Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A Flooded Meerkat

Before I get into the main business of today’s entry I will tell you that I managed five press-ups yesterday and a briskish walk around the block in the warm autumn breeze today. As my brother gently reminded me yesterday, a month ago I was receiving potentially lethal doses of chemo and two weeks ago I was discharged from hospital. These are still early days.

Today I received a visit from a valued friend and among other things we brainstormed an interesting aspect of a novel he is writing. He also lent me a really tremendous vampire movie to watch, called Let Me In, which is based on a Swedish novel and is an American remake of a Swedish movie of the same. While the film’s horror was graphic enough, much of the story-telling was suggestive, based on out-of-focus images, distant camera-work and mass media of the early 1980s playing in the background. As well as being an interesting variation on well-worn vampire themes, the story was also a powerful allegory of the difficulties of adolescence. Catch it if you can, even though Mark Kermode didn’t like it, regarding it as a pointless remake. My friend in turn left weighed down with borrowed Tintin books, one of which, Tintin in Tibet, is one of my oldest possessions, dating back to the early 1960s.

Well, what of the main business? A bit of fun really, prompted by a text message from my friend before he came round, in which he said that he had been unable to find the word “gnosistic”, used in yesterday’s entry, in Chambers’ Dictionary. Therefore, as he put it, the word could not exist, adding “simples!”, the catchphrase used, with a Russian accent, by the supposedly loveable meerkats—or, rather, “meerkats”—featured in the long-running advertising campaign by the insurance comparison site Animated “meerkats” are used to advertise the site, the premise being that they inhabit a land called Meerkovo, somewhere presumably once within the Evil Soviet Empire, where their formerly peaceful lives have been disrupted by numerous enquiries from people looking for cheap insurance and confusing the insurance site with their own web presence, maintained at (and further developed with games and animations at Thus are writ large two great English vices: anthropomorphism and over-reliance in the mass media on bad puns. The cuddly denizens of Meerkovo use the broken English of “simples” to point up how elementary is the difference between the two words “market” and “meerkat”, hoping thereby to educate the Great British Public into accurate surfing so that they can get back to peaceful life.

Having time on my hands and a web-enabled computer on my lap I wondered how meerkats had come to be in such a position in popular consciousness. The following seemed to be the significant steps along the way…

Meerkats (Afrikaans for "marsh cat") in their natural habitat, southern Africa (i.e. not within the former Evil Empire).
Related to the mongoose, they first came to popular notice in UK wildlife documentaries about thirty years ago and immediately appealed because of their habit of striking this alert pose in groups (they are sociable animals).
Hey, they are almost human!

Transitional phase, aka "the rot setting in".
Meerkats can use human technology!

As often Disney is implicated.
Timon the meerkat and his friend Pumbaa the warthog from The Lion King (1994).

All is now lost, broken English and all.
I wonder how real meerkats are faring…

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