The lesson begins with the narrator stating the period when the story began. It was at the beginning of 1956. The phrase "early in the new year" suggests that the lesson happened in the initial months of the year. The author had travelled to Southern Iraq with explorer Wilfred Thesiger and toured the reed marshes.
This happened after Maxwell had lost his dog, and hence, he felt too lonely without a companion. However, this time he wanted to keep an otter rather than a dog. Maxwell also describes his reasons for desiring so. He believed that keeping an otter at Camusfearna was a smart idea because his residence lies in close proximity with water and, incidentally, otters love water. As a result, Maxwell decided that Camusfearna was the ideal location to test this novel idea of domesticating an otter.
When the author told a friend about his plans to domesticate an otter, the friend recommended that the author should procure an otter from the marshes around the Tigris River because they were frequently found there and were typically domesticated by the Arabs. When the narrator and his friend were travelling to Basra to the Consulate-General to collect and answer their letters from Europe, they had this chat. When they arrived, they saw that only the friend's mail had come.