26 june 2018






school photos







           All original writing

           2014, 2015, 2016, 2017,            2018        Ian McLauchlin



Exeter Corn Exchange again and Alice Roberts was giving a talk entitled "Tamed - the ten species that changed our world".  It was winter and so we decided to travel to Exeter on the train, taking care to sit on the Estuary side so we could see the . . . . . reflections of the seats opposite in the window. I know, get there early so we can sit and have a leisurely drink beforehand. Just outside there was the obligatory shouting man, worse for wear. "Shall I ask him to shout the words beginning with ' f ' more clearly?"  Wise daughter bundled me away and up the stairs.

The place was just about full and a projection screen sat centre stage, generating comfortable feelings of anticipation. Next to us we overheard a woman divulging to her friend that the next time she meets a so-called Cumbrian shepherd, she's going to ask for ID and a sample of fleece. The lights went down and pictures of wolves appeared accompanied by a commentary by someone with a sort-of-Bristol accent tinged with Irish vowel sounds. Have we been conned? Do we just get the recorded voice of Alice, with no appearance? If you're going to let people think that, you may as well stretch it out so they feel they've been really fleeced (that word again). Just in time, she came on, stage left.

She'll be wearing the usual trousers won't she. A consummate grab-your-interest-woman wouldn't do that, of course, so to defy expectations she chose a long fur poncho, as you do.

Wolves inveigled their way into human settlements using the cunning of . . . a wolf. Then developed a symbiotic relationship whereby we benefited by the wolves protecting us and helping with the hunting, while they gained some protection too and also some sustenance by feeding off our left-overs. And all dogs are 95% wolf. It's true 'cos DNA analysis says so.

A bit of movement doesn't come amiss, and as if on cue, Alice moved from one side of the screen to the other. A number of times. But that was thirsty work and she paused for a sip of water. And hot work. She discarded her fur poncho while assuring us that it was faux fur and purchased in a Garden Centre in Almondsbury. Phew, that's a relief.

So how did hunter-gatherers settle down? Grass helped. Grass is sturdy and can withstand drought and ill-treatment. And MY ancestors were gatherer-hunters, actually.

"Trade you six fox furs for this small bit of something strange, eh?" What could it be? It tasted good and the deal was done. It was bread. How do you make that? Take these grains, pound them into submission, and bake the result. Thinks - "If we had some of those grains we could make our own bread". So they traded some wheat plants and grew their own. After threshing, stray wheat grains'd grow and some bright spark realised that you could do that for yourself in  . . . . .  what shall we call 'em? Ah yes, fields. (And wheat is a kind of grass.)

Columbus sailed west expecting to hit Asia. He hit America instead and we've never recovered, but we do now have potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and cocoa.

Cows started out HUGE. They were big. But they became smaller as you walked away from them. And while you were harvesting their meat you found some milk among it. And you could drink it. Hey, why not keep them for their milk? They could pull things, like pints of milk, and ploughs and carts. Pretty useful are cows.

Some ancient pottery found in the far east had holes in it. What possible use could there be for a jar with holes in it? Then someone scraped the inner surface, analysed the scrapings, and found signs of milk. If I say 'curds and whey' there's the clue. They were making cheese that long ago, thereby paving the whey for successful portrait photography.

How about an interval during which you can go to the loo. stretch your legs, queue to buy a drink, buy a drink, go to the loo and almost fail to get back to your seat in time?

The archeological lobster. Yes, on the seabed of the Solent, a lobster was doing an archeological dig with the by-product of excavating a lair. In the lair, sorry layer, below there were artefacts of flint tools and charcoal providing valuable information on the land connection before the Channel flooded. The lobster was made a Fellow of the Royal Archeological Society but unfortunately was cooked and eaten on its way to the award ceremony.

A lot of information can be found by analysing mud. But you can't get a research grant for a project entitled simply "Digging up mud and poking around in it - you never know you might find something, happen" Much better if you call it "Sedimentary Provenance studies of shallow marine environments". The money will roll in.

I wonder if they collected any mud from the lobster's dig? "My husband's an archeologist and never throws anything away. The house is full of the 'may-come-in-handy' rubbish. It fills the shed, it's stacked up the stairs, and I trip over it daily. Every now and then I have a surreptitious clear out." "Have you seen that bit of sticking plaster from 1956?"  "Er . . . . no?"

Horses were kept for their (read ‘our’) meat. They were worth their weight in steaks. How did our relationship develop? Imagine that one day some brave and imaginative soul thought it'd be worth trying to get on the back of a wild horse. It snorted bucked and reared but he hung on, grasping the mane tightly. Slowly the horse settled down, He (bound to be a ‘he’) stroked it's neck, whispered in its ear and ever so slowly loosened the rope round its nose and head. The horse was off. He clung onto its mane tightly. It galloped into the distance, miles from the settlement. After a while it tired and came trotting to a halt, sweating like a . . . horse. He pulled its mane a bit to the left. The horse looked left and trotted on. A bit more. It turned again and after he dug his heels in it moved forward then picked up speed. Soon he was back at the settlement. It reared up and he fell off, hard onto his back. He was winded but elated. And his hands were full of dark wiry horse-hair. You could RIDE 'em!

The horse became central to our culture. It would take us places, it would pull ploughs and carts but it was also used in war, thereby negating some of its civilising influence. It provided work for blacksmiths, saddlers, sofa stuffers, racetracks and betting shops. It could be bartered for kingdoms and would deliver milk and beer.

But all wonderful things come to an end and unfortunately this talk did. After applause and some questions there was the customary book-signing. While in the queue, I suggested some possible questions and conversation topics:

"My sister had a friend called Alice and she was strange too."

"Are those your real legs?"

"At what point did you decide to become a superstar?"

It was time to make our way home and Alice agreed, in a Bristolean/Irish brogue and no trousers.