Last night I caught up on a 2015 episode of Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday night feast. And during their “no waste” feature they introduced us to squirrel, recommending that we utilise these culled rodents (the grey ones, not the red) in our kitchens. This troubled me profoundly, although I couldn’t quite articulate why. I am not a vegetarian, although there are times I have seriously considered becoming one (read Marina Lewycka’s Two Caravans for an insight into the worst of poultry farming) but I found the sight of Jamie flaking squirrel meat off the bone particularly disturbing.
Some research online led me to a 2006 article in which a Conservative peer suggested that Jamie feed the meat of the grey squirrel to school children to help save endangered red squirrels, whilst at the same time achieving his then objective of improving the quality of school meals, so perhaps this “eat more squirrel” proposal was part of that plan, albeit delayed a few years by machinations behind the scenes.
But how do writers view squirrels? Other than Squirrel Nutkin, a firm favourite of mine a few years back (in both hard copy and listening to Wendy Craig’s LP version) and the source of the title of this article (Squirrel Nutkin’s riddle to Old Brown continues “How many strawberries grow in the sea?”), I could not remember encountering a squirrel in a novel. Well, that is not quite true. My own “The Pinocchio Brief” has the veteran lawyer Judith Burton, watching a squirrel from her window “tearing around the undergrowth, its tail flailing wildly, stopping in freeze-frame from time to time, before drilling down to disturb the foundations of the splayed and fading tulips”. In Judith’s case, the squirrel’s purposeful antics are in stark contrast to her own inertia. But I don’t remember squirrels having a prominent role in any novels I have read. According to the Guardian’s “black, grey and read” article, however, squirrels can be found in stories if you look hard enough and they are not only portrayed as tricksters, but also as demonic and diabolical.
I reflected on this with a modicum of scepticism until, early this morning (bank holiday at 7.05), I was dragged from my blissful slumber into the grey dawn of the new day, by a loud and persistent scrabbling noise. I staggered to the window, squinting out and craning my neck, to see a grey squirrel balancing on the wall of the house, trying to force its way into the soffit. Only a large amount of knocking by me on the window, together with wild gesticulation, which disturbed all the other inhabitants of the house, succeeded in dissuading him from continuing. As I cursed under my breath I wondered (only for a moment) whether Jamie had a point after all.