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Mr. Tinfish the penguin lived in a lighthouse. Well, he liked to think he did anyway. In fact it was an old, rusty-red oil drum with the floor missing, sitting on a patch of grass near to the sea, just beyond where the high tide would reach each day. He had made a small tunnel-like entrance underneath the side so that he could get into it from the bottom, and had lined the inside of the oil drum with moss and grass. All in all it was just about big enough for Mr. Tinfish, and his small family, to crawl in to each evening and to keep out of the cold night winds as they swept around the headland. So, it wasn’t a lighthouse at all really, but Mr. Tinfish remembered the days when such things existed, during the time of the people, and large white towers with flashing lights would perch on the rocks near to the edge of the sea. As the oil drum in which Mr. Tinfish had made his home was overlooking the ever-encroaching coastline he felt that it was near enough to the real thing.
Mr. Tinfish had lived in his barrel-lighthouse since the time of the people had passed. It seemed that the people who lived in the world before had been the cause of their own extinction. They would fight each other over petty matters with their bombs and diseases that they invented, until eventually there were no more of them left. The animals and birds that survived the turmoil inherited a damaged world where the days were hot, the nights were cold, and every so often the levels of the seas would start rising again, forcing the animals further and further up the slopes of the remaining lands. So there were no more lighthouses left, as any that had survived were by now all deep underwater or washed away. However, Mr. Tinfish liked to think of himself as the one remaining lighthouse keeper all the same. His oil drum didn’t have a light on top, or indeed ward away ships from the rocks, but he was one of the key fishermen in the colony and so felt he was somehow in charge of that bit of the coast, like a lighthouse keeper would be.
The colony was a strange mix of creatures who had migrated, forced from their homes by the floods, and had ended up together quite by chance. There were badgers and squirrels, parrots and emus, beavers and wallabies, various hoofed characters, and of course penguins. An unlikely group for a colony, but all of them had decided that in such difficult times it was better to live together harmoniously and help each other than to try to survive the problems of a changing climate on their own.
A good place to live was difficult to find. However, the colony was by the sea so that fish could be caught for food, and they were next to a small river for when the animals needed to drink. There was a good supply of grassy meadows for the grazing animals, which included plenty of space for the vegetable patches. Each of the animals in the colony would try to find something to offer for the good of the group. For example, the beavers managed any construction and wood cutting needs, the squirrels were in charge of nut gathering, and Mr. Tinfish and his wife who lived in the barrel-lighthouse on the edge of the sea helped with the fishing.
Since early morning Mr. Tinfish had spent quite a long time out at sea catching fish, and was now busy piling them on a rock just beyond the barrel-lighthouse. Being a fisherman was one of the easier jobs in the colony, as the increase in sea level over the years had seemed to go hand in hand with a plentiful abundance of fish. In fact, Mrs. Tinfish had also made quite a large catch that day and so now it was time for both of them to sort out which of the fish they would keep for their own tea, and which fish they would give out to some of the others in the colony. For example, the Tinfishes always gave Mr. Choli and Mr. Ginger, the cats, some of their fish. In return, Mr. Choli and Mr. Ginger’s contribution to the colony was ‘security’ and they made regular patrols along the perimeters of the area where they all lived to see if any new or dangerous animals had wandered into their territory. They had also agreed not to chase the smaller animals in the group and, despite their natural hunting instincts, had so far kept their word honourably.
Mr. Tinfish was admiring the days’ haul of fish when he realized the edge of the sea was lapping around his feet. Something it usually did further back at the shoreline, but never passed the place where his barrel-lighthouse sat. He turned and saw that the waves of the sea were lapping at the side of the lighthouse as well, and water was getting inside through the tunnel doorway.
“Well, Mrs. Tinfish!’ he exclaimed. “The sea has never gone into the lighthouse before! This sudden change in the height of the sea might be something very important. We should go and tell Mr. Vinegar at once!”
Mr. Vinegar was a rather pompous old walrus who owned the hardware store up near to the birch tree, and was the self-designated leader of the small colony. Nobody seemed to mind this very much as there wasn’t usually a need to do much leading, but it kept him happy thinking that he was in charge. The two penguins waddled off through the trees to Mr. Vinegar’s place and were soon standing in the store and ringing the bell on his desk to get attention. First to appear from the back of the shop was the rather large, angular and somewhat befuddled vulture, called Mr. Simons.
“Ah, Mr. Simons,” greeted Mr. Tinfish. “I’m actually looking for Mr. Vinegar if he’s about. It’s rather important you see.”
“Mr. Vinegar?” replied Mr. Simons. “Hmmm, I think I did see him out the back. Wait just a moment and I’ll take a quick look for you.”
Mr. Simons shuffled off, out to the back of the shop and he returned a few minutes later with Mr. Vinegar in tow.
Mr. Vinegar was displaying a slightly annoyed look as he didn’t like to be disturbed when he was focused on cataloguing the items in his shop. Mr. Vinegar considered his home to be a hardware store, but very few of the colony ever needed any of it, apart from Mr. Vinegar who enjoyed owning it and knowing that he had all of these useful things just in case.
