My non-stop 24hour ‘walk of compassion’ around London: PART 1 12:00hrs – 20:00hrs
A few days ago I decided to pack a small rucsac with water, camera and rudimentary first aid and walk around London non-stop for 24 hours looking for any creature in distress. Midday to midday.
Kind of ridiculous, I know, but I’m determined to honor my desire to act upon my compassion and not just talk about it.
Whether I would find anything or not, and whether I would be able to help if I did find ‘it’ (elephant / fly / sheep / maggot) having walked non stop for a whole day with sunburn, blisters and a fair amount of zoological incompetence- that would be a different matter. But the idea was simple – to see what difference can be made on your doorstep if you go out and look for it.
I set off on what was the hottest day of the year so far. I wore a hat.
This is the route I completed. 36 miles in 24 hours with 30 mins sleep (I feel asleep at dawn on Primrose Hill and was woken by a dog trying to eat my hat…. that’s all the thanks I get from you animals). Below is the story of the foolish, delirious, heartfelt journey that unfolded.
PART 1: 1200hrs – 2000hrs
As I’m loading my bag I feel as naïve and as excited as I did when, as a 7 year old, I loaded up a box of biscuits to go and build a den at the bottom of my best friend’s garden by the compost heap: I knew that it wasn’t very dangerous or impressive but somehow it felt important. And it was important. We make our best discoveries trekking through our own personal jungles. Me and Harry made a great den but we also found a LOT of rotten eggs.
I refuse to be put off by the apparent stupidity of this 24 hour walk. We must all remember what my French teacher said to me at school – ‘D’ for achievement is OK as long as you make an ‘A’ for effort. Oui Oui monsieur, j’avais une soeur et deux chien. J’aime les Dire Straits aussi. Excuse moi, ou est le biblioteque? je cherche les whales et dolphins dans le distress. Merci!
BUG IS SICK
10:00hrs – London Fields
They say charity begins at home. Before I can even start my journey Bug wakes up sneezing violently – something is stuck in his nose. I feel irritated with him. Bug! I’m meant to be helping animals in distress, then I realize he IS an animal. GRRRR. But I’m meant to be going out there on an adventure. I take him to the vets. He has to stay there – the vet will put him under general to do a CT scan to see what is up his nose. This is not good. I feel awful: leaving him to go off and ‘be compassionate towards animals’ seems a bad start.
12:00hrs – Home
I set off into the midday heat with a cheap straw hat and out-of-date suncream on face. I’m ready! Are all the animals??
12:30hrs – Victoria Park Canal.
I see two old men fishing in the sun. Their fishing lines fall into dappled waters by Victoria park. What could be more idyllic and peaceful? On one level I admire fishing – it renders fully grown burly men (who often seem to drink beer and have tattoos – except for these two oldies) into sleeping babies by the waterside. And yet on another level it’s something I struggle with- fish are hooked by their mouths and pulled headfirst out of the water. If this is a ‘sport’ then can they please enter ‘lying in the bath whilst swatting flies’ into the next olympics?
PS – I’m prepared to train for it.
I watch them for a bit and decide I must do something. Action!! Fish are being lifted out by their mouths!
Eventually they pull out a tiny fish about 3 inches long.
‘Is it a carp?’ I ask.
‘No, it’s a perch’ they say politely. But before they can laugh at my fish ineptitude I am at their side, slightly sweaty and hyper.
‘I must save it’ I say.
‘We are going to throw it back in’
‘But can I save it?’ I ask.
They let me throw it back in
Then, when they are not looking I steal 3 maggots and release them into the grass.
Martin…you have just stolen three very small maggots from two very old men
TERRAPIN SITUATION (and more fish under attack)
13:30hrs – Further up Victoria Park Canal.
OMG. Is that a terrapin? Surely it’s not meant to be in the canal! I should wade in. Some horrible family have thrown it out. But first I ring up RSPCA to verify the awfulness of my find.
After much waiting and giving of all my personal details (postcode, d.o.b, inside leg, childhood fears) I’m told that the terrapin is probably fine. I feel as deflated as a beachball in winter. I reflect that ‘rescuing’ a terrapin from a canal is probably similar to ‘rescuing’ a zebra from the Serengeti plains. I imagine taking the Zebra and putting 4 splints on its legs on account of them bending in the middle. ‘They are called knees” says the Zebra expert.
