11 Plus


The next morning, although I had gone to bed so late the night before, I was up frightfully early. The first sparrows were just beginning to chirp sleepily on the slates outside my attic window when I jumped out of bed and scrambled into my clothes.

I could hardly wait to get back to the little house with the big garden⁠—to see the Doctor and his private zoo. For the first time in my life, I forgot all about breakfast; and creeping down the stairs on tiptoe, so as not to wake my mother and father, I opened the front door and popped out into the empty, silent street.

When I got to the Doctor’s gate, I suddenly thought that perhaps it was too early to call on anyone: and I began to wonder if the Doctor would be up yet. I looked into the garden. No one seemed to be about. So I opened the gate quietly and went inside.

As I turned to the left to go down a path between some hedges, I heard a voice quite close to me say,

“Good morning. How early you are!”

I turned around, and there, sitting on the top of a privet hedge, was the grey parrot, Polynesia.

“Good morning,” I said. “I suppose I am rather early. Is the Doctor still in bed?”

“Oh no,” said Polynesia. “He has been up an hour and a half. You’ll find him in the house somewhere. The front door is open. Just push it and go in. He is sure to be in the kitchen cooking breakfast⁠—or working in his study. Walk right in. I am waiting to see the sun rise. But upon my word I believe it’s forgotten to rise. It is an awful climate, this. Now if we were in Africa the world would be blazing with sunlight at this hour of the morning. Just see that mist rolling over those cabbages. It is enough to give you rheumatism1 to look at it. Beastly climate⁠—Beastly! Really I don’t know why anything but frogs ever stay in England⁠—Well, don’t let me keep you. Run along and see the Doctor.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I’ll go and look for him.”

When I opened the front door I could smell bacon frying, so I made my way to the kitchen. There I discovered a large kettle boiling away over the fire and some bacon and eggs in a dish upon the hearth. It seemed to me that the bacon was getting all dried up with the heat. So I pulled the dish a little further away from the fire and went on through the house looking for the Doctor.

I found him at last in the Study. I did not know then that it was called the Study. It was certainly a very interesting room, with telescopes and microscopes and all sorts of other strange things which I did not understand about but wished I did. Hanging on the walls were pictures of animals and fishes and strange plants and collections of birds’ eggs and seashells in glass cases.

The Doctor was standing at the main table in his dressing-gown. At first I thought he was washing his face. He had a square glass box before him full of water. He was holding one ear under the water while he covered the other with his left hand. As I came in he stood up.

“Good morning, Stubbins,” said he. “Going to be a nice day, don’t you think? I’ve just been listening to the Wiff-Waff. But he is very disappointing⁠—very.”

“Why?” I said. “Didn’t you find that he has any language at all?”

“Oh yes,” said the Doctor, “he has a language. But it is such a poor language⁠—only a few words, like ‘yes’ and ‘no’⁠—‘hot’ and ‘cold.’ That’s all he can say. It’s very disappointing. You see he really belongs to two different families of fishes. I thought he was going to be tremendously helpful⁠—Well, well!”

“I suppose,” said I, “that means he hasn’t very much sense⁠—if his language is only two or three words?”

“Yes, I suppose it does. Possibly it is the kind of life he leads. You see, they are very rare now, these Wiff-Waffs⁠—very rare and very solitary. They swim around in the deepest parts of the ocean entirely by themselves⁠—always alone. So I presume they really don’t need to talk much.”


1 Rheumatism is a condition which makes people’s joints feel painful.

Text adapted from The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, by Hugh Lofting, which is in the public domain.



What, according to the passage, is a ‘wiff-waff’?