That’s what it looks like. One of those ones you buy in pairs and put whipped cream in between that then oozes out down your chin.
Made of egg white.
Got it now?
Let’s move on with the story.
I say to Mrs Pobaan, ‘There’s something floating in the pond that looks like a meringue. Do you know what it is?’
From what you know of the angel in my Angel Delight, you’re probably not that confident that Mrs Pobaan is the right person to turn to with such a technical question. Mrs Pobaan has been known to become indignant when she has screwed a 12-volt bulb into a 220-volt socket and got nothing but a dull pop. She seems determined to repeat the exercise with another 12-volt bulb when I explain to her that this is sure to result in a similar outcome. No amount of classwork on the essential nature of the volt can dissuade her from such actions. In the end, the solution we reach is that Around Here, Mr Pobaan Does The Electrics while Mrs Pobaan Makes The Moo Krapao.
Someone that doesn’t know an amp from a watt is unlikely, you’re thinking, to be able to explain the appearance of a meringue in a pond, but I have more faith in the value of experience gained in one field of human endeavour when applied to another. Mrs Pobaan, you see, is a jungle girl, the Mowgli of South Thailand. If there was a choice between a liana and walking to the end of the street, she’d swing there. A gnarled tree trunk v. a staircase? She’d shin it. By all accounts she was brought up in the jungle in conditions of some poverty. Consequently, she knows how to extract nourishment and water from the least promising of environments.
When we walk in Thailand’s mighty national parks, as we occasionally do, it is not uncommon for her to identify one parched-looking tree as a good source of drinking water, if you know where to cut it; or another dangerously poisonous-looking bunch of berries as great for elevenses. I defer absolutely to her judgement in matters of venom. If she tells me not to touch a certain centipede or to steer clear of the back end of such-and-such a toad, then steer clear I surely will, lest it project some vile liquid into my eyes. A jungle girl survives on applied knowledge of this type and Mrs Pobaan’s continuing presence among us is testament to her wily understanding of the perils to be encountered in the natural world here in the tropics.
Thus, having made my enquiry, I am expecting chapter and verse on the meringue, in particular, perhaps, its culinary possibilities.
‘A frog,’ she says.
‘So where’s the frog?’
‘How did it make the meringue?’
She shrugs. That’s the kind of thing a jungle girl doesn’t need to know.
‘How could a frog get out of the pond?’
Mrs Pobaan looks nonplussed. In retrospect I realise that this is because the two of us have in our minds different characterisations of a frog. I’m thinking of a big, green, lumbering European frog that couldn’t climb out of our pond if you gave it a marble staircase. Mrs Pobaan is thinking of a lithe, lissom Asian frog with sticky feet, which can leap from leaf to leaf like a small glossy Tinkerbell and could spring effortlessly from the pond like a bejewelled amphibian freerunner.
‘No problem,’ she avers, ‘for a frog.’
‘What will happen to the meringue?’
‘The turtles are gonna eat the eggs for sure. Wouldn’t you?’
I’m not that sure that I would, though a thought rushes through my mind that the jungle girl in Mrs Pobaan is only waiting for a second meringue to appear before slapping the two together around a filling of whipped cream.
How to save the eggs from certain oblivion? I have to think fast. Adopt them; it’s their only chance.
I place the meringue in a glass bowl on the dining table. In there I can see its underside and, after a day or two, I notice tiny creatures dropping down from the fluffy white billows like a squadron of paratroopers falling from a cloud.
Tadpoles. The Pobaans hug each other like proud grandparents.
The days pass. Now, tadpoles are diffident creatures who don’t readily share their emotions, but the skittish way they swim around their little world makes me think they’re reasonably happy.
After a couple of weeks, they grow legs back and front, absorb their tails and, before you know it, they’re little frogs.
‘What are we going to do with all these frogs?’ I ask lamely, realising that I have taken on duties for which I am not equipped. Somehow I have become involved in the natural world of the tropics, but on the wrong side. I am used to being the victim of its various appetites. I have been eaten by its leeches and mosquitoes, stung by its bees, threatened by its monkeys and lacerated by its thorny bamboos, but never before have I been placed in the position of life-giving nourisher to its infant members. I feel empowered, yet humbled by my responsibility.
Where should I deposit my young charges? What receptive glade should I seek for their release? How can I ease their transition from the comfort of captivity back to the savage natural world? What further aid can I offer my froggy offspring to increase their chances of survival when they leave my care?
But nature is ruthless, life in the jungle is tough and jungle girls are not sentimental.
‘Stick ‘em back in the pond,’ says Mrs Pobaan. ‘They were beginning to stink out the dining room anyway.’