The Third Leader: Something of the night

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The Independent Online

Calls, we hear, to be less beastly to the bat, claimed by chiropteraphiles as the most misunderstood creature in Britain, rather than a thing of the night that haunts dark places and, when it is not crouched eerily still, utters blood-curdling screeches, bears a spooky resemblance to Christopher Lee, and will have an armful of your said curdled stuff as soon as swoop on you.

Perhaps I exaggerate. On the other hand, or disturbing leathery membrane, I should have thought that there were stronger contenders for the most misunderstood creature in Britain. Many people, for example, found it impossible to follow a word of what the last deputy prime minister was saying. And clearly not everyone can be right about the current prime minister. And then there's Sir Ming. We should also mention, of course, the Teenager.

Nevertheless, those going into bat for the bat have a point. While not nearly as problematic a cohabitee as the squirrel, badger, fox or gull, it is the victim of those worst of prejudices, looksism and cuddlyism, aided by writers indulging lazy stereotypes – thank you, Mr W Shakespeare ( Macbeth, The Tempest) – or seeking unscientific sensationalism – Mr B Stoker – or just teasing – Mr A Waugh.

It is writers and artists who can make amends. Here one thinks of Ted Hughes, who tried, even though one bit him. And of Louise Bourgeois's 30-ft spider currently on the South Bank, which should keep the crowds moving. And, opening here soon, Ratatouille, the film that has made France fall in love with the rat. But now I must close, as night is beginning to draw in.

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