Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Year of the Abductor

Other than perhaps emigrating and renovating, there is little that RHB and I have applied ourselves to collectively with as much energy as our current gymnasical enthusiasm. True, we each have our own obsessions - RHB has a personal mission to name and befriend every small animal in the locale, and I, because of my habits have regularly to attend AA* meetings. But together, we have become gym obsessed. The addiction has gone so far that we plan how to "make up" for the time we will "loose" because of the need to be hospitable to some welcome overnight visitors. While it is undeniable that at least some of the motivation for this started with an admiration for our various marathon running, squash playing Canadian visitors, the impetus to continue has been self-generated and is so embedded now that it is ubiquitous in our routine.

This makes gym attendance entirely unlike earlier fads like the famous Max Payne era, when we crept round a virtual world playing computer games together - an ultimately unsatisfying experience due to RHB's prediliction for screaming "Bastard" at the on-screen baddies (she does tend to become involved), and displaying an entirely illogical disposition for frugality with resources that meant I wasnt allowed to waste any ammunition on fighting. Or another epoch in our relationship - salsa dancing lessons - which came to resemble title bouts for the WWF**. One week at salsa, Barry, the instructor, became frustrated by RHB's continuing tendency to "lead", (despite his frequent exhoratations that "the lady" must float and be led), so he whisked her off round the hall, intending to dance some sense into her. If I remember correctly RHB won by two falls and a submission.

It is with accomodating visitors in mind that we head for the gym at a time outside our normal hours. Creatures of habit as we have become, even this minor shift has caused some discumbobulation, in terms of schedule; cats have had to be herded at unusual times and the Crosstowner has been denied the weekly race with Bert's inheritor, Jim, so my mood is ambivalent from the outset. Arriving at the gym, we strip (not in the same room), change, and head for our respective warm ups. RHB starts on the ski-walker, a machine that I studiously avoid after an episode that nearly resulted in hospitalization for at least two other gymnastiques. I instead, direct my attention to the free-weights area, happy that even if I do fall off a weights bench, the worst damage I could impose on other gym users woud be strained stomach muscles and temporarily, mirth- induced blurred vision (TMIBER***).

One gets used to the rhythyms of a usual time spot at a gym, mostly because of the routines of other users, but it is almost a subconcious phenomena, so I do not notice at first that I am being shadowed. It is only when an unfeasibly shaped personage (with a physique roughly analogous to a woolly mammoth) stands right in front of me, curling about 1000kgs, that I begin to suspect I am being followed. My next exercise, "upright rowing" seals the case, as my stalker lifts a weight equivalent to the boat he is supposed to be rowing, directly after I have performed the same exercise with 40 kgs, and directly in front of me. At first, I am flattered, albeit that Spartan relationships are not my cup of tea, but eventually, as my pursuer is joined in his imitations of my routine by a couple of colleagues of equally strange disproportionation, I realise that the intent is not intimate male bonding, but intimidation. I am being stalked by Gym Pigs.

The Gym Pigs are all ginger and freckled. This, combined with a tendency to overwork the biceps and upper torso, plus an inherently thick neck has resulted in a physique that can without dispute, be called "big". But where the physique of a recently made acquaintance of mine - a Marine instructor - can undoubtedly also be called "big", there is, with my Marine instructor, a fairly obvious connection between form and function. In short, the Marine instructor - about as wide, and as tall, as four Toshacks (with tail extended) - is incredibly functional. |He looks as if he could break one's neck with his pinkie finger, a killing machine, immensely capable. The Piggy physique is much less understandable - running on their tiny little legs looks unfeasible, so sports such as rugby seem unlikely. Sports requiring hand eye co-ordination (such as tennis) so seem not to be destinations for these trainers, as all three of them have eyes that are sunken so far under their freckled pale foreheads that their vision is surely restricted to occasional glimpses of the world through reddish eyebrows.

