Natalie Haynes: The Essex lion is ludicrous, but that doesn't stop us wanting it to be true

Notebook

Share
Related Topics

London Zoo is currently refurbishing a large area that backs on to Regent's Park. Where once there were camels and a pigmy hippo, now there are diggers. Recently, a sign was added, explaining that they were building the new tiger enclosure there. "Ooh, tigers next to the park," I thought, as I strode past on my way to work. Then, a moment later, "Wait, tigers next to the park?"

Luckily, we've never had to deal with anything more alarming than a red panda escaping from London Zoo, which clearly locks up its big cats with care. As does Colchester Zoo, for the Essex lion has, like every other big cat on the loose, disappeared as completely as the Loch Ness Monster and the Beast of Bodmin Moor. He is probably a Maine Coon cat which lives nearby. So the magical thought of Aslan wandering Essex in search of a woman with a hefty supply of Turkish delight is gone, too.

Escaped big cats are the urban myth of the countryside: the tales abound because so many of us want them to be true. It's always big cats caught in a blurry photograph, never zebras or wolves or bears, which are surely just as likely to have escaped from a private zoo as a lion. Even now, with the search called off for lack of evidence, one newspaper poll suggests that more than a third of us think the Essex lion is real.

The desire to believe something which is manifestly false is extremely powerful. The brilliant documentary, The Imposter, out last Friday, illustrates this beautifully: it tells the story of a blond, blue-eyed boy who disappeared in Texas aged 14. Three years later, a dark-haired, brown-eyed man in Spain claimed to be the missing child. I won't spoil it for you, only urge you to go and see what people are capable of believing when they want it to be true.

I suspect the same tendency is at work with the current spate of Twitter deaths: our craving for a good story trumps our need for evidence. Margaret Thatcher's death has been reported as fact online plenty of times, though it hasn't yet proved true. But the rumour spills over into the real world nonetheless: I saw a comedian in Edinburgh do a good five minutes about her death a few weeks ago, because he'd read about it just before coming on stage.

Even Russell Brand has had to debunk rumours of his death this week. One documentary about addiction, and he's shunted towards the great beyond. It seems our love of a good story requires a big finale. But reports of his death, much like the life of the Essex lion, are exaggerated.

Come on in. The vegetables are lovely

Over the next 40 years, scientists have warned that food shortages might lead to more of you coming round to my way of thinking, and going vegetarian. Well, you might not come round to it, exactly. Some of you will probably be dragged there, offering your first-born child in exchange for just one more forkful of steak.

But the good news is that it has never been easier to be vegetarian. When I turned to the ways of leafiness, 24 years ago, it was rubbish. For a start, I was a teenager, so I didn't really like vegetables. Soya mince came in a dry bag, like fat dust: it had to be hydrated (and heavily salinated) to taste of anything at all. And pre-BSE, there were virtually no vegetarian sweets.

But now I have come to see that pretty much all vegetables are delicious (not mushrooms, obviously. But then, they aren't a vegetable). Fake sausages are often made of potatoes and peas, which means you can have, in essence, mash and mash for dinner, which is what I always secretly wanted. And as for the sweets, M&S now makes vegetarian Percy Pigs. You can get vegan marshmallows delivered to your house. I only await the vegetarian fruit pastille for my life to be complete.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Glou...

Humanities and Economics Teacher - January 2015 - Malaysia

£18000 - £20400 per annum + Accommodation, Flights, Medical Cover: Randstad Ed...

SEN Teaching Assistant needed for long term assignment

£45 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Preston: We are looking for an experienc...

Day In a Page

Read Next
<p><b>Mock the Week</b></p>
The newest of our quiz shows was created by Created by Dan Patterson and Mark Leveson, who also made 'Whose Line is it Anyway?'. This is more of a 'quiz' format, and for me, the best part about it is that it introduced me to Frankie Boyle.  

Liberal shows like Mock The Week just can’t understand why Ukip has so many supporters

Nigel Farage
The appearance of Miguel Arias Canete at a Brussels hearing last Wednesday caused 100,000 people to sign a petition to prevent his appointment  

TTIP is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the EU's suspect relationships with corporations

Lee Williams
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain