The Mudcubs and the Clean-Up King

Once upon a time there lived a King who ruled over a great city. A city made up of houses, flats, bungalows and maisonettes which housed lawyers and cleaners, builders and accountants, parents, teachers and mudcubs of all shapes, sizes and descriptions. Although each of the King’s subjects were so different they all had one thing in common. To a man, woman and child they were all untidy.

Cans, wrappers, carriers, fag ends, bottles and papers were left in a constant stream, like a snail’s trail, behind each of the cities inhabitants. Their cars pumped out a lethal cocktail that hung in the air like smog and infected their lungs. Their factories pumped more waste which gunged up rivers killing fish and wildlife.

No one appeared to notice, least of all care, with the exception of the King. Tears sprang to his eyes each time he looked out of his palace window and saw the mess that his city was in. He had tried everything he could to get his people to tidy up. He had put up signs, taken out adverts, issued health warnings, recorded startling documentaries and offered rewards but still they would not tidy up.

In the end he decided there was only one thing for it. So, he took off his crown, took off his robe, got up from his throne and walked out of his palace. He found himself a broom, a shovel and a barrow and pushed them down into the city to begin cleaning up by himself.

When the Clean-Up King got out onto the streets he found things were worse than he had thought. There were hills of junk and mountains of rubbish. That wasn’t all though, then there was the smell. The stink from all that thrown away food, scraps and leftovers, as it rotted and decomposed was terrible. The Clean-Up King held his nose and set to work.

It wasn’t long before he had filled his barrow. Outside the city he remembered that there was a great, deep quarry. He wheeled his barrow out of the city gates and along to the quarry. He emptied his barrow and started back again. He hadn’t made much difference, the junk mountains looked as high as before, but he dug his shovel in one more time and began to fill up again.

After a time people began to notice the Clean-Up King. Some people stopped to watch him, then started to make jokes and laugh. Other people joined them and then there was a crowd all pointing and laughing. Once, when he had just cleared up one space, a man walked out of the crowd and dropped more rubbish onto the clean ground. Everyone in the crowd clapped and cheered. The Clean-Up King kept on working.

When evening came and it became dark and cold the people in the crowd began to drift away until there were only seven people left watching the King, the seven mudcubs. After a time he noticed them there and called to them to come over. “Why are you doing all this?” they asked. “Sit down here with me,” said the Clean-Up King, “and I’ll tell you.”

He told them about a different world with grass, trees and flowers, animals, birds and fish. A world with deep, rich, beautiful colours where everything was fresh, clean and sparkling. “Oh, if only you could see the glint of the sun shimmering on the river’s ripples,” he told them and while he told them it seemed as though they could.

“Why don’t you help me?” he asked them. “We could get so much more done if you would.” They thought for a moment. “People would laugh at us,” they said, “our parents wouldn’t like it, we’d get dirty, and there’s too much anyway, you’ll never get it finished!” “Don’t worry,” said the Clean-Up King, “you start when you’re ready”, and he got back to work.

The mudcubs watched him as he shovelled and brushed by himself. “He could do with some help,” they said, “he’ll never get through on his own. We could help for an hour or so and then go home.” One took the broom, another the shovel, the King wheeled the barrow and the work moved a little faster.

In the morning the crowd came back. Only this time they didn’t just stand and laugh. This time they dropped rubbish, broke the broom, threw away the shovel and tipped over the barrow. They made the mudcubs run away, but the Clean-Up King still went on working. He righted the barrow and, using his hands, refilled it. As he wheeled it away the whole crowd followed him.

When they reached the quarry, and saw where he was going, they all began to shout. “In the pit, in the pit!” Then they all rushed forward and pushed the Clean-Up King into the quarry with his rubbish. He lay on the heap of rubbish, clutching his side, when down came a torrent of cans, bottles, tins and other junk. The crowd were pelting him with rubbish. They did not stop until he was completely covered up and they could not even see one hair on his head.

Back in the city the mudcubs sat on the pavement and cried. They had seen it all but there was nothing that they could have done. Suddenly they heard someone speaking to them and it sounded like the Clean-Up King. They looked all around but they couldn’t see anyone. “I’m really here,” said the King, “it’s just that you can’t see me anymore.” “We can still clear up,” he said, ” but I will need your help more than ever.”

The mudcubs picked up shovels and went to find barrows. They started to work while the Clean-Up King told them all about the other beautiful world. When people came to watch they told them what the Clean-Up King had said about the other beautiful world. Most people laughed and said that it was all their imagination but some people joined them and began to help. Then the Clean-Up King would come and speak to them too.

They are all still working now. The junk mountains have got smaller but they are still there. More people have joined them but not enough. They dream of a day when everyone lives in the other beautiful world but they know it won’t happen until everyone in the city joins in their Clean-Up. What about you? Won’t you?

 

 

Jonathan Evens
Illustration: Claire Palmer

 

 

 

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