Suddenly, an anthropological thought hits me, as it tends to do when you are the joint second best academic in England. Perhaps, I muse, Neanderthals did not, after all, become extinct? But no! I am immediately ashamed of such ethnocentricity - there is absolutely no evidence at all that homo neanderthalises, or homo heidelbergwhatitsnames were stupid. Instead I logically conclude that genetic experimentation is being conducted in Hull, and the ones that go wrong are simply turned out to roam free. By a quirk of fate, they have ended up in the gym.

For my second set of exercises, I move to the only machine deemed macho enough to be located in the free weights area - the thingymajig. This is a machine of sheer power. It looks like a kind of crane and I mainly use it for light work on the shoulders, as follows:

an arm, preferably one of your own( for maximum efficacy of exercise), is extended outwards, laterally from your side, and in the horizontal dimension. The digits at the end of said arm, grasp firmly onto a stirrup shaped handle, and with a sudden intake of breath, you force the handle - attached to a big piece of string and weights interpreted by pulleys - downwards, so the arm becomes vertical, or north to south, through an arc while still travelling in a plane co-incidental with that of your torso, when considered across the width. Transverse motion across the torso plane should be avoided, as should unequal torsion via the dorsal medial parameters.

In other words, its the same action as signalling for a bus holding a shopping bag.

After my first set, Piggy 1 approaches, and communicates it's intention to share the machine, as it wants to do the same exercise. I agree, as if I have a choice, and it changes the weight load from the 30kg I have been attempting to about 5600kg. Machine set, and with its pals shouting good natured obscenities, he begins violently yanking on the handle. As Piggy works through his set, his face turns red, purple and then puce, and he grunts, shouting something that sounds like "huyuuah" with each repetition. On the final repetition there is a massive 'CLANK' as the weights return to their staring position. Piggy turns to me, rolls his sleeve back and examines his muscles appreciatively, rubbing then with a surprising gentleness, then turns back to the machine to readjust the weights. I stop him in mid-action ... "No, its allright mate. Tha'll do". He looks a bit surprised, but I step up to the handle anyway, grasp it firmly, draw in a mighty breath and draw my arm downwards, Or rather try to, because the weight will not move. I adopt the grunting technique that was apparently such a part of his success, and still the wieght doesnt budge, so I start counting..... "Huyuuahh.. ONE...huyuuahh...TWO... " and so on.

From Piggy's point of view, it must look quite strange. I am standing, completely immobile, next to a machine with my arm extended horizontally, counting loudly and grunting, eyes bulging from their sockets. I count up to six then stop, turn around, roll up my sleeve, find my muscle, rub it and look him straight in the eye ..."Right on. Your go now". This charade continues through two further sets, then Piggy 1 wanders off, but I'm pissed so I decide to pursue the battle further. I'm pissed mainly because I have noticed that I am not the only person who has had the shadowing treatment, and frankly the Pigs behaviour is bullying. They are trying, through humiliating other users, to discourage anyone else from using "their" area.

I decide to turn the tables, so I now follow Piggy 1 round the room, insisting on sharing not only the equipment he is using, but at the same weight. Its a bit like an uninvited guest at a Menonite barn raising turning up with power tools. Except in reverse. By the end of my session, Piggy 1's beginning to look a bit freaked out as I invite myself to share every bit of equipment he goes to use, him moving weights as heavy as Stonehenge and me, at exactly the same weight, puffing and panting through a series of immobile grunting counts. I encourage him in his sets "C'mon buddy. You can do it! Lets take it!" and at one stage even utter a small "whoo - whoo" with fist pumping air action. I stop short of slapping his butt affectionately, but am not stingy with admiring glances.

Back in the locker room, Piggy 1 is in too much of a rush to get a shower, and leaves with just a mumbled something. Next week we are back to our normal schedule, so our paths wont cross, I hope, but as I get on the scales, and glance into a mirror, I realise I have put five kilos on in as many weeks. I am getting bigger. And the muscle shape is definitely beginning to happen. I think about my next workout and fantasize, for second, how great it would be with no weedy twenty year old students clogging up the equipment. And hang on, are my eyes getting a little....well, piggy?


