Why did the Chicken Cross the Channel?

Red rooster water colour painting The DM Collection

Image © Daniel Mackie

Being a prime tourist location, Greenwich Market is a fantastic place to share Daniel’s illustrations with people from across the globe, and I always find it interesting to see how people from different cultures relate to the various animals.  As you may guess, the likes of dogs and cats are universally popular, but like abandoned pets in a rescue centre, there’s a home for every creature in The DM Collection; so which feathered friend do you think frequently gets to travel across the English Channel to France?  The magnificent Rooster, or ‘Le Coq Gaulois’!

But why do the French like the Rooster so much?  Well, it all started in ancient Rome, when one of their historians, Suetonius, noted that the latin translation of Gaul, (gallus), had a double meaning, as not only did it translate as inhabiter of France, but it also means cockerel, or rooster.  Over the ages this play on words stuck to the people of France like glue, but what really propelled the rooster up to emblem status, was when it was pictured on the flags as a symbol for the French Revolution.  Today you’ll see Le Coq Gaulois proudly displayed on the shirts of their national ruby and football teams, and fearlessly strutting his stuff alongside the touchline as the French mascot.

Sure enough, this bold and beautiful fowl is certainly an animal to be proud of: but hang on a minute, has anyone ever stopped to think where roosters and hens actually come from?  Well, it turns out that these domesticated fowl are actually related to a bird known as the Red junglefowl, originating in South East Asia.  Noted for their steady supply of eggs and palatable meat, it is said that they first started to domesticate the junglefowl over in India, as far back as 3200 BC: and if we go back even further – and I mean a lot further – we discover that the Red Junglefowl is(drum roll please) … is … the closest living ancestor to the Tyrannosaurus-Rex!

So who are you calling ‘chicken’!?

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Foxy Lady!

fox print The DM Collection- Daniel Mackie

Image© Daniel Mackie

Humans have always lived in close proximity to Foxes.  So it’s no surprise that wherever these clever creatures inhabit, you will find many ancient folklorish tales surrounding these beautiful cat-like canines.  In Japan – where this animal features predominantly in its folklore – the fox is know as ‘Kitsune’, and is regarded to be a powerful supernatural creature with an array of remarkable magical traits.  Originally they were mostly portrayed in a positive light, but arguably went on to acquire more negative traits which were imported from Chinese folklore as far back as 400AD.

One interesting characteristic of this mythical Japanese fox is its ability to grow more than one tail: with the oldest and most powerful having up to as many as 9 brushes!  But they are only ready to start growing additional tails once they’ve reached the ripe old age of 100yrs, (which slightly goes against the grain in naturalistic terms, as the real traumatic life of a wild fox generally spans a mere 3 years, but they can reach the age of a domestic dog under the right conditions).  Once a mythical kitsune finally does grow a 9th tail, they also acquire untold wisdom, gain the handy ability to hear and see all that is happening in the world, and its red coat turns to an enchanting shade of silver or gold.

Another interesting gift of a kitsune who’s reached the centurion mark, is its learnt ability to take the form of a human being.  This can only occur if they follow the ritual of placing either a broad leaf, some reeds, or a skull over their head.  Once they’ve managed this they are usually known to morph into very attractive females, (‘foxy lady’ indeed!), and throughout medieval Japan, any woman who was seen on their own at dusk or at night could have potentially been a kitsune.

If you are ever under the impression that a person is secretly a kitsune, you could test your suspicions by offering them some deep fried tofu, (true kitsunes can’t get enough of it!): you could also introduce them to a pet dog, and if they run a mile they are for sure a fox in disguise: or you could get them tipsy on saké, as careless kitsunes have difficulty hiding their tails when under the influence.


Cards and prints of this design and others are available at The DM Collection

Have you seen those claws!?

Watercolour paiting of a badger by Daniel Mackie

Image © Daniel Mackie

Badgers live underground in setts which they inherit from previous generations; some can even be over a hundred years old.  They’ll continue to clean, maintain, improve, and develop these dwellings as they see fit, (no town council permission required), and can often house an elaborate tunnel network which connect numerous sleeping and breeding chambers.  The world record for the largest badger sett goes to our very own European badger, Meles meles, which involved a sett composed of 50 chambers, 879 metres of interlinking tunnels, and an astonishing 178 entrances!  Being extremely experienced underground dwellers, they even know a thing or two about water drainage, and you’ll find that 9/10 setts are situated on slanted ground; maybe this once lead the good folk of Yorkshire to allegedly believe that the legs of a badger were uneven on one side so they could easily run alongside hills!

