I write in measured response to the full-page opinion piece in Wednesday’s Daily Mail by pet columnist and sketch writer Quentin Letts, which was so important it was advertised in a colourful banner running across the front of the paper: WHY I HATE SQUIRRELS! it blared, next to a sweet cut-out of a grey squirrel. WATCH OUT, TUFTY, QUENTIN LETTS IS GUNNING FOR YOU Page 23. Well, it certainly caught my attention. The piece is here if you wish to read it for yourself, but I shall precis.

Quentin Letts is up in arms. He’s fucking furious. Either that, or he had a column to write to fulfil the word count he’s contracted to supply, and reasoned that he could whip up a souffle of paranoia and hate out of very little and just went for it. Either way, it all started when his seven-year-old daughter, Honor, spotted a grey squirrel in a nearby garden, bent down to stroke it and was bitten on her right thumb (“with a hiss and a swipe of claw and a baring of fang”). I suspect this happened a while ago, but it gave a nice personal “in” to the more topical news that a Staffordshire window cleaner, Raymond Elliot, 58, has been fined £1,547 for drowning a squirrel who persistently ate from his bird feeder.

This drowning (“a matter of a few seconds and far less cruel than poisoning or snaring” adds Letts) was spotted by a neighbour, who “squealed to the RSPCA”. He was prosecuted under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act. First – and we will hear from Letts a long list of the squirrel’s crimes – Mr Elliot seems to have drowned his nemesis for eating from bird feeders which he had put out in his garden. This rather paints a picture of an animal lover. Love birds, love animals. But unless this story is being distorted in reporting, he seems confused. Squirrels and birds cannot read. They do not care for the artificial distinctions we might self-flatteringly make about which food is for birds and which food is for mammals. They live in the wild. They see food, they eat it.

A squirrel would eat the seeds I put out for the birds if I didn’t have the feeders suspended in squirrel-proof cages, which allow smaller birds in, but keep larger mammals out. I hang out a peanut feeder without a cage which is open to all, including squirrels. The squirrels are almost always skilfully hanging from the bracket with their dainty feet, gnawing away at the nuts behind the wire mesh. Now, this is me artificially keeping the squirrels away from the bird food. I’m part of the illusion. But if a squirrel did manage to cleverly get inside the cage and eat the “birds’ food”, I would not drown him or her in a bucket. He will have done nothing wrong, for he is a wild animal. This is why, if I had a seven-year-old daughter, I would explain to her that squirrels are not pets, and may react badly if a hand is extended to stroke them. Quentin Letts is clearly a bad parent.

He blames those who take the animal’s side in any squirrel-versus-window-cleaner dispute for carrying around with them “Disneyfied notions of an anthropomorphised animal kingdom where every little furry thing has a name and a benign character.” Ironically, it is Letts who had allowed this sort of notion to be adopted by his daughter. And then he gets pissed off when nature rears up and bites him on the arse. (By the way, he later confesses to not taking his daughter in for a tetanus shot, which might have been wise, as the wound healed up cleanly in a week. He needs to make up his mind: are they diseased vermin or not?)

As efficiently and predictably as anyone who conveniently and subjectively divides the natural world up into “good animals” and “bad animals” loudly dismisses pigeons as “rats with wings”, Letts brands Squirrels “vicious tree rats.”I agree with him that squirrels are not “cutesy toys with the sort of feminised American accents and Tufty outfits you so often find on children’s television.” (Although I’m not sure why feminising is such an offence. Some squirrels are feminine.) I like squirrels because they are wild mammals, and living nearby. I feel privileged to be able to watch them from my window. Quentin Letts does not share my delight.

In fact, he uses the ire he has worked up about his daughter and the window cleaner to lay into the RSPCA, which, when it was founded 40 years ago, “was a much-needed voice of mercy on animal matters.” He illustrates his point by way of pit ponies and animals in tiny cages in zoos, which he graciously concedes were bad things.

