In Praise of the Whale

Whale soft toy

Whales are incredible creatures. Their great size, and calm intelligence, living in the great unknown of the ocean depths. Catching sight of one is certainly memorable; if you meet someone who has, they will no doubt delight in telling you all about it.

Given Tom’s love for these animals, our house has gradually accrued references to them: books, prints, and even a hand stitched toy. When he read Leviathan, he was full of interesting facts and strange stories about these beautiful mammals. So when the author came to town as part of the Isle of Wight Literary Festival, we simply had to go.

Philip Hoare whale talk

Philip Hoare is one of those genuine outdoorsmen: strong and wiry, with creased shorts (I imagine he never wears trousers) and a bucketful of tales to tell. It was wonderful to spend an hour listening to him. He’s clearly inspired by oceans, this vast expanse of water about which we know so little (“We know more about the surface of the moon, than we do the bottom of the sea.”) He told of his first sighting in Provincetown, and his later trips swimming with sperm whales in the Azores. A true storyteller, with wonderful experiences enhanced by his rich knowledge.

Feeling inspired, I went home and ordered his book. But Tom went one better and started crafting away: a papercut of the odontocelli, about which Hoare told us so much. These days Tom can often be found at the table cutting out beautiful shapes and interesting quotes.

When I asked him why he loved whales so much, he said it was the hardest question he’s ever had to answer. Perhaps he isn’t asked many tough questions, or perhaps the deep affinity many of us feel with these mammals is hard to explain.

Whale transfer tattoo