Terence Blacker: Tread softly, talk little, take no chances - the enemy is nigh

'I will go nowhere without two well-inflated footballs and a shopping bag I've adapted into a gas mask'
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The Independent Online

Sad to report, I have been caught bang to rights by an e-mail correspondent from America, Mr Scott McRae. I am, apparently, so snivelling, effete and condescending that I have actually made Mr McRae appreciate American liberals. His aunt used to say that "all the Englishmen with balls must have been killed in the two world wars". I had proved confirmation of her opinion.

Quite what prompted this intimate appraisal of my anatomy was not clear, but I have to admit that there is a certain amount of truth there. Right now, I do feel oddly effete and snivelling. If I could achieve some form of testicular retraction, like certain male animals do when under attack, I would probably do so.

After all, there's a war on. The briefest glance at the press reveals that we have been complacent for too long. The enemy is all around us. Just because the enemy is not a country, has no army or airforce, is numerically small, and is opposed by virtually every nation in the world, there is no reason for us to let our guard down. The very fact that our enemy is nowhere also means, in a dangerous, paradoxical sense, that it is everywhere.

Read your newspapers if you don't believe me. Yesterday, one of them listed the many diseases with which the enemy may be attacking us. That first sniffle of winter may not be a cold but the first symptom of ebola or the plague. A cold sore on the lip might be smallpox. If you are particularly unlucky, you might come down with Venezuelan equine encephalitis, a disease that affects horses in South America but which the enemy is believed to have adapted to its evil purposes.

Danger is in the very air that we breathe. No wonder our citizens are scurrying down to the nearest army surplus store to join the queue for gas masks. And who could be surprised that this great nation of do-it-yourself experts is finding new ways of stocking up on fresh air? Some are buying up balloons. Others are cleverly adapting bin liners. It is rumoured that there has been a run on the blow-up dolls available from local sex shops. Personally, I will go nowhere these days without a couple of well-inflated footballs, a piece of plastic tubing and a Safeway shopping bag that I have adapted into a gas mask.

A few misguided souls believe that they can escape from danger by running away from built-up areas. This is a disastrous mistake. The enemy has been particularly active within the quiet of the countryside.

Why else have plants and trees been growing at an unusually fast rate this year? War experts believe that the very ecosystem of our green and pleasant land has been corrupted to deadly effect by the enemy. The proliferation of leylandii and buddleia within towns and suburbs has given particular concern.

The scoffers and appeasers blame the unusual weather we have had this year. Poor, innocent fools! Have they no idea that, in this age of military sophistication, weather manipulation is an essential weapon of war, cunningly used by the enemy to befuddle and demoralise the civilian population and accelerate the proliferation of dangerous foliage?

Not that we should panic. Those nearest to nature should take simple, basic precautions to protect themselves. Never lie on the grass. Stay away from trees. Steer clear of florists – those flowers you give your girlfriend could be the last present that she ever receives.

The question of dealing with animals is trickier. Pundits of modern warfare have pointed to the fact that creatures of the wild and the farm have been behaving oddly recently: foxes are openly contemptuous of us, pigs are disobedient, sheep have become startlingly independent-minded. On a small scale, lepidopterists have reported that certain species of butterfly – painted lady, red admiral, even the comma – have seemed almost to welcome human approaches, as if strangely eager to leave their pollen on human skin.

It would be too alarmist to declare war on the entire animal kingdom. On the other hand, we should all be aware of the enemy within. Pets have ears. No owner of a domestic animal should be too casual in discussing the current crisis within earshot of a cat, dog, horse or gerbil.

Yet life must continue, even while we are on a war footing, and this column will be in the forefront for those in the media warning of possible dangers all around us. Obviously, we should avoid using computers or mobile phones wherever possible: we need to be sharp, with our cranial facilities unimpaired, for the struggle ahead. It would be wise to avoid going to the dentist for now: it is well known that fillings can be used by the enemy to tune into our brain patterns. We should steer clear of health-food shops, an obvious target of nutritional infiltration, yet eat lots of carrots. They help you see in the dark.

Mr McRae and his aunt, no doubt, will identify these sensible measures of self-protection as further indicators of our national lack of balls. That is their problem. The enemy is all around, but we are prepared.