Bertie and the Secret Potato

Bertie and the Secret Potato
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jungle Happy 12 everyone ! We are starting 2012 with a Bertie story this week, and a Katie story next... and look out for the final chapters of the Wizard of Oz and a spectacular Greek Myth.

Just in case you are new to Bertie and his stories - let us explain - these days he is a frog and has some pond-life friends, but in the past he was a human prince.

In this story, we hear about one of Bertie's human adventures. It took him to the jungle of Papua New Guinea along the famed Kokoda Trail. The Lovely Princess Beatrice came with him. They were in search of long lost Cousin Jonas who has discovered the Secret of Eternal Youth. The Wicked Queen wants it - but will she us it, as promised for the good of mankind?

And by the way, the secret or sweet potato is also known in America as a yam.

Read by Natasha. Story by Bertie. Duration 31 min.

Sweet Potato or YamOnly last week, I was walking past the Palace Pond, when I heard a deep groan. I looked at the water, and saw some angry-looking bubbles on the surface. Then I heard an unmistakable voice:

“Oh Tim, When are you going to grow up?” It was Colin the Carp, groaning and grumping as usual. Perhaps this time, he had good reason. Tim the Tadpole was annoying him by tickling his belly.

Sadie, the elegant black swan, heard his complaint too. She swam out of the rushes and said: “I don’t think Little Tim is ever going to grow up into a frog. In fact, I think he has discovered the Secret of Eternal Youth.”

“Ooh that sounds exciting,” said Tim. “Er what is it?”

As ever, Prince Bertie the Frog was on hand to answer Tim’s questions.

“Let me tell you Tim,” he said. “It’s a potato.”

When Prince Bertie said this, Colin the Carp thrashed the water with his tail so hard that some drops splashed on my face.

“Is this pond full of fools?” groaned Colin. “How can the Secret of Eternal Youth be a Potato? That frog’s brain is a potato, more like...!”

“Well actually,” said Bertie, “The Secret of Eternal Youth really is a potato. Or to be precise, it is a Sweet Potato. I know that for a fact because when I was a human prince, I brought it back from the Jungle....”

“Oooh Bertie, do tell us the story...” pleaded Tim. Colin sighed heavily, but all the other pond life gathered around excitedly to hear Bertie’s story - and I pricked up my ears too....

It was winter. The Palace cook was off work with a cold. At breakfast time, the Wicked Queen went into the kitchen and made Bertie's porridge herself.

"There you are Bertie," she said, as she placed the steaming bowl of milky oats in front of him on the dining room table, " Just how you like it."

" I don't really feel like porridge today," said the Prince. "I've got a bit of a rotten tummy."

For a second, an angry glint flashed across the Queen's eye, and then she said soothingly, "Come on now, eat up. There's nothing like a bowl of porridge to get you through the morning."

"Sorry, I'd rather not," said Bertie. He looked guiltily across the table at Princess Beatrice who was frowning at him. After breakfast, she tapped Bertie on the shoulder at the foot of the stairs.

"There's no need to be so rude to my step-mother," she said frostily.

"I can't help it," said Bertie. "Sometimes she just scares the life out of me."

"Couldn't you see how hurt she was when you wouldn't eat her porridge? You seemed to think she had dropped poison in it."

"Well... yeah......," said Bertie, quite sarcastically.

"Oh sometimes're just impossible," said Beatrice annoyed, and she started to stomp off, which was not at all like her. Then she turned around and said: "Not every step-mother is wicked you know. And she's going to be your mother-in-law one day, so you better start seeing the sweet side of her."

Bertie was upset, as well as hungry, as he climbed the stairs. The last thing he wanted to do was to get on the wrong side of Beatrice. She had such a lovely character, she just couldn't see that her step-mother, the Queen, truly was wicked. The world might well be full of lovely mother-in-laws, and charming step-mothers, but this one was well.. like something out of a scary fairytale.

For the rest of the week, the Wicked Queen, was so sweet, and so full of thoughtful little gestures, that Bertie became more suspicious of her than ever. On Saturday morning, she bought Beatrice a present - a delicate and beautiful orchid for her collection. It had snowy white flowers, with beautiful purple centres that looked just like butterflies.

As they admired the lovely plant, the Queen said casually, "Or course, if you want to see rare orchids in the wild, you really ought to go to Papua New Guinea."

"Really?" said Beatrice. "Perhaps Bertie and I can go there on holiday."

"Oh you would love it," said the Queen, "The biodiversity is incredible."

Bertie tried not to groan. He knew that "biodiversity" - which means a wide selection of life forms - was just the word to use if you wanted to persuade Beatrice of anything. She truly loves the environment and all living things.

