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Come along, children! It’s nature study time again! So just for a moment switch off your X-Boxes and your Play Stations, and let’s go for a walk in the country with Uncle Geoffrey, and his nephew and niece Robert and Susan, to see what signs of Spring we can spot in the English landscape. No, leave your knives and guns behind – you can play with those when you get back!

        

 It’s really quite mild for an early March day,’ said Uncle Geoffrey, as they strode through the woods. ‘I am sorry I brought my scarf now.’
         ‘Perhaps we ought to call the whole phenomenon of climate change “global mildness”, suggested Robert. ‘People get awfully scared at the thought of global warming, but global mildness would feel much more acceptable.’
         ‘Are people really scared about global warming?’ said Susan. ‘“Warming” doesn’t sound much different from “mildness”. Britain is always a bit chilly, anyway, so when people are told that global warming is coming, I think that deep down we think it sounds rather nice. Now, if it were called “global overheating” or “global burning”, well, people might think twice then.’
         ‘But there are still a lot of scare stories in the papers about spring coming too early,’ said Uncle Geoffrey. ‘It was hedgehogs last week. Hedgehogs are waking up too early all over the place, and will get caught by the next really cold spell.’
         ‘Who are these lucky people who get to see all these hedgehogs?’ said Susan. ‘We have been out on so many nature walks with you, Uncle Geoffrey, and I’ve never seen one.’
         ‘That shows how good they are at camouflage,’ said Uncle Geoffrey. ‘But they are right. Hedgehogs are endangered by unseasonal weather, whereas all these flowers that are appearing early – snowdrops, primroses, etc – you couldn’t say they were really endangered. They’re just early.’
‘You can see the next lots of flowers coming up already,’ said Robert, pointing at the green carpet under the trees. ‘It’ll be the wild garlic next, and then the bluebells. Of course, the bluebells get all the publicity. The wild garlic looks just as lovely in its own way, but they’ve never had a good PR agency.’
         ‘I read a piece in the Guardian last year,’ said Uncle Geoffrey, ‘all about cooking with wild garlic. And the writer said at the end of the article: DO be careful when you dig up wild garlic not to take too many, because it is quite a rare and threatened species.’
         All three of them roared with laughter, thinking of the massive takeover of the countryside by wild garlic.
         ‘Funny old Guardian,’ said Uncle Geoffrey. ‘Not, perhaps, the paper you would first think of when you look for countryside news.’
         ‘And yet,’ said Robert, ‘the irony is that all these newspapers are regularly printing pieces on various species of threatened wildlife – hedgehogs, voles, orchids, owls, bats, you name it – whereas there may be no more threatened species than the newspaper itself. How ironic it would be if the World Wide Web, bringing us every-changing news from everywhere, 24 hours a day, gradually brought newspapers to their knees.’
         ‘While the hedgehogs, voles and orchids continued to flourish after the newspapers had expired,’ said Susan.
         ‘And all the trees that used to be cut down for newsprint also flourished again,’ said Robert.
Uncle Geoffrey, who was of a newspaper-reading generation and who scarcely ever went on the Internet to find out anything, felt unaccountably melancholy. It was not just voles and hedgehogs that were threatened. Nor was it just newspapers and magazines. It was people like HIM who were threatened with extinction. People who could not text, who wrote letters, not emails, who listened to music on a record player, not an iPod, and, if they wanted to find out something, looked it up in a book.
         He sighed.
         He was as doomed as a dinosaur.
         Susan, who was not as insensitive as most children, noticed his mood, and slipped her hand into his.
         ‘Cheer up, Uncle Geoffrey,’ she said. ‘I know that Robert and I will long outlive you, but you have a few good years yet. Don’t succumb to Weltschmerz.’
         ‘Weltschmerz?’ said Robert. ‘Let’s just call it a tinge of global sadness. That’s much more cheerful.’
Somehow, Uncle Geoffrey was not cheered.

The Independent Monday March 12 07

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