Friday, 31 March 2017

A Beginner's Guide to Grey Squirrel Photography

   If you can name me someone who says they don't like squirrels, I can name you a liar.

   There's many a reason that squirrels, of all the animals I come across in the park, are one of my absolute favourites to snap. For a start, they're incredibly photogenic - they have big, emotive black pools for eyes, impossibly cute noses, delicate paws and extravagant tales they swish around in the bravura fashion. They do scurry and hustle around a lot, admittedly, which can make photographing these guys rather tricksome but, with perseverance, it's definitely worth the effort.

   Conversely, it's this propensity to keep on moving which makes them such grand subjects. As I described in my broader guide to animal photography, the two things I aim to capture when shooting wildlife are, above all else, physical features which are unique to each being or movements which define them. Aside from their obviously beautiful appearance, the thing that fascinates me most about these wonderful creatures is the manner in which they scurry, climb trees, eat and explore.

   The hustle and bustle of grey squirrels' lives is absolutely fascinating. If you watch them for any amount of time, you're most likely to see them appear (often from seemingly nowhere) either in pursuit of food and water or, equally, with hoarded grub they're looking to bury to excavate in the cold winter season. Whilst they do an incredible job of remembering where hundreds of their meals have been concealed buried months earlier, occasionally, according to Rob Swihart of Purdue University, the squirrels will forget where the seeds and nuts they have plundered are when they go to retrieve them later. This forgetfulness often leads, rather magnificently, to squirrels being responsible for new trees growing.

   That you can watch these charming creatures planning so far into the future provides no end of wonder for me; for people who wrongly assume animals have no inner life and are incapable of imagining abstract thoughts beyond the here and now, a few minutes in a park watching these delightful rodents planning for a future, anticipating the effects of winter, is an amazing rebuttal.

   So, with their physical movements, appearance and general character in mind, my aim is to translate what I see as fundamental to a squirrel into pictures. Their timidity and spriteful nature are matched only by their inquisitiveness when not frightened; in order to capture all of these things, I have to consider how to allow them to get on with their daily lives without being intrusive. So, when deciding on which hardware to take with me on my stroll around the park, a long lens is the obvious choice. This way, I can snap these lovely creatures in close-up even whilst keeping some distance.

   The thing I would most suggest is, before even taking a single picture, it is essential to get to know the location in which you will be shooting. Through several strolls around my local greenery, I became aware of which animals were likely to be found in which places - the squirrels who live there, it turns out, have their local hang-outs. So, knowing this, when I return with camera in hand, I'm able to wait there for my bushy-tailed friends to make themselves known to me and not vice versa.

   Although I don't consider the images I snap as strictly "documentary photography" I do like to interfere and stage shots as little as possible. So, in the instance above where my squirrel subject, crumbs all over his nose, is sniffing out and ready to consume a naan bread, could easily have been staged had I placed similar food there myself, this was something I serendipitously stumbled across. I should also note, at this point, that whilst whoever did leave this delightful Asian cuisine for these neighbourly rodents to consume was, I assume, generally well-meaning, the empty calories found within might not be the best for any park life. I think it's a very good picture, slightly unexpected, but not something I would have been happy planting. Furthermore, too many attempts to stage a shot will tell you more about the photographers intentions rather than the actual thing they're trying to shoot.

   The single best tip I can give, though, for taking pictures of squirrels is to enjoy watching them. Think about what you'd like to capture when you see them and how best to frame your shots. Even if you don't succeed in shooting a crystal clear image or getting your focus perfect, the one thing you should get from an afternoon of snapping these delightful fellows is a sense of calm and tranquility. The process of taking the pictures themselves, of watching, waiting, anticipating these curious rodents, is much more worthwhile than seeing the photographs themselves.


Thursday, 30 March 2017

Vegan-Friendly Fashion: Jord Wood Watches

Vegan-friendly Wood Watch by Jord

   To many, Veganism isn't just about what you put inside your body but what you put on it too. It's not simply about refraining from animal cruelty when it comes to food but, also, in relation to clothing too.

   Recently I wrote about a pair of Vegan Sneakers I acquired; footwear made entirely from plant-based sources and also bedecked with a Free Tibet logo so as to really strike home how Woke they truly are. They're also a testament to the fact that ethical fashion doesn't have to be sober or less aesthetically pleasing than "regular" style.

