Monday, October 22, 2007
We've been in London less than 24 hours and already, excitement. While we were waiting to check into the hotel (lovely, by the way - Hilton Paddington), Elliot helped me destroy our $350 Cannon digital camera. (What happens when a rambunctious toddler collides with his jet-lagged, sleep-deprived mother: Marble Floor = 1, Cannon = 0. The camera was instantly rendered useless). I'm heartbroken but undeterred. The incident reminded me that I should be writing this stuff down somewhere (like, here). Course, there won't be any photos to go with the stories.... so I'll have to write even more colorfully than usual.
It's glorious here in London -- about 65 F, sunny, and only a slight breeze - so most of the trees still have their leaves, which are changing colors. We're staying in Bayswater, which is essentially one neighborhood east of Notting Hill, (which means one neighborhood closer to downtown London). Bayswater and Notting Hill are adjacent to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens - on the north side. We spent about an hour strolling along Bayswater Road admiring the "crafts stores" (local artists line their paintings along the iron fence of the gardens on the weekends, I guess) and then we wandered into the park, which was bustling with humans and critters. Elliot fell in love with every dog he met. They were all friendly and barked with a British accent.
Craig Ferguson is right about the war between the grey and red squirrels. (See his show from last week: www.cbs.com/latenight/latelate/comedy/).
The grey squirrels have taken over the UK (apparently they invaded England by way of ships that sailed over from America). On our walk through Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens, we saw nothing but grey squirrels (and one suspicious-looking fellow that was mostly grey, except for a distinct swath of red that ran the length of his dorsal side, or back). Our cab driver confirmed that, indeed, the former stow-aways have nearly decimated the red coats. Said they drop from trees, land on people's heads and bite them - guerrilla warfare style.
What kind of vermin would plan such an attack on poor unsuspecting British and their beloved little furry red coats? What's worse -- after I did some online “research” on the subject to investigate whether Ferguson wasn't stretching the truth just a wee bit to reach the punch-line, I discovered a National Geographic article (link below) that says the grey-squirrel invaders might have carried disease across the Atlantic, which could be contributing to the demise of the native reds.
"Competition over food alone is not a mechanism of sufficient strength to account for the rate and pattern of red decline and gray squirrel expansion," said Daniel Tompkins an ecologist formerly at the University of Stirling in Scotland. "The virus may be the missing component from the explanation," he said. Bolstering this argument, is evidence that a current outbreak of the same virus may be decimating small remaining strongholds of red squirrels in Mersyside, northwest England."
I'm no history buff, but this is starting to sound rather kharmic, isn't it? The American "experience" played out in London's very own Rodent Theatre.
Then this, from somewhere else online:
A question of breeding
The Forestry Commission's recently announced plan to wage biological warfare on the grey squirrel population is especially welcome in Plant a Tree Year. The grey squirrel, a creature of the deciduous forests makes savage depredations on our precious replacement stock of hardwoods. Immature oaks, beeches, sycamores and other broad leaf species are stripped of their bark by squirrels, apparently expressing sexual frustration and not hunger.
Attempts to control the squirrel population by the gun have so far failed; the squirrels effortlessly step up their rate of reproduction as soon as a shooting campaign appears to be taking effect. So now the Forestry Commission will investigate the entire reproductive cycle.
The work is being undertaken primarily on behalf of private landowners; all but seven per cent of the commission's vast forest lands are coniferous, providing a last ironic refuge for Britain's dwindling population of red squirrels. If science can contain the grey, it might even come up with a means of encouraging the precious red.
I'm not sure who has the better sense of humor -- Craig Ferguson, God, Mother Nature, or National Geographic, but only those curious or bored enough to research this topic would get the joke.
Great news on the camera front: It won't take photos (the shutter, auto focus, zoom, and anti-wobble functions were knocked off-kilter), but it apparently still records passable videos. At dinner, I captured Elliot donning a British accent with his first on-video pronouncement: "Aren't I clever? I'm using a straw!" Successful on the download, as well...we can see AND hear it. Brilliant.