Magazine article The Spectator

Reptilian Reverie

Magazine article The Spectator

Reptilian Reverie

Article excerpt

When I was a boy my father and I used to spend our summer holidays collecting lizards. We'd prop a large bucket at an angle in a suitable spot, grease the rim with butter, put some rotting fruit at the bottom and wait for the lizards to get trapped. It's the best way, otherwise they panic and shed their tails. Then we'd bring them back in our hand luggage in linen bags, which worked fine till the unfortunate occasion when a stewardess wanted to look inside and they escaped on the plane.

We kept our lizards (and snakes and crocodiles) in a shed in our garden -- called the Lizard House -- and they gave us many adventures. Once, on holiday in Menorca, we discovered that there lived on one tiny, uninhabited island about a mile offshore a melanistic (i. e. , black) form of wall lizard found nowhere else in the world. The pedalo journey there against buffeting winds was horribly knackering. But oh the joy of discovering lizards so unscared of humans that they'd crawl all over you.

This all came back to me when I saw David Attenborough on Life in Cold Blood (BBC1, Monday) visiting the same place and being nibbled. Apparently 20 years ago, one of the lizards developed a taste for the orange fruit of the foul-smelling dead horse arum lily (which previously they'd only considered useful for attracting flies) and now, unlike any other lizards anywhere in the Mediterranean, they all eat it.

Earlier Attenborough visited a colony of African lizards where the sturdiest male with territorial rights to the hottest rock pulls the most females. But which is more important: looks or property? By way of experiment, Attenborough rearranged the rocks so that one of the scrawnier male specimens ended up with the best pile. Within moments he was besieged. I was reminded of Mrs Merton's question to Debbie McGee: 'So what first attracted you to millionaire Paul Daniels?'

Ashes to Ashes (BBC1, Thursday) is the sequel to Life on Mars and I can't quite decide how much of a let-down it is. Because it is set in the Eighties, a decade one is currently required by statute to find risible and shallow, they have decided to play it mostly for laughs which I think may be a mistake.

Comedy action is the feeblest of genres because the former always ends up undermining the latter, removing much of the threat and tension that is necessary if action is to be exciting.

Of course Life on Mars had its comic moments too, but these were much more sly and unforced -- largely, I suspect, because the makers didn't realise quite how funny Philip Glenister's DCI Gene Hunt was until the series had got going. …

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