From the Authorised Version of the Bible; The Book of Genesis Chapter 6
"And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord."
"It's the women's fault," said God. "I've never understood women. Should never have made them out of that rib."
"Wasn't it the serpent's fault?" asked Noah, "Or perhaps the apple - which was really a quince. I never understood what was wrong with eating it."
"It was a test," said God. "I'd have given them knowledge of Good and Evil soon anyway. Otherwise what would their life have been? A carefree one with casual sex and no responsibility." He sounded depressed. "And now it's all gone wrong. I am grieved at my heart."
Noah felt sorry for Him. "Will you start over again?" he asked.
"I suppose so, but I'm not sure I can remember exactly what I did. There were golems first, I think, and other things that went wrong. DNA has something to do with it."
"You could, of course," suggested Noah rather daringly, "let a few of the better people survive so they could start repopulating the earth."
God considered. "Hmm," He said, "that's not a bad idea. But no women. I can't trust them."
Noah said delicately. "Um, sorry, Lord, but you'll need women to help with the populating. It's sort of a combined operation. It's pretty near impossible to produce children without both sorts. Surely you've noticed a male and a female getting together and er . . ." His sentence died away.
God looked equally embarrassed. "I thought that was just enjoyment. Never realised it was - er - necessary."
"It's not always all that enjoyable," said Noah. "Take my wife for instance. She complains all the time. Once I asked her why she did it and she said 'It's what women have to do. Lie back and think of posterity. But I don't have to enjoy it.'"
"Really?" said God.
"You should try it sometime - " Noah paused, realising what he had said. "Sorry, Lord. That was well out of order."
But God didn't seem upset. "Maybe I'll have to some time - but far into the future. Your future, that is, Noah. It's all present to me."
That sounded like one of God's imponderable mysteries to Noah but he didn't ask for an explanation.
"Anyway, it's not a bad idea, Noah," said God. "Alright. I will preserve you and your wife and your three sons, Ham, Shem and Japheth and their wives and of every creature that walks on the earth or flies in the air, one male and one female."
"Thanks, Lord," said Noah.
Privately though he could see one problem. Though Ham and Shem were married, his youngest son, Japheth, had no wife. Indeed he had shown no enthusiasm for the fairer sex. He had mentioned this to Mrs Noah but she had dismissed it with, 'Just a phase he's going through. Give him time and he'll be bringing home more girls than we've house room for' but Noah hadn't been convinced. Japheth had a way of walking which was nothing like the graceless slouch of his other two brothers. And he was artistic, not like Ham and Shem who were only interested in footie and going down the pub. Japheth pressed flowers into a book, did rather blurry water colour paintings and went for long walks in the countryside. No one was quite sure what he did on these occasions or whom, if anyone, he met. Often, though, he came back with a strange smile on his face.
"Lord," said Noah, "how will you destroy the land?"
God looked out of the square hole in the wall of Noah's house which passed for a window at the blue, cloudless sky and the hot sun which hung up there like a circle of fire.
"Fire," he said, "or flood. Trouble with fire is that, once started it tends to get out of hand. Needs constant watching to see it doesn't run amok. Water's better. It finds its own level and all I have to do is stop the rain and eventually it goes away. Yes," he decided, "flood it will be."
"One thing, Lord," said Noah tentatively, "I'm afraid Japheth isn't married."
"To a woman?" asked God.
"Er . . . yes."
"All the better," said God. "He can take a friend." Then He paused. "Now the boat" and His voice took on a prophetic tone, echoing and stentorian:
"Noah," he said, "Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it."
He finished and wiped His forehead. "Always takes it out of me," He said. "Gives me a bit of a sore throat."
Noah offered him a throat lozenge. "I'm not very good at DIY," he said. "Things tend to end up the wrong shape or fall apart or look funny. I guess with a boat that wouldn't be very efficient." He hoped his lack of skill wouldn't debar him from God's mercy.
