The tale of Robinson Ant

Robinson Ant was not impressed
I'm not proud of this story but it seems somehow relevant to our times. In the 1980’s, approximately during my eighth journey round the sun, me and a mate used to play an unusual game which had strange echoes of the culture of “reality television” our generation now both produces and enjoys. During the game we’d put some water in a bucket with a half submerged rock in the middle. The exposed top half would then be decorated with bits of grass, twigs and leaves.

The next stage was to kidnap an ant from my garden and put it on the “island”. All our contestants were named, “Robinson Ant”. The point of the game was to watch and see if Robinson could escape the island without too much help. Potentially this could take all day so we’d put little bits of food on there as well, bit of sherbet dip or some marshmallow out of a wagon wheel usually sufficed.

We devised complex rules for the game. Both of us were allowed three “helps” each. This would usually mean you’d pull Robinson out of the water if he fell in. Or it could be you might pop him on a leaf and see if he could use that as part of a daring getaway. I still have the image of our first winner pedaling towards the bucket’s edge on a “raft” made from a bit of dandelion. Once he touched the plastic of the bucket we scooped him out, cheered, and then went and put him back where we found him. Every care was taken to ensure the safety of our contestants and, as far as I’m aware, Robinson Ant caused only one insect fatality. 

The excitement of our first winner made the next few games a bit boring by comparison. Eventually, to keep things going, we decided to spice things up a bit with a new twist. In the original story Robinson Crusoe meets a companion, “Man Friday”, who helps him to escape the Island. After watching another, by comparison tragically hopeless, ant wander aimlessly around our newly designed island we went to the other side of the garden and selected a “Man Friday” to join him.

“Ooh, they’ve seen each other” said my mate.

This second ant had a lot more energy and marched with purpose towards his new friend Robinson, who seemed a little sleepy. It was almost as if he recognized him.

“What are they doing? They’re not having sex or something are they?”

“No, they’re fighting, look, look, oh. Oh, Robinson’s unconscious, Man Friday’s knocked him out”.

As I leaned in I could see the victorious “Man Friday” walking away with the purposeful swagger of a job well done. Our poor hero though was in pieces, two pieces to be precise. His legs and body lay a few millimeters away from his tiny severed ant head as its little antenna swayed in the summer breeze. Its black eyes glared at me with the sort of accusatory expression only an empty void can manage.

The bucket was kicked over in horror and disgust. We ran and told our parents. Questions were asked, the adults looked worried and we were told in no uncertain terms what a bad, cruel, game that was and never to play it again. Thus ended Robinson Ant.

There are of course a couple of major differences between this game and “reality TV”. Firstly the ants didn’t volunteer or gain from the experience at all. Secondly reality TV and our cruel popular culture is organised not by two eight year old lads but by adults who make a career of it and have no one to tell them to stop.

Nick Margerrison


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