November 2009


I have been putting an awful lot of work into raising awareness about my impending tattoo … in fact so much that I might have failed to mention it on the blog … Well, my first (and last) tatttoo is due to be applied to the lower part of my left leg at 8pm on Thursday 26th November … i.e. tomorrow. I thought that I should spread the word through the usual channels of the media – and so far it has been a bit of a damp squib, but then along came The Wellington News …. yippppeeeee …. who have faithfully copied a press release what I wrote. So please – help me spread the word. ExtInked, the project that is organising the tattooing, is just so inspirational.

And wish me luck tomorrow.

hx

As part of Jaar van der Egel (the Year of the Hedgehog) in Holland, I was invited over to give a talk (and also enjoy a few days of delightful peace in the flat of my friend Mina … there is a restaurant selling rotis that supply a mouth tingly, stomach distending heaven just a short walk from her one-time squat in an exclusive neighbourhood).

So, the talk  – and also the Year of the Hedgehog, I might as well contribute something about that event. But first the talk and my concern about potential meanness. I like to think that I am quite sensitive to the impact I have on people – if I have offended anyone, I really hope it is because I intended to do so … but after my very favourite ‘performance’ … my talks sometimes become a little more than just a lecture – and this one was great as they gave me over 90 minutes to talk, and I kept people happy, laughing (with, not at, I hope) and in their seats ’til the end.

But, as I met many people coming to chat to me on the way out, one man came up to me with obvious agitation. I had offended his wife – an American – and the cause of offence was my references to my time in America at the Rocky Mountain Hedgehog Show.

Now, there may be a few of you who have not yet read my book, A Prickly Affair, but just in case, here is a brief synopsis of a surreal few days:

I was invited by the wonderful people of the Hedgehog Welfare Society and the International Hedgehog Association to give a presentation at the biennial hedgehog show in Denver, Colorado about the campaign I had been involved in to stop the cull of hedgehogs in the Uists.

The hedgehog show is very like Crufts, with some obvious differences. And essentially, the cutest hedgehog wins. Now these are African pygmy hedgehogs (usually a mix of Atelerix albiventris and Atelerix frontalis) – not our western European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) – our hedgehogs are totally, completely and utterly NOT appropriate as pets. In fact I would argue that neither are the Pygmy hogs (which, interestingly, are about the same size as most of the other 14 species of hedgehog … apart from the lardy-butts among the hedgehogs, ours!) … however, in the USA there is a body of people who are obsessed with their pet hedgehogs. I wrote a rant for the Guardian about this.

Where was I … ok, the show – after I had done my talk and witnessed the winning hedgehog be presented with a rosette many times its size, I was asked if I was staying for the International Hedgehog Olympic Games … now you know how sometimes you will (well, at least I will) say things that are obviously not true, as a joke …. well, I was wrong – utterly serious the IHOG.

In fact I will post something just about the IHOG because it it worth the attention.

There was so much stuff that I found strange – the animal communicator, Dawn Wrobel, who claims to be able to speak to not just hedgehogs but also the ghosts of hedgehogs past … in fact I heard her telling a couple that she had been told by their current pet hedgehog that the reason it was so disturbed was because the ghost of their cat used to sit beside its cage and complain that it had been so jealous of the attention the previous hedgehog had received.

I did a little research about animal communication and am as yet unconvinced by its efficacy … and alarmed at the costs of courses. However, I believe there are some people who are able to empathise better with non-human animals – and wonder if this is the beginning of the slippery slope to a belief in animal communication.

Back at the talk, I also talked about the Rainbow Bridge ceremony … and the valedictory to all the pet hedgehogs that had died in the previous two years. I caused guffaws of laughter with talk about the fund-raising extremes of some of the maggot-eating pet owners … all in all, we had fun.

But the offence? I think, and hope, it was due to a mis-understanding. At no point had I said, or meant to say, that this was all the madness of Americans – more that it was a delightful madness of a few specific people, as part of the a particular community. There is a risk when telling a story that the impression comes of a broader generalisation than is intended. And I am now going to make sure that the only times I cause offence are when I really mean to cause offence!

I am probably not alone in suffering from this; I get twitchy about Amazon.

