It took four days to actually see the pine marten in the flesh. We caught it on a trail cam on night two of our holiday as it scampered in an agreeably gamine manner for the food we’d left out. It ate better than us that week. By night three it had a choice of eggs (its favourite), peanut butter sandwiches and chopped-up frankfurters. All it needed was a nicely chilled Chablis. We sat in the dark for hours, waiting, until my wife said: ‘Fuck the malodorous little bastard, let’s watch TV.’ She is not much of one for wildlife really. And then it appeared, up on its hind legs crunching its way through the shell of an egg, tipping the yolk down its throat. Pale golden chest, long bushy tail, perky, impish face — we’d got our man.
The creatures have long since been exterminated from England by the idiot gamekeepers, but still hold out in the north and west of Scotland, where we were staying. There are plans to reintroduce them south of the border, perhaps in Northumberland or the North York moors, if the grouse lobby can be quietened. There is also a programme of reintroduction in Wales, but if I were a pine marten, I’d tell them to stuff it. They’d almost certainly be forced to learn Welsh and charged with a hate crime if they demurred; harassed and vilified by the various dimbo, chippy and gossamer-skinned mayors and mayoresses of Toytown who somehow have been allowed to run the place. People with ‘Ap’ in their names who you pay for through your taxes. Stay east of Offa’s Dyke, if you know what’s good for you, pine martens. Leave Wales to your less photogenic, foul-smelling cousins, the polecats.
I had a taste of what the pine martens might expect a week or so back. I made a joke about the Welsh language, lightly suggesting that it was largely devoid of vowels — neither an original nor terribly wounding observation, I would have thought. Oh, and I also mentioned that the Severn Bridge connected their rain-sodden valleys with the first world.
It was a joke. But ooh, the Welsh went bananas. Except that it wasn’t the Welsh, of course, but the tuppenny panjandrums, largely from within Plaid Cymru, who preside over them. Screaming ‘Hate crime! Hate crime!’
It started with a dunderhead called Arfon Jones, who is the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner. First he tried to get me prosecuted (and failed), then petitioned the Independent Press Standards Office, which cheerfully refused to entertain his complaint. ‘Morally repugnant’ was Arfon’s verdict on me. In what possible sense, you halfwit? Then the rest of them piled in, with demands for the matter to be debated in Parliament or the National Assembly of Wales, with one bloke wondering what ‘legal redress’ Wales might have. None, you imbecile. It was a joke.
Another Plaid member with ‘Ap’ in his name, who couldn’t cut it as a national journalist, deplored the declining standards of the Sunday Times, where my piece had appeared. The best stuff, though, came from the guardians of the Welsh language, such as Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (which means ‘the little saucepan is bubbling on the stove, look you’, I think). Robin Farrar, the group’s general secretary, said: ‘Discrimination against the Welsh language is completely unacceptable. Attacks like this are symptomatic of a colonial attitude that should belong in the far distant past.’
Robin’s contribution made me shake with mirth, but he was outdone by the Welsh Language Commissioner, Meri Huws. I shall reproduce her wonderful piece of doublethink and hysteria in full: ‘While it is important that we respect freedom of expression on different topics, the increase in the offensive comments about Wales, the Welsh language and its speakers is a cause for concern. Over recent months we have seen a number of situations where people have been insulted — and this is totally unacceptable. A few months ago, I joined with others to declare that action is needed to stop these comments, and stated that legislation is needed to protect rights and to prevent language hate. I will now call a meeting with interested individuals and groups to discuss the matter further and think of ways to move the agenda forward.’
So in other words, it isn’t remotely important that we should respect freedom of expression — it is, instead, vital that we stop it. I do hope Meri invites me to her fatuous meeting with those ‘interested people’. Language hate, indeed. Making a joke about vowels? Are you sure you’re all right in the head, love?
But the point is an important one. If you have doubted that restrictions upon freedom of speech are tightening by the day, just examine this little furore. Grown men and women demanding that the police and the government must take action because someone made a short joke about vowels and the usual hundred or so on Twitter are baying for blood: people determined to be victims, revelling in the warm outrage that victimhood brings them, devoid of a sense of proportion and antagonistic to the very idea of freedom of speech, themselves filled with an implacable hatred of anyone who might dare to give them offence or disagree with their point of view. That’s where the real hatred is. There was none at all in my little squib — hell, I quite like Wales and the Welsh and certainly prefer the place to most southern English counties. And yet as a result of this little spat I will now feel it incumbent to make a joke about Wales in every column I write, which might get boring for the readers.
But still, if making a joke about vowels can be considered a hate crime, or hate speech, or hate language, then I would suggest that pretty much anything can. Be careful what you say out there.