Blog 7

Mar 05

In March 2005 Blog 7 Was A Blog About Animals…

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…but not these animals. They are the ones who FAILED to get voted on to the Top 25 list.

Okapi (late doors admission to mammal kingdom)
Bat (“sonar”? The rest of us call it HEARING THINGS.)
Willy out of Free Willy (A robot.)
Coelocanth (worst resurrection ever)
Werewolf (not a real etc.)
Chameleon (blame D.Bowie for this one)
Dogs in clothes (a pitiful sight)
K-9 (Even a sponge has more life than he.)
Gila Monster (medium size lizard, in no sense deserves name ‘monster’)
Dogs (just closing the loophole there)
Schnappi (was robbed)
Manticore (see Werewolf)
Unicorn (see Manticore)
Hydra (see Unicorn, NB there are animals called Hydras aren’t there? Or are they secretly plants?)
Tarkus (shows what I know)
Baboon (look! his arse is purple! hilarious!)
Newt (sorry Ken)
Lemming (hardly)

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 1. Humans (After All)

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Look, we were in the pub, OK?


So what have we learned about animals from this list? We like animals which:

– eat lots of different things (#2 – goat)
– are like big versions of small cute animals (#3 – capybara)
– are ruthlessly destructive in terms of getting their grub(s) (#4 – anteater)
– look great when robotised (#5 – owl)
– swarm unstoppably over the urban environment (#7 – pigeon*)
– are actually quite odd when you think about it (#8 – badger)
– endure massive death rates on the roads (#9 – hedgehog)
– can be very extremely dangerous (#10 – shark)
– need regular haircuts (#11 – sheep)
– can be transplanted successfully to non-natural environments (#12 – stick insect)
– are deeply hierarchical (#13 – penguin)
– live a long time and have a deep sense of history (#14 – giant turtle)
– is a monkey (#15 – world’s smallest monkey)
– eye-friendly exterior conceals brutal truth (#16 – polar bear)
– congregates in massive labyrinthine towers (#17 – ant)
– highly socialised family units (#18 – meerkat)
– remains mysterious in many ways despite lots of investigation (#19 – giant squid)
– is endangered largely because of its own idiocy (#20 – giant panda)
– breed like (#21 – rabbits)
– photograph well (#22 – kittens)
– able to channel and amplify sound (#23 – narwhals)
– cleverer than it looks (#24 – pig)
– will go to almost any lengths to empty a nutsack (#25 – red squirrel)

So our favourite animal should combine all of these. And we do.

*We also like widgeons, which aren’t remotely like humans.

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 2: Goats

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True Story (yeah I know): As a child I went down to my cousins and stayed overnight with an elder and somewhat aggressive child. At one point I was woken in the night by him shining a torch. Apparently I was grumpy as he and his younger brother asked me “Are you afraid of ghosts?”
“No. Of course not,” said I. What was there to be afraid of. White, shaggy, bleating creatures whose young are called kids. Nothing scary about them.

This mishearing came back to haunt me a few days later when at a petting zoo and a goat tried to take my arm off with its waste disposal unit gob. Actually I am a bit afraid of goats, because they can and will eat anything. They say the cockroach is natures ultimate survivalist. Well that is okay if you want the quality of life of a bug, but if you want to roam free, majestically on a mountainside and eat rocks for dinner – you’ve got to be a goat.

The ghost/goat dichotomy did strike me as apt though. Consider a case of goatish reincarnation. Man dies, and is resurrected as a goat. Bleating his way forward with the knowledge that all that matters is freedom, sex, eating and decent facial hair. (Making really nice soft cheeses would also be added to the equation for me.)

Oh: and as a child my nickname was Goat Peter. I would like to think it was for my rugged, outdoorsy charm. But actually the terribly tedious teatime trials of Heidi were to blame.

