Dear Reader, today I’m going to tell you about the day I fell in love with Lucy. She lived in Portaferry, Northern Ireland, and though I only worked there with her for a short time…it was enough. She won me over with her don’t-give-a-damn attitude and her breezy contempt for the rules. Lucy had sass oozing out of every pore, legs that went all the way up and huge liquid eyes that melted every protest you could have thought of against working with her.
And there were plenty you could have levelled. Lucy was as temperamental as an old Skoda. Her rages were fearsome to behold and she was not averse to tearing a strip off you if the mood took her. When you saw the colour rising, it was time to give her her space. I got to know her well enough to try and repair her home, which was far beyond decrepit – it was actively rotting. She shared with two others, Mike and Francesca, but there were no doubts in anyone’s mind as to who was the boss – Lucy, through sheer force of character, ruled the roost.
The problem lay with the fact that the roost they shared was only six feet by two. Lucy was an octopus, and she had clearly learned far too much from Richard Attenborough. She was the Big X of octopodes, and she was continually frustrated by the limitations of her domain. As you walked past in the morning she would jet effortlessly alongside you, her tentacles trailing, as streamlined as a catwalk model in a ball-gown. If she was feeling particularly affectionate she would spread herself in a star shape across the glass of the aquarium and show her desperation for your company. She was utterly beguiling.
On the fateful day, the day when I realised I was lost, Tamara, Bob and I set to cleaning the tank. At that time Lucy, Mike and Francesca lived in an aquarium the backing of which was comprised of chunks of driftwood, mimicking the supports of many of the jetties found in Strangford Lough, the natural habitat of the Lesser Octopus. Driftwood looks great for a few weeks, but then it starts to rot. It goes black and disintegrates. Ink is easier to see through than water full of dissolving timber. In consequence, Lucy and her companions were having a hard time of it.
I had only been on the job a few days. Tamara, as senior keeper, was undisputed queen of Exploris. Exploris is Northern Ireland’s only public aquarium, in which they keep examples of most of the species of marine life found in Northern Irish waters. Tamara knew them all, their individual quirks and eccentricities, and detested them all on a basis both cordial and indiscriminate. It was Tamara who convinced me that cuttlefish like to be tickled under their chin (cuttlefish have no chin), which resulted in my being drenched with ink when I tried to stroke one on its belly. It was Tamara who, on my first day at work, set me to gutting squid for four hours.
But back to the tale. As the three of us plucked chunks of rotten wood from the black waters of the tank, Lucy and her cohorts investigated the small crate in which they had taken up temporary residence. We pumped fresh seawater in continually and the excess slopped over the side…as did Lucy. With the scent of freedom wafting over her suction cups (octopuses smell with their arms) she took one look at the further horizon and had it away on her pseudopods. She gathered herself up onto her tentacles and was out the door at a speed that had to be seen to be believed.
I was the only one to notice. Driftwood had long lost its thrall and I was desperate for distractions. I pointed out that one of our octopi was missing and was the undeserving recipient of (appropriately) salty language. The three of us abandoned our task and ran outside. Lucy didn’t have a death wish, as far as we knew, but she was a marine invertebrate dodging traffic in a carpark when we found her.
Tamara was utterly fearless when it came to dealing with her charges. She reached out, grasped Lucy (who by now was a little distressed – you could tell by the way she was cycling through colour schemes like a Dulux salesman with Multiple Personality Disorder) and was clung to with all the fervour of a lovesick limpet. Tamara carried her back to the crate, where she had the greatest difficulty in prising her loose, and restored Lucy to an environment more conducive to her general well-being. A few hours later she was back in her home, the matriarch of the marina.
I went and saw her again recently. She’s still healthy, still the boss…and still as ravishing as only an octopus in her prime can be.
The Zen of the Day: