Chapter Eight: Robots

Everyone knew that the Sugar Mill used Robots to do all the work. If anyone visited the Sugar Mill they would have seen robots doing all sorts of jobs but there were also many robots no one ever saw. A few could move around but many were static. Robots did the measuring, the mixing, the packing and they did a lot of cleaning. Everyone knew the music was performed by robots.
The robots were not magical beings. They used a single, simple, power source. At the rear of the Sugar Mill, there was a river. As it passed by the Mill the width of the river had been reduced which caused it to flow faster and at his narrowest point right behind the mill, it turned a huge water wheel.

In the centre of the water wheel, there is the “Great Drive Shaft” that runs from the wheel at the rear of the mill, all the way to the front where it protruded out. It had a giant glass, flat, disk mounted on the end that was covered in crystals. In daylight, the disk appeared to sparkle as it rotated.

Once inside the mill, attached to the “Great Drive Shaft” there were wheels with drive belts that turned smaller shafts. These had a gear ratio such that they turned much faster than the “Great Drive Shaft”. Through a series of cogs and gears, this power was used to automate the static robots. Fletcher had got the idea from wind up musical boxes that he had seen on his fact-finding trips to OFFERSLAND. Instead of having disks with pins that played musical notes in a specific order to make a tune, his disks with pins drove other cogs, levers and pulleys in a specific order to operate cranes, arms and conveyor belts that performed routine tasks needed to produce the various sugar-based products he needed them to make.

There were also several cogs that drove vertical shafts that had keys on the end. The free-roaming robots were powered by mainsprings. These robots automatically returned to one of the vertical shafts and as they passed under it the key would engage and rewind the mainspring. Once fully wound the free-roaming robots would follow the program specified by the pins in the disk they were fitted with.

The free-roaming robots could clean, fetch and carry and could be programmed with disks that made them appear to have an intelligence (Narrators note: The ‘intelligence’ they appeared to have did exist but it was not the robot’s intelligence. It was Fletchers).

The robots that played the music were really just elaborate musical boxes. Fletcher had obtained a supply of musical boxes and simply copied their tiny disks to make bigger ones and with some cogs and levers made them appear to play instruments.

(Narrators note: It is interesting to point out that, even with all this mechanical automation, Fletcher also relied on the Townhall clock. Of course, he could have replaced it, and I am sure it would have been even more accurate but no one would have thanked him for it. Besides, it would have put Sothwik out of a job).

Fletcher had once considered employing townsfolk to work in his Mill rather than using robots, but then if he had done so he would have had to pay them in sugar. They would not need that much sugar and so they would have exchanged it in the SwapExchange on the Wednesday and that would have killed the demand for sugar completely.

CHapter Nine: The Double Dee Race

Every now and then the Grand Dingily Dell Sugar Mill would announce “THE GREAT DOUBLE DEE RACE”. Posters would appear all over town.
The race would, of course, take place on the coming Wednesday. The race starts at one o’clock.
The course for the race was clearly displayed. It would start in the Dingley Dell market square. It ran along the path up the hill and down the other side to the port. There it performed a u-turn outside the Port Emporium and back up the hill. As it approached the town it turned off to the left down the farm track and around the fields of the potato and carrot farms. From there it carried on along the track out to the sorting office. Outside the sorting office, it returned back onto the main path towards the town and then turned off to the left and onto the riverside path. This follows the river down to the Sugar Mill where it turned right alongside the mill and back to the finishing line in the market square.

These were the rules.

  1. No help or hindrance is allowed.
  2. No using any other means of transport.
  3. Everyone must start and finish the race in the same trolley.
  4. Everyone must use only the trolley allocated.

As you can tell from the rules of the race, it was a trolley race. But not all trollies were equal. The older trollies were not as fast as the younger ones. To even up the race each trolley would have a rider and if necessary an amount of sugar for extra weight.

There was no particular skill required to be a trolley rider. The rider was not driving. The primary responsibility of the rider was to remain in the trolley.