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 3. Capybaras

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There are only two salient facts about the capybara. 1: They are the world’s largest rodent. 2: They look a bit like a giant guinea pig. Actually this second isn’t totally accurate – guinea pigs are furry with tiny legs and capybaras are bristly with proportionally longer legs – but the idea is a sound one. Capybaras are, like guinea pigs, very cute, do not appear particularly bright and if you’re a certain type of person as soon as you see one you want it as a pet.

I don’t think Capybaras make particularly good pets. In their native Venezuela great herds of them roam the pampas and are gobbled up by caymans. They may well also be gobbled up by man, as are their guinea-pig sort-of-relations. They are, though, still wild animals, which is another clue to their appeal – wild beasts which look like they should be tame.

Isabel and I always planned that our honeymoon would be in Venezuela, watching capybaras in the wild. I had visions of us on a ranch and the tourist-handling guy asking each morning what wonder of nature we wanted to see. “The capybaras again please”. “Crazy gringos.” However political unrest in Venezuela when we were booking made us pick Poland instead and see the bison. The herds of wild bara are still in my future: the nearest tame ones to most of our readers will be a newish pair in the Cotswold Wildlife Park about 15 miles from Oxford. They replaced an ancient specimen who had lost most of his hair and was extremely tame (or just slow), allowing my wife to pat him before he wandered off to continue the traditional capy pursuits of eating, sleeping and standing about in pools.

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 4. Anteater

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Are there any other animals who are defined solely by their diet? Plenty of creatures eat ants after all – it is the anteater’s m.o. that gives it special claim in this area. (I googled anteaters to write this entry at least half-hoping that they don’t even eat ants: this is only true of captive ones, though, which eat mashed banana and corned beef.)

It is certainly true that the ant-eating capacities of the anteater are impressive. In fact to a termite or ant colony the appearance of an anteater must be equivalent to the coming of the planet-devouring Galactus: after annihilating the crust of the colony with its forepaws the anteater then guzzles thousands of insects in a few minutes courtesy of a MACHINE GUN TONGUE that can extend two metres and goes at 160 licks per minute.

Spot the difference:

Bad news for the ants. Which are also in our Top 25 animals, so you might think we would hate the anteater. But there is, let’s face it, no shortage of ants.

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 5: WolsOwls

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WolThe internet is a wonderful thing. Type “Owls” and click “I’m feeling lucky” on Google* and you WILL get – pretty much everything you need to know about owls. Links to “Owlcams” and lots of great pics of owls looking variously: dopey, grumpy, sleepy and bashful. None looking happy or sneezy. (Or doc).

“This is ridiculous!” you exclaim. “Owls are nothing like dwarves.”

Smugly I point you in the direction of THE BURROWING OWL. Here’s the Burrowing Owl Artificial Nest Box Project to make the point. Yes some Owls do dig the ground for their livelihood. Don’t foist your avian stereotype on the Owl. Remember these are RAPTORS! Yes them what did for Bob Peck in Jurassic Park “Clever boys” sez the hapless Peck (ha!) before getting gutted and fed to owl chicks back in their underground lair. That’s how it goes.

Owls are also top of that school-science staple, the woodland food chain. No bugger gets to eat the owl. Though (see!) in it’s section on Owl Medicine, claims that “in England… Owl broth was given to children to prevent them from becoming drunkards” and “eating charred owls eyeballs was supposed to ward off madness”. Stop the rise of binge drinking – boil an owl.

The Brown Wedge is the place to cover Garner’s fab The Owl Service, but I do have to mention the enormous power that Owls have in story and myth. Terrifying omens, augurs of bad luck, they weave an atavistic web of magic and fear around the unconscious symbols of mankind. Perhaps most primal of all these Stragiforme images is Bubo – the Robot Owl from Clash of the Titans. Aww! Unfortunately, NOT ACTUALLY A REAL ANIMAL.

*Bonus science: another thing you can safely google is “Tasty Chick Hypothesis” – now tested on Owls, to no great conclusion

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 6: Widgeon

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It sounds like pigeon.

