I H AV E J U ST BEEN BITTEN BY A N A L L I G AT O R .
Admittedly, the ’gator in question is only 10 inches long, and being lightly chewed by a common American Alligator mississippiensis in the frst couple of years of life is more uncomfortable than fatal, but still, it left a mark, and it makes for a better story than the feeble yet numerous welts left by mosquitoes that currently occupy roughly a third of my exposed skin. The Everglades, it has to be said, are chock-full of biting things. Things that crawl, slither, swim and fy through the swampland of southern Florida, all intent – apparently – upon feasting on imported British fesh. The only place to escape from such carnivorousness is to jump into the car, in this case the new Mulsanne Speed, Bentley’s über-limo, a giant burnt-orange behemoth that represents the Crewe frm’s new range-topper. It sits glinting in the soft southern light like a particularly unselfconscious ode to excess: massive, solid and patently, reassuringly expensive.
There’s a burly thump to the doors, a density and meaty perfume to the interior space that reminds you what you’re paying for, and a fve-foot alligator lounging on the centre armrest. Oh. This one is slightly more ambitious than the yearlings, what with teeth that crowd its jaw so fully that they escape the event horizon of its actual mouth. We stare at each other for a bit, and if you’ve ever tried to out-stare the vertical slit of an alligator’s pearl-yellow eye, you’ll know who blinked frst. I’m… unsure of what to do next. It’s true that Mulliner – Bentley’s personal commissioning department – will trim your Mulsanne pretty much any way you want it, but I thought that generally involved skins rather than accessories that eye your exposed parts with patiently reptilian hunger. But this is what you get when you make friends with people who own an alligator farm, and decide to take pictures with a Bentley. And while our reptile-wranglers Luke and Mario are busily arranging alligator fesh for us, we also discover an airboat captain called Quentin who has an exact replica of a Bentley emblem tattooed the length of his left forearm. You just couldn’t make this stuf up. It’s quite overwhelming. So the stowaway and me just sit in amiable man-and-misplaced-dinosaur silence until someone comes to help. Then photographer Jamie and I fre up the Bentley, and head further into the Everglades. After all, it can’t get any weirder.
Obviously, it can. Several hours later, while trying to fnd a corner other than a 90° with a stop sign, and on a dirt road that slices between monstrous acreages of swamp, a disturbed and furiously beating heron drops a fsh on the Bentley. Literally. An armoured lump that looks like a cross between a horseshoe crab and catfsh, strangely heavy and thoroughly dead. We identify it as a half-rotten Floridian plecostomus and throw it into the water only for it to dart away, very much alive. Alive after having been attacked by a large predatory bird, dropped from 30 feet onto a British limousine, kept from the water and then prodded by an inquisitive human. They build them hardcore around here, sticking to the mitochondrial blueprints of prehistory. But it sure wasn’t pretty. Everything here seems a bit… primitive. Efective, yes, survivability of the scale, but you get the feeling the fundamental premise hasn’t changed in a very long time.
Alligator-skin extras are surprisingly snappy