Newgate News

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

Sunday, 29 March 2015

El Caminito del rey

This weekend saw the opening of the newly-restored Caminito del Rey - the King's little pathway - in Malaga, Spain.

Originally built in the early 20th century as an access route for workers on a hydroelectric project, the narrow path along the sides of the gorge fell into disrepair and, after several fatalities, was closed to the public by the authorities. Naturally that was seen as a challenge by some...

I discovered this video some time ago; having no head at all for heights - I once froze up and had to be rescued from the walkway of the Palm House at Kew - I confine my occasional vertiginous thrill-seeking to YouTube, where I can vicariously enjoy this sort of thing from the comfort and safety of my own sofa.

While the new path, which has taken three years to complete, boasts sufficient guard rails and netting to bring it within the capabilities of less adrenalin-fuelled visitors, I certainly won't be giving it a try, especially given the sections of glass flooring helpfully offering views of the river 100m below.

However, there are plenty of people who do like the idea; the official booking website crashed within hours of opening and there are more than 30,000 people on the waiting list, meaning it is booked solid for the next few months and on course to pay off some of the staggering €2.7 million cost of the refurbishment.

According to the rules, only 50 people per half hour are allowed to enter the trail - one hopes they don't all decide to stand on the same bit of the walkway at once. It's a bit like those signs giving the maximum lift capacity which have you surreptitiously counting the occupants and wondering exactly how much the manufacturers allowed per person - or is that just me?

Even though I can't imagine ever venturing onto the walkway in person - I'd be the one clinging to the cliff with all ten fingernails and frantically counting passers-by - I can certainly see the attraction of the imposing and dramatic scenery.

What a good thing Youtube gives armchair adventurers the chance to experience it while holding on tightly to a reassuring drink!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Messing About In Boats

This year's coastal inadequacy season appears to have got off to a flying start with a 25-ft yacht crashing into rocks just off the Isle of Wight en route to Plymouth.
The boat had no safety equipment, Mr Trejbal was navigating with one page from an atlas and when he was rescued he thought he was 30 miles away - in Southampton.
Ah yes, the old page-torn-from-an-atlas navigation technique so beloved of Darwin Award hopefuls - though a little outdated now, perhaps, given the availability of car sat-nav systems.
It is not known where Mr Trejbal, who is a Czech national, set off from but it is thought he eventually wanted to travel to Turkey.
Such is the wonder of modern technology that it took only a few seconds to establish that this would entail a journey of around 3,200 nautical miles - taking well over a month in a boat of that size - including a cut across the notoriously rough Bay of Biscay; a tall order indeed for such an ill-equipped expedition.

It's not the first incident of its kind and certainly won't be the last. What always puzzles me is that the possession of a road atlas or vehicle sat-nav suggests that, while on land, at least, these people fully appreciate the importance of having some tangible aid to navigation.

Truly the incompetence of mankind knows no bounds - especially at sea!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Putting the Danegeld on plastic

It's four years since I wrote this on the subject of taxpayer-funded Council credit cards, following hot on the heels of the MPs expenses scandal:
Councillors up and down the land have been hitching a ride on the gravy train – and the gravy in question is rich, meaty and laced with truffle-oil. Luxury hotels, lavish meals and gifts from high-end retailers abound, along with tables at award ceremonies and champagne receptions.
Now it seems there is yet another tranche of spending to investigate at the next level down. The Bristol Post has obtained a breakdown of the City Council's expenditure on payment cards for the past year and it makes very interesting reading indeed (there's a list at the end of the article).

These cards are issued to, among others, senior managers, head teachers and 'managers of residential care homes and social workers who need to supply goods to vulnerable people'. That being so, one could reasonably expect a certain amount to be spent on food, clothing and basic furniture to cover emergencies and there are, indeed, substantial payments to Ikea and Asda (£10,000 and £32,400 respectively).

Likewise, shoes, haircuts, cinema outings and inexpensive restaurant meals for youngsters in Council care would probably not be deemed excessive - though £3,266 does seem rather a lot for cinema tickets and eyebrows might be raised at 'multiple trips to Rileys [sic] Snooker Club for pupils at the St Matthias Pupil Referral Unit'.

Some of the payments, however, are rather more baffling: £686 on 'iTunes downloads', for example, and '£44 in what appears to be a tattoo parlour', not to mention...
....a one-off £189.50 payment to Gay Times magazine. The council insisted this figure was incorrect, and it actually spent £33 on a subscription to Diva magazine, a lesbian magazine, for its library service.
I should have thought that, in this day and age, you could be a lesbian on the internet for nothing. Certainly the only people I've ever seen reading magazines and newspapers in my local library are elderly gentlemen in flat hats who are not, I assume, 'Diva' magazine's target audience.

