The Time A Toy Squirrel Got Me Into A Fight


I got a WhatsApp message from my brother. “Is this anything to do with you?” it asked. It contained a link to a story about The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and a campaign they had launched, titled ‘Vote For Bob’. The RSPB had established Vote For Bob as a campaign to draw attention to endangered species of British wildlife. The ‘Bob’ in question was a red squirrel and, while there were no red squirrels or RSPB candidates at any forthcoming elections the campaign would focus on promoting wildlife, conservation and environmental issues.


My brother’s reasoning that I may have been involved with the campaign was perhaps inspired by the letter I sent to then US President Barack Obama some years earlier asking for reparation money for red squirrels. That was covered in much more detail in my previous book The Prince Of Deansgate (copies of which are still available if you’d like one. Choose your own price. Alternatively, click here to read it: The Prince Of Deansgate – Flip eBook Pages 1-50 | AnyFlip) which had a red squirrel on the front cover. A brief recap for those poor unfortunates that may have missed out on that book: the native red squirrels of the UK are now an endangered species thanks to grey squirrels that came over from the United States. The greys can live with a disease (squirrelpox) that kills reds. They also eat the food and invade the habitat of the reds and so have largely taken over since arriving in the UK in the 19th century. My brother guessed I would have an affinity with a political campaign that focused on red squirrel conservation.


How right he was! As soon as I heard about it I as 100% on board! I bought the t-shirt, the stickers, the toy squirrel, the mug – every single piece of merchandise featuring the slogan ‘Vote For Bob’ was mine. What with that and the posters displayed in the front windows of the house we now lived in a small enclave of Cardiff that looked like a red squirrel equivalent of the Nuremberg rally. I vowed to do all I could to promote the cause but have to say I didn’t realise how far this would go thanks to the ‘cuddly toy’ that I had bought.


I couldn’t have imagined that there would one day be a Facebook account in Bob Squirrel-Jr’s name, nor that this would be insufficient so there would have to be an Instagram account, too. I could not have foreseen the meetings and photographs with an aspiring lingerie model (Tawny Jordan) who went on to feature in Maxim and Playboy and become a successful model agency owner. Nor that he would have similar meetings with cheerleaders (Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars), members of the 2016 World Series winning Chicago Cubs team (Ben Zobrist and Kyle Hendricks) and hall of fame rock stars (ZZ Top). I never knew that one day I would be recognised in some circles simply as ‘the squirrel guy’.


Being single I do much of my travelling alone. It’s not something I see as a problem. I’m comfortable being on my own and find it fairly easy to make conversation after a couple of drinks and I find it very easy to find a couple of drinks. Yet I’m not the most photogenic of people and don’t want to spoil an otherwise lovely photo of places I’ve been to by having me in them. Yet the reason for taking photos is to prove we’ve actually been to them, isn’t it? Why else would we take underexposed photos in cloudy conditions at Niagara Falls when we could just as easily get a professionally taken photo on a postcard that captures the glory of the falls on a sunny day and tell people, “I went here”. And so, in lieu of taking photos of myself in places like Rome, Niagara Falls, New York City and Barcelona I took photos of Bob instead.



It’s not the first time I’ve had such a companion. As described in The Prince of Deansgate, around 23 years ago I liberated a garden gnome that was being neglected in a garden in Deeside and took ‘Nobby’ to various locations around Europe, taking photos of him everywhere he went. He even went to Las Vegas with me once. The only problem with Nobby was that he was made out of stone so got quite heavy after carrying him for a while. Some places also have an issue with you carrying such an item into a sports or music arena for fear that you intend to use it for antisocial reasons. And, to be fair to these venues, if I was the kind of person that wanted to cause aggravation at such an event then I could probably cause quite the kerfuffle with a 5kg garden statue. Not so much with an 8 inch tall cuddly squirrel. And so Bob became my travelling companion of choice.


Bob accompanied me to gigs, notably to see Foo Fighters twice, Sir Tom Jones and ZZ Top, having the pleasure of meeting that ‘Little Ol Band from Texas’ after the gig in 2016. He accompanied me to sporting events too, watching numerous ice hockey and American football games in the UK and the US, going to see his beloved Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field and being present for a number of high profile rugby league games. It’s fair to say he was in a minority of squirrels at each event and quickly became a conversation starter. In order to explain why he was there, and partly to grow his social media presence, I decided to have business cards made to hand out to those that were intrigued by him. I’ve lost count of the number of business cards that have been handed out since getting them in 2015 but a number of people that were strangers at the time came to follow Bob so they could check out the exploits of this ‘celebrity squirrel’ for themselves.


Having been present at the Danny Jones memorial game that the Wales Rugby League team played in Keighley in 2015 when Bob got to meet the team, and again that autumn when Wales beat France at Cardiff Arms Park in the  rugby league European Championship, Bob found himself to be something of a good luck charm to the Wales team. Knowing how superstitious sports teams can be there was no option but to take Bob when I ventured with my friend David (Dai) Morris to Ireland to watch Wales play the deciding game of the championship in Bray.


Walking through the security area at Dublin airport in those days was very straightforward because we were all part of the EU. I’m not sure whether anything might have changed these days. But I was slightly surprised to be asked where I had flown from by the passport control official. You have to remember that I was walking along wearing a Wales rugby league shirt, Wales hat, red camo pattern shorts with Wales badges all over them and carrying a large inflatable daffodil when a flight from Cardiff had just landed.