AA* = Anthropologist Anonymous
WWF** = World Wrestling Federation
TMIBER*** = Temporary Mirth Induced Blurred Eye. Rupture.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

GO ! Team Antikythera ! GO !

"Togas? " Joe looks surprised.

"Yes, togas. I definitely think we should wear togas.And we'll need some listening devices, IR detection equipment, spyware - find out as much info from the enemy as possible. Oh yeah, another thing! you dont know anyone who's an expert hacker do you? We could also try biological warfare - perhaps find someone with the flu and get them to follow the prosecutors round, sneeze in their faces, that sort of thing. "

Joe looks uncertain. "Well you've obviously thought about this a bit more than" he tails off, uncertain what to say next.

"OK, well maybe we should wrap this up for the moment. Do you want to take a look at this stuff I prepared ? "......... I push my research material ( a fifty page bundle of notes, print-offs and leaflets on tactics, evidence, strategies, arguments, counterarguments, plus books, including the classic "Ancient Economy" by Finley, and a working model of Hero's Aeolipile) towards him........... "and we'll meet next week"

Joe demurs "Perhaps it would be best if I just did those couple of paragraphs of suggested reading first. That's quite a lot of material you've produced. You know it's only a half hour seminar dont you?"

The meeting ends, we part ways and I trundle the Crosstowner homewards, deep in thought. The "it" we have been discussing is an impending seminar, a part of our module "Innovations: A Cultural History" . The format of the seminar is a mini trial in which arbitarily picked students from the class have been divided into groups. Our group is Group B and in the first seminar we are the defence in the debate "The Greeks and Romans were technological underachievers". Other groups (Group A and Group C) act as prosecution and jury. Throughout the module, other topics are debated and our roles are switched, but for the first, crucial half hour session, we are advocates for the Greeks. It is a role I have not taken lightly.

However, as I wander home, I consider whether Joe has a point - am I taking this all a bit too seriously? I have to admit that during our meeting, Joe did, at times, look a little like a deer caught in headlights, but I put that down more to a dawning awareness (on his part) of the enormity of our task in constructing an absolutely watertight case, demolishing our opponents case(preferably humiliating them at the same time) and, in the process, changing global understandings of history (while wearing togas), than I did to an overenthusiasm on my part. Admittedly, my accent can be distracting, particularly during impassioned pleading, and I may have been slightly overstating the case when I suggested that no legal question since Roe vs Wade had been more important. It may also be the case, I suppose, that it is possible that my suggestions for physical intimidation of the jury and nobbling of the prosecution might have been taken for the dangerous ramblings of a deranged lunatic, but on balance, for a Second Year Group Seminar, I think I got it about right. The work we do his year does, after all contribute to ur final mark, and as Grasshopper has oft times pointed out - academia is a competitive sport. I'm sure she would approve, particularly the bits about disabling one's opponents.

I do however, decide to simplify my approach for the next meeting of Team Antikythera ( which hopefully more of the group will attend), so I remove ten of the less vital items from my suggested agenda, including a suggestion that someone is delegated to read, in its entirety, Gibbons Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (in case I missed something), my proposal for someone to visit the Athens Museum (they do have a fairly good website) and the plan to remove from the library every single possible source of reference material for the opposition (on the grounds that I have already done it). I also reluctantly remove the toga provision - it could backfire, particularly if we get our togas mixed up with our chitons.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

In Which A Cultural Observer Reports he Effects of the Culture He is Reporting On The Cultural Observer

