Thursday, 28 March 2013

Out Of The Woods

I jumped over a shrub, swerved a boxy beast, and darted across the grey track. Safe on the other side, I stood on the grassy bank and looked back. Boxy beasts moved in lines with low rumbles and owl-like hoots. They didn't look like any creature I'd seen in the wild before. Hot air puffed out of my nostrils and my chest heaved, so this was what out of the woods looked like? I snorted, stamped my feet and charged over the bank and into a large field, pausing to bend my head and chomp on a yellow flower. Hmmm, not bad, but not as tasty as the ones at home. My jaw stopped mid-chew as my attention was diverted by distant sounds, but when I pricked up my ears, I didn't recognise them. Their pitch was different to any mammal I'd heard in the woods before. Were these howls of play or were they to mark territory? Do I turn around or press forwards? I couldn't call it...
I glanced behind, to my left, to my right, and straight ahead, but all I spotted was a couple of crows circling above. I knew I had to find out what was making these noises, so I trampled the ground until the howls got closer. Small creatures came into view that were howling and running on their hind-legs. They didn't have antlers and some had tails cascading from their heads. One with no tail raised his front leg at me and bellowed. The others halted and stared in my direction, and then gathered round a taller, upright mammal. I stood proudly. They must know who I am: The Great Prince of the Forest.

Cor', look at him Miss!” Said the boy still pointing.
Children, stay off the playing field! Hattie, go and fetch the Headmaster.” Miss Crawley said struggling to maintain order. Some girls had begun to leap around shrieking, “A deer! Oh deer, oh deer!” And then collapsing in giggles. Others were picking daisies to make him a crown. The boys were grouped together, taking shots with pretend rifles and “Bang-bangs!” The stag watched on with interest, his muscles scarcely twitching.
Class Three, BE QUIET!” They could tell from Miss Crawley's tone that she meant it. “Whisper or you'll scare him.”
He doesn't look very scared to me Miss.” Whispered the boy, “Bet those antlers would hurt if they pierced you.” He mimed his imaginary death convincingly.
Luke, that's quite enough.” She said exasperated. “Where has Mr. Kingsbury got to?”
He's coming now Miss.” said Luke as loud footsteps rang out across the school-yard.
What's this about a deer?” Mr Kingsbury asked tiredly as he took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. When he replaced them, Luke was again pointing in the stag's direction. Mr Kingsbury inhaled sharply, “What a beauty!”
Never mind that! What are we going to do?” If we do nothing and the parents find out, they'll say we risked their children's safety, but if we call in a licensed hunter then the vegetarian ones will complain Bambi was needlessly shot!” Muttered Miss Crawley in hushed angry tones.
Venison, haven't had that in a long time. I wonder if we should add it to the school menu.” Mused Mr. Kingsbury. “Sorry Miss Crawley, you were saying? Why do we need to do anything? He looks harmless to me and besides we can say his visit is educational.”
As they were locked in their battle, the school bell rang loudly. The stag, startled by this new sound, bolted.
Matter closed. The Great Prince has returned to the forest.” Mr. Kingsbury mumbled, striding back to his office to a plate of digestives and a mug of lukewarm tea.

Thursday, 21 March 2013


One new message from Leonardo DiCaprio my inbox said. “What does he want?” I wondered aloud as if it was an everyday occurrence, quickly followed with “Oh My God, Leo's contacting me! Finally!” For a moment I got lost in the fantasy, instead of asking myself rationally: Why? How?
With trepidation, I hovered the cursor over his name and clicked to open it. A photo of Leo jumped up in the top right hand corner. On the left side, the message begun: 'Dear friends...' I let out a puff of disappointment, so it wasn't personal after all. In a stern voice, I reprimanded myself, “Get a grip, why would it be? Come back to reality!” I let my mind linger a bit in movie flashbacks of Romeo & Juliet, Titanic, Catch Me If You Can, Revolutionary Road, and The Aviator, which reminded me how much I can't wait to see him in The Great Gatsby. Well, if Leo's involved, it must be important I thought...
The message continued: 'Across Africa, elephants are being slaughtered by poachers in record numbers - and their tusks hacked off with chainsaws - to make luxury items, statues and trinkets in Asia. But in days, Thailand will host a key global summit on illegal trade in endangered species, giving us a rare chance to stop this futile massacre.'
Leo had teamed up with Avaaz, (it means 'Voice' in several languages), an organisation I befriended after my Aunt forwarded a link to me. Globally, they mobilise instant campaigns through community petitioning: asking people to sign an online register. A small action that only takes a minute, but makes a real difference worldwide. The first time I signed, it was a petition to save bees, as I believe every part of nature has a vital role and sometimes you have to act to protect it. But this time, I signed not because of Leo, but because I'm appalled by this trade. I'm nauseated by this premeditation, by the intention to harm. I cannot bear the thought of elephants being poached for their ivory. It's a waste of a magnificent beast that is both great-hearted and playful. An elephant in mourning is touching and dreadful. They do not forget; they're very respectful. Herds consist of a matriarch (the oldest female), daughters, aunties, and their calves, and are a demonstration of girl power. A protective matriarchal line, a tight bond strengthened by sisterhood. The males tend to lead a more solitary life.
This deep family attachment perhaps explains why so many people are drawn to them; their emotions are human-like: they display grief, anger and joy. Orphaned calves love to play a game of 5-a-side, ears flapping like Dumbo as they dribble the ball, or squealing when they inadvertently trunk-ball. Elephants have a long memory and, like a child, engaging in play is a sign of recovery. But the cause of this pain is inhumane and destructive. The illegal ivory trade has to be prevented.
On the 3rd of March, The Thai Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, pledged to end the ivory trade after nearly 1.4 million supporters joined in the campaign, but is this enough? It's a vocal promise that needs real action behind it. We need people power to keep the pressure up to save elephants and their tusks!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

