Life with the “lion”

In the absence of royals getting their kit off, the London national papers would be lacking “news”. Happily along came the St Osyth lion:

Police in Essex are investigating reports that a lion was spotted in a field at St Osyth near Clacton-on-Sea.

The animal was seen near Earls Hall Drive by holidaymaker Bob Martin at about 19:00 BST on Sunday.

Mr Martin said he and his wife Denise saw a large cat and a lion “was the first thing that came to mind”.

Cause and effect

Essex. Bank holiday weekend. Last time he looked, Malcolm reckoned St Osyth had a couple of useful pubs. A lion wouldn’t be the first thing to come to Malcolm’s mind.

Still, it filled the columns:

  • The Times: pages 1, 2, 4, 9 …
  • The Guardian: pages 1, 3, 19 …
  • As for the tabloids … let’s not go there.

With her head tucked underneath her arm …

Malcolm guesses that most outside Tendring would have problems locating St Osyth — particularly so when the locals insist on calling the village “Toosey”. It is named — or rather renamed, because it used to be Chich — in honour of a nebulous seventh-century abbess, whose name may have been Osgyth or Sythe or Othith or Ositha or even Osyth. Various legends have her miraculously restored from drowning or being beheaded by Danes (and then walking off carrying her own head).

All of which is as probable as the lion.

Malcolm mentions all this because he feels the Times third leader should not lurk unrecognised and unacknowledged behind the pay-wall. So, let’s hear it for:

Lion on the loose

If you see a big beast, don’t let Twitter followers be catty about it

The British love their pets. We love them even, as we reported yesterday, wet summer weather leaves them prey to a flea epidemic. We also seem to adore big beasts that could swallow our pets in one gulp, with fleas as an aperitif. Underlying the reports of a lion on the loose in Essex this weekend was wild excitement.

There is a long history of sightings of large, elusive creatures. Once upon a time they were canine. Almost every county in England has tales of its own particular “black dog”: the Welsh have the Gwyllgi or Dog of Darkness; the Scottish the Cú Sith, a dog the size of a calf. These terrifying beasts inspired one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most unforgettable creations: “An enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen.”

Not to be outdone, a range of oversized feline counterparts of the Hound of the Baskervilles has emerged. Devon and Cornwall fear the Beasts of Bodmin and Exmoor, Scotland has been stalked by the Galloway Puma and the Kellas Cat, the South East has been terrorised by the Surrey Puma, the Sheppey Panther and the Cheetah of Shooters Hill. Generally camera-shy and cunning enough to avoid being photographed in close proximity to anything that might give any clue to their actual scale, these mysterious creatures are sighted more often in August, and on Bank Holidays.

The Clacton-on-Sea lion seems to have been confirmed as part of this honourable tradition when the police called off the search yesterday. Uniquely for a feline, however, he had acquired 38,000 Twitter followers by Monday lunchtime. This is a new sting in the tail for those who sight a big beast in future. Take care: Twitter followers may bite your head off.

Malcolm is not so cynical as that leader-writer. He remembers a late, darkening Dublin winter afternoon, leaving O’Neill’s in Suffolk Street, and picking his way through the damp, homeward-bound hordes in Nassau Street. A gap appeared in the crowd. Malcolm pressed forward. He buttock-clenchingly met, eyeball-to-eyeball, the tallest, largest Irish wolf-hound on the planet, a dog the size of a calf — definitely.

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1 Comment

Filed under BBC, Britain, Dublin, East Anglia, Guardian, Times

One response to “Life with the “lion”

  1. Richard Thomas

    just to complete the circle, in the 18th century, calves going to london from the marshes were called Essex lions.

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