   On this theme, I realised that I've always attempted to favour a dapper, distinguished look in my day-to-day style - I like to veer more towards "smart" over "casual" when I can help it. And, as any would be sophisticated gent can tell you, a handsome timepiece is often a key ingredient when composing a splendiferous sartorial composition.

   Yet, and it's a big "yet", this is where a problem may begin to arise. A large percentage of top of the range wristpieces boast leather straps as part of their aesthetic appeal. This is no good, to say the least, if you're concerned with keeping a vegan-friendly approach to clothing. Does one have to chose between morals and appearance in this battle?

Jord Wood Watch packaging

   The answer, pleasingly, is no. Jord Wood Watches, an American-based brand who ship across the world, provide a solution to this puzzle - their watches are dazzlingly handsome and, also, made from materials we don't have to feel guilty about sporting. This, by any measure, is a win-win!

   Featured in this post is the Fieldcrest Dark Sandalwood; my favourite item taken from the range and the best timepiece this writer has ever owned. The designs blend of contemporary minimalism and elegant traditionalism is a winning one - the fact that, in place of a leather strap, an animal-friendly wooden body makes for the bulk of the watch is even more satisfying. It's great to know that no animals were harmed in the making of this!

   Currently retailing at just $139, the watch represents great value particularly when considering the fact that each person is individually customised - a standard-fastening strap expected on regular watches has been replaced by a steel-clasp based on the buyer's wrist size.

Vegan-friendly watch clasp

   In summary, this timepiece isn't simply "good for a vegan-friendly watch" - this is a piece of wrist-wear which measures up aesthetically, in comfort stakes, and in any other standard you wish to measure it by to any similar item on the market.
   Over this blog's life, I hope to make it clear (over and over) that adopting a vegan lifestyle means you don't have to sacrifice anything you desire. Vegan food can be just as tasty (if not more-so) than consuming flesh. Ethical trips are much more fulfilling than visits to locations which exploit animals for entertainment. And, in relation to this post, vegan fashion is often much cooler, elegant and eloquent, than clothes borne through the agriculture-industry. You can feel good whilst looking good if you take a bit of time and thought with your style!

Vegan wooden watch


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Why Geese Are Actually Amazing

Charismatic Goose
   Of all the fears a human being can experience, the most daft and embarrassing is that of Coulrophobia. Nobody, and I stress nobody, who will explain in depth to you about the terror that takes control of their body upon witnessing a clown should be taken seriously – I’d suggest these people simply didn’t get enough attention as children.

   A second phobia which I find less puzzling, and one which always provides a great chance to show off my vocabulary, is Ornithophobia. Whilst I personally find birds to be endlessly fascinating, their behaviour enchanting, it does make sense to me that some will find the unpredictability of their movements disconcerting. An enraged swan in a park, feeling that their offspring are threatened or personal space invaded, is truly an intimidating site to behold. You wouldn’t, to use a Yorkshire term, fuck with a swan.

   One bird that has always, until recently, struck me as spectacularly aggressive is the goose – in my experience, Toulouse and Canadian geese in particular have a propensity to become agitated in public spaces. Stray geese, frightened or intimated by members of the public, will lower their neck and point their faces directly at their target before emitting loud, ferocious warnings. It’s not rare for them to charge directly at the humans pissing them off and, more often than not, this does a great job of clearing the geese’s irritants out of their way at least temporarily.

A goose's eye

Goose beak in profile

   With this said, geese are actually not at all as terrible as my previous paragraph would suggest. Like most animals and birds, a small amount of study reveals them to be marvelous creatures with great intelligence, social cohesion and, of course, behaviours we humans may consider rather eccentric at times. Their behaviour is also much kinder than, for example, the sometimes tawdry antics of ducks.

   Perhaps my favourite thing to note about geese is the compassion the birds share with one another and how they often work together to achieve goals – it’s like communism without the gulags or garish propaganda. (Not that, my life’s goal isn’t to see an avian remake of the North Korean immortal classic movie The Flower Girl.)

   Take, for example, the formation geese travel in – peering to the skies, we can see they fly in a V-shape. This is not a random pattern or something done solely for tradition or aesthetic's sake. In this formation, one selected for aerodynamism, the birds at the front create uplift for their fellow fliers further back in the squadron; if one bird tires, another takes its place. Their kinship and compassion shines through, too, in the way geese will care for one another - if one goose becomes sick or wounded, others will wait with them, offering protection, until they are each fit to return to the skies. If geese operate with a "no man left behind" policy, why aren't we humans far more embarrassed at the social Darwinism we promote in modern neo-liberal societies?

