Autumn in Singleton Park
“Oy, you’re standing on my nuts!”
I lifted my foot, obeying without thought. Sure enough there were two Kent cobs beneath my feet, still in their husks.
There was a blur of fur and the nuts disappeared.
“Thanks,” said the voice again. The source of the voice was, I realised, the squirrel I had just seen take the Kent cobs.
“Excuse me,” I said, “I wasn’t aware that squirrels could talk.
“And I wasn’t aware that humans could listen,” the squirrel replied sharply, before running off into the undergrowth, no doubt too busy stocking up his winter stash of food to talk to me.
I relaxed, sitting back and watching the park around me slowly going through it’s autumn regime, leaves turning red, brown, orange and then falling down to the floor. I thought about the novel I am planning, following a relationship over the course of the year. I imagine some of the autumn scenes, flowers dying, leaves falling, hours of darkness beginning to outnumber the hours of daylight. The mood was perfect.
I watched squirrel as he ran hither and thither, a course set out by some bizarre squirrel logic; up trees, down trees, run to a random leaf, run back again. Then he went to the bench next to mine and literally sat up and begged. The woman threw him some of the pistachios she was eating, which he ate then and there, no storing those for the winter.
Then I watched him rummage through the woman’s shopping bag, as if searching the ultimate source of the pistachios. Then, amazingly, I saw him lift out a giant jar of marmite, as tall as he was, and carry it off to the foot of a nearby tree.
I followed him and caught him trying to bury the marmite under some leaves.
“Did you steal that jar of marmite?”
“Not at all,” he said, “it’s just one of the many stray foodstuffs you find in the park. This one was left at the top of a shopping bag. Careless.”
“That’s theft,” I said.
“She was feeding us anyway. All I did was make a proactive choice about what she fed us.”
“I didn’t even know squirrels liked marmite.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know. What did you think we had on our toast?”
“Well I didn’t know you liked toast, but I’d have guessed peanut butter.”
The squirrel looked at me with a puzzled expression. “Peanut butter?” it squeaked, “What’s that?”
“You must have heard of it. It’s a spread, made from mashed up peanuts.”
“You forget that I live in Singleton Forest. How would I know every product in your supermarket. Until last week I’d never even seen the Tango ads.”
“You knew about marmite though,” I said.
“Everyone knows about marmite. Even badgers know about marmite, it’s all they talk about, ‘if only we had some marmite to go with our slugs’ they say, ‘yuk, worms are horrible without marmite’.”
“I never knew the animal kingdom was so focused on the availability or otherwise of spreadable yeast extract.”
“You don’t know much do you? Anyway, haven’t you anything better to do? I’m amazed you have time to sit around doing nothing. Us squirrels can’t take a break, we have to stock up for winter. It’s perilous, every year 50% of the red squirrel population dies from cold, food shortages or general winter deprivation.”
“Are you sure, 50% sounds a lot, that’s half the squirrel population in layman’s terminology.”
“I got the figures from Wikipedia, so it must be true. Anyway, winter’s harsh for squirrels. We don’t even have sex between now and February.”
“That’s a pretty miserable winter.”
“It is.” He noticed my notepad. “I bet you’re a writer,” he said, “scribbling down all sort of nonsense about the nice colourful leaves and the beauty of an autumn forest, the busy little animals scurrying around randomly. Well, let me tell you it’s nothing like the stories, it’s hard work, hard work because we face a harsh, cruel winter. Just look on Wikipedia, you’ll see for yourself, half of us squirrels die every winter. It’s why I’m going abroad next week. Australia.”
“Australia? How are you going to manage that?”
“It’s quite simple really. I’ve got a modelling contract, I’m the new face of Vegemite. It’s going to be a three month campaign.”
“Vegemite?” I said, genuinely surprised, “but you like marmite.”
“So now you know the truth. The animals you see in adverts don’t use the products themselves. Meercats never use internet sites for price comparison purposes and the Andrex puppy would rather lick it’s arse clean than use Andrex.”
“I thought you said you never see the adverts.”
“Haven’t you learnt anything? You can’t believe a single word I say. Fancy falling for the ‘I’m the star of the new Vegemite commercial’ line.”
With that he scurried up the nearest tree.
‘A talking squirrel’ I thought to myself, ‘If only he’d said something of interest, it would have made a great story.