It's time for a bit of animal magic (and magnetism), as Team AG choose the animals they would like to be, and why
Garry Coward-Williams, editor
“Everybody wants to be a cat, ‘cos a cat’s the only cat who knows where it’s at!” so went when the song in the Walt Disney film, The Aristocats. I thought long and hard about what species I would want to be if I wasn’t human and decided that I would still want to enjoy the comforts that modern humans enjoy and so I opted to become Man’s second best friend… the cat.
Why not a dog? Well, I love dogs, but I think cats have all the benefits of co-habiting with humans — free food, warmth protection from the elements (and enemies), comfy chairs, roaring fires etc, without having to take orders from humans.
There is no expectation of cats to perform or to do anything other than lounge around and look enigmatic. When they do move they do so with grace and agility. Everything they do is done with extraordinary panache.
Perhaps that is why cats are synonymous with the art of being ‘cool’, a term which came from Afro-American music culture of the early 20th century and is an aspiration of most humans at some point of their lives.
Having failed to be even faintly cool in my human life, perhaps my best chance of obtaining coolness is to become a cat. As the song goes: “Everybody wants to be a cat, ‘cos a cat’s the only cat who knows where it’s at!”
Kathryn Wilson, features coordinator
My chosen creature would be a chameleon. Sure, it may lack the cute and cuddly appeal of a dog or panda, and the glamour of the big cats, but being able to change your look whenever the situation demands…? Now that’s a skill to have.
They can’t all do it, of course (always read the small print before you sign) but those that can do so for a number of reasons including social signalling, as well as camouflage. Feeling a bit grumpy? A swift change to a brighter colour will warn all the other chameleons to give you a wide berth; a darker colour, meanwhile, signals: “OK, you win.”
Some desert-dwelling species can even use colour change to adapt to the weather, becoming black to attract the heat in cooler conditions, and lighter grey to reflect light when the sun is beating down. You’d save a fortune in sunscreen.
Added to that, these clever creatures have eyes that can pivot and focus independently, and tongues up to twice the length of their bodies. Three party tricks in one handy package – little wonder they’ve survived for more than 20million years.
Ruth Hayes, gardening editor
My initial thought was to choose an animal that’s sleek and noble and admired because well, you know, image and all that, but then I realised that honesty is the best policy here so the animal I’d like to be is a raccoon.
Thir short lives (2-3 years average) are stuffed full of sass and attitude, and they are versatile, determined and incredibly adaptable. Raccoons can be found in regions as diverse as North America, Europe and Japan and they will happily co-exist around humans, taking up residences in old buildings and dumped cars and foraging for food in dustbins – hence their nickname of ‘trash panda’.
Also look at them! It was obviously ‘cute creation’ day when they came into being, a cross between a small bear and an overweight tabby cat with a bandit mask stuck on its face for good measure.
Raccoons aren’t just here for the cuddles and giggles though, as Buddy the Elf discovered the hard way in the modern Christmas classic film Elf. They have a vicious side and are best approached with caution, if at all.
However, while they can carry a host of pests and diseases, they are personally fastidious creatures, washing food in streams before eating and even digging latrines so they don’t foul their territories.
For me, the best bit of being a raccoon, would be their policy of stuffing their faces through the gluttonous weeks of spring and summer then bedding down and snoozing away most of the winter months – let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to do that?
Les Upton, features editor
If I could come back as an animal, not a human, I would like to be an albatross. With its huge wingspan of 6.5-11ft (roughly 2-3m) – the largest wingspan of any living bird – the albatross can glide for hours over the oceans and travel huge distances using the wind updrafts and expending little or no effort.
For me, flying over the oceans with nothing but a pair of wings has to be the ultimate in freedom.
There are 22 species of albatrosses according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and many are listed as at some level of concern, ranging from critically endangered to vulnerable.
