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Home > Culture and Society

TFT Goes... In Search of Crack Squirrels

14 October 2005

A story appeared at the end of last week in a local South London paper suggesting that Brixton squirrels, after digging up rocks buried by panicky dealers, had become addicted to crack. Pretty soon broadsheets and tabloids alike were scrabbling after the story like frantic, balding dogs after a smack-stuffed bone. It's clearly a load of old nonsense, but in a week full of fire, earthquake and Tories, it suddenly seemed worth looking into in slightly more depth. So we popped along to Brixton to have a little nose around.

One of the great things about Brixton of course, is that it's very easy to enter into a conversation with a drug dealer - should conversation with a drug dealer be what you're after - as they tend to speak to you first. So for half an hour or so we wandered around Brixton High Street and Coldharbour Lane turning down drugs and wondering if we could ask a question. 'Have you heard anything about local squirrels taking crack?' we asked. Of the half a dozen dealers we asked, only one of them had heard the story. The rest were either amused or distinctly unamused. The first guy we spoke to found the idea extremely amusing. He laughed out loud. We asked him if he found it very likely. He didn't know. We asked him if it was likely that crack dealers would bury their wares underground in the first place. Again he said he really didn't know. 'Would you bury crack?' we asked. 'Nah, man, I just sell skunk,' was his reply. 'Do squirrels smoke skunk?' we asked. He didn't know. But he was amused, so that was something.

On the whole then, the dealers were not much help. Either they really were as ignorant as they were making out, or else they were hiding something. We decided to broaden our search. A barman in the Prince of Wales pub had heard the story. He said that he'd woken up to it on radio news earlier in the week and wondered for a moment if he was still dreaming. He went on to suggest that, although crack dealers might occasionally be forced to bury their stash or hide it in the undergrowth, it probably didn't happen often enough for squirrels to get wise to it. Unfortunately he had no first-hand experience of local squirrels displaying any of the symptoms of crack psychosis. So sadly, he wasn't much help either. Neither were the library assistants. Nor the local shopkeepers. Nor a passing traffic warden. It was almost as if they had more important things to think about. Thank God then, for the alcoholics hanging out in front of the Ritzy.

We spoke to a bunch of five of them, slumped on the low wall round the greenery where the crack-addicted squirrels are said to congregate, masturbating and spitting at babies. We said hello. One guy turned to us. 'I don't know who I am,' he said. For a moment we were speechless. Then an old Irish man, with a bloodshot bloated gonad for a nose, grabbed our arm and bade us speak. When we asked him about the squirrels, he confessed that he wasn't local, but he was in no doubt that squirrels do smoke crack. 'Of course they do,' he said. 'It's in their nature. We smoke it, don't we?' We? We asked him if he meant human beings. 'Human beings!' he roared, seemingly excited at the prospect. But squirrels are not human beings, we pointed out. He ignored this quibble. 'The squirrels don't have to pay for it,' he smiled, conspiratorially. We insisted that they had no concept of currency. 'Of course they do!' he repeated. 'They'll be dealing before you know it.'

Fun though he was, we decided that our jolly sozzled friend was actually not particularly expert on the habits of dissolute rodents. So we gave up on Brixton and phoned around the professionals. Is it possible a squirrel could ingest crack and survive more than a few wacky seconds, we wanted to know. Cat expert and chief science man at the British Naturalist's Association, Roger Tabor, didn't get back to us. The swine. The woman who answers the telephone when the squirrel expert isn't in at the office of the Wildlife Trust said that in the absence of any quantifiable tests, they really couldn't say. And the RSPCA told us this:

'Unfortunately at the moment we do not have a test in place which would tell us of the affect of crack cocaine on a squirrel, so we can not say categorically whether this animal could get addicted to the drug. A squirrel is a mammal, so there are similarities to a human body structure. However, it is small in comparison to a human which would suggest that the drug could have a greater impact on it. It is not always the case though as a drug can affect one species one way and affect another in a completely different way. There would be great concern that a wild animal had access to any chemical substance though.'

So the question is: Why has no one yet forced crack into squirrels under laboratory conditions? Until they do, it seems that no one really knows for sure if squirrels are on crack or not, but, let's face it - they're not. However, if you're still undecided, it's always worth going back to what may well be the original source for the story, one Rik Abel, a former Brixton dweller now residing in Toronto. On November 22nd he was posting on his blog, something about Canadian squirrels. He wrote: 'I don't think they would be any match for the fearsome Brixton Crack Squirrel, which feeds entirely on discarded rocks of crack cocaine and is generally rather bolshy for such a small creature. They used to hang out in the little park in front of the Ritzy Cinema, twitching spastically, dancing to music only they could hear and generally creating a malevolent ambience.' After featuring in the Guardian last Saturday, Rik wrote on Monday: 'Imagine my surprise and delight on Saturday morning to see my Brixton Crack Squirrels post quoted in The Guardian! Apparently it is a burgeoning urban legend, which is funny, because I just made it up.' Bah.

Bloody bloggers.

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