Paper Tiger Burning Bright

Photo by Movidagrafica Barcelona on

So, contrary to my normal routine and against what we must, for now, call ‘my better judgement’ I have just read through Wednesday’s itinerant whinge and I feel it incumbent upon me to publish this short clarification: I am not a climate change denier.  I totally accept that it is happening and that my generation is in no small part responsible for it – I was raised on tropical hardwoods and disposable plastic.  These days I compost, recycle, buy loose, check air-miles, grow my own veg and don’t eat anything with a face on (unless you count that very odd looking potato that I had last week) but I am no paragon: I eat cheese, I eat milk, I eat honey and, from time to time, I do emit a fair amount of methane.  And I use paper to write on.  I don’t think that makes me a bad person: maybe not ideal, but surely not bad.

I use both sides of my paper – don’t be silly now: I mean to write on – and it goes in the recycle bin when it is done, but I do know that recycling paper (like the bottles I insist on buying my beer in) uses a lot of energy – although not, I hope, as much as starting afresh.  I really want to do my bit, although I don’t expect to be carbon neutral until some time after the crematorium’s incinerator has done with me.

I am a man of my age: I grew up reading Fahrenheit 451 and I understood that book burnings were a regular feature in the history of authoritarianism: the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the French, the English, the Germans, the Chinese, the French (again), the English (again), the Germans (again), the Chinese (again), the Russians (who arrived late to the game but, never-the-less made a fair old fist of it), the Germans (who appear to have developed quite a taste for it), the Americans, the Christians, the Jews and the Muslims have all had a go at it and I think that, all in all, it is seldom seen as a good thing.  Books are burned to stop people learning, to stop people understanding, to diminish opportunities and impoverish the mind.  It is an act of mass, symbolic vandalism that cannot be matched by a government sponsored Kindle hack.

Even today there are societies where the inflow of information via the internet is so tightly controlled that dissenting voices are never heard, that those in whose name atrocities are almost daily committed, never know of them, but books, simple ink on paper, still find their way into lives and into minds and those whose minds they enter are forever changed, forever enriched.  (I’m presupposing here that it is a truth universally acknowledged that nobody objects to the mass torching of Jeffrey Archer tomes.)  As Montag learned in Bradbury’s dystopian masterpiece, the printed word holds a truth and a power that nothing else can replicate.  Books are too important to be reduced to a stream of ones and zeroes.  Read books, treasure books and when you’ve done it, swap them for other books, because if we all turn away from the printed word they won’t have to burn it to stop us reading, they will just have to turn them off, one by one, a click at a time…

…If I’m honest, I’m not quite sure of where that came from, it is not what I intended today, but it is what I scribbled onto my little pad of once-used paper scraps and something you can only read via the magic of the internet, so if it saves you lighting matches, then at least I feel as though I’ve done my bit…

Paper Tiger


It has been quite a while since I have had to whine about my inability to identify anything suitable to whine about.  It takes me right back to the dark days of Lockdown, and my fixation with pens, CD’s, very old sit-coms, and ice cubes.  The certainty then, that except for the workers of Downing Street, nothing was happening for everyone, at least provided a starting point: there was no experience to write about except for the lack of it and that was universal.  I spent so long gazing at my own navel that I now have a stoop.  It was not even possible to watch the world passing by outside the windows as the world was banned from doing so.  We took our thirty minutes daily exercise on a circuit that began and ended at home and involved crossing the road every time we encountered anybody else doing the same thing, we banged our pans with everybody else as we enjoyed the two minutes of weekly ‘community’, applauding the NHS on our own doorsteps, and it was there to write about and everybody understood it.  My gift for the inconsequential was suddenly useful because the inconsequential was the only escape we had from the very consequential and, for once, we all needed it.

Tonight I have nothing and I am struggling to find a way in which to write about it.  Having spent the last few hours staring through the window at the slowly encroaching landscape of new-build where, for forty years, I have looked out onto fields and trees has taken my mind away from everything.  NIMBY it might be, but I cannot help but grieve over the loss of something which I have held dear for two-thirds of a lifetime.  I will get used to it, much like I get used to my inability to smile without revealing un-bridgeable gaps; to spend a day with the grandkids without needing gin; to read the dire warnings on my medication without needing a strong magnifying lens, a bright light and even more gin.  It is often easier to embrace change than to welcome it.  I don’t want to be old, but I do want to get old.

