I have a terrible fear of nature documentaries. Ever since I can remember, when one of them comes onto the television I get a queasy feeling in my stomach. I get that irrational feeling of panic, a sense that I must leave the room at once.
Of course I don`t leave the room, not actually, but over the years I have developed a variety of the unseeing stare that can ignore even the most brutal of what nature, and the dedicated documentarians have to offer.
They don`t even have parental advisories, any indication that what you`re about to see is more violent than anything Quentin Tarrentino could have dreamed up, and not only that, but this is real. No fake blood, no playing possum, this is death in all its glory.
The most mundane of TV shows have great big triangles in the corner warning of all sorts of dire horrors. Even if they think you`re going to be hearing a word you don`t fancy they`ll stick a big road sign there to warn you. Some of them are such accomplished sensationalist horrors that they warn sensitive viewers to leave the room immediately. Not that I`ve ever wanted to flee, in fact, quite to the contrary (which might also be part of the intention.) But undoubtedly there are those whose bladders groan at the prospect of yet another cup of tea while the flicker-eyed monster pours the dark guts of the world into the living room.
Now naturally I understand that this stuff on the nature documentaries is nature pure and simple, the ultimate life is tough lesson. But does that mean that you have to sit there and take it, even if you are a sensitive viewer? Surely somebody must realise that even those who like a juicy steak now and again (and that does not include me) doesn`t mean that you`re willing to watch a poor, helpless doe-eyed creature meet its end in the gnashing jaws of a mincemeat machine such as the jaws of a lion or crocodile.
Yes, I am a vegetarian, but you don`t need to be a vegetarian to have compassion for a real-life creature who has been especially bred for the slaughterhouse. Even a farmer must have a little switch-off button that allows him to admire and nurture the homely, appealing cow, wax lyrical about its majesty, and then send them genocide-like to the chopping block. Or in this enlightened era those who advocate hunting, people like Prince Charles of Wales, whose own mournful eyed looks have adorned the publicity papers of many a conservation agency. Oh, never fear, the foxes and stag are essentially allowed to breed expressly for the sake of the hunting.
So how should an animal react to that, when chased by the hounds and horns of a maniac institution? If it could speak, would it say to its twenty-first century predators, Oh, don`t worry about me, I was bred to be shot!
What is this weakness in me that I cannot watch the death of an animal without losing contact with reality, feeling a deep terror that the world is ending? Here I sit, a middle-aged somewhat adult man still not dealing with a small fact of life like the gruesome real-life death of warm and cuddly creatures. Wanting to leave the room like a wimpish child, fearing the ridicule of his friends almost as much as the inevitable fate of all those animals they`re getting us to love, sympathise with and donate to.
Perhaps this is the stuff that therapy is made of. It could have something to do with that aged teddy I mutilated in a quest to be a surgeon and then felt guilt about for the remainder of my childhood. Or else, something deeper. There was also that teddy I had that all I remember of is that it had no head. I was three years old when it lost the head, so later I never remembered why. I felt guilty about that, too.
And then we were at Craig`s place, and the TV was on in the background as usual. Being a Saturday afternoon it was really kid`s stuff that was on, but like any other day there were as many previews as actual shows, and the previews never had any parental advisories either, but that`s another matter.
So there is this preview of tomorrow`s great animal show. This time it`s a mass-genocide episode, the migration of cute animals across a treacherous, croc-infested river. There they were, huge killing machines, lining up in their tens and twenties, knowing that their victims had no choice but to come this way.
And there they were, the soon-to-be victims, knowing it too on the other bank of the river. Their huge brown eyes screaming out to you, miles and years and glass-tubes away, saying you, please, you see me, you can help me. Finally they cross, one by one and then in their masses, and the crocs close in.
Slow-motion images of antelope and gazelle, some of them only babies with their thin long legs and their vain hope that their terrified mother can help them. Seeing them going down, struggling, those eyes, those Disney doe eyes. This is cartoon hour, remember. What are they telling us? Hey kids, come watch Bambi and her family getting snapped to death by crocodiles!
And then it struck me, what it is, this strange phobia that I have. There I was, six years old, all over again. There was no TV in those days, there was lots of imagination, and there was Bambi. This huge screen, the overwhelming joy and astonishment of the gorgeous singing animals, and when it comes to its glorious finale your pure little heart is bursting for joy and the next thing Bambi`s mother is shot, and she`s dead. That`s it. Even in Disneyland dead things don`t come to life.
Wham. It`s like a bullet through my head.
So maybe they are trying to say that everything dies. But at six years old, singing, actually understanding the animals words like you were Doctor Doolittle. You don`t need to tell me everything dies, even at six I know that. In any case, you don`t need to tell me that way.
Scarred for life. Myself and many other six year olds, they`re out there. Because I know what it is, why it is that I and probably many others of my generation have a secret terror of nature documentaries.
With Bambi`s mother, you just can`t get any closure.