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Finding the First Duck-Billed Platypus

August 20, 2013

It was the sixth day of the Dawn of Creation.

“Right, Bert” said Brian (Junior Assistant Sub-Angel, Division 8b), looking at the small part of assorted body parts round his feet.  “We’ve got 12 legs, 2 beaks, 4 hearts, 2 sacs of poison, some furry stuff and a job lot of suckers.  What do you reckon?”.

Brian looked at his watch and wiped the beads of sweat off his brow (whoever was working on The Sun was doing a bit too good a job he reckoned.  Time to get that water cycle moving – a bit of cloud cover wouldn’t go amiss.).  “We can do it in 2, I reckon.  Chuck the suckers, 3 hearts, 1 poison sac, 1 beak and 8 legs over here.  You can do the rest.  We’ll be finished in jiffy and still have time for a spot of tea and some battenburg (created as something of a priority on Day 3, just after “the plants, vegetation and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kind”).”

And so came into being The Octopus and The Duck-Billed Platypus which have baffled, confused and amazed naturalists to this day.  When the DBP was first introduced to the UK in the 18th Century the good British Establishment thought that someone had sown the body of a beaver onto the head of a duck.  With very small stitches, I imagine.  

I pity the poor naturalists who captured the beast and proudly bore its stuffed and saggy body back through shark-infested, tempest-ridden waters only to be met with confusion and denial.  I understand what they faced when they arrived, smelly and toothless through scurvy, surviving pirates, keel-hauling and people constantly making “It’s always good to have the lesser of two weevils” jokes every time someone cracked open the biscuit barrel and found it infested with lice and I can picture the faces of the people they met.

I can picture them…because I have been there.  I have tried to persuade people to believe something that they are convinced is against the natural order of things.  I have faced someone whose brain is, quite frankly, short-circuiting, and watched them try to recover. 

It started on our arrival at Birmingham City Airport.  It’s not grand or fancy but as little airports go, it goes, and does so rather well.  We pulled into the ‘drop-off’ zone for which my father had to pay £1. (What a rip-off!  I think it’s shocking.  I shall write to the government or my MP or something.  Failing that, I shall tut loudly in their direction.  TUT.  There, that’s shown them.) We assembled our Jenga Puzzle stack of suitcases, rucksacks and plonking the children on top with a shout of “hang on!”, we headed to the  check-in desk.  

As we approached Pakistani International Airlines (PIA) desk, a man (in a PIA uniform no less) tried to stop us.  We were clearly western and therefore relatively rich and could not possibly be flying with them.  “Emirates?” he said, indicating another area of the Departures hall.  “No, PIA,” we responded.  

“Ah, business.” he said – no question mark required.  No westerners in his experience had EVER flown PIA economy.  It was inconceivable.  And yet we were forced to ask him to conceive it.  

It was our first encounter with what became a familiar pattern:

1. The Blank Look

2. The Significant Blinking With Mouth Open

3. The Brain Re-Boot To A Parallel Reality In Which The Crazy People Do What I Think They Should Be Doing.

And so we were directed past the queues of Pakistani families to the Business Class Check-In.  

We explained that we were flying PIA Economy.  We experienced numbers 1-3 and we left, having been moved enmasse to the bulk head seats, given (what proved to be very valuable) fast-track tickets through security, and left with the definite impression that, had she it within her grasp to do it, we’d be flying in our own special part of the aeroplane, past Business Class, past First Class (should it even exist) and with a panoramic view from the Captain’s knee.  

And so it continued, through passport control, onto the aeroplane and for the duration of the flight.  A stream of air stewards kept coming up to us asking if they could make us tea?  Coffee?  Whip up a Crepe Suzette?  

The seats were narrow and a little uncomfortable, we tried not to use the toilets after the first hour of the flight, there was no entertainment at all (save for the succession of children trying to wangle their way into Business Class to see their parents who’d clearly decided not to waste money on the youngsters) and we’d be warned not to try the food by our local nurse in Pakistan, but it was one of the best flights I’ve been on for a while.  The lack of entertainment meant that H wasn’t asking to watch CBeebies on loop, both children slept almost from take-off and A and I could just relax and take it all in.  And then shut it all out.  And then sleep.  

