Decades ago, in a Dublin bar, I met a woman who thought that I, an Englishman, was Danish; I like
to think it was due to my height or my flaxen tuft, but I have a
feeling it was in reaction to my elided words (it had been a long
A still more disturbing
misidentification was that of the unfortunate “Ringerl”, pictured
above. Ringerl was a female Olinguito wrongly classified as an
Olingo, (Olinguitos were identified as a species only this year).
Between 1967 and 1976, in an effort to get her to breed, Ringerl was
paired to male Olingos in five zoos across the United States. Not
surprisingly nothing happened. It would be the equivalent of
expecting a woman to couple with a chimpanzee or even a fair-haired
beanpole who's enthusing about “fayltaksidermi”.
Keats and Chapman
were driving through France endeavoring to enjoy the scenery and
customs afforded by that historic country. Unfortunately the friends' chronic lack of funds
made their travel arrangements less than satisfactory, especially for
Keats who criticized Chapman's purchase of a clapped out Citroën
Acadiane, “We would have been better off with an ass and cart; this
frightful jalopy is bound to break down.”
his companion's lack of faith in French engineering. At which point
the gear-box fell out.
eventually arrived to take the defunct vehicle away. As the two
ex-tourists watched their van being loaded on to a trailer Keats
turned to Chapman and pointedly observed, “What we have here is a fourgon conclusion.”
I recently saw a film starring Will
Smith, he was on some kind of mission, possibly redemptive. It was an
unremittingly sententious spectacle, but worth watching because of
the jellyfish that fascinated our hero;
W. Smith is not alone in having
jellyfish in a jar.
My jellyfish are made of rubber,
they're aquarium decorations I bought in a pet shop. My initial idea
was to have them in my fish tank -
- but the flourescent lights
highlighted the fishing line that anchored the bouyant jellyfish;
the line isn't so apparent in their present setting.
The body of the specimen jar is a vase
bought in IKEA. The base is made up of a couple of ash trays. An
inverted biscuit tin forms the lid whose glass apex is the top from a
candy jar. The lid and base are sprayed black. The jellyfish are
tethered to lumps of lava and Salvinia natans floats on the
surface. I'm hoping that the water will be turned green by the
sunlight and give the display an ethereal feel as well as hiding the
In the days since I wrote that last
sentence (so laden with a prescience born of vast experience and
astute observation) the water has stayed clear as that of a mountain
stream and the jellyfish have turned green;
From Samuel Johnson's 'The Vanity of
There's a statue in Bordeaux's Jardin
Public that commemorates the life of Alexis Millardet (1838-1902). On
the dais teeters a naked young woman proffering a bunch of grapes.
The grapes are dangled because Millardet was a professor who
specialized in viticulture in the University of Bordeaux's science
faculty. Along with Ulysse Gayon (1845-1929), the oenological
chemist, he developed the anti-mildew 'Bordeaux Mixture' that's so
widely used today.
The monument was erected in
1914. The original bust was in bronze and was the work of Gaston
Leroux (1854-1942). It was melted down during the German occupation.
Photograph taken by W.R.
Fisher in 1936
The stone replacement bust was carved
by Alexis Callède in 1953. I don't know who made the young woman. I
presume she is naked because she's a muse, or a nymph, or a maniac,
although I like to think of her as an absent-minded lab assistant.
Despite the interesting alternatives it's most probable she's a muse,
or a nymph, as the prof is wearing a toga or some such so as to place
the work in a lofty, classical setting and thus render it anodyne
viewing for families strolling in the park. Unfortunately it doesn't
make it anodyne viewing for me.
It's the layers of artifice I find
disturbing. Of course the whole thing is artifice, ceci n'est pas
une lab assistant and so forth, but it's not just that, it's
doubly that. It's not a sculpture of Millardet, it's a
sculpture of a bust of Millardet, I know this because he (i.e.
the sculpture of the bust of Millardet) is not acknowledging the
kind, or possibly disingenuous, offer of grapes, in fact it would be
very weird if he did so as he has no hands to receive them, no
stomach to digest them and, incidentally, no loins to be stirred by
the bunch’s bearer. Or perhaps he's staring stoically ahead
precisely because he has none of these attributes. Or perhaps
he's ignoring her because she is a lab assistant and he, as her
superior in the work place, doesn't want to be accused of exploiting
his supposed droit du seigneur. Not that he could anyway.
Or maybe he's looking away in a fit of
pique because the focal point of the ensemble is clearly not his
head, but the eye-level haunches of his callipygous minion.
