1000 visitors and drunken hedgehogs

Someone very soon is about to be the 1000th visitor to my blog … now that may not strike you as much (I think that Mr Fry has over 1,000,000 twits) – but for me it is an achievement and will make me feel just a little bit more loved!

Please pass on the blog link to anyone you think might be interested in the wonderful world of hedgehogs and the peculiar way I manage to see a hedgehog in pretty much every story out there … more to follow – though perhaps I should be advocating hibernation now our toes are beginning to be nipped.

And for the hedgehog relevant bit – just had a question in about a hedgehog behaving in a drunken manner … this is not the result of hedgehogs eating slugs that have been killed in beer traps (at least not at this time of year) – but it is a very clear indication that the animal is suffering from hypothermia – and will die if not taken into care (that is not a judgement call by the way, it is just an observation). If you want to find out the basics of keeping a hedgehog alive, have a look in my book; at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society or call your local carer (details again via the BHPS).

Happy Hedgehogging xx

Fish out of water falling back in (temporarily)

I was lucky enough to be sent to a pretty posh school – Marlborough College (I like to think of it as a Richard Strauss sort of school – the composer said “I may not be a first-rate composer, but I am a first-class second-rate composer!” … though coming from the person who magicked the Four Last Songs into the world, or made me weep during der Rosenkavelier, that is unimaginable self-deprecation … where was I, okay – so Marlborough, not up there with the likes of Eton, but left me confident and with a taste for marijuana and Wadworth’s 6X).

But I did not fit in at Marlborough. And it is fascinating finding out (relatively recently) about my biological family how, despite the best efforts of my parents to mould and coax me towards a conventional life, so much of my biological heritage has emerged in my character.

So much I did at the school was rattling the cage of the status quo – going on a trip to Greenham Common Peace Camp, for example (with the one liberal teacher there) was fairly indicative of the small car-full of dissent the school tolerated. Though I think I was scarred for life by the Amazon who came charging through the undergrowth in a fury as we-three timid boys were walking around the base and unwittingly trespassing on a women-only patch of mud.

Back to the vague hedgehog-related nature of this post – I have just received a copy of ‘The Marlburian’ – the magazine for Old Marlburians. Throughout my entire time at the school I do no think I ever graced the pages of success – but now, I have a lengthy review of A Prickly Affair in the pages of this august journal. And I feel strangely satisfied.

Better still that I do not know the person who wrote such a glowing review, “passionate yet gentle, authoritative but accessible, and deeply personal.”

In response to my verbal trickery in summing up my trip to China he says, “If Hugh Warwick ever tires of the role of naturalist, a glittering career awaits him in spin.”

And that is probably one of the things I gained most from my time at the school – an ability to talk my way out of trouble … so it was worth it in the end (even if this is not quite the equivalent of the Four Last Songs.)


To some this may seem unsavoury, but to me, it is a necessary component of life … self-promotion. I think that I was raised to shun such extreme behaviour, but somewhere along the line I shed the middle-class reserve (probably around the time I learnt to think for myself, and realised that ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’).

So, here are just a few of the reviews that A Prickly Affair and The Hedgehog’s Dilemma (one and the same) received … and if you are so moved, please go to Amazon and write more.
Jeanette Winterson
“the most glorious mad book… a charming book and will take your mind off everything.”

New Scientist
“…an autobiographical yarn … that is at once humorous, touching and obsessive… An oddly satisfying read.”

The Guardian
“…unfailingly entertaining… Ultimately it’s a book about our relationship with hedgehogs as much as it is about hedgehogs themselves.” “Save a hedgehog and you might just save the world.”

Jay Griffiths
“This is an utterly charming book, it is funny and gently serious.”

Libby Purves (Midweek)
“The perfect antidote to the economic crisis.”

The Spectator
“This is a useful and entertaining book, and unsentimental.”

The Daily Telegraph
“Hugh Warwick, an otherwise normal father-of-two…”

Oxford Times
“You end up learning an enormous amount about hedgehogs without really noticing, and laugh quite a lot, too.”

Hay Book Festival programme
“A truly eccentric global story of hog lore.”

LA Times
“There’s more than a whiff of the legendary naturalist Gerald Durrell here — his humor, his affection and his never-ending curiosity.”

