince disappeared."

"What?" said Alice.

"Completely disappeared. Consternation! Everyone expected it to be terrorists or something but nobody claimed responsibility, there were no ransom demands, and he didn't turn up at any of the second, or twenty second, homes they used now and then."

"Amnesia?! Tony suggested.

"What's that?" Alice asked.

"Losing your memory."

"No. No. You'd guess for ever and be wrong. Weeks went by before they had the slightest clue."

The bird did a wing stretch, then continued.

"The Prince was having his portrait painted at the time. They always do that for important occasions, as if a photographer wouldn't do just as well. The picture was on an easel in his old playroom where he kept his rocking horse and all the toys he couldn't bear to send to a jumble or charity shop. The painting was almost complete, so much so that many thought it was, that being the sort of work that gets by these days. It even had its signature except it wasn't a signature. When you looked carefully it had been signed, so to speak, by painting a little frog."

They were too astonished to question the bird but he explained other craftsmen often used some mark or symbol instead of a signature.

"A little green frog, which only one old white-haired lady noticed, the daily who did the prince's room. She was curious and asked one of the toffs in the office who the artist was and was told it was a John Rana. Later she joked that this sounded eastern. Was he Indian? 'No.' came the reply but another voice piped up that Rana was the Latin family name for some of the frogs. The old dear was so surprised she nearly put her mop through a pile of dishes on the kitchen table.

"Next day she looked again. Sure enough the man signed himself frog (so to speak) and as she walked past the picture it somehow changed, a bit like those hologram pictures on a banker's card, and the prince in his kilt wobbled opaquely and stood out suddenly as a frog, then it all changed back to normal. She walked back and forwards and it happened each time: prince, frog, prince, frog, prince....

"She blabbed of course and word worked its way up through the staff and from floor to floor till it reached sharp ears and big noses. Then the balloon went up, as they say. The royal magician was suspected, but he had an alibi so had to be reinstated. A fat lot of use he was anyway. Eventually they realised it had to be the artist. With a name like Rana, it had to be. So they hauled him in. He held out for a long time but he broke under torture."

"Torture?" Alice said aghast.

"As nasty as could be," the bird admitted.

"The rack? Thumbscrews?" asked Tony hopefully.

"No, worse. He was made to stand at the bar of the House of Commons and listen to every debate, every question time, every word, for a week, non-stop, and when they weren't sitting he had to watch every party political broadcast in the BBC archives over and over. He cracked on the seventh day and out came some admissions: 'Yes, I used magic to turn the prince into a frog' and 'I took him to Lochnagar' and 'No, I can't change him back; only the kiss of a princess can do that'.

"The next few weeks were a shambles. When climbers came down from Lochnagar (the hill) saying that big engineering works were going on round Lochnagar (the loch) there was an outcry from all the conservation bodies. This grew into direct action when it was found the intention was to drain the loch. When it leaked out the object was to recover all the frogs in the loch questions were raised at the United Nations, never mind Westminster. When National Security was given as a reason for not answering questions it led to such a hullabaloo the government had to resign and there was a general election. Scotland looked like declaring its independence, the monarchy itself was under threat. It was a dreadful time. (The picture here - via Wikimedia - of Lochnaggar was taken by Hugh Venables before all this stramash began).

The whole of Lochnagar, a big mountain, was ringed by security forces and every inch of ground was searched by the volunteers from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland's clubs, who collected 12,675 frogs and toads in their sweep searches. When Lochnagar (the loch) was finally emptied they added another 27 that made, ... - er, 12,702 frogs.'

"What did they do with them?" Tony interrupted.

"They were taken to Aberdeen and loaded on a special train to King's Cross in London: modified carriages to carry the hundreds of open tanks of frogs. They just hoped they hadn't missed the one which would be the prince.

"The princess didn't like the idea of having to kiss any frog, even if it was an enchanted frog which would turn into her handsome prince whom she could then marry and then they'd become king and queen and live happily ever after."

The bird paused for breath.

Tony interjected, "Why do stories always make kings and queens live happily ever afler? Lots don't. They do awful things, or their children are a disaster. Or they get their beads chopped off, like Mary Queen of Scots ....

"You're quite right of course, as you'd discover if you were content to listen and not blab." The bird sighed. "Why humans were made with two eyes and two ears and only one mouth beats me when the mouth is used twice as much as all the other senses put together."

