How violent are prisons?

Name calling Springwatch presenter Gillian Burke says she finds it ‘jarring’ to call animals by their English names, preferring Swahili. Some popular Swahili translations: – Elephant: tembo/ndovu – Giraffe: twiga – Lion: simba – Hyena: fisi – Hippopotamus: hippopotamus – I’m fed up of paying for a TV licence: Nimechoka kulipa leseni ya TV Full Marx A Labour politician named Karl Peter Marx Wardlow was elected as a councillor in Stockport. The fondness for left-wing parents to name their children after their political heroes is most obvious in Keir Starmer – his first name is also shared with Keir Mather, who won the Selby and Ainsty by-election for Labour last

The sad death of the pony ride

Pony rides were once a staple of every village, church and primary-school fête. A brusque, horsey mother would swing you up into the saddle, and the patient pony would trudge up and down while you clung to its mane, before it was the turn of the next child in the queue. No one ever plonked a hard hat on your head. There were certainly none of those restrictive body protectors that children are encased in now, bundled up like scarab beetles. These days, I am that horsey mother. When we moved to the country from London after the lockdowns, ponies were top of my shopping list – above a replacement

How an animal psychic helped find a missing dog

It was more in a spirit of desperation that I decided to contact an animal psychic after my friends’ terrier Lark disappeared. Lark vanished one evening from their house. She was chipped, and her collar had their number on it, but as the days went by no one called. Lark’s photo was put on Facebook and on posters near her home. Had she been stolen, or hit by a car? We searched for her body but found nothing. Was she stuck down a rabbit hole? Five days after her disappearance, my friends went on a prearranged holiday and left me in charge of the mystery. Becky mentioned birds of prey, and

Is your pet killing the planet?

As a travel writer, I used to joke about the so-called ‘downsides of the job’. The stupidly complex shower-fixture in the five-star Maldivian Paradise. The unexpected commission to go to Denmark in winter. The vague but real sting of disappointment upon realising that the free hotel pillow-chocolate is actually a mint. But in recent years a genuine and troubling downside has arisen. When I meet someone and tell them what I do, the listener often winces, perhaps with a hint of moral superiority, and says something like: ‘Don’t you feel guilty about your carbon footprint? You’re killing the planet!’ This query pains me because, while I may question a few

I won’t ever look at cows the same way again: Andrea Arnold’s Cow reviewed

The latest film from Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank, American Honey) is a feature-length documentary about a cow, starring a cow, with almost nothing else in it, apart from this cow. It feels like a test. Can I watch a cow for 93 minutes? What does this cow do that’s so interesting? I see cows all the time from the train and they just sort of lounge about, ruminating, don’t they? But this wants you to look, really look, at what it is to be a cow. And you do and you will invest. (Oh, Luma.) Arnold spent four years, off and on, filming Luma, a cow at a

The West’s moralising over climate change will cost India

On Tuesday, I chaired a session at Policy Exchange addressed by Tony Abbott, the eloquent former prime minister of Australia, now an adviser to the British Board of Trade. Although he acknowledged severe recent difficulties, he declared himself optimistic that free-trading democracies, such as his country and ours, can combine to strengthen rules-based, transparent trade (i.e. the sort of trade China dislikes) across the world. I truly hope he is right. One problem, though, which we barely touched on, is climate change. In the West, this is considered the great global challenge of our time. In developing countries, however, it is often seen as the West’s way of denying them

My battle to be top dog

Even a small dog can be quite high maintenance. No, I’m not talking about Mali, our one-year-old cavapoochon, but Bertie, a six-month-old cavapoo. Bertie is Mali’s best friend and — I regret to say — almost constant companion. The reason they spend so much time together is because his owner, a close friend of Caroline’s, drops him off on her way to work and picks him up on her way home. They both think it’s a perfect arrangement because the two dogs can keep each other company, gambolling away all day in our garden, while they get on with their busy lives. But Muggins here, whose office is located at

Animal sentience law has finally caught up with Plutarch’s thinking

Almost no ancients cared whether animals felt pain or not. The classical Stoic belief that man’s reasoning capacity elevated him above all other creatures was the intellectual justification. Cruelty to animals could be frowned upon, but only because it might encourage man’s cruelty to man. Descartes (d. 1650) raised the question of whether animals really were conscious and, deciding they were not, concluded they did not feel pain: their reaction to it was purely mechanistic. Behaviourists of the 20th century took the same line. But there is one ancient dissenting voice to that view: the Greek essayist Plutarch (c. ad 100). Now that UK law has legislated that animals are

How not to walk a dog

Watching a woman driving a dog past my house like a carthorse is just another ‘new normal’ of lockdown. This moron had two long ropes attached to a harness around the body of her huge dog and was trying to steer it along the village green by long-reining it from behind as though it were a pony. The poor dog looked utterly fed up. I don’t know, because I couldn’t face asking her, but I got the impression that like the rest of the idiot new dog owners out there, she thought this system was less cruel than putting a conventional collar around its neck attached to a conventional lead.

The ethics of eating octopus

Should the undoubted intelligence of octopuses change the way we treat them? This question has been asked a lot of late because of the documentary My Octopus Teacher. The film is about a year-long relationship between a man and an octopus, and it takes place in a kelp bed off South Africa. It celebrates the sensitivity, awareness and intelligence of the octopus. That’s a difficult concept. Octopuses — octopi is wrong because it’s not Latin and octopodes is insufferably pedantic — are molluscs. That’s the same phylum as slugs and snails and cockles and mussels. In other words, intelligence is not restricted to our own phylum of chordates or back-boned

Why whales sing: it’s a question of culture

A few years ago I was sitting in Carl Safina’s yard on Long Island, drinking tea, occasionally patting a dog who was lying at my feet. Safina was talking about the magnanimity of wolves. A wolf in Yellowstone National Park, known as Twenty-One, never lost a fight, and unlike most wolves, never killed a vanquished opponent. Park rangers called him the perfect wolf. ‘When a human releases a vanquished opponent rather than killing them, in the eyes of onlookers the vanquished still loses status but the victor seems all the more impressive,’ Safina said. ‘Onlookers might feel it would be desirable to follow such a person, so strong yet inclined