Christmas Wrapping - the Waitresses
"The Squirrel does not hibernate, as it is said by the older writers to do. In the winter it certainly indulges in long naps; but on a fine day it wakes up and visits its stores of food." - "Animal Life of the British Isles" by Edward Step, F.L.S. This is an excerpt from the 1921 edition of "A Guide to the Mammals, Reptiles and Bactrians of Wayside and Woodland" and it appears specifically in the section on "the Squirrel". Following this entry, there is a short chapter on the "Grey Squirrel" which follows in full:
"In some places in the London district a light grey Squirrel may be seen, and thought to be a colour variation of our native species. It is really an American visitor, distinct in colour and without tufts to the ears. Some years ago the caged specimens in the Zoological Gardens, Regent's Park, had become so numerous that some of them were given their liberty. Their numbers increased among the trees of the Gardens, and they overflowed into the Park, where they became so familiar as to accept food from the hands of delighted children. Gradually, some of them developed exploring tendencies and made their way to the wooded grounds of suburban residences. British naturalists of a not-distant future will probably have to include two species of Squirrels in their lists."
It is ironic that nowadays London Zoo prides itself, according to its current Director Dominic Jermey, on "play(ing) an important role in bringing wildlife back from the brink." (source ZSL London Zoo website 24/12/21) Not surprisingly, the story of the arrival of the Grey Squirrel on our shores according to Edward Step isn't one we hear too much about.
My Mother used to recall that when she was living in London during the 1940's, the parks were "heaving" with red squirrels, so much so that she remembered that when cycling through Richmond Park early in the morning on her way to work, she often used to see park officials with guns culling them to keep the numbers down.
When I was at technical college doing 'A' Levels, we had a French teacher called Mireille. She was fluent in English with only the faintest trace of an accent. One day she arrived at class a trifle despondent because she'd run over a squirrel on the way to work. During her explanation, we were delighted to hear that she couldn't for the life of her pronounce the word "squirrel", the juxtaposition of the "qu" and the double "r" in quick succession completely defeating her linguistic expertise. I've since tried this out on many native French speakers proficient in English, cunningly smuggling the arboreal rodent into the conversation, and not one has pronounced it perfectly. I can imagine British police looking for spies during the Napoleonic Wars deploying the "Squirrel Test" to great effect ("he's alright sir, he passed the Squirrel Test") and sadly, the way things are going, can foresee times where it may yet become useful.
Only a few years ago, the red squirrel was a staple of Christmas card illustration, but I can't recall receiving one for a while now. Perhaps, like many other things we not so long ago used to take for granted, it is already fading in our memories. Out of sight, out of mind.
So too are "the Waitresses", a new wave band of the early 1980's from Akron, Ohio, who recorded the best post-punk Christmas single ever. Their lead singer, Patty Donahue, sadly died young, at the age of 40 in December 1996, of lung cancer. They recorded only two albums, the first bearing the engaging title "Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?" "Christmas Wrapping" isn't on either of them.