Getting lost in the Chameleon Boudoir

That's a-moray!! Actually it's a tiger eel, but I needed an excuse for my favourite joke of all time.

That’s a-moray!! Actually it’s a tiger eel, but I needed an excuse for my favourite joke of all time.

Some weeks ago, I was spending a lot of time in my boss’ Berlin flat. I was doing some work which required a decent internet connection for me to make several large uploads each day, and the internet connection at my workplace was quite distressingly terrible (we would later find out that we had all been sharing a 6 – SIX – kbps connection for weeks without Telekom offering to fix it). I got into a routine where I would spend the morning sorting shizz out, then take an hour to prepare all the files I would need, and then cycle over to the flat in my lunch break to upload all those big monstrous gigabytes and answer erroneous emails. Well, one day I was sitting there in my boss’ kitchen, staring at the ceiling as I listened to my colleague telling me stuff over Skype, having an idle gander about the room. Until I noticed something: the walls looked oddly speckled now, and I didn’t remember them having a stucco finish. I looked more closely.

Maggots. Herds of maggots, scooching along the walls and ceiling. Hundreds of them, everywhere. I imagined them all suddenly falling on me and then a bunch of horrendous Lars Von Trier imagery bursting through the windows. No matter how many times I blinked, though, they were still there. A quick google helped me to identify the particular species of maggot, and thus followed a preposterous few days of trying to balance my usual massive workload with also finding a decent exterminator and overseeing his exterminating. One of my top ten sentences I never thought I’d hear in my professional career? ‘Careful of the maggots when emptying the vacuum cleaner! You might want to do it outside.’ When I did empty the vacuum cleaner, outside and at arm’s length, a huge gulp of maggots flowed out of the dust compartment – followed by a redemptive little black cloud of moths, like a mini version of the bats rising out of Batman’s cave.

Anyway, the reason why I’m telling you this story is because it isn’t unusual, not at all. Surreal, unbelievably improbable things seem to happen like magic to me in my day job, to the extent that I sometimes begin to feel like my office is in the middle of some kind of paramagnetic field or Bermuda triangle. And unfortunately the majority of these preposterous events simply aren’t appropriate for me to write about publicly. So I go to work, spend the day fighting a mutant elephant-sized, single-celled mould organism which is trying to kill mankind (or whatever other insane thing is happening that day), come home knackered, sit down to write, and…well, who could write a post about a particularly nice cup of tea after a day like that. I’ve been a bit writer’s-blocked for other material to talk about. But the most important thing, I guess, is simply to carry on writing, and create material where none exists (or at least, none that would be safe to publish…). And so today I went to the aquarium to see some invertebrates in tanks for a change.

I know, writing about going to the Berlin Aquarium is like writing about visiting the Didcot model village: it’s old, it’s hardly groundbreaking, and 70% of the people interested in it are under the age of 10. But fish and reptiles and amphibians are top-notch entertainment in my book, and the ones in the Berlin aquarium really are worth raving about. The sheer quantity of different types of creatures there is incredible: some of the fish looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator without his skin, some of them were transparent or mirrored like a chrome hubcap…there was even an enormous electric eel with a voltage sensor over the tank so you could see when he was sending out his scarily potent pulses. Unlike most aquariums, which in actual fact are really just one giant shark display with a couple of other fish and maybe a hermit crab as a garnish, this one has dozens of tanks showing really fantastic creatures, and they all seem very happy as there are little babies sprogging about everywhere; there were baby dogfish fresh out of the egg-sac, thousands of undulating baby jellyfish, and even some tiny oh-holy-god-so-tiny seahorses which were so small they could have happily ridden a grain of rice like a cowboy riding a nuclear bomb.

Speaking of babies, though, I highly recommend visiting during the week, since the population of tiny human infants in the aquarium greatly surpassed the overall fish population this Sunday. They should have just emptied the ‘mangroves’ tank and made it into a ball pond. There were screaming toddlers everywhere. I also noticed that the ‘Please do not bang on the glass as it disturbs the fish’ rule familiar to me from British aquariums does not apply here; if anything, banging on, smacking and even punching the glass seemed positively encouraged. Little kids were pounding at the tanks, evidently trying to get the fish to do something interesting like have a feeding frenzy or start dancing the Charleston, I don’t know. The parents all seemed on board about it: ‘That’s right son, give ’em something to think about, we paid good money for this!’ Eventually it was all too stressful for me, not even the big UV tanks of jellyfish could soothe me and I retreated upstairs into the reptiles, amphibians and insects.

This part is the unsung treasure of the whole place. Very few people ventured up that way, but those who did found amazing things: a bridge across an enclosure with a large, live gharial (like a cross between a crocodile and a narwhal), hundreds of tanks with beautiful snakes, lizards and snake-necked turtles, thousands of spiny, giant or rainbow-metallic beetles (who all had chosen this afternoon to copulate with each other) and the COOLEST ANT DISPLAY I HAVE EVER SEEN. And which was discovered by happy karmic accident. One of the puce-faced, mucusy small children had made it upstairs and was wrenching furiously at the handle of the gate to the ant’s nest enclosure while screaming like an agonised dementor. His chuckly, beardy dad came to take him away from the gate and picked him up to put him on his, the dad’s, shoulders, before realising just in time that he was 2 milimetres away from shoving his kid’s head right into a long, open ant-bridge running across below the ceiling. Miraculously none of the ants detached from the pole to colonise the child’s head, but they just marched on across the room, into a tube, which went into another tube, which went to a glass chamber full of fungus, and then another tube, and then a glass chamber full of leaves, and so on and so forth all around the room before eventually returning to the beautiful sculpture in the middle of the room which was actually a huge ants’ nest, where the ants had glued leaves into balloon-like pods on the branches of a dead tree. Seriously, it was cool.

On the way home, I wandered past a cinema where they appeared to be having the premiere of that stupid film Mortdecai and I guess Johnny Depp and Gwyneth Paltrow were there or whatever because there were like thousands of people and journalists and paps taking photos and swarming around having a spaz about it. But, like, it wasn’t as good as the electric eel.

Rose T