Right in the middle of lockdown I became aware of more and more posts about Ollie on a local Facebook page. What drew this almost magical creature to our town? Well, the fish I suppose. The daily supply of fresh fish brought in every morning by locals, stored briefly on the quays before being brought to market – wherever that is. Ya, no great mystery there.
Clever Ollie. I imagine it’s how I’d feel if I found a chocolate shop with free chocolate – all my favourite flavours, unwrapped and ready to eat. Mountains of Fry’s Creme… OMG… with lashings of hot chocolate (white, extra hot, as in burn me please) to wash it down and funny little bipeds thinking I’m cute for stuffing my face and just, well, being there.
And wasn’t he cute? Remember that video of the otters holding hands and the internet nearly exploded with the cuteness of it all?
I’d keep and eye on the Facebook page and be excited to see another post about Ollie. I’d keep an eye out walking down the quay hoping to catch a glimpse once I was able to get back to the town to work. Never saw him though, I wasn’t one of the chosen few.
He was a modest, unknowing celebrity. And I think he came to represent a lot of things to all of us.
- Alleviator of boredom, sparker of curiousity
- Visitor, when “real” visits weren’t allowed
- Poser for photographs – SUCH great photographs
- Educator of children
- Provider of fun and much needed diversion
- Integrator and uniter of people
- Symbol of oblivious COVID-free life, maybe of hope, in a truly dark hour in our town, just as in all other towns, everywhere.
Ah – but they didn’t have Ollie. The cute and furry friend who chose to dine with us and walk among us – literally – on our actual streets! He got used to us and we to him.
I remember where I was when Princess Di died. Exactly where I was and what I was wearing. If you’re ancient enough you might too? The outpouring of grief when she died was extraordinary – did you feel it too? Why IS that?! It’s not like we all used meet her for coffee and have the chats.
We psychologists love thinking about that stuff. Not to take the meaning away by dissecting it – quite the opposite. To marvel at how humans deal with emotion, at our resilience. To add meaning to it – or maybe more to get to the underneath meanings. We refer to grief over the loss of someone we don’t know, transference or projection – depending on the circumstance. These things get a lot of bad press. But they have a function – they help us to feel something when we’re too overwhelmed or anxious to feel the “real” things full on. They remind us of what we’re really feeling while we’re busy surviving, getting on with things, trying not to feel scared.
Granted, it isn’t always in a helpful way… but that’s for another post.
And wow do we have a lot of feelings we don’t want to feel this year. Existential crises are not easy.
So people we don’t know become symbols for us. We project our feelings, our hopes, our love, our rage onto them. Anyone who’s read anything on Twitter this year will recognise that. We allow them to distract us. We might even need them to distract us. And we become attached. It’s normal of course, nice actually – isn’t it? It feels nice to be able to express our better nature, our affection and love. It gives us a rush of dopamine, that brain cocaine we are running short on right now. We are predisposed to empathy and care. We got this far over the centuries by loving, caring, cooperating more often than not – a lot more often. These are basic needs according to some theories of “happiness” – the better theories in my opinion. Animals can help meet this need too.
And I think that’s why I’ll always remember where I was when I read that Ollie met his demise. I was genuinely sad. There was an outpouring of what can only be described as grief on the Facebook page. I got some messages – “Poor Ollie” , “Did you hear about Ollie?? Sad face…”
We had Moby Dick for years. We still do. And now we have Ollie. Our new little fish-eating wet, soggy and probably stinky mascot. But he was real. It might seem mad that I’m writing about an otter when we have all lost so much more. But he gave the town something, albeit briefly, unintentionally, just when we needed it.
He was “just” an otter. But what a cutie.