   The primary reason I've always observed for causing Geese to lose their tempers only adds to the notion that they're actually rather wonderful. They're most likely to point their next straight at you and charge, letting out their alarming honking sound, when they feel their families are under threat. These are birds which take the nuclear family very seriously; unlike a lot of animals, including many humans, Geese are wonderfully monogamous too - they usually pair off at around the age of three with a partner they will keep for life. If tragedy strikes, a goose will often mourn the death of their partner for years, some never moving on to a new mate at all.

   Geese are also far more Woke than many of us humans when it comes to family dynamics. Both the mother and the father will take equal turns raising their goslings. The patriarchy ain't a thing in these birds' communities. Chivalry, however, is - male geese have been seen time and time again to go out of the way to protect their other halves from danger, throwing themselves into perilous positions to protect the mother of their children.

   In short, not only are Geese amongst the most loving birds, they're also animals we could do well to learn from. The next time you speak to an Ornithophobiac, tell them how wonderful and amazing these special birds are and that they have nothing to fear. Unless, of course, they threaten the Geese's young.


Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Free Tibet Vegan Sneakers from Komodo

komodo Vegan sneakers

   As I’ve previously mentioned on this site, there are numerous stereotypes widely associated with vegans and vegetarians. Their piousness and lack of humour often tops the list of the imaginary vegan check-list but, not far behind it, comes the notion that anybody who eschews animal products from their diet simply has no idea how to dress. To many members of the public asked to describe what a vegan may wear, I would suggest that “sandals” (either with or without socks) would score highly as would outdated knitwear.

   Yet, like most stereotypes, these ideas are there to be destroyed. There is nothing at all contradictory to be found in the notion of a well-dressed fashionista who steers clear of meat consumption – a love for animals doesn’t necessarily negate any sartorial understanding one may possess. In fact, it must be said, there are dozens of ethical fashion companies across the globe who are at the very forefront of the clothing industry in terms of both their aesthetics, comfort and, of course, values.

Komodo vegan footwear

   One such brand, the focus of today’s post, is eclectic label Komodo (named after the company’s proprietor Joe Komodo). The materials used by the studio (including organic cotton, hemp, bamboo and tencel) demonstrates a dedication to animal-friendly production of their goods and, equally, Komodo pride themselves on the treatment of the workers at their factories. That the company’s unique designs are rather splendid too is the icing on the cake here – it didn’t take me long after clicking on Komodo’s homepage to make my very first purchase from them.

   At this point, I must admit that some stereotypes are harder to extinguish – the pair of shoes I bought are named “Free Tibet”. It makes sense, though, that those that are ethically conscious in matters relating to animals would also support human rights; the plight of Tibet, Tibetan citizens and the displace Dalai Lama, as we all know, is not wonderful to say the least.

Close-up of Vegan shoes

   That the sneakers’ design, featuring the shining rays of the Free Tibet movement, might be described by the regressive alt-right as “virtue signalling” (one of their go-to buzzwords and phrases) is by-the-by. Even if this were the case, the fact they’re simultaneously rather visually appealing, even when excluding the political message on show, makes them a more than worthwhile purchase. These are a vivid and vibrant choice of footwear as far removed as the sandal/sock stereotype mentioned earlier as humanly possible.

Vegan Tibet shoes

   Perhaps the most important consideration, however, when choosing a pair of shoes is the comfort they provide. I'm very happy to report, then, that these Free Tibet Sneakers pass this test with flying colours instantly. Unlike, for example, a pair of Doc Martens which is likely to render one's feet covered in blisters and grazes for the first few ears, these Komodo shoes slip on and instantly let your feet feel at home. Knowing, too, that no animals were harmed in the making of them allows the wearer to feel good in more ways than one.

   A fantastic purchase and proof that vegan fashion, like the vegan diet, is the smart and ethical way forward.


Monday, 27 March 2017

Keep It Vegan Book Giveaway

Vegan Oatcakes

   "If I don't consume meat, what is there left which I can possibly eat?"

   This, unfortunately, is a rather common refrain which seems to split meal consumption into a reductive binary form - one eats lashes of bacon, slices of gammon and chicken wings, or one eats nothing at all. Some proud carnivores may be a bit more understanding on this front but may still insist that all vegans and vegetarians can possibly chose to digest is simply fruit or "plates with nothing but leafs on it."

   There's something of an open secret in the plant-consuming community, though, which may well shock meat-eaters to their very core. Not only is veganism a healthier lifestyle than that of flesh-eating, it's also possible (with a little bit of planning) for it to be a tastier one too.

