I put up the last post in a hope to track down the Turkish artist Elvan Alpay. I was not sure if it would work, the Kevin Bacon game is fun – degrees of separation – but can it have a practical application?

Within 24 hours I was in email contact with Elvan’s representative and within 48 hours I had secured an interview and permission to use her pictures in my (soon to be finished) book for Reaktion.

It turns out that my brother-in-law, Sean, knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who is in the art world in Turkey … not quite sure the real number of degrees of separation there were, but I am REALLY impressed. As I am by Sean’s company’s work … Smoke and Mirrors. I suggest a brief break from work and a rummage through the reels highlighting some of the amazing special effects he manages to create (biggest claim to fame, for me – he did the invisibility cloak in the first Harry Potter … I asked him if he still had it, but since putting it down has not been able to find it!)

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Having a google alert set to hedgehog keeps it busy … I just need to learn how to wean out the ‘sonic’. But today there was something different. A Turkish artist, Elvan Alpay, has an exhibition launching in Istanbul – at Galeri Nev. And it features a remarkable image – which I have copied from the gallery website only in the interests of promoting her work, not stealing it …

The piece about her is here. She sounds fascinating – and this is the motive behind this blog … is there anyone out there who has a contact for Elvan Alpay? I have written to the gallery and spend an age googling … but no direct way to get in touch. I would be very interested in getting permission for using this image in the new book I am writing for Reakion. If you know of a way of getting in touch with her, please let me know. With many thanks.

What moves from the south of England to the north of Scotland at walking pace, and goes slower up hill? (answer at the end of this blog)

Forty years ago my mentor, Pat Morris, did a fascinating survey looking at the different times hedgehogs emerged from hibernation across the country. He showed what one would expect, that hedgehogs emerge from hibernation earlier in the warmer south west of England and later in the north of Scotland.

As you can see from this graph of his work, the evidence is clear. And like the good scientist he is, he has kept this idea bubbling away … because often scientists will find that data collected for one purpose can later be used to investigate another.

His survey measured the geographical impact on hibernation. But it allows us now to look at the temporal impact too – how emergence from hibernation has changed over time.

Why should we be interested in this?

Because the biggest environmental story of the moment could be revealed in the data – the impact that a warming climate has had on us so far might be hardly noticeable, we are so insulated from the outside world that we hardly notice the passing of the seasons! But for wildlife out in the wilds – well subtle changes in climate can manifest subtle changes in behaviour. And one measure is WHEN the hedgehogs emerge from hibernation – which we can measure most effectively not with specialists in lab coats or satellites – but with YOU – citizen science.

The survey is simple – all you need to know is HERE on the Hedgehog Street website. You can take part in a study of phenology! (phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate (taken from Wikipedia … which is down today in protest at web restricting legislation))

This is not the first use of citizen science to study the changes in the seasons, for example the Woodland Trust and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology also run Nature’s Calendar – but the hedgehog hibernation survey is going to be a wonderful addition to our knowledge of the changes afoot.

And why should we worry?

Well, before we can worry we really need to see what is happening … so PLEASE do the survey. However, there are concerns about how changes in the climate might affect the lot of the hedgehog. More extreme weather events, for example, could be bad. Warmer winters might NOT benefit hedgehogs either. Being disturbed by unexpected mildness during the winter can deplete important fat reserves within the hedgehog, reducing its chances of survival when it re-enters hibernation.

There is a chance that if there are shorter, milder winters, hedgehogs might also benefit from being able to feed longer before entering hibernation – putting on more weight and increasing their chances of survival. This would be particularly valuable for late born young (possibly second litters).

And if climate changes are so severe that in the end hedgehogs give up hibernation, should we worry?

Perhaps surprisingly, no. Hedgehogs do not NEED to hibernate – and when our European hedgehogs were exported to New Zealand in 1855 (a long story – read my book for more details!) the ones that made their home in the warmer north island hardly hibernate at all.

But to repeat – for now what we need is data – data which we can use to compare now with Pat’s first study 40 years ago. It will be fascinating to see what changes there have been – so please join up and fill in the survey.

And the answer to the question at the top? … Spring!

There are myths that one hears and wishes were true: fairies, unicorns and gods among them. But for me, there has always been the hope that two of the most wonderful things on this planet would, in some amazing way, become united.

But how? How can we get hedgehogs and whisky into the same thing? We cannot make whisky from hedgehogs (can we? I should have a chat with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) and while I have heard rumours of hedgehogs drunk on beer-trap slugs I have not heard of anyone seeing a hedgehog consuming whisky. Though I now remember a tale from the 19th Century of a family in Britain with a pet hedgehog that was once got drunk at the dinner table, but I think that was on posset.

And then, while researching my now slightly late book for Reaktion (winter has thrown sickness at our household like a drunken student walking home reconsidering the wisdom of the kebab, hence the lateness), on the iconography of hedgehogs I came across a little miracle.

