I Love Seagulls, But I Wouldn’t Want To Be One.
I spend a lot of time outside. I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but being inside for too long feels like a slow death. Only one of my nostrils works properly (Bell’s Palsy, like a collapse in a mine shaft, but in my head) and I find sitting in oxygen-rich air makes me very happy. So, when having a mooch about Waterstones, doing my monthly good turn for authors and publishers everywhere by buying a brand new book, I was drawn to ‘Being a Beast’ by Charles Foster. The book chronicles his experiences of living like an animal, so he can experience life from their perspective, as much as that is possible. I read As a badger he lived in a hole for six weeks, eating earthworms in the blurb and I was sold. And Foster seems like a fascinating character. He admits much of his interaction with animals before has been with the intention of killing them. He has travelled the world shooting things, ridden to hounds, all the things that make me boo and hiss. However, in his words he has ‘put down my guns and taken up my tofu’, and feels embarrassed by and regrets his former killing of cute and/or majestic things. So, now he’s all about understanding animals from a cold, probably soggy and bored angle. He has had a go living as a badger, deer, fox, otter and swift (not sure how he manages the last one).
I began the book while sitting on a bench in Aberdeen city centre, near some seagulls. I wouldn’t want to live like them to get into their heads, as I’m really not keen on eating kebabs and noodles off the pavement.
Foster has some firm ideas about shamanism, and believes it’s possible to enter the mind of an animal, and says he has experienced being in the mind of a carrion crow (or maybe he fell asleep watching Game of Thrones) and so rather like when dealing with people whose religious faith is so rigid there is no room for question, I kind if found myself backing away from him a little. It’s not that I look down on kooky beliefs, it’s talking about them that can be a problem, as it can be embarrassing when someone at a bus stop starts to tell you about how they’ve seen a mermaid. Maybe they have, I just don’t know how to reply.
However, it’s still super-cool that a man did these things. That he lay in a river and tried to catch fish with his teeth, that he prowled about London under the orange glow of street lights being a fox, presumably mugging wheelie-bins and making that god-awful shrieking fox noise. I have just started this book and find both the subject matter and the man gripping. And his writing is funny in an irreverent way. When talking about how animal and human brains work differently, he says –
There are other reasons why a human is better placed to write this book than a meerkat would be. We are good physiological generalists – a meerkat would be too olfactorocentric to be a credible author.
I love the idea that meerkats are too easily distracted by smells to get to grips with pen holding, typing, well-explained theories and mastering subtle exposition.
I got the bus to Aberdeen, as for the sake of the environment I know should leave the car at home now and again, and on the way home the best thing ever happened. I got to sit at the front, upstairs. Oh yeah. To me, there is no more entertaining ride than upstairs on the bus. I hate fairground and amusement park rides. Bumper cars give me whiplash, waltzers make me vomit, and roller coasters have silly names make me fear for the integrity of my bladder. I quite like the big wheel, especially those in cities or at continental Christmas markets, so basically l like rides where it’s possible to pour tea from a flask with minimum spillage. And it was a lovely day, so I took pictures from the bus. You don’t get to take pictures on waltzers, you pay a fortune to have your seat spun about by a rough-looking lad while being blasted with techno music. If I ever win the lottery I will buy an open-top bus and employ a driver to take me all over the country in it, and I’ll pick you all up and we’ll have tins of travel sweets, drinks and sandwiches, and stop off a bookshops, tea rooms and donkey sanctuaries. It’ll be great.