The list of runners was published as follows:
Trolley 1 – Oliver Ostrich (the second youngest)
Trolley 2 – Morris Unicorn
Trolley 5 – Harry Halibut (plus a tank of water and carried to the race by Patrick Bear)
Trolley 15 – Brian Rabbit
Trolley 18 – Thomas Rabbit
Trolley 25 – Fluffy Little Ostrich (her favourite Trolley but supposedly allocated by weight calculation only. What a coincidence!)
Trolley 26 – Billy Badger
Trolley 27 – Malcolm Badger
Trolley 30 – Oliver Ostrich (the third youngest)
Trolley 31 – Mister Badger (who had seen the race poster and had carelessly said “I wish I could still do that”)
Trolley 121 – Sothwik Sloth and six bags of sugar.

On the morning of the race, the good folk of Dingily Dell were going about their business as usual. On a Wednesday that business was mainly swapping their excess goods and services with each over at the SwapExchange. But on this occasion, there was also a degree of excitement in the air (narrators note: and remember there was also a lot of sugariness in the air too. That air was having a busy day today).
A little before one o’clock the Trollies trolled out from the Sugar Mill. They were dressed up with ribbons, big clear panels with their numbers on and were all looking as excited and raring to go (as far as trollies are able to look excited). They gathered in the middle of the market square.

From the crowd, there also appeared a number of race marshals. Everyone knew they were race marshals as they wore sashes saying “Race Marshal”. The race marshals were volunteers from around the town. One such volunteer was Oliver Ostrich from the Farm Cooperative. The first job for the marshals was to ensure the right rider was loaded into the right trolley. Most of the riders were quite capable of finding and climbing aboard their designated trolley. A few needed pointing to the right trolley and a couple needed a helping hand to climb up (the very young and Mister Badger). Patrick Bear placed the fish tank containing the very excited Harry Halibut into Trolley number 5.

The Town Hall clock then struck one. “DONG”.

There was an immediate screeching of tyres (and screeching of riders) as the trollies sped off up the main path from Dingily Dell towards the hill.

Sothwik and Trolley number 121 were easily the first away despite the extra bags of sugar to slow him down.

Morris Unicorn was immediately aware, as he was tossed in all directions, that Trolley number 2 had a wonky wheel. (Narrators note: isn’t that always the way. You grab a trolley, and soon as you have gone too far to change to another, you find you have one with a wonky wheel). Fortunately for Morris, his father, Derrick, had given him a “Practical Wish Card” just in case. “Oh I wish I didn’t have a trolley with a wonky wheel,” he said holding up the card. The card disappeared and the wonky wheel was fixed. (Narrators note: technically this was a breach of the race rules. But it was not really a breach that would help him win. Just a breach that would help stop him from losing. However, there was a natural justice in that had it been wrong then the magic would not have worked so that settled it). Morris was delighted. Trolley number 2 was very happy too. He had been worrying about that wheel all morning.

As they started to climb the hill, Oliver in Trolley number 30 overtook Sothwik. But as soon as they reached the top Trolley number 121 retook the lead. Mister Badger in Trolly number 31 was in last place. Trolley number 31 was trying to be as gentle as possible with his older passenger.

All of the riders were loving the experience. Apart from the slow and steady ride on the Cable Bus they all only ever walked, galloped or hopped.

As they passed “the house where we live” the young Ostriches waved frantically to Mother and Father Ostrich who were standing at the garden gate. Father Ostrich had little Oliver sitting on his shoulders. (Narrator’s note: as you might imagine a young Ostrich sitting on a grown-up Ostriches shoulders is a thing to be seen and marvelled at but it was a reliable method of containing Oliver and preventing an accident).

Then they got to the Cable Bus, the hill became quite steep. Harry Halibut found himself right up against the front of the tank and had a bit of a tidal wave thing going on but Patrick had allowed for this in his selection of the tank. Harry was loving it anyway. It was a totally unique experience for a fish.

Sothwik and Trolley 121 were at the bottom of the hill way ahead of all the others. That extra weight, added to slow them down, had speeded them up going downhill.

Now they arrived at the Port. Outside the Port Emporium stood Norbuttley Rabbit wearing his Race Marshal sash. He ensured they didn’t cut any corners, even accidentally, doing the U-turn. There was much shrieking as the trollies u-turned and headed back up the hill. Harry Halibut finding himself stuck up against the side of the tank this time but still loving it.

As Trolley number 25 u-turned, Fluffy blew a kiss to Norbuttley which made him blush (but being a rabbit it didn’t show). All of the trollies were now going back up the hill. Norbuttley set off Dingily Dell to catch the end of the race.

