It was my partner’s youngest son’s birthday at the weekend and one of the presents I gave him was a book I made just for him. We’re still self-isolating (10 weeks since we left the house!) and at the time I had the idea, I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to get hold of anything from the shops. I’m sharing the story in case it brings pleasure to anybody else. I know Living Coasts, which inspired the story, is a very popular local attraction and we are looking forward to visiting it again when it is safe to do so.
There’s a zoo in Torquay called Living Coasts which is full of creatures that can usually be found in or around the sea.
Eddie and his family spent an afternoon visiting Living Coasts and they had a fantastic time watching the playful otters, graceful stingrays, tiny seahorses, funny penguins, lazy seals and colourful fish.
On the way out, they looked around the gift shop. ‘You can choose one thing to take home,’ Mum told Eddie, so he picked out a little penguin and named him Pingu.
Eddie and Pingu became great friends. Pingu was lucky to spend his days playing games and his nights cuddled up in a nice warm bed with Eddie. It was so much better than sitting on a shelf in a shop.
Even though they had a lot of fun together, Eddie was worried that Pingu missed his penguin friends. ‘Can we go back to Living Coasts?’ Eddie asked Mum. The family had an annual pass so they could visit as often as they liked.
On their next visit, Eddie took Pingu in his backpack so that he could say hello to his friends in the gift shop and tell them all about his adventures outside Living Coasts.
Now that Eddie had a penguin of his own, he made a special effort to learn more about them. One of the things he found out was that penguins love to swim in the sea.
The next time Eddie and his family went to the beach, Eddie took Pingu out of his backpack, went down to the water’s edge and let him have a little swim.
But a big wave came and swept Pingu out of Eddie’s reach. ‘Come back, Pingu!’ cried Eddie, but Pingu was getting further and further away.
Eddie thought about going after Pingu but he knew he wasn’t a very good swimmer and Mum was shouting at him to get away from the water because he was getting his clothes wet.
By the time Mum got down to the shoreline to see why Eddie was so upset, Pingu was well out to sea. ‘This is why Pingu was supposed to stay at home,’ sighed Mum, who hadn’t realised that Eddie had brought Pingu in his backpack. ‘He’s not safe out here.’
Mum looked around for somebody with a boat who could rescue Pingu but there was nobody else to be seen.
‘Can we call for a lifeboat?’ asked Eddie. ‘Lifeboats don’t come out for penguins, only people,’ said Mum, to Eddie’s disappointment.
Eddie couldn’t sleep that night because he was busy trying to think of a way to save Pingu. He wasn’t worried that Pingu would drown because he knew that penguins were strong swimmers. But he knew that Pingu wouldn’t be able to find his way home and he was probably cold, alone and scared.
Then Eddie had a brainwave: he would get another penguin and send him to bring home Pingu. Another penguin might know where lost penguins went when they needed help.
Next time Eddie and his family went to Living Coasts, Eddie looked around to see which penguin was the best swimmer. ‘It’s going to have to catch up with Pingu who could be miles away by now,’ thought Eddie.
They all looked equally comfortable in the water, so Eddie scanned the penguin enclosure for one that seemed a bit older and wiser than the others. Reliable. Friendly. And then, when no-one was looking, he stuffed that penguin into his backpack. Eddie named him Stevie.
Stevie struggled a bit – he wasn’t very keen to be zipped up inside a dark bag – but Eddie knew he had to keep his plan a secret. Eddie realised that Mum would consider this to be stealing, and stealing was wrong and he would be in lots of trouble if he got caught.
But Eddie intended to bring Stevie back to Living Coasts after the rescue mission, so it wasn’t really stealing, it was borrowing, and he couldn’t think of any other way to get Pingu back.
Stevie had never been in a car before and on the way home he started to make little squawking noises to say that he was feeling a bit sick. Eddie pretended to cough so Mum didn’t hear Stevie.
As soon as they got home, Eddie tried to sneak Stevie up to his bedroom. ‘Where are you going?’ asked Mum when Eddie was halfway up the stairs. ‘To the bathroom,’ replied Eddie, after the briefest of pauses while he thought of an excuse. ‘Leave your shoes and backpack by the door,’ insisted Mum.
Eddie reluctantly retraced his steps and took off his shoes. He lingered, waiting for Mum to walk off, but she stood still and said, ‘Hurry up in the bathroom then, you’re not the only one who needs it.’
