&#39;Thank God! He&#39;s come up,&#39; said Margo in fervent tones as the bedraggled and spluttering Peter rose to the surface.
We hauled him out, and Margo hurried him up to the house to try to get his suit dry before the party. The rest of us followed, still arguing. Leslie, incensed at Larry&#39;s criticism, changed into trunks and, armed with a massive manual on yacht construction and a tape measure, went down to salvage the boat. For the rest of the morning he kept sawing bits off the mast until she eventually floated upright, but by then the mast was only about three feet high. Leslie was very puzzled, but he promised to fit a new mast as soon as he&#39;d worked out the correct specification. So the Bootle-Bumtrinket, tied to the end of the jetty, floated there in all her glory, looking like a very vivid, overweight Manx cat.
Spiro arrived soon after lunch, bringing with him a tall, elderly man who had the air of an ambassador. This, Spiro explained, was the King of Greece&#39;s ex-butler, who had been prevailed upon to come out of retirement and help with the party. Spiro then turned everyone out of the kitchen and he and the butler closeted themselves in there together. When I went round and peered through the window, I saw the butler in his waistcoat, polishing glasses, while Spiro, scowling thoughtfully and humming to himself, was attacking a vast pile of vegetables. Occasionally he would waddle over and blow vigorously at the seven charcoal fires along the wall, making them glow like rubies.
The first guest to arrive was Theodore, sitting spick and span in a carriage, his best suit on, his boots polished, and, as a concession to the occasion, without any collecting gear. He clasped in one hand a walking-stick, and in the other a neatly tied parcel. &#39;Ah ha! Many ... er ... happy returns of the day,&#39; he said, shaking my hand. &#39;I have brought you a... er... small... er... memento ... a small gift, that is to say, present to er . . . commemorate the occasion . . . um..
On opening the parcel I was delighted to find that it contained a fat volume entitled Life in Ponds and Streams.
&#39;I think you will find it a useful... um... addition to your library,&#39; said Theodore, rocking on his toes. &#39;It contains some very interesting information on ... er ... general freshwater life.&#39;
Gradually the guests arrived, and the front of the villa was a surging mass of carriages and taxis. The great drawing-room and dining-room were full of people, talking and arguing and laughing, and the butler (who to Mother&#39;s dismay had donned a tail coat) moved swiftly through the throng like an elderly penguin, serving drinks and food with such a regal air that a lot of the guests were not at all sure if he was a real butler, or merely some eccentric relative we had staying with us. Down in the kitchen Spiro drank prodigious quantities of wine as he moved among the pots and pans, his scowling face glowing redly in the light from the fires, his deep voice roaring out in song. The air was full of the scent of garlic and herbs, and Lugaretzia was kept hobbling to and fro from kitchen to drawing-room at considerable speed. Occasionally she would succeed in backing some unfortunate guest into a corner and, holding a plate of food under his nose, would proceed to give him the details of her ordeal at the dentist, giving the most life-like and most repulsive imitation of what a molar sounded like when it was torn from its socket, and opening her mouth wide to show her victims the ghastly havoc that had been wrought inside.
More and more guests arrived, and with them came presents. Most of these were, from my point of view, useless, as they could not be adapted for natural history work. The best of the presents were, in my opinion, two puppies brought by a peasant family I knew who lived not far away. One puppy was liver and white, with large ginger eyebrows, and the other was coal black with large ginger eyebrows. As they were presents, the family had, of course, to accept them. Roger viewed them with suspicion and interest, so in order that they should all get acquainted I locked them in the dining-room with a large plate of party delicacies between them. The results were not quite what I had anticipated, for when the flood of guests grew so large that we had to slide back the doors and let some of them into the dining-room, we found Roger seated gloomily on the floor, the two puppies gamboling round him, while the room was decorated in a fashion that left us in no doubt that the new additions had both eaten and drunk to their hearts&#39; content. Larry&#39;s suggestion that they be called Widdle and Puke was greeted with disgust by Mother, but the names stuck and Widdle and Puke they remained.
