Naturally Selected

While my wife was having her car valeted, we waited in a small cabin provided for customers. Next to the seats was a cage, seeds spilled all over the cabin floor by the birds that were inside it, scattered in an haphazard arc.

I’m not really a fan of birds being kept in cages, these creatures that have evolved to traverse the sky. But it did give me an opportunity to have a close look at them as they sang away, syrinx working overtime. Whenever my wife approached the cage, though, they stopped singing. She obviously looks more predatory than I.

I started to think about their ancestors, the dinosaurs, and how these birds looked like miniature versions of their magnificent prototypes. They once ruled the earth, and now here they were, caged.

They don’t know where they’ve come from, I thought.

We do. And that’s how far we have come.

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R.I.P Stephen Hawking

Whilst under the shadow of death Stephen Hawking attempted to answer some of the more complex questions of life. I saw this quote only this morning:

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”

Personally I think there is more to us than that, but who am I to argue with someone with a mind as brilliant as Hawking?!

R.I.P

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The World According To James (Aged Four)

My little lad is off school today. He had been ill in the night, but is now feeling better. He played with his dinosaurs, and I watched a programme about what happened before the Big Bang.

Between the two, I discovered the following:

The universe was not created by the Big Bang, there was something before it. Dinosaurs were made extinct by volcanoes. If they hadn’t become extinct, we would not be here as we would still be in our mothers’ bellies. The eyeballs of dead fish are in heaven.

An informative morning. Not even reached lunchtime yet. I’ll let you know when we’ve come up with an alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution. I’ve got a feeling it’s going to involve apple trees.

Shark Bites. Eyes Water.

I have always felt an attraction for the coast, a pull towards the ocean. But I am aware of my limitations, and how actually being on or actually in the ocean reduces my ability to be in control. It is the untameable power of the ocean that makes me both nervous and conscious of my shortcomings, so I like to enjoy the ocean from the relative safety of the land.

What has created my from-a-distance love of the ocean? Is it purely a question of aesthetics, or something deeper? The Celtic meaning of my surname is ‘sea settlement’ or ‘settlement by the sea.’ Perhaps there is something there, genetically dormant, that occasionally surfaces like a memory without a reference point. Perhaps there is nothing in that whatsoever and I may as well be called Jones.

I have also long felt a fascination towards sharks. What is it that draws me (in a definite non-literal sense!) towards these creatures?

An anachronism more ancient than the dinosaurs, sharks, more than any other species on the planet, appear to be detached, remote, so emotionless that they are impossible to anthromorphise. Sharks really do seem to be something other. Unknowable and unreadable.

Speaking of being unreadable, an early influence for me must have been the film Jaws, even if it did portray sharks in an undeserved, negative light. From my first viewing of it in childhood, it remains my favourite film, which I tend to re-watch around the Fourth of July. Jaws time.

Despite it being my all-time favourite movie, for some reason I never got around to reading the novel that inspired the film. Maybe because I had seen the film so many times I didn’t think it would hold anything new for me. But then in a recent conversation I learned that the book was different to the movie (I’ve no idea why I never considered this before seeing as though I almost always prefer books to films) and so I decided that I would give it ago.

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I loved the book, and it was different, which helped me to read it as a stand alone novel without constantly comparing it to the film. Which wouldn’t be fair.

Although I do have to confess that I did picture the characters according to the actors who played them, and not according to Benchley’s descriptions of them.

In the novel Hooper (the likeable Richard Dreyfuss) has an affair with Chief Brody’s wife (the homely Lorraine Gary) who has a fantasy about being raped.

No. You don’t get that with Steven Spielberg.

One small pet hate was the way the author kept referring to the creature as the fish. Yes, technically it is a fish, of course, but that doesn’t sound anywhere as fearsome as SHARK! But on the whole the book was good, and the ending is very different from the ‘smile you son of a bitch’ film version.

Reading Jaws led to me buying the book that I am currently in the middle of:

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This is a great non-fiction book about these creatures and how their existence is imperilled by the gluttonous, greed-driven creature that is now at the apex of every food chain on the planet.

Yes, I’m talking about you. And me.

In considering how everything on earth is connected, in more ways than one, I have just read a passage about how an essential part of our anatomy originated in fish, and how people tend to be comfortable about being described as a primate or a mammal, but not so over the moon about being called a fish. Not even a cold fish, just a fish.

Neil Shubin, in his book Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into The 3.5-Billion-Year History Of The Human Body, talks of the evolutionary debt that we owe sharks, not only on genetic levels, but for things such as the bones of our inner ear and the lever system that we use to bite.

But there is one aspect that I am not particularly enamoured about. Shark gonads are nestled near the heart. In human males they are located in the scrotum to allow our sperm to remain at the right temperature. Creating a weak spot in the body wall, this trade off between our fish ancestry and mammal present accounts for men developing hernias.

But not only that, there were times, many times, believe me, when I used to play football, that I could have done with being a shark. And now that I’ve had a vasectomy, and have no need for regulated sperm control, is there any chance that I could put my gonads back where they have always belonged, please? Before my lad is old enough to take me for a kick about in the park.

Consider it on my bucket list: relocation of gonads.

Now, back to my shark book.