Danger, mouse

How does one prepare for the transition from vegetarianism to meat-eating? By learning to kill vermin.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics
  • Of mice and men

Anybody who thinks animals are great and lovely and cuddly should try having mice in their home. No, not the bright-eyed, white kind that children keep in cages as pets, but the brown ones that turn up uninvited every winter, which scuttle around the kitchen floor at night, eat your food and leave their crap all over the remains.

As a vegetarian, I find dealing with them problematic. Last year my brother found one with its leg caught in a trap we had laid for it. The poor blighter was in terrible agony, and I confess that I felt awful for it. I wanted to put it out of its misery, but had not the bottle, so my brother did the decent thing and put it in a plastic bag and started whacking the bag with an empty clay pot. When he still saw movement, I intervened to help, rather like Joe Pesci does in gangster movies, with extreme violence that actually betrays profound cowardice – my actions may have looked ‘hard’ but all I was doing was hitting a being that was about to expire in a few seconds anyway.

It is not a nice thing to do, but it is not something to be ashamed of. Urban mice are a pest, whose droppings can cause all sorts of diseases. And it is not – remember, kids – as if they are humans. They do not have the same capacity to feel pain as us because their level of sentience is far below ours.

I am rather ashamed of my squeamish attitude towards animals. After all, our own Mick Hume once slaughtered chickens for a living; how pathetic I must appear in comparison. But I intend to make amends. By the time I hit 30 I plan to have given up cigarettes – I have managed to cut out smoking in the day during the week for the past three months; and as a reward I plan to resume eating meat.

Vegetarianism is an idiotic creed for the squeamish, I have concluded. In these times of rampant anthropomorphism and a creeping creed of ‘animal rights’, the case for being carnivore is stronger than ever. Killing mice over the forthcoming weeks shall be my method of mental preparation for this transition.

  • Sit down/shut up

In the news this week is the announcement that Barclaycard has established a programme to establish a football ‘chants laureate’. The new bard, who will be chosen by a panel of five, including Andrew Motion, will rove round football grounds and ‘compose chants’ for special occasions. According to Barclaycard, ‘the laureate will demonstrate their ability to create witty, insightful, rousing, and original chants’.

This is a nonsensical idea which ignores three points: the fact that nearly all popular chants have their tunes stolen from old hymns or pop songs; that their lyrics are often obscene and usually offensive; and that the best chants develop organically and spread mimetically. This ‘laureate idea’ represents an artificial, saccharine, top-down approach to popular chanting that is alien to its whole nature.

Consider some of the terrace favourites. Many are old hymns repackaged, with ‘Amazing Grace’ becoming ‘One nil/one nil/one nil/one nil’ and ‘Songs of Praises’ becoming ‘You’re not singing/You’re not singing/You’re not singing any more’. Others are popular pieces of music from down the ages, with new rude words serving as lyrics, so that Handel’s ‘Messiah’ becomes ‘[Player’s name] is a wanker/is a wanker’, while Jay Livingston and Ray Evans’ 1956 hit ‘Que Sera, Que Sera’ becomes: ‘When I was just a little boy/I asked my mother what shall I be/Shall I be Arsenal, Shall I be Spurs?/He’s what she said to me [chorus] Wash your mouth out son/And get your father’s gun/And shoot some Arsenal scum/Shoot some Arsenal scum’ (as sung by Chelsea, West Ham and Millwall fans).

The most recent pop song to make the transition to the terraces was the Pet Shop Boys’ version of ‘Go West’, which is now usually rendered: ‘You’re shit/and you know you are’. This song itself is a cover of an original by the Village People, which itself owes an enormous debt to Pachelbel’s ‘Canon’.

The problem is that you can’t simply invent football chants from the top down. They always emerge from below, and if they are popular they will spread. At the risk of sounding like a soppy bourgeoisie romantic, they represent an authentic form of working-class culture that is spontaneous, creative and witty. So, just because a ‘laureate’ coins a chant, it by no means ensures that it will be sung at the football grounds of England.

  • Fuming stupid

Smoking is a stupid and disgusting habit, yes, but those who want it banned altogether are a pretty revolting lot, too.

Having read on Tuesday morning that the leaders from 13 royal colleges of medicine have urged a total ban on smoking in public places, I turned on the radio to hear some medical expert or other lend his support to the motion. ‘Any country that calls itself civilised would surely support this move’, he intoned. Why is it that this expression is always uttered by those who want to ban things? Any campaigns to increase censorship, ban foxhunting or take away the right of law-abiding citizens to carry guns always seem prefaced by a meaningless ramble about the need to be ‘civilised’, with the inference that opponents are drooling barbarians waving spiked clubs and decked out in blue face paint – we advocates of death, cruelty and misery.

What’s so civilised about this cowardly compulsion to forbid and to chastise? Beware arguments done in the name of ‘civilisation’. The same goes for those that begin: ‘In the twenty-first century, surely….’

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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