The Serpent

A serpent lies dormant in my chest

It wraps itself around my ribs, sleeping.

When I think of all my failings

It slips down, landing heavily on my gut

Squashing my diaphragm

Redirecting the blood away from my head.

Its tail flickers dangerously up my throat

The death rattle by my tonsils

I am afraid it will escape from my mouth.

I blink then stare upwards, feeling the cold air hit my eyeballs.

Ragged shallow breaths. 

In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. In…

Swallowing it down. 

The lump returns uneasily to my chest.

Heart burn.

Blink. Breathe. Blink. Breathe.

Until those movements become automatic again.

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MIA

As I peed unceremoniously into a transparent plastic pot, I wondered how this process has been overlooked in the medical revolution. After thoroughly washing my hands, I tentatively clutched my warm gift as I surreptitiously walked back through the waiting room. I bee-lined towards the small window, and deposited my pot. I wondered if I should announce it to the lab technicians on the other side. I was relieved to see a hand sanitizer bottle on the wall nearby.

For the third time, I sat with my crumpled four digit number in my hand. Every minute or so, a new number flashed across the screen accompanied with a beep. My number seemed to have been skipped. After an hour of fidgeting, I approached the BMI station. The nurse glanced at my number and told me I’d be sitting in the wrong waiting area.

At last, I was summoned into room 42. The doctor did not look up from his screen. Before I’d even sat down, the doctor announced, “Well, I have some good news. The pregnancy test is negative. The bad news is that we cannot locate the IUD.”

My birth control had gone MIA. The coil had gone AWOL. The doctor the previous day read out my scan results from the radiologist. “Uterus normal size. Endometrium appears smooth. Right ovary measures 2.80 x 2.60 x 1.50cm, left ovary measures 3.40 x 3.30 x 1.90cm. Ovaries normal in size and appearance. No abnormal adnexal mass or fluid in the Pouch of Douglas is detected. No IUCD seen.”

I wondered what Douglas was doing up there before blurting out, “No sign of the IUD? Are you sure?” The doctor admitted that the scan was not available on the screen.

I had the pelvic ultrasound reviewed by the radiologist. I was not keen on having another since you have to turn up with a full bladder. As the technician squeezed the cold gel over my abdomen, I asked her how long it would take, mentally planning my escape route to the ladies. Instead of seeing a baby, the technician commented on my balloon of a bladder. I was proud. She also spotted the IUD.

The second doctor who reviewed my ultrasound results said it was likely the IUD had dropped out. But, given the fact I was not pregnant and had not had a period in two glorious years, the doc considered the slim possibility that it may still be there…somewhere. Apparently, this happens to one in a thousand women with the IUD. The next step is an X-ray to discover where the rascal has ended up, followed by a simple keyhole surgery to remove it. It can even find its way into the intestines.

As I am not insured through work out here in Singapore, I am paying for each visit and was concerned that surgery may break the piggy bank. I called my insurance brokers to see if they could reimburse the damage, especially as I had not added on the special ‘lady package’. However, if I was admitted for day surgery, I could then backdate all the investigatory bills. I argued that it may be a general health issue having a foreign body lurking somewhere off limits. A few days later in the post, I received a letter from them in rather bad taste. It asked me if I was thinking about starting a family of my own.

I went to see the gynaecologist at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. After more basic health checks for my BMI and blood pressure, I saw yet another doctor. After establishing that I wasn’t married, I batted off the usual barrage of questions about my sexual activity. I listed the various birth controls I have used for the past ten years, and the elderly doctor began to look amused. I became quite indignant as he attempted to explain the monthly hormones that cause periods. He thought the IUD had fallen out undetected, but the reason for no menses was because I had ‘confused’ my system through being on the contraceptive pill, the Nexplanon implant in my arm and finally the miraculous Mirena coil. Through frustrated tears, I told him I did not understand why the technician said she saw it whilst conducting my ultrasound.