   For converts new to plant-based diets, knowing where to begin can be rather tricky; eliminating an entire food-source from one's fridge and freezer can feel like an incredible impediment. Knowing where to begin with this strict new eating plan can feel extravagantly complex and bewildering too. This, then, is where specialised cook books come in - and I'm delighted to let you know that Woke Animal Party has a very special tome to give away for one lucky reader.

Keep It Vegan Cookbook

   Keep It Vegan by Aine Carlin (RRP £14.99) is a phenomenal book for readers at any stage of veganism - from beginners dipping their toes into the lifestyle through to seasoned herbivores looking for new recipes to expand their culinary arsenal. It is for this reason its a proud PETA Vegan Food Award Winner; the recipes are simple and the cooking instructions are clean, concise, easy to follow and, ultimately, incredibly tasty!

   To enter the competition, please look at the Rafflecopter form below. One winner will be selected and contacted to receive the prize of a copy of the Keep It Vegan book. Entries are open across the globe. To be in with a chance of winning either follow @WokeAnimalParty on Twitter, leave a comment of your favourite Vegan dish in the comments below or tweet the message on the form. If you want to treble your chances of winning, please do all three! Once you've done either of these, please fill in the Rafflecopter form below to let me know you've entered. Details are just used to contact the winner and will not be passed on to any third parties.

   Good luck all - and thanks for reading!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Vegan Profiles: Jermain Defoe

Vegan footballer Jermain Defoe

   When it comes to fairytale stories in sport from the last couple of years, Leicester City’s remarkable path to the summit of the Premier League takes some topping.

   Still, in its own quiet way, witnessing the humble comeback of a striker return from exile to score his first international goal after an absence of four years was rather impressive. On the cusp of 35 years old, and with many assuming his career was winding down after a stint playing in Toronto, how exactly did Jermain Defoe come to reach the best form of his career so late in the day?

   The answer, it would seem, is a combination of sports science and a very wise girlfriend – it was his partner who pushed him to embrace veganism to prolong his career. (Kudos I’m assuming should also be given to the poor soul who won the job as Defoe’s Personal Assistant – a role which, according to the job spec, required fridge stocking, brand building, a working knowledge of perfumery and planning Defoe’s trips to the cinema amongst a myriad of other wildly eclectic tasks.)

   A long-time teetotaller, Defoe has sought to streamline his diet and cut out a number of items – chocolate, eggs, dairy and honey no longer find the way to his plate and a former favourite, grilled salmon, has also been removed from his intake. The fact that he talks of having increased energy rather than any symptoms of fatigue flies contrary to the notion held by many meat-eaters that plant-based diets sap one of all their strength – that an increasing number of professional sport stars (including retired wrestler Daniel Bryan, boxer David Haye and would-be MMA fighter CM Punk) have each taken up a vegan lifestyle speaks volumes of the benefits it has on one’s body and mind too.

   Defoe’s new meal plan includes daily spinach, nettle smoothies and kale – a trifecta of selections which might not sound overly appetising to potential herbivore converts but are incredibly healthy and sustaining options according to the footballer. When asked if he ever yearns for a piece of meat, or even a splash of milk in his matchday-only caffeine, the Sunderland striker is reticent to give in to any such avarice: “I don’t find anything hard to give up, as such, because I know the feeling scoring goals gives me”. To wildly paraphrase a legendarily vulgar quote from Kate Moss: “Nothing tastes as good as getting your goals feels.”

   So, whilst it may have looked as recently as a couple of weeks ago, that Defoe’s international career was over and the player’s future would be entirely committed to relegation scraps with a long-ball team, the ex-Spurs man has set his sights on a much higher target – being a substitute in a scrappy England squad which will struggle to make it past the group stages of next year’s heavily corrupt World Cup in Russia.

   If it sounds like the last paragraph added something of a downer to an uplifting tale, the real story here is the positive profile put on a vegan lifestyle by an England star kids across the land look up to. Veganism and vegetarianism isn’t just, as some in the media would suggest, the sole preserve of hippies, Paul McCartney and members of “the liberal elite” (short-hand for “left-wing people I disagree with), but rather a diet for international footballers, for comedians, for actors, for politicians, for rappers and for fighters too.

