Monthly Archives: December 2014

Solitary creatures and festive seasons

Moles are solitary creatures.

In a winter climate, those of us who are fortunate enough to have burrows, can hunker down, light a fire, pour ourselves a tumbler of mulled wine, eat a mince-pie or two, wind up the gramophone, listen to crackling voices singing Stille Nacht, and settle into a favourite armchair with a good book, perhaps even a jigsaw puzzle.

Here where it is mid summer it is harder, somehow, to hunker. Long, hot days bleach out the festive lights of Christmas and diffuse the attraction of a hearth. In the past I have closed my eyes tight shut and wished the season away, but the Advent hysteria of the town has penetrated the walls of my burrow. It has even penetrated my pelt, so that no buffering by way of creature comforts has been quite able to dispel my sense of being out of sorts.

And, if truth be told, even if I were able to exclude the outside world, memories would still niggle at my moleheart. A mince pie paused between paw and snout might recall sitting at the dining room table with my late mother, crumbling bread for the chicken stuffing. A strain of Stille Nacht might recall my late father weeping at the sound of Once in Royal David’s City, or the rustling noises behind closed doors as he forced nuts and mandarins and ocarinas into his poor deformed socks.

In the grieving years after the deaths of my parents, when solitude slid into loneliness, kind friends gathered me into the bosom of their families for Christmas. Last year I evaded Christmas altogether by planning a long journey immediately afterwards. I spent the day in my bedroom, packing winter clothes into my suitcase.

This year, I avoided the season for as long as possible, but even when the day approached, I felt less out of sorts. I thought of solitary ways of being a more social animal on Christmas Day: writing letters, or making presents, or choosing a poem or two for friends, counting my blessings. There might also be social occupations to suit a solitary mole; singing perhaps, or going for a stroll and wishing those you meet a cheery season.

As it happened, there was not a moment of solitude this year. I rang bells at the Cathedral, then padded around my neighbourhood, bestowing gifts on small children, slow-lunching with good friends – barely finishing my Christmas pudding before embarking on salmon with my neighbour who came to my burrow for an early, gentle evening meal.

Christmas fell on the day that is usually set aside for composing the murmurs, but it has taken this mole several days and lots of naps to recalibrate itself. Maybe next year I will avoid avoidance, plan gently, and open my moleheart to the kindnesses of Christmas.

And make a little time for solitude as well.


Just because my ears aren’t visible, doesn’t mean that the vestiges of my pinnae don’t prick up when I hear the word ‘tunnel’. Tunnels are my digging ground, burrowing is my metier, Sir Mole Brunel a distant ancestor. The walls of my little office are plastered with cuttings and photographs and plans of the St Gotthard, the Moscow Metro, the escape routes under Berlin, and Colditz, priests’ holes and smugglers’ routes. I made some small contribution to the lore of tunnels myself during the Siege of Toad Hall.

What I am about to tell you is absolutely true. Molecub’s honour. At the opening of the Channel Tunnel, the British presented the French with an illegal immigrant as a gesture of friendship and goodwill. I heard this while twiddling the dial on my wireless, and I thought at first they were talking about the ceremonial opening, the one with the Queen and Monsieur Mitterand. In that brief moment, I entertained the belief that an illegal immigrant had been selected as a gift, the greatest gift one country could offer another.

‘Illegal immigrant’ is what we call a refugee or asylum seeker in this country. When I say IN this country, I am misleading you; Australia does its damnedest to prevent their arrival. We treat them as we treat industrial waste. We offload living beings onto poor countries in need of cash.

It warms my little moleheart to imagine this handover with its implicit assumption that a soul is to be cherished and that the very existence of a stranger in their midst will enrich the lives of of the new hosts.

It was the British tunnellers who passed this refugee through to their French counterparts.

The refugee was a bear called Paddington, a stowaway from Peru.

Citizen Mole

It was lying on the track above Poets’ Road; a small black creature, curled and damp. I didn’t stop, didn’t stoop to see if it needed help, didn’t even say hello. I continued on my misty walk up Knocklofty, deep in molethoughts. I drank a pot of tea at the Crescent Cafe, returned to my burrow and scribbled as usual. Not once did I think about the creature. Nor did it venture into my dreams that night, but the next morning there it was again, just the same but damper. Still I passed it by. On the third morning it had moved – not far, but enough to notice. It was slightly to the side of the track now, nestling on some moss and a gumleaf or two. This time I adjusted my spectacles and peered at it more closely.

There was something faintly familiar about its soft blackness. I poked it with my hindpaw and a visceral memory crept up my leg. It was my dearly beloved sock, missing several days, perhaps even a week. Its partner lay prostrate and inconsolable on my chest of drawers.

I thought of all those other single socks in my drawer. They lie there dormant for much of the year, emerging only when days of rain have prevented their brethren from being dried on the line. They make do with each other as best they can. How many of their partners had stowed away in my trouser legs and slipped off into the bush when the opportunity presented itself, only to find that once there, they missed home but were too proud or too lost to return? And for how many of these stray socks might a kind word, a little diligence on my part made all the difference?

I picked up the poor wet, muddy creature and cradled it in my pocket.

I looked at the place where it had lain. What if it had not been my sock? Would it be lying there still? Does my philanthropy only extend to my nearest and dearest?


December, here in the Antipodes, marks the beginning of summer – the least jolly season for this particular mole. Not a single tra-la-la escapes my mouth. Yuletide here has no snow, no holly, no log fires, no days drawing to an early hibernatory close, no log fires or snowmoles or holly – only blinding sun and relentless daylight hours. The heat melts my mole brain into a helpless puddle. My burrow walls and delicate eardrums tremble with the bass thumps and high shrieks of drunken parties by night, and by day a cacophony of lawnmowers, whippersnippers, and chainsaws. The outside world notches up from 33rpm to 78rpm

But I have had a reprieve. I cannot believe it. For three weeks now I have revelled in secret pleasure – secret because my pleasure seems to be at the expense of every one else’s sense of injustice. Three weeks ago after a few hot days, I ventured my snout above the grass-line and sniffed the air.

Mizzle. Unrelenting mizzle. It has enticed me from my burrow. I have walked for hours through the mist on Knocklofty, water drops glistening on my velvety fur. Instead of joggers and dog-walkers, poets have emerged from the mist – one has taken me by the paw and shown me a tawny frogmouth in a native cherry tree. Wallabies have lost their shyness. My lungs are singing with inhalations of fresh eucalyptus.

It can’t last, of course it can’t, but for the moment this mole is relishing every single day.