David’s Daily Digital Dollop: Dollop 255 – The Truth behind The Old Lady Who Swallowed The fly

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Download the audio version of today’s Dollop here

I’m writing this after our gig at Bromyard folk festival. We’d been warned by some of the other performers who’d played over the weekend that the stage had an infestation of spiders. A few singers had apparently inhaled a few spiders. This was done accidentally, obviously, because they were singing and the spiders were crawling over the microphone. I don’t want you thinking that There’s some weird craze amongst folk performers to get high by snorting insects. I want to make it clear that neither I or the other two Young’uns have ever tried to get high by snorting insects. Sticking insects up our bottoms, maybe, but certainly not snorting. So I’m glad we cleared that up.

The warnings proved accurate, for on a few occasions, I had to wipe cobwebs from the mic. There are times in various songs where I put my mouth right onto the microphone in order to amplify the bass notes. Despite the fact that I was potentially going to be inhaling spiders, I still put my mouth right onto the microphone. This is the mark of a true professional. I was willing to risk choking on spiders for the good of the performance. And I am such a professional, that even if I was choking to death on spiders, I would of course choke to my death in rhythm, possibly even adding some rasping in the correct key.

This incident reminded me of the song, I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly. The song is flawed on so many levels. He says that he knows an old lady, which suggests that the lady is still alive. He also says, “perhaps she’ll die,” which denotes that the lady is still alive at the time of the song’s inception. Presumably then, the person writing this song is with the lady while she is swallowing this crazy cocktail of animals, yet rather than intervening and saving this woman’s life, he instead chooses to write a song about the unfolding insanity. This old woman is clearly a congenitally woeful decision maker: she makes a series of massively ill-informed choices, which essentially leads to her inevitable death, and she’s chosen a friend, who stands idly by, writing a song, while she dies.

I’m also confused by her friend’s reasoning. He doesn’t know why she swallowed the fly. Presumably it was an accident, unless he knows that she deliberately swallowed the fly. But even so, I don’t think the swallowing of the fly is the major incident here. But despite the old lady’s decision to swallow a spider to catch the fly, swallow a bird to catch the spider, swallow a cat to catch the bird etc, and despite observing the old lady’s great discomfort, and mind boggling stupid actions in a desperate attempt to remedy her situation, he nevertheless keeps going back to the fact that he doesn’t know why she swallowed the fly. Forget the bloody fly, she’s just swallowed a dog to catch the cat. Do something, you idiot. Don’t just sit there, pontificating about why she swallowed the fly. The fly is inconsequential.

This old lady’s friend seems to have a severely warped sense of perspective. She swallows the fly, which causes him to remark that “perhaps she’ll die.” Why would she die? It’s only a fly. But then, when the old lady swallows the spider, is reaction is exactly the same. He expresses his confusion as to why she swallowed the fly, and then restates that “perhaps she’ll die.” He retains the same level of concern throughout the entire ordeal, even though she starts swallowing cats and dogs.

The lady is clearly getting more and more desperate as the situation progresses. Even though her first few ingestions were ill-advised, at least they made some sort of sense: spiders eat flies, birds eat spiders, cats eat birds. But then she clearly goes all to pot, and makes increasingly weird choices. She swallows a dog; but dogs don’t eat cats? She swallows a goat? Then a cow? A horse?! There is now no semblance of logic. She is presumably hysterical, desperate, and growing increasingly mentally impaired, as a result of ingesting all these live animals.

The other odd part of the man’s account of this event is at the end, when she swallows a horse. “She’s dead, of course,” he writes. He doesn’t seem overly surprised that she’s managed to survive swallowing a cat, a dog, a goat and a cow. If I saw an old lady swallow a cow, a goat, a dog and a cat, I’d be astounded that she was somehow still alive. But if it was me, I’d have intervened at the swallowing of the spider. This man has just seen an old lady swallow a horse, a cow, a goat, a dog and a cat, and watched the resultant carnage and subsequent death of this old lady, and yet he still remains impassive. This man is in a way guilty of murder. This old lady has clearly got mental health problems, and this man has failed to intervene, despite the fact that he clearly knew what was going to happen if she kept swallowing all those animals.

The only explanation as to the man’s behaviour is to assume that he too has serious mental health problems. This would explain his compulsive journaling, his absurdly apathetic nature, his complete lack of perspective, and inability to offer rational and practical assistance to his friend.

So, this begs the question, why were these two severely mentally ill people unsupervised. This raises many concerns about their local social services, as these two people clearly needed special attention. I am also confused as to why this old lady had such easy access to so many animals. Presumably she was on a farm. Maybe this is why social services hadn’t intervened, because they were living in a remote area, away from local resources. Given that she was able to get access to all these farm animals, I assume they must be on a farm, because surely all of this was happening in a fairly short space of time. Surely this scenario occurred because of a series of increasingly desperate attempts to remedy her plight. Surely this wasn’t a premeditated series of thought-out solutions, that involved her driving across town to find a cow and a goat. I am doutful whetehr she would have the time or the ability to drive across town to find these animals, with a dog and a cat inside her. I think we can safely assume therefore that these two people were seriously mentally ill, and living on a remote farm.

I wonder what happened to the man, and if his diaries are still in existence. He has unusually repetitive way of writing, but it would be interesting to know more about the people behind this tragic story.

I might do some digging and see what I can unearth. If anyone has any ideas then feel free to get in touch. I know I’ve hit you hard with a lot of thought provoking ideas about this famous story. It’s a lot to swallow, isn’t it?

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