The Trollies and riders, still with Mister Badger in last place, got to the top of the hill and again waved to the Ostriches in their front garden. Once all the trollies had passed and Norbuttley had walked up the hill, the Ostriches joined him to walk down to the town.

At the bottom of the hill, before they got to the edge of the town, they saw Mr Owl wearing a race marshal sash pointing to the farm track off to the left. Again with much shrieking (more than was necessary, and some coming from Mister Badger) they turned down the farm track. (Narrators note: The Trollies all knew the course perfectly. The need for race marshals was more for helping everyone feel part of the event than to actually direct anyone).

The course now got a lot more bumpy as they left the farm track and started along the path around the potato field. Right on the corner of the field stood ‘Marmaduke the Shire’ wearing his sash. He wasn’t really there to direct the racers but more to ensure no one rode over his potato seedlings.

At the far corner of the carrot field stood Derrick the Post, also wearing a sash, and making sure everyone was doing well. He too had a ‘Practical Wish Card’ just in case, but it wasn’t needed. Everyone was obviously enjoying themselves. Morris called and waved to his father as he passed. Even Harry Halibut, although splashing about in his tank, was having a good go at shrieking with joy (which is quite a feat for a fish).

They left the fields and headed down the track towards the sorting office. Outside the sorting office stood ‘Marshal Unicorn’ who was also wearing a sash. While he was a race marshal, it was also his name so he felt obliged to volunteer and wear the sash. He also worked in the sorting office and had been rather roped into it by Derrick. He didn’t have much to do. The course clearly returned to the main path back towards the town.

At this point, the race order was still with Sothwik clearly in front. Brian Rabbit was second and Morris third. The rest were all about even with the order changing frequently. Secondly from last was Harry Halibut in Trolley number 5 and trailing in last place was Mister Badger.

A little before the town the main path ran alongside the river. As the river split off to the left the course left the main path and followed the riverside path. All of the Trollies took extra care. Everyone knew how easy it was for trollies to end up in rivers.

They carried on along the riverside path until they reached the rear of the Sugar Mill with its beautiful, huge water wheel that was still turning, of course, as the Sugar Mill production, like the river, does not stop because it is a Wednesday.

Here the riverside path has to turn down the side of the Sugar Mill. If you walked the full length of the riverside path you would have to walk around to the front of the Mill and back down the other side to return to the river. Old Fletcher had considered building a bridge over the river on either side of the water wheel but then thought it would prevent walkers from having the opportunity of calling into the Sugar Mill Shop.

The trollies, now at full throt-troll (a word they invented for a trolley going fast, but fortunately for trollies, they never had to try to say it) they arrived back at the Market square. Obviously, Sothwik and Trolley number 121 had won, but no one really cared. The race had been such great fun. Mister Badger was last, but really he was glad as the younger ones would not have wanted to be last. Trolley number 31 was not bothered either as he has volunteered to be last during the Trolley only race planning meeting.

All the parents met the young riders. Patrick collected Harry and Oliver and Olivia Ostrich helped Mister Badger back down to solid ground.

Everyone had thoroughly enjoyed the whole event and were looking forward to the next one whenever that would be.

Chapter Ten: The Museum

Fluffy had been out picking carrots on the cooperative farm. For this work she had been given a nice little crop of carrots that she now presented to her mother in the kitchen. This would be ample for their dinner tomorrow and still have enough making more carrot cake that they knew always went down well with Derrick the Post.

“Thank you my darling”, said Mother Ostrich, “now I have something for you”. Mother Ostrich reached into her apron pocket and took out a note. “This came for you today”. 

Fluffy took the note and read it.

“Dear Fluffy, As you might have heard, Sothwik has opened a little Museum at the Town Hall. I wondered if you would like to go with me to see it? I thought it sounded interesting and that perhaps it would be nice to go together. With fond regards, Norbuttley”.

Fluffy looked up. Her mother was looking directly at her. “Fond Regards?”, said Mother Ostrich. Now it was Fluffy’s turn to blush.

“Well, I had heard about it. It might be nice to have someone to keep me company”, replied Fluffy. (Narrators note: In Dingley Dell it is almost impossible to not hear about anything that was going on).

“Actually, I do need some strawberry jam” said Mother Ostrich. “If you happen to be going to the Emporium any time soon”. Fluffy was already picking up some Moreofthems and was on her way out.

