Florence Nightingale’s owl

There were two moreporks in the tree outside our kitchen window last night. Moreporks, for the uninitiated, are small, very owl-shaped New Zealand owls, with a distinctive call that sounds like someone calling out “More pork!”. I think we have them back in Australia too, but they must have an accent, because they’re called Mopokes or Boobooks.
Anyway they are rarely seen. We saw one close up the first day we came to inspect the house, and decided that an owl paying a visit was a sign, so we moved in. Never saw the little blighter again, until the other night, although he calls out often. Now he has a friend. They are as owl-like as each other. They were sitting on the branch, deep in conversation.

Florence Nightingale had an owl called Athena, which she carried around in her dressing gown pocket. She would perch on Flo’s finger for treats, and make a bow and curtsey on the table. She must have been a Little Owl: Athene noctua.
Athena had been rescued from some naughty boys at the Acropolis, where the great carved stone owl of the original Athena perches (she’s now outside the museum – I loved that owl, and scoured Athens’ shops until I found a little replica to bring home).
When Florence left for Constantinople to nurse soldiers during the Crimean War, Athena got left behind in the attic. She died not longer after, they said, of heartbreak.
But that’s not the end of Athena’s fame. Last year she was rediscovered in a collection of Flo memorabilia (Floriana?) which was about to be sold off.
People fell in love with poor, stuffed Athena, and a campaign sprang up to raise the money to buy her. That gorgeous man from the Antiques Roadshow, ceramics expert Henry Sandon, had a special fundraising porcelain piece made for the Save Athena Fund: needless to say, it was a statue of the Lady With the Lamp.

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