It’s that time of year again … when leaves turn red and gold and brown and drift to the ground … when the scent of fire and smoke drifts across the lands … when animals are brought in to shield them from frost and wind … and when we start to focus on the year past and the year ahead.
It is also when small animals are burned to death in bonfires lit by people too careless to check for them first, when people delight in tying firecrackers to cats and dogs and when fireworks are responsible for countless deaths and injuries to pets.
Please take care of your pets and local wildlife by:
(i) Checking wood stacks or bonfires for hedgehogs and other small mammals who may have made their home in it, before setting them alight.
(ii) Not lighting fires in areas you shouldn’t and by making sure that any fires you do light in proper areas are completely out before leaving.
(iii) Make sure all your pets are indoors and in a safe environment before letting off fireworks or before your neighbour does. Sedate them gently if necessary to prevent them becoming stressed.
(iv) Keep children and pets away from fireworks and do not let children play unattended with fireworks, including crackers.
On a related theme, a few weeks ago, I spent the day in Greenwich. It was one of those typically English summer days – breezy, chilly and overcast with occasional spats of rain. We wandered round the market and then over to one of the parks. The park has some lovely old trees and I tottered about, looking at them and watching the squirrels.
We then decided to trot over to the rose garden. En route, I spotted a group of people in the middle distance. They had set a fire at the base of one of the trees. Typically, there were about 15 of them, all swigging beer and making a racket. I was absolutely incensed. Whilst I am not afraid to confront people, I find in most cases that people know they’re being idiots and when I point this fact out to them, no matter how nicely I do it, the conversation invariably degenerates into a shouting match.
I was enjoying my day, I felt very relaxed after a stressful week and did not fancy a public ruckus. I figured it was the park warden’s job to locate and berate, not mine and so, taking a deep breath, I turned in the opposite direction, towards the roses.
As I had planned to go to the market, I’d had a fluffy rare velvet-dress-and-silver-jewellery moment and was attired in clothing more suitable for Charmed than country. In a nod to the amount of walking I was going to do, I had finished my outfit with great big boots. I imagine I was a little unusual-looking.
As I entered the rose garden, admiring the scents and beauty, my inner voice was going – “yup, very nice, but I guess that tree isn’t having such a good day, having its roots burned”.
Now, my inner voice has been known to be very wise indeed. It has also been known to get me into a variety of scrapes. In the past, it has been heard to say:
(i) Go on, get into the water, you chicken shit, there’s no rip tide (I nearly got swept out to sea).
(ii) They’re only a group of young guys, challenge them for Gods’ sakes (just before I discovered the gang was being run by Yardies)
(iii) Throw a brick, go on, it will be fun and you know you really want to! You can after all, run in high heels (shortly before I got chased down a street in South Africa by several irate members of the local women’s army college and their guard dogs). My mom took a while to recover as we were already under police surveillance for anti-apartheid activities and I had my school headmaster’s daughter with me at the time.
I just knew that this was going to be a bad idea. So I stifled it. But there it was again – thin, reedy, irritating and making distressed tree noises.
I swung round and stomped back towards the idiots. It took me a good five minutes to get to them, by which time I had stomped myself into a real humdinger of a temper, ready to take their ears off. As I approached from behind the tree, I could see that smoke was still billowing out from the base.
As I got nearer, I started to think about how, temper aside, I might approach them. About 100 steps away, they noticed me, looked up and stopped talking. In the last few steps towards them I thought about saying something lighthearted, but my face gave me away.
All this thought (and the tree trunk) prevented me from taking another look at the fire as I got closer.
I popped my head round the tree, looked down and said …
“Phew! I am so glad that you have lit a barbecue in a sensible container and not lit a fire round the base of this tree”.
After a second or so of complete astonishment and silence, one of the guys said “What do you think we are? Irresponsible?”
I backtracked, explained that I had seen plenty of people do stupid things in parks. When I was interrupted by “Yes, but not us”, I realised that I had made a complete plutz of myself and was headed (yet again!) for an argument.
I smiled widely (and maybe a bit wildly), wished them all a good barbecue, wheeled round and stomped off in the direction in which I had come.
The roses were beautiful but I made sure I gave the barbecue tree a wide berth on my return journey.
I’ve decided that my inner voice is definitely no good for me. The next time I hear it, I’m buying a metaphorical cork.