When I made a joke about ragwort being like Islamic extremism, I expected someone to write in. I was fully braced for a complaint from a sympathiser of Islamic fundamentalism, saying look here, Missy, comparing our noble struggle to an invasive weed is beyond a joke.
However, the modern world has surpassed my expectations and I have, in fact, had a complaint from a sympathiser of ragwort accusing me of hate speech against another species. The tenor of his complaint is broadly: how very dare I compare ragwort to Islamic extremism, because this is inflammatory and likely to incite hatred towards ragwort.
I don’t think he’s joking. The charges against me are all set out in a very long, serious letter of complaint written in bullet points with salient quotes in italics, very much like a submission to a war crimes tribunal. The bones of his complaint (that’s a turn of phrase or idiom, sir. No need to write in again to say: ‘How dare she compare my complaint to bones!’ or perhaps ‘How dare she compare bones to my complaint!’) are as follows, and I quote:
Hate speech against other species
a) The use of prejudicial language — ‘infested’.
b) Implying that common ragwort is non-native.
c) The article is illustrated with a picture of Oxford ragwort, a non-native species, but not the species in question.
d) ‘You might say fewer moths is all well and good, seeing as you’re killing the darn things by the dozen with sprays to stop them eating your best outfits.’ None of the above species has ever eaten a thread of anyone’s outfit, so this is a dog-whistle for moth-hating.
e) Comparing ragwort to Islamic fundamentalism — ‘pulling up every last stalk of ragwort/Islamic fundamentalism’.
It’s good, isn’t it? I don’t think I did imply ragwort was non-native, but still, the idea that I’ve incited racism against a plant is pretty special. Moth-hating. Is that a thing now? As for saying that a piece of land is infested when it’s infested, what else do you want me to say? What if a wound were infested? Would you say no, it’s not, that’s prejudicial?
Most of all, what I want to know is, can anyone out there top this? Has anyone been accused of anything more ridiculous, because I want to hear from you if you have.
At the end of his complaint, he admits: ‘There is no law against abuse of wildlife in print media.’ Oh, ya think? But he says he finds it all very ‘unfair’. Well, everything’s unfair, sonny. Didn’t your mother tell you that?
It’s unfair that you feel compelled to write letters about me hurting the feelings of ragwort and it’s unfair that I have to sit here getting drawn into the dark depths of the tortured soul of human overachievement and the predicament of a civilisation nearing the end of days when all battles worth fighting have been fought and the professional well-meaners are left only with the pressing question of the rights of a toxic stalk.
The ragwort champion writes a blog about bugs. I don’t mind bugs. I get it that we need insects. But I’ve seen those ‘bug hotels’ at railway stations. I fear the bug enthusiasts. Anyone who carves an intricate little artificial house for bugs scares the buggery out of me.
Bugs live in ragwort. Keep up. The man is hopping mad that I’ve threatened his creepy-crawlies — that’s a jokey turn of phrase, sir, please don’t panic. I’m not implying anything other than the fact that insects creep and crawl. I’m sorry, but they do. It doesn’t mean I want to round them all up, confiscate their passports and have them deported.
Of course, you could argue that a sensible, compassionate citizen should not want to denigrate the struggle of human minority groups by likening their persecution to the problems faced by a toxic weed trying to ward off comments by a columnist who doesn’t like that this weed gives her a rash when she pulls it from her field to stop it killing her horses.
But I think it’s ultimately a good news story. I thought it was quite promising when a vet rang in earlier this year to accuse me of a hate crime against vets because I made a joke about vets. You know, for entertainment purposes, I made a few gags on the theme of vets being expensive and a vet phoned the switchboard and screamed his head off about prejudice.
But this latest complaint is even more convincing. That a human being finds he has the emotional energy left at the end of his busy day to write a cri de coeur on behalf of ragwort means our work here on this planet is done.