The albatross can live for up to 50 years, and it only returns to land to breed so I could spend all my time flying over the ocean, avoiding humans! Apparently, albatrosses feed primarily on squid or schooling fish, which doesn’t sound that appetising, but maybe I could head inland once in a while and steal chips from tourists at the seaside.
Mind you, these birds aren’t found in the North Atlantic, so Blackpool and Bognor Regis are out. They are found in the Southern Hemisphere, from Antarctica (bit cold) to Australia, South Africa and South America.
Some sailors believed the albatross brought bad luck, hence the expression ‘An albatross around your neck,’ while others thought it brought good luck as it carried the souls of dead sailors who would protect them from harm.
The bird features in the 18th century poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. A mariner shoots an albatross and, as penance, is forced to wander the earth telling his tale about how he and his shipmates were cursed after the bird died, and teaching a lesson to those he meets.
Fleetwood Mac recorded the instrumental song Albatross in 1968. Coleridge’s poem gave the band’s guitarist, Peter Green the idea for the song after he’d read the poem as a child.
In golf, an albatross is the term for three under par. It’s British in origin and is believed that because three under par is a very rare score, it was called an albatross because this is a very rare bird.
Wendy Humphries, Letters editor
If I came back as an animal, I would be a cat for these reasons…
I’d spend 18 hours a day asleep and the remaining time eating or looking for somewhere to sleep
I’d always have the comfortable seat by the fire or radiator
I’d appear on people’s webcams to demand food and attention when they are in web meetings just to remind them who is the most important being in the household
I’d turn my nose up at the most expensive food after begging to be fed and then sneak back and finish it off
I’d watch the dog disdainfully and stare at the gold fish
I’d be an internet sensation doing crazy things like pushing things off shelves or climbing up the house plants
I’d sit on the mat until someone opens the door and when they do I’ll peer out and then, after a lot of consideration, I’d decide I didn’t want to go out after all and saunter back to a comfortable chair for another nap
I’d walk like a leopard and yawn like a lion
I’d nestle in my owner’s lap and let them worship me with strokes and cuddles because that is what they are there for
Janey Goulding, assistant editor
In another (more straightforward) life, I’d like to be a red squirrel. As Dylan Moran put it, it’s easy to smile when you have a squirrel’s intellect. Or, as George Eliot wrote in Middlemarch: “If we had a keen vision of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we should die of that roar that lies on the other side of silence.”
When it comes to crazy things which hide in plain sight that would blow our minds if we knew how they operated? Let’s hear it for little red.
First, there’s the colour. Being a lover of all things auburn, from conkers to Eric Stoltz, I’m a sucker for those firecracker hues – although as The Woodland Trust points out, red squirrels mix this colour up a bit with hints of black, grey and white. But how I love the russet tones that adorn those fluffy coats and tufty ears.
Then there’s climbing trees and scaling arboreal canopies, which was something I once enjoyed as a kiddie wink. Oh, and the ability to reach great heights – elusive heights, to a shortie like me! – and the agility and speed that comes with it, hanging upside down while doing stuff (again, pretty awesome in this multitasking age).
They reckon the hind legs of squirrels are double- jointed, which gives them the ability to scale trees quickly – and that grace and athleticism is something, again, I would dearly love to have.
Also, how cool would it be to have a tail that you could use as a trapeze and as a parachute? Squirrels can drop from heights of 60ft without getting hurt. And their eyes allow them to see behind them as well as in front. That’s pretty useful. Just saying.
There’s a couple of things I truly relate with, too: the hoarding instinct that results in large piles of stuff being gathered for some future date. And the need to gorge on tasty treats for hours on end while holed up in close confinement, like Beatrix Potter’s Timmy Tiptoes.
So there you go, in another life, that would be me: rattling food casings and discarding dodgy nuts with a casual handshake; figuring out life’s safest shortcuts and hurtling mega distances without breaking a sweat; and all while rocking a gangsta fluffy onesie. It’s a red squirrel’s life for me. Mind blown.
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