Squirrel Begbie takes over as Edinburgh turns into Vietnam in ’72 – Susan Morrison

With humans thin on the ground, wildlife has been quick to take advantage in the People’s Republic of Leith and other parts of Edinburgh, writes Susan Morrison.

By Susan Morrison
Friday, 17th April 2020, 7:30 am
The streets of Edinburgh are virtually deserted as the lockdown continues (Picture: Greg Macvean)
The streets of Edinburgh are virtually deserted as the lockdown continues (Picture: Greg Macvean)

There are advantages to a city in lockdown. It’s a lot quieter out there in the streets for one thing. I fear for the safety of pedestrians when this is all over, since we’ve become accustomed to barrelling across the road from pavement to pavement whenever we feel like it.

Why, there are days when I slalom all the way along Great Junction Street like an out-of-control pinball machine, veering left and right with nary a thought for the road safety lessons taught by the Tufty Club those many moons ago in the church hall.

Abandoned is the battle cry of the Green Cross Code Man to “look left, look right, look left again”, which could be handy advice for Keir Starmer at present. Who would risk pressing the button at the pedestrian crossing these days, without latex gloves and a gallon of sanitiser?

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Coronavirus lockdown has put a cheeky wee squirrel in my sights– Susan Morrison

The habits of social distancing mean we regularly find ourselves ­taking evasive action when inconsiderate couples insist on walking side-by-side on narrow pavements. Seriously, guys, I know this is an ­anxious time, but I figure you can let go of her hand for the couple of seconds it takes to pass a mad old cow like me, even with my huge bahookie. Sometimes the only swerve room we have is the bus lane. How many of us are going to be totalled by the No 22 when this is all over?

State-sanctioned exercises

There are, of course, really great people who glide effortlessly into single line, with an ease and grace that suggests they have been practising in the living room. Larger groups of people are starting to look like patrols in Vietnam, strung out along the pavement, although to be fair, we in Leith tend to resemble more Dads’ Army on manoeuvres.

Wildlife is making something of a comeback down here in the People’s Republic. As we take our state-sanctioned exercise, me and me dearly beloved have become something of bird-spotters, and are taking pride in the fact that we can identify more than half a dozen different species during one of our walks.

Admittedly, we are talking about swans, robins, pigeons (two kinds), sparrows, magpies, ducks (mallard) and those funny little black and white birds that dive into the Water of Leith and then pop up further along. Obviously, we don’t know what it’s actually called, but we spotted it, so we’re claiming it.

Tufty a middle-class do-gooder

We added to our total with a finch-type thing. We were forced to take down The Big Book of British Birds to aid identification. It’s a finch. Sort of. My, that evening flew past quick.

Leith squirrels, who, I imagine, regard Tufty as some sort of middle-class do-good interfering pest, are taking full advantage.

There’s hardly a bird feeder north of Pilrig Street that hasn’t had its birdfood fatty balls ripped out by our bright-eyed, bushy-tailed marauders.

Only yesterday I walked into my own garden to replenish the stocks for the sparrows and found myself confronted by a grey-furred banshee screaming at me like some sort of squirrel-Begbie. You should have seen the size of this thing.

Bill Clinton used to hunt and eat squirrels when he was boy. Just sayin’.