Most contentious of all are bills for £100 at Ralph Lauren in Spain and £170 for a pair of Ugg boots. Mention of these items brought the Council to the comment section to explain:
 - We've tracked down some more detail: the Ralph Lauren purchase wasn't from Barcelona, it's from their UK website which is billed via Barcelona, and was to buy Christmas presents for children in a residential home. The Ugg boots were another online purchase; to replace a stolen pair which a child in a residential home had got for Christmas.
Now I know that children in care are probably having a rough time and, in modern parlance, may need to enhance their self-esteem, but Ralph Lauren? A quick visit to the website in question reveals that the cheapest children's accessory - a baseball cap - will set you back £20. Is it really sensible to endorse and indulge (at public expense) an appetite for designer labels among children who, a few years hence, will have to learn sensible management of a limited budget?

I'm not, of course, advocating Dickensian levels of oppression and uniformity, but surely you don't have to desire the return of the workhouse to suggest that gifts should be of a less overpriced and superficial nature (though perhaps the impressive £37,800 - over £3,000 a month - spent on Amazon included books and educational toys; we can but hope!). Some of the comments on the article, however, suggest a very different point of view:
 - As I understand it a number of these items were bought for looked after children and the boots to replace some for a child whose boots were stolen. Nothing like making a scandal out of the needs of vulnerable people. The journalist should apologise and give the days salary to charity! 
 - I can't believe that people on here begrudge a Christmas present for someone in a childrens home and to replace some stolen Ugg boots for a child in a childrens home.
Try as I might, I can't quite square designer clothing and £170 Ugg boots with 'the needs of vulnerable people'. While it is reasonable that children in care should receive gifts where culturally appropriate, I would never buy Ralph Lauren branded goods for my own children and I have every sympathy with taxpayers objecting to such wanton extravagance being exercised on their behalf.

As for the stolen boots, there are not enough details to make a judgement, but was it really necessary to replace them (assuming they were indeed the genuine article - '99% of all Uggs on ebay are fakes') with something expensive enough to be a liability in a communal setting? Unless council staff were to blame, there is surely no obligation on the taxpayer to do so.

All in all, it looks rather like someone here is playing Fairy Godmother at other people's expense and enjoying a nice warm glow of generosity while the public foots the bill.

An explanation of sorts is, perhaps, to be found in this, from the same author as the second comment quoted above:
There are families around Bristol that have caused trouble. Property has been damaged, anti social behaviour has caused problems and this has perpetuated over time. 
Now lets look at the costs. Council repairing property, council sending officers to sort out anti social behaviour, legal costs with bringing asbos, legal costs when pursuing broken asbos, court costs, prison costs and all of the officer costs to do the above, plus the police costs and the unquantifiable cost of the effect on neighbours and the local community. 
So now lets look at the programme. It's a high touch programme where council officers help these families change behaviour through the provision of support. The programme has been massively successful and all of the behaviour and costs that I listed above have been dramatically reduced. So the public sector has found a far cheaper way of dealing with problem families.
Revealing, I think you'll agree. It will be interesting to have a look at Bristol's crime figures in a few years' time to see how effective this strategy has proved - particularly if this exposure means the supply of Council-funded goodies dries up.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Six of the best

It was the usual Ankh-Morpork mob in times of crisis; half of them were here to complain, a quarter of them were here to watch the other half, and the remainder were here to rob, importune or sell hot-dogs to the rest. (Terry Pratchett, 'Guards! Guards!')
It's been quite a week for asteroids. According to a fellow enthusiast:
...on March 10, 2015, a 12–28 meter asteroid dubbed 2015 ET cosmically “just missed us”, zipping past Earth at 0.3 lunar distances – 115,200 kilometers, or 71, 580 miles.
Then the pocket-sized 2015 EO6 - possibly the subject of this video - whizzed by a similar distance away, followed by 2015EQ and 2015 EK (both between 15 and 33m in diameter) and the slightly smaller 2015 EF and, today, 2015 EO all passing a mere million or so kilometres above our heads.

The startling number of close fly-bys detected recently, even if they aren't of a size to send us the way of the dinosaurs, makes it much easier to appreciate that an asteroid strike isn't a matter of 'if', but of 'when'.

