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Romans on the Rampage, страница 1

 

Romans on the Rampage
 

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Romans on the Rampage


  Contents

  1. Am I Brainy? Yes, I Am!

  2. Nasty Neighbours

  3. The Kiss That Changed the World

  4. Oh Dear!

  5. Who Wants Lumpy Milk?

  6. One Big Secret and an Upside-down Surprise

  7. What Perilus Did Next

  8. The Beak Squeaks

  9. Life Starts Throwing Stuff

  10. Just Big Goats!

  11. Wedding Presents?

  12. Full Speed Ahead!

  13. An Unexpected Ending

  Jeremy Strong once worked in a bakery, putting the jam into three thousand doughnuts every night. Now he puts the jam in stories instead, which he finds much more exciting. At the age of three, he fell out of a first-floor bedroom window and landed on his head. His mother says that this damaged him for the rest of his life and refuses to take any responsibility. He loves writing stories because he says it is ‘the only time you alone have complete control and can make anything happen’. His ambition is to make you laugh (or at least snuffle). Jeremy Strong lives near Bath with his wife, Gillie, three cats and a flying cow.

  www.jeremystrong.co.uk

  ARE YOU FEELING SILLY ENOUGH TO READ MORE?

  THE BEAK SPEAKS

  BEWARE! KILLER TOMATOES

  CHICKEN SCHOOL

  DINOSAUR POX

  GIANT JIM AND THE HURRICANE

  KRAZY KOW SAVES THE WORLD – WELL, ALMOST

  THERE’S A PHARAOH IN OUR BATH!

  JEREMY STRONG’S LAUGH-YOUR-SOCKS-OFF JOKE BOOK

  JEREMY STRONG’S LAUGH-YOUR-SOCKS-OFF EVEN MORE JOKE BOOK

  The Hundred-Mile-An-Hour Dog series

  THE HUNDRED-MILE-AN-HOUR DOG

  CHRISTMAS CHAOS FOR THE HUNDRED-MILE-AN-HOUR DOG

  LOST! THE HUNDRED-MILE-AN-HOUR DOG

  THE HUNDRED-MILE-AN-HOUR DOG GOES FOR GOLD

  My Brother’s Famous Bottom series

  MY BROTHER’S FAMOUS BOTTOM

  MY BROTHER’S HOT CROSS BOTTOM

  MY BROTHER’S FAMOUS BOTTOM GETS PINCHED

  MY BROTHER’S FAMOUS BOTTOM GOES CAMPING

  Meet Croakbag the talking raven –

  And the crazy Roman family he lives with.

  I offer up this work to my Latin master who, fifty years ago, marked my Latin exam and gave me minus ten marks out of fifty. Not surprisingly, I gave up Latin immediately afterwards.

  Pace, Mr Latin-Master?

  1. Am I Brainy? Yes, I Am!

  I just love chariot race days. The NOISE! The EXCITEMENT! The sheer heart-banging THRILL of it all! I want to be one of those chariot racehorses, thundering round the bends, eyes blazing, mane on fire, hooves pounding like crazy. Yeah, I want to be a charioteer’s horse. I’m fed up with flapping. I want four long-striding legs, not flippy-flappy wings.

  Whaddya mean, am I a bird? Do I look like an elephant? A squeaky squirrel? I don’t think so. I’m a raven. Got that? A resplendent raven. Corvus, to be exact. Corvus maximus intelligentissimus. That’s me! Go on, give us a biscuit! Kraarrk!

  Whaddya mean, you didn’t know ravens could talk? Are you mad? Where have you been? Obviously not to school because if you had you’d know that ravens are super-intelligent, which is precisely what maximus intelligentissimussimus means. It’s Latin and it means ‘a very smart bird with a brain the size of the Colosseum’. A raven mate of mine – now he is bright – he can count up to sixteen. That’s almost a hundred.

  And don’t ask me why it’s called Latin either because I have no idea. After all, the French speak French, the English speak English, the Germans speak German and the Romans speak – Roman? No! They call it Latin. Get over it!

  Anyhow, let me put you in the picture. We are at the Circus and, before you ask if there are any elephants or clowns, the answer is a big ‘NO!’ We are talking about the one and only Circus Maximus here in Rome and it’s chariot race day. Or to put it another way it’s CHARIOT RACE DAY, WAHEY!! In other words, excitement abounds. Can’t you hear the noise? The yelling crowds? The blaring trumpets? The dreadful groans when some poor charioteer gets shipwrecked?

