That much-loved English children's novel, The Wind In The Willows, was first published 100 years ago this year. Kenneth Grahame's classic tale from the riverbank was inspired by the wildlife of the Thames Valley, and made its unassuming author his fortune. A century on, visitors to Henley's River and Rowing Museum can walk through a delightful permanent exhibition retelling the story, complete with 3D models, creepy woodland and audio wands. I had the whole exhibit to myself, and thought it quite charming for children of all ages. In celebration of the centenary, I thought I'd treat you to this special out-of-copyright extract...
THE POLL IN THE WILLOWS
Ratty had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little City Hall with a brush and a pail of whitewash. Change was moving in the air above, penetrating even his dark and lowly little hideaway with its spirit of divine discontent. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said 'Bother!' and 'O blow!' and also 'Hang spring elections!' and bolted out of the office without even waiting to put on his coat.
As he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed gravy train. The Rat was bewitched, and dreamily he fell to considering what a nice snug dwelling-place it would make. As he gazed, something orange seemed to twinkle down in the heart of it; a grave copper face, quite easily overlooked, with lumpen ears and silver silky hair. It was the Mole! The two animals stood and regarded each other cautiously.
'Would you like to come over to my side?' enquired the Rat presently. 'Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING--absolute nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in politics.'
'Look out, Rat!' cried the Mole suddenly, remembering his police training. Glancing back, they saw a small cloud of dust, with a dark centre of energy, advancing on them from the direction of Henley at incredible speed, while from out of the dust a faint 'Poop-poop!' wailed like an uneasy animal in pain. But it was too late. The pair were struck full tilt by the amphibious vehicle, and were cast aside into the ditch, their heels in the air.
They returned to the carriage-drive of City Hall to find a shiny new Routemaster, of enormous expense, painted a bright red (Toad's favourite colour), standing in front of the entrance. As they neared the door it was flung open, and Mr. Toad, arrayed in goggles, cap, gaiters, and enormous overcoat, came swaggering down the ramp, drawing on his gauntleted gloves.
'Glorious, stirring sight!' murmured Toad. 'The poetry of motion! The REAL way to travel! The ONLY way to travel! O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O my!'
'What are we to do with him?' asked the Mole, undecidedly. 'Nothing at all,' replied the Rat firmly. 'He has got a new craze, and it always takes him that way, in its first stage. He'll bluster like that for days now, like a buffoon walking in a happy dream, quite useless for all practical purposes. Never mind him. Let's go and see what there is to be done about the bendy buses.'
They had not proceeded very far on their way, however, when there was a pattering of feet behind them, and Toad caught them up and thrust a paw inside the elbow of each of them; then nosed ahead to claim victory. Then he bowed, coughed twice, and, letting himself go, with uplifted voice he sang, to the enraptured audience that his imagination so clearly saw,
The four by fours are tooting and the bankers are saluting,
And the foxhunters they are shooting and the motor-cars are hooting,
For it's Toad's— great— day!
He sang this very loud, with great unction and expression; and when he had done, he sang it all over again.