“There was,” he recalls, nostalgically, “a brisk, slightly manly practicality to the RSPCA in those days.” That’s gone now, of course, along with all the other manly things that used to be around in the prelapsarian period that all Daily Mail writers hanker after, and old maids cycling home from Evensong and the thwack of leather on willow, and no benefits system or queue-jumping gypsies. “Today, sadly, it seems to be losing touch with common sense and is pursuing animal rights with a furious logic that seems to have more to do with vexatious litigiousness and a big-sister view of social engineering rather than balanced, public interest charity work.”

Yes, that’s right, the RSPCA are as bad as the recycling police, poking their noses in where they’re not wanted ie. Quentin’s garden. Like the RSPCA, “modern Britain” has “fallen prey” to “soppy-mindedness”. He cleverly puts speech marks around the word “rights” in “animal rights.” Even though he concedes that pit ponies had rights, not every other creature, it seems, does. Animal “rights”, he bemoans, have become “a vehicle for shrill, politically minded, urban activists – often with nose studs and purple hairdos and a problem with tolerance.” Nice one! If in doubt, cast activists as having purple hair. Because I’ve certainly never seen one without a purple hairdo. Still, at least Quentin Letts hasn’t got a problem with tolerance. He’ll tolerate anything that doesn’t inconvenience him.

Letts blames Beatrix Potter for making us think squirrels were nice. Although he does admit to getting the first stirrings of an erection to the bit in the tale of Squirrel Nutkin (PROPAGANDA!) where he “nearly lost his life to an owl.” And guess what, Letts likes the red squirrel more than the grey squirrel, whose crime is to be scruffier and being immune to a virus that affects the red. I won’t go down this road again, for fear of stirring up any more trouble with angry Word readers, but it underlines the fact that Quentin Letts has divided up the animal kingdom into those that he approves of, and those that he doesn’t. The latter group must face his wrath. (He gets quite hard when describing the way his neighbour’s spade came down on the thumb-biting grey squirrel. The man “brought it whooshing towards the ground with the swing of an expert golfer – ‘Fore!'” He didn’t do it, you understand. His neighbour did. But he watched. And squealed with glee at the way an animal going about its natural business was flattened. Let’s hope he brought his daughter to the slaughter, to teach her an important lesson about murder.)

Letts works himself up into a righteous fury at the way some softies think “life were one big episode of Watership Down.” As I recall, Watership Down was all about threat and peril, and was full of violence, but hey, why check something when you’re on a roll. Squirrels, he froths, are “a destructive menace. They wreck saplings and take birds’ eggs. The decline of the nightingale and song thrush can probably be attributed in part to squirrels.” Yes, and to over-farming and pesticide and herbicide use and pollution, which the squirrels can’t really be blamed for. Still, nice use of “probably” and “in part.” Any other caveats?

“These creatures are not innocent vegetarians, nibbling away at the grass. They are more likely to be found digging holes in your lawn while eyeing up the nearest tit’s nest.” Yes, you’re right. But remember when you forgot to tell your daughter that wild animals were not pets? If the neighbour’s cat had bitten her thumb, which it might have done had she lunged at it, would Quentin have invited the spade-wielding neighbour over the fence again? I suspect not. He likes pets, as they have been given names, because he is as guilty as the nose-stud brigade of Disneyfying animals.

“When our Patterdale terriers chase after squirrels, I certainly cheer them on every inch of the way.” Uh oh … the Hunting Act’s coming up. I can’t believe he hasn’t worked in recycling bins yet. Come on, there are a couple of paragraphs to go. To sum up: “This interference in petty domestic matters is often driven by single- issue fanatics, invariably employed by animal rights charities or living off state benefits.” Take that! Because if they like squirrels they’re probably lazy and feckless. “They resent the freedoms of the countryside and even of the private garden. They really do want to run our lives.”

