‘See here, Jack’ said Jack’s mother, one warm winter morning. ‘I have a job for you, son. Now listen carefully, because I don’t want you cocking it up like you do with absolutely everything else.’
‘Righty-ho mother!’ said Jack, brightly. Jack was a good lad, who always wanted his mother to be happy, but he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box.
‘I want you to take Betsy the cow down to the milking shed’, said his mother. ‘When you get there, I want you to milk her, in line with EU hygiene regulations. Make sure you wear goggles and a pair of those super-disinfected anti-MRSA boots, and whatever you do, don’t touch the cow. Do you understand that?’
‘Milk the cow’, replied Jack. ‘No problemo.’
‘Then’, continued Jack’s mother, ‘I want you to take the milk down to Tesco’s and see if you can get more than three pence for it. And don’t go swapping it for an out-of-date ready meal like you did last time, or there’ll be no Turkey Twizzlers for dinner.’
‘Yes ma!’ replied Jack, enthusiastically. ‘You can rely on me!’ And he took Betsy the cow by the halter and led her down towards the new bypass, while his mother watched with a growing sense of foreboding.
An hour later, Jack returned.
‘Well, Jack?’ said his mother, looking up from her copy of Celebrities Do The Funniest Things. ‘How much did they give you?’ Jack, who had run all the way home, excited as a Labour donor in an ermine shop, was suddenly subdued. What had seemed like a great idea ten minutes ago suddenly seemed, in his mother’s presence, like rather a stupid one.
‘Er’, he said, hesitantly. ‘Well, I met this man, you see, on the way. And he said that, what with milk prices plummeting and dairy farmers being squeezed out of business daily by ruthless supermarket chains, it didn’t make much sense for me to have this dairy cow. He said he could do me a favour and take it off my hands.’
‘What?’ snapped his mother.
‘It’s OK!’ said Jack. ‘Everything worked out fine. We did a swap. I gave him Betsy, and he gave me these magic beans.’ He held out his hand so that his mother could see the four, strangely-coloured seeds in his palm.
‘Magic bloody beans!’ screamed Jack’s mother. ‘I’ll kill you!’
‘Also’, said Jack. ‘He gave me his business card.’ He gave it to his mother in the hope that it would pacify her. She read the name on the card and turned purple.
‘Monsanto!’ she bellowed. ‘You gave my cow to someone from Monsanto?! And you took his beans? These things are bloody useless! They can’t give them away! Even the weevils won’t eat them! What am I supposed to do with these?’
‘We could plant them’, whimpered Jack, ‘and see what grows.’
‘Plant them!’ screamed his mother. ‘You think I want to contaminate the bloody place! You’re even more stupid than I thought you were!’ And she opened the window and cast the beans out into the night.
‘Now get upstairs!’ she said to Jack. ‘And don’t come down again.’
The next morning, Jack opened his curtains and almost fell over in shock. Outside in the garden, where his mother had thrown the magic beans, was an enormous beanstalk, stretching up into the clouds.
Jack ran downstairs, at top speed.
‘Mother! Mother!’ he cried. ‘Look!’
‘Blimey!’ said his mother. ‘How did that happen?’
‘Climate change, probably’, said Jack. ‘It’s been the warmest December on record. I expect the seeds thought it was spring.’
‘Never mind that’, said Jack’s mother. ‘What are we supposed to do with it? We don’t even have outline planning permission. The council’s bound to notice a structure like that.’
‘I’m going to climb it’ said Jack, excitedly, ‘and see what’s at the top!’
‘I’ve heard everything now’, said his mother. ‘It’s a beanstalk! There’ll be beans at the top. And leaves. Stuff like that. You can’t climb it, anyway. We don’t have the scaffolding required by Health and Safety legislation. I could be prosecuted for negligence.’
