The Goings On at the Bottom of our Garden


Me at Age 4

The Goings On at the Bottom of our Garden

October was ‘suicide month’.  The heat and the glare without a breath reverberated with the shrill of cicadas, emanating not from their throats but from the rasp of the membranes on the underside of their tummies, so Mommy said.  We thought nothing of it.  Relief came in the pool where we made friends with the big frogs and their mates who laid globs of eggs in the night that looked remarkably like the pudding we were regularly served by the custard cupful.

The Goings On at the Bottom of our Garden

The frogs took over from the cicadas as dark descended quickly after the pale haze of the sky showed its dusty palette.  Under the velvet of night the air was punctuated with the love songs of those frogs.  But Dad, being a doctor, was a light sleeper. The ring of telephone destroyed his sleep most nights after which he’d often have to pull his trousers over his pajamas and go out on a house call or to the hospital.

He  would not, however, tolerate the croak of frogs.  In the darkness we witnessed his famous surgical technique.  In his pajamas with a frying pan and butcher knife in hand he found the offenders while my mother assisted in her dressing gown shining the way with a torch.

Dad explained to the family at the breakfast table that this was a much more useful experiment of selective breeding than Mendel’s laborious study of green peas and yellow peas.  Over time we would breed a croakless frog.  We did not, like Darwin, have to sail away from England where everyone and everything in society was very staid.

Mommy meanwhile was reading to us from The Wind in the Willows. I remarked how well Toad from Toad Hall was dressed, when our frogs (weren’t they all closely related according to Darwin?) went around naked.  In fact, all our animals went running around naked and perhaps for decency sake we should at least dress our dog Bundu.

She replied, “No! No!  You see we can get away with a lot out here in Africa and no one turns a hair.  Everything, absolutely everything, you see, is much more civilized in England.  Perhaps we’ll all go there one day.  That’s why you’ve got to learn to use your knife and fork correctly.”