Finally, the gynaecologist started to hear me. He asked me to have a quick ultrasound. As I pulled down my under-crackers, he ducked round the curtain before I was ready. Feeling embarrassed, I laid back on the paper towel. The nurse hoisted up my top and slopped more cold gel on my belly. He asked me to sit up and showed me a white blob on the screen. It was not a baby, it was a blurry ghost. “Is that my IUD in my womb?” He smiled and said it looked as though it was, but I could not return the smile. I was angry that it had been missed and that I was throwing money away sitting here.

He asked if he could have a look. I had already been clamped open and subjected to this at the start, but “Why not?” I thought miserably. Peering through his thick lenses, he said he could just make out a short blue string, which arguably was the cause of all this kerfuffle. I began to cry. He kindly waived the consultation fee of my visit, but I cynically knew that he would get it back when I returned for my second ultrasound results.

So here I am. I will revisit the hospital for another ultrasound first thing tomorrow morning. Hopefully, they’ll locate it this time. It’s a bizarre position to be in – on the one hand, I obviously want to avoid surgery, but on the other, that’s the only way I’ll get my money back. Wish me luck.

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The Inseparability of Twins 

Twins are not that rare a phenomenon, with 8-16 pairs of twins per 1,000 pregnancies in Europe, North America and the Middle East. Of these, around a quarter are a subset called mirror twins.

There is a simple Thai phrase which sums up my experience as an identical mirror twin, ‘Same, same but different.’ Here are my thoughts about being a walking clone of my sister for the past 28 years:

Birthdays
Our birthday is on the same day. Over the years, my sister tried to introduce a 3 minute curfew on me opening my cards and presents since she was that much older. I refused because most of our gifts are the same thing but in a different colour, which ruins the surprise element of opening them. Unforgivably, I forgot my twin’s birthday when I was 15 as I was away skiing in Austria. She is yet to forget mine.

Twins

When two become one
As a twin, sometimes it feels like you are half a person rather than a whole. In the Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood, one character wonders if her twin girls, “have a life of their own each, or just one between the two of them.” We are used to the BOGOF jokes (buy one get one free), the ‘spare parts’ jibes where the dystopian reality of Never Let Me Go is a little too close for comfort, or the fact that if one of us were to die, at least there is another one walking around. Just so you know, pondering over our mortality is a total buzz kill.

Twins 7

Style
Thankfully, when we were younger, our mum didn’t always dress us the same. We developed polarised styles as we grew up, with her experimenting with hippy-goth vibes and me pretending I was an Australian surfer. Aged 12, I was inspired by the Jacqueline Wilson book Double Act, where Ruby chops off all her hair to look different from Garnet. The change was temporary, however, as my sister liked it and then did exactly the same. It was a compliment I repaid her in our mid-twenties. As we grew up, I was frustrated by her unwillingness to share her wardrobe, but I understand now that she was protecting our identities from merging even more. On the bright side, it’s handy having someone try out a style before you commit to it yourself, even if it is dark purple lipstick.

Twins 2

Telling us apart
Up until the age of three, it was almost impossible to tell us apart. Our family photo album has our names scribbled on the back, but some do have question marks. It is entirely likely that we may have swapped identities when we outgrew our hospital name bracelets. Luckily, as mirror twins, we grabbed for things with different hands which helped our family work out who was who. My sister wore NHS prescription glasses for a couples of years in primary school, but we rebelled against this distinguishable feature by breaking them at every opportunity, from flying off swings or (less elegantly) jumping on them from the bed. As we grew older, people started commenting on our appearance. It’s amazing how brazen strangers can be when analysing your faces. To be told that one is prettier, more rounded in the jaw, has a bigger cows-lick or widow’s peak, has nicer-shaped eyes, has slimmer legs etc. is not pleasant to hear as a self-conscious teen, let alone one who loves her sister. Note to the wise – let the twins tell you how they like to be identified before you offend them.