Still the guests came, overflowing the drawing-room into the dining-room, and out of the french windows on to the veranda. Some of them had come thinking that they would be bored, and after an hour or so they enjoyed themselves so much that they called their carriages, went home, and reappeared with the rest of their families. The wine flowed, the air was blue with cigarette smoke, and the geckos were too frightened to come out of the cracks in the ceiling because of the noise and laughter. In one corner of the room Theodore, having daringly removed his coat, was dancing the Kalamatiano with Leslie and several other of the more exhilarated guests, their feet crashing and shuddering on the floor as they leapt and stamped. The butler, having perhaps taken a little more wine than was good for him, was so carried away by the sight of the national dance that he put his tray down and joined in, leaping and stamping as vigorously as anyone in spite of his age, his coat tails flapping behind him. Mother, smiling in a rather forced and distraught manner, was wedged between the English padre, who was looking with increasing disapproval at the revelry, and the Belgian consul, who was chattering away in her ear and twirling his moustache. Spiro appeared from the kitchen to find out where the butler had got to, and promptly joined in the Kalamatiano. Balloons drifted across the room, bouncing against the dancers&#39; legs, exploding suddenly with loud bangs; Larry, out on the veranda, was endeavouring to teach a group of Greeks some of the finer English limericks. Puke and Widdle had gone to sleep in someone&#39;s hat. Doctor Androuchelli arrived and apologized to Mother for being late.
&#39;It was my wife, madame; she has just been delivered of a baby,&#39; he said with pride.
&#39;Oh, congratulations, doctor,&#39; said Mother; &#39;we must drink to them.&#39;
Spiro, exhausted by the dance, was sitting on the sofa nearby, fanning himself.
Whats?&#39; he roared at Androuchelli, scowling ferociously. &#39;You gets another babys?&#39;
&#39;Yes, Spiro, a boy,&#39; said Androuchelli, beaming.
&#39;How manys you gets now?&#39; asked Spiro.
&#39;Six, only six,&#39; said the doctor in surprise. &#39;Why?&#39;
&#39;You oughts to be ashames of yourself,&#39; said Spiro in disgust. &#39;Six... Gollys! Carrying on like cats and dogses.&#39;
&#39;But I like children,&#39; protested Androuchelli.
&#39;When I gots married I asks my wifes how many she wants,&#39; said Spiro in a loud voice, &#39;and she says twos, so I gives her twos and then I gets her sewed ups. Six childrens. . . . Honest to Gods, you makes me wants to throws . . . cats and dogses.&#39;
At this point the English padre decided that he would, most reluctantly, have to leave, as he had a long day ahead of him tomorrow. Mother and I saw him out, and when we returned Androuchelli and Spiro had joined the dancers.
The sea was dawn-calm, and the eastern horizon flushed with pink when we stood yawning at the front door and the last carriage clopped its way down the drive. As I lay in bed with Roger across my feet, a puppy on each side of me, and Ulysses sitting fluffed out on the pelmet, I gazed through the window at the sky, watching the pink spread across the olive top, extinguishing the stars one by one, and thought that, taken all round, it had been an extremely good birthday party.
Very early next morning I packed my collecting gear and some food, and with Roger, Widdle, and Puke as company set off on a voyage in the Bootle-Bumtrinket. The sea was calm, the sun was shining out of a gentian-blue sky, and there was just the faintest breeze; it was a perfect day. The Bootle-Bumtrinket wallowed up the coast in a slow and dignified manner, while Roger sat in the bows as look-out, and Widdle and Puke ran from one side of the boat to the other, fighting, trying to lean over the side and drink the sea, and generally behaving in a pathetically land-lubberish fashion. The joy of having a boat of your own! The feeling of pleasant power as you pulled on the oars and felt the boat surge forward with a quick rustle of water, like someone cutting silk; the sun gently warming your back and making the sea surface flicker with a hundred different colours; the thrill of wending your way through the complex maze of weed-shaggy reefs that glowed just beneath the surface of the sea. It was even with pleasure that I contemplated the blisters that were rising on my palms, making my hands feel stiff and awkward.
Though I spent many days voyaging in the Bootle-Bumtrinket, and had many adventures, there was nothing to compare with that very first voyage. The sea seemed bluer, more limpid and transparent, the islands seemed more remote, sun-drenched, and enchanting than ever before, and it seemed as though the life of the sea had congregated in the little bays and channels to greet me and my new boat. A hundred feet or so from an islet I shipped the oars and scrambled up to the bows, where I lay side by side with Roger, peering down through a fathom of crystal water at the sea bottom, while the Bootle-Bumtrinket floated towards the shore with the placid buoyancy of a celluloid duck. As the boat&#39;s turtle-shaped shadow edged across the sea-bed, the multi-coloured, ever-moving tapestry of sea life was unfolded.
