A question from an interested observer on Friday:

“…he has a horse’s body and a lizard’s head.”

“How do you know?”

Well asked. There isn’t a sound answer, it’s all relative you see. At least no one’s ever asked how we know he has a strawberry bootlace for a tongue.


The Blog of Porl Coalition Special: Lessons in getting along

As we gear ourselves up for a coalition government in the UK, many questions are being asked on how this is going to work, and how two parties with such differences will be able to work together in the months and even years ahead. As of today, we have a hybrid government.

You might say Porl is something of an expert on hybridism, and by extension, coalition. For the sake of the article, I will say he is. Perhaps we can learn from Porl’s simple existence ways that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats might put aside differences and lead us into a glorious new decade. Let’s look at some of the day-to-day differences in interest that Porl’s opposite ends encounter before he’s even got up in the morning:

  1. With his head equiped to hunt and eat only small insects, how does he sustain his relatively huge body?
  2. If his head is cold-blooded and his body warm-blooded, does it change somewhere suddenly in his neck, or is it all lukewarm all the time? Does his body move faster than his head? Is he ‘tepid-blooded’?
  3. How can Porl successfully pilot his whole self from such a wee head with such beady little eyes?

Such dilemmas! And yet Porl is almost 10 years old and thriving. Gather round, I will share with you his secrets that we might learn from them:

  1. His tail is an excellent fly swatter, the head can therefore access enough tasty insect prey to keep him cavorting in his paddock by snatching up all the bugs that the tail deftly swats at his face. Lesson for the Government: David Cameron or Nick Clegg may be forced to swallow whatever is wafted their way from the other’s backside from time to time, but they must seek the nutritious in whatever comes their way to keep things moving along, and uh, regular.
  2. Porl’s blood is made of liquid compromise – it runs at a middling temperature at once suited to his body’s active muscles and also warm enough to power his little head even when at rest. However, he does need to slow down from time to time to recuperate, or to bask in his own glory. Lesson for the Government: It doesn’t pay to be too hot-headed, even in Parliament. Filtering manifestos through cold and hot ends of the temperature spectrum may yet provide quite a stable happy medium, even if it only excites the nation as much as tepid bath water.
  3. Porl uses his movement-oriented lizard vision to drive his horsely body in a direction beneficial for him as a whole, resulting in a locomotion that takes on the steady, determined movement of a lizard, at a speed and scale more akin to that of a horse.  Porl loves to dance, you see. Lesson for the Government: While David Cameron will doubtless bring force and drive to the party, Nick Clegg may have to employ his progressive, movement-aware vision to purposefully steer the Conservative horse should it begin to lurch or skitter away from anything it perceives to be dangerous, or foreign.

There you have it! Some hope for a marriage of disparate components. Now we watch and wait, kids, watch and wait, and enjoy this lovely harmonious Porl, slightly reminiscent of the current way of things… blue and yellow with hints of red and green, and a serious but neutral expression giving nothing away.

Porl by Petra

Interesting times.

Artist: Petra.

The author would like to thank Stan for his (mostly) beautiful input into the analogies.

How to care for a pet Porl

It occurred to me that if there were such a thing as a pet Porl, there are very few resources available to help one care for it. This brief guide has been adapted from Caring for Porls, available from all good bookshops.

Initial considerations for any would-be Porl owner

  • Owning a Porl is a long term commitment.
  • Whilst a Porl itself may be inexpensive, the equipment needed to properly care for him may cost many times more than the Porl itself.
  • Although Porls can adapt to a variety of foods, they function best with a steady diet of strawberry laces. You may want to check local availability before acquiring your Porl.
  • Be aware that all reptiles can carry Salmonellabacteria. Thankfully the risk is somewhat reduced since Porl is only partially reptile.
  • Find out how large your Porl will get as an adult. Of course there are some known to get no bigger than a regular dog, but these are not the norm. Most Porls need quite a lot of space to roll around in.

Choosing your Porl

Get a captive bred Porl from a reputable breeder, if possible. Wild caught Porls tend to be more stressed and prone to parasites and disease, and more difficult to tame.

Porls for Beginners

If you are new to Porls, start with one of the easier species to care for and handle. All of the following are suitable for beginners:

Stick Porl. The stick Porl is cheap and cheerful and ideal for new Porl enthusiasts. It does not usually have eyes but what it lacks in substance it makes up for in personality.

No-legged Porl. These Porls are the least mobile and are therefore unlikely to run away.

Porl in a box. By far the least demanding of the Porls, this beast requires very little in the way of interaction or training. Ideal for young children or to brighten up the ambience in a school or small office.

Extrovert Porl. With minimal training, this beautiful little breed will be singing and dancing in no time. A must-have for Christmas!

Porls for Experienced Owners

In this category, Profound Porl is the most poorly misunderstood. They can be wonderfully thoughtful pets but require a good deal more space and care than a lot of owners expect. Some Porls that more experienced owners might want to consider:

Angry Porl. As the name suggests, this breed of Porl is the most vicious and dangerous, on a par with Rottweilers and Bengal cats. You may require a license to own such a Porl.