Having successfully negotiated that interrogation we were able to find the hotel without any drama, which was unusual as it wasn’t one of the ones I’d stayed at before. I used to get free ferry travel to Dublin and, combined with the young person’s railcard I had at that time, was therefore able to get from Shotton to Dublin for around £20. As you can imagine, this was quite enticing for me and so I spent many weekends in Ireland’s capital, finding whichever hotel or hostel was cheapest. I stayed in loads over the course of a few years, all budget accommodation and all excellent value. This time though, I was staying at the Hilton. A bit of an upgrade on the last time I was in Dublin when I had to sleep rough for the night (see The Prince of Deansgate).


The day of the game started extraordinarily. As the doors of the lift opened to allow Dai and me to go down to breakfast, out stepped my mate Stephanie! I hadn’t seen Steph for around 8 years at that stage, though we were in regular text message contact and had arranged to meet the next day for a drink and a catch up. We hadn’t mentioned which hotel we were staying in and so, of all the hotels she could be in, of all the times to get out of the lift, to meet her then was an amazing coincidence! Come to think of it, that was just one of many amazing coincidences that have happened to me while I’ve been in the Emerald Isle over the years – they’ll have to be covered in another blog.


We made our way to Bray for the game. This was the first time I’d been to Bray since leaving Nobby on the train some 15 years earlier and having to go there to collect him from the lost property office at Bray station the next time I ventured to Ireland a month later. When I got to the lost property desk I asked if there was a garden gnome there.


“What’s it look like?” asked the attendant.

“How many garden gnomes have you got behind there?!” I replied, incredulously.

Turns out Nobby was the only one.


The game went well, Wales won and clinched the European Championship trophy in the process. Nobby was summoned by captain Craig Kopczak for a photograph with the trophy in the centre of the pitch, such was his notoriety as a lucky charm within the team. Dai, Bob and me then headed for drinks with the team before heading back to the hotel while we were still relatively compos mentis. We didn’t need to stay out late and overindulge to savour the victory. We could have a quiet couple of pints in the hotel bar as a nightcap and then retire to slumber, happy enough with the success the day had brought.



When we arrived back at the hotel there was some sort of party going on in the large function room. We didn’t know what it was but there were women dressed in expensive looking elegant dresses and blokes wearing ties. Most of them seemed to be hoofwankingly inebriated, even by Dublin standards. Dai and I made ourselves comfortable on the stools at the bar with Bob perched on the actual bar. As was becoming customary, he was offered some peanuts by the bartender and a conversation ensued about what he was doing there. A couple of people from the function room began to take interest too, expressing their amusement at the appearance of Bob.


They were then joined by a fairly large, portly gentleman who was dressed as if he was now winding down for the evening. His tie was still on but his top button was undone and his waistcoat had been unbuttoned. He looked like washed up snooker player that had just been beaten while hustling for a fish supper in a back street club. He was quite dishevelled and evidently drunker than anyone in the room, which was some achievement. He sidled up to the couple that had been chatting with me about Bob who made polite conversation with him and then retreated back to the function room, perhaps fearing that he was about to challenge them to a game of bar billiards with the winner getting their choice of meal from Abra Kebabra.


He didn’t seem to take much notice of Dai or me, which was surprising as, being dressed as rugby fans in a bar that was full of people dressed in formal evening wear, we were as conspicuous as nuns at the Playboy Mansion. He did, however, notice Bob on the bar. I remember the way he looked at him distinctly, with a sideways glance and quizzical look in his eye. Then, without any warning, this drunken barbarian slapped Bob off the top of the bar with the back of his hand! Bob then fell into the sink on the other side of the bar. I don’t think I’d ever been so offended by the actions of a fellow human being. I was angrier than a bee with hayfever.


I felt a rage build up inside me that very seldom happens. “What do you think you’re doing?!” I asked, forcefully. He replied with a look and mumbled an incoherent insult under his breath. I’d expected an apology, or at least an explanation. However, it was obvious none would be forthcoming. I retrieved a visibly shocked Bob and secretly wished for that moment that he was Nobby. At least I could have wielded Nobby in a threatening manner. Had I wielded Bob I doubt the threat level would have got beyond ‘angry toddler in Santa’s grotto’. And so, without anything to wield I did what anyone would have done in the circumstances….had those circumstances happened in a high school. I grabbed his tie and pulled it so that the knot went really tight. I don’t know why. Maybe I was looking for something equally as juvenile as what he’d just done but without being overtly violent. And, to my utter disgust, he didn’t seem remotely bothered that I’d done it! There was very little reaction whatsoever. Have you ever tried being physically angry with someone that just doesn’t react? I felt like the sparrow hawk in the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons!



I at least wanted some sort of reaction and so I continued to push the tie up toward his collar. Dai was now encouraging me to “put him down, Griff!” at which point I let go. Dai can be very persuasive like that, especially when he’s giggling at the circumstances and spectacle that’s in front of him. A couple of other people were now getting in between me and this drunken oaf and reassuring me that he had been out of order to knock my squirrel off the bar in such a manner. They then informed me that he was drunk because of the sense of celebration. They offered me and Dai a drink so that we could join in with that celebration.


It turns out the ‘celebration’ in question was that the drunken barbarian snooker hustler was actually the owner of a company that had just made a 500,000 euro donation to a charity after a year of fundraising activity. He had literally been on stage to hand over the cheque a matter of moments before he assaulted Bob. At the point of handing over the cheque, I doubt he would have envisaged being held by the scruff of the neck by some Welsh barmpot for knocking a toy squirrel over a matter of moments later.


When he eventually got his tie off and was able to breathe easier he did actually apologise to me (and Bob). He was talked into doing so by some of his employees but at least he had the good grace to do so. There again, he was so drunk that he didn’t even notice it was me that had accosted him when we spoke. When we did speak, he actually seemed like a decent chap. Which I think goes to show that when you do need to dish out some social discipline, tie pulling is as effective as anything else.