134. Trout

Tapehead no 134

On television and in life, Tapehead is, for the most part, of the opinion that animals are more interesting than people. But not always. Not, for example, if David Attenborough is not involved.

Absolutely Animals has two cute baby gorillas (orphans), clinging to their keeper’s ankles like a pair of black woolly leg-warmers, but manages to make even the unusual seem elementary even if it’s not every day you see an Airedale terrier sniffing a young woman’s melanomas on TV.

“Eight years ago,” explains one of AbAn’s hopeless presenters, “a British woman became suspicious when, for weeks on end, her dog kept sniffing parts of her leg.”

And no wonder. Sniffy, the Airedale terrier, can detect infectious cancers on women, particularly it seems, if they’re dressed in red hotpants and a black boob tube. We do not learn if Sniffy’s male patients needs to wear them too.

Tales From The Riverbank promises The Art Of Deception, one of Tapehead’s favourite subjects, but comes up instead with a load of old trout.

The most mysterious thing about “the mysteries of trout fishing” seems to be that anyone can find anything mysterious to it. After all, how devious can an old trout be ?

“What a nice fish,” says a fisherman, holding up a fish that is not really nice at all (actually probably quite obnoxious), and looks pretty much like any other trout Tapehead’s seen at the local Tesco’s.

On this evidence, catching trout (“the Houdini of fish”) requires standing up to your knees in water in the middle of the night having hired teams of highly paid bait-makers to disguise pieces of elk hair to look like lesser-spotted mayflies. (Why don’t they just use real mayflies ?)

The “arcane art of fly fishing” is deployed to deceive the really smart trout, what they call “the trout that’s seen it all” – you know, sunsets in Africa, the hills of Montecatini, girls doing tricks with ping-pong balls in Thailand. 

“So the trout will think, hang on, this is a bit different.”

The fact that fishing is not a sport (unless, say, reading is a sport too) does not deter them.

“Trout fishing,” they agree, “is not a sport, it’s a religion.”

“It’s often said, you’ve got to think like a trout,” says one devotee, after dropping a bit of his ham sandwich into the water has failed.

What thinking like a trout involves would presumably look like this:


Fish, let’s face it, are stupid. Fish are thicker than Gazza’s not-as-clever-as-he-is friends.

The fishermen, on the other hand, are even stupider. The fish can SEE them. They know the mayflies are bits of garishly pained elk hair. What they’re doing is catching the really stupid fish. After all, the cameraman just swims up to them throughout the whole programme.

Tapehead’s last encounter with a pig left a lasting impression. Pigs are huge. They are hairy, salivating, hyperactive hippos in miniature and are in Tapehead’s opinion quite insane.

QED tries to convince us that pigs are the most intelligent animals on the planet, more intelligent than trout, chimpanzees, and even most of the blondes down Tapehead’s local.

Training them with specially adapted computers, Prof Stanley Curtis from Pennsylvania (something of a fat pig himself) seeks to show that pigs can learn verbal commands, respond to their own names and use snout-operated joysticks to beat him at Moral Kombat. 

(Why the pigs have to be named Hamlet and Streaky merely demonstrates show cruelly humans view animals.)

“No task seems too difficult,” he says, giving them M&Ms as they learn to turn in a circle and tune his TV into Channel 5.

“They can even remember negative events,” Stanley squeals, such as the time Stan pulled their tail or the day David Wicks left EastEnders.

The chimpanzee expert who lends Stan his equipment watches solemnly. Slowly realising he’s spent his whole life researching the wrong animals. 

Anyone who’s read Animal Farm will find it faintly sinister. Particularly when Stanley says he wants the pigs to “learn discipline.”

Thankfully, we move on to Katy Cropper, “the only woman ever to won One man And His Dog”, who trains a piglet to be a sheepdog. A new series on channel 5, One Woman And Her Pig, starts in the summer. 

And in case any of our porcine friends are reading, Tapehead welcomes you in the traditional way: Oink Oink.


Absolutely Animals: Mon, 8.30pm, C4

Tales From The Riverbank: Mon, 9.30pm, BBC2

QED: Tues, 10pm, BBC1