Why Flipper lost the will to live

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR wants us to get back to basics, of which I thoroughly approve. I am very much in favour of children all coming from nice nuclear families and knowing how to spell. I like the idea of crime-free streets, and a return to an idyllic age when neighbours were respectful of each other, and the whole nation sat down to watch the same television programmes - kindly old Dixon of Dock Green, lovable Flipper.

Ah . . . Richard O'Barry, Flipper's former trainer, revealed last week that the famous dolphin - who was really called Kathy, until she lost the will to live - was stolen from her mother, dragged 'kicking and screaming' into a concrete pen and starved into performing all those seemingly cheery tricks. In the end she sank to the bottom of her pool and just refused to breathe, and had to be replaced by another dolphin, and then five more, as they all in turn died of boredom and broken hearts. As if this weren't bad enough, Taggart star Mark McManus then announced that while working on a children's programme once he found himself waiting for a crew in the Outback with a man and a sack. After a while, the man threw a bucket of water over the sack, which wriggled horribly. Mark asked what it was. 'Skippy the Kangaroo,' was the reply.

Where does this leave Daktari, Lassie, and Black Beauty? And if all those animals supposedly doing heroic things were really living through a hell of pain, suffering and embarrassment, where does that leave Mr Major's nice, shared, innocent past? It makes you wonder whether it's such a good idea to go back to knowing one's place and being deferential after all.

FOR SEVERAL years, all my friends have wanted to give birth in a sort of pond. At first I would raise my eyebrows and wonder whether this mightn't be a bit . . . dangerous? Wasn't there something slightly unnatural about air-breathing mammals having their babies under water? Mightn't the babies, well . . . drown? But I soon learnt to keep quiet: my friends would get all supercilious about the similarity between water and amniotic fluid, and say smugly that just because I'd had violent, bloody births, I mustn't think it had to be like that.

After a while I started to feel smug myself, because in my experience no one ever actually had one of these water births. Something always went wrong at the last minute, or the birthing pool was being used by someone else. I came to feel that choosing a water birth was a sure route to disappointment: several of my friends suffered not just the usual ghastly labour, but terrible guilt because they had not achieved sufficient pregnant perfection to be allowed to use the pool. And birth, which they had been led to believe would be calm and lovely, had been nothing of the sort. Now there are suggestions that it's not such a great idea to have babies underwater after all. They might drown. I hope that the National Perinatal Epidemiological Unit, which has been asked to investigate the water birth phenomenon, will not confine itself merely to the palpable logic that air-breathing mammals need to breathe air, but also comment on the way the birthing pool has been harnessed by the stupid Birth-Is-Painless-Fun campaign.

THE UK Community Policeman of the Year Award, which John Major presented last week, is not one of Michael Howard's 27 big new ideas to combat crime (being, in fact, the idea of Victor Green, an exhibitions organiser). This is a pity, because a couple of years ago, when the Police Federation sponsored a survey to determine what people want from policing, the answer came back loud and clear: more community police, deterring burglars and litter louts.

This was a bit of problem, the then-chairman of the federation, Alan Eastwood, admitted to me, because young men don't join the police with litter in mind. They have a vision of screeching past the traffic with sirens screaming, solving murders and having shoot- outs. There is a serious gap here between what the public think the police are about and what the police think the police are about, and Mr Green is to be congratulated on trying to bridge it. What we obviously need now is a glamorous television series about a cop who just walks about, deterring things.

THE IRA has me baffled. There may have been a strategy to blowing up the Baltic Exchange, shedding all that glass across the City of London and inconveniencing a world financial centre, forcing the police to put roadblocks on some of our most famous thoroughfares and making Londoners take long detours whenever they wanted to cross the river. I am less clear about the point of Neasden, or front gardens. The latest phase in the IRA's mainland campaign involves small explosions in shop doorways and behind north London rose bushes. Personally, I much prefer it, because my house shakes whenever the big bombs go off in the City, and it frightens me and the children. And the rose bush bombs haven't killed anyone. But perhaps blowing up foliage is a new, very subtle form of international terrorism.

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