Tales of the country: Frog love

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The Independent Online

John Cancalosi – who, like the beetle, comes from Colorado – is a wildlife photographer of some renown. John is a friend of our neighbour, Will, the professional wildlife consultant. Wildlife looms large in these parts. Our life unfolds to an accompanying soundtrack of baaing, clucking, hooting, barking, crowing and mooing, quite often all at the same time.

John Cancalosi – who, like the beetle, comes from Colorado – is a wildlife photographer of some renown. John is a friend of our neighbour, Will, the professional wildlife consultant. Wildlife looms large in these parts. Our life unfolds to an accompanying soundtrack of baaing, clucking, hooting, barking, crowing and mooing, quite often all at the same time.

And did I forget buzzing? Jane and I have a bedtime ritual, which involves swearing loudly, switching the lights on, leaping out of bed and charging indecorously round the room with a rolled-up newspaper in pursuit of the fiendish little bastards that wait, silently, until our heads hit the pillow, then start their relentless buzzing.

Our bedroom is on the west side of the house, with a magnificent view of the Black Mountains. But being the west side, it is also the warmer side. On sunny days, the flies literally come out of the woodwork, and since I have chronicled our torment in this column, local friends are duly solicitous. Socially, this can be awkward. Last Friday, at a lunch gathering, our friend Shelagh said to me: "Have you got your flies sorted out yet?" Innocent enough, but Shelagh was standing next to a woman I'd never met before, and I'm fairly sure I saw this woman flash a worried glance at my groin.

Anyway, back to John Cancalosi. Will brought him round for a beer the other night, and he was gratifyingly interested, for a man who has stood toe to toe with a lion in the African bush, in hearing about some of my own more dangerous assignments. The one that particularly seemed to captivate him happened last February, when I intrepidly, with scarcely any thought for my own physical safety, went to a Valentine's Day Party at Hugh Hefner's Playboy mansion, there to be propositioned by a near-naked woman who put her hand on my knee and asked whether I would like "a mansion experience".

All of which brings me, for reasons that should become clear, to frogs. Will is into frogs in quite a big way; in fact, he e-mailed me the other week to say that he had just come back from the Froglife conference in Edinburgh, where a Swedish academic had delivered a particularly fascinating lecture on deep-sniffing newts. Not least of Will's charms is that although he knows I can barely distinguish between a duck-billed platypus and a deep-filled pizza, he is eager to embrace me with his enthusiasms. Apparently, the discovery that newts are into heavy-duty sniffing, and will thereby seek out ponds in which there are no threatening fish lurking, is to the wildlife consultant no less astounding than the revelation of John Major's affair with Edwina Currie was to the political correspondent.

Will told me this as we trudged across the neighbouring field to the pond, to see whether there were yet any frogs in it. There weren't, but that didn't matter, because he knew of a pond at Tupsley Quarry in Hereford that was the frog equivalent of Old Trafford on match day. Will, John, my son Joseph and I went the following morning to have a look, and truly it was an astonishing spectacle. Hundreds of frogs, most of them in the throes of sexual congress, peered at us from just above the water's surface. As we stood there, more and more popped up, until we estimated that there were getting on for a thousand of them. They are noisy lovers, too. The males emit a low-pitched call to pull the females, which from huge gangs of them simultaneously sounds like the purring of a giant cat. Mostly the sex was one on one, but here and there little grappling tag-teams were taking turns with each other on blankets of frog spawn. Frankly, it made Hugh Hefner's Valentine's Day Party look like afternoon tea with the vicar.

It was curiously uplifting to see so much uninhibited bonking going on, and would have been even more uplifting had there not been so much litter around. Tupsley Quarry is a nature reserve, and the council has been failing in its duty to keep it clean. One frog seemed to be entertaining her partner in a fabulous pink boudoir, but on closer inspection it turned out to be an empty packet of prawn cocktail-flavoured crisps.

Things you learn on the cutting-room floor

The cheaper cost of living in the country, No 843. I had my hair cut on Monday at the Gentlemen's Barbers in Ludlow. I used to have it cut at Elysian Fields in Crouch End, north London, where I was charged £22. Admittedly, the price included a large glass of wine, not to mention a willowy blonde from New Zealand running her fingers through my hair, but on Monday the neither willowy nor blonde Geraint charged me only £5.50, for which I was also perfectly happy to forsake the sauvignon blanc.

The standard of chat was better, too. No queries about where I'd be going on my holidays or whether I was taking the day off work. (Why do hairdressers assume that anyone spending half an hour in the afternoon getting their cut must, ipso facto, be taking a whole day off work?) No, Geraint told me that his mother, in common with most young women in the Welsh Valleys before the war, had had all her teeth extracted at the age of 21.

From that fascinating subject, we moved on to nits, which each of my children has had at one time or another. Geraint sees a lot of nits, and mischievously named the local school that, in his expert estimation, has the highest incidence of infestation. I was ever so slightly gratified to hear that it's one of the fee-paying ones.

The vet will see you now

The Sunday before last, we visited our friends Debbie and Robin, who live just outside Ludlow. They keep two ponies, and when we arrived, one of the ponies, which suffers from a bad back, was being manipulated by a chiropractor. Not a chiropractor specialising in quadrupeds, I should add, but an ordinary one. In the country, it's clear that if you work in the health sector you can greatly increase your customer base by treating animals as well as people.

This brings to mind a story told by another friend, the former chief executive of a nearby hospital. One of his managers was summoned to Outpatients to deal with a furious male patient. The patient had been examined by a colo-rectal specialist, and at the most delicate moment, while peering as far up the passage as he could, the specialist suddenly exclaimed: "Ah! You must see a vet."

The patient was horrified by this burst of maladroit humour, and afterwards made a formal complaint, citing a "seriously derogatory remark". It apparently took the manager some time to calm him down, and make him realise that the surgeon had, in fact, been referring to Yvette, the colo-rectal nurse.

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