  Whaddya mean, why are they racing ships? Of course they’re not racing ships. It’s an expression – an expression the Romans use: shipwrecked. It means a chariot has just crashed, smashed to smithereens and its rider has been hurled to the dusty ground, quite possibly in front of three other charging chariots, not to mention all the horses and pounding hooves. Urgh – makes me shudder just thinking about it. Get the picture? Good. Stop asking questions and just let me tell you, right?

  We’re all here, the whole family – Krysis (Dad), Flavia (Mum), Hysteria (daughter) and Perilus (son) – and we’ve come to see our hero, Scorcha. He is the greatest young charioteer ever, except Scorcha has a big problem, namely, he doesn’t have a chariot. Why not? you might ask, but please don’t interrupt me again. Thank you. I shall continue. Ahem, ahem. (That’s me clearing my throat because there’s some explaining to do.)

  I look after this kid, Perilus, right? Nice kid, floppy brown hair, hazel eyes, a few spots and a lot of attitude, but generally OK. He says I’m his pet, but am I kept on a chain like a dog? No. Am I shut in a cage? No. I can go wherever I like, whenever I like, whereas HE has to ask his mum or dad for permission to leave the house or walk down the street. So who’s the pet, eh? Toasted togas! He even tells his mum and dad when he’s going for a wump. That’s what you, being a human, call ‘going to the loo’. For us ravens it’s having a wump. Unlike you humans, we do all that business stuff in one go, so to speak. Bet you didn’t know that. See? You’re going to learn a lot from me. I am not called Corvus maximus intelligentissimussimussimuss for nothing. (It’s difficult to get your beak round that word sometimes.) Perilus usually calls me Croakbag for short, which is not very nice, but he is only eleven.

  So I am Perilus’s pet, he says, and he’s teaching me how to speak. Ha ha! What a laugh. I was speaking Latin years before he was even born!

  Now then, where was I? Oh yes. Ahem, ahem. So poor young Scorcha is without a chariot and why is that? I hear you ask. It’s because Jellus is jealous. Jealous by name, Jellus by nature. Kraaarrk! (Raven joke. If you don’t get it, it’s because you’re human. Sad but true.)

  Jellus is captain of the Green Team. In chariot racing there are four teams, right? Greens, Whites, Reds and Blues. The Greens are the best. Oh yes! Come on, the Greens! Jellus chooses the riders for the Greens and he’s got his eye on Scorcha. Scorcha’s young, Scorcha’s eager, Scorcha’s good! He’s also rather handsome in a Roman kind of way; that is to say he has a large conk. Oh yes, Rome is famous for its noses. Flavia and her daughter Hysteria like Scorcha, especially Hysteria. I might even go so far as to say Hysteria, who is fourteen, has a crush on him. Young love, eh? Everyone give a big sigh – ahhhhh!

  The problem is Jellus is getting on a bit. He’s at least forty and that’s OLD for a charioteer. By that age, most charioteers have either retired or been run over by another chariot. Jellus shouldn’t be racing. He’s too old and too fat and that means he’s heavy and that means he slows the horses down and that means HE COMES LAST! Like he did today. I bet Scorcha would have won if he’d been the charioteer. Personally speaking, I don’t think Jellus likes Scorcha, probably because Scorcha has a real talent. Oh yes!

  So poor Scorcha is standing at the side, looking miserable, while the next race gets under way. Seven laps round the Circus Maximus! The trumpets blare. The Emperor drops the starter’s white handkerchief and they’re off! You’ve never heard anything like it. You’ve never seen anything like it! Come on, you Greens! The crowd yells! ‘OOOOOH! AAAAH! OOOHHH!’

  KRACKETTY – KRRASHHH!

  SHIPWRECK!

  The Whites’ chariot tried to f
orce the Reds’ off the track at the bend. That’s where all the best action happens. Those bends are DANGEROUS. The Whites’ went thundering into the Reds’ and BOTH chariots have collapsed, losing their wheels. Well done, Whites, you’ve knocked yourself out of the competition! Numbskulls! The riders have jumped clear, cutting the reins so they don’t get dragged after the horses which have gone cantering off by themselves.

  Daft beasts, horses, if you ask me. Now they’re shaking their heads at each other as if they’re saying, ‘What am I doing? What are you doing? I’m doing what you’re doing and you’re doing what I’m doing. We’re DOING! Oh, where’s everyone gone? Hello? Anyone there?’ Hopeless creatures. Get over it!

