The extremely knowledgeable certified engineer, Bear, set himself up in the old mill. It didn’t take very long, as he’d only brought with him a tape measure and his books, which came rolling along behind him in a suitcase-on-wheels. And of course his pencils and notebooks, which he used to write down important things. He immediately began working on solving all the maintenance problems he encountered on the grounds. Well, it was his job after all.
He worked methodically. First, he took note of which repairs demanded urgent attention , made a written list of them in his notebook, with a commentary about each particular case. But he wasn’t able to carry out his work entirely undisturbed. The Mummus are of a curious and impatient nature, and they enjoy meddling and nosing around. And that’s just what happened.
On Monday morning Bear was taking notes near the bridge.
1. Replace decaying boards on the bridge. Very dangerous! The area must be cordoned off during repairs and a detour signs put up to indicate the alternate route.
‘What are you writing?’ asked Rabbit from Bear, who was still lost in his own thoughts.Meanwhile, Rabbit was maneuvering to look over Bear’s shoulder and get a peek into the notebook.
‘I am writing down the most urgent repairs.’ replied Bear in not the slightest bit friendly voice, ‘Please, don’t bother me.’
‘I’d just like to mention that two of my windows were broken in the storm last week and it would be great if you could make those a priority. The wind blows right in and it’s cold and I can’t sleep.’
‘But we’re in the hottest stretch of summer! I don’t think it’s that important. The bridge is extremely dangerous. That’s the priority now.’
‘Of course, the little bridge!’ replied Rabbit, thumping her foot. ‘It’s always the decaying little bridge! And my windows? That’s not dangerous? At night the spiders crawl in and they bite me real hard!’
‘That’ll get done when its time comes. Until then you can tape some wrapping paper over it. And spiders sting, by the way.’
Rabbit, deeply wounded, turned her back and wordlessly began her retreat. Then she said, under her breath, but loud enough so the other could hear it,‘Sure, sure, the little bridge! Because I’m not important. Because everyone just walks all over Rabbit!’
Monday afternoon, Bear was inspecting the broken mailbox, eagerly scribbling in his notebook.
2. Mailbox, has a hole in it. Patch. Later paint. Color: red.
He had hardly finished writing when Puppy appeared.
‘What’d you write?’ Puppy asked Bear, who had just pulled out his measuring tape.
‘Ok, I’ll tell you as well: I am writing down the most urgent repairs,’ replied Bear in a tone that you could call testy. ‘Don’t you have anything better to do than to come sniffing around here? You’re bothering me.’
‘I just wanted to bring an important fact to your attention. My doorbell doesn’t work.’
‘If it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. Everyone can knock before they come in.’
‘No, it’s not entirely like that, because what if I happen to be away? If I’m not home, how will I hear them knocking?’
Bear was beginning to lose his patience.‘If you’re not at home, then it doesn’t matter if they knock or if they ring the bell, you won’t hear it anyway! I am doing something important here. And it’s not fixing a broken bell. It’s the mailbox. If it’s got a hole in it, then the letters will get wet.’
‘Sure, sure, the letters! Everything is more important than my problems! Even that beat up old mailbox!’
Puppy angrily turned his back on Bear, but before he scuttled away he shot back,
‘The bravest dog in Mummutown and that’s what I get? When I’m no longer around, then you’ll all see!’
Tuesday afternoon, Bear was adding yet another important item to his list.
3. Clothes drying line: mend or replace? Further investigation required.
And that’s when Cat showed up. Bear didn’t expect much good to come from it.
‘What ya’ doin?’ asked Cat in what seemed to be her best, but not very successful, attempt at striking a casual tone.
‘Now for the third time, I repeat that I am making a list of the most urgent repairs.’ answered Bear, irritably.
‘I see. I’ve got a suggestion. A terribly important one. Can I tell you?’ she asked, even though it was one of those questions that needed no answer, so she just kept on talking.
‘I’ve got this teapot that’s supposed to whistle when the water is boiling. But it stopped whistling. That’s why I never know when the water is hot enough. This has to be fixed before anything else.’
‘Your teapot isn’t whistling? What’s such a big deal about that? If steam is pouring out of its mouth, then you know that the water is boiling.’
‘Ok, great, and what if I end up burning myself in the meantime?’
‘Well, whistling or not, if you touch the kettle then you are going to get burned.’ answered Bear, peeved. ‘Right now the most important thing is that the clothesline has fallen down and there is nowhere to dry our clothes. That comes before your teapot.’
‘Oh, I see.’ said Cat folding her arms. ‘So some clothesline is more important to you than my problem! And if it falls down, then it falls down. Is that such a big deal? If someone wants to hang something up, then they can hang it on their finger.’ Cat added, before storming off without a word and leaving poor, exasperated Bear there alone.
By Tuesday afternoon Bear had finished writing up the most urgent repairs. He had also added to his list fixing the broken swing, which was important mostly because of Little Ermine, and putting a new lock on the gate, which was in the interest of everyone’s safety.
Wednesday morning, there was a knock on his door. Bear wasn’t in the mood for visitors. He was exhausted from all his work and the constant arguments. He wasn’t up for another testy exchange with anyone. He was also upset because it was evident how little the others appreciated the professional assessment of problems and the proper planning. That’s why he decided to not even open the door. And when whomever it was went away, he would put out a sign informing the residents of Mummutown that he did not care to have visitors for a spell.
The visitor was Koala with a big plate of cookies she had baked especially for Bear in return for all his hard work, and also because she knew how much he loved honey-ginger biscuits. But since Bear never opened the door, she slunk home disappointed. Bear, on the other hand, missed out on those delicious cookies all because he refused to open the door.
When it seemed the coast was clear, he put out this handwritten sign:
COME ANOTHER TIME, AND RATHER TO ANOTHER PLACE!*
*There is an anecdote about the Hungarian mathematician Simon Szidon using almost these exact words on his colleagues Paul Erdős and Paul Turán, who always paid him unannounced visits. The phrase he is quoted with saying was: “I suggest you come back another time… and rather to another person’s house!”