Cats and Dogs - living together
Tony Blair, it appears, has developed a "W" shaped mark on his forehead. The cruel amongst you speculate that the letters "anker" are sure to follow, but it is worse. Far, far worse.
Revelations Chapter 1316 He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads,
17 and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
18 Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.
QED: It's in the book of Revelations, people!
I grew up in the shadow of The Bomb. My parents were married around the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963, not knowing if there would be a world left to bring kids into. Those Roman Toga Party days at medical school must have seemed so long ago. We lived in fear of the four minute warning, and had a copy of Protect and Survive to guide us through the worst Reagan and Brezhnev had to throw at us.
It was a world of Mutually Assured Destruction. If anyone was damn fool enough to start a war, it was more or less acknowledged that civilisation as we knew it was doomed to fry in its own fat. Hence, a nuclear war was, by this logic, well nigh impossible. Try telling that to a fifteen year old kid having nightmares of firey nuclear destruction on a regular basis, his school exercise books filled with doodles of mushroom clouds. Two nuclear establishments within a few miles of Twyford, and NATO Command just up the road in High Wycombe, meant the Soviets knew exactly where to target their biggest, shiniest warheads.
I could just about live with this, if it weren’t for the fact that I saw a TV programme about witches. One of the stories featured an old hag who lived in a cave in the North of England several hundred years ago. She made several uncannily accurate predictions, the last of which before they threw her on a great big bonfire was that the world would end in 1981. You know what that meant: I was going to die a virgin.
My brother’s best mate Richard had seen this programme too, and claimed to have read in Mad Old Bastard’s Almanack that Armageddon was due on 12th September. Just to make matters worse, this would be a Saturday. The world didn’t even have the decency to end the world on a school day. Richard was so confident in his boast, that he bet us 50p that he was right. We happily shook on it, and it took him several minutes to realise it was a wager he just couldn’t win. Not only that, his Almanack still had entries for October, November and December, confidently predicting second favourites to do well in National Hunt races.
As the End of the World approached, was I worried? Was I terrified at the thought of facing destruction on Biblical proportions with my cherry still intact? Too bloody right I was. For starters, my attempts to leave this mortal coil without my virginity were foiled by two simple factors:
a) none of the girls I approached on this matter believed a word I said, leaving me with a post-armageddon reputation of lacking marbles; and
b) I was a teenage geek of huge never-gonna-lose-that-cherry proportions.
I was blissfully unaware of point b.
Come the big day, I was a bag of nerves. Ironically, it was actually Battle of Britain weekend, commemorating the one time in the twentieth century where we managed to save the known world without American assistance, and we went on a day trip up to RAF Abingdon for the airshow.
The cream of NATO’s airborne fighting forces screamed overhead in close formation, when they really should have been preparing to face the Red Menace that was pouring over the German border as we spoke. Richard was still confident, yet the forces personnel present looked decidedly unruffled about the forthcoming call to arms.
I watched planes.
I took loads of photos (can’t think why - it would have been hell finding a chemists in the radioactive rubble of British civilisation).
I went home.
I went to bed.
I woke up on Sunday 13th September 1981.
I was still alive. The world had not ended. Presidents Reagan and Brezhnev, senile pair of lunatics that they were, had both stubbornly kept their fingers off the button. It was, I remember, a rather pleasant sunny day, and I took the dog for a walk down by the River Thames. It felt good to be alive.
On the other hand I felt bloody cheated. All those years of worry utterly wasted. I hadn’t bothered doing my school homework either, on the grounds that there wouldn’t be a school to go to on Monday. I spent a whole Sunday afternoon, nose to the page, writing a compare-and-contrast essay about My Family and Other Animals. Somebody was going to pay.
And the next day, at school, it was Richard. To be honest, he paid up his bet with remarkably good grace for someone who’d been nailed in his first lesson for not doing his homework. He was rather proud of the fact that Mr Wallis (son of the inventor of the bouncing bomb, celebrity spotters!) had told him “That’s the worst excuse I’ve ever heard, boy”. As for the end of the world: “Give it a couple a days. These things take time.”
I’m still waiting.Some twenty-five years later, when doing a bit of background research on my book, I found out that Mother Shipton, the mad old witch mentioned in this story, had predicted the end of the world for the year 1881. I had, it turned out, misheard her prediction on BBC Nationwide and had subjected myself to years of unnecessary terror. I just hope that when the baying hate mob came for the crone, they toasted her good and proper.
Crikey!An obituary piece for Steve Irwin, originally written for The Friday Thing.
"Why did it have to be Steve Irwin? Why couldn't it be someone older like Sean Connery?" - Daniel, 11, Sydney Morning Herald.
'Food: Steve. Fucking. Irwin.' - Wikipedia 'Stingray' page, for about ten minutes.
