Friday, 25 June 2010
Science. Hard isn't it? Even quite simple physics sends me into a kind of existential panic. I'm basically about four rational brain cells away from being a Flat-Earther. Luckily we have people like the amazing Prof. Brian Cox fronting programmes such as the awe inspiring Wonders of the Solar System to lead us through, distracting us with startling beauty while gently pouring mind blowing facts into our poor frightened ears. We all love Brian don't we? Even our dads are a bit gay for Prof. Cox.
Back on our own planet, natural history and biology have always seemed less scary to me. Perhaps because we have David Attenborough. It's almost physically impossible to be even mildly perturbed while he is whispering about the diversity and majesty of life on Earth in that hushed way that makes you feel like everything will be OK. Better than OK. It will all be delightful. Damian Kulash knows it. Of course he does. He's Damian.
Except there was that one time when some chimps chased and caught another screaming chimp and ate its brains out. Not even Sir David could make that painless, but at least he was on hand to soften the blow. Like a kindly grandfather, he carefully explained that where there is life there must also be death. And sometimes it's nasty, shrieking, visceral, cannibalistic ape death.
But there can also be beauty in death. Inside Nature's Giants is a programme which takes a sad event – the demise of an epically proportioned animal – and uses it as an opportunity to literally turn the specimen inside out. While it is undeniably icky in places, the subjects are treated with such reverence that you soon forget to be squeamish. Watching the team examine the mechanics of a giant python's jaw, I almost forgot it was a real creature. It was more like Predator.
It's a truly brilliant series, but my favourite aspect of all has to be biologist Simon Watt. Whether he's dropping a huge frozen snake, getting freaked out by a liger or being spun around in a NASA centrifuge machine until he faints in order to simulate the pressure on a giraffe's brain, his soft Irish lilt, lopsided smile and slightly apologetic manner make for compelling viewing.
“I'm OK, I'm OK,” he mumbles unconvincingly as he is dragged out of the centrifuge by two men, limp as a rag doll and green around the gills, before heaving over a hastily positioned waste paper bin. Never losing sight of why he is doing this, he continues to educate us as he pulls a whitey on the floor: “I wouldn't be having these problems if I was a giraffe!”
Indeed Simon. But you're not a giraffe, silly sausage. You're a man. A beautiful man.
I don't really want to contemplate a world without Sir Attenborough, but when that terrible day finally comes, we could do worse than pass the mantle to Simon. Just look at his lovely, clever face. I hope it's going to be around for a long, long time.