Quick! Under the bed! Someone from the town is at the door! He has purple hair and a nose stud and likes animals. *starts gramophone record of Land Of Hope And Glory* “The time has surely come that we realise the damage being done to our society by the babyish caricature of wild animals as breathing cuddly toys. They are creatures, wild in tooth and claw, and must be treated as such.” So watch out, Tufty! A small man with glasses who was “probably” sent away to school by his beastly parents and was, “in part”, bullied, is out to get you, except he probably won’t actually do anything about getting you, just shake his little fist at you and call you a rat, and then run away and hide until his brisk, manly neighbour comes round with a bucket.

I don’t hate Quentin Letts, as hating just makes you a hater, but I do question his sincerity, and the coherence of this jumble of disparate arguments loosely themed around the countryside and animal activism and the nanny state. In a way I admire these thundering columnists and their ability to reassemble the same basic piece of invective in a different order, week in, week out. I wouldn’t have the energy. I am too busy watching birds and squirrels and foxes muddling along in our cities, which we built, and in the main, by and large, as a general rule, not biting babies on the face or badly drilled children on the thumb. I’m not an animal activist, but when a squirrel manages to type up a column that does as much damage to other squirrels as this kind of flimsy, button-pushing, scaremongering tripe, I’ll fetch the shovel and take it out of the food chain, as it just ain’t natural.


35 thoughts on “WHY I HATE QUENTIN LETTS!

  1. Did you really expect anything less from the Daily Fail?

    Great blog btw.

    “life were one big episode of Watership Down.”

  2. Ha, very good, nice piece AC. I reckon there’s no point or even need to read Private Eye any more, when the Mail publish stuff like this and think that it’s real journalism, and to be taken seriously. You couldn’t make it up!

  3. Excuse me, but you have wonderous views of squirrels and birds which you don’t seem to have uploaded to YouTube or ANYTHING.

    For //shame// Mr C!

    Anyhow… I agree, wholeheartedly.

  4. Sounds like Honor Letts was tresspassing on private property. She ought to be careful. The owners might drown her in a bucket the next time she decides to molesting wildlife.

  5. An excellent post.

    Regarding Honor Letts’ tale of squirrel woe: My uncle works for the North York Moors national park. One day, a haughty middle-aged woman stomped into their office to remonstrate with them. “Excuse me, one of YOUR adders has bitten my grandson!” she said, with some indignation. The office staff replied, “Oh, we are sorry to hear that, madam. What was he doing to the adder to make it bite him?”

    “Well, he was swinging it round his head by the tail, when…”

    I just hope Quentin Letts doesn’t read this comment. Adders are already scarce enough without having him get wind of the fact that they sometimes bite people, and writing an article imploring good citizens to stamp on them.

  6. I couldn’t agree more, but I certainly couldn’t express it as well. Have you ever seen a red squirrel? I have only a couple of times, once in Northumberland and once in France.

    My only quibble is that the RSPCA is much more than 40 years old – don’t know if that was your mistake or Letts’s. Wikipedia says it was founded in 1824, and became “Royal” in 1840. Even 40 years ago there weren’t many pit ponies.

  7. Brilliant as always. I am about to contact the RSPCA regarding Mr Letts article. Anyway congratulations on writing a brilliant retort to one of the worst pieces of journalism I have ever read.

  8. Don’t worry Andrew, Mother Nature will sort Quentin Letts out. He’s probably already got a couple of juicy stomach ulcers and chronic hypertension. Squirrels don’t get those.

  9. I worry about the press and news more and more nowadays. Its all going to end in tears.

    And this bloke is a cock.

    (Just voted 20 times for Frank Chickens).

  10. Oh dear Mail, or should I say Paranoia daily. What a ridiculous article and totally needless, why do we need to know what his jumped up opinion is? As a keen lover of nature and someone who has 3 cats myself (almost said cat owner there!) whatever happened to humans being equal with all the other animals of the world, we are animals too and not above anything else. In fact we are the low of the low…..any being that decides to shut off from it’s natural instincts is nota clever species at all……..yes Mr Letts I’m talking to you! Who is worse, Letts or Gaunt….there’s only one way to find out……

  11. Some years ago, Charlie Brooker published a book to go with his wonderful website “TV Go Home”. One of the highlights there was a fake reality show called “Daily Mail Island” in which the premise was that the people marooned on this island would only have the Daily Mail as their contact with the outside world. You can probably guess how most of it went.

