How Many Otters Can You Possibly Imagine? image

How Many Otters Can You Possibly Imagine?

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I suppose I should take being parodied as a compliment, as per yesterday's effort from the Otter (the writer of which, I am embarrassed to admit, I was not able to identify). Nevertheless, I feel like some sort of lutrine retaliation is needed—and happily, my friend John Finnemore has the ideal material for doing so.

How many otters can you possibly imagine? Because if I say I can imagine a million otters, I’m obviously lying. I can’t really even imagine a million pounds. I know what it could buy, but I can’t imagine an actual million actual pound coins. Still less otters. They’re famously harder to imagine than coins. Now, a thousand pound coins I think I can imagine. I can certainly imagine a thousand page book. But I don’t think I can imagine a thousand otters. But then, what are my criteria here? To qualify as being imagined, do I have to be able to imagine each individual ottery face, and be able to distinguish in my imagination young Tasmania the Otter from Old Uncle Winchelsea the Otter? (I’m assuming here that otters use broadly the same naming system as Wombles.) No, I don’t think so. I think I just have to be able to imagine what that mass of otters would look like, how much space they would take up, and how cross they’d be about it. I can imagine eight otters around my dining table, for instance, but I can’t really imagine a thousand otters. My guess is that that’s about a double decker bus full, but I can’t imagine whether that’s a tightly packed RSPCA nightmare of a bus, or whether the otters are lounging in relative comfort. (Remember they can sit under the seats as well as on them. And in the aisles).

Now, the ADC Theatre in Cambridge seats about 220, and I reckon I can imagine that full of otters. (An otter on every seat, that is. They only sit under them on buses. I mean, come on, they have to be able to see the stage). This is good - let’s ramp it up. The Garrick theatre in London has a capacity, so Google tells me, of 656… but with regret I must admit I can’t really imagine that full of otters. I mean, I can… but if I’m honest with myself, I’m just imagining the theatre, filling the stalls with otters, and then mentally clone brushing those same otters into the dress circle and upper circle. I’m not even certain I’m imagining the otters at the back of the stalls. I’m just imagining ‘a theatre full of otters’. And now, confidence crumbling, I’m beginning to doubt my feat of imagination with the ADC. Did I really imagine 220 otters? Even the ones at the back, and the sides? Or am I just imagining 220 seats, and then tacking the word ‘otters’ over the word ‘seats’? Hell, can I even imagine one otter? Let me check. Right, I’ve checked, I definitely can imagine one otter. He’s called Barney, he’s slightly over medium size, and he has a white mark on his muzzle where a larger otter named Velasquez snatched a trout from his mouth. From this we can draw two further conclusions: 1) I can imagine two otters. 2) The Womble naming system is not invariable amongst otters.

So. I’m confident I can imagine those two otters and their struggle to come to terms with that terrible summer’s day when Barney’s trust in Velasquez was forever shattered; but shifty about those 220 otters enjoying a patchy but basically competent student production of The Duchess of Malfi. So, maybe the thing to do is avoid any helpful framing device like a theatre or a bus or a netball team, and just imagine an increasing number of otters in a blank white void. No, that’s too depressing. I’m just imagined Barney there alone, and it’s breaking my heart. I’ll imagine them in my garden. Ok. One otter. Check. Two otters. Will Barney ever forgive him? Three otters. Easy. Four otters. Piece of cake. Five otters. Yep. Six, seven, eight - yes. Nine, ten, eleven. I think so, yes. Twelve otters… ... ... ... ... no. I can’t imagine twelve otters. Not really. When it comes right down to it, I’m just imagining six otters twice. And if I don’t break it down into sub-groups like that, it’s basically no different from my image of eleven otters. Come to that, I’m not sure my eleven otters were that different from my ten. What about my ten from my nine? No, there is a difference there. That’s interesting. Because that seems to suggest that the number of otters I can possibly imagine… is ten. Ladies and gentlemen, it was funny because it was true.

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