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Sunday, 8 September 2019

Köhler’s Apes

rotary clothes drier or whirly

Blogger Tom Stephenson described recently how he retrieved a small, ancient metal blade that had mysteriously appeared on an out-of-reach flat roof by using a long pole and a magnet. I could sense his immense satisfaction in the flash of insight into how to retrieve it and it gave me vicarious joy to read how the blade popped on to the magnet for him to haul it in. Köhler’s apes would be impressed. This is how culture, in its widest sense, is passed on. 

Wolfgang Köhler, if you’ve not heard of him, was one of those psychologists whose ideas made the study of that subject a pure delight before it became all numbers and logic. He described how insight and problem-solving are not confined to humans; how chimpanzees, after puzzling a while to gain insight, would stack boxes or join two sticks to retrieve bananas that were out of reach. They do it for the thrill of it. I could go so far as to say that dogs enjoy doing clever things such as learning the name of a toy, and Phoebe our cat certainly looked pleased with herself when she realised she could open the sliding doors between the back and front rooms (that’s the dining room and the sitting room for those of you who don’t speak Northern) in order to sleep on the settee and be sick on it, but scientific psychologists would call that anthropomorphic nonsense.

Moments of insight seem to stick in our memories. The photograph above shows our rotary clothes line, a well-made and robust one (now over thirty years old) brought from a previous house in Scotland where they call them whirlies. Blow the ‘h’ and roll the ‘r’ to say it properly. When we moved to our current house there was a rusty old clothes post concreted into the middle of the lawn. We wanted rid of the ugly thing to make a hole for the whirly. Help, insight. Were we a match for Tom Stephenson and Köhler’s apes? (NB not “the Coca Cola apes” as a student once wrote in an exam.)

base of rotary clothes drier or whirly

Half an hour with a hacksaw cut off the clothes post at ground level leaving a suitable hole. It was too wide, but more patient hacksaw work cut down a length of old road-railing pipe to make a sleeve which fitted perfectly into the hole to accommodate the whirly. Very satisfying! 

But there was a further problem. Things used to fall down the hole when the whirly wasn’t in. On one occasion a nauseating smell was found to be coming from the decomposing body of a bird that had fallen to the bottom. We got the poor thing out with a stick, disinfected the hole with Jeyes Fluid and used a threadbare tennis ball to cover the open top.

Then Phoebe the cat started to play with the ball. She liked (more anthropomorphic nonsense) nothing better than knocking it off the hole and chasing it around the garden. If we didn’t put it back things still fell in.

I don’t know what made me look down one day when about to drop in the pipe to put up the whirly, but something caught my eye at the bottom of the hole. It seemed to be moving. I crouched down to peer in. I had to get a torch. There was a large frog at the bottom.

Problem: how do you rescue a frog from fifteen inches (37 centimetres) down at the bottom of a narrow pipe without harming it?

Phoebe the cat, from the comfort of her nest of garden sacks in the garage, suggests hooking it out with your claws and ignoring the screams. The idea that frogs feel pain is felineomorphic nonsense. She also thinks Köhler’s apes were stupid. Why stack up all those boxes when you can just spring up to get it, and who would want a banana anyway? As for Tom Stephenson, well, why didn’t he leap across from his balcony and bring back the blade in his mouth? It was one of her friends who left it there in the first place after using it to poke frogs with.

Are there any other suggested solutions to the problem?


23 comments:

  1. Fill it with water I suppose and the frog floats to the top.

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    1. You're too quick Rachel. Took me about ten minutes. Filled it up. Frog climbed out and jumped off happily (?) across the lawn.

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    2. It had been raining heavily for the previous few days, so presumably the frog had sought refuge in the water and sunk to the bottom as it drained away.

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  2. I think that Rachel has come up with the best solution through radical thinking. Women are much better at this than men. I was going to suggest those giant pearl-catches they make, but I am obsessed with tools. Go with Rachel!

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    1. Not sure frog would be too keen on pearl-catches.

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    2. A drowning frog clutches at straws.

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  3. Yep, I was going to suggest exactly what Rachel did. Ribbit.

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  4. Rachel's idea seems a good one.

    My grandmother had a 'whirlie' that looks very much like yours. In my mind, grandma's was much taller, but that could be because the last time I hung wash from it was when I was about ten years old!

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    1. "ie" is a much better spelling. I suppose your washing dries itself in SF.

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  5. One of my grandsons has a small plastic bow that fires small plastic arrows, which sport a suction pad instead of a point (you probably have one at home). I could arrange for him to visit if such a quandary should arise again.

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    1. I'm afraid I don't have one at home. Do suction pads stick to frogs? Does it make them scream?

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  6. Well, really! Immediate thought, pour in water, up swims frog. Second thought, poor frog that's not much of a garden! (I'm Northern and say it straight.)

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    1. Well, that is towards the 'wild' part of the garden where the frogs and hedgehogs live. They like long grass, slugs and midges. All your beautiful flowers suggest you spend too much time gardening. If you're proper Northern you should have just a square of bare grass surrounded by a few struggling perennials smashed to smithereens by kids' feet and footballs.

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    2. Ey, I'm proper Northern, Tasker, just way past the age of kids with footballs. (Though a little grandson is shaping up nicely.)

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    3. Well, OK, but "gamekeeper's cottage in the South-West of England" sounds a bit suspect to me.

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  7. Yes! I have had a light bulb moment. Dig a trench around the whirly hole and lift the unintended frog trap. Okay - it would spoil your lawn but what is a bit of grass compared with the life of a frog - as Bob Marley said to George Pompidou.

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    1. Would need a pickaxe or pneumatic drill to smash through the concrete in which the original clothes post was embedded. The shock waves would probably harm the frog. Nice try.

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    2. I would have just lifted up the concrete mass, turned it upside down and plop - out would have come Kermit like a stiff blob from a ketchup bottle.

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    3. Of course. I forgot how strong you East Riding country folk are.

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  8. Love Phoebe... She's got the right idea. :)

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    1. She looks unhappy at being disturbed in that photograph.

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