Eschatology aside, I rather suspect most of us aren't exactly prepared for this. True, official bodies have been undertaking mock exercises, which has to be a good thing, but, on an individual level, I don't see much hope for a sensible and reasoned reaction.

Part of the problem is the constant cries of 'Wolf!' from the media. We've become accustomed to a sort of semi-permanent wibble about everything from global warming to imminent food shortages in the Home Counties while life goes on seemingly unaffected; like children dropping crisp packets on their way home from yet another anti-littering PSHE lesson, the population has ceased to take any notice of what is being said.

Occasionally, however, a particularly alarmist message gets through and we are treated to the edifying sight of supermarkets besieged by shoving hordes squabbling over the last baked goods, fearful lest a threatened snowstorm should delay deliveries and plunge them into an appalling carbohydrate shortage. So used are we to instant gratification that even the mildest of deprivation seems to bring out the worst in some people.

Should a diminutive asteroid land on some part of our green and pleasant land tomorrow, I hope the affected population will find some measure of altruism and organised response. Failing that, I fervently hope those most likely to act selfishly or exploit the situation are squarely underneath when it hits (along with a few particularly deserving cases; I have a carefully-maintained mental list).

Meanwhile, every fly-by is an excuse for a drink and this week, in spirit at least, we will be broaching a bottle of Jimkin Bearhugger's finest to drink to all six, before raising a seventh glass in salute to the much-lamented Terry Pratchett.

Monday, 2 March 2015

"Live long and prosper!"

I wonder if Leonard Nimoy ever thought, when he adapted a traditional Orthodox Jewish prayer gesture for his new television role, that thousands of small fingers would be painstakingly coaxed into the same position every school breaktime for years afterwards.

I can't be the only one who, on learning of his recent death, responded with an automatic Vulcan salute, half-surprised that the muscle memory persists to this day.

Gene Roddenberry's vision may look dated now but, growing up in a place where a 'foreigner' was a Southerner from over the English border, a crew of humans of all nationalities united in space exploration was a novel and thought-provoking concept (though we all knew, of course, that Scotty had to be the real hero, whatever Kirk and Spock got up to); add in a character from a distant planet and we were all completely hooked.

The early 1970s were heady times for space-mad nerdlets; real-life moon rockets vied for attention with the fictional exploits of intergalactic travellers and the crew of the errant moon base in the optimistically named  'Space 1999' (a series which, to my delighted surprise, still had a devoted following in Austria in 1982, when British television had moved on to 'Boys From the Blackstuff' and invented Channel 4).

With such a background - not to mention the early influence of the lids protecting the Clangers' underground homes from meteorite impacts and space debris - it's hardly surprising that this blog has retained an interest in extra-terrestrial matters and asteroids in particular.

Today, therefore, we have double cause for celebration in 2015 DO215 and 2015 DS23, two 50-odd metre wide space rocks passing by today at around 1.2 million km. Rather bigger than the Chelyabinsk meteor, they are, as their designations show, relatively recent discoveries, a reminder that NASA's impressive detection equipment is doing well - and that there are plenty of as yet undetected bodies out there.

And tonight, we are not only raising our usual glass in the Tavern to mark the event but also drinking a toast to Leonard Nimoy and to the unforgettable original Mr Spock.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Follow the money

Remember Baroness Uddin? Chucked out of the House of Lords until she paid back the £125,000 she fiddled on expenses and claiming to be penniless, she had the gall to ask to be reinstated in order to pay the money back out of the taxpayer-funded daily allowance.

When that failed, at the end of her 18-month suspension, she had a rummage down the back of the sofa and miraculously came up with the cash in a handy lump sum.

Only it turns out that the sofa in question wasn't her own. According to the Register of Members' Interests (via Breitbart), she received an interest free loan for £124,000 from three sources.

Given all the other investment opportunities out there, one wonders whether these benefactors would really sacrifice the use of that amount out of the goodness of their hearts or the desire to see Baroness Uddin's little face light up in gratitude.

What's more, £10,000 came from 'two businessmen from the Islam Channel' which, according to Breitbart,
...has been accused of giving a platform to terrorist sympathisers and anti-Semitism. In November 2010 Ofcom ruled the channel had breached the broadcasting code after presenters supported violence against women, martial [sic] rape and accused women who wear perfume of being “prostitutes”.
Most of the channel's output appears rather less controversial, which is a good thing, given that 'UK government research [in 2008] found that 59% of British Muslims watched the channel.' (Wikipedia), but I wonder whether Baroness Uddin agrees with the programme stating that women should not be 'permitted to hold a position of leadership in government'  - and what she thinks of the CEO's alleged links to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Islamic finance does not, of course, permit the direct charging of interest on loans. Instead, the lender may effectively acquire a whole or part share of any assets and a share of any income or benefit generated. When the asset in question is a member of the House of Lords, this surely raises some disquieting questions.

