I'D RATHER BE A TORTOISE
Yesterday, I was roadkill. The day before that I was a hare, and today… Today I’m a tortoise. The roadkill bit was unpleasant, we’ll skim over that part. Being a hare was fun, although I sometimes got mistaken for a common or garden rabbit. I’ve nothing against rabbits – a lot of my best friends are rabbits and they are distant relatives of mine as well, or at least they were before the unfortunate accident – but being mistaken for one is a severe blow to one’s self esteem. Rabbits are not the brightest, they have stumpy ears and they hop about really slowly – about as slowly as a tortoise, I suppose.
Well, if you really must know, I was in a bit of a hurry. It was the mating season – isn’t it always – and I had a date with a fine young thing I hoped to add to my harem. I wasn’t watching where I was haring off to and – squelch. It was a 6-wheel tractor doing about 12 mph, which made it all the more embarrassing.
Before I was a hare, I was a sparrow. I expect you knew that. Everyone says my ears look like wings and it’s why I leap higher that most. Sparrows don’t usually last more than a couple of summers at the best of times, and I didn’t even manage that. Living in France and nesting in the eaves of a Cistercian monastery didn’t help. They have a nasty habit of shooting their small birds for sport over there. I must say I was surprised that time. The transition from bird to hare was definitely a step up. All that egg-laying was uncomfortable – I’m sure it must be nearly as bad for the female birds as it was for me – but the switch from feathers to itchy fur was unpleasant, and of course nothing beats flying, even when mad Frenchmen are taking pot-shots at you.
The old Simon and Garfunkel song will tell you what I was before that. All together now: I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail. A snail! Now they are slow. I was limited in my movements to a small garden. And there was a bird living there called Tammy the Thrush who specialises in catching gastropods, and boy, was she good at it! It took me all my time to keep my shell. I lasted a good three hours, just long enough to lay a couple of million eggs.
I live a leisurely life. My wild cousins on the Galapagos Islands get all the publicity, but I don’t mind living in obscurity, keeping my head down as a domestic pet here, in Teddington. The children like me, and I get fed more fruit and vegetables than I could shake a stick at – if I could pick up a stick and shake it at anything, that is.
There are downsides to living in such leisurely affluence, of course. I’m bored out of my tree almost all of the time. Mostly, I while away the hours exploring the carboard boundaries of my space. And when I get really desperate, I make a dash for freedom. It’s amazing how many places can be found to hide in a suburban garden.
Someone must have told the children that I enjoy dandelion leaves. For the record, I detest dandelion leaves; you can quote me on that. I’ve tried telling them, but without success. All I can do is eat the dreadful things and grin and bear it. To do anything less would disappoint the children, and you know what they say about not biting the hand that feeds you.
The family dog has taken a dislike to me. I can’t imagine why. I never steal from his bowl. When he barks and tries to goad me into playing with him, I just tuck my head in and ignore him. It’s not as if I swear at him or anything. Why can’t he take a hint? Honestly, dogs must be the least intelligent of all the animals.
He gave me a bone once. What was I supposed to do with a bone? I was hungry at the time. I would have killed for a nice Caesar salad or a round of iceberg lettuce, but what did I get? Half a thigh bone of a cow, not even on a plate and unaccompanied by any potatoes or green vegetables. I stepped over it to indicate my disinterest and the stupid mutt took umbrage, barking fit to bring the house down around our ears.
Yes, I can take questions from the floor.
Fifteen years. Did everyone hear the question? The gentleman asks if I’ve grown since I started life as a tortoise. Yes, I was a lot smaller – at least five millimetres – then. My diet is so good here I’ve been growing at the rate of one millimetre every three years. At this accelerated rate of growth, I should be about the size of my Galapagos cousins in about four or five hundred years.
It’s made of some sort of hard stuff. It moults every now and then. I’m not sure why it happens and I don’t know what triggers it. No, but it itches like crazy.
Yes, I have been known to flip over onto my shell from time to time. The kids find it amusing. No, that’s true, I can’t flip back onto my feet without help, but I always get help, so that’s never an issue.
Now that is an issue. I keep hoping that the family will find me a nice young female before I’m too old, but every effort so far has failed. What was that? Oh, I think they can’t tell male tortoises from female tortoises. No one can. Even I have check very carefully.
Let’s have a last question. Yes, you at the back. Before I was a snail? Before that I was a famous Hollywood actress.
(C) Copyright JJ Toner