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


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

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

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in hock to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before