Rare Encounter

2 Conversations

The legendary Hilda Ogden, star of Coronation Street.

I find that there's no better time to think up stories to write than when I'm cleaning the house. It's a work that doesn't require any intellectual input, or that you pay much attention. Now you may argue that it does require you to actually look what you are doing, to prevent you from absent-mindedly cleaning the kitchen sink with the loobrush or something, but that's not a problem. After all, I am female – I can multitask. Yes, I can scrub the tiles, look what I am doing and think – all at once. How cool is that?

Anyway, this morning I went about my cleaning job again, which means that I started to 'write' this story in my head. Yes, that's right, 'started'. I needed a crucial word to describe what had happened, but however I racked my brains for it, I drew a complete blank. I knew that I knew the word, but I couldn't remember where from (which would have helped immensely), and so the story nearly ended before I had even started thinking it. I wouldn't be me, though, if I hadn't decided to just go ahead with it anyway and let you guess what I'm talking about. Oh, and in case you find it strange that I have complete stories in my head before writing down even the first word: it's how I go about writing. Something happens, and the complete scenario enfolds in my head – in English – and if I'm happy with the result, I write it down once I get the chance. The good thing about this is, that I can influence the ending. I can think of various ways of writing the story, get back to some sentences at my leisure, change them, try several variations, and try to write something which doesn't require too much checking of vocabulary or general research. This way, I make the best use of the time I'd otherwise spend intellectually unchallenged, and I don't waste any pixels later, either. But I digress.

When I arrived at work this morning, my employers (let's call them Fred and Ida) asked me to start by sweeping the stairs which lead from the back garden to the cellar door. There was a lot of wet moss from the roof, and wet leaves to pick up. I made my way downstairs, carefully picking up the slimy items. When I arrived at the bottom, I very nearly picked up something that was neither moss nor leaf. The sight startled me for a second, more because it was so unexpected than for any other reason. When I realised what it was I was delighted. I hadn't seen one for decades, probably not since my childhood. In fact, I couldn't even swear I had ever seen one. I ran up the stairs to fetch my camera (I always take one if I think of it, there are so many great things to take a photo of if you just keep your eyes open). I rushed back, camera at the ready – and, to my relief, it hadn't moved at all. I brought the camera really close and made a few photos. It was tricky, because it sat flat on the bottom, in the corner between the wall and the lowest stair. The cellar is facing west, so there was no sunshine reaching it, and the flash activated itself. I wasn't sure whether this would frighten my find, but it didn't budge. It looked somehow – exhausted, and cold. I thought that it had chosen a disadvantageous place to sit. It wouldn't have had a chance in hell to escape a predator from its position, and the cold surroundings certainly didn't help to improve its mobility.

I called out for Fred to tell him what I had found this time (the other day, I had found a dead mouse at the cellar door). He asked me to scoop it up and set into the garden. He was sure it would never make its way upstairs on its own. There are quite a few superstitions connected with xxx, and although I knew I wouldn't get warts if I picked it up, I avoided touching it. After all, I knew they can excrete a poisonous secretion, so I took one of the leaves and carefully shoved it onto the dustpan I had with me.

Ida clapped her hands in delight at my find when I showed her the photo. She told me that they used to have whole families in their garden, and that they gave them names. She hadn't seen any for a few years now, though, so she was very happy at the return of the – yes, what was the English name for it? I was still stuck. I wondered whether the Linnaean name would help my memory, but all I could think of was Rana, and I knew it wasn't the correct name here.

When we sat down a good hour later for a break and a glass of water, I asked Ida to have a look in her Knaurs Lexikon der Tiere und Pflanzen (Knaur's encyclopaedia of animals and plants). We found, that it was not an 'earth xxx'1 as I had thought, but probably a 'cross' xxx2. The Linnaean name of Bufonidae didn't help me at all in my attempt of finding out its English name, though. For all of you with biological knowledge, it will be clear by now what exactly I found. For all the others, I hope the description was clear enough, and you didn't have to revert to the footnote.
Can you guess what I encountered today3?

Mixed Bag Archive


19.10.09 Front Page

Back Issue Page

1There's no 'earth' in the English name, it's just called a 'common xxx'.2There's no 'cross' in its English name, either.3The riddle wasn't solved until I got home and sent the photos I had taken to a friend, who asked just why I had sent him photos of a xxx. And then I had my 'aha experience', as expected.

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