Thursday, March 01, 2007

The toads are back in town/Pat will turn...

“On the first day of March it was raining
It was raining worse than
anything that I have ever seen
I drank ten pints of beer and I cursed all
the people there
And I wish that all this rain would stop falling down on

The Pogues, “Boys from the County Hell”

This year, it was raining on the last day of February. March has so far been dry, but it’s early days yet!

Evidence that spring is on the way has been around for some time now. Too early some might say, but whether this is due to climate change caused by global warming or simply seasonal climatic variations remains to be seen. My local park has seen an explosion of daffodils and crocuses, but it also looks like the local toad population has emerged from hibernation. On my way home from work one evening last week I came across a mating pair of toads crossing the road in the darkness. The smaller male was on top of the much larger female, who was slowly making her way to the other side, presumably on the way to the spawning ground. On the footpath was a lone toad, then another one. I suddenly had a Seamus Heaney type “Death of a Naturalist” experience and walked on. Toads, in this case the common toad (bufo bufo) appear to be quite common in the North London suburbs.

I have often seen them in the back garden, particularly at night during the summer. One on occasion I found a hibernating specimen under a rock semi-submerged in a shallow hole in the soil – toad in the hole quite literally. I left it be, then returned about three weeks later and it was still there, but soon ambled off on its way. Having been brought up in Ireland I had never previously seen this species which is absent from the island. Although the frog is quite a common site in Ireland, the only native toad species is the natterjack (bufo calamita), distinguished by a yellow line running down its back. It’s a rare and elusive creature though which only exists in various isolated sand dune-dwelling colonies in Kerry and Wexford.

They are of course harmless creatures, (unless you eat one and take ill from the poisons in the warts) and have been unfairly demonised in mythology due to their sinister appearance. The toad has played a prominent role in popular culture from Kenneth Graham’s famous Toad of Toad to Toad Hall to Dangermouse’s arch enemy Baron Greenback and of course Touchwood, the familiar of Catweazle, a wizard from the middle ages who accidentally gets flung forwards in time to the 20th century in the children’s TV series of the early 1970s. As portrayed by the great character actor Geoffrey Bayldon - the wizard not the toad I mean.

St Pat will be turning in his grave
Talking of springtime it’s just over 2 weeks to go till that annual feast of indulgence known as International Guinness Day, known in more traditional circles as St Patrick’s Day. Many of the pubs around London (and not just the Irish ones) already have the big Guinness banners, the balloons and the cardboard shamrocks hanging outside. Come March 17th these pubs will inevitably be packed to the rafters with punters, plastic paddy or otherwise in tacky leprechaun hats singing and dancing (or at least attempting to) along to the Dubliners, the Pogues or whoever. And the shareholders of Diageo plc will be rubbing their hands with glee. Each to their own of course, but the irony is that St Patrick’s Day is now a bigger event in England than St George’s Day, which has always been a fairly low key event. Come to think of it, today is St David’s Day, yet I haven’t noticed any pubs decorated with inflatable red dragons or cardboard daffodils and leeks offering special discounts on pints of Brains and Cwrw.

Anyway, it seems that this year’s Paddy’s day gimmick is Guinness flavoured marmite, which I noticed in my local supermarket a few weeks ago, a phenomenon which didn’t go unnoticed by Slugger O’Toole. I enjoy the occasional pint of the black velvet devil’s buttermilk (responsibly and in moderation of course!), but don’t marmite was never a regular dietary feature of mine. I can’t see this trend catching on somehow. I vaguely remember Guinness flavour ice cream coming out a few years ago, then vanishing without a trace. What will it be next – Fosters flavour vegemite? Magners flavoured apple crumble? Cheese and onion flavour crisps? The mind boggles.


Lula Bell said...

I cant say I've noticed any frogs at it in the middle of the road. Maybe they aren't as 'horny' as toads. A farm I lived on a few years ago had a large pond where the frogs attracted a variety of wildlife from grey heron to otters. They must have been pretty tasty.I'm still sorry I moved out of that one.

CW said...

Regretfully, I've never seen an otter in real life, but would really love to see one. They were getting rare, but numbers have increased in recent years due to concerted conservation efforts.
I've seen quite a few foxes in the area I live in though. There was one in the back garden early one morning a few weeks ago.

Lula Bell said...

I've only seen them on a couple of occasions myself and consider it a privilege. Shy but curious creatures. They came to the pond to harvest the frogs and were only there for a few days. I suspect they came from Lough Money. The one other time was in a drainage ditch on the Conagher Road just outside Ballymoney.

grumpy old man said...

have you tried my new barbeque flavour cigarettes?

toad flavoured toad-in-the-hole ???

cheers matie :)