I have tried, for a bit of a change, to put my pen to one side, to stare at a blank laptop screen, hands poised above the keyboard like arthritic spiders, waiting to pounce upon any notion that might pass their way, but it doesn’t work for me.  I crave paper.  I can’t doodle on the laptop.  Deleting is nothing like as cathartic as ripping it up and starting again – although it is more sustainable.  Everybody, from the bank to the window cleaner tells me that I should go paperless, but I’m not quite fully on-board with the logic yet.  You see, I remember from my youth when huge forests of coniferous trees were planted to provide us with paper, and I am aware that scientists now believe that these are detrimental in our fight against climate change.  In short, they need to chop them down and replace them with broad-leafed trees.  Having chopped them down, I’m sure they can’t just leave them lying there can they, so they might as well make paper out of them.  At my best estimate, I don’t suppose I’ve got much more than a couple of trees left in me now and my oak planting record is a good one, so I’ll keep on jotting my whines to paper (as soon as I can find something to whine about) – even if it does mean that, for now, the world is just that little bit more full of hot air than it used to be…

So, What Are They Actually For?

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We have lived in this house for forty years now and we have always had slugs, but never before in these numbers. They have appeared in a huge variety of black and orange, smooth and scaly, spotted and striped, big and small – and all looking like they have been regurgitated by a gull. Where are they all coming from? Behind us is farm land. It has been fallow for a couple of years, during which time, I suppose it could have become a gastropodal nursery. It is about to have houses built on it. Are the slugs fleeing the scene in numbers which I can only describe as biblical? Well, I’ve looked over the back fence and I can see no evidence of an encroaching slimy tsunami. The carpet of green and leafy weed does not appear to have been ravaged in the same manner as the foliage in our own (formerly) verdant plot. Besides, the builders haven’t arrived yet – is it even possible that slugs have foresight? I am certainly unaware of any eminence they may have in pre-planning circles. I question this perspicacity.

So, if they haven’t migrated here from the soon-to-be building site in anticipation of an imminent eviction, why have they suddenly decided to foregather in such numbers – and why in my garden? Have I, perhaps, introduced a new gastronomic morsel to my garden that is irresistible to the gastropod palate? Have I, perhaps, stumbled upon the slug equivalent of mashed avocado on toast? In short, I think the answer is ‘No’. It is a long-established garden and, save for the pots and baskets, filled almost exclusively with perennials. No new dishes have been added to the menu. There has been no spike in my Michelin rating.

I am certain that climate change is a factor – wet and warm does seem to suit the terrestrial mollusc rather more than it suits its natural predators: the hedgehog and the thrush. Both of these beautiful creatures are increasingly rare visitors to my garden now, and it’s a real shame because boy, could they plump up for winter. I resist the lure of slug pellets, lest they have a second-hand effect upon the slug consumers. In their absence, my efforts at slug control are definitely beginning to flounder.

I was once told to salt slugs, but the effect was so dramatic and so grotesque that I have never been tempted to repeat it. You would need a heart of stone and a cast-iron constitution to tackle the problem in that way. Anyway, the sheer numbers would pose a severe threat to the salt supply for the Highways Department in the winter – not to mention the blood pressure of any hedgehog that might happen to stumble upon the over-seasoned remains. So, a brush and pan is my main means of mass-collection, before bagging and dropping into the bin, from where they can be transported to their new home at the landfill.

I have noticed though, that whilst the slug population has boomed Chez McQueen, the snail population has diminished to a similar degree. Are slugs and snails, perhaps, competing for the same food source and the slugs, unencumbered by heavy household arrangements and therefore more fleet of foot (Foot? I’m not sure, I’ll have to check that out*.) getting there much more quickly than their principal competition? Perhaps I see shadows of our own society. I know that slugs and snails are closely related biologically. What if slugs are, in fact, snails that have not yet managed to get a foot on the housing ladder? That would explain everything. Except that I keep on finding empty snail shells and I keep on leaving them where the slugs foregather and, to my knowledge, not one of them has ever taken up vacant possession. Perhaps, like elsewhere in this world, they have discovered that they’re better off with mum and dad after all…

*Just did. A slug is a gastropod which means ‘stomach foot’. Not sure it’s how I would choose to imbibe my bouillabaisse, but hey, it’s nature…