We are out and about in the countryside, as Uncle Geoffrey takes his nephew Robert and his niece Susan on another instructive nature ramble. I wonder what they will learn today, children!
"Look at those big pink and orange flowers!" said Uncle Geoffrey, as they paused at the river bank to admire a series of exotic plants at least five feet high, with curious nodding heads. "Does anyone know what they are called?"
Robert and Susan looked round to see if there was anyone who knew.
"Someone must know what they are called," said Robert.
"Yes, there must be someone somewhere who knows," said Susan.
"Let's ring them up and ask them," said Robert.
"It's probably the Wild Flower Helpline," said Susan. "There's a helpline for everything these days."
"I am sorry," said Robert, "but your call to Wild Flower Helpline is being held in a queue. Meanwhile, here is some very annoying music."
There was a pause.
Uncle Geoffrey knew that if he breathed slowly for a while, the feelings of rage and hatred towards his two young companions would pass away.
"It's Himalayan Balsam," said Robert.
"Very good!" said Uncle Geoffrey. "All the way from the far off Himalayas comes this handsome bloom, bringing a touch of exoticism to our river banks!"
"And ruining them in the process," said Robert. "I gather that it undermines the banks with its roots and drives out our native flora. All the best authorities recommend us to persecute it and eradicate it wherever we can."
He removed half a dozen heads with a sweep of his stick.
"Nature study seems to be one long catalogue of invasion these days," mused Susan. "We read of our native freshwater crayfish being attacked and ousted by much more aggressive American crayfish which have escaped from fish farms."
"And minks slaughtering our voles," said Robert. "And let's not get started on the grey squirrel..."
"Our countryside is like Iraq, the way it is subject to American terror," said Susan. "I expect Blair is in collusion with Bush over the whole matter."
"Wouldn't it be nice if some place, somewhere, was being terrorised by a good old British species?" said Robert. "It would be nice to think that we had a flower or a crustacean capable of going abroad and causing terror to the natives. A botanical football thug."
"Well," said Uncle Geoffrey, climbing back on board the conversation, "isn't that more or less what happened to the rabbit in Australia? Didn't our harmless coney become a major threat, multiplying and eating everything, because it had no natural predator?"
"Coney?" said Susan.
"It's the old word for rabbit," said Robert.
"Very good," said Uncle Geoffrey. "Hence the name Coney Island. The famous amusement haunt of New York was named after the large amounts of wild rabbit found there by the Dutch."
"Hold on, hold on!" said Susan. "If the rabbit was a European native, how come the Dutch could find vast numbers of them running about on Long Island?"
"That must mean European rabbits were already occupying America when the Europeans got there!" said Robert. "And that means one of two things!"
"Either the Vikings took them there, and they had survived all that time," said Susan.
"Or," said Robert, "the rabbits discovered America before Columbus did!"
"Can it be," said Susan, "that the lowly rabbit had the technology and the ruthless will to cross the Atlantic before man?"
"Fleeing from being hunted, cooked and eaten," said Robert, "did the pilgrim rabbits turn to the open spaces of the New World as a place where they could practise their ancient customs of grass-nibbling, lettuce-stealing and white-tail-showing without fear of persecution?"
"Uncle Geoffrey, you have revolutionised the study of transatlantic movement," said Susan. "Well done!"
At that moment Uncle Geoffrey was showing no movement at all. He was standing stock till with his eyes shut, waiting till the red mist went away. He knew from experience that it always did eventually.Reuse content