Just how divorced is the modern child from the real environment?
Most of the children I know appear to spend the bulk of their waking hours tapping away in front of a screen playing a series of increasingly realistic and graphic computer games in which they are invited to blow the heads off passers-by or disembowel enemies with a samurai sword. But ask them to come out to shoot a pigeon for supper or help with gutting a rabbit and they suddenly come over all squeamish. Odd.
Yet it was with that thought in mind that I removed from a stack of books on farming currently littering the office floor a worthy tome on moles and their control.
The books will hopefully end up at a nearby school where they will perhaps encourage the country men and women of tomorrow but – bearing in mind their obvious sensitivities – the one on the family Talpidae might have proved too much.
Beautifully illustrated and coherently written, it devotes many pages to the fascinating natural history of the mole and its many relatives. But the real core of the book – published as recently as 1980 – comes in the shape of methods to locate, trap, gas and poison the little blighters. It also has precise instructions and diagrams on how to skin them and how you should negotiate terms with your furrier. Are there really folk out there still making a living in such a way?
The volume, however, may soon be in great demand. Moles, it seems, are this autumn making a big comeback.
Gardeners may have had a miserable year what with wind, rain and fruit withering on the vine but this particular rodent has been having a rare old time, having enjoyed ideal breeding conditions earlier on with plenty of worms to eat throughout and now they're on the move looking for mates. The result has been strings of molehills on lawns and veg plots across the nation.
Personally, I welcome the little mounds of soil they leave behind – the ready sifted earth is ideal for both pot plants and the lazy amateur horticulturalist alike – but many are fuming and while it is perfectly legal to kill pests the RSPCA has already warned against causing unnecessary suffering in dealing with the plague. Rather than risk breaking the law, they say, use professional controllers.
I've yet to hear from my gardening chums whether they are yet affected but if I am they almost certainly will be soon and it will be intriguing to hear the measures they will use. In the past, these have included everything from shotguns to the imaginative application of Jeyes Fluid and at least one will come up with something even more bloodthirsty this time round.
But whatever it is will be a symptom of the selective sentimentality that clearly affects grown-ups as much as it does those youngsters with their games of death and destruction.
Orwell's Animal Farm had its chants of "Four legs good, two legs bad" but our feelings are far more complicated. Funny how my friends will bask in the glory of killing a handful of moles but stare sadly into their beer glasses when talking of the decline of the hedgehog. Or how others weep at the loss on an entire species of bat, say, but do all they can to expunge forever that green mould on their shower curtains.
Wider still, there is the irony of people eager to protect the badger but spare not a single thought for the thousands of otherwise healthy cattle slaughtered each year due to TB. And how many of those who get proper vexed at the thought of fox hunting would think twice before calling in the men with poison if rats were found in little Tabitha's nursery?
Worst of all are those – you and me included, I suspect – who quickly turn the pages of a newspaper carrying stories of starving millions in Africa but go all gooey at the plight of Pinky the puppy down at the pet rescue centre who's looking for a new home.
All very complex. Perhaps the kids on computers have got it right after all.
The real world is far too nasty and morals are far too convoluted so let's just carry on blowing up the two dimensional baddies... and, perhaps, leave the moles alone?