Tunnel Vision

Without wishing to give away too much about the plot of Willow the Vampire and the Sacred Grove, this blog is really about Willow finding her identity and place in the world. Towards the end of the first book my heroine discovers some important facts about herself together with some new and rather startling powers which, in part two of the series, will be explored further.

In order to truly understand who we are, so that we don’t go through life with tunnel vision, we must learn what life is really like for other people and see ourselves through their eyes, too. Just like T H White’s Merlin, who turned Prince Arthur into a variety of animals, I want my vampire heroine Willow to explore other facets of “being”. One of the beings I wish for her to explore in the follow-up adventure is one that seems so utterly inoffensive and yet has many enemies (mainly men with spades).

One of my earliest childhood memories revolves around a mole – no, not the kind you find on the hairy chin of your elderly maiden aunt – I mean the kind that burrows deep and upsets Dads by creating mole hills on the manicured lawn outside your house.

This wasn’t a random mole though – the mole I remember is a wonderful cartoon character from the Czech Republic and the first animated film I ever saw: The little Mole and the Automobile (or rather in German: Der kleine Maulwurf und das Auto) was made in 1963, if I remember correctly, and it enchanted me so much as a child that I always knew, one day I’d be writing stories for children.

European Mole

European Mole (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Moles are neither nocturnal nor day-time animals as such. They spend almost their entire lives (3 to 5 years) underground in burrows up to 200 m / 660 feet long. These tiny diggers have super-strong forearms, elongated bodies with short legs, tiny, ineffective eyes, inwardly turned ears, a sensitive snout and tail to detect the smallest of quivers from their prey, namely earthworms and other insects.

Moles belong to the group of mammals that are called insectivores. What they don’t eat, they store away in their larder – their burrows consist of neat little chambers, such as a sleeping chamber lined with grass and leaves, a storage room for food, a mound on top to keep enemies out and warmth in as well as various escape tunnels to feel safe. The mole hills that used to upset my Dad so much are really vertical tunnels that moles dig in the centre of their burrow – the tunnels serve to air the burrow and to trap insects, which either fall or crawl into the mound.

The mole of the Czech animated film was undoubtedly a European mole, but there are also American shrew moles, Star-nosed moles with weirdly shaped snouts, Hairy-tailed moles, river-bank dwelling Russian and Pyrenean desmans, which look like moles with an extra long nose and long tails.

European moles have stubbly, short tails and a gorgeous black, velvety coat. In total, there are 29 different species – my favourite one is the Hottentot golden mole, which has got a horny pad on its nose and four clawed toes on each paw with which to dig extensive tunnels – tunnels and mole hills large enough to drive the most stoic of Dads around the bend!

European mole from top

European mole from top (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just like Mole in Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, the little Mole from the Czech Republic’s films is a favourite with children and grown-ups in many countries. When visiting Prague a couple of years back, I spotted to my delight numerous shops selling Mole toys and memorabilia from the animated films.

Moles may be most famous for tunnelling underground and rarely coming to the surface, but these two fictional moles at least have taught this particular child tunnel vision is a thing that keeps us from making friends and being happy. I’m hoping that Willow the Vampire will discover that, too.

Why not click on the links below and enjoy the short animated film? Go on, allow yourself to be a wide-eyed toddler for a moment!

http://www.myvideo.de/watch/7726446/Der_kleine_Maulwurf_und_das_Auto_1_von_2

http://www.myvideo.de/watch/7726469/Der_kleine_Maulwurf_und_das_Auto_2_von_2

A monstrous Creature suited for a Cull?

Badger

Badger (Photo credit: Tatterdemalion!)

We are back to strictly nocturnal animals, creatures of the night, which Willow the Vampire might encounter on her nightly ramblings through rural Stinkforthshire. Another member of the mustalid family, the badger, is a natural follow-on from my last blog post, since Badger is, of course, a heroic creature in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, my favourite English language book.

