Dumber than a Penguin

One of the best things in the world, Planet Earth. I have loved all the Attenborough documentaries and this latest is so astonishing it is actually easier to assume it is computer generated by Pixar, otherwise you tie yourself in knots trying to work out how on earth they got the footage.

As well as the better known Frozen Planet etc, I also recommend Zoo Quest,  a very early Attenborough. Broadcast in 1954, shot in black and white by three innocent and rather clueless young men who did the most extraordinary things like bringing the animals back to live in their London flats, though the trips abroad were ostensibly to provide creatures for the zoo. How times have changed!  It makes compelling viewing in a very different way to the astonishing quality of the newer ones, made by a 90 year old man (and a vast team) that makes me proud of these humans, the BBC, and the British.

Anyway, watching on iPlayer as I do from time to time in my long nights of wakefulness (before switching to The Moth when I get sleepy) I was once again mesmerized by the virtuosity of the work.

Also marveling at the content. I watched Episode 1, about islands. Wow. Astonishing. Komodo dragons. Sloths. Then they show some bird or other. The mother goes to get food, leaving her egg, and another bird comes along, pecks through the shell and leaves broken shards, and yolk running everywhere. As the mother squats over this mess, the voiceover says something like ‘she knows something is wrong, but the urge to incubate is strong.’ And I thought: ‘Yes! That is how I feel about my daughter and her absence’. Then we move to another bird: the albatross (this is when you realise the whole thing must be a cartoon – I think it is something to do with the whites of their eyes – see screengrab above) and the male albatross is waiting for his mate. It has been six months, and he is all alone. Eventually she turns up and they do a little sort of dance together. Aah.

Finally we turn to the chinstrap penguins. They live on some remote volcanic island which is almost impossible to get to, even for the camera crew with boats, access to weather forecasts, hiking equipment etc. It is extremely hostile territory; a live volcano buffeted by extraordinary storms, and with nothing but barren rock to provide shelter or food, other than the violent sea. There are literally millions of these penguins coming ashore to breed, and they stand in unimaginably vast crowds, the parents taking it in turns to guard the chicks while the other goes in search of food. So we see a mother with two hungry babies and she has no more food to give them while they wait for the return of the father. Now obviously many of the fathers will not make it back. But I wept as I watched the struggles they endured in the attempt. Penguins were literally being hurled against rocks. Those who survived that ordeal were then faced with walking for miles through oceans of identical penguins standing waiting with their chicks. For miles they waddled on their little legs, tummies full of food to regurgitate for their young. They stumbled, blood stained and with broken limbs, identifying the cry of their mate over the racket of the millions of others, driven to nourish their offspring.

‘Compare and contrast’, I thought.

Another reminder to my bollockheaded ex, in which I point out that I cannot manage without the maintenance the judge has ordered him to pay, has once again gone unacknowledged. He is now some months in arrears. His eldest is at uni, giving herself typhoid under medical supervision because the university pays for human guinea pigs willing to subject themselves to the illness and all the tests. His son is living with me, over 6 foot 3 now, so does require some feeding, and expensive, special order uniform (though he is by no means the tallest in the school), and London Transport wants paying, of course, for his 15 hours a week of commuting by tube (because we live now in the back of beyond and his father threatened me with an injunction if I removed him from the private school we can’t afford to live closer to, and I was foolish enough to be scared by that, and by the way I am paying the fees for both twins now). So here is a father with no such urge to nurture his young;  au contraire. I feel a monumental idiot for even being surprised, but I confess I am. And I know full well that he is far from the only deadbeat dad on Planet Earth. I blame myself for having given that father to my perfect children, who of course deserve better.  Better than a penguin, I’d have thought, at least.  Sorry, kids.

My eldest once retweeted something to the effect that not paying child maintenance is a form of child abuse, and I wonder about that. I wonder that a fucking penguin with a brain the size of a peanut can do a better job of selflessly devoting himself to his undistinguished chicks. The penguin barely knows his chicks.  He has not gone on holiday with them, watched their school plays and sports days, woken up to their excitement on Christmas morning, imagined what they might be when they grow up.  Nor has he signed a Court Order agreeing to small maintenance payments, right below where it says he can go to prison if he fails to do so.  I remember when BH (with a brain like a planet) first buggered off and I commented about how he was always so keen on Darwin’s theories, and how un-Darwinian it was to abandon one’s children and my daughter said ‘No it’s not. He knows you will look after us, and he can go and sow more seed.’ Well, good luck to him.  But failing his looking after our children, I wish at least I were doing a better job of it, pulling my finger out and not just moaning.

I’m a bit fed up that all kinds of everything still reminds me of that bollockhead. In truth, while I used to obsess about his every waking moment, I now really don’t give a hummingbird’s fart about him any longer. If we didn’t have children together, one of whom is living with him, and if he were not in default of the minimal payments he is obliged to pay for the time being for the other two, I would have ceased to think about the sorry insignificant piece of pocket fluff a long time ago.

I really didn’t intend this blog to be a constant whine about my ex. It’s supposed to be about my big life shift, but I don’t see too much shifting going on around here.

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Florence Feynman

I am a middle aged, middle class woman, thinking.

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