   Over the course of this blog’s life, I hope to bring you more profiles of famous vegans and stories of how their diets help their success. I’d love to hear any suggestions you may have – please tweet me if you have any suggestions you’d like to see. My profile is at: @wokeanimalparty


Sunday, 26 March 2017

A Beginner's Guide To Animal Photography

A goose waking up

  This is a post for all of you who’ve been enjoying the photographs I’ve taken for Woke Animal Party – I’m still in the very, very early days of camera proficiency but, if I do say so with a pinch of modesty, I’m rather pleased with some of the results.

   It’s with this caveat I aim to offer tips for other animal lovers like myself – I’m sure there will be a number of professional photographers, or immaculately skilled lens-men, shaking their heads at either the hubris of this post or the tips therein, but I do intend this to be for people like myself who are in the joyous early stages of learning. Hopefully, one day, I’ll return to this theme as a much more advanced cameraman with much better tips. For the time being this is a guide for and by a beginner.

   Before I begin with any notions of composition, or even consideration of what to capture, I personally have found that the type of camera one uses is perhaps the most important aspect of consideration. Not every camera model is suitable for every photographer: I’ve struggled with a number of small, digital devices and phone cameras are entirely beyond me. Deep down, I’m something of a Luddite who struggles with new technology but I’m sure a set-up like this might suit some of you much better than myself.

   Each of the pictures seen on this site (so far) have been taken by a Canon EOS 1200D DSLR – an item which costs, on average, about £350. If that sounds like an expensive outlay, I’d be inclined to disagree – it’s a sturdy piece of hardware, easy to use (at the simplest level), and boasts high quality pictures too. I should note, also, that I use two different lenses depending on location and the type of shot I’m after: an 18-55ml and a 75-300ml lens both have their uses. The longer lens, I find, is particularly great at capturing intimacy from distance – if there are birds or animals you can’t get near but would like a close-up of, this is a great tool.

   With hardware chosen, the next step is to figure out your subject and how this will affect your lens choice (if you are, indeed, open to multiple options). One of my favourite pastimes is taken pictures of wildlife in the park I’m incredibly lucky to live within walking distance of – deciding which animals I’m going to focus on influences the set-up I bring with me. So, for example, if I’m planning on taking pictures of animals who will run away if I get too close, or for shots of birds in the trees, I will always plump for the 75-300ml lens. For ducks, swans, geese and other less shy animals, the shorter lens allows me to get great, in focus shots by moving (relatively) close to them.

   The next step, and easily the most fun, is taken your camera with you and waiting for/creating the ideal shot. As I’m still learning about what makes for a great photograph, the pictures I aspire to usually involve one of two things: a close-up or an action shot.

   Animals faces, without getting too anthropomorphic, are endlessly fascinating to me – I love capturing close-ups which highlight things you might take for granted without studying their features. So, for animals I can conceivably get close to with a short lens, I’ve very much enjoyed taking pictures (as seen below) which focus in on unusual aspects unique to each of the animals I’ve taken – the raggedy consistency of a goose’s beak, the curls of an alpaca’s fur, a horse’s eye. With these photos, I’d aimed to highlight something about an animal that is often overlooked and focus in entirely on that – a wide shot of a goose, for example, would not have a similar effect as the eyes would be drawn to the scenery around the bird as well as its different parts. In these shots, I have no desire to see the totality of the subject but, instead, an element which is synonymous with it. A pictoral synecdoche if you will pardon the pretention of such language.

Alpaca Fur

A Shetland Pony's Eye photograph
A Goose's Beak photograph
   The second type of picture I like to take, as noted, is the doing shot. For this, the key is to stand back and let the animal get on with their life without interference – distance, and thus a long lens, is the key. For these type of shots, I like to capture movement, rather than an aspect of their physicality, which is unique to the animal. As seen below, these can include a squirrel climbing a tree, a duck scavenging for water and a robin singing. In each of these images, what the animals are doing is the much more important to me than their appearance but, due to their movement, are often much harder to take. That these shots are often taken at full “zoom” means there is little margin for error within the picture – if the capture isn’t perfectly timed then part, or all, of the animal may have disappeared from the frame. The key here is patience and perseverance – digital cameras allow for multiple opportunities to get it right and, if you can’t, there’s always the chance to head back to the park (or wherever your location may be) over and over to get the shot perfect. On a recent half-day trip, I was astonished to find I’d taken over 1’500 pictures in just a few hours! A large proportion weren’t particularly great at all.

