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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
Nai or Oxi: whether Greece says Yes or No today its citizens will continue to struggle  

Greece crisis: Referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its lack of genuine legitimacy

Rupert Cornwell
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test