"Fear not, Noah, my son, for thou art beloved to me, and I shall teach thee how to saw and trim and make the ark so that it carries out its purpose which is to float on water and not sink. Now, get to work."
"Thank you, Lord," said Noah. "Er . . . What exactly is gopher wood?"
* * * * * *
Noah and Ham and Shem worked on the wood, sawing, planing, cutting, nailing and covering, both without and within, with pitch. Japheth, if the truth be known, wasn't a great deal of help though occasionally he made suggestions about the colour the ark should be painted and the possibility of putting a decorative dado around the deck.
Eventually he was sent off by his father to purchase provisions for the animals and, as he liked shopping, this he did rather well. So all the men contributed to the building and provisioning of the ark. And God saw this and was content, so He turned aside and started the preparations for the Great Fludde.
So He didn't see what Japheth was doing in a field with his friend, Bob, for although God is, by definition, omniscient, omnipotent and ever present, He doesn't always choose to be. After all there are occasions when He doesn't really want to observe the petty lives and activities of mankind. Sometimes He likes to look at beetles. Beetles, in fact, seem to be God's favourite creation. Apparently there are more species of beetle than any other in the animal world. Of course there are more bacteria and viruses than there are of even beetles and I think this may say something about the nature of God as well.
But to return to Noah and his two elder sons. They were cheerfully laying the keel, whistling at girls as they passed, as even married workmen do, when Mrs Noah, Miriam to her nearest and dearest, arrived. She stood staring, floral pinafore awry, arms akimbo.
"What, in the name of all that's holy," she said in her carrying voice, "are you doing, Noah?"
"Building a boat, my love," said Noah, adding hastily, "as the Lord God instructed me."
Mrs Noah shrieked with unbelieving laughter. "You, Noah, building a boat? It'll fill up and sink soon as look at the water. If you want to do some work, there's that shelf in the kitchen needs putting up, the loose tiles on the roof that'll let in the rain next time we have a shower, and there's a draught that comes in through that loose window shutter that fair cuts me in two of a winter's evening."
Noah sighed. "God is displeased with the world," he said. "He has told me He is going to send a great flood to destroy all living things. Only us, His chosen few will escape in the ark."
"Noah," said his wife, "your brain is addled. You won't get me on any boat that you have built. And where is Japheth, my dearest son?"
"He's gone into town to get provisions for the animals we have to take with us."
"Animals!" said his wife. "Now I really know you're off your trolley. We haven't even got a goldfish in a bowl."
"God told me we must take two of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive. And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them." Noah was aware that his voice had gone funny as he said that.
His wife had noticed it too. "Oh dear," she said, "got a touch of the prophecies, have you? That decides it. I'm not going on any boat with you and a load of dirty animals whatever you say. I'll stay here in town with my gossips. A flood! Where would that come from?" She peered into the sky and indeed not a single cloud marred the blue surface from horizon to horizon.
She turned and went back in the direction of town.
"We're going to have trouble there," said Noah.
"One thing, dad," said Ham, who though looking as thick as pig shit did occasionally have a thought that went further than Liverpool F.C. or the price of lager. "How are we going to catch all these animals? It took me all morning yesterday to snare a couple of rabbits for lunch. And you say we've got to get two of every kind."
"Certainly the Lord will provide," said Shem who was of a religious turn of mind and had been thinking of going to ecclesiastical college.
And so indeed it happened. As soon as the ark was completed and painted a rather fetching shade of mauve (Japheth's choice), the animals started to arrive. From the largest, elephants, the ground shaking under their tread, giraffes with their strange lopsided motion, slithy toves that stopped gyring and gimbling in the wabe, mome raths and borogoves, brightly coloured pilliwicks, lizards and snails. It would be tedious to give the full list but even the gridlions and the rare duckbilled platypus turned up. Only the unicorns were too shy to join the queue - and you know what happened to them as a species.
And as they waited in an orderly queue a cloud, no bigger than a man's hand appeared in the sky.