Profound Porl. The most unique of all the Porls, the Profound Porls come in a variety of shapes and sizes and due to their unique disposition are often prone to episodes of depression and self doubt. They require a lot of patience and understanding and are not suitable for those with a busy lifestyle.

Many-legged Porls. Converse to the No-legged Porls, these ones are lively and always attempting an escape. As such, they are only recommended to those with a good history of Porl keeping.

Antiporl. Not recommended.

His Porl Materials

Decanter of Tokay

Lyra and her porlmon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.

But enough about that. On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending an excellent talk by William Horwood and Philip Pullman at Christchurch College as part of the Oxford Literary Festival. The talk was on the theme of “The Fantasy Tradition in Oxford”, teaching us that weird and wonderful characters don’t need to be created here; they’re hanging out in punts singing madrigals or walking under archways in billowing gowns or full tweed just waiting to be reimagined as mad hatters, talking beavers and Endeavor Morse by the authors who take their inspiration amongst the dreaming spires.

Indeed it tran-spired that a book signing would follow. As we casually sauntered back into the bookshop area of the marquee (because that’s the sort of thing you do in Oxford) I picked up one of the author’s books I didn’t yet have and went to stand by the cash desk behind one or two other people. The lady behind the desk assured us that Philip Pullman would be here shortly, avast! This be the book signing table. He then promptly appeared and I had but seconds to ask myself “am I really going to ask him to draw a horse-lizard?” You have probably already guessed how I answered that question. So I asked Stan, “am I really going to ask him to draw a horse-lizard?”. Let’s see if I did, shall we?

Porl by Philip

Greetings to you, Mr. Pullman! You quite made my Literary Festival. With next to no deliberation and a very affable degree of amusement, the author sketched this delightful character in a book that to all intents and purposes I had stolen at that point. Many thanks and £4.99 later I’m very much enjoying book, and am positively chuffed to have Porl there on its title page.

Artist: Philip Pullman

Lost Porls Part III: …and then there were none

On the day we crowned our 1000th drawer of Porl and bestowed upon him great honour and gifts (a paper flower and a badge fixed to his head with spit), there was but one among our party who had not yet leapt aboard the thigh-slapping hayride that is Porl artistry. Naturally, he was encouraged to join in post-haste, and here is the gift he bestowed upon us:

Porl by Stan

Yay, it’s one of the rarer happy Porls, blowing his tongue like a streamer and defying gravity with his body glued sideways onto stiletto-clad trestle table legs. He’s tottering off somewhere right now, full of optimism (and possibly opium), eager to share his vision for the pas de deux with the Premier Maître de ballet en Chef , hoping to save the reputation of the Paris Opera Ballet and keep his orphaned ingénue sweetheart from the streets before finally succumbing to consumption in a drafty garret. Quelle tragédie…

And so the end of the line has been reached. Perhaps a little dark for a 9 1/2 year old’s efforts, but I assure you the artist was fully 24 when he drew this. Of the three facts offered about himself only the beard one is true, though “Nowhere” and “Suffolk” are synonymous to some.

Thus concludes our foray into Lost Porls, hitherto they are now all accounted for… except for the one in your mind’s eye that is yet to make it onto paper.  Let us have it, I prithee. Let it not end this way.

Artist: Stan

Lost Porls Part II – ¡Yo no soy marinero, soy capitán!

Another lost Porl coming up now, and this one’s exciting, too: the artist went on to write a book! Or maybe it was the other way round… I know which is more important though. Bring on the Porl! (Can you believe I haven’t written that before now? I promise I never will again.)

Space Captain Smith

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Porl by Toby

Lizard’s head? Check. Horse’s body? Check. Why? “Why”! This from an author of futuristic sci-fi novellas documenting the affairs of a tea-swigging space captain and his crew of terrifying kung fu offworlders, sexbots, alien ghosts, dragons and a hamster? I feel he could perhaps be able to tell us why, in a way that is both intriguing and hilarious, though sadly – none is offered. Authors can be cruel beasts. (Let us not forget Sirius Black – that’s right, Rowling, it still hurts.) Though perhaps he means to challenge us and that is how we learn, children. I couldn’t even begin to match the levels of creativity and stiff-upper-lip humour that these chronicles plunge head first into, so I shan’t attempt it, not here, people are looking (fives of twos of them somedays…) Mr. Frost does however make up for tantalising us so, because the peach is that when the sequel came around, our friend Porl appeared again, but the peachiest bit of the peach is,

God Emperor of Didcot

I didn’t even have to ask. (Plus from the improvement it almost looks like he’s been practising. Please let’s indulge my imagination this once.)

Artist: Toby Frost c. 2008. Toby’s excellent books can be found here, and at all good book retailers.

Space Captain Smith


Why do we collect things?

The thing about Porl is that he is more than just a daft idea. Yes, by all means, on his own he is simply a creature with a horse’s body and a lizard’s head. And for over a year we were quite content to leave him be and snigger about him every now and then. But then something took hold of us that transformed Porl from some kind of bizarre imaginary friend into more of a focused fixation.