"We've only one tongue," Tony laughed and stuck his out at his sister.

"That's made!" she shouted.

"Shall we return to the frog?", the bird admonished.

"All 12,702 of them?" the boy grinned.

"That was no joke. The princess hadn't been told of course. She was bracing herself to kiss one frog, not 12,702 or however many were necessary to hit the right one. Sir David Attaboy on the BBC didn't help; he said frogs were all slobbery and tasted ghastly, like over-boiled cabbage."

Alice, who'd been pursing her lips and making kissing sounds quickly used her pyjama cuffs to wipe her lips several times.

"The princess did her nut when she found there were 12,702 frogs to kiss. She refused. 'Not even for him,' she cried, 'Why, at one a minute, I'd be kissing for more than a week. Think of my lipstick!"'

"Did that count eating and sleeping?" Alice asked.

The bird glared.

"The train arrived at King's Cross as planned. There was fantastic security as you could imagine. The frog tanks were loaded onto those trolley things and they buzzed in and out with them to waiting trucks. Then disaster. Two of these trolley lines nearly collided and the one that was full swerved to avoid an accident, and went straight down the pedestrian stairs into the Underground. Water and frogs splashed out all over the place but it kept upright and bounced down and then along the passage into the big hall. The driver had to swerve to avoid the central kiosks and that was fatal. Over went the lot at the top of the escalators for the Northern and Piccadilly Lines. Water poured down and gushed along all the passages to different platforms. There were frogs everywhere. A week later one even popped out at Cockfosters and was rushed to the palace. Not that it mattered any more. They'd locked up the princess where she couldn't harm herself She was quite batty by then."

"With kissing frogs?"

You might put it that way. They'd set up an efficient conveyor belt system; reckoned she could manage three a minute over six hour shifts but the accident upset everything. The whole Underground system was hoaching with frogs. The FFLG (Free Frogs Liberation Group) was rescuing them and throwing them in the Serpentine so an emergency operation was set up to drain it. Then they threw some in the Thames. The princess had a nervous breakdown. The new government was in trouble, the city was in a panic, London was at a standstill and the Emergency Powers Act was put into operation. The monarchy was the laughing stock of the world. Britain was finally down the tube."

"But we're not!" Tony declared patriotically.

"No," said the bird. "But we do make the most of disasters. It all passed away eventually."

"The prince?"

"Ah! They estimate the potty princess kissed (or had frog's mouths pushed against hers) 9,628 times but not one of them proved the enchanted prince. She'd rather gone off frog princes by then."

Alice wrinkled her nose.

"A few months later the old lady who did the prince's rooms found a frog sitting beside his portrait. She picked it up and nattered away at it, all 'Ootsy-tootsy, supposing you're the prince, what about giving me a kiss then dearie,' and she playfully gave it a smacker on its mouth."

"Did it taste of stale cabbage?"

"Was it slobbery?"

"I don't know. What I do know was that there was a big flash - bang! and the prince was back. And he of course fell violently in love with the old lady. He couldn't help it. She played all coy and then got bleeding mad and socked him one. There was a constitutional crisis (you can't have a prince marrying a char lady) but before it could be resolved the enchantment ran its course. Having been refused for a month and a day (they gave her an MBE) the prince suddenly turned back into a frog. Luckily his private secretary, his personal psychologist and an elderly guru were there at the time so they grabbed the frog and rushed along to the princess. At last they knew they had the right one.

"She took a bit of convincing but at last gave him a peck on the neb. There was another flash bang! and when they all opened their eyes they found the princess had disappeared - and there were two frogs sitting on the table."

Which was pretty well the end of the story though, seeing the future only lay in Frogs, the Stock Market collapsed, the monarchy was sold off; England became a republic and Scotland got its independence. As there was no death penalty the artist John Rana was made an academician.

The escaped frogs were just chucked in the Thames which meant most of them died (which made Westminster a bit more smelly), but the Prince and Princess were given safety in a refilled Lochnagar. There's a survey going on at present to see how many frogs there are now. (They do tend to breed.) It was given EC funding of course and Lochnagar made a Class I Sanctuary. The cliffs above were roofed over while they were at it to make a National Climbing Centre for Scotland and they also ran regular trips up from the Balmoral Heritage Centre on Deeside. But I'm sure you know all about that. It's been repeated enough on the XS TV channel....

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