Squirrel in a tree
Duck drinking water

Robin singing in a tree

   Finally, we come to the “post-production” stage – what to do with your pictures when they’ve been taken. Sometimes, for a multitude of reasons, our images will need “tidying up”; an edge will need removing or a colour will need boosting. In order to edit your snaps, I’d recommend looking at using a free app or website like PicMonkey or even Gramblr for this. Both give the use the ability to chop their frames to different sizes and alter the colours and lighting of the image. One effect I’ve found to particularly “pop” my images of late is to turn down the brightness of the image through Gramblr before giving a slight boost of the saturation in app too. This, for many of my pictures, has managed to sharpen the image somewhat without making the final image look too synthetic.

   These are my starter tips – I hope you enjoyed reading and I hope I can report back one day with more advanced ideas for you and some new animal photographs too!


A Trip to The Icelandic Phallological Museum

Jarred animal penises at the Icelandic Phallological Museum

   Animals, I’m sure you will agree, are magnificent.

   Despite the fact that we see them every day – the birds in our gardens, the pets which share our homes, the ducks in our parks – it’s not often we take the opportunity to try and learn more about them. Indeed, as Frans de Waal writes in his remarkable book Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, we humans haven’t even begun to reach the tip of the iceberg in terms of knowledge about the animals we share Earth with.

   So, on a trip to Iceland, I was eager to stop by a museum dedicated to a very specific niche of animal biology I had first read about in Richard Herring’s lewd classic Talking Cock. The institution, you see, is not a typical tourist destination and is entirely peerless across the world – situated in the heart of Reykjavik is the one, the only public showcase spanning the globe dedicated to penises and penile parts: The Icelandic Phallological Museum.

Whale penis in a jar

   If, as you read this, you have begun to scratch your head in confusion at what you have read, I will reiterate that there does indeed exist a museum in Iceland dedicated solely to the male reproductive organ. This may seem a tawdry novelty, perhaps a lewd voyeur’s heaven, alas I became determined to find out what level of education could be attained by passing through the attraction’s doors. Maybe, just maybe, by investigating jars of pickled penis I could learn more about the human condition and the place homo sapiens find ourselves at within the universe? More than likely, however, I was likely to find myself shocked, appalled, embarrassed and bemused by a house of dicks.

   So, as I stepped through the doors of the Phallological Museum, I braced myself intellectually for what I may discover in a small building which plays host to “two hundred penises and penile parts belonging to almost all the land and sea mammals that can be found in Iceland.” Even though I was fully aware of what I was about to witness, I was still blown away by the display in front of me – scores of glass vials and cases, running to the edges of the room, contained dozens of dismembered members each somewhat wilted and shrivelled as consequence of no longer being connected to a living thing. Every direction my eyes darted, I was greeted with the sight of another penis: a foreboding whale’s genital in one direction, a seal dick in the other. It didn’t take long until I became verifiably “cock blind”.

A whale penis on display

   I stumbled around the room, a strange mix of fascinated and repulsed, simply staring at these penises until I came across one of the ugliest ones imaginable – to my shock and horror, it turned out that this withered flap of skin had once belonged to a human, a man like me in many ways (except for the fact that he was dead and now had the severely grotesque remains of his penis on display for all to see). I’m not certain I can qualify or quantify my reaction at this point, other than to say it was a visceral one, and I’m still none the closer to being able to put into words anything I tangibly learnt at this museum.

   The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote: “If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.” He was, of course, referring to how wild beasts live existences so detached from our own experiences and perspectives that communication or comprehension between species is simply impossible. During my trip to the Iceland Phallological Museum I too came upon my own philosophy of animal understanding: “If a human could look at an animal’s dismembered penis, we would be no closer to understanding them.” I’m not sure if this matches Wittgenstein in terms of profundity but it is perhaps the truest sentence I will ever write.

   (A huge thanks to Kel at Let's Go Somewhere Nice for providing the additional photos of me used in this post. She was a game companion to this rather weird and wonderful museum.)

What To Feed Ducks (Even If They Are Secretly Evil)

A duck's beak in close-up

   It’s easy to romanticise ducks. They’re splendid looking birds for starters, and the fact they’re synonymous with peaceful strolls in the park is a major plus point too.

   What folk don’t discuss very often, and for good reason, is that these much-loved winged beings are also absolutely fucked up. I would ask you to pardon my coarse language but there’s simply no other way to describe these feathered terrors.