"Oh Bertie ! Do let's go there for our holiday," she cooed. "I do so want to go to Papua New Guinea to see the Biodiversity."

"And while you are there," said the Queen, "You can look up our long lost cousin Jonas. He lives in the Rain Forest and is an expert on the nature of New Guinea."

"Oh how wonderful," said Beatrice.

Bertie sighed. He knew that the wicked Queen was plotting something - but there was nothing he could do to prevent it.

But what was the Queen up to? Was she planning for them to be kidnapped by pirates or eaten by cannibals? He didn't dare suggest anything of the sort to Beatrice. She would be furious with him. He would have to wait for clues. And gradually the clues came. The nearer they got to the holiday, the more the Queen spoke about Cousin Jonas. There was an article about him on the internet with a photograph. He stood on a cliff with with the tree tops of the jungle spreading out for miles behind him. He looked about 25 years old - not a day older than when he left the palace 25 years ago.

"I do believe," revealed the Queen, "that Cousin Jonas has discovered the Secret of Eternal Youth. Just think Beatrice darling... what a benefit this could be to humanity ! We could make medicines that could cure every illness. Bring back the secret to me, my sweet, or else it may never get out. Greedy Cousin Jonas is just keeping it to himself. That can't be right. Go to him, Beatrice, with your sweet smile, and persuade him to do the right thing."

Bertie tried to seem keen on the Wicked Queen’s plan to benefit mankind, but it was no use - Beatrice knew that he was thinking negative thoughts. Her manner was a little colder than usual to her prince.

They flew first to Australia, and then to Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea. At the airport, they were met by their tour guide, an Australian called Roger Jolly. "Mates call me Jolly Roger," he said with a grin as he firmly shook their hands.

He showed them the way to the car - which was, as it turned out, a pick-up truck. Princess Beatrice sat in the cab next to Jolly Roger. Prince Bertie sat on the back of the truck with the luggage. He was kept company buy Roger's righthand-man, a Papua New Guinean called Simon, and known to his mates as Sly Si.

As they drove through the town, Bertie saw that most of the houses were defended by barbed wire and metal gates. "Don't go for a walk in Port Moresby," warned Sly Si. "There are plenty of murders."

And Bertie decided that he could manage without stretching his legs that evening.

They drove to the gleaming white Yacht Club, which was where all the rich people and foreigners liked to hang out. That evening they ate grilled fish out in the warm tropical air. Beatrice told him that they wanted to find Cousin Jonas in the village of Tanga. Jolly Roger looked at Sly Si. Si said: "That's in the Owen Stanley Mountains, about four or five days hike along the Kokoda Trail."

"Great, I love walking," said Beatrice.

"That's good," said Jolly Roger, with a smile,"Because the Kokoda Trail is just about the toughest walk in the world."

Two days later, they drove out to the Owen's Corner, which is at the start of the famed Kokoda trail. Five porters joined Bertie in the back of the truck, each with a huge rucksack.

They drove as far as they could, before the road just petered out. Before them rose the mountains, covered in dense jungle. The only sign of human life was a bronze monument.

"That's to the heroes of the Second World War," explained Roger. "The Australians fought the Japanese through these mountains and beat them off - otherwise Australia might have been invaded." Then turning to Sly Si he said, "And the locals played a big part too. The worked as porters. They carried the injured on stretchers, and tended to their wounds. The troops called them Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, because they never abandoned an injured solider, even under heavy fire. "

After a minute or two of silence, to acknowledge the heroes of the past, they heaved their packs onto their backs and began to plod down the same trail that the troops and the angels had taken in 1942.

At first they went down, but soon they were climbing. The rain started to pitter-patter on the broad leaves above their heads. Some of it managed to dribble down the backs of their collars. The porters cut long walking sticks for them for Beatrice and Bertie. Still it was hard to get a good foothold. Beatrice was the first to slide face down in the mud.

"Bertie, where were you looking? Why didn't you catch me?" she said testily as he helped her up. Bertie ignored the unfair remark, and said. "Don't worry dearest. It can't be like this all the way."

"Oh yes it can," said Jolly Roger with a grin.

Often the jungle track divided - one path going one way - the other in a different direction. Fortunately, the porters knew the trail just as certainly as Beatrice knew her way around the palace gardens. Quite often the trail disappeared all together. The porters took out their machetes and scythed a path through the undergrowth, with as little effort as if they were spreading butter on bread. The great packs did not seem to give them any trouble at all. And most remarkable of all - some of them weren't even wearing boots on their feet - but flip-flops, as if they were strolling down to the beach.

