About this time of year, as the streams trickle their way to the Itchen and coots fly south, my part of Hampshire witnesses what has become something of a phenomenon.
Before I moved here, I merely assumed that the grey squirrel ate nuts and scampered playfully through trees and shrubbery, waving its tail merrily at chaffinches and doffing its cap to hedgehogs. Yet I soon learned that Micheldever's grey squirrel population have far more sinister motives.
I was first alerted to this while buying some postage stamps and a tin of hotdog sausages in the village shop. As I noted down lockjaw tips from Muriel, the kindly proprietor, I was struck by the swift entry of a grey squirrel through the slightly ajar door. Before Muriel could bash it with her broom the blighter had made off with four birthday cards, a loaf of bread (unsliced) and two pears! Enquiring as to whether this was a novel crime, I was informed that the shoplifting squirrel was an annual occurrence in Micheldever. Already that Muriel had lost a ton of spring onions to the animals and had had to secure her stock of ballpoint pens.
Last year, the situation reached a peak that many locals are worried will be
surpassed this year. On one afternoon alone, thirty grey squirrels descended
upon Winchester liberating electrical goods, records, books, clothing and
even street signs in a frenzy of thieving - enough to make Oliver Twist look
like a small, fictitious boy.
The goods are sold in burrows and at car boot sales. Rabbits are the principle recipients of the stolen goods. According to my wife, things are set to become even worse. Some offenders have already been witnessed carrying pocket knives and baseball bats.
However, we must feel reassured. In some parts of Scotland, most notably Renfrewshire, (where I saw my first Spaniel), and Arbroath, red squirrels have for the past eighty years been dealing in crack cocaine to all willing purchasers. I suppose we must thank Lord God on High for some small mercies in his relationship with Mother Nature the Whore.
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