Sunday, 14 October 2012

The mysterious case of the dog in the wood

For this week’s investigation I’ve unleashed my inner private eye as we’re on the trail of a killer. Something which lurks in the trees and preys on the innocent. Aside from at least 14 corpses, it leaves little trace, though its victim is man’s best friend.

Over the last three years in East Anglia and the East Midlands, around 150 healthy dogs have fallen seriously ill and a number have died from a mysterious disease. The immediate cause of death appears to be multiple organ failure following earlier symptoms of sickness and lethargy. The only clue left by the serial killer is a pattern of time and place – it strikes in the autumn after a walk in the woods. It now has a name ‘Seasonal Canine Illness”.

We interviewed a vet nurse from a village in Norfolk who was one of the first to raise the alarm. In her experience, unexplained deaths of healthy animals are thankfully rare but particularly difficult for owners to stomach. She enlisted the help of the Animal Health Trust who have a wider research brief into canine diseases. There we met a doctor doing his best CSI. His lab may have lacked the moody purple lighting, a soundtrack from The Who and translucent pin boards but the key ingredients were still there: maps of the attacks, post-mortem results and a picture of the prime suspect.

First for a scientific shakedown were toxic fungi implicated by the forest crime scene and the season, then blue green algae then invasive plants. But all had an alibi. They couldn’t be seen at the scene and also the organ trauma was not consistent with poisoning – the culprit wasn’t eaten.

As news of the puzzle spread a plant and fungus expert joined the search. His forensic knowledge is frequently tapped by the police to shed light on the relationship between corpses and undergrowth. In the best tradition of tireless investigators, this expert was re-treading the route of most frequent attacks only for him to become the latest victim. His legs became swollen, scabby, and extensively bitten. Something, well, many things, had been feeding on his skin.
He survived and tomorrow we’re going back to round up the prime suspect. See if the mystery is solved on the 21st October.    

Livestock Markets - In or out?

An occasional murmur travels through the judges as they watch the stars emerge from the wings. These are harsh critics, whose own money rides on decisions made within seconds. Will they take on the young things on stage right now or wait for the next batch? Do they have good legs, an attractive rump and the right looks to make them a small fortune?
This talent show happens at least twice a week at Abergavenny livestock market as sheep and cows are traded in the ring. I love cattle auctions especially. The auctioneers are showmen of immense charisma, filling the steeply banked chamber (reminiscent of a nineteenth century operating theatre where people paid to watch master surgeons at work) with a perpetual crescendo of sales babble. Their mesmerising performance has rhythm, purpose and occasional humour like a rapper crossed with a conductor.
But soon they’ll fall silent here as the town centre market will move out and a supermarket will move in. It is the latest in a long line of markets across the country to either close altogether or shift beyond the ring road, often leaving prime real estate behind.
Do I hear a “Hooray....Just what our county towns have been missing is another superstore. We much prefer urban uniformity to the awkward individualism of live food wandering about”?  A strong body of opinion in Monmouthshire believes the opposite: claiming that the, admittedly dilapidated market, could be spruced up and kept where it is for the benefit of the whole town.
Farmers opinions are split, but many are fed up with trailer traffic jams, sheep exposed to the elements and shoddy facilities. Many activities have migrated out of town in the last generation and big animals that come in and go out by large wagon seem logical emigrants.  Couple that with the millions being offered by the incoming supermarket and you can understand the CIbIouncil's desire to shift the beasts out.
But sometimes logic should be tempered by imagination and foresight. Rather than severing the link between farming and society, they should be brought closer and keeping hooves close to the high street makes that possible.  Redesign the place to encourage public access. Make it easy and pleasant to swing by the market on the way to the mall and witness your burger’s former life. That would put the town on the map.
Or is that just nostalgia dressed up as novelty?