Nuts! A Tale of Morality and Medicine

Do you like eating nuts? You do? And so do squirrels, but even squirrels can eat too many. Tippety Nippet was a squirrel and he was VERY fond of nuts; but once he ate far too many, as you shall see.

(Uh oh! Moral lesson about to be delivered.)

And he had to admit to himself that the awkward feeling in his poor tummy just served him right.

Even a nice cup of sorrel tea does not do the trick.

And so the story begins of the greedy squirrel who over indulged and the friends who overcome the odds to bring him the remedy.

Literature is full of implied moral lessons and basic common sense advice. (Anna Karenina – “Stand clear of the platform when trains enter or leave the station” or King Lear – “Don’t tell people the contents of your will”) but traditional literature for children is often far more explicit. Just think of that very annoying and smug Little Red Hen who, after all that work, gets to keep all the profit to herself.

I remember being delighted by the story of Tippety Nippet* as a child and, not having many books and before being old enough to haunt the public library, must have read it dozens of times.

So – a little revisionist reading is in order.

Tippety Nippet has indeed over indulged in nuts and is suffering from a terrible ailment – “stomach on the chest”. An act of kindness (a cup of tea and a slice of seedy cake) offered to Mr. Ginger – a stranger cat passing by on his way to the Cats Grand Concert – is later rewarded. Dr. Bunfuzz still makes home visits and prescribes “upside down medicine” to cure “stomach on the chest”. Barnaby Littlemouse must undertake a perilous journey and brave the odds to obtain a key ingredient – cats’ whiskers.

He is captured by the enemy. From beneath a jam jar where he has been imprisoned for his temerity in approaching a sleeping cat with a pair of scissors Barnaby explains the dilemma of his sick friend.

And it all ends happily ever after.

It’s all terribly unlikely and rather twee. the setting is an idealized English landscape and Toadstool Wood bears no resemblance to anything in reality. As a moral lesson about the effects of greed or as an example of a health care system it’s not very effective. There’s also two questionable scenes where characters sample prescribed substances to curious effect. But as an entertaining fable it has been memorable.

Perhaps it was the appeal of living in a tree-house with a bay window or playing cricket with a tortoise.

*The Upside Down Medicine written and illustrated by Racey Helps Collins 1946, sadly, long out of print

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