10 October 2008

frogs at Frogs’ Leap . . . and the minor chords of rhyming

“Why frogs?”
some people ask. The short answer is “Why not?”

The long answer is extremely long – but briefly, it goes back to the first house that Doc remembers as a child. The street was called Frognel Crescent in an old part of Aldershot called Frognel. Then Doc moved to Frogmorton Street. The die was cast. Doc has lived in a number of different places and most he has given frog names – mainly ‘Frog Hollow’ from a Frank Zappa reference to ‘Frog Hollow Day Camp’.

Robert and Ræchel love frogs. There are a fair few in the garden – being as we have a frog pond.

We gathered frogspawn from a friend’s pond every three for four years and now they have settled. With all the rain we have had this Summer—and throughout the year in Wales—the frogs have thriven. We sometimes hear the croaking which Ræchel finds delightful. Robert and Ræchel opened the front door a few weeks back and found a frog sitting on the doorstep.

We couldn’t work out how it had got there unless it had made its way through the garage from the back of the house – but it may just have been so wet that it made its way here from the park. Robert carefully took hold of the frog and took it to the pond where it sat looking around for a while before it swam away. Ræchel was extremely excited about seeing the frog and looks for them in the garden every day.

Knowing of our predilection for amphibia various friends have presented us with frogs in various forms as birthday and Yuletide gifts – and so now the house and garden boasts a variety of frogs large and small. We have ornamental plates, candle holders, and paintings.

Doc’s mother joined in the fun – as did Caroline’s mother and father and so frogs have proliferated to the point where we had to request people to desist a little for fear of becoming a theme park. Jeremy Fischer—a wood carver—made us a large wooden frog designed to sit in the garden.

It has not weathered well—in fact it cracked quite quickly—so Robert decided it would be a good idea to let plants grow through it. He spent an entire afternoon packing the crack with earth in order that he could plant ‘baby’s breath’ in the fissure. It should end up looking vaguely surreal.

The most unusual frog dates back to 1974 when Doc was at Bristol Art School. It is a bronze sculpture of two embracing frogs – and it now sits in the front downstairs window.

It is not the original statue (the three he made were sold in order to fund Doc’s second sojourn in the Himalayas) but one which was cast in Montana from the original fibreglass model. It began life as a clay statue that was plaster-cast. The second stage was the fibreglass resin model which Doc’s brother Græham owned for many years. The fibreglass model took a tumble and broke in half. We wondered for a while how we were going to fix it – but Heidi Schæfer in Montana came to our rescue. She worked for a time in a bronze foundry where she was able to produce a number of ‘Frogs in Amplexus’ statues – so now there are frog statues dotted around the world: Montana, California, Britain, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Finland.

As you will see . . . the frogs are not exactly naturalistic. Doc created them originally as an illustration for poetry which contained emblematic frogs.

The frogs of the poetry were depicted as surreal aspects of perception.

Being amphibians – they live in two worlds (the aquatic world and the other one) so this statue is supposed to depict that in terms of how human beings can also live in two worlds – the world of ordinary every day experience and . . . the other one.

Doc’s 1970s frog poetry is now lost – so it is not possible to say much more than this.

So . . . why Frogs’ Leap?

Well that is easy to explain – Frogs’ Leap is up the hill from where we used to live in Frog Hollow. There’s also a rather splendid Californian wine called Frog’s Leap – so we just moved the apostrophe to indicate that more than one frog had made the leap.

The four frogs—Caroline, Doc, Robert and Ræchel—leapt up the hill to their current domicile. As you can see – we take whimsy seriously at Frogs’ Leap.

Whimsy often takes hard work and effort if you want to make it work well. Robert enjoys making parodies of songs – and we have shown him how to approach that skill in the correct manner i.e. remembering that the lines have to scan. Robert is now quite critical of material that scans poorly.

We introduced him to assonance too. He was unsure of assonance at first. He felt that it wasn’t good not to have a ‘proper rhyme’. We explained “Assonance isn’t just the failure to find a rhyme – it’s necessary to have some assonance in any song in order to stop it sounding sugary. Robert considered that idea and said “I still prefer proper rhymes.” We tried a guitar playing angle. “You could look at assonance as the minor chords of rhyming.”

Robert was still dubious. The point that convinced him was when we said that Jimi Hendrix used assonance and showed him an example. “Ah . . .” he said “It must be alright then.” Isn’t it marvellous to live in an age where Jimi Hendrix is a major authority figure.

The painting of Jimi Hendrix was taken from a poster in 1968. It was painted in oil paint—diluted with turpentine—on photographic linen. The painting itself is lost – but this photograph remains. It was provided by Reg Clark – an old Art School friend.

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