Never mind the Wombles of Wimbledon: here come the hamsters of Hampstead Heath
A new breed of furry park dwellers to rival the Wombles of Wimbledon has arrived in Hampstead, writes Bridget Galton FIRST there were the Wombles of Wimbledon Common – now a BBC journalist has come up with the Hamster of Hampstead Heath. Like their
A new breed of furry park dwellers to rival the Wombles of Wimbledon has arrived in Hampstead, writes Bridget Galton
FIRST there were the Wombles of Wimbledon Common - now a BBC journalist has come up with the Hamster of Hampstead Heath.
Like their south London counterparts, Hamster and his friend Vole are community-spirited animals keen to save their beloved open space from the ravages of humankind.
But where Elisabeth Beresford's Wombles were assiduous litter pickers and recyclers, Hamster is more of a Swampy-style campaigner combating destructive development with guerrilla tactics.
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After overhearing plans to build homes on the Heath, the intrepid rodent marshals the assistance of wily crows and a passing squirrel in the fight to save his habitat from the bulldozer.
Hamster and his friends are the invention of Martin Plaut, whose day job is Africa editor for the BBC World Service.
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Perhaps inevitably, Plaut, who lives in Ryland Road, Kentish Town, came up with the idea while walking on the Heath.
"I was walking next to the ponds where all the birds are, when I suddenly realised there was a Hamster of Hampstead Heath. I can't explain why but it just came to me and, in my mind, I had most of the story already. I wrote it at first for fun and it just sort of grew from there."
The South African-born journalist has published it himself with the help of website lulu.com and commissioned illustrator Mike Spoor to come up with the pictures.
Plaut says it's no accident that Hamster is a refugee, exiled from his human home after fleeing the torture of being trapped behind bars all day.
While Labour Party representative on the Anti-Apartheid Executive for 13 years, Plaut was denied a visa to return to his home country.
"I was a refugee in the limited sense that I knew what it felt like not to be able to go home. I wasn't able to see my parents when they were pretty seriously ill."
Plaut who has no children, but has tested out his book on friends' children with good feedback, says he appreciates the British national drive to protect the environment.
"When I arrived in Britain, I went to stay with an aunt in Golders Green and the first campaign I came across was to save a hedge next to a cemetery.
"I had just come from South Africa where I had been involved with the trade union movement. There was blood and guts all over the street and the idea that anyone would have to campaign to save a hedge was quite extraordinary to me and absolutely wonderful.
"It is a very strong feature in British society, this desire to protect the natural environment which is very precious and fragile. I travel to a lot of countries where the lack of green space in the urban environment has made that environment destructive to human beings. It really makes me appreciate the Heath and all the open spaces we have here in London."
The Hamster of Hampstead Heath will be available on amazon.co.uk and lulu.com, price £5.44, from March 20 and from Daunt Books in South End Green, Waterstone's, Hampstead, The Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town and Highgate Bookshop.