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When Squirrels Attack

9 November 2008
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(This is my second London post but had to post them on the same day due to lack of webernets until today. See “A Conspiracy of Cartographers” below for the first one.)

By the time Mike arrived in London on Sunday morning, I had already been there four days. Knowing that Mike would want to see the city, though, since it was his first time there, I knew I would have to muster some energy and enthusiasm. I mean, I really do love London, but I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. After all, it is so quiet, and the traffic is so orderly. And no one is staring at me. It can all be a bit much.

So when Esther suggested we walk the South Bank of the Thames, then over to St. James Park on Monday, I smiled and agreed. This was the better of two responses in my head, the second one being, “I haven’t walked that much in eight months – are you freakin’ crazy?!”

We met Esther at the London Bridge station on the Underground and proceeded to the nearest pub, which basically required us to walk all of ten seconds, for really large burgers and chips. Then we headed over to Borough Market for coffee since the piles of greasy food in our stomachs had created severe food coma that, when combined with jetlag, led Mike and me to consider curling up in the booth at the pub and never leaving.

With full stomachs and hot coffees, we began to wander. The bank of the Thames in November is exactly what you would expect – overcast, cold, misty, dreary. It was wonderful. After all, only stupid people come to the UK in November and expect it to be the Mediterranean. Apparently, as we learned from a number of locals, there are a lot of stupid people visiting the UK in November.

The first half of our walking tour was pretty uneventful. Mike got excited when he saw a BIG SHIP! WITH MASTS!, but the excitement was short-lived after we realized it was just a reproduction of some other better ship. We did see the London Eye – world’s biggest Ferris wheel – and mocked the tourists who pay £18 to ride it. (I only did that once.) And then there was Big Ben – Mike and I forced Esther to take a touristy shot of us in front of it.

Yeah! Obligatory tourist photo!

Yeah! Obligatory tourist photo!

Finally, we meandered into St. James Park, where our tour became just a little more interesting.

St. James Park is like most parks, large, green, leafy, but it has this distinctive pond/stream/what have you in the middle of the park that houses various bird types. There are ordinary ducks and geese but also cranes and black swans. The three of us became transfixed by the black swans and stood there staring at them until this elderly man approached Esther and me while Mike was trying to get a good photo of the swans. The man walked right up to us, pointed to some ducks, and said, in his lilting English accent, “You know, these are the highest flying ducks in the world. They can fly over Mount Everest. Thirty-thousand feet. I read it in the paper. It said so, right there in the paper.” Esther and I politely said, “Oh, really? That’s very interesting. I had no idea” and other comments of that sort.

The man then stated, “Yep, highest flying ducks. Said so, right there in the paper. And you know what else? If that Obama fellow becomes President, [someone] said he will probably be President for all of ten minutes. (I didn’t catch who said it.) He reckons that someone will just shoot him right then and there. After all, he’s surrounded by all those people, all those big crowds, and someone could just shoot him. They just let him stand in those big crowds, right out in the open. You aren’t American, are you?”

He must not have noticed the Obama button on my purse pointed straight at him.

I looked down at the ground and let Esther answer, “No. Well, then…” with her Kiwi accent, but it wouldn’t have mattered because the man just forged on. “Yes, they’ve all got guns, those Americans. I know, I’ve seen ‘em. My son, he lives in Chicago, and he says they just walk down the street, all of ‘em, with big guns. It’s a very dangerous place. Anyone could get shot.”

By this time, Mike had rejoined our group, with his running jacket proclaiming “RUN CHI” on the lapel and “Chicago Marathon” on the back. Again, the man didn’t seem to notice.

I kept my eyes averted because I knew if I made eye contact with Mike or Esther, I would burst out laughing or say something like, “Too bad they confiscated my gun at customs here.” Esther continued to comment politely, while the man went on and on about those dangerous Chicagoans and how anybody could just take a disliking to you and shoot you in that city, until one of the black swans got all uppity and trumpeted, stretching and ruffling its wings and neck and startling the man. Since all three of us had now turned our attention to the swan and Mike was trying to coax it to get uppity again, the man wandered off. Noticing his absence, the three of us looked at each other, glanced over our shoulders to make sure the man was a respectable distance away, and burst out laughing.

So there, that’s what the old codgers of the world think of you, Chicagoans. Now, now, no reason to get angry – just put down the guns.

By the way, here is how Mike and Esther tried to coax the swan to get uppity. I cannot imagine why it didn’t work:
(Just click the Fluffy link to see the video – I can’t get it to embed and can’t be bothered to figure it out right now.)

Fluffy from Christine Evans on Vimeo.

Next, Esther decided to make friends with the squirrels. The large, fat grey squirrels of St. James Park are greedier than most and will come up to any human who calls them and many who don’t. As they do not have these common rodents in New Zealand, Esther is uncommonly fascinated by them. The last time she and I walked through this park, back in 2006, she coaxed one to run up her leg. Yuck, ew, shivers. At this time, I maintained that I did not like the squirrels, that I found them nasty and gross, but that I was NOT scared of them. But, then, on this day, the squirrels attacked.

As Esther bent over to entice one particularly fat squirrel, I leaned back against the short black metal fence to take a picture. At that moment, I felt something on the side of my jacket. What came next happened in frightfully slow motion. I glanced down and saw a squirrel with its nasty little rodent paw latched around the top of my jacket pocket. For a split second, I froze, staring at the squirrel, but then as my senses flooded back, I screeched and flung myself away from the fence, terrifying the squirrel and sending it flying across the park. With my heart pounding and sweat prickling my brow, I looked up to see a stunned Esther, Mike and beady-eyed squirrel staring at me. And then I said, “Okay, I admit it. Squirrels terrify me.” And then they all laughed at me. Even the squirrel.

Look at that squirrel and try to tell me it's not evil.

Look at that squirrel and try to tell me it's not evil.

After this terrible fright, I needed to sit down, so we wandered to a pub (took about twenty seconds this time) and had a drink, all the while enjoying the conversation of some older men at the bar who kept saying things like “Jolly good” and “Old chap.” I’m not kidding.

What a delightfully English end to a delightful London day.



2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tammy permalink
    22 December 2008 4:03 pm


    How can you be scared of squirrels? They’re so cute! OK, so I am an Australian and that’s not too far away from being…what did you call it?… “uncommonly fascinated by them”…but they are just gorgeous…When I was in Burlington I was so jealous of Matt (can’t remember surname!) who had a pet squirrel he had rescued…he brught it in to school one day so I could meet it…and I still have (OK, I’ve donated it to the kids, but still…) my squirrel teddy that I got over there…


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