John Woodhouse: City would do a roaring trade with a big beast on the loose
WE'RE keeping the cat in. Not so much because it's decimated the local sparrow population, more in case it's shot by a police marksman.
Essex officers called off their search for the Clacton 'lion' earlier this week.
They'd been advising the people of the county to stay indoors. Although if the cast of The Only Way Is Essex is anything to go by, I can't see any respectable lion lowering itself to eating any of them.
The feeling is now that it was probably a domestic moggie, albeit one that had been overdoing the Whiskas a little. The alternative is that it was some kind of wildcat, and I don't mean one that had trapped its tail in the kitchen door.
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Staffordshire, of course, is no stranger to this kind of thing. Several years ago there were reports of a Bigfoot in Hanley, although it later transpired to be Lisa Riley in panto at the Regent.
In 2009, meanwhile, the Cannock Chase Hellhound made the headlines. Many, however, believe its howls were simply an amorous couple from Wolverhampton getting carried away in a bush.
Twenty-three years earlier, a chap, also on Cannock Chase, saw what he described as a 7ft-long creature surface and then bask on the fringes of a pool.
"It sort of wriggled," he said. "It was like its whole body seemed to sort of shake and wobble."
He claimed this to be some sort of strange organism, although it was the notoriously hot summer of '76 and could just have easily been a skinny-dipper from Walsall.
Nearer to, the Beast of Blythe Bridge has been a source of consternation, blamed for the violent deaths of chickens and rabbits. The animal's existence has never been proven but it's long been used as a loophole by locals accused of dog-fouling.
There were also sightings of a large black puma-like cat near Draycott-in-the-Moors where several sheep were found half devoured.
In reality, however, most put this down to an over-zealous group of Brownies who'd become peckish while camping.
Many have long said that big cats roam the Staffordshire Moorlands. Who could forget BBC journalist Brian Hanrahan's memorable phrase "I counted them all out and I counted them all back" when reporting on an outing of Leek Ramblers' Association?
Werewolves have also long been reported as active in Staffordshire, although it should be remembered the Hairy Bikers did make a programme here in 2008.
Experts are loath to accept that outsized beasts do indeed exist in Britain. They claim that foxes, dogs and family cats, when seen against distant objects, can seem much larger.
Ronnie Corbett was once pictured up against a privet and looked enormous.
One thing's for sure, though. The sighting of the 'lion' in Clacton has brought visitors flooding into the town. Some to get a glimpse of the beast, others to get a shovel-full of something different to spread on the roses.
The lure of something like this can't be over-estimated. It's why I'd encourage Stoke-on-Trent's tourism chiefs to cash in by claiming a cheetah's on the loose in Fenton.
Myself, I can't claim to have ever seen anything untowards in the large cat department. We did have a freakishly big moggie when I was a child, but that was mainly because it ate cheese and onion crisps and porridge.
Aside from saying their camera's rubbish, I wouldn't wish to judge the people who claim to have seen this southern Simba.
But if there is any doubt as to the beast's existence, there's a very easy way to find out. Stick a wildebeest on Clacton Prom and see what happens.