In the long ago, I was a quiet and well-behaved child, and I rarely got into trouble. There was one occasion, however, when I caused something of a hoo-hah at my primary school. I did not think then, nor do I think now, that I did anything wrong. But I was reprimanded, and my mother was called to take me home, and for the remainder of my time at the school I was considered a “bad egg”. The burning sense of injustice I felt half a century ago has stayed with me, and it is fair to say it has cast a pall over my life.

It so happened that one wet afternoon our teacher Mrs Screech – I think she was related to M. A. Screech, the editor of many Penguin Classics and author of Laughter At The Foot Of The Cross – asked the class to talk about our pets. One by one my little schoolmates stood up and said things like “I have a cat named Tiddles” or “I have a dog called Scamp. He is a collie”.

When it was my turn, I stood up, took a matchbox out of my pocket, and said, “I have brought my pet with me. He is a pismire and his name is Galahad,” and I opened the matchbox and let Galahad skitter about on my desk. For this innocent act, I was reprimanded and taken home and ever after seen as a bad egg and a troublemaker and a wretched, wretched boy. I was told that the word “pismire” was unseemly and that I was frightening the other children by letting a creepy-crawly loose in the classroom. There were other offences, apparently, a long list of them, all bound up in that single incident.

But Galahad was my pet, and he was a pismire. I cannot recall when I discovered that “pismire” was an archaic term for “ant”, but as soon as I heard it I knew it was suitable for Galahad. He was fully deserving of two syllables. He was a valiant little ant, and a loyal one. Every night, before I went to bed, I would take him out of the matchbox and put him in the garden so he could run about with all the other ants, and when I went to collect him in the morning he was always there, with his teeming hundreds or even thousands of fellows, and I would pick him up and put him in his matchbox and plop it into my pocket. It may be that Galahad was not precisely the same ant every day, though it was hard to tell, and I tried not to bother my little head about it. If he was the same ant, as I like to think, then he is extraordinarily long-lived, for an ant, as I still have him in a matchbox in my pocket as I write these words, fifty years after the burning injustice which has cast a pall over my life. It is a pall only lifted by Galahad himself. During our long and intense conversations, conducted in the language of ants, punctuated by screeching, he offers me solace and consolation. He is my pismire pal.

6 thoughts on “Galahad

  1. Mr Key, should you find yourself once again at the mercy of any imperium as unreasonable as that of Mrs Screech and her colleagues, you could perhaps consider deploying the word ’emmet’, instead of ‘pismire’, when circumstances require you to allude to ants whose companionship, conversation etc merit a more-than-monosyllabic appellation. My brother and I spoke of emmets throughout childhood, and beyond, and thereby managed to sidestep opprobrium. In fact he also insisted on ‘slater’ and ‘dodman’ for woodlouse and snail. I’m not sure I would go that far now.

  2. True. But if that were the only meaning, readers of Isaac Watts would certainly venture no further West than Devon.

    “These Emmets, how little they are in our eyes!
    We tread them to dust, and a troop of them dies,
    Without our regard or concern …”

  3. Another archipelego in a distant sea rises in the psychological map of Mr Key’s brain.

    We didn’t realise you were as mad about ants as you are about birds. This article will be added to the dossier, our means of keeping tabs on you, along with previous ant-astic babblings…

  4. Mr. Key,

    Speaking of which, I also have been simmering lately. It was the recent snowfall wot done it but the simmering happens every winter as there has been snow every winter since I was nine when my sense of justice was trampled into the underlying mud. Having walked to school as usual I was admiring the newly fallen snow and had the bright idea to spell the word “HELLO” with my footprints in the snow in front of the school. I was hauled in to the principal’s office as I finished the second “L” and heavily reprimanded for cursing. No one cursed at home and so I was shocked on top of it all.

    It still makes me mad.

    At least you got a true friend out of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.