Crucifixes for Various Amphibians, 2000
The stream ran along the edge of the wood, bordering the back gardens of the houses on the estate where we lived. The gardens were long and green and stretched up to patios and big glass windows. Behind the windows you could see the shapes of people moving around their homes. They had no idea we were there, playing by the stream and watching them. The backs of their houses seemed so private and different to the fronts. Darker, larger and quieter.
Most of the toads we caught in those days were big, gnarled and brown. They lumbered across the earth and rarely seemed to hop. This made them easy to catch. The banks of the stream were the best place to find them but they also turned up deep into the wood, living wherever it was dark and damp.
I don’t know when the crucifixions started but they probably grew out of our work as dam builders. The twisting course of the stream made it a perfect place for damming. By scooping mud and forming compact walls reinforced by sticks we could hold up the flow of the water, flood the stream’s banks and create deep pools. It was hard work and you had to concentrate.
Once the toads had been caught and gathered together we would hold them captive in the dam pools. We made the crucifixes by lashing together sticks and digging them deep into the mud. The toads were heavy and the crosses had to be strong enough to carry their weight. With one person holding the crucifix and my brother keeping the toad in position, I would bang four small nails through its feet. If the nails didn’t work we would have to use wire, which was always more fiddly. We would usually build a row of crosses down both banks of the stream so that we could crucify up to five toads at a time.
With the toads on their crosses we would return to my house. From under the sink in the kitchen we gathered bottles of bleach, washing up liquid and Dettol. In the garage we mixed these up in a bucket with Castrol GTX, paint, petrol and white spirit. It was difficult to get the toads’ mouths open and we found it hard to tip the poison down their throats. We used matchsticks and bits of twig to prise their mouths apart and then prop them so they wouldn’t close. Not that much mixture went in. Some of the toads would wriggle and shake. They would go all twitchy. I think some of the others were already dead.
Duncan Coates, ‘Crucifixion, recollections from 1972’, 2001