Brixton, South London, an area blighted by street crime, a place where drug pushers and former members of the So Solid Crew with time on their hands turn to goading or murder. Against this fearful backdrop nature has adapted in increasingly nightmarish ways, with rats growing to the size of badgers and pigeons becoming extremely ornery before electing to peck out the eyes of respectable shopkeepers. Yet recently locals have identified a new scourge to this urban environment, with reports of grey squirrels on the rampage, addicted to the potent, synthesized form of cocaine known as 'crack'.
"We've known about this problem for a while." Lambeth council's drug and alcohol advisor Reginald Smarties told Home Defence. "Many of our tenants have seen bushy-tailed rodents spasming uncontrollably or frantically burrowing around in gardens as if desperate for some kind of hit. We believe it's a result of the Metropolitan police force and their success at getting drugs off our streets. Users now conceal their crack inside hedges or under the shrubbery of homeowners and then, as soon as the addicts' turn their backs, word gets round the squirrel population, many of whom are permanently eager to get messed up. The next thing we know the animals are in there for the drugs like a young David Cameron."
Crack-addicted squirrels are a recognised phenomenon in that enormous bigot-hole we call the United States, a place where dealers will often refuse to go and peddle their wares in parks for fear of being set upon by packs of the strung-out creatures. These rodents dive out of the trees, aiming for the heads of shifty men in enormous jackets, before proceeding to rummage around in their combat trousers like insane ferrets. Initial reports of this practice migrating to South London were greeted with scepticism by the RSPCA, this charity telling local journalists that witnesses were just being "a bit silly". However, following complaints from Yardies claiming grey squirrels had entered their crack dens through the cat flaps and raided their stash, along with the rising number of animals found dead next to open bags of 'rock', the council has finally decided to act.
"Rising evidence unarguably points to an infestation of unwell squirrels. We've had numerous complaints from drug tourists, visitors who initially see the furry rodents as adorable but, on closer inspection, discover them to actually be red-eyed, psychotic squirrels of hate." Reg explains. "Therefore Lambeth has arranged for the release of funds in order to tackle this situation. Groups of zoological experts, as well as several animal charities and a bloke who was trying to flog some waste ground in SW9, all agreed that the best way to resolve this was to capture the squirrels in question and wean them off the crack. To this end we've settled on a series of revolutionary techniques, tested on catnip-dependent felines and, more recently, Kate Moss. The last step took place a month ago, the grand opening of a site for this pioneering treatment, the world's first squirrel rehabilitation centre: The Nutkin Priory on Brixton Hill." By special invitation Home Defence visited this shining complex, cordoned off from the surrounding buildings by a twenty-foot high, electrified fence, and staffed by members of the newly-formed charity RSCSS (the Royal Society for Clean and Sober Squirrels). Chief Executive Alain Scurday was our host for the day and during this guided tour a two-foot grey called Barry perched on his shoulder nibbling a cashew. "Every squirrel who makes it here, be it of their own volition or because family members realise there's a problem, is fed on our patented nut-free diet while attending regular sessions with in-house animal behaviourists." Alain said as we passed cubicles where white-coated men trained the animals, conducted physiological tests, and showed squirrels Rorschach blots before gauging their reactions. "Often the more heavily addicted of our patients will be delivered in miniature straitjackets because of their vicious or anti-social behaviour on the outside. In these instances trained wranglers are called in to administer a sedative or, should the creature prove unrestrainable, hold the squirrel down while we subject it to bouts of electro-shock therapy."
Passing through the centre of this complex, we arrived at a small park complete with oak trees, at which point HDUK asked Alain why this peaceful environment was only available to the few lean squirrels we saw frolicking in the upper branches.
"Those of our clients who make good progress and embrace the Nutkin Priory's 'five-step programme' are allowed daily exercise in this carefully monitored recreation of their natural environment." Scurday advised as we absorbed the leafy surroundings and made positive noises. "Once the dependence on crack is conquered and they've learned how to interact with members of their own species again, squirrels like Bernadette and Steve up there are given free reign to
explore this area."
"We have to be careful with our timing though." He went on. "Many patients have been brought in after
getting so jiggered on drugs they can't judge the distance between trees and miss the branch they're
aiming for. Nothing traumatises a recovering squirrel like falling thirty feet to the ground. Only when our panel
of experts is convinced a patient knows his place in nature's pecking order again do we consider him ready
to re-enter urban society, at which point he is released back onto the streets of London."
Heartened by what we saw at The Nutkin Priory, Home Defence left Brixton optimistic that the borough's
recent drop in squirrel population (down from 380,555 to just 375,000 during the worst period of the drug
explosion), could be reversed by this dedicated team of trainers and psychologists. Indeed, anecdotal
evidence points to fewer squirrels overdosing in 2006 so far, and with many dealers investing in new,
'squirrel-proof' containers for their drugs, perhaps the city's crack epidemic can once more be confined
where it belongs; among the poor, blacks, and the homeless. Let's hope so.