  Still, the riders seem to be OK except for the one being carried off with a broken leg. He doesn’t look very happy, but at least he’ll live to race another day. (Sometimes they don’t!) And guess which team won? The Greens? Of course not. And you know why, don’t you? One day, Jellus, you’re going to have to let young Scorcha show what he can do because, if you don’t, I shall personally fly down and peck your knees until they’re right down by your ankles. Hurr hurr! Kraaaarkk! Give us a biscuit!

  2. Nasty Neighbours

  We walked back to the villa very slowly because we were all in mourning for the Greens, not to mention Scorcha. Well, the family walked while I hopped, strutted, flapped and generally made my annoyance with Jellus clear to everyone. Perilus’s dad, Krysis, kept shooing me out of the way with his foot so I took a quick sideways swipe at his left big toe with my beak. I have to say that, as honkers go, my beak is a whopper, so Krysis leaped into the air, clutching his foot, and then had to hop the rest of the way home too.

  ‘Oops, so sorry,’ I said. ‘I was sure that was a dead mouse I was peckin’.’

  ‘It was my toe, you idiot!’ Krysis roared.

  ‘As I was sayin’, Krysis, I am most apologetic. I could not be more remorseful if I’d actually eaten your toe. May Jupiter, God of Gods, rain blessin’s, and a plaster, upon your pink appendage.’

  I hope, dear reader, that you are as impressed by my little speech as I was. I must say that, considering I’m a raven, I do have a way with words, thanks to my teacher, Thesaurus.

  Perilus was certainly amused. He was grinning at me and pretending to hop and clutch his foot too. Good thing his dad couldn’t see him. But let us move on. (Or hop on, in Krysis’s case. Hurr hurr hurr! I crack myself up sometimes.)

  By the time we reached the villa, Hysteria was in tears, poor girl. She has a habit of bursting into wild sobbing from time to time.

  ‘Poor Scorcha! I really feel for him, Mater!’

  (Mater – that’s your actual Latin again. It means ‘mother’, in case you didn’t know. Aren’t you learning a lot? Yes, you are. Here you go, have a biscuit!)

  ‘I know, darling,’ said Flavia as she went upstairs. She’s a marvel, that woman. I have never seen anyone glide about the way Flavia does. She is tall, elegant and serene and when she moves you can’t see her legs doing anything at all. It’s as if she’s on little wheels. She’s never flustered either. Krysis doesn’t know how lucky he is to have a wife like that. I’d marry her myself if she was a raven. Maybe I could stick wings on her and pretend. No, you’re right, it wouldn’t work, would it?

  ‘I’m going upstairs to change,’ Flavia told everyone. ‘The air at the races was so clogged with dust I could barely breathe. I’ll be down soon.’ And off she glid. Glidded? Glided? I shall have to check that one with Thesaurus.

  Meanwhile, Hysteria carried on bewailing Scorcha being left out of the team. Perilus watched his sister somewhat scornfully. He came across to where I had perched myself beside the pool in the atrium. (Latin – atrium – small courtyard; every villa has one.)

  ‘Why do girls make such a fuss about everything?’ he asked.

  I cocked my head on one side and held his gaze. ‘Why do boys like showin’ off?’ I asked in return.

  Perilus shrugged, so I told him. ‘It’s to get attention. Hysteria wails. You go tightrope walkin’ on our neighbour’s washin’ line. People pay attention and you’re both happy. QED.’ (That’s proper Latin that is – QED. It means quod erat demonstrandum, which is Latin for ‘That maximus intelligentissimus raven Croakbag has just proved what he said is TRUE and it cannot be argued with.’ OK, so it might not mean it in exactly those words, but it means it in spirit.) See, like I said, us ravens are clever. Croakbag? I don’t think so. Hey, Perilus! Croakbag yourself! Kraaarrk!

  Perilus sighed. ‘You like trying to be clever, don’t you, Croakbag?’

  ‘I don’t have to try, Perilus. I AM clever. Corvus brainus giganticus. Toc-toc-toc!’

  ‘Well, I’m going across to see Scorcha,’ my boy announced.

  Krysis, who was busily winding a long bit of bandage round his left big toe, straightened up and glared at his son. ‘Don’t spend all day over there with that lad. He might be a fine would-be charioteer, but he’s still an ex-slave. You should spend more time with boys of your own social class.’

  Perilus reddened. ‘Actually, Pater, I’m going to be a charioteer too.’

  (Pater. Can you guess what that means? You know what mater is, after all. Exactly, well done! Pater means ‘father’. Aren’t we getting along well? Have another biscuit!)