The Red Hedgehog

This afternoon I have had a treat. My first experience at The Red Hedgehog. Now it is hardly surprising that I would be excited by a venue by that name – but there is so much more to it than the name. Set up by Clare Fischer as an act of rebellious love (rebelling against cash flow mainly …) on Archway Road, just a few steps from Highgate Tube, The Red Hedgehog takes its name and inspiration from a famous 19th century coffee house in Vienna, Zum Roten Igel. This was the regular haunt of many famous musicians, including Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn and especially Brahms (who stubbornly refused to eat or drink anywhere else.)

I wanted to get a little bit of red on my hedgehog tattoo as a link to Brahms, but they only had black ink.

So now I hope the Highgate incarnation becomes the regular haunt of musicians and music lovers – perhaps one day even to rival the reputation of Zum Roten Igel?

So, I get two of my great passions met under one roof!

The concert was surprisingly wonderful – and I say that by way of kicking myself. A dear friend had been telling me how I had to see and hear the daughter of an artist she models for (Josie Spencer). And I was reluctant … partly because I was not expecting much and partly because I was worried about having to treat that fine line between honesty and protecting feelings.

The reason why I am kicking myself? Because I have had chances to see Tamsin Waley-Cohen play on many occasions, and now I know what I was missing. She is only 23, but plays her rather elegant Stradivarius violin with a sublime maturity and poise. Her partner for this wonderful concert was cellist Gemma Rosefield who possesses an instrument of even finer heritage than Tamsin’s – being once a gift George IV from the King of Spain.

And both of them made these instruments, coming up to 300 years old, sing like angels. I was left wondering what the artists who created these instruments would make of the noises Tamsin and Gemma were coaxing from them? Even the Beethoven duet they began with might have been a bit racy for the craftsmen.

The piece was originally for bassoon and violin, but worked wonderfully in this new setting. But I was not won over – the performance was definitely good, but did not hit me.

That came next – a Ravel duet, an homage to Debussy, was striking, powerful, scary and beautiful. It would have shocked an 18th century musician.

After the interval came my shock. I was expecting some Handel – expecting something more in keeping with the age of the instruments … but found myself transported into world of passionate dances, mingling folk-themes with flourishes of virtuosity. At times there must have been at least another two people playing to make such a beautiful wall of noise. Afterwards it was explained to me that this was the Passacaglia, and while credited to Handel is as much the work of Johan Halversen, a Norwegian violinist who was composing at the beginning of the 20th century.

The two women finished with another piece of more modern, and demanding (on themselves) music, from Kodaly. They proved themselves far more than exceptional technicians, imbuing even the most complicated of passages with passion.

As an encore they treated us to a delicate contrast to the Kodaly – a duet by Gliere that was as light as a Spring walk.

These two young musicians made my day – and then I found that they had already performed to 20 children in the morning … I must try and get them up to Oxford.

So – keep an eye out for them. If they are playing near you, go.

Pet hedgehogs are barking (mad)

The Daily Telegraph and Mail have both carried articles today about pet hedgehogs – in the name of quirky news they report that they are “stealing the hearts of rich women…ousting designer dogs like Chihuahuas from their handbags.”

So I was pleased that they have allowed me to rant a little …

It happens every year – cute photo makes story … and at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, we are hamstrung – not supposed to comment as our remit is  ‘British hedgehogs’ – and despite repeated arguments at board meetings, I have failed to get a substantial change in the way we address this. So the BHPS can put out a generally concerned response to all requests … luckily I speak (rant) independently – and will continue to do so!

And just as an aside – have you noticed that there are THREE hedgehog stories in the press at the moment. Not just the pet-farrago, but there is a story about a fat hedgehog in a rescue centre that needs to go on a diet (they had that story last year) and a report from Gardeners World showing yet more evidence of a decline in hedgehog numbers (a story that is very upsettingly repeated year on year). So – hedgehogs remain a massive draw for the media … which can only be a good thing for me!

Shocking behaviour

I feel compelled by the confessional nature of the blog (it really does feel like some creepy pale-skinned man-in-a-frock reads everything I write) to admit to doing something shocking today …

I am sure I am not alone, as an author, in going into bookshops and helping with the arrangements of displays. There is the familiar feeling of disappointment when I find A Prickly Affair not face out at eye-level … but as I am sure that is just an accident, I like to show willing by helping out and rearranging things.

So, that is okay? Isn’t it?

