I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older, or that as I grow older and less tolerant of some things I grow more tolerant of others, as a way of balance, but whatever the reason is I’ve become mildly addicted to ‘Springwatch’ on the BBC. It’s not my first time watching this kind of crap. The winter lockdown eventually found me finding solace in the arms of ‘Winterwatch’, partly to distract from the misery of life and partly because it made me deeply grateful that I wasn’t stood outside every dark, wet evening in the company of Chris Packham and a sleeping hedgehog. The truth is that in theory there is so little about ‘Winterwatch’ or ‘Springwatch’ that should be appealing to a cynical, easily bored twat like me and yet somehow, through some strange twist in the laws of nature, it appears magically as a whole far, far greater than the sum of it parts that it should ever deserve to be. Or maybe this is just a sign of early onset dementia.
If you were in any doubt that ‘Springwatch’ (or indeed any watch with a seasonal prefix) is Chris Packham’s stomping ground then all you need is a few minutes and it becomes abundantly clear. I suspect the world is divided between some who love Packham and others who consider him an odd, unbearable arsehole; and that is par for the course – remember that this used to be Bill Oddie’s territory many years ago and that Bill Oddie was also quite a substantial arsehole for quite a substantial amount of the time. Packham is famous for hosting wildlife programmes and for getting aggressive on behalf of animals and the environment, but anyone can tell you that when conservationists get aggressive they lose an awful lot of their appeal. What cuts through very quickly on ‘Springwatch’ is that Packham clearly has a very high opinion of himself and, appropriately enough, his opinion, and it is this that overrides any sympathy one might harbour for his Asperger’s (who could have guessed), the death of his childhood kestrel and other assorted personal setbacks (these setbacks also include having Gary as a middle name – which is tantamount to child abuse).
Fortunately, we’re talking about ‘Springwatch here, not ‘Packhamwatch’, and I am pleased to say there is more to the show than just him posturing in a lurid Helly Hanson windcheater, next to an endangered tree on a nature reserve, and talking out of his arse about voles. He is amply evened out by the childlike enthusiasm of Michaela Strachan, who seems to absorb almost all of Packham’s ego and then fire it back in his stupid face simply by being several thousand times more pleasant than him (I had a bit of a crush on Strachan in my youth – in fairness, most men of my age probably had a bit of a crush on her – a crush that has admittedly dimmed over the years but doesn’t cancel out the sense that she is a genuinely nice human being; I once saw her wandering into a cave complex in Barbados, but since I was only two days away from proposing to Wifey I didn’t think it was an appropriate moment to tap her on the shoulder and explain how much she had brightened up my university years). It is a testament to Michaela’s temperament that she genuinely seems to get on with him and is quite happy to discuss the intricacies of badgers having sex without plunging a corkscrew into his larynx. If I had to co-host a show with Packham the first episode would start with me digging a big hole on some desolate moor and end with me burying him in it. There is a chance I have it all wrong and he is a very decent chap. A chance.
Their joint effort in charge is punctuated with various features. Naturally, there are lots of hidden cameras so we can watch the wonders of British wildlife unravel before our very eyes. If you’ve ever wondered just how repellent a newly born dormouse looks then this is the place for you. If you’ve ever felt an empty space in your life that can only be filled with footage of a heron regurgitating dead fish down their chick’s throats then look no further. It’s also a good place to go if you like the idea of watching Gillian Burker clomping along some pebble shore in her wellies and getting all poetic as she spies a couple of otters buggering about in the surf or a family of puffins trying to erect a windbreak for a picnic. ‘Springwatch’ is also the number one programme if you find any level of excitement in watching footage of a small bird carrying a bit of moss disappearing into a bird box and then flying out again thirty seconds later only, and you’ll have to wait for this………….they’re not carrying the moss anymore. Be warned – do not watch this kind of stuff if you have a weak heart.
The other big figure on ‘Springwatch’ is Lolo Tudur Williams, a big Welsh, Welshy Welshman who may have a daft middle name but it’s still a hell of a lot better than Chris Packham’s. We know that Lolo is Welsh because he has that name, he speaks in a Welsh accent and he seems to end up in the places no one else wants to go. While Chris and Michaela are standing in a meadow in Kent or wherever poor, rugged manly man Lolo is standing up a mountainside in horizontal sleet explaining how to measure a stag’s erection without touching it or taking an intricate interest in two minutely different squirrel prints. You can’t fault Lolo for loving his nature and he is undoubtedly an outdoor man but, and I say this with a shiver of regret, he is also unstoppably dull. He may be dull in a nice way, in a well-meaning kind of a manner, but dull is still dull. This is a man who spent quite a few minutes last week discussing all the interesting things you can find by sifting through the regurgitated (nature seems to love an anorexic) pellets of a barn owl to see what it had for dinner on Monday. Bless.
You’d think there must be something better to watch on TV at that time of day but that’s the tragedy – there isn’t. It also weirdly serves as the perfect tonic for the end of another day in a world that is slowly falling apart at the seams. I’m really not that interested in what time of day newts like to fight, but it’s definitely more interesting than watching ‘Emmerdale +1’ or trying to work out how Dominic Cumming’s arms got so very hairy. ‘Springwatch’ is basically a love note being left for the sometimes rather bland bustling’s in what is left of Britain’s hedgerows. We don’t have anacondas, piranha or orang-utans, and the Forest of Dean is not scattered with shadowy okapi, so we have to make do and pretend that deep down we’re just as blessed to be home to an abundance of shrews, a couple of blue tits perched on a hanging basket and a thriving community of randy ferrets. Chris Gary Packham may be a bit of an obnoxious cock but he’s our bit of an obnoxious cock, and that means you won’t find another quite like him from the rainforests of Papua New Guinea to the Atacama Desert. Britain can often feel simultaneously miserable, mediocre and magnificent and yet somehow ‘Springwatch’ manages to chew all that up and regurgitate back onto our laps with a hearty hack and a subtle belch. For now, I’m hooked.
G B Hewitt. 28.05.2021