It is a process that has taken a couple of years, but inevitably and inexorably, I can feel Englishness returning. In some respects, this is no bad thing -I am becoming increasingly good at improvising solutions, especially to craft related situations, whereas in Canada there would almost always be a technology to solve my problem - a piece of machinery I could buy. Hanging doors is a perfect example - in England, the approach is to skillfully chisel out, by hand, a perfectly square sliver of wood on frame and door exactly the same size as the hunge one wants to use. You then insert the hinge into the required space, screw it securely in place and hey presto, the door is hung! Takes about ten minutes per door, and the only equipment needed is a chisel and a hammer. Your finger nail and the hinge can suffice to mark your cuts. North American culture differs - the professional will have a "hinge jig" - a contraption that looks like the type of thing used when people need their heads stabilizing after car accidents - an electric router and a specially adapted router bit. Our North American carpenter wil, after parkin his behemouth outside your proerty, unload his truck of all his equipment (hinge jigs, stud locators, the "Drill Doctor", tinted safety glasses, mechanised measuring tape) then unearth the hinge jig and its companions. The same measuring procedure will be required as his English counterpart, but to cut the hinge he will have to take the door outside, secure it safely in his "safe-o-matic" door holder, assemble his jig, insert his router bit, apply his era defenders and safety goggles, and finally clear the area of all cats and young children. Then the router gets switched on. Cue massive noise and huge mess, which he then clears up with his industrial Shop Vac. The door frame gets a similar treatment, apart from the necessary laying down of dust sheets everywhere. Three hours later, your door, if all measurements have been correct, is hung.

I will refrain from describing the technological procedure involved in replacing a washer in Canada, for fear of giving some readers nightmares, but despite that it is often simpler to rebuild your house than decide to fit new doors, people in Canada are generally quite happy.

This observation, is of course relative, and only assertable at a remove. It was at such a remove that this reflection occured to me. Clarifying, I should say that it was as yet another car drove directly at me, it's purple faced controller screaming and gesticulating enthusiastically, that this reflection, ex post facto, occurred to me. I had dutifully stopped the Crosstowner at a "Zebra crossing" (translation for Canadians: "Zebra crossing " = crosswalk) to allow, in full accordance with the law, an elderly lady, Zimmer frame supported, to cross a minor-ish road in our locale. Observing a Range Rover ( the original SUV) approaching at a rate of knots on the other side of the road, and anticipating that the driver might not stop, I raised my hand and waved, then pointed at the windscreen. Having experienced driver rage frequently over the last 30 months I performed this action in as friendly a manner as possible. The driver obvioulsy saw me, because he wound his window down as he approached. I waved cheerily, thumbs up. The driver responded with a wave. To my surprise, though , it was not a cheery wave, more of a gesture of dismissal and he slowed at the crossing only long enough to imply that I fornicated regularly. My surprise continued when he did a 360 degree turn further down the road, accelerated back in my direction, and, to cut a long story short, tried to drive me off the road.

All of this would be the stuff of incident, if it were not a regular occurence here. And, my reflection revealed, I am re-immersing myself in the culture by becoming primed, expecting incidents of this type. No longer do I take to the roads thinking "careless idiot" if someone cuts me up, I now take to the roads expecting to be deliberately driven at. I'm getting Englisher in other ways as well, often trading no fewer than fifteen "thank you"s in the process of buying a simple newspaper, or starting every sentence with "I'm sorry, but...". As any anthropologist will tell you, this acculturation is of course natural, especially if it represents the original state of the observer, so I am not particularly worried about becoming English, there are plenty of benefits, but I do feel regret as the Canadian bits are gradually shed and this is particularly so in relation to the seasons. In Canada, we would have had Thanksgiving by now, and in both places we lived, there would have been a marked change in temperature - in Ontario, this was particularly so, from temperatures that could kill you by heat to temperatures that could freeze you. Tires on the car and the bike would have been thought about. Pumpkins would have been bought, and I would have resolved that this was the year I was going to learn to skate.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Halloween Two - A Movie Review

Halloween Two - A Movie Review.


We only went to see it because myself, RHB, Will and Skarra wanted to go th HUll Fair, but the driving rain made the idea untenable. Also untenable these days is sitting in the pub for hours and hours - as may have been mentioned on this blog before, pubs just aint what they used to be, sitting round in an overpriced, trendy bar is unappealing and the nearby 'locals' are usually empty, apart from when a football match is shown. So we went the only show that we had time to go and see - Halloween. After an hour, I left, follwed by RHB. At a loose end we went and sat in the overpriced, trendy bar of the movie house. We were travelling with Will and Skarra, but they mystriously decided to see the thing through to the bitter end.

