A popular artist of radio and television, in their latest book, makes reference to the native red squirrel which is an endangered species because of the introduction of the larger grey squirrel that in turn has created a more aggressive black variety. It brought back wonderful memories of walking around Formby on Merseyside, where there is a sanctuary for the protection of the native red squirrel, and the feeling of great excitement at spotting one in the trees.
This was the recollection of the author, who was brought up on the Wirral, and would often head to Formby in earlier days to gain a tan, with its secluded sand dunes and inevitable wind on any day of the year.
He was reminiscing because of having to chase a grey squirrel off his car one morning, by telling it to 'sling its hook' (clearly grey squirrels are very intelligent and understand scouse even when the person's emigrated 'down South'!). This incident turned into a prolonged conversation with someone who'd observed his actions. This lack of appreciation for these invaders was something they shared in common particularly for its killing off most of the native species.
Blame was directed towards the Victorians who'd brought them over here on boats from foreign places, not realising the consequences of their introduction, particularly as they breed so successfully creating an overpopulation. Warming to this theme the person insisted that they were taking over so their influence needed to be curtailed for the good of the country, particularly as he believed they had no right to be here in the first place. His piece de resistance was 'And now there's the blacks, they've started to multiply by the thousands, so if this carries on unabated it won't be long before the native Brit is completely extinct'.
This would have proved an invaluable shared conversation, acknowledging the concern many feel towards the threatened red squirrel, except that another person happened on the conversation and got the wrong end of the stick. This casual observer turned angrily upon the pair of them and accused them of blatant racism and having ignorant views. Warming to her theme she is quoted as saying: 'As for these 'boats' you're talking about - don't you realise that these people have travelled in rubber dinghy's that are nothing more than death traps but they're desperate to escape and have no choice than to put their trust in the hands of traffickers who don't care if they live or drown?' (a)
They were stunned to silence, and it took a while to realise the root of the confusion - they were talking about grey and black squirrels, but she'd only heard part of the conversation and thought they were referring to immigrants. She was clearly embarrassed about the mistake, but it gave them a good laugh - and yet, sadly, it could easily have been a conversation based on a dislike for 'immigrants' that is often fuelled by popular press. So it's good to know that there are people who are prepared to speak out against perceived injustice and prejudice within our society and seek to make a stand for those who come to our shores to make a valuable contribution within the rich diversity of our country.
I'm reminded of the charge given to the Israelites as they settle in the Land of Promise: 'God secures justice for the fatherless and the widow, and He shows love towards the immigrant who lives among you, giving them food and clothing. You too must show love towards the immigrant, for you once lived as foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10: 18 - 19). Our responsibility before God cannot be clearer - although I draw the line where grey and black squirrels are concerned!
(a)Paul O'Grady's 'Country Life' (Bantam Press - Paul O'Grady 2017)