On Tin Squirrels

Mr Key’s brain is entirely empty today, so here is a piece which previously appeared in December 2007.

There is a toyshop I know of where they sell toy squirrels made of tin. I do not mean the sort of clockwork toy tin squirrels you probably had when you were a tot, the ones you wound up and set down and that then skittered haphazardly across the floor before crashing into the wainscot. No, the toys of which I speak are tin squirrels plain and simple, with no clockwork mechanisms nor moving parts. They do not skitter. They come in a variety of sizes, the smallest being about the size of a leaf-cutter ant and the most enormous roughly on a par with a squirrel-shaped variant of a double-decker bus.

There are countless ways of having fun with a tin squirrel. You can place it in a crate and cover it with shredded newspaper or excelsior and pretend that it is hibernating. When you want to bring the hibernation to an end, you can point the beam of an anglepoise lamp at the crate, to mimic that mighty orb worshipped by the islanders in The Wicker Man, and bring your tin squirrel blinking into the light. Being a toy of tin, your squirrel will not actually blink, but with the power of your mind you can imagine that it does. If your mind lacks the power to summon up this simple fancy, it is a good idea, before switching on the anglepoise lamp, to do a brain exercise specifically designed to increase the imaginative faculties. You will need to be familiar with the song Imagine, written and performed by John Lennon, the man memorably described by Kenneth Williams as “that Beatle who got married to an Asiatic woman”, although Williams initially confused him with Ringo Starr. Actually, you need only know the tune, to which you should sing the following words:

Imagine there’s a squirrel
A squirrel made of tin
It’s in a crate of newspaper
Hibernating
Imagine you unpack it
And place it in the light
Imagine it is blinking
If it wasn’t made of tin it might

In nature, hibernating creatures emerge due to an increase in temperature rather than to sunlight, but we are talking here about a tin squirrel in a crate in your living room, so some license is allowed, unless you are happy to turn your heating off for as long as the tin toy remains packed in newspaper.

Another thing you can do with your squirrel is to tap it with your fingernails to elicit a tinny sound. If you have bitten fingernails, this may not be such an easily-achieved pleasure, so you may wish to experiment by tapping the toy with different utensils, such as a spoon or a fork or a whisk.

Real squirrels, ones not made of tin, are noted for their devotion to nuts of all kinds, and you can entertain the family by creating a tableau. Place your tin toy on, say, a windowsill, and attach some twigs and leaves to the window with sticky putty. Then scatter some nuts around your squirrel. It doesn’t much matter whether they are hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, or macadamia nuts, or indeed whatever nuts you happen to have bags of in your cupboard. Just cast them upon the windowsill, and gasp as a scene from the savage world of nature comes to life before your eyes.

Speaking of savagery, it may amuse you to set a predator upon your tin squirrel. Owls are particularly fond of sinking their fearsome talons into real squirrels and ripping them to pieces, but no owl I am aware of is likely to take the slightest interest in a squirrel made of tin, for reasons I hope are too obvious to need pointing out, particularly if you have been doing that recommended brain exercise, which ought to have pepped up the buzz and spark inside your cranium. A tin squirrel would be the quarry of a tin owl, so you will need to go to a toyshop that sells such a thing. If you have difficulty finding one, you can always fashion a toy owl out of a used baked bean tin, by bashing it into shape with a hammer and giving it the appearance of an owl with modelling paints or decoupage. Clearly it will only make a believable tin predator if your toy squirrel is one of the smaller ones available. If you splashed out on the double-decker bus-sized tin squirrel you would be advised not to attempt to have it preyed upon by a tin owl, unless you have access to a scrap metal merchant and are skilled in the shaping of large amounts of tin into birdlike shapes.

For more ideas on having fun with your tin squirrel, rummage through your local secondhand bookshop and see if you can find a copy of Dobson’s pamphlet How I Conquered My Fear Of Googie Withers, Together With A Few Tips On The Limitless Possibilities For Entertainment Afforded By A Toy Squirrel Made Of Tin (out of print).

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