Twins 3

The evil twin
There is always one. I took this title in our pair. I was always louder, more aggressive playing sports, partied more, decorated myself in piercings and tattoos and have an incurable case of foot-in-mouth. However, as identical twins, we share the exact same DNA. If a crime was committed and a DNA sample framed one of us, people would automatically assume that I did it. I’m not a bad person, but when you compare our virtues, I’ll admit that I’m not as saintly as my sister. This keeps me awake at night sometimes.

Twins 4

Strangers are easily offended
My twin and I ended up working at the same company in Canary Wharf after graduating. She’d been there nearly 2 years and set me up, and I rocked up to my interview on crutches. Lots of employees smiled emphatically at me or shot me looks of concern. I was concentrating on walking on my sticks and listening to my tour, so I did not respond. Undoubtedly, some of Carla’s colleagues thought that she was being rude that day. We ended up working in completely different teams but were located on the same floor. Often, we would often get accosted by our colleagues and set various tasks. As an intern who wasn’t sure on what my role entailed, I dread to think of how many extra errands I ran, or failed to do properly on my sister’s behalf. When I quit my job, a few of our colleagues were surprised to discover there were two of us. They must have thought that our amalgamation changed outfits regularly each day.

Twins 15

Achievements are dulled
When we were 16, we landed on the front page of our local rag. The picture showed us waving our exam results in the air and grinning moronically.  My sister and I were the GCSE results story because, as she dryly put it, we were twins. She was at pains to explain that the one B result came from me, and resented the fact that her almost flawless sheet was marred with some of my unstarred A’s. She achieved an even greater accomplishment, though, having scored in the top 5 for English Literature out of over 365,000 papers. Unfortunately, I matched her on this too.

Twins 10

Telepathy is a thing
It’s just not our thing. Like anyone who has spent lots of time together and shared experiences, we often would react the same way and say the same thing. Jinxing is something I happen to do with close friends, too. However, we do not feel each other’s pain (stop punching us), we do not always feel sad at the same time (although there’s this thing called empathy), and we cannot communicate across the room using our minds (we use Whatsapp just like you).

Twins 8

Swapping
We never capitalised on being twins. I’d like to say we took advantage of our likeness to play the system, but for that to work, you need two willing volunteers. As far as I can remember, we only swapped classes once as she was far too rule-abiding to try it again. Our mum entered us into a Pears Soap advert competition but unfortunately we’d just lost our front teeth. I did ask her to apply for Bear Gryll’s The Island after I auditioned, but it wasn’t something she fancied doing. We’ve never tricked our dates, or sneaked into festivals or gigs on one ticket. However, my sister forgot her ID once and I managed to persuade a bouncer to let her in on mine.

Twins 12

History can be edited
When my sister and I are together and reminiscing about the past, we often find that we confuse who was actually in the story. I confess I have an unfortunate habit of inserting her into a story when it is embarrassing. Sharing a synchronized childhood together was special, and ultimately it doesn’t matter who beat who 6-3 in the last set of tennis, who created the Spirograph masterpiece, who rode without stabilisers first, or who grew their sea monkeys the biggest. When she’s not around, I can shamelessly claim these victories for myself.

Twins 16

Halloween
One Halloween in the 1990’s, we didn’t have a costume ready. We could have gone down the bed sheet ghoul route, but our mum had a better idea. We hit the streets in a large jumper and pretended we were conjoined twins. That evening, we got a sorry haul of just one orange to share between us, and oh, an old lady threw a bucket of water over us. I suppose we deserved it.

Twins 11

Mistaken identity
As fifteen year olds, we played for a women’s hockey team. We both played in mid-field, with her on the right and me on the left. Our playing style was markedly different. She was a more tactical player who would run miles each game, chasing down balls and initiating play up the field. I had already sent two girls to hospital with injuries from my (mostly legal) hitting technique. From my short hockey career, one game stands out. I scored the winning goal against a tough opponent. We had defended a short corner and their players had pushed up. I intercepted the ball and ran up the field, looking for support. I used reverse stick to get around one defender, then flicked the ball over the next defender. I was now in the D, facing their last line of defence. The keeper ran out, and I dummied running to the left before sweeping the ball in from the right. After the match, they gave woman of the match to my sister. Robbed.