   In his seminal research, the Dutchman Kees Moeliker highlights some of the more unsavoury activities mallards indulge in. For starters, and very much not in keeping with the friendly image they’ve somehow managed to cultivate, ducks regularly procreate via force – if you watch the birds for any length of time you will notice a recurring pattern of multiple males chasing after a solitary female. Its genuinely quite disturbing.

   Perhaps more astounding, however, is the description Moeliker gives of the fate of one mallard who crashed into his window at the Natuurmuseum, Rotterdam. The bird, unfortunately, died upon impact but, rather than grieve, a similarly male duck who had witnessed the instance saw this as an opportunity, not a tragedy. Moeliker recalls, his prose dripping in quiet horror, viewing the alive mallard aggressively peck at the corpse of his recently deceased peer whilst repeatedly copulating with it. To say that ducks are perverts, then, is something of an understatement.

A duck quacking

  Yet, aside from the myth of their inherent niceness, the one other fallacy which often surrounds these birds is their love of breadcrumbs. You’ll often see a family with a pre-prepared bag of bread tossing it indiscriminately to a pack of mallards who will gobble up the food with eager avarice. If you can stomach ever being near these birds again, or think it good to provide them with a momentary distraction from their perverted ways, then it’s important to know that bread is actually really, really bad for them. Everything you thought you knew about ducks is truly a lie.

   When ducks eat bread, they fill their stomachs but do so in a way which deprives them of essential nutrients. This can lead to malnutrition and a condition called “angel wing” which can cause the birds to become flightless. Furthermore, rogue bread in the ponds or rivers the ducks dwell in can ultimately become catastrophic for the local eco-system; it might not be just the mallards you are endangering after all.

   So, as your relationship with mallards teeters on the edge of the “it’s complicated” zone, it’s important to consider what food you could and should prepare for them next time you’re planning a pleasant stroll through their neighbourhood.

   Duck pellets are the obvious choice of bread replacement and birdseed (which you can pick up from most supermarkets) is a relatively straightforward choice too. However, it might be the following, surprising items which make for the most unconventional albeit healthy options for the birds: lettuce (torn into small pieces), corn (canned, frozen or fresh), and defrosted frozen peas are all easily digestible and full of appropriate nutrients for the birds. They may seem like odd choices right now but ducks, themselves, are rather odd animals. In a way, its rather fitting.


A Look at Simon Amstell's Carnage

Simon Amstell in Carnage Promo Pic

   Let’s be honest here, before I get into the meat of this article, and speak about vegans. To address the elephant in the room - the group have something of a reputation, don’t they?

   To some, usually the type of folk who formulates their entire persona around the idea that eating large quantities of flesh is a suitable substitute to developing any form of charisma or identity, vegans are repulsive – to not gorge on a fry-up makes one humourless, overtly po-faced and pious. To be introduced to a vegan often comes with the expectation that a sermon will follow; one which addresses the ethical and moral superiority of those who eschew dairy.

   Thankfully, then, Simon Amstell is here to blow this stereotype right out of the water. On paper, a mockumentary about veganism seems like a relatively poor option to deflate this received wisdom – where can the humour possibly be found in an hour-long special about the benefits of a plant-based diet? What joy can be found in castigating those who don’t subscribe to this food-based point of view?

   For those familiar with Amstell’s work (from his early days on Popworld through to his stand-up shows and the drolly amusing Grandma’s House), it will come as no surprise that the acerbic comedian is able to wring humour out of his subject - for this writer, however, the sheer joy of Carnage comes from the unpredictable and eccentric manner in which he does so. That wry smiles and full belly laughs stemming from a production featuring some absolutely harrowing footage is a testament to the creativity at work here – there’s sadness and horror on display, but lectures are kept to a minimum as audiences are left to make up our own minds about some of the bizarre and bonkers images we see in front of us.

Simon Amstell Carnage poster

   Set in 2067, Carnage is a mockumentary which looks back on the vegan movement and attitudes to meat consumption throughout modern society. Whilst we witness mocked-up “performance art” pieces and actors playing talking heads from the future, it comes as something of a shock when the realisation dawns on us that the most ludicrous footage on-screen is plucked from documentary archives and represents behaviour we currently understand as mainstream. Nigella Lawson, for example, takes an almost perverse delight in the sound which splatters out of the chicken carcass whose breastbone cracks in her hands. In voice-over, Amstell intones with his wicked deadpan: “What looks to us now like a documentary about a lunatic was, in fact, a hit show about cooking.”

