Over the years, “the Three Caterpillars” have been a regular feature of both kids ”literary” diet. It started off as a bed time story for A. when he was very little (probably around 3 years) and featured Alex, Mia and Joe as three caterpillars in constant battle with “Captain Stubble – the naughtiest pirate on the Spanish Maine”. The idea for a Caterpillar to star in the story possibly came from the “hungry Caterpillar” story which was a favourite with the kids or a project that A. had been doing at kindergarten.
I think one of the earliest stories was the tale of Alex the Caterpillar going out into the snow and getting lost with his parents only being able to tell where he was by the little ridge of snow that marked his progress as he walked around the garden. I think this may have been inspired by a Tom and Jerry cartoon and certainly in the early days, the stories mainly involved Alex the Caterpillar’s adventures around the Enchanted Forest where the caterpillars lived in a treehouse on a branch at the top of a huge Oak tree. In the early years Alex was the main character and generally he shared his adventures with Mia and Joe (Mia named after a real life friend of A’s in Hong Kong at the time who was moving to Singapore so I guess it was a way of remembering her ). I am not sure where Joe came from but by coincidence a couple of years later A. and V.’s cousin was born and was named Joseph so the name has stuck. Captain Stubble made his appearance a short time after we started to tell the stories and there were various other pirate characters including Captain Bluebeard who was a friend of the three Caterpillars (and a “good” pirate) and Captain Pink (sometimes Captain Bubble) who made an appearance after V. was born so that we had a new female character.
Most of the early stories involved the Three Caterpillars helping injured animals (usually a tiger or lion with a thorn in its foot) or thwarting Captain Stubble’s plans (usually after he had stolen something or kidnapped one of the Caterpillars). The locations for the stories were usually the Enchanted Forest, “The Harbour” in Harbour town in the Enchanted Forest where Captain Stubble (and Captain Bluebeard) kept their pirate ships or Dinosaur Island where Captain Stumble had his secret hideout. Dinosaur Island as might be expected usually contained some dinosaurs who were either trying to chase/eat the Caterpillars or had injured themselves (usually a thorn in the foot again which the Caterpillars extracted thereby earning everlasting friendship with the injured dinosaur).
Over the years the number of characters gradually expanded to included a baby caterpillar called Verity and included a number of incidental characters. Among the regulars we had Professor Branestrawn, Alex and Verity Caterpillar’s old school teacher who was an inventor (generally time machines or paint that made you invisible). He would usually send his new inventions wrapped in brown paper (and normally delivered to the Oak tree by the Jolly Postman) to the caterpillars to try out , leading to much adventure; Pete the Pilot who flew a helicopter which generally proved useful when the Three Caterpillars had to chase someone or search for a hideout; PC Plod (catch phrases “Mornin’ all” and “You’re nicked my son!”) who general appeared on the scene to take Captain Stubble off to prison once he had been captured by the Three Caterpillars after his latest outrage; Eric the Sea Horse (which I think was inspired by a visit to Ocean Park when were living in HK where there was a seahorse exhibition at one time) who was the star attraction in a Zoo and did tricks (and was therefore an attractive kidnapping target for Captain Stubble). These characters might occasionally be supplemented from “real life” characters like Tom and Jerry from the cartoons, Cousin Nell who would visit from England and we normally had an array of characters “borrowed” for particular parts eg “Trigger and Del Boy” were sometimes part of Captain Stubble’s gang of bad guys.
Generally the stories followed the same formula – Captain Stubble committed some outrage (stealing the FA Cup in one memorable story) and the Three Caterpillars either on their own or in combination with some friends bring him to justice or the story would be based on an adapted version of a book story or film that they had recently watched – we had a series of stories about a magic cushion that Alex the Caterpillar had found in an old junk shop which would transport the Caterpillars to any where they wanted as long as you said the magic words (this sometimes varied but would usually be based on Abracadabra!). Over the years, there have been many stories and (slightly) different plots and the challenge is always to find something that maintained the kids (and the parents!) interest hence the “borrowing” of story lines. More recently, A. has obviously started reading his own stories (and of course V. is now doing the same) but they still occasionally ask for a Three Caterpillar story so it is probably a good idea that I am writing this down so I don’t forget all the characters!