Twins 6

What’s in a name?
My twin and I are both used to being called the wrong name by accident. What we are less tolerant of is when people deliberately call us the wrong name on purpose. Our response is to get their name wrong in return. Occasionally, our names are dismissed entirely and we are referred to as “Twin One” and “Twin Two” like Dr Seuss characters. For the record, being called number two is not something you can be proud of.

Twins 17

Double trouble
During a job interview I once had, the manager delighted in keeping me waiting for his decision, before congratulating me on landing the job on his bar staff. As I walked out, the manager shouted after me, “I wish there were two of you!”
“There are two of us,” I replied. “I have an identical twin.” He smiled politely and I walked out, thinking I needed to immediately inform my sister about her new job.

Twins 13

Occupational hazards
I learnt to scuba dive with my boyfriend and my twin. We were paired up with our buddies, did our checks, then descended down to the sea bed. The instructor was frantically waving at me to follow up ahead, but in following his instructions I had to abandon my buddy which is the ultimate diving no-no. I suddenly understood why – he had mistaken me for my twin. I wasn’t equipped to explain this mix up with my limited hand signals, so I just went with it. After that, I deliberately wore mismatched fins to be more recognisable.

Twins 9

BFFs
As sisters, we drifted apart in our teens. We went to different schools before she headed to University then polished off her Masters straight afterwards, whereas I went backpacking and ended up living in a caravan before studying my degree. Our friends would ask us why we weren’t closer and would say that if they had a twin, they would do everything together. I think people imagine their twin will be just like them, matching in personality and interests, forgetting that each mind is autonomous.

Being a mirror twin does certainly garner attention, but it’s not always positive. As a reaction against the constant comparisons and diminished individuality, I think we became opposite caricatures of one another at school. We are close now because those pressures have been lifted from us. We enjoy each other’s company, have adventures together and have varied experiences to share when we catch up. We can appreciate the differences we see, rather than wish they weren’t there. We were conditioned to be more competitive, but I’m relieved that we lead individual lives and have achieved separate goals. I am now teaching English in Singapore, and my twin is studying to become a speech and language therapist in London. Although our paths deviated, we are closer than ever.

Sources

Twin statistics, Mortality among twins and singletons in sub-Saharan Africa between 1995 and 2014‘, The Lancet, by Prof. Christian W S Monden, [http://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(17)30197-3/fulltext]

Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride, Hachette Digital version published 2009, p.79

 

 

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If…

If you can hold your breath when all about
Kids sneeze open-mouthed at you,
If you can trust yourself when all students doubt you,
But make sense of their doubting too;
If you can wait for a word and not be tired by waiting,
Or being cried about, don’t deal in cries,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t reach too high, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream in phonics —and not make insomnia your master;
If you can mark —and focus your corrective aim;
If you can meet with Tears and Toilet Disasters
And treat those two accidents without blame;
If you can answer ‘What’s that?’ and spell the words you’ve spoken                                 Twisted by rules and explain the traps for fools,
Or watch the crafts you gave your time to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with glittery glue:

If you can make one heap of all your lesson planning
And risk ending on one game of noughts-and-cross,
And lose the calm, then start again with your discipline
And never breathe a word of your control loss;
If you can force your grammar, vocabulary and values
To serve your turn long after the students are gone,
And hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Starbucks latte which screams to you: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with parents and keep your virtue,
Or connect with unruly kids and reinforce the common touch,
If neither bored students nor brutally honest comments can hurt you,
If all children count on you, but not lean on you as a crutch
If you can fill the unforgivably fast minutes
With ninety minutes’ worth of ‘blending sounds’ fun,
Yours is the classroom and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Teacher, brave one!

