Every town has one, even in 2010, amid the hustle and bustle and hectic life. One such is Southend's Owlman. A partially sighted chap, he can often be seen, with his cane and his little cart on which perches his eagle owls, or his rescued tawny and barn owls, collecting money for wildlife charities in the High Street. He's got his own Facebook page, set up by a member of the public, he's been photographed and uploaded to Flickr, he's been lauded in the local paper.
While shopping a few weeks ago, I thought about him, and realised I hadn't seen him for quite a few months. I wondered if old age or infirmity had finally curtailed his fundraising.
And then I forgot about him. As you do, when you're busy.
Until Friday morning, that is, when I read this story:
A pensioner has been banned from taking his pet owls for a walk due to health and safety concerns.You're kidding me, I thought. Until I remembered that I live in the UK, in 2010, where this sort of thing isn't as implausible as it would once have been...
Mr Burt, a grandfather-of-one, of Plympton, Devon, says the owls enjoy the fresh air and he often draws a crowd of onlookers.Say what? Have his owls ever savaged someone, then? Do we need a 'Dangerous Owls Act'?
Known locally as 'The Owl Man', he has a licence to display birds and also collects money which he gives to a local wildlife charity.
But he has now been banned from taking his owls outside - after his local council ruled the daily walks are a health and safety risk.
Officials say he could no longer take the owls out on the grounds that they could be ''spooked'' by traffic and ''run amok'' and attack someone.Which has never happened, ever. But might do. So can't be too careful, right?
Never mind that the UK is the home of far, far larger birds, some of which occasionally (unhindered by being tethered to a man's wrist by jesses) land on the road and cause havoc.
The council will say that they aren't responsible for them, being wild birds. But guess what? They aren't responsible for Mr Burt's owls either! He is, and has insurance to cover such eventuality.
They say he can still display the birds at schools and care homes but cannot walk them in public because it is not a ''controlled'' environment.Well, that's mighty generous of them, isn't it? And who knew you needed the permission of the council to walk down a town street with your pet?
Certainly, I rather doubt Plympton is a stranger to the chav spaniel, and they seem pretty unconcerned about anyone walking one of those down the street...
And if you're worried for your safety in Plympton, it's unlikely to be because of owls or elderly men.
So how much council time did this issue take up?
Several police officers, council officials and a dog warden said the birds shouldn't be outside because of the light and noise.FFS!
OK, calm down. Breathe...
Maybe there was a string of complaints? Perhaps the locals got up a petition, worried by the potential for Owlzilla to break free and rampage through Plympton, eating their dogs and ravishing their wives?
Mr Burt said they only took action because a member of the public complained that the owls should be asleep during the day - which he says is not true.Ah. Of course. One....single...complaint.
Not surprising any more, is it? But the most surprising thing was the reaction of Mr Burt:
'I've just got to take it, I suppose.'NO YOU HAVEN'T! There is NO LAW that would allow the council to do this. Even they - while tossing around the word 'ban' like confetti - have been very, very careful not to quote any such law:
A spokeswoman for Plymouth City Council said Mr Burt was banned from taking the owls out in the streets because of health and safety issues.Aha! The weasel word is in the final paragraph. There's no 'under subsection D of the...' mentioned. The council know full well that this case, should it come to court (as it should do) would be thrown out.
She said: ''We spoke to Mr Burt about travelling along busy roads with his pets as, in the wild, owls live a nocturnal lifestyle and we are concerned about welfare issues around exposing it to loud and hectic environments.
''There are also safety issues for the public around a large spooked bird of prey running amok on a highway.
''We are more than happy for him to continue showing the animal in controlled environments such as schools and care homes, but to protect him, his pet and the public we have asked that he finds alternative forms of transportation.''
But they count on the modern attitude of 'don't make a fuss' in order to get away with it...
Mr Burt...said local people had created a petition to bring his owls back.NO NO NO! *bangs head on desk*
You don't petition the council for one of your rights back. They had no right to try to convince you they were allowed to take it in the first place!
*sigh* When will people wake up, and stop allowing these people to run their lives?
I wonder now about Southend's Owlman. I wonder if he, too, has been on the receiving end of a visit from a
And I wonder how long our streets will contain eccentrics, characters and enthusiasts? I wonder how long it will be before we all cower behind closed doors, afraid to walk the streets, not knowing what is 'banned' and what is 'allowed'?
And then I wonder why our parents and grandparents bothered fighting a war at all...