This elusive relative of the weasel mostly likes to reside in woodland, especially if there are bluebell shoots to eat in early spring, but like ourselves, being omnivores, they’re also partial to something slightly more substantial to go with their greens, so what’s really ideal is to have a woodland sett which backs on to fields: here, with a multitude of entrance holes, they can capitalise on all there is to offer; including a freshly ploughed field where they can spend their nights dining on hundreds of earthworms.

Unlike its African cousin, the Honey Badger, Meles meles isn’t a fearsome lunatic, and although the red fox will show him some well deserved respect, (have you seen those claws!), it has been known for foxes, and even rabbits, to share the unused quarters of a well developed badger sett – although the rabbit might just want to make itself scares if Mr Badger runs out of worms to eat.

blogPhoto © Harry Miller

‘There’s no security, or peace except underground. No, up and out of doors is good enough to roam about and get one’s living in; but underground to come back to at last–that’s my idea of HOME’. 

(Thoughts from Mr Badger in Kenneth Grahame’s enchanting novel: ‘The Wind in the Willows’).

Buy cards and prints of this design and other woodland creatures at The DM Collection

What’s the chance of finding a Partridge in a Pear Tree?

Prtridge ina per tree by Daniel Mackie at The DM Collection

Image © DanielMAckie

‘Three French hens, two turtle doves … (all together now) … and a partridge in a pear treeeeeeeee!’

“Hooray!  Let’s do it again.”

… ugh! where’s the sherry!!

Yes it’s nearly that time of year again, where every respectable Partridge, (if they know their worth), should frantically search out and scramble up the ever elusive pear tree.  In doing so they create and complete the most extravagant Christmas present known to man!

But if you are scratching around for Christmas present ideas, you’re better off heading to the market, because you’d do very well to actually come across a ‘partridge in a pear tree’.  If you were to spot one of these birds, you’re more than likely to find them on their feet rather than the wing, as they like to spend most of their time pecking around on farmland for seeds and insects.  They also nest on the ground; and all being well they are very successful at it too, as these magnificent hens produce one of the largest clutches of eggs know to man – potentially up to 22!

If you do approach a partridge, (with grand ideas of pear trees and ‘Eleven Lords a leaping’), they will rightly try to escape: at first by hot-footing it – where they are actually very good at selecting their get away route, carefully putting obstacles such as stones and foliage in the way of the pursuer – or as a last resort they will take to the air, but with their short wings and plump stocky bodies, it is in dramatic and exhausting fashion, and they’ll be keen to come back to earth as soon as it’s safe to.

You will find one explanation as to why the partridge is mostly ground dwelling and reluctant to take flight in Greek mythology, where the first ever partridge appeared when Daedalus threw his high achieving nephew, Perdix, from a cliff in an envious fit of rage.  Upon witnessing this, the Goddess Athena saved the tumbling victim by turning him into a bird, (hence the latin term for the partridge is Perdix perdix).  Following this traumatic experience, and remembering all too well his near fall to death, the partridge is generally very wary of high places, chooses not to take long flights, and does not nest in any tree; and yes, you can tell your ‘true love’ that this does include the pear variety!

buy greetings cards of the and other designs like it at The DM Collection

The Red Squirrel has an Unlikely Ally

Red squirrel by artist Daniel Mackie

Image © Daniel Mackie

Once upon a time, (a mere 10,000 years ago), a deep freeze gripping much of Europe finally began to subside, and as the ice sheets retreated, the trees steadily marched northwards, migrating from the warmer southern lands.  First to arrive were the birch, the aspen and the sallow, and then followed the limes and elms, the Scots pine, and the mighty oak.  In Britain this natural process continued up until the land was cut off from the rest of mainland Europe by the rising seas, leaving an isolated island which was now covered from head to toe with a dense and very ‘wild’ wood.  It is said that our friend the Red Squirrel, could cross from Land’s End to The Wash without even setting a paw on the ground.

A lot of this woodland survived for 7000 years up until medieval times: but by then more and more trees were being felled to make way for farmland, as well as for fuel and ship building.  What made matters worse for the native squirrel was their very own dashing red fur coat, and squirrel pelts were in high demand; especially with the ruling classes.  This is in contrast to European folklore where it was deemed as unlucky to kill a squirrel, and those who did so were said to lose their hunting skills.  (This superstition has biblical routes, where it is said that upon witnessing Adam & Eve tuck in to the forbidden fruit, the angelic squirrel hid its eyes from this act of sin with its own tail; to save the squirrel from further embarrassment the creature was thus given a bushier tail).