It was still raining that night when they struck camp. The porters cut big logs to get a fire going, and Bertie and Beatrice washed in an icy cold mountain stream. Bertie did his best to help put up the tents, but most of the work was done by the porters. They brewed up the best drink of tea ever. And then they ate a supper of Vegetable Stew - made from a packet - and Sweet Potato Mash. One of the porters was carrying a ruck sack that was filled with nothing but sweet potatoes. Sweet Potatoes were to be the main diet along the trail.

And at long last, they stretched out in their lovely dry sleeping blankets and fell asleep to the mysterious whoops and cries of the jungle birds and animals.

Over the next few days they crossed gushing rivers with the help of ropes, and struggled up and down steep slopes. The rain stopped, and often the sun brightened things up. Sometimes they waded through long wet grass, and slug-like leaches fastened themselves to their legs.

"They like sucking Bertie's blue blood," said Jolly Roger, who usually had a joke to hand.

"They have good taste," said Beatrice, "UGGH There's one on me.... Get it off me Bertie..."

"I thought you liked all living things," said Bertie as he sprayed it with insect repellent.

"I do," she said, "It's not their fault they like our blood."

Roger made sure that they treated any little cuts and grazes with stinging iodine, because he said wounds could go rotten in the damp jungle air. Sly Si always came up at the back of the line, to make sure that nobody got left behind. They were in good hands - but if anyone twisted an ankle, there was only one way out of the jungle - on a stretcher carried by the porters.

They stopped often to drink water, and for Beatrice to photograph wild orchids. She wasn't disappointed - there were many that she had not seen before, even in books. One time Sly Si pointed and said "Look over there," and he started to walk towards a huge snake that was draped over some branches. He took it in his arms and wrapped it around himself. Then suddenly he made a choking nose and rolled his eyes:

"Oh no, it's a python and it can squeeze the life out of him," squealed Beatrice in horror.

But it was just an empty skin that a python had shed.

"Nice one," laughed Jolly Roger, as Sly Si draped the skin back on the tree, to scare the next group of hikers.

On the fourth day, they reached Jonas's village. It was on a high plateau, overlooking the tops of the trees for miles and miles. The village huts stood on stilts, growing out of a green lawn that was almost as perfect as a cricket pitch. The hikers were greeted by a group of local kids who wanted to know the latest rugby scores. Bertie made up for their lack of sports results, by handing out pens and badges.

"Can you take us to Jonas?" asked Beatrice hopefully. But they did not have to - because a youthful looking man was walking towards them.

"He can't be fifty years old. He must be Jonas’s son," whispered Bertie. But Beatrice was ready to believe that this relative of hers had discovered the Secret of Eternal Youth.

"Er, Prince Jonas, I presume," said Bertie.

"It's quite a while since anybody has called me Prince," replied the youth, "But I am Jonas."

"Well I'm Prince Bertie and this is your relative, Princess Beatrice. You may not know her, because she was born after you left the palace."

"Yes, that was a long time ago," said Jonas. "Well I haven't heard from my family for a long time. Welcome to my home. Have some tea and, we'll get dinner ready for you. Hope you like sweet potatoes. It's all we have around here."

"We can provide tinned sardines," said Bertie.

"Oh wonderful," enthused Jonas.

"And chocolate.." added Bertie.

"You must come more often," said Jonas.

As they sat around the fire that evening, a sky crammed with stars looked down upon them. They were about as far away from anywhere as you could possibly get. All around the clearing was steep jungle - and it was at least three days hike until you got to anything like a road. The word "remote" hardly summed it up. While they tucked in to their feast of sweet potatoes, sardines and chocolate, the villagers sung and banged drums for them. When the din died down, Beatrice said:

"Cousin Jonas, I hope you don't mind me asking, but how old are you?"

"I will probably seem ancient to a youngster like you," admitted Jonas, “It was my fiftieth birthday last month."

"Wow," said Bertie .

"Pretty old aren't I?" said Jonas.

"But you can't be that old," said Beatrice. "You hardly look older than Bertie."

"Hmm. Well, you can't beat a diet of fresh air, mountain water, and sweet potatoes," explained Jonas.

"Oh come on, you must have a bigger secret than that," said Beatrice, "Do tell..."

"Worried about getting lines are you? I shouldn't be concerned at your age. Well perhaps I will tell," said Jonas. "We'll see in the morning. "

After Beatrice had gone to bed, Bertie and Jonas stayed up for one last square of chocolate each. "Do you ever miss your life of comfort and ease in the palace?" asked Bertie.

"Sometimes," said Jonas. "But I had no choice. I had to leave."

'Why?" asked Bertie.

"In a word, Hilda."

"Ah Hilda," said Bertie. "I understand. In fact, one day I might have to leave because of Hilda." Because... you see ... Hilda was the person who is now better known as the Wicked Queen.