But her words fell on empty air. Jack was already ten feet up the beanstalk, and still climbing…
At the top of the beanstalk, beyond the clouds, was a great stone castle. In the castle lived a giant. Jack, excited and afraid, crept in and looked around him in awe at the plush furnishings and the Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen brand wallpaper.
Then he heard a fearsome sound.
‘Fee Fi Fo Fum!’ boomed the giant. ‘I smell the blood of an Englishman!’
‘Technically speaking, I’m from Euro-Region 3A’, replied Jack. ‘England is not actually recognised as a country by the European Union.’
The giant, who read the Daily Telegraph, was enraged by this information.
‘I’ll bite your bloody legs off!’ he bellowed. And he rose from his seat by the Corgi-approved, A-rated, energy-efficient gas boiler and began to pursue Jack down the gentle slope which building regulations had required him to replace his spiral staircase with.
‘I come here for a bit of peace and quiet!’ roared the giant, as he pursued Jack. ‘It’s bad enough having these bloody socialists on your back complaining about second-home ownership, without trespassers as well. I’m going to put you in the Aga. I’ve got a Nigella recipe which would be perfect.’
But Jack was nimble and quick, and before the giant could see what was happening he had doubled back and made for the top of the beanstalk.
‘Come back here!’ roared the giant.
‘Not likely!’ shouted Jack. And he ran on through the giant’s garden, which had been so expertly tended by a low-waged Polish gardener that nothing was out of place at all.
Then, just as Jack was about to leap onto the beanstalk and climb down, he spotted the giant’s golden goose, grazing on the genetically-modified leaves. Quick as a Top Gear presenter in a jet-powered car, he grabbed the goose, tucked it under his arm and began to climb down towards home.
‘Give that back!’ bellowed the enraged giant. ‘That cost a bomb at the farmers’ market! It’s a local breed! Do I look like I’m made of money?’
‘Yes!’ answered Jack, as he retreated.
‘Right!’ screamed the giant. ‘No more Mr Nice Giant!’ And he climbed onto the beanstalk and began to follow Jack down.
At the bottom of the beanstalk, Jack’s mother was waiting for him, anxiously.
‘Quick, hold this,’ panted Jack, passing her the golden goose. ‘And be careful, it’s organic.’
‘I thought it looked expensive’, said his mother, taking it.
Jack grabbed an axe and began to hack at the beanstalk.
‘What are you doing?’ cried his mother. ‘That thing’s sequestering tons of carbon! If we leave it there we can afford to fly to New Zealand twice a year!’ But Jack kept chopping until the beanstalk fell, with a great groaning, smashing, splintering sound – bringing the giant tumbling down with it.
‘That’ll teach you to ignore the issue of affordable rural housing, you fascist!’ he shouted.
‘Terrorist!’ bellowed the giant, as he crashed to the ground, creating a deep crater which would later come in handy as an overflow landfill site for the new houses being built on the floodplain. ‘You should be on an ASBO!’
That night, Jack and his mother sat down to dinner, and ate the most ethically-acceptable omelette they had ever tasted.
‘These golden eggs will make us rich, Jack,’ said his mother, happily. ‘Speciality foods are the name of the game these days. Everything else comes from China. We can flog these down at the deli for a fiver a pop. Those metropolitan foodies would buy a box of toenail clippings if it had “organic” stamped on it.’
‘You’re so right, ma’, said Jack, happily. ‘And with the money we raise, we can buy another cow.’
‘No’, said Jack’s mother. ‘The man from Monsanto was right about one thing: there’s no future in dairy farming. I’m thinking of going into property. I reckon we could flog the old barn for half a million if we called it a “unique rural opportunity”. Then I might see if I can buy up some bits of green belt. It’s only a matter of time before they shred the planning laws.’
‘That sounds great, ma,’ said Jack. ‘Do you think we’ll live happily ever after?’
‘I think we might, son’, said his mother, with a smile. ‘I think we might.’
This article first appeared in the Ecologist December 2006