A view backstage at Beverley Minster

A wildlife pogrom

 Wouldn’t it be nice if everything was nice,
And the world was full of puppies…No!
It has often struck me that the best way to test anybody’s true feelings towards animals is to watch what happens when a mouse enters the room. If people who normally argue in favour of Animal Rights or the cruelty of eating meat suddenly leap onto a chair and scream there’s a fair chance they are talking complete nonsense, probably as a result of peer-pressure, CBBC and tv programmes narrated by Bill Oddie and Kate Humble.
If, however, they continue the conversation with hardly a tremor then it’s reasonable to assume they have a fairly realistic viewpoint on nature in all its untamed glory.
I grew up in the countryside, surrounded by wildlife and, as far as I and almost everyone around me was concerned, nature is a nasty selfish-minded lifestyle that kills or is killed. I lost two of my pet cats, probably to foxes although, being mad idiots, they might as easily have picked and lost a fight with a tractor or combine harvester.
So imagine my relief one day when another of my pet cats strolled in proudly with a foxes’ brush in its mouth – and the former bearer of this tail lying dead on the lawn in front of the house.
It was only when I relocated to an urban area that I heard the first talk about ‘Animal Rights’ and met teenagers who raised funds for the RSPCA. Now, of course, these items are on the tick-list for every self-respecting modern youth, along with anti-racism and anti-sexism.
And fair enough – the Bible tells us to look after God’s world and all the rest of creation and so we should.
So what do I do when there are wild animals loose in the Minster?
I know someone objected when I put mice traps down last year, but then the louder objections came from shop volunteers who didn’t finding half-eaten chocolate bars among the stock – neither did customers.
I was very careful to buy humane killers but, even then, someone sabotaged one of them by fiddling with the spring. In consequence there was one occasion when I caught two mice; one killed instantly but the other in the lighter-sprung trap had obviously managed to pull itself along for a while before dying. So who had been cruel there?
And then last year we had the incident of the trapped pigeon (not for the first time).
If we open the West End doors for a wedding it is not unusual for birds to fly in and, birds being birds, some of them don’t fly out again afterwards.
This particular creature decided to make its presence known and I lost count of how many times I was asked: “Do you know there’s a bird flying in the Minster?”
“Yes, yes I do,” I would reply wearily.
“Can’t you let it out?”
I’d be delighted to, if there was any way of peeling back the roof of the church, but there isn’t. When it’s raining and blowing outside it’s not practical to leave the 20 foot high doors open all day and every day and, surprisingly, the Victorians made no provision in their stained glass windows for hinges.
So, unless the bird can be persuaded to walk out through the wheelchair exit I’m afraid it’s stuck.
“Can’t you call the RSPCA?” is the next plaintive cry, as if that organisation has a special device for talking confused birds down off a ledge. I can just imagine an inspector cooing through a megaphone: “Don’t do it, birdie, it’s not worth it. Think of all your loving eggs – think of their smiling little beaks when you shove worms down their throats….” No, it just wouldn’t work, somehow.
In any case, the RSPCA routinely euthanise pigeons as they are considered a pest species, and who am I to argue with the experts?
Eventually, of course, the creature died and I had to climb on a ledge and remove the carcase – which had made its presence felt by generating a trail of maggots that were dropping onto displays in the north transept. I had to clear them as well – surely this was cruelty to me? I found myself wishing I knew someone with a trained hawk – I could just let them in one night when everyone else has left and let nature take its course – and no one would ever know. But would that be the right thing to do? Does it become a ‘less-right’ thing to do if I enjoy it?
I am sharing these highly moral questions with you because I’ve just been told we’ve got another massive mouse rampaging around in the parish hall. Our remaining two traps have been sabotaged so, do I deliberately try to end the life of one of God’s creatures by buying another one, or give the mothers and toddlers who meet in the hall on a Thursday the chance to meet it al fresco, so to speak.
I’d welcome your thoughts, but I just know that whichever course of action I take I’m going to get it in the neck from someone.
On the theme of getting it in the neck, one of my readers has taken me to task for the blog from a few weeks back: “The church of Tesco”
They didn’t find fault with the arguments, merely that I had picked on their favourite retailer. So, to clarify matters, my thoughts could just as easily have carried the banner of ‘Asda’, ‘Morrisons’ and even the saintly ‘John Lewis Partnership’ aka Waitrose – they have each committed one or more of the acts parodied in the blog.
The final suggestion was: “Well, if you don’t like them then don’t use them,” and I can assure you that, unless I’m under the very strictest of orders from my dear wife, then I certainly won’t.
However, she is getting very bossy these days, but I assure you that if I do have to return to Tesco when there’s no one on the tills then I certainly won’t enjoy it.
First published May 2009

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