Later on, as Bertie lay awake in his sleeping bag, he wondered about his moral dilemma. Loyalty to Beatrice dictated that he should help her on her mission to take Jonas's secret back to the Queen. But his instinct that the Queen had no good intentions, meant that he ought to warn Cousin Jonas. Even though his limbs were weak from the day's jungle hike, the problem kept turning around his head and preventing him from falling asleep.

In the morning, Beatrice began her assault on Jonas with all her batteries of charm and persuasion.
Bertie could hardly believe the way she fluttered her eyelids and pleaded: 'Dear Jonas, just think of all the good you could do for humanity if you shared your secret."

And Jonas was clearly weakening and saying things like, "Well I suppose it has been a bit selfish of me to keep it to myself. I just didn't want it fall into the wrong sort of hands."

"Oh I promise will do the best thing possible for your secret. We'll give it to my step-mother who is ever such a clever woman, isn't she Bertie? " said Beatrice. And Bertie had no choice but to nod. He felt a real heel, knowing that Beatrice was going to give it to Hilda, because she really believed that her step-mother would use it for the good of mankind.

At last Jonas gave in. "Well I'll tell you," he said. "I've developed a special breed of Sweet Potato. I make it into a kind of paste and rub it into my skin. Everyone who has tried it - including many of the villagers here - seems to stay young. I can't say if lasts eternally - it's too early to say yet - and I suppose it always will be - ha ha."

"Oh thank you," said Beatrice throwing her arms around him. "Will you let us take some back home with us?"

"I'll get some ready for you," said Jonas. "Enough to put under a microscope - and some left over for your personal use."

"Oh I don't want to use it myself," insisted Beatrice.

Bertie felt he could hold in his conscience no more. Later, when Beatrice was hunting for orchids on the other side of this village, he said to Jonas.

"Look please don't let on that I told you this. Beatrice is such a sweet girl. She just can't see any bad in her stepmother...who is somebody you know.."

"Who exactly...?" asked Jonas, suspiciously.

"Hilda," said Bertie. "I fear that your secret might not be put to the best use. But what am I to do? If Beatrice catches on that I've told you this, I will be right in the do-do."

"Well we don't want you dumped in the do-do, do we?" said Jonas. "I have an idea. I'll give one preparation to you - secretly - and I'll give another one for Beatrice to give to her step-mother. It will be a nice little present from me to Hilda."

The next day, their trekking expedition restarted along the Kokoda trail. At first, their stiff limbs protested at being made to work again, but they soon got into the swing of things. Some fine weather saw them through the day. They climbed even higher into the Owen Stanley Mountains, where the air became thinner, and strange trees and shrubs fascinated the botanist in Beatrice. After that, the way was mostly down. On the final day, they waded through some long bush grass, and out into the welcome end-of-trail station to be greeted by the universal symbol of civilisation - Coca- Cola.

After a few blissful days on the beach at Buna, they flew back to Port Moresby, on to Sydney, and then back home. Beatrice carried a jar of the Secret Sweet Potato Cream in her hand luggage. Bertie carried an even more secret formula inside his suitcase.

"You little darling!" exclaimed the Wicked Queen as Beatrice handed over the jar from Uncle Jonas. "We’re RICHHHHHHH!"

'What do you mean, rich?" asked Beatrice.

"Oh don't you see? People will pay a fortune for an anti-wrinkle cream that actually works. And as for a hair restorer, even the King would give his crown for one of those, if it did what it said on the tin. It's what human kind has been striving for all these centuries.... The Cure for Baldness.... The Removal of Wrinkles.....The End of Cellulite... The Eat What You Want and be as Thin as a School Girl Diet..... in short, The Secret of Eternal Youth...."

In her delight, t he Queen was looking younger already - she did a little dance of glee.

And Beatrice was so upset that she turned to Bertie, her eyes full of tears, and said. "Don't you dare say a word... " before she ran up to her room.

"I don't think that's quite what Beatrice thought you meant by the good of mankind," he said to the Queen, before leaving the room. Out in the corridor he smiled to himself, because he had already sent the even more secret formula to a top scientist who was working on all sorts of cures for various illnesses.

"Foolish children!" said the queen to herself, as she swept upstairs to her dressing room. "Now let's just try out a little of this on ourself."

She stood before the mirror and rubbed some of the sweet potato cream into her face. Almost instantly, the deep troughs around her eyes disappeared. She looked twenty years young.

"I'm beeeee-autiful, " she exclaimed. .

But when she woke up in the morning, she opened her mouth and all she could say was 'WAAAAA' because Uncle Jonas and supplied an extra strong formula, and she had turned back into a baby. Bertie called the Palace Nanny and told her to keep the development a secret. The Wicked Queen grew back into her former self within a week, though, as Bertie noted, her face was perhaps just a bit older and a bit more evil looking than before.

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