Miles Kington: It's not always a good idea to cling on to the bitter end

Three more fables today, brand new ones for our modern times...
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Ant and the Grasshopper

All summer long the ant had been relaxing and enjoying the sunshine, so that when autumn came he had no food put by to eat. Meanwhile, his friend the grasshopper had been rather more active. Instead of singing all summer long as usual (the grasshopper had had a bad leg, and found it very painful to sing) she had decided to work for a change and had been carefully harvesting grain and seeds for the thin months ahead.

"How fortuitous," said the ant. "For some very odd reason we have both changed roles. Instead of being industrious, I have wasted all the summer, yet you, who normally sing the long days away, have been putting food into store and there is now plenty for both of us. How lucky I am to know you!"

"If you are working round to a request for some of my stores, then forget it," said the grasshopper.

"Absolutely not!" said the ant. "I was actually going to suggest that we wrote to one of those TV companies that do reality shows about people who exchange homes or lifestyles or even partners, and proposed starting a series called Animals That Reverse Roles."

"The idea being...?"

"That we would star in the first programme."

"M-m-m-m-m," said the grasshopper.

The first programme in a new series called BeastSwap goes out this weekend on the Wild Lifestyle Channel, starring the ant and the grasshopper.

Moral: However bad things are, it might always make a TV programme.

The Leaf on the Tree

Once upon a time there was a leaf on a tree which, when the other leaves fell, stayed there the rest of the year, even all through winter, so that when the new buds came, there was still this one, old, withered brown but persistent leaf hanging on the branch.

"How clever I am," he thought, "to have outlasted all the others and outwitted mother nature herself!"

"Ugh!" said the new baby green leaves. "What is this nasty, horrible old thing hanging on our tree?"

And the old leaf was so humiliated (and jostled by the younger, stronger leaves) that it fell off its twig. On the ground it met many of its old mates who had fallen off at the proper time, but who seemed to be turning into a mushy sort of brown leaf stew.

"Remember me?" said the newly arrived leaf.

"It's too late!" came a far-off sort of sing-song sound. "We are no longer leaves! We are turning into humus! We cannot remember our old life! We do not know who you are!"

At which point the wind blew the old leaf away into the river.

Moral: Get a life. And leave it gracefully, when the time comes.

The Fastest Animal

One day the cheetah, the lion and the wildebeest were arguing which of them was the fastest animal. As they could not agree, they decided to consult the wise old owl.

"That's easy," said the owl. "We must have a race. But it must be a properly run race. That means no eating competitors during the race. And I shall measure the course beforehand, and appoint marshals to see fair play. And you must abide by the decision."

When they had agreed to this, the owl measured a course of a mile across the grassland, and selected some fellow birds to monitor the race – two fellow owls to watch the start and finish, and a swift to fly overhead and check behaviour during the race. The race was duly won, and the competitors gathered round the owl to hear the official result.

"The winner of the grand contest... the fastest animal over the course..." said the owl, who knew how to milk an announcement, "was... the swift!"

"The swift?!" said the animals. "But he's only a bird!"

"Only a bird?" said the owl. "I don't know what that means."

Moral: Everyone knows that cheetahs are the fastest in the wild, but nobody knows who the wisest or fairest is.