The movie attached is better, even though it has no plot, the cinematography is awful and the characters one-dimensional.

The black cat is Dizzy, a very friendly little local cat who just wants to play, and one of the last cats in the neighbourhood who visits Large Mansions on a regular basis. I would like to say, in a MAn The Hunter type way, that this is because my cat, Tosh, is so fierce and warlike that through his fearless aggressiveness he has bravely driven every other cat away. In fact, I think the other cats eschew our environs because Tosh's whining is so irritating.

If you are at all interested in cat behaviour, you'll also realize, that being domesticated so heavily, the cats have their signals all screwed up. Tosh, for example is in classic defences posture - lower than Dizzy and ready to be pounced on. This is despite that in this encounter, he was, as usual, the aggressor. Dizzzy on the other hand is displaying absolutely no signs at all that he's involved in a potentially dangerous situation.

It's only the next video, during which almost NOTHING at all happens that Dizzy acts like a cat that has been in an encounter, and the reason almost nothing happens is that he slinks away, moving VERY slowly.

The final video piece, though is interesting - at least to us. Tosh kept stalking Dizzy, and I followed him with my camera. I should add here that when I can, I break these fights up before they get physical. Someone once told me off for interfering in the 'natural' behaviour' of the cats, but looking at Tosh on his cat tree, playing with his squeaky mouse, I dont think think that 'natural' quite applies. If he has an excess of aggression he usually takes it out on his teddy bear, grasping it found the neck and raking its stomach with is back claws.

I followed Tosh down the wall to the rear of the garden where last weekend we had cut down, with our great neighbour Keeno, a massive jasmine that overhung his shed. As I started filming I noticed that revealed by this pruning is a face in the concrete, sculpted only knows when. It's pretty cool.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

147 Questions

You may or may not be familiar with the info that I'm now entering my Second Year of a Bachelor's Degree. You may also muse to yourself "Well it's a bit odd that this chap is the second best academic in England, yet has only just passed the "do" words module". Strange it may be, but as everyone should know, or as award winning, s hospital cleaning World's Best Professors, or any self-respecting, costume making Euroscientist, or, reflectively, any pizza serving Philosopher can tell you, being at University, and being brilliant are two entirely different things. The brilliant bit is the fun part, and the degree bit is, as Grasshopper long ago advised me, a competitive sport.

With this in mind, the major subject of my degree is prosaic and practical, centring on achieving qualifications that will allow me to Teach people to Bang nails into bits of Wood. Notwithstanding, I am allowed one brilliant bit a year, where my principal area of interest, AKA the Brilliant bit, can find full expression. It is under this aegis that I attend the first lecture of "Innovation; A Cultural History", my free elective for this year.

This is the second week of term, and I'm strolling through the beautiful autumnal sunshine towards the ivy-covered History building. The old mood is a mixture of sheer glee at the prospects ahead, and sadness that my good friend JJ isnt here. JJ left towards the end of last year, and some experiences have not been the same since. Throughout the first semester, JJ and I had established a tradition at Staff House, the post-doc and Staff dining hall, of buying eachother lunch and debating the great topics of the day. First among those topics was usually "What are we eating?", because the food provided at Staff House confirms every prejudice about English cuisine that exists. Chilli, curry, ragout, stew and that old English standby "....... Pie" (insert 'fish', 'cottage', 'vegetarian', 'meat' ) all taste, feel and look exactly the same. Today was my first meal back at Staff House without JJ I have no other reference than the chalkboard that I am eating lamb. It tastes a bit like chicken.

Cheeriness, however, is restored by the anticipated content of the lecture I am headed towards - this is not a module to be 'passed', oh no, 'Innovation' is a module to be savoured, to be mulled, debated and to spend far too much time on. Expectations are high.