Crudely adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If —’, Rewards and Fairies, 1912.

Owl puppetReading

 

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Goodbye Grandad

Grandad

We’ll miss your twinkly eyes and trademark floppy hair.
Your inevitable snooze after lunch.
The work ethic that meant you conveniently forgot about being retired.
The impressive community spirit that you built with Barbrooks store and your sporting endeavours. Reydon is going to miss you immensely.
The meticulous way you arranged the fruit and veg.
Your stealing the show by reversing into a bollard at a family wedding.
The beach hut trips and drinking hot chocolate sitting in deckchairs until there were just shadows on the promenade.
The serious way you would consider your team’s below-par performance at the bowls green and your patience teaching us to play once.
The stories from your cricket days where you hit centuries for Southwold.
The uncanny resemblance of Syd to the younger you.
The civilised games of croquet in the garden, and the less-civilised treasure hunts and N64 bouts at your house.
The pride you took in showing us those scary-looking Toby jugs.
Your famous chicken broccoli pasta which had half grapes thrown in for good measure.
Your optimism and the fact you were the last person in Suffolk to lock his car.
Your constant smile that made everyone feel special.
The love you and Nana Anita shared, and the close and extended family that came together often.
The football, hockey and cricket games you would watch to cheer on your grandchildren, despite the weather.
Your overwhelming kindness and generosity, even if it meant driving all the way back to Halesworth Toy Shop!

And most of all, welcoming us into your family. What a privilege to have called you Grandad for the past twenty years.

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Teaching English – one month in

I’ve completed my first four weeks teaching English here in Singapore. I’m enjoying the job, and mostly teaching Kindergarteners (aged 4-5) their phonics to enable them to read, along with expanding their vocabulary. However, I have some older groups up to Primary 3 level (8-9 years) which focus on comprehension and honing productive speaking and writing skills. I also teach some intensive lessons where the children are likely to be ESL (meaning English is their second language) and need to brush up for school. 

I’m very proud of the fact that I have now mastered the names of all 80 of my students (although pronunciation on a couple may be a bit off). Here’s what I’ve learnt so far:

Creativity There is a general perception that Asian students are not as creative in their thinking compared to the rest of the world, but given some visual or audio prompts, I’ve found that my classes can easily tap into their imaginations when writing narratives. Especially if you happen to mention Pokémon.

Lost in translation When I’m teaching my younger reading classes, I have a tendency to enthusiastically say “Keep going!”. Then, if I say “Keep your book on the table” I’m met with a blank expression from the class. For children here, ‘keep’ means put away. So telling them to keep something out is an oxymoron, resulting in a comic to and fro as they process the instruction. I’ve learnt to say “Carry on reading” and, “Put this on the table”. 

Say it don’t spray it Phonics, with the plosive sounds of ‘p’, ‘t’ and ‘k’ mean that the children are getting their mouths around these sounds for the first time. This can invariably result in a lot of spit flying about. Particularly when we practice sounds that don’t come as naturally here such as the digraph ‘th’. Repeating “th-th-three” and “th-th-thumb” can get quite messy! It also requires some explaining on how to stick your tongue between your teeth without biting it. 

It’s in the detail I’ve found that the students are far more engaged when they encounter something out of the ordinary. This might be googly eyes on the ‘sound sticks’, or a genuine postcard from England, or fishing for answers with magnets fixed to lolly pop rods. 

Songs and rhymes save time This is hardly a revelation, but I’ve found that drilling sounds and expanding vocabulary is easiest though singing songs. Together with funny mimes, the children  are able to understand the meaning and practise the target sound extensively. In my ‘under the sea’ week focusing on the long ‘e’ sound, I adapted ‘A sailor went to sea’ which featured verses with seahorses that drink green tea, seaweed that waves at me, and a pirate with a leg wooden from the knee! 

