Friday, 16 March 2012

Buridan's Ass Straddles the Atlantic

   Some years ago I wrote a short play about a failed taxidermist (what else?). It was called “Buridan's Ass” and premiered in Bewley's Café Theatre, Dublin. Thanks to the brilliant direction of Michael James Ford and the inspired performances of Arthur Riordan and Frank Bourke it was enjoyed by audiences in Dublin and Limerick, and also in Scotland where it was performed at the Òran Mór Theatre in Glasgow. Michael recently sent a script to Emma Gibson of TINY DYNAMITE in Philadelphia and I was delighted to learn that Emma would be producing Buridan's Ass along with the dynamic IRON AGE THEATRE COMPANY. It will be directed by John Doyle, with Steve Hatzai in the role of Mahone and Adam Altman as Mahone's assistant, Ernest Blades.

   The byline is as follows;

   “Ever since an aquarium explosion forced him to choose between running to the aid of his stricken girlfriend and saving the life of a floundering turbot, Mahone the taxidermist has suffered from Buridan's Ass Syndrome – a fear of making decisions.”

   It's an autobiographical piece though obviously I played down certain aspects.

This is the inside-out badger that features prominently in the denouement of the denouement

Buridan's Ass will be performed at

The Red Room, Society Hill Playhouse,

Philadelphia, PA

March 27th and 28th, 6:30 – 7:30 pm

I will be doing a “talk-back” after the opening performance, but don't let that prevent you from turning up.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Interspecific Relations

   Some time ago I was looking at a lizard and a lizard was looking at me. It (Lacerta vivipara) was on a south-facing stone wall in my garden, a favourite hangout for saurian types. They usually scatter whenever I draw near, but this one stayed put. Finding myself within arm's reach I felt driven, for some bizarre and atavistic reason, to make a grab for it and to my surprise suddenly found the bemused lizard in my fist. To somehow justify my impulsive act I decided to create a vivarium – the work of a few minutes as I often have old fish tanks in my cellar (I often buy old fish tanks with the intention of having a tropical fish collection. I still intend to have one. I will always intend to have one). I put flies, and once a spider, into the tank as food, but the lizard ignored them. The spider made a web and ate the flies. If there were no flies around nothing much happened in the so-called vivarium; the spider waited, the lizard watched. It was the flies that supplied the action and yet no one would think of keeping a fly as a pet, or, more correctly, almost no one;

This wasp (Eumenes pomiformis I think) was the pet of Sir Thomas Lubbock (1834-1913).

   The following extract is from “Treasures of the British Natural History Museum”.

   “ … Lubbock had learned to feed and stroke it without getting stung. He caught the wasp in the Pyrenees and kept it as a pet until its death ten months later. His account of its demise is touching. 'One day, I observed that she had nearly lost the use of her antennae, though the rest of the body was as usual. She would take no food. Next day I tried again to feed her; but the head seemed dead, though she could still move her legs, wings and abdomen. The following day I offered her food for the last time; for both head and thorax were dead or paralysed; she could but move her tail, a last token, as I could almost fancy, of gratitude and affection. As far as I could judge, her death was quite painless; and she now occupies a place in the museum.' Despite this rather eccentric (?. Ed) tale, Lubbock was a respected scientist, author, banker and Liberal politician. He improved labour laws and introduced the Bank Holiday Act, Wild Birds Protection Act and Public Libraries Act among others.”

P. S. I let the lizard go in the end. The spider had to be forcibly evicted. The flies are still around.  

Friday, 9 March 2012

Courtship Rituals

   Some go to great lengths to make their special day special, though not all – Emus, despite being frilly, favour a no-frills approach to holy matrimony;

Black and white plates from Curt Thesing's 'Genealogy of Love' (1933)

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Multum in Parvo

   Above is the frontispiece from August Johan Roesel von Roesnhof's 'Historia naturalis Ranarum nostratium' (1758) - 'Natural History of our Frogs' – which describes in great detail all the frog species of Germany. Amongst the teeming marsh life a stone dais sinks into Ozymandian oblivion, engraved into it is a phrase taken from Virgil's Georgics: 'Admiranda tibi levium spectacula rerum' - 'I'll tell of tiny things that make a show well worth your admiration'.

   Virgil was talking about bees, but natural historians in particular see evidence of this sentiment everywhere. The motto was used to good effect some 200 years ago in the creation of an extraordinary ring now found in the entomological collection of the London Natural History Museum. The words encompass a weevil (Tetrasothynus regalis) from Hispaniola.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Ode to an Amazon

(or The Triumph of Curiosity over Discretion)

Tis well known that ye cut
Off thine own left breast but,
Given the lie of myth,
I must asketh forthwith

Canst it really be true
In re the candiru,

That it swims up thy pee
So as to enter thee?


Friday, 2 March 2012

Where Thoughts run Wild

   An abundance of books, a reassuring disorder, indoor plants to supply oxygen to the absorbed reader, taxidermy cabinets to stimulate the imagination, plenty of natural light and the possibility of a shower when it rains are just some of the elements that contribute to the allure of this wonderful library constructed by Lori Nix
  Unfortunately it's less than six feet high.