And then we came home.  And it really felt like home, which I hadn’t actually anticipated.  It’s good to be home.  




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  1. No-one’s ever offered to whip me up a crepe suzette. On a plane or otherwise. I am tutting loudly.

    Fab to have you (and be) back. xx


    • Please may I offer you a Crepe Suzette? If so, it will be delivered next time I see you, when I’m back in the UK and I’ve learnt to make a Crepe Suzette.


  2. This was beautifully written. You have a way with words which is captivating.

    It’s a surprising feeling isn’t it – to come back to a place that when you left you didn’t think of as home (because it wasn’t until a short while ago) but having left and returned, it suddenly is.

    Your post is really interesting and to be honest it’s given me a little rise. I was debating whether or not to mention it but I think it’s a good topic for discussion and I hope you don’t mind and don’t take offense.

    Were the flight attendants as attentive to the other passengers? You give the impression that the treatment you received at the airport was undoubtedly due to the colour of your skin. I am (now) a westerner but people don’t necessarily see that when they look at me (except perhaps for my clothes and my accent). I doubt that I would be given the same level of treatment. I have rarely faced blatant racism. In fact I can probably count the number of incidents in my life on one hand. But this isn’t racism I don’t think. It is interesting that we (as in people) do make judgements and make concessions based on our perceptions of others – whether it’s race or class, how someone is dressed, how they speak, what they look like, all inform us (accurately or not) and inform our behaviour towards them. If I’m honest I’ve been at both ends of the spectrum (the one receiving the benefits because of my socioeconomic status) and the one being treated like a second class citizen (because of my race, ethnicity, etc). It’s unnerving either way.

    I really hope I haven’t offended you. I just think it’s an interesting topic. Perhaps I will write a post about it.


  3. Sara permalink

    …and we could not be happier to have you back;-) Oh how we have missied you!


  4. Right, I am feeling terrible about my comment above. While your story somewhat irked me it was not you but rather the people you described at the airport and possibly a great group of people out there who make judgements and assumptions about others – essentially judging books by their covers and behave accordingly. Most people (at some point or another) probably either benefit from or receive the short end of the stick (so to speak) from this kind of judgement. If we were chatting in person I don’t know how I would have reacted to your story. Given that we barely know each other I doubt I would have said anything. And because of that I felt the overwhelming need to come and delete my comment (which I’ve discovered I cannot do). The irk-ness was probably triggered because my own experiences that of course shape how I view the world… And now I hope I haven’t dug myself into a deeper hole with this second comment. I really do enjoy your blog and your writing 🙂

    Hope you’re settling in back home and getting over the jet lag 🙂 For me the worst part of holidays is the unpacking and the jet lag.


    • Don’t feel terrible! You are absolutely right. I’m sure that if we weren’t white and relatively rich-looking (although scruffy round the edges) we most definitely wouldn’t have had that treatment. It’s a strange old thing – over here in Pakistan I still get called ‘mem-sahib’ or Madam (my husband laughs at that one) and I get saluted at security checkpoints. That is solely because of the colour of my skin. I can’t say that it’s not nice to have people being so polite all the time, but I constantly remind myself that it’s not real – it’s just a perceived difference and blatant racism, but in this case it has a positive effect rather than a negative one (unless you’re the person whose bulk head seats we took. Sorry about that. We did need them though and J slept the whole way in his bassinet so they were well used and appreciated. Hope that makes it better.).
      What I found startling in my naivety was the racism within Pakistan. I don’t know why it took me by surprise, but it did. I was chatting to a lovely Pakistani lady here who cleans for a friend of mine. I was telling her that I had a new ayah (this was when I arrived). She thought for a minute and then, realising that she knew my ayah, said “oh, but she’s black”. My ayah isn’t black in an Afro-Caribbean way. She’s Pakistani, but her skin is slightly darker than this cleaner’s skin.
      As they say in Yorkshire, ‘Nowt so queer as folk’.


  5. Gaya permalink

    If it makes you feel any better, I am very brown and get called mem sahib by certain folks despite requests by me to be called by my name. It’s even more bizarre for me, as a proud citizen of a republic that used to be part of the British Empire I resent being given the same title as the villainess of old films!


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