I know it is not an accurate measure, but I keep going back to check my ‘sales rank’ and find myself getting profoundly affected by its fluctuations. Right when the book was launched I was thrilled to find it peaking at around 120 … but then realised that this was more to do with pre-orders. And then there was the gradual slip into four and then five digit numbers, mirrored by my heart slipping towards a slough of despond.

But what does it mean? I thought I would see how much of an impact a small flurry of sales would have on my position – and buying 3 copies (it is only marginally more expensive than buying them through the publisher) caused wondrous movement of an upward direction, back into the low thousands … so the number of sales to make my heart lighten is quite small.

Now, I should be undertaking a cost-benefit-analysis of this … how much should I spend buying copies of my book to make me happy? How should I measure the happiness? Should I find out how much therapy would cost – or drugs – and then direct that amount, instead, towards the great beast at Amazon …

Or should I just get over it?

Oh, and do I ever go and check the rankings of my friend’s books? You bet I do (damn, I am beginning to regret the confessional permissiveness of the blog) … revealing hitherto unexplored competitiveness!

hx

Too much red wine, or perhaps just enough, resulted in me standing on a stage with over 150 people looking at me, expectantly, waiting for me to make them laugh. Did they know how scared I was?

The wine was actually drunk about a month earlier – while in a lovely restaraunt with my dear old friend Els and her boyfriend, Dick. At the end of the evening Dick invited me and the family to his 64th birthday party down near Wells, Somerset. Mid November and camping …  but, he added that if I did something, I could have a caravan … so I agreed. I do many many talks about hedgehogs so agreed to stand up and say a few things about hedgehogs to the party – the WI like it, so I was sure a gentle Somerset gathering would allow me to chat about hedgehogs for a short while … there is so much about the biology, ecology, physiology and behaviour of these fantastic animals that needs to be explained …

It was not that sort of party.

The storms and gales had calmed by the time we arrived. My daughter, Mati, was most excited about the time she was going to have making dens in a caravan. Pip was off, charging around in circles with an occasional flourish that seems to be the result of a weird mix of free-running and capoiera. And I went to find Dick.

“This is going to be great,” he said, “you can come on between two of the bands will 10 minutes be long enough?”

As people began to arrive and the bands sound check, the scale of the evening dawned on me. Four bands – masses of equipment – and the only other ‘act’ on the bill … me. Oh well, nothing ventured and all that – always worth pushing at the margins of ones comfort zone etc etc … earlier that week I had gone to my first 5 rhythms class

http://www.bodysong.co.uk

and there can be little scarier than going into a room full of people who are all so apparently comfortable at expressing themselves through movement, and being expected to do the same … but I did it. So this should be okay, if a little unusual.

As the first band was coming to a close Caro, in charge of the night’s performances, asked if I would be happy going on next, after a big round of happy birthday. Fine I said – and my mouth went dry, so much so that I really did not contribute much to the singing … and then she went to the mic and said, ‘And now we have something just a little different, Hugh Warwick is breaking new ground, developing a new genre of comedy, hedgehog stand-up’ …

And there I was, in front of a room full of expectant and slightly drunk people.

After the event I could picture the confidence curve waning as I went along. Initially buoyed by adrenalin, but as that slipped away, I felt the edge go – but I still had a great time – and people stayed and listened (though I was distracted by what I thought were fireworks in the background … turned out to be balloons of nitrous oxide being filled and consumed ….  maybe that was why they were laughing?) – and at the end were polite enough to express surprise that I had never done anything quite like that before.

Free from the tension I was able to join the fray and ended up dancing until 3am (which is fine until you factor in the children who were due to wake at around 6 … but were decent enough to sleep ’til nearly 7am). Some amazing music …

http://www.agenuinefreakshow.com

were superb, and then I danced to The Mandibles

http://www.myspace.com/themandibles

who, I think, sang a song about a squid … I am not sure, was rather tired by then, but it sure sounded like they were singing about a squid.

So – hedgehog stand-up … not quite taking bookings yet, but will think about testing the scary waters just outside the comfort zone again sometime.

hx

What an animal the hedgehog is. Not only the source of 2009’s joke of the year at the Edinburgh Fringe from Dan Antopolski: Hedgehogs, why can’t they just share the hedge? But also credited with being the most important species on the planet. By me.

