The Ballad of Tadpole Bob*

Tadpole Bob!

Founder member (only one so far as I know) of C.H.A.P.A.T.I.S. (Cheslyn Hay Amphibian Patrol and tadpole Inspection Society). Like us he has installed a “wildlife pond” on his plot. One week we stood for yonks* looking at the disturbance to the covering of Canadian pondweed caused by taddies beneath. Unlike us his pond is guarded by Henry – a quite convincing plastic heron.

As I’m heading towards the central roadway with a bag full of pernicious weeds and an arm crooked around rhubarb with a street value of   eighteen pounds sterling (sells at local supermarkets for £1.50 for 400 grammes)  he’s heading towards me. Mischievous glint in the eye.

“Remember the other day?”

I do, we were talking about dowsing (as in when a person can “divine” the presence of water).

Image result for dowsing

I stagger a little, wondering whether he’ll accept a gift of rhubarb. After all we have so much of the stuff we are reduced to reducing it to jelly (very tasty too, by the way). But this is tadpole Bob – he won’t be diverted.

Our plot is at the bottom of a slope. Talking to one of the Slope Toppers a few years ago I remember her mentioning that her husband (who works for a water company (for or with or just knows the name of one; trust me it doesn’t matter)) had found an old map that showed a stream running downhill across the space where her plot now stands. Our plots are roughly in line with hers, she said, and we guessed that this (unconfirmed) water course also crossed our ground. Needless to say, there is no stream there now. Mind you, neither are there adit and deep shaft mines as there once would have been – and the houses now have (I believe) internal plumbing and sanitation as standard. Back in the day, I ventured to think there were far more brooks and “watery lanes” than there are now. Maybe this one drew water from the shallow mines or had something to do with the now defunct canal.

Funny how rapidly thoughts will tumble across the mind. I had gone over all of this while covering only four paces of path.

Bob meanwhile was revealing a pair of metal rods he had in the hands he was holding behind his back. Quite the one for dramatic gestures is Bob. Each one with a right angle bend about three inches from the end; shiny apparently copper. Or copper-ish.

“Want to try it?” he sparkled.

He takes my tortured breathing (these weeds are heavy and my wrist is killing me!) as a silent yes.

“Knew you would,” he smiles, “You’re always up for it!”

I am?

“Yes, see, I tried it a couple of days ago … that stream or whatever you were on about?”

“I thought I’d give it a go … always carry these rods about with me …”

You do? I’m, hopefully only thinking these italics. Please let me be only thinking them… like … not actually speaking the words. Out. Loud. Pretty please.

The Plantation Owner’s Wife breezes past, divesting me of the bag of weeds and rhubarb. And any vestige of an excuse I might have had. She smiles, demurely.

“I’ll go and have a chat with Mrs Stokey then, shall I?”

It’s not that I have anything against the principle. Far from it. It’s just I suppose that I don’t want to appear inept.

My grandfather, who could neither read nor write (but was one of the most sensible people I have ever known**) used hazel sticks to track courses for ditches back on the farm. He kept us puzzled, challenged and entertained (the good old days before 24/7 telly and social media) with a needle on a thread used as a pendulum it would swing in a certain direction when held over my sisters hand, a different one held over my brother’s.

Image result for dowsing

And, genuinely surreally, the sixth form at Cannock Grammar School had a talk (don’t ask me!) by a man who made a living from divining (not just water, but oil***, coal, underground spaces …)

So I end up, walking some zombie-slow walk, elbows tucked into my hips, hands lightly holding, but not gripping mind, these two rods. I don’t expect anything to happen. It’s not going to, is it? How obvious can it be? Not while I’m holding the rods. Because I don’t know what to do. How could anything do anything?

Yet … it does. I feel a small sensation creep into one of my hands and the right hand rods twitches. Slightly. I stop. Perplexed.

“Go on,” says Bob, “it’s starting to move now. You’ve got it! Just move forwards slowly and steadily.”

Image result for the ballad of cable hogue

On the path the rods jerk a few more times and yes, at two different points cross over, then as I move on, uncross. It was absolutely unexpected. I felt both proud and stunned.

And I will try to offer no explanations as long as you don’t threaten to burn me at the stake.

So now I’m about to rummage through the wardrobe, trying to find a spare wire coat hanger so I can make my own rods.

Hell: if there’s no spare I might just nick a couple anyway. *****

*Apologies and homage to the Western (sort of) ballad of Cable Hogue (starring Jason Robards and Stella Stevens)

**Yonks = unfathomable amounts of time in which affairs of state are set to rights.

** *“Eat when you’re hungry,” he used to say, “and sleep when you’re tired. And be sure not to confuse the two.”

**** the money earning potential/money saving potential is enormous. The oil companies he worked for, he told us, prospected the ground and he advised them on where was the best place to test drill.

I have, actually never been able to work out why this was felt to be a suitable “lecture” for students studying for exams, but it was memorable and, er, we missed double general studies.

***** note to self: stop writing so many footnotes!


2 responses to this post.

  1. If only Jean de Florette had some divining rods 😉


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