In the patches of silver sand the clams were stuck upright in small clusters, their mouths gaping. Sometimes, perched between the shell&#39;s horny lips, here would be a tiny, pale ivory pea-orab, the frail, soft-shelled, degenerate creature that lived a parasitic life in the safety of the great shell&#39;s corrugated walls. It was interesting to set off the clam colony&#39;s burglar alarm. I drifted over a group of them until they lay below, gaping up at me, and then gently edged the handle of the butterfly net down and tapped on the shell. Immediately the shell snapped shut, the movement causing a small puff of white sand to swirl up like a tornado. As the currents of this shell&#39;s alarm slid through the water the rest of the colony felt them. In a moment clams were slamming their front doors shut left and right, and the water was full of little whirls of sand, drifting and swirling about the shells, falling back to the sea-bed like silver dust.
Interspersed with the clams were the serpulas, beautiful feathery petals, forever moving round and round, perched on the end of a long, thick, greyish tube. The moving petals, orange-gold and blue, looked curiously out of place on the end of these stubby stalks, like an orchid on a mushroom stem. Again the serpulas had a burglar-alarm system but it was much more sensitive than the clams&#39;; the net handle would get within six inches of the whirpool of shimmering petals, and they would suddenly all point skywards, bunch together, and dive head-first down the stalk, so that all that was left was a series of what looked like bits of miniature hosepipe stuck in the sand.
On the reefs that were only a few inches below the water, and that were uncovered at low tide, you found the thickest congregation of life. In the holes were the pouting blennies, which stared at you with their thick lips, giving their faces an expression of negroid insolence as they fluttered their fins at you. In the shady clefts among the weeds the sea urchins would be gathered in clusters, like shiny brown horse-chestnut seed-cases, their spines moving gently like compass needles, towards possible danger. Around them the anemones clung to the rocks, plump and lustrous, their arms waving in an abandoned and somehow Eastern-looking dance in an effort to catch the shrimps that flipped past, transparent as glass. Routing in the dark underwater caverns, I unearthed a baby octopus, who settled on the rocks like a Medusa head, blushed to a muddy brown, and regarded me with rather sad eyes from beneath the bald dome of its head. A further movement on my part and it spat out a small storm-cloud of black ink that hung and rolled in the clear water, while the octopus skimmed off behind it, shooting through the water with its arms trailing behind it, looking like a streamer-decorated balloon. There were crabs too, fat, green, shiny ones on the tops of the reef, waving their claws in what appeared to be a friendly manner, and down below, on the weedy bed of the sea, the spider-crabs with their strange spiky-edged shells, their long, thin legs, each wearing a coat of weeds, sponges, or occasionally an anemone which they had carefully planted on their backs. Everywhere on the reefs, the weed patches, the sandy bottom, moved hundreds of top shells, neatly striped and speckled in blue, silver, grey, and red, with the scarlet and rather indignant face of a hermit crab peering out from underneath. They were like small ungainly caravans moving about, bumping into each other, bargaining through the weeds, or rumbling swiftly across the sand among the towering clam-shells and sea-fans.
The sun sank lower, and the water in the bays and below the tottering castles of rock was washed with the slate grey of evening shadow. Slowly, the oars creaking softly to themselves, I rowed the Bootle-Bumtrinket homewards. Widdle and Puke lay asleep, exhausted by the sun and sea air, their paws twitching, their ginger eyebrows moving as they chased dream crabs across endless reefs. Roger sat surrounded by glass jars and tubes in which tiny fish hung suspended, anemones waved their arms and spider-crabs touched the sides of their glass prisons with delicate claws. He sat staring down into the jars, ears pricked, occasionally looking up at me and wagging his tail briefly, before becoming absorbed once again in his studies. Roger was a keen student of marine life. The sun gleamed like a coin behind the olive-trees, and the sea was striped with gold and silver when the Bootle-Bumtrinket brought her round behind bumping gently against the jetty. Hungry, thirsty, tired, with my head buzzing full of the colours and shapes I had seen, I carried my precious specimens slowly up the hill to the villa, while the three dogs, yawning and stretching, followed behind.