‘Fit in or f*** off.’ Welcome to Belize, Kevin. Channel 4’s favourite builder-botherer travelled up hill and down dale (via a baffling trip to Belize City’s bus station, which McCloud treated as if he was entering the underworld) to visit the Atkinson family, who’d left the bright lights of London far behind them for a new life in the Central American rainforest. What drew them to such inhospitable country? What’s eating moody dad Richard? And did Kevin pack enough mosquito spray?
The most fascinating aspect of all this wasn’t the family’s junk-built mega home, or the semi Mowgli children clambering barefoot about the roof beams, but the central question of just why two urban dwellers would choose to up sticks and raise their children in a patch of rainforest where the chickens get snatched by enormous snakes, the family dogs get picked off by jaguars and poachers lurk in the nearby jungle. You don’t get any of that in Surbiton, I’ll tell you.
Mum Alisa explained that ‘you can have a childhood here – it’s old-fashioned, country living.’ Er. Is it? I thought old-fashioned country living was a cottage in the Cotswolds or The Darling Buds of May or something. This was more like Deliverance (except without the tunes). Kevin bravely poked and cajoled the mysteriously glowering Richard into giving up his secrets. However, the very mention of London had the tanned patriarch staring into the middle distance as if considering the hell he’d seen there. ‘Snobbery and hypocrisy’ was all we got from him on the subject. Hmm.
Our Kev was on safer ground when helping the family whack a thatched roof back on one of their huts (he got all excited about the potential of building materials in the jungle, bless him) and ogling their undoubtedly impressive ‘Earth Ship’ – a huge, four bedroom house built mainly from rubbish. 1000 car tyres, 25000 plastic bottles and 18000 glass bottles, to be precise.
While the construction was incredible – an enormous, sculpted jewel plonked into the middle of untamed rainforest – the tut-tutting at the locals for how they deal with waste, along with the constant exclamations about the crime rate, made me slightly queasy.
While dad was a bit intense and mum was working herself to a standstill to ensure everyone survived, at least the children (who the Atkinson parents said they were doing it all for) seemed to be totally at ease and delighted with their surroundings. These are remarkable children. When Kevin said he felt ‘humbled and inadequate’ in the presence of these uber-resourceful tykes, he spoke for all of us.
Sitting on my sofa in the very city – living the very life – that Richard and Alisa rejected, I admit that I felt like a flabby old potato watching the Atkinsons survive and thrive in the Belize jungle. But then I don’t have to chase the neighbours out of my garden with a shotgun. Not always anyway.
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