In the light of this generous financial backing for the Baroness, the inspiration for our past musical efforts seems even more appropriate...

She kept a home down in Wapping,
Where subsidies helped pay the rent,
A mansion in Bangladesh,
And don’t forget the flat in Kent,
Pressed for a remedy, she says she’s in penury,
But once she’s back in Westminster then all will be fine;
Three hundred quid a day she’d get,
She’d use your cash to pay her debt
Extraordinarily nice!
She's Manzila Uddin,
Baroness of Bethnal Green,
House of Lords expenses queen;
Her arrant greed will blow your mind. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A prestigious award

Out with the Oscars! Banish the Baftas! Douglas Carswell, newly-hatched UKIP MP and occasional muse of this blog has been shortlisted for the Westminster Public Affairs’ Political Twitter Awards 2015 (nope, me neither).

He's one of six hopeful contenders for the Funniest Tweet Award with:
“Are there enough Lib Dems left to form a circular firing squad?”
It's not exactly going to have them rolling in the aisles, but I suppose that, in politics, you have to take your laughs where you can find them.

Still, it's better to be known for that than for the fact your daughter used your twitter account to invite all your 28,000 followers to play 'Hello Kitty World'. In any case, Carswell probably needs cheering up, since the other boys in Parliament have been hiding his homework and calling him names:
He said: “The Bufton Tufton element of the Tory party has definitely started to get a bit cross with me.” But he wouldn’t be drawn on how they had expressed their distaste – and insisted he didn’t care. 
Last month, Carswell arrived at his place on the House of Commons benches to find that someone had scrawled “FO” on his prayer card – short for “F*** Off”.
Wouldn't it be nice if the next election brought us a crop of grown-ups - or, even better, a Parliament prepared to work together for the greater good of the British people. No chance of that, of course; the tribalism and point-scoring is far too deeply ingrained.

As for the Lib Dems, with Nick Clegg in charge, the result is surely something more like this...

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Stranger Danger and Pork Pies

Food for thought this week:
Two youngsters reported being approached by a stranger as they walked to school along Coppins Road on Thursday.
They claimed to have run away from the man and reported the incident to teachers when they got to school.
Schools have strict protocol for situations like this; the other pupils were warned and text alerts were sent out to parents - no doubt causing much fear and alarm.

The police were called and investigated the alleged incident, as a result of which:
A spokesman said: “Officers have spoken to the two boys who reported the accosting incident and are satisfied that it did not take place.”
It would be satisfying to think that the boys were soundly told off for lying and required to apologise to all concerned for the unnecessary panic and the waste of police time but, alas, it may well not be that simple.

As plenty of ex-teachers have found out the hard way, most school policies require pupils' stories of threats to their well-being - however far-fetched - to be accepted at face value, thanks to the grossly-oversimplified orthodoxy that 'children don't lie about abuse'. A false story is thus deemed to be the product of misunderstanding or error.

In an attempt to establish the truth, pupils are likely to be told that withdrawing the story will not result in punishment. However serious or malicious the allegations or wide-reaching the consequences, they can walk away scot free - though they may be offered counselling to address any 'issues' that could have encouraged them to come up with the story in the first place.

There have always been children who have a complicated relationship with the truth; our forebears dealt with it though a combination of chastisement and the fear of God but, in our more enlightened age, the stakes have never been lower.Whether the motive is idle mischief-making or deliberate malice, children know that a lie is unlikely to bring about any serious retribution, whether human or divine.

The idea is for the school to offer pupils an easy way out so they can back down without fear of punishment; the law of unintended consequences says that, a few years down the line, the lesson such children have learned about their own importance and lack of accountability is likely to bear dangerous fruit.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Out of the blue

Next 5 Earth Approaches within 7.5 million kilometers
11 m
2,770,000 km
18 m
1,290,000 km
68 m
2,950,000 km
52 m
3,260,000 km
24 m
775,000 km

I think this counts as a full house; you wait weeks for an asteroid inside the 5,000,000km mark and then five come along at once.

What makes it even more interesting is that four out of the five were detected within the last two days, along with the departing 2015 CH13, a 10m-wide cosmic tiddler which passed a mere 268,000-odd km away on Wednesday.