Grammar games Although our pre-made materials offer comprehensive activities to test grammar, some constructs seem a little more tricky for the students to remember. I made a couple of superhero inspired cards to help them remember how to change third person verb endings (usually add ‘s’ – hello Superman!), and how to recognise an infinitive verb (hi Buzz Lightyear). 
 

The writing is on the wall It’s important to motivate students to produce good work by displaying pieces in the classroom. My 7 year olds were given different coloured paper and asked to write down their haikus. Their final work was more polished and creative than the version they wrote in class, because it comes with a sense of pride to have your name on the wall. I say the same to my younger classes to encourage them to colour neatly to improve their motor skills. It works! 

Watch them grow One idea I stole from Pinterest (a goldmine for teaching ideas) is a vocabulary tree. I made one which includes spelling test words from each of my Primary classes. I quiz the students on the definitions and check they can use the word in a sentence. I also have some synonym flowers to help them find other words for ‘nice’, ‘cold’, ‘big’ and ‘good’. Their antonyms are featured on the back, and the kids enjoy reading a petal and discovering new words. I’ve made some for the verbs too so that we can avoid a tsunami of ‘I/he/she said’;

Chop chop Stamps are called ‘chops’ here and kids will do ANYTHING to get a chop. Stickers are also a great way of setting boundaries and expectations of the students in class. Our centre has kindly provided us with some, and from the age of 7 up the children only want the more academic ones, which range from ‘Good try’ to ‘A+’. There would be a fight if they were to choose their own stickers.


Finally, if you have any tips or would like to nab anything from here, feel free to share! 

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Searching for elusive birds of paradise

As we entered the MacRitchie reservoir park, we couldn’t help but notice the signs warning us about the resident macaque monkeys: ‘Do not feed, do not carry plastic bags, do not make eye contact, avoid wearing sunglasses.’ We began walking around the large reservoir and spotted small sunbathing terrapins sat near the sludgy shallows. They raised their pointed snouts at us as we passed. The water was still except for the small fish that dashed through the feathery algae.

We hadn’t just come to see the opportunistic monkeys, though. Like Victorian explorers and ecologists before us, we were searching for the pinnacle of feathered beauty. The most impressive specimen of the local birds of paradise – the greater racket-tailed drongo.

These are rare creatures which attracted the Victorian explorer Alfred R. Wallace, who was studying the variations between bird species, from plumage to beak shape. It was his curiosity and passion for finding birds of paradise, or what he called “the most extraordinary and the most beautiful of the feathered inhabitants of the earth”, that made him one of the most profilic and celebrated minds of the Victorian era.

The beauty of exotic birds was highly desirable and fetched an even higher price, so many explorers, Wallace included, attempted to capture specimens to send back to menagerie displays and collectors back home. This additional venture enabled travellers the funds to be able to continue their work.

Wallace was a successful field biologist, spending twelve years in jungles in the Amazon and then island hopping around the Malay archipelago. His interest was mainly in birds, and his observation that individual islands had their own unique species led him to the theory of evolution, around the same time as his contemporary Charles Darwin. You can read more about his life and accomplishments below*, but for now, let’s retrace Wallace’s footsteps into the jungle 150 years later.

We stepped into the treeline and out of the sudden downpour. A shower of heat dripped down our arms as condensation. The cicadas filled our heads like tinnitus, and the flashes of sunlight through the leaves distracted our eyes from the fast flittering movements of the butterflies. Dead leaves larger than our heads were caught in rigor mortis on the large vines that swept down from the canopy in dizzying spirals. 

Yet there was so much life. The prehistoric-looking common mynah birds hopped before us, their movements reminiscent of two-legged raptors. Rustles in the leaves twenty feet above announced the arrival of a troupe of rhesus macaques, lured close by a fellow walker rustling for food. Their smiles and keen eyes were not to be mistaken for friendly, and mothers with bald babies clinging to their bellies clambered down towards us. Many others watched from the branches, before leaping across the path above us to continue their hunt for food.