There was a glimmer of hope for the squirrel population when the Victorians attempted to replant the forests, but just when things were starting to look up for the reds, the Victorians – who had a habit of introducing non native species to Britain – released the infamous American Grey Squirrel!  The rest, as I’m sure you know is history.  But help is now at hand, in the shape of a very unlikely ally: the Pine Martin.  Even though the pine martin predates little Squirrel Nutkins, it seems that wherever this weasel relative is being reintroduced, the reds are somehow taking the place of the greys.  This is believed to be so because unlike the reds, the greys didn’t co-evolve with this serial-squirrel-killer, and due to their habit of foraging more on the ground, and their bulk, which prevents them from reaching the spindliest branches away from a pine martins reach, the greys number is sadly up.

How far this trend will go is uncertain, but unless the pine martin makes the likes of London’s Regent Park its home, I think we’ll always have a few greys to entertain us – and entertain me they certainly do.

See this and other designs available as prints and cards at The DM Collection

The Hare in the Moon

Hare boxing watercolour By Daniel MAckie

Image © Daniel Mackie

Myth and folklore connecting the moon to the Hare appears all across the world: in Africa, China, Europe, India, Japan, Mexico, and North America: with many a moon goddess associated with – or at least accompanied by – a hare.  So what is the relationship between this wild and mysterious creature and the moon?

Well, even though it’s not out of place to see a hare in broad daylight sitting quietly in its ‘form’, (a shallow depression in the earth), they are fundamentally nocturnal, and are a lot more active when the moon takes the place of the sun.  But night time was once a very dangerous place to go ‘haring’ around, as the moon was once believed to actually cause madness, (hence luna / lunacy), and it was even believed that sleeping under the moonlight invited madness.  So knowing that the hare regularly went about its business under a mania inducing moon, it was thought that this was the cause for their excitable episodes during spring, where males and females, (Jacks & Jills), are seen to uncharacteristically gather in droves, frantically chasing and boxing one another.  The mad March hare was indeed seen as ‘moon-struck’.

‘I shall go into a hare,

With sorrow and sigh and (probably) mental torment.’ 

(Translation of a ritual rhyme by Scottish witches, describing the psychological undertakings when taking on the spirit of a hare.)

hare country- Country side By Harry Miller

Classic hare country. Photo © Harry Miller

One environment where you may struggle to associate this land-dweller with, is the sea, but via the hares connection to the moon, (and the moons effect on the tides), the hare was also tied to the open waters, and fisherman were never to mention the ‘hare’ word at sea for fear it would bring bad luck; and taking a hare onboard a vessel was an almighty ‘no-no’!

But to a more visual connection, where the hare can actually be seen living on the moon!  We are all aware that when the moon is full you can see the shape of the ‘man in the moon’, but next time the luna one is beaming away in the fullness of its phase, try and make out the side profile of a hare in the darkened patches.  But don’t stare at it too long… ’cause you’ll go mad!
Take a look at this and other designs at The DM Collection

A Carol of Robins

Robin greetings card bv Daniel MackieErithacus rubecula, the beloved Robin Redbreast, was this year crowned Britain’s National Bird after claiming a respectful 34% of the general publics vote. Close in contention was the ever silent Barn Owl, the cat scolding Blackbird, and despite a final song, even Her Majesty’s Mute Swan nestles in at a mere 7th place.

So why do we love the feisty feathered friend of the gardener: a bird that is so territorial that they’ll peck one of their own to death if certain bounderies are not respected?

Well, for one thing they’re very pleasing to the eye, and unlike many other bird species – where the male notably has a more attractive plumage – both sexes of the Robin show off the characteristic war paint. But upon closer inspection, is it indeed red?… What’s that you say, it’s orange? (How dare you!) But of course you’re right: the name for the colour orange didn’t even exist until a certain citrus fruit was brought to European shores in the 16th century. (Let’s leave peaches alone for the time being).

And as we go about our business being a nation of gardeners, the bold and plucky Robin will happily perch on your spade whilst you take a breather from turning over your rich and fertile beds. To you, he’s your chirpy little garden companion, an extra in your very own Disney feature, but to the opportunist Robin, you are a work horse, slaving away in the dirt and hauling out deep dwelling Goliath-like worms to the surface for a warriors dinner.

Then there is the Christmas depiction of this red-breasted icon, and if there’s one creature which is so closely associated with the festive season, it’s the Robin, (yes, then the donkey). From acquiring a coloured breast whilst tending to a crown of thorns belonging to a certain Jesus Christ, to even delivering our many Christmas cards – yes you heard right, back in the days of Queen Victoria they gave the name Robins to the postmen who were adorned with sprightly red tunics.

So if you hear bird song on a cold and frosty festive day, it will more than likely be the Robin, because only they are tenacious enough to hold their territories all year round; lucky for us with a beautiful song. And if there’s more than one, (if they haven’t yet pecked each other to death!), then by all means use a ‘carol of Robins’ for your collective noun.

See this design and others available as cards and prints at the DM Collection
Image © Daniel Mackie