The change was this: we began to collect Porls.

It began with a nonchalant drawing from Suzie. And then a handful of other vaguely interested people offered up their own interpretation. Before the end of the day we had a small collection. And once you start collecting something, well it is very hard to stop. Just ask this guy:

What is it, I wonder, that inspires one to start a collection? Did the guy above have one birthday when everyone bought him a water gun and they all had a good laugh but for some reason people kept buying them for him until he succumbed to the joke and took the collection on himself? Like people who have cat obsessions thrust upon them because everyone sees a cat and says, “Oh, Gemma likes cats.” Or did he squirt someone in the eye good and proper one time and start hoarding water guns as trophies; like some kind of reverse phobia?

I read of a lady who has over 9000 unique banana stickers. Apparently there are conventions and all sorts for the swapping of banana labels. I scoffed when I heard about it but then the next time I ate a banana I marvelled at the sticker and simply could not bring myself to throw it away. The next time I saw a banana, I knew full well that adding a second sticker to my first was like toying with the edge of a slippery slope. That was a few months ago and I now have 36 distinct stickers, and, although I would hardly call myself a serious banana sticker collector, I do keep my eyes peeled (haha) for new ones.

As a child I collected many things and for the most part I would say this brought some sense of belonging. Aged about ten, a friend and I launched an Animal Lovers Club. This sparked a brief frenzy of collecting every single animal picture we could lay our hands on so we could paste them into our club scrapbook. And I don’t mean just the cute animals. We had pictures of dead birds, starved puppies and all forms of torturous animal cruelty; if it was a picture of an animal we collected it. Around that time, some school friends collected Neighbours stickers and I began to join in. I didn’t even watch the show but within a few weeks I had more stickers than anyone else and lay awake distressing over how I could get even more. What began as a simple desire for belonging grew into an almost full blown obsession over stickers for a show I did not even watch. My Pog collection began in much the same way. If you’ve never seen a Pog, here is one:

If you think it looks like a round piece of cardboard with a freaky creature on it, you’d be right. And yet anyone who was anyone in a 90s primary school playground will remember the mass hysteria caused by them. I even saw one boy in tears because he had left one such prized Pog on the playground bench and someone had taken it. If you’re reading this James Sutton, it was me and I am truly sorry. I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

On the whole I would say that our collecting of Porls has been pretty tame. There was a day when we planned to go to the airport and harass exhausted and helpless foreign tourists in a bid to complete more countries on our coveted Map of Porl. Thankfully we never went; more out of lazy organisation than respect for visitors to our country. Nonetheless, our collection has been somewhat slow and steady. It is also a unique one. At least, we hope it is. We truly hope there is not another group of people avidly collecting drawings of a creature with a horse’s body and a lizard’s head…

But back to the point, why do people collect things? In a book entitled Collections of Nothing, William Davies King defines the collecting impulse as, “owning something in quantity for reasons beyond pure need.” He goes on to theorise that collecting is a cry for help, an impulse stemming from social wounds and our need to relate one object to another object. Deep stuff. If this were some kind of academic article I might read his book and quote him further. But as it is, I have read only a preview so cannot vouch for the rest of the book or of any conclusions he may draw. However, as I near the end of this post, what strikes me is that most collections are of things of very little actual worth or value. Whilst surfing the net, I have stumbled upon collections of burnt food, unused sick bags, unscratched scratch cards, and other people’s dreams. There is even a guy called Graham Barker who has been collecting bellybutton fluff since 1984.

Barker is quoted to have said: “It was on the 17th of January 1984 that I found myself under-occupied in a youth hostel in Brisbane. The night was steamy and stormy – too wet outside and too hot inside to do very much, and my attention drifted to my belly button. There it was … fluff! I must have seen it before that night, but this occasion was the first time I ever picked it out and wondered about it. I became curious about how much navel fluff one person could generate (enough to stuff a cushion, maybe?), and the only way to find for sure was to collect it and see. My first piece of navel fluff was stored in an empty film canister, and the collection had begun.”

People collect the most mundane things and turn them into treasures. And we in turn regard such collectors with both incredulity and awe: yes, they are freaks, but oh, please can we look? I mean, who wouldn’t pay good money to see a room full of bellybutton fluff? And why does the idea of such a collection fascinate us? I mean, I personally wouldn’t collect my own belly button fluff but I’m kind of glad someone has.

Perhaps it is some vain attempt to fight against the inevitability of our own demise, a chasing after the wind as the writer of Ecclesiastes writes, aware that we will one day die. Perhaps it is our way of saying, “I was here. I existed. And here’s my collection to prove it.” Not that I intended to end this post on such a morbid note— I for one believe eternity in Heaven will be indescribably better than this mortal life. But in the meantime, what will happen in years to come, I wonder, when bemused descendants stumble upon 9000 banana stickers, several boxes of neon water guns, enough bellybutton fluff to stuff not just a cushion but a number of small teddies, or over a thousand hand drawn pictures of a creature with a horse’s body and a lizard’s head? What will become of our prized collection then?