A needle is like a newspaper column - it has to have a point.

The needle is as old as human civilisation. Being naked apes, we had to steal the fur from other animals to stay warm. Few of those animals came in our size or shape, so we had no choice but to become tailors. And tailors need needles.

The technology of the needle has barely changed over millennia. My mother used to darn socks, an action that today seems almost medieval, but the hefty needle she used for such work was older still in form and function. Indeed, with its eye at one end and its point at the other, it was indistinguishable from the bone needles found on archaeological sites that reach back beyond recorded time.

The needle, then, is the embodiment of domesticity. But this week it's been in the news for less domestic reasons. It has been used, and used effectively, as a weapon of terrorism. Strawberries in Australian supermarkets were found to have needles buried in them. How many needles per punnet I can't tell you, but one would be more than enough. Indeed one per thousand punnets would be more than enough. For once an idea is instilled, it's instilled. The fear won't go away.

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The principle is the same with fish bones. If ever you gag on a fish bone, then that's it for that piece of fish. Your faith in it is tainted. Thenceforth you chew with the hesitance of dread. Every mouthful could turn treacherous. All pleasure is gone.

There is something vicious in the choice of strawberries. They are the harbingers of summer. They are yielding, easily bruised, supremely sweet. Their connotations are of gentle indulgence, butterflies, tall grass, girls in muslin. The only wine that can be drunk with them is champagne. And more than any other fruit, indeed more than any other foodstuff, they carry connotations of an innocent sexuality. So to spike them with needles seems a particularly sick act, a product of the most vile misanthropy.

The technology of the needle has barely changed over millennia. My mother used to darn socks, an action that today seems almost medieval, says Joe Bennett. Photo / Getty Images
The technology of the needle has barely changed over millennia. My mother used to darn socks, an action that today seems almost medieval, says Joe Bennett. Photo / Getty Images

As soon as I read of it I recalled something similar from my childhood. It was the story of the man who gave children apples spiked with razor blades. Razor blades back then were terrifying things, double edged, paper thin and designed to fit into a device known laughably as a safety razor. If laid on a flat surface such blades were unpickupable. And even today I can sense the lurch of the gut that I felt at the thought of biting on such a blade. How it would slice your tongue, would ribbon the tender inside of your cheeks.

The story of the razored apples was, I suspect, an urban myth, one that gained currency precisely because of its horror. But the needled strawberries are no myth.

Initially, it seemed, only strawberries from a certain supplier were spiked, suggesting it might be the work of a disgruntled employee. And given the way a lot of agricultural work has been reduced to near-slavery one could understand the disgruntlement without condoning the action. But then needles began to be found in fruit from other suppliers with the result that the fruit have been pulled off shelves throughout the country, and the wholesale price for strawberries has shrivelled to almost nothing.

There seem to be only two possible explanations. Either there is a concerted effort to sabotage the entire Australian strawberry industry, or, more probably, but more strangely, when the news of the needled strawberries emerged, it induced some people, who had previously not thought of doing so, to put needles into strawberries themselves.

What's in it for the copy-cat needlers? There would appear to be only risks. Unless they happen to be growers of a rival summer fruit - and I'm not sure that a rival summer fruit exists - they cannot gain financially. Nor can they gain reputationally. If their actions become known they'll be reviled and imprisoned.

So why do it? The only possible answer seems to be a simple pleasure in disruption, a delight in causing misery, a motiveless malignancy. It's enough to make one despair of the species.

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But it would be wrong to do so. Malice and cruelty may steal the headlines, but for every terrorist there are a million who could never plant a bomb. For every Trump there are a million who can feel sympathy. And for every spiker of a strawberries there are a million lovers. We may not make the news but we do make the world. Otherwise nothing would ever work. And that, in the end, is the point.