Magazine article The Spectator

The Animal Protection Racket

Magazine article The Spectator

The Animal Protection Racket

Article excerpt

I'M standing in the middle of Auschwitz trying to stifle a contemptuous yawn. Ahead of me I can see rows of sinister sheds protected by high steel fences and bales of viciouslooking razor wire. Within these anonymous units, so I'm told, unspeakable horrors are being perpetrated. But I couldn't care less. My only concern is for my poor aching arms. I'm holding a huge cumbersome 'H' three planks of chipboard nailed together and my fellow protesters spell out the rest of our message 'Animal Auschwitz'. There are hundreds of other demonstrators milling around, fervently chanting 'Close it down! Close it down!' Mounted police prevent us from attacking the compound. Half heartedly I join in our lugubrious refrain but I keep glancing enviously at the girl holding the `I'. It looks light as a feather. Why didn't I get the 'I'? I mope inwardly. Trust me to get the 'H'. Then again, at least I didn't get the 'W'. That looks a real handful.

I'm outside a scientific research lab in Huntingdonshire, having penetrated an animal-rights group on the south coast. It wasn't hard. I turned up to a couple of meetings disguised as a useless layabout and in no time at all I was part of the gang. We mustered at dawn near Brighton Pavilion and drove for five hours to reach the demo by midday. During the journey I read their monthly newsletter. Amid the appeals for donations and reports of guinea-pig farms being picketed, there were the familiar ghoulish images of animals in distress: doomed beagles in steel cages, a cat festooned with electrodes like some hellish Christmas decoration, gibbons with their skulls lopped off and their shiny, slimegreen brains exposed like soft-boiled eggs.

As we drove north I chatted to the others. Diet is an overwhelming preoccupation among the animal brotherhood. It provides an excuse for self-fascination, and it drives conversational exchanges. It's a focus for people with empty lives - like having a chronic illness, and you don't even have to die. The chap next to me offered me his organic pick 'n' mix and asked me if I was veggie or vegan. I told him I hadn't eaten anything with a face for a decade. 'Yeah, I'm about three-quarters vegan,' he said, 'and a quarter veggie. So I haven't quite gone the whole hog.' I wish I'd made that up but he actually said it.

Though I'm predisposed to mock them, I harbour a sneaking admiration for the animal guerrillas. I appreciate their heroic impatience, their demand for instant change - direct action rather than vapid discourse - and the fact that they get results. My only qualm concerns the animals themselves. I can't bear animals. The damn things keep biting me - not just bedbugs and mosquitoes; I'm regularly savaged by frisky household mongrels, usually acting on the words, 'He's very friendly'. And there was a wild monkey I once met which thought it would be interesting to take a chunk out of my neck.

As we approach the site we pass rows of police vans parked discreetly up country lanes. 'This is it. I can feel the adrenalin running,' says the navigator, who is dressed, as we all are, in dark green and black. He wears a military cap. I wonder aloud what the plan is if we break into the compound. 'Up to you. Security's quite pathetic, really, so just do whatever.' I ask if he intends to release any animals. 'Not me, personally, no.' Just as well, I think to myself. After all, I'm not sure how a gibbon would fare roaming the Fens with the top of its skull missing. On the other hand, the species is highly adaptable. It might blend into the local community quite readily and, who knows, perhaps get a job at KFC where the staff baseball caps are designed to camou flage minor irregularities like a mislaid cranium.

We pile off the battlebus and are immediately searched by friendly, welltrained policemen. They pat down our greasy jeans looking for `sharps' (knives) and bolt-cutters. They ask for our details and we give them fictional names and pseudo-addresses. …

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