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Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Of frogs and Men

Due to the Monday deluge a blanket of the wet stuff lies, as the poet would doubtless have observed (if he'd happened to be wandering in the vicinity, pondering things as poets do), heavy o'er the land like, erm, a mantle of God's blue miracle would lie shortly after it had, well, for want of a better phrase, blanketed the land . In short, rain has struck again in Yorkshire, and chaos ensues. In Leeds City Centre, roads gridlock as floodwaters make them impassable, and in an effect I confess I would never have predicted, shipping in the Yorkshire ports of Goole and Hull is severley disrupted. Apparently, like humans, sea-going vessels can have too much of a good thing.

Transpennine Express enthusiastically throw their hat into the ring, announcing that every train they had intended to be delayed that day is now cancelled, and furthermore, any train going anywhere in the near future better stop considering itself as the Little Train that Can, and start thinking in terms of " I will not pass". This emergency pronouncement is suspended shortly after I arrive at Leeds Station, and normal services, at least between Leeds and Hull are resumed. This is because, according to one of the insiders who now feeds us snippets of insider information from time to time, Malcolm in Transpennine's Customer Services sneaked outside the office for a quick smoke, and in the action of tearing himself away from the Internet, actually observed the real weather, and instead of the virtual tracks being virtually washed away by the etheric rain, discovered that, at least in terms of heading vers Hull, this green and pleasant Land was still green, and rather pleasant, if a bit wet. Malcolm's actions apparently spawned a frantic few hours of actually inspecting real climatological conditions, which resulted in Transpennine announcing, in rather heroic terms, that trains would run to Hull after all. The cry was taken up by one and all "The commuters must get through" and trains are resumed. Transpennine announce that henceforward they will conduct real track inspections in future, and several of their staff resign because this will mean reduced time on Facebook.

I have to confess that I fabricated the last bit of the paragraph, about people resigning, but the rest is perfectly true. TP staffers between Hull and Leeds, situated at stations along the route were being contacted by TP OPerations Centre and were being asked about local conditions. These local staff sprung into action and consulted their computers, which told them they were under three feet of water. So they reported this back to Operations, who cancelled all their services.

Back home, I'm telling Tosh about this when he stiffens, scents the air majestically, ullulating like only a 17 lb cat can (noisily), then bounds/scrabbles out of the open kitchen with all the grace of a bear cub negotiating a tangles of large roots. I watch him tiddle into the car-park and resume my academic writing. I'm writing the Abstract for my paper "Civilization: Why?" and am stuck between describing myself as being "gob-smacked" by my conclusions, or as being "kinda bummed out". Nel is correct - proper scientific writing is difficult.

Fifteen minutes later, I decide to go with "Like totally" for the first sentence when Toshack returns with his new pet, a large frog. Emotionally, I am in turmoil. Firstly, as I rescue the frog, it looks unharmed and I'm relieved. Secondly, not only is the frog unharmed but it is fully awake and functional. Emotionally, this is very disturbing. This is 9.30pm in January, in a latitude that is farther North than either Halifax or Toronto. Re-reading the fourth, fifth and sixth sentence of this paragraph, I do realize that it may not, immediately, have the impact I might have planned, but to someone whose father is a twenty-some year member of the British Herpetalogical Society, this active frog represents, to say the least, a dramatic development. Said frog should, normal conditions prevailing, be buried under some mud somewhere, preferably with a thin coating of ice on top of the mud, respiring unenthusiastically. Any frog found by a large hooliganistic domestic shorthair at this time of year should be, at best, comatose.

Toshack and I wrestle for control of the evidently lively frog for about fifteen minutes. Every time I rescue it, it jumps out of my hands and hops round the kitchen, quite aggressively if you ask me, and usually towards Tosh who threatens to pounce, but eventually, after much "shoo-ing", Toshack just settles down to watche it, so I'm satisfied that we are not stressing it too much, and I decide to let everything calm down, as my benevolent frog capture techniques, are, for the moment failing me. Comatose, the frog is not, and I have wrangled many frogs in my career: this is a slippery customer. Eventually stalemate assumes control. Me, Tosh and the frog sit in the kitchen. Each watches the other warily for signs of movement. I take a photograph to send to the British Herpetological Society - they are anxious for news of unusual froggy behaviour these days, and this is, I must re-iterate, pretty strange. The date on my camera may prove important. Some time later, with Tosh and frog virtually asleep, I spring my trap, catch the frog and quickly release it back outside.

I introduced my father to the joys of frogs when I was working as a laboratory technician. Some stupid kid brought a load of frog-spawn in a bucket to the lab I was working in. I could'nt find the pond that he said he had got the spawn from, so I released it into a pond that my father had recently dug in his back garden. His ornamental fish, one of the first luxuries he could ever afford, were his pride and joy, and within six months, the frogs I had "gifted" (without his consent) had killed, or replaced all his expensive fish. My dad, to my surprise, turned frog lover and, in his own way, active environmentalist. Over the next few years, and way before any regulatory requirements, his garden was free of pesticides, replaced by frogs and toads. He has an active wild beehive and does not discourage wasps and moths. His garden is beautiful and he is still an active member of the British Herpetalogical Society, filling in monthly reports in respect of any frog related activities in his neighbourhood. My dad's grandchildren love his frogs, and their existence,and evident life cycle, combined with its obvious visual references to human reproductive processes, have given two generations of emotionally challenged Nickson easy get-outs when inevitably asked(by young nephews) "Where did I come from". Unfortunately, we cannot answer as easily, "Where am I going to?"

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