Once I had the opportunity to spend time with the gentleman who looked after the chimpanzees in Central Park Zoo in Manhattan. He had worked closely with the famous signing chimps.

Another time I had a long interview with the Head Keeper of gorillas at Howletts Wildlife Park.

Both of these people talked very clearly about the individuality of the creatures that they cared for. They really knew the beautiful animals and had very humble relationships with them.

My husband once met an elephant face to face. No words were exchanged, but it was plain to see that it was a meaningful moment for both of them. There was some understanding between them as beings sharing time and space.


Since I started to work at Mudchute Park and Farm I have walked past many beautiful animals every day. Gradually I have developed a sense of them as individuals. I began to watch them as I have watched tigers in the zoo and got to know them in the same way I know my cats.

When I asked the Farm staff questions about the animals they spoke in a quite matter of fact way about the creatures they cared for as individuals. They told me how the animals’ bodies and minds worked, what they liked and what they didn’t like, how they communicated and cared for each other.

I realised that these were things that most visitors to Mudchute Farm did not get to hear about the personalities and sentience of other species  and knew that it was exactly these things that would have fascinated my own children most of all. I have never read anything, especially for children, that explained about animals in ways that were as genuinely interesting as these conversations and which were not sentimental or anthropomorphic.

So I started doing some drawings and collecting information to put together a book about these wonderful creatures.


The drawings are not very exact at all. They are playful and lighthearted. I focus more on the world that the creatures experience rather than talking about different breeds or histories of them. There is excellent factual information on the Mudchute website including links to more detailed work about specific breeds.

I hope that you enjoy the glimpses into the lives of these beautiful beings as much as I discovered learning about them and watching them as I drew.

Special thanks to Margaret Tracey for her dedication to the production of this book funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Also to Farmer Tom for his enthusiasm, his work and patience with my lack understanding about farming (my experience being mainly based on 60 years of listening to The Archers) for sharing his views on eating the meat of animals that were well reared, local and organically fed and listening to my Vegetarian, and increasingly, Vegan perspective.


I have shared my life with lots of non-human sentient beings who were mostly cats but included the very wonderful Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Mrs Parker. It is these friendships well as more environmental and political convictions that have influenced this book.


EnglishHeritageFundLogoI hope that your visits to the oasis which this farm offers to Tower Hamlets will be made a tiny bit more amazing as you read about the Wonderful Creatures of Mudchute Farm.

Penny Wilson 2020


I hadn’t realised until I started doing some research for this post, but almost every world faith has stories about angels. For me, this makes them even more incredible.

They always seem to be supernatural creatures, often having a human shape. I am used to thinking of angels as being a beautiful human with enormous feathered wings, surrounded by a divine light. I am also used to thinking of them as part of the story of the Christmas story where they deliver important messages to Mary, to tell her she is going to give birth to Jesus, and delivering news of the birth of Christ to the shepherds. Almost always in every faith, angels are there to deliver messages from God to Human Beings.

Many faiths also believe in guardian angels, appointed to look after specific people.

I drew a picture of one way of making a paper angel for you this week. I was thinking that this simple papercraft project would make nice decorations and cards and gift tags and something lovely to put on the Christmas tree.

Now that we have entered Tier 4 and we have had to adapt our Christmas plans, the idea of us all sharing angels in our homes is strangely moving. There is a story-like comfort in each of us having an angel to look after us.

Julian of Norwich was a Holy Woman who was born in 1343 and lived in Norwich. The city suffered tremendously from the Black Death and the Peasants Revolt or Great Rising, which was an uprising of the ordinary people in England who were suffering socially and financially from the after effects of the Plague and the fallout from the conflict between England and France. The reason I am mentioning Julian (or Juliana) is that she wrote a lot. One of her most famous prayers finishes like this, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” For me this is a reminder that things might feel rubbish, but there is always something good out there to fix my eyes and thoughts on.

To all of you who celebrate a faith and to those of you who follow your own path, please stay wise and strong. And let’s hope for a peaceful year ahead.

*By the way King Richard 2nd met with Watt Tyler, one of the leaders of the Great Uprising in Mile End and agreed to meet many of their demands. That makes me quite proud to live in this corner of Tower Hamlets.


Originally a pomander was a hollow sphere that had holes punctured in it. Inside the sphere were spices and herbs or ambergris, things which smelled both beautiful and strong. If you were rich, they would be made of gold or silver and they would hang on a chain from your belt, or be made very tiny to fit onto a ring. The idea of course, was to have something to hold beneath your nose or waft delicately around you to keep at bay the smells of sewage and dirt that were all around.

Nowadays, they are most often little china ornaments filled with lavender that you put in clothes drawers to make things smell fresh. But at Christmas they are something else again: an orange with cloves studded all over it in patterns and hanging from a tree or sitting on a shelf, not to keep bad smells away, but to bring beautiful festive scents into your room.

Oranges are fairly affordable now, and you can buy large bags of cloves in lots of our corner shops here in Tower Hamlets for a couple of pounds. This is a lovely thing to make in the darker winters days, the bright colours of oranges is always magical and the smell of the zest and the tang of the cloves combined are a joy. You may end up making some just for the pleasure of it, if so, they make lovely little gifts for neighbours and friends.

Despite everything, enjoy the days.