Okay, I know this is a bold claim and there are others who might argue for worms, bees, plankton or people. But I believe that the hedgehog is up there among those more obvious candidates. And that is not just because I have been studying the animal, off and on, for the last twenty years. Or because one night I fell in love with a hedgehog called Nigel.

Actually before I explain that – there is something else the hedgehog has to offer, thanks to the arch-pessimist, Schopenhauer. He described the Hedgehog’s Dilemma, a metaphor for relationships between people. Two hedgehogs are in love, but when they get too close to each other, they hurt themselves with prickles – so they back off and get to a point where they are too far apart and suffer from the pain of loneliness.

While many of us may suffer from this in our personal lives, I believe that we are all suffering from a Hedgehog’s Dilemma on a much bigger scale. Our dilemma is with the natural world. When we get too close to ‘out there’, if we were all, for example, to move into the wilds, we would simply destroy what we were seeking.

But we are also removing ourselves from contact with the natural world. Now, for the first time, we are a majority urban species; there are more and more people who have little or no contact with nature. This leaves us bereft – and a growing body of work is beginning to reveal the consequences to our physical and mental well-being.

E.O. Wilson from Harvard started this field of work with the creation of a new word – biophilia – a recognition of the fact that we have an innate need to be in touch with nature. More recently this has been wonderfully explored by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods – Saving our children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Now as soon as I heard that term, nature-deficit disorder, I knew that it was vital. It perfectly captures the consequences of our bereavement from nature and our failure to solve the hedgehog’s dilemma.

So where is the relationship between this philosophising and the importance of the hedgehog? And where does Nigel come into it all?

Okay, first to Nigel. I had been radio-tracking hedgehogs in Devon and at around four in the morning, as I went to clean my teeth outside the damp and cold caravan I was living in, I noticed one of my animals just sitting there. It was Nigel. I decided to follow him, no electronics, just us. Over the next hour I got closer and closer until there came a point where I was lying on my stomach and we were nose-to-nose. And then he looked at me. Up until then, I had been observing, he had been snuffling and getting on with the business of being a hedgehog. But at that moment, he stopped and looked up at me. The importance of this; there is no other wild animal that we can do this with. You can get nose-to-nose with your pets, but all the other wild animals I have had anything to do with just would not allow this sort of intimacy.

With that sort of intimacy there is a far greater chance of falling in love with the natural world. Love alters behaviour. And we need to alter our behaviour if we are to have any chance of averting catastrophe.

So perhaps the biggest challenge faced by the large wildlife and conservation organisations is in getting people to truly fall in love with the natural world.

How do we encourage people to fall in love with the natural world? It is a bit of a big thing to tackle on its own. So conservation and wildlife charities focus on the charismatic mega fauna to try and seduce us.

Whales, tigers, lions and elephants are the poster-children of their movement. Which is great, up to a point. The risk is that this generates a very superficial, almost sentimental, reaction. I suppose it is a bit like relying on images of supermodels to instruct our understanding of human relationships. It works okay for hormone-ravaged adolescents, but is less effective, and in fact downright destructive, when it comes to more mature considerations of our loves and ourselves.

I reckon I am about as likely to get nose-to-nose with a humpbacked whale as I am with, say, Angelina Jolie. And even if I did get that close, would there be a spark, a bond? We are much more likely to fall in love with the girl or boy next door. And the hedgehog is the animal equivalent of the boy or girl next door.

Getting moved and becoming passionate are key to us all becoming more involved in creating the change we want to see, and in fact becoming the change we want to see, to steal a line from Gandhi.

We can love a hedgehog like no other animal. It is the first and probably only wild animal that we urbanites and suburbanites have a chance of getting really close to. The hedgehog chooses to share the same space as us and if we are willing to change our point of view and get down on its level, we will be rewarded by the opening of a door into a deeper understanding of the natural world. Once the connection has been made, once we have had that chance to do the nose-to-nose thing and see the spark of wild in its eye, then we can follow it through into a new world view.

Hugh Warwick