He just stood there staring at me as I walked up the road. In fact, the way he looked at me gave me the impression he wasn’t too impressed that I was on his street. He then proceeded to sit down, scratch the back of his ear with his leg before finally wandering off into someone’s garden. Who was this flexible friend with attitude? Mr Fox.
When I was a kid growing up we did have wildlife. We had frogs and lizards and of course the occasional horse running down the street followed by a couple of likely lads but foxes??? In fact, I remember the first time I ever saw a real fox.
Now you know I’m not one to name drop but…. I was in a Rolls Royce Corniche being driven by Elton John heading for supper with the lad who wrote his lyrics, Bernie Taupin. The meal was being cooked by his wife Maxine who was the inspiration for ‘Tiny Dancer’. Anyway, I digress…
Elton was driving us from his house in Virginia Waters across Wentworth Golf course when suddenly a fox ran across our path. It shows just how unusual that was, I mean I was in a Rolls with Elton and going for supper with Bernie and the fox is one of my strongest memories of the evening!!!
It’s not just foxes I’m seeing more often, last month we had to call the RSPCA to come to rescue a baby badger in distress and during the long summer evenings, once the sun goes down its just a matter of time until the bats come out.
I’ve had a bird of prey in the garden attacking a crow and I regularly hear the woodpeckers tap, tap tapping and occasionally see them too.
Some people say it’s due to the reduction in human activity because of lockdown. That was certainly true about the birds in ‘Lockdown One’. I can still remember birdsong as one of the highlights of that awful few months. Others say that it’s a side effect of lockdown. The wildlife has always been there its just that because so many of us have been working from home we’ve been more available to see it.
Which brings me to squirrels. I do remember the occasional squirrel in Singleton Park when I was young but like the foxes, squirrels now seem to be everywhere. This leaves me with mixed emotions.
My granddaughter is currently obsessed with the stories of Peter Rabbit, in fact on some of her visits lately she insists on being called Peter and I have to be Cottontail. I’ve been called some things in my lifetime but rarely Cottontail! Now Beatrix Potter is a wonderful writer but as with all writers of nature she takes a position, let me explain…
Have you noticed that lots of wildlife documentaries make out one species to be the good guys and another the bad guys depending on the story they want to tell? A documentary telling the story of salmon will show how the salmon spawn, leave for the sea and then will chart their harrowing journey back up the river the following season. As they approach that part of the river where they have to jump the white water you can guarantee there will be sinister music as the bears arrive to feast on the fish. In another documentary say, following the life cycle of a bear, the reverse will be true, all sad music about starving cubs and jolly tunes when the salmon arrive.
This is where I am with squirrels. My granddaughter has obviously been brainwashed by Beatrix Potter to believe all rabbits and squirrels are good. When Peter Rabbit enters Mr McGregor’s garden intent on larceny she is on the side of the criminals. When Peter’s mother warns Peter that if he gets caught he might end up in a pie like his father my granddaughter is horrified.
She has the same affection for the ‘impertinent’ Squirrel Nutkin.
If I’ve seen a few foxes lately I’ve seen loads of squirrels. They are incredible acrobats. They hang from trees in the garden eating the berries and they clamber up next doors bird table a bit like those wall climbers in the Tokyo Olympics. Berries and bird seed I can accept but when it comes to my tomatoes I really do draw the line.
This has been my season growing tomatoes from seed. When the packet of seeds arrived, we planted them all. Within days they had germinated on the kitchen windowsill and it wasn’t long before they were planted outside. I think we had over 80 plants. It was only when doing a little more research that I found out you only need a handful of plants to feed a family of 6.
Anyway, having got them to grow it seemed daft not to try to get them all to bear fruit. I don’t have a greenhouse, so they had to take their chances in the open air. I think that’s why I’m a little behind compared with Monty Don on the telly.
It’s been tricky as we have had to make sure we protect them from slugs and caterpillars. It seems to me being a gardener is a constant battle with insects.
Finally, about 2 weeks ago, I noticed the first signs as the flowers turned into little green tomatoes. My granddaughter is a regular visitor to the garden and each new tomato was greeted with delight. It took every bit of will power for her not to pick them.
The trouble was, it wasn’t just us seeing the new tomatoes, the squirrels were also noticing our potential harvest and were determined not to miss out. I’ve tried all sorts of things including covering the plants in chicken wire but its not good. I even saw one squirrel running off with one of ‘my’ tomatoes in its mouth. I was with my granddaughter at the time and whilst a lot of words to describe the squirrel came into my head the only words I felt appropriate were…Naughty little squirrel!!.
And that’s what we call them now, well, when she’s around. I call them all sorts of other names when I’m on my own.
What it has made me realise is that the squirrels know that winter is on its way and they are gathering as much food as possible. I suppose it serves me right if I just happen to grow them a ready made meal out in the open air.
I know the stories make out that Peter Rabbit and his mates are the good guys, but I have to tell you, and I hope you won’t tell my granddaughter, but these days I tend to side with Mr McGregor!