    It becomes less and less funny by the day. As with The Day Today which now merely looks like an actual recording of a modern 24-hr news channel.

  12. You may not hate him Andrew, but I’m happy to hate him twice as much for the both of us. I will enjoy it.

    I can’t sum up his stupidity any better than you already have. So I will simply call him a cunt, as he is one of those people for whom the word is richly deserved.

    Great blog post!

  13. I don’t hate Quentin Letts

    Anyone who says that clearly hasn’t read enough of his “journalism”. Give it time. Or even better; if you don’t want to hate him, give his articles a wide berth from now on.

  14. I wonder if the Mail wold have as much sympathy for Gary, if he wasn’t british or from another ethnic background.I’m sure their tone would be different. In any case he should have been let off long ago.

  15. What an obnoxious man and an even worse paper. Nice work Andrew, an excellent piece of writing, A* for that one!

  16. Just wanted to point out that you’ve FOR FREE written a 1,850 word review, of Quentin Letts 1,300 word article, that he was paid for. ?

    • I just want to point out that everything I wrote on this blog is written FOR FREE. So the joke’s on me, right?

  17. Letts is a tit but why are you being suckered into the The Daily Heil argument.

    Eveyone sensible person knows you cannot take that paper seriously.

    • For as long as hundreds of thousands of potentially sensible people buy the Daily Mail, I cannot enjoy your utopian vision, Dara, that the paper’s worst excesses can be dismissed. Most of it passes me by, or makes me smile, but this column annoyed me. So I wrote about it. I don’t feel “suckered.”

  18. Excellent blog. Anyone who condones the harm of animals of ANY species, regardless of their natural habits, is a complete c**t (pardon the French) in my opinion. He actually stood there and watched his neighbour flatten a squirrel with a shovel? What a heartless idiot >:-(

  19. I’ve just come across this, completely by chance, and I’d just like to say what a well-written piece it is. Quentin Letts is indeed a complete knob yet it saddens me that many people probably share his opinions. He’s a perfect example of my considered opinion that when mother nature allowed humans to evolve she completely shot herself in the foot.

  20. I hate quentin Letts. I used to enjoy This Week until he started doing his ‘I’m Lord of the Manor looking down on the working class in my ironic, charming and jokey semi serious way’. This man spouts drivel that makes the rest of the Daily Mail read like an astrophysics phd thesis. I hope he gets bitten by a squirrel and contracts rabies (then maybe he’d make more sense).

  21. The funny thing about Lett’s “50 people that buggered up Britain” is that he should be king, right in the top spot. The man is a racist, misogynistic pig, who pretends to stand up for everything British, but is in fact a complete pillock. Letts is stuck so far up his own arse that he doesn’t have a clue what life is really like anymore. Just yesterday, I caught him bleating on in his articles on the Daily Mail sarcastically that rap isn’t really music, that ‘black society and culture’ will destroy the English language. Of course, he doesn’t actually say these things outright. He would get arrested. No, instead he spends his life on dictionary.com, looking up unnecessarily long and perverse words to integrate into his sentences so that your ‘average Joe’ doesn’t have a clue what is actually being said. I admire true intellect, but Letts demonstrates nothing of the sort. He is a name-dropping pedant who uses and abuses fanciful English to appear intelligent when his points are actually far more moronic than the so-called ‘stupid people’ that he mocks. The fundamental problem is that that as long as stupid racist people without the mental capacity to form their own opinions read the Daily Mail, Letts will continue to get the support he gets. He is the al-Quaeda of the Daily Mail and he’s proud of it. Quentin Letts makes me ashamed to be British.

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