Michael Tolkien

Woodsy Excerpts

Leaflag and the Cuckoo

(From Ch1 Lazy Habits)


This aimless youngster liked long summer days.

He wandered up and down wood-side ways

Looking for entertainment or somewhere to rest.

Once he decided to explore a bird’s nest.

(Woodsies have no wings. They just have to think

to be in another place. Some people who know

their haunts and have quick eyes may have seen

flashes of light and taken them for shiny wings.)


In the nest he chose there was a young cuckoo

among the other skinny hedge-sparrow chicks.

Cuckoos are lazy, too, using nests made by

smaller birds to lay an egg and have their young

fed for free along with other hungry mouths.

And this young cuckoo wasn’t pleased to see

his visitor: ‘Who asked you in here?’

Leaflag had laid his head on the soft down

of a sparrow chick and was stretching out

for a midday sleep. ‘It’s just a place full

of feathers and beaks. Why shouldn’t I use it?’

‘We don’t want an overgrown grasshopper,

or some wingless green fly,’ snapped the cuckoo.

‘I’m no such thing!’ Shouted Leaflag angrily.

‘Well, you’re not a bird. That’s for sure!’

‘Of course I’m not. I’m a well-bred woodsy!’

‘Never heard of them!’ The cuckoo sounded bored.

‘No wonder!’ was the answer. ‘ You lot

are just visitors and don’t belong here.

I can roam where I please and use nests

to suit me the way your tribe does.

I’ll go when I hear our bluebells ring

to summon us home for the evening feast.’


But before he knew it he found himself

crashing into a heap of bracken and looking up

at the cuckoo’s ugly head and yellow beak

poked over the rim of the nest. ‘Alright?

No harm done, eh!’ chuckled the bird.

‘Next nest you fancy, ask if you’re wanted.’



Leaflag and the Dolls’ Maid

( From Ch 3. A Little House & Slices of Bread)


Once the cleaner had left he shot across the room

and tried to open the door of the small house.

It was tightly shut. Now there are spells

to unstick stubborn objects, but Leaflag

had not listened to lessons about such matters.

The door was fitted with a tiny brass knocker,

and he’d seen and heard people knock on doors,

but try as he would he could not lift it.

(I’m afraid it was a glued-on model!)

That made him lose his temper, and thump and kick

with all his might till quite suddenly he tumbled

head first into the front hall. He got up

to find a lady about his size staring at him.

She wore a long, black dress and apron, and held

a loaded tray. She looked astonished and offended.

Remembering the cuckoo he tried to be polite.

‘Greetings, lady! I’ve called specially to visit you.’


The maid servant did not move. She stared and stared

with two unmoving, pale-blue glassy eyes.

‘I’m here to see you!’ Leaflag spoke less gently.

But still she just gazed ahead as if a spell

had turned her to wood and stuck her to the polished floor.

Leaflag began to shout. ‘No need to keep staring!

Can’t you talk? I’m hungry. What’s on that tray?’



Head-spinning Train ride

(From Ch 5. Secret Meals and Games that go wrong)



(John) laid out the train, tested it at full speed,

then invited Leaflag to alight on a truck.

The Woodsy was only too glad to emerge

from his uncomfortable hiding place.

And maybe he thought he should try for once

to please his friends. So he soared down

and clung to the front end of a coal truck

only to be jerked forward at terrifying speed,

then round and round the circuit past the same

grinning children whose faces became more and more

blurred. If only he had been more attentive

in his lessons, he could have shut down the power

or flown off the truck as it hurtled him along.

He felt dizzy and sick, while John who would have loved

to ride on his models thought it must be great fun.

( While this was going and the train happened to be

inside the tunnel, Jessie looked in and was glad

to see that her charges were playing contentedly.)


When John turned the power down and brought the train

to a gentle halt, he was surprised that Leaflag

stamped his foot, scowled with anger and shook his fist:

‘How dare you treat me like this! You’d better

look out or else I’ll pay you back with something worse.’