Arriving at the lecture theatre twenty minutes early, I settle down in a seat at the front, remove my pens and notepaper, turn off my phone and compose myself. I am eager not to miss a second of the forthcoming delights, and also to impress the Professor with my attitude, so when I discover twenty minutes later that it is the Professor himself who has awakened me from my deep slumber, I know for certain that I have at least partially succeeded. In yesteryear, history Professors were very old men, wearing crumpled tweed suits, whiskers sprouting from everywhere, especially the nostrils, and authors of impossibly long books about the British Empire thinly disguised as fantasy novels. These days, with the advent of the Discovery Channel, and the ongoing controversy about which aliens actually built the Pyramids (I think it was the Greys), History Professors are young rock and rollers, devil-may-care abseiling telegenic enthusiasts who look like they're just about to go solo back-packing in Kgyrystan. "Innovations" Professor is no different - humourous and slightly ironic, clean and healthy looking. The last thing he looks like he is about to do is write a book.

As the lecture progresses, I realise that the list of 147 questions I have prepared for this lecture is inappropriate, as this initial session is just an outline of the year long module and an introduction into procedures and so on, so I carefully write down his e-mail address and office hours. Doubtless, he will prefer, as did Kenny last year, to discuss the ideas behind "Civilization: Why?" in some depth, and some of my ideas (particularly those controversial sections about pockets of Neanderthalism still remnant in Leeds) will be too advanced for most of the class.

It is totally without any irony that I can report that the structure of the module, in detail, is even better than I had imagined. Not only are the topics fascinating "Was it inevitable that the atomic bomb would be dropped, once it had been invented?" , but the seminars are to be presented in a way I have not yet encountered, in that each seminar is to take the format of a mini trial. We, the students have been nominated as judge, jury, prosecution and defence for various of the seminars so that each role is performed by each student, and we are going to put "on trial" various concepts within the topic. The topics are "Why were the Greeks and Romans technologically so limited? " and so on.

Back home and happy that my free elective is going to be fantastic, I settle down, with less resentment than normal, to work on one of my mandated modules "Inclusive Learning", and find to my surprise that my perceptions of it have changed. It is no longer dull, worthy and content-free, but a topic which, if approached from the point of view that it is about different ways of teaching, may be very illuminating. "Innovations: A Cultural History" is already bearing fruit.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

How to study

Its Tuesday afternoon, one of the few periods of the week uninterrupted by troublesome lectures, gym attendance, football matches and renovations. I suppose in the olden days, a married couple (such as we are), anxious to arrange their lives to less resemble a pair living through the after effects of a global catastrophe (which describes most people I know) and striving to avoid being the cause of any further chaos (which has been a theme throughout our partnership) might sit down at the dinner table, clear it of unnecessary cats, and one might ask the other :

"My dear, what are you doing tomorrow? I know you have your little women's coffee morning on Thursday, rehearsals for the amateur players on Wednesday, and a court apppearance on Friday following that unfortunate incident in the fishmongers last week over the last piece of haddock, but I seem to have forgotten what occupies your pretty little mind this coming Tuesday".

The significant other would probably respond:

"Silly old thing, I'm off to Raquel's on Tuesday, there's a rather good all-male troupe of strip-artistes in town. Burlesque's all the rage, dont you know?"

The male might laugh, then reply that he was a silly, old thing, omitting to add that he was also going grey, bald and fat and that some of his teeth were a bit loose, but would theatrically slap his forehead and agree that as his paranour was engaged, it would be acceptable for him to go and watch he football, down at the local pub. Schedules agreed, the co-habitees wold carry on reading their papers.

Today, of course, all this has changed. It has taken weeks of negotiation, juggling, accomodation, planning and hypothesising to arrange our schedule. Most of this communication has been by electronic means, mostly because when we ask eachother in the traditional manner, the reply is invariable "Let me check my calendar. Ah! It appears as if I've just missed a waxing. I wish these things would be more consistent in sending reminders."

Nevertheless, accomodation has been made, and schedules have been set, despite that I have missed several waxings. I get home from the morning's lecture with enough time to cram in a good four hours study, park the Crosstowner affectionately in the hall and set to.

