Shades of grey
Beyond the potting shed, by Charlotte Philcox
The greys are coming. And no, that’s not a description of my reaction when I look in the mirror, honest – or evidence of a sudden obsession with bug-eyed aliens. Because the sort of greys I’m talking about are members of the squirrel race.
Have you noticed how many of them there seem to be these days? Adept at destroying everything in the garden, they launch themselves at carefully filled bird feeders and nick all the expensive peanuts too. And that’s nothing compared to the mass slaughter they carry out each year on the population of fledgling wild birds.
Many people respond to grey squirrels by going all soppy about them, as if they were dear little glove puppets or something out of an animated film. “Aahh, how cute”, they say, in baby voices guaranteed to get my back up, because ‘cute’ is a word I loathe. It’s the territory of teenage girls, or the sort of un-grown ups who would like to be considered ‘cute’ and furry and sweet themselves, but most definitely aren’t. A bit like grey squirrels really.
My gardening colleague, Jerry, recently befriended one. A grey squirrel, that is, not a cute person. I didn’t find this out until after a moment of evil pleasure, when I had urged my lurcher dog to chase the poor thing across the lawn. After much frenzied yowling, and a lot of scurrying in the shrubbery, the squirrel eventually extricated itself and hurtled over the wall.
I didn’t think much more of it until an hour or so later, when I spotted a peculiar looking creature glaring down at me from an apple tree. It looked like a large rat.
“That’s my friend”, said Jerry, aghast. “Your horrible dog’s chewed all the fur off his tail”.
“But they’re vermin”, I said “they kill baby birds for fun. They’re vicious things.”
“I was training him to take crumbs from my hand,” Jerry said, sadly. “I get lonely in the garden”.
“You should get out more,” I replied, unsympathetically.
Thankfully, I’m not alone in my cold-heartedness, and discovered a novel solution to the squirrel problem at one of my recent gardening talks. I had just asked if anyone had any good suggestions, when a woman’s voice rang out from the back of the hall. “We eat them”, she said, completely deadpan. “They actually taste quite nice”.
Much later, as we were all recovering over a cup of tea, a man came up to me. “You know who that was?” he asked.
“No”, I replied. He drew a deep breath.
“That,” he whispered “was our local vicar’s wife”.
I know times are hard, but ever since then I’ve been unable to shake off the vision of Sunday lunch at that particular rectory. Roast squirrel might be the ultimate in economy, but for goodness sake, don’t tell Jerry.
CHARLOTTE PHILCOX is a garden design consultant, writer and lecturer, giving talks and workshops across the region. A keen organic gardener, she is particularly interested in edible and useful plants and their history. www.thecommongardener.co.uk