Following the boardwalk by the water, giant ripples from bobbing catfish the length of my arm disturbed the surface. A flicker of a tongue revealed the otherwise statuesque 5ft monitor lizard, who on being discovered, plodded away on his sharp claws in search for another sunny patch to recharge. 

Yet we still had not found our prize: the coveted greater racket-tailed drongo birds. The call of a drongo is difficult to recognise since it is a master of mimicry, copying not only other birds but other animals too. One theory behind this feature is that it enables these particular drongo birds to distract smaller birds and steal their hoard of insects – they are the pirates of the high trees. 

The most distinctive mark of the bird is its unique elongated tail feathers, which are shaped as delicate bows, or twirled rackets, only at the end. It hangs down from the bird at an impressive length, and seems to pose a hazard as the bird flits between dense branches. Perhaps for this reason, it mainly occupies the higher echelons of the jungle.

“[Drongo birds] have long forked tails, and some Asian species have elaborate tail decorations. Racket-tailed drongos are the mimicry artists among birds. They can mimic the sound of other birds and some animals.”

Looking directly up at the silhouetted branches, we strained our eyes to see what was calling in a nasal whistling sound. The speckled leaves exposed pinpricks of light, having been ravished by hungry insects. It was then I saw it. A medium-sized bird, unremarkable in colour with its black/blue feathers that reminded me of blackbirds in my native England, but with a show-stopping finalé. The long tail swept behind it before settling down gracefully below its owner. The tufts of its crown moved as the bird surveyed its surroundings. These drongos are well-known for their bravery on taking on larger birds in competition for food, and it was likely searching for an easy meal. It was a magnificent sight, and the experience only lasted half a minute. Yet the appeal of seeing these birds has lasted centuries.

Photos courtesy of Tom Gibbons

* Alfred R. Wallace was a self-taught naturalist, who spent eight years hopping around the islands of the Malay archipelago to study and collect a range of specimens. As New Scientist writes, ‘Most famously, when [Wallace] crossed the narrow but deep channel between the islands of Bali and Lombok, he discovered strikingly different sorts of birds and other animals. He realised he had crossed a boundary between two major zoological realms; on one side, the animals were typical of Asia, on the other of Australasia. The boundary is known as Wallace’s Line.’

Back in England, in haste to publish these significant findings to the scientific community, it was agreed that Darwin and Wallace would publish their theory of evolution in a joint paper in August 1858. At the time, Wallace was still out in the field, suffering with fever in New Guinea and did little to celebrate his success. On his return to England, however, Wallace was awarded with the Order of Merit, the highest honour bestowed by any monarch. His travel memoirs, The Malay Archipelago was published in 1869 and has never been out of print. 

Although Wallace published subsequent books on his theory, it was Darwin’s book in 1859, On the Origin of Species, that ignited the imagination of the public. The evolution argument fell out of favour towards the end of the 19th Century, and on its revival in the 1930’s, it was Darwin who received the sole credit. 

However, on the centenary celebrations of Wallace in 2013, a portrait was hung in the Natural History Museum in London to commemorate his achievements, albeit dwarfed by the impressive marble statue of Darwin seated on the stairs. Finally, in 2015, the first full bust of Wallace was presented to the Linnean Society, where his joint paper on evolution was first read in 1858.

Notes

‘Bill Bailey’s Jungle Hero’, BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0160nxk

‘Tricksters’, BBC Wildlife, http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Drongo

Greater racket-tailed drongo bird, Wikipedia, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_racket-tailed_drongo

‘Why does Charles Darwin Eclipse Alfred R. Wallace?’ by Kevin Lenoard, BBC News, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-21549079

‘Alfred R Wallace: A Very Rare Specimen’, by Stephanie Pain, New Scientist, https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.newscientist.com/article/mg22029421-100-alfred-russel-wallace-a-very-rare-specimen/amp/?client=safari

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