Saturday, October 27, 2012


In the hotel swimming pool  I couldn't help noticing that Charles - I think that was his name - had gradually changed while we were talking into a benign and rather talkative frog.

The pool is very rarely used by guests other than ourselves when we are on holiday in mid-September,  and we find ourselves  as regular visitors quite unreasonably resenting others who want to swim. Charles quickly became an exception. He seemed to understand our possessiveness. And  I didn't mind at all when he plunged into the water.

As he stood in the middle of the pool and I above him on the edge, I  saw that while his head and shoulders appeared to be of normal size, his body below the surface, distorted by some trick of refraction, had dwindled to miniscule hips and small if muscular  legs.  As we talked, struck by his new appearance,  I nearly drew attention  to the change that had occurred, throwing in a reference to Ovid's Metamorphosis (for he was a literary chap) but feared that It might give offence. Kafka's version of the process, where a young man wakes up one morning to find that he has become a beetle, seemed  an even less promising  topic.  But I couldn't  get rid of the frog in my head and still can't.

Thinking about  Charles I realize that most of us  now and then change into other members of the animal kingdom  but don't realize it. How often have you heard a chicken cackling at a party and traced the sound back to a person with  a pair of mobile lips, a long neck and rapidly nodding head? Or seen at one end of a table at a formal meeting, the face of a large fish advancing a proposal for a new project or denouncing someone's expenditure. Watching the House of Commons at Prime Minister's Question Time you must sometimes have seen, as I have, rows of  MPs morph into a menagerie. One of my contemporaries at school had the ears of a monkey. Another walked like a duck.

The tendency for our fellow human beings to adopt alien shapes I suspect accounts for the way we  keep our eyes averted from one another in lifts and  underground trains. The thought of a wolf or a python rubbing shoulders with us when travelling between work and home can be too much for comfort and peace of mind.

I do not mean to be unkind about the way people look. Or the way animals look that matter.  In fact you will see that I am myself not exempt from this sort of  mimicry. Proof is to be found at this moment in the right hand column on your screen. There you will see how, bored with my old picture, by some deft manipulation  of the keyboard, I  recently transformed myself  into a seagull.

In the new photograph I may appear tranquil enough but I confess that at a fishmonger's or near the sea where fishing boats are drawn up on the beach I can no longer keep my wings folded and begin a raucous series of cries, wild and penetrating to the human ear, as I rise up in the air in pursuit of raw flesh.


  1. There are ambitious implications here. Since you are "moving right along" when it comes to short story writing let me remind you of one of your earlier observations about my novels: a suggestion that the characters all spoke with the same voice. Thus, if you choose to transform your blogopic you must change your style of writing to match.

    Soon after I bought my Kindle I was faced with all those great names for free and I optimistically downloaded a number of them. And now I'm in need of a new cliché. Ovid's Metamorphosis was among them and whereas I'm glad that types me as literary I am unable to say (given Kindle has rendered it dust-proof), that it is presently gathering dust. "Untouched by electron flow" lacks euphony; "beyond my quotidian universe" strains for effect; "dead beneath the screen" might work.

    You attitude towards Charles seems a trifle languid but could it have become inimical? Raising the question: how do seagulls regard frogs?

  2. Very perceptive. My attitude to Charles, a passing acquaintance, though generally benign, was I suppose inimical. Which leaves me rather patronising in my attitude to him.

  3. Very interesting concept and narratikve to go with it. I once had the experience of seeing a dog playing billiards in a pub in Lambeth. It was a real dog - a Boxer - that looked along its master's cue to see how the shot was lining up, then had a go too pushing the billiard ball out with his paw.

  4. Are you absolutely sure that it was a real dog?