At the time of writing, it seems increasingly likely that the new Tory leader will be a charismatic but unprincipled and crooked chancer, with a demonstrable track record of incompetence and lying in public office. Many fear he will be driving the UK towards a Brexit that will be desirous only to the delusional and the xenophobic. His mandate? An illegally acquired slender win in a 2016 advisory referendum in which he himself was instrumental in fostering deceits and division in the country. This is a dark time for Britain indeed, especially as he won’t win his post through a general election victory, but through the votes of a tiny minority of the country who are Tory party members. Even from a Conservative perspective, he represents a lurch to the right and threatens a trainwreck situation that could destroy the Union and the Tory party’s own integrity and future. For the rest of us, we are living in horror and dread.
Still, there is a way we can all ‘Back Boris’ right now and here’s how. I was at Chester Zoo today, enjoying the mammals, birds, fish and reptiles on show, as well as the animatronic predators from past ages, only to encounter a very charismatic Boris we all love. He is one not only far more worthy of public praise and support than the ex-Mayor of London, but perhaps one who certainly would do far less damage to the country if he was elected Prime Minster.
Boris the chimpanzee is famous at Chester Zoo. He arrived in 1969 after being rescued from a New York pet store and temporary residence in an apartment in that city. To celebrate his 50th birthday in 2016, sculptor Gill Parker was commissioned to create a superb bronze of the noble beast.
Situated outside the chimpanzee house, the bronze is placed on an oblong rough-hewn stone plinth. It is flanked by two boards. One explains the story of Boris: his early life, how he became an important member of the chimp community, and how he has inspired conservation through his mischief, his intelligence and his engaging personality.
The other board outlines the complex process of making the statue itself, which is both informative and reveals the investment of money and time gone into this work of art.
I’ve discussed the contemporary archaeology of Chester Zoo elsewhere on this blog, including how the environment cites dead people and the zoo’s own history through its landscape. It also deploys manifold allusions past human cultures and civilizations to tell the story of evolution and conservation. Yet I haven’t yet commented on Boris, and now seems the right time.
Through his long-lived presence, and since 2016 enhanced by his beautiful statue, Boris is one of the most prominent and venerated ‘animal ancestors’ in Chester Zoo. He fits a pattern identified and discussed by contemporary archaeologist and heritage guru Professor Cornelius Holtorf for zoos elsewhere. Namely, human-like personalities in zoological gardens seem to be particularly afforded to elephants and apes, who take on a special prominence in both life and death as part of the zoo community. While death is denied in the zoo for most animals that dwell there, long-lived characters like Boris become significant foci of commemoration, not only representing their species, but the zoo more broadly and its entertainment and conservation dimensions.
Unsurprisingly, Boris’s 50th birthday present sculpture is not unique: other art created for ‘Boris McZoo’ has been created: see here for another story. And yes, Boris is interesting in being another example of the pseudo-Scottish surname attribution ‘Mc’ to artefacts and non-human agents. Yet the particular realism and spatial location of the bronze of Boris projects its significance and awaits the sad death of Boris himself. He is already installed in life as a venerated ancestor for the chimps and the zoo as a whole, integral to the landscape for visitors and a memorial for decades to come.
So come on, let’s all back Boris in every regard, including for PM!