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The Hippopotamologist

The Hippopotamologist ©Gregory Pastoll 2008

Young Dr Henry Hockenstock had argued with his peers
About the way that hippo’s live, for six or seven years.
He had two rivals in the lab, with theories worlds apart:
Professor Harper Hall was one, the other, Horton Hart.

Now, Horton got a grant to go and see them, in the wild,
A fact which left both Hockenstock and Harper pretty riled,
Since they were thinking selfishly that Horton was a fool,
And he did not deserve to go, to represent the school.

They waited for a month or two, for Horton to return,
But, sad to say, he turned up late, and then inside an urn.
It seems he had an incident within a hippo’s jaw,
And, perish, yes, but publish, no, he wouldn’t any more.

His field notes were sent on home, for all the team to read,
But Henry grabbed them right away, with quite unseemly greed.
He got in fast, convinced the boss he’d go the extra mile,
And, with the notes all safely packed, he set off for the Nile.

He camped upon the very site where Horton had, one night,
All eager now to show the world that his ideas were right.
The morning sun came up to find young Henry on his way,
Departing, in his rowing boat, all ready for the day.

Quite soon, that sun, by swift degrees, was rising in the sky,
But not a single hippo came in view of Henry’s eye.
He put down all three cameras, and fanned his face, and sighed.
“I wonder what it is,” he said, “that makes them want to hide?”

He looked into old Horton’s notes, to try to find a clue.
But nothing that he saw in there would help one bit, he knew.
That idiot had written stuff that clearly wasn’t right –
Except the bit about the way that angry hippos bite.

For that’s the way poor Horton had completely lost his head:
He didn’t heed his own advice, and now was rather dead.
But, several things that Henry’d seen had not been quite the same
As Horton’s notes had set them out, so, what was Horton’s game?

The sun beat down, the water lapped, the reeds would gently swish.
What more relaxing scene than that, could anybody wish?
So, Henry thought he’s have a dip, for as he said: “It’s hot!”
If he’d have known what we suspect, I think he’d rather not.

He scanned the banks, but nothing stirred, as far as he could see.
It looked as good a place to swim as any place could be.
He grabbed the painter of the boat, to keep it close at hand,
Then tumbled in, with clothes and all, a little way from land.

But, Holy Cow! A ring of eyes went wide in great surprise,
Then narrowed as their owners felt their hippo-hackles rise.
He surfaced from his shallow dive to find a world of teeth
And open throats in front of him, with shadows underneath!

He gave a hippo-critic oath, and lunged towards his boat:
A big mistake, they like to make a mash of things afloat!
He’d hardly got aboard the thing, albeit on his back,
When awful sounds surrounded him, of wood about to crack!

He leapt upon one creature’s neck, and dived towards the bank,
But crocodiles were gathered there, so now, to be quite frank,
He didn’t have a snowball’s hope to see another day,
When, suddenly a dhow came by, directly in his way!

He yelled like someone fit to burst, they fished him out so quick,
But then proceeded happily, his pockets all to pick!
They smacked him hard, upon the head, with something like an oar,
And, fifty metres down the stream, they chucked him in once more!

The river water shocked him back, his thoughts were clear and sharp,
But something got inside his shirt – it might have been a carp.
He ripped it off, and swam like mad, to make it to a rock,
And that he did, but only half an inch before a croc!

Our hippopotamologist then tore right through the reeds,
As if he were a hovercraft, with twenty forward speeds.
And when he found the solid ground, he thought he could relax,
Alas, he spied a python glide, behind him, in his tracks!

He raced across the desert sand, it nearly cooked his soles,
The closest thing he’d ever been to running over coals.
His eyes were stinging from the sun, his back was getting fried –
He couldn’t be unhappier, no matter how he tried.

He found a palm beside a road, and flaked out, in the shade.
By now, his equanimity was getting somewhat frayed,
And when he flagged a passing car, and all he got was sand,
I do believe he used a word you wouldn’t understand.

He saw a camelocipede, and yelled for it to stop,
But it was taking tourists to the Tutunkhamen shop.
The driver urged his camel on, he couldn’t give a hoot,
But Henry took off, after them, in desperate pursuit.

He caught it up, and grabbed the frame, and clung there, like a clamp
(If he’d have been a chimpanzee, he would have been a champ!)
He jumped off, on the verge of town, quite close to his hotel,
Then staggered to the portico, and weakly rang the bell.

They let him in, and fed him up, and saw him to his plane
(He had to wait a fortnight, first, because of all the pain.)
But, when he got back home again, he wrote a long report,
Which made it sound as if he’d been to visit some resort.

“The water’s calm, the hippo’s tame, conditions are benign –
I followed Horton Hart’s advice, and everything was fine.
The thing to do, is make a splash, the hippo’s love to play
I did this once, then photographed them right throughout the day.

They gambolled round my rowing boat, as tame as any cow,
I shot as many photographs as daylight would allow.
Unfortunately, those I took were stolen on the jet,
But I can vouch they were the best, of hippo’s, taken yet.”

And merrily he laid it on, with motive unbeknown,
Explaining what the hippo’s do when (almost) left alone.
“They let me swim right next to them,” he lied, with utter glee,
Then left a copy lying round, for Harper Hall to see.

The Hippopotamologist

Gregory Pastoll

Cape Town, South Africa

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Artist's Description

Amusing story in rhyming verse, dealing with academic rivalry and deception. It hinges around a man who wants to study hippopotami and travels to the Nile, trying to get guidance from the notes of his predecessor, who unfortunately met his end in a hippo encounter.

Artwork Comments

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