  Now it was Krysis who turned red. ‘You are NOT going to be a charioteer! That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. When you finish school, you will come and work in my office alongside me.’

  You should have seen Perilus’s eyes. GLOWING. That’s what they were doing. Glowing like red-hot coals. ‘I would rather BE a slave than work in your stuffy old office!’ he yelled and stormed off across the road.

  My goodness, the boy does live dangerously, speaking to his old pater like that. But then that’s Perilus for you. He’s a real daredevil. Did I mention his tightrope walking? I think I did, but here’s the story.

  On the other side of the road from our villa is another big house which is full of tenants. There’s Trendia, the seamstress, and her lodger, Scorcha, and the inventor, Maddasbananus.

  I’ll tell you about all of them later.

  In particular, and never to be forgotten or taken lightly, are Crabbus and his wife, Septicaemia. They are the WORST neighbours ever and I wouldn’t wish them on anybody. It’s no wonder Perilus and I call them The Ghastlies. They are always complaining and making life difficult for everyone, especially the other people who share the house with them.

  So, the story. One day Septicaemia has been doing her washing, or rather her slave, Putuponn, has been doing the washing and she hangs it out to dry on a rope stretched from The Ghastlies’ balcony across to Trendia’s balcony. It’s the washing line that everyone uses.

  Perilus is over there visiting Scorcha, who is teaching chariot-racing tactics to the young lad. Scorcha is telling Perilus how important a good sense of balance is when you’re being rattled about in a lightweight chariot. Perilus, being the daredevil he is, tells Scorcha that he has the most brilliant sense of balance already and he will prove it right in front of Scorcha’s eyes.

  Next thing, Perilus has climbed up to Trendia’s balcony and is stepping out on to the washing line, arms outstretched on either side, wobbling about all over the place! Can you believe it? Perilus actually manages to get about halfway along the washing line before the rope breaks! Down comes Perilus, engulfed in Septicaemia’s washing, and thrashes about all over the dusty yard.

  Septicaemia comes bursting out of the house like a giant cold sore and starts screaming at Perilus without a thought for whether or not the boy was hurt.

  ‘You stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid …’

  Yes, all right, Septicaemia, I think we’ve got that bit.

  ‘Stupid boy! Look at my filthy sheets – I shall have to wash them all over again!’

  Oh really, is that so? Hang on a minute. Septicaemia, you didn’t wash those sheets in the first place. Your poor slave girl, Putuponn, did all that washing
. She’s the one who’ll have to do it again.

  I must quickly tell you that Crabbus and his wife think they’re better than anyone else in the house over the road because they do have ONE slave, whereas everyone else on that side of the street has NONE. I feel quite sorry for Putuponn. It’s bad enough being a slave, but to be a slave to The Ghastlies? I think I’d rather eat slugs all my life. (Slugs being the least tasty of creatures. Give me a bit of dead squirrel and I’ll be your friend for the rest of my life. Well, a week at any rate.)

  Anyhow, that’s what happened with the washing line. Daredevil Perilus, that’s my boy. I mean, he actually got HALFWAY ACROSS without losing his balance. He probably would have made it the whole way if the line hadn’t broken.

  And so there we have it. Perilus wants to be a charioteer, just like Scorcha, who has yet to become one himself. Hysteria wants Scorcha to fall in love with her. Krysis wants his son to follow in his footsteps and have an office job. And I, Corvus maximus intelligentissimussimuss, would like another biscuit. Thank you very much. Kraaaaarrrkkk!

  3. The Kiss That Changed the World

  It was pretty quiet after that for a while, apart from the noise of Septicaemia screeching at Putuponn and telling the poor girl to get a move on or the sheets would still be wet that night.

  Whaddya mean, so what? You don’t understand, do you? Septicaemia and Crabbus have only got one set of bed sheets because, like everyone else on that side of the street, they’re poor. They only managed to get a slave girl because she came cheap (the poor girl is boss-eyed). The Ghastlies don’t even pay her. They just feed her scraps and make her sleep with the dog. That’s Rome for you.

  Like I said, things were quiet so I decided to hop across and go and see my pal the inventor, Maddasbananus. He’s completely bonkers, in a nice way. He made me this ‘thing’ with an oil lamp. It’s like a carousel and the heat from the lamp makes it rotate, and hanging from the carousel are little metal cloud shapes. When you light the lamp, the clouds go round and round and they throw big cloudy-shaped shadows on the walls of the room. It’s the sort of thing you might give to a little baby, not a bloomin’ great big, grown-up, black-as-soot raven.

 
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