The beauty of medieval bestiaries

How to hunt an elephant. Find a tree and saw most of the way through it without felling it. Sooner or later an unwary elephant is bound to lean up against it. Down comes the tree and down comes the elephant, which, since it has no joints in its legs, will be unable to get up again. Dispatch your elephant with, um, dispatch, lest the herd arrives in answer to its plangent call. In that case, the youngest of them, being lower to the ground, will be able to lift their fallen comrade back on its feet. When smaller birds flock around an owl in an Old English sermon, they

Downing Street’s growing problem

In answers to questions following his statement in the Commons on Monday, Boris Johnson let drop an interesting statistic. He said that, ‘on busy days’, more than 400 officials work in 10 Downing Street. This figure explains a lot — why so many staff there got Covid, why, after long hours in overcrowded conditions, they might want to open bottles of wine, why factions struggle for mastery and leak against each other, and why the heart of government suffers from clogged arteries. With 400 rabbits in that warren, how can most of them know the Prime Minister personally, how can they feel much esprit de corps? The numbers are four

Even the owl in my garden is self-isolating

My tawny owl has been self-isolating. I say mine but in truth she chose the nest box in my neighbour’s garden rather than the one I almost killed myself to install, balancing it on my head as I scaled a rickety old ladder. A couple of months ago I spotted the owl, happily sitting in the box’s entrance in the weakening sun. A pattern was established. Every evening as day drained away, I went into the garden, balancing my old Zeiss binoculars alongside a glass of white. The owl would fly in silently from the south, sit around for a while and then disappear into the box. These regular sightings