   In Amstell’s narration, Carnage becomes a humorous soliloquy of sorts which drips of 20-20 hindsight vision. Everyone in the future is a vegan of course – it would be unthinkable, and flying in the face of common sense, if they weren’t. How could we bring ourselves to eat another non-human animal knowing what we now do?

   From this position of knowledge, Amstell provides almost perverse archive footage of images we may not have batted an eye-lid at previously. To celebrate the release of the film Babe, the family friendly movie about a piglet who yearns to be a sheepdog, McDonalds created an advertising campaign to entice children to the fast food chain. “In 1995,” Amstell dryly intones, “taking your children to watch a likeable pig escape death, followed by a celebratory Happy Meal, was completely acceptable.” Similarly, we see hypocritical and farcical footage of Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall espousing viewpoints which should lead to the celebrity chefs never being taken seriously again.

   Yet, even as laughs run freely, there’s no escaping what a harrowing and emotive subject the movie centres on. Footage of factory farmed chickens makes for a very uneasy viewing whilst the explanation of how milk finds its ways into our bottles is genuinely horrifying – the blunt manner in which Amstell explains how cows are raped repeatedly throughout their life by human insemination, followed by the immediate separation of calves from their mothers as soon as they are born is enough to break even the toughest of hearts.

   The cleverest aspect of Carnage is that although there may indeed be a lecture from a vegan in here, and a powerful lesson may be granted, the manner in which we’re spoon-fed a potentially hard-to-swallow message is often joyous. Humans, we understand, are perverse and hypocritical, irrational and often self-defeating – this is our nature. But it doesn’t mean we can't collectively change for the better. Amstell invites us to (re)discover our empathy and to laugh as we do so. Vegans aren’t always joyless, and their message doesn’t have to be either.

   The film is available to view at BBC iPlayer.

Write For Us

   If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to read the “About” page here at Woke Animal Party, you may not know that I’m very open to the idea of collaborations from folk who may be looking to get their writing or views to a wider audience. In fact, I’d be absolutely delighted to receive contributions from anyone with knowledge to share!

   I should, however, acknowledge at this point that there are a number of caveats to this offer. Any posts you submit should be of decent quality – this site doesn’t exist just to publish articles for the sake of it. I’d love to read something genuinely witty or informative; if your post can make me smile, you’re doing a great job. So please, please don’t email me with outsourced posts you’ve commissioned for SEO link-building purposes. I’ve previously worked in the industry and so know all about the black hat practices involved.

   Secondly, and equally importantly, whilst I will very happily include links and credits, these must lead to sites that are in some way related. I won’t, then, post an article and link to your Payday loan site. I would, however, for example, be absolutely thrilled to link out to your Vegan Shoes website or your personal blog about bird feeding! This site is a celebration of how wonderful animals are, and the benefits of an animal cruelty-free life on the body and on the soul; I’d love to link out to other spaces which share a similar sentiment.

   I hope I haven’t put too many folk off with this harsh wording but, having been a webmaster for a number of sites, I’m aware of just how many spam messages I’m likely to get. If you’re sincere in wishing to publish here, I’d be honoured to hear from you and eager to learn from you!

   Please email me your pitches, enquiries or other feedback to:

   I’d love to feature you!


Welcome To Woke Animal Party

   Hi you!

   Thank you very much for finding your way to Woke Animal Party and I hope it’s entertaining enough to encourage you to stick around a while.

   Whilst I’m writing this as the very first post on the blog, I do hope that, over the coming years, I can create a friendly online space which can be enjoyed by animal lovers everywhere – whether you’re interested in fashion, photography or film, I aim to create a site which will both inform and entertain anybody at all interested in the majestic creatures we share this earth with.

   This is a blog where I’ll give advice where I feel I can or, more often than not, simply chronicle my own experiences as I live through them. So, whilst I enjoy taking photographs of birds and wildlife, I’m still very much in the early phases of learning how to identify the best camera techniques or even the name of my subjects – its genuinely a thrilling place to be! There’s no more awe-inspiring place to be than in the first steps of a journey.

   Among other regular features on the site, I hope to bring to you news and views on charity campaigns, animal sanctuaries, ethical fashion, films and documentaries, wildlife photography, vegan recipes and fitness tips, and hopefully a whole slew of topics I’ve not even yet considered!

   I’d be absolutely delighted to hear from any of my readers with any feedback you might have – good or bad – and, equally, I’d cherish communication with anybody who’d like to contribute to this space. I’m open to reviews too, as long as they fit within the broad remit of the site, and you can contact me on Twitter at @wokeanimalparty
or via email at

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