I was surprised to read in this newspaper that North Yorkshire is a “hot spot” for concerned citizens making calls to the RSPCA about the welfare of primates being held in private hands. Keeping monkeys as pets was not particularly unusual during my childhood in Hull – another hotspot, perhaps. A local lady went about her business always with one on her shoulder, much to the delight of local children. She was known among us as the Monkey Lady, not an especially witty nomen, but we are talking Hull here.
My own grandfather, a one-legged Romany, of whom I have written on these pages before, also had one. He was in the habit of taking it to the pub, getting it drunk and allowing it to create havoc. Unfortunately, it made the mistake of biting my grandmother and my grandfather promptly strangled it. He replaced it with a green parrot, a creature that quickly established for itself a reputation for great viciousness in the Holderness Road area of the city. It too attacked my grandmother and was despatched in a similar manner.
Thinking about all this, as I occasionally do, I would not be surprised if the RSPCA were to prosecute my grandfather for cruelty to animals. Given the current vogue for pursuing cases of “historic” crimes involving long-dead perpetrators, the fact that he died in the 1950s need not deter them, although I am afraid I would be a poor witness.
But I digress. The news report went on to say that Scarborough Council has issued one licence for the upkeep of a capuchin monkey “for personal collection and not for public display”. Also, a Dangerous Wild Animal Licence to a collector who has an American alligator and a Siamese crocodile. I have no personal knowledge of the latter species, but I have seen the America variety in the wild and they did not strike me as having much potential as pets. They commonly grow to twelve feet in length, as do the Siamese jobbies, and are known for their ferocity and un-neighbourly eating habits.
One wonders about the people who keep such creatures and how they accommodate them. Are they living in council houses and, if so, does possession of such a house pet exempt them from the iniquitous “bedroom tax”? What kind of people want a croc roaming about the place?
But, one wonders even more about which local authority departments issue these licences – not planning, I hope. Are there people working in town halls and district council offices with the knowledge and expertise to adjudicate on the applications for licences to keep dangerous wild animals such as crocodiles? Probably not, and it is probably subbed out to less ambitious personnel in the same way that the inspection and authorisation of boarding kennels is subbed out to the dog-catcher, on the face of it sensible deployment, but only on the face of it.
I happen to know that the Siamese crocodile is on the verge of extinction and unlikely to survive. How did this bloke in Scarborough acquire his? Was the dogcatcher aware of the endangered status of the reptile? These are important questions.
Given the fact that the Siamese beast is both terrifyingly dangerous and at risk of extinction, I assume that there is no limit to what you can aspire to own and that it is relatively straightforward getting a licence. You may, as is the case with shotgun licences, have to prove that you are of sound mind, but sanity is easy enough to fake. Give your mother’s maiden name, accurately identify the prime minister, and away you go. I am thinking of going in for a panther. And for Mrs Croft a puff adder – an amusing companion for her while I am busy training my panther.
Do not forget that the Ryedale Book Festival (7-9 October) is nearly upon us. Go to www.ryedalebookfestival.com for the programme. Among many other thrilling attractions, my glamourous niece, Lucy Foley, will be doing a turn to talk about her second novel, just published (2-3.30pm, Friends Meeting house, 8 October); Saira Hamilton, Master Chef finalist and old friend of ours, will be strutting her stuff at the Malton Cookery School (12.30 – 1.30pm, 8October). I shall be there in the Friends Meeting House (10.30-11.30am, 8 October) to be grilled by stern barrister, Tom Tyson. Bring your book (Howard’s Way) if you have a copy for free admission. Be there, or be square as we used to say in the sixties.