Up the garden path

Illustration from a collection of fables

The hare was not found


Certain mysterious events took place over last weekend, events which have not been and indeed are unlikely ever to be accounted for. At any rate, soon after these events took place, our hero disappeared amid a hum of speculation.

Before long, social media was buzzing with rumours and jokes as to his whereabouts and his intentions. Could his people really have lost him, after four decades? Was this the end of a generations-old tradition? Could he be dead to them now?

Then, a day or two later, having led everyone up the garden path and down again, he emerged – looking a little soiled but otherwise acting normal – from the hole he had dug for himself. His beady eyes blinking in the inadequate sunlight, he revealed he was perfectly satisfied with his current circumstances and had no intention of leaving.

Reactions to the news included relief, bemusement, embarrassment and mirth, but our hero was oblivious to all that. After he’d had a nice meal, he merely waited serenely for an invitation to go on morning radio.

You think this is about Eamon Ó Cuiv, don’t you? In fact I’m referring to Florentine the 100-year-old tortoise, who vanished from his home in Rathgar, south Dublin, at the weekend, or so his family thought. They notified the gardaí of the disappearance, put posters up about the place, and launched a campaign to find him on social media.

This was only a moderately good human-interest story but, partly because it presented an unmissable opportunity to pun (‘shell-shocked’, ‘shell-ebrity’ etc), and partly because everyone wanted to know exactly how far you could get in Rathgar at 0.17 miles an hour, the story grew legs, as it were.

Soon the hashtag #rathgartortoise was a top trend on Twitter, and the item had been covered by most major news outlets. Another 24 hours and someone would surely have reported seeing a hare snoozing somewhere in Dublin 6, just to provide the fable with a second act. That or some boffin might have explored the James Joyce connection. Joyce was born just around the corner in Brighton Square; that “tortoise napecomb” he mentions in Ulysses could have come from one of Florentine’s luckless relations, and Florentine might have been bent on melodramatic revenge.

Anyway, the yarn was cut short by events, or perhaps even by Saint Anthony, who knows? There are agnostics who swear by Saint Anthony’s ability to locate lost things. On Tuesday it was reported that Florentine had been found safe and well, covered in muck, in his own flowerbed, having never gone anywhere. (Allegedly. By all accounts there was no sign of a hare in the garden at the time. The reader is invited to draw his or her own conclusions from that. But I’ll wager they didn’t call them ninja turtles for nothing.)

Florentine was given a celebratory (gamely resisting the temptation to say shellebratory there) meal of lettuce, followed by a pudding of strawberries, and was taken more or less immediately to the RTE studios to be photographed with John Murray.

‘Ireland breathes sigh of relief as 100-year-old tortoise found!’, exclaimed the BBC, even though we’ve asked the BBC a thousand times not to exaggerate.

“I will continue to work from within, to serve the party,” said Florentine. Oops, sorry, silly me, confused again. Of course he didn’t say that. He was, however, photographed looking a bit daft. I’m not confused on that score. It’s something he really should be more careful about, as he is by no means as daft as he looks.

Florentine’s family were understandably mortified. “We were amazed by the speed and extent of the coverage,” Cliona Eogan, one of his owners, was reported to say. “We are very grateful, if a little embarrassed given the outcome.”

Don’t say another word about it. Pets are inherently embarrassing, as anyone with a dog (‘I want to sniff your privates’) or a cat (‘I want you to sniff my privates’) will tell you. The wonder is that Florentine has lived with the same family for 40 years and yet never embarrassed them before. There must have been countless ways to embarrass a 1970s Dublin family if he’d only used his imagination.

Anyway, everyone understands how it feels to make a big fuss about something that turns out to be nothing, or to indulge in a spot of attention-seeking and then regret it. Developed a bunion and assumed it was cancer? Lost your temper about something that was your own fault? Imagined yourself insulted? Took a principled stand about something – an austerity treaty, say – and then had a change of heart?

Step forward, anyone who has never been a bit of a drama queen. Where do you think you’re going, O Cuiv?

Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 13th May 2012

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