Orinoco had tidied the west corner of Wimbledon Common, and was about to settle down under the big oak tree for a decent forty winks before lunchtime, when he spotted a bundle of blue fur with a strange long protuberance. It resembled a set of poorly-mad bagpipes and smelt strongly of cleaning fluid and diesel.
"I suppose my nap can wait," he sighed, gathering the bizarre bundle together. "I wonder what Tobermory will make of these."
Under the weight of the bulging bundle, it took Orinoco twice as long as usual to get back to the burrow. The place would have seemed deserted, but for a loud k'platter k'sploch noise signalling that the resident engineer was in residence and engineering with gusto. Shifting his blue burden to one arm, Orinoco knocked three times on the workshop door. There was a BANG and a SPLATTER, and the door opened. Tobermory was covered in soot, from his cap to the tips of his woolly Womble feet.
At that moment the bundle slumped in Orinocco's arms in an awkward drapey tangle. "Take it, please," said Orinoco, who thought there might still be time for a short nap if he could hand it over quickly.
Tobermory took it curiously. "I'm dirty and a bit tied up. What is it?"
|Not sure," mumbled the sleepy womble. "Bagpipes?" And he hurried off to the warm dry chair by the stove, put his feet up, and soon began to snore.
Tobermory looked after him for a quizzical moment, then turned his attention to the malodorous bundle. It was rather big — nearly as big as a medium-sized womble. It was also warm and soft. He hefted it inside and shut the door.
Placed on the workshop bench, the blue fur groaned.
Tobermory raised an eyebrow, picked up the fire poker and prodded it gently.
"Watch it!" it squawked indignantly, before subsiding with the whine of a dying buzzsaw. Then it unfurled into the strangest-looking person Tobermory had ever seen. He was fat and furry with long stringy limbs, and a long appendage — either a nose or a beak, Tobermory thought — protruding from his face. He had beautiful big eyes and was clutching a shiny gold instrument of some kind. "I'm feeling blue," the not-actually-bagpipes-as-it-happens added mournfully.
"I can see that. Who are you?" the womble asked.
"Who's asking?" The person looked Tobermory up and down, then looked ill from the movement and clutched his head in his hands. Unfortunately, he didn't put down the instrument first. Slam! "Owwwwwww."
"I'm Tobermory." The engineer was intrigued, and felt himself blushing to the tip of his nose. Despite the smell and the groaning, he liked the lay of this person's fur.
"Gonzo." Gonzo's voice was scratchy and high. He looked a bit wobbly, too. Wordlessly Tobermory washed his hands, made a steaming mug of hot chocolate, and gave it to him. Gonzo drank it in one gulp. "Is there more?" he asked hopefully, but Tobermory was distracted.
"What were you doing on the Common?"
"Delving into the loneliness and darkness of despair. My horn is hopeless," said Gonzo, indicating his golden instrument. Reminded of his woes, he began to cry in a crescendo of candour. "My trumpet is twisted. My trombone won't slide."
Tobermory peered at the shiny thing. "It looks like a bugle to me."
"My bugle is bent," shrieked Gonzo. "It's always lights, makeup, singing, dancing, and then baleful bugle bungling. I can't get it straight."
Tobermory got out his favourite tool and a piece of rope, looked at Gonzo and then put them down again. He smiled at the muppet, who was still sitting up on the workbench. "I think I can beat it back into shape. Maybe if I mount it in my vice. Would you mind getting off there?"
But Gonzo sat tight. "It won't make any difference," he wailed. "I don't know how to play."
"It must be hard," agreed the womble sympathetically, "but first things first." He took Gonzo's instrument in both hands and blew it gently, resulting in a low moan.
"Ah, I see your problem," said Tobermory. "We'll get this licked in no time." And he got down to work. Gonzo cheered up when he saw his bugle performing so well.
All afternoon the other wombles heard strange noises coming from the workshop. There were screeches and bangs, loud thumps and the occasional triumphant shriek. Familiar with Tobermory's fits of inventiveness – he sometimes made the most astonishing studded leather outfits – they tiptoed around so as not to disturb his creative pursuits.
Finally, just before teatime, the womble and the muppet emerged from the workshop, their fur tousled and damp from their efforts. "You'll be blowing with the best of them now that you've had some practice," Tobermory was explaining, "It's supposed to be bent like that. All it needed was a longer screw."
"Roger that," said Gonzo.
Orinoco looked at him wonderingly and said, "That's the bagpipe?" Then he went and had a wee lie down.
Great Uncle Bulgaria and Madame Cholet exchanged concerned glances but said nothing.
Gonzo gave Tobermory a big muppet-hug. "Thursday week for our next session, then?" he said gaily.
"Yes," Tobermory replied, "And we'll see if we can't lower the tone. I'm sure it should be deeper."