Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Drey of Reckoning

Julia's blog brings us, in her inimitable style, the tale of the squirrel-induced panic that engulfed a primary school recently. From the Mail:
A teacher at Chater Infants School in Watford, Hertfordshire, had to herd the youngsters back into the safety of the building after an 'unusually aggressive' grey squirrel disrupted their afternoon playtime.
It follows a week in which squirrels have been in the news rather a lot, what with causing traffic accidents in Essex...
A pensioner collided with a motorcyclist after swerving onto the wrong side of the road to avoid a squirrel.
...attempting robbery in Northern Ireland....
A red squirrel has been apprehended after going on the rampage at a jewellery shop in Ballycastle, Co Antrim. 
...and sabotaging the power supply on a grand scale in Florida...
The squirrel infiltrated the system at a TECO substation at about 9:30 a.m. and knocked out the power for about 7,000 area customers. 
...California ...
Power was knocked out for almost 2,000 residents of Silicon Valley after a squirrel was zapped by electrical equipment.
and Oklahoma...
An overly-curious squirrel is being blamed for a power outage that left 2,000 persons — including several businesses — without electricity for nearly an hour and a half on Saturday morning in Claremore.
... to say nothing of the many fires started by squirrels munching on the household electrics. Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, not content with merely chewing or stealing the wiring, they have been unscrewing bulbs from the zoo's Christmas light display:
The problem has gotten so bad that zoo officials took to spreading hot sauce on the strands as a deterrent.
Though, to be honest, the measure wasn't exactly a success:
"They kind of laughed at it. I think we felt good about it, but it didn't do much." 
The articles explain that the damage is the result of squirrels seeking material to line their winter nests or mistaking the light bulbs for oddly-coloured nuts, but what if there's more to it than that? Could it be that these little furry chaps actually have designs on humanity?

After all, the grey ones that came here have ruthlessly set about displacing the indigenous population, reducing them to skulking in isolated habitats or island locations from where, as we've seen, they occasionally venture forth to engage in a spot of breaking and entering.

In a single century, grey squirrels have colonised virtually the whole of our countryside while their relatives fill the same ecological niche almost worldwide; what if these little fluffy mammals are actually plotting world domination?

Maybe the lone playground invader was merely testing the water; staging a small skirmish to see how the enemy reacts. If they judge our capacity for resistance by what they saw at the school, their morale must now be sky-high.

After all, they already know they can disrupt traffic, take out our power supply and, for all we know, disable our phone masts at any time, especially given all that practice unscrewing light bulbs. For the chefs who extol the virtues of squirrel meat, it might not be long to payback time.

Still not convinced? Take a close look at this cute piece of anthropomorphic footage currently doing the rounds; that's not a twig the squirrel is nibbling...


If the premise of this seems familiar, you may already know the excellent short story 'Skirmish' by Clifford D Simak; if you don't, it can be found in sections online here, though I don't have any information on copyright.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Fly-by night

After a quiet few weeks, the Tavern doors are open again to celebrate the 27-metre wide 2014 WC201, which passed a mere 540,000km above our heads this morning too early, in the UK at least, for anything but a bleary wave.

For those sorry to have missed it - though you could always have a drink to speed it on its way - there may be consolation on the way in the shape of the 2014 WX202, a mere 5m tiddler in cosmic terms but due to pass 380,000km away on the 7th at the decidedly more congenial time of 7.56pm.

I say 'may' because, rather embarrassingly, its low relative velocity and trajectory suggest that this latter visitor may not be quite as extra-terrestrial in origin as originally thought.

Along with the space-rocks, there's a fair bit of our own litter out there and it's quite possible that 2014 WX202 is actually a bit of orbiting scrap like the one temporarily mistaken for an asteroid last year in the spacegoing equivalent of an angler landing an old boot.

If Professor Hawking's predictions about artificial intelligence are accurate, our future robot masters are likely to find us more than a little risible (always assuming they have developed something that passes for a sense of humour); we shove a load of metal into an interesting variety of orbits, then get all excited thinking it's an asteroid when it sails past - at least until we discover it's coated in titanium paint.

And should ET and his chums be out there, it's a fair bet they will take one look at the assorted scrap metal that litters our immediate environment and decided that we really aren't the sort of beings they want to get acquainted with, at least until we've done some housework.

Update: The Astronomer Royal, former astronaut Ed Lu and Queen guitarist Brian May have just unveiled plans for a global Asteroid Awareness Day on 30th June 2015. While we like to think that, here in the Tavern, every day is Asteroid Awareness Day, we certainly aren't going to pass up the excuse for a massive party!