Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
I’ve heard an idea proposed, I’ve no idea how seriously, to account for the sensation of vertigo. It’s an idea that I instinctively like and it goes like this. The dizzy sensation we experience when standing in high places is not simply a fear of falling. It’s often the case that the only thing likely to make us fall is the actual dizziness itself, so it is, at best, an extremely irrational, even self-fulfilling fear. However, in the distant past of our evolutionary journey toward our current state, we lived in trees. We leapt from tree to tree. There are even those who speculate that we may have something birdlike in our ancestral line. In which case, there may be some part of our mind that, when confronted with a void, expects to be able to leap out into it and even urges us to do so. So what you end up with is a conflict between a primitive, atavistic part of your mind which is saying “Jump!” and the more modern, rational part of your mind which is saying, “For Christ’s sake, don’t!” In fact, vertigo is explained by some not as the fear of falling, but as the temptation to jump!
I think I prefer fish, said Gaynor.
Kiri explained that she was wrong and that she preferred chicken to fish. Westerners, he explained, preferred chicken. It was well known. Fish was only cheap food for peasants. We would be eating chicken, which was sexy and which we preferred.
The system of life on this planet is so astoundingly complex that it was a long time before man even realised that it was a system at all and that it wasn’t something that was just there.
“So what do we do if we get bitten by something deadly then?” I asked.
He blinked at me as if I were stupid. “Well, what do you think you do?” he said. “You die of course. That’s what deadly means.”
“But what about cutting open the wound and sucking out the poison?” I asked.
“Rather you than me,” he said, “I wouldn’t want a mouth full of poison.”
We talked about how easy it was to make the mistake of anthropomorphising animals, and projecting our own feelings and perceptions on to them, where they were inappropriate and didn’t fit. We simply had no idea what it was like being an extremely large lizard, and neither for that matter did the lizard, because it was not self-conscious about being an extremely large lizard, it just got on with the business of being one. To react with revulsion to its behaviour was to make the mistake of applying criteria that are only appropriate to the business of being human.
The road suddenly turns out to be impassable because it’s being rebuilt by the Chinese, only we’re not supposed to know that. And exactly what is meant by ‘suddenly’ I don’t know because they’ve apparently been at it for ten years.
I didn’t notice I was being set upon by a pickpocket, which I am glad of, because I like to work only with professionals.
“You’re proposing twenty hours on a boat-”
“A small boat,” added Mark.
“On violently heaving seas-”
“With a three-day-old dead goat.”
“I hardly know what to say.”
I say roughly, because the gorillas are not yet sufficiently advanced in evolutionary terms to have discovered the benefits of passports, currency declaration forms, and official bribery, and tend to wander backwards and forwards across the border as and when their beastly, primitive whim takes them.
Being woken up at dawn by the cockerels is not in itself a problem. The problem arises when the cockerels get confused as to when dawn actually is. They suddenly explode into life, sqwaking and screaming at about one o’clock in the morning. At about one-thirty they eventually realise their mistake and shut up, just as the major dogfights of the evening are getting under way. These usually start with a few minor bouts between the more enthusiastic youngsters, and then the full chorus of heavyweights weighs in with a fine impression of what it might be like to fall into the pit of hell with the London Symphony Orchestra.
The kakapo’s persnickety dietary requirements are a whole other area of exasperating difficulty. It makes me tired just to think of them, so I think we’ll pass quickly over all that. Imagine being an airline steward trying to serve meals to a plane full of Moslems, Jews, vegetarians, vegans and diabetics when all you’ve got is turkey because it’s Christmas time.
He was tall, dark, and laconic and had a slight nervous tick. He explained that he used to be just tall, dark, and laconic, but that the events of the last few days had rather got to him.
I have a well-deserved reputation for being something of a gadget freak, and am rarely happier than when spending an entire day programming my computer to perform automatically a task that would otherwise take me a good ten seconds to do by hand.
I suddenly felt, well, terribly old as I watched a mudskipper hopping along with what now seemed to me like a wonderful sense of hopeless, boundless naive optimism. It had such a terribly, terribly, terribly long way to go. I hoped that if its descendant was sitting here on this beach in 350 million years’ time with a camera around its neck, it would feel that the journey had been worth it.
My role, and one for which I was entirely qualified, was to be an extremely ignorant non-zoologist to whom everything that happened would come as a complete surprise.
Somewhere not too far from here, toward the middle of the island, there may have been heaven on earth, but hell had certainly set up business on its porch.
The great thing about being the only species that makes a distinction between right and wrong is that we can make up the rules for ourselves as we go along.
There is something profoundly disturbing about watching an eye that is watching you, particularly when the eye that is watching you is almost the same size as your eye, and the thing that it is watching you out of is a lizard.
They like their meat bad and smelly. We don’t like our meat like that and tend to be leery of things that do. I was definitely leery of these lizards.
The aye-aye looks a little like a large cat with a bat’s ears, a beaver’s teeth, a tail like a large ostrich feather, a middle finger like a long dead twig and enormous eyes that seem to peer past you into a totally different world which exists just over your left shoulder.