Before I study though, there are a few little things I need to do. Firstly, I open the back kitchen door to allow the cats some outside time, as they resolutely refuse to exit unless one or the other of us is watching. Then I open my laptop. I check the football results again to see if they have improved since Sunday, and they have not. Then I investigate further the brilliant new anthropological theory that occured to me while I was in my "Inclusive Learning" class earlier in the morning. Suddenly, it looks as if Calli, the smaller of the two cats, is having difficulty killing a particularly attractive songbird that is busy twittering above her in the bushes outside. She meeps plaintively, so to help her get over her disappointment, I play a good game of "pounce" with her for ten or fiftenn minutes. Game over, I realise I'm hungry, so I eat a few slices of bread (with marmalade), make a cup of tea and sit down. Realising I have'nt organised my study schedule for the afternoon, I draw up a to-do list. The list extends into domestic tasks as well, mainly because I realise we havent yet downloaded tonight's television watching, or arranged anything to eat for our evening meal. A quick dash to the local store for provisions, set the computer up to download, make another cup of tea, e-mail RHB to remind her that I am at home studying. Suddenly my computer beeps at me, and the recieved e-mail reminds me I have night school that evening. I realise my wet weather gear isnt organised, so just in case, I find it all, ready to pack for tonight's class, and in doing so, discover that my cycling shorts are dirty. Not wanting to waste energy, I organise a full load of washing. By this time, Calli wants stroking, and Tosh wants to play, RHB has e-mailed to ask me to get something out of the freezer for her tea, and I remember I have'nt posted the first edition of "Bike" to a friend, a canvasser is knocking at the door, a neighbour wants me to throw the kid's ball back over the fence, JJ has texted me to arrange a drink, and I need another cup of tea.

I glance at the clock. It's four pm. How on earth did this happen? We planned everything ! The clock must be wrong, so I check, but alas, none of the clocks in the house disagree. There is only one refuge for students in need of a quick, compressed study, so I Google "Traits Theory" and click without hesitation on the Wikipedia entry. The "Trait theory" entry doesnt list "disorganised" as one of the Big Five Personality traits, but it does include the following fascinating observation:

Current research concentrates on a number of areas. One important question is: are the five factors the right ones? Attempts to replicate the Big Five in other countries with local dictionaries have succeeded in some countries but not in others. Apparently, for instance, Hungarians don’t appear to have a single Agreeableness factor.[55] Other researchers find evidence for Agreeableness but not for other factors.[56]

Obviously, my afternoon has not been wasted after all. A whole new line of anthropological investigation has been opened.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Back to The Future 2

"It's you!"

I look at myself and confess that it is, indeed, me, myself and I. Despite this confirmation the Transpennine Express representative, a man I recognise as a sparring partner from the bad old days of the delayed 7.33 is unimpressed.

"I'm afraid you cant take pictures here" he says. "Security."

I wonder what possible benefit terrorist might obtain from an ill-functioning railway service, but, regrettably older, tired today, and perhaps a tad wiser, I argue not at all, and slope off with camera and Crosstowner held fast, fearful of police intervention. It is a Saturday afternoon and I've just finished a couple of days back at my old company completing a project for a major client for their Christmas displays. University registration was last week, lectures do not start properly until next week, and I had a couple of days free. Free, that is, until I bragged about this freedom to my friend Tom, who is still emplyed by Dick. The job's fun, travelling aside, creating a huge pile of shinky boxes, replicating a big pile of presents. Mazzer's like shiny, so I jump at the chance, and within the allotted time fabricate a simulacrum of the concept, deemed acceptable by Tom. The project's a lot of fun, and Tom is fine to work with so the work is, like a lot of my enjoyable work, more like playing than work.

The travelling is a different story. At present, the old brain is currently occupied with questions of human origins, questions largely provoked by Chris Knight's book "Blood Relations; Menstruation and the Origins of Human Culture". Knight's proposal is that the origins of human culture lie in a "sex strike" that early females initiated, partly as protection against aggresive male behaviour, partly as a means of ensuring that their offspring were supplied with adequate food.

