Wednesday, August 17, 2005

It's all about ...

Let's consider the opening words of two middlebrow coffee-table books, both companions to TV nature series. Here are the first 170 or so words of David Attenborough's The Life of Mammals:


We have a special regard for mammals. We are, after all, mammals ourselves. Indeed, we tend to talk as if mammals are the only kind of animals that exist -- until, hard-pressed, we are forced to admit that birds, butterflies and bluebottles are also animals. Mammals, for the most part, have hair and are the only animals that rear their young on milk. Even so, there are a baffling number and variety of them. Over four and a half thousand. And they are more varied in shape and size than any other animal group. The biggest of them is the largest animal that has ever existed -- the blue whale, which is at least one and a half times as big as the biggest dinosaur. The smallest, the pygmy shrew, is so minuscule that it has to battle to subdue a beetle. Some mammals fly, some swim and some tunnel. Their diversity is so great that in order to sort them out in our minds we need to classify them into smaller groups. Faced with a mongoose in a zoo, we want to know what kind of mammal it is. Is it a kind of cat? Or maybe a dog? Or is it a giant rat?


And here are the first 170 or so words of Alan Titchmarsh's British Isles: A Natural History:


I am unashamed to boast that I love being British, and I'm happy to confess that I could not live anywhere else. It's a feeling that is not born of xenophobia or small-mindedness, but comes simply from a love of the landscape in which I have grown up, lived and worked for more than half a century. Unlike Nancy Mitford's father, I do not dislike 'abroad,' neither do I distrust foreigners. But, more than anything, I love coming home.

I was born and brought up in the Yorkshire Dales, and holidayed during my childhood in the Lake District and Scotland (not forgetting Blackpool). I now live in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, and often spend my holidays in Cornwall. This, coupled with 25 years of working in television and travelling the length and breadth of the country for programmes as varied as Gardeners' World and Songs of Praise, have served only to increase my love of the British Isles and their astonishing countryside.


I trust you can see why I'm having trouble reading the latter book.

(Christmas present, since you ask. And for all I know the show was brilliant - we don't have a television and only see the programmes we buy on DVD.)

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