Magazine article The Spectator

Prehistoric Piffle

Magazine article The Spectator

Prehistoric Piffle

Article excerpt

If this column is slightly more rubbishy than usual this week, it's really not my fault. I have just broken my ankle and everything has become a huge chore. Making cups of tea for example. Just to do that I have to hobble from my office to the kitchen, make the tea and then - since you can't carry anything when you're on crutches - crawl on all fours back to my office, pushing the cup of tea in front of me until I'm able to haul myself on to my chair like a dinosaur emerging from the primordial slime. It's all so complicated I can't even be arsed to make proper second-flush Darjeeling leaf tea at the moment. I'm stuck on ghastly Twinings Earl Grey teabags. Yes, it's really that bad.

In the meantime, we've got some TV reviewing to do, haven't we? Since I'm on such reptilian form, let's start with that programme about dinosaurs (Walking with Dinosaurs, BBC 1, Tuesday) which I have to say is one of the silliest things I've ever seen on TV. I know all that computer-generated animation looks awfully impressive but if this programme has any serious educational or scientific validity, then I'm a diplodocus. It's basically an up-market video game whose primary intention is to make the young and the brain-dead go 'Wow'.

Kenneth Branagh's hammy script is just a litany of superlatives: `This dinosaur is TOTALLY ENORMOUS! Five billion times the size of a bull elephant! Six hundred zillion times larger than a baby flea! And he's incredibly deadly! Just look at his horrid, swishy, spiky tail. He's deadlier than the deadliest thing you could ever imagine, times ten. No. Times twenty! Even though he only eats grass.' It's these sort of meaningless factoids, unfortunately, that children love to quote ad nauseam to bored parents.

But the really stupid thing is that it's all made up. Most of it anyway. You can only deduce so much from a few bones and some piles of fossilised dinosaur poo. The rest is pure speculation. Yet it's presented to you as if it all actually happened. You're invited to weep for the fate of all those cute little plant-eating thingies you saw being born and then getting eaten or spiked or burned to death. But this is just cheaply sentimental anthropomorphisation of creatures that for all we know might never even have existed. All those bones were probably just planted there by time travellers from the future, having a laugh.

Now for some hero worship. You may remember how, many columns ago, I paid homage to the Godlike genius of Jeremy Clarkson. And I must confess that when no doubt as a result of my paean - he subsequently landed his first chat show I rather regretted it. …

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