Friday, November 21, 2008

Beware of the squirrels

Whenever anyone starts talking about the forces of nature, you tend to think of hurricanes. Or volcanoes, or tsunamis, or blizzards, or heatwaves.
You remember tales of mankind's iconic and indomitable struggle against the elements: the mail must get through, the bridge must not fall, the boy stood on the burning deck...
You think of Captains Scott, or Cook, or Kirk, or Ahab. You think of explorer heroes like Doctor Livingstone or Amelia Earhart.
You get the picture: mighty struggles against powers far greater than ourselves.
But the forces of nature also move in smaller, more mysterious ways, insidiously burrowing away at man- (and woman-) kind's delusion that we have some sort of control over our environment.
Let us digress for a moment. (As if we ever would.)
Readers who experienced the punk revolution in late 1970s Buckinghamshire (and there are lots of you, we know) may just recall a couple of fringy figures called John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett.
Put it this way: they weren't quite up there with The Stranglers.
Otway, who by his own admission was "rock'n'roll's greatest failure", had a stage act which involved throwing himself off high scaffolding towers, generally breaking a couple of limbs in the process and bringing his act to an untimely halt.
Luckily, he was normally the support rather than the headliner, so the punters didn't complain too loudly.
He was quite a figure in the so-called "Aylesbury Scene", an upswelling of musical talent and poseurship that never really spread far beyond... well, Princes Risborough. Unless you were Marillion, but that's another story.
Barrett was a less physical performer, and generally hid behind his beard and long greasy locks as he noodled on fiddle or slide guitar.
They're still performing today, and in 2002 Otway got to number nine with disco novelty track Bunsen Burner. Some of you may remember it, some may not, because many shops refused to sell it.
Back in the day, though, their best-known ditty (calling it a tune would be over-generous) was a little number called Beware Of The Flowers 'Cos I'm Sure They're Going to Get You Yeah.
It reached number nothing in the charts, but it was eventually voted the seventh best lyric of all time.
Why the belated success? Why the recognition? Because John Otway was right. The flowers are up there among a whole host of small natural phenomena that are most definitely out to get you – they're just as much a force of nature as your cyclones or your maelstroms.
Just take the squirrels. Please take the squirrels, before they take us.
Because, as reported elsewhere on this website, they've already made their first move.
In the dead of night they swooped on Queen Square, nibbling through the wires of the Christmas lights and causing untold damage to Bath's seasonal "aah" factor.
Nothing in our full and accurate report suggests that they were electrocuted, you'll notice: their squirrelly super-powers must have insulated them from the festive voltage. And once the evil deed was done they regrouped by way of Charlotte Street in the bosky groves of Victoria Park, where even now they plan further destruction.
Walk along Royal Avenue of a bright November morning and you'll see them, snickering and pointing at you from low-hanging branches. Step a little closer and – if you can avoid being peppered with nuts – you'll hear them whispering about their plans to invade the Guildhall, find out who hasn't paid their council tax and launch a campaign of bribery and extortion.
Nutkins they ain't.
And if all that sounds bad (what do you mean it sounds rubbish?) then consider this: we have it on good authority that the squirrels are now in league with the seagulls.
Attack from the air, attack from the trees: the forces of nature are marshalling, and no-one can feel themselves safe.
This column was first published in The Bath Chronicle on Thursday November 20 2008

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