WOMBLING WISDOM

Three life lessons to learn from the Wombles, though this may not be the limit”.

By Annabel Barker: Literature Columnist

Since their debut in Elisabeth Beresford’s best-selling books (the first published in 1968), The Wombles have delighted adults and children alike. Underground, overground, these long-snouted burrowers of Wimbledon Common are not only cute, fluffy and friendly, but also lead a lifestyle that is influential to audiences of all ages. Whether we read about the Wombles in their books, watch them on the charming television series (in which all the characters are voiced by Bernard Cribbins) or listen to the cheerful songs written and sung by Mike Batt, each Wombling platform is full of valuable life lessons, including an eco-friendly message that rings as loud and clear now as it did during the growing environmental movement of the 1970s.

Exactly what lessons can be learned from Wimbledon Common’s loveable residents? What wise words do the Wombles have to say?

1. Pick up litter

This ought to be self-explanatory, yet in most nature parks, there is often more litter than wildlife. In the Womble franchise, the act of picking up litter appears to be known by another term. In this case, the word “Womble” would not only be a noun. For instance, Great Uncle Bulgaria frequently orders his fellows to “get Wombling”, i.e. “start picking up litter”. The Wombles – including Bungo, Tonsk, Wellington and Orinoco (when he’s not having forty winks!) – each carry a bag with them to collect any litter left behind by humans. Sadly, they are not around in our world, so it is down to us to clear up the mess we make. Whether that be bringing a bag with you on a walk to collect litter, or simply depositing a single item in the nearest bin, a clean, litter-free greenery makes all the difference to wildlife and humans. Plastic and other rubbish is no less harmful to freshwater and park life than to marine life, so it is vital to take a leaf out of the Wombles’ book and crack on with cleaning up the Common or making our local park pristine.

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2. Make Good Use of Bad Rubbish

Upcycling may be a common term in today’s age of sustainability, but Womble Tobermory, in his workshop where he turns old things into new, seems to have set the trend. Or should the credit go to Great Uncle Bulgaria, who has noticed the litter in the Common, which has prompted him to set his fellow Wombles to work on tidying up? The Womble motto, “Make Good Use of Bad Rubbish”, continues to be relevant today. From using an old tyre to make a rocking chair for Great Uncle Bulgaria, to using an old stove as a dust-free cabinet to store an old history book, the Wombles certainly practise what they preach. The constant demand for new things puts a strain on the natural resources of our planet, which leads to devastating effects, thus increases the importance of keeping waste to an absolute minimum. While litter may not be a likely source for making new things, turning trash into treasure can be a fun activity to try if nothing else. For instance, sweet wrappers could be made into a uniquely creative collage or even used to prevent a ceiling from leaking, as seen in the Wombles’ burrow.

3. Be aware of surroundings

“People don’t notice us, they never see, under their noses a Womble may be…” While the third verse in The Wombling Song is describing how discreetly the Wombles work, it simultaneously conveys how easily life can be missed by the always-rushing, smartphone-laden generation of today. A Womble may not poke its nose out of its burrow any time soon, but that is not an excuse not to be mindful of our surroundings. For instance, while being absorbed in Angry Birds may not result in treading on an angry Womble, there is an increased likelihood of walking straight into any obstacle, whether it be stationary (such as a lamppost) or indeed alive (such as a human or an animal). Above all, carelessness and inconsideration are among the height of bad manners that would affront even Orinoco, as lazy and greedy as he is, as much as it would affront Great Uncle Bulgaria. So put your phone away and look in front of you, if you please.

So there you have it. Three life lessons to learn from the Wombles, though this may not be the limit. Wombling audiences may indeed spot other messages that have yet to be articulated. Whichever messages have been spotted, just remember to keep Wombling…