The Times, 8 December 2009

Yesterday, as the world's leaders met in Copenhagen to try and avoid turning The Maldives into The Atlantises, all the real news was happening on the other side of the world. In Australia, following the climax of I'm A Celebrity..., Gino D'Acampo (a chef, apparently), and Stuart Manning (I have got literally nothing. He might have been in Hollyoaks) have been charged with cruelty to animals.

Specifically, they have been charged with cruelty to a rat, which D'Acampo killed and beheaded, not necessarily in that order, before adding it to a risotto. The contestants had been 'exiled' by the show's producers, and put on 'inferior rations' of rice and beans, so they decided to add some protein, in rodent-form. I should, at this point, confess that I am vegetarian, so rice and beans doesn't seem that inferior to me. It seems like lunch.

But perhaps if you're used to eating animal protein, rat is better than nothing. 'It's not done by choice,' D'Acampo said on the show, 'But it's done because we need it. We need some kind of protein.' It seems almost churlish to point out that of the many millions of people in the world who need some protein, I am prepared to bet good money that none of them are starring in an entertainment programme or, now I come to think of it, eating risotto. Marie-Antoinette, eat your heart out. Or eat the heart of a kangaroo, at least.

The furore this has created appears to be more about the ickiness of eating a rat than the cruelty of doing so. As so often with animal-specific squeamishness, I find myself genuinely baffled. Is it really worse to eat a rat than a pig or a chicken, or sewage-scoffing seafood? And if so, why? Because rats are creepy and nearly eat Winston's eyes in Room 101? Because James Herbert had hordes of giant rats eating us alive in his seminal horror novel, The Rats? Or is the bad thing that the rat was beheaded? That doesn't seem any worse than getting a bolt through the head or having its throat slit for ritual slaughter, and we allow that to happen to animals every day.

The question has even been raised that the rat may not have been a wild, edible rat. It may have been a trained, showbiz rat. Eating which is even wronger, it appears, than eating the regular kind which can't do tricks. I do hope this prompts all those of us with animal welfare close to our hearts to embark on a new plan of action. I intend to spend the next week training at least ten turkeys to juggle, or possibly whistle 'God Save The Queen' in the hopes of saving them so they're still here to see her Christmas message.

The I'm A Celebrity row must have really taken the shine off Ant and Dec's weekend. How often does someone see their flagship presenting gig tarnished by a rat-eating scandal on the same day that they appear for the first time in Who's Who? I reckon never, until now. But Ant and Dec have finally taken their rightful place amid the wealthy, the entitled and the frankly peculiar. Other new additions to the 162nd edition include Brad Pitt, Mariella Frostrup and Morgan Freeman, who has previously played God in Bruce Almighty (a film which ironically made almost everyone who saw it question the very existence of a benign deity).

The criteria for inclusion in Who's Who are impenetrable. What has Brad Pitt done, in 2009, that has suddenly got their attention? Carved swastikas into the heads of Nazis in Tarantino's latest flick? And Matt Lucas and David Walliams have also made their first appearance in it this year, a full three years after Little Britain finished in the UK. Does it just take that long for popular culture to filter through into the rarefied atmosphere of the Who's Who offices? Perhaps the compilers received unexpected and rather belated DVD of the show as a Christmas present last year. Or maybe they enjoyed Lucas in the revived Shooting Stars, and didn't like to leave his friend out. Some people certainly have to work a lot harder to be included than others: Roger Federer has had to win fifteen Grand Slam titles before he was deemed worthy of note. Ant and Dec have had to present nine series of I'm A Celebrity, and three series, God help them, of Britain's Got Talent. Chloe Smith merely had to be elected Tory MP for Norwich North. Where's the justice?

Back to the rodent category of the news. Cepia, an American toy-manufacturer, is fighting accusations from the US consumer organisation, Goodguide, that one of its best-selling Christmas toys is unsafe. The all-moving, all-squeaking hamster goes by the unlikely name of Mr Squiggles, which sounds far more like a terrifying gangland boss played by Ben Kingsley, or perhaps Ralph Fiennes, than a toy hamster. Goodguide suggest that Mr Squiggles may contain an unsafe level of the toxic metal, antimony. And antimony, if eaten in sufficient quantities, can cause cancer and damage reproductive health. So it's an especial shame that Mr Squiggles' colouring resembles closely that of a battenburg cake. He even makes me feel hungry.