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Murder on the Hampden Savannah


Graham Gnu v Senga Leo
Scene I: Background to the case

Graham Gnu’s real name was Wullie – Wullie Wildebeest – but he hated it. Wullie sounded so old-fashioned, so uncool. When he was a calf, the others would ask if he sat on a bucket and wore tackity boots. So when he was old enough, he picked the name Graham to fit his identity as a gnu – not as a wildebeest. His younger brother, who hero worshipped Wullie Graham, followed his lead and took the name George.

Graham and George were close, very close. They watched each others’ backs. Graham was fast on the gallop, but George’s sense of smell was so superior even for a gnu that he could raise the alarm when the South Side pride was half a mile away. Only George, it was said, could identify each lion by its individual smell.

The South Side pride was led by Big Jimmy. Sporting a magnificent black mane, he had a reputation to maintain. They all knew that roaring ‘Heh Jimmy’ at him even in jest wasn’t a good move unless they wanted a limp that would last a fortnight.

The girls were Phemie, Tracy and Senga. Phemie was getting a bit long in the tooth (when she breathed on you, the smell was enough to turn your stomach) but she was still the leader. She was Jimmy’s first choice for mating too but, as she’d told the other girls one day while

relaxing under a tree, this was a mixed blessing as Jimmy was a’ mane an’ nae bollocks. Tracy was Phemie’s daughter and her mother despaired of her ever making a kill on her own. Kids, you bring them up, you think that’s the job done and still they cannae kill a defenceless calf! Senga was the youngest and the most ambitious – she’d been known to stalk a full grown elephant until someone put her right.There were always half-grown cubs kicking around too – not totally up to the job yet but certainly quite enough to put a gnu off his grass.

Graham never wanted to be one of the herd. He was born into it, of course, streaming across the savannah at Hampden with ten thousand others, but his heart just wasn’t in it. He knew there could be more to life. The day he trimmed his straggly whiskers and slipped on a leather jacket was the day he knew there was no turning back.

He told George he was leaving the herd. He spoke of the family members they’d lost to rushing rivers (nobody in the family but him had bothered to learn to swim) and to predation by the South Side pride. He said there was a better life out there, beyond the Byres Road crossing. He didn’t expect that his brother would try to argue him out of it. It’s just how it is, Graham – we’re gnus – don’t fight it! Graham was gutted but he knew that a gnu had to do what a gnu has to do.

He turned and walked away from George. He stopped watching George’s back. And that’s when it happened.

Gnu v Leo
Scene II: The Court
Learned Counsel for the Defence: Peter Pardus Esq (QC)
Learned Counsel for the Prosecution: Quentin Quagga Esq (QC)
Presiding magistrate: The Honourable Lord Aquila

The morning’s hot and the court is packed. Bovine, equine and feline scent glands are working overtime. At 10am precisely, The Honourable Lord Aquila leaves his chambers and enters the courtoom. Settling his ruffled feathers back into place, he fixes the room with a yellow-eyed glare. Quentin Quagga QC shifts uneasily under the beak’s gaze.

Good lord, it’s that idiot Quagga – thought he’d been disbarred. They say he’s doing this pro bono – friend of the deceased or some such nonsense thinks his Lordship. Ah, we’ve got Pardus, have we? He’ll give us some fireworks. Stout fellow – wouldn’t like to get in his way though.

Prosecuting Counsel Peter Pardus QC has casually draped his body along the back of the bench, only inches from a row of gazelle, who shrink back in their seats with terror-stricken eyes. Hmm pity I had breakfast at chambers – I quite fancy one of those right now he thinks.


Graham Gnu, the plaintiff, wears a zoot suit with very wide lapels and a check so loud the Court Reporter has to don sunglasses when looking his way. He’s wearing a Tagheuer watch on his left front hock. As it has no sunrise/sunset setting, it’s largely for show.

In front of him is a thick sheaf of papers which forms the basis for his case against Senga Leo, the youngest lioness of the South Side pride. He’s trying in vain to stop his lawyer, Quagga, from nervously snacking on the paperwork. I wish Quentin hadn’t worn that wig – it’s so small it must have been made for a Shetland pony he thinks.

Graham is here to see justice done for the murder of his brother George. He’ll never forgive himself for letting his attention wander that fateful day. But this time the lions have to pay, he vows.

He’s already lodged an objection to the appointment of Peter Pardus for the Defence. He’ll terrorise the prosecution witnesses into saying anything he wants them to say – everyone knows a leopard never changes its spots. Graham knows too that Aquila likes Pardus – there’s even been talk of them lunching together on breast of dik-dik.

The defendant, Senga, has dressed demurely for her time in court, eyes lowered, paws together. She looks like such a nice pussycat comes the whisper from the public gallery, where groups of ladies in summer frocks have spread the contents of their picnic hampers. They’re making a day of it and, although they wouldn’t dare admit it to each other, they’re hoping for some blood before teatime.

Senga is surrounded by the members of her pride (a visiting auntie is babysitting the cubs). Even Big Jimmy’s here, although he looks bored already. She’s more nervous than she cares to admit and however hard she tries to control it, her tail is twitching furiously.

Aquila makes a final adjustment to his second-best wig. His wigs are all custom made from the fur of small mammals, as befits a beak at the height of his profession, but this one’s making him itch. He really must speak to his wigmaker, he thinks. And if there isn’t live rabbit for luncheon, he’s not going to be happy.

As a final surge of skittish equine teenagers rush in, noisily packing themselves into the public benches, the call is given to close the courtroom doors. GNU v LEO is underway.

Illustrations by Alan Lennon

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