Missed Advertising Opportunities

April 21, 2010

I don’t  know much about squirrels, but I do know that they belong to the rodent family, are an alien species (having been imported into the UK sometime in the 18th century) and once wrecked my bathroom.

It had been a sultry night. You may remember how hideously hot it was last summer. The air was stagnant and smelt of melting tarmac. I had left the bathroom window open one night to create some kind of air flow in my draught free new build flat.

Leaving the window open was against my better instincts – I have a dread of wasps, you see – but the nights had been so sticky (reminiscent, incidentally, of the Bahamas circa 1978), that I had even abandoned my pyjamas (brown silk with a yellow trim, if you must know) and, for the first time since I was a child, slept naked.

Imagine my horror, then, to be awoken at some ghastly early hour of the morning by crashing and clattering sounds. I clutched at my sheets, afraid to creep out of bed. I was convinced I had been burgled. Sod’s law, I thought, to fall victim to crime on the one day I had slept with the window open. The insurers would refuse to cough up and, worst of all, I would be bludgeoned to death and found naked – stark naked – by Molly, the cleaner. The latter thought almost made me weep (even though I quite fancied Molly) but somehow I managed to summon the strength to silently clamber out of the safety of my bed. I grabbed the art deco bedside lamp and, clutching it, ready to use it in self defence, crept to the bedroom door and peered into the bathroom.

It was a mess. Bath salts, a multitude of bottles, products, cans, smashed against the marble floor. Worst of all, every surface – the bath, sink, everything – was littered with tiny brown pellets. The perpetrator, a larger than average common garden squirrel, caught one glimpse at me and scuppered out of the open window. It took me hours to clean up. I have never quite recovered from that experience. I hate squirrels.

So it was with some fascination that I took a walk through St James’s Park the other day to find dozens of stranded tourists photographing squirrels and – even worse – feeding them. (Stranded, of course, because of the volcanic ash that has filled our skies and made Northern Europe a no-fly zone.) It is quite a sight to see tourists feeding vermin, and although it is a London cliché, it still surprised me.

I approached a tall blonde (as you do) holding a handful of nuts  out to a twitching rodent and asked where she was from.

She looked at me suspiciously.

‘Why?’ she asked in a perfect English accent.

‘I just wondered whether you have squirrels where you come from.’

‘Yes. We have squirrels in Luton,’ she said.

I didn’t hang around. She didn’t look as if she was from the Shires. She had a certain Ulrika look about her, but then again, I suppose Ulrika thinks she’s a Brit now.

I played safe the next time and found a grandmother with several children. I made sure they were tourists by listening into their conversation for a while. I didn’t understand it, so I figured it was safe. A boy (a rather chubby thing with a pudding bowl hair cut) had smeared what looked to be peanut butter on his finger and was teasing five or six squirrels by waving his hand as close to them as he dared before pulling it away with shrieks of Danish laughter (well, I think it was Danish. Danish, Swedish, Dutch, it all sounds the same to me).

‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you,’ I cautioned in an authoritative way.

The boy rolled his eyes at me.

‘You might get bitten,’ I said slowly.

‘Squirrels in England are tame,’ the boy said in perfect English. ‘We like them.’

I told him the story about when I was at LSE and a girl had three of her fingers bitten off (well, practically) by squirrels. She had fallen asleep in Holland Park, eating a peanut butter sandwich. The uneaten sandwich lay clasped in her hand. The squirrels didn’t take long. They are like piranhas. They chewed on the sandwich and once that was done, moved on to her peanut butter fingers.

I told the boy this, focussing mainly on the gory bits as is natural, but his grandmother gave me the evil eye, and I moved off.

By the time I reached the goslings at the other side of the pond, I heard someone screaming. If I’d thought about it, I’d have hung around. It would have made a good advertisement for peanut butter.

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