During my first year at university I lived in student flats in a green and hilly part of Wales. One day, one of my flatmates – a girl from Birmingham – and I were leaning out of my bedroom window having a fag, and we spotted a rabbit frolicking around on the grass outside.
I remember thinking the most striking thing about the scene was that the blighter wasn’t riddled with myxomatosis. Coming from the countryside, you can’t really walk anywhere without tripping over poor little mites huddled in the middle of footpaths with their eyes all gooed up.
This girl, however, lost her shit. “OH MY GOD. Is that a real rabbit?” She was physically flapping at this point, and whipped out her phone to call her mum. “Mum, guess what? THERE’S A RABBIT OUTSIDE.” She put her hand over the receiver and whispered to me, “Do you think it could be somebody’s pet?”
And that’s when I realised that not everyone had the same nonchalant attitude towards wildlife as I did. It was quite eye-opening, really; I was living with people who had, quite literally, never seen a wild rabbit before. Anyway, I chalked it up to the great city / countryside divide, and thought nothing more of it.
Until I moved to London. When I moved to this sprawling concrete wonderland, I knew I’d miss the countryside a bit. What I do really miss is the backdrop of rolling green hills that had been a constant eye canvas throughout my moves around Wales, and even in Bristol. Now it’s just buildings, offices and fried chicken shops. But whatever. No-one moves to London for the scenery.
What I’m missing the most at the moment, though, is that in the countryside, you know what the fuck is going on with its wildlife.
People tend to think the countryside is some wild, untamed animal free-for-all. That there are just pigs and sheep milling around wherever they please. That rabbits are pouring out of the ground and every single household owns a chicken. But this is not the case at all.
Wildlife in the countryside is kept in check. Farm animals are accounted for, few people own chickens because they’re bastards and rabbits, badgers and foxes keep to their bloody selves. On the rare occasion a cow starts munching your hedge, you just run at it with a novelty umbrella and they stomp off to the corner of the field, ready to be taken for milking, or turned into burgers.
You know what’s what in the countryside.
NOT LIKE SODDING LONDON, THOUGH, where the amount of wildlife I’ve encountered in the last two-and-a-bit years is simply extraordinary.
First there were the rats, which I blogged about exasperatedly at the time. What started as the odd scratching noise in the kitchen (It’s just the house settling!) quickly turned into episodes involving housemates and I hysterically throwing spoons at them as they scuttled across the cooker. Thanks to the heroic efforts of my other half, we (we – thanks for nothing Wandsworth Council and every bloody pest control agency we called in thereafter) managed to catch the offending pair, unceremoniously turfing their huge furry brown bodies into the bin (as instructed by the authorities), and leaving their nest of babies, cosy and out of reach in the ceiling, to squeak and scramble for days, until one day the noises simply stopped. It was horrible.
Then, without rats to deter them, in came an army of mice. Mice, which are able to squeeze themselves through gaps smaller than their heads, fact fans. Many weekends spent shoving wire wool down every single gap in our Victorian terrace and substantial investments in traps and sound-frequency deterrents eventually put pay to the problem, but not before several ‘hilarious’ attempts at catching the strays that saw fit to scuttle into the lounge while we were watching TV. How many grown adults does it take it catch a mouse? Seven, apparently. Five to flap around impotently, two to actually do something, but the whole group to create enough noise and panic that the poor thing eventually just drops dead from fright.
Then there were the spiders. And I don’t mean spiders. I mean spiders. Huge spiders. Over the course of one month in September, we averaged one of these monsters every two days. You’d walk into the kitchen, take a cautious glance at the floor, then go to the sink or cupboard or whatever. When you turned around – BAM. There it was. Squat and hairy, from nowhere: phobia ninjas. Both of us eyeing the other, waiting to see who’d make the first move. I’d reach behind my back, slowly, grasping for a bowl, a saucepan, anything, but its thousands of repulsive eyes would gauge the movement and it’d scuttle towards me at alarming speed, sending me tearing out of the door screaming for my life. The September rains stopped, and they left. But I know they’ll be back.
Then – and throughout our tenancy – there are the birds. We’ve an enormous tree in our back garden (some folk say it’s the tallest in Tooting), home, initially, to a pair of wood pigeons that seemed to be constantly embroiled in a domestic. I don’t know what the problem was, or indeed, what kind of problems wood pigeons have, but every day the tree would shake and they’d squawk at each other furiously, turfing bits of twigs and fluff out of their abode, which they eventually left. Maybe they split up, maybe they needed a fresh start somewhere new? Who knows? What I do know is that the tree is now home to a pair of mentally-challenged magpies that don’t understand their size and insist on flying at the tree with comically-oversized sticks, and then being all surprised when physics doesn’t work out for them. As such, the garden is covered with bits of branch and wood, and it all looks a bit Blair Witch. Which is great.
And then, most recently – and the catalyst for this lengthy rant (sorry) – the foxes. The fucking foxes. Urban foxes are as much a London landmark as Big Ben, or drunk girls falling out of Infernos. They’re just standard. The norm. But they’re utterly fearless, and whereas in the countryside they’re likely to sprint away at the first sign of a human, here they’re more likely to pull a knife on you and take your wallet. They’re everywhere. And now they’re LIVING IN MY GARDEN.
I came back from a few days away to find a family of them had dug into the plant borders around the sides of the garden and had set up camp in a the mound of earth beneath the tree. And they’d dragged a load of crap in with them: half-empty cat food tins, crisp packets, a broken plant pot (?). And, as it’s illegal to harm them with traps or poison (not that I would want to hurt them), short of shouting ‘PLEASE LEAVE’ at them through the safety of the window there’s nothing I can do. So now they join the rodents and the spiders and the stupid idiotic birds in a gang land-style territory takeover.
At least they’re keeping the cats away, I suppose. Ah yes, then there’s the cats…