The usual governmental idiots, who are quick to rush through new legislation, but much slower on the uptake of facts, tell us – without any evidence to prove their assertions – that badgers are harmful to cattle because badgers have nothing better to do than lurk outside a farm, sneak into cowsheds and fields the moment the farmer’s back is turned and pass on bovine TB to cows. Could perhaps bad livestock husbandry on the side of the farmer be blamed for cows contracting the illness?

No matter how many vets sign petitions and state categorically that badgers are not to blame, the monstrous creatures that are politicians threaten a mass cull of badgers in the UK to take place this autumn.

When one complains to an MP, all one gets back in response is a letter with nonsense from the Ministry of Fools, which typically doesn’t know which day of the week it is, let alone know anything about animals or care about their welfare. Given the EC subsidies rammed down the pockets of farmers when they lose livestock, one would have thought they’d be quite content with a badger conspiracy to wipe out cows. They have in fact, made around £1 billion in compensation in a decade – so one could allege it has been in farmers’ interest to manufacture evidence against badgers!

Badgers spend most of the day underground, where they live in setts or burrows. Their diet consists mostly of small animals, fruit, roots and earthworms. They have excellent sense of smell, can dig well with their powerful fore-paws and claws and have powerful jaws with which to crush and munch their food.

Title: Badger Baiting, London, circa 1824.

Title: Badger Baiting, London, circa 1824. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Badgers are also known for being courageous and ferocious fighters, which brings us to the other monstrous creature that should most definitely be culled: the disgusting people who delight in badger baiting with dogs, despite the fact that this has been against the law since 1835. Every year, many setts are wiped out, dogs are killed and badgers horribly maimed and tortured before they finally die a miserable, painful death.

Convictions of such people are few and far between and even when they do get caught and convicted, the punishment reflects in no way the suffering they caused to dogs and badgers. Put such cowardly men in a pen with a few hungry vampires and see how they’d like it to be ripped apart!

All badgers have a small head, which is typical of the mustalid family, and a squat, stocky body with short legs. Their outer fur is rather coarse and their heads are market with black and white stripes that are meant to protect them at night, when they come out to forage. Far from being grumpy and unsociable as portrayed by Kenneth Grahame, badgers are sociable and playful animals. Adults and their young come out at dusk to play at the entrance of their sett, which makes dusk the perfect time to go badger watching with kids.

American Badger

American Badger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These rather large mustalids can live up to 12 years and their habitats stretch from Europe to China and Japan. The Eurasian badger has a short, stubbly tail, but the Chinese ferret badger sports a long, bushy tail. The American badger has unaccountably large ears at the front of their head, while the other members of the badger family have far smaller ears that are set back from the forehead. The American badger is typically a solitary creature of the night, less inclined to fight, since it can dig itself a tunnel with lightning speed and vanish underground.

The Hog badger distinguishes itself by an elongated snout that has pig-like nostrils. In its habitat in North East India, China and South East Asia the Hog badger is sometimes killed by leopards and tigers, but it doesn’t go quietly and puts up quite a struggle, making them perhaps not the most favourite of prey for said cats!

The smallest, and probably cutest, member of the badger family is the climbing badger or Chinese ferret badger that comes out at night to forage for insects, frogs, fruit and small rodents. During the day it hides in rock crevices and underground burrows, but its long claws also allow it to climb trees and make a comfortable nest between branches.

Rat, Mole, Toad and Badger from Wind in the Wi...

Rat, Mole, Toad and Badger from Wind in the Willows (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While Kenneth Grahame’s Badger helps his friends Mr Toad, Ratty and Mole to regain their self-confidence as well as Toad Hall, the wild badger living in forests and grasslands doesn’t make friends easily with other animals or humans, since it is rather shy. I’ve been fortunate to watch badgers in the wild on a number of occasions and have also seen badgers come into people’s gardens, when the homeowners left food out for the animals to find. It’s an amazing sight to see them snuffle up bread and fruit, chase each other playfully around the garden and have mock fights with each other (the badgers, not the homeowners, although on occasion…).

Willow the Vampire and her family wouldn’t think twice about culling people who treated animals like the badger with cruelty and prejudice. Perhaps we should think of culling monstrous politicians at the next ballot box…unless any of you know a few vampires who can do it for us before autumn 2012?