As I write, at the end of January, the first period of real cold and meaningful snow has arrived. Even so, according to the forecast, it should be short lived with temperatures picking up by the end of the first week in February. We shall see.
This is a time to huddle round the fire and reflect on another year gone. Time, perhaps, to reassess my life and where its heading. I have always been resistant to the whole idea of ageing and what that should involve. Of course we must all grow old and the end result will always be the same——death, but until we arrive at that fateful destiny absolutely no one can make us grow up. I remain as active and, probably, immature as ever, its just unfortunate that I find myself confined within a sixty seven year old body when my true self never progressed past twenty two.
I find it a sobering thought that when I was born, just six years after the end of The Second World War, George VI was on the throne Mr Churchill was Prime Minister, Jersey Joe Walcott was The Heavyweight Champion Of The World and the Supermarine Spitfire still ruled our skies. Rationing was still in place for God’s sake! and I still have my ration book, with a few milk vouchers un-encashed, if anyone needs some?
That all seems like a very long time ago, yet I can’t convince myself that I’m really that old. Much of the ageing process is, I fancy, in the mind. My oldest living friend (rather than relation) is now almost ninety three yet I must confess he is much younger than me in many respects. He retains a wicked sense of humour, is far more computer literate than me and his knowledge of the pop scene, both past and current, is quite amazing.
That appears to be the secret. Keep interested and keep active——————— plenty of the other does no harm either.
The minor problem with my left knee is, unfortunately, not in my mind. It becomes clear that the cartilage is well past its sell by date, but that is fixable and considering that many of my old mates of similar vintage, or younger, are already long dead or suffering debilitating illness I feel disinclined to complain too much. I do wonder, however, if I shouldn’t grow up and mellow a little? Something for me to mull over perhaps while I’m doing press ups in the snow or suffering agonies on my abdominal board in preparation for another trip to Sevenoaks Boxing Club in order to break my wrists on their heavy bags. In truth I wouldn’t bother, were it not for my young friend Nick, down the lane, imploring me to accompany him on his quest for ever greater fitness, whatever the cost.
I like writing and doing so is one of my more genteel end of life occupations. Some years back my cousin, a lifelong professional editor, suggested that I should write a book, which I did, on the subject of ‘Britain’s Wild Invaders’ a study of how our wildlife, ancient and modern, arrived on our shores since the last ice age. This took me around three years, mainly due to the difficulty in tracking down and photographing the subject matter. If anyone out there wants a copy I’ll email it over. Otherwise, continue enjoying life.
This blog in fact also owes its existence to my cousin for it was her that suggested I start one in order to get my name out there. It has long since wandered far off message, which I hope doesn’t cause her too much distress. ‘Out there’ it most certainly is but quite where even I am not entirely sure.
On the book front, I have learned much from my first effort and am now writing another, less parochial, offering with hopefully wider appeal. After all, why sell to a minority in Britain when it is just as easy to produce something with, hopefully, broader worldwide appeal. More of that once its completed. The point is that, after a lifetime’s study, I do know a bit about our countryside and what’s out there.
OK then, so just before Christmas I was out doing some final shopping with my boxing buddy when we received a phone call from his son’s school to say that he was unwell and needed to be taken home. We duly rerouted, collected him, and headed back to Hever.
It was as we were passing Stonewall Park Cricket Ground that I noticed a strange critter standing at the end of the pitch. I only caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye but it appeared to be a wallaby. Harry, nick’s son, also saw it and agreed with my impression of an erect marsupial.
Although I can’t, hand on heart, swear to what I saw with any certainty, this is not so unlikely as it might seem as there are numerous populations around The British Isles. There was in fact once a well established colony on The Ashdown Forest only around six miles to the south. Add to this that there have been recent reports of several having escaped from a collection at Hartfield and that Penshurst Vineyard, only a mile behind us at most, used to have a good few, and the likelihood of our having seen a feral red-necked/Bennett’s wallaby seem slightly more plausible.
At this point some of you reading this may be relieved to see that, despite my just having received notification of, potentially, another 400 houses and a hotel etc being built right on my doorstep (will address this next month when I know more), at this point I appear to have softened and returned to writing gently about our wonderful natural history. Others may be disappointed that I have put my fiery past behind me. Fear not, recovery is at hand!
Now, not long after the events reported above, my friend was at a local social gathering and casually alluded to the incident, whereupon one of our more recently arrived locals, blessed with the ability to express his ill informed and unwanted opinions at volumes that would shame many a town crier, apparently piped up and loudly ridiculed him for reporting what he viewed as an idiotic impossibility.
Here I must beg to inform him: That exotic beasts were at liberty in our countryside in recent history is beyond question. The Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976 banned, or greatly restricted, the keeping of such beasts by private individuals but it was not until the passing of the Wildlife And Countryside Act, five years later, in 1981, that it became illegal to release them into the wild, thus ensuring that in the intervening period many, including a number of big cats, were simply turned loose to avoid the cost of compliance.
Although now nearly forty years in the past it is wholly possible, indeed in certain instances proven, that some species were set free, or have since escaped, in sufficient numbers to form breeding colonies that survive to the present day.
Before the law changed it was not unusual, back at the end of the sixties, to see an Australian pair of pine furniture dealers walking their pet lion cub, which they had bought from Harrods for £250 and kept in the flat above their store, appropriately called ‘Sophisticats’, around the streets of Chelsea. Always on a lead for safety of course!
I have personal experience of this as they were regular customers at the branch of Nat West where my sister-in-law worked and would frequently pop in to keep their banking up to date, usually accompanied by Tiddles (actually it was called Christian). Strangely there was never a queue in front of them for long.
In that case Christian was eventually released, appropriately back in Africa, with a TV documentary many years later about the three’s happy reunion. Fortunately Christian remembered them and no one was eaten during filming.
One of my regular haunts, in my teens, was Palmers of Camden Town, a pet shop specialising in exotic pets such as scorpions, alligators (I had a pet Caiman, bought in fact from a dealer in Wandsworth, in my parents front room for a number of years) and suchlike. Their near neighbour, London Zoo, would frequently divest themselves of surplus stock via this outlet and thus, on one occasion, had I sufficient pocket money it would have been possible, on the face of it, for me to have purchased a fully grown baboon. The trip home on the tube would have been interesting and the look on my parents faces, priceless, not to say horrified.
In our part of the country there were many wholesalers of exotic pets centered in the countryside around Reigate. Their ‘keen to be free’ merchandise having been flown into Gatwick before distribution. Inevitably there were escapes over the years and several well documented colonies, primarily of exotic, but hardy, reptiles and amphibians, are known to survive in the area.
Of course I am not sure as to the wallaby sceptic’s background or his experience of the natural history of our area but can assure him that there is certainly far more wildlife of alien origin in the vicinity than he clearly believes to be possible.
It is not necessary to possess binoculars or other complex equipment in order to observe much of this, if he cares to take the time to investigate further, although as I found when writing my book it can take a great deal of time and patience. However, his chances of ultimate success will undoubtedly be greatly improved if he keeps an open mind and first withdraws his firmly embedded head from within the restrictive confines of his own rectum.