In the land of make-believe

Once upon a time, in a great city, far, far away from the country's motorway system, lived a bookish community who believed in all manner of wizardry and happily ever after.

Once upon a time, in a great city, far, far away from the country's motorway system, lived a bookish community who believed in all manner of wizardry and happily ever after.

So they waved their magic wands and hosted a major international conference devoted to the fairy tale.

It was held over the weekend at the University of East Anglia (it really was) but sadly, a few notable fairy tale characters were unable to attend and sent their apologies, except for Cinderella, whose sisters tore up her invitation before she even saw it and made her scrub the kitchen floor. Her Fairy Godmother would normally have helped out but she was at the conference with Dandini.

Something going on, perhaps between pumpkin-into-coach Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming's best friend? Who knows? But she looks as if she's had a boob job (grapefruits into melons).

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A few other minor players turned up. A couple of bears showed up and made porridge and about six of the Forty Thieves put in an appearance and made off with about 20 credit cards belonging to members of the English faculty. Fortunately, the academics were able to rub a magic lamp and get them back again.

But, overall, it was a little disappointing as most of the headline acts stayed away.

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I understand the RSVPs included:

Dear Chancellor, I regret that I shall be unable to attend your fairy tale conference. My poor old granny has been taken ill and is confined to bed. I have to take her over a basket of goodies.

Kind regards Little Red Riding Hood

Dear Chancellor, Thank you for your kind invitation but I cannot be seen out because I am so pug ugly. I threw myself into the river but forgot that I can swim.

Tragically yours, the Ugly Duckling.

Dear Chancellor, your invitation was kindly forwarded to me by the friendly creatures of the forest who found it on my wicked stepmother's mantelpiece. I am currently living in the middle of nowhere with no mobile phone reception (you may be able to guess which part of Norfolk I mean) and seven small men.

I might just ask you to mention to conference that it's no flipping picnic being a fairy tale heroine. Hi ho.

Anyway, I have to go now as there's an old woman with outside and she appears to be offering me a lovely red apple.

Sincerely yours, Princess Snow White.

Dear Chancellor

So I was in the kitchen, right, and I had these beans in my hand when the postman knocked. Mum was having a right go at me because I told her the beans were magic and she asked me if I was mental, cos like nobody swaps a cow for a bag of beans.

Anyway I put the beans down to take the mail and she picks them all up and hurls them out of the window. I showed her the invite and she said if I thought I was going on some jolly up Norwich I had another think coming and she stormed off to bed. Whatever.

Got up this morning and thought there'd been some sort of solar relapse, innit, The house is in complete darkness. I try and open the door and there's something in the way it so I go upstairs and look out the window and it's a ruddy great beanstalk and that. So, I decide to climb it and mum was like 'I'll call health and safety' and, apparently, there's a beanstalk climbing course I have to go on before I'm allowed to go up it. Something to do with the insurance. Anyway so, I could of come but the course is on the same day, innit. Sorry.

LOL Jack

Dear Chancellor

Hansel and I were really looking forward to coming along to the fairy tale conference but we only got as far as the back gate when we looked round and found all the breadcrumbs we left as a trail were gone. The crows ate our satnav

Auf wiedersehen


Dear Chancellor,

The Princess Aurora will not be attending your conference this weekend due to a prior engagement.

Yours faithfully

King Stefan

pp HRH Aurora

PS Just between you and me, she dozed off last night and hasn't got up yet - teenagers, eh!

Dear Chancellor

Sorry, having a bad hair day.

Best wishes, Rapunzel.

My recurring dream about toilets struck a chord… or should that be pulled a chain with readers.

Rosie emailed: “Your dream scene of desperately searching through a maze of unusable toilets is so startlingly familiar, that I wonder if that exact same dream comes to us all at a certain age! It was so spot on it was uncanny!

“I've struggled (in my dream) through corridors and more corridors of toilets that cannot meet my approval. Dirty pans, cubicles with no toilet pans at all, just a hole in the floor, no paper, no door, or only a half stable-door, toilets that haven't been flushed, or have no flush facility. Dozens and dozens of loos, all unusable.”

My friend and correspondent John in Bacton has an affectionate tale of his Merchant Navy days in the 1950s that will probably find itself into my next dream.

“When the ship was berthed in the London Docks the ship's toilets were locked and we had to use the shoreside toilets, provided by the Port of London Authority. These low, brick-built buildings with a concrete floor were basic to say the least. The actual toilet consisted of a long, iron pipe about 2-feet in diameter along one wall. Cut into the top of this pipe were oval holes providing about 10 or 12 sitting positions. These cubicles had no doors - just a short modesty panel between each seat. There were no cisterns - just a constant supply of water along the bottom of the pipe (God knows where you would end up if you fell in).

“To give yourself a bit of privacy, you tried to find a cubicle as far away from the door as you could. However, if your shipmates saw you heading for the toilets, they would covertly follow you, armed with sheets of newspaper. They would then wait for you to get nicely settled - then creep in, set fire to the newspaper and drop it into the first hole.

“As the water carried the burning paper along, the first thing you knew was that your bum was getting singed. As you shouted out in pain your shipmates would collapse with laughter.”

(I bet your cheeks were red!)

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