The so-called "Curse of the Wombles" seems to have struck again, after earthquakes measuring up to magnitude seven rocked the New Zealand city of Wellington, causing widespread damage. This is only the latest in a series of natural and man-made disasters occurring in places with the same name as characters in Elisabeth Beresford's "Womble" children's stories.
According to the first book, young Wombles reaching the age of four are summoned to Great Uncle Bulgaria's study to look through his atlas and choose a town, country or river to name themselves after. If, as invariably happens, they are unable to decide, they simply "shut their eyes tight and point and hope for the best."
In a curious turn of events, however, every place picked as the name for a Womble has quickly suffered some dreadful catastrophe, far more frequently than simple random chance would dictate. Bulgaria itself was the scene of failed harvests and foot riots shortly after the first Wombles book was published, Japan's Bungo province frequently endures devastating seismic activity, and the great Orinoco river is now so polluted as to be completely devoid of all aquatic life, and sees frequent drownings. Elisabeth Beresford is now regarded as something of a modern-day Nostradamus; her writings are pored over closely by researchers from the insurance industry.
Such is the belief in the Womble curse, many city mayors and regional governors are now petitioning rights holders Bloomsbury publishing not to be included in future books, a demand which only increased after the Chernobyl disaster rendered the Siberian city of Tomsk uninhabitable for the next thousand years. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the publishers will only agree to a request on payment of a substantial amount of money, leading many to believe that the whole Wombles thing is nothing more than a gigantic protection racket, albeit one with sound underlying green credentials.
Wombling controversy is nothing new. Campaigner Mary Whitehouse lobbied heavily against the "modern attitudes" of the pop group of the same name in the seventies, saying: "It's disgusting. Take their classic 'Remember you're a Womble' - it goes: 'When it's foggy on the common and you just can't see, and I Womble into you, and you Womble into me, just remember we're so lucky to be Wombling free...' Well, we know just what these long-haired hippies were singing about. Replace 'Womble' with 'ejaculate' and what have you got, eh? Filth!"