A Desk with a View

As promised, I’m bringing you the view from my office window. I work upstairs, and can look down into our back garden. And in the back garden is our new bird table. The star visitor there this summer isn’t a bird, it’s a grey squirrel. He comes almost every day to forage for bird food, and we love watching his antics.

squirrel hanging by tailsquirrel on bird tableYet if I’d posted these images four years ago, say during my last series of blogs, I’d have been committing a criminal offence and risking a £5 fine. Grey squirrels were regarded as such pests that a law of 1937 required landowners to notify the authorities if they spotted one on their land. Amazingly, this legislation was only repealed in 2014. Well, I’m safe now.

It’s a sort of game we play with our squirrel. He tries to snaffle all the bird food, and we try to stop him, which isn’t easy, because his gymnastics put Olympic athletes in the shade. Having a tail helps, of course, along with strong rodent teeth and a very persistent nature. It took a while till we found a peanut-holder that he can eat from in small amounts, but can’t bite through to pinch all the nuts in one glorious binge.

Now several people I’ve told about him have said, a touch wistfully, “Pity it’s not a red squirrel.” True, there are no red ones in our woods, or in most of Britain nowadays. Since the greys were imported (originally as exotic novelties) from the USA in the 1800s, they’ve flourished here and out-competed their red cousins. Not deliberately, but naturally, because sad to say they carry squirrelpox, a virus that doesn’t harm them, but kills the reds if they contract it. They’re also known to be destructive, stealing birds’ eggs in spring and chewing trees, sometimes destroying them.

And probably most telling, the reds are prettier than the greys, and thanks to the likes of Beatrix Potter, they’re still thought of as our “natural” squirrels, while the greys are villified as “invasive non-natives.” Emotive language in this age of globalisation. All in all, I reckon they get an unjustly bad press.

First, no-one denies greys are not native to Britain, but so what? That goes for
several other common wild creatures. Rabbits were brought here by the Romans, or if you think that’s too long ago to matter, how about wild muntjac deer, first imported from China early last century. Who cares? Should we condemn any creature simply and solely for not being a native species? I don’t believe so.

Secondly, yes, the greys do steal eggs and attack tree-bark. The reds do this too. Indeed in the 1800s red squirrels themselves were regarded as serious pests, slaughtered in their thousands in woods and forests all over the land. Now they are rare, so it’s their grey contemporaries that get killed, and it’s justified “to protect the reds.” If all the greys were killed, would that protect the forests? I don’t believe so.

So I’m happy to have a grey squirrel in our garden. He’s cute and resourceful, and he’s welcome. Am I right?

Do have your say, and don’t forget that comments posted before midnight this Thursday automatically put their posters’ names into the prize-draw hat for a free book giveaway.

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Who wants to win a free booK? Well here’s your chance!

Welcome, everyone, to my new blog. Yes, I’m back after four years away. I’ve missed you, my friends in the blogosphere. Have you missed me? No, of course you haven’t. Too bad, I’m here anyway, and to soften the blow, I’m giving away some books.

I’ll be posting about a mixture of topics. Books of course, mine and other people’s; writing, ditto, and guest posts from other writers; history, especially ancient Roman. Then how about “shoes and ships and sealing-wax, and cabbages and kings, and why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings.” in my last series of blogs I certainly covered shoes (if you count Wellington boots,) and ships (the voyages of Pythias the ancient Greek explorer.) This time…who knows? I daresay pigs with wings will turn up. Oh yes, Walrus, they do exist; how often have I been watching some politician strutting his stuff on tv, and observed porkers looping the loop joyously in the background?

First of all I’m offering the chance to win a free book. Three chances, actually, as I’ll be giving away three copies of BOUND BY MYSTERY, the amazing anthology that Poisoned Pen Press brought out earlier this year. The 30+ stories are a real mixture, with settings from all over the world and periods from modern to ancient. One of the latter is a story of mine, WILD BY NAME, WILD BY NATURE, set in Roman Britain, like my novels, and tells of the night when innkeeper Aurelia Marcella has a surprise celebrity guest, a famous gladiator.

I’m delighted to be part of this book. Some of my very favourite authors are in it. And I love short stories. They’re fascinating to read and fun to write, the ideal form for mystery ideas. They are a subject I’ll be returning to in a future post. Which are my favourite short stories? Which are yours?

Meanwhile, winning a bumper bunch of them needs no big brain-teaser, just a prize draw. Everyone who posts a comment on my blog between now and midnight on August 31st is automatically included. Your names will be put into a hat or mug or dustbin – whichever container is suitable – and three winners will be drawn out on September 1st, and announced here. Then I’ll need your snail-mail addresses, and the books will be on their way.

Watch this space. I’ll be with you again before the end of the month., because I want to show you the view from my office window, which has been keeping me entertained all summer long. When I need a break from writing, (only very very rarely of course!) I look out and…I can spy with my little eye, something beginning with S.

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