Waitrose and Partners Weekend Issue 579

9 25 NOVEMB ER 2021 n swans ng to sumptuous easts, Britain’s nt bird has associated with , as naturalist oss tells Emma ham 1 Where are you? At home just outside Bath. I’m looking at an autumn scene. I’ve always loved autumn, but it’s weird because it’s when things are dying, isn’t it? 2 Strangest thing you’ve had delivered recently? Grasshoppers, crickets and mealworms for my son’s 12th birthday. He’s at that age where you’re not a little boy and not a teenager, so I had half a dozen boys here being dared to eat bugs. 3 Worst habit you wish you could stop? I’m easily distracted. I’ll be distracted by a smell, a tree, a dog – and going to the shops with a shopping list is pointless because I always end up going off-piste. I wish I could be more focused. 4 Last famous person you had a conversation with, and what was it about? Probably Heston Blumenthal, älming the advert. We talked about France, bulldogs, philosophy and meditation. We covered so much in a short period of time. 5 Best thing to happen in the last week? I’ve just got a golden retriever puppy called Amber, and I can honestly say that the best thing is that she slept through for six hours. It’s like having a baby again. 6 Favourite celebrity guest in Extras ? David Bowie. He’s an icon – to see him in the åesh scrambled with your hea d. And George Michael, as my era was the 80s. He was so humble and able to laugh at himself. 7 What question do you always get asked about Ricky Gervais? Is that laugh real? And yes, it is! The actor and face of the Waitrose Christmas ad on buying bugs and being easily distracted 7 QUESTIONS WITH… ASHLEY J ENSEN Ashley is the special guest on Waitrose’s Life on a Plate podcast next week (2 December). Interview: Emma Higginbotham Christmas is likely to encounter a swan or two (or ideally, seven, a-swimming). Most common is the mute swan, with its wild cousins –whooper and Bewick’s swans – only flying in for the winter. Meanwhile Swan Lake is a favourite for festive ballet-goers: “It always comes top of the best-loved ballets, and that’s because swans are the epitome of elegance,” says Stephen (below). “Except when they’re taking o , or on landwaddling.” Yet although humans are their greatest admirers, we’re also their greatest enemy. Horrifyingly, record numbers of swans were shot during lockdown. “They’re very easy targets, and for idiots it poses a challenge. And it’s not just people with catapults and air rifles: dogs will attack them. It’s just very sad. “Swans are not struggling in terms of population, but they have a lot of problems facing them. Pollution of rivers, lead shot, fishing line, plastic, and power lines of course, because they’ve got eyes on the side of their head, so when they fly they can’t see in front of themvery easily. It’s this paradox that it looks like a bird that is invulnerable, but actually it can struggle. And nobody wants to see a dead swan.” Stephen’s love of the graceful bird shines throughout the book, which is punctuatedwith stories ranging from the ill-temperedMr Asbo, attacker of Cambridge University’s boat crews, to the swan at the Bishop’s Palace inWells, which rings a bell when it wants to be fed. “It’s hard to imagine a Britainwithout swans,” he says. “They’re so ubiquitous that we take them for granted, but theymatter both as a bird and as a cultural icon. They’re basically like David Attenborough or The Queen: of all Britain’s birds, they’re up there as themost special.” The Swan by StephenMoss (Square Peg) is out now BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL A swan on water at sunrise (above); ballet dancers perform Swan Lake (below); swan hopping, an image from Stephen Moss’s book where the best way to tag a bird centuries ago was to sit on it (bottom) WINGED WONDERS Swans have a 40% chance of surviving their ärst year, 66% in their second, and then should survive until their natural death at around 10 – although one in Dorset lived to 29. Winston Churchill kept a åock of black swans, native to Australia, and claimed that he could converse with them in a special language. In the USA, native trumpeter swans were almost driven to extinction by being hunted for their meat and feathers, which were used in ladies’ fashion, until an Act of 1929 protected them. Around 100,000 swans and other water birds are killed every year by accidentally ingesting lead shot when picking up grit to aid their digestion. Banned in Europe last year, it’s still widely used in the UK. Photography: Getty Images, Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images, Swan-Hopping by Robertson, H.R. (c.1900) (engraving) (© Look and Learn / Peter Jackson Collection / Bridgeman Images), Suzanne Moss, David Venni