Sunday, 2 August 2020

A paean to pondlife

Most of the time my mum used the large Pyrex dish for baking Apple Crumble but as Spring turned to Summer and long yellow days stretched out ahead of us, the pie dish took up residence in my bedroom.  Sometimes on the windowsill - or if it got too hot there, I'd move it out of the sunlight and make space for it between my felt tip pens and Puffin books on the little white desk.  There in this modest container each year the magic would take place.


What a way to learn about life...  To get up each morning and wonder how many of the funny little black beans with nostrils and diaphanous tails might have started to sprout tiny limbs during the night.  Hind legs first, then front ones -  I could almost, almost watch them grow in front of my eyes, I'm sure.  

What a way to learn about death, too... occasionally having to scoop out a lifeless body, the unfortunate weaklings which were never going to have made it into froghood.   But the rest - I was fascinated at each stage of their development, watching them gulp down the goldfish flakes with mouths which seemed to open almost mechanically, like those of a ventriloquist's dummy.  Mesmerised by the way they swerved and darted about just below the surface.  Excited as the weeks passed and legs got longer, tails got shorter and newly recognisable frog features began to form.  Alchemy!

I don't think my mum ever made an Apple Crumble during the Summer; the tadpoles took priority.

Eventually they were ready to liberate - the timing was important, it needed to be just before there was any risk that they'd crawl out of the pie dish and end up inside the vacuum cleaner. We'd take them into the garden where the tortoises feasted on the dandelions in the lawn and where we had two small ponds.  Neither was fancy; in fact one was simply an old-fashioned washing-up bowl sunk into the clay soil, but both were full of what seemed to be the most alien life-forms imaginable.  Twitching, wriggling mosquito larvae with fan tails... wonderfully named Water Boatmen propelling themselves with oar-like limbs... and freshwater snails in tightly coiled transparent shells grazing on viridescent algae.

Some of the froglets may inevitably have been eaten by our cats, or the blackbirds, or a visiting hedgehog, but others would survive out there with the pondskaters, caddisflies and newts, growing into big bulky adults with beautifully long toes and inky speckled backs.  

I'll be forever grateful to my arty, free-spirited (and occasionally clinically depressed) mum and her Pyrex dish for teaching me to grow tadpoles in my bedroom.  And for her Apple Crumble too, of course, once the frogs were out in the pond...

L7 - Bite The Wax Tadpole


  1. I have now got the Blur son going round in my head but with Parklife replaced by pondlife.

    All the people
    So many people
    They all go hand in hand
    Through their...

    1. That works rather well! Funnily enough I found myself singing Streetlife by the Crusaders to myself for the same reason.

  2. Gosh I’d forgotten about tadpoles - There was burn down the toad where we used to collect them in a jar and watch their progress over the course of the summer - Starts to get weird when they are half @ half.

    DD had a bowl of Sea-monkeys one summer - You add some powder to a bowl of water and these strange creatures develop. Had forgotten all about them too - The things we used to do before we became glued to our screens.

  3. I was hoping someone else would remember tadpoles and watching their development as a child - Mr SDS said they never did and I was disappointed! The half-and-half bit is weird and wonderful, isn't it? And only the other day, having already started drafting this, my eye was caught something tiny moving in the undergrowth at the bottom of the garden and on closer inspection saw that it was a froglet, about an inch long. Hope I'll see some more.

    Ooh yes I remember you could buy those Sea-monkeys in little packets, it was very much a '60s/'70s thing wasn't it - just add water and they come back to life, a strange thing indeed. I've just been reading up on them following your comment - seems they are a kind of shrimp which can shut themselves down when dried or frozen without dying, and then be restored with water. And they can live for two years if looked after properly! Fascinating stuff so thanks for the reminder.


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