"That's it," said Noah. "Go and get your wives - and Mrs Noah, and Japheth, you can bring a friend, for the Lord has said so."
"Only one?" said Japheth.
"'Fraid so, son."
Japheth skipped off counting on his fingers "Inter, mitzy, titzy, tool, Ira, dira, dominu, Oker, Poker, dominoker, Out goes you. Sorry, Gervaise." Next time it was, "Sorry, Julian." Then. "Sorry, Sandy." Finally. "Scrumptious. That leaves Bob."
As he collected his dark-haired, willowy though well-endowed friend, the first large round drops of rain started falling onto the dusty soil.
* * * * * *
The seven humans, Noah, Ham and Shem and their two wives, Japheth and Bob, stood on the deck looking out onto the flooded plain. The sun disappeared behind the hill. Where it had gone, there was a halo of dark red-gold which seemed to shine up from the depths of the earth as if with a last despairing grasp, The sky was suddenly punctuated by sharp cracks of thunder and a jagged bolt of lightning streaked from west to east across the sky. The drops of rain continued falling, fat and heavy, followed by a downpour which slapped against the deck and the leaves of the trees. They nodded and tossed in protest. The rain drummed against the roof slates of the cabin where the humans would live.
Down below the animals snoozed and occasionally shifted position in the hay. Some breathed gustily but by and large they were quiet.
"And where's your mother?" asked Noah. "The water's getting higher."
"We'll fetch her," said Ham and Shem. They raced off through the puddles and returned with a struggling and clearly irate Mrs Noah.
"Come aboard, my love," said Noah. "Soon the whole world will be covered."
"You are such a fool," said Mrs Noah, red in the face. "It's just a remarkably persistent low pressure area. The rain will stop soon. I'm not getting into that boat. Doesn't even look seaworthy. I'll stay with my gossips."
Noah looked despairingly at his youngest son, and Mrs Noah's favourite. "Japheth," he said, "can't you do anything?"
"Mum," said Japheth. "It's true what dad says. The Lord God will destroy all of us, if you stay. For the future of the world and all living things, you've gotta come aboard."
Mrs Noah looked unconvinced but she stopped struggling. "I blame your father," she said, and strode up the gang plank. "Husband," she said, "You're a great lummock."
"Oof," said Noah, as his wife fetched him a furious clout round the side of his head. "Lord, Lord why do you torment me so?"
"Cast off," said God.
The ark rocked as the water swirled beneath the keel. For a moment it seemed as if it would roll over and Mrs Noah, the wives and Bob all screamed. Then the vast ship righted itself and floated serenely on the surface of the waters.
The voyage had started.
"I'm feeling a bit sick," said Bob after a while.
"Come down to our cabin," said Japheth, "and I'll look after you."
* * * * * *
Some say the water covered the earth for forty days and forty nights. Others say that it was the rain that went on for that period and the ark actually floated over the waters for a year or more. I'll settle for the latter.
At the start wreckage and bodies floated on the surface but gradually these disappeared and the water was flat and featureless as far as the eye could see. Once the great head of a kraken broke the surface and Noah wondered why it was that the fish of the sea had escaped God's destruction.
On board there were several disasters. On one dreadful night, the elephants panicked, spooked by a pair of mice which had gnawed their way into the elephants' quarters. The two great pachyderms reared up and crashed into the wall, flattening it and, at the same time flattening the hutches in the next compartment which contained the raths, the toves, the borogoves and the pilliwicks.
Noah had to tell God of the loss of course and he was afraid that He might be seriously angry but God accepted the news (He probably knew it already) with equanimity, merely remarking that they hadn't been his most successful creations. "Animals with five legs," he remarked, "never really looked quite right."
