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Confessions of a spatula killer

March 10, 2020

Speaking of moral choices, of which I’ve done quite a lot lately in the context of how we deal with the coronavirus, I feel rather sorry for Jolyon Maugham.

He’s the barrister who killed a fox in his garden on Boxing Day and tweeted about it. The fox in question was threatening Mr Maugham’s chickens. It got caught up in some netting – the opposite of the Great Escape, you might say. So a man with a formidable reputation for pro-bono work on various causes, most notably the legal challenges against the British government’s high-handed behaviour in trying to deliver Brexit, is now just as widely known as a fox slayer.

Despite the efforts of some enthusiasts within the RSPCA (Britain’s animal welfare charity, which has powers to prosecute) to hang, draw and quarter him, he learned this week that there will be no criminal charges resulting from his action. It seems that he complied with the law when he rapidly dispatched the fox with his baseball bat. Not quite the humane killing of a snarling animal in pain that the RSPCA would have preferred. But swift, effective and legally mandated.

It’s a bit surprising that he had to wait almost three months to discover that there would be no charges against him. The RSPCA did a post-mortem on the animal and determined that it died instantly. It’s hard to understand why it took that long to come to such a conclusion when the Silent Witness team, my favourite TV pathologists, usually manage to unravel the most hideously complex cold cases in a quarter of the time. But I suppose in real life these matters require a hundred emails and the long deliberations of great minds.

Anyway, the moral choice in this case was do you consider the lives of your cherished chickens – presumably the source of an abundance of free-range eggs for your table – more highly than that of a fox doing its utmost to break into the coop and decapitate them? Or do you don a pair of kitchen gloves, grab some wire-cutters and risk catching rabies in order to liberate the fox in full knowledge that it will make further attempts to murder your chickens? Or further, do you wait for hours on a public holiday for the RSPCA to arrive and make the decision for you, knowing that the fox will be in pain throughout the wait?

I’m pretty sure that there would have been farmers across the country cackling with laughter at the thought of city dwellers in such a frenzy of anxiety and anger over Mr Maugham’s moral choice. A farmer would have whipped out the shotgun and bang. Problem solved and nothing said.

The other dimension of the story is the social choice Mr Maugham made by tweeting about it. As a public figure with hundreds of thousands of followers, why did he not realise that his tweet – intended to be ironic – would ignite such a firestorm of fury that he felt the need to withdraw from the social media for weeks? The reaction was so toxic that he even offered to resign from his chambers (the equivalent for a self-employed barrister of leaving his place of work). His offer was not accepted, but it’s an indication of the effect on him of one ill-judged tweet.

All of which goes to show how careful you need to be with your pronouncements on the social media, and how even the wisest and best of us are prone to the occasional disastrous misjudgement. As opposed to the likes of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, who make heinous misjudgements on a daily basis and seem to get away with it. But then they are neither wise nor the best of us.

I, on the other hand, am not well-known, wise or particularly good. Therefore I feel I can confess to a heinous misjudgement without fear that my reputation, such as it is, will be ruined, and my picture splattered all over the tabloids.

What’s the old fool on about, you might ask? It’s this. I am a spatula killer. By which I don’t mean I kill things with spatulas. I kill spatulas. Well, just one actually.

Let me explain. Over the past few years our kitchen has been showing signs of frailty. Every now and again, draws collapse and cabinets fall to pieces. Each time, I, or members of my family, patch the offending bits up with the aid of nails, glue and gaffer tape.

At this point you might ask why we don’t just get a new kitchen. The answer is that if we can fix it, why bother to spend untold thousands on a set of new cabinets that work no better than the ones we replace?

But make-do-and-mend does have its disadvantages, especially when the thing you’re mending shows signs of terminal degradation. When the person doing the mending is also showing signs of degradation (if not terminal), the consequences can be surprising.

As happened the other day. When I pulled out the cutlery draw it collapsed, causing the draws underneath also to collapse like one of those old buildings brought down by a controlled explosion. At which point, in a moment of mindless frustration I grabbed a nearby plastic spatula and smacked it down on the dining room table.

What I wasn’t expecting was that it would break into a several pieces, and that a larger bit would fly into a glass pane in a nearby door, leaving the door with the appearance of having been the victim of vandalism or a drive-by shooting. Or at least I think that’s what happened. I can think of no other reason why a pane of glass should suddenly crack.

I only discovered the damage later, after I had reverted to my usual calm demeanour. Imagine my shame when owning up to the by-product of my senseless act of destruction.

As a result, I’m in the doghouse, not only for my uncharacteristic (honest!) display of temper, but because the cost of replacing the pane of glass is a ridiculous two hundred quid. Then there’s the destruction of a much-loved spatula, which may have been old and bobbly, but served our family in the preparation of countless pans of onions over the past decade. Mea maxima culpa.

Now the spatula wasn’t threatening any chickens, and my behaviour was intemperate, whereas Jo Maugham’s was logical, even if, in some people’s view, draconian. But if I tweeted about what I did the result would be the same, if microcosmic in my case. I would be forever known as a spatula destroyer. In my obituary, my shameful act would feature as prominently as my many achievements.

No doubt Mr Maugham has learned a lesson, although I’m not sure I have since I don’t really care a hoot about my reputation.

There is a postscript to my tale of wanton destruction. We’ve hired a kitchen fitter to replace the offending drawers and shelves, not with new units, but with what are known in the trade as carcasses. This enables us to fit the wooden fronts of the old units to new ones that work fine, thus saving the outrageous cost of some artsy-fartsy “new kitchen”.

But I’m troubled by the unfortunate use of the word carcass. From now onwards, whenever I open a kitchen cabinet or pull out a drawer, I shall be forever be reminded of the intended victims of Mr Maugham’s intruder and of its grisly fate.

Which goes to show how easily unintended consequences can corrode the soul.

From → Social, UK

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