The work is interesting and throws up a number of questions, but as many of them are about the author's motivations as they are the actual question. Knight is a very radical Professor, fired earlier this year from his University post for suggesting (during a demonstration against globalization) that bankers might be hung form lampposts. He is, very politiclly active, and a Marxist. His analysis, is firmly framed within Marxism. And that, largely is where the problem lies, at least for this reader.

Marxism, in itself, as an economic analysis of industrialism, is something I have no problems with - there were top-hatted capitalists treating workers like bees in the dark Satanic mills. Latter day capitalists are no better - turning rainforests into cattle farms powered by indentured labour and pouring mercury into the Amazon in pursuit of profit. Our (my) own complicity in these activities (at least one of my guitars is tropical mahogany) is unquestionable, but Marxist interpretation of the control of the means of production lets me off the hook. Does nt it?

Where I have difficulties with modern day Marxists, particularly Marxist anthropologists, of which there are not a few, is that they translate their analysis to societies bearing absolutely no relation to the society that Marx lived and worked in. The best way to describe the difficulties I have in this are by describing what anthropologists are discussing when arguing about early human evoltion, ie how did we become human?

This is the picture. A group of hominids ( or early humans) are hanging round the Great Rift Valley, Africa engaged in that most common pursuit of mammals - surviving. These hominids have just split from Chimpanzee ancestors (see exciting news from this week: and are trying hard to decide how to evolve. Franky, they dont know and most of the group are half wishing that an anthropologist would come along and help them. Two in particular, Lucy and Ardi, are especially anxious, mostly because of the knowledge that they will go doen in history and will one day be VERY important. They need to know how to evolve. Suddenly, their wish is granted, but like buses, when you're waiting for one, they all turn up at once. A big bearded fellow addresses them

"You brothers and sisters" he says " are the oppressed. Subject to an aggressive domination from tyrannical overlords. You will establish class solidarity and throw off the chains of imperialism that subjugate you".

The hominids, lounging round in the sun, grooming eachother and slightly drunk from the semi-fermented apples they've been eating, look round anxiously for signs of the oppressor. Suddenly, one of the other anthropologists, wearing an Armani suit, sunglasses and smoking a big cigar, pushes the bearded one aside, making him stumble. Beard's glasses fall off, and the new guy stomps on them, smirking unpleasantly. He points at Lucy:

"You there!! Dont listen to him. He's a fanatic. Human's dont co-operate. You'll never get to the moon if you try that BS. Why dont you steal some of your little friend's baby's food. Take it for your own baby. Competition! That's what it's all about - dog eat dog, survival of the fittest.lJust go for it!"

The hominids are growing increasingly alarmed. Ardi gets up, heading towards a little dip in the landscape a few metres away.

"Where d'you think you're going? " This is from a third anthropologist. He looks like an art critic, square glasses with horn-rimmed frames, and a tee-shity that reads 'Dawkins is GOD'. Ardi, unused to being shouted at, responds timidly;

"Just going to the loo. Back in a bit"

Horn-rimmed looks stern :

"Oh no you're not. Not voluntarily, at least. Not until you've evolved the cognitive architecture to make voluntary decisions about defecation and it's symbolism."

Ardi bristles:

"Look mate, I know he " Pointing to Beard " is a Marxist. And he" pointing to Armani " is a free market behaviourist, but who are you?"

"I'm an evolutionary psychologist" says Horn-rimmed "and you are pre-Cathedral of the Mind".

Later that night, after the anthropologist have all been eaten, a meal shared equally among the hyenas who caught them and the hominids who decided 'Waste not, want not'. Lucy asks Ardi what tey should do.

"Let's wait and see..." says Ardi " about four million years".

Back in Leeds, sitting on the bus that is a train, I'm contemplating that my journey, at least today, is suffering from an acute attack of anthropology - rigid adherence to a dogma without any substantial evidence in favour of the thing.