Plop!

Thursday September 29, 2005

Up and about early this morning, to the extent of putting the trash out for collection just before six, walking through the dim, liquid light as the sun peered blearily through heavy cloud to the east, over the fens. There was a chilly breeze, though, making me throw style aside and tuck my t-shirt into my track suit bottoms—you know you’re getting old when Scholl sandals look comfy, and you know you’ve got chubby when the most comfortable trousers in your wardrobe are track suit bottoms made of sweatshirt material—to keep the wind away from my back.

It’ll not be long before I need to hang a slip-on coat by the kitchen door ready for those pop-out jobs.

Back inside, I ran a bowl of hot water so’s I could wash and soak my hands and, hopefully, get the joints loose and limber. I really fancied a good session at the piano. To my great satisfaction, it worked, and I finished by playing the Bach minuet all the way through without a single mistake or hesitation.

It’s time I started on another piece, except I still haven’t managed to find one. It’s not easy, choosing a bit of Bach for an elderly learner’s fingers. Mustn’t be too fast, or need to be fast. Mustn’t have too many chords—try playing crisp, clean chords with hands that’ve been in ice-water for twenty minutes and you’ll know exactly what I mean. There mustn’t be too many stretches of more than six notes; and certainly no chords requiring an octave. And, finally, there must be a melodic line I can keep in my head while I’m fumbling. I shall keep looking and, if need be, take a trip to the sheet music section of the library in Taunton next time I’m there.

Then, after breakfast, I started on the job of picking up my series of six stories. The trip to Somerset broke my train of thought on this project of course, and it wasn’t too easy to pick it up. The next story was clear in my mind; well, clear-ish, anyway. The snag was that I’d lost the continuity of the project.

So I worked at it doggedly, starting and discarding several drafts over the course of the day, until the flow restored itself and I managed to produce a new story in first draft, fit to show around and submit to the writing group.

I’m enjoying this project, and have several ideas to fill the remaining three stories of the series. Not just that, but my note book for the past couple of weeks has a spattering of doodles, picturing the characters in the stories. I really do think I shall be able to work the stories and the illustrations up into a nice little book for publication. Might even be able to get the job done in time for Christmas, though Easter is more likely. Sort of a child’s book for adults. I shall self-publish it, probably via Lulu.com, where the cost is likely to come out at around USD11.25 plus shipping and any taxes. That’s about GBP6.75, which seems reasonable to me for a full-colour paperback in this genre.

But that’s all pie in the autumn sky. Today I was more concerned with getting the stories going again:

 

The sound of one frog jumping

It was a nice, sunny evening, late summer, and I’d moved my garden chair round by the pond, intending to enjoy the last of the sun and the first of the cool air as it settled over the day. Peaceful. Restful, even, and I was slipping into a pleasant little reverie when I was rudely awakened by a sudden, mysterious statement.

“Ribbit!”

“Yer wot?” I asked, rather startled.

“Ribbit!”

I looked around carefully, to see who was making a poor imitation of a frog.

“Ribbit!”

“Ah, there you are,” I said, spotting the large frog who lives in my garden, mostly by the pond. He was perched on a flat stone right on the edge, and had allowed the colour of his back to resemble it closely. “Not easy to see when you’re doing the disguise thing, are you? Good evening to you.”

“And good evening to you. That really is the idea about camouflage, you know. Being not easy to see, that is.”

“Yes. You’re right of course.”

A comfortable, companionable silence fell, then I cast caution to the wind and asked the question I’d been pondering since our last encounter.

“Tell me,” I said, “if you don’t mind, that is. Why do you do that ‘ribbit’ thing? Like an imitation of someone doing a bad imitation of a frog?”

He turned one eye on me. “What, like… ‘Ribbit!’?”

“Yes. That’s the one. Whatever does it mean?”

“Doesn’t mean anything. Just a noise. Call it singing if you like.”

“Oh. That’s rather disappointing. I was sure it must have some significance.”

“Well, it does. If you’re a frog, that is. Doubt it has any significance to anyone else, though.”

I thought about this, wondering just what significance there may be in a good juicy Ribbit! on a frog-to-frog basis. Seemed best not to pursue it too closely.

“In that case, why do you say it to me?”

“What makes you think I was saying it to you?”

“I’m a poet. Everything, every sight sound and smell has personal significance when you’re a poet.”

“Can’t see that. Sounds more like ego than reasoning to me, does that.”

“Ouch! That hits closer to home than comfort requires.”

“Ribbit!”

“If you say so.”

“I do. What kind of poet are you, then?”

“Oh, nothing special. Just someone who likes to play games with words and sounds.”

“Ribbit!”

“Precisely.”

Silence fell again, making me feel that perhaps the encounter had come to an end.

Suddenly: “Do you ever write poems about frogs?”

“Not really. Not yet, anyway. Might do one day. Come to think of it, I can only recall one poem about a frog, and that was written by an old Japanese gent name of Basho, over three hundred years ago.”

“Go on, then.”

“Go on what?”

“Say it to me.”

“Ok. The best translation I know goes like this:”

The old pond,
A frog jumps in:
Plop!

“Well, that’s a load of rubbish,” he said.

To be honest, I was somewhat taken aback by his response. An awful lot of wise men have said an awful lot of clever things about Basho’s frog and here was a frog seeming to think differently.

“How do you mean, rubbish?”

“Apart from the fact that it doesn’t rhyme and certainly doesn’t scan, you mean? Well, it’s wrong. When you jump into a pond you don’t go ‘plop’. No self respecting frog would go ‘plop’. It’d give you away quick as quick, would a ‘plop’.”

“Never thought about it like that,” I said. “You’re right, of course. Now that you mention it, I’ve seen a lot of frogs jumping into quite a few ponds, and I’ve never heard a ‘plop’ from them. Wonder what he meant by it, then?”

“Perhaps he meant Ribbit!

And with that, he jumped into the pond and out of sight under a cluster of lily leaves, with nary a splash, nor a plop, nor a sound of water, leaving me to the evening and the pondering of a problem.

The light faded away and it grew a little too chilly to stay any longer.

“Well,” I said, though I doubt my froggy visitor heard me. “You may be right. I’m pretty certain he meant ‘plop’, though. ‘Ribbit’ would work, it’d work fine, but I just can’t see an old Japanese poet using it, even if he was awfully clever.”

And with that, I got up, shook myself into action, and went back into the house for a nice cup of tea, leaving my frog to the long silence of the night. Ribbit!, indeed.

John Bailey
September 2005, Lincolnshire

 

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One response to “Plop!

  1. Hi John,

    I just wanted to say thank you for an entertaining story. It had me smiling in soulful contentment. I thouroughly enjoy your way with words too. Poetically expressive and yet simple and direct. Inspirational. Something to aspire to.

    Kind Regards

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