'Callipygous'; it has the affected air
of a Victorian nonce word, the hard 'g' seems out of place in a term
for 'fair-buttocked'. 'Fair-buttocked' sounds even worse. The
contemporary 'bootylicious' is so much better, it evokes fun and
desire; pity I can't bring myself to say it, I'd sound ridiculous if
I did, pervy even. I can say 'callipygous', I can hide behind its
mock learning, but with 'bootylicious' I'd be all too easily
species has a distinctive yellowish supercilium and rufous crown. The
throat is yellowish with brown streaks. Call is a loud repeated
somewhat reminiscent of a Common
similarity of calls must be a source of constant irritation to the
Pin-striped tit-babbler as there is clearly a pronounced class
difference between it and the Common Tailorbird.
tit-babbler – note the discreet flecking, the aloof expression
Tailorbird – cocky stance, garish décor
the rare occasions the two interbreed an interesting hybrid occurs;
Tailorbird – he's never sure whether the milk goes in before or
after the tea
When the Common Quail performs its
Spring migration north through the Holy Land it consumes en route
toxic seeds (probably those of a Woundwort – Stachys annua)
that are harmless to the bird, but regularly poison those who,
shortly afterwards, dine on the migrant.
A keen ladies' man from Israel
Once ate a migratory quail,
Half dead from the bird,
He employed the word
“Coturnism” to impress a female.
People have been aware of this
phenomenon (the poisoning) for millennia; the Old Testament blamed
God's wrath (Numbers 11: 31-34). The resulting medical condition,
coturnism, has its
etymological roots in coturnix, Latin for quail.
None who was in the Dog and
Mollusc that night will forget Cephalo Pod's emotive instrumental.
Like all octopuses Pod had three hearts, we saw them, they were worn
on a variety of his sleeves as he squeezed from his lap Charles Trenet's haunting ditty;
There wasn't a dry eye in
the Dog when Ceph mumbled his farewells. Shouts of “Encore!”
echoed in his statocyst as he waved multiple goodbyes and left via a crack in the wainscotting.
following clip shows Errol Fuller (1947- ), painter, sparring partner
of “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon and author of such works as
“Extinct Birds” and “The Lost Birds of Paradise”, both of
which I highly recommend, talking about his collection of old
taxidermy. He has some wonderful pieces; I'm particularly envious of
his Shoebill stork (now known, through DNA testing, to be more
closely related to pelicans than storks). It is revealing that four
minutes seven seconds into the film Fuller baulks at using the word
“stuffed” when describing the taxidermy of Charles Waterton and
chooses instead to say “done”.
hesitation when referring to Waterton's work is due to his awareness
that Waterton was unique among taxidermists in not using a structure
on which to position the pelt. His creations were hollow, he never
“stuffed”; from an etymological perspective he remains the only
pure practitioner of taxidermy (from Greek taxis
“arrangement”, from tassein “arrange”, + derma
“skin”) in that he eschewed all artifice other than moulding and
stiffening the skin.
The above painting of Waterton is the work of Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827)
who started life as a saddle-maker before becoming a portrait artist.
He also created, in Philadelphia, one of the world's first natural
self-portrait of Peale in his museum.
of Peale's ten children, Raphaelle, Rembrandt and Rubens, followed in
his footsteps and became accomplished artists. Raphaelle worked for a
while as a taxidermist in his father's museum where the arsenic he
absorbed when mounting specimens contributed to his early death.
Bull and the National Debt”, a satirical piece by Charles Waterton
(1782-1865) had a large estate in Wakefield, Yorkshire, it was here
that he created the world's first nature reserve. He used to invite
patients from a local mental asylum to come to his house and use his
telescope to watch the waterfowl on his lake as a form of relaxation
therapy. By doing such things Waterton became known as an eccentric.
Edith Sitwell (1887-1964), herself no slouch when it came to
eccentricity, had this to say about him;
“He was an
eccentric only as all great gentlemen are eccentric, by which I mean
that their gestures are not born to fit the conventions or the
cowardice of the crowd. His biographer, Father J. Wood, says, very
rightly: 'It was perhaps eccentric to have a strong religious faith,
and act up to it. It was eccentric, as Thackeray said, to "dine
on a crust, live as cheaply as a hermit, and give his all to the
poor." It was eccentric to come into a large estate as a young
man, and to have come to extreme old age without having wasted an
hour or a shilling. It was eccentric to give bountifully and never
allow his name to appear in a subscription list. It was eccentric to
be saturated with the love of nature. It might be eccentric never to
give dinner-parties, preferring to keep an open house for his
friends, but it was a very agreeable kind of eccentricity. It was
eccentric to be childlike, but never childish. We might multiply
instances of his eccentricity to any extent, and we may safely say
that the world would be much better than it is if such eccentricity
were more common."
I came across the following photograph
on the Internets recently and was impressed by the harmony of its
Photo by Douglas Friedman
It is similar to my own living room,
except that it's more expensively appointed. It is also considerably
cleaner, but the general thrust is the same, shades of green studded
with taxidermy. I think the placement of two large aquatic
birds (Mute swans) in the window alcove is the pièce de
résistance, I have only the one (a Pink-backed pelican).
Photo by Neil McCulloch
It transpires that the room I
discovered is that of Dita von Teese, a strip-tease artist of some
repute (she was once married to a pop singer who looked a little like
I think the arrangement on the
bear-skin rug must be a temporary measure put there to balance the
tableau (otherwise Ms. Von Teese would risk scorching her striking