Even if you don’t have time to keep up regularly with the news, you surely won’t have missed the weeping and wailing that has recently beset the little Surrey town where Louise and I have made our temporary quarters. The time has come for me to break silence and reveal the truth about the recent tragic occurrence that took place only yards from our back door.
The local paper was first to report on the sad event and the subsequent “outpouring of grief” that has stricken the town. The nationals soon picked up on the story and after Fox TV broadcast the news, sympathetic messages and offers of help have flooded in from across the globe.
For Albi, our much-loved albino squirrel, is dead. Mercilessly run down by a heedless driver on the back lane just behind our house. A nearby shopkeeper who supplied the plastic bag to scoop him up in was the first to voice out loud the question that the papers told us was uppermost in our minds – “Who killed Albi?”
Determined investigative journalism has revealed the culprit to be a callous Royal Mail van with the poor creature’s demise made certain soon after by a monster 4×4. And to think I was ignorant of it all until I saw the headlines in the paper. It makes you think, doesn’t it? In broad daylight. Just outside my window. And I knew nothing of it until I read it in the news.
The reports have got me quite upset now. How different would that day have been if the postal service had still been on strike. But what worries me most is that the driver is still on the loose. What about the risks that I must take each day on that lane? I’d crossed it only fifteen minutes before the tragedy – what if I’d been running late for some reason? It was only by chance that it wasn’t me laid out flat by Postman Pat and finished off by a Hummer on the school run.
It’s a disconcerting and inexplicable fact that tragic events of this kind seem to follow me around. The bus blown up on 7/7 was only a hundred yards from our rented flat in Woburn Place. Our son was living by Aldgate East at the time, the scene of another of the blasts, and our daughter residing in Beeston where the plans – and the bombs – were made. And some years previously all of us were living near to Lockerbie on the night that Pan Am 103 fell out of the sky whilst we were decorating our Christmas tree. And now Albi dead outside my door. It’s a dangerous world. Thank goodness we’ve got a responsible media to explain it all.
As for Albi, the sad little fella has already been buried in the churchyard where he made his home and a permanent shrine has been proposed so we can all find closure and move on in our lives.
The main difficulty now will be deciding which of his many names to carve on the memorial. So far amongst the letters and the on-line poems and the floral tributes that the press coverage has precipitated, I’ve seen Albi, Snowy, Cyril, Percy and Whitey. It seems that everybody had their own special relationship with him. I hope this lack of consensus won’t come to divide our community as the horrors of 9/11 and 7/7 have caused so many to demonise our fellow countrymen who follow Islam. Or the way the press have polarised ‘believers’ and ‘doubters’ of climate change. It can only confuse the issues. Although I realise we will have to run the full gamut of denial, blame and anger before we can properly come to terms with our loss.
I’ve noticed some stricken locals exhibiting the ‘gallows’ humour customary to front-line soldiers who cannot permit themselves to succumb to their distress. They joke that Albi should have joined the Tufty Club or that we could throw bleach over some other squirrel to save our children from the harsh truth of his demise. Of course I know that they don’t mean it; it’s just their way of coping.
Now, I’m not sure how to tell you this because I don’t like to speak ill of the dead. But the fact is that Snowy was not the lovable little chap that the press have made him out to be. I used to watch him taking full advantage of his celebrity to hog the limelight – and the peanuts people brought for him – and bullying all the other little squirrels who wanted to share in his good fortune. I dare say they are actually all quite relieved now that he has gone. But no doubt he will answer to a higher judge and it would only upset people’s sentimental notions if the media were to print the truth about him.
It’s a very recent trend in our British culture, this setting up of lamp-post shrines and public outpourings of emotion. I suppose the media coverage of Princess Diana’s death started it all. We used to be so much more buttoned up and dignified in our mourning. Still, I expect it’s not a bad thing that we’ve loosened up a bit. But where will it all lead? I wonder if we might start grieving the hundred thousand Iraqis who died because our access to cheap oil was threatened. Or the 137 rain-forest species that become extinct each day to supply the palm oil, beef and soya for our cheap processed foods. Or our last wild landscapes lost to wind-farms because we won’t turn off our phone chargers and our TV stand-by switches. Or the prognosis for our future in 6 degrees of warming because we just can’t seem to get our priorities right. What floods of emotion would it unleash if the press got hold of those stories?
It’s all cause and effect. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I can’t help thinking that if we must keep on abusing our privileged status like poor old Albi did, it would be so much better for all the other species if we weren’t around either.
Of course the real problem is that the media know the stories we want to hear and we frame our views from what the media tell us. And so the fiction builds until well-meaning people in Illinois are offering to fly over replacement Albis to console our grief-stricken town.
R.I.P. Albi. Let’s hope the press leave you alone now and start reporting on the real causes and effects that we should all be responding to. Otherwise we will have some serious grieving to do.