But funnier.

More about the Widgeon.

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 7: Pigeon

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Is it all getting a bit parochial around here? As in the excellent video for Midfielding by Midfield General, why should all the big sexy animals get all the screen time. Think about it, we live with pigeons, day-in, day-out and do we give them much of a second thought? Probably not, but they are remarkable creatures: if only for the disablist triumph against adversity displayed by so many of them.

The current CGI animated film Valiant posits the knowing participation of carrier pigeons during World War Two. Anyone who has seen puff pieces on the film will be aware that pigeons won medlas for valor in said war, which is only fitting being one of the few animals with a chest suitable for pinning medals on*. A quick survey of the pigeons knocking around at the moment though will surely suggest that this secret shadow war has continued to the present. Either that or the average pigeon likes to hang around in a minefield, the number of maimed and one legged pigeons there are about.

So pests they may be: but they are never in the way. Indeed their internal radar seems to sort that out (have you ever tried to kick a pigeon?) Rats of the air? Merely due to their abundance. They may say that while there are ravens in the Tower, Britain will never fall. I have another suggestion. The mere presence of pigeons illustrate the potential longevity of London. You never see a pigeons nest after all: an it is clear that they make their home in an upper dimension protecting London from strange invaders. Stop The Pigeon? Never

*See also Muttley.

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 8. Badgers

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The badger is the grumpy symbol of British wildlife, earned through its position as 70s/80s TV staple. The black and white stripes of the woodland monarch remind all true Brits of long hours spent rubbing up next to Terry Nutkins in the dank proving ground of the hide. In a filmed sense.

I actually went on a badgerwatch once and it was terry-rific. It involves sitting for several hours in a felt contraption which artificially heightens your perceptions of the animal world around you, and also gets you so enormously cold and numbed that when a mammal does appear you count it as a supreme miracle: this is how cults get people involved I believe. For the badger it’s all in a night’s work – emerge from sett, rootle in undergrowth, jump over log looking for worms and grubs. (Badgers eat over 200 worms every day!). So many badgers did this exact same thing that I started to wonder if they weren’t trained badgers just going back down another hole and round again.

At Kew Gardens there is a HUMAN-SIZE BADGER SETT which I have written about before. It is terrific and has almost inexhaustible power to fascinate children. Going on the badgerwatch reminds you of what an odd little animal these miniature dog-bear-zebra things are: if it came from some exotic clime (like Australia) you wouldn’t believe in it.

Mar 05

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 9. Hedgehogs

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I never really understood the porcine reference in the name as the little beasts have much more of the rodent about them than the darling/delicious pig (and indeed they are closely related to the mole and the shrew – but not the same as porcupines, alright?). That said, hedgehogs did experience their own dalliance with the culinary world courtesy of this legendary 80s meme
– alas (sorry, I mean, fortunately) said chips were flavoured of nothing more than pork fat. Still I can think of a few out there who probably harbour secret desires to sample the spiky variant, though they’d have to catch them first.

I never believed that hedgehogs were actually as fast as the pixelated wry blue show-off of gamelore but do recall an incident a few years back when staring out at the night sky from my back door one night I heard a rustling in the bushes and a dark blur racing out from the vegetation at an alarming pace, pursued by the neighbour’s cat (not Knuckles). Also impressive is their general noisiness as they forage around your garden (fortunately this does not extend to making a fox-esque cacophony at 3am) and their alleged ‘invulnerability’ when curled up into a ball, pointy bits out – though not quite tough enough for the deadliest predator of them all, SUV MAN. Hedgehog entrails spilled out all over the road in front of your house is not a pretty sight, so if they are to continue trying to cross busy roads at night I would not be adverse to powdering their diet of insects with crushed up steroids, just to boost their chances of making it from one kerb to the other in time. But it’s probably illegal. In the meantime we can only stand back and simultaneously deplore and admire their human-like willingness to dice with death in this way. Erm, hooray?