I am on my way to meet my dad for lunch to find out the latest family news, when I look down and notice that someone has used a stick to carve out a message in some recently-laid concrete.
For a moment I wonder who that could have been. One thing’s for sure: whoever it was saw an opportunity.
They knew they had to make the best of it. After all, if they didn’t write in this recently-laid concrete, then the next person to come along definitely would.
But what to write? They must have agonised over the decision. They could write their name, but that might be too obvious and indeed incriminating.
Maybe they could scrawl some message for future generations, or maybe just the date, but what is absolutely clear is they would have known that this simple act would be one they could forever draw satisfaction from, knowing for all time to come that it was them that did this.
But they obviously panicked because in the end all they did was write ‘Poo’.
At the café, my dad has great news.
“Your cousin has discovered a new type of newt.”
I wasn’t expecting that.
“Really?” I say. “A new type of newt. Where was it?”
“It was at the bottom of an alpine lake in Switzerland.”
“What – just swimming about?”
“Just swimming about.”
“Well, that’s great news,” I say, and then I try to come up with a joke about news/newts, but all I can think of is “Great newts” so I leave it.
“Yep,” says my dad. “An amazing new type of tiny newt. Almost completely transparent. Going back to the dawn of time. It’s quite a story.”
Maybe I could say something about it being quite a tale/tail.
“And the newt community is all over it. They’re hailing Nici a hero.”
I should say at this point: my cousin is a biologist.
He’s not a hairdresser or a butcher or something who just happened to discover a new type of tiny newt. This is very much in his job remit.
“As soon as word got out,” says my dad, “eight researchers and a man from Belgium immediately turned up, demanding to see this newt. They sent helicopters!”
“Helicopters!” I say, impressed. “And did they find any?”
“Oh yes. They found a whole community of them.”
Maybe I could say ‘commu-newty’. No.
“Well, this is amazing,” I say.
And it is. My cousin is about to become the rock star of the newt chapter of the
“He’s like Sir Isaac Newton,” says my dad.
“I thought of that on the train.”
I think it’s unfair he had a head start.
“So what happens now with this new newt?” I say, and then I think of my joke. “Or ‘new-t’?”
Turns out that works better on the page, because it just sounds like I’m saying ‘newt’ wrong.
“Well, they have to study it, categorise it, I suppose. And then who knows – there’s always the possibility they might name it after your cousin.”
Well, that’s it. My cousin has done it.
They’re going to name a newt after him.
He’ll be a pin-up in biology labs all over the world. He might get advertising deals.
There’ll be pictures of him in his Speedos, surrounded by dozens of smiling newts.
They’ll make a film of his life, because this is a man who has done what he set out to do.
Did Sir David Attenborough ever discover a new type of newt? No, he did not. But my cousin did.
As I walk home, I consider how proud I am of him.
He can just retire now if he wants, because my cousin has made his mark and secured his place in the history books.
Hundreds of years from now, future scholars will beam holograms of him across the sky and tell tales of the young Swiss man who discovered a newt.
And as I round a corner, I pass that piece of concrete again, and this time I stop to stare at it, because as we get older, we are all of us searching for what our legacy will be. That one thing that will outlast us.
For some of us it’s kids. For some of us it’s newts.
And for some, it’s going to sleep at night knowing they’ve written the word ‘Poo’ on a pavement.
But all these things are valid, I think.
And then I have an idea and quickly text my dad.
“Remember you said that the newt Nici discovered was tiny?” I write, and I can’t wait for this. “Well he could always call it ‘my newt’!!”
I leave it a second and then follow it up with “As in ‘minute’, meaning small.”
Let that be my legacy.
Give a loved one a hand
If you’re looking for a lovely gift for the woman in your life, might I just take a second to recommend this tiny hand I saw on the internet, which a lady wears as an earring and which, if worn correctly, will make sure neither of you ever sleeps without a series of terrifying nightmares ever again.
Are you sitting comfortably? You won’t be for long
I also saw this unusual ring, which I’m sure will appeal to many people who like unusual rings, although I have to say the name they decided to go with seemed specifically chosen to make gentlemen feel very uncomfortable indeed.