The rain had been falling steadily for over three days now. It sounded rather like an avant-garde orchestra which had decided to perform a single continual chord. The city was filled with its rich drone. Whatever intelligence was behind the rain seemed to know that it was being outrageous, that it was flouting every natural or established sense of what was proper. At times, the rain’s great symphony of subtle internal rhythms seemed almost to taunt the listener, daring them to believe that it would never stop, that it was quite satisfied to continue raining forever and that such a prospect gave it no inconvenience. The drains were choked; great pools were spreading across the roads. Everybody caught in the open cowered and scuttled for cover.
On Friday afternoon, I was received by my editor James at Edinburgh Zoo, which is based at the foot of Corstorphine Hill. James is presently implementing Edinburgh City Council’s targeted response to the rain. When approaching the zoo, one’s view of Corstorphine Hill is mostly obstructed, although the recent work there has thinned some of the forest from its crown and I could quite clearly pick out the masts of the Royal Yacht Britannia protruding above the treetops. It had taken seven helicopters to lift the yacht from Leith Docks and carry it across Edinburgh to be deposited on the hill.
The odour from the zoo was now so evil that the mass of the tourists had fled. There were crates everywhere, some empty and some with the distinct sounds of breathing or pacing emanating from within them. For a while I was lost amongst the crates, following various unpromising paths which petered out into bare corners. I stumbled across James’ office quite by chance.
“I’m up to my neck in it,” James complained testily. “For a start, I seem to have mislaid the USB drive which stores the records of all the animals that we have imported. Now, I don’t know what to do. Should we order tapirs or are they here already? I simply don’t have the time to initiate a headcount.”
“How are you paying for the animals? The bill must be going through the roof.”
James laughed. “Thank god the city received those two pandas last year. Otherwise they would have broken the bank. But to answer your question, we’re now trading amongst the other zoos with the animals that we already have. For example, we only need two penguins, and so we are swapping the rest of them for kangaroos and fruit bats and ostriches.”
“Special delivery!” A middle-aged man in a baseball cap was at the office door, and he and James were performing that breathlessly choreographed little ceremony of signing for the crate. “Two duck billed platypuses,” James reported gloomily. He emptied the crate and carefully inspected the two sleepy-looking dumplings that had landed on his desk.
James’ head shot up. He was incandescent. “Again! This is unacceptable! Yet again they’ve sent me two males!”
I wanted to tell James that there was no way that his project was ever going to succeed, but I could not think of a kind way to break this to him. It should have been self-evident that all of these animals were never going to fit aboard the Royal Yacht. Even if James could accommodate half of them, the conditions would be so unsanitary that they were unlikely to survive for long. But I have been lately required to choose my words carefully in James’ company. Last week I speculated aloud upon whether “two of every animal” should really encompass two of every breed. At the prospect of having to collect thousands of different dogs, James had almost abandoned his project. Further misgivings duly remained unspoken. For example, James seems to have defined Nature as being merely its animals, and millions of species of tree and plant were so far excluded from the guest list.
“Perhaps you don’t need to purchase adult animals,” I suggested. “Baby elephants and giraffes would save a great deal of space, and it should have stopped raining by the time that they reach sexual maturity.”
We both smiled. It was now impossible to imagine Edinburgh without the rain. Once there had been hot lazy afternoons on the Meadows, just as once there had been knights in shining armour.
“It’s not even clear why you need two of each species. If all of the females were already impregnated prior to boarding, you would save half the cabins.”
“It’s a bit tricky to pull off logistically…”
“Instead of importing bull animals, just buy their semen. The females could be artificially inseminated aboard the yacht.”
“You want me to fuck – so to speak – every animal on the planet?” James looked down at the platypuses that were now stirring on his desk, flapping their paddles and quacking feebly. A thought struck him and he was suddenly indignant. “These animals can swim!”
The platypuses were ingloriously ejected from the office, into the rain.
I gazed out into the downpour, suddenly wondering whether James would have to include otters and water voles in the yacht. His project was predicated upon saltwater and freshwater remaining separate. The rain continued its extraordinary performance, the trees shaking with laughter like giant babies that are being tickled for hours on end.