Friday 31 July 2009

Fact or Fiction?

A few nights ago, I have finished reading "The Human Animal", written by Desmond Morris.
Not all of what he wrote was new to me, but there were some surprising insights, and one theory I had admittedly never heard of before:

The Aquatic Ape.

Now, this is not Mr. Morris' theory, but was brought up first in 1930 by marine biologist Alister Hardy.
In short, the theory says that, at some stage during our evolution from ape to human, there was possibly a period which saw us living so close to the water that we were practically living in it.
His idea was of an early primate who settled on islands close to the East African coast to get away from predators, and lived there in small colonies, more or less leading the lifestyle of some sort of "tropical penguin".
The body changed to become a veritable swimming "machine". The "aquatic ape" would have been, like a penguin, very agile in water but rather clumsy on land.

Hardy uses some facts about our bodies to underline his theory:

- Our spine is more flexible than that of the other primates, which enables us to swim more like an otter than like an ape.
- We shed tears, just like many other sea-living animals, but none of the other primates do.
- Our sense of balance is as good as that of a sea lion, and much better than that of the other primates.
- We have shed our thick furs, which is typical for primates but not for sea-living animals. Those always have very short or no fur at all. Being streamlined like this makes moving in the water a lot easier.
- We still have remnants of webbing between our fingers and toes. Some say that this is simply how all primates' hands are built, but the chimpanzee (our closest relative, genetically speaking) does not have them.
About 7 percent of humans alive today have properly webbed toes.
- We are still quite capable swimmers, whereas the big apes can't swim at all.
- We can hold our breath up to 3 1/2 minutes under water. No other primate has such control about their breathing, not even remotely.
- Like other sea-living animals, we have a diving reflex. As soon as our face is covered with water, our automatic reaction is to close our respiratory passages, and the tiny bronchial tubes contract, even if the rest of our body is totally dry.

None of the other primates has this reflex.
- Our noses are formed in a way that no water gets in when diving. No other primate has a nose formed like this.
- Newborn babies automatically hold their breath under water and swim without fear.

This is, of course, only a very concise summary of the points Desmond Morris mentions in his book.

Within seconds of research on the internet, I found a site which examins the Aquatic Ape Theory in a scientifc, critical manner:

Have you come across this theory before?
And what do you think?

Don't worry - I'm not looking for an outbreak of fierce pro-and-con-arguments; I am just - as usual - very curious :-)

Thursday 30 July 2009

Loneliness Deserved

(This is the continuation of my "Dolphin" story: )

The storm had long blown over, and, in retrospect, life had gone back to normality at a surprising speed; daily business was soon resumed by almost everyone, including herself.
There was work and there were her walks along the beach which she had taken up again only a few weeks after the storm, always looking out for her friend, the dolphin.

As before, the dolphin was sometimes there and sometimes he wasn't; she was used to the erratic pattern (wich really wasn't much of a pattern at all) of his visits to "her" part of the beach.

Then, there came a period of prolonged absence.
Such periods had been there before, and when at first she had been terribly worried about the dolphin's wellbeing, she now knew that those periods were necessary and natural; a dolphin did, after all, have to do dolphin things from time to time.

But this time, when the period of absence ended and the dolphin came within her eyes' reach again, she had the distinct impression that something was different.
She could see the dolphin, and see that he was looking well and healthy, happily playing with those of his kind, but he would not come closer, as had been his habit before, or acknowledge her presence in any other way.

This went on for several days, and days turned into weeks.
At work, she sought to finish her tasks early so that she could hurry to the beach as soon as possible, always thinking "today he'll be there again!", only to see her hopes crushed once more.

She searched within her memory for anything that she could have possibly done to make the dolphin angry at her - could dolphins actually get angry? at humans? - but did not find an answer.

One evening, she had dashed to the beach again, and saw the dolphin in the distance.
Suddendly, exhaustion flooded her, and she sat down on the sand.

The old familiar feeling of being rejected was no surprise to her; too often in her life she had already been confirmed in her conviction that she must be, as a human, so faulty nobody could stand being around her for longer than necessary, and so boring that she could not hold anybody's attention long enough for friendships to grow properly (family not counting - they didn't have a choice).

If I disappeared off the face of the earth, she mused, what would happen?
The three or four family members that lived close by would most likely be the only ones to try and find out where she was; at work, people would probably be talking about her sudden disappearance for a while, and when someone new would be employed in her place, they would forget about her; and as for the other people who knew her in the way neighbours usually know each other, they wouldn't even notice her being gone.

Face it, she thought, you simply do not matter. You have never mattered and never will, and that's the long and short of it.

Grow up.