Then there is the business of signing books … now, I don’t just wander around bookshops signing my copies without asking (though there have been incidents where people have been found signing away in obscure volumes that might, or might not, be theirs) – I ask, and usually feel a little embarrassed about asking. But it is an important thing to do – not only do people feel they are getting something a little more special (though what could be more special than A Prickly Affair anyway?) with the scribble … but there is the seriously important fact that once the books have been signed, they cannot be returned.

If only I had spent a year running around the bookshops in America to stop them returning the far better title US edition – The Hedgehog’s Dilemma … got my royalty statement yesterday – ow, that hurts reading those numbers …

So, moving books and signing them – ok?

But then, while signing the books on the display in Waterstones, Oxford, today, I did something that reveals the true depths I will sink too … my book was on a display – manager’s choice …  four stars out of a possible five and a great selling point too … and what did I do? I coloured in the final star – at the time rationalising like the book placement – obviously it was just an oversight on their part, and actually, it did look like there was a partial colouring in of the final star and ….

How low will I stoop in the quest to sell A Prickly Affair? Other top tips welcome!

The Tattoo – 2 – the video …

This is a little bit more sophisticated use of the web than usual for me … but I have the video of the tattooing – or rather 30 seconds or so … this was with the four pointed device that was used for shading and was, to use the language of the midwife, a little uncomfortable … but not so bad as to make my hand shake. So, if you are of a sensitive disposition, look away now …

The Tattoo …

To get to the ‘tattoo parlour’ – a temporary affair above the gallery, cordoned off by a red-rope barrier from the crowds, I was lead up the back stairs by Jai, master-mind of the madness that was about to begin. I was in the first batch of three – out of the 100 to be tattooed over the long weekend.

I think that Jai was probably more nervous than I was – so much to worry about, from media, to health – even so, there were a few butterflies tumbling as I walked out into the glare of the stage. I shared a quick smile with Kate, who was also about to get her first tattoo – before we took our places.

Many people I know already have tattoos, so the details will be well appreciated, but for me, this was a first, and probably last, opportunity to experience the art.

Simon – already fairly well covered with a wide array of images, was to be my artist. A quick shave of my lower left leg, a swab down with some fancy gel that allows the image on paper to transfer across to the skin … so that is how it is done … not just the freehand genius, they have help! And then, after attaching a fresh needle to the Heath Robinson tattooing machine, he began. He dipped the needle into a small pot of ink – preparing his quill.

As I had sat down I had realised there was quite a crowd come to see the start of the show, but found I was facing away from everyone. Not sure what it would have been like looking out at everyone.

I tried to relax, but there was a slight moment of bracing as the needle, buzzing like a gentle dentist’s drill, first touched my skin. Remarkably un-uncomfortable – though there was a strange taste in my mouth that started almost immediately and lasted for a couple of days.

It was such a benign experience that I picked up my camera and started taking photographs … proof of the calmness came in the steadiness of my hand – no flash and no shake. As my back was turned towards the crowd, the only way of finding out who was looking was by taking photographs over my shoulder – you can understand that I did not want to move too much while Simon was needling my skin.

And then it was all over – so quick. He had been dabbing away at flecks of blood and excess ink – along the way and the result looked remarkably complete. Yes, a little bruised, but otherwise fine. But that was not it … there was another component to the process – to be photographed with a 120 year old camera – big plate film, masses of detail I am sure. And not of the tattoo, but portraits of each of the ambassadors.

All 100 are done now – and I am hoping that we can arrange some sort of reunion – and as I discussed in a piece in the Guardian, possibly linking up with people doing this in other countries to present a block of wildlife ambassadors at the next meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

So, to the healing – the instructions were simple – get hold of nappy cream and cling film … I was so disappointed that when I left the restaurant with a friend all the supermarkets were closed, I just wanted to imagine the look of confusion when all that was bought was beer, nappy cream and cling film.

After three days of that, it was on to coco butter – and there is general appreciation for the tattoo – in fact more than that. People are surprised at how cute it is … there is an association between tattoos and anger I think, so it is pleasing to have an image that subverts this. There is no attempt to repel with the hedgehog – it is there to attract.

Is that it? Will there be any more? Well, the night of the tattoo, back at my friend’s flat and her partner asks about my next book idea – the one where I track down people with animal passions similar to my own, but for different species … and Ian’s thought? “You are just on the hunt for the next tattoo, aren’t you?” Well, that has set something stirring in my mind …. will just have to wait and see.