Mr Davies’ Penguins
November 6, 2009
As a child, my favourite animal was the penguin. I don’t recall how or why I came to love them so much, but it was the kind of quirky child preference that quickly becomes a focal point to adults, particularly those selecting presents. I had lots of penguins (toy ones that is) and penguin paraphernalia: clothing, pins, stationary and even books (including my favourite book at some point in my childhood, Mr Popper’s Penguins, whose penguin lives in the freezer, eats the family goldfish and is the inspiration for the title of this post). I think at one point I had amassed around 20 stuffed penguins, which took pride of place in my bedroom (and to this day are in a bedroom closet at my parents’ house, a closet I promise to clean out every time I visit and never really get around to).
Imagine then, my pleasure in the recent return of LSE’s very own penguin to campus. This sentence probably requires a bit of additional explanation. In 2005, a large sculpture of an Emperor Penguin created by an artist named Yolanda vanderGaast was given to the LSE as a present from a Canadian alumnus (above is a picture of the penguin in his natural LSE habitat). It sat there quite happily (near a neighbouring baby elephant sculpture – LSE has eclectic taste in public art) until earlier this year, when students from a rival university are thought to have stolen our penguin in some sort of drunken escapade. And despite LSE students organising a Facebook support group for the poor penguin, it was never recovered or returned. This week, a replacement penguin was unveiled, to the delight of LSE students (click here for an interview with the penguin).
There is something about penguins, and stealing them. In 2005, a penguin chick was stolen from a zoo in Southern England. A book published in 2003 about an infamous armed robber has a section where he describes childhood exploits, including stealing penguin eggs. Here’s a passage: “On another unofficial excursion we decided to invade London Zoo at Regent’s Park and try to steal penguins’ eggs from the architecturally acclaimed penguin enclosure. We would jump over the wall and calmly walk down the slopes to the wooden nesting boxes and nick their eggs in full view of amazed onlookers.” I’ve been told by a friend (who shall remain nameless) that he and his cousins once stole a penguin from the same zoo in the middle of the night: they put it in the bathtub of his Camden flat for a while, until they sobered up and realised they had a hungry, distressed penguin in their bathtub, at which point they snuck back into the zoo and returned it.
There is also, oddly enough, an international crime phenomena of stealing penguin sculptures. In fact, in 2001, another penguin sculpture by vanderGaast was stolen in Canada (the local police force doesn’t seem to have much to keep them busy as they organised a massive search for the penguin). The artist notes that they are particularly cute, and much lighter then they look, which might be why they get stolen frequently. Another potential explanation: they just fly away.