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Home > Culture and Society


30 July 2005

This week, as the world’s attention focused on the ongoing Situation, another violent and sustained campaign was raging on a tiny island in the Atlantic. Gough Island is home to huge colonies of seabirds including shearwaters, petrels and albatross. It is also home to some really fucking big mice, which are thriving due to their taste for the flesh of the enormous fluffy white chicks of the birds. The unusual thing is that they don’t kill them first. They just tuck in, while the chick blinks and wriggles about in pitiful bewilderment. Ah, nature red in tooth and tiny little mouse claws, you’d think; only this time it’s the fault of people parking their ships by the island for a quick cuppa, allowing non-native mice to scuttle off to make a start on the plentiful hot buffet.

This story has been all over the place this week, and despite its quite awe-inspiring gruesomeness it’s been a veritable relief from the rolling terror updates. You can hear the gratitude in presenters’ voices – it perks them up no end. A bit like a snippet of the last half-hour of ‘Straw Dogs’ in between back-to-back showings of the Star Wars trilogy – in these topsy-turvy terror-riddled times, you grab your morsels of respite where you can. Slow-fluffy-chick-death-by-mouse-gang beats all the other kinds of death available.

More to the point, though, for a silly-season story (or even a sombre-season story), there is something worthy in it, something that gives you pause. It’s after the feathers stop flying and the mice scuttle away licking the beads of bird blood from their whiskers, and there’s a nice aerial shot of the spectacular rocky island, and then the voiceover says something about how the RSPB has been awarded £62,000 to conduct further research (roughly half the amount spent researching whether there is some universal pattern to the holes in cheese), but any concerted effort to stop the rampaging mice ‘would cost millions’. Said in sad voice, implying that said millions are not available. Not many millions. One or two. Tiger Woods’ toilet roll. But millions that no one is likely to be prepared to spend on some birds that have been endangered for ages anyway and are probably overdue a visit from the Darwinator.

And you start to think, boggle-eyed and boggle-brained with endless shots of cordoned-off streets, and images of the most mundane things like cars and rucksacks and New York sweatshirts now infused with malevolence – well, hey, wouldn’t it be nice if someone spent a million or two saving some lovely vulnerable immortalised-in-poetry birds, instead of just spending it on tanks or stupid advertising or rubbish gadgets or ID cards or an abstinence programme that tells frightened teenagers they can get HIV from tears. Someone could easily chuck what is really a very, very few quid at something that is actually fixable, something that people clumsily broke in the first instance. Just do this one tiny thing, and then you can watch for it maybe popping up in the ‘and finallys’ – it’ll be about as dramatic as the bits in Big Brother where they’re all fast asleep, but some presenter will grudgingly say ‘oh, and some big white birds are no longer being eaten to death and have lived as a species to fly another day, God why didn’t I just become a doctor like Dad wanted’. And then it’s back into the giant rumbling washing-machine of bad news, the kind where you come out dirtier than you went in, but this time you’ll have one small, fluffy, beaky, happy thought in your poor overloaded head.

And then you think, since the stupid overgrown fowl are too fat to move off their nests and too dumb to peck their assailants to death with their huge beaks, fuck them. Spend the money on beer.

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