‘What’s got into you?’ snapped John. ‘NO

pleasing you, is there? We thought you’d like

a short trip on rails. My trains run smoothly.’

‘Like it?!’ screamed the Woodsy. ‘I’ve never

been so frightened and uncomfortable. At least

your horrible doll’s house doesn’t spin

round and round like a dried up leaf in a gale.’

Lisa tried to calm them down. ‘We always like

travelling at speed on trains, so we just thought

you would like try it.’ John then suggested

he might enjoy a short voyage on his yacht.

‘Maybe just up and down the bath. It’s far

too cold to go out and try the garden pond.’


‘ I won’t go on anything. I can travel

at speed whenever I like. And you’d better stop

using me like a plaything or else

I’ll take off and vanish altogether.’




Intruding Mouse

(From Ch. 8. Prisoner and Bully)



She had gnawed her way through the thin wood

and started to pick up crumbs and scraps strewn across

the floor. ‘Hey YOU! What are you up to?

You’ve no business to be in my house?’


The mouse was shocked and began to scamper off

when she took a closer look at Leaflag.

Mice get on well with woodsies, work for them,

receiving protection in return. She supposed

this was an important wood-edge being

or he would not be hiding here in winter.

‘Your worship!’ exclaimed the mouse, bowing her head.

‘I’m just trying to feed my hungry brood.’

‘Aha! Interesting! And whereabouts do you

live with your children.’ ‘Behind the skirting board

in the big room outside this boxy place.

We call our nest Number One, Winter Terrace.

We means me and my little ones. My husband

was trapped and killed the very day we moved in.’

Ignoring that, Leaflag talked about what mattered

to him. ‘So what on earth do you find to feed on?’

It won’t surprise you that he was not concerned

for the welfare of the mouse and her family

but was hatching plans for his own advantage.

‘Oh we manage on whatever we can get

once the great house turns ghostly quiet at night.

Bits of cheese, pastry and bread if I squeeze

under the store room door. Often I bite

my way through covers into food they don’t put

into the terrible white freezing cupboard. My cousin

once got caught in one of those and froze to death.’


‘Most of that sounds good,’ said Leaflag.

‘I’ll move in with you and you’ll work for me.’

(He was careful not to say he could easily

leave the doll’s house thanks to her mousy

carpentry. She might not respect him

quite as much as she seemed to do now.)



Frosty Woodside

(From Ch 10.  Winter Refuge

& Beginning Again)


John and Lisa never again saw or spoke to

their annoying guest, though one bright morning

Lisa rushed into the day room for a book

and thought she saw a greeny-brown figure

vanish from a shelf in the open toy cupboard.

Out of curiosity she lifted down the boxes

that contained all the broken train-set pieces.

He’d kept them, though his dad had replaced

many items, and repaired the ruined track board.

Strangely, the boxes did not rattle, and inside

everything looked as good and sparkling as new,

neatly placed, too, in all its proper compartments.

Later, as well, Lisa found that her doll’s house

furniture was mended,  and there was no sign

of John’s tack marks or the mouse’s gnawed entrance .


The children were sure Leaflag had become

a wiser woodsy,  and had learnt how to undo

mischievous damage. They were also convinced

that there were no more winter mice to deal with

because a home had been found for them all

on the wood’s edge, with supplies to outlast

the cold season. Leaflag’s good work as well!

Of course, they say nothing to their friends

or to grown-ups, as they would be laughed at,

or mocked for having weird ideas. Their mum

would do neither, but always said she did not

believe in what you could not see, touch or hear.

Still, no one explained why the ruined train-set

and doll’s house were now in perfect condition.


We’d like to think that Leaflag has become a hard-working

and increasingly wise woodsy, who might even

venture out on still, freezing winter nights

to weave swirling frost patterns that remind us

of all the wonderful leaf and plant shapes

we will enjoy when spring returns.


Maybe the most finely-textured patchworks

you happen to notice on windows or puddles

are designed and worked at by one woodsy,

once the laziest of his tribe, now happy

to be seen as the busiest and most skilful.