Time, though, did begin to drag. Mrs Noah and the girls, when they had time off from cooking, cleaning and mucking out the animals, occupied their time with collecting the wool from certain appropriate animals, spinning, carding and eventually knitting it into various garments which their menfolk had to wear. These were also expected at the same time to compliment their spouses on pullovers with unequal length arms, balaclava helmets with eye openings at about mouth level and scarves which made Dr Who's look like the skimpiest one out. In fact one of these nearly caused an even worse disaster than that of the elephants when Ham tripped over the end of his scarf and plunged headfirst overboard.
A huge shark appeared and was approaching Ham's flailing body. Perhaps it was God's intervention or the fact that the shark's appetite had already been glutted by the quantities of bodies (both human and animal) which were available and by now putting up no resistance at all, for, after a tentative sniff, the shark disappeared and was never seen again. Ham was dragged out dripping and swore he'd never wear one of those 'expletive, expletive' scarves again - which rather upset his wife whose knitting it had been.
The men played deck quoits and occasionally, at Bob's suggestion, games of sardines or strip poker. Japheth wasn't keen on either of these. Sometimes he was heard to complain that he didn't think much to seeing his family's unclothed bodies and certainly didn't like snuggling up to them if he unfortunately found them by mistake in the game of sardines. Bob, though, seemed to be impressed by Ham's physique and this often gave rise to a coolness between Japheth and Bob and indeed some quarrelling which others could hear emanating from the cabin which the two boys shared. As God's instructions had been obeyed to the letter, and originally the cabin was intended for Japheth and his wife, there was but one room for them both - and indeed just the one bed.
Noah, whose cabin was next door, was slightly bemused at the sounds which also came from Japheth's cabin, moans, cries and rhythmic bumps. It crossed his mind that these could possibly be sounds of a sexual nature but dismissed this interpretation. His own relations with Mrs Noah never resulted in such sounds and if from his bed there were occasional bumps, they were over almost immediately.
At last, though, it seemed that the waters were declining. Tops of mountains appeared. Noah and the rest were vastly relieved. There were now many more animals than there had been at the beginning. Rabbits, mice, shrews, hares had multiplied enormously. In fact every pair with only one exception had produced offspring of some number; there were even three elephants now. Ham and Shem were both fathers, with Shem's wife producing twins. Only Mr and Mrs Noah hadn't had another child. Mrs Noah herself might have had something to do with this; she was a great one for pills and potions. But Noah himself had never pushed it; he was after all some 600 years old according to the records and that sort of age takes out a lot of the enthusiasm for athletic sexual congress.
One morning God said, "Noah, it's time you started to think about whether the land is dry enough for you to leave the ark."
"Yes, Lord. How will I do that?"
God frowned. "Really, Noah you can't rely on Me for everything. The earth is now yours. Find out whether it's now suitable for you to go forth and multiply."
Noah pondered. He could send out Ham on a reconnaissance expedition but since the mishap with the scarf, Ham wasn't all that keen on testing the outside world. Perhaps he could try with some animals. Birds, that was it. He'd send out a bird.
He took the cage with the garlions in it and let them out. They rose screaming into the air and flew towards the sun.
When they didn't return Mrs Noah said, "You pea-brained twillup. Fancy sending out all of them. You should have sent one so that it would have returned to its family. Now we'll never know how they got on." And who has seen a garlion since?
Noah, suitably chastened, waited a week and then, seeing the sense of his wife's argument tried with a dove. On snowy wings the bird flew up into the sky, circuited the ark three times and then flew off. They waited.
At last as the sun was setting behind a bank of clouds and they'd given up hope there was a flapping of wings and a bedraggled bird flew out of the gloom and settled on the roof. In its beak was a plastic Tesco bag.
"Civilisation," murmured Mrs Noah appreciatively.
* * * * * *
Eventually the ark grounded on the topmost heights of Mount Ararat. Noah opened the doors and was preparing for a big thanksgiving service but the animals didn't wait but went bounding. hopping racing down the mountain into the waterlogged, but now rapidly drying countryside.
"What are they going to eat?" worried Mrs Shem.