Eddie’s backpack started to move as Stevie struggled to escape from it. He needed some fresh air. Eddie gasped. ‘Please can I have a drink?’ he asked Mum, trying to distract her. ‘In a minute,’ she replied. Then she saw Eddie’s backpack walking down the hall, apparently all by itself, and she screamed.
Stevie managed to wriggle out of the backpack and he looked around, confused. He had never been in a house before.
‘Why was there a penguin in your backpack?’ demanded Mum, when she had recovered from the shock.
‘I brought him to help us rescue Pingu,’ said Eddie, not sure why Mum didn’t seem to understand his brilliant plan. ‘Stevie will be able to find Pingu and bring him home.’
‘We have to take him back to Living Coasts right away,’ said Mum, firmly. Eddie’s face fell with disappointment.
Eddie watched as Stevie explored his new surroundings. Mum had grabbed her phone and was trying to call Living Coasts to explain why one of their penguins was missing and beg them not to call the police. But the zoo had closed for the day and nobody was answering the phone.
‘I guess he’s going to have to stay here overnight,’ said Mum, to Eddie’s delight. ‘In the morning, we’re going to take that penguin straight back.’
Stevie was much smellier than Pingu and had already done a poo on the living room floor, so Eddie didn’t invite Stevie to sleep in his bed with him like Pingu did. And Eddie didn’t like the fact that Stevie pinched half of his dinner off his plate while he wasn’t looking. Pingu never did that.
Eddie missed Pingu. He wondered if Pingu was missing him. He didn’t sleep well that night.
The next morning, Eddie didn’t mind that Mum insisted on taking Stevie back to where he had come from. Having a real penguin to stay hadn’t been as much fun as he thought it would be.
Just as they were getting ready to return to Living Coasts, there was a knock on the front door.
‘Do you think it’s Pingu?’ asked Eddie, hopefully. He grabbed Stevie to make sure he didn’t waddle outside when Mum opened the door.
There was a man standing on the doorstep with his arms behind his back. Eddie didn’t recognise him and he was about to carry on putting on his shoes when he heard the man say, ‘I believe this little fella lives here.’
The man was holding Pingu. Eddie sprang to the door and took Pingu while Mum talked to the man and thanked him for bringing Pingu home.
Pingu was soggy and dirty but Eddie gave him a big cuddle anyway. What an adventure Pingu must have had! Pingu could tell him all about it on the way to Living Coasts.
‘How did that man know where we live?’ asked Eddie, when the man had gone. ‘Did Pingu tell him?’
‘No, darling,’ said Mum. ‘My phone number was written on Pingu’s label, just in case he ever got lost. That man phoned me last night and said he had found Pingu and wanted to return him to his owner. He knew he’d be missing him.’
‘That was really kind of him,’ said Eddie. ‘Yes, it was,’ said Mum. ‘And I’m sure Stevie’s family are missing him too, so let’s go and take him home.’
Eddie and Mum managed to return Stevie to his colony without any of the Living Coasts staff noticing what was going on, so they didn’t get into any trouble. Stevie seemed happy to be back among his friends.
‘Stevie has lots to tell his friends about,’ said Eddie. ‘He had just as much of an adventure as Pingu.’
Eddie watched as all the penguins gathered around Stevie. They seemed to be welcoming him home.
‘Do you think Pingu would rather be here with the other penguins than at home with me?’ Eddie asked Mum, thoughtfully. ‘We had pizza for dinner yesterday. I think penguins prefer fish to pizza.’
Mum smiled at him. ‘I think Stevie is very happy here and Pingu is very happy at home with you,’ she said. ‘Like humans, all penguins are different. What makes one penguin happy doesn’t necessarily make another penguin happy. Stevie likes fish and swimming. Pingu likes pizza and snuggling up with you in a warm, comfy bed. What’s important is that they both live with people who love them and care for them.’
On their way out, Mum had an idea. She didn’t share her idea with Eddie until they were home, when Mum gave Eddie a present from the gift shop.
‘I know you were worried that Pingu misses his penguin friends,’ said Mum. ‘So I got you another penguin. This is Eric. He wants to be friends with both you and Pingu.’
Eddie was thrilled. It seemed a great way for everyone to be happy.
‘Thanks Mum,’ said Eddie, introducing Pingu and Eric and then having a quick, private meeting with their backs to Mum. Eddie turned back round to face Mum and asked, ‘Please can we all have fish for dinner tonight?’