Monday 20 July 2009

The Sound of Summer

The hour-long walk from work to home is something I have mentioned on here before, for instance in this entry I wrote back in May:

Today was one of the rare finer days we have had this month.
Overall, July was way too wet, and sometimes too cold, for my liking (and not only mine).
So, every chance I get, I am out there, enjoying the time and space I have almost entirely to myself between leaving work and arriving home.

As soon as I reach the edge of the fields, the sound changes.
Instead of cars, trains and people, all of a sudden, the sonic world seems to consist of the dominating sound made by the omnipresent cricket.

It is the main thread for the acoustic carpet covering those fields, and it has a pretty pattern weaved in, of lark song and softly rustling leaves in the hedges and the less soft rustling of the stems of wheat and rye alongside the whispering of the dark green maize leaves.
Every now and then, it is punctuated by the call of a buzzard, or the barking of a dog far away.

Have you ever listened to - really listened to - the Summer-part of Antonio Vivaldi's much-abused "Four Seasons"?
If you have, you have heard the crickets, providing the sonic canvas for the image of an exhausted and dusty landscape, breathing heavily under a merciless sun, until its power is temporarily broken by a mighty thunderstorm.

Such is, for me, the sound of summer.

Wednesday 8 July 2009


Every day, we catch glimpses of other people's lives. Sometimes, a whole scene is acted out in our view, as if we were spectators to the play that is their lives, but more often, we catch only the briefest of moments, as if we were flicking through a photo album showing different people set in different backgrounds on every photograph without knowing who the depicted people and where those places really are.

Not all of those glimpses are nice (see; some leave us indifferent, and a precious few make us smile.

Here are the last two that made me smile:

During my usual lunch break walk, I came past a young woman, almost a girl still. She was pretty and curvy, with long curly hair, and wearing tight-fitting jeans with a t-shirt in the Brazil colours green and yellow. A young man was walking the opposite direction. He had ultra-short hair and a lanky walk. Once the two of them were past each other, maybe 20 steps apart, they both briefly turned their heads back to look at the other one, and immediately back again, when they realized they were both looking.
It was such a normal thing to do - to cast a second glance at someone who strikes you as attractive - and yet somehow... charming.

I walked on, and my mind started spinning a possible continuation of that micro-story, how those two could eventually act on that instant of mutual attraction, stop and talk to each other, and take it from there.

The second glimpse I caught at the station where I wait for my train every morning (stations are a good spot for observing people and later writing about them, it seems).

A train that does not stop at the small town where I work was in before mine, and people went on and off as usual. Just when the doors were closing and the train was set to depart, an elderly man came rushing up the stairs. When he saw the closing doors, he stopped in his tracks and gave a resigned shrug, his shoulders visibly drooping now.
The conductor saw him, calling out and waving him to the one door he was still holding half open, and then extended his hand, helping the now smiling man up the steps and onto the train.

This time, my mind was making up a background story for both the man and the conductor, with the reasons why the man wanted to catch that train, and what made the conductor stop, wait for him and help him.

None of these glimpses will ever make it to a full story, I suppose, but at least the young woman in the Brazil t-shirt, the young man with the short hair, the elderly train passenger and the conductor have now all been eternalized in this here my blog.

And who knows - someone might even read it.

Thursday 2 July 2009

Keep Walking

We have had some truly wonderful sunny days, with temperatures reaching 28 to 31 Celsius in the afternoons. I love summer and positively thrive in hot weather, whereas I find it hard to deal with the cold.

Today was yet another one of those fine days, and my turn to mind the phone at the office until 6.30 pm.
Of course, at that time, there are still about three hours of daylight left in early July, and to make the most of it, I decided to walk home across the sunlit fields from the small town where I work to the slightly bigger town where I live, which takes me about one hour at a leisurely pace.

Alas, shortly before I was to leave, a rumbling of thunder, a sudden darkening of the sky, and an almost tropical rainfall started.

Nobody was left at the office who could have given me a lift to the train station, so, sticking to my original plan of walking home, walk I did, simply taking my sandals off and splashing my way along the road, where the heavy rain was causing bubbling rivulets to rush past.

Hardly surprising, there weren't any other people out and about, but those who sat in their cars all looked at me and my soaking wet dress, bare feet and dripping hair.

By the time I reached the place where I can choose between going right to the station or straight ahead towards the fields, I went straight ahead.
I was so utterly, totally and completely soaked to the skin that it did not matter if there was more water coming from above, and besides, the rain was warm and felt nice and not cold and hard as I had expected.

Once I was on the fields, the rain stopped.
My dress slowly dried, my skin and my hair more quickly, and when I arrived home, nobody would have guessed that I had just been through a tropical shower.

Maybe there is a small lesson in all that for me.

Next time life soaks me, I will simply keep walking.