“there was an old lady…

…who swallowed a fly.”

I expect many readers will understand that “I don’t know why she swallowed a fly.” Many will also be familiar with the range of extreme remedies the old lady pursued.

First she swallowed a spider to catch the fly.


Then she swallowed a bird to catch the spider – though perhaps a smaller bird than the canibalistic gull in the photo.

seagull eating dead pigeon

She followed the bird with a cat – presumably a more active one than Felix if she expected it to catch the bird.

tuxedo cat asleep on sofa

After the cat, she swallowed a dog.


Then she swallowed a cow to catch the dog. (For the record, I suspect the beasts in the photo are actually steers, not cows.)

young cows in muddy field

Finally, the story tells us that she swallowed a horse.

small piebald horse or pony

It’s a long time since I heard anyone use the expression “I could eat a horse”, but it always indicated hunger: whether the speaker was so hungry they could eat something the size of a horse, or so hungry they didn’t care what they ate, I was never really sure.

Either way, I don’t think the old lady would have been very hungry after eating all those other animals, so I’m not really surprised that “she’s dead, of course.”

Tomb sculpture: Reclining lady and baby.

As a child I used to wonder how the old lady ate the different animals. She must have swallowed them whole, presumably, if she wanted them to serve the purpose of catching the previous creature.

Perhaps, then, it’s as well that she stopped with the horse, as she might have been tempted to follow that by an elephant.

elephant ornaments

That remedy couldn’t possibly have worked, though, as we all know that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Anyway, the reason I started thinking about the old lady is because my horoscope told me the best way to get things done this weekend was to take Mark Twain’s advice and “eat the frog first.”

A quick look online found the explanation – used in the context of time-management – that, if you have to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning and get it over with. Elsewhere I also found that, if you have to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the bigger one first.

A little further investigation lead me to the theory that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning you can be pretty sure that the worst of the day is over.

In fact, according to the Quote Investigator website, it is unlikely that Mark Twain ever said anything of the sort. The saying probably originated with the words of Nicolas Chamfort, which referred to a toad rather than a frog.


In an earlier post – poetry and prose – I gave an alternative account of “the lodger”, but this is the first time I’ve posted this (tangentially-relevant) poem on the blog. It first appeared in print in Mslexia in Autumn 2016.

El inquilino

In this land of drought and flash flood, he lives
in the storm drain by the kitchen door. We see him
maybe half-a-dozen times a year: sometimes he visits
every morning for a week, then not again for months.
He’s here today. A sullen roughcast lump (though soft
against my slippered foot in the half-waking dawn)
he doesn’t deign to notice me: unlike the neighbour’s sheep,
the hedgerow mice and voles, the lizards, snakes and birds,
he doesn’t run to hide. He could be dead. The dog snuffles,
bares his teeth and growls. The toad remains. And then, at last,
he starts to turn. Oblivious to the kitten’s dabbing paw,
with slow, deliberate moves he lumbers to the iron grid
and tips, head first; up-ended, he struggles for a moment, feet in air,
then drops. The dank tunnel swallows him from sight.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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