you take a close look at it, George's drawing is an accurate picture map
of the features of our back garden. There's the extension on the back
of the house with my studio window in the sloping roof, a large wasp or
bee buzzing menacingly towards us and, in the pond, edged on one side
by pebbles and on the other by grass and iris leaves, he's shown a representative
selection of pond life: a frog, a tadpole and a small fish (as far as
I know we don't have any fish in there, not even sticklebacks).
You'll notice that George has included Izzy's pigtails in his stick-figure sketch, and caught her sunny disposition but he evidently feels it's himself, not his sister, who is best put in charge of the pond net.
The Frogs Asking For A King
THE FROGS, grieved at having no established Ruler, sent ambassadors to Jupiter entreating for a King. Perceiving their simplicity, he cast down a huge log into the lake. The Frogs were terrified at the splash occasioned by its fall and hid themselves in the depths of the pool. But as soon as they realized that the huge log was motionless, they swam again to the top of the water, dismissed their fears, climbed up, and began squatting on it in contempt. After some time they began to think themselves ill-treated in the appointment of so inert a Ruler, and sent a second deputation to Jupiter to pray that he would set over them another sovereign. He then gave them an Eel to govern them. When the Frogs discovered his easy good nature, they sent yet a third time to Jupiter to beg him to choose for them still another King. Jupiter, displeased with all their complaints, sent a Heron, who preyed upon the Frogs day by day till there were none left to croak upon the lake.
The frog above is a detail from an illustration by Brian Robb to Fables of Aesop, translated by S.A.Handford, © Penguin Books, 1954. Brian Robb was head of illustration at the Royal College of Art when I was a student there and I enjoyed my weekly tutorials with him. Looking at that frog again I feel privileged that I had as my tutor one of the last of the black and white nineteenth century illustrators. Actually come to think of it, he didn't date from the nineteenth century but he was in that tradition, along with E.H.Shepherd with his contemporary, Edward Ardizonne.
Whether our frogs appreciate the close attention that the children are giving them is another thing. George catches one and puts it in the plastic aquarium but it looks so glum in there that we ask him to release the unfortunate creature. However it isn't long before he catches another.
Penny, next door's dog, barks at me ferociously as I walk down the garden and she gets a good telling off from Sandra, our neighbour.
'Naughty dog! What are you doing? You mustn't bark at Richard . . . No! - don't try smiling at me. Come here!'
'She was chancing it the other day,' I tell Sandra, 'I had a bucket of muddy water in my hands.'
'You should have thrown it at her Richard. Really you should. She has to learn.'
Sandra presents me with her grandson, Kyle's, pump-action water pistol with instructions that I should squirt Penny if she barks at me again.
I try out the weapon. Wow! - I don't in any way consider myself a violent man but I can't help hoping in the back of my mind that Penny will come out barking again and I'll get a chance to use this liquid deterrent!
I'm writing this a week later and she hasn't barked at me since. She's just observed me through the hedge with an expression that seems to suggest that's she's thinking 'I wonder if he's still got Kyle's water pistol?'
We're wondering why nothing has come up on the bed we planted out with broad beans and vegetable seeds a week or two ago. I look out of the back bedroom window as I'm about to get in the bath and see a collared dove pecking about there. I tap on the window and it goes on pecking.
I go out the back door, in my dressing gown, and shout but it continues, uninterrupted. Not having Kyle's water canon handy I pick up the nearest missile, an old plastic brush, and hurl it at the dove.
We've since covered the bed with garden fleece, weighed down around the edges by a few bricks, and I'm glad to say the beans and seeds are just starting to show.
Since our neighbours Gill and Jim moved to their little farm we don't have raiding parties of hens but I am going to have to keep my young crops covered because of the doves, wood pigeons and the occasional rabbit that tends to show up in the garden at this time of year.