But first, a digression. Germany has a town called Igel, France has a town called Herisson – yet England, a country that prides itself in a profound love of the hedgehog has not the decency to have a town named after the animal. There are plenty of references to otters – Ottery St Mary for example. And there is Wolverhampton, Derby (deer village) and many many others – in fact that would be a fun exercise for anyone, find me more – and I will probably find that Wolverhampton is nothing to do with wolves …

So – is it time to launch a campaign – to get a town named as hedgehog? And if so, do we re-name a current town (if so, which one – which town can claim great hedgehog-connections?) or do we start a new town? A community run on hedgehog principles? One where we spend the winter hidden away, asleep?

But that is all by the by – the main thrust of this blog is my discovery of a wonderful thing – Herisson, the town in central France named after the hedgehog, has a distillery, run by Monsieur Balthazar. And he has the good grace to anglicise the name of his whisky; Hedgehog Whisky is a reality.

With trembling fingers I followed the links through and found that it would be easier to have it delivered within the country of France – and by good fortune a most delightful friend lives there a great deal of the time (thank you Stokely) and at the end of last week I visited her in London and took ownership of my dream …

The excitement … obviously, but there was also the fear of disappointment … what if it was rank? So it was not without trepidation that the first drops of this golden liquid were poured …

Now there is a language of flavour that I have yet to master – my experience with wine has been rather binary, I like it or I don’t. And with whisky, similarly. So what can I say?

The familiar burning sensation on the tongue was reassuring – maybe that is too strong a word, but there is that spirited tingle that prepares you for more. Lacking the smokiness of western Isles peat based drinks, lacking the occasionally floral lightness of some of the Speysides … what did it have?

There was a harshness, there was a sense that this might not be part of a long lineage of whisky makers, but it was definitely not unpleasant … just not quite what I am used to … which has been refined over many years and topped by a Whisky Society bottling of something called the Eriskay …

I will persevere. It might grow on me. And maybe a touch of water would help … so, if you are around Oxford in the next few weeks and want to come and experience a little hedgehog-nectar, drop me a line and we will see if we can link up!

I have been invited to give a talk in London on Thursday 15th December and fear that I may be upstaged by the poster for the event!

So if you are around Camden on Thursday evening at 6pm, come to ANIMAL ESTATES LONDON HQ, at ARUP Phase 2, 8 Fitzroy Street, London W1T 4BJ for some hedgehoggy fun and games … though I might be learning as much as anyone else given the impressive spread of hedgehog iconography on offer already!

The research I am doing for the next book – on the iconography of hedgehogs – is allowing me to call some delightful things work – for example, I was forced to watch these two clips of an extended sketch from Monty Python.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jmnspyj-eY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhV856sXf3w&feature=fvwrel

Anyone with an interest in hedgehogs, violence, corruption or sarcasm would be well-advised to settle down for a short 15 minutes.

I have come to the end of my mid-life crisis. It has taken two years, but I have finally made it. I have also come to the end of the active writing part of my new book – The Beauty in the Beast. It will be published by Simon & Schuster in May next year – and I have just had a sneak preview of the cover, which has left me quivering with excitement … I will check with the publishers, but if I am allowed to share it with you, I will.

But the end of my mid-life crisis … it began in November 2009 when I did three things for the first and last time. I did my first and last stand-up comedy. I did my first and last 5 Rhythms dance class and I got my first and last tattoo.

All fine, you might think, no fast women and loose cars. But the plan had been to keep it to that month. Oh, what a failure … so … I have been trying, with some degree of success, to make people laugh, defining my new hedgehog lecture as ecological standup; I have been dancing with the wonderful Chloe de Sousa ever since and … and on last Thursday I travelled to Leeds to get my second, and most definitely LAST, tattoo.

The first, and last, tattoo was of a hedgehog as part of extInked – about which I have written before. This final tattoo is the culmination of The Beauty in the Beast – a book that has taken me on a year long journey around the animal obsessives of Britain. I have been meeting people very like myself, with passions for other species – so I met the adder man of Norfolk, the mid-Wales badger man, the water vole woman of Shropshire and the otter woman of Devon. Fifteen people in total were tasked with trying to seduce me away from the hedgehog – and the winning species, well, I agreed that I would show my commitment by getting that animal permanently tattooed on my body.

And here it is, the wonderful Ink vs Steel‘s Simon Caves had been so impressed with extInked that he offered to ink me up for free. I think I am possibly the only person in a tweed jacket to have entered their premises, but they made me feel at home and this is the film I managed to shoot … an indication either of my extreme fortitude under the assault of the needle, or the lack of nerve endings in that part of my leg.

Here endeth my mid-life crisis … no more tattoos … almost definitely no more tattoos … but if I did, just as an exercise, hypothetically speaking … what should I have next?