And, to top it all, today being the second anniversary of the Chelyabinsk airburst, the B612 Foundation (the organisation behind the Sentinel mission) has decided it is an appropriate time to remind us of the dangers of asteroid impact.

It's a warning we've heard before but, this time, the focus is on the small fry - rather like today's visitors, in fact - with former astronaut Dr Ed Lu reassuring us that, for a small asteroid, deflection should be relatively straightforward:
"In most cases, simply running into the offending asteroid with a small spacecraft is sufficient."
Unmanned, one hopes. There's surely a film script in there somewhere but, to be honest, it's not exactly up there with Bruce Willis and the nukes, is it? Perhaps Hollywood will instead turn its attention to the drama of mass evacuation, now that planned detection systems may give enough warning to clear the impact areas in time.

With a matter of hours of warning - if any at all - this week we are certainly not yet at that point; in fact, a cynic might be tempted to wonder whether, had one of the five been heading straight for us, the authorities would have passed on the news at all. The potential for civil unrest and administrative chaos might well make public ignorance the preferred option.

On a more positive note, since every fly-by (or safe departure, depending on your attitude) deserves to be celebrated with a brimming tankard, tonight looks like being a good one - I invite you to join me in a toast to five near misses.


Friday, 13 February 2015

A toe in the water

Between a frantic few weeks at home and at work and your host being somewhat under the weather, the doors of Peachum's Tavern have been shut for far too long - my apologies to those who have turned up and rattled the handles in search of a virtual pint and a chat.

Forget the usual example of retrieving a banknote from the garden; being unable to face posting even when there's a 320m wide asteroid cruising by is, I reckon, a fair indication that it was flu and not just a cold.

Anyway, there's a lot to catch up on - Harriet Harman's pink battle bus, the Greeks expecting gifts and a host of other startling news stories, some of which I hope to get round to in the near future, though posting may be light for a while yet.

Popular culture has also taken an odd turn recently. Perhaps it's best summed up by a moment I caught by chance while channel hopping a few weeks ago in which one Big Brother inmate opined on the subject of another,

"She's such an exhibitionist in all the wrong ways."

From the simian antics of twerking celebrities to the cloying glimpses of domesticity dished up in a vain attempt to make politicians seem more human, we are living in an age where far too little is left to the imagination - which brings us finally to the cinematic event of the week.

Regardless of the official soundtrack, surely I can't be the only person who has been thinking of this...

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Sunday Songbook - The ballad of Charlie Hebdo

Where have all the grown-ups gone? On one hand, you have a satirical magazine rejoicing in its role as enfant terrible of French journalism and producing cartoons of occasionally spectacular vulgarity and, on the other, a group of fanatics claiming that their Prophet's status is so fragile it can somehow be damaged by a mere drawing.

Although the perpetrators of last week's atrocity and similar crimes are nominally adult and have access to firearms and explosives, we are essentially seeing 'Lord of the Flies' enacted on a global scale; there is something inescapably childish about their arrogant posturing on video and their spurious justification for murder and unilateral violence.

Like all bullies, they need to be met with a united front and a refusal to succumb to their attempts at mass intimidation. I've never been keen on the 'Charlie Hebdo' house style - I prefer my satire rather more aesthetically pleasing - but I heartily applaud the defiance that brought ordinary French people onto the streets in their millions (even if the 'world leaders' did somewhat spoil the effect).

One thing the journalists and cartoonists of 'Charlie Hebdo' had right; it is important that terrorists should never be allowed to assume the status of bogeymen in our collective consciousness or to command the awe and dread they wish to inspire in us.

In that spirit - and with all due respect to the victims of an appalling crime - I offer the following:

To make fun of the Prophet takes men who are bold
And quite unaccustomed to fear;
Just take the example of 'Charlie Hebdo'
And the cartoonists' freedom to jeer.

Of ribald depictions and scurrilous news
The magazine's made a career
But cartoons of Mohammed and critical views
Of Islamists have now cost it dear.

On Twitter and Facebook the faithful complained
Saying editor Charb went too far;
How lucky free speech guaranteed them a way
To explain just why 'Je ne veux pas'!

But no legal means would suffice for the ones
Who tried petrol alight in a jar
Or those whose response consists solely of guns
And a cry of  'Allahu akbar'.

You may well give offence if you want to make fun
Of religions that people hold dear,
But who's to decide if a cartoon or pun
Is high satire or blasphemous sneer?

Whoever it is who is taking a stand
There is one thing that has to be clear;
The unwritten sign of a civilized land
Should be freedom to speak without fear.

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.