“What’s happening that’s so important then?” exclaimed Mr. Vinegar. “Ah, it’s you Mr. Tinfish, have you brought any mackerel with you?”
“Oooh no!” said Mrs. Tinfish suddenly looking all flustered. “We quite forgot all about the fish, didn’t we dear?”
“We’re not here for the mackerel,” interrupted Mr. Tinfish in a serious tone. “There is something far more important happening than fish today. We’ve come here to tell you about the changes to the sea.”
Mr. Vinegar listened to Mr. Tinfish’s description of the sea rising up to the lighthouse and going inside the tunnel entrance with a knowing look on his face.
“Was always due,” Mr. Vinegar pondered in his deep gravelly voice as he addressed the room. He had always regretted that he couldn’t grow a beard to stroke for effect and so he stroked his chin with his flipper instead. His audience by now included Mr. Simons, Mr. Ginger and Mr. Choli the cats. The latter two had wandered in as a result of seeing the Tinfishes through the window and had hoped that some of the day’s catch might have accompanied them.
“It’s over two years since the last big sea rise,” Mr. Vinegar continued, “and they used to come every few years, regular as clockwork,” he stated. Mr. Vinegar then looked about the room to make sure his audience was suitably impressed with this knowledge of climatology. “We may have to start to think about making a move to a new place on higher ground. Once the rise starts, the floods can come in many miles, and if we’re not prepared then there will be serious consequences for the colony. I think we will need to call a community meeting.”
It had been a long time since there had been a community meeting in the colony and it took quite a while to organize. Some animals were busy doing other things, other animals didn’t really like meetings as they can be quite boring at times, and a few just didn’t like being ordered about by Mr. Vinegar. However, Mr. Choli and Mr. Ginger walked through the colony to spread the word and eventually the group gathered beneath the birch tree near to the hardware store.
Mr. Vinegar addressed them in his usual dour tones and then invited Mr. Tinfish to relay his news about his flooded lighthouse once more.
“So you see,” proclaimed Mr. Vinegar once Mr. Tinfish had concluded, “the flood is coming and something has to be done to help the colony. The question is what?”
“It does seem clear that we need to find a new place to live…because we won’t be able to live here if it floods,” contributed Mrs. Chutney, the Wallaby, who had a habit of stating the obvious and then explaining it.
“Good show, Mrs. Chutney,” pronounced Mr. Vinegar, who had planned to say that all along, but was waiting for Mrs. Chutney or someone similar to state the obvious, so that he could then pretend that he was a leader who was amenable to the ideas of his subjects. “So the first step is to identify a new spot. The second is to colonize. These missions are always a question of logistics,” he continued pompously. “First the new spot needs to be identified by sending out an advance expedition team, then the security situation will need to be fully assessed to make sure all of the colony will be safe.” Mr. Vinegar paused and looked over towards Mr. Choli and Mr. Ginger and nodded knowingly at them. “And finally there will need to be a review of the sustenance options. Perhaps, Mrs. Cat-biscuit, when we organize a team to try to find a new place to live, you will oblige the expedition with an overview of the gardening potential?”
The key gardening team members of the colony comprised of a mole, a chicken, a parrot and a goat. Others animals would be drafted in at times when there was a lot to do. Mr. Denzel the mole did much of the digging and ‘ploughing’, Miss Schnitzel the chicken sowed the seeds, often with the help of Mr. Taverre the parrot. Mrs. Cat-biscuit’s job as goat was to clear away all of the weeds from around the vegetables, a duty she took great delight in, and carried out with due thoroughness. However, the others did have to keep a bit of an eye on her as she sometimes absent-mindedly ate the vegetables as well. “Well, the mind does wander, you know, when you’re grazing,” would be her usual excuse for a missing row or two of cabbages.
“What about nuts!” screeched Mrs. Hooverbag the squirrel, from the back of the meeting, whilst Mr. Hooverbag shuffled off to the side looking a little embarrassed and tried to disown her.
“Mr. Taverre can go with the advance party and look for good nut-trees while he’s there,” declared Mr. Vinegar. “Good idea, Mrs. Hooverbag. He will also be able to fly up and see how high above the sea everything is, and whether it will be high enough to avoid the flood waters.”
“See! Good idea,” scowled Mrs. Hooverbag glaring at Mr. Hooverbag who was looking even more uncomfortable and embarrassed.
“I want to go on the advance expedition too,” chirped William Tinfish, of whom Mr. and Mrs. Tinfish were the proud parents.
“Well I’m afraid you won’t be able to dear,” said Mrs. Tinfish. “You’re too little and your father and I have to stay here to catch the fish for the colony.”
“But I could assess the fish situation if we find a new site,” pleaded William.
“The lad raises an important issue,” added Mr. Ginger, whose main concern in life was fish, and the abundance of its supply. For the last ten minutes his mind had seen a constant battle between concentrating on the meeting regarding the crisis at hand, and contemplating the need for an overdue fish supper. William’s latest offering to the discussion had swayed his thoughts rather in favour of the fish supper.
“Right, it’s settled then! Tomorrow the expedition will begin,” cried Mr. Choli. “Mrs. Tinfish,” he added, “we’re going to need a very large packed lunch.”