A Mother's Love

Tap-Tap... What was that? Was it a knock at the door?
Who is it?” I called.
It's only me.” A familiar voice said as I peeped through the spyhole.
With my little eye, I spied an old woman, in a navy blue coat with her grey hair scraped back from her face, standing outside in the corridor. I let out a relieved sigh as I recognised Mum. Sometimes she turns up unannounced bearing snippets of news or food parcels. A motherly check of 'she's okay', despite speaking every night on the phone. Dad and the dog usually wait in the car downstairs to fend off any over-zealous parking inspectors. Ever since I was small, his mindset has been: 'You can't be too careful these days.'
I stifled a giggle as I unchained the safety catch, pulled back the dead bolt, and opened the door a crack. It's like Fort Knox I thought – too secure. I live in an entry-phone community, yet too often I've had a tap-tap on the door from unsolicited couriers who've wandered in or memorised the code.
Are you coming in?” I asked.
Quickly.” She replied and made an attempt to bustle pass me.
I blocked her, “Shoes off!” I ordered, as I wondered if either of them obeyed this rule when I'm not here? Should I rethink the spare keys?
I watched as Mum unfastened velcro flaps, slipping each shoe off and placing them side-by-side on the doormat. In socked feet, she padded through and headed straight for the open-plan lounge/kitchen.
I got you these.” She said pulling out mini-cans of ratatouille and pease pudding from coat pockets, “Oh, and these.” She fumbled with the coat's inner lining and revealed sealed bags of dried fruit. And I thought you might be interested in this.” She added as she thrust the latest Waitrose Kitchen into my hands.
Thanks.” I muttered a tad overwhelmed by the assortment of goods she's supplying. It's all above board, but her conduct makes me feel I'm dabbling in the black market.
Right, that's your lot. Same time next week.” A brisk peck on the cheek and before I've even said goodbye, she's gone.

There's nothing quite like a mother's love; it's full of surprises, even furtive ones. Sometimes I arrive home and find articles in my post box, or I walk in to tins lined up on the work-surface, a bag of frozen veg stuffed in the freezer, and juice in the fridge door. In the past, I tried to get her to stop, but it got worse. I ended up with all the 2 for 1, 3 for 4, or bogof deals; I never knew what I might come home to, so now we have an arrangement: I put an order in and she supplies it. Occasionally, a rogue item slips in or she'll make wild substitutions, the same as online shopping, but in return you receive a personal service. The whole system is designed around her need-to-be-mothering: to nurture an adult who, at no matter what age, she will always see as her child.

Thursday, 7 March 2013


As a people, we have conflicting views on animals. We divide them up into vermin, pets or food. They're pests, best friends, or meat to be consumed. We like our wildlife to be approachable and cuddly, and want to get rid of any insect, bird or mammal that encroaches on human territory. Or worse, we pillage their food for our own selfish purposes. I don't have a problem with people eating meat, but I do have a problem with this attitude. I don't understand how we as humans can pick and choose. How can we pet some animals and mistreat others, often for no reason? How can we wolf down the meat from some, but be repulsed at the thought of eating others? Why doesn't the human race understand that the natural world is essential to their survival?
Badgers and foxes must be culled; krill must be exploited; and sustainable palm oil must be promoted. We trawl sea beds and cut rainforests down. We take more than we put back, thus destroying natural habitats, but do we care? We believe we do, but we don't always demonstrate this attitude. Ignorance is bliss and suppliers have cottoned on to this. We readily accept what we're told, as then we can't be held responsible and it's easier than digging for the truth. Granted, consumers could not have known about the horse meat in their bolognese and they should be allowed to decide what to buy by making an informed decision. The fact that the meat might have been contaminated was concerning, but no more than other drugs used in animal feed. Essentially, this is a supply chain and labelling issue. If you like eating meat, then meat is meat isn't it? A horse is no different than reindeer, ostrich, or kangaroo. Eating meat is not wrong if you realise it's hypocritical to refuse to eat the flesh of one if you're happy to eat others. Personally, I'd rather you knew exactly what animal you were tucking into and how it came to be butchered. Instead we take away the name it's known by, its physical shape and face; it becomes a cut or a lump of mince.
The horse meat scandal is fraudulence on an grandiose scale and a European Public Relations disaster, but I don't wish vegetarianism to benefit from this. Many veggies and vegans will disagree and believe this is the perfect opportunity to 'convert' people to vegetarianism. Perhaps it is, but it won't be long-term, it will out of concern for food safety. Consumers will be persuaded to switch to other alternatives like Quorn, chicken, fish or lamb. It will change how we shop, but it won't be about the welfare of animals.
Does this matter? Many vegetarians would argue 'No', as new members means more benefits to animals, health and the environment, but I feel differently. I dislike backlashes to news as they're short-lived and not thought through. I've only seen one programme that highlighted the conditions horses are slaughtered in and for me that takes priority. The footage was distressing, yet 'Dispatches' were correct in showing it. If horse meat is 'normalised', we're basically saying this practice is okay.
This food scare won't be the last, more will follow, and who's to say the next won't directly affect vegetarians. It may seem unlikely, but is it? Because at the core of most scares is processed foods and switching to other brands won't make food any safer. As consumers, we think we're at the end of the chain, but we're the first link in it.