Not long after this I see various young teenage girls throwing stones at small fish in the water. I make a citizen’s intervention and ask them to stop. They look at me like I am old and annoying. Which is probably exactly the right way to look at me (‘see you on twitter’ I shout after them…not) but the fish see me in a much better light.
HORSE IN DISTRESS
16:30hrs – Lea Valley Reservoir
I stare at this foal for ages….for ten minutes it lies motionless in the relentless sun. Gawd. How do you rescue a foal?
Oh this is ridiculous….now it’s up and having a jolly feed.
Is it wrong to be disappointed that something is alive (when you are doing a ‘walk of compassion’)? I’m begining to be aware that for this ‘compassionate’ journey to be a ‘success’ I need to find things that are …. well, suffering. And that doesn’t seem to be a noble goal. I imagine a small guide book in my hands with images of animals in various states of distress – a bunny that has been hit by a car, a hedgehog that has been left out in the sun and me desperately trying to tick off my sightings. I try to be happy that the foal is happy. I AM happy that he is happy. But surely there is a whole world of pulsing pain just out of reach.
Where is it?
17:30hrs – street corner
Nope. No kittens in here.
BIRD ON LEDGE
19:30hrs – Somewhere in Tottenham
Now I’m distressed.
High up on a window sill a small bird in a cage calling out. Someone obviously cares enough to let their bird get some fresh air and a nice view but not so much that…. they don’t want to let it out of a cage
Sometimes we have a weird attitude to animals. Like the old woman with 60 cats that live in squalor – our love of animals hasn’t got an awful lot to do with love at all.
I briefly consider scaling the wall to let the bird out. But it’s on the second floor and I’m not sure I’m prepared to break the law as well as my back for a bird t that might well not survive the rigours of Tottenham life or may be completely habituated to being handfed dry roasted peanuts from Waitrose. Maybe I’ll break the law for a whale sometime later. I walk on reluctantly. I hate this feeling of not making a difference.
HEDGEHOGS IN EPPING FOREST
21:00 hrs – Epping Forest
As the light begins to fade I find myself on the outskirts of Epping Forest just north of where the Olympic stadium is. I’m in a bit of a panic that I’m not going to find any animals to rescue and with minimal internet connection and a fast dying battery on my phone I text Ann in the US to ask if there are any ‘animal issues’ in the Forest that she can search online
She replies back soon after (her google skills leave mine for dust) saying that there is a major problem with hedgehogs that get injured in the forest and in turn suffer from maggot infestation that kills them. She also tells me they get sick from eating the wrong slugs and snails. She asked me where I dumped the 150 snugs and snails that I rescued from the garden. I tell her in a forested patch just like here.
‘Be careful’ she adds.
I go to a small shop and buys some salami sticks and some nuts to feed to the various creatures.
I dive into the forest on a small path that heads into lessening light.
I soon find myself surrounded by numerous men, each hovering in the darkness alone. What are they doing here? Perhaps they are looking for hedgehogs too? For some reason many of them seem to be Chinese and wear very tight t-shirts. Their silence spooks me. A number of eyes fall upon me and I think to take their picture but then I think again and my steps quicken.
I prepare to explain myself in case I am approached, running through potential scenarios in my head
‘Having a good night?’
‘Yes, erm, just looking for hedgehogs’
‘Ah, yes, me too young man. Lots of hedgehogs at this time of night, aren’t there? Shall we look together?’
Then I imagine running away or throwing my camera into the bushes ‘take the camera! Just leave the face!’
I text Ann to tell her that there are men looking for sex amongst the trees
She writes back: ‘Why are men having sex in the trees???’
Sometimes text loses something in translation. Or maybe men don’t do this in Roanoke, Virginia, USA. Maybe they don’t have as many hedgehogs to find out there. She writes again telling me that a good way to find the hedgehogs is to listen out for high pitch squeals, grunts and rustling in the undergrowth.
I decide I won’t listen out for that sound here and I leave.
When I am a little further away I decide to get some food out for the hedgehogs. As if bad puns weren’t needed I reach into my sack, grab my piece of salami and get it out to attract the creatures of the night. ‘Come on you little ones, cooome on’