In no time at all she arrived at the Port Emporium. “Oh hello Norb”, she said. “Mother sent me for some Strawberry Jam”. “Certainly”, said Norbuttley, “You can have this on me. It’s from a fresh batch I prepared only this morning”. (Narrators note: Norbuttley made Jam as a hobby. He had seen Strawberries and other fruit arriving at the port and saw Sugar arriving too and thought someone ought to put these together).

Fluffy gave him the Moreofthems. “As I bought these with me anyway you may as well have them”, she said smiling. “Oh, and I saw your note. That sounds like a lovely idea. I would love to go with you. When were you thinking of going?”. 

“It’s opening on Sunday. I will have my assistant working here on Sunday so I am free to go. I’ll pick you up at 10 o’clock if that ok for you”.

“Sounds perfect” said Fluffy. “See you then”. 

Ostriches are flightless birds but she seemed to fly home.

The following Sunday, the Emporium’s assistant arrived early. This was Paula Rabbit. She was Norbuttley’s cousin and the Rabbit clan liked to keep it in the family. She was reliable and Norbuttley knew she could manage just fine in his absence. 

Norbuttley had thought long and hard about what to wear and had settled on his best waistcoat. On Saturday he had paid a visit to Patrick Bear and had his teeth polished and his fur groomed. 

Now he set off for ‘The House Where We Live’ at the top of the hill. He arrived just as the Town Hall clock struck ten. Fluffy was waiting by the door doing her best to look casual.

They set off together. “I am looking forward to see what he has found to put into a museum”, said Norbuttley. 

“Me too”, replied Fluffy.

They arrived at the Town Hall. It looked very different today. Apart from the huge sign saying ‘Dingley Dell Museum’, the biggest difference was that the main door was wide open.

They went in. It was the first time either of them had been inside the Town Hall. As a day out, just going into the Town Hall was almost interesting enough. Sothwik was standing next to a sign that read ‘This way’ below which there was a hand drawn arrow. It was pointing to the first room on the left at the front of the building. The room was very ornate and looked spectacular. 

Sothwik had followed them in. “All the exhibits in here were donated by Mrs Donkey and some lent to us by the Cribbins family”, he said. 

The most eye catching exhibit was a huge zebra shaped dummy that was wearing a heavily braided uniform and with a peaked hat. 

“Well that’s impressive”, said Norbuttley. 

Sothwik pointed to a display case below the dummy’s head. It had a long line of medals. “We are still working out how these were worn as there were clearly more medals that would fit on the dummy’s chest”. 

Fluffy was very impressed with the whole room. She found the dummy awe inspiring, the medals fascinating and the maps that were lining the walls were very interesting to study. She pointed to one map. “That’s where my house is”, she said but it wasn’t built back then”. Norbuttley looked at the same map. “The port’s not there either nor the Sorting Office” he said. The only thing they recognised was the path and the school house. “That’s the school” said Norbuttley. 

“It wasn’t a school back then. That’s where this fine gentleman lived”, said Sothwik gesturing to the uniformed dummy.

“What is this?”, asked Norbuttley, pointing to the strange shiny disk on a stand with dials and knobs on it. 

“Nobody knows” replied Sothwik. “Mrs Donkey found it in the attic at the school. We are hoping someone might recognise it and tell us”. 

“It’s a great museum Sothwik” said Fluffy. “You have done a great job here”. As they left the room they passed another map showing DINGLAND, OLDLAND and OFFERSLAND. 

“Captain Cribbins discovered OLDLAND and OFFERSLAND”. Sothwik recited from the writing on the map. 

They all walked through to the next room. This had an old Handcart as the main exhibit and around the room there were drawings of the Sugar Mill in various states of construction. 

“These exhibits were all donated by Old Fletcher of the Sugar Mill” said Sothwik.

Fluffy and Norbuttley walked around the room together looking at the drawings. Some were very interesting as they showed parts of inside the Mill they had never seen.

As they left the museum they thanked Sothwik for a very interesting visit. They signed the visitors book.

Norbuttley walked Fluffy home. 

“Thank you Norb for a lovely day out” she said. 

“The pleasure was all mine”, he replied.

At Fluffy’s front door Norbuttley said “We must do this again”,

“Yes soon” replied Fluffy.

Fluffy gave Norbuttley a quick peck on the cheek and went straight indoors. 

Norbuttley positively hopped home.