Yes, why couldn't it have been Sean Connery? Then, perhaps, we might have been saved Australia's Diana Moment as, sadly, the living embodiment of 'Fair Dinkum' Australia bought the farm to worldwide tearing of hair and rending of clothing. Connery's had a magnificent innings, and final words of 'Shweet Jesush! A Shtingray!' as the killer fish buried itself up his kilt would have been fitting indeed for a man of his stature.
Steve Irwin died, according to Australian PM John Howard, 'in quintessentially Australian circumstances'. That being, presumably, at the hands, claws, teeth or tentacles or any one of the dozens, nay hundreds, of clawed, tentacled or spiky creatures that hide down your toilet, in your airing cupboard, or off idyllic beaches, waiting the chance to kill the unwary Ozzie utterly to death.
In his 'Down Under' book, Bill Bryson remarks on the sheer terrifying nature of Australian fauna, and soils his trousers in the knowledge that gruesome, organ-melting death lies around every corner. Ironic, then, that the nation's most outspoken, most confident naturalist is killed by one of its least deadly creatures. The whole episode entirely ruined our daily 'Is Thatcher dead yet?' routine with wall-to-wall coverage of the wrong person dying.
Irwin made a career of jumping on any number of these creatures, wrestling them to the ground and tying them up with their own string, whilst shouting 'Strewth!', 'Crikey'!' and possibly 'Squally pocker dum!' in the tradition Oz stylee. Once the supply of scary, bitey creatures in the Antipodes ran dry, Irwin toured the world, jumping on other people's man-eaters, making for damn fine television, spreading his in-yer-face conservation.
While he cared passionately about endangered wildlife, and raged against man's pointless extermination of species after species, he was criticised for his brash style, his needless risk-taking, and that whole not-feeding-his-nipper-to-the-crocs business. Michael Jackson, the great wimp, only dangled his offspring off a balcony, and you never saw David Attenborough acting like that up a mountain with a band of gorillas.
Blogger Paul Rose asks, comparing Irwin with just about every other TV naturalist in the world: 'Did Attenborough start slapping them on the top of the head, like Benny Hill used to do to that little bald man? Did he let balloons off to fly around their heads? Or try and touch their private parts with an ice lolly? No. He did not. Not on camera anyway.' We firmly believe that if you ever needed an owl punched, Irwin would do it at an hour's notice.
Timothy Treadwell - subject of the recent Grizzly Man film, was another who took illogical risks in the pursuit of conservation and animal film-making. Treadwell believed he could build close relationships with brown bears in the wild, and made TV documentaries of his experiences in Alaska living amongst these notoriously deadly creatures. What could possibly go wrong? Apart from getting killed to death and eaten by the subject of your film, of course. Which is precisely what happened to Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Hugenard. But then, risk-taking for public entertainment is nothing new, and there is a long-history culminating in John Gummer feeding burgers to his children. We're still disgusted after all these years.
Irwin's on-camera recklessness was certainly not staged. He took repeated risks in the name of conservation first, TV pictures second. The fact that he took these risks at all didn't play well with others in the industry. Most outspoken was survival expert Ray Mears: 'He took a lot of risks and television encouraged him to do that. Television has become very gladiatorial and it's not healthy.'
And Mears is right. While Attenborough's big budget Planet Earth plays prime-time Sunday night with a lovely Sigur Ros soundtrack, Irwin's varied, shouty and colourful output finds itself striped across schedules, where endless action, a shouty showboating Steve and loud music pull in an entirely different audience altogether. Undemanding stuff, upsetting the purists by having some much damn fun.
Fun it may be, but Germaine Greer, writing in The Guardian this week pointed out that while Irwin successfully portrayed himself as a larrikin - an Australian who mocks authority - as a real life Crocodile Dundee and lion tamer rolled into one, he showed little respect for clearly distressed wildlife which would have come quietly without an enormous Australian jumping on their back, shouting 'Crikey' in a very loud voice. Irwin's sainthood, says Greer, was guaranteed through his connections to PM John Howard, who he dubbed, with no irony whatsoever 'the greatest leader the world has ever seen'.
Such is the esteem in which Irwin was held in Australia the offer of a state funeral for the man himself over-eggs global public woe to Diana-esque levels. It took a whole four days for the story to fall off CNN's front page - they must have had tons of bad news to bury.
The state funeral declined, they could just feed his corpse to the crocs. It's what he would have wanted, and in fact, he's on record as saying so. And that's what makes Attenborough such a fucking lightweight.
As those of us at the 'You sick bastard' end of the internet have pointed out, Irwin's is the kind of death we could all see coming a mile off. But then, we're the kind of people who watch 'You've Been Framed' and think it top-hole entertainment, whilst wondering if there's a too-strong-for-TV version. The voyeuristic nature of television means that video of poor Steve's end will probably find airtime sooner or later, but would anyone want to watch it, though? We've been crawling YouTube all week, just in case. All we got was a gut-churning 'Man Eats Mouse'. Take that, you Irwin-killing animal bastards.