As I eat breakfast, the frogs are frolicking in the pond beyond the window. It’s an oddly comforting sight, normal and seasonal. Queasy too as the water turns spunky white after a prolonged spell of frog-on-frog action.
I don’t look closely as I am eating bran flakes and listening to John Smith as he spins around on vinyl. What frogs get up to in their orgies is enough to put you off breakfast.
If you’ve dropped by to learn about the mating habits of frogs, you may be disappointed. But I can tell you, courtesy of the BBC, that by late February something is stirring in the garden pond (and in the male frogs’ tight shorts – the later observation not quite being from Sir David Attenborough).
Common frogs wake from hibernation with one thing on their mind, as sometimes do young men. The rampant male frogs emit deep, purring croaks to intimidate other males and attract the attention of females. Who are probably thinking, oh, look at him with his croaking; what’s a girl got to do for a bit of peace around here?
But I can pass on that male frogs grow pads on their forelegs that help them to grasp the females in an embrace known as amplexus which secures their position for the act. The male frog is the one on top and behind; whether they fall asleep straight away once the job is done is open to speculation.
John Smith is only coming out of one speaker now. A little non-technical tugging of wires restores his stereo self.
The news on my phone tells me that the Glastonbury festival is off and my copy of the Observer, read gradually over the week, reminds me that the word quarantine comes from the Italian quaranta giorni. This refers to the 14th century practice of requiring plague-infected ships at Venice to “sit at anchor for 40 days before landing”.
The article containing this fact is about the village of Eyam in Derbyshire where, during the bubonic plague outbreak of 1665-6, the inhabitants quarantined themselves in what became regarded as a huge act of self-sacrifice. Isolation, self-chosen or otherwise, is nothing new.
The villagers kept their distance in the belief that the illness passed from person to person. In fact, infected fleas in a bundle of imported cloth were to blame, but the instinct that they should not move among other people was right.
Many of us are now getting used to the idea of not moving among other people as we are working from home. Usually it’s a combination for me: newspaper production work in an office, freelance work at home; university work face-to-face with students or preparation and marking at home.
I once spent the best part of a year sitting in this study in the mistaken belief that freelance journalism and novel writing could provide a sustainable living.
From this week all my work takes place at home, as is now general where possible (my wife works in a shop and there isn’t room for that shop in this house). Will all this homeworking prove a liberation or lead to us all going stir-crazy within weeks?
On my phone in a mates’ chat group, a friend has sent a clip of an old Cockney woman ranting about the lack of toilet rolls.
In a voice that could break windows, she swears forcefully, using the expected word but pronounced to rhyme with “lacking”. She recommends using newspaper for the job instead, as happened in the, ahem, lacking war.
An oddly cheering sight, although I do wish people from the prime minister downwards (upwards?) would stop chuntering on about the war.