Nature documentary soundtracks

I’ve recently found it jarring how certain animals – marsupials, for example, or anything with a funny beak or peery close-together eyes, will be accompanied by comedy pom-de-pom music on nature documentaries. There is a distinctive jazzy, bumbling sound which we associate with certain species; the producers must choose this music because the animals’ experiences as understood to be as cute and as daft as their funny furry little faces. This is the case even when we are watching the terror of predation, or the strenuous claustrophobic attachment of new parenthood. Some animals are inherently funny – a hamster is funny in a way that a cat will never be funny. The music, played over the specatacle of a miscarrying chihuahua, or of a young weasel devouring newborn birds, makes everything feel kind of adorable.

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Whaling and Wailing

There is a mistake, or amendment, in the first print run of Moby Dick. Ishmael is doing a catalogue of technical whaling terms, and describes a fish as ‘technically fast when it bears a waif, or any other recognized symbol of possession; so long as the party wailing it plainly evince their ability at any time to take it alongside’. Continue reading


When I arrived at the School I thought perhaps that I had come to the wrong place. It didn’t look like a graduate school to me: at lunchtime on Wednesday the cobbled street outside was empty and almost silent. I called into the director’s office and he took me to find some students, but there was only one person in the student kitchen – a tiny figure waiting for the microwave to ping. Continue reading


A little up the hill, closer to the main town entrance to the park, Pete is sitting on his bench below a large ash tree – his bench, because Pete was here first: the council put the bench there for him. He chose the spot because it’s below the squirrels’ nests (his word) which he points out for me – one in the tree above him and one in a plane tree across the path.

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‘He’s not a well man, isn’t Danny’, Alan cheerfully volunteers as soon as we start talking. ‘Danny’s had major surgery’.

Danny was the first man I spoke to – a large man with no hair and a warm scarf shouting ‘Breakfast. Breakfast.’ on the path at the bottom of the park. The shoppers who were cutting through the park to town (it was Saturday) were pausing to gather around Danny, who was handing out peanuts to another, smaller crowd of squirrels that had gathered at his feet. Shoppers would halt to take a photo, the more intrepid ones would take one of the peanuts that Danny offered them and feed it to a squirrel. The squirrels would come up to take the dropped nuts, the more intrepid ones would take them directly from human hands. For wild animals, the squirrels were tame.

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