For once Wikipedia gets it right: ‘Paul (purportedly hatched January 2008) is a common octopus living in a tank at a Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany.’ I draw your attention to the word ‘common’ – that’s right, people! Paul is a common octopus, a perfectly ordinary, non-descript, run of the mill octopus – not psychic, or, as described by the Hindustan Times, ‘the cephalopod oracle.’
So what if he correctly picked the winners of eight successive world cup matches? To quote that venerable sage, Shania Twain, ‘That don’t impress me much.’ After all, the cat picked six out of eight winners and she’s more of a cricket fan. And Paul’s success rate was much lower in the preliminary rounds, just 80% – pure guesswork really.
It can’t be denied that octopuses are all the rage at the moment. Yesterday morning I was sent a text message which read in full, ‘OMG, Paul got headhunted to work on wall st – it’s in the news!’ Clearly, this was just ridiculous – how on earth was he going to wear a suit and tie after all? – and if I’d known who the text was from I’d have written back and said so.
Then I was in a bar the other night when I heard a man try to pick up with the line, ‘You know, octopuses have a brain in each tentacle.’ Of course, he leant in close and delivered it in the requisite low, suggestive tone – still, I’d have thought he’d have more success with that old ‘Would you like to come up and see my etchings?’ chestnut. I was wrong, however: the woman was duly captivated and an animated conversation about the psychic propensities of various aquatic creatures ensued (dolphins rate quite highly, apparently, whereas starfish are ‘so not psychic.’ Like, whatever.)
My friends are bewildered by my lack of enthusiasm for Paul: ‘I just don’t understand why you’re not more into him,’ they say. ‘I thought he’d be just the sort of thing you’d like.’ I don’t want to probe too deeply into the question of exactly what type of person might typically be ‘into’ psychic octopuses, or what other bizarre enthusiasms they secretly suspect me of harbouring (for fox terriers with OCD perhaps? Parrots who aspire to open their own bookstores? Squirrels that play the pianola?)
I want to make it clear that I have nothing against Paul personally. I don’t think he’s a charlatan or a conman out to rort the credulous soccer-viewing public. I’m sure that as far as octopuses go, he’s perfectly nice. I’d even go so far as to suggest that from a female octopus’s perspective, he could be quite attractive. And no doubt rich – all in all a good catch.
It’s just that I’m worried about where all this is heading. I’m an animal person, you see. I worry about the possibility of them being mistreated – I even became a vegetarian because I was so appalled at the conditions they endure in factory farms. I’m concerned that Paul’s current popularity presages bad things for octopuses generally.
Without claiming to be psychic myself, here’s what I see on the horizon: People around the world will decide that the best way to express their new-found reverence for octopuses is to eat them. Please note that it is not customary to eat your seers – check any Greek tragedy if you need proof. Seers typically get ignored, blinded and occasionally sacrificed – but never eaten. It’s barbaric when you consider it – we wouldn’t advocate eating Athena Starwoman or your local tarot reader simply because, sure enough, that dark-haired stranger with a mysterious ‘E’ in his name did suddenly crop up. But apparently it’s different where animals are concerned.
Sales of barbecued octopus will skyrocket. Lads in London will abandon their time-honoured tradition of going out for a pint and curry on a Saturday night and ordering the hottest vindaloo on the menu with extra chili in a bid to prove their manhood. Instead, they’ll gather at the local Greek restaurant where they’ll spend the evening waving tomato sauce-covered tentacles around and making loud, drunken predictions about the likelihood of their mates ‘scoring’ that night.
Master Chef will make octopus their special feature ingredient in the final episode. Claire will do something nifty with it involving goats’ cheese and harissa. Jimmy will make it into curry – and thousands of aspiring foodies around Australia will follow suit.
In the same way that the Chinese try to boost their virility with bear paw soup, much to the detriment of bears everywhere, a fad for eating octopus to enhance your extra sensory powers will soon emerge. Wild octopus will be hunted almost to extinction and inhumane octopus farms will soon spring up. WWF will make some attempt at curbing the problem, perhaps adding octopus to their endangered species register, but it will do no real good. Meanwhile, an illegal trade in ‘native ocean reared’ octopus will flourish. Customs will have to establish special marine squads at airports and sea borders. The standard three year lifespan of the common octopus will become even more ‘nasty, brutish and short’ as they find themselves crammed into suitcases or strapped to the bellies of pregnant women and smuggled through customs.
And what of Paul himself? Most likely, an eccentric tycoon will pay a million dollars to eat him. Either that, or he’ll be sold to some English football club and die when a drunken fan tips a schooner of beer into his tank, thinking his little octopus buddy is in need of some liquid refreshment. The best he can hope for is that he’ll drift into obscurity now that he’s retired. Anyway, enough – I think you understand by now why I refuse to develop too much affection for him.
And if you want to see something really uncanny, there’s a beagle down the road who knows whose going to win the next federal election. I’d give you his address if I didn’t think you’d eat him when he turns out to be right.